I’m back from my vacation now, meaning I can finally get some real writing done again. The first chapter is about 50-60% done, so look forward to it on Sunday/Monday!
A minus 12 Days
Esperanza City; Four Days after the Hastur Incident in New Lennston
Birds sang, bees buzzed (when they weren’t being eaten by something), cars drove up and down the streets. There was a class of elementary school children passing by the graveyard, loud enough to be heard even over the wall that circled it, and someone somewhere was playing music so loudly that I could hear the words clearly even over here. Slow, slow me down…
The sun shone brightly down on the casket that contained Linda’s body. Or what was left of it. Her blood, on my bones…
I was wearing my funeral dress, the one my parents had bought for me a year ago for Grandpa’s funeral. I’d hated it back then, and I hated it more now. It didn’t help that it was way too tight around my chest for comfort.
Linda was wearing her own version of it inside that damned casket. Luckily for her, it was not too tight around her bust, mostly because her breasts were among the things that had been missing from her body. Shotgun blast from the side, they said. Point-blank range.
I felt the corners of my mouth twitch with the beginnings of a smile, before I ordered the summary execution of all facial muscles involved in that. Let go, lay to rest.
And this is what’s called being in denial. Was I in denial?
Mostly, I just felt angry. No. I was totally angry. My hands were shaking where I’d clenched them into fists. Fortunately, I’d grown out of the phase where I always kept my fingernails long, so I didn’t tear into my own flesh…
I bit my lip, trying to calm down. Or at least keep up the appearance of being calm. Grieving.
Truth was, I wasn’t sad. I mean, I knew I should. And I felt like being sad, but I wasn’t.
Just angry. Furious.
Bitch. You’re such a bitch, I thought, looking at the casket as the fat priest from our church droned on and on about heavenly grace and God’s plan and forgiveness and shit.
Why forgive her? That was a question that kept pounding my mind. She’d lied to me. She lied to me.
We fall, we fall, we fall to the ground.
My parents were standing to my left, with my brother in between them and holding their hands. I sneaked a glance at them, even though I knew what I’d see: Shame, sadness, disappointment, confusion. Freddy looked lost, his young mind not really able to grasp the situation yet. At least I hoped so.
They looked so small, standing there. The other guests didn’t help – they were watching us, their stares heavy and judgemental. They were all from my parents’ usual circles, and really only attending to express their disapproval, as well as, probably, keep an eye on me.
I hadn’t invited any of my friends, but they’d still come, since their parents were here, too. None of Linda’s friends were here, obviously. At least none of her real friends, as we’d so recently found out. She’d cut ties with her old crowd right around the time when she distanced herself from our family, from me.
No one around here was going to invite her new ‘friends’. And the fact that we didn’t know who they were was only a small part of that. Mostly, it was because they’d gotten her killed.
The priest finished his stupid rant, and they began lowering the casket. Mom broke down, falling onto her knees, sobbing, as dad knelt down to hug her and Freddy.
I just stood there, watching as my twin sister, the supervillain, was lowered into the earth.
And I couldn’t follow her.
Sleep, sleep all night.
the Vra arc is under heavy construction. unfortunately, since I’m in greece and catching up with family and stuff right now, I haven’t had as much time to work on it as I like.
Still, I’ve finished the outlines for all the chapters and am now working on the first one. looking good already, but due to the nature of this particular arc, work is going slower than it normally would after finishing the outline.
The current state is:
- B008.1 Vra: Anger (about 20% complete)
- B008.2 Vra: Bargaining
- B008.3 Vra: Denial
- B008.4 Vra: Depression
- B008.5 Vra: Acceptance
As you can see, I’ve upgraded this story to a main arc, instead of an interlude arc. That’s because more and more main storyline stuff kept sneaking into it, until I decided to just drop the pretense and do an all out arc.
But since it has to come in those five chapters to fit the theme I’m following, each chapter will probably be around 7000+ words, and so it’s taking more time than usual.
On the other hand, I’m quite confident that this one can turn out to be my best work yet, so look forward to it!
Here’s a preview.
Rage born of Fear
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t break your bloody arms an’ legs and lock you up in your room,” said Amy quite calmly. It was quite clear, though, that she was very nearly boiling over with rage.
“Um… because you love me?” Basil replied as she kept him pressed flat against the ceiling.
“Not sufficient, I’m afraid,” she replied, and he felt her power start to tug and press against his arms and legs.
He was not worried that she would hurt him, not even by accident, but he did not put it beneath her to lock him up without a thing to use his power on. “Um, because I would just make prosthetics? I mean, Hastur and her cronies broke nearly every bone in my body and I still killed half of th-“
Wrong thing to say. A vein appeared on Amy’s forehead, pulsing angrily. “She. Did. What?!”
“Uh, maybe you could put me down and I could tell you what happened to me today?” he asked, hoping to somehow avert a total freakout (not a good idea when someone has purely mental powers).
Amy took a deep, slow breath, regaining her composure – a little. The pressure on his limbs vanished and he flew through the hallway and into the living room, where he was unceremoniously dropped onto the floor in front of Amy’s favourite love seat.
She came in and sat down, adjusting her bathrobe before she put one leg over the other and stared down at him. “Talk.”
* * *
Love and Words and…
Ten Minutes later…
“You… you…” Amy put her left hand to the bridge of her nose, kneading it as she closed her eyes. Trying to find her center before she crushed something in the house with ten tons of force.
When she opened her eyes again, Basil was still sitting in front of her on the floor, looking up with hopeful, big eyes… but she knew that trick already, and it wasn’t going to work on her this time.
“Basil… remember the discussion we had after you fought the Spiteborn?” she asked, trying to keep her voice calm. She succeeded, mostly. At least she thought she did, but Basil flinched, though that may have been due to her words, not her voice.
She did not like making Basil flinch from her. For whatever reason.
“Yeah… I do,” he said, rubbing the back of his head.
“I believe I made it clear that you were not to fight, or in any way engage, an S-Class threat, no matter the reason!” She immediately berated herself for screaming at Basil. That shouldn’t be happening.
He tried to take it with humor, which wasn’t a good idea at all. “Well, considering that you are an S-Class threat, wouldn’t that mean breaking off all con-“
“The difference between me and other S-Classes is that I would NEVER hurt you!” she screamed at the top of her lungs as she lunged forward, grabbing him by his collar and lifting him up as easily as a ragdoll. You bloody idiot, why won’t you understand!?, she screamed into his mind as her eyes turned purple. You could have died today in a dozen different bloody ways! You could have been beaten to death! You could have been impaled, blown to pieces, ripped apart! You could have been transformed, then died along with the rest of them when Hastur died and her power failed to support her toys! You could have left me alone!
Basil’s eyes widened as she projected all her misery into his mind, her fear and –
She cut off the connection before it would hurt him, gently putting him down. “You could’ve died,” she said as she felt something moist and warm on her cheeks. “You could’ve been gone.”
“So could you,” he replied, looking seriously into her eyes. His voice fell down to a whisper. “You fought Desolation-in-Light, who is a million times more powerful than Hastur could ever be. You have fought her several times now, and I have never protested, because I knew you felt like you had to.”
“Oh Basil,” she said, realizing how he must have felt. “There’s a difference, little brother. I’m quite a bit more powerful than you, my body is way tougher, I have low-level regeneration and I don’t bloody well get into close combat with her or anyone close to my weight class!“
He shook his head, as if to say that it didn’t make a difference, and she prepared a retort, but then she felt… she felt him notice something that shocked him, or rather surprised him.
“Amy,” he said, his eyes growing inquisitive. “You… you just spoke in a British accent… I think even a London accent! You’ve never done that before!”
That got her out of her current state of mind, as she went over what she’d said earlier. “Yeah. Yeah, I did. How come, I’ve never even been in London,” she mused, tapping her chin. Then she shook her head, regaining her focus. “Don’t try to change the subject now, little-“
“No, Amy, this is important!” he cut her off again, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Think. Where did you get that accent from?”
She did, thinking things through… he was so insistent, suddenly… “I don’t know, it just… it just slipped out,” she replied. “I’m pretty sure that has never happened before.”
Letting go of her arms, he turned around and took a few steps away from her, running his fingers through his hair (it had grown a bit, she noticed, and remembered that it had been a while since she’d cut his hair).
But that was not what was worrying her right now. “Basil? Basil, what is going on? Why is this so important?” she asked.
He turned back around to her. “Amy, I need an honest answer from you – on a possibly very delicate matter,” he said. “Will you promise me to say the truth?”
Now she felt hurt. “Basil, I wouldn’t lie to you!” she replied, feeling the anger rising again.
Nodding as if he’d expected that answer, he asked: “Do you know someone named Macia-“
* * *
Words unspoken, Thoughts unthought
“What were we talking about just now?” asked Amy as she found herself sitting in her loveseat again. When had she sat down? And why was Basil on the floor, looking rumpled?
“I do not… I think I was telling you how worried I was about you fighting Desolation-in-Light… did you tell me what happened?” he asked.
I… my memory jumped again, I… But her concern over that was so hard to hold on to, so she focused on the easier territory of answering his question. “I didn’t… but I guess I should, shouldn’t I?”
“Well, it turns out… and this is strictly between us, ’cause I’m not supposed to tell anyone yet… but it seems DiL attacked another location in between her attack on Okinawa and Kansas City.”
