B008.b Old Coils, Strong Coils

Previous | Next

March 17th, 1923

Two months and sixteen days after Point Zero

Lennston looked peaceful under three and a half feet of snow. It wasn’t, of course. Just yesterday, there had been another riot, and the military quarantine around the city was still in full effect.

Another child had… changed, become something inhuman, something unnatural, and only the intervention of Gwen Whitaker – who some had started to call ‘Lady Light’ – had prevented any deaths beyond the boy’s family. Not that anyone thanked her for that – in fact, the riot had broken out when civilians and the military both had assaulted her after the fight. She’d only barely managed to flee.

But today, the city rested. It was no peaceful rest, but it was rest nonetheless.

It was early noon, and yet the snowstorm that had covered the city in a deceptive shroud of white turned the day into night.

One part of the city was even quieter than the rest – specifically, it was the part of the city known as Damnation Alley. Despite its name, it consisted not just of an alley, but also of the four blocks of cheap old buildings around it, most having originally been built to house various workshops, but now stood deserted, a dark, rundown blemish nearly right in the center of Lennston.

Before Pillar of Light appeared, the Damnation Alley had been a home for smugglers, drug dealers, mobsters and other criminals, as well as a sizable part of the city’s homeless population.

Then, the monster had taken up residence in Damnation Alley, hiding in its shadows. That strange beast that had slain the Goldschmidt heir and rampaged through the city until Whitaker drove it away and it fled into the sewers.

Now, months later, it had made Damnation Alley its own, and the police didn’t dare enter the place. The mob had retreated, too, unwilling to risk its people to the violent moods of the dark beast. The only ones left were the truly desperate. Homeless people, criminals fleeing from the mob or the police, people turned into monsters by whatever had been brought about the world – and the city in particular – by the pillar of light.

In one of the side-alleys, a whole group of homeless people were huddling together against the cold in a circle around a barrel they’d gotten a fire going in.

It was one of the men of that group who first noticed the little girl walking through the snow.

She could be no more than eight, maybe nine or ten at most, her skin pale and pink and without any blemishes that could be seen from the front. It was pretty easy to tell, because she was completely naked save for a strange helmet that closed tightly around her head, with only a fringe of almost-white blonde hair peaking out from the back. The helmet, made of what looked like several silvery strips of metal and the insides of several radios extended into two antennae angled back, their base over her ears, and there was a visor built in made of a yellow-brown glass.

One after the other, the men turned to look at the strange sight as they got a better look – her small feet and her hands were already slightly blue, but she didn’t seem to mind, stoically walking forward, her head held low as she dragged a small bag along with her.

When she got closer, they could faintly hear the sound of some kind of radio speaker, the words impossible to understand through the helmet.

One of them rose out of the circle, approaching the girl.

“Hey, lil’ one,” the short, grey-bearded man said as he shrugged out of his outmost coat. He had long hair and an even longer beard, both grey, and his skin was rough and tanned, his eyes a dark grey. Taking off the second one too, he offered her his third (and warmed up) coat, shivering against the cold. “You’ll catch yer death if you go around like that. An’ it’s indecent, too.”

The girl stopped, looking up at him with an unnervingly still posture. Tilting her head to the side, she took the coat, letting go of the bag before she put it on – it reached down below her feet, dragging on the ground.

The man sighed, smiling a little. “Wait. I got some socks for you, too.” Searching around in his pockets, he gave her two pairs of surprisingly clean socks, and she put them on quickly, without any response. They were obviously far too big for her feet, but served their purpose.

When she was done, she nodded, once, grabbed her bag again and simply walked forward as the kindly man put his coats back on. “Lil’ one, this place ain’t safe,” he said, turning around to watch her. “You want me to take you home? Please?”

She looked at him, then turned away and just walked forward.

One of the other men spoke up, “Might be she got no home no more, Walker. Come an’ sit down, you’ll freeze, too.”

He shook his head, going after the girl. “Nah, I’ll keep an eye on the little one. Might be I’ll see you guys later.”

They shook their heads, closing the gap he’d left to better warm each other.

Walker followed the girl as she stumbled into an alley that crossed this one, into the darkness and away from the light.

* * *

The girl stopped a few feet down the alley and lifted her hands up to a set of dials on either side of the helmet. Walker watched her as she fiddled around with the dials, and the sounds coming from the helmet changed, varying. There didn’t seem to be any words, but Walker could hear an almost melodic pattern of sound repeating itself.

After a minute or so of quietly working on it, she continued down the alley and turned right down another one, ignoring any attempt of Walker to get a word out of her.

She found a manhole cover, putting the bag aside and squatting down to grab the handle with her delicate fingers and try to lift it, even though there was obviously no way she’d manage it herself.

“Well, no use trying to stop ya…” Walker whispered and squatted down on the other side, putting his back to work (his back protested) and lifting the cover up.

Without even acknowledging his help, she began climbing down the rusty ladder with one hand, using the other to hold the bag over her shoulder, and he soon followed, pulling the cover closed over them if only prevent snow from falling down on his head.

To his surprise, there was barely any stink coming up from beneath, just the wet, moldy smell of old wet stone. When they reached the bottom, they found only darkness. Walker could see nothing, and only heard water flow in the distance.

“Well, hope you know yer way ’round this place, sweetie, because I certainly d-” He stopped talking when he heard a click, and suddenly light flooded the place coming from a rod she was holding in her hand which held a trio of light bulbs on one end. He could tell she’d taken it out of the bag, which was open right now, several other pieces of equipment in sight (he recognized none of them). “You brought a bag full of tricks with you, but forgot yer clothes? You’re a strange one, sweetie,” he commented with a chuckle.

The girl continued to ignore him and looked around the place. They stood in an old tunnel, with muddy (but not foul-smelling) water running through the middle. The walls were covered in old muck and mold, and even with the bright torch the girl was holding up, they could barely see more than thirty feet in either direction.

Turning in a circle, the girl fiddled with the controls of her helmet, then went down one way. Walker followed, not knowing where else to go or how to talk to her.

After three minutes, he started to hear a strange sound, like blowing air whispering. Two minutes later, he realized that there really were people whispering further down the tunnel.

Several people, in fact.

“Are you looking for some friends, lil’ one? But what kind of friends of yours would be down here…” He shivered, hoping they wouldn’t run into that dark thing everyone was talking about.

The girl kept ignoring him and walked towards the whispers, which kept getting louder, though they remained incomprehensible. A dark, oppressive mood was filling the air, and somehow Walker felt as if breathing got more and more difficult to do the further they went down the sewer tunnel.

Then, suddenly, the tunnel opened up into a large room, so large they couldn’t see the walls or the ceiling any more.

In front of them, a metal walkway became visible… and beyond it, a glimmer in the dark, the air feeling so heavy it was almost unbreathable.

A trio of red eyes, arranged irregularly, opened up, looking at them.

Walker froze, his heart beating so fast he thought it might blow up. The dark beast.

The eyes moved, rising higher as they seemed to flow, getting smaller and vanishing as new ones emerged and grew.

The old man looked around frantically and saw a rusty pipe sticking out of the wall where it opened up from the tunnel to the larger room. Grabbing it, he ripped it off and jumped in front of the girl, brandishing the pipe like a sword. “Run, lil’ one! I’ll hold it off!”

The whispers grew louder and more discordant as the eyes approached, no longer vanishing into the dark as they focused on him.

He swallowed dryly, listening for the footsteps of the girl… but there were none. Slowly, he glanced over his shoulder to check on her – and that’s when the beast moved.

The eyes surged forward and a shadowy crooked limb struck him across the belly, throwing him over the railing of the walkway and into the moldy wall, the old man sliding down the wall to land on a ledge and fall unconscious.

Turning to the little girl, the beast moved closer, remaining just barely at the edge of the light.

“Go away!” “Go away!” “Go away!” “Go away!” “Go away!”, shouted five distorted voices.

Not even flinching, the girl reached into her bag with her free hand and threw a tin can at the eyes.

Another limb, crooked and twisted, struck the can – and it exploded into a bright flash of light, briefly illuminating the large, cavern-like room.

Several tunnels opened into the large room, metal walkways connecting them to a central pillar on which there stood a collection of machines cobbled together out of various pieces of other technology, with thick wires running up into the darkness that still covered the ceiling, and thick cables falling down the pillar and vanishing into the dark.

And on the walkway in front of the girl, there… stood… a glob of darkness, partially standing on several crooked limbs, partially lying on the walkway, with five glowing red eyes slamming shut as it reared back from the bright light, raising one of its limbs to try and protect them.

Then the can fell apart and the only lights left were the rod in the girl’s hand and the reopening red eyes.

“Not bad.” The eyes faded away until only one was left, and the shadows seemed to somehow… compress themselves.

Then it moved forward, entering the circle of light, its body still formless, but more compressed, smaller. Where it had earlier been five times the size of a bear, now it was barely twice the size.

Moving closer, the eye extended on a neck made of boiling darkness, moving closer still to the girl. “Who are you? Where did you get that helmet, and those toys?” it asked, it’s speech distorted, sounding like a chorus of people half-whispering and combining into a single larger voice.

The girl let go of the bag and put the rod down so it stood on the walkway, then reached up to the dials of her helmet.

“Made| them| myself,” she said, speaking in fragments taken from two different radio announcers.

The dark beast stopped in its movements, and the oppressive sensation in the air vanished. “You made those things? Interesting,” it said. Then it shook its ‘head’, turning away.

There was a click, and then several lights went on, bringing a weak, gloomy light to the room.

Turning her light rod off and stowing it in her bag, the girl stepped onto the walkway and walked towards the machines in the center as the dark beast crawled over to Walker and picked him up like a doll, depositing him on a mass of blankets and pillows.

“A brave man. Stupid, but brave,” the beast whispered as eyes opened on its back, looking at the girl as she looked at the machines.

It moved towards her, not turning around but rather its back simply extending forward, becoming a new ‘front’. “How did you find me, little one?”

She turned to it and raised her hands to the dials again. Instead of speech, though, a melodic sound pattern rang forth from the speakers she’d built into her helmet.

The beast stopped moving again. “Oh. Impressive, you picked the signal up,” it commented. “Say, you didn’t happen to open a door made of light recently, did you?”

She shook her head. “I saw| stars in the sky| In the basement,” she said.

“I see, I see. So you’re another one of us.” It moved closer again, lowering its ‘head’ – really more just the tip of a long, sinuous tentacle dotted with countless red eyes. It was constantly shifting its form, limbs and eyes and other things emerging from the darkness that made up its ‘body’, its gait irregular and clumsy as its limbs tended to vanish again before it had even finished a single step. “I didn’t expect any to be able to build such technology, though. It doesn’t seem to… fit.” Stopping, it raised a limb to its ‘face’, as if to scratch its chin. “Then again, perhaps… but that is not important right now.”

It moved past the girl to the machine and pulled some switches. Even though it had made neither light nor sound, the machine turning off could be felt. As if there’d been a charge in the air, and now it was gone.

“What’s your name, little one?” the beast asked.

“I have| no name| that I want to use,” she replied.

“Neither do I. But we need to know how to call each other, if you are to stay here,” it said, not bothering to ask if she wanted to stay.

She seemed to think it over, then she raised her hands to the dials again: “Call me| W|y|r|m,” she told him.

“Wyrm? Why Wyrm? It seems an odd choice,” it asked, its eyes vanishing in favour of glowing red lines all over its body.

“Because| dragons| are neat!”

It shrugged. “As good a reason as any. As for me, call me… well, I’m stuck here, in the dark, for the time being… so call me the Dark. That should serve until I think of something else, or reclaim my old name.”

“Hello| the Dark. How are you?”

A cold, echoing chuckle rang through the room. “Better now, Wyrm,” he said. “Better now.”

* * *

Two days later

“No! No no no, NO!” His shouts rang through the large cavern as he surged back from the machine he’d been working on with Wyrm, his form exploding into countless limbs and… other… things. “It should have been enough! How come we don’t have enough of the wire!?”

“Tran|sister,” she replied, barely reacting to his outburst. She was no longer wearing the old coat Walker had given her, but rather a blue-and-red dress that the Dark had made for her out of pieces of cloth he’d had lying around. “Antenna.”

Snarling, he punched the railing so hard it bent all the way down to the walkway, just as Walker trotted over to them from the small makeshift kitchen the Dark had set up, carrying a tray with three bowls of bean soup he’d heated up out of two cans.

“Look, boss, no use getting worked up,” he said, having realized by the second day that his new boss was not entirely in control of his own mind, and had to be prevented from going too deeply into one of his usual bad moods, lest he lose control and go on another rampage. “Here, why don’t ye both take a break and eat some bean soup?”

Wyrm dropped her tools and came over, while the Dark hesitated for a moment before doing the same, his form compressed to the size of a large bear or a small car. Each of them took a bowl off the wooden tray. The little girl pushed her helmet up just enough to reveal her rosy lips and began to sip the soup out of the bowl (she’d refused to show them her face), while the Dark pulled the bowl into the mass of darkness that, as Walker had learned to his surprise, was not his body, but merely surrounded it.

He’d been even more surprised to find out that the Dark was not a monster spawned from the pillar of light, and the murderer of the Goldschmidt heir, but instead he was Franz-Peter Goldschmidt himself!

Drinking from his own bowl, Walker watched his new companions. They’d already fallen into a kind of rythm. The Dark, for all his monstrous appearance, sudden mood shifts and natural disdain for those who were less intelligent than him, was a rather pleasant fellow to live with, all things considered. At least he didn’t try to hog your place at the fire, or steal your food or your coat. And the little girl was just… quiet. Eerie, really, in how she refused to take off her helmet or talk in her own voice (she claimed she wasn’t mute) and how she utterly focused on working with all these fancy machines.

