There were billions of worlds in the vast expanse of the second sky. More than Henry could really take in, more than he could count – it was only thanks to his power that he could get even a rough estimate (that being the aforementioned number of billions).
Of all these worlds, most were just dots in the sky, shining brightly but still in the background. He was coming to associate those with normal humans, since all the metahumans he had seen yet – his mother, Macian, Dunstkreis, Fire Burial, now Heretic – belonged to the second and third group of worlds.
The second type of world was the one he saw with his mother, Fire Burial and Dunstkreis. Bright stars that shone brighter than the normal worlds, and while the normal words all had their own nuances, their worlds were far more diverse, at least as far as he could tell from an outside perspective. Fire Burial’s world, short though his contact with it might have been (and unfocused, since he was more concerned with defeating her before she could roast his friend) had been a burning wasteland, save for a single island covered in greenery and a freshwater spring. He doubted that the other two had even remotely similar worlds. Especially since the outside of their worlds was also quite different.
Of all the worlds he associated with metahumans, he saw – or perhaps it would be better to say that his power told him – that most were of this kind.
But there were a few worlds who did not fit in with those. Less than a dozen, he knew, there were of these. Worlds so vast and so bright that they very nearly blinding to look upon, each of them so different from each other that they could barely be considered to be of one group. Among these, there were two worlds close to each other, dancing around each other, similar but different, one bright, one dark. There was another one, close to these, that seemed fickle, strange and twisted, a deformed world that hurt to look upon. Another world looked like it was made of plants, of trees and flowers in all colours, even from the outside. A fifth one was so large it rivaled any other two worlds, a world made of gnarled white wood, with countless roots and branches protruding from it. He knew who that one was.
Macian was another such world. Not nearly as large as the white one, smaller than the bright and the dark one, but bigger than most of the others. His world looked to be gray at first glance – only it was white, with intricate black pictographs appearing and disappearing so fast it looked gray at first glance. He noticed a smaller, normal world right next to him. Someone close – Amy, perhaps?
And, as he was, in the first world, looking up at Heretic, he could see his world, though he could not enter it. It was large, maybe the fourth or fifth-largest of the group, larger and brighter than Macians. From the outside, it looked just like one of his spheres, except it was glowing with a golden and red light.
Why does such a beautiful world belong to such a bad person?, he thought, looking at the beautiful vision.
* * *
Henry shook his head, refocusing on the first world as the twisted supervillain moved his head-sphere around to look at each of them in turn, though he guessed that it was just for show – there were no discernible eyes, so it probably had all-around vision.
Macian was fuming, his right hand clenched into an angry fist while his left arm was still in gun-mode, aimed at Heretic and the unconscious Fire Burial. “Her day ain’t over yet! You can’t just interfere, you fuckin’ ponce! That’s against the rules!” he screamed, followed by a stream of profanity that made Henry want to cover his ears.
Heretic’s “shoulders” shook, giving the impression of laughing, though there was no sound whatsoever to accompany it – but Henry could feel his amusement, along with a strange, kind of sad feeling… nostalgia. Heretic was feeling nostalgic for some reason. But Henry was more focused on the fact that the lurching, twitching motions of the spheres and rods were so wrong, so alien that they made his stomach lurch. Again. “The rules…” he began to speak with a voice that was FAR too normal for such an inhuman appearance, sounding like the kind of person you’d hear. It’s head-sphere rippled with every sound, but the voice seemed to originate from all over his body. “…are in place so long as they do not endanger our success.”
“That’s stupid!” shouted Henry, making the other three turn around to look at him. “Why bother with rules in the first place, then?”
The supervillain turned his head-sphere towards the little boy. “Because it’s more challenging this way. Only Hemming can declare the rules to be no longer in place, so we actually have to put some effort into it,” he explained in that creepy, normal voice. “But losing one of our members isn’t worth the fun of the challenge.”
