I curved around the little show Blauschwinge seemed intent on putting on and reached the actual tenements. The warped structure seemed to have been hit by a giant’s fist or something, though I was hoping that Blauschwinge wasn’t actually capable of this kind of destruction with but a single blow – that’d put him right up there with Lady Light in terms of raw offensive power, and I’d learned my lesson about challenging someone like that a long time ago (or perhaps not, seeing how I’d actually tried to fight my even more destructive half-sister).
Getting into the tenements was the next problem I found myself faced with. The structure had been warped so badly – both by whatever attack had first deformed, and then by what I assumed to be Malphas’ power used to retaliate – that even the formerly open walls were mostly gone, and where they remained, they had been turned into small slits or holes, many leading nowhere. I had to rely on my sense of smell more than anything to navigate, and raw strength to actually open up a path, most of the time.
While Warren made a mess outside – I could smell whatever napalm-like compound he was using burn – I followed the scent of blood, and the two young people it originated from.
Lots of blood, and even the monkey had gone deathly quiet now.
I forced open a twisted mess of pipes and metal wall and stepped into an uneven cave of a room. Lag and Malphas were there, lying in total darkness. It was only thanks to my monkey’s sight that I saw anything at all.
Any help I might have rendered came too late for Lag. Something had cut through the woman, from her left shoulder down to her right hip, the wound ragged, rough, unlike anything I could compare it to off the top of my head (and I’d seen a lot). I was glad that her mask covered her face entirely, so I didn’t have to see her facial expression. Poor Volca…
I stepped over her torso – the rest of her had been caught up and crushed by the twisting metal, with blood still dripping down from the ceiling – and waded through inches of blood to Malphas’ side.
His right arm was missing from just below the shoulder, cut in the same manner as Lag’s body. Whatever power Blauschwinge – and I had no doubt that he was the one responsible – used, it had gone through his metal armor the same way as it had through his flesh and bone. The boy was breathing heavily, but he barely bled – his power was at work, metal moving, stopping the bleeding by forming a tourniquet on his short stump. It was temporary, at best, and he needed some help, stat.
I knelt down next to the boy. “Malphas, can you hear me?” I said, opening the monkey’s jaws wide, pulled back to reveal my head. “Can you talk?”
“Y-yes,” he said with a thin, shaky voice. The bravado from our last meeting was gone, and he sounded like he would be crying, if only he had the breath to spare. He sounded like a child. “F-f-fucker… killed… Lag…”
“I know.” I made a quick check, but there really wasn’t much I could tell about his state with his fullbody-armor still in the way. “Malphas, I need to get you out of here,” If only so you can breathe properly, “and I need to check you over. Can you open up your armor?”
It took him a moment to mull that over, his head turned so his eyes were fixated on me, or perhaps it just took a while for him to properly process it. Then he nodded, and his armor opened up in a single fluid, but slow, motion that looked weirdly organic. “Talk to me, Malphas,” I said as I waited for him to open it up. “You have to stay awake.”
“Uhu. What should… I say?” he asked, his voice too weak, especially without his helmet’s distortion at work, now that it had opened, finally giving me a good look at the person beneath.
I had speculated that he was a young teen before, then considered that he might even be barely a teen. Both had been wrong.
“Anything. Where do you come from?”
If the boy I saw lying there in a shirt and short pants, with a mass of steel around the stump of his arm, was a day over thirteen, I’d be very, very surprised. In fact, I would’ve bet him to be closer to twelve than thirteen.
“South Africa. I was… born in some place… South Africa. Don’t remember the name. But… don’t remember it. Left when I was a baby. We fled from… warlord… Aheri… ethnic cleansing…”
Fuck, he’s younger than I was when I set out on my own, I thought as I urged him to keep talking. If he was talking, then he was awake, and I’d know instantly if he slipped into unconsciousnes.
“Came on… ship… me and dad and mom and my big brother, but… ship sank… miles before coast. Dad swam all the way… to land… carried me and bro… mom drowned.”
Using my ridiculously oversized left hand, I carefully craddled the boy to my chest and took him quickly outside the structure, into more open air. “Keep talking, son. Tell me more.” Not that I hadn’t known people with the background I saw unfold before. It was all too common for people from that region, unfortunately enough.
I’d never heard of Aheri, though. Then again, most of those warlords usually cycled through every two or three months, anyway.
“Lived on… streets… Undercities… Dad and Bro worked, but… Bro angry, ’cause Dad didn’t save Mom, too.” He sobbed, and I wasn’t sure whether it was due to physical discomfort, or the memories.
