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DiL was being covered with attacks, unleashed from every direction around and above her, trying to punch through those ribbons of distortion that circled around her.
Basil saw fire, lava, lasers, distortions that suggested spatial or gravitic attacks and far more, almost half of them unleashed by the remaining mementos – he judged that about a third of them had been destroyed, at a glance, though this was probably only the first wave while the second one was being completed in his orbital base – but that none of them reached past her defensive ability.
The gaps between the ribbons were too small, and ever-shifting with their motions, and anything which even partially touched the one of the ribbons was reflected – no, redirected was a better term, as they didn’t simply travel back the way they came.
The explosions resulting from this would have been a beautiful sight in a different circumstance, as all these effects were thrown all about, some cancelling each other out, some combining, or distorting, or simply hitting the surroundings and, in a few unlucky cases, some of the defenders. Add to that the forest of crystals all around DiL’s position which were smashed and thrown up, and it resulted in a gigantic light-show, which filled up all of Basil’s field of view.
“What the hell are they doing!?” Polymnia shouted, staring at it. “Why didn’t they probe her defense fir-“
Suddenly, she cut off, as all of them shuddered from head to toe
Polymnia, Hecate and Gloom Glimmer all unleashed their attacks towards DiL. Sonic blasts, eldritch green fire and spirals of a fluorescent orange liquid shot towards her, only to be deflected in random directions by her defenses.
The only reason Basil wasn’t joining in on it was because he didn’t have anything he could have fired at this range.
At the same time, they started to drop, Gloom Glimmer shooting forward and losing – or rather, releasing – her grip on them.
Fortunately, they hadn’t been flying too high up, probably so Gloom Glimmer would have been able to easily dodge behind one of the buildings, in case of another volley of crystal tendrils. Still, a drop from five storeys up onto the street could not be fun for any of them – even Polymnia would likely get hurt, especially considering the sheer weight of her equipment, which eclipsed that of Basil’s own. Since she had a certain amount of super-strength herself, her armor had been built to be far heavier than the average model, in spite of its rather… revealing nature.
Of course, either of the girls should have been able to mitigate such a fall on their own – Hecate could simply turn into her smoke form and Polymnia almost certainly had something amongst her manifold pieces of equipment to help.
Unfortunately, both of them seemed more focused on providing DiL with more ammunition for her mirror ribbons, and Basil couldn’t blame them, if he’d had any real offensive option he’d be-
They were just starting to fall, and his friends still focused on blasting at DiL with single-minded determination, when his thoughts clicked together.
She’s messing with our minds. Must be her third power, right now. But I’m… resistant? No, I still feel it… but I have nothing to attack with, so I can still think clearly.
And the girls are gonna smash into the ground something fierce in a few seconds, mate, cause they sure as hell aren’t thinking clearly, which would just be a waste, don’t you think? Even if it’d neatly resolve your relationship issues. Oh, and Gloomy’s prolly gonna get herself killed if she throws all of that magnificent power of hers at her big sis without thinking. You know what this means, right?
Yeah, I do. He looked around, quickly, measuring the distance to the buildings to the left and right of the street. They were in one of New Lennston’s ‘retro’ areas, which had been styled to resemble the original Lennston’s appearance – in this case, painted brownstones with colourful roofs.
He’d only get one shot at this.
He launched his grappling hook from his hip, connecting it to one of the corners of the nearest brownstone, and reeled it in just enough to swing himself towards the girls.
First came Polymnia, and he extended his line enough that it hit her first, rather than him crashing into her – her armor was at least five centimeters thick and he knew it wasn’t light-weight material it was made up of, so he was going to avoid taking that kind of impact directly – and kept on swinging.
The line pulled against her waist, making her yelp as her fall straight down was redirected, and she rolled down the line, losing some of her momentum before she crashed into his arms.
Blimey, she’s heavy. Hey, what percentage of her weight do you think is in those huge tits of hers?
Not the time!
Basil groaned as he held onto her, which wasn’t made any easier by her flailing around trying to get a straight shot at DiL again, and shifted his grip, so he was holding her against his side with his left arm wrapped around her waist.
Just in time to slam into Hecate, after pivoting his body just enough to catch her with his right arm around her waist.
The blast of green fire she was just about to let loose fizzled and washed over them, a sensation like bugs crawling over Basil’s skin, though it was diffuse enough not to cause any actual damage before it dispersed.
