Content Warning: Violence, Death, Corpses
Monolith stood to the right of Heatstroke, his best friend since high school. To the left of Heatstroke, stood his wife, Nova. The three heroes stood in the throne room of the Archduke, seated on his crystal throne in the Crystal Castle. The Archduke was detrascended, sipping wine from a crystal glass, and looking at the heroes, bored.
The Archduke was a very normal looking man. He had short blonde hair, fair skin, bright blue eyes, and an average, unremarkable, frame. He wore a crystal crown on his head and a dark blue three-piece suit with a purple tie. He was on the handsome side of average looking, but not the imposing or remarkable figure one would expect to be a world-conquering villain.
“Good afternoon.” The Archduke said, sipping on his wine and take a few steps towards the heroes.
“Bastard.” Heatstroke muttered under his breath, readying flame in his dark gauntlet-clad hands. Monolith and Nova both moved to opposite sides of the room. They had to expend a lot of power to get in here in the first place, so they had to stick to their plan and be smart about taking him on.
Monolith was a large man, he stood about six foot two and weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds, mostly muscle. He had dark skin and shaved his head bald. Monolith’s costume was sleek and pretty simple, dressed from head to toe in metal armor, the same tone of grey covering all of it. The costumes gloves stopped short of his fingers, leaving them exposed. A large helmet covered his head, a bit square, putting one in mind of a viking. It left his mouth, nose and brown eyes exposed, a small dark goatee around his mouth. Bits of metal and rock coated his costume, he needed them in a place made entirely of crystal.
When spirit-touched transcend, some of them look totally inhuman, some of them have a strange mix between human and inhuman qualities, and some looked like humans in costumes. Monolith was firmly in the third category, and Nova was clearly in the second.
Nova was a little taller than average, about five foot eight, and skinny. Her slender frame was not an indicator of her strength. Nova was a master with both Běishàolín and her fire manipulating abilities, and could probably easily best Monolith if she wanted. Her long hair, made of curling flame, was in a braid over her right shoulder. Most of her body was clad in black leather armor, the insignia of the Flamewakes over her heart. Her hands and feet were covered by black metal armor. Finally, her face was covered by a black mask, almost like a leather balaclava, except it left more room for her mouth, revealing soft lips and light skin. Her eyes were small balls of fire, sitting in otherwise empty sockets.
“Care for a drink? Any of you? There’s no reason we have to fight right away.” The Archduke said, walking towards the bar on the far side of his throne room.
“Not in a drinking mood.” Heatstroke said, taking a few steps towards the would-be dictator and making a jet of flame behind his feet. He slid across the throne room, nearly to the side of the Archduke.
“Very well. Straight to business then.”
The Archduke finished his wine and called on the energy of his spirit benefactor, crystal quickly erupted from his body, encasing it, or maybe replacing it, with dark, purple, crystalline, armor. It encased nearly all of him, leaving just his face exposed. His eyes seemed to vanish into darkness, being replaced by bright purple gems that let off a purple aura. A large crystal sword appeared in his right hand.
Heatstroke lunged forward on a jet of flame and called a whip of fire to his own hand, deflecting the sword as it attempted to catch him. Nova ignited her wings and rose to the top of one of the crystal pillars that covered the room, clinging to it. Monolith crept along the far side of the room, readying bars of metal and rock.
Heatstroke and the Archduke traded whip strikes and blade slashes, neither making a serious impact. Heatstroke took a step back and launched a volley of fireballs towards the Archduke, who was quick to generate a shield of his own. Heatstroke ran up to the Archduke, striking his chest with a fire-infused fist, the Archduke tried to bring his sword down, but Heatstroke reacted a half second faster, grabbing his arm with the sword in it and wrenching it forward, flipping the Archduke over his outstretched knee and onto the floor hard.
“Not bad.” The Archduke said, smirking to himself, with a wave of his hand, the pillar of crystal that Nova clung to violently exploded, sending her to the ground hard. The shards of crystal from the destroyed pillar went flying towards Heatstroke, pinning him to the far wall and sealing him in place with layer after layer of crystal.
Monolith was quick to check on Nova, she looked out cold, barely moving. He approached her, dropping what he was doing with his metal and rock. Nova was convincing, if it weren’t for the subtle thumbs up she gave Monolith, he would have believed she was seriously hurt. Monolith slowly crept back to his original location forming more bars of rock and metal.
Surprisingly, everything was going exactly to plan. The Flamewakes, and most of the other resistance heroes had called the trio crazy for attempting to take down the Archduke on his own turf, and yet, here they were, closer than anyone had ever gotten. The Archduke approached Heatstroke, tightening his crystalline prison and smirking.
“You have so much potential, so much raw power, but… God, you could be so much more.” The Archduke said, shaking his head.
“Yeah. I’m good. Thanks all the same, but I prefer to be on the winning side.” Heatstroke replied.
“And which side do you believe that to be?”
“The one I’m on.”
