“Keep on your toes,” I warned, as the beast swept a hand to the side and decapitated a dozen gravestones. Ancient dead, now not even cover for their cowering descendants.
Thought I heard Mary groaning to the side. Didn’t want to know how much pain she was in.
The wind whispered to me anyway about the drool beading down her chin.
“Call down the storm, Gale!” The lightning user said, looking at the sky.
But it wasn’t me that caused it to rain.
It was the afternoon, and we were in Mobile Alabama. An act of god itself couldn’t stop the afternoon showers. And while, looking at the Lost Boy, I was convinced God couldn’t exist, not really, the heavens opened up and rain bounced across our skin.
Heard thudded in my chest fast enough that my chest ached and my skin throbbed. Man wasn’t built for such a height, and I was looking down what awaited me at the fall as it took another step forward.
“You ready?” I asked, catching him with a look. Didn’t know what I was doing. Couldn’t afford to think it through. Needed to make sure it worked. Felt the rain pick up. Felt that unfathomably heavy presence of the clouds overhead.
I had felt it once before, when my dad tugged on it to show me what to do. Just a brief flicker, like a heartbeat deep in my palms, but I couldn’t grasp it or call upon it then.
But now there wasn’t really a choice. I understood that the storm was power, I understood the beast fed on it.
But it wasn’t a perfect efficiency. The beast took impacts, took blows, took damage. I could only hope that the damage from a bolt of lightning could disable it, even if only for a few minutes.
We only had a few minutes. I hoped…
Hoped that just once, they’d recognize me as the child of Hurricane and obey me. The wind picked up around me, and Hands threw another slab of granite at the creature. Knocked it back just a bit as the ground turned into a slurry of mud and blood. But it shattered, and the hungry mouths stuffed chunks of granite in against teeth, a slurry of broken bones and shattering stone mixing together into something that looked like concrete and smelled like humanity itself.
Then there was a taste of ozone in the air.
My mind friend. Fragments, still images, as if the world was attached to a stuttering computer, as Hands and Colton rain for it, and the trail of Electrons in the air and the ground desperately lined up.
The beast was in front of me, instantly.
I was so very stupid. It was after the energy of the storm. It’d go after me.
The energy of the lightning I was calling upon, desperately hoping it would obey my command. It raised up a massive hand, studded with claws and exposed bone and rivulets of molten flesh, and brought it down to end me
And the sky exploded, and a fantastic bolt of lightning hit the Lost Boy, all at once. It picked me up and threw me. Flying through the air from the backhand flying off from the beast, and I heard it collide with the armor and tasted something like blood, like bone, like man itself, like a roaring tsunami, like failure, like life, like trading my life for thirty minutes hoping that reinforcements would arrive.
A backhand, and then I hit something hard. Didn’t want to wake up. Could see something in the distance from my closed eyes, something I could almost taste. A place I could rest, be just Gale again. No responsibilities, not really. No lives depending on me.
No knowledge that I’d led people en masse to this graveyard to join the long since dead.
Wanted to stop moving. Wanted my heart to stop pounding. Skin to stop being on fire.
Wanted to just…
Heard my name.
“GALE!” Hands screamed. “You can’t go down like this! You have to meet your dad again! Remember?”
“GET THE HELL UP, GALE,” Colton screamed. “I’m not letting the person who took me down go down like such a damn chump! HEY, FUCKFACE!” His voice was shrill. Horror. He was scared. We were losing combat efficiency with each beat of his heart that he stayed like that.
We couldn’t afford those numbers slipping.
Slow shuddering breaths. Eyes half glazed over, one half open.
My legs were a mixture of pain and agony that I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with. I’d broken bones before, but…
The armor granted to me was designed to be the most rugged armor imaginable, and take hits that could take out cars. Send me skidding in a not lethal fashion. Meant to be worn by great heroes, instead of me.
But Hands was right. I had promises to keep. Couldn’t let a single hit take me down. Couldn’t let Colton’s confidence slip.
This was Patrickson. Had to keep standing up. Had to keep fighting.
Slowly, my legs worked. Could feel skin hanging off of them in sheets, blood wiped away by the pouring rain.
Eyes slid open. What had stopped me?