Seeing the wall of the brownstone coming, and unable to adjust their arc, not with both of them wiggling and trying to break out of his grip, Basil held out his legs, bracing him self – and hit the second-storey wall hard enough the shock nearly made him lose his grip on the two girls in his arms.
You know, I bet there’s a lotta blokes who’d commit murder to get a chance to hold these two.
He didn’t even bother responding to that one. Instead, he abseiled down to the curb – only to immediately throw himself and the girls into the alley next to the building, as a red laser beam cut down the street and over the spot he’d just been, slicing diagonally across – and through – the entire brownstone as if it wasn’t even there.
“Oh, come on!”
He reversed his direction, his soles hitting the ground hard enough to throw up a few sparks as he all but threw the girls out of the alley, and followed after them, moments before the brownstone slid down and collapsed over the narrow gap, destroying the adjacent building as well.
The three of them found themselves lying on the ground, a dust-cloud briefly billowing over them.
“Gamoto!” Hecate cursed, coughing as some dust got into her mouth.
“Are you still affected?” Basil asked them as he stood up and rolled his shoulders – he thought he might have pulled something.
Don’t forget them ribs, mate.
Thank you for reminding me. I was in danger of forgetting the incessant pain I feel each second.
Wouldn’t be the biggest thing you’ve forgotten, now would it?
“I… I think not,” Hecate forced out the words, shuddering. “I think not.”
“Neither am I,” Polymnia agreed. “That was… a strange experience. Like… attacking her was the smartest thing to do… I didn’t even question it. But I was fully aware and thinking clearly, at the same time.” She shook her head, looking as shaken as Hecate sounded, when she looked straight at him through her tinted visor. “How come you weren’t affected, Brennus?”
“I was affected,” he replied calmly, while keeping an eye out in the direction DiL had to be in – currently out of sight from them, thanks to copious amounts of dust and smoke thrown up by the devastation she had wrought. “But I do not have anything to attack her with at this range, nor the means to close in on her so as to make contact with my repulsor. So I was able to focus on other things.” He turned his head, smirking under his mask, though it was a pained one: “Such as making sure we do not all fall to our death.” Then he got serious again. “I am not under its effect anymore, though, nor are you two.”
“It hit us the moment we got closer to her,” Hecate observed. “Maybe we… moved out of range again?”
“No, we are even closer than we were then,” Basil replied, looking for the flashes of light and the sound of explosions within the dust cloud. “If proximity was all it took, then we would already be-“
The dust was blown away in a single blow, shortly followed by a massive, bell-like sound so powerful it visibly distorted the air around DiL, and he laid eyes on DiL again.
He almost broke into a charge, taking a sudden step forward, before he realised that he didn’t actually have the means to attack her, even if he got close. But then, what could h-
Polymnia slugged him in the gut, making him double over and retch (not like he had anything to throw up), falling to his knees.
“Polymnia! What are you doing!?” Hecate cried out, kneeling down next to him, as he pressed his armored forehead to the concrete, leaning protectively over him.
“He got hit by her power, I think,” Polymnia replied. “Cut off mid-speech and started forward – and then I remembered, I stopped feeling the compulsion to attack the moment we hit that wall together. So I theorised, you know, that a hard enough hit would break the effect again.” She was blushing as she explained this, looking both embarrassed and a little guilty. “Though, uh. To be honest, I didn’t think much about it, I just reacted.”
Basil couldn’t see Hecate’s expression, not even her lower face, from his position, but he was pretty sure she was slack-jawed.
“It is… quite… alright,” he groaned, slowly getting up – faster, after a moment, when Hecate clued in and helped him up. “You were right… I saw DiL and got hit by her power, so I guess it is necessary to both be within a certain range of her and see her for it to affect you – and when you hit me, it ceased taking effect.”
His fingers twitched, calling up his armor’s interface on his heads-up display, showing him a scan of his brain’s neural activity over the last few seconds.
There. A shift, the moment he looked at DiL. Then, another shift, when Polymnia hit him. Rolling further back, he saw the same shift when he’d first laid eyes on her, and again the second shift when he impacted the wall.
The girls could obviously tell he was up to something and so didn’t interrupt as he finished adjusting and activating a few protocols he’d built in a while ago.
“I have set my armor to deliver an electric shock to myself, should I fall under her power’s effect again. Let us see whether it works. Polymnia, please stand ready to knock me down again if this fails.”
Before either of them could agree or protest, he raised his head and looked towards DiL.
