After thirty minutes -
Minuteman looked up at the sky, feeling wet mud underneath him. His body raged with pain that wracked him like hot fire, but the rain and the mud was oddly comforting in its coolness. He felt that if he closed his eyes for just a few more seconds, he would drift away, forever away into a sleep from which he was never waking.
But he could not do that.
Minuteman grit his teeth, tasting iron, his own blood, in his mouth, and put power into his body. He leaped back onto his feet with surprising agility as he sucked in breaths. He put a hand over his stomach where large claw gashes threatened to widen with every one of his movements and spill out his guts. His right shoulder had been torn into with a massive bite, shearing off a big chunk of his developed deltoid muscle.
In front of him, the shark variant showed its ever present, many toothed grinned at him. Its right arm was twisted backwards at the joint, dislocated from a well-executed lock. The armor plating like grey scales around its neck and chest were bashed in, lined with countless cracks of impact from Minuteman's shield. Several large gashes and tears in its flesh indicated where Minuteman had thrown his shield and drawn blood. Three of its fins were reduced to small nubs smoking with seared flesh - the result of Minuteman's last plasma charge in his shield.
"Not looking too good, are we?" said Minuteman. He looked down at a puddle of rainwater and his own blood. He saw his own bruised, bloodied, battered body. "But guess I'm even worse off."
"Grah," said the shark variant. It pointed at Minuteman, then at its own stomach, mimicking where Minuteman's stomach gashes were.
"Yeah, you got me, so what about it?" said Minuteman.
The shark variant turned to one of the fishmen and waved it forward. When the fishmen neared, the shark variant reached out and viciously bit the fishman's head off. Then, it dug its claws into the fishman's hide and ripped off a great strip of its flexible skin and scales. It then tossed the skin towards Minuteman's feet.
"Grah. Grah." The shark variant motioned to its stomach.
"You want me to wrap my injuries up? So you can fight more?" Minuteman looked at the bloody strip of red scaled skin. He reached down and picked it up before tying it around his stomach, wrapping it tight to seal his injuries shut and prevent his intestines from pouring it.
"So much intelligence…" Minuteman was astounded. Variants that communicated like this to people were extremely rare, limited mostly to cases of parasitic variants that took over human minds. That a variant had independently evolved to be able to communicate like this was unheard of.
What was going on in the world?
Why were the variants evolving so much?
And was this related to why they were attacking so often?
The ground rumbled as the vault doors oscillated.
"Thanks," said Minuteman as he smiled. "But time's up. I've won."
The shark variant cocked its head as it stared at the ground, wondering what was going on. Some distance aways from the bunker vault doors, a circular hangar door opened up in the ground with the groaning of heavy metal working for the first time in decades.
Then, Minuteman heard the whir of an electro-etherite engine starting up. Miles had gotten the carrier to work, too. Now it was just a matter of getting the civilians inside out.
"Rah!" The shark variant thrust its clawed hand out, motioning its fishmen subordinates to investigate the sound, and hordes of fishmen ran towards the hangar. Too late, though.
With a booming whir, the large carrier plane emerged from the ground, its huge bulk likely packed to the brim with civilians. White lights shone out from it's the dual electro-etherite engines embedded in either of its wings. The cylindrical structure of the engines spun rapidly, processing power with crackling electricity.
Minuteman let the fishman crowd pass by him as he knew they could not get there in time. Before they were even halfway there, the carrier was high up in the air, and with a burst of power, speeding away. The skies had cleared up, too. Halfway through Minuteman's fight, the huge storm above had miraculously broken apart, and that guaranteed the carrier's safety.
The fishmen kept running, though, towards the open hangar, but inside, they would only face heroes to rebuff them and reinforce Minuteman.
Or that was what Minuteman thought. Instead, he heard a medley of screams fill the air. Screams of desperation and terror and pain.
"Civilians!?" Minuteman immediately whirled around and started to sprint towards the hangar.
"Fuck those idiot heroes!" roared Minuteman as he grimaced in pain, feeling with every step his injuries cry out in agony. He knew what had happened -
The heroes had left behind all the civilians just to evacuate themselves. That massive carrier could carry two hundred people inside of it, enough for all the civilians but not enough for the heroes. So instead, the twenty or so heroes had decided to take the plane for themselves and leave two hundred lives to die.
They could not afford to save even a single person once they committed to this plan because if they did, they took with them a survivor to report on their behavior later.
They did not want any witnesses.
Minuteman heard the shark variant roar in anger as it sprinted towards him, wanting to continue their duel. From the frequency of the shark variant's heavy and mighty footsteps, he could tell it was going to gain on him way before he could make it to the hangar.
