The room he’d woken up in had been part of an apartment building. After he’d felt up to moving again, they’d ascended to the top of the building, since Macian insisted on taking a look around before they went about their way. The way up the stairs had been quite straining and Henry was panting heavily by the time they finally reached the top.
The door at the top of the staircase had proven locked, but Macian had simply pushed one metal finger through the lock, breaking it out of the door. “Gotta love the brute force approach, eh mate?” he commented. Henry didn’t reply, his mind occupied with worrying about his mother, wherever she might be.
Stepping out into the open, they were once again greeted by the stark black sky and it was still bright as a clear day, even though it had to be close to midnight, if not past it.
“What time is it?” asked Henry, trying to clarify that point.
“Eighteen fifty-two,” replied Macian without taking his eyes off the city around them.
Probably has a clock built into his eye or something… wait, eighteen?.
“It’s already been a day?!” he asked, aghast.
“You must have been knocked out for quite a while before I found you. The first day is almost over,” Macian explained, still scanning the city. “There she is,” he continued, pointing towards the ruins of a big gate.
“Who?” asked Henry, squinting his eyes but unable to make out whatever Macian was seeing.
“Pristine. She’s floating over the Brandenburg Gate, looking around,” explained Macian. He seemed unconcerned. “Here, use this.” He handed him a pair of binoculars that looked to be made out of junk.
“Where did you get these?” asked Henry, dumbfounded. They were too big to have been hidden in any of Macian’s pockets.
Macian looked at him like he was stupid. “What do you mean? I just made them out of some junk I found in the apartment we hid. I hate stairs, so I needed something to distract myself. You didn’t notice?”
“You made these while climbing the stairs?!”
“Yes, yes, I did. Now, take a look. Day’s almost over,” the disfigured boy answered, getting impatient.
Henry raised the binoculars to his eyes and looked towards the ruins – the Brandenburg Tor, he called it?.
It was quite easy to make Pristine out as she floated above the ruins. And it was equally easy to tell that she was stark naked.
Henry lowered the binoculars and turned his head away, even though it wasn’t necessary without the binoculars.
Macian took one look at his beet-red face and broke out into a wheezing belly laugh. “Ha-ha-have you never seen a naked woman before?!”
The young artist turned into an even deeper shade of red. “W-w-well, only mama, when we take baths… but this is not proper! People shouldn’t run around naked!”
“Well, she’s flying, not running,” giggled Macian, with strange electronic noises accompanying his mirth.
“That doesn’t make it any better!” replied Henry as his flush slowly disappeared.
“Ah well, mate, I wouldn’t have thought you were so bashful.” Macian straightened again.
“Well, I… Uh, I just thought of something – shouldn’t we get away? What if she sees us here?” Henry asked him, suddenly scared again – the embarassment had helped distract him from the fear, which was now returning in full force.
“Don’t worry, she didn’t get any sensory enhancements with her powers – just invulnerability, flight, super-strength, eternal youth and a completely autonomous body,” explained Macian while fiddling with another machine, a cube-shaped mass of wires, strips of metal and what looked like some kind of crystal.
“What does that mean? A ‘completely autonomous body’?”
Without stopping his work – the fingers of his left arm had shifted into various tools he was using to turn the cube-shaped contraption into a spherical one as it became tighter and smaller – he replied: “It means she doesn’t need to breathe, eat, drink or anything else, really. Which is good, because her power creates some kind of protective shell around her that doesn’t let her. Whatever is protecting her is also cutting her off the outside world to the point where she can’t even really touch anyone.”
Henry was taken aback. That sounded awful. But some thing didn’t fit. “Mama said that Pristine told her that she was after me. How could she do that if she can’t even breathe? For that matter, how can she see or hear?”
That earned him an appreciating grin on the right half of Macian’s face. “You know, most people don’t think of that? You’re smarter than most adults, I think,” he said. Stretching a bit, he continued: “Well, the answer is unfortunately just a guess, since I haven’t exactly had a chance to study her closely. I think that her shell sees and hears and speaks for her – it translates light and sound into safe input that it gives her – that’s the reason why you can’t stun her with visual or auditory effects, they are filtered out of her perception. And I know that she used to be completely mute until she figured out how to make her shell vibrate to create sound.”
“Oh. And why is she naked?”
“She doesn’t need clothes and I think Hemming has been manipulating her to be unconcerned about her nudity,” Macian explained as he finished his work, putting the now spherical object away into a pocket and pulling several pieces of metal out of several small pockets hidden in his pants, which he started to work into a gun-shaped form.
“Why would Hemming – that’s their leader, right? – do that?”
“Same reason why he came up with the idea of Mindfuck transmitting his little ‘games’ to everyone in his range, or why he encouraged Fire Burial to give in to her cannibalistic urges, or why he turned Atrocity into, well, Atrocity. Makes them less human, more… bestial and thus, easier manipulated – and more useful for whatever fucked up scheme he has for organizing this whole thing in the first place.”
