The attack in fact came two days later, at what Pulp described as, “Typical Wannabe-Villain time.”.
Most of the team had expected something strategic such as charging when some of the other members were out on patrol, or ambushing Styx during his own. But they took the most predictable, but admittedly dramatic and effective, time; high noon. When it would be brightest and when Styx would have the least number of shadows to work with.
The descent of six magenta spheres of flame heralded their arrival, surrounding the sizable base and banishing nearly every shadow in the vicinity, the light even reaching the sidewalk well past the farthest reaches of the sizable lot in front of the entrance. Styx could still feel a few shadows in the area that they had inadvertently created (excluding the one he was currently standing in, of course), some more useful than others, but he’d wait until the right opportunity to use those.
The group appeared only seconds later; a red circle flashing into existence and suddenly five figures stood just in front of the base, mere meters away from the front steps. They looked to be wearing… costumes, almost Hero-like in how interact they were; Beige pants and thick coats, a red and white emblem of a boar’s head on the chest. One of them, going by general frame was a guy, even had a realistic boar head-helmet. Another was a woman with shoulder length, jet-black hair, there was a man that was completely bald with milky-white eyes similar to Hugh’s human form, another woman with an almost absurd number of freckles and blonde hair, and last was a teenager with brown hair that briefly glowed red.
“The kid is the teleporter.” Spectrum barely whispered the words, mouth moving so minutely the gang members didn’t even see his lips move. But the earpiece he wore was more than capable of picking up the sound and relaying the message to his team.
They all stepped forward and saw that the only Heroes waiting for them there were Spectrum, Obsidian Wraith, Terram, and Pulp. Under the harsh glow of the flame, Terram’s armor shimmer as he stood directly behind his leader.
Spectrum stepped forward, “He-“
“Where’s Styx?” The man with boar head interrupted him, stepping to the front of the gaggle of thugs. “And the rest of the kids.” He added after looking them over again.
Instead of being flustered, Spectrum just shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno, I’m their mentor, not their babysitter. They’re probably just napping in the base.” He said nonchalantly. “You know how kids are these days.”
“So, what, you think you four are enough?” The freckled woman in the back shouted, magenta flames flickering to life between her fingers.
Pulp spoke up then. “I don’t see why not.” She made show of casually looking the group over, making eye contact with each one. “You guys honestly don’t seem like much.”
Powers flared, the flames around them seemed to roil as alive, the texture of the ground warped, and the bald man’s skin shifted to a bleach, bone white and start segmenting as he grew larger. But the masked leader didn’t give the signal to attack, even as his visage became blurry and his limbs seemed to leave twitching after images as he moved. “You sure you want it to be this way?”
“You guys are a lot more hesitant than I thought you’d be.” Spectrum remarked. “But no, we can do this by the book if you want.” The last part the old Hero said with surprisingly conviction as he too stepped forward and adopting an announcer’s voice. “You are all suspected of various crimes and the intention of committing more. To those of you who are innocent, please lay down on the ground right now, and put your hands over your head. I promise to do all I can to ensure you aren’t falsely charged. As for anyone that choses to stay standing; I will take that as a sign of aggression and respond with force.” He raised a hand and a sphere of orange, kinetic energy popped into existence. “You have ten seconds to comply.”
‘Did he seriously just crib Vince’s speech?’ Styx thought. He’d only told the man about Vince puzzling out the secret to that test once, he was surprised that the older Hero had bothered to memorize the words.
This time the gang didn’t bother with power posturing, the woman with flames dancing around her fingers whipped an arm up and one of the fireballs streaked towards Spectrum, straight down the center of the group. Spectrum’s ball of energy met it half way, he’d obviously been expecting something like this, and the subsequent collision created an explosion that made everyone without enhanced durability stagger back.
Both groups jumped into action then; Terram jumped directly up and climbed to the roof of the base, his eyes taking on an orange glare as he used his stamina-sapping ability. Pulp, Spectrum, and Obsidian Wraith jumped or flew off the steps respectively. The White Boar’s enforcers seemed committed to a full-on charge though, despite their targets not being in the way anymore.
But just as the ring leader got a few feet closer, the steps exploded upward in a shower of concrete and dust as Simikiel, Crusader, and Gadreel leapt up to meet them. Lashing out with blades and punches as Styx and Samshiel stayed in the hole hidden beneath the stairs, shadows whipping up and energy barriers forming at the sides of the hole.
