New Orleans, Louisiana, USA – Wednesday, the 27th of June 2012. 05:45 AM.
When the news about Legion broke across the hero communications network, Radiant wasn’t in any capacity to hear them. He had given his all to defeat Cipher’s darkness and provide Noire with the visual she needed. The struggle to dispel the dark haze with his own body had nearly depleted him, and by the time Noire ordered her shadows to attack, there was little left of Radiant. He used up the last of his energy to retreat back to New Orleans, to the uppermost floor of the apartment complex where Noire and Overdrive were staying. The American Transmuter had been accommodated there to act as Radiant’s primary care physician.
Since his drained state robbed him of sense of time and consciousness, the Lightshaper couldn’t tell exactly how much time had passed when he awoke. His only awareness was of the steady current of power which nourished him back to his full capacity. By the time he felt like his pulsating, inhumane self again, he saw the young Transmuter stand in front of him, switching a flashlight on and off in an attempt to get his attention.
Radiant pulsed back at the kid to demonstrate that he was now able to communicate. A look of relief washed over Overdrive’s features, and he quickly spoke into the white armband on his wrist. “He’s recovered. Should I tell him to head straight back to Singapore?”
Over the past days, Radiant had regained some limited sense of hearing, though it was hard for him to distinguish voices from background noise and to recognize who was speaking if he couldn’t look at them. All people sounded nearly the same to him.
“In a moment,” Athena’s voice replied through the device. “Andrey. Noire drove the Wild Hunt away, but it seems they teleported to a location near the city state. They will be back within minutes. Right before teleporting away, they brought Legion in. I fear the city is lost, but we may still be able to rescue our target. I need you to help me reach him. Kill him if his mind is already gone. We cannot allow Legion to claim his powers.”
What she didn’t say was that Checkmate had already tried, and failed, to enter the Technician’s home. That fact had not been brought up in the briefing because they had little time to talk and because it was of no relevance to Noire or Mascot. The heroes needed someone with demolition powers to disable Mark Yeo’s home defense system.
What of the city? Radiant wanted to ask. Legion’s presence endangered millions of Singaporeans, and the chances of him retreating peacefully were minimal at best. However, he didn’t have a voice to express his concern, and there was no time for him to write into the air as he usually did. So, he simply nodded at Overdrive and beamed himself back out through the windows.
Back in the night sky above Singapore, Legion was visible from a long way off. The shapeshifting villain had assumed the form of an immense black and gold dragon whose serpentine body clung to one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers. His claws dug into the building’s glass and steel façade, tearing off chunks and causing the entire tower to sway as he climbed upward. A hundred thousand screams soared from beneath and around him, joining in a chorus of pure, unrelenting terror.
Radiant had heard screams like these before. The screams weren’t born from fear, but from exposure to Legion’s own world of thought. The chorus told him that even if he succeeded in saving Mark Yeo, hundreds of thousands of humans were already lost. And those who survived after Legion’s psychic assault would teeter on the brink of insanity for as long as they lived.
Since Radiant’s human emotions had eroded away, he only felt a dim sense of regret, making him able to keep his attention on the primary objective. He calmly assessed the situation: Legion marked his presence in the most obvious way possible, most likely in an attempt to challenge the heroes and provoke them into a direct confrontation they stood no chance of winning. He didn’t seem to be aware of Mark Yeo’s location just yet. But given the nature of Legion’s psychic powers, he was going to find the target eventually, even if he had to scour the minds of every single citizen.
Which meant that Radiant had to locate Mark Yeo first. Unlike Legion, he knew the target’s address. The challenge was to reach it without drawing villain attention.
Fortunately, Athena helped him out. From his aerial vantage point, Radiant spotted several of her drones and four of her battlesuits – most likely teleported to the vicinity by Checkmate – flitting through the air in high velocity bursts, engaging the gigantic dragon from different directions. The high energy shots they fired lit up the night like brilliant flashes of fireworks. They did little more than annoy the dragon, but their continuous assault provided the distraction Radiant needed to plunge into the urban canyon below.
He had lost his helmet’s navigational aid along with his body, but now that he was a bodiless entity of light, he didn’t need support gadgets anymore. His new form adapted to the urban environment perfectly. It allowed him to cut corners and flow around most obstacles with ease, never needing to stop and reorient himself. Since he no longer materialized in physical form, there was no risk of shattering windows or bumping into walls, and he never lost awareness of his surroundings. Even time passed differently for him. He flashed through the nocturnal city at the speed of light, navigating from memory based on the map he had studied before heading to Singapore. But to the people he passed, he was nothing but a flash of lightning which left a faint golden glow in its wake.
