Of Thorns and Lightning

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Untitled chapter

Battle Royale

♦️

On the Jet that was just taking off out of New York City, Maize was sitting, shaken up. Peter had just told her something that changed their whole relationship, and it was already complex to begin with. It was a lot to take in and everyone was a little sympathetic towards her, having to hear that right before she went to fight and risk her life.

Just in case you don’t come back.

That resonated with Maize, thinking again of all the possible ways she could die. What if she didn’t come back? She felt nauseous again and William was angry as well. Hearing Peter say that was just what he wanted Maize to hear... his timing literally couldn’t have been worse. But, it was over now, and William just had to focus on getting her out of her own head. He needed to lighten things up for her or at the very least change the subject.

“Maize, grab an earpiece so we can all talk to each other when we land and get into the action.” William said, opening a case and fitting her one, making sure she could hear and that it fit her. Then he gave her the second briefing, so she was all caught up.

“So, we’re landing in a small town in a very rural area of Russia that was once a town but was overthrown, burned down by The Order of the Black Rose and abandoned by the residents. We’ve recently discovered that they’ve been doing covert operations there and we’re ready to crash the party.”

“I can’t believe we’re still fighting The Order of the Black Rose.” Maize said in disbelief. It didn’t feel real. “Like, is Mesperyian still planning on world domination?? After all this time??”

“It’s less about world domination now than it was in World War 2. Now it’s more about terror and sabotage.” Dike explained, and he knew from experience.

It wasn’t long before they landed in Russia and it was painfully clear to Maize that it was too late now to go back. She just had to get up and go in there and fight the good fight and let fate take its course. William had Jason scan the woods for thermal signals when they were still in the air so they could get a feel for who, or what was in the forest that they were up against before they reached the building. It’s not like they could just walk right in the front door.

“Sir, it doesn’t seem to me like there is anything or anyone in the woods. I have not detected any heat signatures.” Jason reported back to the group.

“Well, do it again.” William commanded, not believing his computer. It gave him the same response.

The Jet landed in a clearing in the woods and William instructed them to proceed with extreme caution because something wasn’t right. They all knew it when Jason said that there weren’t any people or animals in the woods, which seemed nearly impossible. They had to be missing something, they just didn’t know what yet.

They stepped off the Jet carefully, greeted by the crunching of the fresh snow underneath their feet. Everyone was silent and on edge, keeping a very keen eye out for booby traps, land mines or aerial ambushes. To make matters worse, once Maize caught sight of the building they were supposed to go inside of, she was even more concerned than ever. It was a building with broken windows and falling bricks, hollow and tortured. It wasn’t exactly Maize’s idea of a good time.

“William, I don’t like the look of this place.” Maize said, her voice dripping with terror. William swallowed hard. Hearing the tone of her voice reminded him that she was just a kid, she still had her humanity and was just as scared as everyone else. He had a sudden flashback to when Talia was young and said she was scared of the monsters in her closet, under her bed, in the corner, and he noticed that this was the same with Maize. She was a kid and the Order of the Black Rose base was the monster under her bed.

Maize gnawed on her bottom lip, scared shitless, but she kept walking forward. William commended her in secret for being that strong, for being scared to death and still walking right through Hell, especially considering the wave of emotions she just went through on their way there. He grabbed her hand and held it all the way up to the front door, and she was squeezing his hand so hard he couldn’t let go if he wanted to. She needed that simple gesture of comfort, and he still asked himself if this was the right move to make. If she should be doing this. But it was too late to turn back now, and Dike did the honors of kicking down the door.

“Diana, go with Maize up the back staircase, I’ll go with Dike, Artemis and Menoetius will go together, Arawn is on his way. Make it up to the top floor and stay alive.” William commanded, and they all followed his instructions.

“You can do this, kid. You’re basically made of gunmetal, rhodium and myrrh. I’ve got your back, now let’s go kick some ass.” Diana reassured as they walked up the wooden stairs, able to tell that Maize was nervous. She had every right to be, she hadn’t ever had to kill somebody before and that’s what they were asking of her to do. She couldn’t imagine what was going on in her head. Maize tried not to think about it either.

