The Fifth Fist spread out as they advanced upon me, forming a wedge with their leader at the head. Five of the Regime’s best killers, five Ultras who’d beaten small armies, now came for me.
Predictor, in the front, was their leader. He was tall and good looking, one of the few guys whose power doesn’t have something to do with changing their body. Instead of the sort of gussied up body armor that Queller had sported earlier Predictor wore a tailored tuxedo.
I knew his powers. He saw the future, or parts of it. That was the main thing. I think he backed that up with Ultra strength and durability?
“Speed not strength.”
I clamped down on the portion of my thoughts that still sounded like my human form, even as I pulled in the edges of my being. I didn’t need to waste any energy on Queller and the pockets of survivors when the Fifth Fist was getting ready to throw down.
Standing to Predictor’s left and right were the less combative members of the group. Gardener, looming over his boss, looked like some sort of old movie special effect. He was an animate tree/man hybrid, lumbering along with his roots pulling concrete out of the ground with every step. Strong, tough…but very flammable. Tamer, by contrast, still looked human. She hadn’t merged with any particular animal yet. Her human form had a wide radius influence over animal life’s behavior and some kind of enhanced mobility power. She was also holding a fire extinguisher, for all the good it would do them.
I crafted the terrifying demon visage once more. I built it up from out of the blazing grasses and trees until it towered over the Fifth Fist, at least as tall as Gardener. I roared, a sound like stones cracking and timber shattering.
Slicer and Pitcher moved protectively forward, standing between the rest of their crew and my burning extension. My avatar roared again, feigned a rush and they each reacted differently.
Slicer kicked the ground before her with thunderous force. She actually looked a little bit like a soccer player, if I was honest, aside from the blades emerging from forearms and shins. The stone flew into the flames a good ten feet to my manifestation’s right, to no effect.
Pitcher, by contrast, stepped back and reached out to quickly tap each of the other three. I had a hazy idea that this would let her move them around with her gift, but I wasn’t sure of the exact particulars.
“Demner,” said Predictor softly and with an odd gentleness to his tone. “Give it up man.”
I made no outward response, but off to the side, away from my demon shape, I started to burn a charred log’s splintered ends to a series of points.
“You can’t beat us.” He said, matter-of-factly. “You can’t get away. Fighting five Ultras with just your weak ass gift just isn’t going to happen.”
“Weak?” I bellowed, my voice the roar of a wildfire unchecked. “Weak? You dare to call me weak?”
Predicter was already reaching into his vest pocket. I waited, tense. I’d strike the instant that he did, let him do whatever he was going to do to the meaningless flame construct before him, even as I’d spend some of my stored energy putting a burning log right through his smug face.
Instead of a weapon, he pulled out a sheet of paper. It was white, and written on it in bright marker colors and huge letters was the same phrase I’d just bellowed. “You dare to call me weak?”.
I subsided momentarily, pulling energy in and letting my awareness slip from peripheral flames. How could he possibly have made that note in just the brief time since I…
“I’ve seen all of this, Demner. Every last humiliating second,” said Predicter. “It ends with you in our grasp, begging and shaking before we knock you out.”
I positively recoiled. The force that I’d drawn during the battle clustered before them, white hot flames dancing and scorching the air.
I had sufficient power. I’d taken human lives, turned the park into a wasteland. I had energy to burn, as it were. But if he’d already seen how this was going to go…
No, whatever he said I refused to believe that. I couldn’t be anticipated, couldn’t be controlled. I was wild flame, a self-causing calamity which swept the guilty from the world.
“Seen it, have you?” I called upon my power once again, this time sending forth my gathered energies to blind, and not to burn.
My blaze flashed suddenly, brightening past any normal flame’s ability to shine. I banished in an instant every spot of gloom every single shadow that would ordinarily linger. The Fifth Fist stood revealed in their entirety within the glow of my might.
