New Delhi, India – Saturday, the 23rd of June 2012. 01:05 PM.
When Radiant’s power was done pulling him across the globe to showcase each location it associated with Legion, it delivered him to what looked to be an ancient temple’s interior, complete with an elaborately carved red sandstone altar holding the idol of a round-faced woman wrapped in voluminous robes. This was his final stop. Now that he wasn’t being relocated every few seconds, he had the time and opportunity to take in the details and gather his thoughts.
This is an Asian-Pacific style of architecture, he concluded. I’m in Thailand or perhaps India.
The temple’s interior consisted entirely of a combination of ocher-colored and reddish stone, without any of the wooden or steel support elements found in modern Western churches. The room he now was in was round, about twenty feet wide and crowned by a high dome-shaped ceiling. Eight support pillars lined it in a circular fashion. Bright sunlight flowed through the glassless arched windows and cast a golden glow over the numerous murals depicting scenes from the goddess’ activities on Earth: a visit to a king’s court, people falling dead at her feet, kneeling humans whose hands were raised in reverence.
Clearly, this wasn’t a kind-hearted deity worshipped for her blessings; this one inspired fear and respect. But it didn’t look like anyone had come to make offerings today. The stone bowls that stood on the floor in front of the altar contained nothing but withered flowers and rotten fruit, and the only other visitor wasn’t a local. It was someone Radiant knew better than he cared to.
The golden-locked, petite Russian woman stood at the far end of the room, busying herself with the large, vaguely humanoid chunk of bloody raw meat that occupied a spot beside the deity idol on the stone altar. She was sculpting away at it with her delicate fingers, the skin of her hands and forearms painted crimson by her efforts. More blood and juices ran from the altar to the floor in thin rivulets. Even in its half-formed state, the meat effigy was clearly recognizable as one of Dollet’s flesh puppets; red-skinned and nearly as tall as she was.
The villainess had her back turned to Radiant. Her creation, on the other hand, stared blankly across the room from lidless yellowish eye clumps. It didn’t appear to be aware of his presence. Since he had dimmed the brightness of his wings for his visit in Athena’s shuttle, the intense sunlight from the tall, narrow windows served to conceal his presence.
Why on Earth did the woman place one of her effigies inside a deserted temple? Radiant was well aware of her powerset, but the location choice didn’t make any sense. Dollet – or any of her allies – could see and listen through her meat puppets if she tied their senses to the effigies. Her ability to let others project their powers through her dolls was potentially more troublesome, but how was an abandoned temple going to help her accomplish her goals? Her creation was both obvious and offensive to faithful locals. Its discovery would lead to its immediate destruction.
Let’s not forget that she teleports through the damn things.
When Rune’s team showed up to rescue Radiant from the trap that Nusku, Hook, and Dollet set for him in his Russian hometown, the woman escaped through one of her puppets. The heroes only managed to take Hook down.
Determined to get answers, Radiant raised his luminescent hand to fire a single laser beam at the unfinished meat effigy. It immediately went up in flames. The villainess jumped back from the altar and whirled around. Not only were her hands and forearms bloodied, but the jaw and throat as well. She looked as if she had tasted her creation halfway through the process of creating it.
Before she got the chance to react, Radiant split up his wings into a multitude of light ribbons and infused them with the same lethal energy he had invested in his laser. Feeling them pulse with deadly potential he flashed forward, appearing right in front of the villainess. He commanded his wing ribbons to whip forward and enclose the villainess within a tightly woven laser cage. If she so much as made a wrong move, she was going to lose a limb.
The woman stiffened. Several seconds passed before she opened her mouth, but of course he couldn’t hear a word she said.
Reasonably certain his captive wasn’t in the position to cause him any grief, he invested a moment to think through the whole situation. If he intended to get anything out of Dollet, he had to find the right questions, the ones that could be asked with a few written words and would help him understand what was going on.
Dollet had to be linked to Legion somehow, just like everyone else his power had shown him previously. The first location was a seemingly empty forest with no one in sight – or perhaps no one above ground? It wasn’t unthinkable that his power had pulled him to the actual Legion first, but failed to complete the journey because his target was underground.
The unknown Darkshaper in Rio de Janeiro came second. Apart from the one time he visited Preacher in his Guardians of Destiny headquarters, Radiant had no connections to the Latin American country and no idea how it fit into the puzzle. After Nusku and his two companions came a metropolis Radiant only caught a brief glimpse of; his attention was focused on the young man in drop-crotch pants who had been spray painting a brick wall with some kind of spiral symbol. Then he was pulled away to a woman who slept on the couch of a run-down apartment, someone he recognized as a Revoker though he didn’t remember her name. The fifth location showed him an Asian man who stood in front of a Chinese shrine. A young Asian woman in a lavish garden adorned by elements of Chinese architecture. A middle-aged Asian man sitting cross-legged on the floor, lost in meditation. And finally, Dollet.
Three Chinese Evolved? The thought was unsettling. According to reports by international news stations, China’s Evolved Special Forces worked in highly mobile and efficient groups of three. If the world’s number one powered army became involved with the most dangerous villain, the future was bleak indeed.
