Basil fired a shot, aiming squarely for the man’s head.
The Protector – or whoever was pretending to be him – made no move to dodge, nor show any reaction at all, really, when the blast hit him on the side of his forehead, glancing off with sparks and a sharp sound. It didn’t even stir his hair.
The man tilted his head, squinting at the shooter. “Now now, young man, let’s not get ahead of ourselves – how about an introduction first?” he asked, his disposition still very genial, in stark contrast to the situation at hand. He flourished his cape and bowed with perfect grace. “Jason Davon, also known as the Protector; I wish we could have met under less ominous circumstances, young ones.”
They just stared at the legend from the West Coast, not sure how to respond. Basil even lowered his rifle, though partly because he didn’t think it stood a chance of actually harming the man anyway.
In the end, it was Tartsche who gathered his wits about him first, taking a few steps forward (putting himself between the Protector and the rest of the group).
“It’s, it’s an honour to meet you, Sir,” he said, his voice cracking slightly at the beginning. “I’m… I mean, my name is Tartsche, and I’m a member of the United Junior Heroes.”
The Protector nodded, still smiling that maddeningly calming smile, even as Basil and the others re-ordered themselves behind Tartsche.
Spellgun and Tyche moved up to flank the untouchable hero. The former dropped to one knee in a shooter’s position, leaning against Tartsche’s leg, while Tyche simply reached out and touched Tartsche’s shoulder, as if to support him. Both of them promptly vanished from Basil’s sensors, much like Tartsche had moments earlier, as he dropped and immediately re-activated his power.
“It’s nice to meet a fellow hero,” the tall man spoke, watching them curiously, with no hint of anxiety or worry. “What brings you here?”
Bakeneko slid up to Osore, who was already starting to bulk up, if slowly, attaching herself to his back with her arms wrapped around his neck, her body from the neck down shifting into a mass of furry tentacles tipped by stingers, though the whole process took several seconds to complete.
“We’re hunting a super-villain,” Tartsche replied. “We were just about to take a train to a station near where we believe her to be, when we were drawn into… this.” He gestured around at the empty space around them, and at the mystic drawings above.
Gloom Glimmer floated forward, taking up position to the right of Tartsche, her cloak billowing in an unseen, unfelt breeze, while Polymnia joined Basil on the other side and further behind. Hecate stayed behind, quietly whispering something as she dug into a leather pouch on her belt.
The Protector tilted his head the other way, studying them all, one after the other, as if he had all the time in the world. “A commendable effort – quite a shame you had to end up in this situation, of all.” He sighed, looking around at the empty area, then raised his voice: “You know, it’s quite rude not to greet your guests!”
Once more the woman’s voice boomed from every direction at the same time, so loud Basil had trouble making out the individual words.
“AND IT’S PATHETIC THAT YOU’RE TRYING TO STALL, PROTECTOR! NOW FIGHT THESE INSOLENT RUNTS AND TEACH THEM THE FOLLY OF CHALLENGING THE COMPANIONS OF THE FUTURE!!!”
He had no such trouble making out the individual exclamation points, though.
The Protector frowned, growning softly as he closed his eyes. Then he took a deep breath, opening them again, looking at them all with eyes as gray and hard as steel. “Brace yourselves, young ones!”
“Wait, what’s g-” Tartsche began to protest, but he was cut off when the Protector charged straight at him, reaching for his throat.
His hand came into contact with it, only to fail to get a grip, or so much as budge the teenager by a hair.
Everyone else immediately opened up; Spellgun and Tyche all but put their weapons’ respective muzzles to his chest and pulled their triggers, Osore fired a twisting, uneasy-to-look-at fear blast from his fist, Gloom Glimmer threw out what appeared to be ropes of light, only they were buzzing like actual buzzsaws and Polymnia opened up with the speakers on her wrists, projecting beams of sounds so intense they visibly distorted the air.
None of it did a thing, other than Spellgun’s bullet, which covered his chest in rapidly spreading, purplish ice, and maybe Polymnia’s sound attack, which made the man look annoyed. Everything else either slid off of him or was deflected without any visible effect upon him, even Gloom Glimmer’s contribution. Hecate, meanwhile, slid down onto her knees, her head held low as if in surrender – or contemplation.
Basil, who’d refrained from firing on him – he’d already seen that even a headshot was less than an inconvenience on the man – instead threw himself at Polymnia, tackling her out of the way the Protector’s heat vision shot through where her chest had been just moments before.
“I very much dislike sonic attacks, young lady,” the man spoke reprovingly as he flexed his chest and arm muscles, blowing off the ice Spellgun’s bullet had coated him with. “Please refrain from annoying me so.”
Gloom Glimmer rose up behind him, her fists raised above her head and clasped together, bringing them down on his head with all her strength, creating an impact so powerful it blew everyone else but the three under the protection of Tartsche’s power and Hecate, who was kneeling in the blast shadow of the three, away.
Basil briefly lost sight of what was going on as he and Polymnia tumbled across the smooth floor, until they ended up a tangled mess of stiff, armored limbs.
His head ringing, he clumsily disentangled himself from her before she accidently broke his bones when she tried the same – they really were tangled up quite badly.
Fortunately, Polymnia was better off than he was, and clear-headed enough to free herself without issue, getting up on her feet faster than he did.
Getting up on his knees, he shot out his grappling hooks, attaching them to the floor in front of him just in time to brace himself against the gale-like winds; raising an arm, he wrapped it around Polymnia’s waist as she dropped down as well, helping her hold out against the pressure.
Together they watched as Gloom Glimmer rained blows on the Protector, who seemed to have been smashed down onto the ground, spreading spider-web-like cracks several metre in every direction except beneath Tartsche, Tyche and Spellgun – the ground beneath them was as spotless as before.
The Protector himself was on his back, looking up at the furious teen raining down earth-shattering blows upon him, seeming none the worse for wear – if anything, he looked pensive.
Finally seeming to have had enough of the torrent of blows, he rose up, forcing Gloom Glimmer to fly up as well, her machine-gun-like storm of blows stopping finally, ending the gales of air that the shockwaves had created.