Again, that sudden shift in priorities and just as quickly-
Ow. Bugger me, mate, ain’t the shite she’s doin’ to us already painful enough? Why you gotta add to that…
Basil ignored the voice in his head and looked at the girls again. “Success. Polymnia, can you…”
“I don’t have the means to detect when I’m under her influence and I’m kind of both impressed and a little scared that you apparently just happen to have something for that built into your suit,” she said, looking at him with a slightly envious expression on her face.
He looked at Hecate.
“You know I can’t adapt my enchantments so quickly,” she replied, crossing her arms while trying very hard to both look out for incoming attacks and avoid looking at DiL – not the easiest task, seeing how any attack likely to come at them would be one reflected by her ribbons, and thus coming straight from her position. “You don’t happen to h-“
He pulled a small metallic armband out of a pouch on his belt and snapped it around her wrist. “I have copied my settings onto it.” He pulled out another and offered it to Polymnia, who slipped briefly disconnected her gauntlet from the rest of her armor to snap it around her wrist, before sliding it in again.
Hecate looked down at it, her lips twisted into a strange smile. “Somehow, I’m not surprised at all that you thought of having something like this on you.”
“It is mostly meant to serve as a tracker, actually,” he replied. “I just included some added functionalities for special occasions such as these.”
Another beam sliced down the street, but on the curb opposite of theirs, melting down the pavement and causing the buildings to sag slightly as it compromised their foundations.
“Darn it, that was Gloomy’s beam. She’s spending her powers way too quickly – if we don’t stop her, she’ll end up powerless way too soon!” An Polymnia looked towards the battle, briefly flinching as her wristband was set off.
“Then let’s see what we can do to help her,” Hecate stated firmly.
Mate, you guys are so freaking outclassed here…
Just one block further in, the Chaos was total. Crystal tendrils criss-crossed the street, shimmering as they broke and reflected the light that touched them, casting rainbow hues all over the street, buildings and people. Several buildings had partially or totally collapsed, some shattering attached or other nearby crystals, spreading shards all over the ground.
And then there were the corpses.
The most obvious ones were a group of civilians – a family, parents and three children – who’d apparently huddled together, the parents trying to shield their kids with their bodies, only to be pierced by the crystals. One child had been impaled with its parents, only for the other two to be slain by the spears that’d spawned from the first set, turning them into a grotesque set piece.
They were not even the worst thing to be seen on the street. Several defenders had been slain by reflected powers, bits and pieces of two or three people littering just the area Basil and the girls were in.
Detonations were still shaking the ground, now and then – and they’d already shattered all glass within sight.
Polymnia stumbled off to one side to throw up, Hecate followed her, looking little better herself, while Basil looked closer at the crystal tendrils.
The Desolation Field was messing with his scanners, but he was able to compensate, at least to a point.
“There is some kind of energy contained within these crystals,” he observed, speaking loud enough for them to hear him as he stepped amidst the crystals. “The closer they are to a human, the more energy is in them. The statues have the largest energy density.” He compared readings from a single costumed man with the entire family that’d been fused together. “A single metahuman – or at least this one – has a bigger charge than this entire family combined.”
“Incoming!” Polymnia shouted, leaping in front of Basil and Hecate.
Basil whirled around, his force shield flaring to life over his left arm, raised to cover himself and Hecate.
It was Polymnia, however, that protected them all, raising her arms out in front of her, and pulling them apart as the speakers built into her heavy bracers and the back of her armor, on her shoulder blades and down along her spine, began to pulse.
In the moments before the four spears coming in their direction reached them, the soundwaves they emitted built to a harmonious melody, visibly distorting the air around them to form a dome that encircled their small group.
The spears impacted the distortion, sending out ripples which spread out over the entire dome, creating a criss-crossing wave-pattern – but the crystals were deflected, redirected towards their surroundings.
Wherever they hit, four new tendrils shot out, though they didn’t seem to aim at anything in particular – though nine of them still hit and were once again deflected by the sonic cage, only for each to sprout three more tendrils… each of which sprouted two more, and then just one more, before this wave had run its course.
There were so many crystal tendrils and haphazard growths from the impact sites around them, Basil couldn’t even make out where DiL – and with her, the locus of combat – had moved to.
”Is it over?” Hecate asked, a slight waver in her voice in spite of her best attempts to stay calm.
“I think so,” Polymnia replied, though she did keep the sonic cage up.
”For now, yes,” Basil replied, having the advantage of his raven flying above, looking down at the street. It was a mess of crystal growths, rubble from partially collapsed buildings and body parts, and the three of them were barely visible amidst it all.
