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.

Armageddon – 4.08

The Solidarity pushed away from Mars and into open space. Without a proper captain, only a host of Magus that crowded the command deck, it was left to the few remaining pilots to plot a course. Porter had a better knowledge of some of the controls, but he hadn’t known how to plot their course. A young Eidolon had done it for him.

He loitered by some of the sensor modules. All through the dim chamber Utopians sat staring into space. No one was talking. The bodies had been cleaned, but a gory scent still lingered on the air. As he turned his eye to the nearest console, he saw the feed from an aft exterior camera.

“The Deus Ex is following,” he said.

“What?!” a nearby student asked, terrified.

“Just out of cannon range,” he added.

Wulff leaned over the console to see the feed. He checked the sensors as well. “I’m not feeling a single potentiality featuring an attack,” he told them. “It’s no threat.”

“I find that a little hard to believe. We should mount an attack,” Porter said.

Wulff shook his head, thinking hard a moment. “We move into range, it’ll back up.”

“We can’t waste time on that.” O’Reilly, coming out of the crowd, tapped the screen. “We’ve got just a few minutes to Earth at max speed. Then we can immediately set up a portal to move any survivors to the Monastery.”

“You’re forgetting about the moon,” Porter corrected. “Lunar colony will have survivors.”

“Damn,” O’Reilly swore. “You’re right. That will add hours to our timeline.”

“How do we want to do it, then?” Porter asked.

Wulff tapped his shoulder. “You and me. Let’s not land the Solidarity.”

“An away team?” Porter looked to the Eidolon manning the warship’s helm. “Are the teleporters operational?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then okay.” Porter stood up. “You need to get suited for a vacuum. We’ll take a few students. Anyone with healing specialties, any general sorcerers! Show of hands!” He picked three out, “you, you, and you. Get suited.” Finally, he looked back to Wulff. “What could go wrong.”

“Something fairly horrific, actually,” he replied. “Let’s be careful.”

“Let’s be quick,” Porter added.

O

The grey dust stirred when five figures appeared on the lunar surface. Porter looked high above into space, seeing the dim stars. He could make out the silhouette of the Solidarity, but only barely. By the time he’d looked down, the dust had settled and they were moving forward.

One student, the healer, stumbled in the low gravity. “Shit. Sorry fellas.”

“Try to be cool,” his friend admonished him. A sorcerer, jack of all trades, Porter remembered.

The last, an Eidolon, said nothing, only carrying his gun and backpack tightly. A tech expert.

Porter saw ahead the broken domes and half buried inflatable corridors of the surface level colony. He knew it went deep into the ground, and he could see further structures poking up far out of sight. Not a light was on. No one, it seemed, was home.

“Blackout,” he said. “But it’s not been long. Air won’t have run out, yet.”

“Yes,” Wulff agreed.

“Tag em and zap em,” the Eidolon spoke for the first time.

All they had to do was get a location on them and then the Solidarity could grab any survivors. Granted that they weren’t too deep into the rock for the signal to penetrate, that was.

Porter walked up the first dome inset in the moon, coming to a shattered opening. He gestured back to them before going first. His fall was down through dust clouded open air until he landed in the center of a street. Looking around, what he could see resembled a shopping district.

The others landed shortly after him, their impacts heavy but not injuring, even from their height. The last of them fell spinning, landing on a shop booth and falling through. A massive piece of glass shortly followed them, having broken out from under their feet. Porter stepped out of its way.

Cool, man,” the sorcerer sarcastically said.

“Shit!”

“Come on,” Porter ordered.

They had to move cautiously. Wulff was on edge and that seriously bothered Porter. Through the shopping district, there was nothing but the frozen bodies. At the far edge, a wide tunnel led into what looked like a row of apartment doors. The total lack of air compression, it seemed, went on.

Porter really hoped Aku hadn’t simply let the air out. There’d be no one left.

That’s what they would do, though, he worried. That’s what I would do.

“You,” Porter pushed the Eidolon ahead. “Get into the sound system if you can. Anywhere with air, let them know our signal.”

“Will do.”

