B007.7 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“BRENNUS!”

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someday, you will have to explain all that.

Eh, not today, though.

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

Imma nasty bugger of all kinds.

Now you are just making fun of me.

Geez, whatever gave you that idea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, the irony me matey.

Shut. Up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What. The. Fuck,” said Tyche.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silver cut off the video feed.

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

That made everyone hold their breath and think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That shut him up.

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

“Ah crap,” whispered Brennus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<Yes!>

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 6)

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

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

Eww.

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

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

I can fly!

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

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

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

Ewwww.

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

Perma-Clean armor. Awesome.

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

How do I fight that thing?

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

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

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

There was something… something Basil had said, once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ow. That hurt. A lot.

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

“Are you alright?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s your power, anyway?”

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

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

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

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

Holy Sh- Holy Hell’s Freakin’ Bells.

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

But nothing that looked like a core of some sort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

*Smack*

*Smack* *Smack* *Smack*

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

*Smacksmackmsack*

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

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

Finally, it’s working as it should!

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

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

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

Time to see how far I can take this.

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

Goodie goodie.

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

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

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

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

And the pig-men all dissolved into goo.

Ewwww.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

“Why. Won’t. You. DIE!?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ow. Ow. Ouch.

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

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

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

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

Huh. Maybe I just recover really damn fast?

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

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

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

* * *

Ouch.

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

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

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

And she was completely, utterly fine.

Still hurts like hell, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They watched in silence.

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

Brennus said: “Amen.”

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 5)

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She will live.

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

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

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

He whirled around, drawing a knife from his belt.

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

“Who are you? How do you know me!?

I hope Gloom Glimmer did not catch that.

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

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

“P-Prisca?” What?

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

Then his brain finally caught up with what was happening.

“You manifested.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure thing.”

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ow. I can still feel pain in this body.

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

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

I never knew your name.

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

Well, she tried to, at least.

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

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

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

Rest in peace.

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

“Alright. Alright. Let’s go, go, go…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My day just keeps getting better and better.

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

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

Please try and come up with better one-liners.

Will do.

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

Sure, sure.

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

Fuck my life.

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B007.a A Dream of Knights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one prepared you for that at med school.

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

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

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

I’m so sorry.

* * *

Hurts.

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

Too late, too late, all too late…

Dimly, she heard screams and sounds of fighting outside.

Right, if Hastur came here and showed her face…

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

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

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

Basil wouldn’t want me to think like that.

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

Basil…

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

Mama…

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

Roselind.

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

Basil’s smarter, though.

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

Basil’s armor doesn’t shine, though.

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you? Why are you helping me?

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

It wasn’t working.

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

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

Basil? Your boyfriend?

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

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

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

She felt like laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uhu?

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

You don’t like visitors?

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

Debatable. But pray continue!

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

What? Love at first sight?

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

That what?

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

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

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

Sounds icky.

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

What?

What I’m going to tell you. A secret.

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

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

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

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

Oh. My. God. That bad?

That bad. Dad only made it worse.

How so?

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

What did she do?

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

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

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

Sounds like a jerk.

More of a troll, really.

A jerk.

True, I guess.

Hey, can I ask you something?

Sure.

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

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

Great. I’m Prisca. Nice to meet you.

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

Me t-

* * *

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

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

Darkness. No sensations.

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

Billions of lights.

Calling her.

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

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

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

The stars were growing brighter by the second.

Two were really close.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe worse.

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

It was over now. The stars were fading.

Only darkness remained.

* * *

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

Back.

No. It was over.

Yes.

She was dead.

Yes.

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

Yes.

He’d feel bad. Blame himself.

Yes, he will.

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

Yes.

Did she have to die?

Yes.

Did she have to die now?

No. Call back the Light.

She touched the three strands of light, pulling.

Come to me, she thought.

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

She pulled and pulled.

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

It fell… in front of her.

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

But her.

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

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

Do I want that?

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

Maybe not for the better.

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

Yes.

What do you want me to do?

Whatever you do.

Who are you?

Just you.

Oh.

Look.

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

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

Brilliant green eyes, almost glowing.

Mom?

No, she spoke. Just you.

Who she always wanted to be and more.

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

I can be you?

You already are.

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

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

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

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

I see.

She stepped closer, reaching out.

Please, let me fly.

She touched the star.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

Large dumpsters stood there, old and heavy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the world went white.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Prisca opened her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basil was too focused on saving that worthless piece of meat.

That worthless, broken, tainted, changed hull…

A hull that was still alive. Breathing. Feeling.

She could feel some of her old pain, as if through a kind of misty lens.

I’m asleep. And this… this is a dream.

She looked down at her perfect body.

Ah. Aha. Ha. Hahaha.

She’d gotten her wish. Her feet had risen a few inches off the floor.

Glimmers of golden and silver light formed around them, merging into… into boots. Greaves.

Golden and silver glimmers formed gathered around her, forming into gilded armor. Even a helmet that closed around her head, but did not obscur her vision nor her hearing.

Haha.

She held a spear, taller even than her new body, and a big round shield, both golden in her hands.

Hehehe. Everything’s golden, for sure.

She looked at the body on the bed. it was asleep, still. Basil was looking at her, his face hidden behind his mask.

Haha. I got it. I got it.

