B007.b Darkly Dreaming Ember (Donation Bonus)

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A year and four months after the Berlin Attack, three months before Ember’s Exile

Ember opened his eyes, torn from a deep sleep by a profound feeling of unease, only to stare into six glowing red orbs.

Him.

Before he’d even finished that though, he’d already leapt to his feet atop his bed (he didn’t really need bedsheets anymore) and punched (rather clumsily, all things considered) the shadow in its face – I’m a giant, with a fist made of diamond – preparing to connect to his world and negate whatever protection his power offered… only for his punch to be stopped dead in its tracks by the shadows surrounding it, which rose in the shape of a human arm – maybe even his real arm, only shrouded in darkness – to casually slap it aside.

He didn’t manage to get even a passing glimpse of his world, beyond what his power was already giving him all the time – he could not even sense him the same way he sensed other people within his projection range.

Now now, calm your ho-

Remember what Macian taught you. Punch straight, aim for the head or throat, put all your weight behind it.

He punched him with his other hand – a rocket on my elbow, and diamond-gloves – but the enemy raised a hand and simply caught his hand in his palm with no visible effort.

“Uff.” He’d been stopped dead in his tracks, again. The long, black fingers wrapped around his hand, holding him like a vise.

He could feel his world, but not see it, as if it was locked off.

Relax, son. You-

“I’m not your son! I’m no one’s son but my mom’s!” Henry shouted as he used the leverage provided to jump up and kick him with both feet in the face.

This time, he put all his concentration behind the kick, and for a fraction of a second, he actually felt a connection establish itself, as his kick threw the Dark back against the wall.

Not bad, he said in that freaky voice-of-the-legion of his.

Ember jumped off the bed and towards him – he had no illusions about his ability to flee from him, but one good punch might take him down.

Enough now. He moved faster than the boy could follow. One strike to his legs made him tumble through the air, another got him in the gut and threw him back onto the bed.

“Ow!” he shouted as the air was forced out of his lungs. He rose to a sitting position on the bed, holding his belly. “That hurt! How did you hurt me!?” No one had managed it since he’d manifested.

A dark chuckle emanated from the figure as it approached him, until he stood in front of the bed, looming over Ember.

Every power has a flaw, my dear boy. And I’ve figured out yours. It’s rather basic, really.

“What do you mean? I don’t know about anything like that!”, replied Ember hotly. That punch had really hurt. He’d already healed the pain, but still.

It’s simple, really. The bigger the power, the bigger the blind spot. If you figure it out, you can generally shut it down.

“But what is it? What’s my weakness?” He’d been trying to find it, based on Macian’s insistence that he know all the aspects of his power, but he hadn’t been able to determine any real weakness apart from needing to touch his targets (which, according to Macian, was not much of a weakness considering how fast he could move if he wanted).

Again, that maddening chuckle. Ah, now, telling you would be spoiling, wouldn’t it? No, I’d rather keep it to myself. But don’t worry. Very few should be capable of figuring it out, and even if I told others, few are likely to be capable of exploiting it – though anyone capable of figuring it out by themselves would normally be capable of exploiting it.

He thought that sentence over. “That tells me… exactly nothing, except that it’s not something obvious… which I already knew.”

It’s an art form. Now hush, I need to think this over.

“Think what over? Why are you even here?” Ember asked, suddenly more worried. What did the King of Supervillains want from him? “Do you want me to bring someone back for you? No, you wouldn’t be knocking me around for that.”

I’d like to mention that you attacked me first, dear boy. But no, I don’t want you to bring anyone back, the villain said. To be precise, I came here to kill you.

“What!? Why!?“, he shouted. “What did I do to you?”

The Dark shook his head, though it was barely perceptible, save for the movement of the eyes. It’s not what you’ve done, but what you are. You’re too powerful. Too dangerous to the… the status quo, so to speak. Raising the dead? That’s too big a power for this world. He raised one shrouded hand, and it shifted into a wicked-looking blade. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure it doesn’t hurt.

“NO! I don’t want to die!” Ember screamed at him. He reached into the bed beneath him, starting to warp it- but a blow to the head knocked him aside, breaking his concentration.

Ember, calm down. You don’t want to wake your poor mother, don’t you? I’d rather she doesn’t see this.

Taking quick, ragged breaths, Ember calmed himself down. What had Macian said? Be calm. Be efficient. Analyze. Adapt. Advance. “Mama… mama can’t sleep well… takes… takes pills.” He rose up again as he regained control. “No chance she’ll wake up from a little screaming. Why do you think I’m bad for the world? I just help people!”

The Dark halted, looking down at him. It’s a sad truth, son, but sometimes, the best intentions only lead to… suffering. He seemed sad, saying that. Ember wasn’t sure, it’d been a while since he hadn’t been able to simply feel what others felt.

Though it was refreshing, in a way, to be able to talk to someone who wasn’t an open book. If only he didn’t want to kill him…

“Are you… are you talking about me, or yourself? And her?”

The Dark flinched.

Bullseye.

Maybe I am… but it’s not important. The fact of the matter is, unless someone stops you, you’ll break the balance I’ve spent decades building up… there’ll be another world war, and this time, there won’t be a single unified front against a clear villain. Only… chaos. And chaos ain’t good for the game, my dear boy. Not at all.

“So you’re gonna kill me in cold blood to keep the world stable?”

Cold blood? Maybe you could call it that. I certainly neither enjoy it, nor do it easily. Child murder… is not something I enjoy. At all.

Ember got a sick feeling in his gut. “You… you’ve killed children, before?”

The tall man nodded. When it was necessary, yes. Sometimes, there’s not a clean solution. Sometimes, even innocent children get powers… that should not be. A girl who absorbed people into a hive mind, and every victim absorbed others, too. A boy turning people into vampires which turned others. Another girl who thought she could heal people, but was killing them and replacing them with monsters. But her power would not let her see that. And others who were… even worse. Far worse.

“But I’m not like that! My power really does help people… doesn’t it?”

Ah, but you are worse. War is prevented because people don’t want to die. Plain and simple. Despite all the powers in the world, Death is still the great equalizer. The great end. And only the insane are willing to die for their cause. But you… you remove that. With you, death is no longer final. Any war for the sake of capturing you is justified, as you could nullify all their losses. So I’ll… remove you from the equation.

That’s… that’s horrible! What does Lady Light think of that!?”

Another chuckle. She hates it. Hates me for doing it. But she always forgives me, in the end. That’s Gwen, she’s… she’s too good for this world. She shouldn’t have to make this kind of decision, so I’m making it for her.

“That’s not good. You can’t decide on other peoples’ behalf! And you can’t just choose who gets to live and die!”

Like the way you do?

That stopped him in his tracks. “I… I can’t bring anyone back if they don’t want back. I don’t choose who lives, I just give them the choice!”

But you choose who to use that power on. He stopped, shaking his head. Why am I even talking to you about this? This is only making it harder for both of us. Just close your eyes, and it’ll be over in a flash. He raised his hand.

“No! No, I can still fix it! We can save the world, make it better!”

I don’t think so. This world’s not worth it, anyway. None could be. So n- wait, what do you mean with we? He lowered his hand.

Ember was breathing heavily now. He couldn’t fight him, obviously. He couldn’t escape. He had to convince him to let him go. Or stall him and hope that, somehow, Lady Light would show up. “Me and… a friend.” He didn’t want to mention Macian by name. Not in front of him.

The boy you were seen with during the Berlin and London attacks?

“Y-you know about him!?”

The villain shrugged. I am the leader of the largest intelligence and villain management organization in the world, son. And you two weren’t exactly subtle.

“Oh. Yeah. Him. He and I are gonna save the world, just wait and see!”

Hahaha! Oh, that sounds great. But I fear it’s not that simple. He turned around, taking a few steps away from the bed. Not that Ember thought he could use that to his advantage. I don’t know what you two’ve cooked up, but it’s not gonna work, anyway. I… God, I’m talking too much tonight.

He suddenly turned and rushed forward. Ember scrambled back against the wall, until there was no room to move and all he could see were two glowing red orbs.

Alright, I’ll play. Let’s say I let you live. You and that friend of yours try to save the world – but you fail. And you will. What then?

Ember swallowed deeply. “W-we don’t stop. We look at what went wrong. We figure it out, we make sure it won’t be a problem when we try again. Analyze. Advance. Adapt. That’s what he always says.”

Does he? Sounds like a real hero, that boy. But what do you say?

“I… I say that… that it’s no use not doing it. No use looking back – you’ll only get lost. There’s no holding back, no surrender. Never surrender. You just keep on going, even if the world tries to stop you. Otherwise, why bother at a- Why are you laughing?

The massive shadow had pulled back and was shaking on the spot, tendrils of darkness lashing out in all directions as his monstrous laughter filled the room… and beneath it, somewhere, someone else was laughing, a man.

