4-7

Exposure: 4-7

The sky above was a blur of blue and ashen grey, with the occasional dab of white to break up the monotony, the blend of colours little more than a sweep of a brush against a canvas. No individual shapes could be pulled out of that ether, nor could any smells register to the senses. Even sounds, like one’s own voice, could only be heard in the throat, and the reflection of what was said in the mind. The sound of the air ripping around your ears was enough to drown out what was loud enough to get through, and that was brushed aside from how the sound was so far behind them that your ears couldn’t pick it up before you’d already left that space.

Verus has been soaring through the air for half a minute now, and after the initial surprise of what occurred to him had washed over him, he started to grow a little more bored with how events had transpired. At first he tumbled backwards, but having outstretched his arms for moments, he was able to stabilise whilst flying backwards in the air. Once he had thought over it, he was just waiting to see how far he was going, and kept himself busy with the sights from below; landscapes of roads and houses, high streets that seemed devoid of people from being unable to pick out any details from this height, swathes of countryside bordered by fences and trees.

He at least enjoyed the sights, something that he’d never previously seen before, but it moved too fast for him to keep his eyes on anything specific. He was not so high in the air as to collide with any planes, but far above the ground so that telephone posts and pylons were no real hazard to him, if they even capable of hurting him if he struck one along the way.

Pulling his hood down caused it to flap back up behind him from the wind cascading into his back, and with a slightly grumpy frown, he elected to keep his hood up and tidied it before looking behind him. The ground was starting to approach him, and he could only assume that his flight was finally coming to an end.

He hit the ground in the middle of a field, the force of the impact had mostly drained from this landing; the ground split like a meteor had collided, an eruption of dirt and grass bloomed up from his impact like a landmine had detonated. Even then, he continued to careen onwards, not going as high into the sky as he had done before, but still unable to stop his own path from being deterred.

Verus was tumbling backwards now, and the first thing he noticed after seeing the mushroom cloud of dirt coming into the top half of his peripheral vision, was that the back of his suit and his arms were covered in the remains of that part of the field. As he continued to backflip through the air, he started to pat and slap the dust off the back of each arm in turn, and now could actually hear his voice when he spoke to himself.

“I hope this washes out.”

Going much slower than before, he could now see his destination coming towards him; he was either going to go straight through the wall of an old, almost derelict brick barn, or into the car that was just ahead of it.

The barn was spared.

Verus’ back took the brunt of the impact as he lodged into the space between the front and rear doors of a Landrover on it’s side. The crack of glass was followed by its eruption and the crunch of metal could be felt as a tremor through the ground itself. The Land Rover had Verus, stuck with just his calves and legs sticking out, knocked up so it was balancing just on it’s opposite wheels.

Hanging in the air at this balance for just a second, the partially destroyed vehicle finally gave way, and practically suplexed Verus as it finally completed it’s turn, and landed on the passenger’s side. Verus was lying down now, feet stuck in the air as he felt the mangled interior around him; seats had been violently thrown about, and the only thing holding him in place was the twisted exterior coating his impact like a cocoon.

Verus glanced from side to side with wide eyebrows. “I… think this is gonna be written off.”

He reached upwards and grabbed a hold of the sides of the entry wound and clenched until the metal began to deform in his grasp and pulled himself up. He flung up, almost going fully upright in an instant, standing on the wreckage of the car. He was on the ledge of the body of the vehicle between the two wheels, and all that remained was something less than two inches in width. He had a moment where he was starting to lose his balance, and regained it quietly. Hopping off the wreck, he turned to take a look with his fists against his waist.

“Definitely written off. Shit.”

With a sigh, Verus walked around to the bonnet and put one hand on the highest point he could. With a simple shove, the Vehicle turned over until it landed on all wheels. Even though it was large enough to make a considerable noise, the sound of tearing metal and debris falling out and splattering to the ground was enough to cause Verus to wince. It sounded maimed, torn apart and barely functioning.

Verus shook his head, and noticed somebody in his peripheral vision. A bald, bulky man in a grey t-shirt and blue jeans was standing there, mouth open wide and looking shocked to the core. Verus met his gaze for a moment, then mumbled to himself.

