14.7 Breaking Point

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Pain filled every picometre of Basil’s world. White-hot, razor-sharp, with no source and no end, it would have knocked him out if the sheer intensity of it didn’t force him to stay conscious.

He couldn’t say how long it took, but after what felt like an eternity of nothing but agony, it the sensation abated – slightly – as a different sensation appeared, a single point of darkness within the blazing glare.

Focusing on it, he managed to slowly draw his focus away from the pain – and as soon as he did, it instead snapped back to his body, and to his senses.

Basil found himself on all fours, his forehead on the ground, a dull ache that could barely be considered pain in his forehead, far eclipsed by the roar of pain that seemed to set his every nerve af-

No. Don’t focus on that.

He forced himself to lean back, kneeling upright, but unable to stand up properly, as his vision cleared. Part of it was red, though, and he reached up to wipe at his left eye, his hand coming away with blood… blood that had run from his eye down, like tears. But also blood from his forehead.

What?

“S-sir, are you… alright?” a new voice spoke up, drawing his attention to his side.

A scruffy-looking man in an EMT uniform had knelt down next to Basil, without him even noticing it at first. He was looking at Basil, with both worry and.. fear, in his sight.

“I can not honestly say that I am,” Basil replied, only to find that just moving his jaw and tongue intensified the pain considerably.

It was getting bad enough that his eyes were losing focus, the world turning blurry again.

“Are you, um, going to repeatedly smash your head into the ground again? Is that… something to do with your power?”

“What? Why w- oh.” It clicked. Somehow, for some reason, he’d started banging his head against the floor, using the purely physical pain of the act to distract himself from the pain that DiL was causing to him again, now that Lady Light had…

He looked down at his wrist. The glittering band she’d created was still there – he hoped that was a sign that she was still alive.

The last thing the world needed right now was to lose Lady Light. Especially with another world war starting up.

Deal with the here and now first, mate

The EMT was still watching him, waiting for an answer.

“It would take too long to explain, Sir. Might I impose on you for some aid?” He gestured at his bleeding forehead.

“Ah, of course, let me take care of that,” the older man said, and opened a small kit he’d been carrying. “Least I can do to help defend this city, young man.”

Basil nodded, though he stayed quiet as the wound was disinfec-

Ow. Another power change.

It’s only gonna get worse, mate.

He pressed the signaling device’s button, doing his best to stay still until the wound was cleaned out and covered by a large, adhesive bandage.

“There you go,” the scruffy EMT said, standing back up. “What are you gonna do now?”

Basil stood up as well, rolling his shoulders and flexing his fingers.

Then he pointed straight towards the locus of the fight, where spears of what appeared to be red light were shooting up, like a flower in full bloom.

“Throw myself straight into that.”

The man looked at it, then at Basil, and for a moment, he was sure the older man was actually considering dragging him away from the fight. Not that he’d stand a chance to succeed.

In the end, though, he didn’t go through with that impulse.

“Yeah. Godspeed, son.”

Basil nodded, and ran off, going straight for the nearest teleportation node.

***

As soon as Basil closed in on the battle, he realised that it had fundamentally changed – and not just because his headache was getting exponentially worse the closer he came to DiL.

Where before the defenders of New Lennston had been focused entirely on countering DiL’s powers, while minimizing the risk to themselves and the damage to the city, all that had now been abandoned in the face of DiL’s new-found vulnerability.

There was no restraint now. Scores of metahumans, capes, cowls and civilian alike, were all but throwing themselves at her, unleashing a dizzying flurry of powers upon her, with but one goal – to penetrate her remaining defenses and end her.

The sheer killing intent radiating off all of these massed metahumans seemed to have an almost physical presence.

Anyone but DiL – and maybe a handful of other metahumans in history, her parents among them – would have been struck down in seconds.

Since this was DiL though, Basil emerged out of the teleportation node only to immediately lean backwards, almost bending double, as he just barely avoided having his head sliced off at the neck by a thread of bright blue light that’d reflected off of her current defensive power, and which did slice the computer store in half, in which he’d bought some parts to construct his ravenbot nest, so long ago.

That almost removed your head as something to worry about, mate.

He ignored the returned voice, straightening himself up to look at the fight, to look for any chance to contribute, to help.

DiL was still where she’d fallen when Hanabi’s fireworks first went up. He could barely see her, lying on her side, her modesty barely preserved by her glowing hair, which had spread out around her, slowly digging into the street by dissolving any material it came into contact with, and preventing any ground-bound fighters from closing in on her.

