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.
Cutter pressed against the window of the vessel Saurian Lord had made, her eyes seeking some distant glimmer in the darkness of the starry deep, some first view of our enemies. We weren’t going to be subtle coming in; not with Cutter toting huge mechas behind us with her powers and all of us glowing with enough power to kick-start a sun. But subtlety hadn’t really ever been our strong point.
I looked behind us once as Cutter began to teleport us the huge distances to reach the Titans. Earth was moving behind us. Not just from Cutter’s teleporting, but from Voidhammer. There, somewhere above the North Pole, Voidhammer was hovering, cradling the Earth’s gravitational pull from the Sun and moving it further along its orbit, putting it right out of position for anyone who’d thought to try to stab us in the back. Perversely, I almost wish they’d try; I wanted them to understand that no one messed with our planet. According to Will, Layla had been trying to save the world since the first grade. And that was a lot of wrath stored up.
Meduka hissed, a strange, sibilant chorus, and I turned back. A visible shiver ran down his back as he pointed to a point in the star-strewn void.
“You can feel them?” I asked.
The snakes bared their fangs as Meduka answered. “All those curses I have? They’re targeted for the Titans; I know when they’re getting close.”
I looked at him sideways, and Mercy caught my eye.
“Meduka, what do you have?” she asked softly.
“All of the curses,” he said shortly. “All that hate.” Another shudder shook him. “Someone had to have it. Easier for me than any of you, I guess. And the… gods… switched their targets. From people on Earth to…” Meduka waved out the window.
I looked at Meduka, really looked at him, like my mom would have, and could see the red-black auras of hatred and fear overlapping his own, clinging to him like parasites, like living things. Nausea rose briefly in my stomach and I throttled it down. I couldn’t have handled that. Christ, it would have been like being back in the academy again, with mental acid eating away at everything that made me me, and all of it powerful and immediate and pulling at my heart like an anchor. I didn’t know how he was still standing.
Meduka turned to look me square in the eyes, yellow-green slit-pupiled eyes meeting mine. “You may think you had the lock on brooding, Phoenix, but I think I got you beat. What I’m carrying isn’t anything worse than what I ever thought about myself.”
Cursed and alone, too afraid to touch for years until taken into the academy… yeah.
“Besides, the Titans don’t know much about losing. They’ve been swanning around out there for what, thousands of years without any kind of real resistance? Give them a face full of what I got and it’ll knock them off their high horse.”
“Don’t let Nightsteed hear you say that,” Mercy said with a little smile.
“We’re going to miss him,” Guardian said unexpectedly, breaking up our solemn moment. “We lost most of our mobility with everyone who stayed behind.”
Will looked remote, untouchable, and I wondered if leaving Layla behind had been a good idea. As Guardian, Will was used to power, but he’d just had vulnerability throw in his face when his parents had gotten hurt. And now he was pumped up with the strength of hundreds of the strongest on the planet and had a grudge against the Titans rivaling anything Cutter had against us.
I shunted that thought aside for the moment to concentrate on Guardian’s words. With Viscosity and Violet Cavy gone, we’d lost the two people that had been instrumental in our last big win against the academy. Their small size and clever tactics had saved us time and again. Rose Queen’s powers were the most versatile on our team, and we’d lost them too, and with them any real ability for Guardian to pick up more than a couple people at a time. Strong as he was, he only had two arms. Without Nightsteed, Bruin, or Voidhammer, Mercy and Meduka just had their own two feet. Cutter was the only one left to control the movement on the battlefield.
I looked over at her, eyes wide as she concentrated on a distant, glimmering point, the world blinking around us as she shifted us immense distances in an instant. Beside her, Son of Silver was… I looked again to make sure I was seeing this right. He was inscribing marks on his own arm, and then plunging fingers below his own skin to grasp what he’d drawn. I watched in sickened fascination as he pulled another knife from the metallic substance of his own body and laid it down next to the others he’d clearly been making for her. They swirled with the same colors of all the metal making up Silver’s body, some impossible alloy that was probably the strongest our planet had ever seen. Silver laid down the last knife and leaned close to Cutter to drop a kiss on her shoulder before slipping the knives into the concealed sheaths she wore. Nothing but the best for the woman he loved, apparently. The affection I’d seen them display at the academy apparently hadn’t diminished in the six months since its downfall.
