I’m not dead.
Relief surged through Basil as he processed that thought.
Then he opened his eyes – and saw only darkness. Followed by a female groan to his left, and a cough to his right.
The buildings fell on top of us, he remembered. But they were still alive. He didn’t know how just yet, but first things first.
He tested his body, clenching and unclenching his hands, rolling his ankles. Everything seemed to be in working order. There were no new pains, leaving him only with the splitting headache curtesy of barely dodging Crocell’s blast.
With a flick of his fingers, he activated several lights all over his armor, illuminating his surroundings.
At first, he only saw dust. Lots and lots of dust, choking the air, which explained the coughs around himself.
Before he could do anything about it – not that he really had many options – the dust began to move, swirling and gathering into a single clump about the size of a football.
Without it to block sight, his lights could reveal the exact nature of his predicament.
He was in a small cavern created by the collapsing buildings smashing into each other and onto them. Somehow, through sheer happenstance, they had collapsed, broken and ground against each other in such an absurdly lucky sequence that it ended up forming a safe room around the three of them.
His armor wasn’t even nicked.
This can’t be just luck, he thought quietly, turning his head left and right. The woman in brown and Tyche were coughing and spitting out black globs of dust, but otherwise seemed as unharmed as he felt. Still, best to check.
“Are you two alright?” he asked as he got up. The cavern was just barely big enough for even him to stand, though his hood brushed against a desk that’d somehow gotten stuck in the new roof above.
The woman in brown spit out another glob of spit and dust, then coughed roughly, clearing her throat. “Quite alright… against all expectations.” Her voice stood in marked contrast to her understated costume, a pleasant contralto with a midwestern accent he couldn’t quite place.
“I feel amazing, actually,” Tyche replied with a chirpy voice, not bothering to sit up. “Apart from the whole buried alive and mouth full of dust thing, that is.” She turned her head to look at Basil. “What about you, B-Six?”
“Worst I have is a headache,” he said as he inspected the cavern more closely. “I can not see an easy way out, though…”
“There are five airways leading to the outside,” the woman in brown said. “But none of them is big enough to fit even a sparrow, much less a human or three.”
“How can you tell?” The prone girl asked.
“She wields some manner of aerokinesis,” Basil couldn’t help but interject. “Earlier wh-“
“No exposition!” Tyche cut him off. “She has aerokinesis. Don’t need a whole lecture.”
He grumbled under his breath, his back to her as he rapped his knuckles against a particularly sturdy-looking piece of concrete. “We’ll have a hard time getting out of here,” he said bluntly.
Just then, there was an earth-shaking impact, and a roar so loud, they heard it through the rubble.
Tyche cried something out, but it was lost in the scream and the deafening rumble of their little cavern shifting, collapsing, furniture and concrete coming undone to fall…
All around the three of them, without so much as a splinter touching them. When the cacophony and the dust subsided, they found themselves beneath the open sky, the fallen building having literally split open around them.
They didn’t have time to process the situation too well, though, because right after that, a huge, jet-black figure flew over them and slammed into the rubble just a few metre away.
It was Kraquok, in all his twisted, monstrous glory, having just smashed into the already broken rubble only to crush it further. He was bigger than the last time they’d seen him, having grown by at least half a metre in height, and several times that in length.
Before the many-armed monster could rise, Crocell leapt over them as well, landing on him with a deafening boom.
The two immediately began to wail on each other, one savagely, the other with an uncanny grace – for all his twisted form and size, Kraquok was a veteran fighter, and though Crocell was larger and stronger, not to mention standing atop him, he quickly reversed their positions, wrestling the beast into a submission hold, clinging to its back.
Basil didn’t have time to watch what came next, though, as a strong wind picked him and Tyche up, whirling them around the woman as she flew them away from the fight, causing him to lose line of sight for a few dizzying seconds. His ravenbots were still en route, and so could not help him right now.
When they were deposited, it was on the pavement two streets away, out of sight from the battle.
“We ought to be safe for at least a bit, here,” the woman said, bent over with her hands on her knees as she was trying to catch her breath. “My name is Nightingale, by the by. A pleasure to meet you, Brennus, Tyche.”
“You know our names?” Tyche asked in surprise, while Basil studied the woman more closely. Nightingale was not exactly a big name, but he’d read her name in a list of veteran villains – she’d been active for at least three decades by now.
