March 17th, 1923
Two months and sixteen days after Point Zero
Lennston looked peaceful under three and a half feet of snow. It wasn’t, of course. Just yesterday, there had been another riot, and the military quarantine around the city was still in full effect.
Another child had… changed, become something inhuman, something unnatural, and only the intervention of Gwen Whitaker – who some had started to call ‘Lady Light’ – had prevented any deaths beyond the boy’s family. Not that anyone thanked her for that – in fact, the riot had broken out when civilians and the military both had assaulted her after the fight. She’d only barely managed to flee.
But today, the city rested. It was no peaceful rest, but it was rest nonetheless.
It was early noon, and yet the snowstorm that had covered the city in a deceptive shroud of white turned the day into night.
One part of the city was even quieter than the rest – specifically, it was the part of the city known as Damnation Alley. Despite its name, it consisted not just of an alley, but also of the four blocks of cheap old buildings around it, most having originally been built to house various workshops, but now stood deserted, a dark, rundown blemish nearly right in the center of Lennston.
Before Pillar of Light appeared, the Damnation Alley had been a home for smugglers, drug dealers, mobsters and other criminals, as well as a sizable part of the city’s homeless population.
Then, the monster had taken up residence in Damnation Alley, hiding in its shadows. That strange beast that had slain the Goldschmidt heir and rampaged through the city until Whitaker drove it away and it fled into the sewers.
Now, months later, it had made Damnation Alley its own, and the police didn’t dare enter the place. The mob had retreated, too, unwilling to risk its people to the violent moods of the dark beast. The only ones left were the truly desperate. Homeless people, criminals fleeing from the mob or the police, people turned into monsters by whatever had been brought about the world – and the city in particular – by the pillar of light.
In one of the side-alleys, a whole group of homeless people were huddling together against the cold in a circle around a barrel they’d gotten a fire going in.
It was one of the men of that group who first noticed the little girl walking through the snow.
She could be no more than eight, maybe nine or ten at most, her skin pale and pink and without any blemishes that could be seen from the front. It was pretty easy to tell, because she was completely naked save for a strange helmet that closed tightly around her head, with only a fringe of almost-white blonde hair peaking out from the back. The helmet, made of what looked like several silvery strips of metal and the insides of several radios extended into two antennae angled back, their base over her ears, and there was a visor built in made of a yellow-brown glass.
One after the other, the men turned to look at the strange sight as they got a better look – her small feet and her hands were already slightly blue, but she didn’t seem to mind, stoically walking forward, her head held low as she dragged a small bag along with her.
When she got closer, they could faintly hear the sound of some kind of radio speaker, the words impossible to understand through the helmet.
One of them rose out of the circle, approaching the girl.
“Hey, lil’ one,” the short, grey-bearded man said as he shrugged out of his outmost coat. He had long hair and an even longer beard, both grey, and his skin was rough and tanned, his eyes a dark grey. Taking off the second one too, he offered her his third (and warmed up) coat, shivering against the cold. “You’ll catch yer death if you go around like that. An’ it’s indecent, too.”
The girl stopped, looking up at him with an unnervingly still posture. Tilting her head to the side, she took the coat, letting go of the bag before she put it on – it reached down below her feet, dragging on the ground.
The man sighed, smiling a little. “Wait. I got some socks for you, too.” Searching around in his pockets, he gave her two pairs of surprisingly clean socks, and she put them on quickly, without any response. They were obviously far too big for her feet, but served their purpose.
When she was done, she nodded, once, grabbed her bag again and simply walked forward as the kindly man put his coats back on. “Lil’ one, this place ain’t safe,” he said, turning around to watch her. “You want me to take you home? Please?”
She looked at him, then turned away and just walked forward.
One of the other men spoke up, “Might be she got no home no more, Walker. Come an’ sit down, you’ll freeze, too.”
He shook his head, going after the girl. “Nah, I’ll keep an eye on the little one. Might be I’ll see you guys later.”
They shook their heads, closing the gap he’d left to better warm each other.
Walker followed the girl as she stumbled into an alley that crossed this one, into the darkness and away from the light.
