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THE AFFILIATION: ira deorum (Chapter III)

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  • #16
    Chapter 1240

    Chapter III: Winter
    Acrimony watched helplessly as the Affiliation fought the Vindicators—Neo-Sapiens versus Neo-Sapiens. It felt so wrong, and yet, he could see no way to avoid this collision. Scanning the common room, he saw that Orencio’s gifts had been invaluable: the Aurelia, Boson, and Lodestone had joined Mirage on the floor; Torrent’s talents were keeping Hourglass’ sand form in check—forcing her to assume her rock form.

    Anomaly hugged the Curler around the waist and strained to heft the titan off the ground. With a mighty roar he threw the Vindicator with a vertical suplex that made the common room shake as the rock man’s back slammed into the floor. “Enough,” Acrimony growled.

    An army of Horde’s clones tackled Orencio, recognizing him as the primary threat out of the bunch. As they dog piled him, duplicates were flung off courtesy of Prompt’s telekinesis. It seemed, however, that for every clone she tossed away, two more charged into the fray.

    “Enough!” Acrimony roared. The blonde man whipped around to face Gabrielle Farouk. “Full evacuation! Now!”

    The Egyptian girl’s eyes flashed with blue flames and Orencio vanished from sight.

    “Stop her!” roared the Curler, as he got to his feet. “She’s going to-”

    The Vindicator was the next one to vanish.

    Gabrielle followed their standard procedure for evacuation: the less capable fighters were the first to be evacuated. As she worked to displace Rick and Andrew, then Melynda and Jessica, those capable of holding back the enemy did so, and bought the teleporters time to work. Only when their allies were clear were the fighters pulled from combat.

    Acrimony insisted on being the last one out. He refused to run, and leave his friends to fight his war for him.

    Lurker likewise moved to aid in the retreat. He jumped out of Mara’s shadow and grabbed hold of Fluke, just as Gabrielle expelled Circe from the battlefield.

    Little by little, Acrimony watched as the pair began to extract their teammates. Finally, Gabrielle took Anomaly, leaving only Exempt, Cerulean and Prompt behind. The Nephilim stood with her sword at the ready, behind a telekinetic buffer zone willed into being by Prompt. Exempt remained by Acrimony’s side; it was only due to her powers that everyone who could see Acrimony wasn’t drooling over him.

    Lurker reappeared behind Gabrielle. “Infirmary,” he said. Acrimony knew what it meant: Lurker didn’t have near the range that Gabrielle did. He had evacuated everyone to a safe location, for her to collect once they were no longer under duress. “Meetcha there.” He ran forward, grabbed Cerulean, and fell through Prompt’s shadow. It was good. If anyone attacked them while they waited, Cerulean could defend them.

    Acrimony reached out and grabbed Prompt’s wrist. She jerked back and rounded on him with a furious look that quickly gave way to realization. It wasn’t that she didn’t like being touched, he realized, but that she had mistaken him for an enemy.

    Or had she not been mistaken?

    “We’re going,” he said, nodding to the others. Taking Exempt’s hand in his, Acrimony ran towards Gabrielle; Prompt was running behind them.

    He hadn’t blinked, but it felt like he had. One moment he was looking out across the common room of the New Vindicators Academy of America, and the next he was in the receiving bay of a warehouse. He knew it was one of the safe houses they had established—he just didn’t know which one. “Where do you send the Curler?” Acrimony asked. He knew she wouldn’t have brought him with them—he was far too dangerous. She had simply removed him from the battlefield to keep him from interfering with their withdrawal.

    “Sewers under the Lower East Side,” offered Gabrielle matter-of-factly. “It’s an inside joke.”

    He didn’t care about that: he just wanted to make sure she hadn’t sent the Vindicator too far away. Though tonight he had been their opponent, tomorrow he would still be a Vindicator, and he might be needed in the battle against their shared enemies. “Did you get everyone? Even the new recruits?”

    “I think so. I need to go get the ones Lurker pulled out.”

    “Go.” Gabrielle disappeared, and Acrimony scanned the room, taking a silent role call to ensure everyone was accounted for. Seconds later, Gabrielle reappeared, leading everyone unaccounted for out of thin air.

    Only when he was sure everyone had been extracted from the school did he permit himself to breathe a sigh of relief. “You might be a bit confused as to what just happened,” he announced, wading into the center of the warehouse. “Allow me to introduce Gabrielle Farouk. Her gift allows her to manipulate spatial topography. For the briefest of moments, she takes two locations and joins them together. She just moved you all…” He looked back to the Nephilim. “Which one are we at?”