I could barely hear the fight as I put him down – wincing along with him when the movement caused him even more pain – and carefully tore his shirt open to check his torso.
“One day… Bro went to work… didn’t come back… Never found out why. Dad just… he stopped. On the inside. He kept going on the outside, working to take care of me, but… a year later, he stopped on the outside, too. I was… six?”
It was a mess of blue and green bruises, and I felt at least two broken ribs when I checked over his ribcage with one hand (causing him to gasp for air). I had to work hard, and for that, I dismissed the monkey’s skin, taking off my expensive jacket to turn it into practical bandages. “How’d you get your powers?” I asked, just to keep him talking.
“Undercity… cave-in. I was stuck… under rubble…”
I nodded. Classic, straightforward trigger for such a power. “Why’d you become a hero?” I removed the metal from the stump of his arm, using a rag of my jacket to clean it off – despite his cries – and then made a proper tourniquet with several of my impromptu bandages, so it’d hold even if he passed out and his power stopped working.
“After dad… stopped… was in… Vegas. Savage Six came. Mindfuck, he came after me, other kids. We ran, tried to flee, but how do you flee from someone coming after you inside your head?” He cried out again as I began to wrap his ribcage, to provide some stiff support for his ribs. “Then I saw… him. Boy, just a bit older than me… killed him. He killed him, just like that.”
I sighed, knowing where this story went. I’d never run into the Six myself, before, but I knew their MO, especially Mindfuck’s. Everyone did, really. “You watched the boy die, and decided to protect people?”
“N-no. The boy… he killed Mindfuck. Saw it through… Mindfuck’s eyes. Boy killed him. Did worse to him, before he killed him.”
Wait, what? I stopped my work on the bandages to focus on his face. He had a mystified expression on it, but he seemed to have his wits about him. A kid killed Mindfuck?
“I thought… he was just… nine? Something like that. If someone that age can… kill a monster like that… then surely I can… I can do some good, too? So when I… when I got my powers, I decided to… to make a place. For all the lost ones, like me and dad and bro and that boy. So I made my tenements…” He turned his head to look at the smashed structure, and now I saw tears come out of his eyes. “I’ll have to… start over again.”
And over, and over. Such things don’t last in this world, I thought, but didn’t say. “I’m sure you will,” I said instead. Then I covered myself in my monkey skin again, listening to the battle – I could still hear Warren’s armor move and shoot, so I knew he was still alive. Judging by the amount of rage-fueled screaming, Volca was still alive, as well. “I need to go fight.”
He looked at me, his eyes glazed over with pain, but nodded. “Can you… put me closer to it? I can still… control the metal… for protection… if I touch it.”
Carefully, I picked him up and carried him to the warped structure. As soon as I leaned him against it, the metal flowed under him, forming a solid metal chair he could sit on. Some more movement deposited Lag’s remains nearby, as well as bits and pieces of other people.
I averted my eyes and turned to go, but a tendril of cool metal reached out, grabbing my elbow. I looked over my shoulder at the boy, feeling the monkey’s face distort in annoyance at the delay.
“W-wait!” he said. “Got to… tell you… his power.”
Ah. Yeah, that would be useful. “I’m listening.”
“Flies… not very strong… not very tough… but more than usual. Blast attack… but not very strong, either.” I looked up at the damage the guy had done to the structure, then back at him. The monkey’s face wasn’t that good at conveying skepsis, but I did my best. “Real power… in his eyes. Looks at things… weakens them. Gradually, but quickly. Attacks loose… force… defenses become… weak… bodies…” He glanced at Lag’s remains and at his stump. “T-t-tested… before he… hit me. Power only works… on what he sees. Effect fades once… once he’s not focusing his sight… on target. Raised metal wall… he made it weak, I could feel it… through my power.” He stopped, taking a few quick breaths. “Drew in… affected material, replaced it. Effect faded… within seconds.”
“So he’s not very tough, nor very strong, but he can weaken attacks and defenses enough that he’s functionally far more powerful,” I summarised it. I glanced at Lag. “And it apparently circumvents certain defences entirely.”
He nodded, but didn’t respond. I nodded back and left.
Thank God for supervillains in love with their own voice. As annoying as they can be, the advantage it poses to those of a more pragmatic disposition is simply invaluable.
When I came around the warped tenements, I found Blauschwinge in the air, unharmed, his long cape waving dramatically (how do they do that? I’d never been able to do a cape, and I’d tried) as he ranted something in heavily accented English. I didn’t bother to listen, and just looked for my allies.
