Yesterday was a big day, for yesterday was the day, on which the first of the Chosen of the Blood, of whom our Leader speaks so much, has visited Germany.
They call her Lady Light across the sea, and by God Almighty, a more fitting name, I can barely imagine. Angel, perhaps.
She came to us glowing like the sun, brilliant and flawless, escorting the American President on his way to a peace conference. A sham, really; no one here in Europe actually wants peace, I think. But at least it allowed me to lay eyes on her.
Later, many of my landsmen spoke about how she was living proof of the Truth of Blood and Heritage, even if she was a woman, at least the first of the Chosen had been a true Aryan, the rumors of her relationship to one of the accursed Jews notwithstanding. Personally, I never saw the point in despising people merely because of race. Yes, some people are born inferior to others. Others superior. That is nature.
That is no reason to hate, though. Pity, perhaps, for those less fortunate, but certainly no hate. Disdain, for those who refuse to recognise their place, but certainly no rage.
Besides, even in my limited experience, I have come ot realise that the same differences exist within the German – or Aryan – race, as well. Perhaps not to such extreme extents – other races are definitely more different from us than we are among each other – but the difference exists. No one would ever say that I was an average member of my race and I say this without a hint of vanity. I had proven myself to be better than most even before my blood awakened.
Perhaps if I tell myself that often enough, I’ll even convince myself that I didn’t end up proving to be less than most, too.
I am rambling again. Mother always
tells told me that I tend to ramble too much, if I don’t have others to keep me on track. Adelheid just says said I’m addicted to the sound of my own voice. It is quite likely that she is right.
Where was I… ah, yes, Lady Light. Such a simple name, to encompass such an enrapturing creature. At first I thought, this is it? This is the first Chosen? She was… thin. Almost a head shorter than I, and looking so fragile. Weak. I could pass for her older brother, even though I’m barely half her age.
And yet… and yet, there was something, something that drew one’s eye to her. A quiet confidence, a core of will, of conviction, as uncaring for what us mere humans may do as the sun itself is, and just as brilliant. A blazing sun in human form. I have never seen its like before, not even in the Leader.
She did not talk to me – why would she, I was but one lesser chosen among several gathered there? – but her gaze passed over me. It felt like she was staring right into my soul.
Whatever happens… whatever else comes of the next few years… I pray that I shall meet her again.
8 am, November 17, the day after the Crocell Incident
The door to the container ‘hangout’ that Basil used as a cover for one of the entrances to his base opened, and Vasiliki entered alongside Tim and Dalia, studiously trying to ignore her friend’s choice of clothing. Fashion was just one of the many subjects which they clashed on, and she wasn’t going to get into another discussion about how appropriate skimpy tops and miniskirts or hot pants with tights were, especially during winter. She’d just quietly stick to a nice (hand-made) long skirt and a comfortable (hand-made) sweater.
Maybe some day, Dalia would learn. And until then, she’d keep entertaining Timothy, who clearly did not mind her fashion sense at all.
They walked to the elevator, that would lead them down to the base.
“You think B-Six is already awake?” Dalia asked lightly, smiling as she moved with a casual, unconscious grace which Vasiliki greatly envied her for. “Or perhaps still? Could see him skipping sleep, after yesterday.”
She wasn’t wrong, though. “I can imagine that being the case, yes,” she admitted while they pressed the hidden switch beneath the counter to take them down. The elevator started to move without a sound. “Studying that monster, then getting a chance to work with three other gadgeteers, on Sovereign’s equipment, no less, well…”
“Basil got his hands on new tech?” Timothy asked, sounding like he couldn’t decide whether to be amused or horrified. “I bet he was… ecstatic.”
That elicited a giggle from Dalia. “He must’ve had such a huge nerdgasm!”
Vasiliki rolled her eyes at the crass language, though she couldn’t honestly object to the point made. Basil could be very easily excited by anything to do with his power, and the fact that he’d somehow convinced Gloom Glimmer to take him straight back here, right after the battle was over, spoke for him being almost out of his mind with new ideas. Otherwise, she was absolutely certain he would not have left them behind.
Not that Vasiliki wouldn’t have stayed anyway, to help with search and rescue. It had still been an unpleasant surprise to find out that he’d left so suddenly, and without even telling them that he’d survived.
