B007.7 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread

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The dragonette stopped the recording after they’d watched it twice. It was quite… illuminating, really. And they finally had a clue as to how to take Hastur down, which was a plus…

But right now, he was more concerned with the dog-sized dragonette in front of him. He stared down at the gorgeous drone. It stared back up at him. Its creator had gone through the trouble of adding filigree ornamentations to its shell – the dull, dark silver had been engraved in artistic swirls and other such patterns, all perfectly balanced against each other and whichever part of its body they were worked onto.

The girls started to discuss their next step, while he just sank down to squat on his heels. He was too tired, too worn out to help much, anyway. Besides, dragon robot. Either was reason enough for him to pay attention and now he had both in front of him.

Gloom Glimmer turned to look at the other two girls, still weary from the exertion of the last hours. “So, now we know how to stop her. Whether or not we can use it is another matter entirely,” she said.

“I’m still not quite sure what we saw, to be honest,” Prisca replied. “As far as I get it, she can only be hurt by her victims?” She shuddered as she remembered the recording of the grissly attack on the shelter. “Unless you use mind control on one of them, I don’t see how it’s going to help us.”

Brennus drew out a stack of pictograph cards and started flashing them in front of the dragonette. It chirped in response, adjusting the responses to the cards he flashed. Could it be an Artificial General Intelligence like Eudocia? Or an Artificial Specialized Intelligence?

“Not quite. I’ll explain it later on, but we need to meet the group again,” Gloom Glimmer replied. “We don’t stand a chance as we are – I’m almost out of juice, Brennus could be knocked out by a stiff wind and you… no offense, but you are completely new, even if you held yourself wonderfully against BigShit.”

His power surged up, the light blazing brighter than usual, as it began to analyze the responses of the dragonette, trying to analyze it through them. He soon went to flashing three or four cards at a time in patterns based on astrophysical calculations, then went over to quantum theory…

Prisca shrugged, her face hidden behind her helmet. “No offense taken. Honestly, without Phasma here, I’d probably have gotten crushed like a bug sooner or later.”

He shelved those tests – it at least wasn’t as intelligent as Eudocia, even if it was an AGI. Or perhaps it was smart enough to recognize what he was doing? He started testing its behaviour with simple prompts and questions, speaking quietly.

The young villain just shrugged herself, but said nothing. She’d been quite silent the whole while, and Brennus was getting the impression that she wasn’t overly concerned about what was happening… though that might just have been due to her power making her pretty much immune to most anything that might harm her.

“Let’s cut the chatter and go – I think I still have enough juice to locate the others,” Gloom Glimmer continued. She’d drawn her hood up, hiding her face from view and drawn her white cloak around herself, looking more like a ghost than Phasma did right now. “Wait for it… yes, I’ve got Tartsche and Tyche… and Outstep. Polymnia is… nearby, with Hecate… Amazon is tied down at the Diantha High, Bakeneko and Osore are with her… oh, the Feral Family has deployed, they’re coming here.” She mumbled a few incoherent words, then continued: “That’s all I can get right now. Too weak to try and locate Hastur, if I even could – meta’s of her level tend to mess up perception powers around themselves.”

Some of this stuff was interesting… he was largely convinced he was facing an ASI instead of an AGI, and it seemed to have quite a few quirks… but they, as far as he could tell, hadn’t been programmed in deliberately, but had “grown” organically as the ASI expanded. Maybe if he called in Eudocia and linked them up somehow… but he would need to somehow shield Eudocia from being corrupted, and the threat of having her be revealed to the Dark or other interested part-

“BRENNUS!”

“Huh?” He looked up. All three girls were looking at him – funnily enough, since all of them had their faces hidden, they did little to convey emotion. Whoever had called out to him had sounded annoyed, though. “What is it?”

Gloom Glimmer sighed a long-suffering sigh. “Oh, Stars above, he’s almost as bad as Polymnia,” she groaned.

Prisca stepped forward and simply grabbed him by the back of his cloak, pulling him up to his feet. “We’re going to fly to meet up with the others. Gloom Glimmer already sent a message ahead. I’ll carry you.”

“Okay. And why does that require interrupting my work here?”

She just threw him over her shoulder and lifted off, grabbing Phasma’s discarded robe as the girl dematerialized. The dragonett followed after them with a low chirping sound to accompany its flight.

* * *

They flew towards the headquarters of the United Heroes, and Brennus was once more struck by the unfairness of being unable to fly himself. Even if being carried by Prisca gave him the most interesting… ideas. And not technical ones, for once…

He shook his head and focused again on the dragonette, which was following after them. Ma-

But again, his thought process was interrupted by less interesting stuff. Namely, their landing on top of the large building that housed the headquarters of the local heroes. Tartsche, Hecate, Tyche, Polymnia, Outstep, Bakeneko, Osore, Amazon, Succubus and Rising Tide already awaited them, the latter looking rather… ruffed up. His formerly immaculate white suit was quite torn and ragged now.

Prisca put him down as they landed and held out the robe for Phasma, which filled out as her ghost-body flew in and rematerialized into its normal (hidden) physical form.

Amazon cut right to the chase: “Gloom Glimmer says you found someth-“

“Stop. No talking,” said Brennus. He looked at Tartsche. “How far can you spread your power?”

The other boy answered calmly, without a break: “Anyone and anything I directly touch. Why?”

“Everyone, touch Tartsche then. No talking until we’re all under the aegis of his power,” he continued and suited actions to words, reaching out to grab Tartsche’s forearm.

The others, rather befuddled, followed suit and touched the stalwart teenager.

