In My Daydreams

A Good Boy: Part 3

In My Daydreams

Kals stared at the table for a minute—which was the longest I’d yet heard her not talk when I’d been around her.

Finally she looked up. “The resistance has used this world as a hideout for years and Mom, Dad and Maru all spent time here on and off when I was growing up, but when Dad died, and we all had to disappear, Mom and Maru had a fight. I don’t know what they were fighting about. It was after we’d been here for a few weeks. I don’t know what it was about. They never talked about it again and when I asked, Mom wouldn’t say anything.”

“Come on,” Cassie crossed her arms over her chest. “You must have heard at least one word? Maybe a sentence?”

Kals glared at her. “It was two years ago. I can’t be sure about anything anyone said. I remember the sound of their voices and that’s all.”

My implant alerted me that Hal had sent me a message. I opened it, experiencing the entire dataset that we’d collected from the ansible as he must perceive it—blocks of data that you could organize as you wanted. Except I received the version that he’d organized. We’d given him data on ansible bandwidth usage and on the accounts that were active during that time. The admin accounts were hidden, but I’d guessed that people would be on their personal accounts before or after using one of the unlogged admin accounts. My theory was that Hal could compare what accounts were active during the periods of unusual activity after Jadzen came back from her trips and we might find the spy.

It wasn’t a bad idea, but knowing how we used the internet back home, I should have anticipated that practically everybody used the ansible all the time. Fortunately, there were differences. The shining columns of light thinned when a person’s ansible usage was little more than background noise and thickened when they were deliberately using their connection.

Knowing that, I traced the accounts that showed the most usage during the time period just after Jadzen’s most recent trip. Jadzen and Maru’s lines were the thickest, followed by Iolan, Geman, and Dalat’s. I could rationalize all of those. Iolan, Geman, and Dalat managed the ansible. Jadzen and Maru could be communicating with their information sources off world. I considered going lower down on our list of users, but bearing in mind Maru’s behavior and the fact that he was a motivator…

Maru didn’t have to control Jadzen to have her trust. As a motivator though, he could control Geman and Dalat even if he couldn’t control Jadzen, and if that argument Kals mentioned represented the moment he’d lost confidence in her… Well, then we knew who the mole was even though we couldn’t prove it yet or explain why.

I checked the other people’s usage anyway. The only name that jumped out at me was Alanna, the person on the council who’d argued against the idea that there was a spy.

Kals interrupted my thoughts. “You downloaded something big.”

As I became aware of the world around me again, I became aware that her eyes were on me. Fumbling for words, I said, “A data analysis.”

I probably shouldn’t have said it, but I was still half inside a world of virtual images and data patterns.

She leaned forward, and I caught a hint of a musky perfume. “What were you analyzing? Ansible use? Is Maru the spy?”

Cassie sent me a message through our implants, “Nice one.”

Aloud, she said, “We don’t know. Don’t tell anyone.”

Kals cocked her head. “I shouldn’t tell anyone that you don’t know that Maru’s the spy?”

The twist of Cassie’s mouth left no doubt that Cassie didn’t find her reply funny. “You know what I mean. We can’t prove it’s him, but right now, he’s our best guess. So don’t tell anybody.”

Kals voice rose. “I know better than that. Everyone around here knows better than that. We’ve been hiding from the Ascendancy for years. Why do you think it’s him?”

Not quite sure that it was the right choice, I decided to trust her. “Guesses, mostly,” I began and explained how Dalat appeared to be telling Geman not to say anything as we approached and talking via implant when we left, how Maru had appeared to talk to us and direct us to watch out for her, and how the ansible’s records showed that Maru’s account was in use around the suspicious times even if it wasn’t the only one.

Kals gave me her full attention, nodding as I talked. I finished with, “It only hangs together because we want it to. We don’t have any evidence. I’d send out bugs, but I’ve got a bad feeling that people would detect them here.”

“From what I’ve seen of your ship, you don’t seem that far behind us, but we’ve been under surveillance for most of our lives.” She pursed her lips, half-closing her eyes, but then said, “My friends can watch him. We’ll see where he goes and then maybe we’ll find some evidence.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? If he’s the spy, he might kill them.”

She waved her hand, batting away my concern. “Don’t worry about it. That’s what we did for the resistance. The kids watched without getting involved. We’re good at it. Besides, this is a small town in the middle of nowhere. Everybody’s in everybody’s business. It won’t take much at all to get deeper into his, and if he’s a traitor, he’s a threat to all of us.”

I felt like I wanted to argue with her, but Cassie started talking.

Glancing toward the room Katuk, Marcus and I shared, Cassie peered through the open doorway and turned back toward Kals and I. “Katuk’s not here. Jaclyn called me to say she hasn’t seen him since we were at Iolan’s. Did he say anything to you?”

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Tieshaunn

B13.d 8 Bad People

Tieshaunn

Previous | Next

You’re going to die.

Sam half lay and half sat on the floor, curled up and whimpering, as the others gathered around Immanuel and the glowing sarcophagus-tank near him.

“Well, this went wrong,” the gorgeous young man – whom she’d only ever met once before, when he’d welcomed her to the Installation – said with a calm smile on his face, showing absolutely no discomfort at the stump of his left arm being poked at by the Tapirapé woman in the white labcoat kneeling next to him. “So, what’s the diagnosis, Fräulein Doktor?”

He’s going to die.

The middle-aged woman rolled her eyes and pulled the two needles she’d been poking around inside his biceps with out. “The diagnosis, Herr Schwachkopf, is that you pissed off the wrong centenarian demigod and you’re lucky it only cost you your arm,” the Ascendant told him in a biting tone. “But if you’re asking whether I can make you a replacement, the answer is probably. Whatever he did, thanks to Master Konrad’s swift intervention, it’s been neutralised.”

She’s going to die.

Sammy whimpered, looking down at the stump of her own left arm, where it ended just below where her wrist had once been, now neatly cut off and then bandaged by Tsukiko. Same as her left leg, just below the knee.

If it wasn’t for Konrad, she’d have lost more than that…

***

The tide of darkness was steadily advancing, grinding down their people. Chronicle was doing her best to stem it from where she stood next to Immanuel, along with Prism and Judicator, resetting the few she’d been able to record beforehand every time they took too much damage or died.

It wasn’t enough, not by a long shot. The shadow demons kept coming, over and over, and it wasn’t just their sheer mass that was slowly killing people, like they’d killed Brad, torn him limb from limb just out of her sight, so she’d been unable to reset him before he’d been dead for too long.

There was a mind behind them, one single mind. A malevolent intellect that wanted them all dead, dead and gone and she could see its hatred, his hatred, in every motion of his demons. Coordinating them, the small ones and the big, unique ones, the ones with powers of their own.

Fifty-eight people on their side, fifty-eight metahumans, and they were being beaten by a single enemy they hadn’t even been able to scratch yet.

Chronicle saw Karasuha reform out of her bird form, dropping down onto the Dark, only to be quickly dispatched like a fly to be swatted down, and reached out with her power, focusing on her love’s recording…

***

“Sammy,” Tsukiko spoke softly, kneeling down next to her in a graceful motion, having stripped off her armour and robe, wearing only the black bodysuit underneath and her boots. “Here, drink this,” she continued in that beautiful Japanese accent of hers, holding a flat bowl to Sam’s lips. “It will ease the pain.”

Look at her pretty face. It’s going to rot, after she dies.

Sam whimpered, drinking the slightly glowing, purple brew. It tasted… warm, and kind of earthy, and the pain in her arm and leg instantly eased.

You’re still going to die.

Tsukiko smiled, leaning in to kiss her on the forehead. “There, much better now, right?” she asked, looking down at her with warm, loving eyes.

Sam looked back with wet, tired eyes in turn. She didn’t trust her voice, so she just nodded, and got a hug in return.

You’ll both die, and never be together again.

Looking over her wife’s shoulder (her ring had been on her left hand… gone now…) she looked at the glowing sarcophagus. It was one of those used to store the Ascendant’s creations, repurposed to help its occupant recover from his wounds.

Within lay a nude man. He was tall and young, in his mid-to-late twenties, though she suspected he was much older.

Konrad, Immanuel’s partner and opposite, the right hand of their leader, where Immanuel was the left one. The sword, where Immanuel was the pen.

He was Immanuel’s opposite in appearance, as far as that was possible while still being from Germany. Tall and broad-shouldered, heavily muscled to the point where his abs had more abs, though his build was still slimmer than that of many a strongman, more like a ballet dancer who’d gone overboard with his workout. His face was merely attractive, instead of drop-dead gorgeous, with a slightly crooked, yet noble nose, visible beard-stubble and long, shaggy blonde hair. If Sam had been into men at all, she’d probably have already been crushing on him already, even before seeing his power.

He’s going to die.

His right arm had partially dissolved, scars of molten flesh winding up from his fingers all the way to his shoulder, but they were healing, even though he’d been touched more directly than either her or Immanuel, even though he’d struck the monstrosity…

***

A huge impact shook the Installation, causing Chronicle to stumble. She would’ve fallen, if Immanuel hadn’t reached out and gently pushed on her shoulder, allowing her to regain her balance. He hadn’t even been inconvenienced.

“Something’s coming up,” he said, stepping backwards, the group around him automatically falling into line. Sablo, the ribbon-haired, nude woman who’d been protecting them from the Dark’s wraiths, keeping up a glowing white circle on the ground that moved with the group as they retreated along the metal walkway they were on. Even the Dark’s greater demons had been unable to breach it yet, though they’d also been unable to focus on it to any meaningful degree, either. “All of you, brace yourselves!”

Chronicle did just that, grabbing a hold of the rail next to herself, as even the Dark’s assault briefly stalled.

Near the centre of the Installation, four objects burst through it in showers of metal and salt water, shooting up into the air above, the force with which they’d broken through so immense it briefly caused the entire floating city to tilt left and right like a ship in a storm.

Everyone paused and stared up as the water streamed off what appeared to be four perfect, kind of liquid spheres, each of a different colour – white, red, black and green. Each seemed to be about twice the size of a person.

“Oh, Heng, what were you thinking?” Immanuel complained. “Blindly injecting so many samples at once… now we don’t even know which ones produced these.”

The four spheres hung in the air for a few moments, then they suddenly shot in four different directions, away from each other, without the slightest sound.

Chronicle stared up, dumbfounded. What’d just ha-

“Watch out!” Judicator cried, pointing ahead, causing her to look towards their enemy again – only to feel her blood run cold. Colder.

