Chapter 36:

No More, No Less

Code: Zero Defect

The winds howled harshly under a bright crescent moon. There stood Holiday and Minerva of Calypso, facing off against Talos, one with a code that matches their own.

Of course, all codes vary in strength and power. One can be the most simple ability while another can have world-altering effects. In the end, it's all about how one uses their power to their advantage.

"Now, Calypso," Talos said. "Let us see if you still have the skills you once possessed."

Minerva was the first to move, as she rapidly lifted her pistol and fired a shot. Talos merely jerked his head out of the way, but he was not prepared to see Holiday already right in front of him.

When she swung her blade, he lifted his arms to block it completely, forcing him to slide back a couple of steps. He then twisted his neck to crack it as the diamond in his eyes glowed a subtle brown.

"Come!" he shouted.

Holiday lunged forward while Minerva broke off to the side. She threw a slash that was blocked yet again, sliding off to the side and giving Minerva a clear shot. Four bullets were sent racing at him, but all it took was his bare palm to block all of them.

Minerva threw one of her pistols over Talos's head to which Holiday grabbed it. They both fired a couple of shots while circling him, but he effortlessly deflected them all.

Holiday tossed her gunblade high into the sky and charged. For every punch she threw, Talos either stepped away or parried it. Every time she tried to fire a point-blank shot with the pistol, Talos moved her arm out of the way just in time, disrupting its trajectory.

Minerva suddenly appeared behind Holiday, throwing her pistol off to the side before reaching her arm up to grab the gunblade. With that, she broke into a sprint, firing a series of plasma shots from a distance.

At the same time, Holiday jumped away, grabbing the pistol that was just thrown and unloading the rest of the clip.

Minerva then sent the gunblade flying at Talos to which he sidestepped it. It was only after that moment that he realized he was not the target.

When he turned around, Holiday had already finished charging the gunblade. She pulled the trigger, sending out a highly dense plasma charge. The ensuing explosion sent a heavy shockwave that twisted the branches of every bush and hedge in the garden.

The two regrouped, and Minerva handed Holiday her gunblade back. They stared at the cloud of dust, hoping for a miracle. However, their moment of repose was cut short when they noticed a pair of shining brown eyes within.

"Code: Bronze Age," Talos muttered.

Suddenly, the cloud of smoke whisked away, replaced by an army of humanoid figures who all looked exactly like Talos. That is the power of his code: a seemingly infinite supply of automatons that act according to his will.

"Well?" he chuckled. "It was two-on-one for a brief moment there. How about two-on-hundreds?"

"Not looking too hot, Cap'n," Minerva said. "At this rate, we won't make it in and out of the Spire in time before Archontas returns from the walls."

However, Holiday hesitated. She peered at the many Queen's Guards that still surrounded them, watching. Some were close to her age, but most of them were children. She was reminded of dreadful memories.

"Tear those things apart," Holiday whispered. "But mind your aim."

"Sure you don't wanna do it yourself, Cap'n?" Minerva chuckled. "This looks like a wet dream for your code."

"I'll abstain. I can't risk hurting those kids."

A subtle smile appeared on Minerva's face. "As you command."

She lifted a hand as the diamonds in her eyes began illuminating.

"Code: Trojan Horse."

Upon the towering walls that surround the Spire, a series of weapons sprung to life. From rifles to snipers to machine guns. They all perched at the edge of the ramparts, aiming right at Talos and his automatons.

With a flick of her fingers. The ramparts were suddenly filled with uneven flashes. Ear-splitting gunshots echoed in the night as a storm of bullets rained upon Talos and his automatons.

Suddenly, a massive gauntlet rose from the razed field with an open palm, rapidly descending on them.

Holiday grabbed Minerva by the collar of her shirt and threw her off to the side. She then raised her hand, allowing the gauntlet to slam right down on top of her. However, she did not budge. She stood steadfast even when the ground beneath her was crumbling.

"Why do you not use your code, Holiday?" Talos asked mockingly.

She did not reply. Several automatons stormed out from behind him, charging right at her. With her fingers, she dug into the massive gauntlet, removing it from Talos's control.

As heavy as it was, Holiday maintained her posture. She held it up with both arms before hurling it at Talos, crushing every single automation along the way.

Right as it was about to hit him, he threw out his hand, summoning another gauntlet to block it. Thereafter, another storm of automatons rushed out.

"Cap'n!" Minerva cried as she ran over.

"Run them through," Holiday growled.

Together, they continued their assault on the army, but it was futile. Every time they broke one down, another came at them.

"Hahaha! Go on!" Talos laughed hysterically. "Use your code, Holiday!"

But she did not. Holiday cut through one that was charging her way, then twisted the handle of her gunblade to turn it into a plasma rifle. With a few seconds to charge, a bolt of plasma erupted from the barrel. The moment it touched one of the automatons, a devastating plasma dome formed.

