Project Super Nex, Chapter Twenty-Two: The Commodore’s Festering Poisons

Wyatt, Cooper, and Gene couldn’t fly out into a large room of Andropis for two seconds before holographic cuffs materialized around their arms and legs, suspending them directly in front of an Andropes. She regarded them with an amiable, unassuming smile. “I’m honored to meet you, Mr. Durrell. I love your staunch morals.” She took his hand in a tingling handshake.

Blinking his bloodshot eyes, Gene sputtered, “Absurdity! Why must you adulate him, Saorin? You are the feminine analogue to Gargant!”

Cooper said, “Yeah, Com’dore, what’s this starry charm ya sprinkle over loop-de-loops? Wait, not Naazang. He loathes you. Unless it’s fluff and he actually finds you fascinating.”

“Ignore them, Mr. Durrell.” Saorin waved a hand to dissolve all the cuffs, and the agents thumped to the floor. She quickly gave Cooper and Gene tingling handshakes before they could get up. “I can’t express how great of a duty it will be for me to examine your biology.”

The agents could attack her and the Andropis now that they were free. But the lightness of her voice soaked into their heads, and all they did was stand there as if this was a friendly meeting. Andropis sat at banks of holographic screens and globes around them. Long windows filled one half of the round, conical room in offset rows. Locked shelves were built into the other half. The walls gradually sloped up to a narrow ceiling, past two wide balconies running the rim of the interior. Everything exuded the same bio-metal sheen as the Andropis.

When Gene looked at the Andropes with the hoop on its back — being used as a portal left it a shriveled husk — and mumbled about why his brother sent it here, Saorin patted his arm with the tips of her fingers and soothed, “He never knew that I was controlling the Andropes. Even a hacker of his skill can’t evade the Cythudor’s security.” She turned to Wyatt. “Your allies are loyal to you, Mr. Durrell. They wouldn’t surrender to me when I met them at Boraker. You have so much more awaiting you, though. Even before you gained your superpowers, you showed promise at a tender age. Enrolling at Olympus University at nine. Graduating at twelve with a double major in microbiology and virology. Toiling away at Rad-Bio Laboratory.”

Gene repeated, “Microbiology and virology?”

Wyatt looked back at him. “I had to cover all the bases in order to work at the lab.”

Saorin barely rested her fingertips on the side of his chin to turn his head and have him look her in the eye. “You don’t have to stay in Cosmotic. If I were to study the mutations in your genetics, the retroviruses surging through your bloodstream, I would be able to show you your true strength. And Tyrobe is teeming with ambitious enterprises in which you could partake.”

A moment passed before Wyatt looked at Gene. “Odd, she is analogous to Gargant.”

While Cooper threw his head back and guffawed, Gene broke in, “Saorin, may you expose a digest of your intent to kidnap our prime stalwart and murder his companions?”

Iciness from the rest of her form leaked into her smile when she turned to Gene. “I don’t have time to act like a cliched villain and monologue my heart to you. I would prefer it if I could have the pleasure of escorting Mr. Durrell to my homeland. His partners may join us.”

Glancing out the windows at the deep blue froths of water as Shods continually launched from Cythudor, Wyatt crossed his arms and stated, “If you’re expending this many resources to instigate a conquest on Lunatark, why would you do anything different for my team and me?” His hands, tucked behind his elbows, began to glow.

Saorin glimpsed down at them, her smile shrinking. “You bring up a valid point.” She reached her hands over her shoulders and pulled out two poker-like weapons, a dotted line of lit-up bulbs running along the length of each one. Swinging them down at Wyatt’s forcefield, which he built faster than usual, inflicted nothing more than a pair of dents.

Wyatt built jet-boots for himself, Cooper, and Gene, saying before they flew three feet off the floor, “Saorin, I’ll give your regards to Gargant and Naazang the next time I meet them.”

“Don’t trouble yourself.” She pointed a poker upward and squeezed the grooved handle. The top bulb in the line of dotted lights blinked off right after a four-inch dart fired with a zing, piercing halfway through the spherical forcefield, enclosing it instantaneously with a dazzling sheen of radiation that shone Andropis-style. It imploded into the wriggling agents and left a twitching fuzz of light, which vanished after they fell and became trapped in holographic cuffs once again. Saorin crossed her rods behind her back and ambled away, while Andropis scuffled out of their seats and trained their blasters at the Starsapiens.