* * *
The girl stopped a few feet down the alley and lifted her hands up to a set of dials on either side of the helmet. Walker watched her as she fiddled around with the dials, and the sounds coming from the helmet changed, varying. There didn’t seem to be any words, but Walker could hear an almost melodic pattern of sound repeating itself.
After a minute or so of quietly working on it, she continued down the alley and turned right down another one, ignoring any attempt of Walker to get a word out of her.
She found a manhole cover, putting the bag aside and squatting down to grab the handle with her delicate fingers and try to lift it, even though there was obviously no way she’d manage it herself.
“Well, no use trying to stop ya…” Walker whispered and squatted down on the other side, putting his back to work (his back protested) and lifting the cover up.
Without even acknowledging his help, she began climbing down the rusty ladder with one hand, using the other to hold the bag over her shoulder, and he soon followed, pulling the cover closed over them if only prevent snow from falling down on his head.
To his surprise, there was barely any stink coming up from beneath, just the wet, moldy smell of old wet stone. When they reached the bottom, they found only darkness. Walker could see nothing, and only heard water flow in the distance.
“Well, hope you know yer way ’round this place, sweetie, because I certainly d-” He stopped talking when he heard a click, and suddenly light flooded the place coming from a rod she was holding in her hand which held a trio of light bulbs on one end. He could tell she’d taken it out of the bag, which was open right now, several other pieces of equipment in sight (he recognized none of them). “You brought a bag full of tricks with you, but forgot yer clothes? You’re a strange one, sweetie,” he commented with a chuckle.
The girl continued to ignore him and looked around the place. They stood in an old tunnel, with muddy (but not foul-smelling) water running through the middle. The walls were covered in old muck and mold, and even with the bright torch the girl was holding up, they could barely see more than thirty feet in either direction.
Turning in a circle, the girl fiddled with the controls of her helmet, then went down one way. Walker followed, not knowing where else to go or how to talk to her.
After three minutes, he started to hear a strange sound, like blowing air whispering. Two minutes later, he realized that there really were people whispering further down the tunnel.
Several people, in fact.
“Are you looking for some friends, lil’ one? But what kind of friends of yours would be down here…” He shivered, hoping they wouldn’t run into that dark thing everyone was talking about.
The girl kept ignoring him and walked towards the whispers, which kept getting louder, though they remained incomprehensible. A dark, oppressive mood was filling the air, and somehow Walker felt as if breathing got more and more difficult to do the further they went down the sewer tunnel.
Then, suddenly, the tunnel opened up into a large room, so large they couldn’t see the walls or the ceiling any more.
In front of them, a metal walkway became visible… and beyond it, a glimmer in the dark, the air feeling so heavy it was almost unbreathable.
A trio of red eyes, arranged irregularly, opened up, looking at them.
Walker froze, his heart beating so fast he thought it might blow up. The dark beast.
The eyes moved, rising higher as they seemed to flow, getting smaller and vanishing as new ones emerged and grew.
The old man looked around frantically and saw a rusty pipe sticking out of the wall where it opened up from the tunnel to the larger room. Grabbing it, he ripped it off and jumped in front of the girl, brandishing the pipe like a sword. “Run, lil’ one! I’ll hold it off!”
The whispers grew louder and more discordant as the eyes approached, no longer vanishing into the dark as they focused on him.
He swallowed dryly, listening for the footsteps of the girl… but there were none. Slowly, he glanced over his shoulder to check on her – and that’s when the beast moved.
The eyes surged forward and a shadowy crooked limb struck him across the belly, throwing him over the railing of the walkway and into the moldy wall, the old man sliding down the wall to land on a ledge and fall unconscious.
Turning to the little girl, the beast moved closer, remaining just barely at the edge of the light.
“Go away!” “Go away!” “Go away!” “Go away!” “Go away!”, shouted five distorted voices.
Not even flinching, the girl reached into her bag with her free hand and threw a tin can at the eyes.
Another limb, crooked and twisted, struck the can – and it exploded into a bright flash of light, briefly illuminating the large, cavern-like room.
Several tunnels opened into the large room, metal walkways connecting them to a central pillar on which there stood a collection of machines cobbled together out of various pieces of other technology, with thick wires running up into the darkness that still covered the ceiling, and thick cables falling down the pillar and vanishing into the dark.
