Armageddon – 4.11

The students broke apart explosively as the water kicked up under the impact of a creature with too many limbs to count. Some immediately ran off into the forest. Everyone on their feet assailed the creature at once.

It was a light show as they attacked. Flashes filled the edges of the forest, showing so many inhuman silhouettes setting upon strays. The water doused Porter and others as all hell broke loose.

The horror was immediately encapsulated by an invisible orb which contained the fire, lighting, and green cloud of needles which latched onto it. A spear was thrown in which caused its limbs to implode. Through all this, the horror shrieked and flailed, but in every moment of obscurity, it continued to reappear unhurt.

It was Cobb, who leaped and brought down his fist on the sphere, which caused the entire thing to flatten, compacting it to nothing. Folded out of sight.

O’Reilly screamed. “Incoming!”

The Elephant Man came into the middle of them, bursting through the trees. Those trees split the group of students along the narrow river as they fell. With the professors near one end, the students on the horror’s side were all alone, singled out.

Porter launched forward. He sailed over the tree and fighting people to bury his katana into its back. The Elephant Man lurched forward, dropping on its hands.

“Solidarity,” he groaned, pushing down on it.

His mind raced. A manifestation of aloneness. Choice and human will, I can take it. A declaration… If he doubted now, he could feel it grow stronger under him with the thought. Just making contact, it was in his head. His arms shook as the battle raged around him, two twin horrors rushing students. Every ounce of his being strained. He’d felt this before, fighting gods. A battle of belief.

His sight sunk back like he was watching a shrinking screen in the darkness.

Porter threw himself off into the water, away from the Elephant Man. The thing gave out, slumping into the mud as he splashed down. He tried to keep his head up to gasp air. He wasn’t sure where or when he was anymore.

“Professor,” a rasping voice came close over him. His eyes stared uncomprehendingly back up at another man without eyelids. They continued, “just ignore it. It works.” The gaunt man pulled on him, trying to raise him up.

When Porter was on his feet, they went sprinting up the riverbank and into the trees.

He caught his bearing and retrieved his katana with one swipe.

The Ouroboros was lashing out with his sickle, taking most of the horrors breaking through. Porter looked over the corpses in the water, past fires and fallen trees. He thought he saw Babba face down.

A shout cut through the noise. “Doran!”

Porter recognized that voice. He looked, but it had come from someplace distant.

A black cloud, he saw, was seeping over his feet. They were numb.

That’s not good.

“Move!” he roared. “Into the forest.” Porter’s hand shot out. Those that didn’t listen, their legs buckled and they disappeared into the water.

When everyone remaining was on the left bank, he tried to count heads. There were too few people, many of them had gone out of sight, stretched out along the river.

Flares shot up into the sky, painting the forest from above in shadows cast through bare branches. He didn’t see Christopher, Cobb was the only Master in sight. The Ouroboros was gone.

Flashes of blue light came with a heatwave. Crackling energy passed between trees.

A headless naked woman came sprinting through the forest with her arms out. Porter cut her down as she veered towards him.

This was chaos. He had to find the Ouroboros. They couldn’t be divided.

“Help!” A student came running past him, screaming for help. They were passing through the trees like they weren’t there, unable to see anyone.

“Master Porter,” a girl said. In sight, there were a half dozen students and Eidolons, congregating near him, now. “We’re all getting split up. I can’t find my friend.”

One twitchy Eidolon in the back opened fire with his gun, stopping Porter from answering.

“We need to stay together. I have to find the Ouroboros.” That was more important. “Now!”

He urged them to move deeper into the forest. The flares overhead were gone, the light dropping down again to that of the eclipse. He could only follow the sounds of screams.

They weaved between the trees until they quickly came to another stream. One of them slipped on the bank, the sound causing a sudden quiet.

Porter jumped down to follow. When he hit the water, there was suddenly nothing beneath it.

“Hey!”

He was instantly submerged. The world was an echo again, everything distant. Looking around, it was like the earth and all the trees were floating on the water, a deep abyss beneath them. The dark moved beneath him until, out of the black, he could see a single light drifting up.

When the hand hooked into his collar and hauled him up, Porter was again in only a foot of water.

“Why the fuck is he so heavy!?” he heard.

Porter threw what had been the source of the light onto the riverbank.

A mounted gun from the back of a Utopian vehicle. It had black growths across it but still had power. It had come out of whatever hole he’d fallen into. A gap in the water the students couldn’t find anymore. “Where’d it go?” the Eidolon asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” Porter coughed. He’d inhaled salt water. He sputtered, “that’s a… bad fucking sign.” When he’d caught his breath, he looked at their confused faces. “It’s-”

A shriek interrupted them as a horror fell from out of the open sky, from above the trees, into their midst.

“Shit!” A Magi with a hammer crushed them down into the mud and rock. He stood over the twisted form that had been a woman in a red dress, her limbs sticking up. “That scared the hell out of me.” Her hand lulled to the side, finger caressing his leg.

Porter watched as the Magi compacted where he stood, the damage of the hammer conferred onto him. His limbs twisted, his organs exploded through his exposed ribcage.

Porter jabbed his Katana through the magi and into the horror. With the barrier of flesh between them, her healed arms couldn’t reach around to touch him. He lifted them and ran them back before driving the two of them into the ground.

The others watched.

“Bring me the hammer!” he groaned. The horror had too much strength.

Another Magi, clearly unfit to wield the massive thing, drug it to his side.

“Fuck,” Porter swore. “I have to do it fast.”

Porter stepped back and withdrew the sword. He traded it for the hammer and brought it up over his head. He slammed the horror with all his strength. Its hand shot out through the dead Magi’s chest, bones extending to reach. He pulverized the two of them, but not before a gentle brush of her nails.

He left the hammer where it was, lodged into the earth with them.

“Master Porter?” the other Magi asked.

He took back Hasami’s sword from their hand, not meeting their eyes.

“That’s… ironic.” He took a few more steps and stopped in his tracks.

“You’re bleeding,” they said.

“I noticed.” He considered the forest. He checked the path of the river. Though he couldn’t see where it ran, he felt a cold breeze coming down its length from one direction. He felt out, but he couldn’t sense past the shadow over the entire world. Beyond that, there was only silence. He stared past the young Magi. “How many of us are left?”

“What do you-” they looked over their shoulder to where he’d been looking. Where the others should have been. “…I’m not supposed to be here.”

“I realized that.” Porter finally looked at them. The girl was in a robe, water soaking her up to the waist. “Listen to me,” you’re already dead. “You have to get away from here,” I don’t want to watch. “Follow the river to the ocean. Follow the coast until you’re out. Do you understand?”

“Out?”

“Reality’s falling apart. I don’t know what you’ll find.”

Reality was conserving energy. She wasn’t important. If she left his side now, she’d simply cease existing. She’d go back to the start or go nowhere. He didn’t know.

“It’s your only chance,” he said. “Get out.”

The Magi said nothing, she only went where he pointed, quickly turning her face. She soon disappeared out of sight. She was gone.

Not knowing is better. It really wasn’t.

It was just him, now. Like it was supposed to be.

Porter took his sword into both hands in preparation. He heard footsteps breaking the water, echoing from down the river, opposite direction the Magi had gone.

Cobb’s white suit was marred by blood, his grey beard had been ripped from his face. Catherine was right behind him. Wherever the fuck she had come from.

The two of them noticed Porter and picked up speed.

When Cobb reached him, he only had one thing to say. “We have a plan.”

O

O’Reilly drove his spear into the body of a giant skittering creature. The tip of the spear filled its insides with fire. The fire crept through its many slicing legs, turning it into a husk in seconds.

It was just him, among a field of mangled trees and bodies.

As the skittering thing was going limp, one of its still moving arms beat itself against a tree, snapping off.

“FUCK!” he cried.

