15.6 All Masks Fall

I really hope Melody’s alright, was the thought foremost in Irene’s mind, as she watched a flesh-colored crystal creep all over Bloodbath’s limp body, encasing him from head to toe, much like Slice Bride and Bullrush had already been encased.

Covered so, with half of Slice Bride hanging off the free-standing wall of a broken apartment building, kept alive only by the same stasis crystals which trapped her, Bullrush lying on the ground by said wall and Bloodbath bent over the window sill and frozen in stasis, the three villains wouldn’t be able to do anyone any harm for a while – potentially for years, if they weren’t freed by someone with the right power.

Irene hadn’t felt like being particularly kind to them, beyond refraining from just plain killing them all.

“You can come out now!” she spoke, her voice bright and clear, not betraying the dark knot of fear for her friends.

A quick look up at the screens showed her that Atrocity had yet to get Tartsche to drop his defenses, and so long as he didn’t… well, the Six were something else, alright, but even collectively, they were no Emyr Blackhill. Tartsche, Tyche and her mother would be safe, for the time being.

While she looked, people gathered around her, carefully avoiding a patch of churning, bubbling blue liquid light that still stuck around from the brief scuffle with the Rabid Wannabes. People, adults and children in dirty, dust-covered clothing, some sporting hastily bandaged wounds and bruises.

“Are they… dead?”, one of the men asked, a rugged fellow with gang tattoos in white ink on black skin, looking at Slice Bride’s encased form. She’d named him Swirlyhead in her mind, when she’d caught a glimpse of him a month ago, during a drug lab raid she’d assisted the police with.

“No, merely in stasis,” Irene replied, barely paying attention. The crystal chrysalis power was dropping away, now that it was no longer needed, as did the power she’d used to tag them all, the ability to speed up time for herself… a power all too reminiscent of Jared, the poor fool, if not quite as powerful, nor quite as limiting as his. That left her with the low-key danger sense she’d kept since this whole mess started, and another, more crucial power.

“Should be dead,” he snarled, spitting at her. Several of the others in the group mumbled their agreement with the sentiment.

Irene turned away – she didn’t like the sentiment, but she could hardly fault them for it, so she chose to stay on task.

“We should move on – there ought to be more people out there, still,” she said, doing her best to sound confident and, well… like she knew what she was doing.

It wasn’t easy, because she was never quite sure of her own decision-making. But her current plan seemed quite good.

As long as she didn’t run into Mindfuck, of course.

Just then, as if in response, another power manifested, joining the two she was maintaining. A mental effect, it felt like a kind of immaterial rubber, wrapped around her, carrying a hodge-podge of emotional states and discordant thoughts, a barrier between her mind and any outside power.

Experimenting, she pushed the rubber, stretching it away from her. It thinned the protective layer around herself, but she was quite sure if she touched someone else with it, they’d get one hell of a headache out of it.

It was also completely insufficient. The protection was strong, but became fragile when she used it to attack. Worse, it didn’t feel efficient – actively holding off a mental assault, it’d quickly wear out, based on what she could get off of inspecting the power. All Mindfuck would have to do would be to sustain his assault for a minute or two, and then he’d have her.

Irene knew herself well enough to know that once he got through, there’d be no way for her to break free on her own; she was just too vulnerable to telepathic assaults. The things the Savage Six could inflict upon innocents with her as their puppet were too horrible to contemplate.

She dismissed that power, letting it sink back down into the darkness – but doing so took her danger sense with it, as well, the minor power slipping away from her so quickly, she only realized what was happening when it was already beyond her reach, just barely having the time to focus on keeping a hold of the other power she had to maintain.

Focus, Irene. You can’t afford to slip up like that! she admonished herself, climbing as gracefully as she could (which wasn’t much, without a power to help) over a mound of rubble, and then down the other side, followed shortly after by the survivors she’d gathered up.

Two new powers rose up together. One was small, one was familiar, one of the biggest powers she ever got, and all too rarely.

The first settled in as an expanding, invisible force-cloud which filled the air around her and gave her feedback on anything within – she knew this power, if she condensed the cloud, she’d be able to move objects, or blast them about, at the cost of reducing the area she was getting feedback on. Versatile, useful, a single power that allowed her to move, perceive, attack and defend all at once.

That was the lesser power.

Irene braced herself as the other one settled in, and her mind came unstuck, her viewpoint seeming to shift, like the whole world took a step to the left, and she stepped right instead…

***

The scene was awash in blue, like someone had messed with the color settings of the whole world.

He stood upon the rooftop of a small office building, his form that of something resembling, if anything, a kind of long-limbed, mini-van-sized sea star, standing atop three limbs, with four more stretched out into the air.

Eye-like organs studded his entire body, and in between them, where there wasn’t enough space for more eyes, tiny hairs and fleshy tendrils extended, capturing mediums other than light as they seemed to flow in an invisible current that didn’t line up with the air movements around them.

The four limbs stretched into the sky all fanned out into ear-drum-like membranes, which were vibrating at such a high frequency, they were only visible as a pale blur which, much like the rest of his form, only had any color because the entire scene was blue-shifted.

Hemming. Gathering information? What is he looking at…

Her viewpoint shifted, focusing in the direction he seemed to be looking into – and saw the UH HQ, or what was left of it.

