Melody had read a lot about how horrific telepathy was to those who’d fallen victim to it. To have someone else invade your head, your thoughts and memories – things that, above all else, should be sacrosanct. She’d read reports of people, civilians and heroes alike, who’d reported to have felt more violated by having their brains looked through than by straight-up mind control. Reports by psychologists, theorizing that the reason why telepathy in all its forms was so feared was because it was so far outside the human experience.
To have your body violated, horrific though it is, was something that, sadly, humans had had a long, long time to adapt to, both mentally and socially. But before the advent of powers, a direct violation of the mind had, to anyone’s knowledge, been impossible, and it struck right at the core of people themselves; thus the visceral, extreme reaction to it.
Mindstar’s career was emblematic of that. She had been just a B-Class villain, bordering on A, and then she’d been revealed as a telepath. She wasn’t the strongest mind-controller out there, she hadn’t even been the most powerful one on the East Coast, but the sheer fear that true telepaths generated had vaulted her up to S-Class, even before she’d managed to actually give Lady Light a fair fight.
Melody had never really absorbed all of that information, not really. Her only experience with telepathy had been through Irene, who’d mostly used it only as an advanced com-system in combat, and so they could chat and gossip while seemingly doing serious stuff, and who’d only ever read the surface thoughts Melody had concentrated on, that she’d been willing to share.
Now, though, now she understood. Better than she’d ever would have wanted to. All her power, all her gadgets, had come to naught. Mindfuck had, apparently, not even been anywhere close, and he’d slapped her down with literally just a thought. Riffling through her memories like they’d been an open book. Forcing her to re-experience her own fantasies, and the… the climaxes… she’d experienced, in the course of… her explorations… all at once.
She choked on that thought, only to realize it wasn’t just a mental choke. Scrambling up, she was barely able to turn away from the prone, curled-up mess that was Kizzy, and throw up.
Her skin was crawling, from head to toe, and she felt like she needed to take ten showers, and scrub until her skin was all gone to feel even remotely clean again.
And then he’d made her choke Kizzy, and there’d been nothing she could do to stop it, other than appeal to their own fucked-up rules.
Oh, Kizzy, I’m so sorry.
She turned around, still on all fours, and found Kizzy still curled up into a tight ball, sobbing.
“Kizzy. Can you… hear me?” she asked fearfully, as she reached for the girl, sitting back on her heels and pulling her onto her lap.
There were blackening bruises around her neck, and Melody’s heart broke all over again at seeing them.
She drew the girl to her bosom, hugging her… not too tightly. As gingerly as she could, like she was made of spun glass.
Kizzy sobbed and sobbed, and Melody cried with her. What else could she do?
After what felt like hours, but which her visor told her were only a few minutes, Kizzy went limp in her arms.
At first, Melody panicked, fearing after-effects of her choking her, that maybe she’d caused even more damage than the bruises betrayed – but no, she’d simply passed out, slipping into merciful unconsciousness.
I need to get her away from all this. Somehow. I need to get away, somehow.
She stood up, thanking whatever God there may be, that she’d been given some measure of super-strength along with her primary power, as it made Kizzy’s weight completely negligible to her.
Unfortunately, it didn’t make her any less unwieldy to carry. Especially since she needed to have her arms free, to be able to properly defend herself.
In the end, after some thought, she ended up taking off her hoodie – so much for covering up, but it wasn’t like that’d helped at all – and using it to tie a seat, of sorts, for Kizzy, so she was on her back, piggyback style. Not the most secure thing, but it’d have to suffice until she woke up again.
Then she set off once more, splitting her attention between her echolocator and trying to come up with some, any plan.
She couldn’t come under Mindfuck’s power again. She just couldn’t. Even now, just thinking of the experience, it made her knees weak, and her… tender bits, burn up in shame. If he got ahold of her again… she wasn’t sure she’d be able to get up again, even if she survived it.
But… he’d let some things slip. There’d been rumors for years now, that Mindfuck had lost a lot of power, or at least been holding back. For years, he hadn’t performed his favorite ‘game’, forcing an entire city’s population to live through the experience of him abusing a child, and the experience of being the child so abused, at the same time. His cruelties had become… far smaller in scale, though no less horrific.
What he said… some boy, someone managed to ‘break’ him? Cripple him?
