Basil stepped away from the tesseract, pleasantly surprised to notice that however this means of transportation worked, it didn’t leave him the least bit disoriented or otherwise impaired.
He’d arrived at a supermarket’s parking lot, in a circle of several dozen civilians who seemed to have been hastily getting food and other supplies out of the supermarket – a quick look showed that the place had been opened, electronic screens on the outside announcing that it was giving away its inventory freely, so it wasn’t looting – who seemed to have frozen in fear when the tesseract appeared, only to relax when they saw him.
A middle-aged man with a beard shadow on the very verge of turning into a short beard approached Basil after putting a stack of packages down on the ground, looking nervously at him, his eyes roving as he seemed to have trouble deciding what to focus on while looking at his mostly featureless mask.
“You… you’re Brennus, right? The superhero?” he asked, his voice nearly cracking with nervousness.
“Yes,” Basil replied, looking around. “You should all get to the shelters as quickly as possible. Do not take more than you can easily carry,” he continued, looking at a group of teenagers so ladden down with sweets and snacks they probably wouldn’t have made it home without an accident even on a good day.
And this wasn’t a good day, by any possible measure.
“We’ll… yeah, we’ll do that,” the man replied. “But… I mean, how’s…” He looked towards the distant battle, which even now was rather easy to make out, as beams of light lanced up again and ag-
He flinched, his fists clenching so tightly he thought he’d damage his gloves as another lance of pure agony shot through his head, overtaking the steady thrum of background pain.
At least no one noticed, as the onlookers got distracted by the sudden growth of… something… where the beams had just been.
Basil touched the button on the communicator the Dark had given him, creating a ping to notify them… not that he thought it was necessary, right now, but it was a good habit to get into in case they lost track of her.
“Go,” he spoke, voice hard, making people flinch. “Don’t waste time and get to safety, now!”
Basil turned away from the supermarket and left the lot, running at as fast a pace as he could maintain – he still had a way to go. The node he’d taken had been the one closest to his house, but it was still quite a ways away from it.
Nevertheless, there was nothing at all he could do to help in this fight if he was limited to his emergency equipment.
Frankly, there wasn’t much, if anything, he was likely to contribute at all, even with his best gadgets, b-
He stumbled, nearly falling over as he was hit by another spike of pain, barely a minute after the previous one.
Barely managing to turn the stumble into the start of a run, he sent another signal, just in c-
Another spike of pain, still just as painful and impossible to get used to as the first one.
This time, he fell actually fell over, his mask hitting the pavement hard enough he actually felt it.
He pushed the button, almost reflexively, before he pushed himself up again.
So fast… she usually keeps the same powerset for a minute or two at least, even when she’s under heavy attack, he thought as he scrambled forward, breaking into as fast a run as he could. Did Memento really manage to upgrade enough to pressure her so much more, or…
Another spike of pain, causing him to stumble, but this time he managed to stay on his feet and keep running.
Passing by a gap in the buildings to his right, he looked towards where the fight was going on and saw the reason for the rapid change.
Gloom Glimmer had engaged DiL. Even at this distance, he could make her black-clothed, white-cloaked form, thanks to his telescopic vision enhancements, unleashing a truly staggering display of power.
Pain flashed through his mind as Gloom Glimmer kept meeting every new set DiL expressed with another power, countering her at every step.
When she wasn’t able to react quickly enough, one of the Mementos would intercede instead, unleashing a different super-weapon.
DiL, meanwhile, showed no sign of concern. She simply floated left and right, sometimes twisting in the air, but rarely even bothering to face her opponents as she kept switching through powers. Her arms remained limply at her sides, while her hair twisted with her motions and the wind, the glowing strands destroying anything they came into contact with – including the occasional metahuman who ventured too close, or was unable to get away in time when she closed in.
Then he was past the gap, moving slower now that he was being attacked by those horrid headaches every half minute or so.
He just couldn’t get used to them.
Damn it… Damn it… I need to… to get home, he thought as he almost fell over, stumbling before he leaned against the wall of a bakery he often went to to get fresh bread, on better days. Get your act together, Basil. You can’t afford to be weak right now.
Another flash of pain cut off his attempt to psych himself up.
And another, again.
God damn it, it’s great that Gloom Glimmer can hold her sister off so well, bu-
He doubled over, dropping to his knees as yet another flash of pain lit up his brain.
The pain and disorientation were so bad, he almost missed the brief distortion which travelled over the ground of him, as if someone had dropped a pebble into a pond, waves radiating across the concrete… and the walls, coming all from a single point somewhere towards the centre of the city.