The gleaming skyscraper had seemingly been cut at the middle, the upper half collapsing to the side and smashing the buildings there, but the lower half still stood tall.

Is he looking for Hotrod? He did mark him as his target, and I guess looking for him where he has his workshop first makes sense… but this scene is blue, why would Hotrod still be in there?

***

“I’d say something to the effect of ‘are you crazy’ and ‘what are you doing in your workshop of all places’, at such a time” Patrid’s smooth voice intruded upon Hotrod’s workshop, as he stepped into the red-shifted scenery. “But frankly, I cannot even pretend to be surprised to find you here.”

While there were often commonalities, each gadgeteer’s workshop tended to be unique, and Hotrod was no exception. His place, which took up two entire underground levels of the UH HQ, with no walls or any other subdivision, looked, fittingly enough, like a gigantic garage, if it had been thrown together for an over-the-top action movie.

Mechanical limbs, bigger and far more elaborate (and in some cases, slapdash) than anything you’d find in a normal car factory dotted the workshop, which was laid out in three dimensions, rather than two, with parts, tools and projects stacked atop each other where floor space had run out.

One could have spent days, perhaps weeks, exploring the place, and still not be able to catalogue everything in sight, but Patrid walked straight towards the center of the gym hall sized floor, where a humungous… something with nineteen wheels was held up by half a dozen robotic limbs atop a circular, elevated stage, while half a dozen more such limbs, mounted upon a rotating wheel set around said stage, welded parts onto it and otherwise did various work.

Standing atop an elevated platform with a half-circular control console, and wearing what looked like a mechanic’s overall crossed with a computer’s motherboard, stood a slender, medium-height man.

He didn’t wear a mask – not that he needed it, when he didn’t have a civilian identity, and pretty much never used his original name anymore, anyway – and his dark brown skin was covered in a sheen of sweat that made his bald pate seem outright polished, as dark, brown eyes threaded through with circuit-shaped mercury focused on the work ahead of him.

Patty and Hotrod together again? Wow…

“I am well aware of the situation outside, brother,” he said, without diverting his attention, coordinating more robotic arms than he had fingers to work simultaneously. “Which is why I absolutely must finish this project… I would not have thought they would attack us here, so soon,” he added with a frustrated growl.

Patrick hopped up onto the platform, easily clearing six meters of height with the same effort a normal man might put into going up a single step, coming to a halt right next to the man calling him ‘brother’, whom could not have seemed more like his very opposite if he’d tried – blue-eyed, blonde-haired paleness in a white suit and tie, on a black shirt, perfectly composed like he’d just come out of the wardrobe and off the hands of a team of make-up and fashion specialists.

“They are here, though. And Hemming has marked you for his target, now,” he replied, his voice seemingly as casual and uncaring as it usually was.

Oh Patty, just because you pretend doesn’t mean we buy it…

“I know,” Hotrod replied, gnashing his teeth – which appeared to have all been replaced by steel replicas, which were also threaded through with circuitry, which, in turn, was flashing with energy travelling through it, as his tongue played over them, like they were just yet another control element. “But this is my magnum opus, as much as I may try, there is a limit to how much I can rush it – and there is no way I can face them with anything less.”

Patrick ran the fingers of his right hand through his hair, slicking it back. “Good thing I just so happened to come across someone that might be helpful there,” he said with a smirk.

Who?

“Who? I can’t just have any gadgeteer help me with this project, it requires a very specific skillset,” Hotrod replied through gnashed teeth again. “Even Polymnia could only supply some isolated systems, and that girl is ridiculously versatile.”

“Dunno about the little songbird, but I think I can help some!” a new voice spoke up from the entrance to the workshop, as two new figures walked in.

Both her viewpoint, and Hotrod turned around to look at the newcomers.

Ehhh?!

“What are you two- how did you get here?” Hotrod asked, as all the machines he’d been controlling ground to a halt – it seemed all he could do was keep his jaw from hitting the floor.

“They were comin’ to help with the previous situation, but arrived just moments before the Six pulled us into this mess,” Patrick explained, smirking. “So as soon as they knew what was going on, they made their way here to see about coordinating the response.”

“And I tell you, it was no easy feat managing to get here without drawing attention… but I’ve got a good feeling that the Six don’t know we’re here yet,” the second newcomer said, approaching.

“So, let’s get crackin’ on this project of yours, Hotshot!” the other said, his voice overflowing with excitement.

“The name is Hotrod, when will you get that through your skull?!”

***

Her consciousness drifted back to her own body, barely a second having passed in the present, the colors returning to normal. Irene continued on her way, using her telekinetic cloud to shift and move rubble, clearing the path for the ragtag group of survivors she’d gathered, letting her non-linear vision recharge… it was a shame that, not only did she rarely get that power, it also never lasted long, and could only be used a few times before it was gone again.

I’ll have to pick my targets… I don’t think I’ll get more than two more views, three if I limit myself to red scenes, she thought, pulling her hood down, and her cloak closer about her body, pretty much hiding herself from view beneath the thick white cloth. Still, she looked up, briefly, at Fire Burial’s screen, her heart skipping a beat as she saw a fireball explode against Melody’s sonic shield.

Oh God, I wish I could be there to help Melody, she thought, averting her eyes from the scene. Teleportation and reality shifting had been some of the first powers she’d gained upon arriving here, but however Heretic did it, she was barred from moving between the pocket spaces he’d created, except via the seemingly randomly shifting gateways.

