In the street in front of us was Pyroclasm, standing at the heel of the Upright Man. He was a tall asian man dressed in a crisp grey suit, who stared off into the distance, ignoring us. I had been expecting mid-20’s from the description, but he looked more like he was in his mid 60’s.
Old enough to be Phenomena’s father.
“You!” Yelled Emily angrily. “I’m going to kill you! Fucking kidnapped me.”
Pyroclasm stepped forward, but the Upright Man put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.
I contacted Jamisson immediately.
“Jamisson, we’ve got hostiles. Pyroclasm and the Upright Man. We were wrong about him, he’s not Phenomena, I think-“
I felt a disturbance in the air and there was a sharp jab at my injured ankle. It screamed with pain as it collapsed out from under me. I shifted my weight onto my left leg and danced away from the apparition which I could feel disturbing the air but couldn’t see. I tried to get a feel for what it was when a sudden weight crashed into my back and I fell, tumbling painfully to the ground.
“Wh- ph- sh-tztt -sk. Ap-th -on.”
The response from Jamisson was unintelligible. Something had been damaged.
My head pressed against the ground by the Upright Man’s projection, I saw that the others were in a similar position. Dr. Mind had been violently separated from his pack, the straps still dangling from his shoulders. He jerked and stumbled as he was assaulted by unseen forces. Emily was faring better, but was just as powerless. The Upright Man had gone straight for each person’s weak point, so his first attack on her had been a jab at her unprotected eyes. She had thrown an arm across her face to protect her eyes. No longer a threat, the Upright Man focused instead on Adam, who was pushing past a horde of the Upright Man’s projections, shaking as if buffeted by strong winds. He was making his way towards where the cryogenic chamber floated, to defend it. The corner of Adam’s right eye shone a bright orange, erratically flickering to red. I could feel what seemed like a whole crowd of people straining to hold Adam back, invisible feet skidding along the asphalt. The Upright Man looked merely nonplussed, and Pyroclasm watched, a strange expression on his face. I overheard Pyroclasm speaking,
“None of these people were there.”
I used my power to teleport to where I’d marked Emily and started speaking quickly. Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say, and if she could find some offensive use of her power we might be able to fight back.
“Emily, use your power-“
I was cut off abruptly as the Upright Man noticed me and one of his projections tried to drive a shoulder into my midsection. I dodged narrowly, throwing my weight away, but another appeared and kicked out at me before I could react, knocking me away from Emily. Emily gasped. She had been punched in the gut, preventing her from responding to me. I doubled over from the force, but it failed to knock the breath out of me- not having to breathe has its benefits. I rolled to my feet and tensed up, expecting another attack, but for a moment, none came. All of his projections had vanished. He was using his precognition. Behind me, Adam took the opportunity to leap onto the floating cryogenic unit and clamber atop it. Realizing what was happening, I sprinted for the Upright Man, my ankle screaming protestations, but in that moment, the projections appeared again with new targets. I slammed into one that appeared in front of me, driving it to the ground. It vanished before it hit the ground and another appeared behind me, about to dive onto me. I used my power to spin myself around and swiped its legs out from under it, but it vanished before it hit the ground.
The projection was replaced almost immediately by one in position to stomp on my head. I shifted to my feet and kicked out at its knee with my good ankle and was rewarded with a sickening crunch. I had been able to get in an attack fast enough to land before the projection could disappear. The Upright Man winced, but the injured projection just vanished.
I can’t damage them. But I’m getting closer to their source.
“they are a part of the same corrupt institution”
the Upright man said, replying to Pyroclasm without moving his mouth. His voice didn’t come from where he stood, because he was speaking through his projections, I realized.
The cryogenic unit rocked as the projections clambered up onto it. Adam kicked the air where he felt them grabbing at his ankles, knocking some of them off to the air, where they vanished and reappeared below. Adam looked angry now. Dr. Mind likewise was faring better, though not by much. His pack was scattered, but he had retrieved a pair of strange goggles and a headband with a ring of ultrasonic sensors around it, which apparently allowed him to see the projections, along with collapsible baton wired into a compact battery strapped to his back. Armed with a way to detect and dispatch the projections, he advanced steadily towards the Upright Man, who had directed a few projections to slow him down. He was clearly injured, judging from his pained expression, but had a lot of experience fighting with injuries. Blood dripped from under his goggles, but it didn’t seem to slow him down at all, so exactly how badly he was injured, I couldn’t tell.
“Yeah, but…” Pyroclasm trailed off doubtfully.
Emily growled in frustration, the only one who couldn’t defend herself. The lines glowed brighter now as she wrestled with an invisible assailant. Now five rings deep, each ring about a meter away from the last. She fell to her knees as the projection vanished and a spectral boot caught her in the back of her head. She screamed in pain and anger at her helplessness- once again at the mercy of the Upright Man.
And the ground exploded.
The air filled with a chaos of shrapnel, shards of asphalt kicked up as the glowing lines around Emily detonated. I could feel the Upright Man’s projections being repositioned around him to shield him and Pyroclasm from the blast, leaving us exposed. My armor protected me from the brunt of the shrapnel, and the shockwave passed through me harmlessly, but one larger piece cracked the visor on my helmet and almost knocked me off my feet. Adam wasn’t injured by the shrapnel apart from a few cuts and shallow scrapes, but the force of the blast, helped along by the rotating footing, knocked him off the cryogenic unit onto the ground. Dr. Mind was less lucky. Though he was further away, a number of small shards that made it that far had penetrated his clothing, and he was bleeding from numerous small wounds on his face and hands. His eyes had been protected by his goggles, but the goggles had been ruined, so he stripped them off and threw them to the ground.
Emily herself hadn’t been hit by a single shard, though she was the epicenter of the blast. She remained kneeling, slumped to the ground, exhausted.
I realized only later that this was what the Upright Man had planned. Before we could recover, his projections repositioned around the trailing rope of the airborne cryogenic chamber and hauled it hastily away. Having the equivalent of twenty people pulling it made it much faster. I ran to stop him, but Pyroclasm screened their retreat with a wall of fire.
I stopped and backpedaled. Fire is one of my weaknesses- it goes right through me and burns me very painfully from the inside. Ironic, really, that the same aspect of my powerset that made me immune to explosions made me so vulnerable to fire.
When the flames cleared, they were gone. The fight had lasted less that ten seconds, and they had already escaped.