Tower of Doom, Arcadia, 699 After Starfall
Kavasigan, Lord of Undeath, was down to but one of his Skeletal Abominations, the protective abjuration that kept him safe nearly destroyed.
Four of the original six heroes remained – Ielarinar, Mistress of Arrows had fallen to a Spear of Negative Energy from Kavasigan himself and Ulgrim the Dwarven Rager had foolishly thrown himself into the middle of combat and been whittled down by the abominations – though he had slain no less than three of the seven before succumbing to his grievous wounds.
Meeda the Fair, in her gleaming armor and burning blade, sent a quick prayer to her goddess, both to ask for her fallen friends to not have fallen for naught and to ask for the power to smite the last abomination. And the Goddess answered, for her blade flared with holy light, cutting into the final enemy that stood between them and their archenemy.
The very moment the shield around the dark wizard fell, Archmage Warsen loosened a barrage of spells he’d been saving up. With his protection down, Kavasigan could only throw up his arms to shield himself as everything, from the lowest Magic Missile to Warsen’s most powerful attack, the Black Meteor, slammed into his defenseless, still human body (for he had not yet completed the rite that would transform him into the God of Discord, Murder and the Dead).
Warsen, Meeda, Clandesty the Priestess of the Goddess of Light and Life and Niv the Rogue shielded their eyes from the explosion of light and fire, then watched with bated breath to see what remained of their quarry.
Niv was the first to react, her eyes second only to those of Ielarinar herself: “Oh, come on!”
Kavasigan stepped forward, completely unharmed. “Pah! Fools and scum, the lot o-“
Niv threw four daggers into his chest. But they merely passed through without meeting any resistance.
The former Archcancellor of the Queen snorted in disgust. “Did you truly believe I would risk facing you myself at this point? ‘Tis but an illus-“
* * *
14 Miller Street, London, 1981
“Oh, come on Lars!” shouted Mary. She slammed her hand onto the table, rocking the miniatures and the dice spread over the tabletop map. “Another fake-out? Really?”
“Mary, calm down,” Thomas chimed in. “No reason to lose it. But seriously, dude, you keep faking us out. It’s getting annoying.”
Ben put his dice aside (he’d been preparing to have Warsen cast a divination to track the illusion back to its maker) and leaned onto the table, observing.
His five co-players were quite put out, but he had no intention to join in. Besides, Lars could always deal better with people.
* * *
Forty-three minutes later
“Why didn’t they just trust me?” asked Lars, grumbling while he and Ben picked up the trash. This week had been their turn to host the game, and since their apartment only had two rooms, and this was their living room, they couldn’t just ignore the trash for a few days.
“You make your bad guys too competent,” replied Ben. He didn’t know why Lars was so pissed off. They’d finished their session once Lars had calmed the others down, and it had gone off quite well. “There’s just no way we players can keep up with you in terms of planning and general preparedness.” Stacking up the empty pizza boxes, he made a quick run for the garbage bins outside the building, also giving Lars a little time to think about his comment. Lars was smart, but he was slow. He needed time to work through shit, and he was more than happy to give it to him.
When he came back, Lars was just finishing a quick round with the vacuum cleaner. “I thought they’d like a proper challenge. Never really understood why these supposedly super-intelligent evil overlords would always act like idiots, you know?”
Shrugging, Ben helped clean up what little remained, and they both sat down on the couch afterwards. “Probably because otherwise, they’d always win. Only reason why they can be beaten by a ragtag bunch of misfit grave robbers despite their powers and resources is because they act like idiots and don’t prepare properly. Make them too smart, and they’re just too difficult to defeat for a normal party.”
“But that’s boring!” Lars complained as he threw his arms up in his usual, over-dramatic way.
“For you, because you always try to apply logic to everything. Just chill out mate.”
“Speaking of chillin’ out…” Lars reached in between the cushions of the couch, fumbling about until he pulled out a plastic bag filled with some white powder inside. “Ah maaan, that’s not even enough for one of us.”
“You got some money? I’ll go and get some more,” Ben replied, feeling quite disappointed himself. And confused. When exactly did we use it all up? Maybe three days ago? Or last week, when we skipped Manderly’s class?
“Sure, sure, my ‘rents sent me my allowance just yesterday,” Lars replied, walking over to the coat hanger to get his wallet. He took two fifty pound notes and handed them to Ben. “Get us some of the good stuff. I don’t wanna wake up in time for classes tomorrow.”
“Sure thing, mate. I’ll be off then.”
* * *
A little later again
Ben walked through the London streets, his mood getting worse as he was quite cold despite his thick coat – winter had brought snow nearly a meter high – and now it was suddenly raining as well, meaning he had to also be careful not to slip and fall on his face.
Taking the underground, he came out near the place his favourite dealer usually did business. There weren’t that many dealers out there willing to sell the hard stuff to teenagers, ’cause the heroes really looked down on that. Many villains did, too. He’d found this one by pure accident.
The guy looked nothing like what you’d imagine a dealer. He looked like an accountant. His business was set up a back-alley with so many fire escapes, balconies and laundry lines over it that no one who passed over it could see what was going on at the ground level. Ben only ever heard the guy being called ‘Slick’. Some kinda low-level meta, he was supposed to be.
“Ben, my friend! How’re you doing?” he asked, leaning back on the folding chair that stood behind a small folding table.
Jerk’s dry, dammit. He was quite jealous of that. “Not so good. Need some new stuff. Some of the good stuff, to be precise.” He reached into his pocket for his wallet.