The walls were peeling their paint horrendously, and the wood was covered in a thick layer of dust and insulation. The building was slowly disintegrating, and they were making some of the first and last footsteps ever to be made in the structure. It was haunting.

Diana stopped her in her tracks and put his finger against his lips, signaling for her to stay quiet. She cautiously loaded her bow with an arrow and angled it up the staircase, ready to attack when the Order of the Black Rose agents came ambushing them in the stairwell. Maize didn’t have time to think, she held her hammer tighter and knocked one of the agents down the stairs with a heavy strike of her hammer, and Diana shot the other one down. She grabbed her arrow out of the body and continued running up the stairs. Maize felt an electric current course through her entire body. That was only the beginning of what was to come.

By the time they had cleared the back staircase of any The Order of the Black Rose agents and made it up to the top floor, they were the last to arrive. Over their earpieces they heard that the other groups were clearing the rooms and securing the area. It was in that moment where she first met the god of revenge and war. Arawn.

She had read about him, seen him on the news, heard about him from people at school, but she had never met him face to face. She only knew of him as a villain, a The Order of the Black Rose experiment gone wrong, a killing machine. She didn’t know him, but she knew that Dike trusted him so she would trust him too.

He stepped out of the shadows, a silent and intimidating figure strapped with an assault rifle held close to his chest that cast rays of sunlight that streamed in through the cracked skylight above them. Maize gasped quickly and quietly, just a little bit startled, but he gave her a steady nod to indicate that his area was safe. He was on their side.

They stood silent and still, listening for anything that would indicate an ambush. They didn’t even hear the rest of their team over their earpieces. It was too quiet, too stagnant. Something was going to happen.

Maize heard a faint and distant creaking of wood that she couldn’t leave up to chance. She whipped her head around to where she determined the source of the sound came from and both Arawn and Diana raised their weapons. Maize held up her pointer finger as a signal to wait, she was listening for another sound that would verify an attack or not. Yet again, there was a creak in the wood above them. Maize gave them a nod and she took a more secure stance and she saw Arawn’s eyes scan the ceiling and take a blind shot. But Arawn knew exactly what he was doing, and the body of an Order of the Black Rose agent crashed through the weak drywall and onto the floor, dropping chunks of plaster onto the floor and dust into the air. Maize was impressed, but knew that this was one of many. Now, it was a full-on battle. Arawn’s shot was the shot heard around the world and there was a cacophony of gunshots to follow.

It had truly, officially begun.

*******

“We’re going to Russia, pack it up!” Peter ran inside and yelled down the hall to the rest of the new Gods. He was going to follow the Gods anywhere, no matter what the risk would be. This felt like his duty to them; he owed them this much.

“Peter, you’re crazy.” Angelina said, in disbelief of what he was asking of them.

“Yeah, they didn’t bring us into this so we should stay out of it.” Ariel agreed, sipping a smoothie.

“No! That doesn’t feel right. I am going with or without you, and I’m leaving in ten minutes.”

Meaghan knew he was right. She had to go, something about sitting in her bed worrying about if they were all going to come home, not out there fighting with them in an enormous battle made her stomach turn. She had a lot to contribute and would do her part in helping the cause. The others who were reluctant to go argued that they had to pick their battles, and this wasn’t the one for them, they would go fight when they were told they were needed, but Meaghan didn’t feel that way. She was picking this battle to fight, she knew she was needed, and she felt a duty to William, Dike, Maize, and every other God fighting to give back to them what they had given to her. She was going to Russia with Peter.

Meaghan met him down in the vault where she could get her armor on, and Peter was already suited up. She could tell he was nervous, but he was determined to go help his friends, his family, his Gods. They exchanged a glance that said what words couldn’t, and Peter headed out to the hangar where the second Jet was residing.

