"Anna. Sumerset. Anyone," Wytch's voice crackled over the radio channel. "How the hell does this goddess-damned thing work?"
"Wytch," Sumerset said. "Picking you up just fine. You alright?"
"Scourge has the Skull Formula. And I think he might have some of Sovereign's blood."
Anna picked up the communicator. "I think most of his team is out, though. He's got the Skull Formula, but that shouldn't be a big deal, right? You got Man-of-War--Tech-Head's down, and Red's got Rockstar. If everyone moves toward Metro Tower, even if he has the Skull's powers, you should be able to--"
"The Skull Formula doesn't work like that," Sumerset said.
"Get everyone to Metro Tower. Immediately," Sumerset said. "Unless we move fast, we are all royally fucked."
I was still in a lot of pain, but the regeneration was kicking in overdrive; I could feel my bones reknitting. In another minute or two, I figured I'd even be able to stand without vomitting my guts.
The Skull clone kept their focus on Metro Tower. I cleared my throat, tried to make some noise.
"Uh," I said. "So, you gonna explain anything else?"
"Temporis will fill you in on the details."
"Wait a few more seconds," the Skull clone said. And then: "I just wanted to say."
"For everything. I'm sorry." They turned and looked at me from over their shoulder. "I wish things could have turned out differently. But if it's any consolation..."
The tower started to shake. I heard what sounded like a dull, distant explosion.
"...we didn't do all too bad, all things considered. Anyway. See you soon," the Skull clone said.
And then there was a flash of light, and they disappeared.
And the first three floors of Metro Tower exploded.
Sovereign flew like a bullet out of Metro Tower. He hit a nearby building--ripped through concrete and steel girders--and kept going. When he emerged the opposite side, his velocity didn't slow; he slammed through three more buildings before he fell to the street, rolling into a crash.
Blood dribbled from his upper lip. His eyes burned with crimson energy; he looked up into the night sky, at the man who had struck him.
"Scourge," he roared.
Scourge grinned from high above, where he floated overhead. "No," he said. "Call me Tyrant."
"Skull Formula doesn't just give you strength and regeneration," Sumerset said.
"What else?" Paladin asked as he raced across rooftops.
"It gives you the power of whoever's blood has been added to it," Wytch said. "That must have been Scourge's plan all along. He didn't want to just kill Sovereign--"
"He wanted Sovereign's powerset," Anna said.
"Shit," Mulligan said. "Scourge with Sovereign's powerset. That's bad."
"It gets worse," Sumerset said. "A lot worse."
The energy gathered around Sovereign's eyes into a solid beam. With a roar, he fired; a streak of crimson lit up the city sky and struck Tyrant directly in the chest.
Flesh burned and sizzled; Tyrant cried out as he was hurled back and sent smashing against the building behind him. The smoke cleared, and Tyrant fell to the earth.
Sovereign struggled to his feet. Through the smoke, he could see Tyrant standing back up.
The burn marks across his chest and face were rapidly closing, healing up to reveal smooth, unmarked skin.
Tyrant grinned. His eyes started to burn red.
"Skull's powers?" Anna said. "So, like--"
"Oh shit," Mulligan said. "Oh fucking shit. That means--"
"Regeneration," Wytch said. "He's not just as strong as Sovereign... he's also just about impossible to kill."
"And increased agility," Sumerset said. "And Scourge is already a capable spell-caster, on top of everything else. Basically, if Scourge gets ahold of Sovereign's blood, we are all--"
"Guys," Paladin said. "Standing near Metro Tower now. Scourge is... he's fighting Sovereign. Alone."
For a moment, the channel was silent.
Paladin then added: "And he's winning."
Tyrant's fists became nothing but a blur; beneath them, Sovereign's face was reduced to a bloody pulp. Concrete rippled and cracked; the streets groaned beneath the relentless pressure of his pumping arms.
Sovereign spat out a bloody, chipped tooth. Tyrant grinned.
He plucked what was left of Sovereign's bloody, broken body, and hurled him into the air.
Lightning swept out from above; Wytch soared low and caught Sovereign, darting away.
"Hmph," Tyrant replied, and then he sprang into the air after her.
An empty bus slammed into him. He was sent reeling back and crashing into the sixth floor of an office building; glass popped behind him as the vehicle drilled him through the building and down to the fifth floor.
Tyrant shook his head and struggled to lift the bus; it was then that he noticed that it was full of several dozen pulsing balls of energy.
"Eat plasma grenades," Sumerset roared from the streets.
The bus exploded; the building's entire south side ruptured beneath the force of the flames. Supports above creaked and groaned; Sumerset continued to fire round after round of plasma grenades toward the building's base, aiming to bring it down in a controlled, localized collapse.
As it fell with a crash, an immense cloud of smoke swept out through the streets of Metro City. Sumerset didn't let up with the assault--blast after blast was sent booming through the rubble, turning the heap of brick and steel into a smoldering inferno.
Tyrant rose above it; the wounds he had suffered from the blast were already closing.
"Did someone leave a window open?" Tyrant said. "I thought I felt a draft."
"Oh, fuck you," Sumerset shouted.
