B011.6 Monkey Family

Previous | Next

We went up a spiral staircase (the steps were actually straight and not warped – nor were they smooth, providing a lot of traction) that apparently led to every level of the structure. I noticed, idly, that none of his steps made a sound, even though he was walking on metal surfaces with metal boots. Nifty trick.

He took me to the third floor, and down a hallway with walls covered in amateurish graffiti and then stopped in front of a doorway that had been covered in a thick green blanket. I could smell the two in the room beyond, as well as sweat and blood, and I heard a soft voice talking. I tensed up, ready to act – I smelled quite some blood.

Malphas reached out and knocked on the door frame, producing a clear, bell-like sound. “Are you two decent?” he asked. “You have a visitor, and I’m afraid it’s urgent!”

The two voices whispered furiously, just barely low enough for me not to be able to make out their exact words without calling up the monkey – and it was already hard enough to resist it as it was, right now. It was spoiling to end the fight I’d cut short earlier in the night.

Save it for the real target, I thought, even though I doubted it could even understand me. It never did respond to verbal cues.

“Come in, I guess!” Brimstone replied – her voice was quite recognisable, now that I thought about it. It made me think of smoke, in a pleasant way.

Malphas pulled the curtain aside, entered, and I followed him.

The room beyond opened into a section of the sewer plant that I hadn’t been able to see before, with the colourful, patchwork-curtain that usually provided some privacy drawn aside. The room itself contained two mattresses next to each other, with blankets and pillows. A small, old drawer stood at the foot end of the mattresses. Other than that, there was just a small, round table with two chairs and a cooking corner that held a pot hung over a simple fireplace made of stone.

Smelly lay on one mattress, her costume off down to her waist, exposing her upper half – which wasn’t nearly as tantalising as one might expect, since it was basically just one giant bruise with a side order of bloody gashes that were spread liberally across her torso, though focusing mostly on her left side – the direction from which Sara had shot her, in fact. If it wasn’t for a plastic tarp beneath, she’d have already ruined the mattress. Her skin was pale, bloodless, her short dirty blonde hair plastered to her head by sweat. Under normal circumstances, she’d probably be considered exceptionally beautiful, but right now, just looking at her hurt. She looked to be barely out of her teens.

Brimstone was kneeling next to her, her own mask taken off to reveal a face with similar enough features that I was pretty sure they were closely related – perhaps sisters, perhaps cousins. Her hair was longer, but of the same shade, her face a little younger and softer.

The wounded woman was in no shape to react to anything, but her relative was. Her eyes widened at the sight of him, even as her bare arms began to crack and blacken, until they were made of volcanic rock once more, the embers of great heat glowing from within the cracks. “You!” she shouted, her voice almost cracking in her fury.

I’d expected a violent reaction to my appearance, and thus I was ready to evade an attack – in this case by simply stepping back out the door, simultaneously turning around towards the left, to get out of sight.

However, it seemed that Malphas had also expected it – or he had some pretty impressive reflexes, because the ground rose up almost as soon as Brimstone’s arms changed, surging up like a living thing to block the blast of super-heated air that she let loose – No lava, at least.

Malphas didn’t say anything. He just stared at Brimstone as the barrier he just made sank back into the floor, smoothing itself out even as it spread the heated portion around.

Brimstone looked from me to him, then back. Then she looked at Malphas again, who simply stood where he had, not having moved an inch. I didn’t pick up any hostility in his stance, he didn’t even square his shoulders or shift his stance – but she subsided, her arms going back to normal.

I was very, very impressed.

The young woman took a deep breath, then looked at me with a murderous gaze. “What do you want, asshole?” she asked. Her smoky voice was dripping venom.

I looked at Smelly, then at her. “First, it appears I’ll help,” I said, taking my jacket off as I approached them and knelt next to Smelly, opposite from Brimstone. Before either of the three could react – Brimstone seemed to be just dumbfounded – I’d already done a quick check of the woman.

It didn’t look too good. “The gashes are from the shotgun,” I said firmly. “And these bruises are from me throwing her against the tree,” I pointed at several bruises along her back. “And these from me throwing you at her.” I pointed at several others. “But how’d she get the others?,” I asked, as I saw quite a few more bruises than I could possibly have caused in our battle. “And how come the shotgun tore her open like this, when she wasn’t even scratched back then?” I was sure she hadn’t taken this kind of damage from the shot.

“Who the fuck do y-” she began, but I cut her off with a level gaze.

“I’m a trained paramedic,” I told her. A statement that was not quite true, but not quite false, either – I wasn’t anything like a trained and certified paramedic, but both my father’s and my military training had given me a wide range of experience with wounds like these. Nevermind my field experience. “I can help her better than you can, so tell me what I’m missing.”

I could feel Malphas’ gaze on me and I saw Brimstone throwing a look at him. Though I couldn’t tell what she saw, it apparently convinced her to be more cooperative.

“Her power delays harm,” she explained. “Not all of it, but most of it is staggered. Inflicted bit by bit. And she can absorb harm done to others, staggering it.” I heard her grit her teeth. “When you threw me at her… I’m not nearly as tough as she is. It probably would’ve crippled me, and she absorbed that herself.”

Well, damn, I thought. “Does she have enhanced toughness or regenerative abilities?”

“Yes to both. Not very much of either, but combined with the delay, it’s usually enough.” Again, she grit her teeth.

“Hmhmm.” I took off my vest and rolled up my sleeves. “Do you have any alcohol or another disinfectant? If we disinfect these properly, there’ll be less strain on her regeneration.”

“Don’t have anything here,” she said, surly. “We’re not exactly swimming in cash, y’know?”

But you can afford really nice quality on your costumes, I thought, though I didn’t say it. Nice priorities.

“I have a first aid kit,” Malphas threw in. “I’ll get it immediately. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone,” he added before he left.

Brimstone grit her teeth again, but she very obviously respected Malphas enough to behave.

The young man – it was hard to think of him as the boy he was beneath that armor – returned quickly and handed me a military first aid kit.

