Somewhere in the Ukraine – Saturday, the 23rd of June 2012. 10:43 AM.
As Radiant materialized in the smoke-filled air, he immediately knew that his power had drawn him to the right place. He recognized the burning fields and the scorched remains of the village that was several miles to the east, its ashen-gray bell tower rising into the sky as a lone survivor. Failing to spot Nusku or the two villains who accompanied him, Radiant scanned the scorched landscape and soon discovered a familiar face: Rune.
The Swedish hero had donned his Viking costume with the horned helmet and short fur cape and stood on the bank of the small brook that ran beside the burned fields. The water wasn’t deep, but it was sufficient for keeping the flames at bay. It protected the still lush meadows along the eastern bank from Nusku’s raging fires.
Beside Rune stood Overdrive, clad in the blue and white lightning themed costume of his Warden days. The two heroes were joined by one of Athena’s biggest battle suits as well as Dancer, unmistakable in her oversized t-shirt, who hovered in the air a hundred feet above the others.
It’s a trap, Radiant wanted to scream at them. The destruction caused by Nusku was meant to draw you here. To Legion.
But he had no lungs to scream with, and he could already see that he wouldn’t have the time to fly down there and communicate with written words. Something was incoming from the south. It heaved the ground upward, uprooting trees and sending debris flying as it approached the small group of heroes at incredible speed.
No. I’m not letting you take them.
Without thinking, Radiant beamed himself down to the bank of the brook opposite Rune. There he entrenched himself as a last line of defense. A barrier of light against the oncoming Antithesis, whose psychic aura drove any unprotected human mind insane in an instant. Radiant knew that not even Dancer would be immune to it.
Filled with a desperate wish to protect the girl, he let his wings flare with the same energy that fueled his lasers and his luminescent soul. They stretched higher and further than ever before, splitting up into countless light ribbons that whipped around him in divine fury. His fear and insecurity melted away in the heat of his brilliant power. When Legion emerged from the ground as a gigantic mass of flesh and bone, still propelled forward by the momentum of his underground charge, Radiant didn’t flinch.
The collision of their two bodies – one heavy and massive, the other scorching hot and lethal on impact – caused an explosion of heat and flesh that rippled across the landscape in a wide radius, painting it red with blood. Radiant’s many wing ribbons burned straight through everything they touched. The impact was too violent and too sudden to make out any real details, but he saw that his own body dissected Legion on impact, sending monstrous, mutated heads and limbs flying.
What remained of Legion collapsed with earth-shaking force and tainted the brook’s water with blood. Radiant couldn’t hear the creature’s many-voiced chorus of screams. But he felt them as a vibration inside the core of his being, as if he was intimately tuned in to the other Evolved’s life force.
You’re not escaping this time.
Even though the twitching remains of his opponent had already collapsed to the ground, Radiant summoned all of his remaining energy for one final, devastating blast. The laser he produced from his body was pure white and as bright as a miniature sun. It incinerated the heap of Legion’s severed bodyparts on contact, but Radiant felt himself pulled into the blast, diminished by it until all there was left of him was a tiny golden flicker. His sight was eclipsed. His consciousness diminished to nothing, until…
Until another power nourished him back to life.
Radiant felt the influx of energy as a tingle at first, a foreign presence that tickled his consciousness until his self-awareness returned. His sight expanded from a limited perception of his own tiny, flickering presence to a full 360 degree view of his surroundings: the blood-soaked ground. The brook that was running red, clogged with grayish flesh clumps of varying size and shape. And a figure he eventually recognized as Overdrive, standing right in front of him. The costumed teenager held up his right hand to recharge Radiant through a connection that was palpable as a steady tingle.
What happened? He wanted to ask. Now that he could think and feel again, concern set in—along with the understanding that he had nearly died again. His overpowering wish to end Legion once and for all resulted in the devastating beam that fed on his energy and almost consumed him.
My energy pool is still finite. I still need to recharge. He could feel the sunlight do part in restoring him, though it was slower than Overdrive’s power, and the ever-present smoke diminished the effect by obscuring the sun.
Thank you. Unable to express his gratitude in any other way, Radiant reached out with a luminescent hand and positioned it in a way that made it look like he was touching Overdrive’s shoulder. As he looked up he spotted Dancer, who descended from her aerial vantage point to hover beside Rune, and he was relieved to discover that all three of them appeared to be unharmed and in control of themselves. Dancer stared straight at Radiant, a pained expression on her face. She looked as if she was about to cry.
The girl’s sympathy stirred Radiant’s emotions in ways he could no longer define, though he remembered feeling something similar when Alexandra cried for him. Don’t be sad, all right? He beseeched the girl. This is all going to work out in the end.
At least Rune didn’t show the slightest inclination to cry for him. The Swedish hero had charged his axe blade and joined the Athena-controlled battlesuit in hacking away at Legion’s remains.
