“You’ll never catch me, squirt!”, shouted her brother as he ran across the beach, away from her.
She just screamed in frustration, unable to get to him – he was five years older than her and had much longer and stronger legs.
“Tom, stop picking on your sister!”, said their father from where he lay on his beach lounger, bathing in the sun. “Sweetie, stop chasing him.”
She ran over to her father and replied: “He ripped my bathing suit!”, she shouted, showing him how one shoulder of her brilliant green suit had a small, barely visible tear.
He looked at her like a man who had been through this a thousand times before – which was quite accurate, actually. “Sweetheart, please. We can buy you a new one. We can buy you a hundred, and a hundred red ones as well. So stop fretting about.”
She pouted at him, but… “Can I have some that are green and red?”, she asked hopefully.
“Sure thing sweetheart. Now, go and play some more, will you? And tell your brother to come to me for a second”, her father replied, dismissing her.
Watching him chastise her older brother made her almost as happy as the promise of new bathing suits…
* * *
Prisca woke with a start – and was immediately greeted by an all too familiar pain. Or had the pain woken her? She could not tell, not that she could think much at the moment. Even after nearly nine years, she had not grown resistant to the pain. The doctors told her some drivel about it being as much if not more mental as physical. It didn’t matter, it still hurt.
It took a few seconds – seconds that felt like hours – for the pain to die down, to be reduced to the far more constant, low pain she felt every second of her life she did not spend sleeping.
Then, she remembered. Lying in her bed with Basil, watching the TV. Not that she had really noticed any of it. Mostly, she had just imagined herself turning around and kissing Basil, and then, perhaps…
But then she had heard a thud, for a fraction of a second. And then, darkness.
Slowly, she opened her eyes. For a few seconds, her sight was too blurry to make out anything. Then she saw that she was in a room about twice as big as the room she had at the hospital, but not half as tidy. Her bed was smaller and far less comfortable. The walls and the ceiling were bare, brown and cracked and it reeked of old chemicals, though for the life of her, she could not say which. Surely, Basil could have recited their molecular make-up, as well as tell her at least fifty things that could be made of them, at least half of which would be explosive.
Thinking of Basil again, and of explosions, finally woke her up for real. Only, the start it gave her was too much and she was racked by the same deep pain that she had felt earlier.
When finally it died down to something she could bear, she finally noticed a strange beeping. Looking around, she saw that she was hooked up to machinery – only it wasn’t the usual devices that kept her alive. Instead, these looked like they had been made out of whatever their creator had found in a dump. The first that she saw seemed to be made of old, discarded beer bottles and cooling fans for a computer. From the looks of it, especially the blood flowing through it that was her own, it might have been the twisted brother of a dialysis machine. Though she despaired to think what might get mixed up in her blood. The other machines were much the same, so she decided not to think on them too much, lest she have a panic attack. That might actually kill her.
But she did notice one thing – none of these machines looked like they should work, yet she was alive – proof that they did. Contrivances, then. What is going on here? What happened to Basil?
She could feel fear welling up in her, but she beat it down with the skill of someone who had a lot of practice. Fear was dangerous, it could kill her.
When she had finally managed to calm herself, she heard a door open. In front of her had been a rusted metal door which had now been thrown open. Únfortunately, there were neither cushions nor an electronic bed to raise her up, so she had to crane her neck as if she wanted to look down on her feet. In walked a ridiculously shaped woman in red leather and a thin man in a red goblin costume not unlike that worn by some Marvel supervillain, only in red and black.
“Greetings, mylady. It is a pleasure to see you awakened!”, spoke the man, making a fancy bow. He was mocking her, she was sure.
“What happened to Basil?”, she asked before she could think about what to say.
That took the wind out of his sails. “Huh?”, he asked, the mask he was wearing twisting into a wicked mockery of a startled look. He turned to the woman in the red leather. “Switchbitch, what is our guest talking about?”
The woman shrugged, which sent her oversized breasts jiggling despite her tight leather. “Maybe that little asshole that was with her when we took her.”
“There was so–” began the man, but Prisca cut him off.
“What happened to him?!”, she asked again, raising her voice. Despite her discipline, she could feel the anger and the fear welling up inside her. Not good, she had to keep her emotions under control, if only to not stress her heart.
“Oh, is the widdly little rich kid scared for her boytoy?”, asked the woman called ‘Switchbitch’. “Don’t worry, he is alive – not for a lack of trying on my part, mind you. But I did managed to make a hole in his shoulder, yes I did”, she gloated.
She felt her hands tighten on the covers of her bed, but this time, she quenched the fear and the anger before they could well up.
“Who are you? And what do you want with me?”, she asked the man, who seemed to be quite lost. Apparently, he had not expected the conversation to slip from his control before he could even begin it.
“Ah, excuse me. I am the Crimson Goblin, founder and leader of the great Hemogoblins!”, he introduced himself with another bow, intent to take the reins in this conversation again. “Please excuse the rough way in which we had to move you – and I am sure that your friend will be well and good, otherwise my most discourteous employee-” He gave ‘Switchbitch’ a glare. “- would not be complaining all the time that he got away.”
Before she could field another question, he continued. “If you want to know why we took you, I’m afraid that I can not tell you, though I can assure you, the ransom money we will request of your dear mother is only the icing on the cake.”
She was tempted to ask what the cake itself was, then, but she stopped herself. He seemed to be the talkative sort – somewhere, she had read that Contrivers were susceptible to mental diseases, chief of whom was narcissism. Best to let him continue.