Silver caught me looking and slowly, deliberately, picked up the golden guns Saurian Lord had made for him. He put them into his shoulder holsters and pointed one finger at me like a gun.
Pow, he mouthed, and turned back to the viewing portal.
“He’s going to kill you both,” Meduka said flatly, looking over at me and Guardian.
“I know,” Guardian said tightly. “I know.” The scary thing was, I think, deep down, Will wanted him to try.
“We have bigger problems than Silver trying to go for a hat trick,” I said sharply.
“After that, then,” Guardian said, and looked up as the distant glimmer began to grow into a real target.
The Titans’ world was cracked, riven, molten lava running across the landscape like rivers, water erupting like a volcano, stones churning like the tide as lightning, rain, and ice-edged sleet seemed to whip everything into a frenzy. Through the chaos I could see the vaguely humanoid forms of the Titans waiting for us, impossibly tall. And impatient. One of them, a living pile of granite, like a mountain crag given form, began to hurl stones at us, turning into flaming meteorites as they left the atmosphere.
“Flamewing!” Mercy called, holding her hand up to Guardian and me. Not yet, her expression said.
“On it! Saurian Lord, gimme some air on the outside!”
Saurian Lord spread his hands, and out of the viewing portal I could see a blue glow envelop us. Flamewing opened the top hatch to the airlock and looked down expectantly. Saurian Lord gave him the thumbs-up, and Flamewing closed the hatch behind him and fearlessly opened the door to the outside. A flick of sparks and his wings ignited, huge swaths of white-hot flame that he spread as our shield, deflecting, destroying, or absorbing the meteorites as they hurled towards us.
Flamewing was practically dancing in the air, covering our approach, but even he couldn’t counter everything being thrown at us. A half-dozen huge balls of rock and fire flew by him, missing us cleanly, and sped along our backtrail at an astonishing rate. Heading towards Earth. I knew, without even needing to feel the heat of hatred coming off of them, that those weren’t just inert rock, but Titans sent to try to take our planet from us while we faced the visible threats here.
“Rose Queen and the others will be ready,” Guardian said, jaw set, and faced resolutely forward.
The Titans’ laughter could be heard even as we were dodging rocks and weather on our way down to the surface. Cutter had to teleport shorter and shorter distances, Flamewing desperately clinging to the outside of the vessel, constrained to not run into anything in the constantly-changing landscape. The roiling sky parted enough to show images, as we’d been shown on Earth. But these showed the Titans looming over our world, shaking apart its cities, killing millions of people and leaving the rest to huddle fearful obedience or die, forced to worship and praise their captors and masters, cowering before their wrath. The world would be reduced to Stone Age conditions under the whim of fierce and uncaring tyrants.
“No fucking style,” Cutter said, and spat to the side in disgust. Will smiled grimly, for once in agreement with her.
“Get us down there. Let’s show them what we think of their plan.”
As bad as I’d thought the gods on Earth had been, they had nothing on their enemies, not if Cutter and Guardian had agreed on something willingly. Suddenly the power we’d been given no longer seemed like overkill. As we landed, Saurian Lord’s pressure vessel folding down around us, his mechas shielding us from the worst of the wild weather while Brilliance lit up the area around us to let us see what we were dealing with. And I realized, looking up at the Titans even from so far away, that the power we had was not overkill. It might not even be up to the task. The gods had been right when they’d compared the question about killing them to killing a river.
The ground rolled underneath us like an earthquake, rain and sleet pounding against our heads, lightning flashing all around, illuminating the approaching Titans’ progress in eerie lurches and starts. I mentally named each one of them as they were revealed, anything to keep the sudden fear from overwhelming me. The tall crag, the boulder-thrower, was Stone, a mountain of a Titan, stomped towards us with a booming laugh that sounded like an avalanche, hills rising and falling in his wake. Another made of sheets of flame, Fire, erupted from the burning ground and flew straight towards us, bright enough to dim Flamewing and Brilliance together.
