B012.2 Born At Sleep

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<We really shouldn’t be laughing about this!> Melody complained during torrents of giggling and laughter. <This is so awful! And we’re awful for laughing about it!>

“Th-then let’s be awful!” Jared squeezed out between bouts of laughter, wiping tears from his eyes; with his beach-blonde hair in disarray, he looked like every girl’s dream prince having a joke, and Melody would never admit it out loud, but if he wasn’t such a jerk, she’d probably take him up on a date. “C’mon, let’s put on the next one!”

Irene seemed to agree with him, or at least her incessant giggling on the floor in front of the couch caused her to spasm and show a thumbs-up by accident.

Harry and Thomas, who were sitting on the side of the couch opposite from Jared, just leaned back, an arm around each other’s shoulders, and enjoyed the show on the huge television in the Junior Heroes’ common living room.

Osore – actually Takahama Goudo – and Aimihime – Aimi for short – were also there, sitting in between Melody and the two boys.

Everyone but Aimi (who was currently curled up on Osore’s lap in the form of a huge red-brown cat) was in casual clothes, sweatpants and shirts, fresh out of the showers after training and a shared lunch. Even Irene had participated, not that working out did her any good. Melody was pretty sure she just did it for the team bonding experience.

Of course, as it turned out, watching these stupid videos was an even better bonding experience. Jared had suggested them, and Irene had agreed wholeheartedly. Aimi did, too, and Goudo usually just went along with things, anyway (Melody had never seen him so much as vary his facial expression and his voice was even less expressive; she never knew how he felt about anything). She and the other two had just gone along, as well.

She had to admit, awful as they were, these ‘Darwin Awards’ were really quite funny – in a morbid, dark humour kind of way. And she’d never even heard of them before! They’d just finished watching the runner-up for last year’s award, and were now getting to the actual winner – Jared had promised that it’d blow them away.

The drumroll started while Irene pulled herself back up onto the couch, face red, and pulled her knees up to hug them, giggling in anticipation.

With the end of the drumroll, the clip began. The video was shaky, amateurish, and there were odd distortions to it; it showed a heap of rubble, mostly concrete and rebar, which shook in irregular intervals, as the light played odd tricks with the image, creating random slowdowns and ghost images.

“Oh no,” Irene whispered, suddenly subdued.

The image moved a bit, slowly, as if the cameraman was slowed down for some reason. Or just afraid, judging by how much it was shaking. As it moved, it became clear that the cameraman was on the upper floor of a building, and at least half the room he’d been in had caved in from whatever had created the mound of rubble it was looking at. There was another impact and a muffled scream from behind the camera as the image shook again, but then it settled down.

<What’s wrong?> Melody asked her, taking a quick look before turning back to the video. Irene was hugging her knees close to her chest and looked miserable all of a sudden.

“I know this one,” she replied, her eyes glued to the screen, even though she clearly didn’t want to see it.

The viewpoint shifted, moving up the heap of rubble it had been pointed at. Bodies came into sight, four men in five times as many pieces, their bodies cut apart cleanly and precisely, as if someone had used a line of silk to dismember them – and the silk had left behind a clingy, incandescent white on the wounds that was eating into their remains. Even in pieces, it was easy to make out that they’d been wearing costumes, and so had probably been heroes – or at least villains who died heroically.

It moved further up, and strands of pure white light came into sight, moving slightly like hair under water, dissolving whatever they came into contact with.

The image moved up, and up, and up, over almost twenty meters of glowing white hair, until it focused on a nude form whose modesty – what little there was – was only preserved by her own hair, which partially concealed her impossibly perfect shape. Her eyes were glowing the same colour as her hair, wide open and featureless, her jaw slack with more light spilling forth from in between her partially open lips. Her arms, tipped by long nails, which glowed the exact same colour as her hair, hung loosely down her side as she slowly, almost ponderously, lowered herself until she was floating barely half a foot over the top of the rubble, the remains of the heroes who’d fought her destroyed by her hair. The random distortions to the recording only became worse as it focused on her.

A caption appeared as the cameraman stopped moving.

Desolation-in-Light; Galveston, Texas, March 3rd, 2011

“Fuck me,” she heard Thomas whisper, his soft voice surprisingly sharp. “Don’t tell me these assholes are gonna show some poor sob that got ‘imself killed tryin’ to fight that thing!” Irene flinched, but didn’t comment.

Jared, however, did. “Don’t worry,” he said “This one deserves it. Wait and see.”