The target’s home, a modern two story house situated beside an overgrown garden, showed no obvious signs of habitation. None of its windows were illuminated. But the screams erupting from the neighborhood told Radiant that if Mark Yeo hadn’t found a means to protect himself, there was a good chance that his genius mind had already been claimed by Legion. The roar of the dragon, less than a mile away, overpowered all other noise. Legion was airborne now, his gigantic wings flapping as he picked up speed, and he was clearly headed in this direction.
Of course he was. The heroes had hoped for a little more time, but none of them expected Athena’s distraction to keep the villain occupied forever. If he scoured the minds of Mark Yeo’s friends or relatives, which he had most likely already done, they became unwitting signposts pointing the way here. This battle had turned into a race for the soul of a single man.
Kill him if his mind is already gone. Those had been Athena’s words. But since he had not yet verified the target’s mental state, Radiant preferred to believe in the rescue operation. So, he beamed himself through one of the ground floor windows and continued onward, moving through the living room – and past a pair of seemingly inactive robots –until he discovered a door that seemed to be leading downward. The lock didn’t slow him down. He entered the first basement floor through the keyhole and was surprised to find the underground storage room in disarray, its overturned crates and toppled shelves indicating a scene of battle.
Even more puzzling was the robot which squatted in the center of the completely and utterly trashed room. Unlike its smaller counterparts on the ground floor, this one was clearly powered on, and its jerking head and flashing red eyes indicated a state of agitation. What had happened here? Had an unknown team of villains broken in while the heroes were occupied with the Wild Hunt’s attack on the city?
Something told Radiant that he was going to find the answer one floor down.
Ignoring the mechanical guardian, he beamed himself to the sealed floor hatch whose make and material looked far more advanced than the agitated robot. But there was no material on earth that could withstand the immense heat of Radiant’s laser. The hatch’s metal frame melted quickly, exposing a small opening that allowed him to plunge into the darkness of the room below.
He didn’t get the chance to wonder why the security had been so unexpectedly lax. The instant he broke into the room, he spotted a small flashlight illuminating a thickset person. The light existed for a split second before it disappeared, not so much extinguished as removed from reality. It didn’t flicker; it simply disappeared along with the man who’d been holding it.
A teleportation device?
No. Even though the man had only been there for a split second, Radiant remembered exactly where he stood, and there was a desk there, and a dislocated chair, but nothing remotely like a teleportation device. The good news was that if Mark Yeo was still sane enough to flee, the chance of saving him had just improved.
Radiant was about to beam himself back up through the house when the ceiling came crashing down. Chunks of soil, metal and concrete scattered across the Technician’s assorted personal items, partially completed projects, and engineering equipment. A monstrous clawed foot, almost as big as the room and covered in black scales, broke through from above. It swept through the already destroyed basement in a violent frenzy and tore it apart. Everything it touched was crushed or tossed aside.
Seeing how his nemesis had caught up and how Radiant didn’t know where to start looking for Mark Yeo, the hero channeled all of his remaining energy. He aimed himself up, investing everything he had in a single, blindingly bright shot at the dragon’s face. The crumbling remains of the house didn’t hold him up. He burned through everything in his path – stone, concrete and the hulking mass of flesh that was Legion – and stopped mere feet from the monster’s face. Radiant’s wings expanded explosively, radiating so much brightness they momentarily turned the night to day.
Legion recoiled. His long neck and massive dragon’s head reared back, and he loosened a roar that tore through the night and shook his entire body. The city around him fell silent, the chorus of screams cut off abruptly. It was as if the connection between the tormentor and his victims had been severed.
It was easy to see why. The dragon’s golden eyes had melted in the solar flare caused by Radiant’s powers, and the scales of his face and snout were burned so badly that some of them flaked off, exposing the blackened skull underneath. For the moment at least, the villain was blind and distracted by his own rage. Mark Yeo would be safe for as long as Radiant kept Legion occupied.
He could only hope that the Technician used the opportunity to send a distress signal to Athena or to get far, far away. Unlike before, when she was the one to provide diversion, the heroes’ roles were now reversed. Unable to act or move without villains hot on his heels, the Lightshaper had no option but to entrust the rescue operation to the others.
Who do you think you are? The howl of Legion’s many voices pierced his thoughts. You died. Stop interfering with the living.
As Legion spoke through the telepathic link that existed between them, the dragon’s face reshaped and reformed with unnerving speed. The gelatinous mass that had been his eyes was reabsorbed into his body. The head itself inflated and expanded, gaining size and mass. Curved horns sprouted from his temples, indicating a shift to a more demonic appearance long before the facial features had reformed.
This is still my world, Radiant replied telepathically. The many light trails that formed his wings glowed a brilliant gold as he charged himself up with channeled energy, preparing another shot. Can’t you see? The people want to decide their future for themselves.
They already have decided. Legion’s demonic head, now almost completely reformed with slanted eyes and red-tinged black scales, moved toward the luminescent, winged hero until they were only inches apart. The machine maker will abuse his power like the previous one did. Hand him over, or he will be out of control.
