Again, Henry’s mind reeled at the impression of Macian’s world, the endless activity of his power. No wonder he seems unhinged. His power alone is completely out of control.
This time, however, he noticed a system to the madness. All the pictographs were showing… well, inventions. Or rather, the process of inventing. Most of them were dropped pretty quickly, but there was always something that came of them, even if it was something different than what they’d started out inventing. Sometimes, they’d split into several lines of invention, sometimes merge into one. And there was a source to it, as well as a destination. They all moved in a kind of loop around the strange reality, whether they were black pictographs on white ground or white pictographs on those black geometric forms – they all flowed from a central core and fed back into it, a blazing sun at the centre of Macian’s world, the source of all of its light. A light which did not cast any shadows, as Henry noticed.
“Well, this explains why I always feel like I’ve got a flashlight behind my eyes,” commented Macian, making Henry jump. He hadn’t even noticed the other boy standing right in front of him, looking around within his own world.
“You recognize this?”
“Sure thing. That’s how I always work out my inventions. Pictographs and stuff.” He was looking around as much as he could while having Henry’s hand on his shoulder. “Sure looks crazy, huh?”
“So, this is the second world. I guess everyone has their own?” Macian asked, his face focused on the scenery. Henry noticed that two pictograph-lines had collapsed into one as Macian’s eyes focused on them.
“Yeah. How did you know?” replied a startled Henry with another question.
“You said that you pulled people into the second world and that you could move within it. I doubt that my world is the whole second world. So there must be other places, or even several distinct worlds. And why the hell can’t I focus my power on this?” he suddenly shouted with an annoyed expression on his half-face.
“What do you mean?” asked Henry, startled from the sudden outburst.
“I mean that I can’t analyze this with my power! I was trying to figure out how to make an invention that messes with this, but it runs into the same blindspot I had when I tried to figure out how to bestow powers!” He was actually pulling at his own hair with his good hand, frustrated as several lines of pictographs just cut off without feeding into anything else. “I hate it when that happens!”
“Calm down! Let’s focus – this is about my power, remember?” Henry tried to bring him back on track.
Macian nodded, rubbing his temple. “Yes. Right, right. You said you can see in both worlds? This and the real one?”
Henry nodded. “Yes. I can see both at the same time.”
Macian seemed to think about it, closing his eyes and opening them again. For a moment, Henry could tell that his senses weren’t in the second world anymore.
“I can see either the first or second world. If I try to see both, I just get dizzy. Your power must compensate for the added strain to your mind due to the doubled sensory input.”
He just nodded.
Macian went on: “You said you have control over whomever you touch? Try and turn my hair white.”
Henry nodded, concentrating, picturing Macian’s hair turning white.
“Won’t work,” he said.
“Alright. Two possibilities, in my opinion. Keep in mind that I can’t use my power on this, so no super-science support. Either you can only affect peoples’ powers, or you can’t affect me inside ‘my’ world. Can you pull me into ‘your’ second world?”
With a mere thought, Henry did so, and they stood in a far more colorful place, his wide plain of grass and flowers. The sun was still down, so they could see the starry sky above.
“Woah! Can’t feel my power!”, shouted Macian, staggered. Henry felt a profound feeling of emptiness, of calm, which simply hadn’t been present before in Macian. From one moment to the other, the turmoil of his mind just lessened down to the point where he was just merely off, instead of completely deranged.
Macian looked around, curious, and got hung up on the stars above.
“Man, I’ve never seen stars before, not unless you count my manifestation,” he whispered.
Henry’s eyes widened as he heard that. What? “How could… no way. No way, Macian.”
The boy looked at him with a sad eye, reflecting the emotions Henry could feel from him. “Did I say that out loud? Damn.”
Henry thought furiously. The minions that tried to take him knew and feared Macian. Fire Burial and Heretic were familiar with him. And he with them. With all of them, judging from his comments. Henry was sure he’d been mutilated by Fire Burial. He had extensive combat experience, as far as Henry could judge something like that. And he had never seen the stars before.
“You’re with them. The Savage Six,” said Henry, careful to only speak in the second world.
The young boy’s right eyelid twitched, as did his good hand. Anger, Indignation, Loathing. “I’m not one of them. I’m just… stuck dealing with them.”
“How long have you been in this place? And why?”
