“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.”