AN: Forewarning: This chapter is entirely made up of fighting...with a few exceptions granted by lulls in between attacks. Plus, longest chapter I've EVER written...just for the finale. Hope it meets your standards. Final Author's Notes at the very bottom.
Initially, the cloud of dust that the impact had caused had blinded everyone from seeing the two opposing leaders fight it out. However, as the dust settled, two figures could be seen squaring off, their footsteps slow and deliberate as they circled each other, their hands raised into their respective fighting stances. As far as anyone could see, their limbs were still fully human.
Harry smirked at his opponent, a vindicated look on his face. "I knew you'd come," he taunted. "Three steps, remember?"
Riddle snarled. "Don't remind me. Incompetent fools, all of them!"
Harry laughed heartily at that, yet never once tore his gaze from his opponent. "Serves you right for meddling with things you just don't understand."
"But you do?"
Harry smirked confidently. "Of course. I was the first."
Riddle glared. "Then by the end of our fight…" he growled, his arms slowly morphing into the same bladed shape that Harry had his in, "I'LL BE THE ONLY ONE!"
Harry wasted no time in countering the incoming blow with his own morphed arm, noting that the whole attack was just too telegraphed to be true. There was simply no way Riddle was this sloppy.
Thus, he kept his free arm tucked at his side, waiting for the moment when his opponent would throw the hidden blow. Yet, to his surprise, it didn't come, and for a moment, he actually considered the idea that Riddle was just not that good a fighter—hell, perhaps the rumours of the snake-man's skills had been exaggerated? It wouldn't be the first time such a thing happened.
And then, Harry was brought crashing back to reality as he realized that Riddle had been expecting his opponent's suspicion, taking advantage of it by suddenly doubling the amount of weight he put on his blocked attack, and pushing down on Harry's arm so much that the raven-haired Air Field Marshall had to hastily bring up his free arm to help push back the blow.
Only to realize that Riddle had pulled back his left arm from the encounter. An arm which, by the way, was racing up to impale him in the stomach.
Bending backwards at an unhealthy angle, Harry swore as he watched the blade race mere millimetres from his face, having dodged the lethal blow by sheer reflex. A nanosecond later, and he'd have been done for.
Of course, he might still be done for, considering the incoming chop from above, which he had failed to realize had suddenly become free of blocking once he bent backwards.
"FUCK!" he yelled in frustration, flipping himself to the side as Riddle proceeded to chop right into the ground, leaving behind a very noticeable and deep gash on the already marred landscape.
Riddle, for his part, seemed amused at the fact that his opponent was essentially on the run.
"What's the matter, Potter?" he taunted. "Don't tell me this is all you've got! Aren't you supposed to be some big damn hero?" he mocked.
Harry, for his part, couldn't help but coax the rising excitement in his chest. This was it. This was what he'd been looking for all throughout the war. No weaklings for opponents, no crazy, moronic adversaries. An equal—or, even better, a superior. Even though Rodolphus Lestrange had occasionally given him quite the workout, this was nothing on that level. Hell, he wasn't on that level anymore. He craved a challenge, and the fact that the opponent of his dreams was the only thing standing between him and total victory? Icing on the cake, I tell you.
Rising to his feet, Harry morphed his arms back into their human shape, instantly gathering his magical energy into his palms and forcing them into visible, magical spheres that were pulsing with magical energy. As he watched Riddle calmly analyze the spheres, he couldn't help but chuckle. "Oh, don't you fret, Tom," he mocked right back. "I'm not done yet. Not by a long shot."
Without any further warning, he launched himself forward, his arms trailing behind as they carried the magical spheres, the violet light that formed them pulsating wildly as the spheres seemed to gradually degrade in integrity. With just a glance, however, Riddle knew said orbs were bad news. Of the type that got you intimately acquainted with Pain and his friend Death.
Thus, Riddle not being a complete moron, he quickly cast his strongest shield and watched as Harry flung his arms forward and rammed the spheres into the shield. To no one's surprise (well, at least not to the surprise of those fighting), the spheres collided with the magical barrier and quickly proved how unbelievably fortuitous it had been of Riddle to erect the hasty spell. With all the tenacity of a raging rhino, the spheres essentially tore the shield apart, and thankfully for Riddle, the spherical energy dissipated with that attack.
Which incidentally left Harry wide open.
Still grinning, Harry quickly brought up a morphing arm as Riddle slashed at his neck, effectively blocking the blow while he tried to impale his opponent for his trouble. Likewise, the blow was countered expertly. Then Riddle disengaged from the first deadlock and tried another stabbing motion, which Harry countered before trying his own decapitating move, which was again blocked.
To anyone even just watching the fight—which was a feat in and of itself, considering the horde of Venati minions bum-rushing the Imperial lines—the two fighters seemed to be unapologetically ripping off each other's moves. Anything one used to attack, the other tried right after blocking, and so forth, such that no one seemed to be getting the upper hand. It made not a few soldiers wonder whether the two were even taking the fight seriously, since they didn't seem to be putting all that much brainpower in devising new strategies for attacking.
They were only half-right.
Neither Harry nor Riddle had truly put in any effort in devising new strategies, but they were both taking the fight quite seriously. It all boiled down to excitement, really. The two were, thanks to their little miming exchanges, realizing that they were on an almost perfectly equal footing, and this only served to increase the adrenaline-fuelled desire to elongate the fight as long as possible. Oh, they still hated each other's guts, and they would probably dance on the other's grave the moment they won, but that didn't mean they couldn't enjoy the fight as much as they could.
"You're not half bad," mused Riddle as they both leaned forward in their latest deadlock, desperate to beat the other through sheer strength rather than skill.
Harry smirked right back at his hybrid counterpart. "I could say the same," he conceded. "And here I thought you'd be weakened and all because of the fusion."
Riddle scoffed. "Shows what you know, Potter!" he shot back. "I've never felt more alive!"
With that somewhat creepily-said declaration, Riddle jumped backwards, suddenly breaking the deadlock and making Harry stumble forwards. Taking advantage of the split second opening, Riddle cackled as he took one step forward and simultaneously swung up one of his bladed arms, successfully slashing Harry's shoulder.
To Riddle's irritation, however, Harry merely jumped back, none the worse for wear. In fact, a black patch of skin was showing through the gash in his uniform, and it seemed, for the most part, unblemished and smooth. Harry had used his Venati genes to solidify his skin.
"So close!" taunted Harry. "But not good enough!"
Growling in a feral fashion, Riddle rushed his opponent head-on, which seemed to anyone watching a rather stupid move to make. Harry, however, knew that the only reason Riddle would ever do something so unequivocally idiotic would be if he was confident of his attack's success. After all, one did not obsess over immortality without also simultaneously breeding a healthy sense of caution that would make the most paranoid men on the planet look relaxed.
Sure enough, just as Riddle was about to take that last step to close in with Harry, he vanished from sight, and it was only through years of training that Harry was able to reflexively block the blow that was coming at his back. Both leaders were once again smiling with full blown grins of excitement.
"Not bad," praised Riddle, actually sounding rather honest.
"Nice speed," observed Harry right back before bringing up his free hand to make a hand gesture. "But you're not the only one who can move quickly! Fulmini Vestigium!"
To Riddle's surprise, Harry seemed to suddenly distort out of existence, as though he had been watching a bad television signal. Like Harry, it was only years of combat experience that made the older mage capable of deflecting the sudden blow to his back. Glancing back, he was slightly shocked to see that Harry seemed to be radiating electric energy like a cloak, with sparks frequently forming at the edges.
"That's not the Curro charm…" Riddle noted, sounding calm despite the surprise he was feeling. "But it seems to work in a similar fashion…your own creation?" he posited.
Harry smirked. "That's right," he confirmed. "The Lightning Step charm. Enhances all cognitive, reflexive, and mechanical processes."
Riddle couldn't help the appreciative look in his eyes as he made singular eye contact with his nemesis. "That's quite the upgrade on a charm merely meant to enhance limb speed," he praised. "Very ingenious."
"I aim to please," Harry replied easily, before suddenly distorting out of view once more. Again, it was pure instinct that allowed Riddle to block the blow that would have skewered his heart.
Riddle had to admit, the boy was good. Better than good, in fact. Even Dumbledore had nothing on him, and that was saying something, considering that for the better part of three decades, Riddle had considered the centenarian the closest thing to a rival. By that logic, Harry was a rival—one on an equal footing, no less. While he might have felt threatened to the point of paranoid fury in the past, all that such a revelation did now was to fuel his lust for battle. Maybe it was a side-effect to being fused with the Venati? After all, it did feel like a primal need for combat that just seemed to become more and more insatiable with every passing blow.
Distortion after distortion, Riddle was hard pressed to keep up with the interminable assault on Harry's part. One moment he was attacking his back, and the next he was aiming at his solar plexus, before then going for his nape, and then his ribs. It was an insane assault, and only his Venati-enhanced reflexes kept him from getting pummelled into the ground.
Narrowing his eyes, Riddle noted that his opponent didn't once seem to be getting tired. An impressive feat, considering that the Curro charm required constant mental regulation of magic and large quantities of it at the same time—with either component usually tiring out the user rather quickly.
This didn't seem to be happening with this Fulmini Vestigium charm. If anything, it seemed to produce as little drain as possible, though he knew magic was being used, as he could practically smell it on the younger man. It was truly too bad that they were enemies, or else he might have convinced Harry to teach him this amazing spell.
As it was, however, he had to quickly get out of this problem. While his reflexes were keeping him alive at the moment, he was still capable of feeling fatigue, and a sluggish reaction time would inevitably end with his death. Silently analyzing the raven-haired man's attack pattern, Riddle quickly found a weakness in his attacks. Or, rather, an opening for a counter.
Quietly, he started counting in his head between attacks, and consistently found there to be a lull of about a second between blows. Maybe it was an unintentional drawback to the spell, or a deliberate gap to draw him in, but regardless, he had to take a chance. Thus, subtly gathering magic to his left foot, he waited until Harry delivered another (blocked) blow before suddenly raising his foot and slamming it down on the ground, effectively splintering it due to the sheer force delivered.
As he'd planned, Harry suddenly appeared in thin air, looking so surprised he had released the spell. Taking advantage of this, the dark wizard launched himself at his opponent, his arms already morphing into their blade forms. Harry, however, was not the best fighter in the Empire for nothing. Even without his spell, his reflexes were top-notch, and he quickly brought up his arms in blocking motions that quickly stopped Riddle's attacks.
"Well done," he praised, the four limbs struggling against each other as they pushed forward and backwards in an attempt to break the deadlock in their favour. All of this in mid-air.
"I am to please," Riddle threw right back at him, mindful that gravity would soon make their little deadlock a moot point.
Harry seemed to realize this too, and quickly brought up his left leg to slam it into Riddle's right side, catching the dark mage off guard and allowing Harry to use the momentum to switch positions, such that Riddle would hit the ground first. Half-way through his flip, however, Harry had morphed one hand back into its human shape and grabbed a handful of the dark mage's robes, his other arm reared back to strike the man's back.
"Time to die, Riddle!" he shouted, launching his attack.
Only to immediately move his head sideways as a spike nearly nailed him between the eyes. Swearing, he kicked himself out of the way by using the spike as a springboard, just as the dark mage's back became riddled with spikes erupting from his the mage's robes.
"Damn porcupine," hissed Harry as he rolled on the ground and got right back into a ready stance, just as Riddle did the same.
"You really thought I'd forget to keep my rear guarded, Potter?" asked Riddle, amused.
Harry made no reply, instead lunging right at Riddle, his fist reared back and glowing with magical energy. Riddle quickly avoided getting punched in the face by shifting his head sideways, which Harry countered by bringing up his other hand into the dark mage's stomach.
Having no intentions of letting Harry go through with said attack, Riddle quickly sidestepped the second blow, and with his opponent now in mid-momentum, delivered a roundhouse kick to the Imperial leader's back, launching the raven-haired teen forward and into the ground, though not for long. Just as quickly as Riddle had avoided his attacks, Harry quickly rolled back into a combat stance, just in time to avoid getting skewered by two tentacle-blades and severed into pieces by three cutting curses. Not to be outdone, he crossed his now-human forearms in front of him and charged them with magic.
