“Huh? You’re here earlier than I expected”, Vasiliki said in a joking tone. “What happened did your girlfriend throw you out?”
“No, she fell asleep. Had a hard week”, he replied with a smile
Something about that smile made her shudder, but she pushed the feeling away.
“Alright, let’s get to business. Dalia followed up on those phone calls your program hacked – by the way, you’d better not tap my phone – and I helped once I was done enchanting my cloak”, she explained, walking him over from the main entrance to his lair to the computer console. “We’ve been able to dig up some info on the Onis. They are an international group, or rather, a set of groups. The original Onis were founded in Japan, barely a year after Point Zero. They were basically a super-powered extension of the Yakuza specializing in assassinations. However, the original four members were killed only a few months later by Japan’s first superhero team, Kokami. But, the concept proved so successful and the threat through superheroes and renegade supervillains so acute that they were reformed.”
Sitting down in front of the console, she called up pictures from costumed criminals, all obviously Asian. “Unlike many other Japanese supervillains, the Onis did not, however, support the Weisswald-Regime. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, mind you, but because they knew that Weisswald would turn on them at the earliest convenience. And while they were more than willing to cooperate with those Japanese heroes and villains who also opposed Weisswald and his Nazis, they were quite unwilling to cooperate with any foreigners. This lead to their second complete destruction, when Weisswald himself visited Japan for a ‘friendly discussion’, back during the height of World War Two in 1956; the visit was anything but peaceful, and Weisswald wiped out a large part of the resistance – to which the nationalist Onis belonged – before Amaterasu stopped him in his tracks.”
She took a deep breath and continued. “In the end, the group would again be revived as a criminal youth-movement in the late sixties, but sundered again in nineteen-seventy-one by the Sentai. There were numerous smaller revivals over the next decade, but they were all shortlived, often ending in the death of everyone involved. Finally, in the mid-eighties, there was an effort to gather the scattered Japanese powered teens into a group again, and the masterminds behind it were even sucessful… Their string of misfortune did not disappoint, however, as DiL appeared in Kyoto just a few days after their official founding – and we all know how that ended. The last decades, the Onis have been a loose group of mostly Japanese teenage supervillains that share similar aesthetics and a particular code of conduct. Their webpages are well hidden, but we were able to find one and could determine that the local chapter was founded just a week ago. We know it has five members and it repeatedly mentions that two of their members have powers above a rating of five.”
“Great. So either they are both powerful AND incompetent – or they are lying about how powerful they are, hoping to scare potential enemies off. Which would still be really stupid”, he said, kneading the bridge of his nose. “Are you ready to go out?”
“Sure. I finished enchanting my cloak – despite repeat interruptions – and I’ve checked over all my other artifacts. I’m ready. And Dalia is currently down in your lab, trying to put that scandalous armor on”, she answered with a sneer.
“Well, at least it is not as obscene as she originally wanted it”, he told her with a guilty look.
She just sighed and turned around, leading the way to the stairs to the workshop.
* * *
When they walked into the workshop, the first thing they saw was Dalia, trying to put on the Dragonskin-Suit. Standing there only in her underwear, she had already worked her legs and arms into it and was contorting her body, trying to zip up her back.
“Goddammit, HOW DO YOU ZIP THIS THING UP?!”, she cussed.
“Well, first of all, you should take off your underwear – the suit is meant to be skintight“, Basil mentioned while he went to make a final check-up on his armor. He would be using no less than three new pieces of equipment, two of which were meant for battle. He had to make sure they would not fail in the middle of the fight.
He could hear her wiggling out of the suit and pull off what little she had worn under her clothes. A minute later, she asked again: “And how do I zip it up? There is no zipper!”
Walking over to her, he stood behind her, grabbing her hands. “You push the scales on both sides of the lower end”, he explained, guiding her left hand to the lower end of the opening, just centimeters above her butt, so that she pushed onto the scales on both sides of it. “And then you push the two scales on both sides of the upper end”, he finished, guiding her right hand to those scales. With a barely perceptible hum, the scales came together and the opening on the back sealed itself.
“Nice”, Dalia said, taking two steps away from him and turning on the spot, both to get a feel of the suit and to show him his work.
The suit was still skintight and it still covered every inch of her body except for her head. Where the scales would impede her movement, it was made of a material similiar to the one his own bodysuit used, only without the electrical components, as it was too risky to have too much crucial technology in continuous contact with her, given her powers. Such places were all her joints, her groin, her feet and her hands. Her feet were covered by particularly thick material, formed much like the feet of Gloom Glimmer’s suit. To accommodate her wish to show off without sacrificing defense, he had taken a page from Polymnia and reworked the ceramic to be partially transparent. It was not completely see-through, so it was not obscene or anything, but it did show off her figure.
