Should have posted this sooner:
There’s a tvtropes page for Brennus now. Just follow this handomely crafted link. Many thanks to Jerden for setting it up!
Everyone, feel free to fill it out – that page needs more WikiLove!
Should have posted this sooner:
There’s a tvtropes page for Brennus now. Just follow this handomely crafted link. Many thanks to Jerden for setting it up!
Everyone, feel free to fill it out – that page needs more WikiLove!
Many people have commented on the widespread presence of super-beautiful people in the world of Brennus, as well as the rather extreme, almost comical way in which many characters seem driven by their base instincts.
This is quite intentional, and it is an in-universe issue society has to deal with. In fact, the world of Brennus is far more open to such issues (more on that in a future info dump).
Let’s get to the topic of Beauty – and thus, the Physique effect, also known as the Adonis-type.
At the moment of manifestation, one may manifest the Physique power/effect (it is not quite clear, in-universe, whether it is a distinct power or the result of a one-time power). In that case, if they are lucky, their body is reshaped, mostly based on their own ideal of beauty. It may be influenced by other people’s ideals, if they are present at the moment of manifestation or have strong emotional attachments to them, especially if those are metahumans themselves.
For example, it is no coincidence that many metahumans with metahuman parents often look like younger versions of their father and/or mother (girls often look more like their mother, boys more like their father).
However, this process obviously has its drawbacks (much like all powers in the ‘verse).
The most obvious one is the chance for deformity – random thoughts and ideas during the manifestation, the influence of drugs, traumata or deranged emotional links, all of these may lead to more or less extreme physical deformities (which usually go hand in hand with an increased risk of mental derangement, too). They can range from harmless (cartoonishly curvacious women), to strange (too perfect bodies), to animalistic (half-animals, like cat- or lizard-people, etc), to outright monstrous (Necrophobe) to… weird (Heretic). As the final two examples illustrate, this may lead to a person technically not being alive anymore, at least in the physical sense.
But there is a second, more subtle problem. Namely, sex is a major motivator of almost all humans, and that tends to get expressed both in mental derangements, as well as their physical changes. Throw in a big heap of wish fullfilment, the fact that metahumans in general are more emotional than average, and…
Tyche used to be a sexually repressed, unattractive and shy girl. When she manifested, her body reshaped itself to fit her ideal of beauty, and her libido was kicked up a few notches as well, which literally means that she has super-powered hormones playing hob with her head. Also, her high power-level (probability manipulation is major stuff) and her issues from before earned her a few derangements, among them being a deep change in personality, inverting her former shyness to a major degree.
So, as if suddenly looking (and feeling) like a sex god (or goddess) ain’t enough to make people frisky, their manifestation also adds enhanced emotions and the odd derangement to the mix.
The effect is even worse for most metahumans, since they mostly manifest during puberty – meaning, right during their main sexual formative age. Add to that the chance that they might literally be stuck in puberty for life – their physical transformations may use their then-current hormonal make-up as a template – or at least for a long time, and things only get worse.
Here, it is important to differentiate between simple changes in personality in response to the manifestation (like Tyche, who is now openly bi and proud of it, whereas before she was ashamed) and derangements that force a change of sexuality onto someone, usually due to influences from outside (the wrong kind of people present during the manifestation or linked to the person in general). These unlucky metahumans often have to fight to accept their new, imposed sexuality, and there is a high incidence of suicide among them, especially if they previously were against alternate sexualities or dependant on their sexual self-image.
Furthermore, there are far more metahumans with alternate sexualities, relative to their numbers and compared to normal humans. On one hand, people with repressed sexualities are far more likely to act them out after manifesting, and many metahumans end up somehow changing their physical sex (going from boy to girl, girl to boy, something in between or just both), responding to hidden desires and repressed wishes.
This has lead to a wider acceptance of the LGBT community, especially in the West. When a third of your society’s super-powered protectors are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or somehow transgendered (or weirder), you learn to deal with it. While prejudices still run strong, especially in the more fundamentalistic parts of society, the public perception of the matter is far more open than in our world. That is also due to many Heroes (Lady Light at the forefront) campaigning for LGBT rights for decades now.
Said movement has progressed so far that, among metahumans, those who only get minor sexual derangements are considered lucky (provided they are not driven to suicide), as those are mostly accepted by the main part of society, and easier to deal with than, say, cannibalistic urges or a strong fascination with burning buildings and people.
And this is not even limited to metahumans with physical powers and changes. Mentalists of all kinds have to deal with not only their own, but also other people’s sexual urges, again often during formative ages – it is no coincidence that the two most powerful straight telepaths introduced in the story (Mindfuck and Mindstar) are extreme sexual deviants, and the one other person with access to it has mostly used it for sex in the past (Gloom Glimmer). Though they both also have other, more extreme trauma that contributed to what they are now, this is a problem for many Mentalists, and if they are new to their powers, sexually unbalanced themselves and/or mentally vulnerable (so, for example, 99.9% percent of all teenagers with powers) they tend to have major problems dealing with it.
And those are just the most obvious changes. A shapeshifter may not even have a fixed sexuality anymore, and change it on the fly or enhance it to an insane degree (Bakeneko). A spawner who creates a minion of alternate sexuality and shares its feelings/sensations is another recipe for issues.
Let’s no even get started on Gloom Glimmer, and all the issues her sentient power causes her by interpreting even her most subtle urges through a non-human lens.
In short, metahumans tend to get fucked up, in more than one sense of the word. Though for many it is a positive thing.
Previous | Next
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.
* * *
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.
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?”
“Why am I here?”
“Am I here because you are curious?”
“Are you curious about why I’m here, then?”
“Am I here because I am curious?”
Basil thought it over.
“Do you know about my memory problems?”
“Do you know why I’m having them?”
“Are you indecisive about whether or not to tell me?”
“Are you unsure about the reason for my issues?”
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?”
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?”
“You don’t want to tell me?”
“You can’t tell me?”
“You mean it’s not yet time?”
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?”
“Are they good?” Keep the questions simple.
“You know them personally?”
“Are they good for me, too?”
“Should I try to find them?”
“What am I supposed to do then!?”
“This is getting us nowhere, Ember. I’m allowed to call you that, right? Not Protégé?”
“Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
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.>
Previous | Next
So yeah, I’m quite impressed by wildbow’s Weaver’s Dice proto-rp for Worm, so I decided to try my hand at an original system for the Brennusverse.
It’s very much a work in progress, but you can look in by following this handsome link.
Eighteen years, and this hadn’t changed: Supervillains still didn’t like being smashed into (and/or through) a wall by way of a civillian’s car. Or by any other means, really.
Necrophobe stabbed at me with those wicked claws, like I’d mortally offended him.
Fortunately, I’d not lost my instincts since my last battle – I dropped to the side while kicking down the gas pedal, keeping him pinned while I broke the shifter off. A few quick (well-practiced) moves (thank you, Cartastrophy!) allowed me to jam the pedal while pulling my foot off.
I kicked the door open and flung myself out just in time for another strike of his to miss me, then I ran not towards the hole in the wall, but the actual door out of the supermarket.
Aaaand I ran into two of Necrophobe’s minions – taking a close look at them, they had a skull-and-bones motif going for their clothes – right outside. The guy of the pair aimed a sawed-off shotgun at me, the woman an uzi.