“Huh? Where?” he asked. Surely, an attack would have been reported?
“Well… she attacked Osaka… while the Savage Six were holding it in Heretic’s sealed dimension.”
That stunned him. “She can get in there!? What the hell happened? I assume they bailed?”
She shook her head. “They either didn’t want to or couldn’t, once her Desolation Field spread throughout the pocket dimension. Long story short, she engaged Heretic and eyewitnesses – what few remain – report consistently that he was completely destroyed. Every sphere, every rod, she annihilated it all.”
His mouth fell open. “Heretic is… dead? Are you sure?”
Shaking her head, she replied: “There’s no being sure… but his pocket dimension collapsed and expelled the entire city of Osaka and whoever was still alive, as well as the Six’ base of operations and what remained of their minions. Eyewitness reports put the collapse at the same time at which the last bit of Heretic was destroyed, and there were a few sightings of the remaining four members fleeing in the real world.”
“Holy… I mean, hell…” He put his hands to his head, unsure of how to react. She knew how he felt.
Could this be it?, she was asking herself, and she didn’t need telepathy to tell that he was having the same thought. Could this be the end of the Six? Could Desolation-in-Light have finally done something good for the world?
“So… the Six are on the run… that is good… but what does that have to do with her attack on Kansas?”
“Well… she didn’t harden her Desolation Field,” she said, returning to her original point. “She… she mimicked Heretic, displacing the entire space within her field into another dimension, completely cutting us off from the real world.”
“No. Way. Desolation-in-Light… learns? That does not happen!”
She shrugged. “Well, we always had suspicions that she wasn’t as… simple-minded as most believe, so I guess…”
“No, you do not get it! She has been active for more than twenty-six years now, and she has never, ever varied her modus operandi, apart from starting to employ her Desolation Field since her third recorded appearance!”
“But she did. But there might be an upside to it,” she tried to calm him down.
“Huh? What could pos-” He stopped, thinking it over, and she could practically see him arrive to the right conclusion. “If the site of her attack was cut off from the real world… then there might not be any far-reaching after-effects, since her power wouldn’t have reached beyond the city!”
“As far as we can tell, damage was contained within the battleground… reinforcements were cut off, but it seems that ‘only’ Kansas City, or rather an area about four square miles across, was devastated,” she explained with a smile. “We still got our Superbrains watching the place, calculating possibilities and all, but it seems like we’re finally getting kind of a break with her.”
He smiled back, and they both relaxed, their earlier fight nearly completely forgotten.
After a minute, Basil slid up to her and hugged her waist. “I am glad you are safe, sister.”
“And I’m glad you’re safe, too. Now, let’s both go to bed, we’ve had a stressful day, each of us.”
* * *
Lust and Love (and Popcorn)
She’d taken Basil up and kissed him goodnight before he went into the bathroom, and she went to her own bedroom to dry her hair and get ready for bed. By the time she’d finished her hair and put on her nightgown, he was already in bed, half asleep.
Smiling to herself, she laid down on her bed, relaxed and… heard someone knock on his bedroom window.
Snapping back up, she sent her sight and hearing out into his room, expecting to see an attacker or a robber or someone else she’d need to quickly remove and brutally murder out of sight of Basil… but only found a girl in a golden armour she could not look into.
The armour was too thin, too skintight and detailed to be real, and she got ready to blast her away… but Basil looked through the window, gave a start and hurried to open it and let her in before turning on the light in his room.
What the hell?
Wait, of course! His girlfriend had manifested. Her sleepy brain supplied the details.
My my, he didn’t mention that she ended up creating a drop-dead gorgeous bombshell.
Now curious, she watched as the girl leapt in, her helmet vanishing to reveal rich dark red curls, bright green eyes and red lips she mashed onto Basil’s as she caught him in a hug.
This promises to be interesting, she thought as she watched her boots vanish before she touched the floor of the room. Sneaking out of her room (not hard to do when you can just float out) by returning her sight to herself and keeping only her hearing with them, she eavesdropped on the two as they greeted each other and got to the serious business of some more – and very heated – kissing (and quite a bit of groping on her part).
Reaching the kitchen, she took out a pan and started to make some buttered popcorn, returning her sight to the room as soon as she could.
“I’ve missed you,” Prisca said, her face mere inches away from Basil’s.
He chuckled, rubbing his nose against hers.
Hey, that’s supposed to be just between you and me!
“It’s been just a few hours. And don’t you need to recharge your power?”
Oh, interesting. He didn’t note any limitations before.
Prisca shrugged a little. “As far as I can tell… I need to be awake twice as long as I want to use my power. I spent the last four hours awake, so I’d have two hours now for… this…” And her armour melted away, leaving only smooth, supple flesh as she slid (literally slid) backwards, giving Basil (and Amy) a nice view.
Basil seemed to agree, unable to tear his eyes off of her. He swallowed drily. “Um… I guess you… ah.”
Oh God, he’s so adorable, Amy thought as she snapped her sight between Basil’s room and the kitchen, buttering the popcorn just a little before glazing it in honey. She almost considered not being a peeping tom when her little brother lost his virginity. She wondered who was going to-
“I want you to have sex with me. A lot.”
Ah. Well, she’s nicely forward. Then again, she probably knows you need to, with Basil. He can be a little slow.
“I, uh, I see,” said slow person managed to say, still fighting to tear his eyes off her magnificent rack.
“Enough talk, let’s get to the fun part!” she said, grabbing him and pulling him into a tight hug and the kind of kiss Amy had just recently shared with Lamarr… though this one had far less skill and far more… fire involved.
It took them nearly three minutes to part their lips, and by the time they did, their faces were flushed and they were both breathing heavily (even though she could not possibly feel tired already). Their eyes were dilated, too.
“Let’s get you out of these stupid pajamas and get to some f-“
“No,” Basil suddenly said, his face growing serious as he put her at arms length… though his hands remained on her shoulders.
He looked at her with something like… sadness in his eyes. “Prisca, love, how do you feel?”
She blinked, her mouth open as she tried to switch mental tracks. “I feel… great. I mean, I’ve never felt this good and I’m whole again and strong and healthy and I can really feel you and why in God’s name are you not in bed with me having sex already!?”
Smiling sadly, he said: “Look, I am not exactly an expert when it comes to people-“
Ain’t that the truth, Amy thought as she put the popcorn into a large bowl, still hoping for some entertainment. Some more entertainment, because this was already promising to turn into one hell of a show, with or without sex.
“-but even I can tell that you are… that you are quite literally high on your power right now.”
“What does that have to do with anything!?” Prisca asked in an indignant voice, trying to wiggle out of his grip and get closer to him – but though she was quite obviously physically superior to him, he evaded her easily by taking an almost dance-like step around her, so their positions only reversed.
“Because sleeping with you now, when you are for all intents and purposes intoxicated would be a real sleazebag move… and we both deserve better than that.”
Oh God, is he seriously letting morals get in the way of teenage love sex? Perhaps she should nudge him in the right direction? No. Don’t even think about that. You swore to yourself that you’d never do that to Basil, whatever the reason.
“Basil, that’s stupid, I might be a little euphoric – big surprise! – but that doesn’t mean I’m not in control or anything!”
“Can you look me in the eyes and say honestly that you would even have considered just getting into my room at this time and jumping my bones before getting your power – if you had been physically capable of it?”
“Look, I’m just trying to get the most out of my new body, and you’re a big part of that!”
“Prisca, I have known you for months, and I am telling you – you are not acting like yourself right now.”
“Well, big fucking surprise, I just cut out my own eyes hours ago, got superpowers, fought a giant monster made of shit, helped take down an insane teenage monster girl-“
“And you expect me to believe that you are not in the least bit influenced by those events? Look, Prisca, I really, really want to… to make love to you… but right now, it would just be sex. And probably not the good kind, either, because neither of us has any idea what to do, I am tired and you are probably not yet in full control of your b-“
“GOOD GOD BASIL, why won’t you just fuck me?!” she shouted at him. “It’s sweet that you’re so concerned about morals and doing it right the first time, but I want it now and you’re seriously pissing me off right now!”
He actually seemed to relax when she said that. “I can live with that. Because tomorrow, or maybe the day after tomorrow, you might hold it against me if I took advantage of you here, or if we did it and it turned out wrong in any way, we might both hold it against each other for a long time… maybe forever. I would rather live with your anger now than with th-“
“For the love of FUCK, could you stop being so rational and considerate and shit and just fuck me!? Why are you even thinking about it so much!?”
Yeah, why aren’t you just having fun with the super-beautiful sexbomb who’s throwing herself at you?
Basil looked sadly at her. “Look, thinking is pretty much my superpower, even if it is usually limited to technical stuff. And besides, there is another reason why I… why I want to wait. Until we are both ready.”
“Oh? Do tell, and it better be good!” she said as she kept standing in front of him, stark naked.
“I would much rather… have our first time with your real body, after I have hea-“
“This is my real body, Basil!” she screeched, her composure blowing away for a moment. Both Basil and Amy reeled back in surprise at her outbreak. “That… that piece of shit back in the hospital? That hasn’t been my body since Dusu had her way with it! She twisted it, broke it, turned it into… not me!”
