B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 4)

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Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

That thought was first and foremost in Brennus’ mind as he stood in front of the slowly regenerating Panthera Avis, the giggling and snarling Hastur… and the bloody Mary, who had just finished reattaching her head to her body, and was now rising from the ground, continuing to bleed from every pore.

In retrospect, I should have suspected this when she did not stop bleeding after I beheaded her.

Though, to be honest, he was also somehow relieved that he had at least not killed her.

Netsense, on the other hand, stayed dead. Good, except not really good.

He wanted to crawl into Amy’s embrace, have her hold him and tell him everything was alright.

You’re such a mess right now, mate.

Is it any wonder?

“Don’t worry, you’ll feel fine soon,” Hastur said between giggles – she had already dropped back to her ecstatic behaviour. “Love at first sight will blow away all your problems.”

Since no one was attacking him right now – and he needed a reprieve, even a short one, to recover a little strength – Brennus focused on trying to send for help. By now, someone must have told Hecate or Tyche that he had been taken, and he had given both of them the means to track him. The fact that no one had appeared yet was quite… worrisome.

Activating his emergency beacon… he found the signal being bounced back.

Mary was back on her feet, rolling her head as if she had a stiff neck. Panthera Avis was not that far, but he would soon be functional again.

“Just give up. Give up, and feel the love.”

He ignored Hastur and looked around, switching to X-ray vision. They were in an enclosed complex – a supervillain lair, if he had to guess – that was surrounded by lead-lined walls (and probably some other materials, so no signal could get through). There was one cube within the complex that was also isolated, just barely the size of the room he was in.

There was no door or other exit he could make out, except for the ventilation system – and contrary to all conventions laid down by decades of games and movies, the vents were far too small for even a child. No way he would fit through with his power armor.

It hit him that this had to be Avis’ lair. There must have been some means by which to look into the place to get in, maybe a window or special wall, so he could teleport inside.

He could not find a single part of the outer wall of the place that was not reinforced. So he either needed a lot of explosive ordenance, or Gloom Glimmer to pull his bacon out of the fire (Hecate had not yet figured out how to do teleportation). Maybe if h-

Mary slammed into him with enough force to shatter at least four more of his ribs (he heard them break) and slam him into the wall opposite the hole in the wall.

He made a sound that was almost a sigh, pain clouding his thoughts, as he slid down onto the floor. The floor covered with blood wall to wall.

Mary approached him, her face impassive.

Arms… broken in more ways than I can tell. Breathing is seriously hampered, ribcage probably more broken than not. Can barely feel my legs. Head… swimming. Armor compromised in more ways than I care to count.

At least his mouth controls still worked. Any fighting he did with them would necessarily be clumsy, simplistic.

But he would not go out without a fight.

* * *

Mary crouched in front of him, reaching for his helmet.

He studied her face, even as he tried to plan his next move. It was actually hard to tell how exactly she looked, due to both the mass and the temperature of the blood she was bleeding at any given moment from every pore of her body. At least it preserved her modesty, a little.

Switching to a time-delayed camera mode – the effects of Hastur’s power seemed to not agree with recorded images, and even if her actual power did, then she would first need to enter the room and have Mary move out of the way – and saw… an ordinary girl. Coated in running blood, yes, but she looked utterly normal.

And she was afraid. In pain. She was horrified as her hands closed around his helmet, almost gently cupping his face before she started to squeeze.

He almost saw red with rage – the person was still inside. She was aware. And she was still herself.

Hastur may have transformed her body, may have given her powers – or triggered a manifestation – may have been controlling her actions, but she had not changed nor subsumed the person itself. Herself.

And she intends to spread this.

A crack appeared on his visor as Mary continued to squeeze, trying to break the faceplate of his helmet off.

His left wristblade rose up into her throat and then, with a twist, up into her brain again.

Stupid. The same mistake, over and over. At least they are not really smart.

“Oh, come on! Will you just stop fighting it!?

Almost passing out from the pain, Brennus rose on his feet, using the blade in her head to raise Mary up – her strength came from standing on blood, was his theory. Maybe her regeneration did, too.

Out of his left lower wristmount, he fired a pair of bolas. They wound around her neck and then shot up, a simple command making them stick to the ceiling just like his grappling hooks, hanging the young woman – Stars above, she is still a teenager – two feet off the ground. Blood continued to run down her body as Hastur screamed and cursed again.

No discipline there.

He looked at Mary’s face and saw pain, and fear.

Cutting her apart was not an option – she might regenerate out of any piece that fell into the blood below.

So he pushed his blade into her chest, piercing her heart. Out, then in again, twice, piercing both lungs. Liver, both kidneys.

There is a small tendency for female regenerators to have a kind of ‘core’ in either their womb or their ovaries. Font of life and all that, mate.

X-ray vision did not betray any overt core, but he pierced her reproductive organs as well, and every other major organ in her body.

He must have done something right, because she sighed – as much as she could, with two pierced lungs and a pierced throat – and went limp. Her body stopped bleeding completely, even from the wounds he had inflicted.