Oscillating dodeca fractals the size of dinner plates were flying all around her, dozens of them, interposing themselves between her and any attack that came in – and even when they only hit a part of an attack, they redirected the whole of it, often but not always multiplying it as well. Her defensive choice, it seemed.

Her only choice, apparently, as there were no other power effects originating from her noticeable in any fraction.

That had to mean something, even if the fractals alone were doing great work of messing up all efforts to actually get to her and finish the deal.

Even Basil felt thoroughly dizzy, watching the chaotic mess around her, yet he still did it, trying to see past the power effects and focus on the actual being behind it – though he did keep his senses sharp, ready to dodge any attack coming his way.

When a gap opened amidst the fireworks, he finally got a straight glimpse at DiL – and the expression he saw on her face gave him pause, preventing him from taking any action, if he could even have done anything.

Or rather, the fact that she had any expression at all.

DiL looked confused. It wasn’t an angry kind of confusion, or a sad one, or anything like that.

It was the expression of a child, a toddler, in a grown woman’s body, staring at the world around herself with complete and utter befuddlement.

Innocent, ignorant, of what was truly happening.

You can’t be serious, mate.

Basil staggered back, then dropped into a backwards roll, dodging two or three redirected attacks which chewed up the spot of the street he’d just been standing on, sliced the lamp post behind him in half and a painfully bright shower of rainbow-colored sparks.

She’s…

She’s a monster! You’ve seen what she’s done! You studied it, and now you’re seeing it live! Take those crappy rail-blades of yours and make with the stabby!

Basil shook his head, pulling back further. He needed… he needed to think. To work this out.

God, my head hurts so bad…

He closed his eyes as another bright flash of pain went through his head, DiL’s powers changing – but where before, the flash would have passed as they settled, it continued.

Waves of golden energy rippled out from DiL, travelling across the ground, in every direction, spikes of near-liquid matter shooting up at everyone they passed underneath.

At the same time, another offensive power, glass-like shards, like shattered force-fields, spraying up into the sky, only to suddenly change direction, becoming beyond-razor-sharp projectiles that rained down on everyone and everything within the Desolation Field’s range.

Two wheels of fire formed above DiL’s prone form, as big as trailer truck’s largest wheel, spinning rapidly in place, then starting to also spin in a lopsided circle above her, unleashing volley upon volley of fireballs that sucked the heat out of everything they touched, flash-freezing it instantly.

And another, a fourth power, a cord of green energy that flitted and whirled about, like a string of yarn being held in front of a ventilator – and wherever this one touched, flesh bloomed forth, twisted teratoma growing arms, legs, eyes, hair, entrails, a chaotic jumble of flesh, growing upon anything at all – from the unlucky humans to be touched, to the very concrete and metal lamp posts.

Basil could see it all being unleashed, in split seconds, and he knew there was no way for him to dodge it all – there was just too much, all at once, and that didn’t even account for the ongoing torrent of paralyzing pain.

He saw shards of razor-sharp force-fields come flying, at the same time as the green cord flicked his way – only for all of it to impact a concave force-field, invisible but for the purplish bursts of light that traced their way through it where the attacks impacted it.

Amy?

Looking up and right, he saw his sister, floating high above in the air, one arm outstretched, palm open and facing him, as her eyes burned with purple light, her jaw set in an expression of intense focus.

Her right arm was outstretched as well, gesturing as she manipulated dozens of force-fields, shooting about to block attacks, protecting others as well as herself, grabbing some to move them elsewhere – and then she did the same with Basil, a gesture of her left hand causing the force field that’d just saved his life to wrap around him and launch him into the distance, straight away from DiL’s location.

“No, Amy, I-” he tried to shout, but he didn’t have enough of a breath in him, and the only thing that came out was a groan.

Amy, let me help!

No, Basil. You stay safe, came the response, calm and clipped, if only because of how focused she was on the battle itself.

Before he could reply, the connection cut off, and the force field holding him winked out, leaving him to tumble through the air, above rows of buildings.

He tried to right himself, to see where he was going to land and what he could do to avoid splattering on the ground or a wall, when it became evidently clear that Amy hadn’t just been blindly tossing him about – a blue-tinged cloud formed in his flight path and caught him, turning a darker shade of blue as it seemed to literally drain the kinetic energy out of him.

