B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 6)

He left the bedroom (after checking that he was still clothed – Amy liked her pranks way too much) and all but burst into the control room, ready to ream Amy a new one…

Only to find her and his friends sitting in a loose circle, talking amicably. And fully clothed.

Amy looked up and winked at him with a split-second wicked grin – she probably knew what he was thinking – and then her face turned to worry. “Should you be up already?”

The others turned around and looked at him with varying degrees of worry on their faces, and Prisca greeted him happily, though with concern in her voice.

Eudocia said they were being influenced… but there’s no way she could affect Prisca from all the way over here, so it couldn’t have been anything too bad or obvious without cutting her connection.

“I’m fine, really. Had the weirdest dream, though… can we talk? Privately, I mean?”

She nodded and stood up. “We’ll continue later on,” she said to the others, then followed him down to his workshop.

* * *

He shut the door behind them, then made sure to lock the workshop down – he didn’t want anyone to listen in, not even Eudocia.

Amy had walked over to near the center of the room, where his current project lay, and was now looking at the parts.

“They thought you were building a new suit… but this looks more like an android,” she said after a few seconds.

He stood behind her, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I figured it might help to have another body in the field, especially one that is expendable. But it’s not really workable, at least not yet.”

She looked around, noticing the irritation in his voice. “That… that’s the reason you were pushing yourself like this, isn’t it? You couldn’t get it to work, and you couldn’t accept that,” she said with a mixture of exasperation and mirth in her voice.

He blushed a bit, but frowned back at her. “No. Yes. Not really. I’ve been pushing myself for days. The loss, and the wall I hit working on this only made it worse,” he explained reluctantly. Looking back at it, he really should have paced himself, but… “Nice one… changing the subject by talking about my work. What were you doing up there!?

She shrugged. “What I do whenever I can. Helping you,” she explained, as if it was all just obvious.

“What. Did. You. Do to them?”

Raising her hands in a placating gesture, she replied: “Calm down, baby brother. Nothing bad, I swear. I was just… helping them focus, and think over what happened. Especially the girls. They need to improve, you need to improve, or you’ll die or worse. If it weren’t for those lovely twins, you’d be dead or slaves!”

A deep breath, then two. Not… not good. But not nearly as bad as I feared. “You didn’t do anything else?”

Her whole stance changed into a more serious one, straighter. “Nothing, baby bro. I wouldn’t mess with your friends, I promise! Though Dalia is awfully cute…”

He snorted and walked past her to look at the beginnings of what was supposed to be a combat android. I’ll have to deconstruct it. Use the parts for something that actually works. And still, he was sure he could make it work, if only he had the time.

“… and either way, Prisca is all the way over in the hospital, and I’d need to fly over fast enough to delete her short-term memory before it became a long-term memory…”

He gave her a deadpan look. “You’ve really thought a lot about messing with my friends’ heads, haven’t you?” She just gave him an unconvincing innocent smile and he turned away to look at his work again.

“Basil?” She wrapped her arms around him, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Why did you push yourself so hard? Honestly, now.”

“It’s always there. Always blazing,” he whispered. Suddenly, he didn’t sound half as self-confident as before.

“What is?”

“My power. It’s like there’s a lamp, a sun right behind my eyes, shining out of them with a blazing light. I can’t shut it off. I can’t even ignore it.” He shivered.

“Oh Basil, why didn’t you tell me?” she asked with a pained voice – she could feel his distress.

“What for? It’s my power, there’s nothing you can do about it,” he replied. “It’s… it’s…” just like in Macian’s memories. He couldn’t stop, either “it’s just a part of me, I guess. I’m sure I can learn to deal with it.”

“I could have helped. I can help you. Help you keep tabs on it, help you sleep when your power won’t let you,” she replied, sounding slightly irritated… and really, really worried.

