That looks extraordinarily unhealthy – for me.
She pounced on me, wings folded back, spear thrusting at me, clearing several hundred feet in a single bound. The monkey afforded me a lot of protection, even if I only used it partially, but… I had no idea how her power actually worked, and while she seemed to be largely limited to the paragon and apex tier (those exploding spheres had gotten intense), there seemed to be no clear theme to her capabilities, nothing to catch on to; telekinetic blasts, then remote kinetic detonations, receptive and projective empathy, flight, enhanced vision (and probably other senses, as well), protective force fields, fire balls, exploding fire balls, not to mention all the limbs and now full angelic bodies she created; I couldn’t be sure that I’d be able to defend myself against those burning weapons if I took a direct hit, so I evaded by burrowing.
Why did I feel as if I was over my head while fighting a seventeen year old girl? Alright, I’d fought Desolation-in-Light a few times, back in the day, when she’d still technically been a toddler, but…
Hell’s Bells, I’m comparing my daughter to Desolation in Light! Get your act together, buster, and find a way to stop her from tearing you to pieces!
All of those thoughts shot through my head in the time it took me to dig about thirty feet directly downwards, to get some space to breath – yeah, underground breathing room, but still better than staying up there with pointy fire death sticks and my estranged, probably-at-least-partially-insane and definitely-pissed-off-beyond-belief daughter.
That was not to be, however, as I suddenly felt a tug on the small of my back, and then I was torn out of the earth and right into the path of a swing of that wicked, long sword. That very long, very sharp and very hot sword.
Jesus fuck this hurts!
The blade bit into and through the partially manifested chest of the monkey, through my suit and into my skin – if it wasn’t for the monkey, it’d have bisected me for sure.
Oh nonono, no-
I cut myself off before I could flip out and hurt her. That was just the monkey, losing what little restraint it had… and this was my fault, after all, not hers. I was not going to hurt her over this.
Repeating those words in my head, over and over, I did my best to put some distance between us – her new form was not nearly as fast as before, and she seemed to have lost her ranged offense, or perhaps discarded it – so I kept retreating to the back and the side, leading her on circles as all her legs tore into the ground to catch up to me.
She’d make a great plough.
The monkey was already knitting my flesh, closing the wound she’d cut into my chest, but I was not up to going face to face with her unless I let the monkey out entirely, and that would be… unacceptable.
I need some time.
Using her powers cost her. I knew that much, from the vision earlier. She had a well, and it was finite. I didn’t know how deep it went, nor what would happen if it ran dry, but I hoped that, at some point, she’d be forced to conserve her resources, whatever they were.
I need to talk to Tam, to her teammates. They’ve got to know something that can be done.
I circled around her, hoping to fake her out or somehow trap her.
Chayot – not Hennessy, not now – pounced once more, even though she was further away from before, using her wings to carry herself over the distance she could not clear with a simple jump.
But she was still jumping, not flying, and that gave me an opening. I dove down into the soft earth she’d just torn up, tapping into the monkey’s speed and strength to tear into the soil.
For just a moment, underground, I let the monkey cover all but my face, and I moved like a fish in the water, tearing through the earth, breaking it down.
When Chayot landed, she sunk to her… gut… into the earth, howling in frustration as I pulled her lower body down deep, fixing it in place with a few boulders. Then I burst out of the earth some distance away, with the monkey once more only covering half of my body, and made a beeline for our spectators.
Something pulled on my waist, stopping me dead in the middle of the run. Looking behind, I saw a golden thread run from my back to one of her snake limbs. Probably how she’d wrenched my sorry ass out of the earth earlier on.
Ah, baby girl, you don’t wanna get into a wrestling match with me.
Not that I’d ever refuse a friendly one.
Still, I had her where I wanted her and there was no use in pulling her out of the sinkhole I’d made, so I grabbed the glowing line – damn, this burns! – and snapped it with raw strength.
She howled as if someone had cut her arm off, and for a moment I was afraid I might really have hurt her; but then I realized the howl was just one of rage, not pain, so I ran quickly over to the others. Everyone but Tam, Vek, Dearheart and a goat-like boy – Is he Vek’s child? – had fled the moment Hennessy had turned into the pseudo-cherubim. Something tells me they didn’t flee due to cowardice.