“This is how I see myself… how I should have been, had that monster not fucked up my life! As far as I’m concerned, the piece of meat back in the hospital is just there to project and recharge this form… and I know that every. Single. Moment I spend in it to recharge my power will be pure hell, waiting to get out of that prison again!”
“Prisca, look, I know this projection feels great, but you shou-“
“No, Basil, you don’t get it!” Prisca replied, cutting him off. “This is me. The me inside of me, the one you always said you saw in me when I asked what you saw in me! Why won’t you take it now?”
“Because neither of us is ready, Prisca, and I’d rath-“
“Agh!” She threw her arms up and turned on the spot, wrapping them around her head. “Why are you so… so responsible and considerate? What kind of teenage boy says no to… to sex?“
He giggled. “I am not a normal teenage boy… and I love you enough to wait for as long as it takes for us both to be ready. You are worth it, and I am sure our first time will be worth it, too.”
Ohh, how sweet.
Finally, Prisca relaxed and looked over her shoulder, her eyes misty. “I hate this. You’re right, but I don’t care, I still just want to… to jump you.”
“Maybe you would rather go out with me – a nighttime stroll, to burn off some energy?” he asked, relaxing now that she was calming down.
“No… no, you’re right. You’ve got to be horribly tired, and I need some me-time to… to cool off. And get to know this body.” A simple dark green bodysuit appeared on her, looking a lot like standard hero wear, skintight and smooth. “At least I don’t need to ever worry about clothes,” she added.
Basil nodded, stepping forward to pull her into a far more tender kiss than before. When he let go of her, they were both flushed again, but the… tension from before was no longer there. “I am sorry I am being so stubborn right now, but I hope we will both look back at this and laugh, later,” he told her.
She nodded, her eyes more than a little wet. “I… I guess we will. It’s sweet, at least. But now I should go, or I might just jump you nonetheless.”
Smiling, he wished her good night and closed the window behind her.
Good Lord, that was not what I expected, at all. What did I make this popcorn for, now?
She watched as Basil pulled the curtains shut, then walked over to the one free wall in his room – well, more like the one part of his walls that he could easily stand in front of – and started to headbutt it.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
Rolling her eyes, Amy walked to his room and went inside without knocking.
“Feeling stupid?” she asked with a smirk.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
“You watched.” It wasn’t a question.
“Of course I did – for a moment, I was ready to blast her into the sky before I remembered that she was your girlfriend’s projection.”
“A wee little more than that, it seems. At least to her,” he replied.
“Yeah, well, about that. What did you expect? She’s been trapped in a body that was deformed by forces completely out of her control and now she suddenly gets her perfect dream body… it’s really a common problem for Spawners who actually create remote bodies of some kind. Think there’s a scientific term for it…”
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
“Multiple Body Disorder, kind of the opposite of Fluid Disorder, or a close cousin to it, depending on the theory you adhere to. People with multiple or changeable bodies often have trouble with their physical identity, to say the least… often followed by a complete disintegration of their former identity,” he rattled off as he kept hitting the wall with his head.
“But that’s not why you’re hitting that poor wall with your thick head, is it?” she asked playfully.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
She smirked. “No, it’s because you just passed on what was surely going to be passionate, unrestrained and most probably mindblowing sex… all for the possibility that it might make her feel bad in the future… even though she’d most probably love it.”
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
“C’mon, everyone’s an idiot sometimes – come here.” He looked at her with a questioning look.
Winking, she said: “How about we watch a movie before going to sleep? Come on, I made popcorn, and you need some distraction.”
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
“And please stop punishing that wall. Now, come on, my dearest little idiot.”
He snorted and turned away from the wall, before stopping in his tracks and looking at her. “What the hell did you make popcorn for?”
* * *
Memories forgotten, but not lost
They’d ended up watching a Disney movie (The Lion King, it had always been great at distracting him from whatever was weighing down on him) and emptying the bowl before going to bed.
Amy laid down in her queen-sized bed, the strain of the day catching up to her as her eyes closed…
“Are we there yet?” she asked her big brother.
“Not yet, Amy,” he said as he carried her on his back by a few straps he was using to hold her there and dangle the sack with the… pieces from.
“Amy? Why Amy?” she asked as she rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. “I thought my name was Amanda now?”
“Well, Amy is like, a nickname. A short form, right?” he replied. “Amanda can be your full name, and Amy the name your friends and family use.”
“That’s stupid! You’re the only one that matters, so why do we need names in the first place? And why do you call yourself Macian, anyway?” she asked, giggling as he threw her an annoyed look over his shoulder. This was nice, distracting her from the pain of the missing pieces.
“Well, first of all, it’s not an actual name, but a cape. Means ‘Maker’, which is just bloody fitting, don’t ya think?”
She tilted her head to the side, confused. “A ‘cape’? But it’s a word!” she replied, indignant that he was violating common sense now.
He chuckled now, which she thought was nice. He did it so rarely. “It’s slang. A kind of technical term. A ‘cape’ is a superhero’s whole identity – costume, name, modus operandi, stuff – and a ‘cowl’ is the same, only it belongs to a villain.”
“So you’re gonna be a superhero? Cool!”
“Yeah, Ember really left an impression,” he replied, blushing a little. “Especially considering I barely got to know him before we were seperated again by that bugger’s spell.”
“He sounds nice. And he helped you pick a name for me! So I wanna meet him, can we do that?”
“Of course, as soon as we get out of here. We’ll go to the sea and have a bath, we’ll get our own house, and friends, and family…”
She giggled, imagining all that before the pain of… before it made her flinch again. She tried to surpress a cry of pain, but she knew he’d noticed, and it always made him sad when she was in pain, even if it wasn’t ever his fault…
“What about you? Don’t you need a real name, too?”
“Hm, I do. Forgot to ask him for help with that. Got any ideas?”
“You’re asking me!?” she asked, delighted.
“Well, of course,” he said as they rounded a corner and he looked over his shoulder at her. “I picked yours, so it’s only fair if you pick mine.”
She would have clapped her hands in glee if she could. “Hmm, a name, a name… something with a ‘B’!”
“Why a B?”
“Because mine starts with an A, so yours should start with a B… how about… uh…”
She thought about it real hard as he went into an empty room and gently put her down. “I need to think some more, I think,” she said as he unpacked the sack, and took his tools out of his belt.
“Take your time, I’ve got plenty to do,” he said as he began to clean the pieces and her up and started to clean his tools, too.
“Hmm…” She thought about it some more when he started to work, and it even distracted her from the pain… a little. “B… Basil? Bart? What about Balthasar, that was someone in one of those books you read me before. About that old king, and that Daniel boy.”
“Bart is a short form for Bartholomew, I think. And Basil for Basileus,” he said as he made his stitches. It hurt, but she was used to it.
“Hm, Basileus, or Bartholomew, or Balthasar… they’re all nice, and they fit you, I think. Feels right. But which one, I can’t decide!” she complained, trying to ignore the pain in her leg as he finished and made her try it out.
“Well, why not take them all? Greed is good. So… Basileus Bartholomew Balthasar… Basil short. What should be our last name?”
“A last name? You mean… like a real family?”
“Hmm… Black!” she said as she looked into his eyes. They were so pretty, and bright and black…
“Black… Blake, then. It means ‘Black’, but sounds more interesting than just black,” he said as he went to work on her other leg. “Should we have a double last name, too? You know, like, our parents married but decided to keep both last names?”
“Sure! But then you choose the other name!” She flinched a little when he finished and made her test it, but neither of them commented on that.
“Okay… hmm… a little difficult… how about… Brant?” he asked, trying to smile while he worked on her left arm.
“Why Brant?” She tried to smile back.
“Just because. So, Basileus Bartholomew Balthasar Brant-Blake it is!”
She giggled happily. It was so silly. She liked it. And when she started to smile, he smiled too, for real this time, and that made her smile some more…
And then she got careless and cried out a little when he finished the left arm, making them both flinch.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” he started, but she shook her head vigoriously.
“It’s alright. I’m used to it, and you’ve gotten way better,” she said, trying to calm him down. Her silly brother always took everything so serious…
“I need to finish the other arm, and your right eye, so please relax now,” he said as he took one of his knives and approached her empty left eye soc-
Amy literally flew out of her bed, almost slamming into the ceiling before she caught herself.
She was drenched in sweat, her heart beating like crazy as she floated down again, rubbing her rough arms.
Another one of those dreams… if only I could remember… I need a shower…
Going to the bathroom, she immediately got into the shower without even turning on the light, throwing her nightgown into the laundry basket and turning the water on hot.
Rubbing herself vigoriously with the sponge, she tried to get the clammy sensation of sticky sweat off of her, and wash off the… the remnants of that dream. Whatever she’d dreamed about, it always made her all sweaty and worked up and feel so rough.
Getting out of the shower, she stepped in front of the mirror, sopping wet, and turned the light on with a thought…
And she screamed for a second before cutting it off.
Oh God, what happened to me!?
Her whole skin was covered in scars. From her scalp down to… she looked… down to her toes, scars everywhere, making her look like a leathery carricature of a woman… as if she’d been cut and torn apart thousands of times, and someone had put her back together, again and again and now she remembered the dream, twinkle twinkle little star, she saw the boy with the blazing black eyes, it was Basil but he was older than her, how I wonder what you are, that made no s-
Amy stepped out of the shower to dry herself off in front of the mirror. Her skin was no longer sweaty and clammy, but back to its usual softness. She could barely remember what had happened, only a bad dream, and now a lingering sense of… unease. A lack of safety.
