B009.1 Family Matters

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The adhesive hooks attached to the two buildings left and right of the street, and with a gut-wrenching pull, the motors in the two reworked grappling hook units reeled them in, catapulting Basil forward and up.

“Woo!” he shouted as the hooks detached from the concrete walls just when they would have started to slow his movement instead of accelerating it, the machines on his hips reeling them in as he, for a few seconds, flew freely through the air. Of course, wearing power armor was not conducive to staying airborne and he quickly reached the apex of his jump – but he had already aimed for his next targets.

His hip-launchers had originally been quite large, basically a pair of long boxes filled with the thin wire he used for his grappling hooks. A serious flaw in the design, really. They were too big, the motors inside too strong, the wire more than just too long. He just had no use for that much of it, and running those motors at full capacity would only rip the system off his hips. So he had redesigned them into two disk-shaped, plate-sized systems. The motor for reeling in the wire was built into the center, while the launch system for the ‘hooks’ (both using van der Waals force to adhere to their targets, rather than actually working like real hooks) was at the exit points, one nozzle each which could move independently to better aim.

These two nozzles locked onto the targets he had specified – the corner of an office building at the next crossroad and the tip of a flagpole that extended from the adjacent wall behind the corner, just barely visible. He had aimed them through precise (and often repeated, in preperation for this occasion) finger movements, and now used his grappling hooks to swerve around the corner and out of Downtown – straight towards the harbor, accompanied by his ravens which scouted the way ahead for viable contact points, so he would not have to decide on the fly.

Also, they were looking out for his quarries, helping him evade them.

Just then, a warning came in as a golden shadow raced by a group of ravens to his left. He only had seconds before it would arrive.

I got to make them count, he thought and reeled the grappling hooks in, firing the right one off towards the corner that would take him left along the next intersection, twisting his body mid-air towards his attack – and he readied his redesigned humming sword at the same time.

The new sword was no longer flexible, able to wrap around his hip. It was a rigid, straight sword with one gleeming edge, and a rather bulky blunt side. Not to mention that it was a meter long, not counting the hilt. This new version consumed far less energy, thanks to the more efficient vibration generators built along its length.

He raised it just in time as the golden spear-blade struck him, taking it along the flat side of the blade, making use of another feature of this new version.

It was far better suited to parrying attacks it couldn’t just cut through. Especially since he had not actually powered it up. He took the strike on the flat side of the blade and fired the motors of his right hook, pulling himself towards the street corner and deflecting the strike away, letting Gilgul tumble into the opposite direction he was moving for a few moments, before she caught her flight and flipped around (conveniently ignoring all inertia).

Fortunately, he had already rounded the corner by that point and fired his hooks again, swinging straight over a lower building on the other side of the street. He hit the roof of the building beyond running (landing on the edge of the rooftop, so he wouldn’t simply break through) and leapt over the abandoned street beneath – two weeks after Hastur’s rampage, the city was still quite empty, especially on a Sunday like this.

As he fell down, he watched as Gilgul pursued him, cornering in impossible ways as she searched for him – and then locked onto him again, rocketing straight towards him.

Ah shoot.

He turned around in mid-air, firing the grappling hooks backwards to move further away from her as he put the sword into the sheath he had attached to his left forearm and drew his new rifle from the holster attached to his right forearm, taking aim and shooting.

This rifle was not a stun gun. It was rather a custom-made ballistic rifle with variable ammunition. His shots hit true, striking Gilgul’s chest plate and hip, bouncing off – but not without messing up her flight, making her tumble again and letting him put some more distance between them.

Almost there.

He swung in a right turn towards the harbor, using the movement to also face forward again, rifle still in hand.

Gilgul, of course, pursued him easily – even without her ability to ignore inertia (she had not told him about that before), she was simply too fast, not to mention not in need of assistance by grappling hooks and robotic ravens to pursue – and began to close the distance.

And then a human-sized cloud of green-black smoke burst out of an alley and flew across the street, bouncing up along the wall and leaping off of it in pursuit of the golden knight.

Basil fired off a few more shots to keep Gilgul’s attention on himself, which made her close the distance.

“Got you!” she shouted as she got within reach, ignoring his shots and stabbing forward… just when the cloud lept over her, pulling itself together into Hecate’s shape.

The witch girl aimed her staff at Gilgul and fired off a scarlet energy blast, sending her tumbling down to the empty street before bursting into smoke again, accelerating towards Basil in the same instant in order to reform and grab his leg as he swung further down the street.

She used him as a pivot and threw herself forward, dissolving again and adding more speed to her movement, briefly overtaking him in her smoke-form.

Gilgul caught herself and charged after them – straight towards him, to be precise, which meant there was no way of his shots really affecting her flight path.

Green and black smoke suddenly obscured his immediate vision as Hecate covered him, reforming between him and Gilgul.

“Boo!” she shouted, throwing a paper bomb into their opponents face, dissolving again before Gilgul’s spear reached her torso.

And then the grenade detonated into pure disorientation. The mental effect would have knocked him for a loop, making all his senses go haywire, if Hecate had not earlier given him a special charm that protected him from it and several other effects in her arsenal.

Which was very fortunate, because the weapon only made Gilgul flinch for a moment before she closed the distance.

“No getting away this t-” she began, but he did not let her finish. Instead, he grabbed her spear, disconnecting his hooks from their current targets as he did so, and swung himself around it, kicking her with both feet in the face.

She made no sound, too stunned to react as she spun away again, losing her grip on her spear. He threw it into a nearby alley, swinging away again. Hecate had already moved ahead, gaining some ground, and he was only a few blocks away from his goal…

His ravens saw Gilgul burst out of the alley and hurl her spear at him.

Fuck.

There was no way his armor could actually take a straight hit from that spear, and his armor was too bulky to properly twist out of the way.

On the other hand, he saw it coming a mile away, thanks to his ravens and he had practiced long enough with the kind of multiple viewpoints they gave him to know how to predict its flight path…

And strike it out of the air with his left arm as he whirled around, sending it straight down to the street before finishing his spin and shooting straight ahead again, overtaking Hecate, who was just turning into an alley to get out of sight.

I ought to ask her how she senses her surroundings in that form.

And then he had to focus on his own getaway again, because Gilgul was closing in, having retrieved her spear.

He was just a block away from his goal – that weird-ass warehouse he had accidentilly dropped into on his first night out. Hecate was out of sight, as he did not have enough ravens to keep an eye on her (his reserves were running rather low, lately). Smoke bombs and the like were useless.

All he needed was one more distraction, something to keep her off his hide. Fighting her directly was out of the question, so…

<Are you in position?> he asked Tyche over their communicator.

<Of course, B-Six! Me and this puppy are ready to mess up your gee eff’s day!> came the chipper reply.

<Please try not to hit me, or any innocent bystanders.>

<Aye, aye, mon capitan!>

He fired off his hooks at the apex of his swing, aiming for the last high-rise buildings in his path. He would have to swing clear over a small park between him and the warehouse and the street beyond that, to reach the warehouse, so he activated, at the apex of the new swing, his newest addition to his suit – a pair of thrusters built into the back of the suit, beneath the battery, aiming down and to the back.

Uff.

The thrusters kicked in hard, just when he had reached the edge of the park. Fortunately, his armor protected him from whiplash, but it did not protect him from feeling like his back was hit with a sledgehammer, blowing the air out of his lungs in the process. I should have thought of that, too.

But it did boost him far enough to clear the park – and evade a desperate strike by Gilgul, who had almost caught up with him.

“Oh, come on!” she shouted as she pursued – and then a massive boom rang through the air as she was knocked out of the air again, spinning away so violently she almost lost her grip on her spear… only for her to ignore inertia again and fly straight towards him so as to intercept him.

But Tyche had slowed her down just enough.

Basil fired off his hooks, grabbing onto the edge of the warehouse’s roof, and swung onto it.

“Clear!”

 

 

* * *

 

Breathing rather heavily, Basil sat down on the roof as he took off his helmet, setting it aside but taking care to keep his hood up. Then he took off the skintight mask he was wearing beneath, to get a fresh breath.

Gilgul landed next to him, sitting cross-legged in the air (her armor was quite nimble). “I really thought I had you when I threw the spear,” she grumbled.

“Maybe if… I had not had… my ravens,” he said. “God, I am thirsty.” He detached a water bottle from his left thigh and took a long draught from it.

“What did I do wrong?” she pressed further, her golden armor providing quite the glittering show as the light of the afternoon sun reflected off of it.

He did not need to think it over much. “You were too straightforwad. I could see your every move come from a mile away, even without my ravens,” he explained. “Hecate is here,” he added, seeing her smoke-form approach from the corner of his eyes.

A few moments later, it leaped onto the roof from the side and reformed into Hecate, who promptly bent over the edge again and threw up.

Basil looked at Gilgul and handed her the water bottle. She floated over to Hecate and held it out for her. “Th-thanks,” she said and drank greedily after washing her mouth out without actually putting it to the bottle (for which Basil was quite thankful). “This new charm is way useful, but my stomach just can’t take it,” she complained as she gave it back to him, sitting down along with Gilgul.

“Can’t you rew-” Gilgul began, but was interrupted when a red-and-black smoke-form sailed by over them and towards the adjacent building’s higher wall. It smashed into the wall, reforming into an upside down Tyche who had rammed it with her back, clutching a large rifle in her arms.

“This is fucking awesome!” she shouted as she slid down the wall, casually flipping over and landing on her feet. Her hair was a mess, her jacket looked wrinkled-up and the rifle in her arms did not look functional any more – in fact, the barrel was twisted.

“What did you do to my gun!” Basil shouted, hurrying over and all but ripping it out of her hands.

“Oy, don’t blame me!” the still smiling girl replied, casually slipping around him and swinging her hips to knock the water bottle off his thigh, letting it bounce off the floor and up into her hand as she walked towards the other girls and sat down with them. “What’s up, girlfriends?” She took a sip from the bottle.

“You’re not feeling bad?” Hecate asked, annoyed. “I threw up after using that charm.”

Tyche shrugged, pulling a black cloth-figure – a rather crude form made of a single length of black cloth, tied to look like a human – out of the inner pocket of her jacket. “Well, I thought it was awesome. Mind you, I still don’t know how to really steer it, but you can’t have everything, eh?”

Hecate muttered something under her breath, but said no more.

Basil joined them again, sitting down with them. “I did not expect the rifle to break so quickly,” he grumbled. “I am sorry that I blamed you, Tyche. The materials I worked with were simply not good enough.”

She waved a hand. “Don’t mention it. So, what’re you going to do to fix it? Thing packs a wallop!”

“Does it ever…” Gilgul muttered. “Felt like it blew my head clean off.” Tyche grinned at her.

“I don’t have the means to build a proper model,” Basil admitted. “My funds are running dry – I need to either get some new money from somewhere, or cut down on my active experimentation.” It was clear which option he personally favoured.

Gilgul shifted around uncomfortably, her face hidden behind her helmet but her discomfort still noticable. She had offered to give him money from her private funds – her family was filthy rich, and there were only her, her mother and her sister left to use that money. But he had refused on the grounds that it would be impossible to hide it from her mother. Moreover, he wanted to solve this problem himself.

“Can’t you use that trick you did at the beginning again?” Tyche asked. “You know, steal money from criminals with those programs of yours?”

“That’s my next step,” Basil replied. “Also, I think I will need the next week at least off. I still have not fully recovered from the strain of being healed, two weeks ago.” The other three shuddered involuntarily, especially Gilgul. None of them liked thinking back to that time.

“I told you you needed more time,” Gilgul whispered.

“I know. But I really wanted to try out my new grappling hook system, and you need more training. Speaking of which, how did you do those turns?”

“What turns?” Tyche asked, confused.

“A few times, she turned in ways that ignored the laws of inertia,” Hecate supplied, also looking at Gilgul.

The latter just shrugged. “Well, you know how I can enhance my abilities by burning off time I can spend in this form? Same thing for that, by burning off an extra minute or so, I can ignore inertia.”

Basil raised an eyebrow. “What else can you ignore that way? This might be one hell of an ability, perhaps more powerful than even your spear. Also, would it not be better to land, instead of floating? Preserve time?”

Gilgul touched down on the roof. “As far as I understand it, I can turn myself immune to anything I want, but it costs me time. A lot of time, depending on what it is.”

“You should look deeper into this,” Hecate supplied. “If you want, I can simulate a lot of effects in my lab,” she continued, referring to the room in Basil’s base that she had pretty much taken over. “We can try and find out how much time it takes you to resist lightning, or punches or gravity, or anything else I can create there.”

“I’d love to. How about we do that today, since Basil is going to take a break?”

“Sure, sure. I have the day off,” Hecate said. “And since school is still closed next week,” Two of Hastur’s minions had utterly demolished the Diantha High School, and reconstruction was still in progress, “We can spend as much time as you have on it!”

“What about me?” Tyche asked. The other two girls looked at her, obviously not knowing what to do with her.

“How about you try and find out if your power can interact with Gilgul’s?” Basil threw in. “Try and find out if your probability manipulation can affect her actions, and if Prisca can turn Gilgul immune to it?”

“How do we do that?” the three asked in chorus.

“You could try and find out if Gilgul can even hit her when Tyche does not want her to, or throw things at her. Get creative,” he said, rising. “Me, I need to get home, make dinner for Amy. Then I need to scrap this armor and design new equipment.”

“Wait, what?” all three replied in unison, again.

He shrugged in reply. “This armor has saved my life, but it is becoming a liability. It takes too much money to maintain, uses up too much energy and it is not nearly as effective as I thought it would be – I did not expect that we would run into quite so many high-level enemies who can mess it up. Since Gilgul is with us now, I can retreat from the frontlines and focus more on long-range combat, espionage and obfuscation,” he explained. “At the very least, I need to cut down on my resource consumption just for the armor, and develop better weaponry. Power armor is a good idea when you have resources like the Drakainas or Memento – and perhaps someone like Wyrm, provided she even bothers with combat – and a support staff for normal maintenance.”

“Polymnia doesn’t seem to have that problem,” Hecate said.

“Polymnia gets funding from the United Heroes, her armor is largely only modified by her after being built by others and she has the United Heroes staff to do maintenance for her, so she can focus on inventing new equipment,” Basil replied. “Frankly, if my power was not simply stronger than hers, she would have left me in the dust by now.” Not that I am entirely sure I did all of my work myself.

“Alright, so Bee Six will give himself a complete overhaul. Cool,” Tyche said. “How long you think it’s gonna take? And what do you plan to make, anyway?”

“As I said, long-range combat, espionage and obfuscation. It will probably take me at least a week to rig something up, a month until it is complete. But I will participate in patrols once I have the prototype ready and tested.”

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Hecate asked. “Already changing your entire approach…”

“I am a Gadgeteer,” he said with a note of pride in his voice. They could not see his face beneath the hood, but Gilgul at least was quite sure she saw a glimmer in his eyes. “Showing up with a new bag of tricks at every combat is a matter of professional pride for me.”