I’d been caught before I could have my skin rubbed off to the muscle by the front half of Gunze’s gravestone.
The old bastard had saved my life again.
“Keep moving. Never stop. Don’t mourn. Not for long.” Could read his last words. Could taste them in my mouth.
Finding ways to die for something worth it.
To never stop.
Surveyed the wrecked battlefield.
The retired hero was dead, or knocked out, or out cold. We were down allies, and now we were down to just the three of us. Down to just the retired heroes, half dead, rotting, and the wail of police sirens in the distance.
The Lost Boy was burning, but I knew, instinctively that it wouldn’t stay down just from a bolt of lightning.
I could laugh at the thought the police would be useful, but maybe just as a distraction on this killing field, but could we…. Numb hands felt for the Com. Found the purple cape insignia etched on it, felt it, and popped it open.
“Twenty minutes,” I wheezed, staggering over to their side. “Just… twenty more minutes. Colton… you’re up next while I…”
I stared at Hands and wonderingly reached out to touch her invisible appendage. “I think I’m going to need to come up with a new plan.”
“New plan besides die?” she asked, calmly. Not calmly, but she was forcing it on herself like a tight dress.
“All at once, the three of us?” I asked, hopefully.
Perhaps Gunze could’ve restrained it, safely. Perhaps we would have this finished by now if I hadn’t gotten him killed, but I’d traded him for Colton, and Rebecca, and a palette of C rank heroes. Where were they now? Evacuating people. The graveyard was cold and damp, and blood dripped down my legs from my torn skin, and the rain hissing over top of it made me feel alive and dead, like the hand of god was still upon me.
Like there was someone watching me to be sure I kept standing up.
But it wasn’t for me that I stared at the creature and watched it cooked. Knowing that at any moment, it might regain movement. Might start screaming again.
The rain pattered across charred skin, and I heard air whistle back into its lungs. Tried to hold it away, but my hands shook and the wind disobeyed me to the tune of another master.
Then it started screaming again from all of its many mouths. New ones opened, teeth clicking together. It had given up entirely on regrowing the head, and instead grew eyes and mouths and noses and whispering licking things all along its form. Hurt to look at. Hurt worse than my legs. Hurt worse than the way my knees ground against the bone from the impact. Felt blood trickling out of my nose.
“Colton?” I wheezed. Broken rib. Maybe a couple, digging in deep. Had to keep going.
Hands gave me a terrified look. Not much she could do with the beast this close. Her powers worked up close, and she couldn’t possibly restrain it. But her eyes had turned to steel when I looked at her. She stepped forward to join Colton, her shoulders firm.
I stood behind the two of them and felt like crying, but there wasn’t any time for tears.
Now was the time to make true on our trade.
I couldn’t do that much, but it was 2 on 1 without me, and our side needed the help I could give. Wind seared across the beast, tugged at the air in his lungs. Tried to tug at the tinier pockets in the blood but..
I had a minimum on what my powers could control, as well as a maximum. I was a D class for a reason.
We were in our best armors, our best bullet proof vests, our best outfits, staring down at the creature as it walked towards us. We stood directly in its path, and my heart thumped at a mile a minute, like a heart attack, or a hand grenade, snared directly into my chest.
Then it broke into a lunge and all hell broke loose. All at once, the gravestone next to us (and the graveyard was now littered with ivory chunks and the dead) flew through the air as Hands brandished it as a shield, holding it in front of me. But I knew that the beast was about to go for the right from the way it whistled through the air.
“Right!” I called out.
“Got it!” Hands said, and narrowly deflected a blow that could pulverise bone. Colton dove in with the sword and brought it raking against exposed muscle and crunching bone, spraying the ground with hot gore, from chest down to thighs, popping open veins and arteries.
“Left!” I called, and Hands threw the gravestone in front of a blow that could break planets, and it crumpled into shrapnel, leaving Hands to catch the blow across her namesake.
I heard something crack, and then Hands was pushed back by the blow, sent skidding away by the force, the beast’s hand crushed into a bony powder.
But it had another hand, and I could tell what it was planning with every twitch of exposed sinew, and it was coming straight for me.