Not a scratch on him, Basil thought in awe. He’d heard how tough the Protector had been – until DiL, no one had ever managed to cause him serious harm – yet it was one thing to read about it (or see in the countless tv specials and movies it was shown or mentioned) and actually see it in action.
“You know…” the man began to speak, rising up slowly towards Gloom Glimmer, “I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen you before – and I never forget a face. Yet I just can’t seem to place you…”
“You knew my older sister,” Gloom Glimmer replied while bringing her hands together in front of her, creating a red spark that quickly grew to the size of a peach hovering between her palms. “She killed you.”
She threw her arms out, launching the sphere at at him.
The Protector made no move to dodge or defend, simply allowing it to hit his chest.
There was a sharp crack and the sound of air rushing in, stirring his cloak, but nothing else happened.
“FOOLS!! DID YOU THINK A MERE TELEPORATION TRICK WOULD BE ENOUGH TO BRING DOWN THE PROTECTOR HIMSELF!?! I DO NOT CHOOSE MY MINIONS LIGHTLY!!!!”, the woman’s voice boomed, making Basil wish he had a pair of Polymnia’s ear protectors at hand. It was actually rattling him through his helmet.
Four exclamation marks on that last one. That can’t be a good sign. He looked around, switching through various scan modes, trying to pick up any useful information.
All he got was a headache from the scrambled images his sensors gave him as they tried to make sense of the discombobulated energies that seemed to flow through this pocked reality without pattern nor purpose.
The Protector, meanwhile, looked around in annoyance, before turning to Gloom Glimmer again, as another attack simply splashed off of his chest, as did several shots from Spellgun, each of whom delivered a different effect.
“So rude,” he said with a sigh, shaking his head before he turned to look at Gloom Glimmer again. “I’m sorry, but did you just say you are that baby’s sister?” he asked with a politely curious expression on his face.
Osore tackled him, having grown to nearly twice his size and several times his original weight, but bounced off to no effect. Bakeneko tried to strangle him with her tentacles, her stingers going for his eyes.
The Protector ignored them entirely, other than gently brushing the stingers aside after they failed to penetrate his eyes.
“Yeah. I’m Gloom Glimmer – Lady Light’s and the Dark’s second daughter,” the hooded heroine spoke softly, her arms hanging down her sides. She wasn’t trying another attack, for whatever reason, nor could Basil detect any kind of invisible energy emanations from her – not that that said much, as he doubted he had enough sensors to pick up everything she could do. The only thing he could pick up, other than that annoying background radiation, was the soft glow that encompassed them all, red for him and his comrades, blue for the Protector.
The latter looked at her, stunned. “That child was theirs, huh? Did they manage to save her?” he asked, his voice turning hopeful as a sniper round from Tyche’s rifle flattened itself against his cheek, before it slid off.
Gloom Glimmer’s head jerked back, nearly causing her hood to fall off and reveal her face – what little Basil could see of it seemed… shocked.
“She destroyed your city. She killed you! And what you worry about is whether she was saved?” she asked, incredulous.
He tilted his head to the side again, floating up so he was at eye level with her. “Of course. What man wouldn’t want to see a child safe?” he asked, softly. “She was but a babe when she appeared; am I right in assuming that she’d just been born when her powers… manifested?”
“Actually, it happened even before, before she was born,” she replied, lowering her head as her hands clenched into fists. “She manifested in the womb and…” She bit her lower lip, the only part of her still visible, falling quiet.
“Ah, I’m very sorry,” he replied gently. “Though I’m glad that Lady Light survived it.” He smiled reassuringly. “To answer your question, I hold no ill will towards her, no more than I would hold towards a newborn that soiled itself.” He clasped his hands behind his back as several bullets and a blast of raw fear splashed over and off the back of his head and his back. “One must only be accused of that which they choose to do, not that which they have no control over in the first place.”
Something he said seemed to strike home, because Gloom Glimmer made a soft sound, hiding deeper into her cloak, drawing it around herself like it could protect her.
Basil stopped his last attempts to shoot at him – at this point, he was just wasting ammunition. The others seemed to come to the same conclusion, as the barrage of attacks that the Protector had ignored so far ceased.
Bakeneko helped Osore get up again, using her arms to straighten the arm he’d broken when he tried a flying punch at the old hero’s back.
“What has become of her?” the invincible man asked.
“She’s been destroying towns, cities and whole countries, ever since,” she answered truthfully. “Appearing and vanishing with no rhyme or reason. No one’s managed to stop her in twenty-six years.”
“That’s horrible,” he said simply, as he looked over his shoulder at the trio standing below. His eyes glowed red, firing off a burst of heat vision that failed to harm them, thanks to Tartsche’s power; not that he seemed to have put any effort into it – an attack more like an afterthought.
Not that it would take more than an after thought for him to kill us, if he actually tried, Basil thought to himself as he went through his options.
His rifle was useless. His gauntlet might be able to protect him from a few hits, but that was all it was good for. Its offensive setting required melee range, and he was not so foolish as to get within close range of that man.
Which left… he looked down at his strangest invention yet, attached to his thigh via a simple magnetic charge.
The silvery-black ovoid, covered in circuit-like patterns much like his gauntlet, looked as innocious as anything he’d ever made.
No, not yet. There’s no guarantee that it’d do anything against him, and I can’t afford to lose it.
He looked at Polymnia, hoping that she might have an idea, but all he saw on her face was worry and fear. No help there.
The others seemed to be similarly dumbfounded as to what to do, except for Hecate, who was hunched over now, her hands cupped on the ground in front of her, as she kept chanting in Greek, or perhaps Ancient Greek – they both sounded the same to Basil, melodious yet non-sensical other than the odd word here or there that seemed to be the origin for an English one.
Since she seemed busy – and fortunately, the Protector had been ignoring her entirely so far – he focused on the dialogue between the two strongest persons in the room.
“-r power,” the Protector said, still addressing Gloom Glimmer. “It feels strange. Familiar, yet off.”
She turned her head away. “It’s the same as hers… just weaker.”
“Are you certain?” he asked, looking surprised. “It feels nothing like hers… almost the inverse, I’d say. Or perhaps the opposite?” He stroked his chin, looking closer at her. “Are you absolutely certain it’s the same?”