And he did not disappoint. “Either way, we have no intention of harming you. As you can see, I created everything necessary to keep you alive despite your malady – for which you have my deepest regrets, I assure you – and once our business is done, I will personally set you free.”
“And how long will that take?”, she asked.
“Oh, until that young hero Brennus has attacked us and been brought low by my many subjects”, he replied.
Brennus? They did this to target him? Does he know? “Why are you so sure that he is going to attack you here? He has no reason to come for my rescue”, she replied, hoping to probe just how much he knew.
“Well, he does claim himself to be a hero, afterall. And I have further cause to believe that he would try and save even a total stranger”, he explained, rubbing his fake chin.
“What reasons would that be?”, she asked.
“Oh, none I can share with you child.”
It wouldn’t be a problem to share them if they were your knowledge of our relationship. So, I was not taken because someone found out about Basil’s cape. But this is bad. I need to find out why he is after Basil.
“I think I have a right to know just why I was taken. Won’t you tell me more about why you want Brennus?”
He shook his head. “No, child, I won’t. I’m not interested in ending up with a vermillion blade in my brain.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I believe I have already said too much. Now I have to prepare some kind of message to lure only Brennus to this place.”
“And what will you do with me until then?”
“Nothing really. You can sleep here, or amuse yourself in whatever way you can find inside this room – though I don’t think that you will be able to do much, given your condition – but you may not leave this room, nor take your life in any way. Now, if you will pardon me, m’lady, I have pressing matters to attend to. Have a good day.”
“You too.” And I hope Basil breaks your bones.
The Crimson Goblin left the room together with his subordinate – who took the time to turn around and give her a rude gesture for no apparent reason – leaving her alone to contemplate.
Her mind wandered back to her dream. That had happened less than an hour before Dusu had attacked Hawaii, all those years ago. What a spoiled brat I had been, she thought. Though, honestly, she preferred being spoiled to being crippled.
She wandered back closer to the present, to lying next to Basil. It had taken her hours to work up the courage to ask him to lie next to her. And she had needed every ounce of training she had in controlling her emotions, to keep her heart from fluttering about while he lay next to her.
Once again, she was reminded of the cruel twist in the effects of Dusu’s poison. Contrary to popular belief, the attack on Hawaii had not been an attack at all, but rather an experiment. The gas released on the island had been meant to induce the Adonis-trait in people and Hawaii had been the test run. It had failed, obviously, but it had also succeeded in bestowing a few secondary effects of the Adonis-trait – namely, an enhanced, nearly eidetic memory and,cruelly, an enhanced libido. Only she could never act on it. Even if the strain of any kind of sex were not lethal, the organs she needed for that simply did not function any more, at least not in the ways necessary for being pleased – or pleasing another.
Stop getting lost in thought, dammit! That’s Basil’s schtick. Look around! Think!
She did just that. Twisting around on her bed, she saw that the room was not quite as barren as she had thought. In fact, behind her bed, which stood in the middle of the room, the floor was cluttered with various scraps, probably from the same dump from which came the parts for the machines that were keeping her alive.
I wonder if they would have left me in a room like this if they knew I was a Gadgeteer’s girlfriend, she wondered. She reached into her pants – from a hidden pocket, she drew a thin sheet of metal. I called Basil paranoid when he gave me this and asked to sew hidden pockets in my clothes. I guess I’ll have to apologize for that.
The thin sheet was, despite being quite flexible, a small computer. Its heart was the small, translucent crystal at the center of the sheet, a light-based microchip. From what she had gotten out of Basil’s rambling explanation, it used ambient electricity to power itself – provided it was affixed to a large enough piece of conductive metal. It would transmit her location to Basil and, if she put her hand on it (it was barely large enough for that) it would also transmit her pulse and a host of other information it could read out of her hand.
All she needed to do was affix it somewhere. The contrivances that kept her alive would not do – there was little metal on them, and either way, it was never a good idea to mix contrivance and real science. Her bed would not do, either, it did not have a frame of metal, instead being made of cheap wood. I don’t think I have ever been lying in a cheaper bed.
But if she could stand up, there was more than enough scrap metal to be used…
To her great luck, the contrivances were all to her left and all hooked up more or less to the left side of her body. With a major effort, she was able to sit up. She took a moment to catch her breath. I used to wrestle with my brothers, now I can barely lift myself up, she thought mournfully.
It took her a few moments to gather the strength to turn around and hang her legs over the edge of the bed. Thankfully, the bed had apparently been built in great haste and it wasn’t all too high. Her feet were touching the ground without her knees needing to bend at a right angle.
She took another measure of the room. There, in the far corner, was a slab of metal. It looked like a large patch of copper, torn off from some larger structure. Copper is conductive. I can use that. Looking at the bottoms of the machines next to her bed, she saw, to her delight, that they had small wheels. And the tubes were quite long. Perfect. She put the computer sheet into her outer pocket again.
Despite her condition, she had always insisted that she take regular physical therapy, so what little remained of her muscles would not further atrophy. Now it paid off, because she could stand up, however unsteadily, and grip the tall metal staff that held up an IV drip. Using it as a walking stick on wheels, she took step after step towards the copper slab.
The distance was less than two and a half meters, yet it felt like a marathon to her. Her heart was beating to fast, her breath too labored. Thankfully, the machines did not alert anyone – they probably would only react if she reached near lethal levels of strain.
When she finally reached the copper slab, she slowly, carefully, slid down the metal staff – if she fell down, she would probably shatter her knees – and took a few moments to catch her breath and calm her heart.
