“My oh my, what a treat,” the cancerous monstrosity spoke, his voice unnaturally normal compared to his appearance, save for a slight slur. “I was wondering what I’d get when my little friend here,” he made the half-absorbed man raise his sole remaining arm like a kid in school, “warned me that someone was preparing an attack – but who would’ve thought it’d be you guys.” He chuckled, looking around at his assembled foes without even having to turn his head – his main gaze, so to speak, was focused on Pucelle, who’d after all just managed to cut him off of Sol-Sol. Meanwhile, Chantal was cursing their luck – they’d specifically waited until now with their attack because they’d believed he wouldn’t have any powers other than his own anymore!
“Adolphe, old friend. So nice to see you again. I hope you’re not still sore at me for breaking your legs, last time we met,” the hulking monstrosity said in a conversational tone.
“Hardly, Abel,” Phalange said back, as more and more of himself flooded in, until all sixteen of his fractals were present and accounted for, surrounding the Blackguard – who didn’t seem to mind. “I am rather sore about you killing poor Fureur – she was just thirteen.”
The Blackguard… ‘Abel’ shrugged, a disgustingly unhinged sight as his misshapen shoulders moved as if the command to do so arrived a little quicker at one side than the other. “Perhaps you shouldn’t have allowed a little girl like that to think she was a superhero. Should’ve kept her out of the fight, you know?”
Phalange’s mouth twisted downwards in a frown. “You attacked her school!” he almost shouted at the man. “There was no one else there to protect the children! She was a hero attending school, and she defended it!”
“Eh,” Abel brushed him off. “You shouldn’t put her too much on a pedestal. I ended up breaking into the school through the bathroom, where your little hero was busy playing the flute of a boy at least four years older than herself.” He grinned obscenely. “To be fair, though, fighting a thirteen-year-old girl with her panties still around her ankle is the kind of experience I never expected t-“
“Be quiet already, you degenerate Disgrace of a man!” Phalange screamed, and all sixteen of him charged the Blackguard at the same time, before anyone else had any chance to react.
Chantal, who had just managed to manifest her third turret, cursed under her breath, but she knew it was futile to hold him back – Fureur’s death was a sore spot for him at the best of times, and the Blackguard knew which buttons to push; though she was rather surprised to learn the two of them had known each other well enough to be on a first name basis. Nevertheless, Phalange was not going to be deterred anymore.
At least Phalange’s immune to his power, she thought as she fired a volley of three metal bullets, aiming for the reforming limb, tearing off the flesh he was pushing out to reform the appendage before it could solidify.
The monster cried out, gleefully, as he rotated on the spot with his whole limb – the spears that had, just moments ago, transfixed it to the ceiling still stuck just below the elbow – whirling around, knocking two fractals to the ground while everyone else dodged by stepping back or leaping over it – except for Sol-Sol, who was still on the ground, unconscious, and Pucelle, who leapt onto the fallen heroine’s prone form as if to shield her with her slender slip of a body.
Chantal had kicked off the ground, sailing over the bone-shattering limb backwards, wildly firing her bullets in the direction of the Blackguard’s face (even he could not possibly survive massive brain damage), though her power was too inaccurate while in motion to really have a chance of the kind of critical hit they needed to put him down in time.
Instead, she watched in horror – and upside down – how the limb slammed into Pucelle’s side as she landed on all fours over Sol-Sol… and simply slid over her back without even budging her.
What the… no, no time! She landed on her hands, flipping back onto her feet; at the same time, Phalange closed the distance with the surprised-looking Blackguard, no less than eight fractals tackling the man so violently from one side he was slammed towards the inner wall of the office building, tearing open a long tear in the floor under their feet.
And then Casque Vert closed in and punched both of his gnarled arms into their enemy’s chest at an angle from above, driving him into the wall and closer to the floor.
Almost immediately, the Blackguard’s flesh reached into the wood, merging with it, knitting it to his body, far better at doing so with living material than with inanimate matter – but Casque Vert simple twisted his arms, snapping his own elbows.