And then the world went calm. There was no easy way to describe it, Brennus found, but to say that he knew the world couldn’t touch him anymore. It felt oddly… familiar.

Been there, done that, mate. Got the t-shirt.

Someday, you will have to explain all that.

Eh, not today, though.

What kind of accent are you talking in, anyway? You sound British most of the time, kind of Cockney, but that was definitely Canadian just now.

Imma nasty bugger of all kinds.

Now you are just making fun of me.

Geez, whatever gave you that idea?

He shook his head, focusing back on the others. It didn’t seem like they noticed him spacing out a little.

Amazon was quite focused on the dragonette, anyway, which was perched on Gloom Glimmer’s back right now, its head hanging over her shoulder. “What is that?”

Gloom Glimmer, still hiding beneath her cowl and cloak, spoke up, her voice quite a bit… duller than usual. “Her name’s Silver. She’s Wyrm’s spy drone,” she explained.

“Who is this Wyrm?” asked the Forester, his voice having somehow dropped a few octaves since the last time they spoke.

The shrouded girl gave a sensation of… apprehension off, but answered: “She works for my father and apparently decided to intervene directly here. She might have given us the key to defeating Hastur.”

“And what might that key be? And why did you,” Amazon looked at Brennus, “Insist that we all huddle up like this?”

“Is everyone here aware of the observations I made during my stay with Hastur?” he asked.

“You mean her mind reading and regeneration?” asked Tyche.

“Not mind reading, at least not true mind reading, but a more… specialized form. Anyway, she seems capable of dropping in on communication between people.”

“And however did you come to that conclusion?” asked Succubus with a drawl. For some reason, Prisca turned her head to look at her and he got the feeling she was glaring.

“Not important right now. Anyway, I have a theory that Tartsche is using a variant of the same ability which protects Desolation-in-Light, a-“

“Wait, what?” Tyche shouted in surprise, closely echoed by Outstep.

Brennus grunted, annoyed at the interruption. “Focus, people. We can discuss power theory later on.”

Oh, the irony me matey.

Shut. Up.

“Anyway, as I was saying, Desolation-in-Light is immune to all perception-powers – even indirect ones fail around her – so it is possible, if not even likely, that Hastur will be unable to eavesdrop on us if we’re under the protection of his power. Now, to get to the matter at hand – Silver, would you please replay the video you showed us before?”

Silver gave a chirping sound and aimed its – her? – head towards the floor in front of the group, projecting the video.

They saw the security camera feed from the Menstall shelter – over a hundred people were gathered together.

A flickering, then three shadows appeared in one corner of the place, in plain sight of everyone, along with Hastur – who proceeded to pull down her hood without much further ado. The recording only showed a flickering shadow where her face should be, just like with her victims – and immediately the shelter turned into a madhouse.

One of the refugees, a young woman huddled together with her family, burst into fire, growing into a flaming bird even as her body began to twist and break – and she threw a fireball towards the assembled group, much to Hastur’s apparent surprise. The young girl threw her arms up to shield her face, but not fast enough – only the intervention of one of the shadows shoving her aside saved her from having her whole body incinerated. Instead, the side of her leg was burned, as was one of the shadows standing behind her.

Hastur screamed and fell to the floor, clutching her burned leg and rolling over, as the phoenix threw another fireball – and hit her straight in the back, incinerating her whole body, reducing her to ashes. Then she screamed again (the Phoenix) as she bent over… backwards, audibly breaking her back as a new, white feline head burst out of her belly and her left leg exploded only to reform into the head of a black turtle. Then, the same flickering discordance covered her in the recording.

Before their eyes, the ashes that were left of Hastur reformed into the same girl… including her burned leg.

“What. The. Fuck,” said Tyche.

“Agreed. This is most… unusual,” said Rising Tide, his voice now an octave or so higher.

<I’ve never heard of regeneration that worked like that,> Polymnia threw in, her face twisted in horror as she mostly looked at what could be seen of the victims of the attack.

“Wait for the next part,” said Brennus. “Silver, please proceed.”

The dragonette did so, showing the video from a hospital surveillance camera. It showed a hallway, and soon enough, Hastur limped through the window, now in a different pair of pants. The time stamp showed this scene to take place about an hour after her attack on the Menstall shelter.

“Soooo… she can’t regenerate from some stuff? Where’s the logic?”, Hecate asked.

Gloom Glimmer swayed a little and said: “The next part is also important. Silver, please show the final video.”

It was a traffic camera recording of the Chinese cape’s rampage through New Lennston’s entertainment district (also known as The Brights). While Huang Long herself was hidden beneath the shroud of flickering distortion, they saw Hastur show up with some of her attending victims and cross a nearby street – only for Huang Long to lash out and throw another fireball at her, incinerating her once more. Hastur recovered – though she retained her limp and her pants were still burned, not yet replaced – and cursed towards her victim, then vanished along with her group in a flicker.

Silver cut off the video feed.

“Gilgul here,” Brennus said, nodding towards Prisca, “Thought that Hastur might be vulnerable against her own victim’s attacks.” Prisca, Phasma and Gloom Glimmer all turned to look at him, surprised that he had even noticed that. He would have smirked at them if they could have seen it. “Them is not so. I theorize, instead, that she is vulnerable to those whom her power is affecting at the time… or, in other words, the only way to harm her is to look at her face while you do it.”

That made everyone hold their breath and think.

Polymnia was the first to say something: <So we just use a time-delayed camera or thermal vision or something and we can take her down?>

Hecate shook her head. “No. Brennus was doing that when she kidnapped him, and he couldn’t hurt her, right?”

