Stinker pulled me by the cuffs towards the center of the field.
Despite my Ultra speed, my mind refused to come together. It couldn’t be me. Hadn’t Stinker heard Elder Tanya’s instructions? There must have been some, indicating that she should spare the Righteous. What was the point of having a secret cult if we didn’t help each other out?
As I passed my fellow townsfolk some few spat, another set nodded mournfully. I tuned them out. I was going to die. Right here, right now, I was going to die. I was going to be executed with a whole bunch of humans to scare people away from messing with Her.
I dug my heels in and pulled to a stop, pulling back with my wrists and momentarily arresting our progress. I didn’t have any concrete plan or strategy, I was just reacting to the thought that this was the last time I’d ever walk anywhere.
Stinker looked past me, even as I started to say something, and somebody hit me in the back with what felt like a sledge hammer. I folded up, crumpling to the ground, a scream of agony escaping my lips.
As I toppled I saw that it was a Knight who had struck me, who now grabbed ahold of my legs. I told myself to kick and fight back, but all I did was twitch and writhe. I only had a few months of actual, lived experience, and I’d never been seriously hit in all that time. It hurt more than it seemed like it possibly could.
Immediately another two Knights grabbed my upper half and started to carry me along with Stinker. I pulled furiously with my arms, made abortive efforts to kick with my legs despite the iron grip that the Knight who’d struck me had on them. I used every bit of my Ultra speed. Any fear I had of revealing myself to be an Ultra paled in comparison to what they were taking me to.
It was for naught. Ultra speed doesn’t grant any extra force, any more power, and frantically thrashing and frantically thrashing twice as fast apparently look pretty similar. Or maybe my powers had never been a secret. Whatever the case, no one remarked or seemed surprised as I was dragged along.
The Knights slammed me down in the center of the Field, near a group of similarly thrashing folks. I couldn’t see much more than red robes and boots as they pinned me down, but from the yelling and screaming rising around me they weren’t bothering with gags.
I hollered along with the rest, incoherent threats and pleas, focusing primarily on the fact that I was an Ultra. I didn’t know if Ultras were supposed to be killed in this way, didn’t know if it would even be a factor, but it wasn’t even going to matter because I was completely drowned out by the other folks yelling.
I raised my voice as well as I could with a boot grinding my upper body into the ground, but everyone else was raising their voice as well, and I wasn’t any louder than they were. I screamed in animal panic, frantically arched my shoulders and strained to get free.
That wasn’t happening. Three guys, each stronger individually than I was, were pinning me down. Someone was sitting on my thighs, someone else was pressing my arms down and there was that bastard stomping on my upper back. Writhe as I might I was accomplishing nothing.
Strangely, the screaming started to quiet down. I let myself fall quiet as well, sucking in air in huge grass smelling gulps. Why would the other prisoners…out of the corner of my eye I saw the approaching shimmer of Queller’s murderous nimbus.
She wasn’t taking any chances. The other prisoners were falling silent because she was killing them here and now, leaving soulless shells to be publicly tortured. I didn’t have minutes left, I had bare seconds. I felt a strange heat, furious and boiling within me, at the thought.
I reached into my gift, somehow, or something in it reached into me. As Queller’s distortion slid soundlessly towards my face I had the sudden strange impression that my mind was a glove, that it was a wrapper around something else, and that something else was taking action.
I…spread. The Knights screamed in mortal agony as I raced along their limbs, caressing their flesh and blackening it, changing their robes from blood red to the more honest red of flame.
As I shucked my mortal form I felt my memories returning. I, my human frame, had been an egg, a case, a decoy body. Built from as much of my real essence as I could slam into meat and bone, but really nothing more than a pointer, a marker, a symbol of my true self.
I was Condemner, and now I exercised that name. I was the one who determined fates, who chose endings. More, I was the one who made those endings happen.
The initial flash of my birth, the brief explosion of power which had let me race through the gathered Knights, was doubled, again and again and again, as they baked. These thugs, these brutes, they lost their lives to my faintest efforts, flesh scorched black and bones charred to ash.