A swirling mass of rain and electricity, Storm, circled overhead, her laugh howling like a tornado, while razor-edged Ice leapt like a hunting cat across the ever-changing terrain, frost spreading from every touch.
In my mind, I could suddenly feel the press of the experience of all the heroes whose power I bore, each urging me to a different course of action – run, stay, attack, everyone shouting something different. In the back of my mind, I knew we’d hoped to lure them into the outer ranges of me, Cutter, and Silver, to weaken them before the others took their turn, but not now. Not like this.
The Titans were owning the terrain, the ground shaking and even gaping into chasms beneath our feet, rocks and lightning bolts falling from the sky, keeping us dodging and hauling each other out of trouble instead of being able to fight. Guardian was everywhere, but it was all he could do to keep us from being obliterated by boulders the size of buildings or being swallowed up by sudden canyons. In minutes we were going to be swarmed and overwhelmed, buried and dead with barely a chance to be able to fight back. We’d divided our strength in an attempt to cover every possibility, and now we were going to die from our arrogance.
“Don’t move,” Meduka gasped out, managing to get off his knees, finding a single stable patch of ground in the heaving maelstrom.
“That’s not the problem,” Mercy said, narrowly missing being crushed by a boulder. “We’re pinned down.” Bloodtalon and Flamewing were circling around each other, trying to avoid the flying missiles, while even Cutter couldn’t teleport from all the debris in the air in an ever-changing landscape. Guardian was just above us, smashing the worst of it away from us, but he didn’t dare leave, and everyone else was just scrambling to find purchase to stand somewhere, anywhere. Even Saurian Lord’s mechas were just struggling to stay upright.
“Get them closer!” Meduka demanded, hauling himself upright and bracing himself. I caught something in his voice, and my mind reached out to him. I could see the red-black of the curses around him intensifying, like attack dogs straining to be let off the leash.
He didn’t even need to ask; the Titans were closing in, their crude faces split into ugly grins as they loomed closer. They were tall as skyscrapers, their elemental flesh absorbing stray attacks from the others without damage or even a visible mark. My heart sank, fear chilling me, and I prepared to unleash what I could, knowing the second I stopped to aim I was going to be swallowed by the earth or struck down by the sky, but unwilling to go down quietly.
That was when Meduka moved. He suddenly expanded, grew, muscles, bones and skin cracking and snapping as he towered over us, now able to look the Titans in the eye. His snake hair hissed in eerie chorus, sounding like erupting steam geysers as they struck at the foes surrounding us. Fangs met flesh of fire, water, stone, and ice and Meduka screamed as the pent-up curse energy finally found a home.
Time seemed to stop, light failed for a moment, and then everything came back, Meduka down on the ground, shrunk back to his normal size. But now the Titans were twenty feet tall, not two hundred, and the ground was steady and even underneath our feet. Everyone got fierce grins on their faces; Meduka had leveled the playing field, literally. We’d been given a chance.
The Titans roared, their powers chained, but still formidable. And if Meduka had just robbed them of some of their physical might, it hadn’t diminished everything about them.
“We are not your only enemies,” Fire roared, in a crackling, hollow voice. “Our brothers even now are readying Earth for the death of their heroes.”
From the cruel humor on their faces, I knew they expected us to be shocked, horrified, to let our guards down and try to flee to save our world. They didn’t expect what happened, for Cutter and the rest of the Crew to let out smug, full-throated laughs, Mercy and Flamewing joining. They were villains or ex-villains, they had the experience at doing the evil laughs, and the blows the Titans had just taken had given them reason to respect that kind of confidence.
But Fire narrowed his eyes and extended a hand to the sky, and the heavens were painted with pictures of the cool, blue planet we all called home. He’d regained some of his smugness as the picture came into view, but it rapidly faded as the scene shifted, moving down the Earth’s surface. Six of the smaller Titans were plunging through the atmosphere, all of them looking chipped, eroded, and much worse for the wear. I smiled; Voidhammer moving the Earth had worked. The Titans had had to search for their target, and had wasted valuable time and energy doing so.
