Lady Light’s glowing form slammed into a growing stone-form that’d begun literally growing out of thin air around DiL, to the size of a five-story building in an instant, and disintegrated the whole thing in a blaze of light.
In the back of Basil’s calmed mind, he felt a short ache, as DiL changed her powers moments after assuming them, only to do so yet again when Lady Light disrupted her new abilities, before Basil could even see anything.
”Did you know your mother could do that?” he asked Gloom Glimmer, referring to that massive wave of light.
She took a step back from him, her cheeks red with tears and warmth, brushing her hair back behind her ears. “No. Yes. Kind of?” she temporized, seeming off-kilter. “In theory. I know she can, but I’ve never seen her do it, and it’s really risky to use it like thi-“ She realised she was babbling and clamped her mouth shut, her teeth making a sharp ‘click’.
Basil smiled at her, trying to be reassuring, even as his mind fired on all cylinders.
He really felt way too good. Prisca’s death, his failure, Amy, his memory… it was all still there, but for the first time he could remember, he felt like he could deal with all of that.
He also knew that this wasn’t how her aura was supposed to work. It bolstered those aligned with her, while weakening those which were opposed, but he’d never heard of it having this profound an effect on someone… another power interaction, perhaps?
Something to look into – if Lady Light, of all people, couldn’t help him solve his issues, then no one could. Especially if the theory he was building in regards to her power was correct.
Gloom Glimmer leaned in closer, looking concerned, as if trying to look deeper into him. Maybe she literally was, who knew? “Are you… are you still… you? You seem… different. From usual. And from… that time Osore hit you… too.”
”Mmmhm. Yeah. Your mother’s aura is having the oddest effect on me. Like the opposite of what your sister’s aura was doing to me, only even more so.” He chuckled in a way he’d never do, normally. Carefree. “I can not even remember the last time I felt so… light.”
He turned his head away, looking out over the rooftops. “Anyway, we should go to Hecate and Polymnia. Join up and figure out what to do.”
”Do I need to carry you?” he asked her, turning back to look at her again as she walked up to stand by his side.
She blushed again. “N-no. Thank you. I don’t have much power, right now, but I can still hop some roofs.” As if to underline that, she took off, running and leaping over the gap between their and the next house’s roof, moving as nimbly as any parkour runner.
He looked after her, blinking in surprise; then he shrugged and followed her.
They reached Polymnia and Hecate – both fortunately alive and well – within a minute.
Before anyone could say anything, Gloom Glimmer all but jumped at her friend, who equally rushed towards her, and they embraced each other so tightly, Polymnia actually lifted Gloom Glimmer off her feet (she was taller than her while in armor).
Basil joined Hecate while the two girl friends exchanged quick words, clearly intensely relieved that the other one was still alright.
”Hey,” Hecate greeted him again, giving him a brief hug. He wanted to hug her back, properly, but he was pretty sure she wouldn’t be quite comfortable with that right then, so he just gave her a one-armed squeeze. “How’s…” She trailed off, her eyes flicking from him to the other two girls.
”Much better,” he replied, releasing the breath he’d held. “Lady Light’s aura is lessening the effect, if not countering it outright.”
”Oh. That’s good,” she sighed, relieved. “So, no more nosebleeding?”
He tilted his head to the side. “I should have thought of checking that,” he said after a brief delay and took his mask off again.
“Let me,” Hecate interrupted him when he began to reach up, pulling a delicate green handkerchief from her bag. Spitting on it, she rubbed at his upper lip, nose and chin. “Just some dried blood,” she told him, while he held still, having experienced one of Vasiliki’s little ‘cleansings’ before, and learned that it was futile to resist. “Seems like the bleeding has stopped, yeah.” She smiled in relief, pulling her hand back and showing him the dark stains on it.
”Thank you. That is a relief,” he replied. DiL changed her powers again, halfway through the reply, and he sent another signal through the device the Dark gave him.
”You’re different,” she observed, her eyes hidden underneath the enchanted shadows of her hood. “Is everything… I mean, are you still… you?” She sounded afraid as she asked, though he couldn’t tell whether she was afraid he might be someone else, or that she might offend or anger him by asking, or both.
”I am pretty sure I am,” he tried to assuade her, smiling to take the tension out of it as much as he could. “It is not like I have recovered any memory that is missing, but… my head seems clearer.” He turned said head to look at the distant battle. Lights were flashing, and he was pretty sure that Lady Light was wielding a glowing sword the size of a schoolbus, using it to literally slice DiL’s current defense apart – some manner of fractals in the air, visible only by how they were distorting light around them, rather than due to reflecting it directly.
A dull ache announced another change in powers, and Lady Light reacted faster than Basil could press the button, letting that huge blade dissolve into light and reforming it into something too small to make out at this distance.
”Yeah, her aura is… I mean… wow. I didn’t know she could crank it up like this,” Hecate replied, whispering in awe. “She must be covering the entire area inside the Desolation Field.”
Another dull ache, a second after whatever Lady Light used now impacted some kind of distorted shadow inbetween her and DiL, dispersing it with a massive, yet silent shockwave.
“I don’t know how long she can keep it up, though,” Gloom Glimmer interjected, stepping closer to them, her right hand clasping Polymnia’s left, tightly. “She must be burning the candle on both ends to get this kind of output, and I… I don’t know why she’d be so reckless, this time.” She looked quite troubled.
“Maybe because you’re here,” Polymnia suggested, her voice soothing. “She launched that wave the moment you were in danger of actually being hurt, didn’t she?”
Gloom Glimmer’s shoulders slumped, along with her head.
Before anyone could follow up on that, they were interrupted by static crackle from Memento’s communication devices.
“To all those who are still able to fight,” the Dark’s multi-layered voice spoke to them, made even stranger than usual by coming from multiple speakers at once. “We are preparing a significant attack on DiL. Lady Light is going to buy us the time we need to do so. Until you are given the signal to attack, conserve your strength, take care of each other and prepare yourselves.“
“This is Rounds speaking,” the leader of the New Lennston United Heroes followed up, sounding winded, but still determined. “I concur with the Dark’s plan. Everyone, take care of yourselves and each other. Stand strong and don’t give up hope.”
“An attack…” Gloom Glimmer whispered, her gaze still focused downwards, mostly at her feet. “I’ve never heard him phrase any move against Bree like that,” she elaborated, when the others looked curiously at her, though she didn’t raise her head. “Could he actually have a plan to… get at her?”
Her voice was thick with a mess of emotions Basil couldn’t even begin to decipher. Though he was pretty certain guilt factored in.
He’d become all too familiar with guilt, lately.
”But, what could… how… she’s untouchable!” Hecate protested.
”Hanabi was able to affect her, during the Okinawa fight,” Basil interjected. “And no one has heard from him, since. It might be that he’s been preparing some kind of weapon, maybe even a Magnum Opus.”