The limb regrew an entire body before he could dislodge his spear. Its front arms sprang out, knocking him off his feet.

O’Reilly impacted the tree trunk and had to quickly dig himself out of its bark. His shoulder slid back into the socket, he felt. There was such a quantity of bodies beneath him, that he simply reached down to pick up a discarded claymore.

He took it underhanded and pierced the earth, taking a knee.

The skittering thing was breaking off pieces of itself on the trees as it charged, there quickly being exponentially more of the horrors. In an instant, every one of them was swathed in a pillar of fire. The fire clung to every surface, every tree and rock. It spread around him as he watched. In the tornado of light and heat, he could make out their black keratin forms writhing until the intensity blotted them out.

He withdrew the blade and the fire sunk into the ground, leaving only… nothing.

O’Reilly’s eyes adjusted, but he could no longer make out the forest. He was surrounded by a patch of charred earth, but beyond, there was only darkness.

He threw the claymore up, holding it out towards the sky. A beam of light shot out which illuminated the landscape. The trees could be seen in the distance, beyond the charred earth, but were getting further away. He’d scorched more of the earth than he’d intended.

That wasn’t right. He shouldn’t have been getting more for the power he spent.

That was a grave a sign.

Ash began to fall on him. He looked down to keep it from getting in his eyes.

A pain grew in his hand.

He sat down at the base of the tree he’d been thrown into before. Enough of it remained that he could lean back. He looked at his hand, removed the glove.

Between his index finger and thumb, there was a small, growing splinter. He felt them all along his chest, where the skittering thing had hit him.

He lifted the claymore as much as he could beside him and pushed the tip between two roots. He held his breath and lit the fire.

On the tree line, Aziacht watched the flames reach for the sky.

Everything in its place, he thought. Time for an end.

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Armageddon – 4.07

The fighter fell into an even approach. Thrusters slowed and guns fired. A hole was blasted through the hanger bay doors of the warship. The one remaining ship called Solidarity.

Seth brought down the landing gear, turned up the shields, and forced his way through the ragged gap in the metal. The pitch-black interior of the hanger lit up as he switched on the headlights. As they set down he quickly blew the hatch.

Gregory was first to put boots on the ground.

Grabbing the handgun tucked beside his seat, he exerted some force to lift, catching himself on the capsule’s rim so as not to float away. “Mag boots?” he asked.

“Got mine,” Gregory replied. They stuck and walked, doing a short spin and looking around the hanger.

“Go night vision, then,” Seth told him. He reached down to power off the fighter’s lights.

“Check.”

They left the fighter behind, moving by memory towards the hangar exit. They’d both been here before. The layout like any of the other ships Seth and Gregory had been operating space marines on for years. They’d been stationed on the now destroyed vessel, Schaden, originally. Lately, it had been hectic, to say the least.

The door controls were unresponsive so Seth moved to the front with an expander. Sliding it into the seal, it cranked and crunched to pry it open. Doing that, they collected the expander and moved forward.

Gregory had the lead with his handgun forward. Now, in the unlit corridors of the Solidarity, they moved ahead briskly.

There were too many angles to clear effectively. Crewmember rooms and droid storage offshoot from the main hall which they tread. Any number of places for a surprise attack.

The power is out, Seth thought, it could be a feint. A trick.

It could be that Aku is offline. What that would mean, though, he had no idea.

The suspense of hidden danger loomed.

Seth’s hand rested on Gregory’s shoulder as he checked alternate doorways as they walked. The Commanding deck wouldn’t be far.

All the machines were conspicuously absent as the primary hall’s end approached.

The heavy double doors were clamped shut hard. Wouldn’t be a problem.

Seth latched the expander and Gregory watched their back. As the metal of the doors ground, they parted to show a crowd of androids.

Each with their alabaster faces revealed, they rested, almost posed, across the room. Starlight from the vaulted glass backlight their pale, twisted expressions. Slowly as the doors parted, their eyes moved free of their statuesque bodies to fix on the two of them.

They stepped through and Gregory collected the expander, the door snapping shut behind them. All at once console lights came on in the dark. They had to switch off their night vision, choosing the dim over the blinding LEDs.

With the androids unresponsive, Seth cautiously moved on. He had in mind the flight controls. If they could activate the emergency landing protocol, the Eidolons could secure the ship. He was sure they had a way.

The first step he took had every android shoot up. Gregory clasped down on his shoulder, pulling him back. He radioed to him, “we have to try.”

Gregory responded, “they’re unarmed.”

“So?”

“About ten yards between any of them and us. Let’s trash them.”

They charged. Clambering over each other, faces lighting up with rage, every android rushed.

“Shit!”

They lit up the crowd, pulling the trigger as rapidly as they both could. Some two dozen androids broke against their shots like a crashing wave, those at the back rolling over those downed in the front. It was an instant realization that they couldn’t stop them all.

Gregory pushed Seth forward into the remaining androids. They tore him apart as he tried to fire into them. With the added space between them and the distraction, he could fire through Seth and the remaining machines. In a few split seconds, the laser fire had tentatively ceased.

Greg stared at the mass of bodies, his back suddenly hitting the wall as his retreat ran out.

His own ragged breath was the only sound in his suit. Pulling his eyes away from Seth’s pieces, he caught sight of the captain’s controls. He went around the androids, thinking some might be playing dead. As he climbed up to the controls, he kept looking over his shoulder back to them.

The display was complex but familiar. He swiped through protocols, quickly seeing the auto-landing command. His finger flew for the button.

Gregory’s face smashed into the floor as his foot was ripped away from him. He kicked at whatever had a hold on him as he was thrown off the platform. He spiraled through the air, set spinning by the android which had pushed off while keeping a grip on his leg. He fought the centrifugal force to aim down at the androids climbing up his leg, their mechanical hands biting into flesh as easily as fabric.

Without thinking he blew off both the android’s face and parts of his left leg.

His own screaming echoed in his ears.

When Gregory stopped to catch his breath, inhaling sharply through clamped teeth, he couldn’t find his bearings. He was spinning on an upward path, on every rotation catching a glimpse of the oncoming ceiling.

“Gahh!” He shouted as he landed. Gregory quickly tried to push off using only one foot but bashed his stump in the process.

His vision was going black.

Welling up from his suit was a foam sealant, but the loss of his limb and the open vacuum meant his blood pressure plummeted.

As he tried to guide himself down towards the control panel, he stuck out his hand. With his thoughts slipping, Gregory could only hope he hit the button.

O

The Deus Ex was dead in the water, it seemed. Porter dusted himself off as he came up the hill. The impact had been a little rough. Hasami’s sword was attached to his back.

Over the Martian hills and far away, the valley where they’d begun rested between two grand rocks. No more cloud of drones flew overhead.

He traveled the distance quickly. In this instance, he could teleport it.

Then, looking down from one of those grand rocks, he could see the forest valley, every tree felled below. Disturbingly, he could see no living people.

Porter leaped down off the rock, hit a hill and slid to a stop. Sprinting the rest of the way into the valley, he could see more clearly. Among the fallen trees and hundreds of unmoving black spheres, there were quite a few dead Utopians.

But not enough.

There would be survivors. With every drone dead, they would have moved on, he reasoned. Porter’s eyes scanned the horizon. He remembered, there had been a nearby settlement reduced to rubble. They might have gone there to look for survivors.

He traveled again, out of the valley and to the grassy Martian plains.

They hadn’t gone back to the Monastery? He wondered.

No, they had to be around here somewhere. He sensed it.

Where would they go? They had a better sense than him, what might they be waiting for, then? What reason would they have to stay?

Porter craned his head up to see a massive blackened warship descending from space.

That’d do it.

He traveled one last time.

The crowd was gathered out in the open of a Martian flatland. A perfect landing space.

They gave the ship some distance as it set down, a massive groaning and dust cloud billowing. Porter let the wind wash over him before catching up to the crowd and flagging down the first Master he saw.

