B009.5 Family Matters

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He walked aimlessly for about an hour, ignoring the biting cold – weather had turned bad, and he could see storm clouds in the distance. It made him think of that weather machine he’d started working on but never finished. His power had just run into a wall over and over, then shifted over to his three-d maneuvering gear. Twenty-four thousand, eight-hundred and twelve dollars, wasted. No wonder he was running out, he aborted more projects than he ever finished; add maintenance costs, not to mention the stuff for Tyche and Hecate…

I need more money. Once he got back to the workshop, he would sit down and go through his scripts for getting money the less legal way. Maybe I can rip off organized crime again. Just have to be careful not to go after any Syndicate accounts.

His cellphone rang, but he turned it off after looking at the caller ID. Eudocia. He kept walking. He was near the Goldschmidt Park (the family had been some of the best the city had ever known; the Dark had been an exception to the rule) when a light snow began to fall. Nothing compared to what the storm clouds in the distance promised, but snow nonetheless.

I love the snow, the man in the moon said, wistfully. Could you look up for a moment?

Basil complied, looking up at the clouds above, and the falling snow. It does make me feel… strange. Always did, as far back as I can remember, he replied, not moving from where he stood. Skyscrapers were rising up to the left and right of him, but in front of him the city opened up for the park, and the wind was coming right at him. Just strong enough to make the snowflakes dance towards his face. I wish I could paint, capture this moment.

I knew a guy who could paint better than anyone. He’d turn this into a masterpiece.

Just who are you? Basil asked, with little weight behind it. He had far bigger issues to deal with right now. Why are you in my head?

I… I can’t answer. Not really, I’m sorry, he replied, sounding genuinely apologetic. I could probably manage a cryptic clue, if you want. But I imagine that’d be really frustrating.

Basil sighed, and continued on his way into the park. He heard wings flap, and a low mechanical sound, and one of his ravens landed on his left shoulder. It was quite heavy – one of the upgraded ones, for combat purposes. Another money sink. They’re really useful in a fight, but are too fragile for their cost. Best to save them for surveillance purposes. “I don’t want to talk right now,” he said to Eudocia.

The raven nodded, and simply remained on his shoulder, its weight oddly soothing. He walked into the park, following the still visible path through the trees – the park was huge, having been rebuilt bigger than it had been before Lennston had been destroyed and subsequently reconstructed from the grounds up, as the foundations in this part were judged compromised beyond being worth fixing. They had added a huge memorial for all the people who died due to Desolation-in-Light’s attack. There were several of its kind all throughout the world – monoliths made of solid black marble, so dark they seemed to eat the light. Like giant ‘fuck you’s to DiL, the man in the moon commented, and he was not wrong. The name of every identified victim was carved into the monolith, and marks for unidentified ones. Even from the edge of the park, amidst the trees, the monolith could be seen rising into the sky.

Basil turned away from the main path, looking for one of his favourite places for just being by himself and thinking. A small glade with a park bench right underneath a wooden roof that had once been painted white, but was now covered in amateur imitations of some of Ember’s early work. Mostly superhero motifs. There was a small pond right in front of it, and it would probably be frozen over by now. Another nice picture.

The raven flew away just as he entered, and for good reason – there were people there. Three of them.

Basil almost turned around and left on the spot, but two of the three caught his eye and stayed where he was, for a moment, just watching. There was someone – a man in a very expensive three-piece suit – sitting on the bench, reading a newspaper. Behind the bench, two women flanked him. They looked utterly identical, and were very obviously superhuman. Attractive in a sharp, predatory way, their black hair cut to just below their ears. Their eyes were black all the way through, abysmal pits, their lips pale and they wore simple grey suits cut to their slender forms, with black shirts and grey ties. They turned their heads in a synchronized motion the moment he got within view from the glade, then seemed to dismiss him and stared straight ahead again. There was a portable electric heater visible right behind the bench, where the man sat. It was turned on and glowing with the promise of warmth.

I know them from somewhere, he thought, but could not quite recall from where. He was more curious about the man they seemed to be protecting, anyway. Few men would run around in public with so openly scary metahuman bodyguards.

After a few moments, the man lowered the newspaper and looked at him. No way. What is he doing here?

He was lean, like he could use a few more meals a day, and had a distinctly… aristocratic look to himself. His blonde hair – which left the front half of his scalp bare – was threaded through with silver, as was the goatee that looked like it was shaved with precision tools. The aristocratic look was topped by an elegant nose and rimless spectacles with what appeared to be a pure gold frame. “Young man,” he said in a pleasant, sharp voice, enunciating his every syllable with deliberate precision. “You’ll catch a cold, standing in the snow like that. Don’t be shy, and sit down and warm up.”

Basil was moving almost before he realized that he decided to do so, and he sat down next to the man, sparing a glance at his suit. It looked like it was more expensive than his power armor. And that did not even account for the gold chain that indicated a pocketwatch. “A good afternoon, Sir,” he said, sittind at a polite distance to the man – but close enough to benefit from the heater.

The man threw a glance to his side, and the woman closest to Basil moved the heater over to stand beneath the center of the bench, warming them both.

Ohh, this is nice. “Thank you, Sir.”

“You’re welcome, young man. What brings a youth like you to this place, at this time, alone?” the famous man said.

“Long story, Sir. My name is Basil, by the way. A pleasure to meet you,” Basil replied, a little uncomfortable, and a lot curious. He had put a lot of research into this man.

“Oh, please excuse my manners!” the man said, holding out a hand. Basil shook it – his grip was stronger than his lean build suggested. “Magnus Amadeus Karlson, a pleasure.”

“I never thought I’d meet the richest man in this little retreat from the world,” Basil commented after they let go of each other’s hands. Pretty much everyone (except Dalia, most likely) knew the founder and main shareholder of Magnus Incorporated.

Magnus chuckled as he folded his newspaper up and lifted it up over his shoulder. One of the twins took it and put it into a suitcase that stood at her feet. “I grew up here. Not many people know that,” he replied. “My parents’ house stood right here. I was born and raised on this ground.” He looked up and pointed at a point four meters in front and five meters above them. “That’s where the bed stood in which my mother gave birth to me,” he explained.

Basil looked up past that point at the falling snow. It was growing stronger. “Did your family survive the attack?” he asked without looking at the man.

He missed the wry smile on his face. “What a straightforward boy you are. My parents died long before that poor little girl attacked this city.”

What? Basil’s head whipped around to look at the man. “Poor little girl? I do not think I have ever heard anyone describe Desolation-in-Light as a ‘poor little girl’.”

This time, he did see the wry smile. It looked oddly natural on the man’s face. “Think about it,” Magnus said. “She was born with power beyond mortal comprehension, at its mercy, unable to control herself or her power, forced to grow up in seconds and has now been rampaging across the world, alone, for more than two decades. There seems to be plenty to pity there,” he continued in a calm, precise manner. “Many compare her to a nuclear weapon that flies around by itself, or a natural catastrophe, but I only see a broken little girl in a woman’s body at the mercy of powers none of us – except maybe her parents – are capable of understanding.”

Basil thought it over for a minute, and Magnus seemed content to just sit there and relax. “I have to say, this is the most… empathic view I have ever heard anyone express towards her,” he said, slowly.

“It doesn’t change much. She still needs to be put down. But I, at least, shall mourn the necessity – so much potential, wasted,” Magnus commented, wistful.

He nodded, leaning back on the bench. The heater had turned it toasty warm, and it felt surprisingly good to just talk to someone. What are you thinking, mate?

“May I ask a complicated question, Sir?” he asked.

Magnus looked at him, blue-grey eyes sparkling. “Of course. I may not answer, though.” The corners of his mouth turned up just a little.

“What would you do, if the person closest to you – a relative, a wife, a friend – was, hypothetically, evil?”

 

* * *

 

Magnus chuckled and turned to face him fully, putting one arm over the back of the bench, a casually interested posture. “Now, why would a teenager ask me that?” he asked with a smile.

Now, to keep it vague. “Well… my sister is… into some bad stuff. And I don’t know how to deal with it,” Basil explained.

“Hmhmm. Have you talked to your parents about it?” the lean man inquiried.

“They’re dead,” Basil replied bluntly, without any particular emotion. He had not thought about them in a long time. “It’s just me and her now, and…”

“And you’re afraid of pushing away the one piece of family you have left by taking a wrong step,” Magnus stated.

Basil looked away, idly taking measure of the twins while he blinked the tears away before they could show up. If he was honest with himself, that had really been the problem from the begin with. He did not have anyone, really, apart from her. His friends barely knew anything about him, his girlfriend was somehow tied into his memory issues… but he had always had Amy.