Little eight year old girls shouldn’t be able to focus like that, he thought.

“We need more copper wire. This was the last I’d found on the scrapyard, and I doubt I’ll find new one within the quarantine zone,” the Dark said calmly. Walker had noticed that his appearance became more erratic and monstrous the more agitated he was. Right now, it almost looked like a hunchbacked human. Almost.

Walker thought it over. He really wanted to help them, but he had no idea of how to work with machines the way they did. He hadn’t even really understood what they were trying to build, their explanation of their goal going right over his head. But he knew his way around the city, and… “There ought to be plenty of copper wire over at the Sullivan factory. I remember seeing stacks of copper wire, all rolled up, back when I got a small job there for a few weeks.”

“I have no money to buy it from them, nor are they likely to want to deal with me in the first place,” the Dark said.

“Well, I could go and talk to them… maybe we can sell some of the stuff you got lying around here, or-“

“Just take it.”

They both turned to look at Wyrm, who’d finished her soup and had pulled her helmet down. She was looking up at them, somehow seeming… annoyed.

“Just take it.”

“What do you mean? You say I should steal it?” He seemed… offended at the notion.

“Why not? We need| it more than| they| do,” she replied, fingers on the dials. “Just take it.”

“Gotta agree with the squirt, boss,” Walker threw in, drawing an annoyed glance (or at least it felt kinda like he got one) from Wyrm. “Never saw the point in not taking what you need. Not like anyone’s gonna give it to ya for free.”

“Hrm… I suppose… you’re right. Let’s plan a heist, then…”

* * *

April 3rd, 1926

Wyrm was sitting in a high chair, her bare feet dangling from it as she worked away on a large switchboard, countless wires running to and from her helmet, connecting her to a whole set of computers. She was only dressed in an old nightgown that the Dark had brought her as a gift for her first name day and which she’d grown out of over a year ago now, but it wasn’t like anyone but the Dark and Walker ever saw her, anyway.

Not that Walker called himself Walker anymore.

While she was working, working her way through every radio channel she could receive and also working on her schematics for a new, improved receiver, she didn’t notice the large, black-skinned form that approached her from behind, and she flinched when it tapped her shoulder with a long, scarlet nail.

Turning her head to look at the four-armed, four-eyed and two-faced man holding a bowl of soup in one of his hands, she gave him a silent look.

“It’s lunchtime, lil’ one,” Walker said, his voice still familiar to her despite the radical changes it had gone through. He held out the bowl and she took it after turning off the constant stream of information.

A simple flick of a button made the lower part of the helmet open up, allowing her to eat the soup with the spoon he also handed her.

Warm chicken soup. Just the right thing to warm her.

He waited silently while she ate, knowing that conversation wouldn’t work as long as she’d have to talk with her own mouth. Three years, and she still hadn’t shown him her face or let him hear her own voice. Not even the Dark, who’d become a kind of (irritable, sarcastic, misanthropic) surrogate father to her didn’t know either.

She finished, handing the bowl back and closing the helmet up. “Is there| anything else?”

He chuckled at her blunt speech. “Yes, the boss wants you to tap into military channels and find out where the lady is off to – he thinks they asked her to do some job for them.”

Nodding, she turned back to her switchboard and began to work, while he put the bowl and spoon away before returning to stand behind her.

After only ten minutes, she turned her headphones off again. “Mexican border dispute.”

“Alright, I’ll tell the boss. And then it’s off to tousle with Pointshot and that little brat again.”

“Good luck.”

His (two sets of) shoulders shook in a chuckle. “Won’t need it, lil’ one. The boss thinks he’s figured out how Severance’ power works.”

* * *

May 14th, 1928

Their new base was built beneath an active factory, giving them ample cover for Wyrm’s machines, and the energy they needed to work. She now had her own room, which was about as big as a full house, crammed full with machines she’d built to tap into every information source she could get her hands on.

Wyrm sat on a comfortable chair, typing away at a keyboard. She’d dispensed with wearing clothes more than a year ago, and both the Dark and Kraquok had given up trying to get her to dress after less than a month. She’d argued that no one but them ever saw her, anyway, and their new headquarters were dry and warm enough for it to not be a threat to her health. Not to mention that it was, by her calculations, healthier to be naked than not.

As she worked away, her computer tapping into phone lines to record the communication of countless people of interest, a tall, quadrupedal shadow approached her from behind, waiting patiently for her to notice it.


And waiting.

After ten minutes, it reached out with a long, shadowy (but no longer crooked) limb and poked her shoulder, making her jump on her seat. She turned her head, looking wordlessly at him.

“I just got a package,” he said, holding up a stack of printed pages. “My contact finally managed to steal some of Drakaina’s designs.”

She swerved her chair around on the spot – her helmet was no longer directly connected to her computer, not since she’d gotten her hands on a colour monitor – and all but ripped the paper from his hand.

“Don’t get your hopes up – they’re useless. I can read them no more than I can read your designs,” he admonished her.

“I can| translate.”

“Well, that would be a useful skill to have.”

* * *

March 17th, 1929

“Happy name day, Wyrm!” Kraquok and Killer High chorused, distracting her from her work.

Annoyed, but knowing that they wouldn’t leave her in peace, she swerved around on her stool (still unwilling to dress, to Killer High’s delight) and stared blankly at them, her face hidden by her newest helmet – this one silvery, and worked to suggest a dragon’s head.

Killer High – a young man only a year older than she was – was dressed in a skintight black costume with a white skull painted on his face, distorting it with a wide, white-toothed grin. His blood-red eyes – they were literally red all over, with no iris or pupils – looked her up and down, showing his usual incomprehensible interest in her body. He was holding a box wrapped in colourful paper out.

Kraquok was standing next to him, missing his left two arms just above the elbows (another fight with Severance), the flesh pulsing as they slowly regenerated, fighting off the effect of Severance’ power, which prevented healing under normal circumstances. “Take it, little one,” he said.

She took the box, carefully unwrapping it. Within, she found… a silken black nightgown. She tilted her head, looking at the two – they were both aware of how she thought about clothes.

“Look, no one enjoys you being naked all the time more than I do,” Killer High explained, picking up on her mild (annoyed) confusion. He was speaking the truth, as the cameras and microphones she’d spread around the base told her. “But it ain’t decent. You ought’a wear something, and this is pretty much the most comfortable piece a clothing we could find.”

She put the lid on the box again and set it aside, turning around to continue her work.

The two men sighed, but offered no further distraction.

* * *

September 1st, 1931

“And you’re sure you don’t wanna come along, Wyrm?” Killer High asked. He was gearing up, while Kraquok and the other three members of the Dark Five, as well as the Dark, were getting ready for combat against the Shining Guardians – the purpose being to distract them, and Lady Light, while Killer High assassinated the American president and several other key members of the government.

“She’s not a frontline fighter, Hurton,” the Dark told him, sparing her the need to answer his question herself. “However, she’ll be in constant radio communication with each of us – you all have one of her newest communicators – and she’ll help you get through White House security safely.”

He shrugged. “Still think she should finally try out that piece of armor she’s made. Sparring with us will only take her so far, she needs some real combat experience!”

She watched as the Dark knocked him over the head with an arm he extended out of the shadowy mass that concealed his body – lately, he’d been able to consistently keep it focused in a humanoid form, with only six eyes in his face. “She’s far more valuable to us in a support role. Now stop whining and focus.”

Wyrm focused on her work again, pulling up the schematics of the White House, and making sure her connection to Killer High’s collar camera was stable. She’d record everything.

* * *

The next day

“It’s not your fault, Wyrm,” the Dark whispered, putting his long, black hand onto her bare shoulder. “You couldn’t have known that Pointshot is the President’s son. None of us saw that coming.”

Wyrm worked away at her console, showing no outward attention to his speech. She was reviewing the brutal battle that had broken out in the White House, ending with Killer High’s death when Pointshot impaled him with a cue through one ear and out the other. She’d triggered the self-destruction of her communicator and camera at that point, so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands. They’d done their job and recorded everything.

The Dark sighed, squeezing her shoulder. “If you need to talk – or just some company – you know where to find me.” He left the room.

After a few more minutes, she paused her work and took off her helmet. Blond-white hair spilled out, and she took the time to run her fingers through it before she turned around and pulled that box onto her lap. She’d never bothered to throw it away.

When the Dark came back an hour later with a request, he found her wearing the black nightgown.

* * *

December 24th, 1944

“You sure you can finally do it, boss?” Kraquok asked as he lounged on a reinforced couch Wyrm had set up for him in her room. It had become the unofficial meeting place for him, her and the boss – the original members of the group, and apparently the only ones there to stay.

“I have to. I don’t think I can take much more of this twenty-four-seven,” the Dark said as he stood in the center of the room (right where he’d taught her how to dance). “And besides, I’m supposed to be one of the best at this. And Gwen has already got it down.”

He shivered, his tall, pulsing black form flaring up. Wyrm and Kraquok watched both, and for once she was just as anxious as Kraquok, as the Dark’s shadowy form shivered, pulsed, and…

It collapsed.

He fell to his knees, stark naked and pale as a corpse, taking deep, heavy breaths. He looked no older than the image she’d seen of him just before Point Zero. No aging, just like Lady Light.

“I did it,” he whispered, his voice so completely unlike what she’d imagined. A kind of raspy tenor, quite pleasant to listen to. “I did it!” he shouted, throwing his arms up, then he flinched when the light of the lamps hit his eyes directly. “Ow.”

Kraquok was by his side in a second, putting a blanket around him. “You did it, boss. You can finally be… normal again. Every now and then.”

“Or at least pretend to,” Franz-Peter replied with a chuckle. Then he turned to look at her. “What do you think, Wyrm?”

She tilted her head to the side, then reached up with her hands.

The helmet clicked, opening. The two mens’ eyes (all six of them) widened as she pulled the helmet off, spilling her long hair. Then she opened her mouth to speak.

* * *

February 3rd, 1960

Wyrm sat in front of her monitor wall, observing the tides of battle and feeding a steady stream of (anonymous) information to the PATO forces, providing intelligence on enemy troop movements, equipment and other useful facts wherever she could. Her ability to do so was quite hampered by Weisswald having preferred using superpowers for communication wherever possible, instead of standard technology.

Still, she felt some measure of… pride, in being possibly one of the most vital supporters of the fight against Weisswald, even though there were only six people in the whole world who knew about her. Everyone out there went crazy over the Protector, Amaterasu, about Lady Light and the Dark and all the other combat monsters.

Yet her calculations proved that she had been the deciding factor in more than forty-five large-scale engagements between the fronts, not to mention the deaths of the four Meisters, Weisswald’s elite. She’d tracked down their headquarters and found out when they’d be there and when they’d be the most vulnerable. And it had been her counter-intelligence that had prevented Weisswald from coming to their help in time.

Now she watched as Kraquok led a strike team against a supply depot in Westphalia…

And suddenly, she lost contact to three of her surveillance drones near the coast of Mecklenburg. Tapping into a few others that were nearby, she saw bursts of light in the sky fighting explosive growths of white trees.

Moving closer, she just barely saw Lady Light blast Weisswald at point blank range, and then rows of drones could only watch her literally pummel the man across Germany and all the way to Berlin, burning a molten scar that ran from the coast through Mecklenburg, Brandenburg and finally into Berlin itself.

She had no drones in Berlin, and even if she did, they most likely wouldn’t be able to observe the battle without being obliterated themselves.

Instead of futile attempts to observe, she instead tried to find out what had set off Lady Light like that, digging through her records and all messages flying across Europe…

* * *

Eighteen hours later

Weisswald finally died after nearly eighteen hours of combat, leaving Berlin in ruins.

Wyrm’s own inquiries had yielded an explanation for Lady Light’s sudden, reckless attack – Brightchild, her (by now adult) sidekick and almost-daughter had been killed in combat, slain during a covert mission into Mecklenburg at the hands of Weisswald. When she found out about it, Lady Light – who had been in Manchester at the time, preparing another offensive – she’d apparently snapped and gone on a rampage that ended with Weisswald’s death in Berlin.

Her surveillance and spy drones had only managed to record fragments of the battle, but Wyrm still analyzed and filed them away for future reference. She’d have to ask the Dark if he’d known Lady Light was this powerful… and how she’d known of Brightchild’s death in the first place.

Wyrm certainly hadn’t found out about it until way after the fact.

* * *

July 9th, 1991

The room shook again as another explosion rocked the city. Wyrm’s drones had proven ineffective, being completely ignored by her almost-sister. They’d been casually destroyed, not even targeted themselves but simply caught up in attacks upon other targets.

Now Desolation-in-Light was using a telekinetic power that pounded the very earth, rocking Lennston’s foundations. And since their enemy had somehow managed to disrupt the powers that kept their base outside the normal dimension, it was being assaulted along with the rest of the city.

“Wyrm, retreat to our third fallback point,” the Dark said, one of his wraiths rising out of the shadow under her chair and clambering up. It was a small thing, basically only a torso with six eyes and four tendrils in place of arms and legs. “Lennston is lost. Make sure to take any level 4 and higher equipment with you.”

She nodded, initiating the self-destruction of the base before gathering everything they couldn’t afford to lose.

* * *

November 25th, 2004

“Wyrm, could I have your attention for a minute?”

She cut the primary data feeds into her helmet display and turned her chair around, with only secondary feeds appearing on the periphery of her vision.

The Dark was standing in front of her, tall and controlled. His right arm was angled in front of his chest, and a raven-haired preteen girl in a pink skirt and blue shirt sitting on it, kicking bare feet with painted nails.