Oh, oh, now I understand! That’s why I hesitated! He stopped shaking and looked him straight in the eyes. His orbs had changed for the first time, as if he was squinting. You reminded me of someone.

“Who?”

An idiot I knew, a long, long time ago. He talked like that. About saving the world. About advancing it, making it better.

“What became of him?” Ember asked, curiously. If there were more people who thought like he and Ember did…

He died. And it was his own fault. Now only a shadow is left.

Only a shadow… “He… my friend… he said… he said that you were a hero, once. One most heroes would do well to learn from,” he said, slowly. There was a clue there. “That… that whatever happened during Point Zero… it turned you into a villain. And it’s the same thing that makes Lady Light a hero. The hero.”

The Dark shrugged. So I was. So she is. But Gwen was always a hero, even if she was always a little too ruthless to really fit the stereotype… if I think about it, most people would have expected her to become the villain, and me the hero. She was always willing to make the hard decisions… the cruel decisions… so others wouldn’t have to. Like throwing a grenade into a ditch full of already wounded enemies.

Like Macian.

“What killed you?”

What?

“You’re talking about yourself. What killed you? What did you do, back then? That turned you into a villain?”

“You… I can guess some… I’ve been looking for stuff, travelling in my world… you found the door, didn’t you?”

You know about the door? For the first time, he seemed truly stunned.

“I’ve seen it… but I can’t open it. But you did, didn’t you? You and her… and you looked into it, I guess… what did you see?”

We saw… a friend. But then… I committed the gravest crime a hero can commit.

“What was it?”

I hesitated.

“To do what? Who was that friend?”

He shook his head. That’s not important. None of the particularls are. I hesitated, and that’s something no hero should ever do. A hero must always press onward… otherwise, only villainy remains.

Leaning forward, the shadows spread around the figure. I wonder… you are so much like me. And your friend, Macian – yes, I’ve heard his name – he sounds so much like Gwen used to be… like she still is, in may ways. I wonder, when the time comes, will you too hesitate? Will you fail? I wonder.

“You won’t ever know if you kill me.”

Heh. Touche. Maybe… maybe it’s worth the risk. Yes, I think I’ll risk it… I’ll let you live, for now. Show me, Ember. Show me if you’ll remain a hero… or if you’ll hesitate, and fall. Fall into the Abyss.

“I… We won’t fail. And even if we fall, we’ll rise again and go on, until it works.”

He started laughing. Then he stopped, suddenly. We’ll see… I’ll see. I’ll be watching you…

And with those words, he faded into nothingness, leaving Ember alone.

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Interlude 9 – Worlds Adrift

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The Protectorate, Great Britain, 2012

“Brought you breakfast!” Pete shouted as he walked into the room, making her jump in her seat.

“Jesus, Pete, can’t you knock?” Mandy shouted, already feeling frustrated. He never learned. Ever since Desmond had been sent away – inevitable, really, but still a shame – Pete had suddenly decided to woo her. And while she wasn’t generally against having a good man wooing her, Pete… did not understand how to properly treat a lady.

“Aw, come on sweetheart, don’t be mad! Here, I brought you your favourite breakfast.” With a wide, boyish grin (he sure didn’t look like his twenty-four years) he put a tray of food onto an empty part of the console in front of her. It was loaded with turkish sausage, pan-fried to spicy red perfection, warm garlic bread and a hearty mixed salad.

Pete was a firm believer in the theory that the way to any heart was through the stomach (not a bad idea) so he’d quickly found out what she liked to eat (a little creepy, since he hadn’t asked her, but sniffed around) and now regularly brought her her meals, especially when she was pulling a night and early-morning shift (very handy, but also really annoying).

Unfortunately, her traitor of a stomach decided just then to make hungry noises (she hadn’t eaten for more than twelve hours, apart from a few donuts), which only made him grin even wider (why didn’t his head just fall off backwards?) and made her blush and turn to the food, swiping her strawberry blond hair out of the way.

No reason to let it go to waste.

“Thanks. But you really should knock next time,” she said in between two mouthfuls. Dammit, she wasn’t even angry or frustrated anymore.

His feeding-her-until-she-falls-in-love-with-him gambit seemed to be playing out well, and there was nothing she could do about it.

“Anything happen?” he asked her after a while of her quietly eating.

“Believe me, everyone here would know if something happened. I’d be pounding the big red button.”

He chuckled, which again made him seem younger than he was. “I guess so. Man, doesn’t it freak you out sitting here all the time, watching… him?”

They both looked at the monitor wall, and she knew what he meant. Ever since what had happened to Desmond, the board of directors had gotten really nervous and redoubled safety measures. No one knew how the Protege had reached him to cause such a reaction. Then again, compared to his other powers, it was really quite trivial.

But just the fact that he had acted… everyone was freaking out. If he woke up, truly woke up in a way they couldn’t keep secret, it might spark world war three. It was the last thing they needed.

“I guess… it’s not him who’s freaking me out, but everyone else. How they’ll react. We almost had a world war before he shut himself off, and now…”

“Situation’s just amazingly strained right now, I know. So let’s just hope n-“

A high, whining sound slammed into them, knocking them off-kilter.

“Wha-?” Mandy almost fell off her chair. Her head was ringing, her vision blurred. She pushed the button by sheer reflex, and then she did fall off her chair.

By the time she came back to her senses, Pete had done so, too, and was helping her up.

They looked at the monitors, expecting… something. But Ember was sitting where he always did, apparently unaffected by whatever had knocked them out.

Then again, he could probably walk on the sun without even getting a sunburn.

Still unable to hear anything, Mandy pushed a few buttons and switched half the screens to look at the defensive lines of the Protectorate – and her blood ran cold.

The Protectorate was under attack.

A group of metahumans, all capable of flight had smashed into the South-Eastern section of the perimeter… the second wall, to be precise. The first one was untouched, and they were already pushing through towards the third one.

The group was pretty much split in the middle. Half of them wore nondescript skintight black suits with heavy, featureless helmets, decked out in various equipment, from large guns to a full suit of power armor in one case – three of them women, one male and the other seemed to be androgynous – and the other half were dressed in various costumes. Of those, four were women, two were men and one looked like a green dragon.

Pete and Mandy watched in horror as these two groups demonstrated an insane amount of teamwork and perfect synchronisation, punching through the second defensive line.

Mandy immediately noticed that one of them – one of the women in costume – was not participating in the fighting. Instead, her arms were wrapped around something packed in thick red cloth, and she was flying in the middle of her group, staying safe, and teleporting around in blinking flashes, evading any attacks.

“The Fay,” whispered Pete. Or maybe he was screaming, and she just couldn’t hear him well.

She blanched, recognizing the costumed part of the group. They were a part of Britain’s biggest crime syndicate. And the woman with the bundle… Boudicca, a relative newbie with quite the reputation.

As to the other group, she couldn’t say. They had no distinguishing marks whatsoever.

But they were all striking at the worst possible time – Lady Light and most of their top-level metahumans were away to Kansas, responding to an appearance by Desolation-in-Light, and they’d also had several technical problems lately, with half their blimps out of commission and parts of the wall – especially the South-Eastern section – being seriously defunct.

Did they know when to strike, or is this just a coincidence?

The invaders pushed to the third wall, where they met the hardest resistance. One of the women in black stretched her arms out to the sides, and a wavering, flickering sphere of distorted air and light formed in front of her.

With another flash of disorienting noise and worse, it exploded, knocking most of the defenders (as well as Mandy and Pete) for a loop.

By the time they’d come to their senses again, the enemies had nearly broken through the third wall and its defenders.

“Oh God, oh God, they’re going to get through!” shouted Mandy, even though she couldn’t even hear herself.

A flicker of light appeared over the battlefield, stretching to form a rectangular doorway. A tall figure clad in light stepped out.

Lady Light smashed into the group of invaders like the fist of God, taking down two of the Fay members in one hit. Her hard light armament formed into a glowing set of winged armor, a spear twice as long as she was tall and a winged crossbow, and she tore into the invaders, even as her aura reinforced the defenders, calling them to arms once more and with thrice their former fierceness.

She was met with coordinated counter moves, the remaining invaders focusing more on her than on the others. The woman with the wide-range perception attack initiated her power again, but Lady Light broke through their defensive lines and kicked her so hard it drove her into the ground, fifty meters below. Then she turned to Boudicca, striking at the woman-

Who teleported out of range at the very last moment, trying to get past her and into the Protectorate proper.

Lady Light reforged her spear into a whip, drawing her closer, the whip apparently blocking her teleportation.

Boudicca was fighting desperately to break free, and despite being supposedly a Paragon Tier all the way through, she was obviously straining Lady Light – though the other villains were doing their best to help, too.

The four remaining metahumans in black teamed up and attacked Lady Light, while the other members of the Fay spread out to fight back the other defenders.