Then she pulled out the sheet and slapped it onto the copper – but she reached around, so it stuck to the back in a position where she could just barely touch it. It stuck to the slab and when she touched it, she could feel a light vibration. Slowly, she counted to seventeen – it took that long for it to boot up – and then pressed her whole hand onto it.
After counting to sixty (it was only supposed to take fifty-three seconds, but she wanted to be sure), she lowered her hand. It would now transmit everything it had recorded and continue to act as a homing beacon for Basil.
I need to get away from this corner. Can’t risk drawing attention to the sheet.
She didn’t have the strength left to stand up again, so she looked around for something she could use as a weapon. Not that she deluded herself to think that she might be able to put up a fight.
Then her eyes fell on some of the stuff that was lying around in this room – it obviously served as some kind of storeroom for the contriver that kept her hostage. But contrivers were not the only ones who could use random stuff to build something…
What did Basil say? ‘All it takes is a cave and a box of scraps’. It’s not a cave, and the scraps are not in a box, but I think I can do something. Not like I have anything else to do…
* * *
<A factory? Again?>, asked Polymnia.
“Yeah, I know, it sucks”, replied Tyche. “You’d think there weren’t any other places in this city where supervillains could set up shop. Just warehouses and old factories.”
“Could you be quiet, Tyche? We are trying to sneak up on them”, commented Hecate.
The three of them were walking as carefully as they could through the woods. They had located the overgrown factory thanks to Brennus’ and they had decided to split into two teams. Gloom Glimmer had gone with Brennus to fly directly to the girl, since the two of them were best suited to give her the medical care she needed. The three of them were supposed to stand ready for a signal, so they could attack once the hostage was safe.
So B-man gets to fly with the uber-hot chick, while I have to deal with Miss Crankypants making mooneyes at the popstar and being cranky at me, thought Tyche. To Hecate, she said: “What’s your problem? First, Polymnia is keeping up some kind of super-sci-fi force field that mutes us and second, she just talked as well, so why do you only tell me to be quiet?”
Hecate just grumbled at her, but didn’t say anything.
<Just for the record, this is not a force-field. I can’t do force-fields. No one outside of Africa even has a force-field that is not based on an innate power>, threw Polymnia in.
“Really? I mean, you see all those guys with power suits or something…”, said Tyche.
<Contrivances. Or Gadgeteers who have other powers. Force-fields are just too advanced – there have only been two Gadgeteers who could ever do them. One’s dead, the other rules Africa. Same deal with teleportation, only there was only ever one and that one’s dead.>, Polymnia threw in. <Now, let’s concentrate on the job. We can talk later.>
* * *
Flying around with Gloom Glimmer was definitely different from flying with his sister.
One, she was not carrying him by the armpits. In fact, he couldn’t feel any kind of grip – it was more like there was no weight to him as well as a tether connecting him to her, pulling him by his center of gravity.
Two, she was doing something to hide them – and unlike his sister’s invisibility, it did not blind him, instead creating a slight distortion in the air around them, the way great heat distorted the air in the desert. His ravens told him that not even that was visible from the outside.
“Are you using some kind of gravity manipulation?”, he asked. It was the only thing that made sense regarding point one. And this was a great chance to get some information on her powers – and he had some time to kill, because they were taking the long way around the factory, while they were scanning the building for Prisca.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Doesn’t your power tell you?”
“Nope, mental stuff takes up too much potential, so I don’t get it unless I’m out of- You’re trying to get info on my powers, aren’t you?”, she replied, turning around to look at him – without changing the direction of her flight.
“You just said you did not ‘get’ it while out of… what? Combat? Stress? How come you can tell?”
“My parents are probably the two naturally smartest people on this planet. They defined the term ‘genius scientist’ long before the first gadgeteers showed up. It stands to reason that I would get some of their smarts, doesn’t it? Even without powers.” She gave him a lopsided smile, daring him to contradict her.
“Well, I guess I can give you something. I usually get powers that can benefit me in several ways – for example, instead of getting independent flight and telekinesis, I instead get gravity control, which allows me to levitate both me and you and I have some means of both attacking and defending at the same time.”
Interesting, he thought. Not the part about the gravity control, but rather… “So you don’t choose your powers yourself? They are somehow chosen for you?”
The smile left her face.
“Do not worry, I do not plan to tell the world that Desolation-in-Lights little sister does not have full control of her power. I am just cur- and I think I just found Ms Fion.”
His on-board computer had just picked up the signal from the tracking chip he had given her for emergencies.
“My scanners are picking up biometric readings that fit the usual condition of victims of the Hawaii attack”, he explained, pointing towards the back of the factory.
Gloom Glimmer concentrated in that direction. “I can see her. She is building… a trap? That girl’s got nerves of steel.”
Heh. I like the sound of that. “Can you get us in without anyone noticing?”
“Aye, let’s see what we can do for her.”
They flew towards the factory and Brennus could feel her power affecting him in some way. She did not slow down when they reached the wall and instead of smashing into it, they simply flew through.
The Hemogoblins had put Prisca into a large room that had apparently served as some kind of storage room for scraps from some dump. A rough, wooden bed stood pretty much in the middle of the room. Prisca was at the one door that led into the room, having apparently constructed a rough trap out of a wooden board that was bent back and fixed in place, ready to snap forward and hit the legs of whoever opened the door.
Prisca herself lay sweating to the left of the door, hooked up to the most hideous machines Brennus had ever seen. They pretty much insulted every professional sensibility he had – and a few he did not.
The slight distortion that had hidden them expanded while simultaneously lessening, until it had moved to overlap with the edges of the room.
Gloom Glimmer set him down and Prisca noticed them. Her eyes went wide and a look of relief spread across her strained face.