And on the walkway in front of the girl, there… stood… a glob of darkness, partially standing on several crooked limbs, partially lying on the walkway, with five glowing red eyes slamming shut as it reared back from the bright light, raising one of its limbs to try and protect them.
Then the can fell apart and the only lights left were the rod in the girl’s hand and the reopening red eyes.
“Not bad.” The eyes faded away until only one was left, and the shadows seemed to somehow… compress themselves.
Then it moved forward, entering the circle of light, its body still formless, but more compressed, smaller. Where it had earlier been five times the size of a bear, now it was barely twice the size.
Moving closer, the eye extended on a neck made of boiling darkness, moving closer still to the girl. “Who are you? Where did you get that helmet, and those toys?” it asked, it’s speech distorted, sounding like a chorus of people half-whispering and combining into a single larger voice.
The girl let go of the bag and put the rod down so it stood on the walkway, then reached up to the dials of her helmet.
“Made| them| myself,” she said, speaking in fragments taken from two different radio announcers.
The dark beast stopped in its movements, and the oppressive sensation in the air vanished. “You made those things? Interesting,” it said. Then it shook its ‘head’, turning away.
There was a click, and then several lights went on, bringing a weak, gloomy light to the room.
Turning her light rod off and stowing it in her bag, the girl stepped onto the walkway and walked towards the machines in the center as the dark beast crawled over to Walker and picked him up like a doll, depositing him on a mass of blankets and pillows.
“A brave man. Stupid, but brave,” the beast whispered as eyes opened on its back, looking at the girl as she looked at the machines.
It moved towards her, not turning around but rather its back simply extending forward, becoming a new ‘front’. “How did you find me, little one?”
She turned to it and raised her hands to the dials again. Instead of speech, though, a melodic sound pattern rang forth from the speakers she’d built into her helmet.
The beast stopped moving again. “Oh. Impressive, you picked the signal up,” it commented. “Say, you didn’t happen to open a door made of light recently, did you?”
She shook her head. “I saw| stars in the sky| In the basement,” she said.
“I see, I see. So you’re another one of us.” It moved closer again, lowering its ‘head’ – really more just the tip of a long, sinuous tentacle dotted with countless red eyes. It was constantly shifting its form, limbs and eyes and other things emerging from the darkness that made up its ‘body’, its gait irregular and clumsy as its limbs tended to vanish again before it had even finished a single step. “I didn’t expect any to be able to build such technology, though. It doesn’t seem to… fit.” Stopping, it raised a limb to its ‘face’, as if to scratch its chin. “Then again, perhaps… but that is not important right now.”
It moved past the girl to the machine and pulled some switches. Even though it had made neither light nor sound, the machine turning off could be felt. As if there’d been a charge in the air, and now it was gone.
“What’s your name, little one?” the beast asked.
“I have| no name| that I want to use,” she replied.
“Neither do I. But we need to know how to call each other, if you are to stay here,” it said, not bothering to ask if she wanted to stay.
She seemed to think it over, then she raised her hands to the dials again: “Call me| W|y|r|m,” she told him.
“Wyrm? Why Wyrm? It seems an odd choice,” it asked, its eyes vanishing in favour of glowing red lines all over its body.
“Because| dragons| are neat!”
It shrugged. “As good a reason as any. As for me, call me… well, I’m stuck here, in the dark, for the time being… so call me the Dark. That should serve until I think of something else, or reclaim my old name.”
“Hello| the Dark. How are you?”
A cold, echoing chuckle rang through the room. “Better now, Wyrm,” he said. “Better now.”
* * *
Two days later
“No! No no no, NO!” His shouts rang through the large cavern as he surged back from the machine he’d been working on with Wyrm, his form exploding into countless limbs and… other… things. “It should have been enough! How come we don’t have enough of the wire!?”
“Tran|sister,” she replied, barely reacting to his outburst. She was no longer wearing the old coat Walker had given her, but rather a blue-and-red dress that the Dark had made for her out of pieces of cloth he’d had lying around. “Antenna.”
Snarling, he punched the railing so hard it bent all the way down to the walkway, just as Walker trotted over to them from the small makeshift kitchen the Dark had set up, carrying a tray with three bowls of bean soup he’d heated up out of two cans.
