Seismic stood tall with his pillar-like arms crossed in front of him. Standing like that, his massive back in front of all the defenders behind him, he looked like a huge oak tree. A rooted symbol of strength. And behind him, everyone rallied.
A rain of gunfire and explosives whistled past him and over his head as he stared down the enormous wave of variants surging forwards. The ordinary fishmen died in droves. Their scales were resistant to bullets, but not entirely bulletproof. After taking dozens of rounds, their scales shattered and rendered them vulnerable.
The biggest issue were the Crabmen. Each of them stood three meters tall, supporting their huge, shell plated bodies on four powerful segmented legs. They possessed six arms, four of them smaller and clawed, with two main large ones holding their giant club-like pincers.
Bullets bounced off of them like rain on a windshield, and soon, when the fragile fishmen at the front died off, a line of crabmen naturally formed, their large red shelled bodies forming a shield wall from which the fishmen could charge behind without taking any bullet shots.
Higher caliber bullets from the Walker mechs and rounds from the tanks could blow them apart, but there was only a finite number of those. At the very least, not nearly enough to deal with the tide of hundreds to thousands of crabmen surging forwards, their charge shaking the ground itself.
The variants rapidly closed the distance towards the human defenders, now nearing within a hundred meters of them. Within seconds, all would be lost.
"They're going to overrun us!" came a shout of panic behind Seismic.
"Augmenters, Mutants, get back behind me!" shouted Seismic into his earpiece. The few surviving Augmenters and Mutants in the front lines scrambled back, many of them injured and scratched up.
As soon as Seismic saw the last of them rush past him, he readied himself.
Seismic sucked in a deep breath, and his eyes widened, glowing brown as he channeled his power. He felt heat circulate from his spine where, as an Augmenter, his Alter Organ was located. He raised a fist into the air, and all of the developed muscles in his arm bulged in flexion, veins of vascularity showing through his black and brown bodysuit.
A sphere of white formed around his fist.
With a yell, Seismic knelt down and punched the ground in front of him, driving the sphere into the earth. At first, nothing happened.
Then, the ground rumbled and shook as Seismic generated a localized earthquake. The cement roller shaped bracers around his arms rotated, their etherite reactors glowing as twin blue dots. These allowed Seismic to control his normally omnidirectional earthquakes into controlled directions.
With this, Seismic directed his earthquake into a massive cone in front of him. Once more, the ground under the charging variants lurched and shook like it was made of water, sending all the variants flipping in the air like food tossed in a pan.
Any variant that had their feet on the ground when the shockwave washed over it conducted it in their bodies, completely decimating their insides, breaking bones and scrambling organs. The crabmen were just as fragile as the fishmen against this level of strength, and their white organs and blood spurted from their shattered shells.
Then, the earth sundered.
Far worse than before.
This time, many jagged rock formations as tall as small buildings rose in the air, forcibly churned up from beneath the earth by Seismic's power. Countless more smaller rock spikes thrust upwards as well, impaling hundreds of variants.
Some variants screamed as they fell into uncovered fissures and faults.
Seismic took in a deep breath as he stood up.
"Holy sh*t…" said one of the policemen in the Frames as he stopped shooting and looked ahead. All of the men and women defenders followed his lead and stopped firing in awe.
The entire battlefield had been reshaped by Seismic's one punch.
Several football stadiums' worth of land mass had been completely converted into a mass of upturned rock spikes and formations painted in variant corpses and blood.
"We've got this!" shouted someone. "We have an A-ranker by our side!"
"That's right you fish fucks, you like that!?"
"Go get em', Seismic!"
"Stay focused!" roared Seismic, his voice hoarse. He felt pain spiking around his spine and blood churning up from his stomach, painting his teeth red. "This only buys you time! Shoot at the choke points!"
Seismic wiped his mouth with his black gloved hand and grimaced at the red stains he drew back. He suffered from a condition known as Crystallization.
A fairly common condition among Alters as they aged, particularly stronger ones.
Alter powers were similar to natural organs like the muscles. Their limits could be expanded and trained by constant use and recovery in a process very similar to muscular hypertrophy.
And just like how some humans had more genetic potential to grow muscle than others, it was the same with how some Alters had more genetic potential to be stronger than others.
But in the same way that muscles could wear and tear over time, atrophying and suffering in old age, so too could Alter organs and their powers.
With age and overuse, Alter organs began to stiffen up, turning crystalline in structure, and the more they solidified, the less capable they were of circulating the Alter Cells needed for their powers.
