B010.1 Falling Hearts

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November 10th, 2:00 pm

Basil was walking through the Bright Arcades – the city’s biggest shopping and entertainment hub, making up the center of the Brights. He was not usually comfortable here – too many, way too many people, no way to keep an eye on them and that just made him jumpy – but he had some shopping to do.

Another problem was that he was quite angry right now.

Basil was not used to being angry. Oh, he got angry during combat, every now and then, and sometimes he read or heard or saw something that made him furious – but he found it hard to stay angry – it usually discharged quickly, and not too rarely in the form of either violence (if in battle) or some manic (well, more manic than usual) work on some gadget (or several). But this… this shimmering anger, and the headaches that went with it, ever since he had finally worked up the courage to confront Amy – they had just finished dinner (she was usually in a calm mood after a meal), sat down on the couch together to just relax, and he had… brought the issue up. It had not gone well.

That had taken place last wednesday, three days after his talk with Magnus. Amy had not talked to him in the two and a half days since, which was longer than they had ever spent without talking to each other. She did not even sneak into his bed at night anymore, which was just worrying. She had been doing that ever since he could remember… all the way back.

Not like he wanted her to – she had completely blown him off when he had tried to explain to her why he was upset, that he wanted her to turn over a new leaf – and frankly, the more he thought about it, the less he understood why he had waited for so long to confront her about it. These last few months, ever since he had manifested, had just been… intense. Too much to deal with, and he had somehow been able to push the whole issue with Amy to the back of his head. Again and again.

I should have spoken out on the first day I learned about it. He was just as angry with himself as he was with her. But the biggest reason why he was angry was because he was powerless.

If he was honest with himself, then he was really way in over his head. Ever since he jumped into his suit for the first time, he had been tangling with people way over his weight class. The Snow Queen had been downright harmless. Just on his team, he had an incredibly powerful and rare true probability manipulator, a contriver who could pretty much make anything, given time (she was already working on a teleportation ‘enchantment’) and a projector who could go toe-to-toe with a giant fecal monster and emerge unscathed. And let us not even get started on Gloom Glimmer. He was boxing way out of his weight class.

And his enemies… two S-Class threats in less than three months. Most superheroes got through their career with no more than three such events total. Not to mention apparently having the eye of the Savage Six on himself.

And my sister is on the same level as those monsters, he thought as he looked through a storefront advertising stuffed animals. No, not her style.

And even if he could influence her – what would the Dark do in response? He certainly had an interest in Amy being as amoral as possible (while still being controllable).

“No one’s ever achieved anything by giving up”, Magnus repeated in his head, waggling a finger.

So, despite all the issues, Basil was going to… negotiate. He was going to get back into Amy’s good graces, and do what he could to change her, and fuck the consequences.

Thus, he had asked Prisca what to do (without explaining the specific problem – he just said that he and Amy had had a fight and that he wanted to mend things again), and she had advised him to get her a present. All fine and well.

Next, he had asked her what present to get her, which had caused Prisca (currently using her power – he was still not allowed to see her real body, as her mother had climbed to new heights of paranoia) to hit him over the head and tell him that he had better know what to buy his own sister.

So he had gone and talked to Vasiliki (who said she would kick him in the ass if he asked her that again), to Timothy (who had no more a clue than he did), to Aimi (who just looked at him as if he was being silly) and then, out of sheer desperation, to Dalia. She had been acting kind of weird since last monday, and he had not expected much, but…

It is kind of sad that Dalia is currently my only source of useful advice, he thought. She had told him to get Amy something that he would not normally have gotten for her, to show that he was really putting some thought into it, and not running on autopilot.

Which meant buying something instead of making it himself.

“Also, make sure it’s something that really fits her, to show you’re thinking about her. And something nice, too. You’re thinking nice stuff about her.”

If he was not so focused on Amy, he would probably be a little disturbed by how… smart Dalia could be every now and then.

So now he was looking through the stores – the Bright Arcades were really the best place to shop for just about anything (there had even been a rumor about a shop that sold superpowers here, though it had been thoroughly debunked).

Maybe some pony merchandise? She is really into that show… He looked at a store for little girl stuff as he walked by. What is the name of the purple one ag-

Unfortunately, walking around the Arcades without looking forward was a good way to run into someone, and so he did.

“I am so sorry!” he said, looking at the woman he had almost bowled over.

“Oh, not to worry – I wasn’t paying attention myself!” said the dark-skinned woman. She looked vaguely familiar, beautiful but not extremely so, with a colourful peacock pin in her hair. Checking her watch, she gave a small start, walking quickly by him. “I need to go! Goodbye, Macian!”

“What!?” He whirled around, but she was gone already. What the hell?

She had called him Macian. Who was that person!? And why did she call him that?

And just then, his plans were completely derailed as the Arcades locked down.

* * *

The automated blast-proof door- and window-shutters slammed down with booming sounds that made the windows of the shops rattle. The lights went off, all at once, and the screaming started.

What the hell!?

Basil had been just standing next to a shop’s door, and he moved into the door, to avoid getting trampled. And then, the lights went on again, and a voice came out of the public announcement system.

<Hello and a good day to you all! This Kudzu speaking, supervillain extraordinaire and your hostage taker for this fine saturday afternoon,> said a voice with a cultured New England accent. <Please remain calm and gather in the central atrium on the ground level. Behave, and no one will be harmed – scout’s honor! If you try to leave, contact the outside world – don’t bother with cellphones, we’ve cut the Arcades off completely – or hinder us, me and my associates will use force to… chastise you.>

Kudzu, Kudzu… He knew that name, but he could not quite remember the details. A mastermind kind of villain.

Meanwhile, the people outside were already moving towards the atrium with a minimum of fuss – there were regular drills on proper behaviour in this kind of situation.

Drills Basil did not intend to obey. Moving deeper into the shop, he pulled his cellphone out, but found that even his connection to the outside world was cut off – both telephone and internet were down. Great. And Eudocia probably will not notice me being offline, since she is having a girl’s day with the others. Why had he not thought of installing some automated alarm in case his connection cut off? It was so basic.

Nonetheless, he was not without means as he moved into the staff room in the back (no cameras there). Pulling his jacket off, he opened a latch, reached inside and pulled, inverting the jacket – now it was white, with his emblem in the back. The whole thing was made of two layers of kevron with a wire mesh made of his ceramic in between to stop knives and other pointy weapons. From a pouch on the inside, he pulled a black full-face mask out, followed by a belt with some basic equipment he kept hidden in his bag.

It was not much, but it was better than nothing.

From the staff room, he entered the staff-only hallways, narrow ways that were supposed to allow quick movements around the Arcades out of sight of the customers. There were cameras here, again, but there was nothing he could do about that right now.

I need floor maps of the Arcades, and I need to find the central computer room – destroy any recordings of myself, open a channel to the outside. There was no telling if people outside could even tell that there was something amiss in here. At least, the chance that they could not was too high to rely on a swift rescue.

A mastermind would not pull off something like this without making sure he could keep the heroes away.

He saw an elevator (bad idea) and a door into a stairwell (better idea). The computer room was probably in the administrative area at the top of the football stadium sized Arcades.

Off we go, I g-

Ducking, he barely, barely evaded a scything kick to his head, drawing a knife in an unconscious motion – and then he was up, grabbing a punching arm to twist his attacker around and slam them into the wall, knife to their thro-

“Oh. You,” he said in a surprised voice.

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Interlude 8 – Those Two Losers (Quiz Bonus)

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Tower of Doom, Arcadia, 699 After Starfall

Kavasigan, Lord of Undeath, was down to but one of his Skeletal Abominations, the protective abjuration that kept him safe nearly destroyed.

Four of the original six heroes remained – Ielarinar, Mistress of Arrows had fallen to a Spear of Negative Energy from Kavasigan himself and Ulgrim the Dwarven Rager had foolishly thrown himself into the middle of combat and been whittled down by the abominations – though he had slain no less than three of the seven before succumbing to his grievous wounds.

Meeda the Fair, in her gleaming armor and burning blade, sent a quick prayer to her goddess, both to ask for her fallen friends to not have fallen for naught and to ask for the power to smite the last abomination. And the Goddess answered, for her blade flared with holy light, cutting into the final enemy that stood between them and their archenemy.

The very moment the shield around the dark wizard fell, Archmage Warsen loosened a barrage of spells he’d been saving up. With his protection down, Kavasigan could only throw up his arms to shield himself as everything, from the lowest Magic Missile to Warsen’s most powerful attack, the Black Meteor, slammed into his defenseless, still human body (for he had not yet completed the rite that would transform him into the God of Discord, Murder and the Dead).

