In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 6

In My Daydreams

Four Hands wasn’t anywhere to be seen in the group. I wasn’t sure what that meant. It wasn’t impossible that a motivator from the new group of Ascendancy soldiers had gotten him to confess, but it wasn’t likely. If he was as he seemed, a revolutionary in the making, he might be plotting with his people now.

I couldn’t assume it would do us any good, though.

Jaclyn glanced over at Kals and the tech as they talked with Jadzen. “If they’re not coming for her, I don’t know why they’re coming this way.”

Marcus looked past her toward the screens, “We’d better do something then. We’d better go—unless you think we can take them out. I know you’re not at your best though.”

Frowning, Jaclyn glared at him. “I know. Right now we can fight or run and I don’t know where to run to. I could get Jadzen out of here, but that just means they’ll go after the rest of you.”

I thought about calling the Waroo, but that wasn’t a solution either. With the new troops behind them, the Waroo mercenaries would be a delay and nothing more. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t use their help if we needed a delay, but I didn’t want to waste their efforts—especially if they might die on my behalf.

Turning to Tikki, Marcus asked, “Is there anything you could do?”

Tikki bit her lip. “I can’t do anything big enough to affect all of them.” Then she stared at the screens.

From Jadzen’s side of the building came her voice, “There’s nowhere else to go that’s any safer and doesn’t put others in danger. We’re going to have to fight. We have defenses here. If we run, they’ll find us while we’re traveling.”

I looked around the long room. People stirred as the conversation’s noise woke them up. Though I’d missed it before, it wasn’t all of the Council members. They’d spread out some of the leadership. Beyond that, there were the Council’s bodyguards, more than a few of whom were fit, and had guns lying on their mats. It wasn’t more than ten, but that was something.

Plus, of course, they had us—which might have given Jadzen more confidence than I felt we deserved.

Jadzen stood, pulling on robes that struck me as heavier than what I’d seen her wear before. “Everyone, wake up!”

My suit buzzed out the commanding tones, but her speech had the desired effect. People sat upright on their mats, pulling on clothes.

“The Ascendancy has received reinforcements and they’ve chosen to send troops here. We all know why. This is where most of the Council is. They want to cut off the head before killing the rest. As you know, these are the last of our prepared refuges. We have nowhere else to go. On the surface, our choices are to fight or to surrender. You remember why we left and you know that surrendering means to have our minds remade in the image of the Human Ascendancy.

“So, we can’t surrender. We can only fight. That’s why I’m sending word to all of our people that we are fighting and they may have to as well. Be aware that it is not hopeless. In addition to the Ascendancy, the Xiniti have also landed troops on the planet. If we can survive long enough, we’ll receive assistance both from the Xiniti and our nearest bunkers.

“Arm yourselves if you can fight. If you can’t, go to the lower level. We can’t offer anything more now, but we will not let you down.”

Jadzen turned toward us. “Our defenses will hurt them, but unless we’re very lucky, they won’t destroy them. We’ll need your help. At first they’ll encounter our traps, but soon enough there will only room for your deeds to keep us safe.”

Cassie met her gaze. “We’ll be there. It’s not like there’s much of a choice.”

We all looked at her. “There isn’t,” she said. “I hope there’s a better plan than simply waiting for the traps to fail before sending us in. We need something better than that, right?”

Jadzen only said, “You’ll have to devise one. Our people will be happy to work with you”

If Cassie’s comments bothered her, I couldn’t tell. She turned toward one of the bodyguards—this one prematurely white-haired, but mid-thirties by his features. “Trenith, you’re familiar with our defenses. Coordinate with them.”

Then Jadzen turned toward the tech who’d been watching the screens, “Send the alert.”

In the distance, a bomb exploded and figures on one of the screens were bathed in fire. Trenith watched as Kamia and Neves stepped through the flames unharmed.

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Tieshaunn

Breaking Point 14.5

Tieshaunn

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DiL was being covered with attacks, unleashed from every direction around and above her, trying to punch through those ribbons of distortion that circled around her.

Basil saw fire, lava, lasers, distortions that suggested spatial or gravitic attacks and far more, almost half of them unleashed by the remaining mementos – he judged that about a third of them had been destroyed, at a glance, though this was probably only the first wave while the second one was being completed in his orbital base – but that none of them reached past her defensive ability.

The gaps between the ribbons were too small, and ever-shifting with their motions, and anything which even partially touched the one of the ribbons was reflected – no, redirected was a better term, as they didn’t simply travel back the way they came.

The explosions resulting from this would have been a beautiful sight in a different circumstance, as all these effects were thrown all about, some cancelling each other out, some combining, or distorting, or simply hitting the surroundings and, in a few unlucky cases, some of the defenders. Add to that the forest of crystals all around DiL’s position which were smashed and thrown up, and it resulted in a gigantic light-show, which filled up all of Basil’s field of view.

“What the hell are they doing!?” Polymnia shouted, staring at it. “Why didn’t they probe her defense fir-“

Suddenly, she cut off, as all of them shuddered from head to toe

What…

Polymnia, Hecate and Gloom Glimmer all unleashed their attacks towards DiL. Sonic blasts, eldritch green fire and spirals of a fluorescent orange liquid shot towards her, only to be deflected in random directions by her defenses.

The only reason Basil wasn’t joining in on it was because he didn’t have anything he could have fired at this range.

At the same time, they started to drop, Gloom Glimmer shooting forward and losing – or rather, releasing – her grip on them.

Ah crap.

Fortunately, they hadn’t been flying too high up, probably so Gloom Glimmer would have been able to easily dodge behind one of the buildings, in case of another volley of crystal tendrils. Still, a drop from five storeys up onto the street could not be fun for any of them – even Polymnia would likely get hurt, especially considering the sheer weight of her equipment, which eclipsed that of Basil’s own – since she had a certain amount of super-strength herself, her armor had been built to be far heavier than the average model, in spite of its rather… revealing nature.

Of course, either of the girls should have been able to mitigate such a fall on their own – Hecate could simply turn into her smoke form and Polymnia almost certainly had something amongst her manifold pieces of equipment to help.

Unfortunately, both of them seemed more focused on providing DiL with more ammunition for her mirror ribbons, and Basil couldn’t blame them, if he’d had any real offensive option he’d be-

Oh fuck.

They were just starting to fall, and his friends still focused on blasting at DiL with single-minded determination, when his thoughts clicked together.

She’s messing with our minds. Must be her third power, right now. But I’m… resistant? No, I still feel it… but I have nothing to attack with, so I can still think clearly.

And the girls are gonna smash into the ground something fierce in a few seconds, mate, cause they sure as hell aren’t thinking clearly, which would just be a waste, don’t you think? Even if it’d neatly resolve your relationship issues. Oh, and Gloomy’s prolly gonna get herself killed if she throws all of that magnificent power of hers at her big sis without thinking. You know what this means, right?

Yeah, I do. He looked around, quickly, measuring the distance to the buildings to the left and right of the street. They were in one of New Lennston’s ‘retro’ areas, which had been styled to resemble the original Lennston’s appearance – in this case, painted brownstones with colourful roofs.

He’d only get one shot at this.

He launched his grappling hook from his hip, connecting it to one of the corners of the nearest brownstone, and reeled it in just enough to swing himself towards the girls.

First came Polymnia, and he extended his line enough that it hit her first, rather than him crashing into her – her armor was at least five centimeters thick and he knew it wasn’t light-weight material it was made up of, so he was going to avoid taking that kind of impact directly – and kept on swinging.

The line pulled against her waist, making her yelp as her fall straight down was redirected, and she rolled down the line, losing some of her momentum before she crashed into his arms.

Blimey, she’s heavy. Hey, what percentage of her weight do you think is in those huge tits of hers?

Not the time!

Basil growned as he held onto her, which wasn’t made any easier by her flailing around trying to get a straight shot at DiL again, and shifted his grip, so he was holding her against his side with his left arm wrapped around her waist.

Just in time to slam into Hecate, after pivoting his body just enough to catch her with his right arm around her waist.

The blast of green fire she was just about to let loose fizzled and washed over them, a sensation like bugs crawling over Basil’s skin, though it was diffuse enough not to cause any actual damage before it dispersed.

Seeing the wall of the brownstone coming, and unable to adjust their arc, not with both of them wiggling and trying to break out of his grip, Basil held out his legs, bracing him self – and hit the second-storey wall hard enough the shock nearly made him lose his grip on the two girls in his arms.

You know, I bet there’s a lotta blokes who’d commit murder to get a chance to hold these two.

He didn’t even bother responding to that one. Instead, he abseiled down to the curb – only to immediately throw himself and the girls into the alley next to the building, as a red laser beam cut down the street and over the spot he’d just been, slicing diagonally across – and through – the entire brownstone as if it wasn’t even there.

“Oh, come on!”

He reversed his direction, his soles hitting the ground hard enough to throw up a few sparks as he all but threw the girls out of the alley, and followed after them, moments before the brownstone slid down and collapsed over the narrow gap, destroying the adjacent building as well.

The three of them found themselves lying on the ground, a dust-cloud briefly billowing over them.

“Gamoto!” Hecate cursed, coughing as some dust got into her mouth.

“Are you still affected?” Basil asked them as he stood up and rolled his shoulders – he thought he might have pulled something.

Don’t forget them ribs, mate.

Thank you for reminding me. I was in danger of forgetting the incessant pain I feel each second.

Wouldn’t be the biggest thing you’ve forgotten, now would it?

“I… I think not,” Hecate forced out the words, shuddering. “I think not.”

“Neither am I,” Polymnia agreed. “That was… a strange experience. Like… attacking her was the smartest thing to do… I didn’t even question it. But I was fully aware and thinking clearly, at the same time.” She shook her head, looking as shaken as Hecate sounded, when she looked straigt at him through her tinted visor. “How come you weren’t affected, Brennus?”

“I was affected,” he replied calmly, while keeping an eye out in the direction DiL had to be in – currently out of sight from them, thanks to copious amounts of dust and smoke thrown up by the devastation she had wrought. “But I do not have anything to attack her with at this range, nor the means to close in on her so as to make contact with my repulsor. So I was able to focus on other things.” He turned his head, smirking under his mask, though it was a pained one: “Such as making sure we do not all fall to our death.” Then he got serious again. “I am not under its effect anymore, though, nor are you two.”

“It hit us the moment we got closer to her,” Hecate observed. “Maybe we… moved out of range again?”

“No, we are even closer than we were then,” Basil replied, looking for the flashes of light and the sound of explosions within the dust cloud. “If proximity was all it took, then we would already be-“

The dust was blown away in a single blow, shortly followed by a massive, bell-like sound so powerful it visibly distorted the air around DiL, and he laid eyes on DiL again.

He almost broke into a charge, taking a sudden step forward, before he realised that he didn’t actually have the means to attack her, even if he got close. But then, what could h-

Polymnia slugged him in the gut, making him double over and retch (not like he had anything to throw up), falling to his knees.

“Polymnia! What are you doing!?” Hecate cried out, kneeling down next to him, as he pressed his armored forehead to the concrete, leaning protectively over him.

“He got hit by her power, I think,” Polymnia replied. “Cut off mid-speech and started forward – and then I remembered, I stopped feeling the compulsion to attack the moment we hit that wall together. So I theorised, you know, that a hard enough hit would break the effect again.” She was blushing as she explained this, looking both embarrassed and a little guilty. “Though, uh. To be honest, I didn’t think much about it, I just reacted.”

Basil couldn’t see Hecate’s expression, not even her lower face, from his position, but he was pretty sure she was slack-jawed.

“It is… quite… alright,” he groaned, slowly getting up – faster, after a moment, when Hecate clued in and helped him up. “You were right… I saw DiL and got hit by her power, so I guess it is necessary to both be within a certain range of her and see her for it to affect you – and when you hit me, it ceased taking effect.”

His fingers twitched, calling up his armor’s interface on his heads-up display, showing him a scan of his brain’s neural activity over the last few seconds.

There. A shift, the moment he looked at DiL. Then, another shift, when Polymnia hit him. Rolling further back, he saw the same shift when he’d first laid eyes on her, and again the second shift when he impacted the wall.

The girls could obviously tell he was up to something and so didn’t interrupt as he finished adjusting and activating a few protocols he’d built in a while ago.

“I have set my armor to deliver an electric shock to myself, should I fall under her power’s effect again. Let us see whether it works. Polymnia, please stand ready to knock me down again if this fails.”

Before either of them could agree or protest, he raised his head and looked towards DiL.

Again, that sudden shift in priorities and just as quickly-

Ow. Bugger me, mate, ain’t the shite she’s doin’ to us already painful enough? Why you gotta add to that…

Basil ignored the voice in his head and looked at the girls again. “Success. Polymnia, can you…”

“I don’t have the means to detect when I’m under her influence and I’m kind of both impressed and a little scared that you apparently just happen to have something for that built into your suit,” she said, looking at him with a slightly envious expression on her face.

He looked at Hecate.

“You know I can’t adapt my enchantments so quickly,” she replied, crossing her arms while trying very hard to both look out for incoming attacks and avoid looking at DiL – not the easiest task, seeing how any attack likely to come at them would be one reflected by her ribbons, and thus coming straight from her position. “You don’t happen to h-“

He pulled a small metallic armband out of a pouch on his belt and snapped it around her wrist. “I have copied my settings onto it.” He pulled out another and offered it to Polymnia, who slipped briefly disconnected her gauntlet from the rest of her armor to snap it around her wrist, before sliding it in again.

Hecate looked down at it, her lips twisted into a strange smile. “Somehow, I’m not surprised at all that you thought of having something like this on you.”

“It is mostly meant to serve as a tracker, actually,” he replied. “I just included some added functionalities for special occasions such as these.”

Another beam sliced down the street, but on the curb opposite of theirs, melting down the pavement and causing the buildings to sag slightly as it compromised their foundations.

“Darn it, that was Gloomy’s beam. She’s spending her powers way too quickly – if we don’t stop her, she’ll end up powerless way too soon!” An Polymnia looked towards the battle, briefly flinching as her wristband was set off.

“Then let’s see what we can do to help her,” Hecate stated firmly.

Mate, you guys are so freaking outclassed here…

***

Just one block further in, the Chaos was total. Crystal tendrils criss-crossed the street, shimmering as they broke and reflected the light that touched them, casting rainbow hues all over the street, buildings and people. Several buildings had partially or totally collapsed, some shattering attached or other nearby crystals, spreading shards all over the ground.

And then there were the corpses.

The most obvious ones were a group of civilians – a family, parents and three children – who’d apparently huddled together, the parents trying to shield their kids with their bodies, only to be pierced by the crystals. One child had been impaled with its parents, only for the other two to be slain by the spears that’d spawned from the first set, turning them into a grotesque setpiece.

They were not even the worst thing to be seen on the street. Several defenders had been slain by reflected powers, bits and pieces of two or three people littering just the area Basil and the girls were in.

Detonations were still shaking the ground, now and then – and they’d already shattered all glass within sight.

Polymnia stumbled off to one side to throw up, Hecate followed her, looking little better herself, while Basil looked closer at the crystal tendrils.

The Desolation Field was messing with his scanners, but he was able to compensate, at least to a point.

“There is some kind of energy contained within these crystals,” he observed, speaking loud enough for them to hear him as he stepped amidst the crystals. “The closer they are to a human, the more energy is in them. The statues have the largest energy density.” He compared readings from a single costumed man with the entire family that’d been fused together. “A single metahuman – or at least this one – has a bigger charge than this entire family combined.”

“Incoming!” Polymnia shouted, leaping in front of Basil and Hecate.

Basil whirled around, his force shield flaring to life over his left arm, raised to cover himself and Hecate.

It was Polymnia, however, that protected them all, raising her arms out in front of her, and pulling them apart as the speakers built into her heavy bracers and the back of her armor, on her shoulder blades and down along her spine, began to pulse.

In the moments before the four spears coming in their direction reached them, the soundwaves they emitted built to a harmonious melody, visibly distorting the air around them to form a dome that encircled their small group.

The spears impacted the distortion, sending out ripples which spread out over the entire dome, creating a criss-crossing wave-pattern – but the crystals were deflected, redirected towards their surroundings.

Wherever they hit, four new tendrils shot out, though they didn’t seem to aim at anything in particular – though nine of them still hit and were once again deflected by the sonic cage, only for each to sprout three more tendrils… each of which sprouted two more, and then just one more, before this wave had run its course.

There were so many crystal tendrils and haphazard growths from the impact sites around them, Basil couldn’t even make out where DiL – and with her, the locus of combat – had moved to.

”Is it over?” Hecate asked, a slight waver in her voice in spite of her best attempts to stay calm.

“I think so,” Polymnia replied, though she did keep the sonic cage up.

”For now, yes,” Basil replied, having the advantage of his raven flying above, looking down at the street. It was a mess of crystal growths, rubble from partially collapsed buildings and body parts, and the three of them were barely visible amidst it all.

“We should move onto the rooftops,” he added, almost absent-mindedly. When the girls stared at him like he’d been possessed, he gestured at the nearby crystallized family. “Look. Her spears went straight through the previous ones. We not only have far less room to dodge down here, we also have barely any cover – in fact, the ‘cover’ works in her favour, rather than ours. Better if we go up, where we can at least see attacks coming and have room to dodge.”

They looked at the grisly sight – and indeed, the new growths had simply gone through the existing statues, as if they weren’t there at all.

Without another word, they all made their way upwards again.

***

Seconds after they’d reached the nearest intact building’s rooftop, DiL unleashed another volley, the crystals launched in far faster and coming in far greater numbers than before.

No one had found a way to force her to change her powers, yet, and so they kept building up, and up…

But to what? They contain energy within, yet the crystals don’t do anything with it. There have been multiple waves, and yet the energy has remained unused.

Basil kept turning it over in his head, as he stepped aside, dodging one spear, then raised his force shield, bracing himself by locking his boots to the roof, deflecting one of the successive spears which would otherwise have impaled Hecate.

Ow. That freaking hurts, mate, the Man in the Moon complained when pain shot up his arm and straight into his damaged ribs.

Basil ignored them, as much as possible, pulling Hecate out of the way of another spear at the same time as she used her flames to blow yet another out of the air, preventing it from skewering them both.

They were getting both more numerous and faster over time. A good third of New Lennston had already been covered, partially merged to the crystals. And the more numerous they became, the more energy they stored, with a decidedly more-than-linear increase.

He’d already shared his observation with the other defenders, through Memento’s communication network – which, being contrived rather than real technology, was not affected by her Desolation Field – but no one was quite sure what to make of it; the most common theory was that they were meant to blow up at some point, which made forcing her to change her powers all the more urgent, considering how far the crystals had already spread and how much energy they already contained.

Unfortunately, those space-warping ribbons and the ‘attack me’ compulsion were making it nigh-impossible to strategize so far. If it wasn’t for Memento’s many selves and their immunity to Control effects, they would likely be completely unable to respond in any way, currently.

In the distance, Basil could see weird objects – floating orbs and tesseracts and pillars that were only partially composed of matter, and some even weirder ones, unloading barrages of effects – forming force-fields around defenders to protect from rebound attacks or crystal spears, warping space to redirect crystal spears back towards the already heavily crystallized areas, unleashing pin-point beams of plasma, pure light, directed matter and what Basil was pretty sure were gravitic shears.

It was the kind of display that implied its originator could conquer the whole world if they so wished – and frankly, Memento probably could have, but Doctor Despair’s masterpiece was wholly uninterested in anything but pursuing its prime directive.

Though it was a Contrivance rather than a Gadget, Basil couldn’t help but marvel at the Doctor’s masterpiece; there had been Contrivers before and after him who’d created a Magnum Opus, and there’d been many who’d unleashed a Swan Song, at the cost of their lives; but Doctor Despair, as far as he knew, was the only one who’d done both at the same time – his mummified corpse had been found by one of his rivals in his workshop, slumped over backwards over the chair he’d been sitting on, as before him his last, final, greatest creation booted up. A single machine, shaped rather like a salt dispenser as tall as a child, with a clear dome at the top and a mechanical face fashioned after Doctor Despair’s long-time nemesis, the fallen Protector, contained within.

Memento, the self-improving, contrived and contriving Seed-AI, the only of its kind and quite possibly the greatest display of Contriving ever, could have likely conquered the world, but it had been created for one purpose and one purpose only – to end Desolation-in-Light’s threat to the world, once and for all. In the decades since, it had continually expanded itself and refined its arsenal, and though it had yet to succeed, many believed it to be merely a matter of time.

Whether or not the end of DiL would lead to peace, or see it become an even greater threat, no one knew.

At least right now, it’s a godsend, Basil thought quietly, catching his breath as the wave of crystal spears and the following growth came to an end. This particular one had spread the crystal cover out over half of New Lennston. Their position was becoming untenable, the growths spread out over the rooftops, a twisted, glittering jungle. Deep within it, mostly at street level, where people had been crystallised, it was brighter still, glowing almost like a soft torch. Where metahumans had been caught, it was as bright as day.

“We’re not doing anything but surviving – barely,” Polymnia spoke, her serious, calm voice as usual in stark contrast to the way she was bent over and supporting herself on her knees, gasping for breath. “This – I’ve never felt so useless!”

”Welcome to a DiL fight,” Hecate spat, falling onto her butt, leaning back to support herself on her outstretched arms. “From what I read and hear, it’s usually like this. You run, you dodge, you survive, all the while looking for some way you can contribute; hoping that, if she does choose a set which requires your specific powers or skills to counter, you’ll be able to do so.”

“I… I guess…”

”We’ve just, got to keep each other safe. Keep as many others safe as we can, for as long as we can,” Hecate continued, trying to reassure her idol. “L-let’s just focus on that… or else I don’t think… I’ll be able to hold it together.”

Basil turned his head away just as she turned hers to look at him, focusing on the battle in the distance, occasionally twitching as his armor shocked him back to his senses, whenever DiL’s power affected him. He was tapping the communication channels, though he had to rely on the mundane ones, with all the disturbance that they ecame along with, while within this blasted field – it was half a miracle that his equipment had lasted as long as it had, he was not going to take a further risk by directly interfacing with the contrived technology Memento handed out.