Which caused his main power to kick in – from the breaking point, his arms regenerated near–instantly with such force, they caused an audible boom as they drove his half-integrated forearms against their enemy’s chest; and while that would normally have served well to shoot two arm-sized holes into almost anyone’s chest, the fact that they had partially fused with him gave Casque Vert what he needed to instead smash him through wall and floor, and into the lower level.
The plant-man leapt into the resulting hole and towards him, screaming “Onwards, my friends!” as he landed with a foot on each of the Blackguard’s shoulders, which were so grossly engorged by now by all the additional material drawn up from below that even the huge hero had to spread his legs to land properly.
Though Chantal couldn’t see his face, she knew him well enough to imagine him sporting a savage grin as he snapped his own knees with a practiced motion.
His legs immediately grew back, catapulting him back where he came from as the angular position of his limbs caused them to tear the Blackguard’s shoulders off.
Chantal didn’t hesitate and started firing with all three turrets as soon as Casque Vert had cleared her line of fire, shooting into the space in between his shoulders and his torso, tearing through the reaching tendrils of flesh and nerves trying to reconnect them, breaking his jaw and crushing an eye.
Pucelle and no less than ten of Phalange leapt down to enter the fray, the young girl falling in a curiously weightless-seeming manner, while four more fractals took up positions around Chantal to provide protection, and the remaining two ran for Sol-Sol to get her to someone who might be able to save her life.
Ten supernaturally sharp spears bit into the snake-like form made of exposed muscle, bones and rotting patches of skin in all colours and hues, one sword with inner circuitry glowing blue sank into a twisted knot of muscle about a meter below the Blackguard’s torso, flaring with blue-white light once she pushed the button again to repel the flesh reaching into the item and half-bisecting their quarry as she swung to the right.
But for all of that, the Blackguard only seemed amused, grinning savagely as he used his intact limb to strike, not at the heroes attempting to take him apart but rather, at the walls around them.
Before Phalange or Pucelle or anyone could stop him, he’d torn through the supporting walls around him and the entire inner part of the building collapsed in on itself, right on top of the fighters.
Chantal cried out as she lost her footing, but the fractals around her grabbed her, leaping backwards just barely in time to avoid falling down. The two who’d been just about to get Sol-Sol to safety had to scramble instead to avoid the collapsing floor.
Dust rose along with a hideous cacophony of stones grinding against and crushing one another.
When it was over, the building had been gutted, only the outer walls still standing with a few pieces of floor along the edges still remaining on every level. Even the roof above had caved in, creating an oddly serene effect as dust danced in the rays of moonlight from above.
“Pucelle!” Chantal shouted, before she had a coughing fit. Next to her, the remaining fractals looked searchingly for any signs of the young heroine, while Casque Vert took a heavy step to join them at the edge, looking down as the dust cleared to reveal a mass of rubble and no sign of the two metahumans.
“Do you think she’s still alive?” Phalange asked, his shields all raised, spears ready to strike at a moment’s notice, though each of him – all six still up there with them – were now covered in cuts and bruises, their costumes mostly ruined as the damage done to the fractals below was shared in equal measure among them.
“Should be. Girl may look like a reed, but she’s tough as hell,” the pot-headed man replied as he flexed his arms just in time for the rubble to stir, then to burst, revealing…
The bloody, cancerous form of the Blackguard, rising up out of the collapsed building like a hideous, humanoid snake. He had to have been drawing flesh back from across the street, because his head, neck and part of his chest looked like his own again, those of a reasonably attractive man in his early thirties, his head topped by messy, sticky brown hair that had been neither cut nor washed in quite a while, covering most of his shoulders and neck around the head in tangled clumps.
“Two down, three more to go!” he shouted with undisguised glee, pointing at them with his newly restored limb. “Don’t think being immune to my power is going to save you, Ado-“
The rubble beneath him suddenly exploded with such force, the shrapnel would probably have hurt Fusillade badly, if Phalange’s shields hadn’t been up and protecting her. A quick glance showed her that Sol-Sol was also safe, before she looked at the source of the explosion.
The rubble between them and the Blackguard had been blown away, with some molten bits still lying around. Within an empty circle stood Pucelle, her sword somehow… bigger? No, not quite – more channels had opened on the blade, branching off from the central one to reveal even more circuitry underneath, the resulting shift expanding the blade considerably. A red-orange glow emanated from the circuitry, which quickly faded back to its previous blue-white colour as she let go of the fourth button at the grip, the blade pulling itself together again.