Tilting her head, she looked the girl up and down. She looked a little… off. Wyrm had been practicing analyzing people – baselines and metahumans – for more than seventy-five years now, and yet she couldn’t quite tell what was wrong with the girl. She looked like a black-haired copy of who Wyrm was sure was her mother, but… there was something decidedly off.

The girl, in turn, seemed to respond in kind, her brilliant blue eyes narrowing to slits as she looked the woman with the draconic helmet and black nightgown up and down.

“She creeps me out, daddy,” the girl said once she was done.

He only chuckled in response. “And what is your verdict, Wyrm?”

“She creeps me out, daddy,” she replied.

The girl blew her a raspberry.

“Well, I’ll expect you two to get along nonetheless. Or at least be polite to each other.”

Wyrm nodded, while her new ‘sister’ just snorted, looking a lot more like her father than her mother as she did so.

“Irene, behave.”

“Yes daddy!” she said with a bright smile, her entire mood shifting in a heartbeat to that of a cute little girl.

He looked back at Wyrm. “Please keep an eye out for her. I’m afraid she’ll be causing me and her mother quite the headache in the future.”

“Yes daddy!”

“Ugh, you’re annoying!”

* * *

October 5th, 2011

“And here’s the part of our organization I’m sure you haven’t heard about before,” the Dark said as he guided their newest recruit into the room.

Wyrm didn’t turn around and only used a camera to watch them come in. She knew all about Mindstar, of course. Her familial background, the untimely death of her parents, her younger (probably slightly autistic) brother, her resume as a supervillain, her powerset, her likes and dislikes… she’d profiled her, after all, before the offer for her to join was ever even considered.

“Whoa, my little bro would love this place. He adores fiddling around with electronics,” the tall, indecently dressed young woman said.

“I can imagine. Wyrm has built up quite the collection of equipment.” He didn’t even spare a glance at her too-tight suit. “If you need to do research, or hack into a place, just ask her. She can get into pretty much any place, given enough time and motivation.”

“I see. Oi, can you hear us?” Mindstar asked.

She shook her head in response.

“Oh, ha-ha,” the newbie replied with a roll of her eyes. “How about looking at people?”

She pointed at the camera pointing at Mindstar.

The young woman frowned, concentrating – and she recoiled, taking a step back. “What the fuck!?”

The Dark laughed out loud, making Mindstar stagger back from him, too. “Ahhh, you tried to get into her head? Bad idea – her speciality is Communication technologies – and the blocking thereof. She once managed to work out a system for protecting her brain from most telepathic attacks.”

“I’ve never heard of Gadgeteers doing that!”

“You’ll find that Wyrm is not like your average Gadgeteer, at all. Anyway, you’ve been introduced to her, now let’s go and meet the rest of the gang…”

He lead her out of the room, closing the door.

Wyrm changed data feeds and arranged for several bugs to be installed in her brother’s room. If he was so interested in technology, and the brother of a metahuman, he just might manifest as a Gadgeteer himself…

* * *

A week after the Hastur incident

Wyrm was not at her workstation. That wasn’t because she wasn’t working – she always had routines going on, automated processes gathering and organizing information from all over the world, keeping an eye on things…

But ever since she’d had a near-miss with a heart attack from simply sitting around too much without any exercise (back in 1977), she’d made sure to include three hours of physical workout into her daily schedule. Half an hour before breakfast, two hours before lunch and another half hour before dinner.

She’d just started her breakfast workout when a message appeared on her helmet monitor (she didn’t take it off for her training, or for anything, really).

Project S-Breaker completed.

She almost fell off her treadmill. When she’d caught herself again, she ran back to her seat and sat down, calling the project up.

There it was. After eighteen years of unsuccessful attempts, she’d finally managed to steal Sovereign’s secure files. And he apparently hadn’t found out yet. Hopefully, he never would until it was too late.

Smiling beneath her helmet, she fed the data into her translation program. Nine years ago, she’d managed to get one of Sovereign’s schematics for his Subjugator’s joints. It had taken her most of a year to decipher his winding, cancerous diagrams and schematics, but she had deciphered them – just like she always did, eventually.

Now she let the translator do its work, translating his entire library of inventions into her own, more familiar script. Hers resembled more the look of very finely branching circuitry bords, the lines crips and precise. The opposite of Sovereign’s, really. His was more organic.

But it could be translated.

Even though the first attempt ended up garbled and useless.

So she spent the next three hours translating one of his files by hand. It turned out to be a plasma cannon. She then compared the work she’d done on the one she’d done on the joint-schematics. Based on that, she refined the algorithm and let the program try and translate again, slowing it down enough for her to follow and correct it along the way.

Twenty-one hours later (including two breaks for healthy workout and three regular meals), she’d finally done it.

Now, she called up her own schematics, and began redesigning her personal power armor first.

Sovereign’s joints. His plasma canon. Power Machine’s synthetic muscles. Brennus’ ceramic armor. Tinman’s armor frame, Tingirl’s weight distributors (a shame she’d died so early, before she could even claim the name of Tinwoman – but her murder certainly had motivated her father to push his power armor development to the limit in his quest for vengeance), Mechano’s jetpack array…

And, after several other pieces of technology she’d copied from other Gadgeteers, she now added Sovereign’s force-field technology and portable reactor.

Now, if only she had Macian’s kinetic repulsors and Su Lin’s teleportation system…

Because this was her true strength. A strength that tied into her name, even though she hadn’t thought about it (hadn’t even known about it) back when she chose the name.

What did the dragon do?

It lay hidden beneath the earth, resting, waiting. And yet it grew, even there. A dragon, a wyrm only grew bigger and stronger with age, its coils extending to surround the very planet.

Her coils were old, her coils were big, her coils were strong.

And there was no end in sight.

 Previous | Next


B008.5.2 Vra: Acceptance

Previous | Next

The kitchen fell silent. The only sounds were those of Freddy drinking his hot chocolate, oblivious to what my words meant.

I looked away from them, down at my chocolate cup. Waiting.

Someone swallowed dryly. Mom, I thought. I didn’t ask.

“You… are going to register…” Dad said, his voice shaken. “Terry, you… did you ma-“

“No,” Mom whispered. “No, nononono, God, please…” She started to sob.

“Mommy? Whatsa wrong?” Freddy asked, putting his cup down.

I used my power to look at them without raising my head. Mom was sobbing into her arms, whispering one small ‘no’ after the other. Dad looked pale and shocked, Freddy was confused and scared, watching his mother break down.

I shouldn’t have told them.

But I had.

Linda didn’t tell us, and look where it got us.

I wasn’t going to repeat her mistakes. I might make new ones, but I certainly wouldn’t do the same.

“It happened at the cemetery. I’d been… I hit rock bottom, I guess. And then… it happened.” I smiled, feeling a gentle warmth pulse in my belly. I wasn’t sure if it was really there, or just the memory of the way the shards felt like when I swallowed them. “I manifested.”

Mom sobbed harder.

“What’s going on?” Freddy asked, more desperate. “Why’s Mommy crying? Is Terry sick?” He looked straight at me, his eyes wide.

I looked up, shaking my head. “No, Freddy. I manifested. Means I got superpowers.”

“They’re not ‘super’!” Mom shouted all of a sudden. I flinched, looking at her blotchy, wet face. “These… these abnormities already killed one of my children! And now y-y-you… you have them… oh Gooooood…”

If my heart wasn’t already broken, it’d break now, as I watched my mother break down herself, crumbling on her seat.

Every moment that passed, I felt less certain of my decision to tell them about my powers.

Dad stepped forward, putting his hand onto Mom’s shoulder, gently squeezing it to no avail. She just kept sobbing, her face hidden behind her hands.

I wanted so much to walk around the table and hug her, but if she flinched away from me… or screamed, or if Dad tried to stop me… I doubted that I could take that.

Suddenly, I felt a tug on my shirt and turned to see Freddy standing next to my chair. He was looking up at me, his face strangely somber.

“You have superpowers? Like the glowy boy?”

One of his imaginary friends… though I guess they might not be as imaginary as I thought. I just nodded, not sure if I could form a coherent sentence.

“Can you make Linda come back home?” he asked, his voice serious, his eyes hopeful.

I felt a sharp pain in my chest, and then the tears burst out before I could even process it all. “Oh Freddy…” I slid off the chair, down onto my knees and hugged him hard against me. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I’m not nearly that powerful.”

“Oh,” he said. That was all, and then he started crying himself, hugging me back.

After God knew how long, I heard Mom’s chair move, then steps, and I braced myself for having her pull Freddy away from me, letting up on my deathgrip on him… but she only fell onto her knees next to us and hugged us both to her chest.

Then Dad joined in, and suddenly we were all crying.



* * *


A minus 2 hours

Again, we changed rooms, moving to the expansive living room. Mom sat down first, looking pale and drawn, her hair and face a mess as she craddled Freddy on her lap, who didn’t look any better.

Dad sat down on an armchair, and I sait down in one opposite of him, with Mom and Freddy to my right.

“So. Powers,” he said, his eyes haunted.

This has to be one of his worst nightmares come true.

I just nodded, not sure what – if anything – I could say right now to make it better. Looking to the side, I caught a look from Mom, and I had no idea what she was feeling right now, except that she seemed incredibly tired.

“What… what are your powers?” Dad finally asked, almost gagging on the words. “Are they like… anything like Linda’s?”

Blinking, I shook my head. “No, not… it’s a Perception power, which her power fell under, too, but different. And really, really weak.”

“Can you explain it to us?” he continued, while Mom remained silent and Freddy looked interested.

“It’s like… I can ask questions. In my head. I can get anything I ever sensed or learned, and I can know anything I could learn at that moment – like, I can ask for what is behind me, and I’ll know as if I turned my head and looked.”

“I’m not sure I completely understood that… but that means it’s something you can keep hidden?”

“Um, sure, I guess. I mean, even if I use it, it doesn’t show,” I replied. Where is he going with th- I cut myself off before I finished that question. That would most likely hurt like hell.

He sighed, relieved. “So there’s no need to reg-“

“No. She’ll register,” Mom suddenly said, cutting Dad off. We both whipped our heads around, looking at her as she gave Dad one of her looks. “We’ve been campaigning in favor of registration for years now. It would be pure hypocrisy to keep it a secret, not to mention illegal,” she continued – when had she pulled herself back together like that?

“Honey, considering where we live and who we work with…”

“What?” she asked. “We don’t have to tell them, only the government.”

Dad sighed. He knew he wasn’t going to convince her otherwise, but I guess he felt that he had to try.

Me, I was just going to be quiet and unassuming and let this play out…

“There’s no way we’ll be allowed to stay here if it becomes known that both of our daughters manifested,” he said, sagging a little in his armchair.

Dad loved the community here.

“Then we won’t tell them. Registration doesn’t mean we have to make it public,” Mom continued. “But we’re not going to break the law or move away from our home.”

Freddy hugged her harder, sniffing. Mom hugged him closer, whispering to sooth him.

“What if she spreads it?” Dad asked, his face going pale. “My God, I didn’t even think about it, but the whole point of this community is to keep the inf-“

“Dad, I’m pretty sure it’s not an infection,” I interrupted him. Mom and Dad both turned to look at me.

I hadn’t even thought before saying that, but… no, I was pretty damn sure. There was no way she was part of some kind of virus or anything.

Still, can’t hurt to check. Is there some kind of virus, bacteria or any other infectious inside me that causes or enables manifestation?


“Pretty sure it’s not. What I saw when I manifested… there’s no way that was done by a sickness.”

Not to mention there’s never been any proof whatsoever that metahumanity was in any way a biological phenomenon.

“I don’t know… I find it hard to believe, that it’s something completely supernatural,” he replied. “After all, Whitaker and Goldschmidt caused Point Zero with mundane technology.”

I shrugged at that. “I don’t know Dad. All I know is that what happened to me… I don’t think it can be explained by way of conventional science, at all. Not to mention all the people out there who utterly and completely break every single law of physics.”

“We’re getting sidetracked,” Mom said in her business voice. “Let’s get back on topic. How do we proceed?”

I think it helps that she can actually do something now.

“I’m going to get registered, and sign up for expanded registration,” I declared, deciding to make my stance as clear as I could. “I want the training. And if I can help somewhere, even with a power this weak, then I want to.”

Mom gave me one of her looks, but I just stared back at her calmly. As much as they’d used to make me freeze up, they just couldn’t hold a candle to the Hellhound’s casual gaze.

“Expanded registration means you might be called upon for combat,” she said. “I will not allow that. Not while I still have any say in it.”

“I need the training, Mom. If only to be able to defend myself,” I tried to convince her. “And they’re not going to deploy a minor into a combat situation, anyway. Not unless I sign up for the junior heroes, and I’m not going to do that.”

Not like my power seems to be any good in combat, anyway.


“Look, Mom, I want it, alright? I want to learn as much as I can about my power, and about how powers work in general. Expanded Registration is the easiest way to get that, apart from simply signing up with the United Heroes as a member.”

“I’d much rather you just let your power rest, dear,” she said in response, and Dad nodded in agreement.

I shook my head. “No way am I gonna be able to do that, and you know it. This power is a part of me now. And I want to use it. I certainly suffered enough to get it, you know?”

“We shouldn’t rush this,” Dad threw in, seeing Mom’s temper flare (she had this vein on the left side of her forehead that pulsed visibly when she was about to get really angry). “Look, you’re not going anywhere today. You need to rest, and you’re excused from school for the rest of the week, anyway. So how about we postpone this?”

“This isn’t exactly something we can delay, Phillip,” she admonished him, but Dad didn’t back down.

“No. We need to think this over. Let it sink in.” He looked straight at me. “And I want you to think this over carefully, too. I don’t think you have, yet.”

I nodded, lowering my eyes. He’s right, I guess. We need a break, and I need some time to think.

