Three quarters of the villains have been neutralized. Sour Cherry Blaster and The Bubbler are sitting in front of a police station, about to be locked up in ways that make them unable to use their powers properly. Natural Twenty seems to have been pacified through the awesome power of honest, well-intentioned conversation.
Yet, they've won, almost as if this entire encounter was a mere distraction. Big Wing has taken flight, headed far off into the evening sky for his date with Photobomb and destiny. 50,000 lives hang in the balance and there is nothing that Captain Chicken, Nick, Force, or Flashback can do. Faust, the only one more or less uninjured, seems almost suspiciously cautious as two of her teammates are gobbled up by the colossal bird, disappearing into the distance and to a fate unknown. There's still that message from Recoil to consider: everyone that the Corps can scramble is headed to the Tesla Center to help with the evacuation. Anybody from Team A who's well enough to move should make all possible speed towards Team B's position. Countless innocent lives depend on stopping Photobomb.
It appears that Captain Chicken will be unable to answer the call, however. Trapped in an indestructible bubble with Roxy for another... 36 minutes, the situation looks hopeless. The two of them are stuck with each other, unable to make an impact. "I'm gonna go for it," Roxy says finally. "officially, I'm appealing to your sense of honour and decency. If this works, I free you, you save those people, you don't haul a washed-up badgirl like me to the slammer. Alright?"
"Can I punch through this bubble?" She asks of nobody in particular, pulling a pair of dice from her pocket. She releases them and they skip across the bottom of the bubble, coming to a stop on four and five. Natural Twenty smiles. Rearing back, she throws everything that she has into a right cross. The mystery material of the bubble flexes, but doesn't quite break. Without her prosthetic, she's off-balance. Readjusting, she tries again, leaping forward with both fists outstretched. The bubble distends for a moment and then shatters, freeing both her and Robyn. The two of them face each other for a second. "I'm going to go now," Roxy says cautiously, "right?"
Meanwhile, Nick, in need of medical attention, is probably out of the fight, at least physically. He has that tablet, however, and the information that it contains, known only to him and Amber. He scrolls through it, making the alarming find that Big Wing is more than just a pelican. He can turn into any flying creature, living or dead. Further, he learns that Photobomb can affect anybody that she takes a picture of using emojis, including herself. He remembers MODS reporting a minute or two ago that a strange stomach sickness has spread through Team B, crippling or knocking out at least a handful of its members. Could it be... Then, Faust is there, regrouping with him. The big question is, should he trust her with his newfound information, should he ask her for help with Hackslash, still trapped in a bubble for...it can't be much longer, or should he play things off and remind her that Team B could really use her right now. The tablet is paused on the next screen. It's Glass Canon. It contains all of the standard information but, at the bottom is a note. It reads, "Abilities Incorporated: 4/24/2020." Last month.
While Nick has to settle for contributing in less direct ways, Force is not out of the fight. She is merely trapped or, rather, Big Wing is trapped with her. Throwing all of her weight and strength into it, she slams into the wall of her bubble. The force of the impact throws the gigantic pelican off-balance, as its pouch bulges painfully. Yet, Force can't help but notice that her strength isn't quite what it was twenty minutes ago, when she was busy punching explosives. It's starting to bleed out. Shit! Making matters worse, Flashback, in the bubble beside her, is temporarily unable to use any of her powers - except maybe on her own gear - and should definitely receive medical treatment before long. Time to choke this fucker! Gaining speed as she rolls the bubble, Force propels it towards the back of Big Wing's throat. There's a meaty thunk, and then a rapid jiggling. The great bird gags, fluttering frantically. Being trapped in one of these bubbles is disorienting, but Force and Flashback can both feel themselves going into a steep dive. Big Wing's mouth opens wide and they can see ocean below. He hacks and chokes and then...
They drop. From nearly 500 feet above sea level. Two indestructible (for about another half hour) bubbles plummet towards the surface of the water, half a mile out from the coast.
Team B - 5:45 PM
Every remaining member of Team B has his or her own plan, with very little coordination involved. Silent Spring robs Spooge of his ammo at gunpoint and leaves him under the tender loving care of the Spirit. She proceeds to sneak around the long way to get at Photobomb from behind, armed with a shotgun.