Several of the individualistic shadow demons had gathered up. One, humanoid with wings instead of arms and but a single red eye in the centre of its face, was floating above the others, staring resolutely at their small group, while smaller demons circled around it, absorbing attacks upon it with their own bodies, sacrificing themselves to keep it safe from the attacks of the remaining defenders – twenty, at best, by now.

Beneath it, a muscular demon with a lop-sided build, upper body far thicker, heavily corded with pulsing muscle, while the legs seemed almost comically thin, was holding a sword that was easily twice as long as the demon was tall, and half as broad, holding it two-handed and pointed at their group. Another demon, a curvy female shape with twisted, almost U-shaped horns growing out of its smooth, six-eyed head and standing on her toes, was pointing its clawed hands at the sword, eldritch blood-red flames streaming from them to wrap around the blade in a double-helix that continued to grow more and more dense, more and more bright. A third demon, featureless save for its six eyes and tentacles instead of legs, was spinning some kind of web between its long-fingered hands, casting out strands of it to form another, larger web in the air in front of the pointed blade.

“If that is what it looks like… I don’t think I’ll be able to hold out, Sir,” their protector admitted in a strained voice, without looking away from their enemy. “I’ll try to lessen the blow, at least,” she affirmed, her arms still raised, fingers together in a box-like shape.

“Wait for it,” was all Immanuel said in response.

“We need Konrad,” Judicator spoke in a mellow voice, though the note of worry underneath was unmistakable. “He’s our only hope to beat the adversary, or at least manage a proper retreat.”

“Wait for it,” their leader repeated.

“Sir, something is sapping my shield’s power!” Sablo cried.

Chronicle could do nothing but stare as the Dark’s demos built more and more energy up to unleash at them – the ribbons of almost liquid fire around the blade were so dense the sword beneath could no longer be seen, and so massive they more than doubled its size. The web between them and the sword had grown fantastically elaborate, as well.

Beyond the demons, the Dark himself stood, seemingly impassive as he stared at them, his form writing softly, dripping shadows – only it was dripping them up, rising towards the sky and fading away. A small detail, but like everything about the sight of him, about his whole presence, it profoundly unnerved Chronicle.

Then he made a gesture with his hand, casually dismissive, and his demons loosened their attack.

The muscle-bound demon raised its sword high, the blood-red flames of the female sticking to it, and swung it down with all its strength, unleashing the stored-up energy. The flames formed a huge, bloody fireball, which hit the web of light the third demon had woven – and was multiplied, huge becoming gigantic, a sphere of almost liquid flames coming straight at them, big enough to swallow a city block whole before it even exploded.

Chronicle didn’t see her whole life pass before her eyes, as the saying went. No, she only saw Yukiko, and…

A figure dropped out of the sky, wearing a black longcoat over broad shoulders and wielding a curved short-sword in his left hand. Chronicle saw long, messy blonde hair, for a moment, before the new arrival swung their blade at the incoming fireball, striking it at the very moment it came within reach of the blade.

The entire fireball was reversed and swelled in size, flying back towards the demons and their master, twice as big as it had been before.

“Friss das, Goldschmidt!” Immanuel cheered, throwing his arms up in the air, as everyone else just stared.

They couldn’t see the effects of the fireball upon the demons, as its own flames obscured the sight, but Chronicle was sure it had already passed over their position, hopefully destroying them, and was now rapidly nearing the Dark himself…

The fireball fell apart, dispersed in every direction, leaving behind a molten scar along its way; at its end stood the Dark, right arm extended towards them, the hand clenched into a fist, as if he’d just grabbed the gigantic sphere and crushed it.

Within the path of the fireball lay the molten remains of a gigantic sword, with no sign at all of its former wielder. To the left lay half of the demon who’d woven the glowing web, its left arm and most of its lower body gone. There was no way for Chronicle to tell whether it was still alive – if it had ever been to begin with – so long as it didn’t move . The female demon stood where she had, completely unharmed – clearly, she was immune to her own power’s flames, no matter how amplified.

Their savior stood up, dusting himself off before he made what Chronicle assumed to be a playful salute towards the Dark – and then he turned his back to him, facing them with a smile.

He was tall, almost two metre in height if not a little above it, and very muscular, wearing what must have once been a very expensive longcoat, now frayed and partially torn along its edges. It was unbuttoned, showing off a chest and stomach you could grind meat on, as he seemed to wear only a pair of black pants underneath, and brown boots.

Chronicle would have been deliriously happy to see a face as friendly as his, the easy, confident smile even in the face of one of their greatest enemies, but there was just something off, about those dark red, almost black eyes. Like something was… missing.

“Konrad, deine eklige Fresse ist zur Abwechslung mal höchst willkommen!” Immanuel greeted him, as their savior bowed deeply.

“Ach mein Freund, wir wissen doch beide, dass du dich stehts nach meinem Antlitz sehnst!” Konrad replied with a smile. “Jetzt beruhigt ihr auch alle mal während ich unseren Gast des Grundstückes verweise!”

He had barely finished his speech – not that Chronicle could understand either of them, she’d only just started learning German – when he whirled around and slashes his short blade in a wide, horizontal arc, just as a literal tide of demons closed in on him.

They were all obliterated, the entire mass of demons simply blown away into Nothingness, all the lesser ones gone. Only the greater demons, the ones which differed from the formless mass and had stayed back, still remained.

“Los gehts!” Konrad shouted and jumped, a single leap taking him across a hundred metre towards the nearest demon – the horned female – at such speed he seemed to all but teleport.

The demon raised a hand, bloody flames wrapping around it, but she was too slow – Konrad swung his blade and she was obliterated. Not slashed, not split in half, just entirely obliterated, leaving nothing behind.

“I rather liked that one,” the Dark complained, his voice barely restrained, bubbling with hatred just underneath the surface.

“I rather liked Brad, and Nancy and Rhoda and Jonas,” Konrad replied with a cheerful shrug. “But you k-“

“I really don’t care,” he interrupted him, as he suddenly appeared right in front of Konrad, looking down at the shorter man, as Konrad looked up with a smile. “Ich habe viele Geschichten über dich gehört, Konrad.”

“Nur gute, hoffe ich?” Konrad replied in a conversational tone, making no move to attack.

“Man erzählt mir du wärst der Stärkste der Starken. Stärker als dein Meister, falls es ihn überhaupt gibt. Stärker, sogar, als Gwen und ich.”

“Ich weiss nicht, ob ich stärker bin als ihr beide,” the shorter man replied, then chuckled. “Aber stärker als einer von euch beiden? Das könnte gut sein.” He tilted his head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “Lust, rauszufinden ob die Geschichten wahr sind?”

The Dark struck him, delivering a right-handed punch to Konrad’s face with such force, it created a sonic boom and distorted the air around them.

Konrad didn’t even move from his spot, though the punch did snap his head to the side.

“Ow,” he grunted, touching two fingers to his bloody lip. “Been a while since I took a hit that strong.” He looked up at the Dark, smirking. “My turn.”

He raised his blade, swinging with his left hand – but the Dark reached out, pushing his hand against Konrad’s wrist, arresting the motion before he could hit.

“No fair, I gave you a free shot,” the swordsman complained, though he didn’t sound particularly put off.

“I’m not here to play games,” the Dark hissed. “Now be a good lad and d-“

Konrad’s right fist connected with the Dark’s chest – he was just plain too tall to easily reach his head – and launched him across the ruined Installation, until he slammed into the remains of the Ascendant’s and Dusu’s lab, twisting and shattering them further than they already were.

“I think my punch was bigger than your punch,” Konrad said, as they watched the remains of the structure collapse, burying the Dark beneath the rubble.

***

Konrad opened his eyes, looking around inside his healing pod, and through the clear glass front. He made no move to cover himself up at all, rather, he just smiled at everyone.

“Yeah, this is everyone who made it out,” Immanuel answered an unspoken question. Konrad frowned down at him. “Thanks to you – if you hadn’t shown up when you did, none of us would’ve made it,” the one-armed man consoled him. “Except, possibly, for Bira and her doll, here.” He looked at the Ascendant, who’d moved away from his side and was kneeling next to the quietly breathing form of Elysium, who was lying on her side, and was pushing a gadget which looked like some kind of gun with a long needle coming out of the muzzle into her ear, not paying any attention to the rest of the room.

Konrad relaxed, shrugging those huge shoulders of his.

“I don’t know that you two should be so happy,” a new voice spoke up, as a stocky, plain-faced Japanese woman with brown hair in a bun entered, her heavy, practical work boots, jeans and dark green jacket contrasting greatly with the way everyone else in the room looked.

She’s going to die.

“For all your talk, we got ourselves kicked in our collective posteriors by one enemy, after getting ourselves completely shown up by a bunch of teenagers,” Heaven’s Dancer snarled at Immanuel and Konrad, her new host’s rough appearance making her look even angrier than she otherwise would.

“Totally worth it, though,” Immanuel replied with a smile.

“Worth it? Worth it!?” Heaven’s Dancer almost shrieked at them, clenching her caloused hands into tight fists. “How, in the name of God, was this worth it? What, exactly, did we gain?”

Immanuel opened his mouth to reply, but she cut him off with a sharp hand gesture. “No, don’t tell me yet.” She reached into her jacket’s pocket and pulled out a phone. “He wants to talk to you lot.” She pressed a number and then held the phone out towards them.

“Immanuel,” a raspy, deep voice spoke through it. It was so deep, it was actually kind of hard to make out what the man – and it was very clearly a male voice – actually said. A voice so deep, it made one feel like their bones ought to vibrate.

Sam had never heard it before, but Tsukiko tightend up in her arms, as if afraid. “W-what?” she asked her wife in a whisper.

“That’s him,” Tsukiko replied, but before she could elaborate, Immanuel replied.

“What an honour to hear from you so soon, oh fearless leader of mine!” he greeted him, standing up just so he could bow with a fancy flourish of his one good arm. “I thought you would be busy-“

“Save the theatrics, please,” the leader cut him off, sounding exasperated, though not unfriendly. “I already know what happened. Tell me how we profited from it.”

He’s going to die.

“Well, first of all, we know about a herefore unknown metahuman factor – the so-called Journeyman,” Immanuel began to enumerate as he sat down once more. “Someone who’s not merely a blank to Espers, but is, in fact, completely invisible – I could not perceive him even when I knew where he was, could not even perceive a blank like with DiL. I’ve already combed our records and he shows up nowhere.”