Bollocks.” Words failed him for a second more, before an apology forced it’s way out in a jumble of words. “Look, I’m so, so sorry about your Rover, I’m- It was just-” He started to make motions of him coming through the air with one hand. “I was just- and then it-”

In frustration, Verus stopped and grabbed the back of his head with both hands.

“You just hit that Rover-” The man said; an accent that seemed to be from Cheshire, but it was thick, and just like many farmers he’d heard before. “-and you just popped out like it were nothin’.”

The reason for his shock was clearer now, and Verus straightened up. He even patted down his armour a little more, and pulled down his hood and his mask to make his face visible.

“Right, okay, I can explain that. A bit better than, well, okay.” He took a solid, deep breath. “I’m… Verus. I’m from the NFU. I’m… really, really tough.”

“Yeah. I can feckin’ see that, lad.” He said. Verus had hoped that his awkwardness was lightening him up to how grave the situation was, but it was hard to tell at this point. “Where’d you come from?”

“Me?” Verus said, looking over his shoulder. “You mean when I was flying?”

“Yeah. How far’ve you come?”

“Wilmslow. Like… that way.” He gestured behind him with an index finger.

The farmer raised his eyebrows and let out a deep chuckle, grabbing his round middle. “Bit far out now, aren’t you lad?

“Uh. I don’t really know? Where am I?” Verus asked, turning to the farmer with a puzzled look.

“Yer’ in Brookhouse Green, near Congleton. Yer’ in t’other end of Cheshire. It’s a good fifteen miles away, that is.”

“F-” Verus widened his eyes. “Fifteen miles? Are you kidding me? I didn’t even take a minute in the air!”

The farmer leaned his head to the side, folding his arms. “Sounds like you had a bit of a trip there, lad.”

“No kidding.” Verus said, turning around. He could just make out from here where he hit into the field before, a raised piece of land that curved up a hill. The dirt was beginning to settle, and it looked like a bullet wound in the landscape. Having seen what happened, he turned around and carried on ignoring it.

“What happened to yer, anyway?”

“I was… we were, me and my team, we were arresting somebody. I got distracted and he threw me out of here. I dunno how he did that.”

“Sounds dangerous, and you didn’t feel none of that?”

“No.” Verus said, shaking his head. “Look, sir. I’m really, really sorry about what happened to your Rover.”

They both took a look at the vehicle. The farmer shook his head. “S’alright. It were old anyway, got ‘nother one ’round the back to last me fer a bit.”

“The NFU will get you a new one. We’ll compensate you for this, and, yeah. Once again.” Verus gestured to the vehicle with a hand, then shook it slightly. “Really sorry about this. But I need to go back and stop this guy. We’ll get everything sorted afterwards, okay?”

“Aye. Alright.” He said, nodding calmly. “How you gonna get back though?”

Verus looked over his shoulder, thinking for a second. “…the way I came in, I reckon. I know which way I came and how hard he threw me.”

Verus turned on the spot, running through something in his head. “Yeah. I know just how hard he threw me. Huh. Should be able to get back there just as quickly if I don’t jump as hard as that.”

The farmer wasn’t sure what was going on, but he accepted it and nodded. “Be seein’ you in a bit then, lad, when yer’ come to get me a new Rover.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I will.” He continued to look ahead. “What’s your name?”

“Danny.” He asked, unfolding his arms. “Nice meetin’ you.”

“Same to you too.”

Verus nodded, and Danny nodded back to him. Without another word said, Verus broke out into a sprint down his driveway, across the road that was between it and the field where he landed just before. He began to move faster than he’d felt himself run before, right up until he trod the dirt over where he landed first, and pushed the strength into his legs. A moment later, the ground shook as he launched himself upwards, following the straight line that he travelled before, leaping in a tremendous bound that made a shockwave in his wake; the grass ripped up near where he pushed up, and the air blew asunder.

Danny stood and watched as Verus turned to a speck in the sky, before vanishing entirely from view a blink later. He took a second or two to process it before letting out another deep chuckle, shaking his head.