Six streaks of light were headed to the ground, just off shore somewhere, when the ocean seemed to move, opening to receive them. I bared my teeth savagely as I saw Viscosity suck them down to the cold depths of the waves, where the pressure was incredible and almost nothing could survive. The Titans could, but that cooled their tempers considerably, and when they’d dragged themselves onto the shore, far worse for the wear, their eyes widened when they were confronted with a nearly impenetrable wall of greenery. And between the trees and vines, you could see the glowing eyes and hear the growls and cries of hundreds of animals. Somewhere in there, Violet Cavy, Bruin, and Nightsteed were waiting. Above the trees, the sky was dark with clouds, lightning flickered and struck the shore, singeing the Titans with Skybolt’s anger.
The Titans looked up. Hauled themselves upright, hands glowing with power. Their smiles were gone.
We looked back down from the cloud-scene at Fire, Ice, Stone, and Storm, and I saw the brief flit of worry cross their faces.
I joined Cutter in smiling as the Titans’ expressions darkened with rage. And then reached for all the power I had to stop them.
The Titans moved faster than anything that large had a right to. Storm and Fire leapt for us, drawing fire from Silver and Cutter, making Bloodtalon fly out of their way to avoid getting scorched. Meduka was still down, gasping in air as his body shook off the effect of burning through all that energy. Viper knelt down next to him, his spear pointing outward.
“Get up you lazy ass!” he shouted. He dropped his hand to Meduka’s head, and any objections I might have had about Meduka’s health stopped when I saw no tell-tale dimming of his green fire. I was strong enough now that I didn’t have to touch him to know he was all right; better than that actually, as Meduka jerked upright, his snake-hair hissing, their fangs smoky with the poison Viper had just imbued them.
Guardian dove for Ice as he came screaming in, freezing cold running before him. I bared my teeth fiercely, knowing I held Winter Court’s power in me and the cold that had been my bane since I’d powered up was now just another weapon in my arsenal. The cold rushed over those of us ground-bound and was stopped by the shield of twined fire and ice I threw up around us. And it was the newness of that, of seeing our power in action for the first time, that distracted us from Stone. His first punch showed they were never to be underestimated, even when wounded.
He came in fast, faster than anything that big and heavy should, barreling straight through my shield, and I was the lucky person who caught the brunt of it. I actually felt my body break and heal around his fist, the pain of it stealing both breath and reason before Mercy’s power came to my rescue.
Saurian Lord’s mechas pounced on Stone, their claws gouging his stony skin, while Brilliance managed to divert the spears of lightning Storm was trying to rain down on us. That distracted him from me long enough for the rest of us to get out of his way and back into the fight.
Viper was, according to Mercy, something of a coward, preferring the odds well in his favor before attacking. But given a portion of the world’s superpowers, team him up with the one person who could take his powers without harm and he’d found his courage without prompting. His spear smoked with whatever lethal poisons he’d coated it with, the same as Meduka’s snakes, and he moved with the sinuous speed of his namesake as Meduka rolled and ducked and wove like a boxer. They dodged the Titans’ strikes as Ice, Stone, Fire, and Storm attacked us in waves, and lunged at them in return as they went for the more tempting targets of Guardian and Son of Silver. Viper and Meduka flooded their systems with poison; with every hit they got slower, their aim worse, their strikes less sure.
And we needed that desperately. I was certain that was what was keeping us alive, because every time they did hit, even Mercy gasped. The pain and damage from those strikes nearly floored me every time they hit one of us, and Mercy and I were busy keeping the others together, her sucking away their pain, me keeping their bodies whole, not needing to touch them now with the power I held. I had us sheltered in a shield of fire and ice and lightning, but Mercy and I had lost our ability to fight if we wanted to keep everyone else in the game.
Bloodtalon was reveling in the fight, shining like steel as she drove Ice to madness, able to hit him while Guardian was keeping him occupied. She ignored the slashes he tried to make to her in return, and when Guardian realized what she’d done, he gave Ice an opening he couldn’t refuse. Ice charged recklessly after him and made Fire scream when Bloodtalon lured him into Ice’s path, forcing them to collide. The steam momentarily blinded them, and when Brilliance set off a flare, backlighting them perfectly, Silver and Cutter shot and threw together. Their hits drew out screams of pain, and Mercy showed none of her namesake as she left off pain-channeling for a moment to give them a jolt of pure agony. Ice and Fire collapsed behind their shrouds of steam as Flamewing dove down, razor-edged wings of flame meeting them to keep them busy.