Minuteman ran as much as possible before he felt the shark variant right behind him. Then, he turned around and used his Minute of Justice. His body lit up with a brilliant blue aura as his blonde hair spiked up and started to float in the air. His power was called Force of Will, and it converted willpower into physical strength.
In particularly desperate situations, Minuteman could concentrate all his will into a state called the 'Minute of Justice' that made him faster, stronger, and, more importantly, invulnerable to damage for one single minute.
The shark variant lunged at Minuteman with its two clawed hands. The shark variant's claws ran down Minuteman's chest, but they scraped up sparks as they skidded down across his skin, unable to pierce through it.
"I don't have time for you anymore!" shouted Minuteman as he kneed the shark variant in the stomach before throwing it away as far as possible, sending its huge, heavy body skidding across the mud like a steppingstone thrown across the surface of a lake.
With that, Minuteman turned back to the people that really mattered: the civilians. Any fishman he ran into, he beat shoved away or beat down with single strikes. He tried his best not to slow himself down because he needed to get there, to the hangar, where all those defenseless, innocent lives were -
But Minuteman was not going to make it. Already dozens of fishmen were there, at the edge of the hangar doors, ready to jump in below and massacre those inside. He desperately reached out, his blood soaked red gloves grasping forwards, towards those lives that needed, that had trusted and relied on him -
Minuteman blinked in utter surprise. His hand was still outstretched towards the fishmen, but instead of seeing fishmen framed between his fingers, he saw…a wheel?
Something Minuteman had never before seen in his life.
A sizable, five-meter-wide wheel made of what looked like stitched together corpses and bones. Its wheel structure consisted of spines tethered together with vertebrae jutting out like spikes. The bones were wreathed in green flames, and those flames spread out all around the hangar doors where the bone wheel moved, lighting up a wall of green fire that did not burn down the fishmen within, but still killed them near instantly.
The fishmen roared and flailed in pain before they fell the ground, their corpses withering as if the flames were draining their very life force away. The flame wall also stopped fishmen from advancing into the hangar.
"What…?" Minuteman was astounded at this otherworldly sight, but he quickly regained his wits. He needed to figure out if this was a threat, some kind of strange new variant that posed a danger to those within.
At the same time, he had to deal with the masses of fishmen still charging forwards from behind him.
Minuteman looked ahead at the bone wheel, then back at the crowd of charging fishmen. Worst case scenario, he was stuck in a pincer attack.
His fears faded and his confusion only grew when he saw what looked like black armored knights fall from the sky. The landed among the advancing fishmen, and as they did, they swung blades and halberds of cold blue metal decorated with bones at their guards and handles.
The knights utterly butchered the fishmen, moving across them like specters of death, their dark green, tattered cloaks rippling behind them, their each and every swings slicing and dicing fishmen in halves.
The fishmen hissed and shrieked in pain as their body parts were lopped off before their lives ended in swift, merciless blade swings.
They must have been human, judging by their builds and how they moved, but beneath their dark helms, Minuteman could not tell.
Was this a hero team themed as knights?
He knew of one called the Neo-Templars, but they armored themselves in cyber-armor, whereas these knights seemed to just be wearing regular metal with no hints of technology added in.
Minuteman was torn from his thoughts when he saw the shark variant approaching, seeing new enemies and grinning with eager desire to fight.
"Wait! Be careful, that one's much stronger!" said Minuteman, hoping to be helpful. He started to move forward to try and aid the knights, but a red armored knight appeared in front of him.
"Stop right there," said the knight with a threatening edge in his voice. His face was also covered under his helm, but beneath the visor gaps, Minuteman could see that the knight's eyes glowed with crimson light.
The knight looked at him with long, crimson saber in hand, and then nodded. His voice softened. "You are not one of our targets, and you are quite injured. With that trained body of yours, no doubt, you are a warrior of some sort, and you have fought long and well. Take a well-deserved rest, fellow warrior, and let us fend this advance off.
You shall see how battle is truly done.
And without mercy."
The red knight then dashed forwards, leaving behind a streak of red in all of his movements as he slashed from side to side, carving up fishmen in his way. His skill with the blade was masterful, each slice lopping off fishmen heads.
The blood the fishmen spilled from their neck stumps funneled into the red knight's saber, elongating the blade with solidified. glowing blood.
The red knight neared the shark variant, confidently surging forwards to engage in battle.
"Am I…dreaming?" said Minuteman, wondering what the hell was happening.