Sean was sitting on the ground, when I found him, knees pulled up to his chest, hands shaking. His wings were gone, and his hair had lost its brilliant glow. Shit, he looks bad.
“Sean,” I said.
He didn’t look at me. “How are you here?” He asked, his voice low and hoarse.
“I teleport, remember?” I said, gently as I could manage in the state I was in.
“No. Get out of my head.” He sounded angry, but he still didn’t move. I kept my hand on his shoulder.
“Sean, I’m here,” I said awkwardly. How do I do this? “I have a plan to get us out.” Kind of.
“Get out!” he shouted. He grabbed my arm from his shoulder and turned to look at me. “I deserve this.”
His fingers dug painfully into my wrist. His eyes flared with light. My chest tightened with panic as I remembered being frozen by Temple. My first reflex was to cover my eyes with darkness, but what I’d seen in the darkness a few minutes ago stopped me.
“I saw it,” Sean said. “I fucking saw it.” Sean’s eyes carved dark trails in my vision. “Temple was right. We can’t fight that.”
The scars on his hands stood out, red and angry. He had taken off his gloves.
“Fight what?” I asked. His eyes, though blinding, didn’t have the same effect as Temple’s
“The thing on the screen. I only got a glimpse but it saw me.” He shuddered. “It can still see me.” He sounded more scared than angry now. His grip loosened a bit. “Fuck,” he said, voice quiet. “You’re real.” the light from his eyes dimmed, but didn’t fade completely. “I sound crazy.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. “I don’t know,” I said. “It sounds a lot like what Rob Banks said. Maybe-” I can’t believe I’m saying this. “Maybe Temple’s right.”
Sean nodded, as if it made sense to him. “So this…” He gestured at the wasteland around us. “What is this?”
“It’s Locus,” I said. “His power’s out of control, stretching everything out into… this.”
Sean nodded again, and the light in his eyes dimmed to a dull red glow through his eyelids as he closed them. He let out a deep breath. “I’m too fucking tired.” He said. “You said you have a plan? Do you need me?”
“I don’t know if I could bring you even if I did,” I said. I have teleported someone else before, I remembered. My memory of the event was fuzzy. Charity, after she got shot by Myriad. I could feel my hands shaking. But I doubt I could do that again now.
“Good,” He said, and let go. Once more, I was alone. Fuck. He needs help. I sagged with exhaustion that I had struggled not to show before. I need help.
When I found Locus, I froze with horror. His skin was ashen grey, his limbs distended to half again their normal length. His fingers twisted and splayed at unnatural angles, his mouth locked open, wider than should be possible.
My stomach lurched and I retched involuntarily. I stumbled a few steps away from where he was sprawled on the ground, using my parachute cord to get more distance.
“Oh god,” I croaked. What the fuck? I thought. What happened to him? I had seen the pictures of some of the Nightmares that had appeared over the years. An image of Molar, covered with calcified growths but whose limbs twisted and bent in impossible ways flashed in my head, and others, each more horrifying than the last. Creatures I’d studied carefully before deciding I wanted to take this path. I’d known that I might have to face one of them, or something like them, one day, but I never could have imagined that it would be in the form of one of the beloved heroes I’d looked up to for so long.
He moved without warning, turning his head to look my direction. His eyes were pleading, terrified. I have to help him, resolved. I reached down to the Nullifier and hesitated. If this doesn’t work, I might lose my marks. This might be my only chance.
And after that there’s only one option.
I turned on the Nullifier.
A wave of heat radiated out from the box as it activated and I could feel my darkness fading away, retreating back into my skin, or wherever it came from, revealing the body armor beneath. Locus writhed in pain, but the effect of his twisted power didn’t abate.
The air around us seemed to shake. Blotches appeared in the sky, like holes burned in film. The parachute cord stretched and thinned, and Locus started to move away from me as the space between us expanded.
No! I turned off the Nullifier and my darkness returned, covering me and the parachute cord in an instant, but too late. Locus was gone, vanished into the distance like all the others before. The wasteland seemed somehow different now– less indifferent, more hostile. The feeling of oppressive pressure redoubled.
The remnants of my parachute cord fell to the ground, snapped under its own weight after being thinned and weakened by Locus’ power. That was from just a moment looking at the screen, I realized to my horror. Same as Sean. Same as who knows how many other people.
I didn’t know what kind of effect it would have on people without powers. None of the other people I’d encountered seemed to have had any… symptoms, for lack of a better word, but most of the people I had tagged weren’t at the screening, and those that were were probably looking at me or Guardian Angel. Or at least I hoped they were. Another pulse of pain behind my eyebrows made my head spin.