They watched as DiL’s body was briefly surrounded by a multi-coloured haze, before she was surrounded by an aura that glowed somehow warmer than her normal light, the colour more yellow than white. It focused into a lens about the size of her torso, extending a beam – not like an energy blast or anything like that, no, more like a spotlight – out in front of her and into the distance. Then the ‘spotlight’ began to move, even though DiL herself didn’t move an inch, rotating around her as if she was a lighthouse atop a mountain of rubble, angling up and down, always with her as the centre as it moved. Once, it passed over the rubble beneath, touching on parts of it not covered by her hair, and the concrete and metal and wood began to distort, forming bubbles as if the light was hot enough to boil it in moments, even though it didn’t seem to heat up at all – nothing caught fire, and the wood should have. The deadly spotlight passed on.

And then they saw someone enter into the periphery of the recorded image – and so did the cameraman, who focused the image on the new arrival.

It was a guy. Probably in his early twenties, he looked like what Melody imagined when she heard the term ‘doughy guy’. Not fat, or anything, but pale, really pale, with a wild shock of hair on his head and a weird thin beard and moustache. He was wearing an ill-fitting suit and tie, black and red respectively, with a white shirt, and he was running for all he was worth – towards DiL.

Melody looked at Irene again, who seemed even more miserable now – though Melody didn’t know if it was out of sympathy for the man who was clearly about to die, or because of Thomas’ phrasing. She reached out, gently squeezing her friend’s shoulder and Irene responded by tilting her head to rest her cheek on the back of her hand.

The video continued as the man ran around the boiled pieces of rubble – judging by his facial expression, it didn’t smell good, either – dodging strands of lethal hair in a way that was both surprisingly nimble and embarrassingly clumsy at the same time. One time, he actually rolled under the passing spotlight, barely evading having his face boiled off.

The cameraman seemed to have been as entranced by the guy’s actions as they all were, because he followed him on his way, the image mostly steady as the impacts which had shaken the earth had now stopped.

The doughy guy finally reached the top of the heap of rubble, standing on a spot that was untouched by DiL’s hair and the spotlight, and he…

Melody blinked, not sure if she believed what happened next. Fortunately, whoever had edited the video had found it hard to believe, as well, and so the video rewound and showed it again in a close up. She still had trouble believing it.

The doughy guy had dropped down on one knee, holding up a small black box he’d flipped open. A box with an engagement ring inside.

What?

Irene whimpered, and a quick look showed Melody that she’d finally averted her eyes, focusing instead on her own toes.

She herself, though, just had to see what came next, even if she felt sick to her stomach.

The glowing woman didn’t appear to notice the doughy guy just three or four feet from her, even when he started to talk.

He kept on talking until the spotlight moved towards him – he tried to dodge it, but accidentally stepped into some strands of her hair, losing his foot in the process. And then the spotlight passed over him.

With a scream, he tumbled back, his face literally melting off his skull, bubbles forming and bursting so violently they revealed bare bone beneath. His suit cracked, bubbled and fell apart, all at once, and the body beneath was no better off – turning red, then cracked, then bubbling, then bursting off his bones.

He screamed more and tumbled into her hair – and that was that. The video ended with a shot of the Darwin Awards’ logo (a yellow street-sign showing the march of progress, with the homo sapiens sapiens walking off a cliff) spinning.

Everyone save for Osore (who didn’t do laughing, it seemed), Melody and Irene was laughing – until the television blew out.

“Oi, what the fuck!?” Jared shouted.

Perhaps everyone had the same thought Melody did, because everyone turned to look at Irene, who was still curled up on the couch, her face hidden behind her knees and her hair.

<Irene?> she asked, worried, squeezing her friend’s shoulder again – then she flinched back when, for just a moment, a sensation of utter, complete horror gripped her heart – and not just her; she could hear everyone else gasp, their heartbeats quickening as it, too reached them. But then, it was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

Irene flickered and vanished from her seat, suddenly standing a few feet in front of the couch, with her back ramrod straight.

She flickered again, to the door out and back, as if she couldn’t decide whether to leave or not.

“The fuck’s wrong?” Jared asked. “Why’d you have to bust o-“

“I’ll fucking tell you what’s wrong!” Irene shouted, and the lights flickered as she whirled around, her long hair flying wildly – and just barely covering her left eye as she focused on Jared. Melody hoped only she’d seen that it had turned red-and-black, a sure sign that she was losing control again – and there was the almost imperceptible, even to her, sound of that weird song her power generated when it came to the forefront.

Irene didn’t seem to notice, or mind, because she thrust a finger at Jared, who flinched back from her. “This isn’t funny! Where do you get off laughing about what she does!?” She whirled around to look at Harry and Thomas, both of whom had gone pale. “And you!” she shouted, pointing at Thomas, who looked both confused and frightened. “She’s not a thing! You of all people should know better than to call her a thing!”

Her hand dropped, and she shivered for a moment, her other hand reaching across her torso to grip her forearm. Then she turned away and stomped towards the exit.