“Ha-ha! Where do you think you can slip off like a borbark fox, Mrs. Gargant?” Cooper called, making a throaty groan, trying to thrash his body free.

Just as an Andropes squeezed the trigger, Gene flexed his hand and stretched the fingers of his Gelescent glove, knocking the Andropes aside. The plasma coils from its blaster shot off-center and sizzled through the cuff on Gene’s wrist. Then he splattered more gel around the floor to trip more Andropis before they could shoot. A bulge of the golden orange stuff threw a blaster to him, and he fired the rest of his cuffs. His butt-thump to the floor made him cry, “Egads!”

The quickness with which he swept aside Andropis with a wave of gel and freed Wyatt and Cooper made the former say, “Good job, Gene,” and construct three sets of helmets, chest armor, and jet-boots for the agents.

“Good job? That was — ” Cooper twiddled his fingers around his head, eyes wide with excitement. Then he enlarged his hammers and whizzed their heads at Andropis. He missed Saorin when she merged into a holographic map of Lunatark. Her goodbye wave provoked him into giving a raspberry.

Jumping off the upper balconies were Andropis that Wyatt smashed out of the air with a pair of energy staffs. Other robots were Gelescent-cocooned and compressed into little balls by Gene or bashed in by Cooper’s hammer heads. Parts of the walls on all three levels split open so more Andropis could tromp in. In the middle of the brawl, as Wyatt clapped his staffs together to crunch an Andropes’s head, he asked Gene, “Why did you call me a prime stalwart? You know I don’t like that, ‘stalwart.'”

“By degrees I am acquiring a palate for the title in spite of the negative connotations with which many Starsapiens have tainted it. Stalwart. Staaalll-wart. Stal-waaarrrrtt.”

While Cooper made small back-and-forth flicks of his hammer handles to whiz their heads through dozens of Andropis, he said, “I dug up a shiner when I was brushin’ my teeth this morning. The Commodores! An’ you, Wyatt Durrell, you’re the Com’dore, that’s your honorific, ’cause you’re our leader. That’s the target!”

Still fighting Andropis, Wyatt and Gene darted looks at each other. Then Wyatt said, “The Commodores? I don’t know, Cooper. We’re not some superhero comic book team.”

“But we are a superhero comic book team, like the Virtuous Riders!”

Gene scoffed, “Folly. Never in my life will I refer to Wyatt as a Cam’dore.”

“It’s Com’dore! Ya know, like ‘Commodore’!”

All of a sudden the last robots alive stiffened with muted whines, then sunk to the floor. The doors in the cockpit clanked closed. The agents looked left and right in search of traps. The holographic monitor closest to Gene, strangely humming and blinking, pressed Wyatt to project a forcefield, shielding Gene from the monitor. He jumped back, his howls about Wyatt’s rashness cut short when a dart shot out of the monitor, through the forcefield, into Wyatt’s chest armor. He clasped his hands over the dart, half of it sticking out. His head sharply dipped onto his shoulder. Zigzag bolts rippled across his clothing and skin. He fell to his knees and then to his back after the forcefield dissolved into a semicircle of cobalt dust.

“Dude, Saorin, what’d ya do?” Cooper asked, unable to take the dart out of Wyatt’s armor when it stung his fingers with a small bolt. He levitated his hammer heads upward, but a familiar hand stuck out of the monitor, the one that shot the dart, and smacked a head at Gene.

He fired off Gelescent ribbons to wrap up the head and slow its momentum, enough so that it stopped at the tip of his nose. Cooper took a couple steps closer and whizzed his other hammer head at the hand, which deflected it into one of the windows. Then it snapped for the handle in his left hand and gave it a jerk, speeding off the other head. Still wrapped in Gelescent ribbons, it whipped Gene into a collision with Cooper.

“Static charges, they don’t mesh kindly with Super Nex energy inside a vulnerable body,” Saorin said, the rest of her body flowing out of the monitor. In her other hand was a rod with one blank light and four lit-up in the dotted line. “The paralysis is much more prominent since he’s been directly struck.” She hauled Gene and Cooper off the floor by their necks, refusing to let up the strangling as they clawed at her fingers. She looked down at Wyatt with a fragile smile. “Mr. Durrell, what would you like to say?”