“Such information is valuable, but limited and hardly worth our losses.”

“Secondly, he inadvertantly preserved a major asset for us,” the one-armed Esper continued, standing up. “Though Bira is probably better suited to explaining this one.” He walked over to Konrad’s healing pod and began to shut it down, draining the liquid he was floating within.

“Huh?” Bira looked up, confused for a moment, then seemed to realise what was going on. She went back to work, looking at the small screen on the back of her needle-gun, as she poked around inside Elysium’s head with it. “Oh, yeah. This. Turns out, I know how Elysium actually died, way back then.”

“She was killed by DiL,” their leader stated simply. “Are you saying that is not true?”

“Precisely so, Sir,” Bira replied politely. “DiL never defeated her – Elysium killed herself, through overuse of her power.” She clucked her tongue. “It appears there was a flaw to it, after all – prolonged usage put a strain on her brain. Not enough to be a danger under normal circumstances, but after stretching two hours of real time over what must have been several years, fighting the abomination, it became too much and caused a lethal stroke.” She frowned, looking at the readouts as she held the needle still. “She probably never had to push her power far enough to notice it before, and so didn’t know to pace herself in the battle.”

“Interesting,” he said, sounding pensive. “How did this Journeyman preserve her for us, then?”

“Simply put, their battle pushed her far enough that I was able to notice the side-effects when I did a quick scan of her immediately after our escape, but not so far as to kill her and ruin the last ten years of work I did to actually get her working,” the Ascendant explained. “Now that we know, we can look out for it. I might even be able to make some modifications which will eliminate her weakness entirely.”

“Which brings me, neatly, to our greatest prize!” Immanuel butted in after stepping back from the pod, the glass sliding out of the way to let the now merely moist Konrad step out, unbothered by the temperature or his own nudity. “No, I’m not talking about us finding out about the Dark’s little rage mode,” he cut Heaven’s Dancer off before she could even speak, pointing a finger at her. “Though that’s certainly good to know…”

***

Chronicle pushed herself up, having fallen to her knees without even realising it, as she tried to get a better look at the pile of rubble the Dark had been buried underneath. “Is, is it over?” she asked, her voice shaking, holding out a hand to grab Karasuha’s as she joined them on the metal platform they’d ended up on.

Beyond them, the few remaining demons – greater ones, each and every – were standing there as if frozen, not sure how to react after their master was so suddenly punted aside.

“I can still feel his power,” Konrad replied to her question, joining their little group and grabbing onto Immanuel’s forearm by way of greeting. “Definitely a no, unless he decides continuing the fight is too big a risk and bails out.”

“Perhaps we should ‘bail out’,” Judicator spoke firmly, still holding his scales and his crystal ball up in front of himself. “Whether or not the Dark intends to continue, we have to assume that more opposition will arrive soon. Perhaps even her. I don’t think I have to tell you how ridiculously non-existent our chances of survival are if we have to fight both of them at once…”

Immanuel stroked his chin, then nodded. “Yes, that would be for the best,” he replied, looking aside towards where his former aide, currently Heaven’s Dancer’s host, joined them, her clothes torn to near-indecency, her shoes lost, but otherwise unharmed. “Let’s fall back to-“

Konrad whirled around to stare towards the rubble he’d buried the Dark under, a mere moment before all the demons let out howling screams and charged – straight towards their master.

Dozens, hundreds of demons, most of them lesser, but a few more of the greater ones, which Chronicle hadn’t even noticed before, crawled out from their hiding places around the city-sized Installation, some literally stepping out of walls or other structures, all of them charging into the rubble and digging into it, disappearing where their master had gone; the rubble beginning to shake as soon as they’d done so, pieces of it getting dislodged and tumbling down.

“What is he doing?” Immanuel asked, a hand held over his eyes for some shade as he tried to look closer.

“Whatever it is, it’s big,” Konrad replied to him, sounding quite relaxed, all things considered.

The rubble burst apart, blown skigh high in a fountain of dirt and debris as, with a titanic roar, a monster arose from amidst it.

Chronicle blinked, briefly believing that she was imagining this, yet even when Karasuha squeezed her hand hard enough to hurt, the image didn’t change.

A colossal, jet black dragon rose ouf of the dust, shrugging rebar and steel girders off its wings before it unfurled them.

A hundred feet long at least, from its head to its tail, it seemed to made out of solid darkness, its body oozing with shadows – oozing up, just as the Dark had. Scales could be made out which extended into razor-sharp spines, much like its wings, whose many sharp spines and scales made them look almost feathery. Its head sported six glowing red eyes in two rows of three, and half a dozen twisted, crown-like horns which extended backwards.

It raised one of its forelimbs, its upper torso configured more like a human’s than a lizards or any other kind of animal’s, putting five-fingered hands with razor-sharp claws up onto the remains of the building’s wall in front of it, then the other, propping itself up as it spread its wings wide, it thrust its head forward, extending its long, sinuous neck and roared.

The roar was like a physical force extending forward, distoring the air, the metal, the concrete, everything and with it came not sound, but a thought which slammed into their minds like the hammer of God.

YOU WILL ALL DIE!

The beast beat its wings and leaped forward, not landing on all fours before it pushed itself off again, half running and half gliding across the city towards them, the world itself distorting in the wake of its passing.

“Because of course he can turn into a damned dragon!” Immanuel ran his fingers through his hair, as the beast simply charged on, shedding the attacks the remaining companions were raining on it as if they weren’t even there.

As it reached the first group – five metahumans – they ran apart to dodge out of its way, but it paid them no mind, simply charging on.

One of them was clipped by its wing as it passed, and Chronicle watched in horror as the young man withered and died, dissolving into ash that seemed drawn towards the rampaging dragon.

The others were only a little more lucky than he, as the distortion around the dragon passed over them. When it was past, they had all visibly aged, some to the point of death, falling over as their bodies were left too weak to live; the others simply crying out in agony and horror.

“Don’t get near it!” Immanuel shouted at Prism, to have him relay it to everyone else. “Everyone, retreat in orderly fashion! Sablo, keep your circle up, it ought to repel this form!” He started moving backwards, but the Dark had become too large, was moving too fast.

“I’ll take care of him!” Konrad shouted, exhilerated and leapt at the beast, drawing his sword back for a big slash. “Have at you!”

The Dark slammed his forelimbs into the ground, violently arresting his charge as he used them like a pivot, whirling around; his tail slapped Konrad out of the way, all the way across the Installation and nearly into the sea, repaying him in kind for the earlier hit.

As the monstrosity completed its spin, facing them once more, it roared again.

YOU WILL ALL DIE!

Chronicle cried out in horror as that horrible voice slammed into her mind once more, staggering back and falling, even letting go of Karasuha’s hand.

Someone was screaming as the dark dragon charged onwards towards them, everyone it passed by simply… dying.

There was Arresto, who’d once survived a nuclear explosion, if a small one. The dragon simply brushed him with its wing, and he fell apart.

Radger, who could regrow even his own head, fell just as easily. So did four others, before the dragon broke through their lines entirely, simply ignoring any power thrown its way as it bore down on their group.

When its hand came down on their group, its claws slamming into the circle of protection which Sablo had pulled up, pressing against it to slowly sink into the sphere of its effect, Chronicle realised who was screaming.

She was doing it herself, screaming as loud as her lungs would allow her, completely helpless to do anything – she couldn’t even rewind herself, if he got to her, not only would she be irrevocably dead, but so would Karasuha, her Tsukiko, and all the others whose records she’d kept.

Sablo cried out in pain and her protective power shattered, the clawed hand breaking through. One of the claws cut through the nude woman, splitting her from head to groin, the two halves dissolving into nothingness as they fell apart.

Chroncile lost hold of her book, and of her bladder for that matter, as she looked up at the colossal beast bearing down on them, reaching for Immanuel with one of its huge hands.

“Cover me!” Karasuha shouted and charged towards the beast at the same time as Immanuel dodged backwards, slashing at its exposed palm.

Her blade flared up with purple light and bit deep, cutting through the black, spiny scales to sink into the flesh beneath, but the Dark did not rear back – he simply pushed on, crushing her underneath its paw.

Chronicle cried out in despair – she couldn’t reset her if she couldn’t see her – but the beast ignored that and raised its hand again, the sword already falling apart, consumed by the same effect as the one that was breaking down Karasuha’s crushed remains.

At the last moment before they fell apart entirely, Chronicle pushed her power out towards her, and she snapped back to her previous, recorded state, sword in hand – and promptly burst into numerous crows which flew apart, away from the beast.

Several of them grabbed onto the shoulders of Chronicle’s robe, pulling her away with madly beating wings, while the dragon pressed on, reaching for Immanuel, too fast and with too great a reach to dodge entirely.

Immanuel had reached Chronicle, who’d stood several meters behind him, when the claws came down on him, and though he avoided a direct hit, one of them nicked his left hand.

As it began to fall apart, another claw touched Chronicle’s hastily held-up left hand – a stupid gesture, like that would achieve anything – and then her left foot, before it slammed onto the platform, cracking it and breaking through, briefly arresting the beast’s charge by sheer dint of the sudden loss of footing.

Sam screamed, louder than she ever had, as she watched her hand and foot dissolve, the flesh blackening before it fell apart, the blackness slowly spreading up her limbs-

A sharp, clear pain came next, and her corrupted, dying limbs were severed from her body in a single stroke, along with Immanuel’s arm, halfway down his biceps.

Konrad was back, looking as serene as before and no worse for having been hit directly by the abomination. though his coat was even more tattered and torn.

The Dark roared at him, pulling himself out of the wrecked and twisted metal of the platform they’d just been in.

YOU WILL ALL DIE!

And it swung its free fist at him, but this time, Konrad was ready, and he dodged, leaping forward to slide under the strike, before he launched himself up.

Using both a long wind-up and the momentum of his leap and spin of his body, he punched the colossal monster in its sternum and hit with force way beyond his size and proportion.

The dragon was blown away, launched through the ruins behind it, through walls of steel and concrete, almost all the way back to where it had first burst ouf the rubble.

Konrad landed on his feet, then flinched, looking at his right arm – it was starting to dissolve, too, though very slowly.

Clucking his tongue, he shook his arm out, visibly expelling a black mist-like substance from it.

His arm was mangled, but not gone, and he was still alive.

