About the delay

Yeah well, shit happened.

I had to make a big presentation for a seminar, then hold it on sunday together with the entire seminar. Then we went to a modern rendition of Othello, then a discussion with the actors…

Bottom line, I didn’t manage to write a single line of the new chapter from thursday to sunday.

It will come out on wednesday or thursday, if at all possible. Sorry for the delay, everyone.




The Lost Woods: mIRC channel for authors & The Pen in the Stone

/server -m irc.darkmyst.net

/join #TheLostWoods

This is an idea I’ve been turning over in my head for a while now. A channel for authors to chat, exchange ideas or just tell really lame jokes.

Anyone who has written, drawn or in any other way produced some manner of fiction is welcome to join me there.

Also, I just discovered, thanks to Tempest, another web serial, written by/on The Pen in the Stone, called “The Enhanced”. The basic premise is that the Enhanced are hunted, because one of them nuked LA. I haven’t read more than the prelude, yet, but it looks very promising.

Also, I’m GREEN with envy for the name. Pen in the Stone. Why didn’t I think of that!?




Brennus Files 02: The World’s Major Players (Part 4)

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Lady Light

Yes, she rates an independent entry. This is the Queen of Superheroes, the Mother of Metahumanity. Even if she wasn’t one of the most powerful heroes, and certainly the most experienced, the raw symbolic power she holds cannot be understated. She is considered a goddess in some parts of the world, a messiah or angel in others. Even Sovereign does not forbid her from entering his realm, and even the Sovjet Union always made it clear that they’d welcome her with open arms if she wished to change sides (not to mention that she often spoke before the Red Council, advocating peace and demilitarisation). She also often visits Queen Madeleine for tea and talk.

Beyond that, the United Heroes still see her as their ultimate leader, even if she has relinquished any official power she ever held, leaving the actual leadership of the group to her Shining Guardians and the Board of Directors. The Forresters revere her as one of the creator’s of metahumanity, etc.

Unfortunately, all this responsibility (and then some) has taken a toll on her life, and she spends most of her time teleporting (or, if she really needs to relax for a little, flying) from crisis to crisis, trying to save as many people as possible. However, 1999, she took a three year leave from her work. The results were immediate, with villains everywhere getting uppity – until the Dark declared that he’d ‘chastise’ anyone who tried to exploit her absence (he didn’t demand that anyone stop their crimes, just that they didn’t make her feel bad for taking a break). Unfortunately, it didn’t hold long and she had to return after only two years absence (neither she nor the Dark appreciated those who forced her early return; said criminals are no longer an issue). She’s pretty much gone back to her 24/6 schedule (She rests on Sundays, having been brought up in a traditional Christian household).

The Dark

Yeah, him. Despite how nice and personable he may appear, he is the King of Supervillains, as well as the Father of Metahumanity. He rules the Dark Five and the Syndicate, making him directly or indirectly complicit in nearly 60% of all metahuman crime on the planet.

While he does have certain rules he enforces with extreme prejudice (the so-called ‘Code’), this is only in part due to any nobility on his side, and mostly because they keep things from escalating, allowing the ‘game’ to keep going smoothly and largely unchanged. Preserving the status quo.

On the other hand, he does keep things mostly civil. Families are protected – ‘Don’t bring family into it’ is one of the core rules of the Code, and he enforces it by way of extreme, extreme violence and creativity – and most villains (and heroes) refrain from using lethal force or taking certain liberties with defenseless opponents.

During World War II, he fought on the side of the West, first due to the Nazi’s stance against Jews (mostly, he just helped smuggle Jews out of Germany, provided funds and equipment for saboteurs and sabotaged a few of their operations himself), then he fought against Weisswald both due to disgust at his monstrosity and, most importantly, because Weisswald had declared it his goal to ‘claim’ Lady Light as his mate – with a very archaic definition of claiming in mind.