 

 

* * *

 

An hour and a half later, Basil had just finished dinner and put it on the table – just in time for Amy to come in wearing a… a pink cocktail dress, military boots and a clown mask pulled up to lie on top of her head?

She stumbled into the kitchen, giggling as her skin turned into a normal colour and her hair returned to its more natural shade.

He tilted his head to the side, looking at her. “What?”

Looking up, she giggled again. “Oh, sorry Basil. The job turned out to be a little… weird,” she said in between giggles. “Boss sent us out to do some espionage near Moscow, and Lamarr and I got caught up in some spy games.”

“And those involved wearing… that?” he asked.

“Don’t ask. You don’t want to know,” she said sitting down and kicking the boots off, as well as taking the mask off. “Anyway, you should watch the news today.”

“Why? What did you do?” he asked suspiciously. Despite his allegiance during the second world war, the Dark was not someone you could count on to fight on your side in a war. He certainly had fought on the opposite side during the Afghanistan conflict.

“Nothing newsworthy,” Amy replied, rubbing her feet. “But it turns out one of the Sovjet Union’s big ol’ secrets is gonna come out today. Chick named ‘The Devil’s Bride’.”

“Never heard of her,” he said. And he was quite sure of it.

“They’ve done their best to keep her a secret. And for good reason, bitch is nasty. But don’t let me spoil you, you’ll see it in the news. Now, food.”

He snorted, but let her eat in peace as he went over to the living room.

The war had begun… after a fashion. There had been a probing attack on the British mainland, a week ago, but nothing much had happened and people had just returned to being on the edge and waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Basil wondered what kind of person the Devil’s Bride had to be so newsworthy in the current climate.

Nothing good, I presume. Not with that name.

He turned on the television, switching through some shows before the news began. Then, just as Amy (in sweatpants and a shirt) joined him, the news started.

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B007.9 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread

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“I still can’t believe you’re risking this!”

Jason was not happy as he watched the heroes (and assorted vigilantes and villains) prepare to deploy. Polymnia and Brennus were handing out visors for everyone to wear – much like Brennus’ own helmet, they would protect them from Hastur’s power.

Or so they believe. Brennus might just have been immune due to a quirk of his power.

He’d voiced that complaint, and many others, but Amazon had firmly insisted that there was no time left. And he could see that, but couldn’t they at least take a few more minutes to try and get backup?

Of course, the fact that Hastur’s creations were running rampant through the city, keeping villains, vigilantes, police and army on their toes did not help in that regard, at all.

He knew they needed to put her down. He knew these were the only people likely to be capable of doing it. Didn’t mean he had to like it.

“Amazon, could I talk something over with you quickly?” he asked.

The young woman – too young to be burdened with the responsibilities of field leader – walked over to him, holding her new visor in her hands.

They stepped away (Polymnia’s hearing was just too good sometimes, and he had no idea what Brennus’ team was capable of) and turned their backs to the others, so no one could read their lips.

“I know your complaints, Sir. They’re good, but we n-” she started saying, but stopped when he shook his head.

“That’s not it. I get it. Really. No, there’s something else. Rising Tide and Gilgul.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I can guess what you want to say about Rising Tide, but why Gilgul?”

He looked around to make sure there was none of those damn ravens around (even though they were inside the building) and said: “You know as well as I do that Rising Tide can’t be trusted. I’d suggest not taking him into the battle. As for Gilgul… something’s off there. She just shows up out of nowhere, is apparently powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with that fecal monstrosity, is best buds with the out-of-nowhere vigilante gadgeteer and gets a recommendation from Gloom Glimmer after a grand total of one battle! Don’t tell me you don’t think there’s something fishy there!”

“Calm down, Jason. I know all this, and I’ll certainly keep an eye on her and Rising Tide both, but we need every bit of fighting strength we can get, and we’re running out of time, so I’m just going to cut this short now. Wish us luck.”

He looked after her as she turned away to join the others again. “I always do…”

* * *

“You built your base underneath the Goldschmidt Memorial Park?” He almost, almost slapped his forehead. Which is not a smart thing to do when you’re wearing second-rate spare armour (he had been lacking the time and material to make it equal to the main armour).

“Yeah, what of it?”, asked Rising Tide as he adjusted the goggles he was now wearing. The others were, too. They weren’t pretty, but they should protect them by showing them everything indirectly – Hastur’s power should be nullified just as it had been when he had looked at her through his mask’s camera.

<You guys are called the Forresters and the first place you come up with for your secret base is underneath a park full of trees?> Polymnia asked as she finished the calibration of the S.M.O.G. <How about calling yourself the Dolphin Squad and having a base underneath an Aqua->

“Happened,” Brennus threw in.

<What, seriously? That actually happened!?>

Now everyone except for Amazon and Osore was looking at him.

“The group was called the Dolphin Dames. Five female eco-terrorists active in the early nineties. They had their base underneath the San Francisco State Aquarium, right beneath the Dolphin tank. Had it expanded so the dolphins could swim into and out of their base, cause their leader was quite in love with them,” he explained.

“So she was an animal rights nut who really liked looking at dolphins?” asked Tyche.

“No, they were animal rights nuts who, among other things, wanted animals to be legally recognized as citizens with all protections and rights that come with it, and she was in love with them as in…” He threw a glance at Gilgul, who was showing no reaction (not hard to do with a fullbody armour and helmet) that went unnoticed thanks to his own mask. “… she, ah, swam with them.” If his eyebrows were showing, he would have wiggled them.

That shut them up as several people tried to get rid of a slew of unpleasant mental images.

He put in the last calibration code, then aligned the S.M.O.G. with Polymnia’s and Osore’s help so it aimed right at the hidden entrance to the Forrester’s base – a concrete wall and doorway hidden behind thick foliage. Amazon, Hecate, Tyche, Bakeneko, Tartsche, Outstep, Phasma and Rising Tide were standing nearby, ready to storm the base that was probably filled with more of Hastur’s victims.

The plan called for a quick entrance, but this was the only entrance safe for an emergency exit that would take too long to traverse and without Gloom Glimmer, they lacked the firepower to simply blast through it… except, of course, for the S.M.O.G. Amazon had even allowed them to fire it untested, due to the urgency.

“Alright, calibration is done, all systems are running…”

<…energy transmission spotless and the crystal array has been aligned.>

He held out the trigger, which was connected to the rest of the machine via wire. “Want to do the honors?”

Polymnia took it with a grin, looking at the entrance. <Boom.> She pushed the button.

* * *

7.12 seconds later

<I didn’t expect the explosion to be quite that big.>

They stared at the gaping hole in the ten feet of rebar-reinforced concrete… and the hill it had been built into. In fact, there was precious little of said concrete and rebar left to look at.

But there was a lot of dust, which Brennus thought might be symbolic.

“What does S.M.O.G. stand for, anyway?” Bakeneko asked, her eyes (all seven and a half of them) glued to the scene.

Sonic Impulse Overkill Gun,” explained Brennus.

Suddenly, the silence around him turned hostile. He looked around at the others.

“What? It is a perfectly good name!” he tried to justify it. “Do you know how difficult it is to come up with proper Acronyms that are not already in use?” he added, weakly. “The alternative was S.M.U.T., so I think this is an acceptable name…”

The others shook their heads. Gilgul in particular seemed… disappointed.

Amazon snapped her fingers. “Enough distraction people. You know what to do – let’s get going!”

They stormed into the base, with Amazon, Gilgul and Rising Tide on point.

Brennus and Polymnia split the S.M.O.G. into four pieces, and they, Osore and Bakeneko took one each.

As they ran inside, Polymnia leaned closer to Brennus: <I told you we should have gone with Sonic Impulse Overkill Generator.>

“Generator somehow implies something bigger. Maybe something to take down a city block?”

She thought it over. <Not practical, but definitely do-able if we can make a bigger set of synch-crystals.>

“Let’s keep it in mind for the two-point-oh version.”

* * *

They entered the underground base of the Forresters (technically a part of the Undercity, according to Rising Tide), following a tunnel that descended into the earth. Amazon was leading, her golden hoplite-armour already up and covering her from head to toe.

Brennus heard a ping from the secure short-range communication channel (Rising Tide and Phasma had no access to it) and heard Outstep say, <What is it with supervillains and underground bases?>

Gilgul replied: <Tradition, I guess. The Dark used to hide in Old Lennston’s sewer system, back in the beginning. During most of the twenties, actually.>

Everyone but Amazon and Brennus who was in the channel looked at her.

<What? I read a lot. History books can be really interesting, especially since Point Zero.>

Amazon spoke up, <Team, please fo->

Then Succubus stepped around the next corner.

* * *

Phasma made a small, incredibly hurt sound.

Hastur had gotten her hands on Succubus. Brennus had seen images of her succubus form before, and this form was much more monstrous. She had grown taller, almost two meters tall. Her legs had, from the knees and below, turned into cracked volcanic rock, with lava leaking from the cracks. Her wings were as before, only larger and she had grown a crown of black rocks made apparently of obsidian. Her nails were long enough to drag on the floor, and looked wickedly sharp. She was also naked, and her tattoo was gone even though it had been present for her transformed form before.

“Careful, do not let her touch y-“

Brennus was cut off when a wave of raw pleasure slammed into him – and the rest of the group.

His last thought before his mind went into overdrive was that, apparently, her power had been enhanced by the transformation.

He saw – barely – how Amazon and Gilgul charged forward, both unaffected by the aura. But Succubus had either been holding back a lot before or she had gotten a lot more upgrades than just to her appearance and power, because she engaged them in a fluid dance, despite her large wings, her claws flying around, blocking Amazon’s punches and Gilgul’s spearstrikes while scraping over their armours.

F-f-foc- He could not. His mind felt like it was filling up with a heavy, warm goo, shutting d-

<Neural disruption detected. Survival ability has been compromised.>

Eudocia’s electronic voice barely penetrated into his mind. Then, he felt a jab, and then a shock, but they were dim, muted.

<Unable to restore function through non-damaging electrocution. Initiating Override Protocol.>

A string of commands ran down his visor, blurred by his unfocused eyes into incomprehension. What do they mean? He could not remember.

<Armour Control Override complete. Assuming Direct Control..>

Suddenly, his armour started to move of its own, charging forward towards the fight ahead. She drew the humming sword and a stun baton and leapt onto the Succubus’ back, slashing horizontally with his sword to cut through her neck.

Succubus reacted faster than she had expected, though, and she whirled around and swiped her claws at his airborne form. She could not tell whether or not they could penetrate his armour, but she was not going to risk her father’s health here – she fired his hip-mounted grappling hooks while simultaneously calling in all the ravens he had kept just outside the tunnel.

Twisting about in the air as the hooks attached themselves to the ceiling further down the tunnel and reeled in, she flew over and past her quarry, but missed her chance at striking her.

However, she did distract her just long enough for Amazon to hit her knees with a swiping kick from behind, shattering them audibly.

As Succubus screamed out loud, Gilgul stepped up and plunged her spear into her chest, right through her heart. Once more, it cut into its target as if it was butter. As Succubus fell to her shattered knees, her own weight split her throat and head on the unnaturally sharp blade, killing her.

And just like that, her psychic attack vanished.

Brennus shook his head as Eudocia returned control of his armour to him.

Phasma screamed and ran over to the dead villain, kneeling down and craddling the two halves of her head in her lap, holding them together… a futile attempt, as she was already beginning to decay, her body slowly breaking down.

“Nononononononononono…” she whispered, as if it could stop it, trying to hold her together.

“We… ugh… we need to go. Quickly,” said Rising Tide as he recovered from the assault. “No time.”

Brennus nodded as his ravens caught up to them and flew past, deeper into the tunnel – only for the front mass to be obliterated just as they saw a trio of monsters approach, one in a deranged set of glowing power armour.

“Enemies ahead! Three of Hastur’s victims!” he said.

The others got ready for battle, but Amazon cut in, “No! We need to push through, get to the throne!”

They all looked at each other, then Rising Tide spoke up. “Alright, we split. Some attack the three ahead of us and create an opening for the rest to break through. I’ll stay, fight. My power needs time to build up, I’m better off fighting those here so I’ll be stronger later. Remember the floor plans I gave you, and you’ll have no trouble finding the throne.”

“Bakeneko, Tyche, Outstep – you support him!” ordered Amazon. “The rest, follow me!”

And with that, she took off, not giving anyone a chance to dispute her orders.

<Bakeneko, please hand your piece of the S.M.O.G. to Gilgul,> said Brennus as he took off after Amazon.

* * *

They ran down the tunnel towards the trio of monsters. Just when they came into sight – a man made of rough stone, a crab-like woman in contrived armour and a thing like a Chinese dragon crossed with a frog and a few thousand worms – Rising Tide, Tyche and Bakeneko surged forward, the latter morphing into a matching dragon-shape for the other monster and slamming into it.

Outstep surged forward too, attaching explosives to the backs of the enemies, knocking them into their quarries before they could react.

The rest took the opening and simply jumped through and raced down the tunnel, leaving the fight behind.

Brennus decided to take the chance to ask Prisca something he should have asked way earlier (but had been distracted from). <Gilgul, I have switched us into a private channel,> he said.

<Roger, Brennus. I hope you didn’t get hurt earlier?> she asked in return.

<No, I am fine.>

<How did you do that, anyway? Resisting her attack like that…>

<That was me!> Eudocia chimed in. <We have protocols for that. I can override his armour if he’s been disabled.>

<Cool. Always prepare.>

<Yes. Speaking of which… ‘Assuming Direct Control’? Really?>

<What? I always wanted to say that. It’s not like you don’t make quotes like that too, father.>

<Stop calling me ‘father’.>

<Yes father.>

Prisca barely restrained her giggle.

He sighed and focused on his inquiry again as they reached a locked door.

“I’ll take ca-” he began to say, but Gilgul plunged her spear’s blade into the steel door and cut a hole into it, kicking it into the next room.

“Done.”

<I was going to do that…>

<Hush now.>

They went into the room beyond – the ‘reception area’, really more of a hub from which several hallways led to the other parts of the base.

They were awaited by four more monsters.

Brennus did not waste time looking at them and instead sent his ravens in – all the ones he had left, save for two he kept on his shoulders, a swarm of forty – to distract them.

Luckily, Amazon already had a plan: “Brennus, Gilgul and Tartsche, go on and try to distract Hastur and her people. The rest of us will take care of these!”

“Yes madam!” replied the three of them.

“Polymnia, take the S.M.O.G., just in case!” said Brennus as he threw his piece of the gun to her, followed by Gilgul doing the same. They ran past the four monsters as the others descended upon them.

Following the floorplans he had uploaded into his HUD, Brennus pointed out the right corridor to take and the ran into it.

<Gilgul, quick question. I should have asked earlier, but have you noticed any limit to your form? A range, a time limit…> he finally asked as they heard the sounds of battle behind them.