What is going on wi-
She went to Basil’s room, not bothering to clothe herself, and slipped under his blankets, hugging him close.
The feeling vanished as she felt… safe.
Here she did. Only here, really, with her brother, did she feel… safe and whole… as if he was the only thing holding her together, putting her together…
Chorpus Christi Convenience Store, Two Days after the Hastur Incident
The doors to the convenience store opened with a chime and Quinzen entered, enjoying the cooler air. While he’d always hated the winter weather, he’d gotten used to the climate of the Northern USA and had not yet gotten used to the surprisingly summer-like weather of Southern Texas.
Soon I’ll be past the border though. Then I’ll have me some proper beach weather, and some beach girls, he thought as he collected his groceries. Only twenty-four hours and he’d be on an unregistered boat south to Brazil, specifically the small sea-side mansion he’d bought with some of the money he’d made from the Hastur deal.
Those idiots never knew what they were buyin’.
He got his groceries and walked to the cash register, where he got in line just before a tall guy in some seriously retro clothing.
“Excuse me, Sir,” said a cultured New England voice from behind.
“What’s it?” he asked as he turned around, expecting some complaint about cutting in line.
He looked at the tallish, pale guy behind him. He was wearing one of those old-man hats whose name he could never remember, the ones you saw old people wear in movies a lot, an old tweed blazer and some seriously old-school pants and leather shoes. The stuff actually looked like it had been made back in the twenties or something. The only thing that didn’t fit the style were his eyes – so dark blue of colour, they almost looked purple.
“You dropped this, Sir,” he said, holding out his wallet.
“Oh, thank you!” Quinzen replied. He took the wallet, positively surprised.
“Not a problem Sir. Just be careful, there’s a lot of pickpockets around here,” the young man said with an easy smile – that somehow made Quinzen’s hair stand on edge.
“Yes… sure. Thank you.” He turned around again, trying to ignore the feeling of danger. Trying not to make it too obvious, he checked his wallet and found nothing missing. Phew.
Still, he felt really unnerved now, and paid quite quickly so he’d get back to his hotel room behind the security he’d paid for.
He left the shop and hurried home, his earlier excitement for tomorrow gone and replaced with nervousness he couldn’t explain. The guy hadn’t been that strange, really.
Yet he kept looking over his shoulder, even once he was back in the hotel.
* * *
Three glasses of good Bourbon whiskey got him back in a better mood. He’d also taken a shower and changed into a fluffy bathrobe, and was now reclining on his sofa, getting his rod worked on by a girl the hotel provided (they were quite acommodating).
Ah, nothing like a good whiskey and a good blowjob to relax again.
He leaned back, sinking into the soft cushions as the girl – he’d paid extra to get an eighteen-year-old – worked for her money, relaxing, his eyes closing…
* * *
He woke up with a start when he suddenly felt cold. Really cold.
“Jesus, what the fuck!?” Jumping up from the sofa, he closed his bathrobe, rubbing his member clean of the cold saliva. He looked around for the bitch he’d paid for, but she was nowhere to be seen.
It was dark outside, and all his windows were leaning open, plus his air conditioner had been turned to absolute cold. All the lights were off, too.
“Shitshitshit, I’ll lodge one hell of a complaint!”
He walked over to the lightswitch – but then he screamed when his toe stubbed the coffee table… which hadn’t been in that place before.
He stumbled, holding his foot as he almost fell down. By the time he’d recovered enough to put his foot down again, the temperature had dropped even more.
Turning on the lights, he ran over to the windows and closed them, then turned the air conditioner up to full heat. “Wait till I find this bitch! I’ll spank her till her ass is glowing red!”
He went over to the phone and picked it up, dialing the reception… but the phone made no sound. What the fuck? He called again. Nothing. He tried calling his own cellphone. Nothing.
Oh fuck, oh fuck!
He ran to the door and tried to open it, but it was locked! Taking the key from his jacket nearby, he tried to open the lock, but it was stuck, too!
“Fuckfuckfuck!” And it’s still bleedin’ ass cold! Not that that was his main problem right now.
Deciding that he had to get dressed first, he went to his dresser – but he found it locked. The key was still there, though, so he opened it… and found it empty. “Mother-Fucker!” He slammed the doors shut and looked for the clothes he’d discarded earlier, but the laundry bin had already been emptied. “Fuck!”
What the hell am I doing? I need to get my gun!
He ran to his leather suitcase, where he stored his gun in. Opening it, he sighed, relieved to see that the gun was still there. Checking it, he found it still loaded, and he could release the safety.
“Whoever’s responsible better be bulletproof, ’cause I’m shootin’ now!” he shouted, looking around.
Then the lights went out again.
He whirled around, pointing his gun in the direction of the lightswitch and pulled the trigger…
But there was noone there – the moonlight let him see enough to tell that.
It also let him see easily that he wasn’t holding his gun.
Looking around, panicked, he saw it on the moonlight, taken apart, the cleaning kit layed out for some proper cleaning.
What the fuck!?
Just when he was already close to screaming, his whole body thrummed as a sound hit him – a sound like a gigantic heart, beating so low and slow it made his every bone vibrate in a way that would have made his genitals shrink if they weren’t already half frozen.
“Nonononono…” He turned to the door. He had to break out of here, now.
Bracing himself, he ran towards the door, fully intending to break it open.
He ran from the living area of the hotel suite into the small hallway that connected the bedroom, the bathroom and the living room. When he was halfway through the hallway, he put his left shoulder forward, aimed for the door, charging…
After a while, he stopped – he was still in the middle of the hallway.
“Oh God, what the hell is going on, what is going on?” The thrumming beat was still shaking him, making him more and more nervous. And it was so damn cold.
He turned around and ran back to the living room…
Nothing. He was still stuck in the same spot, even though he was already breathing hard. As if he’d run several laps around a football field.
What the fuuuuuuuck.
“Help! HELP!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. No response.
“HELP! HELP, I NEED HELP, PLEASE!”
The thrumming got louder as even the moonlight faded away, the hallway growing darker and darker…
No, that wasn’t right. The living room was moving away. It was just a spot of light in the distance now… then only a single point… then nothing.
He was alone. In utter darkness.
“Please, please, please, don’t hurt me,” he sobbed, collapsing onto the floor. “Please, I have money, I can pay you, pay you lots of money, I have friends, they can pay more, I’m very valuable, please…”
The thrumming faded away, leaving him alone… in silence. Darkness. Emptiness. It wasn’t even cold anymore, there was just… nothing.
“Please, please,” he sobbed, curling up.
Then, a deeper shadow formed in front of him, rising up from the ground, a shadow so black it seemed to haunt the darkness itself. The shadow bent over him, as blood-red eyes emerged on it.
“Tell me, boy… Are you afraid of The Dark?”
Saint Petersburg, Father Lenin’s Right Boxing Club
A man stood alone in a restroom, bent over the basin and splashing water in his face. He was dressed in a thick, ankle-length coat that looked like mining equipment, except it was (or rather, had been) scarlet red, though now it was brown-and-black with a few slivers of red in between, as well as a lot of cuts and burns that had been apparently repaired by an amateur. On his back was a faded golden sickle-and-hammer emblem, with the damage to the coat focusing there. The coat was further complimented by a rig to which he’d strapped two sturdy shovels crossing behind his back, several smaller hand shovels as well as another collapsible shovel strapped horizontally to the back of his waist. Next to him on the basin stood a miner’s helmet, only of far greater but similarly worn quality, with an oversized lamp on top that suggested that it was more than just a light source. Two thick, heavy gloves that would reach up to his elbows lay on top of it.
The man raised his head and looked at the mirror. He was not a handsome man, his face being a little too broad and a little too flat to be handsome, not to mention rugged and covered in scars – not excessively so, but he did look like a longtime brawler. He had muddy green eyes, dark brown-black, short-cut hair that showed quite a bit of grey and a lot of wrinkles around his eyes and mouth speaking of a man with an easy laugh. All in all, he looked like either a very old-looking thirty-year-old or a very young-looking fifty-year-old.
He was looking at a picture that had been tucked into the frame of the mirror. It showed a young woman, a girl really, in a skintight, arm- and legless red bodysuit with a sickle-and-hammer emblem in bright gold on her chest. Her golden hair was tied back in a practical, but for her very fitting ponytail and she wore a waist-length red cape, as well as knee-high yellow boots and elbow-length gloves of the same colour. She was grinning widely, along with the young boy wearing the oversized miner’s hat and holding an old shovel in his hands – he looked to be no more than twelve, and looked markedly similar to the old man looking at the picture. Only younger. And much happier.
“Well,” he said, not taking his eyes off the girl in the picture. “This is where we are now, Ludmilla. Who would have guessed?” He splashed another handful of water in his face, rubbing it with strong, calloused hands. He kept his eyes on the picture and tried to ignore the specter of the boy behind him, looking at him… judging him. He wasn’t really there, of course, just a figment of his imagination. But the point stood, nonetheless. He was watching him, asking. Always asking.
What are you doing with your life?