He nodded. Obviously, Hecate must have read all his reports. “Quite so. I think one must expose themselves to her power in order to be able to hurt her. In that moment of her power affecting one directly, her defensive power probably does not recognize one as a threat. Allowing permanent harm to be done to her.”

Rising Tide tapped his chin, scowling. “I notice everyone is thinking towards the end goal of killing her – we should instead detain her, after all, her power is rather harmless when she’s locked away and-“

“No,” said Amazon. “Even if there wasn’t the issue of you Foresters potentially getting your hands on an S-Class threat, it wouldn’t work.”

“How do you know that?”, the Forester sneered.

Amazon sneered right back – and she had one hell of a sneer. “We know that because one of the Black Panthers survived and turned himself over to us. According to his information, they had Hastur in their custody for two weeks, but he observed the others growing more and more obsessed with her – upon closer inspection by our specialists, we found traces of subtle mental manipulation in his mind. It is very likely that Hastur subconsciously manipulates people to become obsessed with her, which would eventually lead to her escape.”

Rising Tide started to say something, but Gloom Glimmer cut him off: “Shut. Up.” She turned to Succubus, who had just opened her mouth. “You. Too.” Brennus was sure he saw something red flicker in the darkness of her hood for a moment. “Amazon, is there anything else we should know? Any information you got out of him?”

“Yes. Apparently, the person who set up the deal that got them Hastur was a Quinzen Walmers – a local ‘contract negotiator’… and their sponsor was a group calling themselves ‘the Companions of the Future’. They’re the ones who provided the funds necessary to buy a metahuman like Hastur.”

“Have you tried to detain Walmers already?” Brennus asked.

She nodded, but did not look pleased. “Yes, but he’s cut and run – there’s no sign of him.”

“We shouldn’t worry about him, anyway,” said Prisca. “We need to track down Hastur, and find a way to off her without having to sacrifice so-“

“And who in darnation are you, anyway!?” Outstep spoke up for the first time. He was looking rather ragged, himself, and quite tired.

“Her name is Gilgul. Newly manifested, high apex to god tier flying brick with a few twists,” Gloom Glimmer summed up. “Now quiet – she’s already proven herself by taking down BigShit along with Phasma here.”

That shut him up.

Brennus threw him a glare he could not see, then turned to the group as a whole: “I have a few ideas on how to take her down, but we need to find her. I don’t believe that she is just wildly teleporting around causing chaos – she is more likely to have a plan, even if it is a half-cooked one.” Especially if she has found an intelligent planer, or worse yet, a superbrain-type.

“I can find her,” Gloom Glimmer threw in. “It will disable me for a while – I’m already quite drained,” Her voice sounded almost normal now – though Brennus could only tell that it was usually strange by the lack of her usual inhuman harmonics – and she was slumping, which just did not fit her, at all. “But I should be able to locate her, maybe even get a glimpse of her goals.”

“Do that, then. We’ll take everything from there,” ordered Amazon.

Gloom Glimmer nodded and broke contact with Tartsche, stepping away and taking a deep breath as Silver jumped off her back, gliding a short distance away to land and watch her.

* * *

Gloom Glimmer took a deep breath, concentrated – once more, Brennus was sure he saw red flicker underneath her hood – and then collapsed onto her knees. “Ugh.”

Polymnia immediately went to her side, helping her back up and taking her back into the group huddle, holding her hand to Tartsche’s outstretched hand to spread his power over them. <What did you see?>

The weakened girl shook her head, then whispered: “She’s… she’s got a plan… She wants to use TeleCat’s instant broadcasting contrivances to broadcast her face.”

“Ah crap,” whispered Brennus.

“TeleCat? Who the hell is that? And what’s with that name?” asked Bakeneko. Brennus had almost forgotten she was there, even though she had a particularly provocative form right now… not that he would notice it next to Prisca’s new curv- Focus, damn it!

“A supervillain from the late eighties, he tried to take over the world by way of television. Built contrivances that transmitted images and sound across the planet with no lag at all, wanted to hypnotize the whole world,” explained Brennus. He had studied up on all tech-based heroes and villains he could find – or at least the most famous ones – and even contrivers. “But it makes no sense – TeleCat is locked up in the Tartarus Star; as powerful as she is, there is no way she is breaking him out of there to build her another contrivance. And all his old ones were destroyed.”

Rising Tide fiddled with the neck of his suit, apparently uncomfortable.

Gloom Glimmer looked at Rising Tide. “She’s going for your base under the Brights,” she said. “You have TeleCat’s Super Tele-Throne in storage – and since he’s still alive, it would still work.” She paused, taking a weak breath. “She sits on that thing and she’ll be able to throw her face on every active screen that is linked to the internet in the entire Northern Hemisphere at the same time, with no lag. It might suffice to let her power propagate through it – instant apocalypse.”

Brennus sighed. “Ah crap to the highest power.”

And then something strange happened. Gloom Glimmer just… slumped in Polymnia’s arms, the colour washing out of her, until… until she looked like someone had taken a scissor and cut a Gloom Glimmer-like shape into reality.

“What happened to Miss Perfect?” asked Bakeneko, only to earn a slap over the head by Amazon.

Polymnia answered the question everyone had: <It’s a kind of defense mechanism. If she’s knocked out or otherwise unable to defend herself anymore, her power uses its last reserves to kind of put her into a pocket dimension to protect her until she recovers. Right now, she’s just as untouchable as Desolation-in-Light. But she’s completely out of this world, save for this tether.> She nodded towards the featureless, three-dimensional void in her arms.

