2013 in review

An awesome year for my story!

 

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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B007.a A Dream of Knights

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“I’m truly sorry, Madam, but there is nothing we can do,” the elderly doctor said with a grief-stricken face. “The damage is too extensive, and we have no idea what kind of toxin was used during the attack.”

“What do you mean, you have no idea? Can’t you, can’t you, can’t you,” her voice broke and she sobbed into a purple silken handkerchief, “Can’t you take a blood sample? From her or… from one of the others?”

He shook his head, looking down at the younger woman, who was sitting in the waiting room. On any other day, she would have looked regal, beautiful and full of life – he had seen her quite a few times before, as she was one of the main benefactors of the Petal Memorial Hospital. “Whatever it is, it breaks down once removed from its living host – including breaking down immediately once a victim dies. We’re not even sure if its a real toxin, or a bacteria, or a virus or maybe something contrived. I’m truly sorry, but there’s nothing we can do at this p-“

“What about the United Heroes!?” she spoke up, half shouting and half begging. “They have, they have healers, gadgeteers, contrivers! Or a private one, I have money, I can pay any price, will pay any price!” She broke down into sobs again.

He squatted down in front of her, despite his protesting knees, looking up into her reddened eyes. “We will, of course, make inquiries. The United Heroes have already offered their support, and they have their best minds working on this. I don’t know about the private sector, but you are of course welcome to try and find someone – though I would suggest you be careful about some of the people who’ll offer to ‘help’ your little girl. And please keep in mind that powerful healing powers are very, very rare – there might not be anyone who can help her, considering the severity of her ailment.”

She nodded, though he could tell she wasn’t really listening. Instead, she stood up and walked towards the large window that looked into the room her daughter lay in. She’d been put under anaesthesia while they tried to save her life, but it didn’t seem to work – she was half-awake and in pain. Crying and screaming. Fortunately, her mother couldn’t hear her, because he didn’t know how she’d react if she could.

Long, expertly manicured nails scraped over the glass. “Can’t you do anything? Give her anything, so she won’t hurt?”

“We’ve tried every anaesthetic in our store – whatever ails her, or the other victims, it seems to break down whatever we give her.” It was maddening. They couldn’t treat these poor people – that, they’d had practice in. Medicine so often failed them in this world, especially when metahumans were involved. But not even being able to relieve the pain? When nearly three fourth of the surviving victims were children?

No one prepared you for that at med school.

“Can I go in? Maybe I can calm her down,” she said desperately.

Oh boy. “I’m sorry, but no, madam. Quarantine protocols, until we know whether or not the… ailment is not contagious.”

“I need to be there for her,” the young mother whispered. Then her whole posture dissolved, and she slid down onto her knees, crying.

I’m so sorry.

* * *

Hurts.

Her chest felt like it was on fire, her heart felt like it had exploded and kept exploding. She felt bile rise in her throat and other things, too, as she choked and spit and tried to calm herself.

Too late, too late, all too late…

Dimly, she heard screams and sounds of fighting outside.

Right, if Hastur came here and showed her face…

She couldn’t bring herself to care as her body trashed around. How long had this attack lasted already? Three, four seconds? It felt like years.

Wait, if there are monsters outside the door, maybe they’ll put an end to this…

Had Hastur left the door open? She couldn’t remember hearing it fall closed, but then again, she was quite distracted…

Basil wouldn’t want me to think like that.

More pain, and then a novel feeling – the muscles in her calves snapped her bones, adding a novel new sensation to the mix. She would have screamed if her throat was not already torn from doing so, and filled with bile and blood.

Basil…

She’d thought he would save her. She was sure he would have. But now time was running out faster than they’d expected.

Mama…

She wouldn’t take her death well. She’d changed, after dad and Tom had died. Prisca couldn’t remember seeing her smile, at least not honestly.

Roselind.

Her stupid older sister, always busy, always up and away. She’d tried to be there for her after Hawaii, but she’d had to live her own life, too. She was studying at the Silicon Valley Institute for Technology, one of the youngest baselines to ever attend.

Basil’s smarter, though.

Someone broke through the door. But of course, she couldn’t see. Monsters? Maybe. Though this was also the perfect time for a knight in shining armor to show up.

Basil’s armor doesn’t shine, though.

And who else would ever come for her? Apart from her mother, if she was even in the same state. She was always somewhere, on her way. Doing stuff.

Voices, two of them. Then, warmth on her chest. The pain lessened.

Other hands, familiar ones. Basil. She’d gotten really good at learning how to recognize people by any means available – she had so little to do, so she studied every and any small thing she could think off, just to kill time.

I can pick locks like nobody’s business, you know? I’m great at ventriloquism, too.

Who was she talking to? The pain further subsided, but she could still feel her heart tearing itself apart. It just didn’t hurt anymore.

Who are you? Why are you helping me?

It wasn’t Basil who’d taken the pain away. No, he was… he was doing something. Cutting. Trying to save her. Someone else had taken the pain away, was calming her heart down.

It wasn’t working.

I’m so sorry, I’m trying my best!, came a strange voice. A girl, and a young one, it seemed. She didn’t sound quite human – and she talked right into her head.

I appreciate it, though. Don’t feel bad, no one can help me, anyway. Not even Basil.

Basil? Your boyfriend?

There wasn’t any pain now, at all. She could still feel herself choking, her heart killing itself. The broken bones in her leg, the pinched nerves…

Yes. He’s great. But I don’t think he can save me now, either. He’ll try, but he won’t.

Ah. Him. Who knows, he might just do it. And I’m here to help you.

She felt like laughing.

Thank you, but it’s alright. I knew I wouldn’t live long, anyw-

Stop talking like that. How about you tell me more about Basil? How did you meet?

That… was something nice to think about. She was going to die, she might as well think about something pleasant.

We met online. Don’t have any friends left, I’ve been in here for too long. Just some people I chat with, every now and then.

Don’t really have any friends, either. Made my first one just a short while ago.

Then you know how it is. But anyway, we met online, and we got talking. And I guess… he wasn’t funny, but he was… funny in the way he was just so clueless. Innocent, like a little child, really.

Uhu?

Yes, so I got to know him better. And then I let it slip that I lived in New Lennston, too. And somehow, don’t ask me how, he convinced me to let him visit.

You don’t like visitors?

I don’t like people seeing me. At all. I’m ugly.

Debatable. But pray continue!

He came here, and I was so nervous, so afraid he’d just… go away. And then he came in, and… and…

What? Love at first sight?

No… no, not really. I don’t know. I don’t remember when exactly we went from friends to… you know. The other kind of friends. I just know that… I don’t know. I don’t know how we got together, really, it’s just that…

That what?

We… it felt like… we were falling. We were both falling, and we kind of… fell together, you know? Does that make any sense?

A new sensation, as if someone was reaching into her chest, somehow.

I don’t know. I’m really not an expert with these things, you know? I can’t even tell the difference between wanting to hug someone and wanting to have sex with them.

Sounds icky.

It is. Unbelievably so… you promise to keep this a secret?

What?

What I’m going to tell you. A secret.

Oh. Sure. Dead people are really good at that.

You’re not going to die. Will you keep it even while alive?

You’re delusional. But ‘kay. Okay. I’ll keep it.

One time, I kind of spied in on my parents… you know. And I… tried to… you know… join in.

Oh. My. God. That bad?

That bad. Dad only made it worse.

How so?

Well, he knew it freaked my mom out, so he acted like he liked the idea – for the record, he didn’t, at all – just to drive her crazy. Tried to ‘convince’ her to try it out.

What did she do?

She punched him so hard he made a crater down in the basement – after breaking through four floors. Ever since then, they’ve always been using their powers to make sure I couldn’t even look in.

Hehe. Serves him right. He sounds like a jerk.

Probably. But mostly, he just likes to drive people crazy.

Sounds like a jerk.

More of a troll, really.

A jerk.

True, I guess.

Hey, can I ask you something?

Sure.

Want to be my friend? I’d like to have at least one more friend before I die.