"DIFFINDO!" he roared, swinging both arms forward and releasing the spell, which Riddle deftly avoided by rolling forward, in turn shooting off three more curses of varying types.
As Harry deflected the spells, Riddle quickly closed ground with his opponent, fists ready to deliver magically-enhanced punches that would end the life of a common man. Being that neither were common men anymore, however, Harry was quick to dodge the punches and throw his own, which were equally blocked by the dark mage.
Jab after jab passed between the two, and it was Harry who connected the first hit, after over a dozen failures to land a hit. When it did, however, it caught Riddle in the left cheek, though the mage was quick on the uptake and retaliated with a blow to the stomach, causing Harry to feel lifted off his feet from the force of the impact.
It wasn't, however, enough to keep him from fighting though. Moving quickly to take advantage of the lift, he suddenly snapped his body backwards and made an impromptu back-flip, nailing Riddle in the chin with his combat boots. Then, upon regaining his foothold on the ground, he launched himself forward, managing to land hit after hit on the dark mage with his magically-enhanced fists. First, he went for the solar plexus, then followed up with a hit on the right cheek. Jumping slightly, he kneed Riddle in the stomach again, before spinning on his heel and nailing him in the neck with the back of his heel.
To his amazement, however, Riddle did not go down from the barrage, instead merely taking in the damage before moving in for his own attacks, a slightly deranged grin on his bruised face. Harry barely managed to get his guard up before Riddle hammered away at him, his magically enhanced fists pummelling at his equally magically-reinforced arms.
Flashes of magical energy continuously formed as magic hit magic, and yet neither man was willing to back down, using most of their magic not for spells, but for this enhanced battle of strength. Their attacking styles said more about them than any combination of words ever could.
Graceful, calculating, skilful, and vicious, Harry was the picture-perfect representation of the Empire's strength and its methods. No blow was ever launched blindly; no attack made without a carefully thought out plan.
Wild, powerful, cunning, and lethal, Riddle was the opposite of Harry and the Empire the man represented. While not as thoroughly calculating as his opponent, Riddle instinctively sought out those weak points where he would do the most damage and sought to exploit them to their utmost. But where Harry was ruled by reason, Riddle was ruled by his passions.
Riddle finally threw a punch that pushed Harry backwards from the blow, the concentrated magical energy that exploded from the impact enough to actually make him wince. Not one to show his discomfort to his enemy, however, he quickly separated his arms and readied himself for another onslaught as he launched himself as his opponent.
To his satisfaction, his first punch landed with a satisfying crack, smashing into Riddle's left cheek with all the force of a steel sledgehammer. Mind you, considering Riddle's fusion with a Venati, it also meant the bone structure was strong as hell, which made the blow painful to Harry as well—though nothing he couldn't handle. Either way, his next hit was far more efficient in hurting Riddle. Taking advantage of Riddle's dazed expression, he quickly landed another hit in the man's solar plexus, driving the wind right out of the dark mage's lungs, followed by two more blows to the chest, visibly lifting the older man from the ground by the sheer impact. Once airborne—even if by only a foot and a half—Harry quickly followed through with an uppercut to the man's chin, snapping his head back violently, which he then followed up with a mid-air roundhouse kick to the middle, launching Riddle backwards with extreme violence as the mage hit the ground roughly, spun across a fairly long distance helplessly, and finally landed in a heap. Meanwhile, Harry had landed and slid into a ready stance, in case his combo hadn't worked.
Even so, however, he was starting to breathe heavily. He didn't want to admit it, but between killing masses of Venati, sustaining a barrier against one of the most potent artillery barrages in human history, and fighting the most powerful dark lord in history, he was starting to feel the strain. He wasn't out of the fight, however—not by a long shot—but he would have to be more careful from now on.
From the looks of it, Riddle was of a like mind, as the dark mage slowly rose from the ground, his arms trembling but holding as he pushed himself off the ground. Despite the bruised cheek, however, he seemed still willing and able to fight, though it was clear that the attack had done some damage.
"Enough," he declared, drawing his magic onto his palms and keeping it there. "We've brawled enough. How about we test our skill in weaponry?" he suggested, pre-empting Harry's response by apparently conjuring a broadsword out of thin air.
Only, Harry knew better, and the raised eyebrows showed his immense surprise as he recognized what he'd just seen. Riddle hadn't conjured up a sword—those were structurally weak as hell—he had transfigured the very air into the blade he was holding. That was magical mastery on a level that even he couldn't reach. So, instead, he bent down, grabbed a handful of dirt, and quickly worked at transfiguring it into a trident spear. His own mastery with the weapon was one of the reasons that the Dragon Lancers had all been trained in spear-fighting.
Riddle, however, wasted no time in closing in on his mortal enemy, his blade flashing in front of him as he launched attack after attack that only Harry's own skill with the spear allowed him to block. Had he been weaponless, he had no doubts that he'd be sporting quite a few nasty cuts. Quite obviously, he had not been privy to all the information about Riddle's abilities, if this current contest was anything to go by. That was a fatal mistake—one that he would have to see corrected if he won this fight.
The clang of metal against metal resonated once, twice—three times and then a fourth as the spear and sword collided, their respective masters pushing every last inch of their physical and magical strength into their grips as they tried to overwhelm the other via sheer strength. It wasn't the most skilful exchange by far, but it spoke volumes of each one's powers as the very ground split from the amount of wind-based backlash railing against everything surrounding the two combatants.
Even the beleaguered fighters at both the front lines and the Second Gate couldn't help the admiration they felt as they afforded themselves to steal a glance or two intermittently while they fought. Despite the seemingly infinite wave of Venati rushing the Imperial positions, the most lethal duel in history still outshone every other fight on the battlefield. To those who knew Harry, however, it was also the source of great worry, as they did not see their fearless leader/friend/husband take the upper hand effortlessly as they had believed he might. Instead, it looked quite like Riddle was holding his own to the point where they could estimate his strength as being on par with Harry.
Which, all things considered, was pretty damn bad for their side.
Then, Harry decided to take a gamble with his next shot. Swinging his spear into a horizontal slash haphazardly, he banked on the idea that Riddle would block it easily, unsuspecting of any obscure motives. Sure enough, the dark mage did so, his masterly transfigured blade holding the spear's blade at bay with remarkable ease.
"Tsk…is that the best you've g—"
Riddle never got to finish his taunt, as Harry used the momentum caused by the block to swing his body upwards and forward, landing a nice kick to the side of Riddle's head, causing the older man to grunt in pain as his head whipped to the side, his body following suit until they crashed into the ground with a loud thudding sound.
Harry wasn't done, however, and quickly moved in for the kill, his trident spear speared into the ground as he realized that his skill with the spear would simply not match the dark mage's own skill in weaponry. Instead, he went with the tried and true—his fists. Fortunately, he was educated in more than just street brawling. His eyes narrowed, he drew back both fists to his side as he dashed forward.
Calculating appropriately, he waited for the correct moment to lash out with his right hand, resulting in a connecting hit to Riddle's throat with the space between his index and thumb, causing the recuperating mage to stumble backwards, choking and reeling from the surprise hit, and then outright throwing up a little when Harry's follow-up fist connected with his stomach with the impact of a sledge hammer.
"Woodpecker Style!" Harry announced as he quickly returned to his original stance, fired up his Fulmini Vestigium spell, and then launched himself forward just as Riddle shakily stood back up. "The first hit!" His fist connected with Riddle's face. "Second hit!" Riddle's neck. "Third hit!" his right shoulder socket. "Fourth hit!" his left shoulder socket. "Fifth! Sixth! Seventh! EIGHTH!"
The blows kept coming as Harry severely mauled his opponent with the increasingly rapid intensity of a woodpecker. Each blow was calculated to land on a socket, important nerve cluster, organ, or just anywhere in general that could cause massive amounts of physical pain.
Every technique, however, had its end, and Harry neared his in less than a minute, thereby demonstrating the awe-inspiring speed necessary for the particular style.
"The two-hundred and thirteenth hit!" Harry roared then, delivering a beautifully performed butterfly kick that launched Riddle up in the air. Harry disappeared from sight, and quickly reappeared right next to Riddle's flailing and bruised body, a glowing hammer kick already in motion. "FINAL HIT: GRAVEMAKER!"
As its name indicated, the magically enhanced blow from the axe visibly hit Riddle with the force of a cannon ball, effectively launching Riddle at even greater speed towards the ground, where, beyond the obvious thudding sound of his body making contact with the ground, the sound of bones snapping and cracking all over the mage's body also resonated. It was clear that, no matter what Riddle did, he would not be getting up from that combination.
Landing deftly on the ground, Harry had to stop himself from collapsing from the sheer physical and magical strain that the entire thing had incurred on him. Contrary to popular belief, being the most powerful warrior in the world—or, at least, one of them—did not make one immune to exhaustion, and having to deliver 214 consecutive, magically enhanced hits in roughly sixty seconds was about as strenuous as you could get.
Well, what really got to him was the fact that he had finally found someone he could use the Woodpecker Style on without reservations. So lethal was it that he could not use it on another human being without guaranteeing that person's demise. Thus, whenever he practised it, he had to use a wooden dummy covered with impact seals to tell him how much damage was being done. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten, he didn't need the seals to tell him, as the dummy would collapse into a pile of firewood by the fiftieth hit.
Of course, he had never been able to test the technique on its originally intended target, as Rodolphus had died at Harrisburg without much in the way of a real fight. Riddle, however, had shown too much skill for him to pull any punches, and if the conditions they had previously set were being followed, then Riddle was fighting at full strength, which meant that Harry couldn't underestimate him anymore. Better to just get him out of the fight immediately than dragging it out and letting the dark mage use his entire bag of tricks.
Exhilaration swept through him then as he realized what he had just accomplished. Riddle was dead. There was a 99.9% certainty of that fact. No human body could sustain that amount of consecutive damage in one piece—not even a body reinforced by the Venati's chitin armour (as a poor, steel-wrought dummy back at the family manor would attest to). It would be like getting tossed out of an airplane without a chute, hitting the ground, and then getting run over by a speeding train—and surviving. It was just that impossible.
He could even hear the dim sound of people shouting in joy, coming from both the Second Gate and the front lines. Apparently, everyone had been a witness to the final bout that had finally put the darkest mage in history into his grave. Now, all that needed to be done was to sweep away the last Venati and…
Why were the Venati numbers not decreasing?
With Riddle's death, the summoning portals should have collapsed from a lack of summoning magic. Yet, for all intents and purposes, the Venati horde was not, in fact, decreasing in number, but rather increasing steadily. Moreover, why weren't they attacking him? Why did they just keep passing around the small area that they had provided for Riddle and he to duke it out? With his death, he should have become the most immediate threat to their existence, and yet they were ignoring him just as much as they had when Riddle was alive.
A chill went down his spine as an unbidden thought flashed in his mind.
It couldn't be…
Turning around slowly, his gaze went immediately to where he'd seen Riddle's body hit the ground at Mach 4. As he had suspected, it was a damned bloody mess, and it was completely still—as befitting a corpse. Seeing some of Riddle's ribcage piercing through his skin, having cracked entirely into jagged pieces, and his left arm torn off, along with the left femur jutting out morbidly and the clavicle completely pulverized, Harry had no doubts that Riddle had to be dead.
…so why weren't the portals gone? Was there a second summoner?
Quickly, he closed his eyes and poured out masses of magic throughout the valley, immediately seeking out any magical signatures in case they had missed someone. Considering their information, there should only have been three lieutenants under Riddle, and his current scan showed that they were gone—with two as a direct result of his intervention. The third one—Dolohov, if he wasn't mistaken—had apparently been killed by Susan. It was also at this time that he realized that something was off with his fourth favourite redhead—her magical signature was…wonky, for lack of a better term. Narrowing his eyes, he quickly thought up of a dozen reasons why this would be, but quickly dismissed them as he remembered his original purpose and resumed his search.
To his consternation, there wasn't anyone unaccounted for. Literally everyone that was supposed to be on the field, was.
