The giant melts away, scattered by the wind. Burning threads of darkness ride the breezes until they disintegrate.
Megajoule’s slogan resounds over the city. The words “Reach, Dream, Strive, Become,” echo off the skyscrapers, carried by my thundering voice. The chant catches with the Primum and the soldiers, with the regular capes fighting for their lives against the puppet. Reach, they shout, dream, strive, become. It becomes a rallying war cry. Triumphantly they cheer as the giant collapses into nothing.
I land in the midst of the puppets, swinging my blood conjured bat. Despite the Fear’s death, they don’t fall. They continue with their relentless onslaught, and only just now that I am in the midst of them do I feel how huge their numbers are.
But I am not alone. Bedevil swings in to my side, her power whipping bodies and puppets into the air. Krater charges through dozens at a time. Epione uses Carnality’s power to its extent, conjuring blood blades and carving a path through the zombies. Meltdown flies over the horde and rains lightning upon them. She crushes them with gravitational pulses. Longinus, Flashfire, Maisa, and Remise all contribute to the battle. Light and fire. Blood and death.
The tide is not too much for me to bear. The zombie’s feeble attacks bounce off my skin. Neither is it too much for my friends. Bedevil is untouchable, she flies by her own power and pulls apart the horde beneath her. The others are much the same.
It’s the rest of our side I’m worried about. The Primum, the capes, the regular soldiers. I bound over to the line and find that the soldiers are retreating as the horde pushes over the line of tanks. The zombies are whipped into a frenzy by my Fear’s death, and they’re taking it out on the line. “We need help over here!” I call, and raise my hand up. I set it aglow with the energy inside me like a brief flare so that my friends can see where they are needed.
As I do that, a small group of people bound over the tanks and pass the struggling soldiers. There must be about a dozen of them. They aren’t wearing cape outfits but homemade costumes or civilian clothes. They don’t have anything official on them. They’re masks.
A man in a track suit skids over the tanks on a jet of green flame from his heels. He hurls fire bolts into the puppets, each one a different color than the last. He whirls in the air, and I hear him shouting, “Reach! Dream! Strive! Become!” like it’s some kind of religious mantra. “Hold the line! Help Gabe!”
I suppose it is somewhat spiritual. I fall into chanting it again, too, and dive into the fight next to Roman Candle (for lack of a better name). Others join. A woman flies by on ethereal wings. Her feathers fall on the zombies, and where they touch, they burn and destroy. Another mask with super speed blurs over the line with a flurry of kicks. Another, and another. “Protect the line!” I don’t know who shouts that. “Help Gabe!”
“Reach! Dream! Strive! Become!”
And then Bedevil is at my side, summoned by the flare I gave off. There are tears in her eyes and she chants with the others, too, repeating Megajoule’s slogan.
Our slogan, now.
We fight as one. We shout as one.
We beat the horde down as one. The soldiers rally, the capes join us, and we funnel the horde into a firing line so that we can finally bring them down. I grieve for them; it’s partially my fault that they are gone, possessed by the Fear, but there’s nothing left to do but save others from this misery.
I won’t lie. It is an hour or more of bloody, exhausting work. It’s a mess, and by the end of it, I am exhausted. It’s been days since I’ve had a meal and slept in a decent bed. Someone catches me as I collapse to my knees; it’s Bedevil.
“Hey, baby, I’m here,” Bedevil says. Her voice is so lovely. I’ve always loved her voice. “Are you okay?”
We’ve cleared the line and now it’s just the capes hunting the stragglers down. I see people wandering the aftermath, checking the bodies and searching for fallen comrades. I climb to my feet with Bedevil’s help. There’s something I need to make sure of while I’m still here. Before the battle closes, I have to make sure that Carnality is destroyed. “Help me find Carnality.”
Bedevil lifts me up and we float across the highway by her power. I can’t believe the wreckage; thousands of bodies litter the pavement, spread out into the houses and buildings. I can hear screams; I want to help whoever it is but I’m so tired, and other capes have already gone to hunt the rest of the puppets down.
“Here,” Bedevil says, bringing us down near where the Fear died. I find Carnality’s body amid the others.
She still stares up at nothing with blood-red eyes, a trickle of ink spilling from her lips. The ink stains her marble skin like someone ran a sharpie from her mouth to her jaw. There’s no life left in her.
I kneel down next to her and place my hand on her chest.
“Gross,” Bedevil says.
“Hardly the grossest thing I’ve done near you,” I say. I try to manage some humor, but between the solemn environment and my exhaustion, I don’t manage much.
I have a lot of energy stored in the suit, though, and I will that into Carnality’s body. Her body glows and starts to crack apart as I flood her with heat. Over the course of two minutes, she disintegrates into ashes. Those ashes melt dissolve into gray dust that melds with the blood and dirt.
I heave a sigh of relief. Unlike with Nero, her power won’t bring her back. It just made her extremely hard to kill as long as she had blood.
Bedevil helps me stand and we work our way back toward the line. As we start our journey back over there, I see Meltdown huddled over a body. My heart drops into my stomach. “Ruby, wait.” I point to Meltdown’s crouched form and Bedevil takes us over to her.
Meltdown cradles Wind Rider’s head in her lap. He isn’t breathing. There’s a nasty gash on his throat and another in his side, and from my heat sense, his blood isn’t flowing anymore. He’s dead.
Meltdown isn’t crying. She sits there, trembling, and looks at something far away, far far away from a dead husband and a broken city. Bedevil shudders at the sight, and sheds her own tears. I won’t hold that against her; even if it ended badly and he married someone else, at some point she loved him.
