Chapter 302

                “Attention everyone! This is an official order from the Department of Variant Human Affairs. Capture and restraint of Globe is now officially top priority, any of you who are not Heroes should leave this area at once. Failure to do so, or continuing to attack Heroes and other DVA representatives, will result in you being treated as hostile enemies and subdued with the necessary amount of force.”

                Graham DeSoto’s powerful voice, amplified by a portable megaphone, carried well across the battlefield. From the turns and stares, it was plain that a large chunk of the guards heard him. Unfortunately, so far as they could tell he was only one of seven arrivals who’d shown up on a giant tree, and while that was impressive, it didn’t quite convey the full might of the DVA. A few paused, waiting to see how things would go down, but when the other guards kept on moving and attacking the rest soon followed suit.

                “They were warned. As far as I’m concerned, what happens from here on out is on their own heads. Deans, go remind them why it’s a good idea to stop when Heroes say so. Casper, help any Heroes who need you. And maybe save a few guards, if you can, although I don’t recommend healing them all the way to full health.”

                Dean Jackson, clad in the same clothes as before with a simple gray mask in place, asked the question on everyone’s mind. “What about you, sir?”

                “Someone has to guard the tree.” It took a minute for them to realize that Graham DeSoto had actually just made a joke. Mercifully, he didn’t wait for them to manage forced laughter before continuing. “Listen, as it stands, I can be here as either Captain Starlight or Graham DeSoto, head of the DVA. I can’t be both, because the public will never see it that way. Right now it’s important to show that I can lead from the backlines, at least metaphorically. I’ll jump in if you need me, but otherwise I think the best thing I can do for all of us is leave it to the current Heroes. Besides dealing with any of these idiots dumb enough to get close to our healer, I mean.”

                Dean Blaine snickered under his helmet. “Not sure we qualify as current Heroes.”

                “As long as you’re in costume, you’re Heroes. Go show them why.”

*             *             *

                The monster leapt away from the tree as quickly as it had appeared, a hulking four-legged beast sporting thick armor and savage fangs. With a bone-cracking snap it landed on a group of guards, several of whom were too slow to dodge. At the same time, more giant branches fired out from the tree, spearing into groups of guards that were shooting at Globe, impaling several through limbs and knocking more down. A section of ground suddenly gave way, sending a trio of guards into the collapsing subterranean base, leaving behind only a man in simple clothes and a gray mask. Not far away, a man in black armor with a white circle on the chest began assaulting one guard after another, each of which seemed to experience the same procession of surprise followed by pain.

                “Holy shit on a skillet,” Roy muttered, taking in the scene. “Those are the other deans?”

                “Those are the other deans fighting alongside fellow Heroes they have to protect. You should see them when they don’t need to hold back. Overgrowth can cause and manipulate plant growth on a scale unmatched by any other Super in history. Reaction is a shifter with the power to change aspects of her form to suit the needs of a fight. Grasp is a brilliant hand-to-hand fighter who plays his density manipulation powers like a concert musician. Blind Spot, well you probably won’t notice him, and neither will his enemies until he’s put a bullet between their eyes. And, of course, I think you’re both already familiar with Zero. Not everyone agrees on all the aspects of running an HCP, but it’s generally considered common knowledge that whoever heads it should be able to defend the place.” George’s voice didn’t stammer or waver, despite running full speed. It made sense, robots probably didn’t get short of breath, no matter how hard they were sprinting.

                The arrival of the deans was indeed an inspiring sight, one that had spurred the Heroes to fight onward. However, more guards were still pouring out from within the bunker, joining the fray to take the place of the ones who’d fallen. And what was worse, these new ones all seemed to be coming out amped up and ready for a fight. One guard let loose an energy blast that tore into the mighty beast named Reaction’s flank, cracking the armor and drawing a short whimper of pain before it rolled to the side. The blaster took aim for another barrage, but before he could fire a single gunshot rang out and he fell to the ground, revealing a mustached man casually holding a pistol. Other guards turned to see the source of the shot, eyes skimming right over the attacker as he took aim and killed another. Reaction managed to get away, running back to the tree briefly. Her skin suddenly healed, and the armor reformed, growing back thicker at the cost of mobility, a ripple of change that ran over her entire body.

                “She can heal?” Vince asked.

                “Not that I know of. They must have brought a healer.” George adjusted the zoom on his eyes, tightening his vision on a man not far from the tree, looking visibly annoyed to be there. “Well I’ll be damned, looks like they brought the healer.”

                “Good thing, they’re gonna need it.” Roy pointed at the creatures starting to appear on the battlefield, guards with shifting abilities that had been too large to deploy indoors. Things were only getting crazier as more Heroes and guards fought each other, attention turning from Globe to pure survival.

                George barely registered the movement in time. Some sort of dark orb of energy, blazing through the air at an impossible clip in exactly their direction. He hadn’t seen this power yet, so there was no telling what it would do. “Get clear!” That was all the warning he had time to give them, and even as the words left his mouth, George knew they wouldn’t be enough. Vince and Roy both turned in the direction of the orb an unknown assailant had thrown, the former raising a hand on reflex. Too late, George realized the kid was going to try and absorb something without even knowing if he could instead of dodging. He started forward, hoping he could at least knock Vince to the ground and give some cover. Globe had given them all hope and purpose, the very least George could do was save the man’s son.

                Good intentions or not, George simply wasn’t fast enough from his position. But someone else was. Flinging himself forward, Roy Daniels slammed his bat into the orb full-force, hitting it like a pitch he wanted to put over the fences. It exploded on impact, engulfing Roy in dark flames that tore outward, searing the grass wherever they touched. Horrible as the explosion was, it also occurred at a distance, since Roy had intercepted the attack before it could reach them.

                When the dark energy finally cleared, Roy was still standing, albeit barely. His bat was scorched, the upper part of his uniform entirely gone, and horrible burns coated his upper body, especially on the front. Panting, he turned slowly around, revealing the seared flesh of his chest and face. “How good was that healer, exactly?”

                That was all he got out before slamming heavily to the ground, no longer able to even hold himself up.