”That sounds like something Dad would do,” Gloom Glimmer agreed. “Track him or her down and whisk them away to prepare for this.”
They all took a moment to digest that, the only motion between them being Basil’s fingers when he signaled another change of powers.
”Wow.” The simple whisper was all that Hecate seemed able to say, in response.
“That’s… really amazing, really… but what do we do?” Polymnia asked, her right hand’s fingers tapping out the words while her eyes were on Gloom Glimmer, her expression concerned. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but apart from Gloomy, we’ve all been pretty useless so far, and she’s out of power for now. Or nearly so.”
Hecate took a deep breath, holding her staff close to her chest with both hands, as her hood briefly twitched towards Basil, before focusing on the other girls instead. “I think… we should just, try to protect people. Get them out harm’s way, wherever we can. Search and rescue.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was doing before. Rounds has all the juniors – except Gloomy – on Search and Rescue. Not that I wouldn’t do it anyway, I’m pretty good at it. Tracking people via sounds and all, I can do that, and I have the strength to carry them to safety,” Polymnia just kept speaking, until she suddenly stopped, blushing when she realised she’d started rambling.
Hecate nodded, straightening up a bit. “Alright, let’s-“
”Someone is coming,” Basil interjected, a mere moment before a blur rushed up onto the roof and crossed over to them so quickly none had a chance to react, before it slowed down and stopped.
”Yo, glad to see you’re still alive!” Outstep greeted them, his grin visible as he wasn’t wearing his usual racer-inspired helmet, instead donning a red-tinted visor covering the upper half of his face. “I’m running high-speed evac to the medical station, who needs a trip?”
“We’re all fine, thank you,” Polymnia replied, looking him over. “Glad to see you’re still alive… I think.”
”Aw, come on now, Jugs,” he grinned, blurring over to her right side, one arm wrapped around her shoulders, “We both know you’d be inconsolable if I actually croaked off.”
She turned her head, looking at him with a saccharine smile. “Call me ‘Jugs’ again and I’ll liquefy your balls from the inside out,” she spoke in her usual, chipper tone of voice.
He stepped back from her, raising his arms as if in surrender. “Alright, alright.” He looked them all over again, still smirking. “So, anyone need some rapid transit, if not medical evac?”
They all shook their heads, even Gloom Glimmer.
”A-are you sure?” Hecate asked her. “Polymnia said you’re almost out of power…”
Outsteps gaze snapped over to his dark-haired teammate. “That true, princess?”
She gave him an annoyed look – a glare, almost – and Basil was actually surprised he didn’t physically feel the temperature drop between them.
”I’m fine,” she all but snarled. “Got two new powers already. I’m good to go.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” he replied, deadpan. “But seriously, if you need a timeout, tell me. You ain’t no use to anyone if you get yourself killed by your mass-murderin’ sissy. Nevermind what your dad will do to me if he thinks me the least bit responsible for it.”
Gloom Glimmer’s left eye twitched when he mentioned her sister, but she just turned away from him. “I’m staying, as are the others. So go help someone who actually needs your help, Outstep.”
He shrugged, looking them all over one more time. “Alright. God be with you, Gearhead, Witchgirl, Princess, Jugs.” He turned into a blur and rushed down from the rooftop, before anyone could react.
“He’s such an asshole,” Polymnia complained quietly.
”He kind of reminds me of some of my relatives,” Hecate whispered, lowering her head. “One of my uncles and his sons are pretty much all like that.” She sighed.
Basil put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing it gently. “Your family is way too stubborn to die,” he told her, softly.
She choked on a laugh, her shoulders shaking briefly. “Y-yeah. You’re right.” She took in a deep breath, squaring her shoulders. “Let’s get going.”
“Yes, let’s,” Gloom Glimmer agreed, as the air began to shimmer and distort around her, though curiously – at least, to Basil – her eyes remained blue on white.
He wished he could just sit down with her and talk about her power, try to determine the ins and outs of it. Maybe run some tests, put her under some of his scanners…
Not the time, not the time, he admonished himself. Not that it ever seems to be the time.
Instead of pursuing that line of thought, he checked his communicator, as did the others, to see where Memento thought they could do the most good, each of them requesting the system give them search and rescue tasks.
Unsurprisingly, there were loads of them.
“I suppose we ought to split up,” he commented, seeing the sheer volume of the requests for help.
“No,” Hecate countered. “At least, not entirely. We should go in pairs, I think, so we can support each other.”
“True en-” He was interrupted as the ground shook, causing them all to stumble before they caught their balance again. The buildings beneath and around them groaned, what window panes remained unbroken shattered, but the overall structures held. “Hrm, this is only going to get worse. Yes, I agree, we should go in pairs.”
“I think I should go with Hecate,” Polymnia spoke up, causing them all to look at her in surprise. She just shrugged at their questioning looks. “Don’t look at me like that. I think it makes sense to split so there’s only one gadgeteer to a pair, in case our tech does break down after all. That is still a threat, being within the Desolation Field. And I think I should be the one to go with Hecate, because I have more functioning tech left than Brennus, so I can support her better, while he will have Gloomy to cover him.”
Basil exchanged looks with the other two. “It does make sense,” he agreed with his fellow gadgeteer.
“I suppose we ought to get going, then,” Hecate said, looking at him one more time. “Good luck and… don’t die. Seriously.”
“I will not die. That is a promise,” he replied, calmly, as his eyes briefly found hers in the shadows of her hood.
Gloom Glimmer and Polymnia exchanged similar words, before they split up, the two girls running off and leaping onto the next rooftop.
”Let’s not dawdle,” Gloom Glimmer said softly, her eyes following her friend until she dropped down to the street.
They left towards their own target.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Hecate whispered to Polymnia, once they hit the street and started running. Using the occasional smoke-leap, she was easily able to keep pace with the physically superior gadgeteer, even had the advantage now and then, when they had to cross particularly treachery spots, like collapsed buildings or car wrecks melted together into jagged spikes, and worse.
“Perhaps not, but I think it’s for the best,” Polymnia replied in a conversational tone, once again at odds with what she was actually doing, running and leaping in the direction the arrows on their armbads were showing them. “I know things are messed up between you two right now. Some distance might be good, so you can get some perspective. And so you won’t be getting too distracted while on mission.”
Hecate blushed, glad that the (slightly) younger girl couldn’t see it under her hood. I’m such a mess.
”Thank you,” was all she said in return, her voice thick with emotions she couldn’t really put to words, even if she’d tried.
Somehow, she was quite sure Polymnia got it, anyway, as she just smiled at her and said, “Don’t worry too much. I’m sure it will work out.”
They turned a corner, and immediately saw where they were meant to help – a five-storey building had collapsed inwards, rubble piling up into a mound the size of a two-storey building, but even without Polymnia’s hearing, Hecate could make out people screaming from within.
“We’ll have to dig them out carefully,” Hecate said to Polymnia, the two of them walking up to the rubble. “If we’re too careless, it might collapse entirely and crush the people within.”