Had Legion recruited all those other Evolved to his cause? Radiant considered the possibility before pushing it aside. He’d meant to find Legion, no one else. He didn’t think his power would have pulled him to eight locations around the globe if the people shown to him were only loosely connected to his target.
Dollet, strangely composed now that the initial shock had left her young face, was gazing at him, studying him as much as he studied her. She lifted a finger to his chest and poked it through his luminescent body, opening her mouth in amazement at the faint golden glow that now clung to her fingertip. Her lips moved without making a sound.
Can’t hear you, he wrote into the three inches of space that separated them.
But I hear you, a voice echoed from the dark recesses of his consciousness. One voice, not a chorus of mad personalities, but Radiant recognized it immediately. It was young and soft-spoken, male, with a subtly contemptuous note to it.
Too surprised to form a coherent thought, Radiant stared at the young woman who stood in front of him. She put a blood-covered hand to her mouth to cover her giggles, the blue eyes beneath her mass of golden curls glittering with mischief.
That isn’t my name. I told you my name the last time we met. The subtle contempt turned to a very tangible anger that sent a chill through Radiant’s phantom body. His wing sections reflexively flared in response to the threat that wasn’t physically present; it seemed to come from within the head he no longer had. Dollet squinted at the surge of brightness but failed to look at all intimidated.
Penance, then. How is this possible?
Legion bounced another question back at him. How are you possible? You’re not supposed to be immune to my powers.
Powers? Radiant was obviously not immune to Legion’s telepathy, so there had to be other effects in play, other powers meant to attack him or cause him grief. Something he hadn’t noticed. Given the wide range of deadly and devastating powers Legion had absorbed from his victims, it was probably a good thing.
Radiant had no intention of answering the question, but it succeeded in pulling his mind back to the moment of his death. To Tlaloc, the raging tornado, and the impact the impending power surge had on his body and his senses. Realizing that his thoughts may provide Legion with more information than intended, he quickly turned his attention back to the temple’s architecture. His knowledge of ancient masonry techniques wasn’t likely to be of any use to the villain.
I’ll kill Dollet without hesitation if you don’t answer my questions, Radiant thought as he contemplated the fine craftsmanship of the sandstone altar. He wasn’t sure how much Legion cared about the woman, but there had to be a reason she and the other seven Evolved had been targeted by him.
Release her first. You destroyed her effigy, so she can do no harm to you. Legion’s voice sounded calm and controlled, though the words were still barbed with barely veiled contempt.
What if I don’t?
Then you remain ignorant until the end of days, came the telepathic response.
As he gave the trapped villainess another long look, Radiant decided that his need for insight was greater than his hunger for revenge. If the answers didn’t satisfy him, the countless laser whips that made up his wings could still kill the villainess in a second. She wouldn’t be fast enough to make it past him if she tried to run.
Fine. He grudgingly retracted his wings and spread them out on either side of him, spilling the deadly glowing tendrils across the entirety of the temple chamber. I didn’t come here in physical form. How can you communicate with me when she can’t?
The voice in his mind remained silent until Dollet turned around and scuttled away from him in her pink ballet flats, blowing a kiss over her shoulder. Why are you surprised? I can speak to all of the Chosen. It is part of who I am. Part of what I am meant to do.
The explanation didn’t satisfy Radiant. No Evolved had ever reported telepathic messages from some distant entity, and everything he’d witnessed about Legion’s powers indicated a range limit. And Legion wasn’t here now. There had to be more to the connection with Dollet than the villain let on.
Radiant didn’t let the villainess out of his sight while Legion spoke to him. She pulled herself up onto the altar and crossed her slender legs, batting her lashes at him. He wasn’t sure what she intended – to keep him off guard, perhaps – but the smears of blood around her mouth only served to disturb him.
The Chosen? You mean other Evolved? He asked through his thoughts.
Legion’s answer seared his consciousness with a barely contained anger. Don’t use such ignorant terms in my presence.
Fine, we are Chosen. But by whom?
So you are like all the others. You remember nothing at all.
About the Pulse? Radiant ventured. Is that it?
About the day God called us by name. The day He selected one mortal – one who had bled the most, suffered the most and witnessed all the sins of the world – to judge over them all. The message was tinged with a sense of satisfaction. More than anything else it was that complacent tone that clued Radiant in:
Legion had just claimed the role of the Antithesis, the ultimate judge who would end the world. And Legion believed in God, or at least pretended to. But why? Was it possible there was a grain of truth to the monster’s claim, or was this simply some kind of make-believe scenario he had made up to justify his actions?
Meanwhile, Dollet sat atop the altar as if it was built for her, fiddling with her fingernails and showing little interest in the telepathic conversation. Radiant hoped she wasn’t able to listen in. This whole situation was disturbing enough without the flesh-shaper’s involvement.
So God chose you because you are the one person on Earth who suffered more than anyone else? He asked, wondering why no one knew anything about him or his life prior to his transition. Not even Athena and Morpheus’ combined research turned up anything on his identity.