Guardian flew to meet Stone as he pounded in for another charge and out of the corner of my eye I saw something metallic. Son of Silver had his guns pointed in Guardian’s direction, his aim unwavering, his face expressionless. I didn’t have time to shout a warning when Silver fired, his bullets missing Guardian cleanly and impacting Stone between the eyes. They cracked his hide, making a weak point, and Guardian struck unerringly, blasting him apart with a roar that made our ears ring. Stone fell, shaking the ground beneath us, parts of him trying to rise, clawing at the ground.
Storm howled into our front ranks, hard to hit and even harder to hurt. She towered over us and a wall of water traveled in her wake, trying to drown us. Cutter flashed through her path, unceremoniously sweeping us up in her teleports and depositing us on higher ground. She tossed Mercy a psychotic grin as she let another dagger fly at Storm. Pieces of Stone lurched upright, no more than mobile boulders, but no less deadly for that. Cutter cursed when she realized the boulders were rolling uphill to get to them, and left off tormenting Storm to deal with the more immediate threat.
But there were too many of them, and Saurian Lord shouted at us to, “Stop with the Red Cross tour you two and help us not get squashed into jelly!”
I was in the middle of healing Bloodtalon’s broken wing and Flamewing’s busted arm before one of the Titans could smash them to the ground again, and to turn and start flaming rocks would be to leave them both defenseless. It was only Mercy’s power that was keeping them functional through their pain until I was done. It was either lose both of them, or lose the rest of us. My heart hammered in my throat, as I looked at the surrounding plateau, feeling the vibrations of the approaching Stone-boulders through my feet. Cutter’s eyes flicked from one place to the next, trying to find a way out, and I saw her lips pressed together when she didn’t find one. I didn’t have enough time to put another shield up, not and keep Bloodtalon and Flamewing from falling.
With a shout, Guardian dove down out of the swirling maelstrom of the sky, costume scorched and soaking wet. The Stone-boulders froze at Guardian’s appearance, which was more than enough for him. Guardian scooped up the huge things and hurled some of them into the sky, right into Storm, and others into the steam-laden battleground that held Fire and Ice. The boulders screamed as they went flying, the last one actually cursing as Guardian plucked it from running over us and sent it packing into our enemies.
Storm flew high again and stirred the clouds into a frenzy at our takedown of her fellow Titans. Seeing Brilliance illuminating the battle, she ignored Guardian’s danger and focused her power on him. She rained lightning down on him, concentrating on a single point, trying to destroy our beacon and leave us blind. In a second, when I saw Zack’s grin and heard Saurian Lord’s shout of triumph, I knew she’d made a critical error. Those two had been waiting, holding back for just this moment. The Titans were like gods, but they were also old, and hadn’t been on Earth for a long time. They’d missed the Industrial Revolution. They’d missed the rise of the technopaths. The same reason Royal Pain had become a supervillain was about to bite them.
The Titans had had no idea what Brilliance could do; he’d gotten power from his family, electricity manipulators all, but not like Storm, and not like Skybolt. The Cramers worked on a very fine level. Zack could take that power, absorb it all, and turn and use it on the only other person here who could appreciate it. I could see what he was about to do, and joined in Storm’s strike, giving Brilliance all the power he could use.
Saurian Lord howled with laughter as Brilliance channeled the electrical fury into his oversized mechas, giving them enough speed and strength temporarily to do what Guardian could do. Enough to handle Titans. They leapt impossible distances and clawed into Storm, dragging her down, holding her still, bringing her in contact with the ground. She shrieked as she struggled, arching up from the earth like it burned her. And something suddenly fell into place, and the collective experience of the ones sharing their power with us spoke up.
“Bind them,” Mercy shouted. “Bind them so they cause no more pain!”
The gods had been right, the Titans couldn’t die, but we could hold them helpless. Hundreds of voices, a whisper in our heads that had been directing the powers in our blood, read and saw the way.
