Author's note: This ends the arc. Next chapter will be the aftermath. All feedback is appreciated.

April 27, 2014

Rika refused to go into battle again as Aegis. Instead, she wore a black unitard and boots. She leaned against a wall, staring at Athena's coin in her hand. "Are you ready?" Athena asked her.

Rika put the coin's chain around her neck and slipped it under her unitard. "Let's get this over with," she said coolly as she slipped on a black ski mask.

"You sure you don't want your shield for this?" Granite asked.

"I'm sure. Let's just end this story. Final chapter. One way or another."

"Very well," Athena said. "Enchanter, when you're ready."

"This won't be a very pleasant experience," Enchanter warned.

"More unpleasant than the time a demon blew me up?" Granite asked.

"Never mind," Enchanter said. "You'll all be fine." He started speaking in a language Rika didn't recognize, the words slipping in and out of her mind. She felt a wrenching feeling as the world was replaced with colours she had no names for. After an eternal moment, the world returned.

She was in mid-air, but she'd expected it. She fell forward, and landed on a roof. There were armed guards on both sides of her. She swung her left arm hard enough to concuss the man on that side, and used her right hand to grab the man on that side. She swung him around and threw him to the left, hitting another man, then spun and charged the other men on the right. They went down fast.

She jumped down to the ground. Granite and Athena had already made their way through the doors, so she followed them in. They were having no trouble with the men inside, and Rika paused to watch. Granite simply walked through everything that was thrown at him, and hit people hard enough to hurt them, but not to kill them. Athena, on the other hand, was poetry in motion, every movement leading to the next, attacking and defending simultaneously.

A door opened on the far end of the large room they were in. Ajax walked out, flanked by the man in the power armour, the man who turned off powers, Hecate, a bunch of villains Rika had never fought, and dozens more gunmen. "Wow," Ajax said. "Is this the best that could be mustered against us? Three heroes?"

"And one of them already defeated," Hecate added. "Alkaios won't be happy to see you here, Ms. Laskari. He thought you were smarter than to get involved again. I'm sure he'll enjoy breaking you again, thought."

"Silence," Athena said. "I will not have you speak that way to my champion."

"And I'll not be spoken to that way by some mannish bitch," Hecate snapped. "Let's dig around in your memories to see who you are."

"I am Athena. I am a friend of the goddess whose name you have used. She is not amused at your hubris. She sends her regards." Hecate's eyes went wide as Athena lifted her spear and threw it. She didn't throw the spear where Hecate appeared to be, beside the door, but instead threw it through the door itself. Hecate screamed and her illusion form disappeared as her real form dropped to the floor.

"You killed her!" the power damper said in shock. "But . . . heroes aren't supposed to kill!"

"I am not here as a hero," Athena said calmly as she drew her sword. "I am here as a goddess. The Goddess of War, and patron deity of Athens. Who wishes to be the next to feel my justice?"

The villains all hesitated. "Shoot her!" Ajax ordered. "I'll take the big guy! Mech, you take the kid! There's only three of them, they don't stand a chance."

Ajax charged Granite. Granite was bigger, but Ajax seemed pretty confident. That confidence lasted until his charge was stopped by a quick left jab. Ajax stumbled back a couple steps, then recovered. Granite was leaning over, smiling and tapping on his chin, giving Ajax a free shot. Ajax subtly gestured at the damper. The man smiled. Ajax pulled back, and then nailed Granite as hard as he could. Granite was knocked down, but casually got back up as Ajax looked at him in shock.

"Oh, yeah," Granite said in English. "I prob'ly shoulda mentioned that a curse left me stuck like this. My powers can't be turned off. So you can't beat me by cheatin'." He punched Ajax, and knocked him to the ground. Ajax was slowly to recover. Another pair of superstrong villains flanked him.