Melody was just about to hurry after her when she whirled about and looked at the lot of them, eyes wide – though fortunately back to their usual colour. “And fucking stop fucking calling her DiL! She’s got a name, so fucking use that!” she screamed at them before she simply flickered and reappeared in the same spot, only facing away from them – and she stomped towards the door.

She really ought to run after Irene, to catch up to her and console her – but all she could think of at that moment was She has a name? She’d never even considered that Desolation-in-Light, the White Calamity, would have anything like a normal name – yet that was what Irene meant, surely. I wonder what she’s called? And who gave her the name? Probably Miss Whitaker, right?

Irene almost reached the door when it opened, and three men stepped inside.

Melody blinked as she recognised Mister Widard, Mister Patrid and Director Ryan walking in side-by-side. All three were wearing suits, though their styles were quite telling of the differences between the three men commonly considered to be the leaders of New Lennston’s United Heroes Division, now that Rounds was stationed on the Iron Wall (Amazon was a great field leader, but as far as Melody could tell, she had little to nothing to do with the political side of business).

Patrid was, as always, immaculately dressed in pure white – white silk suit, white silk shirt, white silk tie, white leather shoes. The only thing that wasn’t white about him were his bright blue eyes, his healthy skin and his bright blonde, slicked-back hair and neatly trimmed goatee. His perfect white teeth showed thanks to a boyish grin he had as he walked into the room. He looked ready to go to a high-class party or dance, visit the White House for dinner or make a deal for one’s soul. Possibly all three at once. And he still had that ever-present aura that only Melody seemed to pick up on, that presence which made her uneasy, slightly nauseated. She couldn’t bring herself to like the man, even though he’d been nothing but courteous and even supportive so far – it was hard enough to even tolerate his presence.

Mister Widard was wearing a much cheaper grey suit with a simple white shirt and a striped blue tie. As always, he was slightly dishevelled, his black-brown hair a mess accentuated by his five-o’clock shadow, his eyes made huge by a really unflattering pair of glasses he was balancing on his nose, and he even now, he had a communicator in his left ear, with a directed microphone extended halfway to his mouth (one of Melody’s patents, actually). Much unlike Patrid, Jason was just plain endearing. He was like a chronically overworked but nice and warm favourite uncle. She felt awful about all the trouble he’d been in lately, since she’d helped capture his niece the teenage supervillain, and she wished she could just walk up to him and give him a hug; but she didn’t feel that she knew him well enough for that.

Director Ryan made a contrast to both of the other men. He was heavily built, both muscular and fat at the same time, his body at least three times as wide as Widard’s stick-thin physique; and he was short, too, not exceptionally so, but short enough to look like a dwarf next to Patrid, who was at least six foot ten, if not eleven. His hair was red, which made them a brunette-blonde-redhead trio, cropped short and his round face was as smooth as Melody’s own. His suit was brown and functional, not as immaculate as Patrid’s but far more well-kept than Widard’s. Melody used to respect him, but her opinion of the man had taken a nosedive since he’d tried to get her to stay away from Irene – even if she understood that he thought he was doing the right thing.

There was one thing that was out of place between the three men – Melody had never seen them share a mood. Usually, Patrid was chipper, in good spirits, with a wide grin plastered on his too-perfect face; Widard always looked slightly confused and slightly exhausted, not to mention wary; and Director Ryan tended to have a very stern, to-the-point mood and facial expression.

Not today. All three looked quite pleased with themselves – though only for a moment, once they saw Irene walk up and past them.

Widard and Ryan turned to look at her, and Melody lost sight of their facial expressions, but Patrid surprised her – he made a dance-like step, almost a pirouette, and put a hand on Irene’s shoulder – and she stopped and turned, looking at him.

The other two men continued on their way towards the junior heroes, while Patrid talked quietly to Irene.

Melody missed the first few words they spoke, before she focused her hearing on them.

“… can tell me if anything’s wrong,” Patrid said softly. “I’m here for you.”

“I know, and I’m grateful, but this…” Irene whispered back. “It’s nothing. Just… my own issues.”

“You’re a horrible liar, lil’ one,” he replied affectionately. “I promised your mom that I’d keep an eye out for you – so don’t shut me out.”

Miss Whitaker asked him to watch out for Irene? she thought, confused, while her teammates stood up and tried to look more prim and proper than they currently were to their bosses. I wonder how they know each other?

Irene sighed, but didn’t reply.

“Now, I need you to calm yourself down and join us,” he continued whispering while Director Ryan and Widard took up position in front of the big screen (the director looked none too pleased at it being broken), “there’s some important stuff to talk about.”

After a few moments, Irene nodded and pulled her pill bottle out, downing a small handful of pills. She relaxed almost immediately, and the nearly subsonic siren’s song vanished, too. Melody felt herself relax, glad that her friend wouldn’t have an episode that’d just scare the rest of the team away from her any more.