Vasiliki gave Dalia a once over and then said: “Alright, I have to admit, this looks way better than I expected it to.”
“Wow, did it hurt you to say that?”, Dalia asked. Vasiliki just turned around and walked up.
“I’ll be meditating. Come up when you’re ready”, she said. Dalia blew her a raspberry.
“Try some contortions to see if it does not restrict your movement while I check up on my equipment”, he told her with a chuckle. He spent a few moments watching her put first one, then the other foot behind her head, then he turned around as she got around to more complicated contortions.
First of all, he changed into his bodysuit, then he sat down at the computer terminal that was currently running the check-up routines on his armor and weaponry. Since he had still some time left until it was done, he sent some instructions to his ravenbots, ordering them to converge around the old toy factory. He had about fifty-seven of them by now and he was going to have them all on stand-by, just in case he needed some distraction or added firepower. They could also watch over the toy factory.
“So, how was your date?”, Dalia asked him from behind.
“Oh, it was great”, he said nonchalantly. Maybe a bit too nonchalantly, but Dalia was not the most perceptive person in the world.
“You know, I wouldn’t have expected you to have girlfriend. Though you were only interested in your tech”, she went on.
“Why, just because I did not talk about her all the time?”, he replied.
“Well, it’s more like you never brought her up at all.”
“That was mostly because she just did not have anything to do with what we were doing here”, he answered. That is not entirely true. Why did I not talk about her? Come to think of it, I barely thought about her when I was not at the hospital, or on my way there, or on my way back from it. I can not remember thinking about her here in my workshop other then when I did the research for a cure. And the poison. Ah well, it is probably me being scatterbrained again. I mean, how do you remember accurately whether or not you thought about someone?
“Alright, I can accept that. And we do need to focus on the Onis tonight. But don’t expect this to be over, mister – Vasiliki and I both agree, you gotta spill!”
And with that announcement, he heard her walk up the stairs to the control room, while he finished the last work on his armor.
* * *
Five minutes later, he walked up to find both girls ready to go out.
Dalia had put her jacket on over the armor, as well as a black mask made of a thicker version of the material that made up his bodysuit. Unlike his mask, it had openings for her eyes and mouth. She had tied her scarfs around her head again and had a dark red cylinder about as long as her arm strapped to the back of her jacket by way of a magnetic plate that he had worked into the jacket’s lining. The cylinder could extend into a staff up to half again as long as she was. She was currently sitting in front of the computer consoles, playing Space Invaders.
Vasiliki donned her entire equipment – skintight black bodysuit with skull-in-moon emblem, dark green cape and cowl, twisted staff, belt with pouch and a tuning fork she had still been working on when they first met. She had refused most of his equipment save for the communication device she was wearing that looked like an earring styled like her emblem. Unlike Dalia, she was standing close to one of the exits, the one leading closest to the harbor – the same one he had taken on his first night out.
“I just noticed that we’re quite a bit early”, she told him.
“That is alright. In fact, it is quite fortunate, because I wanted to show you something I found on the night we met. Follow me”, he said and walked into the tunnel. The other two followed him, silent for a change. We are all a bit more serious in costume, are we not?
While they were walking through the tunnel, they mostly just made some chit-chat about small stuff. They did not ask about Prisca, probably saving those questions for later. Then, suddenly, his mobile went off.
He had left it back in his workshop, but his helmet had a receiver that was linked to his lair – and to his mobile. A little screen went up in the upper left corner of his field of vision. It showed Tim’s name. At this time? He was supposed to be with Aimi… “One moment, girls, I am getting a call and it might be important”, he told them, then he took the call.
“Basil! God, I’m glad I got you, listen, there is trouble!”, Tim all but screamed into his end of the line.
“Whoa, Tim, slow down, take a breath and start at the beginning! What is going on and why do I get the feeling Aimi is not there with you?” You usually try to be extra calm and dependable around her.
“It’s about Aimi! You know, that thing she wanted to show us? She’s a meta”, he said, still not exactly calm.
“Please tell me you are so wound up because it is an extremely embarassing power”, Basil replied.
“No, genius, she’s a shapeshifter – that’s why she’s been looking better and better, she’s slowly turning herself beautiful. Only, she doesn’t have to be slow, she’s only doing it to avoid too much attention”, Tim continued.
“So she is smarter than most metahumans. Why are you so wound up? Shapeshifting is powerful, but it is not usually one of the problematic powers.”
“Well yeah, only she joined those Japanese yazoos. They’re called…”
“Onis. Great. She joined the Onis, did she not?”
“Well, yeah, how did you know?”
“A gut feeling. Plus experience. Just my luck, really.”
“Basil, what’s going on? Aimi was never the kind of fruitcake that would just up and join a bunch of supervillains. And don’t think I haven’t noticed that something’s going on with you as well”, he said.