Melody, Harry, Thomas, they all needed her help… nevermind Jared’s little sister, or Hecate, or Tyche… and she didn’t even know how many others had been caught up in this.

At least Patty and the guys ought to be alright, as long as they stick together.

That had been a red scene, so it’d happened in the past… but her vision of Hemming spying on the UH HQ had been from the future, so presumably, they’d have the time they need to finish Hotrod’s big project… a magnum opus he’d been designing specifically to challenge the Six, especially Hemming…

Have they somehow foreseen that? Is that why Hemming has marked Hotrod as his target, because he wants to eliminate him before he finishes it? Or because he relishes the challenge? He once went after Hotrod’s old team, the Speedfreakz, specifically to prove himself the greatest speedster in the world… a title he’s now lost to Tachyon, but nevertheless… the rivalry exists.

She turned a corner, onto a larger street, grabbing up three devotees wearing red armor pads on their body and joints, with the cloth in between colored golden, and choked them out, tossing them into an alley before the civilians could catch up and get scared by the lowlifes.

No, they couldn’t have foreseen it… predicting the creation of gadgets is nigh-impossible, doubly so for a magnum opus, and powerful gadgets are in themselves blindspots to most forms of extra-sensory perception… one of the few things they really do have in common with contrivers.

It was why no one had seen Su Lin coming, nor been able to respond to her in a timely fashion – the woman’s average creations had made put gadgeteers’ magna opera to shame, not to mention what her big builds had done…

It was another reason why the Six were so difficult to pin down… Hemming was an incredibly powerful Esper, Atrocity was a powerful gadgeteer, Pristine was a permanent blindspot and Heretic, like all high-end contrivers, couldn’t be looked at directly with any form of pre- or post-cognition… even cycling through over a dozen such powers, Irene had only been able to get a few indirect glimpses of him, as if her powers shied away from focusing on someone so twisted. She’d burned through all those powers, just to get a basic idea of what to do.

Which didn’t even account for any specific counter-ESP measures they all but certainly had taken to further protect themselves.

Even so, both pre- and post-cognition still work within this space and my power’s been surprisingly cooperative ever since this mess began, she continued her train of thought, only to have it turn sour.

Why couldn’t it be this helpful before? was a thought that kept coming up. W-why couldn’t I get the crystal stasis when Basil was, when he…

She shuddered, hugging herself beneath her cloak, then pulled it tighter about herself, trying to feel like there was someone holding her.

She’d seen people die before, but… never someone she’d known, someone she’d liked. Never in front of her, never all but in her arms, only to hold his corpse…

I was so useless. Why couldn’t you fucking give me a single good power to save him with? she thought angrily at her power. You just gave me a crystal stasis power that could have preserved him, at least! Or how about some time reversion? Healing? Anything? I’ve saved people from worse than what happened to him, in the past, so why couldn’t I do it then?

“M-miss Gloom Glimmer?” a hesitating voice pulled her out of the spiral of dark thoughts, causing her hood to twitch to the left, so she could look at the middle-aged woman in the dust-covered sweater dress that’d walked up to her. “Excuse me, but… do you know how soon we can take a break? Some of the children, I don’t think they can last much longer like this.”

Irene turned more fully, looking past her and at the ragtag group she’d gathered, even as her non-linear perception came back online.

“Just a little further,” she tried to reassure the woman, as the pressure on her mind built up – maintaining one power for over an hour was not something she could do casually. “We’ll keep an eye out for a place to take a short break in, alright?”

The woman, and the others behind her, relaxed a bit, even the big tough guys that were trying to look like they could keep going for hours more – but the truth was, they were all exhausted, regardless of their physical or mental fortitude.

“Let’s get a move on. And don’t forget to prevent the children from looking up at the screens,” she added, softly, trying to sound like her mom (and doing a poor job of it, in her mind).

“Y-yes, of course,” the woman agreed, throwing a brief look up herself, only to cringe and retreat to join the group proper.

Irene wanted, so much, to look up. Or better yet, use her power to gaze into the future, make sure Melody and the others would be alright, but…

I can’t. If I see you die, too, I don’t think I’ll be able to do what needs to be done, she thought, morosely, turning away from the group to advance further down the street, looking around for a building that didn’t look like a trap. And I can’t afford to waste a charge, anyway… so what should I look at next?

***

The scene was blue-shifted again. It would perhaps have been better to only look at red scenes, not blue ones, to preserve her power’s charges, but Mindstar was beyond crucial – the woman had revealed some startling capabilities, and the thought of her falling into the hands of the Six was beyond terrifying to Irene.

Two scores of corpses with holes burned into their chests walked in lockstep through Mackenzie Park, led by a girl with a glowing staff and dark eyes, dragging a ragged-looking, babbling Mindstar after her.

Hecate, oh God. What’s happened?

Both of them seemed to be in reasonably good physical health, at least… but mentally…

Hecate’s eyes looked wrong, like a light had gone out inside, to be replaced by something darker, harsher. Her mouth was twisted into a snarl of pain and cold rage, and the hand holding onto her pulsing staff was shaking with barely restrained violence.

