The Aftermath Academy - CH52 (Pyrrha)

He’s weaker this time. I know relatively speaking that was true anyways because of Genevieve’s power reinforcing everything. But it’s more than that. Maybe not weaker, but slower. Bone and Chain’s movements are more sluggish. He has his limbs back, that much is obvious, but the only thing I’m feeling from him is pain.

His fist slams into me again, but this time I’m ready for it, partially deflecting the force off of James’ blade. Even with Genevieve’s reinforcement, James isn’t strong enough to cut straight through him. But the piercing strike chips away some of the bone as James extends. If this had been last time I doubt he would have let me even get up, striking me over and over again after the first blow. But this time it’s taking him seconds to draw back his extended arm and slingshot it back for another attack.

What the fuck? He was way stronger when he killed me. This isn’t even going to be a challenge, Genevieve says.

“Good,” I reply. It’s better if this goes quickly. I need to get to Reader before he fights Olivia. I have to back him up. I dissipate James and re-summon him into a strong overhead strike as Bone and Chain launches his arm at me again. James comes down with more force than I’ve ever delivered a blow before. This time it severs beyond the bone, cutting through his arm.

Bone and Chain doesn’t react, just attacking with his other arm. The level of pain doesn’t change at all. “Something isn’t right. Where are his puppets?” I ask. I can see a few down the street, the unmistakable panic rolling off of them as their limbs are controlled. But they’re not heading towards us. Nothing indicates they’re going to participate in this fight at all.

Maybe that’d make sense if Bone and Chain were winning. But as I remove his other arm it’s pretty clear this is a one sided match. Even his initial surprise attack barely fractured my armor with Genevieve’s power reinforcing it. In terms of sheer strength, I still don’t have as much as she did. Not even close. But best I can tell, her power reinforces the natural strength of the Barber’s armor and James’ blade. This multiplicative effect makes them powerful on an entirely different level than they used to be. I can even cross blades with Ray and not be obliterated, though the only times we’ve fought has been in Professor Grimes’ mental simulations.

Yeah, I knew we’d win but this feels like a little much, Genevieve says. He’s not fighting even close to the same as the level that day. He’s barely moving any faster than you, you slow poke!

Bone and Chain runs at me, bones sprouting across his body and growing to several feet in length. I poke him with James and he trips and falls over. I move towards him to deliver the final blow.

“Do you really want to kill him?” Bone and Chain asks from the ground, voice a gravel monotone, catching me off guard. “A little inconvenient in the timing to be honest. But it’s not looking like our use for him is working as hoped. Some would say he deserves the hell he’s in more than a quick death. Not that I intend to leave him alive much longer regardless.”

“You’re not really Bone and Chain, are you?” I ask. A question I’d love an answer to, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to end the fight, driving my sword down towards him. It’s caught by a bunch of a bones bursting through his chest.

Even through his power resistance I can feel Bone and Chain’s pain more clearly this close. It’s not because of the limbs. Something is burning inside him, every nerve ending on fire. More than that, he’s experiencing what it’s like to be one of his own puppets. He’s not in control.

“Astute,” says Bone and Chain’s voice. “This monster was to serve a particular purpose. He’s failed in that. What’s more, he’s rather difficult to control. I can’t even fight with him to his full potential.”

“Who are you people?” I ask. “What do you want?” I dissipate James and try to strike again from another angle. This time the blade carves through half of Bone and Chain’s body before getting trapped in the bones.

“Who are we?” Bone and Chain’s controller ponders. “That won’t be a secret for long I suppose. I am Krieg Mirkoff, owner of Mirkoff Technologies, protégé of Professor Sedrick, grandson of Mikhail Mirkoff, Crime Lord, and some say the destroyer of Redarctica. What am I doing? Distracting you.”

The blast blows me several blocks away as Bone and Chain disintegrates. I watch as buildings crumple in front of me and a column of fire rises from where I’d just been. People scream as they’re consumed, only to be resurrected and killed again, over and over in rapid succession as the destruction continues.

What the hell was that? Genevieve asks incredulously.

“Looks like our opponents always intended to dispose of Bone and Chain,” I say. “They weren’t saving him from us at all.” Which means… Genevieve going after him to fight had no point. If they were always going to kill him, we could have just let Olivia do what she wanted. Except….

The panic is as strong as ever. Is it just the bomb? No, there’s more to it. There are still puppets near us. How is that possible? If Bone and Chain is dead, then why are there still puppets? Could Hope’s field have brought him back?

I don’t have time to investigate though. I have to get to Olivia in case Reader needs back-up. I can feel her, not even that far away. If anything, I can feel her getting stronger. Hunger now, desire, all-consuming want is gathering near her location, like a crowd of a thousand people, then ten thousand, like the excitement I feel near a sports stadium but instead of happiness and cheering it is a raw craving.

This is like back in the city when she fought Alysa while she was pretending to be Allie. I’ve fought Reader in mental simulations, I know how powerful he is. If she’s engaged with him, why don’t I see any sign of it? Instead, I see billowing black columns taking shape from a few blocks away, towering over the buildings, reaching towards the bio-dome above us.

They’re massive, twisting things that begin to take a semblance of shape. At least five heads on long black bodies, darkness and hunger incarnate, teeth as tall as small houses. The heads all turn, and shoot towards Hope’s tower.