“You didn’t intervene when she burned Slowburn to death,” replied Macian, keeping his gunhand aimed at Fire Burial’s head. “Why now?”
Heretic swerved his head around to him again. “That was different. Fire Burial was fighting to take Slowburns place, and her powerset was, and is, quite valuable…” He looked down at the unconscious pyrokinetic girl. “… if guided properly.” He turned back to face them again. “Either way, I’m taking her to safety. Don’t worry, you’ll still get a break until her day is up. Then, we’ll see who’s next.”
With a flicker, Fire Burial vanished into nothing.
“Now I must go. We’ll meet again soon… Macian.” And he vanished, too.
Macian lowered his left arm, shifting it back to its usual clawed hand. “Bugger me, I’d hoped I’d finally get to kill one of them.” He kicked at a loose stone, sending it flying away.
Suddenly, Dunstkreis cleared his throat. The two young boys turned to look at the retired cape, who’d stayed quiet during the conversation. He was looking at Macian with suspicion in his eyes. “Macian, right? Would you explain to me just how an eight-year-old knows the Savage Six?”
“Well, that’s a long story…” began Macian, suddenly acting much more his age as the far older man was looking down at him. “Let’s just say I’ve been fighting them for a while, Sir.”
Dunstkreis looked at him doubtfully, and Henry felt the need to stand up for his friend. “Mr Dunstkreis, please. He’s a good guy. He saved me, lots of times!”
“I don’t doubt that he’s a good boy – I don’t need any superpowers to tell that – I am just curious as to how he’s been able to fight the Six several times and survive at his age”, replied Dunstkreis, though his expression softened a bit. Henry could feel his distrust ease, just a bit. Then he waved a hand in front of his face. “Anyway, let’s get away from here first. If we really have until nineteen o’clock before the next one starts their sick game, then we should find shelter and rest for now.”
Macian and Henry both nodded their agreement.
“Good, good. Let’s go and see if we can find the baselines that just fled,” Dunstkreis continued, dropping his pseudo-planets and turning to walk after the group, following their trails.
Now that the battle was over, Henry suddenly felt tired, spent. He stumbled for a moment, then walked after Dunstkreis, Macian following right after him. Henry saw his friend type something into a keyboard built into his left arm and his robot lurched into movement, stalking after the three of them with clumsy movements.
Henry turned back around and looked at Dunstkreis, his eyes drawn to his strange choice of clothing. His suit was quite prim and proper, out-dated but appropriate for someone of his age. His shoes, while clearly expensive, were worn off and stained with dirt, looking more like the shoes of a worker than the rich man’s shoes they had been. There’s a story there.
“Mate, you alright?” asked Macian as he walked right next to him, though careful not to touch him.
“I’m tired. And I keep getting lost in my power. Everything is so strange now…”
Macian chuckled, a flare of sympathy running through his world. “Yeah, I know that problem. Don’t worry, it gets better after a while.”
Henry nodded, turning to look forward as they followed after Dunstkreis.
* * *
Henry led the way out of the park and towards a collection of apartment buildings with several smaller stores in their ground floors. He could feel the civilians from earlier, could somehow feel the direction in which they were in relation to him, tracking their emotions. In fact, he could feel the exact location of everyone within quite a range, though he didn’t know how large his radius actually was. Not large enough to find his mother.
“Wait’a’minute, I need to fix something,” said Macian and the other two stopped, turning to look at the young technician.
He’d stopped his mechanical minion and was moving his left hand’s fingers in strange, stakkato-like motions. A code, thought Henry, recognizing the repetitions of some manner of code.
The minion began to shake, then shed off several burned and molten parts, letting them drop to the ground, slimming down considerably. The watertank and hose were among the discarded things. As he looked at those pieces – and Macian fiddled with his own arm – Henry noticed a strange glimmer that seemed to adhere to the parts – a glimmer that was connected to Fire Burial’s world, though the connection was slowly fading.