Brennus could feel his blood boil at the sight of her. She looked worse than he had ever seen her, her face more drawn than after the worst pain attack he had ever witnessed.
He moved forward and knelt next to her. “Ms Fion, we have come to get you out of here. Please remain calm.” There, a bit stilted, but better than throwing his arms around her to hug her.
Gloom Glimmer hovered closer, her feet never quite touching the ground. She did not say anything, though.
Prisca opened her mouth to say something, but the only thing that came out was a groan.
Brennus turned to Gloom Glimmer without standing up: “Can you teleport her to the hospital?”
“Not while she is attached to those contrivances. Crimson Goblins’ work is notoriously unstable – so much so that his level 6 rating might be misapplied – and contrivances are already pretty fragile when interacting with other powers”, she replied.
“If we disconnect them, can you both keep her alive and teleport her? Because I do not think that she is going to survive another minute in her current condition, if disconnected from life support.” He was getting a bit desperate.
She shook her head. “Healing is one of the most demanding powers – it would take most of my potential. Same thing for teleportation. I can’t do both at the same time.” She seemed less sad about it and more annoyed.
Concentrate on the matter at hand. “If I create some makeshift life support, can you teleport with that?”
“Sure. But we’ll have to disconnect the contrivances before you start connecting your work. So I’ll need to keep her alive and I won’t be able to help or keep up the concealment-field.”
“Let us wait with disconnecting the contrivances until I have finished the life support. There are more than enough scraps in this room and everything I can’t find here I’ll take out of my armor.”
She nodded. “I’ll stand watch then.”
Brennus nodded back, then he looked at Prisca, who had been following their conversation quietly. She seemed half-dead. Why could you not just wait? Why did you have to waste energy, building that trap? It would not do more than inconvenience someone!
He knew the answer, of course. She was too proud to just lay down and wait to be saved. Just like she was too proud to be fed, until her strength gave out. He loved that about her, but he hated it none the less.
“Do not worry. We will get you safely back home.” And he turned to look what he had to work with.
* * *
Five minutes later, he was sitting in the middle of several devices he had cobbled together. It had cost him his stun gun and one of his batons to make everything work.
All in all, he had constructed three devices. Two were done, one was left, a makeshift pacemaker (the doctors could not put a permanent one into her, because Dusu’s bacteria attacked all machinery inside her body and it had to be exchanged regularly).
“I thought you blew up your stun gun down at the acre”, commented Gloom Glimmer, who had sat down next to Prisca and was holding her in her lap, pouring water she was pulling out of the air into the girls mouth.
“I had a spare”, he commented. Not true. I never built a second one. But it is undeniably my work. When did I make it?
“And I must say, you are mighty quick building all this stuff. Far quicker than your rating would suggest, no matter how high it is”, she continued.
So now she is grilling me for information. Better give her some, before her power gives her telepathy. “I practiced constructing emergency equipment out of whatever might be at hand, just in case.” Not a lie. Though, honestly, I practiced constructing Prisca’s emergency equipment.
“That’s a lot of planning ahead. Say, what is that box on your belt?”
Why is she changing the subject – trying to make me slip. She is trying to make me slip and give her some better information, like she did. He looked down at his belt. I do not have a box on my belt, I never took…
But there it was, the black box he had found at the mountainside house. Adhering to his belt, even though there was no obvious mechanism of connection.
When did I…? Why did I…?
To Gloom Glimmer, he said: “Secret. I am done now. Let us start with the exchange.” I shall make a more thorough inspection of this box, once I have the time.
He took the three devices and walked over to Prisca and Gloom Glimmer.
Prisca was looking better, now that she had gotten some water. She looked up at him and tried to speak, but had to groan again.
“Calm down, Miss. We will get you home quickly”, said Brennus.
She shook her head, then opened her mouth: “Trap…”
He tilted his head. “Your trap? What about it?”
Again, a shake of her head. “For… you. Crimson Goblin. Works for other. Kidnappings… to lure you out. Know something… about you.”
He stopped short. Know something? About me… about us? Do they know who I am? What does she mean?
Worst of all, he could not ask for clarification in front of Gloom Glimmer.
She continued: “Someone… other. Red… no, vermillion blades.”
The devices clattered to the floor.
“Vermillion blades? What vermillion blades!?”, he asked, his heart speeding up. Slivers of those strange memories were coming up.
He knelt down next to her again: “What did he say?! Please, I need to know!”
“Calm down, Brennus! We need to help her first!”, Gloom Glimmer warned him.
Prisca shook her head again, then spoke, her voice steadier than before. “Goblin said… he had reasons to believe that kidnappings would draw you to him… Someone told him… He was going to send you a message to draw you here, once he had time to prepare… Didn’t want to tell me more, said he… said he didn’t want to ‘end up with a vermillion blade in his head’. Wouldn’t say more.”
Brennus looked down at the floor. So many memories… But he needed to help Prisca first.
“Gloom Glimmer, start up with the healing. I need to first remove all of the contrivances before I connect the first of my devices”, he explained. The heroine nodded and her hands began to glow with a soft blue light. She put one on Prisca’s forehead and one over her heart.
Picking up the devices, he went about disconnecting the contrivances from her body as quickly as he could without causing any damage. Prisca twitched every time, but she did not seem to be in pain any more. Her eyes were glazing over. After all these years, a few painless moments while awake would feel like a drug, would they not?
It took only a few seconds to connect the three devices. They were not enough to keep her alive for long – but long enough for Gloom Glimmer to teleport her and the doctors to do their work.
