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'Snake Charmer' is performed by Blink-182
It was only the precognitive warning that saved Ravager from tumbling from her branch at the sudden pillar of flame. Even hundreds of yards away, she could feel the wave of heat pass over her and ripple through her hair. She glanced worriedly towards the towering inferno as it receded, but her concern was interrupted by Touch-N-Go as she landed upon her perch. Claws raked along her forehead, drawing red lines that led into her silvery hair, and she mentally berated herself at the distraction as she ducked to a lower point and leapt to the next tree.
Her foe followed after her, but the swordsmaster sprang forward, and caught her tail, yanking her back as Ravager landed on the previous tree. The speedster grunted as she knocked against the trunk, but recovered quickly, lashing out with her leg at Ravager as she twisted upward. Wisely, the hero simply released her hold and Touch-N-Go tumbled before managing to dig her claws into the bark. With a snarl, she looked upwards to see Ravager bound away, and raced after her, flinging herself from the branch. As slight as her headstart had been, the heroine was making use of it and seemed to be heading in the direction of the fires.
Fighting the demands of grisly revenge that howled and rampaged within her mind, a bestial fury twisted by human malevolence, she flashed to the forest floor and headed for the dancing flames. Easily outpacing the white-haired girl, she wound along a tree to its upper branches, overlooking the blazing arena of felled trees. Most had been reduced to ash, incinerated in the column of hellfire, but a few of the stout, stubborn trunks that had been old when the city was still young persisted. Fires still persisted upon those holdouts while others simply smoldered upon the scorched earth, flickering pitifully as they clung to life.
Collapsed upon the blackened ground was Behemoth, his armor melted and his thick hide scored with cruel-looking burns. Several yards from him, Kid Devil sprawled out upon his back, closed eyes turned skyward as he desperately gasped for breath. His chest pitched and heaved as he rapidly filled and emptied his lungs, wisps of flame curling from his mouth at each release. Smoke coiled from his body and there was a faint but definite glow to the soil and rocks he laid upon as they took on his heat. Noticing this, Touch-N-Go stopped from using the chance to finish him off before looking towards Behemoth who did not share in the horned boy's obvious signs of life.
Something akin to worry flashed over her features and it was a short debate before she leapt to the ground, hissing at the heat that still inhabited the earth, nearly burning the pads of her feet. Darting to Behemoth, she struggled with his bulk and finally managed to turn him onto his side when she felt the breath rush over her spotted fur. Relief accompanied that breath, weak as it was, and she struggled to load him onto her shoulders, or at least part of him, as she tried to discern the way to the ocean. Her ears twitched as a branch creaked somewhere overhead and she ducked under the bulk of her ally, using him as a shield against the swords that clanged off his rough hide.
"Wow. I figured you were scum, but I didn't think you were that low. Using your ally for cover is a total dick move," Ravager observed as she landed and swept at Touch-N-Go who hissed and dodged the gleaming sword.
"He can take it," she defended. She turned and snapped out with a series of rapid-fire kicks that forced the heroine back.
"Hey, I'm no fan of Mr. Crispy Critter here, but you definitely take the cake when it comes to nastiness," she taunted as she sent her blades upward. Touch-N-Go evaded the keen edges but didn't notice the boot sweeping her legs out from under her until she was plummeting to the ground. There was more than enough time to dodge out of the way of Behemoth's collapsing form and she threw herself away, nearly rolling into a sword as she started to stand. She dodged away, wincing at the pain that still surged within her calf as she and Ravager began to circle.
In a part of forest where the trees still stood, a frog briefly landed upon a tree before jumping away, dodging the lash of the grey-scaled tail that crashed through the bark. The snake man hissed and searched for the frog before he felt a pull on his tail before he was flung into a tree. Recovering quickly, he dodged aside as the green gorilla smashed his fists into the ground where his head had been seconds before. Coiling about the simian, he tried to capture his gaze with his own only for Changeling to shift into the unnaturally large form of a thorny lizard. Even with his scales, the villain could feel the spikes grinding into his flesh and he quickly released his prey.
