Characters/Relationships: Warren Peace/Monica Keller (OFC), Will Stronghold/Layla, Zack/Magenta, Ethan/Chloe (OFC), Principle Powers, Joy Peace, original characters
Word count: 25,305
Content Advisory: Violence, description of wounds, near-death experiences
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing.
A/N: Written for journeystory. Sequel to War and Peace In Mind. This story won’t make a lick of sense if you haven’t read that. Thanks to immortal_belovd for betaing, and hiddencait and Saj te Gyuhyall for bouncing ideas off of them and pointing out plot holes. Thanks to susanmarier for the lovely artwork!
Summary: When most of the world's super-powered people lose their powers, it's up to Warren Peace and his friends to figure out how it happened and how to stop it. But learning why this happened and what they need to do could take them into legend - and legends don't always end well.
I had a suspicion as to what the Director was doing in the War Room as she chivvied us out and into adjoining rooms where those family members who could make it were waiting. What insight Meduka had given her involving curses and powers she was going to pass on to everyone else who still had their abilities, because every other superhero and supervillain on the planet was going to lose what they had, and she didn’t want a repeat of the injuries and deaths that had rocked our world a few days ago. She was getting the word out to the world, probably through Halo Star and the rest of the Council, letting us step back out of the spotlight for a precious hour.
I tuned out the rest of the Champions as they talked their families (Will, of course, had left to go up to the hospital wing with Layla and her parents), but couldn’t help but notice that the Redeemers had their backs to the room, huddled around each other. I knew, maybe better than most, that there wasn’t anyone they could call. Monica’s family was dead, Michael and Duke had virtually cut off contact with their families when their powers had manifested in order to protect them, and the others were orphans, or as good as. The Redeemers only had each other.
I went to hug Mom, back from keeping the peace, and tried to keep my feelings of guilt to a minimum.
“There’s my brave son,” she said as I hugged her hard. I didn’t say anything to her; there wasn’t anything I could do to reassure her that I was going to be all right. She’d been in the healing meld after the academy attack, she’d watched me wither as my body burned nearly all of its resources to fuel the massive healing and almost go up in flames myself. I couldn’t lie to her and say we had this under control. I couldn’t tell her that we had a solid plan other than gathering up the right people, going to the right place, and hope we said the right thing. I didn’t know how we were going to fight, or even what the Titans were capable of.
We were all going to trust ourselves to a legend and the whims of people so powerful my ancestors had worshiped them. That was the only thing I could say.
“The Director came to you. She trusted you,” Mom said right in my ear. “She trusted your father’s family. And she trusts that your friends and even your enemies won’t let everyone down. You chose right.”
I held Mom almost tight enough to bruise; she always knew exactly what to say.
“I’m going to address everyone left. I want to make sure everyone knows what’s at stake, and what you need to save us.” She pulled away enough to cup my face in her hands. “I’ll be right there with you, Warren. Phoenix won’t fly alone.”
She put one hand over my heart, and I kissed her good-bye.
Getting Cutter’s Crew into a meeting was actually pretty easy. They didn’t like us, and wanted us dead slowly and painfully. And after taking out the Commander and Jetstream, they had to be feeling cocky. Showing up at Mount Rushmore, where the scars of their last fight still lingered, was as good as a phone call. Two hours after we arrived, Will spied Cutter’s distinctive flickering as she teleported her team in with enough time for us to be on guard in case they decided to launch a pre-emptive strike instead of pausing for banter. With the Crew you never knew.
Cutter dropped them a short distance away, just enough for a fairly loud conversation, and well within danger range for both of us. Skybolt and Son of Silver could hit us fairly easily from there, but then again Rose Queen, Voidhammer, Mercy and I could hit them too. And everyone knew it. But we’d shown up without issuing any challenges, a couple of days after two of the world’s greatest heroes had almost died. This was as close to a truce offering as they were likely to get, and by now they had to have gotten the news that nearly everyone’s powers were gone. They were too canny to attack us before they’d heard us out, but that didn’t mean anyone was safe.