The Spirit knocks Spooge out almost immediately, hefting the man and full-on hurling him in Photobomb's direction. He smashes into the window and it shatters, pieces of glass clattering to the ground or embedding themselves in his body. He doesn't quite reach his target, however, pained and exhausted as The Spirit is. Instead, Spooge crashes to the ground just short of her, bleeding heavily from multiple wounds. Startled but uninjured, Photobomb lines up a shot of The Spirit as he leaps. The Amazing Black Hole intervenes in the nick of time, stumbling around the corner, violently ill. A high-pressure stream of hyper-acidic vomit, interspersed with car parts and sharp shards of metal, heads straight for the villain.
Then, from above, a colossal shadow blankets the ground in darkness. The beating of mighty wings forces people to the ground. Others are swept off of their feet. Big Wing has arrived.
That has consequences for everybody. Instinctively protecting her face from dust and debris, April, having worked her way around from behind, raises her hands and, in doing so reveals herself. Sighted by Susie Biscuits, she is jumped from behind. Driven to the ground by the larger woman, she drops the gun and it goes off in a random direction, clattering away. The Spirit's trajectory is altered, and he crashes down short of his target, Jackson taking his place. Finally, The Amazing Black Hole's vomit splatters everywhere including right back at him. A heavy chunk of steel takes him in the midsection and knocks the wind out of him. He can feel a rib give way and it hurts.
But the pain stops there. Orange Marauder's eyes glow the colour of freshly-squeezed orange juice. A twenty-foot wave of juice sweeps between the hazardous vomit and most of its potential victims. Jackson finds himself soaked and washed away, tumbling onto his hands and knees, a bit beat up but not too bad off. April and Susie are separated in the deluge, and it's the teenager who comes up with the gun.
The Narcolpetic and Green Freedom, rudely awakened, cough and sputter while Orange Marauder collapses, exhausted. Photobomb is not nearly so fortunate. She lies on the floor unmoving, covered in acid burns, punctured by shrapnel, one of her legs twisted at a sickening angle, and her right hand blown to shreds by a shotgun blast. Her cellphone lies beside her, amazingly still functional, its screen displaying an unfinished Instagram post. "Susie's :cupcake: cooking: or ??"
April and Susie Biscuits stare each other down, as do Green Freedom and The Narcoleptic. Everybody else is effectively out of the fight, including Tony, who's halfway unconscious, feeling absolutely wretched. Biscuits smirks. "You've won," she says. "Congrats. Now, you're not gonna shoot me girl. Not in cold blood." Calling April's bluff, she turns and walks away. Big Wing doesn't attack. He merely picks up his fallen comrades, turns, and takes flight. The day is saved. The heroes have won, but at what cost?
Liberty Mountain: 5:38 PM
Sandra is busy sweeping. There are people and even robots who do that, of course, but an old woman needs to keep busy, or she gets very old very quickly. Big things are happening outside. The young people - not nearly as blessed with power as she once was - are out there fighting even now. She hopes all of them will make it. She supposes some may not.
She peers down through one of the operations room windows at the tour groups below. They've been held back because of the emergency situation. Sandra checks one of the computer displays. She doesn't like computers, but she likes MODS even less. It feels like a creepy, omniscient little voice in her head. It feels like him - the way that he used to talk to her, and she has sworn never to listen to him again.
That's when one of the warning lights blinks. She rests her broom on a console and turns to watch. It's the proximity indicator. There's an unauthorized intrusion into Liberty Mountain airspace. She grumbles, adjusts her glasses, and peers down at the reading. A flashing red bogey makes its way towards HQ, too slow to be a plane, too large to be a bird. Maybe it's one of their hovercraft. She doesn't know how to check. Hank is so much better with these things. Consulting the wireframe map of HQ, she determines the closest point to the approaching unknown and teleports over.
A cool wind washes across her. The sun sits on the horizon, fat and dim, like an overripe peach. From the glare appears a colossal bird, its wings tucking in at its sides as it stoops into an accelerating dive. Sandra takes hold of it with her mind, pushing back, but its momentum is incredible. It hurtles towards her, barely slowing down. She teleports inside. "MODS," she shouts at the hateful computerized voice, "Warn the others, attack on Liberty Mountain! It's Big Wing!"
