He did not burn. Despite its brilliance, the star was not hot, nor was it cold. It didn’t seem to have any temperature at all. Nor did it have any mass, his body moving through it without encountering any resistance. The only thing he saw, the only thing he heard, and tasted, and smelled, and just felt was pure, unspoiled light, strange though that may sound. It entered his body without encountering any resistance, saturated him in a way he had not words to describe, saturated his mind as well as his body, until he himself was light. He saw every painting he had ever made, or even considered, he saw every smile he ever put on his mother’s face, every smile he ever put on anyone’s face, heard laughter and joy. He saw the tears in the lives of those close to him, saw his mother and his grandmother cry together when they thought he wouldn’t see or hear.
And he saw Macian, the first real friend he’d ever made. He saw him, whole and unspoiled by any scars or machinery, a young boy much like himself, with a cute little girl with long black hair and even blacker eyes clinging to his arm. That has to be Amy. She looks so happy. But he also saw another Macian, scarred and crippled, his left arm and eye gone, operating on himself while madly muttering gibberish Henry could not begin to understand, rebuilding his own body with metal and plastic as a naked Amy was curled up in a corner, crying as she nursed a painful burn on the palm of her left hand, smeared with a yellow paste. Henry saw and he understood, as well. He protected her with his own body.
He saw himself, standing on top of a hill, underneath a large oak that was ladden with golden apples hanging from its branches, the scenery around himself right out of one of his paintings, all green fields, blue sky and snow-capped mountains. And he saw himself, alone, older and thin like a skeleton, sitting on the edge of his hometown’s fountain, covered by a threadbare raincoat with a heavy hood.
He saw a large city, with old-fashioned cars moving on its streets, despite the late hour. The stars shone bright over this city, which he recognized as Old Lennston. His gaze swerved around to a building on an elevated cliff over the sea, an old mansion. And he knew what was about to happen. Point Zero.
The mansion came alive with a bright light, golden and white and every colour imaginable – and billions more even he had no name for – as it literally disintegrated before his eyes, a pillar of light spearing towards the sky, clearing the sky from what few clouds there were in a large circle for miles, the night turning as bright as day as the pillar’s top began to give of circular emanations of light that spread towards the horizon. He knew that they would circle the entire world, had read the accounts of that night. Everyone read them.
There was no way to tell how long it took for the pillar to vanish, except that it was still night when it shrank and vanished. For just a moment, the night was dark again, then he saw two figures stand up, just a few feet away from the center of the pillar. One of them, a rather spindly woman with thin blonde hair began to glow in a light not unlike that of the pillar, only hers only showed white and gold, her body coming alight as she rose from the ground, breaking into a laugh that was filled with unrestrained joy, making him wish to join in and laugh with her. The second figure, a hawkish man with dark hair, a hooked nose and a well-muscled, but slender build, screamed in pain and despair, a sound that made his ears hurt, as the shadows gathered around him, forming an abomination of darkness with glowing red eyes.
Again, a different vision. The future; no, countless futures. Some bright, some dark, but all different. He zeroed in on one, a future filled with darkness unlike anything he had ever seen, darker even than the shadows that had enveloped the Dark. But not all was darkness there. He saw light. Five Points of Light. Five people, five hopes.
The Shaper, unbound from anything but imagination.
The Maker, mad and yet sane, rising ever higher.
The Dreamer, a gilded knight that glowed like the sun.
The Defender, another era’s fallen idol, given a second chance.
The Lover, wielding the primordial power.
The vision dissolved and Henry hit the ground running, charging towards the park. But he wasn’t running over the plaza alone anymore. It was as if he had two sets of eyes, two whole sets of senses that worked at the same time. One was in this world, showing him what he already knew. The other was in a whole new world, an even plain of grass with colourful flowers growing in random patches, a bright sun and clear blue sky above. He could hear the wind sing in that other world, could feel it on his skin – the skin that was in that world – his world, he knew, his and his alone – could smell its freshness with his second nose, could see it carry flower petals with his second eyes. He felt the soft earth and grass underneath his feet, even through his shoes, as he ran towards the building in between himself and the park where another explosion lit up the sky of the normal world.