He hauled his head off the floor as if it were a brick, eyes drifting over the blurry swoops of light. His infected monitor pulsed aches through his wrist, but that was the least of his pains for now. His voice climbed past the roughness in his throat to croak, “Let them go.” He rolled onto his shoulder and half-propped himself up on a wobbling elbow. Plucking out the dart, not caring about his stinging fingers, sucking air into the spikes of pain in his stomach, he cast a hardened glare at the red-tipped projectile and threw it down on the floor. “Let them go, Saorin,” he said, more loudly, more roughly.

“Let them go? That’s an option.” She loosened her grip enough on her victims so that they could scarcely gasp for air. “But how would you reimburse me? Well, I have two specimens who embody valuable skills and seem physically capable of undergoing cypros, cybernetic prostheses surgery. It’s customary to conduct it on primitives like you.” She nodded to Cooper and Gene. “However, I would be willing to give you up if acquiring Mr. Durrell for examination could be agreed upon by the three of you.”

Cooper grunted, “Give ya plumpies a nice ol’ bunt to the cloud bakery, why don’t ya!”

Saorin returned to tightening her grip so that he and Gene couldn’t savor the air, even when Wyatt said, “Stop! I’ll do it.” He pushed himself into an upright seat and motioned to the agents with a shaky hand. “I’ll stay here. You need to let them go.”

She did not lower her eyes to look at him. “Are you sure? I don’t want to trouble you.”

“I’ll stay.” Seconds dragged by. He dug a hand into the floor when Cooper and Gene’s lips turned blue. “Saorin, let them go now!”

She dropped them to the floor and pulled Wyatt to his feet. His monitor pulsated stronger when she squeezed his wrists and said, “You can’t summon one bit of energy. I’m sorry about that.” She whipped her head at Cooper and Gene as they stood up with their hammers and Gelescents. “Please put those away. I would hate to go back on my word and imprison you.”

Cooper and Gene put their weapons away, but only after Wyatt gave them a small nod. Then they turned to a plasticky squeaking from one of the windows, which was expanding into a convex bulge. Cooper and Gene asked at the same time what was going on, frowning at Saorin’s silence as she rested a hand on Wyatt’s shoulder. He wiggled a hand between his armor and his jacket, pulling the heortorr box from an inside pocket, the tricres incision on top glowing pink.

Saorin tilted away from it, her voice rising a note. “Pretty. What do you have there?”

“I want to give it to them.” After she stared at him and then took a careful step back, he held up the box and said, “Cooper.” He threw it into a long arc over the holograms.

Cooper caught it in both hands. “What the heck ya givin’ me this for?”

Wyatt arched his eyebrows slightly. “Protect it.”

Cooper made a gibbicht! of puzzlement and slipped the gem into his pocket. “This makes as much sense as a jug a’ berry beetles!” he shouted over the increasingly-loud plasticky squeaks.

Then the window — it looked like a fat sac of foam bouncing to and fro — protruded a long tube around him and Gene, sucking them into the water outside the Cythudor. They floated head over heels inside the sac when it pinched itself free of the window.

“Where are they going? Where are you putting them?” Wyatt asked, pivoting his head at Saorin, turning back to the window as the sac drifted up through the water.

“It will drop them off at Ortsaid Bai. Did you think I would kill them?”

He looked back at her with the most humorless face. “That outcome occurred to me, yes.”

She shook her head and emitted a sound halfway between a sigh and a laugh. “I’d love to go on with you, Mr. Durrell, but I’ve been instructed to bring you to a special place on another part of this rich realm. And please accept my apologies, but your energy is rising steadily.” She pulled a static rod out of her shoulder and thrust it into Wyatt’s chest.

“Go to grim,” he muttered before a dart fired into his chest, leaving him to scream and writhe from the pins of static tearing apart his insides.
****
Corbin, Penelope, and Sidney had climbed up the masses of rocks left over from the avalanches and were now combatting Andropis on a knoll above the cirque. Corbin called out for Cooper and Gene when they flew up in their jet-boots. Sidney asked as she grabbed a robot’s head and stabbed a boomerang through its neck, “Guys! Took you long enough to stop — ” After pausing to tilt her head to the side and downturn her eyebrows, she ran her fingers along the chain of her pendant and said in a much darker tone, “There’s Gene. There’s Cooper. It should be a given that Wyatt is with you. But he isn’t. With you.”