“That… might help. Maybe you could look into my head, try to talk with that damn sprite?” he asked, hopeful. Maybe, if he could somehow force the ‘Blazing Sun’ to talk things through…

She nodded, her chin rubbing against his shoulder. “We could… organize a session. Take some time off, both of us. Sit down, and I’ll get into your head. Look for a solution. We should have thought of this sooner.”

“Yes. We do that. But first, I need to finish up here. There’s another reason why I got so out of control after the battle.”

“What is it?”

“I’ll tell you along with the others. Let’s go back up. And no using your power on them anymore, alright?”

“All right… for now, baby brother. I won’t stand for them dragging you down through incompetence or stupidity,” she replied.

He knew he was not going to get her to agree to more.

* * *

They returned to the main control room, where the others were in the process of discussing something, but stopped once they came back up.

The girls, as well as Tim, all turned to look at them, but no one really said anything. Tim looked as calm as ever, Vasiliki looked thoughtful, Dalia was… blushing?

He walked until he stood next to them, then said: “First, I’m sorry about earlier. You wanted to help me, and I just went mental on you guys.” He gave a slight bow.

“Nonono, you were right, really,” replied Vasiliki. “I mean, you didn’t have to be a jerk about it, but we did survive solely due to blind luck – if the twins hadn’t shown up, we’d have been screwed.” She stopped, thinking it over, then looked at Dalia. “Which kind of makes your power real creepy – just how far does it reach?”

“Uh, I, well, no idea,” stammered Dalia, tearing her eyes off Amy.

What the hell did you do to Dalia? he asked angrily in his head. He knew Amy would pick it up.

Nothing, really. Want me to take a look and see what’s going on?

No! Stay out of her head! All of their heads!

Jeez, you don’t need to flip out like that! I’ll be nice, scout’s promise!

Didn’t you almost blow up the local scouts’ headquarters last month?

Never said I was one of the good scouts.

The whole exchange took less than a second (speed of thought was handy that way), so Basil could respond without a noticeable pause: “Still, I shouldn’t have gone on like that. But I’m afraid we have bigger problems than me being unable to handle defeat.”

“And what would those be?” asked Tim.

He sat down at the console, turning the chair around to look at all of them. “I broke the code on the Black Panther’s files. Remember, from the video, how he threatened to sell us into slavery?”

They all nodded, and he heard Amy chuckle inside his head.

What would you have done, had he tried to sell me to you?

You mean before or after I made him eat his own genitals?

Ah. Nevermind.

“Well, they bought someone. A girl. A metahuman.”

“What?!” shouted an outraged Vasiliki. “That’s disgusting!” Dalia nodded in agreement.

Prisca continued: “And why is it always girls, anyway?”

“Well, nearly seventy percent of all metahumans are women. Theories abound, but the most commonly cited one is that the still present discrimination against women leads to…”

Prisca cut into his starting rant: “What he’s trying to say is that the Man is putting us sisters down, so we get powers more often.”

“Finally, someone who talks English!” shouted Dalia in relief. Basil just grumbled something unintelligible.

Fortunately, Amy moved them back on track. “So, about this girl? What’s so special about her?”

“Well… according to the messages I intercepted, she’s estimated to be a new S-Class threat… and they think they can use her to wipe out their competition, as well as threaten the UH into staying away from the fighting.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the silence that followed.

“Uhh, how is that our problem?” Prisca asked with a desperate note in her weak voice. When everyone turned to look at the camera, she continued: “I mean, apart from the fact that you guys almost died – or got sold into slavery – just yesterday, an S-Class threat is way, way out of your league. This is Cabal business!”

“The Shining Guardians are quite preoccupied right now. The local heroes won’t call them in unless they have definite proof of the threat,” replied Amy.

“True. But either way, we need to warn the United Heroes. At the very least, we could use their help in tracking down the girl and getting her into protective custody. They can secure her, we can’t,” continued Basil.

They nodded. “So, we contact the heroes. How, do we just call their hotline?” asked Dalia.