We sit down next to Meltdown. I know at times like this, you just don’t say anything. Not until she does, anyway, and she doesn’t. Not for a long time. Not until Longinus finds us all sitting here in the middle of the death, the battle almost over.
He frowns at his former teammate’s body. “Would you like me to pray for him?”
Meltdown wipes her eyes and nods.
Longinus kneels down and closes Wind Rider’s eyes. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.” A simple little recitation, but enough that Meltdown begins to cry.
I try not to, but despite everything, I’m so exhausted that I almost pass out on Bedevil. She doesn’t try to stop me. She holds me close, a little closer than she normally would, I think, and hums a soft song.
Some Primum nearby come and offer to take Wind Rider’s body. Emergency workers are crawling through the field now, searching for survivors, but they also take some of the dead, too. Christ — sorry, Longinus— just looking at it hurts. This will take weeks to clean. The city burns from the where the Fear’s payload landed. This city will be wrecked for months. Maybe years.
“I’ll take care of Meltdown and see to Wind Rider,” Longinus says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen now. I can’t imagine Cynic will just let us walk.”
“I’m surprised we’re not under arrest already.” I climb to my feet. “I think we’ve got more important things to worry about, though. I need to go help find bodies. I can use my heat sense—” I stumble to my knees mid sentence, unable to stand a second longer.
“Love,” Bedevil whispers. “We’ve got to find you some food and somewhere to sleep.”
I support my weight on her and stand. “No. I’ve got to help. The Fear used my power to do all this damage. I’m going to fix it as best as I can.”
“Gabe, you’ve already done enough. You killed the Fear.” Bedevil looks worried for me. “I don’t want to lose you because you’re too stubborn to go take a nap.”
She’s not wrong. I’m exhausted and in danger of burning out after all this fighting. I haven’t eaten in three days, but the water that Longinus gave me sated my thirst. Still, I have strength to go on, and there may be people trapped in the wreckage back in the city.
“Back when I was really burnt out, you told me my power was for when we found the people that needed saving. My power couldn’t help in finding her like Remise or Drone could.” I tap her on the cheek, a gesture that makes her smile, even if just a little.
How far I’ve come, though, from that time. “But I learned that I could use my power for medicine, like when someone here went through detox and needed me to regulate her temperature, or if I needed to sear a wound closed. I can use it to see heat signatures through rubble and feel sound worming through the earth. I can find the people that need saving, and then save them.”
Bedevil has no reply, but her face softens as she sees my determination to go on. She squeezes my arm.
“You also said that Megajoule was the kind who’d catch the falling building and leave the work of finding survivors and repairs to everyone after. He did the heavy lifting and left the details to others. You said that I’d be the first one inside that building if I’d caught it. You were right then, and you still are. I’m strong enough to do both.”
Bedevil sighs and smiles. “I did say that, didn’t I?”
“Yeah.” I grin back at her. “Would you like to help me?”
“Always,” she says.
Not long after, as Bedevil brings me to the line of tanks where emergency services care for soldiers, the others from the Underground catch up with us, along with Krater. They’re all worn out, just as much as I am. And just as I am, they look ready to continue on. The work is not done, yet.
“I’m going into the city to help find survivors,” I tell them.
Remise pats me on the shoulder. “We’re headed that way ourselves. Figured ye would be going. What about Cynic and OPI? Nero?”
“If they want to send someone to stop us, they’re welcome to try,” I say. I am admittedly worried that no one has seen Nero in all this battle. I know he was here, but I haven’t seen him at all in the aftermath.
Bedevil squeezes my arm. “Maybe you shouldn’t be making threats when you’re tired, babe.”
“We don’t need to worry,” Flashfire says, the only one still wearing his helmet from the drop team. “Archimedes says the president arrested Cynic, and that they’re negotiating with him right now. We’re free to help with the rescues.”
Well, that’s a fantastic cherry on top of this entire pie. It’s justice of a sort. Not sure where that leaves Nero, but if I see him, I’ll have Epione take his powers and we’ll figure out what to do with him after.
We split up into two groups. Bedevil, Maisa, Remise, and I go to the southern side of Buenos Aires, where I hit first, while Epione, Krater, and Flashfire go to fish through the northern side.
I’ve been told that the anarchy following the emergence of superpowers was the worst time in history. I’d heard that towns were wiped off the map, that cities were left with festering wounds, and millions were killed across the world. I’ve seen the scars of battle in Houston, on old homes and streets that haven’t been renovated in over thirty years and so still tell the history of a time when the superpowered did as they wished.
I imagine that this is what it was like to live through that time. We walk through the wreckage of smoldering skyscrapers and broken streets. Walls of dust and smoke move like waves in the ocean, swallowing everything in their path and making it difficult to use my heat sense. People wander the streets looking for loved ones in the wreckage.
I pick up a few heat signatures in a crumbling hotel, and Remise confirms heartbeats through the stone. Bedevil and I dig while Maisa throws her flashing lights into the air to signal for rescue workers.
My muscles scream for sleep, my eyes want to close forever, and my heart is pounding like I just ran a marathon. I do not give up. I dig using my power, removing huge pieces of rock and cement by robbing the energy of gravity from them, turning them weightless.
I dig until I hear a single cry for help. A young boy’s voice. I see him staring out through the rubble, and beside him, his mother, bleeding from a head wound but still conscious. She smiles as she sees me and cries tears of relief as I pull her son out.
I scoop her into my arms. In Spanish, I tell her: “It’s okay. My name’s Gabe. I’m here to help.”
The woman weeps and laughs and clings to me. “I know who you are.”
“Good. That’s good.”