“Nice lad, he was. Best get on the phone to that NFU place, then.”

He took another look at his Rover, and began to walk back inside his house. The door clicked behind him, as another deep chuckle could be heard from inside.

Soaring through the sky of his own volition gave Verus a new appreciation for travelling through the air like this, on the journey back to Wilsmow. He watched as the lands below him sped past, details flickering out of his view faster than he could process. He made sure he leapt higher than when he was thrown before, and had a gut feeling for just how much force he needed to make the journey in a single bound. As he came down from the heavens, he felt the crunch of concrete as his landing cracked the road nearly in half, sending him bouncing forward afterwards.

He had much more control though, and managed to not only stabilise himself when he next hit the ground but ceased moving altogether, despite him being quite a distance from where he first landed. He looked over his shoulder, watching as flakes and fragments of the road behind him were still showering around him. The destruction to the surroundings of just making these leaps and landings weren’t lost on him.

Verus looked around, raising his eyebrows. He felt his face particularly bare, having worn his mask and hood for a long enough period of time that he marked their absence over their presence, and tugged them both in place so he was formally covered again. His voice now muffled, speaking out as he turned to watch the empty road ahead.

“This is it. It’s the road where Barnes’s house is. I made it. I made it! One leap!”

With a soft chuckle of pride, Verus carried on, and bounded himself further down the road, pushed up in a very high curve with this leap. He was able to spot the house from just here and he was going in the right direction, but there was much further to go. With an estimation of just how far he had to go, when he hit the ground with a much less explosive power, he used that to push up even further to close the gap.

As Verus watched from the sky above, he glanced and blinked his eyes to clear them. A hazy distortion began to consume the upper half of the building, just before smoke and fire began to rage inside, quickly consuming the furthest back room on the highest floor. Flickers of embers and flame began to creep up through and around the sides, as windows that hadn’t already shattered were just melting into superheated ooze.

“Holy shit.”

When Verus landed again, he was in the front garden, sprayed with the gravel that had been laid out on the driveway. He didn’t pause for thought as he ran over, letting his strength push himself into a small stride quicker than any trained athlete could manage. He approached the gaping hole that he was pushed through by Anthony, leaping over the broken wall and into the living room.

The tunnel in the wall he was looking at was new to him, and even from here he could feel the heat churning around from inside and above; the air was shimmering, and crimson flames licked the rim of the wound, charring it brown and black in an instant. Even from here beyond this, the sound of a voice was speaking in there to somebody or something.

Verus leapt into the hole and witnessed the devastation that had been wrought. To his right, Anthony had his hands on the skull of the barrier protecting Impetus from his surroundings, and Impetus had just begin to close his eyes as it began to splinter and shatter. Neither of them had seen him; the torrent of flames around them masked his arrival, and the smoke made it hard for anything to be caught in peripheral vision.

Between breaths, Verus turned and took one step to Anthony from behind. He grabbed him by the upper arm, and Anthony had a moment to turn and just catch a glimpse of Verus’ masked face. In his surprise, his grip slackened on Impetus enough that his control over him was lost, and the barrier-covered man slumped to the ground out of his reach.

With a flick of his wrist, Verus threw Anthony through the nearby wall, making a second hole next to the first.

Impetus opened his eyes with shock and in the darkness, managed to see Verus standing above him, holding out a single hand. He took it, and Verus pulled him to his feet. He was able to stand, just barely, as Verus raised his voice above the inferno around them.

“Get everyone out. I’m dealing with him alone, away from here. Go!”

Impetus didn’t question; he only nodded, and clutched at his ribs as he made his way to the door. His barrier was just stable, as Verus could see the glint of the fire around them dancing off the perforations in his Farside armour.

As he was leaving, Verus leapt again, following the hole he had made by removing Anthony.

Anthony had gone through every wall and physical object in his path, and Verus came outside next to Anthony who was scrambling to his feet in the driveway. His body had skidded, and the gravel around him attested to the journey he had gone.

Verus didn’t wait, as he slammed down on both feet within a few meters of him. His stride didn’t break, and he knew that he was going to attempt some form of retaliation or means to defend himself.

