Previous Chapter | Chapter Twenty-Four | Next Chapterby Nicholas Ahlhelm
Rubicon could not help but smile as he dropped down upon the battle field below. After the torture of being turned human, of suffering the loss of his powers, and defeat again by Epsilon, it was with a certain amusement that he came to the team’s rescue. But he knew the stakes were far greater than the ideological differences between the sympathizers and his Brethren. He knew that if Nephthys was allowed to succeed in her quest for ultimate power, it would be the entire world that would suffer. So when Set summoned him to the Eastman Academy, he agreed readily.
Now he doubted his choice. Epsilon seemed to be totally out of action; none of the poor children the norm woman treated as warriors still stood. He couldn’t help think his Brethren would not suffer such an ignominious fate. They were all adults, all believed in the cause so as to stand tall until death.
Rubicon unleashed blasts of lightning from the palm of each hand. The bolts struck in the midst of the abominations known as the Little Weapons. A few of the creatures burned, but most were just scattered by the attack. Set swooped down and picked off several more with blasts from his staff.
Rubicon turned his attention to the Weapons’ prisoners. He whipped the little beasts with a strong wind. With them off balance, he sent bolts of lightning down in to the ropes that bound Feud and Bagheera. The shock aroused both instantly even as their bonds burned away.
The Weapons fell silently as the two enemies worked together. Feud moved like quicksilver through her foes, all four arms working in unison to slice the Weapons to shreds. Bagheera pounced all over the battlefield, cutting down Weapon after Weapon.
The bioengineered monstrosities scattered around the damaged room. The floor beneath them was drenched with blood and water. Rubicon prayed that enemy or not, the young epsilons these fools took in to battle were still well. He did not want to see another young degen die at this witch’s hand.
But what he saw left him all the more stunned. In a matter of seconds, the moisture on the floor shrank down, came together, and formed in to the shape of a man. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
No, I watched him die! Damn it, I watched him die!
Rubicon unleashed a blast of lightning at Wave. Wave’s body instinctively split to avoid the blast. He dove forward in the form of the wave, struck the concrete floor, and bounded back up and towards Rubicon. Wave turned to a more solid state and struck Rubicon full on. They fell to the floor and rolled to a stop.
“What’s the big idea?” Wave said. “I thought we were on the same side here.”
Rubicon looked at Wave and could see he was only a boy. Everything about the figure before him was youthful. Far more youthful than even the young degen he met sixty years before. He isn’t the Wave I remember.
“I’m sorry, boy. Merely a misunderstanding.”
No, not the Wave I remember. But when this is over I will know the truth of the matter.
Bagheera couldn’t quite believe his eyes when the shock of the electricity awoke him. Rubicon coming to the rescue just didn’t feel right. But common enemies made strange bedfellows. And he was never one to turn down help where he could find it.
Besides they had other problems to worry about. He cut through another of the Little Weapons. The beasts were scattered now; their numbers far fewer than before. He continued to ignore their childlike features and sliced his way across the room. He knew his targets. He would do anything to get to them.
Nephthys smiled as he approached. Her grin was haughty, regal. Bagheera growled, but her face did not budge. It showed no sign of fear. No sign of worry.
Bagheera pounced, ready to deliver the killing blow.
In mid-leap, something hit him like a freight train and sent him crashing down to the ground.
Blaine Dresden laughed as he drove his fist down in to Bagheera’s backbone. Bagheera cried out as he felt the bone give way. Dresden’s entire body was gray. The same make and texture of the concrete floor at their feet.
Dresden drove a boot in to his ribcage. Bagheera felt ribs shatter beneath the blow. He ignored the pain as he regained his feet.
“You’re a fool,” Dresden said. “Stay down before I kill you!”
Bagheera grinned. Blood boiled up from his lungs and down his lip. “Better than you have tried.”
Dresden swung a fist towards Bagheera’s skull. Bagheera ducked to the side and avoided the blow. He twisted down and under the arm, in to a position right behind Dresden. He caught the arm around the elbow and the shoulder.
“You’re an idiot,” Bagheera said. “You should never have used concrete. It’s strong in solid masses. But when thinned out, it gets weaker. More brittle.”
He drove his claws deep in to Dresden’s armpit while at the same time yanking down at the elbow. The concrete cracked as he strained with all his strength, but after only seconds the joint shattered. Bagheera fell away from Dresden, a stone arm still in hand.
Dresden cried out in pain and despair as he looked down at his missing arm. “No, no! It was supposed to be perfect! We were supposed to win!”
“Not today, pal!” Bagheera swung the concrete arm in to the side of Dresden’s head. It shattered across Dresden’s skull. Bagheera could see Dresden’s eyes roll back in to his head before he pitched back to the floor.
One down, one to go.
Nephthys stood where she had stood before. She continued to watch over the battlefield. Her gaze never stopped to linger on any of her foes, not even Bagheera as he bounded towards her.
“Look at me when I kill you!” Bagheera leaped at her, his claws ready and aimed at her throat.
“Do you pay any notice to a gnat fluttering around your home?” Her voice was deep, but still feminine. Clear, but still royal. Her accent was unlike anything he had ever heard before. Almost enchanting.
“No, you would not. Nor would a goddess give her attention to one as insignificant as yourself. Begone.”