When he was done, he looked at Gloom Glimmer. “Can you not heal her completely? If your power is so versatile…”
She shook her head, sadly. “Believe me, I’ve tried. When my parents and I first found out that I could manifest healing powers, we tried to use them to heal several otherwise incurable ailments and injuries. The successes were limited to those other healers could heal as well.”
She looked down at Prisca, who had fallen asleep. “I don’t think this girl is ever going to be healed – or live to see her eighteenth birthday, unless someone gets her into the Protectorate and makes the right kind of contact.”
Brennus let his head hang. He had thought about it, but something in his gut told him that even if he got past the defenses, he would not be able to make ‘the right kind’ of contact.
“Well then, get her to safety. And give the signal to the girls. I want to have a talk with the Crimson Goblin”, he said.
“You do know that this is a trap specifically for you?”, she asked.
“One: he obviously does not yet expect me here, so his traps are probably not all ready yet. Two: I have already penetrated the outer defenses and am inside. Three: I am really, really pissed right now.”
She nodded, once. “Alright. I’ll stay with the girl until I’m sure that she’ll pull through–” The thought that Prisca might still not make it was a punch to the gut – and more oil for the fire inside him. Gloom Glimmer continued, not noticing. “– and then I’ll come back. Do leave some enemies for me – I’m in a mood to bash some heads together.”
“I make no promises”, he replied. And then they were gone, without so much as a flash.
With some finger movements, he called four ravens through the open windows – they were too small for even someone of Prisca’s stature to get through, but not for his ravens. He turned to the door, disabling the makeshift trap – admirable work, for someone in Prisca’s condition – with a kick and walked out.
* * *
He had scanned the hallway beforehand and seen that it was empty. It would have been curious, that they did not protect their one hostage, had Prisca not told him that she had never been the actual goal.
Still they are being a bit too reckless. This whole operation stinks.
He searched for lifesigns and snuck towards the nearest source. The girls would not attack for another minute or so. No reason to break cover before that.
Who could this person be that wants me? What are these ‘vermillion blades’?
He directed the question inward, hoping for an answer from the Blazing Sun. He was not disappointed.
I can not say.
I can not say.
Did you say the same thing to Amy?
She must have been spectacularly frustrated.
I have a minute or so right now. Can you at least show me some of the memories?
I can not.
I do not have the right to show these memories.
Somehow, that last sentence carried a note of determination that spelled the end of their short exchange. And true to that, the entity describing itself as the Blazing Sun did not answer again.
He reached a turn of the hallway. Beyond, he could see the warmth of two non-human entities. All in all, they had to be goblins.
Extending his left middle finger around the corner, he looked at them with the camera built into it. The ‘goblins’ looked vaguely human, only shorter and stockier, with gnarled reddish-brown skin, red tunics made apparently solely out of dirt and wooden cudgels that were almost as long as they were tall. Neither looked like the other, but both were spectacularly ugly.
And they were both looking away from him, towards what he thought was the route to the command center.
Drawing his remaining baton, he stalked around the corner, gathering his cloak over one arm so it would not make a sound. They did not notice him until he stood nearly right between them.
The one to the right noticed him first and turned while simultaneously opening its mouth to scream.
He rammed his baton into its twisted maw, the shock turned up to lethal levels. At the same time, he lashed out with his foot, the ravens on his shoulders allowing him to aim his foot to smash into the throat of the goblin, the foot set to lethal levels of shocking.
There had been no need for that – both blows broke the necks of the goblins and they went down without another sound except for a faint sizzling, as they immediately started dissolving. Contrivances, he thought with a sneer.
Next up was a larger room. There were more goblins in there than he had detected earlier, as well as several larger heat sources. He must be breeding new goblins. But why? Without the Goblin Queen, he will have no control over at least half of them.
This whole operation stank. It stank of fear, of desperation. Something was scaring the Crimson Goblin so much he was making one mistake after the other. He had always been very careful with his operations, as he knew that he and his teammates were not nearly powerful enough to survive in the capital of metahumans if they did not watch their steps. These simultaneous kidnappings, all targeting innocent young girls – a similiarity he had noticed seconds after hearing of the other kidnappings – crossed line after line. Even if he was not taken out today, the Hemogoblins would not survive the month, not even the week. With the current political climate, heroes and villains alike would tear them apart to preserve the current peace.
Even the Five might fight against them. In fact, I would be surprised if Amy is not gearing up to attack right now.
But before that happened, he needed to find out about these vermillion blades. If the Crimson Goblin meant the same blades he was seeing in his memories, then… he really did not know what to think of that.
One step at a time.
He went into position in front of the door, but did not break through. Instead, he gathered more ravens around himself – he had twenty-four, currently, because he had to wait for a new shipment of raw materials – and tried to contact the girls.
I should have thought of that sooner. Maybe I need to calm myself down before I advance.
<Can anyone hear me?>, he asked.
<Polymnia here. Loud and clear.>
<Tyche here. Loud and clear.>
<Hecate here. The same. And we got Gloom Glimmers signal. We are going to attack now.>
<Be advised: the whole thing was meant to be a trap for me, though they are not done setting it up. Somebody is behind the Hemogoblins and all the other villains active today, and they apparently thought that at least one of the kidnappings would lead me to them.>, he warned them.
<Seriously?>, asked Tyche.
<Would I joke about this?>, he asked back.
<Alright, so how are we going to proceed?>, asked Polymnia in turn.
<We go in, but not the main entrance. We distract them, while Brennus strikes at them from behind – you can do that, right? – and we hope that Gloom Glimmer returns quickly>, advised Hecate.
