This is murder for my heart.
“He. Hehe. It’s just fun for everyone, Jay-jay,” the girl they called Hastur whispered, giggling.
“Wrraurk?” asked Nathaniel. He shook his head, still not quite able to talk again after seeing her face.
Love at first sight can do that to you.
“Nothin’ nothin’, Nathaniel. Now, since you’re all ready,” Her new friends had all gotten themselves ready. Only five of them had survived falling in love with her, but that was to be expected. They’d been bad men and women, anyway.
“And stupid. You were all stupid, too. What in Dio’s name possessed you to let me loose?” She looked around at the five of them, but only got moans and gurgling as a response. They were all still speechless.
Love at first sight can do that to you.
She looked down at herself, dressed only in some old rags left from the clothing she’d had on when she’d manifested (not much) and the shroud she’d been given (she’d pulled the hood down). “I need new clothes.” She sniffed under her armpit. “A shower, first. And a shave.”
A few blissful minutes later, she was clean again for the first time since they’d caught her. She threw her rags and her shroud away, stretching her body a little to limber up while Francine brought her a clean bed sheet she could use as a cowl until she found something better.
Focusing her awareness on New Lennston – she’d always wanted to visit this city, and now she’d finally get to do it – she looked for a place with nice clothes, and found a nice boutique.
Nathaniel teleported all five of them into it. He normally needed line of sight for his power, but she had line of sight to anywhere, and Francine could tap into other people’s senses and share them with others.
They popped into the middle of the small boutique – there were only three customers and two salesgirls inside. And they all started screaming in horror when they saw her new friends around her.
Before they could run or call someone, she pulled her cowl down, while Nathaniel jumped around the room, bringing them all into a line in front of her.
They looked at her face and their screaming changed. Now they screamed out of love, as it overwhelmed them.
Love at first sight can do that to you.
She threw the sheet away and went into the underwear section while the five women screamed their love into the world. Fortunately, the street outside was rather empty right now, and the window’s full of merchandise, so they were hidden.
“Those are cute,” she whispered with a giggle to the sound of one of the women – Marge – breaking her own neck. Shame, she always hated losing them. She pulled the pink panties with the dancing unicorns on. “No need for a bra, and ain’t that depressing? Getting powers is supposed to give you like, a D-cup at least. But noooo, I’ve still got apples instead of melons.”
She found a cute pair of socks that matched her panties just perfectly. The tight blue jeans she put on afterwards were nothing special, but they showed off her hips well. And she’d always liked the curve of her hips.
“A shirt now, don’t you think, Nathaniel?” He was her favourite, so far. Such a useful power, and he was the best-looking of the bunch.
“Srrrrrurrrhh,” he replied, slowly getting more control over his speech.
“Or maybe just a hoodie? Don’t want just everyone seeing my face all the time, that makes things… interesting, but not very practical, sometimes.” She nodded to herself and looked through the racks while two more of the women – the two salesgirls – fought each other in a brief struggle, until Mary dug out Jenny’s heart with her bare hands and ate it.
“Don’t you dare get blood over the stuff I might want to look through!” she told her and the other two who were still screaming.
Just then, someone kicked in the doors, and she heard two voices yell “Freeze!”.
Nathaniel and Greg took them down before they could do any more.
She stepped around the clothing rag she’d been standing behind, still topless, to see two police officers on the ground, held down by Greg’s power. They looked at her face and starting screaming, too, while they fought to break free of Greg’s power, useless though that was. Her new friends were rarely smart at the beginning.
Love at first sight can do that to you.
“Hey, Nathaniel,” she spoke up after a minute – Mary and Jenny had just killed their two remaining customers and were eating the tasty bits – while she just couldn’t decide which hoodie to choose. “What’s Hastur mean, anyway?” Maybe it would help knowing that.
“Hhhhhasssssturrrrr… loooooovecraffffft st’ries… King… in… Y-y-yellowwwwww,” he said.
“Bravo, Nathaniel!” she shouted, clapping her hands, then she gave him a kiss on his cheek. “You’re getting better!”
Then she turned back to the clothing selection. “King in Yellow, huh? Well, Queen in Yellow, now. So, a yellow hoodie, then…”
And she found one, it was a little thin, but it had a cute little heart for a zipper, so she put it on and zipped it closed. Then she clapped her hands again. “Shoes! I need shoes, too!”