I think I need to throw up.

Keep it together, mate! Left, door, now.

He turned left and ran towards the door. His rear cameras showed Hastur following – interestingly, despite the effect of her powers on others, she herself did not seem to have any physical abnormities – and Avis lumbering after her, still regenerating.

The door was closed. It was also made of wood, so he angled himself so his left shoulder slammed into – Ow – and through – Double Ow – it, then ran on through the hallway beyond.

His scans had shown him a room full of electronic equipment. Maybe he could contact someone outside with it, maybe he could improvise something (unlikely, considering the state he was in). But he needed to delay his pursuers first.

Again, he almost passed out from the pain, but he grabbed two of his flash grenades and threw them into the room behind him. Before they had even detonated, he threw an explosive grenade into Avis’ open ribcage, and his last two at the ceiling just behind him.

Rounding a corner, he set them off, collapsing that particular hallway behind him (and, going by his scans, wounding both Hastur and Avis, not that it mattered much in the former’s case).

They would need to take another route to get him, unless she had Avis dig through it.

He ran towards the computer room, every step sending tremors through his body that nearly knocked him out.

The suit’s impact absorbtion had been compromised, too.

* * *

He had collapsed two more hallways in the surprisingly luxurious lair – really, being a supervillain seemed to pay way too well, if even a B minus guy like Panthera Avis could have a bunker like this – and pretty much holed himself up in the computer room, finally switching over to normal vision again. Ultimately, thermal vision hurt the eyes after a while.

His estimate of Hastur’s Intelligence, low though it already was, dropped further. What possessed her to abduct a Gadgeteer and take him just a few rooms away from this. Without even locking the doors.

Panthera Avis probably was not a Gadgeteer, but he was a serious technophile. He had everything. Three linked up state-of-the-art computers, a 3D wallscreen, one of the best audio systems on the market…

And password protection.

Of course the tech-savy supervillain would think of that.

One – only one – of his many means by which to interface with electronics was still functional. A wireless transmitter. It was not his most efficient means of working through, but it was all he had.

Cracking the system took him a whole minute, a minute he spent musing on the last minutes.

He came to a singular conclusion.

Hastur, for all her power, was just an insane teenager – going by her actions thus far, she was skating by solely on her power. Not much in the way of tactical or strategic awareness, much less problem-solving under pressure.

The problem was that she had a lot of power. And depending on how intelligent her thralls could get, her lack of intelligence might get patched up soon.

Considering how much death and destruction she had already caused just by skating by on power and surprise, the idea of her starting to act competently was… disconcerting.

He accessed the computer system and yes, it had an internet connection!

First, he sent a package with a summary of everything he had observed, as well as his video- and audio-recordings to both his own main computer and the United Heroes’ headquarters. Along with a call for help.

Then, he located the lair’s internet access point – ever since the internet had become a network important enough to be used by supervillains against the good guys back in the eighties, the government had become rather paranoid about controlling access to it.

Individual data traffic was not to be tracked unless there was probable cause and a court decision (not that anyone really cared – heroes and government agencies both had rather loose concepts about privacy on the internet, especially when it came to hunting down villains) but access points were tightly controlled. And everyone had to use one, the system had been fortified (and was still being improved) against access outside of those points.

The internet was free of charge, but the access was not free. One needed a legal identity to get into it (or a really, really, really good fake access point and sufficient Gadgeteering, or at least Hacking, skills).

Panthera Avis had neither. He was using the legal identity of a lawyer, who did have a legal access. Meaning Brennus could track the address of the lawyer, then locate the specific router Avis was accessing the internet through…

Oh, come on, really!?

He was still in the city. The Undercity, to be specific – that strange part of the city that had been created mostly by supervillains, vigilantes and the odd neutral metahuman (Brennus’ base was a good example for a future expansion of the Undercity – if he ever abandoned it, it would probably be absorbed by the overarching underground structure).

Just below a high-rise office building… two blocks from the headquarters of the United Heroes.

Guy has to be either stupid or ballsy. Or maybe both.

Another mail sent the location to the headquarters, as well as every local hero’s communicator.

Behind him, he could hear crunching sounds. Rubble being crushed and shifted aside.

He took a look. Avis had regenerated again, and he was digging through one of the collapsed hallways, Hastur standing just behind him, hopping from one foot to the other.

I need to get out of here. Can not wait for a rescue.

There were no blueprints of this hideout on the computer, and he had no idea how exactly to get out of here.

Except maybe by blowing it up, but since it was probably underground, well… not plan A.

You’re fucked, mate.

Either be helpful or shut up, please. Hastur seems capable of eavesdropping on our conversations somehow.

Aye. Food for thought – the two of them are still back there, digging. Going back to silent mode now, ‘kay?

That was something to think about – why had they not simply teleported past the collapsed hallways (they had been kind of a desperation move).

He could not fight anymore. He could not tinker anymore – right now, he would not even trust himself to fix a broken radio. His body was broken in too many ways to count, and he was only just barely hanging onto consciousness – he might as well spend time thinking, if only to stay awake as long as possible.