From the battle.
“Be advised that the Adversary has broken off contact,” Memento’s voice announced through his comms. “Due to the changed nature of her desolation field, pinpointing her location is no longer possible. Announce any sighting through your comms immediately.”
“Damn it,” Basil grunted, forcing himself up onto his feet – and then he jumped, leaping away from the bakery as a hand formed out of its brick wall and glass front, slashing at his throat with broken-glass-claws.
The creature emerged so quickly and seamlessly, it almost looked like a stopmotion effect – one moment, normal bakery, the next, a twisted gargoyle of brick, metal and glass stood there, the bakery’s front wrecked and scavenged for materials.
It stood as tall as Basil was, even hunched over and slumped, its posture more appropriate to a cartoon character than a living being. Its body was primarily made out of bricks, with metal at the joints and glass shards providing details, as well as claws and eyes.
When it opened its misshapen maw, it revealed a mouth full of countless metal and glass fangs, reflecting the light of the desolation field and the irregularly penetrating sun to create an almost rainbow-like glow.
Dozens of similar creatures rose out of the street and buildings around Basil, all roughly resembling gargoyles – humanoid, misshapen heads, claws, wings – but no two were similar beyond their basic frame, each made out of whichever materials were nearby when it was formed.
They all looked at Basil and opened their maws, hissing as they showed off their rainbow teeth.
Great. Now that I’d like another flash of pain, I’m not getting one.
Guess even DiL can’t help but kick you while you’re down, mate.
He couldn’t even dispute that.
The nearest creature, the one whose lazy swipe he’d just dodged, attacked first by throwing itself towards him, its maw opening so wide it very nearly reached a hundred and eighty degrees.
Basil shot it right down the throat before it could even come close, his snapping his rifle up for a one-handed shot which blew its head and a good chunk of its upper torso apart, throwing the remains back into the wrecked bakery, wrecking it further.
“The Adversary has produced a vast number of lesser agents,” Memento informed him, superfluously. “They appear to have only been formed out of material at ground level or above, so the civilians in shelters should be safe. Past instances suggest that destroying at least sixty percent of their number will cause her to switch up powers, which ought to reveal her location again, as well. Spread out and destroy as many as you can. If your comms order you to change location, do so immediately, you will be guided towards the biggest concentration of agents you are predicted to be capable of taking on.”
He dodged another gargoyle and placed another round in the back of its head, pulverizing it and the head of the gargoyle that’d been charging him from the other direction. The metal slugs his railgun fired were more than powerful enough at such close range to tear through these creatures.
Of course, there was the decidedly non-trivial problem that there were already more gargoyles visible on just this one street than he carried shots with him. And even though he could load nearly any object of approximate shape and size into his railgun and turn it into a lethal projectile, doing so limited him to one shot at a time before having to reload.
Not a sustainable long-term solution.
I wish I had my drone here right now.
Still, there was nothing else to do but fight. The creatures came towards him, not quite swarming him – only the nearest few were attacking, yet, with others seemingly content to tear down nearby walls, lampposts and other bits of construction – but there were far too many for him to stay in one spot and shoot them down one after the other.
Basil took a running leap, taking off the ground to place his boot on the foremost charging gargoyle.
Jumping off its shoulder, he brought his rifle around and shot its head apart even as he flipped over the row of charging gargoyles, landing just in time to whirl around and watch them slam into the opposite line of attackers with a cacophony of shattered glass and screaming metal.
One of the gargoyles had avoided slamming into another of its kind and came charging straight at him, its jaw opened as wide as it could go.
He raised his rifle, aiming at its throat, and pulled the trigger-
Thin arcs of blue-white electricity danced across the muzzle and down the rails, but nothing happened as several alerts appeared on Basil’s heads-up display.
The creature reached him, diving past the rifle as it apparently aimed to clamp its jaws closed around his head – only for his foot to instead slam into it, his armored boot easily withstanding the cutting power of mostly-dull metal and simple window glass, smashing the creature back before it could clamp its jaws closed.
Instead of following up on the attack, Basil retreated, one eye on the situation around himself, one on the readouts his mask was giving him.
He’d feared this would happen – DiL’s desolation field was infamous for screwing with electronics. It was one reason why most gadgeteers steered away from fighting her, as they would all too often end up as sitting ducks, rather than contribute meaningfully to the fight.