Why did I get into this again? And what happened to the good old non-lethal raygun?
The monkey almost drooled with excitement, clamoring to be cut loose on them, while the two ordered me to surrender.
Not really, no. Never knew when to give up.
I dove forward – few people expected someone held at gunpoint to do that – into a roll, their first shots went wide over me, and then I was between the two of them.
They went down in seconds.
Nice to know that minion quality hasn’t gone up.
I took their weapons just as I heard a tearing sound and then the last sounds of my car’s motor, then a triumphant, croaking scream from Necrophobe’s half-rotten throat.
As I turned around, I saw him shoving the car off of himself, slower than one would expect from something of his size – probably little in the way of enhanced strength – after having killed the motor with his claws.
I was actually starting to like that car. Sure hope Cartastrophy’s still around to fix it.
I ran up to the monstrous supervillain, staying just out of range of his claws, and shot at his arms, destroying one clawed hand (again, no reaction that even hinted at pain) and then another.
Not going for the vitals – dunno how undead he really is, and he doesn’t seem that tough to begin with, anyway.
The villain looked at me with a hateful look. “I’m going to get you, asshole. Bury you alive, bury your whole family alive!”
“Alright, pal, two things. One, I’d really, really like to see you try and go after my family. Two, what the fuck is wrong with you – rule number two of the whole game, you do not involve family!”
I shot his left arm completely off at the shoulder, making the bony limb drop down, a few strands of a horrible smelling slime still connecting it to the ruined shoulder.
“Now be a good boy and stay put,” I said with a sneer, ignoring his curses as I turned to leave the supermarket.
Just then, Chayot flew in through the hole I’d made in the wall – Wrong, wrong, wrong, you don’t fly in the same way the enemy was smacked through unless you know you can take anything they can dish out or that they’re disabled for sure – ready for a fight, then stopped, hovering in place.
Her arms dropped down to hang limply next to her body. If she wasn’t wearing a full-face, rigid mask, I’d probably be seeing her mouth hanging open.
This also served to tell me that the winged crystal behind her was at least partially autonomous, as its wings bent around her body to shield her from an attack by me.
Probably a Tiamat, then. Or a very sophisticated Generator.
I dropped my weapons and raised my hands, entwining my fingers behind my head.
“I surrender!” I said with what I hoped was a roguish (kind of inevitable, with my face and my three-day beard) but non-threatening (I’d never been good at those) smile.
She looked at me like I’d gone crazy, or at least that’s the impression I got from her.
I probably had.
Then I noticed something.
The monkey hasn’t suggested attacking, killing or raping her even once. What the hell?
* * *
The police were very interested in talking with me, since I’d basically acted in the most stupid way possible there (though my medal and my new ID took care of that – people still revered war heroes around here, even if I didn’t feel like one), and then the only adult superhero I’d seen today (whom, by the way, I had not seen at the battle) – a rather intimidating woman with the legs and head of a goat and eight snakes instead of arms, dressed in a skintight emerald green bodysuit – who went by the name of Vek wanted to talk to me as well.
After fixing up my car by biting it, of all things. Well, one of her snake-arms did, and then it actually looked like time was reversed for the car, and suddenly it was ship-shape again.
I opened my mouth to thank her profusely, but she waved me off.
“You saved my girl, and probably my other kids, too. They couldn’t have fought Necrophobe and Patchwork on top of the others. Once you distracted Necrophobe, Chayot managed to take Patchwork down, then turned to the rest, and those surrendered once it became clear that Necrophobe wasn’t coming anytime soon.”
She stopped, taking a breath, and I heard a ‘but’ coming fast, probably along with a massive lecture.
“But, Mr. Paterson, that was the stupidest-“
“Ma’am, please, don’t bother. I know it was stupid, though I feel it necessary to mention that there are mitigating circumstances,” I threw in, to cut the lecture off. I’d always hated those.
“And what might those be?” asked a melodic voice.
Chayot approached me – I was sitting on the back bumper of an ambulance, having just fought off the EMTs – flanked by four other teenagers in costumes of varying styles, suggesting that she was the leader of her team. The winged crystal at her back was gone and she walked with her feet on the ground. I idly noticed that the one other girl of her group (who was standing to her right) was the same size as she was, but only due to wearing substantial heels, while Chayot went without. Even though she could fly, and thus negate most disadvantages of wearing heels.
Practical. I like that. Even if I’d probably have preferred the flashy style back then.
I pulled out my medal and ID – they hadn’t seen them yet – and showed them.
“I’ve seen a lot of action. This was really rather relaxing, all things considered.”
“Who are you?” asked the girl next to her, her melodic voice contrasting with her rather harsh attitude. Her costume was far less practical than Chayot’s, a black-and-pink reinforced bodysuit with a heart-shaped window over her heart, exposing quite a bit of her chest. No, wait, there’s no hole there. Only see-through material. Her mask only covered her face from her forehead to her nose, fanning out into a pink heart-shape, matching her bubblegum-pink hair, which she wore open and straight, reaching down to her shoulders.
“Dearheart, please, show some respect. He’s a vet from the Califate War,” explained Vek, apparently recognizing the medal. “I didn’t see you on the TV, I think. When they gave out those medals, I mean.”
I shrugged. “I got mine second-to-last, and I did my best to be inconspicious. Prefer my anonymity, you know?”
She shrugged. “Well, these seem to be in order. Still, this was mightly reckless. Do you even have any powers?”
I nodded. “Don’t like to use them, though. Let’s not focus on that,” I replied, uneasy. The last thing I needed was to have to demonstrate my powers.
“What, you think they’d scare us or something?” asked Dearheart with bravado in her voice.
Damn, girl’s got an attitude. And a voice I’d like to listen to for hours.
And my monkey was still not making any suggestion in regards to abusing Chayot. It wasn’t as nice regarding Vek and this Dearheart, though, especially after the latter’s insolent behaviour.
“Call it an old man’s folly. So, what’s gonna happen to me, now?” Please no investigation, please no investigation. I scratched my chin.
Vek thought it over. “Well… I guess we can overlook this… once. Please don’t repeat something like this, unless you officially join the United Heroes. Speaking of which…”
“You want to recruit me?!” I asked with some surprise.
She nodded. “We’re short on manpower. No matter what your powers are, your experience alone would be invaluable to us. After all, you survived the war.”
I shook my head sadly. I’d already picked up on the problems the United Heroes, especially the American divisions, were having due to the threat of a war with the Sovjet Union. But… no. Not again, I don’t think.
“I’m really sorry, but… no. I just… just got back, I really don’t need another war now,” I replied. It surprised me that I felt honestly sad about not being able to help.
For God’s sake, I already did my part for Truth, Justice and the American Way.
Dearheart snorted dismissively, though Chayot put a hand to her shoulder to calm her.
The monkey was getting the weirdest vibes from these two. Chayot more than the other, but the other girl had to have some weird power, as well.
Strange that I didn’t notice her earlier.
Maybe it was a power the monkey only smelled while it was being used, and she’d just used it on Chayot. No, wait, Chayot had calmed her down, using some kind of power, but it had somehow allowed the monkey to smell her power, too.
Strange and stranger.
“What?”, asked Dearheart with an annoyed tone.
I shook myself. Great, stare at the teenage girls dressed in skintight costumes. That’s gonna put them at ease.
