The Nonpareil of Resh (Act 1)
Out of breath and overexerted as he was, Gwyn still managed to quickly catch up with the Mayor and Rom. Compared to the young Nonpareil, Abelard was the most at risk of collapsing in exhaustion; without the situation's intensity, he would have done so immediately. After catching up, Gwyn slowed his pace to follow the rest; it was enough for him to recover his breath and return it to a steady pace even as they sprinted.
“Good work, Nonpareil, you bought us some time,” Rom said.
“It won’t matter, he’ll just escape, and I doubt I’ll get as lucky with another attack like that,” Gwyn muttered so softly the other two almost missed it. He scratched at the hard spot on his left shoulder, and to his alarm, it seemed as if it had grown.
“We… almost out… once we escape hospital… get vehakul….” Abelard gasped. Talking had become difficult in his state. Rom gritted her teeth. She didn’t know how long they had before they were too exhausted to do anything. Had she been more confident, the Zenotote assistant would have insisted on a last stand in a location of their choosing, but with Gwyn being the only one able to face Nighthawk—and being entirely unwilling to do so—she focused on what they would need to do to escape.
They were initially running to where she left the mayor’s vehakul; it was a sports model outfitted with armor and weapons for such an occasion. However, with the arrival of Nighthawk, they changed course. She knew they were still headed to the edge of the hospital, but she had no idea what they would find when getting outside. They were hardly in any condition to run further. Rom was confident that she could hot-wire a vehakul, she had learned the skill just in case it was needed to get the mayor to safety, but she was unsure if they would even find a suitable transport to escape. With a heavy sigh, she shouted to Gwyn.
“Can we count on you to stop him again when he catches up?”
“I’m not doing anything that will get me hurt.”
Rom looked to Gwyn and squinted her slitted eyes.
“Then delay him from a distance; I don’t care how you do it; I just want to ensure we can get away.”
Gwyn looked down at the floor and grunted.
“I might be able to do that.”
Rom shook her head. She would take what she could get.
“… trouble….” Abelard gasped.
Neither of the others had been looking straight ahead, but at the mayor’s words, they turned to see what was ahead—a dead end.
The hospital corridor led to a blank wall with two doors on either side. The door on the left had a sign which indicated it was a lab, and the second had a sign to indicate it was a breakroom, neither of which would lead out of the hospital.
The trio reached the flat wall, and Rom banged her fist on the dead end.
“Just what we need,” she said through heavy breaths, “we don’t have time to backtrack.”
“We can’t go back; he’s still there,” Gwyn added. Mayor Abelard leaned on the lab door and did his best to catch his breath.
“I’m confident we are almost to the outside, but….” Rom began to speak but stopped when Gwyn gently pushed her out of his way. He leaned low and touched a finger to the wall. The point of Mem’s ‘tail’ touched as well. Moving up in a deformed half-oval shape, Gwyn moved his finger. The tail reflected the movement on the other side while both points liquified a cut into the wall. He might have been able to take out the whole wall in one go but suspected he would feel too exhausted afterward to keep moving.
As the points reached each other near the top of the oval, Gwyn pushed forward, and the thick chunk of wall boomed on the ground. They had entered another hallway that ran perpendicular to the one they came down; most importantly, the wall of the new hallway opposite to the hole Gwyn made was made up of a series of decretive windows. The outside was just beyond them.
The trio quickly moved to the window. Gwyn considered putting the wall back, but with the possibility of wasting time, he reconsidered. The giant Needaimus would just run through it anyway. He began to do the same maneuver on the last barrier. Once open, they could flee from the side instead.
Rom and the mayor stepped forward and examined the outside. It was night, but the glow of Nun’s lights was bright enough to fool someone unfamiliar. They were on the second floor and overlooked a large parking lot that emptied into the streets of the shining city. If they could make it across, they could disappear within the city—Abelard was well-versed enough with the layout to escape.
The only vehakuls the trio saw were the odd one or two, which passed on the neon-lit street, and several, which were far from the hole they would be escaping from; it would take more time to run to one and hot-wire than to run across the lot itself.
Further in the city, a bridge connecting the main road to the hospital's front parking lot was filled with a marching army wearing Nun’s official uniform—distinct due to helmets and armor outfitted with glowing lights and feathers fastened up top to indicate rank.
“Looks like they figured out something was wrong, but they aren’t heading anywhere close to us,” Rom said.
“It will be enough; they will be able to clean up the remaining forces and protect Di… the patients,” Abelard added after his breathing had steadied enough; he still sounded like he might choke on the lack of air.
Gwyn pushed the new oval out with enough force to keep it from dropping just below. The glass shattered as it hit the pavement below. He looked down; though it was only the second floor, his head began to spin. He didn’t like the idea of falling; that was how bones could get broken.
In the distance, a loud rumble was heard. They turned to see Nighthawk's blue form charging down the long hallway. Gwyn began to tremble.
Rom cursed and looked over the edge herself. The hospital had a flower bed running around the perimeter of the building, though all the plants were fake and designed to glow in a myriad of colors. She wasted no time pushing Gwyn out of the hospital.
“Start running right away!” she shouted before doing the same with Mayor Abelard.
Gwyn screamed too loud to hear her; it took him a moment to realize he had incurred no damage from the landscaping; he stumbled out and looked up. The Nonpareil’s mouth hung open at the sight. Rom had tried to jump but was caught by her blue tail in the metal hand of the giant Needaimus.
