Fantastic Tales – Ch 23: “In the Path of Destruction”

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as narrated by Jason “Gladius” Lecroix

    There are people who seek peace in meditation, in dance or in stillness. There are others who seek it in conflict and strife. There are even some who seek peace in the grave. As the Champion of Ares, the champion of War itself, I’m supposed to say that they’re all idiots. That peace is nothing more than an illusion clung to by desperate minds.

    The truth is more complex than that though. The truth is I have no idea if peace is an illusion for other people, I only know that is doesn’t exist for me.

    “You must be loving this.” Fire Forge said as we landed on the pile of rubble that had once been a synagogue.

    “I don’t love.” I told him. “That’s Lux’s job.”

    I knew what Fire Forge meant though. Before us stood a foe worthy of an epic tale. It’s sheer size put it on the scale of the Titans of myth. In ages past, fighting a beast such as this would have been the province of the gods themselves. I held only a shadow of Ares power, but the task fell to me nonetheless.

    God and human, myth and hero, we were both made for this. My teammates understood that I had power. They understood that I was drawn to battle, that I was not myself unless I was fighting. They understood the outer shape of my life but they understood nothing about me.

    “We should wait for the others. That thing is too much to tackle at anything but our best.” Fire Forge said.

    It sounded like the Wisdom of Athena. James, or Aegis since we were wearing out champion mantles, was probably talking to him, Aegis and I didn’t see eye to eye that often. We weren’t supposed to.

    Athena gave her champion her Wisdom. Aegis had a divine power to understand a situation and know what the right solution was. Ares did not gift me Wisdom. He gifted me with knowledge and left me to extract what I could from it.

    If that sounds callous, it is. If it sounds cruel, then you are missing the point. Athena’s gift is crueler than Ares. Aegis knows what is “right” according to Athena’s choice. Ares does not provide me with answers like that. He provides me with questions. What the “right” answer to the question may be is for me to decide. Assuming there are any right answers to be found.

    “No. The longer the beast ravages unchecked the greater its destruction will be.” I said. I put down the visor on my helm.

    “It’s in the south side of the city. No one is there anymore. Everybody evacuated to the shelters!” Fire Forge said.

    “All the more reason to keep the creature there.” I said.

    “No. Just because you can’t pass up a fight is not a good reason to engage that thing. We’ll both be killed.” Fire Forge said. He was afraid, and rightly so. A battle with that creature was not one that we could win without cost.

    “This is not your fight.” I told him. “Someone has to stay back and observe. It will have weaknesses, but exploiting them will take time and planning. That is your role.”

    “Nope. Sorry, I can’t let you go in there alone.” Fire Forge said.

    “Ask your patron if he would mind overly much if you allowed Ares champion to carry the fight to the beast. He wouldn’t care, I assure you.” I told him. Ares and Hephaestus were not on the best of terms as far as the Olympian gods went.  Mythology had Aphrodite and adultery as the explanation but whatever the truth of it was, I think they were gods who would always be fundamentally opposed to one another.

    Hephaestus is the builder of the pantheon. His focus and his being are tied up in creating things. War, Ares domain, doesn’t create.

    “You’re going to let me go in there alone for the same reason you’re going to be helpful in this battle.” I told him.

    “Why’s that?” he asked. Ares hadn’t given me the power to manipulate emotions, but I could sense them. Some of them. Fire Forge was angry and determined and more than a little bit afraid. He was bigger than those emotions though.

    “Because it’s the smart play. Because you know that back here is where you need to be. However much you hate the idea, you know that the team can’t afford to have you do something stupid.” I said.

    “We can’t afford to have any of us act like idiots.” he countered.

    The War Beast roared as it tore a highway overpass apart. Flames streamed from its mouth and were spit out to set an abandoned tenement building ablaze. It underscored how correct Fire Forge’s words were.

    “I can only act like myself.” I told him. Black wings unfurled from my back and I left him behind me. There was no more need for words, our conversation was over.

    I didn’t feel peace or terror as I flew towards the War Beast. My heart beat faster, adrenaline flooded my system and strength filled my limbs. I knew those were merely physical reactions to the danger I was placing myself in though.

    I didn’t feel peace, but I did feel my mind clear. I knew my foe and I knew myself. That answered questions which were always with me like “who will I fight next?” and “what will I be fighting for?”

    The creature’s towering height was a disadvantage. It couldn’t hide and it couldn’t avoid attacks. I unsheathed the weapon Ares had gifted me with, the Gladius that I took my codename from. Swifter than the wind, I plunged down at the War Beast and buried the gladius into the back of monster’s neck.

    A gladius is a small weapon and the length of the blade amounted to less than a pinprick on the War Beast. It’s not the sword itself which is dangerous though. It’s the conduit that the sword provides me.

    The Fires of War ripped through me at my command and burst down the length of the blade. Into the tiny wound the Gladius had made, a maelstrom of fire blossomed forth. That got the beast’s attention.

    I took wing to attack it from another position when the creature flexed and a tremendous wave of force erupted from it. It caught me and knocked me from the sky. Another wave of force followed and I was slammed through the window of a motel’s central office. The office and the rest of the motel shattered into kindling as the blast hit them and I was buried under the collapsing ceiling.