“Sorry, just an old man getting lost in his thoughts. Nothing bad, I promise.” Unless it’s supposed to be a secret that your friend over there just used her power on you.
“You don’t look that old,” replied Dearheart with a snort.
“Really? Thank you,” I replied.
“Dearheart, enough. If you’re not going to thank Mr. Paterson for his help earlier, then at least don’t pester him,” said Vek.
Dearheart snorted, but Chayot turned to me. A wave of gratitude and a little apologetic feeling (for her friend’s behaviour, it seemed) washed over me. Neatly bypassing my immunity to mental powers.
Strange and stranger and even stranger.
“You’re welcome, Miss. Now, unless there is something else, there’s someplace I need to be real fast.”
Vek shook her head. I rose, shook her… snakes… and nodded towards the teenage heroes.
Then I turned to go. I had just taken two steps when Vek stopped me again.
“If you would excuse me… my uncle fought in the Califate War, and he was supposed to have died during the Great Clusterfuck, but they never found a body, and you were there, going by your medal.”
I turned back to her. “Wait, they made a medal just for the poor asses that were in that mess?” I asked, looking at the platinum star ringed by a golden sunburst in my hand.
“The star is for participants of the Califate War, the sunburst for those who were present during the Great Clusterfuck.”
“I see,” I said, chuckling a bit. “Great Clusterfuck… that really fits. What was your uncle’s name?”
“His name was Greenblock, he-“
“Ah, old Greenface! Now I remember, he used to brag about you all the damn time, saying you’d someday be a superhero for sure!” Damn, I miss that guy.
Her face brightened – at least I think it did, I wasn’t exactly an expert in reading goat faces – and she responded: “You knew him well?! Do you know what happened to him?”
I nodded. “Me, him and a few others were all in the same unit, and we used to get drunk a whole lot. I remember, that madman took down two of the Califate’s bodies, and then the other ones all ganged up on him at the same time. Killed three more of them before they killed him. I saw his body disintegrate when DiL hit us with a blast from outside the atmosphere.”
“Oh. Well… at least he went out fighting,” she said.
“He sure did. You can be proud of him…” I thought it over, then pulled out a post-it note (always keep a pack of those handy, you’ll find a million uses for them) and a pen, writing down my cellphone number (I’d bought one back in Esperanza – they’d gotten way small). Then I handed her the note. “If you call me a day or two from now, we can meet up and talk a bit more. But I’m really pressed for time right now.”
She thanked me profusely, this time with me waving her off, and finally let me go.
I took the car and drove off.
* * *
The apartment had changed owners. Not that surprising.
However, old Mrs Kuchen was still there, still the landlady, and still quite willing to gossip, so I got myself a new address (well, more like the general place she lived in now) and also some news.
Namely, the fact that she’d married, and even had a child.
As I drove towards the gated community outside of Chicago – it had been built down the shore of Lake Michigan, outside the city proper – I felt… glad.
Really, I’d been afraid she’d have tortured herself waiting for me all those years. I don’t think I’d have dealt well with the idea of her still holding out for me.
Though I won’t contest that it hurt. Part of me, I guess, had always hoped to return to her and… well, marry her. Make a family.
But now she was married, and had even gotten a kid out of the deal.
I hope she at least won’t hate me.
That I really couldn’t deal with.
I reached the entrance to the ritzy community – Three Heaven’s Gates – and had to laugh first. Used to be, she could barely afford to eat properly.
She made her life better. That, at least, I like unambigiously.
I doubted that she was still a superhero. One, that didn’t pay that well, two, knowing her, she’d probably dropped it the moment she realized she was pregnant.
A child would have come first, always.
Besides, considering the average powerlevel I witnessed just today, she’d probably be more of a liability than help, at least in open combat.
The guard at the gate first didn’t want to let me in without an invitation, or at least calling ahead (I wanted to surprise her, juvenile though that may be, so I protested), but again, my medal took care of that.
How useful, I thought.
* * *
I pulled in front of her house – the guard had been nice enough to provide me with the address, after warning me to be good.
The house was an expensive white-painted building, three storeys and a well-kept front yard.
And Mr Dewie, her fat old cat.
I almost wept when the little monster – he was about the size of the average dog, and probably twice as heavy – with his grey-brown fur and mottled ears charged into my legs.
“Gods, Dewie, how I missed you,” I said while scratching him behind his ears. “Nineteen years old and still growing, I see.” He had grown six extra chins, for crying out loud.
I sat up and straightened my suit, then walked up to the door, the purring cat right behind me.
Should I have brought flowers?
I fidgeted for almost five minutes before ringing the doorbell.
Even the fucking monkey was nervous.
It took a minute, but then the door opened, a cute little moppet no older than five, with black curls, amber-coloured eyes and dark, but not quite black skin, dressed in a pink princess’ dress with a sparkling tiara, looking up at me.
She married seven years ago. Just about right, I guess.
“Yes mister?” asked the little girl in a bright voice. Nothing about her bearing or speech betrayed any kind of fear, or even nervousness, at the tall stranger in a suit in front of her.
This girl’s grown up safe and sound.
“Hello princess. Say, I’m looking for Tamara Milton, do you know her?” I asked, crouching down in front of her. You have to, you’re so obviously her daughter.
“No, sir! My mama’s named Tamara, but we’re the Bennings!”, she said brightly.
“Charity! Charity, who’re you talking to, sweetie?” asked a male voice.
“Just a nice man! He even calls me princess, daddy! How did he know that?”
A middle-aged man, probably a year or so younger than me, came to the door and scooped the girl up, throwing me a suspicious glance from above (I was still crouching). The monkey wanted him dead, now. I shut it up.
“Probably because it’s just so obvious that you’re a princess, sweetie. Now, be good and go to mommy,” he said to her, putting her down behind him without taking his eyes off me, always keeping his body between me and her.
Strong protective instincts. Good.
He was tall, not as tall as me, but still above average, and dressed in jeans and a bright blue dress shirt. Brown hair, a fashionable (probably) pair of glasses and a rather non-descript, cleanly shaven face helped make him look nice, but rather plain.
“What do you want, Mr…?” he asked.
I rose up on my feet, straightening my suit and tie. “Sorry, Mr Bennings, my name is Kevin Peterson, and I’m looking for Tamara Milton, who I believe is your wife?”
He looked at me with a queer look. “You know Tamara? How, I don’t think she’s ever mentioned a Kevin among her acquaintances.”
That’s because she didn’t know me under that name. I wonder how much she ever told you.
“I guess she wouldn’t, but I assure you, we know each other. If you could just let me talk to her for a few minutes?”
He looked like he wanted to send me away, but then another voice spoke up.
“Phil, honey, what’s going on?”
Her voice had barely changed. And then she appeared next to Phil in the door – and froze, just as I did.
She’d changed, aged, but in a good way. Adonis-types usually did. Her jeans and white shirt showed that she’d gotten a bit heavier around the waist, and her chest had expanded quite a bit, as well. Eighteen years and I still looked at her chest, damn. Her black hair was no longer in messy dreadlocks, but instead in a practical ponytail, and her black skin was still flawless, as far as I could see. And her amber-coloured eyes…
God damn, how I missed looking into those eyes.
“Aap?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. Phil tensed, his eyes, which had moved to look at her, zeroing back on to me.