Queen Madeleine

Yup, she rates an independent entry, too. Madeleine died on January 11th, 2000 after a spectacularly horrendous life (being tortured and maimed were some of her least worries). She was not near death, she was not just milliseconds away from braindeath, she was well and truly dead. She was reborn moments later as one of the most powerful beings on the planet. While she does not have a single transcendent power, she does have seven distinct God-Tier powers, not counting her Chimaera Physique. One of them is an apparently unlimited reincarnation, rendering her invincible in the long term.

She conquered an entire continent within two months, then completely pacified all pockets of resistance within a few more and installed a metahuman nobility to help her rule her realm. Finally, she built a magnificent palace that now hovers above Ayer’s Rock, a testament to her power.

Within her realm, she rules by the law of “Don’t make me come over there.” It is very efficient.

Internationally, she follows a doctrine of “Don’t mess with mine and I won’t mess with yours.” So far, it has proven quite efficient.


Yeah, this guy. He’s been dead for half a century and some, but he’s still a major player.

First, when he came to power, there were roughly three billion people alive, worldwide. When he died, there were less than two billion left. And that doesn’t factor in all the people killed since his death by his Spiteborn. All in all, he’s personally responsible, directly or indirectly, for more than 1.2 billion deaths, after the most recent estimates.

Second, he destroyed Europe as a world power, maybe forever. Germany, France, Poland, Austria, Denmark, the Scandinavic countries, South Europe as a whole (save for Spain and Greece) have still not recovered from the damage he did, Slovenia is entirely depopulated, and he cut a swath through Russia, forcing the complete nuclear destruction of Stalingrad, as well as killing his way all across Asia and to Japan, where he killed the Imperial family.

Third, his ideology of metahuman supremacy survives to this day. He is one of the biggest reasons why metahumans are still not entirely trusted all over the world, and the followers of his ideology, the Forresters foremost among them, still try to force people to manifest or die.

Fourth, in his last moments, he created the Spiteborn, self-replicating monstrosities that attack major population centers and especially concentrations of metahumans, both to challenge metahumans to grow stronger and to force as many manifestations as possible, with the death of baseline humans as a nifty bonus.

Last but not least, he started the tradition of supervillains going into battle stark naked, having disdained the use of clothing of any kind for himself (he was perfect, after all, so why hide it? Not like he needed extra protection). Many of the worst, like the Savage Six, emulate him to evoke memories of the Naked Tyrant.

Even to this day, and not only among those who were alive at the time of his reign, his name causes true fear and rumors of his return are used as scare stories and threats.


If there is one individual who rivals Weisswald, Lady Light and the Dark in importance to world history, it is Desolation-in-Light, the Maiden of Terror. Since her first appearance in the late ’80s, she has kept the world on its toes, as she can strike anywhere, at any time.

Ironically, she may very well have done more good than bad, despite the millions of lives she has claimed, for her existence has prevented the PATO and Sovjet Union from going to war. You don’t want to be fighting a large-scale war while the threat of an unstoppable disaster in human form looms over you.

Ember/The Protege

If there is one person who only wanted to help, but ended up causing untold chaos, it is Ember. Apart from the fact that he can heal anything, reverse age itself, each of which would be reason enough to go to war over him, he can raise the dead. Essentially, he can bestow immortality on anyone, keeping them forever young and reviving them infinitely.

World War III nearly broke out shortly after the full extent of his power became known, and only his mental breakdown and subsequent exile saved the world from that fate.

And I’m not even going to go into what he means for all the religions in the world, especially the Christian ones, right now.

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Brennus Files 02: The World’s Major Players (Part 3)

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Non-Government Organisations

The United Heroes

The United Heroes were founded shortly before the outbreak of World War II, as America’s heroes had to face the reality that they just couldn’t operate independently anymore and hope to survive – much less make a lasting change for the better.

Formed around the core that was and still is the first and most famous team of superheroes, the Shining Guardians (assembled first in ’26 by Lady Light) and under the leadership of Lady Light and an elected board of directors, they soon spread beyond America into Canada, Mexico and West Europe, and attained international recognition as an independent organisation during World War II.

