Chapter 115

                Instants. That was what it always seemed to come down to. All the planning, all the training, all the endless hours trying to imagine how one would deal with a situation, and the truth was that most fights, and losses, were often determined in a span of less than a half-second. That was the hardest thing to try and teach potential Heroes, that in the dire moments they’d be leaning on their instincts. Which was why the HCP was so tough on them. Because when those moments arrived, their reflexive reactions had damn sure better be the right ones, or people would die.

                Titan wasn’t perfect. He had a list of names that proved that fact beyond all debate. But he’d been doing the job for a long time, and even if he’d been off for a while some things never quite faded. In that moment, as the mech swung it’s laser cannon towards Hopcules’s head, with Hexcellent so close there was no way she wouldn’t be caught in the blast, he moved without hesitation, because there was no time for such a luxury. He was betting everything, Hexcellent’s everything, on the fact that the mech hadn’t changed its weight back from when it stopped its fall. If it could stop itself on one leg, then maybe it could be moved by the same appendage. It was still a roll of the dice, one where snake eyes meant Hexcellent would die. If it came to that, she wouldn’t go alone. The least Titan could, and would, do was make sure whoever made these mechanical monsters was sent to join her.

                “Everybody hold on!” Titan roared into the comms as he wrapped his arms around the bottom of the mech’s nearest leg. No time to try and drag, it could still get off a shot. He needed to completely disorient the damn thing. Slamming his legs through the concrete for stability, Titan’s arms crushed into the metal of the leg, creating an unbreakable grip. With all he had, he jerked upwards and to the side, away from Hexcellent. It was ridiculous, it was a flea trying to move a rhino, but it was all he had. He was a strongman. This was the only thing he could do.

                But by the gods, he could do it like no one else.

                The robot rose from its position atop Hopcules, caught by surprise an unable to react to suddenly going airborne. In the span of seconds, it had realized what was happening, and Titan felt the metallic beast began to grow rapidly heavier in his arms. None of that mattered, though, because the real work was already done. Hopcules quickly rolled to the side and sprang back to its oversized feet. He looked unshaken, as near as Titan could tell by reading those glassy black eyes, and no worse for the wear.

                “H-holy shit. Kind of thought we were goners there.” Unlike her bunny, Hexcellent was clearly rattled, and Titan couldn’t blame her for that. For someone with no real combat training, she was holding together better than a lot of others would.

                “What kind of legendary Hero would I be if I let some asshole machine hurt my teammate?” Titan released his grip on the leg, which came crashing down a few feet away. He wondered if the mech was debating stomping on him, even though it had to have realized what little good that would do.

                “Clearly not the kind who can manage to keep things smooth for those inside,” Jeremiah grumbled. “Mercifully, we think we’ve found the signal relay. If you can hold out for a few more minutes, I need to get the tracker inserted and let my team do their work.”

                “Put a little pep in your step, the bunny almost got taken out,” Titan replied.

                “Um… yeah. Birdsman, you’re the veteran summoner here. Have any of yours ever… changed?” Hexcellent’s voice had gone from scared to confused, and it took only a quick glance at Hopcules for Titan to understand why. The giant rabbit was shifting before their very eyes, long serrated claws slipping out of his hands, and new spiky armor growing out of the old. From behind, a vast pair of bat-like wings sprouted, flapping once and sending a breeze across the entire area.

                “No. No I cannot say I’ve ever seen anything quite like that before,” Birdsman replied from atop his flying stone roc. “Trust me, that’s the sort of thing that would stick in my memories. And my nightmares.”

                From above Titan, the mech took another shot with its lasers, and this time Hopcules didn’t dodge. It took the blow right on its chest, the new armor burning but refusing to give way. In one shift, the tables had turned and the weaker warrior had grown strong. For the first time, Titan had a feeling of what it must be like for others to fight him.

                “I’m no expert, but I’m going to toss out a theory,” Titan said, yanking his feet free from the concrete and making a run for the leg already dented with his handprints. Crippling mobility was the best way he could help now; the rest was going to be up to Jeremiah and Hexcellent. “Hopcules was supposed to keep you safe, right? You made him to fight your fears?”

                “That’s how I remember it, but I was a kid,” Hexcellent replied.

                “Like I said, this is just a guess. If we assume that’s how it went down though, then maybe Hopcules is still doing that. He came out so big because you were facing an overwhelming force. Then, when you almost died a few seconds ago, you got scared again, so he grew stronger.”

                “Can summons do that?” Hexcellent asked.

                “Every Super is different, so it’s possible,” Titan reminded her.

                “There have been cases of summons with alteration capabilities under certain situations.” Dispatch was calm, which Titan imagined was only possible because she hadn’t just watched a twenty-story rabbit shape-shift. “However, none that we know of were on quite so grand a scale.”

                “As someone who has to listen to this without knowing what the hell is going on, may I just request that someone take pictures?” Jeremiah asked. “Because it sounds absolutely fascinating.”

                “Let’s just say that after I lifted the whole mech, Hexcellent upstaged me.” Titan grabbed the same leg once again, this time digging his hands in and beginning to climb up toward the knee joint. The lasers from the mech’s underside fired at him, doing little more than singeing his clothes. He really needed to ask for a raise, the suit costs were piling up.

                “Oh, you want to complain? I just went from being a top-level summoner to some asshole on a bird,” Birdsman added. “At least you got to do something cool, I’m flying around dodging shots.”

                “You know, this isn’t quite what I pictured the conversation of Heroes to be like,” Hexcellent admitted.

                “We only sound like this when we’re winning,” Jeremiah assured her. “Which, by the way, we are. Tracker is implanted and my team is tracing the signal. Everyone inside the mech, evacuate. As soon as I get confirmation that we’ve found the location, Aether and I will be out of here too. Think you and your upgraded rabbit can handle things from there?”

                Titan smashed his hand through the knee joint, causing the mech to wobble as it fired wave after wave of lasers and bullets at the Heroes keeping it distracted. When the machine tipped, he got a clear view to the other side, where Hopcules was flexing his claws and testing his wings. Hexcellent’s words crackled over the comms a moment later, all traces of fear gone from her voice.

                “You’re damn right we can. Nobody puts my bunny back in the box.”