Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons


Chapter 24

Published: 17 Apr 14

While Shannon went pale and a few others around Rex took an involuntary step back at the sound of Bronze Age's threat, Rex took a step forward and keyed his radio, "He's here; right across from us... and he can throw really... REALLY... big rocks."

"Don't engage yet," Josh shouted, "we are on the way!

"You best make it fast. He isn't in much of a waiting mood."

"Understood," Josh replied. "Colt, fully charged or not, we need you up on the front lines, like now!"

"Be there in a couple of minutes." Colt responded with a degree of fear in his voice no one had ever heard before. "Rex, keep your radio transponder up so I can home into your location!" Colt managed to choke out as he built an electrical charge and launched out of the passenger side door of the snow cat.

Another huge section of the far side of the bridge slammed into the ground only a few yards from Rex. It got so close Rex had to turn his head to prevent his face from getting showered with hunks of the destroyed bridge and the surrounding ground that was tossed up with the impact.

With his heart racing, he did what came naturally to him, he took another step forward and shouted back, "Come on tin can, is throwing rocks the best you can do?"

"Are you nuts, kid?" Leanne asked as she shoved a fresh magazine into the captured pistol. "You can't just insult someone like Bronze Age!"

Rex turned with a gleam in his eyes, "I just did."

Shannon shivered more out of fear than from the cold and snow, "You need serious help, Rex."

Valda glanced over her shoulder as another close to a ton section of the road slammed into the ground in front of them and off to the right. "Yeah, he's a bit crazy and, yes, he can toss insults better than most people can breathe, but that's exactly what I love about him."

This caused Rex to badly blush. To hide his discomfort he took another step forward, "Oh, come on, lead head!" Rex shouted out, "Is that all the further you can toss things?" At the same time he grabbed up a much smaller rock off the ground that had come off the massive hunk Bronze Age had just hurled at them. He took an extra couple of seconds to locate the man on the far side with nothing but his hearing then reared back. He put everything he had into it as he hurled the forty pound rock. A couple of seconds later, a loud clang echoed from across the river followed by some angry curses. Rex glanced back and grinned, "Got him!"

Logan shook his head and snickered while taking a few more steps back, "Rex, weren't you just told not to engage?"

"Duck and cover!" Rex commanded as he took a knee. "This one's going long."

This time an even larger piece of the far side bridge support sailed over them and crashed into the ground; a few chunks even bounced off the ruined snow cat much further back.

Once again Rex grabbed a large piece of debris and hurled it over the river. Much like his first shot the second connected with a loud clang. "I can hear him talking; he has no idea where we are and he is getting really pissed."

Kurt looked at the massive mound of twisted metal and concrete, "Dude, I'm not sure my magic barrier will even stand up to one of those!"

A smirk crossed Rex's features as another rock crashed down closer to the river's edge. "Don't put up anything he might be able to see and stick close to me. Those things are so big I can both hear and feel them coming. Kurt, and anyone else who can lob rocks over the river, let's give them a volley; I want to take out a few of those around him if possible."

Kurt easily grabbed a thirty pound rock, "Where am I throwing this?"

Next to Kurt, Spencer hefted up a rock about half the size. This was followed by Logan.

Both Ellie and Leanne grabbed five pound rocks and moved up to Rex, both looking rather concerned. Ellie shook her head, "As bad of an idea as this is, I must be nuts for going through with it, but you point and we'll throw."

Rex glanced over to where Tanner had melted the snow around Garret and Gustav. "I sure wish the rookie was awake for this." He then shrugged and nodded over to Valda, "Count down from three with your fingers, but hold until his next shot in the dark sails over us. No sense in wasting this by hitting a mound of metal and road base."

True to his words there was a massive crash from behind them a couple of seconds later. "Man is he ever pissed. Let's see how mad this will make him! Valda, go."

Valda shook her head as she dropped one finger at a time; when her thumb went down all six threw their rocks with everything they could muster in the direction Rex pointed. One found Bronze Age with a loud metallic bang while at least one other hit someone by him.

Rex motioned for everyone to move as he spoke, "One of us just took out someone by the name of Stun Touch."

Ajax's eyes narrowed, "Dark Raven's... um brother's son, mean kid, very mean."

"Not anymore." Rex grunted as yet another massive boulder pulled off the side of the bridge slammed into the ground at the water's edge. "They are backing off behind Bronze Age. Hold, but get rocks ready while I move back over and tell him what I think of his catapulting skills. If I can get him to move, even a little, I'll drop my arm ,so you can all send some more medieval artillery at them.

Rex stood and moved a bit closer to the river, "Hey, copper top, you throw rocks about as well as your boy, rock head, can fight. He didn't last more the thirty seconds against us and last I saw him he was crying for his mommy!"

This really seemed to get under Bronze Age's skin. He roared a half dozen curse words as he picked up a car and hurled it in the direction the words seemed to be coming from. Fortunately for Rex the wind made pinpointing his position almost impossible for an Augment without a hearing empowerment. The car flew way to his left and well over his head.

While most of the kids eyed Rex with a degree of confusion, Reed moved up snickering, "I don't know if Bronze Age even realizes the degree of insults you are trying to toss at him."