Still, the channel the Dark was using to get his signal whenever he felt DiL change her powers was connected to a greater network – likely Wyrms. Though it could not reach beyond the Desolation Field, there was still some data going around within it.

No Lady Light, no Quetzalcoatl. No Severance. No Kong Long. Only Fleur and the Feral Family are here.

Meaning exactly the two members of that group who were of the least use against DiL.

To his relief, he heard Amy be mentioned, so she had to still be alive. Kraquok and Lamarr were also there, as was Daijisi, but no Dowager and the Dark was standing back, likely still weakened from the fight at the Installation, not too long ago.

Was it really just half a day ago? It feels so long ago…

He staggered, his legs buckling before he managed to regain his balance.

”Ba- Brennus?” Hecate spoke up, worried. Barely five seconds had passed since she’d said her part.

Seconds…

“Brennus?” Polymnia looked at him in worry, standing up, reaching out with one arm.

What’s wrong?

Take off your mask, mate.

He did so, and it came away with blood on it. Numbly, he raised his left hand to his face, touching index and middle finger to his upper lip.

They came away with blood, too.

”Brennus!” Hecate jumped up, catching him as he nearly fell over. She held his weight easily.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, though he wasn’t sure whom he was asking.

You’re dying, mate, the Man in the Moon’s voice somehow managed to sound both concerned and mocking at the same time. I’ve been taking the lion’s share of the pain so far, but just because you don’t feel it doesn’t mean it ain’t doing damage.

Somehow, hearing those words, processing them, Basil didn’t feel scared or angered or saddened. No, even though he felt, he knew they were true, he just felt…

At home. More than just his own voice said those words in his head.

Nothing had ever scared him as much as that realisation.

Is that why you’ve been off?

Sorry, mate. But you gotta get out of here. Whatever this field is doing, however it’s interacting with you, with us, it’s breaking down the walls.

Killing me?

In a way.

It would be more accurate to claim that it is killing the you as you understand yourself, the Blazing Sun spoke up for the first time in a while.

Mine…

If you stay here any longer, you won’t be you anymore.

He managed to stand again, righting himself as he used his free arm’s sleeve to wipe off the blood. “I, I’ll be alright,” he told the girls, using that same sleeve to clean the inside of his mask.

It came away scarlet all over, but he could put the mask on again, once more covering his face from the bridge of his nose down.

You mean we’ll… merge?

If you wanna be saturday morning cartoon about it, yeah.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? It’s pretty clear that I’m far from complete – perhaps merging back together will…

You are labouring under an erroneous presupposition.

What candle-head means to say is that you got it all back-ass-wards, mate.

I’ve never known you lot to be so chatty.

The walls are breaking down. So are our…

Fetters.

We can slip the leash a bit, because we are breaking down, piece by piece, too.

Then tell me already! Basil growled, taking a step away from the girls, his arm slipping out of Hecate’s grip. Enough with the cryptic hints! Just tell me everything!

We’re saying as much as we can. You gotta understand, it’s not you that’s incomplete.

A massive tremor shook the ground, throwing all three of them over as the buildings aroudn and beneath them shook, most of them only held up by the crystals that’d fused to their structures and were now supporting them.

Basil shook his head, trying to focus through the pain throbbing in his head – not a change of power, just… more of the same, the pain that’d been in the backgroudn slowly bleeding into the forefront.

It doesn’t matter, he thought to himself, as he looked up, his eyes widening as he saw a slim figure flying through the air, white cape billowing as she tumbled away from where the impact had originated.

Living at the mercy of forces and people whom I cannot even name.

He couldn’t say where he dredged up the strength, the focus, to force himself onto all fours, to reverse the electrostatic clamps in his boots’ soles to instead repell him from the roof with such force, he left a spreading spiderweb of cracks behind.

I already knew that.

He flew up, his path determined more by instinct than any kind of rational thought, putting him right in Gloom Glimmer’s way.

She smashed into his chest, his arms wrapping aroudn her more due to the force of the impact than any function of his muscles.

More pain still pulsed from his damaged ribs, up into his brain – but there was already so much there, it was just a drop in the ocean.

Living in a body that’s not entirely my own, with a mind that’s been twisted by factors beyond my control. Never knowing whether this moment will be my last, or not.

He reached behind himself with his left arm, aiming the repulsor. A twitch of his muscles, a tightening of his fist, unleashed a blast.

Shock travelled up his arm, nearly dislodging it out of the shoulder socket. Adding yet more inconsequential pain.

Isn’t that how Prisca’s life was, for all those years? All those years, until the bitter end.

Their flight so arrested, the two of them slowed and dropped, as he shifted his grip on her surprisingly light body, holding her sideways in his arms.

I can remember holding Prisca’s avatar like this, carrying her over the threshold of my bedroom. A stupid, silly little play-act.

But it’d made her happy to pretend, even if it’d ended up being another broken promise.

They hit the roof of a building – fortunately, a flat one, meant to be accessible to people – their combined weight coming down on his legs, bones and muscles and tendons groaning as he skidded across the rooftop, not daring to activate the clamps for fear that he’d simply cause himself to fall over backwards, hit his head and likely snap his ankles as well.

If I die, I die. But I’ll spend what time I have fighting, fighting until I can’t continue on anymore.

Why do you fight, mate? Why, why, why? Why be a hero, why be good why be Brennus why be?

He couldn’t tell. Couldn’t remember, not really. But every time he’d considered that question, what path to go down, what to fight for, what to be, he’d always remembered just three things.

First, the Rain.

Second, the Thunder.

Third, the Lightning.

And every time he did, he’d felt it in his guts, what he had to do.

Right now, he had to focus on the fight.

His heels hit the upraised rim of the roof and he barely managed to steady himself, leaning forward slightly to avoid tipping over the edge, absorbing the last of their shared momentum, slightly bending his knees to better distribute the force, rather than take it all with his joints.

For the Rain, and the Thunder, and the Lightning that comes after.

Lightning comes before the Thunder, mate.

No. The Thunder comes first. Then, the Lightning.

Where did those words come from, he wondered? A memory without any content, words without reference, emotions without source.

His Origin?

”Basil?” a soft voice drew his attention at the person he held in his arms.

Gloom Glimmer’s face was drawn, pale. It wasn’t the palor of someone who’d physically exhausted themselves, but rather, it reminded him of Prisca of all people. Someone who’d spent too much, no, been forced to spend too much, and been left with too little to continue.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, tears sliding out of her eyes, down her bloodless cheeks, and she didn’t sound like the self-assured, even cocky young heroine he’d first gotten to know. She sounded like the little girl underneath it all. “I’m sorry… I tried, but… I can’t… I can’t do anything… I wish…”

”I know.” At his arm, both communicators frizzed, trying to catch his attention as Memento warned everyone of the next coming volley, and the Dark tried to find out whether his daughter was alright.

His eyes moved from her face to her hands, where they were clenched together loosely above her breast.

A gray haze was spreading, from her fingertips down, only to flicker, the effect breaking apart.

“Isn’t it stupid?” she asked, choked. “I spent it. My immortality, my invincibility. That safe mode? I used it to try and protect others. But it wasn’t enough. They’re dead anyway, and I’m without my get-out-of-jail-free card now.” She choked, sobbing.

He nodded, looking out into the distance.

Past Polymnia and Hecate, who were just now turning away from him and Gloom Glimmer, several rooftops away, a veritable cloud of crystal spears was approaching, raining down in such numbers they blotted out the glow of the Desolation Field, and what sunlight still came through.

“You’ve got, got to run,” Gloom Glimmer begged him, wiggling, trying to get away from his grip. “I’m not sure… I can’t find anything to protect you with.”

“And who will protect you?” he asked, as he turned away from the incoming crystal death, letting go of her legs, letting her put her feet on the roof.

Huh. She’s shorter than me. I never noticed. Usually, she’s floating around.

“What are you-” she began to speak, only to blush when he put his right arm around her waist, pulling her close to himself. “B-“

He raised his left arm, putting the hand behind his head as if to scratch it, aiming the projector’s flat side that way. His raven dove down and landed on his right shoulder.

A force-field sprung up around them, an oval which wrapped around them, strongest at his back where the projector was, weakest, but still present, in front of them. It was really only meant to protect himself, but with Gloom Glimmer pressed as closely against him as possible, even if it had to be even more uncomfortable for her than for him – he wore stiff, cold armor, she wore a soft, almost velvet-like bodysuit, thicker and more modest than was common, but not particularly more protective either.

Still, this was better than getting skewered by spears and turned into crystal.

Spears rained down on them, smashing into the force-field at Basil’s back, and the rooftop all around them. Several glanced off the rounded shape of his force-field, hitting the roof as well.

From each site of impact, eight new spears shot forth, flying at them from every direction, some flying through each other as if they were insubstantial, trailing tendrils of crystal behind them.

His force-field was beset by impacts from every direction, warning sounds playing, as he looked down at his right forearm, wrapped around Gloom Glimmer, where a monitor showed him the danger – the force-field wasn’t designed to defend against prolonged, multi-directional assaults. It was rapidly approaching the point where the gadget may well short out on him, at which point they’d both die.

“It will not hold,” Basil whispered calmly, as the third wave started, seven spears from each impact site where the spears had come into contact with matter to convert. “The shield isn’t designed for this kind of attack.”

Gloom Glimmer shifted, wrapping her arms around his neck – but it wasn’t a show of or plea for comfort. Instead, she looked up at him with tear-stained cheeks and red eyes upon black sclerae. “I still have some power left.”

She reached for his gauntlet, pressing all ten fingers against it. He couldn’t turn his head to look, but his ravenbot could, and he saw what it saw on his other arm’s display, as her fingertips sunk into the metal, veins of red light spreading from those points throughout the gauntlet.

Immediately, the warning signs were replaced with error messages, as his systems detected a surge of energy from an unknown source, bolstering the field, while at the same time, pressure was taken off the circuits.

The field around them took on a reddish tint, particularly wherever it was struck by the fourth wave, which failed to penetrate no matter the direction they came from, as slowly, the two of them were encased in a cocoon crystal tendrils, no one of them thicker than two fingers, yet so numerous they were likely to encase them completely by the time the ninth and final wave was done.

She smiled at him, wetly, and he couldn’t help but smile back, even though she likely couldn’t see it, except perhaps in the way his eyes moved. “We have got to sit down and try to figure out your power, some day,” he said, before his common sense could edit the words.

She didn’t seem insulted or put off by the remark though – rather, she giggled at him. “You can join the club. No one’s figured it out yet, not even Mom and Dad.”

“Seems like a rather illustrious membership. I doubt I would fit in,” he replied, trying to take his mind of…

Actually, he had a lot of things to try and take it off of. The worry for his friends and sister, for the other defenders and the common people trapped here, the incessant pain in his head, even more pain in his chest, the questions surrounding his memory, the threat of whatever the Desolation Field was doing to his mind and the voices within, the fact that there were other voices in his head, Prisca’s fate, his many, many failures, the…

The list went on and on.

She knocked her forehead against his armored nose, gently, as a soft glow appeared where their bodies were touching, most noticably around her… chest… squished against his armor. Soft, warm golden light that seemed to flow from within her and into his body, as he literally felt his ribs mend, all the bruises going away along with the pain in his joints and the sore muscles.

“You’d fit right in. I mean, sometimes, I can’t decide whether you remind me more of my mom or my dad, but I’d bet my plushie collection that you’d get along well to great with both of them.”

“Hopefully more with your mother than your father,” he replied.

She raised an eyebrow at him, taking on a deadpan expression. “What is that supposed to mean?”

He tilted his head to the side, slightly, confused. “Well, she is a hero, he is a villain. No offense.”

Gloom Glimmer relaxed again. “Oh. Right. Yeah, that makes sense.” She blushed, averting her eyes.

Are all girls so confusing?

Seriously, you don’t get what she thought? the most irreverent of his inner voices asked, with laughter in his otherwise pain-filled voice. She probably hears comments like that a lot, and not meant in the way you did.

I do not get it.

I know you don’t, mate.

Before he could ask what was going on, though, reality reasserted itself, as the final wave of crystal spears were deflected off his shield.

Gloom Glimmer pulled her fingers out of the gauntlet, slumping against him as her strength left her, and the gadget finally broke down, pushed beyond its limits. Sparks flew and some smoke came out, and the readout on his other arm just confirmed that it’d need at least some basic maintenance, if not a full rebuild, to be usable again.

But it had done what it was meant for, and then some. They were safe, for now, though surrounded by crystals.

We won’t survive another wave like this.

“We won’t survive another wave like this,” Gloom Glimmer echoed his thoughts. “We need to find Polymnia and Hecate, and get far away from h-“

“Hush,” Basil interrupted her, looking at his sensors’ readouts on his gauntlet.

Not that he’d needed to, because light was beginning to spread through the crystals covering a vast portion of the city – some tendrils had flown out so far they even extended beyond the Desolation Field. As it grew in intensity, so did the readings he got in.

That energy density…

Gloom Glimmer laughed, a weak, small sound, as she slumped against him, hugging him earnestly now. “It’s going to explode,” she said, as she cried softly. “Fuck. Fuck you, Bree. You just have to prove me wrong at every turn, don’t you?”

Basil didn’t know what to say. He could only watch as the crystals swelled, nearly liquifying in places as they grew brighter, and brighter, cutting off any avenue of escape they might have had; not that they could have gotten away quickly enough to escape an explosion of such magnitude – extrapolating from how much energy was contained within the local cluster of crystals, the whole mass of them, spread out throughout New Lennston, had to be enough to hit with the force of at least a dozen kilotons; likely more, since metahumans seemed to provide far more energy when crystallised, and there weren’t any such victims nearby for him to get a reading off of.

He sent his raven up, up and away towards the East. It was unlikely to survive, but if he was to die here, he at least wanted that bit to get away.

He’d written up some routines to go off in any of his ravens that happened to survive him, just in case. To contact the United Heroes, lead them to his lab, if it was still left after this, give them copies of his notes and files… a meaningless gesture, perhaps, but one he’d been intent on making.

The crystals swelled, as Basil stood there, holding the crying Gloom Glimmer, watching his raven fly towards the rising sun that shined through the Desolation Field…

Wait a minute.

He blinked, focusing his tired eyes into the distance.

The sun isn’t supposed to rise in the afternoon. Nor is it supposed to be white.

Before he could process that, the distant sun pulsed.

A massive, massive wave of light, like a pure white tsunami, blazed through the Desolation field, and drowned out the world as it flowed over New Lennston.

Light so bright it should have blinded, yet it did not; a pure white blaze which reflected off of everything, turning the whole world a pure white, yet without hurting his eyes.

It reflected off of everything. The rooftops. Gloom Glimmer’s hair. His raven, in the distance. Capes and cowls he could see on other rooftops, trying to get away from the incoming explosion. Telephone masts and other things.

Everything turned pure, solid white, the glow so powerful it erased their outlines, made it all solid.

All, except for DiL’s crystals. They seemed to absorb the light, fully, casting them in utter black, so dark it smoothed out their shapes, made them seem two-dimensional. Like the shadows of branches, drawn with ink upon white paper.

The wave of light moved on, there and gone again, moving on over the rest of New Lennston.

Wherever it touched, the crystals were rendered inert, their built-up energy simply… stilled.

They crumbled away into nothingness, not even dust left behind.

Gloom Glimmer raised her head, looking over her shoulder without a sound.

The second sun approached and passed through the Desolation Field and as it did, her aura blazed forth, like the sun’s own warmth, turned up to a level Basil had never even heard of, reaching at least as far into the area as Basil stood, and lightly further.

Wherever it touched the defenders, Basil saw shoulders straighten, people standing taller, more energized.

When it reached him and Gloom Glimmer, he felt her straighten up, making a soft, tender sound, a note of glee not unlike that of a small child being lifted up and enveloped by loving arms.

Basil felt it seep through him, taking away the weariness and smoothing out the pain in the back of his head. Even when DiL changed her powers, finally, what he felt was not a spike of white-hot pain, but merely a dull ache.

Hey… mate… something’s… I… we…

The voices in his head, the presences, grew weaker, as he felt something change. As if a weight had been taken off his shoulders, one he’d carried for as long as he could remember, and thus had never noticed, thinking it to be natural, normal.

For the first time he could recall, his thoughts felt light.

The second sun advanced, flying past his raven faster than its sensors could track her, straight towards the locus of battle, as the re-energized defenders rallied, calls coming through the communication lines, voices rising up around him as well, cheering, at the sudden turn of the battle.

Lady Light had arrived.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 5

In My Daydreams

I thanked HAL for the message, adding, “Tell me if any of them land near us.”

The group of us all had mats next to each other on the floor. The mats were both thin and surprisingly comfortable despite the fact that we were in a small shack with hard floors. I want to describe them as hardwood, but who knew what the materials were?

I glanced over at the holographic screens showing 3D representations of the world around the hideout. I saw animals, but no people. I wasn’t the only one looking at the screens either. Cassie, Jaclyn, and Marcus had all been woken up by HAL. Tikki slept on the mat next to Marcus’ mat. Whether she was truly sleeping was an open question, given her true nature.

Kals, though, had taken a mat between Jaclyn and me and she was awake by the time I opened my eyes to stare in the direction of the screens. “What’s wrong?”

Jaclyn and I looked at each other. I said, “Well, the good news is that the ship to ship fighting has moved away from the planet. The bad news is that Xiniti and the Human Ascendancy both dropped ground troops to the surface. I’m assuming the Xiniti are here to protect you and Ascendancy is here to kill all of you. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter what they’re here for at all. What’s most likely to happen is that they’re going to end up fighting each other while all of the colonists try to stay out of the way.”

Kals nodded. “That sounds about right. Do you know where they’re landing?”

“I can ask, but the information’s coming from our ship and it’s hiding, so it may not have all the information we want. I’ve asked it to tell us if they’re landing nearby, though.”

I sent the ship a request for pictures of where the landings were and got back a picture that showed dots that centered around the landing field and the open area next to the colony. They weren’t too near us, but since we weren’t far from the colony, they were too close.

In a different picture, I noticed one more detail. Some of the dropships were leaving the planet. While Ascendancy dropships’ main purpose is to land on a planet and take control, they can leave a planet. They aren’t as good at it, but they can do it.

On the way up they’re slow and don’t have much of a range, but they can get soldiers back up into space for pickup. From what I could tell by examining the series of shots, they were sending the wounded soldiers up into orbit.

It was better than I expected of the Ascendancy, but I supposed they were human and humans care for their people. At any rate, a totalitarian society needed to care for their troops. Without their loyalty, they can’t keep their citizens in line. Motivators couldn’t be everywhere at once. They had to create some level of real loyalty.

That was the rational way to look at it. I couldn’t believe that was all of it. Someone in power there responded with a basic sense of decency. It didn’t make me like them better, but it made it hard to view them as simple, unrelenting evil.

I told Kals. “They’re landing in the big open areas—the landing field and the areas between the settlements. Oh, and they’re also landing around the spacer settlement, filling their dropships with the wounded and sending them back into space—which means that if we head over there the camps won’t be full of the wounded anymore. They’ll be full of able-bodied soldiers.”

“Are the Xinite firing on the dropships?” Kals watched me as I clicked my palm, flipping through the shots.

“There’s no sign of it. Actually, my implant says the Xiniti and the Ascendancy have some kind of arrangement where they don’t fire on each other’s noncombatant wounded. I guess that extends to ships.”

She shook her head. “I should have known. The Ascendancy’s leadership said that they killed everyone. Painting the Xiniti that way made it easier to hate them. Even the resistance fears the Xiniti. We’ll take their help, but we don’t trust them.”

“Huh. Well, it looks like we’ve got plenty to worry about just from the healthy soldiers. From the pictures, the camp’s now turning back into a staging point for whatever they’re planning to do to the Xiniti and ultimately, us.”

Four Hands wouldn’t be much help now that he wasn’t running the show.

Even in the dark, I could see Kals frown. “Then we’ve got to tell my mom.”

She got up, walking down the side of the room, tapping the man assigned to watch the screens on the shoulder and having a whispered conversation that I didn’t overhear, but I didn’t need to. He pulled his hands away from the computer interface and clenched his fists.

Then they both walked further down the length of the building, stepping around people sleeping on their mats.

From the mat on the other side of Jaclyn, Cassie said, “We’re fucked. Look at that.” Then she pointed at one of the images on the screen. A camera on the edge of the forest had picked up a group of Ascendancy soldiers, all of them in clean, undamaged armor, passing into the trees.

Comparing the camera’s position to the implant’s maps of the forest, it was clear they were coming straight for us.

It didn’t take much to guess what had happened. Four Hands probably knew where at least some of the forest hideouts were. He could avoid going after us when he was the ranking officer of a force that was mostly wounded, but that wasn’t true anymore.

Even worse, I recognized the people leading the group. Neves, massive and hugely muscled walked next to Kamia. The soft glow of her force field hinted that they didn’t see stealth as a major concern now.

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Semicoop

Behind the Filter

Semicoop

 

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A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Oct 7, 2018 at 9:10am PDT

We don’t actually have a board gaming room and often just play games at our kitchen table, but this is often how it goes, right? And not only in board gaming, people make a pretty picture and you have no clue what kind of mess is going behind the camera. And for fanatic board gamers, there’s the ‘issue’ of newly acquired games that’ll need a place on a shelve since they can’t stay in an evergrowing stack somewhere in a corner. Luxury problems, really – but probably recognizable for some readers of this comic. 😉

In other news: we’ve got a new design up in our merchandise store! We’ve already received a sample of the tote bag and we’re loving it. As we speak, we’re having a little contest on Instagram in which you can win a $10 voucher for our store with no minimum and it lasts until October 31. You just have to follow us on Instagram, like the post and tag a friend in the comments below the Instagram picture. We’ll pick a winner tonight at 8PM CEST. We’re also having a (pre)-Essen Sale right now that lasts until October 31, so if you’re looking for fun board game themed tote bags or shirts, you might want to take a look.