Warsen, Meeda, Clandesty the Priestess of the Goddess of Light and Life and Niv the Rogue shielded their eyes from the explosion of light and fire, then watched with bated breath to see what remained of their quarry.

Niv was the first to react, her eyes second only to those of Ielarinar herself: “Oh, come on!”

Kavasigan stepped forward, completely unharmed. “Pah! Fools and scum, the lot o-“

Niv threw four daggers into his chest. But they merely passed through without meeting any resistance.

The former Archcancellor of the Queen snorted in disgust. “Did you truly believe I would risk facing you myself at this point? ‘Tis but an illus-“

* * *

14 Miller Street, London, 1981

“Oh, come on Lars!” shouted Mary. She slammed her hand onto the table, rocking the miniatures and the dice spread over the tabletop map. “Another fake-out? Really?”

“Mary, calm down,” Thomas chimed in. “No reason to lose it. But seriously, dude, you keep faking us out. It’s getting annoying.”

Ben put his dice aside (he’d been preparing to have Warsen cast a divination to track the illusion back to its maker) and leaned onto the table, observing.

His five co-players were quite put out, but he had no intention to join in. Besides, Lars could always deal better with people.

* * *

Forty-three minutes later

“Why didn’t they just trust me?” asked Lars, grumbling while he and Ben picked up the trash. This week had been their turn to host the game, and since their apartment only had two rooms, and this was their living room, they couldn’t just ignore the trash for a few days.

“You make your bad guys too competent,” replied Ben. He didn’t know why Lars was so pissed off. They’d finished their session once Lars had calmed the others down, and it had gone off quite well. “There’s just no way we players can keep up with you in terms of planning and general preparedness.” Stacking up the empty pizza boxes, he made a quick run for the garbage bins outside the building, also giving Lars a little time to think about his comment. Lars was smart, but he was slow. He needed time to work through shit, and he was more than happy to give it to him.

When he came back, Lars was just finishing a quick round with the vacuum cleaner. “I thought they’d like a proper challenge. Never really understood why these supposedly super-intelligent evil overlords would always act like idiots, you know?”

Shrugging, Ben helped clean up what little remained, and they both sat down on the couch afterwards. “Probably because otherwise, they’d always win. Only reason why they can be beaten by a ragtag bunch of misfit grave robbers despite their powers and resources is because they act like idiots and don’t prepare properly. Make them too smart, and they’re just too difficult to defeat for a normal party.”

“But that’s boring!” Lars complained as he threw his arms up in his usual, over-dramatic way.

“For you, because you always try to apply logic to everything. Just chill out mate.”

“Speaking of chillin’ out…” Lars reached in between the cushions of the couch, fumbling about until he pulled out a plastic bag filled with some white powder inside. “Ah maaan, that’s not even enough for one of us.”

“You got some money? I’ll go and get some more,” Ben replied, feeling quite disappointed himself. And confused. When exactly did we use it all up? Maybe three days ago? Or last week, when we skipped Manderly’s class?

“Sure, sure, my ‘rents sent me my allowance just yesterday,” Lars replied, walking over to the coat hanger to get his wallet. He took two fifty pound notes and handed them to Ben. “Get us some of the good stuff. I don’t wanna wake up in time for classes tomorrow.”

“Sure thing, mate. I’ll be off then.”

* * *

A little later again

Ben walked through the London streets, his mood getting worse as he was quite cold despite his thick coat – winter had brought snow nearly a meter high – and now it was suddenly raining as well, meaning he had to also be careful not to slip and fall on his face.

Taking the underground, he came out near the place his favourite dealer usually did business. There weren’t that many dealers out there willing to sell the hard stuff to teenagers, ’cause the heroes really looked down on that. Many villains did, too. He’d found this one by pure accident.

The guy looked nothing like what you’d imagine a dealer. He looked like an accountant. His business was set up a back-alley with so many fire escapes, balconies and laundry lines over it that no one who passed over it could see what was going on at the ground level. Ben only ever heard the guy being called ‘Slick’. Some kinda low-level meta, he was supposed to be.

“Ben, my friend! How’re you doing?” he asked, leaning back on the folding chair that stood behind a small folding table.

Jerk’s dry, dammit. He was quite jealous of that. “Not so good. Need some new stuff. Some of the good stuff, to be precise.” He reached into his pocket for his wallet.

“Hmm, I think I have something for you. Since you’re such a faithful customer and all.” Slick reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a clear little plastic bag. There were two pills inside, coloured half orange and half purple. “Here, this just came in. Real good stuff.”

Interesting. “What is it?”

“It’s called ‘Jump’. Made by some of those mad scientist types, callin’ himself ‘the Ascendant’. As in, your senses ascend to a higher plane of existence, and all that drivel.”

“Oh come on, you know I don’t use contrived stuff. That’s just asking for a bad case of pushing daisies.”

Slick shook his head. “Dude, would I offer my best customer something like that!? No, believe me, I’ve yet to hear of anyone having unpleasant side-effects. This stuff is real good.”

Ben relaxed – Slick always managed to calm him down – and thought it over. “Well, what’s the use of life if you don’t try new stuff out every now and then.”

The dealer grinned and held out the little plastic bag. “Here, take it. First one’s free for my faithful customers, so you get one for you, and one for yer pal.”

“Oh, thanks.” Freebie, how nice. “If it’s as good as you say, I’ll probably be back for more sooner or later.”

He grinned again, bobbing his head up and down in a nod. “I know you will, my good friend.”

* * *

Ben made his way back to the underground station, and then walked the rest of the way home.

He was almost back at their flat building when he slipped on a patch of newly formed ice.

Ah crap!

The ground came up to meet his face – and suddenly he stopped, as strong, but gentle hands grabbed him.

He was pulled up and turned around to look into a vision.

She was tall, taller than himself (and he wasn’t exactly short), and had the kind of face that could have come from all over the world, but her skin was as dark as he’d ever seen on a woman, her hair up in a bun held together by a colourful, bird-shaped pin.

“Are you alright?” she asked in a pleasant, slightly drawling voice.

Ben gibbered as a reply, not used to pretty women talking to him. Normally, they just turned their head away and tried to get away from the stench. The prettiest woman he could talk to was Mary, and she had at least fifteen kilo too much on her hips. So he just nodded. What’s that bird?

She nodded, smiling and revealing perfect white teeth. “Good, good. You need to be more careful, my dear.” She brushed some snow from his shoulders (the fucking rain had turned to snow, masking the newly formed patches of ice).

He gibbered again and nodded.

“Now, you be good and careful. Have a nice evening!” She turned and left, his eyes tracking her gently swaying bottom, which was covered by a coat that seemed too thin for the weather, too expensive for this part of town, and entirely too much fabric on that body for his taste.

And then she was gone, but he already knew what he’d be dreaming about tonight.

As he entered the flat, he suddenly thought: A peacock! Bird was a peacock!

* * *

That hot?” asked Lars as he filled two glasses with water.

“Even hotter, dude. I mean, she was like one of those superheroines! Seriously hot booty, and she wasn’t even showing any skin!”

Lars got a dreamy look as he gave him one of the glasses. Ben popped one of the pills into his outstretched hand and took the other into his mouth, holding it between his tongue and the roof of his mouth.

“Let’s see how good this stuff really is,” Lars said with a grin, popping his own pill.

They knocked their glasses and swallowed the pills.

The world exploded.

* * *

He saw colours, and swirls, and swirls of colours…

There w-


The world went black. He was falling, falling, as pain, unimaginable pain coursed through his body. He had just enough presence of mind to realize that this was not supposed to happen, that he was reacting badly, before his m-

His body stretched, his fingers turning int-

He was rolling around on the floor in pain, the whole world twisting around h-

Darkness crept into his field of vision along the edges, the pain growing worse and worse as he started to scr-

The world went black, and he only felt… cold.

He could feel himself fading, fading, fading, fading, fading…

N-no… no… not like this…

There was still so much he wanted to live through, so many things to do…

Clarice would be devastated if he died, but he was fading, and he couldn’t even remember his own sister’s face anymore…


He couldn’t let it end like this!


He… he wanted to live!


He’d been wasting his life for so long, if only he c-

His consciousness winked out, his body finally going slack, even as his friend squirmed and screamed just a meter or so away from him.

* * *

Something flickered.

A single pinpoint of light appeared in darkness.

Then another.

And another.

More and more. Two appeared at once. Then ten. A hundred.

A million.


One of them was small, fading, barely anything left, a star that had burned out, only a little light remaining.

It fell from the sky, fell, fell, fell…

There was a corpse, and it did not move. And yet it reached out, and grabbed the flicker of light left, little more than a candle’s flame now.

Fire and Light.

They coursed through the dead body, burning it away.