In the present, the United Heroes are split into five main divisions, each lead by one of the current members of the Shining Guardians:

Doc Feral & the Feral Family (Legacy of original member; North America)

Quetzalcoatl (don’t mess with this guy. seriously, don’t; South America)

Fleur (youngest member, formerly Lady Light’s most recent sidekick; Europe)

Severence (original member, exact powers unknown after nearly a century of activity, Africa)

Lung Xukong (the newest member of the group, and she has the smallest Division; Asia)

Lady Light operates independently, pitching in wherever necessary, and leaves most of the politics to the younger generation, unless she feels herself compelled to interfere (happens often).

Generally, even in countries like Japan and the AMU, the United Heroes are at least respected, if not welcomed.

The Syndicate

An international network founded by the Dark, this is basically a villain support organization. If you have the money and the connections, it provides you with equipment, secret lairs, minions, metahuman muscle, anything you might need. They report directly to the Dark Five, who report to the Dark.

The Forresters

An international group of metahuman supremacists, they follow the ideology of Weisswald. They are the strongest believers in any and all of the countless conspiracy theories that say that Weisswald is still alive, and just waiting for his faithful to prove themselves worthy for his return.

The Drakainas

Canada’s oldest and most famous superhero team, they were founded by the world’s first Gadgeteer, Theresa, who took the cape name “Drakaina”. As the name suggests, they’re all-female, though they do have male meta’s among their support staff.

They operate internationally, less for combat purposes and more for disaster relief (though they can mess with the best if necessary). Have some of the best Gadgeteers in the world in the team, and all field members have customized Power Armor designed to enhance whatever innate powers they have.

Brennus has wet dreams about their tech.

The Califate

This is a weirdo among this group. They are technically a nation, as they rule pretty much the whole middle east. The group was formed in the early ’90s by thirteen extremists who protested the reforestation of the Islamic countries and generally the improvement of their living standards by way of Western organisations. As so often happens, a few assholes ruined a good thing for a lot of decent people.

The original extremists all manifested while hidden in a cave after a series of terrorist attacks on schools for girls and Christian hospitals, while pretty much everyone was closing in on them.

One of them got the ability to create a Gestalt out of several people, uniting himself along with the other twelve into the entity known as “the Thirteen Prophets”, or simply the Califate. Each member shares the powers of all members, and so long as one of them survives, all of them do. They also started creating seperate Gestalt units, mostly people forced into servitude as mindless fighting forces, though these lesser Gestalt armies do not share powers among their members, nor immortality (it is unknown why not).

Following the campaign of terror the Thirteen Prophets unleashed, a mass exodus out of the Middle East began, reducing it to less than thirty percent of its original population. Most of those who remained were, either forcefully or willingly, moved to the region around the mountain on the border between the Iran and Irac where the thirteen madmen manifested, where New Mecca was founded, the capital of the Califate, aka the capital of terror.

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Brennus Files 02: The World’s Major Players (Part 2)

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Brazil has the dubious honor of being the only South American state that can even pretend to any amount of stability, at least relative to the rest of the continent (which doesn’t say much). It is also the last state from that part of the world to be a part of the PATO. The nation is hounded by warlords and crime syndicates both from within and from the surrounding nations.


aka Gadgeteer Nation, Canada has the honor of being the origin of the world’s first recorded Gadgeteer, Theresa (manifested in 1924, just a year after Point Zero), making it the PATO’s unofficial science center. Visiting her home town, Vancouver, is considered something of a pilgrimage by most Gadgeteers, and many choose to remain there to work.

Its major hero team is the all-female group known as the “Drakainas”, founded by Theresa. Interestingly, the country lacks any persistent major supervillains, and the Drakainas work mostly internationally.


