Day Two, 6:36 pm-
Three silver smears appeared on an empty street strewn with rubble. Fin drew his sword, and the other two followed suit. They walked silently across the broken street, alert.
Fin touched the diamond in the hilt of his sword. <Times Square is just past that building.>
What was left of the building. It was half collapsed, and littered the street with broken bricks, wires, couches, office desks, chairs, beds… Fin’s boot stepped on something crunching and he almost slipped. Looking down, he saw a hand. Just a hand. The skin was charred and crisp, and it had slid off of the ragged muscle and bone. He froze. Looking closer, he saw that burned and bloody corpses littered the debris, intertwined with broken beds and sheets torn apart. He retched as the smell finally registered. Cooked meat and the rancid, almost sweet, smell of death. He closed his eyes, trying to keep his head from reeling out of control. He felt hands grab ahold of him and steady him. He opened his eyes and saw violet. Grace’s face was smooth. Her lips were pale and tight, almost like they were drawn on.
Her lips moved, mouthing words he almost didn’t catch. We’ll get the bastards.
Fin nodded, and followed Grace across the rest of the debris, trying his best not to look at what was crunching and snapping under his feet. Xander had gone ahead, and was crouched near the wall that was left, facing Times Square. As Fin knelt down next to them, he remembered what Matthias had said. There had been no evacuations. Not even any attempts. They…no, we, didn’t do anything to save anyone, he thought. He didn’t have long to dwell on that thought. A distant rumble, like thunder, echoed from the distance. The jets were getting close.
An explosion boomed from the other side of the wall, and Fin leapt up to look. There were foot soldiers fighting. A single tank was turned to offer cover to the soldiers behind it, its turret moving wildly, firing again and again. Fin watched the trail of smoke from an RPG as it propelled toward… Fin stared. The RPG exploded in a brilliant flash of red, bathing the Soulless crimson as fire and shrapnel ripped through their bodies. Their wounds filled back with white, seamlessly matching their pale skin. One of them had lost its head, blown off by a direct hit from the RPG. White billowed and boiled, like a living liquid as it formed a neck, chin, climbing, until black eyes peered from the pale face and red hair erupted from its skull. As fast as explosions and bullets tore them apart, they bubbled back together and were whole again.
Fin felt himself get pulled down, and he landed hard on his knees. Xander punched his shoulder, flashing him a look of what the hell are you doing?
“There are soldiers fighting. Just a small group. One tank,” Fin whispered.
“I know that, dummy. I already saw them. Where’s your head? Just standing up there like that, like a freaking idiot.”
“Guys.” Grace pointed to the sky.
The rumble was getting louder. The jets were almost here.
“What’s the plan?”
“Plan? Stop the jets?”
“You mean we don’t have a fucking plan!”
“Wait.” Fin glanced back over the wall. “Did you notice they’re not fighting back?”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Is that your plan? Just count on them not to fight back?”
“Why aren’t they fighting?” Fin looked over the wall again, and looked deeper into Times Square. Gathering wasn’t quite the word. They were a mass of white, frosted with red. They stretched back far beyond Times Square, covering the width and disappearing out of sight down a street. They were a single mass, undulating and breathing with each explosion from the small group of soldiers. What hope would the jets have? But, still, the Soulless weren’t doing anything. They were just there.
“He’s got a good point, Xander.”
“Fine, I’ll bite. Why aren’t the big bad ghost men fighting?”
Fin shook his head, kneeling back down. “Why the hell would I know? But something’s going on. There are so many. I can’t even see them all. It’s like a sea of white.”
Xander’s face turned stony. “I’m starting to think we should just leave. We’re here to stop people from diving into a suicide mission, and we just hopped on board the crazy train to go right along with them.”
Grace brushed a hand across Fin’s shoulder. “I’m thinking the same.”
