Content Warning: Death, Violence, Fire, Ashes
I climb the ladder back into the sphere, Dragon is still working on the computer, responding to prompts on the screen every few seconds. Chimera is locked into meditation, completely in her own world. Unicorn is against the far wall, and glances at me curiously, I almost don’t see her at first.
“We have company, let’s go,” I say.
“This is bad. I’m not done, I still have about ten minutes left, and we can’t move Chimera.” Dragon says, glancing over her shoulder at me.
“Then we have to hold them off.”
“I can’t, I need to be by the computer. It needs my input.”
“And with Chimera out of commission… Unicorn?”
“I’ll help however I can.” She says, glancing up at me and forcing a smile.
“Phoenix, I trust you to fight the soldiers. We need to get out of here as quickly as possible, and we still have one more thing to do. Unicorn, I need you to go partially solid, enough to lift things, throw all of the crystals on this shelf into the chasm. Don’t get shot, and when you finish, see if Phoenix needs help.” Dragon orders
“On it.” Unicorn grabs an armful of crystals off the shelf and makes her way out of the hatch. I drop down with her and glare towards the entrance to the cave. This place is about to be swarmed with guards and I need to be ready. I have to take them on by myself, they may have dart guns, and if they dart me I don’t think I’d stand much of a chance. I have to play this smart and assume they all have darts or carbon.
I focus on channeling my power through me as I enter the Cinder State. I disappear just before the first few soldiers enter. There are at least twenty or thirty of them, all with rifles with lights mounted on them. The lights circle around the entire chasm and try desperately to find a target.
I float over to the group in the Cinder State, there are a lot of them and they presumably have itchy trigger fingers. I need to do this quickly and efficiently. One wrong move and I’m practically a sitting duck. I begin to channel fire above them, feeling the warm embrace of flame around my body. These people, these monsters are employees of the Archduke. The monster that destroyed my family and ruined this world. They all deserve to die. I’ve made efforts to spare people, I’ve made efforts to kill only when necessary, even if fire isn’t the easiest thing to do that with, I aim center mass and make some effort to pull the heat back a bit unless I need to save my life, but no more. My enemies don’t have empathy or care for human life, and that’s something I need to cut. No mercy, no compassion, these people deserve only death.
I float down to neck level with most of the soldiers and start to form the invisible and intangible fire into a circle. This is going to be painless, quick, just a flick of my wrist. When the soldiers see Sarah drop another armful of crystals out of the hatch and try to take a few shots at her, I see my opening. I drop out of the Cinder State and let my flame loose in a circle around me. A quick flash of fire is followed by the sound of bodies and weapons hitting the floor. I don’t want to look at them, but it’s hard not too. The majority of the soldiers have been turned to ash from the neck up. A few of the shorter ones just had the top halves of their heads removed, while a few were lucky enough to just get blown back with heavy burn marks on the sides of their necks and parts of their helmets melted to their face. A lot of the bodies fell over the side of the chasm, and regardless none of them are getting up.
Good, they’re dead. They’re all dead. Fuck them.
I feel a small sensation, like a pinprick in my back, immediately followed by a searing pain washing over my brain, almost like I’m being unmade and reconstructed from the inside, but I’m being put back together wrong. Something’s missing, something integral, something necessary. I fall to my hands and knees and lower my head until the pain subsides. When I open my eyes, I see my hands are bare and only the cloth of my cloak and long sleeves are covering my arm.
Fuck! It’s a dart! It has to be! I reach towards my back and pull out a small white dart. I got it quickly, but not quickly enough. Fuck, I’m so stupid. How did I miss someone? Was there a second wave? I should have gone back into the Cinder State. I’m so stupid, and there’s a solid chance that it’s going to cost me my life, or at least my freedom.
I feel along the ground, ideally looking for a sidearm or some type of gun that isn’t just full of darts. I don’t find any, but can’t look too much in all the ash, I don’t have the stomach for it. The ash and the smell of burning flesh are almost overwhelming, this is so fucked, I did this. I just murdered all these people, and I didn’t even think twice about it. I’m not a hero, I can’t justify this. I am a fucking supervillain. I killed them without thinking about it, just like I killed my father. I’m not stronger, I’m not colder, I’m just fucked up and thoughtless.
I glance over my shoulder, it’s not a soldier pointing a rifle at me, it’s a girl my age. She’s dressed in blue jeans and brown boots, a grey tee shirt is covered by a dark green jacket. She has long curly brown hair and glasses. Esther Valentin, Exodus. She’s pointing a dart pistol at me and grinning as she steps closer.