Less than twenty percent of Germany’s population survived Weisswald’s madness, most of them having fled the country if they could. Despite an impressive baby boom all over the world, Germany still hasn’t recovered completely, leaving it a firm third-string player in the world economy and politics both.

Die Zwölf Richter (the twelve judges) are its prime hero team, with the Weisswald-loyal group known as die Förster (the Foresters) as their greatest enemies.

Great Britain

In 1959, during Weisswald’s last raid on the British mainland (and the near destruction of London), the Queen manifested mid-level teleportation, escaping literally from his grasp (he was choking her to death). Most of her family followed over the next few years, and nowadays, nearly every member of the royal family is a metahuman, though they are all rather low-powered and not combat-oriented (with one sad exception).

Why is this important? No reason, really, just an interesting tidbit. Great Britain is united, nowadays, having lost much to Weisswald’s terror, forcing the remaining inhabitants to band closer together.

They lost the island of Mull when DiL appeared over Tobermory (a common, tasteless joke is that even she didn’t approve of the shutdown of the Tobermory Distillery), and large parts of North East Scotland are uninhabitable due to another attack of hers.

Manchester was mostly destroyed by an S-Class metahuman manifesting and going on a rampage just ten years ago. Rebuilding is still going on.


While Israel was founded, it was faced with even more hardships than one would expect – they were not allowed to simply displace the people who had lived in their new land, but had to try and integrate them into their new state. Lately, they’ve had a lot of problems with attacks from the Califate, which demands the death of all Jews (then again, they demand the death of pretty much everyone they don’t like).


Pre-1994: Drug-War torn country, real hellhole.

July 19th, 1994: Desolation-in-Light shows up there

Post-1994: New, very big Panama canal. The rest makes pre-1994 Mexico look like a nice vacation place for your children.

Grand African Imperial Nation (GAIN)

Sovereign’s empire is the most technologically advanced nation in the world, beating out every other nation in all fields but agriculture. Its leader rules supreme, with all power of the state resting solely in his hands, to be lent to those he deems worthy.

GAIN covers most of Africa south of the Sahara, with only the southern tip still independent (and torn apart by warlords). Sovereign has a strict policy of isolationism – anyone willing to submit to him can get in, but you don’t get out unless he allows it.

He rarely does. And his Subjugators (think Transformer Terminators) are very adept at hunting down dissidents.


Absorbed completely by the SU.


Initially, Japan supported Weisswald and his ideology of metahuman supremacy. That changed in 1951 when the old emperor died and his son took over – a son who was, among other things, in love with a non-manifested young woman, and who refused to put her through one of Weisswald’s forests.

Weisswald took it well. He killed the entire imperial family, but was driven back by said young woman, later to be known as Amaterasu, who manifested as one of the earliest examples of the then barely known Transcendent metahumans, forcing him to retreat.

The military took control of the state after Weisswald had been driven out of the country (Lady Light and The Dark showed up to back Amaterasu up in her fight against Weisswald) and joined the NATO, starting the reformation that gave birth to the PATO.

Despite this, Japan never felt comfortable with allowing the United Heroes as much agency within their borders as most PATO nations, and thus formed its own equivalent – the Sentai Organization. Each city and major town is protected by its own Sentai team, with the individual members being only known by their team’s theme and their colour (Alien Red, Dino Blue, etc). The Yakuza have developed into the major supervillain organization opposing the Sentais (and controlling most of the underworld).

The Australian Monarchic Union (AMU)

Australia did not fare well after Point Zero. It is no coincidence why it hasn’t been mentioned yet in terms of world politics in the past. No continent has had half as many S-Class threats ravage it, nor as many sick, broken powers appear among its inhabitants (not to mention the large number of mental derangements). Deathland indeed.

In the year 2000, things changed. A young girl, abused and broken after a life beyond harshness, died alone in the Outback. Legends abound regarding what exactly happened during her manifestation, what made her special – but she was reborn.