You’re going to have lots of friends before you die, you’ll see. And I’ll be happy to be the first of many – not counting Basil, who is really doing his best right now to make sure you’ll have more.

Great. I’m Prisca. Nice to meet you.

My name’s Irene. Glad to make a friend – I’m up to a glorious two, now.

Me t-

* * *

She was falling again, just like… just like back then. When she’d met Basil.

Is this dying? I hear some people saying that love can feel like dying, but is it really this close?

Darkness. No sensations.

A light in the sky. Then more. And more.

Billions of lights.

Calling her.

No. Let me sleep. Let me rest, please. I just want the pain to end.

She hadn’t wanted Hastur to do to her… whatever she did to people. But she’d also hoped – she was only now realizing it – that she’d end the pain for her.

That way, she wouldn’t have to feel guilty, right? If someone like that killed her?

The stars were growing brighter by the second.

Two were really close.

There was only void around them. Except… there were some stars close, but out of sight. Behind her?

She couldn’t turn, so she looked at the stars in front of her. They were here, now.

One looked… twisted. A twilight world, half-formed and wretched, but still beautiful.

Irene. That’s you, right? Are you hurt?

The other one… it looked more like strands of light and mist, drawn together in a haphazard star shape. Many little pieces, held together by… by nothing, really. Just kind of holding together, glowing bright and white as something black and fast raced across them.

Basil, that you? I knew you were falling, too, but are you really this hurt?

She had always felt like there was something wrong. Like, somehow, somewhere deep inside, he hurt just as much as she did.

Maybe worse.

And I hated it. Then I learned to love it. Made feel good, to try and help you feel better.

It was over now. The stars were fading.

Only darkness remained.

* * *

Only darkness, and three strands of light. Like thin hairs, glowing, leading… up? Away?

Back.

No. It was over.

Yes.

She was dead.

Yes.

Basil had failed. Irene had failed, whoever she was in the end.

Yes.

He’d feel bad. Blame himself.

Yes, he will.

He already felt bad enough as it was. Even if she had no idea why.

Yes.

Did she have to die?

Yes.

Did she have to die now?

No. Call back the Light.

She touched the three strands of light, pulling.

Come to me, she thought.

Come. Come. I call you, come here. To me.

She pulled and pulled.

And through the darkness, a star fell down, drawn by the strands of light.

It fell… in front of her.

And suddenly, in its light, there was a her. She looked down herself. Thin, wasted. Broken and ugly.

But her.

The star had fallen a few feet away, burning like childrens firework, singing.

She couldn’t hear the melody, or any kind of sound, but she knew it was singing.

Do I want that?

She knew if she took up the star, there would be no going back. She would change.

Maybe not for the better.

I have a choice. I could turn away, right?

Yes.

What do you want me to do?

Whatever you do.

Who are you?

Just you.

Oh.

Look.

Someone stepped into the circle of light, on the opposite side of the star.

She was gorgeous. Tall, almost as tall as Basil. Her skin perfect, lily white. Her form full, luscious but slender, dancer and a lover all in one. Long red hair, soft waves coloured like aged wine that fell down to her butt. Lips, full and pouty, of the same colour.

Brilliant green eyes, almost glowing.

Mom?

No, she spoke. Just you.

Who she always wanted to be and more.

That body was so strong. Stronger than she would ever be.

I can be you?

You already are.

She bent down, slowly, and lifted the star with both hands, holding them out to her palms up.

Chose. You can go back. Or you can fall. One is peace. One is pain.

I don’t want any more pain. But I have to, don’t I?

The choice is yours. Afterall, you’re saying this to yourself.

I see.

She stepped closer, reaching out.

Please, let me fly.

She touched the star.

* * *

She was walking along a dark, long road, lined with old, large trees and absolutely covered in snow. It wasn’t cold, even though she was naked.

Next to her, another girl. Young, younger than her. Preteen, she’d guess.

A cute girl, with straight black hair and warm brown eyes. But she was so thin. Dressed in layers upon layers of cast-off clothing, none of it fitting.

They were walking towards a big mansion that stood apart from any other building. A tall wall was built around it, but she knew that the girl knew a way in. A breach in the wall no one had cared to patch up.

They snuck in together and made their way for the side entrance of the mansion.

Large dumpsters stood there, old and heavy.

The whole place looked old. Nothing like any building Prisca knew.

The little girl opened one of the dumpsters, climbing up to look inside.

Why are you doing this? It’s filthy! she tried to say, but couldn’t speak.

Then, a door nearby opened. The girl jumped off the dumpster and ran to a nearby bush, hiding behind.

An old man stepped outside, dressed in warm, but simple clothing. A thick jacket and a wool cap that looked handmade. And expertly so.

He was really old. Thin. White hair and beard, clean and neat, but somehow dishevelled. Like he had people who took care of it, but didn’t care himself.

“Look, sweetheart, I know you don’t trust us, but you need to get out of the cold!” he said, looking at the bush.

The girl tensed up, shivering. He’d seen her! What if he knew how often she stole from their trash?

“C’mon, sweetie, I know you’re there. You’ve been coming here all this time, and you ran away every time one of us tried to talk to you!”

He knew. Where were the others? The thin blonde girl, the tall scary man with the hooknose?

Were they sneaking up on her? She looked around frantically, mortified.

What if they gave her back to the orphanage? She didn’t want to go back, never!

“Look, little girl, we won’t hurt you. Fact, the sir and the miss are off for their work. C’mon, you know we’ve been trying to help you.”

They had, hadn’t they? There had always been a lot to eat here, in the dumpsters. Wrapped in oily paper, clean and uneaten.

At first she’d thought they just threw it all away, but…

She’d eaten better in the month she’d been stealing food from here than in her entire life beforehand.

There’d even been sweets in the trash, carefully packaged. And one time, someone had put a cup of a hot brown drink next to the dumpster, shielded from the snow. She drunk it without thinking, it smelled so delicious.

“Little girl, please. Ol’ Jake is freezing here. Means you got to be freezing even worse. The miss and the mister made food for us all, there’s more than enough to get your little tummy full. And then you can have a bath, and something nice to sleep in, and a bed. We got lot’s’a empty beds, nowadays.”

It sounded so nice. But what if they wanted to hurt her? People were mean.

“Little one, please, come in. You’ll freeze to death out there! C’mon in, everything’s golden!”

He looked like he was suffering, Prisca noted. He really wanted to help this girl he didn’t even know.

It took nearly ten more minutes for the little girl to finally get out of the bushes and walk up to the tall, old man. She looked suspicious, but also hopeful. Or maybe just tired.

‘Jake’ smiled and led her in. Prisca followed, and saw a feast inside. Whoever this Miss was, she was an awesome cook.

The little girl looked at Jake, who smiled and nodded, and then she pretty much jumped onto the table.

Tears came to Prisca’s eyes as she watched the little girl break down sobbing while stuffing herself against all common sense. Jake tried to make her slow down, but she wouldn’t listen.

She hadn’t eaten anything warm for so long. Never anything so tasty.

Prisca watched her almost fall asleep after eating, but Jake took care of her. He bathed her (it broke her heart to see such a thin girl), dressed her, put her to bed.

The girl was crying now, but the old man just held her hand and sang her a lullaby.

And then the world went white.

* * *

The world exploded into light, catapulting Prisca away from the scene. Out of the mansion, which was swallowed up by the light.

She couldn’t tell for how long the pillar of light remained, but it burned away all the clouds in the sky, blasted them away.

There was only a crater left where the mansion stood just moments ago.

For just a second, she saw Jake, old and thin, then young and strong, then older and stronger, then a baby, then a child, then a corpse, then a teen and then… he vanished, flickering away.

She saw the little girl, her thin body curled up as an invisible force carried her to snow pile beyond the crater, shaping it into a kind of half-cave that it left her in.

And she saw a bright star rising, as a beast of darkness screamed and howled and cried.

* * *

Prisca opened her eyes.

She was back in the hospital room, standing at the foot of the bed. Looking at Basil and Irene – Gloom Glimmer – bent over a thin, ugly scarecrow, trying to save her.

Heard the weak, calming heart of the scarecrow. She was alive again. Basil hadn’t failed.