“I got all their phone numbers. Best to call Amazon, instead of going around her, I think,” explained Basil. “After all, she’s the leader now.”

“And she’s got experience. Few metahumans in her class have taken part in as many S-Class events as she has. She won’t dismiss you out of hand, if only because she knows how bad things can get with S-Class metahumans,” Amy added.

I guess you’re sure?

Of course. And shut it, I could have known this simply through research. Her resume is available to the public.

“Then do it, Basil!” Vasiliki said, all but shouting.

He nodded and turned around to the console.

* * *

First, calibrate the microphone, so it will only catch what I say. Then, initiate the voice changer. Now, set up anti-tracing measures – all of them.

Basil worked through his mental checklist, to make absolutely sure they could neither be overheard from his side, nor he himself traced back by them.

It took him almost three minutes before he felt completely safe to initiate the call to her UH phone. And he put on a pair of headphones, too. If only because it annoyed Amy.

Amazon picked up on the third ring.

<Who is this?> she asked with sleep in her voice.

She just woke up – it’s nearly afternoon!

“This is Brennus. Good… afternoon, Amazon,” he replied.

<How did you get this number!?> Now she was awake.

“Not important right now. I have bad news. The really bad kind.”

Someone spoke on the other side. A man… and he recognized the voice, even if he couldn’t understand what was said. Amazon shushed him with a few affectionate words.

Way to go, Jake.

<Alright. Tell me everything.> He thought he heard her stand up.

“Me and my team got into an altercation with the Black Panthers last night. During it, Panthera Rex attacked us, but was killed when an unknown third party intervened.”

<Did you identify the third party? Do you have proof of their involvement – proof that it wasn’t you?> She remained calm.

“I have a video recording of the battle. If you want, I can send it to you.”

<Please do. Dammit, this is gonna be chaos pure.>

“Panthera Rex’s death is not the bad news. Or rather, it’s just one thing that makes it worse.”

<Oh, what could that be now? If you tell me there’s some S-Class involved somewhere there, I’ll call bogus on you. It’s already bad enough as it is.>

“You might want to take that statement back.”

<No. No way.>

“Yes. I was able to hack into their computers and access their communication records. They purchased a newly manifested, female S-Class metahuman from a metahuman trafficker. They were hoping to use her as a deterrent against the competition and the local heroes. But, according to some other mail, Panthera Rex was pretty much the last individual holding the more extreme members back from using her offensively.”

<And he’s dead now.>

“Quite so.”

<>

“How do you wish to proceed? I think I speak for my entire team-” He looked at Tyche and Hecate, mouthing his question – they both nodded. “- when I say that we’re willing to fully cooperate with you, provided our identities remain secret.”

<Shit, shit, shit, shit. And I can’t call in the Shining Guardians without definite proof. Send me the video and e-mails.>

He did so. It took her a few minutes to read through everything and speed through the video.

<Alright. I’ll con- Wait a minute, I’m getting another call. Hold the line.>

“Yes ma’am.”

He turned around, pulling the headphones off. “She’s getting another call, but it seems she’s taking this very seriously.”

Dalia grinned and said: “I knew she looked smart.” Vasiliki and Timothy nodded.

Prisca spoke up again. “Are you going to fight… that girl?” She sounded terrified.

“Not if we can help it. Our goal should be to save her. And take down the assholes who buy others to use as weapons.”

They all nodded at that (except Amy, who just looked thoughtful), and Prisca sighed audibly.

Then Amazon came back on the line and this time he put her on the speaker. <We just got a threat from the newly minted leader of the local Black Panthers, Panthera Avis. He wants the murderers of his former boss delivered to him alive or dead, otherwise he’ll unleash an S-Class threat on the city.>

“Even if I were willing to barter their lives away, I wouldn’t know how to contact or where to find those two to begin with,” he replied with a tone that allowed for no discussion.

Amazon seemed offended. <The United Heroes do not negotiate with terrorists, nor do they sacrifice anyone at the demand of a madman. We need a war council, and we need it now. Are you in?>

“Where and when?”