Macian, still looking up at the stars, started to say something, hesitated, then said: “Can we not talk about that?” His voice was soft, sad, even though there was a storm of emotions inside him.
Henry would have loved to skip this conversation, but he needed to know who he’d been travelling with. “Please, you can trust me. Just tell me…”
The cyborg boy turned to look at him, his eye sad and yet… relieved? Henry couldn’t begin to figure out the feelings behind the face. “I warn you. This is dangerous knowledge. With Mindfuck around, they’ll probably know I told you. Do you want to take the chance?”
He thought about it. Worried, hesitating. Then he remembered a line he’d heard, or maybe read, once.
Macian seemed quite put off when he started smirking. “What is bravery, without a dash of recklessness?”, he asked.
The other boy paused, thought about it too, turning the words around in his head as the feelings behind the face changed, though they were still too convoluted for Henry to truly define them. Then he smirked back. “Alright, Mister Proverb. Listen close, I’m not going to repeat this…”
* * *
They entered the building once Dunstkreis gave them the signal, Macian a bit out of balance due to carrying both his artificial arm and the other implants in his arms, trying to get used to the changed weight.
“Was zum- What happened out there!?” asked Dunstkreis when he saw the changed boy.
Even his hair was back and he looked, for all intents and purposes, like a normal eight-year-old boy. Even the madness behind his eyes had lessened, though it still made everyone who looked at them uneasy. He looked up at Dunstkreis, grinning a most boyish, normal grin. “Seems like Henry over here could be the most powerful healer ever. By my humble estimation, that is.” His voice had changed, drastically, sounding far more like a humans, without the electronic intereference or what Henry now knew to be off-sounds due to a burned throat.
Henry blushed, rubbing the back of his head as he looked around the room they were in. A back room of a tailor, judging by the equipment. How I’d love to work on a new coat. His old one had vanished together with Fire Burial.
There were seven more people there. The two adults – terrified, more for their offspring than themselves – and four children – just plain terrified, crying if they hadn’t fallen asleep from exhaustion, as well as a dark-skinned lady with an eye-catching pink-and-green peacock-pin on her strapless red dress. He remembered seeing her for just a moment back during the gala. Right now, she looked rather dishevelled – physically. But her face only showed composed interest, as she was holding a young girl’s head in her lap, softly stroking the child’s hair.
He gave a start, turning to look at Dunstkreis, who’d been trying to catch his attention. “Yes, Sir?” He noticed that the older man was holding himself awkwardly, and remembered that he’d been wounded earlier. “Do you want me to heal you?”
“Alright, just relax, ’cause this is going to be a bit strange…” He put his hand on the older man’s forearm.
Dunstkreis looked around at the serene scenery of Henry’s world, but said nothing.
Henry concentrated. They’d found out that he couldn’t just imagine someone healed – the effect would be reversed the moment he let go of the other person (though he didn’t seem to have the same limitation in regards to non-attended objects, but to stuff like Macian’s gear) – but just like with the punch he’d delivered to Fire Burial – negating her powers as well as enhancing his own strength – the results of his power’s use remained.
After some very uncomfortable (for Macian) trial and error, they’d figured out that it worked best with symbolic effects. In Henry’s case, he imagined a golden ember that set fire to his patient, healing them – the healing effect faded after he let go, but Macian’s body remained healed (Macian had also insisted to make it so the fire first expelled foreign bodies from the patient’s body, so he’d retain his equipment).
And it worked. It worked exceedingly well, far better than any of the other effects they’d tried to manifest. Macian had only a few ideas as to why his power worked so much better with healing, since he couldn’t apply his power to the subject. One of them was that his power was simply primed for healing, another that it was Henry who was primed for healing, or rather for positive applications, and finally because humans naturally wanted to be whole and since his power was interacting with the “worlds” of other humans, they might be reinforcing the healing effect. Either way, it worked and Henry had been able to heal his friend, even regenerate his arm.
And now his fire spread over and into the older man’s body, burning the pain and the damage away, making him – within the second world – glow like a soft, warm bonfire.
The experience was thoroughly strange to Henry, so much so that he couldn’t even feel Dunsktreis’ emotions while doing so. There were no real words to describe it, apart from ‘an all-encompassing feeling of freedom and companionship’ mixed with ‘a strange eldritch (Macian’s word) touch’ unlike anything he’d felt before.