Strange. I’m here, aren’t I? Why bother with that?

She looked down her own body. It was… beautiful. Perfect. Everything she ever dreamed of, and then some.

And it felt good. Strong, fast, tough. Healthy. She was horny as all hell, but now she knew it wouldn’t kill her to act on it.

And her senses. Gone was the dull mist that lay over everything. She could see and hear and smell. She tasted her own mouth and it was glorious. She felt the cold floor beneath her bare feet, and it was glorious.

No pain there. Her body didn’t hurt at all.

Suddenly, a shout bubbled out of her throat. She threw her head back and screamed her joy out to the world, startling Irene.

The young metahuman turned around, looking at her in bewilderment. Then at her old, useless body.

Basil was too focused on saving that worthless piece of meat.

That worthless, broken, tainted, changed hull…

A hull that was still alive. Breathing. Feeling.

She could feel some of her old pain, as if through a kind of misty lens.

I’m asleep. And this… this is a dream.

She looked down at her perfect body.

Ah. Aha. Ha. Hahaha.

She’d gotten her wish. Her feet had risen a few inches off the floor.

Glimmers of golden and silver light formed around them, merging into… into boots. Greaves.

Golden and silver glimmers formed gathered around her, forming into gilded armor. Even a helmet that closed around her head, but did not obscur her vision nor her hearing.

Haha.

She held a spear, taller even than her new body, and a big round shield, both golden in her hands.

Hehehe. Everything’s golden, for sure.

She looked at the body on the bed. it was asleep, still. Basil was looking at her, his face hidden behind his mask.

Haha. I got it. I got it.

She was whole, and strong, and free, and healthy.

Except not.

Her laughter shook the room.

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 4)

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Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

That thought was first and foremost in Brennus’ mind as he stood in front of the slowly regenerating Panthera Avis, the giggling and snarling Hastur… and the bloody Mary, who had just finished reattaching her head to her body, and was now rising from the ground, continuing to bleed from every pore.

In retrospect, I should have suspected this when she did not stop bleeding after I beheaded her.

Though, to be honest, he was also somehow relieved that he had at least not killed her.

Netsense, on the other hand, stayed dead. Good, except not really good.

He wanted to crawl into Amy’s embrace, have her hold him and tell him everything was alright.

You’re such a mess right now, mate.

Is it any wonder?

“Don’t worry, you’ll feel fine soon,” Hastur said between giggles – she had already dropped back to her ecstatic behaviour. “Love at first sight will blow away all your problems.”

Since no one was attacking him right now – and he needed a reprieve, even a short one, to recover a little strength – Brennus focused on trying to send for help. By now, someone must have told Hecate or Tyche that he had been taken, and he had given both of them the means to track him. The fact that no one had appeared yet was quite… worrisome.

Activating his emergency beacon… he found the signal being bounced back.

Mary was back on her feet, rolling her head as if she had a stiff neck. Panthera Avis was not that far, but he would soon be functional again.

“Just give up. Give up, and feel the love.”

He ignored Hastur and looked around, switching to X-ray vision. They were in an enclosed complex – a supervillain lair, if he had to guess – that was surrounded by lead-lined walls (and probably some other materials, so no signal could get through). There was one cube within the complex that was also isolated, just barely the size of the room he was in.

There was no door or other exit he could make out, except for the ventilation system – and contrary to all conventions laid down by decades of games and movies, the vents were far too small for even a child. No way he would fit through with his power armor.

It hit him that this had to be Avis’ lair. There must have been some means by which to look into the place to get in, maybe a window or special wall, so he could teleport inside.

He could not find a single part of the outer wall of the place that was not reinforced. So he either needed a lot of explosive ordenance, or Gloom Glimmer to pull his bacon out of the fire (Hecate had not yet figured out how to do teleportation). Maybe if h-

Mary slammed into him with enough force to shatter at least four more of his ribs (he heard them break) and slam him into the wall opposite the hole in the wall.

He made a sound that was almost a sigh, pain clouding his thoughts, as he slid down onto the floor. The floor covered with blood wall to wall.

Mary approached him, her face impassive.

Arms… broken in more ways than I can tell. Breathing is seriously hampered, ribcage probably more broken than not. Can barely feel my legs. Head… swimming. Armor compromised in more ways than I care to count.

At least his mouth controls still worked. Any fighting he did with them would necessarily be clumsy, simplistic.

But he would not go out without a fight.

* * *

Mary crouched in front of him, reaching for his helmet.

He studied her face, even as he tried to plan his next move. It was actually hard to tell how exactly she looked, due to both the mass and the temperature of the blood she was bleeding at any given moment from every pore of her body. At least it preserved her modesty, a little.

Switching to a time-delayed camera mode – the effects of Hastur’s power seemed to not agree with recorded images, and even if her actual power did, then she would first need to enter the room and have Mary move out of the way – and saw… an ordinary girl. Coated in running blood, yes, but she looked utterly normal.

And she was afraid. In pain. She was horrified as her hands closed around his helmet, almost gently cupping his face before she started to squeeze.

He almost saw red with rage – the person was still inside. She was aware. And she was still herself.

Hastur may have transformed her body, may have given her powers – or triggered a manifestation – may have been controlling her actions, but she had not changed nor subsumed the person itself. Herself.

And she intends to spread this.

A crack appeared on his visor as Mary continued to squeeze, trying to break the faceplate of his helmet off.

His left wristblade rose up into her throat and then, with a twist, up into her brain again.

Stupid. The same mistake, over and over. At least they are not really smart.

“Oh, come on! Will you just stop fighting it!?

Almost passing out from the pain, Brennus rose on his feet, using the blade in her head to raise Mary up – her strength came from standing on blood, was his theory. Maybe her regeneration did, too.

Out of his left lower wristmount, he fired a pair of bolas. They wound around her neck and then shot up, a simple command making them stick to the ceiling just like his grappling hooks, hanging the young woman – Stars above, she is still a teenager – two feet off the ground. Blood continued to run down her body as Hastur screamed and cursed again.

No discipline there.

He looked at Mary’s face and saw pain, and fear.

Cutting her apart was not an option – she might regenerate out of any piece that fell into the blood below.

So he pushed his blade into her chest, piercing her heart. Out, then in again, twice, piercing both lungs. Liver, both kidneys.

There is a small tendency for female regenerators to have a kind of ‘core’ in either their womb or their ovaries. Font of life and all that, mate.

X-ray vision did not betray any overt core, but he pierced her reproductive organs as well, and every other major organ in her body.

He must have done something right, because she sighed – as much as she could, with two pierced lungs and a pierced throat – and went limp. Her body stopped bleeding completely, even from the wounds he had inflicted.

I think I need to throw up.

Keep it together, mate! Left, door, now.

He turned left and ran towards the door. His rear cameras showed Hastur following – interestingly, despite the effect of her powers on others, she herself did not seem to have any physical abnormities – and Avis lumbering after her, still regenerating.

The door was closed. It was also made of wood, so he angled himself so his left shoulder slammed into – Ow – and through – Double Ow – it, then ran on through the hallway beyond.

His scans had shown him a room full of electronic equipment. Maybe he could contact someone outside with it, maybe he could improvise something (unlikely, considering the state he was in). But he needed to delay his pursuers first.

Again, he almost passed out from the pain, but he grabbed two of his flash grenades and threw them into the room behind him. Before they had even detonated, he threw an explosive grenade into Avis’ open ribcage, and his last two at the ceiling just behind him.

Rounding a corner, he set them off, collapsing that particular hallway behind him (and, going by his scans, wounding both Hastur and Avis, not that it mattered much in the former’s case).

They would need to take another route to get him, unless she had Avis dig through it.

He ran towards the computer room, every step sending tremors through his body that nearly knocked him out.

The suit’s impact absorbtion had been compromised, too.

* * *

He had collapsed two more hallways in the surprisingly luxurious lair – really, being a supervillain seemed to pay way too well, if even a B minus guy like Panthera Avis could have a bunker like this – and pretty much holed himself up in the computer room, finally switching over to normal vision again. Ultimately, thermal vision hurt the eyes after a while.

