New York, USA – Saturday, the 23rd of June 2012. 04:11 AM.
While Radiant was pondering his next steps, the darkness that filled the stairwell near the elevators became aware of his presence and began to disseminate. Streaks of billowing shadow drifted in his direction.
So he can sense me through his darkness. Impressive.
On instinct, Radiant dissolved his humanoid shape and dispersed himself across the hospital floor, evading the shadows that threatened to envelop him. He vaguely remembered a different elevator leading to the underground garage and beamed himself in that direction, deeper into the hallway and away from the stairwell. The dark haze moved slower than he did. When he reassumed his humanoid shape, he was in a dead end, behind another set of glass doors that cut him off from the shadows hunting him. They would squeeze through the cracks eventually. For now, though, he had a moment to get his bearings.
He recognized the area he was in. Identical wooden doors lined the corridor, and there was a painting of a cloudy sky on the wall in front of him. He had visited here before, back when he was still a Covenant hero living in New York. The nearby rooms, he remembered, were assigned to patients with minor health issues who only stayed for a short period of time. The elevator leading to the underground garage had to be nearby.
Before the darkness caught up with him, Radiant backtracked and continued down a different hallway, following a sign that pointed him in the direction of the cafeteria. He half expected to find more collapsed hospital personnel there, but thanks to the early hour the place was deserted. He tried not to think of the poor souls who had gone to sleep in the nearby residential areas. Something told him that Legion’s aura reached well beyond the hospital grounds.
He found the elevator next to the cafeteria, marked by a sign that confirmed it as an access point to the parking garage. After entering through the hairline crack in the closed door, he descended the shaft, making a brief stop on each floor to scan it for any traces of the villains.
Three floors down was where he hit paydirt. The darkness awaited him there. It covered a large area that extended across hundreds of feet; everything except for the ceiling and the row of parking spaces that was closest to the elevator.
They knew I would be coming here. Of course they did. There was no way of telling where the blue van was, or if it was on this floor at all. The Darkshaper or the effigy has to be here. It was the only explanation for why so much darkness had accumulated in the same place and in such a short amount of time.
Radiant had barely finished the thought when the sea of darkness sloshed toward him, reaching out for him with finger-like drifts. One of the shadowy vapors made contact with his left wing just before he beamed himself up and away. It sent a chill through him, and he felt how his energy pool – his life force – was diminished by a small amount. There was still plenty of him left, but he had a feeling that not even Overdrive would be able to help him if the villains caught him off guard.
As of right now, he still had the speed and mobility advantage. He hung beneath the ceiling with a couple feet of space separating him from the black ocean below, and the vapors that had reached out for him now swirled aimlessly, seemingly unaware of where he had gone. Hopefully the confusion would last for at least few seconds.
Having figured out earlier that he could transform his shape at will, Radiant abandoned his humanoid form and stretched himself further and further out until he clung to the ceiling as a faint golden haze. Each metal halide lamp he touched infused him with warmth and a small amount of energy. The artificial light’s restorative power was much weaker than sunlight, but it helped a little. The chill of being touched by darkness was soon gone.
From his position on the ceiling, Radiant had a better view of the parking garage. As suspected, the darkness covered everything except the area along the outermost walls. The parked vehicles and the concrete support pillars were almost completely submerged in it; only the tops of a couple large vans protruded from the dark haze. Neither one was blue. And nothing hinted at the presence of a villain team.
Nusku could be anywhere, but he can’t hurt me. Not anymore. Something told Radiant that the bad guys were not going to come out of their hidey holes. Not until they figured out how to kill him before his lasers incinerated them.
He took the initiative by unleashing a volley of lasers, pencil-thin so they only drained a small amount of his energy. Now that he didn’t need human hands to aim, he was able to fire from wherever his golden glow reached and slice through the darkness from all different directions at once. In seconds he segmented the darkness into a grid of squares that were about ten feet tall and wide.
The animated darkness recoiled and shifted, and the laser-made gaps between the grid squares widened, allowing a brief glimpse of what was beneath them. Most of the parking spaces were vacant. The darkness congealed quickly so Radiant didn’t have enough time to determine if any of the vehicles was a van, but only two were blue, and one of those was bleeding shadows from its doors and windows.
There you are.
He gathered as much energy as he believed he could spare for a final, devastating attack on the vehicle. But the previous laser assault had made the darkness aware of where he was. It reared up like a living being and moved in for the kill.
He managed to get his supercharged shot off in time. Having learned his lesson after the last attack on Legion, he invested less than half of his energy pool in the laser. Even so, it was several inches wide and pure white, so hot that it may have scorched him if he was still alive. It struck the van and burned it up in an instant. The parking garage’s concrete floor was liquefied around the point of impact, and the laser even vaporized a portion of the darkness that rose up to swallow him. But most of it was still coming for him.