Fin’s voice was drowned by the sound of screaming engines and missiles raining down onto the massive horde. The force of the explosions shook the debris they were resting on, and the wall that had been their cover crumbled and fell away. Brilliant blasts lit up the square, like fireworks exploding on the ground. White bodies and bits flew into the air with shrapnel and debris, but even as the bodies fell back into the mass, he could see they were regenerating.
“It’s not enough!” Fin yelled, scrambling down the broken building, now more like a hill. He dashed toward the tank. The soldiers were cowering, trying to take cover from the concussive barrage of missiles striking a blazing orchestra through the sea of Soulless.
A rogue missile went streaking toward the tank. Midstride, Fin pointed at the missile, conjuring a white beam of energy that detonated it. With the same motion, he spread his fingers, twisting his hand upside and pushing up. A tangible, silver force erupted into existence, a small conical field that caught the explosion and pushed it away, streaking up and away from the soldiers like a flaming shield. Fin skidded to a halt, slamming his shoulder into the treads of the tank, and he ducked behind it for cover.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing!” Grace’s voice was shrill against the roar of explosions and the screaming of jets.
“Glad you could join us. Looks like we have front row seats to judgment day.” Fin turned to the soldiers. “What are you guys doing here? Support for this airstrike?”
“No, sir! We were recon, just happened across this mess of Less and were almost lost to friendly fire. Damn glad you showed up when you did, sir.”
Xander chuckled. “Mess of Less. I like that. We’ll have to use that.” He glared at Fin. “If we make it out of here. Do we have a plan to make it out of here?”
“At this point,” a soldier said, “we’re simply counted as collateral damage.”
“We’ll get this figured out. We came here to try and stop this,” Fin said.
“Three Conduits? Against this? Don’t you know a suicide when you see it?”
Xander nudged Fin. “Told you. What’s your name, soldier?”
“Guys! More incoming!”
Fin leapt around the tank, planting his sword into the battered street and throwing his palms out in one fluid motion. His blonde hair swirled around in a nonexistent wind as white lightning streaked across the air in front of him. It formed rapidly, building and building until a half-dome shield sparked in front of the tank. The first missile exploded against it, just as the first of the Less hit the shield. It flickered, but held as the shockwave blasted around and over, a howling wind ripping the surrounding street apart violently. The explosion ripped through the Soulless, tearing them apart like paper and engulfing them. If they could scream, Fin was sure they would be. But, as fast as they were torn apart, they were growing back together. White filled white and they were whole, trying to get through the barrier. Missile after missile struck the barrier, sending fire and debris everywhere. It sounded like a gong each time a missile hit.
Fin could feel the barrier weaken with each blow. And then Grace and Xander were at his side, throwing their own energy into the barrier, strengthening it. It beamed, brilliant white, keeping the missile strikes and shockwaves at bay. The missiles seemed content to endlessly rip the Soulless apart, over and over again. Over the constant gonging and bursting, Fin felt a reverberating crack. A battered skyscraper next to them was giving out, surrendering to the constant concussive blasts. It was shaking, debris falling like hail. It was coming down on them. He turned away from the shield, trusting Grace and Xander to sustain it, and he twisted his magic, like ropes, around the building. The air shimmered and crackled as he fought to keep the building from collapsing on all of them. He didn’t have the strength. The missiles kept hitting, sending blast after blast into their barrier and the building. And each blast pushed the building closer and closer to toppling onto them.
Fin’s teeth were locked together, and his eyes were starting to dim. He could feel the heat from his sword, and he knew he was getting dangerously close to his limits. He was the reason they were here. He was the reason they didn’t just leave. They were going to die, and it was his fault. He looked over at Grace, her blonde hair streaming behind her, face twisted into a feral snarl as she poured her soul into that barrier. He hadn’t told her yet. Didn’t have the chance. And now he wouldn’t. All because he was a self-righteous dumbass more concerned with atonement. He didn’t have magic that could kill the Soulless. They were going to die. Crushed by a building before the horde would even get to them. But I killed some before. With meteors. Is that not Soul magic? It couldn’t be. Soul magic doesn’t work. So that means… Fin snarled, pushing himself just a little further, and he could hear his sword sizzling in the pavement. He twisted his magical ropes, pulling the building to the side, instead of trying to keep it from falling. And then he let go. The building groaned as it fell, but Fin’s nudge pushed it just enough, and it cascaded down onto the Soulless. Dust and smoke smothered everything, and for a moment, there was absolute silence. And then the sounds of explosions and jet engines surged back. Fin grabbed his sword to steady himself, scorching his hand. He let go, waving his hand to clear away to smoke and dust.