“Tam!”, I half-shouted, stopping in front of her. “What is going on, and how can I help her!?”
“You, help her!?” shouted Dearheart. “It’s your fault she’s flipped out this bad in the first place, dickwad!”
What a pleasant girl.
“Dearheart, shut up,” Vek said. “Mister Paterson… Aap Oordra. Chayot has always had issues controlling her power. And I’m afraid the agitation from the battle today, plus, well, your… return, was just too much for her all at once. Her power is based completely on emotions-“
“Really? Because it seems to me like her power really is built on knocking me around and trying to roast me alive,” I couldn’t stop my mouth from rattling off. “Not to mention all that pretty angelic imagery and inappropriate groping of herself.”
Dearheart almost threw another insult at me, I was sure, but Tam put a hand on her shoulder, while her eyes remained transfixed on the thrashing monstrosity that was slowly clawing her out of the trap I’d improvised.
“She eats emotions. People give off emotional energy like body heat, and she soaks it up. All of her powers burn through her reserves, no matter what she does with them – just maintaining them costs her,” she explained in a monotonous voice. “If she absorbs too much of a single emotion, and is also provoked into indulging in that emotion herself, she might lose control and… that happens.”
Breathing deeply for a few seconds, she calmed herself. “The others left so they don’t provide her with more energy. We need to knock her out before she burns herself out – it might be lethal!” She was almost crying with fear at the end.
I had to swallow a few times to get the lump out of my throat. My life. Hate it.
“She has a weakpoint,” Vek threw in. “Trained herself to always include that crystal, in case she ever went berserk and needed to be stopped. Find it, crush it – it’s really durable – and her power will shut down.”
“Don’t tell him that!” shouted Dearheart, again. “He’s a villain, remember!? What if he uses that against her, or sells it to o-“
Tamara whirled around and slapped Dearheart, hard. She wasn’t all that strong, by Adonis standards, but it still had a lot of weight behind it.
“Young lady, my daughter needs help, now! Shut your mouth and help him, we can sort everything else out later on!” she half-screamed.
Dearheart looked stunned, and Vek took charge: “I can’t help much here, so I’ll stay with Mrs Benning. Mister Paterson, please, you have to help us here, Dearheart and Slough can’t stop her by themselves!” She gestured at the goat boy and little miss rudeness.
“I shall, but you all should lea-“
“No,” Dearheart simply replied. “I’m not leaving. My power can counter hers to a degree. And Slough here might be able to help, too.” Goatboy – Slough – nodded fervently.
There was true steel in her voice, and I suddenly liked her a little more. No matter what else, she obviously cared about Hennessy.
Speak of the devil – I heard a massive rumbling, and then the earth around Chayot burst apart.
Both Dearheart and I took off, she flying up while I circled towards Chayot, so she wouldn’t attack in the direction of her mother.
The teenage heroine approached me and said: “Her crystal core is always somewhere different, but she can’t move it once her form is set.”
Chayot leapt out of the smoke, her legs morphed to all resemble a spider’s legs with cloven hoofs, her lower body swelling in size, and threw her spear at us, the blazing projectile flying faster than any cruise missiles I’d ever seen before.
I got ready to evade, but Dearheart simply raised her right hand, pointing at the spear – it flickered, then exploded into harmless sparks, which promptly vanished into nothingness.
She raised her other hand, pointing the palm at the charging Chayot,who stumbled, then fell, as all of her limbs seized up at the same time. At the same time, a burst of scarlet fire from her lower center head (the ox) destroyed said head.
It made all of remaining her mouths scream, but at the same time, the arms of the upper body disintegrated, as did its wings, and then a halo of five floating arms, two tipped with razor sharp nails as long as I was tall.
“What exactly is her power?” I asked.
“She’s a power shifter. Takes on different powers, but just maintaining, much less using, them costs her. Luckily enough, she’s limited to apex tier powers at most.”
My mouth gaped open. Of all the fucking unfair, broken powers out there, she just has to be a power shifter. And what does that mean, limited to Apex Tier? That’s NOT a limit! You can level a city just fine by combining the right apex powers! You can fuck up anyone’s day by choosing the right ones!
The spear piercing Chayot’s chest faded away, just as three of her free-floating arms (one of them with the freaky pointy death blades) opened fire on us, unleashing lightning bolts, a stream of acid and her earlier fire spheres.