The woman smiled at them, the skin aroudn her lips crinkling into laughter lines. “I’m something of a fan of bird-themed capes and cowls, and try to keep up with any new ones. Call it a hobby.” Suddenly, her smile turned into a frown, as she gave Basil a stern look. “I do hope those birds are actually robots and not some poor animals you’ve experimented on.”
“Is this really the t-” Tyche began, but Basil waved her off.
“They’re simple drones. I used Peregrine’s winged-flight design from Toybox and stuck it on an articulate Raven-shaped chassis, that’s all.”
She went back to smiling, clapping her hands together happily. “Oh, very good! That’s a weight off my chest.”
“Alright, enough with the geek-talk!” Tyche cut in. “What should we do next? Tall, powerful and ugly is still out there tearing up the town!”
“Right,” Basil admitted, focusing on the situation at hand again. Which immediately reminded him of something he should’ve done minutes ago, the moment he’d realised it. “Brennus to central,” he contacted them through the device he’d linked to his own com suite, “Crocell appears to be specifically going after my teammate Tyche.”
Father Manus’ cultured voice, practiced by years of preaching to his congregation, replied, though it sounded weaker than when he had spoken to the gathered capes and cowls before the fight. “Please elaborate, my son.”
“Crocell has repeatedly pursued my teammate, directing its attacks towards her and even ignoring immediate threats in favour of lashing out at her,” he explained.
“One moment,” the preacher replied.
Basil turned to Tyche. “Let’s hope they figure out how to use this.”
“Use… Oh, like, using me as a bait?” she asked, first stunned, then grinning.
He nodded, just as he was contacted again. This time, he made sure to patch Tyche into the connection.
“Brennus, we’ve confirmed your claim,” Father Manus said. “All our analysts agree that it’s accurate.”
“Well, duh, B6 wouldn’t lie about that!” Tyche cut in with a snort, before Basil could cut her off.
“Of course, please excuse the implication – I did not mean to insult anyone,” the holy man replied smoothly, never missing a beat. “It is good you are listening in – would you be willing to coordinate with us so as to maximise the distraction you appear to be to Crocell in our favour?”
Tyche crossed her arms and rolled her eyes, not that Manus could possibly see that. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. What’d you need me to do?”
“Splendid, my child!” he replied warmly, making her look… embarrassed? No, that wasn’t it, and Basil didn’t know how to parse the emotion that ran across her face and posture. “I shall send a flier to pick you up at your current location, along with an escort.”
“I can take her,” Nightingale spoke up, as if she’d been listening the whole time.
Aerokinesis… she probably can listen in on any conversation within her range, Basil noted, filing it away for future reference. Note to self, determine maximum and possible minimum range.
Father Manus must’ve heard her, too, because next, he spoke through the communicator on her belt, and told her where to take Tyche.
The redhead turned to Basil, meanwhile, and smiled. “Guess I’m going on a solo adventure, B6.” In spite of her bravado, she couldn’t quite surpress her nervousness.
“Do not hog all the loot,” he said, reaching out to put an armored hand on her shoulder, giving her as gentle a squeeze as he could through his own and her armor. “And stay safe.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m always safe, B6. You know that. You’re the one I’m worried about, so please don’t get yourself torn and broken – like last time.”
“I shall. Now go and do your job – I’ll do mine.” He let go of her just as Nightingale summoned a gust of wind that picked them both up.
Tyche saluted him casually before they flew out of sight beyond an office building.
Basil looked in that direction for a few moments, before he looked around. The street was now deserted, the fight having moved further on.
I wonder what I can do, he thought quietly as he triggered his grappling gear, catapulting himself up onto the tallest rooftop within reach. So far, nothing I have done has had any measurable effect on this fight whatsoever. Aside from keeping Tyche alive, but that was probably her power at work, not me.
He saw a dustcloud rise, several blocks away, and the unmistakable sound of the battle continuing, and immediately took a running start, leaping off the rooftop towards it.
His grappling system kicked in, swingning and throwing him towards it as he handled the controls. Even so, he’d grown used to the system by now, and could operate it casually enough to let him continue contemplating his role in this.