Eight minutes (and one dead policeman later – poor stupid thing, he’d ripped out his own intestines only to eat them, but the others had gotten hungry too when they saw that), she’d found the cutest little black-and-pink sneakers.
Looking at herself in front of the mirror, she pulled the hood up and deep down over her face, so not even her chin could be seen.
“I look cute, don’t you all think so, too?” she asked her new friends. They’d all finished screaming and were quite fine now.
Love at first sight can do that to you.
There were various gurgles and moans of affirmation, as well as a “Of cccccourrrrrsssse.” from Nathaniel.
Great! Now, to see what the Juniors and Basil and friends are doing…
She looked into the headquarters of the heroes, but recoiled from the minds of Basil and Melody.
“Ouch. Damn, what is that?” She looked into the other’s heads, and learned all the wonders of heterodyning while Thomas explained it. “Ohhh, I wonder if I can do that, too, with someone. Something to keep in mind.”
Nathaniel teleported them all away, leaving only the bits and pieces of the poor things who hadn’t made it behind. They reappeared in the middle of a mob meeting, with her in the center of the round table they were sitting at. She pulled her hood down. “They’ll probably find out I’m free, soon. Let’s see who I’ll take now, and who I’ll play with until later.”
She let her awareness roam a little around the city – she didn’t want to reveal too much about her capabilities yet.
After a few minutes, she looked back into the workshop.
… but who’ll be the hunter and who the game?
“Oh, Irene, you don’t get it,” she giggled to the sound of her new friends professing their love in screams. “It’s a game of tag. We can alternate roles. Though, of course, if I win, the consequences will be… fun.”
She looked up to see herself in a large mirror on the wall, squatting on her heels in the middle of the room, in her new hoodie and those cutest of all shoes.
“Who ever said the end of the world can’t look cute, huh?”
* * *
…attach the power coupling here, then check for any hiccups along the power lines to ensure flawless transmission…
At the other end of the S.M.O.G., Polymnia connected it to the building’s power grid. Small, black pictogram manikin were pointing and miming what they had to do, moving to the rythm of a song he could not distinguish from the technology they were working on – like a dance.
I wonder how she normally works, he thought while following the instructions the little manakin, and the arrows and circles and crosses and numbers gave him. He felt like something had opened up – the ideas, the blazing light that guided him, it was all flowing, focused and steady, unlike anything he had ever felt before. If this is the usual result of heterodyning with another Gadgeteer, then I should see about recruiting Polymnia for my team. For the time being, though, he’d focus on the S.M.O.G. It had not nearly enough firepower yet to live up to its name.
* * *
Suddenly, the song that had kept them going cut off, and his power stuttered for a moment.
“What’s going on, mate!?” he asked in an angry tone, looking around the workshop. They’d just gotten started on the critical overload mechanism.
Gloom Glimmer was standing next to Polymnia, her hand on the girl’s shoulder. Apparently, Polymnia was just as angry as he was. “Enough fun and games, kids. The game is afoot, and we need to get ready for a fight. A big one, it seems.”
Brennus bit down a harsh reply – he was slowly, emphasis on slowly, coming down from… from whatever he was feeling. He felt like his brain was raw and open. “L-let’s go then.” He put the tools he’d been working with (she had actually come up with a Sonic Screwdriver, though unfortunately, it could only drive screws… yet. He would offer to help upgrade it) aside and went to slip back into his suit. The process wasn’t exactly fast, but it at least took less than a minute. If barely.
With a last, longing look at the S.M.O.G. – fifteen meters and forty-six centimeters of gorgeous, straightforward destruction (no fancy tricks there, just firepower. Lots and lots and lots of firepower) – he fell into step next to Polymnia (she took a few seconds longer to tear her eyes off their creation), following Gloom Glimmer out of the workshop.
“Where are we going?”
“War Room. Hastur somehow got out, and she’s started killing people, so we have to do something,” she replied, sounding quite wound up.
<Irene, what’s wrong? You don’t seem well… and besides, why are we supposed to do something about this? I thought we weren’t allowed to deploy against an S-Class!>
She remained silent for a few seconds as they made their way to the elevator. Brennus had all but given up on getting an answer.
Then, Polymnia put a hand onto her shoulder, gently squeezing it. For just a moment, he thought he saw Gloom Glimmer’s expression of calm crumble, before she caught herself.