When the fire began to die down, Henry let go and stumbled backwards, still dumbstruck by the intense emotions of the process. When he looked up, he felt like fainting – Dunstkreis looked like he’d aged several decades – backwards. Not to the point where he was young again, but… twenty, maybe thirty years had been taken off by Henry’s estimation.
“Wha- what did you do, my boy?” the rejuvenated man whispered, looking at his hands in wonder. More than half of the liverspots that had covered his body were gone, and he looked closer to mid-fifty now, his hair having partially turned brown, his face, his entire body, gained muscle and strength. Fortunately, he’d been wearing rather wide clothes, so they still fit, if barely. He’d been an extremely fit man.
Maybe one of these Adonises?
“His power probably identified the degradation of your body due to aging as ‘damage’ and thus did its best to reverse it,” explained Macian with an audible smile in his voice, even as he was reconstructing his Kinetic Repulsor, having deconstructed the mechanical arm in less time than it had taken Henry to heal Dunstkreis. And he’d already reworked his eye into one-eye goggles that attached to his left ear. “Congratulations, you look like you’re literally thirty years or so younger.”
Everyone in the room save for Macian (who was quite pre-occupied) and the peacock-pin lady (who just looked intrigued) was staring at him.
“Umm… I…,” he turned beet-red, reaching for an excuse to get out of the spotlight. “I… I’m tired! Need to sit down after this…” Not even a lie.
He scrambled over to sit so Macian was working in between him and the others, while Dunstkreis was stretching, wondering at his newly rejuvenated body.
“I’ll keep them off your back. You just relax, mate,” whispered the young gadgeteer as he was reconfiguring his former arm into an armored glove.
“Yes… relax…” He knew some tricks for that, though he usually needed his coat or one of his self-made blankets. Still, it should help at least a bit, and he now had his power as well…
* * *
Henry opened his eyes, focusing almost entirely on his second world. Meditating was far easier when you could literally retreat from the world. He just kept some of his focus on the first world, so he’d react if anything happened – he couldn’t cut himself off, even if he’d wanted to.
Now he took a deep breath, taking in the fresh smell of clean air, green grass and fresh water. He was sitting under a tree, leaning against the trunk, with a small spring right next to him, coming up from between the roots of the tree and forming a thin stream down the hill it stood upon.
Looking up, he could see the brilliant night sky, filled with all the beautiful stars of mankind. No matter how many times he saw them, the sight still enchanted him.
A thought caught him. Everything in this world was his – but everything outside of it, all that was part of the firmanent, was from other people.
So what’s the sun stand for?
He focused on turning his world, until the sun stood in the skies, blotting out the stars around it. And there was something more…
Two suns. There are two suns. One was barely visible, a sun barely different from the surrounding blue of the sky. A sleeping sun. As bright, as massive as the main sun, but not awake, not shining.
He imagined a giant magnifying glass above him, to take a closer look. And, for the first time, he noticed something that he hadn’t before.
Turning the world around again to look at the normal night sky, he saw what he only now noticed, because it was so omnipresent, he hadn’t even noticed it before. They’re all connected.
A network of glowing tendrils connected the worlds of humanity among each other… and he was reasonably sure they represented relationships. And the reason he was noticing them now was because…
He turned the world around again, to look at the two suns. … because that one… it doesn’t have them…
The bright sun had none. No relationships, no connections whatsoever. It was brighter enough to blot out all the other worlds save for the sleeping world, unless he interposed his world to take a look at the others.
Could that be… Desolation-in-Light?! Zooming in closer, he could see the haze of light that accompanied DiL’s attacks – he’d seen them on TV often enough – only a million, billion times more concentrated. She’s… so alone…
But he couldn’t reach her world, not without touching her body, first…
* * *
It was many hours later, after they’d all slept in shifts (save for Henry and the other children, who had been allowed to sleep through and Macian, who it turned out never needed to sleep, at all), that Henry was suddenly woken from his reverie of exploring his second world and the firmament above it.
Someone had just appeared out of nowhere within his range. A world that had been too remote to feel before, but now he could sense it, and extending a thought, he tried to feel her out…
He was shaken awake again. “Mate! What happened!?” Macian propped him up against the wall, one hand shaking his shoulder. He still preferred to use his right hand for this, it seemed.
