Chapter 304

                The sudden arrival of the HCP deans had momentarily turned the tide of the battle, their overwhelming power put on display was enough to scare even the most devoted of soldiers. Under different motivations, the guards might have already broken into a run. Unfortunately, these were people who knew they’d be better served by a death in the fray than a few extra days on the run, so they’d continued to fight, even as it seemed increasingly hopeless. Then, more guards had begun pouring out of the bunker, larger numbers than anyone expected, and while it didn’t put the Heroes on the ropes, it made things significantly harder on them. Especially since many of the new guards were coming out with amped up abilities, a few even able to take on the Heroes one-on-one. Still, it was a fight, with both sides working hard to overtake the other.

                Just when it seemed like the Heroes might retake the advantage, however, the bunker literally cracked open on its east side. Walls exploded as new troops came rushing out, far more than anyone could have anticipated. A fresh wave against the weary Heroes who had already been doing their best to hold the line. They surged like insects across the battlefield, sheer numbers managing to overwhelm and push back the already stressed Heroes.

                Graham DeSoto watched it all happen from the tree that Dean Silva, the Hero once called Overgrowth, had used to transport them. This was looking bad. As soon as he’d arrived on the scene, he’d put in a call for backup, but the teleportation blocks were making things difficult. By the time more Heroes managed to respond, get to their nearest teleportation point, and make the rest of the trip, it was possible the fight could already be won. Charles had picked a good location. No roads, no clear paths, and now no way to teleport. A few Heroes would be able to cross the distance without issue, speedsters and strongmen who jumped, but most couldn’t bring their teammates along as well. A couple more bodies wouldn’t make the difference, they needed coordination and overwhelming power to turn back that many troops.

                There was one chance, though. He could play on their fears, the most primal parts of their minds. Looking at his weathered hand, Graham flexed his fingers, the barest shape of a silver metal blade forming from the light around them. Maybe… maybe seeing Captain Starlight would be enough to scare them, to break their resolve. It was a hell of a gamble, especially given that all his reasons for staying on the sidelines were still true. But in the end, he had to protect his fellow Heroes. If Captain Starlight had even the chance of doing that, then wasn’t it worth the risk?

                “Incoming.” Casper was surprisingly blasé as he announced the flying tree trunk that was zooming in to them. Before they could wonder if it was friend or foe, the tree had arrived, with a small young woman on the front, two men in suits on the back holding a shirtless fellow who looked like he’d walked through hellfire, and a robot wobbling a few feet below them. As soon as they stopped, the robot fell to the ground roughly, picking itself up in a hurry.

                “Mr. DeSoto, my name is Mary, I’m a former student from Lander. The guy with the burns is Roy, or maybe I should call him Ettin out here. Anyway, he really needs healing, so I was hoping you could talk your lackey into helping.” She paused briefly, glancing over at the metal man. “Oh, and Coach George, the wanted criminal, would also like some help. He can make his own case to you, though.”

                It was a lot to take in without warning, but this was hardly Graham’s first time in combat. He broke down the information in seconds and reached a decision. “Casper, heal the boy. I’ll figure out what to do about George.”

                “He’s a student,” Casper pointed out. “Maybe it’s better to just heal him enough so he isn’t in danger while keeping him out of the fight. Unless you want children in that chaos.”

                “If this year’s Intramurals showed me nothing else, it’s that this year’s students are more than capable of taking on the mantle of Hero. Besides, they’re only weeks from graduation, and at this point an almost-Hero is better than none at all.” Graham stopped, giving a heavy shrug that there was no way Casper could miss. “Of course, if you want to tell Titan that you wouldn’t heal his son, you can go right ahead and do it. Just be sure to mention that I was all for patching the boy up.”

                Casper’s face flushed and his eyes went wide as understanding set in. Without another word, he jumped over to Roy and began to remove the burns. It was hard not to smile to himself, but Graham pushed it down anyway. This was not the time for joy or grins, they were still on the losing side of a hard battle. One that he might have to join soon.

                “With respect, sir, might I recommend waiting a little longer?” Mary was still floating there, although unlike the others, her attention was on Graham instead of Roy. “Sorry, I think you probably didn’t mean to let that slip, but in a fight like this I have to keep my mind open.”

                Short, telepathic, able to mentally lift so much without visible strain; suddenly it all clicked into place for Graham. “You’re the one who dropped out midway through the year. The advanced mind Blaine thought might take top of the class.”

                “He told you about me?” To her own surprise, Mary was a tad embarrassed to have been talked up to such a legend.

                “Couldn’t very well bring me up to speed on all of this without mentioning you,” Graham replied. “I’ll take the bait. Why should I wait to get involved? Most of my reinforcements are still a ways off from joining us.”

                Mary’s reply was coupled with a simple, coy grin. “There’s a fight here, isn’t there? A big fight, with lots of stakes, and odds stacked against us. Did you really think she wouldn’t show up? Based on the locations in her mind, it shouldn’t be long at all now.”

*             *             *

                Patience was its own power, in a way. Crispin could have gotten back up after the blow, prattling on about how he’d had training of his own and taken far tougher hits than that. Instead, he waited. Lying on the ground, shamefully prone, as the others all filed out. No one spared a thought for him, he was a battery that had been temporarily used up. He was irrelevant in the face of the Heroes they had to do battle with. So Crispin stayed like that until almost everyone was gone, and the few who remained weren’t paying him any attention.

                Finally, at just the right moment, he silently climbed to his feet and dashed out the nearest exit, a part of the bunker that had once been a wall. By sheer fortune, he found himself running away from the fight. Behind him was a sea of blood and battle, but ahead there was only a large hill dotted by trees. If he could make his way over it, get out of sight, then he had a fighting chance to vanish in the confusion. Crispin would live to fight another day, and when he came back it would be with enough force the crushed the entire Hero system and everyone in it, only such absolute victory would sate his thirst for revenge.

                The golden blades fell perfectly across his path, seven swords stabbing into the ground, forcing Crispin to come to a skidding halt like he was sliding for second base. He scrambled to his feet in no time to find a person in golden armor landing behind the swords.

                “Well damn, here I was expecting you to be in the middle of everything, the prize at the bottom of the cereal I would have to fight my way through bullshit to get. I guess this is a freebie.”

                Bad, this was bad. Crispin had kept tabs on the Hero world by necessity, he was keenly aware of the Hero named Charon who wielded golden weapons with dangerous accuracy. There was only one card he had to play, so he didn’t waste time busting it out. “You could catch me, yes. I won’t deny that. But look behind me, to all the fighting going on. The others need you, Charon. They need more than you, really. They need an army. I can give you that kind of power. A Super like you has nearly boundless potential. Let me go, and I’ll make you so strong that you’ll be comparable to the army they need.”

                “Hmm tempting. Really tempting. Except, there’s one little problem with that. I don’t actually need to be the equivalent of an army.” Charon clapped her gauntlet-covered hands together twice. Behind her, perfectly in Crispin’s view, a new shape began to rise over the hill. A living wave of dirt and earth, at least two dozen figures perched atop it.

                “Too bad for you, fucker. I brought my own.”