Except she was part of the problem, was she not? He was not stupid. He trusted her… but he had considered the possibility that it was her screwing with his mind. Not maliciously, maybe not out of her own free will. She might be coerced, or trying to protect him in some twisty way. What spoke against that was that it was his memories that were fucked up. He had looked the subject up, and there were two known cases of metahumans being able to affect long-term memories over an extended period of time without devoting constant attention and effort to do so – the Dark could cheat by possessing someone with one of his wraiths which would then devote said attention and effort to it and Hannibal Storm had, too – but he could not imagine the Dark making such a sloppy job of it, if he even had a reason to mess with him like that, and Hannibal Storm… not an option. To his knowledge, there was no one else who could do it, but then again, how would he know? It was the kind of power one would do their best to keep secret, and being able to affect long-term memories…

“What are you thinking about, Basil?” Magnus asked, having waited half a minute for his answer.

Basil shook his head. Not the time for that. “I am sorry, Sir. You are right. That is exactly the problem.”

“Hm, quite the conundrum. What are your options, as far as you know?” he prodded.

“I could just… keep ignoring it. But that is not doing something, that is just… ignoring the issue, and that would be wrong. I could turn her in, but… no. She is my sister, I can not do that. But… how can I consider myself a good person when I am not willing to take every possible step to stop her?”

Magnus’ face turned sympathetic at the sight of Basil’s expression, and he leaned back. “Have you tried talking to her? About her stopping with whatever it is she’s doing?”

“I… I tried to raise the issue, but it never went anywhere. She would not budge from her own opinion, anyway. She never has.”

The lean man frowned at him. “Sounds to me like you’re just too afraid to confront her. And you should. Make it clear how you feel about it all, and that you want her to stop?”

“I… I would like to, but I am… afraid. Not of her – she would never actually harm me – but-“

“But you’re afraid that she might leave,” Magnus completed his sentence. “That you might be alone, and that terrifies you.”

Basil nodded.

Magnus sighed. “What a conundrum. Look, I’m not the best person to ask about this – I was born a gutter boy in Lennston’s worst parts, and I went to be the richest man in the world. I didn’t achieve that by being nice, or even good.” He looked over his shoulder at the twins. “I wouldn’t need H and M here if I hadn’t given a lot of people reason to want me dead.” The twins nodded in a synchronized motion.

“And yet you invited a complete stranger to join you on the bench. Aren’t you the least bit worried I might be a super-powered assassin?” Basil asked with a wry smile. “Not to mention the fact that you are out here, with only two – admittedly very intimidating – bodyguards to protect you, in a place not nearly safe from metahuman or mundane assassins – such as snipers.”

It only elicited a chuckle. He pointed over his shoulder at the twin to his right. “H here is a rather peculiar precog. She can calculate probabilities, to a certain extent. It only works within a short ‘range’, but is very, very accurate. If you meant me harm, she would have warned me, and the two of them would remove me from the premises,” he explained.

“I could have some perception power myself, to counter her precognition,” Basil replied.

“In which case she’d see her numbers being messed with and would remove me immediately,” Magnus continued. “M here is not here just for being eye candy, either. And they are just the defenses you can see.”

Basil nodded. Quite sensible. “Are all your bodyguards metahumans?”

“No,” he replied with a smile, but did not elaborate. “Now,” he added, half-turning on the bench and steepling his fingers in front of his face. “Since we have established that I am not a good man, I ask you to take everything I say with a grain of salt… but I think turning her in would be the worst thing you could do. That would be both easy and simple, and you can usually tell the wrong decision among a line-up by it being both of those,” he elaborated. “But neither should you ignore it – that would be easy and complicated, a dangerous combination. No, the best thing you can do is hard. Really hard, but simple.”

“An interesting way of evaluating options,” Basil commented.

“No one ever achieved anything worthwhile by going down the easy route,” Magnus stated simply. “Turning your sister in, or ignoring the issue, would just mean giving up on her.” He moved a little closer, licking his lips as he prepared to continue. Basil noticed that he was getting animated for the first time during their conversation. “About fifteen years ago, there was this hero, Silverstreak. He had one of these archnemesis relationships with a villainess named Scarlet Starlet. What neither of them knew was that they knew each other in their secret identities. They actually fell in love and married, keeping their costumed lives a secret from each other for ten years. They had seven children during that time. Then he found out, and he immediately turned her in.” He sneered with contempt. “He explained his decision as such – he still loved her, but he could not justify putting innocents at risk just for the sake of their family.”

“That… sounds like a good reason to do that,” Basil said, lowering his head. He had never heard that story before.

“Not at all, my boy. Look at what he achieved – he tore his family apart, betrayed the woman he’d sworn he would stand by through every trial, inadvertently exposing his and her true identity to the public due to a mess-up,” Magnus explained. “His children were bullied so badly, they had to leave their home and go into witness protection on top of that.”

“What should he have done, then? Let her carry on?”

“No!” Magnus replied, startled. “He should have tried to change her. Stick with her. Don’t stop believing in her. No one’s ever achieved anything by giving up. It would have been hard. He would have had to shoulder a lot of weight on his consciousness, a lot of guilt. People would get hurt. But at least he wouldn’t have given up.”

“Hmm.” He had never looked at it this way. He was not sure he could… shoulder that. “You despise people who give up?”

“Very much so. Look, there are only two ways to really lose, you know? To truly fail. It’s to die, or to give up,” Magnus explained. “I never punish employee’s if they couldn’t achieve their objective, so long as they fought for it to the end – only if they gave up before exploring all options, do I get… cross with them.” He raised a finger, shaking it in front of Basil’s face. “Now, you seem like a bright young man to me. Too young, really, to have to deal with something that haunts you as much as your sister’s deeds do. But, I will expect of you the same I would expect of anyone – fight for those you love, and for what you believe in. You obviously love your sister, or you wouldn’t be so conflicted. And you believe in morality, in some form of ethics, or you wouldn’t feel conflicted over her deeds. So I advise you to walk the hard path. And it is so very hard – but also quite simple. Don’t give up on her. Do everything you can think of to convince her to change her ways. Only once you have exhausted all other options should you turn her in. Do you understand?”

Basil nodded, fighting not to cry. He felt like this was something his father should be doing, and for some reason, it was tearing him up now. “I’ll try.”

“Good. Do that. And furtherm-“

M touched his shoulder, cutting him off. “You have a dinner appointment, Sir,” she said in an ice-cold, precise voice. “We need to go on our way, soon.”

Magnus sighed. “Ah well, duty calls.” He stood up, straightening out his suit and putting on a coat that had been hanging over the bench with help from M. “We should talk again some other time. I feel that you’ll be a very engaging conversational partner.”

“You sure, Sir? Most people find me annoyingly… ‘geeky’, I think,” Basil asked, smiling up at him after he dried his eyes.

The lean man only smiled. “I know people. I know them very well. And I’ll be here, next week, from… seven to eight pm?” He looked searchingly at H.

“Seventy-nine percent chance for that to work out, Sir. Eighteen percent that you will be late, but still present. Three percent chance that you will miss it entirely. Forty-five percent chance he will be here, twenty-three percent chance he will be late, thirty-two percent chance he won’t make it at all,” she replied with machine precision.

He turned back to smile at Basil. “Well, those are rather good numbers, all things considered. Have a nice day, Basil, thank you for the conversation and I wish you the best of success with your sister.”

Basil rose, and shook the lean man’s hand. “It is me who should thank you. And you have a good week, Sir. I will be here, if at all possible.”

Magnus nodded and walked away, M smoothly drawing out an umbrella to protect him from the falling snow, while H walked ahead to open up a path in the snow, so he wouldn’t get too dirty or wet.

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To sleep, perchance to dream…

I’ll keep this short. The reason why there wasn’t a bonus chapter this week is because I’ve been working on a side project of mine.

Now, the first chapter is up for all to read! It’s an urban fantasy serial, a far more personal, street-level story than Brennus. I’m not going to spoil any more, but I aimed for a more gritty, horror-style work in this one.

So, if you are interested, enter The Dreaming

No fixed update schedule yet. Brennus takes precedence – I will be writing this purely when it wouldn’t conflict with Brennus, so don’t worry and just have fun!

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn

Brennus Files 04: Monsters of Yore

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These are the monsters that make the Dark seem not so bad.

Dread Roger

The very, very first S-Class metahuman, Dread Roger was a supervillain of the late twenties and early thirties. Little is known about his past, other than his Nationality – he spoke with a Dutch accent, though he did use the English language. A self-styled “Heir to Blackbeard”, his powers allowed him to terrorize the world for seven years, before he mysteriously vanished – the world simply wasn’t ready to deal with someone of his abilities.