“Look, boss, no use getting worked up,” he said, having realized by the second day that his new boss was not entirely in control of his own mind, and had to be prevented from going too deeply into one of his usual bad moods, lest he lose control and go on another rampage. “Here, why don’t ye both take a break and eat some bean soup?”
Wyrm dropped her tools and came over, while the Dark hesitated for a moment before doing the same, his form compressed to the size of a large bear or a small car. Each of them took a bowl off the wooden tray. The little girl pushed her helmet up just enough to reveal her rosy lips and began to sip the soup out of the bowl (she’d refused to show them her face), while the Dark pulled the bowl into the mass of darkness that, as Walker had learned to his surprise, was not his body, but merely surrounded it.
He’d been even more surprised to find out that the Dark was not a monster spawned from the pillar of light, and the murderer of the Goldschmidt heir, but instead he was Franz-Peter Goldschmidt himself!
Drinking from his own bowl, Walker watched his new companions. They’d already fallen into a kind of rythm. The Dark, for all his monstrous appearance, sudden mood shifts and natural disdain for those who were less intelligent than him, was a rather pleasant fellow to live with, all things considered. At least he didn’t try to hog your place at the fire, or steal your food or your coat. And the little girl was just… quiet. Eerie, really, in how she refused to take off her helmet or talk in her own voice (she claimed she wasn’t mute) and how she utterly focused on working with all these fancy machines.
Little eight year old girls shouldn’t be able to focus like that, he thought.
“We need more copper wire. This was the last I’d found on the scrapyard, and I doubt I’ll find new one within the quarantine zone,” the Dark said calmly. Walker had noticed that his appearance became more erratic and monstrous the more agitated he was. Right now, it almost looked like a hunchbacked human. Almost.
Walker thought it over. He really wanted to help them, but he had no idea of how to work with machines the way they did. He hadn’t even really understood what they were trying to build, their explanation of their goal going right over his head. But he knew his way around the city, and… “There ought to be plenty of copper wire over at the Sullivan factory. I remember seeing stacks of copper wire, all rolled up, back when I got a small job there for a few weeks.”
“I have no money to buy it from them, nor are they likely to want to deal with me in the first place,” the Dark said.
“Well, I could go and talk to them… maybe we can sell some of the stuff you got lying around here, or-“
“Just take it.”
They both turned to look at Wyrm, who’d finished her soup and had pulled her helmet down. She was looking up at them, somehow seeming… annoyed.
“Just take it.”
“What do you mean? You say I should steal it?” He seemed… offended at the notion.
“Why not? We need| it more than| they| do,” she replied, fingers on the dials. “Just take it.”
“Gotta agree with the squirt, boss,” Walker threw in, drawing an annoyed glance (or at least it felt kinda like he got one) from Wyrm. “Never saw the point in not taking what you need. Not like anyone’s gonna give it to ya for free.”
“Hrm… I suppose… you’re right. Let’s plan a heist, then…”
* * *
April 3rd, 1926
Wyrm was sitting in a high chair, her bare feet dangling from it as she worked away on a large switchboard, countless wires running to and from her helmet, connecting her to a whole set of computers. She was only dressed in an old nightgown that the Dark had brought her as a gift for her first name day and which she’d grown out of over a year ago now, but it wasn’t like anyone but the Dark and Walker ever saw her, anyway.
Not that Walker called himself Walker anymore.
While she was working, working her way through every radio channel she could receive and also working on her schematics for a new, improved receiver, she didn’t notice the large, black-skinned form that approached her from behind, and she flinched when it tapped her shoulder with a long, scarlet nail.
Turning her head to look at the four-armed, four-eyed and two-faced man holding a bowl of soup in one of his hands, she gave him a silent look.
“It’s lunchtime, lil’ one,” Walker said, his voice still familiar to her despite the radical changes it had gone through. He held out the bowl and she took it after turning off the constant stream of information.
A simple flick of a button made the lower part of the helmet open up, allowing her to eat the soup with the spoon he also handed her.
Warm chicken soup. Just the right thing to warm her.