I went to work, disinfecting her wounds before properly binding them. It only took me about fifteen minutes, all in all, to treat her properly while the other two watched.

By the end, I could already see her wounds starting to close as her regeneration picked up speed. Good, she’ll make it, I thought as I rose up.

“Is there somewhere I can clean up a bit?” I asked. My hands were pretty bloody.

“Down the hallway, the first room next to the stairs,” Malphas said.

***

The bathroom turned out to be quite nice. The tubing was literally a part of the room – Malphas either had phenomenal fine control, or he’d spent a lot of time working all the tubes and valves needed for a fully functional communal shower and several basins, with the mirrors literally fused into the walls – and seamlessly so.

I wonder why he lives down here – he could get damn rich with a power like this, and all legally, too. But then again, that could be said about so, so many of us. Including me.

I knew why I had gone down the criminal route, back in the day. I wondered what motivated a young boy like Malphas to be an outsider to the world above, to stay in the Undercity, creating this place for, well, lost people. Because the people I’d seen or heard so far had seemed to me like the typical Undercity inhabitants. The criminals, the mad, the broken and all the lost ones.

Who knows, maybe I’ll find out someday. Or more likely, I won’t. It’s none of my business, really.

***

I returned to the room to find Malphas sitting on a seat that he’d made out of the wall and the floor, with Brimstone fussing over Smelly, who seemed far more lucid than earlier. Still pale, and sweaty, but sitting up now with her back to the wall. She was also wearing a shirt, which provided some much-needed decency.

When I came in, everyone looked at me. Brimstone and Smelly both seemed hostile, though not as much as Brimstone had been earlier.

Still, it was obvious that neither of them was too eager to talk to me. And something told me that Malphas wouldn’t be of any help to get the conversation started, so…

Take charge of the situation.

“Let’s introduce ourselves, shall we?” I opened. “My cowl’s Aap Oordra. I already know Malphas – how should I call you two?” I looked at the two women.

Brimstone spoke first. “I’m Volca, and this is Lag,” she replied, though she didn’t seem too happy about it.

“Why are you here?” Smelly – well, Lag – asked. Her voice was quite strong, considering the pain she must’ve still been in. “You’re not a hero – you call yourself a cowl – so why’d you stop us earlier? Why’d you follow us?”

You’re a perceptive one, huh? I’d wondered whether they’d pick up on that. “I stopped you because I have issues with people attacking a mother and her son in their sleep,” I said.

What!?” Malphas snapped sharply, and I felt the entire building shake for a moment. His head wipped around to focus on the two women. “Is he saying the truth?”

The women froze, eyes wide. Volca threw up her arms, waving them in negation. “No no no, calm down, that’s no-“

“You know the rules! My rules! No drugs! No rape! No murder! Nothing that harms children!” Malphas shouted, and I swear I saw something shift beneath his armor, in places where nothing should be able to shift.

“Malphas please, we didn’t have a choice!” Lag shouted, then broke into a coughing fit. Volca picked up for her. “We couldn’t refuse the job! He’d kill us! And we were only after the mom – who’s a Syndicate agent, anyway!”

“Who put you up to that? Who!?” Malphas shouted, his voice deepening as the room began to twist, the whole structure becoming… unstable.

I instinctively took a step back from him, even as the monkey roared up, aching for a fight against the young powerhouse – and I had no doubt he was one.

“You’re losing control of the situation. If you don’t regain it, you’ll be swept away.” This was one of those cases where I fully agreed with my father.

I raised my fingers to my mouth and made whistled sharply and loudly. The metal of the building around us only served to amplify the sound. “Alright, enough!” I shouted at them.

And it worked. I’d noticed it earlier, though I hadn’t really considered it yet, but I was the oldest one in the room – almost three times the age of Malphas, if my estimation of his age was correct.

“Seniority is a universal way to assume authority.”

“Please return the room to normal, Malphas,” I said, trying to be both soothing and firm at the same time. He was breathing hard, his stance wide and rather aggressive, but he subsided quickly, his anger going from burning to shimmering. The room warped back to its previous form, leaving no traces of the sudden deformation.

Then I turned to the two women. “Alright, let’s start at the beginning,” I said. “Tell me who hired you, and why. Don’t bother with lying, I can tell when you do.”

The two of them looked at each other. “Well, it’s not like we can stick around,” Lag said. “We’ll have to leave town anyway,” Volca agreed. They looked at me.

“We were talking to an independent agent we work with every now and then, when a new guy showed up,” Lag explained. “He called himself ‘Blauschwinge’. Had a German accent to match his name.”

“Name means ‘Bluewing’, in case you don’t know,” Volca added.

I considered the name for a moment. I’d never heard of a cape or cowl with that specific name before. “What’d he look like?”

“Tall. Muscly but slender. He was wearing a white bodysuit with a blue wing-like cape that was attached to his arms,” Volca described him. “He wasn’t wearing a mask and he had a really good-looking face. Square-jawed, curly brown hair and blue eyes.”

“Never heard of him,” I admitted. “What happened next?”

“He said he’d come looking for someone to do a simple job for him. When he saw us, he said we should do it,” Lag explained. “We didn’t like that, of course, but when we voiced our opinion, he… lashed out. Some kind of glowing blue-white energy. Took us out in one hit. Then told us we could either do the job or die.” She shivered at the memory. “His eyes… I’ve seen the eyes of mad people before, but this guy, he… he was demented. The way he talked, the way he looked at us…”

Volca wrapped her arms around her relative as they both shivered at the memory.

Good lord, what the hell is going on in this city? I asked myself. My daughters, the Ascendant, the hit team that came after me, these two, now a demented German supervillain who could utterly terrified two other cowls while taking them down in one attack.

I had a feeling that this whole situation was rapidly spinning out of any possibility of control.

“Why do you want to leave?” Malphas asked out of the blue.

They both looked at him without comprehension. “What do you mean? We broke your rules! And we failed, too – what if this guy comes after us?” Lag explained.