<Our headquarters. Guaranteed privacy and right to leave at any time. An hour from now.>

“We’ll be there.”

* * *

They arrived at the United Heroes’ headquarters fifteen minutes early. And they weren’t the only ones.

A man who identified himself as Jason Widard, Chief Mission Control, led them up to a war room.

There was a trio of chinese men, all in red robes, with heads shaved save for a single long braid each. Representatives of the local Dancing Dragon Triad, probably, though Brennus did not know them. He did take pictures of their faces, for later research.

Also present was a dark-skinned man in a three-piece suit. Elrik France, a known mob associate.

And finally, to his surprise, a brown-haired man in a white suit, with a blue shirt, white tie and silvery greaves and bracers engraved with flowers and trees. Rising Tide, the leader of the Foresters – a group dedicated to Weisswald’s ideals.

Amazon, Jason Widard, Mr Patrid, Gloom Glimmer (sitting side-by-side with Polymnia, whom Hecate greeted with an ecstatic wave) and the other junior heroes made up the United Heroes contingent.

Opposite of them sat the Dark, alone. He looked at Brennus, Hecate and Tyche and gave them a brief nod of acknowledgement.

Ah crap. This is getting out of hand.

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B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 5)

Saturday Noon, Half a day later

“That could have gone better.” Tim was sitting on the couch.

Dalia snorted and made some derogatory reply, then turned back to watching some tv show.

Vasiliki was stretched out, on her stomach, her head resting on the opposite end of the couch, as she recovered from another one of Basil’s emergency operations. At least she kept some emergency clothing at the hideout, so she was dressed in blue sweatpants and a green t-shirt, instead of the rags of her (once again) ruined costume.

Second one now… I need better defenses, she thought. Maybe I should swallow it and ask Brennus for a set of Dragonscale armour.

Groaning in dull pain – painkillers could only go so far without affecting her thought process, and she absolutely did not want to space out – she shifted a bit to get more comfortable.

Girls often thought having bigger boobs would be great, and boys certainly thought like that, but no one ever mentioned how uncomfortable they could be when you had to lie on them.

I wonder how Polymnia feels about that, she thought idly. By the way, me, I really shouldn’t be focusing on breasts right now. That’s Dalia’s schtick.

No answer, obviously. Sometimes, she thought it would be great to have someone on the inside to talk to. She was not the type who could go for long without doing something, and since moving was out of question, she’d need some conversation.

Dalia was out of the question and Basil had locked himself down in his workshop (he really hadn’t taken the loss well, nor them being saved again) and was working on… well, she had no idea what he was working on, but she knew him well enough by now to know that it was a bad idea to disturb him while he was working.

Which left her with Tim. She was just about to open her mouth and talk to Tim about something, when they all heard a chime.

One of the screens on the control console turned black, with the word “Prisca”, written red, at the center.

<Hello guys? Is anyone there?> asked the ill girl – even over the phone, she sounded just constantly ill – while a request for a one-way video conference appeared.

Vasiliki made an annoyed face. She never agrees to a two-way. Always just watching, not showing. It pissed her off more than it should, that it was so unequal.

Dalia accepted the request. “Hi sweetheart,” she greeted her. The two of them had struck up an easy rapport, after Basil had introduced them all. Vasiliki had no idea why, but they really fit well with each other. Does that speak for Dalia, or against Prisca? “What’s botherin’ you?”

Why can’t you finish your word? Just one more letter!

“Um, it’s about Basil…” She sounded really worried.

They all looked up. “What’s wrong with him?” asked Tim immediately.

Prisca seemed to hesitate for a moment, then she said. “He hasn’t slept.”

Vasiliki snorted derisively. “Oh come on, we all know he pulls an all-nighter every now and then.”

“He…” Prisca started, but was cut short by Dalia flying in Vasiliki’s face.