Wulff was by his five or so remaining students. Cobb was somewhere nearby and Babba too was around. He didn’t see O’Reilly, but he thought he would be there. That was it.

No Smith, nobody else. Only a couple dozen students remaining. He counted among the crowd a few suited Eidolon, military men. He could see in the distance one running over the hills towards them. They will have dotted the landscape with their escape pods.

“Porter,” Wulff acknowledged him. “What’s the situation?”

“You first,” Porter replied, still counting heads.

“The drones were an onslaught, Porter. What you’re looking at was the best case scenario. Harrison wasn’t making it. Smith wasn’t making it. I knew that going in. You were supposed to die too, actually. What happened up there.

Porter grimaced. “Hasami,” he said.

“I can’t account for the highly unlikely.”

“You take the safe option,” he accused. He wasn’t happy. The soldier, Brice, had shaken him a little. He’d exerted a different form of power and it changed him. “You calculate. Not the long shot, the one with the most variants you can see. That’s what you picked.”

“I could have tried for Harrison if that’s what you’re saying. But it became exponentially statistically unlikely. So yes, I chose a plan with a number of fallbacks.”

Porter stared at him for a moment as the Utopians broke off towards the now settled ship. They were climbing up to a hole in the hangar bay doors.

“The future you were least likely to die in,” Porter said. “I know how you set goals, Wulff, it’s not hard to see. You planned for her death and for mine.”

Wulff narrowed his eyes. “You remember, Porter, the time the Anarchists won the War Games? The only time they did. You were on their side, I know, and everyone knows you don’t take a hit. You’re a metaphysical tank, but you ran into the same problem then that I know you did today. You couldn’t be Anarchist because society can’t be. You remember it now as your defining badass moment, Quinn, but you forget how ineffective you can be when the fight is against anything the least bit conflicting. You forget that I was on your side, then. And that you haven’t won a game since.”

Wulff started off for the ship, calling back as he walked away. “Don’t forget it again, please.”

Porter was tempted to kill him but didn’t think it was quite justified. Yet.

He fucking hated it. Wulff and Christopher. Manipulators. He wasn’t built for it.

Porter belatedly followed along. With the Utopians having already having gotten the engines running, a shield purge initiated. The laser burns were cleaned off by the warship’s surface and the metal could begin its self-healing process.

As he walked he could see appearing on the ship’s side in bold white letters the name, Solidarity.

Armageddon – 4.02

Kyle watched some of the students file back behind the stage and into another room. He’d heard something about food. He was among those too unsettled to leave their seats. Students with their heads down in their hands. A row ahead of him, a girl’s shoulders went up and down silently. She had messy black hair.

Just looking at the faces he could see, everyone was fucked up by this.

Kyle couldn’t tell himself he wasn’t rattled, though. It’d be a lie. He’d started out in all this shit looking for a way to cope, maybe even to bring back Jillian. He couldn’t comprehend the total loss the Utopians had just suffered, but he also couldn’t really bring himself to be surprised. He just wasn’t that kind of person.

What’s my next step?

The Ouroboros was up by the Masters, who were plotting. He turned around and sat down on the edge of the stage, crossing his arms. Where was the sickle he’d come in with? Kyle wondered. More so, why is he staring at me?

Professor Cobb kept glancing at the being. He was fascinated. He followed its line of sight to Kyle, who sat back with his helmet in his lap. Cobb frowned.

Kyle didn’t react. He was a little burned out, really. Consequence of being jacked up to an android for several hours looking for Doran. His eyes were blurry and his mind hazy.

Suddenly, the Sanctuary doors swung open. Porter?

In came a man with tattered clothes hanging off his emaciated frame. He looked around, taking in the room, before coming to sit on the same pew seat as Kyle. He looked, wide-eyed at the Ouroboros, before following their gaze right back to Kyle, who noticed his eyes weren’t wide, but that the lids were missing.

“As I have foretold,” they said, raspy.

“Did you?…” Kyle looked him over. “Did you come out of the rubble?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I studied under Master Laird. He died.”

“Not you, though? Master Babba tossed the mountains.”

The Lidless man only stared in response. Obviously, he knew that.

Kyle sat back, looking away but quickly finding his eyes locked with the Ouroboros. He got sick of it.

He stood up and excused himself to the back room.

It was a kitchen. People stood around, many sitting on the floor. Lanterns had been set out, casting dense shadows. He could see a young man eating a sandwich at the steel counter. He seemed apathetic to the other person sitting shaking on the floor by their feet.

Kyle was a psychologist. He really thought that he should be talking to some of these people. Out of everyone at the Monastery, only more than a hundred remained. They had to function, too. Everyone had lost someone.

He saw his hands bash the stainless countertop, denting it. The man eating his sandwich didn’t look up.

Kyle slowly exhaled. Anger is not my… master, he remembered.

“Fuck my shit right up,” he said, looking at his aching hands.

“We’re gonna move soon,” the sandwich guy spoke. He kicked the one by his leg.

“R-right,” they ratified.

Kyle recognized them. He’d studied associated files earlier in the day. “Beaulieu’s?”

The young man nodded. “What’s left.”

“You lost someone?” he asked, instincts getting the better of him.

“Our brother,” the one on the floor answered.

Kyle stood in silence for a moment. He had an idea, but he wasn’t sure. On a psychological level, it would feel irreverent. He’d read their file. “You’re a… Gestalt?” he said.

“It’s like a mirror… light,” the standing one answered. “I don’t know. Catherine knows.” He looked at the half-eaten sandwich in his hand. He saw a sink across the room and threw it, hitting the wall above. “How the fuck did this happen?”

He felt the answer was better left unsaid. “You amplify the power between you,” he explained. “Why didn’t you ever expand the circuit?”

The Beaulieu brother grimaced.

“I…” Kyle started, “why don’t you let me shore up the circuit? You’re used to a triune power hierarchy. I’m willing to guess it’s not going to work, maybe at all, without that structure.”

The Beaulieu’s made no move.

“We deploy…” he looked at his wrist, where Aku would have the information on his mind. An automatic response. The dark screen was barely visible in the light. “…soon.”

Still, no answer.

Just a little push. Don’t assert yourself.

“Come on, let’s get it set up with your sister?”

Finally, he nodded.

Okay, now we get working.

O

Porter hit the doors moving. He had a white-knuckle grip on the katana in his hand.

The Ouroboros sat up, starting towards him. They met in the middle of the aisle, the Ouroboros asking him. “You’re now ready?”

He was. “We need to gather forces as fast as possible before Aku can mobilize their network. Come on!” He called.

Cobb retorted, “We were waiting for you, Porter.”

He ignored him as they went for the doors. All the students, who’d been grouping amongst themselves, quickly picked up. Many of them were in casual clothes. They weren’t prepared. One student, clad in massive spiked red-steel armor, was clearly uncomfortable. Everyone had to go, though.

Kyle went with the crowd out the door and into the cold. They were a bunch of college students in street clothes, for the most part, about to fight in space.

Somehow.

Porter was in the lead, the Masters quickly backing him up. He waved his hand, setting the portal for the Martian surface, the red planet.

Over the heads in front of him, Kyle could see a ruddy rock valley and twilight sky above. Catherine was next to him, holding his hand palm up and reading from a notebook in her other. She was introducing him to the circuit. His arm was tingly as fuck.

They passed through the portal. Kyle knew he was ready.

The students quickly spread out as the sky came into view. The blue sky of a Martian sunset. He realized the administration program had control again. And he realized he was wrong.

A swarm of spheres so dense they darkened the sky, a swarm of drones buzzed like a train in his ear. He saw as Porter charged forward. The drones were grouping in his path as he ran out of sight. Kyle looked up and through. They were gathered in the way, but he could see through. A hazy silhouette of the Martian fleet was affixed in the atmosphere, gleaming on one side with the sun.