And there’s another contest going on that is related to our comic! On Twitter, KatiesGamesCorner has a giveaway going on in which you can win your own personalized avatar drawn in Semi Co-op style, by me! Click here to check out how you can join in the contest, which ends on October 31. If anybody is interested, you can always send an email to info[at]semicoop[dot]com if you wish to commission an avatar drawn by me.

Semi Co-op – Share the Love (promotion pack)!
We’re looking for people that are coming to Spiel in Essen and would like to drop off some of our bookmarks and stickers at their favorite local gaming spot. This could be on the counter of your local gaming store or at your board gaming cafe (with permission of course). We always leave a stack of bookmarks and stickers at our FLGS and we have to restock them every month and we thought it would be fun if we could spread them around the world! Every pack contains 50 stickers and bookmarks. If you’re interested and are coming to Spiel: please leave a comment down below so we can estimate how many we should order before Spiel.

If you like our comics and would like to support the work we do, we’re now on Patreon! Being a monthly patron gives you automatic entry in the seasonal raffles we hold on Patreon, in which you can win fun prizes like things from our merchandise store, sketches and more!

Do you have a dedicated board gaming room?

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In My Daydreams

Updating Late

In My Daydreams

I’ll be updating about a day late.

Sorry to spring it on people, but I’m having a small surgery on Monday and running errands that had to get taken care of first ate into my writing time.

EDIT: Home from surgery and writing under the influence of painkillers. Hopefully, this makes sense.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 4

In My Daydreams

In a maneuver that felt choreographed, the Xiniti ships all moved to the right side of the bottom of the Ascendancy battleship, firing bright beams at a spot three-quarters of the way down the battleship’s side.

Flame burst from the spot and the back of the ship. The battleship’s nose turned downward, aiming for the ground and hitting it, throwing up dirt, rocks, smoke, and flame.

The ground moved as it hit. It wasn’t hard enough to make anyone fall over, but it was hard enough to feel. Along with the shock came a series of booming noises accompanied by the screech of hard surfaces scraping against each other, finishing in a final thud.

It was long out of their screens’ view by the time that was over, but one screen showed the side of a large hill. The forest cascaded into the small valley below and then up the hills on the other side. Past them rose a great cloud of black smoke in the distance. Chunks of the top of several hills had been ripped off, destroying the trees and exposing dirt and rock, leaving mangled pieces of the hull, some of them still glowing in spots, making thin trails of smoke in the air above where they touched the trees.

I hoped that they weren’t hot enough to start a forest fire. That could be worse than fighting the Ascendancy. We had a hope of winning against them in a fight, but we weren’t prepared to fight fires.

I thought back to Larry’s “Rhinomobile,” a tank-like vehicle he’d designed for combat, but included hoses in case he started fires. Judging from stories my grandfather told me about Larry, it seemed wise. He did seem to do more damage than you’d expect.

That said, Grandfather’s claim that Larry had something to do with the volcanic eruption of Mt. Saint Helens seemed unlikely.

I had a moment of wondering what technology I could get out of the ship, but I knew better. Assuming the technology survived the fall and the explosions, the ship was too hot inside and possibly radioactive.

On the bright side, if this could be considered a bright side, any people inside were dead—which meant no reinforcements for the planetside Ascendancy troops.

Well, not until the Ascendancy decided to send a landing force down. It wasn’t likely until the battle was over or close to it. According to the Xiniti implant, Ascendancy dropships were relatively easy targets if you knew they were there. It was when they dropped at night and outside of a battle that they became useful. In that situation, they reached the ground quickly and then you had to deal with ground forces.

Whatever I knew about the Ascendancy forces, the colonists must have also known because they all watched the smoke, but they didn’t seem scared.

Jadzen Akri put the best possible face on it. “That’s one more down. If the Xiniti can keep that up, the Ascendancy ships may not survive the night.”

On the screens that showed the sky, Xiniti ships flew upward, disappearing into the blue.

Turning to us, Jadzen asked, “Do you know what the situation is in space? Are the fleets large?”

Jaclyn looked her in the eye. “I don’t know how many there are, but right now there are two fleets—Xiniti and the Ascendancy. We don’t know who’s winning.”

I spoke up too. “There are at least five Ascendancy battleships—one less now, but I’d be surprised if that meant there were only four left. I got the impression that the ships I was seeing were only a small part of the fleets. The Xiniti didn’t have as many ships, but they had enough to be roughly equal.”

Another thought pushed its way to the front of my brain. “Have you seen any sign of Katuk or the plant?”

Jadzen shook her head and then looked around the room. “Have any of you seen them?”

A few people said, “No,” while others said nothing—an answer in its own way.

“You’re welcome to stay here,” Jadzen said. “Our best chance for survival is to remain here out of sight until the people above us are finished fighting. We have hundreds of hidden retreats. The plant and the Xiniti could easily be with any of our groups.”

I turned to Jaclyn, “What do you think?” Noticing Cassie’s scowl, I added, “What does everybody think?”

Cassie leaned forward, “I think that Katuk’s out there alone, he’s going to go after Kamia and die. He practically said he would when he first found out she was here.”

Marcus sighed. “He kind of did, didn’t he? She killed a bunch of his people. I don’t have the faintest clue how we’d find him though, not without opening up our implants to the world and getting Kamia’s attention ourselves.”

Jaclyn frowned. “I don’t like the idea, but I think we should stay here. We can’t do much out there except attract attention to ourselves. If we do that, we’re either going to die or accidentally reveal any colonists who happen to be nearby.”

“That’s probably the best idea,” I said. “I agree with Jaclyn.”

The discussion went on longer than that, but that was what we settled on. After that, there’s not much to be said. We had a meal of the Ascendancy equivalent of an MRE and sat there in the dark, listening to the chirp of the insects and the howls and screams of distant wildlife.

We hoped it was distant, anyway.

A few hours into the night, HAL woke all of us up with a message, “The battle has shifted away from this planet, but that’s not all. Though the main bodies of both fleets are fighting further away from here, the Ascendancy and the Xiniti have both released dropships on the planet, all of them heading for the colony.”

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Semicoop

The Blinding

Semicoop

 

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A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Sep 30, 2018 at 10:30am PDT

Board games have gotten so creative! And Nyctophobia is certainly one that deserves a mention. It’s also a game design with a story, it was designed by Catherine Stippell, who wanted to have a game she could play with her blind uncle. In this game, there is only one player who can see what’s going on on the table and he or she is a crazy hunter with an ax. The other players wear blackout glasses and can’t see what’s going on. They can only feel the game board while they are trying to make their way out of the maze and reach the safe zone.

We haven’t played the game, but we’re certainly intrigued by the concept of the game and the story behind it and we’re hoping that we can check it out at Spiel in Essen this year. 🙂

This weekend we also tried the game The Climbers at our FLGS. We only had a vague idea what to expect and it was a fun game to play! To us, it scratches the same itch as Santorini and Junk Art and therefore it’s not a game we will get for our already very big collection – but I do see us playing it at the store while enjoying a nice cup of tea. It looks fun and has a nice light strategic element to it. After playing a game called The Climbers we totally felt like climbing ourselves and went bouldering at our local bouldering hall. 😉

What’s your favorite horror themed board game?

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 3

In My Daydreams

I couldn’t tell whether the Xiniti or the Human Ascendancy was winning. The Human Ascendancy had more ships when you considered their fighters in addition to their battleships, but the Xiniti’s ships (even their battleships) were smaller and changed direction with no warning at all.

They’d turn on an angle, target an Ascendancy battleship with a large part of their firepower, inflict damage and change direction again, putting another battleship in the way of the first’s return fire. It didn’t always work out. Xiniti ships exploded too, but not as many as Ascendancy fighters. On the other hand, there weren’t as many Xiniti ships.

If the fleets had been roughly equal in size, I’d have bet that the Xiniti would win, but they weren’t. While the Xiniti ships were harder to hit and harder to damage when they got hit, the Ascendancy did pick them off one at a time.

The Xiniti did the same, but from the short clip of the battle that played in my helmet, I didn’t dare try to predict the end.

“Where are you?” I asked HAL.

“I’m on the planet and hidden from view. I’ve set up a stream of information from the ansible that allows me to monitor what it can sense and am using my own sensors and ability to simulate battle to fill in the gaps.”

I stopped walking, glancing over at Kals to see if she’d noticed. She had, and stopped, turning to look at me. “Is something wrong?”

To her, I said, “Yes, but it’s complicated.”

She took in a breath. “Great. I love not knowing if I’m about to die.”

To HAL, I said, “Are you close enough that we could use the ship if necessary?”

“Yes, but while the chance that the Ascendancy will detect me is currently low, it goes up as the battle moves closer to the planet. If you’re considering joining the battle, joining the Xiniti fleet gives a small improvement to their odds of winning in the most probable versions of this fight. If the Ascendancy sends a landing force down to the surface, your presence increases the chances of the colony’s survival.”

“Good to know,” I said. “Keep me informed if the battle changes enough that our presence is likely to help.”

The connection ended and images of the battle disappeared. I looked around to find that Jaclyn, Cassie, Marcus, and Tikki had caught up.

Even as I began to turn toward them, Jaclyn asked, “Did HAL show you the fleets too?”

“Fleets?” Kal looked over at her and then back at me. “They’re here already. It’s not just the Ascendancy, right? Someone else came through too?”

“The Xiniti,” Cassie said. “I didn’t see anybody else.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Alliance ships are pretty likely, but I didn’t see them or the Ghosts. Maybe they’re on their way? I have no idea.”

Kals took a breath and pointed ahead. “My mom needs to know about this.” Turning back to look at the rest of us and back at me, she said, “You made a deal with Four Hands. If the Ascendancy wins, he can’t do much of anything for us, assuming he was in the first place.”

“I know,” Jaclyn said. She stepped over a small stump, pushing between the trees which were growing ever closer to each other as we went higher. “Where’s your mom?”

“Over here,” Kals pointed up the hill.

We followed her up and over the crest. Between the number of the trees and the small distance between them, it felt like we spent the entire climb squeezing between them and finding good spots to put our feet as we walked.

On the other side, we found them. The woods were just as thick and overgrown, but at some point in the past, someone had cut down enough trees that they could put up a long, thin shed. It wasn’t a beautiful work of carpentry, but it stood amid the trees without falling down.

Following Kals through the door, we found Jadzen, the surviving members of the council including Iolan, spouses, children, and their unofficial bodyguards. At least that’s what I interpreted the men with guns to be. None of them were unmarked by their escape from the caverns to here. Most had scraps on their skin, a few had bandages wrapped around their arms, and one man’s arm hung in a sling.

Iolan stood next to him with some device, asking questions and feeling the arm.

As we walked through Jadzen stepped away from the table next to the far wall where she’d been sitting to say, “Thank you,” to each of us as we stepped inside.

When the door shut, she said, “We have monitoring equipment hidden in the forest, but we can’t see very far beyond it. What’s been going on outside?”

We began to explain what had happened to us and what we’d done, but as we did something distant exploded and screamed in the air above us.

Everyone’s eyes went to a series of holographic screens set up along the walls, most of which showed the forest, but a few showed the sky. Far up in the sky, one of the Ascendancy’s cylindrical battleships fell, burning, but still firing beams back at the Xiniti ships attacking it.

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Crying Grumpies

Sekigahara, Samurais, Bloques, Cartas y Niebla de Guerra

Crying Grumpies

Sekigahara-Crying_Grumpies-4

Durante muchos años cada vez que iba a Gigamesh y veía una copia de Sekigahara quería llevármelo a mi casa, pero nunca era el momento adecuado. O no tenía pasta o iba comprar otra cosa, y las veces que iba a darle un nuevo hogar en mi estantería ya se había vendido la copia que tenían. Así que cuando GMT lo puso la lista de P500 me apunté a la espera de la reimpresión. A todo esto Sekigahara es un wargame de bloques ambientado en el Japón feudal con la lucha por la reunificación como tema central. El juego llegó el día antes de salir hacia la Selva Negra de vacaciones, con lo que durante el viaje me estudie las reglas, y lo probamos un par de días después de que Arqueo volviera de su viaje por las tierras del Imperio del Sol.

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Sekigahara es un juego para dos jugadores, uno comandará las fuerzas de Totoyomi Ideoshi, el bando imperial, mientras que el otro liderará los ejércitos de Tokugawa, el rebelde Shogun. El juego esta ligeramente emparentado con los Card Driven Games pues como la gran mayoría de ellos utiliza un mapa con sistema point to point y nuestras acciones se resuelven jugando cartas. El ligeramente es debido a que aquí las cartas no tienen habilidades ni puntos sino que vienen con los mons, escudos de armas, de los diversos clanes presentes en el conflicto. Estás cartas nos permitirán mover los ejércitos sin importar el mon que tengan o en las batallas activar los bloques que se correspondan con el mon de la carta jugada.

Y es que las batallas del juego son interactivas, rápidas, devastadoras y muchas veces con resultados inesperados. Los ejércitos que movemos por el tablero están formados por apilamientos de bloques. Estos apilamientos nos dan el primer nivel de niebla de guerra. El segundo nivel nos lo dan las cartas que tengamos en mano. Cuando dos ejércitos rivales se encuentran el mismo lugar ocurre una batalla pero no todos los bloques van a contribuir con su fuerza. Los jugadores empezando por el agresor se irán turnando para poner nuevas unidades en juego jugando cartas, juegas una carta de Tokugawa pones en juego un bloque Tokugawa. Los bloques que pertenezcan a clanes que ya están en la batalla obtendrán un bono a la fuerza. También hay dos tipos de unidades especiales, caballería y arquebuceros, que en el caso de ser jugados junto a una carta especial obtienen un bono a su fuerza.

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Sekighara es un juego muy sencillo que te mantiene en tensión constante. Con los juegos de bloques si tienes buena memoria y estás atento es relativamente sencillo seguir la pista de las unidades del rival y se pierde esa niebla de guerra. El añadido de las cartas en este caso nos aporta una incertidumbre constante. Conviene medir las fuerzas y conservar cartas clave pues en nuestra primera partida uno de mis ejércitos desapareció del mapa por no tener en la mano las cartas adecuadas para responder.

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Lleno de decisiones cruciales pero con un cuerpo de reglas muy asequible creo que es un gran segundo paso en el mundo de los wargames. Ideal para comprar cuando tengamos el Memoir superado pero no nos vemos con el cuerpo preparado para algo como el Triumph & Tragedy o el Day of Heroes. Las partidas tienen una duración relativamente corta, un par de horas y su entreturno es bastante corto. Sekigahara es un grandioso juego que ha llegado para hacerse fuerte en mi ludoteca y ser jugado con asiduidad.

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Semicoop

Not the sound of silence

Semicoop

Hi there, I’m Pepijn van Loon, the designer and publisher of Heroes of Tenefyr and owner of Broken Mill.

I’m super excited to be launching my first game on Kickstarter, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of some wonderful people. Mainly the 4 amazing artists that I’ve found: Frank Attmannspacher, Emanoel Melo, Manolis Frangidis and Jimmy Nijs. It’s been a great working with them all.

You all know the other two artists who have been very supportive of me: Semi co-op. They even helped promote my game a bit at UK Games Expo! I actually met Rachel from Semi co-op about 14 years ago, back when we were all hyped about the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s a crazy coincidence that we both ended up in this industry after all these years.

Heroes on Tenefyr is live on Kickstarter right now!
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/brokenmill/2049614510?ref=571676&token=64a6e30d

It’s a cooperative deck-building game for 1-4 players with some push your luck elements.
The bard is actually a lot more competent in the game than in the comic, but his style of music is an acquired taste. Personally, I love some good bagpipe music, especially when it’s combined with folk or metal.

I’d like to close off with a big thank you to Rachel and Heinze for this, and all the other wonderful Semi Co-op comics that brighten our Mondays and Thursdays!

What’s your favorite fantasy class?

The post Not the sound of silence appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 2

In My Daydreams

Nick, Hideaway

Hal didn’t know exactly when the fleets would enter the system, but he promised to keep me informed. I passed that on to Kals who sighed and said, “We’d better get moving.”

With that conversation over, Kals led me to where everyone else was waiting. It was only a few hundred feet further into the woods next to a thick clump of trees that stood so close to each other that only Marcus would have been able to make it between them.

Jaclyn looked over at Cassie, Marcus, and Tikki. “Are you ready?”

Cassie shrugged. Marcus nodded and glanced over at Tikki who chimed in with a chirpy, “Yes.”

Something about Marcus seemed a little off. I couldn’t put a name to it. I wondered if Tikki had told him, but then I’d have expected him to be more depressed. Though you never knew, maybe a cross-species relationship with a massive age difference could work.

It did for Bella and Edward, right? I never watched the movies or read the books, but that’s what I’m assuming. That said, the idea that a vampire represents a different species is arguable, and the age difference between Kee and Marcus would be billions of years instead of hundreds. Anyway, forget I mentioned it.

Kals pointed deeper into the forest. “This way. And Nick, could you walk ahead with me and scan? We don’t want to be surprised.”

Cassie raised an eyebrow as she looked at me. “I guess I’ll scan behind us then.”

“Good idea,” Kals said and took my arm, leading me forward with her. As we walked through the forest, Kals kept her voice low, asking, “Did something happen between them? When I first saw them, Tikki seemed a little quiet and Marcus didn’t seem to know what to do.”

I frowned. “It’s a little hard to explain. Actually, I’m not allowed to explain. Tikki told me not to. When she tells Marcus, we’ll all know.”

Kals glanced over at me. “That kind of secret? I’ll wait.”

Part of me wanted to explain that she couldn’t possibly have guessed correctly, but that part of me was quickly silenced by the larger part of me that knew that this secret wasn’t the kind you talked about.

We walked through the forest, not following a path, stepping on thick, brown leaves that tore under our feet. “What does your mom want us to do?” Waiting for her answer, I watched through my HUD, not seeing any sign of other life and understanding a good point of hiding in a forest. All the big animals were too big to be comfortable.

“I don’t know,” Kals said. “She wanted to make sure that everyone got out and was safe. You’re included in ‘everyone,’ but I don’t know if she’s got a special task for you. I think she just wants you all nearby in case something comes up. Even though they didn’t think much of you at first, everyone’s impressed with your group now, native Xiniti or not. I don’t think they quite dare to find out what would happen if we faced down the rest of the Ascendancy without you.”

“The good news is that we might not have to even if the fleets I mentioned do show up. If we’re lucky, that whole battle will take place in space and we’ll only have to deal with the Ascendancy forces that are left here and those guys might not want to fight at all. Jaclyn told you about that, right?”

She stared at me. “No.”

With that, I went through the whole story of what happened after we left the caves, starting with the giant images meant to get our attention (“Well of course we saw those, but we didn’t know you’d gone through with meeting them.”). We drifted back to the death of Agent 957 and Marcus’ near death (“Shit.”), but I skipped Tikki’s revelation Then I told her about meeting Four Hands and the deal where he promised to leave the colonists alone and I gave him a couple killbots (“Your last ones? You trusted him?”).

Though she couldn’t see it through my helmet, I pursed my lips. “I did—up to a point. I gave him the killbots which went halfway through Kamia’s shield, but I didn’t pass on my sonics. They actually took Agent 957’s shields down. Anyway, he did seem to trust me and I didn’t see a downside. Does the resistance recruit four-handers at all? The Xiniti don’t seem to think you do, but I’m figuring you might know more.”

Kals shook her head. “We don’t. It seems stupid now that I’ve heard your story, but I don’t think anyone ever thought it would be possible. With the exception of that guy—whose real name can’t be ‘Four Hands’—they run from combat and they switch sides to work for the winner. Plus, they don’t live on planets. You almost never see them off a ship. I’m sure no one in the resistance thought we could trust them.”

“Maybe it’s worth a shot in the future.” I checked behind us. The others were keeping up, but they weren’t directly behind us.

“Yeah… If we pulled them in, we’d have access to every big ship in space. By the way Nick, we’re almost there. It’s just past the hill we’re going up.”

It was hard not to notice the hill. Thick with trees, I wasn’t sure when it started or where the crest would be, but we were definitely going up.

I was about to reply to Kals when I received a communication from HAL. “They’re here.”

With it came an image of ships pouring out of holes in space, small Xiniti ships zigging and zagging as they fired on the Ascendancy’s giant cylindrical battleships.

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Semicoop

#superBlessed

Semicoop

 

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A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Sep 23, 2018 at 1:43pm PDT

From the few times that we played D&D in the past, this is something that happened to us and probably to others too. The DM is setting up a scene at the beginning of a session and players are enthusiastic and immediately react to – anything that could be important for an upcoming quest. And when players are convinced that something is up, there can be this typical chaos at the table of people looking up if they can do certain things or asking if this or that is possible. I have nothing but respect for DM’s in these kind of situations (overall respect btw, being a DM is hard work!). 😀

But so much for today’s comic! In case you missed it, we’ve launched a new thing last Thursday! Sponsored comics, meaning that game designers/publishers or whoever has a cool board game related project can commission us to make a comic about it! These sponsored comics will be published on our website as an extra comic and will not replace our weekly comic on Mondays. So that means more content for our readers and a way for us to produce more content. We already have another fun comic in store for you this coming Thursday, so keep an eye out for that! If you’re interested in commissioning a comic, you can always contact us through social media or send us an email at info@semicoop.com and we’ll send you more information.

Back to board games! The few spare moments that we’ve had last week, we’ve spent on playing Root. There is so much to discover in that box and we want to get a grasp on all the different factions before we start playing it with friends. It’s an exciting game and so far we’re having a lot of fun with it. And I can’t wait to make Root character fanart of our cats, I love the art style. :’D

What’s the biggest misunderstanding you ever had during a game?

The post #superBlessed appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Planet in the Middle: Part 1

In My Daydreams

Lee, Excursion Keep (Artificer Ruins), Forbidden Space

It was over. They’d fought across millions of lightyears and at least ten different alternate universes. He’d killed Bakanan, using the device Kee designed to channel his power and so much more into a burning beam that crossed universes and expanded into more dimensions than the material creatures of this universe understood. The beam hit Bakanan’s true form, destroying him everywhere.

