“…When the blazing sun is gone,
when he nothing shines upon…”
…Through the duct, into the next room. He could hear the corpses…
They banged on the door, but they could not get through. Yet. He needed something to dis…
The little girl again, crying. Something for him to protect, they were s…
“…As your bright and tiny spark…”
Vermillion blades, crawling…
…e was almost upon him, the blades cutting through…
No. Not this one. Look this way…
His hands… could not reach…
Stick, second stick. Shoelace from his shoe to tie them into a hook. Reach it now…
…eaks, the splinters biting into…
The first time… I was not there, back then. And yet, a tool made to solve a problem. The first invention…
Another memory. This time, he was older – an old house. Abandoned, from the looks of it, the rooms covered in dust and spiderwebs. He was kneeling in the living room, forcing some old boards up, putting something wrapped in cloth under them and then putting them back in place. Then he pulled the dusty rug over it and the love seat over that. Walking out of the front door, he could look down at New Lennston.
Find it. It will help. But now you have to wake up. There is much to be done.
* * *
Brennus awoke. He was lying to the side of the cavern, twisted wooden bodies strewn around him. Judging by the pain… everywhere, he had been punched by something big and thrown through the cavern – apparently along with some branchling corpses.
Thanks to his servo-motors, he could stand up despite really not feeling up to it. The battle was still underway – many of the branchlings were dead, a lot of pods destroyed – someone had unleashed some kind of fire attack, because parts of the garden were still burning. Gloom Glimmer’s work, it had to be.
But it obviously was not enough. While most branchlings were down and he could see one trunk lying motionless on the ground with a large chunk of the ceiling apparently having fallen down and crushed its upper body, the other trunk and the remaining branchlings were keeping his companions busy. Other branchlings were cutting down pods and ripping the wax-like covering from the floor, creating a corridor between the burning part of the acre and the rest. As for the root…
Looking the other way, he saw the root just standing by the blossom, its tentacles wrapped around the flower-like structure to protect it. It was motionless, looking at Gloom Glimmer, who was floating higher up, a cascading red bubble of energy around herself, her eyes locked with the root’s. Might be holding it at bay, so it can not just slap us down with telepathy. Seems like they locked each other out of the battle.
Further towards the entrance, the others were fighting for their lives. He could not see Osore or Tyche, but Hecate and Polymnia were fighting back-to-back, taking turns blocking attacks and striking back at the branchlings that had surrounded them. Polymnia’s suit was damaged, two of her lower and one of her upper arms missing. Hecate was not in much better shape – her cape and cowl were gone and her suit was torn up to the point that it was indecent. Boy, is she going to freak out once she has time to really take in the damage to her clothes…
Bakeneko had been pushed further back, but was holding her own, being currently in a kind of snake-like form that seemed to consist solely of muscle, with no skin or anything and which was coiling itself around a branchling and squeezing while the beast tried to force her off.
But it was the Snow Queen that really caught his eye, because she was fighting off the remaining trunk and no less than twenty branchlings.
She must have been holding back a lot when we fought her, he thought, because that was the only explanation that came to his mind as she unleashed a fury of jabs that sent forth balls of snow, crushing the heads of several branchlings, throwing back the trunk and generally keeping them at bay. Strong. And fast. A boxer, I think, maybe even professional. But why is she staying at one point… Zooming in closer, it was not hard to see why – she was standing over the prone forms of Osore and Tyche. They lay motionless, but a quick scan showed that their hearts were still beating – unconscious, judging by the heartrate. They were forcing the Snow Queen into a defensive battle as she had to repeatedly use her power to create shields of snow to absorb or redirect attacks.
Brennus decided what to do – he took a running start and leapt over several burning pods, then took off as fast as he could given the unsure footing. He was aiming at Tyche and Osore, the goal being to free up the Snow Queen. Several of the branchlings turned around, screamed at him and charged.
It was then that he noticed that his stun batons were missing – the on-board computer tracked one of them to a pile of dead branchlings. The other was nowhere to be found.