“How is this… a plan?” he asked, pissed.

The throng moved past him and Catherine. There were a few others still preparing spells, but they were left behind as well.

A slap hit him. He turned, red-faced, to Catherine.

“We’re gonna fuck the robots up,” she growled. “That’s the plan.”

She slapped his hand a few times, trying to draw out the spell. A mark welled up on the skin, three intersecting circles. The innermost space glowed. He felt a thrumming in his chest. The two brothers had an aura appear around them, pulsing to the thrum.

Every muscle in his body vibrated. He was light headed as hell.

“You ever flown before?” one brother asked him.

“I’ve tried a few spells,” Kyle answered, swaying on his feet. He brought up his helmet from under his arm. The visor wouldn’t work. He threw it aside.

“It’s wide open,” the younger brother said, the one who’d been on the floor earlier.

“Come on!” the other launched, followed by the younger.

They disappeared into the sky. It was lit up by laser fire. The drone swarm was going crazy, beyond the canyon they were in, and down to the valley where most the fighting was happening. He could feel how tough he was. Several protective spells were on him. It was hell up there, though.

Kyle took a breath. In with the air came lightness, then speed.

He launched. He found his way to the Beaulieu brothers in the sky, lasers glancing off him. They were racing through the air, tearing through the orbs.

He took in the landscape. The colonized Martian world was dotted with greenery. Every machine on the planet was buzzing in the air. The Eidolon were tearing up the ground fighting. In the distance, several smaller cities were melted. The drones and small crafts attacking were being put down. This was no military response.

Then, he saw it.

Lowering down from orbit was one of the Martian ships. It was joining the fight?

Kyle tried moving forward, putting his hands out and bashing one of the drones out of the air. A dragon, a literal dragon, was roaring somewhere. It was all too much to take in.

The Martian ship bared its canons. The massive guns glowed hot. They took aim at the sky and ground as the ship continued to drop quickly. It wasn’t stopping.

Canons fired at them.

O

Porter was in the valley. Trees were flattened by the dragon to his right, tumbling over them and breathing lightning. He’d lost sight of the Ouroboros. Cobb was with him.

The flurry of drones was almost too thick to see through. They’d built shields overhead, but some were slipping through.

Wulff grabbed O’Reilly by the shoulder and shouted something in his ear, over the chaos. They didn’t have long, here. He had Smith at his side. He was the only one which could use magic to purge Aku from the fleet’s systems. They needed to get him up.

Porter craned his head to see the ship above.

Or bring them down, he thought.

That same ship opened fire. O’Reilly and Miller, with the help of the students, quickly fortified the shield. Each of them devoted themselves to that task, setting up a human ring. It wasn’t a pretty tactic, all of them shouting in a circle.

This had been the best their portal could do. They only had one option, now.

“Smith, Babba, you’re with me. We need!” he looked over the crowd. He traced back the weak fortification spell that was on him to a girl crouching by a fallen tree. “You! You’re coming with us!” Finally, he pointed to Master Babba. “We need to get on that ship. We need to go up.

She nodded. The Elementalist planted her feet. All of them braced as the ground shot like a piston. Once they were up and into the hailstorm, a torrent grabbed them. Babba was the only one upright. Porter fought to stay oriented as the wind carried them.

He righted himself, seeing their destination approach. The black, monolithic ship drew closer. He pushed ahead of the others, willing himself forward. They needed a way in.

Porter was going to make that way.

Armageddon – 4.01

Porter and the Ouroboros came into the Sanctuary. The portal had opened into the cold, onto carven stone pathways leading up to open glass doors. To their back, the Ouroboros glanced, the pathways ended in a drop. The mountain had been rent, tossed away into the fog which rolled over the jagged ruins. Much of this place had been destroyed.

“They wouldn’t listen to me,” Porter said as they reached the doors.

Passing inside they saw the Sanctuary had been structured to look much like a traditional sanctuary, with pews and a stage. Mostly standing crowds of people had gathered. The Ouroboros recognized many them from his binding. That insult.

It would have to wait.

All the magi were suited and anxious. Their eyes fixed on Porter and the monster.

Wulff was sitting at the edge of a table on the stage. “You think you’re taking charge,” he said, jumping down into the aisle. “But you’re hurting the situation.”

Porter started to speak.

Wulff cut him off. “I knew his binding would break, I know this is advantageous for us. But self-determined action is not what we need right now. Now that the Abbot is dead, I’m at the center of the information loop. You go through me, please.”

Porter stopped as Wulff was in his way. “First, I appreciate you not being an ass about it. Second, I’ll act when there’s no time. I made that binding, I knew how fast it was going down.” He stepped around and went up to the stage and table.

The Ouroboros was left staring at Wulff, who immediately stepped to the side.

The remaining Masters surrounded the table, sitting in fold-out chairs. The Ouroboros could know their names; Cobb, O’Reilly, Miller, Babba, Wulff, Porter, and Smith. They watched the being perch on the stage’s edge and count their heads.

This force is not enough, he thought.

Cobb immediately asked Porter what he was thinking, what he had in mind now. He didn’t get the chance to answer.

The Ouroboros jumped up and put his hand down on the table. “I am no weapon of yours. You may count me your ally in common cause, but the law is what I deal. In my strength, you find I am now leading.”

They watched him. They didn’t have a response.

Timidly, a middle-aged woman with black bowl cut said, “Right now, we need to gather our forces. Would you happen to know anything about the most recent positioning of the Utopian fleets? No?” Babba quirked a thick eyebrow.

He made no show of emotion, though it was annoying. She thought she was clever. “Gather your forces, but you have no idea what is necessary. This broken vain chapel to dreams is fallen. We go to nature.”

“As a…” Miller puzzled. “As a symbolic measure?”

Smith worked it out. “It’s to say our side is most natural. It is a moral argument, yes?”

“The fight will be about truth,” Ouroboros confirmed. “Aziacht has set from eternity the three answers against each other. Faith, death, and acceptance to find truth. The question is absurd.”

“That’s fucked,” O’Reilly commented. “But yes, nature.”

“The glass valley,” Babba told them. “Water and stone. I preserved it when I tossed the mountains to destroy the machines.”

“Killed so many people,” Miller spoke, dead serious.

Wulff interjected, offended. “There were nukes in the bay. I demanded Master Babba act when I sensed your deaths. You wouldn’t know this, but we made away with the absolute best case scenario because of me, Miller.”

She looked away. Indignant.

Porter still hadn’t sat. He looked over the students gathered and listening in the pews. Many of them rested their heads forward. What hour was it?

“Hasami?” he called out.

A skinny girl with a mop of black, frizzy hair looked up. Beside her two young men sat, despondent. “He didn’t show up,” she said. “Everybody from the airlock brake hasn’t been recovered yet.”

“He didn’t go,” a young, blond man, Kyle, said. “He was in the city.”

“No,” Porter told him. “I…” He’d prepared the Monastery, trying to warn them and getting Wulff to help save what they could. If they’d listened it wouldn’t have taken so damn long… But, he couldn’t have forgotten Hasami? There hadn’t been a lot of time. “Christ.”

The Ouroboros watched displeased as Porter’s focus ran away.

“Our primary threat,” Wulff said, pulling things back on track, “is Aku.”

“Completely,” Cobb agreed.

“As I understand, it will take some time for Aziacht to muster his forces. We should do the same. We need to check for survivors and-”

“No,” Ouroboros raised a hand. “You’ve just said what you need do.”

“He’s right.” Porter rubbed at his face and pulled himself back. “We can check for civilian survivors when all’s done. Right now, we don’t even have the space to house and feed them. The grid is still largely online and hostile, yeah?”

Smith nodded.