His train of thought produced the answer he hadn’t asked for. Because I was hidden away from the world. I am the Messiah, Andrey, but after experiencing tens of thousands of years of history I’m done absolving the world of its sins. This time you’re going to burn in hell.
World history, Radiant thought. Right. The Historian was among his first victims.
The world ending speech shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but Legion’s claim of religious superiority made Radiant feel hot and cold in places where he shouldn’t have been able to feel anything. I spoke to God less than an hour ago, he challenged. I asked for the power to end you. And I received it.
What do you know of God? Legion’s tone was mocking now. You don’t even remember how He spared the world when He meant to end it. I won’t be so lenient. His cocksure confidence was unsettling; it made it harder to keep holding on to the belief that these ‘revelations’ were nothing but a madman’s ramblings.
If you are so disgusted by humankind, why don’t you start your cleansing mission with your minions? Radiant gave a nod in Dollet’s direction. If you’re looking for people who are destined for hell, she’s a good one.
As if she heard him, the villainess fluttered her fingers in a dainty wave. He didn’t wave back, but he didn’t incinerate her either. Not just yet.
Because I need them. Men have used one another since the beginning of time, Andrey. You shouldn’t be surprised.
Radiant didn’t ask what they were needed for. When his power drew him to this temple, Dollet was in the process of creating one of her meat puppets, which would potentially allow Legion to channel his various powers through it. San Francisco had proven that some of those powers were long range and didn’t require a visible target. If the goal was to create hell on Earth, then all Legion needed to make it happen was meat effigies hidden in every major population center.
But were all those people linked to Legion – eight in total – mentally disturbed enough to take part in a madman’s scheme? Perhaps Dollet was, but Radiant couldn’t see how the three Chinese Evolved fit into that category. China’s plans for the future of the world didn’t correspond with Legion’s.
Mental subjugation, he deduced. He wiped out Sovereign’s gang in San Francisco and absorbed their powers. If his assumptions were correct, then one of Legion’s other subjugated minions had to have transportation powers. Dollet needed the mobility to access the major population centers and plant her effigies.
So much thinking, came Legion’s telepathic voice, now with a hint of amusement.
The words filled Radiant with a sense of irritation. He commanded his laser wings to whip forward and slice through everything in front of him. The stone altar, cut to a myriad of smaller pieces by the assault, fell apart and scattered across the floor. The stone idol was beheaded and bisected. But when Radiant retracted his deadly wing ribbons, there was no sign of Dollet.
Look at our self-proclaimed world savior, Legion commented in Radiant’s mind. He attacks without warning, without hesitation or regret.
Where is she? Not expecting an answer, Radiant willed his luminescent body to float over the broken fragments so he could see for himself. He was certain the villainess had been there, right in front of him, only a moment ago. He would have noticed if she moved from her spot on the altar.
What he found instead was a miniature flesh doll on the floor among the scattered sandstone pieces. It was small, about the size of the palm of his hand, and had surprisingly well-defined features. Its face and curly yellow hair bore some resemblance to Dollet.
She teleported out through this one. Of course she did. Radiant cursed himself for not having killed her when he had the chance. Now she would continue to plant these cursed things all over the world and set the stage for a repeat of the events in San Francisco. Except it would be millions screaming their lungs out, not thousands.
I can still catch up with her, he told himself, filling his consciousness with the need to hunt the villainess down. But his power didn’t respond. Realizing that he was still inside the temple, he scanned the rest of the room – in case his power failed him because the villainess was still nearby – but to no avail. He was alone.
Did you believe it would be easy? Legion mocked him. If you want to-
Radiant conjured up a laser to burn the discarded miniature effigy until it was nothing but a blackened silhouette on the floor; its destruction effectively cut off the telepathic voice. It was a small, meaningless victory, and perhaps he should have baited the villain for more information, but it was a relief to have his mind to himself again.
Dollet is gone, but I saw where Nusku was. I can find him again.
As he thought of Nusku, another question surfaced. If the fire-slinging Evoker was controlled by Legion, what was his purpose – and that of his two companions? The wanton destruction they caused seemed to fit in with Legion’s plan to terrorize the world, but they were targeting a lowly populated countryside instead of a center of civilization.
Back in San Francisco, Legion spoke of Dancer. He was dead set on finding her. This time, he didn’t mention her once.
Thinking back to when he was looking for Nusku in the Ukraine, Radiant remembered feeling like he was being watched and that the three villains had hidden from him. I was right, he realized with a start. It was a trap, meant to draw someone’s attention. But not mine.
He had to go back to the burning Ukrainian corn fields before it was too late. He had asked Rune and the others to wait for more intelligence, but would they heed his advice now that he was cut off from their communication and Athena had most likely informed them of his death?
The Ukraine, he commanded his power. I need to deal with Nusku. When nothing happened, he focused his mind on the location instead of the person: the burning fields of corn, the distant forest enveloped in smoke and flames. His power responded. His light flared, pulling him out of the temple through one of the arched windows and northwest across the sky.