“Well, at least she’ll be safe,” sneered Rising Tide with a mocking tone.

Amazon threw Rising Tide a poisonous look, but did not rebuke him. “So, what do we do?” she asked into the round. Apparently, she was just as stunned as the others were. This was… quite a bit over their usual weight class.

Prisca turned to her: “How long until the Feral Family arrives?”

“How do y- nevermind, they’ll need at least another forty-five minutes.”

“Too long,” said Brennus. “But I have a different plan.” He looked all his erstwhile comrades over. “I will need all of your cooperation for it, just to make sure. And it will be really dangerous.”

“Not as dangerous as the end of the world,” said Prisca in support, gently bumping his shoulder with her fist.

He nodded, then turned to Polymnia: <Charge the S.M.O.G. up. We will need it for this.>

<Yes!>

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 6)

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I died. I died and went to hell. Why else would my first real enemy be a giant monster made of shit?

Prisca flew to the side, evading the… dripping strike. Unfortunately, she was not fast enough to evade the splash of fecal matter that splattered her all over.

Eww.

Running on a strange kind of instinct, Prisca rose up into the air and above the towering enemy (he – she, it? – was at least sixty feet tall) and then higher still, out of reach of its disproportionally long arms – they were each longer than it was tall.

I can fly, she thought with a start, feeling her heart speed up in excitement. For a moment, she forgot even the monster beneath as an unrestrained laugh bubbled out of her throat.

I can fly!

She spun on the spot, like a ballerina, her scarlet half-skirt whirling up around her.

I can’t wait to show this to mom! And Rosalind! Their eyes will drop out of their sockets!

Just then, a huge glob of fecal matter slammed into her.

Ewwww.

She was knocked out of the air, but caught herself quickly, as the brown stuff just slid off her armor without leaving so much as a stain.

Perma-Clean armor. Awesome.

Catching herself – it was incredible how easily she could control this body and its power, like it had always been there, just waiting to be used – she looked down at her quarry, evading another lobbed mass of fecal matter.

How do I fight that thing?

She wasn’t sure what to do – it was bigger than her, it was most probably stronger than her and she didn’t know how much punishment she could take. Or how it could backlash into her real body – any trauma, no matter how small, was quite likely to kill her.

Drifting to her right, she evaded another shot. The monster seemed to mostly focus on her now, hopefully allowing Gloom Glimmer to get the survivors to safety.

Should I attack it? Or just keep distracting it? Just float up here, evading its shots…

There was something… something Basil had said, once.

When you don’t know how to proceed, choose the option that involves doing something.

She aimed her spear at where she believed the center of the beast to be. Stretching her body out to aim directly at it like a missile, she flew towards it, the silver edge of her golden spear gleaming in the sun.

It looks more like a sword on a spear than a real spear, really.

BigShit threw another glob of shit at her, but she flew through without losing a beat and plunged into its chest.

Her spear pierced through the shit, of course, then bit into flesh and bone and tendons, parting them as she pushed inside. Only when her armored body hit its actual flesh did she slow down, but she swung the spear, parting flesh and bone and sinew, cutting a way through BigShit’s body until she emerged on the other side.

She wasn’t even tired, and her spear had cut through it like through warm butter.

This body is freaking awesome. This power is freaking awesome!

She was so lost in revering her own power that she didn’t evade BigShit’s elbow strike, and he smacked her into the ground several hundred feet away.

Landing with a crash, she tore a fissure into the ground and broke through a tree before coming to a stop.

Ow. That hurt. A lot.

But she was, as far as she could tell, unharmed. Weird. Felt like I broke something, only I… didn’t.

“Are you alright?”

“Eeep!” She jumped up from the ground as a soft voice spoke to her from outside her field of vision.

Whirling around, she levelled her spear at… a young woman in a black cowl and robe, with a blood-red right hand.

“Who’re you!?” she asked the newcomer.

The woman giggled, and Prisca adjusted her estimate of her age down to teenager – maybe around her own age.

“I’m Phasma, and I’m here to help. Who’re you?” she said, her voice throaty and soft. She talked like she was just taking a stroll on a sunny day, and not standing just a hundred feet away from the giant monster that was coming closer with every moment.

“Uhh, I’m…” She didn’t have a cape yet. She so needed a name for her… well, herself really. “Call me… Gilgul. Yes, that fits.”

The other girl nodded. “Nice to meet you, Gilgul.” She turned to look towards the enemy, her face still hidden by her cowl. “You can cut that thing apart?”

“Uh, yes. But it doesn’t seem to really hurt it.” BigShit had shown now sign of being bothered by having been pierced through.

“We’ve fought a few others who seemed to be able to just absorb damage to no end. Most of them had some manner of core which, once destroyed, caused their death – or at least caused their regeneration to stop working, allowing for them to be taken down,” said Phasma. “I can blast away the shit and the outer layer of its body. If you’re fast enough, you should be able to locate and destroy the core.”

She looked at the beast with a doubtful expression on her face (not that Phasma could see that behind the helmet). “What if it doesn’t have a core?”

Phasma shrugged carelessly. “Then we do it the hard way. You keep cutting it to pieces, I get rid of the pieces. Until there’s nothing left.”

“What’s your power, anyway?”

The other girl turned to look at her, and somehow Prisca got the feeling that she was smirking. “Let me demonstrate. Stand ready.”

And with that, her robe dropped to the ground, suddenly empty.

Prisca saw a distortion in the air, roughly the size of a person, fly towards the fecal monster. As it did so, it grew and grew, until it was an amorphous shape of distorted air the size of a truck. And then it touched their enemy.