Chronicle fell onto her side, starting to feel cold as her blood escaped her through the raw stumps of her arm and leg, feeling Karasuha reform behind her and pull her into a warm, comforting hug, before she began to do something with her numb limbs.

Looking around, there was barely anyone left. Prism had been reduced to a mummified corpse, Heaven’s Dancer had lost both legs and was bleeding heavily. Judicator still stood, if shakily so, but his crystal ball lay shattered all around him.

Immanuel was using his own belt to tie off his remaining arm, looking pale and not entirely self-assured anymore.

There were less than ten of their number left, gathering around him and Konrad, looking for orders, for direction, for protection.

He looked around at everyone, then at Konrad. “We retreat,” he said simply. “Everyone, move to the nearest escape pod. We have to get away before he pulls out whatever next trick he has in… store…”

His eyes grew wide as the dragon rose out of the shattered rubble, howling in rage.

YOU WILL ALL DIE!

The beast rose up on its hind legs, spreading its arms and wings wide as it roared to the heavens, even more of its body oozing upwards and dissolving into the sky.

Chronicle’s consciousness was rapidly fading, darkness creeping across the edge of her vision…

No, that wasn’t just her fading consciousness… a shadow was spreading across the Installation, as something above blotted out the sun, causing the others to look up in horror, but she was too weak to do even that…

“Du willst mich doch wohl verarschen…” was the last thing she heard, an utterly disbelieving whisper from Immanuel.

Then, Darkness.

You’re going to die.

***

“Don’t look at me like that,” Immanuel complained as the others glared at him. “I had no idea he could do that!”

“Hey hey, relax,” Konrad calmed him, patting his back. “I took care of it, and we got something out the whole thing, right?”

“Took care of it? Took care of it!?” Heaven’s Dancer shrieked. “You nearly died! He destroyed the Installation, beyond any hope of recovery! He killed everyone we had left, except those in this room, including my body, with one blow!”

Calm down,” the leader admonished everyone, and silence fell. “Immanuel, how is this worth losing the Installation and so many of our companions? Don’t tell me it’s because you figured out the Dark’s weakness, we already know several.”

“No no, oh wise and fearless leader of ours,” Immanuel assured him with a smile. “It’s not his weakness I figured out. It’s hers.” He grinned, and it went all the way up to his eyes. “Ironic, that it would be the Dark who’d finally betray her, if unwittingly – but now I know Gwen Whitakers one true weakness.” He made a fist, pumping that arm. “Now we can-“

“Leave it be for another time,” the leader cut him off. While he – probably – couldn’t see Immanuel’s face, Sam was quite sure he heard Heaven’s Dancer’s amused giggle at the sight of it.

Even Sam felt a smile tug at her lips, seeing it.

“Skyfall’s project is complete,” he continued, unperturbed. “And she has workable results to show for it. We are thus moving Project Chainbreaker to the top of our priority list. You are to provide her every resource she requires, including yourself.”

“B-but… Whitaker and Goldschmidt…” Immanuel stammered, looking, for the first time, like he was truly not sure what was going on.

“The Abomination has just appeared in New Lennston,” the leader pressed on. “While it’s unlikely either of them is going to die, they will be far too caught up in dealing with that, and with the aftermath, to interfere with Chainbreaker. Once that is complete, we’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to dispose of the both of them at our leisure.”

“But, seriously, we-“

“That was an order, Immanuel,” the leader cut him off. “Whitaker and Goldschmidt are ultimately of no consequence to our greater plans. We need merely make sure they don’t interfere with the steps leading up to our goal, which the current deluge of crises shall provide. Now be about your work.”

And just like that, he hung up.

Sam looked at Tsukiko, feeling endlessly relieved – anything, not to have to face the Dark again.

It won’t be enough, and you’ll die.

“Alright people,” Immanuel said, finally, after taking several deep breaths, his usual cheerful disposition returning slowly. “You heard our fearless leader. Let’s all get to work.” He looked at the stump of his arm, then over at Sam, who was curled up against her wife, still. “Bira, please start work on replacement limbs for Sam, first. I can make do with just one arm for the time being.” He nodded to the two of them, before looking out over everyone else in the room. “I thank you all for your bravery today. Fear not – our brothers’ and sisters’ sacrifice will not have been in vain, nor go unavenged.” He bowed his head to them. “Have a good night.” And with that, he left the room, followed closely by Konrad, who threw them a playful salute.

Sam sniffed, looking up at Tsukiko with a weak smile.

Her wife’s response was almost blinding, as she leaned down and kissed her, hard.

Sam wrapped her arms around Tsukiko and held onto her for dear life. They may have been doomed, but she was going to stay brave and fight on, even in the face of invincible opponents. Maybe they were all going to die, but she would try, at least. Even if it was pointless.

***

The cool blue waters of the Pacific Ocean made for a mostly uniform background over which Amy flew, trying to make her way back to the base of the Gefährten – though she was rapidly starting to think that it was pointless, as she had no way of making out where exactly it was.

Before, she hadn’t truly thought about it, having been beside herself with rage and worry, mindlessly flying in the direction her power told her Basil’s mind lay, but now that he wasn’t there, anymore, she had no way of tracking the place, other than flying straight towards the West, hoping to trace back the route they’d taken flying out of it.

Even so, she did it, focusing on casting her power out ahead of her, scouting for any signs of her goal, even if the largest reason she did so was not to support her boss, or make up for her lackluster performance, but simply so she wouldn’t have to think about what Basil had said to her, and what’d happened, and the ramifications of both.

However, with no goal in sight, those memories and the thoughts attached to them were beginning to creep back into her consciousness. She wouldn’t be able to ignore them for long.

Just then, though, she saw something which simultaneously filled her with elation – if the base of the Gefährten wasn’t there, then she’d never find it – and dread.

Who the fuck had summoned a meteor?

She flew towards the gigantic, glowing rock falling from the sky, tracing its trajectory towards its impact site, and could soon see, faintly, the glittering that indicated the huge metal city she was looking for.

What the fuck is going on? I hope the boss is still alive…

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: ???, Amy, Chronicle, Elysium, Heaven's Dancer, Immanuel, Karasuha, Konrad, The Ascendant, The Dark
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Crying Grumpies

6a Jornada de la Liga de Malifaux, Cerrando la Brecha

Crying Grumpies

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Con dificultades y algún retraso ya hemos llegado al final de la 1a liga de Malifaux del Local, tan solo nos queda esta última jornada para darla por finiquitada. Y como si le dais un vistazo a la tabla de partidas podréis ver de las últimas tres jornadaqs faltan bastantes partidas por jugar he decido que daremos hasta el 1 de Febrero para jugar todas las partidas que quedan de la liga. Cuando llegue ese día daremos por concluida nuestra primera incursión más allá de la brecha.

Clasificación y Encuentros

Haga click para ver el pase de diapositivas.

6a Partida

 Duración de Ronda y Día de finalización de la Liga: 1 Febrero

Banda: 50 ss

Despliegue: Flanco

Estrategia

Turf War (Carneros) modificada

Al final de cada turno después del primero gana un punto de victoria si tienes dos o más miniaturas a 6” de la casa del centro del tablero.

Esquemas /Cada jugador tiene que escoger 2, máximo 3 PV por cada uno)

Una Línea en la Arena

Al final del encuentro cada banda gana 2PV si tiene al menos 4 marcadores de intriga en la linea central.

Si esta intriga es revelada a principio de la partida gana 1PV si al menos tiene dos marcadores de intriga en la linea central

Distraer (dobles)

Todas las miniaturas No-Peón de la banda pueden realizar una acción de Interactuar 1 para darle a una miniatura oponente a 1” la siguiente condición hasta final del encuentro:

Distraído: Esta miniatura puede realizar una acción de interactuar (2) para eliminar esta Condición, ninguna otra acción puede eliminar esta Condición.

Esta intriga no se revela. La primera vez que una miniatura enemiga gana Distraido deberás revelar esta intriga. Gana 1 PV si al final del turno dos miniaturas de la banda rival tienen la condición Distraído.

Guardaespaldas (Carneros)

Escoje una miniatura Compinche o Sicario de tu banda que debe ser protegida. Si no tienes Compinche o Sicario escoge la miniatura de mayor coste.

Revela esta intriga en cualquier momento. Al final de cada turno a partir del 4 gana 1PV si revelas esta intriga, la miniatura escogida está viva y se encuentra a más de 8” de su zona de despliegue. Gana 1PV adicional si esta miniatura acaba la partida en juego y con la mitad o más de sus puntos de vida.

Vendetta (5)

Escoge una miniatura propia que no sea Lider o Peon y tenga un coste mayor que 0. Escoge una miniatura del oponente con un coste igual o superior a tu miniatura escogida. Gana 1 PV y revela este esquema si el primer ataque de tu miniatura durante la partida es a la miniatura que has escogido del rival. Si la miniatura rival no esta en la mesa al final de la partida y se ha revelado este esquema gana 1PV. Si la miniatura que elimina a la miniatura rival es la que elegiste para la Vendetta gana 3 PV.

Plantar Explosivos (6)

Una vez por encuentro, al final del Turno Revela esta intriga y gana 1PV por cada miniatura enemiga que se encuentre a 3” de uno de tus Marcadores de intriga. Elimina todos tus Marcadores de  Intriga que estén a 3” de una miniatura enemiga.

La Mesa

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Edificios: Altura 3”. No se puede entrar en el interior y pueden ser escalados a mitad de tu movimiento. Ofrecen cobertura pesada.

Escaleras: Solo utillizables por miniaturas con peana de 30mm. Permiten escalar los edifficios sin penalización.

Pozos: Terreno difícil, reduce movimiento a la mitad.

Arboles: Quitan LOS, son infranqueables y ofrecen cobertura ligera.

Pilar Babilónico: Altura 12″. No escalable. Impide LOS, da cobertura pesada.


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In My Daydreams

A Good Boy: Part 2

In My Daydreams

“Always listens to him anyway?” I followed the obvious line of reasoning. “He’s not a motivator too, is he?”

Kals shook her head. “Yes, but it’s not that simple. We’re mostly immune. If we weren’t, we’d never be able to use our power without following our own orders.”

As Cassie and I sat down at the table across from Kals, Cassie glanced over at me. “Mostly?”

Kals brushed a lock of black hair out of her face. “Mostly. It works, but it’s hard. Do you have any people with motivator powers on your world?”