Mandy watched in awe as Lady Light fought all four enemies – going by the powers they displayed, each of them had to be Apex Tier at least, and she was pretty sure the androgynous character was a God Tier blaster, every one of his blue energy beams tore huge chunks out of the walls and the ground, the light lingering to eat through the material, whenever Lady Light didn’t redirect his blasts upwards – and took down two more in about thirty seconds, not even needing to reforge her armament. The androgynous blaster was the first to go down, taking so many hits in so little time he was apparently unconscious before he was halfway down towards the ground. And all the time, Lady Light kept holding on to Boudicca, preventing her from teleporting into the range of the Protege.

“Down there!” Pete shouted. He was pointing at one of the monitors.

Mandy looked to see how the woman Lady Light had earlier stomped into the earth raise her arms, weakly, and set off another of her disorienting blasts. This time, it was far weaker and didn’t reach the two of them, but the defenders reeled and many were promptly smacked down by the invaders. With her senses at her command, Mandy could see that both her teammates and Lady Light had remained unaffected, the latter shooting a bolt of pure light into the prone woman, knocking her out for good.

And then Boudicca managed to tear off the whip and teleport past the defenders, into the Protectorate.

“He’ll tear that madwoman’s mind to shreds!” shouted Pete, but evidently, Boudicca didn’t care. She charged into his range without hesitation.

* * *

Lady Light flared up, her armament reforging itself into a sword, a pair of blade-like wings and three spheres that rotated her body. She turned towards the remaining invaders – only two of the black-clothed strangers and one of the Fay, not counting Boudicca, were still active – but they all ceased fighting and turned to watch Boudicca. Lady Light, too, turned to watch, the woman now beyond safe reach even for her.

The woman, incredibly, was flying towards Ember, teleporting ahead every few seconds to speed up. Cameras from the other side of the Protectorate were picking up images of her face, showing it being drenched in tears, the eyes reddened, with four thin, fading scars on her left cheek, as if someone had raked their nails over her face.

Her flight wavered as she reached the halfway mark, her teleportation ceasing, as she seemed to almost curl up around the bundle in her arms.

Mandy could only watch in horror as the villain fell down, her flight turning into a dive towards the ground.

She slowed herself down, barely, rolling to absorb the impact, taking more care to keep the bundle than herself unharmed.

There were still nearly two kilometers between herself and Ember, and it appears she now had to get there on foot.

She ran.

“Holy mother of God, how the fuck is she doing that?!” Pete exclaimed, his eyes wide in disbelief as she just forced her way onwards, staggering every now and then.

Over the field and through a small wood she ran, jumping over a small pond and then over the wall of the old town’s cemetery. She broke the wrought iron gate on the other side with a kick, then staggered, fell to her knees and threw up.

“Oh please, let her stay down, please,” whispered Mandy, and Pete fell right in.

Boudicca complied, collapsing to the side, curling up around the bundle.

They both sighed in relief.

“Oh God, I almost thought she’d get through to him,” Mandy half-whispered.

“Me too. Man, what a madwoman. To even get that far… I wonder what’s in that bundle? A teleportation device, maybe? To steal him?” said Pete.

Mandy shook her head. Despite it all… she had the dreadful feeling that she knew what was in that bundle, and why Boudicca was so… determined.

And just then, the fallen villainess moved, slowly pushing herself up onto weak legs.

“Oh, heavens no,” they both said.

She took a step forward… and then another. And another. Step by step, she staggered forward, crying, wailing, her whole body shaking hard enough to almost throw her to the ground again, never to rise again.

Boudicca did not fall.

Step by step, slower and slower, she approached the center of the small town, approached him.

And then she stepped around a corner, and within sight of him.

They both held their breaths, expecting some kind of… reaction. She was the first to ever get this close.

The Protege did not move, nor react to her in any other way.

Her face mad with grief, shame and… another emotion, one Mandy had trouble placing, Boudicca took another step.

It took her almost ten minutes to reach the Protege.

She knelt down in front of him, raising her arms, holding out the red bundle. With one hand, she quickly opened it, then went back to holding it up with both hands, presenting it to him, her head lowered, her body shaking with sobs – but her arms were steady.

Mandy gasped when she saw the content of the bundle. She’d half expected it, but to see it.

A boy lay there, a baby, small and wrinkled… and dead. His skin was pale, his face relaxed as if asleep, his too-thin limbs unmoving.

The Protege did not react.

Boudicca did not move, but her lips started to move. Long-range microphones picked up her whispered words.

“Please… please… please… please…”

After nearly ten minutes – ten minutes of dread for Mandy and Pete, ten minutes in which she imagined the world to hold her breath, the begging ceased, as Boudicca’s strength waned.

Her arms began to tremble, losing strength. Mandy could not even imagine the mental anguish she had to be going through, this close to the Protege himself.

And then the cloaked boy moved.

They all gasped as he raised his head, looking at the corpse, at the woman.

They begged him to go back to stillness, or for this to be a dream, a feverdream even…

He raised a hand. He plunged it into the baby’s small chest.

The screens flickered.

When the image came back, he pulled his hand out of the baby – and it started to scream, wailing, living.

Mandy fell to her knees.

* * *

Afterwards, as Boudicca dissolved into delirious sobs, clinging to her reborn child, the Protege reached out and touched her shoulder.

He shoved her, gently, and she vanished in a flash, her teleportation enhanced far beyond its usual limit, taking her all the way out of his range.

Lady Light picked her up and flew her into the main administrative facility of the Protectorate. The five black-garbed metahumans had vanished without a trace during a split-second, as a black claw seemed to appear behind each of them, grabbing them and pulling them away to vanish.

The remaining four members of the Fay were detained along with Boudicca, though in separate rooms. None of them put up any resistance whatsoever.

Mandy left the surveillance room to Pete, who was all too willing to fill in for her (he was useful, and maybe just nice enough to give him a real chance) and staggered over to the general briefing room.

There, she learned the other pieces of the story.

Boudicca, real name Iris O’Sheannan, aged twenty-two, had lost her unborn son just yesterday, when a rival villain had attacked her at home, wounding the pregnant supervillain and causing a miscarriage. Her son, Sean O’Sheannan, had been just a month away from being born.

At midnight, while her teammates had been trying to calm her down, promising her horrible, horrible vengeance, she had been contacted by someone who claimed to be a part of the ‘Companions of the Future’. He’d offered her their top operatives for an attempt at breaking into the Protectorate and bringing her son to the Protege. At no cost. She had been too desperate to ask for reasons.

She’d agreed, and her teammates had immediately pitched in.

As it turned out – Lady Light got them to talk – Boudicca had always had a particular power she’d kept secret, an extremely focused precognitive power. It was useless for mid-battle use, nor could she get warnings from sudden attacks and such (which explained why her enemy had been able to catch her at home, despite her teleportation), but provided she had about five minutes and a clear picture of what she wanted…

Her power allowed her to make the perfect plan for any caper. It was predicated on her own knowledge – the more she already knew about the situation, the better the plan – but it certainly explained her meteoric rise in the underworld.

One of the Companions of the Future, a metahuman who had not participated in the attack itself, was a power booster, capable of giving massive split-second boosts to powers.

Combining those two… they’d hit at just the right time, at just the right point, working perfectly, combining their powers and skills in just the right ways…

They’d even planned for Lady Light and the Dark showing up and trying to fight them off, though they admitted that, seeing how Lady Light alone had torn through them so easily, and how, in the end, it had been Boudicca’s raw will that supercharged her powers and allowed her to break through the whip which let them succeed, their plan had been less than sufficient. Had the Dark not stayed behind to help against Desolation-in-Light, then they would have been stopped.

No use thinking about could-have-beens now.

Boudicca had been put into an empty room, watched over by Lady Light and several cameras. The woman was delirious with joy, crying and giggling as she nursed her son for the first time. Even if she got through this with her sanity intact, Mandy doubted that she’d be convicted for anything – the courts would demand access to the surveillance footage, and rightly so, and she couldn’t imagine anyone condemning her for wanting her son back, especially seeing how… how overjoyed she was.

But that was not the worst part.

The attack had gone public. Someone had hacked into the Protectorate’s supposedly secure computer network and pulled all the footage of the fight, and then of what happened within. It had been streamed live on the internet, and was now already the most-watched video clip of the last three years.

They all knew what that meant.

Five years ago, the existence of a metahuman capable of healing any ailment, reversing age and even death itself had nearly led to another world war. Religions all over the world had proclaimed him the Messiah of their faith, or the devil incarnate, or Buddha reborn. Some had called for his death, no matter the cost. Some had demanded the privilege of throwing themselves at his feet. And so many had desired the prize he offered – for many the greatest prize of all – immortality.

Only his self-imposed exile had prevented the war from breaking out, the unlikeliness of him ever acting again.

Now it had been proven that the Protege was still active, if restrained.