And now, Lee knew, there was one less of them. There hadn’t ever been very many by comparison to the short-lived races he’d been hiding among, but now there was one less. He couldn’t say he felt bad about killing Bakanan, but he did feel a twinge about bringing his species one step closer to extinction.

That thought led him to Halas.

He shook his head. With all the fighting over, he’d settled into the form he’d used when he was last here—his “dust dragon” form—the one he’d used for faster-than-light travel when they were young.

He stood if it could be called standing, in the middle of a wide circle. In the middle of the circle, a blue dome glowed. The circle sat in the middle of broken buildings, all of them made from materials that no creature in this universe so far had words for. At its height, Excursion Keep had been a city that covered half of a planet, sheltering his people as they began to explore the universes, their allies, and visitors from this universe as well as others.

He remembered the lights, the crowds, the parties that never seemed to end. He’d left one to find it still going ten years later, and that was far from the longest he’d heard of.

When he’d first arrived here, he’d been learning what he was and what he could do. After a time where they’d learned the basics, he’d left with Kee, Halas, Nataw, and many others.

Now he was back here with Halas except Halas wasn’t doing much. Halas floated inside the blue dome in his own dust form. After he’d called in Bakanan to attack Lee, he’d watched from outside the fight offering small assists to Bakanan, but nothing that put himself at risk.

After Lee had killed Bakanan, Halas traveled here. He’d planned ahead, using a trap he’d set for Lee or maybe for someone else long ago.

They’d materialized and a stasis field activated, aiming for Lee. He’d been lucky. Kee had made similar traps years ago and he knew how to avoid them. Before the field fully engulfed him, he’d moved it toward Halas who didn’t have time to move.

Now Halas floated within the blue field as a cloud of dust, unable to connect to his larger self and be released.

Lee considered killing him. It wouldn’t be hard. If he used his full abilities, he could destroy Halas before Halas knew what was happening.

He found that he didn’t want to. Well, that wasn’t quite true. Halas had tried to kill him and if he ever got free, he’d try again. He wanted to avoid that and killing Halas would be the most efficient way. In this spot though, thousands of years worth of memories of Halas poured through his mind and not all of them were bad. If he was honest with himself, most of them were good.

He frowned at the dust in the blue dome, knowing that he wouldn’t kill Halas today and wondering what the real reason why was. He couldn’t deny that he missed what he’d been when he’d started out in the universe, but he’d killed Bakanan. Bakanan had been around back then too.

He knew that he might have been changed by living among the humans for so long. Leaving a defenseless enemy alive seemed like the kind of thing Nick or his grandfather might have done.

On the other hand, he knew these traps. This one would operate for at least one hundred thousand years based on the power it had available. By then, he’d be long done with the Earth project one way or another. Earth would be fighting the Destroy faction 10,000 years in the future at most.

Halas might easily wake to a humanity that could handle him, something Lee wouldn’t mind seeing.

And that woke another thought. With the Issakass and Halas handled, he’d gotten what he wanted out of this. It was time to find out if Nick and the others had done as well as he thought they would. He concentrated and accessed the nearest ansible. Excursion Keep had a few and it didn’t take much work to attach one to the Alliance’s network.

A few minutes later, Lee cut off the connection. He couldn’t determine everything from public news sources, but what he could find showed that the Cosmic Ghosts were on the move. That was an interesting non-coincidence. If that weren’t all, he’d found news that Xiniti, Galactic Alliance, and Human Ascendancy ships had been seen jumping away from K’Tepolu.

He supposed he ought to start heading in that direction himself. Given the distance, he suspected he’d miss the main action, but being around for the aftermath might be fun. It would be interesting to see how the kids handled a multi-fleet battle.

He began to float away from Excursion Keep, taking one last look at the city while readying his form for faster-than-light travel. It had been nice to see it again.

Noticing the blue dot that held Halas one last time, Lee decided that former friend or not, if Halas reappeared before this was all over, he’d kill him and he’d enjoy it.

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Semicoop

Never a dull moment

Semicoop
sponsored comic 1: The networks

Hi folks, my name is Gil Hova and I’m a board game designer, publisher, podcaster, and teacher living in lovely Jersey City, right across the water from New York City. I’m best known for my board game The Networks (pictured above), but you may also have gotten to try my game Wordsy, a rare word game that benefits longer words.

I started designing board games in 2000, because I ultimately wanted to be a video game designer. As I researched board games, I discovered that I actually preferred them to video games, and it’s been downhill ever since.

I formed my publishing company Formal Ferret Games in 2014 as a vehicle to self-publish my games, and ensure that every detail was done correctly (if not quickly!), and I’m working on my next two releases – Bad Medicine, my first self-published game, will be re-released at the end of the year, and my new game High Rise will be on Kickstarter in February.

I’m also a podcaster! I am co-host of Ludology with Geoff Engelstein, and I co-founded Breaking Into Board Games with Ian Zang and Tony Miller. My first job out of college was working in sound post-production for film, so podcast editing is something I’m pretty comfortable doing. Dirty secret about podcast editing; as you get better at it, you don’t get all that faster at it. You just wind up editing more stuff out.

And yes, I am the proud owner of two ferrets; I’ve owned various ferrets for over 20 years, and I have to say they’re my favorite animals around.

Thanks to Rachel and Heinze for letting me take over their wonderful webcomic for a day! Next time I do this, I hope to work more pets into the strip.

A little message from Rachel and Heinze:
We’d like to thank Gil for commissioning a comic and we’re proud to have this as our very first sponsored comic. Sponsored comics is a new thing that we’re really excited about! Whoever does something board game related can commission a comic which we will publish on Thursdays, so as an extra comic besides the usual weekly updates on Mondays. This is a way for us to make more funny comics to discover and share new games with our audience. For more info, check our Info page or send us an email or message on any social media platform. 

What is a show you love but everybody hates?

The post Never a dull moment appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 18

In My Daydreams

“What did you do for them?” He asked as I put the disc into a pouch on my belt.

I looked up. “We fought, but I paid for the medical bills of one of their people. I didn’t know that they knew. If anything I was expecting them to want to hunt me down.”

He gave a quick nod. “Why did you help them?”

Shrugging, I said, “I don’t know. I didn’t see any reason to let one of them die because they couldn’t pay when I had the money to help. It seemed better than letting someone die pointlessly.”

He watched me for a little while then, not saying anything. “That’s not how the Ascendancy would have handled it. Your treatment of your enemies is unusual and I’m sure some would say it’s naive. It’s helped you here, though.”

I thought about that and the fact that I’d given him my last two killbots out of the five that I’d brought. I couldn’t argue that people accusing me of naiveté were wrong. Four Hands had enough power to prevent the Ascendancy from chasing us for now, but not if their fleet arrived.

I looked out at the tents again. A few spacers and soldiers talked in the rows between the tents. Others moved from one tent to another, looking inside and then sometimes opening the door.

Our meeting was basically over-which led to another thought. “What are you going to tell your men?”

He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. They’ve been manipulated for so long that they’ll believe anything anyone in authority tells them. The ones I have to worry about are Neves and Kamia and for now they’re willing to let me talk to you. They’re willing to put off hunting you if I can convince you to hand over your killbots. They don’t know who the bots will actually help, and I have many ways to make sure they get to my people and not the Ascendancy.”

“Okay. I should probably get out of here then.” I gave the camp 360 degree check with my HUD. People weren’t arming themselves and rushing in. Nothing had changed from the last time I’d looked.

He gave me a small bow. “Though you’re not truly one of us, it’s my hope that you and your friends survive whatever comes next. As for myself, I’ll be doing everything I can to free my people. May you stay clear of gravity wells and stay clear of the Artificers in your explorations.”

The implant pegged that last sentence as a reference to a formal blessing the four-handed used among each other.

Not knowing what else to say, I told him, “Good luck. If you’re against the Ascendancy, I hope whatever it is you’re planning to do succeeds. Please don’t take this wrong, but it’s always a danger for revolutionaries to turn into the people they revolted against. At least that happens on our world. I hope it doesn’t happen on yours.”

Then I activated the rockets and took off, passing above the camp and the rows upon rows of tents. Anything he said in reply was lost to the sound of wind and the roar of rockets.

I aimed myself toward the forest north of the camp and the settlement. My HUD showed that Jaclyn, Cassie, and Marcus were there. I deliberately flew past them, staying low and landing alongside the forest. Assuming they only had visuals, it wouldn’t be precisely obvious where I was going.

The walk gave me time to consider whether or not I’d done something stupid. In some ways, I was tempted to answer yes to that question. I’d traded my bots for peace with the small, damaged remains of what was left of the Ascendancy’s forces on the planet. It wasn’t a terrible trade assuming Four Hands stuck to it, but there wasn’t anything forcing him to.

On the other hand, based on the Ascendancy history that the implant gave me and what I’d seen of Four Hands, I was willing to believe he might be a revolutionary waiting for his moment. Tikki’s support of him gave me a little more confidence in that direction too. I could only hope that Tikki had been speaking as Kee then and not as Tikki, life support specialist, Marcus’ girlfriend, and figment of Kee’s imagination.

I ventured deeper into the forest, disappearing from the sight of the camp. The underbrush crackled and cracked under my feet as I aimed toward the signal in my HUD.

Only five minutes into the walk, I noticed a group of bushes next to a tree. By itself that wasn’t unusual, but the HUD’s thermal imaging showed a human-shaped heat signature behind them. Before I decided on a plan, a voice said, “Don’t shoot. It’s me, Kals.”

She stepped out from behind the bushes. “I caught up with the rest of your group. We’re going to join up with my mom. We’ve got scattered above ground hideyholes that we can use for a little while. If we play it right, we can stay out of the Ascendancy’s sight until they starve or leave.”

I found myself smiling at the sight of her. It was good to know she’d survived. I hoped the same could be said of Katuk and Crawls-Through-Desert.

Before I could say anything though, HAL’s icon glowed green in my HUD. “With the destruction of the Ascendancy’s ships, I’ve spent time off-planet using the system’s ansible. Data I’ve gathered indicates that we can expect at least two fleets to be entering the system in minutes if they aren’t here already.”

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 17

In My Daydreams

Into my helmet, I asked, “Why?”

Cassie paused before answering. “I don’t know. We don’t really know this guy. He’s buttering you up, trying to make a connection because his people do tech stuff too?”

“To be fair, I did kind of ask him to butter me up.” Then I turned my attention to him. “Can you prevent your people from going after the colonists?”

His eyes narrowed and he frowned a little. “I can here. As long as the colonists keep up their disappearing act until our people come here, I’ve got a good chance of persuading people it’s not worth the trouble of finding them. I’m sure they have people who know how to hide from our equipment. If our people have any whiff of them, I won’t have any choice in the matter, but whatever you’re doing now is working.”

Over the comm, Jaclyn said, “I’m tempted to give him a chance. If the Xiniti show up first, it won’t matter what weapons we have, but if the Ascendancy shows up first, we’ll need him.”

“Seriously?” Cassie’s tone couldn’t have made her doubt more obvious.

Marcus cut in. “Tikki thinks you should listen to him.”

“I do.” Tikki’s voice sounded distant—which it would. Even if Marcus had his helmet open, I’d designed the microphone to record as little as possible beyond the user’s voice.

Then I thought about what she’d said. If Tikki were just Tikki, I might not have given it too much more thought, but given that Tikki was Kee, avatar of what amounted to one of Lee’s childhood friends, I had to give it more.

I looked Four Hands in the eyes and said, “Okay. I’ll do it.”

I released the final two killbots and let them roll out of the compartment under my forearm and into my left hand. I’d deleted the software first, figuring that even if I was willing to give out the hardware, I wasn’t willing to allow someone to try to figure out every detail of the system.

Then for the at least the next twenty minutes, probably more, I described how the bots worked, including key details that explained how it had managed to get as far past Kamia’s shield as it did.

He got it. He even suggested a couple ideas that might get the bots further through an Abominator shield. Assuming they weren’t red herrings, they were worth an experiment or two when I got back home. The only bad point being that I’d have to grab an Abominator force field on the way out and for all that I always wanted to grab new technology, it never seemed to work out.

The rare exceptions seemed to be alien tech. I was still getting ideas out of the alien robot we’d grabbed. So, it wasn’t unreasonable that I might be able to grab a force field to experiment with.

When Four Hands appeared to have grasped the basic concepts involved in constructing the killbots, I asked him. “Do you know if there are any spare Abominator style shields that I could experiment on when I get home?”

He shook his head. “They’re closely held pieces of hardware. The only one I have easy access to is mine and I’m going to need it when I make a run for it.”

I couldn’t deny he had a point there. And anyway, the sonics were even more effective against shields and I knew I had no intention of passing that on. We’d need that advantage if the Ascendancy’s fleet appeared.

“Understood,” I tried to think if I had anything else I wanted to ask him before we all disappeared and hid. “So what are you going to do if Kamia and Neves track us down?”

He frowned and clasped his (upper) hands together. “I’ve been thinking about it. I’ll do my best to avoid fighting you. You’ll have a better chance against them when I’m not there. I can’t do much more than that except to miss more often than normal if you’re in my sights. Well, that and what I said earlier. If you don’t give us a good reason to search for you, I’ll do what I can to keep everyone here.”

“That’s something,” I glanced down toward the dead firepit and then out at the tent city around us. “I can’t ask for much more than that.”

He grinned suddenly, “But I can give more than that. My people have a relationship with the Waroo. You fought them on K’Tepolu. They’re enormous beast-like mercenaries. We hire them when we need muscle. There’s a Waroo ship in the system and they’re looking for you.”

“Oh,” I said, “if you could manage to not mention that I’m here, that would be great.”

“No kidding,” Marcus said over the comm.

Four Hands laughed. “It’s better than you think. I’m not sure why, but when I talked to them, it sounded like they felt like they owed you. They told me to give you one of our distress calls. You can call them once and they’ll perform a service for you. If it’s an extended service, you’ll have to haggle about details, but if it’s simple and short, they’ll do it without argument.”

He held out a metal disc and I stared at it. “I’m not trying to trap you,” he said. “I wasn’t going to tell you about this if we couldn’t come to an agreement.”

I took the disc. I was already trusting him with the killbots. In for a penny…

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Semicoop

Decision Tea

Semicoop

Tea Dragon Society and Dinosaur Tea Party are two games that are on our ‘Need to check these games out at Spiel’-list! They are two totally different games, but they share the same incredibly niche theme. 😀 We can’t wait to organize a high tea game day with these two games and of course Marrying Mr. Darcy. We will totally cramp up our pinky finger because of holding it up in the air while sipping tea for so long. CAN’T WAIT. Preferably in cosplay. We’ll post a picture on Instagram when the time comes. 😉
We noticed that the list of games we want to check out on Spiel is growing rapidly. Luckily we will be there for the entire convention this time, so we might actually be able to look at all all the games on our list in real life. This is probably a terribly naive thing to think – we’ll see!

For those who don’t know, every week we try to post something extra on our Patreon page (https://www.patreon.com/semicoop) with the weekly comic updates, like the sketch of that week’s comic or other sketches I’ve made. By becoming a patron and you’ll receive a notification when we post something new so you’ll never miss anything!

And this coming Thursday we’ve got a surprise and an introduction of something new here on the website for you all! Definitely check back later this week, we’re excited because we’ve been working on this for quite a while already!

Dragons or Dinosaurs?!

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In My Daydreams

Hoping to Update Tonight

In My Daydreams

Last night at about 3:40am, a bunch of cars pulled up in front of our house, blasting loud music. When people got out, there was a lot of shouting with someone obviously being threatened by another person.

Someone called the police and eventually the music stopped and the people left.

I was up until 5am, watching and listening. As such, I am tired. I’ll be writing, but I can’t promise I’ll finish tonight.

Where are supers when you need them, eh?

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EPU - What's New

UF/FI: OOTR: Romance of Combined Fleet Record, Volume 2

EPU - What's New
This time in The Order of the Rose's Romance of Combined Fleet Record: Corwin and a few of his ships visit Valhalla, where curious things involving warships have been going on for some time. Can the White Rose Fleet unravel the mystery of New Yokosukaor will they only make it deeper? Volume 2: "Open for Business" 2018/09/14
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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 16

In My Daydreams

For a moment, I heard silence as Jaclyn processed that. Then, “As long as you’re not being attacked we’re coming out ahead of what we expected. Keep us in the loop.”

“I’ll broadcast the conversation.”

“Okay.”

To Four Hands I said, “How would handing off the technology work? I don’t have the plans here. They’re mostly in my head. I can describe them to you, but honestly, there are a bunch of little things that I might not remember to say. I’d suggest knowledge transfer via implant, but you’ve got an Ascendancy implant and I’ve got a Xiniti implant and both of them might have internal programming that we don’t know about.”

Four Hands grinned. “We know more about the implants than most people. We designed and built the Ascendancy military’s, but you’re right. They include protections and the military implants are especially suspicious about unusual connections. What I’d suggest is that if you have any that I can take and then describe your methods of construction, we’ll probably be able to figure out the rest.”

I let out a breath. “I’ve only got two left.”

“That’s all?” He cocked his head to the side, looking at me.

“Back home I don’t generally need to kill people. In fact, if I did kill people when I didn’t need to, I’m pretty sure I’d get in big trouble. So, I generally don’t have more than five killbots on me because I pretty much never use them and they’re a bother to make and I have to maintain them if I expect to have them work after a month of sitting in my armor waiting to be used, much less a year of waiting to be used. All of these are about a year old. Anyway, I didn’t expect this kind of mission. I probably should have, given the Xiniti, but even then, maybe not. I didn’t need killbots when we got invaded. My standard bots were good enough. Anyway, I’ve got two, and I’m not sure I want to give them away.”

I considered ending there, but decided that it wasn’t enough. “I want to help you, but honestly, I don’t know if I should trust you. Anyone can say they want to take out the Ascendancy, but doing it is another thing. Plus, if you think about it, what you’re doing is asking me to give up my most effective weapon for analysis. You’re not offering to help me or surrender. You’re offering to let us go, but if you think about it, we don’t even need that. We’ve got a ship. In theory, we could use it to get fairly high up and fire on the group of you till you’re dead. Obviously, that doesn’t feel right to me, but we could. So, in addition, to telling me why I should give you those bots, I’d like to know why you’re trusting me at all, and also, why it makes sense for me to do this your way.”

He nodded. “I understand. It’s not every warrior that would give up one of their weapons to someone they’ve been fighting. It doesn’t make sense and you need to know why you can trust me. It’s all wrapped up with why I believe I can trust you. You’ve seen my people. We fix things. We don’t get involved in fights. We serve those who are stronger than we are. I’m unusual because I decided to fight instead of serve, but I can do both, much like you can.

“Like you, I’ve had to root out my hesitation to kill. It’s still more natural for me to run and avoid the fight than to take part in it. We have access to files on you from the spy in your ranks. Before she died, she sent us word that you hailed from a planet where Abominator bred humans had left their genes to mix randomly. I don’t know who your ancestors were but your ability to invent is unusual even among our kind. I’d like to believe that you’re descended from one of us.”

We had lied to the colonists about that, but it wasn’t untrue. Abominator bred had come back to Earth and Abominator created genes had been loosed among our population in many different ways. It was more likely that my ability and the four-handers’ descended from some common ancestor than the other way around, but who could say?

Four Hands watched me, eyes steady as he continued. “I’ve seen footage of your fights and you don’t kill every time you can and when you do, as with the stampede, it’s because you don’t have other realistic options. The fact that you hold to that despite the temptation to go another way makes me think I can deal with you and that you can deal with me. I think you’ll want to because if I prevent our people from going after the colonists, it will cause less death than the alternative. Then, if I can end the Ascendancy, it will be even better.”

In my head, Cassie said, “I’m not sure I buy it.”

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Semicoop

One of a kind

Semicoop

A few months ago, Fantasy Flight Games presented a new concept of theirs: unique games! Firstly announced was Keyforge. A card game of which not a single deck is the same. There is no deck-building, there are no booster packs, none of that. You buy a Keyforge deck and that’s it, that’s your deck! The decks even have their own unique card backs and a unique name. We’re really intrigued by this concept and are really looking forward to trying it. Later, FFG presented another unique game, Discover: Lands Unknown. This clearly is a step up being a board game instead of a card game with unique character combinations, environments, tools, etc.

And now we’re very curious how far FFG will take their new unique games concept in 2019. 😉

Last week we’ve been mostly playing Root. There is so much to discover in that box and we’ve been really enjoying it so far. We played a co-op game against the Mechanical Marquise and that almost felt as if we were playing Pandemic. And we finally continued our Gloomhaven campaign, our 13th game – hurray! My character is now level 5 and is able to do some really powerful stuff. Good times.

Are you excited about unique games?

The post One of a kind appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 15

In My Daydreams

“I don’t need to hear you out. The Human Ascendancy is horrible. They literally mind control their people, implant suggestions in their heads, force them to watch and betray people they care about… I literally saw someone’s head explode because she’d been manipulated by them. I don’t want to help you guys take over all of human space. I mean, honestly, that’s about the last thing I want.”

Even as I said it, I knew that that wasn’t the best answer possible. The best answer possible was one that would keep the conversation going indefinitely while everyone got into position. This answer amounted to shouting, “I’ll never join you!”

Shortly after that line, Darth Vader revealed himself to be Luke’s father and Luke jumped down an air shaft.

Um… Sorry for the really old spoiler?

On the other hand, shortly before that, Vader had cut off Luke’s hand—which wasn’t the best possible lead up to any conversation. I’m not the most persuasive person in the world, but I’d say that almost nobody is more likely to listen to you after you cut off their hand unless maybe you tell them you’re sorry and you’re calling an ambulance.

Even then, I’m not sure I’d trust them.