Not like I can do anything else but wait.

So he lined up the facts:

First, just minutes ago, Panthera Avis had been able to teleport easily across the entire city, as if his power had been boosted far beyond his former limits.

Second, he had done so only while accompanied by at least Hastur and Netsense.

Third, Hastur had some manner of vastly enhanced awareness, probably very powerful ESP.

Fourth, Netsense had been capable of sharing senses between people within her range.

Fifth, they had only ever teleported around with at least the three of them together.

Sixth, Hastur had taken the loss of Netsense far harder than the loss of Mary.

The only conclusion he could make was that they had been using the interaction of Hastur’s ESP and Panthera Avis’ teleportation for beyond-line-of-sight teleport. Of which they were now no longer capable, thanks to him cramming a grenade down Ne-

He had to fight not to throw up when he remembered the results of that action.

Alright. They no longer have unrestricted teleportation. Next point.

He could hear the digging sounds come closer, but refused to look. No point. Instead, he sent another e-mail with that observation, then continued to analyze the information he had available.

Hastur had some limited telepathy. Apparently, she had listened in on his mental conversation with the Blazing Sun and the Man in the Moon. But she had not seen his surprise attack coming, nor shown any indication of having access to any memories of his.

Maybe… maybe her power is to eavesdrop on communication, he thought. Not reading minds, but listening in on people communicating – a semantically limited power.

Which made her a little less scary… but threw up a whole host of very, very scary questions regarding his two conversational passengers. So far, he had assumed them to simply be fractured off pieces of his own personality. But by that logic, conversing with them should not count as communication, only as a disconcertingly schizophrenic way of thinking.

Yet she could listen to them.

Alright, Basil, enough. Think about the matter at hand first, worry about possibly alien inhabitants of your mind later.

As if on cue, he heard Avis break through the collapsed hallway. He turned and looked just in time to see him teleport past the blockade with Hastur, using the line of sight provided by his digging efforts to get past it.

Looks like I somehow need to hold out a little while longer.

He did send another mail though, only leaving out the information on his internal discussions – the logic got a little inconsistent without it, but he could live with that. No use wasting good information.

* * *

He switched to thermal vision and let his wristblades slide out again, moving his armor’s arms to test their function despite the mind-numbing pain it caused.

And you always hear people tell that you get used to pain. What a load of bullshit.

Nah, it’s true. Believe me, y’can get used to a lot of shite, mate. Talking from experience here.

Care to share some of that experience right now? I could use being able to ignore the pain a little.

No can do, mate. Sorry.

Avis entered the room and vanished in a flicker. But he had seen that coming, and was already turning around, making a left jab to try and impale his brain (that seemed to at least slow them down).

As if on cue, his left arm seized up both on the flesh-and-blood side (not much of a problem, though really painful) and on the power armor side. A bare second later, sparks flew and the motors made a cracking sound, the whole arm going limp as the sparks burned his arm.

Panthera Avis took the chance to swing both his arms in an arc, slamming them into his right arm and sending him flying into his wallscreen.

Even while he delt with feeling his right arm break completely, the armor there being destroyed, his ribcage further cracking and losing the last bit of feeling below his waist, he also slammed through the screen and the surge of electricity attacked his faulty systems, shorting out… pretty much most of it.

Including his camera system. His entire field of vision just went black, except for a few cracks he could just barely make out.

At least the insulation protected him from being electrocuted himself.

Well, that was a short last stand.

At least you tried.

Oh, shut up.

Someone said something – he recognized, just barely, Hastur’s childish voice, through the cracks of his armor, but not what she actually said.

Joke is on you. Can not hear you anymore.

Something – well, there were not many choices, so it had to be Avis – grabbed his helmet and began squeezing. The already damaged ceramic groaned, but did not break. He had made sure that the helmet was very sturdy.

After all, his brain was his only real advantage against most anyone he was likely to fight.

Still, it would break eventually.

Alright, open session here – any idea how to get out of this?

My expertise is largely limited to inventing technology.

Hmm, mayyyyybe…

mine

Huh? Who was that last one?

minenothersmineminemine

What the hell?

Calm down, mate. That’s just the… weird one of the bunch.

You call someone weird?

Aye. Call’im the ‘Raging Heart’.

mineminemineminemineminemineminemineminemine

Uhh, yeah, not really helpful.

He’s kinda singleminded. You can ignore him most of the time.

Agreed.

mineminemineminemineminemineminemineminemine

Yeah, any more ideas?

Yes, mate, we c- hey, do you feel that?

Something warm and prickling was pressing against his body all of a sudden, enveloping it. There was a loud crash, but the vibrations did not hurt his mangled body as the prickling feeling seeped beneath his skin.

And the pressure on his helmet vanished.

Two more crashes, then silence.

He could almost feel something other than pain by now.

Someone pulled him – gently – out of the screen, and then took his helmet off, the locking mechanism opening by itself (and despite a short hiccup due to the deformation it had suffered from). The faceplate was taken off, and…

And he saw a red-eyed angel’s face, with a halo of white light framing i-

Stop waxing poetry and look, mate!