"Look, I know I seem a little prickly, but that's no reason for us to fight," snickered the shape shifter.
"You aren't going to stop that, are you?" he asked dryly as he swung his tail at his adversary.
"Probably not," he confessed as he shifted into a ram, ducking the blow before firing forward. He impacted with the snake man's chest, producing a satisfying crack, and he landed safely upon the ground beyond him. "By the way, you got a name? I'd pick one now before the papers make one up for you after I kick your . . . well, whatever equates to your butt, your legless person."
"My name is Andonis Ball," he answered, swiping at the hero with a claw. Changeling flowed into the form of a hummingbird and darted above it as his scaled adversary began to ascend along a tree. "But I suppose Gorgon is more fitting, at this point."
"I knew a chump named Adonis. For what it's worth, I like you better," chirped the tiny avian before he darted to the ground. He shifted into an ankylosaurus and bashed his clubbed tail against the tree, attempting to dislodge the serpent within it. "But, hey! We've got so much in common! Sounds like you were human, I was human. Now, you're some sort of animal dude, and I'm the animal dude."
"There is far more to it than that," Gorgon said as he let himself fall, landing atop the armored saurian and momentarily stunning him. He tried to force their gaze again and he caught the blank eyes of the dinosaur and held it before Changeling grunted and threw himself into the trees in an attempt to dislodge the unwanted passenger. Gorgon threw himself away in frustration as the shape shifter smashed into the foliage before he melted into the form of a bear and barreled forward.
"Oooh, cryptic comments. It isn't a fight without it. But I might need another hint," he roared, slashing at Gorgon who nimbly avoided the strike. "I'm not getting anywhere with that one."
"I think that says more about your intelligence than anything else."
"Oh, wow. A crack about my intellect. Please, give me a minute to marvel at the originality."
In the sky, Glowbug weaved between the barrage of ethereal that stayed solid long enough to pierce her armor before disappearing. The bird woman shrieked in animalistic fury as she flapped after her, unleashing more of her vanishing weaponry. Twisting towards her, the heroine unleashed a blinding blast from her palms, and the feathered figure twisted her head away, still leaving her open open to a sharp kick that sent her tumbling through the air. She managed to catch herself and screeched at the girl before flapping forward, silver light shimmering about her talons again.
Tranquility settled over the heroine, a sense of peace that was not deterred by the approaching beast and she slowly opened her palms. She hated to think that her father's mental condition was hereditary, that she was doomed to carry the burden that had turned him into the monster willing to set an entire city ablaze, but there was an allure that she could not deny. The pillar of fire had fed one within her, awakening a dark desire that she would allow herself to sate. As the bird woman drew closer, tiny devices poured from ports in Glowbug's armor, vaguely resembling insects. True to form, they swarmed behind her before moving, as one, towards the woman, circling about her and bringing her to a suspicious halt.
"Put your toys away, and I promise that your death will be swift," she growled.
"They aren't toys," she answered. "They're FireBugs."
Suddenly, the cloud of glittering metal erupted with fire, the bugs igniting their slow-burning fuel as they circled about the bird woman. They quickly formed into a sphere about her, closing off any escape and she squawked at the sudden entrapment, flapping frantically to keep herself from the ball of fire that seemed to be closing about her. Beneath her helmet, Glowbug allowed herself a small chuckle and she licked her lips, suppressing a pleased shudder. Her dark joy was interrupted by the silver outline of a bird pushing through the FireBugs before shattering, revealing her foe as the shards stabbed towards her. With a slight growl, she threw herself aside and directed her incendiary armaments after her, rising them into a funnel that attempted to swallow the avian.