And that's when he felt it.
Harry had always imagined that he had felt true fear in his life. After all, at the age of 15, he had already come face to face with a Venati, and had died at its hands. Since then, there had been very little in the way of comparable situations when he had truly felt fear for his life. The Death Eaters were, in his mind, just human, like him—they could easily die in any number of ways. The golems were simple constructs, also capable of dying with ease. Magical creatures, like Vampires, Trolls, and any other sort of mystical beast were also killable—each with their own weaknesses. Rationally, this also applied to Venati, but they had been so incomparably deadly, so elevated above the rest of nature's deadly fauna, that he had, at the time, felt like he had seen the true face of despair.
He had pushed, for years after the event, for the development of magical projectiles and weaponry, leading to the government giving the go-ahead for Archangel and hiring his sister and brother-in-laws for weapons development. With that, he had assumed he had levelled the playing field to the point where his rational fear of the Venati could no longer be accepted as valid. He had made them vulnerable to the common human being, and that meant they were no longer impossibly mighty.
And yet, all that confidence, all that rational belief in his fellow human beings, was instantly and irrevocably swept aside at that moment.
Beads of sweat were racing down his visage as his athletic figure trembled like a leaf in the wind. His eyes were wide and his pupils dilated to mere dots amongst a white background. His teeth were painfully grinding against each other as he worked hard to prevent himself from screaming in fear.
All this, and he had not even been touched once. It was all in the unequivocally evil presence slowly amassing where Riddle's body was lying still. The worst part was the instinctive, magical odour it was letting off.
It reeked of Venati.
But this was different. This was no result of hybridization. Nor was it a common Venati. This was so much more. To say anything different would be to compare this feeling to an ant being mistaken for a diplodocus. It was so far beyond his own powers, he could barely even keep standing just from the presence it was emitting.
Slowly, he opened his eyes as he mentally forced himself to ignore the crippling fear that was gripping his body. Ever inch of him was screaming for him to cut his losses and run, but he knew that would amount to nothing. If this was Venati, then were wouldn't be a place on Earth where he could hide that they wouldn't eventually find and consume.
As his eyes opened, the sight before him amply reinforced his fear.
As stated previously, Riddle's body was, for lack of a better word, completely decimated from the Woodpecker Style combo that Harry had inflicted on him. And yet, before his very eyes, the body was slowly reconstructing itself. The bones were slowly drawing themselves back into the body, and wounds were closing. Where Riddle's head had snapped open, the wound was regenerating itself, until not a visible mark of destruction was left on it.
Anyone else would have been amazed by such a sight, but not Harry; Harry was terrified of what it meant. His own wounds, while quick to heal, would never be able of such large-scale regeneration. He could not, for instance, grow a new arm, or leg. Appendages that were lost, were lost. Riddle, on the other hand, was completely ignoring the severed left arm lying mere meters from him, and was regenerating one from scratch. Which, biologically speaking, should have been impossible.
"What the hell is going on?" he managed to mumble out.
And then he heard it laugh.
Unlike Riddle, whose laughter was typically full of malice, but also excitement and challenge, this laugh was just malicious—period. There was not a single other emotion recognizable in the tone, and immediately, it told Harry that this was not Riddle he was dealing with anymore.
"What did that stupid bastard do?" he mumbled to himself, forcing his trembling body to slide into a ready stance.
He watched on silently as the body slowly slid itself up onto its feet, the head bowed down and the arms dangling limply in front of it. He could still see the shoulders shaking from amusement, and felt his own dread increase at the whole morbid spectacle.
Then the body lifted its head, and Harry cringed at the sight.
Riddle's eyes, corrupted by foul magic, had been red in colour. This new…entity, however, had eyes of darkest black. Even that didn't aptly describe it, however. More accurately, its eyes were the colour of the absence of colour of any kind.
"…Who are you?" Harry finally asked hesitantly. He felt a chill run down his spine when Riddle's body grinned maliciously.
"…So…you're the hybrid that man was so intent on killing?" the body spoke, its voice distorted and deep. "…pathetic. You cannot even stand still before the presence of a true Venati!"
Harry's trembling stopped at that moment, the creature's words sounding off alarm bells in his mind. True Venati? What the hell was that all about?
"What do you mean?" he asked tentatively, deciding to chance the question. The body laughed uproariously at his question.
"FOOL!" it suddenly roared in ager. "You fight the weakest of our collective species, and you think you've seen our POWER?! WE, WHO HAVE CONSUMED ENTIRE WORLDS TO SATIATE OUR ETERNAL HUNGER?!"
Riddle's body slowly spread its arms out to either side, the twisted grin returning to its face. "Witness now…the depths of your IGNORANCE!"
Harry flinched back as an explosion of magic suddenly erupted where Riddle's body had stood. His arms rose to fend off the wind and dust lashing at his face, all the while making sure his defensive posture would keep his vital points from getting hit outright. To his relief, the explosion seemed to be more cosmetic than damaging, and as it quickly died down, so too did his stance return to its ready form.
…For all of two seconds.
Harry felt his jaw actually drop—something he always thought only happened in books and cartoons—as he processed the sight before him. Riddle's body, for all intents and purposes, was gone. Instead, there stood a monstrosity that could never be described as human. Though it held a vaguely humanoid resemblance, it was quite clear that it was not, in fact, human. The arms had twisted themselves and reshaped into the Venati's chitin armour—in fact, all of its skin had gone that same metamorphosis—but the hands had completely disappeared, making way for elongated, nightmarish claws whose individual digits lay at a good three feet long on the right hand, each as sharp as the most devotedly crafted blade. The left hand, for its part, amassed itself with so much chitin armour that it looked more like a crude club. Its legs resembled those of a bird, with the knee jutting out behind, rather than in front, and the feet looked like vicious talons.
The most horrid part, however, was the head. Where Riddle's human face had once been, now there was no such thing. The nose had disappeared outright; the eyes were replaced by two, void-coloured orbs that had no eyelids or any other human trait. Its lips were gone, and while its mouth was still remotely human in appearance, it nonetheless had a gash parting the lower end perfectly in two, and the teeth behind them were quite obviously jagged incisors, meant for the consuming of meat. Where there was once hair on top of Riddle's scalp, now were thousands of the spikes he had been able to call up through Torment of the Underworld, all of them pointed behind him like some sort of crazy, Japanese hairstyle he sometimes saw in his men's books.
It was not a human body. It was a body designed for preying.
"God above…" he swore, his eyes wide as they attempted to process the nightmarish figure before him accurately. Yet, even with his thoughts racing at maximum speed, he could not, for the life of him, develop any sort of conclusive plan for dealing with such a being. Hell, up until right now, he had no idea such a thing even existed!
The creature before him grinned toothily, full of malice. "God?" it mocked. "If there is such a deity, you can be sure we'll consume him, too."
Harry couldn't help the shiver that went through him at that statement. The way it was delivered—so full of confident malice—made him actually believe that statement, even if for just a few seconds.
"I say again, creature, what are you?" he demanded with false bravado. He knew he was hopelessly outmatched, but he couldn't let the creature know that.
Despite such an attempt, however, it seemed clear that the creature saw right through him, and smirked arrogantly. "What are we?" it asked mockingly, spreading its arms in such a way that its clawed hands were aimed at the sky receptively. "We are the Harbinger of your end! Summoners of the endless Venati hordes! Consumers of countless worlds! WE…ARE…PRIME!" it introduced itself with a roar.
It wasn't the roar itself that affected Harry the most, but rather the outright evil presence that the creature exuded from every pore of its body, suffocating him with the sheer weight of its malevolent power. Then, quicker than he could process or react, even by instinct, he felt a sharp jab of pain in his chest, and widened his eyes as he realized he'd been viciously stabbed there by one of the creature's elongated digits, a bored look on its face.
"And now…you see the futility of fighting us," it said in a very level tone. It almost sounded out of place with the creature. "We are Venati, and you are prey. Kill as many of our lesser brethren as you wish, but for the true Venati, even your most powerful is not enough."
Slowly, the creature withdrew the impaled digit and watched as blood flowed freely from Harry's chest wound, even as the raven haired human leader fell to his knees, still unable to process just how quickly he had been taken down. This was all so wrong! Nothing he had ever predicted could account for this eventuality! Weren't Venati all uniform in shape and power? Wasn't that the point? How…how could he have overlooked such a horrifying possibility as a separation of castes within the Venati ranks?
"HARRY!" he heard someone shout…someone feminine. Ginny, probably. He could not check, remaining in his kneeling position before the Venati Prime, his senses slowly leaving him as his body tried, but failed to recuperate from the devastating wound to his chest. His oesophagus was damaged, probably beyond repair, and his two lungs had, at best, probably been nicked by the attack. At worst, they were also hit and he was either going to expire from either blood loss or from drowning in his own blood. Either way, not a pretty way to go.
The Prime merely gazed down at the hybrid before it with boredom. "You have done well, to come this far, prey," it congratulated, even if in a totally deadpan tone. "Not many before you can be said to have caused our plans to get set back over and over again with such frequency. But this is as far as you go," slowly the Prime raised its right arm and joined its digits together into a spear-like shape. "This is the limit of your puny race. But fear not, hybrid; your genetic material, your power…it will all live on within the Venati. Your death will strengthen us, and we will understand how such a communion came to pass. Goodbye, hybrid." His farewell given, the Prime launched his arm forward, intent on finishing the hybrid before him without any further delay. No sense in delaying the consumption of good genetic material. With the absorption of both Riddle and this hybrid, the Prime would become powerful enough to single-handedly take down everyone else in this pathetic valley.
"Like HELL!" someone shouted, just as his limb came into contact with something solid and was deflected away from its original target.
The Prime narrowed its orb-like eyes. "Who dares impede the feeding of a Prime?!" he spat out. Before him, one of the female prey was standing, her clothing billowing as the wind picked up, her glowing, lined hands before her as she held up a magical shield that protected herself and the hybrid behind her.
Ginny narrowed her eyes dangerously at the Venati, having pushed aside her suffocating fear the moment she had seen the creature's attempt to end her husband's life. "I dare, you sodding monstrosity!" she spat right back. "No matter what happens, you're having a bath if you think I'm letting you near my husband!" Then, with a grunt, she drew back her arms and made a pushing motion with both of them, causing the shield to push right back against the strained Venati limb and successfully pushing it off course enough that the Prime actually stumbled backwards from the sudden strain against his arm.
The Prime, however, was not even fazed by the sudden interruption, and merely narrowed its eyes as it sent forth both limbs, each one suddenly splitting into hundreds of malleable spikes that raced to skewer the redhead.
Only for them to suddenly stop in place as though something grabbed a hold of them. Angrily, the Prime looked to the side, where it felt magical energy being dispensed. To his fury, the male prey with slanted eyes was continuously chanting something, and the Prime could see, with its Venati eyes, that thousands of magical limbs had extended from the man and were holding its own attack back.
"Your opponent is me, creature!"
"MORE PESTS?!" it roared, struggling to release its limbs from captivity. Yet, somehow, the male prey was managing to hold fast, even as beads of sweat formed on his brow.
The Emperor, for his part, was looking at Ginny, his chanting slowing down to a halt, though the truth was that it only served to increase the power of his spell by a full order of magnitude, so he didn't need to keep chanting to keep it active.
"How is he?" he shouted over at Ginny, meaning Harry.
Ginny, for her part, had released the shield and was working furiously at healing the gaping wound in her husband's chest. "Critical!" she shouted right back. "We need more time! This isn't some superficial wound, you know!"
The Emperor grimaced at the prognosis. It wasn't that he didn't have faith that his comrades couldn't heal the dying Duke, but rather that he was himself going to run dry well before the task was complete. As it was, he was already straining to keep the Prime from skewering his redheaded friend, and from the calculating look it was giving him, it knew this too.
"How admirable…" the Prime practically purred, its voice laced with malevolent intent. "Such determination from such pathetic creatures of flesh and bone. But how long can you resist the inevitable? How long will it be before your will breaks before ours?"