<Good. Polymnia, take care. They probably have something cooked up to fight Gadgeteers, maybe a->
And the connection cut off. At the same time, the goblins on the other side of the door began moving towards the front of the building.
Ah crap, he thought.
* * *
Apparently, the girls had been found out – and the goblins were moving faster than he would have expected. The room cleared almost entirely within a few seconds and only five heat signatures were left – and only one of them was human.
Time to raid this goblin camp.
He readied his baton, made sure that his sword was functional and checked his armor over one more time. It served more to calm him down than make sure his equipment was in order. He would not have taken it along if he had not checked it at his lair.
With a kick, he took the door out of the frame. Before it could crash to the ground, he commanded his ravens to surge forward while he lept in. Using the concealment from his ravens, he took the room in.
The remnants of several assembly lines had been thrown back to one wall. There were three translucent vats filled with a yellow-brown, pus-like fluid standing to the left. Each was the size of a mini-van and several fetus-like forms were growing in each of them. Opposite of them was a larger door that would have led to the next larger room with assembly lines.
In front of the vats stood four goblins with cudgels and a woman in red leather – Switchbitch.
The latter turned to look towards the noise just as the door crashed to the floor.
Remembering how she had treated him back at the hospital room, Brennus acted rather amateurish – he set his baton to maximal stun-levels (she was obviously an Adonis-type, so better assume she was more resistant. Besides, she had really pissed him off) and threw it with as much strength as he could put behind it.
His aim was slightly off, so he did not hit her on the neckline the leather suit left free (as she neglected to zip it up), instead hitting her left shoulder with enough force that he could hear it crack from where he stood.
She screamed and spun around, dropping to the ground. Unfortunately, it seemed that her costume was also insulated, because it did not electrocute her into unconsciousness.
Brennus ran on towards the goblins – who were too slow to react. He had his blade pulled out and two of them cut to pieces before they could even raise their weapons.
The other two tried to flank him before striking – but he was bigger, stronger and faster than either of them. More importantly, he was also pretty much invulnerable to simple hits with wooden cudgels and he had a far greater reach. Both of them dropped to the floor in pieces before either of them managed to land a solid hit.
This is too freaking easy. The Hemogoblins did not survive an entire decade like this.
Unfortunately, he was right – something hit him in the back and he was thrown across the hall and back towards the door he had come from.
The impact startled him more than it hurt, but he had still been flung across the hall. Even though he weighed far more than a normal human while in his suit.
He jumped back onto his feet and turned around, while also ordering his ravens to cluster around him.
Switchbitch had sat herself up and extended her staff, which had hit him in the back. It was formed like a lance and she was looking at him with incredulous eyes – obviously, she had expected it to pierce his armor.
“What the fuck!? That was supposed to punch through steel!”, she shouted at him while standing up.
“My armor is not made of steel”, he replied from within his unkindness of ravens.
The staff retracted and formed into a chainsaw-staff. “Let’s see if its tough enough to withstand this!” The chainsaw began to whirl and extended to shoot into the mass of flapping ravens. None were hit, neither Brennus nor his ravens.
He moved forward and to the right, but had to dive to the ground when Switchbitch moved the whirling chainsaw towards him. His ravens flew down and clustered around him – and he saw an opening.
Before she could turn the chainsaw and pull it down – it did not work that fast, since she only had one arm to use – he sent his ravens forward. Instead of them clustering around him, they now surrounded his enemy, hacking at her with sharp beaks.
Despite all, he did not want to kill her, so he ordered them to only aim for non-vital, sensitive parts. And here, popular villain fashion came to his help.
He had two ravens grab each one side of her plunging neckline – her suit was pretty much a leather catsuit that she had not zipped up right now – and pull it appart, exposing her ridiculously oversized chest. Which the ravens promptly attacked.
The sartorially challenged villain screamed in pain as the vulnerable flesh of her chest was attacked and actually dropped her weapon, which immediately turned into a simple red staff.
Brennus surged forward and grabbed her shoulders, digging the thumb of his right hand into the broken point of her left shoulder. She opened her mouth for another scream and he pulled her towards himself, giving her a headbutt.
Without a further sound, she collapsed and, as he neglected to grab her, fell down, rolling onto her back. His ravens retreated and he turned towards the vats.
They stood on top of obviously contrived structures that were almost certainly responsible for the actual process of breeding the goblins. Six goblins were taking form as he watched, two in each vat.
Better to take out this spawn-point, he thought, chuckling. Taking two grenades from his belt, he threw them at the twisted structures (they seemed to be mostly made of car parts and several microwaves), one each. They exploded on contact, tearing them apart and shattering the vats.
The thick fluid inside spilled onto the floor, but stopped shortly before reaching Brennus and Switchbitch.
When he was sure that the unfinished goblins were dissolving and not standing up, he turned towards the villain, prodding her with his foot. She is certainly not standing up for a while. Did not expect to say this so soon in my career, but seriously, what a stupid rookie.
He knelt down to inspect her staff (artifact-contrivance, completely useless) and her suit (it looked like leather, but upon closer inspection, it looked to be made of a thick, skin-like substance not unlike the skin of the goblins, only smoother; obviously another contrivance, making it worthless to him).
Hmm, that wound…
He pulled her suit away from her left shoulder, revealing her wound. It had turned purple. And it was exactly at the same place where she had pierced his shoulder. Maybe my aim was not actually off…
With x-rays, he checked her wound and the bump on her head, applying some first aid to make sure there would be no complications.
