The Angel of Judgement, Agent of the Lord, Wielder of Absolution and Bearer of the Aegis of Resurrection, swatted a mosquito.
It was not an ordinary mosquito—it was about the size of a small bird, and the buzzing of its wings were like a small engine. The Lord's Agent gave it a distasteful glare as she rubbed its smeared guts onto a tree trunk. While the insect was one of God’s creatures like everything else on this accursed island, she felt justification in slaying it where it landed. It was a nuisance on her sacred and ever ongoing quest, the holy mission to eradicate all evil from the world. The end of its short, infuriating little life were surely of little consequence in comparison to her noble goal.
She stumbled slightly, thrusting Absolution into the ground to hold herself steady. She leaned weakly into it, taking a moment to draw breath.
...besides which, today she'd lost quite enough blood already. What was left should be saved for the climax of their battle.
After a moment, the Lord's Weapon drew her blade back from the ground and kept on, forcing herself step after bleeding step towards the sounds of distant fighting.
She would not fall... not here, not now. Not on this muddy, toxic island. Not while these "Citizens of the Sun" sought to elevate themselves to God's own place. Not while she still had blood left to spill, both hers and theirs. For she was not like the other champions of Man who had accompanied her on this mission.
She was the Lord's Agent.
She was resolute.
She was undaunted.
She was "Fanatic," or so they called her. And in that name, given in spite, she would teach them all new, painful meaning.
She raised her sword in determination.
And Fanatic fell over.
'By hammer and anvil, the world will be reshapen to our will.'
The man who had once been named Lucas Ender remembered those words. The voice, spoken in a cold, commanding voice, echoed to him each time he fought. Each time he hefted his warhammer; each time the flames burned around him.
Because they were more than words; they were his identity now. Lucas Ender was a man of another world, a world overdue for being reforged. Citizen Dawn had understood that, and had killed Lucas Ender on that day.
The man who had once been named Lucas Ender did not mind. He was stronger this way, because now he had purpose. He was a warrior for the weak no longer. He was the anvil upon which the world would be made anew.
And in this Citizen Anvil could find eternal comfort.
"This sucks and it sucks dick. "
The man who had once been named Hayden Turk fought with the same purpose, but he took no such serenity from it. He had not the mind of the warrior, but of the weapon a warrior wielded. All he knew was to destroy.
He was, however, very good at it.
". . ." Anvil said in response.
"Don't give me that," Hammer snapped. "You know it blows as much as I do. We should be in the thick of it down there fighting real 'heroes.' Not rounding up the scraps."
Anvil would have preferred to be striking worthy foes. But he said nothing. Unlike his partner, he had no interest in rebelling against Dawn, not even in words. Not after she had given him purpose. Deep down, he knew Hammer was the same. No one who knew the power and determination of the Citizens of the Sun would ever choose to leave them behind.
Well... except for the one, a long, long time ago. But they were forbidden to speak of her, or even to think of her. Even those who bore the scars of her bullets.
"Are you philosophizing or do you just have your head all the way up your ass?" Hammer asked irritably, rolling his eyes and immolating a random pterodactyl as it flew overhead. It gave a screech of pain and fell to the ground, a charred skeleton that crunched under Anvil's boots.
"I march," Anvil said quietly. "And I will fight. If these 'scraps' are as weak as you think, you will at least find pleasure in burning them."
"Hmmph. Hmm. Actually... yeah. I guess that would kinda make it better." Citizen Hammer smirked. Like anyone, he was only happy fulfilling his purpose. His purpose, as Citizen Dawn had so wisely realized, was to burn, ravage, and leave desolation in his wake. With Anvil by his side, they would do just that.
And the Citizens marched on.
Devra jumped at the snapping of a branch, looking frantically around with her fists raised. That probably wasn't the right reaction. She wasn't really the best at fighting things head-on. That was more Legacy's thing... or Bunker's... or Dr. Stinson's... or the Wraith's... or Absolute Zero’s...
Yeah, pretty much everyone was better at punching things. Best to stick to what she was good at.
"Uh... see anything, Stealth Bot?"
The golem, modeled after one of the five coolest members of the Freedom Five, slowly shook her metal head. That was comforting, even if she was unlikely to have noticed anything that Devra herself had missed. Her whole thing was stealth, after all, not necessarily seeing other things that were being stealthy. It just wasn't her thing. Like how punching wasn't Devra's.
She took a deep breath, bracing herself and taking a good hard look at her surroundings. Punching or no punching, bruised eye or no bruised eye, psychotic supervillains or no psychotic supervillains, she had a job to do. Hadn't she told Dr. Stinson she could take it? That she could be more than just some attention-deficit student? That she could actually be a superhero?
A superhero didn't jump at branches. So she stood tall and confident, trying to mimic that inspiring stance Legacy always took.
And Unity smiled.
The wrath of God, thought Fanatic. She groaned at hearing the girl's voice, but decided ultimately that even a young and annoying fellow-in-arms was better than nothing. Sometimes the Lord's gifts defied expectations.
"It is I," she called out, or tried to. She suspected one of her lungs might be bruised or partway collapsed. But she managed to make some noise, and soon the girl came into view, rushing out of the bushes followed by one of those metal human-like contraptions.
"Oh, Fanatic," said Unity, briefly looking relieved. "Good to see you. I thought—aw, sparks. You look terrible. "
"My appearance is of no concern," the Angel of Judgement replied, annoyed. "Only my spirit."
"No, I mean... you literally look like you're dying."
"Dying is of no concern either." The Lord's Agent tried to rise to her feet, bloody fists clenching the soil as she attempted to push herself up. Her flesh resisted, weak, but her spirit forced the matter. Soon she had risen again, once again thrusting Absolution into the ground to steady herself. The girl, Unity, seemed no less alarmed.
"Uh... maybe you should be sitting." She rubbed the back of her head, cringing slightly as her eyes moved up and down the Angel's tattered armor. "You look like you got hit by a truck."
"It was a man, actually," Judgement replied, reflecting in condescension. "He was weaker than a truck, and I struck him down."
"Um... okay. You look like you got hit by a truck and then set on fire. "
"I won that battle as well. The harlot 'Citizen Summer' will start no more fires on this day."
"And I guess you killed the T-rex we saw carrying you off too, huh?"
"I smote it with all of God's own fury."
"Riiiight..." Unity said, still grimacing. "Good for you. Um, have you thought maybe you're a bit smote-ed out for the day? I think next time you hit something with your sword you're the one who's gonna fall down."
"Nonsense," the Divine Warrior replied, brushing some specks of already-dried blood off her shoulder. "I will stand and fight for as long as God wills it—and since there is evil still in this world, I believe I will be standing for a great deal longer. As the Lord's Agent it is my charge."
"I think the Lord's agents need a worker's union," Unity muttered. Judgement decided to let this pass.
"How goes the battle?" she asked instead. Her fist clenched around Absolution's hilt until her knuckles grew pale. "Where is the one they call 'Citizen Dawn'?"
