We all stared down at the dying villain, as he squirmed weakly on the ground, a sound coming from his mouth that was too ragged and burned to be called a moan.
“Fuck me, he’s still alive,” Warren whispered, clearly audible thanks to his helmet’s effect on his voice.
“Not for long,” Volca snarled and bent down, lifting her transformed arm.
I caught her by the wrist, ignoring the damage the heat did to my monkey skin. When she looked up at me with murderous eyes, I just sighed. “He’s already dead,” I told her. “His body just hasn’t caught up to it yet.”
She snarled at me but her arm reverted back to flesh and bone. “He’ll suffer more like this, anyway,” she concluded. “So, what’s next?” came the follow-up question.
I looked up from the squirming form on the ground to see Warren and Volca both looking intently at me (I couldn’t see Warren’s face, obviously, but I could feel his attention). Waiting for leadership. Fuck, why am I the designated leader?
Well. No use in complaining. I straightened up. “First, we need to take care of Volca’s wounds, and check up on Malphas.”
“He… he’s still alive?” Volca asked, her voice half hopeful and half incredulous. When I nodded, it was like a hundred tons had been lifted off her shoulders. Meanwhile, Warren had picked up his severed arm and attached it to his armor’s back, possibly with magnets of some kind.
“Warren, pick up the trash. I’d rather not leave him lying around unsupervised, not while he’s still alive.” He obeyed, using four smaller arms (including the one that had previously held a gun) to pick up the dying supervillain. I picked up Volca against her protests, and far more gently than Warren did with his charge, and we walked to where I’d left Malphas earlier.
Instead of the crippled preteen boy, though, we found my father – in his Rhino form – and a giant made of metal.
It stood a good twelve feet in height, its torso bulky, reinforced in the most simple way – by making it of a lot of steel. A lot of it. Its head was ridiculously tiny compared to the rest of it, a half-spherical helmet with a small eye slit and a crown of horns. Its arms and legs were oversized, too long, and made of tightly wound cords of metal, like exposed muscle in copper and steel, its hands and reverse-jointed, digitrade feet ending in razor-sharp claws.
Judging by the huge chunk of metal missing from the tenements, several tons of material had gone into its construction, metal compressed as far as it was possible – perhaps even a bit further. No way to tell, with how some powers could just plain ignore minor details like time, space and common sense.
Father was watching it as Malphas tested the movement of his new armor, before he turned to face the three of us.
I didn’t know about Warren, but Volca and I were staring at him, slackjawed, a particularly vivid expression in my case, since I still had my monkey skin up, and its jaw included two rows of razor-sharp teeth the size of an adult’s fingers.
“I’m good to go,” came Malphas’ voice from the headpiece, seemingly recovered from the ordeal.
I looked at him, then at my father, narrowing my eyes. Had he done something to give the boy a boost?
“You need to rest, Malphas,” I told him instead of pursuing that point right now. “You lost too much blood, you have to recover first.”
He shook his head – or rather, slid the slit he was looking through left and right – and lifted his new right arm, palm up. Then he clenched it into a fist, the metal flowing in smooth, life-like movements. “I’m good. And I need to go after the guy behind this, even if his patsy is down.” He threw a hate-filled look at the burned form Warren was carrying around. Blauschwinge had gone mostly still, the only indication of his not being dead being the odd squirming motion, and that ragged moan.
“Same here,” Volca said as I put her back on her feet – groaning when her weight settled on her cut and bruised legs – and got ready to say something more, when her gaze fell on Lag’s remains.
I didn’t want to watch. I’d seen this scene play out far too often in my life, yet I couldn’t avert my eyes from the sight of something behind her eyes breaking, couldn’t close my ears so as not to hear the soft, broken sound she made as she stumbled over to her, pulling her mask off to throw it aside.
She slid down onto her knees, a hand reaching out to touch Lag’s cheek. Warren turned away, Malphas looked down in self-blame, father looked at her in what I recognised as a pensive mood.
I approached him, leaning in to whisper. “No.”
He looked at me, his eyes amused. “No?”
He nodded. “Alright.” He stepped away.
I approached the sobbing girl – and I couldn’t think of her as a woman right now, all I could think of was the lost girl I’d seen in her eyes, heard in her voice – and knelt down next to her, dismissing my monkey skin entirely. She didn’t react when I put an arm around her shoulder. I didn’t talk. As bad as the situation was, we could afford to give her a few minutes.