But there was more. The sky in his world, it was a clear blue, but he had a feeling that there was something behind it. Concentrating on it, he made the sun go down in the second world, revealing the gorgeous star-studded sky he had seen earlier – only this time, he could not see his own star anymore. Duh, I’m inside it, I think! All those stars, all those worlds, the were singing. Each of them sang their own, individual song, yet they formed a symphony nonetheless. And there was another sound, as well. A deep, deep thrumming, like the beating of an impossibly huge heart, pounding in the background of this sea of stars, always there, but never quite in the foreground.
There were two stars that were closer to him than any others. Reaching out, he could feel them. From one, he felt a deep, desperate fear and longing, mortal fright – for someone else. Mama…
From the other, he heard a mad gibberish, as if someone were constantly murmuring so loud it spanned the space between that world and his own, a deep pain more intense than anything he had ever imagined and a wholly different kind of fear for another – but there was also a quiet, cold determination, an indomitable will that cut right through the pain and the madness and the fear, a will to move forward. Macian.
He shook his head. There was no time, he had to help the people in the park. He felt them and could single out their worlds. Two of them shone brighter than the others, as bright as his mother, though nowhere near as bright as Macian did. Metahumans. The bright ones are metahumans. Fire Burial and whomever she’s fighting. Fire Burial was mad, angry beyond belief and screaming (at least in her mind) as he could see her world flare every time she used her power to attack. The other one was angry as well, an older man. Frustration, anger, disappointment… he had been retired, a veteran of at least one big conflict, but he was fighting again to protect innocents. His powers… steady, strong, simple… some manner of Earth-related power. Whatever it was, he was getting the feeling that it wasn’t enough. There were also six other worlds close, four children and two adults, none with powers. Their worlds were farther away, more muted. But he still felt their fear. He needed to go help the old warrior, needed to save all of them. But there was still a five-storey building in between him and the park, and running around would cost some time.
I wonder if I can run through it, he thought. There was nothing in his way in his second world, maybe he could just run through it? He charged towards the building, two sets of feet pounding over two different earths as he ran past the tables on the outside and into the glass doors.
Ouch, he thought as he landed with his butt on the ground, rubbing his hurt face. His second self had bounced back even though there was nothing in the second world. Still connected. But my nose only hurt, it isn’t broken. It should be, as fast as I ran into it. Had he become invulnerable, somehow? He pinched his own arm, and it hurt. Slamming into the glass hurt as well. Something different from normal invulnerability?
But he didn’t have time for this now. Another explosion shook the ground, and he decided to try something out. I can control my second world. Maybe… He called the wind in the second world, made strong and steady, blowing upward to lift his second self up.
It worked. The wind caught his second self and pulled it up, which also lifted him in the real world – strange, the second world feels just as real – above the coffee bar. Unfortunately, he hadn’t considered that the wind would grab different parts of his body with different strength, so he was thrown around badly enough that he would have thrown up if there was still anything in his belly. He caught himself as he rose high enough to see the entire park, as well as the location of the battle. It was extraordinarily complicated to keep himself steady with wind – so he instead stopped the wind and nullified the gravity in the second world. For just a moment, it seemed like the gravity of the first world – a better name than ‘real world’ – would pull him down regardless, but he concentrated on pushing more of his second self into his first self – transferring his second self’s weightlessness into his first self. And it worked, again, letting him hover in place. Only he couldn’t move like this.
Now, the wind. He called the second world’s wind again, making it simply push him towards the battle. He shot forward, having far more control now that he was only pushing against his own back. Not the most dignified way to fly, but at least he had control.
Here I come.