"The, uh, battle is-- was going pretty well, actually," replied Unity. She smiled sheepishly. "I was there with the others fighting, and we were winning, but then she sort of... I don't really understand it, but she kind of merged with the power of the sun or something? And then more Citizens came out? Anyway, I was taking some hits, so I..."
"You ran away," the Lord's Agent said, her voice flat.
"No! I tactically retreated!"
"Away from the battle where tactics are needed."
"Cut me some slack!" the girl shot back, hands on her hips. "We're not all decked out in medieval armor and glowing with holy magic or whatever you have going for you. I'm soft and squishy, and all my golems got broken. Look at Stealth Bot! She's held together with paperclips and a bit of gum I left in my pocket!"
And lo, the Angel of Retribution looked upon 'Stealth Bot,' and saw that it was so. And that the gum appeared to have been chewed on.
"I needed time to get out here and make more golems," Unity insisted. "Thought maybe there'd be some metal I could use."
"This is a jungle. There is no metal here."
Unity pouted, gingerly rubbing her black eye. "Yeah, well... you try thinking things like that through when there's a guy made of rock chasing you with a cane."
"I suppose I expect too much of you," the Angel of Judgement said haughtily. "You are young yet."
Now the girl looked genuinely offended. "Hey! You don't look so much older than me, you know!"
The Angel sniffed. "The power bestowed upon me is older than time. It... balances."
"Dr. Stinson said you got your powers from getting hit by a bus."
"I was given my power after being hit by a bus!" Judgement said hotly. "Those are very different things!"
"Uh huh." Unity crossed her arms, looking smug. "You know that doesn't make you any different from the rest of us, right? You don't know where you got your power, so you guess God must have given it to you. Well, I don't know where mine came from, so I guess He gave me mine."
"Perhaps," the Angel said through gritted teeth. "Sometimes His judgement can be perplexing to us."
"You know that purple guy who changes shapes and says we live in a card game? God must have made him a superhero too!"
"You are pushing it, young one."
"Guess God must have thought all these Citizens could use superpowers too!"
"Bite your tongue!" Judgement roared.
Her throat became instantly hoarse. The sound of her fury carried through the forest, causing Unity to flinch and nearby trees to shake.
The Angel felt a moment of guilt—the sisterhood at St. Martha's had always warned her about her temper. She opened her mouth to utter some repentance, but was cut off by a sudden of cacophony of shrieks.
One of the nearby trees was shaking, not out of the power of Judgement's voice but for the disturbed slumber of a great flock of foul winged reptiles. Each of them opened their eyes, spread their wings, and let out a sonic shriek that pierced the ears and hurt the head.
The entire flock came flying towards them, and the Angel was too momentarily stunned to raise Absolution. She was aware of Unity opening her mouth and calling something out, though over the din of the creatures there seemed to be no sound coming out of her. The contraption, the 'golem' Unity had made in the Wraith's image leaped into the flock, briefly holding them off before being ripped into little metal shards.
She felt Unity's hand grasping her own, pulling her away. She was too stunned to resist.
And the heroes ran away.
Something a man learned early in his time on Insula Primalis was to listen to the forest.
Anvil knew this, and usually stayed silent so as to hear what he could. Hammer seemed not to understand this quite so intuitively.
"...but minivans? Fuck 'em. Slow and ugly. If you want a van, just go all out! Minivans are for cowards and people who need to be burned alive."
Citizen Hammer was an opinionated man, though his opinions were generally arbitrary and ultimately served as justifications for burning things. Perhaps that was what had earned his loyalty to the Citizens of the Sun—the sense of purpose that justified every fire he lit.
Anvil let him chatter, but eventually held his hand up for him to stop. There was a noise in the woods—the screeching of pterodactyls.
"The fuck?" Hammer looked confused for a minute. "Did Blood startle a bunch of them again?"
Anvil slowly shook his head. That was not likely... more likely, it was their quarry.
He began marching towards the source of the noise. Sooner or later, they would find them. Hammer seemed to catch on, and sped up to keep pace as they pressed into the forest.
And the Citizens struck out on the path to victory.
Unity didn't feel like a superhero right now.
They were huddled in a hollow tree trunk, their hollow only just big enough for them to sit upright. Fanatic's huge angelic wings were curled around her broken and bloodied armor, and the top of them were pressed into the decaying wood in a way that couldn't be comfortable.
Outside the swarm of pterodactyls screeched and fluttered with a noise like a million shower curtains flapping each other by a jet turbine. Or... something like that. Sparks, even the jokes in her head were lame right now.
This really wasn't very heroic at all. Just her hiding and listening for the trouble to be over, like when Dad came home and he and Mom started yelling and she hid in her room pretending nothing existed but the nails in the floor...
She pulled herself to the present, even if the present was loud and uncomfortable. She scooted over to Fanatic, trying to keep her voice casual.
"Well, uh... looks like we might be here a while. Should have brought a book or something."
Fanatic didn't respond. She had her eyes shut, and as Unity's ears started to tune out the pterodactyl frenzy she started to make out whispered words. They sounded like Spanish. Knowing her they were probably a prayer.
...that gave her another little stab of guilt. Great. All she needed...
Eventually the pterodactyls grew quieter, and could be heard dispersing back among the forest. Fanatic prayed a little while longer, closing by crossing herself. Unity couldn't help but wince at the bloody fingerprints she left on her breastplate.
The other woman gave her an unreadable look for a long moment. "...well? Do you have a jest to make? A way to make light of my prayer? Say what you will—I am refreshed in the calm of the Lord, and will not succumb to wrath again."
She looked like she really meant it. Sparks, how could anyone look so calm while bleeding, broken, and crouched uncomfortably in a dead log on a dinosaur island?
Unity sighed, shaking her head and absently feeling at one of her several bruises. "Nah, I'm not saying anything. I... I actually think it's really cool. That you find the time to pray at a time like this, I mean."
For that she got a skeptical look, as though she expected her to finish with a joke. As if she could come up with a decent joke if she tried right now. But after a moment Fanatic seemed satisfied at the compliment.
"I find that times such as these are when we need prayer most. It has always served me well."
Unity nodded. "I get it... it got me through some rough patches, too."
At this Fanatic's eyes widened in surprise. "You are a believer? "
"Yeah," Unity replied. "Well, no. Not like you're thinking. Jewish."
Fanatic nodded, though still seemed mildly disbelieving. "I had not taken you for a believer of any sort."
"Why? 'Cause I don't go all 'smite all the sinners' all the time?"
"No," Fanatic said sharply. "Because you spoke of the Lord empowering the Citizens."
Oh. So she is still mad about that.
Unity rubbed the back of her head. "That... was mostly something I said to tick you off. Sorry. Not really superhero-like of me."
Fanatic sniffed. "Your repentance is accepted."
"That said, I do think there's some truth to it."
"Your repentance is being re-examined."
"Hear me out," Unity said quicky, holding up her hands. "I mean, I can't really tell you what a rabbi would think about this, so I might be waaaay out there with this, but... I've always felt like God doesn't always have plans for us. Like... sometimes He give us what we might need to get by, but then lets us choose what we're gonna do with it."