He waited silently while she ate, knowing that conversation wouldn’t work as long as she’d have to talk with her own mouth. Three years, and she still hadn’t shown him her face or let him hear her own voice. Not even the Dark, who’d become a kind of (irritable, sarcastic, misanthropic) surrogate father to her didn’t know either.
She finished, handing the bowl back and closing the helmet up. “Is there| anything else?”
He chuckled at her blunt speech. “Yes, the boss wants you to tap into military channels and find out where the lady is off to – he thinks they asked her to do some job for them.”
Nodding, she turned back to her switchboard and began to work, while he put the bowl and spoon away before returning to stand behind her.
After only ten minutes, she turned her headphones off again. “Mexican border dispute.”
“Alright, I’ll tell the boss. And then it’s off to tousle with Pointshot and that little brat again.”
His (two sets of) shoulders shook in a chuckle. “Won’t need it, lil’ one. The boss thinks he’s figured out how Severance’ power works.”
* * *
May 14th, 1928
Their new base was built beneath an active factory, giving them ample cover for Wyrm’s machines, and the energy they needed to work. She now had her own room, which was about as big as a full house, crammed full with machines she’d built to tap into every information source she could get her hands on.
Wyrm sat on a comfortable chair, typing away at a keyboard. She’d dispensed with wearing clothes more than a year ago, and both the Dark and Kraquok had given up trying to get her to dress after less than a month. She’d argued that no one but them ever saw her, anyway, and their new headquarters were dry and warm enough for it to not be a threat to her health. Not to mention that it was, by her calculations, healthier to be naked than not.
As she worked away, her computer tapping into phone lines to record the communication of countless people of interest, a tall, quadrupedal shadow approached her from behind, waiting patiently for her to notice it.
After ten minutes, it reached out with a long, shadowy (but no longer crooked) limb and poked her shoulder, making her jump on her seat. She turned her head, looking wordlessly at him.
“I just got a package,” he said, holding up a stack of printed pages. “My contact finally managed to steal some of Drakaina’s designs.”
She swerved her chair around on the spot – her helmet was no longer directly connected to her computer, not since she’d gotten her hands on a colour monitor – and all but ripped the paper from his hand.
“Don’t get your hopes up – they’re useless. I can read them no more than I can read your designs,” he admonished her.
“I can| translate.”
“Well, that would be a useful skill to have.”
* * *
March 17th, 1929
“Happy name day, Wyrm!” Kraquok and Killer High chorused, distracting her from her work.
Annoyed, but knowing that they wouldn’t leave her in peace, she swerved around on her stool (still unwilling to dress, to Killer High’s delight) and stared blankly at them, her face hidden by her newest helmet – this one silvery, and worked to suggest a dragon’s head.
Killer High – a young man only a year older than she was – was dressed in a skintight black costume with a white skull painted on his face, distorting it with a wide, white-toothed grin. His blood-red eyes – they were literally red all over, with no iris or pupils – looked her up and down, showing his usual incomprehensible interest in her body. He was holding a box wrapped in colourful paper out.
Kraquok was standing next to him, missing his left two arms just above the elbows (another fight with Severance), the flesh pulsing as they slowly regenerated, fighting off the effect of Severance’ power, which prevented healing under normal circumstances. “Take it, little one,” he said.
She took the box, carefully unwrapping it. Within, she found… a silken black nightgown. She tilted her head, looking at the two – they were both aware of how she thought about clothes.
“Look, no one enjoys you being naked all the time more than I do,” Killer High explained, picking up on her mild (annoyed) confusion. He was speaking the truth, as the cameras and microphones she’d spread around the base told her. “But it ain’t decent. You ought’a wear something, and this is pretty much the most comfortable piece a clothing we could find.”
She put the lid on the box again and set it aside, turning around to continue her work.
The two men sighed, but offered no further distraction.
* * *
September 1st, 1931
“And you’re sure you don’t wanna come along, Wyrm?” Killer High asked. He was gearing up, while Kraquok and the other three members of the Dark Five, as well as the Dark, were getting ready for combat against the Shining Guardians – the purpose being to distract them, and Lady Light, while Killer High assassinated the American president and several other key members of the government.
“She’s not a frontline fighter, Hurton,” the Dark told him, sparing her the need to answer his question herself. “However, she’ll be in constant radio communication with each of us – you all have one of her newest communicators – and she’ll help you get through White House security safely.”