Basil had anticipated such a situation. He’d studied reports of the desolation field’s effects online – Toybox in particular had several threads revolving around just this one ability of DiL’s – and done his best to harden his inventions where possible against the electromagnetic interference it caused.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t done so for his emergency kit, as it had been built on a very tight budget and been meant as, well, an emergency solution only.
Which was why his mask’s display was starting to glitch so much, he was forced to deactivate it and flip a hidden switch on its jawline which caused the upper half to collapse into and over the lower half, revealing his eyes and forehead, with the mask now covering only his nose, jaw and mouth.
At the same time, he grabbed his rifle by its handle with one hand and by the barrel with another, as he whirled around like a dervish, cloak flying, dodging a pounce by another gargoyle.
With a twist, he folded the grip away from the trigger, nearly flat against the barrel, and pulled.
The railgun came apart as he drew a single-edged blade made out of gleaming metal from it – one of the rails meant to guide the shots, sharpened on the opposite side to provide a proper cutting edge. It was long enough to serve as a proper sabre, or perhaps a katana, though one with a straight blade.
He used the razor-sharp blade to cut the head off of another gargoyle, and pulled a second sword out of the upper half of his rifle, plunging it straight down the throat of yet another pouncing gargoyle.
That turned out to be a mistake.
The creature clamped its jaws shut, apparently unbothered by having a metre and a quarter of razorsharp steel piercing intos its chest, trapping it in there as it pressed on, easily overbearing Basil.
He was forced to let go of his sword and dive into a roll, barely avoiding being bear-hugged by the gargoyle and crushed against its shard- and spike-studded chest.
They’re not very tough.
His blade cut through the gargoyle’s legs in a single swipe, and once it hit the ground, he leaped over it and twisted around, reaching down to pull his other sword out of its throat before it could damage it.
Another slash took off its head, and that caused it to collapse into its constituent pieces.
So, you gotta destroy the head to stop them? How droll, the Man in the Moon commented.
More gargoyles turned towards Basil, and others got up on their feet again after having fallen over in that mass crash.
Others still were busy tearing apart their surroundings, gathering parts to…
With a start, he realised they were making new gargoyles. Taking debris and assembling it into vaguely humanoid, winged shapes.
They’ll likely animate them if we give these buggers too much time.
Yes, thank you, I do notice the obvious, Basil thought back at him, though he didn’t have much time to be irritated, being busy dodging a dozen gargoyles made primarily out of very hard and very sharp bits.
Unless it’s Vas’ humongous crush on you.
Not. The. Time. Basil grimaced, finding himself forced to retreat – there were just too many of them bearing down on him, he didn’t have enough space to swing his swords wide and hard enough to take off heads, except for the occasional opening their uncoordinated attacks gave him.
When is it ever? Notice how I only talk to ya now and then? Ever wonder why that is?
One of the newly constructed gargoyles rose up, its movements jerky, uneven. It looked at him and hissed, then came stumbling towards him. Less than the originals, but still dangerous.
I noticed. No idea as to why.
Another slash took a particularly large gargoyle’s head off; Basil followed that up by rushing forward, using its collapsing body to give himself a boost, leaping over the small horde of gargoyles that’d tried to corner him against a wall.
Well, I’m not sure either, but I can only reach you sometimes. And some other times you’re just… deaf to me.
Landing on the street, Basil rolled into a sprint. He was going to get overwhelmed if he stayed where he was – he needed the gadgets he’d left at home, it was the only way he was going to make a meaningful dent in these gargoyles’ numbers.
You’re saying you’re not sure, but that implies you do have some idea as to why.
I cannot say.
So we’re back to that, Basil replied with a mental sigh.
Holding a sword in each hand, he ran down the street, trying to get closer to his house, slashing at gargoyles whenever the opportunity presented itself, hoping that at least the other defenders would manage to pick off enough of them that DiL would switch her powers before they built up too much.
That brings up another point – if one of her powers is the ability to animate these things, and another one is, presumably, whichever power allows her to hide from everyone, then what’s the third one?
No clue, but it can’t be anything good. Especially since we don’t know whether her hiding ability is her defensive or utility slot, and whether the animation ability is her offensive or utility slot. The last one could be any of the three.
He dodged around two particularly misshapen gargoyles made mostly out of shopping trolleys and broken beer bottles, beheaded another that tried to cut him off and used its body as a spring board again, to leap over another line of advancing gargoyles.
Only to have another one slam into him, swooping down from above with its wings extended wide.
They can fly after all.
The gargoyle slammed him into the ground, its hands closing around his swords’ grips over his own hands, preventing him from beheading it in return.