Fanatic raised an eyebrow, as though the age-old question of free will was currently of less importance to the question of whether Unity needed a good smiting.
"I'm not saying He's happy about it if He gives someone gifts and they use them to start a sun cult and try to take over the world, but... maybe it's important that they have the option to. You know, the option to think about what we’re doing and change things up if we think it’s a good idea. I mean, if we didn't have the choice, if we were just supposed to shamble around doing one thing all the time, we wouldn't be people. We'd be..."
She lifted a finger, levitating one of the last couple of screws from her pocket in a pink flare. It sculpted into a crude stick figure, dancing like a puppet at the whims of her fingertip. Fanatic looked uncomfortable, but not angry.
"...not only a believer, I see, but a deep thinker as well."
"Oh, that's not deep thinking," Unity said with a slight grin. "Deep thinking is asking whether a burrito is technically a sandwich."
Fanatic frowned with a severe look in her eyes. "It most certainly is not. "
"I mean, it kind of is from a certain point of view," Unity pressed, feeling some of her spark come back. "I mean, it's basically just meat and vegetables in between bread. So it's still-"
"Come out, come out, girlies!"
Unity froze as the man's voice stabbed through the forest, calling out with an eager tone. She hadn't even noticed the pterodactyls receding, and apparently much worse than primordial lizard-bats were loose in this jungle.
A much deeper voice followed the first, far more serious. Unity met Fanatic's eyes, and saw death in them.
"No," she whispered urgently. "We cannot fight two of the toughest Citizens right now."
"Shh!" Unity poked her head out, trying to get a feel for how far away the two were. From the sounds of the voices, it wasn’t that far away at all.
Fanatic, true to form, looked undeterred. “We cannot just hide and let them pass us by,” she hissed. “We have to fight.”
“We have to survive, ” Unity argued in a hoarse whisper.
“I did not come to this godless island to simply survive,” Fanatic whispered coldly. “I came here to bring these wretched evildoers to their preordained end. I should think the heroes you arrived with came for the same end.”
Unity hesitated, her various aches and bruises stinging as though in an urgent reminder how ill-prepared for a fight she was. Fanatic’s wounds seemed even worse, though the slight pale in her skin and the blood oozing from her armor told a very different story from the fire in her eyes.
Devra Caspit hid. Unity is a hero.
She liked to think Unity also knew when too much was too much.
What would Dr. Stinson do? What would Legacy do?
Even at their lowest points, they would still fight. Could she really sit around thinking she was Freedom Five material if she wasn’t willing to do the same?
She took a deep breath, letting the thought galvanize her to action.
“We need to plan,” she whispered.
“No time for that,” Fanatic said, shaking her head. The voices were drawing nearer.
“Alright,” Unity began, her mind racing. “Then I guess we’ll have to brainstorm.”
“Yes it fucking is,” Hammer snapped. “You can still call it magma even if it’s above the ground. The whole lava / magma thing is made up by semantic morons. Trust the guy who actually makes magma, kay?”
Anvil had no response, although Hammer was wrong. There were more important pieces of business about, however. He could see it in the broken branches and the blood on the cycad leaves. Their quarry had passed by here, doubtless pursued by the pterodactyls they had heard.
Hammer cocked an eyebrow. “Lava and magma? They’re not close, they're the same fucking thing. That’s what I was just-”
“The scraps ,” Anvil growled, drawing out his warhammer. “They fled through here.”
“Oh.” Hammer’s face turned into a wild grin. “Well about time! Come out, come out, girlies!”
Both of their voices carried through the forest. Neither Citizen, Anvil was certain, truly believed the so-called heroes would come out of hiding on a sheer goad. But perhaps it would frighten them, and cause them to make mistakes. Then they could be-
A chain of pink lightning shot out from the trees, channeling through both Citizens in turn. Hammer cried out in surprise, while Anvil grounded his feet against the forest floor and glared into the woods.
Two figures were visible in the treeline. One was a teenage girl. One was an angel.
Anvil raised his warhammer on high, and Hammer raised his fists with a whoop of delight.
And the fight began.
Making lightning bolts with your brain was hard.
Unity ducked behind a tree as a searing fireball passed by, exploding in the foliage and sending burning plant matter up in an explosion of smog. She’d given the attack her best shot, but it didn’t seem to have dampened their fighting spirit any. Also, now she had a migraine.
A migraine and no metal.
“You wanted us to show ourselves?” Fanatic boomed, raising her sword at the pair of them. “Here we are. Do what you will!”
“Don’t mind if we do,” one of the Citizens said, striding forward with fists that appeared to be on fire. The other advanced by his side, hefting an enormous hammer and spreading a pair of wings from his back that rivaled Fanatic’s. Except his were made of some sort of energy, and unlike hers were not bleeding profusely.
Fanatic could not take this fight alone. She needed help. She needed Unity.
Devra Caspit took a deep breath, and Unity stepped out from behind the tree.
“Oh hey, I know you two!” Unity called out in a chipper tone. “Citizen Bald and Citizen Beard! You really love your themes, don’t you?”
The bald one swiveled to glare at her, the fire flaring around his fists.
Maybe taunting him wasn’t the best idea.
“It’s Hammer and Anvil, actually,” he said flatly, advancing too rapidly for comfort. “I’m Hammer. Confusing, I know, since he’s the one who actually carries a hammer. But don’t worry your pretty head about it. You won’t have to remember the names for long.”
Another fireball came careening towards her, and Unity just barely jumped out of the way of this one. Extending her hand she sent the five remaining screws in her pocket launching towards the man in a ball of glowing pink energy, as fast as she could possibly push them.
Hammer flicked his fingers condescendingly, and the screws melted and splattered in every direction but his own body. His grin got even bigger.
“Fun isn’t something one considers when bringing balance to the world… ah hell, who am I kidding. I am absolutely gonna have fun with this.”
This was starting to feel like a bad idea.
Fanatic roared with righteous fury as she leapt into the fray, swinging Absolution with all her might at the man called Citizen Anvil. All her might proved to be not enough, as he hefted his shield and casually blocked the blow. He pushed forward, pressing her back with all the force of a moving train.
Fool! The force of a hundred trains can’t hope to stop the wrath of the Lor-
The first hammer blow took her right in the chest, knocking the wind out of her lungs and sending her flying backwards. It didn’t hurt--pain was something that happened to other people, not her--but it did disorient her.
She blinked her eyes rapidly, trying to rise to her feet while the world kept spinning. She had a shaky idea of where he was, his massive shape getting closer and closer while raising the hammer for another blow. She threw up Absolution to block his next strike, only to have the holy relic knocked physically out of her hands by the force of his blow.
That was a mistake. A mistake he will come to regret!
Though her body creaked and protested she forced it forward as fast as lightning, her bloody hands grasping around the hilt of the man’s weapon. She planted her feet firmly into the ground and locked eyes with him, feeling radiant energy burn from within.
Anvil didn’t flinch, and his own eyes shined with golden light. It was an effect much like her own, which brought Unity’s words back to her. ‘Guess God must have thought all these Citizens could use superpowers too...’