Rika stopped watching Granite to focus on her own fight. Athena stood beside her, hiding behind her shield to block the energy guns. One of the men wore a pair of gauntlets, and fired a blast of energy from them. Rika reflected it back at him, breaking the gauntlets. The Mech was advancing on the pair. "How sharp is that sword?" Rika asked her.

"Sharp enough," Athena replied.

"Cool. Swap, then?"

"Naturally. Here, take my shield, in case that man tries to turn your force field off."

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," Rika nodded as she reluctantly took the shield.

She dove through the Mech's legs and then ran towards the gunmen. She still had her force field on, and she used it to reflect the energy blasts back at the gunmen. As she got close to the large group, she felt her force field drop. She didn't even slow down as she plowed into the men on the end. Of the two dozen men, eight had fallen to their own reflected energy blasts. Two more were knocked out as she slammed into them, and a third fell as she spun to hit him. She raised her shield to block the blasts. She picked up one of the fallen blasters, and started firing around the shield at the force, which included Strobe and Sling. She didn't even bother aiming; she just kept shooting. She heard screams of pain, and they brought a smile to her face, before she realized what she was doing. When she realized she was taking pleasure in someone else's pain, she felt sick and ashamed. She didn't want to be that person. That was another reason she'd been happy to be retired from superheroics.

She threw the gun away and glanced at how the other two were doing. Granite had left his three opponents barely conscious, and held two of them in his hands. He threw them at the gunmen, and took down two more of them. Athena had cut off large chunks of the Mech, and rendered it non-functional without hurting the man inside. She used a chunk as a makeshift shield as she walked over to rejoin Granite, who towered over the terrified power damper. Granite gestured for the door, and the damper ran for it.

Rika no longer felt her force field being blocked, and she turned it back on. She made short work of the remaining gunmen. "I would've expected Alkaios to get involved by now," she said as she returned Athena's shield.

"Maybe he's out," Granite said.

"More likely," Athena said, "he has remained distracted by the Enchanter. With the fight here finished, we will be free to fight Alkaios. You two keep him busy. I will rejoin you shortly."

Athena slipped from the room. A few moments later, a 10' tall Alkaios smashed through a wall. "You people think you're so clever," he said. "You managed to defeat a few of my minions. But you know you have no hope of defeating me. I have your powers, and the powers of all your friends. I am a one-man army. What do you think you can do against all this power?"

"I was thinking of just killing you," Rika replied.

"Ah, how disappointing it is to see you again," Alkaios sighed. "And you didn't even wear your costume."

"That's because I'm not here as a superhero. I'm here because I have no choice. So let's just get this over with so I can find out which of us dies here."

Alkaios eyed her curiously, then shrugged. "If you insist." His right hand glowed, and then he let out an energy blast. Rika didn't move; she just reflected the blast back at him. It impacted against his force field. "I really need to learn how you bounce attacks off like that."

Granite punched him hard in the hip, but Alkaios' force field blocked it. He transformed into steel. "Is that all you have?" Alkaios taunted. "Let's see if you can take any better than you can give." He brought his fist down on Granite, who blocked with his arms. Then Alkaios simply kicked him away. Granite quickly regained his feet and attacked again. This time, Alkaios grabbed him, lifted him up and slammed him down into the floor, then stomped on him.

Rika watched as Alkaios pounded on Granite. She knew she should do something to help, but it wasn't like there was really much she could do. Alkaios had too much power. Their only hope was in getting the source of his borrowed powers – especially the heroes – away from him. That was what Athena had slipped away to do. But that was going to take time. And in the meantime, Alkaios was effectively invincible.

Rika saw only one option.

"Hey!" she shouted. "My turn!"

"That eager for your beating?" Alkaios asked. "Well, I'm always glad to oblige a lovely young woman."

"Ugh. No fair trying to make me throw up. Even if I wasn't gay, I wouldn't touch you."

"Then I'll just have to touch you," Alkaios said with a smirk. He grabbed at Rika, but she dove out of the way and rolled back to her feet.