Mindstar, meanwhile, looked like she’d gone through a shredder. Her costume was barely decent anymore, showing as much skin as it covered, and was soaked through with blood, though any wounds she may have had had long since healed. The woman was barely able to walk, even though she had taken those ridiculous heels off and was wearing a pair of scavenged boots that utterly clashed with her outfit.

Or, considering that she was babbling incoherently while clinging to Hecate’s hand like a lost child, she probably hadn’t done that on her own – it seemed more like something Hecate would think of, even in such a situation.

“Can’t feel him can’t feel him can’t feel him can’t can’t so far so far fading fading connection disrupted disrupted the sun is lost again again back back like winter again again can’t can’t can’t…”

“Will you shut up already?” the witch hissed at the broken woman. “If you’re going to keep talking, at least tell me something I want to know!”

She looked over her shoulder at her… prisoner? Companion? Ward? Irene couldn’t tell.

As her ire grew, the walking dead hissed and snarled towards Mindstar, without so much as missing a step. Almost all of them looked the same – a hole in their chests, to show a burning heart, burning eyes and a collar of flames about their shoulders. They were, one and all, devotees, mostly Pristine’s, wearing see-through clothing or armor, but also a few of Fire Burial’s devotees, which tended to wear flame-patterned clothing of various kinds, and they all moved with an unnatural fluidity, in perfect synch with each other.

I didn’t know Hecate could do anything like this…

Mindstar whimpered, shrinking away from the dead – which meant moving closer to Hecate, as there were undead all around her, otherwise.

Hecate sighed, and kept walking, holding the older supervillain’s hand. “Lupus Maior. Do you even remember her?”

Lupus who?

“Your cousin cousin. Star wolf girl,” Mindstar mumbled, quieting down a little. “Remember Basil? I can’t find Basil, I should be l-“

Cousin!?

“Basil is gone,” Hecate said, harshly, yet it cost her several tears to do so. “Why did you kill her? She was a freaking tree hugger, all she did was hunt poachers and illegal pollution, why the fuck did that merit the Dark Five taking an interest in her?”

“Star wolf, star wolf, cute little star wolf… I think… forest? Was tracking… hm… Basil? I was looking for B-“

Hecate interrupted her with a snarl: “No, not Basil! It had nothing to do with Basil! Just tell me what happened to my cousin! Lupus Maior!”

Mindstar whimpered, looking down. “Bad wolf. Bad wolf, bad wolf. Boss said to find out about bad wolf, stop it stop it, find Basil, gotta find Basil I need Basil, Basil-“

Just what is all this about?

“What does any of that mean?” Hecate asked. “Why did the Dark want you to go after my cousin?! Why was she so bad?”

The broken villain shook her head again. “Not star wolf, bad wolf. Bad wolf, bad. Bad wolf ate star wolf, so so, um, have you seen Basil? I need to find Basil, I really really need to f-” She was cut off as she walked into Hecate, who’d frozen in place.

Hecate let go of her hand, whirling around, and Mindstar cringed, pulling back and averting her eyes from those dark, dull green orbs. “What do you mean, ate her? Are you telling me you didn’t kill her? Am I really supposed to believe that!?!” she screamed at the cowering villain.

“No no I killed killed the star wolf girl, killed killed her. Bad wolf got her so I killed killed her,” she mumbled, wringing her hands, her eyes fixated on a spot on the ground. “Y-you know Basil? Can you tell me where Basil Basil is, I need, need Basil to make, make better, head hurts hurts hurts I hurt hurt need Basil Basil Basil…”

Hecate threw her head back and screamed, roared, the sound coming out with an almost physical effect, causing Mindstar to fall on her butt, and even the undead surrounding them staggered back.

“I can’t take this anymore? Why the fuck do I finally get to talk to you, when you’re too fucking messed up to actually answer clearly?!”

“Sorry sorry I just just Basil I need Basil need Basil please-“

“Basil is dead! He’s dead, don’t you get it!?” Hecate screamed at her, throwing her hood back as she leaned in and stared Mindstar in the eyes, hot tears running down her cheeks in endless streams. “He’s dead and there’s not even a corpse left because I was too fucking stupid to hold on to him and now he’s gone and gone and gone!”

Her voice cracked over the last few words, as she fell to her knees, hiding her face in her hands.

Mindstar knelt down as well, almost knee to knee with the sobbing witch hero. “He always comes back, you know?” she said, in a voice that didn’t suit her curvy, adult form at all – she sounded more like a tween than an grown woman. “He went away so many times, but… they said he’d died so many times, but… but he always came back, back to me, me…” she spoke, her voice barely more than a whisper.

“To you? They? What… just what is the story behind you two?” Hecate asked, begged really, putting her hands down on her knees. “What is going on? Why did Basil have all these holes in his memories, and who was this other guy that’d take over every time Osore used his power on him? And what in all sweet heavens is wrong with you?”

I wonder whether Papa knew anything about this

Mindstar, Amanda, averted her eyes. “I don’t, don’t re-re-remember… much, just… something… bad people… s-s-seven, bad people, they, they hurt us… over and over and over… it was always… always him, that pro-pro-protected, m-m-.”

***

Irene blinked, as the scene disappeared and she was once again seeing in normal colors, nary a second having passed in the present.

Darn it, ran out early! she thought, angrily. Just when it had gotten… interesting.