Meaghan swapped her sweats for the high-tech suit she was equipped with, the fabric and the metal pieces conforming to her body perfectly. She just wished she had the shield to complete it, but there was only one in existence and it only really ever belonged to Dike.

“He took the shield so I’m taking his motorcycle.” Meaghan said to herself, walking a little further down in the gear room, taking the keys and kicking the starter motor on and jumping on, driving it onto the Jet. She was the last one on, which surprised her. Everyone else seemed hesitant and Meaghan didn’t think they were going to go, but if two of them were going then they might as well all go. Meaghan buckled in and noticed Talia at the helm since she was the only one able to pilot it. Talia was in her custom suit, black hair tied back in a high ponytail. Ariel was sitting across from Meaghan, stringing her bow. Angelina was stretching and cleaning her weapons, Jordie was sitting silently with his eyes closed and headphones on, staying calm until he had to Menoetius-out later, and Peter was playing with the settings in his suit. Everyone was ready to go.

Meaghan, once settled, made sure she had enough clips for her weapons because she had to find another way to fight and protect herself without the shield. She didn’t want to shoot anybody, that was her last line of defense. She would rather use her hands and fight instead of killing a man from behind a trigger, but she knew it would be stupid of her to only rely on her own two hands. She wanted to be ready for anything. She braided her hair back into two tight braids running down the back of her head and nervously stared out the window at the clouds and the scenery, though it was impossible to know when they would be in Russia.

“Brace yourselves, guys. We’re landing in five minutes,” Talia spoke back to the crew anxiously waiting any news.

“I’m landing this thing in the woods about a mile out of the Order of the Black Rose base. I don’t want to give we away and compromise the whole thing. What we’re going to do when we get there is secure the perimeter and keep an eye out in the woods because when the other guys start raising hell, The Order of the Black Rose’s going to bring in backup from everywhere and we’re going to stop them in their tracks before they get to the building. They’re going to have security stationed all in the woods, but we can assume that the others took care of that on their way in, but don’t ever let your guard down. Got it?” Talia said, making sure everyone understood the game plan. They nodded and as Talia landed they got ready and Meaghan hopped back onto Dike’s motorcycle. She would ride in first, since a mile on a bike is faster and easier than a mile on foot, and report back to them.

The snowy forest was quiet. Too quiet.

The town was already abandoned and looked like it had been for quite some time. Houses were burned down and there wasn’t a single resident left, but something wasn’t right. There were no birds that were chirping. No icy wind blowing through the trees. No snowflakes falling from the low-hanging, heavy gray clouds.

Meaghan stopped the motorcycle in the snow when she got sight of the abandoned apartment building, in its dilapidated glory, listening in the air for anything suspicious. She watched, she listened, all she could hear was her own infrequent breathing she was trying to keep steady and low. Suddenly, a branch snapped in the distance and there was a gentle shower of snow, and she turned her head slowly knowing that she shouldn’t just assume it was an animal in the trees. She hadn’t seen a single animal. Her hand migrated down to her utility belt as she grabbed her weapon. She didn’t want to shoot and the clicking of turning off the safety on her Glock was loud in the silence of the woods; two things that made the situation worse. The motorcycle had surely given her away, but it was a risk she had to take. Sure enough, she noticed a person in camouflage hanging in the trees, and then she noticed that when there was one, there were many. She revved the engine of the motorcycle, swiftly turning it around and riding deeper into the woods to face the Order of the Black Rose agents.

She met the team in the middle, they were already taking care of business on their end. Ariel had used her precise marksmanship to shoot two down out of the trees with her bow and arrow, making her mark and moving on. Peter was swinging through the trees with his webbing, incapacitating agents with webbing, knocking them out of their places, taking their weapons and tying them up. He didn’t want to kill them if he didn’t have to. Angelina was using her gymnastics abilities to fight hand to hand with an agent, but that fight was finished after Angelina got a few licks in. She only needed to throw a few punches and kicks for the fight to be over, which was good because more The Order of the Black Rose agents were beginning to appear.