Within moments, Irene was sitting next to her again – closer now, close enough for Melody to put an arm around her shoulders and hug her – and even Aimi had shifted into a form more appropriate for conversation, though the lack of clothes to wear forced her to improvise. In this case, she had shifted into a humanoid cat – not a cat girl, no, she was quite clearly a cat – with the same colour and pattern to her fur as before, now sitting next to Osore, who’d been the only one not to react to the entire scene up until now.

Patrid joined the other two adults, and the director spoke up.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” he said, sounding almost as pleased as he looked. “I have good news!”

Hopefully good enough to make up for this scene, Melody thought glumly as she felt Irene press a little closer to her.

“In light of all the successes we’ve had lately,” the director continued, “Our very successful fight against the Rabid Eight and the Spiteborn, as well as the fight against Hastur and her monsters…”

Melody heard Aimi’s heart skip a beat at the mention of Hastur and the people she’d affected – she didn’t know the full story, but she’d found out that Aimi had apparently gone through her own little horror show during that dark episode of New Lennston’s history.

“Well, we have reason to celebrate, especially since the Black Panthers and the Morning’s Children both have been routed entirely, save for one or two stragglers,” Ryan continued, as Melody thought over the implications of that.

While organised crime was always a problem, and supervillains working for organised crime even more so, they tended to be more… subdued. More interested in heists and subtle actions; more than three fourth of all public cape-and-cowl battles took place between heroes and gang members, or between rival gangs; with two of the oldest and most powerful gangs gone, New Lennston was now at least safer than New York or Chicago, and worlds ahead of the West Coast Triad.

“And so, the mayor has decided to hold a celebration with you children as the guests of honour!” he finished.

For a moment, no one said anything; then, Goudo had to ruin it.

“Shouldn’t Brennus and his girls be the guests of honour?” he asked in that infuriatingly monotone voice of his. “They contributed more to all of that than anyone else here, not counting the Rabid Eight thing.”

Patrid covered his mouth with his hand, though everyone could tell he was laughing behind it; Widard seemed to miss the comment, as he was busy doing something on a tablet he’d pulled out of his jacket’s pocket; but the director’s face fell immediately.

“We’re not going to acknowledge teenage delinquents,” he said firmly, throwing Goudo a warning look – after all, the boy had been a delinquent himself (he’d never really done anything to qualify as a villain, really). “Even if their contributions were… impressive, they are criminals.”

The meaning was clear – the spotlight had to be on the legal heroes – though Melody really didn’t agree with that. They’d risked their lives as much as any of them had, and Brennus had been instrumental in taking down both the Spiteborn and Hastur; Hecate had been no slouch, either. The only one who hadn’t really done much was Tyche, whose role in that group she still couldn’t guess at.

Patrid stepped forward and pulled the conversation back on track. “Anyway, aside from such concerns, here’s the important parts: there’ll be a gala on Monday – I know, it’s rather short notice, but at least you’ll be excused from school for that day and the next! Everyone will have to get a dress or a suit if you don’t have one already, and you should all practice some dancing… speaking of which, who here has any experience dancing? Other than Irene, of course.”

Melody gave Irene a curious look – he’d asked about experience, not skill, which her power could readily supply. Irene had never told her about dancing before, though.

Irene smiled at her. My parents are rather old-school, she spoke into her mind. Of course I had to learn how to dance properly.

Melody giggled involuntarily, though no one seemed to notice as the team was rapidly split down the middle. Melody, Irene and (surprisingly) Aimi knew how to dance – though Melody felt that she was probably quite rusty by now, as she hadn’t practiced since she’d manifested. Harry, Thomas, Goudo and Jared all had little to no idea about dancing, though.

“Ah well,” Patrid said with his usual grin. “Looks like a little practice is in order, then! After all, it’d be horrible for our image if our juniors couldn’t even dance on the celebration of their own heroic deeds!” He clapped his hands. “In the interest of getting you ready, I guess I’ll have to train the lot of you personally, over the next few days. That includes you three, just in case,” he added with a wink at the three people who actually knew dancing.

Everyone but Irene and the other two adults groaned, but before anyone could say anything more, Widard suddenly looked up from his tablet.

“Someone turn on the television,” he said. “HeroView channel, quickly!”

Everyone looked confused for a moment, but the junior heroes were so used to following his commands that they moved nonetheless – Aimi was the first to get the remote and she pushed the on-button.

Nothing happened.

“Ah, bugger,” Jared said, looking sullenly at Irene. “Our big girl here blew out the tellie throwing a hissy fit.”

I will slap you once the adults are out of the way, Melody thought resolutely, though fortunately, Irene didn’t lash out at him, nor did she seem to react to his jab at all.

Widard sighed and took the remote from Aimi. Pressing a few buttons, the wall-mounted screen flipped over, revealing a second screen behind it.