“We should move onto the rooftops,” he added, almost absent-mindedly. When the girls stared at him like he’d been possessed, he gestured at the nearby crystallized family. “Look. Her spears went straight through the previous ones. We not only have far less room to dodge down here, we also have barely any cover – in fact, the ‘cover’ works in her favour, rather than ours. Better if we go up, where we can at least see attacks coming and have room to dodge.”
They looked at the grisly sight – and indeed, the new growths had simply gone through the existing statues, as if they weren’t there at all.
Without another word, they all made their way upwards again.
Seconds after they’d reached the nearest intact building’s rooftop, DiL unleashed another volley, the crystals launched in far faster and coming in far greater numbers than before.
No one had found a way to force her to change her powers, yet, and so they kept building up, and up…
But to what? They contain energy within, yet the crystals don’t do anything with it. There have been multiple waves, and yet the energy has remained unused.
Basil kept turning it over in his head, as he stepped aside, dodging one spear, then raised his force shield, bracing himself by locking his boots to the roof, deflecting one of the successive spears which would otherwise have impaled Hecate.
Ow. That freaking hurts, mate, the Man in the Moon complained when pain shot up his arm and straight into his damaged ribs.
Basil ignored them, as much as possible, pulling Hecate out of the way of another spear at the same time as she used her flames to blow yet another out of the air, preventing it from skewering them both.
They were getting both more numerous and faster over time. A good third of New Lennston had already been covered, partially merged to the crystals. And the more numerous they became, the more energy they stored, with a decidedly more-than-linear increase.
He’d already shared his observation with the other defenders, through Memento’s communication network – which, being contrived rather than real technology, was not affected by her Desolation Field – but no one was quite sure what to make of it; the most common theory was that they were meant to blow up at some point, which made forcing her to change her powers all the more urgent, considering how far the crystals had already spread and how much energy they already contained.
Unfortunately, those space-warping ribbons and the ‘attack me’ compulsion were making it nigh-impossible to strategize so far. If it wasn’t for Memento’s many selves and their immunity to Control effects, they would likely be completely unable to respond in any way, currently.
In the distance, Basil could see weird objects – floating orbs and tesseracts and pillars that were only partially composed of matter, and some even weirder ones, unloading barrages of effects – forming force-fields around defenders to protect from rebound attacks or crystal spears, warping space to redirect crystal spears back towards the already heavily crystallized areas, unleashing pin-point beams of plasma, pure light, directed matter and what Basil was pretty sure were gravitic shears.
It was the kind of display that implied its originator could conquer the whole world if they so wished – and frankly, Memento probably could have, but Doctor Despair’s masterpiece was wholly uninterested in anything but pursuing its prime directive.
Though it was a Contrivance rather than a Gadget, Basil couldn’t help but marvel at the Doctor’s masterpiece; there had been Contrivers before and after him who’d created a Magnum Opus, and there’d been many who’d unleashed a Swan Song, at the cost of their lives; but Doctor Despair, as far as he knew, was the only one who’d done both at the same time – his mummified corpse had been found by one of his rivals in his workshop, slumped over backwards over the chair he’d been sitting on, as before him his last, final, greatest creation booted up. A single machine, shaped rather like a salt dispenser as tall as a child, with a clear dome at the top and a mechanical face fashioned after Doctor Despair’s long-time nemesis, the fallen Protector, contained within.
Memento, the self-improving, contrived and contriving Seed-AI, the only of its kind and quite possibly the greatest display of Contriving ever, could have likely conquered the world, but it had been created for one purpose and one purpose only – to end Desolation-in-Light’s threat to the world, once and for all. In the decades since, it had continually expanded itself and refined its arsenal, and though it had yet to succeed, many believed it to be merely a matter of time.
Whether or not the end of DiL would lead to peace, or see it become an even greater threat, no one knew.
At least right now, it’s a godsend, Basil thought quietly, catching his breath as the wave of crystal spears and the following growth came to an end. This particular one had spread the crystal cover out over half of New Lennston. Their position was becoming untenable, the growths spread out over the rooftops, a twisted, glittering jungle. Deep within it, mostly at street level, where people had been crystallised, it was brighter still, glowing almost like a soft torch. Where metahumans had been caught, it was as bright as day.
“We’re not doing anything but surviving – barely,” Polymnia spoke, her serious, calm voice as usual in stark contrast to the way she was bent over and supporting herself on her knees, gasping for breath. “This – I’ve never felt so useless!”