Not waiting around to perform a thorough check of the van, Radiant commanded his remaining energy to pull him back the way he had come: into the elevator shaft and up to the ground level. As far as he could tell, the target Christina had pointed out in her message to him was destroyed. But the darkness still lingered in the garage, which meant that its creator had not been inside the vehicle and was still alive. Most likely he projected his power through Dollet’s effigy and wasn’t physically present in the area, so Radiant had to verify if he succeeded in destroying that effigy. If he had, then at least the people of New York would be free from the psychic hell Legion had projected into them, and he’d be able to pursue other matters. Asking after Christina, for starters. And informing Athena and the others of what he had learned.
Escaping the garage and the hospital was easy enough. Even though Radiant’s energy pool was so diminished that he could only assume a child-sized shape, he had no trouble finding his way back to the hospital’s entrance. The last time he saw it, people were screaming their lungs out, but now they were struggling back to their feet. Those who were steady enough to move scrambled for the nearest exits. A nurse with a tear-streaked, panicked face pushed a gurney in a hurried frenzy.
Radiant didn’t know how long all those people had been exposed to Legion’s aura; what seemed like minutes to him might have seemed like hours to them. But he didn’t get the impression that they lost their sanity. Given enough time and professional help, they would hopefully recover.
Radiant soon discovered that he had drained his energy pool beyond the threshold that allowed him to wish himself back to Athena. Hoping for another recharge from Overdrive, he managed to make it halfway back to the young hero, crossing far enough into the next timezone that he was able to recover in the light of a rising sun. After twenty minutes of light absorption he felt strong enough to venture back into space. Athena’s shuttle was as he left it: a lonely white speck within a sea of stars, rotating slowly as it orbited the white and blue sphere of planet Earth.
Athena was waiting for him. She floated above her pilot’s seat, an anxious look on her face and a tablet computer in her hand.
When she spotted him through the window, she relaxed visibly and made a beckoning gesture with her empty hand. He was quick to comply.
After he beamed himself inside, Radiant adjusted the shape of his wings so they fit into the shuttle, all the while marveling at the gentle contours of Athena’s face. His own luminescence was reflected in her eyes and cast a golden glow over her olive hued skin. She gazed back at him for a long moment. He couldn’t identify the look on her face, but it was strangely entrancing and made him forget about everything he’d meant to tell her that seemed so urgent a short while before.
I kept my promise. I came back to you.
As if she read his mind, Athena smiled. When she lowered her eyes to write on the tablet, he broke free of his daze, floating closer to peek over her shoulder to read the words as they appeared on the screen. Christina is safe. I’m glad you made it out of there. Rune and the others are glad, too.
I’m glad, he echoed, creating faintly glowing letters with his fingers. It seemed like the right thing to say. He wasn’t sure if the words matched up with his own feelings, however. Or if he was feeling anything at all.
He remembered what he meant to tell her, though. The memory surfaced easily because it was both urgent and important, and he was still driven by the urge to do what had to be done for as long as his soul lingered in this world. He was a weapon now. A gun forged by God himself, and God’s finger rested on the trigger. There was no other plausible explanation for what had happened to him.
He began his report with a summary of the most important facts he observed after Athena asked him to track down Legion. How his power pulled him to eight different Evolved before delivering him to the ancient temple with Dollet. He described each of the Evolved and what he knew of their powers, shared his suspicion that Legion was controlling them through the power taken from Sovereign, and then gave a detailed report of his telepathic conversation with Legion himself.
As expected, the words took a long time to draw into the air, and they caused Athena’s expression to darken. Her smile withered at his first mention of Legion. But she listened patiently and did not interrupt except to ask for details that seemed important to her. Are you sure it was Legion speaking to you? She wanted to know. Did he say why he believes he’s destined to judge the world? Can you tell me more about the Chinese trio?
When he finished, she chewed on her bottom lip as she absorbed the information, something she had never done before. But when she picked the tablet back up her composure was intact. Her fingers didn’t tremble. The Darkshaper you describe must be Cipher, she wrote. He was one of the first Darkshapers but disappeared about a year ago. He can teleport anything or anyone who is touched by his darkness, though there is a weight limit.
He teleported Nusku and the door to Christina’s room, Radiant replied. Athena gave him a nod, and he followed up with a question. Teleportation is limited to the area affected by the darkness? She nodded again.
This should have been good news, but it wasn’t. Both the graffiti artist – tentatively named Warp by Athena – and Dollet had the means to extend Cipher’s darkness across a huge range. Possibly the whole world. The power Legion absorbed from Duende only allowed him to teleport to a small number of locations that were of emotional value to him. But if his minions got their combo working…
Morpheus and I need some time to prepare and warn others, Athena wrote, interrupting Radiant’s train of thought. We brought Christina to the island. It’s too dangerous for her to be staying in any hospital.