“Then our immediate mission is to take down Aku. You’re right.” Wulff had avoided the obvious, but Porter was right. What few survivors there were would probably die from the elements. There was nothing they could do about that. “We should focus all our effort on recovering the Martian Armada.”

“Why the Martian?” Babba asked. “Why not the Saturn Dreadnaught?”

“Saturn was taken down,” Master Smith explained. “Taggart is the only reason the Martian fleet would still be operational. If it is.”

Taggart? Ouroboros thought. He reached into the thought association. It connected to an idea they shared, which reached back to reality. Memetic information.

Taggart was the Martian Sentinel, second only to Sebastian in station.

Porter abruptly left. He headed down the aisle, out the doors and to the makeshift portal that had been erected. Wulff sighed. “So, we’re agreed? The Red Armada?” he questioned.

“Aye,” they assented.

The Ouroboros stayed silent. He feared none of this would matter.

O

Porter stepped out of the portal. The hard, salted ground crackled underfoot. The sun above was hidden behind an ash cloud. He looked ahead at the towering, sweeping mounds of metal. He was so many miles out, just to get a good look at them. The cities had melted and warped into twisted, inhuman shapes. Alien.

He looked to his back, where so many more miles away the forest began and quickly rose to the snowy mountains. The air was dry and windy, quickly cooling under the dark of the rumbling black clouds. Occasional lightning flashes lit up the metal in the cities.

Kendall, he wondered momentarily. Knowing him, he made it out just fine.

Hasami, though. Porter looked on the melted cities. Was he somewhere in there?

Fuck not knowing. In fact, “Fuck you!” He shouted.

He couldn’t have averted this. If Doran had failed, Christopher would have just pulled the plug. Now the system was fulfilling its purpose. Aziacht, whoever the fuck he thought he was, had set this up. A test of truth to answer a question. To get a reliable answer, he knew, the system had to be free. No matter what happened next, Christopher had no power over them now.

He allowed himself to dream of what could come next.

Conscious determination of destiny is what makes us great, he thought.

He wanted to know. He reached deep and found his element. It was weakened, but it was always strong. A long time ago he’d been a different person. Afraid, silent, a thinker. His element made him who he was, now. The thing which he embodied, which he used to kill gods.

“Have I not told you?” he spoke, low. It connected him.

Now wasn’t the time. He didn’t know what would happen when he needed to pull out all the stops. He was afraid, honestly. It’s a pattern, he recognized. Frustration. For now, he’d hang on to himself. For now, he drew out what power he needed.

Porter teleported.

Covering the distance, racing over the flats and into the city. He appeared in a valley of melted and charred concrete. The still standing stone bodies of people littered what had been a street. They’d deformed but were still unmistakably human.

He’d willed the answer to his question and he saw it.

Porter walked some ways, stepping around still molten metal and the huddled bodies. Whatever had happened, it had taken more than a few moments. It hadn’t been a flash, it’d been heat. Every molecule agitated into a frenzy until the very air ignited. In the streets, he could still feel it on his skin, the warmth.

It’d only been a few hours, now.

He came into a parking lot. Up ahead the fallen space elevator began at its base and snaked over the melted mounds of buildings, blending into them. In the parking lot, the cars had fused with the asphalt. Up beside one he came to crouch and inspect a charred figure.

The figure leaned against one of the cars, sunken into its side. Stuck into the ground beside them was a preserved katana.

“How funny is it,” he asked, “that there’s no one else in these cities I even knew.” He took a knee. “I mean, I grew up here… I…” he trailed off. There’s was no point to talking. It didn’t help him. He rejected the thought of it helping himself.

He wrenched the sword from the ground and held it in his hand.

“I’ll remember,” he said. That was a good thing to say. Good enough.

With the katana in hand, Porter left.

Machina – 3.10

We covered the lot in a sprint. Ducked into the open apartment stairwell, through the building. There were only two more structures between us and our goal.

The rain was beating down harder. Fat drops broke against the crown of my head as we moved back out. There was a golden mean between timidness and recklessness. Courage. I wouldn’t have called it courage, though. That wasn’t a term I didn’t associate with.

My sense alerted me to several blue shots coming down from above in a trail of vapor. I turned to block them. Ash got behind me as I did.

The Sentinel was targeting him. He was trying to slow us down.

Keeping a watch on the sky, I needed Ash to guide me. There was water in my eyes, but I could make out the falling blue light. Though one arm was injured and both were tired, I could still block the barrage. He couldn’t beat me.

You’ll need that attitude.

One more apartment building to go.

Ash and I dashed down the hall. Up ahead I could see, back out in the storm, that a line had formed across the parking lot. A colorful lineup of Eidolons. Less than a dozen, but too many. These were the reinforcements they’d conjured to stop us, now standing in our way.

We stopped in the hall’s threshold. Ash fired from the hip once just to confirm my suspicion. A shimmer rested on each one of them. They’d gotten a Shielder.

I backed up a few feet. My mind was racing.

The Sentinel blasted down between us and them.

He held gravitas. “Stand. Down.”

“Never,” I answered. I kept backing up. Had to think of a way out.

We had one chance now. Need to bottleneck them.

“Come on, fuckers!” Ash yelled. He saw what I was doing and followed. He threw down his gun and withdrew a knife covered in hellish symbols.

Someone sent out a black smoke. A curse of death. I cut it down.

“That not going to work!” I shouted to them.

“The longer you wait,” the Sentinel growled, “the tighter the noose gets.”

They would get in more reinforcements. They would get in ships. At any moment, the only reason we had a chance was because of their restraint. He was right. They weren’t falling for it. They were standing in the rain, waiting. They would abstain from a fight and run out my clock.

I was trapped. There was only one path forward.

Into the storm.

“Stay… stay behind me, Ash.” I mustered some confidence.

“You got it.” He knew the odds.

Courage. It was necessary today.

I raised my cleaver up and ran out into the rain.

The Sentinel rocketed out of my way, shouting for them to attack.

A technicolor volley hit me. Every Eidolon threw what they had. Ice, fire, light, electricity, and shadow. But their primitive magic ended at my swords edge. They spaced out and those that had weapons brandished them. The first one came at me with a lance. I knocked up his stab and slid into my own, penetrating his gut and slicing up and out. I came back over into another’s shoulder, cleaving off the arm.

Ash would have to look out for himself.

I was hit with a blast of force. The concrete sprayed up and I went into an Eidolon and tumbling. When I was up, the seven or so remaining fighters were facing me. One had Ash face down under his boot, a sword to the back of his neck.

“I’ll kill your friend,” she warned. “Drop your sword.”

“That one?” I asked. “He’s fucked up, you know?” Quick and dirty plan.

Ash was seamless. “That’s funny, coming from you. I thought you liked men?”

“Sometimes. But don’t tell them the plan!” I shouted.

“What pl-“ The moment she was sufficiently distracted, Ash’s arms reached back, one hand knocking away her sword and the other stabbing her leg. He rolled and she crumpled. The other Eidolons were slow to react to her fall.

I threw my cleaver. It spun wildly through the air and into one of them. I rolled under a fireball and threw out my hand. The intention was clear. There was a momentary delay, but I had power over what was mine.

The blade dislodged and returned to my hand, slashing another across the face as it did. I was close enough now that I cut down the flame Elementalist on coming up. Ash was standing and killed another, stabbing him in the back.

We’d surprised them. The moment they believed they would lose, they had. And that moment came when more than half of them were dead. We’d mowed them down.

The last two ran when we’d gotten the rest.

“Doran!?” Hasami yelled. He was hurt, but he stood tall. He came out of the dark hall with his sword in hand, just now catching up. “You’re killing them,” he pleaded.

I stared back at him. I couldn’t say anything. Couldn’t doubt now. Ash started off without me, forcing me to catch up. We made it through the last building. There was an elevation of concrete and a bit of railing which we easily climbed up to another parking lot.

We’d reached it. The circular base of the space elevator.