“ENOUGH OF THIS!” the woman shouted in anger. “YOU ARE DELIBERATELY WASTING TIME! I TOLD YOU TO FIGHT!!!!”
The Protector sighed again. “I’m sorry about this,” he spoke, looking at Gloom Glimmer – though Basil was pretty sure he was adressing all of them. “But I can’t refuse her commands, much as I’d love to.”
His eyes flared red, sending forth twin beams of bright red light straight through Gloom Glimmer’s chest – to no avail, as she simply dissolved into a black mist that surged forward, enveloping his head, rushing into his mouth, his nose, his ears.
Within moments, she had entered completely into his body.
“Nice idea,” he said, chuckling in amusement, seemingly unbothered by the experience. “But I’m every bit as tough on the inside as I am on the outside, little miss.” He rolled his eyes. “Yes, even my brain. Please, you’ll just end up hurting yourself like this.”
Even as he spoke, he turned around, looking at Basil and Polymnia.
“Gadgeteers, huh? Don’t you have some trick up your sleeve that could make this interesting?” he asked Polymnia and him, as he flew closer.
Even standing (well, floating) straight, he moved forward almost too fast for Basil to react, reaching for them with one hand each.
If he touches us, we’re dead, Basil thought as his mind raced to find a way to escape him.
Fortunately, Polymnia was able to move fast enough to do so for him, grabbing him by the waist and leaping away with a massive effort of strength, even for her.
She leapt at the Protector, though.
“What are y-” he began, but cut himself off when he realised they were sailing over the Protector, who flew on for a moment before he turned around, tracking their arc.
Before he could nail them with his heat vision – if that was what he intended – a bullet hit him from Spellgun, straight in the face.
It had little effect, other than to coat his face in ice again. He simply sneezed, shattering the ice and expelling Gloom Glimmer in one move with such force, her mist-form slammed into Basil and Polymnia, bowling them over as they landed and she solidified again.
Ow, Basil groaned as they ended up with both girls lying on top of him. Polymnia in particular was very heavy. There was the sound of shouting and shooting, followed by the grinding sound of bursting ice, but he couldn’t see it because someone’s butt was on his face.
He growned, pushing the two girls off of him as he got up on his feet.
The Protector was trying to get at the immobile trio, again, to no avail, as they fired at him with their various rifles. Only Spellgun’s contrived shots seemed to even register, even if only as annoyances rather than actual threats.
Fortunately, for all of his power, even the Protector seemed incapable of penetrating Tartsche’s defense, be it with his eye beams or his fists, causing an almost comical, brief scene where he seemed to flail as if drunk, his hands sliding off of their heads, throats and weapons, his heat vision failing to so much as heat up anything it touched.
“Hm, interesting,” he said, as he floated back gracefully. “Reminds me of when I fought that baby, she was similarly protected… actually, did anyone bother to give her a name?”
“Desolation-in-Light, Sir,” Tartsche replied respectfully. “We call her Desolation-in-Light, or DiL for short.”
The tall man frowned at that. “That’s a horrible name. What kind of imbecile came up with it?”
Basil couldn’t be sure, given Tartsche’s knightly helmet, but he would’ve bet on him blushing a bit.
“Uh, I actually don’t know who started it. I just… uh, I grew up with it, Sir,” the invulnerable boy responded, sounding as calm as ever.
“Well, it fits as well as any,” Spellgun drawled while he reloaded his rifle. “It’s tacky, yeah, but ‘Desolation-in-Light’ kinda fits l-“
“Bree!” Gloom Glimmer screamed, her voice nearly cracking as she rose up on her feet, her arms thrown wide open, cloak billowing around her. “Her name is BREE!!!”
She threw her arms out forward and unleashed a new power, a beam so bright it blinded Basil even through his visor, creating a sound so loud it deafened him, as if the air itself cracked.
The beam lanced forth, slamming into the Protector – not Spellgun, as even Basil thought it would, for a moment – and then it was too bright to see.
When his vision cleared again, there was a furrow in the otherwise perfect floor, whatever material it was made of disintegrated by her beam even though it hadn’t come close to touching the ground.
There was no sign of the Protector.
Gloom Glimmer didn’t seem to care, as she whirled to glare at Spellgun, her eyes glowing red. “And if I hear any of you use that idiotic appelation ever again, I’ll force-feed you your own colon!” she screamed, her voice distoring towards the end, resembling her father’s much more than her own.
“Duly noted…” Spellgun said in a barely audible whisper.
The others just stared at her, even Basil.
Then there was a rush of wind, and something crashed into ground just a few metre away, throwing up dust as the ground cracked more, making Basil and Polymnia stumble.
When the dust settled, they saw the Protector rise to stand straight once more, his face twisted in discomfort.
There was a hole in his chest, right above his lung, perhaps even penetrating deep enough to damage it, the edges not burned, but smooth, bleeding heavily.
Even as they watched, it was visibly healing.
“Fun fact,” the Protector spoke, his voice as strong as ever, so likely no lung damage… if that would even inconveniene him. “I never knew before I fought… Bree’s her name, right?… before I fought Bree, but I actually regenerate!” He looked down at his own wound, watching it heal. “Ugh, this looks disgusting, yet kind of amazing.” He reached for the wound, poking it curiously. “Ow,” he flinched, pulling his hand back. “Pain, right. It’s been a while since I felt that.” He shook his hand, causing the blood on his finger to simply fly off, unable to stick even to the cloth of his costume. “I’m not surprised you managed to hurt me, though,” he said to Gloom Glimmer with his customary genial smile. “Only ones who ever managed that before were your parents, and your sister.”
Gloom Glimmer just stared at him, her mouth hanging open, though whether it was at him having survived her attack or his flippant attitude, Basil couldn’t tell.
What he could tell was that her beam had been far wider than the wound they could see; yet the rate at which his body…
Basil squinted, looking closer.
Not just his body – even his costume was repairing itself!
Either way, at the rate it healed, it shouldn’t have had time to fix a bigger wound just yet. Meaning that, most likely, only the most concentrated part of the beam had actually done any damage at all.