“Nice trick,” the Blackguard said, looking down from on high at the already slim girl. “A shame gearheads like you are useless to me.”
The girl flourished her sword, pointing it straight at him – but her gaze seemed to wander, her head turning left and right instead of facing her enemy, as if searching for something.
“She probably has a plan,” Casque Vert whispered. “Or at least I hope she does, because I sure don’t, and you guys don’t seem to have one yet, either.” He turned his head to look at them. “Let’s buy her some time, shall we?” And he leaned forward before snapping his knees, launching himself at the enemy.
“Fine by me!” Phalange said grimly, still visibly enraged by the Blackguard’s earlier words, and all of him, save for one standing by Chantal and one by Sol-Sol, leapt down onto the rubble and ran around the Blackguard to flank him.
So now we’re betting on the newbie, Chantal thought to herself, but she didn’t voice it – there was no point, anyway. Instead, she aimed as well as she could with her three turrets (sometimes, she managed a fourth one and, on one occasion, she’d even managed to manifest five at once – but today was not one of those days, it seemed) and started to shoot again, aiming high so she wouldn’t accidentally hit the others.
“Again? Guys, you can’t beat me, I can take anything you can dish out!” the Blackguard shouted, shooting several tendrils made of muscles and nerves into the rubble around him.
With a twist of his upper body, he heaved two long arms made of concrete, rebar, copper and wood, held together by flesh and nerves, and struck at Phalange, knocking most of his fractals back.
“At least try and make this interesting, will you!?” He struck at Casque Vert, but missed as the plant-man twisted in mid-air to kick off the huge, mostly inanimate limb.
As the Blackguard swung his body around, he used the momentum to strike at Pucelle – but the girl was ready and raised her blade, pushing the third button as she brought an overhead strike against the attack; it was almost comical, as the limb was thicker all-around than the girl herself.
But her blade flared red-orange, again, though without opening up, and it cut straight through the limb like a hot knife through butter – a particularly appropriate simile, as her sword had apparently heated up instantly to the point where it disintegrated all the material it came into contact with.
The Blackguard reared back in true pain for the first time, and took two of Chantal’s shots to the face, snapping his head further away – just in time for three of Phalange to close in, two swinging their spears to launch the third one, who jumped onto them, up onto the chest of the villain.
As they’d already known, the Blackguard’s power could not reach Phalange’s fractals, and so the one standing on his chest grabbed onto a ridge of bone sticking out of his shoulder and thrust his spear straight into his face.
The Blackguard stopped moving, stunned for a moment – and then he collapsed backwards, landing with a loud thunk, almost breaking through one of the outer walls by virtue of his sheer mass.
Everything stopped for a moment, as everyone stared at the fallen monster, everyone but Pucelle who’d turned away and was running for the opposite corner of the building.
We… we did it? Chantal asked herself as she watched the huge, unmoving form.
Phalange stepped off of him, his shoulders sagging, as his fractals gathered around him, the ten buried ones digging themselves out of the rubble.
He’ll have to reabsorb them, she thought idly as she sank onto her knees. Casque Vert landed on a piece of floor below her, but had to jump up and join her on the one she was on as it crumbled. Below, Phalange’s fractals began to rejoin into one, one after the other.
And then Pucelle’s voice cut through the descending lull. “His brain is not in his head!” she shouted with a clarion-clear voice as she stabbed her sword into the rubble-strewn floor of the basement level, pushing the fourth button again.
The sword flared red-orange, expanding, and the floor was blown apart in a huge explosion of dust and steam – she must’ve hit a water pipe.
“And how do you know that, little one!?” the Blackguard shouted, half amused and half annoyed judging by his tone of voice, twisting around to slam the arm she hadn’t cut off down on Phalange, who’d just reabsorbed his last fractal – rendering him as vulnerable as any other human.
“NO!” Chantal shouted, firing bullets at the limb to repel or at least divert it – but she just didn’t have that much stopping power – while Casque Vert launched himself straight at it, leaving his lower legs behind with a booming sound.