Without his ravens – there were only two left – he could no longer serve that well as overlook or Search and Rescue, at least not to a meaningful degree; while his medical training (of unknown origin) was easily up to performing heavy-duty surgery, that wasn’t really an option on a battlefield, nor necessary at the base camp, where actual healers and certified surgeons were available. Nor could he transport the injured, his grappling system put too high a stress on the bodies it moved, and wasn’t calibrated to transport a whole other person over a large distance, much less safely so.
His rifle, meanwhile, had proven completely ineffective by any standards. He might as well just have thrown stones at the thing, it was that much of a waste of effort.
Basil was still in thought when he swung upon a dust-covered four-storey office building with a tipped-over neon sign on top, and got a good look at the battle below.
Crocell was ringing with Kraquok, their huge bodies locked in a brutal struggle, as capes and cowls with ranged powers pelted the monster whenever they had free shot.
Then, Crocell managed to wind itself out of Kraquok’s grip, moving as if its bones had temporarily turned into water, and got a grip on one of his leftside arms, wringing the supervillain down to the ground.
As Basil watched, it stepped on his back and tore at his arm, ripping it free of its socket in a massive spray of blood.
Kraquok roared, but it wasn’t in pain – it was in triumph, as the stump almost immediately stopped bleeding and new flesh began to grow out of it.
While Crocell was throwing the giant arm it had ripped free away, a new one grew in its place, easily half again as long and thick as the one lost.
The twisted supervillain planted his new, oversized hand on the ground, as the growth began to spread from the stump like super-fast cancer; first the shoulder bulged, irregularly, then the other arms, the neck, the torso proper, and so on, his monstrous body growing to one-and-a-half times its previous size in irregular fashion, the process tumultous enough to make Crocell lose its footing and fall off of him.
Basil watched, fascinated, as the enlarged Kraquok rose to his full height, drawing himself up as his upper body twisted around to face his foe. Both of his faces were grinning in savage bloodlust as he opened his lower, crocodile-like mouth, drawing in air.
He knew what was coming – he’d heard a lot about it, even seen some spotty recordings online, but none of them had shown it in its entirety.
A dark red glow appeared in the back of Kraquok’s throat, and within his chest, pulsing with every heartbeat – in fact, judging by the location and shape of the glow in his chest, which could be seen even through his thick skin and armor-like scales, it was literally his heart that was glowing – as he seemed to take a deep breath, drawing himself further up onto his hind legs.
Then he bent forward, and his power exploded out of him in a wave of crimson, almost blood-like fire that washed over Crocell and everything around and further behind it, creating a cacophonous sound like water suffused with enough waste to make it thick, rushing over sharp stones, breaking. Wherever the crimson flames touched, things did not burn – instead, they withered, aged, rotted away, from the plants it touched to streetlights and even the concrete itself, quickly being reduced to dust.
Basil could not tell what, if any, effect the Mortal Coil, as it was often called, had on Crocell – but he sincerely doubted it was a pleasant one. There was a whole thread on Toybox populated by people trying to analyze the properties of Kraquok’s greatest offensive weapon; all anyone had been able to determine was that it actually aged whatever it touched, somehow accelerating the passage of time for any matter or energy it came into contact with. It decayed super-tough armor, force-fields, energy beams, defenses based on strange, sometimes even abstract mechanisms – in short, it could penetrate most any defensive measures available to most anyone; it’s only flaw being that he had to hit a certain minimal size before he could employ it in the first place.
Which he’d obviously just done, because he was pouring it out all over Crocell. It was a focused breath, too, with only minimal collateral damage.
The buildings around the two of them were already falling apart, aging decades, maybe centuries, wherever the slightest ember touched them, introducing numerous faults within their structures.
One of Basil’s ravens saw Hecate approach, as her shadow form landed just a few metre away, resolving into her costumed form. Basil was focused on the display of power in the distance (he was curious, but not stupid enough to try to get closer in order to get some better readings), but he lifted a hand to greet her, show that he had noticed her approach.
She came to a halt standing next to him and briefly touched his hand, trading a reassuring squeeze.
Her hands were drenched in blood up to the forearms. He did not inquire – if she wanted to share the story behind that, she would.
“Reminds me of my aging fire,” she spoke instead, her voice betraying weariness. “Though I don’t think I could ever make it that powerful.”