Sighing, he walked over to Gloom Glimmer, as an unnatural calm descendet upon him. He’s just toying with us, he thought. He hasn’t even used his compelling voice, yet. And he should be much faster than he’s shown himself to be, yet. So either he’s been revived in a weaker state, or else…
He’s holding back, the Man in the Moon spoke up. This guy’s a hero, right? Like, he’s the hero. The guy the fanfic writers always pair up with Lady Light. He wouldn’t want to really hurt any of us. For crying out loud, he doesn’t even hate the bitch who killed him!
Basil came to a stop next to Gloom Glimmer, throwing a glance at Hecate, who seemed still busy casting her spell, shielded from the effects of the fight by the blast shadow of the immovable trio. She was bent over her staff, holding onto it with her left hand, while her right one was held above its head, fingers moving as she seemed to be incanting a spell.
He tapped Gloom Glimmer’s shoulder, then tapped his temple when she looked at him. Her eyes widened briefly, before she got his meaning, and then he felt a slight pressure on his mind. He also looked at Tyche, making a few subtle hand signals, out of sight from the Protector and, hopefully, his master, as he couldn’t reach her communicator through Tartsche’s power. She nodded, leaning over to Tartsche to whisper something.
The three of them reappared in his sensors readings.
The contriver, she commanded him to fight us, Basil thought, focusing the thought to be transmitted the way he’d learned from Amy.
Yeah, which is why we’re so screwed, Spellgun replied through their mental link. Owww… I’m already getting a headache! He flinched, scrunching his face up.
Sorry, it’s hard to separate my feelings from my power, Gloom Glimmer replied mechanically, with no real guilt in her mental voice.
Fair enough, I guess… Spellgun admitted.
We are not as screwed as it may seem, Basil spoke up.
What do you mean, B-Six? Tyche asked.
Barely a second had passed since the conversation began.
I mean that he has been holding back this whole time, he explained. He has not even tried to attack Hecate, our most vulnerable member, and he has mostly focused on attacking either the ones under Tartsche’s power – first with an attack that would not have hurt any of you even if it had connected – or Gloom Glimmer, who can take anything he can dish out.
How would he know that? Tartsche asked, his mental voice even calmer than his real one. He clearly didn’t know what her power’s like beforehand.
People often forget his expanded senses, Gloom Glimmer answered before Basil could. He could probably tell I had defensive powers up.
But why would he be holding back like that? That bitch gave him an order, and he doesn’t seem able to refuse it! Tyche asked, sounding the least calm of the ones who’d spoken yet, her mental voice far shakier and brittle than she’d seemed even earlier during their reunion.
She only ordered him to ‘fight’ us. Not win against us. Not defeat us. Not kill us. Just to fight, Basil explained his earlier epiphany. He wants to lose, which is why he has not bothered to dodge a single attack so far, nor made a serious effort to harm any of us. As long as we keep fighting and his mistress doesn’t notice that he’s play-acting, we’ll be able to use that, right, Hecate?
Keep him off my back for another minute and I might have something that’ll work, she replied. Now hush, I’ve got to concentrate!
You heard the lady. Let’s keep up the show before his mistress realises he’s just messing around! Tartsche spoke firmly. Gloomy, can you put up a proper terrain? Both Polymnia and especially Brennus need more than just flat ground to fight at their best. Spellgun, save up your best shots, just use the ones that can distract him. Tyche and I can’t contribute much here, I’m afraid, but we’ll try to give him credible reasons to be ‘distracted’ whenever possible. Let’s get Hecate her minute!
Everyone agreed in the affirmative, as Basil chambered a new round in his rifle. No more than five seconds in total had passed, since he had drawn Gloom Glimmer’s notice.
The Protector either hadn’t noticed that they’d been unusually quiet for that time, or, more likely, had deliberately ignored it.
Hell, if he can see electricity and into your brains, he can probably tell that you guys were connected via some mental power, the Man in the Moon spoke up. It’s pretty grating how many powers this guy has.
Basil didn’t bother to reply, not that he had the time, as Gloom Glimmer stomped her foot on the ground, sending forth multiple ripples that spread everywhere around them, except where Hecate was working on her spell.
“Oh, what’s this?” the Protector asked curiously, squinting as he looked closer at the effect. “I’ve got the oddest feeling that I’ve seen this before…”
Gloom Glimmer brought her foot down in another stomp, and the ripples disappeared instantly.
Everywhere they’d touched, the ground bucked, and burst into motion.
Pillars rose, sometimes in clumps, sometimes alone, all around them, as the flat floor was turned into a maze of vertical pillars, followed by several horizontal ones that shot out once the main ones had formed, interconnecting them.
Finally! Basil thought, exulting as he triggered his grappling hook system, launching himself up in the air. Now I can fight!
Behind him, Polymnia leaped up, grabbing hold of a horizontal pillar with both hands to vault herself up even further.
“You kids do know that hiding from me isn’t going to work for long, right?” the Protector asked merrily as he flew up and around a pillar, appearing right in front of Basil.
He fired off his second hook to the side, diverting his flight at the same moment to avoid smashing into him.
My rifle’s useless, but if he’s actually not trying to fight, I can probably risk going in close to use the discharge function.
The Protector pursued him easily, cornering without any heed for inertia, his arms crossed in front of his chest as if to say he didn’t even need them to fight. Which he didn’t, not really.
Basil landed with his feet against the side of a particularly tall pillar and detached his hook.
Before he could fall, he kicked himself off, going straight for his pursuing opponent.
The tall man’s eyes widened as Basil flipped around in the air, slamming into his midsection with both feet – not that it so much as budged him.
“You can’t possibly have ex-” he began to say, opening his arms, but Basil didn’t give him a chance to finish.
He put his flat palm against his chest, right over his heart – the wound Gloom Glimmer had dealt him was already gone, fixed together with his costume, so he didn’t waste time aiming for it.
Holding onto his left wrist with his right hand, as he felt gravity reassert itself and start to pull on him, Basil triggered his gauntlet’s entire store of energy.
Instead of the blast he’d expected, that’d throw him back and maybe rattle his invulnerable foe, there was no effect whatsoever on Basil himself – instead, the Protector disappeared from his sight, faster than the eye could follow, as several pillars behind him were broken, collapsing into rubble.
What? he thought, stunned, beginning to fall.
“WHAT!?! WHAT WAS THAT!?!?!?!?!” the crazed voice shouted at the top of its lungs (Basil assumed), managing to sound both offended and shocked at the same time.