Wherever it came into contact with it, the fecal matter exploded, going up in flames and sound and force. Phasma pushed on, drawing her ‘body’ over the outer layer of the beast, literally blowing the shit and other bits off of it.

Holy Sh- Holy Hell’s Freakin’ Bells.

Within seconds, Phasma had literally blown the shit out (or rather, off) the monster, revealing it in all its twisted glory – it looked like a gaunt human, only it was all crooked bones, oozing and infected muscles, sinews and incomprehensible organs.

But nothing that looked like a core of some sort.

“Phasma! Can you blow more off?” she shouted, readying her spear and ready to fly away – BigShit was staggered, but it was still advancing with single-minded determination.

Until Phasma wrapped around its right knee, her ghost-body blowing muscle, sinew and ‘fresh’ shit off the bones with dozens upon dozens of explosions, until the lower leg came free and BigShit dropped to land on its left knee and right stump.

I hope I never have to fight her. Wouldn’t know how, for one.

Phasma went back to blowing the outer layers off of its body, as well as the fecal matter it kept oozing out of countless orifices (as well as any wounds she created), searching for the theoretical core.

Should I join in and cut it up, or wait for her to reveal the core?

She thought about it for all of maybe three seconds, before she heeded Basil’s advice and charged in, aiming her spear at the twisted, oozing mass that was probably its head.

* * *

*Smack*

*Smack* *Smack* *Smack*

She danced through the lines, her staff swinging left and right, shattering bones and bursting flesh.

*Smacksmackmsack*

A three-fer, downing three of the strange spawns they were fighting, each looking like some kind of greasy pig-man. They could see their spawner, an incredibly obese woman with no hair on her body and blue-black veins running visibly under her swollen, greasy skin. She was literally pushing out another three or four or five of these every few seconds and her ‘children’ went immediately to work, attacking everything that was not one of them or their mother.

Tyche ducked underneath their swiping claws and swung her staff left and right, shattering two knees. They fell into their siblings, getting entangled in their feet, tripping the next two waves of foes.

Finally, it’s working as it should!

The big meatshield was standing behind her, firing his heavy machine guns akimbo into the mass of enemies, trying to shoot through to their ‘mother’. Unfortunately, the kids were defending her with their own bodies, while some others were moving cars and the bodies of their fallen siblings to shield her off.

Just when we’d need Outie, he’s off hunting that weird hedgehog thing.

She flipped over the next wave of pig-men just in time for them to stumble over the bodies of those who had already fallen.

Time to see how far I can take this.

Fortunately, B-Six had given her a belt full of grenades to play with (old-school, really secure triggers, nothing electronic). Pulling one off, she checked the colour – red, so incendiary fun.

Goodie goodie.

She pulled the trigger and threw the grenade up and towards the ‘mother’ without even aiming. Then she watched, while spinning around and letting the enemies all hit each other instead of her.

The grenade bounced off a nearby window sill, off a car hood and dropped right into the gullet of the ‘mother’.

“I hope you like roasted meat for dinner, little piggies!” she shouted. How’s that for a one-liner.

The mother died almost instantly, as the grenade burned her up in seconds.

And the pig-men all dissolved into goo.

Ewwww.

She turned to look at the Big Guy, who was walking slowly towards her.

“How’s that for a one-liner, big guy?” she asked with a grin.

Tartsche replied: “That was needlessly risky – you had no idea the grenade would hit your target.”

Tyche just grinned mysteriously. “Oh, I do have my means, big guy.”

Just then, Outstep appeared out of nowhere. “FreakoSpeedsterhasbeendispatchedbosswhatsnext?” he asked before even completely dropping out of super-speed completely.

“We just got reports of three new of Hastur’s victims rampaging around the harbor. Outstep, take us onto your bike,” Tartsche answered.

“Okie-dokie!” they both replied in tune.

* * *

“Why. Won’t. You. DIE!?”

Screaming at the top of her lungs, Prisca kept cutting off pieces from the giant monster, trying to get deeper into its body to find some kind of core. But it only flailed and wriggled and thrashed around, throwing her off again and again.

At the same time, Phasma had contracted her ghost-form back into a human-sized and human-like shape and was gliding all over its body wherever Prisca wasn’t currently cutting into it. The explosions she caused were bigger and more violent now, tearing more and more off the beast.

Prisca ducked to evade a swipe of its one remaining arm, then struck out with her spear-blade to cut into it, nearly severing the appendage from the body (but only nearly). Its other wounds were already closing again, shit oozing over them as they knit themselves.

“Phasma! This ain’t working, its regenerating faster than we’re cutting it down!” she shouted, flying up over the prone enemy to cut into its shoulder. “We gotta focus on one spot and try to dig into it! Don’t worry about me, just blast away!”

She dove into the center of its chest and started cutting, her golden armor repelling a weak strike of its still regenerating arm even as her blade cut into it. Once more, she was glad that her armor seemed to repel dirt.

The ghost girl seemed to have heard her – How the hack can she sense anything, anyway? ESP? – because her nigh-invisible form, still focused into the shape of a nude, featureless woman, slammed into BigShit right where she had already cut into it.

What resulted was a series of explosions that almost threw her off of it, but she used her flight to push on with her spear, cutting deeper into its body where the explosions did not suffice.

Ow. Ow. Ouch.

She got hurt, over and over, but she never seemed to actually take any damage. It hurt just as much as she’d imagine being blown around and burned by explosions would, but there was no actual damage she could make out.