He saw a billion worlds and more, dancing, singing, shouting…

He saw a lone sun, with no one to share its beautiful light…

He saw a sleeping sun, waiting to grace the world with transcendent light…

He saw a black sun, a revelation waiting to envelop the world…

He saw a gentle sun, not yet born, waiting for its time…

He saw a blazing sun, unborn and already eclipsing the stars around itself…

The fire vanished, leaving only searing light that whittled away at his mind…

He saw a hundred billion paths that could be taken, and a hundred billion times more…

He saw the black sun envelop the world in eternal darkness…

He saw five points of light in the darkness…

The Shaper, unbound and gentle…

The Lover, driven by the primordial power.

The Dreamer, a gilded knight, brilliant as the full moon…

The Shepherd, a broken star that sought redemption…

The Maker, a blazing well that sought to rise…

He saw dancing ribbons of light…

* * *

He tried to open his eyes, but he had no eyelids, only the light.

He looked for Lars, but there was only a shifting, bubbling mass of flesh, faces and forms appearing and vanishing on it like bubbles in steaming soup, and yet he only saw the light.

He reached out for his friend, but he had no hands, only the light.

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B005.5 They Called Us Mad!

December 31st, 1899

St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital was always rather empty around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, even in a city the size of Lennston. In fact, they had grown so used to not having much to do during that time that they were just giving most of their staff off for the holidays, retaining only a skeleton crew.

Another reason for this was that the hospital had fallen on some pretty hard times, with funding being cut and people in general preferring private practices, mostly due to various superstitions about the inefficiency of hospitals and the impersonal treatment. The fact that the local medical university was top-notch and produced an abundance of private doctors who were all too willing to make house-calls at any time didn’t help.

What this meant was that, twenty-one minutes before New Year’s Eve, during one of the worst snowstorms in recent memory, when most of the world was celebrating the beginning of the new century, there were only one doctor and two nurses in the emergency unit. The doctor, a portly man in his early fifties named Quentin Tressman, was there because he had a wife and three children to support, as well as a mistress and an illegitimate child, and the hospital paid a little extra for the holiday time. The older nurse, Anna Smithens, a matronly woman, didn’t have any family left, nor any real friends she cared enough about to spend the holidays with, so she opted for the holiday shift – it was highly unlikely she’d have to do much, anyway. The younger one, Estephania McSmithee (Steph to her few friends) – the similarity of their names had been noted and abused for cheap jokes since the first time they had met – was just twenty-one and also had no family save for a father she didn’t want to ever see again. She’d also decided to try and befriend Anna, wanting to alleviate the older woman’s loneliness.

So they sat behind the counter at the entry to the empty hospital – there were, literally, no other people there except for Jake the Janitor, a reed-thin old man in a janitor’s suit who’d joined them for a New Year’s drink.

And then someone barged into the room. Several someones. The four hospital workers jumped off their seats, except for Jake, who always said that getting too excited had never helped anyone, and so he finished his drink before turning to look.

Two men had barged in, different as night and day, each carrying a woman in their arms.

The first man in was the kind of person they often got here, if they got any patients at all – a working class man, probably from the settlements immediately around the hospital. Early thirties, short, heavy-set, not really attractive nor ugly, close-cropped brown hair and a dirty blue overall. Steph recognized him as Michael Whitaker, the mechanic who always fixed up her shoddy car for half the price anyone else set. In his arms, he carried a rather young woman, no more than nineteen, with dirty blonde hair and a figure that needed a few extra pounds, dressed in an old creme-colored nightgown. His wife Diana, Steph knew.

The second man, only Jake recognized (he was old, and he got around a lot), though all of them could see that he was not part of their usual clientele. Abraham Franz-Frederick Goldschmidt was, without much doubt, the patriarch of the oldest and richest family of Lennston, a city with a lot of old rich families. He was dressed in a formerly immaculate three-piece suit that was worth more than all four of them made in a year, probably. Tall, slender and hook-nosed, with naturally tan skin and neatly parted black hair, he looked the very opposite of Michael. His wife Jennifer, too, could not have been more different from the young Diana – she was very nearly the same age, maybe one or two years older, but where Diana was bright and sunny, she was dark and sultry, dressed in an expensive evening dress that had seen better days.

Both women were heavily pregnant, their faces strained and red, making the reason for the panicked expressions of their husbands very clear.

The next few minutes were a haze of hasty explanations and hurried movements. The husbands were panicked, afraid for their wives and unborn children, as both of them were racked with pain (also, over the last few months, there had been a disproportionate amount of deaths during childbirth). Since the Goldschmidt’s house doctor hadn’t shown up – probably got stuck somewhere in the snowstorm – and the Whitakers didn’t have the money to pay a private doctor, they’d both come here in a hurry. Unfortunately, they’d gotten very worked up, which didn’t help the mental state of their wives, who were barely coherent at this point. Doctor Tressman had never before assisted during childbirth and had to act purely out of theoretical knowledge, and he was already imagining the kind of lawsuits a man like Goldschmidt could bring down on him. Anna was just concerned for the young mothers, remembering the three children of her own she’d all lost to complications during childbirth. Steph was just afraid she might not be able to help them. Only Jake remained calm, mostly because he knew he couldn’t do much anyway, other than offer words of encouragement. And he never got excited, anyway.

For convenience’s sake, they put both women into the same room and began their work, while Jake sat with the husbands, trying to calm them.

* * *

January 1st, 1900

On the very eve of the new century, two healthy young children were born.

A boy, already dark and with a decidedly sultry look on his hook-nosed face that spoke of future troubles with self-restraint. He had his mother’s amber-coloured eyes, and his father’s thin lips and too-big nose, that made him look like the baby-hawk to his father’s papa-hawk. And he was even as agitated as his father, crying and screaming for all his little lungs were worth.

And a girl, bright and curly-haired, with her father’s bright blue eyes and her mother’s blonde hair. What struck the onlookers the most wasn’t however her cute looks, but rather the fact that she wasn’t crying – she just quietly let Nurse Smithens wash her and give her to her mother for nursing.

Their parents named them Ismael Franz-Peter Goldschmidt and Gwen Diana Whitaker, respectively.

Then, however, it turned out that there was only one crib around to put the children in, and since the mothers needed to rest and the fathers were not trusted by the women present to keep their cool and let the children rest, they were put into the same crib while Jake ran off to procure a second crib (he always knew where to find anything).

When he returned, however, it was unanimously decided that separating the two had to count as a capital offense. Quiet little Gwen had almost immediately calmed down the little Ismael, and the two of them ended up holding hands and fall asleep.

Jake predicted that the two of them would become inseparable as they grew up, and everyone agreed with him, swept up in the emotions of the occasion.

* * *

Sometimes, great people witness little events. And sometimes, little people witness great events. Most of the time, you can’t really tell which one is big and which one is small, but they all have their own stories, even if they’re absorbed into a larger narrative.

Quentin Tressman went on working at the St. Mary’s Mercy Hospital, as it was granted a second spring by Abraham Goldschmidt, who donated a very generous sum to the hospital his first son had been born in (and in which all of his later children would be born in). The doctor finally came clean with his wife about his mistress and the daughter he’d had with her. After a few years that nearly ended with a divorce – which, at the time, would have been beyond scandalous, and likely have ended his career – she forgave him and even raised the girl as her own after her mother passed away in an accident. Quentin himself, while never becoming a star doctor or anything, became a local fixture, a reliable, dedicated man of medicine. More than three hundred people came to his funeral when he died peacefully at the age of seventy-nine.

Estephania McSmithee succeeded in her goal of befriending the older Anna Smithens, and even found herself a loving husband. Even though they never quite made enough money to live without worry, they held on to their little slice of happiness, and she gave birth to two children. Anna Smithens spent a lot of time with her younger co-worker, and when she died in nineteen-o-nine, she named Estephania as her only heir. To Steph’s and her husband’s surprise, Anna turned out to be the last scion of one of Lennston’s oldest and richest families, and they never had to worry about money again. Instead, the Widard family became another one of Lennston’s fixtures.

As for Jake the Janitor, after working in the hospital for five more years, he retired from it, but ended up hired by Goldschmidt to work as a gardener at his mansion, after the previous one passed away. He later went on to… well, that is a story for another day.

* * *

True to Jake’s prophecy, the two children became inseparable. Their parents, especially their fathers, became fast friends, despite the disparity between their social and economical status. In fact, Goldschmidt and Whitaker became a well-known duo around the city’s pubs, as they drank and performed – they were both passionate hobby-musicians – their way through the city, if they didn’t just brag about their children.

The two mothers didn’t become quite as close, though they often met for tea or coffee, mostly while their children played with each other. Though they did make a point of attending each other’s birthday celebrations, as well as those of their children.