<Uh, it’s kind of strange. I have this… this kind of charge. Anything I do burns through it, a little. Moving, just a little bit. Flying, more. Striking, depends on how sharp my weapon needs to be. So if I tried to cut something too tough, I’d probably burn through the entire charge, maybe.>

<Interesting. How much do you have left?>

She sounded a little worried. <Not much. Cutting through BigShit and Succubus took quite a bit out of me. And I think I didn’t manage to manifest fully charged, for some reason. Nor do I know if I can simply respawn once I run out, or if I have to recharge first.>

He nodded absentmindedly. <You seem to already know a lot about it.> They rounded another corner.

<It’s… it’s like I always knew. Or perhaps like an instinct. I just know this.>

Behind them, he could see the fight heat up as more and more of his ravens were taken out trying to attack or at least distract the enemies. One of them was manipulating gravity strong enough to smack Amazon around.

<We will have to look deeper into this once we have some free time.>

They reached the door to the storage room and Gilgul stepped forward, cutting into it.

<Oh, I have a very different idea as to how to spend our free time…>

* * *

Beyond, a large room full of crates and various memorabilia opened up. It was as large as any gym hall, with crates stacked neatly to the left all along the long wall, and several display cases along the right long wall… with one of them smashed open to reveal a massive, ornate (too ornate) throne with what looked like a mutant satellite dish on the top.

Hastur was sitting on the Super-Tele Throne, wearing a skintight black suit that was connecting her to the throne by way of various wires. Her face was uncovered, free for all to see.

And her power did not work, as Brennus had already switched to the delayed vision mode. Gilgul and Tartsche seemed unaffected, too and the latter heftd his friend’s spellgun.

All he saw now was a cute, but not exceptional girl with mediterranean features, olive skin and messy dark brown hair that really needed a good cut.

“Step off the fancy chair, Miss!” he shouted.

As if that is going to convince her.

The insane teenager turned her head towards them: “Good God, you guys never give up, don’t ya? Why won’t you just look at me!?”

Her companions – one of them was Panthera Avis, the other two looked respectively like a half-machine half-zombie and a snarling gerbil – turned towards them, interposing themselves between the throne and them.

“I don’t know how you got past my friends out there, but I kept the best for last! Nathaniel, Jerry, Lara, kill them already! Especially Brennus, I want him dead! Frederic, keep working on the throne!”

Of the three monsters, Avis and the gerbil charged forward, while the cyborg zombie turned back towards the throne which, as they could now see, was connected to several exposed powerlines in the wall by a series of thick cables.

She called out to three, but only two are attacking. Means there is another one nearby.

Apparently, Gilgul and Tartsche both figured that out, too. The latter whirled around on the spot as a centipede-like monster burst ouf of the ground behind them, charging… straight into Tartsche’s line of fire.

The spellgun fired thrice, twice into the gullet of the monster and once in between its human eyes, causing ice to violently expand from the point of impact.

Thrashing violently, it fell to the ground, its charge interrupted, as it almost burst from the two iceblocks that formed halfway down its long form – it looked like a centipede with a woman’s legs instead of the usual insectoid legs.

But Brennus had little time to take in its appearance as Panthera Avis blinked into position right in front of him, before he could even draw his sword or his baton.

Ah cr-

He was smacked right in the chest before he could even finish that thought and thrown back into the hallway behind him – but not before his ravens could take off of his shoulders and start pecking at his numerous eyes.

Brennus rolled with the punch, taking the edge off of it and landing on his feet, even as he noticed, to his delight, that the dodge protocolls were working – his ravenbots were evading Panthera Avis’ clumsy strikes and slowly blinding him.

Tartsche was standing tall, unconcerned about the charging gerbil-like beast as he aimed his long, ornate rifle at it, calmly taking aim and pulling the trigger only once before the monster reached him.

The contrived rifle – somday, Brennus was going to ask Spellgun how it supposedly worked, even if the answer might give him a headache – did not even flinch backwards, as its wielder was about as movable as a mountain range, but it spewed a massive gout of fire, and then a tiny glowing projectile shot into the gerbil-thing’s gut, piercing the dirty, coarse fur.

The gerbil-monster screamed aloud as it flew backwards, but its screams were cut short when the bullet exploded in its gut, almost severing it in half.

And just like that, Brennus could no longer focus on that as he had to deal with his own quarry, who had just destroyed one of the three ravens and was just refocusing his remaining eyes on him.

I know what is coming next.

He pulled his stun batons in a reversed grip and stabbed backwards the very moment Avis vanished from sight.

The tips stabbed into hard, unyielding flesh and discharged their entire reserve of electricity into his body, causing a multitude of screams from his many mouths.

He saw Prisca be attacked by a centipede-like woman with scythe-like elongated arms, who was rising out of the floor as if it was water, and retreating into it to evade strikes. Even though Gilgul’s blade cut into the concrete easily, her quarry moved fast enough to capitalise on the loss of line of sight to evade and strike out with her own blades, though she could no more penetrate Gilgul’s armour than the golden knight could hit her.

Steering his ravens to dive in on Panthera Avis, he spoke into his com-system, <Gilgul, I am going to distract your enemy. Take out Hastur’s throne, fast.>

<Roger roger.>

He swung around on the spot, kicking Avis in the gut just below where his torso split open to reveal all the twisted faces, throwing him back. As he swung back in response, he used the motion to throw a grenade at the centipede-woman.

<Grenade>

Gilgul reacted, flying straight up just in time for the grenade to detonate. It was a flashbang and a strong one, enough to knock out anyone without some serious protection – which the woman obviously lacked, as she reeled from the detonation.

Tartsche, of course, was utterly safe, Gilgul’s protection also held up and Brennus would never be throwing a grenade that could so easily harm him.

The gerbil-thing, already blown halfway to pieces, reeled from the explosion, as did Avis behind him.

“Nononono, you gotta stop them stop them stop them!” screamed Hastur on her throne, her power letting her recover instantly from the attack.

It was of little use as Gilgul flew straight at her, aiming her lance at the sitting girl, ignoring the contriver working on the throne.

“Hey, bitch!” she screamed. “Here comes some payback!”

Ignoring the attacks of the contriver-zombie, who was pelting her with what seemed to be shotgun-blasts, she plunged her lance into Hastur’s chest – and the throne behind her.

“Nononononononono!” screamed the insane teenager before Gilgul tore the lance upward, cutting cleanly through Hastur and the throne, spliting them both in half.

“And here’s some seconds for you!” She brought the lance down at an angle, splitting the already regenerated Hastur from her left shoulder to her right hip, further demolishing the throne.

“Noooooooooooooo!” Hastur jumped off the throne as it began to glow, spitting streams of sparks as the catastrophic damage caused a meltdown.

Before anyone could do much, the throne detonated in a scarlet fireball that threw everyone but Tartsche away.

The contriver-zombie, Hastur, Gilgul, the centipede-woman and the Gerbil monster were engulfed in the conflagration, while Brennus smacked into Avis’ body and the latter smacked into the wall outside the door with a sickening crunch. His ravens were wiped out.

<Prisca!>

The light vanished, revealing an unharmed Tartsche – and an unharmed Gilgul, too, floating above the crater where the throne had stood.

“I’m fine!” she shouted. “My communicator is gone, th- dodge!” She suddenly threw her lance at him, and Brennus just barely rolled to the side – evading Avis’ two-handed strike.

The lance impaled him easily, the crossguard beneath the blade catching and throwing him back to the wall, transfixing him.

Brennus saw Hastur, already recovered, run deeper into the trophy hall.

“Tartsche, with me!” he shouted and ran.

“Comin’ coming!” the other boy said and broke off his stance, running after Brennus as he darted past him, chasing Hastur.

Then, Gilgul screamed, “Tartsche, drop!

Brennus turned his head and just barely saw Avis, bleeding heavily, appear behind Tartsche and punch the boy in the back, throwing him across the room.

Shit.

Avis’ did not have time to follow up, though, as Gilgul cut him from his left shoulder down to his left hip. Not that it was enough to kill him, but it certainly got his attention.

I can not kill Hastur by myself, without Tartsche’s help. But he could restrain her long enough for Tartsche to catch up to him. His power might allow them to put her down.

He gave chase, and followed Hastur into another hallway, being far faster than her even without his armour.

With it, he caught up to her in seconds and tackled her down.

“Ow! Meanie!” she gasped as he turned her around, kneeling atop her.

“It is over, Hastur,” he told her calmly.

“Not unless you find a way to kill me, sugar. ‘Cause I’m not gonna stop, ever,” she said with something like pride in her voice.

“Why not?”

“Because I want everyone to see me. See my face and love me. Just like the others…”

He looked down at her, unsure how to feel. She looked… ecstatic. Not concerned in the least.

“What is your name, if I may ask? Your real name, I mean.”

She looked stunned for a moment. “Ciara… but why do you want to know?” she asked.

“Because I think the name Hastur is stupid. Besides, you already know my real name, so it is only fair. May I ask you a few questions?”

“Uhh… sure…” she said, seemingly unable to deal with simple politeness.

“What was your trigger? The reason why you manifested?” he asked.

“Why do you want to know?”

“Curiosity. I would like to know what made you into what you are.”

Her face suddenly turned serious, even wistful. “There once was a girl in a little village by a mountain,” she began. “That girl had a friend. They were bestest buds since childhood. More like sisters, closer even.” She stopped, blinking.

He waited until she continued.

“They grew up together, went to school together. Then, her friend found this boy. And what a boy he was, such a catch. He was smart, and witty, and nice and pretty and athletic and even rich, not that she cared. And he was in love with her as much as she was in love with him. And the girl was happy for her friend and supported them. Covered for them, telling their parents they were with her when they were out together, stuff like that. She didn’t mind, after all, they were both her friends.” She took a deep breath. “But as time passed, that stupid girl got a little jealous. She’d had boyfriends of her own, but no one half as close as her friend and the boy were. Worse yet, none of them looked at her the way the boy looked at her friend. Now, you need to know that her friend and the boy weren’t always peachy with each other. They fought, they screamed, sometimes they even broke up. Never for long, but they did… and one day, the stupid little girl thought she’d try and tell him how she felt… how she felt about him. She went to the boy a few days after he’d broken up with her friend again and told him how she felt…” She stopped.

“And?” he asked, suspecting several scenarios.

“He was really nice to her,” she said, taking a sobbing breath. “Told her that he liked her a lot, but not that way. That they could be friends, but no more. He still wanted to get back together with her friend, after all, and take it further even.” She sniffed.

He had not expected that particular development.

“But then… even though he was so nice, he still wouldn’t look at her… look at her the way he looked at her friend. All she wanted… all I wanted was for someone, anyone to look at me the way he looked at herrrrrrrrr.” She began to sob, what little composure she had had gone in an instant. Then she started to… giggle. “Now that’s over. Everyone will look at me the way he looked at her… everyone…”

“How did he look at her?” he asked.

That stunned her. “What?”

“It is a simple question. How did he look at her? Can you describe it?”

“Well, he… he looked at her face and he… uhh…” Her eyes widened in horror. “I… I don’t remember…” she whispered as her eyes overflowed with tears. “I don’t remember… I don’t remember the way he looked at her. Why can’t I remember!?” She screamed the last part, throwing herself around trying to get away… before she collapsed, the strength leaving her. “I can’t remember how he looked at her… I killed them all, and I can’t remember…”

“Ciara.”

She looked up at him.

“What happened afterwards? After you used your power on the village people?”

“I… they came. The companions. They locked me up. Killed all my friends. Sent me here, so I’d be set free in New Lennston.”

“The Companions of the Future? Why? What did they want?”

“A diversion. Just like the attack on the protectorate. I heard them talk about that a few times, when they weren’t somehow shielding themselves from my power. They also had other things planned, but I couldn’t find out. They know how to proof places from me.”

Holy shit, what kind of conspiracy is this? “Do you know what they wanted to distract people from?”

She shook her head. “I only know that potentially causing a world war is a bonus. They are looking to do something… they want to wake something they call ‘the Sleeper’. It’s kind of a slogan of theirs – ‘The Sleeper must wake’.”

“That sounds… painfully generic. Do you have any idea what this sleeper is?”

“No… but I can look, if you want. Not like I have anything else to do.”

“Please do.”

She nodded and closed her eyes. “Hmm, alright, looking, looking… there, there’s a place! In the pacific, a big floating city. The Sleeper is below… I can almost see it… deep, deep… oh, that’s it!” She suddenly smiled wide. Almost grinned. Her eyes flew open. “I can see it! It’s beautiful, so beautiful, I can see it all o-” Her breath caught as her eyes widened.

“What? Ciara, what’s happening?” he asked, worried. What the hell was going on there?

“It can see me! It’s asleep but it can s-“

Without warning, without a sign, without her even changing her expression, there was a crack in the air, as her whole body suddenly froze solid, ice-spikes erupting from her clothing and skin, her eyes cracking audibly.

Brennus was thrown off of her as he felt the cold through his suit, down to his bones.

He picked himself up from the ground and looked at her – her body was in the exact same position it had been before, only frozen, iced over, the ice covered in slush which was already running off, turning into cold water.

What the fuck?

* * *

“And she just said that it saw her and then she… died? Nothing else?” Widard asked, bewildered.

“Yes. I just showed you my recording, did I not?” replied Brennus, as the rest of both his and the junior hero team looked on. Gilgul was missing though, as her charge had run out (though she had only told him that. The others thought she had just left after the fight). The Dark was there, too – the fight at Kansas City was over, and apparently Memento, having reappeared after his absence during the Osaka fight, had managed to disrupt Desolation-in-Light’s powers often enough to make her lose interest, or whatever it was that made her go away.

Brennus elaborated, “Going through the recordings, I think that her body temperature was remotely lowered to extreme enough depths to flash-freeze her, which caused an implosion as the air around her condensed into liquid, drawing in the surrounding air to fill the gap, followed by an explosion of air as the liquified air mostly turned back into gas by absorbing the surrounding heat. Also, it damn near froze off several pieces of me.”

The others looked quite worried now. That kind of power, apparently used from around the world, was major bad news.

He, however, looked at the Dark. “Sir, do you have any idea what this Sleeper is, or what the Companions want with it?”

The Dark, having stood at the windows with his back to the rest of them, turned to look at them. “I know very well what it is, indeed.” He raised a hand, as if to scratch his chin, not that that could be seen underneath the shadows that wrapped around him.

“What? What is it?” asked an impatient Amazon.

“None of your business and way out of your league. Best you all forget you ever heard this,” he replied simply, not the least bit intimidated by her attitude.

“By God, if you’re going to screw us over here, I-” she began, but he cut her off with only a look.

I so need to take some lessons from this guy.

“Watch your language, young lady. I’ve been playing this game since long before your father was even born. And besides, if you can ask Gwen, too. She knows as much about it as I do… though her answer will be the same as mine, I assure you.”

He turned to look at the juniors and Brennus’ team. “To you, my dear children, let me say this: I am very impressed by your performance. I compliment you all, and hope to see more of you in the future.” He nodded his head, if barely, towards them. “But now I must leave you, and take care of business.”

