Loren’s Apartment, 5:30 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
Loren leaned back against the table and pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose; Emma, now with her mask off, watched him quietly.
Number 21 just died, which meant he had all of three homunculi left-two of them stuck in the heroes HQ with muddied connections, and one left hiding in the city.
There were two ways this could go, depending on whether or not he was visible in whatever method they were using to track the homunculi. Either they would take out 21 and then call it a day.
Or they would be coming here next.
“Fuck,” Loren said quietly.
“What happened?” Emma asked quickly.
“The heroes having been running around killing all my guys all day, and there’s only one left,” Loren said distractedly, “They might be coming here next-”
The world shook, and a wave of force washed over them, shattering the windows and sending them both tumbling to the side. Loren managed to score his arm on the table in the process; the long gash immediately started bleeding. There was a series of other waves, not necessarily weaker, but further away.
“Was that the explosives?” Emma said horrified.
Loren coughed as the dust entered his mouth the second he tried to speak before he pulled his shirt up to cover his mouth.
“Yeah,” Loren managed, “Either they fucked up the disarming, or whoever set them must have decided to act earlier.”
The two presences in the Hero HQ had been erased by fire and force; that was as much as he’d gotten before they were both gone. 21 was still alive, surprisingly enough, but it was also trapped under about eight floors of concrete, and debris-digging itself out wasn’t going to be a simple task.
“They even managed to get bombs under the goddamn heroes?” Loren said in frustration.
Emma swallowed at the implication of his sentence, and he made no move to confirm it. Who the hell was doing this? What was the point of killing so many people?
Was the target the heroes-or something else?
There had been at least ten bombs-the noises had become pretty indecipherable after that- if they only wanted to get the heroes, and they could apparently get them under the building-why attack the rest of the city?
Loren shook his head and climbed to his feet, pushing the kitchen chair away from himself in the process.
“I’m going to go try and help save people,” Loren said wearily, staring at where Emma was still kneeling under the table. “Could you sense someone buried under a building?”
Emma crawled out and stood up.
“I should be able to,” Emma said quietly, looking at the empty window frame with dread.
“It’s going to be bad out there,” Loren sighed, “Come on, then, people need help; let’s go be heroes.”
Emma mumbled something about being a villain, but she still pulled her mask back on and followed him to the door. The railing where Mark had accidentally killed him was gone, shattered, and lying on the floor far below them.
He tried not to look at it for too long.
“Loren?” Sparklite said quietly, “You said you told the heroes about the bombs?”
Loren glanced over at her before shaking his head at the unasked question.
“I found them several days ago,” Loren admitted; it was a half-truth at best. “I was going to try and resolve it by myself-superhero syndrome at it’s best, but I realized I was out of my depth pretty quickly.”
Sparklite’s follow-up question was put on hold as they stepped out onto the street.
“Oh god,” Emma said weakly, voice cracking.
The city was burning.
Thick pillars of roiling black smoke rose into the air, blanketing the city in shadow. There wasn’t a window insight that was spread out over the ground next to its frame-a billion glittering pieces lining the sidewalk.
The most startling fact was that they had been at most two blocks away from the edge of one of the more damaged areas.
“I’m going to start making more homunculi, don’t freak out,” Loren forced himself to speak. “Can you feel anybody in that building?”
He pointed to the closest ruined mass of concrete, wood, and smoke. A hand clawed it’s way out of his stomach and pulled it’s way free.
“Holy shit!” Sparklite squeaked in terror and took a step away from him. “What the fuck, Loren!”
Loren ignored her and immediately started forcing Number 1 to start multiplying. A series of limbs started tearing their way free of it, dragging themselves onto the asphalt and settling into a stumbling run towards the rubble.
“Emma,” Loren said firmly, “Can you sense anyone?”
“R-right!” Emma said quickly before turning and running in the same direction as his pale, faceless army.
Loren followed her at a jog, still growing his army-he’d lost count of how many he had made already, but he could still feel them all as sparks of light in his mind, like an ever-growing field of stars. They all had the same purpose, to save as many people as they could, to listen to Emma’s instructions, and he made sure to include a ‘without hurting anyone’ clause in there, too, given how badly the bomb situation had gone.
“There are-ten-people just below ground level there, and two more splits off from the group there,” Emma called urgently, “There’s another group right there, and a single person there.”
The homunculi army started moving in her direction, spreading out into groups. They started stabbing their hands into the ground-digging through solid concrete like it was sand, and in a matter of moments, they were at least a meter deep.
Loren was worried that he would end up killing people while trying to get to them, but there was no other option. There was too much damage, too many people in the city being crushed, suffocated, or burnt alive right now.