Gwen and Ismael – or Petey, as only she was allowed to call him – grew up together, spending more time together than apart. At first, it was simply because of their shared birth and their parents’ sentiment. But soon, as it became clear that something was off about them – they learned to speak their first words months before they learned to walk, and little Gwen even learned how to recognize a few simple written words before her second birthday, closesly followed by Ismael – they found themselves unable to really appreciate other children their age as friends, and thus grew closer still.

Their families watched in awe as the two seemed to grow smarter every day, learning to talk and write at an almost adult level by the age of four. They seemed to soak up knowledge the way other children soaked up attention, and Michael often joked that he would have gone bankrupt if he’d had to pay his daughter’s teachers (and books) all by himself.

Unfortunately for everyone, the two seemed determined to use their intelligence to cause their families and teachers as much of a headache as possible, frequently breaking out of their rooms to meet up even when their parents wanted to keep them at their respective homes, or to go exploring, which often ended in total chaos.

And that was before they started spending their free time playing heroes.

* * *

December 11th, 1913

I was cursing and cussing as I left the auditorium with Gwen right behind me. “This is just pathetic!”

“Petey, please, calm down,” she said, her voice almost a whisper, as it usually was. Not that I ever had trouble understanding her. Unfortunately, it didn’t help.

“But they’re just… we’re right, and they know it! They just don’t want to admit that two children are smarter than all of them put together and cubed!” I threw my arms up in exasparation, almost throwing the folder I’d been carrying . In fact, I felt like punching something. A lot. Preferably something with headshots glued on of all those stuffy, idiotic, self-centered, moronic…

Gwen hugged me from behind, immediately dissolving the anger. She’d always been able to calm me down, no matter what mood I was in. My parents said she’d done that the very first time we’d been together in our crib.

“They’ll come around,” she whispered. “You just need to keep on going, and they won’t have a choice other than to accept our work, ne?”

“And in the meantime, people die! Adults and children! Just because no one wants to admit that two children came up with it before anyone else did!”

“Shshsh.” She rested her forehead against my shoulder. Damn, I hated when she did this. And loved it, too. Mind Control. Definitely mind control. She’s been conditioning me since birth.

“I feel like eating. A lot. Are you in the mood for Greek food?” Food always helped stave off indignation at human idiocy.

“Always. You know I love it, ne?”

I threw the damn folder into a trashcan. Just a stupid little fungus. So many lives it could save…

* * *

Petey and Gwen had always been brave, even reckless in their little adventures, to the point where their parents fully expected themselves to die of heart attacks before their children grew up.

At first, it started with them going into the forest to explore it, hunting and catching animals to study them, even some dangerous ones. Or getting them used to the two of them over days and weeks, so they could observe them during their natural day-to-day business.

Things got more extreme from then on, with them even breaking into buildings like the library or the university for various reasons.

At age seven, they ran into a burning building together, saving two little toddlers from a fiery death. They were grounded for four weeks (not that that stopped them from doing whatever they wanted) and got a medal each, as well as a pair of firemen helmets they’d wear from then on whenever they went on an adventure together.

Over the next year, they found five lost children, uncovered a drug dealer ring, caught a serial murderer and wrote a collection of poems that became quite popular all across America.

They never slowed down, only increasing their newsworthy actions year after year, until, to their parents collective relief, they decided to focus on scientific research instead of playing detective or firefighter (not that they stopped doing that, they just didn’t seek it out anymore).

Unfortunately, they weren’t quite taken seriously, at least in the beginning. This caused a lot of damage, in hindsight, even if they managed to work through their colleagues’ prejudices by the time they turned fifteen.

In 1915, when World War I had just entered into its most gruesome phase, Ismael entered the army, lying about his age (he was very tall for his age and had a very adult face, anyway), and shipped off to the front. As did a young, very effeminate looking boy named Oliver Polliver, aged 18 (though he looked like he was fourteen at best, he had all the documentation required).

The two of them racked up two medals of honour each, as well as at least three of each military honor the Allied forces had to offer – until 1917, a year before the end of the war, when Oliver was wounded during battle and revealed to be a young girl. The two of them were sent back to America immediately.

While they could neither be convicted (they were both still minors) nor be denied their military honors, and most of the public admired them for their deeds, many also did not take kindly to their actions, especially Gwen’s participation in the war as a combatant. No small number of ‘concerned citizens’ demanded that they be put into mental institutions, and most of Lennston’s upper crust demanded that Ismael be kept apart from the ‘bad influence’ that was Gwen Whitaker (in truth, they hoped to free him up for one of their daughters instead of the daughter of a mechanic he was so very obviously in love with).

To avoid further scandal (and keep their children safe), their families made them promise to return to their research and focus on it in full.

In hindsight, it might have been better to send them off to the war again…

* * *

17:13 – December 31st, 1922

This is going to be the best birthday, ever. And nothing would spoil that, I told myself.

I was standing in my room in front of the mirror, a small box in my hand that felt like it was made of lead. I felt like hiding it away.

So stupid. I know she’s going to say yes. So why am I getting to nervous?

I opened the box, looking at my mother’s engagement ring. She’d given it to me two years ago, just a month before she passed away. It was made of pure gold, fashioned like roses that wound around each other into the form of a ring, with a ruby, an emerald and a sapphire held in between the winding stems.

It was really, really easy to imagine it on Gwen’s ring finger. I had toyed with the thought of taking it to the best goldsmith I knew – that being me – to make it smaller, so it would fit her thin fingers. Two reasons I had left it as it was. One, It would have felt wrong to change it away from the form it had when father had proposed to mother and two, it might encourage her to eat more and finally put on some of the weight she needed.

Gwen had always been too thin for my taste. I mean, my taste pretty much was Gwen, but I’d have preferred her to have a healthier weight.

“Come on, Ismael. You fought your way across half of Europe with her. You’ve literally spent your whole life with her. Why is it so hard to ask her this one stupid question!?

She lived in my house – she only had a room at her parent’s place for form’s sake, really. Neither of us had ever had any doubt about where we wanted to take our relationship. Really, it was only a formality. We’d done everything a married couple did, and more, I just haven’t asked her yet, damn it!

It was ridiculous that we were almost twenty-three and I still hadn’t asked for her hand in marriage. One of the many aunts I didn’t care about had warned me against it, since our children wouldn’t be Jewish then, but who cares?

You’re wasting time. Intentionally. Go and ask her, you idiot!

* * *

17:19 – December 31st, 1922

She said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes, she said yes!

* * *

18:20 – December 31st, 1922

We’d shared some pretty intense, long kisses before, but never one that went on for an entire hour without any interruption.

Damn that fucking pet of hers for breaking that vase. I’d strangle it if she didn’t love it so much.

But now it was – she said yes, she said yes! – time to finally get on with the machine. Finish it. The plan was to finally prove our theory on New Year’s Eve, the moment of our birth.

Twenty-two years. Twenty-two years times two, but really one. And now, today, we would finally do what we were always meant to do. We will change this world together forever. And no one will ever laugh at us again.

We’d constructed the machine underneath my family’s mansion. My mansion. Ever since father’s death a year ago – he hadn’t taken mother’s death well, not even with Uncle Michael’s help – I’d been the owner. Most of the staff was gone, since Gwen and I lived mostly by ourselves and didn’t socialize much. Too many stigmata on us, especially her. And I refused to accept guests who looked down on her. Only her, and me, and Jake ‘I’m still the Janitor’, the crazy old man who had been there at our birth and would probably be there when we died of old age, as well. He pretty much took care of the entire mansion and the surrounding lands himself, only hiring outside help every now and then for the stuff he simply couldn’t do himself anymore.

Anyway, as much as my parents’ deaths had hit me – without Gwen, I probably would have gone insane and done something stupid like try and bring them back to life – it had provided us with a remote, secure and discreet research facility. Gwen wasn’t worried about spies and thieves, but I still couldn’t forgive that asshole who fished my folder out of the trashcan and sold my invention for his own, all those years ago.

I’m petty like that.

Now I was connecting the final high power cables to the core of the machine, the human-sized doorway without a door.

Another invention that could already have changed the world, I thought as I checked the batteries over. We’d charged them using Tesla’s bladeless turbines. The entire mansion was completely independent from the outside, electrically. We had a big waterfall right underneath the cliff it stood upon. The turbine was only now getting the attention it deserved, even though Tesla had invented it an entire decade ago, and our batteries were still not being accepted. Not due to any problems with the technology. But because we had invented them. And I was too proud to pass them to someone else to publish the technology, damn me.

All will change after tonight. No one would just ignore us anymore. No more demeaning articles about Gwen in the newspaper, trying to smudge her achievements.

* * *

23:57 – December 31st, 1922

“Everything’s ready,” I said to Gwen. Not that it was necessary.