Rex grinned, pointed and sent yet another rock over the river. This time he didn't aim for Bronze Age. Instead he used his hearing to pick out where a group of his followers were huddled. He was rewarded with a scream. A second one followed shortly after as those with him let loose with another volley. He glanced over at Reed, "Hey, if he doesn't know the two main ingredients of bronze are tin and copper, he needs to spend more time with Mr. Laneville, our science teacher. Actually, I would love to let most of my teachers spend some time with him. Maybe then they would actually see most of us Augments aren't the monsters they seem to think we are."

"Are you even half this obnoxious at your teachers as you are to Bronze Age?" Reed responded as another large hunk of stone slammed into the ground well off to their left.

"Oh yeah," Valda snickered, "but most of them deserve it. It's just the rest of us would get our butts beat for half of what Rex has said to them."

"Maybe you should try being nicer..."

Rex growled slightly, "Most of our teachers should just admit what they are and join the CoP." With this extra anger flowing though him he picked up an even larger rock and launched it with everything he had. It didn't take long for a female scream too follow.

Just as Josh pulled up with Skye, Eldora, Gwen and five COBRAS, Bronze Age snarled at those with him, "They are picking us off! Find another way around and kill everyone! I'll deal with those across from us!"

"Oh crap!" Rex cringed, "Not what I wanted..."

Josh glanced over at the COBRA in the passenger seat. "Avrum, take the hover and your friends. Use radar to find where they are crossing and cut them off. We'll take on Bronze Age."

"I'm a class four," the boy argued, "you may need me here..."

"No, I need you protecting Normals and being the serious firepower in case a tough separatist shows up as support."

One of the COBRAS in the back spoke up, "Av, he's in command. Let's go!"

As the door slammed and the hovercraft angled away to the north along the river, Rex eyed Josh, "Wow, whoever the other kid was, he really wanted to get out of here.

"So do I," Josh admitted, "but since you decided to play with Bronze Age, here I am." He managed a smile, "Nice job though, he could have been lobbing small mountains into Columbia Falls instead of tossing them at you all."

"Happy to help;" Rex grunted as he lobbed another rock into Bronze Age to keep his attention, "so now what? I don't think fifty to sixty pound rocks are doing more than annoying him."

Josh's eyes narrowed, "He wants a fight, we give him one." He glanced over to Kurt, "Can you make us a magic bridge to get over there?"

Kurt's jaw dropped a few inches, "You want to go to him?"

Josh shrugged, "It's that or he comes to us and that puts him on this side of the river."

As Josh was speaking Rex's eyes went wide, "Too late Josh! He just had someone by the name of Ice Star start to freeze him a path over the river. He's coming right now!"

"Aw, crap." Valda gulped.

Ajax appeared next to Rex, "Me... I want Ice Star. I owe her a kick to my privates and badder."

Josh cringed, "Valda, go with Ajax and give him some cover. While you're at it take all the other Class Two and Class Three COBRAS and get them away from Bronze Age. He'll squish them like bugs if he sees them. They can take out any who comes over the ice bridge behind the big guy."

Valda nodded and glanced over to Ajax. "You help me first, then I will help you take out the woman."

"Girl, not woman," Ajax muttered, "if one need to say she be something like human. But me can take she... her... This time she no has Rock Slide and Stun Touch to help her!"

"OK, but we still need to bypass Bronze Age. I don't think either one of us has a chance against him." She glanced around at the others who looked flatly scared as she added, "And I don't think most of the COBRAS with us want to play with him either."

Ajax noted several of the others nodding vigorously. He grinned as he swirled his arm in a wide arc several times. "He would have to see us, and me not think he can see around bended light. You all just need walk slow and close, no one see but looking out things will not have normal look. It will all seem off... um twisted... me no know right word, sorry."

Valda patted the boy on the shoulder, "I think you are trying to tell us when we look out it will be distorted."

"This 'distorted' not a word me know. But if it means same I was trying say than me need to learn it." Ajax confirmed. "But now stay... no sound... my light bend can be heard through."

Valda stuck close to the boy for well over four minutes, while a group of seven other COBRAS did likewise. They made it almost to the water's edge before she heard Reed's voice coming from somewhere behind and to her left.

Reed glanced over at Josh, "How about sending them swimming again?"

Rex glanced over, "I'm game. What are you recommending?"

"I think the stronger ones should throw large rocks at the river in attempt to break the ice bridge being made by those we are facing." Reed responded with a rather sinister sound to his voice.

Valda held up her hand to stop the others. A few seconds later she couldn't help but chuckle slightly at the sudden sound of ice breaking, followed by a couple of cries of panic and a loud set of cursing, as someone big fell into the water. She cringed yet giggled, "Oh, man, they are really pissing him off!"

Valda's words were confirmed seconds later as the panicked cries were suddenly drowned out by a massive cracking sound followed by a series of splashes. Moments after the sounds, ice erupted upward and flew in all directions. Several large chunks sailed over Valda casing her to yank Ajax down. Those around Valda and Ajax also dove into the deep snow. For most it was just in time to prevent from getting pulverized by an eighteen inch thick slab. Two of the kids reacted too slow and paid for it. They fell unmoving into deep snow as ice slashed into them.

While other kids rushed to their fallen friends, Ajax glanced back at Valda with wide eyes and a pale face. His voice quivered as he shook snow from the hood of the coat Rex had found for him. "Me owe you..."