We were so close.

O

Porter watched the digital room render. A table in the dark. Of the people still appearing, the first he recognized was Master Wulff. That old guy, Cobb. Ali was notably absent to this impromptu meeting.

The three important Magi had arrived, though. Next came the council.

Nameless ethicists, a few high council members. Everyone exchanged glances, waiting for the meeting to begin. Emergency meetings were supposed to be rapid.

The last one to arrive was a Zenith Council member. A singular man who held more sway than one-third of the rest of the council.

He looked like Santa Claus.

One of the old populists. A vote winner. A Zeitgeist, Porter thought.

On the table, a perfect hologram suddenly appeared. Doran, Porter recognized. Doran and the demon running away from a slew of bodies in a rainy lot.

“The reason for this meeting,” Aku’s monotone voice sounded. “The entities Doran and Ashmedai are on the move and dangerous. Permanent death weapons are in use. The council needs to decide on a course of action. Protocols have failed.”

Throwing Magus at it didn’t work.

“Why don’t we call in drones? Use nanites?” an Ethicist proposed.

“It’s not going to work,” Porter said.

“Truly,” Cobb agreed.

“Doran is using momentum, channeling raw sway. It’s like he’s got armor. You won’t get him with a stray bullet or a drone. He’s fucking with reality’s mechanics. Degrading natural law and strengthening metaphysical ones. Just passively. It’s a titanic ability. There’s no poetic justice in stopping him now,” Porter told them. He crossed his arms. This is what he’d known.

They didn’t know about the Primordial thing. It was about timing.

Wulff narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re proposing they’re impossible to stop?”

Porter didn’t respond.

“We could nuke them,” Wulff tested.

“You won’t and so you can’t,” Porter countered. “Same difference.”

“Gentlemen,” a councilwoman cut in. “We won’t know what measures are appropriate until we know what’s at stake? What is their motivation?”

“That’s my department.” A blond young man had appeared at the table.

“Who are you?” Cobb asked.

Aku enlightened. “Kyle, Magus.”

The young man continued. “Their apparent goal is the space elevator. That will take them up to a platform where they can access older, still functional teleports. Ones which can be manually overridden. Those teleports are short range, however. They could have only one destination in mind.”

“Jesus Christ.” Santa realized what he was saying. “Could he do it?”

Porter knew. “That machete he’s got, it’s called an Ender Blade. We don’t know how to make or break one. But I know what it can do. And the answer is yes. Absolutely.”

Kyle jumped in. “But Doran thinks he’s doing whatever he is for good reasons,” he said. “His determination is driven by conviction… And desperation.”

“Can we dismantle the lunar teleports?” Santa asked.

“I’ve cut power to both them and the elevator,” Aku informed.

Porter grimaced.

“Deploy me,” Wulff suggested. “I can control the outcome of this situation. Losing doesn’t need to be an option.”

“I vote so,” Santa agreed. The other council members were redundant. He represented such a large number of people, they couldn’t altogether overpower him.

“Why not take out the space elevator?” The same Ethicist from earlier.

A little trigger happy.

Porter told him, “it may not be staffed anymore, but if the elevator falls, it’ll wrap around the earth. The reason it’s still there is because it’s so hard to dismantle.”

“The ends justify-”

Porter cut him off. “It doesn’t matter.” None of them understood. This wasn’t about them. The Utopians were just collateral damage in all this. In an ageless machination.

He was going to get the hell out of here.

The meeting was adjourned. He was standing alone in his own apartment again. The curtains were drawn, the sound of pouring water the only thing that reached him inside. Slowly, his expression hardened. That calamity he’d wanted?

He was grimly awaiting.

They can’t see. He thought about what had to happen. The timing was now, they shouldn’t avert this thing. Utopians were arrogant in thinking they were bigger than what was going on now. He never believed in the Cause. The Omniverse was too big to make a difference in. They were complacent idiots. Mistaking outer strength for inner.

Utopians didn’t get it. Everything was going to break at the weak spot. Doran was their only hope for survival and they were trying to kill him.

Porter was out the door. He had to get to the Monastery fast.

Interlude I

A path was made through the Utopian students for Sebastian. His silver helmet folded away, uncovering a displeased look leveled at one person in particular.

The halls of the museum were tightly packed surrounding the help desk. It’d been made a station for the students in contact with Orbital. There the tacticians, ethicists, and seers resided, informing battle strategy.

A girl sat in the swivel chair, behind the desk. She interacted with hologram displays and spoke endlessly over her earpiece. A red-haired student was leaning in, flirting with her. Sebastian brushed him out of the way with one hand and slammed his palms down, grabbing her attention.

“I’m in command of this operation. This is disgraceful,” he rumbled. “There’s a complete lack of organization, and on top of that, we’ve ceased receiving status updates on enemy positions. You’re failing, Miss!”

“I’m trying.” She looked frantically over her information. “Masters in Orbital and on the battlefield are quitting. I’m not receiving updates either. It’s chaos. I’m doing my best. Also, I don’t remember being told that you had command?”

“I’m assuming command, Miss.” He leaned further over the desk. “It doesn’t matter. What matters, is that we’re all huddled together in one location and blind. It’s a disaster in wait. We need intel so I can issue orders.”

“It’s Megan, and there’s a command structure, Master Elwood.”

“Clearly, there isn’t.” He straightened. “I need you to-”

“Okeydokey,” came a voice behind him.

There was movement in his periphery. A quick slash too rapid to react.

“Goddammit!” He shouted.

Sebastian sat quickly up and put a hand to his head. A sensation of pain subsided into lost memory. He sat in a dim room with one door and no windows. He knew this room. He wore a grey jumpsuit, his suit gone. Removing his head from hands, he gazed at the blue tattoos dancing over his dark skin. Countless runes with faint light behind them.

“What happened?” Sebastian asked.

The voice most familiar to him replied. “You were assassinated.”

“No. That’s not what I mean.”

“Oh.” He’d actually managed to catch the intelligence off guard. He had a knack for it. “An emergency situation developed. It was decided that the War Games would continue, but many of the Professors have been needed for a Council.”

“And I was not needed?”

“I’m afraid your skills would only offer collateral damage.”

Sebastian scowled. “I want a priority teleport. Get me to that meeting.”

“Yes, sir.”

A light engulfed him.

Teleports were hard on one so grounded as Sebastian. To be forcefully cut and pasted in a different place, it took him a moment to get his bearings.

He sat on his legs, hands on his knees in a ghostly corridor. The long passage held only him, and without his suit, he felt bare. He was rarely vulnerable enough to feel that, the paranoia which came with being alone.

He groaned at the thought. He’d been alone for a long time.

Sebastian followed his insight and came to a set of doors. Pulling them back he heard argument which quickly silenced. It was midnight on the real Earth. Only moonlight and the glow of holograms illuminated the meeting room. Eight or so stone-faced experts encircled a wide table which projected up an image.

The image was of a man. Rendered in full color the hologram displayed him pale and grim. His hair white and eyes black, he carried a Sickle, cloaked in haggard dark apparel. He looked like he was from another age.

“Sebastian Magus joins the council,” Aku announced.

He descended to the bottom of the court, past rows of empty seats to take his place at the table. Some faces he recognized were Wulff and Porter. Others were Professors and one ethicist. They exchanged short nods.

There were countless Magus on the hundreds of Utopian Liberated worlds and in the hellscape. Yet only a handful was invited. Not me, but I’m here anyway.

More people were arriving, but they relegated themselves to the outskirts. There was no space for them at the table.

“Apologies. Fill me in,” Sebastian said.

“Ouroboros is an untiered hostile entity. We believe he is a personification. Mister Porter, as the expert, was about to give his assessment.”