"Yeah, comments like that don't help your case," she said. "You gave off a real rape-y vibe there. Which shouldn't be too surprising. A rich, self-entitled ass like you, you've probably raped a few girls, and then bought them off with daddy's money."

"Are you trying to provoke me?" Alkaios asked. "You want me mad at you? Do you have a death wish?" He grabbed at her again, but again she dove out of the way and rolled to her feet.

"Maybe I do," she said. "Maybe I just don't give a damn any more. But if I die, I'll die with some self-respect. More self-respect than you'll ever have." Alkaios tried to punch her, but she avoided again. "See, I think I've figured you out. I think that, deep down, you know that you don't deserve anything you have. The money, the power, the influence – you don't deserve any of it. You didn't earn any of it." She reflected an energy blast and avoided another punch. "Everything you have, everything you are, came from your daddy. Without him, you're nothing."

"Without him, I've taken control of Greece!" Alkaios shouted.

"You've only accomplished what you have because of what he gave you! Any successes you have aren't yours, they're his! Even this whole 'taking over the country' thing is just doing what he wanted!"

"Oh, shut up already!" Alkaios tried to smash her, but she kept dodging his attacks. She dove through the door leading outside.

"You're pathetic! A poor little rich boy desperately trying to justify his own existence! But no matter what you do, you'll never escape your daddy's shadow!"

"Will you just shut up!" Alkaios smashed through the wall.

"You're also a racist, misogynistic bag of dicks," Rika added.

"What does it take to make you stop talking?" He continued to miss with his attacks.

"I have a theory. I think the reason your daddy used you as a guinea pig for that experiment to give you powers is because you weren't really his child. I think your mother cheated on him and you were a bastard baby."

"How dare you?! How dare you insult my mother that way?! I will make you beg for death, you whore!"

And there we go. Now I just have to keep moving and not die.

Rika ran away from the building, with Alkaios chasing her. He lit the street ahead of her on fire, but her force field dealt with it easily. He shot her with energy blasts, but she could take those, two. The real problem was avoiding his attempts to grab her. It kept her zigzagging, and slowed her down. He flew and landed ahead of her, and his own force field blocked off the whole street.

She dove out of the way of his next grab, and landed right beside a manhole cover. She picked it up and threw it at him, then dropped down into the sewer. She had to hope he'd follow her.

"I'm not letting you go this time!"

Rika smiled.

He fired his energy blasts and fireballs, but she kept moving. He flew after her, and she expanded her force field enough to keep him from getting ahead of her. When he slammed into her field, it hurt her, but she didn't slow down. She only had to hold out for a few blocks. She hoped.

He kept pounding on her force field, and she closed her eyes, grit her teeth, and did her best to ignore the searing pain in her skull. Then, suddenly, the pounding stopped, and she heard a splash. She ran forward a few more steps before she stopped and turned around to see Alkaios sputtering in the water. She laughed.

"You bitch!" he shouted. "You'll pay for that!"

"Oh, come on," she said. "That was pretty funny."

"Let's see how funny you think it is after I've beat you within an inch of your life." He took a few steps back. Rika wasn't sure how close he had to get to the others to duplicate their powers again, but she wanted to avoid it.

"Where do you think you're going?" she asked. "We're not done yet."

"I don't need to beat you now," he said dismissively. "I can go back to my base, and go after you again another time."

"Typical. Too scared to fight one tired girl."

Alkaios stopped. "No. You won't goad me into fighting you here. I know I can beat you. But it'll be more enjoyable to make you squirm first."

"Sure. Tell yourself whatever you have to to sleep at night. But you'll always know you're a coward."

"I'll be the coward you bow to as King of Greece."

Rika inwardly cursed. She needed to keep him distracted. She needed him to fight her. But he was reluctant to take the bait. The only thing she could think to do was to offer him exactly what he wanted.