He shrugged. “Still think she should finally try out that piece of armor she’s made. Sparring with us will only take her so far, she needs some real combat experience!”
She watched as the Dark knocked him over the head with an arm he extended out of the shadowy mass that concealed his body – lately, he’d been able to consistently keep it focused in a humanoid form, with only six eyes in his face. “She’s far more valuable to us in a support role. Now stop whining and focus.”
Wyrm focused on her work again, pulling up the schematics of the White House, and making sure her connection to Killer High’s collar camera was stable. She’d record everything.
* * *
The next day
“It’s not your fault, Wyrm,” the Dark whispered, putting his long, black hand onto her bare shoulder. “You couldn’t have known that Pointshot is the President’s son. None of us saw that coming.”
Wyrm worked away at her console, showing no outward attention to his speech. She was reviewing the brutal battle that had broken out in the White House, ending with Killer High’s death when Pointshot impaled him with a cue through one ear and out the other. She’d triggered the self-destruction of her communicator and camera at that point, so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands. They’d done their job and recorded everything.
The Dark sighed, squeezing her shoulder. “If you need to talk – or just some company – you know where to find me.” He left the room.
After a few more minutes, she paused her work and took off her helmet. Blond-white hair spilled out, and she took the time to run her fingers through it before she turned around and pulled that box onto her lap. She’d never bothered to throw it away.
When the Dark came back an hour later with a request, he found her wearing the black nightgown.
* * *
December 24th, 1944
“You sure you can finally do it, boss?” Kraquok asked as he lounged on a reinforced couch Wyrm had set up for him in her room. It had become the unofficial meeting place for him, her and the boss – the original members of the group, and apparently the only ones there to stay.
“I have to. I don’t think I can take much more of this twenty-four-seven,” the Dark said as he stood in the center of the room (right where he’d taught her how to dance). “And besides, I’m supposed to be one of the best at this. And Gwen has already got it down.”
He shivered, his tall, pulsing black form flaring up. Wyrm and Kraquok watched both, and for once she was just as anxious as Kraquok, as the Dark’s shadowy form shivered, pulsed, and…
He fell to his knees, stark naked and pale as a corpse, taking deep, heavy breaths. He looked no older than the image she’d seen of him just before Point Zero. No aging, just like Lady Light.
“I did it,” he whispered, his voice so completely unlike what she’d imagined. A kind of raspy tenor, quite pleasant to listen to. “I did it!” he shouted, throwing his arms up, then he flinched when the light of the lamps hit his eyes directly. “Ow.”
Kraquok was by his side in a second, putting a blanket around him. “You did it, boss. You can finally be… normal again. Every now and then.”
“Or at least pretend to,” Franz-Peter replied with a chuckle. Then he turned to look at her. “What do you think, Wyrm?”
She tilted her head to the side, then reached up with her hands.
The helmet clicked, opening. The two mens’ eyes (all six of them) widened as she pulled the helmet off, spilling her long hair. Then she opened her mouth to speak.
* * *
February 3rd, 1960
Wyrm sat in front of her monitor wall, observing the tides of battle and feeding a steady stream of (anonymous) information to the PATO forces, providing intelligence on enemy troop movements, equipment and other useful facts wherever she could. Her ability to do so was quite hampered by Weisswald having preferred using superpowers for communication wherever possible, instead of standard technology.
Still, she felt some measure of… pride, in being possibly one of the most vital supporters of the fight against Weisswald, even though there were only six people in the whole world who knew about her. Everyone out there went crazy over the Protector, Amaterasu, about Lady Light and the Dark and all the other combat monsters.
Yet her calculations proved that she had been the deciding factor in more than forty-five large-scale engagements between the fronts, not to mention the deaths of the four Meisters, Weisswald’s elite. She’d tracked down their headquarters and found out when they’d be there and when they’d be the most vulnerable. And it had been her counter-intelligence that had prevented Weisswald from coming to their help in time.
Now she watched as Kraquok led a strike team against a supply depot in Westphalia…
And suddenly, she lost contact to three of her surveillance drones near the coast of Mecklenburg. Tapping into a few others that were nearby, she saw bursts of light in the sky fighting explosive growths of white trees.