Thinking about Julie, former member of Justice Fist and now a fellow student at Stapledon, I said, “I know one, but there are probably more. Her mother had the same powers.”

Cassie barely let me finish before adding, “If there are more, they don’t seem to be running things on our world. I don’t see how they could. Julie orders people to do things, but it wears off and there’s no mystery about who’s responsible. Even if she did take a country over, all you’d need is a sniper rifle or big bomb to solve the problem.”

Kals shook her head saying, “That’s not how it works. Sure, if you’re inexperienced and you’ve got no one to train you, you go the direct route and bark orders at everybody, but that’s not the way the best motivators do it.”

“Uh huh,” I said, mostly to make sure she knew I was listening.

Kals didn’t say anything, waiting and only beginning to talk as Cassie frowned and sent the words, “What is she doing?” at me via our implants. Kals pointed at Cassie. “That’s what we do. We’re taught to constantly be watching people so we can use them. I knew you’d say something first. Nick’s patient. You’re not. You become suspicious more easily than he does. I’d have an easier time getting him alone and an easier time getting started on him, but he might be harder ultimately because I think he might notice what I’m doing.”

She looked at Cassie, eyes resting on the sword and then looking toward where the table hid her gun . “I’m not sure you’d notice, but if you did, you’d kill me or something.”

I leaned forward, putting my arms on the wooden table. “What would we notice?”

“I’m was getting to that. Most of the time, we have to motivate people we have no control over, people who know we’re there for the Ascendancy, and most of all, people who don’t trust us. We don’t command them. What we do is listen, maybe use a hint of our power to make them talk a little more freely. Then once you know what makes them tick, then you start modifying their memories—“

Cassie interrupted. “—Wait a second. You’re not a telepath. You can’t do that.”

Kals raised an eyebrow. “If you’re done, I’ll tell you how I can. People’s memories aren’t set. I can’t change something that people remember well as easily, but something half remembered? That’s something I can do. Look, you can do it. If you make up a memory with enough enthusiasm and detail, they’ll begin to remember it—at least if they think you might remember something they don’t. It’s the same for me except as long as I don’t contradict something big, it doesn’t matter, they’ll listen. Once you’ve found the right memories, you modify around them and you can change their whole meaning, change the person’s loyalties, likes and dislikes. You can’t do it all at once, but over time, you can do almost anything.”

She explained it like she might have described how anything worked, and not at all the way you’d describe warping someone’s personality to make them betray everything they cared about. On the other hand, she’d trained at it for years. That was enough time to get used to the idea.

Following the next question that came to mind, I asked, “So, okay… How does that explain why Maru isn’t manipulating your mom?”

“He can’t,” she said, gesturing outward with her hands as if it should have been obvious. “Maru’s a motivator, but my mom studied with the best teachers the Ascendancy had to offer. Maru couldn’t even get into her school. He worked for one of the professors, but he didn’t go there. He trained somewhere else. They used him as an opponent so that they’d learn how to fight other motivators. It’s hard to affect each other, but it’s possible—barely. She beat him again and again. He’s not at her level. I don’t think he’s even at my level.”

I thought about that. “Alright. So he met your mom at the school she went to and she hired him, why?”

She shook her head. “She didn’t hire him. My dad also went to the school at the same time. He hired him and somehow they all got involved in the resistance because of my mom. I’ve never gotten the full story. Mom’s impossible to talk to.”

I sighed. Either we weren’t getting anywhere, or we were on the edge of something big. “I think I asked this, but why did he try to warn us about you then?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I think he hates me, but I think he hates the entire second generation.”

She leaned back in her chair, smiling. “Does that mean you think he’s working for the Ascendancy?”

Cassie shrugged. “Maybe.”

I said, “I don’t know. He might be. He’s a little suspicious, but we don’t have anything resembling a motive. Do you?”

She tilted her head, pursing her lips. “Let me think.”

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Semicoop

Tabletop VS Couch Games!

Semicoop

Digital and analog games aren’t that far apart and are sometimes really much alike in theme (and also in gameplay, sort of). So we have some tips if you love one of the listed games above! If you like Kitchen Rush, you’re bound to like the digital game Overcooked. It’s a hilarious frantic co-op game in which you have to prepare and serve meals as fast as possible! … Oh wait, that’s the same as Kitchen Rush, right? Correct, only without sand timers and more fire! 😉 If you like Junk Art: try Tricky Towersa great Tetris stacking game… with physics! And if you like the never-ending storyline of Gloomhaven, Divinity is right up your alley with about 100 hours of gameplay. And you get to talk with cats and other animals.

So our BGG Secret Santa gifts have arrived, but we won’t be able to pick them up until tonight! Exciting! We can’t wait to see what we got! 😀

Do you know more digital and tabletop games that are almost the same? 

The post Tabletop VS Couch Games! appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Next Update

In My Daydreams

Hey everyone…

Everything fell apart this weekend in terms of writing. While I did get some done, it’s not enough for an update unless I stay up till 4am and risk falling asleep during work.

So, I’ll finish this update tomorrow night.

Jim

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Tieshaunn

Progress Update 8/12/17

Tieshaunn

So, I just wanted to let you all know how things currently stand.

I’m about 50% through the next chapter, “The Empty Dragon – Act 2” (of 3), but it’s turning out to be one of the most difficult to write to my satisfaction, as it deals with some seriously dark subject matter (take a look at act 1 to see just a few hints of it), which is why I haven’t finished it just yet.

I’ve also done about 20% of the work on the following chapter “Bad People”. That one… won’t be a big problem to finish, once I get to it. About a third of it is mostly just the Dark fighting the Gefährten.

Outlines for “Good People” and “The Man Who Knocked Out Lady Light” are complete, and the latter already has several scenes done in very rough first drafts.

Hopefully, Act 2 will be finished this weekend.

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn Tanner


Filed under: Writing
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In My Daydreams

A Good Boy: Part 1

In My Daydreams

Castle Rock Compound, Colorado, Earth

Haley sat next to Camille in the dining hall. The wide, grey rock room was nearly empty. A few people were inside but they sat in small clusters, none of the clusters anywhere near each other.

Camille leaned in,“You can talk about it. It’s normal.”

Haley eyed her, pausing before sticking her fork into a piece of rare steak. “Everybody knows I’m worried. Talking about it more won’t make me feel much better, but they’ll get sick of hearing about it soon if they aren’t already. And besides, it hasn’t even been two weeks yet. Lee said it would be at least two weeks, so they aren’t even late.”

Camille leaned over the table toward her. “I’m not sick of hearing about it. I think anyone would be worried, and I think everyone is—in their own way.”

Travis stopped next to them, surprisingly quiet despite his height and muscular bulk. As he sat down next to Haley, he said, “I’m not worried. Nick’s smart and so is Jaclyn—except Jaclyn’s also one of the most powerful people in the program. Cassie and Marcus are tough too. They can handle anything they’re likely to face. I’d bet they’re back sometime next week.”

Haley frowned.

Eyes on her expression, Travis leaned back in his chair. “What? I’m just saying that they’ll be okay. Is something wrong with that?”

She took a breath. “No.”

Travis watched her for a little while. “I hope you’re not worried that Nick will find someone else. He’s better than that, and even though they’ve got humans up there, what are they going to have in common with us, right? Besides, it’s not like Nick’s a player. There are guys in my fraternity who’d be going crazy up there because it’s not like anyone would be able to find them once they left.”

Haley stared at him. Giving both of them a quick look, Camille began to talk, “Is anyone planning anything tonight? I think the last time we did anything together was watch movies in Vaughn’s room.”

Travis shrugged, “I don’t think so. I think there’s a group thing tonight. The summer just got started so they’re trying to build up the group before they put us through hell.”

Amy walked up with her own tray and sat next to Camille, red hair in a ponytail and wearing exercise clothing. Haley could smell that she’d just come from working out—just like the rest of them.

Sitting down, Amy smiled, “Well, at least there shouldn’t be dragons this year.”

Travis laughed. “Yeah. Haley, when you’re missing Nick, think about that. It makes everything sound better. I wonder what Marcus is doing? Probably drawing everything. The guy barely ever stops drawing. I think he might be the only guy I know who’d rather draw a superhero than be one.”

Camille smiled. “Is Marcus any good at drawing?”

Travis stopped eating for a second. “Hard to say. He’s pretty good at drawing people who are wearing costumes, but he doesn’t do sensitive people staring sensitively into the distance pictures. His drawings have people punching each other.”

In her head, Haley thanked Camille for changing the topic. She couldn’t take much more of Travis’ support.

* * *

Hideaway

I let Kals into our rooms. She looked around as she followed me inside. “This place needs a party. Without people, it just looks abandoned.”

“Is that the way it normally is?” I watched as she ran her fingers across the top of one of the room’s desks.

“Abandoned? No. We let guests stay here, but we also use it with new arrivals. Oh, and during the epidemic the colony had back when I first arrived a few years ago, this was one of the hospitals.”

We stopped next to the suite’s table. Cassie and I exchanged glances and I said, “Epidemic?”

Kals nodded. “That’s right. It came in with our group of settlers. I don’t know where it came from but it spread before Iolan could stop it and it kept people down for days. I don’t know if it had an official name or if it was one of those new viruses that show up every now and again. I just know I could barely move for a few days and my head hurt bad enough that I could barely think. It was miserable.”

“I hope we don’t bring that home,” I told Cassie.

Kals pulled out a chair and sat down next to the table. “I doubt you will. From what I remember, if you contracted it, you got sick and it didn’t take long. But never mind that, what was Maru telling you about me?”

“Not a lot—just that you might try to command me to take you away from here, leaving the colony without protection.”

Her mouth compressed into a hard line and her cheeks reddened. “Well, fuck him. I’ve never tried to do anything like that. He’s stopped complaining about what I actually do, and started making things up. If I thought for half a second that it would do any good, I’d tell my mom, but she always listens to him anyway.”

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Semicoop

Consumer Hypocrisy

Semicoop

Check out the video review of Raptor by No Pun Included! And note: we really love Food Chain Magnate! 😀

So we’ve finally played Great Western Trail…! Sort of. We started playing, loved it, but there was this weird snowballing effect going on with Heinze’s score and the train and that’s when we discovered that we overlooked one of the rules that you have to place one of your workers on a station spot after claiming the bonus tile. We had no choice but to stop playing at that point because the ‘damage’ was done. We did really enjoy all the gameplay elements and can’t wait to try Great Western Trail again!