Vasiliki had been scared for her friend.
He’d better have a damn good excuse, she thought to herself, while also trying not to think about all the corpses they’d pulled out of the flooded rubble and collapsed buildings.
So many corpses, even though an anonymous hero had been going around helping evacuate the civilians…
She was distracted from that train of thought when the elevator reached the living room and ‘command centre’ of the base, where they were immediately greeted by Eudocia’s emblem appearing on the large central screen.
“Hi you three!” she chirped, sounding to all the world like an over-exited preteen. Which, in some ways, she pretty much was. “How’re you doing?”
“We’re fine, thank you for asking,” Vasiliki replied. “Is Basil in his lab?”
“Yup, he’s been there since he came back. Didn’t even sleep. If it wasn’t for Prisca, he wouldn’t even have eaten,” Eudocia complained sullenly, as usual exasperated in how hard it was to pursue her self-imposed duty of looking after Basil’s oft-neglected health.
At least he keeps himself nearly obsessively clean, Vasiliki thought, thanking the gods for their small favours. “Do you know what he’s been working on?”
“Nope! Whatever ideas he got, they’re way beyond me,” the AI replied, chirpy again. “First thing he built was some kind of headgear he used on himself, but I have no idea what it really did, he wasn’t being too chatty. Seemed to give him a headache, though. Since then, he’s been working on some kind of bracer or gauntlet. He cannibalized most of his stuff to make it, even his vibrosword!”
Dalia whistled, though even she looked like she could see the issue with that. Vasiliki couldn’t help but frown, too. She knew that Basil’s resources were running thin, which explained why he had to take apart previous projects – or unfinished ones – to make new stuff, but sacrificing his sword?
Well, it wasn’t like he’d used it all that much to begin with – he didn’t like killing any more than Vasiliki did, and the vibrosword was pretty much only useful for taking apart inanimate objects, unless you wanted to kill your opponent.
“We’ll talk to him,” she stated firmly, sorting out her thoughts. “Try to figure out what’s going on.”
“Yeah, time for a little reality check,” Dalia said in a similar tone of voice. She hadn’t taken him just leaving them behind much, if any, better than her. “This is weird even by his standards.”
“Thanks. I hope you’ll talk some sense into him,” Eudocia said, opening the door that lead down to the lab proper.
The three of them walked down the short staircase and entered into the lab… which honestly looked not much different than usual, at least to Vasiliki’s eye. It had always been a strange mixture of obsessively neat and absentmindedly chaotic; several worktables with half-finished or just-disassembled projects laid out in what seemed to be utter disorder, to the point where she sometimes suspected Basil might have an eidetic memory, just to explain how he ever found anything, contrasting with the neat, orderly way that said tables and projects were laid out in the room, with clear, neat pathways between them, everything stationed so that, no matter at which one Basil was sitting, he could look at any other project by turning in the right direction.
She’d never admit it to him, for fear of his head swelling even more than it usually did, when it came to his gadgets, but watching him work, seeing all the strange stuff he was working on, was a really fun pastime for her, trying to figure out what the hell he was fiddling with at any time and all. The fact that he tended to get so absorbed in his work, he’d likely not notice her even if she was standing around naked and singing in Greek, made it all the easier to observe him in his ‘natural habitat’, as she and Dalia tended to joke.
It had changed over the last month or so, though. Vasiliki had been aware that he was having trouble continuing his work, both due to his power being baulky and due to dwindling money, he’d complained about it a few times, and Eudocia had shared some of it, as well, but right now, it was as obvious as ever that he was starting to run out of resources, at least.
Half the lab was empty, really, with only a few small parts and tools on most tables, his work mostly concentrated on the five centre tables, one of which being his computer station, at that.
She couldn’t even begin to guess at the purpose of most of the things he was working on, but one table, at least, was easily identified – the one he’d been performing maintenance on his battered armour (as skillful as he could sometimes be, somehow he still managed to get it wrecked a whole damn lot), the individual pieces laid out along with the bodysuit worn underneath them, looking like they were back in top condition.