She knew it wasn’t the best use of her resources, but… Irene felt like she really ought to know the truth behind Basil and Amanda. Her gut told her it was important, even now, with Basil dead and gone.

Her thoughts hitched again, as her ruminations summoned up a memory of holding the dead body of someone she thought might have become a friend of hers, a boy so weird and yet nice she’d actually felt almost normal, the few times they’d actually gotten to talk… like he didn’t care about, or even notice, how odd she herself was, like most everyone else tended to…

Shaking her head, Irene stomped onwards, holding onto her powers, even though the headache caused by forcing the third one to keep going was getting worse and worse.

Just a little longer, and I’ll be able to release that one, she promised herself.

A flick of her finger, and invisible force flew into the keyhole of a heavy steel door she’d seen in one of her visions, earlier. She felt out the tumblers within and aligned them with barely a thought, unlocking and opening the door.

“In there, quickly,” she instructed her followers, stopping next to the door while they passed by.

She looked them over as they went, smiling reassuringly, or sternly in the case of a few guys who couldn’t keep their eyes to themselves, and reached out to stroke the heads of the little ones that passed her by, getting a few sweet smiles and even a lovestruck blush from one of the boys.

Soon.

She followed inside after them, using her telekinetic cloud to close it behind them without making a sound, then dismissed that power.

Two new ones rose up almost immediately, while Irene followed them into what appeared to have been a gambling parlor, now abandoned and covered in a layer of dust from the cracks in the concrete ceiling.

People spread out and sat down on plush chairs, or just flopped down on the floor, while a few of the guys went immediately to the bar at the back.

Irene tapped the two new powers she’d gained, gesturing at the short hallway they’d come in through, and created a glyph that was invisible to anyone but her, storing a full charge of the other power, a powerful ‘shock’ of distorted space into the trap, for later use, then she walked into the parlor, and to the corner of the room furthest from everyone else, leaning her back against the wall, hood and cloak drawn tightly about her.

Soon… now I can afford to look again, I suppose…

***

“Who!? Who’re you talking about, what seven people, who… who’s behind all of this? Are they the ones who’ve been, mucking with your and Basil’s heads?!”, Hecate pleaded with the broken woman, even more desperate for answers than Irene herself felt.

Wish I could give you a hug right now…

“I don’t, don’t… n-no, I think, I mean, I don’t know know know, I don’t, I can’t… I need Basil, he would know, maybe?” Amanda replied, sounding confused, one hand to her head. “It hurts to think, and Basil always makes the hurt go away, I need him!” She started to cry, sobbing like a little girl. “I want my brother!”

Hecate lowered her head. “He’s gone, Amy-“

The whole scene distorted, fuzzed, suddenly, as if the signal was being lost.

“Did… say… Am-my?” Fragments of a new voice managed to get through, before the auditory noise of the distortion got too bad to still make out anything meaningful.

What!?

She saw Hecate whirl around, still on the ground, looking.. up?

Another distortion, like the gray flickering in an old television.

A blindspot?

Hecate said something, looking upwards, while Amanda scrambled back… or did she fall? Was she pulled? The distortion was getting worse and worse…

Pristine?

***

Irene shook her head, feeling the non-linear perception fade from her grasp, sinking back into the darkness.

A blindspot… she was quite certain that was Pristine, judging by Hecate looking up at someone… it could theoretically have been Heretic, but he was after Irene, not Mindstar, while Pristine was explicitly targeting the villain, all but certainly hoping to die at the hands of the woman who’d managed to hurt even Bree.

Poor Amy… poor Hecate. I’m not sure how soon this will take place, she thought, morosely, but I’m not sure that I’ll be able to help you two out. If, if only, I knew how to really use this power…

She blinked as someone tugged at her cloak, and she looked down to see a blushing eight-year-old boy, holding up a glass with a fizzy brown liquid inside.

“F-for you, Miss Gloom Glimmer!” he said, unable to meet her eyes for more than a second, the words coming out with an adorable, light lisp, caused by several missing teeth.

“Thank you, Ricky.” She smiled as she took the glass from the blushing elementary schooler, and sipped the still cold, fizzy sugar water.

The boy nodded, mumbling a quick “you’re welcome” before he ran off to join his father and older brother at the bar.

So cute…

She’d actually met him and his family, at a PR event a few weeks ago… well, to be fair, she’d met everyone currently in this room before…

She felt the spatial shock power fall away, leaving her with the slowly diminishing glyph trap – which, fortunately, she only needed to trigger the one she’d laid out now, so it didn’t hurt that it was fading away already – and the power she’d been maintaining for a good hour now.

Another two powers rose up, a perception power and… the ripples, again.

Irene’s senses expanded, as reality suddenly seemed to expand into many, many more dimensions than just the three most people thought of. She could see flows of energy and distortions of spacetime, see the patterns of Heretic’s power weaving through everything, maintaining this isolated space, and she could see so much more… a power that would let her see her foes’ powers, possibly even decypher them in detail.

The other, the ripples she so often gained… they always took on a different form, though it was always one of the strongest powers she could get. It’d let her reshape matter in the past, or counter other powers’ effects, or slice through matter and energy both…

This time, it took on a far more violent and direct form than it’d ever had. She could feel the shape of it, as she focused on its light… shape-able beams of something which was neither energy nor matter, more akin to a distortion in spacetime, that’d zero out anything it came into contact with…

Her eyes widened, as she processed it – she’d never had a single offensive power that was this enormously powerful… frankly, she almost never got an esper power as good as this hyper-dimensional perception, nor were her visions often as good as the ones her non-linear perception had given her, or the precognitions she’d gone through earlier, after arriving in this place… just what was it that made her power be so much more cooperative and have so much more oomph to it, all at once?