“You got balls, Champions. No brains, but plenty of balls,” Cutter said, idly flipping a dagger over in her palm. She wasn’t even looking at the Redeemers, which was impressive considering that Bruin was already shifted and snorting softly at her like he couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into her flesh. Mercy wasn’t trying to get him to tone it down either and I didn’t blame her; subtlety was not necessary at this point.
“You want to rule the world?” I asked casually.
That shut Cutter up. She blinked at me, gaping, the rest of the Crew were clearly struggling to understand if they’d just heard me right. Son of Silver glared at us, looking for the catch.
Viper managed to find his voice first. “Uh… yeah. Duh. Kinda always the plan.”
“Well, the Earth is about to be taken over by Titans, so unless you guys like the idea of playing second banana to guys who make Guardian look like a ninety-eight pound weakling, you might want to help us fight them off.”
Son of Silver, oddly enough, didn’t look skeptical. The deadly resignation on Guardian’s face probably had something to do with it.
“Truth?” he mouthed.
“Truth,” Mercy said.
“So, say no BS. If they’re that awesome, we’d be dumb as hell to fight them. We’re not expendable, and we’re not going,” Saurian Lord said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“One third of the power that’s been siphoned off everyone. Yours for the fight, if you help.”
“That’s what happened? They got… siphoned off?” Cutter asked. There was an edge to her voice, real fear behind her usual bravado. While being able to say the Crew had taken down the Commander and Jetstream was worth something, it wasn’t as impressive when they’d been as powerless as regular citizens. As powerless as Cutter could be, and with as little warning.
“Use the power. Save the world. Yes or no?” Guardian asked sharply.
Cutter snorted, and with a quick look at her group and their gobsmacked expressions at Guardian’s offer, nodded. “Yeah. You think we’d turn that down?”
“Never know. You could be as stupid as you look,” Guardian said, his face like stone.
Damn… I thought, looking over at Will. He looked like he was in a really bad place right now and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do to stop him if Cutter pressed his control too far. I hadn’t been privy to what, if anything, his parents had said to him before he’d left, but I prayed it was something about revenge being really stupid right now.
Cutter chuckled. “Oh sweetie, if Mommy and Daddy hadn’t come out to play earlier, we would have been just as happy killing you.”
Will snapped. I would have too. There are some things you just can’t stand.
He flew forward so fast that if Cutter hadn’t been a teleporter, she would have been dead meat. But Cutter’s survival instincts in a fight were exceptional, and she flickered and was ten feet away in an instant. Will could stop on a dime and double back on himself in a flash, and he didn’t even hesitate as he turned and went for her again. Everyone started shouting at once, I let fire flare along my arms, and I was positive there would have been a terrible fight over the mountaintop except for two things: Son of Silver pulled out one of his guns and fired twice into the air, getting our attention, and Layla quick-grew a tree fence and forced us all backwards momentarily.
“Stop it! Don’t!” she cried. I would have ignored her, shoved or burned past the trees to try to help Will, except I saw Son of Silver turn and point his gun at the Crew, keeping them behind him and away from helping Cutter. I didn’t understand for a second, but as Will and Cutter flew and teleported past us again in a hyperfast game of cat-and-mouse, I realized Will’s hands weren’t balled up in fists, ready to punch, but open, ready to catch. Not that he couldn’t hurt Cutter just as easily with a casual squeeze of his hand, but he wasn’t going for instant death. That was actually a little scarier to see, but it gave us all a minute to think up options before something truly tragic happened. Son of Silver hadn’t survived as a supervillain for so long by taking pointless risks, like getting into a toe-to-toe slugmatch with Guardian.
I caught Son of Silver’s eyes and he nodded, grimacing. He gave Cutter a fond smile, and mouthed something I worked out to be, “Let them work it out.”
Oh hell no, I thought. Cutter was good, and so was Will. We couldn’t afford to lose either of them before going up against the Titans, no matter how tough things were between them. All it would take was one false move by either of them, and we could have blood on the mountain again. Cutter shouldn’t have said what she did, but she was a supervillain with a nasty reputation for exceptional cruelty. We should have expected her to say something to try to rattle Will’s cage. I remembered Tobias’ legends of the gods and didn’t think much of our chances if we were to petition them for power after one of our team leaders had either died or killed the other.