Jordie had reappeared, this time as enormous and green, swatting down and stepping on everyone who was in his way. He was invincible to the attacks from The Order of the Black Rose, bullets didn’t stop him and surely nothing else would. He took care of the bigger picture while the rest of the team was focused on what was happening right in front of them. Meaghan had hit a few The Order of the Black Rose agents with the front of her motorcycle, grabbing their weapons they had extended towards her and disarming them before they could shoot at her. She was lucky that her suit was bullet resistant, but she wasn’t going to test it out willingly. Talia had used her suit to fly over to the main building where the rest of the crew was, stationing herself on the roof and taking down everyone that had made their way up there. She knew that the Gods had already made their sweep, but The Order of the Black Rose would do anything to keep from being overpowered and would continue sending men out there to destroy the Gods. The whole city was theirs and they had hideouts the Gods could only dream of ever finding. They all knew they could never really rest when they were infiltrating a The Order of the Black Rose base. Something else would always come out to surprise them. Meaghan soon found out what that surprise was.

Meaghan had decided to lead the group out of the woods and towards the building, but she was instead faced with a few angry bionic arctic wolves that caused her to swerve the motorcycle hard. It skidded on the snow and fell over, tossing her off and she slid and tumbled down a rocky and wooded embankment. On her way down, she hit her head on a small but sharp rock, slicing through the skin on her forehead. The brittle grass and wild plants whipped her torso as she tumbled, leaving numerous tiny red marks that stung almost everywhere. Her body hit the rocks hard, their jagged edges not friendly to her skin. She knew the minor cuts would heal almost instantly but she was still continuing down on a hard fall that might not be so fast to heal.

She saw her Glock slip way far out of her reach, and she heard the metal break through the top layer of an icy creek below her. Once she regained her sense of direction after she stopped falling, she saw that the motorcycle was balanced precariously on the ledge and the wolves were coming down to eat her alive. Meaghan scrambled to find another weapon in her belt but could only find magazine clips and a puny knife, neither of which could help her. Without the Glock, she was sure to be ripped to shreds. If she has her gun she stood a chance of defending herself against the wolves, even if she shot it straight up into the air it would spook them off. The wolves began to pounce as she scrambled back on her elbows, but they stopped in their place when Ariel had shot them with an arrow at the same time Angelina shot them with her Smith & Wesson. The wolves collapsed on top of her, but she knew that wasn’t the end, they were part robot, they were The Order of the Black Rose mutant lab experiments and they wouldn’t be so easily taken out.

Trying to ignore the thick warm blood that had smeared and pooled on her body, she pushed the wolves off of her and she turned over to try and get a good foothold to start climbing up. The rocks were unsteady, and the foliage wouldn’t hold her weight. The tundra made the conditions even worse and it seemed as if Meaghan was stuck in place, until Talia came flying down and grabbed her, taking her out of a bad situation and bringing her up to sturdy ground. Meaghan grabbed the motorcycle the Smith & Wesson Angelina was offering to her since she had no weapon- and by that point, she had caught Dike’s attention.

“William! You’re going to want to come see this-!” Dike yelled over to William as he was looking out the broken window at the kids fighting outside.

“Those are our kids! Holy shit.” William exclaimed. Dike nervously watched Meaghan as he observed her crawling from the rocky enclave and fighting hand to hand with an agent.

Meaghan used the butt of the gun Angelina gave her to knock out and break the nose of an Order of the Black Rose agent who got too close. That was the last person she had to take down before she stormed into the building. The Gods didn’t want to ask why the kids were there because they already knew why, but they would deal with the kids for following them to a fight that they didn’t have to go into later.