His estimate of Hastur’s Intelligence, low though it already was, dropped further. What possessed her to abduct a Gadgeteer and take him just a few rooms away from this. Without even locking the doors.

Panthera Avis probably was not a Gadgeteer, but he was a serious technophile. He had everything. Three linked up state-of-the-art computers, a 3D wallscreen, one of the best audio systems on the market…

And password protection.

Of course the tech-savy supervillain would think of that.

One – only one – of his many means by which to interface with electronics was still functional. A wireless transmitter. It was not his most efficient means of working through, but it was all he had.

Cracking the system took him a whole minute, a minute he spent musing on the last minutes.

He came to a singular conclusion.

Hastur, for all her power, was just an insane teenager – going by her actions thus far, she was skating by solely on her power. Not much in the way of tactical or strategic awareness, much less problem-solving under pressure.

The problem was that she had a lot of power. And depending on how intelligent her thralls could get, her lack of intelligence might get patched up soon.

Considering how much death and destruction she had already caused just by skating by on power and surprise, the idea of her starting to act competently was… disconcerting.

He accessed the computer system and yes, it had an internet connection!

First, he sent a package with a summary of everything he had observed, as well as his video- and audio-recordings to both his own main computer and the United Heroes’ headquarters. Along with a call for help.

Then, he located the lair’s internet access point – ever since the internet had become a network important enough to be used by supervillains against the good guys back in the eighties, the government had become rather paranoid about controlling access to it.

Individual data traffic was not to be tracked unless there was probable cause and a court decision (not that anyone really cared – heroes and government agencies both had rather loose concepts about privacy on the internet, especially when it came to hunting down villains) but access points were tightly controlled. And everyone had to use one, the system had been fortified (and was still being improved) against access outside of those points.

The internet was free of charge, but the access was not free. One needed a legal identity to get into it (or a really, really, really good fake access point and sufficient Gadgeteering, or at least Hacking, skills).

Panthera Avis had neither. He was using the legal identity of a lawyer, who did have a legal access. Meaning Brennus could track the address of the lawyer, then locate the specific router Avis was accessing the internet through…

Oh, come on, really!?

He was still in the city. The Undercity, to be specific – that strange part of the city that had been created mostly by supervillains, vigilantes and the odd neutral metahuman (Brennus’ base was a good example for a future expansion of the Undercity – if he ever abandoned it, it would probably be absorbed by the overarching underground structure).

Just below a high-rise office building… two blocks from the headquarters of the United Heroes.

Guy has to be either stupid or ballsy. Or maybe both.

Another mail sent the location to the headquarters, as well as every local hero’s communicator.

Behind him, he could hear crunching sounds. Rubble being crushed and shifted aside.

He took a look. Avis had regenerated again, and he was digging through one of the collapsed hallways, Hastur standing just behind him, hopping from one foot to the other.

I need to get out of here. Can not wait for a rescue.

There were no blueprints of this hideout on the computer, and he had no idea how exactly to get out of here.

Except maybe by blowing it up, but since it was probably underground, well… not plan A.

You’re fucked, mate.

Either be helpful or shut up, please. Hastur seems capable of eavesdropping on our conversations somehow.

Aye. Food for thought – the two of them are still back there, digging. Going back to silent mode now, ‘kay?

That was something to think about – why had they not simply teleported past the collapsed hallways (they had been kind of a desperation move).

He could not fight anymore. He could not tinker anymore – right now, he would not even trust himself to fix a broken radio. His body was broken in too many ways to count, and he was only just barely hanging onto consciousness – he might as well spend time thinking, if only to stay awake as long as possible.

Not like I can do anything else but wait.

So he lined up the facts:

First, just minutes ago, Panthera Avis had been able to teleport easily across the entire city, as if his power had been boosted far beyond his former limits.

Second, he had done so only while accompanied by at least Hastur and Netsense.

Third, Hastur had some manner of vastly enhanced awareness, probably very powerful ESP.

Fourth, Netsense had been capable of sharing senses between people within her range.

Fifth, they had only ever teleported around with at least the three of them together.

Sixth, Hastur had taken the loss of Netsense far harder than the loss of Mary.

The only conclusion he could make was that they had been using the interaction of Hastur’s ESP and Panthera Avis’ teleportation for beyond-line-of-sight teleport. Of which they were now no longer capable, thanks to him cramming a grenade down Ne-

He had to fight not to throw up when he remembered the results of that action.

Alright. They no longer have unrestricted teleportation. Next point.

He could hear the digging sounds come closer, but refused to look. No point. Instead, he sent another e-mail with that observation, then continued to analyze the information he had available.

Hastur had some limited telepathy. Apparently, she had listened in on his mental conversation with the Blazing Sun and the Man in the Moon. But she had not seen his surprise attack coming, nor shown any indication of having access to any memories of his.

Maybe… maybe her power is to eavesdrop on communication, he thought. Not reading minds, but listening in on people communicating – a semantically limited power.

Which made her a little less scary… but threw up a whole host of very, very scary questions regarding his two conversational passengers. So far, he had assumed them to simply be fractured off pieces of his own personality. But by that logic, conversing with them should not count as communication, only as a disconcertingly schizophrenic way of thinking.

Yet she could listen to them.

Alright, Basil, enough. Think about the matter at hand first, worry about possibly alien inhabitants of your mind later.

As if on cue, he heard Avis break through the collapsed hallway. He turned and looked just in time to see him teleport past the blockade with Hastur, using the line of sight provided by his digging efforts to get past it.

Looks like I somehow need to hold out a little while longer.

He did send another mail though, only leaving out the information on his internal discussions – the logic got a little inconsistent without it, but he could live with that. No use wasting good information.

* * *

He switched to thermal vision and let his wristblades slide out again, moving his armor’s arms to test their function despite the mind-numbing pain it caused.

And you always hear people tell that you get used to pain. What a load of bullshit.

Nah, it’s true. Believe me, y’can get used to a lot of shite, mate. Talking from experience here.

Care to share some of that experience right now? I could use being able to ignore the pain a little.

No can do, mate. Sorry.

Avis entered the room and vanished in a flicker. But he had seen that coming, and was already turning around, making a left jab to try and impale his brain (that seemed to at least slow them down).

As if on cue, his left arm seized up both on the flesh-and-blood side (not much of a problem, though really painful) and on the power armor side. A bare second later, sparks flew and the motors made a cracking sound, the whole arm going limp as the sparks burned his arm.

Panthera Avis took the chance to swing both his arms in an arc, slamming them into his right arm and sending him flying into his wallscreen.

Even while he delt with feeling his right arm break completely, the armor there being destroyed, his ribcage further cracking and losing the last bit of feeling below his waist, he also slammed through the screen and the surge of electricity attacked his faulty systems, shorting out… pretty much most of it.

Including his camera system. His entire field of vision just went black, except for a few cracks he could just barely make out.

At least the insulation protected him from being electrocuted himself.

Well, that was a short last stand.

At least you tried.

Oh, shut up.

Someone said something – he recognized, just barely, Hastur’s childish voice, through the cracks of his armor, but not what she actually said.

Joke is on you. Can not hear you anymore.

Something – well, there were not many choices, so it had to be Avis – grabbed his helmet and began squeezing. The already damaged ceramic groaned, but did not break. He had made sure that the helmet was very sturdy.

After all, his brain was his only real advantage against most anyone he was likely to fight.

Still, it would break eventually.

Alright, open session here – any idea how to get out of this?

My expertise is largely limited to inventing technology.

Hmm, mayyyyybe…

mine

Huh? Who was that last one?

minenothersmineminemine

What the hell?

Calm down, mate. That’s just the… weird one of the bunch.

You call someone weird?

Aye. Call’im the ‘Raging Heart’.

mineminemineminemineminemineminemineminemine

Uhh, yeah, not really helpful.

He’s kinda singleminded. You can ignore him most of the time.

Agreed.

mineminemineminemineminemineminemineminemine

Yeah, any more ideas?

Yes, mate, we c- hey, do you feel that?