“Desolation-in-Light appeared over Kansas. They’re fighting her right now. Only Amazon is left – even Patrid went to help.”
<Wait, Patrid? What can that creep do, apart from try and talk her to death?> asked Polymnia in sheer surprise.
“He has three doctorates, one of them in medicine, and he’s a crackerjack EMT on top of that. That can be worth more than any power, and that doesn’t even account for him having a God Tier Physique,” she replied, her voice barely above a whisper. “Not that it’s going to help anyone going up directly against her.”
Polymnia pulled her into a hug from behind, while Brennus just… stood there.
Am I supposed to hug her, too? Would that be too intimate?
If you ain’t sure how to to act, mate, go with the option that involves DOING SOMETHING.
He carefully put his arms around the two girls, hugging them as tightly as he dared with his armor on.
* * *
They’d sat down at the circular table again. Everyone left – the Junior Heroes, Amazon, Widard, Hecate, Tyche and himself.
Once more, the mood around the table was… bad. Guess you should not expect anything else from a War Room.
He almost slapped his head. His thoughts were frayed. Probably a side effect of the Heterodyning. Not a good time to be below one-hundred percent.
“The situation is getting worse by the minute, everyone,” began Amazon.
Not very smart, eh? To start off on a note like that, you’d think she was a beginner at this.
It is suboptimal.
She is only interim leader, because everyone else is at the Wall right now.
Still, it’s a bummer way to start.
“Define ‘worse’ in relation to an unknown S-Class getting loose in the USA’s third-most populous city at the same time at which most of our ability to respond is tied up due to the world’s only S+ deciding to pay Kansas a visit,” he asked.
Amazon and Widard exchanged looks.
“They may as well know, before we get to the situation at hand,” the older man said to his nominal leader.
“Know what?” asked Gloom Glimmer. “What could possibly make things wo- Did something happen to-“
Amazon raised a hand. “No, nothing like that. But… the Protectorate was attacked, and despite Lady Light’s intervention, one of them managed to break through the defenses and into the Protege’s range.”
Ember! Not Prote-bla, Ember!
Dude, whatever your problem, calm down. You are kind of screaming inside my head.
“How the fuck did they get past Lady Light?” asked Outstep, taking his eyes off Tyche’s rack for the first time since Brennus had entered the room (not that she didn’t enjoy the attention). “And anyway, so what? Whoever got through is probably bonkers now, but Lady Light was there to put’em down, right?”
“The how is not an issue now. The problem is that the woman who got through was a particularly powerful supervillainess. She brought a dead baby into the Protectorate, and somehow, don’t ask me how, managed to get within five feet of the Protege.”
EMBER!!! His fucking name is EMBER, you twat!
Keep it down! Is the Man in the Moon not supposed to be just an observer? Where exactly does commentator fit into that?
Bugger off, mate. I can’t stand this Prote-bleh business. He got a name, one he chose for himself!
I can not bugger off because you are in. My. Head. Shut up.
Gloom Glimmer was throwing him strange looks, which he absolutely did not like right now.
<Did Ember… did he?>
Good Girl. I’d like her for a mate.
She is female. A mate is usually a male sa-
Amazon nodded, which immediately charged the mood in the room even worse.
“Sean O’Sheannan has become the newest member of the Returners – and while the Protege seems to have returned to dormancy, well…”
“No one is going to accept that. If he could wake up once, he can wake up again. If he’s even been asleep in the first place,” commented Brennus. He certainly did not seem asleep when he talked to us.
Well mate, Henry was always a little strange, but he’s definitely not the kind to just sit around and do nothing.
Wait, ‘Henry’? You know him personally?
Focus, mate. Focus.
“It’s not important,” Tartsche said. “We have far more immediate problems to deal with. One of them being this Hastur. What do we know?”
Everyone focused back on Amazon, then on Widard when she turned to look at him.
“Hastur… well, look at this.”
He called up a video file that the table projected into the air above it in six screens arrayed in a circle to let everyone see it.
They all watched the recording, apparently taken by a security camera within a clothes store. Two salesgirls, three customers. Then, suddenly, a figure cloaked in a… bed sheet… stood in the center of the room, flanked by… five blots of blackness, as if the camera had refused to record them.