Yesterday was Heinze’s birthday and although I actually managed to gift him non-boardgame related things (such a challenge!!), he did, of course, get some games. We now own Raptor and Jaipur! Both very fine games. We’ve played Raptor yesterday and that game is hard and fun! Since it plays so quickly, you can easily play it multiple times in a row. But you can always just check the video by No Pun Included that is mentioned above. We can’t wait to try Jaipur tonight. Since we’re both very busy lately we haven’t had the time to play longer games, so it’s great to have a few more short games to play in the evening with a cup of tea.

For the people who don’t follow us on other channels, we’ve published another video last week. We’re huge fans Blade Runner 2049 and the baseline test just screamed to be Semi Co-op’ed. And so we did. 😉

The golden Standees 2017 – Information

Like mentioned last week, it’s almost time to present our third edition of the Golden Standees Awards! And like last year, we would like to offer you a chance to contribute an award! That means we will certainly share your award on our social media accounts and that there is a chance you’ll be published on our website. You don’t have to be an artist to participate! We’re just looking for fun awards and we all know that a simple stick figure drawing can be funny (for example, XKCD!). Or take a cool picture. Everything is welcome. So if there is a game, publisher, game designer, website, YouTube channel you would like to award, this is your chance! Remember that we are looking for ‘funny’ awards, not just an award for “The Best Board Game YouTube Channel”, etc.

We offer you a *.PNG , a *.PSD template and the font that’s being used. You can download the files here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/f9xybby0wq891id/AAByA6g63GRHvx6PMd7B6RQga?dl=0

The final deadline for contributing your own award is December 29th 2017 and you can send it to goldenstandees@semicoop.com.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop us a message. If you don’t have any experience with graphics software, but you do have an amazing idea for an award and want to draw it on paper – that’s fine too! You can just scan your drawing and mention your award name and the winner and we’ll make a fancy Golden Standee for you. If you want to do this, I do advise you to download and print an image of the Golden Standee from the URL above to make sure you are using the right dimensions.

We can’t wait to see what creative ideas you come up with!


Which reviewer has convinced you to buy the most games so far? 😉

The post Consumer Hypocrisy appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 10

In My Daydreams

Cassie raised an eyebrow. “And we’re supposed to believe that she’ll show up out of nowhere and demand that Nick flies her back to her old life even though she’s never done that before? Take it from someone with a difficult mom. I get sick of her, but I wouldn’t risk her life or the lives of all the people here.”

Maru frowned. “I’m sure that you’re not as difficult she is. She’s been determined to have her own way since she was a child and her mother and father indulged her too often.”

“Okay,” Cassie’s voice stayed low. “We’ve got it. She’s hard to deal with and you’re not impressed by her parents’ discipline methods. Is there anything else?”

Maru blinked. “I… don’t think so.”

He looked from Cassie to me. “Thank you for your time. I’ll be going.” Then he stepped out of the hatch and onto the ground.

When the hatch closed, we watched him go. I looked over at Cassie. She had her arms crossed over her chest and her face wore a small smile.

“What brought that on?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Not much. Anyway, I wasn’t that mean to him—at least not more than he deserved. I didn’t see anything about her that said she was willing to endanger the colony. From what you told us about the conversation you had with her, it sounded like she was telling you what she did so that we wouldn’t cause problems here.”

I thought about it. “That was my impression. I got the feeling that she cared for the people here.”

“Exactly,” Cassie pointed her finger at me. “It’s like he came over here just to make Kals look bad.”

“What does he get out of that?” I supposed that if Jadzen died, the leadership of the colony would go to somebody. If he discredited her, it might be that much more likely to go to him, but it wasn’t as if we, the local Xiniti nation representatives would be making that decision. Far from it, I would have guessed. I’d have thought that outsiders would, if anything effectively encourage the colony to go for the other direction. It wasn’t as if we had any connections here.

Cassie leaned toward the windshield, watching Maru go. “I don’t know. Maybe we should ask her.”

“I suppose we could. I’ve no clue where she is though. Oh. Wait a second.” My implant volunteered that the colony directory included her bracelet’s address and that I could contact her any time.

I sent her a text—sort of. What I actually sent her was a text sized bit of information sent directly from my brain. I’m not sure that counts, but it wasn’t direct communication. It was a snippet of communication, so a “text” is the closest I’ve got. Regardless, my communication said, “We’ve got some questions for you about Maru.”

Her reply came as, “My favorite person ever. Did he say that he doesn’t like me?” Along with the reply came a feeling of distraction and a sense that she should be paying attention to something else.

It made me wonder what feelings my text included. I sent back, “Is this a bad time?”

“I’m at work. We’re planting seedlings. I’ll drop by when I’m done.” Again it came with distraction, but also a sense of relief.

I told her thanks and concentrated on the real world, that being the cabin of the ship and Cassie in this case. “She’ll drop by when she’s done with work.”

She grinned. “The party worked. If we hadn’t had it, you’d have been the random investigator guy or I would have had to make the call. This way, you’re ‘that guy she talked to last night’. That’s much better.”

“It wouldn’t be if I’d started talking about faster than light engineering. Then I’d have been ‘that boring guy at the party’.”

Cassie pressed the button that opened the hatch. “But you didn’t. Maybe you would have in high school, but you’ve been dating Haley for two or three years now and you know she’s got no interest in it. You’ve learned how to talk to normal people without even trying to. So, what was Kals doing at work?”

I followed her out of the ship. “Planting seedlings? We didn’t go too deeply into it.”

Cassie grinned at me. “She didn’t want to bore you. Did she say when she got off of work?”

“No. If agricultural work goes anything like at home, my bet would be that she starts when it’s light and goes for eight hours?”

We started walking across the landing field. Cassie peered down at a small hole in the ground that must have been the burrow for some small animal. “I bet she’s off soon. It’s most of the way through the afternoon.”

We arrived back at the council building after a few minutes of walking. Cassie was right that work ended soon. Soon after we got back, I saw a lot of people walking the streets on the way to their houses, most of them looking like they’d been working in the dirt—covered with mud up to their knees and dirty hands.

Kals didn’t arrive until the crowed thinned out and when she did arrive, she didn’t look dirty at all. Between the combed hair, clean jumpsuit and hint of makeup, it was obvious she’d cleaned up before she came over. It fit. With a mother like Jadzen, I could imagine that she’d never consider dropping by on the way home from work.

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EPU - What's New

UF/FI: OOTR: The Federation Lives Forever! Chapter 15

EPU - What's New
The Federation Lives Forever! jumps back down to Sakuragaoka to check in with the junior varsity. They seem to have found a keyboard playerbut will they ever think of a name? And are they about to have bigger things to worry about? It's Chapter 15: "Call Me Lightning"! 2017/12/04
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Tieshaunn

Small Update

Tieshaunn

I added three more examples in the Meta-Powers File. You can find them at the very bottom.


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Tieshaunn

Brennus File 17: Shifters

Tieshaunn

There was a full story update just a few hours before this one. Click here to read it, if you haven’t done so yet.

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Depending on how broadly one is willing to define, the Shifter classification (which coincides but is not completely encompassed by the Morphing rating) is the single most common type of power there is, outnumbering even Espers two to one, if not more so.

To understand why, one must understand the nature of Shifters. In simple terms:

A Shifter is a metahuman capable of changing their physical state.

This encompasses both shapeshifters and numerous other kinds of powers, which will be enumerated later in this document.

An important distinction, which will be touched upon later, goes to One-Time Shifters, metahumans whose shape changes exactly once, during their manifestation, and thereafter remains constant. While one may consider that to not be a dedicated power, nor worthy of the ‘Shifter’ label, there are certain common elements that justify it being included in this document.

Furthermore, there is a large number of metahumans who have Shifting as a required secondary ability to support or enable their main power, or to protect themselves from the effects of their own power (such as a fire manipulator whose body has adapted to be all but immune to heat, or a metahuman with aquatic powers being able to grow gills). These may often come to be from Origins which have little or even nothing at all in common with the kind of factors which normally lead to Shifter powers.

***

Common Origins

Almost all forms of Shifting powers come from Origins which involve an issue with form or image, be it physical and mental.

The physical ones are the most simple and tend to produce the most straightforward Shifter powers: imagine a girl, trapped in a burning building, slowly being consumed by flames; a man lost in the desert, slowly dying of thirst. Another who falls off a boat in a storm, going under the waves and drowning. A researcher in Antarctica whose base was destroyed by a storm, lost in the cold as she freezes to death. Or turn it around: a man has spent his whole life training to lift weights, against all derision for such a barbaric, backwards hobby until he, finally, wins the World Championship for Strongmen, manifesting upon receiving validation that, yes, his form is truly exceptional.

On the other side, there are mental triggers; in the age of body image issues, these often play a role in Origins, leading to the vast number of Physique powers amongst metahumans, usually as a lesser aspect of the ability (interestingly, there are about as many male as female Physique-powered metahumans out there, in spite of common cliches). Such are the single most common type of One-Time Shifters, and perhaps the most common power type of all.

On a more extreme level, severe mental pressure relating to one’s identity can result in some rather disturbing Shifter powers. A feeling of entrapment, relating often to one’s body, can also result in a Shifter power, or at least a Shifter element attached to other powers. Imagine a boy who’s bullied daily at school due to being overweight, having cruel pranks played on him that continually embarrass and humiliate him, until he’s pushed too far; a young girl tries to live up to her late mother’s image, only to always fall short, particularly in the looks department, seeing herself as far uglier than her mother (whether or not that is true is irrelevant to the example), until one particularly painful reminder that she’s just not as pretty as her mother was that makes her snap. A man was born to a purpose, raised to fulfill it, saddled with restrictions which bind him to the will of another; his whole life is just one, long series of reminders that he belongs to someone else, and he snaps, manifesting in a moment of weakness after being reminded by someone or something that he’s merely a plaything of a greater being.

***

Many Forms

Physique/Adonis
The most simple and common type of Shifter, and a One-Time Shifter at that, and also perhaps the single most commonly appearing power, these are abilities which permanently and lastingly improve and change the recipients’ body, usually to adhere to their beauty ideals (though they also at times come with a twist – it is not unheard of that a person may have their sex changed in this way). Like all One-Time Shifters, these variations can not be negated, dampened or enhanced, as they appear to be permanent, viable modifications to one’s biology.