Something warm and prickling was pressing against his body all of a sudden, enveloping it. There was a loud crash, but the vibrations did not hurt his mangled body as the prickling feeling seeped beneath his skin.

And the pressure on his helmet vanished.

Two more crashes, then silence.

He could almost feel something other than pain by now.

Someone pulled him – gently – out of the screen, and then took his helmet off, the locking mechanism opening by itself (and despite a short hiccup due to the deformation it had suffered from). The faceplate was taken off, and…

And he saw a red-eyed angel’s face, with a halo of white light framing i-

Stop waxing poetry and look, mate!

He blinked, and suddenly he was looking into the horrified face of Gloom Glimmer, framed by the white glow of the lamp behind her, her own eyes glowing red with black sclera.

Oh. Good.

“Thanks. Passing out now,” he tried to say, but only blood came out of his mouth, and he finally passed out.

* * *

He blinked, then opened his eyes completely.

Then he shut them again, blinded by a white glare.

Body, Rollcall.

He was lying on something soft and warm. A bed. He could feel his legs. Wiggle his toes. His hands responded to his commands to curl his fingers, and there was barely any pain in them. His ribcage did not feel good, but neither did it really hurt all that much anymore. He was still wearing the mask from his impact suit.

And there was something soft and warm pressing pretty much against his groin, while something else was pressing on his chest, with warmth spreading from the point of contact.

“He’s waking up,” said a familiar voice with some odd harmonics in her voice.

“Yeah? Great. You can stop dryhumping him then!” said an even more familiar voice. Vasiliki… Hecate.

“I’m not dry- oh shit, I did, didn’t I?” The other voice sounded embarassed now.

“You didn’t even notice?” Hecate sounded disbelieving.

What is going on?

“Uhh, I have been using my power constantly on him for… how long? Too long. It tends to do weird minor stuff like this.”

“W-what are you talking about?” he asked, opening his eyes. “I sure hope there is an explanation for this.”

Gloom Glimmer was straddling him, sans her cloak. Without it, she looked… younger. Smaller.

She blushed (more) and slipped off of him, though without taking her hands off his chest. For which he was very thankful.

“I… uh… I’ve been healing you. Good God, how did you manage to stay alive, let alone conscious? I’ve been working on you for hours.” She was so very obviously trying to steer the discussion away from her earlier… position. And for once, he picked up on that.

“How long was I out? Did you get Hastur and Avis?” he asked, then looked at Hecate. She was wearing her cowl, but her cape had been torn off, and beneath that she wore a standard-issue jumpsuit. “What happened with you? And where’s Tyche?”

The two girls looked at each other, then Hecate answered: “We got into a fight, me, Spellgun and Tartsche got nearly killed and, loath as I am to admit it, Tyche kicked ass. I mean, really, really, ruined that monster’s day. She’s totally off on her power, and last I heard she’s been cutting her way through Hastur’s newest minions. Hastur and Panthera Avis got away from that hideout and are keeping us on our toes. I’m stuck here because my foci got destroyed, as did my costume, so I’m pretty much useless right now. Gloom Glimmer here has been fighting to save your life, because it looked grim there for a while. You’ve been unconscious for five hours.”

“Five hours? Damn. Wait, what new minions?”

They both evaded his gaze. “You got my data? Did you sound the air raid sirens?”

They nodded.

Gloom Glimmer took her hands off his chest and flexed her fingers as if they had gone numb. “We did. People went into their shelters and all, but… Hastur got into one of the public mass shelters – the one under the Menstall Galerie. She showed her face to nearly a hundred civilians, then went off to three more shelters she somehow broke into. Four hundred people, all in all. Including a Chinese cape who’d fled the SU and had just arrived here. God-Tier, it turns out, and she went on a rampage through the entertainment district before she burned out and dropped dead.”

“Stars above, did anything go right?” he asked. “Do you at least have any idea where Hastur is now? Or how to take her down?”

They shook their heads.

“Dammit.” He tried to sit up, but all that got him was a pain attack.

He almost screamed.

“Careful! I healed the worst, but my healing is limited – you’ll be benched for a while,” exclaimed Gloom Glimmer.

“Ugh. Feels like it,” he groaned, trying to relax. “But it does not matter. I need to help, and you know it. Hecate, can you get me my spare suit? The light one.”

She nodded. “Sure. I need to do something useful,” she said, sounding angry. But she left quickly, leaving him alone with Gloom Glimmer, who was still blushing a little.

“She’s selling herself short,” Gloom Glimmer commented once the other heroine was gone. “She only lost her staff in a later battle, not against the Geokinetic, and she kicked mighty lots of ass, going by what I heard through mission control.”

“Hecate is not one to boast,” he commented. “We’re at the UH HQ?”

She nodded.

“Should you not go out there and help?”

She opened her mouth, closed it, then spoke up again: “I’m quite drained. Need a few minutes.”

He nodded, leaning his head back. Reaching out with one hand, he found the controlswitch for the bed and raised the headpiece, so he could look at her more easily. “Should we not have gotten reinforcements by now?”

“N-no. The… the battle with DiL ain’t going well. She somehow hardened her field, and nothing is getting in or out now. No word from Dad.” Suddenly, she looked way younger than usual, pulling her legs up to rest her face on her knees.

He had no idea how to respond. Was he supposed to hug her again? “No word from the Dark… what about… your mother?”

She looked away from him. “The Sovjet Union declared war against the PATO just two hours ago, ’cause they refuse to let them try and bring the Red Council’s remains to the Protectorate. The Califate is declaring another Jihad, Maddy is staying neutral but also demanding to be allowed contact to Ember and Sovereign has gone silent – apparently, there were nine seperate spiteborn attacks in the GAIN over the last week. We got a powderkeg and no outlet, except…”

“World war. Great,” he sneered. “So, Lady Light’s tied up with a coming world war, the Shining Guardians are probably in Kansas, the Dark is stuck there too along with… the Five,” Including Amy, “And we got an insane S-Class in the city. What else could go wrong?”

His communicator – it was still in his ear – suddenly spoke in Eudocia’s newest voice (she changed it almost daily): “Father, Hastur just attacked the Petal Memorial Hospital! She’s in Prisca’s room!”

* * *

“I’ll show that asshole, how dare he deny me, I’ll make him pay, I’ll make him regret not falling in love with me, I’ll…”

Hastur had been ranting for hours now. After that wretched bitch (and they called her a monster! She was normal, compared to that freak) had taken him away from her, she’d wanted to go after his useless little whore, but Nathaniel had finally started speaking properly and insisted that they make more people fall for her first.

It sounded smart. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, at all. Which was why she was limping down the hallway towards that asshole’s sweetheart, instead of skipping along like she wanted to. Nathaniel was with her, as he should, as well as Toby, Jake and Jill (those were some freaky twins).

She had her hood down, and lots of people were falling all over her on the way. But she only wanted the one.

But that bitch was talking to someone, though she could only hear half the conversation. Who the fuck is she talking to!?

Toby kicked the door open for her, then stepped back and made a flourish for her to enter. He was sweet that way. And he even looked like a gentleman, all suit and tie and stuff.

She walked in to find the scarecrow with her eyes closed.

“He-he-hello, Prisca,” she greeted her, giggling. The prospect of punishing Brennus was making her giddy again. “It ain’t polite not to look at your guest!”

“I know what you do. Why are you here?” the ugly stick figure – Seriously, why does he like her, but not me? – asked in a calm voice. Too calm.

She ain’t taking me serious! I’ll show that bitch, no one mocks me!

“I just want to love you! Look at me, and I’ll make you right again!” she said sweetly, hopping over to stand by the foot of the large bed, looking at her. She could also put her hands on the frame that way, taking some weight off her left leg.

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.”

“Pretty please? With sugar on top?”

“No. Never again.”

That gave her pause. What the fuck does she mean? “What do you mean, sweetiepie?”

Her already ugly features twisted in pure, loathing hatred that gave even Hastur pause. “Someone did that to me before. Change me against my will. Violate my body. Not. Again. Ever.”