“We have a replacement television?” Harry asked in surprise, the first time he’d talked today, as far as Melody remembered – he’d been mostly content to let Thomas speak.

“Of course,” Widard said. “With all the powers that tend to gather in here, it’s not too rare that something breaks; so we have replacements for most major pieces of equipment. That’s not an excuse for you to go around breaking them, though!” he quickly added.

They all nodded, while he turned on the television and switched onto HeroView, the major channel on metahuman matters in the Western Hemisphere.

It was showing an abandoned apartment building in a rather dirty neighbourhood – the captions identified it as Paris, France, and it appeared to be live, too.

“What’s going on, Jason?” Patrid asked as he sauntered over to sit on the couch next to Irene, who shifted around to put her legs across his thighs, leaning even more fully into Melody at the same time.

“The Blackguard has been tracked down, it seems,” Jason said as he and Ryan joined the others on the couch. “Looks like there’s a whole bunch of aspiring new Chevaliers getting ready to wrest the cross and fleur-de-lys from him.”

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B009.9 Family Matters

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Roughly at the same time

Basil was starting to doubt his sanity. Or at least, his memory. Sure, it was supposed to be inviolable, memories beyond the short term were supposed to be safe, but… every rule has an exception, right?

And right now, he was really doubting his memory. After Vasiliki had left, he had started working on his new armor design, and made some good progress – but then he had decided to see about setting his scripts back to work for some money, and…

They were not there. Not the scripts he had used.

Or rather, they were there, but they were useless. Half-finished, ideas and first attempts, but nothing functional.

He was sure he had used just these scripts for it, but now… it would not be the first time his memories were wrong. Only now there was the question of…

Where did the money come from?

Working through the account data, he found that it had been deposited in the accounts he had been using… about five and a half years ago. Way before he remembered setting them up in the first place.

Twinkle twinkle little star,

He shook his head, trying to focus. He had to track these. Normally, he would have Eudocia do it, but she was off playing with Prisca (she could only be at one place at a time, a limitation of her code). So he had to find out who had deposited the money himself, and why…

“How I wonder who you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky,” sang a soft voice.

Basil whirled around on his seat, drawing and throwing a dagger by sheer reflex.

A vermilion-coloured blade shot up, striking the dagger out of the air before it could touch the pure white face with the vermilion eyes.

He did not stop to think, or even feel confused about her being here – only an amateur would do that – but he vaulted over the table, away, towards the door to his store room.

I need weapons. But he had just finished taking most of them apart!

She followed, moving leisurely, but her many limbs nonetheless gave her enough speed to keep up with him as he ran through the door, slamming it shut, pulling the lever for the emergency seal.

There was a crash, and then the sound of a saw winding up, followed by the sound of screaming concrete and metal.

He looked around the storeroom – most things here were useless right now, and the few that were not would not cause any damage to her body. Her bodies were always insulated against electrical attacks, it was just necessary for being a Gadgeteer out in the field…

She was already halfway through the door, by the sounds of it, and the glowing orange line that was slowly travelling around the door.

What do I use, what do I use… He could not focus.

He blinked, and the door fell out of its frame. Her body contorted, somehow squeezing its entire mass through the frame without touching the edges. It was black, with fine silver details, and some transparent spots to show off pure white inner workings. Overall, it looked like some kind of snake-spider hybrid, coiling its long body up to form a spider’s abdomen.

“Then the traveller in the dark, thanks you for your tiny spark,” she continued singing, never moving her lips – her voice just barely sounded mechanic.

Again, he ran, towards the back end of the store room and… and there was an opening there that he had not noticed before, leading into a hallway. Do not let her trap you! He took it, closely followed by her, using all twelve limbs without blades gripping the floor, the walls, the roof, to propel her forward, always just a step behind.

What do I do, what do I do, what…

His mind was running in circles, unable to come up with a solution, he just wanted to run.

“In the dark blue sky you keep, and often through my curtains peep; For you never shut your eye, ’till the sun is in the sky…”

A right turn ahead, just when he started to feel like she was catching up (he did not dare turn around to look), and he took it, hearing the tell-tale sound of sharp blades piercing the concrete. He ran, his legs already burning – strange, he had been working out for ages now, and he was already getting tired? – deeper into the dark-

Ow.

He ran into a wall, unable to see it coming, and bounced off of it, falling backwards.

“As your bright and tiny spark, lights the traveller in the dark; Though I know not what you are, twinkle, twinkle, little star.”

Do not stop moving! he thought to himself, trying to get back onto his feet – and then something hard slammed into him, throwing him against the wall again.

His head rang, and though he could not see anything to begin with, he still felt his vision go black as his ears rang.