“I’ll show him, Ludmilla. I’ll show you, too. And all of them, too. No more wasting my life.” He was speaking in a way that suggested he’d said this over and over.
The door to the restroom opened, and a woman came in, bending over to fit through the frame. She was tall, almost two and a half meters and built like someone who worked hard every day. She wore her dirty blonde hair in a buzz cut, had brown eyes, a hooked nose and a nasty scar that ran down from her left eye, splitting her lips and going to her chin. Unlike the man in front of the mirror, she wore a bright green-and-brown costume. A dark brown shirt, a dark green pair of trousers and a green vest. Her legs were bare from the knee down, as were her arms from the elbow down.
“Hello Sil’Nyy. This is a men’s restroom, you know?”
“Kopatel, the others are waiting,” she said in her surprisingly feminine voice, ignoring his quip. It didn’t really fit her appearance. “Are you ready?”
He nodded and straightened up. Taking the photograph off the mirror, he put it into the inner breastpocket of his coat, right above his heart. Then he put on his gloves and his hat. “Let’s get going.”
* * *
He stepped out into the training arena of the box club. There were about fifty other people there, some in bright and garish costumes, some in more mundane ones like his own and some… well, some didn’t bother to wear anything. Most of those were too inhuman for clothes to be necessary or even practical, except for a single woman who was standing stark naked and alone, taking up an entire fifth of the space just by virtue of no one wanting to stand anywhere near her. Her pure white hair was tied in a french braid that was at least four meters long, revealing her pointy ears, her eyes and lips were scarlet red and her skin made fresh snow look grey. No one was even looking at her.
No one wanted to risk the ire of the Devil’s Bride. Or even just her attention.
Kopatel threw her an annoyed glance, and she just smirked.
Taking the steps up to the sole remaining fight ring, he turned in a circle, looking at the gathered people. Fifty-two men and women, spread out all around the ring, roughly split up into five groups that represented about an equal amount of power. The Foremen, the Overlords, the Winter Soldiers, the Frozen Family and the Devil’s Bride.
“Brothers. Sisters,” he said, looking around, catching their attention.
“Just a few months ago, the Blazing Calamity attacked Moscow,” he said, speaking loudly enough to make sure he was understood even by the people without enhanced hearing in the room. “Some of our best died there,” he said, ignoring the stab in the heart the memories caused. A lot of the people around looked as sad as he felt. “And some of our worst, too.”
He fell quiet and looked straight at what little was left of his comrads, the Foremen. Apart from the Winter Soldiers, they were the only ‘heroes’ present. For a given value of hero. All of them, as was he, had been elite members of the Red Council’s metahuman peacekeepers, until the Calamity had destroyed their masters.
Not just killed. Destroyed. Along with their leader and shining star, Red Star.
The Winter Soldiers, or at least some of their members – those he thought trustworthy – had been a division of hunter-killers, meant to track down and eliminate priority targets both during and out of wartime. They all wore the same uniform, pure white fullbody suits, environmentally sealed and with various gadgets attached to further enhance their fighting power regardless of powerset. The suits were so bulky they even made it impossible to tell men and women apart. It was impossible to tell what they thought of this, except that they were clearly uncomfortable so close to the Devil’s Bride – a long-time target of theirs that had so far defeated all attempts to kill her. Ironically, they were probably the second-most feared and reviled people in the room, after their archenemy.
The Overlords, a crime cartel that was the equivalent of the Syndicate across the wall, controlled by the ellusive Black Council. They’d sent the fewest people, only six, but each of them was an A-Class combat monster, really. He was sure he could convince them to join the cause.
Next, nine of the sixteen members of the Frozen Family where present, most of them monstrous in some way, with only a single blue snowflake as a symbol, painted or tattooed on their bodies or costumes, if they used any. They were the ones most likely to join him – their goals coincided. He just had to convince them that his plan was the best one.
Finally, the Devil’s Bride. The Sovjet Union’s great shame, their very own S+ threat, kept secret from the outside world to avoid showing weakness when they had already lost face for boasting that they’d be able to take down the Blazing Calamity in the year after her manifestation (and the following spectacular failure that eradicated the entire Tunguska region and spawned this new monster).
“Our country is standing at the edge – and edge between unity and division, progress and regress, past and future!” He had to stoke their spirits. Get them emotional. These people were too entrenched, too stuck in their ways.
Funnily enough, the greatest monster among them was the one most likely to support his effort.
“The Red Council is gone! Moscow is gone. The Seven Archworkers are gone!” he continued. “But the Caller of the Dead lives! He revived a baby just three days ago!”
Now he had their attention. The incident was well-known in all of the union, but it was still something that demanded attention. “Our brothers and sisters, and what remains of our former masters, have declared war on the PATO, because they refuse to allow even the attempt to revive the Red Council!” he shouted into the room. “Another world war is coming, even though the Blazing Calamity is still haunting the world! There are more metahumans, and more metahumans of greatest power out there than ever!”
He looked straight at the Devil’s Bride. “This room alone probably contains as much, if not more metahuman potential for destruction than the entire union did during the war against the White Tyrant! Perhaps more than all of Eurasia did! Without even counting in the Devil’s Bride! She alone more than doubles that!”
He looked at her, then at the others here. They knew how much power was here. Not all of them understood what it meant.
“And now, thousands and thousands of our kind are going to go to war on both sides, and the world will burn. All so we can reach the Protectorate and revive the Council!”
He stopped again and waited, letting that sink in.
And the next part was going to be even heavier. He looked across the room – one wall had been a massive mirror, and there were still shards left. One of them showed him his own form on the ring, looking terribly normal among all the others in this room. And he also saw the little boy with the blazing eyes, standing behind him.
What are you doing with your life?
He closed his eyes, imagining standing in front of him again, looking him in the face. Not wasting it anymore.
“I say, enough!” he screamed, opening his eyes wide. His hand went to his favourite shovel on his back, drawing it and pointing at the people in front of him. “Enough lives have been destroyed by the Council!” He turned in a slow circle, pointing with his shovel at them. “They have enslaved us, and the people of our lands for too long! This. Is. Our. Chance!”
He opened his arms wide, as if he wanted to hug everyone in the room. “Our deluded brothers and sisters are focusing on the imminent attack on the British Mainland! Our armies are arrayed along our Western borders, the inland is defenceless!”
“I say, let us take this chance! Let us reach for freedom, and true peace, not the wicked cold war that has kept a death grip on us!” Spittle was flying from his mouth now, his face flushed. “We can strike at the remains of the council, and cut off what little remains of the head of enslavement and oppression! We can wage a war for true freedom, for true equality!”
This was what he had been yearning for for decades, without even knowing it. It had only taken the death of everyone he cared about and the words of a small boy with blazing black eyes to make him aware.
“The era of the Red Council is over! Brothers, sisters, here I stand and say – THE REVOLUTION. HAS. BEGUN! ARE YOU WITH ME!?”
He stood there, looking at them. The room was deathly still.
Then, a clap. And another.
Everyone turned to look at the Devil’s Bride, who was clapping her hands with a smile on her face.
Soon, the others fell in. The clapping was joined by shouting. The shouting by screaming.
He raised his shovel into the air.
Watch. Watch and be awed, Macian. I will not waste this life you saved.
“Let us go, and fight! For Freedom!!!”
I just uploaded the ending of the final chapter of the Hastur arc. Finally done with that.
The schedule now is:
all released within three days of Good Night being uploaded
Followed by the Jaag arc in three parts, which has been renamed:
Vra: Anger & Bargaining
Vra: Denial & Depression
Looking forward to writing and uploading them!
“I still can’t believe you’re risking this!”
Jason was not happy as he watched the heroes (and assorted vigilantes and villains) prepare to deploy. Polymnia and Brennus were handing out visors for everyone to wear – much like Brennus’ own helmet, they would protect them from Hastur’s power.
Or so they believe. Brennus might just have been immune due to a quirk of his power.
He’d voiced that complaint, and many others, but Amazon had firmly insisted that there was no time left. And he could see that, but couldn’t they at least take a few more minutes to try and get backup?
Of course, the fact that Hastur’s creations were running rampant through the city, keeping villains, vigilantes, police and army on their toes did not help in that regard, at all.
He knew they needed to put her down. He knew these were the only people likely to be capable of doing it. Didn’t mean he had to like it.
“Amazon, could I talk something over with you quickly?” he asked.
The young woman – too young to be burdened with the responsibilities of field leader – walked over to him, holding her new visor in her hands.
They stepped away (Polymnia’s hearing was just too good sometimes, and he had no idea what Brennus’ team was capable of) and turned their backs to the others, so no one could read their lips.
“I know your complaints, Sir. They’re good, but we n-” she started saying, but stopped when he shook his head.
“That’s not it. I get it. Really. No, there’s something else. Rising Tide and Gilgul.”
She raised an eyebrow. “I can guess what you want to say about Rising Tide, but why Gilgul?”
He looked around to make sure there was none of those damn ravens around (even though they were inside the building) and said: “You know as well as I do that Rising Tide can’t be trusted. I’d suggest not taking him into the battle. As for Gilgul… something’s off there. She just shows up out of nowhere, is apparently powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with that fecal monstrosity, is best buds with the out-of-nowhere vigilante gadgeteer and gets a recommendation from Gloom Glimmer after a grand total of one battle! Don’t tell me you don’t think there’s something fishy there!”