Hastur only snorted in response. “Oh, don’t worry. You’ll love me. Love what I do to you. Just open your eyes and look at me, sweetie.”

Prisca’s features were still twisted with hatred. “No. You can torture me, you can kill me, you can do whatever you want to me – except this. I won’t let anyone change me again!” She coughed, putting a spindly hand to her chest.

“You don’t have much of choice, sweetie. Jake, Jill, be two dears and open her eyes, will’ya?” she drawled.

Jake and Jill lurched forward, their bellies and backs shaking and waving left and right.

Prisca moved faster than she’d have thought possible, taking a dull knife – one of those hospital knives for people who might drop them accidentily – and before anyone could react, she plunged the knife into her left eye.

Screaming, even as they all stopped moving in surprise, she ripped the knife out of the bleeding, oozing wound and cut into the other eye, opening her eyelids just a fraction as she bent over, to plunge it in without harming the lids.

When she pulled the knife back and looked up, shaking all over, her eyes were just bleeding and oozing ruins. Blind. “Never. Ever. Again. Ev-” She seized up, then threw up a glob of bile and blood, her whole body shaking as Hastur could hear her heart start to go crazy.

“Whoa. Hardcore,” she whispered. This… was way too impressive to spoil. Besides, she was dying anyway. “Let’s go, my lovelies.”

They left the dying girl behind.

Maybe I’ll go after his sister… once I find that bitch somewhere…

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 3)

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The blood-covered woman approached Brennus slowly. Clumsily. She did not seem to have much in the way of fine control, the way she moved her body.

Never moving (outwardly at least), Brennus tracked his eyes over the room, accessing the situation.

Panthera Avis was holding him down from behind, his claws clamped around his armor’s upper arms – he was strong, the claws had already deformed his suit. I just finished this version. Now I will need to repair it. I need more money.

Worst case, he would have to either join the Juniors or take money from Amy.

Neither of which really appealed to him.

Netsense was just crouching nearby, her limbs folded up around herself, making her look far smaller than she was. It did not look like she was really aware of the situation around herself.

Hastur was watching him, and though he could not tell by the heat readings, he could feel her glee at what was to come.

She did not seem to react to the plans forming in his mind, at all.

Might be she is not really a mind reader as such.

No answer from the others. Might be they had come to the same conclusion as he had.

It made no difference. He could either try to escape or fight them to the death. Either way, they were not getting him. She was not going to get him.

Mary was just a meter away, almost close enough. But she stopped and looked back at Hastur, her body posture betraying insecurity.

“Get over it, dummy! C’mon, rip the mask it off!” Hastur urged her on.

Get over it, huh? He looked down at her feet – the blood she was pouring off had not yet spread over to him. She can only walk on her own blood? No, then Hastur would not tell her to get over it… her power only works while she is standing on blood?

Not enough evidence, really, but certainly something to keep in mind.

She took a step over the pooling blood, staggering a little before enough blood flowed out of her… every part to cover the carpet on the floor.

One step. Short, insecure. Half a meter away. The blood was touching his knees now.

Just a little more.

Everyone else in the room, save for Panthera Avis, was standing in nearly half an inch of blood. Avis was still behind Brennus, and thus not yet surrounded by blood.

The bloody woman reached out and touched his helmet, the motion almost gentle.

His reaction was most definitely not gentle.

One of his latest additions to the armor had been a defense system against being physically grappled. It was plain and simple, and he had slapped himself on the head for not thinking earlier of it.

He ran a massive current through his entire armor, and thus through Avis and Mary… and everyone else in the room, using the blood he and Mary were standing (or, in his case, kneeling) on as a conductor.

Avis’ claws let go of him as he was bodily thrown back against the wall behind. The other three shook and dropped without a sound other than that of bodies hitting a floor covered in blood.

He gave them no chance to react. Jumping forward, he slid out the blade hidden in his armor’s wrist, pushing it into Mary’s left eye, and then her brain, flinching as the deformed upper arms of his suit bruised his arms badly.

Sorry, Mary. I wish I knew how to save you, but I cannot risk being taken out now.

With his other wristblade, he cut through her neck, beheading her and throwing the head away from the body.

Best to be sure.

Hastur screamed in outrage, her power easily returning control of her body to her. “Gethimgethimgethimgethim!!!”

How unprofessional.

With a single, violent leap, he flew across the room like a bullet, tackling Netsense with such force into the wall that they broke through into the next room.

Before he had time to analyze the thermal images he was getting, he stabbed a blade into her shattered ribcage, cutting through heart and lungs. Or at least where they should be – he had no idea whether or not her mutations had shifted her organs around.

Which was why he took off her head with his next attack, then forced a grenade down her neck, making a sickening noise along the way.

Whether or not she can actually read minds, Hastur obviously has a very powerful perception power. Probably what allowed Panthera Avis to teleport beyond his line of sight.

And even if not, Netsense was far too dangerous to leave to Hastur – she could use her powers offensively, too.

The grenade detonated less than a second after he pulled his arm out of her limp body. And it amply demonstrated the difference between setting explosives off in the open and setting them off within a fleshy, juicy body.

The charge he had built into the grenade was normally sufficient to blow out a reinforced door’s lock, or punch a hole in most armor. Localized damage.

He was splattered with blood and worse all over his front, as Netsense was spread across the entire room.

* * *

No matter what one does, unless they’re complete monsters or inhumans, having a human – even a twisted human – explode right in front of them, splattering them from head to toe and covering the room will stagger one.

If the room is already glowing orange from all the blood and there are countless… well, not corpses, but pieces of them, and all of them twisted… then it does not help. Even if one is fortunately unable to make out all the details due to thermal vision.

Brennus staggered, almost throwing up in his mask (he had built in a feature to take care of that if it happened, but still) and not moving for a few seconds.

Panthera Avis slammed into him as Hastur screamed in frustration.

“Uff.”

The former villain, now an enslaved monster, must have weighed more than a ton by now – they both flew forward and Brennus slammed into the floor, creating cracks where their combined weight almost broke the floor.

“Hold him still! Rip his mask off, stupid!” screamed Hastur as she followed them into the room, her hood thrown back. Had Brennus not blocked his normal vision, he would have even more trouble now.

“It is a helmet, not a mask, stupid!” Brennus shouted back, annoyed.

As Avis reached for his helmet, Brennus once again electrocuted him, throwing him off for a moment. Ignoring the building pain in his arms, he whirled around and stabbed two of the faces within his open ribcage.

The others screamed so loudly they would have blown out his eardrums had he not included protection against such in his helmet.

It did not help much, though. Avis put his arms around Brennus and squeezed.

At first, little happened, but then the armor started to groan under the stress.

He never had this kind of superstrength. Just how much more powerful has he become!?

The armor groaned more, even as he started ramming his knee into Avis groin. The monstrous villain grunted in pain, but showed no further reaction, apart from continuing to crush Brennus.

“That’s it, wreck his armor and bring him to me! Good boy!” said Hastur, back to her sweetly cheerful mood. She was actually hopping up and down in place.

He could not see any colours, but he imagined her to look quite demented, her clothing mismatched, splattered with copious amounts of blood.

No time. Sixty percent energy left, got to make it count.

Expending as much as he could at a time, nine-point-fifty-three percent, he channeled the electricity through the blades still stuck inside Avis’ body.

Not his best idea. Avis convulsed, his arms closing even harder around Brennus’ chest. With a final groan, his chest armor cracked, and he could hear his arms break.

Ugh.

Another shock finally made Avis let go of him. Brennus slid down onto his knees as his enemy fell back.

Double Ugh.

He accessed his system diagnose – the chest part was mostly gone, the arms, even if his own arms were not broken, were largely destroyed and there was damage to the battery – it was steadily losing an additional amount of its charge.

I am going to lose this.

Using the controls in his boots and helmet, he forcefully – and under a lot of pain – cut into the legs of Avis. Not through them, because his bones were way too dense and blocked his swords.

I have to include the humming blade in my wristmounts in the next version. And more heavy firepower. A lot more.

Aye, mate. There ain’t such a thing as too much firepower. But there certainly is too little, and you have too little.