Phalange could not possibly dodge in his state, still disoriented from rejoining with all his fractals, but he raised his shield in a futile gesture.
Five glowing golden projectiles slammed into the descending tower-like limb, blowing it apart just in time for Casque Vert to fly through the small dust cloud it generated and slam into the Blackguard’s chest, pushing him away from Phalange just as the villain reacted to the assault on his limb, lashing out with his lower body to catch the weakened hero with his flesh while he could still affect him.
Chantal looked aside to see Sol-Sol, lying prone on a bit of floor still attached to the wall, curled up limply – but her eyes were open, aware and angry, and another set of glowing projectiles were forming above her form in an arch, building up to another powerful attack.
Fuck, she’s still going, she thought to herself and resigned herself to thinking kinder thoughts about her fellow heroine in the future. I have to step up my game, too. Unfortunately, at such short range, her power lacked both strength and accuracy, but by the time she’d get far enough away to be really effective, the fight would most likely already be over, so she instead began to take pot shots at the many eyes that were still open all over their quarry’s body, trying to at least inconvenience him.
Casque Vert, still on top of the Blackguard, tried to get away, but the villain apparently didn’t want any piece of that – instead, his chest folded up, muscle strands lashing out to strike all over Casque Vert’s form, only gliding off of his helmet but otherwise fusing themselves to his body.
Sol-Sol was still building up her volley, unwilling to waste a premature shot that wouldn’t cause any real damage – nevermind that she couldn’t possibly have many shots left in her state – Chantal didn’t have the accuracy or the power to save him and Phalange was just now splitting into fractals again, just three of them out and not nearly ready to get in close with the Blackguard again.
But then, Pucelle came to the rescue, leaping out of the dust and steam she’d thrown up in her odd, weightless way and cut off Casque Vert’s head just below the rim of his pot-helmet as she passed by him.
Before his head could even begin to drop, he’d already regenerated his entire body, the sheer force he hit his own neck with throwing him out of the Blackguard’s reach.
“Oh, come on!” said villain shouted as he tried to hit Pucelle – and this time, his blow connected, throwing her towards Chantal.
Damn! She threw herself to the side, intercepting Pucelle’s flight with her body, and the two of them hit the wall, though with far less force than she would’ve expected, as if the girl had somehow been able to reduce the force of the hit.
I have to ask her how this actually works – if she’s really a bricoleur, then she might be able to make me something like that for protection! she thought idly while she pushed herself up, her turrets still floating in place and firing stubbornly at their enemy, though, really, there was only one real advantage to her power right now, and that was the fact that her bullets vanished moments after impact, so he couldn’t absorb and repurpose them.
Pucelle got up onto her feet and turned to her, her sword loosely at her side. “Water… coming. Get everyone… higher up,” she squeezed out between deep breaths.
“I hope this plan of yours is a good one,” Chantal said without rancour, catching Phalange’s and Casque Vert’s attention by shooting a bullet near their feet and then signing them to come up – fortunately, they’d all made an effort to adapt their sign language so it wouldn’t be the usual code that the Blackguard most likely still knew.
The two heroes – well, nine, now, with all of Phalange – alternatively climbed and leapt up onto higher ground, as the Blackguard rose again.
“What are you planning? You do know it’s futile, right?” he said self-assuredly, though he was eyeing Sol-Sol with a wary look, as she was still building up her volley. “How about you lot just run along for now, and leave me that little morsel to snack on? Best offer you’re going to get, today!” He threw out both arms, shooting tendrils in a huge net aimed at covering all of them with at least small parts of his flesh.
“No deal, you cretin!” Phalange shouted as he split off his sixteenth fractal – none of them was looking too well, but at least better than before – and they linked their shields, while everyone else but Sol-Sol (who was on the ground, anyway) ducked behind them.
The tendrils impacted the shields and the wall above them, some shooting out of the windows – eliciting cries from outside.
Oh shit, the media! Chantal thought. They’d obviously have noticed the battle going on here, and some of them had apparently been brave – or stupid – enough to try and get closer.