“Scheme? Manipulation? You mean he’s not just…”
“Not just evil? What, you thought he’s gathered five fucked-up people, fucked them up even more and turned them into the most horrific villains this world has ever seen just because he was so eeeevil?” the young Gadgeteer mocked him as the parts in his hands took on a definitive gun-shape. “That he invented all of their arbitrary rules – like the fact that each of them gets only one day or that they are not allowed to kill any new manifestations on the same day they manifested – which is why Pristine let your mother get away, I think – or that they have to kill a certain number of innocents a day? And all the other small rules most people don’t know about, like how they have to try and fuck up each other’s plans without directly attacking each other? And so on?”
Henry turned that over in his head. He’d always assumed that the Savage Six were just, well, evil. Like the Dark – he didn’t have any reason to be evil, he just was, right? “I… I think I see what you mean. But, I mean, not everyone needs a reason to be evil. Just look at the Dark!”
Macian looked up at him, his good eye strangely serious for once. “Did you know that the Dark – or Ismael Franz-Peter Goldschmidt, as he was called – used to be a hero before Point Zero? Whatever happened on that day – whatever he and Gwen Whitaker experienced – it turned him from a true, non-powered hero – one most superheroes could stand to learn something from – into the first and most persistent villain we know as the Dark. I really don’t think he’s evil without reason. There is a reason and it’s probably the same thing that makes Lady Light a hero. But enough, we need to get going – it’s nineteen fifteen now.”
“Um…” Henry shook his head. He would have time to think about this later on. “Why is that important? The time, I mean?”
“Because their attack on Berlin began at nineteen o’clock, sharp. Meaning the first twenty-four hours have passed, meaning that Pristine’s turn is over, so they’ll draw lots or throw the dice or whatever else they use to determine who’s next. And if it’s Atrocity, Mindfuck or Heretic, well, they’ll find us very quickly if we stay here.” He finished his work on his gun – it looked like it came out of a cartoon, to be honest; something Marvin the Martian would use trying to get rid of Bugs Bunny – and turned to the stairs. Henry followed him as he began his descent.
* * *
“Here, take this,” the half-grinning boy said, handing him the gun. “Be careful you don’t shoot yourself or me. It’s a stunner, will take out most normal people, but be careful not to hit any children. And keep your finger off the trigger unless you really want to shoot anyone.”
The young artist nodded nervously, wrapping his hand around the gun’s grip. It fit his hand perfectly.
After three minutes of walking down the stairs at a measured pace, Henry spoke up again. “Macian, I have a question. Well, two.”
“Ask away, mate.”
He thought his questions over again, then began: “First, why are you so interested in me – in keeping me safe? There are many others who could use your help. And second, where are the heroes? Even with this strange ‘curtain’, Lady Light or Fleur or Doc Feral or someone should have gotten in after twenty-four hours!”
This time, Macian seemed to actually take some time before answering. “To the first question: I hate hate hate hate hate Mindfuck. If he wants you, then I don’t want you in his hands.” Henry recoiled at the pure, dripping hatred in Macian’s voice, but the young gadgeteer continued without pause. “And to the second – you really don’t know much about the Six, don’t you?”
Henry shook his head. “I didn’t really see a point in anything other than my art and my mama. Maybe I was wrong.”
“Nah, I can respect being obsessed with your calling. But to explain I have to bring up an earlier point. The Savage Six are basically the most horrific villains active, both individually and collectively. Even the worst of the Dark Five want them dead. Even Sovereign is making an effort to hunt them, that’s how much they disgust people. I’m pretty sure even Weisswald would take offense at them. So how come they’ve been active for two decades and no one has taken them down yet?”
“Umm, I dunno?”
“It’s Heretic. Hemming’s bestest buddy. Hemming is the brains of the Savage Six and the other four members are all top-notch, but Heretic is the real reason why they’ve been so successful.”
“I only know that he looks really messed up and that he’s some kind of wizard,” Henry said.
Macian nodded. “Messed up’s the understatement of the year. I think he’s the worst case of Chimaera-types known to have survived. And he’s actually a Wizard-type Contriver. Meaning he’s the worst kind of Contriver. He doesn’t need any physical props – just the right words and gestures – to produce pretty much any effect he can think of, so long as it fits into his own self-delusion. Now, quiz-time. Before he became Heretic, he used to be a hero named ‘Hermetic’ – for your information, Hemming used to be his partner in heroics – and what would his particular speciality be?”
Henry thought it over. “Hermetic… something about locking stuff up?”
“Bingo! He specializes in dimensional pockets an’ stuff. And you won’t believe all the messed up stuff he can do with that alone – there’s a reason why he and Mindfuck are the only ones in their group who’re S-ranked by themselves and not as parts of their team. For one, he’s got some kinda personal little dimension where the Six have their base. The reason no one can catch them is because they never set foot into the real world anymore, and no one can enter without Heretic’s permission. And if you’re asking yourself how they can be here even though they never leave their little dimension, well, that’s because they take their targets there. Heretic does a big-ass ritual that pulls their target city into their little dimension. The reason why there’s a black sky and it’s still bright as day is ’cause we’re stuck in a dimension that doesn’t follow the normal rules, it’s under Heretic’s complete control. In here, he*s basically God. And that’s why no one gets in or out – we can’t get out so long as Heretic doesn’t let us out and in the real world, there’s just a big, black sphere where Berlin used to be, cut-out part of reality, basically. No one can get in, not even Lady Light. Anyone who could get in here to help us could also hunt down the Six. And they make sure to hunt down anyone capable of that. Even though I don’t think there’ve been more than two of them in as many decades.”