Basil wasted no breath even trying to answer her, in no small part because he didn’t know himself.
Firing his grappling hooks, he absentmindedly swung himself onto the nearest pillar, looking out trying to find the Protector and maybe figure out what’d just happened.
In the distance, he saw a silver-and-white figure rise from the rubble – zooming in showed the Protector, unharmed, though with a stunned expression on his face.
Yeah, you and me both, Basil couldn’t help but think.
The Protector looked at him, his eyes flaring a bright red he’d have seen even without his visor’s zooming function.
My cue to dodge!
He jumped off the pillar, barely a moment before its tip was disintegrated by twin heat beams, turning the pillar into a molten-tipped candle as he swung into the forest of rocky pillars again, rapidly casting his hooks out and reeling them back in, all but flying between them.
The Protector came after him easily, apparently unhindered by the camouflage the pillars should have provided Basil.
I don’t even know all of the senses this guy could be bringing to the mat, Basil thought, chargrinned, trying to stay ahead of his pursuer, to draw the chase out and buy Hecate the time she needed to complete whatever she was working on.
“That felt weird,” he said as he caught up, forcing Basil to cast one hook out backwards the way he’d come, to swing around the back of the man, trying to stay out of his front arc. “I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an effect quite like that before… what’d you do?”
“I discharged several tons’ worth of kinetic force into your chest in one shot,” Basil said, leading the man on a merry chase, waiting for his gauntlet to recharge, tracking its capacitors’ progress in drawing electricity from his batteries and charging the kinetic projector. I need to find a way to recharge soon. “I did not expect it to do… that.”
“Hmm,” the legendary hero stroked his chin, absent-mindedly cutting through Basil’s currently in-use hook-line with a flash of heat vision, causing him to tumble down before he used the other to catch himself and swing around a pillar. “So instead of dispersing or absorbing it, my own force-field translated that into movement… curious.”
“Absorbed,” Basil mumbled, while he caught sight of Polymnia, lurking behind a nearby pillar, the fingers of her left hand driven into the stone to dangle from. She looked back at him and made a quick series of hand signals with her right hand.
Gloom Glimmer dropped the telepathy, he realised, I should’ve noticed.
He nodded back at her, having understood the signs, and she smiled back.
Swinging around the pillar, he came face to face with the Protector again, just as the man was reaching out to grab him by the throat.
Disconnecting his remaining hook, he dropped, bending backwards to dodge his reaching hand, and cast it out again, pulling himself towards Polymnia’s pillar, hoping that whatever she was planning could buy them some more time.
Not that he’s exactly making it hard.
He passed her pillar, the Protector hot on his heels, and Polymnia struck as soon as the undead hero flew by her ambush.
Throwing herself around the pillar by the strength of one arm alone, she landed on the caped hero’s back, pressing both of her gauntlets to his ears.
<I’m really really sorry about this Sir I swear I’m actually a big fan!> she said, before she let loose with her sonics.
Even though Basil was already a dozen metre or so away from them, even though his helmet was shielded, he nearly tumbled down to the ground as the noise shook him to the bone.
Landing on the side of a pillar, held up by his grappling hook, he watched Polymnia ride the Protector down as the man lost control of his flight, tumbling downwards. The utter, mind-rending noise she was projecting was so powerful as to visibly distort the air around them as they fell, and it seemed to affect her, as well, in spite of all the protection built into her equipment, though she doggedly held onto her quarry, continuing to blast her cacophony into his ears at contact range.
That is, she did until he reached over his head and grabbed her by the forearms, his fingers crushing her gauntlets as they squeezed, making her cry out as he pulled her off of him and threw her with bone-crushing force into the ground below.
Polymnia impacted the ground with a cry of pain, cracking the stone as she was half-buried in it.
Both Basil and the Protector looked down at her for a moment, shocked at the sudden turn of events – yet neither had the chance to so much as make a sound before a sound like a sonic boom, only far more shrill, sounded, and the Protector was knocked out of the air.
“YOU-” Gloom Glimmer screamed, tackling him as he tumbled down, knocking him back the way she’d come, her body sheathed in a shroud of black sparks.
“-DON’T-” She punched him with a fist sheathed in green light, the energy of which exploded in another shrill boom, shattering all the pillars within ten metre of them as he was thrown out of sight, Gloom Glimmer in pursuit.
“-GET-” Her scream reached them, nevertheless, along with another boom in the distance that destroyed another cluster of pillars.
“-TO-” The Protector flew by Basil with such force he only managed to stay on his own pillar due to his grappling hook.
“-HURT-” Gloom Glimmer rushed by, a black-and-white streak of raw fury. Basil took the chance to leap down to Polymnia, using his grappling hook to break his fall at the last moment and land right next to her.
“-MY-” There was another shrill boom, further away.
“-FRIEND!!!” came a last cry, and an explosion like no other.
Green light washed over Basil and Polymnia, a wave of it flying by above to cut through what pillars still stood, though fortunately there weren’t any left near enough that they were in danger of being crushed.
Basil knelt down, checking Polymnia over. Her gauntlets were ruined, crushed, though surprisingly not far enough to break the her bones underneath (she’d likely have some impressive bruises nonetheless), but she herself seemed largely unharmed.
He helped her, carefully, to sit up out of the shallow grave the impact had made for her, making her groan as he steadied her with one arm behind her back.
“Where does it hurt, and how badly?” he asked calmly.
She looked up at him, blinking in a daze. Her lips moved, but no sound came out.
Her brain’s scrambled, he thought, as he tapped her hand with his free one. Somewhere in the distance, the fight continued.
Polymnia blinked once more, then flushed in embarrassment, and the fingers of her left hand began to move, slowly at first then faster.
<My forearms feel like they’re one big bruise and my back is no better off, but otherwise, I’m alright,> her vocaliser spoke, projected through a small speaker on the collar of her armour. She smiled reassuringly. <It pays to be a brick.>
“I would still like to check your arms and back at the earliest opportunity,” he said as he helped her up onto her feet, straining a bit to lift the bulk of her – she wasn’t wearing power armour right now, but it was still far more bulky and heavy than his body armour was, and she was no lightweight herself, though he knew not to comment on that.