She was whole, and strong, and free, and healthy.

Except not.

Her laughter shook the room.

Previous | Next

B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 4)

Previous | Next

Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

That thought was first and foremost in Brennus’ mind as he stood in front of the slowly regenerating Panthera Avis, the giggling and snarling Hastur… and the bloody Mary, who had just finished reattaching her head to her body, and was now rising from the ground, continuing to bleed from every pore.

In retrospect, I should have suspected this when she did not stop bleeding after I beheaded her.

Though, to be honest, he was also somehow relieved that he had at least not killed her.

Netsense, on the other hand, stayed dead. Good, except not really good.

He wanted to crawl into Amy’s embrace, have her hold him and tell him everything was alright.

You’re such a mess right now, mate.

Is it any wonder?

“Don’t worry, you’ll feel fine soon,” Hastur said between giggles – she had already dropped back to her ecstatic behaviour. “Love at first sight will blow away all your problems.”

Since no one was attacking him right now – and he needed a reprieve, even a short one, to recover a little strength – Brennus focused on trying to send for help. By now, someone must have told Hecate or Tyche that he had been taken, and he had given both of them the means to track him. The fact that no one had appeared yet was quite… worrisome.

Activating his emergency beacon… he found the signal being bounced back.

Mary was back on her feet, rolling her head as if she had a stiff neck. Panthera Avis was not that far, but he would soon be functional again.

“Just give up. Give up, and feel the love.”

He ignored Hastur and looked around, switching to X-ray vision. They were in an enclosed complex – a supervillain lair, if he had to guess – that was surrounded by lead-lined walls (and probably some other materials, so no signal could get through). There was one cube within the complex that was also isolated, just barely the size of the room he was in.

There was no door or other exit he could make out, except for the ventilation system – and contrary to all conventions laid down by decades of games and movies, the vents were far too small for even a child. No way he would fit through with his power armor.

It hit him that this had to be Avis’ lair. There must have been some means by which to look into the place to get in, maybe a window or special wall, so he could teleport inside.

He could not find a single part of the outer wall of the place that was not reinforced. So he either needed a lot of explosive ordenance, or Gloom Glimmer to pull his bacon out of the fire (Hecate had not yet figured out how to do teleportation). Maybe if h-

Mary slammed into him with enough force to shatter at least four more of his ribs (he heard them break) and slam him into the wall opposite the hole in the wall.

He made a sound that was almost a sigh, pain clouding his thoughts, as he slid down onto the floor. The floor covered with blood wall to wall.

Mary approached him, her face impassive.

Arms… broken in more ways than I can tell. Breathing is seriously hampered, ribcage probably more broken than not. Can barely feel my legs. Head… swimming. Armor compromised in more ways than I care to count.

At least his mouth controls still worked. Any fighting he did with them would necessarily be clumsy, simplistic.

But he would not go out without a fight.

* * *

Mary crouched in front of him, reaching for his helmet.

He studied her face, even as he tried to plan his next move. It was actually hard to tell how exactly she looked, due to both the mass and the temperature of the blood she was bleeding at any given moment from every pore of her body. At least it preserved her modesty, a little.

Switching to a time-delayed camera mode – the effects of Hastur’s power seemed to not agree with recorded images, and even if her actual power did, then she would first need to enter the room and have Mary move out of the way – and saw… an ordinary girl. Coated in running blood, yes, but she looked utterly normal.

And she was afraid. In pain. She was horrified as her hands closed around his helmet, almost gently cupping his face before she started to squeeze.

He almost saw red with rage – the person was still inside. She was aware. And she was still herself.

Hastur may have transformed her body, may have given her powers – or triggered a manifestation – may have been controlling her actions, but she had not changed nor subsumed the person itself. Herself.

And she intends to spread this.

A crack appeared on his visor as Mary continued to squeeze, trying to break the faceplate of his helmet off.

His left wristblade rose up into her throat and then, with a twist, up into her brain again.

Stupid. The same mistake, over and over. At least they are not really smart.

“Oh, come on! Will you just stop fighting it!?

Almost passing out from the pain, Brennus rose on his feet, using the blade in her head to raise Mary up – her strength came from standing on blood, was his theory. Maybe her regeneration did, too.

Out of his left lower wristmount, he fired a pair of bolas. They wound around her neck and then shot up, a simple command making them stick to the ceiling just like his grappling hooks, hanging the young woman – Stars above, she is still a teenager – two feet off the ground. Blood continued to run down her body as Hastur screamed and cursed again.

No discipline there.

He looked at Mary’s face and saw pain, and fear.

Cutting her apart was not an option – she might regenerate out of any piece that fell into the blood below.

So he pushed his blade into her chest, piercing her heart. Out, then in again, twice, piercing both lungs. Liver, both kidneys.

There is a small tendency for female regenerators to have a kind of ‘core’ in either their womb or their ovaries. Font of life and all that, mate.

X-ray vision did not betray any overt core, but he pierced her reproductive organs as well, and every other major organ in her body.

He must have done something right, because she sighed – as much as she could, with two pierced lungs and a pierced throat – and went limp. Her body stopped bleeding completely, even from the wounds he had inflicted.

I think I need to throw up.

Keep it together, mate! Left, door, now.