Two months later, Australia had been pacified, and Queen Madeleine of Australia declared the Australian Monarchic Union, with her as its absolute ruler, installing a metahuman nobility under her control. New Zealand and Indonesia both joined soon, as metahumans among their population rose up, took over and then bent the knee before Madeleine, making her the supreme ruler of that particular corner of the world.

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Brennus Files 02: The World’s Major Players (Part 1)

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Well, with a World War on the way, I thought it’d be useful to present the major player’s on the world’s stage.


PATO (Pacific-Atlantic Treaty Organization)

This group began forming after Japan turned against Weisswald in 1951 and joined the Western Alliance to fight him. Soon, Indonesia, South Korea (before it was absorbed by the SU) and New Zealand also pitched in, as did Brazil, Argentinia and several other South American states, at least those which Weisswald’s Blitzkrieg attack on South America had not subsumed to his rule (and even of those, some joined via their exiled governments). Thus, the NATO was restructured into the Pacific-Atlantic Treaty Organization, a union of states founded initially for the sole purpose of defeating Weisswald, marking the turning point of the world war in 1953 – until then, Weisswald had been winning.

After his defeat on February 3rd, 1960, the PATO persisted, though it lost most of its South American members in exchange for gaining what little remained of Western Europe (including Germany). However, the Cold War it entered into against the Sovjet Union allowed it to persist to this day, and the PATO has now become synonymous with the Western World, its organs of power having accumulated enough privileges to be able to actually function as a united power block.

The President of the PATO is widely considered to be the (politically) most powerful person in the world. At the time of the main story, this office is held by Carlos di Sanchez, formerly the representative of America to the PATO Council.

The Sovjet Union

1923 was a very, very good year for the newly formed Sovjet Union, as the victorious Bolsheviks found themselves almost swamped with newly manifested, fanatical metahumans, ready to live and die for the glorious communistic state.

The advances to food production brought by Gadgeteers, as well as other metahuman powers (Red Star’s power allowed her to force grow plants without depleting the soil, allowing for three to four harvests a season) allowed the communist state to work far better than one would have expected, as there was enough food to spare – even enough for a simple worker to get some luxury out of it. By 1950, the Sovjet Union was, in terms of agriculture and food distribution, the most advanced country in the world.

Perception powers that allowed for enhanced planning, structuring and the like allowed the communist machine to work efficiently (not flawlessly, but efficiently) despite the corruption one has to expect from such a system.

Like a steamroller, the Sovjet Union spread across Eurasia, swallowing most of the Asian states, including China, North Korea (later South Korea as well), Vietnam and the Northern half of India. Ironically, it wasn’t the West – which seriously didn’t like the communist powerblock – that halted its advance, but rather Weisswald.

See, the Sovjet Union has always emphasized the need for non-metas to actually be at the top in order to provide a stable government. And, since they made very sure to brainwash their youth into being loyal – and manifestations often enhance such traits – the metahumans were mostly content with that.

Weisswald’s ideology revolved entirely around the superiority of metahumanity. Thus, the Sovjet Union was, for him, an even more personal and important enemy than the West, and he tore through their lands. Many people considered the Sovjet Union dead when Stalingrad fell in 1946, just two years after Weisswald came to power and half a year after he began his campaign against the SU. But they survived and emerged stronger than before, as a new head of the government formed – instead of one man holding all the power, the Red Council was formed, a collection of the smartest, most competent and ambitious (non-powered) men and women from all the SU.

After Weisswald’s defeat, the SU entered into a Cold War against the PATO, even though Weisswald had inflicted grievous losses to them. Over the next decades, they fought a number of proxy wars, and everything was pointing towards open warfare breaking out soon – but then Desolation-in-Light was born and began her rampage, enforcing a brittle peace broken only by proxy wars once more.

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Interlude 9 – Worlds Adrift

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The Protectorate, Great Britain, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

No reason to let it go to waste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Protectorate was under attack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

She ran.

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

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

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

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

They both sighed in relief.