"You're Rex's friend," Valda stated softly, "Just keep being one and we are more than even."

"Me no understand," Ajax whispered back, "Rex be great to me, he should have many friend."

"I wish," Valda shook her head sadly. "He is probably the only one in our squadron who doesn't have a single Normal friend and tries hard to not make friends in the squadron. He does not think he deserves them."

"Why? He be nice to me even after me shot him."

"He is actually very nice, even to kids who are mean to him. He gets mad, but he has never done anything to another kid. None of the rest of us can say the same." Valda sighed, "And he cares about people he knows nothing about. He just doesn't feel like he should get any niceness back."

"It make no sense. He nice but no think other should be nice back? Why?"

Valda lowered her voice even more, partially so others close by couldn't hear, but mostly because she knew Rex would hear if she didn't speak ultra-softly. "Because he was in a car accident that killed his mom and dad when he was nine. He blames himself for it and doubly so for not saving them afterwards. He would have died, too, but his toughness empowerment showed up at the right time. As it is, he was still hospitalized for over a week and many in the press reported he was the cause of the accident even though everything pointed to the car having hit a deer."

Before more could be said, Bronze Age's voice boomed over the entire area, "Split up and get across however you can! I'm going straight at the little jerk-off who keeps throwing rocks at me. Since I am already in the water, all the ice in front of me is going to break as I walk through it so stay clear."

Well away from Valda, the words caused Colt to glance over at Josh, "Um, how deep is the river here?"

Josh shrugged, "Not sure, but it was a wet fall and early winter, so my best guess is fifteen to twenty feet."

Colt gulped, "And he is walking though it with his head above water? How big can he get?"

"Big," Battlement responded over the radio, "real big." He paused and let out a long breath, "Kids, I know you want to stop him, but the chances are slim at best. Just slow him up as best you can. We are less than fifteen minutes out and the birds from Whiteman Air Force Base are just under twenty-five. From what we have heard, we already have cadets down. Don't go getting yourselves killed!"

"We don't plan on it, sir." Josh responded while glancing around at those with him. "How did he hear us? Does one of you have your radio on passive broadcast?"

All the kids checked their radios and quickly shook their heads. "Neat trick then." Josh grumbled, "That means USDT can listen through our radios whenever they want."

"We can, Battlement confirmed, but we don't unless there is a very good reason. You all facing the likes of Bronze Age is one of those times. Now stop worrying about us and focus on staying alive!"

Down at the river's edge, Bronze Age shoved the last chunk of ice out of his way as he made it up to solid ground again. He wore almost nothing at this point since the size increase to over eighteen feet tall had shredded his clothing, but he no longer cared. On the other hand he almost looked like he was wearing clothing since his metal armor coated him pretty much like a spandex suit. He shook some mud from the bottom of the river off his feet and glanced around.

Seeing nothing but blowing snow, he looked over his shoulder "Ice Star, you and your brother watch my back and kill anyone trying to get around me. The Defender brats are mine, though, so stay out of my way!" His voice turned even more sinister, "And the only one to touch the kid who keeps throwing rocks and insulting me is ALL MINE!"

Next to Josh, Colt and Reed, Rex smiled at the comment, "Oh I feel the love!" He then picked up the largest rock he could manage and hurled it right at Bronze Age. He was quickly rewarded with a curse and even a grunt of what sounded like pain.

Less than ten feet away from Bronze Age, Valda and Ajax held their breaths, as shards of the huge rock Rex had hit Bronze Age with showered them. They both stayed perfectly still, not wanting anything to give their positions away. Seeing a nearly nude, metal-coated man of over eighteen feet tall was absolutely terrifying to both kids. Seeing him looking around and seemingly staring straight at them was far worse. As the bronze colored metal man moved up the hill, Valda gave Ajax a hug, "Nice light bending..."

Ajax nodded, making sure the guy was actually gone before he responded. "Thank you, but me will need to drop it soon, cause there not be enough light for me to absorb to keep it going for much more. The storm be block too much sun."

Valda nodded in understanding, "Then drop it and save some in case we need it later." She then glanced over her shoulder, "Two of you stay with the two who fell, the rest come with us. We need to take out his support or Josh and the others won't stand a chance."

Up the hill, Colt noticed the air swirl around something big and took to the air while hitting the area with a stream of electrical energy. A moment later Bronze Age appeared as he forced one foot forward, but it was clear Colt's high voltage attack had some effect.

Reed and Josh exchanged glances and thoughts. Josh suddenly nodded and glanced over to Skye while using his telepathy, 'Skye, get a magma ball ready!"

'I can't aim them well and they wipe me out...'

I know, but he won't be moving when you toss it!' Josh thought back to her then focused in on Colt, 'Dude, did you hear me?'

'Yeah, Josh, but I ain't got much left and what I hit him with before didn't even scratch him.'

'Just fry him long enough for Skye to nail him!'

Colt let out a long breath as he thought back. 'Then tell her she better hurry!'

With that, he let loose with everything he had, directing it down at the metal monster of a man.

Skye watched as the twin bolts erupted out of Colts hands and lanced downward into Bronze Age. The massive metallic coated man gritted his teeth and struggled to lift his right foot as he was turned into a living lightning rod, the electrical energy not really harming him but instead holding him in place as the electricity used the metal coating him to flow into the ground.