Shortly after Metro Tower exploded, there was another flash of light in front of me.
A girl in a T-shirt and jeans emerged.
I had just managed to sit up, and was slowly limping my way toward the fight that was raging on the streets; the girl stepped forward, pressed her hand to my chest, and shook her head.
"What--look, I'm starting to get tired of all this mysterious, weird bullshit," I said. "If somebody doesn't tell me what's going on right now, I'm going to... I'm going to..."
I stared at the girl. I recognized her face.
My eyes narrowed.
"You're that time-traveling... lady," I said. "The one who warned me about Scourge--I saw you dead."
"Temporal paradoxes are a bitch," the girl said, and then she grinned. "But actually, from my perspective, this is the first time we've met. Name's Temporis. I open portals in space and time."
"Cool. So, yeah. Pardon me, gotta go help my friends."
"That's what I'm here to do," she said. "Help you help them."
"Yeah, uh, okay, but--"
"Sue Daysdale," she said. "The Scourge now has all of your powers and all the powers of Sovereign. There ain't a damn thing you can do to stop him. Not right now."
I hesitated and stopped. "...so what the hell am I supposed to do?"
"Easy," she said. "Search. Prepare. Train."
"Yeah, sorry, but I don't have enough time for that. My friends are in trouble--"
"Did you miss the part where I said I open portals in space and time?"
Wytch flew down to one side of Tyrant; Red flew down to the other side. Red's eyes were still obscured beneath the crackle of violet energy; music swelled around in her wake.
Both attacked --bolts of lightning from Wytch, and an ear-shattering sound from Red. The attacks hit Tyrant simultaneously, sheathing him in an illuminating halo of destruction.
When the light cleared, Tyrant brought both his hands together with an earth-shaking krack-kow.
Air ruptured beneath the force of the sound; Red and Wytch were both batted from the air at once. Tyrant darted straight down toward Sumerset.
"Everything: Fire," Sumerset whispered.
Everything went off with a series of thunderous booms. A microwave capable of heating the moisture under the skin caused Tyrant's flesh to briefly sizzle; lights capable of inflicting instant, permanent blindness scorched his retinas. A sound-wave designed to explicitly shatter ear-drums tore through his face and caused his jawbone to tremble beneath the volume. A stripped uranium slug met him in the chest, fired from the mounted rail-gun at super-sonic speed; plasma grenades detonated in front of his torso, splashing him with superheated matter.
Tyrant tore through the violent assault and hit Sumerset enough to crack the Arsenal armor's torso. Sumerset grunted, lifted off his feet and sent soaring back through the next building. Concrete gave way behind him as he rolled and crashed, halting somewhere in the parking plaza directly behind the building.
"I don't understand what you're saying," I said. "But everyone I care about is in danger. So if you don't get out of my way--"
"I'm sorry," Temporis said. "But I can't let you join the fight."
"Why the fuck not?"
"Because that's not how this fight happens."
"Excuse me, what? How the hell does it happen then, huh?" I asked.
"You singlehandedly beat Tyrant," she said.
"Then let me through!"
"Not you you," she said. "Future you."
"That doesn't--that doesn't make any sense!" I said.
"Time-travel shenanigans rarely do," she said. "Point is, things have to happen like they're about to happen, otherwise we get an offshoot timeline."
"And, what? I'm supposed to just trust you?"
"No," she said, and then she took something out of her pants pocket. It was small--it looked like an mp3 player, but with a video screen. As she handed it to me, she hit the 'play' button.
The screen flickered.
Sumerset's ugly mug appeared on the screen.
"Kid," he said, his voice filtered through the piss-poor mini-speakers that someone had plugged into the headphone port. "Do exactly what the crazy time-traveling girl tells you to do."
I looked up from the mp3 player to Temporis, then back to the mp3 player.
"This is such bullshit," I muttered.
Temporis grinned. She lifted her arm; a portal filled with light opened in front of me.
"Step through," she said.
I glanced back to the battle raging in front of me, then back to the portal. Then I looked back to Temporis.
"If this is some sort of bullshit," I told her, "I will find you."
"It's not bullshit," she said. "And yes, you will."
I held my breath and stepped through the portal.
Tyrant descended into the parking lot just as Sumerset managed to get back on his feet.
Wheezing and gasping, Sumerset tried to fire the plasma grenade; error messages scrolled over his screen. The rail gun was out too; the majority of the suit's offensive capabilities had been disabled.
"Figures," he said, just as Tyrant seized him by the collar and plucked the Arsenal suit up into the air.
"Time to make you a very holy man," Tyrant said.
"Piss off and die," Sumerset said.
Tyrant's fist dove straight into the Arsenal suit's chest; it parted through metal and circuitry and pushed on into the meat of Sumerset's torso.
His fingers crawled into Sumerset's stomach, found his spine, and squeezed.
Sumerset's eyes rolled back into his head. Tyrant withdrew his blood-soaked hand, leaving a fist-sized hole in Sumerset's abdomen; he released the Arsenal suit, letting it crumple to the ground.
As he turned, he found himself staring face-to-face with someone in a Skull suit.
Someone with a sword.