His powers were multilayered:

  • He was tough enough to go toe to toe with a normal-sized Kraquok and shrug off even military rifle rounds of the time. His strength matched his toughness, and his reaction speed allowed him to cut bullets out of the air.
  • His Captain’s Uniform gave him the ability to fly, and his cutlass could cut through solid steel and his flintgun could blow up cars.
  • His main power created a pirate ship that could fly – and, as he put it, “sail across the oceans of reality”. It was self-repairing, self-flying, had cannons that could take down buildings and could evade most pursuit by escaping into other dimensions (one theory as to his disappearance is that he ran afoul of something even he couldn’t deal with, in some other dimension). What was most terrifying, though, was his crew. He could make deals with people, taking them into his crew. His crewmembers were empowered by him, becoming monstrous and immortal – no matter what happened to them, they would be reborn on his ship, after a while. The only limit was the maximal capacity of his ship (around 100 people, no one ever got the exact number out of him).
  • The top three reasons for joining his crew, back then: Terminal Illness, Greed, Flight from Enemies
  • Estimates put about four thousand deaths to his name, and several million dollars of damage (at a time where that was an incredible amount of money).

 

Queen Bee

Queen Bee surfaced in the late fifties in Southern Iran – at least that’s where her first colony was stationed. She was a monstrous being, a twisted bee-woman the size of a horse who implanted her eggs into the bodies of her victims. The eggs hatched, and her children worked their way up into the brain of their host, taking over their bodies. Depending on their caste – worker, warrior, spy or bodyguard for the queen – they developed different mutations and powers, and shared a hive mind with her as the center and master controller.

Ironically, Queen Bee did not meet her end at the hands of any hero – but at the hands of Weisswald. In 1958, she attacked and killed a whole division of his metahuman army near the Turkish border – as she was quite unwilling to negotiate with him, he set out to take her down. The following battle – which he won, if barely – contributed greatly to giving the PATO and the Sovjet Union time to recuperate, gather their forces and plan how to strike back. Despite the terror she caused – nearly a hundred thousand people are supposed to have died at the hands of the Queen Bee and her “children” – she is considered one of the main reasons for the allied victory (apart from Lady Lights near-legendary rampage after the death of Brightchild).

 

The Nightmare Sun

In 1983, a glowing figure appeared over the Vietnamese city of Hue. Within three hours, the city had been entirely depopulated, and the Nightmare Sun flew out onto the ocean.

Three weeks later, it appeared at the coast of Ecuador and flew in a straight line towards the Atlantic Ocean, before swerving South to enter Brazil, and continuing towards the Southernmost tip of the continent.

Whomever its cruel light touched saw their own shadow come to life, rise from the ground and become… something. Whatever they feared mosts, monstrosities that embodied their each and every fear and shame. Many died simply from looking at them, their hearts ceasing their function from the shock. Many more died when the monstrosities went on a rampage – even the death of their creators did not stop these monsters, and each of them was hard to put down to say the least. The more powerful the person was that spawned them, the more powerful the shadows were. They also seemed to react strongly to powers that related to creating or intensifying light – shadows of such people were even more powerful.

The Nightmare Sun itself was a being made of pure light. There was no body, nothing to attack. It did not even seem to have a mind, or at least it was utterly immune and undetectable for mental powers. No one, not even Lady Light and the Dark, were able to so much as slow it down – only mitigate the damage its spawn caused (they did prove to be some of the few people immune to its power – fortunately, the world never had to find out what the shadow of Lady Light would have been capable of).

A week and a half after it appeared at the South American shore, the Nightmare Sun vanished. There was only a single, unreliable eye witness report – a small child that had escaped its light until the last moment – and when its shadow rose, it was immediately crushed underfoot by what it described as “that funny mirror man”. She went on to describe him punching the Nightmare Sun so hard “he punched it into another world”. Neither the Nightmare Sun nor the mirror man were ever seen again, as far as the world knows.

The final death toll of the Nightmare Sun’s rampage is estimated at about two million people – and the only reason it wasn’t more was because it didn’t specifically target population centers. In fact, to this day, it remains a mystery how and why it took the route it did.

The Iron Dragon

The Iron Dragon held, for the longest time, the distinction of being the oldest operating supervillain, second only to the Dark, with the Matriarch close behind. A mastermind of a villain, he got his start in LA’s Chinatown. His power was rather simple – he could always tell when someone lied. Always. He levereged that into taking over the triads, becoming the first great superpowered crime boss (the Dark was still flying solo at the time, save for his sidekick Kraquok).

At first, the man who called himself the Iron Dragon (it’s not known if he was actually of Chinese descent, despite his style – he always wore a mask) simply took over the local triad and profited from normal crime.

Then, two years after he first came to power, a group of superheroes managed to take his operation apart, and he fled the country when the government came after him.

For five years, no one in the West heard of the Iron Dragon, and he was thought either dead, or retired on his substantial private coffers.

Then, rumors came in of a new mastermind in the Chinese Empire, which was then still independent of the Sovjet Union. Many dismissed them out of hand – the Emperor did not tolerate supervillains, and the empire was, at the time, the most powerful police state in the world, even more so than the Sovjet Union. And these stories spoke of a man calling himself the Iron Dragon, who was leading a war against the Emperor, demanding the throne for himself.

A year later, the Iron Dragon had taken over, declaring himself Emperor. What follows is sketchy, at best. There were stories of Eugenics programs, of him trying to breed a new race of pure metahumans. There were stories of rape camps, where normal women and metahuman women who opposed him both were used by metahuman men to breed more children with the “metahuman gene”. But no one in the West cared much what happened to a bunch of Chinese people.

It wasn’t until the second world war that people payed attention again – because his ideas seemed quite similar to Weisswalds, and no one wanted Weisswald to get an ally as big as Imperial China. Thus, a team of metahuman spies known as the Dragonslayers were sent into the empire to find out what exactly was going on.

What they found was worse than the rumors. Whatever madness had befallen the Iron Dragon, it had driven him to rework entire cities into breeding camps, under the then still widely believed theory that metahumans were genetically different and could pass on their powers. He had drummed up an army of metahumans – almost all of the lowest level, but still more than anything anyone had known at the time – and was preparing to assault Korea, in order to incorporate the population in his program.

What followed is one of the most legendary and highly fictionalized acts of covert warfare in history, a five year campaign that ended with more than two hundred thousand Chinese dead, and the Iron Dragon slain by one of his own lieutenants. China was so weakened after the “Dragonslayer’s War” that it was easy for the Sovjet Union to absorb it – and the countless metahumans left in the wake of the Iron Dragon’s terror – after Weisswald’s fall, thus contributing in large parts to their modern-day power.

The Godking of Mars

Emyr Blackhill. An author of science fiction novels and short stories. Born to a baker and a professional dancer from London, emigrated to America at the age of twelve. Straight A student, but too lazy to really do much with it apart from writing stories. His parents died in an accident when he was eighteen. He had no close friends. When he was twenty-two, he vanished.

Five years later, scientists were elated when they observed activity on the surface of Mars, using Earth-based telescopes. People couldn’t believe it, but there seemed to be intelligent life on Mars, after all. And it was building something big on the surface. Bigger than any human city, and it seemed to be a single building.

A mere five months after construction began, a structure could be seen. A single grand building, a palace, perhaps, bigger than the State of California.

Five weeks later, the Martian Army invaded Earth, striking simultaneously across the globe, their ships appearing out of strange rifts in space.

Five days later, Emyr Blackhill, self-proclaimed Godking of Mars, had conquered the Planet Earth, with only a few pockets of resistance left (the biggest led by Lady Light and the Dark).

A desperate final plan was hatched, and Lady Light and the Dark attacked the Martian headquarters on Earth (stationed in Roswell, New Mexico) – but it was only a distraction. A small, elite team of heroes and villains hijacked a Martian ship and took one of the rifts to their homeplanet – and to their god’s palace, Gran Gyagas, a building so massive it dwarfed any mortal construction in history.

Five hours later, his people began to fade, their impossible technology falling apart, their very bodies turning into… nothing.

The details of the battle are shrouded in myth, for there were no survivors, but this is known: Gungnir, a young supervillainess under the command of the Dowager, managed to penetrate the Godking’s defenses and slayed him, paying with her very life.

Nothing remained of the Martian Empire but the massive, sprawling palace, and the Godking’s corpse, transfixed, to this day, to his own throne by Gungnir’s spear.

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B009.a The Spirit of the Hunt

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“Pale, he’s pretty much on our heels! We have to surrender!”

The man known as Palechuck turned to look at his companions. Only three were left of his group, him included. They’d once been fifteen. Fifteen awakened souls. Just an hour ago, they’d all gathered in their hideout, to plan their next strike against the Tyrant’s regime.

He’d lost twelve good men and women, without even seeing their enemy. They’d known that the Tyrant had some real monsters under her control, but this was just ridiculous.