Chimaera
While technically a subset of the Physique type, Chimaera’s can get strange enough that they deserve being listed separately. A Chimaera appears to be an inversion or carricature of the Adonis, a person whose manifestation has left them twisted, often to the point of being truly inhuman in body. It is particularly common for drug-related Origins (or those involving the incipient metahuman’s own death) to create Chimaeras, though they are far from the only causes and, in fact, a Chimaera trait may appear completely on its own with no clear reason why, appended to another power.

Transformers
Another very common type of Shifter, the Transformer has a basic, often plain human form and can switch into a single (or sometimes several related but distinct) form(s), often with powers which are only available in their alternate form.

Kimotas
A partially tongue-in-cheek subclass of Transformers, Kimotas need some manner of trigger in order to transform, be it a ‘magic word’, a particular substance or anything like that.

Darwins
These shifters do not (or do not entirely) control their morphing, but can morph in a variety of ways based on outside influence (be it environmental, or otherwise). Often crosses over into the Meta-rating.

Modals
The most common type of free-form shifters, these metahumans can shift within certain limitations, but are bound to these, such as a shifter who can take on any animal form, or who can take on any form but it’s always made of concrete.

Toolboxes
Less restrained than Modals, Toolboxes have a collection of options which they can mix and match at will. Depending on which options they have available, they can be incredibly versatile and even edge into a Meta-rating.

Freeforms
Can take any shape, with only minor limitations. Extremely dangerous.

***

Traits

Generally speaking, there are certain traits by which Shifters can be classified and rated. These are:

Consistency
Do they shift into a single fixed, or a variety of fixed forms, or can they come up with new ones on the fly (even if it’s just repurposing the same basic elements)?

Permanence
Are their changes permanent, or maintained by their power? If the former, than nullifying their power will only prevent them from changing away from their current shape, not force them to change into their ‘true’ form, as whichever form they’re currently in, is their true form. One-Time Shifters are always permanent.

Mass-Limitation
Is the Shifter limited to a fixed mass (usually that of their true form) or can they increase or decrease it? If so, within what limits (there is no known unlimited case).

Sympathy
A strange term, admittedly, but it refers to a very important trait – if one form of the Shifter is harmed, does that harm (wounds, power effects, etc) carry over to their other form(s) as they shift? Can make a huge difference in a fight.

Forms Per Minute (fpM)
The term for a Shifter’s speed – how often can they change their form within one minute? The record-holder here is definitely Hemming with the ability to assume hundreds of wholly distinct forms (usually assumed to be about 300 in a single minute).

***

A Common Issue

There is an issue, an ailment, a problem, which haunts many a Shifter, particularly those with multiple forms or the ability to assume any form; a problem so common it has its own scientific name that is widely used in literature dealing with powers, particulary the psychological toll they take on metahumans.

Shifter Dissociation.

Many a Shifter suffers due to feeling that their body is not their own anymore, or that it no longer truly represents their identity, due to changing so drastically whenever they use their powers. This can range from a slight unease whenever they are reminded of the fact to full-blown suicidal depression and has claimed many a life (for a variety of reasons) throughout metahuman history.

It is most common in more powerful Shifters and often appears so immediately and so powerfully that it may be considered, at times, to be a full-blown Power Derangement, though it is not always so, and most often develops over time as a Shifter comprehends the extent of their powers.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this, and no standard treatment has yet been invented, due to the highly individualistic nature of every single Metahuman’s power as well as their individual issues and personalities playing into this particular disorder.

***

Exemplary Shifters

  • Kraquok: One of the oldest and most famous of Shifters, Kraquok is a founding member of the Dark Five and one of the few people to repeatedly fight Lady Light and walk away (though he’s never actually defeated her). He also happens to be Severance’s archenemy and rival, an enmity that stretches back to the early 1920’s. His power allows him to grow in size and power the more damage he takes, growing faster proportional to the amount of damage he took relative to his size at the time, with no known hard limit. As he grows, he eventually develops the ability to use the Mortal Coil, one of the most lethal attacks known, a breath weapon which ages anything it touches at a frightening rate – it is all but always lethal to take even a glancing hit from it, as it is a true temporal effect, and so cuts through most defenses. His only limitation seems to be that, as he grows larger, attacks which previously caused great harm cause less and less so, and once he stops taking a sufficient amount of damage, he not only stops growing but also begins to shrink again.
  • Severance: While most of his abilities are unknown, one that is known is that he is capable of contorting and deforming his body to a ridiculous extreme, to the point where he can actually fold himself into a briefcase, for example, or squeeze himself through the gap between a door and the floor.
  • Bakeneko: Aimi’s power allows her to assemble any form she wants within the limits of her own mass out of a toolbox of options she gains through her power scanning nearby living beings (animals or plants). She ‘assembles’ a form out of several options offered to her by her power and then shifts into it and can potentially take on any form that could possibly be assembled out of pieces of all living beings, though she can not change her mass (though she can compress or stretch it, if need be, within limits).
  • Ares VII: Possibly the member of the Olympians who most closely matches his namesake both in personality and power, Ares is a brute of a man, both literally and figuratively; his power allows him to absorb non-living material in order to transform into an armoured, heavily armed form which closely resembles a warrior in arms, growing larger, denses and generally more powerful the more material he absorbs, though he can only absorb one kind of solid material at a time (he prefers steel).
  • Dionysus: The original (and current) Dionysus is a grab-bag if there ever was one, with one of his powers being the ability to take on any human or animal shape, though only one at a time. He likes to get very naughty with it.
  • Dolphin Blue: A current member of Japan’s Okinawa Sentai team, Dolphin Blue has the power to transform his body into a semi-fluid state, reshape it, then solidify into this new form. He is limited by both his total mass and the amount of time it takes to do so (several minutes per change).
  • Chrysalis: A woman or girl of unknown origin (even their original sex is unknown, though she identifies as a female now), Crysalis is a mercenary villain with the ability to spin a cocoon around herself, going into a kind of incubation period during which she designs a new shape, which she then takes on before bursting out of her namesake chrysalis. It takes hours to change form and she appears to be limited to organic ones, but she can vary her size widely (ranging from cat-size to building-size) and take on very eldritch forms.
  • Hemming: Probably the most powerful, likely the most dangerous and definitely the most evil Shifter known, Hemming is the founder and leader of the Savage Six and generally considered to be one of the single most reviled humans to ever live, rivalling if not surpassing even Weisswald. He is a monstrously powerful Shifter, capable of taking on any form he can imagine, be it organic, non-organic, solid, fluid or even gaseous. He can decrease his mass down to that of a very small mouse, or increase it to the size of a very large elephant, if not more so. He is capable of taking hundreds of forms within a single minute, morphing so fast he often eschews normal movement in favour of simply shifting himself forward, which allows him to move at super-sonic speeds. He can recreate simple technology (he’s been known to masquerade as kitchen appliances, cars, weapons; though whether he can actually be functional or merely takes on said appearance is a different matter) and adapt his body to counter anything thrown at him, meaning that most attacks will only work once or twice before he gets used to it. Being able to shift at very nearly the speed of thought (and he thinks very fast), he is effectively less of a Shifter and more of a mobile, super-fast damage effect that adapts to any resistance he meets. And that’s his lesser power, as both he and those in the know consider his Super-Intelligence to be his most dangerous ability.
    He has never been beaten and never failed to kill a target he actually went after, save for one. Pound for pound, he’s the one member of the Savage Six you least want to face in combat and anyone who knows him claims that he lacks any true weaknesses. He is also considered the benchmark against which all other Shifters are measured, as his abilities are unprecedented and unsurpassed.

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Tieshaunn

B13.20 Call of the Sleeper

Tieshaunn

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Prisca was still alive.

Somehow, even though he’d deduced as much with great certainty, he hadn’t truly felt sure about it until he saw her. A weight dropped off his shoulders.

Not that seeing her was a pleasant experience. He wasn’t petty, wasn’t… concerned with her physical beauty the way he’d seen other boys be. Some part of him, a part he didn’t really understand, a part he’d started to associate with Macian, if only because he couldn’t figure out where he might have picked it up otherwise, balked at the mere thought of judging things by appearance. Of getting attached to the outside, be it good or bad.

It wasn’t a good thing, wasn’t a good part. He didn’t like such things because he didn’t, on a fundamental level, trust them. Them, or anyone, really. A small part of him that whispered, this could be fake, someone might be twisting things.

It was the same part that had advised him to keep so many secrets from his friends. To compartmentalise them, keep Tim and Aimi apart from Vasiliki and Dalia. To keep them all apart from Prisca, until he couldn’t justify it anymore. It was the part of his that had shouted betrayal when, in honest worry over his state, his friends had crossed the boundaries he’d set and gotten together to take care of him.

Even further, it had made him twitchy around Dalia and Vasiliki in a way he hadn’t understood for a long time. Their beauty had been a barrier between them, rather than something that drew him in, like it did damn near every other male they ran into.

It wasn’t something all-consuming. He could still appreciate beauty, once he could be sure it was honest. Whatever that meant. But upon first contact, it repulsed, made him stay at a distance.

With Prisca, it had, strangely, made things easier. When beauty was an initial barrier, meeting a girl who failed to live up to the common understanding of beauty so thoroughly had, actually, made things easier in the beginning. Let him reach out, connect, in a way he wouldn’t have been able to with any of the gorgeous girls in his life.

In a twisted way, Aimi was more attractive to him, at first glance, than someone like, say, Gloom Glimmer, even though the latter was literally supernaturally desirable, simply because Aimi was plain and plainness didn’t trigger that suspicious, dark part of his.

Finding out that she’d become a shapeshifter, it had shaken him on a level he hadn’t even recognised, back then. With the benefit of hindsight, he thought that that had been trhe true reason why he’d kept her at arm’s length, rather than tell her about his secret identity, like he’d done with Tim.

With all that, he’d been able to see past Prisca’s bodily and mental issues – and she had many of both, perhaps even more so than he did – to find and appreciate the person underneath. In time, he’d even come to appreciate the remnants of the beauty she should have had. The beauty Dusu had taken from her.

When the goblins kidnapped her and he’d been forced to operate on her to keep her alive, that same detachment had allowed him to stay calm and do what needed to be done, rather than balk at the thought of cutting open the girl he loved to attach machines to her failing heart.

When she’d mutilated herself to escape Hastur, when the stress and the strain of that wretched day had proven too much for her body and he, with Gloom Glimmer’s help, had worked on her again, it had helped keep him calm and focused.