People screamed and ran. The same good folks who had been willing to watch me die weren’t so willing to lose their own lives. They’d been alright with watching me die, but didn’t seem to be on board with the reverse. Bad news about that.
I was, distantly, aware that the self that I’d been for the past months wouldn’t have agreed with that. It was a passing realization though. He was just a decoy, just a shell. If he wanted his qualms to count he shouldn’t have called me forth.
Nothing about my true form cost me any of my Ultra speed. If anything, it enhanced it. I surged along the ground, racing and spreading through the grass, growing with every instant, straining to encircle the field. None would escape my condemnation.
Even as I did so I felt a pang. Distant, as all feeling was distant when I was incarnate, but clear and real all the same. I refocused my awareness back to the center, slowing my expansion as I put my attention back to the tangled knot in the middle of the field.
Queller and a few other Ultras, crouching in the midst of her nimbus. Correction, Queller, and the soulless shells of a few other people. No one else in her aura needed a name any longer.
I surged forth against her, supremely confident. Her power cut the ties between soul and body, but I had no body. Once again I felt the twinge of knowledge, that just a moment or so ago I wouldn’t have been so reckless. This time I heeded it.
Before my flames could touch her aura I cut them off from my awareness, drew my ‘self’ out of them. It was a trick I rarely needed, but just as I could claim fire so I could return it. The fireballs I hurled from my form into her aura would burn hardwood, melt plastic and reduce human frames to ashes, but for all that they were simply mundane fire.
They went out, instantly. As soon as the flames reached the edge of her aurea they were snuffed out, disappearing without a trace. Queller didn’t visibly react, didn’t twitch or jerk or seem to exert any power. My trick of observing facial features using Ultra speed confirmed it. She didn’t have to try to blot out flames from her aura. It was a constant effect, not one she’d brought forth and maintained.
I reared up a huge flame body before her, 20 feet high and dancing with rage. It was vaguely demonic, horns and hooked talons. It spoke with the roar of an inferno.
“Decimate me?!” I shouted. “You’d Decimate Condemner?!”
I was ready and waiting for her to extend that aura at me, to lash out towards the terrifying flame demon with her zone. I’d let it fall to earth and come at her from whatever part of her aura she weakened, see if I could bake her with heat. But she betrayed my expectations.
Without a motion or command her bubble dropped down and spread out along the ground, cutting me off from the grass in a wide swathe around her. She paid no attention whatsoever to the body I’d built, instead striving to push me as far back as possible, recognizing that I couldn’t hold flame above an area with no fuel.
For a split second I pushed my mind elsewhere, to the blazing periphery, where a wall of flame held the stragglers trapped in the park. I pushed that wall over a pocket of them, harvesting the energy of their passing and dragging it back to where Queller stood at bay.
She was still worryingly calm. She hadn’t responded to my taunts, hadn’t drawn her guns and fired into the smoke or done anything else foolish. Now, as the flame wave approached, she reached into her vest and brought out a mouthpiece, which she pushed up and fixed to her face.
An oxygen tank perhaps? All of a sudden I realized that I could have attacked that way. Smoke her out if I couldn’t burn her. I was already committed to this attack however. With the energy of those I’d just condemned I sent a titanic wave of flame cascading over her. It rose up over the top of her bubble and crashed down, burying her puny field in an almighty firestorm.
“Know your fate!” I exulted. “Burn, worm, BURRRNNNNN!!!!”
The energy of my victims was soon exhausted, and I let the flames die down above the field. Queller was standing, entirely unaffected. She immediately repeated her stratagem of extending her field along the ground, just as she had before my assault.
My rage rose within me, and once again I swamped a captive pocket of Nectady’s folk. Once again I harvested their power. Once again I repressed the pang of a conscience I’d somehow grown. The idiot voice of the human who’d walked here wailed within me.