“I can hear children in there,” Polymnia stated with a serious expression, stepping forth and climbing onto the rubble. “Let’s start from the top and work our way down.”
Hecate joined her, as they got to work as quickly as they could. “How does Gloom Glimmer do it?” she asked in a whisper which a normal person would likely not have understood, even if they’d been leaning in to listen.
“How does Gloom Glimmer do what?”
“How do you deal with your father being who he is?” Basil clarified as he and Gloom Glimmer jogged down the street, pushed onwards by her power, which was generating sonic waves that reflected off the buildings and street around and beneath them, coming back to push the air against the two of them from behind, buyoing them onwards and onwards.
Gloom Glimmer, whose long-legged strides would have been entirely silent even while running, with her feet being essentially clad in soft – if padded – almost velvet-like fabric rather than proper shoes, kept quiet for a few seconds, easily keeping pace with him, her billowing, heavy cape only magnifying the effect of the pressure from behind, even if it occasionally looked a little silly how it’d push at her and flutter around.
Just when he thought she might not have heard him over the melodic, drum-like waves of sound she generated, she opened her mouth again.
“She doesn’t, really,” Polymnia replied quietly, looking sad even as she continued to tear through the rubble, tossing chunks the size of her torso aside as if they weighed nothing. “He’s her daddy, but he’s the Dark. She loves him, but he’s a murderer and enabler of murderers, and all kinds of other criminals and crimes. She wants him to be proud of her, but she can’t feel that way about him. It’s a real mess.”
”I… I guess,” Hecate replied, surprised, in spite of having asked in the first place, that she got such a reply. Even so, her arms and hips kept working, lifting off broken pieces of concrete with rebars and wiring sticking out or attached to them, not as quickly or as easily as Polymnia, but faster than normal. “I didn’t actually think you’d…”
“She’d want me to tell you,” Polymnia assured her, softly. “Perhaps hoping that it’d help you work through what you found out about Brennus.”
Hecate choked, swallowing, her eyes stinging with tears – and it wasn’t the dust causing them. “I just… I don’t understand how… how he could keep it from me, for so long… and… even though I told him otherwise… even though I really, really get family, I… she’s so… how can he just… accept her, after all that she’s done?”
”I do not, really,” Basil echoed Gloom Glimmer’s own reply, while using the gauntlet on his left arm to smash through the shards still stuck to the frame of a broken window in the third storey of a small apartment building, his getting carried off by Gloom Glimmer’s power and over to where she was helping two older men carry their respective wives out of a shattered supermarket, leaving trails of bloody footprints behind them.
”You don’t mean that like I did,” Gloom Glimmer observed, somehow, even over the distance.
Basil climbed into the apartment. The window had been broken by the body of a cape, who’d been sent flying through it and landed on a couch opposite of the window with such force, the couch had shattered and he’d smashed into the wall.
Kneeling next to him, Basil quickly examined the young man – perhaps just a teen, though older than himself, he was wearing an outfit reminding him of a classic Wild West Gunslinger, with a zig-zagging, blood-red pattern worked into his black leather pants and matching vest and hat, as well as a red scarf wrapped around his lower face, to hide his identity. He was still holding onto a heavy, magnum-sized revolver in his right hand. Basil could see three blood-red bullets in the cylinder, as well as burned, cracked brown in the other three, likely already spent shots.
He might have been a cowl, considering the dark tones and harsh lines of his outfit, or perhaps one of the ‘edgy’ kind of capes that were all the rage in the USA these years.
Either way, the bleeding wound on the back of his head looked bad, and he was likely only alive because the couch had cushioned his impact.
Basil was quite sure he should have bled out by now, considering how much blood was on the wall behind him, on the floor around him and sticking to the back of his head, but he hadn’t. Perhaps some enhanced toughness or low-level regeneration.
It wasn’t doing him much good beyond barely keeping him alive, though, so he used his first aid supplies to wrap up his head, sheathed his revolver in its hip holster and then carefully lifted him up over his shoulder.
One wasn’t supposed to move injured people, especially not in such a fashion, but it was liable to be less dangerous to him than remaining there, unconscious and unable to get to safety if the destruction spread here.
“What I mean is that I have not been, nor am I dealing with it,” Basil continued the conversation, walking to the door with his unconscious cargo, straining a bit under the man’s weight. “I have been telling myself that she is my sister, that I love her and she me and that that should come first. Some half-formed but never pursued thoughts of redeeming her. Add a great deal of procrastination on the subject and spotty memories, and…”
He opened the door easily enough, from inside, stepping out into the stairwell and immediately making his way down.
”And that’s not all,” Gloom Glimmer’s voice reached him, so clear it was like she was sitting walking right next to him. “You mentioned issues with your memory. Malign ones, most likely. Do you think someone is actively manipulating you?”
She left it unsaid that his sister was the most obvious candidate for such manipulation, but he knew she thought of that possibility.
He would have liked to defend her, to say that Amy wouldn’t do such a thing, that she herself was being affected… except now, thinking – reasonably – clearly for the first time he could remember, he was honest enough to admit that…
”Yes, I think so. And yes, much as I hate to think so, Amy may well be responsible. I think she is also being manipulated, but it would hardly be a challenge for her to pretend that she is, on the off-chance that I might become suspicious,” he replied, and his heart broke a little to admit it out loud.
God, I wish Henry was here. He gets this stuff so much better than I ever could.
He stopped, just a step away from the front door of the building.
Where’d that thought come from? Who was Henry, and why…
No time. Focus on the here and now.
“I can feel… something, off,” Gloom Glimmer said, percussive air helping him move faster towards her and the four survivors she’d found. “I’m sorry, I might be able to do more, but I’m running on fumes here. But there’s definitely something or someone connected to your mind that’s not supposed to… but it’s so subtle, I would never have noticed it, if I didn’t know to look for it in the first place.”
He joined her and the other four, handing the wounded metahuman off to one of the two men, whose wife could walk on her own, and described to them how to get to the next teleportation node, based on the map that he’d seen when he’d used Memento’s network himself, while applying some first aid to them – the other man’s wife was worse off, with a cut on her thigh quite close to a major artery, and a bad hit to the head, but there was just no time for him and Gloom Glimmer to escort them, not when they could move on their own and there were so many other people to help.
”Focus,” he admonished her, gently, without accusation in his voice, watching the survivors leave. “There’s more important things to worry about, right now.” He looked at his armband, and saw that the arrow was pointing him down the road, opposite of where the survivors had gone.
She looked at him, her gaze so overflowing with sympathy and sadness it made him flinch – inwardly, at least. “There always are, aren’t there?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
After nearly five minutes of careful work – and some rather close calls, when the ongoing battle shook the ground and threatened to collapse the rubble – Hecate hit something weird.
The concrete shifted and revealed… nothing. And yet there was something there, something flat, hard and invisible, through which she could see some movement deeper within, obstructing her progress.