The civilians screamed and tried to flee, but one of the blots vanished and reappeared all around the place, until it had collected them and lined them up in front of the shrouded figure.
She reached up with thin, slender hands and pulled the sheet down. Her position only showed silky, freshly washed dark brown hair that fell to her shoulders.
But whatever the five civilians saw, they started screaming in raw, unhinged horror. Hastur – she had to be – walked among the clothing racks, apparently looking for clothes, while her victims screamed and clawed at their eyes – one of the customers broke her own neck… and then, one of the salesgirls turned into another blot on the camera, fell over her colleague and, after a brief struggle, ripped her heart out.
The other girl convulsed, then almost fell before turning into another blot, along with one of the customers, just when two policemen stormed the shop. They were quickly subdued and exposed to Hastur’s face – it looked like her power worked through her face, or maybe just eye contact – just as the blots that were the salesgirls descended on the two remaining customers, one of whom had turned into another blot.
They kept watching, until Hastur, dressed now like a normal teenager, stepped over to the eight remaining blobs of blackness, and they all vanished.
Spellgun summed up what Brennus was thinking: “Well, shit.”
* * *
After twenty minutes, they had reached a few conclusions.
One, they had identified two of the blobs Hastur had entered the shop with. The teleporting blob had to be Panthera Avis, the new leader of the Black Panthers’ West Coast Division. Or rather, he used to be that. Now he was Hastur’s flying monkey, it seemed. The other one was most probably CrushUp, gravity manipulator and notorious terrorist.
Two, they had decided that Hastur had to have some manner of Control power, triggered by seeing either her face or making eye contact (which was mostly the same, all things considered), and some manner of power boosting, because Avis should not have been able to teleport them beyond his line of sight.
Three, they needed to find them. Fast. And take Hastur into custody or six feet under – most probably the latter.
So now, Brennus was sitting in the war room, coordinating his ravenbots while they searched the city. The others were preparing for battle. Amazon and Widard were informing the supervillains of the city and the police, respectively; both Spellgun and Hecate wanted to work on their respective equipment, Polymnia had to finish her newest armor, Tartsche was making sure his boyfriend did not forget what he was supposed to get ready for, Bakeneko and Osore were in the Juniors’ common room talking, Tyche and Outstep were stroking each other’s ego by way of making small talk and Gloom Glimmer was nowhere to be found.
Brennus knew all that because he had not been able to resist accessing the surveillance system of the place. It was not like his ravenbots needed much in the way of coordination, not with their programming and Eudocia keeping an eye on them.
“You like keeping tabs on people, too?” asked a silken smooth voice from behind him.
He turned around and looked at Gloom Glimmer standing right behind him.
“Call it paranoia,” he replied without any embarrassment. “You do, too?”
She shrugged. “Indirectly. My power takes paranoia to an artform, I guess.”
She is awfully open about her power around me, do you not think so?
No response. Strange.
“It is not paranoia if they really are out to get you.”
She actually giggled at that, even though he did not think it was all that funny.
“Papa always says that.”
“Well, I guess you would have to be paranoid to survive that long in this business… Is Mrs Whitaker like that, too?”
She shook her head. “No, not really. She is very… aware of her surroundings, but she’s far more relaxed about it than Papa or me. Or you, it seems.”
He shrugged. “Well, it might come in handy now – my ravenbots are spread all over the city, and I have ordered them to patrol. Coupled with the city’s surveillance system and the police cars and helicopters on patrol, we should find Hastur the moment she goes outside or near a window. Speaking of which, why are you not out there searching? With a power like yours, this should be rather trivial. Not that I do not enjoy talking to you.”
She blushed. What the hell? I was just being polite.
“My power is too unreliable. I might need to be here for defense, if she attacks us here – we don’t know to which extent Panthera Avis’ teleportation has been boosted – and I don’t want to leave it up to chance. Not even with Tyche’s power on our side.”
She knows? How? “You know? How?”
“I’m very good at figuring out people’s powers. Seems to be something that comes easy to my own power. Don’t worry, I’ll keep quiet about it, unless it becomes important.”
He nodded, then suddenly called up one of the video feeds from one of his ravens. “What is that?“
A blob of darkness had appeared in the Jaunt Memorial Park. It was at least twenty meters tall.
“My gut is telling me it’s nothing good,” Gloom Glimmer remarked.