“Could you stop being a stuck-up bitch for one second, Liki!?”

Vasiliki, you stupid cow!” shouted Vasiliki back.

Dalia opened her mouth to shout something back, but Tim whistled – loudly. Loudly enough to make both of them flinch, and Vasiliki groan as her back pained her.

“Prisca, what’s causing you concern?” he asked in a matter-of-fact voice.

“Basil… he hasn’t slept for at least two…” She stopped, almost as if listening to someone else. “Three days. Hasn’t slept for seventy-nine hours! And he won’t listen to me about getting some rest!” She was almost whining now.

Now they were all concerned. “Three days, and no sleep? Not even a nap?” asked Dalia.

“Not that I know of. He doesn’t even deny it, he just told me to let him work – he looks like he’s going to drop dead any moment!” There was panic in her voice, perhaps unreasonably so.

But Basil really can’t seem to deal with defeat… he might actually take it to the edge, Vasiliki thought.

“Alright, first of all, calm down,” she said in her most authoritative voice. Had to keep this under control. “Humans can go for three or four days without sleep before they run the risk of dying, and we don’t know how Basil’s power influences that. There are several cases of metahumans developing their powers only over time, so he might have developed some anti-sleep power…”

“But he really, really looks like he’s going to keel over any moment now! Please, you have to help him!”

“She’s right. Basil has always had a bad case of tunnel vision, and that kind of stuff tends to get worse when someone gets powers. We should at least talk to him, assess the situation. Dalia, you’re with me. Vasiliki, Prisca, watch over the cameras – if I understand this right, you have access to the workshop, right, Prisca?”

“Only if he allows it, and he’s cut me off. He never does that!” Now she was panicked.

Probably hasn’t had to deal with people being rude to her for a long time.

Tim sighed like a parent who’d had to deal with things like these for too long. “Alright, alright. Let’s go take a look,” he said, rising from his seat.

“I’m coming along,” Vasiliki groaned, slowly pushing herself up.

“Oh no, you don’t!” replied Tim, making a pushing-down motion with his arms – though he did not actually push her back down as she sat up, groaning under the pain.

“Yes, I do. Let’s cut this discussion short and have you help me get to the workshop. Now.

For once, people listened to her.

* * *

Mindstar was doing paperwork.

She was doing paperwork for the Dark Five.

She was assigning work schedules for her subordinates, organizing the next few capers, signing off on wages, explaining expenses…

I never, ever thought being a big-league supervillain would involve this much fucking paperwork. When I was flying solo, I at least didn’t have to do paperwork!

Mindstar leaned back on her seat, stretching. At least she’d taken her costume off before starting to work on this, or it’d smell by now. Nine hours of non-stop paperwork could do that even to a high-quality supersuit.

I should stop delaying this kind of work, she thought – and just then, her cellphone rang.

Normally, she’d ignore it right now, but it was Basil’s ringtone. Specifically, the one from his “lair”.

She picked it up. “Hey bro, how’re you going? I could really use a distraction right about now!”

<Uh, Hello Miss Blake?>said a girl’s voice.

Amy immediately droped the nice attitude. “Who are you?”

<This is Vasiliki Parapagadou, you may know me as->

“Hecate, yes. Why are you calling me? Did something happen to Basil!?”” She almost screamed the last part. If something happened to him, I’ll tear your-

<We… he hasn’t slept for more than three days, and we just tried to talk to him, and he just blew us off and got back to working on his new project.>

“Three days? You’re sure?” That sounds too much like Basil.

<Yes, Ma’am. As sure as we can be.>

“Alright, first, if you ever ‘Ma’am’ me again, I’ll get impolite with you. You don’t want that. Second, sit. Tight. I’m coming over.”

* * *

“You think she can help him?” asked Prisca.

“If not her, then no one can. I mean, she’s his older sister,” replied Vasiliki, trying to calm the frantic girl as she herself sat on the couch, refusing to lie down again before this was resolved. She hadn’t taken it well when they’d come back up only to tell her that Basil had blown them off.