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

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

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

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

“Oh, heavens no,” they both said.

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

Boudicca did not fall.

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

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

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

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

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

It took her almost ten minutes to reach the Protege.

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

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

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

The Protege did not react.

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

“Please… please… please… please…”

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

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

And then the cloaked boy moved.

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

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

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

The screens flickered.

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

Mandy fell to her knees.

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

There, she learned the other pieces of the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No use thinking about could-have-beens now.

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

But that was not the worst part.

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

They all knew what that meant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A chance that came attached with a time limit.

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

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

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Interlude 8 – Those Two Losers (Quiz Bonus)

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Tower of Doom, Arcadia, 699 After Starfall

Kavasigan, Lord of Undeath, was down to but one of his Skeletal Abominations, the protective abjuration that kept him safe nearly destroyed.

Four of the original six heroes remained – Ielarinar, Mistress of Arrows had fallen to a Spear of Negative Energy from Kavasigan himself and Ulgrim the Dwarven Rager had foolishly thrown himself into the middle of combat and been whittled down by the abominations – though he had slain no less than three of the seven before succumbing to his grievous wounds.

Meeda the Fair, in her gleaming armor and burning blade, sent a quick prayer to her goddess, both to ask for her fallen friends to not have fallen for naught and to ask for the power to smite the last abomination. And the Goddess answered, for her blade flared with holy light, cutting into the final enemy that stood between them and their archenemy.

The very moment the shield around the dark wizard fell, Archmage Warsen loosened a barrage of spells he’d been saving up. With his protection down, Kavasigan could only throw up his arms to shield himself as everything, from the lowest Magic Missile to Warsen’s most powerful attack, the Black Meteor, slammed into his defenseless, still human body (for he had not yet completed the rite that would transform him into the God of Discord, Murder and the Dead).

Warsen, Meeda, Clandesty the Priestess of the Goddess of Light and Life and Niv the Rogue shielded their eyes from the explosion of light and fire, then watched with bated breath to see what remained of their quarry.

Niv was the first to react, her eyes second only to those of Ielarinar herself: “Oh, come on!”

Kavasigan stepped forward, completely unharmed. “Pah! Fools and scum, the lot o-“

Niv threw four daggers into his chest. But they merely passed through without meeting any resistance.

The former Archcancellor of the Queen snorted in disgust. “Did you truly believe I would risk facing you myself at this point? ‘Tis but an illus-“

* * *

14 Miller Street, London, 1981

“Oh, come on Lars!” shouted Mary. She slammed her hand onto the table, rocking the miniatures and the dice spread over the tabletop map. “Another fake-out? Really?”

“Mary, calm down,” Thomas chimed in. “No reason to lose it. But seriously, dude, you keep faking us out. It’s getting annoying.”

Ben put his dice aside (he’d been preparing to have Warsen cast a divination to track the illusion back to its maker) and leaned onto the table, observing.

His five co-players were quite put out, but he had no intention to join in. Besides, Lars could always deal better with people.

* * *

Forty-three minutes later

“Why didn’t they just trust me?” asked Lars, grumbling while he and Ben picked up the trash. This week had been their turn to host the game, and since their apartment only had two rooms, and this was their living room, they couldn’t just ignore the trash for a few days.

“You make your bad guys too competent,” replied Ben. He didn’t know why Lars was so pissed off. They’d finished their session once Lars had calmed the others down, and it had gone off quite well. “There’s just no way we players can keep up with you in terms of planning and general preparedness.” Stacking up the empty pizza boxes, he made a quick run for the garbage bins outside the building, also giving Lars a little time to think about his comment. Lars was smart, but he was slow. He needed time to work through shit, and he was more than happy to give it to him.

When he came back, Lars was just finishing a quick round with the vacuum cleaner. “I thought they’d like a proper challenge. Never really understood why these supposedly super-intelligent evil overlords would always act like idiots, you know?”