There was only one sound, really, the singing voice, gentle and soothing, as cold hands gripped him, propping him up against the wall as several lights on her body turned on, illuminating the room – though he saw little other than her skull-like face, those wide open vermilion eyes.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are,” she sang, just staring at him. “How I wonder what you are.” A slender hand with vermilion nails caressed his face, making him shiver with fear. “Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky…”

This is wrong. Fight! Fight her! You still have seven knives on your body! But he could not move, he was paralysed with fear!

More arms joined the two that were holding him, and the one that was caressing his face. These ones had no delicate woman’s hands, but instead claws with blades as long as his legs, no less than sixteen blades approaching his body, two of them aiming for his eyes… slowly.

He could not even speak.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are,” she sang as the blades stopped just millimeters above his eyes and body. “How I wonder what you are…”

They plunged in.

* * *

Melody was sitting on a chair in front of Director Ryan’s oaken desk, looking at the stout, muscle-bound man with the awful haircut – it was shaved around the sides and back, short on top and sticking up, like an extreme army buzzcut. It didn’t help that it was bright red, with some silver inbetween. He was wearing an immaculate maroon suit with a fitting tie on a black shirt.

To the side stood a tall and very thin man in his late thirties, with short black hair, a widow’s peak and a regal nose, with watery blue eyes, in a black suit and green tie. Sarah was there, too, as short as she was despite being twice her age, daughter of Chinese immigrants. She was wearing a simple skirt suit in blue, and looked very worried.

And as if all that wasn’t disconcerting enough, Patrid was there, too, in his usual white suit, with that goatee and the blonde, slick hair, looking like the devil incarnate. He was lounging – not sitting, lounging – on his chair, the only one in the room who seemed completely calm and relaxed.

<What’s going on?> she asked, feeling small and vulnerable. She’d just quickly tied her hair back and put on underwear and a knit dress, and her sandals. Nothing like presentable, but Sarah had insisted that it was urgent. <Am I in trouble?> She looked from the director to Sarah to Gerden, avoiding looking at Patrid. He still gave her the creeps, more than the Spiteborn or BigShit or Hastur ever did.

“Nono, you’re not Melly!” Sarah reassured her, or at least tried to – she was obviously still nervous, as her heartbeat proved. “We just need to… ask you some stuff. About this morning, and yesterday.”

Melody blushed. Dratz. They found out? <What about, exactly?>

“Your mother called us, told us that Miss Whitaker had dragged you out of their home in a rage, and that you then both vanished. And now you show up back here, alone, in a… worrisome condition,” Gerden said, looking quite… not unconcerned, but preoccupied, maybe?

She blushed even more. <She took me to Italy,> she began, making them stare in disbelief. Typing quickly, she poured out an answer, hoping to get this over with quickly. She had a bad feeling. <I was upset, and she thought some good ice cream might help. We ate some ice cream, talked, then went and…> She hesitated, not sure if she should continue. She didn’t want to get Irene into trouble.

“You can talk, Melody,” Sarah said, looking sympathetic. Why? “We won’t judge you.” Gerder and the director nodded. Patrid just watched her, looking barely interested. His gaze gave her goosebumps.

<We got drunk… Irene passed out, and I wasn’t well, but I didn’t want to go to the local UH division, so I… I used her cellphone to call her dad, and he picked us up and dropped me off here.>

She was barely finished when everyone but Patrid made an uproar, looking at her like she was insane.

You called the Dark without permission?” the director shouted, aghast.

You got drunk with a dangerously unstable metahuman?” Gerder shouted.

You drank alcohol!?” Sarah shouted at her, looking ready to faint.

“You called the Dark, on cellphone, for a ride? Glorious,” Patrid chuckled.

She felt like she was about to turn infrared in the face. <I hoped no one would notice, and I could just… go to sleep.> She couldn’t stiffle a yawn.

“Melody, putting aside the gross violations of protocol you committed,” the director began, making her feel even more ashamed. “You risked more than just bodily harm, are you aware of that?”

Gerder leaned closer, putting a hand on the desk. “Do you even know what that… girl… has done to others? On a whim? Her file is very extensive, and I’m absolutely sure it’s not nearly complete.”

<I am aware of it,> she said, her blush gone. Now she was looking coldly at them. It all makes sense. They think she… did things to me.

Well, she almost did, didn’t she? whispered a treacherous little voice in her head.

No. She stopped. It’s not her fault she got a power like that. Not a good sign, talking to herself like that.

“Aware?” Patrid asked, an eyebrow raised. He was the only one who seemed to be amused by this turn of events, while the others ranged from horrified to stunned.

She nodded at him, finally turning to face him fully. Apart from her, he was the only other metahuman here… he might sympathise more easily. <She told me everything. About her lack of control, and her problems, on the first day. The details, later on. I knew all that, and I went with her willingly.>

Gerder’s mouth was moving like a fish, opening and closing. Sarah seemed to be no better. The director was just stunned, while Patrid still looked amused.