The other tables were far less obvious. One sported what she assumed was a computer tower as tall as she was, standing at its centre. It seemed to have been built by cannibalising damn near every other computer in the room, fitting all the necessary parts together into an amalgam that would have made Frankenstein proud. With all the wires leading out of it, and the irregularly spaced amber-coloured cooling lines, it reminded her kind of of some japanese anime’s idea of a mechanical tree or such. And that was only the most obvious piece, as its wires connected to a variety of other devices, which were interconnected in turn, the whole construct so expansive it extended onto another table, all of it ending up in what looked like a twisted, uneven VR headset that had to weigh as much as a small child at the least, currently resting on the table in front of where Basil would normally sit.
Another table sported what looked like three hollow, egg shapes that fanned open like flowers, the insides of the petals covered in countless tiny spines, with one of Basil’s hand-made laptops wired up to them, running some kind of program with a progress bar that was half-done.
Finally, there was one last table on which lay a single gauntlet, sized to fit over Basil’s forearm and the back of his hand. Unlike the rest of his armor, it wasn’t made out of the black ceramic he tended to use, but of several overlapping half-rings of silvery metal, covered in gold and copper circuits which seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever (though Vasiliki knew better than to assume Basil would waste resources on mere aesthetics). The table was actually clean apart from that, all the tools put neatly away, signifying that this work, at least, was complete.
The one responsible for all that, Basil, sat at his computer terminal, wearing black dress pants and an unbuttoned white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his biceps, lounging on a swivel chair, turned halfway towards them.
Vasiliki felt her face heat up a bit, hoping to all spirits that her dusky skintone would hide the light blush as she was reminded that Basil had been… really getting more attractive, ever since she first met him.
Oh, he wasn’t turning into a supermodel, and he likely never would be; but gone was the gangly, messily black-haired, stick-thin nerd with the sharp black eyes she’d first befriended. His hair had grown long (and stayed messy, in spite of his attempts to keep it under control), nearly touching his shoulders by now, and his face had lost a lot of baby fat it’d still sported just a few months ago, making it look even sharper than before (which was saying a lot), his cheekbones looking like she could have sliced bread on them. His unbuttoned shirt and rolled-up sleeves showed the results of working out regularly, nevermind all the combat training they did whenever all three of them had the time, nevermind the regular patrols; he was still a little too thin and she doubted he’d ever look like a body-builder, and he often looked like he was tired due to what seemed to be some natural wrinkles around and underneath his jet black eyes, but…
Damn it, I’m feeling a little jealous of Prisca now, she thought. All in all, she wouldn’t be surprised if Basil wasn’t going to be getting a lot of hopeful suitors, come prom time – traditionally, Diantha High always had girls’ choice there, and Prisca wasn’t around to lay claim to him.
Oh Goddess, what the Hell am I even thinking? I have way more important things to worry about! she thought to herself as the two of them walked up to Basil.
“Hey, B-Six!” Dalia greeted him cheerily, and Vasiliki noticed that the red-head was clearly not as restrained as she tried to be about ogling the eye candy. “Did Prisca just leave?”
Timothy coughed suddenly, looking away.
Basil looked up at her, raising an eyebrow. “Just a few minutes ago, yes. Her charge ran out and she had to wake up. How did you know?”
Yeah, how did sh- ohhhh, Vasiliki caught up just a second later, and felt her face heat up even more. She really had to get herself a boyfriend already.
“Female intuition, I guess,” Dalia quipped brightly. “I see she got you to eat, huh?” she continued, nodding towards an empty plate on the table next to the computer.
Their friend shrugged. “I was not really hungry, but Prisca was really… insistent,” he said casually, as if it was nothing special.
“I really need to get that far with my girlfriend…” Vasiliki heard Timothy whisper from behind her.
Amen, she thought. And I need to find a boyfriend in the first place.
“Anyway,” she spoke up, trying not to focus on her relatively irrelevant relationship status. “We’ve got to talk, Basil.”
He turned his chair to face them fully and she realised that it wasn’t just his natural look she’d picked up on earlier. He really did look tired, though not as badly as he’d gotten before their intervention a while ago.
Perhaps we should keep a closer eye on him again, I don’t think that Eudocia is really cut out for watching over her ‘father’.
“Let us talk then,” he said with a smile. “What can I do for you?”
“What happened at the end of the battle?” she asked straight out, not wanting to beat around the bush anymore. “Why’d you just dump us to come back here, and why’d you risk showing Gloom Glimmer our base?”
