Diversification 19.20

Six False Hosts were left.

Six twisted versions of me that were gaining in power as we fought.

Six more times I would need to kill myself.

The energy I'd taken from the Flesh-clad clone was fire in my veins, not let out and distributed naturally, but mainlined directly into Absolute Territory, far more power than I was safely capable of using, but safety was a secondary concern right now.

The Angel was still trading blows with Dryad, cutting the construct to pieces, but Taylor was just reconnecting them and continuing on. The Spider pulled back, its cloth-like body drooping slightly in exhaustion after firing its beams of pure Negation. That left me to handle the Tiger, Golem, Devil, and Statue.

Four on one, I thought, flapping my six wings as I leapt backwards, giving myself a little more time, I can do this.

The Golem was slow, but tough and insanely strong. The Statue and Tiger were both fast, but straightforward fighters. It was the Devil, its wrought-iron body glowing with its Copper energy, that I needed to handle first. Thankfully, it flew, as I did, so with another leap I used my wings to gain several hundred of feet of altitude, each of our Absolute Territory enhanced bodies in the seventy-foot range, except for the Golem that towered over us all.

The Devil cackled and tried to join me, while the others stopped to fire beams upwards, infused with Crimson Pierce from the scorpion tail of the chimeric Tiger, with Emerald Mass from the stone-like Golem, and Teal Burn from the obsidian Statue, its body covered with cracks that were filled with fire.

While I no longer had the Shard, Projectile Protection, I remembered its shape, flavor, and method, and was able to snap Absolute Territory into it, silver hexagonal barriers of Resilience appearing and blocking them, nearly cracking, before I tilted them to let the attacks slide off, so charged with meaning that they could not easily be moved to try and strike me again.

Meanwhile, the Devil rose up towards me, moving far faster than its wings should allow, Copper Corruption dripping from its serrated claws as it reached out, created face in an insane rictus that seemed both grin and grimace. I dodged, the False Host trying to whip its tail to strike me, full of Rot, but it had not fully regenerated from the beam of Negation that'd removed it, and missed me by mere feet, as we both continued to rise, now over a thousand feet up, high in the sky.

I knew Consuming it, full as its body was with Anarchy, would be foolish in the extreme, so I instead channeled the Tear I'd seen from the Serpent into my hands, which took on a shard-like appearance of jagged, rough edges as I flew forward with a beat of my six wings, grabbing the base of the False Host's tail and pulling, flaying the not-flesh of the Demon, ripping out chunks of energy which dissolved into free floating power, quickly absorbed by both parties, but while it was merely recouping losses, I was still gaining in strength.

It turned and charged me again, but I met it this time, shifting from Tear to Cut, adding in Resilience and Durability as my head throbbed. Three Concepts it is, I thought as met the Demon's claws with my own, but while its talons left Copper trails of Corruption, my fingers tore through it, slicing through the Absolute Territory of its outer shell, feeling the resistance of its second, wrought-iron form hidden within a half second later, slowing but not stopping me as I tried to reach in further.

The Demon, shrieking in pain, pulled back, and while I tried to keep hold, the Cut of my hands parted metal, then not-flesh on the way out just as I had on the way in, creating a twisted mass of exit wounds, but allowing the False Host to fall back.

If I could Mark it, this would be so easy, I thought, but shoved the idea away, aware of the others below, still firing beams upwards, which I blocked without paying too much attention, my reinforced Absolute Territory, which barely fit in its Major slot now, more than enough to match the others, even if only barely. Well, except for one.

It was that thought that made me look down, and see the cloth Spider straighten, a black sphere forming in front of it, and I dodged, the dark beam of Negation blowing past me and up towards the moon rising in the far distance.

As I tried to get my bearings, the Demon shrieked as it dove, slamming into me with almost no warning. Corrupting claws raked my form, and I had to assign Resilience to my not-flesh as the projected body started to corrode and fall apart.

Trying something new, I shifted my claws from Cut to Pierce, my own talons lengthening, before instilling the Angel's Destruction. My elongated fingers glowed, and I shoved forward my left arm, fingers splayed, to catch the Demon in the chest, claws biting deep then curling, to get me the best grip I could.

I ignored my opponent's thrashing, wings pumping as I pulled us out of the fall and twisted the False Host's body so it faced the ground, letting it absorb the blows from the others. The Emerald ray of Momentum caught me by surprise, interacting with the solid not-flesh of my foe more than it had my shields, shoving it up until the Demon almost body-checked me and we were both driven even higher.