“Air to Earth, Fire to Water,” Flamewing shouted, and struggled up out of the steam, Ice caught and melting between his wings. He was hauling him towards the fiery pit that bubbled behind him, and Ice shrieked as his substance began to sublimate in the fierce heat. The only reason he didn’t struggle harder to shatter Flamewing’s grasp was Meduka and Viper’s presence, their poison ready to taint his body if he tried to escape. Distantly, I remembered Ethan saying how that was his greatest fear too.
Bloodtalon was perhaps the only one crazy enough to face Fire without protection, but she wasn’t alone. Immune to his heat and commanding the power of cold too, it was my responsibility to bind him so no one could hurt him. Silver ran to my side without hesitation as I hemmed Fire in with cold, his weakened form unable to push past both the freezing bulwarks and Silver’s bullets. I knew how much they could hurt even the seemingly indestructible, and Fire was learning that harsh lesson firsthand. We drove him, Bloodtalon feinting from above, step by step, into the freezing lake where Ice had emerged.
The steam sounded like a thousand volcanos had just poured into the Arctic Ocean, but he didn’t emerge again.
Storm was simple; Guardian drove his fist into the ground, opening up a chasm that would swallow her, and Saurian Lord’s mechas threw her in, shoving the crevice closed behind her. Cutter glittered, her silver costume reflecting off of Brilliance’s light as she teleported all over the field, finding the pieces of Stone that Brilliance illuminated for her and teleporting them skyward, putting them in orbit, trapping him in the sky.
Bound. Held harmless. And at a guess it would take a few thousand years for them to pull themselves together.
From an impossibly far distance, I heard Earth cheering.
I’d thought slamming into the Titan’s world had been tough. I’d been wrong. Because the minute Cutter had gotten us into the Earth’s atmosphere, I could feel the power starting to pull away from me. It was spinning away one at a time; it felt like being unraveled thread by thread, and there was nothing we could do to stop it. Weaker and smaller with every breath, Cutter and Saurian Lord barely held us together until we touched down, half-broken, freezing, and exhausted.
The mountains above us were no longer rumbling with power, no longer glowing, just three mountain peaks above a valley with all of us scattered around like toys left by a careless child. I struggled to sit up, steeling myself to look at my own body, remembering all too well what had happened last time I’d played host to powers other than my own. I felt light-headed with relief when I saw myself looking almost normal, albeit feeling exhausted, and not the burnt-out wreck I’d been last time.
Layla was there, looking just as tired at the rest of us, and half-crawled over to Will and held him until he’d woken up to hold her back. She was covered with bits of shredded vegetation and grass stains, her skin scratched and abraded by thorns. The others were in no better shape, Magenta, Michael, and Quint looking thin and wasted, Ethan seeming a little melted; Brittany heavily sat into the ground, leaning against Quint’s shoulder, and even Skybolt perfectly still in his fatigue.
Somehow, Zack managed to find his tongue first.
“Dudes… we won.”
Magenta giggled at that, sounding a little loopy, and Cutter downright cackled at Zack’s tone, her silver costume throwing sparks of light all over the place as she laughed.
Son of Silver pulled Cutter to her feet with one hand, the other still wrapped around his gun. I tracked the deadly thing, foreboding chilling me even more, but wasn’t sure what I was going to do if he decided to take advantage of how weak we all were. I didn’t think I could power up right now, and the bruises and cuts on my skin let me know that my indestructibility hadn’t come back yet either. Even if I could throw myself in front of a bullet, I might not survive it.
Then Will got up.
We all might have been exhausted, at the bare ebb of our powers, but Will had always been the strongest of us. Low ebb for him was more than more superbeings had at full strength. Will stepped forward, ready to shield any of us. Son of Silver took his hand off of Cutter and raised his lethal golden guns Saurian Lord had made for him, pointing them straight at Will’s chest. Silver’s metallic body didn’t tremble with fatigue, and it had always been his deadly accuracy and willingness to use it that made him truly dangerous. Cutter carefully braced herself and brushed the hilts of her knives with her hands as Bloodtalon sprang up, teeth bared.