All of the attacks hit home… and then harmlessly whiffed through the targets as the image of the gang faded away. The Heroes staggered forward, momentarily stunned by the lack of resistance, but a moment was all that was needed for them to be blinded sided by the gang hitting them mid-charge as they faded into view. Dozens of copies of the man with the boar-head overran them as, what had previously been a bald man, a hulking brute in spike, bone armor launched himself with incredible speed and tackled Terram off the roof, bringing the smaller shifter to the ground behind the base as their fight continued out of sight.
As the oppressive light beat down from above things descended into a proper brawl. There was no time for delicacy as Pulp and Obsidian Wraith jumped into the brawl and Spectrum took pot shots while having to dodge and retaliate the spheres of unnatural flame from the fire woman. The first few duplicates went down in sprays of gore since none of the brawlers held back against the front lines, making Gadreel hesitate briefly, before the bodies evaporated into swirling, mud colored mist less than a second later.
All the while, Styx felt his power quickly become useless. Despite all his experience and training, he was surprised by how quickly things had devolved into a mad scramble. The lances of flame and exploding orbs of energy immediately dispersed any shadows that reached more than a few meters out and he couldn’t make safe strikes into the brawl with how frantically his teammates positions changed.
“Don’t bother.” Samshiel said before making three more barriers to further block off the angled, rectangle shaped hole from the duplicator crated horde of enemies. “I’ll try to get in some my own licks.” His four remaining orbs streaked towards the remaining members of the gang that seemed content to hang back; the woman with black hair that had her mouth open in a silent scream, the boy, and the flame thrower. …And missed by an almost meter wide margin.
“What?” Samshiel said with a frown, before narrowing his eyes and bringing them around for another pass. This time Styx saw Samshiel’s become glassy just before he missed by the same margin.
“Right back at you.” Styx grunted as, instead of lashing out, he just materialized shadows and had them coiled at the ready. The motion was unconscious and unnecessary as the shadows would move at the same speed regardless.
Suddenly the copies seemed to double in number, the misty multi-limb affect briefly engulfing all of them before another copy flowed out from each. Eight suddenly began piling up against the shield, letting six others clamber over them even as the strongwomen of their team tried to mow through the horde as fast as possible. Four duplicates managed to clamber over the perfectly smooth barriers even as Samshiel expanded the barrier and Simikiel cut through the ones acting as a human bridge, staggering uncharacteristically near the end of her flurry of strikes.
‘Samshiel missed by a far wider margin. Is the power making them miss proximity based?” Styx contemplated before refocusing his attention.
The shadow wielder didn’t hesitate, shadows whipping up and slicing apart the duplicates before they even hit the ground. The brief scenes of bisection, decapitation, and evisceration disturbing him before the bodies evaporated mid-fall in a swirl of colored mist. The brief breach of their defenses managed to shock Styx’s brain back into a more offensive direction. ‘Playing it safe from a distance isn’t working, we need to get out of this hole and try a new approach and take out some of their members. Need to shake their confidence and coordination.’ Styx thought.
But before the Hero could voice his idea the flame thrower made the choice of whether to evacuate for them as a fireball streaked down into the pit and scorched a quarter of the concrete hiding place. Samshiel covered his face and stepped back, but Styx’s suit let him handle the residual flash of heat and force better.
“You need to get us up and above.” Styx said as he grabbed his teammate by the forearm, acting on a spark of inspiration.
Samshiel nodded and simply said, “Jump when I do.”, before immediately jumping as high as he could. Styx followed as quick as he could, not getting as much height due to the weight of his costume, but got enough to land on the barrier Samshiel crated bellow them as he simultaneously dismissed the ones surrounding the pit, letting the duplicates that had been pounding against it fall in as they rose into the air. They couldn’t stay in the air long, however, as the fire throwing woman had found a way to keep Spectrum busy while being able to fire with impunity.
Walls of fire kept appearing in front of the Hero leader’s line of sight of her, reappearing as soon as his energy blasts destroyed them, regardless of the type he used the impact always resulted in an explosion. Blowing through them by ramping up with raw power might have been an option if the battle was more spread out, but as things stood, he’d put both himself and his team in the blast radius if the bursts of destructive energy got any larger.
The fact that Spectrum’s shots were as accurate as ever only confirmed Styx’s suspicions as he was the farthest away from main fight.
The woman herself had a confident look on her freckled face, a grin making her long nose even more pronounced as she held out one hand in the direction of Spectrum, presumably to keep up the reappearing-wall act. While in her other she held what looked like a staff of fire as tall as she was, which she had no hesitation in flicking towards the two young men’s direction as soon as they were directly above the brawl.