On the other side, Minerva blasted a hole in the head of one before stepping out of the way when another came crashing down from the sky. She shot her pistol in every direction with remarkable speed, sending forth waves upon waves of bullets that flung out in a circle around her.

Even though they had dealt with so many, there were many more lined up behind Talos.

"I know you all too well, Holiday," he smirked. "Look at all of these young folks. Kids of every age, ready to give their lives for the Queen... and yet, you are unready to take them."

Holiday shoved her gunblade into the ground and knelt next to it, desperately attempting to catch her breath.

"Quite the dilemma you've found yourself in, no?" he taunted once more. "You wish for victory, yet you can't help but pity your own enemy. All of these children... are here not by choice. Just like you once were. Does that bother you?"

Again, she refused to answer him, but in the back of her head, she knew he was right. The sole reason why she isn't using her code is because she doesn't want to hurt them. Even if they were her enemies, she knew what they had been through.

"Allow me to show you how foolish your disposition truly is," Talos smiled. "Lock her up."

The Queen's Guards who once stood idly by ran up to his side.

"Code: Gridlock!" shouted one.

A cage made entirely of plasma appeared, keeping Holiday within.

"Code: Virus Installation," said another.

A hexagonal ring spun around Holiday, and she began to feel slightly dizzy.

"Code: Diminution Module!" cried a third.

A circle embedded itself into the ground beneath Holiday, which made her feel weaker.

"Now, hit her with everything!" Talos commanded.

Everyone else chanted the activation sequence of their codes, and a series of bright lights filled the vicinity. Rifles, rockets, shotguns, and grenades; it seemed like no firearm in the entire city was left out of this spectacle. Explosions upon explosions ruptured the area, shaking the ground and blowing away much of the surrounding garden.

For a full minute, they kept going. Even when one had to stop to reload, the rest would fire in their stead. The Queen's Guard continued their unending assault until Talos lifted his hand into the air.

A thick layer of smoke covered the area. All eyes watched with anticipation, expecting nothing left to be there. They would only be left in shock when a standing silhouette appeared.

Holiday emerged from the fog, having moved not even the slightest inch. Her gunblade was still set in the exact same position. A couple of small cuts dotted her clothes, and a trail of blood slid down from her mouth. Other than that, she was perfectly fine for someone who was just hit by the power of so many codes.

"How..." Talos gasped. "How are you still alive...?"

"Did you really forget? Or perhaps you're feigning ignorance," Holiday asked as she slid her thumb over her chin to wipe the blood.

Talos snatched a gun from his comrade and shot once. The bullet raced through the air before it suddenly fell to the ground faster than when it left the gun.

"A gravity barrier...?" he grunted. "But... how? You didn't activate your code."

"Neither did you when you sent out that automaton the first time," she replied.

His eyes shot wide open. Diamond-grade codes are extremely powerful, so much so that they can affect their hosts even when the activation sequence is not met. When he saw Holiday's gunblade stuck in the ground, he understood. It was a foolish mistake, one that has cost them this battle.

"You would really hurt these children?" Talos chuckled, but his nervousness was leaking through.

Holiday rested her hand on the hilt of her gunblade. With a heavy breath and eyes full of serene animosity, her choice was made. Children, they may be, but they had no hesitation to follow Talos's orders. Even if it isn't by choice, they are enemies.

"Code: Atlas's Burden."

Immediately, a massive crack split the earth apart. All Queen's Guards within the vicinity fell on their knees at the sudden pressure, as heavy as the world that Atlas carried upon his shoulders.

As it continued, more and more could not bear to hold themselves up for any longer, and they subsequently collapsed to the ground. Whatever augmented limb they had was immediately torn apart, but they could not even scream.

Holiday pulled her weapon out and continued to walk. The closer she came to those who fell, the greater the pressure, but her target was neither one nor the other. Instead, she set her eyes on the Spire once more.

"Cap'n!" Minerva shouted.

Holiday turned around, and that's when she saw it. A glaring pillar of red mist flung high into the sky. The clouds above shifted to form a vortex that blocked out the moon.

Her eyes shot wide open, and her breaths were shallower than before. She had seen that sight before, and she once promised herself that she would never have to see it again.

"... Loki...?" she whispered under her breath. "Holiday to Loki, come in!"

No response.

"Astrid, give me a sitrep!" she cried.

Yet again, no response. Astrid must've collapsed after using her code, and Holiday knew all too well what it did to her.

"Anyone! Do you copy?!" Holiday screamed.

Still, nothing.

"Minerva, move! Now!" she shouted.

The two immediately broke into a sprint towards the Spiral Gates. As close as they were to the Spire, their teammates came first. Nemesis's death was more than enough. They can't afford to lose another.