"Just have to see about that. En garde!" Aeolus and Alexis lunged towards each other once more, fists and feet flying. Aeolus threw an uppercut at Alexis' jaw, but Alexis jumped back, dropped to his feet, and swept Aeolus' feet out from under him. It was just what Aeolus was waiting for.
As Aeolus fell over, he moved into a handspring position and shot straight up into the air with jets of oxygen streaming from his hands, righting himself in mid-air. Eventually he picked up enough altitude that he stopped shooting air and instead formed a flight disc only a meter or two beneath his feet. He slammed down hard on the disc and was about to taunt Alexis, only to be greeted by three throwing knives in quick succession. One nicked his arm and bounced off the armor; another slashed open his coat, and a third lightly cut his cheek. Aeolus laughed and started firing rapid blasts of air at the ground.
"C'mon! I'm wearing bulletproof armor! Think a knife is going to get through this? Please."
"Zee Loudmouth, 'e 'as a point! I am, how you say, shame-ed!" Alexis adopted a fake French accent as he dodged one blast after another. "But he iz, how you say, more shame-ed, for 'is aim, she iz as straight as Tinky Winky!" Another blast dropped in front of Alexis, who backflipped out of the way, twisted, turned, and hurled another knife, then dropped to the ground and reached for something. Aeolus easily canceled it out with a simple gust of wind, but it proved no more than a distraction - he was greeted by both of Alexis' stun sticks striking his platform, electricity shooting through the solid oxygen and knocking him off his feet.
Aeolus landed headfirst just in time to see Alexis rushing at him. He quickly shot his hands down and air boosted over Alexis' head; he charged air into one hand and tried to elbow drop Alexis' neck with the other arm. Alexis easily twisted his neck around the elbow drop, but was knocked far back with the close-range air blast. He skidded to a halt and reached into his coat as Aeolus prepared to fire another blast.
"Owned, bitch." Another pulse of air skidded Alexis back a few more feet.
"I know your mom is, but what am I?" Alexis pulled out his last two throwing knives, one going straight for Aeolus' head, the other going straight up in a wide arc, trying to nail Aeolus with a gravity shot. Aeolus easily canceled both of those out as well, but left himself open for Alexis to slam him with an elbow to the neck and a knee to the chest.
"Feel free to die any time now!" Aeolus propelled himself directly into the air, bringing Alexis along with him. They shot up at amazing speed, causing the already tired Alexis to weaken and lose his grip. As he slid off, Aeolus spun around in mid-air and hammered Alexis downward with a haymaker, followed up by a concentrated blast of air that also slowed Aeolus' descent. Alexis thundered to the ground and landed with a great crash.
There was a small dent in the ground where Alexis landed, moaning and writhing. The glow had disappeared. Aeolus stepped on his opponent's stomach.
"Game, set, and match. Sparky is my word, bitch."
Then he collapsed from exhaustion.
She wasn't even bothering with stealth now. She was working directly off the touch screen at one of the computer consoles. And the heat that had built up was oppressive; Leslie had taken off her shirt, working in only her sports bra and red camo pants, soaked through to the bone.
Echo had seen virtually the entire fight from the spy satellite she'd managed to hijack. The problem was, the comlink tracking on Nemean and Hermes indicated they had immediately turned back around the time of the explosion. At the pace they were moving at, they could probably get to the fight scene in another 12 to 15 minutes, and Aeolus was totally exhausted and there were no vehicles around.
Leslie looked at the cellphone in her hand. It had gone off the hook at the explosion and she hadn't bothered to try calling back yet. But it might be the only shot she had. She dialed Robert again.
The command center was completely topsy-turvy - Kennedy and Hanson both had nasty cuts on their heads and torsos, and Iris hung from her stretcher's straps like a ragdoll. Eridanus and his containment chamber were still on the original side of the wall which he'd started out on - which was now high up near the new ceiling. The chamber had cracked open, however, and his mask had fallen off; his legs continually shook and wavered, threatening to turn back into water.