* * *
He shot towards the flickering form of Fire Burial as she was hovering above the park, switching forms to fire off fireballs as her enemy hurled rocks and compressed earth at her.
When he thought he was close enough, he aimed with the gun Macian had constructed for him, pulling the trigger while trying to line the barrel up with the pyrokinetic supervillain. Unfortunately, his aim was bad, as he was both unpracticed and flying around in a most unstable manner. So when he pulled the trigger and a blue-white beam shot from the gun – filling his nose with the smell of burned ozone – it shot just past Fire Burial’s shoulder, alerting her to his presence without causing any damage.
“You little fuck, you actually got powers!” she shouted and threw a fireball at him just moments before a mass of rock and soot forced her to disperse into fire.
Time seemed to slow down for a moment as the fireball raced towards him. Push me away, push me away. The air in the second world turned, pushing him violently aside and out of the fireball’s path. But Fire Burial had reformed and guided the fireball around, making it speed up even as it slammed into him.
I won’t burn, I’m made of ice, I won’t burn, I’m made of water, I won’t burn, I’m made of stone. His mind raced, working through every inflammable material he could think off – even if he didn’t know where he got the idea – and, again, it worked. His second self became ice, it became water, it became stone – and his first self did not burn, the fire failing to singe even his patchwork cloak.
Fire Burial just stared at him in surprise as he hovered in place, free from the bounds of gravity. He himself was just as surprised as he looked down at himself. Well, my cloak is dry, at least.
“What the fuck,” she cursed, just to disperse into flame as another projectile slammed into her head.
Right. I don’t have to do this alone, Henry thought as he turned towards the old warrior. He looked truly old, at least eighty years, with a bald, spotted head, a long white beard and thin limbs, though his posture was still proud. His thin face had heavy cheeks, a short, stubby nose and rimless spectacles. He was dressed in a very old-fashioned shirt and pants with suspenders, as well as dirty brown leather shoes. Hovering a few meters above the ground, he was circled by nine spheres made of earth and rock that circled him the way the planets circled the sun – they were even of various sizes, roughly corresponding to the planets of the solar system. There was also a circle of dust and loose dirt around him as well, though it thankfully opened to let Henry through as he carefully approached the man, redirecting the wind in the second world to stop his movement in front of him.
“Hello!” he greeted, quite intimidated now that he was so close. The man had presence, even without all the extra stuff he was picking up from the old warrior’s world. His eyes are like steel.
“Guten Tag, mein Junge. Ich bin ‘Dunstkreis’. Wer bist du?” he asked with a rather thin, scratchy voice.
“Um, sorry, do you speak English? I don’t understand German,” Henry replied, flinching as an explosion rattled him from behind. Turning around, he saw that the sphere that corresponded to Jupiter had absorbed the hit and was currently reforming from soot and rock drawn from the ground.
“I do, young man. Call me ‘Dunstkreis’.”
Henry turned back to him, rubbing the back of his head. “Umm, my name is… my name is Henry, Sir. I don’t have a codename yet, I got my powers just seconds ago,” he explained.
Dunstkreis raised an eyebrow. “Seconds? And you already have a gun like that?”
“Oh, sorry, no, a friend gave that to me. But he had… he had other things to do.” He didn’t want to put any blame on Macian, if he could avoid it.
“I see. Well, I’m glad that you’re at least fireproof, young man.” Another explosion destroyed one of the pseudo-planets just Henry saw the Mercury-sphere fly towards Fire Burial, forcing her to disperse again. “Can you somehow protect the children back there?”
He pointed at the group of adults and children (he probably sees all of them as children). They were huddled together on the ground, with Dunstkreis hovering between them and Fire Burial.
“Sorry Sir, I don’t know if I can. My power doesn’t seem to affect anyone other than myself, I think. I don’t know,” Henry replied, blushing. Then he flinched as another fireball was intercepted by one of the pseudo-planets.