“Your resolve is indisputable,” the Angel hissed, inches away from Anvil’s face. “And your power is clear as day. But I will not falter against you. Powerful you may be, you are still but a man. ”
He spoke in a voice like distant thunder. “I am a cause. ”
He lunged forward, breaking her grip on the hammer and sending her sprawling onto the ground. She cried out in surprise, even more when one of his metal-clad boots stepped onto her wing, pinning her still.
“Your resolve also is indisputable,” he continued, bearded face impassive as he looked down at her. There was an edge to his voice, but also an unnatural… calmness. “I see something in you. Devotion to a cause. Would you die for it, holy warrior?”
“In a heartbeat,” she hissed.
“Then your cause loses a worthy champion today.”
And the hammer came down.
“Haha! Look at all this fire! Who made this mess?”
Unity shrieked, sweat dripping from her brow as another wave of fire just barely avoided her. At this point she was pretty much convinced the pyro Citizen was toying with her. The raging wildfire had burnt up everything in a wide circle except her, after all.
“Got anything for me, little girl?” Hammer laughed, making another spike of fire jet up from under her feet. It singed her leg as it spiked, making her cry out again. “C’mon, anything’s good! More screws? Another little static shock? Ooh, do I get to melt down a robot or two?”
He was right. Even if she had the parts for golems they wouldn’t be able to operate for long in this heat. No parts, no bots, no allies… that made Devra Caspit pretty much useless, didn’t it?
Fighting the urge to panic, Unity clenched her fists and continued to face him. If nothing else, every second he was toying with her was a second he wasn’t setting the rest of the Freedom Five on fire.
As though any of them couldn’t make short work of him.
She fought off that thought as well. There had to be a way out of this.
...didn't there? She wore metal earrings, and some on her pants. Maybe she could-
Another wave of fire washed across the forest clearing. There was a gap in the wave just large enough for it to pass over her without incinerating her, but it seared everything it came near and made her sink to her knees with a cry of pain. There were tears in her eyes, but she could make out Hammer's shape approaching.
"Guess I'm not getting anything more fun from you," the Citizen said, sighing with all the melodrama of a pouting child. Her blurry vision made out his gloved hand making a gun-like shape with his fist and two fingers, pointing at her head with a rapidly growing fireball.
The forest seemed to go deathly quiet. A silent pterodactyl flew overhead, and in a surreal thought she caught herself being grateful it wasn't screeching and bursting her eardrums for this.
And the fireball was set loose.
Fanatic caught the hammer.
Anvil's eyes widened in surprise as his blow was stopped by the Angel's two hands, grasping the weight of his weapon and stopping it mid-swing. She roared with rage, radiant light shining through her skin and every bloody break in her armor. The very strength of the Lord filled her, and with a blast of energy she sent the transgressor flying away from her.
On some barely conscious level she was aware the sacred light had burned her just as much as it had burned her foe. Though she felt no pain, she could tell her arms were near useless, their bones shattered. Every part of her was broken.
Every part of her... except her spirit.
Helena closed her eyes, and she prayed.
Unity's earrings flowed off of her like liquid metal, shaping in the pink glow around her at the speed of thought. There were clips on her bootstraps that joined the construction, as did all the buttons of her pants pockets.
It was barely enough for anything, but she made a pterodactyl.
And it screamed.
The earsplitting ring sliced through the forest clearing, aggravating Unity's migraine so much she nearly passed out then and there. But she managed to hold on, and could see Hammer's mouth moving in what must have been a curse as his fireball went wild mid-shot and his hands closed around his ears.
Citizen Anvil was just rising to his feet a little ways away, apparently having been driven back by Fanatic. He too clenched his jaw and stopped in his tracks, too stunned by the scream to continue.
This was the perfect opportunity for a hero to strike. Instead, Devra decided to run away.
"FANATIC!" she yelled at her full volume, but couldn't hear her own voice coming out of her lips. She frantically looked around until she saw the hero's body laying still against the earth, and felt a sinking sensation in her stomach.
Never mind that. Just get her out.
She grabbed Fanatic's armor with her power, dragging her along behind her in a pink glow as she took off scrambling for the cover of the trees.
"THE FUCK WAS THAT?!"
". . ."
"JESUS CHRIST MY EARS ARE BLEEDING!!"
". . ."
"I CAN'T HEAR A FUCKING WORD YOU'RE SAYING!!"
". . ."
"...YOU AREN'T EVEN FUCKING TALKING, ARE YOU!?"
". . ."
"YOU STOIC BASTARD!!"
Hammer shambled in place, still clutching his head. The little pterodactyl bot, so small and thin it looked like origami made of tin foil, had apparently screamed itself out. It dropped to the ground, its pink energy disappearing. Hammer immediately set about stomping it into the rock with a boot imbued with fire.
He could have been setting fire to America's Finest fucking Legacy right now. Instead, he was getting his ears drilled by some snotty girl and her garbage arts and crafts project.
No more playing around next time. That bitch was gonna burn.
According to Dr. Stinson, the fastest and the smartest woman who ever lived, Insula Primalis was the most intensely volcanic island on Earth. Though it should have been a big icy rock all the way up here in the Arctic Circle, all the volcanoes and the thermal-vent-things kept it smoldering hot and humid enough to support a whole jungle island straight out of Steven Spielberg's most sadistic dreams.
The power source for all this crazy volcanism was unknown, though Devra privately suspected it was some sort of prehistoric volcano god or stranded alien trapped under the island. Obviously there was no proof of that, but in this madcap world how could it be just a weird geologic oddity?
Fortunately no evil nature goddesses or alien spirits attacked her as she dragged the unconscious Fanatic across overgrown obsidian and toxic-looking primordial plant life. She dragged her and didn't look back until she found what Dr. Stinson had speculated would probably be all over the place: a lava cave.
Much bigger and better hidden than a hollow tree trunk, it seemed like the perfect place to curl up, hide, and pretend that Devra Caspit had never embarrassed herself by claiming to be a superhero.
She started down the dark entrance of a lava tube, only the pink glow of her power lighting the way. Finally slowing and feeling exhaustion pressing down on her, she delved as deep as she possibly could and propped Fanatic up against a pitted cave wall.
The angelic figure looked utterly broken, her eyes closed and her head slumped. Both of her arms hung limp and one had a white point of bone sticking out of it. Her armor was more jagged metal shards than armor, only the white breastplate with its blood-red cross holding any semblance of its original form.
There was so much blood it was all Devra could do to keep from throwing up. She'd seen it before, but not this... much of it, and so close. And on someone she knew, if only a little bit.
She supposed she wasn't that much of a pretty sight right now either. Her clothes were torn and battered, and she was bleeding and bruised in a number of places. Parts of her skin were still searing with pain, and other parts were clearly burnt but numb enough she suspected she might have twenty-eighth-degree burns. That was what one expected would happen when a teenage intern fought a flame-spouting supervillain, she supposed.
Maybe Mom was right.
She slumped against the rock wall opposite Fanatic, her eyes closed and the last of her spark seeming to fade away.