He clenched his fists, the metal scraping and screeching for the first time. “He made you do it? Well, I don’t like that. If I ever see that guy, I’m gonna mess him up but good. And if he comes after you, I’ll protect you, just like anyone else who lives here,” he explained, and all traces of the child were gone from his voice.

The two women grew a tad misty-eyed, lowering their heads. “Thank you,” Volca whispered.

I took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of my nose. What should I do? I need to start figuring out what’s going on here. “Volca. Lag. What else can you tell me about this Blauschwinge?”

They took a moment to compose themselves. “Well, he had a strong accent. He said we shouldn’t try to run, because he could find us,” Volca explained. “He spoke of his companions, and how we might be allowed to join them if we perform well. After he told us what we had to do, he just up and-“

Wait. I raised a hand, cutting her off. “His companions? Did he say anything specific about them?” Like if they’re called the Companions of the Future?

Volca shook her head. “No, nothing beyond that.”

“That’s not quite true,” Lag said. “He didn’t call them his ‘companions’, you see?” she told me me. “He used a foreign word for it. German, too, right?” She looked at her companion with a questioning look, and Volca nodded.

German word for companion… I searched through my memories, trying to remember if I’d ever learned that word. German wasn’t a language I’d spent much time on. The German word would be… oh hell. “He called them ‘Gefährten’, didn’t he?”

They both nodded.

My heart took a dive down my belly.

***

The Companions of the Future. The Ascendant is a member of them. Believe in metahuman superiority. Supposedly connected to Weisswald.

Companions is the English word for Gefährten. The Gefährten are one of the oldest groups of metahumans. Supposedly an offshot of the Thule Gesellschaft. Weisswald had strong ties to the group. Believe in metahuman superiority.

They’re the same fucking group. I’m up against the Gefährten.

***

I blinked, and looked around at my small audience. “I have to go,” I said hurriedly. “I need to make a call. Is there reception down here?”

Malphas shook his head, and I cursed under my breath. Fuck. I have to warn Elouise to stay the fuck away from the Ascendant.

“You know these guys?” Volca asked.

“Only by reputation,” I replied. “I really need to go. Don’t confront them. Run. Leave Chicago, leave your cowls, start over.” I turned to Malphas. “Don’t hold them here. You can’t protect them, not from the Gefährten. They’re major bad news. Cut all ties, so they won’t come after you. If they come, flee.”

Before either of them could say anything, I vaulted out of the window, pulling up my monkey skin. As soon as I landed, I took off as fast as I dared down here, making for the nearest exit.

***

I called Elouise as soon as I had cell reception back. It rung a few times before she picked up.

“Yes? Who is this?” she asked in a wary voice.

“It’s me, Aap,” I said, not daring to use our real names over a wireless connection.

“Oh, hi!” she said, her voice perking up noticably. Though she had the presence of mind not to mention our relationship over the phone right now. “What can I do for you?” she asked.

“I need you to abort the meeting with the Ascendant,” I said. “If you have anything planned with him, pull out of it as carefully as you can without offending him. Trust me, you d-“

“Wow, where’s that coming from?” she asked, surprised. “You know, I was going to call you and tell you that it’s a bust, anyway. I’m not making any deals with that madman.” Her voice took on a trace of venom for that last part.

But the venom didn’t mask the undercurrent of worry beneath. “What happened?” I asked as I leapt up into the air, to make my way towards my house.

“Two of his guys attacked one of my operations,” she said, spitting the words. “You can still see the flames, if you look towards the North End,” she continued, and true to her word, I could see fire in the distance. “I lost some prime real estate and seventeen of my people, among them two of my superpowered personnel. Took all I had to drive them off!”

If it wasn’t for decades’ worth of training, I probably would’ve crushed my cellphone at that point. “Are you hurt? Did they get to you!?”

“No, no, I got out of it without a scratch. But my people are really beat up – these guys don’t mess around. Especially the flying one, that dude was just demented.”

I sighed, relieved – but just for a moment. Demented… “Let me guess, he called himself Blauschwinge?”

“Yeah, how’d you know?” she asked.

“I just had a talk with two reluctant assassins whom he’d coerced into attempting to kill a Syndicate agent,” I replied.

I only got stunned silence in response.

“It gets worse,” I continued. “They have connections to the Gefährten, and may even be full members. You know what the Gefährten are?”

She took in a sharp breath. “Yeah. Fuck, of course I know! Mom briefed me on all the big ones… fuck.” She cursed, using some rather impressive French curses. “Thanks for telling me. I… oh damn, I’ll have to ask for help from the Syndicate,” she elaborated. “I don’t know why, but these guys have all but declared war on me.”

“And the heroes, too,” I said. “The Ascendant is after three of the junior heroes,” I explained. “There’s no way the UH will take that lying down.”

“This… this is madness!” she shouted, making me wince. “What the fuck are they thinking!?”

“I don’t know, but I’m afraid we’ll find out soon. Make sure you stay safe, and don’t hesitate to call me for help, alright?”

“Alright. Alright, thank you,” she said, and suddenly she was a vulnerable girl again, not an experienced crime boss. “You… you take care, too, alright? Don’t get yourself killed, please.”

I swallowed dry, and croaked, “Of course. Cross my heart.” I hung up on her and went on to my house.

The sun was already rising at this point, and I had to take care of some stuff before I threw myself back into the fray… wherever it may be.

There’s a crash coming.

***

I woke up after what felt like just minutes of sleep, pulled up from the beginnings of an all too familiar nightmare by the ringing of the doorbell.

Blinking, I rose up, trying to figure out how I’d ended up in bed. I’d just wanted to change into more comfortable clothing before I rang up any contacts that were still left in the city, but… I guess my lack of sleep had caught up to me. Even before I’d come to Chicago, I hadn’t slept properly in quite a while. I’d passed out almost as soon as I’d hit the bed.

The doorbell rang again, making me focus on the here and now again. I looked at the clock – it was nine in the morning. I hope whoever’s ringing that bell better have a good reason for waking me up. Even if I hadn’t intended to go to sleep, I sure as hell needed it.