The Califate had begun moving moments after he had revived the boy. Religions all over the world were once more in uproar, the True Believers were beyond ecstatic, the Returners were eager to welcome their newest member and his mother into their ranks (and also ecstatic about their ‘beloved’ awakening from his slumber) and the Sovjet Union…

The Reds were thought to have nearly three-hundred thousand metahumans among their ranks, with more than three fourth of them being trained for combat. For war. Roughly two-hundred and twenty-five thousand metahumans, raised from birth to be fanatically loyal to the Red Council…

The Red Council, which had been wiped out by Desolation-in-Light just months ago, leaving the Union in upheaval…

All these metahumans, already unstable by their very nature, further destabilized by the loss of the focal point of their worldview…

Now they saw a chance to return to the world order they knew. A chance to bring back their masters.

A chance that came attached with a time limit.

And the Pacific-Atlantic Treaty Organization would never allow them to even attempt to revive the Red Council, not without a fight.

The Sovjet Union declared war against the PATO nations just three hours after Sean’s rebirth.

Previous | Next

B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 5)

Saturday Noon, Half a day later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vasiliki, you stupid cow!” shouted Vasiliki back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For once, people listened to her.

* * *

Mindstar was doing paperwork.

She was doing paperwork for the Dark Five.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<Yes, Ma’am. As sure as we can be.>

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Amy arrived.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

Of course you’d focus on that…

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

It feels nice talking with her…

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

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

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

“Show me the video from the ravens.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy looked aroused. She was loving th-

Vasiliki shook her head. Huh, what?

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

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

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

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

“Amen, gal. Amen,” said Tim.

Amy just looked pensive.

* * *

Neverhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pro- no, Ember.”

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

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

Ember didn’t respond.

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

Negation.

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

“We can communicate another way, though?”

Affirmation.

“Why am I here?”

Curiosity.

“Am I here because you are curious?”

Negation.

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

Negation.

“Am I here because I am curious?”

Affirmation.

Basil thought it over.

“Do you know about my memory problems?”

Affirmation.

“Do you know why I’m having them?”

Indecision.

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

Negation.

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

Affirmation.

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

“Do you know about Macian?”

Affirmation.

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

“Do you know how we’re related?”

Affirmation.

“How?”

Refusal.

“You don’t want to tell me?”

Negation.

“You can’t tell me?”

Affirmation.

“Why not?”

Time.

“You mean it’s not yet time?”

Affirmation.

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

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

Affirmation.

“Are they good?” Keep the questions simple.

Affirmation. Affection.

“You know them personally?”

Affirmation.

“Are they good for me, too?”

Affirmation.

“Should I try to find them?”

Negation.

“What am I supposed to do then!?”

Indecision.

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

Affirmation.

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

Affirmation.

“What?”

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

All the world went white.

* * *

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

I need to improve her voice program.

He moved, flinched. Then he rose up.

I had the weirdest dream.

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

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

Then he remembered the urgency in Eudocia’s voice.

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

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

Ah crap.

B005 An Ember of Hope: Little Giants (Part 8, Final)

Again, Henry’s mind reeled at the impression of Macian’s world, the endless activity of his power. No wonder he seems unhinged. His power alone is completely out of control.

This time, however, he noticed a system to the madness. All the pictographs were showing… well, inventions. Or rather, the process of inventing. Most of them were dropped pretty quickly, but there was always something that came of them, even if it was something different than what they’d started out inventing. Sometimes, they’d split into several lines of invention, sometimes merge into one. And there was a source to it, as well as a destination. They all moved in a kind of loop around the strange reality, whether they were black pictographs on white ground or white pictographs on those black geometric forms – they all flowed from a central core and fed back into it, a blazing sun at the centre of Macian’s world, the source of all of its light. A light which did not cast any shadows, as Henry noticed.

“Well, this explains why I always feel like I’ve got a flashlight behind my eyes,” commented Macian, making Henry jump. He hadn’t even noticed the other boy standing right in front of him, looking around within his own world.

“You recognize this?”

“Sure thing. That’s how I always work out my inventions. Pictographs and stuff.” He was looking around as much as he could while having Henry’s hand on his shoulder. “Sure looks crazy, huh?”

Henry nodded.

“So, this is the second world. I guess everyone has their own?” Macian asked, his face focused on the scenery. Henry noticed that two pictograph-lines had collapsed into one as Macian’s eyes focused on them.

“Yeah. How did you know?” replied a startled Henry with another question.

“You said that you pulled people into the second world and that you could move within it. I doubt that my world is the whole second world. So there must be other places, or even several distinct worlds. And why the hell can’t I focus my power on this?” he suddenly shouted with an annoyed expression on his half-face.

“What do you mean?” asked Henry, startled from the sudden outburst.

“I mean that I can’t analyze this with my power! I was trying to figure out how to make an invention that messes with this, but it runs into the same blindspot I had when I tried to figure out how to bestow powers!” He was actually pulling at his own hair with his good hand, frustrated as several lines of pictographs just cut off without feeding into anything else. “I hate it when that happens!”

“Calm down! Let’s focus – this is about my power, remember?” Henry tried to bring him back on track.

Macian nodded, rubbing his temple. “Yes. Right, right. You said you can see in both worlds? This and the real one?”

Henry nodded. “Yes. I can see both at the same time.”

Macian seemed to think about it, closing his eyes and opening them again. For a moment, Henry could tell that his senses weren’t in the second world anymore.

“I can see either the first or second world. If I try to see both, I just get dizzy. Your power must compensate for the added strain to your mind due to the doubled sensory input.”

He just nodded.

Macian went on: “You said you have control over whomever you touch? Try and turn my hair white.”

Henry nodded, concentrating, picturing Macian’s hair turning white.

Nothing happened.

“Won’t work,” he said.

“Alright. Two possibilities, in my opinion. Keep in mind that I can’t use my power on this, so no super-science support. Either you can only affect peoples’ powers, or you can’t affect me inside ‘my’ world. Can you pull me into ‘your’ second world?”

With a mere thought, Henry did so, and they stood in a far more colorful place, his wide plain of grass and flowers. The sun was still down, so they could see the starry sky above.

“Woah! Can’t feel my power!”, shouted Macian, staggered. Henry felt a profound feeling of emptiness, of calm, which simply hadn’t been present before in Macian. From one moment to the other, the turmoil of his mind just lessened down to the point where he was just merely off, instead of completely deranged.

Macian looked around, curious, and got hung up on the stars above.

“Man, I’ve never seen stars before, not unless you count my manifestation,” he whispered.

Henry’s eyes widened as he heard that. What? “How could… no way. No way, Macian.”

The boy looked at him with a sad eye, reflecting the emotions Henry could feel from him. “Did I say that out loud? Damn.”

Henry thought furiously. The minions that tried to take him knew and feared Macian. Fire Burial and Heretic were familiar with him. And he with them. With all of them, judging from his comments. Henry was sure he’d been mutilated by Fire Burial. He had extensive combat experience, as far as Henry could judge something like that. And he had never seen the stars before.

“You’re with them. The Savage Six,” said Henry, careful to only speak in the second world.

The young boy’s right eyelid twitched, as did his good hand. Anger, Indignation, Loathing. “I’m not one of them. I’m just… stuck dealing with them.”

“How long have you been in this place? And why?”

Macian, still looking up at the stars, started to say something, hesitated, then said: “Can we not talk about that?” His voice was soft, sad, even though there was a storm of emotions inside him.

Henry would have loved to skip this conversation, but he needed to know who he’d been travelling with. “Please, you can trust me. Just tell me…”

The cyborg boy turned to look at him, his eye sad and yet… relieved? Henry couldn’t begin to figure out the feelings behind the face. “I warn you. This is dangerous knowledge. With Mindfuck around, they’ll probably know I told you. Do you want to take the chance?”

He thought about it. Worried, hesitating. Then he remembered a line he’d heard, or maybe read, once.

Macian seemed quite put off when he started smirking. “What is bravery, without a dash of recklessness?”, he asked.

The other boy paused, thought about it too, turning the words around in his head as the feelings behind the face changed, though they were still too convoluted for Henry to truly define them. Then he smirked back. “Alright, Mister Proverb. Listen close, I’m not going to repeat this…”

* * *

They entered the building once Dunstkreis gave them the signal, Macian a bit out of balance due to carrying both his artificial arm and the other implants in his arms, trying to get used to the changed weight.

“Was zum- What happened out there!?” asked Dunstkreis when he saw the changed boy.

Even his hair was back and he looked, for all intents and purposes, like a normal eight-year-old boy. Even the madness behind his eyes had lessened, though it still made everyone who looked at them uneasy. He looked up at Dunstkreis, grinning a most boyish, normal grin. “Seems like Henry over here could be the most powerful healer ever. By my humble estimation, that is.” His voice had changed, drastically, sounding far more like a humans, without the electronic intereference or what Henry now knew to be off-sounds due to a burned throat.