“Calm down, Jason. I know all this, and I’ll certainly keep an eye on her and Rising Tide both, but we need every bit of fighting strength we can get, and we’re running out of time, so I’m just going to cut this short now. Wish us luck.”
He looked after her as she turned away to join the others again. “I always do…”
* * *
“You built your base underneath the Goldschmidt Memorial Park?” He almost, almost slapped his forehead. Which is not a smart thing to do when you’re wearing second-rate spare armour (he had been lacking the time and material to make it equal to the main armour).
“Yeah, what of it?”, asked Rising Tide as he adjusted the goggles he was now wearing. The others were, too. They weren’t pretty, but they should protect them by showing them everything indirectly – Hastur’s power should be nullified just as it had been when he had looked at her through his mask’s camera.
<You guys are called the Forresters and the first place you come up with for your secret base is underneath a park full of trees?> Polymnia asked as she finished the calibration of the S.M.O.G. <How about calling yourself the Dolphin Squad and having a base underneath an Aqua->
“Happened,” Brennus threw in.
<What, seriously? That actually happened!?>
Now everyone except for Amazon and Osore was looking at him.
“The group was called the Dolphin Dames. Five female eco-terrorists active in the early nineties. They had their base underneath the San Francisco State Aquarium, right beneath the Dolphin tank. Had it expanded so the dolphins could swim into and out of their base, cause their leader was quite in love with them,” he explained.
“So she was an animal rights nut who really liked looking at dolphins?” asked Tyche.
“No, they were animal rights nuts who, among other things, wanted animals to be legally recognized as citizens with all protections and rights that come with it, and she was in love with them as in…” He threw a glance at Gilgul, who was showing no reaction (not hard to do with a fullbody armour and helmet) that went unnoticed thanks to his own mask. “… she, ah, swam with them.” If his eyebrows were showing, he would have wiggled them.
That shut them up as several people tried to get rid of a slew of unpleasant mental images.
He put in the last calibration code, then aligned the S.M.O.G. with Polymnia’s and Osore’s help so it aimed right at the hidden entrance to the Forrester’s base – a concrete wall and doorway hidden behind thick foliage. Amazon, Hecate, Tyche, Bakeneko, Tartsche, Outstep, Phasma and Rising Tide were standing nearby, ready to storm the base that was probably filled with more of Hastur’s victims.
The plan called for a quick entrance, but this was the only entrance safe for an emergency exit that would take too long to traverse and without Gloom Glimmer, they lacked the firepower to simply blast through it… except, of course, for the S.M.O.G. Amazon had even allowed them to fire it untested, due to the urgency.
“Alright, calibration is done, all systems are running…”
<…energy transmission spotless and the crystal array has been aligned.>
He held out the trigger, which was connected to the rest of the machine via wire. “Want to do the honors?”
Polymnia took it with a grin, looking at the entrance. <Boom.> She pushed the button.
* * *
7.12 seconds later
<I didn’t expect the explosion to be quite that big.>
They stared at the gaping hole in the ten feet of rebar-reinforced concrete… and the hill it had been built into. In fact, there was precious little of said concrete and rebar left to look at.
But there was a lot of dust, which Brennus thought might be symbolic.
“What does S.M.O.G. stand for, anyway?” Bakeneko asked, her eyes (all seven and a half of them) glued to the scene.
“Sonic Impulse Overkill Gun,” explained Brennus.
Suddenly, the silence around him turned hostile. He looked around at the others.
“What? It is a perfectly good name!” he tried to justify it. “Do you know how difficult it is to come up with proper Acronyms that are not already in use?” he added, weakly. “The alternative was S.M.U.T., so I think this is an acceptable name…”
The others shook their heads. Gilgul in particular seemed… disappointed.
Amazon snapped her fingers. “Enough distraction people. You know what to do – let’s get going!”
They stormed into the base, with Amazon, Gilgul and Rising Tide on point.
Brennus and Polymnia split the S.M.O.G. into four pieces, and they, Osore and Bakeneko took one each.
As they ran inside, Polymnia leaned closer to Brennus: <I told you we should have gone with Sonic Impulse Overkill Generator.>
“Generator somehow implies something bigger. Maybe something to take down a city block?”
She thought it over. <Not practical, but definitely do-able if we can make a bigger set of synch-crystals.>
“Let’s keep it in mind for the two-point-oh version.”
* * *
They entered the underground base of the Forresters (technically a part of the Undercity, according to Rising Tide), following a tunnel that descended into the earth. Amazon was leading, her golden hoplite-armour already up and covering her from head to toe.
Brennus heard a ping from the secure short-range communication channel (Rising Tide and Phasma had no access to it) and heard Outstep say, <What is it with supervillains and underground bases?>
Gilgul replied: <Tradition, I guess. The Dark used to hide in Old Lennston’s sewer system, back in the beginning. During most of the twenties, actually.>
Everyone but Amazon and Brennus who was in the channel looked at her.
<What? I read a lot. History books can be really interesting, especially since Point Zero.>
Amazon spoke up, <Team, please fo->
Then Succubus stepped around the next corner.
* * *
Phasma made a small, incredibly hurt sound.
Hastur had gotten her hands on Succubus. Brennus had seen images of her succubus form before, and this form was much more monstrous. She had grown taller, almost two meters tall. Her legs had, from the knees and below, turned into cracked volcanic rock, with lava leaking from the cracks. Her wings were as before, only larger and she had grown a crown of black rocks made apparently of obsidian. Her nails were long enough to drag on the floor, and looked wickedly sharp. She was also naked, and her tattoo was gone even though it had been present for her transformed form before.
“Careful, do not let her touch y-“
Brennus was cut off when a wave of raw pleasure slammed into him – and the rest of the group.
His last thought before his mind went into overdrive was that, apparently, her power had been enhanced by the transformation.
He saw – barely – how Amazon and Gilgul charged forward, both unaffected by the aura. But Succubus had either been holding back a lot before or she had gotten a lot more upgrades than just to her appearance and power, because she engaged them in a fluid dance, despite her large wings, her claws flying around, blocking Amazon’s punches and Gilgul’s spearstrikes while scraping over their armours.
F-f-foc- He could not. His mind felt like it was filling up with a heavy, warm goo, shutting d-
<Neural disruption detected. Survival ability has been compromised.>
Eudocia’s electronic voice barely penetrated into his mind. Then, he felt a jab, and then a shock, but they were dim, muted.
<Unable to restore function through non-damaging electrocution. Initiating Override Protocol.>
A string of commands ran down his visor, blurred by his unfocused eyes into incomprehension. What do they mean? He could not remember.
<Armour Control Override complete. Assuming Direct Control..>
Suddenly, his armour started to move of its own, charging forward towards the fight ahead. She drew the humming sword and a stun baton and leapt onto the Succubus’ back, slashing horizontally with his sword to cut through her neck.
Succubus reacted faster than she had expected, though, and she whirled around and swiped her claws at his airborne form. She could not tell whether or not they could penetrate his armour, but she was not going to risk her father’s health here – she fired his hip-mounted grappling hooks while simultaneously calling in all the ravens he had kept just outside the tunnel.
Twisting about in the air as the hooks attached themselves to the ceiling further down the tunnel and reeled in, she flew over and past her quarry, but missed her chance at striking her.
However, she did distract her just long enough for Amazon to hit her knees with a swiping kick from behind, shattering them audibly.
As Succubus screamed out loud, Gilgul stepped up and plunged her spear into her chest, right through her heart. Once more, it cut into its target as if it was butter. As Succubus fell to her shattered knees, her own weight split her throat and head on the unnaturally sharp blade, killing her.
And just like that, her psychic attack vanished.
Brennus shook his head as Eudocia returned control of his armour to him.
Phasma screamed and ran over to the dead villain, kneeling down and craddling the two halves of her head in her lap, holding them together… a futile attempt, as she was already beginning to decay, her body slowly breaking down.
“Nononononononononono…” she whispered, as if it could stop it, trying to hold her together.
“We… ugh… we need to go. Quickly,” said Rising Tide as he recovered from the assault. “No time.”
Brennus nodded as his ravens caught up to them and flew past, deeper into the tunnel – only for the front mass to be obliterated just as they saw a trio of monsters approach, one in a deranged set of glowing power armour.
“Enemies ahead! Three of Hastur’s victims!” he said.
The others got ready for battle, but Amazon cut in, “No! We need to push through, get to the throne!”
They all looked at each other, then Rising Tide spoke up. “Alright, we split. Some attack the three ahead of us and create an opening for the rest to break through. I’ll stay, fight. My power needs time to build up, I’m better off fighting those here so I’ll be stronger later. Remember the floor plans I gave you, and you’ll have no trouble finding the throne.”
“Bakeneko, Tyche, Outstep – you support him!” ordered Amazon. “The rest, follow me!”
And with that, she took off, not giving anyone a chance to dispute her orders.
<Bakeneko, please hand your piece of the S.M.O.G. to Gilgul,> said Brennus as he took off after Amazon.
* * *
They ran down the tunnel towards the trio of monsters. Just when they came into sight – a man made of rough stone, a crab-like woman in contrived armour and a thing like a Chinese dragon crossed with a frog and a few thousand worms – Rising Tide, Tyche and Bakeneko surged forward, the latter morphing into a matching dragon-shape for the other monster and slamming into it.