Helena lay serenely on the new floor, what had once been the right wall, fine and unharmed but still bound. And Robert lay in a heap on the floor next to Iris' wall-bound stretcher, covered by medical supplies. A needle filled with blue-green liquid had landed on him and stabbed him on the arm, and there were many others nearby.
"Ugh... what the fuck happened?" The last thing he remembered was falling asleep in the clearing.
And the phone rang.
"Goddamnit... That better be a telemarketer... I need someone to bitch at." Robert groaned and slowly flipped open the clamshell phone. It had slammed shut during the explosion.
"Robert?!" The voice on the other end sounded immensely relieved. "This is Agent Echo. I've been calling you for several minutes - are you alright?"
"Ungh... fine, just got a hell of a headache. Sorry about the phone, it somehow shut off. Ugh. Something happened... I smell smoke..."
"You're in the Arcanum's mobile command. There was an explosion, knocked over the trailer. Aeolus was fighting Alexis Decker. What's the situation inside?"
"Helena's fine... I'm the only one conscious, I think. They patched up my leg. Though I've got this weird glowing turquoise crap stabbed into my arm..."
Echo's voice shot up in alarm. "Is it in a needle?"
"Uh... yeah. Is it something poisonous? Magic Ebola?"
"The exact opposite. It's Lotus Qamea dust mixed into an electrolyte solution. Are there any others around?"
"Yeah, a whole crapload of them. What's it do?"
"You can find out the specifics later, but think 'Gatorade' on steroids made for magic users. It'll work for you too, though, a bit. Inject the rest of that solution if you haven't already."
"Are you su-"
"Do you want to get out of there alive? Yes."
With some hesitation, Robert grabbed the needle and squeezed the rest of the fluid into his veins, then pulled it out and tossed the needle far away.
"So what now?"
"Take one of those extra needles to Aeolus and inject him. Give him a minute and he should be recharged - more than enough to fly you all out. Hurry, tell him Nemean and Hermes are on their way back quickly. He should be just outside the - shit!" The line went dead.
Robert looked confused, then decided that now wasn't the time. He struggled to stand up, pulling on a table that used to be on the floor. He didn't feel any more energized, but she had said it was mostly for magic users. Not to mention... somehow, he was magically awake, when no one else was. It was as good as explanation as anything else. Robert picked up the needle that looked the most full and put it in his pocket, the needle sticking up and out so as not to stab himself.
He limped over to the trailer door, trying to push it open, but he couldn't. He wasn't strong enough and something had jammed it shut. Robert cursed. They didn't have time for this. Muttering, he backed up a bit and then slammed his torso against the doors. They moved open a few inches. That was improvement.
Robert backed up and rammed the doors again. They slid open even further, but he stumbled over backwards and landed on the floor. The pain was too much; he couldn't do it again. A third time might end up crushing his solar plexus. This would have to do.
He hobbled back up to the door and peered through. He could see Aeolus; the rogue agent was resting on top of Alexis, occasionally twitching and moaning.
Robert called out. "Aeolus! Can you hear me, Aeolus?"
Robert shook his head and backed up once more. This was their only way out. He ran full tilt, even as he could hear the sickening crunch of his left shin breaking under the weight. Off of his right leg he sprang into the air and through the opening, smacking his forehead against the metal as he did so. A large cut was opened on his forehead, but he kept going, dragging himself across the ground to Aeolus. When he got within arms reach, he pulled the needle out of his pocket and stabbed Aeolus in the arm with it. Then, bruised, bloodied, and tired, Robert's head dropped and he lay on the ground.
Echo stood tall over the corpse of Agent Zeus, his smoking pistol in her hands pointed at his skull, her blue shirt and pants stained with his red blood. She had to act fast. They were starting to search here. Checking back on the satellite feed, she could see that Robert had injected Aeolus with the serum. Aeolus would be on his feet again soon, but it might not be soon enough to save him from Hermes and Nemean. Not at the rate their dots were crossing her map.