Shrugging, Ben helped clean up what little remained, and they both sat down on the couch afterwards. “Probably because otherwise, they’d always win. Only reason why they can be beaten by a ragtag bunch of misfit grave robbers despite their powers and resources is because they act like idiots and don’t prepare properly. Make them too smart, and they’re just too difficult to defeat for a normal party.”

“But that’s boring!” Lars complained as he threw his arms up in his usual, over-dramatic way.

“For you, because you always try to apply logic to everything. Just chill out mate.”

“Speaking of chillin’ out…” Lars reached in between the cushions of the couch, fumbling about until he pulled out a plastic bag filled with some white powder inside. “Ah maaan, that’s not even enough for one of us.”

“You got some money? I’ll go and get some more,” Ben replied, feeling quite disappointed himself. And confused. When exactly did we use it all up? Maybe three days ago? Or last week, when we skipped Manderly’s class?

“Sure, sure, my ‘rents sent me my allowance just yesterday,” Lars replied, walking over to the coat hanger to get his wallet. He took two fifty pound notes and handed them to Ben. “Get us some of the good stuff. I don’t wanna wake up in time for classes tomorrow.”

“Sure thing, mate. I’ll be off then.”

* * *

A little later again

Ben walked through the London streets, his mood getting worse as he was quite cold despite his thick coat – winter had brought snow nearly a meter high – and now it was suddenly raining as well, meaning he had to also be careful not to slip and fall on his face.

Taking the underground, he came out near the place his favourite dealer usually did business. There weren’t that many dealers out there willing to sell the hard stuff to teenagers, ’cause the heroes really looked down on that. Many villains did, too. He’d found this one by pure accident.

The guy looked nothing like what you’d imagine a dealer. He looked like an accountant. His business was set up a back-alley with so many fire escapes, balconies and laundry lines over it that no one who passed over it could see what was going on at the ground level. Ben only ever heard the guy being called ‘Slick’. Some kinda low-level meta, he was supposed to be.

“Ben, my friend! How’re you doing?” he asked, leaning back on the folding chair that stood behind a small folding table.

Jerk’s dry, dammit. He was quite jealous of that. “Not so good. Need some new stuff. Some of the good stuff, to be precise.” He reached into his pocket for his wallet.

“Hmm, I think I have something for you. Since you’re such a faithful customer and all.” Slick reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a clear little plastic bag. There were two pills inside, coloured half orange and half purple. “Here, this just came in. Real good stuff.”

Interesting. “What is it?”

“It’s called ‘Jump’. Made by some of those mad scientist types, callin’ himself ‘the Ascendant’. As in, your senses ascend to a higher plane of existence, and all that drivel.”

“Oh come on, you know I don’t use contrived stuff. That’s just asking for a bad case of pushing daisies.”

Slick shook his head. “Dude, would I offer my best customer something like that!? No, believe me, I’ve yet to hear of anyone having unpleasant side-effects. This stuff is real good.”

Ben relaxed – Slick always managed to calm him down – and thought it over. “Well, what’s the use of life if you don’t try new stuff out every now and then.”

The dealer grinned and held out the little plastic bag. “Here, take it. First one’s free for my faithful customers, so you get one for you, and one for yer pal.”

“Oh, thanks.” Freebie, how nice. “If it’s as good as you say, I’ll probably be back for more sooner or later.”

He grinned again, bobbing his head up and down in a nod. “I know you will, my good friend.”

* * *

Ben made his way back to the underground station, and then walked the rest of the way home.

He was almost back at their flat building when he slipped on a patch of newly formed ice.

Ah crap!

The ground came up to meet his face – and suddenly he stopped, as strong, but gentle hands grabbed him.

He was pulled up and turned around to look into a vision.

She was tall, taller than himself (and he wasn’t exactly short), and had the kind of face that could have come from all over the world, but her skin was as dark as he’d ever seen on a woman, her hair up in a bun held together by a colourful, bird-shaped pin.

“Are you alright?” she asked in a pleasant, slightly drawling voice.

