Lindsay was the first to reach Sam. She lead with a roundhouse kick, then twisted into a follow-up knee to the face. Without Lindsay’s speed, Sam couldn’t dodge the attacks, but every time they almost connected, the air shimmered inches from the surface, making the effort looked like a badly choreographed action movie. Sam dug her feet into the ground, the marble cracking beneath her, giving her traction against Lindsay’s onslaught. She didn’t budge.
Allen slammed his fist into the ground right beside Sam. It quaked and split in all directions, causing Sam’s anchor to crumble. From his crouched position, he shot into the sky. His fist connected with Sam’s jaw, and the kinetic force drove her up and backward. She did an aerial twist and landed on her feet, unharmed.
Her arms thrust forward. She may have been unable to affect their minds due to the Elves’ spellcasting, but her telekinetic blast packed a force that matched the paragons’ strength. Lindsay lost control and spun into the air. Allen’s heels dug furrows in the marble, now dull without its iridescent light, before he tripped and fell prone.
Marcus took a deep breath as he focused his energy gathering abilities. He raised his hands and orbs of electricity shot from his palms like bullets from a gatling gun. They bounced off Sam, but she ignored him in favor of a bigger threat.
Eric had had enough. His suit was built to fight the super powered, to neutralize them and even kill them. Though the specific sound frequency that nullified Gifted powers had been purged from the system, he nonetheless remained a force to be reckoned with.
“Power rerouted to weapons systems, armed and online. Targeting. Psionic shield detected. Calculating frequency required to counter shield. Calculations complete.”
Eric fired. The sound rippled through the air, but shadows sprung forth and coalesced around him. Everything went dark.
“Warning. Interference detected. Sensors compromised.”
“I admit, Mr. Herrington, I was rather surprised when you took lead on the investigation,” Sam said smoothly. “It was a contingency I had not prepared for. I needn’t have been concerned. You lack the request intellect to challenge me.” Twin thumps sounded on her shield, still holding strong. Eric couldn’t see anything, but he presumed Lindsay and Allen were attempting to battle her again.
“And believe me,” Sam continued. “It is only intellect that could challenge me. Your physical prowess, even combined, means nothing without a mind behind it.”
Eric grit his teeth. He could hear Marcus firing at her, but that wouldn’t do any good either, not unless he had the time to gather the energy.
“However, even a mindless monkey with a weapon can be dangerous. I cannot allow you to live.”
Eric’s heart thumped as the sound of the threat hit his ears. Wait. Sound! “Vorg, visual targeting may be down, but audio sensors still work. Use echolocation to track Sam and translate that into a mind map so I can blow the ever loving shit out of her.”
“Excellent idea, Eric. Calculating. Calculations complete.”
A grainy image flickered before Eric’s eyes—no, in his mind. He couldn’t see well—it was like finding a shadowed outline in a black, empty void.
“Quickly, Eric! Zzzx—zouter defenses comprimizzxtz—”
He could feel the icy fingers of the Shadow Fae digging into his suit. It was a self-contained life-support system, and given the opportunity, could keep him alive in space, but the tiny, persistent assault of the Fae burrowed in like acid. He had to clear his mind and destroy Sam’s suit. There! He targeted what he was sure would be Sam. “Load in that shield-destroying frequency and give her hell!”
The sound blasted into his target, and it flung back, bouncing off a wall, and into a heap on the ground. He could only hope to God it really was Sam.
He only had a moment to think that before his vision went dark again. Fear struck his heart. “Vorg? Vorg!” There was no response from his suit.
Piercing light struck his eyes, and cool air tingled on his skin an instant before fiery pain lanced into his arms, legs, and stomach, followed by the spreading warmth of open wounds. He might have screamed, but he couldn’t hear his own voice past the sharp agony of every joint in his body dislocating at once. Darkness swallowed him once again, and he couldn’t breathe. White light flashed in his eyes, but he knew that, this time, it was just his brain shutting down. He no longer cared. He just wanted it all to stop.
* * * *
“Eric!” Charity scream shredded her throat as it closed up in fear. She was supposed to be targeting the Fae. You idiot! You let them past you. This is all your fault!