“Yes. Finally…” She wasn’t looking at the machine, but at the ring I’d given her. Good God, even in a simple labcoat, she made me crazy just by looking at her.


“Yes, Petey?”

“The machine?”

She blushed, moving her hand behind her back. “Yes, of course, it’s all ready. I checked everything, three times.”

I nodded.

“It’s time.” Finally.

“It’s time, ne?” she agreed. “But Jake’s refused to leave the mansion. What if-“

“Nothing will go wrong. Even if I‘d made a mistake, your calculations are always flawless. And even if there was a chance, we have no right to deny him his place here. No one has shown us more support than he has.”

She nodded, her bright blond hair briefly obscuring her face from me. When she looked up again, she was smiling, her eyes bright with that spark that always made my knees weak.

“Let’s do it. Let’s open the door.”

I pulled the first two levers and the machine began to wind up. “Let’s open it. Together.”

I took her hand and put it on the third and final lever, putting my own over it.


She looked at me, her face just inches from mine. “Yes, Petey?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

We pulled the lever down. And we opened the door to our dreams.

* * *

00:00 – January 1st, 1923; “Point Zero”

As pure white light flooded the room, we both broke out in laughter. It was beautiful.

And they called us mad! Those fools!

B005 An Ember of Hope: Little Giants (Part 8, Final)

Again, Henry’s mind reeled at the impression of Macian’s world, the endless activity of his power. No wonder he seems unhinged. His power alone is completely out of control.

This time, however, he noticed a system to the madness. All the pictographs were showing… well, inventions. Or rather, the process of inventing. Most of them were dropped pretty quickly, but there was always something that came of them, even if it was something different than what they’d started out inventing. Sometimes, they’d split into several lines of invention, sometimes merge into one. And there was a source to it, as well as a destination. They all moved in a kind of loop around the strange reality, whether they were black pictographs on white ground or white pictographs on those black geometric forms – they all flowed from a central core and fed back into it, a blazing sun at the centre of Macian’s world, the source of all of its light. A light which did not cast any shadows, as Henry noticed.

“Well, this explains why I always feel like I’ve got a flashlight behind my eyes,” commented Macian, making Henry jump. He hadn’t even noticed the other boy standing right in front of him, looking around within his own world.

“You recognize this?”

“Sure thing. That’s how I always work out my inventions. Pictographs and stuff.” He was looking around as much as he could while having Henry’s hand on his shoulder. “Sure looks crazy, huh?”

Henry nodded.

“So, this is the second world. I guess everyone has their own?” Macian asked, his face focused on the scenery. Henry noticed that two pictograph-lines had collapsed into one as Macian’s eyes focused on them.

“Yeah. How did you know?” replied a startled Henry with another question.

“You said that you pulled people into the second world and that you could move within it. I doubt that my world is the whole second world. So there must be other places, or even several distinct worlds. And why the hell can’t I focus my power on this?” he suddenly shouted with an annoyed expression on his half-face.

“What do you mean?” asked Henry, startled from the sudden outburst.

“I mean that I can’t analyze this with my power! I was trying to figure out how to make an invention that messes with this, but it runs into the same blindspot I had when I tried to figure out how to bestow powers!” He was actually pulling at his own hair with his good hand, frustrated as several lines of pictographs just cut off without feeding into anything else. “I hate it when that happens!”

“Calm down! Let’s focus – this is about my power, remember?” Henry tried to bring him back on track.

Macian nodded, rubbing his temple. “Yes. Right, right. You said you can see in both worlds? This and the real one?”

Henry nodded. “Yes. I can see both at the same time.”

Macian seemed to think about it, closing his eyes and opening them again. For a moment, Henry could tell that his senses weren’t in the second world anymore.

“I can see either the first or second world. If I try to see both, I just get dizzy. Your power must compensate for the added strain to your mind due to the doubled sensory input.”

He just nodded.

Macian went on: “You said you have control over whomever you touch? Try and turn my hair white.”

Henry nodded, concentrating, picturing Macian’s hair turning white.

Nothing happened.

“Won’t work,” he said.

“Alright. Two possibilities, in my opinion. Keep in mind that I can’t use my power on this, so no super-science support. Either you can only affect peoples’ powers, or you can’t affect me inside ‘my’ world. Can you pull me into ‘your’ second world?”

With a mere thought, Henry did so, and they stood in a far more colorful place, his wide plain of grass and flowers. The sun was still down, so they could see the starry sky above.

“Woah! Can’t feel my power!”, shouted Macian, staggered. Henry felt a profound feeling of emptiness, of calm, which simply hadn’t been present before in Macian. From one moment to the other, the turmoil of his mind just lessened down to the point where he was just merely off, instead of completely deranged.

Macian looked around, curious, and got hung up on the stars above.

“Man, I’ve never seen stars before, not unless you count my manifestation,” he whispered.

Henry’s eyes widened as he heard that. What? “How could… no way. No way, Macian.”

The boy looked at him with a sad eye, reflecting the emotions Henry could feel from him. “Did I say that out loud? Damn.”

Henry thought furiously. The minions that tried to take him knew and feared Macian. Fire Burial and Heretic were familiar with him. And he with them. With all of them, judging from his comments. Henry was sure he’d been mutilated by Fire Burial. He had extensive combat experience, as far as Henry could judge something like that. And he had never seen the stars before.

“You’re with them. The Savage Six,” said Henry, careful to only speak in the second world.

The young boy’s right eyelid twitched, as did his good hand. Anger, Indignation, Loathing. “I’m not one of them. I’m just… stuck dealing with them.”

“How long have you been in this place? And why?”

Macian, still looking up at the stars, started to say something, hesitated, then said: “Can we not talk about that?” His voice was soft, sad, even though there was a storm of emotions inside him.

Henry would have loved to skip this conversation, but he needed to know who he’d been travelling with. “Please, you can trust me. Just tell me…”

The cyborg boy turned to look at him, his eye sad and yet… relieved? Henry couldn’t begin to figure out the feelings behind the face. “I warn you. This is dangerous knowledge. With Mindfuck around, they’ll probably know I told you. Do you want to take the chance?”

He thought about it. Worried, hesitating. Then he remembered a line he’d heard, or maybe read, once.

Macian seemed quite put off when he started smirking. “What is bravery, without a dash of recklessness?”, he asked.

The other boy paused, thought about it too, turning the words around in his head as the feelings behind the face changed, though they were still too convoluted for Henry to truly define them. Then he smirked back. “Alright, Mister Proverb. Listen close, I’m not going to repeat this…”

* * *

They entered the building once Dunstkreis gave them the signal, Macian a bit out of balance due to carrying both his artificial arm and the other implants in his arms, trying to get used to the changed weight.

“Was zum- What happened out there!?” asked Dunstkreis when he saw the changed boy.

Even his hair was back and he looked, for all intents and purposes, like a normal eight-year-old boy. Even the madness behind his eyes had lessened, though it still made everyone who looked at them uneasy. He looked up at Dunstkreis, grinning a most boyish, normal grin. “Seems like Henry over here could be the most powerful healer ever. By my humble estimation, that is.” His voice had changed, drastically, sounding far more like a humans, without the electronic intereference or what Henry now knew to be off-sounds due to a burned throat.

Henry blushed, rubbing the back of his head as he looked around the room they were in. A back room of a tailor, judging by the equipment. How I’d love to work on a new coat. His old one had vanished together with Fire Burial.

There were seven more people there. The two adults – terrified, more for their offspring than themselves – and four children – just plain terrified, crying if they hadn’t fallen asleep from exhaustion, as well as a dark-skinned lady with an eye-catching pink-and-green peacock-pin on her strapless red dress. He remembered seeing her for just a moment back during the gala. Right now, she looked rather dishevelled – physically. But her face only showed composed interest, as she was holding a young girl’s head in her lap, softly stroking the child’s hair.


He gave a start, turning to look at Dunstkreis, who’d been trying to catch his attention. “Yes, Sir?” He noticed that the older man was holding himself awkwardly, and remembered that he’d been wounded earlier. “Do you want me to heal you?”

Dunstkreis nodded.

“Alright, just relax, ’cause this is going to be a bit strange…” He put his hand on the older man’s forearm.

Dunstkreis looked around at the serene scenery of Henry’s world, but said nothing.

Henry concentrated. They’d found out that he couldn’t just imagine someone healed – the effect would be reversed the moment he let go of the other person (though he didn’t seem to have the same limitation in regards to non-attended objects, but to stuff like Macian’s gear) – but just like with the punch he’d delivered to Fire Burial – negating her powers as well as enhancing his own strength – the results of his power’s use remained.