He blinked, and suddenly he was looking into the horrified face of Gloom Glimmer, framed by the white glow of the lamp behind her, her own eyes glowing red with black sclera.

Oh. Good.

“Thanks. Passing out now,” he tried to say, but only blood came out of his mouth, and he finally passed out.

* * *

He blinked, then opened his eyes completely.

Then he shut them again, blinded by a white glare.

Body, Rollcall.

He was lying on something soft and warm. A bed. He could feel his legs. Wiggle his toes. His hands responded to his commands to curl his fingers, and there was barely any pain in them. His ribcage did not feel good, but neither did it really hurt all that much anymore. He was still wearing the mask from his impact suit.

And there was something soft and warm pressing pretty much against his groin, while something else was pressing on his chest, with warmth spreading from the point of contact.

“He’s waking up,” said a familiar voice with some odd harmonics in her voice.

“Yeah? Great. You can stop dryhumping him then!” said an even more familiar voice. Vasiliki… Hecate.

“I’m not dry- oh shit, I did, didn’t I?” The other voice sounded embarassed now.

“You didn’t even notice?” Hecate sounded disbelieving.

What is going on?

“Uhh, I have been using my power constantly on him for… how long? Too long. It tends to do weird minor stuff like this.”

“W-what are you talking about?” he asked, opening his eyes. “I sure hope there is an explanation for this.”

Gloom Glimmer was straddling him, sans her cloak. Without it, she looked… younger. Smaller.

She blushed (more) and slipped off of him, though without taking her hands off his chest. For which he was very thankful.

“I… uh… I’ve been healing you. Good God, how did you manage to stay alive, let alone conscious? I’ve been working on you for hours.” She was so very obviously trying to steer the discussion away from her earlier… position. And for once, he picked up on that.

“How long was I out? Did you get Hastur and Avis?” he asked, then looked at Hecate. She was wearing her cowl, but her cape had been torn off, and beneath that she wore a standard-issue jumpsuit. “What happened with you? And where’s Tyche?”

The two girls looked at each other, then Hecate answered: “We got into a fight, me, Spellgun and Tartsche got nearly killed and, loath as I am to admit it, Tyche kicked ass. I mean, really, really, ruined that monster’s day. She’s totally off on her power, and last I heard she’s been cutting her way through Hastur’s newest minions. Hastur and Panthera Avis got away from that hideout and are keeping us on our toes. I’m stuck here because my foci got destroyed, as did my costume, so I’m pretty much useless right now. Gloom Glimmer here has been fighting to save your life, because it looked grim there for a while. You’ve been unconscious for five hours.”

“Five hours? Damn. Wait, what new minions?”

They both evaded his gaze. “You got my data? Did you sound the air raid sirens?”

They nodded.

Gloom Glimmer took her hands off his chest and flexed her fingers as if they had gone numb. “We did. People went into their shelters and all, but… Hastur got into one of the public mass shelters – the one under the Menstall Galerie. She showed her face to nearly a hundred civilians, then went off to three more shelters she somehow broke into. Four hundred people, all in all. Including a Chinese cape who’d fled the SU and had just arrived here. God-Tier, it turns out, and she went on a rampage through the entertainment district before she burned out and dropped dead.”

“Stars above, did anything go right?” he asked. “Do you at least have any idea where Hastur is now? Or how to take her down?”

They shook their heads.

“Dammit.” He tried to sit up, but all that got him was a pain attack.

He almost screamed.

“Careful! I healed the worst, but my healing is limited – you’ll be benched for a while,” exclaimed Gloom Glimmer.

“Ugh. Feels like it,” he groaned, trying to relax. “But it does not matter. I need to help, and you know it. Hecate, can you get me my spare suit? The light one.”

She nodded. “Sure. I need to do something useful,” she said, sounding angry. But she left quickly, leaving him alone with Gloom Glimmer, who was still blushing a little.

“She’s selling herself short,” Gloom Glimmer commented once the other heroine was gone. “She only lost her staff in a later battle, not against the Geokinetic, and she kicked mighty lots of ass, going by what I heard through mission control.”

“Hecate is not one to boast,” he commented. “We’re at the UH HQ?”

She nodded.

“Should you not go out there and help?”

She opened her mouth, closed it, then spoke up again: “I’m quite drained. Need a few minutes.”

He nodded, leaning his head back. Reaching out with one hand, he found the controlswitch for the bed and raised the headpiece, so he could look at her more easily. “Should we not have gotten reinforcements by now?”

“N-no. The… the battle with DiL ain’t going well. She somehow hardened her field, and nothing is getting in or out now. No word from Dad.” Suddenly, she looked way younger than usual, pulling her legs up to rest her face on her knees.

He had no idea how to respond. Was he supposed to hug her again? “No word from the Dark… what about… your mother?”