Without further hesitation, she slammed her fist into the ground and used her incredible power over the earth to pull a glob of magma deep from the core. With a very unlady-like grunt she withdrew her hand causing a significant tremor in the local area, knocking several down on both sides of the fight. Finally she took the fiery hot glob and lobbed it at the all but immobilized figure.

All those close to Skye watched in awe at the display of raw power, then found themselves crossing fingers as the molten blob arced through the air toward Bronze Age. Several found themselves cringing and holding their breaths as the worst criminal Augment known pulled one foot up and twisted, trying to get out of the way. Then, as the flaming projectile slammed into Bronze Age's side and melted right though, leaving a huge gouge just below the ribcage of the massive Augment, they cheered.

As Bronze Age tumbled to the ground Colt stopped the flow of electricity and glided back toward the town of Whitefish while rapidly descending. 'Josh, he better stay down, cause I'm wiped. It was like shooting my energy straight into the ground only worse. I can barely fly and without a recharge from somewhere, I am out of strong bolts. As it is, I'm going to have to use natural static electricity to recharge as best I can.'

'I know Colt,' Josh responded with a quick thought as he saw Bronze Age use his left arm to get back up to his knees while his right hand widened and flattened out so he could hold onto and cover the horrible wound left by Skye's magma ball, 'but he isn't out of the fight yet. Switch to back-up duty in town and try to stop others from getting past us.'

Colt landed next to the first building he could find and leaned up against it. 'Sorry Josh... I did the best I could and I am seeing stars.'

'Understood, sparky; you did great and he is hurt bad. We'll figure it out. Find somewhere to plug in and hide. After what you did to him, he'll kill you if he or any of his people finds you.'

Josh broke contact with the exhausted boy and turned his attention back to Bronze Age. Before he could shout out a warning the massive figure managed to stand while his left arm became thin and elongated while his hand turned into a huge metal ball with spikes.

With a whip-like motion his now cord-like arm flung the attached spiked ball into Gwen who had engaged a pair of Augments with her whips and had gotten too close. The ball slammed into the girl sending her flying backwards with blood coming out of multiple locations.

Moments before the unconscious girl slammed into the ground a COBRA streaked down out of the snow and grabbed her. At the same time the youngster extended his other arm and sent a powerful bolt of condensed magical energy into Bronze Age staggering the huge man, but not doing any significant damage

This delay allowed a second COBRA to land next to the still very hot, but exhausted Skye and pull her back before Bonze age could get his flail-arm in range. It didn't, however, prevent Bronze Age from doing a huge swing, hitting both Cassie and Shannon with grazing blows while also flinging half a dozen onrushing COBRA kids back with everything from light to serious damage.

Josh sent a mental bolt into a woman who moved forward past Bronze Age to get at one of the injured kids. The telekinetic energy caused the snow to swirl as it blasted out of Josh's forehead, but was otherwise invisible. The results weren't, however. The blunt force slammed into the woman's nose shattering it. She fell into the snow unmoving as Josh shouted, "Grab the injured and fall back! Everyone FALL BACK!"

Less than twenty yards away, all but forgotten in the confusion, Gustav glanced up at Tanner who was standing guard over him and Garret while keeping a bubble of warmth around both. The boy, still shivering, reached out and tapped on Tanner's leg. "Use your eyes, melt him!

Tanner glanced down in near shock at seeing Gustav not only awake but moving and cognisant. He stood there and stared for several seconds. The delay cost them as Logan's gloom armor was shattered by Bronze Age's flail fist, forcing Logan to back off.

Gustav gritted his teeth and forced himself to kneel, "Your eyes, use them, melt him like you did the car!"

"I don't know how... I don't think I can without more fire... I stole hers to do it."

"Then take mine." Gustav demanded.

"No, I can't! I would hurt you!"

Gustav forced himself to stand by pulling on Tanner's coat. As he did so he saw another COBRA get knocked back from the spiked ball. "I am used to getting my augments stolen. I am giving them to you; now do it!"

"I don't want to hurt you!" Tanner argued.

Gustav created a small ball of fire in his hand, "Then take it before it starts burning me."

"No, I can't do what they did to you!" Tanner yelled with wide eyes, "Throw it!"

A couple of tears trickled out of Gustav's eyes, "No. I will burn myself to death before I let them take me again and I can't stop him. With my help, I bet you can; now take it!"

Tanner saw the skin on the smaller boy's hand start to blister. Realizing there was no choice unless he wanted the burn to become worse, he reached out and grabbed it, absorbing it as he did so. At the same time he felt Gustav open his powers, not even trying to resist. Heat poured from Gustav into Tanner in vast quantities while clearly draining the long white-blond haired boy. As Tanner continued to pull heat from Gustav, he could see the boy's skin lose its color.

"Burn him!" Gustav demanded.

Tanner squinted, clenched his fists, thrust his head foreword, and even stomped his feet; nothing worked. Suddenly Garret crawled over and bit him on the leg. "Ouch!" Tanner screamed at the pain and surprise. At the same time, twin beams of white-hot light blasted out of his eyes.

It took a moment for Tanner to redirect, but when he did, the intense heat melted into and through Bronze Age's left hip. The huge man fell a second time letting out a loud scream.