Volca was standing behind a torn and partly melted mass of rusty pipes, just barely out of sight from Blauschwinge and just barely in my sight, her chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath. Her costume had taken some damage, as had her body undearneath – so much so that I suspected she was only a short while away from passing out due to blood loss.
Warren was nearby, the bulk of his power suit barely hidden from Blauschwinge’s sight by a piece of the ground that had risen up due to an earlier impact. The right arm was wrecked, mostly gone beneath the elbow and the rest that remained twisted and useless, but he seemed to have sustained no further damage.
Nor had he caused any to Blauschwinge, however.
Well, that’s what I’m best at. Causing lots and lots of damage.
And if Malphas’ analysis of his power was correct, then that meant I could probably take him down with one hit.
<Aap, you hear me?> Warren’s voice suddenly rang in my ear, startling me. I’d completely forgotten that I was wearing an earpiece of his – how embarrassing.
“Loud and clear, my friend. How’re things going?” I said as I hid behind the corner of the tenements. “Need me to speed blitz this ass?”
<I don’t think that’s going to be so easy. I’m not sure how he does it, but he’s been slowing down my shots, making them stupidly easy to dodge, if they didn’t just fall to the ground halfway to him.>
Well, that was interesting. Disconcerting, but interesting. “Malphas briefed me on his power, but he didn’t tell me it also sapped speed.”
<Yeah, this ass is a lucky one. Seems to cover all the bases. He’s countered everything angry girl and me threw at him, just by looking at it. And he’s royally messed with my armor!>
Somehow, I was sure he’d have preferred it if he’d lost an arm, not that armor of his. “I have a plan. Can you distract him?”
<His sight even works on motherfucking acid, dude. I’m not sure I have anything that could affect him.>
Wow, that’s one hell of a power. “You didn’t answer my question. Can you distract him?”
<I can try. Just tell me when, and I’ll give it my best shot.>
I didn’t hesitate. “Go!”
He rose up from behind his cover, aiming his gun at Blauschwinge. The villain immediately turned to face him, which gave me a clear shot at his side, just barely out of his peripheral vision.
I ran, without even bothering to wait and see what Warren would fire at him. There was no way I could use my top speed – there wasn’t enough room, and I was more likely to simply run into a wall than manage to hit shit at top speed, anyway – but going from zero to a hundred and forty in three seconds flat was still pretty good.
The sewage plant had taken heavy damage, the ground was cracked… really, the entire foundation had probably taken too much damage by now. No way this was safe anymore. But it did provide me with a lot of small ramps to pick and choose from, and I ran straight for one halfway between me and Blauschwinge, and just leapt up and towards him like a monkey-shaped missile, aiming for his neck (I’d only promised to bring in the Ascendant alive, if possible).
He whirled around as soon as I kicked off the ground, even though there’d been no way he could’ve seen or heard me coming. As soon as his gaze fell on me, I was hit with the full force of his power.
God. Fucking. Dammit! I could feel myself slowing down even before I visibly did so, I could feel the monkey skin weakening, and I could very much see his fist moving to intercept my flight.
I didn’t know whether he was strong enough to kill me with one punch, without my monkey skin’s protection, I didn’t know whether it maybe reached beneath the skin and into my actual body – so I decided not to risk a direct hit, and I aborted my attack, crossing my arms in front of me to take his punch; even if I were to lose them, as long as I survived, I was sure my father’s people could put me back together.
His fist connected with my crossed forearms and punched through the monkey’s skin like the Fist of God.
It was far less godly when it connected with my forearms. Though it hurt – pound for pound, he was probably stronger than me, not counting monkey skin and weakening gaze – it only threw me away from him without causing further damage.
“Ha, I knew you’d try an underhanded trick like thaaaaaa-!” His boast was cut off as my tail wrapped around his throat from behind. I pulled, swinging myself behind him and out of the area of effect of his gaze.
As soon as I left it, I felt the effect start to fade, though if it’d penetrated to my actual body, I would not have trusted myself to survive, say, a hug from Princess Charity without major damage. But my tail had remained unaffected, as I’d first hidden it behind my body, then reached around beneath and behind him – Malphas had been right, he needed to actually have the specific object he wanted to weaken in his sight, and my tail hadn’t been.
The villain sputtered, choking as I landed on all fours behind him and pulled him down with my tail.