The building had fallen on the horde’s side of the barrier, crushing those that had been piling up there. Through the haze, he was able to make out bits and pieces, more like white smears of whiteout, of Soulless that had been killed. But it was so very few. The jets still circled, continuing their barrage. Fin realized the Soulless still hadn’t started fighting back. Until a jet exploded.
It was like the sky was filled with brilliant fireflies. Jet after jet just erupted in a ball of fire and smoke. Fin scanned the sky frantically, searching for signs of the attacks. He didn’t see any of the fireballs the Less typically used. No black beams. Nothing. There was nothing, except jets bursting like balloons. Finally he saw it. The bastards were snapping their fingers. Just a snap, and a pilot died. The power it would take to do that.
“Xander! Grace! We have to stop them!” Fin tried to run forward, but he fell to his knees, exhaustion gripping his feet and keeping him on the ground.
Grace’s face was white. Orange bursts reflected in her violet eyes as she watched the massacre. Fin heard a feral yell, and saw Xander directing thousands of beams of light at the Soulless. He wasn’t randomly firing. No, he was systematically targeting them and carving them into thousands of tiny pieces. Fin struggled to his feet. He staggered next to Xander, and started pointing, firing his own beams of light and slicing and slicing and slicing. More beams of light appeared. Grace had joined them. The Conduits carved their way through the horde, while the Soulless snapped and snuffed jets from the sky.
Times Square was gone. It was a ruined, burning crater. Smears of fire littered the area, remnants of the air strike. Explosions still rained down, but they weren’t missiles. The jets were trying to escape, but the Soulless were relentless. The soldiers cowered behind the tank, saved for the moment, behind the trio carving through the massive horde.
Fin’s arm was on fire. Pain shot from his finger, through his wrist and elbow and to his shoulder. He couldn’t keep his arm up anymore. There were still so many. They couldn’t kill them fast enough. They needed something else. Without realizing it, Fin was kneeling, arms at his sides. He couldn’t force his body to move anymore. Xander slumped down next to him, followed by Grace, and silence covered the ruins.
There were no more jets. Smoldering wrecks littered the area, and smears of black smoke were all that remained. Fin heard shouting, but it sounded so far away. His eyes focused, and he saw Captain Monroe in front of him. The captain’s mouth was moving, but Fin couldn’t hear what he was saying. He was pointing toward the Soulless. They were done with the jets, and now focused completely on them. The captain turned around, and tried to run, but his body suddenly erupted. Fin watched the fire ignite and burn through the captain’s veins, like lightning tracing through the sky. The fire ate through the captain’s skin, and then he was ash, and gone, carried away by the wind.
Fin was unable to move when the black eyes of a Soulless met his. Its red hair was so bright against its pale skin. It lifted its hand, eyes still locked on his, put its fingers together, and started to snap. Grace, I love you. He tried to say it, but his lips wouldn’t move. So I brought you all with me on a suicide mission anyway. Xander was right. This isn’t atonement. He tried to at least look at Grace again, but he was barely able to tilt his head. A streak of brown and black hit the monster, and it looked blankly at the stub where its hand should be. As its hand grew back, it lifted its other, and suddenly burst apart, consumed by blue fire.
As the darkness slipped over Fin, he saw a wave of blue fire sweep toward the swarm of Soulless, sending them scattering. And a dog. A German Shepherd walking over to him, panting. And a voice telling him everything would be fine.