He was just about done when a sneering voice spoke over the factory’s PA-system. <Dear Brennus, I see that you took down my little girl toy without much trouble. I’m sorry to announce that I will not be so easily defeated.>
A nearby computer screen that had probably originally served to control the assembly lines flared up, showing a different room – a smaller hall, barely twice as large as the room he had found Prisca in – with the Crimson Goblin, Redder and four of the gang-members he had seen standing watch outside, armed with submachine guns, standing in a row.
In front of the gunmen knelt Hecate, Polymnia and Tyche. Hecate only had her mask and bodysuit left, lacking her cloak, belt, boots and staff, with the jewel on her chest cracked and dull. Polymnia had been stripped of her suit, kneeling in nothing but her pink undergarments and visor. Tyche seemed to have taken the worst of the exchange – she had been stripped of the suit he had made for her and since she did not wear anything else underneath, that left her naked. Thankfully, they had allowed her to put her leather jacket back on, so she was at least slightly covered, and her hair fell in front of her face, obscuring it.
The Crimson Goblin was inspecting Tyche’s dragonskin-suit. <This is really interesting stuff. I’m sure I’ll be able to sell it for good money, seeing how it ought to be one of your gadgets>, he commented.
Brennus walked closer to the screen, but did not say anything. The Crimson Goblin turned towards whatever camera he was using.
<Now, I must say, your pretty little friends put up quite the fight, however short it was. They killed nearly all of my poor goblins, especially our little songbird here>, he continued, walking up and down in front of the girls.
<But, as you can plainly see, they lost. Now, how to say this… let’s make it short and sweet. You have five minutes to get here together with Switchbitch, or I’ll let my men have their fun with the girls. And I’ll start streaming it live on the internet. I figure, since we have already crossed the line attacking all these poor little civillians, we might as well have some fun. It’s not going to make our situation much worse. We are in the assembly hall at the South East corner of the building. The clock is ti-icking! Oh, and do send your ravens out of the building – I’ll know if you take them with you.>
And the screen cut off.
No matter. His blood had already reached its boiling point.
Does this guy want to get killed?
He turned back towards Switchbitch, zipping her costume up and throwing her over his left shoulder, walking towards the Southern door of the hall.
Unbidden, memories flashed in front of his mind’s eye.
Alone with… screams as…
“… five minutes left… screams so prettily…”
A door. He could not open it, it was locked and too massive, he did not know what to do…
So many scraps, but he could not do anything with them… just junk, nothing functional…
Shaking his head, he banished those memories.
* * *
Since he was quite sure that the Crimson Goblin had cameras in at least this part of the building, he hurried towards his destination and entered the smaller hall only a minute after the message.
Inside, the same scene awaited him, only the gunmen were now pointing their guns at the girls heads and there was a contrivance that must have stood behind the camera. It consisted of two suitcase-sized cubes made of copper, standing five meter appart from each other in the middle of the hall. He could not see any goblins, but he did see that the windows were fortified with sheets of steel, which would keep his ravens out.
“Ah, Brennus. I’m happy that you made it. Now, kindly put down my girltoy. You have no idea how much work I had to put in to give her that beautiful body – and thanks to you, I’ll have to replace the most important parts”, the Crimson Goblin said. He and Redder had moved away from the others, standing over to the left.
Brennus did as bidden and then waited. He had cooled off a bit on his way – which meant that he was only twitching in rage, not shaking right now – and he had a half-formed plan.
From where he stood, he could see that Polymnia’s equipment, along with Tyche’s, had been thrown into one corner, with Hecate’s lying in a second heap close to it.
The girls themselves were not in the best of shapes. Tyche was swaying slightly on her knees and what little he could see of her face made it look like she was barely conscious. Hecate was bleeding from a broken nose and cracked lips. Polymnia was covered in bruises, as if she had been savagely beaten by someone with big hands – someone like Redder.
“What now?”, he asked.
“Now, please walk up between those two cubes, or my men will put bullets into those pretty little heads”, the Goblin replied.
Suddenly, Brennus got a text message over his communication link.
<Polymnia: brennus. short-range com possible. better condition than looks. equipment fried except visor – blink control, cubes emp’s. plan?>
“What assurance do I have that you will not just kill them once you are done with me?”, Brennus asked. He sent an answer back.
<Brennus: Can you free yourself from your shackles?>
The Crimson Goblin looked at him with another sneer on his face. “You don’t really have a choice, boy. But I guess that is a justifiable question. You have my word of honor that the girls will not be harmed in any way, provided you cooperate fully.”
<Polymnia: made for baselines; tear easily for me. plan?>
“Seeing how you attacked several innocent girls just to draw me out and just threatened to have three teenage girls publicly raped, I fear that your ‘honor’ does not count for much”, Brennus replied, trying to buy time.
<Brennus: I distract them. You take out the gunmen and get the girls to safety. Get out of the comm-block and call for help.>
The Crimson Goblin was clearly irritated. He opened his mouth to reply, but then he suddenly tensed and his eyes got the far-away look of someone speaking to someone over the telephone. Then he looked at Brennus again, his mask twisting in fury.
“You’re trying to buy time. No more games. Step inbetween the cubes, or I’ll have the songbird executed. You have three seconds. One.”
Brennus stepped forward, walking quickly to the cubes.
“Aaand, that’s it”, said the Crimson Goblin, as he pushed a button on his belt.
The cubes sparked and fizzled, then went out again.
Brennus was not moving. Polymnia sighed as she felt like someone had poured cold water over her.
“Well, that was easier than expected”, complained the Crimson Goblin. “Redder, please go and peal him out of his suit – time to see who’s behind the mask.”
Redder stepped closer, while Polymnia tensed. With Brennus out of the fight, their only hope was Gloom Glimmer.