    “Tecumseh.”

    “She just moved you all from New York to Oklahoma. This is one of our facilities. It’s not stocked with amenities, but it has everything we need to bunker down for the time being.”

    “Bunker down?” Rick asked as Jessica brought Orencio back to consciousness. “What the hell, man? I thought we were gonna bust some skulls!”

    “We will,” Acrimony said. While he appreciated the boy’s zeal, he worried over how far he was willing to take it. He had been ready to kill Mirage back there—kill him for the crime of being human. Was that what Acrimony was prepared to do? He had just declared war on mankind, but was that where this was going? Murdering people for not being like them?

    How did that make him any different from Forrest Bedford?

    “Believe me,” he intoned, “there will be many fights ahead of us. However, I do not intend to rush into things without a plan.

    “Tonight, several of our associates were taken prisoner. Our first order of business will be in locating them, and liberating them.” He turned, and looked towards a mousy young woman. “Do you have any news for me, Melynda?”

    “Not as of yet.”

    “If you’re looking for people, I’m your woman.” Prompt shot Melynda a dirty look as she stepped forward. “Part of my power lets me concentrate on a person, and detect their location. I just need to know who I’m looking for.”

    “They got Black Widow, Bile—”

    “Bile?” Prompt asked. “Jordan, huh?”

    “You two are familiar?” Acrimony asked.

    Prompt’s expression—impossibly—turned even sourer. “We’ve met.” The dark-haired teen closed her eyes and pointed at a wall. “He’s that way. He’s very far away, but he’s that way.”

    Rick rolled his eyes. “Thanks,” he said, “you’ve been so helpful.”

    Prompt glared at the boy. “As I get closer, I can better pinpoint it. I’ll be more precise then.”

    “Gabrielle will take you to zero in on a location.” Lurker looked hurt by Acrimony’s plan, and the man knew why: Lurker was no doubt questioning why Gabrielle was being sent for a reconnaissance mission over him. The fact of the matter was, Acrimony didn’t know if he could trust Prompt completely. While Gabrielle was a more accomplished fighter, and could move larger numbers of people quicker than Lurker, Acrimony valued Lurker far too much to risk sending him out with a potential mole. “Do not engage the enemy. Once you have their location, you’ll return to base.”

    Gabrielle nodded before stepping up to take Prompt. Acrimony turned to them, and saw the same angry look Prompt had given Bluetooth. Immediately, he understood: Prompt was an Esper—one of those who had become embroiled in the fiasco last year with the Fuhrer. She had undoubtedly been working beside Gabrielle, Bluetooth, Renewal, and Fluke.

    Was her disgust in them because they had lied to her, or because they had turned out to be moles working for the Affiliation? If it was the former, were her sneers subtle indications that she herself was a mole?

    She was wearing the school uniform. Was that where her allegiances rested? “First chance you get,” Acrimony said, looking to the younger of the pair, “you need to change out of that uniform. We can’t risk footage of you fighting for us getting out, making anyone think the Vindicators or the school is affiliated with us.”

    “Yeah,” Rick said, “it’d be a shame if someone thought that anyone was affiliated with the Affiliation.”

    As Gabrielle and Prompt departed, Acrimony looked over the new recruits. “For now, I’d like to get to know each of you—your abilities, and strengths… how best to employ you in the coming battles. Let’s start with you, Rick. I caught a glimpse of your powers back there at the school, but I’m not sure what all you’re capable of.”

    Rick offered a demonstration: he held out his hand, and a ball of flames appeared over his palm. “I can generate orbs of energy in my hands.” Rick smirked, and with little more effort than it took him to exhale, he replaced the flame orb with an orb of crackling electricity. “They may look small, but there’s a lot of power packed into them. When they make contact… boom.”

    “You generate them in your hands?” Acrimony asked. “You can’t generate them anywhere else?”

    “What?” Rick scoffed. “Like out my ass, or something?”

    Acrimony fixed the boy with a level gaze. It was hard to get a read on him: when they had met at the school, Rick seemed mature for his age—a fact Acrimony owed to Rick’s imprisonment in Peoria—and in the heat of battle, he had come off as positively bloodthirsty. Now, he was behaving like the class clown. Was it to hide his discomfort over the sudden shift? In the last ten minutes, he had devoted himself to a group of radical freedom fighters and found out that he had traversed the distance of thirteen-hundred miles.