I got up, put on a pair of jeans pants and a black shirt with the word fun. in yellow on the front and walked down to the front door.

“This damn well better be important!” I groused as I pulled open the door.

By some miracle, my chin didn’t break my arm on its way down to hit the floor.

Outside the door, wearing brown boots, a red skirt and a blue jacket, stood…

“Hennessy,” I breathed her name. She looked at me, her face as serene as ever, and simply walked into my house.

Previous | Next

Vote

Advertisements

Working

I’m working on the chapter right now. Started a bit later than I planned, but it’s going well, and it should be done soon.

Look forward to it, it’ll be a doozy.

Status – Brennus & The Dreaming

A quick update for everyone. I’m finally through with my exams, just had some paperwork to go through (and some personal stuff).

I’m working on the new Brennus chapter, and it should be done by tomorrow evening. Afterwards, I’ll get to the new Dreaming chapter. They’ll both be done within this week, that I can promise, but nothing more concrete (yet).

Thanks for your patience, everyone!

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn Tanner

B011.5 Monkey Family

Previous | Next

My father had taught me many, many things (most of them things no father should ever teach to his child), but one thing he never, ever helped me with was figuring out my own power.

Now, that doesn’t mean he didn’t train me in how to use it. But he only helped me train those abilities I already knew about. He never lifted a finger to help me figure it out, claiming that some things, one had to do on their own.

Which was why it had taken me until my late teens to figure out that I had a pretty useful tracking ability. I’d thought it was just an enhanced sense of smell, until a comment by  a friend had caused me to sit down and really analyse it.

That had led to realising that there was no way to track someone by smell the way I did it. It was… more than just smell, but it was styled after scent tracking – or at least a child’s idea of how it’d work. I did have an exceptionally good nose, even without the monkey pulled up, but I didn’t track people by it. I simply had to smell them first, in order to prime my power. Then, I could track them. Not indefinitely, nor over any distance. And there were quite a few powers that screwed with it (teleportation being the most straightforward case – it broke up the trail), but outside of powers like that being involved, there were only two things that could really hide someone from me – the passing of time, or me forgetting the smell.

Neither Brimstone nor Smelly seemed to have a power that would screw up my tracking, or if they did, they didn’t use it.

They never stood a chance.

I tracked them halfway across the city to an abandoned subway entrance near Morgan Park and down into the undercity.

Ah, been a while. I’d always loved the undercity. As usual, it had changed, but it was also the same as ever.

The subway station was a newer one – I was pretty sure it had still been in use the last time I’d been in Chicago – but it must’ve been abandoned at least a few years ago. It had been designed to fit a very modern (at the time), chic style, all straight lines and smooth metal- and stonework. I’d only gone through it once or twice, but I remembered thinking that it was too sterile.

It certainly wasn’t sterile any more. The formerly clean white stone and tiling had been stained by age, dirt and lots of other fluids whose origins I’d rather not think about any more than necessary. Most of the metal had been removed, leaving the structure gutted to the bone. The electric lighting was entirely gone at this point – even if there still was any electricity to be had here, no lamp was left that I could see. The only light in the place came from numerous bonfires that burned in barrels.

Barrels which were spread out across the station, both on the platforms and the tracks, with people gathering around them for warmth. All sorts of people, not the worst kind of homeless (those generally lived deeper into the undercity), but still. People who’d dropped out of society, for some reason or the other. I tried not to pay too much attention to them, beyond making sure not to look like an easy mark.

Which wasn’t hard to do, really. I was alone, in a three-piece suit, almost seven feet tall and walking very, very confidently. I pretty much had ‘supervillain’ written all over myself. Or at least ‘confident enough to probably be a metahuman’. And people who lived here knew how to spot the people they ought to stay away from.

No one tried to talk to me. No one tried to bar my way, or mug me, or pick my pockets (not that they’d find anything in them) and I got through the station. The usual telltale signs marked the way into the actual Undercity, subtle and not-so subtle carvings and tags on the walls, the floor and even the ceiling, guiding those in the know into the underbelly of the city. I used to wonder who’d originally come up with the system, and how it’d happened to spread across most of the world, but I’d never been able to find out. Maybe my father knew. Or maybe not. Maybe it had just developed on its own, with lots of people adding to it, spreading it. A meme without a source, an idea without a brain to think it up first.

I reached an old maintenance hatch that might have originally allowed technicians to work beneath the rails and the station proper. I couldn’t be sure, but now it was definitely something else. Someone had turned it into an elevator and, luckily, it was up on my level. Stepping inside, I could make out Brimstone’s smell very strongly in here – like the air around a heavy smoker, only worse. Rotten eggs and smoke. If it wasn’t for my power tracking them, I would never have been able to tell that Smelly had been with her, even with my nose.

The elevator was basically just a rusty old metal cage with a simple up/down switch to control it. Since it very obviously couldn’t go up any higher, I flicked it to ‘down’. The mechanism wheezed, then made a disconcerting grinding sound, then it started to slowly move down.

***

The first exit I passed opened into the maintenance tunnels. They were apparently used as sleeping quarters – I saw a great many sleeping bags, ragged blankets and worn down people before the view vanished. My marks hadn’t disembarked on this level.

The next one was thirty feet or so below the previous one. It appeared to be… some kind of bordello. The bad kind, with girls that were too old, or too young, and all too worn out. I barely spared them a second glance, as much as I felt pity for them. The air was choking with the noxious perfume of cheap drugs, and the noise produced made me wish I’d remembered to bring ear plugs with me.

I went further down, until I reached the third exit – where the two had disembarked. A bare tunnel, not quite straight but well-reinforced, with cheap electric lighting in the form of bare lightbulbs that should have gone out of service decades ago. Typical for the undercity. As I stepped into it, the noise from above vanished almost entirely – and after a few feet into the rough passage, it cut off almost entirely, leaving just the echoes of my steps.