I could see my wounds slowly start to close, and felt my body adjusting to having just the powers I’d been born with, no longer surfeited with hundreds. Voidhammer was getting up too, and I saw Silver flick his eyes to her briefly. Her gravity manipulation was as potentially dangerous as Will’s strength, but she looked a lot less steady on her feet. The rest of the Redeemers and Champions were beginning to arrange themselves behind their leaders even as the rest of the Crew pulled themselves together. There was no time to think; Guardian would never been weaker than he was right now. Son of Silver wouldn’t have an opportunity like this again. If Cutter had recovered enough the crew could be out of our reach before Will’s body hit the ground.
“We saw you!” Layla shouted unexpectedly. She stepped out behind Will and waved him away fearlessly as she faced the Crew. Will was staring at her with wide-eyed astonishment, torn between wanting to pull her back out of danger and the thought of what might happen if he interfered with her plan. Because she had one, and that put her several steps ahead of everyone else right now.
“In the sky. The pictures in the clouds,” Layla continued. “We saw everything. Everyone did. We saw you fighting the Titans. How you worked together to protect each other and imprison them.”
Son of Silver scowled and Cutter spoke up. “What’d you do to yours, Green Peace?”
Unexpectedly, Voidhammer answered. “After the others soaked them, toasted them, and ran them ragged over half of northern Canada with half the animal kingdom on their tails, Rose Queen wrapped them up until they couldn’t move and I threw them into the sun.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Zack give Ethan and Magenta high fives and flash Layla the peace sign.
Cutter blinked as she took in the damage to Layla’s costume and the strange shreds of plants still clinging to her. Blinked again, probably thinking about how even “small” Titans were still unbelievably strong. And Layla had immobilized them.
“Nice,” she said, sounding reluctantly impressed. But she didn’t move her hands away from her knives or Silver waver in his aim. Behind her, the rest of the Crew as rallying themselves to action. With the Champions and the Redeemers teamed up, our chances of taking them down were good, but I didn’t want to think about the consequences or the price. This wasn’t Rushmore, where everyone had needed each other to stay alive. The Crew wouldn’t go cheaply or quietly. If we started a fight now, people would die.
Silver looked almost ready to pull the trigger, the lifelong prudence that had kept him on the Top Ten Most Wanted list for so long warring with having a nearly unattainable goal within his grasp. Killing Guardian wouldn’t just be everlasting infamy, it would show the world that even the strongest could be taken down. Even those with godlike powers.
Right then, we all heard cheering in the far distance. The standoff lost some of its tension as everyone turned to look. At the edge of the meadow where we’d landed was a huge crowd of people all dressed in bright colors. At the front I could see a solid block of red, sparsely interspersed with pale blues, silver, and right in the middle, a single figure in white. Behind them were others in a whole rainbow of shades, but ones I definitely recognized. The Howards, the Pattersons, the Cramers, the Evans, all my friends’ families. And above them all, close together, were two hovering in red, white, and blue. Despite the seriousness, I found myself smiling. While we had been spending hours returning from the Titans’ world and recovering from being drained of all our extra powers, their rightful owners had been energized by their return. The odds had just been shifted substantially in our favor.
Son of Silver gritted his teeth, refirmed his grip on his guns, and let out a silent snarl as he dropped his aim and reholstered his weapons. Cutter moved her hands away from her knives and the Crew started to cluster around her in preparation to teleport. I furtively tried to power up and my vision nearly grayed out. My wounds were closing, but still not fully healed, and clearly my body wasn’t going to spare the energy for fire until I’d stopped bleeding. If the Crew left, I had nothing in my arsenal to stop them, and I might have been in the best shape of everyone here barring Will.
“Hey,” Will called, making Cutter look at him sharply. “You know, for a few hours, you guys were heroes. And everyone saw it.” He waved at the sky, at the pictures that had been seen worldwide of our battle against the Titans. Cutter shot him a glance of pure hatred before taking a deep breath and teleporting her and the Crew away. I was marveling at Will’s perfect, poetic burn, just as much an attack as anything else he could have done.