“Meow-meow,” I whispered, fearing that my voice might break if I spoke any louder.
Phil slapped his forehead, and I think she blushed a bit. It was hard to tell.
You weren’t embarrassed about your cape back then. But I guess we both had to grow up sooner or later.
We stood there, looking at each other, until Phil pulled his wits together and – I liked him more and more – grabbed my shoulder and pulled me in, closing the door behind me.
“Living room,” he said and steered both of us there, sitting her down on the couch and me on the opposite side of the small table in a cushioned chair. He himself sat down next to her, taking her hand in his – the hand with their wedding ring.
Protective instincts and appropriately possessive. Good.
I’d probably have reacted far worse in his place, if my wife’s old lover had suddenly shown up on my doorstep.
“So, you’re back. After eighteen years,” he said, almost snarling. There was a lot of anger in his eyes.
Tamara seemed to be on the verge of crying, in contrast.
“I am. And I’m so, so sorry, Tamara,” I said to her, forcing back a few tears. I really didn’t want to cry right now. “I never wanted to just van-“
“Stop,” she said. I stopped talking. “We… we both knew it couldn’t last. Wouldn’t last, no matter what we did. Not with the kind of life we led back then. But… not even a word? A letter, anything? Why?“
I looked at her, unsure of what to say. No, I knew what I wanted to say. I just didn’t know how.
“I… I was planning to…”
Just then, the door opened. Little Charity’s feet pounded the floor as she ran from wherever she’d been to the door, and I heard her greet “bigsis”, apparently by jumping into her arms. Her sister didn’t say anything in return though, it seemed.
After a few more, quieter, words – I was guessing that there was someone else there, as well – I heard steps coming towards the living room.
Tamara tensed up, a panicked look on her face, while Phil seemed just tense.
Two stunningly beautiful teenagers walked into the room, the one in the back holding the little princess’ hand.
The one in the back was almost four inches shorter than her friend, pale-skinned and blue-eyed, with long blonde hair that ran straight down to her shoulders. She was wearing tight jeans, boots with heels that raised her up to be as tall as the other one, a pink shirt and a jeans jacket over that. Her eyes widened in recognition, even as the monkey reacted to her in its usual way.
The other one was taller and built enough to pass the Adonis-test with flying colours, with a darker skin than even Tamara’s, but completely Eurasian features, and soft black hair, reaching down to her butt in natural curls, her eyes almost glowing in a deep golden amber colour, her face as a whole solemn and almost unnaturally relaxed. She was dressed in a white one-piece with long sleeves and a black pair of tights, with knee-high, soft brown boots. I felt a dizzying mix of emotions emanate from her in waves as she looked directly at me. The monkey wasn’t reacting to her in its usual way.
And a sudden wave of… not dread, it was nothing like dread, but more like… I don’t know, a wave of not-dread-but-close ran through me as the pieces fell into place.
Kuchen got the order wrong. She got the child first.
And judging by her reaction, she was putting the pieces together, as well.
Tamara rose and walked towards the stunned girl, taking her hand.
Then she pulled her closer to the center of the living room. She looked between me and her.
“Hennessy? Meet your father… Aap Oordra, or Kevin Paterson.”
One thing really hadn’t changed. Supervillains still didn’t like being slammed through a wall by any means.
Though she, at least, only blasted me through the glass door leading to the porch, not the wall.
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Curious to see what’s gonna be chosen…
Protector Airport, Esperanza City
I stepped onto American soil for the first time in eighteen years.
All around me, men and women – mostly men – were falling to their knees, kissing the tarmac of the runway the way I’d always imagined the first Jews to reach their promised lands once had.
Feeling oddly empty and calm, I straightened the rumpled suit and tie I’d been given in Japan – the flight had taken a while, I couldn’t even tell how long, not really. Mostly, I’d just concentrated on keeping the damn monkey calm.
We were greeted with flashlights and cheers, the president himself had shown up to welcome us back. I barely even noticed what was said by him and the others who took the stage, keeping myself busy by making sure no one got a clear picture of my face. What I also noticed was a shadow on a wall that belonged to no one present. I did my best to ignore it.
After what felt like an entire day, but turned out to be less than forty-five minutes, the assembly ended and we were loaded into a bus that would take us to our next destination, some place to process us and send us on our way with official papers and all.
There was little talk while we travelled – the few who did not fall asleep from exhaustion, instead had their faces plastered against the windows, taking in the shiny city of Esperanza – built atop the decontaminated wasteland that had once been Los Angeles. Not the most practical spot by any means imaginable. But the few survivors of Los Angeles – and many others – decided to build a monument to their defiance of DiL’s terror, right there. Right here.
The last time I’d been here, construction had just begun around the memorial obelisk at ground zero. Now, there was a gigantic city that spread far inland, built with cutting edge technology, designed by Gadgeteers that specialized in construction and generally just built to be an impressive monument all by itself, even without the countless statues, standing all over the city, of heroes and villains that fell to DiL’s first attack.
Of course, all the monkey could think about was how to tear it down again.
I couldn’t care less for it, at least right now. I just wanted the papers I’d been promised so long ago, and then…
Then I’d see if it had all been worth it.
* * *
Once we reached the processing center, things went far, far faster than I had expected, considering the usual pace at which the bureaucratic system worked. But I guess the whole buzz around our return had some upside. Namely, they wanted this to be a shining example of smooth procedure. No having us complain later on how we’d have been forced to wait for hours and all.
Apart from them trying to enlist me for a possible war against the remnants of the Sovjet Union, which I turned down very quickly, everything went smoothly. Even though the monkey was trying to convince me to just kill them all and be done with it.
Finally, after eighteen years (and thirty-four minutes), I left the building with my damn papers. It had taken quite a bit longer than I had expected back then, but now…
Now I would see if it had been worth it.
* * *
Highway to the East
Fortunately, they also gave me a substantial ‘wad of cash’, to use the colloquial term. Pay for services rendered, pay for… everything else.
I used the money to buy myself a cheap, reliable car (second-hand, at best, but a good one), filled up the tank, bought enough junk food to feed an entire football team after the superbowl (the monkey was less likely to act up if it was well fed), and went on my way.
Eighteen years, and by all accounts, it still stood. It had gone through its own share of catastrophe and madness, but it still stood. I’d doubted it, every now and then.
So I drove up the highway. It was stupid, really. I had more than enough money to pay for a first-class ticket on a plane. Not to mention the shadow that had been following me until I got on the road – it was probably still there, I just didn’t bother to look – that was also a quick way.
But after the last eighteen years, I really enjoyed the idea of travelling at my own pace, by myself. Not that I wasn’t going to cheat along the way. The monkey did need some exercise, after all.
* * *
I was officially lost.
I don’t know how that happened. How can you get lost driving on the interstate?
However that might have happened, I ended up driving through a forest of all things. When, according to the map, I should be driving through a plain.
And it was a strange forest, too. All hills going up and down, big gnarled trees, colourful bushes, golden light falling through thick leaves… it wouldn’t have been out of place in a fairy tale at all.
Strangest thing was that it had been night just moments ago, and now it seemed to be noon.
Oh, and the monkey was actually quiet. That never happened.
Well, at least the road is still here.
* * *
Surprisingly close to Chicago
I did not do the stupid thing and stop to take a look. Oh no, I’d read a few too many books to fall for that trap. I just drove on, like nothing had changed, and after what felt like an hour, I was suddenly back on the normal road.