”Welcome to a DiL fight,” Hecate spat, falling onto her butt, leaning back to support herself on her outstretched arms. “From what I read and hear, it’s usually like this. You run, you dodge, you survive, all the while looking for some way you can contribute; hoping that, if she does choose a set which requires your specific powers or skills to counter, you’ll be able to do so.”
“I… I guess…”
”We’ve just, got to keep each other safe. Keep as many others safe as we can, for as long as we can,” Hecate continued, trying to reassure her idol. “L-let’s just focus on that… or else I don’t think… I’ll be able to hold it together.”
Basil turned his head away just as she turned hers to look at him, focusing on the battle in the distance, occasionally twitching as his armor shocked him back to his senses, whenever DiL’s power affected him. He was tapping the communication channels, though he had to rely on the mundane ones, with all the disturbance that they came along with, while within this blasted field – it was half a miracle that his equipment had lasted as long as it had, he was not going to take a further risk by directly interfacing with the contrived technology Memento handed out.
Still, the channel the Dark was using to get his signal whenever he felt DiL change her powers was connected to a greater network – likely Wyrms. Though it could not reach beyond the Desolation Field, there was still some data going around within it.
No Lady Light, no Quetzalcoatl. No Severance. No Kong Long. Only Fleur and the Feral Family are here.
Meaning exactly the two members of that group who were of the least use against DiL.
To his relief, he heard Amy be mentioned, so she had to still be alive. Kraquok and Lamarr were also there, as was Daijisi, but no Dowager and the Dark was standing back, likely still weakened from the fight at the Installation, not too long ago.
Was it really just half a day ago? It feels so long ago…
He staggered, his legs buckling before he managed to regain his balance.
”Ba- Brennus?” Hecate spoke up, worried. Barely five seconds had passed since she’d said her part.
“Brennus?” Polymnia looked at him in worry, standing up, reaching out with one arm.
Take off your mask, mate.
He did so, and it came away with blood on it. Numbly, he raised his left hand to his face, touching index and middle finger to his upper lip.
They came away with blood, too.
”Brennus!” Hecate jumped up, catching him as he nearly fell over. She held his weight easily.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, though he wasn’t sure whom he was asking.
You’re dying, mate, the Man in the Moon’s voice somehow managed to sound both concerned and mocking at the same time. I’ve been taking the lion’s share of the pain so far, but just because you don’t feel it doesn’t mean it ain’t doing damage.
Somehow, hearing those words, processing them, Basil didn’t feel scared or angered or saddened. No, even though he felt, he knew they were true, he just felt…
At home. More than just his own voice said those words in his head.
Nothing had ever scared him as much as that realisation.
Is that why you’ve been off?
Sorry, mate. But you gotta get out of here. Whatever this field is doing, however it’s interacting with you, with us, it’s breaking down the walls.
In a way.
It would be more accurate to claim that it is killing the you as you understand yourself, the Blazing Sun spoke up for the first time in a while.
If you stay here any longer, you won’t be you anymore.
He managed to stand again, righting himself as he used his free arm’s sleeve to wipe off the blood. “I, I’ll be alright,” he told the girls, using that same sleeve to clean the inside of his mask.
It came away scarlet all over, but he could put the mask on again, once more covering his face from the bridge of his nose down.
You mean we’ll… merge?
If you wanna be saturday morning cartoon about it, yeah.
Is that necessarily a bad thing? It’s pretty clear that I’m far from complete – perhaps merging back together will…
You are labouring under an erroneous presupposition.
What candle-head means to say is that you got it all back-ass-wards, mate.
I’ve never known you lot to be so chatty.
The walls are breaking down. So are our…
We can slip the leash a bit, because we are breaking down, piece by piece, too.
Then tell me already! Basil growled, taking a step away from the girls, his arm slipping out of Hecate’s grip. Enough with the cryptic hints! Just tell me everything!
We’re saying as much as we can. You gotta understand, it’s not you that’s incomplete.
A massive tremor shook the ground, throwing all three of them over as the buildings around and beneath them shook, most of them only held up by the crystals that’d fused to their structures and were now supporting them.
Basil shook his head, trying to focus through the pain throbbing in his head – not a change of power, just… more of the same, the pain that’d been in the background slowly bleeding into the forefront.
It doesn’t matter, he thought to himself, as he looked up, his eyes widening as he saw a slim figure flying through the air, white cape billowing as she tumbled away from where the impact had originated.
Living at the mercy of forces and people whom I cannot even name.