He made a most satisfying crack when I slammed him into the ground, but it didn’t put him down for more than a few seconds – I felt him grip my tail a little away from his neck and simply tear it apart as soon as his gaze got a hold of it. Moments before I would’ve crushed his throat, too.
Annoying power. I didn’t waste time turning around, and just jumped backwards, to slam into him before he could use his power on me directly, turning only once I was airborne – but he was fast, faster than I would’ve expected, rising up from the ground in a practiced pirouette that made his cape flare dramatically, and also served to throw off dust.
His gaze hit me moments before the green-blue energy blast from his clenched fist did, his face twisted in anger. It didn’t have time to really weaken me enough to cause serious damage, but once more, he arrested my movement, interrupting my assault on him. And this time, he also blasted my tail away with a shot from his other fist.
“You! Will! DIE!” he shouted and flew towards me – only to pull off an impressive evasion, twisting like a corkscrew, to dodge Warren’s own tackle. He simultaneously looked at my friend’s power armor’s shoulder, and kicked it, tearing off his remaining arm.
Prescient, maybe. Smart, definitely not. He’d turned his back to me, never a good idea when dealing with a Speedster.
I capitalised by slamming my hands into the ground and throwing two chunks of concrete the size of an adult at him, following closely with the projectiles doubling as cover.
Again, he reacted faster than any human could on his own, blasting my projectiles to bits – and turning them into nicely concealing clouds of concrete dust.
I soared through the dust, using my scent to keep track of him, but again he acted too quickly even for me, flipping up over my attack before I’d even started emerging from the cloud.
His blast knocked me into the ground, tearing through the back of the monkey. Fuck me, this almost hurt.
He was laughing again, a demented, all-too-familiar laugh. “See? See!? You can’t stand against me, I’m-“
Warren interrupted his tirade by throwing his disconnected arm at Blauschwinge, but the villain only caught it, rather casually, with one hand, holding it by its upper portion, the elbow bent and the gun swinging wildly left and right as he shook it in contempt.
“Was that supposed to hurt me, little Tüftler? Throwing pieces of your little toy at me? What’re you going to do next, throw yourself at me?” He grinned wildly at my friend, and I almost took the chance to leap at him, but then Warren surprised both of us.
“No,” he said out loud, but calmly. “I’m going to use the remote control.“
Blauschwinge’s eyes widened, his face turning towards the canon even as he threw it away from himself – but it was too late. It lit up, firing a glob of blue-hot liquid fire at his face.
I could see his power working on it, immediately, much faster than it had worked on my monkey skin, the heat diminishing visibly, reduced to a red glow, but he could not evade it anymore, and it took him in the face, more napalm splattering onto his shoulders and chest.
Blauschwinge screamed louder than I’d heard anyone scream in a long time, his arms clawing at his face, trying to scoop the napalm away – but that only served to burn his hands too, and it let some of it flow into his mouth, turning his screams into gargled sounds of pain. I heard his flesh sizzle before I even smelled it.
But Warren was not done. As the arm fell to the ground, he fired a second shot, and without Blauschwinge’s power to lessen it, it took off the man’s right leg at the knee.
Blauschwinge collapsed, even though he was still floating above the ground, screaming and trashing around, face, neck, chest, arms and leg stump burning as he thrashed around to no avail.
Both Warren and I approached him slowly, ready to strike again, but it seemed he was done.
“Time to pay the piper, asshole,” Warren said as a smaller, human-sized (but clearly robotic) arm folded out of the chest of his armor, holding a simple handgun. “No one touches my family and gets away with it!” He pulled the trigger.
My hand shot forward, the bullet hitting the monkey’s open palm to no effect. “No,” I said firmly.
His ‘head’ turned to look at me, and I could guess what kind of facial expression he had there. “Why’re you stopping me?”
“You’re no murderer, Warren. If you want him dead, I’ll do it. But not you,” I said calmly, far more gentle than I was used to while covered in the monkey’s skin. “It would haunt you forever.”
“Aap, I…” He turned to look at the struggling man, as did I – just in time to see Volca get behind him and punch him with her volcanic arm.
Blauschwinge’s head rocked back as her fist punched cleanly through his chest, back to front, the heat so great it burned the wound shut before any blood could flow.
He collapsed entirely, going limp, and slid to the ground as she lowered her arm, her other hand still normal flesh, applying pressure to a wound on her side.
We all looked down at the figure, his face and hands burned down to an unrecognisable mess, his eyes gone entirely. He looked almost pathetically small now, wasted.
“No one fucks with my family and gets away with it, either,” Volca snarled.