But for once I was fast enough to dart between the beast’s massive legs, rimmed with eyes that all flicked to follow me. They stared at me with hideous innocence, with the gaze of a small child, and a thousand maws licked their mouths. Had I seen this creature before, or had it been reflected out of every curious pair of eyes that had ever followed my position?
“Hands!” I called out, as the beast turned to face me.
Another gravestone smashed against the beast, distracting him as he turned to face me, leaving Colton and opening to score another bloody cut down the beast’s skin. It split open like rotting beef and painted the ground with noxious fluids, but it didn’t stop it, just turned the ground into more of a soup of blood and mud and gore. Another sword swipe pulverized organs but didn’t slow it, couldn’t keep the eyes off of me.
Couldn’t keep the next blow from swiping forward at me.
It was a blast of air, a gust of wind, desperate pulsed up that swayed me to the side and that kept it from breaking my sternum like a tin can, but the blow still clipped my hip and sent me spinning through the mud, sent me hurtling away.
The touch was like raw fire, something broken, turned into powder, and I felt it, felt the agony swiping through the bone.
Felt myself go down. Stared down at the creature ahead of me as it stepped forward, each step making my vision shake, heart race. Could taste blood. Rain. Wind.
The end of me was approaching, and I didn’t know how to really approach it.
Wouldn’t be just my end.
Hands threw another rock at it, but she was out of tombs to desecrate for munitions. Was out of chances.
She saw the beast coming and moved out of the way, but the hand that reached out snared her by the invisible appendage and sent her sliding back towards me. Hit a gravestone. Went down.
But Colton wasn’t out just yet. The knife that slashed out the beast’s eyes was thrown at it as Colton backed up.
“What are you doing, Colton?” I rasped.
“Bout time someone saved you, two. Think of it as payment for the island.” He grinned, shooting me a thumbs up through the rain. “Worry about the now, alright?”
The eye exploded into a cloud of blood as it was put out, and the beast roared loud enough to make my hearing disappear for a long brief, horrifying moment. But it was distracted.
It was what Colton wanted.
The beast turned slowly towards Colton, skin crackling with electricity, and then lunged forward with a massive hit, closing the yards faster than my mind was working.
Given the concussion, it wasn’t that fast.
I’d never really seen Colton deal with something that big before, but the knife that spiraled in front of him looked more like a massive shield of metal. Colton’s will itself, impeding the hit.
The mind metal rang out like the hit of a gong.
Colton’s chest heaved, and then he shoved the beast back with a flick of his hands, and knives whirled around him, filling up the air, filling up every possible space.
It was unsettling to see the skin peel back from the great thing, exposing muscle, as knives flayed it, literally alive. Blood, tissue, gore, bile, fluids, and then bone. But now, having seen it again and again, it looked more like modelling clay. Under the pound of the rain, it had no smell.
Underneath Colton’s attack, the beast looked like a skeleton, vestiges of sinew growing out like spiderwebs as it fought to maintain the shape it knew it should possess. Will against will.
Colton looked triumphant as even that was destroyed.
Then nothing, as the knives couldn’t pierce past the bone. They glanced off of it like solid steel, no matter how long Colton whirred against them. Colton’s power couldn’t chip into the marrow.
Or perhaps it just wasn’t long enough, because the beast, in defiance of the thin shreds of muscular tissue hanging on, raised up it’s arms. Flesh sprouted like cancerous growths, flowing out of the bone with silver threads, stitching back together. Faster than Colton could cut. Faster than he could blink.
But he didn’t move. Just stared up at the arms with an unsure expression. Confidence broken, perhaps.
I couldn’t blame him. I was down. Hands was down. It was just him in a field of the dead, standing in the way of a monster larger than he was, unable to sustain even with everything he had.
The beast defied logic. It defied fancy tactics or power plays. It had no weaknesses. There was no clever word for Colton to exploit, no chink in the armor for him to find. He’d done his best, and the beast had bled, and wailed, and Colton was no closer to killing it than the rest of us.
It was a being that looked down at the best we could muster, and quite simply did not care about the grandeur of the attack, or the raw want we had to destroy it.
It did not care that we were fighting to save lives, nor did it ponder the ramifications of satisfying its hunger.
It was this, I thought, that made Colton’s knives, flicker, and then disappear. The apathy that our murderer possessed.
Leaving him staring up at the blow that would kill him.