It quickly flew down and deposited him on a broad balcony above the entrance to the Lennston Historic Museum.

Right next to Gloom Glimmer, who was leaning on the elaborately carved stone balustrade, trying to make it seem casual with her arms crossed on top to lean on, yet revealing a mountain of exhaustion, of many kinds, with literally everything from the set of her shoulders to the pained smile she gave him.

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” she quipped lightly, her shoulders sagging almost imperceptibly as the cloud she’d conjured dissipated. “People are going to start talking.”

Basil’s reply was another pained groan, as he almost fell over, just barely catching himself with one hand upon the balustrade, the other going to his head, holding it as if he could physically hold it together against the onslaught of pain.

In the distance, DiL kept spewing out more and more powers, dozens now, the oldest ones only slowly fading away – too slowly, causing the number of powers to keep going up.

And they were, seemingly, all offensive, and brutally so, yet far more crude than she tended to display, pounding her surroundings with neither rhyme nor reason – they did not appear to specifically target anyone or anything in particular.

“Brennus? Hey, Brennus, focus!”

Gloom Glimmer’s drew Basil’s focus back to himself, her warm hands – warm, even through the soft gloves of her full-body suit – touching his cheeks, turning his head away from the staggering display of powers.

“Look me in the eyes!” she commanded him, and his blood-shot eyes met pools of red on a black ground.

It was like stepping out of an over-heated building out into a cool autumn night, the blanket of darkness drawn over his mind soothing away the pain, shielding him from the glaring light of DiL’s power.

The sudden relief – though he could still feel some pain, it was barely a pinprick anymore – was so intense it almost caused him to collapse on the spot.

Ho-ly shit, mate, this girl’s a godsend.

She looked up at him – he was once more struck by how much shorter than him she was, when she wasn’t floating around – and her surprisingly red lips tilted into a gentle smile.

“Better now?”

He nodded, slightly, her hands still cupping his cheeks.

She used her thumbs to wipe tears he hadn’t even noticed he’d shed from his cheeks – at least they weren’t bloody, this time – and then let go, taking a step away.

He almost followed her, a part of him yearning for that gentle touch in the face of all the pain and heartwrench he’d gone through over the last twenty-four hours.

Almost.

“Y-yes, much better. Thank you,” he said, and found his voice to be surprisingly hoarse, as if he’d been screaming at the top of his lungs for a good long time.

Maybe he had.

“What… how are you doing this?” he asked, after a moment of thinking through a much clearer head.

She shrugged. “I theorized that your – and Polymnia’s – headaches within the Desolation Field are due to your high synchronization with your powers – too much data is bleeding over into your brains, more than they are equipped to deal with. I am… basically using a power that lets me take some of that load off. Like running several computers in parallel to deal with a greater data stream at once. You should probably notice that your gadget ideas aren’t coming as hard and fast as they usually do,” she explained, almost on a single breath.

Basil blinked, processing the amount of information she’d just dumped on him – and the implications it made.

He was pretty sure only a handful of people, at best, would’ve known to explain this to him.

A brief moment of introspection revealed that his power was working more slowly than usual, the ideas and observations it fed him even more fragmented than they already tended to be.

“Yes, it is. Not that I mind,” he replied, leaning heavily on the balustrade. “Thank you.”

Her smile briefly lost the sadness and worry it’d carried, and became a thing of beauty indeed. “You’re very welcome,” she said, softly. Then she giggled, drawing a curious look from him. “This power, I’ve used it a few times, to drain other peoples’… skills would be a wrong word. Their intellect, perhaps. This is the first time I’m using it to help someone.”

“I suppose even a power like that has more than one use,” he said, turning back towards the distant spectacle.

It wasn’t distant enough, really. DiL had already demonstrated that she could easily cover the entire area within her field with attacks, though she was currently not doing so, for whatever reason – though it was likely to be just chance, considering the chaotic expression of powers.

Some of them didn’t even seem to do anything, other than generate weird visual effects.

If he squinted, he could see a dot of purple light flying above the locus of it all, fighting tooth and nail against the onslaught.

“I wish I could help,” he said, feeling his heart wrench with worry and guilt. Worry, for the defenders as a whole, but for his sister in particular. Guilt, because it should be him protecting her, not the other way around.

It made little sense, her being the older and more powerful sibling, and yet it was a true thing, a conviction that he should be there, between her and any threat.