He couldn’t say where he dredged up the strength, the focus, to force himself onto all fours, to reverse the electrostatic clamps in his boots’ soles to instead repel him from the roof with such force, he left a spreading spiderweb of cracks behind.
I already knew that.
He flew up, his path determined more by instinct than any kind of rational thought, putting him right in Gloom Glimmer’s way.
She smashed into his chest, his arms wrapping around her more due to the force of the impact than any function of his muscles.
More pain still pulsed from his damaged ribs, up into his brain – but there was already so much there, it was just a drop in the ocean.
Living in a body that’s not entirely my own, with a mind that’s been twisted by factors beyond my control. Never knowing whether this moment will be my last, or not.
He reached behind himself with his left arm, aiming the repulsor. A twitch of his muscles, a tightening of his fist, unleashed a blast.
Shock travelled up his arm, nearly dislodging it out of the shoulder socket. Adding yet more inconsequential pain.
Isn’t that how Prisca’s life was, for all those years? All those years, until the bitter end.
Their flight so arrested, the two of them slowed and dropped, as he shifted his grip on her surprisingly light body, holding her sideways in his arms.
I can remember holding Prisca’s avatar like this, carrying her over the threshold of my bedroom. A stupid, silly little play-act.
But it’d made her happy to pretend, even if it’d ended up being another broken promise.
They hit the roof of a building – fortunately, a flat one, meant to be accessible to people – their combined weight coming down on his legs, bones and muscles and tendons groaning as he skidded across the rooftop, not daring to activate the clamps for fear that he’d simply cause himself to fall over backwards, hit his head and likely snap his ankles as well.
If I die, I die. But I’ll spend what time I have fighting, fighting until I can’t continue on anymore.
Why do you fight, mate? Why, why, why? Why be a hero, why be good why be Brennus why be?
He couldn’t tell. Couldn’t remember, not really. But every time he’d considered that question, what path to go down, what to fight for, what to be, he’d always remembered just three things.
First, the Rain.
Second, the Thunder.
Third, the Lightning.
And every time he did, he’d felt it in his guts, what he had to do.
Right now, he had to focus on the fight.
His heels hit the upraised rim of the roof and he barely managed to steady himself, leaning forward slightly to avoid tipping over the edge, absorbing the last of their shared momentum, slightly bending his knees to better distribute the force, rather than take it all with his joints.
For the Rain, and the Thunder, and the Lightning that comes after.
Lightning comes before the Thunder, mate.
No. The Thunder comes first. Then, the Lightning.
Where did those words come from, he wondered? A memory without any content, words without reference, emotions without source.
”Basil?” a soft voice drew his attention at the person he held in his arms.
Gloom Glimmer’s face was drawn, pale. It wasn’t the palor of someone who’d physically exhausted themselves, but rather, it reminded him of Prisca of all people. Someone who’d spent too much, no, been forced to spend too much, and been left with too little to continue.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, tears sliding out of her eyes, down her bloodless cheeks, and she didn’t sound like the self-assured, even cocky young heroine he’d first gotten to know. She sounded like the little girl underneath it all. “I’m sorry… I tried, but… I can’t… I can’t do anything… I wish…”
”I know.” At his arm, both communicators frizzed, trying to catch his attention as Memento warned everyone of the next coming volley, and the Dark tried to find out whether his daughter was alright.
His eyes moved from her face to her hands, where they were clenched together loosely above her breast.
A gray haze was spreading, from her fingertips down, only to flicker, the effect breaking apart.
“Isn’t it stupid?” she asked, choked. “I spent it. My immortality, my invincibility. That safe mode? I used it to try and protect others. But it wasn’t enough. They’re dead anyway, and I’m without my get-out-of-jail-free card now.” She choked, sobbing.
He nodded, looking out into the distance.
Past Polymnia and Hecate, who were just now turning away from him and Gloom Glimmer, several rooftops away, a veritable cloud of crystal spears was approaching, raining down in such numbers they blotted out the glow of the Desolation Field, and what sunlight still came through.
“You’ve got, got to run,” Gloom Glimmer begged him, wiggling, trying to get away from his grip. “I’m not sure… I can’t find anything to protect you with.”
“And who will protect you?” he asked, as he turned away from the incoming crystal death, letting go of her legs, letting her put her feet on the roof.
Huh. She’s shorter than me. I never noticed. Usually, she’s floating around.