Beneath them, the final pair chased each other through the sky, trading glancing blows as they sought a means of finishing each other. The winged man had learned to stay out of Blackfire's reach and her line of sight, and he conducted swooping attacks, clawing at her before quickly darting away before she could retaliate. Occasionally, he would dip into the trees, hiding amongst them as the canopy was peppered with starbolts before shooting upward again for another strike. Blackfire's main concern lay in simply connecting with a solid blow, certain that it would send her battered adversary into unconsciousness, but he remained frustratingly out of her reach.
She began to build a starbolt between her hands, feeding energy into it until it had grown wider than her shoulders and she began to stretch her arms to accompany it. It bobbed and shivered in anticipation at being released and while it tried to buck her control, she held it in place until she felt the metal claws tracing along her back. The starbolt detonated at her command, warmth and force washing harmlessly over her as it sent her enemy reeling through the air. Turning quickly, she shot after him and her fingers shot into his chest plate, anchoring into him before he could recover and flee.
"You're going to want to stay down," she advised as a starbolt-infused blow slammed into his face plate and sent him hurtling towards the earth. Ash exploded from the ground as he landed amongst the arena where Kid Devil had contended with Behemoth, and the golden woman watched for a moment to ensure that her suggestion was followed before lifting to assist Glowbug.
Pain throbbed through Touch-N-Go's previously injured leg, but she tried to push it aside as she charged at Ravager, but she knew that it had slowed her. The fact that the one-eyed girl was able to dodge her clumsy attack prompted an internal rant that was interrupted by a sharp pain shooting through her skull as Ravager slammed the hilt of her blade into the back of it. She stumbled forward, nearly pitching into a fire, but managed to throw herself into the merely warm ground. Before she could stand, there was a sudden cloud of dust and loose matter as the unimaginatively-named Pterodon slammed into the ground and did not rise.
Swords suddenly pressed against her throat and Touch-N-Go gritted her teeth as she glared up at the heroine perched atop her. Her knees were pushed under the furred girl's arms, preventing her from defending herself. Ravager gave a crooked grin, "Are you going to surrender or do I have to hurt you more?"
Touch-N-Go responded with a roar but paused as her gaze fell on something beyond Ravager's shoulder and the white-haired girl whirled to see fangs descending upon her. Before she could turn her blades towards the new threat, a tiger slammed into Gorgon, throwing him aside and bringing him to the ground.
"I know that it's the first date and all, but to cut and run like that is just rude," Changeling grinned as he prowled around the scaled man who slowly rose upward, hissing threateningly. The shape shifter bared his fangs as his body elongated, scales overlapping fur as he stretched into the form of a massive serpent, outsizing Gorgon. "Let's go, buddy. Snake-o y snake-o."
Ravager delivered a quick blow that sent Touch-N-Go unconscious and darted towards the serpents as Gorgon lunged at the anaconda as thick as trees. She raced along Changeling's back, stabbing at the slate grey scales that sought to overcome the verdant coils. A flick of her ally's tail sent her into the air and she landed upon Gorgon's back, securing herself by her blades across his neck.
"Avoid his eyes!" the shape shifter shouted.
"I can do that," she grunted as she raised a sword to stab at one of his eyes. He reared back, attempting to throw her off and she obligingly leapt away, allowing Changeling to shoot forward, collecting Gorgon in his mouth. He arched upward before driving him back into the ground, but Gorgon refused to fall and clawed at his captor. There was a tug on his tail and Changeling released him, allowing Kid Devil, who had marshaled himself, to spin him into the trees. He sagged as Gorgon smashed into them and Ravager slid forward to support her boyfriend.
"You're looking pretty burnt out," she noticed before grimacing. "I'm spending too much time around Gar."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," smirked the giant snake.
"We'll get through it together," Kid Devil huffed, patting Ravager's hand consolingly.
Chased by the FireBugs and starbolts, the bird woman flapped furiously through the air, searching for a break in the assault to retaliate, but whenever one faltered, the other readily picked up the slack. They chased her, darting about to block her off and force her into the attack of the other, and she screeched before spiraling away. Ahead of her, the FireBugs massed and she balked before swerving to the side where Glowbug was waiting for her. She lobbed a small sphere towards her that flared, turning her vision into a mass of shifting colors that she blinked rapidly at in an attempt to banish them.