The Emperor gave the creature a defiant, yet strained smirk. "You do not know much about our species, creature, if you believe that horrible odds will stop us from resisting to the bitter end," he informed the Prime as calmly as he could, right before switching back to his chanting when he felt one of the trapped spikes twitch outside his control.
The Prime, however, had noticed its ability to move slightly, and gave the Emperor an anticipatory smile. "You feel it, do you not? The strain of innumerable Venati, pushing against your pathetic attempt at stopping us…" its voice was silky and smooth, burrowing deep into the Emperor's psyche as it kept speaking. "Accept it. Revel in it. Embrace the power of the Infinite Horde and surrender to the inevitable!"
It took every inch of his willpower to keep the Emperor from obeying the Prime. It horrified him that such manipulative power existed, enough to even test his own steel will. Still, he shut his eyes, continued his chant, and kept the spikes at bay, hoping to buy the Duchess enough time to heal their downed champion.
"Why do you fight? Why do you persist in your useless fight against fate?" the Prime kept going, and from the sound of it, enjoyed every second of it. "Do you not see the inevitable? Do you not understand that, as with every other race we have consumed, yours is but another in a long line of death, misery, and eternal hunger? Do you truly believe that with our death, the Venati will stop? We do not stop, little prey…oh no…even if one of us falls, twenty thousand shall rise to take its place!"
"Then we'll kill them too!" shouted a voice from above, followed by three separate yells of exertion.
To everyone's surprise, the spikes that the Emperor was holding back suddenly collapsed to the ground, having been severed from the Prime's control the physical way. Amidst the fallen limbs stood Nathaniel Pike, with Charlie Weasley and Catherine Foster crouching beside him in perfect triangular formation. The Emperor, for the first time in quite a while, actually allowed himself to sigh in relief as he let go of the spell, his magic finally regenerating, albeit slowly.
"So this is Venati?" asked Foster, having turned to face the Prime. "It's…a lot more intimidating than I thought," she admitted, barely able to conceal the unstoppable shaking of her legs.
Charlie scoffed, though he was similarly terrified of the being before him. "So what?" he challenged, twirling his spear before stopping the motion so that the pole ended underneath his armpit. "Even if it takes three, four more hits, it can still die."
Nathaniel grinned at Charlie's bravado, knowing it was more empty than anything. "Well said," he agreed.
The Prime, for its part, was openly scoffing at the boasting. "Strike as you wish, foolish prey! Three or four bug bites…what is it to the mightiest creature in creation?!"
Nathaniel grinned at the implied challenge. "Well…how about we find out?" he shot back, sprinting forward with Charlie and Foster at his sides. With one hand motion, Nathaniel's Valkyrie enhancements came alive, decorating his body with the blue lines of conducted magic.
Now loose from the Emperor's spell, however, the Prime was quick to react to the incoming threats. Lifting its left arm to meet the incoming attackers, the limb once again split into thousands of malleable spikes, each of them racing towards the trio with all the unpredictability of a mass of snakes, each moving independently from each other, as though possessing minds of their own.
Not that Nathaniel was worried. With a grin, he made covert hand signals to Charlie and Foster, who both responded with an affirmative grunt and suddenly jumped high in the air—Foster's jump being boosted with the aid of Charlie's magic. Predictably, the Prime's tentacles diverted to face what it assumed was the greatest threat, meaning the airborne duo. Taking full advantage of this, Nathaniel buried the tip of his lance into the ground and used the weapon as a springboard, aimed directly at the mass of rising spikes aiming to skewer his friends. Then, in mid-air, he twisted his body in an astounding feat of acrobatics and, gathering magic to his heel, delivered a reverse roundhouse to the mass of spikes.
Though the blow should have technically only affected the spikes he hit, the way he had gathered his magical energy at his heel ensured that an area of effect was established the moment he unleashed the magical energy onto the spikes. The effect was similar to that of a scimitar cutting through grass, cleanly severing all of the ascending spikes with unnatural ease, while the Prime stood there, looking mildly impressed with the feat, even as the duo came hurtling down at it, lances already poised to strike. To their surprise, the creature did nothing to protect itself, allowing the two lances to impale it at the shoulder blades.
Even so, however, nothing seemed to happen to the creature, despite at least one lance penetrating as deep as a human heart should be. Nonetheless, the Prime merely lifted its head to face Charlie and its orb eyes seemed to narrow in some sort of inhuman frown.
"Was that all?"
Before either Foster or Charlie comprehended what happened, spikes suddenly shot out form the Prime's shoulders, impaling both Imperial warriors in their left and right side, respectively. The impact was so sudden and brutal that both were launched right off their spears, ending up rolling in the dirt for a couple of meters upon landing. Even with the two Imperial lances still stuck in its shoulders, the Prime didn't seem fazed. What caught it mildly off guard, however, was Pike suddenly appearing before its person, before suddenly getting decked with a magically enhanced fist.
To Pike's relief, the impact managed to lift the Prime off its feet and into the mass of rushing Venati that kept diverging away from their small battlefield. From the sound of shouting and gunfire, the numbers of the horde were beginning to tax the defenders, but the lines were still holding.
Yet his relief lasted for all of one second, as four spikes headed his way, which he barely managed to deflect with magically enhanced hands before they managed to skewer him. Had his attack done nothing?! The answer, as he noticed when the Prime came back into view, was no.
Standing there without a seeming care in the world, the Prime merely walked right back to where it was, driving Pike back with the occasional barrage of spikes. Eventually, he realized that he'd been driven right back to where he'd started, with his spear next to him and his two fellow Lancers on the ground, groaning from their wounds.
Pike couldn't help the nervous chuckle that emanated from his throat. "I can't believe that Riddle idiot would sell out humanity for a little more power…" he observed to himself, though it appeared that the Prime heard him.
"Oho?" it sounded amused. "Whatever makes you think he knew he was allowing us to run rampant on his kind?"
Pike blinked. "Well…why else would he? It's not like he went into this deal blindly, right?" he asked, though he had a nasty feeling he was about to get contradicted. Behind him, both the Emperor and Ginny stiffened as they seemingly came to a realization before he did.
The Prime noticed, giving off what seemed to be a grin, from the way its mouth cavity seemed to twist. "Your companions seem to disagree," it observed amusedly. "But very well, we shall enlighten you. Riddle, like every other foolish prey we have met over countless millennia, was a mere tool for our arrival. He, like every other summoner, was a product of his own greed and blind ambition…willing to listen to any voice in the darkness that promised him power. It was almost too easy to convince him to let us through!"
The Prime roared with malevolent laughter as it reminisced. "Power unlimited! Rule over his kind! Immortality! With these words, we have tricked millions to do our bidding! To let us through and feast on their kindred! We are the perfect predators, and to us, all else is prey! Riddle was mere child's play!"
The Prime lifted its right arm to grotesquely point at Harry's prone form, where Ginny was still working feverously at his side to heal the critical wound. "That prey…he was more interesting than Riddle. Never have we ever encountered a hybrid…it is simply not possible. But once we absorb his genetic material, we will understand how it is possible, and we will see to it that this error is corrected! Then, once again, the Venati will remain pure and undiluted. We will not have our blood mixed with our prey! We are the top, and all else is but GRASS!" it roared, suddenly lashing out with its right arm, the thousands of spikes once again forming as they raced to skewer Harry.
This time, neither Pike nor the Emperor were ready to deal with the sudden attack, and were a second late in reacting to it. Ginny, for her part, was too busy trying to save her husband's life to redirect her attention in time, and so Harry was left wide open for the sudden sneak attack.
Just as it was about to hit, however, the spikes were once again stopped, much to the fury of the Prime, as it grew irritated at the constant interruptions. Unlike with the Emperor or Pike, however, the spikes were both cut down and held down as a figure raced around it and visibly tore the spikes off the limb, until all that remained were five, all of which were being physically held down by the figure now standing in front of Harry and Ginny. Two of the spikes the figure was actually standing on, while two more were being held up by the figure's left hand, with the remaining spike in the right hand.
Having realized just how close to death she and Harry had come, Ginny lifted her head to see who had come to their rescue, and was surprise to see a black, ADST battle armour, along with chin-cropped red hair.
"Susan?" she asked, almost in a whisper. She hadn't considered the idea that her fellow redhead would be in any condition to keep fighting, not after Neville…
"Hey, Gin," replied the figure in front of her, though the voice seemed more like two people—one male, one female—talking at the same time. "Seems like we've caught you in a bit of a tumble, eh?"
Ginny blinked, recognizing the second voice imbedded in Susan's speech immediately. "Neville?" she asked hoarsely.
Susan finally turned her head at the question, and Ginny could actually see that Susan's brown eyes had changed. One looked lighter in shade than the other—which she was certain wasn't that way before. More importantly, she now recognized that Susan's red hair had become a shade darker, with some strands of brown hair mingling in with her red hair.
"What…what happened to you two?" Ginny barely managed to croak out.
Though Susan seemed about to respond, it was the Prime who answered her query. "Fascinating…you have absorbed a hybrid into yourself, but kept the secondary personality alive," it observed, sounding more like a fascinated scientist than a monstrosity hell bent on consuming them. "You are more Venati than we had anticipated, if you would resort to such a move."
Susan's head snapped back to glare at the Prime. "Shut up!" she growled, her voice still mingled with Neville's more masculine tone. "Though we came together thanks to your genetic curse, we are nothing like you! I am still Susan! I am still Neville!" she raged, exerting herself such that the final five spikes were torn off from the Prime's arm—those are her feet getting stomped out of existence. She then burst into a sprint towards the Prime, fists already raised to deliver a beating that would end its existence. "And together, we're going to end your menace!"
The Prime began laughing then, its right-hand once again splitting into hundreds of spikes that rushed to skewer the newcomer. Susan, however, agilely dodged each one, impressing the Prime as she neared him and finally landed a blow to its chest, forcing the Prime back, but otherwise doing very little harm to it.
"How admirable!" he mocked laughingly suddenly forming tens of spikes on its chest that very nearly tore apart the redhead's arm, had she not quickly retreated a few steps. "Come, prey! Show me what passes for skill in your misbegotten race!" it challenged as the spikes that reformed into its right arm suddenly sprang back into their hundreds and tried to skewer Susan as she ran sideways, trying to skirt the attack.
"Oi, don't go forgetting about me, moron!" Pike shouted as he descended on the Prime, his lance in hand. Lashing out, he managed to deal a blow to the Prime's left, blocky arm, which seemed to do jack all to the creature.
"One pest or two—do you truly think adding another insect will make a difference?!"
"Then how about we add a third and find out what that does?" proposed the Emperor as he finished gathering his magic within himself and manipulated his shadow into forming similar spikes to those the Prime was using. "Kage Nui!"
As the Emperor had done before, he used his techniques to stall the Prime's own attacks, this time by engaging them, spike for spike. Together, the hundreds of spikes—one made of chitin, the other of darkness—clashed over and over in the air, even as the Prime laughed at the futile display of defiance.
The Emperor smirked. "We'll see about that!" he challenged, his dark eyes growing darker as five more spikes rose from his shadow and formed into a larger one, which he directly aimed for the Prime. As expected, the Prime merely formed a chitin-based shield in front of it that absorbed the impact.
"Fool! You thought—Hmm?!" it exclaimed suddenly as it noticed a shadow above it. Before it could react, Susan had reverse roundhouse kicked its head into the ground, battered further due to the insane amounts of magic she had concentrated into her foot.
"Above!" Susan shouted mid-swing.
"Below!" then came the follow up call from Nathaniel as he used the edge of his lance to pick up the fallen Prime's body and launched it in the air, inflicting a severe gash to its left shoulder.
"Everywhere," finished the Emperor, his spikes, now free from having to deflect the Prime's spikes, were quick to race towards their foe and severely impaled it all over its body while in the air, much as it had tried to do to Ginny and Harry twice before.
Unfortunately, all their efforts did was seemingly piss off the Prime, as it growled loudly and ripped out the shadow spikes from its body with very little show of pain. Once it had, it fell back to the ground and righted itself, the wounds still there, but obviously not very damaging, if its posturing was anything to go by.