Outstep surged forward too, attaching explosives to the backs of the enemies, knocking them into their quarries before they could react.
The rest took the opening and simply jumped through and raced down the tunnel, leaving the fight behind.
Brennus decided to take the chance to ask Prisca something he should have asked way earlier (but had been distracted from). <Gilgul, I have switched us into a private channel,> he said.
<Roger, Brennus. I hope you didn’t get hurt earlier?> she asked in return.
<No, I am fine.>
<How did you do that, anyway? Resisting her attack like that…>
<That was me!> Eudocia chimed in. <We have protocols for that. I can override his armour if he’s been disabled.>
<Cool. Always prepare.>
<Yes. Speaking of which… ‘Assuming Direct Control’? Really?>
<What? I always wanted to say that. It’s not like you don’t make quotes like that too, father.>
<Stop calling me ‘father’.>
Prisca barely restrained her giggle.
He sighed and focused on his inquiry again as they reached a locked door.
“I’ll take ca-” he began to say, but Gilgul plunged her spear’s blade into the steel door and cut a hole into it, kicking it into the next room.
<I was going to do that…>
They went into the room beyond – the ‘reception area’, really more of a hub from which several hallways led to the other parts of the base.
They were awaited by four more monsters.
Brennus did not waste time looking at them and instead sent his ravens in – all the ones he had left, save for two he kept on his shoulders, a swarm of forty – to distract them.
Luckily, Amazon already had a plan: “Brennus, Gilgul and Tartsche, go on and try to distract Hastur and her people. The rest of us will take care of these!”
“Yes madam!” replied the three of them.
“Polymnia, take the S.M.O.G., just in case!” said Brennus as he threw his piece of the gun to her, followed by Gilgul doing the same. They ran past the four monsters as the others descended upon them.
Following the floorplans he had uploaded into his HUD, Brennus pointed out the right corridor to take and the ran into it.
<Gilgul, quick question. I should have asked earlier, but have you noticed any limit to your form? A range, a time limit…> he finally asked as they heard the sounds of battle behind them.
<Uh, it’s kind of strange. I have this… this kind of charge. Anything I do burns through it, a little. Moving, just a little bit. Flying, more. Striking, depends on how sharp my weapon needs to be. So if I tried to cut something too tough, I’d probably burn through the entire charge, maybe.>
<Interesting. How much do you have left?>
She sounded a little worried. <Not much. Cutting through BigShit and Succubus took quite a bit out of me. And I think I didn’t manage to manifest fully charged, for some reason. Nor do I know if I can simply respawn once I run out, or if I have to recharge first.>
He nodded absentmindedly. <You seem to already know a lot about it.> They rounded another corner.
<It’s… it’s like I always knew. Or perhaps like an instinct. I just know this.>
Behind them, he could see the fight heat up as more and more of his ravens were taken out trying to attack or at least distract the enemies. One of them was manipulating gravity strong enough to smack Amazon around.
<We will have to look deeper into this once we have some free time.>
They reached the door to the storage room and Gilgul stepped forward, cutting into it.
<Oh, I have a very different idea as to how to spend our free time…>
* * *
Beyond, a large room full of crates and various memorabilia opened up. It was as large as any gym hall, with crates stacked neatly to the left all along the long wall, and several display cases along the right long wall… with one of them smashed open to reveal a massive, ornate (too ornate) throne with what looked like a mutant satellite dish on the top.
Hastur was sitting on the Super-Tele Throne, wearing a skintight black suit that was connecting her to the throne by way of various wires. Her face was uncovered, free for all to see.
And her power did not work, as Brennus had already switched to the delayed vision mode. Gilgul and Tartsche seemed unaffected, too and the latter heftd his friend’s spellgun.
All he saw now was a cute, but not exceptional girl with mediterranean features, olive skin and messy dark brown hair that really needed a good cut.
“Step off the fancy chair, Miss!” he shouted.
As if that is going to convince her.
The insane teenager turned her head towards them: “Good God, you guys never give up, don’t ya? Why won’t you just look at me!?”
Her companions – one of them was Panthera Avis, the other two looked respectively like a half-machine half-zombie and a snarling gerbil – turned towards them, interposing themselves between the throne and them.
“I don’t know how you got past my friends out there, but I kept the best for last! Nathaniel, Jerry, Lara, kill them already! Especially Brennus, I want him dead! Frederic, keep working on the throne!”
Of the three monsters, Avis and the gerbil charged forward, while the cyborg zombie turned back towards the throne which, as they could now see, was connected to several exposed powerlines in the wall by a series of thick cables.
She called out to three, but only two are attacking. Means there is another one nearby.
Apparently, Gilgul and Tartsche both figured that out, too. The latter whirled around on the spot as a centipede-like monster burst ouf of the ground behind them, charging… straight into Tartsche’s line of fire.
The spellgun fired thrice, twice into the gullet of the monster and once in between its human eyes, causing ice to violently expand from the point of impact.
Thrashing violently, it fell to the ground, its charge interrupted, as it almost burst from the two iceblocks that formed halfway down its long form – it looked like a centipede with a woman’s legs instead of the usual insectoid legs.
But Brennus had little time to take in its appearance as Panthera Avis blinked into position right in front of him, before he could even draw his sword or his baton.
He was smacked right in the chest before he could even finish that thought and thrown back into the hallway behind him – but not before his ravens could take off of his shoulders and start pecking at his numerous eyes.
Brennus rolled with the punch, taking the edge off of it and landing on his feet, even as he noticed, to his delight, that the dodge protocolls were working – his ravenbots were evading Panthera Avis’ clumsy strikes and slowly blinding him.
Tartsche was standing tall, unconcerned about the charging gerbil-like beast as he aimed his long, ornate rifle at it, calmly taking aim and pulling the trigger only once before the monster reached him.
The contrived rifle – somday, Brennus was going to ask Spellgun how it supposedly worked, even if the answer might give him a headache – did not even flinch backwards, as its wielder was about as movable as a mountain range, but it spewed a massive gout of fire, and then a tiny glowing projectile shot into the gerbil-thing’s gut, piercing the dirty, coarse fur.
The gerbil-monster screamed aloud as it flew backwards, but its screams were cut short when the bullet exploded in its gut, almost severing it in half.
And just like that, Brennus could no longer focus on that as he had to deal with his own quarry, who had just destroyed one of the three ravens and was just refocusing his remaining eyes on him.
I know what is coming next.
He pulled his stun batons in a reversed grip and stabbed backwards the very moment Avis vanished from sight.
The tips stabbed into hard, unyielding flesh and discharged their entire reserve of electricity into his body, causing a multitude of screams from his many mouths.
He saw Prisca be attacked by a centipede-like woman with scythe-like elongated arms, who was rising out of the floor as if it was water, and retreating into it to evade strikes. Even though Gilgul’s blade cut into the concrete easily, her quarry moved fast enough to capitalise on the loss of line of sight to evade and strike out with her own blades, though she could no more penetrate Gilgul’s armour than the golden knight could hit her.
Steering his ravens to dive in on Panthera Avis, he spoke into his com-system, <Gilgul, I am going to distract your enemy. Take out Hastur’s throne, fast.>
He swung around on the spot, kicking Avis in the gut just below where his torso split open to reveal all the twisted faces, throwing him back. As he swung back in response, he used the motion to throw a grenade at the centipede-woman.
Gilgul reacted, flying straight up just in time for the grenade to detonate. It was a flashbang and a strong one, enough to knock out anyone without some serious protection – which the woman obviously lacked, as she reeled from the detonation.
Tartsche, of course, was utterly safe, Gilgul’s protection also held up and Brennus would never be throwing a grenade that could so easily harm him.
The gerbil-thing, already blown halfway to pieces, reeled from the explosion, as did Avis behind him.
“Nononono, you gotta stop them stop them stop them!” screamed Hastur on her throne, her power letting her recover instantly from the attack.
It was of little use as Gilgul flew straight at her, aiming her lance at the sitting girl, ignoring the contriver working on the throne.
“Hey, bitch!” she screamed. “Here comes some payback!”
Ignoring the attacks of the contriver-zombie, who was pelting her with what seemed to be shotgun-blasts, she plunged her lance into Hastur’s chest – and the throne behind her.
“Nononononononono!” screamed the insane teenager before Gilgul tore the lance upward, cutting cleanly through Hastur and the throne, spliting them both in half.
“And here’s some seconds for you!” She brought the lance down at an angle, splitting the already regenerated Hastur from her left shoulder to her right hip, further demolishing the throne.
“Noooooooooooooo!” Hastur jumped off the throne as it began to glow, spitting streams of sparks as the catastrophic damage caused a meltdown.
Before anyone could do much, the throne detonated in a scarlet fireball that threw everyone but Tartsche away.
The contriver-zombie, Hastur, Gilgul, the centipede-woman and the Gerbil monster were engulfed in the conflagration, while Brennus smacked into Avis’ body and the latter smacked into the wall outside the door with a sickening crunch. His ravens were wiped out.
The light vanished, revealing an unharmed Tartsche – and an unharmed Gilgul, too, floating above the crater where the throne had stood.
“I’m fine!” she shouted. “My communicator is gone, th- dodge!” She suddenly threw her lance at him, and Brennus just barely rolled to the side – evading Avis’ two-handed strike.