As it petered out, and we stopped above the clouds, I shoved the Demon forward, my chest, face, and arms full of Copper Corruption as my body flaked away. Feeling as if I had been dumped in acid, I focused on my goal and struck deep with my right hand, fingers pressed together to form a pseudo beak, striking deep at the center of my foe's chest. Before, the blow would've been iffy at best, but as much as I'd bolstered AT, it was roaring inferno compared to the Demon's funeral pyre. My fingers passed the False-Host's Absolute Territory, through its metal body, until I felt my gauntlets hit flesh, and opened just enough to grip its true body before ripping it out. Instead of plucking it, fully and completely, from its shells, all I held were the bloody, broken pieced of half its abdomen.

I. . . I'm not sure what else I expected, I thought, getting a look at its Personal Shielding, only to realize that it'd been tweaked to trade protection for greater movement ability, a bad deal as far as I was concerned. The Demon died, its Flame winking out, its larger shell dissolving, revealing only the wrought iron body, with a gory hole in its center, which was shining with a Copper glow.

Too much energy, it's going to blow, I realized, pulling my arm back and hurling the lifeless iron demonic shell downwards, slamming a beam of Momentum into it, as the Golem had. The metal body was accelerated, as the glow grew, a Black beam of Negation missing it and scything upwards. An Emerald barrier started to slowly stretch out, to block the attack, Crimson, Teal, and Gold walls joining it, though the last one flickered and died for some reason.

The speeding projectile hit the Teal barrier, which fractured with a spiderweb of cracks, but held under the impact, right up until the False Host's body went off, a blinding Copper light erupting from the corpse, and I flapped to the side, avoiding bits of superheated shrapnel that came a little too close, while I made my move.

I could feel the Marks I'd made, several still in action, and reached out through Arthropod Control to seize control of Taylor for a moment, directing her to grow a shaped Orichalcum Sword from the ground, even as I tried to absorb the energy in the air from the dead clone, the other False Hosts doing the same. A glance around showed that all, True Host and lesser False, had fallen back as the fight raged, which meant I could continue as I was.

In an instant, I was on the ground, grasping the blade and infusing it with my own AT, strengthening it even further as I enhanced its ability to Cut. I ran for the Tiger, as fast as my legs could take me, wings wrapped tightly to my back, the Copper glow fading, the Teal barrier gone and the Crimson one fractured, and the fight was rejoined.

My blade hit the creature's tail, but its body was made up of Charge, the same core upon which the Piercing Dash Shard was built, and allowed it to escape, my blade coming down and through the ground with ease, as the Statue shifted its composition, Hardness giving way to Grace, as it fluidly leapt for me, shoulder checking me towards the Golem.

Thankfully, that False-Host was as slow on the uptake as it was with everything else, and was only now starting to dismiss its Emerald Barrier, which hadn't been needed, and I copied the Statue, distributing Grace throughout my form to not bounce off of the not-stone shell of the Golem, but to twist, reach a hand out, and swing around the hulking form of that False Host to come back at my foe.

It was ready for me, but the point-blank beam of Burn did nothing to me, as I was immune to such things. Furthermore, while it was unarmed, only its bare, if hard, hands to use, I had a blade, and kept my opponent moving backwards as I lashed out, the False Host constantly on the defensive after it tried to block my sword, only to lose a hand, though the clone reformed the AT construct a moment later as it leapt back once more. While it was good, managing its abilities effectively, I was its better in every way, and studied its Grace, implementing its techniques then adding to them, mixing in Change and Charge to let my legs deform for a moment and snap out unnaturally. I closed the gap between us in an instant, in a flying stab that shot my blade right through the middle of its chest, piercing its Hardness as if it was nothing.

But, when I slashed my blade out, I saw that I'd just caught the obsidian head of its second shell, the False-Host's true body located lower than I expected, at its center of gravity instead. As I swept my sword down again, though, I was bowled over by the Tiger as it charged right into me, its tail stabbing deep into my own chest, right through my Orichalcum shell, and into my flesh body, but all that did was expend a single malleable shield.

Flaring my wings, I shifted composition, turning my body to Resilience and Change, my blade and claws to Corruption as I tore into the Tiger, closing the wound in all three of my chests and regrowing the bits torn out of me by its Cutting claws almost as fast as I was being injured.

We furiously ripped at each over for several seconds, until the Tiger leapt away, and I reflexively did the same, a Negation beam passing through where both of us where a moment ago. I staggered to my feet, silver metallic not-flesh reforming as the Tiger tried to do the same, but the dozens of wounds on the False Host were infected with the same silver as my outer shell, Corruption thick in its body, and the Tiger lacked any defensive Concept with which to counter it.