Been a while, I thought, feeling like I was about to see an old friend. At least this place is probably not going to be half as dangerous as the European undercities I got to know.

I made my way into the true undercity of Chicago.

***

It didn’t take long to track down Brimstone and Smelly. The undercity had, impossibly enough, become even more convoluted and nonsensical than before. The entrance I took had let me to what must’ve once been a sewage plant which had then sunk deep into the earth – perhaps a meta-fight had pulled it down – which had obviously been ‘modified’ by way of some superpower twisting and reshaping all the machines, rails and other metal parts of the structure, creating… creating…

Honestly, the closest I had to a proper description would be something like ‘post-modern expressionist tenement’ (I was probably butchering artistic terminology with that phrase). There was not a single straight line to be seen. Pipes, rails and metal walkways had been twisted into a completely asymmetrical structure of copper and steel, tha reached from the floor all the way to the ceiling, with irregularly spaced ‘apartments’ spread out. All of them opened towards the empty space into which I had entered, which was slightly elevated in relation to the ground floor of the structure. Blankets, towels and shapeless lengths of cloth brought colour into the setting, as well as serving to provide some amount of privacy to the inhabitants.

And there was light. Lightbulbs, LEDs and even old-fashioned torches were spread throughout the entire place. The irregular lighting and the even more irregular reflective surfaces broke and enhanced the illumination, the masses of cloth dimmed and coloured it, setting the whole thing ablaze in a riot of colours.

It was… honestly quite beautiful. Beautiful enough that I took a little time to just look at it, take it all in, despite my reasons for being here.

There were times… always had been, ever since I’d cut myself off from my father… times when I’d just wanted to stop. Not die, mind you, but stop. Stop worrying. Stop fighting. Stop bothering. Just leave and start walking. Getting a look at all the wonders of the world, moving from place to place, relaxed and free.

In fact, that had been my great plan, when I finally came home. I’d look up Tamara and my other friends from before, apologise for being gone so long, say my proper goodbyes and… leave. Go somewhere far away from all the madness. Canada, perhaps. It was pretty peaceful there, out in the country. Or Australia – I’d heard good things about its mysterious new ruler. Though I couldn’t be sure how much of that was true or just propaganda.

Not that it mattered. My plans were beyond being merely in shambles – they’d been vaporised the moment I found out I had a daughter. What little might have been left had promptly been blown out of reality when my other daughter showed up.

I’d never wanted children. I’d been too afraid that I’d screw up, the way my Dad had with me. I didn’t want to saddle a child with growing up with my issues.

Now that I had not just one, but two children, though, I had to face facts – I’d screwed up. Left one child to be raised in poverty, then abused by a supervillain to the point of snapping and manifesting into a cripple of questionable stability, if not even sanity. The other to be raised by a supervillain every bit as insane and entrenched in her life as my father had been (if not more so) – from what little Elouise had told me, her childhood had only been marginally better than Hen-

Voices, curses. Mother tight, the falling boot-

The monkey reared up in rage, shoving itself to my attention once more. I almost – almost – screamed at the memories it brought up, and I did fall to my knees, unable to fully deflect the sudden, furious onslaught.

Fuck! I thought emphatically. I’d been too careless. The Monkey and I had been so in tune – I’d been angry, I’d been hunting, seeking vengeance, being active – that I’d stopped noticing it. It had happened before, a creepy kind of synchronisation where I couldn’t tell our thoughts and desires apart any more.

The moment I’d started getting contemplative and inactive, it had upset that balance, and now it was back in full force. Urging me to act. Hunt. Confront. Eliminate.

I sighed, putting my left hand over my eyes. You sure suck, old boy. Now buckle up and focus on the job at hand, I told myself. It wasn’t like I disagreed with it, in this instance.

Straightening up again, I sniffed the air. The smell of my two marks led into the tenements, and I followed it.

It led me towards what was probably the main entrance to the tenements – it was just one of the many openings on the first floor, but unlike the others, nothing covered it, and it was narrower than the units around it.

And then there was the Gatekeeper. I assumed he functioned as such, because he was sitting behind a desk made of smooth stone that had been fused with the floor – which apparently was a thin coat of stone upon the metal floor. Novels and comic books lay on the desk in neat, orderly stacks, along with a closed laptop.  Behind the desk stood a big, very comfortable-looking chair made of the same material. Despite it being made of stone, it moved easily as the man sitting atop it shifted his weight, sitting up to look at me, the comic he’d been reading now lying closed on the desk. A small, rectangular nameplate was fused with the desk, the word ‘Malphas’ written on it.

He was quite a sight to behold, and I immediately pegged him as the one responsible for creating this structure. He was covered, head to toe, in a metal suit made of what I assumed to be steel and covered in a thin layer of copper, the two metals arranged in complex patterns that shifted and flowed over its surface. The armor itself was slender, almost skin-tight without really betraying anything about his precise build, as well as small wings attached to his ankles, elbows and temples. The upper half of his mask formed the head and half a beak of a crow, with two rows of small horns on its head. The lower half, shadowed by the beak, was smooth and mostly featureless save for three vertical slits. Two round eye holes revealed a pair of bright green-blue eyes. The costume was a work of art, truly, but it was much, much too busy. Too many clashing concepts thrown together. An inexperienced artist, I’d say.

His posture – elbows on the desk, hands folded beneath his beak, shoulders squared – seemed self-confident at first, but my gut told me he was nervous. My nose supported that assessment… and it also told me that he was quite young. I’d first assumed him to be in his late teens, based on his size, but now I had to adjust my estimation down. If he was a day over fourteen, I’d be very, very surprised.

“Hello, stranger,” he spoke, and I found my suspicions confirmed – his voice might have been warped by the mask, deepened, but I could still tell that he wasn’t entirely through his voice change just yet. “Who are you, and what brings you here?” he asked in a formal tone of voice (clearly not his usual one), now putting his arms down on the desk. I noticed that the armor lacked joints, or any kind of mobility, really, yet its material flowed and bent so as to allow movement. His power at work, I assumed.