“I should be the one who died,” she finally said.
“Why?” I said, not bothering to contradict her. She wouldn’t be receptive to that.
“He hit me. I was reckless, and he hit me. I thought I was dead, I knew I was dead but she… she…” Her voice broke, she hunched over more and sobbed desperately, making small, sad sounds.
“She took the harm, took it on herself. But it was too much, all at once. Even her power couldn’t compensate,” I finished for her. My gaze went to the dead girl’s head, and I reached out to remove that featureless mask. Beneath, she looked so very… cold. Not peaceful. Just dead, but… there was something graceful about her delicate face. Death had lifted all pain and stress from her. You must’ve loved her so very much.
“Sh-sh-she always did that,” Volca sobbed, and then it all came out like a flood. “When my mom died, her family took me in. She took me in, like I was really her sister, not her dad’s by-blow with a hooker. When her parents died, she took care of me. When we ended up on the streets, she took care of me, always… always being there. I was such a little bitch, I screwed it all up. Got powers, became a criminal even though she wanted me to be better. Got hurt, she got powers and took the hurt away, all for me. And now… I dragged her into this, I… she’s dead…”
I pulled her close, holding her with one arm while she cried and shivered. I didn’t speak – I’d gone through this often enough to know that platitudes like “it’ll be alright” or “you shouldn’t blame yourself” wouldn’t mean shit.
Instead, I waited for a minute or two, then I looked at my father. Wordlessly, he produced a compact first aid kit and handed it to me. I let go of Volca and started taking care of her wounds.
“What did you find out?” I asked him, while I worked on her.
“I found the Ascendant. He’s holed up in the lowest level of the Undercity, beneath the old Downtown area,” he explained calmly.
I nodded. Figures he’d go deep. “Defences?”
“About two scores of juiced up thugs, but no other metahumans, as far as I can tell,” he replied. “This… is troubling. It’s so very unlike the usual Gefährten operations. I can’t begin to guess what they’re up to, as it is.”
I frowned, and turned to Malphas, who was watching me and Volca. “Did Blauschwinge say anything? Why’d he attack here?”
“He came after these two for not killing that lawyer,” Malphas explained. “He wanted me to hand them over, but I wouldn’t do that, so we fought.”
Volca spoke up, though her eyes remained glued to her sister’s face. “He kept ranting something about some kind of test he had to pass or something.” Her voice was calm now, steady, but the hurt showed through still.
“Test? Are you sure he spoke of a test?” father asked, his voice animated. It was more of a reaction than I’d seen in him show at my running away from home, though that might’ve been simply due to the role he was playing, and not genuine agitation. It was always hard to tell where the mask ended and the man began.
“Yes,” she replied simply, without paying him further attention.
“I heard him rant about it, too,” Warren confirmed her story. “He also said something about ‘that bitch Skyfall’ – in German, though – and a ‘fearless leader’.”
“Aap Oordra,” my father snapped. “I need to talk to you. Privately. Now.”
I looked up at him with a frown, having just finished applying first aid to Volca’s worst injuries. “I’m not done h-“
“I can do that,” Warren threw in. “I’ve got first aid training and all.” His armor opened up, letting him climb out in full costume.
I nodded and let him take over – not that Volca seemed to notice – so I could walk a big away from the group and behind some old, rusted machine that still stood there.
“What is it?” I asked my father.
He turned around from where he’d been watching the group, leaning against the edge of the machine. “That’s an interesting group you’ve gathered,” he said, apparently unconcerned about anything.
“Yes, they are. Now, why’d you freak out? Don’t deny you did,” I cut off his denial. “Who is Skyfall, and what’s this thing about a fearless leader?”
“Not a fearless leader. Just Fearless Leader. It’s a codename… though an informal one, I think,” he explained. “It’s how the members of the Gefährten refer to the organisation’s leader, instead of using whatever his actual codename may be.”
I goggled at him. “Wait, are you implying that even you don’t know who’s behind all this?” The Dark not knowing about his greatest rival for the title of ‘Number One Supervillain’? That was about as realistic as there being a sin the Devil has never indulged in.
“I’ve never been able to find out. Gwen doesn’t know, or at least she won’t share. Any member I’ve ever interrogated either didn’t know or didn’t give it up. For all I know, Fearless Leader may as well not exist, and the three top executives are just pretending like he does while being the actual leaders.”