After some very uncomfortable (for Macian) trial and error, they’d figured out that it worked best with symbolic effects. In Henry’s case, he imagined a golden ember that set fire to his patient, healing them – the healing effect faded after he let go, but Macian’s body remained healed (Macian had also insisted to make it so the fire first expelled foreign bodies from the patient’s body, so he’d retain his equipment).

And it worked. It worked exceedingly well, far better than any of the other effects they’d tried to manifest. Macian had only a few ideas as to why his power worked so much better with healing, since he couldn’t apply his power to the subject. One of them was that his power was simply primed for healing, another that it was Henry who was primed for healing, or rather for positive applications, and finally because humans naturally wanted to be whole and since his power was interacting with the “worlds” of other humans, they might be reinforcing the healing effect. Either way, it worked and Henry had been able to heal his friend, even regenerate his arm.

And now his fire spread over and into the older man’s body, burning the pain and the damage away, making him – within the second world – glow like a soft, warm bonfire.

The experience was thoroughly strange to Henry, so much so that he couldn’t even feel Dunsktreis’ emotions while doing so. There were no real words to describe it, apart from ‘an all-encompassing feeling of freedom and companionship’ mixed with ‘a strange eldritch (Macian’s word) touch’ unlike anything he’d felt before.

When the fire began to die down, Henry let go and stumbled backwards, still dumbstruck by the intense emotions of the process. When he looked up, he felt like fainting – Dunstkreis looked like he’d aged several decades – backwards. Not to the point where he was young again, but… twenty, maybe thirty years had been taken off by Henry’s estimation.

“Wha- what did you do, my boy?” the rejuvenated man whispered, looking at his hands in wonder. More than half of the liverspots that had covered his body were gone, and he looked closer to mid-fifty now, his hair having partially turned brown, his face, his entire body, gained muscle and strength. Fortunately, he’d been wearing rather wide clothes, so they still fit, if barely. He’d been an extremely fit man.

Maybe one of these Adonises?

“His power probably identified the degradation of your body due to aging as ‘damage’ and thus did its best to reverse it,” explained Macian with an audible smile in his voice, even as he was reconstructing his Kinetic Repulsor, having deconstructed the mechanical arm in less time than it had taken Henry to heal Dunstkreis. And he’d already reworked his eye into one-eye goggles that attached to his left ear. “Congratulations, you look like you’re literally thirty years or so younger.”

Everyone in the room save for Macian (who was quite pre-occupied) and the peacock-pin lady (who just looked intrigued) was staring at him.

“Umm… I…,” he turned beet-red, reaching for an excuse to get out of the spotlight. “I… I’m tired! Need to sit down after this…” Not even a lie.

He scrambled over to sit so Macian was working in between him and the others, while Dunstkreis was stretching, wondering at his newly rejuvenated body.

“I’ll keep them off your back. You just relax, mate,” whispered the young gadgeteer as he was reconfiguring his former arm into an armored glove.

“Yes… relax…” He knew some tricks for that, though he usually needed his coat or one of his self-made blankets. Still, it should help at least a bit, and he now had his power as well…

* * *

Henry opened his eyes, focusing almost entirely on his second world. Meditating was far easier when you could literally retreat from the world. He just kept some of his focus on the first world, so he’d react if anything happened – he couldn’t cut himself off, even if he’d wanted to.

Now he took a deep breath, taking in the fresh smell of clean air, green grass and fresh water. He was sitting under a tree, leaning against the trunk, with a small spring right next to him, coming up from between the roots of the tree and forming a thin stream down the hill it stood upon.

Looking up, he could see the brilliant night sky, filled with all the beautiful stars of mankind. No matter how many times he saw them, the sight still enchanted him.

I wonder…

A thought caught him. Everything in this world was his – but everything outside of it, all that was part of the firmanent, was from other people.

So what’s the sun stand for?

He focused on turning his world, until the sun stood in the skies, blotting out the stars around it. And there was something more…

Two suns. There are two suns. One was barely visible, a sun barely different from the surrounding blue of the sky. A sleeping sun. As bright, as massive as the main sun, but not awake, not shining.

He imagined a giant magnifying glass above him, to take a closer look. And, for the first time, he noticed something that he hadn’t before.

Turning the world around again to look at the normal night sky, he saw what he only now noticed, because it was so omnipresent, he hadn’t even noticed it before. They’re all connected.

A network of glowing tendrils connected the worlds of humanity among each other… and he was reasonably sure they represented relationships. And the reason he was noticing them now was because…

He turned the world around again, to look at the two suns. … because that one… it doesn’t have them…

The bright sun had none. No relationships, no connections whatsoever. It was brighter enough to blot out all the other worlds save for the sleeping world, unless he interposed his world to take a look at the others.

Could that be… Desolation-in-Light?! Zooming in closer, he could see the haze of light that accompanied DiL’s attacks – he’d seen them on TV often enough – only a million, billion times more concentrated. She’s… so alone…

But he couldn’t reach her world, not without touching her body, first…

* * *

It was many hours later, after they’d all slept in shifts (save for Henry and the other children, who had been allowed to sleep through and Macian, who it turned out never needed to sleep, at all), that Henry was suddenly woken from his reverie of exploring his second world and the firmament above it.

Someone had just appeared out of nowhere within his range. A world that had been too remote to feel before, but now he could sense it, and extending a thought, he tried to feel her out…

He was shaken awake again. “Mate! What happened!?” Macian propped him up against the wall, one hand shaking his shoulder. He still preferred to use his right hand for this, it seemed.

“Wu-what?” asked Henry, groggy and with a headache.

“You just bent over, retched and passed out!” said Macian with worry in his tone.

“I… Someone dropped into my range… it was… it was awful. Demented,” whispered Henry with a tone so serious, so fearful it made the gathered civilians flinch back.

“What? Tell me what you felt! It’s time for the next round, who did you feel!? I described them to you, remember?”

Henry nodded. “Yes, yes, I know. Let me… let me concentrate.” Macian pulled his hand away and Henry straightened, closing his eyes to concentrate on the second world.

He found the demented world again, a twisted, wrong star, oozing with greenish-black ichor, dripping instead of shining – seven tendrils extended from it, five of them to remote worlds, which Ember recognized as those of the other Six, one to a faded one… and one to Macian, an asymmetrical, but intense relationship. Black on Macian’s side with just a little red, and lots of red and green on the other worlds side.

Which one… He thought back to Macian’s descriptions.

“Heretic you’ve already met”, said the young boy, looking up at the brilliant starry sky. “He’s their security, in a fashion. The most powerful and versatile member in direct confrontation, a nigh-immortal nightmare. He’s smarter than you’d think, but willingly follows Hemming’s lead, mostly due to their friendship.”

“Fire Burial is their mad dog, a wide-area combatant and master of guerilla tactics, even if she’s usually too stupid to fight smart. She obeys Hemming because he’s good at manipulating her, but mostly because Mindfuck does, and she’s pretty much addicted to her father’s power. More of a pet-owner relationship than a daughter-father one.”

“Mindfuck is… pathetic. Massively powerful telepath, the strongest one ever. But he’s stuck, a nine-year-old in a thirty-year-old’s body who’s reenacting what his father did to him, over and over and over. Prime case for high-level mental powers completely messing up their owner. He follows Hemming because Hemming knows how to push his buttons just right and because he’s smart enough to know that he wouldn’t survive in the real world. He needs the Six, so he’s loyal and reliable. So long as none of them get between him and his new target boy.”

“Pristine is their heavy hitter, their first and major line of defense, apart from Heretic’s spells. She’s long gone insane from sensory deprivation and just does whatever Hemming tells her to, simply because he’s installed himself in her mind as the one person who understands her. Her power is the same as the one DiL uses for defense, only weaker. She’s untouchable, but she can be moved against her will, as well as restrained – if you can overpower her. And she’s really strong.”

“Hemming is… a mystery. He was Britain’s prime superhero, until he and his right hand, Hermetic, just switched sides all of a sudden. Massively powerful shapeshifter, most people think he’s also a probability manipulator, because things seem to always go his way – but he’s actually a perception-type. Super-smart. Smart enough to set things up so it always looks like luck, but it’s all planned. He’s a master at finding peoples’ psychological weakpoints and exploiting them, preferring to break people by talking instead of by physical force.”

“Finally, Atrocity… she’s a monster. Completely and utterly insanely evil. Even Hemming can’t really control her. Even Mindfuck is disgusted by her. She doesn’t have nearly as much combat power as any other member, she isn’t as smart as Hemming, she doesn’t have any kind of game-breaking technology or something… but she’s adaptable, incredibly fast and utterly unpredictable, to the point where even Hemming just cuts her loose and hopes for the best.”

Henry opened his eyes. “Atrocity. She’s coming.”