    I’m not as indestructible as Aegis. Ares doesn’t believe in allowing his champions to forget what pain feels like. I hurt and bleed because that is what violence means. The armor I wear does protect my life though. As long as I am not willing to stay down, there is very little that can defeat me.

    The War Beast was used to fighting people like me though it seemed. It didn’t assume I was dead, or wait till I got out of the rubble to continue the fight. The moment the motel was destroyed it began turning it’s vast bulk to strike at me. I saw it’s approach through the cracks in the pile of rubble that lay on top of me.

    I was shifting the rubble off of myself when I saw one of it’s enormous legs raise up to stomp on me. Before the War Beast could crush me though I saw a fantastically huge lightning bolt hit the creature and knock it back a step. Someone else had joined the fray.

    I used the time I’d gained to pull myself free and get back into the sky. I expected to see Thundercrash, Zeus’s champion, waiting for me there, even though I knew she and Aegis should still have been on their way. Instead I saw a new hero in blue power armor, “Covalent”, striking out at the War Beast with thunderbolt after thunderbolt.

    It wasn’t a viable strategy. The first bolt had held the element of surprise. Also, it looked like it was one Covalent had spent a fair bit of timing building up. The steady stream of lightning bolts he was following the first up with were noticeably weaker. Worse, the War Beast was adapting to them. Where the first bolt had rocked the War Beast back, the current bolts were charging up the scales along the monster’s spine.

    Covalent kept feeding the monster even as the War Beast began to lumber towards him.

    “Stop. You’re empowering it.” I called to him.

    “That’s the idea.” Covalent said. “Just watch.”

    As he rained more lightning bolts on the creature, I watched. The scales along the monster’s back were charged a brilliant glow by the time it was within a hundred yards of Covalent . That was all the energy it needed, as the beast opened it’s mouth the moment its last scale began to glow and breathed forth a stream of lighting as wide as a house.

    Covalent had been waiting for that. I could feel his confidence and certainty that his stratagem was working. The lightning hit him and in an instantaneous reaction, he sent it right back at the War Beast.

    There was a tremendous explosion when the lightning hit the beast. I saw the beast flinching backwards right before the dust raised by the explosion obscured the area around it.

    “Fly! Get away!” I yelled to Covalent. He either didn’t hear me or couldn’t process the instructions quickly enough. I knew what a creature like the War Beast could take though and so I wasn’t surprised when it lunged from the smoke less than a second after I yelled my warning. Covalent’s reflexes were good even if his hearing wasn’t. He spun backwards and up into the air, scrambling to get away from the monster. He was fast but he wasn’t fast enough. The creatures upper left hand tagged him with a swiping strike. I heard the metal of his armor tear and watched him go flying out of control on a ballistic arc away from the War Beast.

    It had been the smallest of hits from the beast but it had knocked Covalent out of the fight entirely. I knew, from where the blow had hit him, and how much force it had carried, that both of his legs would be shattered. It was the kind of thing our doctors could deal with, but only if he was still around to need their treatment after the War Beast was put down.

    The War Beast began immediately advancing on the position where Covalent had fallen to make sure it finished the job.

    Since the new hero had saved me, it seemed only proper to return the favor.

    The gladius is a small sword. It is not meant to be used in solo combat. Usually I had my team with me, or I vastly overmatched my opponent and could deal with the handicap. Ares had not meant me to fight alone though and he’d known that my team wouldn’t always be there for me.

    Alone I couldn’t get the War Beast’s attention, but I was never alone. Not really.

    Lifting my voice in song, I called to the dead. Those who had fought on this land. Those who had fought for this land. It was a sacrilege to wake them from the peace that the grave offered but piety was not in my heart. They were needed, and whether they had fallen as aggressors or defenders, they were warriors who had given their lives to this land and so their shadows lived within it still.

    With a wordless cry I ordered my troops forward. This was not a power I used often. The dead claim a terrible price from the living they battle. A man may injure another man when they battle, he may chose to show mercy or be dissuaded by reason or remorse. The fire of War that burned in the heart of my dead knew neither mercy, nor reason, nor remorse, and the dead strike only to kill.

    It was no glorious charge that I lead. The dead care nothing for glory, and I saw it an illusion much the same as peace. The simple, brutal, truth was that the War Beast needed to die and I needed to kill it. There was no other way. It would die, so that we could live.

    It stopped as we approached. A flick of its tail crumbled a strip mall into rubble.

    I thought I saw fear in its vast eyes but I was wrong.

    The beast roared out a blast of pure annihilation. The buildings between us disintegrated. The ghosts caught in the blast were vaporized in an instant, dispelled back to the shadows lands, the fire of War snuffed from their hearts.

    When the roar hit me, I was blasted backwards. The enchantments on my armor resisted the War Beast’s breath weapon but their were not its equal. I crashed through an apartment building that turned to dust around me as the breath destroyed it too.

    I flew another two hundred feet before I landed in a school, my armor blown apart and my body broken.

    In front of me, the swath of destruction from the creature’s breath had laid the ground bare. I tried to move but I couldn’t, Neither legs, nor arms could support any weight. They were shattered into too many pieces.

    And still I saw the War Beast breath in to unleash another attack on me. To make certain I would not return as a threat. There was no other way it could be.

    The breath came, but my end did not. I was puzzled by that but as the smoke cleared I saw what had happened.

    Aegis had arrived.

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