And Chicago was right in front of me. I’d barely put half the way behind me when I got into that forest, even with the monkey’s help, and now I was barely a mile out of the city.
I’d almost think dad was responsible, but he wouldn’t have gone for the sunshine-and-pretty-flower imagery.
Either way… I’d never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I drove into the city, heading for the apartment.
* * *
I had to get to the northern side of Chicago, and the fastest way for that was right through downtown.
Having turned the radio off – it had taken all of fifteen seconds for me to grow to hate the program – I’d missed the warnings, and I was distracted enough to not notice the usual tells.
Street into downtown empty, street leading out of it all but clogged up, news helicopters in the air…
I ended up in a freaking hero/villain fight. And by the looks of it, it was a doozy.
It took place on a big crossroad – a new one, I didn’t remember it, and I’d memorized Chicago pretty well back in the day – and it was immediately obvious why they were fighting – an upturned armoured car lay in the middle of the crossroad, with several bags of money spilling out.
Three minions – and they obviously were minions, dressed in colour-coordinated punk-attire, their hair up in those pseudo-native-american hairdo’s (I’d never been able to remember the damn name, something starting with an ‘Irok’) in every colour of the rainbow and decked out with what looked like contrived energy guns – were standing guard around it, trying to shoot down the heroes fighting their superpowered pals.
In the air above the street – interestingly, every single cape present seemed capable of flight – no less than fourteen metahumans were duking it out. And judging by the reaction of the city, this was considered normal.
Stars above, eighteen years ago, a battle between fourteen metahumans would have been reason enough for a full-scale evacuation of the surrounding blocks! There were people on the streets and in buildings around the scene of battle watching like it was some big show! A police cordon cut me off from entering the crossroad itself, but I had a prime spectator position from where I stood.
I almost turned the car around to find another way to my destination – eighteen years ago, I would have jumped right into the fray and mixed it up with both sides, but now, I just felt annoyed at he delay – when one of the fighters caught my eye.
Of the fourteen metahumans present, the battle was mostly dominated by three that fought almost exclusively against each other – two villains against one hero – while the rest made sure to stay out of their way and fight the apparent lesser members.
The villains looked quite a bit scarier than the average supervillain of my time. One was a woman with a very obvious, very bad case of Chimaeraism – she looked like someone had taken six different animals and at least three different women, cut them up and sewn them back together without any regard as to the functionality of the resulting body. I counted one elephant, two lions, a giraffe, a dog and a snake, as well as two dark-skinned (but not quite African-American) women and what could have been an Asian or Caucasian woman, at least judging by the skin colour (not that that really meant anything nowadays, especially with metahumans). She – though I counted no less than five different male genitals – looked like an elongated slug made of thick skin and fur, a patchwork monstrosity with no clear front or rear, flying around by blowing air out through its mouths, attacking her quarry through charging attacks, bites and the air she blew out.
The other was not as strange but definitely more scary in the classical sense. He – well, I thought he was male, but it was difficult to tell – lacked pretty much everything below his rib cage, save for his guts, which were dangling in a disgusting show of half-rotten, pustule-covered flesh. From his ribs and above, his body looked no better – thin, corpse-white skin stretched over brittle-looking bones, without an ounce of flesh visible, oozing yellow-green pus from countless gashes, pustules and warts. His torso alone was as large as I was tall and was topped by a long, meatless neck upon which sat an impossible long and narrow hairless head, its skin just as diseased and corpse-like as below, its eyes just two sickly points of light in dark, empty eye sockets, a dead face without lips to cover the shark-like fangs in its mouth, and oozing wounds where its nose and ears were supposed to be. Furthermore, its arms were at least thirty feet long and each had five joints and twelve fingers tipped with claws that were another five feet in length. It was floating without any visible means of support and seemed to mostly rely on its claws for combat, using its long, many-jointed arms to attack from obscure angles.
Despite the rather interesting nature of these villains (and I was very sure they were villains – not due to their looks, but due to the attitude they had going; the monkey agreed here with me), it was their quarry that caught my interest.
She was tall for a girl – and I had a pretty good feeling that she was a girl, as she fought with a kind of energy and zeal you mostly found in younger people – nearly six feet tall. Her costume, white body-armour styled to evoke an angelic image on a golden bodysuit, was surprisingly practical compared to what I was used to from my time, and what I had seen so far in a few magazines and commercials of the average modern superheroine, concealing her figure more than accentuating it, even detracting a bit from her overall looks I’d say. Her mask was styled like a solemn humanoid with the beak of a hawk and the horns of an ox, with the facial lines themselves also suggesting some kind of cat. What drew me to her, though, was not her strange mask or practical costume. Rather, it was the mass of wings that floated behind her back.
As far as I could tell, she had a shimmering crystal sphere that floated just inches behind her back, from which grew countless white-feathered wings – technically just three pairs, but each wing asymmetrically branched out into various additional wings. Each of the six ‘core’ wings was as large as she was, and the branching wings varied in size from ‘pinky finger’ to ‘five-foot cutting implement’. Oh yeah, those feathers looked so sharp I thought they couldn’t possibly be as sharp as they looked to be. And just to add a note of extra-creepty to the mix, each of the ‘main’ wings had a row of glowing red eyes along its upper rim, as well as a football-sized eye growing out of the back of the sphere, where the wings sprouted from. Seven long ‘tails’, which looked more like thin white stripes that were half again as tall as she was, with the central one being three times that length, emerged from the ‘bottom’ of the sphere, trailing after the heroine as she flew around, evading attacks and striking back with some kind of invisible blast (any time she hit her enemies, they were thrown back violently, while missed shots often caused heavy impacts in the surrounding buildings or the street below, leaving cracks and craters behind. Something about the way she fought, the very way she moved, gave me the impression of anger. Lots and lots of anger, and probably anger that was not directly related to this fight. And as if that wasn’t enough weird at once already, the… construct behind her gave me the vibes like something that was alive.
Intrigued, I turned the radio on for a moment, and just in time to get the name of the strange heroine.
<…r young star heroine, Chayot, has engaged the Necrophobe and…>
I turned it off again. Chayot… ah, I see. A living creature… how very fitting. Obscure biblical referances, drawing on classical angelic imagery instead of the care bear stuff you had nowadays. I liked her already, whoever she was.
Might as well just enjoy the show, I thought and leaned back on my seat, watching the battle unfold.
* * *
Chayot was fighting surprisingly smart, considering how angry her every move felt. She obviously had the upper hand when it came to ranged combat, while Necrophobe’s claws turned out to be capable of slicing through concrete. The flying patchwork slug seemed to rely mostly on its bulk for charging into opponents, or throwing them around with her air streams, both of which were quite ineffective against the young heroine, who easily evaded her attacks.
Since the other participating metahumans were quite tied up with each other, or seemed too weak to be of importance in that particular fight, the fight ended consisting mostly of the participants dodging like crazy while trying to hit their enemies.
For a minute or so, it seemed like a stalemate, but then one of the other heroes got a lucky shot and knocked the slug’s charge aside, making her slam into this Necrophobe.
Showing a refreshing amount of pragmatism for the average young hero (again, by my apparently outdated experience), Chayot capitalized on this to blast both of them back, then keep up the assault to try and slam them into the building behind them.