    “The way you describe it implies that you would need to get close to make use of the power—either by slamming the energy into someone, or throwing it like a grenade.” Acrimony looked the boy over. If his power forced him into close quarters combat, he would be a liability with no defensive powers to speak of. “You can’t channel it as a stream of energy from your hands? Jets of flames from your mouth? Something to let you attack from a distance? What about using your powers defensively? Can you surround yourself with an energy aura?”

    “Just orbs.” Rick turned the electricity to a vortex of cold air. “Just over my hands.”

    “Can you pass the orb to someone?” Acrimony had visions of Rick creating an orb of energy and handing it to Mirth, who would elongate his remaining arm to deliver a devastating sneak attack.

    Acrimony watched as Rick slowly shook his head, and read it as downheartedness. The boy needed cheered up—he needed his confidence rejuvenated. Acrimony reached out and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “I’d like to talk more later,” he said. “There are several applications I think abilities like yours could have.”

    Rick nodded enthusiastically, and Acrimony read that as a sign that it was safe to move on to the next of his newest recruits. “Andrew, wasn’t it?” he asked. “What are your gifts?”

    Andrew looked bashful. He was timid and shy, and Acrimony doubted if he’d have the stomach to do the sort of things the Affiliation was going to have to do. “My bodily fluids are bleach,” he explained.

    “Bleach?” Acrimony asked.

    Andrew grabbed the hem of his shirt and held it out. He spit on his black shirt then, and rubbed the fluid into the threads. Slowly, a faint white blot appeared there. “Bleach,” he explained. “Bleach spit, bleach sweat, bleach blood…”

    “Bleach piss,” Rick said, “bleach jizz…”

    Andrew would have blushed, if he could.

    “I’m afraid I’m not the most science minded of people,” Acrimony offered, “give me some time to talk to the others, and we’ll find some applications for your abilities.”
    He looked to Orencio. “You were very effective out there. You said your power generates a neurocognitive deficit?”

    Orencio nodded. “Si,” he said. “If I can see someone, I can try to turn off their brain—knock them out.”

    “Is that all?” Acrimony asked. At the wounded look Orencio gave him, he realized his error: “I’m sorry, that sounded insulting. I meant, have you found any other applications for your abilities?”

    “I knock people out—not much more to it than that.”

    “I would disagree,” Acrimony said. “Back there, you targeted the Vindicators one at a time. Have you ever tried to do that to a group of people?”

    Orencio said nothing. By the look on his face, he had never considered to even try doing that. The youth touched his arm. Unless Acrimony missed his guess, he presumed the boy was subconsciously touching at numbers forever seared into his flesh. Was that it? Was that why he had joined the Affiliation? Had Black Box come for him? Had they overwhelmed him with numbers similar to how Horde had?

    Was Orencio beating himself for not having realized he could have evaded capture, had he only been able to use his powers on a group?

    “What about doing the reverse?” Acrimony asked, wanting to take the boy’s mind off such thoughts. “If we’re in the field, and one of your teammates is down, could you use your powers to turn their brains back on?”

    “I’m not sure.”

    Acrimony looked to Melynda. “When things get quieter, I’d like you to scan some hospitals—find me a patient in a vegetative state. We’ll have Gabrielle take Mister Arevalo there, and see if his powers can be used to bring someone out of a coma.”

    Orencio looked flabbergasted, but hardly opposed to the idea. Doubtlessly, he only saw the offensive capabilities of his abilities; he needed to know that his powers could be used to do good as well.

    Next, Acrimony looked to Will. “I take it you’re a Lodestone?”

    “Will Loder,” the young man explained, “but I’m trying to escape the whole Lodestone mantle. I’ve been going by ‘Dipole’.”

    Acrimony nodded. “I’m well versed in what Magnus can do. Are there any variations in your repertoire? Things you can do that he can’t, or things he can that you can’t?”

    “As far as I know, we’re pretty similar. I don’t split into two people, though.”

    Rick let out a chortle. “Neither does Magnus.”

    Ignoring the youth, Acrimony turned to the next boy in line. “Magnus called you Tide Junior?”

    “I prefer ‘Torrent’,” John said, “but… Mister Loder had some problems with my fuggin’ cousin.”

    Not only was he Peter’s cousin, but there was bad blood between them. Acrimony made a mental note to not mention that Peter had been a member of the Affiliation. “Back at the school, I saw you keep Hourglass in check with hydrokinesis…” He saw John’s eyes light up at the compliment. “…but you never changed forms.”