“Y-you went with her, when you know that she’s a habitual rapist?” Gerden finally asked.

<I object to that term, Sir! She’s as much a victim of her power as anyone she abused with it!> she responded, the voice from the vocoder turning angry and hot. <And besides, didn’t the United Heroes vet her, before they let her join? Why is this still an issue!?>

“We did do some rudimentary testing, but…” Director Ryan began. Gerder continued, “There’s not much we can do to really vet someone of her power level. And besides, Lady Light insisted that she be taken in, and the Board agreed too readily.”

<Well, she IS kind of our l->

“Gwen Whitaker is not the leader of the United Heroes,” Patrid suddenly butted in, serious for once. “Keep that carefully in mind, Melody. We are lead by the elected board of directors, a board she is not and can not be a part of, as she does not fulfill the requirements for extended registration – it is only due to her reputation and history that no one tries to arrest her for illegal vigilantism and use of metahuman abilities, as she is not a formal member of the UH, despite being our founder.” He smiled again. “Though it helps that she could probably beat us all up if we tried, too. Doesn’t mean we don’t listen to her, though. But Miss Whitaker Senior has never sought nor accepted any official position of power, nor formally laid claim to the title of superhero. Do you understand what I am telling you?”

People are uncomfortable that she still holds this much power? It seemed pretty obvious. Like it doesn’t even matter that she’s spent the better part of a century doing nothing but fight the good fight and save billions of lives. She nodded, still.

“The problem here is that a minor who is under our protection went missing – along with possibly the second-most dangerous and unstable individual in the world!” Gerder said as forcefully as he could, making her (and Sarah) flinch. “Miss Stenton, I am sorry to say this, but for your own safety, the Board of Directors has to hereby formally forbid you from closely associating with Irene Whitaker, also known as Gloom Glimmer, beyond the direct, qualified scrutiny of a designated handler or superhero judged capable of protecting you!” he rattled off.

Melody turned white, then green, nauseated, then… shock and hurt turned into fury.

She jumped onto up, wishing more than ever that she still had her own voice, and didn’t need to type on a freaking vocoder!

<I refuse your orders, Sir! You cannot tell me who to be friends with!> she said, instead, sounding calmer than she felt – the vocoder wasn’t really built for the kind of emotional outburst she wanted to make right now. Before anyone could object, she continued, <We are teammates, and BFFs besides, and if you don’t want to let us associate, then I’ll leave. No one gets to tell me who my friends can or cannot be! And if I leave, consider the damage that’ll do to you all! My album sales are at an all time high, almost all fans of my music now support my superhero career, and I’m a freaking Gadgeteer to boot! The third-highest rated on your payroll, if I may say so! So you better think twice about telling me who I can hang out with!>

She turned and stomped to the door, not wanting to hear any reproach. She had to get away, before her nerve failed her. <Also, has anyone ever considered that ostracising Irene might be just the straw that’ll break the camel’s back? Ever thought about that!?> With those words, she slammed the door shut, stomping off.

Faintly, she heard Patrid’s amused voice say, “I told you so…”

* * *

Basil’s eyes flew open, and his heart lurched into triple-overtime.

Bending over, he would have thrown up if he had eaten anything recently. Instead, he retched dry, before he felt over his face, his eyes… they were still there. He was somewhere completely dark, but his eyes were whole, and the only pain he felt was a faint soreness in his muscles.

W-what is going on!?

Had he… really been attacked by Atrocity just now? No, that made absolutely no sense. He did not doubt she could circumvent his defenses easily, but why would she be here? And why would she leave him alive?

Blind, he felt around the room, until he found the empty doorway, and got up, walking forward – until he saw a faint light ahead. Turning a corner, he could see into his storeroom again.

The door to his workshop was closed, sealed.

Was it just a dream?

He stopped at the door, turning around to look at the way he had taken earlier. I did not make that. Months ago, he had started digging, using robots to create his lair…

Only when he thought about it, he did not have an robots around here, except for a few half-finished ideas and his ravenbots!

The memories of getting the money had been fake… were fake, too. Were his memories of constructing the lair fake, as well?

Is there anything I can be sure about!?

Only one way to find out, mate. Investigate.

He listened, and he ran to pick up a torch… a flashlight. Why had he used the other word in his thoughts?

Back down the hallway… smooth rock, it was dug right into the bedrock. No signs of claws digging into anything.

Again, the room. It was not very big, but smoothly made, yet without any lighting. There was nothing there, except…

He bent down, picking up an old, worn notebook. It was quite heavy, and he could see that several pages of a different kind of paper had been added to it, making it thicker than it should be.

The cover bore the words ‘Property of Macian. Hands off!