He flinched a bit, looking actually guilty. “I… I am sorry for leaving you behind. I am not entirely sure of all the details, but when Crocell died… well, you noticed his death throes, right? They call it a ‘psychic scream’, I think.”
Vasiliki nodded, shuddering at the memory. It had been profoundly unsettling, not to mention painful – her headache had lasted for hours. She knew that Dalia’s experience had been no better, either.
“What did you experience while it happened?” he asked them, gesturing for her or Dalia to take over.
“Flashes,” the latter immediately spoke up. “Flashes of colours and shadows, and weird sounds, like whale songs,” she explained as she sat on a chair Timothy had pulled up for her.
Vasiliki looked around and saw that he’d done the same for her, and was now sitting on one of his own, too, so she sat down as well, the four of them forming a loose circle among Basil’s workstations.
“My experience was very similar,” she continued once it became clear that Dalia was finished. “But even less distinct. Just shadows and screeching, but muted, echo-y, like it was underwater,” she described as best as she could, while Timothy remained quiet – he was the only one here who hadn’t been present. “I think there was more, while it happened, but it… didn’t stick in my mind.”
Basil made a thoughtful sound as he intertwined his fingers beneath his chin, elbows on the armrests of his chair. “I saw… much more. Perhaps because I was so close to it. Images, mostly. Memories, I think, of Crocell. To be more precise, his birth… and his creators.”
“What!?” Vasiliki shouted, jumping up onto her feet. “That thing was made? And you know who did it?!” She’d track these monsters down and blow them to high heaven!
He raised a hand in a calming gesture. “I will get to that,” he said, standing up as she sat down and buttoning his shirt closed, before he walked over to the huge computer tower to flip a single switch, causing it to boot up quietly, numerous fans that were hidden among the already extensive cooling lines starting their work. “I can not say whether it happened due to Crocell’s presence, but during the battle, it was like my power… came unstuck.” He gestured towards the gauntlet with one hand, using the other to type something on the tower’s keyboard without even looking at it. “That is how I was able to figure out how to kill the beast. Anyway, my memory of the contents of its scream began to fade quickly, and that is when I came up with this.” He gestured towards the computer tower and the headpiece it was connected to. “A neural engram recorder and visualiser,” he explained. “It can read the neural signals of the brain’s visual cortex and record them, provided one focuses long enough on an image – I used it to save as much of these visions as I could, before they faded from my mind, as well.”
The three of them just gaped at the boy, but he didn’t seem to notice, or care, as he continued on.
“Now, as to what I saw…” he stopped, suddenly, and turned to his computer terminal. “Eudocia, how is Prisca doing?” he asked calmly.
“She’s awake and talking to her mother,” the AI replied. “It seems like it will take a while, but I can’t be sure, since I’m not allowed to listen in on private conversations without permission,” she continued, sounding sullen.
“Good,” he said, sitting down again. “She will have to hear this, too, but… I would rather discuss it with you all first.”
And with that cryptic comment, he tapped a few keys on his terminal, calling up an image of… some kind of underwater scenery, a trench maybe. A slick rockwall could be seen, covered in corals and illuminated from below in all colours of the rainbow.
A tap of a key called up another image, looking up said wall towards the surface of the water, though little could be seen of it.
“I was not able to save much,” Basil continued, as he moved on, going from picture to picture. Crocell – it had to be him – was swimming up, it seemed, approaching a jet-black shape that seemed to float on the water’s surface, something like a huge octagon. “Here is where it gets interesting.”
More pictures came up, until Crocell seemed to break through the water’s surface, looking up at the starry sky.
Then, he climbed on top of the water, and looked down and out over a huge, almost city-sized floating island of metal, formed like an octagon.
His gaze swept over several people who’d gathered on some kind of platform at the edge of the installation, and focused closer on them.
Vasiliki felt her heartbeat speed up as she saw what she assumed to be the villains behind all the murder and bloodshed these monsters had caused over the last day. There were many, and not all were distinctly visible – the image quality was not the best in every shot, probably because Basil had had trouble remembering every detail – but a few stood out.