They'd probably be safe here. She'd just... sleep... just for a little while...
"Is this... one of those 'rough patches' you spoke of?"
Devra opened her eyes in surprise, looking at Fanatic. The woman was still collapsed against the stone wall in a slump, but her eyes were half open and gazing at her. Her voice was hoarse and there was blood on her mouth.
"I... guess you could say that," she said weakly, her ears still ringing enough that it was hard to make out her own voice. Sparks, just how loud did she make that Dactyl Bot?
"I apologize if I interrupted your prayer," Fanatic replied, sounding haggard. The aggressive edge in her voice was gone. She just sounded... tired. As tired as Devra was.
"You didn't," Devra said, feeling guilty again. "I... I haven't prayed in a while, actually."
"I'm not actually a very good Jew."
Fanatic closed her eyes, breathing with a horrible sounding rattle. For once, her face didn't register any kind of disapproval, as much as Devra disapproved of herself right now.
"I... I'm sorry," she blurted. "I should have dragged you away, or made something that would keep you from taking those hits, or-"
"I would not... have had this any other way," the other woman sighed. "This is what I was made for. To fight... and to die... for the Lord. It is... a sacrifice that must be made."
"How... how can you be so calm? You're... dying. "
"Dying is of no concern," Fanatic said. "I have faith. What has become of your faith, Unity?"
Devra was quiet. "...I... I don't know. I used to pray all the time, but then I took the internship with Dr. Stinson, and then everything's just been so crazy I guess I haven't found the time to-"
"I meant... your faith in our resolution. That we... will be triumphant." Fanatic struggled with every breath she took, but showed no pain on her face. "You were... different before. Vexing... yes. But... confident."
Devra didn't know what to say. But there wasn't anything left to lose, so she just started to ramble things out.
"I guess it's... easy to be confident when everything's going easy for you. And everything was! I can make just about anything, and Dr. Stinson said I was way smarter than my tests were giving me credit for, and I even got to be an intern for the Freedom Five. I thought I could—it just seemed like I should be able to—I told them I could hack it as one of them. You know... a superhero. Like I could... fight evil and save people and..."
She shut up, tears stinging her eyes. She couldn't remember the last time she felt like this. Things had been going so well as Unity she forgot what it was like to be Devra Caspit. The girl who smiled even though the world wasn't serving itself up on a silver platter for her.
"Faith is not... easy," Fanatic said, slowly. These words seemed to be difficult for her, but not because of her collapsed lung. "Sometimes... we feel it would be easier if we had stayed where it was safe. Passive... actionless."
Devra cocked her head, surprised. "...but... I kinda figured you were the one person in the world faith isn't a problem for. I mean, they call you Fanatic. "
"It's what they've called me ever since I set out into the world." Her eyes were glossing over slightly, taking stock of their surroundings. "In a catacomb... something like this. I trained in the dark for so long. I prayed every day for strength. For conviction. Because if I ever lost... either of those things, I would be... Helena again. Simply... Helena."
She swallowed, her voice at a tremble. Again, Devra got the impression it wasn't because it hurt to speak. Not physically, at least.
"...I guess I've lost both of those things," she admitted, running her fingers down the course of a bloody cut. "'Cause... I don't feel like Unity right now. I'm just... Devra Caspit."
"And I do not feel like 'Fanatic' right now. I feel like Helena."
They were quiet for what felt like an eternity. Just two would-be superheroes, bleeding in the dark.
Finally Devra spoke, her voice trembling just slightly.
"I don't want to be... just Devra. I want to be more."
"Faith makes us more."
''Faith is hard."
"Not as hard as not having it."
Devra closed her eyes. When she got in the plane she was full of hope, sure she was going to turn the tide and win a victory for freedom. Even when she first ran into the jungle she still thought of herself as Unity.
"Every warrior has faith in something," Fanatic went on, seeming in a dream-like daze. "I see that now. Anvil... he has faith in his cause. Hammer... he has faith in his own power. Devra Caspit... what do you have faith in?"
"I don't know," Devra whispered. "What should I have faith in?"
Helena didn't answer. When Devra looked at her she saw eyes staring listlessly into the darkness, the holy warrior lying still.
I won't cry.
She sniffed, feeling suddenly very, very alone.
She reached her hand out, gingerly closing the woman's eyelids. She looked peaceful, now. A long way away from the impassioned warrior she'd first seen when coming to this island.
I will have faith.
She rose to her feet, the faint pink light from her hands showing the way. The cave was a lot bigger than she'd first assumed, and she walked a short distance until she found a flat place to kneel.
"God... make me brave for life... much braver than this. As the blown grass lifts, let me rise from sorrow with quiet eyes, knowing Thy way is wise. God, make me brave. Life brings such blinding things. Help me to keep my sight; help me to see aright. That out of doubt comes light."
It was an old prayer, one she'd been taught as a girl. She went through it, feeling back in the groove of it. She added to it. She poured her heart out into it, feeling strength coming back to her.
Was it from God? Was it rising out from herself? She didn't know. She didn't stop to think about it. She continued on, and she held tight to the stone. To her conviction. To her very name.
And Unity prayed.
Helena descended into Hell.
At least, that was as best as she could describe it. Everything went black, until she could neither see nor hear nor feel. It wasn't like that day years ago when she'd been run over on the road. No voice called to her. No divine light shone upon her.
But she did feel purpose.
There was a light in the darkness. The light was not the Lord; it was from whence she came. The world she knew, and all the battle, the tribulation, and uncertainty that filled it.
She knew that she could leave it behind. Forsake the light, and know death. Perhaps then she would know peace.
But no. The world was not finished with her, and neither was she finished with it. Because she had purpose!
"Heavenly Father... Thy warrior prepares for battle. Today I will claim victory over Evil. Today I will take up the armor of Thy blessed protection. Today I will take up the sword of Thy wrathful retribution. Today I will bring Thy peace to a world at war!"
The Angel ascended into the light. It exploded around her, the pure essence of sensation itself dancing around her. Death itself retreated back from her, and the Angel lived.
The same would not be said of her enemies!
Unity lifted her head in total shock, shielding her eyes with a bloody hand. A golden light flooded the cave, untarnished radiance shining into each pockmark and crevice of the lava cave. It was an explosion of sacred light; a holy nova. Awe and reverence resounded in her, and her eyes barely believed the shape that took from within this perfect storm of light.
Fanatic stood tall, wings spread wide, hands clasped together and her head bowed. Her armor was as tattered as ever, and the white breastplate she'd worn fell to the ground in a clatter, cracked down the middle. But she stood triumphant, like an angel straight out of scripture.
"You... but..." Unity stammered, staring in awe.
"Death," Fanatic said cooly, casually wiping blood from her face, "is of no concern."
"You're alive! " Unity rushed to her side, beaming and barely believing her eyes. "I thought—you were just laying there, and you weren't breathing, and-"
Fanatic calmly laid a finger on Unity's lips, quieting her. "I, young Unity, am the Lord's Agent. Wielder of Absolution and Bearer of the Aegis of Resurrection. You need not have feared."