I evaded the spheres and the lightning bolt, but Dearheart charged forward and made the acid vanish simply by pointing at it.
That’s one hell of a power she’s got.
Unfortunately, Chayot could tell as much, because she let the three arms she’d used disintegrate and the other two got into position.
“Dearheart, get away!” I screamed, but she didn’t.
I tapped deep into the monkey’s speed, ran up to them and jumped off, tackling Dearheart out of the way of the reaching unclawed hand trying to grab her.
“Get your hands off me!” she shouted in exasperation.
You try to be a hero, and what do you get?
“Need to g-“
Chayot slapped me down, hard, with a swing of her right snake limb, driving me into the ground.
Dearheart growled as I threw her aside at the last moment, then aimed her hand at Chayot again before she could follow up on the strike.
Pointing at the upper body – personally, I’d have gone for the lower one, bigger target, more likely to house the core – she used whatever kind of power she had. The golden woman’s flesh began to twist and boil, whole sections of it just sloughing off and disintegrating.
No wonder I had gotten odd vibes from these two earlier. Whatever the particulars of their powers were, they were not normal.
Either way, her power was useful, and Chayot seemed slow to push the advantage of her power. Or maybe she was instinctively holding back to conserve energy?
So I charged into her, slamming right into her lion-head’s mouth, letting the monkey coat the lower right half of my body too, as well as my right forearm. She probably screamed, but I couldn’t tell, because I was already tearing into her flesh, digging deeper into her body.
Find the core. Great advice.
I let the monkey’s eyes emerge so I could actually see something, then I simply tore apart her lower body, looking for anything that might constitute a core. She seemed to have most major organs covered in this form, and they even seemed functional, which implied that destroying them would disrupt her, so I did just that while working my way through to her rear end, bursting out of it in a shower of blood that turned into fading motes of light before it even touched the ground.
Behind me, her form collapsed – or, as I saw when I turned around, she’d simply dropped the lower half and was now a floating sphere formed by two rotating, eye-ringed rings topped by golden body that was twisting and boiling under the sustained effects of Dearheart’s power.
New flesh was already blooming on the lower end of the sphere.
“I can’t lock her down for long, asshole! Find the core, crush it!”
Such a charmer.
Just at that moment, Slough – whom I’d completely forgotten about – dove out of the ground, now looking more like a cross between a snake and a mole. His back arched, then turned hunchbacked, and then it split, the outer layers of his body sloughing off to let a new form emerge and dive into the mass of flesh that was forming – rather slowly, compared to earlier – underneath the sphere. He looked like a hermaphroditic marble statue now.
No matter what was going on with that power, the two of them gave me an opening – and I jumped directly onto the rotating rings, grabbing the outer one.
Unfortunately, there was no outer one – the two rings were of equal size, yet still somehow moved within each other at the same time. When they intersected, they sheared through my monkey hand’s fingers and I would have dropped had I not grabbed one of the rings and used it to propel myself upwards.
Careful to stay on the golden figure’s back – I didn’t want to get hit by whatever effect Dearheart was putting out – I started to rip into her surprisingly tough flesh, even as her burning wings struck again and again, burning into the monkey’s back – but thankfully not through it, at least not yet.
Dearheart screamed, and I felt something shatter again.
* * *
I saw the world of flesh again, though this time, a whole section of the forest of limbs had been cut away, leaving bare bleeding flesh behind to form a lake of the red liquid.
I looked up and saw a… a portal, or maybe an intersection, between this world and another. Light, flashing randomly in all colours, making my head hurt just by looking at it, was pouring into this vast world, causing pure chaos. And yet, it was not wholly unwelcome here. Part of Chayot was accepting the intrusion, I could just tell.
Must be Dearheart’s power.
I looked, and I saw – there was one figure I had not seen before. It floated above the land, a towering beauty at least twenty feet tall, her body woven of pure black light and marble white flesh. Her beauty was solemn, inhuman, utterly alien and yet incredibly alluring. She also had no eyes, only smooth flesh stretching over her eye sockets, with locks of black light almost hiding them.
Hennessy, curled up into a fetal position – and thank God for that, because she was naked here, and I did not want to piss her off more by seeing her naked – was floating inbetween the figure’s half-cupped hands.
