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-
“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.
“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.>