What was even worse was that they were clearly being played with. He wasn’t taking them seriously, at all. He stalked them, hidden, of course. But he made sounds. Growled, snarled, giggled, laughed. And many others. Always announcing his presence. Worst of all was the clicking. Clicking his tongue, despite the normalcy of the sound, was the most unnerving part of the cacophony he produced. It was nerve-wracking. And humiliating.

So he couldn’t quite blame the young woman – who was bearing the unassuming name Canary – for considering surrender. It was the quick, easy way out.

But their group hadn’t been formed to take that path. It had been formed to fight the Tyrant and her creatures. And he’d rather die than betray that purpose.

Besides, they might manage to get rid of one of her favourite pets, if they played their cards right.

“No way. We can’t give up now – we have to do our best to take him down!” he replied, trying to sound confident. When Canary and Redrocker, the oldest member of their group, gave him unbelieving looks, he took them around a corner of the complex they were running through – an old military bunker that they’d fled into – and into a safe room. The door was thicker than a man and made of solid steel, as it had been built during the Kangaroo Wars to withstand the Kangoroo King’s crazed monster hordes. He and Redrocker turned the wheel on the inside with some difficulty, locking the door.

Then they leaned against it, catching their breath. Palechuck took stock of the room and his teammembers as he did so.

The room was rather small, the walls old but clean – it had been sealed until recently. There was a single lamp illuminating the place, and one exit opposite of the entry. It all smelled rather unpleasant, stale.

His teammates looked worse than the room smelled. Redrocker was already nearly fifty years old, a veteran of fifteen different wars, a man who had faced the Tyrant in her early days and got away – and Palechuck did not think he would survive the next hour. His clothes, a haphazard combination of travel clothes and military fatigues, where torn and bloody, his left arm smashed and mending far too slowly. The man’s face was drawn and tired, his gnarled features twisted even more by pain. A knit cap was hiding his stark white hair, a remnant of being heard by Blackheart. Despite it all, though, there was a determined light in his eyes.

Canary was as much an opposite of him as she could be while still be on the same side. She was young, not even twenty years old, with soft yellow hair – not blonde, real bright yellow – impossibly soft, smooth skin and eyes that were bright yellow all over, no pupils, no white. Some make up turned her eye-lids and lips yellow, too, making her seem even warmer and a little more alien. Her hair fell down to the small of her back, with two thick tresses falling over her front, just barely covering her bare breasts. Her only piece of clothing was a pair of military pants cut off at the knee and a pair of yellow sneakers. The only pieces left, actually. Dustcone’s power had caught her, accidentily, and dissolved her clothing above the waist. Now she was hugging herself, trying to hide her nakedness.

“We have to surrender, Pale,” she whimpered, tears running down her cheeks. Her soft soprano voice only made her seem even younger and more vulnerable now.

“No,” he replied. “No, we need to fight. There’s only one of them, if we can just get the drop-“

“Two,” corrected Redrocker. “They never operate alone. Always two, three, five or all seven at once.”

“So there’s another one out there!?” Canary gasped, falling down to her knees as she hugged herself. “Th-th-that one was enough to kill everyone but us!”

“No, no,” Palechuck tried to reassure her, to regain the momentum here. He threw Redrocker a glare – they didn’t need facts now, they needed hope. “That explains how so many of us got killed – one of them must have been hiding in the shadows, supporting Totemiac.”

“Which one? Not Tick-Tock. We’d know it if she was here – she rarely kills,” Redrocker said, leaning against the nearest wall. “Prospero wouldn’t act subtly and-“

“What does it matter!?” shouted Canary. “We’ve lost! There were fifteen of us, maybe two of them. Less than an hour and there’s three of us left. Please, just… just make it stop, I can’t take it anymore…” She began to sob, bending over.

Palechuck looked down at her, feeling both pity and disgust. She’d been such a promising new recruit, but she was broken now. Even if she could recover, it wouldn’t happen quickly enough.

“Heh-heh, heeeeee,” wheezed a mocking voice. “The girl is smart, smart, smaaaaaart. Listen to her!” The voice almost broke, screaming the last sentence, before it broke out into wheezing laughter. Palechuck couldn’t tell where exactly it came from, it seemed to bounce off of every surface of the room.

“The Coyote…” whispered Redrocker. “That explains why we didn’t see anyone befo-“

He was cut off when the wall behind him twisted, swirled, and a lance of concrete almost pierced his chest – it was only thanks to his supernatural senses that he managed to evade, rolling away from the attack.

“He’s only vulnerable when h-” Redrocker tried to say, but was cut off when another lance emerged from beneath, almost penetrating his throat as he was still on his arm and legs.

“Don’t be a sniiiiiiitch!” mocked the Coyote, as a widely grinning mouth formed in the floor right next to Canary. She shrieked, scrambling away from it. “Now, listen to the pretty boo- I mean, girl, and sur-“

He flicked his hand out and a spear emerged out of the ceiling, made of concrete, and pierced the mouth. “Shut the fuck up, you traitor!” Palechuck snarled.

Another mouth formed next to the previous one, frowning. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to in-” Another spear transfixed it.

“Redrocker, get t-“

A loud noise drowned out his order. He screamed, but didn’t hear as his hands flew to his ears in reflex, covering them even as he threw himself forward and over Canary’s prone form, rolling to get back up on his feet.

Looking back, he saw that his instincts hadn’t disappointed – the screaming noise had been the massive steel door bending violently, a mass of lances filling the space where he’d just stood.

We can’t fight them here, he thought. We need an open space. “Run!” he shouted, pointing towards the other door in case the others didn’t hear him, and he hauled towards it, too.

“Oh no you don’t!” their enemy shouted, and Palechuck thought he saw a kind of transparent shadow glide over the floor, towards the door.

Canary was already moving, almost crawling towards the door, while Redrocker was back on his feet, spending another charge of his power to launch himself towards the door and slam through it. The slimmer steel door shattered as he past through, moments before the shadow on the floor reached it.

Is that where his body is? Palechuck asked himself. They’d never been able to find out how exactly the Coyote’s power worked, but smarter people than him had suggested that he was vulnerable to physical attacks in some way. Provided one could hit him. One way to find out… He flicked his hand, and three spears emerged from the wall to the side, flying towards the barely visible shadow on the ground.

It twisted, evading them by contorting itself into an utterly inhuman shape.

He had to evade! He’s vulnerable! He was just about to tell the others to attack when the Coyote lunged towards Redrocker, who’d just landed on his feet again.

“Redrocker, he’s right under you!” Palechuck shouted, but it was too late. Before Redrocker could recover the use of his power, lances thrust up from the floor below, impaling his legs, transfixing them.

The man screamed breathlessly and Canary gasped, stopping her dash to flee, grabbing his arm as if to pull him away.

“No! Run, Canary!”, the older man shouted, trying to push her away.

Before the Coyote could take her down, too, Palechuck grabbed her arm in turn and tore her away from him. “I’ll avenge you, Redrocker!” Palechuck shouted over his shoulder as he ran into the darker hallway and around a corner.

Canary sobbed, moving mindlessly after him as they heard Redrocker scream in pain behind them.

If only she’d use her power! Palechuck thought, but he knew it was futile. She’d tried to, but Totemiac had blocked her and then proceeded to scare her beyond reason. And her power required concentration and time.

“Canary, listen to me!” he told her as he took a stairway downwards. “This bunker should open to a small dock in a cavern, with a boat for escaping! If we can get there, we can flee – the Coyote’s power doesn’t work on water!”

He didn’t look behind him at her – he couldn’t risk it – but he heard her mouth an affirmation, and took that as his cue to let go of her arm.

They ran down the stairs, several flights, and if he was quite sure that he’d be completely out of breath by now if it wasn’t for his awakened physique. Canary didn’t sound like she was holding up so well – for all her superhuman beauty, her body wasn’t exactly blessed with superhuman endurance.

And yet he had to get away from here with her. She was the last God Tier metahuman left in the rebellion, doubtlessly the reason why the Queensguard was bothering to attack them in person instead of sending in their rank and file.

They never actually attacked her, he realized. Neither Totemiac before, nor the Coyote just now, even though she’d been an easy target. They want her alive.

Which meant they wanted to take her to the tyrant herself, to be turned.

Finally, as they neared the last flight of stairs – the air had gotten noticably colder – he threw a glance back at her. She wasn’t even bothering to cover her chest up anymore – he idly thought that she was lucky not to have the usual endowment that went with superhuman beauty, because that would be quite painful right about now – and her face was a mess, her cheeks read and her eyes streaming tears.

I’ll have to kill her if I can’t get her out of here. Her power would be a catastrophe in the hands of the tyrant, he realized with a sick feeling in his stomach. But the cause was more important than one life, even one as young as hers.

He looked forward again, so she wouldn’t read his facial expression – not that she was likely to in her current state.

They reached another door and he forced it open, and beyond there was the dock…

And Totemiac, standing at the end of it, guarding the boat.