“Wu-what?” asked Henry, groggy and with a headache.
“You just bent over, retched and passed out!” said Macian with worry in his tone.
“I… Someone dropped into my range… it was… it was awful. Demented,” whispered Henry with a tone so serious, so fearful it made the gathered civilians flinch back.
“What? Tell me what you felt! It’s time for the next round, who did you feel!? I described them to you, remember?”
Henry nodded. “Yes, yes, I know. Let me… let me concentrate.” Macian pulled his hand away and Henry straightened, closing his eyes to concentrate on the second world.
He found the demented world again, a twisted, wrong star, oozing with greenish-black ichor, dripping instead of shining – seven tendrils extended from it, five of them to remote worlds, which Ember recognized as those of the other Six, one to a faded one… and one to Macian, an asymmetrical, but intense relationship. Black on Macian’s side with just a little red, and lots of red and green on the other worlds side.
Which one… He thought back to Macian’s descriptions.
“Heretic you’ve already met”, said the young boy, looking up at the brilliant starry sky. “He’s their security, in a fashion. The most powerful and versatile member in direct confrontation, a nigh-immortal nightmare. He’s smarter than you’d think, but willingly follows Hemming’s lead, mostly due to their friendship.”
“Fire Burial is their mad dog, a wide-area combatant and master of guerilla tactics, even if she’s usually too stupid to fight smart. She obeys Hemming because he’s good at manipulating her, but mostly because Mindfuck does, and she’s pretty much addicted to her father’s power. More of a pet-owner relationship than a daughter-father one.”
“Mindfuck is… pathetic. Massively powerful telepath, the strongest one ever. But he’s stuck, a nine-year-old in a thirty-year-old’s body who’s reenacting what his father did to him, over and over and over. Prime case for high-level mental powers completely messing up their owner. He follows Hemming because Hemming knows how to push his buttons just right and because he’s smart enough to know that he wouldn’t survive in the real world. He needs the Six, so he’s loyal and reliable. So long as none of them get between him and his new target boy.”
“Pristine is their heavy hitter, their first and major line of defense, apart from Heretic’s spells. She’s long gone insane from sensory deprivation and just does whatever Hemming tells her to, simply because he’s installed himself in her mind as the one person who understands her. Her power is the same as the one DiL uses for defense, only weaker. She’s untouchable, but she can be moved against her will, as well as restrained – if you can overpower her. And she’s really strong.”
“Hemming is… a mystery. He was Britain’s prime superhero, until he and his right hand, Hermetic, just switched sides all of a sudden. Massively powerful shapeshifter, most people think he’s also a probability manipulator, because things seem to always go his way – but he’s actually a perception-type. Super-smart. Smart enough to set things up so it always looks like luck, but it’s all planned. He’s a master at finding peoples’ psychological weakpoints and exploiting them, preferring to break people by talking instead of by physical force.”
“Finally, Atrocity… she’s a monster. Completely and utterly insanely evil. Even Hemming can’t really control her. Even Mindfuck is disgusted by her. She doesn’t have nearly as much combat power as any other member, she isn’t as smart as Hemming, she doesn’t have any kind of game-breaking technology or something… but she’s adaptable, incredibly fast and utterly unpredictable, to the point where even Hemming just cuts her loose and hopes for the best.”
Henry opened his eyes. “Atrocity. She’s coming.”
* * *
They left the building minutes later. Macian had insisted that staying in an enclosed space with Atrocity on the loose was no different from suicide.
“I hope we’ll get a chance for another ice-cream-and-chips-orgy,” said Macian as they walked away from the direction Henry felt Atrocity move in, flinching every time she reached another human and started to… do things to them. She didn’t kill, but they quickly wished she’d had.
“Me too…” replied Henry, tears in his eyes as he was forced to try and block out the mental screams of what felt like a little girl.
“Have you thought about a codename?” asked Macian casually.
Henry looked up, eager for a distraction. “Hm… I did, actually…”
Macian turned to him without stopping. “So, what is it?”
“Ember. Call me Ember,” said the newly minted superhero. “It fits on so many levels, it would just be wrong to take anything else.”
The other buy chuckled. “Well, it fits you, anyway. And… Ember & Macian vs. The Savage Six! Sounds like a good title for a comic book!”
Ember grinned back. “Yes. It does.”