If I were this Necrophobe, then I’d…
He used the cover that the slug’s superior bulk provided to slip through a window into the building as the slug slammed into it, then he suddenly burst out of another window further down, charging Chayot at an angle, so that if she missed him, she would hit some of those idiotic bystanders.
Well, not quite what I would have done.
Unfortunately, it did prove effective, but not in the way he or I probably expected – Chayot did take the shot, after angling herself so it would just barely miss any bystanders in case of a miss, and it did miss, but her distraction allowed the patchwork slug to slam into her.
Odd, how unimportant this seems. The monkey was clamoring for a chance to join the fray, to crush and kill, but I wasn’t even all that interested in watching, beyond a general… actually, I had no idea why I was still watching this fight.
It just seemed so alien, twice over. So much more brutal, and yet so much more… harmless. Necrophobe at least was trying to kill his enemy (unless Chayot had a serious healing factor), Chayot was tearing up the scenery, the other heroes and villains were also barely pulling any punches, and everyone seemed so angry.
I could still remember me and my pals from back in the day running over the rooftops in search for our next big adventure (or just the next fight). And when we found it, we had our fun – yeah, we fought to win, but there were rarely any hard feelings involved afterwards. Heck, a few times we even invited the losers (or were invited by the winners) to drinks and had a blast afterwards that topped the actual battle.
Sure, even back then, those nights were an exception, but something told me that none of these capes would ever willingly go clubbing with each other.
This reminds me, I need to look up the old gang, see who’s still around. And if they want me back.
I was startled out of my reminiscing by a loud crash.
The patchwork slug had knocked Chayot down to the street, smashing the young girl with an air blast that drove her into the asphalt – though it looked like that faux-angel on her back absorbed the brunt of the attack. Necrophobe was charging towards her, his claws outstretched.
He was almost upon her when I slammed my car into him, throwing him across the street and against a wall. He couldn’t have weighed much, because he left barely a dent, as far as I could see (though this particular little box on wheels was quite sturdy to begin with).
I’m such an idiot.
I put my foot down on the gas like it was made of lead. The car bucked, then drove right into the pseudo-undead (not a projection or the result of a power – the monkey could smell him, and his power was his own) and slammed him through the wall and into a supermarket.
Ducking to the side, I evaded a stabbing quintet of claws, simultaneously kicking down on the gas again to drive through the building and pin the asshole against the opposite wall.
What the sweet heavens above am I thinking?!
By the time Brennus entered the room, Tyche had already had her right arm broken and four long gashes on her left hip dripped blood as she collapsed on the ground from a punch to the gut.
He can cut through my ceramic, thought Brennus, partly with fear but mostly with a mix of annoyance and humiliation. Hopefully, his own armor would prove more sturdy.
He would also need to clean up the blood before they left, so there would be no DNA evidence left behind – not to mention all the messed up stuff metahumans could do to people through their blood.
Better survive this first, though.
Panthera Rex reacted to his entrance with blinding speed, somersaulting towards Brennus, aiming a flying double kick at his chest. Brennus reacted by dropping to his knees, allowing for his momentum to carry him forward over the floor.
As the supervillain flew over him, Brennus shot him with the stun gun, hitting him squarely in the chest.
He seized up, his whole body shaking as the electricity coursed through him, and slammed into the wall to the left of the door.
Keep the pressure up, keep the pressure up, keep the pressure up…
Bending backwards, his gun muzzle tracking the villain even as he slid towards the prone Tyche, he fired another shot once the shot buffer had reloaded, dropping the villain even as he tried to get back up.
Now, to keep up the attack, or grab Tyche and make a run for it? But he still needed to clean up the blood, as well.
Just then, Hecate charged into the room, her staff in one hand, the thrown stun baton in the other.
“Hecate, left!” shouted Tyche.
Wrong, right from her point of view!
But before Brennus could correct her, Hecate turned to her left, leaving her back wide open to attack.
Panthera Rex obviously did not believe in honorable combat, because he took the opening, stabbing his right hand claw into her back.
For a moment, Brennus could see a flicker around his claws, as if the air was moving irregularly around them, then the plunged through her cloak and her enchanted suit, biting deep into her flesh.
She didn’t even scream as she went down, instead emitting a soft sigh.
“No!” screamed Tyche before throwing up on the spot and passing out. He had hit her bad.
At least her power does not depend on her being conscious, thought Brennus as he shot the villain the moment his claws slid out of Hecate’s back, but to no avail. Panthera Rex had seen it coming and evaded by simply jumping up to the ceiling, then kicking off to slam his shoulder right into Brennus.
The armor took the brunt of the attack, but he was still rattled as the impact audibly cracked the floor. The upside being that, while rattled, he was not stunned and could immediately react by putting the muzzle of his gun to the enemy’s chest and shoot him with a contact shot.
Panthera Rex made a growling groan as his body seized up again, allowing Brennus to pull his legs up and kick him off of himself and up into the air.
Which was not all that smart, all things considered, seeing how he seemed to have thing for bouncing off of walls and ceilings to attack from different angles.
Or it would have been if Hecate did not take the chance to shoot at him while he was unable to evade, her green blast throwing him in the opposite direction, moments before she collapsed for good.
Green blast means it is a lethal shot, thought Brennus. We agreed to stick to non-lethal means!
Then again, the guy had just impaled her on his claws. He was clearly going for the lethal solution.
Brennus rose to his feet, switching his gun over to his left hand to draw his humming blade with the right one.
Panthera Rex had fallen down behind the desk, his fur withered where it had been hit, but already recovering.
Protection four, Regeneration.
Anything short of massive trauma to the head or chest would probably prove not fatal.
And he can regenerate lost limbs, too. Just takes a lot of time.
He should have attacked with the humming blade from the start.
And the ravenbots, too, now that he thought about it. How had he forgotten those?
Even as the enemy was rising to his feet, Brennus charged forward, calling all his nearby ravens – the three in the room, twelve more around the building – to attack.
Unfortunately, again, Panthera Rex not only had enhanced senses, but also more than a decade of experience in fighting all kinds of enemies. The only reason they had survived this long against him was because he had merely been playing with them.
Judging by the bestial snarl on his half-human face, playtime was over.
He stopped Brennus’ charge by kicking the desk so it slid over and hit him in the gut, the cheap wood shattering against his armor, then punched the wall, which led to a demonstration of what even mid-level super-strength could do by propelling him backwards and through the converging cloud of ravens to kick Brennus in the face, throwing him back.
Good thing I built the neckpiece to automatically stiffen when I am hit like this, or I would have to deal with a broken neck.
Again, the impact absorbtion of his suit prevented him from being stunned too badly, and he attempted to capitalize on it by bringing his blade down on his enemy’s left arm – his claws were the only parts of him that could truly threaten him, the only weapon in his enemy’s disposal that could penetrate his armor.
But again, Panthera Rex foiled him. He gripped Brennus’ armored waist by crossing his arms, then flipped himself over by a spin and dug the claws of his feet into the floor for traction, followed by bending backwards, lifting the armored youth up and slamming him head-first into the floor behind him, cracking it even further.
Ow. I actually felt that.
This time, he truly was stunned as his body fell down with a loud slam.
Stop fighting normally, there is no way I will beat him like that, he knows all those moves.