<I really hope Hecate knows what she’s doing,> Polymnia said once she was more or less steady, though still trembling and hunched a bit due to the pain. <Gloomy won’t be able to keep this up much longer, not against someone that powerful.>
He frowned, and pulled an extension cord out of his belt, attaching it to her own belt’s port.
<Do you mean to say that she is going to run out of whatever powers her abilities?> he asked, concerned. He’d seen Gloom Glimmer run out once before, after all, during the Hastur fight.
<Precisely,> Polymnia replied. <No one’s ever been able to accurately measure her actual limit or how fast she drains it, but using this many big powers in such quick succession? We need to finish this, and soon.>
He looked toward the direction of the fight, tapping a reply with his fingers. <Yes, I believe we have distracted him long enough at this point. Let us go check up on the others.>
She gave him a nod and he wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her close before he cast out his grappling hook, vaulting them both – with some strain on the motor – back towards their friends.
“HAH! SOON THE ACCURSED DEMON CHILD SHALL BE BESTED AND YOU ALL SHALL BECOME PRISONERS OF THE COMPANIONS ONCE MORE!!!!!!” the raving contriver’s voice boomed from nowhere and everywhere as they reached the immobile trio, Hecate and the pair of Osore and Bakeneko again.
Osore had shrunk down again, which meant that Bakeneko’s tendrils were mostly lying on the floor as he stood there, as calm and still as a statue.
“Brennus, Polymnia, you’re alright!” Bakeneko cried as she scrambled off of her boyfriend’s shoulders, taking a few unstable steps on her tentacles as they began to fuse together, then reached them in her catgirl form. Then she stopped, looking Polymnia up and down with a closer eye. “Are you alright!?” She stared at Polymnia’s crushed gauntlets, looking worried. The others, save for Osore and Hecate, did the same.
<I’m fine, thanks for asking,> Polymnia replied. <Just a few bruises and a few grand in damages.>
Tartsche turned his power off, joining them along with Spellgun, but Basil ignored them, going over to Hecate along with Tyche.
The Greek sorceress was still on her knees, though she was no longer working on her staff, which lay on the ground next to her. Instead, she was holding a wooden goblet covered in hand-carved Greek lettering. A warm red flame, threaded through with flickers of silver, was burning within, the goblet remaining clasped in both hands.
“I’m ready,” Hecate announced in a soft voice, looking up at them, her face illuminated from below by the flickering flame, casting it into dancing shadows. “Stand aside, please.”
Basil and Tyche nodded, stepping aside as Hecate rose to her feet, her boots’ heels clicking on the floor as she put her weight on them.
“WHAT IS THIS? THE LITTLE APPRENTICE THINKS SHE CAN CHALLENGE MY MAGIC IN MY OWN REALM?”
Hecate raised the goblet up, as if presenting it to an unseen goddess above. “I don’t think – I know.”
“WELL, DO YOUR WORST!!!!!!!” the voice boomed in mocking tones.
The sorceress lowered the cup as she took a deep breath, then turned it over, spilling the flames into a circle around her.
They didn’t fade, nor burn the ground, just remained there in place, forming a perfect ring.
Finally, Hecate lifted the cup to her lips and whispered a single word.
The flames gushed forth in a sudden wave of red and silver, an ever-expanding ring that washed over Basil and the others without so much as singing their clothes, a gentle warmth that briefly caressed them before continuing, though it did make his sensors briefly go crazy.
Nothing happened in most places they passed, except when they touched something towards the direction that the Protector had first come from.
A veil shimmered, then was burned away like a moth in the flame.
Beyond it, a woman appeared, standing behind a half-circular wooden table with five engraved stone bowls standing atop it in regular spacing, blood-red flames burning in each of them. Something was floating within the flames of the central bowl in front of her, unburned by the flames. Further behind her, a door-shaped sheet of light floated in mid-air.
The woman behind did not look much older than Amy, to Basil, and she was dressed in an outfit somewhere between a dress and a robe, exposing a decent amount of skin without being obscene, all in red with golden details, wearing no mask but a golden circlet atop her raven hair. She radiated a soft purple aura, in contrast to the red of Basil and his friends, and the blue around the Protector.
Her brown eyes widened in shock as she stared at them.
Basil fired three shots, as soon as he could make her out, aiming for each shoulder and the object within the central bowl.
The shots all deflected off an invisible force-field, sending forth ripples across it that revealed it to be a hemisphere enclosing the woman and her ritual table.
Of course she still has shields up, he thought, annoyed.
His attack seemed to knock the woman out of her shock. She sputtered something, her voice breaking before she could form words – now at a normal volume – before she threw her head back and screamed: “To ME, my Protector!”
There was a boom in the distance and then the Protector landed between them in a flawless three-point landing, shattering the ground.
He looked… slightly worse for wear; whatever Gloom Glimmer had done had actually caused him some harm, small tears in his costume and a few scratches on his otherwise flawless face; but even that was already disappearing, repaired by his power.
Looking over his shoulder, he frowned at the sight of his mistress; then his body went rigid as he saw whatever was in the flames of the central bowl.
“How did you get that?” he asked, and his voice was cold for the first time, filled with barely restrained anger.
The woman did not seem cowed at all. “It is of no importance to you, my Protector! Now kindly defeat these children so we may put them back into their cells. And kill the witch who dared defy me, the mighty Legend!“
The man stiffened, again, as did the others at the far more specific wording of this command; the only one who advanced was Hecate, apparently uncaring of the danger, walking slowly towards them while holding her staff in her left hand.
I really hope this works, Basil thought in worry, as he watched his best friend approach one of the most powerful metahumans they had ever met.
The Protector, in turn, began to walk towards her at a normal pace, moving stiffly, but with determination on his face.
Gloom Glimmer came flying in, trailing black sparks as she aimed straight for the Protector.
His lips moved, mouthing the words ‘Good Luck’ at them.
Hecate lifted her staff and stomped the ground once with the butt, causing a shadowy scythe-blade to emerge from its crystal tip, casting green reflections all around it.
Grabbing a hold of her scythe with both hands, she brought it down on the Protector in a diagonal slash, from his left shoulder to his right hip, the blade passing through him without any visible effect.