* * *

They left the building minutes later. Macian had insisted that staying in an enclosed space with Atrocity on the loose was no different from suicide.

“I hope we’ll get a chance for another ice-cream-and-chips-orgy,” said Macian as they walked away from the direction Henry felt Atrocity move in, flinching every time she reached another human and started to… do things to them. She didn’t kill, but they quickly wished she’d had.

“Me too…” replied Henry, tears in his eyes as he was forced to try and block out the mental screams of what felt like a little girl.

“Have you thought about a codename?” asked Macian casually.

Henry looked up, eager for a distraction. “Hm… I did, actually…”

Macian turned to him without stopping. “So, what is it?”

“Ember. Call me Ember,” said the newly minted superhero. “It fits on so many levels, it would just be wrong to take anything else.”

The other buy chuckled. “Well, it fits you, anyway. And… Ember & Macian vs. The Savage Six! Sounds like a good title for a comic book!”

Ember grinned back. “Yes. It does.”

B005 An Ember of Hope: Little Giants (Part 1)

Berlin, 13th June 2006

“An eight-year-old made this?” Alfred asked his companion.

She nodded, her complicated hair-knot bobbing up and down. “All of it. Not just this picture, everything you see here,” she replied seriously. “And all in less than a year, I hear.”

He shook his head, unbelieving. “That can’t be right. He a metahuman?”

“Apparently not. They actually got Lady Light to fly over and test him but she said no,” she explained.

“A hoax, then. No way a little boy did all of this, alone, in less than a year,” he continued, feeling his sensibilities as an artist insulted. It sometimes took him a year or two to make one picture like the piece in front of him – this one portraying Lady Light rising from the ashes of Berlin after the death of Weisswald in the last, final struggle of the Second World War. He had to admit, this was the work of a genius. He just didn’t want to believe that a little kid could do it.

“Look at the rest of his work. It’s all done by the same person, I’m sure of it. And, somehow, you can tell that it was done by a child.” His date grabbed his arm and pulled him into the gallery.

It was filled with nearly a hundred pictures of similiar quality, but with wildly varying themes. He looked at a few of them – a house by river, a knight fighting a dragon, a pirate on a ship – and he couldn’t deny the truth. This was all the same person. And… there was a sense of glee, of childish wonder, in each piece. The dragon and the knight were fighting like they’d jumped right out of a classic knight’s tale, but though the knight’s face was obscured by his helmet and the dragon’s maw was opened, breathing fire, there was just a sense of enjoyment woven into them that felt profoundly childish.

“My God,” he whispered as he realized that this may be it. A true genius, like the great artists of old. “Can I meet him?” he asked her.

She looked at him, understanding his emotions. “I hear he is in a separate room, working on a new picture. Anyone can watch, but you’ve got to be silent.”

He nodded and followed her as she pulled him in the direction of a doorframe with curtains instead of an actual door. On the way she said: “And you told me flying to Berlin would be a waste of time.” She stroked the pink-and-green peacock pin she had pinned on her dress, right over her heart.

* * *

Henry Appleton stood on a high stool, with a brush in each hand and his mother, dressed in her finest evening wear, holding his palette for him. He himself wore his favourite red shirt and blue pants, with an apron over them to keep them clean.

While he loved painting more than anything, he really hated having people watch him. At least, he hated strangers watching him. And right now, he had about a hundred people watching him as stood there, painting the Dark’s eyes. He’d been sketching this painting in his head for weeks and been working on it for two days already – he only had to finish the Dark and it was complete. But now his mother had told him that he had to finish it in front of everyone and he didn’t get why. Oh, he understood that it was good for making people believe that he really did it himself – only he didn’t get why it was anyone’s business.

“You’re doing great, sweetheart,” his mother whispered to him. “Just finish it and you can go to your room and be alone.”

He nodded without taking his eyes off his work, his hands flying over the picture, adding shades of black and red to the Dark’s face. People were whispering behind the red rope that held them back. He hated it when people where whispering around him. He hated crowds, because he hated the whispering, all the time, all around him…

He stopped working for a moment, closing his eyes to calm himself. He didn’t want to get stuck in his own head again. He’d just embarrass mother again and he didn’t want that.

After a few seconds, he continued his work, making the finishing touches to the six glowing red orbs. Then, as his mother had instructed him, he put his brushes onto the palette and turned around with a bow as the spectators began to applaud him.

* * *

“Is that his older sister?” Alfred asked in a whisper, aghast at the speed the boy was working. And with both hands at the same time. He needed to distract himself. The willowy, well-dressed young woman next to the boy was such a distraction. He noticed that the pin holding her bright red hair in a knot was fashioned like a cat. A very, very beautiful cat. Probably the boy’s work.

“Her? No, that’s his mother,” his date replied in kind, watching the boy with amused interest. She didn’t seem to be put off by the display.

“His-!? No. Way. The boy’s eight, right? And she can’t be more than twenty years old!” He almost raised his voice above a whisper and other spectators were giving him annoyed looks.

“Just turned twenty-one, far as I understand.”

“So she got pregnant at age twelve?”

“I hear she was kidnapped by a pedophile. Let’s not linger on this anymore,” she explained.

He visibly deflated. “Oh.” Then he looked for a different subject. Thankfully, he found one as the people began to stream out of the room while the boy was led away by his mother. “Any word on why he focuses so much on heroic imagery?” Nearly all of his pictures displayed some kind of heroism.

His date rolled her eyes. “Well, maybe it’s because he’s eight?”

He almost slapped his own head. “Right. Eight years old.”

“Let’s go and look at some of these beautiful paintings, alright? I think I saw one with a peacock, I’d really like to take a closer look at it.”

She pulled him back to the main hall of the museum.

* * *

“You did great out there, sweetheart,” Lara said as she used a towel to clean of his face in the room the museum had provided for the two of them to prepare.

Henry was squirming under her attention, groaning as she worked at a particularly persistent stain on his left cheek.

“I don’t know how you always manage to cover yourself in your own paint. You’re not doing this on purpose, aren’t you?” she asked with a smile.

He scrunched his nose. “Why would I do that, mama?”

“So you’d get me to clean you up again? I can still remember how you’d run out and jump into the mud, just so I’d give you another bath.”

“Muuuum! I was four! I’m older now!” he whined.

She giggled at his outrage. “Only four years older.” The stain finally admitted defeat and vanished.

“That means I’m twice as old now!”

“Yes, yes you are, my little sunshine. Now, let’s get ba-“

Suddenly, the lights went out. He and his mother froze for a second before they flickered back on.

“W-what was that?” she asked.

“Probably just a blackout, mama. Don’t worry,” he replied, stroking her cheek clumsily. “And the light’s back on any-“

<Achtung! Bitte bewahren Sie Ruhe. Die Wilden Sechs sind über der Stadt aufgetaucht und haben ihren ‘Vorhang’ errichtet. Bitte bewahren Sie Ruhe und begeben Sie sich zu den Luftschutzbunkern unterhalb des nächsten beschilderten Gebäudes.>

“Mama? Mama, what did they say?!” he asked, scared, as his mother turned pale as death.

She stood up so quickly that he almost fell off the stool he was sitting on. “Mama?”

“Grab your jacket, sweetheart, we have to go. Now!”

This time, he did fall of the stool, startled by her shout. He scrambled away, grabbing his patchwork jacket (he’d spent three days working on it, sewing it together out of countless small patches in every colour he could get his hands on. He’d even added a hood to it, which he now pulled over his head, suddenly wishing he could hide somewhere with his mother.

“Mama? What’s going on?” he asked again as he watched her put on her long brown overcoat over her dark green dress and grab her bag.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart, we’ll just go down into the air raid shelter. There is one right under the museum, we just need to go down a few-“

They had barely left their room when something hit the building with such force that it threw both of them off their feet. Henry yelped as he hit the ground with his head, hard. Everything went black.

* * *

“…be alright, please be alright, please be al…”

Silence, again. Only warmth remained.

“…please, open your eyes sweetheart, please open your eyes!”

He did, once he realized that it was his mother that was talking, desperately trying to wake him up. No, not right… Mama shouldn’t sound like this…

His eyes fluttered open. “Mama…?” he groaned as he suddenly noticed a dull pain in his head. Then he noticed that they’d been moving and had now stopped. Following that, he finally noticed that his mother was carrying him in a piggyback.

“Oh Henry, I was so worried…” she sighed and stopped, gently putting him down and leaning him against something hard and cold.

His head hurt so much. His eyes were open, but he could only see flecks of light dancing in front of him.

Soft, warm hands touched his cheeks, his lips, his nose. They moved over his head, touching a very tender bump on his head. She touched her lips to his forehead and he could suddenly see again.