Macian again

He opened the notebook on the first page, and froze. It was covered in pictographs, just like his own, only… cruder? Or maybe just crudely drawn. Going through it, he found countless designs for all manners of gadgets, ranging from stuff he would be ashamed to work on – way too crude! – to force-fields! Nothing complete enough to use, most of it incomprehensible, but…

Then, suddenly, actualy writing took over. Notes from this Macian.

Intrigued, Basil took a closer look.

* * *

Some thoughts on my visions, and those of others I have been able to aquire

Henry

The Shaper, unbound from anything but imagination. -> Henry?

The Maker, mad and yet sane, rising ever higher. -> Me? Dunno if I’m sane or not, though my money’s on ‘bugfuck crazy’

The Dreamer, a gilded knight that glowed like the sun. -> someone with armor-based powers? too simple

The Defender, another era’s fallen idol, given a second chance. -> Heretic? But he wasn’t ever really an idol… maybe the Dark?

The Lover, wielding the primordial power. -> What can be considered a ‘primordial’ power? Fire? Intelligence? Technology? (the last one might be wishful thinking or simple self-importance)

Heretic

The Shaper, unbound and gentle… -> certainly sounds like Henry. That boy is too nice for his own good

The Lover, driven by the primordial power. -> again the primordial stuff. Something really simple, but powerful?

The Dreamer, a gilded knight, brilliant as the full moon… -> Amanda is quite the dreamer? Might it be this literal? Probably not, heh

The Shepherd, a broken star that sought redemption… -> Hemming? … Perhaps Emyr? His power seems like a fit, as does his story

The Maker, a blazing well that sought to rise… -> seems familiar

Me

The Orphan, abandoned but not lost. -> Connection to the ‘Orphan Star’?

The Defender, fallen but not dead. -> fallen as in defeated, or fallen from grace? A fallen hero?

The Lover, lost but not alone. -> first time this one’s mentioned without the ‘primordial’. No idea what that means

The Maker, broken but not shattered. -> could that be me? I certainly feel like I’m in pieces

The Emissary, driven but aimless. -> someone who has a mission, but doesn’t know how to complete it?

Who is Rei? She sings a lullaby no one hears. -> connected the Sleeper?

Who is the Sleeper? What’ll happen when it wakes? -> apocalyptic?

Who is Bree? Someone cries her name, but she can’t hear it. The crying person sounds so sad, I cried when I heard her voice (I’m not prone to crying).

What is broken may not be shattered. What is shattered may not be lost. What is lost may yet be found.

What is the Orphan Star? A person, or a power? (It seeks something that doesn’t exist, but it won’t give up. Ever) <- sounds like my kinda gal. Assuming its a female, of course.

On second thought, do these titles describe people or powers?

Note: Research presence or absence of power sentience!!!

A friend says:

All the Lost Ones shall Gather -> I’m plenty lost. Henry, too, as is Amanda. Does this mean we’ll all get together again? I’d love that. Amy would love Henry to bits. He should be able to fix her, too. Maybe we can be a family?

All the Brave Ones shall Advance -> Probably means that at some point, there’ll be something epically nasty to fight (can’t wait!)

All the Bright Ones shall Rejoice -> A happy ending? That’d be nice.

Are these prophecies? How certain could they be? Far as I know, precognition can only show possibilities, never certainties? Maybe the fact that several people over such a long time have similar visions means these are particularly probable probabilities? (probable probabilities – there ought to be a better way to phrase that!)

Where does Journeyman fit in? I don’t think he’s a normal metahuman. Something is… off. (I realise that I’m not one to throw stones here). I have a feeling I’ll run into him again. He did give me a nice idea for a gadget, though.

Note: Research instant barbecue machine!

There’s a connection between Journeyman and that ‘friend’. J mentioned him obliquely. (I can’t believe I just used the word ‘obliquely’ in a sentence)

What is this ‘a friend’? Is it some kind of metahuman? Or whatever is at the source of the powers? Maybe some kind of manager? There seems to be some biblical imagery tied into that – he sure seems plenty godlike, though he did claim that his appearance and manner depended on whoever witnessed him -> might have been me, making him seem godly and stuff

-> Lady Light & the Dark might know

Note: Try and contact them as soon as possible

I-

* * *

The notes cut off at that point, and the following pages were all blank. Basil still leafed through the book, until the end, just to be sure.

Somehow, those notes make no sense, and yet they seem so reasonable… I think I might need someone to help me make sense of them.

He pocketed the notebook, then looked around the place one more time. It was empty, nothing else to be found. Then he went back to his workshop… which now felt much less like it was his.

I feel like something is going to break, too. I just hope it will not be my brain.

He went to the couch, turning on the television. Right now, he really, really needed a break, first of all.

An instant barbecue machine is a great idea, though.

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