The shards covering the insides of its hands failed to penetrate his gloves, but they still managed to hurt, and the creature was far stronger than its spindly build would suggest – and much heavier, as well.
Basil grit his teeth and pushed back, while the creature opened up its maw, trying to literally bite off his face – but it had him at a serious disadvantage and even though he could stall it, that didn’t change the fact that even more were closing in on them.
Suddenly, he heard a gun being cocked, followed by the gargoyle’s head exploding as it was blown apart by a shot coming from Basil’s left.
The lifeless form collapsed atop him, showering him in debris and briefly blinding him as he closed his eyes to avoid getting anything in them.
When he looked up, he saw a man in a costume dive in between the gargoyles that’d surrounded him, landing over Basil in a broad stance, ready to defend him.
Though, costume was perhaps a bit much. He was wearing polished black shoes and a pair of black pants held up by white suspenders worn over a horizontally striped black-and-white shirt with long sleeves. He was standing there as if he was holding a shotgun, aimed at the advancing gargoyles, but his hands were empty.
Basil couldn’t see the man’s face, only the back of his head and short brown hair that’d been cropped down to the scalp on the sides and back, leaving only a messy mass of shiny locks at the top.
Then the man cocked his invisible shotgun and let loose another shot, blowing apart another gargoyle’s head.
He cocked it again, and another one went down, then he reloaded it, and shot down another two.
Half the gargoyles around them were gone by then, but the others were too close, so he instead switched into a melee pose and swung his arms as if he was holding a sword, slicing the heads off of three gargoyles at once.
His saviour finished his spin, coming to face Basil, and extended his left hand towards him, showing his face for the first time.
It was covered in white make-up, from his scalp down to his jawline. His lips were coloured black, and thickly so, with thin lines extending slightly out of the corners. His right eyebrow had been traced with a similarly thick black colour, while the left one was all but imperceptible under the white make-up. Black eyeliner made the right eye stand out, as did several triangles drawn atop and beneath it, like eyelashes, while the right eye merely had a black ‘scar’ running from the forehead above down over it and onto the left cheek.
He was completely silent as he looked at Basil with an urgent expression, his blue-grey eyes as sharp as they were intense.
Le Mime. He came all the way from France?
Basil took the offered arm, hand closing around the man’s wrist as he was hauled up, then he activated the – fortunately still functional – magnets in his gloves to pull his swords back into his grip.
Le Mime whirled around and mimed drawing and firing a gun like an old west gunslinger. A shot sounded, blasting a hole through the head of a charging gargoyle.
“We need to go down the street that way!” Basil told him, gesturing towards his house when he had the french hero’s attention.
The older man – Basil thought he might be in his late twenties, or his early thirties – nodded to him and turned to face the other way, raising his arms and patting the air, before he leaned against an invisible wall, as if to brace it with both hands.
The charging gargoyles – both on the ground and flying – all slammed into said invisible wall, a few of the new ones doing so hard enough that they destroyed themselves.
Both Basil and Le Mime turned away from them and ran down the street – but there were yet more gargoyles in their way.
Le Mime ran ahead and reached into the air, grabbing a hold of something which allowed him to swing himself up and onto… a bike?
With a twist of his hand and a kick of his leg, he revved the invisible motorcycle, waving his other hand towards Basil in a beckoning gesture.
Basil didn’t stop to think, he just leapt onto the unseen machine, using Le Mime’s own position to judge where he’d have to land, while he crossed his swords behind his back, making them stick to the flat, flexible magnets worked into his cloak’s emblem.
Landing behind the silent hero, he grunted at the impact – it wasn’t exactly a well-cushioned motorcycle – and wrapped his arms around his waist, while seeking and finding a pair of footholds.
And then Le Mime drove off, shooting through a gap in the crowd of gargoyles before them.
They shot down the street as the hero drove like a madman, dodging their enemies by margins so small Basil was sure they’d be caught a few times.
Nevertheless, they got through another crowd, but there were still more gargoyles ahead of them.
“I need to get to my house and get several gadgets!” Basil shouted to be heard over the cacophony of their bike’s motor. “It is roughly five more kilometres down this road, followed by a turn left and another kilometre of road!”
The silent hero looked at him over his shoulder, his gaze determined, and nodded. Then he briefly took one hand off the grip and tapped Basil’s hands around his waist.
Taking the cue, Basil let go of him as the wind pushed hard against him, and Le Mime thrust his torso back, shoving Basil at the same time as he changed his own position.