The ground shook, and I looked over to see the Golem charging, Durability, Mass, and Momentum swirling together in its form to make it a juggernaut I could not stop, but as I tried to move out of the way, the Statue came up from behind, grabbing my arms and trying to hold me still as the Emerald titan swung back a single, enormous, rounded fist, readying its blow.

Against a human opponent, this would've worked.

However, I was not.

While my arms were locked, my sword unable to cut, I still had my powers, and my form was only one of convenience. Change and Tear filled my body, as I gave into that instinct in the back of my head, body twisting and warping as I changed from silver armored angel to a silver snake holding the sword in its mouth. I slithered out of its grasp, ripping pieces off of the statue as I did so, flowing around the Fallen Host to reform into the armored angel form once more, reversing the grip and going full defensive to hold the Statue still as the Golem struck.

Even rooted, the blow threw me back, the shockwave spreading out and blasting everything away from the point of impact. Both the Statue and I tumbled, and it twirled around, trying to strike me, but I added in enough Grace to myself to compensate, turning to see its chest caved in, the False Host's flesh exposed, its shields drained. I reached for it, only to have to jerk back as a Golden blade of Destruction burst through it from the other side, piercing my own body as well, but only cutting into my outer shell.

Leaping backwards, the Angel was there, sword extended, while Dryad pinned down the Tiger, roots digging into its crumbling shell to get at the bony second body within. Rather than press the attack, though, the Angel pulled its sword back, letting the blade dissolve as it shoved its now free hands into the center of the statue, even as it started to glow Azure, the energy in the clone destabilizing.

Resilience filled its body, but it was overlayed with Order, which I Saw would distribute any damage throughout itself, and I realized what it was going to do. Copying it, with Resilience, Durability, and Order of my own, I reached forward and covered its hands with mine, seconds before the False-Host's body detonated, the force of the blast trying to shove us both back, the pressure causing both of our metal wings, Gold and silver, to fracture from the distributed damage, both of our armored forms spiderwebbing with cracks, but it was constrained, and such that both of us were able to drink greedily of the energy released, only the wisps that had slipped through our fingers taken by the Tiger, Golem, and Spider.

I diverted some more to my Absolute Territory, further empowering it until it felt like it might shatter completely, letting the rest sink into my Core, the process painful in an entirely different way, my flesh body spasming, dry heaving as I had nothing left, but I was more than that, had to be more than that, as I stood back and prepared to fight the Angel. It might've done that to help, or, more likely, just tried to contain the blast to consume the most energy, as I had the Flesh False Host's moments ago.

However, the Angel turned from me and charged the Golem as it reformed its Golden blade of Destruction, leaving me confused, though not so confused as to not dodge the next black beam of Negation that tore through the landscape, the giant black cloth-Spider twisting to try track me, as I ran, the stream of nonexistence closing quickly.

Before I needed to use a movement power, which I knew would be copied in an instant, from across the river came screaming in a ball of dark blue energy that struck the Spider's main body, and exploding outwards. Using the opportunity, I dashed for the False Host, trying to take it down while I could. However, a black beam scythed out towards me, and I tried to duck, but lost my top pair of wings, the cold feeling of loss, of part of me torn away, was just another in the long list of feelings I was ignoring, along with the pounding in my head, the burning of my body, and the tiredness that had magnified to the point of agony dragging at my soul.

Giant metal legs covering the distance quickly, it wasn't going to be enough as the Spider gathered more energy into a black sphere, but turned its back on me, instead looking across the river to the defenders.

No! I thought, trying to think fast, shooting a beam of Burn in front of me, mixed with Tear, to destroy the remains of a building and set off an explosion, which I promptly ran into, obscuring my form as I pulled myself to one of the Mark's I'd left with the Penumbral Defenders, remaining wings opened wide as the world shifted and I flapped, hard, gaining enough ground and speed to stop myself from accidentally crushing anyone.

Appearing over the gathered, they all looked so small, so insignificant, as the Spider finished gathering power for the next shot. I landed at the edge of the water, everyone having pulled back, and planted my feet, throwing my sword at the creature, but missing, not able to compensate with my other powers as I was used to, the blade striking to the side of the False Host and setting off an explosion which threw up an enormous amount of dust and debris, obscuring the rest of the fight, leaving it just me and the Spider, with hundreds of True Hosts behind me.