Rex took the opening, extending his claws as he went. He took out a pair of men who moved to try to cover their fallen leader. Both fell with long claw marks across their chests. Rex then leapt high into the air and brought his claws down and into the pair of wounds opened on the metal coated man by Skye and Tanner. Once again Bronze Age screamed intensely and this time blood poured out of the wounds.

Josh moved forward, only to see Bronze Age change his right hand into a massive hammer. Before he could shout out a warning, the massive blunt end smashed into Rex and sent him flying. "NO!" He screamed as he rushed forward only to get knocked back by the flail head at the end of Bronze Age's left arm. He blacked out before he hit the ground.

At the same time Bronze Age crawled forward, "Push on without me! We have them on the run!"

For over a minute no one moved from either side. The only sound was Bronze Age's crawling, labored breathing from Augments on both sides, and the moans and cries of the injured. Mr. Hammond's voice suddenly came over the radio, cutting into the impromptu cease-fire. "Any USDT forces we have several Augments moving into Whitefish from the west. Normals are engaging. I say again Normals are engaging, but they are not going to be able to hold long. Support needed, I say again support needed.

With Bronze Age down and struggling, a woman spoke up from somewhere close to the river. "The Senator came through. Our friends are here! This fight isn't done yet. Get organized and pound them while they are weak and scattered!"

A few miles away, Colt took a couple of deep breaths and sent a stream of electricity into an Augment who had taken down a pistol-armed Normal. Even as the wounded Normal man pulled himself up and moved with a bad limp, he nodded his thanks and sent another bullet into the mildly tough Augment.

Colt gripped the side of a building to fight the desire to puke or pass out. He was spent and he knew it. The problem was, all around him Normals were rallying but were paying for it. The new wave of separatist Augments seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. They didn't give the impression of being very strong, but there were a whole lot of them. Biting back the weakness he was feeling he turned the corner and fired off another bolt, striking a separatist in the back, giving a pair of slightly older boys armed with hunting rifles a chance to finish the Augment off before he hurt their fallen friend. From above, a burst of gunfire then ripped into another Augment who had managed to get behind Colt. The woman never got off whatever she was about to do. Instead she crumpled from the four high-powered rounds. Colt spun and let out a massive sigh of relief as he sank to a knee. His head spun from exertion while he grabbed at his rumbling stomach. Not only was his electrical reserves spent his body was beyond hungry.

Two older kids moved up and gave him cover while a woman knelt in the deep snow. "Son, stop, even my untrained eye can see you are killing yourself."

Colt shook his head, "I... I can't... I'm a Class Five... I... I' can't let you down!"

The woman shook her head, "You can and will, especailly if it means not killing yourself." She stated firmly. "Now let's get you inside and fed."

Colt tired to argue, but found he was too weak to even fight about it. "I need a power source..."

One of the older boys spoke up, "A couple of your buddies from school were trying to find you. They have something they think you can use. I'll call them and have them get it here! Now come on, warm up, and eat."

Colt felt himself being all but dragged into a nearby house. While one of the two teens dialed a number and started talking into a cell phone about having found him, the other brought over a mug of hot chocolate and some elk jerky.

Noticing the lights were on Colt dug into his pocket and pulled out a frayed cord with a plug. "Can I..." he barely managed to speak.

A girl, clearly the sister of the other two, looked at it and raised an eyebrow, "You want me to plug this in?"

"I need juice, lots of juice..."

The girl tilted her head, "We have some apple juice..."

The older teen snickered, "I think he means power type of juice." He knelt gently slid Colt over to the nearest plug, Seeing the boy holding the frayed ends and glanced over at his brother and sister, shrugged and pushed it into the wall, keeping his hand ready to yank it back out.

Instantly the lights dimmed as the propane generator struggled to make up for the extra draw. At the same time Colt let out an audible sigh. "Oh, yeah..."

The kid feeding Colt backed off a little, "Um, can I still help you eat without getting like blasted?"

Colt nodded, "At this point I could hold this in for days without having to let any go."

Although he was tentative, the boy once again moved up and helped Colt take another drink of cocoa then fed him another strip of jerky. "I'm not even getting shocked!"

The girl let out a gasp, "That is like, so cool!"

The two boys quickly nodded in agreement while the kids' mother came in with some microwaved spaghetti and meatballs. She handed the older boy the steaming bowl. "Here, feed him this. I was always told by your lacrosse coach spaghetti was a good carb and energy source."

Confusion rippled across Colt's face as the other teen knelt next to his brother and helped to feed him. "Wh... why are you doing this? I'm an Augment!"

"Yeah, thank God for it too," the woman answered for her sons as the boys continued to hold on to the steaming mug and gently pour mouth-fulls into Colt while the other used a fork to feed him noodles. "Without you all, we'd be toast. These idiots in the Church of Purity are on the radio trying to tell us this was all a USDT trick; at the same time I am looking out my window and seeing you killing yourself to save my son's best friend. Now drink up, eat, and get warm. Some of your school friends think they have something coming you should be able to use."

Bewilderment could clearly be seen in Colt's eyes as he looked up, "I don't have any real friends at school other than those in the squadron."