Some kind of interaction with Heretic’s isolated space? Is it because I was so close to Bree, perhaps? Or because I was so close to the Incursion event?

She emptied her glass, knowing that there wasn’t much time to ruminate on such questions, nor to enjoy the fizzy drink. She’d need to focus soon, and-

The whole building was shaken by a massive impact. Concrete and rebar cracked like they were nothing, and the entire structure seemed to cave in around them all.

Irene cried out, dropping her glass and raising her cloak over her head to protect herself from the dust that fell filled the remnants of the room, as all of it, every bit but the corner she’d been standing in, collapsed, crushing the men, women and children she’d been protecting faster than they could cry out.

“Well, hello there, my pretty!” a bombastic voice called out, as a huge, draconic shape rose out of the dust and rubble, stretching wings made of crystalline red spheres and metallic golden rods.

The rest of its, his body was constructed of the same parts, repeated and arranged over and over, far larger than the crude humanoid form he’d been using for decades, his chest alone was now the size of a minivan.

And that was just what she saw with her normal eyes… there was so much more to him, when looking at him with the hyper-dimensional perception she currently enjoyed. Rivers, torrents of energy and spatial distortions ran into, through and around the spheres making up his body, modulated by the rods which seemingly served no purpose but an aesthetic one.

Not only could she see how every part of his ‘body’ was either the source of, or the control elements for, a different contrived ‘spell’, she could also see the layers upon layers of protective ‘enchantments’ he’d worked around it, like an onion of invisible shields covering nearly every possible avenue of attack. And those were just his passive defenses.

Looking at him was like staring into the sun, a concentration of sheer power exceeding all but a very few people she’d run into… her parents, Journeyman, Basil and Emyr, two or three others, tops.

And all that power was now gathered and focused at her… and she studied it, even as the innocents’ blood spread across the floor, threatening to soak her feet, her heart beating a mile a minute in her chest.

“Sorry about squashing the extras… it wasn’t intentional, I promise! Just got excited about finally me- why are you smiling?” He tilted that massive, expressionless head of his to the side.

Now.

Irene’s smirk broadened as she released her hold on the manifestation power she’d held onto for so long, feeling her headache drain away at the same rate at which that power sunk back into the darkness.

Heretic’s entire form shuddered, and he tilted his head the other way, confused, as the innocents he’d just slaughtered all… faded away, broken bodies, clothes and spilled blood, all gone in but the blink of an eye.

“They weren’t real? Wha-“

A twitch of her left index triggered the glyph trap she’d laid out when she came in, unleashing an explosion of distortion, as strong as she could possibly make it.

It rippled out and through the room, and briefly, for but a moment, disrupted his many shields, creating the finest gap, one that would have been impossible for her to see, much less exploit, if it wasn’t for the hyper-dimensional perception she was using.

She thrust out her arm, and unleashed a beam of un-space, a distortion that chased the light away, creating a solid black pillar that extended from her hand and in through the gap of his many shields.

Past the gap, it forked in two, then one branch forked again, and they speared through four scarlet spheres and seven golden rods, ones she’d identified with in the precious few seconds she’d been able to focus her new sight upon him – this had been the part of the plan she’d been least sure about, as she hadn’t been able to predict where exactly she’d have to strike, having had to count on getting the right power to identify her targets when he was before her.

Her power provided, and she did just that.

Heretic’s whole form shuddered and reared back, as above, in the sky, lights flashed, and for a brief moment, everything in this space seemed to become a negative of itself, reality itself seeming to stutter for a moment.

Up above, Calvin Poth cried out, ducking away from the contraption he’d been using to randomize the pathways between the pocket spaces was torn apart from the inside out.

“What the – how? Did you… what… what!?” the demented mass murderer whined, looking down at Irene’s smirking face.

She rarely felt so much like her father, but right now… yeah, time to tap into his example, a bit.

So she let out her most mocking evil laugh, feeling a new power come up to replace the manifestation she’d held onto for so long to fake being surrounded and distracted by innocents.

Stars filled her long, jet-black hair, glimmering amidst the silken strands, as her sclera turned black and her iridae as red as the eyes of her father’s wraiths.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked, using the new power of gravitation to rise up into the air, until she was at ‘eye’ level with the draconic shape before her. “They weren’t even extras, just props I made to distract you from what I was really doing with the survivors I found.”

He turned his head this way and that, rods and spheres shifting, adjusting his senses – something which she could see happen, now, with these greater senses of hers.

“You destroyed my control units… no one can control how the pathways shift now! You…” In spite of his utterly inhuman, unnatural form, his voice was very human, and betrayed a note of all too human shock and even a hint of awe. “There’s no one here, is there? No one but you and me, not in this entire globule!”

She smirked, just like how her daddy had taught her to, feeling more powerful and in control than she’d ever been.