Unity stepped back, mind still reeling. "Aegis of... what now?"
"Resurrection. It always returns me to this world upon my death, to resume my righteous calling."
"Always..." Unity's jaw dropped. "This isn't the first time?!"
"No..." Fanatic admitted, her eyes shifting awkwardly. "There have always been... times when I faced a foe I was not immediately supposed to triumph over. I always wear the Aegis, and have it reforged back in my home country upon emerging victorious."
Unity stared in slack-jawed silence for a long moment, before punching the angel in the shoulder.
"Dios mio! Why would you do this?"
"You were immortal this whole time and you let me think you were about to die?!"
"I told you that death was of no concern."
"I thought you were just being crazy!"
"Then you should have had more faith," said Fanatic haughtily. Her eyes darted around the vast cavern, which was still illuminated by the holy aura surrounding her. "...did you spend your time drawing while I was incapacitated?"
"Drawing?" Unity cocked her head in confusion, before turning to look around. In the new light that pierced their formerly dark surroundings, she could see features in the rock she hadn't been able to see before.
Someone had drawn dinosaurs on all of the cave walls.
They were simple drawings; not like cave paintings, but something like a child might have drawn with a bit of chalk. What was odder, the rock was pockmarked not just with the craters of lava bubbles, but with what almost seemed like... bullet marks.
"Nah..." Unity said slowly. "I didn't do this. Whoever did it must have done it a while ago. It's real dusty."
Fanatic was quiet, walking along the tunnel and tracing a hand against the rock walls. There was a progression to the images; they grew more detailed further down the tunnel, and the weird bullet holes grew tighter in concentration.
“They were training,” Fanatic pondered. “They spent much time down here using the walls and the drawings for target practice.”
"Must have spent a lot of time at it," Unity whistled.
At the very end of the tunnel was a place where a few musty old crates were stacked in the corner, opposite a broad flat wall where the bullet marks were so tightly and precisely pricked that they spelled out a name.
'A M A N D A'
"Probably too much time," Unity observed, squinting at the rock face. "I mean, geez Amanda. Did you have nothing better to do? Weren't you worried about bullets ricocheting off the rock or anything? What did your mom think about your little hobby?"
"This island has quite the curious history," Fanatic mused. "Nothing here is of any use to us, however."
"Guess not," Unity sighed. "What do you think we should do now?"
"Destroy Citizen Anvil and Citizen Hammer."
"I'm with you in principle, but I have a few reservations."
"They will, in common parlance, not know what hit them," Fanatic said insistently. "I am refreshed with the Lord's light and my faith is unbroken. I feel so much better than before."
"Yeah, but considering you were literally dying before that's not saying much."
"Oh ye of little faith. Do you not likewise feel rejuvenated?"
Unity paused. Patting herself down, she suddenly realized her wounds didn't feel nearly as bad as they had. She was still a little bruised, but... not so much. That holy nova earlier was more medicinal than she would have pegged it as.
And moreover... she felt her spark coming back. If only she had something to do with it.
"I do feel good," she said slowly. "But there's a big jump between 'not literally dying' and 'ready to fight supervillains.' I almost died when I tried to face them without any of my golems."
''But you did not die."
"Not from lack of trying." She clicked her tongue, going through the earlier fight. What parts of it she saw through all the fire and searing pain, anyway. "From what I saw, Anvil's pretty much untouchable when he's behind that shield. And Hammer's... well, let's just say he's packing a lot of heat."
Fanatic looked away, for once seeming to take stock of what she was hearing. "Perhaps..." she began, brow furrowed, "A change of strategy would not go amiss."
"That's what I'm thinking." Unity rubbed her forehead, and then sighed. "Not that it really matters from my end. I'm out of all the metal that's not keeping my pants up, and that's not enough to do anything."
"The Lord will provide."
"Oh, no doubt." Unity cracked a smile, leaning against one of the old crates. "I mean... He sent you back, right? I prayed, I have my faith back... but I can't expect more than one miracle in one day."
Fanatic gave her a look. Not a judgemental one, surprisingly; it almost seemed amused, but without smiling. Somehow. "You should not put such limits on the Lord."
"I just know to be grateful for what I already--AGH!"
With a cry she found herself falling backwards, the musty old wood of the crate collapsing under her weight. She went down in a heap, several of the other crates being knocked over and spilling all over the ground. There was a loud din that sent echoes into the cave.
"Are you alright?" Fanatic cocked her head, looking mildly concerned.
It took Unity a moment to take stock of herself, sprawled out on the cave floor as she was. The contents of the crates were all over the place now, and she was lying right on top of them. They were hard and uncomfortable.
She realized what they were. Small, hard, and all over the place. There were tons of the things, all fastidiously sweeped up and dumped into the garbage crate. Amanda hadn't wanted a messy target chamber, after all. She'd cleaned up after herself.
Unity was lying on top of a huge pile of cheap, useless, glinting, metal bullet casings.
A smile rose to her lips. "...Hallelujah."
The Citizens marched to victory and the death of their enemies.
Anvil put one booted foot in front of the other, stoically pressing on through the jungle. He was angry now. The angel had fought like a worthy foe, but her death in battle had been snatched away by the girl with the pink powers. There was something very wrong about that. Those who would proclaim themselves heroes should stand and fight, and move for nothing. Otherwise what separated them from the weak, from those who knew no cause?
Hammer was stomping furiously, smoldering with rage. That much would be obvious even if he weren't leaving trailing wisps of smoke with every step.
"Gonna burn 'em," he was muttering. "Run away right when things were getting good, will ya? Well you're gonna see now. Fire always catches up..."
The smaller man paused, glancing around. "...you know, I actually haven't seen them yet. Think they're hiding somewhere?"
Anvil nodded. Of course they were—why run if you were not going to hide?
Hammer was uncharacteristically quiet for a moment. "Uh... think they might be hiding out in... that cave?"
It was an uncomfortable thought. But it had merit. Just because they stayed away from that cave and the failure it symbolized didn't mean these interlopers would feel the same. They should check, and perhaps, if the 'heroes' were foolish enough to be staying there, they would make that old tunnel a symbol of the Citizens' ultimate victory.
"We will search there," Anvil rumbled slowly. "They will regret hiding."
"Who is hiding?"
The Citizens both stopped in their tracks. Against all logic, the voice they heard was as confident and full of fight as before. The angel stepped out of the treeline, the girl from before by her side with fists aglow and liquid brass flowing around her.
Hammer burst out laughing, as though the sight were the funniest thing in the world. "Ha—didn't we just do this? Hiding was dumb, but Jesus Christ you idiots are outdoing yourselves!"
"We got tired of waiting for you!" the girl called out, smirking. Hammer didn't seem to notice, but her bruises and burns were less severe, as were the wounds the angel bore. Something was wrong with this... but Anvil could not, would not back down on such a suspicion.
He hefted his hammer, and his comrade in arms lifted a fist blazing white hot with power.
"Let's make this a little quicker this time. I've got things to do, places to go, bitches to burn."
And the battle began anew.