At nearly the same time, Rex heard Mr. Hammond's words and tried to stand, but the instant he did so he knew he was partially embedded into something and he was hurt bad. Still he managed to extend his claws on his right hand, noting two of them were broken half way down. He muttered knowing it hurt something awful to feel them re-growing under his skin, but would have to keep them retracted at school anyway. With any luck they would be back before winter break finished, but he doubted it.

As he tried to extract himself from where he was partially embedded into the side of the destroyed bridge, a lone figure appeared out of the snow carrying a large blade. The young, fur coated, man moved up and looked down with a sneer of pure distain. "At least I get to kill one of you."

The panther-faced man raised the blade and kicked at a piece of rebar sticking through Rex, getting a grunt of pain for his effort, "Just like a fish on a hook! I can't wait to slice your..." His words where interrupted by a rather loud double click from behind him. The startled guy turned sharply only to get a ten-gauge shotgun slug in the face at less than five feet away. The impact of the slug flung him into the same mangled concrete pylon Rex was stuck in.

Rex's eyes went wide as his Math teacher, Mr. Evens, chambered another round and pointed it down at the grievously wounded Augment. "No one hurts one of my students, NO ONE!" With that he fired another point blank shot. The parka clad man moved up, chambered another round, and pumped in a third shot into the panther-man before grabbing three rounds out of his pocket and shoving them into the shotgun to refill it up to a full ammo load.

Mr. Evens then knelt but kept the heavy shotgun ready, "Rex, stay put. I'm no medic, but even I can see you are embedded into the concrete, have a piece of rebar stuck through your shoulder, your leg is broken and at least two of your claws are broken off into the concrete next to you."

"Bu... But you hate us..." Rex stammered in total uncertainty as his senses detected nothing but the deepest concern coming out of a person he was sure hated his very being.

"No, no I don't," Mr. Evens corrected Rex. "If you weren't so blastedly stubborn, you'd find I actually have a massive amount of respect for you simply because you could crush all the kids who give you a load of crap on a daily basis but don't."

Rex winced in pain as he shook his head, "But I can feel you get angry when I come in to class and I have heard you muttering when I hand in tests and junk!"

The Math teacher let out a long breath and turned a bit pale, "It never occurred to me you picked up on body language... Look, Rex, I am sorry for how I have come across, but your being an Augment has nothing to do with it. It is you and your actions, combined with your lack of them, causing what you are noticing in me."

"I never did nothing to you." Rex argued.

"No, not directly. In fact I have never seen you do anything to anyone even though you could have and in my opinion should have been allowed to do." Mr. Evens pointed a finger right at Rex. "What pisses me off, if the fact you should be an A student but settle for C's! If you'd just do your homework..."He stopped, shook his head and looked around, "I'd say more but I know you get the point and this is not the time or the place. When you get healed up we can continue this. Now stay put. We're going to need some serious help to extract you."

Rex smacked his head against the concrete and rolled his eyes, "Why would you care what grade I get? It's not like I am going to go to college or something."

Mr. Evens scratched his head through his parka hood, "OK, fine, I guess now is the time then." The man's eyes hardened, "It doesn't matter what you end up doing. What does matter is getting as much into your brain as you can because you never know..." He gestured down, "As astonished as I am you are alive and talking... and something tells me you will end up just fine after some medical care, bad things can happen especially if you insist on taking on threats like this. At some point, you may need to resort to education and having a C average when you should be an honor role student is a waste of some of what you could become. I have heard you talk to Josh about becoming a park ranger; those people need to get a higher education to move up and get paid well."

Mr. Evens paused then stared straight down at Rex, "The other thing you definitely do on purpose is to shoot your mouth off way too much."

Rex nodded in agreement then hung his head, "I thought you hated us, or I never would have, sorry."

"Which is partially my fault even though I didn't know it." Mr. Evens sighed, "Look, Rex, we have been on the wrong foot with each other for quite a while. I'd like to see us both try harder."

"Deal." Rex reluctantly agreed. "But right now, you need to leave me. The only friendlies moving are Tanner to your right, Eldora in her white tiger form closer to the river, Valda with maybe three or four others, pulling several injured back to the snow cat and Kurt who is standing guard almost right at the river's edge. Logan is moving back toward town with another COBRA, so at least some help is going to Whitefish. All the other movement is hostiles who are trying to find a way across the river and we are badly outnumbered."

Mr. Evens shook his head, "First off, I'm not going anywhere. Second, if you are right about half of what you just said, I am even more impressed with you. Now stay put and let a non-Augment take care of you for a bit."

Several hundred yards away, Eldora dragged the last injured COBRA back to the snow cat and sent a snarl over at Valda while using her right paw to point down toward the river. Until now, she was used to Josh being able to communicate her thoughts to the others while in animal form. With Josh down, she found herself resorting to much more primitive methods. Part of her wanted to shape shift back to human form, but to do so would require getting re-dressed and she only had one change of clothing left with her. The other problem was, her tiger form was by far the strongest and most deadly of her animal forms and she knew there were still plenty of hostile Augments out there and they were starting to find ways across the river between the very thin screen of fellow Defender Program kids.

While Valda looked over with confusion at what Eldora was trying to point out, Kurt backed up to the snow cat carrying both Gustav and Garret, one over each shoulder with Tanner right next to him. He gently lowered them down and looked over the other badly injured COUGARS, BEARS, and COBRAS. "They're coming and we can't get everyone out of here."