And he was down to sixty percent on his battery.
They were almost upon him when he remembered that he still had his sword. Reaching for the ‘belt buckle’ of the suit (not that it really was one or that the suit actually needed one), a command made it jump out of its casing. He grabbed the sword handle and pulled the limp blade out. Then, an electric impulse ran through it just in time for it to stiffen and start vibrating so he could cut through the head of the first charging branchling.
A single stroke was enough for the blade to cut skin and bones. Flames burst from the wound as half of its head slid down, the vibration of the blade having set it on fire.
Brennus turned with the strike, simultaneously falling to his knees to evade a swipe from another branchling that came up from the left of the fresh corpse. He slid forward on the slick ground and with a swipe, drew his humming blade over what passed for a belly on this beast – in this case, four female and two male faces, from childlike to venerable, all looking eerily like a family and all with looks of pure ecstasy on their faces.
The blade passed through the monsters thick skin, cleaving its underside and several faces in half. The faces that were not destroyed immediately started screaming as the inside of the beast caught fire from the vibrations.
He slid out from under it before the burning bile could cover him. His suit compensated for the lack of proper footing by using the same function that allowed him to stick to walls or ceilings and he immediately took off, running past two more spiteborn.
Striking out to the right, he cut one of them open along its entire side while ducking under several limbs trying to grab him. The beast to his right screamed in pain, its voice far higher pitched than that the other spiteborn. But he did not pay attention. Instead, he focused on the quiet hum of his sword. The ‘humming blade’. Well, I did need a better name than ‘vibro blade’ for it.
Suddenly noticing that several of his ravens were still functional, he just managed to duck and evade a black energy sphere that the unharmed branchling behind him had fired off – one which he would not have noticed without the eyes of the ravens. It barely passed over his head and struck one of the branchlings still surrounding the Snow Queen. The sphere hurled into its back and exploded within its body, showering everything around it in black bile, simultaneously pushing every adjacent brachnling away.
Never one to miss up an opportunity, Brennus kicked his servo-motors into overdrive, taking even longer strides so that he almost seemed to be jumping towards the gap in their circle. The root must be unable to exert fine control on the branchlings and the trunk can not do it while trying to fight the Snow Queen. Best to capitalize on it. I do not know whether or not Gloom Glimmer will eventually win this struggle or lose it.
Hurling through the opening created by the stray blast, he cut down another spiteborn with a single swipe and then deactivated the blade – it had already consumed 3% of his total power supply. Note to self: upgrade the battery life or work out a design for a safe, portable power generator.
The Snow Queen reacted to his entry into her battlefield by creating a sweeping gale of snow that threw the branchlings and the trunk off for a second.
“Take the kids and get out of my way, shorty!”, she shouted at him.
I will remember that ‘shorty’ remark, he thought but did not say anything. More important stuff to do now.
Without stopping, he used the cover of the snow gale to pick up both Tyche and Osore – no time for being gentle, he just threw one over each shoulder – and continued his charge towards the opposite line.
The Snow Queen must have noticed what he was planning, because she immediately unleashed a torrent of snow blasts that created another opening in the circle, allowing him to pass through with the two unconscious teenagers.
His ravenbots, who were too few to use effectively against the spiteborn and were thus reassigned as overwatch, showed him just how dangerous the Snow Queen could be as she loosed a barrage of attacks unlike anything he would ever have expected from her.
No longer restricted to standing in place and defending both herself and two unconscious comrades, she bobbed and weaved into the ranks of the spiteborn, moving faster and more dextrously than he would have thought her capable of. She rained punches on the branchlings, both with her actual fists and with snow shattering joints, ribcages and skulls. The occasional side-blow sent snow blasts into the eyes of the trunk, keeping it off-balance, as she ripped into the branchlings, ripping through them like a snow storm made of bone-shattering fists. And that is considered to be merely B-? I do not know why she underperformed back during our fight, but boy am I glad about it.