Cooper padded the sweat beads on his neck with the back of his hand. “Yeppers, it’s not boss, not boss at all. But he got all altruistic. Saorin’s pluckin’ out his powers right now.”

“Damn you hyena asses!” Penelope barked, standing right behind Gene. He jerked away from her with splayed-out arms and legs and a monkeyish cry. The others reacted just as quickly and less loudly. Penelope took no notice as she shook Gene by his arms. “You know how much attention that Durrell needs! How could you abandon him?”

“Penelope!” Corbin scolded, wrangling his brother out of her grip.

“He complied with Saorin’s arrangement: she would unfetter the two of us if she was free to withhold Wyatt,” Gene answered with a cough, rubbing his bruised neck. “In the ephemeral negotiation we were voiceless, literally voiceless.”

Cooper spiraled his hammers around to smack away nearby Andropis. “Heh, it’s a simp sitch, though. We gotta go back for him. If we can hijack another robopod — ”

“How convenient,” Corbin said, pointing at a Shod landing a few feet down their knoll.

It took less than two minutes for the agents to destroy all its Andropis, the last few being strewn everywhere with a web of Gene’s Gelescent ropes interconnected by Corbin’s hoops. Inside the Shod, Gene took over the controls, sticking his finger at the monitor and exclaiming, “Attention, attention! Are you viewing this?”

Penelope barked, “How can I? Your bony finger’s blocking the way!”

Gene moved back, and the monitor showed a Shod launching out of the ocean. “The life force of Saorin and a vigorous Super Nex entity are being reported,” said Gene.

Penelope stood right behind the brothers, peering over her glasses. “Tail it.” She went on to boss them around with the controls and complain about germs collecting on holograms.

Cooper and Sidney stayed away from that scene. He scanned the weaponry and armor racks and brushed his bangs away from his sweaty forehead. She laid her eyes on one of the small monitors at the rear, which showed Andropis-trampled cities and forests as the Shod flew over them. Buildings were either set ablaze or amorphously warped. Plants were ripped from the ground and crammed into storage racks hooked to Shods. The far-off Alapatium was inflicted with broken walls, collapsed domes, and flaming courtyards.

“This is bullshit.” Sidney murmured, eating an orchid-shaped caramel.

“Oh yeah, I’d like one, please,” Cooper said, and she tossed him another orchid caramel. He nibbled on the outer petals, then blew out a long, loud breath. “Dark as muck. But Com’dore, we gotta keep him top priority. Dude, what’s Saorin doing to ‘im?”

Scrunching her face, Sidney pinched a fudge star hard enough to dig in her nails and open two cracks for the thick butter to ooze out. She gobbled up the star and licked her fingers clean.

None of the agents were aware at the moment of the Shod following them. It would only take a few more seconds for it to open and reveal Shemoaniir and Sigint.
****
“This ancient city, once a bridge between Lunatark and its soul, it has deteriorated into nothing more than a batch of lifeless buildings. I believe the Bacatrahe of Arcaipolis is the only part that hasn’t lost grip on all its light and resplendence.”

Wyatt did nothing more than emit a short moan from his slightly-open mouth, laid back in Saorin’s arms, hands face-up on his waist, the dimness of the energy dots looking so stark in the zigzag-creased skin of his left palm. He barely rocked in her arms as she strolled past triple rows of empty vases on the avenue’s raised edges. Puddles of a bleached aquamarine liquid squished between her feet and the faded tiles of crimson and cerulean stone. The one- and two-story buildings had ocean waves, plumes of bubbles, animals and plants, gods and goddesses, all kinds of symbolic representations from Lunatark’s history molded into the walls, entablatures, and windowsills. Loosely-robed statues stood in their wall recesses, wearing miters crested with an inverted A overlapping a crescent.

“Almost there,” Saorin said after she paused to stare at a barred gate and, on either side, a two-story structure of scalloped platforms supported by X-shaped beams. Painted here and there on the pitted surfaces were shadowed faces of Lunatarkian figures in profile, some glaring up at the sky, others dipping their eyes to the ground. Gently kicking the gate open on its moaning hinges, carrying Wyatt down the first flight of steps, she paused again to take in paintings on the walls that resembled the ones on the platforms and columns. Then she descended the next two flights of steps into the hollowed city of Arcaipolis.