No sooner had I blinded them than I lashed out. They hadn’t walked onto the field so I had to lob myself across the stone at them. Inconsequential. Even after the blinding pulse I had plenty of energy. I pulled myself into a huge fireball and shot across the street as though a cannon had blasted me forth.
Despite their blindness, the Fifth Fist weren’t caught entirely unawares. Even as I flew towards them they themselves were sent flying. Pitcher’s power caught them up and shot those she’d touched in all directions, sending Predictor, Tamer and Gardener rolling and bouncing across the street.
Only Slicer was left, unable to avoid the path of my blaze, and I made of her a human torch. She was engulfed in my essence, buried in my blaze. Even as I continued along my arc and took root in the house beyond the Fist’s earlier position I continued to pour energy into the flames which blanketed her form.
Slicer had Ultra toughness 2, it seemed. Perhaps she thought that that would save her. I’d killed more than one Ultras who had thought as much. I poured heat and hate along the blaze and she thrashed uselessly about with the forearm blades. What a meager gift, compared with my magnificent form!
“One down!” I bellowed, even as I filled the house. This had been their refuge, where they’d bided their time until falling to my power. It suited me to consume it, to condemn it. I pushed my essence through every wall and cranny, turning their habitation into my strength.
Suddenly, a tremor swept through me, akin to my first setback in this battle, when Queller began fighting the flame. I’d lost power, lost it so suddenly and completely that it took me a moment to discover what had happened.
It wasn’t the rest of the Fifth Fist, who were still regathering themselves and trying to get their vision back. It wasn’t Queller, far away in the park. It was Slicer, the simple brute of all people, who dared to strike against me. She’d cut away the tendril of flame which linked me to the fires that I’d set on her, and they were swiftly guttering out.
That shouldn’t be possible. I was flame, not gross and unsubtle matter. No blade should do more than pass without impact through my form. Even if my course was momentarily interrupted, it should have flowed clean once again the moment that the obstacle was removed.
There was only one possible conclusion. Slicer’s blades were more powerful than my form, when the two came in direct conflict. Unthinkable though it was, the truth was plain. In this limited way, her power trumped mine.
I would not bear it. With a titanic creaking and shuddering I extended myself throughout all of the hidden spaces of the old house, infiltrating my flames down into the basement and all through the roof. Everywhere I hadn’t gotten in my last pulse felt the burn of my presence. I’d take all the energy I could get before I struck again. If I was fortunate, perhaps someone was seeking shelter within the structure.
Once again, a terrible pain welled up this time from within the core of my own form. From the basement something was rising up, something terrible. My body guttered out in a terrible and swift progression, death rising from the basement at incredible speed.
Only the fact that I don’t feel pain in my true form, combined with my Ultra speed, let me escape. Without taking time to plan or think, acting almost entirely on impulse, I recreated my human form and forced my essence down into it.
I had no time to craft a new identity for myself. I slammed the thought cluster that I’d been repressing throughout the fight back into it, along with an impetus to flee. I had time for nothing more before I ceased, my thoughts guttering out as Nirav took over.
I gasped, panting, as smoke filled my face. Where was I? The floor beneath was hot to the point of pain, scorching my bare feet. I jumped forward instinctively, banging against a blazing hot wall.
Better question, who was I? Nirav. I was Nirav. I remembered that much. I was a person, an Ultra. I was Ultra fast. I…didn’t have anything more than that. No context, no past. No SOURCE for all this information. I held my breath and tried to think.
I was inside, somewhere. The smoke and heat made me think I was in danger of fire. The thought spurred me into motion.
I crossed the room quickly, hot footing it from step to step as my feet were burned. Feeling around, I found a starewell, which I quickly started down. Instantly I became aware that I’d erred.
Coming up the stair was a cloud of something. It took the smoke away, and it was a cold and clammy gas. I jerked back with a visceral reaction as it soaked me, a briny fluid condensing onto me out of the dank gas.
I couldn’t cope with this. From smoke to cold fog, still no sight, scorched and now drenched. No air since I’d awoken. No idea where I was. I put my head down and squeezed every inch of Ultra speed out of my gift, banging and crashing around the house in every direction. I needed OUT.