“I assume Skyfall is connected to these top executives?”
He nodded. “They are the Gefährten’s elite. The most powerful, devious and successful of its members. The names have been passed down since the inception of the group, from person to person, usually upon the former bearer’s death – sometimes at the hands of their successor.”
“Bad news, eh?”
“Very. Heaven’s Dancer – the only one with but a single bearer, she’s an original member of the group – is by far the worst of them. Then there’s Cloudlander – he’s held his name for almost twenty years now, longer than anyone else save for Heaven’s Dancer. And they have a recently ascended member, Skyfall. I only knew that it’s a teenager behind that name. Now I can infer that it’s also a girl or woman.” He sighed. “Gathering intel on them is a pain.”
“I guess so. So, why’d you freak out so much? You didn’t pull me aside just to expose on this.” He tapped his foot, annoyed, at the accusation of a freakout. Ah, pride is so easy to tease.
“Because I think I know what’s going on here – and it’s worse than them just being after your daughter and her friends,” he said calmly without responding to my jab any further. “They’re testing the Ascendant and Blauschwinge.”
“The Gefährten have long traditions associated with the codenames they use. Both ‘the Ascendant’ and ‘Blauschwinge’ are legacies passed down for the better part of a century. You don’t just get one of these names for free. You’ve got to earn it. And then you have to keep it.”
I frowned, crossing my arms in a move that, though I’d never admit it out loud, mirrored his own stance almost perfectly. “So this is all… a performance review?”
He chuckled. “Never thought of using that term, but yes, that applies. Blauschwinge is… was famously unstable, and too arrogant. He got his name by killing his predecessor, and he hasn’t exactly performed well. Too many failures, too many retreats without accomplishing anything other than mindless destruction. It’s their practice to put people who are not living up to their name to the test. Send them out, tell them to do something that’ll impress the leadership – or die trying.”
“So what, he and the Ascendant are causing chaos just so they’ll get to keep their names!? What kind of priority is that!? And why’s the Ascendant on review?”
“Their names are their lifes, Aap Oordra. They live and die with them, unless they step down to pass them on – and neither of them is likely to want to give up the power and prestige that comes with those names, especially the Ascendant; he’d lose all or at least most of his funding without the backing of his name. And as to why he’s on review…” He shrugged, rolling his huge shoulders in an equally huge motion. “I can only speculate, but the Ascendant’s purpose has always been to find means by which to ascend humans – to let them manifest powers. Yet the current Ascendant has been… less than successful. As far as I know, he only had one truly impressive success – the incident during which Dearheart and her friends gained their powers, and even there, his success rate was just barely above the normal power distribution. This is just speculation, but his superiors are most likely fed up with him and have given him this one last chance to retain his name.”
I looked down at my feet, not sure how to react to this new information. All this, for what amounted to a performance review? I shook my head. No use brooding about morals right now. “Do you think he’s going to go after Chayot and the others?”
He shook his head. “No, or at least not primarily. Capturing them won’t help him retain his name – he needs to validate that he can live up to it, which means…”
“Somehow causing multiple manifestations in a short amount of time,” I concluded. “We need to take him down fast, before he causes a tragedy… another tragedy.” I looked at the others – they were talking among each other, with Malphas having opened his armor, reshaped the chest into a comfortable-looking seat for him to sit on. Volca seemed to be focused on Malphas’ injury, her own now properly taken care of. “Let’s involve them. They might come up with a good idea.”
He shrugged and followed me back to the group. I quickly explained the state of things to them. “Now we need to figure out what he’s up to, and stop him from doing it.”
“The guy wants to make lots of people manifest, right?” Malphas spoke up, his eyes dark and focused. “From what I know of history, most who want that try to just hurt as many people as they can.”
I snarled under my breath, though I immediately regretted it – the sound, twisted and amplified by my monkey skin, made everyone but my father flinch. “Judging by his history, I doubt he’ll be any more inventive.” I looked at my father. “So the question is, how is he going to do it?”
“He’s a contriver,” my father explained. “He has a huge breadth of options to choose from; however, to my knowledge, he prefers to use drugs and potions – he usually has several thugs with him which have been empowered by his creations – as well as long-term torture, both physical and psychological.”
My monkey nails dug into its palms as I was reminded of what he’d done to my daughter. “So, how could he use that to affect a large enough number of people… can he make poison gas? A hallucinogenic, perhaps? It would be easy to affect a lot of people with that.”