“It is certainly humbling,” he replied. “Neither your nor my defenses would be of any use against it and it would most likely burn away Gilgul’s time in an instant, unless her power somehow renders her immune to it.”
She nodded, as they watched Kraquok’s breath peter out. A few seconds later, they could see Crocell on the ground. Its skin was gone, exposing muscle and sinew – or at least, what appeared to be such, because it all seemed to be made of the same, uniform, pale white material as the rest of its body, from its bones to its softest organs. Pale, water-like fluid was flowing all out of it, pouring on the ground below.
And it was still moving, rising to its feet with no visible change to its speed or dexterity, even though at least forty percent of its legs and arms were gone. Its eye was gone, but that didn’t seem to impede it at all as it swung a bubbling, rapidly regenerating fist at Kraquok’s head, knocking the surprised villain over.
His heavy form toppled and crashed onto the street behind him, jaw broken for a few seconds before it fixed itself, growing slightly in size and said increase spreading throughout his entire form.
Crocell was absolutely dripping bubbles as its entire front regrew, stepping forward as it reached for the prone villain.
Then a mighty roar that reminded them both of nothing so much as a certain beloved movie trilogy filled the air as a massive figure leapt onto a rooftop adjacent to the street the fight was taking place on, and from there onto Crocell’s back.
“The hell is that!?” Hecate exclaimed in surprise, as giant claws dug into Crocell’s hide for purchase, while razor-sharp teeth bit into its neck.
“Oh my… that is the Ultrasaurus Megarex!” Basil exclaimed in glee. “I did not know Totemic had hunted it down!”
The huge beast was easily four and a half metre tall at the hips, and over twenty metre in length, which was further extended by the crown of jetblack, curved horns extending from its head, and the even longer, similarly coloured spikes on the tip of its tail. Its teeth and claws were similarly black and overly sharp, but the rest of its body betrayed its identity – instead of scales, it had messy, dark brown fur from the tip of its tail all the way to its snout and its front arms were grossy elongated and twisted, looking like gnarled wood.
“Ultrasaurus… Megarex… why do I even ask?” Vasiliki rested her face on her palm. “H-how…”
Basil shrugged as he watched Totemic savage the far larger Crocell with tooth, nail and stinger, drawing it away from the slowly rising Kraquok.
“There was this boy in Australia, a contriver who would clone dinosaurs and release them into the wild. Then he hit puberty and suddenly, ‘old’ dinosaurs were not cool enough anymore so he… innovated.”
“Oh, golly,” she replied with all the enthusiasm of a person lacking a Y-Chromosome. “So, anyway, what are we going to do? We’re still as superfluous as before, except for Tyche.”
“I intend to watch, study and figure out how to contribute,” he replied as he readied his grappling hooks. “As well as provide emergency support where necessary and possible.”
He leapt off the rooftop, as the fight moved further down the street, and onto a taller building a few houses down and across the street. Hecate landed next to him moments later.
“You’re not asking how I knew about Tyche,” she said.
“I assume you were listening in on our talk with Father Manus, seeing how you are patched into my communication suite.”
“I was just checking.”
As they talked, a horizontal funnel appeared around the three combatants, drawing in dust, rubble and the mist that kept forming around Crocell’s general location. Turning their heads, they saw Charybdis stand about a hundred metre down the street from the two-on-one battle, her brother behind her ready to lift off as she kept her mouth open.
The suction increased with every second, and the two giant metahumans began pushing Crocell closer to her, throwing both their body weight against it even as the strange monster dug its heels in to withstand the simultaneous pull and push.
Even Basil and Hecate had to brace themselves against the powerful winds that Charybdis’ power was summoning, though fortunately, they were far enough away from her for that to not actually be much of a problem – her vortex was tearing the facades off the buildings on the street, and still building up more power.
Still, it did not seem to be enough – Crocell had simply dug itself deeply into street, braced against her vortex, while neither Kraquok, nor Totemic were large and powerful enough to dislodge it. Instead, it seemed to be trying to move them around, to put them between itself and Charybdis, slowly edging the smaller Totemic to its side.
Is it really that smart? Basil thought, surprised. It had not, so far, shown any real intelligence, but it was now clearly trying to maneuver its enemies and use their ally’s powers against them.