“No.” Verus castigated Anthony, for perhaps even thinking of such.

The next sound anybody heard was Verus’ open palm connecting with Anthony’s face.

Anthony was mere dot in the skyline when Verus looked up to see where he was. He knew exactly how hard he hit him and how far he needed to go, like a gut feeling he knew he could entirely trust. Nearby trees had only begun to rock back from the force of the blow, and the gravel beneath him just formed a perfect circle from his strike before he plunged himself into the sky after Anthony, going just a bit harder to ensure he would land at the same time as him without fault.

Anthony couldn’t be sure where he landed, only that he knew when it happened. A minute of flight came to a crashing halt as his body slammed into the ground beneath him and launched up again, bouncing from the landing and his time in the sky coming to an abrupt halt. After he landed a second time, he could feel the ground beneath him was softer than concrete. As he looked up, he was accosted by the sight of the cloud of dirt and grass that plumed up, not only once but twice; a second one further back had just exploded upwards, destroying the field that he was in even more.

Out of the second cloud came Verus, who bounded over until he landed apart from Anthony. His shirt had been ripped at the back, leaving it sagging and hanging at the front. His face was covered in soot and dirt, torn grass acting as the mantle over his shoulders. The tie in his hand was barely recognisable, chewed away by heat, wear and tear. They stood apart, as he studied Verus for the scant few seconds of them watching each other. Where he had his shoulders slumped and a much less restrained posture, Verus was holding his head high and calm, and spoke with restraint.

“You’re not gonna hurt anybody else out here. So we’re going to deal with this here, away from everything.”

“There’s nothing to deal with. Let me walk from this, and never be seen again.” Anthony responded.

Verus took a step forward, raising his hands. “And go where? Where the hell would you go after that? Everyone’s going to know about this. You’re already a wanted man. Seriously. What was the big plan here? Beat up a few agents, run away, piss off to some island in the middle of nowhere or something?”

“Very unprofessional language from an NFU agent.”

Verus narrowed his eyes. “Do you wanna talk about unprofessional?” He spoke with more passion, and flecks of irritation crept into his words. “What about the politician who lied to the public, who sent criminals to steal and kidnap animals and magitech for him? ‘cos last time I remember, that guy did a lot of stupid shit because he made a promise he couldn’t keep, and when the NFU came knocking on his door, he decided to act like a twat and fight them instead of coming quietly. So now, on top of all that shit he’s been charged with, he’s got resisting arrest and assault charges, and maybe even murder on his head now. If you wanna talk about how professional people here are being and all.”

Anthony paused, either unwilling or unable to answer. Verus took another step forward.

“What has this whole thing been about, Barnes? Being Fartouched, power going to your head, what the hell is going on with you?”

“I’m not going to give you a sob story or a monologue, if that’s what you’re thinking. But don’t come closer.”

Anthony raised his hands up, palms open and pointing to Verus as a warning.

“Or what? You can’t hurt me. That’s why you tried to get rid of me, isn’t it? You knew I could actually stop you.”

“As that may be the case, I’m willing to see if your claims of invulnerability are as true as I’m lead to believe.”

Verus laughed in his breath. “Yeah, alright.”

He took another step.

The hairs on the back of Anthony’s hands and fingers began to crackle, as sparks and crackles of lightning danced on the surface of his skin. In a blinding flash, he directed the lightning from him to Verus and blasted him with potent energy. The boom of a hunderbolt rippled through the air, a deafening peel that could be heard for miles around. In an instant, the world went white and died just as quickly, returning to colour in a single flash. The bright outline of lightning was only visible for an instant, and it’s all that was needed.

The ground was scorched black, and the grass around Verus had begun to sear and burn. The smell and sight of charred carbon, grass and dirt began to flicker in the air. Thunder rumbled into the distance over the countryside, roiling through the air and rolling along the hills and fields. Anthony lowered his hands and lifted his head, slumping his shoulders slightly, no words escaping his lips.

Verus stood still, letting out a small breath. His armour bared scorch marks, lightning dancing in black etchings over his armour from the right side of his chest down to his right boot, crackling and splitting into many ends down a singular path. He reached up and patted down the point where it first hit him and patted at the mark, wafting the smoke away. He raised his head up, staring at barns through his hood and mask.