Then he noticed that the same effect was present on a piece of Macian’s left arm, near the artificial shoulder. Weaker, but there.
“When did she hit you!?” asked Henry in surprise, not having noticed any such occasion during the battle.
“Oh, she burned through the robot with one of her blasts, managed to hit the biggest weakspot in its armor. Not surprised you didn’t notice it, really,” explained Macian as he began to remove the afflicted parts from his arm, making the upper portion much more slim, so it looked rather comical.
Like Popeye, thought Henry, just for a moment. He shook his head. “Why aren’t you surprised?” he asked, slightly insulted. He was proud of his attention to detail.
Instead of Macian, Dunstkreis answered, his world flaring slightly in amusement and nostalgia: “This was your first fight, right? Can’t expect of a child, or even an adult, who gets into their first fight without any prior training to have the proper battlefield awareness.”
Henry blushed a bit, though he could not really say why. “So, what’s with that glimmer?”
They both looked at Macian for an explanation, who just shrugged, though his emotions betrayed quite a bit of frustration.
“Oh, believe it or not, there is some subtlety to Fire Burial’s power. It’s kind of a weaker version of her mother’s main power. It sticks to whatever her fire burned and starts to slowly break it down, burning through its weakpoints to tear it down. Not nearly as powerful or persistent as Slowburn’s version, doesn’t spread much, but still a problem. Have to shed every piece it’s stuck to.” And he did.
Dunstkreis looked at the slimmed down robot with an interested, almost suspicious emotion behind his dirty face, but he didn’t comment.
“Are we ready to go? I need to sit down and rest a bit,” said Henry.
“Do you want to ride the robot?” Macian asked, feeling slightly concerned.
Henry shook his head. “I’d fall asleep immediately. And you need me to find the civilians, right?”
Both Dunstkreis and Macian nodded and he lead them down the street and into an alley. The robot barely fit into it, despite its thinned form.
“There. The third door on the right,” said Henry with drooping eyes. His head was pounding and it was getting more and more difficult to focus on the first world.
“I’ll take a look,” said Dunstkreis, even as he gathered dust and loose pieces of rock and earth (there was a nearby tree with exposed soil around it) into nine small spheres that circled his right hand.
So he can vary the size of the spheres and what piece of him they circle? Does the size of the spheres depend on the circled bodypart’s size? Somehow, looking at the old warrior using his power – and feeling the emotions behind it – made it easier to stay awake.
Dunstkreis entered the building – the door was unlocked – and the two boys waited.
“So… how did you manage to punch the crazy fire bitch? Can you nullify powers? Why didn’t you do it the first time around?” asked a curious Macian.
“I… I didn’t know how it worked. Still don’t quite know. It’s strange. I didn’t know powers got this strange,” replied Henry, scratching the back of his head.
“Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of strange powers. Yours doesn’t seem to be that unusual, at least from the outside,” said Macian with an amused emotion behind his impassive facial expression.
“It’s like… it’s like there’s a second me, in a second world. I can feel in both worlds at the same time. And if I move in one, I move in the other, as well. But I control the second world. So I fly by making the air in the second world blow me around, and the me in the first world moves to match the second me,” explained Henry.
Macian nodded and Henry felt that he wanted him to continue.
“Anyone I touch, they come into the second world as well. And I can control them then. So when I touched her, I made it so her second self couldn’t turn into fire and hit her, so her first self was hit as well.”
“Hm. That sounds… extremely powerful. How far does your control go?”
Henry just shrugged.
“Want to try it out on me?” asked Macian, suddenly growing agitated, an eager grin spreading on the good side of his face. Henry staggered for a moment as the intense emotion washed over him – it was simple, and strong, and deep, a primal joy at aquiring new information. Is this a scientist’s curiosity?
Henry nodded, unwilling to deny him something that would bring so much joy, and reached out to touch him, but stopped just inches away from his shoulder. “This… might get weird,” he warned. Macian just shrugged. And Henry touched his shoulder.