They knew of this place. How? he thought, and then another thought hit him. The Coyote was just distracting us, to give him time to get here!

Dropping into a fighting stance, Palechuck advanced slowly towards their enemy, the frightened Canary right behind him.

Totemiac was… weird was not the right word. Utterly demented in appearance and mind both was better. He looked like nothing but a man-sized brown-golden fur ball, with four two-meter-long gnarled arms emerging from folds of the fur, ending in nine-jointed fingers with wicked claws the length of daggers at the tips. His fur was in constant motion, half-seen faces of… things moving in the shadows, never quite distinguishable, never quite possible to ignore. It looked like he was flowing out of and back into himself, for lack of a better word.

And the noise. It was the worst part. Like countless animals of all kinds, barking, wheezing, chattering, whistling, singing, shouting, laughing, panting and so much noise. It never stopped, never took on a pattern that might make it bearable, it only built on itself to get worse and worse.

“You’re not getting past me,” Palechuck threatened the tyrant’s pet, but it only shook in place, as if laughing. It was hard to tell, with all the noise it made.

Then, something like a warthog’s head, only gnarled and twisted and covered in spikes instead of coarse hair emerged from the front. Its beady black eyes focused on him, it opened its mouth and…

“REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!” It charged at him with the speed of a racing car, and he just barely evaded to the side, rolling out of the way.

Canary was not as successful; she jumped to the side, but a split-second too late. Its “shoulder” hit her side, spinning her around in an almost graceful movement before she dropped to the floor.

Totemiac smashed into the door they’d come in through, making the whole stairway collapse on top of himself. He shouted again like a warthog, only for it to be cut off suddenly.

This is our chance.

He looked at Canary – she was still conscious, amazingly enough, and looking at him with a desperate look, her eyes begging for help.

The rumbling of the collapsing stairway cut off suddenly, and he heard an annoyed voice complain about having to pick up after incompetent co-workers before he heard rubble begin to shift.

I can’t get her out in time, he thought. If he ran to her and picked her up, the Coyote would surely come after them immediately, maybe even attack the boat, if Totemiac hadn’t disabled it beforehand.

If. But Totemiac wasn’t exactly widely known for his intelligence, and he still had a chance to get away and warn the others.

Swallowing, cursing the tyrant for forcing such choices on him, he looked Canary straight in the eye with a resolute expression. “I’m sorry, Canary. I promise, your death will not have been in vain.”

She opened her mouth, breathless, unable to talk, as he flicked his hand and a spear shot out from the cavern ceiling above, straight at her heart.

It stopped, the tip already between her breasts but not touching her skin.

What?

A gnarled, clawed hand faded into sight, holding the spear. It extended to a spherical body with three more limbs and the tattoo-covered head of a chamaeleon with a wide, demonic grin and staring eyes.

Canary looked at him with a broken, betrayed look and fainted.

Totemiac – was it a clone? Had the other one been an illusion? – clicked his tongue, grinning even wider.

Oh no. They’d been herding him, right. Towards this decision. I have to warn the others. Can’t do any more here.

He turned and ran, jumping onto the boat and driving away.

At least we know that Totemiac can clone himself, now.

 

 

* * *

 

“Finally. Took long enough,” the man known by the world as the Coyote said as he shifted the last rubble away from Totemiac’s body, and his compatriot burst out of what remained.

“REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!”

“Yeah, yeah, calm down. We had to draw it out, you know that,” he replied, leaving the mouth he’d just formed behind to glide towards the unconscious girl.

He flowed into her half-naked body, exploring it, taking up residence within. Carefully, so as not to cause any damage before he got used to it, he sat up, brushing some unnaturally soft hair out of her face. Of course, the first thing he saw was the leering face of Totemiac, before it turned around and walked lazily towards the other body. The two met up, walking into each other, merging. The two animal heads vanished and the cacophony of sounds was reduced to mere background noise as it shifted, twisted, the sound of breaking bones briefly breaking the silence as he reconfigured himself to a more elongated, bipedal form.

He turned towards him, his fur extending into a floor-length robe that covered his ‘feet’, the top forming a cowl with eerie lights flickering within. A clucking noise emerged from it.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be sure to tell her that you did most of the work. Now let’s get the girl back to the palace before she wakes up. Her Majesty will be pleased to work her mojo on her,” he spoke with the extremely pleasant voice of the girl. He really hoped she could sing, like her name suggested.

Totemiac nodded, and they left through another hidden exit. He jumped onto his back, so the girl’s body wouldn’t have ot bear the strain of walking up all the way to the extraction point.

Up above, they exited into the bright sun of the Australian South coast, just a few hours away from Sydney. The Queen’s castle could be seen in the distance, floating in the air. Despite its location, it could always be seen, from every point within her realm, always at the same distance. A constant reminder of her presence. It would have looked like a fairy tale palace, if it wasn’t for the foreboding impression it made.

“You think Tick-Tock is actually going to praise our good work?” he asked idly, as they saw the jet approach.

Totemiac clucked and chattered.

“Nah, I don’t think so, either.”

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B009.4 Family Matters

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4th November, 22:10

The elevator hummed as it descended from the faux-hideout.

Dalia and Vasiliki were leaning against the console, looking straight at it with matching frowns (Dalia more than Vasiliki), while Prisca was sitting on the couch and looking contrite. There was a screen open on the console’s monitors, showing Eudocia’s emblem – the lips with a red jewel inbetween, forming an eye on black ground.

They were obviously waiting for Basil, and at least two of them were none too pleased, but everyone stopped in their tracks when they saw Basil.

He looked… not like himself. His hair was messy, but that was normal. What wasn’t normal were his old grey sweatpants, or his frayed black shirt. Basil was a very scatterbrained person, but he usually dressed very carefully – not stylishly, but carefully, and appropriate for the occasion. He did not do sweatpants outside the house. Not to mention that he looked kind of… pale.

“Basil, are you alright?” Prisca asked, flying over to him, putting her hands onto his shoulders. She looked into his tired eyes, worried.

“More or less,” he said, brushing her off without even a kiss.

He’d never done that before.

The girls watched as he walked towards his laboratory entrance, until Dalia got her indignation back and hollered, “Hey, mister! We’ve got somethign to talk about!”

He ignored her.

“We just learned about your AI – why did you keep something that awesome secret from us!?” she continued, stomping after him. “Didn’t you trust us? Or what? Why did your girlfriend know, but we di-“

Basil whirled around, his eyes cold. “I don’t fucking care right now! Leave me alone!” He walked into his workshop and shut the door behind him, leaving the girls stunned.

<I don’t think I’ve ever heard father swear at someone,> Eudocia commented, her voice meek.

“No shit,” Vasiliki breathed.

 

 

* * *

 

Basil felt ashamed almost before he’d finished speaking, but he left the room nonetheless and closed his workshop’s door and sat down in his favourite chair.

My head hurts.

It really did. His power had been running non-stop, at its maximal intensity, for weeks now. It had only gotten worse since he’d… since he had almost died fighting Hastur. More intense, almost an order of magnitude more so, in fact. Almost.

And now this. As if he’d suddenly had his blinkers… blinders ripped off, now he couldn’t stop thinking about all the things he knew Amy had done… he hadn’t been able to face her, he’d just left, practically ran over to his lair.

Prisca told them about Eudocia, came an unbidden thought. She probably slipped up and didn’t regain her composure quickly enough to divert their suspicion. It was very obvious. Right?

Right you are, mate.

He pinched his nose’s bridge, closing his eyes. Blazing Sun. Can you hear me?

Evidently.

Can you… tone it down? My head hurts.

I have only little influence on that, but I shall do whatever I can.

You are my power. How can you not have influence over yourself? he asked, irritated.

I cannot say.

So we’re back to that, eh mate?

Neither of you seems to be of any fucking use beyond making me feel miserable.

Ouch. You break my widdle heart.

Basil shut them both out and stood up, swaying on his feet. He looked around… he still had to rework his armor into something more resource-efficient, he needed to work on a better protable energy source, a functional flight system, an upgrade for the three-dimensional maneuvering gear, the new explosive compound, the enhanced stun gun, his anti-brick rifle, the stealth suit…

He shook his head, trying to refocus his attention. He couldn’t block out the ideas, the inventing, but he could focus on something else.

Not in here, though. Why did I come?

He had been hoping to see Prisca. At least that had been his initial intention. He had thought maybe she could help calm him. Then he had just started getting more and more irrate as he had gotten closer to the base, to his work and then he had blown up like that. He did not even really care about Eudocia being revealed to the others, he probably would have done it soon, anyway, but it had been just another thing to think about and he really did not need that right now.

I need to get out, go somewhere quiet and away.