That tangent aside, Four Hands didn’t tell me that he was my father or cut off my hand. He sighed and said, “I know. I feel the same way. The Human Ascendancy needs my people desperately, but it couldn’t care less what we want. We want to come up with ideas, invent, change things, but the Ascendancy can’t let us do that. It needs us to repair their ships and come up with new ways to get around innovations made by members of our race that other people have enslaved.”

He glanced from one side to another and when he talked, he spoke in a low and distorted voice. “I’m not asking for the Human Ascendancy. I’m asking for my people. If they’re thinking I’m asking for the Ascendancy, I’ll be able to convince them to let you go.”

I looked at his face. He had the faceplate of his helmet off, showing his face. I couldn’t speak to the rest of him, but his face seemed to have barely any fat at all, barely covering the bones. Hairless, like all of the other four-handed we’d seen, his cheekbones and jaw stood out as if they’d been chiseled from rock. At the same time, his eyes darted about, looking at my face most of the time, but darting downward to look at my suit and lingering on the weapons under my arms.

“That still doesn’t sound like a good idea. You might be lying or you might be mind controlled yourself and not know it. Besides, I don’t know much of anything about your people.”

Four Hands nodded. “I understand. My people were genetically engineered by the Abominators to fix and care for their spaceships. After the Xiniti and the Galactic Alliance destroyed the Abominators, my people retreated to the few zero-g habitats, spaceships and low gravity worlds that we controlled, but that wasn’t most of us. Most of us found ourselves working for whoever controlled whatever territory we were in. I grew up in a zero-g habitat controlled by the Human Ascendancy and yes, it was as bad as you probably believe it would be. The motivators told us what to do and we did it. They rooted out any hint of rebellion and we were happy knowing it meant the Ascendancy had become stronger.”

He stopped, taking two heavy breaths, and continuing. “At least we were happy on the outside where they could see. Secretly, we hated them and invented devices that helped us keep our minds clear of their influence. The problem is that we never thought big. We came up with ways to live under them and keep our heads, but never overthrew them.”

Thinking about the direction of the conversation, I said, “And that’s what this is all about? You think that my killbots are the final piece that will allow the four-handed to rise up against their oppressors and become free? That’s a big load to put on a small device. And believe me, there are things it won’t work against. So far, the common theme is magic. They were less effective than I want against an elder dragon and a servant of the Artificers.”

He stared at me. “The Artificers? What servant? What do you know about the Artificers?”

I couldn’t tell him that I now knew two of them personally or about Live or Destroy factions. Telling him that Marcus was dating one was right out. I said, “Just what everyone knows. They left things for future civilizations. Also, we fought one of their creations. It was terrifying and horrible. I’m not going to say more than that.”

“My people don’t worship the Artificers, but they’re impressed with the technology. Anything that can last that long and still function is the work of great genius, something we respect. We don’t have any intention to fight them. As long as your device works against the Ascendancy, we’ll use it.”

The tone of his voice stayed the same—calm and thoughtful—but his brows furrowed as he looked me over again.

As he did, Jaclyn’s voice sounded in my helmet. “We’re in position.”

“Great,” I said. “There’s a problem though. He’s not surrendering, but he might be volunteering to turn on the Ascendancy.”

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 14

In My Daydreams

That blindsided me. It shouldn’t have. When you looked at it from the outside, it was logical. We used tech that looked like Xiniti tech, but if you were a techie, you’d notice the small details that would cue you into the fact that this was homebrewed instead of mass-produced.

Bearing that in mind, the question was whether denying it or admitting to it would lead to a more distracting conversation. I went with admitting to it. Talking shop with the guy might run the risk of telling him more about my armor than I wanted him to know, but the same was true in reverse.

I said, “Kind of. It’s built on more technology than just mine and we’re all from a world on the edge of things. So, it’s less advanced than what you’re probably using. It’s more a hodgepodge of technology that I was able to get a hold of and then repurpose or reverse engineer.”

None of that was false. I’d come up with the suit’s current ceramic material on my own based on Grandpa’s tech, but the current ceramic was based on alien tech I’d gotten when aliens tried to blow up St. Louis. Plus, the nanotech element was mine, but the rest was a mix of my stuff, Grandpa’s designs, and Earth tech that I hadn’t had a reason or time to redesign.

“It’s effective.” He looked the suit up and down. “You’ve survived shots from our weapons and one of your projectiles nearly made it through Kamia’s force field and that’s the Masters’ technology. Am I right in guessing that it used mono-molecular tech?”

I considered lying, but said, “Yes, mostly.”

He shook his head. “There was a period where the Masters used that technology in war, but it only lasted until they invented effective shields. Our shields are based on theirs and though we don’t use them commonly, there’s been no reason to bring back monomolecular weaponry when everything and everyone important is shielded.”

He stopped, glancing around the clearing.

That’s when I realized that we were alone—not completely alone because we were in the middle of a camp, but close to alone. We were the only ones next to the fire and while we were surrounded by their inflatable habitats, there was a forty foot gap between the fire and habitats on every side.

This was private to the degree that it could be.

He walked the rest of the way around the fire pit and stood in front of me. “Your technology might give us the power to win this endless contest we’re in with the nations around us. I know you’re not feeling friendly to the Human Ascendancy, but hear me out.”

Under any circumstance other than waiting out the clock to get Jaclyn, Cassie and Marcus into position, I would not have listened to him. Giving the Human Ascendancy a better weapon was not part of my plans ever. That shouldn’t need to be said, but I feel like it should be given that my implant was freaking out.

It wasn’t freaking out in the literal sense. The implant had artificial intelligence, but not in the “self-aware and capable of making its own decisions,” sense. Its artificial intelligence was the kind where it learned how I processed information over time and presented it in an optimal way. In this moment, it was giving me a prolonged political and historical view of the Human Quarantine.

After the Abominators, the Alliance and the Xiniti had pushed the Abominators’ genetically modified servants into a sector of space. The Human Ascendancy was one of many, but currently the most powerful. With better weapons, it might be able to unite the whole Quarantine area, something the Xiniti were deliberately trying to avoid.

With a united humanity, the Human Ascendancy had a realistic chance of breaking out of the Quarantine and reconquering territory that the Abominators lost. More to the point, for the Alliance, a united humanity was one of those hot-button political issues guaranteed to generate fear and anger. If it ever looked possible, I could count on a massive pre-emptive strike by the Alliance.

You could argue that having the Alliance attack the Human Ascendancy and destroy it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but that failed to account for one crucial fact. Earth was within the Human Quarantine. Even though we might not be a target, we’d still get hit.                                                          

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Semicoop

Build like a REAL mortal

Semicoop

Original art of Santorini is made by the amazing Lina Cossette and David Forest – http://mrcuddington.com

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Aug 10, 2018 at 12:24pm PDT

Santorini, ah, where to start? This game has it all. It has the looks, it has strategy and variety all in one box! The first day we bought the game, we’ve played it nine times and we even played in the train back home and it has hit our table often since then. It’s a game that requires basically no setup and it just plays really quickly. The goal of the game is simple: try to be the first player who moves one of their builders to the third level of a building. The simplicity is the charm of the game.

But if you do feel like you need more variety, there are God cards that can give players powers that influence the game. Most of them change the dynamics of the game completely in a surprising way. All in all, we’re already quite certain this game is going to be a game we’ll be playing for a long time.

Patreon update

It’s been only one week since we launched our Patreon page and we’ve already passed $100! That is so amazing and means that the monthly costs for the Semi Co-op web server and the software I use to draw the comics in are paid for by our readers! <3 Thank you all so much!

We also want to experiment a little with giving a behind-the-scenes peek into making a comic, like posting sketches on our Patreon page, so keep an eye out for that later today!

What is the most terrible expansion you can think of?

The post Build like a REAL mortal appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 13

In My Daydreams

Whatever I might think about this universe, though, I had a duty. I kept walking. As I walked away from the caverns the icons showing Cassie’s, Jaclyn’s, and Marcus’ presence turned inactive. They were going deeper in and meeting up to follow a tunnel that opened up out of sight on the other side of the field.

I’d run calculations with assistance from the implant and given the distance and probable speed, they ought to get there the same time I reached Four Hands and company. I’d have to stall for them to make it the rest of the way, but who knew? Maybe Four Hands wanted to surrender for real. It wasn’t likely, but it was possible.

Reminding myself that picking up the pace was a bad idea, I ran through the plans we’d decided as I walked. In truth, they weren’t plans as much as a series of conditionals along the lines of, “If a group breaks off and begins running away while the rest charge, we’ll use that maneuver Lee taught us this spring…”

I kept them in mind, putting one foot ahead of the other, stepping or jumping over puddles and mud. It would have made for a more exciting story if at some point I stepped into a puddle and the claws or mandibles of something below tried to pull me under, but nothing did.

Safe from exciting cliches, I made it to their camp.

I couldn’t help but note that their force field generators had a different design than the colonists’. Black half-globes on flat bases gave off a blue glow similar to the colonists’ generators. Off top of my head, it struck me as a bluer blue even though it was still transparent, and I also noted that the wall only extended a good twenty feet in the air. The colonists’ generators created a field that reached about one hundred feet if I remembered correctly.

I wondered if the spacers’ force field generators were adjustable. It could easily be that their default settings were for worlds where the potential attackers were smaller, but they were in for an unpleasant surprise here.

As I came closer, it became obvious that they’d noticed me. Most of them were watching in my direction. The ones that weren’t were scanning the skies and checking other directions. I couldn’t know exactly why, but it was amusing that they thought an attack could come from any direction now that I was here.

Maybe that should have given me pause given our plans, but it didn’t.

As I walked up to the force field, an opening formed in the blue, shimmering field ahead of me. I walked through it, finding myself surrounded by Human Ascendancy soldiers, spacers, and their four handed techs. The soldiers trained guns on me.

One of them pointed deeper into the camp, saying, “This way. Follow me.”

There wasn’t much of a choice. I followed him, walking between what looked like inflatable, plastic containers that the implant identified as multi-use shelters used both on and off-planet. Most of them were green with a few blues, and a smattering of brighter colors—red, yellow, and orange.

According to the implant, the shelters were supposed to adjust color to blend into the environment when on planets, but might default to louder colors designed to stick out when rescue was required.

From what could see through the open doors, most of the shelters held wounded people, almost all of them likely hurt in our attack on the battleship or in the stampede. However they were hurt, the Ascendancy soldiers didn’t appear to feel the need to pretend to be friendly. Never dropping their guns, they scowled at me the entire way.

After a minute of pushing through the small streets between the lines of shelters, we came to a clearing. There were no buildings or shelters. There was a firepit that was filled with wood and the burned remains of past fires.

To the side of the fire stood Four Hands. He wore gray, powered armor. The helmet hung from his belt next to two guns. His face remained expressionless as he saw me enter, but when the Ascendancy soldier said, “He’s here,” Four Hands watched me, waving the soldier away.

“Welcome, adopted Xiniti. I’d expected that there would be more of you.”

I nodded, wondering how his implant would interpret the gesture, but saying, “We thought sending one would be enough. If that changes, we’ll let you know.”

He chuckled. “I’m sure you will. You’re a puzzle, you know. The Xiniti rarely induct humans into their ranks. I can’t tell you how rare because they don’t publish their statistics anywhere, much less send them to the Human Ascendancy, but I don’t have records of human adopted Xiniti in the past ten years. Beyond that, I don’t have record of the precise technology that your suits appear to be made of at all.”

He looked at me, moving his eyes up and down my suit. “In fact, from what I’ve collected from our people’s suit cameras, all of you are wearing the same technology, but yours appears to be more extensive than anyone else’s. I’ve begun to suspect you might be the inventor.”

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Tieshaunn

A Day’s Delay

Tieshaunn

Hello everyone,

I’m afraid I won’t manage to finish a chapter today. There was a spontaneous decision to celebrate my cousin’s birthday today, which took up precisely the time I’d planned in for writing, so I’ll have to delay it until either Saturady or Sunday. I do have about half a chapter done, so it’s actually looking pretty well that I’ll be able to finish by Sunday evening at least.

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn Tanner

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 12

In My Daydreams

Marcus looked toward the cavern’s opening. “That’s loud. I can hear it through your bot feed, but I don’t need to. It’s just as loud in here.”

I hadn’t noticed, but when I thought about it, he was right.

“We can hear it too,” Jacklyn said. “Does he seriously think he’s fooling anybody?”

“You could make the case that they’ve lost,” I said. “If no one shows up and they actually have to live here without any help from the colonists, they probably will die. But yeah, it is a little early for them to give up, we know they summoned help, and it looks like they’re trying to exterminate the colonists. I’d say he’s probably figuring that if he kills us, he can hunt down everyone else—which is what we were kind of saying earlier. We’ve got to take out Four Hands’ people. They’ve got to take us out. Meeting with them is probably our best chance.”

I sent a ping out for HAL again, getting no reply. It was worth a shot.

“I think you’re right,” Cassie said, “but we’d better be careful about it.”

Jaclyn grunted what we were all thinking in that moment, “Huh.”

“I know that’s not what you’re expecting me to say, but what I’d do is give you a meeting spot and then bomb it or set up a bunch of snipers.” Cassie paused, “Right?”

I checked with the observation bots, focusing them on the camp. While I couldn’t identify individuals, there were four handers, more typical human spacers, and a few Ascendancy soldiers, most of them wounded. That was just on the outside edges of the camp. I couldn’t see into the middle of the camp. All the same, it didn’t seem likely that he’d destroy his own people to take us out.

On the other hand, I didn’t know him, but it seemed over the top. He’d have to view his own people as disposable to be willing to do that, and members of the military that I’d known tried to avoid shooting their own people.

Answering Cassie, Marcus said, “Remind me never to negotiate with you.”

“Tikki,” I turned to look at her, “would it be unusual or normal for a Human Ascendancy soldier to kill his own people to get a target?”

Tikki frowned, “Unusual? Yes. It would be very unusual, but they’ve done it. I think there was a motivator behind it when they did.”

With Agent 957 gone, they didn’t have a motivator or at least they didn’t have one outside the normal military structure, meaning they’d be less likely to sacrifice fellow soldiers in theory. The Xiniti implant confirmed that. Xiniti records showed that motivators who were within the military used their powers in support of the military’s goals. It was outside motivators that sent them on suicide missions.

“We shouldn’t all go,” I said. “I’ll go and then the rest of you should be ready to come in to help me if things go wrong or if we decide we have to attack.”

Jaclyn spoke before anyone else could. “No. You shouldn’t be alone. You should have backup right there with you.”

“I don’t think so. I think it makes sense to only send me because that way you only lose one person if things go horribly wrong. That one person should be me because Cassie’s gun is vulnerable to Kamia, Jaclyn’s under the weather, Marcus can’t do area of effect attacks, and Tikki’s powers are too limited.”

Even as I said the last part, I thought about what Tikki really was. If we could be sure Kee would use Tikki’s powers as effectively as Lee used his different identities, Four Hands and the others might as well give up.

Before anyone else could interrupt, I added, “Besides, I’ve got a good chance of escaping if I have to. If I use the rocketpack, I can fly away. I don’t intend to be caught or killed, but better one of us than all of us.”

After a moment, Jaclyn said, “Okay. I don’t like it, but it makes sense. But if we’re going to do it, we’re going to have a plan. You’re going to keep in touch and we’ll keep on listening. If we decide we need to move in, we’ll do it. If you get in trouble, we’ll get you out.”

We talked through our plans and options for the next half hour, talking on our comms and sitting in our tunnels. When the glowing figure began to repeat itself for the tenth time, we stopped.

“No matter how tempted you are to fly,” Jaclyn said, “walk toward them. We’ll need the time to get into position. Talk to them. Get them going. Talk tech with Four Hands if you have to.”

“It might be worth a shot.” I summoned the observation bots back into my suit and began to walk across the field. I wanted to run, but that wouldn’t give them time either.

Taking a breath, I decided to enjoy the walk, looking at the waist-high grass, the flowers, and small animals that bounded away through the grass. Grey furred, long-eared, and long-tailed, I couldn’t decide whether they reminded me more of rats or rabbits.

In a better universe, I’d have been taking biological samples so I could pass them off to scientists back home.

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Crying Grumpies

Fort Sumter, Iniciando la secesión

Crying Grumpies

Jugar a wargames de cartoncitos me hace aprender cada día cosas nuevas. Hoy no toca hablar de un wargame sino de un juego de control de áreas con motor de cartas, como el Twilight Struggle que también me ha enseñado algo de historia. Hoy jugaremos a Fort Sumter de Mark Herman y aprenderemos más cosas de la Guerra Civil Americana. Y lo haremos en veinte o treinta minutos con unas reglas muy sencillas, vamos que nos enfrentamos al primer filler de GMT por uno de los pesos pesados del diseño de wargames.

Fort Sumter-Lee vs Grant-Crying Grumpies-3

Mark Herman es el padre de los CDG con We the Peopple y ha diseñado alguno de mis juegos favoritos como Churchill. Con Fort Sumter vuelve a una época que le apasiona, la guerra civil americana, pero a diferencia de For the People, y We the People,  donde jugamos toda la campaña militar aquí jugaremos los compases previos a la guerra. En vez de mover tropas por un mapa, el tablero es un representación abstracta de diferentes conflictos, ninguno de ellos militar. El jugador que amase la mayor cantidad de PV por el control de estos conflictos ganará la partida.

Fort Sumter-Lee vs Grant-Crying Grumpies-4

Como todo CDG o Card Driven Game las cartas tienen dos opciones, jugarlas por puntos o si son de nuestra facción por su acción. En caso de jugar las cartas por puntos solo se nos dará la opción de colocar cubos en alguno de los espacios. Los espacios están divididos en cuatro palos con tres espacios cada uno, control de los arsenales, la opinión pública, los estados secesionistas y los centros de poder político. En el caso de jugar las cartas por su acción solamente podremos hacerlo si la carta es asociada a nuestra facción.

Fort Sumter recoge ideas de varios de juegos herederos del Twilight Strruggle. Por ejemplo cada uno de los tres turnos iniciales dejaremos una carta a parte para utilizarla en el cuarto turno en un minijuego que recuerda muy mucho a la fase de debate del 1960, making of the president.  Esto añade una estrategia a largo plazo muy recibida. Una mecánica que me ha gustado mucho es el objetivo secreto. Al principio de cada turno recibimos dos cartas de objetivo, nos quedamos una y si llegamos a completarla obtenemos un punto de victoria y algún beneficio adicional. Con esta mecánica se introducen objetivos dinámicos y añaden incertidumbre a las partidas.

La otra mecánica novedosa, es el lugar del que provienen nuestros cubos. Cada jugador tiene un track de crisis compuesto por 25 espacios más o menos. Estos espacios están ocupados por nuestros cubos y es de donde los jugaremos si no tenemos ninguno en nuestra reserva de cubos. Cuando un cubo abandona la mesa no se devuelve al track sino que se va a la reserva. Este tras esta divido en tres zonas para marcar la escalada de tensión entre ambos bandos. Ir superando estas zonas añade cubos a la reserva, permite al jugador que no las cruza poner el comisionado de paz que no permite que se coloque o quite influencia de un espacio o resta puntos de victoria. Si antes de que se hayan jugado los tres turnos que dura la partida un jugador vacía su track de crisis se acaba la partida, salta el minijuego final y se cuentan puntos.

Fort Sumter-Lee vs Grant-Crying Grumpies-1

Fort Sumter es un buen juego pero no pasa de eso. Reglas sencillas para luego ir saltando a otros juegos de la misma familia de mayor complejidad. Partidas rápidas y muy ajustadas. Si tuviera que mencionar un punto negativo sería su producción. Caja gigantesca y llena de aire para guardar las dos barajas, treinta tokens y el tablero. No era necesario y menos cuando ves juegos similares como Telon de Acero que ocupan el espacio de una baraja de cartas y valen una tercera parte. Otro minipunto negativo tiene que ver con la inmersión en el conflicto que esta vez no está tan logrado como en alguno de sus otros juegos. Esto último no tiene tanto que ver con la temática, como que da la impresión que al buscar ligereza y sencillez en las acciones de las cartas estas han perdido parte del croma que si tenemos en otros juegos parecidos.

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Semicoop

Semi Co-op is now on Patreon!

Semicoop

Some of you have been asking about it for quite a while and we have exciting news: We’ve launched our Patreon page! If you like our comics and you can afford it, you can now financially support us for the work we’re doing! We have some fun things like winning one of our merchandise products or winning an appearance in one of our comics as a ‘thank you’ for our patrons in our Seasonal Raffle. By supporting us with only $1 a month you already take part in the raffle. The higher the patron-tier, the more raffle tickets you get. You can read all about it and the different levels of pledges and their rewards on our Patreon page: http://patreon.com/semicoop.

Why start a Patreon now?
I’ve been drawing a Semi Co-op comic once a week for over three years now and that hasn’t always been easy. I’m a freelance illustrator (/animator) and often I have to spend my weekends on making sure there is a new comic every Monday. I started out wanting to learn about drawing comics and cartoons and because we had all of these great ideas for comics about our biggest hobbies: playing board games. With now, almost 180 comics, Semi Co-op’s audience is growing bigger and bigger and people have been asking if they could support us financially. I’ve been holding off accepting money for a personal project like this, but with my work-life getting busier and busier I feel like I don’t always have the time to draw a comic the way I would like and I long for some free time in the weekends so I can play the amazing games that you just can’t play on an evening.

Let me be clear that this Patreon is not an all-or-nothing, in the foreseeable future we will continue making a comic for our readers every week as we’ve been doing for the past three years! 🙂 But the money I receive through Patreon could maybe give me the financial freedom to spend one workday a week on Semi Co-op. That is the first big goal. Meaning I have more time to actually play games during the weekends, which will give us more ideas for funny comics and prevents me from slowly burning myself up by simply stated: always working. Being so busy I also lack the time to explore the possibilities of Semi Co-op and animation, which is something I’d love to play with more. And there we have the second goal of the Patreon: explore the realms of animation with funny animated board game sketches. 😀

We know that supporting us financially is not possible for everybody and that doesn’t make them less precious readers to us. That’s why we think it’s important that there will be no exclusive content for our Patreon backers. There are perks to being a patron, but no exclusive comics, earlier published comics, etc. We appreciate every reader and if you’re not able to become a patron, we’re just as happy with your likes/shares on social platforms. Spreading the word about our silly niche comic is just as valuable to us and we thank you for that.