"To think that such pests have done so much damage to a Prime!" it raged. "You are more tenacious than I gave you credit for, prey! But…" it then said, its body shaking and its orb-like eyes narrowing considerably.
"THIS ISN'T OVER!"
With a tremendous roar, it suddenly sprouted thousands of spikes all over its body, each of them not racing for the human defenders, but rather towards its own kind, impaling thousands of the vicious predators without much afterthought. Then, to their horror, as they stood protectively around Ginny and Harry, they watched as the Prime absorbed the Venati simultaneously via the spikes themselves—with each absorption growing taller and more muscular in frame. Eventually, it was such that even their tallest—Nathaniel—merely reached the creature's knees.
"WITNESS THE INFINITE STRENGTH OF THE VENATI PRIME!" it raged triumphantly. "YOU ARE, ALL OF YOU, MERELY SUSTENANCE FOR OUR RACE! TO THINK THAT YOU WOULD RESIST OUR WILL THIS MUCH…WE WILL MAKE YOU REGRET YOUR IRRATIONAL ARROGANCE!"
The active fighters slid into their respective fighting stances as the Venati raged at them, ready to counter anything the Prime would throw their way. Unfortunately, they had not counted on the ground where the Prime stood to glow vivid red.
"What the hell is going on?" asked Pike, his spear ready to lash out, but lacking in target.
"Magic transferral," Susan quickly deduced—or rather, Neville and Susan deduced. "He's channelling his magic through his limbs and into the ground itself. Whatever's coming, it'll be big."
The Emperor took a similarly calm approach. "Can we stop it?" he asked solemnly.
Susan shrugged for both herself and Neville. "We don't know," the dual voices claimed. "But if we have to guess…it would be possible, but with more firepower than we currently possess as a group."
"Damn…" growled Pike, his Valkyrie enhancements pulsating blue magical energy as a result of his growing irritation.
"Wait, firepower?" questioned Ginny, still by her husband's side, her hands glowing with magic as they poured quite a bit of it into Harry's still frame. "If it's just that, and it doesn't need to be magical, then I can provide it."
Susan turned to look down at Ginny, as did the Emperor and Pike. "Eh?" questioned Pike, confused. "You got a cannon under those robes or something, Red?"
Ginny smirked, momentarily halting the flow of magic through her right hand as she dug into her robes and quickly brought out a communication headset. "In a manner of speaking."
"A headset?" Pike still seemed confused. "Who could you possibly have a line to that would help in this situation?"
"I see…good thinking, Ginny," praised Susan, glancing to the side as Pike continued to look confused. "Ginny is an Imperial Assassin. The Imperial Assassin, as it were. That headset is likely to have a direct line to General Sulu and Admiral Staples…correct?" she directed her question to Ginny, who nodded, still holding the headset in her right hand.
"Got it in one," she confirmed, tossing the headset to Susan, who deftly caught in midair. "John and Tybalt have the frequency isolated, in order to immediately recognize any transmissions I make. You won't need identification codes."
Susan nodded, and quickly set about to recalibrating the headset while Ginny returned to her healing. While the Emperor seemed to accept the current line of events—thus returning to his vigil of the Prime's building spell—Pike kept his curious gaze on Ginny.
"What if the headset fell into enemy hands?" he asked.
Ginny kept her eyes on Harry as she replied. "The headset has two failsafe mechanisms in the event that it would fall into enemy hands. In the event that I die, a heartbeat monitor directly linked to me would inform it of my demise and it would self-destruct. In the event of an imminent capture, however, I can either manually or verbally give the self-destruct command." She then looked up briefly to smirk at Pike. "Of course, neither Sulu nor Staples are dumb enough to fall for false information, not when they've got thousands to corroborate it on the field."
Pike seemed about to argue when Susan broke into their conversation. "It's done. Artillery support from the Navy and Field Artillery will commence shortly. Be ready for anything the Prime might do to retaliate," she informed the group, casually tossing the headset back to Ginny, who caught it with nary a glance. Susan glanced down at the still form of her friend. "How is he?"
Ginny sighed, still pouring considerable restorative magic into her husband. "No longer critical, but nowhere near where he needs to be to fight that thing," was her immediate response. "It's crazy, but it's like that Prime's attack screwed up whatever was keeping the Venati cells in him at bay. If I hadn't gotten to him when I did…" Ginny's teeth began to hurt as she ground them fiercely. "…there's no telling who might have been inhabiting this body."
To say that the others nearby were shocked would have been a massive understatement. Even Charlie and Foster, both of whom were lying mere feet away, had an ear towards the conversation, and were immediately stunned by Ginny's assessment.
"B…But Bill said…" Charlie immediately started protesting.
"I know what Bill said, Charlie," Ginny cut him off, her bloodied hands trembling slightly from the emotional rollercoaster she was on. "But face it, how many hybrids are there in existence? Hell, even we don't count, and we've got Venati in us, too!" she reminded the Valkyrie patients in their midst. "Bill has a guess, and that's it. A hypothesis based on what little information he has…"
"How do you know he's wrong?" Susan asked immediately.
"I noticed it when I first started working on him," Ginny replied simply, meaning her husband's bloody form. "I remembered that Bill had mentioned that Harry's Venati cells had been stripped of sentiency, and had stabilized. He even told me how much of Harry had been changed by the Venati cells…about twenty five percent, by his count," she recalled. "But when I started working on him…" she drifted off then, as if fearing that her words would make the situation even worse.
"What happened, Shishiko?" asked the Emperor, eyes still on the Venati Prime, who was conveniently ignoring them, although the magical concentration on the ground was rapidly growing, much to his concern. Where was that artillery support?
"When I started working on him…" Ginny repeated, her head bowed. "…roughly thirty percent of his internal organs had been infected with the Venati cells."
Pike visibly stumbled at the revelation. "What?!"
"It doesn't mean that the cells have regained sentiency…" Susan posited, one eye still on the Prime, her stance ready to counter anything it threw at them.
"I've studied enough healing magic to recognize intelligent behaviour!" Ginny shot back. "The way the cells were advancing on Harry's native organs…it was deliberately planned. Liver, intestines, lungs, heart…it went straight for control over the most important organs. Cells by themselves don't have that sort of intelligence!" she insisted. "Bill was wrong! That…monster is still inside my Harry!"
The group turned their attention back to the Prime, whose laughter had caught their ears. The creature, noticeably more buffed than its previous version, seemed to be enjoying listening in on their little discussion, its attention obviously not on either the impending artillery barrage, nor the spell it was itself getting ready to cast.
"How amusing…" the Prime mused, its orb eyes looking down on them as though they were mere insects before his presence. "Though the female prey is correct. Did you all really think we had never met another species whose powers could stem the corruption? Did you honestly believe that you were special in some way? We have long since developed measures to erase such weakness from our race! You may contain the spread, but you will never be able to eradicate our influence!"
Susan, Pike, Charlie, Foster, and the Emperor didn't know what to say to that—the implications were too hideous to contemplate. Ginny, however, had no qualms in speaking her mind.
"So what?" she asked defiantly, a smirk on her face as she continued to work on Harry, whose complexion had become far healthier than it had been minutes ago. "Don't underestimate Harry, you monster! The man I married isn't so weak that he'd let some creature take over his body!"
The Prime burst into malevolent laughter at the show of defiance from the petite redhead. How amusing these prey were! How long had it been since the Venati had encountered such iron will? But even iron melts in the face of overwhelming heat.
"How admirable! Come then, humans! Show us the breadth of your will!" it taunted them, its massive right-hand claw motioning for them to come at it.
Ginny smirked. "As you wish."
And then the Prime saw nothing but light as shell after shell hit its gargantuan body, detonating on impact and tearing at its skin. It did not scream in pain, however—Primes had the good sense of adapting their bodies to have redundant nervous systems, so it was quite easy to ignore the multitude of nervous signals that were desperately trying to convey the message of pain to its brain.
That didn't mean it didn't recognize the amount of damage being inflicted on its body, however. Large chunks of its flesh were getting vaporized with every detonation, and it could tell that the only reason the human prey at its feet hadn't been consumed as well was thanks to the magical shield it was sensing. Unfortunately for the humans, they had never faced a Prime before, so they were absolutely ignorant as to its true capabilities. Thus, patiently, it waited for the barrage to end—which it soon did.
By that time, the Prime had taken enough explosives to level about four New York City blocks. Yet, to the utter bewilderment of the human defenders at its feet, on the Navy ships, and at the front lines, it was still standing—even as parts of its legs were seemingly carved out.
"Amusing…such devastating firepower…" it said amidst growling laughter. "Was this supposed to finish me off?"
"Impossible…" Pike breathed. "It did nothing?"
The Prime cackled malevolently. "Oh, it did harm us, prey, make no mistake about that," it assured the humans, all the while regenerating the lost pieces of its flesh rapidly without any visible effort. "The question is not whether it harmed us or not, but rather how much, in comparison to our overall power."
Slowly, it stretched out its right hand, the claws moving backwards and forwards agonizingly slow, as though it was testing its overall mobility and integrity. Nevermind that ten seconds ago, there had been no hand.
"Impressive…." It praised, narrowing its orb eyes at the sight of its inflexible hand. Then, it shifted its gaze to the group of humans at its feet and growled, the right hand once again stretched out and pointed at them. "BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH!"
Immediately, thousands of spikes burst from the Prime's hand's flesh, racing down to rain death on the human defenders, who simply poured as much magic as they could into their shield, successfully holding the spikes back, although at the cost of the shield contracting substantially from the amount of mass it was being forced to hold back.
And that's when they noticed that the Prime had lifted its massive, bludgeon-shaped left hand, ready to smash down on the shield with the force of an aircraft carrier.
"Damnit!" cursed Pike, his arms held out above his head, hands sprawled out as he poured every ounce of magic he had into the shield. "The shield's not going to be able to take something that huge!"
"I agree," concurred the Emperor, his own Dark magic making the shield possess a grey appearance. "Even at full power, the shield cannot sustain a direct impact of that magnitude."
"It won't need to," Ginny then said, surprising the group. Though her face was pretty much drenched in sweat, there was a deliriously happy grin on her face as she looked in front of them. That was when they noticed that Harry's body had vanished from her side.
Turning their heads back to face the Prime, they felt their hearts soar as they witnessed the back the of most powerful mage on the planet, standing tall, proud, and strong; his torn red coat billowing in the wind caused by the raging magical energies swirling around him furiously—a testament of his enormous power.
With a flick of an outstretched hand, the Prime's bludgeoning arm froze in place, and most of the spikes it had unleashed on the shield were torn to pieces—yet the Prime made no move to indicate any pain. Instead, both Harry and the Prime seemed to stare at each other, as if willing the other side to back down.
"Are you not afraid, prey?" the Prime finally asked, breaking the tense silence between the two. "Why do you not freeze up as you did before?"
Harry glared viciously up at the object of his rather rational phobia. He hated to be reminded of that moment of weakness. "Because my life is not the only one on the line anymore, Prime," he spat out the term as though it were the foulest curse. Powerful magic began to envelop his arms then, with electric jolts racing all around them. "Between losing my loved ones and fighting my fear, it is obvious which I will choose."
The Prime nodded its head several times, its orb eyes half-lidded in some sort of pensive motion. "We see…" it spoke serenely, as if agreeing with him tacitly. Then, however, its eyes snapped back wide and it threw the entirety of its body mass into a swing of its bludgeoning hand down on Harry. "PATHETIC!"
Only Harry had evaded the blow by jumping to the side, arms and legs now fully enveloped in the electric magic. "Fulmini Vestigium," he whispered, and the electrical magic seemed to vanish all of a sudden, having been instantly absorbed into his limbs. With a flash, he vanished just as ten spikes impaled the ground he had been on.
Before the Prime even had a chance to react, Harry was already on the Venati's right arm, having used the spikes as a bridge to get onto its gargantuan body. As he raced up the arm, he used his electrically charged arms to slash and cut at any exposed flesh in his path. So fast was he that he was able to literally circumvent the arm several times as he made his way towards the main body, leaving behind a spiral of destruction all over the Prime's right arm. By the time Harry jumped off the arm and went for the Prime's head, the right arm had begun to fall apart from the sheer destruction Harry had unleashed on it.