And with that, he sank into his own shadow, vanishing.

They were left staring at where he had stood, more scared than flattered.

“Why do I think this ain’t good for us?” asked Tyche, who had her left arm in a sling.

“Because we apparently just got the attention of the King of Supervillains,” replied Hecate, who was wrapped in an emergency blanket to cover up her costume, which had been torn to the point of indecency, apparently. Again.

<And I thought my day started weird.>

Everyone else replied, “Amen.”

* * *

Basil walked up to his house, feeling quite tired. They had discussed the whole operation, along with some unsettling news about Desolation-in-Light’s attack on Kansas City. But now he was just tired and wanted to see Amy again – she had survived Kansas, as Amazon had grudgingly pointed out.

Can not blame her for hoping Amy would come to harm.

Aye, it’s her own fault, mate.

He mulled that over as he reached the door – and then his phone rang in the melody he had set for e-mails.

Taking a quick look, he found a single sentence in the mail:

I’ll be watching you.

Followed by the image of a dragon biting its own tail, circling a W.

He put the phone away again. Well, that is not foreboding at all.

But he would worry about that later. Now, he opened the door, stepping in.

Just as he closed it and took a breath to call Amy, he was suddenly caught by an invisible force, throwing him up.

He smacked into the ceiling, face down, arms and legs sprawled.

Amy stepped out of the kitchen into the hallway, hair wet and dressed in a bathrobe. And looking pissed.

“We need to have a talk, little brother.”

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B007.8 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread

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“Can I have your autograph?”

Polymnia dropped her tools, looking up with a startled expression. Hecate was standing next to her workstation, holding out… the last album she published before deciding to focus on being a superhero.

<Where did that come from?>, she asked.

Hecate shrugged, as if it was nothing special. “Uhh, lots of stuff fits into my pouch. Kind of a… a bag of holding, you know?” She seemed embarassed about the name.

At least she knows her nomenclature. And I guess there’s no harm in signing it. She took the album case and signed it with her cape name. <What brought this about?> she asked as she handed it back. <Not quite the time…>

If she could have seen Hecate’s face, she was sure it would be red. Her heartbeat certainly sped up quite a bit.

“Uh, I’ve been hoping for a chance to ask you all day… but, you know, it’s kind of… impolite. But I guess we both might die shortly, so when was I gonna ask if not now?” she explained as she put the album back into her pouch.

<Don’t be so pessimistic. Your teammate came up with a good plan, and we’re as prepared as w->

“Yeah, sure, Brennus has a good plan. Excuse me if I don’t trust completely in that,” Hecate replied with some venom in her voice.

<What do you mean?> Polymnia asked her. She sounded… conflicted. Angry.

Hecate looked away, her hood turning to the side. “I… don’t get me wrong, Brennus is a great teammate and friend, but… he’s not the most stable or reliable type. I’m just… I’d trust him with my life in battle, but in planning? When he often forgets what day it is because he’s working on his tech, or he forgets… maybe I should stop here,” she rambled with some worry in her voice. Then she suddenly turned fully towards Polymnia, her posture more… wary. “This stays between us, right?”

She nodded with a serious expression. <Of course. Can I ask you something?>

“Sure.”

<Why are you doing this?>

“Doing what?”

<Being a cape. A vigilante. Why did you put on that costume? Why did you decide not to join up with the United Junior Heroes? I don’t believe it just ‘happened’, you know?>

Hecate looked away. “I… I was out on my first night. I’d… I knew about the Snow Queen doing business at the harbor that night and I thought I’d… God above, this sounds so stupid now… I thought I’d take her down, stop her trade, you know?”

Polymnia looked away, readjusting her goggles as she remembered the Snow Queen’s performance in the acre <Definitely not your smartest idea.>

The other girl hunched up her shoulders, turning away. “It wasn’t. So anyway, I found the warehouse – and for the love of me, I can still not believe that she was doing business in an abandoned warehouse – I snuck in and attacked, got my ass kicked around. Brennus had been following a lead there, too. He jumped in, saved my ass, we fought her, got kicked around – then Tyche, who’d just been taking a walk, randomly choosing her direction – barged in and helped us and we managed to win… barely. I got hurt pretty bad, Brennus took me to his hideout to fix me up and we kinda… got talking. Hooked up. In the cape-team way, not the other one.”

<Well, that was quite the series of strange events – though you kind of ignored my real question… why?>

Hugging herself, Hecate fell quiet. Polymnia almost thought that she’d pushed too hard, but then…

“I have… someone close to me used to be a hero. I think I felt like I’d be closer to that person if I did the same,” she whispered. “That’s all I’m going to say about that. Can I ask you a question?”

Polymnia stopped for a moment, digesting the new information. <I can’t promise that I’ll answer it to your satisfaction.>

“Um, it’s nothing bad, I just wanted to know… is Gloom Glimmer always like this?”

Huh? She leaned her head to the side, looking up at her. <What do you mean?>

Hecate made a starting motion, as if surprised. “Well, like that. You know. Off. Creepy. Scary. I had goosebumps the whole time I was around her.”

<What in God’s name are you talking about? Irene can be a little weird, but->

A little? Polymnia, she’s fu- I mean, darn creepy! Her father didn’t scare me half as bad as she does! Everyone else on your team gets the creeps from her, too!”

She opened her mouth to rebuke her, then remembered that she couldn’t produce a sound that way, which halted her long enough to think it over. Outstep was always really tense around Gloom Glimmer, and so were the others. Bakeneko had stopped even talking around her lately – only Osore acted indifferent around her, and he was a special case, anyway.

<What do you mean, exactly? I never noticed her to be that scary>, she said through her vocalizer. At least not while in company, she thought silently, thinking of that afternoon in her room.

“Her voice, her walk, the way she stands, everything!” said Hecate, now exasperated. This was clearly not what she’d expected. “She doesn’t move right, she doesn’t even stand around right – it’s all off! The way she looks at people, the way she talks, her very voice.”

<Now wait a minute, I got quite the ear for sounds and her voice sounds utterly divine to me,> she said. <Can’t say a thing about the rest, really. Ever since my manifestation, I haven’t been any good at body language and stuff. But I’m really good with voices.>

Hecate calmed down, pulling her cloak around herself again. “I don’t know about that. All I know is that she doesn’t seem real, like she’s taking part in a dance but is always a step off. And there’s always this… this air of barely restrained power around her. Like she could blow up at any time.”

You have no idea.

This wasn’t good. She’d never noticed any of this, except when Irene had been out of control. She’d just thought Outstep was being a dick and Bakeneko was a scaredy-cat anyway. <There’s no need to be afraid. She’s really nice, really. Best friend I’ve ever had.>

“Really? What do your other friends say about her?”

<Correct that. Only friend I have right now. None of my friends from before my manifestation want anything to do with me anymore. But even taking my pre-manifestation friends into account, Irene’s been a true friend,> she explained.

“I don’t know if I could be so open. Brennus sometimes acts really strange, but Gloom Glimmer seems to be more like… dunno, something that learned to act human, but never got it quite right.”

<Uhh… That sounds really creepy,> she replied, shuddering as she remembered Irene’s breakdown.

“It is. And damn, now I feel like a bitch for bringing it up,” whispered Hecate.

Polymnia shook her head. <No, I’m glad you told me. Maybe I can help her smooth things out.>

“You’re way nicer than me,” said Hecate with a slightly forced giggle.

* * *

“You look like a mummy,” Harry said with a chuckle as he sat down next to his boyfriend’s bed.

Thomas tried to slap him, but he was quite firmly affixed to the bed by way of the rig his left leg was hanging in. “Shut up, it’s just ma fuckin’ leg,” he replied.

“That’s what you get for trying to go into close combat with a geokinetic monster,” Tartsche admonished him. “I hear the only reason you don’t actually look like a mummy is ’cause Tyche accidentily knocked you into a blast shadow?”

“Hrmph,” grumped the feminine-looking boy on the hospital bed. “Ah’ll admit it, ah got lucky. Anyway, what about Hastur? What’re we gonna do?”

Harry shook his head. “Sorry, can’t tell’ya. Turns out she has some kinda super-clairvoyance, so it’s not safe to talk. But I’ll be off soon.”

A worried look crossed Thomas’ face, but he suppressed it quickly. “Alright,” he said. He wasn’t going to ask him to back down, and Harry loved him for it.

He might have done it, if he asked.

“Take this,” the wounded boy said holding out his eponymous spellgun and a bandoleer full of various shots. “Ah can’t help y’all myself, cuz Gloom Glimmer didn’t get to fix me, but ma gun might be of some use.”

Harry took it with a grateful nod. He knew how much Thomas hated handing out his equipment, even to him.

“I’ll bring it back whole, love. Soon,” he promised.

Rolling his eyes, Thomas admonished him: “You make sure you come back whole. Now gimme a kiss and then off with you!”

Harry obliged.

* * *

Sprawling on the long couch of the United Junior Heroes’ common room, Tyche thought that they desperately needed some of B6’s upgrade magic on their entertainment equipment.

For one, their television required a remote control. If she wanted to watch something, she’d need to stand up and get it from the table, instead of just saying which channel she wanted to watch.

“Can you give me the remote?” she asked Outstep, who was making sandwiches for the two of them. He’d turned surprisingly helpful once she’d started flirting with him. A shame it doesn’t work on B6, she thought. I wonder why. Plus, she felt bad for his girlfriend. The poor girl would probably have to knock him out and tie him to the bed to get anything fun done. Though that sounded fun in and of itself.

“It’s less than two meters away from you,” Bakeneko replied from down the couch, where she’d curled up as some kind of cat… thing.

“Well, that’s too far! I’m used to voice commands – and automatic preferences, and stuff!” she whined. “I mean, how come B has better equipment than you? You’re all supposed to have super-funds, plus you got your own gadget-geek and a mad scientist!” she continued, poking at him with a grin.

Outstep said: “Calm down, I’m on my way.” He came over to the couch with a plate of sandwiches he’d just made, and he did give her the remote.

Good boy.

“Polymnia doesn’t care much about voice control, if you know what I mean? Plus, she never hangs out, anyway. Always in her workshop,” he defended their equipment before taking a bite out of his sandwich. She took one for herself, and Bakeneko stretched out an arm (over three meters) and took two for herself.

“Makes sense. Maybe all g-geeks are like that? B doesn’t really hang, either, unless we force him,” she replied before taking a bite. “Mmh!” This was really good! Turkey, ham, mayonnaise, rye. Another point for the boy. “Then again, he does make me all those wonderful toys…”

“Like your wig? That was just… overkill,” Bakeneko said in between bites.

She ran her fingers through the blonde hair sticking out from the back of her mask. “I thought it was funny. Besides, he insisted that I wear a wig, instead of letting my real hair hang out. Since the fight down in the acre.”

“Yeah, but… boobytrapping a wig? With springloaded, barbedstingers? Loaded with electric charges? That’s just… dunno…” The shapeshifter seemed way too weirded out by it for someone who currently looked like a cat-lizard.

“Oh, come on, that thing’s reaction was awesome. Thought it had me by the hair, then the locks came off and.. zap.” She slapped her thigh with her free hand to emphasize the point.

“Still…”

“Eh, I’ve seen stranger stuff,” Outstep threw in. “Like Vulcan the third’s underwear.”

Underwear?!” they both asked in unison.

He nodded sagely. “Aye. I remember, when she was our leader – I’d just joined the Juniors – we decided to play a prank on her. She had the hots for… well, for someone and we were gonna dump all her underwear into his underwear drawer. Turns out, a Contriver who specializes in Traps can boobytrap everything. As in, every single piece of underwear, even her lingerie went apeshit on us.” He stopped to take a bite, letting them stew while he chewed and swallowed. “Three of us spent a week in the infirmary afterwards, and Spellgun still has a few scars.”

“Cool,” they both replied. “Can we get some stuff from her?”

He shook his head. “Nah. She died a year ago when DiL attacked the Grand Canyon. She was on vacation there,” he explained. “Didn’t even get to do anything, I hear, just got squashed during the first attack.”

They all fell silent after that.

“Who do you think’s gonna die next?” asked Bakeneko. “I mean, we’ve been real lucky so far, since S-Class events are expected to cause at least twenty-five percent causalties among the defenders.”

Outstep shrugged. “No use thinking about that. Might be none of us – there’s plenty of villains in the city fightin’ her, too. And even if not – you gotta learn to live with this kinda crap, if you wanna be a hero. Or any kind of cape, really. People die. Deal with it.”

They fell silent again, eating while they waited to go out into the fight.

* * *

“The cameras are off?” Prisca asked, tapping one foot impatiently on the floor of the hallway they were in. The ‘metal’ of her boots made a bright, bell-like sound.

“Sure. Their security still sucks,” Basil replied as he created a loop and put Eudocia to warn them in case anyone came their way. “There, camera’s are looped, and we got early warn-“

If there was one thing she really didn’t care about right now, it was the state of security around here.

So she cut him off by pushing him against the wall, her helmet fading away as she ripped off his spare helmet. He had barely enough time to unlock it and prevent any damage, and then it was off.

“Prisca, ca-“

She pressed her lips to his, finally shutting him up. And then she didn’t care about anything else for a while.

Nor did he.

When they parted again, an eternity later, she felt herself… flushed. Breathing hard. She’d never felt this good. Like her whole body was burning from the inside out, from her shivering head to her curling toes.

“Uhh…” Basil was making strange sounds.

“What? Didn’t you like it?” A sliver of… anger, or fear, entered her voice. She didn’t know why.

He raised his hands, waving them. “No no no, I liked it a lot! Just… wow. Kinda… more intense than I thought it’d be.” She was pretty sure he was blushing underneath his cowl.

“Well, duh!” Of course it was better than before! She wasn’t stuck in that half-dead piece of shit that was her body anymore! “Can’t wait for us to have some real private time.” She winked at him, which made him dry-swallow.

Being hot was fun.

“I… uh… can’t wait…” he replied, apparently losing more and more of his usually extensive vocabulary.

So much fun.

She leaned closer, until their lips were almost touching. He was down to indistinct syllables now, and his eyes looked unfocused.

“Maybe you could tell me how much you can’t wa-“

A ringing tone went off in his spare armor, like a cellphone ringing. He raised his hand to his earbud, his eyes focusing again.

Dammit!

“Oh, uh, Eudocia says the others are ready, so…”

I’m gonna have words with her.

She sighed, rematerializing her helmet. “Let’s go.”

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B007.7 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread

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The dragonette stopped the recording after they’d watched it twice. It was quite… illuminating, really. And they finally had a clue as to how to take Hastur down, which was a plus…

But right now, he was more concerned with the dog-sized dragonette in front of him. He stared down at the gorgeous drone. It stared back up at him. Its creator had gone through the trouble of adding filigree ornamentations to its shell – the dull, dark silver had been engraved in artistic swirls and other such patterns, all perfectly balanced against each other and whichever part of its body they were worked onto.