“Stop it!” I shouted. “Guardian!”
“Guardian!” Layla cried, her higher voice seeming to carry on the wind better. “Will, please! She’s not worth it! It the Titans’ fault they were hurt. That’s who we’re going after! Please!”
Something in Layla’s voice carried the anguish from Tragedy’s after the fight in Times Square, and that combined with the fact it was Layla’s voice seemed to bring Will back to his senses.
Silver took careful aim the next time Cutter teleported by and managed to pass two bullets right next to her feet as Guardian paused, making her jump and miss her next teleport. She flickered back to his side as Guardian backed down, flipping one of her knives into palm and looking far too calm for someone who’d been inches away from death seconds before. Silver rapidly signed something to her, his metallic hands flashing in the sun, and she nodded reluctantly.
Layla took Will’s hand briefly, and he shivered briefly from head to toe, as if physically shaking off the anger that had taken hold of him. That had been building for days since the curse had begun, and I couldn’t even be surprised that it had broken out of him like this.
It didn’t make it any less scary, but I understood. I caught Layla’s eyes and she nodded at me. I stepped forward to act as our spokesman this time.
“How about you can the monologues and quips until the planet isn’t under threat of death? That too much to ask for?” I asked. I certainly wasn’t going to mention superhero-baiting, and from the look Silver had just given Cutter, she wasn’t going to mention it either. I think maybe he’d gotten through to her that there was a time and a place for personalized death-threats to very angry superheroes, and now was not one of them.
“Probably. You knew what we were when you called us,” Cutter said.
“The scorpion better not sting the frog while we’re crossing the river this time,” Mercy said, raising her hand so her finger blades glinted in the sun.
Cutter glared at her with unconcealed loathing. “How about we get this done so I don’t have to look at your face unless I’m about to plant a dagger in your brain?” Behind her, Son of Silver made an ostentatious showing of running his hand over the grip of one of his guns.
There was a saccharine-sweet smile in Mercy’s voice when she answered. “The feeling’s mutual.”
There were few times I envied Monica’s early supervillain training in Disturbing Quips and Glances. Looking at Cutter’s face as she struggled to keep composure from that comment, and seeing how that kept Will from saying something that might have re-ignited their fight, was one of them.
It was amazing how impending doom could be summed up in a few sentences, and a little more amazing how easily the Crew was willing to go with us. Then again, it looked like Skybolt and particularly Bloodtalon would commit mutiny if they didn’t get a chance to fight. The idea of gaining access to hundreds of powers was too big of a lure to resist.
Or, as Cutter put it succinctly, “That’s too crazy for you to lie about.”
That and I was dead-certain she would have unleashed the Crew on us in a heartbeat if she thought we were lying. The Bureau had gotten us a plane to travel to the location, because neither the Crew nor the Champions and Redeemers trusted each other enough to get to the place Tobias had said we needed to go under their own steam.
“All for one and one for all,” Ethan had said softly, once Cutter was on board.
“You actually say that?” Viper muttered, sounding appalled.
It was, perhaps, the most awkward trip I had ever taken in anyone’s company, up to and including a high school road trip with my friends when Zack had gotten sugar high on a suicide of fifteen different energy drinks.
And the aura of tension around all of us dissolved when we got to the base of the mountain deep in the Alps. The Peaks of the Gods.
The mountains soared above us, their tops lost in shadows illuminated by a hundred different colors of lightning – all the world’s powers, just floating up there. Skybolt was practically vibrating with repressed energy.
“So, what now?” Saurian Lord asked. “Call? Yell? Smoke signal?”
“Climb, I think,” I said uncertainly.
“’Think’ Phoenix? Did it hurt?” Viper asked.
“What are you, twelve?” Flamewing asked scathingly.