Even though a large portion of the villain’s body had been incinerated by Radiant’s final, supercharged laser, there was enough left to get an impression of Legion’s appearance when he had first emerged from the ground: a four-legged creature of myth and legend. Almost a dragon, but not quite. There was something reptilian about the body, but it sported tentacles instead of wings and its various large heads all looked disturbingly human. Its weight and size far surpassed what Radiant remembered from San Francisco. The injuries Legion sustained there – and the healing process that followed, powered by the regeneration potential the monster absorbed from one of his American victims – must have added a few more tons to his body mass.
Despite his ability to sculpt and reshape his body, he still bleeds. The thought was cut short by another. But did I really kill him this time? And where is Nusku’s gang?
A very distressed Overdrive was talking and gesturing in front of him, but he soon realized that Radiant couldn’t hear him and pointed at the bleeding, charred heap of fleshy bits instead. There were eight or nine severed bodyparts that refused to lay still. Rune raised his axe to hack away at a tentacle that was still twitching. A severed, calf-sized head rolled a short distance, mouth snapping at empty air, before sinking into the ground.
Radiant fired a laser at it, but it was too late. The head was already so far submerged that he only managed to singe its wiry, colorless hair. It was then that a startling realization flashed in his mind: Legion had shaped his body in a way that made him extremely resilient to damage, and his vital organs were most likely not where anyone expected them to be. The monster wasn’t going to die as long as a small part of him survived.
Feeling his power flare in tune with an emotion he no longer recognized, Radiant willed himself to think about the good news instead. He couldn’t touch the heroes. I sent him back into hiding.
It didn’t look like Athena’s surveillance had picked up any trace of Nusku or his companions, so Radiant decided to focus on what he could do right at that moment: help Rune and Morpheus dispose of Legion’s other remains while Dancer extinguished the fires and restored the nearby town.
But Athena had different plans for him. Protect Christina, her battlesuit signaled from its integrated chest display. That message was clear enough. The news of his conversation with Legion burned inside of him, begging to be shared, but he trusted Athena to understand their priorities better than he did. She wouldn’t send him off if the Guardian’s safety wasn’t of immediate concern.
I need to protect Christina.
The silent wish woke his power and pulled him across the sky once more. This time, he came to in a white and blue hospital room with two beds and a single occupant: Christina Chung. One of the last two Guardians on Earth.
She sat on her bed with her back against the headboard, the pale blue sheets pulled back to expose the thick bandage wrap around her midsection. She wore pajama pants and a short white linen shirt; a proper hospital outfit except for the pair of sneakers on her feet, which most likely weren’t approved by hospital staff. Her hair fell in disheveled waves around her face. Radiant noted that she was fully awake, her eyes widening at his sudden appearance.
Suspecting that she might not recognize him, he awkwardly raised his luminescent hand to signal that he came in peace. But Christina’s frown remained. She stared back at him warily, her hand reaching out to the table next to the bed. There were only two items on it: a glass of water and the white plastic armband that served as a communications link to the other heroes.
Radiant wished the girl could tell him why Athena sent him here. While it was good to see the Guardian alive and reasonably well, Legion – even his remains – seemed to be the more urgent issue, and he would have liked to watch over Dancer while she was out in the open and vulnerable to attack. Christina didn’t look like she was in any immediate danger. The large window beside her bed – the one he’d entered from – showed a segment of New York’s skyline, brightly illuminated against an inky nighttime sky. The only door leading out of the room was solid wood with a small spy window. It was closed, not revealing what was beyond it.
She has a danger sense, Radiant reminded himself. She’ll let me know when to expect trouble.
The Guardian was now speaking into the armband, he saw. She said a few words, then listened, the frown gradually disappearing to be replaced by a pained expression. Her apparent sadness made him wish she was still wary of him. He had already watched two women cry for him today, and the feelings they stirred inside him made him uncomfortable because he no longer understood them. They were a living man’s emotions.
He dimmed the brightness of his streaming wing ribbons and floated closer to Christina’s bed to see how she would react. She stared up at him, her bottom lip quivering, and said a few words he couldn’t understand.
I’m here to protect you, he thought, extending a hand to rest it on top of her head. When he pulled it back, a faint golden afterglow clung to Christina’s hair.
She dipped sideways to open the top drawer of her nightstand, clenching her teeth in pain, and pulled out a red smartphone. He watched as she typed a short message on it. When she finished the message, she turned the phone to face him. What happened to you? He read.
I think I died, he wrote in the air with his glowing finger.
The words made her eyes mist over. She rubbed at them with her hand before she typed another message and showed it to him. You really are an angel now.
Her message touched him on a deep, visceral level, and he made the effort to shape his luminescent energy into a smile. He wasn’t sure how convincing it looked, but she smiled back and started typing again. Athena said I should tell you to stay with me. I feel something’s about to happen. I don’t know what exactly, but it isn’t good.
Legion? He wrote back.