I hate them because they were willing to watch me die, yet I’m willing to slaughter them? I hate them because they are the same as me, but I am desperate to preserve myself?
I pushed the thoughts aside. This time I put the pulse of power to a different use.
Lifting objects was hard for me in my true form. I was fire, with no substance. But somehow, when I burned people or things that people value, I could do it. Maybe it was something like how fire could knock down walls. Heated air or something. I didn’t need to know.
I did it now, using the hard won energy to hoist one of the Knight’s scythe blades and sending it flying towards Queller. I wasn’t sure exactly how their blessing worked. I thought Refiner’s gift would cling to the weapons he blessed unless someone with the wrong skin picked it up, but I didn’t really need it to hold out. Queller wasn’t Ultra tough. A flying metal thing should do for her.
Even as I was flinging the scythe blade at her I was working to mask it. I made another flame form on the opposite side, even as I pushed myself higher all around her, shielding the incoming blade from her sight.
“DIE!!” I shouted.
The blade came to a complete stop as it crossed into her aura, then clattered to the ground. She glanced briefly at it, then returned her attention to controlling her aura.
“She’s been fighting on the Regime’s behalf. If flying metal things could kill her someone would have shot her!” The thought flashed through my mind.
It wasn’t as though my human form could really communicate with me. He was just a way that I sometimes was, like humans when they dream. Still, that stung.
I pulled back from her, pushing my attention through the fire and taking rapid stock. Most of the people had either gotten away at the start or burned up already. There were some pockets of humans still left in the blaze, those who’d stood on ground with nothing to burn. I could sustain myself for a while longer on the vegetation and the trees here. No one was coming that I could see, no one to change this battle.
It was more like a siege. I couldn’t affect her in her bubble. At least, I couldn’t without risking pushing the flame that I inhabited into it. She couldn’t get at me, couldn’t catch Ultra fast flames and extinguish them in any real way. She had air, and she got more every time I let her spread out. I couldn’t burn her, couldn’t throw anything at her.
“Snitcher! She’s linked to the Regime! They won’t let a fight like this pass by.”
A ridiculous thought. How would anyone watching out her eyes even know she was in a fight. All they’d see is fire. Even She wouldn’t run out to punch a wildfire.
I circled and pondered, flicking my attention from one point to another within the flames and considering every way that I might get at her. Where was Stinker?
No sooner asked than answered. I saw her with another pocket of humans, crouched among the Righteous as though I’d forget about her. Betray me, would she? Would they?
I didn’t surge the flames over them this time. I had a better plan. I pushed them from one side, even as I pulled the fire out from the other side of them. Coughing and gasping, they pushed and shoved in the only direction that I left them.
“They aren’t pushing and shoving, they are helping one another up. The weak ones are being supported by the strong.”
I ignored the thought, continuing to herd them towards Queller
There was a pleasing irony in this sentence. They’d planned that I die of Queller’s field, and that the soulless flesh that was left over would be tortured before a bloody mob. Only fitting that that be their fate, stripped of their minds by that same field and then roasted.
The oxygen tank was what made me think of it. Why would she have that, if her aura protected her from gas attacks? What I knew of it was that it quenched flames and stopped projectiles. It worked on forms, in other words. But Stinkers defence was reflective, formless.
When she was cut, tear gas. When she was stabbed, mustard gas. I was willing to bet that when Queller cut her soul away it would be nerve gas, or something similar. Let her little mask save her then!
“DIE!” I roared again, consuming another pocket in my exultation. I rose all about them, the fleeing Righteous and the death towards which I drove them. My forms rose throughout my flames, blazing giants roaring my condemnation to the cringing gnomes who’d thought themselves worthy of taking my life.
I jerked my attention away from my prey, cast my gaze once again out into the town. I saw them then, advancing from a basement where they’d waited for this moment. Five forms, forms that I recognized.
Predictor led them, looked into the future to ensure that they could pull off ambushes like this. The Fifth Fist, the Trapper Fist.
It looked like my execution was back on.