Meanwhile, back with our Superman...
This is very much Not Good. DuQuesne thought grimly, as the black-cloaked Amas-Garao stepped out in front of him yet again. I've used just about every trick I've got, and he's somehow managing to end up ahead every time. Isn't there any blasted limit to how often he can pull off that stunt?
"You are achieving nothing beyond wasting time, Doctor DuQuesne." The Shadeweaver's voice was calm, certain, with just a hint of mockery.
"My time to waste, isn't it?" He moved slowly towards the Shadeweaver.
"Mine as well," Amas-Garao said, seeming to simply observe his approach. "Yet I will not argue that since the situation is of my own devising that it is not for me to complain. I find this rather entertaining. It is also most instructive."
"Always glad to be educational." DuQuesne said, stopping about ten to twelve meters away; that seemed to be about the limit before the wizard-like being decided to do his teleport business, or otherwise throw some kind of barrier up. So far, he's made what amounts to a damn sci-fi forcefield that stopped me like a brick wall, caused a hurricane-force wind to blow me back, and of course just done that spooky disappear-appear-disappear trick. And he's right to do it, too, because I'm pretty damn sure I could take him if I could just get one hand on him. "So what are you learning?"
"That you are indeed a quite formidable being – far more so, I think, than your companions. This had been our suspicion for quite some time, but your reflexes, your endurance, and a number of other little facets of this chase have verified it. You will be a most impressive addition to our ranks."
Damn. He isn't giving up on that either. "And after you give me these super-powers, what makes you think I'm not going to use them to do unto you exactly and precisely as you've been doing unto me?" He began to focus his will, speeding up his perceptions to full combat mode.
A faint chuckle. "Firstly, Doctor, because I have many, many years of experience on you, and it would be most unwise for you to challenge me in that manner. More importantly, of course, because you would not remember these circumstances. While your resistance to control is quite unique and fascinating, I do not think even you would be foolish enough to contend that it cannot be broken eventually."
DuQuesne shook his head. "No. You're right there. With all the stuff you people have – and it's a lot, I'll grant you that – I'm sure you'd figure out a way. Which is why I can't let you do that."
He'd been trying to avoid escalating the conflict. That way lay a whole huge 55-gallon sized can of worms he didn't want to open. But with the Shadeweaver basically telling him flat out that he intended to recruit DuQuesne,and make DuQuesne think it was his own idea, and with every effort he'd made so far giving him exactly zero in progress, Marc didn't think he had many options left.
While he hadn't carried his main sidearms, he never went anywhere without something – actually, several somethings – on him for insurance. Feeling his readiness reach its peak, he triggered the action.
With inhuman speed and accuracy, DuQuesne brought up his arm, the holdout pistol sliding smoothly into his hand, the trigger being pulled in the very moment his arm aligned directly with Amas-Garao.
There was a subdued click. DuQuesne stared at the pistol, a sinking feeling in his gut.
The Shadeweaver had been startled by the sudden move; he'd twitched, moved half a step backwards. But then he laughed. "So, you are indeed fast. I did not, in all honesty, see that movement even begin. Yet how naïve of you, to believe that such mundane weaponry could be used against me."
DuQuesne looked at the pistol and popped the chamber open. The old-fashioned chemical pistol had functioned properly; he could see the dent on the primer case. The weight of the cartridge was correct, as far as he could tell. The gun should have fired.
But it hadn't. One more instance of impossibility in this insane place, but this one had been made to order.
I am still not beaten, and I'm not giving up no matter how hopeless it looks! Without warning, he whipped his arm back outwards, but this time throwing the pistol in a flat, hard arc, straight for the Shadeweaver's head.
The prior reactions had shown that Amas-Garao did not have DuQuesne's speed. Whatever barrier he might have had prepared to stop a full-blown charge by the former Hyperion, it was not triggered by the small and vastly faster improvised missile; with a sharp smack the heavy metal pistol slammed solidly into the side of Amas-Garao's head.
In that instant DuQuesne moved, sprinting forward while the Shadeweaver was distracted by surprise and pain.
This time, nothing stopped him. He slammed a hard-driven fist into the robes, where he figured the thing's gut was, following immediately with an elbow to the head, driving Amas-Garao into the wall with the force of his charge. The robes seemed to stiffen on impact, blunting the effect of punches and wall, but for a moment he had his hands on one of the Shadeweaver's limbs, and that was enough to turn, roll, and hurl the black-cloaked creature another ten meters into the far wall, to strike with muted yet groundshaking force. DuQuesne immediately sprinted again, trying to catch Amas-Garao between his hammer and the wall's anvil, but in the fraction of a second between movement and strike, the Shadeweaver vanished in a roil of smoky darkness.
He'll be back any minute. Probably take him a few seconds to recover, and maybe I've put the fear of God into him, but more likely I've just royally ticked him off. Even his damn clothes were protecting him. Actively. I've got to get out of here, and do it now. He broke into an all-out run.