Porter pried back the door into one of the apartments. It was pitch black inside. He flipped on his night vision and gave it a look. Nothing. Only green hued darkness, the back of someone’s head sitting on the couch. Dead.

Wulff clasped a hand on his shoulder and Porter startled.

“You’re on edge?”

“I’m not feeling good about this,” he told him. He turned his head to the side, peering to the end of the hall. “I see a closed door. Could be a sealed airlock.”

“Could be,” Wulff agreed.

Suddenly, a foreign voice sounded in their ears.

“Hello? Please help,” they said. A girl? No, sounded more like a young boy.

Using the radio?

“Got a fix on it,” the Eidolon said. “Straight ahead.”

“I’m gonna ward us.” The Sorcerer’s head darted around. “I’m pissing myself, here. And I’ve been to Hell. This is something different.”

“A different metaphysical profile from Hell,” the healer agreed. “There’s a gateway just hanging open somewhere around here. It… doesn’t feel like it’s got a destination?” He visibly shivered. “That’s some element of despair. It’s really potent.”

“Nihilism,” Wulff told them. He pressed the button aside the door they’d reached. When it opened, they could see that it was an airlock with another closed door. “It’s not a magical element you’re feeling, just an inevitable conclusion.”

“Stay focused,” Porter chastised.

Stepping inside, the door closed behind them.

Air flooded in and the lights flickered. Systems were half functional and their tech expert was having to finagle them at every juncture. He carried a small device with an interchangeable tip and holographic screen. He stabbed it into the terminal of the next door and swore at the data that came up. “Everything is bogged down. All the RAM is being dedicated to processing screams. Listen.”

He let the signal into their speakers and they immediately heard the screeching and wailing. Dozens of voices, each similar but different from Aku’s, shouting and whispering gibberish.

“Cut that,” Porter barked.

“You get the point,” they said. “I’ve never touched a system this slow.”

He got the point. He wasn’t happy about it.

The airlock door opened out into a partially lit hall which quickly met open air. They came through it to the railing overlooking an Orpheum. They saw the stairs leading down and took them. Once at ground level, standing in the theater aisle, Porter looked up to the glass overhead.

Where the fuck were the stars.

It was dim enough that he should have been able to see them. The Earth wasn’t in view to obstruct. With his head tilted back, staring into space, the others passed on unnoticing.

“Wulff!” he said.

“What?”

“Where are the-”

Gone.” He was interrupted. That voice.

Porter’s eyes widened, his head whipping to see a shadowed figure standing in one of the unlit exit halls of the Orpheum. Out of the dark came a hanging face framed in heavy black dreads. “You can feel it,” they said. “Can’t you?”

Porter ripped off his helmet. He needed to see with his own eyes.

Doran,” he realized, horrified. “You’re here…”

“That’s the feeling of your lie dying. That all those stars mattered, that you had anywhere to run. It’s the walls closing in and the lights going out, Porter. It’s me, Aziacht.”

There was a moment of silence as he raised the helmet mic back up to his lips, their eyes still locked. “Porter to Solidarity…”

Before he could finish, Aziacht’s hand reached lazily out, fingers snapping. The floor of the Orpheum crumbled, falling with them. Porter lost sight of him and grip on his helmet as they flew downward into an abyss.

The fall felt like an eternity. When they hit the ground, the floor of the Orpheum flattened out. Porter landed back first on a seat and bounced off into the deformed remnants of the aisle. The others were on their feet when he achingly found his way up, standing in the wreckage.

“Is this what you saw?!” he demanded.

Wulff detached his helmet and threw it away. The other three did the same. “Display fried,” he said absently. He shook his head. “No! I just saw a possibility of…”

“Of what? Spit it out,” the Sorcerer butted in.

“A no-win scenario.” Wulff looked up to the opening they’d fallen from, hundreds of feet above. He looked around them at the encompassing darkness. Some kind of storage space? “A walking, no-win scenario…” He ran a hand through his thinning hair. “I don’t see a way out.”

Porter stepped away from the scattered wood floor onto cold, damp concrete. He could faintly see the walls of this vast storage room. “There’s a way out of here,” he said. “Let’s start with that.” He got walking.