“Well, at least we’ll finally get to know his uber-hot big sister,” leered Dalia.

“Dalia, behave. Prisca, calm down. Amy’s always been able to bring him back to reality,” Tim interjected.

“But why does it take so long?” Prisca continued.

She was really, really grating on Vasiliki’s nerves by now. She could understand the girl being worried about her boyfriend (or, as it seemed, her only friend), but her whining was getting bad.

“Probably because she doesn’t have any superpowers to fly over or teleport or anything, so she’s coming over by car or something,” replied Tim in as soothing a tone as possible.

And just then, they heard the elevator come down from the container.

“Dudes, how can she get in without setting off the alarms?” asked Dalia.

Vasiliki rolled her eyes. “Probably because Basil gave his sister the same kind of key he gave us.”

And then Amy arrived.

For the first few seconds, Vasiliki and Dalia just stared – the picture they’d seen had so not done her justice. Even though Vasiliki didn’t go for girls, she just couldn’t tear her eyes off of her.

And she wasn’t even wearing anything special, just a pair of not all that tight jeans, high heels and a white jumper.

Walking forward in a kind of natural power walk, she ignored them and went down to the workshop.

* * *

Amy came back up, carrying Basil in her arms without any visible effort.

It struck Vasiliki how drawn out, how pale he looked. Maybe Prisca’s worry was more justified than she’d given her credit for.

Without a word, Amy took him to the small bedroom, closing the door behind herself with one foot.

“Damn, that lady’s hot with a capital H!” gushed Dalia.

Of course you’d focus on that…

“I wonder how she got him to calm down? She didn’t hurt him, did she?” Prisca was still not calming down.

“Probably one of those brother-sister things. I know my siblings know how to push my buttons,” replied Vasiliki, who was this close to snapping at her.

Fortunately, they were all distracted as Amy came back into the main room.

“Alright, talking time. What the hell went on here?” she said. She was obviously angry.

* * *

They spilled all the details. Even though they were quite tired, it turned out to be quite easy to explain everything.

In fact, Vasiliki had never felt more clear, more focused.

It feels nice talking with her…

Amy turned out to be great at this. She’d sat down on a stool and talked them through the last night and the morning.

“So, you got beat down by a guy way out of your league, the two of you passed out. Then, when only Basil was left, two other metahumans showed up and one of them took Panthera Rex out in a few seconds. Basil got you both back here and treated you,” she summarized.

“Pretty much, yes, Miss,” replied Vasiliki. The others were quiet, focusing.

“Show me the video from the ravens.”

Vasiliki hurried over to the console, calling the video up and also giving Prisca permission to watch as well, all the while asking herself why she hadn’t yet thought of watching the records herself.

She sat down on the couch with Tim and Dalia while all of them watched the battle again.

Once the twins – and they so looked like twins, despite the featureless costumes, it was almost eerie – showed up, things got strange.

Bluebell’s a teleporter and that other one, Glik… holy shit.

No obvious power, nothing at all. She just moved, and she moved perfectly. Not a wasted movement, not a single strike that didn’t hit perfectly – and she only struck him three times, twice to break up his guard and then a single strike to the neck to finish him off.

It was terrifying, seeing someone take someone else apart so easily, so casually.

She threw a look at the other two next to her – they were equally terrified. But Amy…

Amy looked aroused. She was loving th-

Vasiliki shook her head. Huh, what?

She looked at Amy – she was as shocked as the others, as herself.

They continued to watch while the girls and Brennus administered first aid to them, then their way out, the ravens flying after them.

Finally, they caught that strange question, and then the girls were gone.

“What the fuck was that all about?” asked Dalia, putting to words what they all probably thought right then.

“Amen, gal. Amen,” said Tim.

Amy just looked pensive.

* * *

Neverhere

He was walking through a scenery right out of a fairy tale. One of the nice ones, or at least he hoped so.