“Arrogant, your power is wasted on you. What I could do with… God, it’s such a waste. I’m going to unmake you, tear you apart, and make you something better.”
“Like I said, I’m good.”
“Even facing death, you’re still the arrogant one. I don’t understand how you do it.”
“Simple. I’m distracting you.” Heatstroke answered. As soon as the words left his lips, a small, warm smile crossed it. Nova struck the Archduke from behind with a jet of flame, sending him stumbling forward, scrambling to avoid serious injury. Before he could respond, layers of rock and metal crashed down on him, locking him into a makeshift prison, with only his head and left hand visible. The Archduke tried to put crystal between his skin and the prison but was unable to get enough momentum to break through his bonds. Nova was quick to generate fire in her hands, which Heatstroke quickly teleported into and back out of, freeing him from his prison. Heatstroke walked up to the Archduke, smirking, with a lit flame in his left hand.
“Fuck your potential. I’ve got a damn good reason to be cocky.” Heatstroke said, bending down to the Archduke and waving the fire in front of his face. Before he was able to deliver the killing blow, a dozen half-rotten corpses tackled him, trying to claw and grab at him. He was quick to call fire to himself and burn the corpses off. Another wave charged Monolith, Nova, and himself, they were easy to take out, but their numbers were nearly overwhelming.
Monolith glanced towards the door, spying the cause behind these zombies. A short blonde girl, dressed in a black body glove with white gloves and boots, a black bandit mask tied around her eyes, stood by the door, crying slightly and calling more and more zombies towards the heroes. The Archduke swore under his breath and looked at the ground.
“Heat, the door.” Monolith informed his friend. Heatstroke nodded in response and ignited his wings to fly towards the girl, she threw a few more zombies at him, having them jump and claw, but he easily took them out with jets of flame. Heatstroke landed next to the girl, grabbing her by the shoulders, she shook slightly in his hands, freezing like a deer in the headlights.
It wasn’t a mystery who she was, Ruth Valentin, the Archduke’s eldest daughter and the heir to the throne. Her power was the ability to raise the dead as her own personal army, and she was desperately trying to save her father.
“Let her go.” The Archduke said, staring at Heatstroke with hatred in his eyes.
“Why? I could just find your other daughter and end the bloodline right here and now.” He said. He meant it. As difficult of a reality as it was to face, both of his daughters would have to be dealt with sooner or later.
“Fucks sake, she’s just a girl. You claim to be a hero, don’t sink that low.”
“How old are you now, Ruth?” Heatstroke questioned the terrified girl.
“I’m sixteen, and it’s Genesis, not Ruth.” The girl answered.
“Sixteen is more than old enough, you’ve already poisoned her mind.” Heatstroke responded.
“Please, she’s my daughter.” The Archduke begged.
“I could end this all, right now…” Heatstroke said, snapping his fingers and calling fire to his palm.
“Stop!” The Archduke ordered. Heatstroke pulled Ruth closer, starting to burn her arms and shoulders.
“Stop! Stop! I yield!” The Archduke said, desperation in his voice as he called off his powers and detranscended. “Please, what if it was your daughter?”
Heatstroke looked at the terrified girl, called off his flame and let her go. Monolith knew why and didn’t blame him, Rachel, his daughter, was one of the few weak spots that Heatstroke had. She was his light, and his world. He couldn’t take away someone else’s daughter, not even from a monster. The terrified girl ran off, sobbing. Heatstroke quickly walked towards the powerless Archduke and grabbed him by the hair, throwing his crown to the ground and shattering it.
“This ends right here. You’ve lost. Men like you, monsters like you, will always lose. You understand? Love is stronger than hate, and that’s what fuels you, hate is all a monster like you has. Villains and tyrants will always rise, and as long as there is breath in the lungs of people willing to fight for what they love, they will always fail.” Heatstroke crouched down to be at eye level with the pinned Archduke. “How does it feel? Knowing that this is all over? Knowing that you’re about to lose, about to fail?”
The Archduke said nothing in reply, just gave a small smirk before throwing his exposed left hand at Heatstroke, striking him in the neck with some sort of crystal. A dark black fluid started to drain from the crystal and into him, turning his veins a sickly black color as he stumbled back and coughed.
Nova was the first to react, launching a beam of searing hot flame at the Archduke, striking the left side of his face and burning it, searing his eye shut and burning his face from hairline to chin. Nova screamed and readied another blast as Monolith pulled on the rock and metal of the prison he made, pulling it tighter, trying to crush the Archduke. Monolith didn’t know what kind of poison the Archduke had just injected into his friend, but he needed to deal with the Archduke before he helped him.
Monolith felt searing pain wash over his body, flame. He had to drop control of his prison and fall to the ground, desperately trying to extinguish the flame on himself. Monolith looked up at his assailant, only to see his best friend, Heatstroke, pointing his blazing fist at him. Heatstroke, almost mechanical in his movements, launched a blast of flame at Nova, sending her reeling to deflect the fire. Nova looked at him, tilting her head and grabbing her side as she extended a hand towards him.