Porter, the man in the disheveled blue suit, leaned in. There was a moment of silence as he thought. “This is an abstract being,” he decided. “The idea of him precedes the reality. We have video of him slicing through metal and surviving incredible heat untouched. My theory, however, is that his attributes are not a constant.” The other Magus whispered in discussion. “I believe he may change situationally, given that his nature is transcendent. Consider that he’s a concept adapted to our binary reality, and you may begin to understand the amorphous nature. When facing against natural things, such as androids or humans-”

“Humans are supernatural,” a white-bearded man interjected.

“No,” Porter flatly responded. “Not naturally. Magic, it’s a breakdown of causal reality into conceptual metaphysics. We don’t fully understand it, really. We only know it relates directly to the wherefore of this.” He gestured broadly.

“Let’s not digress, gentlemen,” Wulff warned.

Porter grimaced. “Not natural,” he repeated, squinting at the bearded man. “Which reinforces my gut feeling. Ouroboros is a weapon.”

“As in created?” The Ethicist asked. “To attack us?”

“You know, I’d honestly love to ask him,” Porter said.

“Part of the reason I’m here,” the Ethicist added. She was undoubtedly a councilwoman. “It’s to oversee your involvement.”

Porter sighed.

“I’m not sure I agree with your assessment.” Wulff crossed his arms. “But the question remains, I’d think we’d all agree, what of our response? Our technology is impotent against him, that makes him a significant threat.”

“Aku is the pinnacle of our science and philosophy,” another Magus said. “Yet is rendered impotent against what this thing represents? Who decides this?” It was rhetorical, Sebastian decided. “I think we could overpower him.”

“Unlikely.” Sebastian looked to Porter.

“Yes,” he agreed. “This thing is inexorable. Like death. The cyclical kind, the highest form. I sense that. We really don’t want to engage in a large-scale conflict. And believe me, it’d be large-scale.” Porter passed the look down to the ethicist. “I could do it.”

The other Magus scoffed.

Wulff gave his say. “A binding.”

Porter shrugged. “Sure. I can direct and drones can scribe the runes. It’ll be a mass ritual. We’ll need all the numbers we can muster. And even though there is a multitude of us, there’s just no possible way it will be enough. Not forever.”

Wulff dismissed him. “In practice, it will succeed.”

“That’s what is best, then?” the ethicist asked.

“Yes,” Porter replied. He grimaced in consideration, then abruptly left. One could only assume for something important. Sebastian was suspicious.

All around the table people gave assent or held their piece. Sebastian didn’t speak. They all broke away from the table. More had to be gathered, all the Masters summoned. He decided not to see how things went. Needed to suit back up. He wanted to be back where he felt at ease. Watching.

He left them behind to find his way up into the night.

O

Porter marched onto the deck of the ship, which was lit by the light of wide levitating screens. The windows which looked straight down on the charred planet confused his sense of gravity.

Vertigo. That was the word.

Standing at every point around the room were Master Magus of the Guild. Recognized sorcerers of every caliber. The primarily transhumanist Technicists were there as well. He passed one, a full cyborg, on his way to the front.

Screens played the live footage that their ship was capturing. The Ouroboros from top-down rushing through mining machinery on the surface. Literally tearing through them like paper, only raising his weapon for the occasional android. He didn’t break or hesitate. He was singlehandedly dismantling the mining planet.

He stopped suddenly, walking out into the open. He turned to stare up into the night sky. He saw them as clearly as they saw him. His gaze fell heavy on the Magus. It could be felt.

Aku read and projected his voice as his lips moved. “Face judgment.

Porter was ready.

Aku began the countdown. “Five seconds to drop. Five, four, three, two…”

One. The floor dropped out from under them. Space and the atmosphere blurring past as they were shunted to the surface. They resolidified, hitting the ground. Many were forced to their knees by the impact, but Porter stood.

Surrounding the Ouroboros were  easily a hundred Magus. Each armored and powerful. Many wielding weapons. All were at a distance from him, though. A distance which he could easily close.

Ouroboros spoke and his voice was close as a whisper. “No.” He stepped forward and Porter raised a hand. His eyes widened, his advancement halted. “You will not commit this sin.” He sized up the forces facing him. He locked eyes with Porter. “You, the Man,” he called. “They know not with what they meddle. Neither you. Your lack of understanding is matched dangerously with your power. This. I have seen this before. You can only harshen my wrath, children. I lament this.”

There was a pause. They both knew each other. Knew what would happen next.

Ouroboros bolted. Porter instantly gave the order.

The circle fell with a flash as the rune was etched. Ouroboros crashed against the binding’s edge and the entire world rose and fell. Mountains in the distance were razed, the earth buckled. Porter hit his knees, his hands steadying the ground as they touched.

Others raised their arms around the freshly lasered symbol, forming a reinforcing ring. There was a terrible shaking. The turning of the world brought the sun over the horizon. It burned away at the air around them. Two Magus broke off, their places being filled out, to block the light. This planet was too close to the sun. Their field of air was hemorrhaging to fight the heat. The wind was rising.

“In the name of perfection, of mankind, and of me, we bind you,” Porter said to the ashen man, not two feet away. He pushed on the unseen wall. Spiderweb fractures crawled out from his feet, threatening to break the symbol. “Seal him!”

No!” Ouroboros slid back as the circle shrunk. The Magus approached to close the seal. Everyone strained against the strength of one, people clambering over each other to keep pressure from every angle as the crowd grew tighter.

Silence fell. The Magus took a step back, dispersing. Porter nearly collapsed.

The rune had sealed, locking inward to bind the Ouroboros in a halo of light which shot up into the sky. Porter stood shakily to work his way out of the pack. To take a step back. With space, he could crane his head to see the white pillar disappearing into space. He could watch as the pillar narrowed and flickered out, collapsing into a single point of light within the circle.

A man came and clapped a hand on Porter’s shoulder. Through his helmet, Wulff said, “We need to clear out. Aku has work to do.”

Have to keep reinforcing the binding.

“Yeah.” Porter waited for a while longer as others teleported out. He knew this wasn’t over. But it was over for now.

Drained. His strength was spent. For the first time, he’d felt a limit. Everything seemed a little darker, because of it. It made him doubt.

Fuck that. Fuck uncertainty.

Porter had faith.

He left to go bide his time. This wasn’t over.

Motley – 1.09

“We’re heading straight for a shitstorm!” Guy Fawkes shouted over the roar of the tank’s engine. Horsehead beat twice on the hull to acknowledge him.

“Aku,” I said low, hand to my ear, “shitstorm is lacking, what’s ahead?”

“From what the anarchists know, a major conflict involving two Anarchist professors, O’Reilly, and Ali, against two Technicists and professor Cobb. Students, of course, make up the bulk of the combatants.”

“Thank you.” I withdrew my hand and sat up on the tank, readying my gun. “ETA!?”

“Take a guess,” one of the other students on the tank said, alluding to the ever closer noises of fire and screams. We took to the air, ascending quickly through the thickened cloud layer. For a moment, the wind and mixture of fog and smoke it carried, was too heavy, and I braced for our rise through the mire.

All at once the sun hit me, a blinding first glimpse. In an instant though my eyes focused, seeing the shadows which cast over me, as people and projectiles came between me and the light. Immediately the tumultuous insanity of my surroundings became clear. Fire and black smoke dotted the intersection, where barriers of earth and metal cut through the massive clearing. Almost every eye turned to the big green tank which had just shot up out of the fog bank, to hang in the air like a sitting duck.

“BAIL!” someone shouted.

I pried my eyes from the shitstorm, and without contemplation, jumped away and off the side of the tank.

There was a brief terrible moment when I realized I was so far to the pavement.

That terrible moment was followed by an eternity of free-fall, and a sudden stop.

I crashed into the concrete, landing feet first, and rolling forward, my hood falling back in the process. I had executed the landing well, but the damage was done. I staggered up and felt a shock of pain. I had to keep moving, and ran regardless, towards the nearest cover. I could hear the impacts of others behind me, but didn’t stop to see who’d made it off.

