The adhesive hooks attached to the two buildings left and right of the street, and with a gut-wrenching pull, the motors in the two reworked grappling hook units reeled them in, catapulting Basil forward and up.
“Woo!” he shouted as the hooks detached from the concrete walls just when they would have started to slow his movement instead of accelerating it, the machines on his hips reeling them in as he, for a few seconds, flew freely through the air. Of course, wearing power armor was not conducive to staying airborne and he quickly reached the apex of his jump – but he had already aimed for his next targets.
His hip-launchers had originally been quite large, basically a pair of long boxes filled with the thin wire he used for his grappling hooks. A serious flaw in the design, really. They were too big, the motors inside too strong, the wire more than just too long. He just had no use for that much of it, and running those motors at full capacity would only rip the system off his hips. So he had redesigned them into two disk-shaped, plate-sized systems. The motor for reeling in the wire was built into the center, while the launch system for the ‘hooks’ (both using van der Waals force to adhere to their targets, rather than actually working like real hooks) was at the exit points, one nozzle each which could move independently to better aim.
These two nozzles locked onto the targets he had specified – the corner of an office building at the next crossroad and the tip of a flagpole that extended from the adjacent wall behind the corner, just barely visible. He had aimed them through precise (and often repeated, in preperation for this occasion) finger movements, and now used his grappling hooks to swerve around the corner and out of Downtown – straight towards the harbor, accompanied by his ravens which scouted the way ahead for viable contact points, so he would not have to decide on the fly.
Also, they were looking out for his quarries, helping him evade them.
Just then, a warning came in as a golden shadow raced by a group of ravens to his left. He only had seconds before it would arrive.
I got to make them count, he thought and reeled the grappling hooks in, firing the right one off towards the corner that would take him left along the next intersection, twisting his body mid-air towards his attack – and he readied his redesigned humming sword at the same time.
The new sword was no longer flexible, able to wrap around his hip. It was a rigid, straight sword with one gleeming edge, and a rather bulky blunt side. Not to mention that it was a meter long, not counting the hilt. This new version consumed far less energy, thanks to the more efficient vibration generators built along its length.
He raised it just in time as the golden spear-blade struck him, taking it along the flat side of the blade, making use of another feature of this new version.
It was far better suited to parrying attacks it couldn’t just cut through. Especially since he had not actually powered it up. He took the strike on the flat side of the blade and fired the motors of his right hook, pulling himself towards the street corner and deflecting the strike away, letting Gilgul tumble into the opposite direction he was moving for a few moments, before she caught her flight and flipped around (conveniently ignoring all inertia).
Fortunately, he had already rounded the corner by that point and fired his hooks again, swinging straight over a lower building on the other side of the street. He hit the roof of the building beyond running (landing on the edge of the rooftop, so he wouldn’t simply break through) and leapt over the abandoned street beneath – two weeks after Hastur’s rampage, the city was still quite empty, especially on a Sunday like this.
As he fell down, he watched as Gilgul pursued him, cornering in impossible ways as she searched for him – and then locked onto him again, rocketing straight towards him.
He turned around in mid-air, firing the grappling hooks backwards to move further away from her as he put the sword into the sheath he had attached to his left forearm and drew his new rifle from the holster attached to his right forearm, taking aim and shooting.
This rifle was not a stun gun. It was rather a custom-made ballistic rifle with variable ammunition. His shots hit true, striking Gilgul’s chest plate and hip, bouncing off – but not without messing up her flight, making her tumble again and letting him put some more distance between them.
He swung in a right turn towards the harbor, using the movement to also face forward again, rifle still in hand.
Gilgul, of course, pursued him easily – even without her ability to ignore inertia (she had not told him about that before), she was simply too fast, not to mention not in need of assistance by grappling hooks and robotic ravens to pursue – and began to close the distance.
And then a human-sized cloud of green-black smoke burst out of an alley and flew across the street, bouncing up along the wall and leaping off of it in pursuit of the golden knight.
Basil fired off a few more shots to keep Gilgul’s attention on himself, which made her close the distance.
“Got you!” she shouted as she got within reach, ignoring his shots and stabbing forward… just when the cloud lept over her, pulling itself together into Hecate’s shape.