Nova destanscended, dropping out of her superhuman form and back into her regular body. She was dressed in jeans, a basic black tee shirt, and black boots, she was still thin and tall, her hair was in a braid over her shoulder, but it was a dark blonde color, rather than the bright flaming curls it has been a few seconds ago. Her brown eyes portrayed the shock and grief she felt clearly as she stepped towards her husband.
“Donte, stop.” She begged Heatstroke, who stepped towards her mechanically.
“Alicia, what are y-” Monolith started, before being shushed by Nova. Nova placed her hand gently inside Heatstroke’s hand and guided it up to her cheek, looking him in the eyes and shaking slightly.
“Donte, it’s me, it’s your wife, Alicia. You need to snap out of this, this is not the man you are. Please, stop this.” She begged, using her hand to keep Heatstroke’s hand pressed to her cheek.
“Will you join me? Join him?” Heatstroke asked in a Monotone voice, glaring at his wife. Alicia shook her head in response.
“No, I won’t. He’s not your master, that’s not the person you are Don-” Her words were cut off in an instant by Heatstroke grabbing her tightly, pulling fire around her and letting it wash over her. Her mundane body stood no chance, she was reduced to a pile of ash within seconds. Heatstroke turned to Monolith, glaring at his friend, uncaring about what he had just done.
“No!” Monolith screamed, charging at his best friend with a blade of rock and metal. Heatstroke deflected it, calling fire to his fists and sending blasts cascading at his former friend. Monolith blocked them with quick shields of rock, sending them flying back towards Heatstroke. Heatstroke launched two waves of flame at Monolith, who was just able to dodge and send his own, dull spear of rock at Heatstroke, it made contact and drove him back.
“Heatstroke! Donte! This isn’t you man. You just killed your wife…” Monolith started, Heatstroke was quick to follow up with blasts of fire and rapid punches and kicks. Monolith created a wall of rock and metal at about shin height and threw it into Heatstroke, the same metal and rock wrapped around Heatstroke’s wrists and ankles.
“Dammit! Let me talk! This isn’t who you are! This isn’t Heatstroke! This isn’t Donte LeFue! This is not the man that Zion can be proud of! This is not the man that Rachel can be proud of!”
At the mention of his daughter, Heatstroke found the inner resolve to charge fire within him and lunge towards Monolith, covering his body in flame and burning most of his body from the chest down. Monolith laid in a circle of flame, struggling to get to his feet, to fight, to survive. Heatstroke quickly freed the Archduke, ripping apart the stone and metal prison and helping his newly burned ally to his feet. The Archduke spit on Nova’s ashes and walked slowly towards the injured Monolith.
Monolith was the type of man who played to his outs. For the first time in his life, he genuinely didn’t see any. This was going to be where Monolith died, killed by his best friend and the monstrous tyrant who sought to control this country and world. Two minutes, it had been two minutes since Heatstroke had been stabbed with the crystal. That was all it took for their plan, their friendship, and their hope to fall apart.
“I always win.” The Archduke started. “I am more prepared, more skilled, and more powerful than the best that your rebellion has to offer. Despite how you would villainize me, I’m not a bad man, I’m not a monster, I just know what must be done.”
“What did you do to him you bastard?” Monolith choked out.
“This is how I always win, I always have a backup plan. I don’t rely on luck, I make it myself. It’s not mind control, though I’m sure you must think it is. I’ve simply made him reexamine his priorities. I’ve turned his heart to my side, I’ve helped to open his mind to the truth.”
“You fucking monster.”
“If you must call me that, then monster I shall be, but at least I’m the victor. Tell me, what is it you do again? Rocks? Is it even worth it to have you on my side.”
The Archduke dragged Monolith towards him, pulling him to his feet and examining him. Monolith’s eyes scanned the Archduke for something, anything he could use to stop what was about to happen.
“Rocks, yeah. Rocks and..” Monolith mumbled, he pulled his hand slightly to the side, so subtly that the Archduke barely noticed. The pin on the Archduke’s tie quickly shot up, impacting him in the face and sending him stumbling back.
“Metal.” Monolith whispered grimly. He wasted no time, calling the rocks on the surface to aid him. Within seconds, a large rock pillar burst through the far wall, Monolith raced towards it, pushing through the pain and burns. Heatstroke took a shot, sending a jet of flame, now dark black in color, at his former friend. Monolith pulled a large slab of rock down from the pillar and threw it in front of himself. He used the pillar to block the fire, before using it for a boost, launching himself onto the pillar and letting him slide down and away from the Archduke’s castle.
He rested at the bottom, taking a second to himself, before finally detranscending, his power spent. He glared up at the tower, watching through the hole he had made. Heatstroke looked down at him, fire in his fists. Monolith glared back, ready to die if he had to. Heatstroke just shook his head and went back into the tower, probably to tend to his new master. Monolith got to his feet, breathing heavily, and feeling the burns and pain all over his body. He began to slowly walk back home.