“Regarding Aimi: she has always been unstable, and you know it. She just never had the self-confidence to act out. Remember, we have been trying to give her some confidence in herself. And we both know about the bullying. We have been trying to protect her from that, but it is still there. Plus, the closest thing she has to a role model is her father, because you can bet that her mother does not have the time to be much of one.”
“As for what is going on with me… Go to my hideout and wait there, I will see what I can do about Aimi. What can you tell me about her powers?”
It took a few seconds for Tim to reply, then he said: “Shapeshifting, pretty fast, but she says she can’t change her mass. She can’t shift into non-organics either and her clothes don’t change with her. But she is fast, she changed into a dog, then an oversized cat, some kind of bird-cat mix and then into one hell of a bombshell, all in less than half a minute. Calls herself Bakeneko, by the way.”
“Great, just great”, Basil went on. Sounds like a Shifter-type, level five at least. If she can take mixed forms then maybe even a six. One of the two high-powered members of the group, then.
“Listen, Tim, get to my hideout. Stay there, I will contact you in time.” Then, before Tim could say anything, he cut the connection.
“Basil, what was that call about? You’ve been wounding yourself tighter and tighter, there”, said Vasiliki, startling him as he had almost forgotten about her and Dalia. They had even reached the end of the tunnel.
“Not now. I will tell you later. Let us get to the warehouse.”
“What warehouse?”, came the synchronous answer.
* * *
He had marked the warehouse on his map of the city, so finding it was not a challenge. The hole in the roof was still there and snow had covered it, except for where it had fallen through the hole he had made.
“Follow me in”, he said, jumping through the hole while also pulling two cubes out of his belt, each about twice the size of the usual gaming die. He slapped one onto the roof right next to the hole, waited for a moment while he fell and then threw the other one at the roof on the other end of the warehouse. Both cubes stuck to the roof and started to glow in a bright white light.
He landed on the floor with a loud thump – though not as loud as it could have been, as he took care to roll with the fall – and then righted himself. Hecate soon levitated herself and Tyche down (she could not fly yet, but she could slow her own fall down to the point where she could jump from any distance and she could spread the effect to others by touching them) and then they both took a look around.
“So, a warehouse with a hole in the roof and a shattered crate underneath it. That’s what you wanted to show us? I’m disappointed”, Tyche commented.
“I found this on the night we met, when I was on my way to the harbor. Did not think about my weight and landed onto the roof so I fell through and onto this crate. Now look around and tell me what seems off to you”, he said, ignoring her remark.
The two girls looked around, taking a few steps here and there. Hecate looked at the remains of the shattered crate. “It’s empty! Who would put an empty crate into a warehouse? And the others…”
“All empty. And all sealed. I came back here two days after our meeting, brought some additional equipment with me. I’ve scanned every inch of this warehouse – there is nothing. All the crates are perfectly sealed and all of them are empty. And I did not notice it at the beginning, but there was no dust in here at all before I made the hole into the roof, even though this building is far from airtight. I went through the office – everything you would expect from a warehouse office was present, only it is all empty pages of paper and even a computer that has never been turned on. There is no sign for there to ever have been anything in here other than these empty crates. Nothing – absolutely nothing”, he explained.
“You mean, someone just outfitted this place to look like a typical movie warehouse and then just left?”, Tyche asked from across half the room while she was climbing onto some of the crates to get a better look around.
“No, I mean there was no one ever here in the first place – at least no one human wearing anything less than something that is completely environmentally sealed – humans always leave something behind and with my equipment, I would have found it. Or maybe someone used robots or projections to do this, but why? This building makes no sense. It does not even exist, at least I cannot find it in any official documents.”
“Well, this certainly is a mystery worth looking at. And we do have time until we have to be at the toy factory – I hope you have your ravenbots standing watch?”, Hecate asked.
“Yes, but nothing has happened yet. Besides, it is still just ten o’clock. Take your time looking around”, he said while he pulled out a device that looked like the unholy lovechild of a Star Trek phaser and a mole. “I am going to look for any signs of metallic residue that might point towards robots or the like.”
* * *
Two hours of very boring work later, they came up with exactly nothing. Hecate had been using her tuning fork, which was supposed to pick up emotional traces and he had used his Magnetic Molecule Analyzer to comb the whole place down for traces. Nothing.
“Alright, this has now officially graduated from peculiar to creepy”, Hecate said. “I mean, even if this was a giant, senseless prank, there ought to be some kind of emotional traces!”
“Same here, even if whoever made this did not use robots, there ought to be something here – you do not move these many crates without leaving any traces”, Brennus added.
“Well, this was a giant waste of time. How about we get going to where the action is going to be?”, Tyche asked. She had been looking around herself at first, then she had been going around with each of them in the hope that her power would help bring something up. She had however spent the last forty-five minutes just standing in the center of the room, doing some gymnastics to further test out her new suit.