He needed to get as many as he could out while they were still breathing. He started growing a second group, this one tasked with putting out the fires, and it didn’t take him long to realize he had no idea how to do that effectively. The nearest source of water that was actually accessible right now was halfway across the city.
He started sending the homunculi directly into the fires to literally try smothering them or removing the burning material by hand to stack in more controlled locations on the road. The homunculi luckily were durable enough to stand in the fire without being harmed.
Emma was still moving around between them, giving them targets to save.
The first group had managed to uncover the room that was filled with the largest group of people and slowly, carefully, started passing them up between them. Loren flinched as he saw the state of the first person ‘saved,’ and the three that followed showed that it wasn’t an exception. How they were still alive was a mystery he didn’t want to solve, but he was glad they weren’t awake.
“Emma, do you know any first aid?” Loren called, forcing himself to approach one of the people on the road.
Loren was starting to wish he’d taken one of those short courses-not that he thought it would help here, these people needed a hospital-and right now, Setalite City looked like it was missing a few of them.
“I know CPR,” Emma called back, moving towards them. “Oh-”
Loren turned his attention to where one of his guys just died, frowning; he hadn’t seen how it happened, neither did any of the others nearby, too focused on their own tasks. Emma was still painting the road with her breakfast when the second one died.
Loren almost couldn’t believe it.
“Were under attack?” Loren gritted his teeth. “Can’t they see we’re trying to fucking help people?”
Three more died in quick succession, some kind of blue energy lashed through the air, and one of his homunculi saw a curved blade attached to a long blue chain before it died. Whatever the blue energy was, it was sharp enough to cut through even their superdurable exteriors.
Loren started multiplying as many as he could near where the attacks were happening and sent them to capture the attacker. Fuck he’d heard of this one-some kind of energy manipulator; what was her name again?
“Sparklite,” Loren said distractedly, “Who’s the ninja woman from Ascent? The one with the blue energy?”
“Her name is Crescent.” Emma groaned and pushed herself back to her feet. “Ascent is here? I thought they’d be using the destruction to steal everything that isn’t nailed down.”
None of the other members had made their presence known, and hopefully, it stayed that way. They were a group of heavy hitters, all villains, the leader of the group was a Hydrokinetic by the name of ‘Liquid.’
Crescent was one of the stronger members-and it was showing because his Homunculi were dying in droves against the ludicrously fast woman. He was getting better at using the strange sensory feedback to see what was going on, and it was disheartening.
Crescent was a blur of motion, faster than even the superhuman automatons by a large degree, she could create footholds with her energy and change direction suddenly and without warning; her energy weapon changed forms between attacks, a long thin blade, a Kusarigama, a bow, and everything in-between.
The hundreds of chalk-white hands trying to get a hold of her never came close-Number 302, who he had sent up onto the building above her, started multiplying, and a rain of his creations started diving off the roof towards her. Crescent lashed her arm out to the side, and a flickering curl of blue light spiraled away from her before spearing straight into a building down the street, and then the cord went taut.
Crescent vanished with a crack, reappearing feet first against the shattered wall on the side of a hollowed-out frame of a building-hundreds of meters away. A blue sword flickered into existence below her staked into the wall, and she stepped down onto it before raising her hand.
The thousands of homunculi tore down the street towards her, flooding the street with their numbers; others rushed along the top of the ruined buildings, diving across the gaps.
Thousand’s of blue needles appeared in the air around the ninja, with more appearing by the second, until the entire building was blocked from view by the sheer mass of her constructs.
Loren swallowed and didn’t even manage a single step before Sparklite, crackling with her own energy, grabbed him, and jumped. The ground drew away from him in an instant, and Emma cracked the roof of his apartment building when she landed on it.
His own ankle exploded with pain as it hit the ground a second later-it folded beneath him, broken or worse. Even with the agony racing through him, he couldn’t turn away from the wall of needles as they began erasing everything in front of them.
They flashed forward into streaks of light, tearing through walls, buildings, and homunculi-and kept ongoing. The already barely standing buildings tumbled to the ground in a million pieces, and Loren felt every single automaton he had sent towards her vanish.
A flash of pain up his leg told him that holding himself up wasn’t going to happen any time soon. He lifted his injured leg to keep it from touching the ground, and Sparklite ducked under his shoulder, holding him up with her arm around his waist.
The block in front of Crescent was pretty much gone.
“Fucking hell,” Loren gritted out, “She just killed all those people! What the fuck is she doing?”
He hadn’t had the time to get all the injured people they had dug up out of the way, and there was no way any of them had survived that.