Meaghan ran up the stairs and arrived at the main scene. She had wolves’ blood smeared all over her body and face like warpaint, and she had murder in her eyes. She was breathing heavy, she came up to the battle guns blazing, and Dike was impressed. He didn’t recognize her at first, but he knew that she stepped up to the challenge in a way he didn’t think was possible. She emptied her clip into the legs or hands of The Order of the Black Rose agents so they couldn’t walk or shoot her, she took their weapons from their hands and kicked their bodies down the stairs, letting the empty magazine drop to the floor as she pushed and snapped in a new one so she could do it all over again.

Meaghan was facing an agent that attacked her from behind, and Dike used the shield as a frisbee and tossed it over to her. She sliced the arm of her attacker with the razor-sharp edge and then knocked him out with the front of the shield, but at the exact same time he put his gun to her exposed stomach and gave her a shot she’d always remember. Her blood splattered on the inside of the shield.

William and Dike came running. She had barely registered that she had been shot, she didn’t even feel anything. She’d be healed soon anyway, she thought.

“It’s just a flesh wound, don’t worry. Bullets in the abdomen bleed out really slowly anyway, I’m ok.” She said to William and Dike who came to her first.

“No. Don’t move. Stay out. Hold pressure. God, I’m so sorry-” William instructed. “I don’t know how to get you out safe right now so stay put.”

“Maybe, next time, don’t give me a crop top.” Meaghan suggested to William, who had a large hand in designing her suit. Her suit was bulletproof nearly everywhere and she was protected except for the parts of her body that didn’t have the suit covering it at all. Genius plan.

The battle wasn’t over, but Dike still had to fight. He stood in front of Meaghan who was knelt down on the floor holding pressure to her abdomen, shielding Meaghan with his body and defending against whatever came their way. They were doing this together. Meaghan defied orders and stood up, standing back to back with Dike and shooting with one hand and holding pressure with the other. Dike knew there was nothing he could do to stop her, anyway.

Suddenly, Maize had four Order of the Black Rose agents storm her from all sides that she couldn’t all get at once, and she would be ambushed by the others if she tried going at them one by one. In a panic, with nobody seeming to notice what was happening because they were fighting their own battle, Maize had an out of body experience. Her powers seemed to take over and she didn’t have to think, it was as if she transcended into a completely different state where she wasn’t in control, her body was devoting all of its powers to one resource: her skin became electrified and her body shot out hot white lighting from her hands and arms, coursing through her veins.

Before she knew it, the Order of the Black Rose agents were taken out. They dropped dead to the ground with a thud.

There was a moments’ pause after the last lightning bolt fizzled away and the next round of The Order of the Black Rose agents came out to play. They knew the battle wasn’t over yet. All the Gods breathed heavily, looking at each other in a stunned awe. Maize was knelt down, sitting back on her knees recovering because that took a lot out of her. Her hair was a bit frazzled from the static electricity, and everyone’s hair in the room was standing on end. It was truly something incredible.

“That was fucking terrifying!” Diana exclaimed, still feeling the electricity buzz in the air, similar to just after a thunderstorm. “And none of you seem to think that’s crazy?!”

“We’ve seen her do it before.” Dike shrugged. “Not as big as that, but like, she’s done it.”

“You guys are something else.” He said in disbelief.

“Maize!” They called to her. She looked up, and they noticed her eyes were still glowing and blue, what was left of her major lightning attack. She gave them a thumbs up and got to her feet, knowing she had to continue to fight.

Before she could fully regain her composure, a grenade went flying over her head that was obviously aimed at her, but she dodged the projectile and it broke through the window behind her. It fell down through the roof of the empty warehouse and exploded there, and Maize could feel the shaking of the ground when it went off. It triggered a fire to start that everyone was hoping didn’t spread, because then they’d really be in trouble.

Maize reacted quickly to the follow-up attack against her and did a backflip to avoid an attack at her feet meant to sweep her off and get her down on the ground, but when she landed she didn’t avoid anything. She was face to face with a The Order of the Black Rose agent who shoved her as hard as he could, pushing her through the window behind her and she took a free fall through the air off the top of the building, crashing through the roof of the burning warehouse. A piece of the metal scaffolding punctured her skin on her way down, but it pushed through her body when she landed on the ground. She got caught in the one place her armor was weakest, right at her waist.