“Hey!” the Sorcerer called. “You knew that guy?”

He grimaced, still going. “No.” He could see what looked like a door. “I never knew Doran. But I knew he wasn’t right. He’s had too much time to think.”

When he made it to the door, the others had caught up with him. He pushed it open came into a hall. Red emergency lights lit the way. He took the first right turn he came upon, immediately assaulted by the sight of dead bodies.

That’s not good.

They were all laid out. Purposefully, like a pattern. They couldn’t have suffocated that way. He paced around them, trying to make out the shape in poor light.

“No life force,” the healer said. “But not long dead. They came down here to escape.”

The bodies formed a word.

“It says hello,” Porter told them. He squinted at the dark corners of the room before his eyes fell on the others’ faces. “They were killed by him. Aziacht. By a personification he made, as powerful as the Ouroboros. Not a truth, though. Something else given life. It was a Horror.”

“Are we… predetermined to die here?” the Eidolon asked, looking at Wulff.

“I don’t know,” he answered.

Porter kicked a console. “Fuck!” he cursed. “There’s not a single survivor on this rock.”

There was only one thing they could do now.

We have to make it to the surface.

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.

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 – 1.11

Up ahead was a Utopian battlement. Glacially moving Students were throwing down energy barriers, which Ali strained and pushed through. Our collective, numbering around sixty, I quickly counted, were unstoppable. Someone, a Professor, I thought, was standing on a rooftop. He raised up his hands, slowly, and there came a beam of heavenly light which failed to do more than brighten the field. Soon Ali had made a path through the Utopians, bending and crushing anything in our way.

Behind us, they were panicking as we marched down the road. I noticed that among our numbers, being pushed along with us were a few normal looking people. They seemed okay with all this.

I tapped on the shoulder of one of the guys pushing one along and asked.

“Hostages,” he said. “Civilian volunteers that aren’t supposed to be hurt.”

“Hi,” the hostage said, somewhat giddy.

The dude’s having fun.

There was someone, nearly a boy in age, weaving through the mob, and checking over people as he went. He came up to me, and his eyes widened.

“You know you’re walking on fractured bones right?” he asked.

I was good at ignoring pain, I guessed.

“Peripherally aware.” Though I was limping, a little.

He pulled out a scroll and started reading in a foreign tongue. I was following along the meanings as he went, my sense of them. Attunement was stronger.

I jerked when he threw a sprinkling of water on me. Hadn’t seen it coming, focusing so heavily on the information around me.

“There you go…. uh-oh…” For a moment, I thought he meant my health, but he had turned and stood on his toes. I was taller than most and only craned a touch to see over the crowd.

I chuckled. This is going to be fun.

The Bruiser, the one Odessa had sent flying, was in the road. He was walking in slow-mo straight towards our shield, utterly fearless. His gleaming helmet tilted down as he started barreling forward. We had seconds before contact.

He’s too confident. He’s untouched. He’s subverting, not absorbing, he couldn’t be. Feels disconnected like he’s redirecting damage somewhere. Connections?

I quickly scanned the surroundings. I dug into the abstract and strained my mind for what his connection lead to. There, in the shadow of a building, was an ethereal wisp, half hidden behind a tree.

Got you.

“He’s got a totem!” I cried, pointing, but I was drowned out when shouting erupted. The Bruiser had met the shield, and it was being moved. Ali was straining against his invisible wall, his feet skidding backward down the road.

I pushed through the mob, repeating my cry and keeping my hand out. I bellowed louder, angry, and a few people startled. The Bruiser’s head darted between my outstretched hand and his totem. He jumped to the side, coming just barely between the Totem and a ball of energy which had been hurled. Again, he took the hit like a rag doll, taking to the stratosphere.

Ali had resumed the push, but we’d lost some of our minuscule lead, and the outside world was catching up. The Bruiser had gone into and out of a structure, and it was collapsing into a cloud of smoke.

We charged into the murk, picking up speed, and subsequently speeding up the world outside. We passed through, blind for a moment, and emerged.

Christopher.

“Wolves,” someone said. In the road and on the skyline were students. Christopher, was among them, not far from the oldest among them, who I understood to be Wulff. The salt and pepper haired man, in grey formal, snapped his fingers.