Nor did it impede her from cutting deeper into BigShit, until Phasma focused her entire form into a needle-thin form and stabbed into it.

What resulted was an explosion that hurt like hell and threw Prisca off BigShit, slamming her into the wall of the hospital.

The wall cracked, but held (hospitals were built very sturdy) even as her head rang for just a second, before her senses were clear again as if nothing happened. And for just a moment, she felt like her body had been shattered, but she was fine again.

Huh. Maybe I just recover really damn fast?

But no time for that – Phasma had blown BigShit’s chest wide open, and now, finally, she could see a glowing, crystalline heart, glowing a dark, stained red.

Well, if that ain’t a core, then I’m not wearing knight armor, either.

She flew towards her quarry even as he started to regenerate while rising up on his regenerated legs… which only served to give her an easy target. Plowing into the open wound, she stabbed her spear at the he-

* * *

Ouch.

Perhaps she should have tried throwing her spear, instead of doing the deed in person. Because BigShit exploded, big-time.

It took the entire front of the Petal Memorial Hospital down.

Prisca found herself half-buried by rubble, everything but her stained with fecal matter.

And she was completely, utterly fine.

Still hurts like hell, though.

Hearing steps, she soon saw Phasma, back in her robe and cowl, enter her field of vision and stand over her.

“Need a hand?” she asked, offering her right hand.

“Gladly, thank you,” Prisca replied and grabbed it, letting her help pull her up to her feet. Dust and debries fell off of her still spotless armor. “Good work out there.”

“You too. I hope we can work together again sometime,” replied the ghost-girl. Prisca couldn’t see her face, but she got the feeling that she was smiling.

“Really great work, both of you,” said Irene, appearing right next to them.

“Eeeek!” they both shouted in unison, jumping up. In Prisca’s case, she flew up nearly through the half-collapsed ceiling before she stopped herself.

“Don’t do that!” she said as she floated back down. And then she saw Basil – Brennus – stand behind Gloom Glimmer, supporting himself on a wooden staff.

She fought down the urge to go and hug him (and do other things) in front of Phasma (and Gloom Glimmer, for that matter). Instead, she asked: “Are you alright, Brennus?”

He nodded. “Just a little winded, but nothing too bad. Congratulations on the battle, both of you. That was one hell of a finisher,” he replied.

Blushing beneath her helmet, Prisca nodded happily, while Phasma made a shallow little bow.

“So, what are we going to do now?” the newly manifested girl asked. And where’s my body?

“We need to find a way to deal with Hastur for good,” replied Brennus. “And for that, we need to figure out how to get past her regeneration.”

“Agreed. And we need to get the survivors somewhere safe, too,” Gloom Glimmer included, taking a step back and to the side, so they were all standing in a rough circle. “I’ve already called for backup, but we need to cover them until it arrives.”

The other three all nodded, and then Brennus spoke up again: “Good, let us use the time to plan. Phasma, are you willing to work with us for the time being?”

“I wouldn’t be here otherwise. The Morning’s Children are more than willing to cooperate against this enemy,” she replied in her soft voice.

“Very good. May I ask what your power actually does? I saw most of what you did out there, but I would like to hear it from you.”

She shrugged. “I can turn into an incorporeal form, then apply various effects – though only one at a time – to any physical object that I come into contact with. The more I focus my form, the stronger the effect, while it becomes weaker as I spread myself. I can detonate, incinerate, petrify, melt, shatter and do some other things which are not relevant to the situation at hand. I am completely immune to all mental and most physical powers while doing so and can recover even if my incorporeal form is somehow torn apart,” she explained in two breaths.

Wow. That’s one hell of a power, Prisca thought. I wonder what her trigger was.

Brennus just nodded, showing no reaction. Then again, his face was still hidden by his mask. “That’s very useful, and it might prove instrumental in de- Do you all hear that?” He looked up at the hole in the ceiling.

Now that he mentioned it, Prisca could pick up an odd, mechanical chirping approaching them.

“Oh. I know that one,” said Gloom Glimmer, looking up herself.

“What is i-” Prisca began but didn’t finish as a vaguely draconic robot flew into the blasted room, landing in the middle of the circle.

It was about the size of a medium-sized dog and painted a gleaming black. Its head looked more avian than draconic and it had wings, a tail and four clawed legs.

Even Prisca could tell that it was one hell of a finely crafted machine.

“What in Tesla’s name is that?” asked Brennus, staring at the new arrival.

“That’s one of Wyrm’s drones. She’s dad’s personal gadgeteer and communications officer (also, his spymaster),” replied Gloom Glimmer as she squatted down in front of the drone. “Hey Wyrm, what’s possessed you to take a hand in this?”

Wyrm’s drone turned to look towards the only clean, still standing wall of the room. Its eyes lit up, and it started projecting onto it, like a home cinema.

They watched in silence.

Then Gloom Glimmer said: “Holy shit. That’s it.”

Brennus said: “Amen.”

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 5)

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She will live.

Brennus staggered back from the bed, his whole body shaking from fatigue and pain from his own wounds.

“She will live,” he whispered, but that took too much effort and he stumbled as he was taking a step back, falling…

Someone caught him. Hard arms, and a strange voice: “Ba-“

He whirled around, drawing a knife from his belt.

In one fluid motion, he put one leg behind the stranger’s knee, threw them – her – onto the floor and put the knife to her throat, holding it so it would slip into the gap between her helmet and her armor.

“Who are you? How do you know me!?

I hope Gloom Glimmer did not catch that.