It was like having a trio of gongs being run inside my head. There was a chorus of voices, incomprehensible except for the single word. When my head stopped ringing, I picked myself off my hands and knees, driven there by the intensity of the voices. Looking around, I hadn’t been the only one. Nearly all of the others were was picking themselves out of the dirt. Skybolt was looking glassy-eyed, Nightsteed was visibly shaking, and Bloodtalon had her teeth bared as if in anticipation of a fight.
The voices came again, a little less overwhelming this time.
*Why are you here?*
Even though no one lost their balance this time, the words still rocked us – it was like getting trapped in a mental windstorm. I couldn’t even speak.
“T-titans,” Layla managed, finding her voice. She’d called plants to brace her body against their power, pulling from strength outside herself.
Images flashed in the sky, showing us the starry void. And floating in it, a dying world, hurling through space towards our own. Figures walked on the surface – tall, enormous, primally formed out of stone or lava or ice. More or less human-shaped, but their eyes glowed with Power. I saw them casually obliterate mountains as they passed, drain seas dry, create deserts with their breath--
And we were supposed to fight them. My mouth went dry with fear. What the hell did we think we were doing? We weren’t anywhere near this level of play.
*Our ancient enemies. Our opposites. We create, preserve, they destroy and corrupt. There is enough power here to defeat them, but our home would be forfeit as the battleground.*
“So we take the fight to them!” Bloodtalon shouted, her eyes red with battle madness.
*Yes. All the powers of the world will be given to you to stop them from destroying this place.*
“Can they be killed?” Flamewing asked, his face pale as milk.
*Can a mountain be killed? Can a river?*
“Can we, with all that power?” I asked, my voice nearly cracking with strain.
The voices chuckled and our bones shook. Maybe these beings weren’t gods, but they couldn’t be far from them. They were strong enough to crush us absolutely, longer-lived than anyone I’d ever heard of, and able to sense so much of the world at once… I didn’t have the vocabulary to call them anything else. No wonder my ancestors had worshipped them.
*All things are possible. But why seek to kill them? Such things always exist as long as time spins.*
“Dead enemies can’t bother you anymore,” Cutter said, speaking for Son of Silver.
*You will choose what to do when the time is right.*
“I don’t need this fortune-cookie bullshit,” Viper muttered, somehow managing to crack wise when we were talking with gods. I obscurely admired the fact that his devotion to backtalk had managed to overcome his fear.
“Let us fight for you. Please,” I asked, very mindful of Tobias’ story. I didn’t want to find out what they’d consider an appropriately punitive curse this time around.
*So, centuries of learning patience have finally changed you, Battle’s son.*
I kept my mouth shut and just nodded.
“I’m afraid,” Mercy whispered. “I’m so, so afraid.”
*Why do you fear?*
She was shaking visibly now. “Will we die? Phoenix nearly burned up channeling nine people, and that wasn’t for very long.”
*Do you fear death?*
Tears welled up in Mercy’s eyes, in Layla’s, in Quint’s and Brittany’s, Viper’s and Ash’s and Ethan’s, and Will’s and mine.
“Yes,” Will said, voice raw with honesty.
“No,” Cutter said at the same time, tossing her head. But most of the Crew stood strong, Zack and Magenta, Meduka and Bruin too. People either too crazed, too confident, or too resigned to worry about death. Half of us shaken, half ready. The voices cried out, and everyone winced.
*You are ready. You are our Chosen. Protect this world from those who would destroy it.*
Lightning crashed down from the heights, up from the ground, blew in from the wind, surrounded us in a blinding storm, filling us up. Like a balloon about to explode, we were filled with power until we were nearly ready to burst.
I could see in my mind’s eye my family letting their powers go, letting them join into the stream filling us. Our classmates and friends, everyone who was left with power was yielding theirs up, giving them to the people who were supposed to save the world. With their power came their knowledge, their control, everything we would need to use what we were being given. At the last, I saw my mother’s face, heard her voice, the echo of it quietly urging the remaining powers of the world to stand together and help us.