I reached out to my marks to find that they were still there. That’s good news at least. I looked into the distance. No matter where I looked, I was looking into the distance. And after what Sean said, I couldn’t help but feel like something was watching me. No, not me, but looking my direction, but I was too small to notice.
I failed, I thought. I had one chance, and I failed.
I’m going to be stuck here forever. I sat down on the ground, then fell to my back. Moving made it worse. Given the lack of landmarks, I may have actually been spinning. I stared up at where the sky should have been been and tried to wait for the pain and nausea to pass. I groaned out loud.
“Fuck,” I said, then again, “Fuck!” My mouth was dry. “What the fuck am I supposed to do?”
I closed my eyes for a moment and then sat up. I need to do something.
“Fuck,” I said again. My voice sounded weak even to me. “I should have just killed him,” I said without conviction. My heart seemed too slow, and too loud. Each pulse pushed me down like one more brick dropping onto my shoulders.
I need to move. I stood, fighting against my body and the better part of my mind that wanted nothing more than to lie down and not get back up. I swayed on my feet, but stated upright.
Momentum. I need momentum.
I teleported to the first person I could reach. A young boy appeared beside me, curled on the ground, whimpering. I stopped, brain stalling. No. I need to keep going. I thought. That’s the only way I can help.
Pushing my doubt aside, I continued. The next few people had feared no better. None were still standing, except one who was walking blindly forward and got out of my grip almost immediately.
After what felt like a long time, I encountered for the second time the warden from the meta-max prison.
“Shadow. I thought you had a plan,” the warden croaked. “Damn but I’m thirsty.”
“I did- do,” I said. My thoughts, sluggish as they were, jumped into high gear when I spotted the blocky blue and yellow handgun on his hip. Not a standard-issue pistol. If it comes down to it, if I can get back to Locus, that might be useful. Even as I had that thought, another idea struck me.
“Denudine,” I said.
“Huh?” he asked.
“Do you have any on you?” I said.
He has to carry denudine on him. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise.
“I do,” he said. He reached into his jacket and produced a small pistol-gripped jet injector with a glass vial of clear liquid screwed into the back.
“I need that.” I might have a chance!
He nodded and handed it over. “Good plan. You can deliver it?”
“I think so,” I lied. I have to try. If I can’t… well, I guess I’d have to hope Locus would die of thirst first. It was a sobering thought.
“Good.” He unholstered his handgun and held it out to me. “Take this too.”
I hesitated, but still took it. Just in case.
“Good luck,” he said as I let him go.
Now I just need to get back to Locus. I thought. I reached out to my marks, pushing my awareness of them as far as I could. Like other senses, I couldn’t really make it better just through force of will, but I could concentrate and maybe find something I’d missed. My other marks didn’t get erased, but the one on Locus probably was. Unless…
The moment before the cord snapped, I covered it. If I remembered what I’d seen correctly, I’d covered the whole thing with one touch. If I managed to mark him, I might be able to find him again.
I searched through my marks, looking for one that fit the description. If the cord was still tied around his leg, I should be able to feel the difference in shape of the mark.
The distances involved as I scanned through my marks were dizzying. Not something I could fully process. Each mark didn’t seem to have a fixed position, just a direction, like stars in the sky. Wait, I stopped at one that seemed to fit the description. Could that be it? I reached through the connection and pulled myself through.
Locus appeared at arms length, separated by the snapped-off length of parachute cord. I took a step towards him, but he only got farther away. No! I teleported closer, but he slid out of my grasp before I could get a grip. I teleported to him again and used my power to press the jet injector to his neck in the same instant. I pulled the trigger and with a hiss of compressed air, it delivered it’s payload.
I was not prepared for Locus’ scream. It cut through the air and split my head in two. I fell to me knees but didn’t release my grip on Locus. I grasped for the nullifier and fumbled for the switch. My hand slipped off the metal surface, and I pulled it back and scrabbled at the metal before I was able to flip it on.
The world collapsed inward with a rush of air and sound. Walls rushed towards us from all sides, slamming abruptly to a halt at the edges of the park. Clouds dropped in from above, completing the feeling of a diorama being folded up around me.
Randwulf must have been caught in it too. He’s still nearby, I thought, even as my vision dimmed. I have to find him. I heard screeching tires and a crash from somewhere nearby.
I have to… I have to… I…