“Some kind of force field?”
Polymnia stopped and leaned over, taking a look. “Something’s been preventing me from mapping the insides of the rubble with sonar… perhaps that’s it?”
“Can somebody hear us!?” a voice shouted from within, a young woman’s, perhaps. “Please, you’ve got to move the rubble aside! I don’t think he can hold out much longer! Don’t worry about it collapsing!”
Hecate looked at Polymnia, who seemed as surprised as she herself felt.
“Might as well,” Polymnia stated, and they leapt off the rubble, starting to just tear it away by main force, throwing aside chunks from the base.
Within seconds, the rubble shifted and slid off… an invisible box, about the size of a minivan, outlined by dust.
Within were eight civilians – two women and six younger children, all of kindergarten age – sitting on the ground, and a man standing in the center, his legs spread apart, his arms reaching out, palms facing away from him, as if pushing against something.
He was wearing black pants with suspenders and a horizontally striped white shirt with black stripes, as well as white and black make-up on his face and oily black hair now matted with blood.
“Le Pantomime!” Polymnia called out, rushing forward as the box disappeared, and the man fell forward.
She caught him as gently as she could, and Hecate stepped up as well, worried. She’d heard of the hero from France – he was quite famous, even across the pond.
To her horror, she saw a terrible wound on the left side of his head – she could actually see a bit of his brain!
“How… how is he still…” She gulped, staring at him.
“He saved us… caught the rubble when it collapsed, after a piece hit him on the head,” the woman who’d called out earlier explained. Hecate barely spared her a glance, since she didn’t seem to be hurt, but she was pretty sure they’d happened upon a daycare of some sort. She kind of looked like a daycare worker, to her, not that she’d ever been in an actual daycare.
“We’ll get him the help he needs,” Polymnia soothed them, calmly, her eyes on the teary-eyed children clinging to the two women. “And we’ll get you all to safety, I promise.”
Hecate nodded, kneeling down to take care of the children. That was something she had experience with, at least.
Basil leapt over a slagged car wreck, following the arrow on his armband, moving on his own for now – their armbands had sent him and Gloom Glimmer in opposite directions, and he could only hope that they’d be reunited after, but for now, he was on his own.
They’d been guided to four more crisis points, after he’d saved the gunslinger, and had managed to get no less than nine people to safety, capes, cowls and civilians both, though they’d come across several corpses as well.
Gloom Glimmer had taken those much harder than Basil had – he couldn’t rightly say that he was all that upset about seeing dead people, much as that unnerved him.
Reaching a street corner, the arrow rotated, guiding him towards a roundabout, when it suddenly disappeared.
The display said ‘Target Deceased – Await New Directions’.
He started to move back, tapping his fingers as he felt DiL change powers yet again – the fifth time this minute – and started to move back towards where he’d split from Gloom Glimmer, just in case, when his armband beeped.
Looking down at it, he saw a new arrow pointing away from where he’d come.
Great. I really hope you know where you’re guiding me, Memento.
He ran through the shattered streets, his progress much slower than he would have liked – there were cracks and fissures all over, and parts had been flooded where pipes had burst open.
There were corpses everywhere. Floating in the water, slumped over broken cars, mailboxes, torn apart by huge claws or impaled on shards of glass or rebar, and worse besides. Men, women and children, dead by the dozens. Hundreds or thousands, probably, across the city.
There was nothing he could do for them, so he moved on, following the arrow, while regularly glancing at the flickering, often distorting feed from his ravenbot, flying far above, keeping an eye towards the battle, so he’d have at least a moments’ warning to dodge, if anything came his way.
At least Lady Light seems to have DiL well in hand for now, he thought, only to immediately chide himself for jinxing it.
As if to affirm it, he felt a sudden drop in air pressure, at the same time as he sensed DiL changing her powers again, followed by the building to his right all but disintegrating as a projectile shot through it faster than the sonic boom that followed it, blasting his ravenbot out of the air.
Basil managed to avoid instant death just barely, reversing his boots’ wall-walking function yet again – and even so, he would likely have been hit, at the very least losing his legs as he shot backwards, if he hadn’t been gripped by an additional force and pushed away faster.
Dust and debris filled his field of view, the street cracking – but they could not hide the white glow within, light blazing forth so powerfully it penetrated even the thickest dust cloud, turning billows of gray matter into something almost ethereal.
He landed on his feet, barely managing to catch himself, and staring at the center of the glowing dust cloud.
DiL’s presence was all but entirely gone from his mind, the pressure she created entirely blotted out by her aura, as she rose out of the dust, a humanoid figure shrouded in so many layers of nearly solid, sometimes liquid, light, it was impossible to make out any details, her side towards him as she flew up and towards DiL again, trailing ribbons of pure light behind her, less than a hundred meters between them…
Only to stop, and turn in mid-air, the motion nearly inhumanly graceful in spite of its abruptness, and his black eyes met a pair of bright, blue ones, even through the layers of light enfolding her and the distance between them.
He remembered the sensation of staring into Emyr’s eyes, back in that twisted world Legend had created – a thoroughly discombombulating experience, it had made him think of staring into an infinite expanse of darkness, losing perspective and with it, very nearly his balance. There had been an intensity to his gaze, as if he was somehow projecting his will through the mere act of crossing eyes, that had caused Basil to hesitate for a moment.
Gazing into Lady Light’s bright blue eyes (so reminiscent of Gloom Glimmer’s) was so much more disorienting than that, by several orders of magnitude. If Emyr’s eyes had been windows into a vast, dark depth of will, then these were… were…
He did not have the words to describe them, no simile that encompassed the sensation.
Without even noticing himself falling, he found himself sitting on his butt, briefly seeing double as he stared up at her in a daze.
Lady Light distant form twitched, the humanoid silhouette he could barely make out moving as the ribbons of light shifted with the barest hint of a delay, the gesture as graceful as it was unreadable, at this distance, and turned away, flying off towards DiL again, moving so quickly she left behind several after-images.
Basil looked down at his right wrist, where he felt something close around it. A band of… something, like nearly solid light, wrapped around his wrist there. It looked white, at first glance, but as he raised his hand, it shifted through all colours of the rainbow, each motion causing a change in its colouring and pattern.
It felt warm, solid and heavy.
Looking at it from various angles, he knew what it meant.
‘I will find you again.’
Memento’s armband had ended up leading him to a young woman in a flowing costume, layers of rainbow-coloured fabric forming a hooded robe with wide sleeves, soaked through with some kind of clear, viscuous fluid which also surrounded the site where she lay, having been blasted through a wall and into a backyard, just off the street. A loading dock, perhaps, for some smaller company – it was hard to tell, considering how damaged everything was.
A quick check showed that she was unconscious, and had a bleeding wound on her forehead, but was alive and not in immediate danger of dying after some basic first aid to stem the bleeding, so he picked her up in a fireman’s carry – not the best way to transport someone with a head wound, but he had to choose between being gentle and being fast and that wasn’t really a choice at all, not in this situation.