“Why do you have to bring me here?” groaned Wyatt. His half-closed eyes struggled to wander over numerous huts and towers with 3-D hexagons sculpted on one side and frilled blobs on the other, feather-duster-like plants against the flying jellyfish seen in the forest yesterday, and so on. Lustrous white rock slabs hovered overhead, drifting in and out of a tower formation about eighty feet high, casting a huge shadow over the city. Carved out of the sloped walls running around the rim were shallow balconies, each spanning ten feet, fronted by more X-shaped beams.

“We’re at the Bacatrehe,” Saorin said in the central circle of space, holding up Wyatt by his arms to dunk his legs into a pool of bleached aquamarine liquid. “Enjoy your energy, because I will extract it soon.” She lowered his waist into the pool, laid him back on the rounded edge, and spread his arms to the sides. She kneeled and bent her head to gaze down at the monitor on his wrist, running her finger around it in slow circles. “Don’t feel sad, Mr. Durrell. My associate tells me how dangerous it is for this energy to roar within your mortal body and combine with the forces inside this.” She tapped the monitor. “Now you can serve higher purposes.”

She was trailing her hands down his arms, so he twitched them forward with the remnants of physical strength he had left and grunted, “Higher purposes. Thanks for trying, Saorin.”

She used a triple-swipe motion on her arm to project a holographic cube of computer codes. “I’ve enjoyed our time together. I’ll think of you when we employ your energy.”

“Look, I don’t know what you want with my powers exactly, but I wanna let you know that you’re being the tiniest bit foolish. Haven’t you kept my team in mind at all?”

“Oh, your stalwarts. I have been assured that they would be eliminated. I’ll personally search their bodies and inspect them for the purposes of research.”

Before he could react, she grabbed his neck and pushed him forward, plunging him face-first into the liquid. Until then it felt tepid and soaked through his clothes and into his skin, tempering the discomfort from his monitor. Now that he was submerged in the pool, it contorted with shadowy masses that skinned his bones with scorching pain one second and choked his heart with biting chills the next. He released strangled yells, writhing in agony, hoping he could resurface from the pool. But he only sunk deeper into the darkness.

While he was enduring this, his mind seemed to disembody itself and soar out of the pool, out of Arcaipolis, out of Lunatark, across a humongous wall of silver and white, down to a land of flat grayness. Things curled and bulged and grew into life, although the Grimhets, barren plants, and oily clouds were not pleasing.

They did not last long, blurring together and then blowing away layers of dust to show a mansion that might have been majestic in its younger years. But now, the dry corpses of flowery vines crept up from the pebbly ground, interweaved across layers and layers of wrinkled stones, corkscrewed around the rusted faces protruding from the rooftop’s edge. An entire chunk of the second story was missing, marred by blackened interior walls and loitering puffs of thick smoke as if it had been recently struck by lightning.

The mansion collapsed into the sight of a quiet room that, for all the expansiveness and large staircases spiraling up from each of the six corners, exuded a weighty emptiness. Maybe it was because the furniture merely consisted of a loveseat, a small desk, a closed cabinet, and an empty picture frame, all of them colored with creamy and pale gray bands. Perhaps it was the chilly gusts that trailed out of the fireplace’s off-white, unmoving flames and swirled through the large room. It most certainly could have been the dark gray-mottled lumps of stone up in the cornices, peering downward with vertically-narrowed eyes and indistinctly-carved grimaces.

Just as the pronounced figure of Gargant descended one of the staircases, a hole parted in the ceiling, sucking everything up to a small room with a a fluting melody in the background and a capsular container large enough to fit a person. It was flat on the floor and translucent enough so you could see a naked being of slate skin and yellow eyes floating inside.

Then a bestial roaring cut off the fluting melody and a series of sharp clangs disintegrated the room. Wyatt’s vision got pulled out of the darkness, and he blinked open his eyes, bubbles swirling around his head. His thumping heart exuded an animate heat that pushed the shadowy masses away and spread through his body to wake it from its sleep. But he did not have a chance to swim upward before two unforgiving hands clamped his shoulders and pulled him up a little.

The shadowy masses, realizing that he might escape, pulled him down, screaming their desperation through his body, but Penelope wasn’t about to have it. With a tug, another tug, yet another tug, and an utterance of unruly resolution, she yanked Wyatt out of the pool.
****
“Wyatt, ya still alive, aren’t ya? C’mon, troublemaker, ya gotta be bright n’ chipper!”