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support! <3

What game do you need an extra for?

The post Semi Co-op is now on Patreon! appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 11

In My Daydreams

She took a long breath. “I’m not in the best of shape. Don’t get me wrong, I can still fight, but I’m burned all over. The new costume did some good but it didn’t stop everything. If we’re going to fight these guys more often, I’m going to need better protection against heat and light.”

Marcus cut into the conversation. “Me too. I nearly died a couple minutes ago.”

The volume of Jaclyn’s reply made the speakers crackle. “What? Nick, you need to watch him better.”

Cassie’s voice cut in. “But he’s not dead.”

Marcus’ sigh was audible through the helmet’s internal speakers. “Don’t worry about it, Jacks. I’m fine. Better than you, I bet. Tikki reversed time in her bubble. I’m right back to where I was before I got shot.”

Cassie let out a breath. “Whoa. That’s awesome.”

In a quieter voice than before, Jaclyn asked, “Do you think it would work on me?”

I looked over at Tikki. She didn’t look like she’d heard Jaclyn’s end of the conversation. Kee would have had a way to listen in. 

“No,” I said, “it gets more taxing the longer it is from the event. She had Marcus in her time distortion bubble practically the second after he got hurt.”

Jaclyn sighed. “That was too much to hope for. Then, I need you to understand. I’m not at my best. I’m going to do everything I can, but I don’t have much in the tank and almost every part of me hurts.”

“It’s okay,” I told her. “We’ll figure things out. There aren’t many of them left anyway.”

Near me in the cave, Marcus grinned. “That’s right. We’ve got some good news. Agent 957’s dead.”

“Well, that’s one less—“ Cassie began.

Talking over her, Jaclyn asked, “How did that happen?”

Marcus looked over at Tikki and then at me. “I don’t know. I assumed it was Nick, but…”

“It was Tikki.” I looked over at her and she nodded. “She aged him into dust.”

Marcus looked over at me and then at Tikki. “No kidding. Wow.”

Tikki held up her hands. “I didn’t know if you were alive or dead.”

“That’s more than you told us you could do back when we met.” He looked at her.

“I didn’t know. I’d never tried it.” She shrugged.

I knew she wasn’t going to tell him until she thought everything was over, but it still felt like she was ignoring everything that happened and everything that she’d said. I wasn’t going to say anything though. Tikki’s true nature would be a huge distraction for Marcus—even more so than it was for me. Anyway, for the moment, she was all Tikki. Depending on how far into Tikki she was, she might not even know what I meant when I brought it up.

Deciding that dwelling on that couldn’t help, I brought up  the most important topic of the moment. “We’ve got to figure out what’s next. The way I understood the plan was that the people we’re escorting are going to go meet up at different rendezvous and we were supposed to do whatever it took to keep Four Hands, Kamia, Neves and Ascendancy forces away from them. The way I see it, at this point we probably have to go find Four Hands and the rest. Otherwise, they can hunt down the different groups whenever they want.”

Cassie grunted. “For a bunch of former terrorists, you’d think they’d get a bunch of people together and give us some backup.”

Jaclyn responded before anyone else. “Oh come on, Cassie. You know they weren’t all terrorists. Plus, they’re middle-aged people with kids now. They were probably terrorists when they were our age.”

I thought back to the evacuation plans the colonists had shared with us. “After they scatter to their other hideouts, it looks like they’re supposed to see how many soldiers they can field for guerrilla warfare. If any come to help, they’ll probably come with Kals—which reminds me. Have any of you seen her, Katuk, or Crawls-Through-Desert?”

Both Jaclyn and Cassie said, “No.”

“But you’re right,” Jaclyn said, “if we’re going to keep them off the colonists, we have to find Four Hands and the leadership immediately. We don’t have time to worry about where everyone else is. Without the leadership, the spacers will only worry about survival.”

“Okay,” I said. “What I’m seeing with the bots is that there are a bunch of them gathered behind a force field next to where we hit them with the herd of um… eleboars? Whatever. I don’t know if Four Hands is there, but going there might help us find him.”

“Right,” Cassie said, “they’ll call on him to deal with us.”

I thought about it. “That’s probably true.”

At that moment, a big glowing light appeared in the streams from the observation bots. I focused on that and saw that a glowing figure had appeared in the sky above the field between the colony and the caverns.

It didn’t take much to recognize the figure. It was a projection of Four Hands. Along with the visuals came booming audio of Four Hands’ voice (or so I assumed).

“Congratulations Xiniti, you’ve bested us. You’ve scattered the colonists so completely we’ll never find them all and only they know how to survive on this hellhole. We’d like to negotiate the terms of our surrender. Come to our camp and we’ll talk.”

On a gut level, I wanted to believe could be that simple, but I didn’t.

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Tieshaunn

B14.4 Breaking Point

Tieshaunn

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He found Hecate together with Polymnia atop a three storey apartment building’s roof, just half a kilometre or so away from the fight, where a dozen Mementos, Gloom Glimmer and Rounds were holding DiL back – or perhaps it was best to say that they were keeping her simply occupied rather than holding her anywhere.

Swinging onto the rooftop with his grappling hook and rope, he reeled them into the casing at his hip as he looked at the fight.

Rounds was in the air, clad in body armor styled to evoke a medieval knight’s plate armor, all in silver, red and blue. He was surrounded by only ten apparitions rather than the twelve Basil knew he could generate.

And they were all copies of Gloom Glimmer, save for a single apparition which was of Wary Wu, an elderly Chinese man with a very long fu manchu moustache and no other hair on his head, wearing a simple business suit.

Basil looked at Melody, assuming that she’d know what was going on there.

She crossed eyes with him and seemed to instantly pick up on what he was about to ask. “Interesting power interaction,” she explained with a strained smile. “He can’t copy her ability to assume new powers, but he can copy whichever powers she is currently holding. So any time she gets a particularly good set, he makes a copy of her and his power apparently considers her sufficiently different to make a separate copy, rather than replace the previous one.”

Basil turned that around in his head, then looked over at the fight again – Gloom Glimmer floated over to Rounds and they briefly touched hands, embers of silver light rising out of her body and coalescing into a monochrome copy of hers, looking like it was made of translucent silver.

Flying apart again, they dodged an attack from DiL – streams of bright blue plasma were shooting out from around here, a dozen of them, shooting out only to loop back to their origin point after just fifty metre or so – and both she, her new apparition and Rounds held out their right hand towards DiL.

Wood grew, from a single pinpoint in front of each of their hands, bursting forth into massive trees that shot out towards DiL, her plasma jets eating into them but being pushed back by the overwhelming growth – Gloom Glimmer’s power generated both greater growth at a time, and faster as well.

Hexagonal honey-coloured force-fields manifested all around her, any one only about as large as a dinner plate, and arranged in a loose, but precise honeycomb pattern, so there were gaps between the shields. They moved, pulling themselves together in three spots, overlapping for stronger defense.

The trees smashed into them and promptly grew around them, barely slowed down by the shields.

This time, he saw the shift, and thus the pain, coming, and yet Basil nearly fell over regardless.

Hecate grabbed him by the upper arm, helping him stay up. “Thank God,” she whispered, looking at the combatants.

DiL had started leaking sparks from all around her, creating a trail of them as she flew around, dodging Gloom Glimmer and Rounds’ attacks.

“Those loops were getting longer and brighter each time they went around,” she explained as he stood straight again.

“They do usually grow stronger with time,” Basil confirmed. “I feel like something should be said in regards to how utterly, unfairly powerful Rounds and Gloom Glimmer are together. Something involving multiple exclamation marks and strong expletives.”

“That would… usually be Tyche’s role,” Hecate replied softly, not looking at him as she pulled her hand away from him.

“Do you…”

“I dropped by her apartment before I came back here. She’s staying out of this fight. Took her mother to a shelter,” she replied.

He felt himself relax, a little bit. Shelters were hardly a guarantee that one would be safe from DiL, but they’d at least improve the odds.

Hopefully enough so her power wouldn’t need to further harm her mother so as to ensure Tyche’s survival, if it even worked against DiL.

Still… he would have liked to have her with them. If not for her ridiculously useful power then just…

Just to have her there.

DiL passed by nearby, the sparks she was shedding having increased in volume. Wherever they came into contact with solid matter, the disappeared with a brief flash… and took all matter within about a centimetre around them with them.

Rounds was hot on her heel, a full complement of apparitions around him – eleven Gloom Glimmer’s and Wary Wu, trying to hit her, somehow, using a staggering variety of powers.

None of them hit, be they tendrils which sprouted out of surrounding material lashing out, multi-coloured laser beams which froze anything they hit, explosions of pure force generated at the target point rather than thrown out and more.

DiL simply danced around and through them, never even having to rely on her invulnerability as nothing managed to touch her.

Some manner of combat esper power, Basil thought as he and the girls backed up to another rooftop, not wanting to test their defenses against those sparks or a possible shot from Rounds gone astray. Will she switch out as soon as she is hit even once?

Clearly, Rounds believed that to be the case, as he put his all into hitting the woman.

Gloom Glimmer, meanwhile, flew towards them and landed on the rooftop – only to stagger, trip, and nearly collapse.

Basil moved on instinct and caught her, his hands grabbing a hold of her shoulders before she could fall over entirely.

He had never seen her look so exhausted. Her face was nearly ashen, her lips as pale as the skin around them and her eyes were sunken, as if she’d gone for days without rest.

“H-hey,” she greeted him with a smile. “S-s-sorry… just need a… short break.” She slumped against him, her breathing laboured – and yet she was recovering even as she spoke, a little colour having already returned to her face.

Polymnia stepped up to them and he handed Gloom Glimmer over to her, as she wrapped an arm around her friend’s waist, holding her up.

It was then that Basil noticed something which her pigtails had previously hidden.

“Your ears are bleeding,” he said simply, looking at the trickle of blood running out of said ears.

She nodded, giving him a pained smile. “Ever since Bree showed up, I’ve been hearing this song, everywhere. The closer to her I get the louder and more painful it becomes and when she passed by me earlier, it nearly knocked me out. It gets briefly worse whenever she changes powers, too.” She raised her free left hand to touch her ear, pulling it back to look at the blood on her fingertips, while the fingers of her right hand were tapping on Gloom Glimmer’s side, like a keyboard. “It sounds kind of like the music I hear whenever Gloomy loses control of her power, or draws too deeply on it, only… louder. But with less… discord?”

“What are the chances that both of you would have a reaction like that?” Hecate asked as she joined their little circle, her arms crossed beneath her chest. “Basil has had the worst headache since DiL appeared, and he gets flashes of greater pain when she changes powers.” She looked at the two of them, worry visible on the lower half of her face.

”Very bad if we assume it is not connected in some kind,” Basil pondered the thought. “It may be significant that the both of us are Gadgeteers.” He looked at Polymnia with one eye, while watching the fight continue through his raven – by some miracle, it still worked, even though the ravenbots were by necessity not exceptionally hardened against interference.

Rounds was continuing his assault with the nearly two dozen offensive powers he had at his disposal and DiL was dodging his attacks by smaller and smaller margins as he got used to the way her power made her dodge. He would likely land a hit soon, at which point she’d switch out her powers again.

That would be the most dangerous time in any DiL battle – right after she’d switched powers, before anyone knew what she was going to do next, with no useful limitations upon what she might pull out next.

”You say you hear this song around Gloom Glimmer, as well? Do you hear it right now?” he continued to prod while they still had the time – it was very much possible that DiL’s next powerset would see them all thrust into the thick of battle again, while right now, they could do little more than stand by and watch.

Polymnia looked at her rapidly recovering friend. ”Not right now, no. I think that’s because she’s not actively using anything big at this time.”

Gloom Glimmer looked up at her, smiling apologetically. “I’ll be back in working order soon.”

”Hrm. So many questions,” Basil temporised, turning away from them with his hands clasped behind his back. “I have never heard of this particular phenomenon before.” He watched as the Mementos pulled up a huge force-field thick enough it looked more like a fortress’ wall than the usual screens such effects tended to produce.

DiL smashed right through it as she dodged a coordinated attack by Rounds and his apparitions, the force wall flaring up and crackling with electricity.

That seemed to do it, as pain burned through Basil’s mind, making him stagger again, as he heard Polymnia behind him groan in discomfort or pain.

He pressed the button on the communicator, not even sure whether it would be or ever had been of any use, but DiL didn’t give them a chance to adjust or prepare – her entire form erupted into a thick solid ash cloud, shooting out towards Rounds in a thick, very nearly rock-solid blast.

According to Basil’s heat sensors, it was more of a pyroclastic flow than just a mere ash cloud.

Rounds, fortunately, was prepared. He raised his arms and crossed them in front of himself, as one of Gloom Glimmer’s apparitions did the same while floating right next to him, the other apparitions all moving between the two of them as the concentrated flow simply… split, as if an invisible wedge had been driven into it, failing to touch them or so much as heat up the air around them while flowing past, causing devastating damage to a small children’s playground and some adjacent buildings, as well as killing a trio of unlucky capes who’d wandered too close and weren’t able to get away in time, their forms being near-instantly swallowed up by the flow.

Or so it seemed, as both of them appeared atop a nearby rooftop, one of the translucent Gloom Glimmers finishing a gesture she’d made towards them.

”That was lucky for them,” Hecate breathed a sigh of relief, even as she eyed the devastation warily – they weren’t that far away from it, certainly not at a distance where DiL would be unable to strike at them, if she did shift her attention away from Rounds.

”Not so much lucky,” Basil replied as he zoomed in on the trio. They weren’t capes after all. “That’s the triad. Wary Wu’s with them.”

He zoomed in on the notorious trio of criminals. Wary Wu stood in the back, behind his two underlings.

The elderly metahuman had been the main reason why Basil had quite decidedly voted for his team not to mess with triad business too much. At over seventy years old, he did not cut a very imposing physical figure, being short, thin, with a thin fu manchu beard and wearing a surprisingly cheap, ill-fitting suit without even a tie – but that mattered little when one considered that he’d been a cowl since his teens and was still alive, sixty years later. One challenged that kind of record at their own peril.

Of course, you just had to go and challenge a guy even older than that earlier today…

Shut. Up.

With Wary Wu were his left- and right-hand man, Drunk Da and Zealous Zhou.

The former looked even more average than his boss, a slender chinese man with long, messy black hair and a simple goatee, wearing a Chinese martial artist’s outfit – loose black pants and soft black shoes, as well as a wide-sleeved white shirt. The only part which stood out about him was the huge gourd strapped to his back, easily as tall and wide as his entire upper body.

Zealous Zhou was the only one of the trio wearing something even remotely appropriate to his vocation and the current situation – urban camo military fatigues, a tactical vest, a pair of straight short swords strapped to his sides and a rifle strapped to his back, as well as a red mask covering the upper half of his face, made of some kind of shiny resin, with a precise goatee covering his exposed chin and surrounding his mouth.

As DiL unleashed a second, larger wave of pyroclastic flow, the three of them were already moving at Wary Wu’s word. Wu and Zhou backed behind Da, who pulled the gourd up over his shoulder, taking a huge swig of some kind of clear liquid, messily enough some of it spilled over and stained the neck of his shirt.

Then he took a step forward, staggering in drunkenness, and balanced – barely – on his left leg, raising the right one and whirling it in a circular portion.

Even though he was moving barely faster than a normal person, the motion generated enough force to stir the air – and form a wind funnel that hit the incoming pyroclastic flow, parting it so it flowed past the trio without causing them any harm.

At least, no direct one, as Drunk Da yelped and beat at his own shirt, where the immense heat had ignited the alcohol he’d just spilled over it.

Zhou intervened by reaching over and ripping his shirt off entirely, throwing it on the ground, while Da beat out the flames that’d jumped onto his goatee.

While that show was going on, DiL had already unleashed another flow, even larger still – this time in the rough direction Basil and the others stood, though she did not seem to aim directly at them so much as at the capes and cowls who were massing in the market square next to the building they’d gathered atop of.

Basil was just about to retreat to another rooftop, when two Mementos dropped out of the sky, landing on the street the flow was travelling along with enough force to shatter the asphalt, and raised their huge hands, palms out towards the oncoming tide of destruction.

Space twisted in front of them, and a portal opened, catching the pyroclastic flow. Another portal opened above and behind DiL, redirecting the flow into her back.

Though she was obscured by the mass of lethally hot ash, Basil could easily tell that that must have counted somehow as her power being sufficiently interfered with – perhaps her defensive ability couldn’t deal with her offensive one? – as pain flared up in his head again.

“She’s pulling out something new!” Polymnia spoke with unnatural calm, even as she flinched in pain, her free hand rising to her ear again.

Gloom Glimmer raised her head, her eyes a bright red surrounded by utter black, and snapped her fingers.

There was an all too familiar wrench of disorientation and then the lot of them found themselves on top of a different building, four blocks away, just as dozens of glass-like, crystalline tendrils shot out of the ash cloud, spearing through and destroying three of Rounds’ apparitions – though he managed to avoid being hit himself, twisting his body out of the way of one that would have gone through his chest.

Drunk Da slapped a few of them aside with his bare hands, his power protecting him from what followed next.

Wherever the tendrils came into contact with solid matter, they fused into it, converting it into crystal, from which two tendrils shot out, aimed at random targets – sometimes metahumans, sometimes just parts of the scenery.

Those tendrils converted more matter into crystal, including several capes who’d been hit, as well as one Memento who’d shielded a trio of cowls from the attack, the victims transforming into distorted crystal statues, before a single tendril emerged from each point of impact, continuing the attack.

This last wave of tendrils did not spawn new ones, merely converting their targets to crystal.

None of them came even close to Basil and the others, but it was still a horrid show, as even with their limited view of it, they saw at least a dozen men and women die to the initial attack.

In the distance, DiL rose out of the remains of her own cloud, leaving several tendrils behind, their ends sticking into the air where they seemed to have emerged from her body – or rather, a few centimetre away from it, as they usually did.

Ribbons of some kind of reflective material encircled her form, allowing only for glimpses of the figure beneath, save for her hair, which was long enough to very nearly touch the ground below her. The ribbons reflected her surroundings, but in a distorted way, like trying to look at something through several improperly aligned, curved lenses.

“Those ribbons… defensive or utility?” Hecate asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.

Basil could still hear the sadness and the fear in it, and he wished he knew how to reassure her right then.

He didn’t want to lie to her, making false reassurances.

Instead, he watched Rounds fly up into the air again, leaving several crystallized people he must have tried to help to face DiL at a distance again, surrounded by six apparitions of Gloom Glimmer and the one of Wary Wu.

“He is getting whittled down… as is Memento,” Basil observed.

“Not for long,” Gloom Glimmer refuted, as she disentangled herself from Polymnia and stepped forth, her sock-covered feet not making a sound upon the roof even before she simply levitated upwards.

Looking at her, she almost seemed like a different person to before. Completely recovered and poised, whatever powers she currently held so intense, they seemed to distort space around her even when she wasn’t doing much with them.

This close to her, Basil could definitely sense… something. A change, in the… the cadence of the pain. As if whatever was pressing on his brain was being interfered with by another, similar emission…

It was actually kind of soothing, even if he couldn’t actually make out anything about the second one, other than the slight alleviation of pain he experienced.

So many questions. So much to unravel, once there’s some time to actually investigate, he thought, not that he wasn’t aware of how slim the chances were he’d still be around to do it.

Speaking of which… you gotta get moving, mate. You’re not doing much to help, as is.

Agreed.

A quick flick of his left hand’s fingers brought his force shield to life – it seemed to be safe from DiL’s interference, at least for now. A twitch deactivated it again.

He looked at Gloom Glimmer, who was in the process of turning away from them and flying away.

“Can you drop me off closer to the battle?” he asked her, stepping forth.

“B-Brennus!” Hecate called out, grabbing him by the wrist. “Are you… I mean, you can’t be serious – this is way out of our league!”

He looked at her hand on his wrist, then up at the shadows beneath her hood, to cross eyes with her.

Funny, how his mask was currently only covering the lower half of his face, and hers only the upper half.

Even funnier that he would even notice that, at such a time.

”Those crystals bond with solid matter,” he replied calmly. “I would bet my last raven that they will be unable to penetrate my force shield. And besides… I want to do whatever I can to help here.” He looked down again. “I am sure you understand.”

She stayed quiet for a moment, then let go of his wrist. Drawing her cloak tighter around herself, she seemed to shrink for a moment, her shoulders slumping out of her usually flawless posture – then she suddenly stood up straight again.

”Yeah. Yeah, you’re right… and so do I,” she replied, her voice firm. “I’ll come along.”

Heavy steps made all three of them – Gloom Glimmer had just been observing quietly so far – turn to look at Polymnia, who had a pained expression crossed with a smile on her face. “My sonic cage is just as good at deflecting solid matter as your force fields are, Brennus. And you couldn’t keep me away from this if you tried.”

They all looked at each other, then at Gloom Glimmer, who was looking at them with a strangely calm, serious expression – not that it wasn’t warranted, in this situation, but she wasn’t showing any real emotion right then.

“Alright. Let’s get going,” she said and gestured at them. Her power wrapped around them, distorting air and light, and they flew off towards the growing forest of crystal tendrils.

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vote for brennus

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Linux Kernel Monkey Log

What stable kernel should I use?

Linux Kernel Monkey Log

I get a lot of questions about people asking me about what stable kernel should they be using for their product/device/laptop/server/etc. all the time. Especially given the now-extended length of time that some kernels are being supported by me and others, this isn’t always a very obvious thing to determine. So this post is an attempt to write down my opinions on the matter. Of course, you are free to use what ever kernel version you want, but here’s what I recommend.

As always, the opinions written here are my own, I speak for no one but myself.