She shook her head. I don’t think so, but you never know. Legion freaking cheats. He suppressed my danger sense in Canada. And again in San Francisco.
Christina’s words sparked an idea. Can he suppress other powers too? If this was true, it would explain how Radiant’s power failed to let him catch up with Dollet after her escape.
This time she gave him a shrug, followed by another grimace of pain. Her bandaged wound was still fresh. I don’t know. It’s Legion, so probably?
He’s far away now, Radiant wrote in an attempt to reassure her. But he controls others. Villains. Using Sovereign’s power.
When he finished, her gaze darted to the door and her eyes became distant. Nothing had changed as far as Radiant could see, and yet…
You sense something, he wrote when her attention returned to him.
She gave a small nod and swung her legs over the side of the bed, sitting up best as she could, the pain evident on her face. Unable to support her, Radiant watched helplessly as she pried the IV needle from her arm. Yes, she had to get out of here. But he had no intention of just letting her walk out in her hospital shirt and pajama pants. He wouldn’t be able to carry her if she collapsed in the corridor, and he didn’t think the hospital staff was going to stand idly by while a patient fresh out of surgery checked themselves out.
Checkmate? He wrote. After a moment’s consideration he added Warn hospital staff?
Clenching her teeth, Christina picked the smartphone back up. She tapped the display with obvious difficulty now, but she kept writing until there was a lengthy response for Radiant to read. Checkmate picks me up when he can. Busy saving others. Danger sense went nuts while I was unconscious after surgery. Told Athena everything as soon as I could. Hospital warned.
Alarmed, Radiant quickly followed up with another question. Who else is in danger?
My parents, she typed. All of New York.
So it’s starting today, Radiant deduced, recalling what Legion told him a short while ago. Christina’s prediction suggested the presence of one of Dollet’s effigies somewhere in the city. Given Legion’s rapid regeneration power, it wouldn’t be long before the villain recovered enough to channel his devastating mental aura through the effigy, throwing New York into chaos and infinite anguish.
If the Lord is merciful, then perhaps I bought them some time for evacuation. Aware that time may be running out, Radiant kept the thought to himself. Turning his attention back to Christina, he wrote Try to locate the danger source. Once the last word was nothing more than a slowly fading afterglow, he beamed himself to the door, then through the spy window into the corridor beyond.
He soon discovered that the evacuation was in full swing. Nurses in white hospital uniforms pushed gurneys carrying prone patients to the pair of elevators at the center of the corridor, while shouting at other staff members and doing their best to avoid collisions. . Most of the patient room doors gaped wide open. Equipment was in disarray, strewn across the floor and stepped on by hurried feet. Two armed policemen stood by the elevators, overseeing the evacuation with severe expressions and alert eyes.
If there is any way I can buy you more time, I will.
Having assured himself that the staff was aware of the danger, Radiant beamed himself back through the spy window into Christina’s room. The Guardian was now standing next to her bed, smartphone in one hand and the remote for the wall-mounted television in the other. Her expression had become distant again, so Radiant beamed himself past her and through the window, determined to get an overview of the situation from outside.
The seemingly peaceful scenery matched his earlier impression of the city beyond the hospital window, though he also noted a distinctive lack of traffic on the street below. Except for three police vehicles, nothing moved. Radiant quickly assumed that the police had rerouted the traffic in anticipation of an attack on the hospital.
Christina’s room was located on the fifth story of one of the hospital’s two wings. A quick scan of the multi-building complex revealed nothing unusual. The windows of all the buildings were illuminated; nothing hinted at Evolved powers or uninvited guests. From his time as a Covenant hero in New York, Radiant remembered the guest parking in an underground garage maintained by the NYP Parking Office. But he couldn’t justify abandoning Christina to investigate the hospital’s subterranean underbelly. Not even for a few minutes.
Hurry up, Checkmate. She needs you.
Radiant beamed himself back into the girl’s room and found her leaning back against the bed she had slipped out of, her eyes glued to the screen of the television. It showed shaky footage of a graffiti-covered wall and the spray-painted spiral that was at the center of it, glowing with an eerie green light. The news tagline at the bottom of the screen read “Another wormhole graffiti discovered in New York”. The date was of the previous day.
That is Vortex’ power, Radiant realized. He was with Raven’s mercenary crew. Dancer killed him along with the others.
He recognized the spiral graffiti as well. When his power pulled him to each of Legion’s subjugated minions, he had seen the young graffiti artist. The symbol he painted looked exactly like the one now displayed on the television screen.
This must be how they get around. How they leave Dollet’s puppets around the world. Not teleportation, but something similar.
Before he could develop the thought further, Christina caught his attention by waving her hand in front of him. Her expression was gloomy and her face had taken on an ashen tinge. When he glanced at her smartphone to read what she had written, the uncomfortable feeling he could no longer define returned with a vengeance.
It’s starting. Screams everywhere.