Volca bit her lip, shoulders hunched, and shuddered. I couldn’t tell Warren’s reaction, but it couldn’t be good. Malphas shivered. Father seemed fine.
“I can’t be certain, but I believe he’s only ever worked with liquids,” he stated.
I nodded. Warren shook his ‘head’. “This is crazy,” he breathed, exasperated. “What kind of madman… how’d he even spread a drink like that around? And why’s he beneath Old Downtown?”
“Because…” I began, but cut off. I had no idea. There wasn’t really anything interesting there, not since large parts of Chicago had burned down back in nineteen-seventy-two. “I don’t know. There isn’t much there, it’s mostly just some public facilities, like the power station, the purifi-“
“The water works!” Malphas shouted in horror.
We all looked at each other for a moment, and I was sure even my father shared our mortification.
Then we all ran towards the Old Downtown area.
Today is a good day!
Agreed. Nice to have some more information on the Companions of the Future.
This time I had the interesting sensation of finding this before I got an email for it. I’d just been keeping up to date with comments, go figure.
Hmm, just a quick question. Which city does Basil live in, and which one is this?
Basil lives in New Lennston (fictionnal city), and the Monkey stories take place in Chicago
Iirc, this is Chicago. Basil lives in ‘New Lenniston’, which I believe does not exist irl. That being said, I’m 95% sure that New Lenniston is on the East coast of the US. I suspect that it is Brennus-verse’s version of New York City. Much the way that certain other publications have Gotham City, or Metropolis.
New Lennston is on the east coast, north of New York City
there is no version of NYC other than NYC. even in this setting
you’ll get to see how things are done in NYC later
I guess that makes sense. I assumed that New Lenniston replaced NYC because it gets talked about more.
That being said, how NL is described feels more like Portland, OR, where I live. Which is to say, we have a few towers, but it’s not that big or urbanized compared to places like NYC or LA.
even before it was destroyed by DiL, New Lennston had been the center of North America’s metahuman society… and battles. thus it had developed differently from what one would expect of a city of its size.
after DiL wrecked it, the rebuilding efforts focused on creating a city that could better take metahumans duking it out
Nice, also logical in the way the Ascendant intends to work his trade.
I’m also pleasantly surprised on how the Gefarthen or however it’s spelled operates, their people have not only to earn their position, but also maintain their worth
they are very competitive
Fits, what with them being a “survival of the fittest” I have to say, I think you have one of the most interesting, fleshed out, brilliant ‘Verse’s in fiction. If not in everyone’s opinion, then in mine. Yer Awesum, Ties!
The villains are wrecking havoc because of… a performance review…
That’s one of the most creative and scary motive for villainy I have ever read.
I wonder if villain organizations have ISO inspections too… nah, they would insist on putting handrails on the catwalks over the bottomless pits or something similar.
Don’t ISO standards vary somewhat by industry? The villainous ISO standards might require that no less than half the fall hazards be unprotected by railings.
After all, a mook that just fell into the pirana tank won’t mug the inspector’s grandmother.
Hey Tieshaunn. How do the different special stars such as Exotic star, Supernova, Quasar, D1 and D2 work? Just wondering so if we do have characters with them, we’re able to play them right first time round.
generally, they are played as any other character. 99% of all metas are not even aware there is a difference
With some, like D1 and D2, it’s pretty obvious. there is an element of death/decay there, whether the power is going away or the meta himself is going to die soon. they might not immediately realise that, though. it could be a subtle process
with Quasar, you essentially have a partly independent sub-character who is ACTUALLY in charge of the power. look at Irene (though she’s an extreme case). she’s hardly in control of her power, and is, at best, guiding it. depending on how cooperative the tenant is in those cases, you might have a metahuman with a really useful ally, or a hero who is saddled with an uncontrollable power that does what it wants, usually at the worst possible times
but aside from those, they mostly play the same way.
I wouldn’t use Black or White holes, though, not for player characters at least
Okay. Thanks for the information. How exactly do you decide if the tenant is cooperative? Theme? Personality? Trigger? Mixture of that combined other stuff?
all of that, plus synchronisation. that last one hasn’t shown up in the story yet, not explicitely, and I have yet to write down the exact workings, so you can ignore it for now.
I’d just take the theme, and roll some dice and just go with what fits the concept
Cool, good to know.
you can roll on this list, if you want:
1 – The Warrior: the tenant expects that their host be forward, aggressive and assertive. diving headfirst into issues, fighting front and center. tackling challenges in a direct, obvious way.