What kernel to pick

Here’s the my short list of what kernel you should use, raked from best to worst options. I’ll go into the details of all of these below, but if you just want the summary of all of this, here it is:

Hierarchy of what kernel to use, from best solution to worst:

  • Supported kernel from your favorite Linux distribution
  • Latest stable release
  • Latest LTS release
  • Older LTS release that is still being maintained

What kernel to never use:

  • Unmaintained kernel release

To give numbers to the above, today, as of August 24, 2018, the front page of kernel.org looks like this:

image

So, based on the above list that would mean that:

  • 4.18.5 is the latest stable release
  • 4.14.67 is the latest LTS release
  • 4.9.124, 4.4.152, and 3.16.57 are the older LTS releases that are still being maintained
  • 4.17.19 and 3.18.119 are “End of Life” kernels that have had a release in the past 60 days, and as such stick around on the kernel.org site for those who still might want to use them.

Quite easy, right?

Ok, now for some justification for all of this:

Distribution kernels

The best solution for almost all Linux users is to just use the kernel from your favorite Linux distribution. Personally, I prefer the community based Linux distributions that constantly roll along with the latest updated kernel and it is supported by that developer community. Distributions in this category are Fedora, openSUSE, Arch, Gentoo, CoreOS, and others.

All of these distributions use the latest stable upstream kernel release and make sure that any needed bugfixes are applied on a regular basis. That is the one of the most solid and best kernel that you can use when it comes to having the latest fixes (remember all fixes are security fixes) in it.

There are some community distributions that take a bit longer to move to a new kernel release, but eventually get there and support the kernel they currently have quite well. Those are also great to use, and examples of these are Debian and Ubuntu.

Just because I did not list your favorite distro here does not mean its kernel is not good. Look on the web site for the distro and make sure that the kernel package is constantly updated with the latest security patches, and all should be well.

Lots of people seem to like the old, “traditional” model of a distribution and use RHEL, SLES, CentOS or the “LTS” Ubuntu release. Those distros pick a specific kernel version and then camp out on it for years, if not decades. They do loads of work backporting the latest bugfixes and sometimes new features to these kernels, all in a Quixote quest to keep the version number from never being changed, despite having many thousands of changes on top of that older kernel version. This work is a truly thankless job, and the developers assigned to these tasks do some wonderful work in order to achieve these goals. If you like never seeing your kernel version number change, then use these distributions. They usually cost some money to use, but the support you get from these companies is worth it when something goes wrong.

So again, the best kernel you can use is one that someone else supports, and you can turn to for help. Use that support, usually you are already paying for it (for the enterprise distributions), and those companies know what they are doing.

But, if you do not want to trust someone else to manage your kernel for you, or you have hardware that a distribution does not support, then you want to run the Latest stable release:

Latest stable release

This kernel is the latest one from the Linux kernel developer community that they declare as “stable”. About every three months, the community releases a new stable kernel that contains all of the newest hardware support, the latest performance improvements, as well as the latest bugfixes for all parts of the kernel. Over the next 3 months, bugfixes that go into the next kernel release to be made are backported into this stable release, so that any users of this kernel are sure to get them as soon as possible.

This is usually the kernel that most community distributions use as well, so you can be sure it is tested and has a large audience of users. Also, the kernel community (all 4000+ developers) are willing to help support users of this release, as it is the latest one that they made.

After 3 months, a new kernel is released and you should move to it to ensure that you stay up to date, as support for this kernel is usually dropped a few weeks after the newer release happens.

If you have new hardware that is purchased after the last LTS release came out, you almost are guaranteed to have to run this kernel in order to have it supported. So for desktops or new servers, this is usually the recommended kernel to be running.

Latest LTS release

If your hardware relies on a vendors out-of-tree patch in order to make it work properly (like almost all embedded devices these days), then the next best kernel to be using is the latest LTS release. That release gets all of the latest kernel fixes that goes into the stable releases where applicable, and lots of users test and use it.

Note, no new features and almost no new hardware support is ever added to these kernels, so if you need to use a new device, it is better to use the latest stable release, not this release.

Also this release is common for users that do not like to worry about “major” upgrades happening on them every 3 months. So they stick to this release and upgrade every year instead, which is a fine practice to follow.

The downsides of using this release is that you do not get the performance improvements that happen in newer kernels, except when you update to the next LTS kernel, potentially a year in the future. That could be significant for some workloads, so be very aware of this.

Also, if you have problems with this kernel release, the first thing that any developer whom you report the issue to is going to ask you to do is, “does the latest stable release have this problem?” So you will need to be aware that support might not be as easy to get as with the latest stable releases.

Now if you are stuck with a large patchset and can not update to a new LTS kernel once a year, perhaps you want the older LTS releases:

Older LTS release

These releases have traditionally been supported by the community for 2 years, sometimes longer for when a major distribution relies on this (like Debian or SLES). However in the past year, thanks to a lot of suport and investment in testing and infrastructure from Google, Linaro, Linaro member companies, kernelci.org, and others, these kernels are starting to be supported for much longer.

Here’s the latest LTS releases and how long they will be supported for, as shown at kernel.org/category/releases.html on August 24, 2018:

image

The reason that Google and other companies want to have these kernels live longer is due to the crazy (some will say broken) development model of almost all SoC chips these days. Those devices start their development lifecycle a few years before the chip is released, however that code is never merged upstream, resulting in a brand new chip being released based on a 2 year old kernel. These SoC trees usually have over 2 million lines added to them, making them something that I have started calling “Linux-like” kernels.

If the LTS releases stop happening after 2 years, then support from the community instantly stops, and no one ends up doing bugfixes for them. This results in millions of very insecure devices floating around in the world, not something that is good for any ecosystem.

Because of this dependency, these companies now require new devices to constantly update to the latest LTS releases as they happen for their specific release version (i.e. every 4.9.y release that happens). An example of this is the Android kernel requirements for new devices shipping for the “O” and now “P” releases specified the minimum kernel version allowed, and Android security releases might start to require those “.y” releases to happen more frequently on devices.

I will note that some manufacturers are already doing this today. Sony is one great example of this, updating to the latest 4.4.y release on many of their new phones for their quarterly security release. Another good example is the small company Essential which has been tracking the 4.4.y releases faster than anyone that I know of.

There is one huge caveat when using a kernel like this. The number of security fixes that get backported are not as great as with the latest LTS release, because the traditional model of the devices that use these older LTS kernels is a much more reduced user model. These kernels are not to be used in any type of “general computing” model where you have untrusted users or virtual machines, as the ability to do some of the recent Spectre-type fixes for older releases is greatly reduced, if present at all in some branches.

So again, only use older LTS releases in a device that you fully control, or lock down with a very strong security model (like Android enforces using SELinux and application isolation). Never use these releases on a server with untrusted users, programs, or virtual machines.

Also, support from the community for these older LTS releases is greatly reduced even from the normal LTS releases, if available at all. If you use these kernels, you really are on your own, and need to be able to support the kernel yourself, or rely on you SoC vendor to provide that support for you (note that almost none of them do provide that support, so beware…)

Unmaintained kernel release

Surprisingly, many companies do just grab a random kernel release, slap it into their product and proceed to ship it in hundreds of thousands of units without a second thought. One crazy example of this would be the Lego Mindstorm systems that shipped a random -rc release of a kernel in their device for some unknown reason. A -rc release is a development release that not even the Linux kernel developers feel is ready for everyone to use just yet, let alone millions of users.

You are of course free to do this if you want, but note that you really are on your own here. The community can not support you as no one is watching all kernel versions for specific issues, so you will have to rely on in-house support for everything that could go wrong. Which for some companies and systems, could be just fine, but be aware of the “hidden” cost this might cause if you do not plan for this up front.

Summary

So, here’s a short list of different types of devices, and what I would recommend for their kernels:

  • Laptop / Desktop: Latest stable release
  • Server: Latest stable release or latest LTS release
  • Embedded device: Latest LTS release or older LTS release if the security model used is very strong and tight.

And as for me, what do I run on my machines? My laptops run the latest development kernel (i.e. Linus’s development tree) plus whatever kernel changes I am currently working on and my servers run the latest stable release. So despite being in charge of the LTS releases, I don’t run them myself, except in testing systems. I rely on the development and latest stable releases to ensure that my machines are running the fastest and most secure releases that we know how to create at this point in time.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 10

In My Daydreams

In a little while, I turned around to find Marcus standing, his costume fully repaired. Tikki stood beside him. They were holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes, all but glowing. I didn’t see any hint of regret or anxiety in her smile, meaning that Kee had submerged herself into Tikki again, or that she was too good an actor for me to read.

When you considered that Kee predated the human species, she’d certainly had time to gain the skills necessary to fool me, possibly by a multiple of billions of years.

Marcus pulled himself away looking at her. “We should go find everybody that we sent ahead. From the map, it doesn’t look like we’re that far from the surface. I’m worried what happens if they get too far ahead.”

It didn’t take long to catch up even considering that Tikki had only a normal person’s speed when she didn’t have a bubble up. I had good reason to think she wasn’t as limited as she made herself out to be originally, but she was staying in character for now.

The colonists appeared to be happy to see us alive, asking what happened. They’d heard the fight. More than one of them seemed impressed by description of my killbots. An older man told me, “I’ve heard of similar weapons. Don’t know if they were Ascendancy, Abominator, or Alliance. Whatever it was, I never managed to find them anywhere or I’d have ordered as many as I could afford.”

When we got within roachbot range of the end of the tunnel, I sent a couple observation bots out of the tunnel to get a good view.

They weren’t destroyed the instant they passed of the cave’s mouth—a good sign. What they showed was a little less straightforward than that. The tunnel exited from the stone formation ten feet above the ground. It wasn’t a straight drop. The colonists would be able to walk down a ledge that became wider the longer it got, meeting the ground some forty feet to the left of the exit.

If they felt impatient, they could drop to the ground. Ten feet wasn’t that far.

Like most of the stone formation, it lay next to an empty field. We were further down the coast from Landing, the settlement’s largest town. Its force shields glittered in the sunlight.

Next to Landing’s force shields lay the bodies of the spacers who’d been trampled by the herd of elephant/rhino/boar things. They’d been busy. Over the time that we’d been underground, they’d been burying bodies and added a few more. The new bodies appeared to include a few more dogs like Jaclyn’s dog Tiger as well as a few more predators. I couldn’t see details from this distance—just mounds of fur, scales, or in one case, feathers.

A set of force shields with a greenish shimmer glowed next to the graveyard. The spacers had either taken over the colonists force fields and modified them or set up their own shields. Unwilling or unable to disarm the colonists’ traps, they’d set up domed shelters inside. I doubted there could be many more than two hundred people in that space, but I didn’t know for sure.

That didn’t cover everything though. As the first observation bot swung around, showing the next tunnel exit over. I gasped as it came into view because this tunnel had been attacked. Burn marks surrounded the stone around the tunnel’s exit, but not just the tunnel’s exit. They’d also left big scorch marks in front of the tunnel, and along with those scorch marks, burned bodies—at least 50 of them. Scorched and smoking armor, space suits, and weapons lay there with them.

That group had been ambushed.

At about the time that thought went through my head, my HUD registered Cassie’s and Jaclyn’s presence, routed over to me through the bots.

“Rocket!” Cassie’s voice felt a little too loud in my HUD. “I don’t know if you can see our exit from wherever you are, but no matter how bad it looks, we’re not dead.”

“Good,” I set one of the bots in a slow circle near to the exit and set the other to a wider circle in the opposite direction. I also checked to see if HAL was in range, getting no response to my ping. “What happened? It’s obvious that there was an ambush, but I can’t tell much more than that.”

Cassie didn’t even stop to breathe. “There’s not much to tell. Our groups joined up and became a massive group—maybe 500 people. There’s no way a group like that is going to be stealthy, so we should have expected that people would be waiting for us. A couple of their people went ahead of the larger group as scouts—which saved everybody. They found people waiting ahead of us in the tunnel and turned around to tell us.

“Problem was that as soon as they turned, the whole group started firing. Plus there were more running down the tunnel after them. Jaclyn and I rushed forward with the gun raving like a madman in my head. I’m pretty sure it was the best day that thing’s had in years because I shot a fuckload of people. Jaclyn took out everyone I missed, but she got shot a lot.”

“Whoa,” I tried to formulate a sentence. Just because her suit registered her, it didn’t mean she was alive.

Jaclyn’s voice came over the HUD’s speakers. “I did get shot a lot.”

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Semicoop

What Cthulhu thinks I do

Semicoop

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Aug 15, 2018 at 1:53pm PDT

It’s Lovecraft day, so we couldn’t let that pass without a big strip about the Arkham games, which are one of our favorite game series. We agree that Cthulhu is used in a lot of games nowadays, but there is something really fun about your character going insane because he can’t find a book in a library.

Past week we’ve finally played Century: Golem and Illimat with four players instead of the usual two and luckily both games are just as fun with four as with two. Osprey Games also sent over the expansion for The Lost Expedition which is called The Fountain of Youth. This expansion comes with four little expansions which you can add to your game and so far we’ve played one game with two included expansions. We think The Lost Expedition is something a lot of people will like, even if it is just to enjoy the art by Garen Ewing.

Today we’ve also received Root and we can’t wait to try it! Looking at our social media, it seems everybody has already played it so we’re curious to see if it lives up to the large amounts of hype it has been getting.
Something we are certainly hyped about is Essen! We’ve booked our hotel and we’ll be there for the full four days for the first time! We’re excited about meeting new people and our friends from previous conventions and trying a small amount of the 1300(!) games that will be released at Essen. Our good friends Chris and Els are also coming along so we’ll have a blast! If you are coming to, don’t forget you can make your appreciation of Semi Co-op know by wearing our merchandise! 😉

Which Cthulhu based game is your favorite?

The post What Cthulhu thinks I do appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 9

In My Daydreams

Turning back to Marcus, she said, “He’s close to death, but not there. I can bring him back by reversing time.”

That didn’t surprise me. It fit with everything else. If she could slow people or speed up herself, why couldn’t she move backward in time? Then another thought struck me, “You could have brought back Maru or Alanna.”

She shook her head. “No. Well, I could have, but it’s not simple. Both of them died before I could do anything. People knew they were dead. When people die, it affects everyone they matter to. That sets events in motion that spread and can’t be easily stopped. Bringing someone back in that situation stops or changes everything that stated, pushing the future in new directions. One of my people would notice and I don’t know who or whether it would be Live faction, the Destroy faction, or both.”

Her eyes wide, she continued. “Less powerful races would think that I was a miracle worker, but they already think that after I live among them. What I fear is my people noticing that the future changed and that the cause exists outside of time. That shouldn’t be true with Marcus. He hasn’t died and no one knows but you and I. My people still might notice, but with almost no one knowing, it’s so much less likely.”

As she said the last line, she almost sounded like Tikki again.

Her eyes drifted back toward Marcus and then back to me. “I’m not going to tell him until people stop trying to kill us. It’s hard enough to survive without being distracted by heartbreak too. I don’t want to see him die again.”

Standing there in the tunnel, darkness around us and dead bodies on the ground, I took her point. I didn’t want him to be distracted either. On the other hand, “But you will tell him, right? This can’t hang in the air unsaid. I’ll tell him if you don’t, but not until the fighting’s over. I think I agree with you there.”

She took a breath and nodded. “I’ll tell him. I don’t have any choice. We’re not even the same species. As soon as I was fully myself again, I’d find him too limited and I’d grow bored. I wouldn’t want to hurt him, but I know I would. I can’t make him into one of us even though all of you have the greatest potential for that that I’ve seen so far.”

She looked me up and down. “When we talked in my store, I told you that you glowed. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were one of our young—which is one more reason to end this. I don’t know how so much of us got into your DNA. The Abominators experiments weren’t enough to explain this. And Lee, if he’s behind this, I don’t know how he managed it. It’s not all him, and he’d only be interested in contributing DNA the easy way.”

In the silence that followed that statement, I decided to ask a question that could destroy the Earth if I asked it of the wrong being, “You know who Lee is?”

She laughed, and she didn’t sound like Tikki. Tikki’s laugh had a high, but not irritatingly high, pitch to it. To me, she’d sounded innocent and optimistic and hopeful all at once. This laugh had some of that, but deeper notes among the light. Beyond that, I felt that it existed on levels beyond sound, levels that I couldn’t name or describe, but I knew they were there.

“Yes,” she said when she finished. “Lee isn’t really his name, but I’m sure you know that. Lee fought for the Destroy faction until he left, taking their greatest weapon with him. I designed that weapon. I’d only stayed to spy for the Live faction and to see if I couldn’t convince him that he’d chosen the wrong side. The battle where he first used my weapon convinced me that I couldn’t stay any longer. He remained and I despaired that anything would change his mind. Later, he left on his own and I never knew where he went.”

Deciding not to mention Earth for all the good that would do, I said, “I don’t know for sure, but it sounds like a lot of different places.”

She laughed again. “I’ve heard stories of the chase from our spies. He hasn’t changed. Now, give me a moment.”

Turning toward Marcus, she closed her eyes and the distortion surrounding him changed, emitting a dim glow as the rocky surface of Marcus’ chest turned from rocky, but with smooth edges to defined, rocky muscles and Marcus’ costume came back together undamaged. An echo of the energy blast that hit him flowed away from his chest, dissipating in the air in front of him.

Then the distortion around him ended and he lay on the ground opening his eyes and taking a deep breath.

At almost the same time, Tikki opened her eyes, bending down to hug him. He hugged her back, asking, “Are you okay? When I took that last shot, I thought I was dead.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “I was worried about you. I thought you might be dead, and I tried moving time backward to make the damage go away and I think it worked.”

“Wow,” he said, and kissed her, shifting back into his normal form as he did. She kissed him back and I thought I saw tears at the corners of her eyes.

As much as I thought that she should tell him the truth, I couldn’t blame her. Loving someone and being loved in return had to be better than being an ancient being fighting against former friends who hoped to destroy all other intelligent life.

Saying nothing and scanning the area behind us, I let them enjoy the moment.

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EPU - What's New

UF/FI: OOTR: The Federation Lives Forever! Chapter 17

EPU - What's New
The Federation Lives Forever! continues: at the senior band's invitation, the Sato Academy Light Music Club's junior band is heading for Mount Weitang, and each team has a surprise or two for the other. Chapter Seventeen: "Welcome to the Pleasure Dome" 2018/08/18
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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 8

In My Daydreams

In seconds, Agent 957’s armor fell to the ground, expelling a cloud. Some of the grey particles floated in the air, others fell out of the bottom of his helmet, creating a small pile. It made me grateful that the Rocket suit filtered the air. It wouldn’t do me harm, but I didn’t like the idea of breathing him in.

The four-handers ran away, deeper into the tunnels, unwilling to take the chance that we wouldn’t kill them. Given that there were more than 20 bodies on the ground, most of them killed by me, I couldn’t blame them.

I turned to check on Marcus. He looked worse than I’d realized.

He lay with his back to the wall, enclosed in the time bubble. I hadn’t noticed, but the shot had burnt through his costume. The grey, rocky skin, tough as it was, must have done some good, but not enough. He wasn’t moving at all.

I became aware of my breathing and the movement of my heart in my chest as the thought struck me that he might be dead.

Except then I noticed one more thing. Lines distorted the shape of Tikki’s time bubble, pulsing outward with her at the center. Around him, lines pulsed outward with him at the center. She had a second time bubble inside the first. She might be keeping him in stasis, something that was well within her abilities as I understood them, but I’d never seen a second bubble inside the larger one.

I turned to look at Tikki, but as I did, I felt something. It reminded me of the feeling I’d had when we’d passed the remains of the battle that Lee had fought while leading the Destroy faction. In memory, that one had felt full of menace.

This felt hopeful, but also afraid at the same time. I’d wondered even as the fight began if she might somehow be one of Lee’s people. We’d met Kee Oataki, and Kee, just like Tikki, had given me new ideas to consider about technology. In Kee’s case, that had been FTL equipment. In Tikki’s, she’d given me new ideas about the bots.

It fit. Kee had disappeared after we walked out the door of her shop. When we walked back in, she wasn’t there. The shop contained people we’d never seen and they didn’t know where she was. It was exactly like one of those disappearing magic shops you read about in stories. After that, we’d been told about Tikki. If Kee’s abilities were anything like Lee’s, she’d had plenty of time to get a new identity.

My grandfather’s theory was that Lee manipulated reality every time he took a new form, altering history so that it was as if that new form has always existed from the moment he took form for as long as it lasted.

It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but it fit my experience. Somehow Kee had changed reality such that Tikki had always been, including a history that left her parents conveniently dead, and no ties strong enough among the resistance to prevent her from joining up with us.

That would have been exactly what she wanted. Kee said that I glowed. I denied any knowledge of why, but following us would have given her every opportunity to find out who we were connected with.

The only thing that didn’t fit was that Lee had said that I’d probably sense the presence of another one of his people, but Tikki hadn’t ever tripped my ability to sense beings of blasphemous, eldritch horror (or whatever she was).

On the other hand, neither had Kee. I only become aware of what she must be after she’d brought the topic up herself and then completely disappeared.

If Kee was, as she appeared to be, the Live faction’s tech genius, it didn’t seem impossible that she might be able to hide her nature better than any of the others.

We met each other’s eyes and she said, “I know you know. Please don’t tell Marcus.”

I felt my jaw drop. “How can I not tell Marcus? Friends tell their friends when they’re dating uh… whatever you guys are.”

She shook her head. “I need to tell him. She… I… Tikki… She really did, really does love him.”

I said the first thing that came into my head. “What?”

She took two breaths. “I went too deep. I created Tikki and I forgot myself. She’s so like I was when I was young. I’d forgotten how deeply you feel emotions, how much everything hurts whether inside or outside. She wouldn’t let me do anything halfway.”

“So, Marcus is definitely alive, right?”

“Yes!” She shouted back at me, her upper lip quivering. “I’m going to save him, and then after that, when it’s over, I’m going to tell him what I really am.”