She looked away from him. “The Sovjet Union declared war against the PATO just two hours ago, ’cause they refuse to let them try and bring the Red Council’s remains to the Protectorate. The Califate is declaring another Jihad, Maddy is staying neutral but also demanding to be allowed contact to Ember and Sovereign has gone silent – apparently, there were nine seperate spiteborn attacks in the GAIN over the last week. We got a powderkeg and no outlet, except…”

“World war. Great,” he sneered. “So, Lady Light’s tied up with a coming world war, the Shining Guardians are probably in Kansas, the Dark is stuck there too along with… the Five,” Including Amy, “And we got an insane S-Class in the city. What else could go wrong?”

His communicator – it was still in his ear – suddenly spoke in Eudocia’s newest voice (she changed it almost daily): “Father, Hastur just attacked the Petal Memorial Hospital! She’s in Prisca’s room!”

* * *

“I’ll show that asshole, how dare he deny me, I’ll make him pay, I’ll make him regret not falling in love with me, I’ll…”

Hastur had been ranting for hours now. After that wretched bitch (and they called her a monster! She was normal, compared to that freak) had taken him away from her, she’d wanted to go after his useless little whore, but Nathaniel had finally started speaking properly and insisted that they make more people fall for her first.

It sounded smart. Of course, it didn’t go as planned, at all. Which was why she was limping down the hallway towards that asshole’s sweetheart, instead of skipping along like she wanted to. Nathaniel was with her, as he should, as well as Toby, Jake and Jill (those were some freaky twins).

She had her hood down, and lots of people were falling all over her on the way. But she only wanted the one.

But that bitch was talking to someone, though she could only hear half the conversation. Who the fuck is she talking to!?

Toby kicked the door open for her, then stepped back and made a flourish for her to enter. He was sweet that way. And he even looked like a gentleman, all suit and tie and stuff.

She walked in to find the scarecrow with her eyes closed.

“He-he-hello, Prisca,” she greeted her, giggling. The prospect of punishing Brennus was making her giddy again. “It ain’t polite not to look at your guest!”

“I know what you do. Why are you here?” the ugly stick figure – Seriously, why does he like her, but not me? – asked in a calm voice. Too calm.

She ain’t taking me serious! I’ll show that bitch, no one mocks me!

“I just want to love you! Look at me, and I’ll make you right again!” she said sweetly, hopping over to stand by the foot of the large bed, looking at her. She could also put her hands on the frame that way, taking some weight off her left leg.

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.”

“Pretty please? With sugar on top?”

“No. Never again.”

That gave her pause. What the fuck does she mean? “What do you mean, sweetiepie?”

Her already ugly features twisted in pure, loathing hatred that gave even Hastur pause. “Someone did that to me before. Change me against my will. Violate my body. Not. Again. Ever.”

Hastur only snorted in response. “Oh, don’t worry. You’ll love me. Love what I do to you. Just open your eyes and look at me, sweetie.”

Prisca’s features were still twisted with hatred. “No. You can torture me, you can kill me, you can do whatever you want to me – except this. I won’t let anyone change me again!” She coughed, putting a spindly hand to her chest.

“You don’t have much of choice, sweetie. Jake, Jill, be two dears and open her eyes, will’ya?” she drawled.

Jake and Jill lurched forward, their bellies and backs shaking and waving left and right.

Prisca moved faster than she’d have thought possible, taking a dull knife – one of those hospital knives for people who might drop them accidentily – and before anyone could react, she plunged the knife into her left eye.

Screaming, even as they all stopped moving in surprise, she ripped the knife out of the bleeding, oozing wound and cut into the other eye, opening her eyelids just a fraction as she bent over, to plunge it in without harming the lids.

When she pulled the knife back and looked up, shaking all over, her eyes were just bleeding and oozing ruins. Blind. “Never. Ever. Again. Ev-” She seized up, then threw up a glob of bile and blood, her whole body shaking as Hastur could hear her heart start to go crazy.

“Whoa. Hardcore,” she whispered. This… was way too impressive to spoil. Besides, she was dying anyway. “Let’s go, my lovelies.”

They left the dying girl behind.

Maybe I’ll go after his sister… once I find that bitch somewhere…

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B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 3)

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The blood-covered woman approached Brennus slowly. Clumsily. She did not seem to have much in the way of fine control, the way she moved her body.

Never moving (outwardly at least), Brennus tracked his eyes over the room, accessing the situation.

Panthera Avis was holding him down from behind, his claws clamped around his armor’s upper arms – he was strong, the claws had already deformed his suit. I just finished this version. Now I will need to repair it. I need more money.

Worst case, he would have to either join the Juniors or take money from Amy.

Neither of which really appealed to him.

Netsense was just crouching nearby, her limbs folded up around herself, making her look far smaller than she was. It did not look like she was really aware of the situation around herself.

Hastur was watching him, and though he could not tell by the heat readings, he could feel her glee at what was to come.

She did not seem to react to the plans forming in his mind, at all.

Might be she is not really a mind reader as such.

No answer from the others. Might be they had come to the same conclusion as he had.

It made no difference. He could either try to escape or fight them to the death. Either way, they were not getting him. She was not going to get him.