“Correct. I evacuated this space, and I’ve been leading you on while I did it. I knew you wouldn’t truly leave the connections between the spaces up to chance, not without a way to manipulate the odds in your favor, so I baited you into the perfect chance for me to take that little cheat of yours away from you!” she explained with a feeling of utter exhileration.

“How long have you known I’ve been watching you? Just just how long have you been fucking playing me?” he asked, spreading his wings and raising his shoulders to take on a more imposing posture.

So she put on the most smug smile she could, to be as offensive to his ego as she could. “That’s the wrong question to ask you know?” she replied to his question with another question, coyly touching a finger to her chin.

“And what is the right question then, you screwy little minx?”

Her smile turned into a grin. “Just how long have you reprobates been under the delusion that you had a bead on me?”

66 thoughts on “15.6 All Masks Fall

  1. Woooo! Finally, this one is done. I hope you all like reading it as much as I liked writing it, once I finally got to do it!

    Next up is a little interlude taking place somewhere completely different, with a completely different set of people involved…

    See you (hopefully) soon, when it’s time for B015.∅ Peace and Freedom!

      • If atrocity is their mother, that would be one of the most twisted and dark plot points I have ever read.

        We know that the truth of Basil and Amy is nothing good. It’s guaranteed to be top-level traumatic and horrifying to contemplate, but for Atrocity to be their mother just feels like taking it a step too far.

        There should be limits on how horrible a backstory can be.

      • It was not a challenge. This story is sad enough.

        If Atrocity is the mother, then Mindfuck is probably the father considering both their power sets. . . . And that’s just depressing, so let’s not do that.
        Let’s say their parents were just innocent victims and the kids happened to manifest powers under the stress.

  2. Thankyou! And well done, excellent work. Now… seven? Huh. Who is the father? And Bad Wolf? Assuming that’s not a Dr Who tie-in, that’s a new plot twist… or possibly… thinking about it, we do have a hostile entity already who does body possession, although Skyfall seems unlikely… probably won’t get a resolution on that anytime soon.

    We also have some new moral clarity on Amy – finally explaining why Basil didn’t react too strongly to Amy for killing his BFF’s cousin.

    Other bits…. I like that Amy has clearly had to deal with Basil disappearing before and coming back – nice character building and foreshadowing combo.

    Also, is Pristine recognising Amy there?

  3. So mind fuckery from the seven on Basil and Amy? And Macian/Basil “broke” Mindfuck via a similar method to how the darkwraith was removed I think?

    • Hey, that’s a very interesting idea. I had assumed the nightmare beast was some remnant of Mindfuck’s stolen power, but it might just be something Macian created inside his own mind to eat Mindfuck. We knew he created something that crippled Mindfuck, but I just thought it was a just some physical gadget. You’re saying Macian created a nightmare device inside his own brain and… that might explain why he got a new personality. It might not have been an entirely voluntary change. We’ve been told the thing destroys stuff. And if it saved Amy from mindfuck, I can totally see Basil creating something that cripples himself…. maybe Amy has to kill it to save her brother later? I think I need to re-read some of the early stuff.

      • Ooh that’s a really good theory. We know Macian could do some seriously impressive work with Artificial Intelligence, it’s not a huge leap from that to affecting the natural mind. Plus Mindfuck is clearly mentally crippled rather then physically. It seems odd Macian would leave a body, rather then say burning it, considering he’d know Atrocity’s capabilities.

  4. I was totally expecting the ‘survivors’ to be a Mindfuck trick or some other Six trap. Nice to see Gloom Glimmer knows what she’s doing.

  5. Wait, so according to Gloom Glimmer, Hemming’s (probably) the second fastest speedster in the world?

    Thanks for continually updating the story by the way. I’m always looking forward to the next post.

    • Maybe not second-fastest, but definitely up there. He can shift his forms extremely quickly and basically turn himself into a dart with minimal drag and friction. I imagine him moving by turning into a ultra-thin disc from which he can rapidly extend a microscopically thin rod from the center at maximum speed to whatever is his maximum shifting distance/size, and then from the end of that rod create another disc, replacing the first, and repeat. This would be the most ideal form of high-speed minimum resistance travel in my mind. And works equally well in air, and water. Underground would probably benefit more from a tube shape where he shifts forward from the tube edge and both the inside and outside of the tube provide the friction points for forward shifting. The effectiveness of this kind of movement, particularly underground is highly dependent on how fine of an edge he can hone himself to and how high of a hardness he can reach in case he needs to punch through rock.

      • My initial impression was that he throws himself out in a gaseous/semi-gaseous geyser to take advantage of the high volume to mass ratio before condensing into a more compact mass. Rinse and repeat several times a second. Given the versatility of his powerset he probably has multiple methods for high-speed travel. Your option does sound more efficient though. It was mentioned somewhere else he could go supersonic but for some reason I just assumed he was closer to Aap’s speed as opposed to contending for fastest.

        It does seem like the gap between Tachyon and whoever takes second place must be pretty wide given he’s a human-sized target who can go faster than most people can see. All while ignoring „minor inconveniences“ like momentum, inertia and collateral damage.

  6. What an excellent chapter! I hate being up to date because then I have to deal with the fact that I can’t keep going to find out what happens :(.

    Have you ever given thought to making a Brennus discord?

    • I intend to, just need to figure out Discord, and make a little time in my schedule for it… if I make one, I want to be active on it, not just an occasional drop-in.