"Just like we talked about," Unity said softly, shooting a sidelong glance at the other hero as the Citizens advanced. Fanatic nodded.
"I will do my part. This time, we will not be the ones to fall."
She met Unity's eyes, and bizarrely... she smiled. Just slightly. Barely enough to recognize. But her lips turned up, and somehow this was the nicest and most terrifying thing Unity had seen all day.
"Fight hard, Devra."
"Fight smart, Helena."
And they moved to action.
The Angel of the Lord landed gracefully before Citizen Anvil, her wings spread out.
"Know, trangressor, that I will take no pleasure in striking you down today."
". . ." said Anvil.
"No more words to be said," the Lord's Agent agreed. "So be it."
She leapt forward, her wings carrying her farther than her legs alone could spring. Her fist glowed with the golden light of the Lord, and she struck the heartiest blow she could muster. Anvil raised his shield to block her, and she was repulsed with ease.
He pushed her back, and she allowed herself to fall onto the ground. Anvil advanced, secure in the knowledge that he could block any blow she could strike. Even with Absolution she could not scratch him; she now knew this as well as he did.
But there were other ways to smite a transgressor. From within the cracked shell of her armor she produced a small pink pylon, and drove it into the soil under the jungle foliage.
Anvil didn't notice—indeed, why would he? They were warriors facing one another on the battlefield. This was the understanding they shared before. This was the understanding that would be his undoing.
The Angel jumped back to her feet and prepared for another futile blow. One was done; three more to go.
Unity walked right towards Hammer.
"Bold move, little girl! Didn't your mommy tell you to stay away from scary men?"
"What's so scary? Male pattern baldness?"
Hammer scowled, and thrust a gloved hand forward. A wave of white flame came rolling over the clearing, scorching plants into charcoal and sending a ripple of searing dry air ahead of it. This time there was no gap in the flame. This time, Hammer was aiming to kill.
But Unity was aiming to survive. The metal around her congealed into a tall, solid shield, which she thrusted out in front of her like she'd seen Anvil doing. The heat almost scorched her anyway, but her shield tanked the blast and kept her standing.
"Oh, whoop-de-fucking-doo," the Citizen snarled, seeming very much annoyed that she wasn't a charred skeleton. "You made a garbage can lid! See how much good it does you!"
The blasts started coming down hard, hitting the shield with enough searing heat to make it warp in Unity's grasp. But she shaped it at the same time, forcing the metal to hold its shape and stay solid. There was no way one of her golems could get close enough to hit him without getting melted down. Hammer knew this as well as she did. But the shield was another matter, and as long as she could hold it in place, she was untouchable.
"God damn it!" the man raged, pushing still harder. There was a tornado of fire around him, fueled by his anger. "You can't hold that forever! I'm gonna burn you to a crisp, little girl! I'm gonna barbecue you up and serve you to the raptors! I'm gonna send you back in a casket and save your mama the cremation bill!"
"Really?" Unity shouted over the inferno. Her fingers were burning a bit, but she didn't let that dampen her smile. "'Cause all I'm getting right now is a lot of hot air!"
Hammer roared, and the blaze came down harder.
For the fourth time the Angel of Retribution leapt to her feet and struck the offending warrior. His shield held as resolute as ever, but his gaze was growing fiercer. Angrier. More eager to bring the fight to a close.
His warhammer came down, but Judgement sidestepped it. She'd discarded most of the remnants of her armor, and felt lighter on her feet than before. In any other fight this would still be her downfall, but in this battle, her victory came not from blows but from sheer patience.
"You are a worthy foe," she said haughtily, dodging another hammer blow.
She swung a bloody fist against him, striking his shield with no effect.
"You are a force to be reckoned with, and no doubt one of the few Citizens with the resolve of a holy warrior."
Another swing. Another dodge. She dropped the last of the pink pylons into the leaf litter of the forest, moving her gaze to the blazing inferno off to their side. Devra was holding; the hero Unity would emerge unharmed from the flames.
"You are a credit to your cause."
She only barely sidestepped the next blow, but barely was enough. She met his eyes, her own glowing with an intensity to rival his.
"But you are still only a man, and battle is all you know."
She ducked, and the hammer nearly grazed her scalp. His shield still caught her punch, which she only attempted to deliver out of habit. She rolled out of reach, righting herself without breaking his gaze.
"You are a man who will never break down, who will never question if he is fighting for the right cause or in the right manner. And that goes not to your credit. Planting your feet too solidly can ensure you will be knocked down."
She turned her attention over the man's shoulder, to Unity. They locked eyes, and nodded.
It was time.
The thing about superpowers was that even if you had them, you still had to supply the super for yourself.
Hammer was practically frothing at the mouth with anger—scratch that, he was now literally frothing at the mouth in anger. 'Cause he had incredible power, but when that wasn't cutting it, he was just a bald man in a jungle.
"You know it the same as I do, don't you?" Unity called out. The blaze was dying down. Not from lack of trying, but because Hammer was quite literally burning himself out. "That powers are only half the fight. If you don't know how to use them on the fly, you're still just a regular run of the mill person who needs to be saved."
"I AM NOT REGULAR! I AM A CITIZEN OF THE SUN! STUPID BITCH!"
"I know you are, but what am I?"
Hammer's fire burned down, leaving him panting in impotent rage. He raised a fist, trying to charge another attack. 'Cause he had a badass power, but nothing else. He could give himself all the cool supervillain names he wanted. He was still just a schmuck.
And Unity was a superhero.
She locked eyes with Fanatic, who had finished her part of the fight with Anvil. They locked eyes, and nodded.
It was time.
The Angel did the unthinkable and left the battle with Anvil, flying straight away from him. He stood confused, not having expected this. Unity ducked down low, allowing the Angel to fly straight over her head.
Citizen Hammer was standing in the middle of a ring of scorched earth, his fires finally quenched from exhaustion. His eyes widened in shock as Judgement came hurtling towards him, and a glowing fist collided with his jaw and sent him flying away.
Unity ducked down low, letting Fanatic fly straight over her head. She turned her back on the burnt-out Hammer and made a beeline for Anvil.
The big burly bearded bozo was standing right in the center of a square of very lovingly crafted pylons. Their pink tops burst out of the foliage in a box around him, crackling with electricity. The shield in Unity's hand changed shape, becoming a broadsword gleaming with pink light.
Anticipating a doozy of an attack, Anvil ducked down behind his shield. He didn't understand what was coming. Every pylon shot a bolt of lightning at him from every angle, and he could only block so much. The lightning behind him jolted through his body, as did the bolts from the sides. His jaw dropped in surprise, and his shield clattered to the ground.
Unity brought down the sword, and with a final powered shock wave she sent the unmovable man flying backwards.
And the heroes stood in the middle in the clearing, the villains defeated and lying flat on their backs.
Sparks, this felt good.
Citizen Dawn fell to her knees. The power of the sun left her body, and as she slumped to the obsidian ground she looked less a powerful monarch and more a defeated, tired woman. Still, the icy glare she gave those who bested her could have done physical harm all on its own.
