Chapter 104

                “What in the tapdancing fuck is that?” Hexcellent reached out and grabbed Galvanize by the cape, pulling him up short as she pointed to the sky five blocks north of their position. So far, the plan had been going surprisingly well, with the robot forces scattered enough that Zone was able to sneak them around the bigger clusters. Between his scouting and Impers running messages, they’d made good progress getting closer to the Mordent building. For a moment, Hexcellent had allowed herself to feel cautious optimism about their chances of surviving the day.

                Which was when, almost perfectly on cue, a giant mechanical monster rippled into view and fell from the sky. Hexcellent didn’t know how something that big had managed to stay out of sight, then again the pinnacle of her technical expertise was switching the television’s input feeds between game systems. She could tell it wasn’t the only one, though, as just above the building she could see another to the south appear and fall, and thought she caught a sliver of one to the east. The one nearby, however, she had a perfect view of, and what a view it was.

                The thing had a base built like an insect’s, a half dozen ultra-thick legs supporting the towering torso, which sported four arms, each ending in what looked like various gun clusters or cannons. The torsos themselves were heavily fortified, with smaller weapons mounted at regular intervals. A head was perched on the very top, eight glowing eyes spaced out to give what Hexcellent had to imagine was a 360 degree view of its surroundings at all times. Worst of all, which was saying a lot when one watched a giant mechanical monster shatter the concrete as it landed, compartments just above its legs were sliding open, with more of the regular-sized deadly robots pouring out.

                “What I wouldn’t give to have been born a tech-controller,” Bubble Bubble muttered, stunned as they watched the miniature rivers of robots pouring out from the massive mother ship.

                “Something tells me if that solved the problem, the Heroes would have brought one in ages ago,” Galvanize said. “Hexcellent, can you have Impers bring back Zone? I’ve got a hunch we need to rethink our strategy. I can’t imagine anything that big would have the capability of focusing just on Supers.”

                “Yeah, not an issue. As soon as I saw the building-sized mech falling from the sky, I figured we’d need to change plays.” Zone hopped out from a nearby alley, Impers riding on his shoulder, leaving a small trail of blood where his tiny claws sank into Zone’s shirtless flesh.

                “So, that thing probably came to clean house,” Hexcellent said. “Which means we need to get the hell away from it, and the troops it has, as quickly as possible. Smart money says this whole block will be gone soon if the Heroes don’t intercept it, and even if they do that’s not a fight I want to be near.”

                “She’s right, we need to focus on speed now,” Bubble Bubble agreed. “Whoever is doing this clearly plans to level all of Brewster.”

                Again, Hexcellent felt a tickle in the back of her mind. Why? Unless this was the world’s most patient sociopath at work, it didn’t make any sense. Criminals acted for a reason; revenge, profit, pride, feeding an addiction, there was almost always purpose behind their motives. This, all of this, it didn’t really fit. Maybe if there were a ransom demand, or banks being targeted, but it just all seemed like random chaos.

                Except… somehow, it was familiar. She couldn’t put a finger on it, yet Hexcellent was certain she’d seen something like this before. Maybe in her darker days, the ones hidden behind a cloud of foggy, drug-coated memories. It was there, darting about in her brain, always just a few inches out of reach.

                “Hexcellent,” Galvanize repeated, snapping her attention back to the moment. “I asked if you’ll have Impers scout for us? It’s too dangerous to send Zone, but your demon might slip by undetected.”

                “Yeah, yeah no problem.” She tried to follow the itch in her brain again, but it was gone, scared off by the rational issues she should be dealing with. Giving a few quick orders to Impers, she took the demon and tossed it into the sky, where it pumped its tiny wings and began to rise.

                “Okay, he’s going to do a wide sweep of the block, then come back when- FUCK!” Hexcellent grabbed the side of her head, her knees buckling from the burst of pain. If not for Zone’s reflexes, catching her in mid-fall, she’d have been splayed out on the concrete. As it was, her breath came heavy, in ragged gasps, and there were spots in her vision.

                “Impers?” Galvanize asked. Hexcellent could only manage a weak nod, her brain felt like it had blades running across it. She’d never lost two of her summons in such rapid succession before; it was a whole new level of pain. Dismissing them didn’t hurt in the slightest, but when they were killed their suffering channeled through the link they shared. Each was a part of her, and she felt their destruction on a visceral level. That was why summoners could only have so many creatures, and why the creation of each one took untold effort. One only had so many pieces of their mind to spread around.

                “Damn,” Bubble Bubble said. “No more eyes in the sky.”

                “At least Zone got back before he was stuck out there,” Galvanize said. “If they saw and shot down Impers, we can assume everything non-metallic is probably a target. At this point, we’ll just have to move fast and hope for the best.”

                “Not yet.” Hexcellent pushed herself off Zone’s shoulder, using him as a stoop. “We need protection.”

                “Forget it, you’re clearly in no shape to summon anymore,” Galvanize told her.

                “And will I be in better shape when the robots carve me to pieces?” Hexcellent shot back. “None of us are good in a fight, so we need protection. Something to sacrifice if we need a buffer between us and them. Huggles can be re-summoned after I rest. That’s not true for anyone else.”

                “Galvanize, she has a point,” Zone agreed. “We might be able to take one of those things, if we got lucky and worked together. But there’s a lot more than one out there. We’ve got no eyes and no heavy hitters. We need help.”

                Galvanize looked at his team for a long moment before shaking his head. “I don’t like it. I think it’s too risky. But we all know that nothing I say will stop you, so instead of being a naysayer, I’ll offer encouragement. Hexcellent, do your best.”

                “Thanks, fearless leader.” Hexcellent straightened her back, held out her hand, and set her jaw. “And one of you assholes better carry me if I pass out.” Dark smoked began to swirl in front of them, expanding slowly but steadily. Sweat began to drip down Hexcellent’s face as she ignored the pain in her head, which was now turning to an ache that seemed to echo in her bones, and focused on bringing forth the product of her imagination into the real world. She knew every inch of Huggles, every aspect of the demon’s being, and she pushed that image to the front of her mind, then further, into the cloud of smoke before her.

                It took almost twenty seconds, the longest summon Hexcellent had ever done, but when the smoke cleared the familiar bladed arms of Huggles were there to greet them.

                “And that’s… how you do… that.” Hexcellent stumbled as she took a step, but Zone and Bubble Bubble both slid their arms beneath her shoulders. She was still conscious, though clearly not by much.

                “Team, we need to get out of here, now,” Galvanize ordered. “Run as quick as you can, avoid the robots whenever possible, and no matter what, don’t let anyone fall behind.” Without another word, he turned toward Mordent, made a quick motion for them to follow, and took off in a jog just slow enough for them to keep up with as they helped Hexcellent along.

                “He better not try to ditch us,” Hexcellent said. Zone and Bubble Bubble both chuckled, even though there was nothing funny about what Galvanize was doing. He’d taken the front position because it was the most dangerous.

                If anyone were going to be spotted, it would be him, and with as strong as the robots were, that might be a deadly mistake.