Phalange hacked at the tendrils above them with his spear, Chantal shot at them at point-blank range (they couldn’t affect her turrets, to her relief – she didn’t even know what’d happen if she lost one of them) and Pucelle cut into them, pushing the first button again to neatly cut through with only the clinging blue-white light to mark her cuts as the tendrils retreated again, many of them still glowing faintly at their tips.
Fortunately, it seemed like none of them had actually hit a bystander and dragged him or her back in to be assimilated.
The heroes and the villain stared at one another, the strain apparent on all of them but Casque Vert, who looked as unperturbed as ever.
Just then, the Blackguard glanced down and Chantal followed his line of sight for a moment – the ground was filling up with water, which already stood nearly knee-high at the basement level, grey and muddy from all the dust and dirt mixed into it.
“Keep him there until there’s at least three metre of water in total,” Pucelle said quietly, but firmly. “Then bisect at about the height of his waist – his brain must be somewhere in his chest right now. Let him drop into the water and I’ll do the rest.”
“I’m not going to ask where you learned so much about his power right now,” Phalange replied just as quietly, his countenance grim. “But I’ll be very curious to know afterwards.”
Pucelle did not reply and instead leapt up onto a higher piece of floor, landing light as a feather.
“Let’s give the little lady a chance,” Casque Vert said. “I want to see what she has planned, if nothing else.” And he launched himself onto another piece of floor that put the Blackguard nearly exactly between him and the other heroes.
Chantal and Phalange traded a look and came to a silent agreement. Then they turned to face the Blackguard again, just as Sol-Sol let loose another volley of five projectiles.
This time, the Blackguard saw them coming – but obviously, he didn’t know too much about Sol-Sol’s power, because he dodged them simply by leaning to the side with his entire body – only to look utterly dumbfounded when they curved in mid-air and slammed into him in five separate impacts from his chest on down to the point where his fleshy body vanished into the water, and the rubble below.
Shaken, the man cried out in pain, and they took that as their cue, all of them attacking all at once.
The next five minutes were a haze of screaming, flowing blood, torn muscles and horrible impacts that shook the reinforced walls of the former office building, as they coordinated as well as they could to tie the Blackguard down – or rather, just survive him, because the man seemed to have dropped his casual attitude after that hit he took from Sol-Sol, and he was attacking wildly – it took all they had to just to survive, and protect Sol-Sol as well!
In the end, though, the water had reached high enough up, almost at ground level now, and Pucelle shouted “Now!”
She grabbed her sword with both hands, having just landed next to Casque Vert after another teamed assault, and her comrade grabbed and threw her at their enemy as she held the blade ready to cut, a thumb already on the first button of her hilt.
But the Blackguard obviously saw it coming, ignoring the shots coming from Fusillade and the fractals being repeatedly launched at him by their kin, cutting into his body and climbing all over him trying to reach his chest, to twist out of the way, dodging her slash by a hair.
Sol-Sol’s full volley slammed into his midsection, all projectiles concentrated on one spot, blowing him clean off the tower of flesh he’d been on top of.
Finally, he lost his composure, screaming in outrage and pain and sheer surprise as he fell towards the water – and then a lucky shot from Chantal hit him square in the mouth, shutting him up.
Pucelle landed on the wall and kicked off, straight down towards the water, as the tower of flesh began to topple over and away from where its main body had just splashed into the water.
She was just a metre or two away from the water when the Blackguard burst out of it, flying towards her, his face twisted by rage and pain.
The girl did not let that shake her and she plunged her sword into the water below her, pushing the second button for the first time.
The sword expanded, there was a burst of blue-white light – and then a massive sound, like an inhuman scream that shook the walls and made Chantal close her eyes as her hands flew up to her ears.
When the cacophony abated, she opened her eyes again – and she saw a pond of solid, dirty ice that had filled the basement and most of the first floor of the former office building. Jagged ice crystals had formed where the water had been thrown up by the Blackguard, encasing most of his cut-down form in ice, with only most of his chest and head, as well as one mostly-destroyed arm sticking out, torn to shreds by several sharp ice crystals.
Whatever kind of insane science – whether real or pretend – Pucelle utilised, she’d just instantly frozen what had to be a swimming pool’s worth of water in a mere second.
Said heroine was kneeling on the ice, her sword compressing itself again, allowing her to easily pull it out of the ice as she stood up straight.