2 – The Sage: the inverse of the warrior; indirect, subtle means are preferred. staying back and analysing the challenge over diving in; the prototypical mastermind
3 – The Rogue: strike directly at the problem, but not obviously. subterfuge is valued as much if not more than speed; direct does not mean crudely, for skill is also valued
4 – The Mage: self-important and assertive, the mage strikes indirectly, but obviously, towering over others; appearances are as important, if not more so, than actual results. never take a back seat
5 – The Kind: support and empower others. Your own success is measured by how well those you support succeed; the lone wolf routine is abhorred, teamplay is the name of the game – and there is no I in team!
6 – The Cruel: have others do the work for you. whether through trickery or force, it is preferable that others take your risks, while you reap the rewards; it’s not necessary that people KNOW you are dominant, but it is damn well necessary that everyone ACTS that way – even if it’s not a conscious decision
7 – The Almighty: you and your tenant have bonded on an uncommonly deep level, enabling some form of direct (though not necessarily efficient) communication; whether it is through dreams, daydreams, the manipulation of your emotions, weird flashes of insight or just straight voices in your head that mostly just speak gibberish, but sometimes make sense, your tenant actually TELLS you how it’d like you to behave – though whether or not you’ll interpret the signs right or wrong is a whole different matter.
8 – The Fool: take a leap of faith. planning ahead is for losers; trust yourself, trust your power, your tenant and just GO. slow down and you stumble, hesitate and you fall; the only way is ahead, the only direction is forward
whatever a character rolls, their power will generally be stronger/faster/more reliable when they’re in tune (synchronised) with their tenant, and less so when out of tune; furthermore, prolonged lack of synchronisation will lead to NASTY side effects (sleep deprivation, unstable emotions to the point of bipolarity, memory issues, randomly firing or lacking motivation) on top of difficulty with controlling one’s power.
perfect synchronisation (extremely rare) confers additional perks such as a high resistance to power nullification, mental manipulation, ease of heterodyning and a greater chance of developing new tricks
this is strictly background stuff; in-universe, there are maybe 20 people, worldwide, who know about this, and none of them is going public with this knowledge (yet). figuring out how to work with their power is something necessary for all metahumans, though some do it instinctually;
Tyche, for example, has a Fool, and she’s instinctually in tune with her tenant, which is why her power is so much more reliable than probability manipulators usually are
the type of tenant does NOT influence what kind of power you have; a mastermind like Kudzu may have a Sage, which would be the stereotype – or they might have any other; there are warrior gadgeteers and kind bricks, rogue contrivers and mage blasters
The Ascendant is going to poison the water supply. I should have seen that coming the moment a supervillain with a poisenous liquid showed up, it’s so comic booky.
the classics are classics for a reason
There aren’t that many way to poison a whole city using liquid, the only other one I see is artificial rain. Putting it in the water supply is a whole lot easier than that.
Though if I was a supervillain I would make a very public plan of poisonning the rain, but send a small group of henchmen to put the poison in the water supply anyway. Poison rain is more ambitious but has more chance to fail if heroes show up, still it’s scary enough to draw attention, and since I’m doing it for real it can’t really be ignored.
Hey Tieshaunn. Is it possible for a mentally stable Junior Hero with stage 1 Chimera to still go to school?
if he’s not a threat to other students, sure. doesn’t mean it’s wise, but certainly possible.
also depends on the powers in question. telepathy? no. any form of mind control? no. powers depending on rage? no fucking way.
as for his chimaerism – are his mutations dangerous? if so, can he nullify the threat? if his skin is permanently secreting acid, then he won’t be allowed to go to normal school, unless he can wear a special suit to cover it up; is he covered in razorsharp blades? again, can he cover them up?
also, there’s the obvious question of a secret identity – namely, he won’t have one, unless he can cover up his changes.
but to sum it up, no, there’s no inherent reason why a teenager wouldn’t be allowed to go to school. that’d be discrimination, and that’s illegal. but if they’re judged to be too dangerous for school, then they’ll have to be either homeschooled or take special classes provided by the UH
only reason someone like Irene was allowed into school was because she was only a guest lecturer AND her mother owns the school AND she actually has a clean public record
I figured that was the case with the Physique teenaged metahumans, but I wanted to make sure.