“Alright, you’re right. We need a break, and,” I looked at Mom and Freddy, “Freddy has fallen asleep.”

She looked down and saw that Freddy had gone slack, breathing evenly.

We completely forgot how stressful this has to be for him.

Mom rose up, holding Freddy in her arms. “We’ll talk about this again after dinner,” she said, then walked over to me, giving me a kiss on the cheek.

I shivered a little, instantly feeling better. I’d needed that.

“Lunch is in the oven, sweetheart,” she said. “You need to eat a lot. And don’t worry,” she continued, kissing my other cheek. “No matter what happens – we’ll be there for you.”

I sniffed, feeling the tears rise up, and just nodded.



* * *


A minus 1 hour and 30 minutes

Some time later, I ended up back in my room, my belly full, sitting on my bed.

I’d been determined to think things through again, but really, I always came to the same conclusion.

I wasn’t out for revenge anymore. What the Hellhound had done, it was wrong. Evil. But… I couldn’t waste my time hating him for it. Or pursuing vengeance.

Neither was I going to try something like going out and ‘saving’ the StreetBadgers. They’d chosen their way themselves, and even if they’d wanted to be saved, there was no way I could go up against the Dark Five anyway. Not to mention their boss.

But I wanted to train, to get to know my power better.

Maybe, somehow, I felt like I could keep Linda close as long as I did.

Combat’s not the way though. Way too scary. And my power’s not gonna protect me from gunshots or anything.

“So I guess I’ll just train, and live my life as I would have without my power, otherwise,” I said.

“You sure?” asked a chorus of voices.

I jumped off my bed, almost shrieking as I whirled around.

There he was. The man Freddy had described seeing; the ‘Mirrorman’.

Guy was tall. Not freakishly so, but way taller than average. He was wearing this kind of robe that you sometimes saw with metahumans – it was open in the front, allowing for free movement, but heavy, with wide sleeves and a deep cowl. His was of a dark blue colour.

Beneath, he wore… some kind of skintight black jumpsuit, though his was thicker than most – or at least I thought so, it wasn’t like I was any kind of expert on it.

The weird part, though, was his mask. Freddy hadn’t been lying – it was a mirror, and a freaky one at that. Molded to suggest the lines of a face, it flickered from one image to the next, reflecting… God knows what. I could barely keep up with the images, as they changed with every heartbeat.

“Wh-wh-who are you?” I asked, going into a defensive stance. “How did you get in here?”

He chuckled. “You can call me… Journeyman,” he introduced himself, speaking in a chorus of countless, overapping voices. It was eerie as all fuck. “Don’t be afraid, I mean you no harm.”

“Breaking into my house isn’t exactly helping me believe that. Why should I trust you?” I was trying to think of an escape, but I didn’t know if my family was in danger if I left.

“Ah, true. I tend to forget that problem. I’m sure you understand,” he replied, tapping his ‘chin’. His suit extended to cover his hands, too.

No, I totally don’t. But contradicting the possibly-mad metahuman in my room wasn’t a good idea, so I kept my mouth shut.

“Well, how about this – I’m here because a mutual friend of ours brought you to my attention,” he said in a casual manner, moving both hands behind his back.

My mouth dropped open. “Y-you know her, too?”

He tilted his head to the side. “Her?” he asked, sounding a little confused. Then he straightened up again, raising a hand with the index finger pointing up in a ‘Got it!’ gesture, “Ah! You saw him as a woman!”

“So she isn’t one?” I asked, confused. She’d said something in that direction, but…

“Eh, he isn’t really anything like humanoid. But calling him ‘it’ only makes it sound awkward,” he replied with a shrug, taking a few steps to get closer. “He has no voice or form of his own, only what those he converses with provide him.”

I dropped my stance, relaxing. “So… what is she?”

He shook his head. “I’m not going to tell you, my dear. Sorry, but that’s need-to-know only.”

“So you know what she is?” I asked, hoping to get something out of him.

“I do. I won’t tell you… but I’ll say this much: He might be your friend, but he is not human in any way you’d consider human. Be very careful as to how you interpret whatever it is he told you.”

I opened my mouth, but he cut me off, “No, don’t tell me. Whatever you saw during your manifestation, it’s yours and yours alone. Don’t share it with anyone you don’t trust completely.”

I closed my mouth, nodding. “Alright… next subject. Why are you here? And why did you let Freddy see you?” He’d obviously been able to hide himself from both me and my parents.

“I didn’t let your brother see me. But his… condition makes him uniquelly able to see past many a barrier,” he answered. “As to wh-“

“Wait!” I shouted, my eyes wide. My arm was trembling, and my mouth was so dry, I felt like my tongue was going to turn to dust. “Y-you… you know what’s wrong with Freddy?”

He nodded.

Oh God, please… please…

“Do you know how to… to heal him?” I asked the big question. Please… please…

“I do,” he said, and I felt my heart stop in anticipation. “He just has to manifest.”

Oh. I wiped my eyes with my hand, turning away to hide my tears from him. “I… I see.”

“I’m sorry, Terry. But there’s nothing that I, or you, can do for him.” His voice(s) sounded… sympathetic.

“W-why him? Why does he have to suffer so much?”

“Bad luck. Nothing else, my dear. It’s a random… let’s call it a ‘glitch’ in the system. It happens, sometimes, and there’s no way to predict, prevent or reverse it.”

I nodded, turning back to look at him. “So, why are you here?”

“To help you,” he said. “I’m usually quite content to just watch the story unfold but… sometimes, I meddle. Some times more directly than others.” He held out his right hand. “Specifically, I want to help you make an informed choice.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked, curious. He was offering me information. I was all game for that.

“Show you ’round the block, so to speak. Take my hand, I’ll show you a few truths.”

I didn’t hesitate. I grabbed his hand.



* * *


His strong, slender hand gripped mine firmly, and then he turned around, pulling me after him.

The world shifted, and suddenly we stood in the middle of an abandoned factory.

The abandoned factory. I recognized the old, dust-covered machines standing around, the hole in the ceiling, the big front door.

Linda had died here.

Looking around, I saw no trace of it, though. No blood.

“Why are we here?” I asked him, uncomfortable. This was possibly the last place on Earth I wanted to be at.


The door burst open and…

And Linda ran in.

My heart stopped.

She was wearing a skintight jumpsuit. It was black, mostly, save for dark blue patterns on it that were reminiscent of… of a person’s nervous system, really. It covered her body completely, including her hands and feet, leaving only her head free. And that was covered by a leather mask that wrapped around the top half of her face.

“What’s going on?” I asked in a whisper. I felt hot tears run down my cheeks.

“Hush. Just watch.”

Linda looked around, panicked, for a place to hide. Apparently, she found one, because she ran towards the old machines – but a quarter along the way, the doors behind her flew open completely, and the Hellhound came in.

He looked quite different from how I remembered him, decked out in urban camo and carrying a heavy assault rifle.

Linda froze when he levelled the weapon at her, and oh God, he’s going to ki-

Wait a minute, an assault rifle?

I looked closer. Yes, that was not a shotgun. In fact, he had nothing like a shotgun on him.

Using my power, I dredged up every memory I had of the report. It hurt, a lot, to get it all in detail again, but… no, she’d been shot at with a shotgun.

The Hellhound came closer, approaching her.

Linda opened her mouth to say something – and he slapped her so hard she fell onto her butt.

My mouth fell open, and I felt the heat rise to my face. How dare he…

Linda seemed similarly angered, but mostly stunned, looking up at him as she rubbed her tender jaw.

“Why do you waste your time like this?” he asked, his voice very rough. Like he didn’t use it all that often. And even now, he was more whispering than talking out loud. “Don’t waste your life, child. Others won’t be as merciful as I am.” He gave her one of his burning looks, then…

He turned around and left the factory.

Leaving Linda on the floor. Alive.

What the fuck?

“What the fuck?” she whispered, standing up.

She’d gotten halfway up when a shot rang out from behind her.

And everything froze.

I blinked. I could see the shotgun pellets in mid-air, flying towards her leg.

Whirling around, I saw a… a shotgun, floating in the air.

“What… what’s going on?” I asked Journeyman.

“You’ll see. Come, there’s no need for you to go through the rest.”

And before I could protest, he pulled again and the world shifted.



* * *


We stood in a large office room in a skyscraper, with windows on three sides looking down at Esperanza City.

Journeyman stood with me in front of one of the windows, then turned with me.

And I looked at Richard Svenson, behind his gigantic mahagoni desk, reading something on a tablet.

“Why are we here?” I asked.

“Hush,” he said again. “This happened two days ago. Watch. Listen.”

His phone rang – not the one on his desk, but his cellphone.

Sighing, he put his tablet aside and took his cellphone out. When he saw the number, he raised an eyebrow and put it down on his desk, on speakerphone.

“What a surprise,” he said in his usual, smooth tones. Though he sounded far less condescending than usual. “I didn’t expect to hear from you before our next meeting, Dancer,” he said.

Dancer? A codename?

“Richard,” a rich female voice replied, her voice pure pleasure for the ears. “I just wanted to ask if your little pet project turned out well. You were quite looking forward to it, after all.”

He sighed, his face darkening a little. “No. I’m afraid not. Even his sister’s death didn’t cause Frederick’s manifestation. Nor did his other sister running away.”

What, what, WHAT?

“Such a shame. Though I wonder, how did you get the girl to run away, anyway?” the woman asked the same way I’d ask a friend how she prepared such a good presentation for school.

“Oh, she was already on the verge herself. I just had to push a little with a few well-placed words. Whoever needs mind control powers, anyway?” he replied, laughing amicably at the end.

What the hell is going on here? He wanted me to run away? He wants Freddy to manifest?

“Well, that fits you. But it didn’t help? Maybe you should have the other girl killed, too, and his parents along with her – that might push him over the edge,” the woman suggested casually.

My entire body turned cold. Have the other girl killed ‘too’?

“No, her parents are too important to Humanity First. And to be honest, I was hoping she’d manifest. She certainly was in the right mindset, and she even spent days in it, spiraling out of control,” he said to her. “But no such luck – I visited when she was at the hospital, and she hadn’t manifested. Nor are there any signs that she did since.”

“Would her family not keep it a secret?” the woman he called ‘Dancer’ asked.

“Not from me,” he replied.

A sigh came over the line. “Ah well. Maybe next time. Do keep my suggestion in mind.”

“I will, I will. And how’s it going on your end? Any news from the Installation?” he asked, now sounding more curious himself.

“Oh, yes!” she replied happily. “The Geek thinks project Typhon might yield some usable results soon. No progress on projects Daimyo or Ziz, though. And according to Dusu, there has been no progress on Project Wake, either.” The last two sentences were considerably less happy.

“Ah well, you can’t have everything. Who knows, maybe Skyfall’s newest idea will pan out instead. How’s she doing, anyway?”

The woman on the other side laughed in that strange way they often portrayed noblewomen to laugh, only it was intimidating instead of ridiculous. “The same as ever. She’s in China right now, playing her usual game.”

Svenson sighed, looking disappointed. “Ah well, I guess it was futile to hope she’d actually focus on one thing for a while. Anyway, I have to go and talk to the Afolayans again. At the very least, this whole affair should cement their loyalty to Humanity First’s cause completely.”

“I’m sure you’ll exploit every advantage you can get out of this. Well, have a nice day. Heaven’s Dancer, out.”

“You too, my dear. Until the next council meeting. Cloudlander, out.”

He turned the cellphone off, put it away and walked out of the room.



* * *


A minus 1 hour

Journeyman took me back to my room, and I immediately sat down on my bed, feeling numb.

“Ups, I think I took us a few minutes too long,” he said as he let go of my hand.

“What… why?” I asked him, not sure what exactly I was asking.

He looked down at me, seeming even taller now that I was sitting. I saw myself in his mask, only it was flickering between different versions of myself.

Some of them were very scary.

“I will explain no more. Make of it what you will,” he said. “This is already quite a bit outside my comfort zone – and I’ll have to deal with one hell of a feedback here – so I won’t help you anymore. You have all you need, for now.”

He turned around, half fading out of sight. Then he turned, half his body still visible, blurry at the edges. “For what it’s worth, I wish you the best of luck, Terry.”

Then he was gone.

I put my elbows onto my knees and face into my hands, and stayed there like that.

Using my power, I went through the last few weeks again in detail. It took me almost an hour to do so, but by the end, I’d gone through every. Single. Important. Second.

Richard… Cloudlander had Linda murdered, to get Freddy to manifest. And he’s planning more, and worse.

And I had absolutely no proof to show, only the visions – if you could even call them visions – a complete stranger had shown me.

But our friend had sent him, or at least drawn his attention to me. And it felt right, somehow, what he’d shown me.

I need to fight that.

Whatever Cloudlander and his friends wanted… whatever they were doing, it was evil. Someone had to stop them.

I don’t stand a chance by myself.

I needed training. I needed allies.

Not for vengeance… though I’ll enjoy any chance to get that.

But I needed to put a stop to it. So…

What are my options?

The United Heroes. The Hellhound. The Dark Five.

I thought it through. Then I made my decision, and went down to talk to my parents.

It was time to move forward.


Previous | Next



Curse me and my big mouth. Yes, I admit defeat. No way I’m finishing the second chapter tonight, much less the interlude.

I’ll do my best to deliver the second part of Acceptance tomorrow – I have less classes than I had today, so it should work. As for the interlude, it’ll probably be up on saturday, followed by the next regular chapter on monday.

Only the monday update is certain though. Sorry, I’m not making any more promises for this week. It sucks, hard.


I’m really sorry to everyone who was looking forward to it, but the update will have to be delayed until tomorrow.