What are you, and what are you doing to my daughter?
The figure looked at me without eyes and suddenly I knew her.
* * *
Nearly five years ago, during a particularly bad time for me, I’d found myself in a dream one night.
It had started innocently enough, mostly me, lying on an indistinct hill under the starry sky, with Tamara in my arms after we’d made love. She was asleep and I was just luxuriating in the warmth of her body, the scent of her sweat, the sound of her breathing.
Even though I had known it to be a dream, I couldn’t help but enjoy it, despite the inevitable disappointment and despair upon waking.
And then, a star had begun to flicker, then burn several times brighter.
I had reached out to that star, and somehow, we’d connected, if only for the fraction of a second.
Now I knew who that person had been.
I had met my daughter, back then.
* * *
I know you.
She unleashed a wave of raw dread on me, every single fear of my life crashing down on me at once – but the monkey was still there, even here, and took the brunt of the attack.
I know you. We met before. You know me. Please, stop this.
The dread changed into blind rage, goading me to just attack, but that was something I was intimately familiar with, and didn’t even need the monkey to block.
I could see her burning away flesh from beneath to maintain the attack.
You know me. I know you. I am no enemy. I have failed you, failed you as no father should, but I am not your enemy, nor will I ever be.
Crushing sadness, loss, a deep longing for connection.
My eyes teared up – could they even do that here, since I assumed I wasn’t in my body right now? – and I had to fight not to break down, as her attack slipped past my own defenses, and was only stopped by the monkey interposing itself to take the brunt of it.
Even then, it almost made me give up and go silent.
Please, I am sorry. Give me a chance to make it up to you, in any way possible!
She couldn’t speak, probably had trouble with normal language. I guessed, since her power was so deeply entrenched in emotions of all kinds, that she communicated primarily through them. So I poured all my regret, my desire to apologize, and what love I could muster for this half-strange girl I had only just met.
The figure – was it Hennessy, was it just a manifestation of her power, or was it something more… strange? – tilted her head to the side, and then my vision blinked out.
* * *
I was back in my body, and still clinging to the golden woman’s back.
But just as I was regaining my bearings, her body began to dissolve into motes of light that faded away, dropping me.
“Henny!” screamed three voices – Dearheart, Tamara and a distorted voice I guessed belonged to Slough.
They all – even Tam, bless her heart, who was far too far away to catch her daughter in time – dove towards her, Slough even, well, sloughing out of his current form into a new, insectoid one to catch her even though he was falling beneath her.
But I was faster, air jumping to her and grabbing her in a bridal carry.
I landed on the ground, letting the monkey absorb the entire impact, cradling the child I had never known of and yet met before.
You reached out to me, once. Across the world, even though we’d never known each other.
She was so light, seemed so frail.
I’d never really thought about having children. Or rather, I’d been planning to think about the possibility of considering children together with Tamara, all those years ago. I’d never seen myself as responsible enough to do right by a child. People with my kind of background usually ended up screwing their children up something fierce.
But now, holding her small, warm body in my arms as the monkey melted away, I suddenly had to fight back the tears at everything I had missed… I had failed her, in more ways than I’d known. What must she have gone through to become this?
Could I have prevented it?
Somewhere else, Dearheart was shouting at me to let go of her, Slough was bristling for some reason and Tamara and Vek were running to get to us, Tamara running so fast she left the other woman behind.
But right now, I could only look at my daughter’s unconscious face, and wonder.
Wonder about how I could have been so stupid, back then.
Wonder about whether or not she would ever accept me.
Wonder about how many people I would have to pull apart piece by piece, until I got my hands on whoever had done this to her, if there was someone responsible – oh please, let there be someone.
Wonder about how I could ever make it up to her, express just how sorry I was.
* * *
Two hours later…
It took quite a while to sort things out – the local director tried to stick me with the responsibility for starting the battle and endangering innocents – but Vek, Tamara and the other heroes, save for Dearheart (who wanted my head on a platter, preferably with my balls in my mouth) vouched for me, plus I still had that nifty medal.
By the time we got back to Three Heavens Gates – Tamara insisted that it was best for Hennessy to rest at home, where she had a gentle, familiar emotional backdrop – nearly two hours had gone by.
So we took her there, and I was even allowed to carry her out of the armored taxi they provided and into her bedroom (she had a lot of plush toys in all sizes) and to lay her to bed.