A woman in what looked like a samurai-themed knight’s armour mixed with a black-and-purple ball gown, wearing a helmet which reminded her of a bird, and a katana strapped to her side. Another woman, short, Asian, in a lab coat, with an ecstatic look on her face, her black hair drawn back in a bun. Next to her, a pimply, gangly man who looked like the stereotypical nerd in an oversized labcoat. And finally, a black-skinned woman in a smaller, tighter labcoat, her hands in her coatpockets as she seemed to look almost condescendingly at the viewer – at Crocell.
Others were around them, but they were indistinct, blurry. The focus was clearly on those four.
“That’s them, huh,” Dalia whispered. “Anyone recognise the bitch in the fancy costume?”
“No, I have never heard of anyone with that costume,” Basil replied, both Vasiliki and Timothy saying the same.
“Nor have I found any images on the internet which match her,” Eudocia added, her voice much more serious than usual.
“I did recognise one of them, though,” Basil continued, zooming in on the short Asian woman and the gangly nerd. “Eudocia was also able to identify the man – he is known as ‘the Geek’, a legacy villain who disappeared a few years ago. But it is this one that I am most interested in.” He zoomed further in on the short woman. “That… is Dusu.”
You could’ve heard a pin drop in the resulting silence.
Vasiliki stared at the image of the woman who’d ruined Prisca’s life, and that of so many others – no wonder Basil didn’t want to confront her with this rashly. The crippled girl would go ballistic.
She very deliberately did not ask whether Basil was sure – he would never speak about this unless he was absolutely sure.
“Is there a way to tell where this place is?” she asked instead, her voice barely more than a whisper. “There were some images of the stars earlier, perhaps one could determine its location that-” She cut off when she saw Basil’s grim smile.
“I did just that,” he affirmed, tapping a few keys. The images of the starry night showed up on the screens, one in each, and graphs began to appear, measuring the distances between stars, shapes they formed and more. “I also calculated how deep the trench Crocell rose out of must have been, based on the speed at which he rose and the height we observed when he first surfaced at Esperanza City. With those values, I was able to determine that it must be built somewhere above the Mariana Trench, specifically this general location.”
He called up a map of the Pacific Ocean, zooming in on the relevant portion and highlighting an area with a red circle. One quite near to the Challenger Deep, Vasiliki’s geographical knowledge told her.
“It is only accurate to within about a hundred kilometres, but nevertheless – whoever these people are, their base is somewhere there. And I am going to tell the United Heroes about it soon enough.”
Vasiliki swallowed dryly at the thought of the kind of violence that information would unleash – there was no way the heroes, and even a lot of villains, would hold back, not after the massacres caused. Nevermind governments like that of Japan, who’d been hit the hardest hit.
She wished she could participate. She’d drawn children out of the rubble of Esperanza.
“Damn, B-Six, that’s just… that’s so awesome,” Dalia said, hushed, her hands on her cheeks.
“Yeah, man, this… this is huge,” Timothy agreed, after having been quiet for most of this. “Are you… are you certain? I mean, I know you wouldn’t say this lightly, but if you’re wrong…”
Basil shook his head. “I am certain in what I saw, and the conclusions drawn. Crocell was made and he was made there. And Dusu,” he all but spat the name, “was involved in some fashion.”
He smiled grimly, showing teeth, the sight making Vasiliki shiver down to her toes. “This will not just be a chance to punish them for the monsters they unleashed. I intend to take the chance to find a cure for Prisca’s condition; if anyone has it, then Dusu, the one who created that plague in the first place.”
The Greek sorceress leaned back in her seat, running her fingers through her hair as she took a deep breath. “By the Goddess, this is… this is so much, Basil. Too much. We need to, to think this over, plan… and we need to tell Prisca, too. She deserves to know.”
He nodded, sitting down again. “Yes, yes she does. And I will. As soon as she comes back – I want to do it face-to-face, or as close as it gets with her insisting on the projection over her real body.” He sighed, leaning back as well.
“So, how are we going to tell the UH?” Dalia asked thoughtfully, an expression that was just weird on her, in spite of the situation. “Just give them a copy of the images and all?”
“I can not think of a better way,” Basil answered. “It will probably take a while to convince them that it is reliable, but I do not think that they will dismiss it, in the end. They need to take the chance to nip this at the bud, before even more monsters are created and let loose.”
Vasiliki nodded in agreement – that was paramount. Followed by punishing them for what they’d already done, of course.
