Burned Out Heroes
Every detail was visible from the VIP box.
The front gate was engulfed in flames as revitalized Federation forces flowed in one after another. Also, Resistance soldiers pinning down a small battalion inside one of the stadium’s outgoing passageways was in plain sight.
The sides seemed evenly matched. Though vastly outnumbered, Resistance soldiers held strong against the onslaught.
Combat would surely come to a swift and decisive end should Erde join the battle. Keeping their guests tucked away, breaking through the blockade, and regrouping would be a simple matter afterward.
Had Erde actually taken action, the Resistance would have overcome the coordinated assault.
However, she lacked the necessary composure to do so. Her thoughts had been consumed by the uncontrollable rage burning within her heart.
Turning over the reins to this seething anger, Erde turned her full warth on everything in the vicinity. Random bursts of extreme heat melted seats into steaming puddles of plastic in every direction.
Yet, her mood did not improve no matter how much she destroyed. The reddish liquid covering the floor may as well have been a reflection of her soul.
“Damn it! DAMN!! Why’d it have to turn out this way-?!”
No amount of searing light, ear-piercing explosions, or power flaunting would change what happened. The hostages had been freed, and nothing would ever excuse this failure.
The plan had played out perfectly, until one little detail went awry. 01 was powerless so long as Karen was in her clutches, and yet everything was falling apart around her.
“Erde! We’re being overrun! We need reinfor-!”
“Figure something out yourself! I’m-!”
She snapped back through the comm before realizing mid-sentence that she had no valid reason whatsoever.
What could she possibly do here? The hostages were gone. What point was there in engaging 01 now?
With their base objective accomplished, continuing their occupation of the stadium was beyond foolish. Regrouping, even if it meant pulling back, was the best option under the circumstances. She knew that.
“-’At’s quite a temper ya got there, young lady.”
Erde reflexively spun around to face the voice. The logic that had just begun to surface was once again overpowered by hatred.
Directly below, on the stadium floor, was 01.
He stood there, a smug grin on his face amid the debris. It was a battlefield, and yet he seemed perfectly comfortable.
“Then again, gettin’ worked up is what teenagers do. Tell ya what? We can pick up where we left off on- whoa!”
Erde answered 01’s long winded taunt with a bolt of energy. Fighting was pointless, and yet she instinctively brought her power to bare.
Defeat 01, then her revenge would be complete. Erde herself was not aware that her means and her goal had switched places.
“Hey, careful with that! Here I was, about to give ya a chance to surrender-”
Erde attacked with ferocity, her arms leaving after images in their wake as she unleashed heat rays every which way. It was not long before the air itself was singed as holes were blown into the stadium floor and walls.
It looked as though the sun itself were attacking from above. 01 knew that his armor could never withstand a direct hit.
The amount of heat she had absorbed during her time Outside rivaled that of stars in the sky. Flattening the stadium itself was well within her power, should she so choose.
“-But if ‘at’s how yer gonna be, I’ll finish ya off right here.”
01 dodged beam after lethal beam of heat by the slimmest of margins. Erde possessed more than enough destructive power, but could not destroy what needed to be destroyed.
Run, dodge, evade. His agility was just enough to surpass that of a mass of energy on par with the sun itself. This incredible speed came standard for all foot soldiers turned demon cyborgs.
Erde had no hope of ensnaring 01. No matter how much power she brought to bear, connecting with his after images was the best she could do.
An insurmountable gap separated Erde’s top speed from 01’s.
Her ability was extremely powerful, but her reflexes and cognition were still in the human range. 01, on the other hand, was in the top percentile of demon cyborgs which physically outclassed humans in every way. Human perception could never keep up.
Erde fumed as she changed her attack strategy.
First, she concentrated an enormous amount of power into her right hand. The air around it seemed to shriek in pain with every incoming pulse as it warped bit by bit.
Though sending this whole stadium into orbit would do more harm than good, turning everything in sight into ash would not be an issue. Some of her allies may be caught up in the blast, but that price was trivial compared to eliminating 01.
“That ain’t a bad plan, but-”
01 openly mocked her desperation.
Yes, her power was mighty to say the least. Out of all the arbiters 01 had faced during his lifetime, Erde’s abilities were top class.
However, there was nothing more to it. In terms of strength, 01 had taken down even more ridiculously powerful adversaries and lived to tell the tale.
“-It ain’t gonna work on me!”
01 shifted out of his high-speed sortie to find that one of the stadium’s structural support girders had been laid bare, stretching toward the sky like a skeletal pike.
One precise blow from his perfect form would turn it into a massive, super sonic spear. The method was primitive, but that was exactly what ensured its power.
It goes without saying an attack that relied on so much brute force paled in comparison to Erde’s abilities. Robbed of its momentum in midair, the metallic bone fell harmlessly to the ground. Simple physical attacks would never harm her.
Just as 01 expected.
Erde’s mind froze as a sudden impact hit her from behind. She had just absorbed an exuberant amount of friction heat produced by the spear’s momentum. It was that very energy that cushioned the blow before she recognized the threat. Her ability had saved her life.
“Wh-What the hell?!”
The attack had been blocked, but she had no clue what it was.