And honestly, it might have worked – it was clearly stronger than either Kraquok or Totemic, and it had the advantage of the suction making it easier to move them into its way – but just then, a flier came into sight.
It looked, at first, like an oblong, almost elliptical mass of smooth mercury, flying through the air with its broad side in front, but as it approached, its form rippled like water and receded, until it was merely a floating disk, with two people atop. One was a man a costume styled to evoke a Roswellian alien, only taller, with black lenses over its eyes. He stood atop the mercury-like disk, his arms crossed in a stern pose.
The other passenger was Tyche, standing in front of him with a cocky grin.
“Oh God, what’re they planning…” Hecate whispered.
Crocell immediately turned its head nearly one-hundred and eighty degrees to look straight at Tyche. Abandoning its attempts to reposition its closer foes, it opened its mouth wide and fired its destructive beam straight at Tyche, headless of the still-active vortex in its way.
Predictably, the beam wavered, then was diverted, pulling down into the vortex to be sucked into Charybdis’ mouth on a spiraling path.
Nevertheless, Crocell kept firing as it now actively walked towards her.
“A distraction,” Basil explained, though it shouldn’t be necessary. “Looks like it still prioritises going after Tyche whenever she’s near enough.”
“I’d really, really like to know why,” Hecate said, worry in her voice – until Tyche started dancing around on the platform and goading the beast by slapping her own butt at it. “On second thought, I totally understand the desire to liberate the world of her presence.”
“Admit it – you would miss her, too,” he teased her.
Crocell seemed to finally realise, meanwhile, that his attack was bearing no fruit, and stopped firing his beam. Only by that point, Kraquok and Totemic had gotten a good hold of its arms and shoulders, keeping it facing Charybdis, who took the chance to close her mouth.
“There it comes,” Basil commented, not that Hecate didn’t already know perfectly well how Charybdis power worked.
The young woman leaned back, as if taking a deep breath, and then she threw her head forward, her mouth snapping open in a silent scream.
A focused blast of compressed energy and matter shot forward to impact Crocell – but it started moving as soon as she fired, twisting its shapeless body. Its arms and shoulders… simply became boneless, like sacks filled with fluid, allowing it to simply twist out of its foes’ grip and duck beneath the blast.
“Oh fuck!” Hecate shouted as it shot past them. “That’ll blow an entire block away!”
They watched the blast fly down the street with a loud, ear-rending whine; but before it could hit a building – or worse, a person, for there were several approaching heroes down that way – a shadow dropped from above and into its way.
It was promptly engulfed into a huge, though strangely shaped explosion, most of its destructive energy being directed upwards or forward at a high angle.
“Did you see that shadow?” Basil asked as he wrapped an arm around Hecate’s waist, steadying her against the shockwave that nearly bowled them over. He had to rely on his grappling hooks to stay upright, again.
“Yeah, what could it have been… oh my God,” she finished with a whisper, as the explosion faded.
The Subjugator hovered forward out of the cloud of smoke it had thrown up, shimmering, shifting force-fields in front of it, shaped in such a way as to divert the worst of the explosion harmlessly upwards. Lights were glowing all over its blocky, yet elegant form, as vents opened, unleashing a pale blue glow.
Its four ‘eyes’ were rotated to face forward and briefly flared up in, causing the force-fields in front to dissolve starting from the centre, as the huge barrel on top of it further extended, until it was twice as long as the actual aircraft itself.
“DEFENDERS OF THIS CITY!” blared a chorus of powerful voices further amplified by its speakers – and also patched through all of their communication devices.
It is even in our private channel… Basil thought with some trepidation. He hadn’t even noticed an attempt to hack it.
“YOU HAVE FAILED TO CURTAIL THIS BEAST WHICH SO RUDELY INTERRUPTED OUR GATHERING!” Light began to gather in the depths of its gun barrel, as if motes of blue light were being drawn in and gathered, while electricity arched within the barrel. “NOW WALLOW IN YOUR SHAME AS THIS SUBJUGATOR FULFILLS YOUR DUTY!”
The glow became brighter and more intense, until even Basil had to avert his eyes, in spite of his mask’s filters.
“BEHOLD THE AWESOME MIGHT OF OUR GLORIOUS SOVEREIGN!!!”
It fired straight at Crocell.