Getting to the nearest teleportation node was mercifully less eventful than his way to the woman, and he even had some attention to spare to reboot his ravenbot and have it fly back towards him; fortunately, it had only taken cosmetic damage from the sonic boom of the attack which had deposited Lady Light so close to him.
I wonder what she saw, he could not helpt but wonder. He felt it in his gut, she’d seen right through him there and whatever she’d seen or sensed had piqued her interest.
If Lady Light can’t help me…
He looked ahead, focusing on where he was going – the broken streets were very treacherous, with crevisses, holes leading into sewers and other traps for the unwary pedestrian – as he also considered his brief meeting – if one could call it that – with the lady and also ran several ideas through his mind, his power having apparently taken a lot of inspiration from hers, with ideas for manipulating matter and energy in weirder ways than he could ever recall doing…
Fuck, why does it have to work so well now? I wish I could be like this while in the lab and with a few weeks or months’ worth of time to just tinker around and experiment.
He didn’t even know whether his lab was still uncollapsed. The structure was reinforced, and on the outskirts of New Lennston, away from the center of the fighting, but still…
Due to the interference from the Desolation Field, he couldn’t even reach it to find out whether or not Eudocia was well. Her casing wasn’t that tough, and even light damage to her insides could cause the delicate energy fields within to collapse. Rebooting her from such a collapse, if he even managed to, would mean resetting her to her initial state, all her experiences and growth irretrievably lost.
Can’t think about that, not now. I need to focus. Put it off until I can find her and then we’ll see how things stand.
He ran even faster.
Through some stroke of luck, he reached the node at the same time as Gloom Glimmer did. She was generating sonic blasts which bounced off the street, gently juggling several people atop them and moving them towards the node.
The survivors – a family, mother and several children – were staring around with varying degrees of fear and wonder on their faces, as Irene dropped them next to the node and explained to them how to use it.
The mother held her youngest in one arm, and the other two held each other by the hand, while one held hers, as they touched the node together and disappeared.
“Brennus. I’m glad you’re… safe…” Gloom Glimmer began to greet him, until her eyes fell on the rainbow-hued armband, widening at the sight of it.
“A brief run-in,” he explained, as he walked onto the childrens’ playground that the floating tesseract had teleported to. “I did not even get close to her, but she must have sensed something, and she made this band.”
“Mmmhm,” she temporized, brushing a lock of fine black hair back behind her ear. “It’ll let her track you down, so long as you’re within her range.”
He nodded, his suspicion confirmed. “Looking forward to it. If anyone can help me…”
She nodded right back. “It’ll be mom.”
They used the node to teleport to the field hospital, appearing within a huge tent, filled with people – some in scrubs or less formal clothes, taking care of the majority of those present: the injured.
Dozens upon dozens of them, capes, cowls and civilians alike, arranged in an odd spiral pattern around the nod, with a circular empty space around it, the rigidity of the pattern broken up at seemingly random intervals by intersecting pathways.
On second thought, there’s an odd rhyme to it, Basil thought, looking around, before his eyes fell on an obvious metahuman standing nearby, facing them with a clipboard held in their hands.
She was a woman or girl – probably a girl, based on what he could see of her face – wearing a skin-tight, black bodysuit, though skintight in a different way from what he usually saw – thicker, suggesting padding and even some manner of armoring. It wasn’t completely black, though – there were dark blue patterns on it, only visible when the light hit them at the right angle, tracing the contours of her body in a way that emphasized her modest curves, without being the least bit obscene. The flat soles of her boots and the palms of her hands, as well as the undersides of her fingers were all blue, and there was an emblem on her chest, fitted so delicately to her body’s shape, her breasts didn’t distort it at all – a single circle, followed by four ovals around it, like ripples extending from it, only they weren’t centered around the circle; rather, the circle was near the bottom of the symbol, with the ovals’ long extending further above than beneath it.
Her face was hidden by a black mask which covered the top half, and reached up to the crown of her head, keeping her long, straight blonde hair out of her face, while leaving her lips – painted dark blue to match the color scheme – and jaw exposed.
“Calculass,” Gloom Glimmer greeted her with a smile, holding out her hand towards her.
The girl smiled back, if a little nervously. “Gloom Glimmer. I’ve heard a lot about you – wouldn’t have thought the opposite was true. It’s an honor.” She shook the offered hand.
“Dad taking on a new apprentice isn’t something to ignore – he’s never done it in my lifetime. So I made some inquiries,” Gloom Glimmer replied with a smirk. Then she pulled her hand back, smoothing her face out more seriously. “Where do we put this one? Wounded cape, head trauma and several broken bones.”
“Possibly internal bleeding, as well,” Basil added quietly, studying the girl more intently now. The Dark’s apprentice… that did not exactly bode well. Some kind of math-related power? An esper? The name’s pretty obviously pointing in that direction.
Calculass didn’t hesitate to reply, pointing to the beginning of the spiraling pathway. “Third branch, then left, right, left, cot twenty-nine,” she advised, far more confident and steady in her speech than just moments before.
“Thank you. I hope we’ll have some time to hang out in the future, under better circumstances,” Gloom Glimmer replied with a smile, walking past her. “Also, love the costume,” she added with a thumbs up.
“Thanks. I’m kind of shocked that costume design is one of the boss’s fields of expertise,” Calculass grinned at her, briefly.
“That ain’t even the weirdest hobby dad has, believe you me,” Gloom Glimmer called out, raising her voice as they moved further away, sticking close to Basil. “And you’ll get to know way more of them, you poor, unfortunate fool!”
Basil didn’t see whether Calculass reacted, before the sound of another incoming teleport took up her attention again – his own was on walking the right way to where to put down his charge, while his raven was looking around at the wounded all around.
There were so many of them. Calculass’s system – at least, he assumed she’d been the one to plan this layout – managed to cram an incredible amount of people into the tent, while still allowing for easy movement. People had been distributed based on the wounds they were suffering from, and whether or not they were metahuman. There were even allowances made for those whose powers made being treated, or just being near others, problematic.
It was kind of impressive, managing to impose order on such a chaotic situation.
Guess that’s to be expected of the Dark’s apprentice.
They reached the assigned cot, and Basil put the woman down on it, as gently as he could. Two nurses got to work before he’d even stepped back.
He turned towards his companion, to suggest moving out again, but stopped.
Gloom Glimmer’s expression was fragile in a way he could not recall seeing before, her eyes glued to a boy half her apparent age lying in the cot next to the woman, his eyes glassy, yet occasionally blinking as he stared up into nothing, a good fifth of his head simply gone, from just above his left ear over towards the center of his forehead. Wires and catheters were connecting to the exposed brain-matter, then to some kind of gadget which apparently kept him alive, somehow.