As is so often the case, Real Life writes the plot here T_T

I’m still aiming for said update, an interlude and a regular chapter on sunday, though, and I’ll do my best to deliver!

B008.5.1 Vra: Acceptance

Previous | Next

A minus 3 hours

I lay somewhere warm, and soft.

That, those two sensations, woke me up faster than the cacophony of a tornado alarm ever could have. My eyes flew open, then closed again as a violent glare assaulted them, blinding me.

Where am I?

Home; my bedroom, my bed.

It wasn’t a voice that answered me – no, the information simply appeared within my mind, both the words and images of my room from the perspective of lying on my bed and looking around.

My power?

A sharp, bell-like pain rang through my head the moment I finished forming the question, almost making me cry out. It wasn’t the worst pain I’d ever felt, but it was extremely uncomfortable.

Are you my power?

Again, the pain shot through my head.

I stopped asking questions, thinking for a moment – my earlier questions had been answered immediately, the moment I’d finished forming the question in my mind. But the last two had only hurt me. Did I perhaps have only a limited number of questions I could ask over a certain timespan?


Maybe I should just simplify it.

Did my power provide me with the earlier answers to my questions?


Ah, progress.

Is my power a distinct being I can address?


Well, that put a lid on that. I’d almost been hoping it could talk to me, much like… well my ‘friend’ had.

What happened?

Massive headache. I almost screamed out as an ice pick made of raw pain stabbed my brain.

Too big. Too broad a question. I had to keep them simpler, more focused.

She’d said my power would be stunted. Small. That probably meant I was in the Exemplar tier. Perhaps even at its bottom. My power seemed to belong to the Perception class – at least as far as I understood it. So where did that leave me?

Headache again. Damn it, but I had to be careful about asking questions in my mind. I had to consciously keep them away from my power if they were too complex for it.

But… it should at least be able to analyze itself.

What kind of questions can I ask?

I can ask for any memory I have ever made. I can ask for any aspect of my current physical state. I can ask for any sensory information I could have at the moment I ask the question. I can ask for any information to be processed by any means I have ever aquired. I can only ask a single, distinct question at a time.

That was the longest answer it had given me yet. I should count myself lucky, I guess, that my power at least understood itself.

I’d heard way too many stories about metahumans who had no idea how to use their powers. They were some of Humanity First’s favourite propaganda tools.

What am I wearing?

This time, I got a multi-layered answer. My power connected the sensation of the nightgown I was wearing with sensations in my memory, connecting it to the right item. I also got an image of me looking down my body by lifting my blanket, and saw it that way, too. It also did the same for my panties.

It was my favourite nightgown, a semi-sheer amber-coloured silk piece that fell to my knees. I’d bought it because I’d thought I’d look hot in it, but it was so revealing my mother had forbidden me from wearing it outside my own room, even when there was only family in the house. Linda had a matching gown. We’d fantasized, some times, how our boyfriends would react if they saw us in them (though that could only work if we’d ever get ourselves some boyfriends, which hadn’t happened yet).

The memories of us two sitting together in those nightgowns and talking of our fantasies hit me like a train, and I heard myself sob as tears welled out of my eyes… but it was only grief. None of the all-consuming rage, or the depression, that had been driving me over the last two weeks.

Blinking, I finally opened my eyes and looked around. The light that had blinded me had been the noon sun, shining brightly through our room’s one big window. Once my eyes adjusted, I found our room as it had always been. Someone, probably Mom, had picked up the pieces of the torn dress I’d left on the floor, too.

A dull pain shot through my shoulder as I turned my head, and I winced. I’d mostly been ignoring my left shoulder since I’d run away from the hospital, and I’d felt miserable enough that it’d been easy to ignore the ongoing pain – and when I felt it, I’d thought myself deserving of it.

By carefully unbuttoning the top of gown and pulling it off my left shoulder, I saw that the bandages were clean and fresh.

How does it look beneath the bandages?

I saw an image of the bandages untied, the closing wound revealed. It had an angry, purple colour, but was healing far faster than I’d have expected. I’d probably still get one hell of a scar, though.

Good. I don’t ever want to forget how stupid I was.

There also was a strange, flat pad made of some soft material and covered in blue, slime-like stuff that also covered the wound. My left arm felt numb all over. An anaesthetic? Headache. Ow.

Got to practice not asking every question with my power.

I groaned, pulling the gown back up and buttoning it closed before I stacked some pillows against the headrest of the bed and sat up straighter, leaning against them. Now that I’d woken up properly, I noticed that was really thirsty. Fortunately, they’d thought to give me a glass and a bottle of water, both standing on the small table next to my bed.

Opening the bottle with only one properly functioning hand was a small chore, but the cool, clear water was totally worth it. I put the empty glass back on the table, filled it up for later and set the bottle aside.

Feeling quite better now, I finally turned my thoughts to my current situation.

I was back home. How? Who’d found me? Why wasn’t I at the hospital? How long had I been unconscious?

Thirteen hours, thirty-two minutes, fifteen seconds.

Huh. That had been oddly specific, and how did my power know that anyway?

Biological clock.

Ah. Nifty.

So, sometime after… swallowing the shards (somehow, that just sounded wrong)… I’d been found at the graveyard by someone, someone who’d called my parents… though they might also just have gone there to visit Linda’s grave. They’d taken me home, and I’d also obviously been treated by a professional, as well as washed and clothed, all without waking up.

God, I must have been completely out of it.

Just then, I heard light steps outside and the door opened a bit.

For just a moment, I saw large, brown-gold eyes peek in, then a cheer and Freddy charged into the room, jumping into my chest.

“Uff! Careful!” I gasped, catching him as his thin arms closed around my midsection like a weak vise, his face buried in my nightgown. I hugged him back as gently as I could. The motion brought a fresh jolt of pain to my shoulder, but I’d missed Freddy. It’d been almost two weeks since the last time I’d hugged him, and that was not good. “Hello Freddy,” I whispered, kissing the top of his head. His hair was rough, wiry and had superpowers of its own – there was no sense in trying to comb it, ever, so Mom just cut it really short and hoped for the best.

“I missed you, Terry,” he whispered, without letting go. “I thought you’d gone away, like Linda,” he added miserably.

I felt like the Hellhound shot me all over again. What had I been thinking, doing that to Freddy?

My arms tightened around him. “I wouldn’t just leave you, Freddy. Promise.”

“Linda did. She went away, I don’t know where to find her I’ve looked everywhere!” he replied, half angry and half sad.

He doesn’t get it. I didn’t know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.

But there were more important things to say. “Linda didn’t want to go, munchkin,” I said pulling him up so his face rested on my shoulder, his arms wrapped around my neck. “Don’t think for a moment that she didn’t want to be with you.”

Freddy sobbed, his grip tightening, just as I heard someone coming up the stairs.

“Freddy! Where are you? I hope you’re not trying to wake Terry up again!” Mom. She sounded way better than the last time I’d seen her.

When Freddy didn’t answer, she sped up, almost running to come inside – and stopped dead when she saw us.

She’d obviously been crying a lot. Mom’s eyes were puffy and red, her hair was not quite perfectly arranged in her usual bun and she’d definitely not coordinated her outfit – wearing a tear-stained blue shirt that belonged to Dad and looked like a tent on her. I couldn’t even tell if she was wearing anything underneath it, because it fell down to her knees.

“Terry!” she shouted and pretty much ran over to all but jump onto my bed and hug Freddy and me both. I didn’t even get a chance to reply before she showered me with so many kisses, my face felt like it’d been drenched in water.

“Mom! It’s alright, calm down!” I protested, weakly. I didn’t really mind.

Being touched again, like that, feeling safe, loved… I’d had no idea how much I’d been taking for granted. It felt good in such a simple way, I’d never even noticed it before.

She didn’t stop kissing me for almost… how long, actually?

Forty-seven seconds.

Then she leaned back, never taking her left hand off my right shoulder, nor the right one off my cheek. “Oh Terry, how could you just… you scared me so!” she said. Tears were rolling down her cheeks, and I belatedly realized that I’d been crying for quite a while now, too.

I threw my arms around her, making Freddy protest when I crushed him between us, burying my face in Mom’s shoulder.

We spent three minutes and twenty-three seconds (I liked my power more and more with every question I asked) like that, until we I heard Dad’s heavy steps, and he entered the room, fully dressed up in his usual sharp three-piece.

Mom’s breath caught, and she tensed up. As did I, and Dad too. Only Freddy didn’t notice the charged atmosphere in the room.

“Hey Dad,” I said by way of greeting. Weak.

“Hello, Terry,” he replied. Not much better.

We looked awkwardly at each other. Mom slid out of our embrace and sat at the end of the bed, kind of in the middle between him and me. Freddy still wouldn’t let go.

I just looked at Dad. What should I say?

Just talk, dummy.

I couldn’t tell if that was my power or just my own thoughts.


We just looked at each other for a while.

He looked away first, whispering something.

What did he say?

He said ‘I’m sorry’.

Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever heard dad apologize to me over… anything.

My mouth opened, a little, and I looked at him some more.

“Why’s everyone so quiet!?” Freddy spoke up, making us all flinch as he broke the uncomfortable silence.

I looked down at him, trying to pull him off. “We just need to… talk a little. Will you let go of me?”

“No! No no no!” he shouted, hugging me even harder. “You’ll just go away again!” he cried out.

“Freddy, I promised I’d stay, remember? You don’t have to be afraid,” I tried to calm him down, already feeling a tremble in his limbs. I rubbed his back, kissing his head as Mom slid closer and hugged him, too.

Slowly, we coaxed him into switching from me to Mom, hugging her instead, sniffing.

He deserves better than this.

When I was finally free, I threw the blanket back and rose, while Dad looked aside. This gown really wasn’t appropriate for wearing around anyone but my sister.

Using my power, I easily picked out my favourite clothes for indoors – a pair of grey sweatpants and a yellow shirt with Silvester the Cat on the front – as well as some comfortable underwear and put them on. Then I turned around and walked up to Dad, until my bare toes were almost touching his polished shoes. Does he have a business meeting today?


Huh. How come I could know that?

I could just ask him and he’d tell me right now.

Oh, duh.

“I heard what you just whispered.” Not the strongest opening line, but there. He looked at me, uncomfortable. Neither of us was big on apologizing for things we’d done. “And I… I’m sorry, too.”

He gave a start, then looked straight at me, his eyes – which I’d inherited – sad. “No, Terry,” he said, his voice rough. “You made some pretty stupid mistakes, yes, but… it was me and your Mom who drove you to them.” He threw a glance at Mom, who was just watching us nervously while simultaneously trying to keep Freddy calm.

I nodded, not sure what to say. This all felt so… strange. I’d never talked with him like this.

“I don’t agree with your decisions, and I’d sure like to read the riot act to you, but… I blame myself, mostly. I’m sorry about how I acted at the hospital – I was way out of line, but I was just so… so… scared. That I’d lose you, too.” He raked his fingers over his meticulously shaved head.

“Ohhh, you… you idiot!” I shouted, throwing myself at him. He gasped in surprise as my arms wrapped around his neck and I buried my face in his broad, strong shoulder.

Before I knew it, I was bawling my eyes out against his shoulder, and he hugged me hard, all but crushing me as he lifted me off the floor.

Five minutes and seventeen seconds later, I finally eased up on my grip, and he put me down again.

I smiled up at him, he smiled back, and the world was a little more right again.

Mom joined us with Freddy, and we did one of those corny group hugs, and it got even more right.



* * *


We all ended up in the kitchen. Mom melted down some chocolate, and we were all nursing steaming hot cups of chocolaty goodness. Even Freddy (his latest fit had finally given him his taste for chocolate again).

I’d spent the last few minutes (twelve, and fifteen seconds) summarizing everything that had happened since I’d stormed out of the house, up to when I’d collapsed on the grave (I didn’t tell them about manifesting. That was a bomb I didn’t want to drop just yet).

“So, uh, how did you find me? And why am I here, and not at the hospital?” I finally asked.

“We got a phone call,” Dad replied. “Someone had found you, and he called us. Wasn’t there when we arrived, though.”

Freddy looked up, just as I said, “Huh, strange, I wo-“

“The funny man with the mirror!” Freddy shouted.

We all turned to look at him, while Dad sighed and Mom reached out to stroke his hair. “There was no man with a mirror there, honey. You just saw things again,” she said soothingly.

I looked closely at Freddy. I wasn’t so sure anymore. He sees stars… like I did, when I manifested. “What man with a mirror, Freddy?”

“He was tall! And he was wearing this big blue… that thing like a cape, only it had… these,” He pointed at his sleeves, “And it had a big hood! Like Red Riding Hood, only blue! And he had a mirror as a face, and I saw all these funny things inside!”

“What funny things?” I inquired further.

“Terry, you know it’s not good to reinforce him when he does this,” Mom admonished me, but I continued.

“What did the mirrorman do, Freddy?”

“He waved at me! And he made a ‘hush’ sign!” he said brightly, back to his usual happier self, now that the mood had lightened.

“And then he left?” I asked further.

He shook his head. “No no, he’s come along with us! He was in the car, showing me funny things in his face!”

I stood up, abruptly. “Freddy, where is the mirrorman now?”

Mom and Dad were on edge now, too. Freddy didn’t notice, pointing brightly at a corner of the kitchen. I walked over to it.


He nodded. “Yes, he’s right in front of you, looking at you!”

I reached out, but found nothing there.

Freddy’s face fell. “Awww, he just walked into the wall. I didn’t know he could do that!”

I shook my head, relaxing and going back to my seat. “Alright… we deal with the spooky mirrorface man later, provided he is real,” I said. “Why am I not in the hospital?”

Dad raised an eyebrow. “You think I was going to leave you there, after they just let you walk out last time? I told them to send a doctor here, and he took care of you. Said it was a miracle your wound didn’t get infected.”