“So do I,” Gloom Glimmer agreed, leaning onto the balustrade again, watching the distant fight, her eyes, though inhuman in their coloring, expressing very human fear and sadness. “So do I.”

“Why?” he couldn’t keep himself from asking. “Why are you still here? With your power… why are you not helping, if you want to?”

He didn’t mean to make it sound accusatory, and he was quite certain he hadn’t, yet she still flinched, as if struck.

“I’m burning too quickly through my powers, against her,” she replied, her eyes still transfixed onto the distance. “Fewer powers, weaker ones, coming up slower… I’m afraid to go in there, fight, only to end up having to be saved again, distracting someone who might otherwise k… ki…”

She squeezed her eyes shut, unable to say the word.

“Who might… stop her,” she finished, finally settling on a less troublesome word.

“I understand.” That was basically what’d just happened to him, charging in mindlessly, only to have to be saved by his sister.

Boy, what a freaking pity party.

Shut. Up.

There was quiet, for a few moments.

Then Gloom Glimmer opened her eyes again, unshed tears adding a shine to her red-on-black orbs. “That’s not true,” she said, only to elaborate when he turned his head to look at her, confused. “I mean… it’s not the reason… it’s not the only reason why I’m, here. And not, there.” She gestured at the fighting.

A quick glance showed Basil that DiL had essentially become a wellspring of powers, spewing more effects out in chaotic waves than were arrayed against her.

He should’ve been terrified, or at least concerned, that she was exceeding her previously assumed limitations, but he truly did not have the energy left to do so.

Eh, so things are incomparably worse than anyone assumed them to be. What else is new around here?, the Man in the Moon commented, quite unhelpfully.

Basil did what he could to ignore him, and focus on Gloom Glimmer, his eyes looking at the side of her face.

She continued to speak, without being prompted: “I think, the biggest reason is, that I’m afraid. Not of, dying – though, I am. I am terrified of dying. But even more so, I… I can tell, my power is straining itself to keep up. I’ve pushed it harder, today, than I ever have before, throughout my entire life.” A gulp followed, then: “I’m afraid of pushing it further. Of pushing too hard, of dropping down into this… this vast well of darkness, from which my powers rise, and not coming out again. Or worse, coming out, but…” Her voice turned into a whisper, “Coming out like her. A monster.”

Tears started to run down her unmarred cheeks, as she watched people die in the distance.

Basil averted his eyes. “A well of darkness,” he said, trying to focus on something other than the emotions in her statement.

“Well is, the wrong word, perhaps. An ocean, really. A vast sea of pure blackness, from which powers rise up, like lights drifting towards the sky. It’s weird, I know, but that’s how my power appears to my mind’s eye,” she explained. “I’ve lived with it, for as long as I can recall, and I’ve always feared what might lie below it.”

Quiet fell between them again, with only the cacophony of battle to make it anything but flawlessly so.

Occasionally, Gloom Glimmer would reach out with one arm, gesturing at a distant figure about to be struck by an attack, moving them, teleporting them or otherwise shielding them from harm.

He couldn’t help but smile at the sight.

“What?” she asked, eyes filled with those same unshed tears.

“I do not think it could be such a bad thing,” he answered her, as their eyes met once more.

“What do you mean?”

“You, looking at what is beneath that ocean,” he clarified, smiling as reassuringly as he knew how to. “I do not think you could ever truly be a monster.”

Tears slipped out of her eyes, which were overflowing with pent-up emotions he couldn’t even begin to imagine.

“Take it from someone whose entire existence is defined by jaw-dropping Ignorance – to not know, even the most basic things about oneself, there is no greater fear. No more binding chains. I wish I could know. No matter what I found out, I want to know it. And so should you. Because, maybe knowing it, discovering it, will doom you. Or maybe it will set you free. But remaining ignorant means that the chains will be the only option.”

He shrugged, breaking eye contact as he turned away from her again. “In the end, Knowledge… is… Freedom.

“I… I don’t know… I mean, I…” She shook her head, putting both hands onto the balustrade, squeezing the cold rock so hard it cracked. “I’m so…”

Three twinkles of red light glimmered in the distance, approaching rapidly, and Basil’s body moved almost before he made the choice to, one hand going to the distracted Gloom Glimmer’s shoulder, shoving her out of the path of the first beam of almost solid red light, as thick as Basil’s thigh, which would have punched a hole from the crown of her head all the way through her body.

With that same shove, he also moved his chest out of the way of the second beam, even as it split into a dozen lesser beams, just barely dodging having his torso turned into swiss cheese.