Mary was just a meter away, almost close enough. But she stopped and looked back at Hastur, her body posture betraying insecurity.

“Get over it, dummy! C’mon, rip the mask it off!” Hastur urged her on.

Get over it, huh? He looked down at her feet – the blood she was pouring off had not yet spread over to him. She can only walk on her own blood? No, then Hastur would not tell her to get over it… her power only works while she is standing on blood?

Not enough evidence, really, but certainly something to keep in mind.

She took a step over the pooling blood, staggering a little before enough blood flowed out of her… every part to cover the carpet on the floor.

One step. Short, insecure. Half a meter away. The blood was touching his knees now.

Just a little more.

Everyone else in the room, save for Panthera Avis, was standing in nearly half an inch of blood. Avis was still behind Brennus, and thus not yet surrounded by blood.

The bloody woman reached out and touched his helmet, the motion almost gentle.

His reaction was most definitely not gentle.

One of his latest additions to the armor had been a defense system against being physically grappled. It was plain and simple, and he had slapped himself on the head for not thinking earlier of it.

He ran a massive current through his entire armor, and thus through Avis and Mary… and everyone else in the room, using the blood he and Mary were standing (or, in his case, kneeling) on as a conductor.

Avis’ claws let go of him as he was bodily thrown back against the wall behind. The other three shook and dropped without a sound other than that of bodies hitting a floor covered in blood.

He gave them no chance to react. Jumping forward, he slid out the blade hidden in his armor’s wrist, pushing it into Mary’s left eye, and then her brain, flinching as the deformed upper arms of his suit bruised his arms badly.

Sorry, Mary. I wish I knew how to save you, but I cannot risk being taken out now.

With his other wristblade, he cut through her neck, beheading her and throwing the head away from the body.

Best to be sure.

Hastur screamed in outrage, her power easily returning control of her body to her. “Gethimgethimgethimgethim!!!”

How unprofessional.

With a single, violent leap, he flew across the room like a bullet, tackling Netsense with such force into the wall that they broke through into the next room.

Before he had time to analyze the thermal images he was getting, he stabbed a blade into her shattered ribcage, cutting through heart and lungs. Or at least where they should be – he had no idea whether or not her mutations had shifted her organs around.

Which was why he took off her head with his next attack, then forced a grenade down her neck, making a sickening noise along the way.

Whether or not she can actually read minds, Hastur obviously has a very powerful perception power. Probably what allowed Panthera Avis to teleport beyond his line of sight.

And even if not, Netsense was far too dangerous to leave to Hastur – she could use her powers offensively, too.

The grenade detonated less than a second after he pulled his arm out of her limp body. And it amply demonstrated the difference between setting explosives off in the open and setting them off within a fleshy, juicy body.

The charge he had built into the grenade was normally sufficient to blow out a reinforced door’s lock, or punch a hole in most armor. Localized damage.

He was splattered with blood and worse all over his front, as Netsense was spread across the entire room.

* * *

No matter what one does, unless they’re complete monsters or inhumans, having a human – even a twisted human – explode right in front of them, splattering them from head to toe and covering the room will stagger one.

If the room is already glowing orange from all the blood and there are countless… well, not corpses, but pieces of them, and all of them twisted… then it does not help. Even if one is fortunately unable to make out all the details due to thermal vision.

Brennus staggered, almost throwing up in his mask (he had built in a feature to take care of that if it happened, but still) and not moving for a few seconds.

Panthera Avis slammed into him as Hastur screamed in frustration.

“Uff.”

The former villain, now an enslaved monster, must have weighed more than a ton by now – they both flew forward and Brennus slammed into the floor, creating cracks where their combined weight almost broke the floor.

“Hold him still! Rip his mask off, stupid!” screamed Hastur as she followed them into the room, her hood thrown back. Had Brennus not blocked his normal vision, he would have even more trouble now.

“It is a helmet, not a mask, stupid!” Brennus shouted back, annoyed.

As Avis reached for his helmet, Brennus once again electrocuted him, throwing him off for a moment. Ignoring the building pain in his arms, he whirled around and stabbed two of the faces within his open ribcage.

The others screamed so loudly they would have blown out his eardrums had he not included protection against such in his helmet.

It did not help much, though. Avis put his arms around Brennus and squeezed.

At first, little happened, but then the armor started to groan under the stress.

He never had this kind of superstrength. Just how much more powerful has he become!?

The armor groaned more, even as he started ramming his knee into Avis groin. The monstrous villain grunted in pain, but showed no further reaction, apart from continuing to crush Brennus.

“That’s it, wreck his armor and bring him to me! Good boy!” said Hastur, back to her sweetly cheerful mood. She was actually hopping up and down in place.

He could not see any colours, but he imagined her to look quite demented, her clothing mismatched, splattered with copious amounts of blood.

No time. Sixty percent energy left, got to make it count.

Expending as much as he could at a time, nine-point-fifty-three percent, he channeled the electricity through the blades still stuck inside Avis’ body.