The witch girl aimed her staff at Gilgul and fired off a scarlet energy blast, sending her tumbling down to the empty street before bursting into smoke again, accelerating towards Basil in the same instant in order to reform and grab his leg as he swung further down the street.
She used him as a pivot and threw herself forward, dissolving again and adding more speed to her movement, briefly overtaking him in her smoke-form.
Gilgul caught herself and charged after them – straight towards him, to be precise, which meant there was no way of his shots really affecting her flight path.
Green and black smoke suddenly obscured his immediate vision as Hecate covered him, reforming between him and Gilgul.
“Boo!” she shouted, throwing a paper bomb into their opponents face, dissolving again before Gilgul’s spear reached her torso.
And then the grenade detonated into pure disorientation. The mental effect would have knocked him for a loop, making all his senses go haywire, if Hecate had not earlier given him a special charm that protected him from it and several other effects in her arsenal.
Which was very fortunate, because the weapon only made Gilgul flinch for a moment before she closed the distance.
“No getting away this t-” she began, but he did not let her finish. Instead, he grabbed her spear, disconnecting his hooks from their current targets as he did so, and swung himself around it, kicking her with both feet in the face.
She made no sound, too stunned to react as she spun away again, losing her grip on her spear. He threw it into a nearby alley, swinging away again. Hecate had already moved ahead, gaining some ground, and he was only a few blocks away from his goal…
His ravens saw Gilgul burst out of the alley and hurl her spear at him.
There was no way his armor could actually take a straight hit from that spear, and his armor was too bulky to properly twist out of the way.
On the other hand, he saw it coming a mile away, thanks to his ravens and he had practiced long enough with the kind of multiple viewpoints they gave him to know how to predict its flight path…
And strike it out of the air with his left arm as he whirled around, sending it straight down to the street before finishing his spin and shooting straight ahead again, overtaking Hecate, who was just turning into an alley to get out of sight.
I ought to ask her how she senses her surroundings in that form.
And then he had to focus on his own getaway again, because Gilgul was closing in, having retrieved her spear.
He was just a block away from his goal – that weird-ass warehouse he had accidentilly dropped into on his first night out. Hecate was out of sight, as he did not have enough ravens to keep an eye on her (his reserves were running rather low, lately). Smoke bombs and the like were useless.
All he needed was one more distraction, something to keep her off his hide. Fighting her directly was out of the question, so…
<Are you in position?> he asked Tyche over their communicator.
<Of course, B-Six! Me and this puppy are ready to mess up your gee eff’s day!> came the chipper reply.
<Please try not to hit me, or any innocent bystanders.>
<Aye, aye, mon capitan!>
He fired off his hooks at the apex of his swing, aiming for the last high-rise buildings in his path. He would have to swing clear over a small park between him and the warehouse and the street beyond that, to reach the warehouse, so he activated, at the apex of the new swing, his newest addition to his suit – a pair of thrusters built into the back of the suit, beneath the battery, aiming down and to the back.
The thrusters kicked in hard, just when he had reached the edge of the park. Fortunately, his armor protected him from whiplash, but it did not protect him from feeling like his back was hit with a sledgehammer, blowing the air out of his lungs in the process. I should have thought of that, too.
But it did boost him far enough to clear the park – and evade a desperate strike by Gilgul, who had almost caught up with him.
“Oh, come on!” she shouted as she pursued – and then a massive boom rang through the air as she was knocked out of the air again, spinning away so violently she almost lost her grip on her spear… only for her to ignore inertia again and fly straight towards him so as to intercept him.
But Tyche had slowed her down just enough.
Basil fired off his hooks, grabbing onto the edge of the warehouse’s roof, and swung onto it.
* * *
Breathing rather heavily, Basil sat down on the roof as he took off his helmet, setting it aside but taking care to keep his hood up. Then he took off the skintight mask he was wearing beneath, to get a fresh breath.
Gilgul landed next to him, sitting cross-legged in the air (her armor was quite nimble). “I really thought I had you when I threw the spear,” she grumbled.
“Maybe if… I had not had… my ravens,” he said. “God, I am thirsty.” He detached a water bottle from his left thigh and took a long draught from it.
“What did I do wrong?” she pressed further, her golden armor providing quite the glittering show as the light of the afternoon sun reflected off of it.