He signaled his agreement by drawing a smiley face into the air. It didn’t put the smile back on her face, but she smirked wryly, which was almost as good. What are you going to do now? The tablet screen asked him.
The answer came to him in a flash of inspiration. I’m going to find God, he wrote. I have questions for Him. About what Legion said. And the Pulse.
Athena blinked at him. She was clearly incredulous and trying hard not to show it. You believe your power will take you to God?
Probably not, he admitted. But after everything that happened to him in the past two hours, he didn’t believe in coincidences anymore, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that the desperate wish he made before his death was heard by someone. What he needed now were answers. Anything to solidify his growing faith in a divine plan—or disprove it. If there was any truth to Legion’s claims regarding the end of the world, Radiant had to know. Everyone had to know.
Taking Radiant’s thought process one step further, Athena busied herself with the shuttle’s array of monitoring equipment, typing a number of requests until Morpheus filled the screen with the data she was looking for. As far as Radiant could see, it was a city map and an address in… Turkey? He was taken aback. What did she expect him to find in Turkey?
But as he gave the on-screen images and attached text another look, it dawned on him. Prophet. As far as Radiant knew, the Turkish teenage boy was the first transition in world history, a child prodigy who captured international attention with his otherworldly wisdom and his ability to speak every language and dialect. The boy had never claimed to be God’s messenger. But a multitude of religious leaders had requested audiences with him in the past, and his diplomatic intervention put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back in 2012.
Speak to Prophet, Athena suggested by writing into an on-screen text window. He transitioned first. But Legion claims he evolved before Prophet. This may be worth asking about.
He’s in a refugee camp? Radiant asked after looking at some images that Morpheus called up on the screen.
Turkey has been extremely unstable the past few days, Athena wrote for him. Prophet’s old home address was raided multiple times by religious fanatics and desperate people looking for salvation. His home town was attacked. The camp is where he was last seen. But you can find him no matter where he is, right?
I hope so. When the period hung in the air as a golden afterglow, Radiant brushed Athena’s cheek with his luminescent finger before adding three more words. Back soon. Promise. He had shared everything he knew, now it was up to her – and their other allies – to make use of that information. They had to forge strategies for dealing with Legion. As much as Radiant wanted to support them, he had to acknowledge the fact that he now filled a different role. He was the ultimate hero wildcard, capable of feats no one else could accomplish.
He formulated his wish with simple words: I need to speak to Prophet. His power responded immediately; it pulled him out of the shuttle and back down to Earth. Next thing he knew he found himself inside a large sand-colored canvas tent, surrounded by a half dozen men of different ages and appearances.
They were sitting cross-legged on pillows that had been arranged in a half-circle. His sudden appearance startled them, however, prompting them to jump back to their feet. Only two of them remained seated. One was a white-bearded old man wearing a kippah, the cap that marked him as a member of the Jewish faith. The other was young, with a smooth chin and a head of curly black hair. Radiant immediately recognized him as Prophet. The boy wore a chain with a small cross pendant, but the book on his lap was a Quran. He gazed up at Radiant’s luminescent form with dark eyes that were devoid of fear and gleamed with curiosity.
The boy remained calm and silent. Everyone except he and the elderly man responded to Radiant’s appearance by speaking, their voices overlapping, but Prophet cut them off with a gentle sweep of his hand. I was told you would come, his voice resonated in Radiant’s mind – much like Legion’s had, but it sounded different, and there wasn’t a trace of condemnation to it.
Too surprised to respond, Radiant watched as the boy dismissed his entourage one by one. Some of them studied the newcomer with open suspicion. Others seemed to object to their dismissal, but a few words from the boy convinced each and every one of them to step outside. Radiant got a glimpse of a desert-like landscape beneath a bright blue sky before the tent flap closed.
Who told you I was coming? He asked in his mind. Other questions whirled through his consciousness in a loop, but that one demanded to be asked first. He didn’t think Athena or Morpheus had the means to contact Prophet. What little he had seen of the outside didn’t belong to an urban area or a refugee camp, and there was no phone in sight. He was sure Athena would have mentioned Prophet’s phone number if she had it.
There is a new Oracle in the world, the boy’s voice replied telepathically. But you didn’t come here to ask about the Oracle. You have questions about the end of the world.
How did you… Radiant began, but discarded the thought before he finished it. If the new Oracle had known he was coming, he or she would also know why.
The world ended two years ago, Prophet went on. I’ll help you, Andrey. I’ll help you remember.