“Pucelle, get away!” Chantal shouted in horror as the girl slowly approached the frozen enemy, her posture straight as a figure skater’s. “He’ll use the… ice…”
But he wasn’t. He should’ve merged with the ice – it was certainly solid enough now – but he wasn’t doing it.
Instead, the feared Blackguard was trashing around with his one available limb, trying to break himself free – but Sol-Sol’s assault and the ice explosion had cost him too much mass, leaving him extraordinarily weakened.
“H-how?” he asked, his voice raspy. “How’d you know… I wouldn’t be able to… integrate ice?”
Pucelle simply walked up to him, quietly, raising her blade. Without comment, she pushed it right into the centre of his chest, her thumb holding down the first button, the cold blue-white light of the blade protecting it from bonding with his flesh.
The Blackguard exhaled, a sigh that was almost normal, and looked down at the weapon in his chest, then at the slim girl who’d delivered it there. “Huh,” was all he said.
Pucelle looked up at him without another word, while everyone else just stared in shock at the sudden ending.
“W-well done, woman,” the Blackguard said as his remaining flesh began to visibly shrink, slowly falling apart. “You have… won. But… how? How!? Who… who are you? Tell me, before I go!”
Pucelle looked up at him, and then she reached for her helmet with one hand, grabbing it by the front.
The back of the helmet parted, opening up to allow her to pull it off. A mass of micro-braids was revealed along with a darkly skinned, slender neck which was quickly covered up as the countless small braids spilled over it and down all the way to her waist. Unfortunately, from where Chantal stood, she could not see the girl’s face, but the Blackguard certainly could – and his eyes widened.
“Y-you,” he said as he seemed to recognise her. “I… I did not know you had… powers. When did you get them? Before, or after… but no… no matter.”
He coughed, continuing to wilt. Then he…
He chuckled, as if he just now got a joke. “Heh. How… appropriate.”
The girl tilted her head to the side and might’ve said something, but Chantal couldn’t hear her – she didn’t raise her voice.
“I guess,” the Blackguard replied. “That I always knew… deep down… that you… would be… my Angel… of Death.”
The girl said something else, making him shake his head.
“No. I had my… reasons,” he said, his voice growing weaker, harder to understand. “And they… shall remain… mine.” But that was not a problem, because Chantal knew how to lip read (a necessity, as she had enhanced sight, but not hearing).
Pucelle said something more.
“I’m afraid… no… I have… no regrets,” he replied as his hair turned white and started to fall out, his one free limb almost down to near-human size. “I did… what I did… in the name… of my… legacy… whether you… believe it… or not…” He laughed to himself again, looking down at his own, dissolving body. “Who knows but that… in the future… history shall… judge me… the greatest… Chevalier.”
He looked up, his eyes glued to Pucelle’s face, while Chantal was just dumbfounded by the insanity of that statement.
“Well… perhaps not… the greatest,” he continued, his voice no longer audible at all. “After all… I doubt… I shall shine… brighter than… you. I have no… doubt that… you shall… shine brighter, even… than the First.”
And he reached up with his rapidly shrinking limb, touching her breastplate. Pucelle didn’t seem to fear what he might do, as she made no move to intercept him, and by this point, Chantal was just plain too stunned to react herself – as was Phalange next to her. Casque Vert seemed as inscrutable as ever.
Then the man smiled, for a moment, making him look almost… normal, as the rest of his surplus mass melted off of him, leaving him an emaciated, hairless figure so thin each bone could be seen.
His whole body sagged, and he went still.
Chantal fell to her knees, the air leaving her lungs in an incredibly relieved sigh, only to catch her breath as Pucelle pulled her unmarred sword out of the small man’s chest and put her helmet back on – her micro-braids still hanging out of the back – and she saw that the Emblem of the Chevalier now decorated her breastplate, made of thin gold on the dull silver metal, a final gift of sorts from the fallen Blackguard.
“Heh…” Sol-Sol said meekly, reminding Phalange and Chantal of her presence. “The Chevalier… is dead,” she said as her eyes slowly rolled up into her head, Phalange crying out and rushing over to her to try and help. “Long live… the Chevalier.” And then she, too, went still.