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Tieshaunn

B14.3 Breaking Point

Tieshaunn

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Basil stepped away from the tesseract, pleasantly surprised to notice that however this means of transportation worked, it didn’t leave him the least bit disoriented or otherwise impaired.

He’d arrived at a supermarket’s parking lot, in a circle of several dozen civilians who seemed to have been hastily getting food and other supplies out of the supermarket – a quick look showed that the place had been opened, electronic screens on the outside announcing that it was giving away its inventory freely, so it wasn’t looting – who seemed to have frozen in fear when the tesseract appeared, only to relax when they saw him.

A middle-aged man with a beard shadow on the very verge of turning into a short beard approached Basil after putting a stack of packages down on the ground, looking nervously at him, his eyes roving as he seemed to have trouble deciding what to focus on while looking at his mostly featureless mask.

“You… you’re Brennus, right? The superhero?” he asked, his voice nearly cracking with nervousness.

“Yes,” Basil replied, looking around. “You should all get to the shelters as quickly as possible. Do not take more than you can easily carry,” he continued, looking at a group of teenagers so ladden down with sweets and snacks they probably wouldn’t have made it home without an accident even on a good day.

And this wasn’t a good day, by any possible measure.

“We’ll… yeah, we’ll do that,” the man replied. “But… I mean, how’s…” He looked towards the distant battle, which even now was rather easy to make out, as beams of light lanced up again and ag-

He flinched, his fists clenching so tightly he thought he’d damage his gloves as another lance of pure agony shot through his head, overtaking the steady thrum of background pain.

At least no one noticed, as the onlookers got distracted by the sudden growth of… something… where the beams had just been.

Basil touched the button on the communicator the Dark had given him, creating a ping to notify them… not that he thought it was necessary, right now, but it was a good habit to get into in case they lost track of her.

“Go,” he spoke, voice hard, making people flinch. “Don’t waste time and get to safety, now!”

They got.

Basil turned away from the supermarket and left the lot, running at as fast a pace as he could maintain – he still had a way to go. The node he’d taken had been the one closest to his house, but it was still quite a ways away from it.

Nevertheless, there was nothing at all he could do to help in this fight if he was limited to his emergency equipment.

Frankly, there wasn’t much, if anything, he was likely to contribute at all, even with his best gadgets, b-

He stumbled, nearly falling over as he was hit by another spike of pain, barely a minute after the previous one.

Barely managing to turn the stumble into the start of a run, he sent another signal, just in c-

Another spike of pain, still just as painful and impossible to get used to as the first one.

This time, he fell actually fell over, his mask hitting the pavement hard enough he actually felt it.

He pushed the button, almost reflexively, before he pushed himself up again.

So fast… she usually keeps the same powerset for a minute or two at least, even when she’s under heavy attack, he thought as he scrambled forward, breaking into as fast a run as he could. Did Memento really manage to upgrade enough to pressure her so much more, or…

Another spike of pain, causing him to stumble, but this time he managed to stay on his feet and keep running.

Passing by a gap in the buildings to his right, he looked towards where the fight was going on and saw the reason for the rapid change.

Gloom Glimmer had engaged DiL. Even at this distance, he could make her black-clothed, white-cloaked form, thanks to his telescopic vision enhancements, unleashing a truly staggering display of power.

Pain flashed through his mind as Gloom Glimmer kept meeting every new set DiL expressed with another power, countering her at every step.

When she wasn’t able to react quickly enough, one of the Mementos would intercede instead, unleashing a different super-weapon.

DiL, meanwhile, showed no sign of concern. She simply floated left and right, sometimes twisting in the air, but rarely even bothering to face her opponents as she kept switching through powers. Her arms remained limply at her sides, while her hair twisted with her motions and the wind, the glowing strands destroying anything they came into contact with – including the occasional metahuman who ventured too close, or was unable to get away in time when she closed in.

Then he was past the gap, moving slower now that he was being attacked by those horrid headaches every half minute or so.

He just couldn’t get used to them.

Damn it… Damn it… I need to… to get home, he thought as he almost fell over, stumbling before he leaned against the wall of a bakery he often went to to get fresh bread, on better days. Get your act together, Basil. You can’t afford to be weak right now.

Another flash of pain cut off his attempt to psych himself up.

And another.

And another, again.

God damn it, it’s great that Gloom Glimmer can hold her sister off so well, bu-

He doubled over, dropping to his knees as yet another flash of pain lit up his brain.

Fuck.

The pain and disorientation were so bad, he almost missed the brief distortion which travelled over the ground of him, as if someone had dropped a pebble into a pond, waves radiating across the concrete… and the walls, coming all from a single point somewhere towards the centre of the city.

From the battle.

“Be advised that the Adversary has broken off contact,” Memento’s voice announced through his comms. “Due to the changed nature of her desolation field, pinpointing her location is no longer possible. Announce any sighting through your comms immediately.”

“Damn it,” Basil grunted, forcing himself up onto his feet – and then he jumped, leaping away from the bakery as a hand formed out of its brick wall and glass front, slashing at his throat with broken-glass-claws.

The creature emerged so quickly and seamlessly, it almost looked like a stopmotion effect – one moment, normal bakery, the next, a twisted gargoyle of brick, metal and glass stood there, the bakery’s front wrecked and scavenged for materials.

It stood as tall as Basil was, even hunched over and slumped, its posture more appropriate to a cartoon character than a living being. Its body was primarily made out of bricks, with metal at the joints and glass shards providing details, as well as claws and eyes.

When it opened its misshapen maw, it revealed a mouth full of countless metal and glass fangs, reflecting the light of the desolation field and the irregularly penetrating sun to create an almost rainbow-like glow.

Dozens of similar creatures rose out of the street and buildings around Basil, all roughly resembling gargoyles – humanoid, misshapen heads, claws, wings – but no two were similar beyond their basic frame, each made out of whichever materials were nearby when it was formed.

They all looked at Basil and opened their maws, hissing as they showed off their rainbow teeth.

Great. Now that I’d like another flash of pain, I’m not getting one.

Guess even DiL can’t help but kick you while you’re down, mate.

He couldn’t even dispute that.

The nearest creature, the one whose lazy swipe he’d just dodged, attacked first by throwing itself towards him, its maw opening so wide it very nearly reached a hundred and eighty degrees.

Basil shot it right down the throat before it could even come close, his snapping his rifle up for a one-handed shot which blew its head and a good chunk of its upper torso apart, throwing the remains back into the wrecked bakery, wrecking it further.

“The Adversary has produced a vast number of lesser agents,” Memento informed him, superfluously. “They appear to have only been formed out of material at ground level or above, so the civilians in shelters should be safe. Past instances suggest that destroying at least sixty percent of their number will cause her to switch up powers, which ought to reveal her location again, as well. Spread out and destroy as many as you can. If your comms order you to change location, do so immediately, you will be guided towards the biggest concentration of agents you are predicted to be capable of taking on.”

He dodged another gargoyle and placed another round in the back of its head, pulverizing it and the head of the gargoyle that’d been charging him from the other direction. The metal slugs his railgun were more than powerful enough at such close range to tear through these creatures.

Of course, there was the decidedly non-trivial problem that there were already more gargoyles visible on just this one street than he carried shots with him. And even though he could load nearly any object of approximate shape and size into his railgun and turn it into a lethal projectile, doing so limited him to one shot at a time before having to reload.

Not a sustainable long-term solution.

I wish I had my drone here right now.

Still, there was nothing else to do but fight. The creatures came towards him, not quite swarming him – only the nearest few were attacking, yet, with others seemingly content to tear down nearby walls, lampposts and other bits of construction – but there were far too many for him to stay in one spot and shoot them down one after the other.

Basil took a running leap, taking off the ground to place his boot on the foremost charging gargoyle.

Jumping off its shoulder, he brought his rifle around and shot its head apart even as he flipped over the row of charging gargoyles, landing just in time to whirl around and watch them slam into the opposite line of attackers with a cacophony of shattered glass and screaming metal.

One of the gargoyles had avoided slamming into another of its kind and came charging straight at him, its jaw opened as wide as it could go.

He raised his rifle, aiming at its throat, and pulled the trigger-

Thin arcs of blue-white electricity danced across the muzzle and down the rails, but nothing happened as several alerts appeared on Basil’s heads-up display.

The creature reached him, diving past the rifle as it apparently aimed to clamp its jaws closed around his head – only for his foot to instead slam into it, his armored boot easily withstanding the cutting power of mostly-dull metal and simple window glass, smashing the creature back before it could clamp its jaws closed.

Instead of following up on the attack, Basil retreated, one eye on the situation around himself, one on the readouts his mask was giving him.

He’d feared this would happen – DiL’s desolation field was infamous for screwing with electronics. It was one reason why most gadgeteers steered away from fighting her, as they would all too often end up as sitting ducks, rather than contribute meaningfully to the fight.

Basil had anticipated such a situation. He’d studied reports of the desolation field’s effects online – Toybox in particular had several threads revolving around just this one ability of DiL’s – and done his best to harden his inventions where possible against the electromagnetic interference it caused.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t done so for his emergency kit, as it had been built on a very tight budget and been meant as, well, an emergency solution only.

Which was why his mask’s display was starting to glitch so much, he was forced to deactivate it and flip a hidden switch on its jawline which caused the upper half to collapse into and over the lower half, revealing his eyes and forehead, with the mask now covering only his nose, jaw and mouth.

At the same time, he grabbed his rifle by its handle with one hand and by the barrel with another, as he whirled around like a dervish, cloak flying, dodging a pounce by another gargoyle.

With a twist, he folded the grip away from the trigger, nearly flat against the barrel, and pulled.

The railgun came apart as he drew a single-edged blade made out of gleaming metal from it – one of the rails meant to guide the shots, sharpened on the opposite side to provide a proper cutting edge. It was long enough to serve as a proper sabre, or perhaps a katana, though one with a straight blade.

He used the razor-sharp blade to cut the head off of another gargoyle, and pulled a second sword out of the upper half of his rifle, plunging it straight down the throat of yet another pouncing gargoyle.

That turned out to be a mistake.

The creature clamped its jaws shut, apparently unbothered by having a metre and a quarter of razorsharp steel piercing intos its chest, trapping it in there as it pressed on, easily overbearing Basil.

He was forced to let go of his sword and dive into a roll, barely avoiding being bear-hugged by the gargoyle and crushed against its shard- and spike-studded chest.

They’re not very tough.

His blade cut through the gargoyle’s legs in a single swipe, and once it hit the ground, he leaped over it and twisted around, reaching down to pull his other sword out of its throat before it could damage it.

Another slash took off its head, and that caused it to collapse into its constituent pieces.

So, you gotta destroy the head to stop them? How droll, the Man in the Moon commented.

More gargoyles turned towards Basil, and others got up on their feet again after having fallen over in that mass crash.

Others still were still busy tearing apart their surroundings, gathering parts to…

With a start, he realised they were making new gargoyles. Taking debris and assembling it into vaguely humanoid, winged shapes.

They’ll likely animate them if we give these buggers too much time.

Yes, thank you, I do notice the obvious, Basil thought back at him, though he didn’t have much time to be irritated, being busy dodging a dozen gargoyles made primarily out of very hard and very sharp bits.

Unless it’s Vas’ humongous crush on you.

Not. The. Time. Basil grimaced, finding himself forced to retreat – there were just too many of them bearing down on him, he didn’t have enough space to swing his swords wide and hard enough to take off heads, except for the occasional opening their uncoordinated attacks gave him.

When is it ever? Notice how I only talk to ya now and then? Ever wonder why that is?

One of the newly constructed gargoyles rose up, its movements jerky, uneven. It looked at him and hissed, then came stumbling towards him. Less than the originals, but still dangerous.

I noticed. No idea as to why.

Another slash took a particularly large gargoyle’s head off; Basil followed that up by rushing forward, using its collapsing body to give himself a boost, leaping over the small horde of gargoyles that’d tried to corner him against a wall.

Well, I’m not sure either, but I can only reach you sometimes. And some other times you’re just… deaf to me.

Landing on the street, Basil rolled into a sprint. He was going to get overwhelmed if he stayed where he was – he needed the gadgets he’d left at home, it was the only way he was going to make a meaningful dent in these gargoyles’ numbers.

You’re saying you’re not sure, but that implies you do have some idea as to why.

I cannot say.

So we’re back to that, Basil replied with a mental sigh.

Holding a sword in each hand, he ran down the street, trying to get closer to his house, slashing at gargoyles whenever the opportunity presented itself, hoping that at least the other defenders would manage to pick off enough of them that DiL would switch her powers before they built up too much.

That brings up another point – if one of her powers is the ability to animate these things, and another one is, presumably, whichever power allows her to hide from everyone, then what’s the third one?

No clue, but it can’t be anything good. Especially since we don’t know whether her hiding ability is her defensive or utility slot, and whether the animation ability is her offensive or utility slot. The last one could be any of the three.

He dodged around two particularly misshapen gargoyles made mostly out of shopping trolleys and broken beer bottles, beheaded another that tried to cut him off and used its body as a spring board again, to leap over another line of advancing gargoyles.

Only to have another one slam into him, swooping down from above with its wings extended wide.

They can fly after all.

The gargoyle slammed him into the ground, its hands closing around his swords’ grips over his own hands, preventing him from beheading it in return.

The shards covering the insides of its hands failed to penetrate his gloves, but they still managed to hurt, and the creature was far stronger than its spindly build would suggest – and much heavier, as well.

Basil grit his teeth and pushed back, while the creature opened up its maw, trying to literally bite off his face – but it had him at a serious disadvantage and even though he could stall it, that didn’t change the fact that even more were closing in on them.

Suddenly, he heard a gun being cocked, followed by the gargoyle’s head exploding as it was blown apart by a shot coming from Basil’s left.

The lifeless form collapsed atop him, showering him in debris and briefly blinding him as he closed his eyes to avoid getting anything in them.

When he looked up, he saw a man in a costume dive in between the gargoyles that’d surrounded him, landing over Basil in a broad stance, ready to defend him.

Though, costume was perhaps a bit much. He was wearing polished black shoes and a pair of black pants held up by white suspenders worn over a horizontally striped black-and-white shirt with long sleeves. He was standing there as if he was holding a shotgun, aimed at the advancing gargoyles, but his hands were empty.

Basil couldn’t see the man’s face, only the back of his head and short brown hair that’d been cropped down to the scalp on the sides and back, leaving only a messy mass of shiny locks at the top.

Then the man cocked his invisible shotgun and let loose another shot, blowing apart another gargoyle’s head.

He cocked it again, and another one went down, then he reloaded it, and shot down another two.

Half the gargoyles around them were gone by then, but the others were too close, so he instead switched into a melee pose and swung his arms as if he was holding a sword, slicing the heads off of three gargoyles at once.

The hell?

His saviour finished his spin, coming to face Basil, and extended his left hand towards him, showing his face for the first time.

It was covered in white make-up, from his scalp down to his jawline. His lips were coloured black, and thickly so, with thin lines extending slightly out of the corners. His right eyebrow had been traced with a similarly thick black colour, while the left one was all but imperceptible under the white make-up. Black eyeliner made the right eye stand out, as did several triangles drawn atop and beneath it, like eyelashes, while the right eye merely had a black ‘scar’ running from the forehead above down over it and onto the left cheek.

He was completely silent as he looked at Basil with an urgent expression, his blue-grey eyes as sharp as they were intense.

Le Mime. He came all the way from France?

Basil took the offered arm, hand closing around the man’s wrist as he was hauled up, then he activated the – fortunately still functional – magnets in his gloves to pull his swords back into his grip.

Le Mime whirled around and mimed drawing and firing a gun like an old west gunslinger. A shot sounded, blasting a hole through the head of a charging gargoyle.

“We need to go down the street that way!” Basil told him, gesturing towards his house when he had the french hero’s attention.

The older man – Basil thought he might be in his late twenties, or his early thirties – nodded to him and turned to face the other way, raising his arms and patting the air, before he leaned against an invisible wall, as if to brace it with both hands.

The charging gargoyles – both on the ground and flying – all slammed into said invisible wall, a few of the new ones doing so hard enough that they destroyed themselves.

Both Basil and Le Mime turned away from them and ran down the street – but there were yet more gargoyles in their way.

Le Mime ran ahead and reached into the air, grabbing a hold of something which allowed him to swing himself up and onto… a bike?

With a twist of his hand and a kick of his leg, he revved the invisible motorcycle, waving his other hand towards Basil in a beckoning gesture.

Basil didn’t stop to think, he just lept onto the unseen machine, using Le Mime’s own position to judge where he’d have to land, while he crossed his swords behind his back, making them stick to the flat, flexible magnets worked into his cloak’s emblem.

Landing behind the silent hero, he grunted at the impact – it wasn’t exactly a well-cushioned motorcycle – and wrapped his arms around his waist, while seeking and finding a pair of footholds.

And then Le Mime drove off, shooting through a gap in the crowd of gargoyles before them.

They shot down the street as the hero drove like a madman, dodging their enemies by margins so small Basil was sure they’d be caught a few times.

Nevertheless, they got through another crowd, but there were still more gargoyles ahead of them.

“I need to get to my house and get several gadgets!” Basil shouted to be heard over the cacophony of their bike’s motor. “It is roughly five more kilometres down this road, followed by a turn left and another kilometre of road!”

The silent hero looked at him over his shoulder, his gaze determined, and nodded. Then he briefly took one hand off the grip and tapped Basil’s hands around his waist.

Taking the cue, Basil let go of him as the wind pushed hard against him, and Le Mime thrust his torso back, shoving Basil at the same time as he changed his own position.

And Basil landed in a hard, uncushioned seat in a very different vehicle, as they drove over the street, higher up than before on the bike.

The motorbike’s sound had been replaced by a strangely familiar one… a rotor?

A rotor-propelled plane.

Le Mime mimed pulling a pair of aviator glasses down over his eyes, and then he pulled on a long stick in front of him, leaning back as their biplane rose up, shredding several gargoyles’ heads with its rotor before it was too high up to do so anymore.

Holy shit, I didn’t know he could do constructs this elaborate!

The biplane rose up, soaring over the sky, but Le Mime didn’t angle it directly in the direction of Basil’s house.

Instead, once he’d flown up high enough, he dove down again, one hand closed tightly around the control stick of the plane, while another held something else in front of him.

Before Basil could even wonder what it was – he was mostly focused on the sensation of his stomach rising up into his throat as they dove almost straight down towards the ground and the masses of gargoyles, the deafening combination of the biplanes ancient motor and the rush of air managing to daze even him for a moment – he clenched his fingers around it and the sound of a machine gun firing rose over that of the motor.

Le Mime simultaneously pulled them out of the dead dive, strafing over the hordes of gargoyles, dust and debris rising as their machine gun tore through dozens of them.

He repeated the process three more times before they approached Basil’s neighborhood.

“Fly by the building with the purple roof!” he shouted, hoping he’d be heard over the noise as he pointed at the out-of-place paintjob Amy had insisted on a few years ago. “I will jump onto its roof! You can keep going, I will be alright from here on out!”

He couldn’t be sure he’d be, but this guy was seriously too effective at taking down the gargoyles to be tied down babysitting Basil.

Le Mime looked over his shoulder, briefly, nodding again, and adjusted their flight towards the house.

Twisting the plane until it was nearly on its side, he flew a tight circle over it, just a metre away from having its wings hit the rooftiles.

“Thank you!” Basil shouted, and jumped, landing hard enough on the rooftop to crack some tiles and dislodge others, though he found his footing quite easily.

Waving at Le Mime, he briefly watched him fly away again, shooting up several gargoyles rushing towards the house, before he moved on.

Time to pull my own weight, he thought, walking to the edge of the roof and jumping down, only to hold onto the drain and swing himself feet-first through his own bedroom window.

The electronics were all down, as was his home’s security system, so he just broke through without much of an issue, landing on the soft carpet and standing up straight.

His room was as he’d left it – save for the broken window and glass shards strewn about – and his equipment was also exactly where he’d left it behind.

He could hear the hissing of approaching gargoyles, and the sound of their misshapen limbs upon pavement, so he didn’t waste any time, stepping towards where he’d embedded his force-field gauntlet into the wall…

And staggered as he walked throug the spot where he’d last held Prisca, a flash of green eyes and red hair conjured by his memory briefly occluding his vision.

Moments passed during which he just stood there, his arms limp down his sides and his eyes stinging.

He could almost feel her lips on his.

Almost.

It seemed so long ago, and yet like it had just happened.

Prisca, I-

Behind him, a gargoyle reached his window, fingers crushing glass as they wrapped around the broken frame, pulling it up.

Basil acted more on instinct than conscious thought, jumping onto his bed and grabbing the gauntlet.

The gargoyle pulled itself up and shrieked.

He pulled the gauntlet over his gloved hand, onto his left forearm, whirling around and raising it.

Please work.

The gargoyle lept, just as the gauntlet fired, unleashing a burst of what was essentially pure force, smashing into the creature’s wide open maw – still the easiest target to aim at – and blasting it out the window in pieces.

Basil couldn’t bring himself to even feel proud of the quality of his work. Instead, he quickly exchanged his emergency equipment for his hardened gear, attaching the drone to his left thigh for later – it only had a rather limited battery life – and blasted two more gargoyles apart as soon as they raised their heads over the bottom of the window frame.

The heads-up display of his helmet booted up with only a few minor visual glitches before stabilising, and he was finally properly equipped for this.

Or as much as he could be, facing an opponent whom he couldn’t possibly harm or even truly inconvenience.

Despair later. Fight now.

And as if on cue, there was another flash of pain, and the sound of countless gargoyles collapsing into harmless debris outside, causing him to briefly flinch and nearly fall over.

He pressed the button on the communicator the Dark had given him, and then leapt onto the window sill, looking out over the city until he could see DiL’s figure in the distance, surrounded by a nimbus of blue light. Just four or five blocks away from his home.

“The Adversary has reappeared, W8. All forces, prepare for new powerset,” Memento announced in his mechanical monotone.

Guess it’s time to find out whether we can actually contribute anything here, ain’t it, mate?

Basil lept out of the window.

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