Occasionally, the device would spark, and the boy would twitch randomly before settling down again.
She didn’t seem able to look away.
Basil took her arm by the wrist, gently tugging on it, guiding her out of the tent and into the bright, distorted daylight outside. The field hospital had been set up at the outskirts of the city, where the surrounding woodland stabbed into the urban sprawl, and had been tamed into a park, which had in turn become a popular place for family picnics.
Now, it was overrun with emergency vehicles coming and going, dropping a share of the injured and otherwise needy here, before moving on to pick up more people, or deliver others to another field hospital (they were being spread out amongst multiple locations, if they couldn’t be moved out of the Desolation Field entirely, to reduce the chance of DiL wiping them all out with a single attack).
Gloom Glimmer looked around at the chaos, her expression downcast. “This…”
Whatever she was about to say was cut off when another, familiar voice interjected with a shout.
“Ba-Brennus!” called Amy, flying over from where she’d been helping to load people onto and off of several vehicles.
A not inconsiderable part of Basil relaxed a great deal upon seeing her safe and whole.
In fact, she looked utterly untouched.
Before he could get in a word of his own, she was upon him, pulling him into a nearly literally bone-crushing hug.
“Ugh. Spine. Still. Needed,” he gasped the words out, barely, though he couldn’t honestly say he disliked it.
He would’ve hugged her back, if he’d been able to move his arms to any meaningful degree, but since her grip on him wouldn’t allow him to, he merely patted her sides with his hands.
No one around seemed to have the time or inclination to pay attention to them or care about what was going on, and he was pretty sure that wasn’t due to Amy using her power. The situation was just that messed up.
“I should kill you, you damn idiot,” Amy croaked, squeezing even harder for a moment, before she mercifully let him have his lung function back.
“I was worried about you, too,” he replied with a groan, trying not to show just how much her hug had pained him. Damn these cracked ribs. “You don’t look like you’re hurt at all, though,” he replied, and he couldn’t help but sound a little bit accusatory.
She somehow managed to look both embarrassed and annoyed at the same time, rubbing the back of her head while shifting on those ridiculous stiletto heels of hers. “Boss’s orders. We’re to hold back until the big attack starts, make sure to conserve our powers and stamina.”
“What is his plan, anyway?” Basil asked, curiously, assuming that she, as one of his lieutenants, surely had to know.
“Dunno,” she replied.
Or maybe not.
“This whole thing is rushed like crazy. From what I get, he was hoping she’d take longer to reappear, or skip one battle and use his grand plan the next time, after more prepwork. But I guess New Lennston’s too important to not go all out in defending it,” Amy elaborated.
“He’s always loved this city, even when he hated it,” Gloom Glimmer agreed with a thoughtful nod, her left hand’s fingertips touching her chin. “Plus, losing New Lennston to DiL, after we lost Old Lennston to her… the hit to morale would be tremendous and it definitely is unacceptable.” Another thought seemed to come to her, and she looked up at Amy. “Where is Dad, anyway?”
“At the memorial plaza, preparing to set off the big pl-“, she started to reply, only to be interrupted by a deafening shriek.
The sound was akin to a woman’s wail, amplified a million times over, with odd, discordant harmonics mixed in to make it more cacophonous than Basil would have thought possible.
Its origin was emminently obvious – DiL herself was not visible, but the chaotic twist of space around her was, as her new power twisted realtiy in a way that gave Basil vertigo even by looking at it from halfway across the city.
From that central point, jagged lines of twisted space were reaching out, spreading across the sky and into the ground, before fading back again.
Whatever they touched was destroyed, matter twisted up in such a fashion as to reduce entire buildings to rubble, condensed into deformed masses a fraction of their original size.
He couldn’t see far enough to tell how it affected any metahuman it hit, but those whom flew high enough for him to see and got struck by one of those flowing arcs dropped and didn’t come up again.
Several tendrils lashed out towards Lady Light’s glowing form, causing Gloom Glimmer to gasp where she stood next to Basil, but they were deflected with a flash of light, and she pressed the attack, trying to force DiL to change away from such a lethal power.
Not that any of the powers she took were ever harmless.
“Fuck, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do much at all, even if I was allowed to,” Amy shouted, and yet was barely heard nonetheless.
Gloom Glimmer raised her right arm to snap her fingers, and the cacophony died down, letting everyone relax and focus on their duties again.
Considering how dire the conditions of most of the people being treated were, that was vital.
“How long can you keep that up, princess?” Amy asked, rubbing underneath her ears with two fingers each, as if to rub the pain away.
Basil really missed his full helmet now – the hearing protection in his spare mask wasn’t nearly up to its level.
”This power’s pretty fresh,” Gloom Glimmer replied, without looking – she was wholly focused on the spectacle in the distance. “A few minutes, I’d guess. Up to twenty, if we’re lucky.”
”That will not do,” Basil stated simply. “She has to change her powers again, and quickly – if not for our sake, then for that of everyone else in this city, particularly the other medical camps.”
Gloom Glimmer frowned, clenching her left hand into a fist, tightly enough it started to tremble. “Yeah… and we can’t… shouldn’t… just rely on mom, so-“
A new, yet all too familiar voice cut her off, reverberating through the artificial quiet Gloom Glimmer’s power had generated.
“I hope you don’t mean to finish that sentence the way I think you do,” the Dark spoke, as calmly as was possible when your voice sounded like a ghostly chorus.
Gloom Glimmer’s face brightened up, as she all but flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around what may have been his waist – it was hard to tell, with how formless his current appearance was – and made a gleeful squeal.
“Don’t think you being cute is going to distract me from the issue, young lady,” he continued, even as he hugged her back tightly enough she almost seemed to disappear into the shadows, and mussed her hair with one hand.
“I’m not trying to distract you! Just glad you’re ok,” she replied, stepping back after one more tight squeeze, combing her hair back with her fingers.
“You are glad that I am alright?” he asked, six glowing eyes growing incredulously wide as he bent over so much he nearly made a right angle, putting his face at the same height as hers. “You’re the one who’s been in danger, young lady!”
“That’s all part of wearing the cape!” she replied, looking up at him with a smile, looking positively re-energized. “Speaking of which, it seems like my powers are finally, properly, back.” She looked down herself, and Basil followed her gaze to see that she was levitating a step or so above the ground, in the center of a circle of swirling dust.
She raised her hand, and tiny motes of light in all colors of the rainbow began to dance between and around her fingers, seeming to somehow… suck in the light, the area immediately around their small group growing darker, even as the motes burned brighter.
“Irene, my sweet, don’t you dare go out there now!” the Dark stepped in, reaching for her hand with his own.
Gloom Glimmer pulled back, floating to put a few meters between them. “You know I can’t just stand by – I have to help mom. Wish me luck!” she replied, completely ignoring his protests, as she saluted Basil, and shot off towards the fight.