Brennus himself had it far easier as the branchlings and the trunk were all too focused on the others. He slipped past the thinning circle around Hecate and Polymnia, used one spiteborn about to bite Bakeneko from behind as a stepping stone and jumped back to the entrance into the acre.
He put the two down and made a quick check for any serious injuries. Tyche had received a blow to the head and her left arm had been pulled out of the socket. He pulled it back into the socket while she was still unconscious and then turned to Osore, who was far worse off – probably due to a lack of proper armoring – and had two cracked ribs, a mild concussion and a broken arm and leg. There was not much Brennus could do with his current equipment, plus, taking down the blossom was more important right now. He made sure that the two lay in a safe corner, then he turned back to the battle.
The overall picture was largely unchanged, though Bakeneko had now joined forces with Polymnia and Hecate and the Snow Queen was slowly pushing the trunk back towards the blossom. The situation between the root and Gloom Glimmer seemed unchanged. Not that he could peek into their mental battle.
But he could also see that behind the blossom, several branchlings were gathering still-intact pods and throwing them all into a shallow pit. What is that supposed to accomplish?
But his worry was soon overshadowed when he noticed that only two petals of the blossom were still closed. And one of those was beginning to open, slowly.
What do I do? Communications will not work this close to an acre. No backup. Warning the others is pointless. Polymnia does not have the means to take down something as sturdy as the pod of blossom – especially not with the root acting as a living shield. Same goes for Hecate. And I am pretty sure that the Snow Queen does not have anything on that scale either. So, what do I…
And he saw what to do – all the parts were there, he only needed to assemble them!
* * *
First he took a running start and then leapt towards the three girls fighting the branchlings. Hecate and Polymnia still stood back to back, while Bakeneko was raging through the ranks of the enemies. Polymnia’s sonics did not seem to affect her – she probably had shifted her ears away – and she was using any chance she got to bite, stab or claw at the branchlings, while the other girls focused on protecting themselves and her and creating openings.
Brennus landed onto a spiteborn, squashing it into the wax-like substance on the floor, then rolled with the landing. He saw his goal, one of Polymnia’s speaker-arms and threw himself towards it. The branchlings, lacking any real intelligence and without a trunk (currently being beaten to a pulp by the Snow Queen) or a root (still locked in mental combat with Gloom Glimmer) to direct their moves, they were too slow to react to his appearance and he grabbed the arm and threw himself out of the circle, ignoring the shouts from the girls.
His next goal was the one stun baton he could still locate. It was among a pile of branchling corpses located halfway between the girls and the blossom and a bit to the right. Thankfully, the corpses were still warm and so the cold baton stood out when he used thermal vision and he ran directly towards it, trusting his ravenbots to alert him to any attacks.
Got you!, he thought, when his hand closed around the baton – which was buried to the hilt in the burned skull of a spiteborn.
With one pull, he retrieved it – but his victory was short-lived as one of the apparently dead spiteborn was still alive enough to form an energy sphere in its mouth.
The sphere hurled into his chest and the resulting explosion threw him away from the blossom and back towards the girls. He landed hard and nearly threw up as a wretched feeling of nausea shot through his body.
Fortunately, he managed to keep everything to himself and he waited for a moment for the nausea to fade while he also directed his ravenbots to attack the half-dead branchling. They made short work of the monstrosity. He had also managed to hold on to the baton and the speakers.
Unfortunately, a diagnosis showed him that his suit’s breastplate was not only wrecked, but the energy sphere had overloaded an inexcusable number of circuits, which, among other things, had compromised the battery’s stability. The computer calculated a 47% chance of an explosive discharge, which would cause the servo-motors in his suit to explode – most likely killing him. And his power was backing these calculations up.
Damn, damn, damn, DAMN! He cursed silently as he initiated the emergency ejection. The suit opened around the torso and legs, allowing him to crawl out while still keeping the helmet on.
He quickly pulled the parts he had gathered from the hands of the suit and then took the cloak as he entered the code for a controlled self-destruction.
The cloak was still bulletproof, so he put it on while he removed the belt-like section around the waist of the power suit.