“What are you-” she began to speak, only to blush when he put his right arm around her waist, pulling her close to himself. “B-“
He raised his left arm, putting the hand behind his head as if to scratch it, aiming the projector’s flat side that way. His raven dove down and landed on his right shoulder.
A force-field sprung up around them, an oval which wrapped around them, strongest at his back where the projector was, weakest, but still present, in front of them. It was really only meant to protect himself, but with Gloom Glimmer pressed as closely against him as possible, even if it had to be even more uncomfortable for her than for him – he wore stiff, cold armor, she wore a soft, almost velvet-like bodysuit, thicker and more modest than was common, but not particularly more protective either.
Still, this was better than getting skewered by spears and turned into crystal.
Spears rained down on them, smashing into the force-field at Basil’s back, and the rooftop all around them. Several glanced off the rounded shape of his force-field, hitting the roof as well.
From each site of impact, eight new spears shot forth, flying at them from every direction, some flying through each other as if they were insubstantial, trailing tendrils of crystal behind them.
His force-field was beset by impacts from every direction, warning sounds playing, as he looked down at his right forearm, wrapped around Gloom Glimmer, where a monitor showed him the danger – the force-field wasn’t designed to defend against prolonged, multi-directional assaults. It was rapidly approaching the point where the gadget may well short out on him, at which point they’d both die.
“It will not hold,” Basil whispered calmly, as the third wave started, seven spears from each impact site where the spears had come into contact with matter to convert. “The shield isn’t designed for this kind of attack.”
Gloom Glimmer shifted, wrapping her arms around his neck – but it wasn’t a show of or plea for comfort. Instead, she looked up at him with tear-stained cheeks and red eyes upon black sclerae. “I still have some power left.”
She reached for his gauntlet, pressing all ten fingers against it. He couldn’t turn his head to look, but his ravenbot could, and he saw what it saw on his other arm’s display, as her fingertips sunk into the metal, veins of red light spreading from those points throughout the gauntlet.
Immediately, the warning signs were replaced with error messages, as his systems detected a surge of energy from an unknown source, bolstering the field, while at the same time, pressure was taken off the circuits.
The field around them took on a reddish tint, particularly wherever it was struck by the fourth wave, which failed to penetrate no matter the direction they came from, as slowly, the two of them were encased in a cocoon crystal tendrils, no one of them thicker than two fingers, yet so numerous they were likely to encase them completely by the time the ninth and final wave was done.
She smiled at him, wetly, and he couldn’t help but smile back, even though she likely couldn’t see it, except perhaps in the way his eyes moved. “We have got to sit down and try to figure out your power, some day,” he said, before his common sense could edit the words.
She didn’t seem insulted or put off by the remark though – rather, she giggled at him. “You can join the club. No one’s figured it out yet, not even Mom and Dad.”
“Seems like a rather illustrious membership. I doubt I would fit in,” he replied, trying to take his mind of…
Actually, he had a lot of things to try and take it off of. The worry for his friends and sister, for the other defenders and the common people trapped here, the incessant pain in his head, even more pain in his chest, the questions surrounding his memory, the threat of whatever the Desolation Field was doing to his mind and the voices within, the fact that there were other voices in his head, Prisca’s fate, his many, many failures, the…
The list went on and on.
She knocked her forehead against his armored nose, gently, as a soft glow appeared where their bodies were touching, most noticeably around her… chest… squished against his armor. Soft, warm golden light that seemed to flow from within her and into his body, as he literally felt his ribs mend, all the bruises going away along with the pain in his joints and the sore muscles.
“You’d fit right in. I mean, sometimes, I can’t decide whether you remind me more of my mom or my dad, but I’d bet my plushie collection that you’d get along well to great with both of them.”
“Hopefully more with your mother than your father,” he replied.
She raised an eyebrow at him, taking on a deadpan expression. “What is that supposed to mean?”
He tilted his head to the side, slightly, confused. “Well, she is a hero, he is a villain. No offense.”
Gloom Glimmer relaxed again. “Oh. Right. Yeah, that makes sense.” She blushed, averting her eyes.
Are all girls so confusing?
Seriously, you don’t get what she thought? the most irreverent of his inner voices asked, with laughter in his otherwise pain-filled voice. She probably hears comments like that a lot, and not meant in the way you did.
I do not get it.
I know you don’t, mate.
Before he could ask what was going on, though, reality reasserted itself, as the final wave of crystal spears were deflected off his shield.
