The tendrils died at an alarming rate. Even though Hal downplayed the effectiveness of the anti-personnel lasers, he could fire off multiple beams at multiple targets. They wouldn’t have been effective against the mushroom central brain he’d destroyed, but against these tendrils it was good enough.
The tendrils sizzled and stopped moving. Somewhere in the back of my brain, the part that distantly remembered breakfast, I wondered if these were edible mushrooms and hoped they weren’t psychedelic.
Psychedelic mushrooms did grow in Michigan. I’d checked Wikipedia once.
Amy, meanwhile, had floated closer to Gordon, Gifford, Hunter, and Izzy. As the Bloodspear flew back to her hand, she said, “I think I can get it out of Gifford’s system.”
Gordon turned toward her, his eyes flicking downward toward the pitted, metal spear in her hand, “You’re not going to hurt him.”
To be fair to him, her spear did look like it belonged in the hands of an anime villain or possibly on the the cover of a heavy metal album.
Meeting Gordon’s eyes, she said, “I might hurt him, but unless you know how to get rid of all of the fungus, your choice is between letting him maybe get hurt a little or letting him live his life as an appendage of a giant mushroom monster. Which sounds better?”
Gritting his teeth, Gordon said, “How hurt?”
Amy didn’t back down, “I’m not going to stab him. I might scratch him. If he gets hurt, it will be because the zombies don’t want to let him go, but I have more than a thousand years of magical expertise to handle that.”
Gordon looked down where his brother floated in the air. His brow furrowed at the word thousand but said, “Okay. Do it.”
“Good,” she held up the spear, pointing it downward at Gifford’s chest. “It’s going to look like I stabbed him, but I won’t. The spear will turn intangible. If you watch, the only blood will be a scratch.”
Then she chanted a few words, causing symbols on the Bloodspear to glow red. The chanting went on for long enough that I wondered how long it would go on and then she stopped—by plunging the spear into Gifford’s chest.
Consistent with what she’d said, it passed through Gifford’s armored costume without resistance as if the armor and the bones underneath it didn’t exist.
Then she held it there, the red symbols glowing brighter, and Gifford glowed red, the translucent mushroom skin around him burning off in a flash too short for Gordon to freak out.
She withdrew the spear and Gifford opened his eyes. Looking from Hunter to Gordon, he said, “Guys? I don’t remember anything after we started fighting Bullet. Did that really happen?”
From a few feet behind them, Bullet said, “Yes, but we’re going to forget about that for now. We have bigger problems.”
Gifford looked over to Hunter as if for confirmation and Hunter said, “Yeah, that happened.”
Flipping himself upright with a little wind, he turned to absorb the scene around us—the destroyed road, burned mushroom people, Hal still blasting tendrils, and the smoking crater Hal had made with his main gun.
Beyond that, the police, fire, and ambulance sirens wailed, all of them coming in this direction.
“I… think I’m remembering more. I was part of something… I don’t know what,” Gifford turned his head around, viewing the chaos as if hoping that it would put the pieces back into place.
Bullet said, “You were controlled by the mushroom zombies that Menagerie released.”
At Gifford’s look, Hunter nodded. Bullet continued, “It’s plain to me now that the Nine were using Major Justice and us to attack the Heroes’ League. Major Justice killed Arete, one of the Dominators while you were out.”
Gifford shook his head, “I didn’t see that coming. Where’s the body?”
I looked downward and didn’t see it. A little more looking and I saw charred remains of what seemed to be intestines on the gravel. Not seeing any surviving tendrils, I dropped lower to take a closer look, and found nothing. Even his head was gone.
Checking my implant’s records from the last few minutes, I found him. The Rocket suit had a 360 degree view around me. It wasn’t as good below or above me, but it was good enough to allow the implant to collect enough images to form a timeline.
Tendrils had pulled it off to the side of the road and behind a cluster of bushes on the left side of the road—the one with houses.
I pushed more fuel into the rockets until I hovered over the bushes. They ran the perimeter of one of my neighbors’ yards, effectively acting as an organic fence.
Aside from some greasy ashes, I found no sign of Arete and wondered what that meant. He’d been dead. Major Justice’s blast had destroyed the man’s torso. Though I’d learned that the original versions of the Dominators could regenerate, they mostly weren’t as good at it as Cassie and I doubted that Cassie could regenerate from that.
Of course, I hadn’t tested that, so there was no way to know.
The video that my implant collected didn’t show any sign that Arete was alive or regenerating though.
In order for Arete to be gone, someone had to be waiting on this side of the hedgerow to take him away. Maybe I’d be able to find him in bot footage later, but I didn’t have time right now.
What did the mushroom zombies want with his body? The fact that his head was undamaged opened up some possibilities.