So he fired his two grappling hooks from his waist-mounted launchers, to pull himself up to the ceiling… only for Panthera Rex to sweep his claws around and cut through the lines before they even connected with the ceiling.
The swipe was followed by a stomp that drove Brennus’ head into the floor, ringing his bells as a crack appeared across his visor, followed by the villain somersaulting backwards to evade the counterattack with the humming blade that would have taken his leg off.
Though that attack missed, it did buy Brennus the time he needed to flip over and push himself back up.
He tried to level his gun at his quarry, but Panthera Rex put his enhanced jumping ability to good use, moving too close to be shot as he struck the gun with one claw, cutting it in pieces.
Oh, come on. Can that thing not make it through one engagement?
Brennus struck him with his humming blade, angling his hand so he could stab him despite being so close.
Again, it proved futile, as Panthera Rex exploded into movement, his claws lashing out so fast Brennus could not follow.
Before he knew it, his sword, right-hand gauntlet, left-hand bracer and chest piece were either completely destroyed or raked so badly they might as well be, though thankfully the armor proved sturdy enough – and the hits shallow enough – to prevent any actual damage to his body.
Throwing himself backwards, he had his ravens descend on the veteran villain, only for him to tear them apart with another burst of speed, his claws tearing through their already fragile bodies with the same ease with which a scalding hot knife cut through warm butter, leaving only two ravens behind that Brennus had not ordered to attack in favour of positioning them on the bodies of his fallen comrades.
Taking heavy breaths, Brennus just stood there, his arms hanging limply as he was slightly bent forward, so as not to expose the damaged chest plate as an easy target.
Panthera Rex seemed to be at least slightly winded, though not nearly enough to make Brennus feel better about the ease with which his assets had been destroyed. The only weapons he had left were one stun baton and a simple knife he had added to his arsenal.
Why did I leave my stun grenades behind? They would be just the weapon to use against someone with enhanced senses.
Do you not remember? We took them apart to work on an upgrade for the ravenbots, since we are short on materials right now.
Blazing Sun? Where have you been, I had thought I had imagined you after all.
I am always with you. But you rarely listen.
No matter, when exactly did I- Ah, as if I did not already know there was something wrong with my memories. Any idea how to survive this?
Not my sphere of competence.
Thanks a lot for the help.
You are welcome.
“I wonder what you’re thinking, boy,” drawled Panthera Rex with a voice that was as distorted as one would expect a voice coming from a mouth that was halfway between a snout and a human mouth to be. “You don’t believe you can actually win this fight, do you? I’m just getting started.”
“It is not over until it is over,” replied Brennus, drawing his baton with his left hand – the right one was useless with the destroyed gauntlet.
The panther-man broke out into laughter, though he did not take his eyes off his opponent. “Oh, that’s a classic one. Have ya been studying up on some Rocky movies?” He made a motion with his hand, as if he was waving the thought away. “No matter. You’re done, and your two friends here need some medical attention, especially the witch. Surrender, and I’ll get them some medical attention.”
“That is oddly generous, considering that you wanted to kill us just moments ago.” His mind was racing, trying to find a way out.
“Not really. That one over there-” He pointed at Tyche. “- only has an Adonis power – or Physique, if you insist on that new rating – so she’ll sell at top dollar on the slave market. You won’t believe the prices metahuman sex slaves bring, if you know the right market.”
He did, actually, having studied up on it.
“And the other one will bring even more money if we sell her to the Califate. They always pay top-dollar for Contrivers. And let’s not even get started as to what a Gadgeteer like you is worth. We wouldn’t even need to look at the international market, or even out of the city.”
If he was not wearing a closed mask, Brennus would probably have spat at him. “Quite ironic, that the member of a group that started as an African-American pro-civil rights group – even a violent one – would engage in slavery.”
“Ha! Why does everyone freak out over that? It’s better than just killing you, right?”
“What makes you think I would make a good servant? Tyche could just be restrained if enslaved, the Califate would brainwash Hecate, but there is no way to ensure that I will not just blow my new ‘owner’ up.”
“We’d just sell you to the Five or somethin’. You wouldn’t be the first guy Mindstar got under her thumb.”
Now he had to bite back a laugh. It would almost be worth surrendering, just to see you try and sell me to her.
But he had to think of the girls. They really needed help, especially the badly bleeding Hecate.
“Let us end this,” he said, readying himself for an attack.
His enemy snorted and got into position himself, his claws stretched in anticipation.
A yellow-booted foot slammed into his jaw from the side, sending him spinning and right into the kick of a blue-clad girl, who kicked him back to the owner of the yellow-booted foot, a yellow-clad girl that proceeded to punch him in the throat and then, with an incredibly fluid movement, grabbed his arm, turned around and threw him over her shoulder and out of the window he had originally entered through.
* * *
The two girls were equally tall, almost as tall as he was, and their skintight suits, identical except for their monochrome colouring, showed off body shapes that rivaled Hecate’s. Something told him that they were twins, maybe their absolutely equal measurements his computer provided, or the way they stood.
He was just about to ask them who they were and what they wanted when Panthera Rex leaped back into the room, snarling in anger.
Brennus grabbed Tyche by the back of her neck (sending the raven over to sit on the windowsill) and ran towards Hecate. The yellow-clad girl stepped forward as if she was taking a stroll, one hand reaching out to draw his knife from his belt and engage the enemy even as he knelt down next to Hecate.
“Do you need anything?” asked the blue-clad girl with a faint German accent. “A first-aid kit, a helping hand…”
“The kit sounds good,” he replied, only for her to vanish. No flickering, no fading, no flash of light, one moment she was there and the next she was not.
A mere three seconds later, she reappeared, first-aid kit in hand. She opened it while crouching down, unconcerned about the battle behind them, and held it out for him.
For a moment, he was worried about her attitude, and he said so.
“Glik has got that one covered. No problem there,” said the blue-clad girl.
The ten-year veteran villain, who had survived in New Lennston despite a comparatively tame power-set engaged the slim girl with the knife. He lost.
Glik walked back after cleaning the knife on his fur and knelt down next to him, putting the knife back into its sheath, and took care of Tyche. She was not even out of breath.
Together they took care of the girls, even as the panther king behind expelled his last breath, dying quietly and alone.
Oddly detached from the sight, Brennus noted with surprise that he was not a Chimaera type, as everyone had believed. The panther-man turned into a dark-skinned, well-built man, naked and hairless.
Morphing two to three, at least.
“Are you up to getting away from here?” asked the blue-clad girl. “Oh, I’m Bluebell, by the way.”
He rose, carefully putting one of his teammates over each shoulder as he assigned one raven to watch Glik – if she tried to attack him, well, he would need every advantage he could get. “I am not as bad off as I may look. My name is Brennus, by the way. And thank you, for your help.”
“We know who you are. But we can talk once we’re safe. There should be reinforcements on the way here.”
Meanwhile, Glik took some capsules from a pouch that was attached to the back of her waist and threw them at the bloodstains left behind by Hecate and Tyche, short flashes of fire burning into the floor to destroy them. Then, she picked up the stun baton Hecate had dropped and put it into his belt.
Some kind of precognition, or enhanced awareness? She is too competent, too fluid.
He turned to Bluebell. “Can you teleport us out of here?”
She shook her head. “We need to get out the normal way. Let’s go.”