Henry blushed, rubbing the back of his head as he looked around the room they were in. A back room of a tailor, judging by the equipment. How I’d love to work on a new coat. His old one had vanished together with Fire Burial.

There were seven more people there. The two adults – terrified, more for their offspring than themselves – and four children – just plain terrified, crying if they hadn’t fallen asleep from exhaustion, as well as a dark-skinned lady with an eye-catching pink-and-green peacock-pin on her strapless red dress. He remembered seeing her for just a moment back during the gala. Right now, she looked rather dishevelled – physically. But her face only showed composed interest, as she was holding a young girl’s head in her lap, softly stroking the child’s hair.

“Henry!”

He gave a start, turning to look at Dunstkreis, who’d been trying to catch his attention. “Yes, Sir?” He noticed that the older man was holding himself awkwardly, and remembered that he’d been wounded earlier. “Do you want me to heal you?”

Dunstkreis nodded.

“Alright, just relax, ’cause this is going to be a bit strange…” He put his hand on the older man’s forearm.

Dunstkreis looked around at the serene scenery of Henry’s world, but said nothing.

Henry concentrated. They’d found out that he couldn’t just imagine someone healed – the effect would be reversed the moment he let go of the other person (though he didn’t seem to have the same limitation in regards to non-attended objects, but to stuff like Macian’s gear) – but just like with the punch he’d delivered to Fire Burial – negating her powers as well as enhancing his own strength – the results of his power’s use remained.

After some very uncomfortable (for Macian) trial and error, they’d figured out that it worked best with symbolic effects. In Henry’s case, he imagined a golden ember that set fire to his patient, healing them – the healing effect faded after he let go, but Macian’s body remained healed (Macian had also insisted to make it so the fire first expelled foreign bodies from the patient’s body, so he’d retain his equipment).

And it worked. It worked exceedingly well, far better than any of the other effects they’d tried to manifest. Macian had only a few ideas as to why his power worked so much better with healing, since he couldn’t apply his power to the subject. One of them was that his power was simply primed for healing, another that it was Henry who was primed for healing, or rather for positive applications, and finally because humans naturally wanted to be whole and since his power was interacting with the “worlds” of other humans, they might be reinforcing the healing effect. Either way, it worked and Henry had been able to heal his friend, even regenerate his arm.

And now his fire spread over and into the older man’s body, burning the pain and the damage away, making him – within the second world – glow like a soft, warm bonfire.

The experience was thoroughly strange to Henry, so much so that he couldn’t even feel Dunsktreis’ emotions while doing so. There were no real words to describe it, apart from ‘an all-encompassing feeling of freedom and companionship’ mixed with ‘a strange eldritch (Macian’s word) touch’ unlike anything he’d felt before.

When the fire began to die down, Henry let go and stumbled backwards, still dumbstruck by the intense emotions of the process. When he looked up, he felt like fainting – Dunstkreis looked like he’d aged several decades – backwards. Not to the point where he was young again, but… twenty, maybe thirty years had been taken off by Henry’s estimation.

“Wha- what did you do, my boy?” the rejuvenated man whispered, looking at his hands in wonder. More than half of the liverspots that had covered his body were gone, and he looked closer to mid-fifty now, his hair having partially turned brown, his face, his entire body, gained muscle and strength. Fortunately, he’d been wearing rather wide clothes, so they still fit, if barely. He’d been an extremely fit man.

Maybe one of these Adonises?

“His power probably identified the degradation of your body due to aging as ‘damage’ and thus did its best to reverse it,” explained Macian with an audible smile in his voice, even as he was reconstructing his Kinetic Repulsor, having deconstructed the mechanical arm in less time than it had taken Henry to heal Dunstkreis. And he’d already reworked his eye into one-eye goggles that attached to his left ear. “Congratulations, you look like you’re literally thirty years or so younger.”

Everyone in the room save for Macian (who was quite pre-occupied) and the peacock-pin lady (who just looked intrigued) was staring at him.

“Umm… I…,” he turned beet-red, reaching for an excuse to get out of the spotlight. “I… I’m tired! Need to sit down after this…” Not even a lie.

He scrambled over to sit so Macian was working in between him and the others, while Dunstkreis was stretching, wondering at his newly rejuvenated body.

“I’ll keep them off your back. You just relax, mate,” whispered the young gadgeteer as he was reconfiguring his former arm into an armored glove.

“Yes… relax…” He knew some tricks for that, though he usually needed his coat or one of his self-made blankets. Still, it should help at least a bit, and he now had his power as well…

* * *

Henry opened his eyes, focusing almost entirely on his second world. Meditating was far easier when you could literally retreat from the world. He just kept some of his focus on the first world, so he’d react if anything happened – he couldn’t cut himself off, even if he’d wanted to.

Now he took a deep breath, taking in the fresh smell of clean air, green grass and fresh water. He was sitting under a tree, leaning against the trunk, with a small spring right next to him, coming up from between the roots of the tree and forming a thin stream down the hill it stood upon.

Looking up, he could see the brilliant night sky, filled with all the beautiful stars of mankind. No matter how many times he saw them, the sight still enchanted him.

I wonder…

A thought caught him. Everything in this world was his – but everything outside of it, all that was part of the firmanent, was from other people.

So what’s the sun stand for?

He focused on turning his world, until the sun stood in the skies, blotting out the stars around it. And there was something more…

Two suns. There are two suns. One was barely visible, a sun barely different from the surrounding blue of the sky. A sleeping sun. As bright, as massive as the main sun, but not awake, not shining.

He imagined a giant magnifying glass above him, to take a closer look. And, for the first time, he noticed something that he hadn’t before.

Turning the world around again to look at the normal night sky, he saw what he only now noticed, because it was so omnipresent, he hadn’t even noticed it before. They’re all connected.

A network of glowing tendrils connected the worlds of humanity among each other… and he was reasonably sure they represented relationships. And the reason he was noticing them now was because…

He turned the world around again, to look at the two suns. … because that one… it doesn’t have them…

The bright sun had none. No relationships, no connections whatsoever. It was brighter enough to blot out all the other worlds save for the sleeping world, unless he interposed his world to take a look at the others.

Could that be… Desolation-in-Light?! Zooming in closer, he could see the haze of light that accompanied DiL’s attacks – he’d seen them on TV often enough – only a million, billion times more concentrated. She’s… so alone…

But he couldn’t reach her world, not without touching her body, first…

* * *

It was many hours later, after they’d all slept in shifts (save for Henry and the other children, who had been allowed to sleep through and Macian, who it turned out never needed to sleep, at all), that Henry was suddenly woken from his reverie of exploring his second world and the firmament above it.

Someone had just appeared out of nowhere within his range. A world that had been too remote to feel before, but now he could sense it, and extending a thought, he tried to feel her out…

He was shaken awake again. “Mate! What happened!?” Macian propped him up against the wall, one hand shaking his shoulder. He still preferred to use his right hand for this, it seemed.

“Wu-what?” asked Henry, groggy and with a headache.

“You just bent over, retched and passed out!” said Macian with worry in his tone.

“I… Someone dropped into my range… it was… it was awful. Demented,” whispered Henry with a tone so serious, so fearful it made the gathered civilians flinch back.

“What? Tell me what you felt! It’s time for the next round, who did you feel!? I described them to you, remember?”

Henry nodded. “Yes, yes, I know. Let me… let me concentrate.” Macian pulled his hand away and Henry straightened, closing his eyes to concentrate on the second world.

He found the demented world again, a twisted, wrong star, oozing with greenish-black ichor, dripping instead of shining – seven tendrils extended from it, five of them to remote worlds, which Ember recognized as those of the other Six, one to a faded one… and one to Macian, an asymmetrical, but intense relationship. Black on Macian’s side with just a little red, and lots of red and green on the other worlds side.

Which one… He thought back to Macian’s descriptions.

“Heretic you’ve already met”, said the young boy, looking up at the brilliant starry sky. “He’s their security, in a fashion. The most powerful and versatile member in direct confrontation, a nigh-immortal nightmare. He’s smarter than you’d think, but willingly follows Hemming’s lead, mostly due to their friendship.”

“Fire Burial is their mad dog, a wide-area combatant and master of guerilla tactics, even if she’s usually too stupid to fight smart. She obeys Hemming because he’s good at manipulating her, but mostly because Mindfuck does, and she’s pretty much addicted to her father’s power. More of a pet-owner relationship than a daughter-father one.”

“Mindfuck is… pathetic. Massively powerful telepath, the strongest one ever. But he’s stuck, a nine-year-old in a thirty-year-old’s body who’s reenacting what his father did to him, over and over and over. Prime case for high-level mental powers completely messing up their owner. He follows Hemming because Hemming knows how to push his buttons just right and because he’s smart enough to know that he wouldn’t survive in the real world. He needs the Six, so he’s loyal and reliable. So long as none of them get between him and his new target boy.”