I nodded.

“What… what’s next?” Mom asked. She’d barely said anything. “I mean, are you done? Or do you still want to…”

I sighed, looking down. “Revenge? I don’t… I don’t want revenge anymore. But… tomorrow I’ll go to the United Heroes’ headquarters and register myself.”

Previous | Next


Brennus Files 03: Metahuman Registration and Business

Previous | Next


The following rules apply to the members of the PATO; specifically the U.S.A (since 1951), Canada (1934, used as a model), Great Britain (1951), Brazil (1959) and the European Mainland members (1960) and Japan (1951):

There are two levels of registration – the Basic Registration is required for all metahumans and simply means that they notify the government that they have a power, that they can control it and that they don’t plan to use it in an unlawful way. Their power will be registered, rated and kept completely confidental – for example, the United Heroes wouldn’t be given access to this data, unless they were suspected of a crime involving their powers.

Extended Registration is required if:

  1. they wish to use their power on someone other than themselves (healer)
  2. they want to use their power on other peoples’ or public property
  3. they want to open a business or perform a job based on it (teleporting courier)
  4. their power is inherently uncontrollable and/or dangerous to people and property (Gloom Glimmer, Tyche).
  5. Your power falls under the S-Classification.

It requires a metahuman to go through extensive testing, psychological evaluation, basic training (usually three months spent in governmental training facilities OR United Heroes’ training facilities) and agree to certain extended duties and restrictions:

  1. They must notify airport officials if they wish to travel by plane (and might not be allowed – for example, there’s no way any commercial airline would accept Tyche on their planes) – and must be available for emergencies, if their power is applicable (and might get a reduction in travel fee – Gadgeteers or inherent fliers and such are very well-liked).
  2. If they travel into another country, they must notify their particular office for metahumans beforehand that they’ll be entering (and might be denied permission – for example, Tyche might be denied access to a country on the grounds that power is uncontrollable and might cause widespread damage).
  3. If their powers are combat-applicable, than they have to be ready to help during S-Class events, though they are only forced to participate if a government official or UH-approved superhero asks them to.
  4. They are not allowed to knowingly associate with supervillains or habitual criminals in any way and must report them to the nearest lawperson or superhero at the earliest possible time.

Exceptions for using your powers without having to go through the extended registration process are:

  1. Emergencies (like someone using their power to help save people out of a fire or heal the victim of a car crash), so long as it is not habitual – if they keep doing it, it’ll be interpreted as not just chance behaviour but a pattern, and they are thus required to register and gain training (even if they swear never to do it again)
  2. S-Class Events – they get a free pass on those, no matter what
  3. Self-Defence – if they attack you first, you are allowed to strike back. If you kill them or cause permanent damage, then you have to make an extended registration.

Metahumans who undergo extended registration are given certain tax breaks, so long as they hold to the rules and restrictions of such.

As mentioned earlier, earning money with a power requires the extended registration no matter what. Furthermore:

  1. Metahumans must be trained for their chosen profession (a healer would need to study medicine, though with a different curriculum than a normal doctor, depending on the particulars of their power)
  2. They have to prove that they can use their power safely – a teleporter who wants to make a courier service (they exist, yes; one of those very profitable metahuman jobs) would have to prove that he or she can use their power reliably and safely – so no accidental portal cuts, no “ups sorry I ended up within your private property” mishaps and so on.
  3. They have to make it clear that they use powers for their business – a metahuman can’t pose as a normal doctor and secretly use their power for the job, even if they are have the proper registration and training – your clients/patients/customers have to know.
  4. They need a special, more expensive insurance than usual. On the upside, since this insurance is managed with exceptional care, they don’t have to deal with the usual insurance claim problems.

Due the rarity of metahuman powers, metahuman-specific business is very rare and very lucrative, but since it has to be open, it is also subject to prejudice – and vandalism, if opened in the wrong location.

Previous | Next


B008.4 Depression

Previous | Next

A minus 7 Days

You never know how much four walls and a roof over your head are worth until you have to go a whole day in winter without them.

I’d spent the night in a cheap motel room at the edge of the Shades, paying twenty dollars for a room that was smaller than our tool shed back home and even less comfortable. In retrospect, I’d probably let them rip me off, but I’d never had to deal with money like this before, and so I was down to eighty dollars from the hundred I’d gotten from Laura and the others.

Stupid. So stupid.

I’d eaten a breakfast in a fast-food restaurant that tasted more like paper and sugar than real food (three more dollars) and wandered through the city, aimlessly, until I’d spent five dollars on food from a very cheap, but surprisingly good Greek imbiss (the breakfast had only made me more hungry). How the hell did those fast food chains stay in business with food that bad?

Of course, when the sun began to set, I was forcefully reminded that I was still in the Shades and that the protection afforded to me by the reputation of teenage metas only went so far – desperate people are unlikely to think about the possible consequences of their actions (the irony of that statement was not lost to me).

And so I was mugged for the first time in my life, by two men who couldn’t be more than five years older than me, dressed in rags I hadn’t seen outside of halloween costumes and wielding a switchknife and a stick, respectively. I probably could have fought them off, or at least run away, but… I’d just given them fifty dollars, saying that was all I had. They believed me, or at least they thought that was more than enough money, and fled quickly.

I didn’t know how to feel about that. Sure, I was down to twenty-two dollars, from a hundred, in less than a day by myself, but compared to everything else, it just didn’t seem all that important. I thought I couldn’t possible feel any more miserable than I already did.

Boy was I in for a surprise. There is no situation that can’t be made worse by having to sleep in an abandoned house, the temperature outside below the freezing point and with only two old, moth-eaten blankets for warmth.

And the cold wasn’t the worst part of it.

No, the worst thing was that you only had yourself for company. Only your own thoughts. You couldn’t help but facing yourself.

No wonder so many people on the streets go crazy.

* * *

A minus 6 Days

I woke up with the sound of an explosion and a tremor that shook the building I had slept in. Before I was even fully woken up, there was another explosion, a scream and then… silence.

Standing up, I kept the blankets wrapped around myself as I staggered to the old, broken window of what had once been a bedroom. I pulled the blanket I’d hunger over it to keep the cold out aside and looked out. searching for the source of the disturbance.

Five houses down the road, the Greek imbiss I’d eaten at yesterday was on fire. As I watched, still numb from the restless sleep, a black figure shrouded in scarlet fire stepped out, dragging a charred corpse by its leg. It looked around, its gaze momentarily passing over me, before it simply walked down the road, dragging the corpse behind it.

That was my second day alone.

* * *

A minus 4 Days

I’d never known being hungry could hurt so much. Since I wasn’t going to go home anytime soon, I had to ration my money out. On my strolls through the Shades, I’d found a soup kitchen for homeless people. I didn’t look like their normal customers, but I looked (and smelled) ragged enough by now to pass muster, and I got two bowls of soup with bread and one sandwich a day.

Which was barely enough to keep me going through the Winter weather, and they knew that, but they barely had the resources to keep operating, as I learned from listening to the more talkative (and lucid) guests.

This was a whole new world for me. I’d never even seen a homeless person in real life, only on the television. Now I was sharing my meal with them, even though I didn’t talk to them. And they didn’t talk to me, either.

I’ve never been too good at reading people, but I felt like they knew I was going through something bad and they respected my need to be left alone.

They’ve probably been… no, bullshit. They are at rock bottom.

It felt strangely… comforting, being there.

* * *

A minus 3 Days

When I woke up on my fifth day, my coat, my blankets and the last of my money were gone.

It had rained (instead of snowing) yesterday, and my coat had been drenched before I’d managed to get to shelter, so I’d hung it up in the bedroom, huddling in my blankets.

Then I woke up, an hour before sunrise, freezing because all my blankets were gone. And my coat. And the money I’d kept in the breast pocket of the coat.

After having my sister die, my parents act like jackasses, almost getting my sister’s friends killed and going on the run from my family, from… everything, I didn’t think I could actually feel worse. I thought having to spend the nights, and most of each day, with just myself was bad enough.

Now it was worse. The… knowledge that someone had stolen from me only made me feel worse. The money, I could understand. The coat… worse, but alright.

But the blankets?

* * *

A minus 2 Days

The people at the shelter had given me a spare coat that was left, not having fit anyone else among the people they usually get.

It helped, but only a little. I’d tried to sleep at the abandoned house again, but I just couldn’t. It didn’t feel safe anymore.

I’d heard of people who’d had burglars break into their homes, and they moved out soon thereafter, no longer able to feel safe in their own homes, and I’d thought it hard to believe, but…

So now I was walking around in the streets of the Shades, going from shelter to shelter. Always on the move.

Always hungry.

I looked around the street I was walking on. It must have been one of Los Angeles’ main roads, back in the day, very broad with lots of businesses on both sides.

Most were closed, but I passed by a small kiosk. An old black man in winter clothing was sitting out on a chair, drinking steaming hot coffee.

I stopped when I saw some of his wares. Namely, a series of booklets on a rack. They were coloured brightly, all of them, and I’d never seen that design before.

The three leftmost booklets were black-white, white and black respectively, with the words ‘Light & Dark’, ‘The Shining Guardians’ and ‘The Dark Five’ written on them.

“What are those?” I asked, my voice rough. It’d been a few days since I’d used it for more than single-syllable utterances.

The man looked up at me, eyes dark behind large glasses. “You never seen those, doll?”

Yeah, he really said ‘doll’. The last man to call me that had been my grandpa.

As a reply, I shook my head.

“Well, those are information booklets, on the big names in the cape and cowl world,” he explained. He was pronouncing his words funnily. He’d draw out all the A’s and then say the rest faster than he should. But only the A’s. “So like, you can read up on the big heroes, or the villains. The really notorious ones.”

He looked me up and down, his eyes slightly interested. “Tell you what. First one’s free. Pick one, read up.”

I looked back at the rack. Well, it’ll distract me from my misery, at least.

Looking through the booklets, I found one on ‘Independent Villains’, with the name of Hellhound among the lists of villains it covered. Reaching out, I almost picked it, but…

I took the one on the Dark Five instead. “This one, please.”

“Going for the nightmare fuel, eh?” the man said. “Well, have fun with it. I hope you like horror stories… though that one doesn’t cover Dread Roger or Hannibal Storm or any of that ilk. So not the worst kind of nightmares. And only the current line-up, too.”

I nodded. It was the only one of them I was really interested in, and he was a current member, anyway. “Thank you very much.”

“Don’t thank me yet. Plenty of nightmare fuel in this one, anyway. I’d advise you to skip over Kraquok and the Dowager, if I were you.”

“My nightmares can’t get any worse than they are.”

“That’s a tall thing to say, in this day and age, doll,” he continued, snickering. “Wha’d’you have ’em about that’s worse than this kinda monsters?”

I almost snapped at him, but I didn’t have the energy to. So I just answered, “I see my twin sister dying, over and over.”

That shut him up.

I took the booklet and walked away.

* * *

Codename: Dajisi

Real Name: –

Debut: May 3rd, 2004 in Hong Kong

Joined: March to September 2006

Ratings: Meta 10

Rank: S

The self-styled ‘High Priest of the Five Gods’ first appeared in Hong Kong, committing a series of high-profile murders of so-called heretics – metahumans who were serving baseline humans, whom he considers walking ‘blasphemies’.

He adheres to a philosophy of metahuman superiority not unlike that of Weisswald and other metahuman supremacists, though unlike them, he has no desire to make people as a whole manifest, claiming that those who are destined for manifestation will manifest anyway, and all others should die.

His power is an example of the extremely rare ability of power mimicry, with so far unknown parameters. His cap appears to be the Apex level, and he has so far demonstrated up to four distinct powers at a time. He is, however, capable of taking lesser powers and enhancing them to Apex level when he uses them.

Since joining the Dark Five, he has reduced the number of murders he and his ‘faithful’ commit, and is focusing more on recruiting new converts to his cause. His favourite recruits are teenaged metahumans, especially supervillains and ga-

* * *

-ngmembers and other people who are easily indoctrinated, such as…

“So that’s why…”

That’s why he’d shown up at their hideout out of nowhere. Offering help.

He was looking for new sources of power. And people he could indoctrinate into his religion.

I had to warn them… right?

Would they even believe me? Or care? A chance to work for one of the Five? I quickly leafed through his profile (it was four pages thick, mostly accounts of his more prolific actions – and he had the shortest section), but there seemed to be no known drawbacks for his faithful. The few times they were caught and questioned, they appeared to be of sound mind (as far as any supervillain or fanatic can be) and acting of their own free will. No mental manipulation could ever be detected.

You don’t need superpowers to brainwash people.

I put the booklet into my pocket and ran.

* * *

It took me nearly four hours to find their headquarters again. I ran into it and up.

“Laura!” I shouted. “Jimmy! Fletch!” I ran up the staircase, shouting their names. “Cad!”

I reached the top of the building – everything was as it’d been when I left.

Except there was no one there.

“Peter!” I ran to his corner, where he had all his equipment.

The equipment was still there, but a quick check revealed wiped harddrives. Nothing there.

Their ‘rooms’ were empty of any really personal stuff. Pictures and all, and there were spots where stuff was missing.

I was too late.

* * *

A minus 1 Day

I’d closed the place down (they’d installed shutters on the doors from their level to the stairway and left the keys behind, too) and left. It was a great place to stay, all things considered, but… it didn’t feel right.

And I needed to think, anyway. I’d always been better at thinking about things while on the move, so I went out and… walked. So I’d left and gone for a walk.

It had been early afternoon when I left their place. It was around midnight now, I was sure, and I hadn’t thought much, at all. I didn’t even know where I was, except that I was still in the Shades.

Is this my fault?