The stranger was a young woman in brilliant gilded armour so ornate, so skintight it had to be unnatural. It looked like something an angel or a heroine out of a videogame would wear, and the helmet, which seemed to leave no openings for her eyes sported wing-like decorations and a sunburst motif.

“B- Brennus, calm down! It’s me!” she said in a ringing, rather throaty voice. The helmet melted and disintegrated, revealing…

“P-Prisca?” What?

She smiled at him, her full red lips coloured like wine – like her hair. And somehow he did not think it was lipstick.

Then his brain finally caught up with what was happening.

“You manifested.”

He rose from his position, straddling her hips as he looked onto the bed. Gloom Glimmer had just finished removing the new scars on Prisca’s chest from the emergency operation he performed. She looked… asleep. Peacefully.

Looking back at the girl beneath him, he concluded: “A projection?”

“Quite so. And one of the rare kinds,” commented Gloom Glimmer as she staggered around the bed, sliding down to lean against it and sit next to them. “It feels more like she’s there,” She pointed at the armoured girl, “Than in there.” She pointed over her shoulder at the body on the bed.

“You mean, this is my real body!?” Prisca asked, looking confused. “But I can still feel that one!”

“Oh, it’s still your real body, Prisca. It’s just that, right now, it’s in standby mode, so to speak. Your mind is in that projection. Or maybe that projection is your mind, or something like that. But I definitely get the feeling that you are now… inbetween your boyfriend’s legs.” She cocked an eyebrow at them.

“Agh!” Brennus jumped off Prisca and scrambled over to lean against the wall, opposite of Gloom Glimmer. “Sorry!” The knife slid out of his fingers and fell to the floor.

Prisca blushed, hard (which looked all kinds of interesting in combination with her hair and lips and why was he paying so much attention to that all of a sudden?), and rose up to sit on her butt, her armor moving with her like a second skin, sliding over the linoleum of the floor. “N-n-not a problem. Wow. I feel…” She threw a glance at Brennus, blushing even more. It made her green eyes stand out even more from h- Cut it out, there is an S-Class threat running around out there! Focus on that, not on how impossibly tight that armor is around her-

He shook his head, weakly, to cut off that particular train of thought. “Alright. Alright. We need to… to get back to base. Get your real body safe, too. Hastur might c-come b-“

Suddenly, he had the sights from earlier in front of his eyes. Her eyes, bleeding, her whole body convusling as her heartbeat went out of control. Him, cutting into her chest, operating on her h-

He scrambled over to the trashcan next to her bed. Pulling the mask up beneath his nose, he emptied what little there was in his stomach into it.

“Ba- Brennus?” Prisca let go of her spear and crawled over to him, holding him by his shoulders. “Are you alright!? What can I do?”

“I… I…” His chest hurt so much… and his arms… and his legs… everything, really. “Tired…” The memories…

* * *

“B-Brennus! Hey, can you hear me!?” She shook his limp form. He was so light.

“Prisca, calm down!” Irene said, sliding over to them. Putting a hand to Basil’s chest, she closed her eyes for a moment. “He’s just asleep! Just exhausted! Calm down.”

She did, but only after a few seconds of getting her breathing back under control. “Oh God, I thought… I thought…”

Irene shook her head. “Just tired. He almost died today, fighting Hastur. I healed him, but it exhausted him a great deal, and then we raced over here.”

He’s hurt. He should be in bed, but he came for me, she thought, looking at him. She took a tissue from a box on her nightstand and wiped his mouth clean. He’s got such pretty lips… like a girl, almost. Like his sister’s.

But she didn’t want to have their first kiss with this body be like this. He had to be awake, for once. Instead, she turned to look at Irene, taking the other girl’s appearance – and presence – in for the first time.

If she hadn’t just literally gotten her dream body, she’d be crying due to physical envy. Irene was perfect, in a way that was just unnatural. She could be fourteen, she could be twenty-four.

“Oh, uh…” Why was her whole body – the new one, not the useless old one – heating up? She wasn’t interested in girls, she…

“Sorry! Sorry, wait!” Irene took a canister full of blue-and-white pills and swallowed a handful. The inexplicable attraction vanished almost immediately.

“What was that?”

Irene blushed, averting her eyes. Suddenly, she looked far younger than fourteen. “Uhm, nothing, sorry… uh, we should probably get going…”

As if on cue, there was a scream from somewhere outside. She could hear it, and she could even tell that it was from at least two foors above them. Her ears were so much better now.

“What do we do?” She pulled Basil closer to her, hugging him. He could die. I can still die.

Irene seemed to think it over for a moment. “I’m wiped. No way I’m teleporting us out of here or anything… you’ll have to cut us a way out of the hospital. I hope that spear is not just for show.”

They both looked at the spear. It looked very sharp.

“Uh, I’ve never fought before. Ever. Unless you want to count snowball fights with family and friends. And even that’s been years ago,” Prisca commented.

“Don’t worry too much. Your power seems to be geared towards combat, so you should be able to at least fight a way out,” Irene replied.

“What about my real body? We don’t know how far I can move away from it – and we can’t leave it here, either!” It’s still holding me back, even now. “And what about Brennus?” She hugged him a little harder. “And what about all the other people in the hospital?”

Irene’s eyes turned from thoughtful to soft. “Relax. I have something of a plan. We put Brennus onto the bed with your real body. I still have enough juice to turn us invisible. You cut every monster down on the way, we get out to the rescue services – even if the heroes are spread too thin, they’ll still have emergency services outside at least.”

Prisca could feel her new face twist in worry. It felt so familiar, and yet still a little strange, too. Focus, Prisca. Focus. “What about the other people in the hospital?”