“So… there’s no help coming? We have to stay here for an entire week?” Suddenly, Henry couldn’t move his legs anymore. He sat down on the stairs, suddenly scared again beyond belief.
“Unless someone offs Heretic, which would nullify all effects of his power, yes. And I’m not sure how anyone could kill him. His body isn’t really anything like anything alive so he might literally be immortal,” Macian answered, for the first time seeming subdued. He’d stopped descending and turned around to look straight into Henry’s eyes – he was standing on the lower steps, so he was on eye-level with him even though Henry was sitting down. Putting his good hand on Henry’s shoulder, he said: “Listen, Henry. Don’t give up now. We can survive. We can even find your mother and get you both to safety. Berlin is big and your mom has just the right power for getting away from them. Even if we don’t find her within the time limit, she might survive and find you afterwards. All you have to do to get back together with her again is to survive. And for that, you must not give up hope, get it?”
Henry shook his head as tears filled his eyes. “This is so much… Why did we have to come here, I didn’t want to come, I told her that I wanted to stay home and just paint, but she said… she said…” Finally, the full weight of the situation hit him and the young artist broke down crying.
For once, Macian didn’t seem to know what to say, staring at him dumbfounded. He didn’t move to hug him or reassure him, instead looking… lost. But he didn’t pull his hand away, either. Henry just grabbed it with his left hand, squeezing hard as his whole body shook.
* * *
They left the building almost twenty minutes later. Neither of them mentioned Henry’s breakdown and he was quite thankful that Macian didn’t act any different. Henry hated it when he cried – it always made his mama cry as well – and he was glad that Macian didn’t press the issue in any way. Though it might just be because he really had no idea how to act. Somehow, Henry got the idea that Macian really had no idea how to deal with emotional stuff.
“Macian… I have more questions,” he said, rubbing his reddened eyes.
“Well, I like answering questions. Something about making exposition gives me a fuzzy warm feeling. So, ask away!” Macian turned his head, showing Henry the unscarred half of his face and smiling.
“How do you know so much about them? And what happened to you? Those wounds… they’re horrible. Who did this to you? And why?“
The smile faltered and vanished. “Ahh, mate, now you’re asking me questions I don’t wanna give exposition on. Drop it, please?” He turned his head away again, walking down the street, always close to the walls.
Henry nearly broke into tears again, just from the half-second during which he saw the sadness in Macian’s eye. How can someone so young be so sad? Then he hit himself on the forehead. Duh, someone ripped off his arm and burned him so much he had to make a fake eye and ear for himself. And whatever those antennae are good for.
“Can you at least tell me your name? Your real name, I mean?”
“Why?” asked Macian, still not looking back at him.
“Because I’d like to call you something different than Macian. It sounds so… unpersonal, even though it really fits you.” One of the reasons being that Macian was again making something, some kind of box made out of various wires and some already completed – taken out of one of his many pockets – crystalline disks that fractured the light in strange ways.
“I told you, I’ve never had a name. Not me and not my sister.”
“You have a sister?” Henry asked, intrigued. A new piece of information.
“Yeah, a younger one. She’s six.”
“Well, if your parents didn’t give you names, why won’t you choose some for yourselves?”
“Never really thought of it. We only have each other, so we’ve never needed names.”
“Can I choose some? I like naming things. And people.”
Macian shrugged. “Name away.” He turned a corner, entering a dirty alley. For a moment, Henry asked himself why they hadn’t even seen anyone else in the city yet, save for those two footsoldiers and Pristine. Then he focused on the task at hand again.
“Alright, your sister first. How about… Tamara?”
“Nah, doesn’t fit.”
“You don’t like French?”
“Me too and I don’t have a problem with them.”
“Maybe it’s the fact that they eat frogs. I like frogs, they’ve got the most interesting poisons.”
“Oh. How very creepy. Well, how about… Amelia?”
“Hmm. Better. I like the ‘Am’. Maybe more As?”
“You like As in names?”
“Just a whim, really. A name with only As as vowels, perhaps?”
“Right! Amanda. She’ll like that one,” Macian commented, stopping for a moment to open a door into a building by pushing the lock out of the frame again.
“So, now about your name…”
“Wait!” Macian suddenly cut him off, looking down the alley before entering the building. Henry followed his gaze.
A plume of smoke was rising from quite a bit away. Something small and glowing like a candle was flying around the smoke, occasionally vanishing for a second before a fireball shot downward from a few meters beneath where it had been – and it reappeared again at an even lower position.
“That’s a real problem. It appears Fire Burial’s turn is up. And she’ll be coming after me. Fast. Let’s get away from the street.”
He slipped into the building and Henry followed him, shutting the door behind them.