      • Discord isn’t something you need to schedule for. Any time you need a 30-second break you can drop on by, read some messages, and head on out. The server won’t collapse if you’re not on every day to read and reply to messages. Most discords (even ones for web novels) are pretty self-sustaining, and the author just hops on to give their two cents whenever it’s convenient for them.

        As for figuring it out. The basics are pretty simple. Just make some channels, give yourself a role, and think of some basic rules. Most of the other stuff comes with experience (or by recruiting other people).

  7. Why is Desolation in Light not mentioned by GloomGlimmer among the people Heretics „sheer power“ is not exceeding?
    Desolation in Light is a lot stronger than The Dark, Lady Light and Basil.

    • Maybe because DiL is a blindspot to all perception powers. So Irene did not feel any „power“ from DiL herself for comparison with Heretic when she saw and fought her.

      The author also has confirmed that DiL is not decidedly more powerful than LadyLight in a meaningful way.

  8. Ok, sure forgot about that but Journeyman appears to me as someone who can and would hide his power from other people too. And GloomGlimmer mentions him.
    And when did you say that Desolation in Light is not considerably stronger than LadyLight? Its your story ofc but that seems….weird

    • If I remember correctly, I’d either phrased it as, or was referring to, their power potential/level, not the way their powers expressed themselves (for example, Tyche has a higher power level than Gloomy, even though the actual resultant power is far more limited)

      • Ok, but LadyLight is a genius and had over a 100 years to understand and master her abilities. So I don’t think that differentiation matters for the question of how LadyLight compares to Desolation in Light.

      • Can’t really explain it without going into extreme spoiler territory… all I can do is ask you to trust that there is a good explanation

  9. Whoo, how did I miss this? Great Chapter, looking forward to the next one… and curse you for doing an interlude next! 😛

  10. Just reread the serial after kind of forgetting about it for a few years, I enjoyed it once again but waiting for the next chapter is always the worst part. I did not expect you to kill Brennus (or DiL) like that, but for a couple of chapters I was confident that you were just going to have Amy take him to Ember and finally give us some answers on their relationship.

    Then Tieshaun dropped the Savage Six on the battlefield and “lost” Brennus’s body so IDK, maybe Atrocity will bring him back. I’m sure the results of her heterodyning with another Gadgeteer would be horrific and I wouldn’t put it past the author to turn Basil into the mechanised horror we keep seeing in his own mind, that seems like a reasonable next step.

    I guess I’ll have to be patient while waiting to see how this works out, but Gloom Glimmer’s definitely having a “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me” moment in this scene so I suspect it’s not going to end well for the Savage Six.

  11. I’ve just finished a full reread. It’s so different reading it all at once to bit by bit. The pacing is so good, really keep pulling you forward.
    It’s heartening to see Tieshaunn still active in the comments, whenever the next chapter comes out I’ll be here 🙂

  12. So, re-reading this just now, not sure if it’s obvious to anyone else, but I just clued in to who the two visitors to Hotrod’s lab have to be. A gadgeteer with the very specific skillset of cars, and a history with Hotrod? That’s gotta be Cartastrophy. And oh boy, heterodyning on a Magnum Opus is going to be interesting when (I hope) we get to see it.

    Furthermore, if that’s Cartastrophy, the other one pretty much has to be Aap Oordra, so GG gets to meet her older brother, and isn’t he going to be a nasty surprise for the 6? A meta in the same weight class as the Dark Five or Shining Guardians, turning up unexpectedly? That will ruin someone’s day, I am sure. I get the feeling that Hemming’s in for a bad time, and Aap is likely to be none too fond of Atrocity torturing kids in front of a teenage girl and her mom. Far too similar to what happened to Henessy, so the Monkey is likely to want to smash Atrocity a lot.

  13. does Eudocia know that amy has powers or that she’s mindstar and does amy know that the box she and basil found in the abandoned house is an AI?

    • I’m so sorry about this delay… the Wu Flu has thrown a huge wrench in my life and I still haven’t sorted things out.

      The new chapter is about 50% done… I finally have some time (and energy) to write again so hopefully it’ll be done within the month

      • I wish you the best. Your fans are used to long gaps between chapters. After waiting all these years, we aren’t going anywhere. We are used to it.

        Take care of yourself. We will continue looking forward to that next chapter.

      • True, though…I’m not going anywhere. Mostly I’m too darn curious about all the mysteries and I care about the characters too much.

        (EMPTY CRATES THO)

  14. “Theoretically, a transcendent [13] damage effect would equal the destructive effect of a nuclear bomb, but thankfully, there has yet to be a metahuman with such power.”
    Since you rated mindstar as damage 13, dose that mean that her power is equivilant to a nuclear bomb?

    • That was a bad way to phrase it, and frankly, I need to overhaul the entire classification system… Amy could potentially do damage like a nuclear bomb (or worse), but that’s not why she would have a Damage 13 rating, if her powers were fully known and understood, but rather because she can – as shown against DiL – circumvent almost any defense, given the right circumstances.

      It’s the kind of power you just can’t deal with, so you’re better off just avoiding taking a hit in the first place.

  15. Just reread everything, to date. Hope you are doing well and await the next chapter. You do know that your readers are counting on your having plotted this out beginning to end. Great characters; love the monkey and family. Wish you well. You are very talented.

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