If that was true… if she ever ran into that boy, whoever he was, she’d give him her first kiss, that was for sure.
Because that meant… she had a chance to get away. If he was too weak to send to an entire city, now, then perhaps, the reverse was also true – and he’d all but stated that. He couldn’t just connect to every mind at once anymore, nor find any mind within his range… he had to search. To look for someone.
All she had to do was find a way to escape his ‘sight’, however it worked.
Not easily done, at all, not when she didn’t know the exact mechanics and limitations.
What else do I know? I read up on these guys, but they make a point of obfuscating what they’re truly capable of.
One limitation that she did know about, with reasonable certainty…
She looked up at the false sky, and the ‘game show’ running above. It was currently quiet, showing ‘live feeds’ from various parts of the Six’ world… they weren’t pretty sights, but at least none of the ‘PCs’ had been slain or captured y-
She stopped, mid-step.
One of the screens, Atrocity’s ‘game cam’ she supposed, showed said demented disgrace to all gadgeteers, in a sleek, snake-like body, several children held hostage with her trademark reddish blades.
And just a few meters away from her, Harry knelt on the ground, one arm around Thomas’ shoulders, the other holding two redheads, a mother and a daughter going by their age difference and similar faces, spreading his power over them.
Red hair… and Atrocity is there… is that Tyche… and her mother?
She had barely processed all that, when Atrocity drew one of her blades diagonally across a little boy’s stomach, then nudged him forward.
The boy fell on his knees, guts starting to spill out of the razor-fine cut, his hands trying to-
Melody averted her eyes. She couldn’t look. If she saw the child’s face, she knew she’d never be able to forget.
Instead, she looked at the group, as far as that was possible, huddled under Harry’s power. Thomas had his face pressed against his love’s chest, clutching his rifle tightly. Dalia’s mother was holding her daughter, so she couldn’t look, and had her eyes averted.
Harry was wearing his helmet, so it was hard to tell, but she would have wagered anything he was watching that child die, and blaming himself, as if it was his fault.
It was just the right kind of wound, too. Lethal, but probably not instantly so, calculated to be survived, possibly, if immediate aid was given.
Aid they had all been trained on, to know how to provide it.
Harry’s power had originated from him trying to save children, at the risk of his own life.
It was a calculated move, trying to goad him into dropping his power to try and save that child.
Melody had never hated anyone or anything as she hated Atrocity then, upon that realization. Not Hastur, not the Panthers, not Dusu, not even Mindfuck.
And she couldn’t do anything about it, anything at all.
Even with her echolocation, it took her a while to find the portal. It turned out to be the door to a broom closet in the back of a small ice cream parlor, which, when opened, seemed to lead into a school classroom.
The edges of the door were kind of fuzzy, and Melody’s echolocation got a lot of static, though she was at least able to tell that there was no one in that room she couldn’t see, at least.
Of course, portals, especially interdimensional ones, interacted in the weirdest, most screwy ways with… pretty much everything. Powers, technology, you name it, portals messed with it.
She was counting on it. Mindfuck had, to anyone’s knowledge, never exhibited the ability to reach across dimensions. It was a common enough limitation to nearly every power she knew of, that’d had its interactions with such phenomena recorded.
Here’s to statistical probability, Melody thought, as she made sure she had a good grip on Kizzy’s arms slung over her shoulders, and stepped into the portal.
As she entered the interface, her power went wild. From the usual background musical score she could never quite blend out, which rose to the surface if she focused on it, it turned into an utter cacophony of discord. No coherent ideas at all, no analysis or inspiration, just mad discord.
Woo, this is worse than being teleported!, she thought to herself, and took another step, out of the interface between realities and into the school classroom.
The madness dropped away, her power stabilizing nearly instantly, back to its usual background hymn.
After she’d made sure, with her own eyes and her echolocation, that no one was nearby, she focused on her power, experimentally, and the music came into focus.
It was richer, somehow, like a new depth had been added to the notes, but it was fading even as she listened.
But for a few precious moments, at least, she caught a glimpse of ideas she’d never have considered possible, before. Principles of interdimensional transition, applied to sound, and more.
She looked at the portal, mournfully. There was no time. The new ideas were fading already, too incomplete to do anything with, and she couldn’t afford to hang around this place and hop in and out of the portal, as much as she wanted to.