A few quick adjustments allowed him to wear it like a very big belt. The blade stored in it was useless as the smaller battery used in his impact-suit could not sustain it for more than three seconds and the battery in his helmet was no better. But the belt also contained a mundane knife and some tools he would need.
Turning around, he ran again towards the blossom. Behind him, he heard the remnants of the suit give out a loud ping before they melted themselves down. The remaining sludge, even if retrieved and analyzed, should not contain anything that would allow others to reproduce his ceramic. He also called in his remaining eight ravens. They were to fly around him, giving him a 360° field of vision as well as hopefully distract any branchling.
En route, he started working on his gun, baton and the speakers, partially disassembling them with the tools from his belt while connecting them in various ways. A shared powerline here between the gun and the speaker. Retrieve the microchips, they are valuable and not necessary for this. Use the baton as a bridge between the focusing crystal matrix of the gun and the audio-generator of the speakers. Disassemble one raven, keep the microchips, install its battery to back up the gun’s and the baton’s batteries…
He managed to get within a few meters of the blossom when he was suddenly hit with a heavy, depressing feeling. What? What is happening…
Falling to his knees, his fragile work tumbling onto the thankfully soft ground, he looked up to see that the last petal had slowly started moving.
Already? It can use its telepathy while still inside the pod? He could see that the energy field around Gloom Glimmer was flickering as she seemed to strain against the added mental assault.
Have to… move. It was like he was submerged in a thick, almost solid liquid that prevented him from moving more than a few centimeters.
He bent forward a bit, trying to raise his arms towards the assembled gadget, but they were trembling so hard that he would never be able to complete his work.
Bending forward turned out to be a bad idea as he just fell over and was now unable to stand up.
The ravenbots! Do not let it smother your mind, think!
Again, the voice. It was right – he could still control the seven remaining ravenbots with minute finger-movements. And he had designed them dexterously enough to be used in remote sabotage – it stood to reason that he would be able to use them for the final adjustments.
It was a grueling task. Three ravens kept a look-out, one of them looking at the one remaining petal as it slowly moved.
Four worked on the gadget, making the final adjustments. It was getting harder and harder to concentrate as the mental pressure increased. Thankfully, the blossom was not yet able to actually muck with his brain – it simply tried to knock him flat with raw strength. Which seemed to be en-
Focus! I need to focus! Finish the work, let the ravens carry it to the blossom! I should have done it that way from the beginning!
The ravens finished their haphazzard work and he commanded all seven of them to grab the gadget. It was not very heavy, but it was still enough to strain the ravens.
They lifted off, rising towards the blossom. He was still almost fifteen meters away, so he should be safe. And Gloom Glimmer was still being protected by her force-field, even though it was not as strong as it had been.
Need to work fast. If I wait too long, she will be too weak to survive the blast.
The ravens flew towards the blossom, whose last petal was already half-open.
The root moved to intercept them with a tentacle. For a moment, Brennus feared that it had all been for nothing, but suddenly the energy-field around Gloom Glimmer reshaped into a sphere the size of a football that shot into the tentacle and blew it apart.
Something about that blast had been special, because it did not cause a shockwave even though it must have exploded with enough force to tear through a car. Which was good, because the clock was ticking and the ravens would have been unable to retrieve the device in time.
But this way, they reached the base of the pod, where the petals emerged.
Heh. I suppose a one-liner would be appropriate… Cannot think of one, so what the hell. “Tick-tock… boom!”
And the device exploded.
* * *
Half an hour later, they were lined up on the floor of the toy factory, with EMTs checking them over.
It seemed that when the heroes and villains had managed to deal with the remaining trunk and the branchlings, they had followed them down the tunnel – and arrived just in time to see the wreckage left by the bomb.
Brennus had miscalculated the explosive power of the rigged bomb. Slightly.
The cavern had begun to collapse when the arriving metahumans evacuated them. By now, there should be little left.
Luckily, Gloom Glimmer had reacted fast and retreated from her mental battle in order to throw up a shield between the back half of the cavern and the one where the humans were. It had popped like a soap bubble, but it had been enough to prevent any direct harm to them.