Ignore the pain.

I was nearing a raised wall of ice, which must have been magically erected when I heard the explosion behind me. I jumped behind cover, twisting as I went, to land and look back.

The Tank had dropped like a rock and landed in a ball of fire and molten metal. Odessa was alive, running her own way, as was Hasami. Anna was still airborne, which seemed like a bad idea.

“Drop the gun!” I threw my rifle aside, and keeping my hands in the air, pushed with my legs until I was up against the ice wall, and further out of fire.

There were magus behind the wall, three, each with a style of their own, and two of them aiming at me with sword and scepter, respectively.

“Guys,” I said. “We’re the cavalry.” I was confident.

Statistically, actually not fifty, fifty, I thought. Good thing we’re not wearing uniforms.

“Cavalry for who?” Whom. 

“Utopian,” I lied. Safest.

He hesitated, but bought it.”Get shooting then,” the sword wielder said.

I had my gun in a flash and didn’t waste time in turning to shoot him. He seized up for the duration of the flash and dropped fast enough that I knew he was dead. The scepter guy reacted much faster than I had anticipated and jabbed his weapon in my direction. I backstepped  around the corner of the frozen barrier as a new wall of ice formed out of thin air, trailing like a train across the battlefield.

I’d dodged the ice, but I was now standing in the open.

Anna, Ash, Odessa, and Hasami were on their own, as was I.

This was all me.

Let’s be unexpected.

The ice wall was just slightly inclined, and dry. My gun had a sling, so I let it hang as I bit the bullet and looked for the right place to start climbing. Scaling the twelve or so foot tall wall,  I threw myself over and landed right behind the backs of the two magus, scepter guy and a girl holding fire.

They were quickly reacting, but I went straight for the scepter wielder, wrapping him in a choke hold, and taking hold of his weapon.

The fire Elementalist couldn’t hit me, and scepter guy couldn’t budge my arm enough to break free. With my hand on the scepter, I closed my eyes.

Ice. Conceptually. Energy. Will. Change. Unnatural…

I could feel my white knuckle grip on the scepter intercepting his control. The weapon began to glow bright, and both he and she realized what I was doing.

He fought, but it was too late. I’d figured him out.

A weak blast of ice turned her a rigid white. I broke his grasp and threw his implement aside. Putting my all into the headlock, I raised him off the ground as he squirmed. He slowly stopped resisting, and I threw him off. Before he could recover, I pulled up my rifle and shot him. Done. 

My heart was beating loudly in my ears.

I had to find the others, couldn’t keep up this solo game. I stooped down to retrieve the earpiece from the scepter guy but found that it was fried. Probably wouldn’t have worked for me anyway.

I stayed down when a laser beam tore through the buildings and pavement to the edge of the battleground. The constant assault carried  on everywhere.

I wasn’t safe here.

Deciding to huff it, I threw my gun over my shoulder and made a dash for the buildings. Different buildings, than the one’s that had been decimated.

The one up ahead was glass fronted. I hurdled into it… but bounced off. I laid on the ground, panting and aching. Smart.

When everything is matter printed, it’s made strong as it can be.

I wasn’t dead yet, so I went ahead and put a call through the coms while I was laying down. “Anybody else alive?”

There was nothing for a moment, then, “I’m safe. Kind of lost, though.” It was Anna. “I jumped when the tank was going down and went further than I meant to. Somewhere west, I think. Almost got taken down by freaking swords.”

Language Missy,” a voice on the channel mocked. Ash?

“-Bloody hell. We’re pinned down,” Odessa said. “Hasami and I found the middle of this. We’ve picked the weaker off, but neither of us can put Cobb down.”

“Bloody irony,” Ash said, “Kendall hates that fag.”

“I do and he is,” Kendall had been eavesdropping, apparently. “Our summon is being a bitch about terms, but I can send help soon. Doran, get in there.”

That’s a really bad idea.

My connection to him tightened, though. It was an order.

I pulled myself up and got running. It became apparent that I was on the  wrong side of this battlefield, though, when I spotted a grouping of androids congregated around a girl behind a metal wall.

A Technicist.

She spotted me running through the open. Dozens of androids raised guns, unhesitatingly opening fire. I cursed my luck a pulled up my cloak. It went stiff as the blasts hit, each breaking against my side and threatening to knock me down. I reached safety behind a fallen mech and took a second to center myself. The mech laid out across the battlefield, some dozen or so feet long. I leaned back against its knees.

I decided to pop out and shoot off a bolt. When I did, it stopped dead at the force field surrounding her, her androids, and nearby magus. I aborted when they returned fire, had to retreat further to behind the mech’s torso when they blew half of my cover away.

That’s unfair.

“Update me Odessa.”

“Hasami was felled! My armor isn’t holding. It’s down to me, Cobb, and a damned robot,” she said. Her exhaustion was coming through.

I had to move before the Technicist closed in.

Throwing up my hood, I ordered: “show me Odessa.” Her silhouette was alighted through augmentation. I could get to her, but she was exposed.

I went for a mad sprint, and coming around a pillar of fire, found her, helmet missing, armor beaten and dented, facing down a man in a dazzling white cloak, and a six-legged robot. The robot was smooth, with no hard angles. When Odessa’s swing hit it, her sword bounced off with seemingly more energy than before. When she went with that deflection to swing even harder at the old man, he simply swatted the blade away with one hand. She carried the momentum even further into a flip. She spun upwards, violently, but came down right towards her mark.

Distraction.

I took aim and fired. The wizard shook with the shock and took a spinning slab of steel to the face. There was almost nothing left of him.

The machine jumped on Odessa in the time it was taking to dig her sword out of the ground. I fired at it, but the shock bounced. Electricity lanced out in every direction, thundering. It ignored me and carried on pounding two of its legs into the crater where Odessa had been.

Shit. What? What can I do? I couldn’t help. I’m useless.

There wasn’t a trick I could use or a thing I could do.

Sorry Odessa. I had to keep moving. I couldn’t hesitate.

Just then a two story tall demon came tearing through the ground, fire rolling off its back. He, gender disturbingly obvious, grabbed and crushed the robot in his hand, his gnarled and burned face twisting with satisfaction.

Well okay then. Nevermind.

Kendall was a ways off behind the demon, walking briskly with his hands behind his back. I radioed him. “Some people are impressed with what you do now.”

“Thank you. You’re all magnificent by the way. Cobb is going to be pissed.”

“Let’s not celebrate quite yet,” Ash cut in. “Just got word, you’re officially at the center of the orgy. Everybody wants you. Run, before you get it up the butt.”

Intel is appreciated, Ash,” Kendall said. “Odessa?”

Out from the crater rose Odessa, looking beaten and bruised. “…Alive.”

“Good. Converge on me. I’ll send the demon off for now to play.”

Weep for us,” the demon said, his bass voice shaking the world, crawling under my skin. Then he stomped away, having been given his orders.

Disconcerting.

I jogged up to Kendall, with Odessa ahead of me.

“Anna?” Kendall radioed. “Sound off….”

A horrid and shrill scream blared over the radio.

“Gods,” Odessa swore.

I rubbed my face and tried not to think about it. Kendall would be predictable. I couldn’t help myself and asked anyway. “We going after her?”

He scowled. “We don’t have time. It’s just pain.”

“Pain stays with you,” I replied, meeting his scowl with a glare.

A whistling marked the incoming ball of fire, which missed us three by a good distance, but was clearly not a warning shot. That was the end of that. Wordlessly we agreed and started fleeing the area.

We came to a field of diamond spikes and huddled down. Keeping low we moved around until an exit road came close. I didn’t know what Kendall was planning, but I was along for the ride. Anna was a consideration, but we had to be practical.

One way or another, we’d see her again.