“I agree. We don’t have that much time left and we ought to make some kind of battle plan beyond ‘let’s assess the situation when we’re there'”, Hecate agreed with her.
“Alright, let us go. I have something to brief you on while we are on the way”, Brennus told them.
The two girls levitated out of the hole they had entered through (Brennus was too heavy for Hecate’s upward levitation). He fired off his (hookless) grappling hook, which Tyche grabbed without even looking. His display told him when she had attached it to a stable surface and he started reeling himself up. While he ascended, he also activated the retrieval of his light cubes – they detached from the roof and flew into his outstretched hand, attracted by a magnetic field attuned to them.
When he reached the roof, he heaved himself through the hole and reeled the grappling hook in and then followed the girls who had already started moving towards the toy factory – while he was not much faster than them, he did not have to pace himself, nor did he have to worry about missing a step, since his computer was helping him calculate his jumps – though Tyche did not have to worry about that either, since she trusted her power to pull her through.
* * *
“So, watcha gonna brief us on?”, Tyche said while jumping, cartwheeling and sommersaulting from rooftop to rooftop. She enjoys moving that body even more than she enjoys showing it off, Brennus thought.
“You remember that call I got in the tunnel? That was Timothy. He told me that our friend Aimihime revealed to him that she has become a metahuman – and joined the Onis, while she is at it”, he explained.
That took them by surprise. “Aimihi… the dumpy short Japanese girl? The one who was getting bullied all the time?”, Hecate asked.
“Yes, her. She is a shapeshifter – cannot change her mass, but she is both fast and she can apparently mix and match various forms – so at least a level 5 Shifter-type. I do not think she has any other powers, though. She would have told Timothy.”
“What do we do?”, asked Tyche, now serious.
“I… I would like to give her a chance, really. We take her down, take her team down. But… I want to talk to her. Aimihime is, above all, impressionable – maybe that is why she is a shapeshifter – and I am afraid that this might be less what she wants and more what she thinks she wants, due to her father and getting to know the wrong people. Are you alright with that?”
The three paused for a moment, while the girls looked at each other, thinking.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t. Though I will insist that we focus on taking them down first before anything else”, Hecate finally said.
“Accepted”, Brennus replied, jumping to the next building. The girls followed.
“Let’s not forget about the Snow Queen. She did kick our asses pretty badly, last time”, Hecate continued.
“Oh, come on – we whupped that bitch!”, Tyche said.
“No, we just had luck – lots of luck, to the point that there might have been more than just your power at play there. We will need a strategy to defeat her – I have a new device that might allow me to take her down, but it would carry a high risk of killing her, which I want to avoid. Perhaps we could trap her – she needs to move her arms to use her powers, so maybe we can restrain her somehow? What about that ‘Instant Quicksand’-Spell you wanted to add to your staff?”, Brennus asked.
Hecate shook her head while jumping from one to roof and using her levitation to make sure she reached the building on the other side of the street. “Not yet ready – I wanted to first add the hiding spell to my cloak”, she replied.
“Understandable. But that does leave us with a decided lack of means to take her down without causing potentially lethal harm to her”, he said.
“What about the good old ‘dropping stuff on people’s heads’? It works for Mario, so why not for us?”, Tyche suggested. Unlike the other two, she made acrobatic leaps onto streetlights and a laundry line to reach the other side of the street.
“Mario does not drop things on other people’s heads, he jumps on them. Not that your idea is without merit, I hear the old toy factory was abandoned, but not emptied, so there might be stuff we can trap her under”, Brennus followed up.
“Well, we sure could use one of Mario’s mushrooms. Doubling our height might be useful for beating her up”, Hecate supplied.
“Brennus?”, asked Tyche.
“Oh, sorry, I just had some ideas.”
“You’re not seriously considering making that kind of mushroom, right?”, asked Hecate with a note of desperation in her voice.
“No no, I already tried that (it was not successful) – though I have heard that there is a Contriver, a hero by the way, who makes Super Mario themed power-ups – but there is a lot of fun stuff you could do with the right mushrooms, especially if I engineered them just right, for example to…”
“No. Stop. No going down the rabbit hole tonight, you hear me? We need you focused“, interrupted Hecate.
“Alright, alright. I will just file them for later”, Brennus conceded.
“Great, ’cause we’re there”, said Tyche. “And things look like they are going to be complicated.”
They had reached the toy factory – which was currently surrounded by at least fifty Spiteborn. At least a hundred more had surrounded two figures who appeared to be Gloom Glimmer, Polymnia and a young man with an Oni-themed mask.
Brennus looked at the masses of twisted monstrosities and said: “Alright, I admit it – I have absolutely, positively no idea how this could have happened.”