Eldora growled while nodding.

Valda glanced over to Kurt, "How many can you heal?"

"If I am going to fight, none."

Ajax pulled the last six MRE's out of the snow cat and passed them out. "Put up a wall around the hurted. We have to hold until help get here."

Valda glanced around, realizing Rex was not among those they had found but also knew Ajax was right. "Do it, Kurt. We'll have to hold them off until Jade Witch or Arctic Trooper gets here.

Kurt glanced over at the others, "You realize if I do this, the glow will tell them right where we are at, don't you?"

Valda shrugged, "Then we keep them coming after us instead of helping those attacking Whitefish."

Kurt rolled his eyes as he took a few deep breaths and waved his arm in an arc while holding his hand out wide. As he did so a blue dome covered the mass of injured kids and the snow cat. He paused and clenched his fist as the exertion of making the wall rolled over him. "It's the strongest I could make it and it will last for days even if I fall. But as bright as it is, we'll get company shortly.

"Let 'em come." One of the younger COBRA kids stated as he surrounded himself with a glowing sheen of magically generated armor.

"Easy for you to say one of the COBRA girls stated, "You're a Class Four, I'm only a Two."

"And Skye is a Five, and she is in the bubble recovering." Tanner motioned to the dome created by Kurt. Right now what we are means a whole lot of nothing. The only thing we need to worry about is protecting our friends."

Valda glanced over at Tanner, astonished something so adult sounding came out of his mouth. "Wow... Nice way to put it down to the basic nuts and bolts."

Before more could be said, seven attacking Augments charged them forcing all of them to fight for their lives.

Back in town, Colt heard the rather familiar sound of a snow cat's tracks clattering in the distance. He started to stand only to get gently but firmly pushed back down by the older teen. "Your friends are almost here, but are being pestered. Let some old-fashioned fire power deal with this while you eat and recharge.

Moments later, dozens of gunshots seemed to come from everywhere including at least three from somewhere directly above where Colt was sitting. Colt shook his head and yanked the plug out of the wall, "Let me up, I have enough juice to help!"

The three kids backed away as Colt stood, pushed open the front door and sent a stream of electricity into an armadillo looking Augment who seemed unfazed by the scores of shots being directed at him. The twin streams of energy caused him to twitch for a few seconds before he fell unmoving.

With the street clear the snow cat moved up, but instead of seeing RLD lettering on the side, Colt couldn't help but note the crest for the Randle's Tri-fork's Ranch on the side. "What the..."

His words were interrupted by the smaller of the two Randle twins, "Colt, you can grab electricity right from a generator, right?"

Totally confused and more than a bit afraid he simply nodded.

The other twin tossed Colt a heavy cable, "Then grab this while we fire it up!"

As Colt cautiously grabbed the heavily insulated wire, a deep strong rumble came out of the back of the snow cat. At the same time Colt could feel the power inside the thick cable. Without hesitation, he grabbed his survival knife off his vest and slashed into the thick insulation. He was instantly rewarded with massive current being pumped directly from a very powerful civil defense generator, though the knife and into him.

Sparks danced across his eyes and mouth as he sucked in current enough to normally power over two hundred homes. Moments later he sent a stream of extremely strong energy into the Armadillo like Augment who was trying to stand again. This time the bolt launched the rogue Augment back into a building with enough force leave an impression in the outside wall. The separatist didn't get back up.

Colt glanced over to the two boys with some astonishment, but recovered his senses quickly. He flew up and landed on top of the snow cat. "Oh yeah!"

The taller Randle managed a grim smile, "We keep this around to power the cattle barns and horse stables when it gets real cold, but Grand-dad said to get our butts out here and find you or we lose all allowances for the next year, so here we are."

"Allowance or no, you both are risking your necks, thanks!" Colt stated as he dragged the knife down the cable so he could get direct contact with the exposed wire.

"So what now?" the other twin asked.

Colt fired of a massive bolt into a separatist who had been stupid enough to turn the corner and expose his head. The power of the electrical discharge was strong enough to melt his hair before dropping him. "You two navigate and drive, I'll fry!"

Colt then turned to the family who had helped him, "Thank you as well!"

The older teen gave a nod, as he held up his cell. "We'll try to get updates from others and tell the Randle's where the worst pockets of Augments are so they can take you to them."

Colt nodded and smacked the top of the snow cat while clutching the main power cable, "Let's roll!"

Back at the river Bronze Age used the fact all the remaining kids were busy fighting; He once again stood. Even though badly wounded, he moved forward slamming his hammer-hand into Reed while punting a COBRA who moved up to help.

The kid didn't even get a chance to yell before her eyes rolled up into her head.

Inside the magical barrier put up by Kurt, Garret watched Reed fall and saw the massive flail head slam into the barrier. Still trying to recover from destroying the bridge, the plunge into the river, and the sorcery bubble he had put around Gustav and himself. He took a deep breath and forced himself to stand even as the barrier he was protected in came under direct assault.

Garret cringed as the first blow cracked it, the second blow caused it to spider web, and the third shattered it totally. At the same time he saw the flail coming toward Kurt who was desperately trying to protect those who had been inside and were for the most part defenseless. Seeing Kurt dive to get out of the way of the flail head, but leaving himself wide open for a follow-up shot, Garret reacted out of instinct.