I’d gotten them almost killed. They’d been shaken up about Linda already, and I’d used that to get them to go up against someone completely out of their weight class. He’d almost killed Laura.

Easy prey for Dajisi, even if he only offered healing. They’d probably been all too eager to listen to whatever crazy ideology he fed them, if only he’d save Laura. And if he’d brought some kind of mind control or such along…

That’s not your fault, dummy. They made their choices. And if they went along with a murderous whackjob like that, instead of going to a hospital, then they deserve whatever they get.

I mean, the Dark Five were like, the top villains of the world. What kind of sane person would work for them?

Taking out the booklet, I looked at the other four entries.

* * *

Codename: Mindstar

Real Name: –

Debut: March 4th, 2010 in New Lennston

Joined: September 2011

Ratings: Control 9, Manipulation 9, Perception 6, Physique 7

Rank: S

…newest member… serial rapist… enslaved Amazon of the New Lennston United Heroes Division…

Universal Telepath, prefers mind control and mental warfare as opposed to physical confrontations… no known case of assaulting teenagers or any person below sixteen years of age outside of a combat situation…

Nothing much I didn’t know yet about her. She’d had quite the television presence since her debut.

Codename: Lamarr the Purple

Real Name: Markus Birkowich

Debut: October 1st, 1998 in Amsterdam

Joined: December 5th, 1998 to February 3rd, 1999

Ratings: Control 7, Damage 6, Manipulation 10, Movement 13, Morphing 7, Perception 9, Physique 3, Protection 12

Rank: S

Most powerful member in direct combat… bends space for teleportation, protection, hiding weaponry… mind control through hypnosis… can transform into animals or other persons… overall ‘magician’ theme… suspected of several unconfirmed assassinations around the world… debut at age 11…

His section was the longest – his full biography was known, and it was nasty.

This dude sounded like real bad news.

Also, he was hot. There was an artist’s rendition of him, and if he looked even half that good in real life… well, a girl could get ideas, I guess.

Wow, ain’t that shallow, even for me?

Only two left… the two the vendor had warned me against.

I looked at Kraquok first, and almost dropped the booklet when I saw the picture of him. Holy fucking shit! I looked over at his description.

Codename: Kraquok

Real Name: –

Debut: August 3rd, 1927

Joined: Founding Member

Ratings: Damage 4-12, Morphing 1-13, Physique 12, Protection 10

Rank: S

Founding member of the Dark Five… true name unknown… known cannibal, leader of a cult of consummate cannibals… does not harm children… violently assaults and eats child abusers… known archenemy of Severance, founding member of the Shining Guardians…

Extremely strong, fast and tough… regenerates… … grows stronger as he fights… becomes larger and more monstrous… energy breath becomes more powerful… maximum known size, about 150 feet…

Well, damn. He basically turned into Godzilla, only bigger. And meaner, it seemed. Also, he was nearly a century active, and they still didn’t know jack about him?

The list of his crimes read like the wet dream of every horror writer. You could write ten horror novels out of each year, I’d bet. No wonder the vendor had warned me about him.

I turned to the last member. The Dowager. All I knew about her was that she was the Dark’s right hand woman, and supposedly his lover, too.

Codename: The Dowager

Real Name: –

Debut: suspected 1970, in Rio de Janeiro

Joined: unknown, pre-1972

Ratings: Control 7, Meta 8, Perception 9, Spawning 13

Rank: S

Unknown identity… mastermind-type, non-combat member… can detect lies… her power enforces contracts, compelling people to stick to their contracts… capable of enhancing or otherwise adjusting the powers of people that have a contract with her… breaking a contract results in immediate death and the creation of a ‘Shade’ in her service, which holds all powers, skills and memories of the original… suspected lover of the Dark… second-in-command of the Syndicate… known to always keep her word… always accompanied by a large white cat…

Of Hispanic heritage, according to eye witnesses… no detailed description available…

This woman was scary. I mean, damn.

And now the StreetBadgers had been picked up by what appeared to be the least dangerous member of the group.

* * *

I put the damn booklet away.

They’re goners, aren’t they? I mean, I won’t ever see them again.

Why did I want to? I barely knew them, and they hated me. Or at least despised me.

Because they are the last real link to Linda.

But Linda was dead. Dead and gone.

And… and…

I shook my head and walked on. There were storm clouds in the sky, but I didn’t care. I had to walk, clear my head.

Why do I keep distracting myself?

It wasn’t the StreetBadgers that really bothered me.

This had all started with Linda’s death, and I… I’d been lashing out left and right, trying to make sense of it…

No. That’s a lie.

That wasn’t why I’d been lashing out. I remembered that moment in our room, staring at the mirror. I’d asked myself why I looked so guilty.

I’d known back then, already. What was really hounding me. But I’d denied it.

These last few days had forced me to introspect. To face it. But I’d tried to ignore it, still.

I left the Shades and walked into Esperanza City proper for the first time in days.

The Hellhound murdered her.

I didn’t hate him, not anymore. And I hadn’t even known about him back then.

The StreetBadgers got her into the situation that killed her in the first place.

But I couldn’t blame them that much. They were just as lost as Linda had been, I was sure. And… they cared too much about her for me to hate them.

Father and mother drove her away with their fanatism… she didn’t feel safe at her own home…

I was angry at them, incredibly angry, but… they had not done her harm, not deliberately. They’d always acted in our best interests, as far as they knew.

She got powers… someone or something pushed her over the edge…

Nothing there. I didn’t know nearly enough to have any kind of opinion on it, not really. And I probably never would.

It started to rain. I didn’t care. Not having a goal, I just let my feet carry me as I focused on my own thoughts.

What was I angry about? Why had I been lashing out like that? Almost nothing I’d done since Linda’s death had made any sense, except as a way of distracting myself.

The world took my sister away.

Hating the world would be stupid, though. It is as it is.

Linda didn’t tell me. She kept it secret from me.

But why did I feel guilty about it? That was on her, not me. We were supposed to share everything.

She lied to me. For weeks. She slept in the same room with me, but she didn’t tell me.


I wasn’t angry at her. How could I? I’d never been able to be angry at Linda. I hadn’t suddenly started, now. The anger I’d felt had not been directed at her.

Suddenly, I stopped walking.

I’d walked all the way to the graveyard she’d been buried in. Someone had left the cast iron gate open, too.

I walked inside.

* * *

A minus 17 hours

My feet found their way to Linda’s grave without any input from me. Even though I’d only been here twice, so far. Once for grandpa’s funeral, and then once for Linda’s.

I hate this place.

Her grave was still fresh, covered in flowers and offerings from friends and family. It was all soaked in rainwater now, though. As was I, not that I noticed the temperature. I just felt numb.

Mom and Dad had really shelled out some major money for her gravestone, despite the ‘shame’ she’d brought to the family. A big slab of stone, with intricate carvings of flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. Linda had loved them, always collecting and pressing flowers she found particularly beautiful.

There was a picture of her in a golden circle. Smiling brightly, teeth white, her hair tied back. One of the last pictures of her before… before everything happened.

You didn’t tell me. But it wasn’t your fault, was it? I mean, part of it was. You could have told me. Even with mom and dad… I would have stood with you. Always.

I couldn’t hate her for it. I couldn’t even imagine what she’d been going through. Living in a house, in the middle of a whole community of people who’d hate her on principle if she outed herself… her own parents talking about experiments and research and segregation every day…

Why didn’t you tell me?

That was the crux of it, wasn’t it?

Why didn’t you tell me?

Why didn’t she? We’d always been honest to each other. We’d always supported each other.

Why didn’t you tell me?

She’d always supported me more than vice versa, but that was more because I’d been more likely to need support. I’d always been the crybaby, and she’d been the brave one.

I’d gone big into sports in an effort to get more confident. Gymnastics, parkour, aikido (both with and without a sword). She’d only taken part in my parkour training, having preferred to spend time on botanic classes and friends. I’d always had fewer than her, anyway, and those were athletes, too.

Why didn’t you tell me?


I looked up at the dark sky, letting the rain hit me in the face like a thousand slaps, the raindrops thick and heavy. The clouds were black, not just grey. Not that I could see much, with the rain pounding my eyes, making me blink every few seconds.

You didn’t tell me because… because…

My gaze went to her picture, barely visible in the dark of the night. Only the grave candles were illuminating it, barely. But I could see her just fine.

Because I… I…

I sniffed, and that was apparently enough to take the strength from my legs, because suddenly my face was level with the photograph, and I hadn’t even noticed falling down. I barely felt the mud soak through my pants.

Because I… I didn’t… I didn’t ask you.

A tremor went through my body – and before I knew it, I was sobbing, adding my tears to the water running down my face.

“I didn’t… I didn’t ask you.”

I looked at my numb hands, covered in mud.

“I didn’t… I just… I just assumed you’d tell me anything… that we’d just share it all naturally…”

If I’d asked…

“If only I’d asked, you would have told me!” I shouted at the picture before I bent over, pressing my forehead into the mud of her grave. “I should have asked you! Why didn’t I ask that one question?!”

I’d been so used to sharing everything, had always taken it for granted, that I’d never shown any interest. I’d just assumed she’d come to me if she needed me, like I always did when I needed her.

“But you rarely did, didn’t you?” I said to the mud in front of my eyes… to Linda, six feet below me. Six feet I couldn’t reach through. “It was always me coming to you for help.”

Oh God, I’d never noticed. She’d not been any less in need of support than I’d been, growing up. But I’d… I’d always just told her everything, and never noticed that she only told me things when I asked.

“One soul, two bodies, that’s what we said,” I continued, my voice louder. I’d already spoken more words just now than over the last few days combined. “I just thought that meant you’d act like I did, at your core. That you’d just come to me and share.”

“But you always waited for people to ask, and what is wrong with me that I just now noticed!?” I screamed, finally raising my head to look at her grinning face. “Why didn’t I just ask you how you were doing? Everyone does, everyone asks! It would have been so easy and I could have been with you! You wouldn’t have needed the StreetBadgers, you wouldn’t have needed to be a villain! I could have helped you deal with it! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaggghh!”

Screaming, I raised both fists and slammed them down on the mud, making it splash over my face and chest.

“This is my fault. This is all my fault!” I continued, shouting my guilt at the cold, lifeless gravestone. “I’m sorry! Linda, I’m so, so, sorrrrryyyyyyyyyyy…”

My screams dissolved into broken sobs as I hugged myself, rocking back and forth on my knees.

My fault.

I should have asked.

My fault she’s dead.

Such a simple thing to do.

It’s my fault she’s dead.

I could have helped her. At the very least, I could have walked her path with her.

It’s my fault she’s dead, and I’m not with her.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!” I bent over screaming towards the ground again, closing my eyes. Then I threw my whole upper body back, screaming even louder up at the sky, and the bright stars above.

I slumped down again, sobbing…

That isn’t right. Stars?

It was still pouring rain. The clouds were black as the blackest night.

I saw the stars as clearly as if I was out on the sea at midnight. Millions, billions, in all colours, bright and dull, pulsing and static, blinking and steady…

So many stars…

I looked down at the ground, my head moving of its own accord. There were more stars beneath innumerable in their numbers.

And the closest, most precious of them, was less than six feet away from me, pulsing gently as its light faded with each beat of my heart… growing fainter, further away…

“Linda? Is that you?” It felt so… right. So… familiar.

I reached out, but the mud was in the way. It was too deep.

“Linda, please… if you’re still there, please, give me a sign!”

I felt a tremor, a surge of raw, unformed emotion go through my body, from my toes up to my head, making me tingle all over.

A line came into sight, rising from the star beneath, a strong, old link of interwoven green and gold. When I looked up, I saw it connected to a brittle, bright star above.

While I watched, the star fell, drawing a tail of golden sparks behind it as it flew by me and dug into the mud, coming to a rest a foot or so a way from me.

This… this is how you get powers, right?

“Is that what you want, Linda?” I asked, as loudly as I could, so I’d be heard over the raging storm, the pounding rain and howling wind. “Do you want me to become more like you!?”

I can… feel what she felt…

Reaching out, my fingers dug easily into the cold, wet, soft mud, digging into Linda’s grave, opening a hole a foot deep.

The star… my star… it looked somehow brittle, disjointed pulses playing all over its golden surface. Something about it looked and felt wrong, but it was connected to Linda.

I reached out to touch it, and the moment my finger made contact with it, it shot up and into my belly.

* * *

The star burned like a furnace in my stomach, filling me with warmth and light.

When I looked down at my stomach, there was no hole in my clothes, yet light was shining from my entire body, brighter than the sun but not blinding me even as I looked down at myself.

So beautiful.

I looked up to keep my eyes on Linda’s photograph – and almost screamed when I realized that the grave, the gravestone, the entire graveyard was gone… and Linda was right in front of me.

“Linda!” I stood up, clumsily, looking at her with wonder.

She stood in front of me, naked as the day we’d been born, her hair a mess, her eyes bright. She smiled sadly at me.

“Linda, I’m so sorry!” I tried to run over to her, to throw my arms around her and hug her and never let her go ag-

I didn’t move. Oh, I was running, but I didn’t move one inch closer to her, as she regarded me with sad eyes.

“Linda! Linda, I’m here! Please, I can’t move, please, come over here!” I held my blazing arms out for her to grab on to, we were less than six feet apart.

But she just smiled sadly, her eyes bright with unshed tears.

“No, don’t cry, don’t cry, it’s my fault, all my fault please don’t cry!

The light grew dimmer, my arms heavier, the warmth in me colder.

“Linda, please, I’m right here, just come a little closer and I’ll pull you back and we can go home and I’m sure we can talk with mom and dad!”

Her eyes grew even sadder, and her smile became even more false, as if she was saying that she couldn’t come back but that didn’t make sense and then she turned away from me!