Like a volcano erupting in reverse, like the mass healing after the academy attack but on a colossal, global scale, the fire poured into me, and alongside it cold and lightning and the powers of heart and mind. The elemental forces were mine to command, nature’s fury my own.
I looked at my friends and enemies and saw them taking control of what was given to them, the world’s forces now theirs. Will had all the physical might of the people, while Skybolt, Rose Queen, and Viscosity commanded sky, land, and sea between them. Bruin, Nightsteed, and Violet Cavy commanded the animal kingdom, while Viper held all the venoms of the world. Flamewing’s wings spread like the mythical giant roc’s, while Bloodtalon seethed with battle madness of ages on the wings of the Furies. Brilliance shone like the sun, like Apollo, while Meduka crackled with all the righteous wrath of all the cursed. All of invention and creation oozed out of Saurian Lord, while Voidhammer held the unseen forces of the world at her command. Mercy was like a statue of obsidian, holding all the world’s pain within her. Son of Silver’s skin flowed with a hundred different metals, the molten core of the planet in his very flesh, while Cutter flickered, holding onto the spaces between.
With the power came knowledge. All I had to do what cast my mind out towards were the Titans were hurling towards us and I could feel their anger. And their treachery. Being at the foothills of the gods didn’t matter anymore. Our purpose was elsewhere.
“They’re coming,” I warned. “Soon. We have to act soon.”
“We take the fight to them,” Cutter growled, her voice distorted by flickering through all the between-spaces.
“They won’t stay and slug it out. We have to be smart,” Guardian warned. I looked sideways at him and saw a glimmer of something in his eyes. Did he share mental powers too, now? Or had he seen something in the images of the sky I hadn’t?
“They have power too. This won’t be easy,” Meduka said. “They want Earth badly.”
“We have to stop them before they get here,” Rose Queen cried. “They’ll tear this place apart.”
“They’re clever. If we leave, they can try to slip someone in behind us. We can’t cover everywhere at once,” Saurian Lord said. “Too big a target.”
“Move the target,” Cutter said. Brilliance blinked at her. “If I know where it is, I can hit things blindfolded. Conceal the Earth somehow, or even blind them, and they can still strike at it. One hit, and unless someone wants to make a sacrifice play, it’s over.”
“Move the target… move the Earth,” Voidhammer said, her voice distant. “Yes, I can do that.”
I was seething with the power of elemental fire and cold and lightning, my mind burning with emotion and the knowledge that I could use in ways my mother had never dreamed, and I still nearly gaped at the audacity of her statement.
“Some of us stay behind. Protect it. Just in case,” Viscosity said. He pointed to Rose Queen, Skybolt, Violet Cavy, Bruin, and Nightsteed. “Land, sky, all the creatures of the world, and the sea,” he pointed to himself, now backed with the power of the ocean. “Add Voidhammer, and we can make Earth an impossible target for anyone who tries to attack it from behind. On home ground they can’t defeat us, and they won’t be able to get many past the rest of you once you bring the fight to them.”
I smiled; that was pure Ethan right there. Under the burden of all that power, he was still playing Champion Debate to win.
“Yes,” Guardian said. “Yes.” He stood and pointed at them, spine straight, clearly forming a plan, “Get ready; we don’t have much time.”
The chosen defenders closed their eyes, testing their new strength, finding the weak places they’d need to reinforce, seeing how they’d need to martial their powers to protect the world against a sneak attack. Plants grew and encased Rose Queen, susurrating around her like they were whispering their secrets. Voidhammer tapped her on the shoulder and flicked her eyes to the north.
“We start at the top,” she said. “And work our way down.” Skybolt laughed at that, the crazed look in his eyes now matching the power crackling around him.
Rose Queen nodded, letting the plants fall from her. “Guardian,” she said quietly, and reached out to him, breaking his concentration. She let her hand trail down his arm to the ring of stitching around his gauntlet, a mock-ring for a married hero. Layla leaned in and whispered something to him, and he pressed her hand in return, smiling solemnly.