She wished she had the power to directly send such villains to Tartarus herself.
“Alright, let’s talk about how we’re going to get this information to them in the most efficient, convincing way p-” she began, but was cut off when Eudocia suddenly butted in.
“Father!” she shouted, sounding panicked. “You’ve got to help!”
Basil turned his chair around, sitting straight and with alarm. “What is going on, Eudocia?” he asked briskly, but calmly.
“It’s Prisca!” the AI exlaimed, seeming to grow more and more panicked. “She just had a stroke!”
Basils knuckles turned white as he gripped the edge of his table. “Status report, now,” he hissed as Vasiliki just stared in shock.
The screens changed to ECG readings and other information that Vasiliki couldn’t even begin to make sense of, making her briefly wonder where he was getting them from… until she remembered that he’d built most of the medical equipment currently sustaining Prisca, and there was no way he hadn’t left himself a connection to it for just such an occasion.
She watched as Basil’s eyes flew over the information, seeming to absorb it in record time. “Any reports on the other surviving victims?” he asked, his voice tight.
“Two of those whom I have access to had strokes over the last hour, one of them fatal,” she replied, her voice growing calmer, more mechanical, now that she was getting orders to pursue. “I’m hacking into what little there already is on their hospitals’ networks… nothing conclusive, as usual, but it seems like the plague is attacking their brains more aggressively than usual.”
She saw Basil tremble, even though his face – which she could see from the side, sitting where she was – was completely calm. “Keep collecting data. I want every byte you can get, he said calmly, leaning back on his seat.
Vasiliki couldn’t sit around anymore, though, and leapt up. “We should get to the hospital, see what you can do for her… or maybe me, if all else fails,” she said, turning around to go for where she had her spare costume stashed. She knew her healing magic -what little of it she was capable of – was not the most reliable, but if all else failed…
Dalia got up to join her, her face tight with worry.
“No,” came a sharp, cold voice, freezing them both in their tracks. “We are not going to the hospital.”
They turned around, both of them, and Vasiliki felt her blood run cold as ice.
Basil was leaning back on his chair again, his fingers intertwined as he’d put his hands together over his lap, his head slightly leaning forward.
His eyes were cold as ice and blacker than the darkness itself.
“W-why not? We need to help her!” Dalia protested, but Vasiliki just stared at her friend, who was looking into the distance with those cold, hard eyes.
“We will be of no help rushing to the hospital,” he spoke calmly, ignoring Dalia’s protests. It was like someone completely different was speaking. “I have already done all that I can for her, with just my skills and resources. Vasiliki’s magic is not compatible with my gadgets, and no one knows how it might react to Dusu’s plague.”
“W-what are we supposed to do, then?” Vasiliki asked, her voice trembling, and not just for fear for Prisca. This Basil… she’d known that there was something cold, and hard inside of him, some part of his that couldn’t be explained by the life he’d lead so far, but that was nonetheless there, but she’d never thought she’d see it so clearly.
He was scaring her.
“It is simple,” he said with that ice-cold voice. “There is only one person who knows how to save Prisca,” he continued, calling up the image of those four villains again. “We are going to go after the source of the plague.” He tapped her face on the screen.
“Are you crazy!?!” Vasiliki shouted, unable to restrain herself. “There’s no way we have enough time to wait for the heroes and the government to gather their troops and get there, Prisca will be dead or brain-damaged long before that!”
Basil remained maddeningly calm, in the face of her outburst. “I never said we would wait. Or I will not, at least. I will go after her as soon as I can arrange for some transportation, and gather up as much firepower as I can on short notice.”
She gaped at her friend, unable to believe he was being so reckless, so… so stupid, even with his girlfriend’s life on the line! These were some major supervillains, and there could be a whole army on that floating island!
The other two seemed just as shocked as she was, unable to protest, as they watched Basil pick up his cellphone from the table.
“How… how are we even supposed to get there on our own?” Vasiliki asked weakly.
“Yeah, unless you got a jet stashed somewhere around here, there’s no way we’re getting there anytime soon,” Dalia agreed.
Basil just punched a number into his cellphone and lifted it to his ear. Whoever was on the other end picked up quickly.
“Gloom Glimmer,” he greeted the other side. “Brennus here. I am calling about that favour you said you owed me…”