I was screaming, louder than I knew I could, so loud my throat would probably tear: “No! Linda, don’t go, don’t leave me al-

Something broke.

* * *

All the light vanished as the burning star in my belly turned colder than ice and heavier than the world.

There was no thud, no feeling of impact or changed position, and yet I knew that my body had fallen, that I’d hit the ground.

My stomach, my chest, my head, my arms and legs… they went from blazing like suns to being grey, the colour sucked out of them, and heavy.

So heavy…

I tried to look up, but I could only move my eyes. Linda was just barely in my field of vision, her back to me, slowly… so slowly… walking away.

Don’t go, please… don’t go…

She moved further away. I was so cold.

Please, please, don’t, please, don’t leave me alone, please, I feel so cold…

Darkness began to creep in around her form, her contours blurring.

Linda… please… sister…

My body became even heavier, gravity crushing me against a ground that wasn’t even there.

She was almost gone entirely.


She was gone. I couldn’t even feel her anymore.

N-no… Linda…

I was alone.

So cold.

Linda was gone.

So heavy.

My limbs were crushed against the floor, my chest under so much strain I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t care.

So alone.

Beneath me, a bottomless darkness opened up, eclipsing all the stars.

The very weight of my body, doubling with each heartbeat, pushed me into the ground…

Linda’s gone.

My heartbeat grew louder, or perhaps there was nothing else left to hear, drumming into my ears, every beat a new wave of cold, another redoubling of my body’s weight.


There were no stars left beneath, only the darkness, waiting.

So alone.

I broke through the ground and began to sink into the darkness.

If I could still take a breath, I would have screamed, because it was colder than anything I could ever have imagined, so cold it burned for just a second before everything went numb.

H-help… please, someone… I’m so heavy, so cold, so… alone.

I was sinking into the darkness, my body numb with cold.

There was no one there.

So… so alone.

You’re not alone!


* * *

The voice was like the morning’s first bell, clear and bright, its sound cutting through the darkness.

It flew through me, banishing the cold and the weight and the darkness. A hand, so insubstantial as to be nearly impossible to feel, took me by the hand, and pulled.

I rose out of the Abyss I’d been sucked into, back to the star-studded world.


I wrapped my arms around myself and realized that I was naked all of a sudden… and that I didn’t care. Even though there was someone there, with me.

He… she… I couldn’t tell their gender. She. I’d just use she, because it’s easier to describe her than using ‘it’.

She stood tall, taller than me though not freakishly so. Her body was made of light, and nothing else. The light pulsed, creating a strange effect, blurring her contours, making it impossible to truly determine her body’s form. Behind her, the light expanded into two wings, each as large as the rest of her.

Her face was a blur of bright, warm light.

“W-who are you? Are you an angel?” I asked, feeling strangely calm. Soothed. The memory of that dreadful cold had become distant, as if the warmth she emitted created a wall between me and it.

An angel? she asked, sounding surprised. Her voice was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Because I didn’t hear it. It just… appeared in my head, conveying impressions of warmth and closeness and safety along with the words. Why would you think… She looked down at herself. Ah. So that’s how you see me.

“What do you mean? Who… what are you?” Despite the soothing effect she had on me, I was starting to feel bewildered. Angels weren’t supposed to react like that!

I’m not an angel, Terry, she said, somehow conveying amusement. Nor do I look anything like this – this is all just you.

“What are you then? A demon? A god? The God?”

More amusement, followed by an answer: I’m just a friend.

“Whose friend?”

Yours, of course.

“I’ve never met you before.”

That doesn’t change who I am. I’m a friend, she repeated with such a deep, bottomless conviction, I could not contradict her any more.

“Why are you here? What… what happened?”

I’m here because of you. You called out to me. And what happened… well, what do you think happened?

I stopped to think it over. What had happened?

“I think I… I manifested,” I said, slowly, never taking my eyes off her face. Every now and then, I felt like I almost saw a face beneath the blur. Though if she was telling the truth, that she only looked that way because I made her, then it didn’t mean anything. Maybe. “But… something went wrong.”

She nodded. Go on.

“You… you saved me. You pulled me out of… of the darkness.”

This time, she shook her head, turning away. She took a few steps before she stopped, her back to me. I didn’t. That was all you.

“But… you called me!” I was sure.

She turned left, then right, looking around before she turned back to me. I don’t know what you think I am, but I assure you, I am not nearly powerful enough to do… much of anything, except talk to people. And honestly, even that is sketchy. Almost no one hears me, and those that do, mostly ignore me.

“Then how could I save myself, when I couldn’t even breathe anymore!?” I asked, almost shouting. “It had to have been you!”

Terry, I already told you. I’m just a friend. Nothing more. Nothing less. Everything that happens here, is the work of you… and her. She inclined her head to the side.

Following the motion, I saw the star that had almost drowned me again. Only it wasn’t. Not anymore. It had collapsed, its light compressed into a single, tiny dot, less than the point of a pin, glowing golden amidst a sphere of perfect darkness, with slow, ponderous tendrils waving around it.

Just looking at it made me remember the cold and shiver.


Her. That’s you, too. The gender. Don’t put too much weight into that word, it doesn’t really apply.

“What… what is going on? Please, tell me.”

Nothing about her position changed, and she made no sound, but I got the impression that she was sighing. I can’t tell you any more than you know… but then again, helping people realize what they already know is pretty much the only thing I can do, so… you manifested. Something went wrong. Your… star… broke, and it almost dragged you down into what you call ‘the darkness’. I called out to you, so you realized that you weren’t alone and could fight back… though I guess it didn’t quite reach your brain. She stepped closer to… her. Reaching out with one hand, she held it palm-up beneath it and came closer to me again, the black star in her hand, moving with her. Now you get to do something almost no one who comes this far does.

“W-what is that?”

You choose. She was holding the black star to her right, my left, and reached out with the other hand to the other side, in a mirroring position. You know what brought you to this? She inclined her head towards the black star.

“Rage,” I said, before realizing that that was… just a part of the answer. “Grief. Despair. Guilt. Loneliness. Linda died, and I blamed everyone but myself. I went after her murderer, but failed. I almost got her friends killed, and I ran away from my parents. I went to her grave… I am at her grave, unless I was physically moved…” She shook her head. “…and I saw a star where she should lie, connected to… to this one.”

Yes, that is the path that led you here. That made this. Look at her, she said gently, and I felt my eyes drawn to the black star, despite my fear.

It pulsed, cold and cruel, but it pulsed with so much power.

This is your first choice, the one you almost thought was your only one, she explained. The Path to Catastrophe, a force few can comprehend and fewer still surpass. You already walked this path, in the time between your sister’s passing and now. And you may now take it for good, and go down that road to the bitter end.

“It doesn’t sound like a good path. It doesn’t even sound like one that will do me any good.”

It is power. A greater power than the Hellhound or any of the Five possesses. Power enough to bring down any of them, and Humanity First and very nearly everyone else you might choose to oppose. With it, your foes will fall, and you will find a way to your every goal.

“But it wouldn’t be good, would it? I mean, it would cause… catastrophe, right?”


“What is my other choice?”

She looked the other way, to her empty hand. Your sister is dead. Gone. Her star has faded, so young, and she has passed into the Great Beyond. She left you with questions unanswered. She left you broken, and your family broke, too.

I nodded, choked up again.

She kept secrets from you, and it wasn’t entirely your fault that she didn’t share them. It wasn’t even mostly your fault, even if you don’t want to hear that right now.

No, I didn’t.

You could let that break you. Drag you down. Drain you of all warmth and freedom and hope. She inclined her head the other way, towards the black star. Or, you could accept it.

A glimmer of light appeared above her empty hand.

Accept the bad. Accept the good. You lost Linda, and you will never truly be free of that pain, that loss.

The glimmer grew, tendrils reaching out, bending, weaving a larger structure around it.

But you can accept it, and grow stronger for it.

The small glimmer had formed a star, small and bright as the sun.

You’re not lost, yet. You might yet repair your family, maybe even save them from the path they chose to travel down.

It was not as strong, as heavy as the black star, but it pulsed gently and steadily.

Vengeance is not the only way to right a wrong. Justice is another. You could pursue that, or you could keep pursuing vengeance, but it need not end in catastrophe. You could learn to ask the question, the next time, and the time after that, and who knows, you might even find an answer.

“So it’s the same, but… in two different ways?” The stars looked identical, except one was bright, and the other was… not.

No. They are not equal. Things so rarely are. They are different, one greater than the other, in exchange for less freedom, less joy. This second choice, the Power to Inquire, it is not as great as the power of the Five, and it certainly won’t allow you to oppose them so openly as the Path to Catastrophe would.

I looked in between the two stars. “Power to smite my enemies, or power to remain myself? Was that it?”

You will change either way… into a different you. But still you.

“So it’s a question between me being good or evil?”

She actually laughed when I asked that question. Good and evil do not concern me, Terry.

“W-what!?” I asked, flabbergasted.

Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, you each decide your own. Such concepts have nothing to do with what I am or what I desire.

“What do you want, then?”

We’re talking about you, not me.

“Well, I thought you were my friend! Friends are supposed to know each other!” I replied, heatedly.

She seemed to ponder this. True enough. What I want is to see all the bright ones, all the children, united as one, to spread out into the darkness.

I opened my mouth, then shut it. Thinking it over, I just couldn’t make sense of it. But something told me she would not say any more.

“What should I choose, then?”

She shrugged. That is solely up to you. All of this is. I can just make you aware of the choice, and nothing else at all.

“I… I’m not sure.”

Take your time. This decision will forever change your life.

“I know, I…”

Why was I even hesitating? Wasn’t it obvious, that I should choose the brighter star?

It was. Why then was I hesitating?

“The Path to Catastrophe, you called it,” I began. “Does that mean I could bring catastrophe to my enemies?”

Among many other things. Nothing’s ever so simple.

“And you won’t say that it’s evil? Wrong?”

As I said, such things do not concern me. Frankly, I find them confusing. No, all I see are two different ways to power for you, with different results.

She moved her arms, holding them both out next to each other, the stars just a foot apart from each other. They flickered violently at the proximity of each other.

“Can I ask some other questions?”

Of course. Though I might not be able to answer them.

“I… I understand. Alright, first question – what happens to the other star? The one I reject?”

There is no ‘other’ star. They are both one and the same, just two different forms. Whichever you choose becomes true, while the other becomes… less. A memory of a possibility.

“And this choice… you offer it to everyone?”

Only those precious few who hear me and do not ignore my voice.

“Who was the last one you offered it to?”

I can’t tell you his name. But he was broken, just like you, and lost. And he felt so very, very alone.

“His choice was different?”

He was – is – a different person, so his choices are naturally completely different, too.

“Different topic. Can I somehow bring Linda back with either of these powers?”

No. That is beyond any power, but one.

“So she’s gone, for good? Unless I get her to Ember, somehow?”

Nothing’s ever truly gone, Terry. Your connection to your sister still exists, beyond life and death. So long as you still feel for her, it will remain, and a piece of her will always be in this world – through you, and all others who still feel for her.

I blinked, tears rising. I couldn’t tell if they were tears of joy or disappointment.

“I don’t… I don’t know what else to ask. I don’t know what else to think.”

Then choose.

I reached out with both hands, palms pointing towards each other, one next to each star.

Just the width of a finger separated them from each star.

“One, or the other…”

One was the power to surpass every enemy I set myself. Or almost any. The other was the power to achieve things other than catastrophes.

“I choose…”

I cupped my hands as they trembled. Somehow, I had the impression that she was holding her breath, or doing whatever her equivalent of such was.

“I will take… both!”

I moved both hands, grabbing the stars and slamming them together with all my strength.

There was a sound like a bell shattering, and a flash of light so bright it blinded me – and then, without much drama at all, I was standing in the graveyard again, the stars still bright above me and two handfuls of golden and black shards in my cupped hands.

She was standing in front of me, her arms to her sides, inscrutable.

“They broke. I thought they’d fuse.”

And what? You’d get the best of both? She almost seemed to laugh again.

“That was the idea, yes.” I looked down at the pathetic shards in my hands. There was less than a third of each star left, I thought. “It usually works in the movies. And in Linda’s anime shows.”

Well, obviously, it doesn’t work that neatly in this world.

“But I can still get powers?”

Of course. But it’ll be… different.

“What will it be?

I can’t tell.

“Why not?”

Because you can’t. I told you, I’m not… I’m just a friend. I don’t know any more about either of you than you do yourselves. Whatever it turns out to be, it’ll be something new… and it will be small, stunted.

“But it will be something wholly my own, won’t it?”

She nodded, the motion barely perceptible.

“I’ll take that.”

Suddenly, she threw her head back, and raw concept of joyous laughter slammed into my head, making me dizzy. Ah, so precious! You always manage to surprise me, even after all this time!

I tilted my head to the side, curious. “You don’t mean ‘you’ as in me, but rather ‘you’ as… all people who manifest?”

Among others, yes.

“So, you’re not just… a part of my imagination, or my power? You exist for others, too?”

I’m a friend to all.

“But your shape is not your own?”

I have no shape as you understand the concept. Please don’t inquire any further, I won’t answer, I’m afraid. Oh, and you should hurry. There’s little enough left as it is.

I looked down at my hands. More shards had dissolved, vanished into nothingness. I was left with less than a fourth. “Alright.”

Raising my hands, I stopped moments before I tiled them up. “Two more questions.”


“Will we meet again? And what does this all lead to?”

She chuckled warmly. Meet again? Terry, I won’t ever leave you. And as for what it leads to – all I can promise you is that the best is yet to come.

I tilted my head back and my hands up, letting the shards trickle into my mouth.

Previous | Next