Irene closed her eyes for a moment, concentrating. Then she opened them again. “Most of them are in the emergency shelters already, or getting evacuated by the rescue services. But we’re pretty much at the center of the building, so we have the longest way to go.”

Damn, mom, why did you put me into this damn room?

“Ok. Ok. I’ll put Brennus up on the bed. Gather the machines. Help me?”

“Sure thing.”

* * *

They left the room, Prisca taking the lead (helmet back up), while Irene pushed the bed that they’d loaded both with the two bodies (it felt strange knowing that Basil was lying with her, but she wasn’t really lying with him) and her life support. Her body’s life support. Wait, no. Still her own. If her broken body died, so would this one.

This one feels more real than the other one ever did since… since Hawaii.

Remembering her levitation from earlier, Prisca focused on that and flew over the floor in front of the invisible bed, levitating a few inches over the floor, her spear held ready.

Right around the next corner a… a person stepped around it. A thing, really. She saw crooked, insect-like legs, growing from a bulge of twisted, gnarled flesh studded with very, very human eyes.

The eyes were crying, filled with terror as it walked towards them, bumping into her armored waist before she managed to pull herself back together from the shock of the sight.

It bounced off, falling onto its… well, falling back down. Shivering.

She looked down at the impotent monster. That could have been me. That’s what Hastur wanted to do to me.

A great heat rose in her chest. Her body trembled, the spear vibrating, her new eyes overflowing with tears.

She wanted to do that to me. She did that to this person. She’s still doing this to people.

Before she even knew what she was doing, she realized she was screaming, striking out with the spear.

The long blade on the tip of the golden staff cut through the bulge of flesh as if it was warm butter, cutting the wretched creature in half.

Another strike, quartering it before it even hit the floor. Another. And another.

She was screaming, cutting it to pieces, until something barrelled into her, slamming her into the wall.

Ow. I can still feel pain in this body.

Trying to move, she found herself stuck in the wall, half-embedded into it, as she saw a twisted mass of over-muscled arms – skinless, bile-dripping arms – growing out of the back of a naked woman who was bent over by the weight of the appendages growing out of her back.

I’ve seen you before. She’d been a nurse. She’d seen her walk by her room sometimes when the door was open.

I never knew your name.

The arms reached out, ripping her out of the wall and drawing her into a bearhug.

Well, she tried to, at least.

It all came so easy. As if she’d always had this body, had always been fighting with the spear and in full, skintight armor.

Angling her arm up, she drove the spear into the nurse’s head, cutting through brain and heart using her forced posture and the pull of the monstrous arms.

The woman sighed and collapsed, her whole body going limp.

Rest in peace.

As if in a trance, Prisca kicked the corpses – and the pieces – aside so Irene could pass through, noting idly that the bile and blood did not stick to her armor. It was pristine again, quickly enough.

“Alright. Alright. Let’s go, go, go…”

She flew on down the hall, until she heard a massive scream outside.

“What in the name of God was that?” she asked, coming to a dead stop.

Suddenly, she felt like earlier when she’d been dying, Irene’s voice speaking up in her head. Calm down and advance. We need to get out of here. You’re doing great, sweetheart, just keep on going.

“I hope there’s not another shit-monster outside,” she whispered and advanced.

On the way out, twelve more people, including five children, joined them, with Irene extending her invisibility over them.

She had to cut down one more monster, a kind of snake made of intestines and p… and primary male characteristics.

Great. My first day as a super-something – well, I’m not gonna be a villain, so superhero I guess – and I fight a monster made of… of those things. Can my day get any worse?

Finding a double door, she kicked it open, barging outside – hopefully, no one would open fire on her, even if she was pretty sure she could take normal guns. The… male reproductive organ monster had been firing steel bolts from its… well, its openings.

Taking a look around, she wished she’d have gotten shot at. Or fought another phallus-monster.

“Oh, come on! Is this my first boss fight!?”

It was big. It was massive. And it was made of shit.

Oh God, another one of those? What t- oh fuck, it’s the same one. It must have regenerated somehow. BigShit is back.

“Who named that thing BigShit? If I ever find them, I’ll shove this spear all the way up their-“

The dung kaiju turned to her, moving slowly towards her, apparently intent on crushing her – and the still invisible people behind her – to a bloody (and shitty) pulp.

My day just keeps getting better and better.

Tell me about it, Prisca. By the way, what’s your cape gonna be?

Uh, no idea. Gonna get back to you about that once I finish cleaning the toilet.

Please try and come up with better one-liners.

Will do.

I’m getting the civilians – as well as you and Brennus – out of here. Can you distract it until help arrives?

Sure, sure.

She could hear them go away, just as BigShit reached her and swung a massive arm at her.

Fuck my life.

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Question for all Readers

Alright, only three or four more chapters left in this arc. Means an interlude is coming, followed by the next big arc.

First thing, the three part Jaag Interlude (Anger & Bargaining, Denial & Depression, Acceptance), and then, for the next part, my question:

Do you want the next main arc, Family Matters or the Interlude Arc Monkey Family first?

Family Matters

Revolves around the families of the main characters – Basil & Amy have some stuff to sort out, Hecate has to help in the family business for a while, Tyche has to deal with her family situation, Gloomy and Polymnia visit Poly’s family for a sleepover.

Plus, big fight and plot development.

Monkey Family

Aap’s history (Manifestation, life as a villain, eighteen missing years), a surprise meeting with his father, a talk with the ascendant and you’d get to see the monkey for real.

Which would you like first? I can’t decide which I’d rather write first, but I will definitely write both, one after the other, both after Jaag.