“Pristine is their heavy hitter, their first and major line of defense, apart from Heretic’s spells. She’s long gone insane from sensory deprivation and just does whatever Hemming tells her to, simply because he’s installed himself in her mind as the one person who understands her. Her power is the same as the one DiL uses for defense, only weaker. She’s untouchable, but she can be moved against her will, as well as restrained – if you can overpower her. And she’s really strong.”

“Hemming is… a mystery. He was Britain’s prime superhero, until he and his right hand, Hermetic, just switched sides all of a sudden. Massively powerful shapeshifter, most people think he’s also a probability manipulator, because things seem to always go his way – but he’s actually a perception-type. Super-smart. Smart enough to set things up so it always looks like luck, but it’s all planned. He’s a master at finding peoples’ psychological weakpoints and exploiting them, preferring to break people by talking instead of by physical force.”

“Finally, Atrocity… she’s a monster. Completely and utterly insanely evil. Even Hemming can’t really control her. Even Mindfuck is disgusted by her. She doesn’t have nearly as much combat power as any other member, she isn’t as smart as Hemming, she doesn’t have any kind of game-breaking technology or something… but she’s adaptable, incredibly fast and utterly unpredictable, to the point where even Hemming just cuts her loose and hopes for the best.”

Henry opened his eyes. “Atrocity. She’s coming.”

* * *

They left the building minutes later. Macian had insisted that staying in an enclosed space with Atrocity on the loose was no different from suicide.

“I hope we’ll get a chance for another ice-cream-and-chips-orgy,” said Macian as they walked away from the direction Henry felt Atrocity move in, flinching every time she reached another human and started to… do things to them. She didn’t kill, but they quickly wished she’d had.

“Me too…” replied Henry, tears in his eyes as he was forced to try and block out the mental screams of what felt like a little girl.

“Have you thought about a codename?” asked Macian casually.

Henry looked up, eager for a distraction. “Hm… I did, actually…”

Macian turned to him without stopping. “So, what is it?”

“Ember. Call me Ember,” said the newly minted superhero. “It fits on so many levels, it would just be wrong to take anything else.”

The other buy chuckled. “Well, it fits you, anyway. And… Ember & Macian vs. The Savage Six! Sounds like a good title for a comic book!”

Ember grinned back. “Yes. It does.”

B005 An Ember of Hope: Little Giants (Part 7)

There were billions of worlds in the vast expanse of the second sky. More than Henry could really take in, more than he could count – it was only thanks to his power that he could get even a rough estimate (that being the aforementioned number of billions).

Of all these worlds, most were just dots in the sky, shining brightly but still in the background. He was coming to associate those with normal humans, since all the metahumans he had seen yet – his mother, Macian, Dunstkreis, Fire Burial, now Heretic – belonged to the second and third group of worlds.

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B005 An Ember of Hope: Little Giants (Part 6)

He did not burn. Despite its brilliance, the star was not hot, nor was it cold. It didn’t seem to have any temperature at all. Nor did it have any mass, his body moving through it without encountering any resistance. The only thing he saw, the only thing he heard, and tasted, and smelled, and just felt was pure, unspoiled light, strange though that may sound. It entered his body without encountering any resistance, saturated him in a way he had not words to describe, saturated his mind as well as his body, until he himself was light. He saw every painting he had ever made, or even considered, he saw every smile he ever put on his mother’s face, every smile he ever put on anyone’s face, heard laughter and joy. He saw the tears in the lives of those close to him, saw his mother and his grandmother cry together when they thought he wouldn’t see or hear.

And he saw Macian, the first real friend he’d ever made. He saw him, whole and unspoiled by any scars or machinery, a young boy much like himself, with a cute little girl with long black hair and even blacker eyes clinging to his arm. That has to be Amy. She looks so happy. But he also saw another Macian, scarred and crippled, his left arm and eye gone, operating on himself while madly muttering gibberish Henry could not begin to understand, rebuilding his own body with metal and plastic as a naked Amy was curled up in a corner, crying as she nursed a painful burn on the palm of her left hand, smeared with a yellow paste. Henry saw and he understood, as well. He protected her with his own body.

He saw himself, standing on top of a hill, underneath a large oak that was ladden with golden apples hanging from its branches, the scenery around himself right out of one of his paintings, all green fields, blue sky and snow-capped mountains. And he saw himself, alone, older and thin like a skeleton, sitting on the edge of his hometown’s fountain, covered by a threadbare raincoat with a heavy hood.

He saw a large city, with old-fashioned cars moving on its streets, despite the late hour. The stars shone bright over this city, which he recognized as Old Lennston. His gaze swerved around to a building on an elevated cliff over the sea, an old mansion. And he knew what was about to happen. Point Zero.

The mansion came alive with a bright light, golden and white and every colour imaginable – and billions more even he had no name for – as it literally disintegrated before his eyes, a pillar of light spearing towards the sky, clearing the sky from what few clouds there were in a large circle for miles, the night turning as bright as day as the pillar’s top began to give of circular emanations of light that spread towards the horizon. He knew that they would circle the entire world, had read the accounts of that night. Everyone read them.

There was no way to tell how long it took for the pillar to vanish, except that it was still night when it shrank and vanished. For just a moment, the night was dark again, then he saw two figures stand up, just a few feet away from the center of the pillar. One of them, a rather spindly woman with thin blonde hair began to glow in a light not unlike that of the pillar, only hers only showed white and gold, her body coming alight as she rose from the ground, breaking into a laugh that was filled with unrestrained joy, making him wish to join in and laugh with her. The second figure, a hawkish man with dark hair, a hooked nose and a well-muscled, but slender build, screamed in pain and despair, a sound that made his ears hurt, as the shadows gathered around him, forming an abomination of darkness with glowing red eyes.

Again, a different vision. The future; no, countless futures. Some bright, some dark, but all different. He zeroed in on one, a future filled with darkness unlike anything he had ever seen, darker even than the shadows that had enveloped the Dark. But not all was darkness there. He saw light. Five Points of Light. Five people, five hopes.

The Shaper, unbound from anything but imagination.

The Maker, mad and yet sane, rising ever higher.

The Dreamer, a gilded knight that glowed like the sun.

The Defender, another era’s fallen idol, given a second chance.

The Lover, wielding the primordial power.

The vision dissolved and Henry hit the ground running, charging towards the park. But he wasn’t running over the plaza alone anymore. It was as if he had two sets of eyes, two whole sets of senses that worked at the same time. One was in this world, showing him what he already knew. The other was in a whole new world, an even plain of grass with colourful flowers growing in random patches, a bright sun and clear blue sky above. He could hear the wind sing in that other world, could feel it on his skin – the skin that was in that world – his world, he knew, his and his alone – could smell its freshness with his second nose, could see it carry flower petals with his second eyes. He felt the soft earth and grass underneath his feet, even through his shoes, as he ran towards the building in between himself and the park where another explosion lit up the sky of the normal world.

But there was more. The sky in his world, it was a clear blue, but he had a feeling that there was something behind it. Concentrating on it, he made the sun go down in the second world, revealing the gorgeous star-studded sky he had seen earlier – only this time, he could not see his own star anymore. Duh, I’m inside it, I think! All those stars, all those worlds, the were singing. Each of them sang their own, individual song, yet they formed a symphony nonetheless. And there was another sound, as well. A deep, deep thrumming, like the beating of an impossibly huge heart, pounding in the background of this sea of stars, always there, but never quite in the foreground.

There were two stars that were closer to him than any others. Reaching out, he could feel them. From one, he felt a deep, desperate fear and longing, mortal fright – for someone else. Mama…

From the other, he heard a mad gibberish, as if someone were constantly murmuring so loud it spanned the space between that world and his own, a deep pain more intense than anything he had ever imagined and a wholly different kind of fear for another – but there was also a quiet, cold determination, an indomitable will that cut right through the pain and the madness and the fear, a will to move forward. Macian.

He shook his head. There was no time, he had to help the people in the park. He felt them and could single out their worlds. Two of them shone brighter than the others, as bright as his mother, though nowhere near as bright as Macian did. Metahumans. The bright ones are metahumans. Fire Burial and whomever she’s fighting. Fire Burial was mad, angry beyond belief and screaming (at least in her mind) as he could see her world flare every time she used her power to attack. The other one was angry as well, an older man. Frustration, anger, disappointment… he had been retired, a veteran of at least one big conflict, but he was fighting again to protect innocents. His powers… steady, strong, simple… some manner of Earth-related power. Whatever it was, he was getting the feeling that it wasn’t enough. There were also six other worlds close, four children and two adults, none with powers. Their worlds were farther away, more muted. But he still felt their fear. He needed to go help the old warrior, needed to save all of them. But there was still a five-storey building in between him and the park, and running around would cost some time.

I wonder if I can run through it, he thought. There was nothing in his way in his second world, maybe he could just run through it? He charged towards the building, two sets of feet pounding over two different earths as he ran past the tables on the outside and into the glass doors.