The girls started to discuss their next step, while he just sank down to squat on his heels. He was too tired, too worn out to help much, anyway. Besides, dragon robot. Either was reason enough for him to pay attention and now he had both in front of him.

Gloom Glimmer turned to look at the other two girls, still weary from the exertion of the last hours. “So, now we know how to stop her. Whether or not we can use it is another matter entirely,” she said.

“I’m still not quite sure what we saw, to be honest,” Prisca replied. “As far as I get it, she can only be hurt by her victims?” She shuddered as she remembered the recording of the grissly attack on the shelter. “Unless you use mind control on one of them, I don’t see how it’s going to help us.”

Brennus drew out a stack of pictograph cards and started flashing them in front of the dragonette. It chirped in response, adjusting the responses to the cards he flashed. Could it be an Artificial General Intelligence like Eudocia? Or an Artificial Specialized Intelligence?

“Not quite. I’ll explain it later on, but we need to meet the group again,” Gloom Glimmer replied. “We don’t stand a chance as we are – I’m almost out of juice, Brennus could be knocked out by a stiff wind and you… no offense, but you are completely new, even if you held yourself wonderfully against BigShit.”

His power surged up, the light blazing brighter than usual, as it began to analyze the responses of the dragonette, trying to analyze it through them. He soon went to flashing three or four cards at a time in patterns based on astrophysical calculations, then went over to quantum theory…

Prisca shrugged, her face hidden behind her helmet. “No offense taken. Honestly, without Phasma here, I’d probably have gotten crushed like a bug sooner or later.”

He shelved those tests – it at least wasn’t as intelligent as Eudocia, even if it was an AGI. Or perhaps it was smart enough to recognize what he was doing? He started testing its behaviour with simple prompts and questions, speaking quietly.

The young villain just shrugged herself, but said nothing. She’d been quite silent the whole while, and Brennus was getting the impression that she wasn’t overly concerned about what was happening… though that might just have been due to her power making her pretty much immune to most anything that might harm her.

“Let’s cut the chatter and go – I think I still have enough juice to locate the others,” Gloom Glimmer continued. She’d drawn her hood up, hiding her face from view and drawn her white cloak around herself, looking more like a ghost than Phasma did right now. “Wait for it… yes, I’ve got Tartsche and Tyche… and Outstep. Polymnia is… nearby, with Hecate… Amazon is tied down at the Diantha High, Bakeneko and Osore are with her… oh, the Feral Family has deployed, they’re coming here.” She mumbled a few incoherent words, then continued: “That’s all I can get right now. Too weak to try and locate Hastur, if I even could – meta’s of her level tend to mess up perception powers around themselves.”

Some of this stuff was interesting… he was largely convinced he was facing an ASI instead of an AGI, and it seemed to have quite a few quirks… but they, as far as he could tell, hadn’t been programmed in deliberately, but had “grown” organically as the ASI expanded. Maybe if he called in Eudocia and linked them up somehow… but he would need to somehow shield Eudocia from being corrupted, and the threat of having her be revealed to the Dark or other interested part-

“BRENNUS!”

“Huh?” He looked up. All three girls were looking at him – funnily enough, since all of them had their faces hidden, they did little to convey emotion. Whoever had called out to him had sounded annoyed, though. “What is it?”

Gloom Glimmer sighed a long-suffering sigh. “Oh, Stars above, he’s almost as bad as Polymnia,” she groaned.

Prisca stepped forward and simply grabbed him by the back of his cloak, pulling him up to his feet. “We’re going to fly to meet up with the others. Gloom Glimmer already sent a message ahead. I’ll carry you.”

“Okay. And why does that require interrupting my work here?”

She just threw him over her shoulder and lifted off, grabbing Phasma’s discarded robe as the girl dematerialized. The dragonett followed after them with a low chirping sound to accompany its flight.

* * *

They flew towards the headquarters of the United Heroes, and Brennus was once more struck by the unfairness of being unable to fly himself. Even if being carried by Prisca gave him the most interesting… ideas. And not technical ones, for once…

He shook his head and focused again on the dragonette, which was following after them. Ma-

But again, his thought process was interrupted by less interesting stuff. Namely, their landing on top of the large building that housed the headquarters of the local heroes. Tartsche, Hecate, Tyche, Polymnia, Outstep, Bakeneko, Osore, Amazon, Succubus and Rising Tide already awaited them, the latter looking rather… ruffed up. His formerly immaculate white suit was quite torn and ragged now.

Prisca put him down as they landed and held out the robe for Phasma, which filled out as her ghost-body flew in and rematerialized into its normal (hidden) physical form.

Amazon cut right to the chase: “Gloom Glimmer says you found someth-“

“Stop. No talking,” said Brennus. He looked at Tartsche. “How far can you spread your power?”

The other boy answered calmly, without a break: “Anyone and anything I directly touch. Why?”

“Everyone, touch Tartsche then. No talking until we’re all under the aegis of his power,” he continued and suited actions to words, reaching out to grab Tartsche’s forearm.

The others, rather befuddled, followed suit and touched the stalwart teenager.

And then the world went calm. There was no easy way to describe it, Brennus found, but to say that he knew the world couldn’t touch him anymore. It felt oddly… familiar.

Been there, done that, mate. Got the t-shirt.

Someday, you will have to explain all that.

Eh, not today, though.

What kind of accent are you talking in, anyway? You sound British most of the time, kind of Cockney, but that was definitely Canadian just now.

Imma nasty bugger of all kinds.

Now you are just making fun of me.

Geez, whatever gave you that idea?

He shook his head, focusing back on the others. It didn’t seem like they noticed him spacing out a little.

Amazon was quite focused on the dragonette, anyway, which was perched on Gloom Glimmer’s back right now, its head hanging over her shoulder. “What is that?”

Gloom Glimmer, still hiding beneath her cowl and cloak, spoke up, her voice quite a bit… duller than usual. “Her name’s Silver. She’s Wyrm’s spy drone,” she explained.

“Who is this Wyrm?” asked the Forester, his voice having somehow dropped a few octaves since the last time they spoke.

The shrouded girl gave a sensation of… apprehension off, but answered: “She works for my father and apparently decided to intervene directly here. She might have given us the key to defeating Hastur.”

“And what might that key be? And why did you,” Amazon looked at Brennus, “Insist that we all huddle up like this?”

“Is everyone here aware of the observations I made during my stay with Hastur?” he asked.

“You mean her mind reading and regeneration?” asked Tyche.

“Not mind reading, at least not true mind reading, but a more… specialized form. Anyway, she seems capable of dropping in on communication between people.”

“And however did you come to that conclusion?” asked Succubus with a drawl. For some reason, Prisca turned her head to look at her and he got the feeling she was glaring.

“Not important right now. Anyway, I have a theory that Tartsche is using a variant of the same ability which protects Desolation-in-Light, a-“

“Wait, what?” Tyche shouted in surprise, closely echoed by Outstep.

Brennus grunted, annoyed at the interruption. “Focus, people. We can discuss power theory later on.”

Oh, the irony me matey.

Shut. Up.

“Anyway, as I was saying, Desolation-in-Light is immune to all perception-powers – even indirect ones fail around her – so it is possible, if not even likely, that Hastur will be unable to eavesdrop on us if we’re under the protection of his power. Now, to get to the matter at hand – Silver, would you please replay the video you showed us before?”

Silver gave a chirping sound and aimed its – her? – head towards the floor in front of the group, projecting the video.

They saw the security camera feed from the Menstall shelter – over a hundred people were gathered together.

A flickering, then three shadows appeared in one corner of the place, in plain sight of everyone, along with Hastur – who proceeded to pull down her hood without much further ado. The recording only showed a flickering shadow where her face should be, just like with her victims – and immediately the shelter turned into a madhouse.

One of the refugees, a young woman huddled together with her family, burst into fire, growing into a flaming bird even as her body began to twist and break – and she threw a fireball towards the assembled group, much to Hastur’s apparent surprise. The young girl threw her arms up to shield her face, but not fast enough – only the intervention of one of the shadows shoving her aside saved her from having her whole body incinerated. Instead, the side of her leg was burned, as was one of the shadows standing behind her.

Hastur screamed and fell to the floor, clutching her burned leg and rolling over, as the phoenix threw another fireball – and hit her straight in the back, incinerating her whole body, reducing her to ashes. Then she screamed again (the Phoenix) as she bent over… backwards, audibly breaking her back as a new, white feline head burst out of her belly and her left leg exploded only to reform into the head of a black turtle. Then, the same flickering discordance covered her in the recording.

Before their eyes, the ashes that were left of Hastur reformed into the same girl… including her burned leg.

“What. The. Fuck,” said Tyche.

“Agreed. This is most… unusual,” said Rising Tide, his voice now an octave or so higher.

<I’ve never heard of regeneration that worked like that,> Polymnia threw in, her face twisted in horror as she mostly looked at what could be seen of the victims of the attack.

“Wait for the next part,” said Brennus. “Silver, please proceed.”

The dragonette did so, showing the video from a hospital surveillance camera. It showed a hallway, and soon enough, Hastur limped through the window, now in a different pair of pants. The time stamp showed this scene to take place about an hour after her attack on the Menstall shelter.

“Soooo… she can’t regenerate from some stuff? Where’s the logic?”, Hecate asked.

Gloom Glimmer swayed a little and said: “The next part is also important. Silver, please show the final video.”

It was a traffic camera recording of the Chinese cape’s rampage through New Lennston’s entertainment district (also known as The Brights). While Huang Long herself was hidden beneath the shroud of flickering distortion, they saw Hastur show up with some of her attending victims and cross a nearby street – only for Huang Long to lash out and throw another fireball at her, incinerating her once more. Hastur recovered – though she retained her limp and her pants were still burned, not yet replaced – and cursed towards her victim, then vanished along with her group in a flicker.

Silver cut off the video feed.

“Gilgul here,” Brennus said, nodding towards Prisca, “Thought that Hastur might be vulnerable against her own victim’s attacks.” Prisca, Phasma and Gloom Glimmer all turned to look at him, surprised that he had even noticed that. He would have smirked at them if they could have seen it. “Them is not so. I theorize, instead, that she is vulnerable to those whom her power is affecting at the time… or, in other words, the only way to harm her is to look at her face while you do it.”

That made everyone hold their breath and think.

Polymnia was the first to say something: <So we just use a time-delayed camera or thermal vision or something and we can take her down?>

Hecate shook her head. “No. Brennus was doing that when she kidnapped him, and he couldn’t hurt her, right?”

He nodded. Obviously, Hecate must have read all his reports. “Quite so. I think one must expose themselves to her power in order to be able to hurt her. In that moment of her power affecting one directly, her defensive power probably does not recognize one as a threat. Allowing permanent harm to be done to her.”

Rising Tide tapped his chin, scowling. “I notice everyone is thinking towards the end goal of killing her – we should instead detain her, after all, her power is rather harmless when she’s locked away and-“

“No,” said Amazon. “Even if there wasn’t the issue of you Foresters potentially getting your hands on an S-Class threat, it wouldn’t work.”

“How do you know that?”, the Forester sneered.

Amazon sneered right back – and she had one hell of a sneer. “We know that because one of the Black Panthers survived and turned himself over to us. According to his information, they had Hastur in their custody for two weeks, but he observed the others growing more and more obsessed with her – upon closer inspection by our specialists, we found traces of subtle mental manipulation in his mind. It is very likely that Hastur subconsciously manipulates people to become obsessed with her, which would eventually lead to her escape.”

Rising Tide started to say something, but Gloom Glimmer cut him off: “Shut. Up.” She turned to Succubus, who had just opened her mouth. “You. Too.” Brennus was sure he saw something red flicker in the darkness of her hood for a moment. “Amazon, is there anything else we should know? Any information you got out of him?”

“Yes. Apparently, the person who set up the deal that got them Hastur was a Quinzen Walmers – a local ‘contract negotiator’… and their sponsor was a group calling themselves ‘the Companions of the Future’. They’re the ones who provided the funds necessary to buy a metahuman like Hastur.”

“Have you tried to detain Walmers already?” Brennus asked.

She nodded, but did not look pleased. “Yes, but he’s cut and run – there’s no sign of him.”

“We shouldn’t worry about him, anyway,” said Prisca. “We need to track down Hastur, and find a way to off her without having to sacrifice so-“

“And who in darnation are you, anyway!?” Outstep spoke up for the first time. He was looking rather ragged, himself, and quite tired.

“Her name is Gilgul. Newly manifested, high apex to god tier flying brick with a few twists,” Gloom Glimmer summed up. “Now quiet – she’s already proven herself by taking down BigShit along with Phasma here.”

That shut him up.

Brennus threw him a glare he could not see, then turned to the group as a whole: “I have a few ideas on how to take her down, but we need to find her. I don’t believe that she is just wildly teleporting around causing chaos – she is more likely to have a plan, even if it is a half-cooked one.” Especially if she has found an intelligent planer, or worse yet, a superbrain-type.

“I can find her,” Gloom Glimmer threw in. “It will disable me for a while – I’m already quite drained,” Her voice sounded almost normal now – though Brennus could only tell that it was usually strange by the lack of her usual inhuman harmonics – and she was slumping, which just did not fit her, at all. “But I should be able to locate her, maybe even get a glimpse of her goals.”

“Do that, then. We’ll take everything from there,” ordered Amazon.

Gloom Glimmer nodded and broke contact with Tartsche, stepping away and taking a deep breath as Silver jumped off her back, gliding a short distance away to land and watch her.

* * *

Gloom Glimmer took a deep breath, concentrated – once more, Brennus was sure he saw red flicker underneath her hood – and then collapsed onto her knees. “Ugh.”

Polymnia immediately went to her side, helping her back up and taking her back into the group huddle, holding her hand to Tartsche’s outstretched hand to spread his power over them. <What did you see?>

The weakened girl shook her head, then whispered: “She’s… she’s got a plan… She wants to use TeleCat’s instant broadcasting contrivances to broadcast her face.”

“Ah crap,” whispered Brennus.

“TeleCat? Who the hell is that? And what’s with that name?” asked Bakeneko. Brennus had almost forgotten she was there, even though she had a particularly provocative form right now… not that he would notice it next to Prisca’s new curv- Focus, damn it!

“A supervillain from the late eighties, he tried to take over the world by way of television. Built contrivances that transmitted images and sound across the planet with no lag at all, wanted to hypnotize the whole world,” explained Brennus. He had studied up on all tech-based heroes and villains he could find – or at least the most famous ones – and even contrivers. “But it makes no sense – TeleCat is locked up in the Tartarus Star; as powerful as she is, there is no way she is breaking him out of there to build her another contrivance. And all his old ones were destroyed.”

Rising Tide fiddled with the neck of his suit, apparently uncomfortable.

Gloom Glimmer looked at Rising Tide. “She’s going for your base under the Brights,” she said. “You have TeleCat’s Super Tele-Throne in storage – and since he’s still alive, it would still work.” She paused, taking a weak breath. “She sits on that thing and she’ll be able to throw her face on every active screen that is linked to the internet in the entire Northern Hemisphere at the same time, with no lag. It might suffice to let her power propagate through it – instant apocalypse.”