“My name is Aap Oordra, and I am looking for two persons,” I replied, deciding to go with honesty for now. I had a feeling that this wasn’t a supervillain, or at least not a classic one.

“Aap Oordra? Weren’t you a supervillain in the nineties?” he asked, surprise making his voice sound less adult than it had just moments before.

I smiled, not having expected someone this young to know about me. “Retired, honestly,” I said.

He made a choking sound, his shoulders shaking – probably trying not to laugh out loud. “So that’s why you show up down here, at this time, wearing a three-piece suit?” he asked, his voice merry.

“Touché,” I said. Something told me I could get to like this boy. The monkey disagreed – it’d rather rip his head off and go on to deal with Smelly and Brimstone in its usual way – but I just ignored it for now. “To be perfectly honest, I’m trying to retire, but people keep interfering.”

He laughed quietly, the sound carrying a sardonic note. “Yeah, it usually goes like that. I gave up on trying to retire a while ago.”

“Aren’t you a bit young to already talk like that?” I asked casually, putting my hands into my pockets.

His shoulders moved in a surprisingly expressive shrug, thanks to the many moving parts of his armor. “It’s not the age, it’s the mileage,” he said casually. “I’ve seen and done a lot in a short time,” he explained. “Who are you looking for? And why?” he continued in a clearer, more neutral voice.

Definitely too young to be so old, I thought. He reminded me of… The monkey reared up, forcing me to focus on the situation at hand again. I made sure that my face and voice were calm and non-threatening, and replied, “I don’t know their actual names, so I named them Brimstone and Smelly,” I explained, and gave him a short description of both. “I suspect that they are connected to someone who ordered an attempt on my life, earlier this night,” I continued.

“An attempt on your life? Seriously? And they’re connected?!” he asked, aghast. “How do you know that!?” His earlier calm attitude evaporated, he leaned forward, as if to hear better.

Let’s play it honest… to a point, I thought. “I took down the hitmen, and they told me the location of their agent. I tracked said agent down to question them and found Brimstone and Smelly – I assume they are tenants here? – entering the home of said agent, sneaking into her bedroom. I attacked them and drove them off, then tracked them later on – which led me here.”

He was obviously upset, and quite a bit, too. “I was wondering how they’d gotten hurt, but…” he mumbled, though the echo his own helmet produced amplified his voice enough for me to hear it. Shaking his head, he focused his eyes on me. “They are tenants here – which means they are under my protection. If you plan to assault them, then I’ll-“

I waved a hand in a gesture of negation. “No no, I’d much rather this didn’t devolve into a fight. I simply want to know who hired them, as said person may well be the same one as the one who ordered the hit on me.” Also, I object to them trying to murder a defenseless woman in front of her son, I added in my head, but didn’t voice out loud. “I would like to talk to them. If you do not trust me to stay civil, I wouldn’t object to your supervision.”

He subsided again, leaning back on his chair. I assumed he was both thinking my proposal over, as well as buying himself some time to regain his composure.

Normally, I wouldn’t have minded giving him the time to do so – he was young, clearly upset and he seemed to be a good guy – but the monkey was making me edgy, impatient and, honestly, I wanted to get this over with and get back to bed. I hadn’t had a chance to sleep peacefully in my own bed in nearly two decades, and I really, really didn’t appreciate these interruptions.

“Look, Malphas,” I said, leaning a bit forward to convey some urgency. “I understand that you’d like to think this over, but I am in a hurry. My family’s life may be on the line here, and I will not let them be endangered simply because you are indecisive.”

I wasn’t even lying, there. I figured that it would be a huge coincidence that I happened to have assassins sent after me just when the guy who’d tortured my daughter into becoming a metahuman returned to town and made a deranged claim on her. Not that I knew why he’d target me, unless he had someone within the United Heroes’ to pass along our relation… Actually, I should keep that thought in mind…

Malphas – the name seemed familiar, somehow, but I couldn’t pin it down – flinched at the mention of family, then nodded. “I… understand. I’ll escort you to their apartment,” he said, rising up. “But just to be clear – they are still under my protection. Lay a hand on them, and I’ll…”

There was something like a ripple that spread from him, and the ground beneath me bucked up like a living thing.

I yelped and fell back – exaggerating it a little bit, perhaps – and deliberately did not roll, but fell hard on my back (oh, how the monkey hated that). Again, the ground bucked and rods made of solid steel shot up around me, wrapping around my arms and legs to pin me to the ground.

“I’ll beat ya black and blue and send you home crying, got that?” he asked. He hadn’t even moved, beyond standing up. Not a somatic trigger, then. A purely thought-controlled power, most likely.

That was impressive. Few powers could be controlled by one’s thoughts alone. Especially physical powers.

I looked up at him, not hiding how impressed I was (and perhaps exaggerating it a bit more) and just nodded.

He sighed – a pretty big tell in this situation – and released me, the rods melting back into the ground without a mark. Then he offered me his hand and helped me up when I took it.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Previous | Next

Vote

Brennus Files 08: Figures of Horror

Previous | Next

The Hannibal Storm

On November 11, 1996, a storm formed over the German city of Tuttlingen. At first, the inhabitants of the city thought it was a natural occurance… but it wouldn’t break up. Then, strange things started to happen. Electronics didn’t work right. Animals were acting nervous, irritable, then disappeared completely. On the third day, all contact to the city was lost, and the storm moved on towards the East. Investigators were sent in, but they found the city empty, with no signs of struggle or any remnants of the inhabitants or any other living thing. Even their pets were gone. An area of roughly twelve square kilometers, now completely devoid of human or domesticated life.

Meanwhile, the storm moved towards Stokach, moving over Neuhausen ob Eck before turning South. That city, too, was completely wiped out, leaving behind only the buildings – though this time, domesticated animals were not touched, only humans vanished, save for one four-year-old boy who was left nearly catatonic and unable to tell anyone what had happened – if he even knew.