    “Pretty good reason for that,” John explained. “I can’t do it.” He gestured to his body then. “What you see is what you get. I can control water, but I can’t turn into it like Pete.”

    “It always seemed to me that there were several applications of his abilities that your cousin never really tried for. What can you do with your powers?”

    Much like Rick, John felt it would be better to show the Affiliation’s leader what he was capable of. He took the water bottle hanging from his belt and unscrewed the cap. Immediately, Acrimony stopped him. “You’re dead,” he said. “You were ambushed, and it took you too long to get to water, and now you’re dead. We need to find a faster way for you to open that bottle.”

    Disappointment shone on John’s face. From the way that he carried himself, it was obvious that he was a confident young man. He had swelled at the earlier compliment: he beamed with pride at the thought that he had gone toe-to-toe with a Vindicator. The notion that he had failed, however, seemed to cut him deep.

    Acrimony had to urge him to continue. When he did, John tried to make up for his mistake: he made the water erupt from the bottle and form a ring around him. In a fluid motion, that ring broke, transforming into a whip that John used to last at the floor. “You’re not losing much volume when you attack,” Acrimony mused. “You’ve got very good control. What about phases? Can you control ice? Mist?”

    “No,” John glumly admittedly.

    “It’s something I’d like you to work on,” Acrimony said. “John, your gift grants you control over one of the most abundant sources on this planet. There is so much you can do, and you’re barely scratching the surface.”

    John nodded enthusiastically. “I’d like that,” he said.

    Acrimony looked to the blind boy they’d picked up. “Gage, wasn’t it?”

    Gage nodded.

    “You took down a Vindicator pretty effortlessly back there.”

    “I control electricity,” he said. “It’s nothing to drain the suit’s batteries.”

    “What else can you do?”

    Gage held up a hand, with his fingers raised in a peace sign. A small current arced between his fingertips. Acrimony was put in mind of a stun gun. “If I want, I can have it shoot from me like lightning. I can surround myself in it.” Out of the corner of his eye, Acrimony saw Rick shift uncomfortably; likely, he was feeling superfluous.

    “I hate to sound insensitive, but your vision-”

    “-is probably better than yours,” Gage said. “I can sense electric current. It flows all around us, sir. I can see the walls and ceiling—I can see everyone wearing an electrical device. Cell phone? MP3 player? Radio? Even something as faint as a wristwatch lets me see someone. Unlike everyone else, I’m not hindered by things like darkness.”

    Suddenly, Acrimony was envisioning Lurker leading this boy through the shadows. Gage could siphon the power out of the room, bathing their enemies in total darkness. Lurker could begin to randomly move Gage around the room, letting Gage take out targets at their leisure.

    “I’m sure you’ll prove yourself to be invaluable,” Acrimony told him, “but I’m curious: why are you here?”

    Gage shrugged. “I agreed with what you were saying.”

    “My power lets me read people, Gage: I know when I’m being lied to.”

    “I’m not lying.”

    “No, but you’re not being honest with me, either. Why are you here?”

    Gage swallowed the lump in his throat. “A teammate died.”

    Will’s posture stiffened; John sniffled; Andrew became very interested in his feet.

    “A while back, the school was attacked. Two men came, looking for two students. When they didn’t find them, they took hostages—demanded an exchange be made. I was part of the rescue mission.”

    “We were divided up,” Will said. “Gage, Lloyd, and I were sent to scout out. We ran into the enemy. I got the drop on us. I was knocked out, and when I woke up, Lloyd was dead.”

    John had turned away from everyone. He was trying to keep anyone from seeing him cry. He wasn’t part of the group Will mentioned, and Acrimony was forced to reason that John and Lloyd must have been close.

    “Lloyd was a good guy,” Gage said. “He was so happy—annoyingly happy, most times. He didn’t have a care in the world. He never hurt anyone, and yet… he was killed… because he was different.”

    Chloe’s face came to his mind, and Acrimony immediately tried to push it away.

    “The guy who killed Lloyd?” Will said. “His name was Absalom. He liked to hunt Nephilim. Lloyd was a Nephilim. That’s it. That’s why he was killed. Not because of what he’d done or how he lived, but because he was different.”

    Acrimony looked over the newest recruits: one was looking for his wife; two had been an inmates in a concentration camp for Neo-Sapiens; and four of them were forever changed touched by one young man’s death.

    That left only one enigma: what was Prompt doing here?

    Originally posted by To Be Continued...
    The Aftermath of Autumn.
    Armada Status

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