Brennus sighed. “Ah crap to the highest power.”

And then something strange happened. Gloom Glimmer just… slumped in Polymnia’s arms, the colour washing out of her, until… until she looked like someone had taken a scissor and cut a Gloom Glimmer-like shape into reality.

“What happened to Miss Perfect?” asked Bakeneko, only to earn a slap over the head by Amazon.

Polymnia answered the question everyone had: <It’s a kind of defense mechanism. If she’s knocked out or otherwise unable to defend herself anymore, her power uses its last reserves to kind of put her into a pocket dimension to protect her until she recovers. Right now, she’s just as untouchable as Desolation-in-Light. But she’s completely out of this world, save for this tether.> She nodded towards the featureless, three-dimensional void in her arms.

“Well, at least she’ll be safe,” sneered Rising Tide with a mocking tone.

Amazon threw Rising Tide a poisonous look, but did not rebuke him. “So, what do we do?” she asked into the round. Apparently, she was just as stunned as the others were. This was… quite a bit over their usual weight class.

Prisca turned to her: “How long until the Feral Family arrives?”

“How do y- nevermind, they’ll need at least another forty-five minutes.”

“Too long,” said Brennus. “But I have a different plan.” He looked all his erstwhile comrades over. “I will need all of your cooperation for it, just to make sure. And it will be really dangerous.”

“Not as dangerous as the end of the world,” said Prisca in support, gently bumping his shoulder with her fist.

He nodded, then turned to Polymnia: <Charge the S.M.O.G. up. We will need it for this.>

<Yes!>

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 6)

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I died. I died and went to hell. Why else would my first real enemy be a giant monster made of shit?

Prisca flew to the side, evading the… dripping strike. Unfortunately, she was not fast enough to evade the splash of fecal matter that splattered her all over.

Eww.

Running on a strange kind of instinct, Prisca rose up into the air and above the towering enemy (he – she, it? – was at least sixty feet tall) and then higher still, out of reach of its disproportionally long arms – they were each longer than it was tall.

I can fly, she thought with a start, feeling her heart speed up in excitement. For a moment, she forgot even the monster beneath as an unrestrained laugh bubbled out of her throat.

I can fly!

She spun on the spot, like a ballerina, her scarlet half-skirt whirling up around her.

I can’t wait to show this to mom! And Rosalind! Their eyes will drop out of their sockets!

Just then, a huge glob of fecal matter slammed into her.

Ewwww.

She was knocked out of the air, but caught herself quickly, as the brown stuff just slid off her armor without leaving so much as a stain.

Perma-Clean armor. Awesome.

Catching herself – it was incredible how easily she could control this body and its power, like it had always been there, just waiting to be used – she looked down at her quarry, evading another lobbed mass of fecal matter.

How do I fight that thing?

She wasn’t sure what to do – it was bigger than her, it was most probably stronger than her and she didn’t know how much punishment she could take. Or how it could backlash into her real body – any trauma, no matter how small, was quite likely to kill her.

Drifting to her right, she evaded another shot. The monster seemed to mostly focus on her now, hopefully allowing Gloom Glimmer to get the survivors to safety.

Should I attack it? Or just keep distracting it? Just float up here, evading its shots…

There was something… something Basil had said, once.

When you don’t know how to proceed, choose the option that involves doing something.

She aimed her spear at where she believed the center of the beast to be. Stretching her body out to aim directly at it like a missile, she flew towards it, the silver edge of her golden spear gleaming in the sun.

It looks more like a sword on a spear than a real spear, really.

BigShit threw another glob of shit at her, but she flew through without losing a beat and plunged into its chest.

Her spear pierced through the shit, of course, then bit into flesh and bone and tendons, parting them as she pushed inside. Only when her armored body hit its actual flesh did she slow down, but she swung the spear, parting flesh and bone and sinew, cutting a way through BigShit’s body until she emerged on the other side.

She wasn’t even tired, and her spear had cut through it like through warm butter.

This body is freaking awesome. This power is freaking awesome!

She was so lost in revering her own power that she didn’t evade BigShit’s elbow strike, and he smacked her into the ground several hundred feet away.

Landing with a crash, she tore a fissure into the ground and broke through a tree before coming to a stop.

Ow. That hurt. A lot.

But she was, as far as she could tell, unharmed. Weird. Felt like I broke something, only I… didn’t.

“Are you alright?”

“Eeep!” She jumped up from the ground as a soft voice spoke to her from outside her field of vision.

Whirling around, she levelled her spear at… a young woman in a black cowl and robe, with a blood-red right hand.

“Who’re you!?” she asked the newcomer.

The woman giggled, and Prisca adjusted her estimate of her age down to teenager – maybe around her own age.

“I’m Phasma, and I’m here to help. Who’re you?” she said, her voice throaty and soft. She talked like she was just taking a stroll on a sunny day, and not standing just a hundred feet away from the giant monster that was coming closer with every moment.

“Uhh, I’m…” She didn’t have a cape yet. She so needed a name for her… well, herself really. “Call me… Gilgul. Yes, that fits.”

The other girl nodded. “Nice to meet you, Gilgul.” She turned to look towards the enemy, her face still hidden by her cowl. “You can cut that thing apart?”

“Uh, yes. But it doesn’t seem to really hurt it.” BigShit had shown now sign of being bothered by having been pierced through.

“We’ve fought a few others who seemed to be able to just absorb damage to no end. Most of them had some manner of core which, once destroyed, caused their death – or at least caused their regeneration to stop working, allowing for them to be taken down,” said Phasma. “I can blast away the shit and the outer layer of its body. If you’re fast enough, you should be able to locate and destroy the core.”

She looked at the beast with a doubtful expression on her face (not that Phasma could see that behind the helmet). “What if it doesn’t have a core?”

Phasma shrugged carelessly. “Then we do it the hard way. You keep cutting it to pieces, I get rid of the pieces. Until there’s nothing left.”

“What’s your power, anyway?”

The other girl turned to look at her, and somehow Prisca got the feeling that she was smirking. “Let me demonstrate. Stand ready.”

And with that, her robe dropped to the ground, suddenly empty.

Prisca saw a distortion in the air, roughly the size of a person, fly towards the fecal monster. As it did so, it grew and grew, until it was an amorphous shape of distorted air the size of a truck. And then it touched their enemy.

Wherever it came into contact with it, the fecal matter exploded, going up in flames and sound and force. Phasma pushed on, drawing her ‘body’ over the outer layer of the beast, literally blowing the shit and other bits off of it.

Holy Sh- Holy Hell’s Freakin’ Bells.

Within seconds, Phasma had literally blown the shit out (or rather, off) the monster, revealing it in all its twisted glory – it looked like a gaunt human, only it was all crooked bones, oozing and infected muscles, sinews and incomprehensible organs.

But nothing that looked like a core of some sort.

“Phasma! Can you blow more off?” she shouted, readying her spear and ready to fly away – BigShit was staggered, but it was still advancing with single-minded determination.

Until Phasma wrapped around its right knee, her ghost-body blowing muscle, sinew and ‘fresh’ shit off the bones with dozens upon dozens of explosions, until the lower leg came free and BigShit dropped to land on its left knee and right stump.

I hope I never have to fight her. Wouldn’t know how, for one.

Phasma went back to blowing the outer layers off of its body, as well as the fecal matter it kept oozing out of countless orifices (as well as any wounds she created), searching for the theoretical core.

Should I join in and cut it up, or wait for her to reveal the core?

She thought about it for all of maybe three seconds, before she heeded Basil’s advice and charged in, aiming her spear at the twisted, oozing mass that was probably its head.

* * *

*Smack*

*Smack* *Smack* *Smack*

She danced through the lines, her staff swinging left and right, shattering bones and bursting flesh.

*Smacksmackmsack*

A three-fer, downing three of the strange spawns they were fighting, each looking like some kind of greasy pig-man. They could see their spawner, an incredibly obese woman with no hair on her body and blue-black veins running visibly under her swollen, greasy skin. She was literally pushing out another three or four or five of these every few seconds and her ‘children’ went immediately to work, attacking everything that was not one of them or their mother.

Tyche ducked underneath their swiping claws and swung her staff left and right, shattering two knees. They fell into their siblings, getting entangled in their feet, tripping the next two waves of foes.

Finally, it’s working as it should!

The big meatshield was standing behind her, firing his heavy machine guns akimbo into the mass of enemies, trying to shoot through to their ‘mother’. Unfortunately, the kids were defending her with their own bodies, while some others were moving cars and the bodies of their fallen siblings to shield her off.

Just when we’d need Outie, he’s off hunting that weird hedgehog thing.

She flipped over the next wave of pig-men just in time for them to stumble over the bodies of those who had already fallen.

Time to see how far I can take this.

Fortunately, B-Six had given her a belt full of grenades to play with (old-school, really secure triggers, nothing electronic). Pulling one off, she checked the colour – red, so incendiary fun.

Goodie goodie.

She pulled the trigger and threw the grenade up and towards the ‘mother’ without even aiming. Then she watched, while spinning around and letting the enemies all hit each other instead of her.

The grenade bounced off a nearby window sill, off a car hood and dropped right into the gullet of the ‘mother’.

“I hope you like roasted meat for dinner, little piggies!” she shouted. How’s that for a one-liner.

The mother died almost instantly, as the grenade burned her up in seconds.

And the pig-men all dissolved into goo.

Ewwww.

She turned to look at the Big Guy, who was walking slowly towards her.

“How’s that for a one-liner, big guy?” she asked with a grin.

Tartsche replied: “That was needlessly risky – you had no idea the grenade would hit your target.”

Tyche just grinned mysteriously. “Oh, I do have my means, big guy.”

Just then, Outstep appeared out of nowhere. “FreakoSpeedsterhasbeendispatchedbosswhatsnext?” he asked before even completely dropping out of super-speed completely.

“We just got reports of three new of Hastur’s victims rampaging around the harbor. Outstep, take us onto your bike,” Tartsche answered.

“Okie-dokie!” they both replied in tune.

* * *

“Why. Won’t. You. DIE!?”

Screaming at the top of her lungs, Prisca kept cutting off pieces from the giant monster, trying to get deeper into its body to find some kind of core. But it only flailed and wriggled and thrashed around, throwing her off again and again.

At the same time, Phasma had contracted her ghost-form back into a human-sized and human-like shape and was gliding all over its body wherever Prisca wasn’t currently cutting into it. The explosions she caused were bigger and more violent now, tearing more and more off the beast.

Prisca ducked to evade a swipe of its one remaining arm, then struck out with her spear-blade to cut into it, nearly severing the appendage from the body (but only nearly). Its other wounds were already closing again, shit oozing over them as they knit themselves.

“Phasma! This ain’t working, its regenerating faster than we’re cutting it down!” she shouted, flying up over the prone enemy to cut into its shoulder. “We gotta focus on one spot and try to dig into it! Don’t worry about me, just blast away!”

She dove into the center of its chest and started cutting, her golden armor repelling a weak strike of its still regenerating arm even as her blade cut into it. Once more, she was glad that her armor seemed to repel dirt.

The ghost girl seemed to have heard her – How the hack can she sense anything, anyway? ESP? – because her nigh-invisible form, still focused into the shape of a nude, featureless woman, slammed into BigShit right where she had already cut into it.

What resulted was a series of explosions that almost threw her off of it, but she used her flight to push on with her spear, cutting deeper into its body where the explosions did not suffice.

Ow. Ow. Ouch.

She got hurt, over and over, but she never seemed to actually take any damage. It hurt just as much as she’d imagine being blown around and burned by explosions would, but there was no actual damage she could make out.

Nor did it impede her from cutting deeper into BigShit, until Phasma focused her entire form into a needle-thin form and stabbed into it.

What resulted was an explosion that hurt like hell and threw Prisca off BigShit, slamming her into the wall of the hospital.

The wall cracked, but held (hospitals were built very sturdy) even as her head rang for just a second, before her senses were clear again as if nothing happened. And for just a moment, she felt like her body had been shattered, but she was fine again.

Huh. Maybe I just recover really damn fast?

But no time for that – Phasma had blown BigShit’s chest wide open, and now, finally, she could see a glowing, crystalline heart, glowing a dark, stained red.

Well, if that ain’t a core, then I’m not wearing knight armor, either.

She flew towards her quarry even as he started to regenerate while rising up on his regenerated legs… which only served to give her an easy target. Plowing into the open wound, she stabbed her spear at the he-

* * *

Ouch.

Perhaps she should have tried throwing her spear, instead of doing the deed in person. Because BigShit exploded, big-time.

It took the entire front of the Petal Memorial Hospital down.

Prisca found herself half-buried by rubble, everything but her stained with fecal matter.

And she was completely, utterly fine.

Still hurts like hell, though.

Hearing steps, she soon saw Phasma, back in her robe and cowl, enter her field of vision and stand over her.

“Need a hand?” she asked, offering her right hand.

“Gladly, thank you,” Prisca replied and grabbed it, letting her help pull her up to her feet. Dust and debries fell off of her still spotless armor. “Good work out there.”

“You too. I hope we can work together again sometime,” replied the ghost-girl. Prisca couldn’t see her face, but she got the feeling that she was smiling.

“Really great work, both of you,” said Irene, appearing right next to them.

“Eeeek!” they both shouted in unison, jumping up. In Prisca’s case, she flew up nearly through the half-collapsed ceiling before she stopped herself.

“Don’t do that!” she said as she floated back down. And then she saw Basil – Brennus – stand behind Gloom Glimmer, supporting himself on a wooden staff.

She fought down the urge to go and hug him (and do other things) in front of Phasma (and Gloom Glimmer, for that matter). Instead, she asked: “Are you alright, Brennus?”

He nodded. “Just a little winded, but nothing too bad. Congratulations on the battle, both of you. That was one hell of a finisher,” he replied.

Blushing beneath her helmet, Prisca nodded happily, while Phasma made a shallow little bow.

“So, what are we going to do now?” the newly manifested girl asked. And where’s my body?

“We need to find a way to deal with Hastur for good,” replied Brennus. “And for that, we need to figure out how to get past her regeneration.”

“Agreed. And we need to get the survivors somewhere safe, too,” Gloom Glimmer included, taking a step back and to the side, so they were all standing in a rough circle. “I’ve already called for backup, but we need to cover them until it arrives.”

The other three all nodded, and then Brennus spoke up again: “Good, let us use the time to plan. Phasma, are you willing to work with us for the time being?”

“I wouldn’t be here otherwise. The Morning’s Children are more than willing to cooperate against this enemy,” she replied in her soft voice.

“Very good. May I ask what your power actually does? I saw most of what you did out there, but I would like to hear it from you.”