Gloom Glimmer pulled her fingers out of the gauntlet, slumping against him as her strength left her, and the gadget finally broke down, pushed beyond its limits. Sparks flew and some smoke came out, and the readout on his other arm just confirmed that it’d need at least some basic maintenance, if not a full rebuild, to be usable again.
But it had done what it was meant for, and then some. They were safe, for now, though surrounded by crystals.
We won’t survive another wave like this.
“We won’t survive another wave like this,” Gloom Glimmer echoed his thoughts. “We need to find Polymnia and Hecate, and get far away from h-“
“Hush,” Basil interrupted her, looking at his sensors’ readouts on his gauntlet.
Not that he’d needed to, because light was beginning to spread through the crystals covering a vast portion of the city – some tendrils had flown out so far they even extended beyond the Desolation Field. As it grew in intensity, so did the readings he got in.
That energy density…
Gloom Glimmer laughed, a weak, small sound, as she slumped against him, hugging him earnestly now. “It’s going to explode,” she said, as she cried softly. “Fuck. Fuck you, Bree. You just have to prove me wrong at every turn, don’t you?”
Basil didn’t know what to say. He could only watch as the crystals swelled, nearly liquefying in places as they grew brighter, and brighter, cutting off any avenue of escape they might have had; not that they could have gotten away quickly enough to escape an explosion of such magnitude – extrapolating from how much energy was contained within the local cluster of crystals, the whole mass of them, spread out throughout New Lennston, had to be enough to hit with the force of at least a dozen kilotons; likely more, since metahumans seemed to provide far more energy when crystallised, and there weren’t any such victims nearby for him to get a reading off of.
He sent his raven up, up and away towards the East. It was unlikely to survive, but if he was to die here, he at least wanted that bit to get away.
He’d written up some routines to go off in any of his ravens that happened to survive him, just in case. To contact the United Heroes, lead them to his lab, if it was still left after this, give them copies of his notes and files… a meaningless gesture, perhaps, but one he’d been intent on making.
The crystals swelled, as Basil stood there, holding the crying Gloom Glimmer, watching his raven fly towards the rising sun that shined through the Desolation Field…
Wait a minute.
He blinked, focusing his tired eyes into the distance.
The sun isn’t supposed to rise in the afternoon. Nor is it supposed to be white.
Before he could process that, the distant sun pulsed.
A massive, massive wave of light, like a pure white tsunami, blazed through the Desolation field, and drowned out the world as it flowed over New Lennston.
Light so bright it should have blinded, yet it did not; a pure white blaze which reflected off of everything, turning the whole world a pure white, yet without hurting his eyes.
It reflected off of everything. The rooftops. Gloom Glimmer’s hair. His raven, in the distance. Capes and cowls he could see on other rooftops, trying to get away from the incoming explosion. Telephone masts and other things.
Everything turned pure, solid white, the glow so powerful it erased their outlines, made it all solid.
All, except for DiL’s crystals. They seemed to absorb the light, fully, casting them in utter black, so dark it smoothed out their shapes, made them seem two-dimensional. Like the shadows of branches, drawn with ink upon white paper.
The wave of light moved on, there and gone again, moving on over the rest of New Lennston.
Wherever it touched, the crystals were rendered inert, their built-up energy simply… stilled.
They crumbled away into nothingness, not even dust left behind.
Gloom Glimmer raised her head, looking over her shoulder without a sound.
The second sun approached and passed through the Desolation Field and as it did, her aura blazed forth, like the sun’s own warmth, turned up to a level Basil had never even heard of, reaching at least as far into the area as Basil stood, and lightly further.
Wherever it touched the defenders, Basil saw shoulders straighten, people standing taller, more energized.
When it reached him and Gloom Glimmer, he felt her straighten up, making a soft, tender sound, a note of glee not unlike that of a small child being lifted up and enveloped by loving arms.
Basil felt it seep through him, taking away the weariness and smoothing out the pain in the back of his head. Even when DiL changed her powers, finally, what he felt was not a spike of white-hot pain, but merely a dull ache.
Hey… mate… something’s… I… we…
The voices in his head, the presences, grew weaker, as he felt something change. As if a weight had been taken off his shoulders, one he’d carried for as long as he could remember, and thus had never noticed, thinking it to be natural, normal.
For the first time he could recall, his thoughts felt light.
The second sun advanced, flying past his raven faster than its sensors could track her, straight towards the locus of battle, as the re-energized defenders rallied, calls coming through the communication lines, voices rising up around him as well, cheering, at the sudden turn of the battle.
Lady Light had arrived.
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