“I see. Could I have that gun, at least? I think I’m a better shot than you, even at my age,” Dunstkreis continued, taking the admission in stride. Henry handed him the gun without a word. “How does it work?”
“Um, it’s only supposed to stun. I don’t know how many shots it has. Don’t shoot at children, he said,” Henry explained. Dunstkreis nodded. “I think that I’m immune to anything she can do to me. So, I distract her and you shoot her?”
The old warrior clearly didn’t like the plan – Henry could feel his concern for him, which touched him more than he would have thought – but he nodded. “We have to be quick. I don’t know how long I can maintain my power nowadays. It’s been two decades since I last used it on this scale.”
“Alright. Godspeed, Sir,” Henry replied and flew straight up out of the orbiting pseudo-planets, then turned to approach Fire Burial.
“Damn, what… kind of… power did you… get, boy? Flight… and invulnerability?” asked Fire Burial, flickering pretty much in place.
“Don’t know, really. But everything looks much prettier now,” Henry said before charging at her. But she just turned into flame, letting him pass through without meeting any resistance.
For a moment, he could see her fire even in his world, but then it was gone. Strange. Something to keep in mind, I guess.
Fire Burial reformed, only to disperse again as she was shot in the back by the stun gun. “Hey! Beat it… old fart!” she screamed as she reformed, only to disperse again as Dunstkreis fired first a stun shot, then his mercury, venus and neptune spheres, each forcing her to disperse before even reforming completely.
“Oh, fuck it. Burn!” screamed Fire Burial as she began to form a gigantic fireball above her head, even as she dropped down. “NO!” she screamed as Henry flew through her again, dispersing her body and the fireball both.
He and Dunstkreis continued this, Dunstkreis using the stun gun to keep up the assault in between throwing his spheres, as it took some time to reform them (and he always kept at least half of them for the sake of defense). The civillians took their chance and fled from the field of battle, as Dunstkreis kept reorienting himself to remain between their group and Fire Burial, who was all but frothing from her mouth as she kept being forced to disperse into flame.
She can’t control it. She automatically disperses upon attack, even if she can turn into flame at will, Henry realized as he flew through her again. And again, for just a moment, he could feel her flames in his world. In fact, he felt their worlds touch for the briefest of moments, as their bodies were in contact. I wonder what I could do if I could touch her.
But then the battle turned, as the stun gun clicked empty, which Fire Burial used to break open their rhythm by throwing a massive fireball into the surprised Dunstkreis. The old man reacted immediately, pulling his four largest spheres in between himself and the fireball, but the explosion was still violent enough to throw him backwards.
“Now let’s… see how much… you can… take, little… boy,” Fire Burial said with menace in her voice as she turned to face him. She landed on the ground and shot a fireball at Henry with one hand, another one at Dunstkreis with the other. Since she didn’t need to turn into flame in order to fly, she could focus on keeping them both contained, evading Henry’s charges on foot while trying to whittle down Dunstkreis before he could recover them.
They were being slowly worn down, or at least Dunstkreis was, being unable to reform his spheres in time. Henry remained untouchable, making himself completely fireproof in his second world, which somehow translated to making his first world body fireproof as well (and his clothes too, thankfully), but her blasts were blinding him, making it impossible for him to make contact with her.
Mr Dunstkreis won’t hold out for much longer, I need to come up with something, he thought desperately.
And just like that, he felt help coming. Macian’s world was suddenly singing louder, which he took to mean that he was approaching quickly. Quicker than Henry had flown earlier.
He didn’t abandon me, he didn’t abandon me, he didn’t abandon me! Henry thought, ebullient, as a giant projectile slammed into where Fire Burial was standing, dispersing her as the shock of its impact caused an explosion of soot and rock.