He turned left and ran towards the door. His rear cameras showed Hastur following – interestingly, despite the effect of her powers on others, she herself did not seem to have any physical abnormities – and Avis lumbering after her, still regenerating.

The door was closed. It was also made of wood, so he angled himself so his left shoulder slammed into – Ow – and through – Double Ow – it, then ran on through the hallway beyond.

His scans had shown him a room full of electronic equipment. Maybe he could contact someone outside with it, maybe he could improvise something (unlikely, considering the state he was in). But he needed to delay his pursuers first.

Again, he almost passed out from the pain, but he grabbed two of his flash grenades and threw them into the room behind him. Before they had even detonated, he threw an explosive grenade into Avis’ open ribcage, and his last two at the ceiling just behind him.

Rounding a corner, he set them off, collapsing that particular hallway behind him (and, going by his scans, wounding both Hastur and Avis, not that it mattered much in the former’s case).

They would need to take another route to get him, unless she had Avis dig through it.

He ran towards the computer room, every step sending tremors through his body that nearly knocked him out.

The suit’s impact absorbtion had been compromised, too.

* * *

He had collapsed two more hallways in the surprisingly luxurious lair – really, being a supervillain seemed to pay way too well, if even a B minus guy like Panthera Avis could have a bunker like this – and pretty much holed himself up in the computer room, finally switching over to normal vision again. Ultimately, thermal vision hurt the eyes after a while.

His estimate of Hastur’s Intelligence, low though it already was, dropped further. What possessed her to abduct a Gadgeteer and take him just a few rooms away from this. Without even locking the doors.

Panthera Avis probably was not a Gadgeteer, but he was a serious technophile. He had everything. Three linked up state-of-the-art computers, a 3D wallscreen, one of the best audio systems on the market…

And password protection.

Of course the tech-savy supervillain would think of that.

One – only one – of his many means by which to interface with electronics was still functional. A wireless transmitter. It was not his most efficient means of working through, but it was all he had.

Cracking the system took him a whole minute, a minute he spent musing on the last minutes.

He came to a singular conclusion.

Hastur, for all her power, was just an insane teenager – going by her actions thus far, she was skating by solely on her power. Not much in the way of tactical or strategic awareness, much less problem-solving under pressure.

The problem was that she had a lot of power. And depending on how intelligent her thralls could get, her lack of intelligence might get patched up soon.

Considering how much death and destruction she had already caused just by skating by on power and surprise, the idea of her starting to act competently was… disconcerting.

He accessed the computer system and yes, it had an internet connection!

First, he sent a package with a summary of everything he had observed, as well as his video- and audio-recordings to both his own main computer and the United Heroes’ headquarters. Along with a call for help.

Then, he located the lair’s internet access point – ever since the internet had become a network important enough to be used by supervillains against the good guys back in the eighties, the government had become rather paranoid about controlling access to it.

Individual data traffic was not to be tracked unless there was probable cause and a court decision (not that anyone really cared – heroes and government agencies both had rather loose concepts about privacy on the internet, especially when it came to hunting down villains) but access points were tightly controlled. And everyone had to use one, the system had been fortified (and was still being improved) against access outside of those points.

The internet was free of charge, but the access was not free. One needed a legal identity to get into it (or a really, really, really good fake access point and sufficient Gadgeteering, or at least Hacking, skills).

Panthera Avis had neither. He was using the legal identity of a lawyer, who did have a legal access. Meaning Brennus could track the address of the lawyer, then locate the specific router Avis was accessing the internet through…

Oh, come on, really!?

He was still in the city. The Undercity, to be specific – that strange part of the city that had been created mostly by supervillains, vigilantes and the odd neutral metahuman (Brennus’ base was a good example for a future expansion of the Undercity – if he ever abandoned it, it would probably be absorbed by the overarching underground structure).

Just below a high-rise office building… two blocks from the headquarters of the United Heroes.

Guy has to be either stupid or ballsy. Or maybe both.

Another mail sent the location to the headquarters, as well as every local hero’s communicator.

Behind him, he could hear crunching sounds. Rubble being crushed and shifted aside.

He took a look. Avis had regenerated again, and he was digging through one of the collapsed hallways, Hastur standing just behind him, hopping from one foot to the other.

I need to get out of here. Can not wait for a rescue.

There were no blueprints of this hideout on the computer, and he had no idea how exactly to get out of here.

Except maybe by blowing it up, but since it was probably underground, well… not plan A.

You’re fucked, mate.

Either be helpful or shut up, please. Hastur seems capable of eavesdropping on our conversations somehow.

Aye. Food for thought – the two of them are still back there, digging. Going back to silent mode now, ‘kay?

That was something to think about – why had they not simply teleported past the collapsed hallways (they had been kind of a desperation move).

He could not fight anymore. He could not tinker anymore – right now, he would not even trust himself to fix a broken radio. His body was broken in too many ways to count, and he was only just barely hanging onto consciousness – he might as well spend time thinking, if only to stay awake as long as possible.

Not like I can do anything else but wait.

So he lined up the facts:

First, just minutes ago, Panthera Avis had been able to teleport easily across the entire city, as if his power had been boosted far beyond his former limits.

Second, he had done so only while accompanied by at least Hastur and Netsense.

Third, Hastur had some manner of vastly enhanced awareness, probably very powerful ESP.