When Redder stood in front of Brennus and reached out for him, he suddenly moved, bending down under the red villain’s reaching arms and drawing his blade, cutting off his enemy’s legs with a single stroke.
Before anyone could react, before Redder could even fall down, he threw three grenades – one to the left, at the Crimson Goblin, one to the right at the steel sheets over the windows and one towards the girls and the gunmen.
The left one sparked as it touched the chest of the Crimson Goblin and he screamed as his mask stiffened. The right one detonated, blowing a hole into the wall through which his ravens flew in in a single mass. The last one detonated in a flash of light, blinding the gunmen – but not Polymnia, who was still wearing her visor.
Brennus grabbed Redder by the shoulder and the crotch, throwing him back towards Switchbitch (without his legs) before he could use his explosion. At the same time, Polymnia moved quicker than one would expect. Brennus had read that her Adonis trait focused more on speed than enhanced durability (as opposed to Tyche, who was rather balanced), and it showed.
She disarmed the three gunmen aiming at the three of them, then threw one into the other two. Two quick jabs knocked the two she had disarmed but not thrown out while Brennus’ ravens settled over Hecate and Tyche, forming makeshift armors around them.
All the while, the Crimson Goblin was screaming curses. Brennus used his chance, surging towards him and tackling him to the ground. Two swift jabs to chest and face silenced him.
He ripped off the Goblins’ mask at the same time at which the remaining goblins surged into the room from wherever he had had them hide. However, before they could act, he had pulled up their master and taken him into a headlock, threatening to snap his neck.
“Tell your little toys to back off, or I am liable to cause permanent damage”, he hissed into his enemies ear.
The man he was holding – a middle-aged, rather unattractive guy of hispanic ancestry – struggled for a second, but found that his power suit had turned completely inert. He went limp in Brennus arms.
“Abort all orders”, he said and the goblins stopped moving just as Polymnia finished beating down the last of the gunmen.
“I know that you have some kind of self-destruct option built into your goblins. Use it. Now”, continued Brennus.
The Crimson Goblin twisted his face in outrage, but complied: “Code: Nilbog.” And the goblins began to dissolve where they stood.
Over where the Switchbitch lay, Redder had begun regenerating his legs, but he was not yet so far that he could attack. And he probably would not have risked it, either way.
And just like that, the battle was over.
* * *
“An EMP? That was your big plan for taking me down?”, Brennus asked the Crimson Goblin.
“Yes! What about it?”, he asked back.
“Seriously, I can construct an EMP-grenade like the one I used against you out of a tv-remote and a Triple-A battery! Making my equipment EMP-proof was the first thing I made sure of!”, Brennus replied in outrage, his pride feeling quite insulted. “And you used a stationary EMP-system as the core of your strategy – but did not make sure that your own equipment was proof against it?!”
The Goblin spat out. “Hey, making equipment that is this complex EMP-proof is very difficult and time-consuming! And I was working with a damn time-limit!”
Brennus flipped him around and lifted him by the collar of his suit. “What time-limit? Who hired you?! Why are you after me!?”
“I was contacted barely half an hour after the video of your fight down at the acre went public! Told me to kidnap at least one young girl to lure you out and take you prisoner! Told me that the Panther Patrol was also recruited, just like some others, that we were to synchronize our efforts and pull it off before nightfall!”, the beaten villain told him.
“Who. Hired. You?”
“I can’t tell you! I don’t want to die!”, he shouted, tears filling his eyes. “I’m going to die either way, ’cause I failed, but if I betray her, she’s going to make it hurt.“
“You already betrayed her”, said a new voice.
Everyone in the room who was still conscious (meaning Redder, Crimson Goblin, Brennus, Polymnia and Hecate) turned towards it and saw Gloom Glimmer floating in the middle of the room.
Polymnia shouted in glee, but the Crimson Goblin’s face just went sheet-white.
“I didn’t! I didn’t tell you anything about her!”, he screamed.
“Oh but you did. Though you don’t need to worry. I have disabled all the surveillance they put up in this factory and I’m blocking any signal she might send to set off that bomb she implanted into your skull”, Gloom Glimmer explained.
The tension went out of the Crimson Goblin, though he still seemed terrified.
Brennus looked at her. “Who is it then? And how did you figure it out?”
Gloom Glimmer floated over to Polymnia as her body began to glow in a soft blue light. She hugged the wounded girl and Polymnia relaxed as her pain and her wounds faded.
She repeated the process with Hecate and Tyche – though she did not hug them, only putting her hands on their shoulders.
Then she turned to Brennus. “The blades. He spoke to Ms Fion of ‘Vermillion blades’. Funny that he would be so specific, but I guess if you’ve spent ten years as the red-coloured leader of a red-coloured gang, than you might get very precise about your shades of red.”
She floated closer, Polymnia right behind her. Tyche was putting her suit back on, while Hecate was gathering her stuff.
Gloom Glimmer continued: “It didn’t click immediately, but while I was helping the doctors with Ms Fion – she is fine by the way, though she asked me to make sure that each of her kidnappers had at least a few broken bones to show – I remembered. There is only ONE person in the world that I know of who uses blades that are specifically vermillion-hued, who is dreaded enough to make two enemy gangs cooperate with a single command and hash out such a self-destructive operation. Can you guess? Tip: the reason why the vermillion blades are not an immediate tip-off is because there are no recordings of her fighting in close combat.”
Several options flew through his head, but only one of them was female. “Shit.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry Brennus, but I’m pretty much 100% sure that the one responsible for this is Atrocity herself. For whatever reason, the Savage Six have taken an interest in you.”