Henry saw a mass of metal in different colours – he could make out parts from cars, a bus, a firetruck and at least one laundry machine – shaped like some kind of rocket. Three makeshift legs folded out of it as Fire Burial reformed further up, aiming the tip towards her. Macian was inside the contraption, Henry could feel him inside, as he aimed and then activated the weapon – a watergun, probably constructed from the firetruck, shooting balls of water at Fire Burial, forcing her to evade in her flame form.
If he hits her, we might just win, Henry thought as he flew towards the staggered Dunstkreis, who was reassembling his pseudo-planets.
“That your friend, Henry?” the old warrior asked.
“Yes, that’s Macian!” Henry almost screamed, beside himself with joy that his friend had returned. Then he noticed Dunstkreis’ singed clothes and his pained expression. “Oh no, are you hurt?”
“Don’t worry about me. I survived Weisswald, I won’t be killed by a little girl with some fireballs”, he replied, emanating a sense of old pride and self-confidence.
“Alright. Listen, Macian says that Fire Burial’s powers shut down if she’s drenched in water. We need to distract her, so he can hit her. Then we win!”
“Good. You continue as you did before, and I’ll go on the offensive now that the children are safe,” Dunstkreis agreed, then flew upwards.
Henry followed for a second, then broke off to charge at Fire Burial just as Macian geared up for another shot.
“You little fuckers… I’ll burn you all… to ashes!” she screamed as she was forced to abandon another attempt at detonating Macian’s makeshift robot, Henry charging through her again.
“Henry! Come here!” Macian’s voice rang out of the loudspeaker of the former firetruck.
Henry complied, flying down to the contraption as a hatch opened and Macian rose out of it, his left arm connected to countless wires that led down into the machine. There were no control elements Henry could see, so he was probably controlling it through his arm. I wonder how he managed to build that so fast. And how did he make it fly at such speed?
“What can you do? Quick summary!” Macian said, a sense of relief emanating from his world.
“I can fly, I’m invulnerable if I want to be, I can feel people, tell what they feel and whether or not they have powers. I can also get a general feel of their powers.”
Macian’s good eye widened. “Cool. And that has to be Dunstkreis. Read about him once. I think we might be able to win this, if we can just keep her from destroying my little toy here – and hit her before my water reserves run out. Now, go! I’ll try and come up with a way to take her down for good!” He sank back into the robot and Henry charged towards Fire Burial again.
At the same time, Dunstkreis took up attacking the once again flying Fire Burial from above, to keep her from attacking.
This won’t work. Macian can’t hit her if she’s flickering around as a flame, but if we let her stay solid for too long, she’ll blow his gadget up. It won’t work out like this.
He decided to try out an idea he’d just had.
Charging her from behind, he aimed to punch her in between the shots of the other two, while also imagining her to be in his second world – and her second world self was solid, and unable to turn into flame. If it works like it does with me, hitting her in one world, will hit her in both.
She turned around just in time to see his fist fly at her face. For just a moment, his skin and hers came into contact, and once again he could feel their worlds intersect, with her appearing in his world – but she turned into fire and his punch went through her, making him fly on. Her second world body had appeared in his world next to the one he had imagined, but it was separate from it.
No. I need to focus more. I’ll imagine her being powerless when her second body is in my world, and make that one powerless, not a copy of her.
He called the earth in his world up, creating a pillar that caught his charge, turning the tip into rubber to bounce back towards her.
This time, the moment he came into contact with her body, he was ready.
He imagined her second self to be vulnerable, solid and human as he hit her – and he also imagined himself stronger and harder, making his second self’s fist as hard as rock.
His punch caught her in one cheek, making her eyes go wide as he could feel her jaw shatter. Henry flinched as he felt her fear and pain, as well as her confusion. The punch threw her head back; he could feel her world grow dimmer as she passed out, plummeting towards the ground. She’s gonna die if she hits the ground!
With another act of imagination, he made the wind throw him towards her, grabbing her by one ankle so he could have the second world’s wind catch her second self, floating both of them down to the ground.