The invincible hero staggered, falling to one knee. Gloom Glimmer aborted her charge at the sight, staring at the scene in surprise – much like everyone else.
“Ah,” the Protector gasped, as the central bowl behind him burst into a flash of green flames, the object that’d been floating in it being thrown out before the flames faded. “Thank you kindly,” he said softly, his form beginning to fall apart at the edges, dissolving inwards. “Might I ask for your name, young one?”
“I’m Hecate,” the young witch replied. “May you rest peacefully in Elysium, Jason Davon.”
He smiled at her. “Nah… I think I’d rather try for reincarnation a few times… and then… maybe… the Isles… of the… Blest…” His lower body and arms fell apart, his skeleton beginning to shine through his transluscent flesh, now also starting to fade.
“I’m sure you’ll prove worthy,” she told him, her voice soft as they all watched him collapse and fade away into nothing.
For a few moments, silence reigned.
“What… what the fuck did you do!? How could you do that!?!” Legend screamed, breaking the reverie.
Hecate raised her head, her posture becoming much more straight. “You’re not the only necromancer here,” she spoke with undisguised contempt in her voice. “I may never stoop so low as to drag the dead up from their just rest, but putting them back to rest… now that I can do very well.” Basil couldn’t see it, but he thought she was smirking. “And breaking a spell is always easier than casting it, is it not?”
Legend snarled, undisguised hatred in her eyes. “You will PAY for this insolence, for violating my very realm!”
She reached for a pouch of hers, drawing forth two small objects – a hand-stitched, ragged doll, made out of rags in the shape of a little girl and a rosary made of silver and pearl beads and a wooden cross, and threw them into the flames of the bowls to the left and right of the central one.
“Rise, my Champions!” she shouted throwing her arms up towards the sky as the flames shot up into twin pillars of flame.
Several spheres of glowing power impacted the force-field around her, originating from Gloom Glimmer’s cloak, but to no avail – whatever contrivance was protecting her held true.
Two figures began to fade into existence, and everyone present instantly recognised them.
One was a person in full-body platemail on which a sword and a blue fleur-de-lys were engraved, wielding a heavy shield that sported the same symbol and a longsword with the fleur-de-lys engraved onto the pommel.
The other was a man taller even than the Protector had been, wearing faded military camo pants and heavy, worn-out boots and a white tabbard with the fleur-de-lys on his breast, his head that of a Hawk, as were the large wings emerging from his back.
The first and third Chevalier, Basil thought in surprise and no small amount of horror. She can raise the dead just like that!?
Everyone braced themselves, ready for combat, but it was Gloom Glimmer who acted first, reaching out for the third Chevalier with one hand to make a grasping motion and pull her hand back, as if to drag him.
Just as the man fully manifested, opening his sharp, hawk-like eyes, he disappeared and re-appeared right within striking range of Hecate, who wasted no time swinging her scythe.
Another bowl lost its fire, the summoned spirit fading into nothing.
Legend screamed in rage, as Gloom Glimmer and Hecate repeated the same process with the first Chevalier, banishing the woman before she could even become aware of what was happening – if those were even really the dead returned, and not just fascimiles created by Legend’s power.
The enraged contriver snarled at them, as she pulled another object from her pouch and threw it into one of the two remaining bowls’ flames, another pillar of fire shooting up briefly – but whatever shade she tried to summon, Hecate and Gloom Glimmer managed to strike it down before it had even fully formed.
“Nononononononooo!” Legend screamed, pounding her fists on the table. “How dare you? Howdareyouhowdareyouhowdareyou!?!?! I’ll kill you, kill you killyoukillyou!!!!!!!”
Seven exclamation marks on that one, Basil thought, walking forward to stand by Hecate’s side.
“Looks like you’re done for,” he drawled, surprised to find that his voice was full of contempt as well – contempt he actually felt himself.
Something about this woman just plain pissed him off, and it wasn’t the grandstanding or the fact that she was a villain affiliated with the very people who’d crippled Prisca.
Well, not just that.
No one should so dishonour the memory of fallen heroes, to call up these mockeries and make them her slaves.
“Surrender now, let us go and we’ll just knock you out and tie you up,” Basil commander her coldly, as the others closed ranks around to the left and right of him and Hecate, with Gloom Glimmer floating above, her cloak billowing out. “You’ve lost.”
“Nono, NO!” she screamed, slamming both fists onto the heavy wooden table. “You… you can’t beat me!” She calmed herself, slightly, using both hands to brush a few errand strands of hair out of her face.
Taking deep breaths, she stood up straight, looking down at them from the dais her ritual table stood upon. “I am Legend, Mistress of the Fallen Ones, the most powerful Contriver on this Holy Ground.” She gestured at the doorway behind her. “This is the only way out of my Realm, and only I, its Mistress, can open it and allow foreign ones like you, to leave.” Her hand made a wide sweep towards them. “None but I can pass my Fortress spell.” She gestured at her sole remaining bowl. “I still have one more Basin of Resurrection left to use, to summon a servitor who’ll obey my every command.”
She reached into her pouch and pulled out… an old paperback book.
What could that be? Basil thought, zooming in to read the title, and promptly choked as he recognized it.
“Hecate, Gloom Glimmer, you have to stop her!!!” he screamed as he raised his rifle to unload all his ammunition at the book, hoping that, maybe, one would get through.
“Now despair, as I summon my most powerful servitor!” Legend shouted, pulling the last basin directly in front of herself and dropping the limited first-edition copy of Five Sun’s Dawn into its flames. “Come forth, oh mightiest one! I, Legend, command thee to appear before me and serve me!” she shouted, throwing her head back and raising her fists up into the sky, as if to call down divine wrath.
Several shots from Basil’s, Tyche’s, Tartsche’s and Spellgun’s weapons bounced off the shielding spell to no effect whatsoever, other than to cause a few ripples that disappeared almost as soon as they appeared.
A pillar shot up.
A shade began to form, tall and gaunt.
Hecate raised her scythe for a powerful two-handed blow.
Gloom Glimmer cried out, making a grasping motion.
The shade disappeared just as it solidified, reappearing before Hecate.
The scythe fell to cut through the shade.