“Rom!” Abelard shouted.
“Don’t worry about me, run!” she screamed back.
Gwyn’s head spun, and he forgot his fear for a moment. He liquified the bottom wall of the hospital and shot it up at Nighthawk. The attack formed into a solid rock with a stream of liquid behind it. When the rock hit, the force, or possibly the surprise, caused Nighthawk to release Rom. The rest of the liquid moved up and solidified the metal arm to the side of the hospital. Gwyn caught Rom in his arms and sprinted away with Mayor Abelard.
“Don’t expect to get my thanks,” Rom muttered, but Gwyn was too distracted to hear. He looked back to see Nighthawk pull its arm free from the trap effortlessly.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Gwyn shouted as the humanoid Needaimus jumped out. He could see he had made a mistake in angering his opponent. Though the mayor was the true target, Gwyn could tell he would be taken down first now that he had interfered. He wanted to shout that he never should have helped and just fled to save himself. The Nonpareil hated how conflicted he felt; it was like he was tearing himself in half.
Rom moved her legs out and turned slightly in Gwyn’s arms.
“I’m slowing you down. Just flip me, so my feet are down. I’ll be able to run. You need to trap him again. If we escape in the city, we can get away.”
Gwyn did as the mayor’s assistant asked and gently flipped her out of his arms. When her feet hit the ground, she stumbled momentarily but managed to break into a sprint that matched Gwyn’s.
“If I trap him again, we can get away?” Gwyn asked.
“Yes. I am confident.”
Gwyn took a deep breath. One last time, he told himself, one last attack, then I will never fight again. He repeated in his mind several times before he got enough courage to make a ‘U’ and charge to Nighthawk.
The Nonpareil leaned low and came to a halt, pressing his hand to the ground. A large section of the parking lot was liquified. The attack moved like a broad wave at Nighthawk—leaving little chance for escape, or so Gwyn thought.
Instantly, Nighthawk was high in the air, well above the attack. Gwyn’s eyes grew wide in horror at the sight of it. He pulled his hand off and fell back just enough to avoid being a part of the crater the large Needaimus put in the ground.
Gwyn stumbled to his feet, shaky as he was, and managed to sidestep a grapple from Nighthawk. The blue Needaimus closed metal hands, meant to grab around the Nonpareil’s throat, and swung them at Gwyn’s head.
With no time to waste, Gwyn quickly sprinted away from Nighthawk, avoiding the needaimus’ blow and surprising it more than any attack could. The large metal form laughed.
“The Nonpareil has turned coward! How hilarious.”
Gwyn ignored the provocations and continued to run with all his might. It took him a moment to realize he was running away from Rom and the Mayor, but that fact did not escape Nighthawk. The Needaimus turned to his true prey and charged. Gwyn stopped and looked back while breathing heavily. What could he do against such a foe? He was powerless, but they were more powerless. He liquified a section of the parking lot and formed it into a javelin. Using his ability, the sharp point shot through the air and smashed into Nighthawk. The asphalt crumbled from the blow, but the force was enough to knock the opponent unsteady for a moment. At that exact moment, the mayor’s strength finally gave out, and he fell to his knees—physically unable to go on.
“Rom, just run, save yourself; I am confident in your ability,” the mayor attempted to say, but his gasps were too intense for any of the words to be clear.
The Zenotote assistant knelt by Abelard and looked worryingly to Nighthawk. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on who was asked, the large Needaimus had turned to Gwyn.
“It seems I need to take care of you after all; all your efforts have gone to waste anyway; the mayor doesn’t have much left he can do except die,” Nighthawk mocked.
Gwyn stepped back and looked around the nearly empty lot for anything that could help him in the fight. There was plenty of pavement, but any vehakuls or a light post was too far for him to get to in time. Nighthawk charged and quickly closed the gap between them. Gwyn squirmed as a metal fist was brought down like a hammer at his head. He wasn’t fast enough to dodge completely, but the attack missed his skull and hit his left shoulder.
To the surprise of both Gwyn and Nighthawk, there was no sound of bones crunching; instead, the metal fist clanged on a hard surface. Nighthawk grabbed Gwyn by the hospital clothes, and they ripped as the Nonpareil backed away. His left was bare as it weakly hung near his side.
Several hard stones had grown on Gwyn’s shoulder and several spots along his bicep. They were a brown color, and though they were undoubtedly rocky, on close inspection, they could be seen as dull scales.
Gwyn scratched as it itched. Though now seeing it, he wasn’t sure he wanted to touch it.
“I knew you were a fool, but to think you would be that much of a fool,” Nighthawk said in shock for the first time, as far as the Nonpareil had ever heard.
“What is this?” Gwyn said as he did his best to not touch the itchy spot. He had no idea what was happening but figured it couldn’t be good. The large Needaimus began to laugh.
“The Nonpareil was so weak he sought power through drinking the blood of an Unkillable but ended up being cursed instead,” Nighthawk said through laughter. Then, on a dime, the metal form stopped laughing and began to walk to Gwyn. “You should be happy I will kill you before anyone else finds out.”
Gwyn moved back with shaky feet as Nighthawk approached. He wasn’t sure what his opponent meant, but his primary focus was avoiding death, first and foremost. His feet were shaky, and his mind raced so wildly that he wasn’t sure what could be done to stop it. All Gwyn was sure of was that he was out of time and in extreme danger.