Can't stop this head on, but do I need to? I wondered with desperate fervor, throwing both my hands forward as I pulled from the skills I'd gained with a different power. While I was unable to use Space Warping, the stubby remains of that Shard still recovering, I remembered what I'd made with it, and tried something similar. The sharp tip of the construct was infused with Cut, to split the attack into fourths, the rest of the hanging pyramid, base resting against my hands, was filled with Resilience and Durability, to hopefully make it strong enough to survive this, as the Spider fired, the Black beam of Negation racing towards me with the sound of howling winds as air was sucked into the vacuum it created, only to be destroyed as well.

The front of the beam hit, and split, two fourths of the stream of void diverged down and to the left and right, two more upwards in a similar fashion. However, as soon as it hit, I knew it wouldn't be enough, the front of my defensive construct eroding as the attack charged with the Concept of absolute nothingness hit it straight on. The second the leading edge of my shield gave way, I'd lose, the beam punching straight through the center and into my chest.

I was already being pushed backwards, until enormous red roots pierced the ground, wrapping up and around my legs, Taylor doing all she could, but it wouldn't be enough.

Need more, I thought, head pounding, as I reached for a fourth Concept, nearly going blind with the pain as I reinforced the entire thing with the Angel's Order, distributing the damage, while putting as much power as I could into it, holding it steady.

Now my entire body cracked and buckled, eaten away by Negation, but that was a mere trickle of the raging river I was diverting. The False Host kept it up for dozens of seconds, far longer than it had before, but I held, silver armor cracked and pitted, flesh burned, but the more damaged I was, the more Injury Empowerment glowed in my Sea of Flame, pushing me higher and higher, until, with a step that broke through the restraining roots, I started to push forward, slowly at first, but the more I was hurt, the stronger I became.

Screaming incoherently, focused on my single task of stopping the beam, I reached out blindly, taking the Piercing Dash Shard I'd copied earlier and slamming it into place in my Sea. Not able to handle the fifth concept of Charge I needed, I made do with a lesser ability.

Covered by the tide of blackness, none of the False Hosts were able to see me as I slammed the power forward as hard as it could go, not using Lightning Leap for fear I'd drop the shield in the process. The newly-slotted Shard tried to accelerate just my flesh, baulking when I forced it to accelerate all of me, including the shield.

Snarling, I reached out another pair of Flaming arms in my Sea and gave the Shard a choice.

Work, or perish.

I was no mere Host, for it to set limits to, and I would not be denied.

The Shard pulled at my core, and I let it take all it needed, moving forward with another solid, earth-shattering step as I continued to push up the stream. A moment later it was ready, humming with power, and I activated it, as my body continued to degrade, and I became ever stronger.

My legs filled with energy, glowing a deep green, not having been set to silver like the other Shards, but there was no time, as I felt it click into place, like the hammer of a gun being cocked. Not hesitating, I fired, the ground below me exploding in twin shockwaves as I was forced forward at inhuman speeds, right up the stream of Negation until I broke through, shoving my pyramidal shield through the things eye, through AT Shell, through its large cloth body, only the thing's Personal Shield letting it take the enhanced blow and survive, but it was fired out the back of its shells like a canon, even as I sheared through the thing's body, flying over the city.

I saw the twisted version of myself, fingers too long with prismatic threads emerging from each digit, start to regrow a body with Cloth Projection as it passed the far edge of the city and started to slow, held aloft by Victoria's power, but an attack from behind me blew past my head at supersonic speeds.

The shot, from the True Hosts, pierced the metallic cloth and struck the body inside, its shield still down, and I watched its Flames wink out even as it was starting to form its third body from pure Negation.

The bits of my clone spread out, pulped by the shot, but a Black light shone from what remained of its skull, and I threw out a shield, ready for the blast wave, and trying to protect the True Hosts behind me. It went off, but unlike the others it didn't explode, a sphere of Negation extending in every direction even as it still flew away, reaching outwards, expending its energy that way, before shrinking down to nothing, not leaving anything behind, and having dug an enormous trench into the countryside.

With no energy left in the air, it'd gone off in one last 'fuck you', but, thankfully, one that hadn't hurt anyone. I'd dodged a bullet there, as I wasn't sure if I hadn't been able to absorb it in time, it would've caught almost everyone in the blast, unless they had movement power to escape, of course.

My thoughts felt simultaneously sluggish as molasses and sharp as a monomolecular blade as I turned to the last of my False Hosts. The Angel was still trying to take on the Golem, but was losing, while the Corruption I'd poured into the Tiger had run its course, and it was rebuilding itself, even as a sixty-foot tall Dryad did its damnedest to stop the Clone.

But Taylor, for all her gifts, was nowhere close to me in this sort of fight.

Three left, I thought, starting to run towards the Crimson creature of bone as it finished regenerating.

Three left until I can rest.

Three left until I'm done.