Now, Brennus was trying to explain that his suit and mask had to stay on, that he was just fine and that yes, he was qualified to make that decision, thank you very much.
He was saved by Gloom Glimmer walking over to where he lay next to Hecate and Tyche, the latter now conscious again. She was quite angry that she had missed so much and not even gotten so see her enemy defeated. It turned out that the crushed trunk had been her powers work, that conclusion having been reached because there simply was no other explanation for why that piece of the ceiling should have come loose at that time.
Hecate, on the other hand, was both thrilled and absolutely furious. Furious, because her costume was completely shredded, thrilled because she had had a chance to fight back-to-back with Polymnia.
Brennus himself felt mostly drained. Also, he really wanted to go home and see Amy.
“Brennus, Hecate, Tyche”, greeted Amazon as she and Gloom Glimmer came to a halt in front of them. He could see Polymnia further in the back, surrounded by the rest of the junior heroes (who did not look much better than her, right now).
“Greetings, Ms. Amazon”, said Brennus and extended a hand. Talk about awkward.
“Just Amazon will suffice. I heard you did a great job down there. All three of you, in fact. I wanted to thank you for your help”, she continued, shaking his hand. If he had not been wearing his impact-suit, it might have hurt more. But not much, because her grip was crushing.
“Thank you very much, but really, if it was not for Gloom Glimmer here, we would not have stood a chance to begin with”, he replied.
“Why are you so uncomfortable?”, asked Gloom Glimmer suddenly. She seemed to be quite tired, but still walked with her head held up proudly.
My older sister brainwashed this woman, forced her to fight her own people and raped her repeatedly, both in body and in mind. And because I still love her, despite all of that. “I am tired, hurt, I am worried about my family and I am an unregistered metahuman who could be arrested as a vigilante”, he replied. No lies, that was important right now.
“Hmm. True enough. That is the main reason why I came over to talk to you”, Amazon replied. “But there is an easy and very desirable solution to this problem. I have already talked with Osore and Bakeneko and they have both agreed.”
“I can guess where this is going”, groaned Tyche.
“You could simply join the junior heroes. None of you have a recorded act of vigilantism or villainy in your files. The only one of you we’ve even had on our radar was you, Brennus, and all you did was help through remote-controlled robots against the Rabid Eight. We can simply write this night down as you having felt compelled to help with such an emergency – it would be a great start into your career as superheroes and it would neatly avoid most problems this night might cause for all of us.”
“Tempting, but I think I prefer being independent”, said Brennus without hesitation. He had seen this coming a mile away.
“Ditto”, chorused Hecate and Tyche.
“Are you sure? We could really use your help. And you could use ours. Especially you, Brennus. As a Gadgeteer…”
“…I am a very valuable, coveted ressource, I know. Believe me, I have heard that before. But I am confident that I can make it on my own.”
Amazon thought that over. She obviously did not like what he was saying.
Gloom Glimmer, on the other hand, seemed pensive.
“I cannot allow that. First, it is against the law to allow vigilantes. Second, you are all obviously minors. And thirdly, the last thing we need is a gadgeteer being taken in by a villain. The Five are already dangerous enough, if they get another Gadgeteer under their thumb…”
“I really do not think that will happen. As for the other two points: you said yourself, we are not vigilantes yet. And you do not know for sure that we are minors – considering that you have never seen me in anything but fullbody-concealing clothing and that the two girls here are obviously Adonis-types”, he countered, gesturing towards the generous shapes of his teammates, “our status as minors is questionable at the least. Furthermore, you yourself gave us an out – this was just us acting upon our understanding of civic duty. We did not go out with the intent of being heroes or villains, we just wanted to help fight an S-class threat – which the spiteborn, as a whole, are classified as – which falls under the Duesseldorf Act of 1988, which allows anyone, whether metahuman or not, to lend aid in case of an S-class threat without fear for reprisals And before you tell us that we need to unmask – the same act guarantees anyone who aids in an S-class threat the right to depart afterwards unmolested, even if there is a kill warrant out on them. So the only way you could do anything now without breaking the law would be to produce an extended kill warrant on us. Which is impossible, since neither of us has done anything wrong, have we not?”