Viscosity kept his eyes closed, hands twined together, concentrating on his powers, his plan, Nightsteed and Voidhammer joining him. Skybolt stood in the middle, glowing eyes staring at the sky as the clouds roiled above us. Violet Cavy and Brilliance took a minute to do the most elaborate series of fist bumps I’d ever seen; the more complicated the ritual, the more serious they were about it. They broke apart simultaneously, Violet Cavy stepping back into Voidhammer’s group, Rose Queen joining her, and then all of them were gone, flung into the sky with astonishing speed, heading north to prepare their defense of the Earth.
Guardian stared after them for only a second, his expression unreadable, before turning to me.
“Phoenix, can you see them?”
I nodded distantly as I cast my mind out, one or more of the mental powers within me feeding off themselves synergistically, showing us what we needed to know. I wasn’t quite directing it consciously, but that didn’t matter, not now. “They aren’t hiding. They want to see us coming. They won’t stop.”
“Neither will we,” Mercy said, her power crackling and snapping around her like lightning.
“You can get us there?” Guardian asked, turning to Cutter.
She smiled like a shark and I wondered if she was contemplating what our insides would look like.
“With my new range? Not a problem,” she said, tossing her head. Her entire body seemed to shudder, like a horror movie where they’d pulled out frames of the film to give someone freakish movement.
“Then let’s do this.” Saurian Lord stood and grinned just a few shades less psychotic than Cutter before turning to me. “You see them, Phoenix? Other than being tricky bastards, anything special about them?”
“Other than the fact they’re tough enough to break a planet?”
“Anything fancy about them?” Saurian Lord insisted, and twisted one hand in a complicated gesture, the hidden tech in his costume lighting up at his command. As a supervillain, Saurian Lord presented himself as a primitively-dressed shaman commanding prehistoric animals, when in fact he was a nanobot manipulator and cyborg expert, a technopath on a very fine scale. He used what he had to handle huge robots with the kind of skill you just couldn’t get from a simple remote. But now he had all the power of every technopath on the planet, from Allie and the others who’d rebelled against the academy to Royal Pain herself, all turned up to eleven.
I saw what he meant, and looked again. Powerful, undoubtedly. Tricky, definitely. Smart, of course. And arrogant too, but since they’d smashed their way through other worlds with barely any resistance, I could see why they’d be. But not sophisticated, not at all. The Titans were raw power barely constrained by form.
“Nothing,” I said. Saurian Lord bared his teeth in a snarl of triumph.
“We’re gonna need some things,” he said. “Pressure capsule to ride in, ‘cause as good as Cutter is, we’re not getting to the Titans in one teleport without sucking vacuum.”
She conceded that with a nod. With a gesture, tech materials began to flow together at Saurian Lord’s direction, either stolen from what was already here or wrenched from the raw materials of the Earth, I couldn’t tell.
“Don’t need to bother using the existing space shuttles; not tough enough or versatile enough for what we’re gonna do. I want all my toys custom.” He was assembling mechas big enough to rival small buildings alongside the wedge-shaped vessel that would keep us breathing on the way to meet our fight. The mechas were like huge velociraptors, fast and deadly from nearly any angle, as I had plenty of reason to know; I’d seen his smaller creations in action before.
As Saurian Lord worked, Silver drew one of his guns, reversed it, wagged it at him, and nodded up at the sky.
“I think I can arrange an upgrade,” Saurian Lord said, and gestured again. Pieces of gold-colored metal assembled before him, coalescing into oversized handguns that Son of Silver handled with reverence. As he examined his weapons, Cutter’s hands flickering through some message to him, and he smiled reassuringly.
“Should even be able to handle Titans,” Saurian Lord said, for reasons of his own not dropping the patently fake Australian accent he affected as part of his persona. The cheery way of talking somehow made him seem just that much more sinister as Silver checked out the weapons with efficient professionalism.
Enough to handle Titans, I thought blandly. Enough to hurt Guardian, you mean.
Guardian himself wasn’t oblivious to the byplay, and I didn’t need my new mental powers to know what he was thinking.
The only thing that worried us was whether they’d try to kill us before or after the battle.