Maybe I can talk Irene into making a portal in my lab, sometime, she placated herself, settling for making sure Kizzy wasn’t going to slip off, and held her left gauntlet into the portal, then slowly, carefully, pulled it out, as she engaged her scanners. She scanned the portal from the outside, just to be thorough, and then hopped in one more time, using scanners built into her gauntlets to scan herself, focusing on her head, both within the portal, during transition, and right outside.
There was no time to even glance at the data, but at least she could be sure it would be there, waiting to be analyzed, once this mess was over.
Provided I’m still alive and sane enough to do so, she couldn’t help but remind herself. Either way, enough time spent on this. I need to move on and… survive, I guess. I have no earthly idea how I might actually get out of here, she thought, quietly. Maybe, if I can find Irene, or hold out long enough for her to find me, we can figure something out together.
Kizzy stirred, on Melody’s back, so she interrupted her deliberations in order to step into a different classroom and carefully lower her onto the teacher’s chair.
“Kizzy?” she asked in a worried voice, feeling, not for the first time, subtly wrong about it, as if she was pretending to feel these things, like a person whom deliberately pitched their voice in a way so as to convey something that wasn’t true – except for her, it was always the case, be it true or false. “Can you hear me?”
The little blonde stirred away, eyes fluttering open. Melody was expecting her to break down into tears, or scream, but what she got hurt her heart worse somehow.
Kizzy dropped her eyes down, and didn’t say anything. Didn’t show anything, her pretty face – she still had that angelic look young boys and girls tended to keep into their tweens, before diminishing baby fat and the progression of puberty matured their features – completely flat, showing no reaction at all.
She just nodded.
In spite of her earlier thoughts, Melody now felt glad that she couldn’t use her natural voice and had to rely on her vocoder. The voice it produced didn’t tremble, crack or choke up unless she wanted it to, and she very much didn’t want it to right then.
“I took us away from that horrid man,” she explained softly, running her right hand’s fingers over the girl’s left cheek, wishing she wasn’t wearing thick, electronics-filled gloves. “We should be safe from him, for now.” But not from whichever other monsters are around, she privately thought to herself. Though at least I ought to be able to do something against the others.
Kizzy nodded again, eyes downcast. Still not a peep from her.
“I’m sorry, but we need to keep moving. Do you think you’re up for walking, or should I carry you again?”
Instead of vocally answering, Kizzy stood up, and gave her another nod.
I’m so sorry I can’t just give you a thick, soft blanket and some hot chocolate and some music, but we really need to find help, she thought, rather than said, as she draped her hoodie over Kizzy’s slender shoulders. It wasn’t as nice as a proper blanket would have been, but at least it was warm, another layer between her and this cruel pseudo-world the Six had created.
Not that her problems didn’t start before, and will continue long after I get her out of here.
And she was getting her out of this place, even if it was the last thing she did.
She owed Jared at least that much.
The city outside the school looked as desolate as the last place they’d been to, if in a different fashion. More suburban, but the very geography had been shifted, distorted. Buildings were too close together now, streets snaking rather than straight, when they should have been a perfect grid.
Arsville Heights, she thought, recognizing one of the richest neighborhoods in New Lennston. The kind of area where several buildings were built of stone, three or four stories high and just a step short of being outright mansions, with generous greenery around them and high fences or walls encircling each property, side by side with less opulent, yet still rich single family homes.
Once upon a time, in the days of Old Lennston, it’d been the kind of neighborhood that the lesser Goldschmidt family branches had lived in, until the Dark’s reputation had driven his younger siblings and their families away from Lennston entirely.
Now it’d been twisted and distorted. Buildings had been moved together, the ground between them folded, literally folded away, or raised up and tilted, so one building lay on its side atop another, somehow without collapsing when it absolutely should have. Streets wound and twisted, few of them still level, none straight.
It was disorienting to look at, frankly, and even her echolocation had trouble mapping anything beyond her immediate surroundings – there were distortions in space, weird echoes and even less tangible disruptions in the way sounds propagated, which her program couldn’t possibly decipher in its current form.
In the end, she was forced to turn its range way down, just so she wouldn’t get disoriented by the discordant feedback. Down to just eleven point four-oh-five meters.
