Debris blew down the forlorn street, remnants of one of the many battles still raging across Patchwork City. On the ground, the corpse of Judgment lay in silent condemnation of those standing around him. On the one side, Timebender and Lucky Lad had stepped in front of Eric, sudden concern for him overriding their shock at the speed and finality of the Antihero leader's death.
Across from them, Psiborg rolled his eyes faintly. “Really, Timebender. We've played out this drama before, and I think you recall how it ends.”
“You son-of-a-bitch.” Eric's face was twisted with rage. “That's what all of this was about, wasn't it? Why Rex Mundi is even involved?”
“Rex Mundi believes in drawing victory from all options. The destruction of the Antiheroes was a necessity. The capture of the Bane, however… that is our final victory. With the powers contained within it, I can become a god, on behalf of my master. I will add Judgment's physical powers and aura to my own unstoppable mental ones, and our forces will overwhelm the Antiheroes and the SEA. Rex Mundi's victory will be absolute.”
“So Magister was wrong to trust him.” Eric's jaw clenched. “I won't…”
And in an instant, Psiborg acted. A pulse of energy shoved Timebender and Lucky to one side, and the Bane flew from Eric's hand in a moment. Eric nearly held onto it, dragged a foot forwards, before losing his grasp. Psiborg nodded. “Oh, Magister was extremely mistaken. A regrettable oversight on his part. He considered briefly. “To be fair, my predecessor may have made some promise on the matter. He was quite scrupulous in that regards, even to the dead. However, he did not make any such guarantee about what activities his replacement might go about armed with the same weapon.”
Timebender and Lucky were levering themselves to their feet. Amber hissed at Lucky quietly as Psiborg faced Eric. “Can he really do that? Get all of the All-American Man's powers?”
“You did – in that evil alternate world. That was how you took over.” Lucky shook his head grimly. “If we charge, maybe we'll get lucky. We can't let him have it.”
“I wouldn't do that, if I were you.”
Everyone looked up at the familiar voice. Hovering above them, wearing a freshly covered red power suit, crimson wings of energy flashing out behind it, was Lucky. A pair of crimson claws extended from one hand. He shook his head faintly. “You won't be fortunate. Trust me on this.”
“Hazard.” Lucky's voice was bitter, and his doppleganger nodded.
“I spent time thinking about it, Lucky, and it's pretty clear to me. We are villains. We were always meant to be villains. And Rex Mundi has plans that can make use of us.”
“Yes, that's quite enough of that. Those plans may not be necessary, after all.” Psiborg raised the Bane with a grin of triumph. “Allow me to demonstrate for you the raw power of the Bane in operation!”
Reaching down, he twisted the edge of the Bane. As one, Timebender and Lucky moved, she taking the lead as he came in just behind her, the air around them blurring as Timebender covered their approach. As one, they slammed full-force into the massive psychic barrier that sprang to life in front of them, collapsing backwards into the street. Psiborg shook his head mockingly, raising a finger and making a reproachful tsking, then began sliding various slides and compartments of metal around the brightly glowing object. “Now, now. Don't interrupt. I'll discuss your attitude issues in just a few moments.” Timebender was already springing up, but the full force of Psiborg's shield was already surrounding all three would-be heroes. “It is fitting that you bear witness to the birth of the new order, Knightshine. You saw the end of the old, after all. Now, are you watching closely?”
“Psiborg, don't you dare…!”
“Too late.” His grin sly, Psiborg finished the complex pattern, and stepped back. Light expanded around the Bane, and he looked down into it. “In the name of Rex Mundi, I claim these… that's not right -”
Hazard, still hovering above, started to swoop down as Psiborg spoke. By then, it was far too late. The energy, which had been expanding gradually, suddenly exploded out of the Bane, creating a shockwave of force that shattered concrete and caught the street before it. Amber, Lucky, and Eric – still inside Psiborg's shielding – found their cage catapulted backwards, crashing around and over debris as the shockwave expanded over it, and then past it. At the same moment, Psiborg himself was caught dead-centre, tossed like a ragdoll into the air, sailing on the edge of the debris field, sluggishly trying to gather energy around himself to survive. Hazard was caught on the edge of the blast, desperately flying upwards to avoid the worst of the explosion, lifting with the updrafts.
The shield flickered out as the energy Psiborg had placed in it finally ebbed, but the worst of the explosion had passed. Timebender looked out in awe; there was no street, no buildings, just an area of devastation several hundred metres across. The ground had been scoured clean, cutting a perfect inch into the pavement, and the air still hung heavy with dust and grit. There was no sign of Judgment; his corpse must have been destroyed along with everything else in the shockwave.
Lucky broke the silence. “I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that wasn't what was supposed to happen.”
“That crafty bastard.” Eric shook his head slowly, a sad smile spreading across his face. “He knew. Somehow Magister sabotaged Rex Mundi's Bane so that no one could take powers out of it.”
Amber looked around soberly. “If we hadn't been under that shield, we would have died.”
“Yeah. We got lucky.” Eric smiled faintly, then looked around. “And now… now it's over. Judgment is gone, and his powers are gone.”
“Not quite over – Mundi's troops were probably waiting for Psiborg to change sides, but we'd better get to warning the SEA about what's going on.” Timebender laid a hand on her father's shoulder. “I'm sorry, Dad.”
“So am I, kiddo.” Eric took the hand sadly, looking around the ruins. “But it had to end this way. I don't think I really expected anything else from him.”