She shrugged. “I can turn into an incorporeal form, then apply various effects – though only one at a time – to any physical object that I come into contact with. The more I focus my form, the stronger the effect, while it becomes weaker as I spread myself. I can detonate, incinerate, petrify, melt, shatter and do some other things which are not relevant to the situation at hand. I am completely immune to all mental and most physical powers while doing so and can recover even if my incorporeal form is somehow torn apart,” she explained in two breaths.

Wow. That’s one hell of a power, Prisca thought. I wonder what her trigger was.

Brennus just nodded, showing no reaction. Then again, his face was still hidden by his mask. “That’s very useful, and it might prove instrumental in de- Do you all hear that?” He looked up at the hole in the ceiling.

Now that he mentioned it, Prisca could pick up an odd, mechanical chirping approaching them.

“Oh. I know that one,” said Gloom Glimmer, looking up herself.

“What is i-” Prisca began but didn’t finish as a vaguely draconic robot flew into the blasted room, landing in the middle of the circle.

It was about the size of a medium-sized dog and painted a gleaming black. Its head looked more avian than draconic and it had wings, a tail and four clawed legs.

Even Prisca could tell that it was one hell of a finely crafted machine.

“What in Tesla’s name is that?” asked Brennus, staring at the new arrival.

“That’s one of Wyrm’s drones. She’s dad’s personal gadgeteer and communications officer (also, his spymaster),” replied Gloom Glimmer as she squatted down in front of the drone. “Hey Wyrm, what’s possessed you to take a hand in this?”

Wyrm’s drone turned to look towards the only clean, still standing wall of the room. Its eyes lit up, and it started projecting onto it, like a home cinema.

They watched in silence.

Then Gloom Glimmer said: “Holy shit. That’s it.”

Brennus said: “Amen.”

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 5)

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She will live.

Brennus staggered back from the bed, his whole body shaking from fatigue and pain from his own wounds.

“She will live,” he whispered, but that took too much effort and he stumbled as he was taking a step back, falling…

Someone caught him. Hard arms, and a strange voice: “Ba-“

He whirled around, drawing a knife from his belt.

In one fluid motion, he put one leg behind the stranger’s knee, threw them – her – onto the floor and put the knife to her throat, holding it so it would slip into the gap between her helmet and her armor.

“Who are you? How do you know me!?

I hope Gloom Glimmer did not catch that.

The stranger was a young woman in brilliant gilded armour so ornate, so skintight it had to be unnatural. It looked like something an angel or a heroine out of a videogame would wear, and the helmet, which seemed to leave no openings for her eyes sported wing-like decorations and a sunburst motif.

“B- Brennus, calm down! It’s me!” she said in a ringing, rather throaty voice. The helmet melted and disintegrated, revealing…

“P-Prisca?” What?

She smiled at him, her full red lips coloured like wine – like her hair. And somehow he did not think it was lipstick.

Then his brain finally caught up with what was happening.

“You manifested.”

He rose from his position, straddling her hips as he looked onto the bed. Gloom Glimmer had just finished removing the new scars on Prisca’s chest from the emergency operation he performed. She looked… asleep. Peacefully.

Looking back at the girl beneath him, he concluded: “A projection?”

“Quite so. And one of the rare kinds,” commented Gloom Glimmer as she staggered around the bed, sliding down to lean against it and sit next to them. “It feels more like she’s there,” She pointed at the armoured girl, “Than in there.” She pointed over her shoulder at the body on the bed.

“You mean, this is my real body!?” Prisca asked, looking confused. “But I can still feel that one!”

“Oh, it’s still your real body, Prisca. It’s just that, right now, it’s in standby mode, so to speak. Your mind is in that projection. Or maybe that projection is your mind, or something like that. But I definitely get the feeling that you are now… inbetween your boyfriend’s legs.” She cocked an eyebrow at them.

“Agh!” Brennus jumped off Prisca and scrambled over to lean against the wall, opposite of Gloom Glimmer. “Sorry!” The knife slid out of his fingers and fell to the floor.

Prisca blushed, hard (which looked all kinds of interesting in combination with her hair and lips and why was he paying so much attention to that all of a sudden?), and rose up to sit on her butt, her armor moving with her like a second skin, sliding over the linoleum of the floor. “N-n-not a problem. Wow. I feel…” She threw a glance at Brennus, blushing even more. It made her green eyes stand out even more from h- Cut it out, there is an S-Class threat running around out there! Focus on that, not on how impossibly tight that armor is around her-

He shook his head, weakly, to cut off that particular train of thought. “Alright. Alright. We need to… to get back to base. Get your real body safe, too. Hastur might c-come b-“

Suddenly, he had the sights from earlier in front of his eyes. Her eyes, bleeding, her whole body convusling as her heartbeat went out of control. Him, cutting into her chest, operating on her h-

He scrambled over to the trashcan next to her bed. Pulling the mask up beneath his nose, he emptied what little there was in his stomach into it.

“Ba- Brennus?” Prisca let go of her spear and crawled over to him, holding him by his shoulders. “Are you alright!? What can I do?”

“I… I…” His chest hurt so much… and his arms… and his legs… everything, really. “Tired…” The memories…

* * *

“B-Brennus! Hey, can you hear me!?” She shook his limp form. He was so light.

“Prisca, calm down!” Irene said, sliding over to them. Putting a hand to Basil’s chest, she closed her eyes for a moment. “He’s just asleep! Just exhausted! Calm down.”

She did, but only after a few seconds of getting her breathing back under control. “Oh God, I thought… I thought…”

Irene shook her head. “Just tired. He almost died today, fighting Hastur. I healed him, but it exhausted him a great deal, and then we raced over here.”

He’s hurt. He should be in bed, but he came for me, she thought, looking at him. She took a tissue from a box on her nightstand and wiped his mouth clean. He’s got such pretty lips… like a girl, almost. Like his sister’s.

But she didn’t want to have their first kiss with this body be like this. He had to be awake, for once. Instead, she turned to look at Irene, taking the other girl’s appearance – and presence – in for the first time.

If she hadn’t just literally gotten her dream body, she’d be crying due to physical envy. Irene was perfect, in a way that was just unnatural. She could be fourteen, she could be twenty-four.

“Oh, uh…” Why was her whole body – the new one, not the useless old one – heating up? She wasn’t interested in girls, she…

“Sorry! Sorry, wait!” Irene took a canister full of blue-and-white pills and swallowed a handful. The inexplicable attraction vanished almost immediately.

“What was that?”

Irene blushed, averting her eyes. Suddenly, she looked far younger than fourteen. “Uhm, nothing, sorry… uh, we should probably get going…”

As if on cue, there was a scream from somewhere outside. She could hear it, and she could even tell that it was from at least two foors above them. Her ears were so much better now.

“What do we do?” She pulled Basil closer to her, hugging him. He could die. I can still die.

Irene seemed to think it over for a moment. “I’m wiped. No way I’m teleporting us out of here or anything… you’ll have to cut us a way out of the hospital. I hope that spear is not just for show.”

They both looked at the spear. It looked very sharp.

“Uh, I’ve never fought before. Ever. Unless you want to count snowball fights with family and friends. And even that’s been years ago,” Prisca commented.

“Don’t worry too much. Your power seems to be geared towards combat, so you should be able to at least fight a way out,” Irene replied.

“What about my real body? We don’t know how far I can move away from it – and we can’t leave it here, either!” It’s still holding me back, even now. “And what about Brennus?” She hugged him a little harder. “And what about all the other people in the hospital?”

Irene’s eyes turned from thoughtful to soft. “Relax. I have something of a plan. We put Brennus onto the bed with your real body. I still have enough juice to turn us invisible. You cut every monster down on the way, we get out to the rescue services – even if the heroes are spread too thin, they’ll still have emergency services outside at least.”

Prisca could feel her new face twist in worry. It felt so familiar, and yet still a little strange, too. Focus, Prisca. Focus. “What about the other people in the hospital?”

Irene closed her eyes for a moment, concentrating. Then she opened them again. “Most of them are in the emergency shelters already, or getting evacuated by the rescue services. But we’re pretty much at the center of the building, so we have the longest way to go.”

Damn, mom, why did you put me into this damn room?

“Ok. Ok. I’ll put Brennus up on the bed. Gather the machines. Help me?”

“Sure thing.”

* * *

They left the room, Prisca taking the lead (helmet back up), while Irene pushed the bed that they’d loaded both with the two bodies (it felt strange knowing that Basil was lying with her, but she wasn’t really lying with him) and her life support. Her body’s life support. Wait, no. Still her own. If her broken body died, so would this one.

This one feels more real than the other one ever did since… since Hawaii.

Remembering her levitation from earlier, Prisca focused on that and flew over the floor in front of the invisible bed, levitating a few inches over the floor, her spear held ready.

Right around the next corner a… a person stepped around it. A thing, really. She saw crooked, insect-like legs, growing from a bulge of twisted, gnarled flesh studded with very, very human eyes.

The eyes were crying, filled with terror as it walked towards them, bumping into her armored waist before she managed to pull herself back together from the shock of the sight.

It bounced off, falling onto its… well, falling back down. Shivering.

She looked down at the impotent monster. That could have been me. That’s what Hastur wanted to do to me.

A great heat rose in her chest. Her body trembled, the spear vibrating, her new eyes overflowing with tears.

She wanted to do that to me. She did that to this person. She’s still doing this to people.

Before she even knew what she was doing, she realized she was screaming, striking out with the spear.

The long blade on the tip of the golden staff cut through the bulge of flesh as if it was warm butter, cutting the wretched creature in half.

Another strike, quartering it before it even hit the floor. Another. And another.

She was screaming, cutting it to pieces, until something barrelled into her, slamming her into the wall.

Ow. I can still feel pain in this body.

Trying to move, she found herself stuck in the wall, half-embedded into it, as she saw a twisted mass of over-muscled arms – skinless, bile-dripping arms – growing out of the back of a naked woman who was bent over by the weight of the appendages growing out of her back.

I’ve seen you before. She’d been a nurse. She’d seen her walk by her room sometimes when the door was open.

I never knew your name.

The arms reached out, ripping her out of the wall and drawing her into a bearhug.

Well, she tried to, at least.

It all came so easy. As if she’d always had this body, had always been fighting with the spear and in full, skintight armor.

Angling her arm up, she drove the spear into the nurse’s head, cutting through brain and heart using her forced posture and the pull of the monstrous arms.

The woman sighed and collapsed, her whole body going limp.

Rest in peace.

As if in a trance, Prisca kicked the corpses – and the pieces – aside so Irene could pass through, noting idly that the bile and blood did not stick to her armor. It was pristine again, quickly enough.

“Alright. Alright. Let’s go, go, go…”

She flew on down the hall, until she heard a massive scream outside.

“What in the name of God was that?” she asked, coming to a dead stop.

Suddenly, she felt like earlier when she’d been dying, Irene’s voice speaking up in her head. Calm down and advance. We need to get out of here. You’re doing great, sweetheart, just keep on going.

“I hope there’s not another shit-monster outside,” she whispered and advanced.

On the way out, twelve more people, including five children, joined them, with Irene extending her invisibility over them.

She had to cut down one more monster, a kind of snake made of intestines and p… and primary male characteristics.

Great. My first day as a super-something – well, I’m not gonna be a villain, so superhero I guess – and I fight a monster made of… of those things. Can my day get any worse?

Finding a double door, she kicked it open, barging outside – hopefully, no one would open fire on her, even if she was pretty sure she could take normal guns. The… male reproductive organ monster had been firing steel bolts from its… well, its openings.

Taking a look around, she wished she’d have gotten shot at. Or fought another phallus-monster.

“Oh, come on! Is this my first boss fight!?”

It was big. It was massive. And it was made of shit.

Oh God, another one of those? What t- oh fuck, it’s the same one. It must have regenerated somehow. BigShit is back.

“Who named that thing BigShit? If I ever find them, I’ll shove this spear all the way up their-“

The dung kaiju turned to her, moving slowly towards her, apparently intent on crushing her – and the still invisible people behind her – to a bloody (and shitty) pulp.

My day just keeps getting better and better.

Tell me about it, Prisca. By the way, what’s your cape gonna be?

Uh, no idea. Gonna get back to you about that once I finish cleaning the toilet.

Please try and come up with better one-liners.

Will do.

I’m getting the civilians – as well as you and Brennus – out of here. Can you distract it until help arrives?

Sure, sure.

She could hear them go away, just as BigShit reached her and swung a massive arm at her.

Fuck my life.

Previous | Next

B007.a A Dream of Knights

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“I’m truly sorry, Madam, but there is nothing we can do,” the elderly doctor said with a grief-stricken face. “The damage is too extensive, and we have no idea what kind of toxin was used during the attack.”

“What do you mean, you have no idea? Can’t you, can’t you, can’t you,” her voice broke and she sobbed into a purple silken handkerchief, “Can’t you take a blood sample? From her or… from one of the others?”

He shook his head, looking down at the younger woman, who was sitting in the waiting room. On any other day, she would have looked regal, beautiful and full of life – he had seen her quite a few times before, as she was one of the main benefactors of the Petal Memorial Hospital. “Whatever it is, it breaks down once removed from its living host – including breaking down immediately once a victim dies. We’re not even sure if its a real toxin, or a bacteria, or a virus or maybe something contrived. I’m truly sorry, but there’s nothing we can do at this p-“

“What about the United Heroes!?” she spoke up, half shouting and half begging. “They have, they have healers, gadgeteers, contrivers! Or a private one, I have money, I can pay any price, will pay any price!” She broke down into sobs again.

He squatted down in front of her, despite his protesting knees, looking up into her reddened eyes. “We will, of course, make inquiries. The United Heroes have already offered their support, and they have their best minds working on this. I don’t know about the private sector, but you are of course welcome to try and find someone – though I would suggest you be careful about some of the people who’ll offer to ‘help’ your little girl. And please keep in mind that powerful healing powers are very, very rare – there might not be anyone who can help her, considering the severity of her ailment.”

She nodded, though he could tell she wasn’t really listening. Instead, she stood up and walked towards the large window that looked into the room her daughter lay in. She’d been put under anaesthesia while they tried to save her life, but it didn’t seem to work – she was half-awake and in pain. Crying and screaming. Fortunately, her mother couldn’t hear her, because he didn’t know how she’d react if she could.

Long, expertly manicured nails scraped over the glass. “Can’t you do anything? Give her anything, so she won’t hurt?”

“We’ve tried every anaesthetic in our store – whatever ails her, or the other victims, it seems to break down whatever we give her.” It was maddening. They couldn’t treat these poor people – that, they’d had practice in. Medicine so often failed them in this world, especially when metahumans were involved. But not even being able to relieve the pain? When nearly three fourth of the surviving victims were children?

No one prepared you for that at med school.

“Can I go in? Maybe I can calm her down,” she said desperately.

Oh boy. “I’m sorry, but no, madam. Quarantine protocols, until we know whether or not the… ailment is not contagious.”

“I need to be there for her,” the young mother whispered. Then her whole posture dissolved, and she slid down onto her knees, crying.

I’m so sorry.