Instead of the fireball they’d been expecting, the length of fire extended towards them like a whip and the flame seemed to flare as it moved. Samshiel needed no prompting to immediately tilt the platform down while forming another shield where they’d previously been. The resulting boom from the shield blocking the fire-whip was jarring, but not nearly as much as Samshiel suddenly swerving at an angle just as they were about to land.
Styx managed to tuck and roll with the landing-turned-crash, but Samshiel practically ate the asphalt as he fell. He quickly rolled to his feet, but was still visibly unsteadied by the landing, a gash on his jaw bleeding steadily and stanning his costume. They stood just outside of the fire-woman’s line of sight, the brawl between the duplicator and the others seeming to tip in their favor as Obsidian Wraith reconfigured her arm to act as a whip, killing multiples at once, although the aiming disruption that still made her miss or only injure most.
“I’ve got a plan.” Styx told his fellow ranged Hero over the roar of more explosions as three duplicates managed to break off and charge them.
“What is it?” Samshiel asked, flicking a risk and obliterating the skulls of two of the three that charged them with a series of orbs, an electrical blast from Spectrum briefly making his hair stand on end.
“Um,” Styx said as he dodged the clumsy punch of boar-head, whipped out his knife, and buried it hilt deep into the neck area, nearly decapitating the double with the unmistakably sound of flesh being cauterized sounding out. The talking while being attacked and the, albeit brief, gore was getting to him, he needed to focus. “Try hitting the fire lady twice, make it flashy, then go for the kid beside the screaming woman.”
Smashiel nodded and ran out to get a line of sight on the target, Styx immediately following his lead as they both attacked with only a second’s delay between their barrages. A hail of mini-eclipses streaked down toward the fire woman while short shadows of the duplicates themselves lashed out towards her, both attacks missing by several feet. Styx felt the feeling of the aim disruption this time, the feeling was barely noticeable, like vertigo mixed with the weightlessness of floating in water. The sensation came just as mental switch in his brain directed his ability.
Pushing past the sensation, they didn’t pause to react to the sneer on her face and, instead Samshiel manifested his orbs again but this time had them streak in horizontally from all directions while Styx tried another shadow strike. The woman with magenta fire dispersed the shadow with a flick of her staff with contemptuous ease while all the orbs missed her by inches. The woman beside her, mouth still open in a silent scream, turned her profile slightly more towards the fire manipulator. The rapid succession of attacks was still a little too intense as teen who had been staring wide-eyed at the bloody brawl took several quick steps away from what he thought was the Heroes’ target.
That was the moment when Styx and Samshiel launched their real attacks.
All twenty orbs came in at almost every angle; vertical, horizontal, and everything in between. And the shadows from all three figures lanced out, and one from a sewer tunnel beneath them burst up through the ground and swiped as well. ‘Might as well use the trick now to ensure a win.’ Styx resolved to himself.
Every attack was aimed towards the boy’s legs, neither man quite ready to use lethal force yet, and almost all of them missed. Almost. As Styx had guessed the aiming-disruption was limited by range or where the Super was focusing. But it still had an effect, so instead of having completely ruined legs, the brown hair kid only got lacerated calves from Styx’s shadows and a perforated knee from one of the orbs.
Styx grinned behind his helmet as they darted back behind the dying brawl, the duplicates had tried to split again, but it looked like the improved speed at which Obsidian Wraith was going through them disrupted the action. There was a roar from behind the base as Terram came bounding back into view, gouges in his armor and shallows wounds on his hands and feet that bled a dull brown. The bone man was hot on his heels, but at least looked a little banged up, cracks in the bone armor apparent as it stomped after Terram. A sense of renewed confidence sparked in the interns as their team came back together; an old, engrained, human instinct of trusting strength in numbers settling in.
That is until the silent woman opened her mouth wider, to what looked like a painful degree, and then suddenly the flitting feeling of vertigo and weightlessness increased sharply for every Hero. Just for a second, maybe two, but it lasted just long enough that all the Heroes were taken off guard when the ground turned into festering, brown flesh. Bulbous, leathery tendrils grew out from the writhing mass and mouths as big as manhole covers with yellowed fangs grinded their teeth with a fervor.
‘Ah, I forgot about the Super that made the initial illusion.’ Styx thought just as the teeth stopped gnashing.
Then those horrific mouths opened to a size that would dislocate jaws and the earth screamed.