Fourth, Netsense had been capable of sharing senses between people within her range.

Fifth, they had only ever teleported around with at least the three of them together.

Sixth, Hastur had taken the loss of Netsense far harder than the loss of Mary.

The only conclusion he could make was that they had been using the interaction of Hastur’s ESP and Panthera Avis’ teleportation for beyond-line-of-sight teleport. Of which they were now no longer capable, thanks to him cramming a grenade down Ne-

He had to fight not to throw up when he remembered the results of that action.

Alright. They no longer have unrestricted teleportation. Next point.

He could hear the digging sounds come closer, but refused to look. No point. Instead, he sent another e-mail with that observation, then continued to analyze the information he had available.

Hastur had some limited telepathy. Apparently, she had listened in on his mental conversation with the Blazing Sun and the Man in the Moon. But she had not seen his surprise attack coming, nor shown any indication of having access to any memories of his.

Maybe… maybe her power is to eavesdrop on communication, he thought. Not reading minds, but listening in on people communicating – a semantically limited power.

Which made her a little less scary… but threw up a whole host of very, very scary questions regarding his two conversational passengers. So far, he had assumed them to simply be fractured off pieces of his own personality. But by that logic, conversing with them should not count as communication, only as a disconcertingly schizophrenic way of thinking.

Yet she could listen to them.

Alright, Basil, enough. Think about the matter at hand first, worry about possibly alien inhabitants of your mind later.

As if on cue, he heard Avis break through the collapsed hallway. He turned and looked just in time to see him teleport past the blockade with Hastur, using the line of sight provided by his digging efforts to get past it.

Looks like I somehow need to hold out a little while longer.

He did send another mail though, only leaving out the information on his internal discussions – the logic got a little inconsistent without it, but he could live with that. No use wasting good information.

* * *

He switched to thermal vision and let his wristblades slide out again, moving his armor’s arms to test their function despite the mind-numbing pain it caused.

And you always hear people tell that you get used to pain. What a load of bullshit.

Nah, it’s true. Believe me, y’can get used to a lot of shite, mate. Talking from experience here.

Care to share some of that experience right now? I could use being able to ignore the pain a little.

No can do, mate. Sorry.

Avis entered the room and vanished in a flicker. But he had seen that coming, and was already turning around, making a left jab to try and impale his brain (that seemed to at least slow them down).

As if on cue, his left arm seized up both on the flesh-and-blood side (not much of a problem, though really painful) and on the power armor side. A bare second later, sparks flew and the motors made a cracking sound, the whole arm going limp as the sparks burned his arm.

Panthera Avis took the chance to swing both his arms in an arc, slamming them into his right arm and sending him flying into his wallscreen.

Even while he delt with feeling his right arm break completely, the armor there being destroyed, his ribcage further cracking and losing the last bit of feeling below his waist, he also slammed through the screen and the surge of electricity attacked his faulty systems, shorting out… pretty much most of it.

Including his camera system. His entire field of vision just went black, except for a few cracks he could just barely make out.

At least the insulation protected him from being electrocuted himself.

Well, that was a short last stand.

At least you tried.

Oh, shut up.

Someone said something – he recognized, just barely, Hastur’s childish voice, through the cracks of his armor, but not what she actually said.

Joke is on you. Can not hear you anymore.

Something – well, there were not many choices, so it had to be Avis – grabbed his helmet and began squeezing. The already damaged ceramic groaned, but did not break. He had made sure that the helmet was very sturdy.

After all, his brain was his only real advantage against most anyone he was likely to fight.

Still, it would break eventually.

Alright, open session here – any idea how to get out of this?

My expertise is largely limited to inventing technology.

Hmm, mayyyyybe…

mine

Huh? Who was that last one?

minenothersmineminemine

What the hell?

Calm down, mate. That’s just the… weird one of the bunch.

You call someone weird?

Aye. Call’im the ‘Raging Heart’.

mineminemineminemineminemineminemineminemine

Uhh, yeah, not really helpful.

He’s kinda singleminded. You can ignore him most of the time.

Agreed.

mineminemineminemineminemineminemineminemine

Yeah, any more ideas?

Yes, mate, we c- hey, do you feel that?

Something warm and prickling was pressing against his body all of a sudden, enveloping it. There was a loud crash, but the vibrations did not hurt his mangled body as the prickling feeling seeped beneath his skin.

And the pressure on his helmet vanished.

Two more crashes, then silence.

He could almost feel something other than pain by now.

Someone pulled him – gently – out of the screen, and then took his helmet off, the locking mechanism opening by itself (and despite a short hiccup due to the deformation it had suffered from). The faceplate was taken off, and…

And he saw a red-eyed angel’s face, with a halo of white light framing i-

Stop waxing poetry and look, mate!

He blinked, and suddenly he was looking into the horrified face of Gloom Glimmer, framed by the white glow of the lamp behind her, her own eyes glowing red with black sclera.

Oh. Good.

“Thanks. Passing out now,” he tried to say, but only blood came out of his mouth, and he finally passed out.

* * *

He blinked, then opened his eyes completely.

Then he shut them again, blinded by a white glare.

Body, Rollcall.

He was lying on something soft and warm. A bed. He could feel his legs. Wiggle his toes. His hands responded to his commands to curl his fingers, and there was barely any pain in them. His ribcage did not feel good, but neither did it really hurt all that much anymore. He was still wearing the mask from his impact suit.