The shield dropped, and so did Ali. Dead.

Wulff spread his arms, utterly dauntless. He knew he and his students, by themselves, could handle us. Nothing happened as he waited for us to make the first move, and none of us would. I quickly tried to look at each of them, gathering by everything from composure to expression what they did. It was too much. They were all too powerful.

A minute passed, and nothing happened.

Wulff moved a hand to his ear and put his back to us. Christopher changed his demeanor and watched him. All eyes were on the man.

Then, he disappeared. Gone. Teleported. Left. Why?

Somebody screamed, and an explosion marked the beginning of all hell breaking loose. Wulff’s students ran for the most part, but some returned fire. An arrow flew at me. Suddenly everything went. Every bit of my senses fell away. I kept running, but I felt like a deaf person trying to speak, unsure if anything was happening.

I must have made it out of the area of effect, because when my senses returned I was crawling and writhing on the ground. I hadn’t escaped, but it had stopped. There was an arrow piercing my foot and some of the asphalt, anchoring me. It hurt like a bitch.

People were running over me, some of them had been struck with arrows same as me, but had remained upright. Lying on the ground, I took a few pot shots at students on the skyline, my lightning bolts throwing off their aim. I had attracted attention.

I was one of a few turkeys either pinned, immobile or daft, still stuck in the open. There was a girl within touching distance which was missing a leg, crying out. A spear sailed and drove through her skull. It started to glow and rev.

Goddamn, this is more brutal than I’d thought.

I’m not dying. That’s not who I am. I don’t die.

Blotting out my pain, I screamed and pulled. The arrow snapped. Madly, I gained ground, staggering up into an unstable limp. I was going for a shop front, where other’s had fled. In the open door was the kid healer, nervously holding the door for me.

Looking back, there was only one anarchist, standing among the dead, deflecting and dealing long distance damage with nunchucks. Christopher hadn’t moved from where he’d been and was watching me flee, staring. He tore his eyes away and calmly started to walk towards that last survivor, who was holding his own.

Hobbling inside, my sight was obstructed. I had a feeling how it would go, though.

The healer was following beside me, chanting again. I was looking for Kendall. People were putting upwards, trying to secure the building. By their faces, though, it wasn’t working. I was prepared this time when he threw water on me. My foot steadied to a baseline of pain, but still left me with a limp. Bleeding stopped.

“Some magus just arrived. Utopians are getting schlonged,” Ash radioed.

“Updates are good,” Kendall’s voice came in.

“Where are you, Kendall?” I said.

“Doran? Odessa, Catherine, and I are with O’Reilly, going for the Statehouse.”

“Where are you?”

“Moving fast. We’re not waiting for you.”

“Professors are leavin’ the game,” Ash added.

“Yeah, I noticed. It’s good for us.”

Somehow, I doubted that.

“I’m on my way,” I said.

“Fine.”

The ten or so students in this building were mostly sitting or standing around, unsure of what to do. Somehow we’d all been left behind.

Take control.

“We have to keep moving,” I said.

“Nah,” a guy said. “We can hold out here. It’s not going to work anyway.”

“Things don’t happen unless you make them. Get off your ass.”

“Or?” he challenged.

I shot him. He convulsed and fell over. Everyone had stopped.

“Holy shit,” someone swore.

“Why the fuck are we getting blown to pieces, if we’re not taking this seriously?” I said. Anna briefly came to mind. Before anyone could reply, I hammered in.”We’re moving now.

“Th-the, building, it’s surrounded,” the young healer said.

I smiled wickedly. Control. “Not a problem.”

O

One of the magus had been able to put a hole into the earth, which descended at an angle. I had remembered what Anna had said. This was my plan.

Droid tunnels.

I jumped in and slid down the smooth passage, until I met a short drop, and landed in the narrow tunnel. My bad foot ached on the landing, and I had to prop up against the wall. One by one, the rest followed into the dark. Somebody spoke a spell, and a glowing mist flowed down the hall, barely illuminating it.