He always kept a change of clothes in his workshop, and he switched into winter pants and a pullover (it was getting rather chilly outside, and there were signs of a massive snowstorm coming) and a pair of winter boots, pulled his jacket over it, stashed some self-defense equipment and went back into the common room.

Prisca was gone, but Vasiliki and Dalia were still there, apparently chatting with Eudocia, but all three fell silent when he came in.

The girls were both dressed in bathrobes, their hair in towels. When had they found the time to shower? They certainly had not showered together and even if they did that, he could not have spent more than five minutes in the workshop…

Basil tried to remember how long he had been in his workshop, at which point he might have nodded off without noticing it… perhaps when he had pinched his nose and closed his eyes? He could not really say.

They looked at him, apparently as unsure about how to react as he was. Though most definitely for different reasons. Vasiliki looked ready to start into a lecture.

<Father? I’m sorry I-> Eudocia started up, but Basil cut her off with a wave of his hand.

“I’m not angry. It was going to happen soon, anyway.” He looked at the girls, and they seemed to deflate a little under his gaze, for whatever reason. “And I’m sorry I blew up like that. I have some… issues to deal with, and I need to do it alone, I think. Please excuse me.”

And without another word, he left to go for a walk.

 

 

* * *

 

“Did he… doesn’t he kind of look like he’s in pain?” Dalia asked, now concerned instead of outraged.

Vasiliki nodded.

<He’s complained about his power never turning off,> Eudocia confided in them. They were his teammates, so it wasn’t wrong to share this information with them, right?

“He never told us that,” Vasiliki whispered.

“I don’t think he tells anyone much of anything,” Dalia supplied, frowning.

<So true.>

“Well, if he wanted our help, he’d tell us,” Vasiliki continued. “Let’s give him some space, unless it really gets worse,” she finished in an authoritive tone.

 

 

* * *

 

Earlier the same day, in Rome

‘I have never, ever eaten so much ice cream at once – and still wanted more,’ Melody thought as she ate another spoon of this delicious, delicious chocolate ice cream.

It actually tasted like chocolate, not weird synthetic stuff mixed with frozen pseudo-milk. And it didn’t come in balls here. No, they just used a honest-to-god palette knife to scoop out the ice cream. Each serving was about the size of a double hamburger and it cost less than a normal ball of ice cream back home.

Quite simply, Melody was in heaven. It was almost good enough to make her forget the mortifying turn lunch with her family had taken. She hadn’t expected her mother or her brothers to behave, but she’d hoped her grandmother and her dad would reign them in.

“I’ve been coming to this place since I was two,” Irene said, pulling her out of her contemplation of family drama and delicious ice cream and back to the small, backstreet ice cream parlor in Rome they were at, sitting outside with a table between them to enjoy the afternoon sun. “I remember, the first time we came here, I accidentally knocked out mom’s glamour. Suddenly, me, my mom and my dad – all out of costume – where sitting in the middle of the place in the late afternoon. Which is kind of the prime time of places like these, during summer at least.”

‘That ought to have been fun,’ Melody commented, for once thankful for losing her voice. It meant she could talk to Irene telepathically and so keep eating delicious ice cream.

“Eh, it was kind of underwhelming, after the initial shock. Mom ported me away, Dad knocked out the short term memory of everyone and came after us. No one was harmed, except Dad,” Irene continued with a soft smile, her eyes sparkling as she reminisced.

Even Melody couldn’t help but notice how incredibly cute she looked when she was deep in thought like that. It made her want to snap a photograph, but she didn’t want to ruin the moment.

‘How come your Dad was hurt?’ she asked, curiously.

Irene shrugged, looking up. “Mom didn’t like him using his powers like that on innocent bystanders. She blasted him through three walls for that.”

‘I wouldn’t have thought that Lady Light gets violent like that. I mean, domestically,’ Melody said as she finished the chocolate ice cream and turned to the equally gorgeous Straciatella scoop. With extra chunky chocolate bits inside. She was going to weigh a ton by evening.

“Believe me, any woman would get physical with Dad as her significant other. He is… aggravating,” Irene said, taking a deep, calming breath. “I can’t count how many times… oh, seven-hundred and eighty-three times… he’s made me lose control and lash out at him. He loves to tweak peoples’ noses until they snap.”

‘I’ve heard about that. He always plays with his enemies, before he gets serious. If he gets serious in the first place.’

“Kind of the opposite of mom, really. They are like that, in many things,” Irene supplied, tasting a spoonful of her lemon ice cream (it looked delicious).

‘To be honest, I know very little about your mother, especially about her battles. There’s so few records of them, and most of them are really short,’ she replied as she assaulted her own ice cream. It was, as predicted, delicious. Almost made her forget the look on her mother’s face when she’d come in the door.

Almost.

“That’s the point, really. One of mom’s lesser known nicknames is the ‘Fist of God’. Because you’ll feel like the lord almighty reached down and smacked you a good one, once she’s through with you,” Irene said with some obvious pride in her voice. “Mom hates fighting. She never toys with enemies. And she doesn’t believe in drawing negotiations out, either. Unless she’s sure she can do something with words, she only gives the bad guys one chance to surrender – and then she simply smacks them down by the principle of ‘in combat, overkill is the only appropriate amount of force’.”

Melody shuddered. She hadn’t seen much of Lady Light, but she knew how strong she was. And how, obviously, experienced she was, too. The thought of her just cutting lose as her modus operandi…

‘Scary.’

“There’s a reason most people she fights never fight her a second time. Dad, on the other hand, enjoys fighting so much, he usually gets angry if people refuse to fight him… unless he’s actually serious about what he’s doing, then he can be just as ruthless as mom,” Irene added.

For a moment, Melody wondered whether Irene knew how she really felt, and was just doing her best to distract her, but… Scratch that, she definitely knows.

Maybe she’d even tell me… Should she risk it? Irene had almost lashed out at her family for asking, but…

“What is it, Melody? You stopped eating ice cream,” Irene asked.

Melody gave a start, and looked down at the delicious treat. She took another spoonful, almost moaning in pleasure. ‘It’s nothing really. Just a little scatterbrained.’

Irene’s face became a little contrite. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t expect them to… to act like that. I wasn’t really prepared.” As if to underline that statement, she swallowed one of her pills.

Shaking her head, Melody ate some more ice cream. ‘It wasn’t your fault. And… it’s really, really sweet, how you stood up for me. So… Thank you. And don’t feel bad for it,’ she thought as gently as she could. Communicating directly with her thoughts had been tricky, at first, but once she figured it out, it turned out to be really handy. So easy to express how she felt.

“I just… Mom and Dad have their flaws but they’d never treat me like that. Even at his worst, Dad was always… you know, acting like a father. And Mom… I don’t want to brag, but she’s always been… she always says the right thing, she always knows what I need, what to do to make me feel good, no matter what…” She looked wistfully at a passing family of locals. “I just wish we had more time, but Mom is always working, except on Sundays. And Dad has nothing like regular work hours.”

‘I know how that goes… Mom and Dad were always travelling around for concerts and stuff, and they took my brothers along once they learned to properly make music. Never me, though, except for one or two times.’ She didn’t really want to focus too much on her family right now. ‘Who raised you, if your parents weren’t always around?’

“Well, Mom did take off for a while when I was on the way, and to raise me. And Dad cut down on his work, too. Otherwise, it was people who could survive me lashing out. Kraquok, Severance, Quetzalcoatl (scarier than I can put into words), Journeyman,” Irene replied, now wistful again.

‘Journeyman?’ She’d never heard that name before.

Irene nodded. “An old friend of my parents. He’s rather private, doesn’t like being in the spotlight. Don’t spread his name around.”

‘He must be very powerful, and a real good friend to be trusted with you.’

“I’m not sure I could harm him, even if I wanted to. I’m not even sure my sister could, to be honest. It’s a shame, really, that his powers are so…” She obviously fought for words, while Melody just listened in fascination. “Limited! Limited is the right word. Let’s not talk about him anymore. And please keep it to yourself.”

‘He’s a secret, alright. But I’d really like to know what his power is, if he’s so invincible.’

“It’s… complicated. He’s the Mover,” Irene answered. Either she still felt guilty for the scene earlier or she just trusted Melody enough to keep her mouth shut. “I mean, he can go anywhere, any time, no matter what anyone tries to keep him out. He even visits parallel and alternate dimensions.”

‘Wow. Does he offer trips?’ It sounded like an awesome power. And she could see how it might only be useful for evading enemies instead of fighting them directly.

“Very rarely, and only to parallel Earths where there is no human life. He’s never told me why. Something about his power backlashing if he breaks certain rules,” came the answer. “And I can’t analyze them with my own power, at all. I think he always keeps most of himself in some other place, really, so we only see a part of himself in here. Subject change, please, I already said too much.”

‘We really need to talk some more about all the interesting people you know. Like this Wyrm…’ Melody leaned in closer, eyes sparkling.