“You done?”

Anthony stood upright, retaining his dignity. He spoke with a sombre voice, almost regretful. “Almost.”

“So this is what you do, you use energy?”

“That is the long and short of it.”

“Was that your best shot?”

“Not nearly, no. This is simple energy manipulation, up until this point at least.”

“Then get on with it.” Verus said. “Hit me with something hard enough. ‘cos this thing, this fight we’re doing, there’s no point to it. It’s gonna hurt everyone but us, that’s why I brought you here. There’s nobody else you can hurt here, no collateral, so just hit me and maybe we can get on with it.

With a nod, Anthony flicked his hand up.

Just halfway between both of them, a spot of light began to appear, like a needle prick upon reality. The air around them grew intensely hot, much greater than even before. The ground had begun to blacken and char in the second the ball of light began to grow. Dirt and grass became ash that was being swept upwards, drawn into the glowing, growing orb of radiance. Swiftly, it consumed the space around it until it was the size of a tennis ball. Lashes of energy and plasma began to ripple off, lashing out to strike at Verus. The stream struck from shoulder to hip, and left a black streak along his armour. The ground beside where the flare had also struck was annihilated, little more than a charred slice of ground dug out.

The ball churned and grew slower now, as Verus approached it. His armour was growing lighter in colour, and the heat was making the stray curve of hair underneath his hood start to singe and burn off. As Verus stood a foot away, staring into the orb, his hand reached out and snatched it in his fingertips.

Verus held it in his hand and lifted it to the side, raising it up to his eye level. Anthony could see the black outline of his fingers as streams of light reached out from the inside of his palm. He couldn’t see where Verus was looking besides his general outline but he felt the weight of his faze firmly upon him.

Anthony curled his hand as he lowered it. The ball of light faded into nothing, leaving only steam and superheated air in Verus’s grasp.

Verus shook his hand, wafting away the smoke. He diverted his eyes to his hand, unblemished as it always was, then back to Anthony.

“Now I’m done.”

The scorched ground crunched beneath Verus’ boot as he walked over to Anthony, no further than two foot, face to face. Verus reached into his hood and pulled it back, and his mask down so he stood with a clean expression. His hair had been burned, in some parts it was shorter than others. Anthony looked away from Verus, from the sight of black earth and the impacts of their landings.

“We’re done, Barnes. This is over.”

“I never wanted any of this, Verus.”

“Well, this is what you ended up with. Everything you did had consequences.”

“I never asked to be this, to be one of you.”

“One of what? One of the Fartouched?” Verus spread his arms out. “Nobody asks for this. You think they want to go through the Farside and come back changed?”

“Twice.” Anthony said. He was retaining his composure well, though Verus could see that he was trying to keep a level head.

Verus thought of what to say next. “That’s rough, I’ve heard of what the experience is like, but it’s no excuse. Not for any of this. Not for trying to… cut off their abilities or whatever.”

“I would have been the first to sign up.” Anthony spoke without hesitation. “Absolutely the first. Now, I have no opportunity to do many of the things I promised. That weight, the weight of what I’ve asked others to do, what I was going to do, what I have done. That is on my shoulders alone.”

Verus glanced to the side for a moment. “Gonna be honest. I don’t feel any sympathy for you right now.”

A sullen silence descended over them, as neither of them could raise their gaze.

“Do it, then.”

“Do what?” Verus asked.

Anthony raised his head. The calm demeanour gave way for Anthony, suddenly exclaiming. “End this!”

“End… I’m not going to do that. What the hell?”

“There is no other way out of this. I don’t want this any longer.”

Verus began to similarly raise his voice. “I’m not going to fucking kill you. You’re going to the Unit to serve your time.”

“I don’t want that! I don’t want this any more! My life is-”

“-what?” Verus interrupted. “Your life is ruined? Have you thought about the many other lives you’d have ruined? Nobody gives a shit about what you want any more, man. You lost that right the moment you decided to start off this entire chain of events, or some crap like that.”