“I-I know her… We’ve done some jobs together,” Emma said, crying, “She’s not-this isn’t what she’s normally like! Crescent doesn’t kill people; she’s really sweet normally; this is totally out of character…”
“It’s what she’s like right this very moment; I don’t think you can talk her down right now; she must have her own reasons.” Loren managed to meet her eyes, “We need to go, Emma; she wants to kill us-or me at least given she is attacking my guys.”
“Y-yeah. Okay..” Emma said shakily, wiping at her face. “Let’s just go.”
Loren brought 461 up to help carry him, and they started heading away from where Crescent was absolutely slaughtering everything in her path. Loren had to start doubling every single one of the remaining homunculi at once just to keep the woman’s attention.
The horde was being killed as fast as he could make it, and the last thing Loren saw before the buildings blocked his view was a growing pool of blue energy above the battle.
The sound that followed made him distinctly aware that he wasn’t a big fish in this pond-hell he probably wasn’t even a medium fish. None of the powers he had so far would have been a match for Crescent.
An empty house, 7:09 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
They kept on moving until the cacophony of destruction behind them finally stopped, and Emma dragged him into an empty house with a for sale sign out the front.
“This is your second break and enters today,” Loren managed a weak joke through the pain. “I’m going to have to report you to the authorities.”
Emma huffed quietly before she kicked the door hard enough to shatter the lock and helped him inside; she helped him sit down, halfway across the empty entryway.
“Idiot,” Emma mumbled before laying down on the carpet beside him. “What do we do about everything? I’m pretty sure she destroyed our apartment building in that second attack..”
“She’s still hunting down my guys, but I started sending them out in every direction,” Loren sighed, “We can’t win a straight-up fight against her, so our best option is to avoid her location, but it’s also put a stop to our rescue operations.”
He’d had plenty of time to think about her motives on the way over, and it wasn’t that hard to come up with a plausible reason. The news had been talking about the fight at the Hero HQ all day and that he was wanted for questioning in connection with an ‘active threat’ to the city.
Crescent was fighting without her team and willing to kill all those people around her when she usually had a no-kill rule. Her teammates must have been injured or killed in the explosions, and he was the only suspect-so she went out looking for the faceless, chalk-white guys and went to town on them.
If all of his friends had been killed in such a sketchy situation-well, he wouldn’t go on a murderous rampage, but he could easily follow the chain of thought she used to get there. May have used anyway, his speculation was unconfirmed, he certainly wasn’t going to go back and ask her where her team was.
Loren flinched when he twisted his leg slightly; yep, it hadn’t miraculously healed in the last five minutes. He needed to get a hold of some painkillers or something, he could send some of his guys-
That muddled feeling he’d encountered from one of the Hero’s had returned, this time on one of the groups he had sent across the city.
“Shit.” Loren groaned in frustration, “We’re being tracked again, by the Hero’s, I think.”
He said we’re, but it was really only him wasn’t it? Emma could just duck away and hide; they had no way to track her.
“Fuck,” Emma said nervously, “Do we need to move again?”
There was no point in both of them moving.
“You should split off, find somewhere safe to stay, or just leave the city entirely. This place is an apocalypse zone right now; I’ll stay here and keep making more guys, try and give them too many targets to track in a reasonable amount of time,” Loren said frowning, he could just flood the city, try and save who he could before they found him. “Besides, while they can track my position from the homunculi, but they have no idea about you.”
“No,” Emma said quietly, as soon as he stopped talking. “I’m not leaving you here to get killed.”
“Emma, the heroes aren’t going to kill me, and Crescent won’t be able to find me,” Loren said confidently, even though he was pretty sure his name was on every kill list available at this point. “I’ll be fine, just go-go on get out of here-you’ll just slow me down anyway.”
He smirked at her, but she wasn’t falling for any of his shit this time; instead, she just turned onto her side and held her face up with her hand.
“No,” Emma repeated, glaring.
“You’re ruining my sacrificial hero moment, dummy,” Loren whined, wincing again as he moved his leg into a more comfortable position. “Fine, if you’re going to insist on being my beast of burden-”
“Hey!” Emma squawked. “I’m not a horse!”
“Clip-clop your way over to that pharmacy two streets back,” Loren said smugly, reaching out to pat her on the head. “Find me some painkillers? Good horsey.”
Emma pushed herself back up to her feet and narrowed her eyes down at him for a long moment.
“I’ll make sure to get suppositories, the really big ones,” Emma said seriously, spinning on her foot and heading out the door. “Don’t worry, Loren; I’ll help you get them in.”
He stared after her in disbelief, completely shocked.
“You better not!” Loren cried in outrage. “Emma! You’re not sticking anything in my butt! Emma!”
Even from inside, he could hear her laughing.