Ouch, he thought as he landed with his butt on the ground, rubbing his hurt face. His second self had bounced back even though there was nothing in the second world. Still connected. But my nose only hurt, it isn’t broken. It should be, as fast as I ran into it. Had he become invulnerable, somehow? He pinched his own arm, and it hurt. Slamming into the glass hurt as well. Something different from normal invulnerability?

But he didn’t have time for this now. Another explosion shook the ground, and he decided to try something out. I can control my second world. Maybe… He called the wind in the second world, made strong and steady, blowing upward to lift his second self up.

It worked. The wind caught his second self and pulled it up, which also lifted him in the real world – strange, the second world feels just as real – above the coffee bar. Unfortunately, he hadn’t considered that the wind would grab different parts of his body with different strength, so he was thrown around badly enough that he would have thrown up if there was still anything in his belly. He caught himself as he rose high enough to see the entire park, as well as the location of the battle. It was extraordinarily complicated to keep himself steady with wind – so he instead stopped the wind and nullified the gravity in the second world. For just a moment, it seemed like the gravity of the first world – a better name than ‘real world’ – would pull him down regardless, but he concentrated on pushing more of his second self into his first self – transferring his second self’s weightlessness into his first self. And it worked, again, letting him hover in place. Only he couldn’t move like this.

Now, the wind. He called the second world’s wind again, making it simply push him towards the battle. He shot forward, having far more control now that he was only pushing against his own back. Not the most dignified way to fly, but at least he had control.

Here I come.

* * *

He shot towards the flickering form of Fire Burial as she was hovering above the park, switching forms to fire off fireballs as her enemy hurled rocks and compressed earth at her.

When he thought he was close enough, he aimed with the gun Macian had constructed for him, pulling the trigger while trying to line the barrel up with the pyrokinetic supervillain. Unfortunately, his aim was bad, as he was both unpracticed and flying around in a most unstable manner. So when he pulled the trigger and a blue-white beam shot from the gun – filling his nose with the smell of burned ozone – it shot just past Fire Burial’s shoulder, alerting her to his presence without causing any damage.

“You little fuck, you actually got powers!” she shouted and threw a fireball at him just moments before a mass of rock and soot forced her to disperse into fire.

Time seemed to slow down for a moment as the fireball raced towards him. Push me away, push me away. The air in the second world turned, pushing him violently aside and out of the fireball’s path. But Fire Burial had reformed and guided the fireball around, making it speed up even as it slammed into him.

I won’t burn, I’m made of ice, I won’t burn, I’m made of water, I won’t burn, I’m made of stone. His mind raced, working through every inflammable material he could think off – even if he didn’t know where he got the idea – and, again, it worked. His second self became ice, it became water, it became stone – and his first self did not burn, the fire failing to singe even his patchwork cloak.

Fire Burial just stared at him in surprise as he hovered in place, free from the bounds of gravity. He himself was just as surprised as he looked down at himself. Well, my cloak is dry, at least.

“What the fuck,” she cursed, just to disperse into flame as another projectile slammed into her head.

Right. I don’t have to do this alone, Henry thought as he turned towards the old warrior. He looked truly old, at least eighty years, with a bald, spotted head, a long white beard and thin limbs, though his posture was still proud. His thin face had heavy cheeks, a short, stubby nose and rimless spectacles. He was dressed in a very old-fashioned shirt and pants with suspenders, as well as dirty brown leather shoes. Hovering a few meters above the ground, he was circled by nine spheres made of earth and rock that circled him the way the planets circled the sun – they were even of various sizes, roughly corresponding to the planets of the solar system. There was also a circle of dust and loose dirt around him as well, though it thankfully opened to let Henry through as he carefully approached the man, redirecting the wind in the second world to stop his movement in front of him.

“Hello!” he greeted, quite intimidated now that he was so close. The man had presence, even without all the extra stuff he was picking up from the old warrior’s world. His eyes are like steel.

“Guten Tag, mein Junge. Ich bin ‘Dunstkreis’. Wer bist du?” he asked with a rather thin, scratchy voice.

“Um, sorry, do you speak English? I don’t understand German,” Henry replied, flinching as an explosion rattled him from behind. Turning around, he saw that the sphere that corresponded to Jupiter had absorbed the hit and was currently reforming from soot and rock drawn from the ground.

“I do, young man. Call me ‘Dunstkreis’.”

Henry turned back to him, rubbing the back of his head. “Umm, my name is… my name is Henry, Sir. I don’t have a codename yet, I got my powers just seconds ago,” he explained.

Dunstkreis raised an eyebrow. “Seconds? And you already have a gun like that?”

“Oh, sorry, no, a friend gave that to me. But he had… he had other things to do.” He didn’t want to put any blame on Macian, if he could avoid it.

“I see. Well, I’m glad that you’re at least fireproof, young man.” Another explosion destroyed one of the pseudo-planets just Henry saw the Mercury-sphere fly towards Fire Burial, forcing her to disperse again. “Can you somehow protect the children back there?”

He pointed at the group of adults and children (he probably sees all of them as children). They were huddled together on the ground, with Dunstkreis hovering between them and Fire Burial.

“Sorry Sir, I don’t know if I can. My power doesn’t seem to affect anyone other than myself, I think. I don’t know,” Henry replied, blushing. Then he flinched as another fireball was intercepted by one of the pseudo-planets.

“I see. Could I have that gun, at least? I think I’m a better shot than you, even at my age,” Dunstkreis continued, taking the admission in stride. Henry handed him the gun without a word. “How does it work?”

“Um, it’s only supposed to stun. I don’t know how many shots it has. Don’t shoot at children, he said,” Henry explained. Dunstkreis nodded. “I think that I’m immune to anything she can do to me. So, I distract her and you shoot her?”

The old warrior clearly didn’t like the plan – Henry could feel his concern for him, which touched him more than he would have thought – but he nodded. “We have to be quick. I don’t know how long I can maintain my power nowadays. It’s been two decades since I last used it on this scale.”

“Alright. Godspeed, Sir,” Henry replied and flew straight up out of the orbiting pseudo-planets, then turned to approach Fire Burial.

“Damn, what… kind of… power did you… get, boy? Flight… and invulnerability?” asked Fire Burial, flickering pretty much in place.

“Don’t know, really. But everything looks much prettier now,” Henry said before charging at her. But she just turned into flame, letting him pass through without meeting any resistance.

For a moment, he could see her fire even in his world, but then it was gone. Strange. Something to keep in mind, I guess.

Fire Burial reformed, only to disperse again as she was shot in the back by the stun gun. “Hey! Beat it… old fart!” she screamed as she reformed, only to disperse again as Dunstkreis fired first a stun shot, then his mercury, venus and neptune spheres, each forcing her to disperse before even reforming completely.

“Oh, fuck it. Burn!” screamed Fire Burial as she began to form a gigantic fireball above her head, even as she dropped down. “NO!” she screamed as Henry flew through her again, dispersing her body and the fireball both.

He and Dunstkreis continued this, Dunstkreis using the stun gun to keep up the assault in between throwing his spheres, as it took some time to reform them (and he always kept at least half of them for the sake of defense). The civillians took their chance and fled from the field of battle, as Dunstkreis kept reorienting himself to remain between their group and Fire Burial, who was all but frothing from her mouth as she kept being forced to disperse into flame.

She can’t control it. She automatically disperses upon attack, even if she can turn into flame at will, Henry realized as he flew through her again. And again, for just a moment, he could feel her flames in his world. In fact, he felt their worlds touch for the briefest of moments, as their bodies were in contact. I wonder what I could do if I could touch her.

But then the battle turned, as the stun gun clicked empty, which Fire Burial used to break open their rhythm by throwing a massive fireball into the surprised Dunstkreis. The old man reacted immediately, pulling his four largest spheres in between himself and the fireball, but the explosion was still violent enough to throw him backwards.

“Now let’s… see how much… you can… take, little… boy,” Fire Burial said with menace in her voice as she turned to face him. She landed on the ground and shot a fireball at Henry with one hand, another one at Dunstkreis with the other. Since she didn’t need to turn into flame in order to fly, she could focus on keeping them both contained, evading Henry’s charges on foot while trying to whittle down Dunstkreis before he could recover them.

They were being slowly worn down, or at least Dunstkreis was, being unable to reform his spheres in time. Henry remained untouchable, making himself completely fireproof in his second world, which somehow translated to making his first world body fireproof as well (and his clothes too, thankfully), but her blasts were blinding him, making it impossible for him to make contact with her.

Mr Dunstkreis won’t hold out for much longer, I need to come up with something, he thought desperately.

And just like that, he felt help coming. Macian’s world was suddenly singing louder, which he took to mean that he was approaching quickly. Quicker than Henry had flown earlier.

