The world burned around her. All of it was so fragile, so unable to bear the weight of her power. A single motion and a beam of energy tore through the upper levels of a building. Debris rained down, the few bits that came near her scorched away by her shield upon impact. She was invincible and unstoppable. Once, she’d barely been powerful enough to blast through a single brick, and her shields had been laughable. That version of her was weak, and worthless. She would complete her mission and return to Crispin’s side. She could never go back to who she’d been before. One taste of true power, and she knew there was no returning to the fragile woman she’d once been.
“I am going to give you one, and only one, chance to surrender.”
She turned to find a man in a suit of custom combat armor staring back at her. He must have moved quite silently, in spite of the cumbersome outfit he wore. It was meant to protect him, no doubt. Meant to keep him safe from the dangers of the world. She would rip through it as easily as she would rend his flesh.
“You people have killed innocent students, barely more than children, in your quest to come after us. Trust me when I say, you do not want to see me angrier than I already am. Surrender. Now.”
“What gives you the right to make demands of me?” She laughed, her voice bouncing off the rubble still raining down behind her. “Perhaps you still don’t understand your situation. Most of the time, you might be the strongest, most powerful Super on the battlefield, but not today. Today, I am the strongest. I am a god.” She raised her hands, preparing to let loose a torrent of energy. “And you are just one more corpse at my feet.”
There was no warning before it happened. One moment, she could feel the power coursing through her, begging to be let out. The next instant, it was gone, along with her shield. All of it, all of the beautiful, bountiful power Crispin had bestowed on her vanished. A cry of shock slipped loose from her mouth, but it was nothing compared to the shriek of pain she let out moments later as a fist crashed into her stomach.
“Point of fact: I’m never the strongest Super on the field,” he told her. His hand grabbed her arm and pulled it back, then he drove his elbow down and shattered it clean through. She screamed, but he paid her no mind as he slammed a foot into her knee. The cracking sound rang in her ears as she fell to the ground.
“Most of my opponents are like you: so drunk on what they can do that they’ve lost all touch with what it’s like to be human. I’m not like your kind; I’m far closer to a human than a god. If Supers didn’t exist, I wouldn’t even technically have a power. In a way, you can think of me as the ultimate human, the one who drags you down off your thrones and reminds you just how mortal you really are.”
He gripped a gloved hand around her throat, and she felt a slight tingle run through her body. She could scarcely perceive it over all of the pain, yet she noticed it all the same.
“Impact, get Wisp over here. I’ve powered down one of the five. Something tells me she might just know where all the key people are hiding, and she’s going to tell us. Eventually.”
* * *
The explosion of dirt nearly sent Roy tumbling over in surprise. For a moment, he thought someone had detonated a land mine nearby, improbable as it was for mines to be buried topside at Lander. But then he saw the figure standing there, pulling itself from the crater it had created, and Roy understood. Leaping around was the strongman’s only option for expedient travel. It took a lot of practice to do with precision and care, but it was much easier if one didn’t give a shit about anything they landed on.
“Hey, are you a Hero?” Roy called, waving his hand through the dirt lingering in the air. The guy didn’t seem to be in costume, but Roy couldn’t imagine they had been given a lot of time once the emergency call went out.
The man swiveled around to face Roy, and for the first time, the young student got a look at his features. His face was the color of dark metal, and spurs stuck out from all over his skin. Given how much power he’d landed with, the guy was obviously denser than his frame would suggest. Roy’s first instinct was shifter, but the man seemed almost too human for that. Maybe a power that was fully activated, like the way Chad looked when using his bone armor. The expression on his face as he took in Roy’s presence answered the question before a word passed the twisted grin that appeared on his lips.
“A Hero? How fucking dare you. I’m no one’s puppet, you little shit.” The man surged forward, but Roy was already moving. He charged down into the crater, faked right, and then took a wide swing with his bat at this strange man’s shoulder. It was meant to make him step back, where Roy would be prepared to pull the swing around and hit him in the leg, but to his shock, the man didn’t so much as twitch. He took the blow full-on and stood there with an even deeper smile.
Pain tore through Roy’s hands as his bat came to a dead stop against his opponent’s shoulder. This wasn’t like getting a blow absorbed by Vince; Roy had the sore hands to prove that contact was made. No, the hit had simply been too weak to even move him. It didn’t make sense; Roy knew he had used enough strength to elicit some reaction, but the evidence was right in front of him.
“For a kid, that wasn’t too terrible.”
The man rushed forward, slamming a fist into Roy’s right shoulder. It was the exact spot where Roy had hit him, only Roy wasn’t able to shrug it off. He was sent sprawling back through the grass, tumbling on the ground until he finally came to rest on his back twenty feet away. If the blow had been angled upward, Roy would have been an uncontrolled rocket screaming into the night sky. He also would have been safe, which was probably why the punch had kept him earthbound.
Roy tried to pull himself up, noticing that his right shoulder was little more than powdered bone at this point. If Roy were a regular human, he estimated the attack would have torn his arm from his body. And it hadn’t even looked like the guy was trying that hard. Roy raised his bat with his left hand just in time to see his opponent land on top of him.
The wind escaped Roy as incredibly dense knees sank into his torso, driving him hard back to the ground. He struggled to right himself, bracing his bat on the ground to push with, but the man snatched it out of his hands effortlessly.
“Ah, the ultra-heavy material some Supers use for weight training. You must be damn strong to be able to swing this much around. Ordinarily, I doubt I’d even be able to lift a bat like this. Too bad for you, though.” The man tightened his grip, and before Roy’s eyes, the bat bent like putty, forming around his hand with the slightest effort. “Tonight, I’m not the ordinary me. I’m indestructible. I’m unstoppable. Tonight, I’m the strongest fucking Super on the entire planet.”
“I’ve got a whole line of merchandise that says otherwise.”
Roy couldn’t see the source of the punch; he only made out the fist as it connected with his attacker’s face. Unlike the blow he’d dealt with his bat, this one produced a significant result. The man was hurled off Roy’s torso; the sounds of him smashing through the grass filled Roy’s ears even as he strained to refill his lungs with sweet, precious air. Turning his head slightly, he made out the form of his savior. In one glance, Roy was both pissed off and completely relieved. He hated seeing the man standing over him, and hated even more that this was who had saved him, but at least he knew he was safe. It didn’t matter what this weird guy had going for him, no one was more powerful than Titan.
“Strongest Super on the planet? You’re going to have to do more than knock down a student to win that title. But I’m a sporting man; I’ll let you have a shot.” Titan glanced down at his son, and Roy could see the fury in the large man’s eyes. “In fact, let’s give that claim a good, thorough testing.”