“He looks great, relatively speaking. His color is good, he’s breathing, but what’s up with that monitor? Please give me another wad.”

“I told you it was infected! I can’t believe — No, I can believe he’d hide it. He’d use all the fever suppressers in the universe if it meant he could slave away at RBL.”

“Wait, his eyes are starting to open. Wafer, please.”

The edge of a dry-smelling vitamin wafer was wedged between Wyatt’s lips, and they parted to let it through. While chewing it in two halves, his eyes opened wider. Penelope was bent over him on one side, frowning the way she did back at Galen Hospital. Sidney was on the other side, waving to him with a wafer in her hand, wearily smiling.

A tiny smile flashed onto Wyatt’s face before he closed his eyes tight. “What’s going — ”

“We need to spend less time saving your ass from the pits of grimy hell.”

“Hello, Penelope,” he replied, eyes still closed. “Where is everyone?”

“We’re all alive, don’t worry your pretty little head about anything, and Saorin is dead.”

“Untrue!” Corbin objected. “Her vitals are still healthy, active. She’s unconscious.”

“But I want her to be dead. Sidney, do the decapitating trick.”

“You saw me try it already! Everything but that part of her back is invincible.”

Gene sighed, “Ah, if only our desires, our will, our passion could bend reality.”

“Um, hey there, didn’t you thumbs-down Sid’s metaphysical junk?”

“Wow, Cooper, you do pay attention to my advice! Now that’s how you open your mind.”

The energetic banter zipping around Wyatt gave him the strength to open his eyes slowly and get accustomed to the light. He began to lift his hands, but Sidney gently held them down and swabbed his left wrist with an antibiotic ointment. “Durrell, I have to patch this up.”

Lifting his head off the ground, he peered down his arm at the monitor. Cracks and dried drops of blood were all over it. Some of the light red stains overlapped the blinking yellow lights and gave off a foggy purple hue. The skin around it was horribly raw. Bloody gauze pads were set aside in a small clump. When Sidney was done treating his wrist, Wyatt said, “Thank you,” and poked at the monitor bulging beneath the bandage. He exhaled when it did not ache.

“It has to heal, don’t tamper with it. Ready to get up?”

He fingered his college ring and nodded. She looped an arm around his waist and helped him to his feet. A rush of energy filled his body as if to make up for his untimely lull. Penelope insisted on giving him a wipe for the black dirt on his hands. He glanced at Corbin crouching over Saorin’s body and scanning her with his phone. She was on her side, so the boomerang protruding from the small of her back was visible.

When Wyatt asked how far away Sidney was when she hit Saorin, she said, “Aaaallll the way up there.” She pointed at a spot beyond the Bacatrahe’s entrance. “Granted, the boomerangs compensate for the trajectories, so it’s not all due to my precise aiming.”

Cooper dipped into his pocket for the heortorr box and asked Wyatt, “Need this?”

“No, you can keep it a while longer.” Wyatt furrowed his brow down at Saorin again, mumbling, “Her associate says . . .”

“The seconds are slipping away,” Corbin announced, holding up his phone to show a big analog clock on the screen, “and we must return to the Cythudor. If Tyrobe succeeds — ”

A trio of chained hooks zinged down and smashed into the tiles, making the agents jump away. Their gazes moved up the chains to the armored Romuteli on top of a tower at the edge of the Bacatrahe. The shock on Wyatt’s face made Sidney tell him, “Almost forgot to mention, we had to deal with Shemoaniir on the way here.”

Constructing a staff, Wyatt said, “Of course you did.”

Cooper nudged his shoulder with an enlarged hammer, adding, “An’ Sigint!”

Wyatt whipped his head at Cooper, shocked all over again. “What now?”

“You hateful fleshhusks!” Shemoaniir jumped down four stories and landed with a hard thud that sent splinters flying off the tiled ground.

Gene stammered, “You, you look like an au-automaton from the, the primitive century!”

“This is nothing. One of your crimson cubs cut off my head once. It had to be sewn back on my neck. That’s what you don’t understand, the hardiness of my Romuteli.”