The forest looked like it had jumped right out of a Ghibli movie. Lush flowers, gigantic trees, clear streams of water…

Man, this looks nice. I hope it’s not like Mononoke’s forest, though. Not in the mood for giant boars and wolves right now.

He took a few steps forward, then noticed that his feet were bare on the soft, warm ground. Looking down, he found himself dressed in a pair of jeans and apparently nothing else.

Shrugging – this was quite obviously a dream, and there was no use arguing with dreams about the state of one’s undress – he went on towards a rise, searching for an elevated viewpoint.

It was quite a bit easier than he’d expected, the terrain not being nearly as treacherous as it looked, considering how wild the forest was.

Up on the hill, he stopped. There was a small town in front of him, mostly overgrown by the forest, but still recognizable as a town.

And something told him that he had to get to the center of the town.

It didn’t take long, but on the way, he found himself distracted by the scenery.

The buildings had been partially broken down by trees growing through them. Every flat space available was covered in breathtaking paintings – if they even were paintings, they seemed to be part of the material.

They covered a wealth of scenes, from abstract swirls of colour to photorealistic pictures of what he recognized as London and some heroes like Lady Light. Also, a thin, scared-looking woman with bright red hair, surrounded by glowing protectors.

I’m sure I know who drew this, but I can’t quite remember…

He walked towards the center of the town, reaching the marketplace.

There was a working fountain at its center, with a magnificent tree growing above it, its roots drinking from the water.

A lone figure was sitting on the edge of the fountain.

Basil couldn’t tell whether it was a boy or a girl by sight, but he finally recognized the style of the pictures.

“Pro- no, Ember.”

The figure looked up. It looked like it was literally made of light, diffuse, flickering. Like he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to look.

He was dressed in a cloak with wide sleeves and a deep hood, made out of a patchwork of memories, each patch flickering through various images, never the same twice, but always fitting, part of the greater, harmonic whole of the cloak.

Ember didn’t respond.

“Can you talk?” asked Basil. This was surreal. He was dreaming of talking with what was widely considered to be the single most powerful being on the planet, and he was quite sure this was more than just a dream. Also, it felt eerily comforting just being in his presence.

Negation.

Basil shook his head as the answer hit him. Not a word, an idea, projected right into his mind.

“We can communicate another way, though?”

Affirmation.

“Why am I here?”

Curiosity.

“Am I here because you are curious?”

Negation.

“Are you curious about why I’m here, then?”

Negation.

“Am I here because I am curious?”

Affirmation.

Basil thought it over.

“Do you know about my memory problems?”

Affirmation.

“Do you know why I’m having them?”

Indecision.

“Are you indecisive about whether or not to tell me?”

Negation.

“Are you unsure about the reason for my issues?”

Affirmation.

Well, great. And he doesn’t seem capable of communicating in any complicated fashion. If this isn’t just a fantasy in the first place.

“Do you know about Macian?”

Affirmation.

He almost fainted (if that was even possible in a dream… or whatever this might have been) at the wave of emotions he felt. Ember so knew about Macian.

“Do you know how we’re related?”

Affirmation.

“How?”

Refusal.

“You don’t want to tell me?”

Negation.

“You can’t tell me?”

Affirmation.

“Why not?”

Time.

“You mean it’s not yet time?”

Affirmation.

Basil threw his hands up, running them through his hair. Yeah, so our resident godling knows the answer to my questions, but ain’t gonna tell me.

“Is there anything else… do you know Bluebell and Glik?”

Affirmation.

“Are they good?” Keep the questions simple.

Affirmation. Affection.

“You know them personally?”

Affirmation.

“Are they good for me, too?”

Affirmation.

“Should I try to find them?”

Negation.

“What am I supposed to do then!?”

Indecision.

“This is getting us nowhere, Ember. I’m allowed to call you that, right? Not Protégé?”

Affirmation.

“Is there anything else you want to tell me?”