A terrific crash shakes the roof of the proud structure and Sandra steels herself. There are times when she wishes that she hadn't sealed away 90% of her power, but it is precisely that temptation to have it back, to solve things with a bigger hammer, that reminds her why she forsook it in the first place.
Bravely, she disappears with a flash and reappears on the roof. Big Wing is gone. Sandra glances around, not fully trusting her eyes. Gulls bleat and wheel in the distance. Birds take off from nearby trees. The air feels light and electric. Then, comes the assault: bubbles! By the dozens, floating towards her. She never knew that The Bubbler was such an amateur. She teleports past the wave with ease towards the masked figure beyond.
A brilliant red laser leaps toward her and Sandra has no time to react. It catches her in the left shoulder and the pain is unbelievable. The arm is gone! Her vision blurs and she staggers to the side. Something is wrong here. Something is badly wrong. Those are the redhead girl's powers. Her attacker is a man. Calling on a power from deep within herself, Sandra finds her footing once more. With an effort, her severed arm begins to glow. To glow and to...regrow. A familiar icy warmth spreads through her. More lasers come. She teleports around them all. The mysterious figure backpedals at fantastic speed, darting and dodging her attempts to get closer. Then, he goes still. He hunches over and single, massive leathery black wing sprouts from his back. A second tears its way out from the other side. He rises. He speaks.
"Sandra Malatesta," the voice pronounces, with a certain sort of dark glee. "I have to say, you don't quite live up to the legends, especially given what you really are."
That sends chills through her. Only Hank and Gerald have ever known. How? How would this...stranger know. "Who are you?" she snaps at him.
"I am nobody," he replies, his voice deep, rich, and dripping with cool sepulchral resonance. "But you." He steps forward. "You are free to be yourself again, Night Empress. I free you from your curse. It was only ever meant to last for fifty years."
No it wasn't, she knows. It was supposed to last an eternity. It's too late, however. The old witch can feel it flooding through her veins already: a power of cold and darkness, filling her with strength that no being should ever possess.
The invader blasts a hole through the roof. Rubble rains down into Liberty Hall. People run and scream. "Stop me, Night Empress. Stop me from killing them all," he snarls, swooping down on black wings. "Or join me if you don't want to. If you are yourself again."
The dread might coursing through her is not Sandra's. It is the Night Empress'. She was the last Night Empress. She is the Night Empress no longer. That is how it must be. With but a thought, she seizes the two-hundred-fifty people inside Liberty Hall and translocates them to the plaza outside.
Then, The Night Empress appears, surrounded by black tentacles of writhing fire. Her attacker pulls up short, his wings flapping steadily in the cavernous hall. He grins and plunges towards her. Blood red lasers shoot from his hands and eyes, tearing through marble, disintegrating walls, windows, and statues. One finds Sandra. She bats it away with the flick of a wrist. I don't care who you are, she thinks, you are too dangerous to be left alive. She has always gone along with her husband's ideals - the Liberty Corps' ideals - but she has never believed that they work. Some people are redeemable. She is thankful for that. But some are not.
Sandra closes her eyes. The ground shifts and cracks. Alarms blare. The sky blackens. Something ancient and evil stirs and she can feel her feet lift from the ground.
This devil or whatever he is plunges for her heart, vile claws and fangs distended. She opens her eyes and he stops as if hitting a wall, his mask shattering. "MORTAL, you do not know the powers that you have awakened. If you had, you'd have let them lie!" He stares at her, something like horror written across his features. There's something else there too. It bothers her, but no matter. The Night Empress reaches out with a closed fist and then opens it, tilting her head to the side and grinning. The attacker explodes as if he were nothing, bits of his body raining down across the hall. Sandra lets her arms fall to her sides, just an old woman again, but no longer the last Night Empress. Glee, she thinks, that was it. He was happy, the moment before he was killed. He was excited. She does not know why, and that disturbs her even more than the return of an ancient and very unwelcome power.