“No listen to m- why do you just ignore your father!” he shouted in exasperation, his hands disappearing in the shadows of his head, as if he was reaching past the wraith to pull on his hair. “Why’d you have to take after me so much!”
Amy put her hand over her mouth, her shoulders shaking as she tried not to make a sound.
It didn’t help, as he whirled around and pointed a long, misty finger at her.
“You. After her. Keep her safe.”
He didn’t wait for a reply, or even an acknowledgement, and simply turned around and walked away, back to where Basil could see Rounds and several other of the higher-ranked capes and cowls congregate.
“Damn. Babysitting duty,” Amy groused, her arms and head dropping. “Noooooot looking forward to this!”
Basil took her hand into his, squeezing it tightly. “Just make sure you’re safe,” he said, his eyes returning to the distant battle, following the fast-flying form of Gloom Glimmer as she approached the blazing sun that was her mother.
“I should be the one saying that, considering your track record…” she continued to grumble, before floating up a bit to kiss him on the top of the head. “Be safe, little brother.”
He pulled his mask down, and kissed her on the cheek. “You too, sister.”
She nodded at him with a wry smile, then turned around and flew away – only to jerk to a stop, his hand having shot up to grab her by the wrist before he even consciously chose to.
“Basil?” she looked at him, her eyes widening when she saw the overwrought expression on his face.
“I…” he began, struggling himself to put what he was feeling into words.
Why do I feel like this is the last time we’ll talk to each other? he thought, miserably, unable to find the right thing to say, as he felt his face contract, nearly crumbling.
She floated closer, wrapping her arms around his head to pull it against her bosom, her feet a good deal above the ground.
Don’t be silly, she spoke into his mind. We’ll talk again so much, we’ll both grow sick of it and refuse to talk at all anymore.
He didn’t have it in him to laugh, or even chuckle. Instead, he looked up at her, his arms having found their way around her lower waist, hugging her tightly.
I love you, Amy, he said in his head, unable to get the words past the knot in his tongue.
She gave him a brilliant smile in return, looking down with the gentle expression he’d missed so long. I love you too, Basil.
Once more, she kissed him, this time on his forehead.
And then she flew off to fight an enemy he could do nothing against.
Looking after her, tears running down his cheeks as he put his mask back on to cover at least the lower part of his face, he couldn’t help but feel the same as before, like that had been a farewell.
Just like the last time he’d seen Prisca, held her, kissed her. Felt her disappear.
And yet again, there was nothing at all he could do.
Silver light flowed from Rounds’ palm, where it met Bismuth’s cheek, washing over her like a second skin, clinging tightly for a moment before the silvery Bismuth stepped aside, separating from the original.
At the same time, two new windows, paired together, appeared in his mind, one to the half of her power that he could use himself, and another to the silvery apparition, giving him an innate sense of her state and location.
Ten other pairs were already in his mind, filling it nearly to the brim, much like the ten – now eleven – apparitions filled the space around him.
Just one more, and he’d be at his limit.
The sheer power accumulated in him was already such that he felt it pull at his very sanity. Overwhelming, to have all these options at hand.
Lamarr’s spatial manipulation alone may have distracted him for hours, if he wasn’t currently limited to the area within the Desolation Field.
Bismuth stepped back, her head held low, mirrored by her apparition. Even if he couldn’t feel what his apparitions felt – and they usually mirrored their progenitor’s feelings – he’d have no trouble figuring out what was affecting her.
The many things that were wearing down on her.
So much to work out. So little time.
He turned his head away from her, not to dismiss her, but to focus on more urgent matters.
His eyes fell on the shadowy, almost wispy figure that was the Dark, standing at the edge of the terrace this camp had been set upon, looking out over the devastated city, and the battle raging on in the distance.
Watching for his daughter, Rounds thought. I suppose even he has a modicum of decency.
He hated it. Hated, that the children were fighting. That they were risking their lives. That they were being exposed to so many horrors.
That he hadn’t been there to shield them from it.
He would never agree with the wide-spread practice of putting children in costumes and throwing them at the horrors of the world, telling them to be heroes, no matter what the statistics said.
But here, if anywhere, there was nothing he could do. Even if he could forbid it, most would fight anyway, to protect their home from her. And there was no way he’d be able to divert the resources to restrain them, at such a time.
Shaking his head, he walked over to his enemy and stood by his side, followed by his silvery apparitions. Three of them – Wary Wu’s and two of Gloom Glimmer’s – were focusing on the fight, constantly feeding him new information, which his half of their powers picked up on and further processed, before throwing it back at them, in a constant back and forth.
Normally, copying esper powers like this was a great boon to him, but right now, with both DiL and Gloom Glimmer in the fight, they were all but useless.
At least he was pretty certain they’d warn him in time in case he had to block an incoming attack.
Pretty certain, but not completely so, which was why all the other apparitions where also focusing on the battle for him, ready to leap into action.
He himself, meanwhile, rolled his shoulders, the body armor he wore over his suit shifting, glittering with reflected light as the individual plates it consisted off changed their orientation slightly. He’d never liked how sparkly and ostentatious it all was – at times he felt like he was wearing jewelry, rather than armor – but that arse Patrid had beat the importance of proper public relations into his head a long, long time ago.
“I hope you didn’t come over here to ask me for a copy of my power, Rounds,” the Dark spoke without turning to look at him. Not that he wasn’t perfectly capable of looking straight at Rounds while seemingly facing the battle. And also focusing on that in equal measure.
With a chuckle, Rounds shook his head. “If it’s anything like Lady Light’s power, then I want no part in it.”
That caused him to turn his head and look down at him.
He’d never admit it out loud, especially in front of him, but even after all these years, getting the Dark’s full attention was a thoroughly discombobulating experience.
“She allowed you to make a copy of her?” he asked, intently, his voices not sharp, but definitely more forceful than during his almost casual remark before.
“She let me try,” Rounds replied, putting an emphasis on the ‘try’ part. “It didn’t go over well.”
The Dark chuckled, turning away again – and as soon as his immediate gaze left Rounds, he felt like a weight had dropped off his shoulders.
I wonder whether he uses a power to cause that, or whether it really is just his presence.
“I imagine it wouldn’t, no,” the wispy supervillain continued. “She must trust you a great deal, if she revealed herself to you so.”
“I suppose so,” Rounds said, his eyes back on the fight in the distance.
Lady Light and Gloom Glimmer seemed to be trading off now, moving back and forth, alternating in their efforts to curtail DiL’s destructive performance.
As much as he hated seeing her in such danger, he couldn’t help but admire how well Gloom Glimmer was managing to keep up with her mother.
Still, holding her off was not going to be enough – in fact, either DiL was slowly adapting to them, or sheer coincidence was causing her powers to last longer and longer, the seconds stretching on between each switch. Occasionally, Rounds could even make out individual powers without the use of his added abilities, before she was forced to change yet again.
He turned his head away, and looked at the other figure standing nearby.
