The metal clawtips scorched me; I could feel them blistering the skin around my neck. A tendril of black lightning flowed through me, burning me from the inside out--hot white anguish filled my stomach, my chest, my limbs.
Scourge held me by my throat and pinned me to a column of stone.
My face was exposed; my eyes wide and full of terror. But even with my heart pounding--my body shaking--I had enough left of whatever brought me this far to spit in his face.
He didn't bother to wipe it away. "You miserable little cow," he said. "You aren't half the Skull she was. None of you ever were."
Another bolt of lightning tore through me. I felt my flesh rupture. My teeth clenched, choking back the tears, the pain, the need to scream.
"I'm running out of time," he said. "I've made arrangements with things far beyond your fathoming. Hungry things. And soon they will come to slake their appetite. You'll have to do."
The lightning tore through me again. This time, I couldn't hold back my shriek.
"My only regret is that you won't live to see me slit Sumerset's throat."
The ceiling above us buckled. Brick fell through, riding on top of two tons of semi-animate stone.
They slammed down atop the central platform. Brick clutched the golem's throat with one hand and brought the other down to its forehead--punching the engraving there again and again. On the third strike, the carving cracked.
As the golem crumbled, Scourge and I struggled to recover. The room was flooded with dust and soot; Scourge had let go of me and backed off as Brick crashed through. Now as Brick got to his feet, Scourge charged--and swung the Crimson Claw straight for his chest.
Brick turned and caught it.
There was a moment of confusion and pain as Scourge's arm was seized. Then Brick clenched his other hand into a fist and threw a punch at Scourge's chest.
I could hear the sound of something snapping from several yards away. Scourge fell back; Brick towered over him, fearless and ready.
Jagged threads of black energy spread along the fingertips of the Crimson Claw. Dragging myself to my feet, I shouted out a warning as Scourge targeted us both.
Brick spread his arms out and took the blast for both of us. Bolts of lightning slashed across his gray flesh, carving shallow canyons over his chest. He crumpled, smoldering and groaning.
My own regeneration was starting to kick in--I still had trouble standing, but I felt the pain start to ebb. I stumbled my way over to Brick and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't think I can take one of those again," he said, his voice shaking.
"You don't have to."
Scourge was powering up another bolt; I drew up what little reserves of strength I had left and hurled myself at him. When I hit, my shoulder exploded in a starburst of agony. We plummeted off the platform and onto the rails.
Another shock of lightning coursed through me, tearing out my back. My skin was sizzling, by this point; I was on the threshold of blacking out. Scourge shoved me off him and stood up.
"I'm going to kill you," he said, wheezing.
I was on my back, eyes wet with tears, struggling to just stay conscious. Scourge went for a bent iron pole that had been dislodged by Brick's earlier fall--its tip ended in a twisted point. He hefted it up in the Crimson Claw, wielding it like a spear.
When he got close enough--his foot on the rail--I snapped the cattleprod off my back and stabbed it straight down into his thigh.
He screamed; I moved. I managed to sit up, swinging the cattleprod up for his groin. Another shock sent him crashing down to the floor.
We both heard the sound coming down the tracks--the steady rumble of an oncoming train. Scourge looked at me, eyes narrowed in rage and pain.
"What are you waiting for?" he asked.
Fighting through the haze, I dragged him back until the rails were above his head. Then I seized the Crimson Claw and smashed it down against the tracks, pinning it.
"Nngh--you bitch!" he said. "You fucking little--how dare you--"
The train's brakes hissed. Black lightning rippled out in angry lances, gouging paths through rock and iron. I did my best to stay out of their way, my knee against his stomach and my hands pinning down his elbow.
The sight of an oncoming train was terrifying beyond all belief, but somehow I kept my ground. There was a rush of heat and air--rocks clattered as the train slowed to a halt--and those wheels scraped toward the Crimson Claw.
The red prosthetic crumpled and snapped beneath them like cheap aluminium.
The train came to a complete stop. Somewhere above us, I could hear people shouting, people screaming--passengers rushing to the windows to see what the commotion was about.
Ruined and defeated, the Scourge stared up at me with pure, unfiltered hate.
"Kill me," he said, and then he spat blood at me. "If you don't, I'll tell the world. I'll tell everyone who you are. And you'll be hunted, Sue Daysdale. By the government--by old foes--by a thousand other opportunists. You'll be fucked. So kill me now, or so help me God--"
Wobbling, I got to my feet. My hands found the wall behind me as I started to make my way toward the stairs.
"Don't you dare leave me alive! I'll destroy you! I'll--"
There was a familiar crackle and pop from his direction. As I turned, I caught sight of a brilliant blue glow--and the rapidly forming image of a girl.
Her face was wrapped in bandages and her stomach was bleeding from a wound. In her left hand, she held Sumerset's gun.
Scourge stared up at her, confounded. "You again?!"
She lifted the barrel of the gun, brought it to his forehead, and fired a single shot.
I stared, slack-jawed and speechless. She dropped the gun and turned to me.
"Live. Save the world," she said.
And then she fell to the ground.