Crucible Invictus by Konstantine Paradias
Sometimes, all it takes to change a man is the sound of a little girl’s heart as it ceases to beat.
It happened in Paris, of all places. It was in the middle of April, when the Jardin des Tuileries was in full bloom and its trees proffered luscious pollen to industrious bees. The sight of a billion microscopic organic sculptures embedded in the miniscule hairs of the insects’ bodies is lost to anyone without micro-vision. I was busy running away from Iron Jack, after our little spat over Hastings. I think it had something to do with a death-ray. The details are not important.
The easiest part about being a supervillain is not having to look back. Not having someone to save. Just getting yourself into trouble and having an escape route planned ahead. I didn’t have a reason to run away from Iron Jack, not really. The man may have been built like an aircraft carrier and packed a mean punch, but I had impenetrable skin. I think it was the chase that I had been going after: a chance to make him mad and force him to give up his post to follow me as we lapped across the Earth. People like to think that my worst quality is my recklessness, when, in fact, it’s my need for attention.
We flew across the English Channel in fifteen seconds flat, breaking the sound barrier twice over. I could see the air molecules heating up as they ground against my skin. Behind me, I could imagine Iron Jack’s teeth as they gritted together.
Thirty seconds more, we were crossing over Rouen, the railway lines of the TGV a trail of mercury on the countryside. A herd of sheep seemed frozen in place below us, turning the landscape into green felt with white polka dots. Something glistened above me, a hundred thousand kilometers above the Earth’s magnetosphere, halfway through LaGrange space.
Behind me, Iron Jack pushed himself further. I chanced a look at the thing above. It was a rift in the sky, a kilometer across. Something lurked behind it, something raw and churning and familiar that jerked once, before it spat out a tiny little thing. The breach healed itself up and disappeared the next moment, as if it had never existed.
I made out something barely humanoid, composed of twisting, churning metal that ignited as it streaked across the atmosphere. I caught sight of a mesh of wiring, fusing together as it spilled from what appeared to be its abdomen. Fire streaked across flaking white and red paint, leaving behind it only charcoal black.
It was only there for a second, but long enough for me to make it out. It was a familiar shape, the symbol of my birth: Hitler’s Swastika. I knew the exact identity of the creature hurtling down across the atmosphere, without sparing a look into his screaming, burning face.
Iron Jack slammed into me. We tumbled in the air over Bois de Boulogne like eagles, nearly touched the surface of the waters of Lac Inferieur, and bounced once on the Esplanade Du Trocadéro, and a second time as we crossed over the Musée du quai Branly, before finally embedding ourselves in the Avenue Anatole-France. The Englishman panted like a bull terrier, frothing at the mouth as he tried to pin me down. I tried to push him off me, pointing up at the sky, but he just wouldn’t listen.
“Stop yer stugglin’ ye knave!” he screamed, as I pushed him off. Somewhere above an old mass-murdering acquaintance of mine was falling towards Earth, and I had ten seconds to make him understand that.
“It’s the Brecher! The Brecher is coming!” I shouted at him, at the crowd of people massed around the two superhumans grappling each other like school children. I might as well have been shouting warnings at a boulder.
I might have been a supervillain, but I was never one for involving innocent bystanders. I tried to get away from Iron Jack, to scare the crowd back from us. Above me, the Brecher had broken the sound barrier three times over. In seven seconds, he was going to smash into the Eiffel Tower like the fist of God. As I launched myself into the air, Iron Jack grabbed me by the ankle, smashing me into the ground.
“Got you now, ye black bas-” he snarled, before my elbow smashed into his teeth with the force of a steam hammer, sending him flying. I chanced a look at the sky. The Brecher was like a tiny comet, visible to the unaugmented eye.
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