Every kind of pain she had felt over the course of her entire lifetime didn’t nearly add up to what she was feeling in those excruciating moments she spent curled up on the cold and cracked cement.

Her long blonde hair was grouped in clumps of dried blood from a wound she couldn’t feel and felt everything of at the same time.

Every breath felt like knives piercing her lungs, her rib cage felt like it was caving in and crushing her and exploding outward with an immense amount of force when she breathed in and out.

Her whole body was weak and cold and shaking. If this is what it felt like to die, she could only hope it would be over quickly.

Each minuscule movement that altered the ground around her was like it was a heavy impact, radiating through the ground and making her want to scream in pain, but she couldn’t. She had nothing left in her for her to defend herself. She let the pain consume her and kept her eyes squeezed shut in an attempt to make it go away faster or hurt any less, to no avail.

They all saw her fall out the window, but nobody knew what to do. Jason had told William inside the suit that they had taken care of everyone in the building and all the Gods were eager to leave. Artemis found a file room and took every important book and document she could, broke whatever machines she could see to make sure that whoever was left wouldn’t be able to do anything. She wanted to multiply their losses not by manpower, but in valuable intelligence. Anything she could do to hinder them, she would do.

“We have got to get out of here, now!” She called.

“I don’t want to stick around either, but the kids-” Diana began.

“They came here on their own and they can leave on their own! We can’t wait any longer to go. The Order of the Black Rose knows we’re here and won’t hesitate to tear us apart if we wait here like bait!”

“But Maize!”

“If she’s still alive, that’s a BIG IF, she won’t make it home. We have to go!" She emphasized.

Dike supported Meaghan on the way downstairs since she had a through and through gunshot wound, and Dike grabbed the motorcycle.

“Dike we have to go get Maize!” She said breathlessly as she limped away from her in her direction.

“No. You have a chance. She doesn’t. We have to go.” Dike said, grabbing her arm.

“I’m going to get her with or without you.” She said, exasperated, tugging on Dike’s grip.

“I’m never going to command you like this again, but the answer is no. You are going to get on the back of that motorcycle, and you are going to leave with me, without her. I did it with Arawn.”

“But you got him back! I’m not that lucky, Dike!”

She clenched his jaw at the mention of the situation with Arawn.

“Fine! Go ahead into the burning building to save the friend you don’t even know if they’re dead or alive. Go ahead, risk your life against an ambush or booby traps laced on the ground or in the building. Do you think you can drag her out? Do you think you can help her?! I’m not losing the both of you in there. I’m not risking you. You’re bleeding out, you’re in no condition to save someone else when you’re not even in a position to save yourself.” Dike said, letting go of her arm, and Meaghan noticed all the splashes of red on the snow that had fallen just in that time period. She was starting to feel the pain and the blood was becoming thicker, seeping through her hands.

“Getting her is the right thing to do!”

“But sacrificing yourself isn’t.”

She knew he was right. She looked back at the warehouse and back at Dike, who had gotten on the motorcycle and started the engine. Reluctantly, she got on the back and wrapped her arms around Dike’s waist, and they went speeding off.

Both Jets were getting ready for takeoff. They were loaded up all except for two, but they were ready to take that chance. If they didn’t leave soon they just put themselves at a greater risk of another attack. They tried getting in contact with William, but he wasn’t answering.

“William! William, where are you?! We’re leaving in two minutes and that’s final! Talk to us!” Artemis spoke. She got nothing.

“William, I don’t want to leave without you, but I will.” She warned, trying to coax him out to the Jet. They had to assume the worst if he didn’t respond at all, and eventually it came to that.

“He was right behind me, I swear.” Diana said, mentioning William’s last location to Artemis who was looking out into the snowy woods for a figure that never came.

“Let’s go.” She said, and her say was final.

A god had fallen.

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