Ben gibbered as a reply, not used to pretty women talking to him. Normally, they just turned their head away and tried to get away from the stench. The prettiest woman he could talk to was Mary, and she had at least fifteen kilo too much on her hips. So he just nodded. What’s that bird?

She nodded, smiling and revealing perfect white teeth. “Good, good. You need to be more careful, my dear.” She brushed some snow from his shoulders (the fucking rain had turned to snow, masking the newly formed patches of ice).

He gibbered again and nodded.

“Now, you be good and careful. Have a nice evening!” She turned and left, his eyes tracking her gently swaying bottom, which was covered by a coat that seemed too thin for the weather, too expensive for this part of town, and entirely too much fabric on that body for his taste.

And then she was gone, but he already knew what he’d be dreaming about tonight.

As he entered the flat, he suddenly thought: A peacock! Bird was a peacock!

* * *

That hot?” asked Lars as he filled two glasses with water.

“Even hotter, dude. I mean, she was like one of those superheroines! Seriously hot booty, and she wasn’t even showing any skin!”

Lars got a dreamy look as he gave him one of the glasses. Ben popped one of the pills into his outstretched hand and took the other into his mouth, holding it between his tongue and the roof of his mouth.

“Let’s see how good this stuff really is,” Lars said with a grin, popping his own pill.

They knocked their glasses and swallowed the pills.

The world exploded.

* * *

He saw colours, and swirls, and swirls of colours…

There w-


The world went black. He was falling, falling, as pain, unimaginable pain coursed through his body. He had just enough presence of mind to realize that this was not supposed to happen, that he was reacting badly, before his m-

His body stretched, his fingers turning int-

He was rolling around on the floor in pain, the whole world twisting around h-

Darkness crept into his field of vision along the edges, the pain growing worse and worse as he started to scr-

The world went black, and he only felt… cold.

He could feel himself fading, fading, fading, fading, fading…

N-no… no… not like this…

There was still so much he wanted to live through, so many things to do…

Clarice would be devastated if he died, but he was fading, and he couldn’t even remember his own sister’s face anymore…


He couldn’t let it end like this!


He… he wanted to live!


He’d been wasting his life for so long, if only he c-

His consciousness winked out, his body finally going slack, even as his friend squirmed and screamed just a meter or so away from him.

* * *

Something flickered.

A single pinpoint of light appeared in darkness.

Then another.

And another.

More and more. Two appeared at once. Then ten. A hundred.

A million.


One of them was small, fading, barely anything left, a star that had burned out, only a little light remaining.

It fell from the sky, fell, fell, fell…

There was a corpse, and it did not move. And yet it reached out, and grabbed the flicker of light left, little more than a candle’s flame now.

Fire and Light.

They coursed through the dead body, burning it away.

He saw a billion worlds and more, dancing, singing, shouting…

He saw a lone sun, with no one to share its beautiful light…

He saw a sleeping sun, waiting to grace the world with transcendent light…

He saw a black sun, a revelation waiting to envelop the world…

He saw a gentle sun, not yet born, waiting for its time…

He saw a blazing sun, unborn and already eclipsing the stars around itself…

The fire vanished, leaving only searing light that whittled away at his mind…

He saw a hundred billion paths that could be taken, and a hundred billion times more…

He saw the black sun envelop the world in eternal darkness…

He saw five points of light in the darkness…

The Shaper, unbound and gentle…

The Lover, driven by the primordial power.

The Dreamer, a gilded knight, brilliant as the full moon…

The Shepherd, a broken star that sought redemption…

The Maker, a blazing well that sought to rise…

He saw dancing ribbons of light…

* * *

He tried to open his eyes, but he had no eyelids, only the light.

He looked for Lars, but there was only a shifting, bubbling mass of flesh, faces and forms appearing and vanishing on it like bubbles in steaming soup, and yet he only saw the light.

He reached out for his friend, but he had no hands, only the light.

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