“I don’t deserve imprisonment.”

“The people you’ve hurt or done wrong, they deserve justice.”

Anthony spread his arms out, as he snapped at Verus above his already passionate tone. “They would see me dead for what I’ve done, to which I agree entirely with them.”

Verus responded physically, lashing up and grabbing Anthony by the throat. Anthony grabbed at his wrist; Verus didn’t feel Anthony use any of his powers against him, only a grip to brace himself. Letting out a wheeze for air, Verus lessened his grip so Anthony had no trouble breathing, nor speaking.

“That isn’t your decision any more, Anthony! I’m not gonna kill you just because you think all the bad shit means you deserve to die. Nobody deserves to die, not even you! But what you do deserve is going to prison. ‘cos let’s face it, after all the shit things you’ve done, all that shit that’s happened because of you, dying would be the easy way out of it, and you wouldn’t get the punishment you need. After all the shit man, now’s the moment you need to make a decent choice for once. Just this once, just like I’m making the right choice, ‘cos I know if I tighten this grip any more, the world’s gonna know that you still need to breathe despite your powers, right?”

With a hoarse voice, Anthony said “Yes”.

“I’m putting some faith in you that despite all the crap you’ve done, you’re still a decent person inside, and you know the right choice is the hardest one to make, and the one you’re going to choose. You didn’t do this because you wanted power or because you’re some sorta comic book villain, you’re a decent guy in a bad spot and you did bad things. And I’m still gonna give you that choice, even though I know I shouldn’t and nobody else would.”

Verus let go of his grip. Anthony gasped for breath, reaching and stroking at his neck.

“Do this willingly, Anthony. Surrender and let yourself be arrested. I’ll walk you to the damn cell in the Unit if I have to.”

Anthony hung his head, letting out a deep breath; like catharsis, purging his system through the exhale.

“Very well. I surrender.”

Verus smiled slightly. “Thank you.”

As Anthony raised his head, his eyes continued to raise upwards. Around his neck and hands, golden light began to materialise and coalesce, until it defined itself into more determined shapes. It expanding outwards like each surface soothed itself with smaller panes, bloating outwards at a rapid pace that ate through the air. Around his neck was a golden, yellowish construct of hardened light that appeared like matte, frosted glass. Around the edges, a pink light began to glow softly around the collar, strong enough to be noticed without detracting from the focus of the collar itself. Two similar constructs materialised over Anthony’s hands, chaining them together in a series of intricate chains that bound him in place.

Verus turned and looked skywards; above them were helicopters; both had ‘BBC News’ written in white to contrast from the navy hull, and a golden figure was floating in the sky above them much lower. It descended hastily before it was twenty feet from where they were standing, hovering above the ground. The figure was at least seven foot tall, clad in the same material as the handcuffs and collar had been made from. He was armoured in the stuff from head to toe, giving him the appearance of a baroque knight of old.

The armour looked as modern as full plate could be, with no parts exposed; even the helmet was sealed in tight by layers of hard light. Three overlapping plates hung on his hip down his outer thighs, and three individual spikes held behind him to give him the appearance of wings that ponderously dangled in the air like a halo behind his body. His helmet was split three ways, from the chin to the ridge of where his nose should be, which forked out either side of this to above his ears; his eyes was obscured by the pink light that seemed to fill the entire three way slit. Atop that appeared to be another plate that pointed upwards with three individual spikes, giving it the appearance of a crown. He was as thick as he was tall, clad in immensely thick layers that were as much designed to intimidate and awe as they were to protect himself.

He never stopped moving entirely, just only slowing down once he reached the ground. As he moved towards them, he began to walk on the floor as he finally reached him, the entire motion fluid and practised. He raised his hand up, flexing his fingers. Anthony’s hands raised up, and his collar tugged him forward, almost off balance.

Verus straightened himself up, and Anthony stared at him. A chain materialised, connected to the collar, the speed of which it appeared could have been missed between blinks. The other end was in his armoured hand, and the rest of it moved up and coiled around his plated arm. Verus looked between the two, before Anthony spoke to break the silence.

“Sovereign has finally arrived.”

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