We spaced out some and started running down the tunnels. We had a Seer, to navigate us. We must have jogged for around a half hour before someone needed to stop. My foot was killing me, but I wouldn’t have stopped.

The tunnels had gotten wider, and we had passed into sewers, I reckoned. Shallow water flowed over my feet. I was waterproof, but others were complaining of wet feet.

Even with the light on my gun, the darkness of these passages were bad, in that they left us vulnerable to certain attacks. I had sensed disturbances, and we had  had to stop no less than three times before to work on counteracting a spell.

Not to mention the miasma of crap.

“Is no one a teleporter?” I had assumed someone would have brought it up by now. I was holding out for an idiot, though.

“I’ve been using a haste spell, on everyone,” came a voice.

That must have helped my foot.

“It would take us an hour and forty-two minutes to draft a teleportation spell,” our Seer said. She continued, “we are only an hour away.”

“Let’s move then.”

Our jog had reduced to a trudge, in the dark.

After some time, the Seer spoke.

“There’s something wrong. We need to do a headcount.”

I turned my guns light back, and others contributed to the illumination.

“Where’s the healer?” I asked.

“We must have left him behind,” a man said.

“No. There’s no path to him. He’s dropped out,” the Seer’s voice had lowered.

“He’s dead?” I whispered, taking her cue.

“Has to be!” she panicked. Others murmured or cursed.

“There’s not ah soul following our company, though,” someone else said.

I made my way to the back of the group and peered into the black. I could see.

With all the lights, it was hard, though.

“Dimmer please.” They obliged.

I squinted, gazing back down the sewer tunnel. There was a shimmering. It had a shape. The shimmering intensified. It wasn’t though. It was drawing closer.

“Androids!” I yelled.

Every one of them came out of hiding, their image solidifying. There were dozens of them, each working in perfect unison. I opened fire into their mass, and the tangle of limbs and bodies moved to minimize damage. The horde artfully moved forward, dodging the barrage being thrown at them, through flips and jumps.

The tunnel flashed with energy bolts and fireballs. The androids weren’t going down. A spike came out of the dark and hit me in the chest. The metal dented flat against me, as the fabric hardened to stop it. I was sent sprawling back with the force. Someone, as the machines gained ground, decided to create a force field. The fighting stopped.

The Seer helped me up. Now blocked, the droids were patient as they scanned the barrier. Already looking for a way to break through it.

“It’s a Technicist,” I choked out the words. My chest was constricting. “They’re hijacking the military droids.” Rib cage fractured. “…Upgrading them.”

“We need to surface.”

“No… keep moving.”

We kept on, leaving the field in place. After a long walk, the Seer finally said it.

“We’re here.” It was a ladder, which ascended into the ceiling.

Others went first. I stayed behind until they’d gone, and the darkness was complete. I threw back my hood, and my night vision remained. I held my gun trained down the tunnel. Figures danced in the dark, tricks of the eye.

More dwell outside of sight than in the light. Voices.

I jumped the ladder and quickly climbed.  I exited the hatch, to find everyone waiting. We were off the road a ways, and there were three of our group missing. Standing in some back alley, the evening sun was hidden behind the buildings to our sides.

The Seer pointed. A white skyscraper rose above the rest. The Statehouse.

I could make out three figures suspended in the air around the tower. From this distance, I couldn’t be sure, but it looked the Beaulieu brothers.

I touched my coms. “Kendall, are you in?”

“Just coming up now. The civilians should be gathered in the court, at the top,” he replied. I could hear his ragged breath, running up stairs. “…It’s em-!”

The Statehouse was eviscerated by bolts of blue light. Obliterated so violently, that the light from the explosion was painful to see. The entire structure was carried off like dust scattered on the shock-wave, which rushed down at us. Debris fell like hell-fire.

Motley – 1.10

Kendall was heavily distracted. With his hands to his ears, trying to block out distant explosions, he yelled at no one to be seen. The demon Gozo was giving trouble. At the moment, he was trying to explain how to escape a magical trap to a less apt student. Odessa was on point, and we’d ran for an indoor swimming pool.

With high ceilings over the placid pool our footsteps echoed throughout.

Walk don’t run.