Their cell count stayed the same, but their engines - the organs - simply became less and less efficient.
Generally speaking, the stronger an Alter's power was in their prime, the more it would degenerate in their old age. For someone like Seismic who also greatly overused his powers in his youth, Crystallization hit him incredibly hard.
On top of this, Seismic still nursed a severe injury from ten years ago. When he was cut down by the villain known as Swordmaster. Seismic's spine had been severed at the base, damaging his organ, and it was a miracle he had even survived with the absolute best of medical science and Restorer powers available.
Ever since then, though, Seismic's power had suffered.
That said, Seismic's maximum output of power was similar to back in his younger days. But it was his stamina that could not keep up. He could fight at full strength for a few attacks at best.
That was the biggest reason he had dropped all the way from the A+ rank, on the cusp of reaching the legendary S rank, down to A-.
That was why Seismic had to fight smarter now. He had used his last earthquake to blast away the variants, yes, but what he had also done was create a sort of rudimentary maze. The larger rock spiks he created formed natural walls that corralled variants into several choke points where the defenders could gun them down much more efficiently.
Seismic growled as he saw variants already rushing through the choke points, rearing their ugly fish heads out. He had not even bought a minute of rest for everyone.
"Shoot!" roared Seismic. "If you see a crabman, use an explosive round or attach a grenade to your launchers!"
The constant clatter of gunfire resumed behind him.
Seismic looked up, making sure the flying heroes were doing their job.
They were, but they were struggling. They were engaged in a massive shootout with the mermen situated further back in the variant army. The job of the flyers was to continually rain down projectiles around the ten sea anemones out of range from conventional firearms and weaponry, preventing the mermen from manning them again.
In response, the mermen fired their own projectiles, creating and shaping water into pressurized lances that shot through the sky in a rain of blue spikes. Every passing moment, flying heroes died, impaled by one of these water lances, and every passing moment, the mermen got closer and closer to fully manning the anemones again.
But in just ten minutes, the Panopticon's drone fleets would get here.
That was all the time they needed to hold out for.
Seismic stood tall again, crossing his arms, making sure his back, what everyone saw behind him, did not falter, did not show any weakness.
There was a noticeable shift in the battlefield then. The variants ceased to rush forward in their mass numbers.
Then, the leader of the crabmen variants leaped upon the highest rock formation it could find, staring directly as Seismic with beady black, stalked eyes. It seemed almost as if the leader wanted to challenge Seismic, and Seismic readied himself to fight.
But the leader of the crabmen suddenly stiffened before leaping away almost in fright, disappearing farther back into the army.
"What's going on!?" came a confused shout, and Seismic did not answer, for he had no idea either.
That was when everyone felt it.
Their skin tingling, the hairs on their skin raising in sheer instinctual alarm. It was as if they could feel the heavy humidity of an intense storm ready to bear down at them.
The variants had not retreated. No, they had made way for something.
The rock formations at the back shook before crumbling down, as if a great force had shattered them at their base.
"Flyers, get me a visual," said Seismic into his earpiece.
"That huge water dome at the back is gone!" Mothman's voice buzzed into Seismic's ear. "Something came out of it, something fast, and it's headed right your way! I-I didn't get a clear sight of it, but this feeling - this is the Locus!"
The Locus. The center of control for large groups of variants.
The rock formations broke apart and sunk to the ground en masse, and through their deconstruction, it was possible to map out exactly where the Locus was coming from.
It was both a good and bad thing that the Locus was approaching. Last visuals confirmed that the Locus was contained in a water dome at the back of the army, meaning that it would not immediately contribute to the battle.
However, now that the Locus was free, that meant that the defenders would have a much, much harder time holding the line.
Yet, at the same time, there was a silver lining to this:
Seismic cocked back a fist. He took in deep breaths, controlling the pain and heat from his spine. This was it. If he could kill the Locus in one sudden, powerful attack, he could end this entire thing now without the Panopticon.
He still had enough energy to make a good fight. And the variants seemed to want their Locus to fight alone, perhaps by will of the Locus itself.
"I'll do it."
Seismic perked up. "You, Vig?"
Mel Morales walked up beside him, her blade drawn. "Yes. I don't have large amounts of destructive power, but killing single targets is my specialty. If I don't succeed, then I'll be out of your sight permanently, and you get the glory of saving the day.
Doesn't that sound like a good deal?"