He did not need to think it over much. “You were too straightforwad. I could see your every move come from a mile away, even without my ravens,” he explained. “Hecate is here,” he added, seeing her smoke-form approach from the corner of his eyes.
A few moments later, it leaped onto the roof from the side and reformed into Hecate, who promptly bent over the edge again and threw up.
Basil looked at Gilgul and handed her the water bottle. She floated over to Hecate and held it out for her. “Th-thanks,” she said and drank greedily after washing her mouth out without actually putting it to the bottle (for which Basil was quite thankful). “This new charm is way useful, but my stomach just can’t take it,” she complained as she gave it back to him, sitting down along with Gilgul.
“Can’t you rew-” Gilgul began, but was interrupted when a red-and-black smoke-form sailed by over them and towards the adjacent building’s higher wall. It smashed into the wall, reforming into an upside down Tyche who had rammed it with her back, clutching a large rifle in her arms.
“This is fucking awesome!” she shouted as she slid down the wall, casually flipping over and landing on her feet. Her hair was a mess, her jacket looked wrinkled-up and the rifle in her arms did not look functional any more – in fact, the barrel was twisted.
“What did you do to my gun!” Basil shouted, hurrying over and all but ripping it out of her hands.
“Oy, don’t blame me!” the still smiling girl replied, casually slipping around him and swinging her hips to knock the water bottle off his thigh, letting it bounce off the floor and up into her hand as she walked towards the other girls and sat down with them. “What’s up, girlfriends?” She took a sip from the bottle.
“You’re not feeling bad?” Hecate asked, annoyed. “I threw up after using that charm.”
Tyche shrugged, pulling a black cloth-figure – a rather crude form made of a single length of black cloth, tied to look like a human – out of the inner pocket of her jacket. “Well, I thought it was awesome. Mind you, I still don’t know how to really steer it, but you can’t have everything, eh?”
Hecate muttered something under her breath, but said no more.
Basil joined them again, sitting down with them. “I did not expect the rifle to break so quickly,” he grumbled. “I am sorry that I blamed you, Tyche. The materials I worked with were simply not good enough.”
She waved a hand. “Don’t mention it. So, what’re you going to do to fix it? Thing packs a wallop!”
“Does it ever…” Gilgul muttered. “Felt like it blew my head clean off.” Tyche grinned at her.
“I don’t have the means to build a proper model,” Basil admitted. “My funds are running dry – I need to either get some new money from somewhere, or cut down on my active experimentation.” It was clear which option he personally favoured.
Gilgul shifted around uncomfortably, her face hidden behind her helmet but her discomfort still noticable. She had offered to give him money from her private funds – her family was filthy rich, and there were only her, her mother and her sister left to use that money. But he had refused on the grounds that it would be impossible to hide it from her mother. Moreover, he wanted to solve this problem himself.
“Can’t you use that trick you did at the beginning again?” Tyche asked. “You know, steal money from criminals with those programs of yours?”
“That’s my next step,” Basil replied. “Also, I think I will need the next week at least off. I still have not fully recovered from the strain of being healed, two weeks ago.” The other three shuddered involuntarily, especially Gilgul. None of them liked thinking back to that time.
“I told you you needed more time,” Gilgul whispered.
“I know. But I really wanted to try out my new grappling hook system, and you need more training. Speaking of which, how did you do those turns?”
“What turns?” Tyche asked, confused.
“A few times, she turned in ways that ignored the laws of inertia,” Hecate supplied, also looking at Gilgul.
The latter just shrugged. “Well, you know how I can enhance my abilities by burning off time I can spend in this form? Same thing for that, by burning off an extra minute or so, I can ignore inertia.”
Basil raised an eyebrow. “What else can you ignore that way? This might be one hell of an ability, perhaps more powerful than even your spear. Also, would it not be better to land, instead of floating? Preserve time?”
Gilgul touched down on the roof. “As far as I understand it, I can turn myself immune to anything I want, but it costs me time. A lot of time, depending on what it is.”
“You should look deeper into this,” Hecate supplied. “If you want, I can simulate a lot of effects in my lab,” she continued, referring to the room in Basil’s base that she had pretty much taken over. “We can try and find out how much time it takes you to resist lightning, or punches or gravity, or anything else I can create there.”
“I’d love to. How about we do that today, since Basil is going to take a break?”