Moving closer, she just barely saw Lady Light blast Weisswald at point blank range, and then rows of drones could only watch her literally pummel the man across Germany and all the way to Berlin, burning a molten scar that ran from the coast through Mecklenburg, Brandenburg and finally into Berlin itself.
She had no drones in Berlin, and even if she did, they most likely wouldn’t be able to observe the battle without being obliterated themselves.
Instead of futile attempts to observe, she instead tried to find out what had set off Lady Light like that, digging through her records and all messages flying across Europe…
* * *
Eighteen hours later
Weisswald finally died after nearly eighteen hours of combat, leaving Berlin in ruins.
Wyrm’s own inquiries had yielded an explanation for Lady Light’s sudden, reckless attack – Brightchild, her (by now adult) sidekick and almost-daughter had been killed in combat, slain during a covert mission into Mecklenburg at the hands of Weisswald. When she found out about it, Lady Light – who had been in Manchester at the time, preparing another offensive – she’d apparently snapped and gone on a rampage that ended with Weisswald’s death in Berlin.
Her surveillance and spy drones had only managed to record fragments of the battle, but Wyrm still analyzed and filed them away for future reference. She’d have to ask the Dark if he’d known Lady Light was this powerful… and how she’d known of Brightchild’s death in the first place.
Wyrm certainly hadn’t found out about it until way after the fact.
* * *
July 9th, 1991
The room shook again as another explosion rocked the city. Wyrm’s drones had proven ineffective, being completely ignored by her almost-sister. They’d been casually destroyed, not even targeted themselves but simply caught up in attacks upon other targets.
Now Desolation-in-Light was using a telekinetic power that pounded the very earth, rocking Lennston’s foundations. And since their enemy had somehow managed to disrupt the powers that kept their base outside the normal dimension, it was being assaulted along with the rest of the city.
“Wyrm, retreat to our third fallback point,” the Dark said, one of his wraiths rising out of the shadow under her chair and clambering up. It was a small thing, basically only a torso with six eyes and four tendrils in place of arms and legs. “Lennston is lost. Make sure to take any level 4 and higher equipment with you.”
She nodded, initiating the self-destruction of the base before gathering everything they couldn’t afford to lose.
* * *
November 25th, 2004
“Wyrm, could I have your attention for a minute?”
She cut the primary data feeds into her helmet display and turned her chair around, with only secondary feeds appearing on the periphery of her vision.
The Dark was standing in front of her, tall and controlled. His right arm was angled in front of his chest, and a raven-haired preteen girl in a pink skirt and blue shirt sitting on it, kicking bare feet with painted nails.
Tilting her head, she looked the girl up and down. She looked a little… off. Wyrm had been practicing analyzing people – baselines and metahumans – for more than seventy-five years now, and yet she couldn’t quite tell what was wrong with the girl. She looked like a black-haired copy of who Wyrm was sure was her mother, but… there was something decidedly off.
The girl, in turn, seemed to respond in kind, her brilliant blue eyes narrowing to slits as she looked the woman with the draconic helmet and black nightgown up and down.
“She creeps me out, daddy,” the girl said once she was done.
He only chuckled in response. “And what is your verdict, Wyrm?”
“She creeps me out, daddy,” she replied.
The girl blew her a raspberry.
“Well, I’ll expect you two to get along nonetheless. Or at least be polite to each other.”
Wyrm nodded, while her new ‘sister’ just snorted, looking a lot more like her father than her mother as she did so.
“Yes daddy!” she said with a bright smile, her entire mood shifting in a heartbeat to that of a cute little girl.
He looked back at Wyrm. “Please keep an eye out for her. I’m afraid she’ll be causing me and her mother quite the headache in the future.”
“Ugh, you’re annoying!”
* * *
October 5th, 2011
“And here’s the part of our organization I’m sure you haven’t heard about before,” the Dark said as he guided their newest recruit into the room.
Wyrm didn’t turn around and only used a camera to watch them come in. She knew all about Mindstar, of course. Her familial background, the untimely death of her parents, her younger (probably slightly autistic) brother, her resume as a supervillain, her powerset, her likes and dislikes… she’d profiled her, after all, before the offer for her to join was ever even considered.