An instant later, I got my wish. I crashed through a window and out into a bright and shiny day. I plummeted ten feet and slammed into the ground. Ordinarily I’m sure my speed would’ve let me fall well, but I was in such a state of bewilderment and pain that I slammed into the ground in an awkward full body bellyflop.
The anguish of the past moments, choking on smoke, feet searing and sizzling, had been nothing but the faintest foretaste of the feel of slamming into the ground in a hail of broken glass and shattered window frame. Every part of me positively radiated agony. I writhed in mute and tortured suffering.
Some asshole chose this moment to kick me in the side. Honestly, it barely made any further impression. I was a ball of pain. I couldn’t be hurt any worse. I grabbed my knees and rolled away, letting the first scream escape me. The first sound that I could ever remember making, and it was an anguished scream.
He, or they, didn’t let up. Another person was in the other direction, and they kicked me back towards the first guy. I closed my eyes and screamed for help as the blows rained down.
The beating probably only lasted a moment, not more than a minute certainly. Kicks rained down from every direction, and I twitched and thrashed and strove to keep my head intact. After an eternity, or what felt like one anyway, the attacks stopped.
I didn’t move my hands from their position shielding my face. I peeked up between my fingers. Had someone come to my rescue?
My hopes were instantly dashed. The faces that stared down at me were a Fist, of all people. The Regime’s most elite killers, taking time out of their busy schedule of screwing up the world at large to kick ten shades of hell out of me.
“Please” I begged. “Just let me…” What could I finish with? Go? Die? Begging didn’t work with Fists. How did I know that?
One of them, wearing a fancy suit despite the heat of the day, and the fact that there had apparently been a huge fire, spoke up.
“Can’t shift when you are soaking wet, now can you?”
That was incomprehensible nonsense, but I wasn’t about to interrupt the crazy ultrahuman whose henchmen had me surrounded.
“People don’t believe me when I tell them that I’ve got it all figured out,” he continued. “I know what to say to set a hot headed fool off. I know where to deploy my Fist to get him to charge. I know how to rig a house to release an explosion of inert gas, if someone is dumb enough to set it off.
“You know a lot, sure,“ I said. “No one knows more than you, sir.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, and humoring the crazy man seemed like the best way forward.
He chuckled then, and the burned woman with the blade things sticking out of her arms reached down and heaved me upright.
I was stunned at her power. Ultra force of the second degree, at least. She pulled me to my feet as though she held nothing in her hand. Her other arm was poised to lash out, and I had no doubt whatsoever that she’d slash that blade right through my body with a similar lack of difficulty.
“Woah, wait a sec…”I started, despite not really having any way to end that sentence.
“Easy Slicer,” said the man with the suit. “She wants this one for Her own use.”
Something about the way he said the female pronouns let me hear the capital letters. A little pause right after them, a one beat rest. He was talking about Prevailer. The devil herself.
“She…wants me?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Kind of,” returned the suited man. “She wants mighty Ultras to put into a new Fist. We’ve picked you.”
A flash of hope kindled within me. This was all some sort of ghastly misunderstanding.
“I’m not mighty though. I have no idea, to tell you the truth, where I am or what I’m doing. I don’t have any idea how I got here. I don’t know why you attacked me. I don’t-“
I’d started to blur my speech, words slipping into the space after the previous one. A consequence of Ultra speed, when I got excited. I clamped my mouth shut, stopping the babble.
They stared down a me for a moment, and then the leader spoke up again.
“You are actually telling the truth. You aren’t mighty.”
“But I said that She wants strong Ultras for her new Fist.”
My gaze hung on him, showing my confusion, even as the great tree man on my right raised a clubbing fist.
“That’s what She wants. We, on the other hand. We aren’t so eager to guarantee the quality of our competition. You’ll do.”
I started to protest, but he was already nodding to the tree guy.
His fist struck my skull like a falling star, and my all too brief awareness tumbled back into blackness.