“Stop,” the shade whispered, turning its head towards the young heroine.
She stopped mid-swing, her scythe inches away from cutting into him.
The shade solidified into a person, standing tall as he looked down on them.
A gaunt man, easily a whole head taller than Basil himself, with a thin, not unattractive face; high cheekbones sharp enough to slice bread were accentuated by a slightly beaked nose and a sharp chin. His eyes were as black as the night, even more so than his raven hair that reached in an unkempt, almost barbaric mass down to his waist; the iridae so dark it was all but impossible to make out where they ended and where the pupils began. He was garbed in a tight, dark red robe with golden trimming and vine-like patterns of the same golden material at the rims of the wide sleeves, the foot of the robe and his high, closed collar. It fit snugly around his slender, yet not too thin torso, showing little muscle and pretty much no fat. From the ends of the sleeves, long, almost spidery fingers poked out, slender and dexterous looking, the kinds of fingers one expected to see on the hands of a pianist.
A pale blue glow emanated from his body.
He bore no crown, nor did he need one – his aura of power, of command, was so mighty as to be nearly physical, tying them all in place; whether it was an actual power, or the sheer weight of his reputation, Basil could not say, as the man whom had once made a credible claim to the title of ‘Godking’ looked at them with a slightly curious, surprised look.
“I will not be slain today,” he said calmly, with an absolute conviction that broke no argument. “I will not be captured today. I will not be controlled today. I will not be subverted today. I will not be harmed.”
Dude, you are so fucking fucked to all fucking hell, the Man in the Moon threw in unhelpfully.
“This is no scenario I envisioned for my resurrection,” Emyr Blackhill spoke, keeping his voice soft, and yet it was deep, reverberating with an odd harmony that made them all shiver down to their bones.
Raising a hand, he looked at the slender limb, the wide sleeve falling back to reveal a bare forearm. He turned it around, looking at it from several angles. “Why do I glow blue?” he asked no one in particular, fortunately, frowning softly.
Then he looked up at the teenagers in front of him, looking left to right. “You glow… red? You’re not the ones who brought me here, are you? Am I right?” He directed that question at Hecate, who still stood in front of him, having taken a step back in fear.
“You are,” she replied instantly, her voice almost but not quite cracking, quivering with fear.
“Relax, child,” he told her softly, and the tension immediately drained out of her stance. “Now tell me what’s g-“
“Emyr Blackhill!” Legend shouted at him, her voice loud and clear. “I am the one who summoned you, oh mighty one! Thus, I am your-“
“I really do not enjoy being interrupted,” he cut her off as he turned around with a reproachful look. “Do not speak again without my leave,” he ordered her, and her mouth clamped shut as her eyes grew wide in horror.
He looked at her, his back to the teens behind, uncaring of any threat they might pose. “Hm, you glow purple, not red nor blue. Probably has to do with you being the former mistress of this realm. Answer my question.”
“Yes, that is why I am surrounded by a purple corona. It designates me as the true Mistress of this realm, not a former one,” she replied, before her mouth closed shut again, her voice full of equal parts of contempt and terror.
Emyr snorted softly. “How conceited of you.”
He walked towards her, until he came up to the shield that surrounded her dais, reaching out with one hand to touch it. Ripples spread from where his palm pressed against it.
Legend’s lips twitched into a hopeful smirk, as he was held back.
“Hm. This little spell is nothing before me,” he said calmly as he pressed his hand forth. The shield popped like a soap bubble, and Legend turned as pale as a corpse.
Emyr stepped onto the dais, his legs long enough to clear its height in one, albeit very wide, step. Upon it, he towered over the average-sized Legend, even more so due to his wild mane of hair.
“This table shall move out of my way,” he spoke, and the ritual table with the basins atop slid out of the way and to the edge of the dais, almost but not quite falling off.
Then he walked onto the doorway, and reached out with one hand, trying to push it through.
His hand could not pass through.
“This is the exit out of this realm, am I correct, Legend?” he asked, sounding unperturbed by being denied exit.
“Yes,” she replied.
“You will address me as your Majesty,” he rebuffed her.
Her fists clenched in impotent rage as she stepped aside, turning so her side was towards Basil and the others, looking at the man who would so command her. “As you wish, your Majesty,” she said, though she clearly didn’t want to.
“Let this doorway be open to me then,” he commanded, and tried to step through again.
Basil’s heart nearly stopped, and he was sure he wasn’t the only one who held his breath – only to let it out explosively along with everyone else but Emyr himself, as he failed to exit once more.
He tilted his head to the side. “Something which can stymie my power? Now this is impressive.” He turned around to look at Legend again, stepping closer to her. “No wonder you were able to summon me. Now how can I leave this realm?”
“You can’t, your Majesty,” she replied, her trembling voice putting the lie to her attempts to look self-assured as she stared up at the looming figure of Emyr. “Only I can use the doorway, and those who bear a red corona, provided they have my leave, for I am still the Mistress of this Realm. And even if I wanted to, there is no way a servitor could exit this realm, your Majesty.” Some of her earlier sneer returned to her voice as she spoke.
Emyr stroked his chin, still paying no attention whatsoever to the teens beyond her. Not that any one of them had the nerve to try and attack him right now.
“Hm, I see,” he said, a slight contempt and a great boredom evident in his voice. “A wise precaution, though it is thoroughly insufficient of course.”
Everyone just stared at him, the teens not daring to speak, and Legend unable to.
Emyr raised a hand, scratching the back of his head briefly as he rolled his shoulders, loosening them up as if he had no care in the world.
Then he looked down at Legend in slight contempt, making an imperious, sweeping gesture with his right hand, as if to encompass the entire mystic realm.
“Insufficient,” his voice boomed, speaking with a commanding tone that shook the very ground, “for I shall be the Master of this realm now!”
His corona turned a light, barely perceptible purple, as Legend’s own turned… blue.
She stared down at her hands, taking a step back, and fell over onto her butt, her face slack with shock.
Emyr shrugged and looked at the teenagers. “Excuse me, but I do have a planet to reclaim, and another to conquer… again. I shall take my leave now, and take care of you all later, once I have re-established my regency,” he spoke to them before he turned around and walked towards the door. “It shouldn’t take too long, all things considered.”