"You are wrong," she whispered, voice bitter and cutting. "The day will come when the mighty will persevere and take what is theirs. Side with weakness and you will share their fate."
Legacy stood tall, a tattered cape flapping in the wind behind him. "Today we proved you are the one who sided with weakness, Dawn. The ideals we fight for are stronger than the direst powers you can bring to bear."
Dawn's scowl was cutting, but her eyes closed out of exhaustion. She collapsed, the last of the Citizens finally losing her strength.
Legacy finally let himself breathe a long sigh of relief. This had been a tough one. His costume was scuffed in many places, and he'd actually picked up a couple of bruises in this fight. He never thought he'd look back nostalgically at Baron Blade's doomsday devices of the week.
"Fine work, team," he said, keeping his voice loud and inspirational. "You've all fought hard."
The Wraith swiftly set about tying Dawn with a grappling hook cord, her eyes narrowed and fierce. "About time. I want to get off this island and back home."
"Home?" Bunker's voice echoed from inside the dented mech suit around him. "Knowing Rook City I figured this would be a vacation for you."
"That's true, sadly, but I'm a workaholic." Legacy thought he caught a trace of amused fondness in the Wraith's eyes as they darted towards Bunker, but couldn't be sure. A different machine-muffled voice spoke next.
''Well, I need to get home or I will literally die," grated Absolute Zero. "You'd think the Arctic Circle would be home sweet home for me, but as it turns out, nature is insane and sadistic. I couldn't find my way to tropical paradises like this when I was trying."
"InsulaPrimalisdoeshaveauniqueandentirelyunconventionalclimateconsideringthesurroundingenvironmentbutI'msurefurtherstudywilllendcluesastohowitcametobeandpossiblyhowtofurtherimproveourcurrenttemperatureinsulatingstrategies," Tachyon spat out at a whirlwind's pace, moving from place to place in a blur. One by one she was picking up incapacitated Citizens and loading them into the back of their jet. When she stopped moving, it was right in front of Legacy with a concerned look etched across her face.
"Have you seen Devra?"
Anvil was still unconscious—that kinda tended to happen when big wattages got zapped through your body. Hammer was alive but in a daze, and Unity sculpted a big metal block around his hands.
"Don't mind me, just making sure you don't set anything on fire," she said happily. "You move your hands around a lot when you're burning things, so I'm guessing if you can't move your fingers you can't move the fires."
The horrified look on Hammer's face confirmed those suspicions, and Unity cuffed him to the tree and walked back to Fanatic.
"Some day, huh?"
"I have had more eventful." Fanatic's tone was aloof, but the look in her eyes felt a little lighter. "But... seldom with such deep thinking interspersed."
Unity grinned. "Told you, faith and free will aren't deep thinking topics. Now, consider this: technically every national anthem is country music."
Fanatic frowned and gave a deep shudder. "Stop saying things like that."
"But you make it fun with those looks!"
"It will be less fun when I smite you where you stand for being the sandwich and country music heretic that you are."
"Duly noted." She sighed deeply, swaying a bit where she stood. This had been a long day... but, she felt stronger at the time that she felt tired. It was an odd feeling. Also, she'd lost feeling in her fingers, which were still burned from holding that shield earlier. Ouch.
"Hold on," Fanatic said slowly, looking at her hands. "I can do something about that."
She held out her own hand, grasping Unity's burnt fingers. She cringed slightly, but as Fanatic's voice began whispering a prayer, a golden light shined around them both. She could feel the burns slowly fading away.
''I... wow," Unity said blankly. She held up her hand, amazed. There wasn't even a mark. "I didn't know you could do that."
"With the Lord I can do anything," Fanatic replied, bowing her head. "...also... the burn was shallow."
Unity cracked a smile. "Thanks. I really owe you one. Actually... hold on."
She noted a slightly forlorn look in the other woman's eyes, and hatched an idea. The remaining metal that wasn't holding the Citizens she scrambled together into a hasty few golems, all tiny and in the shape of little winged babies. She instinctively programmed them with some brief instructions, and sent the Cherub Bots out into the forest.
Fanatic looked confused. "What exactly are you doing?"
"Just wait for it. Waaaait for it... any second now..."
After a minute the Cherub Bots came back, struggling to support items much larger than them. Some carried the cracked Aegis of Resurrection, and the others had retrieved the holy sword Fanatic had dropped earlier.
"Absolution!" Fanatic swiftly strode over, reclaiming her relics from the golems. "I thought I would be searching for hours!"
"Least I could do," Unity smiled. "Thank you... for everything. Just, everything."
Fanatic met her eyes, and likewise gave that slight, scary ghost of a smile. "...likewise. It was a pleasure to stand by your side today."
"Nicest thing I've heard you say. And, same."
They were a silent a moment, and then Unity looked down at the blacked-out Anvil and the surly-looking Hammer. "Guess we should do something with these knuckleheads."
"I suppose we should, if we do not wish to leave them here as food for the reptiles." Fanatic's tone suggested this wouldn't be an entirely off-limits course of action. That should have been terrifying, but given the day Unity thought it was a fair sentiment.
"Alright, Cherub Bots. Get these two up in the air and start-"
Tachyon's voice was like a song on fast forward, coming out of nowhere as the woman suddenly blurred into the clearing faster than the eyes could track. Fanatic bowed her head in respect. The Freedom Five were a big deal even for holy agents of God, apparently. Unity felt a burst of surprise, but even more relief. "Dr. Stinson!"
The older superhero was scuffed up in a few places, and had a bloody knee. "Unity... Fanatic. It's good to see both of you. The fight got a bit out of hand back there."
"But has victory been achieved?" Fanatic asked sharply. "Has Dawn herself fallen?"
"Oh, yeah." Tachyon checked her watch. "She fell about... one minute thirty seconds ago, on the other side of the island. Damn, this knee's making me slow."
Hammer's jaw dropped, and then set in a fury. "You... LIAR! Dawn cannot fall! The Citizens of the Sun will still prevail, and the whole world will bur-"
His voice cut off as Tachyon moved in a blur, stuffing his mouth with some sort of prehistoric pinecone. "I'd suggest shutting up now, given we're in charge of your seating arrangements on the flight back to civilization. Wait a sec. Did you two take these guys out yourselves?"
Unity nodded her head. "Yep. Well... with a bit of divine providence."
Tachyon whistled. "Niiice... that one with the hammer gave Legacy a black eye." She met Unity's eyes in particular. "You did a good job. I'm glad we brought you."
"So am I." Unity felt like collapsing in a tired heap and dancing from one end of the island to the other right now. She settled for giving a really wide smile—smiling tended to make bad things less bad and good things better.
"NowjustwaitrighthereI'mgonnapreparethecargoholdforthesetwoschmucks," Tachyon said, blitzing away. Sparks, she was cool.
"We won," Unity repeated, mostly to herself. "We actually won."
"Not quite yet," Fanatic mused. "There is still evil aplenty in the world."
"You're a bit of a downer, aren't you?"
"Not at all... I have faith that eventually, the battle will be won."
"You know what? So do I."
And the heroes shared another weary smile.