I propose finishing those remote matter detonation ray guns.

“Oh, shut up and surrender, you numbheads! Just look at my face and you can be happy and make yourself as much firepower as you want!” shouted the demented girl.

She can not read my thoughts, but hear our… communication? What the hell? You are just in my head, part of my mind, both of you… right?

No answer, and Hastur did not react, either.

Now I am getting really freaked out.

Avis screamed again through all of his faces – even the pierced ones, which were visibly, if slowly regenerating. He bent down to grab Brennus again, his claws opening once more, but he saw it coming and jumped backwards, again using his secondary controls.

This hurts.

Avis flickered forward, closing the distance and kicked him hard, right against the shattered breastplate.

He heard something break in his chest, along with the armor. One rib… two?

“Nathaniel, sweetie, don’t kill him, will-ya?”

Brennus slammed onto the floor, breathing hard – as much as his armor still allowed him to. It only got worse when Avis stepped on his chest, pinning him to the floor.

He choked, his vision blurring with tears of pain.

My arms…

No time to mope. He had still some control over his arms, the armor had been built to function for as long as possible. It hurt, worse than he thought possible… but for some reason, the pain did not disable him.

He moved the arms, digging both blades into the deformed, oversized ankles of Panthera Avis, one from each side, one towards the heel and one towards the front, cutting tendons and muscles.

If he could not cut his bones, then he would cut in between them. Sever the connections.

Panthera did not even scream as his foot was severed from his leg at the ankle, but his many faces snarled in a way that matched Hastur’s own snarl.

Brennus punched his leg aside, parting it completely from the foot, then activated the grappling hooks he had built into the two boxes at his hips.

The thin, ultra-strong wires shot against the ceiling, attaching themsleves their by their ‘hooks’ (the same devices he used for his boots to stick to walls). With a flick of his pinky, he made them reel in – but not equally. The left one was reeled in faster than the right one, tipping him onto his side as he rose, throwing Panthera Avis off.

Hastur’s monster fell down, unstable now without his foot and Brennus took the chance to push his left wristblade into his groin, letting the beast’s own weight and his own upward momentum pull the blade up and from groin to neck, splitting him nearly in half.

With a twitch of his ringfinger and some (very, very painful) shoulder movements, Brennus turned around in the air and landed on his feet, seemingly secure. He was not, of course, but the upside of fullbody powerarmor was that he could easily hide that.

Then again, his armor was so obviously broken, if it was not for his cloak he would probably look like a cautionary tale against frontline gadgeteers.

Great. I am running off on tangents again.

His arms hurt abominably, he had trouble breathing, his head was swimming and his legs had no strength left. On top of that, he felt like throwing up, first the contents of his stomach, then the bowels as well, just to be sure he was empty.

I need to end this. Get away.

He looked at his fallen foe – who was rising again, his wounds slowly mending, his foot regrowing while the other one began to rot in high-speed.

You have got to be kidding me! What does it take to put you down!?

“You have got to be kidding me! What does it take to put you down!?” shrieked Hastur in outrage, her sugar-like behaviour once more discarded in the face of her anger.

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 2)

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“Oh, come on!” Brennus shouted at the top of his lungs, as he stood atop a rooftop, watching the monster tear into a McDonald’s restaurant.

Polymnia winced at the volume. She so needed to come up with some kind of protection that didn’t cripple her hearing. <I know it’s disgusting, but->

Gloom Glimmer just looked green and ready to puke.

“That is not what I mean! This. Is. My. First. KAIJU. Could I not have gotten, I do not know, a lightning throwing dinosaur? Or a cyborg dinosaur? Or a chainsaw swinging ape? Or a chainsaw-swinging, lightning-throwing dino-ape?!” He looked incredulously at… the thing. “Instead I get to find out exactly how high you can pile shit!? Is this a joke!?”

Now Gloom Glimmer giggled. “Oh, I guess this is the so-called ‘nerd-rage’, right?” She still looked like she was about to throw up, though.

She couldn’t blame her – the stench was awful. Worse than anything she’d ever smelled before.

The three of them had been dispatched as a team – working under the assumption that, between Gloom Glimmer and the two of them, they should be able to handle it while the others split up into teams to hunt for Hastur – and any other victims of hers.

Now they were looking at twenty meters of brown sludge with two arms made of infected organs and muscles wound around crooked bones, smashing the restaurant open (fortunately, it had been evacuated in time). There were wounds and pustules all over the muscles and… other organs, pulsing and oozing more excrement. No head was visible, instead it looked like there was a particularly… productive opening at its top, covering the figure in wave upon wave of excrement.

“So, what do we do?” asked Gloom Glimmer after a moment, as her sick expression vanished. Acting on a hunch, Polymnia moved over to her, and the stench vanished. Slight changes in the sound around her told her that something was moving the air strangely. Low-level aerokinesis, most probably.

“We blow it up, of course! I will build a bomb, you deliver it, the thing is gone and we go after Hastur,” Brennus explained calmly. Too calmly – he’d just switched from outraged nerd to his usual calm self, like flipping a switch.

He was now looking at several cars that had been crushed by the monster. “And I have everything I need for a good bomb there.”

Polymnia grinned in anticipation. Haven’t built a big bomb before. Quite the oversight, really.

* * *

Irene had cleaned off six destroyed cars, removing their engine blocks and gathering them in one spot. Then she flew off to distract the monster – someone had slapped it with the code name ‘BigShit’, according to Sarah, and Polymnia was going to hunt them down, later on, and make them listen to her brown note – while the two of them worked on something to blow it up with. BigShit had killed seventeen people within ten seconds of appearing, apparently out of nowhere, and starting its rampage. Considering what little they knew about Hastur’s power, they’d designated the poor soul as dead already, and so they were to simply put it down.

The fact that twenty meters of super-strong excrement and whatever hid inside was rather difficult to contain also played a part in that.

Polymnia prayed quietly to God that whoever had been Hastur’s victim truly was lost, and they didn’t end up killing an innocent they could have saved.

No way to heterodyne here, now, especially considering how… worked up Brennus was. And she definitely wasn’t. Curious how easily it set him off. I took him for a calmer person. But then again, he’s totally calm now.

Not that it mattered whether or not they were heterodyned.

Bombs were easy.

Made easier by the fact that contemporary cars were completely electrical, and supplied them with all the parts they needed to work with. Though with Gloom Glimmer gone, the stench was back and worse – there were pools of sludge nearby she very pointedly ignored.

<Electromagnetic Thermo-Bomb?> she asked as she surveyed their material and their tools, distracting herself from the smell. She could already hear the beginning of a melody.

“Aye. You do the core – it’s closest to your speciality – and I do the shell?” Brennus replied, now calm again.

<Sure.> She had her spider-limbs bend backwards to let her work freely, and they started taking the wreckage apart. <What is your speciality, anyway? I’d guess it’s electromagnetism, or something close to that?> she asked matter-of-factly, or at least tried to. She heard Sarah take a surprised breath – the higher-ups really wanted to know – and she was curious, too.

After a few seconds of quietly working while Gloom Glimmer used a freeze-beam and geokinesis to slow BigShit down, she started to think he wouldn’t answer, or else he hadn’t noticed the question. She was just about to repeat it, when he replied: “I haven’t really found a definite focus yet, but it might be modular systems – everything I have created so far either has multiple settings or is easily adapted for multiple uses.”

She breathed in, surprised that he gave it up so easily. Then again, it probably didn’t make much of a difference for him.

At the same time, the song in her head continued to build up as she worked on the core, becoming more and more complicated. She loved listening to all the music her power made. Others did, too. After all, her schematics had turned her into an international superstar.

She’d only ever composed one song that was not also a schematic for some invention – even an aborted one – and no one but her had ever heard that one.

As the song grew more complex, her awareness of her surroundings faded, slowly. Her mind now wholly focused on her work, she kept assembling the core of the bomb. It really wasn’t hard, though she had to jump through a few loops to work it into her usual approach.

She finished it and turned to look at Brennus’ work – he’d assembled a kind of missile, only without any propulsion she could make out. Instead, its tip looked more like a drill than a normal missile tip, and there were exhausts further down the body of the missile, all pointing away from the tip.