And Basil landed in a hard, uncushioned seat in a very different vehicle, as they drove over the street, higher up than before on the bike.
The motorbike’s sound had been replaced by a strangely familiar one… a propeller?
A propeller-driven plane.
Le Mime mimed pulling a pair of aviator glasses down over his eyes, and then he pulled on a long stick in front of him, leaning back as their biplane rose up, shredding several gargoyles’ heads with its propeller before it was too high up to do so anymore.
Holy shit, I didn’t know he could do constructs this elaborate!
The biplane rose up, soaring over the sky, but Le Mime didn’t angle it directly in the direction of Basil’s house.
Instead, once he’d flown up high enough, he dove down again, one hand closed tightly around the control stick of the plane, while another held something else in front of him.
Before Basil could even wonder what it was – he was mostly focused on the sensation of his stomach rising up into his throat as they dove almost straight down towards the ground and the masses of gargoyles, the deafening combination of the biplanes ancient motor and the rush of air managing to daze even him for a moment – he clenched his fingers around it and the sound of a machine gun firing rose over that of the motor.
Le Mime simultaneously pulled them out of the dead dive, strafing over the hordes of gargoyles, dust and debris rising as their machine gun tore through dozens of them.
He repeated the process three more times before they approached Basil’s neighborhood.
“Fly by the building with the purple roof!” he shouted, hoping he’d be heard over the noise as he pointed at the out-of-place paintjob Amy had insisted on a few years ago. “I will jump onto its roof! You can keep going, I will be alright from here on out!”
He couldn’t be sure he’d be, but this guy was seriously too effective at taking down the gargoyles to be tied down babysitting Basil.
Le Mime looked over his shoulder, briefly, nodding again, and adjusted their flight towards the house.
Twisting the plane until it was nearly on its side, he flew a tight circle over it, just a metre away from having its wings hit the rooftiles.
“Thank you!” Basil shouted, and jumped, landing hard enough on the rooftop to crack some tiles and dislodge others, though he found his footing quite easily.
Waving at Le Mime, he briefly watched him fly away again, shooting up several gargoyles rushing towards the house, before he moved on.
Time to pull my own weight, he thought, walking to the edge of the roof and jumping down, only to hold onto the drain and swing himself feet-first through his own bedroom window.
The electronics were all down, as was his home’s security system, so he just broke through without much of an issue, landing on the soft carpet and standing up straight.
His room was as he’d left it – save for the broken window and glass shards strewn about – and his equipment was also exactly where he’d left it behind.
He could hear the hissing of approaching gargoyles, and the sound of their misshapen limbs upon pavement, so he didn’t waste any time, stepping towards where he’d embedded his force-field gauntlet into the wall…
And staggered as he walked throug the spot where he’d last held Prisca, a flash of green eyes and red hair conjured by his memory briefly occluding his vision.
Moments passed during which he just stood there, his arms limp down his sides and his eyes stinging.
He could almost feel her lips on his.
It seemed so long ago, and yet like it had just happened.
Behind him, a gargoyle reached his window, fingers crushing glass as they wrapped around the broken frame, pulling it up.
Basil acted more on instinct than conscious thought, jumping onto his bed and grabbing the gauntlet.
The gargoyle pulled itself up and shrieked.
He pulled the gauntlet over his gloved hand, onto his left forearm, whirling around and raising it.
The gargoyle leapt, just as the gauntlet fired, unleashing a burst of what was essentially pure force, smashing into the creature’s wide open maw – still the easiest target to aim at – and blasting it out the window in pieces.
Basil couldn’t bring himself to even feel proud of the quality of his work. Instead, he quickly exchanged his emergency equipment for his hardened gear and blasted two more gargoyles apart as soon as they raised their heads over the bottom of the window frame.
The heads-up display of his helmet booted up with only a few minor visual glitches before stabilising, and he was finally properly equipped for this.
Or as much as he could be, facing an opponent whom he couldn’t possibly harm or even truly inconvenience.
Despair later. Fight now.
And as if on cue, there was another flash of pain, and the sound of countless gargoyles collapsing into harmless debris outside, causing him to briefly flinch and nearly fall over.
He pressed the button on the communicator the Dark had given him, and then leapt onto the window sill, looking out over the city until he could see DiL’s figure in the distance, surrounded by a nimbus of blue light. Just four or five blocks away from his home.
“The Adversary has reappeared, W8. All forces, prepare for new powerset,” Memento announced in his mechanical monotone.
Guess it’s time to find out whether we can actually contribute anything here, ain’t it, mate?
Basil leapt out of the window.