This time, the Prime did feel pain—something that it had not felt for quite some time. Yet, by using electrical energy, Harry had attacked the Prime's very own nervous system, completely overloading the redundant system's failsafes. For the first time since the fight had begun, the Prime let out of howl of pain as its right arm collapsed into a diced up mass of flesh.
Not that such an injury would deter it, as Harry well knew. Without looking he could already tell that the arm was regenerating, as it would until the Prime itself was dead. Still, it told his comrades that it was possible to hurt the creature.
As if on cue, he saw Ginny and Susan jump onto the Prime's left arm and start working on incurring as much damage on it as their magical cores allowed them. He had been slightly confused as to Susan's presence, but when his magical senses had returned to him, he had noticed the mixed magical core she now possessed and, through a few jumps in logic, finally understood what she and Neville had done. While he wasn't happy about it, he understood why the redhead had done it, and wasn't about to begrudge a decision he would have, in all likelihood, have taken himself in such a situation.
The Emperor and Nathaniel were not idle in taking advantage of their resurrected hero's leadership either. Smacking his hands together in prayer form, the Emperor's eyes scrunched into a fierce glare as he concentrated his mind fully on his spell, causing hundreds of spikes to rush into the air from his shadow. Taking advantage of these, Nathaniel quickly grabbed onto one and twisted himself in the air so as to land on top of one as they raced towards the Prime's head, where Harry was himself heading. Charlie and Foster, having both treated themselves as much as possible and then been on the receiving end of Ginny's rather effective medical magic, were quick to follow their friend's lead, grabbing a hold of new lances created by Charlie's transfiguration and also catching a ride on the Emperor's shadow spikes.
The coordinated strike would have, in any other situation, been merely brushed off by the Prime. However, between Harry's incredibly effective electric-based attacks and the amount of damage Susan and Ginny were doing on its left arm, couple with the incoming spike strikes from the Emperor and Nathaniel, Charlie, and Foster's own incoming attack, the Prime was beginning to grow anxious—a foreign feeling it hated.
Thus, in a move born out of desperation, it prepared to unleash one of its most devastating attacks—something that Harry caught onto immediately.
Snapping his head to his incoming comrades, he called out to them with incredible urgency. "FALL BACK!"
He might as well have frozen them, the power of his words affected them so. His tone had given no room for any disobedience whatsoever. Thus, instinctively, they all jumped backwards, back to where they had originally faced off with the Prime before launching their attack. Just in time, too, as spikes began to sprout everywhere on the Prime's body, racing out until they each measure about five meters in length, and each very deadly to them.
Except, of course, to Harry, whose immediate shield had actually caused a few spikes to burst into pieces on contact—the shield having been the unmoveable object in this equation of "what happens when a stoppable force hits an immoveable object."
The Prime's eyes narrowed as they made direct contact with Harry's, which were equally narrowed into a glare. "You…are a pest."
Harry grinned confidently. There was no good intent behind it. "I could say the same, Prime. What do you say you lie down and let me kill you, and we can all move on with our lives?" he suggested cheekily.
The Prime was unmoved. "Foolish prey…do you really think our death would solve anything?" it asked rhetorically, though the way Harry's expression seemed to say 'duh' made it narrow its eyes. "You do…HOW AMUSING!" it suddenly exclaimed, breaking out into evil laughter.
Harry felt a chill run down his spine—not unlike the one that he'd felt prior to getting stabbed. "Enlighten me, then," he demanded, ready to evade any surprise attacks the Prime might have been masking with his laughter.
Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on one's view of it—the Prime had no such intentions, merely attempting to bring its laughter back into control. When it did, the way its mouth twisted into a split smile sickened him.
"Allow us a guess…" it said, that sickening grin still on its face…thing. "You imagine us to be the only Prime?" the paling expression on Harry's face said enough, and the Prime burst out in malevolent laughter once more. "FOOL! There is no single, supreme Prime of the Venati! There is no leader amongst us! We Primes are nothing but the collective mass of thousands of our common brethren! Each world is assigned a Prime, not for leadership, but for support, in the even of an unexpected, powerful life form to stand against us!"
The Prime moved its head closer to Harry, its orb-like eyes staring straight into his own. "Did you really think it would be that easy to rid yourself of us? That you would need only kill a single Prime and we would forget about attacking this pathetic world?" it asked tauntingly, as it watched horror dawn on Harry's face. "Yes…that's right…you understand now…the Venati are not so few in number that we would avoid such a planet for the sake of one Prime…we are the Infinite Horde, prey…WE FEAR NO ONE!"
Harry simply floated there, held up in the air by his magic, stock still from the horror of such a revelation. What was going on? How could his calculations fail so much, over and over again? First was the existence of the Primes, now the true breadth of the Venati species was revealed to him, and his rational mind told him it was hopeless. His arms slowly began to fall from their blocking stance, and the Prime's malevolent grin seemed to widen with each millimetre they fell.
"Yes…that's it…" it purred hypnotically. "Accept your fate…embrace the finality of your death…"
And then, just like that, Harry felt one of the most painful slaps in his life hit him square in the left cheek.
Dazed from the force of the slap, Harry had to regain his concentration to avoid falling to the earth. When he did, he realized that someone was clutching onto him—someone female. That was when he realized that the woman was both smaller than him and possessed red hair. That narrowed things down adequately.
"Ginny?!" he all but yelled in shock.
Said petite redhead looked up from her place at his chest, a fierce, reproachful glare on her face. Never, in all their time together, had Ginny ever looked at him that way. They had their spats, yes, and she did slap him sometimes, but only whenever tensions were running high—and they soon made up afterwards. Now, however, he knew he'd be in the doghouse for quite a while; she was that pissed off.
"Who the hell are you and what have you done with my husband?" she hissed angrily, shocking him.
"SHUT UP!" she yelled at him, letting go of him with her left hand and, with a closed fist, smashing it on his chest. It wasn't as hard, nor nearly as painful as when she'd slapped him, though.
"G-Gin?" he asked fearfully. What had gotten into her?
She stayed quiet for a second before speaking up again, her head buried in his uniform. "The man I married would never give up like this," she said clearly. Harry stiffened slightly as the words—and the feeling of moisture on his chest—hit him full force. "It's shameful…"
Harry was about to reply when he saw that the Prime was intent on taking advantage of this distraction to run them through with several spikes. With a fierce glare, Harry used his still active Fulmini Vestigium to move out of the way. When they were, he looked down at her and saw that she hadn't moved from her position.
Harry sighed. "Did you have to slap me that hard?" he asked, as though ignoring the rest of her comments. Ginny knew better, though. Her words had gotten through, and he was now acting this way to relieve the tension. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
Fortunately, she was happy enough with having him back that it worked this time. "Idiot," she whispered into his chest. "…making me worried…idiot."
Harry laid a hand on her head and caressed it gently, enjoying the feeling of her silky hair on his palm. "Yeah, yeah…I'm an idiot. Forgive me?" he asked playfully, giving her a boyish grin, even as he kept one eye on the Prime, who was seemingly considering attacking the couple again.
"Idiot…" she said again, this time looking up with a teary smile. "Of course I do."
Harry grinned. "Great!" he gave her a soft kiss on the lips before moving towards the ground, dropping her off with the rest of the group, who had the decency to at least look away while the two shared their 'moment'. When they were over, however, he looked at each with a bashful look. "Sorry, guys…I almost lost it again just then…"
He needn't have worried, however. The Emperor merely closed his eyes and looked away, a serene look on his face, while Foster grinned and gave him a thumbs-up. Pike and Charlie both looked at each other and then conked him once on the head each and called him an idiot as well, before grinning and telling him it was fine. Susan, for her part, merely shrugged and smiled. She understood completely.
His head back on straight, Harry turned to face the Prime, Ginny still at his side and looking every bit as combat-ready as he was. "See, Prime?" he called up to the monstrous creature. "Even in the darkest moments, we pull ourselves right back up and keep fighting!"
The Prime's eyes narrowed. "And the untold billions that will follow?" it asked, growling dangerously.
Harry snarled right back. "Don't fucking underestimate us, Prime!" he shot right back. "Ten thousand…ten million…ten billion…what the hell do we care how many of you there are?!" he said defiantly. "We'll just kill you all! One by one if need be!"
The sound of blasts all around drove Harry to think of Sulu, Staples, and the men and women defending the front lines and Second Gate. Neither had fallen yet—a testament of their unfaltering courage and determination. Sulu would undoubtedly be fighting at the front lines by now, leading from the front as he always had throughout his military career. Staples, he knew, would have gotten sick of waiting for an opportunity for his ships to fire and have left skeleton crews to man the ships while he and the rest of the available manpower would move to help whichever emplacement needed help—that being the Second Gate. Magic-less though both men might be, they were ferocious in combat, and neither was going to go down to anything but the best. Sword and pistol in one case, and a giant warhammer in the other, the two very normal men would die before letting their assigned points go down.
The Prime scoffed. "Very well, then. We will drown you all in a sea of death, hunger, and despair!"
Whatever it was about to do, however, was quickly put to a stop when something hit it directly in the face, went right through it, and ended up crashing into the ground behind it with the force of a meteorite.
As the Prime recovered from the impact, however, the group noticed that three more such objects crashed into the ground. Two of them near them, while the third hit the ground behind their own front lines. Immediately, the group recognized them as ADST drop pods, and as the hatches hissed before popping open, Harry grinned as he recognized the magical signatures in the two that fell near them.
"You're late," he called out, even as the dust was settling around the two pods.
"Sorry, sorry," a very familiar voice called back out. "Had a project on my hands…couldn't come any sooner. I daresay you'll love what I did with it, though."
Ginny was the second in recognizing the incoming persons, mostly thanks to the voice. "Bill! Fleur!"
As she spoke, the two Imperial scientists moved out of the cloud of dust, Bill in the lead. The oldest Weasley child had his hands in his lab coat pockets and a cigarette hanging from his smiling mouth as he made his way to the group, not at all preoccupied by the gathering amount of dirt on his coat. Behind him, Fleur was patting off said dirt off of her own lab coat, but otherwise looking just as beautiful as usual.
As the duo neared them, Bill let out a muffled whistle as he gazed on the kneeling Venati Prime, getting his first good look of such a creature. "Damn…that's a big one."
Harry gave him a solemn nod. "It calls itself a Prime…it seems to be made up of thousands of Venati."
"Yikes," replied Bill, though he didn't seem particularly worried. "That could be trouble."
"It already is."
Bill then pointed to the sky. "Not with what we've decided to bring along with us."
Harry looked up and saw hundreds of dropships coming down from the combined allied fleet towards the front lines and the Second Gate. What was hanging from a few of them had Harry widen his eyes in surprise.
"Tanks?" he asked in surprise. "ATAVs? Where the hell did you pull them out of? I thought our reserves were depleted after that MS 5!"
Bill grinned. "I figured it'd be a bad idea to concentrate everything we had in one place, so I had the Japanese bring a few hundred in reserve."
Harry glanced at the Emperor. "You didn't say anything about that," he stated evenly.
The Emperor shrugged. "You did not ask."
Immediately, they heard blasts sound out from the front line, and they knew that the first of the deployed vehicles had gone into action. Bill grinned at his brother-in-law. "So, given that Sulu and Staples have their new toys to help them out, what say we finish this big guy and go home?" he suggested.
Harry laughed and smashed his fists together with a predatory grin as he moved forward, ready to start the fight again—the Prime's face having regenerated sufficiently by now. "Sounds perfect!"
With Bill and the others behind him, Harry moved with blinding speed back onto the lowered right arm of the Prime, whose senses were still coming back. With Bill close behind, Harry and he ran along the length of the Prime's arm, circumventing it entirely in a double-helix pattern as they laid waste to its flesh—similar to what he'd single-handedly done previously.