Hanabi’s form was hidden behind his voluminous, old-fashioned purple, black and gold robes and the tall, black hat he wore, from which a curtain of white cloth fell, obscuring his face – in fact, his entire head.
He was kneeling in front of a circle of thin bamboo rods tipped by various, weirdly shaped fireworks in all colors of the rainbow, driven into the ground where he’d had Rounds crack the pavement for his preparations.
A rough map of the area within the Desolation Field had been carved into the earth, with more bamboo sticks driven into various points, holding up even more fireworks.
At the same time, a dozen heroes and villains were setting up full-sized fireworks all around the city, mirroring the markings on the map, he knew.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” he couldn’t help but ask, as nervously as he ever felt.
The whole thing had sounded way too good to be true, when it’d been explained to him.
“Nothing is certain,” the Dark replied calmly, staring out into the distance. “It should work, based on my understanding of the powers involved, and the principles behind them. But you know the difference between theory and practice.”
Rounds grunted in affirmation, not sure how to reply to that.
Well, there was one reply…
“I really, really hope this will work.”
“So do I,” was the answer, though he didn’t sound like he meant it.
Before he could dig into the meaning behind that, he felt an odd tremor, one which went through the ground and the air at the same time, rippling through his body in the oddest way, like he was being stretched and compacted at the same time, for less than a second.
He turned to look at the battle, at the alarm his apparitions of Gloom Glimmer expressed through their link, only to see Lady Light’s blazing form dart towards her daughter, so fast he could barely follow in spite of his enhanced senses, touching and repelling her, launching her out of the way of an advancing ripple in the air-
And then Lady Light and five other fliers just disappeared, all at once, along with a diagonal cross-section of a nearby building.
The Dark took a step forward, in seeming shock, and Rounds was not far behind, when the aftermath hit them.
Air rushed in, towards where the attack had hit, filling in the vacuum created, violently stirring up dust, leaves and rubble before it died down again.
Did she just kill… no, don’t be stupid. She wouldn’t go down like this!
His apparitions stepped forth, focusing any applicable power they had, but the Dark was faster than they.
“Some manner of spatial manipulation… offensive teleportation? I can still feel Gwen, but she’s… far,” he said, more to himself than to Rounds, as if to reassure his own worries.
In the distance, Gloom Glimmer’s form flickered, violently, and a massive blast of blackish something lanced out, smashing into DiL, splashing over her form – and evidently penetrating her outer defenses sufficiently to force her to change her powers again, as the signal sent from the young vigilante whom could feel these changes told them.
Still, Rounds’ stomach dropped into his knees, and not just because the effect of Lady Light’s city-spanning aura was gone now.
They’d just lost their strongest, best fighter, and there was no way to tell how long it’d take her to return to the battle.
“Damn it, we have to mobilize our people again – I won’t have Gloom Glimmer try to hold her off on her own!” he shouted, raising his hand to his ear to transmit the order.
A soft, almost gentle voice interrupted him, speaking with a strong accent.
“It is nearly done, Lord Dark,” the kneeling form of Hanabi spoke, his voice barely rising above the sound of the blowing air, or the distant battle. “My greatest performance shall begin presently.”
The Dark relaxed, almost imperceptibly – if it wasn’t for all the esper powers at his disposal, Rounds would have missed it.
“Your timing is as impeccable as your artwork, my dear man,” he spoke, calmly, nodding his head towards the heavily enshrouded villain from Japan. “Begin as soon as you are able.”
Hanabi inclined his head, deeper than the Dark had, and took out a burning stick incense-covered wood, reaching for the many fuses of all the fireworks worked into the array in front of him, all tied together at various points in such a fashion that the flame would reach each firework at the same time.
Which would trigger all the fireworks spread out across the city, simultaneously.
“Impeccable timing? You are joking,” Rounds all but snarled, though he wasn’t really angry at the Dark – at least, not in this case. “If only we could have launched that a minute sooner, we’d still have-”
“No,” the Dark disagreed, his voice firm. “This is better. It will be harder for us, but better this than having Gwen participate.”
His voice turned soft, almost human, as they watched Hanabi light the fuses.
“No mother should have to watch her child die, much less participate in the killing.”
Rounds opened his mouth, not sure whether to disagree, agree, or laugh at the sheer, gutwrenching wrongness of it all, but he closed it again, not sure at all about it.
“Prepare yourselves,” the Dark spoke, and his voice was repeated across the entire city by every single one of Memento’s communicators. “Our grand gambit is almost at hand.”
The lit fuses disappeared into the fireworks, flashing with heat and light – but instead of launching the fireworks, they consumed them, burning them up in a single, bright flash.
All over the city, a hundred and eight matching fireworks shot up into the air, trailing paths of rainbow-colored sparks in ever-shifting, complex patterns that made one dizzy to merely look at them.
The glowing tips of these rising spears flew up as high as the Desolation Field allowed them to go, turning its bright, shifting colors into an even greater mess as they added their own, darker lights.
Then the lights spread, connecting to each other in a grand net of light, before each strand collapsed into total blackness, a dark, dark net spreading out over them – only to disappear.
And with its disappearance, DiL dropped out of the sky, crashing down onto the grand plaza of New Lennston.
With his enhanced eye sight, courtesy of the Falconer’s apparition, he could see her nude form, lying amidst the glowing mass of her ridiculously long hair, her face as expressionless as ever, yet conveying something almost akin to confusion, as she lay there, her arms and legs touching the ground as dust settled on her unblemished skin.
Then, the dust began to swirl around her, forming an expanding sphere, as everyone stared at the jaw-dropping sight.
“The gambit was successful! DiL’s absolute defense has been nullified – penetrate her lesser powers, and we can finally put her down!” the Dark shouted, spreading his message all over the defending forces. “Put an end to this wretched tale!”
He hadn’t even finished his announcement, when a great cry rose.
A hundred voices and more joined together in utter, unbridled awe, fury and sheer, unrestrained hope, screaming it to the sky, as everyone who was even remotely able to do so charged into the battle.
Even Bismuth joined her voice to the others, her passion reignited as she shot forward, launched by a pillar of crystal shooting up beneath her feet.
Rounds stepped forth to join them, only to stop at the edge of the terrace, looking back at the wispy, barely substantial form of the Dark.
The King of Supervillains stepped up next to him, standing at the very edge of it as well. “You should go,” he said. “I’m too weak to contribute right now, but I’ll do what I can to coordinate our assault.”
Rounds’ reached for his sword, drawing it out of its sheath, gripping it tightly. “What you said earlier… the same applies to you, doesn’t it?”
The Dark turned his head again, looking down at him. “What do you mean?”
Rounds looked up at those six unblinking red eyes, trying to ignore the sheer weight of their gaze. “No mother should see or help their child die – nor should any father.”
The shadowy figure looked at him, for a moment longer, before averting his face, focusing on the battle again.
When he replied, his voices were so soft they were almost human again.
“Monsters don’t count.”