She had one last trick up her sleeve. Her fingers flew across the touchpad, inputting a final set of instructions. Both parts of this were far more destructive and unwieldy than she'd normally choose to use, but she was short on time for finesse. Besides, if she was going to die anyway, might as well go out with a bang, right?
Echo had just hit the last keystroke when the door was shoved open once again. It didn't even have to be forced; Zeus had blown the lock off.
It was the triplets. Meg, Tess, and Alex. Megaera, Tisiphone, and Alecto. The three of them stood in the doorway, their silhouettes drawn in a dismal contrast to the dim red light flooding the hallway outside and the room. Echo's blue fatigues turned purple in the light.
"Echo... I never figured you for a traitor." Meg's voice was sad, but resolute.
"I can't believe you did all that. The eviscerating... why?" Tess stared at Echo with fiery eyes.
Echo just looked at them sadly. "I didn't. Just do me two favors. Look close - real close - at Jimenez. And get the hell out of here before you die."
Alex snorted. "What kind of a bluff is that? We're not stupid, you know."
"And you're also not impervious to focused infrared radiation. There's enough time for you to get out now." Echo began to sniffle. "Please."
The triplets looked at each other, confused. Then realization dawned on all their faces.
"You didn't-" Meg started.
"I did. But you three were always kind to me and Aeolus. Get out now."
"If everyone else here is going down, we're not about to make ourselves an exception." It was Alex speaking, but all three raised their pistols and prepared to fire on Echo.
"But it won't be everyone else. It'll just be me, the computer systems, and the transportation center. Enough to cripple you without killing you. But if you don't leave now..." Leslie shook her head.
"So we can do what? Go back and say that we helped train a traitor and didn't have the guts to die with our mistake? Tess. Meg."
The three nodded in agreement. Echo didn't move. Three shots fired as one, ripping through Echo's throat. And then she vanished.
Stunned, they looked at each other confused for half a second, then realized what had just happened. A lingering voice echoed through the room, trailing off in volume until the energy died. "I'm not that sappy. Thank you, Megaera, but your princess is in another castle."
They growled at each other and headed out the room. They would find Echo.
Leslie dropped down from the rafters - still clad in a sports bra and red camo pants, her top lying carelessly on the floor below. A lot of what she had said had been true, though she really didn't know how much of it was true. But she was about to die, and she hadn't wanted them to die. What better way to convince a Fury to take your advice than by doing it in the guise of another transgression? If it seemed like it had all been a ruse to trick and kill them, then they'd not hesitate to save their lives. Easier to fight an enemy than a friend.
She shook her head to clear her headache. Making such a realistic echo was a pain. Then she peered at the monitor, muttering to herself. "Now witness the firepower of this fully operational battle station..."
Up above, in the far reaches of the upper atmosphere, an array of satellites slowly turned towards their target. There was a small blue glow of light on the tip of each one, and had you been there, you could swear there was the faintest sound of humming. The chorus, proclaiming the arrival of the god who would solve all problems. He lowered himself down from the sky by machines at the speed of light...
It was pure luck that Hermes had stopped to take a leak, promising to teleport the few feet he lost. Because in one instant, there was forest and mountain and Nemean; in another, there was a giant hole in the ground; and in another, there was a scary glow the intensity of sunlight. And then nothing, where there had been people, and trees, and rock.
Leslie had seen it all on the viewscreen. And panic overtook her. She immediately booted back up the program; forget self-sacrifice, she wanted to live. This was too much. She could delay the program, she would do something, anything that would save her; Aeolus succeeding did not matter anymore. She wasn't Aeolus. She wanted to live. She should have run, but it was too late now. The clock kept counting down, and as it reached ten seconds, she did the only thing she could.
Even as the walls around her started to warp with heat, Leslie sat down cross-legged and tried above all to clear her mind and make it at peace.