* * *

Hurts.

Her chest felt like it was on fire, her heart felt like it had exploded and kept exploding. She felt bile rise in her throat and other things, too, as she choked and spit and tried to calm herself.

Too late, too late, all too late…

Dimly, she heard screams and sounds of fighting outside.

Right, if Hastur came here and showed her face…

She couldn’t bring herself to care as her body trashed around. How long had this attack lasted already? Three, four seconds? It felt like years.

Wait, if there are monsters outside the door, maybe they’ll put an end to this…

Had Hastur left the door open? She couldn’t remember hearing it fall closed, but then again, she was quite distracted…

Basil wouldn’t want me to think like that.

More pain, and then a novel feeling – the muscles in her calves snapped her bones, adding a novel new sensation to the mix. She would have screamed if her throat was not already torn from doing so, and filled with bile and blood.

Basil…

She’d thought he would save her. She was sure he would have. But now time was running out faster than they’d expected.

Mama…

She wouldn’t take her death well. She’d changed, after dad and Tom had died. Prisca couldn’t remember seeing her smile, at least not honestly.

Roselind.

Her stupid older sister, always busy, always up and away. She’d tried to be there for her after Hawaii, but she’d had to live her own life, too. She was studying at the Silicon Valley Institute for Technology, one of the youngest baselines to ever attend.

Basil’s smarter, though.

Someone broke through the door. But of course, she couldn’t see. Monsters? Maybe. Though this was also the perfect time for a knight in shining armor to show up.

Basil’s armor doesn’t shine, though.

And who else would ever come for her? Apart from her mother, if she was even in the same state. She was always somewhere, on her way. Doing stuff.

Voices, two of them. Then, warmth on her chest. The pain lessened.

Other hands, familiar ones. Basil. She’d gotten really good at learning how to recognize people by any means available – she had so little to do, so she studied every and any small thing she could think off, just to kill time.

I can pick locks like nobody’s business, you know? I’m great at ventriloquism, too.

Who was she talking to? The pain further subsided, but she could still feel her heart tearing itself apart. It just didn’t hurt anymore.

Who are you? Why are you helping me?

It wasn’t Basil who’d taken the pain away. No, he was… he was doing something. Cutting. Trying to save her. Someone else had taken the pain away, was calming her heart down.

It wasn’t working.

I’m so sorry, I’m trying my best!, came a strange voice. A girl, and a young one, it seemed. She didn’t sound quite human – and she talked right into her head.

I appreciate it, though. Don’t feel bad, no one can help me, anyway. Not even Basil.

Basil? Your boyfriend?

There wasn’t any pain now, at all. She could still feel herself choking, her heart killing itself. The broken bones in her leg, the pinched nerves…

Yes. He’s great. But I don’t think he can save me now, either. He’ll try, but he won’t.

Ah. Him. Who knows, he might just do it. And I’m here to help you.

She felt like laughing.

Thank you, but it’s alright. I knew I wouldn’t live long, anyw-

Stop talking like that. How about you tell me more about Basil? How did you meet?

That… was something nice to think about. She was going to die, she might as well think about something pleasant.

We met online. Don’t have any friends left, I’ve been in here for too long. Just some people I chat with, every now and then.

Don’t really have any friends, either. Made my first one just a short while ago.

Then you know how it is. But anyway, we met online, and we got talking. And I guess… he wasn’t funny, but he was… funny in the way he was just so clueless. Innocent, like a little child, really.

Uhu?

Yes, so I got to know him better. And then I let it slip that I lived in New Lennston, too. And somehow, don’t ask me how, he convinced me to let him visit.

You don’t like visitors?

I don’t like people seeing me. At all. I’m ugly.

Debatable. But pray continue!

He came here, and I was so nervous, so afraid he’d just… go away. And then he came in, and… and…

What? Love at first sight?

No… no, not really. I don’t know. I don’t remember when exactly we went from friends to… you know. The other kind of friends. I just know that… I don’t know. I don’t know how we got together, really, it’s just that…

That what?

We… it felt like… we were falling. We were both falling, and we kind of… fell together, you know? Does that make any sense?

A new sensation, as if someone was reaching into her chest, somehow.

I don’t know. I’m really not an expert with these things, you know? I can’t even tell the difference between wanting to hug someone and wanting to have sex with them.

Sounds icky.

It is. Unbelievably so… you promise to keep this a secret?

What?

What I’m going to tell you. A secret.

Oh. Sure. Dead people are really good at that.

You’re not going to die. Will you keep it even while alive?

You’re delusional. But ‘kay. Okay. I’ll keep it.

One time, I kind of spied in on my parents… you know. And I… tried to… you know… join in.

Oh. My. God. That bad?

That bad. Dad only made it worse.

How so?

Well, he knew it freaked my mom out, so he acted like he liked the idea – for the record, he didn’t, at all – just to drive her crazy. Tried to ‘convince’ her to try it out.

What did she do?

She punched him so hard he made a crater down in the basement – after breaking through four floors. Ever since then, they’ve always been using their powers to make sure I couldn’t even look in.

Hehe. Serves him right. He sounds like a jerk.

Probably. But mostly, he just likes to drive people crazy.

Sounds like a jerk.

More of a troll, really.

A jerk.

True, I guess.

Hey, can I ask you something?

Sure.

Want to be my friend? I’d like to have at least one more friend before I die.

You’re going to have lots of friends before you die, you’ll see. And I’ll be happy to be the first of many – not counting Basil, who is really doing his best right now to make sure you’ll have more.

Great. I’m Prisca. Nice to meet you.

My name’s Irene. Glad to make a friend – I’m up to a glorious two, now.

Me t-

* * *

She was falling again, just like… just like back then. When she’d met Basil.

Is this dying? I hear some people saying that love can feel like dying, but is it really this close?

Darkness. No sensations.

A light in the sky. Then more. And more.

Billions of lights.

Calling her.

No. Let me sleep. Let me rest, please. I just want the pain to end.

She hadn’t wanted Hastur to do to her… whatever she did to people. But she’d also hoped – she was only now realizing it – that she’d end the pain for her.

That way, she wouldn’t have to feel guilty, right? If someone like that killed her?

The stars were growing brighter by the second.

Two were really close.

There was only void around them. Except… there were some stars close, but out of sight. Behind her?

She couldn’t turn, so she looked at the stars in front of her. They were here, now.

One looked… twisted. A twilight world, half-formed and wretched, but still beautiful.

Irene. That’s you, right? Are you hurt?

The other one… it looked more like strands of light and mist, drawn together in a haphazard star shape. Many little pieces, held together by… by nothing, really. Just kind of holding together, glowing bright and white as something black and fast raced across them.

Basil, that you? I knew you were falling, too, but are you really this hurt?

She had always felt like there was something wrong. Like, somehow, somewhere deep inside, he hurt just as much as she did.

Maybe worse.

And I hated it. Then I learned to love it. Made feel good, to try and help you feel better.

It was over now. The stars were fading.

Only darkness remained.

* * *

Only darkness, and three strands of light. Like thin hairs, glowing, leading… up? Away?

Back.

No. It was over.

Yes.

She was dead.

Yes.

Basil had failed. Irene had failed, whoever she was in the end.

Yes.

He’d feel bad. Blame himself.

Yes, he will.

He already felt bad enough as it was. Even if she had no idea why.

Yes.

Did she have to die?

Yes.

Did she have to die now?

No. Call back the Light.

She touched the three strands of light, pulling.

Come to me, she thought.

Come. Come. I call you, come here. To me.

She pulled and pulled.

And through the darkness, a star fell down, drawn by the strands of light.

It fell… in front of her.

And suddenly, in its light, there was a her. She looked down herself. Thin, wasted. Broken and ugly.

But her.

The star had fallen a few feet away, burning like childrens firework, singing.

She couldn’t hear the melody, or any kind of sound, but she knew it was singing.

Do I want that?

She knew if she took up the star, there would be no going back. She would change.

Maybe not for the better.

I have a choice. I could turn away, right?

Yes.

What do you want me to do?

Whatever you do.

Who are you?

Just you.

Oh.

Look.

Someone stepped into the circle of light, on the opposite side of the star.

She was gorgeous. Tall, almost as tall as Basil. Her skin perfect, lily white. Her form full, luscious but slender, dancer and a lover all in one. Long red hair, soft waves coloured like aged wine that fell down to her butt. Lips, full and pouty, of the same colour.

Brilliant green eyes, almost glowing.

Mom?

No, she spoke. Just you.

Who she always wanted to be and more.

That body was so strong. Stronger than she would ever be.

I can be you?

You already are.

She bent down, slowly, and lifted the star with both hands, holding them out to her palms up.

Chose. You can go back. Or you can fall. One is peace. One is pain.

I don’t want any more pain. But I have to, don’t I?

The choice is yours. Afterall, you’re saying this to yourself.

I see.

She stepped closer, reaching out.

Please, let me fly.

She touched the star.

* * *

She was walking along a dark, long road, lined with old, large trees and absolutely covered in snow. It wasn’t cold, even though she was naked.

Next to her, another girl. Young, younger than her. Preteen, she’d guess.

A cute girl, with straight black hair and warm brown eyes. But she was so thin. Dressed in layers upon layers of cast-off clothing, none of it fitting.

They were walking towards a big mansion that stood apart from any other building. A tall wall was built around it, but she knew that the girl knew a way in. A breach in the wall no one had cared to patch up.

They snuck in together and made their way for the side entrance of the mansion.

Large dumpsters stood there, old and heavy.

The whole place looked old. Nothing like any building Prisca knew.

The little girl opened one of the dumpsters, climbing up to look inside.

Why are you doing this? It’s filthy! she tried to say, but couldn’t speak.

Then, a door nearby opened. The girl jumped off the dumpster and ran to a nearby bush, hiding behind.

An old man stepped outside, dressed in warm, but simple clothing. A thick jacket and a wool cap that looked handmade. And expertly so.

He was really old. Thin. White hair and beard, clean and neat, but somehow dishevelled. Like he had people who took care of it, but didn’t care himself.

“Look, sweetheart, I know you don’t trust us, but you need to get out of the cold!” he said, looking at the bush.

The girl tensed up, shivering. He’d seen her! What if he knew how often she stole from their trash?

“C’mon, sweetie, I know you’re there. You’ve been coming here all this time, and you ran away every time one of us tried to talk to you!”

He knew. Where were the others? The thin blonde girl, the tall scary man with the hooknose?

Were they sneaking up on her? She looked around frantically, mortified.

What if they gave her back to the orphanage? She didn’t want to go back, never!

“Look, little girl, we won’t hurt you. Fact, the sir and the miss are off for their work. C’mon, you know we’ve been trying to help you.”

They had, hadn’t they? There had always been a lot to eat here, in the dumpsters. Wrapped in oily paper, clean and uneaten.

At first she’d thought they just threw it all away, but…

She’d eaten better in the month she’d been stealing food from here than in her entire life beforehand.

There’d even been sweets in the trash, carefully packaged. And one time, someone had put a cup of a hot brown drink next to the dumpster, shielded from the snow. She drunk it without thinking, it smelled so delicious.

“Little girl, please. Ol’ Jake is freezing here. Means you got to be freezing even worse. The miss and the mister made food for us all, there’s more than enough to get your little tummy full. And then you can have a bath, and something nice to sleep in, and a bed. We got lot’s’a empty beds, nowadays.”

It sounded so nice. But what if they wanted to hurt her? People were mean.

“Little one, please, come in. You’ll freeze to death out there! C’mon in, everything’s golden!”

He looked like he was suffering, Prisca noted. He really wanted to help this girl he didn’t even know.

It took nearly ten more minutes for the little girl to finally get out of the bushes and walk up to the tall, old man. She looked suspicious, but also hopeful. Or maybe just tired.

‘Jake’ smiled and led her in. Prisca followed, and saw a feast inside. Whoever this Miss was, she was an awesome cook.

The little girl looked at Jake, who smiled and nodded, and then she pretty much jumped onto the table.

Tears came to Prisca’s eyes as she watched the little girl break down sobbing while stuffing herself against all common sense. Jake tried to make her slow down, but she wouldn’t listen.

She hadn’t eaten anything warm for so long. Never anything so tasty.

Prisca watched her almost fall asleep after eating, but Jake took care of her. He bathed her (it broke her heart to see such a thin girl), dressed her, put her to bed.

The girl was crying now, but the old man just held her hand and sang her a lullaby.

And then the world went white.

* * *

The world exploded into light, catapulting Prisca away from the scene. Out of the mansion, which was swallowed up by the light.

She couldn’t tell for how long the pillar of light remained, but it burned away all the clouds in the sky, blasted them away.

There was only a crater left where the mansion stood just moments ago.

For just a second, she saw Jake, old and thin, then young and strong, then older and stronger, then a baby, then a child, then a corpse, then a teen and then… he vanished, flickering away.

She saw the little girl, her thin body curled up as an invisible force carried her to snow pile beyond the crater, shaping it into a kind of half-cave that it left her in.

And she saw a bright star rising, as a beast of darkness screamed and howled and cried.

* * *

Prisca opened her eyes.

She was back in the hospital room, standing at the foot of the bed. Looking at Basil and Irene – Gloom Glimmer – bent over a thin, ugly scarecrow, trying to save her.

Heard the weak, calming heart of the scarecrow. She was alive again. Basil hadn’t failed.

Strange. I’m here, aren’t I? Why bother with that?

She looked down her own body. It was… beautiful. Perfect. Everything she ever dreamed of, and then some.

And it felt good. Strong, fast, tough. Healthy. She was horny as all hell, but now she knew it wouldn’t kill her to act on it.

And her senses. Gone was the dull mist that lay over everything. She could see and hear and smell. She tasted her own mouth and it was glorious. She felt the cold floor beneath her bare feet, and it was glorious.

No pain there. Her body didn’t hurt at all.

Suddenly, a shout bubbled out of her throat. She threw her head back and screamed her joy out to the world, startling Irene.

The young metahuman turned around, looking at her in bewilderment. Then at her old, useless body.

Basil was too focused on saving that worthless piece of meat.

That worthless, broken, tainted, changed hull…

A hull that was still alive. Breathing. Feeling.

She could feel some of her old pain, as if through a kind of misty lens.

I’m asleep. And this… this is a dream.

She looked down at her perfect body.

Ah. Aha. Ha. Hahaha.

She’d gotten her wish. Her feet had risen a few inches off the floor.

Glimmers of golden and silver light formed around them, merging into… into boots. Greaves.

Golden and silver glimmers formed gathered around her, forming into gilded armor. Even a helmet that closed around her head, but did not obscur her vision nor her hearing.

Haha.

She held a spear, taller even than her new body, and a big round shield, both golden in her hands.

Hehehe. Everything’s golden, for sure.

She looked at the body on the bed. it was asleep, still. Basil was looking at her, his face hidden behind his mask.

Haha. I got it. I got it.

She was whole, and strong, and free, and healthy.

Except not.

Her laughter shook the room.

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