As soon as the bunny appeared, Globe’s team began to scatter. They knew the end of a fight when they saw one, and while none was sure what had happened to their leader, they were aware that getting caught or killed wouldn’t help in the slightest. Most ran off on their own, heading to hideouts where they could plot their next move. There was one pair who found themselves together, though, standing in the woods.
Adam was still wearing Raze’s body, the raw power of destruction crackling through his hands. George, conversely, shifted down to human form. There was no point in making the job any harder on the kid than it would already be.
“Looks like it’s done.” Although Adam could see the fighting from their position, they were too far away to make out details. All he could really see was the guards beginning to break their formations and scatter.
“One way or another. I hope we did enough, but I don’t think we’re going to be the ones to determine that. Whatever comes next is in hands higher than ours.” Carefully, George lowered himself to the grass, getting into a kneeling position. “You did your job. More than we had any right to ask, and damn sure more than we could ever expect. You’ve earned this.” He tilted his head downward, facing the ground.
Seconds later, George felt the gentle touch of Adam’s hand against the base of his neck. With Raze’s body and power, all it would take was a quick jolt of destructive energy to kill. One shot, and that would be the end of George.
“Part of me thought you’d try to weasel out of this.” There was an edge in Adam’s voice, but he was still holding it together pretty well. Oddly, George felt a touch proud of that. Even if the circumstances were beyond fucked up, at least he’d been a decent teacher. Maybe there was time for one last lesson.
“It was tempting. I like my life, shitty as it is right now, and I’m not keen on dying. But when you make a mistake, you have to own it. Take responsibility, and be prepared to do the best you can to make things right. I can’t bring your family back. This is the best I can offer instead.”
“Still trying to teach me how to be a Hero?”
George suppressed a laugh, this wasn’t the time for any sort of frivolity. “No, we both know you’re never going down that road. I’m trying to teach you how to be a decent person. If we don’t own up to our mistakes, we’re no better than the criminals we fight.”
“I hate you so much for what you took from me. So much. But at the same time, I think I’m going to miss you. Is that strange?”
“No, Adam. That’s just part of what it means to be human.” George took one last breath, closed his eyes, and waited for the end to come.
* * *
The giant armored rabbit had occupied the attention of more than a few guards, which, when paired with reinforcements and the fact that the Heroes no longer had to worry about finding or fighting off Globe, turned the momentum of a fight from a slow brawl into a rapid assault. With split attention and renewed foes, the guards began falling faster and faster. Even the lingering effects of Crispin’s amplification couldn’t stand against well-trained, determined Heroes.
While the fight was in their favor, there was still the matter of getting across an active battlefield. Dean Blaine took the lead, suppressing the abilities of everyone who drew near him while Shane and Angela cleared a path with the ranged aspects of their powers. Chad and Roy were defending the rear, making any dumb son of a bitch who tried to sneak up on them instantly regret it. Thomas and Camille were with them, the latter still healing the former, who himself was creating quick orange shields to deflect anything ranged that came at them. Overhead, they could still see Mary zipping about, pulling the occasional wounded Hero up from the ground and speeding off, Numbers shouting calculated movements in her ear. When she did a low sweep, Dean Blaine motioned for her to fly near.
“Mary, did Amber come along with the group of students?”
“I guess you didn’t see those sound bombs go off earlier. Yeah, she’s here. Here and still hunting for Crispin, in fact. I haven’t had the heart to tell her he’s dead yet.”
That was news to Dean Blaine as well, and for a moment he almost asked Mary what had happened. Short of finding the killer themselves, she was the likeliest place to get the whole story. But if Crispin had died in crossfire or at a guard’s hand, it was nothing, whereas if one of the students killed him things might get messy. It was an issue Blaine would have to deal with, just not at this precise moment.
“Have her amplify her voice and signal all the other students to meet us at the giant tree Overgrowth brought the deans in on. Since none of you have comms, that will have to suffice as a communication method.”
“Aren’t you worried that the guards will try to intercept them?” Mary asked.