And there was something soft and warm pressing pretty much against his groin, while something else was pressing on his chest, with warmth spreading from the point of contact.

“He’s waking up,” said a familiar voice with some odd harmonics in her voice.

“Yeah? Great. You can stop dryhumping him then!” said an even more familiar voice. Vasiliki… Hecate.

“I’m not dry- oh shit, I did, didn’t I?” The other voice sounded embarassed now.

“You didn’t even notice?” Hecate sounded disbelieving.

What is going on?

“Uhh, I have been using my power constantly on him for… how long? Too long. It tends to do weird minor stuff like this.”

“W-what are you talking about?” he asked, opening his eyes. “I sure hope there is an explanation for this.”

Gloom Glimmer was straddling him, sans her cloak. Without it, she looked… younger. Smaller.

She blushed (more) and slipped off of him, though without taking her hands off his chest. For which he was very thankful.

“I… uh… I’ve been healing you. Good God, how did you manage to stay alive, let alone conscious? I’ve been working on you for hours.” She was so very obviously trying to steer the discussion away from her earlier… position. And for once, he picked up on that.

“How long was I out? Did you get Hastur and Avis?” he asked, then looked at Hecate. She was wearing her cowl, but her cape had been torn off, and beneath that she wore a standard-issue jumpsuit. “What happened with you? And where’s Tyche?”

The two girls looked at each other, then Hecate answered: “We got into a fight, me, Spellgun and Tartsche got nearly killed and, loath as I am to admit it, Tyche kicked ass. I mean, really, really, ruined that monster’s day. She’s totally off on her power, and last I heard she’s been cutting her way through Hastur’s newest minions. Hastur and Panthera Avis got away from that hideout and are keeping us on our toes. I’m stuck here because my foci got destroyed, as did my costume, so I’m pretty much useless right now. Gloom Glimmer here has been fighting to save your life, because it looked grim there for a while. You’ve been unconscious for five hours.”

“Five hours? Damn. Wait, what new minions?”

They both evaded his gaze. “You got my data? Did you sound the air raid sirens?”

They nodded.

Gloom Glimmer took her hands off his chest and flexed her fingers as if they had gone numb. “We did. People went into their shelters and all, but… Hastur got into one of the public mass shelters – the one under the Menstall Galerie. She showed her face to nearly a hundred civilians, then went off to three more shelters she somehow broke into. Four hundred people, all in all. Including a Chinese cape who’d fled the SU and had just arrived here. God-Tier, it turns out, and she went on a rampage through the entertainment district before she burned out and dropped dead.”

“Stars above, did anything go right?” he asked. “Do you at least have any idea where Hastur is now? Or how to take her down?”

They shook their heads.

“Dammit.” He tried to sit up, but all that got him was a pain attack.

He almost screamed.

“Careful! I healed the worst, but my healing is limited – you’ll be benched for a while,” exclaimed Gloom Glimmer.

“Ugh. Feels like it,” he groaned, trying to relax. “But it does not matter. I need to help, and you know it. Hecate, can you get me my spare suit? The light one.”

She nodded. “Sure. I need to do something useful,” she said, sounding angry. But she left quickly, leaving him alone with Gloom Glimmer, who was still blushing a little.

“She’s selling herself short,” Gloom Glimmer commented once the other heroine was gone. “She only lost her staff in a later battle, not against the Geokinetic, and she kicked mighty lots of ass, going by what I heard through mission control.”

“Hecate is not one to boast,” he commented. “We’re at the UH HQ?”

She nodded.

“Should you not go out there and help?”

She opened her mouth, closed it, then spoke up again: “I’m quite drained. Need a few minutes.”

He nodded, leaning his head back. Reaching out with one hand, he found the controlswitch for the bed and raised the headpiece, so he could look at her more easily. “Should we not have gotten reinforcements by now?”

“N-no. The… the battle with DiL ain’t going well. She somehow hardened her field, and nothing is getting in or out now. No word from Dad.” Suddenly, she looked way younger than usual, pulling her legs up to rest her face on her knees.

He had no idea how to respond. Was he supposed to hug her again? “No word from the Dark… what about… your mother?”

She looked away from him. “The Sovjet Union declared war against the PATO just two hours ago, ’cause they refuse to let them try and bring the Red Council’s remains to the Protectorate. The Califate is declaring another Jihad, Maddy is staying neutral but also demanding to be allowed contact to Ember and Sovereign has gone silent – apparently, there were nine seperate spiteborn attacks in the GAIN over the last week. We got a powderkeg and no outlet, except…”

“World war. Great,” he sneered. “So, Lady Light’s tied up with a coming world war, the Shining Guardians are probably in Kansas, the Dark is stuck there too along with… the Five,” Including Amy, “And we got an insane S-Class in the city. What else could go wrong?”

His communicator – it was still in his ear – suddenly spoke in Eudocia’s newest voice (she changed it almost daily): “Father, Hastur just attacked the Petal Memorial Hospital! She’s in Prisca’s room!”