It had nearly reached Stokach when several local superhero groups (and a few supervillains) banded together to try and find the cause of the storm. Just when they were about to enter, though, the storm suddenly vanished, leaving no traces behind.

Two weeks later, the storm reformed over Radolfzell, cutting off all communication before moving on a few hours later, too quickly for any meaningful response to be mounted. The city was, once again, bereft of all human life – and all animal life, too. Not just domesticated animals, but all animals. Even those that lived beneath the ground.

The storm moved on South, vanishing all humans that didn’t evacuate in time. Any metahuman response was met with it either disappearing for a few hours before reforming further South, or the metahumans vanishing.

On the thirty-first of December, the storm began crossing the Alps. It was then that a British newspaper called it, jokingly, ‘the Hannibal Storm’ – a name which stuck.

It was in the middle of its crossing of the Alps that the biggest assault on the strange weather phenomenon – though most were sure a metahuman was responsible, no signs of such were actually found – was launched. An assault that failed, miserably, costing fifty lives, including that of the Eighth Chevalier. Only five heroes survived – one of them Lady Light, who carried the other four to safety, very nearly succumbing to grievous wounds that had been inflicted to her during the battle – the first and so far only time that she came close to dying in battle. Of the four she saved, only one was still sane – the future Shining Guardian member Fleur, who was left traumatized and in need of therapy for the next year and a half.

The Hannibal Storm dispersed after the battle, only to reform a month later near Saint Petersburg, engulfing the Eastern half of the city for nearly two days before it moved on South, leaving it empty of life. Several attempts by the Sovjet forces to stop or capture the Hannibal Storm only cost them the lives of some of their best heroes.

For three months, the storm moved in an erratic pattern across the Sovjet territory in Europe, before it left and moved towards Italy in a very nearly straight line.

After half a year of relatively slow but unstoppable progress, it reached the town of Azzano Decimo – just when Desolation-in-Light appeared above the city.

Due to the nature of the two S-Class events, information on what followed is scarce. What little is known, though, is that Desolation-in-Light left after nearly three days of battle against whatever was inside the storm. The Hannibal Storm continued its move, massively diminished but not defeated.

It was at that exact moment, after it had been weakened by her daughter, that Lady Light mounted an all-out assault upon the storm, taking all five Shining Guardians, the Dark, the Dark Five, several independent heroes and villains, a delegation of the Sovjet Union, a delegation of metahumans and Subjugators from GAIN, Queen Madeleine and three members of her Queensguard.

After two hours, the fight was over. One member of the Shining Guardians – Fleur’s predecessor – and one of the Dark Five had fallen, as had the entire Sovjet delegation, the metahuman delegation from GAIN (though only five of the twenty-nine Subjugators sent were lost) and one of the Queensguard, as well as nearly all the Independents. Only Lady Light, the Dark, Severance and Madeleine were still conscious at the end of the battle.

It has never been reported what exactly they found at the center of the storm – but just a week later, the Tartarus Star project was greenlighted, the satellite prison completed and whatever they found there was taken up into orbit, to become the first and central prisoner of the installation.

Tachyon

July 7, 1995: Jason Orwell, aged fifty, is stabbed to death in broad daylight, in the middle of London, killed by a single strike to his heart. No one observes the murder. There are no traces found of the culprit, and Mr Orwell didn’t have any known enemies that might be responsible – he was just a butcher. A local research lab records a sudden burst of strange, unnatural particles in the area, but no further conclusions are drawn.

July 28: Le Aimei is stabbed to death in her bed in the baby ward of the Hong Kong Central Hospital. She is found by a nurse with a single stab wound to the heart. A burst of some kind of strange energy is felt by several local energy manipulators.

January 12, 1996: Svetlana Toschev is found dead in her apartment in Vladivostok, killed by a single stab wound to her heart. She is just twenty-two years old at the time of her murder. Two hours later, her brother Vladimir, who is studying medicine in Harvard, is killed in the middle of a seminar in the same manner. One student mentions seeing a red-and-white blur rush through the room, but no one can corroborate this observation. A local lab records a strange burst of foreign particles that vanish before they can be properly analysed.

January 13: The entire Toschev family, including every family with connections through marriage, is killed, every single member – from twelve babies all the way to two elderly men living in assisted living facilities, are murdered by way of knife wounds to their hearts, despite being spread out over half of Russia and a good part of the USA. The strange particles are recorded in several of the locations where the murders take place and authorities (as well as several newspapers) take notice.

January 15: the Guardian publishes an article titled ‘Tachyon’, describing the bizarre string of murders. It also connects four more murders over the last six months to the metahuman now known as ‘Tachyon’. An hour after the article is published, all the employees of the Guardian, as well as their immediate family members, are murdered by being stabbed into the heart. Three eye witnesses report a red-and-white blur responsible for the attacks.

January 16: The British Prime Minister declares a day of mourning for the murdered people. He holds an address to the nation, but is stabbed halfway through, despite a heavy presence of government metahumans for protection, killed live on national television. The cameras catch a single frame of a man in a red-and-white bodysuit covering him from head to toe. The mask stretches across his face, without any openings. His suit is mostly pure white, save for his crotch, the inside of his thighs, the back of his knees, the back of his upper arms, the fold of his elbows and his throat and neck. He is caught in the middle of a sprint, holding a simple but high-quality kitchen knife in his right hand. A burst of those same strange particles accompanies his passage.

January 18 – June 22: Tachyon commits fifteen murders without any pattern or connection between the victims, all across the world. Due to the rather mundane means by which he murders, analysts assume that many, many more murders are actually committed, but not reported – these fifteen are merely the ones during which the foreign particles or a red-and-white blur were observed.

June 23: During a fight between the Twelve Judges and a short-lived group of villains called ‘Die Nibelungenritter’, Tachyon murders Roth, a member of the Judges. He manages to snap her neck despite her extreme toughness. It is concluded that he must actually be a true speedster, though no one is sure how he avoids collateral damage despite that fact.

