Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 2320 hours local; Countdown: 40 minutes
Mateo Cortez’s war cry was drowned out as his team launched their surprise attack on the Truth. Mateo felt the bullet snap over his head before it struck Giant in the middle of the face. The seven-foot tall man stumbled to the side as his head snapped back from Sissy’s shot. It gave Mateo a precious few seconds. He sprinted at his nemesis with Quentin’s warhammer held aloft. The weapon felt alien in his hands as Mateo desperately tried to remember the rushed lessons from Quentin in the past six weeks.
Giant’s whip snaked out and tripped Mateo. The Zombie Strike field leader swore as he fell to concrete walkway. His armor protected him from leaving bloody streaks on the concrete, but not from the pain of the impact. Mateo felt as The Steve remotely triggered his armor’s dispensary released the infamous "happy juice" into his system. Giant loomed over Mateo as he stood back up. The mystical whip lashed out and wrapped around Mateo’s neck. Mateo’s hands grasped at the whip as he suddenly couldn’t breathe.
"You pathetic mortal!" Giant seethed. "You will doom us all with your selfish foolishness!" Mateo felt his vertebrae crack as the whip yanked him off the ground. Giant brought Mateo close so the two were looking eye to eye. Giant’s dark eyes flashed with fury. The Truth’s greatest warrior started to bellow something before a rolling explosion drowned him out. Mateo was whipped through the air as Giant turned to see half a dozen of the Truth’s minions consumed in a brilliant fireball that lit up Gateway Park.
"How? You have no magic!" Giant shrieked in surprised. The whip loosened allowing Mateo to gulp a precious breath.
"We called down the Hellfires on your people, Giant," Mateo said, reaching down for his handgun. Giant looked at him, clearly perplexed. Then another explosion ripped through the park.
"My lord, they’ve got air support!" screamed a minion, shooting brilliant energy beams into the night sky.
"Predators, to be exact," Mateo said, yanking his Sig out and bringing the weapon up. Giant turned back just in time for Mateo to fire an entire magazine into his nemesis’s face. Mateo’s body was wracked with pain as Giant unleashed a pulse of evil magic through the whip. There was another jarring pain that Mateo belatedly realized was him hitting the ground. As the stars cleared from his eyes, Mateo found himself a good thirty yards from Giant. Pain and confusion faded away as more happy juice was pumped into his body. Mateo slowly stood, testing his body with each movement. Satisfied, Mateo charged Giant.
Giant snarled and lashed out with the whip. Mateo ducked as the ancient leather cord snapped over his head. The power of the whip’s crack nearly knocked Mateo over. Mateo focused hard on his target and pushed himself harder. There was a flash of excruciating pain as the whip tore off his left bracer. Mateo smiled as he reached down and scooped up the warhammer. Still sprinting, Mateo barreled into Giant like a tackling dummy. The two crashed to the ground. Mateo rolled off his opponent and brought up the hammer. Just as with guns, Mateo aimed for center mass. The whip slashed at Mateo’s side as he brought Quentin’s warhammer down. Giant’s scream of pain almost covered the sickening wet crunch as hammer landed solidly on Giant’s chest.
"Matt, finish it!" screamed Chief Stahl, "We’re about out of time." Mateo looked over to his second-in-command, and then saw the Gateway Arch. The six-hundred foot tall structure was glowing and multi-colored lightning was dancing inside the arch. The Great Death was starting to push into this world. Mateo turned back to Giant who was staggering up. Mateo heard the gurgling gasps as Giant tried to breathe through collapsed or punctured lungs. Part of Mateo screamed for compassion, but it was beaten down as Mateo remembered what this man had cost him. Mateo strode over to Giant with a grim look on his face.
"Yes, Mateo, hurry and finish me," Giant said with a stoic look on his face, "I pray to the Flayed One that you’re right." The whip stopped dancing as Giant dropped to his knees. Mateo nodded once, acknowledging Giant’s courage. Then, with a mighty swing, Mateo decapitated him with the warhammer. Michael MacKenzie, the Great Champion Mikhail, the nemesis known as Giant, crumpled to the ground.
"No!" screamed Castle as he watched his closest ally and friend fall. The leader of the Truth had been in Collin’s care during the firefight against the minions and the gollums. Castle looked up at Mateo in rage. "What have you done?"
"Hopefully, saved this world," Mateo muttered. He nodded to Collin. The tall Brit yanked Castle up to his feet. "It’s time to do your part Castle." The Truth leader looked completely confused. Mateo and Collin traded knowing looks. Mateo walked over to the ritual site. The Guardians were floating next to the stand with the obsidian orb. Behind them the Gateway Arch grew brighter. The lightning was constant. Mateo could see the beginnings of the tear between this world and the world of the Great Death. Mateo took a deep breath and stepped onto the center golden pedestal.
"I am the Chooser," Mateo announced.
"You are the Chooser," the Guardians echoed. "Fulfill your duties on the path."
"I choose the Champion," Mateo said, "The spirit wolf known to his friends as Billy. He is the Champion of his pack." The spirit wolf dropped the corpse of a minion and trotted over to the pedestal to Mateo’s right.
"I choose the Betrayer," Mateo continued, "The man known as Collin DuBois. He betrayed his friends and enemies to continue down this path." Collin handed Castle over to The Steve and stepped onto the pedestal to Mateo’s left.
"I choose the Undecided," Mateo said, "The man known as Eric Stahl. He has chosen no deity to protect and guide him." Chief Stahl slung his weapon and stepped on to the pedestal at Mateo’s far right. Mateo looked back to Castle. The leader of the Truth looked smugly pleased.
"You don’t know what the fifth person is, do you Mateo?" Castle asked. "It wasn’t in any of the prophecies you stole from me. Only someone deeply steeped in the mysteries of the Golden Ritual would know it." Mateo smiled.
"I choose the Prophet," Mateo said, watching as Castle’s smug face fall into disbelief, "I choose Juan de Castilla, known as Castle, the acolyte of Xipe Totec."
"How?" Castle demanded, as The Steve marched him over to the pedestal.
"Quentin was leading a team of the finest Mesoamerican authorities backed by the best cryptologists and computers the American government could provide. Prophecies are little more than mystical codes. They brute forced it." Still in shock, Castle stepped onto the pedestal.
"The five have been selected," the Guardians intoned, "Now the Golden Ritual may begin." The energies under the arch pulsed angrily.