* * *

“I’ll show that asshole, how dare he deny me, I’ll make him pay, I’ll make him regret not falling in love with me, I’ll…”

Hastur had been ranting for hours now. After that wretched bitch (and they called her a monster! She was normal, compared to that freak) had taken him away from her, she’d wanted to go after his useless little whore, but Nathaniel had finally started speaking properly and insisted that they make more people fall for her first.

It sounded smart. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, at all. Which was why she was limping down the hallway towards that asshole’s sweetheart, instead of skipping along like she wanted to. Nathaniel was with her, as he should, as well as Toby, Jake and Jill (those were some freaky twins).

She had her hood down, and lots of people were falling all over her on the way. But she only wanted the one.

But that bitch was talking to someone, though she could only hear half the conversation. Who the fuck is she talking to!?

Toby kicked the door open for her, then stepped back and made a flourish for her to enter. He was sweet that way. And he even looked like a gentleman, all suit and tie and stuff.

She walked in to find the scarecrow with her eyes closed.

“He-he-hello, Prisca,” she greeted her, giggling. The prospect of punishing Brennus was making her giddy again. “It ain’t polite not to look at your guest!”

“I know what you do. Why are you here?” the ugly stick figure – Seriously, why does he like her, but not me? – asked in a calm voice. Too calm.

She ain’t taking me serious! I’ll show that bitch, no one mocks me!

“I just want to love you! Look at me, and I’ll make you right again!” she said sweetly, hopping over to stand by the foot of the large bed, looking at her. She could also put her hands on the frame that way, taking some weight off her left leg.

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.”

“Pretty please? With sugar on top?”

“No. Never again.”

That gave her pause. What the fuck does she mean? “What do you mean, sweetiepie?”

Her already ugly features twisted in pure, loathing hatred that gave even Hastur pause. “Someone did that to me before. Change me against my will. Violate my body. Not. Again. Ever.”

Hastur only snorted in response. “Oh, don’t worry. You’ll love me. Love what I do to you. Just open your eyes and look at me, sweetie.”

Prisca’s features were still twisted with hatred. “No. You can torture me, you can kill me, you can do whatever you want to me – except this. I won’t let anyone change me again!” She coughed, putting a spindly hand to her chest.

“You don’t have much of choice, sweetie. Jake, Jill, be two dears and open her eyes, will’ya?” she drawled.

Jake and Jill lurched forward, their bellies and backs shaking and waving left and right.

Prisca moved faster than she’d have thought possible, taking a dull knife – one of those hospital knives for people who might drop them accidentily – and before anyone could react, she plunged the knife into her left eye.

Screaming, even as they all stopped moving in surprise, she ripped the knife out of the bleeding, oozing wound and cut into the other eye, opening her eyelids just a fraction as she bent over, to plunge it in without harming the lids.

When she pulled the knife back and looked up, shaking all over, her eyes were just bleeding and oozing ruins. Blind. “Never. Ever. Again. Ev-” She seized up, then threw up a glob of bile and blood, her whole body shaking as Hastur could hear her heart start to go crazy.

“Whoa. Hardcore,” she whispered. This… was way too impressive to spoil. Besides, she was dying anyway. “Let’s go, my lovelies.”

They left the dying girl behind.

Maybe I’ll go after his sister… once I find that bitch somewhere…

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.

B006 Big Game Hunt (Part 2)

Okinawa was sinking.

It began slowly, barely perceptible at first, but soon one could see the island rumble, throwing up waves around its coast.

And then you could see it slowly sinking, even as the newslady grew frantic, and heroes and villains together did their best to slow the collapse down and evacuate those inhabitants who had yet to be evacuated.

“Why the fuck is the island sinking!? She didn’t use any uber-power before she vanished, right?” asked Dalia with some exasperation.

Basil squatted down, folding his fingers in front of is face to think. Then he looked up at the video feeds again. “The power she used to twist the buildings – it must have reached downwards just as quickly. Judging from her position… I’d say it reached about one-thousand-and-nine-hundred-and-fifty metres into the ground… more than enough to compromise the foundations of the island. It just took some time for the damage to spread further and have it break down.”

They both fell silent, just in time for them to see Fleur use her power to try and delay the collapse, her ‘garden’ spreading out much like DiL’s ‘Desolation Field’ did, a sphere formed by a green-and-pink haze.

And once again, we see the difference between an S-Class metahuman and us mere mortals, thought Basil with some sour grapes in his thoughts. Sometimes, he thought he’d have preferred to just get a straightforward superpower like that of Fleur or Lung Moo or Sky High or the Boogeyman or even Defender, boring though the latter’s power might be.

Tears in reality opened above and below water from which giant, no, titanic trees emerged, shoring up the crumbling foundation of the island.

“Doesn’t look like she can stop it,” said Dalia.

“No way. Holding up an entire island like that? Weisswald may have been able to do that, create enough trees to stabilise it. But Fleur is far, far more limited than he was – for one, her trees are not permanent, they cannot exist outside of her ‘garden’.”

“A shame,” she replied, without her usual snark at his exposition. “It’s funny, though, don’t you think? How they all use spheres?”

His gaze turned from the news feed to look at her. “What do you mean?” he asked, momentarily confused… then he started making the connections.

She continued. “DiL, the Savage Six, Fleur, Defender, they all…”

“They all work with territories.” He stood up from his squatting position and went to the closest keyboard, moving the news feeds aside to the left end of the screen to call up several older recordings.