“Whoa, my little bro would love this place. He adores fiddling around with electronics,” the tall, indecently dressed young woman said.
“I can imagine. Wyrm has built up quite the collection of equipment.” He didn’t even spare a glance at her too-tight suit. “If you need to do research, or hack into a place, just ask her. She can get into pretty much any place, given enough time and motivation.”
“I see. Oi, can you hear us?” Mindstar asked.
She shook her head in response.
“Oh, ha-ha,” the newbie replied with a roll of her eyes. “How about looking at people?”
She pointed at the camera pointing at Mindstar.
The young woman frowned, concentrating – and she recoiled, taking a step back. “What the fuck!?”
The Dark laughed out loud, making Mindstar stagger back from him, too. “Ahhh, you tried to get into her head? Bad idea – her speciality is Communication technologies – and the blocking thereof. She once managed to work out a system for protecting her brain from most telepathic attacks.”
“I’ve never heard of Gadgeteers doing that!”
“You’ll find that Wyrm is not like your average Gadgeteer, at all. Anyway, you’ve been introduced to her, now let’s go and meet the rest of the gang…”
He lead her out of the room, closing the door.
Wyrm changed data feeds and arranged for several bugs to be installed in her brother’s room. If he was so interested in technology, and the brother of a metahuman, he just might manifest as a Gadgeteer himself…
* * *
A week after the Hastur incident
Wyrm was not at her workstation. That wasn’t because she wasn’t working – she always had routines going on, automated processes gathering and organizing information from all over the world, keeping an eye on things…
But ever since she’d had a near-miss with a heart attack from simply sitting around too much without any exercise (back in 1977), she’d made sure to include three hours of physical workout into her daily schedule. Half an hour before breakfast, two hours before lunch and another half hour before dinner.
She’d just started her breakfast workout when a message appeared on her helmet monitor (she didn’t take it off for her training, or for anything, really).
Project S-Breaker completed.
She almost fell off her treadmill. When she’d caught herself again, she ran back to her seat and sat down, calling the project up.
There it was. After eighteen years of unsuccessful attempts, she’d finally managed to steal Sovereign’s secure files. And he apparently hadn’t found out yet. Hopefully, he never would until it was too late.
Smiling beneath her helmet, she fed the data into her translation program. Nine years ago, she’d managed to get one of Sovereign’s schematics for his Subjugator’s joints. It had taken her most of a year to decipher his winding, cancerous diagrams and schematics, but she had deciphered them – just like she always did, eventually.
Now she let the translator do its work, translating his entire library of inventions into her own, more familiar script. Hers resembled more the look of very finely branching circuitry bords, the lines crips and precise. The opposite of Sovereign’s, really. His was more organic.
But it could be translated.
Even though the first attempt ended up garbled and useless.
So she spent the next three hours translating one of his files by hand. It turned out to be a plasma cannon. She then compared the work she’d done on the one she’d done on the joint-schematics. Based on that, she refined the algorithm and let the program try and translate again, slowing it down enough for her to follow and correct it along the way.
Twenty-one hours later (including two breaks for healthy workout and three regular meals), she’d finally done it.
Now, she called up her own schematics, and began redesigning her personal power armor first.
Sovereign’s joints. His plasma canon. Power Machine’s synthetic muscles. Brennus’ ceramic armor. Tinman’s armor frame, Tingirl’s weight distributors (a shame she’d died so early, before she could even claim the name of Tinwoman – but her murder certainly had motivated her father to push his power armor development to the limit in his quest for vengeance), Mechano’s jetpack array…
And, after several other pieces of technology she’d copied from other Gadgeteers, she now added Sovereign’s force-field technology and portable reactor.
Now, if only she had Macian’s kinetic repulsors and Su Lin’s teleportation system…
Because this was her true strength. A strength that tied into her name, even though she hadn’t thought about it (hadn’t even known about it) back when she chose the name.
What did the dragon do?
It lay hidden beneath the earth, resting, waiting. And yet it grew, even there. A dragon, a wyrm only grew bigger and stronger with age, its coils extending to surround the very planet.
Her coils were old, her coils were big, her coils were strong.
And there was no end in sight.