With a glance to the left, they saw that Susan, Ginny, and Fleur had similarly begun their own attack on the left arm, with the Emperor, Nathaniel, Charlie, and Foster bringing up the middle with a retry of their former collaborative attack, with the latter three pretty much surfing their way up to the Prime's face via the Emperor's hundreds of shadow spikes, occasionally jumping from one to the other as the Prime slowly reacted to the threat and blocked one of the spikes with one of its own. It was all for naught, however, as the three groups successfully made their way up to the Venati's still-reconstructing face and launched their combined attacks on it.
Charging his right hand with magical energy, Harry transformed it into its bladed form and, combining it with the electrical energy, drove it right between the Prime's eyes. Bill, choosing to do something with more of an area-effect, drew both his hands from his pockets and, forming two orbs of concentrated Reductor magic and, one by one, flung them straight at the Prime's face, deliberately aiming away from Harry's point of attack. Susan, Fleur, and Ginny, combining their attacks, avoided the men's blows and criss-crossed all over the Prime's face, cutting deeply into it with either steel or magically-infused hands. Then, when the Emperor's spikes reached their target, Pike, Charlie, and Foster all jumped forward and plunged their lances into the Prime's right eye, while the Emperor's spikes took care of the left.
All in all, the combined attacks served to deprive the Prime of both eyes, both arms, and severely damaged its head, causing it to howl in pain as dark, ooze-like substance bled through the wounds—something that had not occurred until now.
"We're hurting it!" Harry called out. "Keep at it!"
"PESTS! INSECTS! I WILL DEVOUR YOU ALL!" the Prime roared, blind in its rage as it swung its body left and right in an attempt to dislodge the attackers from its body. Of the group, only Foster had to be grabbed by Charlie in order to avoid falling off—the rest simply either used their magic to ground themselves, or kept going with his attacks (in the Emperor's case).
None of them were blind to the fact that the Prime's skin seemed to ripple, a seeming indication of a counterattack about to happen. "Everyone!" Harry called out urgently. "Incoming!"
Just as the word was given, however, hundreds of thousands of spikes burst out from the Prime's skin, nearly impaling the group as they worked feverishly to avoid them. Nonetheless, the attack was so widespread that they eventually disengaged and fell back to the ground before being caught by the Emperor's spikes and brought to their initial position safely.
From there, they watched as the Prime roared in agony, its limbs regenerating surprisingly slowly. Perhaps they had overtaxed its regenerative abilities? If so, then they had no more time to waste. About to move forward to continue, they were halted only when the Prime began to cackle madly.
"FOOLS! IGNORANT WORMS!" it roared. "YOU THINK YOU'VE WON?! THAT WE HAVE BEEN BEATEN?! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" it laughed. "THINK AGAIN! EVEN IF WE CANNOT CONSUME YOU HERE, WE WILL STILL EXTERMINATE YOUR PATHETIC RACE! WE HAVE SEEN TO IT!"
"It's bluffing!" Pike retorted immediately, eager to jump back into the fray.
Harry, however, was of a different mind, and so was Bill. "Why would he?" he asked. "He has nothing to gain by saying that. He knows by now that our will won't be broken," he observed, with Bill nodding at his side, his chin cupped pensively.
"Did the Prime do anything prior to our arrival?" the redhead asked. "Anything out of the ordinary?"
"You mean, besides trying to kill all life on the planet, starting with us?" snarked Charlie, only to receive a reproachful smack on the back of his head from Foster.
Bill sighed. "Yes, besides the homicidal impulses."
Susan was the one who answered him. "It poured a lot of magic into the ground," she replied, startling Bill with her new voice.
Bill quickly recovered, however, and quickly made the logical deduction that led to his understanding of her situation. Determined to examine her at a later date, he nonetheless digressed back to the issue at hand. "How so?" he asked.
"It just stood there for a bit and poured massive amounts of magic into the ground," Ginny explained. "It had a lot of openings to kill us at that point, but it didn't. It just stood there and used its legs as conductors while it fed the ground with magic. It's odd, though. I can't sense any of it anymore."
Narrowing his eyes, Bill exchanged a look with Harry and both men nodded. Quickly, they closed their eyes and reached out with their magical senses, and visibly paled seconds later.
"FUCK!" Harry shouted first, one hand coming to cover his face as the full horror of the situation impacted him. "That…that genocidal…FUCK!"
Bill was far more conservative in his reaction. He glared viciously at the Prime. "I see…so if we kill you, that means we're too much of a threat to allow to live, is that it?" he asked the Prime, whose laughter was his only response. "You sick freak…"
"YOU SEE, PREY?! THE VENATI ARE FOREVER VICTORIOUS!" it said amidst its laughter.
"What? What the hell's going on?" demanded Pike.
Bill gritted his teeth. "What the Prime did was unleash a massive amount of magic into the Earth's very crust. It's racing down to the core, where it will undoubtedly create a chain reaction that will cause it to expand exponentially in a relatively short amount of time."
"What?!" shrieked Ginny. "Why the hell would it do that? Didn't it say that it was fine to sacrifice millions of Venati for the sake of consuming us?!"
Bill only released his teeth from their gritted state in order to put a cigarette between them. "Anyone else, sure…but we're apparently too much of a threat. If we can take down a Prime, it means we actually stand a chance against them. Thus, we have to be exterminated. He must really be on the ropes if he's using that as his main weapon, though."
"Is there anyway to stop the attack?!" demanded Foster, who was sweating bullets at the revelation.
Bill lowered his head, and Harry once again shouted, "FUCK!"
"Not with our power," Bill told them. "Independently, none of us has the power necessary to go as deep as the magic already is, and it's getting deeper with every second. If we did, we could theoretically stop it with a strong enough barrier spell…but as it is, it's just not feasible…"
"What about if one of us absorbs someone else?" asked Susan suddenly, shocking the group.
"What?!" demanded Harry, stomping up to her and getting in her face. "Are you insane?!"
Susan's look was completely deadpan. "Are you? Did you forget, Harry, that we are on the verge of extinction? If there's a method to save us, then shouldn't we logically go for it?"
"It…could work," Bill said, mumbling excitedly as he cupped his chin. "It would have to be someone of extraordinary power on both sides of the equation, though…and even then, there's no guarantee…"
"Bill!" Harry reacted with shock. "You're agreeing with this?!"
"Do we have a choice?" asked Bill. "I know you don't want to use the Venati genes anymore than you have to, but this is a cataclysmic emergency, Harry."
"What about the person we sacrifice?" asked Pike. "Would it be like with Susan and Neville, or…?"
Susan shook her head. "We have thought about this. In our case, Susan halted the absorption short of consuming all of Neville's magic and soul, keeping the sentience alive. In the case of Harry, however, he would need to absorb everything. Not a shred of that person's existence will remain."
"Damn," whispered Pike.
After a moment of silence, Pike spoke up again. "So…who wants the job?" he asked weakly, a sickly smile on his face.
"None of us are powerful enough for this," Bill stated outright. "Since Harry is the only hybrid with the basic power to fulfil one side of the equation, we need someone just as powerful on the other side, and—no offense to you, your Imperial Majesty—no one here has that kind of raw power."
"What about me?"
The group turned to see someone coming out from underneath the Prime, startling both them and the Prime itself, whose stance shifted to squish the person. Said person, however, reacted quickly enough to avoid getting stomped, and quickly made their way to the group.
The reactions were varied. Bill and Fleur sighed and looked away; Harry's eyes narrowed in recognition and rage; Ginny, Charlie, and Foster looked surprise; the Emperor didn't seem to care; and Pike was just confused.
"What the…" he started. "Aren't you that guy…what's the name…Dumbledore?"
Standing before them, looking surprisingly spry for his old age, was indeed the last of the Hogwarts Headmasters, Albus Dumbledore, having just recovered from the traumatic process of becoming a Human-Venati hybrid.
"You took your sweet time," Bill noted. "We dropped at the same time—what took so damn long?"
Dumbledore shrugged. "I'm old, I've just been operated on, and my pod fell into a crater. Take your pick," he deadpanned. "Now then, I believe we have more pressing issues at hand?"
"ANOTHER PEST?!" the Prime roared, still bleeding heavily and painfully incapacitated. "BAH! YOU ARE ALL TOO LATE!"
"What are you doing here, Dumbledore?" hissed Harry.
"I'm here to help," the aged mage replied simply. "I, like you, have taken in a Venati into myself."
Harry's eyes boggled. "You did WHAT?!"
"I put one in him, though it's not stable like yours," Bill confirmed. "He asked for it. Literally."
"Why on earth would anyone do such a thing willingly?!" demanded Harry.
Dumbledore smiled. "Like I said: I'm old. While my magic may not have dwindled since my halcyon days, I daresay my body is not quite as ageless. If by taking this deadly poison I can help our race survive, then I shall gladly do so," he stated seriously before bringing up a hand and poking Harry in the chest once and keeping his finger there. "You need power. I have it. Use me as the sacrifice."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "What about that crap about mages having to live separately?" he demanded.
Dumbledore shrugged. "A conflict of ideology. One which your Empire won, and one which I have conceded," he replied logically. "Now then, we're wasting time. Are there any more questions, or can we get on with this before my new tenant decides to take me over once and for all?"
The Prime, having heard their plan, and realizing the depths of the new arrival's power, was quick to react to this. "NO! YOU WILL NOT RUIN OUR PLANS ONCE AGAIN!" it raged.
The entire group turned to glare up at the Prime.
"Shut it, monster," snapped Harry before turning his attention back to Dumbledore. After a moment of silence, he offered his left hand in a gesture of rapprochement. "I underestimated you. You have my respect for this, Dumbledore."
"Does that mean I am forgiven?" asked Dumbledore cautiously as he took the hand.
Harry's grip tightened, as did his glare. "Don't push it, old man," he warned. "Your crimes are still crimes, and were you not about to sacrifice your life for the greater good, I'd have you hanging from a rope the moment this was all over. As it is, however, I am willing to offer you my respect."
Dumbledore considered this a moment before nodding and shaking the hand once. "Good enough," he stated with finality.
"NO! NOT AGAIN! I WILL NOT ALLOW THIS!"
Harry sighed, rubbing his forehead. "That guy's seriously giving me a headache…let's get this over with and then we'll kill him."
Dumbledore chuckled. "I agree," he said.
Harry turned to Susan at this point. "How does the absorption work?" he asked.
Susan looked at Dumbledore once before looking back at Harry. "You'll need to morph your arm into a spike," she explained, and watched as he did so. "Aim for the heart. Then, on impaling, focus your mind as though you were performing a spell and order the limb to absorb. It's fairly straightforward—even instinctual. It was for us, anyway."
Silently nodding, Harry took a step back from Dumbledore and raised his morphed arm, aiming the edge right for Dumbledore's heart. "Any last words, old man?" he asked seriously.
Dumbledore contemplated that for a moment before nodding. "A few, for Miss Granger," he stated. At Harry's nod, he continued. "Please tell her that I've never been prouder of a student as I was with her. She was a magnificent student, and a wonderful person to chat with. Please…let her know that I leave what dreams I have left in her hands."
Harry gave a solemn nod. "I will," he affirmed. "Goodbye, Dumbledore."
With that, he thrust his arm forward, only to have it deflected at the last second by Dumbledore himself, causing him to get pulled aside, just as thousands of spikes hit where they had been standing a moment earlier.
"What the?" shouted Pike, just as a spike hit him in the shoulder and he went down crying out in agony.
Similarly, Ginny had her left forearm torn off by a similar projectile, and Bill and Fleur were only able to save the Duchess by a hasty shield, which protected them and her from the barrage, but only barely. Charlie, for his part, erected a similar shield above himself and Foster and Pike, who had been dragged underneath it by the female Lancer. The Emperor, for his part, made good use of his shadows and put up a shield above himself and Susan.
Harry was stupefied. What the hell had happened?! Looking up, he saw that the Prime had seemingly decided to speed up its optic regeneration by combining both eyes into a single cyclopean eye. While it was obvious that the Prime's optic capacity was not at 100%, it could still see well enough to distinguish where the group was standing, and had acted accordingly.
"YOU WILL NOT INTERFERE WITH THE VENATI ANY FURTHER, PREY!" the Prime roared. "I WILL SEE THIS ENTIRE, PATHETIC PLANET DISAPPEAR! STARTING WITH YOU!"