“Hi, Rachel. Something the matter? Don’t have quite the same stomach for brutality when the Cinder isn’t influencing you? I’m not surprised, you’re nothing without your powers, are you?” Esther says, smirking at me.
“I’m not afraid of you,” I mutter.
“Really? You’re powerless and I can kill you with a touch. I thought the dart would take away your anger, not your intelligence.”
“I’m more than just my powers, and I’m going to fight you before I let you hurt my friends.”
“So you are that dumb. Whatever.”
Esther holsters her pistols and cracks her knuckles before calling on her power. Chains begin to cover her body, wrapping around her torso in an x shape, forming a belt on her waist along with a loose necklace on her neck, the chains finally wrap themselves around her wrists and ankles. Her clothes are the next to change as dusty white and brown rags replace her normal outfit. A loose white shirt and tattered brown pants for on her, while a worn long sleeved, brown, hooded, cloak appears over her head, arms, and shoulders. White wrappings, similar to those one would expect of a mummy, form over her hands and feet. The inside of the cloak darkens until none of her facial features are visible anymore. Finally, bright yellow lights, resembling gems, appear in the place of her eyes, the only things visible beneath her hood.
I can’t waste a second, I may not have my powers or my anger, but I’m not going down without a fight. I grab for the nearest gun, if I can dart her, maybe I can create an equal playing field. I have to try something at least. I fire a dart and move as swiftly as I can to avoid retaliation.
She fires a blast of yellow dusty energy out of her left palm, vaporizing the dart and a few of the corpses lying on the landing. I fire again and she easily turns the dart, and the part of the landing I was standing on into dust. She has good reflexes and she’s fucking powerful. It’s all I can do to dodge her. I’m not going to hit her from this far away, but getting close to her can’t be a good idea.
I fire another dart, positioning myself behind her, she turns in an instant and destroys the dart and the part of the wall I was taking cover by, back in the base proper. I hear a low, gruff chuckling from her. She’s toying with me, I’m not even a challenge right now. Fuck. I fiddle with my wrist communicator, glancing towards Exodus who’s advancing slowly towards me.
“Help,” I whisper into it. “No powers, I’ve been darted, I need the stimulant.”
No reply comes immediately, and I need to move again as she gets too close to me. I move back deeper into the fort and roll out of the way of another blast, it just misses my heel. If this hits me, I’m dead. Nobody, not even the most durable spirit-touched, has been able to survive Exodus’ using her power. I know that isolating myself is only going to make this harder, I know that’s exactly what she wants. I can’t call on my powers, but I’m brave and I’m a trained fighter.
I charge her while she has to recharge her power for a few seconds, firing two darts in rapid succession. She dodges both darts with ease and stands her ground as I charge at her.
“Suicide?” she asks in a monotone voice.
I get as close to her as I can safely, firing a dart at chest level, and sliding in desperation to get out of the way of her blast. I swear under my breath as she destroys the dart with one hand and grabs the barrel of my rifle with the other. All spirit-touched have superhuman reflexes, but her reflexes seem to be working faster than most of us. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m human right now, but she may have enhanced reflexes as well. I hold onto the gun and try to pull the trigger. A dart fires into the ceiling harmlessly. I’m forced to let go as she turns the gun to dart and would have taken my arm with it. Now’s my opening.
I go low, slamming a hand on the ground and whipping my right leg around with as much force as I can muster. I hit her hard, striking cloth and chain. Her knees buckle as she falls to the ground, she starts to get up less than a second later, but I use what time I can to backpedal and speak into my communicator.
“How are we doing? I need help, immediately.” I whisper into the communicator.
“On it, as soon as Unicorn gets back, I’m sending you the stimulant.” Dragon’s voice responds after a few agonizing seconds.
“Will it work?”
Exodus is advancing towards me pretty quickly and I’m running out of room on the platform. I assume a fighting stance and dodge under a beam of destructive energy. Before I can get back to my feet, I catch a sharp kick to the side of my head and go down hard. Feeling rough wrappings pressing against my neck. Exodus has her foot firmly planted there, keeping me in place as energy flows to her fist.
“Esther, please.” I start.
“Shut up.” She says.
“Why do you follow him? Why do you serve him?”
“This isn’t the part where you beg for your life, this isn’t the part where you buy yourself time, this is the part where you die, and I murder your friends, understand?”
Everything around me goes dark.