Without any real thought, Garret jumped with everything he had and landed right in front of Kurt. At the same time his arms flashed blue and he swung his fist with everything he had. The metal ball impacted his blue fist flattening out two of the spikes and sent it right back into Bronze Age's forehead. The giant man staggered back, clearly stunned.

Tanner's eyes went wide as he moved to stand next to the boy, "Holy crap... Rookie, if you have a big bang, now's the time!"

While the blow had hurt Garret's arm, and tears poured down his cheeks, anger cascaded through him as he saw a teen girl moving up on the group of injured USDT and RLD cadets. Before he realized it, his arms flashed bright blue. Next to him Tanner stopped what he was doing and grabbed Kurt who was trying to get back on his feet. He then dove well away from Garret while shouting. "Everyone down!"

At the same time, Ajax moved up on the teen girl, "Freeze this, Ice Star!" a moment later heat beams blasted out of his hands igniting the girl's coat.

Before the teen could recover, Valda tossed a half dozen long thorns into her, grabbed Ajax by his coat, and tumbled away into the snow.

With the girl down, Garret switched targets to Bronze Age. A moment later, primal intuition took over as Garret slammed his feet into the frozen ground hard enough to plant himself up to his knees while the flash of blue took on a hint of red. An instant later there was a massive crashing sound, much like thunder after a lightning strike. The glob of magic reinforced chi energy rippled and launched, trailing sparks as it went. A sonic boom then followed as it continued to pick up speed as it raced across the short distance between him and Bronze Age.

Still reeling after taking his own metal ball to his head, Bronze Age didn't even see it coming. It slammed into his chest at just under five times the speed of sound and detonated. Almost a dozen Rogue Augments around Bronze Age were tossed back like rag dolls from the explosion while all eighteen feet of Bronze Age folded in half at the waist, was picked up, and hurled back across the river.

The huge Augment landed with a deafening bang, his abdomen deeply caved in and blood leaking out of his ears, eyes, nose, and mouth.

At the same time, Garret fell into a semi-unconscious state, held in a standing position by the fact his feet were down almost a foot into the frozen ground.

While Kurt jumped to his feet and raced over to Garret who was groaning and trying to figure out why his feet were stuck deep into the ground, Gustav pulled himself up and glanced over at Tanner. "Nice eyes, but I liked his meteorite better."

Tanner glanced over with a wide-open mouth and simply nodded.

At the same time, Valda stood, helping Ajax to stand, "Me too! Is he really down this time?" She then looked for other targets but found none.

For those facing the few remaining Defender cadets, seeing their leader getting launched and losing another eleven comrades was devastating to morale. They turned and fled back toward the river only to find Cold Steel and his RLD team waiting for them. Those who didn't surrender were cut down without mercy or remorse.

In less than a minute, Cold Steel's voice came over the radio sounding more than a little astonished, "Battlement, we're good and Bronze Age is down and not about to get back up. Whatever hit him literally folded him in half and left bits and pieces of scorched metal armor all over the place."

It took only moments for Battlement's voice to come over all USD and RLD radios, "OK, then we'll take Whitefish... That is as soon as Colt, stands down so we can come in and mop-up. I'm not sending in anyone with him tossing lightning all over God's creation!"

Mr. Hammond responded with a huge breath followed by, "There ain't much left to mop up, sir. Once Colt got plugged into a moving generator, it was over. What is left is being taken care of by a new force with dark red and black shirts. We have a kid by the name of Kale here who says he is with a bunch of other COUGAR and USDT cadets who were rescued by the Woodsman like a year or more ago. USDT, COUGAR, or whoever he is just sent a wave of wind into the group moving up on the clinic and put them into and through buildings while knocking a couple of structures down. What was left of the post office is also gone, all the way to the foundation, but so are those who were pushing us. We are pretty much clear and the new group of adults and kids are taking over for us since we are all but exhausted. It's also clear those who infiltrated Whitefish close to our position want nothing to do with this new group. They are fleeing to the south."

"Right into us," Jade Witch stated with some satisfaction, "and we're pretty fresh; they aren't."

Colt joined the conversation, "Someone way better than Valda is helping, too. I have a tree that just grew a mouth, formed arms, and ate a guy who shot at us with a muddy colored ray!"

Ajax grabbed Valda's Radio, "Don't hurt them trees! The Woodsman be up there helping you!"

"The Woodsman..." Mystic Knight stated only to be cut off by Arctic Trooper.

"Everything we are hearing is he has done nothing but help both COUGER and BEST Cadets! Let's give him a chance!" Arctic Trooper barked.

Colt's voice came back over the radio, "If it is him, the trees are ripping into all the bad Augments and protecting civilians in a huge area! The bad guys are running away as fast as they can, most dropping their packs and stuff so they can run faster!

Battlement let out a long sigh as he keyed his radio again. "Then let's give him some room to mop things up around Colt. We'll sort out the truth surrounding Woodsman later. At the moment, let's get as much healing resources as we can to our kids!"

Another radio message came over from the first inbound aircraft full of Special Forces Augments, "What about us?"

There was a brief pause followed by a growling sound. Finally Rex's voice came over the radio, "How about standing guard duty for being late!"

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