Irene looked at her eyes, not breaking eye contact. “Wyrm is out of your league, Melody. Please, don’t dig deeper.”

‘Awwww, pleeeeeease?” She gave her her best puppy dog eyes, supporting her chin on her hands as she leaned over half the table.

Her friend kept up the eye-lock, and Melody noticed for the first time how strange her eyes were even when they were ‘normal’. Such a brilliant dark blue…

“No. And you’re definitely being too flirty for a straight gal, Melody.” She was smiling, though, her eyes growing somehow even darker. Flecks of red appeared in the dark blue.

Melody giggled, never breaking eye contact. Irene’s eyes were growing more interesting with every heartbeat, thin, fine black veins running through the white, the eyes turning darker, the red spreading. ‘As if you’re any better…’ What had they been talking about again?

Irene smiled, which made her eyes squint a little bit, somehow making them look darker and redder. “Yes, but you’re supposed to be the responsible one,” she said. “Besides, I just wanted to distract you from… you know, your family.”

Something stirred in the back of Melody’s head. Something was wrong. But Irene’s eyes were so beautiful, black orbs with a red-and-blue ring each, somehow drawing her in, drawing her closer…

“You know, I could just kiss you silly right now,” whispered Irene, and the spell broke. Irene wasn’t supposed to speak like that to her!

Irene gasped, her eyes going white as she surged back – literally, space twisted, putting more distance between them. Melody gasped as she realized how much – and how subtly – Irene’s power had been pushing her. Blushing furiously, she looked down at her ice cream. That was close, she thought to herself.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God, I’m so sorry!” whimpered Irene as space contracted again, returning the table to its normal dimensions. No one around them seemed to notice anything. “Melody, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to… I swear, I didn’t even notice…” She broke out into tears as she shoved pill after pill into her mouth.

Taking slow, deep breaths, Melody calmed her hormones again. She couldn’t feel their mental link anymore, so she took out her vocalizer.

<Don’t… relax. It pushed you… as much as it pushed me. You wouldn’t have resisted so long, otherwise, and you said something that helped me wake up.>

Irene nodded, as if trying to convince herself.

It took them a while, but they regained their composure and finished their ice cream in silence.

At the very least, Irene had managed to distract Melody.

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B009.3 Family Matters

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4th November, 14:11

Irene wanted to commit murder.

No, that wasn’t quite right.

She wanted to call up her dad and tell him to come over. They could do all that sappy tv-bonding while they slowly drove Melody’s family insane. They could invite Melody to join in and teach her to let all that repressed anger out. Much healthier that way. Dad would make the bodies disappear, and then they could all go and eat some ice cream.

And that would be wrong. The driving-people-insane-before-killing-them part, not the one that involved eating ice cream.

In fact, she was quite sure that going to eat ice cream would be a very good idea, whether or not they ended up going supervillain on these people. It should cheer Melody up.

It wasn’t that Melody’s family was impolite – her brothers had certainly kept their eyes glued to Irene’s body, despite her clothes not showing all that much, but that was to be expected – or actively mean, but… they were treating Melody like some kind of Pariah, all while being all nice and hospitable.

Her power had already suggested twenty-three different ways to painfully murder them, by way of switching between some of the nastier powers Irene had ever held. Some, Melody wouldn’t even have to know were her w- No, don’t even start to think like that!

She took a centering breath and refocused her attention on Melody’s grandmother, Amelia, who was sitting at the head of the table, the matriarch of the family. A short, but still surprisingly agile and energetic woman in her late seventies. Her pure white hair had been tied up in a bun, she was wearing a simple blue dress (the family seemed to favour blue a lot) and eating slowly, in small bites. She was looking at her, as if waiting for something.

Her power focused, replaying the last few seconds for her – she’d been asked why she’d decided to be a superhero.

“It’s rather simple, ma’am,” she replied, putting fork and knife down. She was glad for the excuse to stop eating – she wasn’t hungry and the food wasn’t bad, but her mood didn’t let her enjoy it, anyway. “I want to make a positive difference in the world. The heroes desperately need more power on their side, so I joined to provide that.”

The old woman smiled, nodding. That was the worst part of the day, so far. They weren’t anti-metahuman, or anti-superhero or anything. In fact, except for Melody’s mother, who seemed to have a chip on her shoulder. Irene hadn’t peeked into her head (yet) to find out what it was about.

No, it was way, way worse. But she’d promised Melody she’d play nice, so…

“Though, to be honest, Melody has done far more good so far than I have,” she continued while she picked her cutlery up again. Everyone at the table, including Melody – who had barely used her vocalizer so far, staying quiet – looked at her. “It’s true,” she said, throwing a look around. Five people, not counting her and Melody. Her two younger brothers, her parents, her grandmother. The rest of the (rather big) family wasn’t there today, which was just as well. “She’s created a gadget for protecting United Heroes personnel against sonic attacks. That’s going to save a lot of lives.”

“Yes, Melody always had a hand for practical stuff,” Cadance, Melody’s tall mother (she looked like a taller, older version of her daughter, minus the massive bust and more wrinkles), said with a just barely non-condescending tone. Irene felt her small finger twitch, almost blasting a hole in the wall. Almost. “But I’m sure you’ll be able to match her – someone with power like yours can surely keep up with anyone.” The woman smiled at her, which only made Irene angrier.

She opened her mouth to remark that Melody’s music was even better than her gadgets, but her friend kicked her leg under the table. ‘Please don’t. You’ll only ruin the mood’, Melody spoke into her head, having apparently guessed her intentions. She closed her mouth, feeling the anger boil inside her belly.

Because, it wasn’t that the Stenton family had anything against one of their members being a superhero, or a metahuman. No, it was just the fact that Melody’s powers were musical. More to the point, they’d turned the only non-gifted member of the family – the daughter they’d already written off – into the most successful musician it had ever known.

As far as they were concerned, Melody was a cheater.

And Irene was this close to cracking, because ever since they’d entered the house, Melody had acted like she believed it herself.

‘You don’t have to take this,’ she told her best friend as she returned to making meaningless chit-chat. ‘You don’t have to let them make you feel like less than you are.’

‘They’re family,’ Melody said, looking sideways at her with a gentle smile. ‘They’ll change their mind, eventually.’

‘Bollocks,’ Irene replied, focusing on the casual conversation Melody’s father and brothers were trying to draw her into, about her costume. They wanted to know where she’d gotten the idea.

“The cape belonged to my mother – she used it in the years before she became pregnant with me,” she replied casually. This wasn’t all that interesting. “The bodysuit is just comfortable, and a nice contrast. White and black, light and dark.”

“Interesting. So, you’re proud of being their daughter?” Amelia asked, her voice curious and very precise (she was a former opera singer).

Irene turned her head to look at the old woman. “Of course I am,” she spoke with utter conviction in her voice.

“Even though your father is a monster?”, the old woman continued, her voice harder. Everything fell silent in the room.

I will not blow off her head, I will not blow off her head, I will not blow off her head…

“Whatever else he may be, he is my father,” Irene said carefully, enunciating the words slowly, deliberately, to prevent her voice from slipping into its usual abnormal form. “And he has always been good to me. I will judge him by that, first.” ‘He’s certainly a better father than yours seems to be,’ she thought towards Melody. She didn’t reply, but Irene felt a surge of sadness and shame that made her feel bad, instead. She shouldn’t put this on Melody.

“That is both admirable and dangerous – just because he is good to his family doesn’t mean he’s a good man, do you understand that?” Amelia continued, keeping her gaze steady.

“No, but that’s where it starts,” she countered with more vinegar in her voice than she’d wanted. At least it didn’t slip. “I know what he’s done. What he still does. But I can’t very well take any influence on him if I shut him out, now can I?”

The atmosphere at the table grew colder.

“And how does your mother justify being with him?” Cadance asked, drawing Irene’s attention to her. She looked as furious as Irene felt. “She’s had more than a century to work on him, and he hasn’t gotten better. I’m not even sure she’s trying. And yet she still calls herself a superhero, being together with a man who murders countless innocents!”

Irene called on her power, and for once found it responsive, reaching out, assembling data without actually invading minds.

She lost someone to dad, or to his subordinates.

“I don’t know what happened to make you so mad,” she said, calming down a little. “But whatever else you may think of me, or my father, don’t presume to judge my mother.”

The temperature in the room fell, again, as she put steel into her gaze.

“It’s the fourth of November today, of the year two-thousand and twelve. It’s fourteen past two,” she said, slowly. “It has been eighty-nine years, ten months, three days, fourteen hours and two minutes since she gained her powers. Eight days later, she put on what later became her costume for the first time. In all that time – nearly a century – my mother has never, ever called herself a hero.”