* * *
They stopped when they reached a dark alley that was hidden from view.
He turned to thank them, but Bluebell spoke up: “No gratitude required. Just answer us one question honestly.”
“Of course…” he said, wary. Hopefully, they would not ask for his true identity. Considering what he owed them, he could not really deny them an honest answer.
Both of them looked at him, conveying an intense attention, despite their featureless masks.
“Are you the man in the moon?”
Glik touched her sister and they both vanished instantly.
They snuck up to the manager’s office, evading detection mostly due to the fact that there weren’t that many people around in the first place, and Brennus knew where anyone was at anytime, provided they did not enter one of the rooms without surveillance (but there were still cameras watching over the entrances of those rooms). Also, luckily, no staff member had the time to leave the business area, and the manager was tied up as well with helping out in the kitchen.
The office itself had not been locked, but Brennus still made sure to check the door over for any security that was not wired into the general security system the building used. But he found nothing, and thus they entered the room.
It was really plain, especially compared to the building it was in, white paint, red carpet, a simple desk with two computers underneath and two monitors on top, as well as two bookshelves along the left and right side of the room.
After scanning for surveillance equipment beyond what he had already disabled, Brennus walked over to the desk and turned one computer on, one of his ravens (he currently had three on his shoulders) hopping down onto the desk. <This is the one. Give me a minute.>
The girls took position to the left and right of the door, just in case someone barged in, while he went to work. Though he did not make the mistake of sitting down in his power armor again. He had ruined three chairs already with that move, and they were supposed to get in and out without leaving any traces.
A minute later, he was done.
<Damn. They are trying to buy something big. As in, they have been saving up their profits and gathering all resources they could. Two hundred million dollars already, and it seems that is still not enough!>
The girls just looked at him with their mouths open. Hecate was the first to respond: <What could they want to buy that costs that much!?>
Brennus shook his head. <Not important now. I have copied the contents of the computer. We can analyze – INCOMING!>
He jumped over the desk and towards the girls the moment the blur appeared in his ravens’ field of vision, smashing through the door – the two ravens from his shoulders cawed like real animals and flew down to the desk – and allowing the two of them to exit the room, just as the window into the office exploded inwards and a black shade landed on the floor, then leapt towards them with an animalistic shout.
Enhanced strength to make those kinds of leaps possible, most probably enhanced durability to deal with the impacts.
Having landed in a crouch outside the room, Brennus braced himself against the floor and kicked backwards with both feet, his armor enhancing the strength of his kick, speeding it up – but the charging blur evaded, hitting the door frame to redirect its movement, angling itself so it flew towards Tyche – who was in the middle of falling face-first to the floor, having stumbled on the door sill just in time to fall so it only clipped her right arm instead of possibly breaking her back or her neck.
Enhanced senses, enhanced speed.
Hecate reacted faster than he would have expected – or maybe it was just a reflex – and blasted the attacker out of the air with one of her red-and-blue spherical blasts.
Being still tapped into the surveillance system, as well as having his ravens still in the room, Brennus got a snapshot of his enemy – a strange panther-man with flowing fur. Literally flowing fur, as if there were a river of black hair-water flowing down his body.
Panthera Rex. Well, so much for our luck.
Panthera Rex rolled with the blast, using his hands to push himself up so hard he turned into a blur again, his feet slamming into the ceiling from which he catapulted himself towards Tyche, his claw-tipped hands thrown forward towards the prone Tyche.
Enhanced striking effect on the hands, capable of ripping or punching through steel, as well as circumventing most Exemplar and Paragon Tier defensive powers.
He had read about the Black Panthers, and done an in-depth analysis after last week’s crime spree. This guy had stood out.
<Don’t let him hit you.>
His hands still on the ground, he arrested his kick’s momentum, which would have carried him back into the manager’s office, by pushing his fingers into the floor, then pivoted around, kicking Panthera Rex’s arms aside.
The villain missed wide, spinning away from the three of them – and since Hecate had barely moved in the split-seconds this had all happened, right back into her crosshairs. Capitalizing on it, she blasted him down the hallway even as he was thrown around like a rag doll… only to land on his feet in a comfortable crouch, as if he were just playing around, looking at them with yellow cat-eyes.
The three of them stood up, watching him warily. He was seven meters away, which was not much considering the speed he had moved at before.
<That’s him, right? Panther T-Rex?> asked Tyche, her speech over the subvocal system distorted due to her labored breathing.
Hecate answered, this time without sounding annoyed. <Panthera Rex, current leader of the Black Panther’s Eastcoast Division. B-to-A-Class supervillain, way above our pay grade.>
“Tststs, you’re just children,” the villain said. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to break into other peoples’ homes?”
<Brennus, Tyche, I need to charge my staff up, so keep him talking,> ordered Hecate.
“How did you know we were here? I cut off all lines of communication,” Brennus said as he slowly, carefully drew his stun batons.
Panthera chuckles. “One of the books in there is actually a contrivance. Enchanted, so it doesn’t show up on sweeps for technological surveillance.
<Hecate, please tell me you can make some doo-hickey that scans for those?> asked Tyche.
<I’ll get right to it, provided we survive tonight.>
“Well, regardless of that, I should probably take you down already,” continued Panthera Rex, moving into a more aggressive crouching position.
<What were his powers again, Mr Exposition?>
<Power spread. Damage 6, Manipulation 3, Movement 4, Perception 2, Physique 6 and Protection 4.>
Tyche chuckled under her breath. <Wow, that was short… wait, I remember most of those from the briefing, but what’s the Manipulation 3 stand for?>
Their opponent didn’t give Brennus or Hecate time to answer as he charged forward, low to the ground like a flowing, bodyless shadow.
“Evade!” shouted Brennus as he jumped up, his right hand sticking to the ceiling, his right foot to the wall, holding him up. Tyche made a cartwheel back into the office, and Hecate…
Hecate just stood there, as if rooted to the spot.
Panthera Rex was less than a meter away from her, his hands stretched forward, his claws ready to tear into her chest as he angled his charge upward.
Brennus threw his baton. He did not have the time to make a proper throw, but his power armor compensated, and the baton flew as if thrown by an Olympic thrower.
It struck Panthera in the neck, the electricity discharging itself immediately as it made contact. That, coupled with the force of the throw, and the fact that it hit at just the right angle, slammed the supervillain into the ground, arresting his charge, and also dislodging a black throwing knife that had impaled Hecate’s shadow.
Manipulation 3, capable of binding living beings to a spot by impaling their shadows.
Hecate cartwheeled backwards, despite having a clear shot, to bring some distance between them at the same time as Panthera pushed himself back with his hands, then threw himself forward and after her, his clawed feet digging into the carpet for traction – but he was stopped once more when Brennus dropped down in front of him, swinging his second baton in as wide an arc as he could in the hallway, forcing the villain to abort his attack to avoid electrocution, throwing his upper body back and to the side.
Panthera Rex used his backspin to kick Brennus in the gut, with enough force to throw him back and force Hecate to retreat further backwards instead of aiming her attack; then, as he pulled his leg back in, he kicked himself off the wall and into the office, going after Tyche.
She can not take him alone, thought Brennus, catching his fall with a roll and charging forward as he pulled his stun gun out and readied his new grappling hook system. It might make all the difference.
This guy is just playing with us, and he is still kicking us around.