We ran around the pool, passing the diving board and coming to the lockers. Into the shower room, with diffused light coming in through high fogged windows. Kendall reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of cards, some of them spilling onto the floor.

“Fuck…” he said.

“Where are we headed?” I asked.

Kendall was collecting his cards, searching. “You two went into that fight and took Cobb out. He was trying to stop Ali from getting a spell up and running. With our distraction, he’s gotten it done and our guys are joining in. They’re moving fast. We need to catch up if we’re going to be a part of whatever’s next. Got it.” He found the card he’d been looking for. He threw it into the wall at the back of the room, and it melted away.

This probably took longer than going around.

My thoughts were confirmed when we passed through the wall and found ourselves in a back alley. Kendall swore.

“Any cards for mobility?” I asked.

“I can’t remember. They’re out of order. Shit.” He shuffled through them. I came and stood behind, looking over them with him.

While we were occupied Odessa took a run-up and stabbed her sword into the wall in our way. She wrenched it and took a chunk out of the wall. She hacked at the concrete, working a path out.

We’re too slow. They’re moving fast. The gap increases.

I left them behind for a moment, peeking out of the alleyway.

Where’s a car when you need one.

They had bikes. Wonderful.

I ran across the street and yanked on the bike, which was attached to a mechanical rack. It wouldn’t release, the power was out. I tugged and kicked the rack. I took out my gun and shot the machine connected. The bikes detached.

Awkwardly, I took three and pushed them into the alleyway, where Kendall and Odessa were busy with what I’d left them doing.

“We’re losing time.” I let go of the other two bikes and mounted mine.

“You’re not kidding. Fuck this.” Kendall put away his cards and grabbed one.

Odessa, angrily tearing into the wall, stopped to look over at us. Her face still twisted with undue rage, turned to confusion.

“What are those things?” she huffed.

Oh.

“Shit. We’re going to need to split up. You do your thing.” Kendall power peddled away, I followed. We left Odessa behind in the alley.

As we biked I spoke. “Do you know why she’s like that?”

“I don’t know…” he knew what I was talking about. “She’s died and gone to hell. Expected different for herself, you know, devout as she was. She’s been through a lot and won’t let it go. She’s not forgiving.”

“Sure.”

“You-”

“I…” a pained voice came in over the radio, cutting Kendall short. A stutter followed and a panicked breath. It was Anna, alive and in peril. “…Can’t.”

“Aku, where is she?” I asked.

“A short diversion from your path,” Aku replied.

“No!” Kendall said, slightly breathless. “We’ve got to catch up.”

“You go, I won’t be long.” Speeding up, I took the next left. He didn’t stop me. Maybe he did have a heart? Maybe he just didn’t care at this point.

Anna couldn’t have flown for long. Kendall was trying to catch a running target, which is why it was taking so long, even though we had started out relatively close. Anna wasn’t moving, and we had already gotten closer.

The building which Aku led me to had a wall around it. I screeched to a halt and propped my bike against it, using the seat as a step. Peeking over, I could see a building surrounded by transformers. A power station.

My feet hit the ground running. No time to spare. I kicked in the door and came into the dark building with my gun lighting it. It was small, and at the back of the room, aside a console, was a figure. She was standing.

No, she was pinned.

Anna was impaled by a sword, stuck to the wall. I dropped my gun onto the floor, with its light facing her. I came up to her and studied the sword buried to its hilt.

“Doran,” she said. “It followed me.” With hair hanging over her agonized face, she reached out to take a handful of my cloak.

Should be dead. 

“It burns,” she whimpered.

“I’m sorry,” I said. This isn’t right. “You know what I’m going to do.” I touched her face, waking her up, and she stared petrified. There was no better option.

I ran back for my gun and picked it up. I aimed and shot.

Anna screamed and papers all around combusted into flame and flew up caught in a wind. I fired again. Her body went slack in the light of my gun.

I’ll… have to apologize later.

The sword quivered, working backward away from Anna and the wall.

Target seeking sword without a target. I stepped back and pulled the door with me. The blade pierced it and rammed my side through the door. I fell back, uninjured, with the wind knocked out of me. The door swung open, and the sword slipped out again. I was already on my feet and stepping back. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

The sword glowed and inched back. I made a prediction.