We didn’t know how much tech Saurian Lord had escaped with, and Silver still had his new guns, but the Crew had besmirched their villainous reputation for all time. They could go one of two ways – be more proactively cruel and violent to prove themselves evil incarnate, or possibly, just maybe, considering playing both sides of the fence. I wouldn’t hold my breath on the second one, considering the reputations they’d worked so hard to establish, but the Crew had never had it so close to what they’d always wanted as when they’d helped us. For a little while, they’d had unlimited power and the admiration of billions of people for saving them. It would be harder to hide now, harder to get work, harder to convince the right people that they still wanted what they always had, power. When you’d just had a taste of ultimate power, well, it was going to be hard to go back to being just a regular supervillain again. And that was as powerful in its own way as a fist to the face.
Maybe that was a better punishment than anything we could have done. They were going to go down in legend as heroes, and that had to stick in their craws. I guess we’d see, one way or the other.
I looked up at the quiescent Peak of Fire and wondered if heroism was the gods’ way of punishing arrogance this time around. I smiled at the thought as Mercy slipped her hand into mine, the barest flicker of her pain channeling taking the edge off my pain as my wounds finally closed and I felt the hint of fire in my veins again. Our own powers were back.
“They tried to kill--” Ash started, wearily surprised, and Guardian cut him off with a sharp shake of his head.
“They did. That’s what they do. And they’re going to pay for that.”
“Guardian?” Mercy asked softly. “When?”
“They just helped save the world, and they can barely stand. We don’t fight them in their homes, and we don’t go after them on their days off. We’re heroes.” He turned to look at Layla, and she kissed him on the cheek. I could see the tired tracks of exhausted tears on Will’s face and turned away. Even weak, Will was stronger than Silver. Strong enough to kill him, and maybe strong enough to handle whatever ammunition he had left. But he was better than Silver. He was good enough to be good even when it cost him. He was good enough to remember being a normal superhero after he’d been a god.
The sounds of the crowd became a roar of, “They’re back!” Everyone was laughing and shouting as loud as they could as the crowd began to run towards us. Will’s parents touched down first, Jetstream still bandaged and bruised in places, but able to hold onto the decidedly unharmed-looking Commander. Will and his dad met in a back-breaking, bone-crunching hug, only breaking apart long enough to bring Jetstream (delicately) into the fold.
I could see the Battles and the Peaces not too far behind them and felt myself smiling, raising a hand to wave at them, indescribably happy to see everyone alive and well. The rest of the Champions were starting to head towards their families as fast as their exhausted bodies would allow, needing the normalcy more than any potential revenge on the Crew. Behind Monica and me, the Redeemers were leaning against each other, propping themselves up primarily around Brittany’s solid strength. Most of them were just as tired, but there were slowly-growing smiles on each of their faces. Even the usually-nervous Quint and dour Meduka were smiling, the latter with his snake hair lying unbound and contentedly quiescent. Maybe none of the heroes that had come here were family, but none of them would forget the Redeemers. What infamy the Crew had garnered and despised, the Redeemers had wanted badly. For once, everyone had seen what they were willing to do, and there was no denying it.
“And we’re home safe,” Mercy said, her hands twining with mine. I squeezed her hand back, feeling only the returning strength that I was used to, just our own powers in our blood, our own minds in our heads. We were just ourselves again, ordinary superheroes.
I saw my mother and Tobias Battle in the lead as the mass of superheroes engulfed us, and Monica and I found enough strength to move towards them, opening to Mom’s relieved, almost painfully hard hug, and Tobias’ more restrained, formal embrace, neither of them clashing as the rest of the Battle clan closed in around us, smiling and talking. Monica and I were folded in their arms, not even needing to talk; they’d seen what we’d been through for themselves. All their hope and power had been carried with them, and we hadn’t let them down.
I looked over Mom’s shoulder as she claimed me briefly for herself, and blinked in surprise. Chronotrypsis was standing at the edge of the crowd, his pale blue robes and hourglass-topped staff immediately recognizable. He smiled at me and tapped the hourglass. His lips moved, and I thought I saw him say, “You all made the best choice.”
I raised an eyebrow at him, not needing to say anything to tell him, “I damn well hope so.”
Chronotrypsis gave me a very tiny smile and vanished into a fold of space and time. I turned my attention back to my family, not wanting to have to worry about what any of the fallout might be for just a minute. We’d won. We were home. And we’d survived. Somehow I was sure this was going to go down as legend.