Nephthys’ hand swept over him. A blinding light filled Bagheera’s eyes. He fell to the floor, only the hard concrete was no longer there.
He groaned as he vision cleared and he rose to his feet. He held his claws at the ready for an attack, but already his enhanced sense of smell and hearing told him something was wrong. His toes stumbled for grip on the warm sand beneath him.
He looked around. Dirt and sand stretched in every direction, broken only by dozens of small trees and cacti. Wherever I am, it’s at least a thousand miles back to the school. The bitch did what she wanted, took me out of the game.
No choice now, I suppose. Time to get walking. Using the setting sun as his compass, Bagheera started to walk north.
“On your feet, woman! Now!”
Set slapped Athena across the face. His metal glove left a welt on her cheek. She would have to deal with it. He needed her awake. Now.
Her eyes fluttered open. Set heard chattering teeth. He raised the death staff and blasted a Little Weapon in to nonexistence.
He yanked her to her feet. “Stand up, Athena!”
“My head already feels like a train wreck. All the yelling isn’t helping one bit!”
Set activated his boot jets. With his hand still wrapped around Athena’s midsection they both flew in to the air. “I don’t have time for blame or apologies right now, Ms. Chaykin. More pressing matters require our attention.”
Athena struggled in his grip. “No! I won’t leave my students to die!”
Set tightened his hold around her. “If you stay, you will die with them. Our only hope is in finding the rebirth. My sensors tracked the chrysalis to only a few miles from here, but we need to be in place before the final stages of transformation.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Set sent the silent command for his helmet to recede. He locked eyes with Athena as they flew. “You don’t remember your transformation, do you?”
“Transformation in to what?”
“You aren’t just another metahuman, Athena. Let me ask you this: why did you choose your codename?”
“I don’t know. It just seemed to fit.”
Set smirked. “I’m sure it did. Because you’re an Avatar. Just like me, just like Nephthys, and just like Isis.”
“An Avatar of what?”
“A god. A deity. Or just a powerful metahuman able to reincarnate itself again and again. I don’t really know. All I know is there are dozens of us active at any given time. From every ancient pantheon you can think of: Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Sumerian, Roman, Aztec, you name it.”
“You’re saying gods and goddesses are real?”
“I’m saying that all those legendary figures from myth are real. Whether they are gods is up to someone with far more wisdom than I.” He chuckled. “So what do you think, Athena?”
“This is a lot to take in. And goddess of wisdom or not, I don’t know what to make of it all.”
“You can conjecture later. We’ve got another avatar to revive.” Set released the charge of his booster jets in small bursts and they started to descend earthward. In only a few seconds they stood alongside the four lane highway several miles from the school.
Athena recognized the location. She recognized it all too well. “This is where Beauty died.”
Set smirked. “What fools you mortals be.”
He lowered the death staff to the ground and unleashed a burst of power in to the loose soil to the side of the road. The ground erupted. Dirt flew in all directions.
Athena coughed as she threw up a shield around her to keep out the cloud of dirt and dust. “What are you doing?”
“I’m digging up an old friend of yours.”
The dirt rained back down to the ground. A large hole sat exposed. A glowing pink orb about the size of a ten-year-old sat in the middle of the clearing.
Athena peered down at the hole. Her face showed her shock. “What is that?”
Set turned to her. He let the death staff melt back in to his hand.
“The goddess rises. We only have to wait.”
Wave washed away the remaining Little Weapons with a tsunami attack. Rubicon unleashed bursts of lightning that laid out the few remaining Apostles. Wave could see Rubicon still silently cursing the sudden departure of Set, but he tried his best to keep his focus as well.
Wave came together in to a more cohesive form. Rubicon touched down on the ground beside him. It was just the two of them now, standing against the might of Nephthys.
“You are no goddess,” Rubicon said. “You are only another petty, spiteful witch drunk with power. And like all the rest you will fall before my wrath.”
“What he said,” Wave said.
“I have lived for thousands of years. I am no mere mortal. I do not bow to the sands of time, nor to any mortal alive. I have lived all this time for only conquest. And I will destroy all who stand in my way.”
Rubicon threw his cape back, raised his hand, and unleashed a burst of lightning at her feet. “Then you will have to destroy me. I will not stand for your rule, and I will not let you pass.”
“If you wish to die, mortal, so be it.”
Wave was done with all the tough talk. He was ready to fight.
A roar rose up behind them. Wave turned, just as Dinosaur’s jaws came down towards him. He let his viscosity drop to pure water and slid between the creature’s teeth.
Her eyes are still glazed over, he thought. Like she’s unconscious. Like they all are still unconscious.
The other members of the Acolytes rose around them, all under the goddess’ control. We’re in it deep. We can’t beat them all again.
“Stand your ground, young one,” Rubicon said. “We can beat them.”
“I wish I had your faith in my abilities,” Wave replied. “But in my eyes we’re good and screwed.”
“As long as one of us still stands Nephthys has not won. Now are you with me.”
The Nephthys-animated Apostles closed. “I don’t have much choice, do I?”
Epsilon, Athena, Bagheera, Flint, Beauty, Air Raid, Thief, Devil Boy, Rubicon, and all related characters, and Metahuman Press are © and ™ 2005-2009 Nick Ahlhelm.