I moved to the side as fast as I could, putting myself between the sword and a transformer. It bolted towards me. Putting my gun in its way and angling to the side, it skid off with a spark, hitting the transformer.

No power, dummy.

Right. I lit into the sword. It popped. I covered my face as shrapnel flew about. The sword had been killable, which was lucky.

I set out and, scaling back over the wall, took up my bike to go as fast as I could. My feet were killing me, but I still had steam.

Aku had my path back to Kendall. I was far behind. I didn’t regret going after Anna, but the situation had been unfortunate.

After a while of intense and uncomfortable peddling, Kendall radioed. “We’re in the street cleaner, ditch the bike.”

I threw the bike away and jogged up to the street cleaner. Kendall and Odessa were in the cockpit. They opened the door for me and I climbed in.

“Alright,” Kendall said and addressed someone distant. “This is Kendall. My Summons are present. There’re enemies between… Yes, we can… Thank you, sir.” He looked to us. “They’ve agreed to stop for only a short time, so we can catch up. The Utopians are assaulting them, but they’re protected. Moment we step out, they’ll focus us. Stay close to me.” He jumped out the door.

Odessa and I followed. We quickly came into sight of the energy dome which held the Anarchists within. On rooftops above and on ground beside Utopians assailed the shield to no avail.

We made an immediate run into the open, with Kendall leading. Holding a handful of cards in his left, he transferred one to his right. The first Utopian to spot us created a rune in the air and with a punch transformed it into a black projectile.

Kendall released his card and it met the attack, forcing it to stop dead against an invisible barrier. He followed up with the same defense as two more attacks were levied. He was creating a path to the shield for us, between his dolled out invisible walls.

Odessa was holding her sword up, which protected a significant portion of her body mass. She pulled me behind her as a dark wave slipped between the barricades and hit us. Her feet lost traction as the wave tried to carry us with it, skidding. I braced behind her and she was able to force her sword forward, slicing through the miasma before it could push us out of cover.

I shot out at those I thought I could hit. They weren’t covered well and were caught unaware. Only moments had passed. We were nearing the discolored field which promised safety.

“I’m going all out!” Kendall shouted, retrieving a different deck from his pocket. He had run out of shield cards and had resorted to his fire spells.

Many of these students were not as educated as him, fewer still approached his power level, apparently. He let loose carnage.

Rolling cloaks of smoke billowed out from the explosions and liquid flame that doused the area. Kendall furiously threw out cards, bathing the area in fire. Those in the field were protected, so he didn’t hold back.

Buildings were collapsing. I was holding my breath the smoke was so thick as we broke through. We passed easily through the membrane of the shield and Kendall, sweeping hair out of his face, walked breathlessly into a handshake.

We kept our momentum and survived.

Kendall had carried us through.

An older gentlemen, Professor O’Reilly, I guessed. “Fine work, Kendall,” he said. “Cobb was a tough old bird.” He was stocky in build, wearing an Eidolon suit. He was balding, which seemed like something he could have had fixed.

“It was a… group effort… This is a strong field,” Kendall said, his eyes searching. They found who they’d sought as an Arabic man in a similar suit to O’Reilly, but clearly more time preserved in face and body, came out of the crowd.

“Inside here, we’re slowed to near absolute zero,” he said.

Kendall went to shake his hand. “Professor Ali,” he said. “Chronomancy is exceptional. That’s what this is?”

“To speak to God on his own terms, we must know him. Chronomancy is something I have only scratched the surface of, in my time,” Ali said sagely.

I made a note of that.

“We’re mobile,” O’Reilly said. “When the shield speeds up, so do we, temporally. We’re going to make a push to the Statehouse, and try to secure it. You’re in, Mister Kendall?”

Kendall glanced at us. Sounded good, so I nodded. “I am,” he said, resolved.

“Onward then. Ali?” O’Rielly asked.

Ali stood in the middle of the bubble and started to physically push against an invisible barrier. The shield moved forward, and we walked with him.

That’s one way to move it.

We marched on as a small army of Anarchists.

To victory.