At this point, the Prime curled its mouth into an O shape and the magically sensitive persons within the group of human defenders at its feet quickly recognized the massive magical build-up happening at its mouth.
"Holy crap, that's a lot of magic," breathed Bill as he held Ginny while Fleur performed some immediate first aid magic on the redhead's injured arm.
While the others were of a similar mindset, Dumbledore had narrowed his eyes, and for the first time in quite some time, his aged mind raced through thousands of possibilities, squeezing every ounce of his reputed genius into finding a solution to the problem at hand. In the end, he had his answer—and a damn convenient one, to boot.
As Harry moved to get up and stop the Prime, Dumbledore acted quickly and grabbed the raven-haired man's arm. "Let me take care of this," he asserted. "I've got a plan. Be ready."
Harry looked doubtful for a moment, but relented upon seeing the determined look on Dumbledore's aged face. It was the look of someone who knew what he was doing. Whatever his wrathful feelings for the man, he had to trust him to genuinely want to redeem himself.
"Go for it," he replied simply, lowering his arm.
Dumbledore nodded thankfully, and got to his own feet, before rushing to where he calculated the point of impact to be and stood there, a defiant glare on his face. Taking a deep breath, he prepared himself for what was to come.
"COME, PRIME!" he shouted. "I AM ALBUS DUMBLEDORE, LAST OF THE HOGWARTS HEADMASTERS! SHOW ME THE POWER OF YOUR MALEVOLENT SPECIES!"
The Prime's cyclopean eye seemed to widen in fury at the old man's defiant assertion. To that end, it resolved to kill the insolent human first, and aptly changed the direction of its blast. Then, with a deep breath, it unleashed a massive burst of magical energy at Dumbledore, who waited for it to come near to engulfing him before he gave a wild grin, the likes of which he had not given since his youth.
"This…is what I've been waiting for!" he roared, instantly transforming his arms into spikes and thrusting them into the blast. At the same time, he formed spikes from every inch of his body and similarly thrust them into the beam of energy, without any seeming care for his own welfare.
To everyone's amazement, the blast stopped right at the point of impact with the spikes, and seemed to go no further. Only Harry and Susan immediately realized why—the crazy old man was absorbing the attack!
"That…suicidal…" Harry breathed, an incredulous grin on his face. "GENIUS!"
"I can't believe it…" Susan breathed.
Dumbledore, for his part, turned his head slowly so as to make eye contact with Harry. "POTTER! NOW!!!!!!!!"
Shifting his arm back into its spike form, Harry grinned expectantly. "You got it!" he shouted back, "Let's do it…DUMBLEDORE!"
With that, he thrust his arm forward, elongating the spike such that it raced straight for Dumbledore's back, even as the incredible amount of magic Dumbledore was absorbing threatened to make the old man's magical core overload. With the nasty sound of flesh getting torn into, the spike impaled Dumbledore's heart, but the man did not die from shock. Instead, Dumbledore seemed to merely grin wider, his plan reaching its successful conclusion.
"To think…that I would be fighting on the grounds of my school…for the future of humanity…" he mumbled in between gasps of pain as the absorption process began, before throwing back his head and shouting, "I AM GRATEFUL FOR THE EVENTS THAT BROUGHT TO THIS BATTLEFIELD!"
With that, Dumbledore seemingly disappeared as he was absorbed into Harry's spike, the rest of the Prime's energy beam similarly disappearing into the spike as the last of the attack was absorbed.
The Prime, for its part, felt, for the first time in its existence, fear. Sheer, primal fear. What was the matter with these prey? Why did they not react with the usual fear and resignation? Where were they getting the intelligence, resourcefulness, and determination to ruin their plans this much? Were all humans this dangerous?
Harry, for his part, was feeling agonizing pain as the entirety of Dumbledore's magic and the Prime's attack were added to his own magical core, which was working overtime to keep itself from bursting from the insane amounts of magical power that it now housed.
Bill, being the doctor/scientist he was, recognized the symptoms immediately. "Damnit!" he cursed. "Magical core overload! HARRY! USE IT UP!"
Through the pain, Harry quickly moved to do as told, and, holding out his right hand, palm up, he proceeded to gather as much magical energy as he needed to in it. The resulting shape was an orb that increased in size exponentially with every passing second.
"RAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" he screamed as he poured considerable magic into the sphere, until it was the size of three tanks stacked on top of each other.
Once at that size, Harry felt it easier to breathe, and he knew he had reached the point where he had extracted the excess magic. The rest—in all of it considerable glory—would serve to expand his natural magical capacity fourfold.
Breathing heavily, he bent over to catch his breath, the massive magical orb still spinning wildly in his outstretched hand. The exhaustion was quickly pushed aside, however, as adrenaline flooded his system and he decided to put an end to this battle.
"IMPOSSIBLE!" the Prime cried out in horror, realizing the lethal magnitude of the attack Harry had in his hand. One hit from that at the right place, and its existence would be exterminated.
"Didn't I say it before?" Harry asked between gasping breaths. "Don't fucking underestimate us! We humans? We hate losing. What's more, we hate the idea of some twisted fuck coming in and killing our loved ones. To that end, we're willing to lay down our lives to protect those precious to us. Even then, if we fall, our hopes will be inherited by our children, and their children after that. The hopes of the past…the dreams of the future…that's what makes us so mighty!" Harry ranted, grabbing his right wrist with his left hand, now transformed back into its human state. "You told us to witness the depths of our ignorance, right? Well…WITNESS YOURS!"
Activating Fulmini Vestigium one last time, Harry launched himself up to the Prime's head. He would have gone for the heart, but then he realized that since the regenerative process was controlled by the brain, it would be much more fatal to take that out instead. Unfortunately for the Prime, that was exactly what its weak point was.
Limbless as it was, the Prime could only stare in impotent fury as the prey it had relished so much in taunting and spiritually crushing raced up to put an end to its existence. Its only comfort was that the world destroyer spell it had cast would not be stopped by this insect, no matter how powerful it was. Even if it did, the Venati horde would merely seek out another way into this dimension, and then consume it as was their right.
With simultaneous yells—one of vindictive rage and the other of defiant acceptance of death—the two mortal enemies met one last time as Harry's orb of magical energy crashed into the Prime's cyclopean eye, the swirling magical energy drilling into the head and severing the tiniest, cellular links with the intensity of its attack. There would be no regenerating from this blow. There would be no coming back for the Prime.
"We…will…return…" the Prime weakly said as a last act of defiance, even as its head was vaporized from the attack.
Falling back to the ground, his last attack finally done, Harry gave a defiant scoff and glare, watching the Prime's body fall backwards in the process. "We'll be waiting, and we'll win again."
A shadow tentacle suddenly grabbed him out of the air, halting his freefall towards the ground. Arching his neck back, he gave the Emperor a grateful look as the Japanese man brought him safely back to the group. The man gave Harry a congratulatory nod, but said nothing else; the thrill of victory had not yet set in, but he could already sense that the summoning portals were vanishing.
His other companions, however, were not so reserved. Pike, despite being wounded, jumped in the air and gave a whoop as he celebrated their victory. Foster and Charlie gave each other a bear hug, before beating Pike within an inch of his life when he made catcalls at them. Bill was trying to light a cigarette, but his hands wouldn't stop shaking, much to his irritation, so Fleur did it for him, but not before taking the cigarette from him, taking a deep drag, blowing the smoke out, kissing him square on the lips, and then handing it back, before collapsing in an exhausted heap—in that order. To say the least, Bill was looking down at his assistant bewilderedly. Standing next to the Emperor, Susan looked at the bourgeoning couple with an exasperated shake of her head.
Ginny, for her part, slowly made her way towards Harry, her wounded arm bandaged up and no longer bleeding, though no less of a stump after the elbow. Collapsing to her knees next to his lying form, she gave him a weak, yet proud grin. "You did it."
Harry laughed. "We did, didn't we?"
Ginny giggled and leaned over to give him a gentle, but no less passionate kiss, which he fully enjoyed—right up to the point where the Emperor intervened by coughing, at which point Harry began to wonder whether or not he could get away with glassing Japan.
"Not wanting to put a damper on our much-deserved celebrations, but…" the man started, pointing at their surroundings, which were still quite full of Venati. "We still have company, and unless we move quickly, that spell is still going to vaporize our planet."
Harry glanced around to confirm the Emperor's observations, and sighed in exasperation as he found the man correct. Hopefully, with their new shiny armaments to help them, the Imperial Army would be able to kill off the Venati still left, but the world-ending spell headed for the Earth's core really couldn't wait. Not to mention, without the Prime, the common Venati had returned to their feral, yet still intelligent state. They would no longer be ignoring the group in their midst.
Sighing, Harry pushed himself back onto his feet, before helping Ginny to hers. Holding her close, he looked down at her eyes, then at her stump, then back at her eyes. "Will you be okay?" he asked her sincerely.
Ginny smiled. "Don't underestimate an Imperial Assassin, dear."
Harry grinned, giving her a peck on the cheek. "Excellent. Mind doing some crowd control while I save the world?"
Ginny grinned right back. "You owe me, Mister Potter."
"I look forward to paying it back in full, Mrs Potter," he replied right back, before glancing over at the Emperor with an unsaid plea in his eyes. The man nodded right back, understanding the Duke's request for him to look out for his injured wife.
She promptly smacked him on the shoulder with her one good arm. "I saw that."
He grinned charmingly at her. "Can't blame a bloke for worrying over his wife, love."
She smiled at him before walking away from him and glaring at the group. "Alright, then. The Prime's gone, but we've still got a job to do here! Harry's going to need some time to deal with the big spell of doom that the bastard left us, so make sure to keep this area clear of interference!"
Each of the group nodded, understanding fully the importance of their assignment. As they moved to form a protective circle around him, Harry sighed, stretching out his neck and popping his finger joints. It would take some time for him to get used to the overwhelming amount of magic in him, but for now, he had a job to do.
He sighed once more. After this, the war would be, at long last, finally over.
Falling to one knee, he brought up one hand and prepared to use it as the conductor of his barrier spell. Magical energy swirled around it as his hand shifted into a blade form, which could give him better access into the ground. He glanced around one last time, and smiled wearily.
"Well, back to work."
Post-AN: *weeps* It's DONE! After...3 years, 2 months, and 15 days of writing this series, it's finally DONE!
Wait...wait...no...epilogue's not up yet...*cries*
Anyway, that doesn't count. That'll be up in its own time. And, as a result of the fact that it needs to wrap things up tidily, I ask you, the readers, to inform me which loose ends you might be interested in knowing about. Casualty rates, "where they are now"'s, etc...Leave a review as to what you'd like to know, post-Battle of Hogwarts, and I'll try to incorporate it into the epilogue (WHICH WILL NOT BE AS LONG AS THIS CHAPTER).
Anywho, for the more controversial point of this chapter:
Susan/Neville: As far as I know, only one other HP-fanfic has incorporated the idea of a fusion between two of the HPverse characters, and that one involved Harry and Ginny fusing into some sort of hermaphrodite being with a third consciousness born out of their combination called Harverna...or something. Just to be clear...that is so not what happened here. Susan and Neville have merged purely on a magical core/brain function level, not on the physical--with the only exception to that being the pigmentation of the eyes and hair. In terms of reproduction organs, the merger between the two has not affected Susan's own biological composition, though it has killed off her sex drive. To be clear, what differentiates the Susan/Neville merger and the one between Dumbledore and Harry is that Harry did not merge with anyone--he absorbed Dumbledore. Dumbledore, for all intents and purposes, is dead. His magical core was completely incorporated into Harry's, and all his flesh and bones do to Harry is harden it against physical assault. It does not mean that Harry will be growing another set of testicles, nor another penis. For that matter, that will not be happening with Susan, either. She's just...a woman who has a voice in her head, and when she speaks, it kinda sounds like two people talking at once (anywhere else, that's just the definition of a crazy person).
Finally, I want to thank everyone who participated in the poll. Emperor it is.
So yeah. Story's done.
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