"Why wait?" she said. "I'll make you a deal. If you can beat me, here and now, using only my own duplicated power and no one else's . . . then I'll bow down to you."

Alkaios considered it. "Tempting," he said. "But how about, if I beat you, you join my harem."

Ew. No. Sexist bastard. "Deal," she said. She was lying. She had no intention of submitting to him, even if she lost. But he didn't need to know that.

He attacked quickly, trying to end the fight before it could even start. But he was clumsy, and she effortlessly sidestepped and tripped him. He fell in the water again and quickly scrambled to his feet. She gave him little chance to recover, and kicked him in the back. She was tired, and needed more of a chance to catch her breath, but she stayed on the attack. She attacked deliberately, hitting him hard but not often. The goal was to keep him from thinking to expand his force field.

That hope didn't last long. It didn't take him long to remember what the force field could do. He expanded it quickly enough to take Rika off-guard and slam her into the sewer wall. She kept her own force field tight against her. She matched his field's strength, but keeping the size smaller meant she was using less energy to maintain it.

Alkaios dropped his field back to normal size and rushed forward, swinging a punch at Rika's head. She moved out of the way, and prepared for the next attack. He charged her again, and she moved again. He fell in the water once more. This time, she dove on his back and pushed his face into the water. He started flailing around, the fear of drowning making him panic, making him stupid.

He managed to expand his force field again, knocking Rika off. He came up gasping for air. Rika attacked his force field, which was still at a large size. She felt it shrinking as she pounded on it. Alkaios was too distracted by his panic to concentrate on maintaining his force field. When it was almost back to his body, he realized what was happening, and he expanded it again, knocking Rika away and into the water. She got up, and the two of them prepared for the next round of attacks.

"I really was retired, you know," she said.

"What?" he asked.

"I was happy, not being a superhero any more," she continued. "I really didn't want to get back into this life." She threw a punch, and he threw one back. They were both getting too tired for more elaborate attacks, so they simply resorted to punching each other until one fell.

"That day," Rika continued, "when you beat me. Did you mean what you said about me? About me being a failure, and no threat to you?"

"I meant every word," Alkaios replied, clearly hoping for some sort of psychological advantage.

"And I believed it all," Rika said. "You were right. I was a failure as a hero. When I decided to stop, I felt so much relief. I was looking forward to a normal life. But I wasn't given a choice." Her punches became harder as her anger built. "I had to come back. The story had to be told its own way, and I had to be a part of it, whether I liked it or not. And now, I don't know if I'll ever be allowed to escape the story."

"Story?" Alkaios asked. He was trying to back away from Rika's attack, but she didn't ease up. "What the Hell are you talking about?"

"And making it even more frustrating," she ignored him, "I don't really know what kind of story this is. I'm sure everyone is hoping this is a story about a girl overcoming adversity and proving herself a real hero, by beating you without killing you. But maybe it's a story about a girl who's pushed too far, who snaps and falls into darkness, starting with your death." Alkaios' eyes went wide. "Help me out here. What's the story? How does this chapter end? Do I kill you? I want to. Oh, I really, really want to kill you. But what happens then? Could I live with myself if I became a killer? Could I really cross that line? And if I don't, would I have to fight you again? Would I get dragged into battle against you again, and again, and again, never having a chance at a normal life?

"Tell me," Rika pleaded, her eyes so full of tears that Alkaios' face was just a blur, feeling his force field weakening under her onslaught. "What do I do? What am I supposed to do? What is it the story wants from me? Is it even my choice? What do I do?"

"You stop." There was such authority in the voice that Rika obeyed without thinking, before she even knew who it was who was speaking.

"Athena," she said wearily. "So what happens now? Do I refuse to stand-"

"You rest," Athena interrupted. "You've done your part. You've stopped Mister Alkaios. You have earned a chance to rest."

"That's good," Rika said. "Because I'm feeling pretty tired."

The world spun around her. She had a sensation of falling. And then everything went black.