Affirmation.

“What?”

Ember raised a glowing, flickering hand, reaching out with his index finger. Curious, Basil bent forward, and the boy touched his forehead.

All the world went white.

* * *

<Father? Father, are you awake?> asked Eudocia’s electronic voice. <Father, you need to wake up.>

I need to improve her voice program.

He moved, flinched. Then he rose up.

I had the weirdest dream.

Stretching, he wondered about how good he felt. Flinching, he looked at the clock. Just two o’clock… Amy had come to him around half past twelve, so he’d just slept about one and a half hours.

Not a dream. I really did meet Ember. How else could I be so… rejuvenated.

Then he remembered the urgency in Eudocia’s voice.

“What’s the problem, Eudocia? And please, stop calling me father.”

<Father, Amy is still here… she’s been talking to the others for more than an hour, and they are obviously being influenced by her.>

Ah crap.

B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 7)

“Are you sure you want to do this? You are hurt“, Amy said.

Basil just nodded and stared at his mobile phone – tracking the movements of the so-called Switchbitch.

Amy’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “The Hemogoblins…”

“…are a C-to-B-Class gang, mainly due to their leadership consisting entirely of metahumans, with their actual leader being a B-Class Contriver”, continued Basil. “Their metapowered members are…”

“Alright, alright, so you’ve done some research on them”, Amy cut him off before he could launch into an exposition-rant (not that she didn’t like to do that once in a while. Just not as much as he did). “Still, do you think you can do this? You. Are. Hurt. And your teammates are certainly not up to this – leave it to the heroes! That’s what they’re for!”

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B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 6.2)

Getting to the Hospital did not take long – before the reconstruction of the city even began after DiL’s attack, it had been decided that the new public transport system was going to be the most efficient in the world – and they had succeeded (at the time). And while Washington had managed to snatch that title away during their 2001 reworking of their public transportation system, New Lennston’s was still one of the world’s finest. The magnetic trains moved almost soundlessly through the city and one needed half an hour at most to reach any station from any other.

So he entered Prisca’s room just as Mrs. Smith was leaving with the food tray. She did not even notice him, as she had to hurry to bring the tray to the kitchen and then run along to the next patient needing help with eating. And then the next one. Plus those who needed help with going to the toilet – a problem which Prisca wished she had, because it would mean that her bowels still worked well enough to actually process food – and so on.

Which meant that he and Prisca would be undisturbed for at least an hour and a half. Perfect.

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B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 6.1)

They left the house in casual clothes, though Amy was, for a change, dressed appropriately for the weather in jeans, boots and a shapely black jacket (though only because she was wearing her costume, minus the high-heeled boots, underneath).

Since she absolutely insisted on him being fully equipped for visiting the house on the mountainside – even if his ravens had already scanned it and designated it as abandoned for years – they had to go to his lair first.

Fortunately, the girls had left to go home to their worried families and they would not be back until later in the afternoon to watch the TV special. So they were free to enter and suit up.

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B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 5)

Amy closed her eyes and concentrated on the connection to Basil. It was like a thread, connecting them. She let her mind wander along the thread and fall into him…

She opened her eyes, taking in her surroundings. She was in the air, surrounded by a scenery out of a painting – or maybe one of Basil’s fantasy games.

It looked like giant islands, floating freely in the air, some high above her, some deep beneath her. When she looked down, she noticed that she was actually clothed – in a very flattering, but all-covering lilac dress. Leave it to Basil to dress me up ‘decently’, even with only his subconscious mind active…

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B003 Forbidden Garden (Part 3)

Earlier, the same day

“Melody. Wake up…”

She didn’t want to. It felt so comfortable, lying in her bed, wrapped up in her blankets.

“Come on… we have to get ready…”

Please, I don’t want to perform today. Just let me sleep another day or so.

“No, silly, this is about the debriefing. It’s due in half an hour.”

She turned around, pulling the covers up over her head.

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