Hands curled about her scaled ankles and her vision began to clear as Blackfire hurled her downward, straight into Glowbug's uppercut. Her vision was swimming again as the golden woman seized her by the shoulders and corkscrewed through the clouds. The feathered villain vainly tried to struggle but the world twisted and danced before her as Blackfire reached the peak of her ascent and arched downward. A frightening gleam inhabited her purple gaze and the grip around her fragile bones tightened, threatening to snap them as hurtled towards the forest, and the most resistance she could muster was a small squirm that bought her no freedom.
As they reached the trees, the branches suddenly exploded outward and Gorgon emerged from the canopy, coiling about the pair and slowing their descent. His claws ripped into the bark and the remainder of his tail strangled trees, snapping away branches until he finally managed to halt the women. Securing a hold with his tail, he curled to meet Blackfire's gaze and the glow of energy gathering in it vanished. Her grip slackened and, without dropping his potent stare, the snake man slid his comrade from her hands, cradling her frail body to his chest. Claws ran through her dark feathers, but he maintained his glare as he hissed, "Sleep."
Struggling to resist the command, Blackfire's head began to nod and she scowled as she tried to force her eyelids open before they drooped and finally closed. With a nod, Gorgon loosened his coils and allowed her to drop to the forest floor below before cooing to the fragile figure he held gingerly. She stirred in his grip, eyes fluttering open to meet his own.
"Did we win?" she whispered.
"I'm afraid not, my dove, my Harpy. It's time to cut our losses," he reluctantly admitted. His head swiveled back towards the cleared area of trees and his gaze narrowed as he tucked her into a tree.
Glowbug landed within the area of trampled and incinerated trees, glancing at the remaining fires with a sense of longing as she resisted the urge to unleash the FireBugs. Counting the inhabitants within the area, she frowned behind her mask and asked, "Where's Blackfire?"
"What?" Changeling towered over her, still in the form of the giant snake.
"She was on the way down with the creepy bird lady, and then she disappeared," she said.
There was the scrape of steel against a its sheath and a knife sliced through the air towards Glowbug. She flinched and it slid past her helmet and glanced across Gorgon's face, scarring right below his eye and he snarled as he crashed into the ground. He turned and his tail sent Glowbug sailing through the trees before he directed his stare at the remaining heroes. His thick neck suddenly flared, spreading into a hood marked with crimson patterns that roughly resembled eyes. They seemed to grow and he loomed over them, ribbon-like tongue whispering from his mouth as his eyes glowed ominously.
"You are going to sleep," he commanded, his hissed tone filling their ears, silencing all the sounds of the forest. The world about them began to darken and fade away, leaving only Gorgon's glowing eyes that weaved through the air before them. Their limbs, save for the still-serpentine Changeling, grew weak and Ravager's swords toppled from her grip. Eyelids fluttered, struggling to stay open as Gorgon's eyes grew larger, consuming their vision before fading away to absolute darkness with only his echoing whispers still passing through their ears as they collapsed to the ground.
"Sleep, heroes. Let slumber claim you. We shall play again some other time."
So, not only is this chapter posted later than we usually do, but it's shorter . . . *sigh* . . . We're sorry, but it's been a busy week and not only because Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which was totally awesome but it is still being debated whether it's superior to the first), and we decided that a cliffhanger worked nice here.
Oh, it should be mentioned that Behemoth and company are all characters from the comics who have undergone massive reimagining for the sake of this story. Those of you that know them might spoil the story arc, so we keep hush about 'em!
newanon: We had no plans for her to make an appearance, and she honestly isn't much of a nemesis. She had one mini-series where she directly confronted him and has never bothered with a second attempt.
newboy: We think after this, most folks will have a pretty good idea as to who they are after.