Reason didn’t even have time to tell her that the damned creatures could teleport before she bolted toward Eric—the man she loved. Her feet couldn’t carry her fast enough. Charity could barely see him through the horde of shadow creatures, but what she did see turned her stomach. Two grabbed each leg and twisted, while three others snapped an elbow. Three more twisted his other arm behind his back until a sickening, bloody snap broke a compound fracture through the skin. Shadows snaked all round him, slicing red ribbons through his loose t-shirt and dress pants.
I’ve got to stop them! She shot bolt after bolt at them, but where one fell, another Fae took its place.
Sam was down, for the moment, but struggling to her feet. Allen gave up on her in favor of lending Eric a hand. His mighty strength tore the creatures from the fallen businessman, but even he would soon be overwhelmed.
“Allen!” Lindsay screamed. “Leave him! We’ve got to get Sam!” She bolted into a running attack.
It was too late. Samantha Clive returned to her feet, and the air shimmered as her shield returned. Lindsay bounced off the shield, and Sam caught her in a telekinetic grasp, slamming her repeatedly into the ground. Lindsay clawed at the nothing that held her. It would take a while to strangle a paragon, but in time, even Sprite would succumb to such an assault.
“Shit!” Jayson shouted. “Meryl, back them—”
His command came too late. A single Fae popped out from nowhere and clobbered the girl on the head before she could mimic any invulnerability.
“They’re all over the place,” Charity sobbed to no one but herself. She scanned the battlefield. An army of unmatched strength ruled. The Elves defended their homeland well, but they were surprised and uncoordinated. The Fae fought with unparalleled valor, a single mind delivering a relentless onslaught. Mitch and Liam peppered them with fire blasts, and Marcus followed Allen’s lead in defending the fallen hero, but it wasn’t enough. He didn’t have enough power.
You can stop this. Something calm whispered from her center.
I can’t! I can’t! Another sob escaped her lips, tears blinding her to the carnage.
You can. And you will. Eric will die if you don’t. You remember Eric, don’t you?
She didn’t. She couldn’t. Try as she might, she couldn’t recall a single moment that happened outside of the last few weeks since she woke up.
You said you’d find a way back. You remember that? You promised. Why? Why, in your heart of hearts would you have promised to find a way back to him? Think, Charity! Your brain may not remember, but the heart doesn’t forget! Trust that feeling!
“I can’t.” This time she said it out loud, muttering to herself. “I don’t know how.”
You’ve done this before. Marcus said I turned into this big ball of electricity, do that again!
But how? How do I do that?
It seemed so simple. In all the stories Charity had ever read—and there were so many of them—the way to gain true power, true control, was to let go. She clenched and unclenched her fists, but her stomach tightened when Eric cried out again and lay still in the Fae’s stranglehold. Let go.
Electricity sparked at her fingertips and arched over her back. Her hair stood on end. Power welled up inside her. She imagined it like a big ball in her chest, and with a groan, she pushed it out. Agony pierced her, like someone had driven a javelin through her heart. She couldn’t breathe. Terror gripped her. Oh God! Oh God, it hurts! Every fiber of her being screamed at her to stop, that she was going to die, that this was the end. It felt like her head was sitting at the edge of an explosion.
You can make this stop. Just relax. Stop pushing. Get yourself under control. Who cares if they’re all going to die?
With a terrible scream, Charity pushed her power out further. Wave after wave of unimaginable torment gripped her, spasming through her body. She felt as if she was being torn apart, each atom separating from itself—and in a way, it was.
And it unleashed the storm within.
She understood it, suddenly. The biochemical process that had wormed her way through her brain, blocking off the memories that were so dear to her. A nefarious parasite. It gripped her mind—controlled her.
The energy being vaporized the foreign substance, atomized it, turned it into even more power. Then that being turned her attention on the battlefield.
She had a purpose, that much she knew. As she beheld the chaos dispassionately, she found herself curious as to what it was. To destroy…something. Everything. That must be it.
She must destroy everything.