“Sure, sure. I have the day off,” Hecate said. “And since school is still closed next week,” Two of Hastur’s minions had utterly demolished the Diantha High School, and reconstruction was still in progress, “We can spend as much time as you have on it!”
“What about me?” Tyche asked. The other two girls looked at her, obviously not knowing what to do with her.
“How about you try and find out if your power can interact with Gilgul’s?” Basil threw in. “Try and find out if your probability manipulation can affect her actions, and if Prisca can turn Gilgul immune to it?”
“How do we do that?” the three asked in chorus.
“You could try and find out if Gilgul can even hit her when Tyche does not want her to, or throw things at her. Get creative,” he said, rising. “Me, I need to get home, make dinner for Amy. Then I need to scrap this armor and design new equipment.”
“Wait, what?” all three replied in unison, again.
He shrugged in reply. “This armor has saved my life, but it is becoming a liability. It takes too much money to maintain, uses up too much energy and it is not nearly as effective as I thought it would be – I did not expect that we would run into quite so many high-level enemies who can mess it up. Since Gilgul is with us now, I can retreat from the frontlines and focus more on long-range combat, espionage and obfuscation,” he explained. “At the very least, I need to cut down on my resource consumption just for the armor, and develop better weaponry. Power armor is a good idea when you have resources like the Drakainas or Memento – and perhaps someone like Wyrm, provided she even bothers with combat – and a support staff for normal maintenance.”
“Polymnia doesn’t seem to have that problem,” Hecate said.
“Polymnia gets funding from the United Heroes, her armor is largely only modified by her after being built by others and she has the United Heroes staff to do maintenance for her, so she can focus on inventing new equipment,” Basil replied. “Frankly, if my power was not simply stronger than hers, she would have left me in the dust by now.” Not that I am entirely sure I did all of my work myself.
“Alright, so Bee Six will give himself a complete overhaul. Cool,” Tyche said. “How long you think it’s gonna take? And what do you plan to make, anyway?”
“As I said, long-range combat, espionage and obfuscation. It will probably take me at least a week to rig something up, a month until it is complete. But I will participate in patrols once I have the prototype ready and tested.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Hecate asked. “Already changing your entire approach…”
“I am a Gadgeteer,” he said with a note of pride in his voice. They could not see his face beneath the hood, but Gilgul at least was quite sure she saw a glimmer in his eyes. “Showing up with a new bag of tricks at every combat is a matter of professional pride for me.”
* * *
An hour and a half later, Basil had just finished dinner and put it on the table – just in time for Amy to come in wearing a… a pink cocktail dress, military boots and a clown mask pulled up to lie on top of her head?
She stumbled into the kitchen, giggling as her skin turned into a normal colour and her hair returned to its more natural shade.
He tilted his head to the side, looking at her. “What?”
Looking up, she giggled again. “Oh, sorry Basil. The job turned out to be a little… weird,” she said in between giggles. “Boss sent us out to do some espionage near Moscow, and Lamarr and I got caught up in some spy games.”
“And those involved wearing… that?” he asked.
“Don’t ask. You don’t want to know,” she said sitting down and kicking the boots off, as well as taking the mask off. “Anyway, you should watch the news today.”
“Why? What did you do?” he asked suspiciously. Despite his allegiance during the second world war, the Dark was not someone you could count on to fight on your side in a war. He certainly had fought on the opposite side during the Afghanistan conflict.
“Nothing newsworthy,” Amy replied, rubbing her feet. “But it turns out one of the Sovjet Union’s big ol’ secrets is gonna come out today. Chick named ‘The Devil’s Bride’.”
“Never heard of her,” he said. And he was quite sure of it.
“They’ve done their best to keep her a secret. And for good reason, bitch is nasty. But don’t let me spoil you, you’ll see it in the news. Now, food.”
He snorted, but let her eat in peace as he went over to the living room.
The war had begun… after a fashion. There had been a probing attack on the British mainland, a week ago, but nothing much had happened and people had just returned to being on the edge and waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Basil wondered what kind of person the Devil’s Bride had to be so newsworthy in the current climate.
Nothing good, I presume. Not with that name.
He turned on the television, switching through some shows before the news began. Then, just as Amy (in sweatpants and a shirt) joined him, the news started.