His mother was looking at him, covered in dust, with streaks of tears leaving clean paths down her cheeks. Her green eyes (supposedly the same as his own, even though he was sure hers were half a shade brighter) were bright with tears. He had to look up a bit to see her face and so he could see that the sky was black, more black than any colour he had ever used, even when he painted the Dark. And yet it was still bright as day.

“Mama? What’s happened?” he asked in a whisper, his head hurting too much to speak any louder.

She caught on immediately – or maybe she was just so scared she didn’t dare speak any louder – and responded: “The Six. I-It’s the Savage Six,” she stammered. “Pristine hit the museum. She came after you. Said that M-M-Mindfuck wanted you, but that it wasn’t his turn yet. That she wanted to get back at him for some reason, so she was going to kill you before he had the chance to get you.” She was trembling.

He knew he should be scared, he should be terrified. He had heard the stories, what Mindfuck did with children he was after. But he was strangely calm. “How- how did you get away, mama?” He didn’t really know much about metahumans – they just weren’t as interesting as his art – but even he knew that the Six were pretty much unstoppable. His mother should not have been able to get him away.

She smiled without stopping to cry. “I… I think… no, I am a metahuman. I just grabbed you and just jumped into the next shadow. Kind of ironic, that I‘d get shadow powers don’t you think?” She chuckled sadly.

“You dove into the shadows? Cooool…” He blacked out again.

* * *


He was lying on something cold and hard. That was wrong. Mama would never put me somewhere this un-un-unnice…

His head hurt, though not as bad as before. He opened his eyes, staring up at the black sky – and parts of a destroyed ceiling and wall.

“Mama? Where are you?”

He looked around. Still inside the city, he was lying in the ruins of what looked like a former restaurant. And he could hear the sound of battle in the distance. Also, while it was still bright as day, the streetlights had been turned on. It’s probably night outside the curtain…

Trying to stand up, he merely flopped back down onto his butt, his head spinning. Lights were dancing in front of his eyes and his legs were numb. He put his hands onto his legs and kneaded them a bit until sensation returned to them. His head cleared as well.

Finally, after what felt like hours, he was able to stand up – though he was swaying a bit. His coat was ruined, stained with dust and torn badly by God knew what. He’d have to fix it, but he’d need some needle and thread.

Shaking his head, he focused his mind back on the here and now. Mama… where is mama? Suddenly, he was gripped by a deep-rooted fear. There was no way she’d leave him behind if she was still- No. Mama is alive. She just lost me, that’s it. She must have put me down to hide me and jumped into a shadow to do something and then forgot which shadow to go back to. Yes, that was good. That made sense.

“Hey! I think I found him!” shouted someone.

Henry whirled around. He saw a stocky man in a black and blue, armored costume with a concealing, featureless helmet. There was a white sextagon on his chest with six dots in different colours in it – black, blue, red, yellow, green and silver. A henchman?

Another person, a woman with a slender build, but the same costume, joined him. “Holy fuckin’ shit, that’s ‘im. Mindfuck is so going to reward us for this. He was afraid Pristine would get him first!” Her voice was grating and nasal, making him think of some cartoon character he had seen on the TV.

They approached him as Henry just stared, rooted on the spot in fear.

“Come’ere sweetie. We’re gonna get you to our boss and aaall will be great,” said the woman reaching out with her hands.

“Though we’ll have to get him to the boss without Pristine finding out about it,” commented the man who was following behind her.

“True dat. Now, come’ere sweetie,” she said again.

No, he thought. “No! I want my mama, not you!” he shouted, charging at her, swinging his fists. One connected with the chin of her armor, only to bounce off with a sharp sting of pain. It didn’t seem to faze her as he fell back onto his butt, tears running down his cheek as he held his hand.

The man chuckled. “Boy’s got guts, don’t h-“

Something shot towards him from outside of Henry’s field of vision, hitting his hand. He saw a black cable that led to what looked like a mechanical hand with spider-like, oversized fingers.

“What’s going on, pal?” the woman asked just as there was a thud.The man’s helmet and face liquified, splattering all over the remains of the wall. His headless corpse flopped to the ground and the hand was reeled back in.

The woman and Henry both turned around to see a young boy around his age stand there, the cable leading to his robotic left arm.

“No, not you, not you, not you please!” begged the woman as the claw shot back out, clamping onto her chest. “NO!!!”

Another thud and her whole torso liquified, splattering away from the claw as her arms, head and lower body dropped to the ground. Straight down without being thrown away from the claw by whatever struck her.

The claw… it bounced off only the second time. The first time, it didn’t even move when it made a thud…

Then he blacked out again, this time simply due to what he’d just seen.

* * *

Henry woke up again in a closed room. There was a warm, steady light in the middle of the room, coming from a cube the size of his fist.

“What happened?” he asked.

“You awake, mate? I’m glad, I was afraid I’d have to operate here,” said a young voice with a slight digital twang. Just from that, Henry could tell that whoever spoke probably wasn’t right in the head.

He sat up, stretching a bit and looking around. As his eyes fell on the boy opposite of the cube, he recoiled in horror.

He was his age, maybe a year older. His black hair was long and shaggy – on the right half of his head. His right eye was black as the night, so black he couldn’t make out a difference between his pupil and his iris. He was dressed in a simple black shirt and black pants, with grey-white sneakers.

The left half of his face had been burned down to an unrecognizable mess, his cheek mostly gone, his ear and eye apparently destroyed. The flesh that remained was warped and twisted, like melted wax that had been formed into a human face’s shape – by a blind monkey. Instead of a cheek, he had a clear plastic sheet that seemed to merge with his burned flesh in a way that was even more disgusting than the actual burned flesh. His teeth on that side were all metallic, as were parts of his jaw. It looked like he had a constant, deranged grin on the left side of his face.

Furthermore, his left eye was a metallic orb with glowing white and golden lines surrounded by bits of metal that protruded from his flesh. Instead of a left ear, he had something like a speaker (or maybe a flat microphone) built into its ruins and there were several pieces of metal, almost like antennae emerging from his head instead of hair.

The left sleeve of his shirt was missing, revealing a shoulder made of dull gray metal set into similarly burned and twisted flesh, with a too-long robotic arm tipped by a spider-like hand with fingers as long as Henry’s forearm.

The boy looked at him with both his organic and mechanical eye, a deranged glimmer in the right one. “Sorry ’bout the freakshow look, mate. I’m afraid I’m not going to win a beauty pageant any time soon.” He didn’t seem to be concerned about his look or his grievous wounds as much as he was concerned about Henry’s reaction. “What’s your name, mate? And why do these assholes want you so bad?”

He finally found his voice again, latching onto the question. “Henry. My name is Henry Appleton. I’m an-“

The boy’s eyes brightened at the name. Both of them, one metaphorically, the other literally. He rose to his feet and said: “Henry Appleton? The boy genius who’s been making Picasso look like a kindergartner with crayons?!” Now that he stood, Henry could see that his throat was burned as well, with some pieces of metal betraying implants of one kind or another, which probably accounted for the slight digital twang to his voice.

“That’s me, um, Mr…?”

The boy looked at him, thinking. “Hm. I’ve never had a name before. How about you call me… I don’t really have a name. Nor do I think I’m going to need one any time soon.”

“That*s strange. Didn’t your mother give you a name? Mine did. Hey, did you see my mother?! She has curly red hair, like me, and green eyes half a shade brighter than mine! She should wear a blue evening dress and a brown overcoat!”

The twisted boy shook his head. “Sorry mate, never saw her. Just saw those pricks try to get you and thought it would be better to have them dead. And no, my mother never gave me a name.”

Henry deflated, but then the statement stirred his memories. Dead. He killed them, just like that. Even though she was begging…

He keeled over, emptying his stomach on the ground. The twisted boy did not approach to help, just waiting for him to calm down as his body shook with heavy, almost spastic sobs. “You… you killed them. Just like that.

“They deserved it. They were going to give you to Mindfuck. You know, the guy who likes to rape little children to death and broadcast it across entire cities, into the mind of everyone he can reach? I should have done more than just kill them instantly and without pain.”

“I… I…”

Calm down, mate. You can’t change it, I can’t change it and you need to concentrate. You won’t survive this if you’re not all there, nor will you find your mom. Shelve it all for later, when the seven days are over.”

Henry nodded, feeling strangely calm despite the situation. He looked up at the twisted boy, meeting his eyes directly for the first time. “You need a name. I can’t just call you mate or boy, you know?”

“Hm… I don’t know. A name?”

“Yeah. Even if it’s just your cape-name. Something that has to do with your power?” Henry was absolutely sure this boy was a metahuman.

The twisted boy looked at his robotic arm, making it rotate a bit. “I make stuff, you know? So… why don’t you call me… Macian.