The corridors of the Shadeweaver Faction House were… confusing. DuQuesne had become aware of that as soon as he'd started running. There was something about them – and not in the construction, either – that threw off perceptions of direction. But as a Hyperion, he'd had an awful lot of experience, especially towards the end, of being able to ignore confused perceptions and focus on the facts – the real direction he was going, the actual number of steps he was taking – and he knew exactly where he was. He suspected Amas-Garao thought he was lost. But one thing he'd been trying to do was slowly work his way towards the exit. This is it. I'll never get a better chance.
Why the other Shadeweavers weren't helping Amas-Garao, he didn't know, but he wasn't going to complain. He came to the central hall, scrambled up the railing, leaped upward, grabbing the floor of the next level, heaved himself up and over in an acrobatic flip that landed him atop the next level's railing, right in front of the corridor that led to the exit. He kicked into a flat sprint, running as he hadn't run in 50 years. There was the door, ahead of him.
And then it was gone. A flat, featureless wall loomed up, and he barely slowed in time to keep from smashing himself into it.
There was laughter – angry, vengeful laughter – behind him. "A most impressive effort, Doctor DuQuesne. You have injured me – something I would have believed impossible in the circumstances."
Not injured you bad enough, though. Damn, if only Wu were here. I think we could take this guy, even with all his tricks. Wu might even do it by himself. He turned to face the black-cloaked Shadeweaver, feeling behind him with his hand. They've got a lot of power, but they also do a hell of a lot of misdirection. I'm betting the door's still here, somewhere. Whether I can get it open, though, that's another issue.
To his dismay, the Shadeweaver seemed to be reading his mind… or maybe he was just very perceptive now that he was taking DuQuesne seriously. "Even if you could find the door, you would not be able to open it. At the moment, it will only open from outside, and even then only to one who knows exactly where it is and how it is to be opened. A Shadeweaver, or one of our very, very few allies."
"Aren't you a little worried I'm going to finish the job I started on you?" DuQuesne said, straightening. "So far, you've gotten the worst of it."
"Indeed I have," the Shadeweaver said softly. "So I think that ought to change." He gestured with one hand, muttering a single alien word that DuQuesne half-heard as thunder.
A crackling sphere of energy burst into existence and screamed into the astounded DuQuesne, who heard a bellow of startled pain driven from his own lungs as electricity seethed through his body. He staggered and fell against the wall, using it for temporary support. Holy Mother… that hurt. Like about a dozen stun charges. Would've killed most other folks. He forced himself to straighten, but it was an effort.
Amas-Garao chuckled, and this time there was no attempt to disguise the sinister edge. He may not indulge it often, but this guy likes this kind of thing. "I think we have begun to even that little score, do you not agree?" He gestured again.
DuQuesne tried to dodge, but the quick-moving dot of light seemed to track him, detonating into another screaming sphere of lightning. The world wobbled around him and he collapsed against the wall. Got to… get up. Break down the door, maybe… though a lot of these buildings are really CQC shells, which means I couldn't break out even if I were Superman himself.
"What's wrong? You seem a bit less steady on your feet, Doctor." Amas-Garao said coldly. "I admit, your resistance is startling. One thunderball is enough to bring down most creatures; two will drop even a trained Molothos or a Genasi warrior."
Slumped against the wall, Marc concentrated and abruptly whipped his left hand out, sending a ring-carbon edged throwing knife straight for the Shadeweaver's chest.
The blade stopped dead in the air a meter from Amas-Garao, and the laugh burst out again. "The same trick shall not work twice, o desperate one." A flare of light that almost blinded DuQuesne accompanied the words, and a few drops of melted metal, smoking with burned carbon, dropped to the floor. "Your weapons are useless against a Shadeweaver, newcomer. Your impressive natural gifts, likewise useless." He sent another blast into DuQuesne; everything seemed to be darkening around him, and he did not know how he managed to force himself back to his feet, leaning hard against the unmoving wall.
"You have rejected the greatest gift to be offered anywhere in the Arena, and yet I am a being of infinite generosity." The translation of the Arena conveyed the subtle irony of his words perfectly. "You shall have this gift, no matter how much you fight it, and you shall thank me for it. You have run an excellent race, Doctor DuQuesne… but you have run out of room, out of tricks, and most of all, out of time. There is no escape, the door is shut, and it is over."
The dizziness rose up in a wave, and DuQuesne felt like he was falling.
Then he realized he was falling; falling backwards, through the door that had without warning popped open, and he could see the Shadeweaver, frozen in mid-gesture with disbelief writ large in the very pose of his body.
He tumbled backwards, rolling down two steps before someone caught him. He looked up, seeing Ariane looking down at him with a gaze of such concern that it almost made him forget where he was.
But only almost. "Captain, we –"
"Must go, now!" Orphan's voice was near panic as he heaved DuQuesne to his feet and started down the steps. "From the stairs to the gate is still the Faction House! We must go!"
Ariane looked like she wanted to argue, but turned to follow.
The air suddenly grew heavy, darkness swirled around them, and a wall of bladed ice reared up from the ground at the base of the stairs, towering fifteen meters into the air, mist cascading from it in chilling ghostly sheets.
Amas-Garao stood at the top of the stairs, a lambent green glow around him, fist clenched, glints of poisonous yellow sparking beneath his cowl. "I assure you, my friends," he snarled venomously, "No one is going anywhere."