“Darn, I got distracted, I-” She froze, staring at him, the black and red draining out of her eyes, soft, almost jewel-like blue returning.

Basil opened his mouth to tell her… something… but he couldn’t even make a sigh, feeling nothing but blood bubble out past his lips.

Looking down, he was confused to see three holes through his torso, each as thick around as his biceps. One through where he assumed his heart to be, one through the right lung, and another straight through the lower left side of his ribcage, having disintegrated his floating rib, and more.

Oh, bugger, he thought, as shadows encroached his vision, as they did his mind.

The world tilted, spinning, his body collapsing like a puppet which’d had its strings cut all at once.

The last thing he saw was Gloom Glimmer throwing up a force field to shield herself from another attack, even as she reached out for him with her other hand, her face twisted in shock – but unharmed.

At least I did not fail twice on the same day…

Then, the pain was gone for good, as was everything else.

***

In the middle of the desperate fight, suddenly, the entire battle was interrupted.

A scream tore its way out of Mindstar’s throat and mind alike, propagating outwards by means both natural and not.

It was a scream unlike anything anyone within its reach had ever heard, except perhaps the Dark himself. A primal thing, beyond thought or reason, beyond even such prosaic things as rage or grief.

The scream – though that was an inadequate word to describe it, for the actually, physically audible component was but the smallest fraction of the whole – distorted reality around her, blowing away everything – every single power’s effects, every speck of dust, every body close enough to be caught in its innermost wake, every thought and emotion; everything was blown away out of a rapidly expanding sphere of nothing but that colossal distortion.

Even DiL seemed to feel it, her whole body flinching, head turning to look straight up at Mindstar.

Basil’s sister continued to scream as she directed her burning purple gaze down upon her quarry, and shot towards her with such force she out-sped her own wake.

Powers emerged from DiL once more, a dazzling number, too many to count, but Mindstar created a pentagonal force field in front of her.

It shattered, as soon as it came into contact with the onslaught of powers, yet another was right behind it to absorb more of it.

And another.

And yet another.

Dozens, scores, hundreds, thousands of layers, generated at beyond the speed of thought, layered upon one another, blocked DiL’s aimless, omnidirectional assault, and Mindstar shot straight through it, impacting her foe.

Said impact was so forceful it blew the dust away once more, the pressure wave throwing several capes and cowls off their feet or sending the flying ones tumbling, those who’d somehow resisted the impact of her scream – resisted the continuing effect of it, as she didn’t stop screaming, be it in body or in mind, even now.

The ground cracked, and collapsed, buildings falling apart as the city immediately around where she’d hit sagged into the ground.

To those still able to see was revealed an utterly discordant sight – Mindstar was straddling DiL, screaming at the top of her lungs as her fists rained strike upon strike down on the prone maiden of terror.

With each strike came a burst of purple energy, as if she had her fists wrapped in her own force fields, enhancing their power.

Blow upon blow rained down upon DiL, pulverizing the confused girl’s face, splattering red and grey gore all over the ground around them, and upon the raging villainess’s costume and mask.

More blows came, until nothing was left of the head but liquid and some chips of white bone, but she was not done yet.

Fists opened into claws and ripped into the headless body, sinking into flesh like it was clay, tearing it apart.

One arm was broken and twisted off at the elbow, tossed aside carelessly, while the other was torn straight out of the socket with a sickeningly wet sound. Breasts and ribs went flying, pulped into unrecognizable masses by the sheer force of her hands clenching around them. Lungs, stomach and heart, torn and crushed. The spine, pounded into the ground until it was so much fine paste.

Only when everything above the waist had been returned to little more than a red cover upon the ground, the still-glowing mass of hair surrounding them and covering the purple girl’s fists up to the elbows, did her assault, her rage and her scream abate.

She stumbled up onto her feet, staggering, barely staying atop her delicate heels as she turned away, arms hanging down, shoulders slumped.

Above her, the Desolation Field dissipated, the day turning into night once more, and the light faded from DiL’s hair, leaving long, golden locks behind, with a single, purple eye lying amidst their coils.

Men and women, heroes and villains, they all stared down in sheer shock, as the purple girl staggered aimlessly around within the crater she’d made, mindlessly repeating the same whispered words, over and over.

“Basil… Basil… I’ve got to find… Basil… I can’t… can’t feel… Basil… Basil… Basil…”

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