The only facts she could scrape together were that the attack happened the instant she rendered the steel girder inert. The combatants were tens of meters apart, and 01 lacked the means of attacking in unison with the girder.
Once again, the energy barrier around Edre blocked a hit. 01 had disappeared from view below, but her ability had already triggered. A kick had made contact in less time than it took to blink.
She knew what it was, but was powerless to take action. The attacks had been blocked, but it did not feel like her own doing.
Another strike, this one sending tremors through her barrier, full-circle. She clearly saw the invisible wall closing in from all directions. The nightmarish scenario of being crushed to a pulp played out in the back of her mind.
Overtaken by fear, Erde protected herself. A clear membrane of energy now pulsed 360 degrees around her body, an arbitral orb of defense.
She had, for all intents and purposes, become a small star. Sweltering heat set everything within a few hundred meters ablaze.
“-Quite the useful ability ya got there. No backlash from the energy ya absorb, and it’s damn fast.”
01 voiced his high regard for Erde’s power, yet the wielder simply shook with fear. All the power she just unleashed had failed to put any new scratches on 01’s metallic skin.
She had no choice but to accept her miscalculation. 01 was more monstrous than she ever imagined.
“I’m more used ta ’at than bein’ called a ‘hero.’ It’s too late to be havin’ regrets. Yer the one who picked this fight.”
01 could not lay a finger on her so long as the barrier was in place. Her analysis of the situation was sound.
Even still, she was terrified.
The feeling of impending doom she had felt since she lost her parents was now suffocating her from the inside out.
“...Throw in the towel now an’ I won’t kill ya. Yer a kidnapper an’ a terrorist, but I wouldn’ feel right finishin’ off somebody tremblin’ that hard.”
Only then, after being told to surrender, did Erde realize her fingers were shaking. Not even all of her masks at once could shield her from that fact.
Erde had come so far. She’d endured humiliation, shed so much blood, and lived through hell on earth all to get revenge.
Then, what was the point? Why did she have to fight in the face of unimaginable horror? Plenty had died by her hand, plenty had been taken from the enemy, trying to take any more would be-
“-No. I’m not satisfied, not yet.”
Just as she was about to give up, the flame that refused to disappear incinerated her second thoughts. This wasn’t over, it had yet to begin. There was still too much that needed to be done.
Not even death was going to stop her from seeing it through.
“...You are the one who should give up. That strength is meaningless. You can’t kill me. Therefore, you have no chance. Surrender.”
Her mask of hatred had seized control. A voice in the back of her mind was still sounding the alarm, but the worst case scenario could be avoided so long as she drew breath.
With 01 out of the way, the Resistance’s victory was assured.
“Heh, yeah right. Chances ain’t somethin’ ya hope for, ya make ‘em yerself.”
01’s blow shook the air around her before Erde could finish. The impact just overhead sent goosebumps down her spine. The amount of energy she just absorbed left no doubt in her mind: it would have crushed her had it connected.
Erde leapt for the sky between the aftershocks.
Though fast, 01 still had to attack from the ground. Gaining altitude would give her a distinct advantage.
That death was fake, a mere hallucination. Her body moved once those dots connected.
Erde fended off too many blows to count during the few seconds it took to fall back.
Finally, she reached her safe haven: the very top of Memorial Park’s towering tribute to those who died in the war, the Soul Settler’s name sake.
01’s attacks could not reach her here. He would inevitably pursue, but it would all be over by then.
The stadium was covered by a murky cloud of smoke and ash beneath her. Seeing it from this height gave her a feeling of invincibility.
Several faces quietly emerged in the back of her mind, but she blocked them all out.
There was only one objective. Any sacrifice could be made so long as it was achieved.
Erde’s mother and father’s names were carved into the tower on which she stood. As did the beautiful lies that painted their hero’s deaths, but this was the only place their graveless spirits could rest.
She originally came to this island to see the memorial with her own eyes.
“...This is my revenge.”
A mass of energy large enough to block out the sky manifested around her right hand. It took everything she had to keep the conglomerate capable of reducing the entire island down to mere atoms under control.
Power that exceeded humanity. She demonstrated once and for all why arbiters were superior to the rest of the population.
Exterminating 01 required neither speed nor precise aim. Maintaining control of the stadium had been a mistake. Her goal could be accomplished without executing those Federation officers or destroying 01 if she simply blew the whole island into nothingness.
This was revenge. Nothing should be left once it was complete.
“‘Falling light, all my rage, return from whence you came.’”
Her anamnesis reached its zenith. Words she had once read from an old legend graced her lips. For anamnesis, which reacted to human brainwaves, there was no better trigger than stories that bred archetypes.
Just as no two wavelengths were alike, neither were arbitral abilities. While all attempts to overturn that fact had failed, certain theories suggest that an arbiter’s power is a direct manifestation of their soul. If that were true, this burning entity is Erde’s being at the very core.
The name bestowed on one able to wield heat as her own, Yale Entropy. Burning corruption from the face of the world, that was her power.
“-Now, burn in hell!”
Taking a deep breath, Erde brought the mass down with all her might. The adour was released from the back of her mind along with it.