September 29: After several months during which Tachyon made no recorded appearances, he struck again during a fight against Desolation-in-Light, killing four superheroes by breaking the necks of three and stabbing a fourth in the heart – then proceeding to murder seven villains who were helping out during the fight and assaulting Lady Light, though she managed to repel him before he could harm her.

February 20, 1997: after several failed attempts to trap Tachyon, and a lot of brainpower being focused on figuring out his capabilities, it is concluded that he somehow combines the strengths of all known types of speedsters – being both capable of true super speed and of partially negating the laws of physics, so as not to tear up the ground beneath his feet or shatter all glass in his passage. He appears capable of exerting his full strength and speed, yet still make normally impossible turns. In short, he has all the strengths of all speedster types, but none of their usual weaknesses. He is classified as an S-Class threat and an international death warrant is issued.

Ever since then, Tachyon has been randomly murdering people all across the globe, usually one or two a month, though he hasn’t repeated any of his early killing sprees since. No one’s been able to so much as inconvenience him since. It is assumed that he either acts entirely on impulse or has some kind of secondary ability that confuses precognitives trying to predict his movements.

The Living Trinity

Three girls – Noelle Alden, Ciara Hallen and Merle Fion – manifest under unknown circumstances at the age of fifteen, on the first day of March twenty-oh-seven. They had been friends since early childhood, each having at least one parent who was a member of the United Heroes San Francisco Division.

Calling themselves Move, Mold & Make, the three proceed to take over their entire neighborhood.

Noelle Alden, now named Move, acts as the leader of the three, being the most stable after their manifestation. Her power allows her to move anything she can accurately perceive to any location she can accurately perceive or picture in her mind – or she can just randomly send her target anywhere. More disconcerting is the fact that she can teleport only parts of her targets away – or into other things. She can essentially kill anyone within her sight, provided they are not somehow protected against such an ability. There appears to be no limit to her range, though she never moved anything outside the atmosphere. She could also teleport herself, as well as teleport her two friends without having to actually see them directly.

Ciara Hallen, Mold, was the most sadistic of the three, delighting in using her power in the most twisted, cruel way she could come up with. Much like Move, her power was very simple, and very powerful – she could reshape, or mold, anything she could accurately perceive into any shape she could imagine, even changing its composition to a degree – turning flesh into stone, or concrete into plants. Her molding was permanent when applied to non-human targets, while it would wear off, in time, when used on humans – unless it killed them or she kept concentrating on the modifications. She could also use her power to heal herself and her friends from nearly any harm anyone ever managed to cause them, provided she was conscious. Some reports claim she could even revive her two friends from the dead.

Merle Fion, Make, turned out to be the least stable member of the Living Trinity – a name she came up with, apparently – and, by far, the most powerful. Fortunately, she was barely functional without at least one of her friends around to take care of her. Unfortunately, she was quite deadly with her power. Make’s power allowed her to, well, make anything she could imagine. From simple force-fields all the way to elaborate monsters, heroes and villains with their own powers, she could make anything – provided she focused on it. So long as her focus was not disrupted, her creations remained. Obviously, the more creations she maintained at a time, the less elaborate they were – but if focusing on a single idea, she could create what would probably count as an A-Class threat on its own… except her creations could be adjusted with just a moment’s thought, and recovered from any damage so long as her focus remained on them. Her power was – and still is – so vast, she could actually create sentient beings with distinct personalities and the ability to be far more… stable and intelligent than she ever was, though they tended to deteriorate over time, as she lost interest in them.

As if these abilities were not enough, the three were capable of heterodyning their powers not just easily but casually. Though the resulting abilities were not much use in direct combat – they worked on too big a scale to be too useful in the heat of battle – they allowed them to fortify their ‘realm’ by quite literally breaking reality, moving bits and pieces between dimensions, erecting barriers, portals and twists of time and space. Within two months, the entire greater San Francisco area had been turned into a huge demented playground for the three of them, and they most certainly had their fun with it.

The Living Trinity terrorized their home city for nearly two years, as repeated attempts at liberating it failed, taking many lives – though not as many as one might expect, as the three of them were quite averse to killing (most of the time). Even Mold preferred her enemies to live (and suffer), nevermind sparing civilians so she could play with them again and again. Make rarely bothered to finish anyone off, as she tended to quickly lose interest in any battle. And Move was too pragmatic to start killing senselessly, as she knew it would invite an even more extreme response from their many, many enemies.

It wasn’t until the United Heroes mounted a greater incursion into their playground, near the end of the first half of their second year, that things spiraled out of control. During the battle, the three of them lost control of their powers and ended up killing several of the heroes, and an undisclosed number of civilians, causing wide-spread damage in the entire area.

Afterwards, they became even less stable than before, their games turning more and more cruel, with a steadily mounting death toll.

Finally, as it seemed that the situation was no longer salvageable – the US government was ready to condemn the area and declare it lost, the plan being to build a massive wall around it to prevent anyone from getting inside (and, hopefully, out) – Lady Light and the Dark ordered all surveillance of the area to be discontinued, and recalled all troops, metahuman and otherwise. Due to the desperation at the time, the government obeyed, and the two of them entered the area.

What followed is not really known. Some rumors say that Lady Light and the Dark heterodyned their powers. Some speak about the near-legendary achievement of stage two heterodyning, a occurance that has only been recorded a handful of times since the beginning of metahuman history – and some few speak of something entirely different, some kind of power they have kept secret to this day.

Whatever they did, it worked. The Living Trinity was captured, and all three girls were put into stasis cells, sealed in Tartarus Star. Most of the damage they did to the area – that is, the twists in reality – was fixed, or at least removed by way of massive damage. When asked why she and the Dark didn’t do this sooner, Lady Light replied that, “The situation had not devolved enough to warrant the risk.”

No one dared ask why they haven’t done whatever they did to stop DiL… or perhaps if they tried and failed, some time. Few want to even contemplate it.

Meanwhile, the Living Trinity sleeps in their orbital prison, locked away from the world.

Previous | Next

Vote