* * *
“I cannot believe that worked”, said Hecate as they walked from the toy factory towards downtown. They were keeping to the side streets – not that it was necessary, as no one without powers would be out this night, not as long as there was still the possibility of a stray spiteborn.
“Why should it not? I simply paraphrased the law – besides, she was not going to arrest us after we helped save the city”, he replied, tired. He did not have anything more serious than some bruises, but he was exhausted.
“Doesn’t really feel like that. I would have expected more… excitement”, said Tyche.
“Just wait until the media circus hits tomorrow. You did notice the camera crews and reporters, right? This is going to be huge – I think we just had our real debut”, Brennus objected.
“And what a debut it was”, said a slightly mechanical voice. The three whirled around to see the Snow Queen, walking out of an alley. She was still marked from the battle, the upper layers of her suit torn and stained black despite decontamination.
“What do you want here? Revenge for last week?”, asked Tyche.
The Snow Queen shook her head. “Don’t worry, sweetcheeks. I’m not here to fight.”
“Calm down, Tyche”, Hecate said.
Brennus addressed the giant woman: “Then what do you want? I must say that I am very tired and just want to go home. So please be quick about it.”
“As do I, bird-boy. I just wanted to tell you – well done. You were impressive tonight. And don’t worry about revenge or anything – I’m dropping it. Now. Hope we meet again under better circumstances.”
And with those words, she turned around and walked away.
The three young heroes stood there, looking into the dark alleyway. “Did we just get a pat on the back by a supervillain?”, asked Hecate.
Brennus just turned to walk. “Seems like it. Let us focus on that tomorrow. I want to go home. My sister must be worried sick.”
“What about your friend? You sent him to your hideout, didn’t you?”
Brennus slapped his forehead – and cursed, because he only hit his mask and hurt himself.
“Damn it, you are right. Wait a minute.”
He muted the helmet, so no one could listen in, and then he called Tim to tell him that everything was fine, that Aimihime should be safe now and that they would talk in the afternoon again.
Tim was not exactly thrilled to have been waiting until the morning hours only to be blown off, but he accepted it. The super-sized TV with pretty much every gaming system of the world probably helped mollify him.
“Alright, that is dealt with”, he said. They walked in silence until they reached the harbor-side tunnel. Then, they walked to his lair.
“You know, I still can’t believe you managed to dig all these tunnels without anyone noticing”, Tyche said between two yawns as the three of them stripped out of their costumes. They were all too tired to really care about modesty.
“Did a few tricks. Tell you another time – I am going home. Or is there anything else to do?”
“No, we’re fine. Vasiliki and I are going to crash here. Good night!”, they said and, to his surprise, both gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek before they more or less collapsed onto his bed, not even bothering to put on anything.
“Good night, girls. See you later”, he said and walked out after taking some casual clothes from his drawer.
* * *
He walked into his house, dead-tired.
Before he even had a chance to open the door, it flew open and a hand reached out, grabbed him and pulled him in.
Amy immediately pulled him into a hug as she kicked the door closed. She was damp and only clothed in a silken bathrobe, but it really did not bother him that he was getting wet right now, because she was warm. He returned the hug and all but buried his face in her chest.
“Home”, he said.
“Finally. I was so worried, but by the time I heard you went to the acre, it was already over. You scared me SO much”, she said, resting her chin on his head.
“Sorry. Tired. Sleep”, he said.
“Sure thing, little brother. You just go to sleep”, she murmured and picked him up like he was just a baby as his body went limp.
You helped me today. Thank you very much.
You are welcome.
Who is that person I was in those visions?
And who was that girl?
Not your Amy.
Who are you?
The Blazing Sun.
If you are the blazing sun, who is the diamond in the sky?
That is the right question.