He didn’t abandon me, he didn’t abandon me, he didn’t abandon me! Henry thought, ebullient, as a giant projectile slammed into where Fire Burial was standing, dispersing her as the shock of its impact caused an explosion of soot and rock.

Henry saw a mass of metal in different colours – he could make out parts from cars, a bus, a firetruck and at least one laundry machine – shaped like some kind of rocket. Three makeshift legs folded out of it as Fire Burial reformed further up, aiming the tip towards her. Macian was inside the contraption, Henry could feel him inside, as he aimed and then activated the weapon – a watergun, probably constructed from the firetruck, shooting balls of water at Fire Burial, forcing her to evade in her flame form.

If he hits her, we might just win, Henry thought as he flew towards the staggered Dunstkreis, who was reassembling his pseudo-planets.

“That your friend, Henry?” the old warrior asked.

“Yes, that’s Macian!” Henry almost screamed, beside himself with joy that his friend had returned. Then he noticed Dunstkreis’ singed clothes and his pained expression. “Oh no, are you hurt?”

“Don’t worry about me. I survived Weisswald, I won’t be killed by a little girl with some fireballs”, he replied, emanating a sense of old pride and self-confidence.

“Alright. Listen, Macian says that Fire Burial’s powers shut down if she’s drenched in water. We need to distract her, so he can hit her. Then we win!”

“Good. You continue as you did before, and I’ll go on the offensive now that the children are safe,” Dunstkreis agreed, then flew upwards.

Henry followed for a second, then broke off to charge at Fire Burial just as Macian geared up for another shot.

“You little fuckers… I’ll burn you all… to ashes!” she screamed as she was forced to abandon another attempt at detonating Macian’s makeshift robot, Henry charging through her again.

“Henry! Come here!” Macian’s voice rang out of the loudspeaker of the former firetruck.

Henry complied, flying down to the contraption as a hatch opened and Macian rose out of it, his left arm connected to countless wires that led down into the machine. There were no control elements Henry could see, so he was probably controlling it through his arm. I wonder how he managed to build that so fast. And how did he make it fly at such speed?

“What can you do? Quick summary!” Macian said, a sense of relief emanating from his world.

“I can fly, I’m invulnerable if I want to be, I can feel people, tell what they feel and whether or not they have powers. I can also get a general feel of their powers.”

Macian’s good eye widened. “Cool. And that has to be Dunstkreis. Read about him once. I think we might be able to win this, if we can just keep her from destroying my little toy here – and hit her before my water reserves run out. Now, go! I’ll try and come up with a way to take her down for good!” He sank back into the robot and Henry charged towards Fire Burial again.

At the same time, Dunstkreis took up attacking the once again flying Fire Burial from above, to keep her from attacking.

This won’t work. Macian can’t hit her if she’s flickering around as a flame, but if we let her stay solid for too long, she’ll blow his gadget up. It won’t work out like this.

He decided to try out an idea he’d just had.

Charging her from behind, he aimed to punch her in between the shots of the other two, while also imagining her to be in his second world – and her second world self was solid, and unable to turn into flame. If it works like it does with me, hitting her in one world, will hit her in both.

She turned around just in time to see his fist fly at her face. For just a moment, his skin and hers came into contact, and once again he could feel their worlds intersect, with her appearing in his world – but she turned into fire and his punch went through her, making him fly on. Her second world body had appeared in his world next to the one he had imagined, but it was separate from it.

No. I need to focus more. I’ll imagine her being powerless when her second body is in my world, and make that one powerless, not a copy of her.

He called the earth in his world up, creating a pillar that caught his charge, turning the tip into rubber to bounce back towards her.

This time, the moment he came into contact with her body, he was ready.

He imagined her second self to be vulnerable, solid and human as he hit her – and he also imagined himself stronger and harder, making his second self’s fist as hard as rock.

His punch caught her in one cheek, making her eyes go wide as he could feel her jaw shatter. Henry flinched as he felt her fear and pain, as well as her confusion. The punch threw her head back; he could feel her world grow dimmer as she passed out, plummeting towards the ground. She’s gonna die if she hits the ground!

With another act of imagination, he made the wind throw him towards her, grabbing her by one ankle so he could have the second world’s wind catch her second self, floating both of them down to the ground.

Putting her down gently, he took off his coat and covered her torso and crotch with it, to finally satisfy his sense of modesty. If only partially.

“Mate, that was mighty awesome. How did you do that?”

Turning around, Henry saw that Macian had climbed out of the robot, disconnecting his arm from the contraption, and now stood right behind him. Dunstkreis was also floating closer, though he kept his nine pseudo-planets in orbit around himself.

“What… what happens now? Does another one take a turn?” asked Henry, suddenly feeling very weary.

“No. If one of them is defeated, it means we get a break until the day is over,” Macian explained.

“Good,” replied Dunstkreis. “What do we do with her?”

They all looked at the defeated villainess, her broken jaw already swollen and turned a purplish-blue.

“She needs a doctor. I broke her jaw,” Henry explained.

“No way, mate!” shouted Macian as his arm shifted into a gun-like configuration. “We finish the crazy firebitch off. Simple as that.”

“No!” shouted Henry, grabbing Macian’s mechanical arm and pulling it away.

As before with Fire Burial, the moment he touched Macian, their worlds intersected. Only the effect was deeper, stronger, now that he had an actual grip on him.

Henry was pulled into Macian’s world, seeing a giant, vast white plain. It was nothing like his own world. Instead of grass and trees and mountains, there were black pictographs so complex Henry could not even begin to decipher them, racing across the endless white expanse. There were several geometric shapes floating within the white void; pyramids, spheres, dice and many, many others, blacker than the night with white pictograms moving over their surfaces. The whole chaotic scene was so complex, so erratic it made his head feel like it was going to explode.

The young artist staggered back, away from his friend, as his mind began to spin. The vision vanished the moment he broke contact, but it had still been enough to stagger him.

“Henry! Mate, what happened?!” asked Macian with worry in his voice and world, taking a step towards him, his attempt to murder Fire Burial forgotten.

“My power… strange…” Henry said while trying to get himself under control again. “Don’t… touch me… please.”

Macian nodded and they both waited for a few seconds until Henry was feeling better. Then, Dunstkreis, who had been observing them silently, spoke up.

“I agree with you, Macian. She needs to die, if only so she can never hurt anyone again. But it shouldn’t be a child who does this,” he said with a calm, cold expression. “I, on the other hand, already have a lot of blood on my hands. I’ll finish this. Please turn around.”

“NO!”, screamed Henry as he took a step forward, but Macian interposed himself between him and the other two, blocking his sight as well as making him hesitate, as he didn’t want to feel Macian’s world again so quickly.

Nonono, this isn’t right, we’re supposed to be heroes, not like them! he thought desperately as he saw the faux-jupiter slam into Fire Burial’s prone form, the force of the impact throwing both him and Macian to the ground.

“Was zum Teufel!?” shouted Dunstkreis in surprise.

Both boys looked around frantically, only for their gazes to fall upon Fire Burial’s body, now floating above them in the air, unharmed. Henry’s coat was still on her, as well.

“Nonono, not you! NOT YOU! It’s not your turn yet!” screamed Macian as Henry saw a large red sphere as big as himself approach, trailing a tail of golden rods of various sizes and several other, smaller red spheres.

The large sphere stopped above the three of them and Dunstkreis opened fire, aiming at Fire Burial.

But his shots were deflected as reality itself seemed to bend and twist, making them miss. The red sphere gathered the other pieces around itself, then reformed.

The largest sphere formed the gut of the contraption, with another, slightly smaller sphere as the chest, with four rotating golden rods in between. More rods formed the arms and legs, with small red spheres for the joints, while the head was formed by the third-largest sphere, which was slightly larger than Henry’s torso, joined by twelve short rods that circled it like some kind of halo. Seven rods, each longer than the whole body and legs, formed some kind of cape, or perhaps wings, behind its back.

The barely humanoid shape moved its “head” to “look” at them.

Macian spat out a single word, though Henry really didn’t need to hear it to guess who he was looking at. “Heretic.”

B005 An Ember of Hope: Little Giants (Part 5)

Macian stopped in his tracks and turned around, his arm shifting configuration, the fingers turning into stiff rods as the repulsor was replaced by a crystal disk much like the one within Henry’s force-field generator. It lit up just as the fireball closed in on them, creating a hazy field of distorted light in between them. The fireball slammed against the field, some parts of it penetrating deeper into the effect, some dispersing at first contact – but none pierced through.

As the fireball faded, Macian deactivated the field just as he turned around again, grabbing Henry to run further down the alley as Fire Burial gave chase, switching between flight and ranged attacks. Macian stopped to block her any time she fired off a particularly large fireball, but otherwise trusted the force-fields both he and Henry possessed to keep them safe.

“What are we gonna do?! She’s going to keep chasing us until the batteries run out!” he said to the young cyborg running just ahead of him.

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