I almost kissed her on the forehead once she was lying there, but Dearheart – Camille when out of costume – would probably have ripped my crown jewels off to arrange said platter if I’d done that, so I restrained myself.
Besides, that was a right I had yet to earn.
Dearheart threw me out, saying that she would change Hennessy’s clothes, giving me a murderous glare as if daring me to demand to do that, while Slough remained outside the door to stand watch, now looking like… well, he had a lot of dog and some bird in his form.
What kind of perverted scumbag did she take me for?
Tamara took me down to the empty living room and we sat down, her on an armchair, me on the couch.
I idly wondered where Phil and the little princess were.
“Phil took Charity out for a walk, to calm her down. She’s never witnessed Henny lose control like that before,” she explained, interpreting my curious glance just right.
We sat there, looking at each other.
After about ten minutes, I finally spoke up.
“Tamara… there is so much I want to tell you, to explain to you…”
“Yes?” she asked, perhaps a little hopeful?
“But… what in the name of God’s light switch happened to her!?“
She turned pale, looking down at her feet in shame.
I gulped down the anger, feeling ashamed in turn. If anyone deserved being accused of not doing a proper parenting job, it was me, not her.
“Tam, I’m sorry, but…”
“No, I understand,” she whispered, then looked up at me. “How do you know something bad happened to her?”
“Five… no, six years ago. Or at least almost six years. Closer to five, to be honest… I felt a… a connection. My power reacted, I reacted, and I connected with someone, someone suffering unimaginably, but still… well, that person helped me a lot, actually. Even though I thought it a fever dream until just a few hours ago.”
She paled even more… and then she looked me straight in the eyes, transfixing mine to hers.
“I… I need your help, Aap,” she said.
Using my cape name. She wants something bad.
Not smart, to give her a carte blanche. I didn’t care.
“When she was twelve… there was a supervillain. A contriver, calls himself ‘the Ascendant’. Real madman, wants to elevate all humanity to godhood, yadayada…”
My stomach began to twist as I was already connecting the dots. Though I couldn’t tell if it was dread, sadness, shame or murderous hatred. Probably all four.
“He… he kidnapped sixty-six children and… he did things to them. Drugged them up with contrived drugs, tortured them, put them into death courses…” Her voice broke for a moment, and she pulled a handkerchief from a pocket, wiping her nose.
I, in contrast, was already cool. Really cool.
“She… most of them died. Only four survived for more than three days. The… the UH had just tracked him down, was attacking his base, some hellhole beneath a cabin in the woods outside the city, when he decided to bet it all on one chance. He… he overdosed all four of them. Lethally.”
Please let him still be alive and at large.
“They all triggered. Manifested. Whatever. All four of them, two girls and two boys. But…” She broke down again, sobbing.
I moved over to kneel in front of her, cupping her cheek with one hand. Cool. Totally C.O.O.L. Not even a hint of a tremble.
“Shsh. Tell me at your pace if you need a break,” my mouth said.
I want names, details, targets, now, my brain thought.
The monkey was even more single-minded.
“One of the boys… he manifested first. A… an S-Class. His power was… it was just wrong. And it somehow tainted them, even as they… as they manifested while they lay dying,” she sobbed.
“Then the other three manifested… the heroes, some villains who’d been helping with the search – even the Dark was helping, he thought it was disgusting what the Ascendant was doing – they managed to take the poor boy down. Killed him. Had to kill him. And even then, if it wasn’t for the three children helping, he might have broken through to the city.”
“What happened to the other two children?”
I could guess already.
“Dearheart and Slough. They all joined the Junior Heroes, after two years of largely unsuccessful therapy,” she explained.
No wonder these kids had such messed up powers.
“What happened to the Ascendant? And what do you need my help for?”
“He escaped. And he’s back. That’s why she’s wound so tight, why Dearheart is so aggressive. They’re all terrified.”
She looked at me, pure hatred in her eyes.
“That monster came back here and sent them a letter. Said he wanted his children to return to him.”
If I’d been an unstoppable rage monster, I would have gone on a rampage right about now. Fortunately, I had the monkey to outsource that to, for the moment.
She took a deep breath, drying her eyes and cheeks with a handkerchief.
“I want you to kill him.”