“Complete?” he asked. She nodded, handing him the heavy core. He turned around and built it into the missile’s midsection – not the tip, as usual. “Can you assemble a B4CC13 battery, or an equivalent, out of the remaining parts? I already made one,” he continued.

<How is it supposed to work?> she asked as she went to work on the battery. It was even easier than the core, so her thoughts mostly focused on the question of how he managed to assemble both the missile and one of the batteries on time, when she’d just done the core. Even if the core was the most complicated part of the whole thing.

“We stick this into that thing, it drills itself inside and detonates once it reaches its core,” he explained while working on the core, connecting it to one of the batteries.

<How will it know when it has reached the core?>

“We can make an educated guess as to its rough position inside… that,” he explained, pointing at the huge monstrosity currently being baked by Gloom Glimmer. “My ravens will fly around it and serve as reference points for the built-in positioning system, so the missile knows when it has reached its destination. Nice and simple.”

She nodded. It was a nice solution.

<I so need my own raven robots. They’re way handy.> She handed him the battery.

He snorted as he put it in. “They are. The correct term, though, is ‘ravenbots’. Also, you can crib my technology, but you can not crib my style. Find your own animal to mimic.”

<Any suggestions?>

“Bats.”

<Bats!?>

“Well, you do specialize in sonics…”

<I guess so… but they’re kind of icky. And not colourful enough.>

He looked at her long hair that was constantly shiftings its colour. “I guess you are a colourful person. Maybe parrots?”

She thought it over. <Yeah, that works. I’ll see t->

An explosion cut her off, shaking the very earth beneath them for a moment. Polymnia staggered, as did Brennus, and he started to curse as there was apparently some damage to the missile.

<What happened!?>

Sarah replied: <Unkown. Tartsche, Tyche, Spellgun and Hecate engaged rampaging victim of Hastur, then our videofeeds cut off and there was an explosion.>

She turned to Brennus to pass on the information, but he just spoke, while still working on the missile: “Tyche reported in. The enemy was a powerful geokinetic, and he ‘detonated’, so to speak, when one of Spellgun’s shots penetrated a kind of core it had. She is unharmed, as are Tartsche and Hecate – except the latter got her costume ruined, again,” he grumbled for a moment, apparently annoyed more than he was concerned. “But Spellgun broke his leg.”

<Enemy down, Hecate, Tartsche and Tyche unharmed, Spellgun down but non-critical. Outstep will provide extraction,> replied Sarah, and Polymnia remembered that they’d allowed Brennus and his team to patch into their com-system.

Stepping up to stand next to Brennus again, she helped him put the finishing touches to the missile. <How come Tyche reported to you first? I thought you were all in our network.>

“It was down for some reason. She grabbed one of my ravenbots and reported through it.”

<What could knock out our communications?> That might become a major problem.

“I do not know, though it is possible that it was simply an effect of the detonation of this geokinetic. Ah, done.” He closed the body of the missile up. It was as long as they were tall, and looked more like a massive spear than a missile.

Thinking about it, she decided that it was a spear, more than a missile.

<So, how do we get it into that thing?>

“Gloom Glimmer, can you come over here quickly? Without undue risk to civilians?” he spoke into his com-system.

<Gimme a second, will you?> She was tying BigShit down with strands of billowing green energy that… made it look even more stomach-turning. <There, big boy, stay down.>

With a flash of light, she appeared next to them. “So, what do w-“

There was a flash of light, an sound like air being explosively displaced. Polymnia whirled around to see a girl in a yellow sweater and blue jeans, her head hidden by a deep hood.

Next to her stood a… a woman, naked, hairless, her skin black as ink, her body ridiculously elongated and with way, way too many joints on her limbs and torso. Also, her breasts were perfect replicas of her head, one of them locked into an expression of soundless screaming, the other soundless laughing.

And one more… a tall African-American man, his head missing, his chest burst open, the ribs spread open to reveal several twisted half-human, half-feline faces, snarling at the world. Also, she noticed, his… manhood… was abnormally engorged, and hard, to the point where it reached up to his… neck.

Before she could react, before Gloom Glimmer could react, before any of the attackers could do a thing, Brennus whirled around, throwing one of his batons at the girl – Hastur – and another at the twisted man.

The man flashed away, appearing again next to Brennus, while the other baton was blocked by the woman with too many joints, making her twitch for a moment – too little, considering the charge those things had to carry.

Folding her suit’s limbs forward, she tried to attack with sonics, but she was too slow. Gloom Glimmer struck at Hastur with a blast of billowing green energy, but it dispersed upon contact just as Brennus plunged his humming blade into the chest of the man.

The monster did not care, grabbing him with one monstrously deformed hand – it looked more like a toothless maw – and flashing back to Hastur, then vanishing again in another flash along with the two women.

<Oh God, no.>

Gloom Glimmer screamed in outrage.

* * *

They reappeared in a brightly lit room. Panthera Avis dropped him onto blood-soaked rich carpet, in front of the feet of Hastur.

“Hello cutie,” she chirped brightly, squatting on her heels in front of him.

His thoughts, however, were analyzing the situation. Panthera Avis, high-speed line-of-sight teleportation, enhanced strength and reaction speed. The other one’s faces resemble Netsense, shares senses with anyone she has touched in the last half-hour.

No information on the girl in front of him, apart from a sight-based control power. Obviously one that transformed you into a monster. Which was why he had immediately turned off his external cameras, and was right now working solely through thermal vision.

“Hello, Miss…?” he said, raising his head from where he lay on his belly in front of her, as if looking at her directly. Her heat signature seemed to be absolutely fine, and her body-type betrayed no obvious mutation, nor even an exceptional physique.

“I don’t really like to use my old name anymore. Just call me Hastur, I guess,” she replied in that chirpy, too-happy voice. “And you are Brennus. Nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine, Hastur. Though I would have preferred a more polite invitation – or any kind of invitation, really,” he replied. The longer they talked, the better for him to plan his next move. As far as he could tell, there were only three of her monsters around – Panthera Avis, Netsense and a naked, normal-looking woman – who was bleeding through her every pore, torrents of blood running down her body and staining the carpet, crawling over the floor. Her face matched up with that of one of the salesgirls that had been exposed to Hastur earlier. A Mary Smith. Unknown factor. No idea whether or not the transformation bestows powers upon its victims or not.

Or maybe they just manifest due to the extreme stress of the transformation, if they have the potential. Either way, you’re screwed, mate.

“This is interesting. What’re you two – or are you three? – planning?” asked Hastur, her elbows on her knees, with her chin on her hands.

Brennus froze. “You… can read my mind?” Just like that? None of Amy’s defences worked?

“Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I must say, it’s quite rude to hide your face from me like that. And you’re not even really looking at me,” she replied in the voice of a petulant child.

“I think it is necessary, seeing how your power apparently works on anyone who sees your face,” he said in response, staying as calm as he could – made easier by his mask and voice distortion.

“Oh, now don’t be shy, I’m sure you’ll love me at first si-“

He surged forward, tackling her to the ground. She was so light.

One hand cleanched into a fist and a blade slid out of the upper side of his wrist. He stabbed at her throat.

Before even Panthera Avis could react, his blade plunged into her throat and up into her brain. She tensed up, then slumped, going limp and motionless.

Her heart stopped, along with all brain activity.

Suddenly feeling sick, Brennus hesitated – and was promptly kicked by Mary, throwing him across the room and so hard into a wall, it cracked. Panthera Avis flashed in next to him and grabbed his arms with his two maw-like hands, holding him down on his knees.

And Hastur squirmed on the ground as her blood flowed back into the closing wound. Within the blink of an eye, she was whole and alive again, and rose to her feet.

“That’s no-o-ot gonna work, cutie!” she chirped, then broke out into giggles. “You can’t hurt me, not really, no-o-one can, nu-uh, no chance, not really!”

She took a step towards him. “Now, dear Mary, please rip off that stupid helmet, will you? It’s a crime, hiding such a cute face!”

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