Still better than relying just on her eyes.
Is this place really this quiet, or is all the noise just not coming through? she wondered, while she and Kizzy walked down a street which should have been broad enough for two cars to drive down side by side, but which was now barely a back alley that’d fit maybe three grown men.
She kept looking over her shoulder, too, at Kizzy. To her consternation, the girl hadn’t made a meep, since rousing from unconsciousness, which was doubly problematic, because Melody, quite frankly, sucked at the non-vocal parts of communication. It wasn’t that she was incapable, when she focused, but ever since the onset of her powers, she’d been unable to take non-vocal cues in subconsciously (unless they were stupidly obvious), like people tended to do – she had to focus to do it, and she suspected that even with all her attention so focused, she stil fell short of what normal people could read.
Point being, with Kizzy refusing to talk, at all, even when prodded, she had no idea how to talk to her, how to help her.
Focus, Melody, she thought to herself. Get her out of this hell-hole alive, then worry about getting her some therapy. Because oh God, will she need therapy. And so will you.
Thinking of therapy only made her think of her handler. Stephanie. She’d been having a meeting with her, drinking tea and talking about Melody’s recent adventures and misdeeds (if she survived this, she was going to be in so much trouble over the Gefährten incident) when the alarms had gone off. Stephanie had taken one look at her and realized that she was going to fight, no matter what – it wasn’t like she could stop her, physically, anyway – and had just hugged her and wished her luck, before running for the bunker.
I really hope she’s alright, Melody though, as she lifted a half-open door that led nowhere off its hinges, and laid it out as a gangplank over some trashbags that’d burst open and spilled their reeking contents over the tiny alley they were walking through. I hope Irene is alright. I hope Harry and Thomas and Tyche and her mom will make it out as alright as is possible, and Hecate and AImihime and Goudo are alright, and…
And so it went, round and round and round, for several more minutes of silent progress in this twisted, uneven nightmare of a former city.
Two hours and eleven minutes later, Melody heard someone cry out in the distance. A young man, if she had to guess, analyzing what she heard while accounting for the omnipresent distortions.
Her tracking systems, meant to trace any possible call for help back to its origin, kicked in, only to flounder in the face of the twisted reality around them.
Then the young man screamed again, quickly joined by an older woman, and a child whom was too young to distinguish sex by the way their voice sounded.
Melody looked ahead – the ‘alley’ was sloping up sharply, far more so than any real alley or street would ever have been built, an angle over forty-five degrees, steep enough it would be easier to climb than walk – then behind herself, at Kizzy, caught in indecision.
Someone needed her help, but the only way to get to them would be to risk leaving Kizzy behind, then come back for her…
No. No way, I-
Kizzy looked up at her with those empty, dull eyes, and seemed to regain some measure of focus, reaching out to push against the small of her back.
Melody blinked, surprised. “You want me to go?” she asked, surprised.
Kizzy nodded, pushing again.
She leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. “I’ll be as swift as I can. Hide, until I come for you.” She should give her instructions for what to do if she didn’t come back, but frankly, she didn’t think Kizzy stood a chance to make it through this without her around.
Besides, she was determined to get her out, herself, and that meant coming back.
She ran, leaving Kizzy behind, swearing to herself that she’d be back.
You’ve got to be shitting me, was all she could think, at first, as she got close enough to the source of the screams. Those two!?
She’d only had to run for what would have been a single city block, if that much, before the alley opened up into a larger square, what must have once been a playground, or maybe a backyard with a swing and other toys, mushed together with two or three pools and various kinds of greenery.
There were several corpses strewn about the area – three people, burned beyond recognition, but adult by the size of the remains, two children who’d been frozen solid hugging each other. One of the pools was filled with blood and gore, as if several people had been torn apart, put through a blender – or perhaps, made to blow up.
There were only four civilians left, a woman holding a small boy, her son by the look of things, in her arms, kneeling. Her husband, kneeling as he held a younger man, probably a younger brother or perhaps an older son, trying to staunch the bleeding of the stump extending from his left shoulder.