So, you can’t locate him. Radiant noted this with satisfaction; it seemed that the Technician was either beyond the range of Legion’s psychic aura or more resourceful than expected. You already know we won’t hand him over.
Then, I’ll claim this city and everyone in it. Legion withdrew one of his claws from the crumbling house and smashed it into a small apartment building. He pulled out two screaming, squirming humans and immediately crushed them against the road, not offering the hero a chance to intervene.
The provocation worked. Even though Radiant had lost his ability to experience anger as a human emotion, he felt a simmering heat that threatened to burst from his body as a white-hot flare. You came for the Technician. Keep attacking the citizens, and I’ll burn down everything you’ve created. I don’t need rest and I’m immune to your puppet show. If you think you’ve been chosen by a higher power, prove it by defeating me.
Two of Athena’s dispatched battlesuits were now catching up to the main action and continued their offensive against Legion, oblivious to the telepathic exchange. Their energy shot barrage wasn’t as damaging as Radiant’s superheated flare, but the numerous wounds they inflicted on the monster’s massive body slowed its regeneration.
Legion responded by opening his jaw wide to snap at the luminescent figure. The instant his sharp teeth closed around the hero, Radiant unleashed his pent up powers in a golden flare that disintegrated everything in a fifteen foot radius around him. Flesh, bone, and teeth were pulverized in an instant. A long portion of the serpentine neck remained and flopped downward to crash onto a parked van, flattening it. But the massive winged body remained upright. The front claws were still immersed in the crumbling remains of Mark Yeo’s house and continued to rip it apart. Even the loss of his head wasn’t likely to disable the villain for more than a half minute, a minute at most.
As Radiant recovered from the shock of cannibalizing what was essentially his life force, he noticed a faint trail of light – suspiciously resembling his own – which extended across the South Chinese sea for as far as he could see. And like the luminescence that was a side effect of his own power, the glow was slowly fading, as if eroded away by the battering of the waves.
This is impossible.
To Radiant’s knowledge, there was no other Lightshaper whose power left a signature comparable to his own. Was this a trick of light played by the moon? It hadn’t looked like it at first, but now that the effect was fading, he couldn’t tell for sure.
However, he saw that Legion was recovering despite the ongoing barrage, and Radiant himself didn’t have any more energy to spend. He was little more than a will-o-wisp now, barely aware of his surroundings. The chance to investigate the strange phenomenon was now or never. Radiant only wished he could tell Athena about his discovery. If this was somehow related to Mark Yeo’s disappearance, she had to know.
So, he beamed himself to the shore of the ocean where the trail of light had lingered moments before. It was gone now, the water illuminated only by a long streak of silvery moonlight, and the pier with its docking points for boats and ferries was almost completely devoid of people. What drew his attention was an odd, dome-shaped object that loomed at the end of the longest jetty, seemingly rising up from the water. It was about eight feet tall and five wide and consisted of an odd, mirror-like material. Its surface partially reflected, partially assumed the appearance of the surrounding water.
A thickset Asian man crouched beneath the domed roof. His eyes, framed by thick round glasses, anxiously considered Radiant’s glowing form.
The hero recognized the man from the picture he’d seen at the earlier briefing. This was without doubt the target, cleverly positioned in a way which rendered him practically invisible from above. He didn’t appear to have any Technician equipment with him, so how he had constructed the mirror sphere and avoided detection from Legion’s aura was anyone’s guess.
Not taking the time to verify the man’s identity from up close, Radiant shot a golden signal flare into the sky to mark the target’s position. Without an armband to relay coordinates, he had to rely on Athena to trust his judgement and send in Checkmate as soon as possible.
But the heroine was still occupied with Legion. To make matters worse, a blotch of swirling blackness among the city’s scrapers announced the Wild Hunt’s return. Radiant’s luminous presence drew them like moths to the flame. He had to get their attention before they closed in on the target. However, having burned up most of himself to stall Legion, he didn’t have the energy required for a fight with the villain’s terror squad. His only option was to play tag.
Beaming himself back toward the center of the city, he intercepted the Wild Hunt halfway between the pier and the business towers of United Square, giving off a pulse of light to draw their attention.
Aerodyne took the bait immediately. The darkness-covered convertible veered off its course, spun around and flew directly at the hero. Expecting some kind of attack, Radiant changed position a split second before a lightning-charged arrow blazed through the darkness. It shot past him and continued on, disappearing into the night.
Radiant wasn’t sure whether Qin Liangyu’s energy shots had the power to damage him, but he had no intention of finding out just yet. He beamed himself a short distance north across the city before the villainess could follow a teammate’s directions for another blind shot. The villain team chased after him, seemingly unaware of what was going on by the ocean shore.
The game of tag lasted for a good half minute until Radiant spotted one of Athena’s drones and beamed himself to it. “Mission complete,” it communicated. “Return to base.”