Not his best idea. Avis convulsed, his arms closing even harder around Brennus’ chest. With a final groan, his chest armor cracked, and he could hear his arms break.

Ugh.

Another shock finally made Avis let go of him. Brennus slid down onto his knees as his enemy fell back.

Double Ugh.

He accessed his system diagnose – the chest part was mostly gone, the arms, even if his own arms were not broken, were largely destroyed and there was damage to the battery – it was steadily losing an additional amount of its charge.

I am going to lose this.

Using the controls in his boots and helmet, he forcefully – and under a lot of pain – cut into the legs of Avis. Not through them, because his bones were way too dense and blocked his swords.

I have to include the humming blade in my wristmounts in the next version. And more heavy firepower. A lot more.

Aye, mate. There ain’t such a thing as too much firepower. But there certainly is too little, and you have too little.

I propose finishing those remote matter detonation ray guns.

“Oh, shut up and surrender, you numbheads! Just look at my face and you can be happy and make yourself as much firepower as you want!” shouted the demented girl.

She can not read my thoughts, but hear our… communication? What the hell? You are just in my head, part of my mind, both of you… right?

No answer, and Hastur did not react, either.

Now I am getting really freaked out.

Avis screamed again through all of his faces – even the pierced ones, which were visibly, if slowly regenerating. He bent down to grab Brennus again, his claws opening once more, but he saw it coming and jumped backwards, again using his secondary controls.

This hurts.

Avis flickered forward, closing the distance and kicked him hard, right against the shattered breastplate.

He heard something break in his chest, along with the armor. One rib… two?

“Nathaniel, sweetie, don’t kill him, will-ya?”

Brennus slammed onto the floor, breathing hard – as much as his armor still allowed him to. It only got worse when Avis stepped on his chest, pinning him to the floor.

He choked, his vision blurring with tears of pain.

My arms…

No time to mope. He had still some control over his arms, the armor had been built to function for as long as possible. It hurt, worse than he thought possible… but for some reason, the pain did not disable him.

He moved the arms, digging both blades into the deformed, oversized ankles of Panthera Avis, one from each side, one towards the heel and one towards the front, cutting tendons and muscles.

If he could not cut his bones, then he would cut in between them. Sever the connections.

Panthera did not even scream as his foot was severed from his leg at the ankle, but his many faces snarled in a way that matched Hastur’s own snarl.

Brennus punched his leg aside, parting it completely from the foot, then activated the grappling hooks he had built into the two boxes at his hips.

The thin, ultra-strong wires shot against the ceiling, attaching themsleves their by their ‘hooks’ (the same devices he used for his boots to stick to walls). With a flick of his pinky, he made them reel in – but not equally. The left one was reeled in faster than the right one, tipping him onto his side as he rose, throwing Panthera Avis off.

Hastur’s monster fell down, unstable now without his foot and Brennus took the chance to push his left wristblade into his groin, letting the beast’s own weight and his own upward momentum pull the blade up and from groin to neck, splitting him nearly in half.

With a twitch of his ringfinger and some (very, very painful) shoulder movements, Brennus turned around in the air and landed on his feet, seemingly secure. He was not, of course, but the upside of fullbody powerarmor was that he could easily hide that.

Then again, his armor was so obviously broken, if it was not for his cloak he would probably look like a cautionary tale against frontline gadgeteers.

Great. I am running off on tangents again.

His arms hurt abominably, he had trouble breathing, his head was swimming and his legs had no strength left. On top of that, he felt like throwing up, first the contents of his stomach, then the bowels as well, just to be sure he was empty.

I need to end this. Get away.

He looked at his fallen foe – who was rising again, his wounds slowly mending, his foot regrowing while the other one began to rot in high-speed.

You have got to be kidding me! What does it take to put you down!?

“You have got to be kidding me! What does it take to put you down!?” shrieked Hastur in outrage, her sugar-like behaviour once more discarded in the face of her anger.

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Teaser: B007 Hastur, Shrouded in Dread (Part 1)

This is murder for my heart.

“He. Hehe. It’s just fun for everyone, Jay-jay,” the girl they called Hastur whispered, giggling.

“Wrraurk?” asked Nathaniel. He shook his head, still not quite able to talk again after seeing her face.

Love at first sight can do that to you.

“Nothin’ nothin’, Nathaniel. Now, since you’re all ready,” Her new friends had all gotten themselves ready. Only five of them had survived falling in love with her, but that was to be expected. They’d been bad men and women, anyway.

“And stupid. You were all stupid, too. What in Dio’s name possessed you to let me loose?” She looked around at the five of them, but only got moans and gurgling as a response. They were all still speechless.

Love at first sight can do that to you.

She looked down at herself, dressed only in some old rags left from the clothing she’d had on when she’d manifested (not much) and the shroud she’d been given (she’d pulled the hood down). “I need new clothes.” She sniffed under her armpit. “A shower, first. And a shave.”

A few blissful minutes later, she was clean again for the first time since they’d caught her. She threw her rags and her shroud away, stretching her body a little to limber up while Francine brought her a clean bed sheet she could use as a cowl until she found something better.