Over them stood two all too familiar figures. One was a woman, all nude, not that there was much to see – her body was stocky in an unnatural way, the skin too smooth, bulging on her form, like extra layers of fat had been inserted between skin and organs, giving her a strangely flat, shapeless physique. Not fat, but far from slender or normal. No hair on her head, nor eyebrows, her facial features oddly spaced apart and dulled, flattened, making her look like a rough, yet perfectly symmetrical doll. She had nipples, but they too were off, too flat, like tea cup saucers, and it was impossible to tell whether the slit between her legs was her actual slit or simply another fold of her layered armor of fat. Flames danced in the palms of her hands, as she talked to her companion in a drawl, revealing a set of flat, blunt teeth, as if she had only molars, all around, no incisors or any other type of tooth. Her eyes, in contrast, seemed completely normal, in size and shape, only spaced too far apart, muddy brown and utterly unremarkable in and of themselves.
Not much would have been known about her background, if she didn’t feel compelled to utterly and completely expose herself to the public. She’d filled out her own wiki page, on every such site collecting data on cowls, metahumans in general, criminals, and so on, and as far as anyone had been able to tell, it’d all been truthful. Often painfully detailed. Her entire biography was known – once a teenage girl, she’d gone hiking and camping with family and friends, only for the entire group to be caught in a blizzard, cut off from the outside world. Long-ignored issues had flared up and people had turned on one another, until she’d snapped, gained powers and killed everyone else present, then walked out into the blizzard, naked, no longer bothered by the weather, and become a serial killer.
As if her presence wasn’t bad enough, next to her stood one of the prettiest guys Melody had ever met, a young spaniard just three years her senior, with the kind of haunting good looks that just screamed ‘metahuman’. He wore only a pair of faded, torn jeans, showing off the kind of body that’d make a girl’s knees weak, and a face that was prettier than most girls’ Melody had ever known, without being the least bit feminine. Bronze skin and tousled, blond-brown hair completed the look, as he grinned at the misshapen woman, flashing perfect teeth. He was wet, literally, from head to toe, his jeans only tighter for it, and didn’t seem to have any problem with her waving handfuls of fire so close to him.
If the woman had once been a normal girl who’d been caught up in a bad situation and snapped, this guy had been despicably evil long before gaining superpowers. A little over three years ago, almost four now, when he’d been a little younger than Melody, he’d lived in a Spanish village, near the border to Portugal, where a woman had disappeared, one day, only to be found five days later, having been raped and drowned in the river, left to be washed away. A week later, a younger woman suffered a similar fate, reappearing, dead, seven days after disappearing. It’d happened twice more over the following month, each victim a little younger than the last, before the case drew enough attention to cause a cape to come over, all the way from New Madrid. An esper, he arrived just days after another girl, barely a teen, disappeared, and quickly narrowed down the suspect pool to the husband of the first victim. He’d led the police to lay a trap where his power told him the girls were taken to be drowned alive, to catch the culprit in the act and save the girl.
He’d been right, the culprit appeared that night, and he brought the girl with him, still alive, if horribly battered.
Only it hadn’t been the first victim’s husband, but her fourteen-year-old son who’d been responsible.
They tried to capture him, but he gained powers, then, and used the very river they’d cornered him at to kill all of them, the cape included. He’d only spared his original victim, after subjecting her to even more abuse, before simply wandering off. What followed had been two years of vagrancy, alternating between laying low and committing horrible, heinous deeds. The kind of criminal Irene would describe as base, in the worst kind of way. His crimes had been so debased that, had he been caught, he’d have been executed, in spite of his age.
It wasn’t until an EU-wide death warrant had been issued that he’d decided things were getting too hot for him, and disappeared, only to re-appear months later as a member of the Rabid Eight in New Lennston.
He was the one responsible for the blood-and-gore pool, if she had to guess. He could only control water he was in contact with, but he could also control the water inside a person’s body, provided he touched them directly. Making people ‘pop’ like over-filled water balloons had been a signature of his.
Exposed and ‘El Conquistadore’. The two newest members of the Rabid Eight, before Melody, in her first ever engagement as Polymnia, had helped bring them down and in.
Well, she’d showed off against them, before Irene had shown up and slapped them down like the shitty little gnats that they were.
Now she’d have to deal with them all on her own. While they had hostages. And she had to worry about the Savage Six dropping down on her, as opposed to having a team of young heroes and the world’s most powerful BFF-to-be for backup.
And she didn’t have her power armor or speaker-arms either.
Fuck my life.