“Hmm, I think I have something for you. Since you’re such a faithful customer and all.” Slick reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a clear little plastic bag. There were two pills inside, coloured half orange and half purple. “Here, this just came in. Real good stuff.”
Interesting. “What is it?”
“It’s called ‘Jump’. Made by some of those mad scientist types, callin’ himself ‘the Ascendant’. As in, your senses ascend to a higher plane of existence, and all that drivel.”
“Oh come on, you know I don’t use contrived stuff. That’s just asking for a bad case of pushing daisies.”
Slick shook his head. “Dude, would I offer my best customer something like that!? No, believe me, I’ve yet to hear of anyone having unpleasant side-effects. This stuff is real good.”
Ben relaxed – Slick always managed to calm him down – and thought it over. “Well, what’s the use of life if you don’t try new stuff out every now and then.”
The dealer grinned and held out the little plastic bag. “Here, take it. First one’s free for my faithful customers, so you get one for you, and one for yer pal.”
“Oh, thanks.” Freebie, how nice. “If it’s as good as you say, I’ll probably be back for more sooner or later.”
He grinned again, bobbing his head up and down in a nod. “I know you will, my good friend.”
* * *
Ben made his way back to the underground station, and then walked the rest of the way home.
He was almost back at their flat building when he slipped on a patch of newly formed ice.
The ground came up to meet his face – and suddenly he stopped, as strong, but gentle hands grabbed him.
He was pulled up and turned around to look into a vision.
She was tall, taller than himself (and he wasn’t exactly short), and had the kind of face that could have come from all over the world, but her skin was as dark as he’d ever seen on a woman, her hair up in a bun held together by a colourful, bird-shaped pin.
“Are you alright?” she asked in a pleasant, slightly drawling voice.
Ben gibbered as a reply, not used to pretty women talking to him. Normally, they just turned their head away and tried to get away from the stench. The prettiest woman he could talk to was Mary, and she had at least fifteen kilo too much on her hips. So he just nodded. What’s that bird?
She nodded, smiling and revealing perfect white teeth. “Good, good. You need to be more careful, my dear.” She brushed some snow from his shoulders (the fucking rain had turned to snow, masking the newly formed patches of ice).
He gibbered again and nodded.
“Now, you be good and careful. Have a nice evening!” She turned and left, his eyes tracking her gently swaying bottom, which was covered by a coat that seemed too thin for the weather, too expensive for this part of town, and entirely too much fabric on that body for his taste.
And then she was gone, but he already knew what he’d be dreaming about tonight.
As he entered the flat, he suddenly thought: A peacock! Bird was a peacock!
* * *
“That hot?” asked Lars as he filled two glasses with water.
“Even hotter, dude. I mean, she was like one of those superheroines! Seriously hot booty, and she wasn’t even showing any skin!”
Lars got a dreamy look as he gave him one of the glasses. Ben popped one of the pills into his outstretched hand and took the other into his mouth, holding it between his tongue and the roof of his mouth.
“Let’s see how good this stuff really is,” Lars said with a grin, popping his own pill.
They knocked their glasses and swallowed the pills.
The world exploded.
* * *
He saw colours, and swirls, and swirls of colours…
The world went black. He was falling, falling, as pain, unimaginable pain coursed through his body. He had just enough presence of mind to realize that this was not supposed to happen, that he was reacting badly, before his m-
His body stretched, his fingers turning int-
He was rolling around on the floor in pain, the whole world twisting around h-
Darkness crept into his field of vision along the edges, the pain growing worse and worse as he started to scr-
The world went black, and he only felt… cold.
He could feel himself fading, fading, fading, fading, fading…
N-no… no… not like this…
There was still so much he wanted to live through, so many things to do…
Clarice would be devastated if he died, but he was fading, and he couldn’t even remember his own sister’s face anymore…
He couldn’t let it end like this!
He… he wanted to live!
He’d been wasting his life for so long, if only he c-
His consciousness winked out, his body finally going slack, even as his friend squirmed and screamed just a meter or so away from him.
* * *
A single pinpoint of light appeared in darkness.
More and more. Two appeared at once. Then ten. A hundred.
One of them was small, fading, barely anything left, a star that had burned out, only a little light remaining.
It fell from the sky, fell, fell, fell…
There was a corpse, and it did not move. And yet it reached out, and grabbed the flicker of light left, little more than a candle’s flame now.
Fire and Light.
They coursed through the dead body, burning it away.
He saw a billion worlds and more, dancing, singing, shouting…
He saw a lone sun, with no one to share its beautiful light…
He saw a sleeping sun, waiting to grace the world with transcendent light…
He saw a black sun, a revelation waiting to envelop the world…
He saw a gentle sun, not yet born, waiting for its time…
He saw a blazing sun, unborn and already eclipsing the stars around itself…
The fire vanished, leaving only searing light that whittled away at his mind…
He saw a hundred billion paths that could be taken, and a hundred billion times more…
He saw the black sun envelop the world in eternal darkness…
He saw five points of light in the darkness…
The Shaper, unbound and gentle…
The Lover, driven by the primordial power.
The Dreamer, a gilded knight, brilliant as the full moon…
The Shepherd, a broken star that sought redemption…
The Maker, a blazing well that sought to rise…
He saw dancing ribbons of light…
* * *
He tried to open his eyes, but he had no eyelids, only the light.
He looked for Lars, but there was only a shifting, bubbling mass of flesh, faces and forms appearing and vanishing on it like bubbles in steaming soup, and yet he only saw the light.
He reached out for his friend, but he had no hands, only the light.