The lance impaled him easily, the crossguard beneath the blade catching and throwing him back to the wall, transfixing him.
Brennus saw Hastur, already recovered, run deeper into the trophy hall.
“Tartsche, with me!” he shouted and ran.
“Comin’ coming!” the other boy said and broke off his stance, running after Brennus as he darted past him, chasing Hastur.
Then, Gilgul screamed, “Tartsche, drop!“
Brennus turned his head and just barely saw Avis, bleeding heavily, appear behind Tartsche and punch the boy in the back, throwing him across the room.
Avis’ did not have time to follow up, though, as Gilgul cut him from his left shoulder down to his left hip. Not that it was enough to kill him, but it certainly got his attention.
I can not kill Hastur by myself, without Tartsche’s help. But he could restrain her long enough for Tartsche to catch up to him. His power might allow them to put her down.
He gave chase, and followed Hastur into another hallway, being far faster than her even without his armour.
With it, he caught up to her in seconds and tackled her down.
“Ow! Meanie!” she gasped as he turned her around, kneeling atop her.
“It is over, Hastur,” he told her calmly.
“Not unless you find a way to kill me, sugar. ‘Cause I’m not gonna stop, ever,” she said with something like pride in her voice.
“Because I want everyone to see me. See my face and love me. Just like the others…”
He looked down at her, unsure how to feel. She looked… ecstatic. Not concerned in the least.
“What is your name, if I may ask? Your real name, I mean.”
She looked stunned for a moment. “Ciara… but why do you want to know?” she asked.
“Because I think the name Hastur is stupid. Besides, you already know my real name, so it is only fair. May I ask you a few questions?”
“Uhh… sure…” she said, seemingly unable to deal with simple politeness.
“What was your trigger? The reason why you manifested?” he asked.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Curiosity. I would like to know what made you into what you are.”
Her face suddenly turned serious, even wistful. “There once was a girl in a little village by a mountain,” she began. “That girl had a friend. They were bestest buds since childhood. More like sisters, closer even.” She stopped, blinking.
He waited until she continued.
“They grew up together, went to school together. Then, her friend found this boy. And what a boy he was, such a catch. He was smart, and witty, and nice and pretty and athletic and even rich, not that she cared. And he was in love with her as much as she was in love with him. And the girl was happy for her friend and supported them. Covered for them, telling their parents they were with her when they were out together, stuff like that. She didn’t mind, after all, they were both her friends.” She took a deep breath. “But as time passed, that stupid girl got a little jealous. She’d had boyfriends of her own, but no one half as close as her friend and the boy were. Worse yet, none of them looked at her the way the boy looked at her friend. Now, you need to know that her friend and the boy weren’t always peachy with each other. They fought, they screamed, sometimes they even broke up. Never for long, but they did… and one day, the stupid little girl thought she’d try and tell him how she felt… how she felt about him. She went to the boy a few days after he’d broken up with her friend again and told him how she felt…” She stopped.
“And?” he asked, suspecting several scenarios.
“He was really nice to her,” she said, taking a sobbing breath. “Told her that he liked her a lot, but not that way. That they could be friends, but no more. He still wanted to get back together with her friend, after all, and take it further even.” She sniffed.
He had not expected that particular development.
“But then… even though he was so nice, he still wouldn’t look at her… look at her the way he looked at her friend. All she wanted… all I wanted was for someone, anyone to look at me the way he looked at herrrrrrrrr.” She began to sob, what little composure she had had gone in an instant. Then she started to… giggle. “Now that’s over. Everyone will look at me the way he looked at her… everyone…”
“How did he look at her?” he asked.
That stunned her. “What?”
“It is a simple question. How did he look at her? Can you describe it?”
“Well, he… he looked at her face and he… uhh…” Her eyes widened in horror. “I… I don’t remember…” she whispered as her eyes overflowed with tears. “I don’t remember… I don’t remember the way he looked at her. Why can’t I remember!?” She screamed the last part, throwing herself around trying to get away… before she collapsed, the strength leaving her. “I can’t remember how he looked at her… I killed them all, and I can’t remember…”
She looked up at him.
“What happened afterwards? After you used your power on the village people?”
“I… they came. The companions. They locked me up. Killed all my friends. Sent me here, so I’d be set free in New Lennston.”
“The Companions of the Future? Why? What did they want?”
“A diversion. Just like the attack on the protectorate. I heard them talk about that a few times, when they weren’t somehow shielding themselves from my power. They also had other things planned, but I couldn’t find out. They know how to proof places from me.”
Holy shit, what kind of conspiracy is this? “Do you know what they wanted to distract people from?”
She shook her head. “I only know that potentially causing a world war is a bonus. They are looking to do something… they want to wake something they call ‘the Sleeper’. It’s kind of a slogan of theirs – ‘The Sleeper must wake’.”
“That sounds… painfully generic. Do you have any idea what this sleeper is?”
“No… but I can look, if you want. Not like I have anything else to do.”
She nodded and closed her eyes. “Hmm, alright, looking, looking… there, there’s a place! In the pacific, a big floating city. The Sleeper is below… I can almost see it… deep, deep… oh, that’s it!” She suddenly smiled wide. Almost grinned. Her eyes flew open. “I can see it! It’s beautiful, so beautiful, I can see it all o-” Her breath caught as her eyes widened.
“What? Ciara, what’s happening?” he asked, worried. What the hell was going on there?
“It can see me! It’s asleep but it can s-“
Without warning, without a sign, without her even changing her expression, there was a crack in the air, as her whole body suddenly froze solid, ice-spikes erupting from her clothing and skin, her eyes cracking audibly.
Brennus was thrown off of her as he felt the cold through his suit, down to his bones.
He picked himself up from the ground and looked at her – her body was in the exact same position it had been before, only frozen, iced over, the ice covered in slush which was already running off, turning into cold water.
What the fuck?
* * *
“And she just said that it saw her and then she… died? Nothing else?” Widard asked, bewildered.
“Yes. I just showed you my recording, did I not?” replied Brennus, as the rest of both his and the junior hero team looked on. Gilgul was missing though, as her charge had run out (though she had only told him that. The others thought she had just left after the fight). The Dark was there, too – the fight at Kansas City was over, and apparently Memento, having reappeared after his absence during the Osaka fight, had managed to disrupt Desolation-in-Light’s powers often enough to make her lose interest, or whatever it was that made her go away.
Brennus elaborated, “Going through the recordings, I think that her body temperature was remotely lowered to extreme enough depths to flash-freeze her, which caused an implosion as the air around her condensed into liquid, drawing in the surrounding air to fill the gap, followed by an explosion of air as the liquified air mostly turned back into gas by absorbing the surrounding heat. Also, it damn near froze off several pieces of me.”
The others looked quite worried now. That kind of power, apparently used from around the world, was major bad news.
He, however, looked at the Dark. “Sir, do you have any idea what this Sleeper is, or what the Companions want with it?”
The Dark, having stood at the windows with his back to the rest of them, turned to look at them. “I know very well what it is, indeed.” He raised a hand, as if to scratch his chin, not that that could be seen underneath the shadows that wrapped around him.
“What? What is it?” asked an impatient Amazon.
“None of your business and way out of your league. Best you all forget you ever heard this,” he replied simply, not the least bit intimidated by her attitude.
“By God, if you’re going to screw us over here, I-” she began, but he cut her off with only a look.
I so need to take some lessons from this guy.
“Watch your language, young lady. I’ve been playing this game since long before your father was even born. And besides, if you can ask Gwen, too. She knows as much about it as I do… though her answer will be the same as mine, I assure you.”
He turned to look at the juniors and Brennus’ team. “To you, my dear children, let me say this: I am very impressed by your performance. I compliment you all, and hope to see more of you in the future.” He nodded his head, if barely, towards them. “But now I must leave you, and take care of business.”
And with that, he sank into his own shadow, vanishing.
They were left staring at where he had stood, more scared than flattered.
“Why do I think this ain’t good for us?” asked Tyche, who had her left arm in a sling.
“Because we apparently just got the attention of the King of Supervillains,” replied Hecate, who was wrapped in an emergency blanket to cover up her costume, which had been torn to the point of indecency, apparently. Again.
<And I thought my day started weird.>
Everyone else replied, “Amen.”
* * *
Basil walked up to his house, feeling quite tired. They had discussed the whole operation, along with some unsettling news about Desolation-in-Light’s attack on Kansas City. But now he was just tired and wanted to see Amy again – she had survived Kansas, as Amazon had grudgingly pointed out.
Can not blame her for hoping Amy would come to harm.
Aye, it’s her own fault, mate.
He mulled that over as he reached the door – and then his phone rang in the melody he had set for e-mails.
Taking a quick look, he found a single sentence in the mail:
I’ll be watching you.
Followed by the image of a dragon biting its own tail, circling a W.
He put the phone away again. Well, that is not foreboding at all.
But he would worry about that later. Now, he opened the door, stepping in.
Just as he closed it and took a breath to call Amy, he was suddenly caught by an invisible force, throwing him up.
He smacked into the ceiling, face down, arms and legs sprawled.
Amy stepped out of the kitchen into the hallway, hair wet and dressed in a bathrobe. And looking pissed.
“We need to have a talk, little brother.”