She put her cutlery down, folding her hands on the table in front of her. “Superhero, Queen of Superheroes, the Paragon of Modern Virtue… those are all labels the public put on her, labels she’s protested against more than once. There is a reason she is not actually a legal member of the United Heroes, only an independent advisor. My mother has never, ever pretended to be anything but what she is – a woman with her own set of beliefs, who does what she thinks is right and asks others to do the same.”

Looking up, she circled the table with her gaze, looking them all in the eyes one after the other. “If people expect her to be a paragon of virtue who always does what they feel is ‘good’, that’s their problem, not hers. She wants to be together with my father – who may well be the only man in the world she can really share her life with – and no one has the right to tell her not to. Besides, have you ever stopped to think about how bad my father could get if she wasn’t doing her best to moderate him?”

“That isn’t… it doesn’t… he’s still a monster! How can she be with him!?” Cadance threw back, flustered. “Even if what you say is true, how can she consider herself a good person!?”

Suddenly, Irene’s anger vanished. Or at least, it died down. She’s just lashing out… why? Her power surged, but… no. She quickly took a few pills, calming herself and her power.

“My mother has literally saved billions of lives – and that’s not even counting all the people saved by her charities, or the people she trained or advised – so I think regardless of what she may or may not call herself, no one has the right to criticise her for anything until they’ve spent most of a century doing nothing but helping people,” she said calmly. “And before you say anything else, I think it’s pretty fucking low of you to bring up this kind of topic at a friendly get-together. And that’s nothing compared to how you treat your own daughter.”

Melody threw her a wild, scared glance, but Irene ignored her. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed! I literally have a nigh-unlimited breadth of power at my beck and call, and I don’t need it to get it. You’ve been making snide comments about her all the time, when you weren’t just ignoring her, and I find it pretty fucking sad that the Dark is a better parent than both of you,” She pointed her finger at Melody’s parents, who looked utterly shocked, “because he at least isn’t jealous of me for being better at something, nor does he treat me like a pariah!

She rose from her seat, the chair flying backwards across the dining room of the old colonial mansion. Grabbing Melody’s hand, she dragged her out of the room.

‘Irene, what are you doing!?’ the startled girl asked, just barely remembering to grab her vocalizer.

She stomped out of the house, slamming the door shut. “We’re going to Italy. I know the best ice cream parlor in the whole world, and we can visit the Colosseum, too!”

 

 

* * *

 

4th November, 21:25

In Basil’s hideout, Prisca, Dalia and Vasiliki had spent the last two hours blowing stuff up.

Well, that was a little inaccurate. To be precise, Vasiliki had been trying to blow Gilgul up. Having picked up a lot about proper research from Basil, she’d made sure to include control samples (which meant she always tried to blow something else up along with her, to see how each attempt worked). So far, nothing had worked on Gilgul, which made Prisca feel quite smug.

The hour before that, they’d been following Basil’s advice, testing Dalia’s power against Gilgul. The results had been too random to make sense off, and they’d decided to wait for Basil to make sense of that stuff. It was his speciality, anyway. So they’d been blowing stuff up, instead. But now Gilgul’s time was running out, because apparently being covered in acid that ate through steel, set on fire and then blown up with enough force to rattle the walls of what Basil called his Fun Room (the one set apart for explosive testing) was actually taxing for her power. And that was just a single experiment.

They’d reached number thirty-four now. And Vasiliki claimed she could still come up with more.

“Wow, you must be… a nightmare to fight out there,” Prisca commented as she let Gilgul sit down on the floor, conserving time.

Vasiliki, who was naked (apparently, some of her rituals required nakedness, and she’d also remarked that there was a worrying tendency for her clothes to get torn up all the time, so she was taking precautions now) and quite sweaty enough to have Dalia’s eyes glued to her, breathed deeply and replied, “Not really, I… I can’t pull this stuff off on the fly… nor can I enchant something with… all of this. What I can do… on the fly, or through artifacts, is nothing compared to what I can do with a ritual, but they take too much time. Besides, I don’t want to… strip naked outside… you know?”

Prisca nodded, letting her spear fade away, followed by her armor, which she quickly replaced with a simple green sundress. “But if it comes down to it, you can pull out the big guns?”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!” Dalia threw in, jumping up. “Did I see that right? You can just… change clothes, at will!?”

The other two girls looked at her in surprise – she’d been rather quiet since they stopped experimenting with her power – and rolled their eyes.

“Yes, I can wear anything I want, in this form. Now, back to important stuff,” Prisca said, turning back to Vasiliki. “So, about my question?”

The girl shrugged, still breathing hard. “N-no, I’m… unable to really go beyond the… the paragon tier. Biggest thing I’ve ever managed was when Basil and I were testing my power. I managed to blow up some whole cars at the junkyard, and melt some others. One time, I took a bus apart.”

Prisca eyed her suspiciously. “And did you do that stuff… naked, with him?”

Vasiliki blushed, and nodded. “B-but I made sure he promised not to look!”

The redhead in front of her nodded, satisfied. “Not like he’d be interested, even if he hadn’t promised it. Basil is weird about girls.”

They all chuckled about that.

“Yeah, how do you feel about that? He kinda totally ignored you in favour of his sister!” Dalia threw in, sliding over to sit next to them, dressed in sweatpants and a shirt.

Prisca shrugged, drawing Dalia’s gaze to her barely covered chest. She wasn’t into girls, at all, but she enjoyed peoples attention… after years of having nothing to draw it to herself. Except, of course, for… “Look, I know Basil. That’s just what he is – bloody oblivious. I knew that going in, and honestly… even disregarding how he’s saved my life twice now, he was with me even… before I got my power and turned into this.”

The other two nodded, slightly uncomfortable. They’d both quickly learned that Prisca preferred to see her projection as her real body, and neither of them was quite comfortable with that. But neither did they confront her about it.

“So I guess I can forgive him for being… himself. Besides, his sister is really nice,” Prisca continued, oblivious herself. “Even after I tried to… um…” She blushed, suddenly cutting off.

“Whaaaat?” asked Dalia with a grin. “Does this relate to… the Incident?” Prisca had let it slip, days earlier, how she’d tried to get Basil into bed with herself, and failed. Even Vasiliki had laughed herself sick, and was now leaning in curiously.

Blushing even more, Prisca answered, “Well, two days later, I visited… in this form, because Basil said his sister knew about him, anyway, and he thought it’d be pointless to keep my power a secret from her – she wouldn’t rat us out, anyway. So, um, Basil was still asleep – he’s been sleeping a lot, lately, recovering – and we got to talking and… she’d kind of… sort of… listened in on us, on that night. And she, uh…”

“Totally berated you for not seducing her little brother properly?” Vasiliki helped her along with a grin.

“Um, yes…” Prisca replied, wide-eyed. “How did you know? I mean, this isn’t normal behaviour, I think…”

Shrugging, Vasiliki rose to her feet. “I’ve gotten to know Amy a little. She’s just the type to go that route.” She looked at Dalia. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d actually encourage us all having an orgy with Basil. She’s just the type for liking the idea of her brother scoring with two – or three, now – supernaturally hot girls. She’s probably been encouraging him to do so, actually.”

“Y-you think she’d do that? Sounds more like something a guy would say to his little brother!” Prisca threw in, exasperated.

“That’s Amy for you. Basil is not one to tell, but I can read between the lines, and it sounds like she’s quite… promiscious. Not in a bad way, I think, because Basil would totally have a cow about that, but still,” Vasiliki finished, leaning on her staff. “Anyway, I’m tired. I’ll get a shower, then go home.”

“I’ll come along. You shouldn’t be going around alone at this time, not with the way things are right now. And I can just wink out once you’re safe home,” Prisca said, standing up, her clothes melting and reforming into heavy winter clothes. “What about you, Dalia? Want me to walk you home?”

The other redhead shook her head. “Nah, I’ll shower and crash here. No school tomorrow, anyway, and mom probably won’t notice, anyway.”

“Alright… call if you need anything,” Prisca said, a little unsure. Dalia rarely talked about her mother, she’d found out, and it was never good. She wondered what her home life was like, if she preferred sleeping in Basil’s underground hideout alone. “Actually, keep the console on – we can play some games or something, later.”

Dalia raised an eyebrow. “I thought your time was running out?”

“Which means I’ll be waking up soon. I can just use the computer Basil made for me to link with this place, and we can play games, or watch movies. I’m sure Eudocia will j- uh, forget that!” She slapped her hands in front of her mouth.

“Eu-what?” asked Dalia.

“Eudocia… ‘good thought’? Sounds like the kind of name Basil would give to something. Or someone. Who is Eudocia?” asked Vasiliki, suddenly looking far less tired.

“Uhm… I guess… I need to explain some stuff…” Prisca said, looking down at her feet, drawing a circle with one as her clothes melted back to a comfortable sundress. “Let’s go to the console room, boot up the screens and all…”

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