DiL’s Desolation Field at Okinawa, of course. Followed by Fleur’s Garden, Defender’s… Defender Field (he had no imagination), the Boogeyman’s Metaphobia, Sky High’s Heroic Wind (he had too much imagination), Heretic’s Pocket Dimensions (the latest one had stolen Osaka two days ago – Japan had no luck lately, with the Six in Osaka, DiL in Okinawa and the Kaiju attack on Tokyo)…

“Not spheres, that is just the form, the shape… they all have territories, fields within which their powers work… and not just them. Lady Light’s Aura, Cataclysm’s Domino Field. Most god tier metahumans with outwardly aimed powers have effects that evoke the sense of a territory, an area around them which they can affect with their powers.”

“You think there’s a reason for that?”

He nodded, writing these thoughts down. “There has to be. There are so many themes that are repeated among metahumans, and this one seems to be another one.”

He looked directly at her, throwing her a wry look. “You really sell yourself short, usually. You are far more perceptive than one would think from your usual behaviour.”

She snorted, then smiled. “Don’t tell Liki, she’d have a heart attack.”

“Ha, tru- You call her Liki?”

“Drives her nuts. She’s so easy,” she explained with her trademark leering grin.

He just shook his head. Mostly because he realized that she’d just managed to distract him from the tragedy onscreen, if only shortly. And she might not have noticed it. Full of surprises, she is.

They both turned back to the newsfeeds, just in time to see a close-up of Fleur.

“That chick is so hot,” commented Dalia.

Basil had to admit that Fleur was very pleasing to look at. She was tall, even for a metahuman, somewhere between one-eight and one-ninety, with fair but slightly tanned skin, bright green hair, light pink eyes and an elf-like, slender body (and pointed ears). She didn’t so much wear clothes as she had flowers and leaves grow around her body, winding and twisting to form a dress that ended at her mid-thigh in front, but hung down to her ankles on the back, and exposed a good deal of her back. She had more flowers grow in and out of her hair, but wore no mask (only some subtle make-up) and was barefoot as well.

Currently, she was atop a piece of rock floating above Okinawa, together with the metahuman responsible for levitating said rock – her younger brother, Terre (a legacy hero, the fifth of that name).

“She is good-looking, yes. Also, did you notice that her trees a-“

“Oh God, you see an essentially naked super-hottie and you think about her trees? You really are hopeless – poor little Prisca…”

He snorted at her.

* * *

About half an hour later, Okinawa was gone, sunk beneath the waters of the sea.

According to what little information was available at the time – the situation was quite chaotic – more than sixty percent of the civilians on Okinawa had been evacuated in time. The rest…

Also, as was usual for a DiL-Attack, the secondary consequences were often far worse than the initial ones (barring Caracas and a few other notable disasters). Fleur, later boosted by Lady Light and supported by the Dark, as well as aided by several hydro- and terrakinetics, had slowed the collapse of the island, allowing it to sink beneath the waters without causing a tidal wave… only for the support of the island crumbling almost instantly the moment their endurance was exhausted, the moment their powers failed.

The resulting tidal wave had already devastated the Ryoko and Okinawa Islands, and would shortly hit the Japanese, Korean and Chinese mainlands. Worse yet, though, was the chain reaction started by this – three more islands had sustained critical damage to their foundations and threatened to collapse, too.

“This… this is one of the really bad ones, isn’t it?” asked Dalia, her tone subdued as she watched the images on the screen.

Basil, once again squatting, his forehead on his folded hands, replied without looking up: “Yes. And she did not even have to build her power up – she just used what she had intelligently.”

How? She’s not smart, that’s supposed to be her only real weakness!”

He had thought about that, and was pretty sure he had figured it out. “Invulnerability, flight and the devouring light that sticks to her hair and nails are her standard powers. There is also a theory that she has another permanent power, some manner of enhanced perception maybe, but her immunity to perception effects has prevented any deeper analysis. Apart from those, she usually has three powers, one offensive, one defensive and one for utility. Only, during the final phase, she only had that one offensive power, the matter animation effect. Or so it seemed.”

“You think she had another perception power, stacked onto the one she’s supposed to always have? And what was the defensive one?”

He shook his head, again without looking up. “She does mix it up sometimes. And we know from Gloom Glimmer, who seems to have an almost identical base power, that perception effects take a tremendous amount of potential to manifest. And that animation effect was far more intense from the very beginning than her usual offensive effects. She probably split the potential that usually goes into added defense between offense and utility.”

They both fell silent, watching the tragedy unfold.

* * *

An hour later…

Dalia had gone to sleep before school (she needed far less sleep than a normal human, though she was not sleepless), chosing to stay at the lair and sleep in what was supposed to be the emergency bedroom, but was quickly becoming her bedroom.

Basil himself went back to work – no reason to stop work on his new grappling hook system. Until he found a way to fly reliably (and without half a ton of extra equipment), swinging around the city was the most efficient (well, most fun) mode of transportation.

It took him another two hours of work. It was not that he had to invent anything anymore, it just was a lot of very fine, very delicate work he could not outsource. The bane of every gadgeteer, they had phenomenal technology at their disposal, but most of them could neither explain their work to others, nor find a way for easy mass production – even building a manufacturing machine from scratch rarely worked out (you’d need a speciality just for that to make that alone work).