The agents prepped their weaponry as she took her time approaching them with a strut that made her elbows jut to the sides, matching the tone of her tight cheeks, protrusive chin, and klun-klunking armor. “You can call yourselves agents, fighters, warriors, stalwarts, Starsapiens. They don’t change who you are in your hearts. You treat my clans with disrespect and abuse, all because we’re born from Grimhet. It wasn’t our choice, but you’ve done it for years. And that counts the gem you stole from me, a possession that I have to protect for a partner of mine.”

Holding up his hoops, Corbin queried, “A partner? To whom are you referring?”

Shemoaniir adjusted her helmet by the brim and looked away, muttering, “Naazang.”

Wyatt gripped his staff tighter. “Gargant’s lackey? I don’t think much of him.”

“I knew it!” Shemoaniir flicked her weapon, rattling its chains. “You love being spiteful. I don’t agree with Naazang on all issues, but he’s a good partner. He’s faithful with his promises.”

She used a sharp pull of the rod to reel in the chained hooks. One tripped Penelope, the second grazed Wyatt’s forcefield, and the third clanged off Cooper’s strong hammer swing. Propping the oversized hook on her shoulder, Shemoaniir picked at the muscle fibers dangling off her chin and snickered, “And now, I have to be faithful with mine.”

She went on to lash her tri-hooks at the agents with throaty demands that they return her “rightful treasure” and her “hurt gem,” never minding the statues and buildings she splintered.

At a point where the agents dashed away in multiple directions, Shemoaniir couldn’t decide which one to pursue and ended up losing sight of all six of them. She smacked her hooks into the ground to let out her frustration, then skulked around the Bacatrahe for a minute. She was about to leave, but a glimmer of cobalt shone from behind a one-story hut ten feet away. She sped over to it, raised her hook, and grumbled, “You’re not going clean, Sparkly. Not with what’s mine.” She reared the hook over her head before reaching the hut’s other side. She choked up not only at Wyatt’s absence but also the Super Nex figurine in her likeness stuck to the wall.

“Do you like it? He paid close attention to the details,” Sidney chirped, three stories up on the balcony of a tower, hurling a boomerang that cut Shemoaniir’s wrist.

“Especially the helmet,” Wyatt added from another tower’s balcony, blasting Shemoaniir with orbs before she could hit him with her hooks.

Sidney’s next two boomerangs stabbed her foot, making her yells grate the air even more loudly. The agents jumped down to the ground, forcing Shemoaniir to fend off Wyatt’s staff-swings and Sidney’s boomerangs. Sidney dodged a hook by hopping off the ground, then nimbly wall-jumped off the wall of a tower, about to land on Shemoaniir. However, she swung all three hooks at Sidney, smacking her across a city square and onto one of the larger hut’s rooftops.

“Sidney!” Wyatt yelled, which made Shemoaniir swing her hooks back his way, striking him to the ground. She hunkered over him and thrust the hilt of her weapon into his back.

“Why don’t you daydream about the time you ripped my realidorr away?” she muttered, twisting her head so low that she blew her hot, stinky breath into Wyatt’s ear. “Daydream as long as you want, and we can carve out time to prattle about it later, talk it over a draft of füllfÿr.”

He started to secretly build a dagger, which didn’t pass her eye, so she wrenched his hand behind his back. With a boomerang Sidney left on the ground, she cut off her right pinky, leaving a stump of ragged sinews in its place. She clamped his forearm, ripped away the bandages, and shoved the ragged end of her pinky into his monitor. Something shot up his arm and coursed throughout the rest of his body, that distinct sensation of overwhelming power, a sensation on a very different level from the one he felt during his infection at Gollinger Park.

Shemoaniir got off Wyatt and gave him a hard kick in the shoulder, her sneer matching the sadistic glint in her eyes. She took off before Sidney, having recollected her strength and jumped down from the hut, could have a chance to duel her.

Sidney called Wyatt’s name and was beside him in seconds, pocketing the boomerang that Shemoaniir had tossed away. She rolled up his sleeve and pressed his arm against her forehead to take his temperature. He wasn’t especially hot or cold, but the power was still emanating from him, and she felt it. She withdrew her first-aid kit, but a deadened feeling grabbed ahold of the air and stopped her. Looking down at Wyatt and his over-widening pupils, she made a guttural noise like that of a morose wolf. She put the kit away and draped his arm over her shoulder. With a grunt she wrapped her own arm around his waist to haul him across the square.

“You’re okay, Durrell, you’re healthy,” she murmured, her arm and waist becoming numb.

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