Putting her down gently, he took off his coat and covered her torso and crotch with it, to finally satisfy his sense of modesty. If only partially.
“Mate, that was mighty awesome. How did you do that?”
Turning around, Henry saw that Macian had climbed out of the robot, disconnecting his arm from the contraption, and now stood right behind him. Dunstkreis was also floating closer, though he kept his nine pseudo-planets in orbit around himself.
“What… what happens now? Does another one take a turn?” asked Henry, suddenly feeling very weary.
“No. If one of them is defeated, it means we get a break until the day is over,” Macian explained.
“Good,” replied Dunstkreis. “What do we do with her?”
They all looked at the defeated villainess, her broken jaw already swollen and turned a purplish-blue.
“She needs a doctor. I broke her jaw,” Henry explained.
“No way, mate!” shouted Macian as his arm shifted into a gun-like configuration. “We finish the crazy firebitch off. Simple as that.”
“No!” shouted Henry, grabbing Macian’s mechanical arm and pulling it away.
As before with Fire Burial, the moment he touched Macian, their worlds intersected. Only the effect was deeper, stronger, now that he had an actual grip on him.
Henry was pulled into Macian’s world, seeing a giant, vast white plain. It was nothing like his own world. Instead of grass and trees and mountains, there were black pictographs so complex Henry could not even begin to decipher them, racing across the endless white expanse. There were several geometric shapes floating within the white void; pyramids, spheres, dice and many, many others, blacker than the night with white pictograms moving over their surfaces. The whole chaotic scene was so complex, so erratic it made his head feel like it was going to explode.
The young artist staggered back, away from his friend, as his mind began to spin. The vision vanished the moment he broke contact, but it had still been enough to stagger him.
“Henry! Mate, what happened?!” asked Macian with worry in his voice and world, taking a step towards him, his attempt to murder Fire Burial forgotten.
“My power… strange…” Henry said while trying to get himself under control again. “Don’t… touch me… please.”
Macian nodded and they both waited for a few seconds until Henry was feeling better. Then, Dunstkreis, who had been observing them silently, spoke up.
“I agree with you, Macian. She needs to die, if only so she can never hurt anyone again. But it shouldn’t be a child who does this,” he said with a calm, cold expression. “I, on the other hand, already have a lot of blood on my hands. I’ll finish this. Please turn around.”
“NO!”, screamed Henry as he took a step forward, but Macian interposed himself between him and the other two, blocking his sight as well as making him hesitate, as he didn’t want to feel Macian’s world again so quickly.
Nonono, this isn’t right, we’re supposed to be heroes, not like them! he thought desperately as he saw the faux-jupiter slam into Fire Burial’s prone form, the force of the impact throwing both him and Macian to the ground.
“Was zum Teufel!?” shouted Dunstkreis in surprise.
Both boys looked around frantically, only for their gazes to fall upon Fire Burial’s body, now floating above them in the air, unharmed. Henry’s coat was still on her, as well.
“Nonono, not you! NOT YOU! It’s not your turn yet!” screamed Macian as Henry saw a large red sphere as big as himself approach, trailing a tail of golden rods of various sizes and several other, smaller red spheres.
The large sphere stopped above the three of them and Dunstkreis opened fire, aiming at Fire Burial.
But his shots were deflected as reality itself seemed to bend and twist, making them miss. The red sphere gathered the other pieces around itself, then reformed.
The largest sphere formed the gut of the contraption, with another, slightly smaller sphere as the chest, with four rotating golden rods in between. More rods formed the arms and legs, with small red spheres for the joints, while the head was formed by the third-largest sphere, which was slightly larger than Henry’s torso, joined by twelve short rods that circled it like some kind of halo. Seven rods, each longer than the whole body and legs, formed some kind of cape, or perhaps wings, behind its back.
The barely humanoid shape moved its “head” to “look” at them.
Macian spat out a single word, though Henry really didn’t need to hear it to guess who he was looking at. “Heretic.”