Maybe that could explain why no one had built a space elevator yet. Basil at least had already figured out how, he just could not work out an execution of the plan that would not require him to work on it for years by himself.

Of course, the fact that he saw his designs in pictographs made it difficult to translate it into something normal people could work with. And as far as he knew, it was worse for others – Hotrod was supposed to see his designs all as stylized gears and other machine parts and Polymnia had once commented that she heard her designs as melodies and symphonies.

It would be really interesting to learn how Sovereign or this Macian perceived their designs.

By the time he was done, he had to fight to stay awake, but the new system was complete – well, half of it – and he still had to go to school. So he jumped under the shower, dressed, grabbed his backpack and ran off to take the bus.

* * *

We need laws to protect children from school.

He was walking into the hospital as he thought that, on his way to visit Prisca. Thankfully, with his power, he didn’t have to put any effort into the science classes, and everything else was quite trivial for him. But still, he had not slept for more than fifty hours now, and he did not think he would sleep anytime soon, either – too many ideas, too much to do.

If the ‘Blazing Sun’ was actually the manifestation or personification of his power, than he could finally understand why it had that name. More and more, he felt like there was a light behind his eyes, pushing, burning, illuminating. The only way to alleviate it was to use it. To make something.

So, after he met with Prisca, he’d finish the second half of his new grappling hook system, then catch up on sleep. No patrol tonight for him. He needed to recover.

I wish I did not need to sleep anymore.

He reached Prisca’s room – and heard giggling from inside. Two girls, giggling. He couldn’t remember hearing Prisca giggle before.

Not quite thinking about it, he just pushed the door open without knocking. “Hi, Prisca, who is your… friend…”

Prisca was looking at him, surprised, in her usual position on her bed, and with the tablet he had constructed for her in her lap.

The second set of giggles cut off abruptly. It had come from the tablet.

“Eudocia…” he growled, closing the door behind him. This had not been a part of his plan.

<Uh, hi dad. How are you doing? You don’t look too good, maybe you should go home and sleep… forget about everything…>

Despite only having a rather monotone, electronically generated voice, she still managed to sound like a little child caught trying to snitch cookies from the cookie jar.

Prisca gave him her best attempt at a cute smile, but he had practice dealing with those looks. “Don’t be angry at her, I tricked her into revealing herself,” she said when she saw him scowl.

“Quiet, please.” He pulled out a few gadgets and checked the room for eavesdropping equipment. Then he set up a white noise generator, that should confuse most mundane recording equipment. “All right, now I know that Eudocia is smart enough to not be tricked easily, especially in regards to revealing her true nature. I am not angry, not really, just tired. So please, just explain.”

<Well, we were playing a game, and I was also watching two movies she’d given me…>

“And I asked her a few questions about them…”

<And I answered as thoroughly as I could…>

“Which I found strange, because she answered like a human, not a machine…”

<So she started asking questions about that, and well, I didn’t want to outright lie at her, so…>

“I kept needling her until she couldn’t evade my questions anymore, and she told me the truth.”

Basil sighed, sitting down on a stool.

“Well, so much for the experiment,” he complained, rubbing his temples. He was really too tired for this. “No matter. Just do not tell anyone about her, alright?”

Prisca nodded, probably understanding the situation.

<Sorry Father.>

“Do not call me father.”

<Alright, father.>

Prisca giggled while Basil groaned. Then she pouted, even though her thin, cracked lips did not lend themselves to it.

“So, why does my boyfriend come in here, when he forgot our last two dates, and just talks about a computer?”

<Hey!>

He flinched. “Sorry, sorry.” Standing up and bending forward, he pressed his lips onto hers, a short, but passionate kiss.

When he pulled back, he smirked at her. “But I am pretty sure I forgot only yesterday’s date.”

She frowned at him. “No, we were supposed to meet on Wednesday as well, for movie night.”

Now it was his turn to frown. “Really? I honestly can not remember.” He tried to remember, but he really couldn’t tell what he had been doing at the time. “Actually, I can not remember what I did at that time, at all.”

Now she looked concerned. “Why could that be? You never forget anything!”

He shook his head, confused. “No. I just have a better memory than most. And I have been…” Again, he shook his head. “No matter. I will deal with whatever is going on myself. Let us enjoy ourselves for now, alright?”

“Are you sure? This sounds pretty serious.”

He nodded. “I will handle it, promise.”

She nodded, too, conceding the point. Then, he pulled the stool over next to her and sat down.

* * *

1:12 AM

He looked down at the restaurant, then shook his head. What? Where am I?

Assessing the situation, he got bits and pieces of his memory. Full armor. He looked at the two boxes at his hips. Full new grappling hook system. Stun gun, batons.

He looked around. Tyche and Hecate where to his left and right, each with full equipment, and currently using binoculars to scout the place out.

Right. The Black Panthers. They’ve been moving a lot of merchandise and capital lately. Hit a minor hideout to get info on them.

What did he know of them again? Black Panthers. Started as a violent pro-civil rights group. Lost traction when King survived his assassination by manifesting metahuman powers. Devolved over the years to a simple, if powerful crime gang – not even exclusive to people of African-American descent anymore. Current leader supposed to be a major morpher, but no other details known.

And they were going to declare war on them tonight.

We really need a teamname.