“Clothes, now.”

Focusing her awareness on New Lennston – she’d always wanted to visit this city, and now she’d finally get to do it – she looked for a place with nice clothes, and found a nice boutique.

Nathaniel teleported all five of them into it. He normally needed line of sight for his power, but she had line of sight to anywhere, and Francine could tap into other people’s senses and share them with others.

They popped into the middle of the small boutique – there were only three customers and two salesgirls inside. And they all started screaming in horror when they saw her new friends around her.

Before they could run or call someone, she pulled her cowl down, while Nathaniel jumped around the room, bringing them all into a line in front of her.

They looked at her face and their screaming changed. Now they screamed out of love, as it overwhelmed them.

Love at first sight can do that to you.

She threw the sheet away and went into the underwear section while the five women screamed their love into the world. Fortunately, the street outside was rather empty right now, and the window’s full of merchandise, so they were hidden.

“Those are cute,” she whispered with a giggle to the sound of one of the women – Marge – breaking her own neck. Shame, she always hated losing them. She pulled the pink panties with the dancing unicorns on. “No need for a bra, and ain’t that depressing? Getting powers is supposed to give you like, a D-cup at least. But noooo, I’ve still got apples instead of melons.”

She found a cute pair of socks that matched her panties just perfectly. The tight blue jeans she put on afterwards were nothing special, but they showed off her hips well. And she’d always liked the curve of her hips.

“A shirt now, don’t you think, Nathaniel?” He was her favourite, so far. Such a useful power, and he was the best-looking of the bunch.

“Srrrrrurrrhh,” he replied, slowly getting more control over his speech.

“Or maybe just a hoodie? Don’t want just everyone seeing my face all the time, that makes things… interesting, but not very practical, sometimes.” She nodded to herself and looked through the racks while two more of the women – the two salesgirls – fought each other in a brief struggle, until Mary dug out Jenny’s heart with her bare hands and ate it.

“Don’t you dare get blood over the stuff I might want to look through!” she told her and the other two who were still screaming.

Just then, someone kicked in the doors, and she heard two voices yell “Freeze!”.

Nathaniel and Greg took them down before they could do any more.

She stepped around the clothing rag she’d been standing behind, still topless, to see two police officers on the ground, held down by Greg’s power. They looked at her face and starting screaming, too, while they fought to break free of Greg’s power, useless though that was. Her new friends were rarely smart at the beginning.

Love at first sight can do that to you.

“Hey, Nathaniel,” she spoke up after a minute – Mary and Jenny had just killed their two remaining customers and were eating the tasty bits – while she just couldn’t decide which hoodie to choose. “What’s Hastur mean, anyway?” Maybe it would help knowing that.

“Hhhhhasssssturrrrr… loooooovecraffffft st’ries… King… in… Y-y-yellowwwwww,” he said.

“Bravo, Nathaniel!” she shouted, clapping her hands, then she gave him a kiss on his cheek. “You’re getting better!”

Then she turned back to the clothing selection. “King in Yellow, huh? Well, Queen in Yellow, now. So, a yellow hoodie, then…”

And she found one, it was a little thin, but it had a cute little heart for a zipper, so she put it on and zipped it closed. Then she clapped her hands again. “Shoes! I need shoes, too!”

Eight minutes (and one dead policeman later – poor stupid thing, he’d ripped out his own intestines only to eat them, but they others had gotten hungry, too when they saw that), she’d found the cutest little black-and-pink sneakers.

Looking at herself in front of the mirror, she pulled the hood up and deep down over her face, so not even her chin could be seen.

“I look cute, don’t you all think so, too?” she asked her new friends. They’d all finished screaming and were quite fine now.

Love at first sight can do that to you.

There were various gurgles and moans of affirmation, as well as a “Of cccccourrrrrsssse.” from Nathaniel.

Great! Now, to see what the Juniors and Basil and friends are doing…

She looked into the headquarters of the heroes, but recoiled from the minds of Basil and Melody.

“Ouch. Damn, what is that?” She looked into the other’s heads, and learned all the wonders of heterodyning while Thomas explained it. “Ohhh, I wonder if I can do that, too, with someone. Something to keep in mind.”

Nathaniel teleported them all away, leaving only the bits and pieces of the poor things who hadn’t made it behind. They reappeared in the middle of a mob meeting, with her in the center of the round table they were sitting at. She pulled her hood down. “They’ll probably find out I’m free, soon. Let’s see who I’ll take now, and who I’ll play with until later.”

She let her awareness roam a little around the city – she didn’t want to reveal too much about her capabilities yet.

After a few minutes, she looked back into the workshop.

… but who’ll be the hunter and who the game?

“Oh, Irene, you don’t get it,” she giggled to the sound of her new friends professing their love in screams. “It’s a game of tag. We can alternate roles. Though, of course, if I win, the consequences will be… fun.”

She looked up to see herself in a large mirror on the wall, squatting on her heels in the middle of the room, in her new hoodie and those cutest of all shoes.

“Who ever said the end of the world can’t look cute, huh?”