Dean Blaine glanced over the battlefield. Some ways off, a sinkhole opened, swallowing four guards up to their necks. There was a white uniform all but dancing through gunfire, dropping a guard with every shot of her own. A huge shifter made of what seemed like diamond suddenly tumbled to the ground as a lone student with a sword sliced neatly through one of its legs. Terrified screams of a guard suddenly hauled up into a tree by an unseen monster rang through the air. A team of students, one with a staff, one seemingly hurling people about telekinetically, was standing victorious over a swollen guard with obvious enhanced strength. The sudden thump and shower of dirt signaled the landing of someone super-dense, and from the cloud of debris came a spiked chain wrapping around a guard who’d had the misfortune of not being thrown further away as he menaced an injured Hero. Energy was pouring up and out from a half-dozen firefights, bodies hurled through the air by various means of force, for a split-second it almost looked like there was a tear in the very sky above them. Heroes and students, working together, were proving exactly what the HCP was made of.
“No, I can sincerely say I am not worried about that in the slightest. These guards are brave, or at least well motivated, but I daresay running toward all these students would be akin to hurling themselves into a meat grinder, and they know it.”
Mary floated a little higher and looked over the scene. “Class of Nightmares, huh?”
“Seeing what talent the other schools have, I feel like Generation of Nightmares might have been more fitting, but no one asks me when they come up with these stupid nicknames.” Dean Blaine watched Mary laugh as she flew off, presumably toward Amber, before they resumed their trek.
The longer they ran, the easier moving became as more and more guards were brought down or captured. By the time they reached Graham DeSoto, it felt like the battle was nearly over, and only a few stray people in body armor were still running about or firing. Some of the students were already there, they’d seen that the end was coming and grouped up on the most logical landmark to await new orders, even without Dean Blaine’s message. One more bit of proof that these kids were going to do fine in the field.
Vince was laying on the back of the giant tree, his uniform jacket removed and draped across his left side while Casper stood over him, hands on Vince’s forehead. Globe was only a few feet away, Graham DeSoto at his side, watching the process with unnecessary worry. As a man who’d been nearly blown apart and then put back together, Dean Blaine could more than vouch for Casper’s healing power.
“Why are they covering him?” Camille asked.
“Watching limbs regrow can be… unnerving, for those not used to it,” Dean Blaine explained. “It became Hallow’s standard tactic to cover the process when he had to do it in the field. I suppose some habits linger on, even after they are no longer in use.”
Finally, Casper stood up, cracking his back and pulling off the jacket. There, pale but otherwise normal, was a new arm. Vince started to stir, lifting his head up slightly before dropping it right back down onto the bark.
“He’s not doing anything for a while. Regrowing a limb takes enough out of someone, plus he’d already worn himself down, and he had other injuries on top of it. If the kid wakes up before tomorrow morning it will only be to use the bathroom.”
“Don’t be… so sure…” Although he wasn’t lifting his head this time, Vince’s eyes did manage to pull themselves halfway open. “Not missing… my father…”
In a moment, Globe was there, resting a hand on his son’s chest. “Stubborn boy. Always have been. Too stubborn and decent for your own good. I don’t have my power right now, so you’ll have to sleep on your own. Just this once, do as you're told.” Despite his clear struggle, Vince’s eyes eventually fell shut, and Globe breathed a sigh of relief. “Hey Graham, when this is done, I’d appreciate it if you let Vince come visit me in whatever hole you put me down. At least once, he deserves a proper goodbye.”
“That is a discussion we should have once we know the actual charges to level at you.” While his voice was gentle, the posture of Graham DeSoto remained firm and unrelenting. “We healed Vince, just like you requested. Now it’s time to uphold your end of the bargain.”
It was odd to see a look of surprise on Globe’s face, he tended to act like someone who saw it all coming, at least in public. “Here? Wouldn’t you prefer something a little more private? Or at least not on an active battlefield?”
“Active is a strong word for what remains of Adair’s forces. And yes, I want you to tell me here, not in some secret room or hidden chamber.” Graham thrust a finger toward the near-toppling ruins of the bunker. “I think we have seen too well today where doing business in secret gets the world. Whatever happened, whatever the truth is, the world deserves to know it. No more dark deals done in shadows. No more secrets.”
A flash of movement in Globe’s eyes as they darted over to Chad, who was slowly shedding his bone armor. “You’re right. There have been more than enough secrets. Time to tell the truth.” Taking a deep breath, Globe turned back to Graham DeSoto.
“To the best of my knowledge, it happened like this…”