It had not helped when she’d manifested her power. Her projection, gorgeous as it was, had made him twitchy again, though less so than others, as he’d already known her. But that part of his, it twitched and moaned, whispering suspicions about this new, false form.

But it wasn’t. Never was. It was hers, in a way that her actual body couldn’t be anymore. A form that came purely from within herself. Whereas her body had been twisted, broken, changed, by Dusu, making it not wholly hers any more. She’d been right about that. He’d seen that, come to appreciate what she herself called her true body, and gotten comfortable enough to, experiment. They hadn’t gone the whole way yet, what Dalia would call ‘home base’, but they’d run most of the other ones by now.

Thinking on it in retrospect, no one who knew her even a little had been even remotely surprised that she’d cut her own eyes out, rather than be twisted further by another monster.

None of that made it, however, easy or even remotely comfortable to see her now, as she lay on that bed that had become the sum and limit of her waking world. She was pale as a corpse and moved about as much as one, her lungs no longer functioning in any case – machines pumped the oxygen she needed to survive into her, instead.

Survive. Not live.

Her hair was gone, what few tufts she’d had left fallen off and cleaned up since the last time he saw her, a week or so ago (she hated it when he saw her like this, preferred it when he interacted solely with her projection, as much as possible), making her head seem inordinately large, especially in proportion to her emaciated, wasted-away body. Her ruined eyes, at least, were covered by bandages. Most of her body was covered by a blanket, save for her spindly thin arms with those long, tender, weak fingers, which lay atop the expensive silk sheets (her mother did everything to make her comfortable, no matter how small, even if it meant buying the hospital a whole set of silk sheets for the entire intensive long-term care ward), though the many tubes and wires that ran into her body were still outlined by them.

Not that he needed to see them with his eyes – he had them in his mind. He’d installed them, after all. A rushed job, at first, during her kidnapping. Then, later, he’d swung by the hospital, pretending it was merely his own perfectionism, a sense of professional pride, or at least generic heroic sensibility, which took him there, and had refined his work, making more permanent accommodations for her. Explaining to the doctors how to properly clean them, what the read-outs meant and how to do simple maintenance (but to call him if anything actually went wrong). Then, later, another rushed job after Hastur had visited her, followed by another round of refinement, all of it tapping a degree of medical knowledge and an understanding of surgery that’d humbled the professionals involved and whose origin he could not make out. He’d never studied medicine in any capacity beyond basic first aid, had never read the textbooks or anything like that. And it wasn’t like his gadgeteering, either, not really. The devices he’d made to keep her alive, including her current set, they were partially gadgets, yes. But his surgical skill, which had had the head surgeon of the hospital, one of the most decorated professionals of his craft, grumbling about how unfair powers were and how he wished he was so good, that was wholly his own, and yet he had no idea how or why.

Still, all that work… fixing her, putting her body back into (barely) working order, refining his work to make her more comfortable, more healthy, as much as that was possible… it had felt comfortable. Relaxing, familiar, like something he’d done so many times it had become routine.

It thoroughly creeped him out, as grateful as he may have been for the capability, because as far as he knew, the very first time he’d ever even performed first aid, much less surgery, had been after the fight against Snow Queen, when he’d saved Vasiliki’s life.

Still, of all the many things that haunted him about his condition – whatever it may actually be – that was one he could appreciate at least. It had helped him save her, in some small way.

Even now, looking at her, his eyes flickered left and right, reading the data on his devices’ readouts and the monitors of the equipment the hospital had provided (all of it cutting edge, courtesy of Mrs Fion again), and his heart sank. Massive organ failure. Slowly spreading brain damage, negligible now, but liable to mount and go out of control at any time, depending on how Dusu’s poison continued to work. The machines attached to her, his machines, were the only thing keeping her alive now, and even they would be insufficient soon enough.

”Basil…” Prisca whispered, barely audible with her lips barely moving.

He was by her bedside in an instant, not even noticing the distance he crossed as he pulled a chair closer and sat down as close to her as he could.

His hand reached for hers, the right one, on top of the blanket, after he took his gauntlet off. Her fingers were cold, and she didn’t have the strength to do more than lightly curl them, so he made up for it by gripping them as tightly as he dared.

”I am here,” he spoke, softly, his voice just slightly hoarse. Then he smiled, weakly, hoping she could somehow tell he did by the tone of his voice changing. “You knew I was coming.” His eyes flickered to the tablet he’d made for her, the one linked up to Eudocia, which Primrose now held in her expertly manicured hands, her long, red nails standing out starkly against the colourless metal. He looked back at Prisca.

“Of course… Eudocia told me… when you showed up… in front of the hospital,” she whispered, slightly turning her head towards him. “We were so very worried… when you left… Eudocia wouldn’t… tell me where you… went, but… she was worried, too.”

His eyes went up again, looking closer at Primrose. ‘We’, she says. But apart from Eudocia. So, her mother.

Primrose was always an interesting, painful sight to see, for him. So beautiful (twitch, twitch, balk), yet such a reminder of what Prisca might have been, should have been that it hurt to look at her. Classically gorgeous and just barely showing a little gray in her long red hair, he knew a lot of employees at the hospital always looked forward to her visits just to get a good look at her.

Now, though, she was clearly bereaved, her eyes showing a little red and her make-up barely hiding the palor of her skin. For her, for a woman as composed as Primrose Fion, this was the equivalent of another having shorn her hair short and scratched up her own face to show her grief.

And Prisca wasn’t even dead yet.

”I’ve known for a while, Basil,” she spoke softly, far more tenderly than she’d ever talked to him before (she hadn’t particularly liked him at first, though she’d never voiced her reasons or even actually put words to her antipathy to him, that he knew of. “Though I hadn’t told Prisca I’d figured it out until today.” She smirked, a little of her usual arrogance returning to her face. “I’m not stupid, you know? In fact, I am rather far on the right side of the bell curve, I dare say. My baby girl gets a boyfriend and then a hero who has no connection to this whatsoever happens to save her life not once, but twice? And keeps coming back to refine her life support? It wasn’t hard to connect the dots, especially after the second time.” Her smirk faded, and she lowered her eyes, looking at the tablet in her hands. “Now I know why you seemed to secretive and, at times, dishonest.”

Ah, that explains that, at least.

”For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I treated you so coldly,” she continued on, “and I’m grateful for all you’ve done for my baby.”

”Mo-om…” Prisca complained weakly.

Basil focused on her again.

“Basil… you did… something stupid, right?” she guessed, her voice grown hoarse, as if she was already straining it. “Eudocia… would not… have hidden it… from me… if it wasn’t… stupid.” She curled her fingers around his, again. “I’d… fall asleep… and smack you… for it, but… the docs’ say… I wouldn’t survive… falling asleep… again.”

He sighed, feeling the many weights on his shoulders. “I suppose it was. There is, no gentle way to say it. I found out where Dusu hides, so I gathered as many people as I could and went after her.”

All warmth fled the room, leaving only the sounds of the machines. Both the woman and the girl were listening, intently. Primrose was radiating a kind of hatred that made the Dark’s fury appear meager, her fingers curling so hard around the tablet’s edges, it groaned. Prisca… Prisca didn’t show any of the hate she usually did whenever Dusu came up, too weak to work herself up like that anymore.

”We got her,” he continued, just barely louder than a whisper. “She is with the United Heroes, now.”

Primrose drew in a sharp breath, a faint expression of hope on her face…

”You didn’t get a cure, though,” Prisca continued for him, her voice softer than a spring breeze. “Or at least it won’t be done in time. I can tell.”

He lowered his head, taking her hand with both of his and raising it to touch it to his forehead. “I am so sorry, Prisca. She never had a cure. Never could make one. The whole thing, it was her attempt at finding one. The poison, it was meant for her, to improve her body, to make her a pseudo-Adonis, but it failed and messed her up,” he spoke, the words tumbling out of him, unable to contain them any longer. “So she unleashed it on Hawaii hoping that someone else would find a cure that she could then co-opt for herself.” At some point along the speech, which felt like a confession to him, he started crying. He couldn’t bear to raise his eyes, to look at her mother’s face or, worse, at Prisca’s.

Her fingers curled around his as tightly as they could, weakly holding onto him as something escaped her throat.

It was a sound unlike any he could remember hearing, ever, and which he hoped he’d never, ever have to hear again. It was a sound of rage, of hatred; of grief and sadness. The sound of an old pain, never gone but scarred over, only to have it torn open again. The sound of a tearing heart, which reached out and into everyone who heard it, making their own hearts break out of sheer sympathy.

It was a sound Basil would remember for the rest of his life.

He held onto her hand as the sound continued, and was quickly joined by her mother who put the tablet onto the bed, near her legs, so she could take her daughter’s left hand into both of hers.

Basil didn’t know what to say, what to do. He had trouble carrying on normal conversations, often, nevermind this.

What could he say? There was no promise left to make that might ease her pain. No soothing words he could think of, no platitude to lessen the impact.

What could he do? He’d found Dusu, and it hadn’t helped. He’d done everything he could think of, short of trying to make a complete engram of her brainpatterns to later implant into a healthy body, but… even if that could solve this, there wasn’t the time to do it.

All he had left was to hope for a miracle, and even in an age of superpowers those were in extremely short supply at best.

”B-basil, I, I…” Prisca tried to speak, but had to break off, her voice too hoarse to continue. Her mother had to pick up a small cup with a straw, tilting it to let some water flow into Prisca’s mouth, before she could continue. “Basil, I, I love you,” she said, tears of salt and blood running down from the bandage around her eyes, and his heart broke a little more. “And, and, I don’t want you to b-blame your, yourself,” she continued. “Y-you did, you did all you, could. M-more than, than anyone could, ever expect of, of another, even, a boyfriend.” She turned her head towards him to smile weakly, her thin, pale lips – barely differentiated from the rest of her skin – stretching over her empty gums. “I l-l-love you and, and I hope, hope you’ll, you’ll find… the happiness, you deserve. D-don’t be, be too… sad, abo-“

He cut her off by pressing his lips to hers, softly, so very softly, his tears mixing with hers for a long, long moment.

”No,” he said softly. “I didn’t do more… than anyone could expect, because… I expected more of myself.”

She smiled again, while her mother just cried, lowering her head as she cradled her hand to her breast, her heart. “Silly… but that’s part of what… I love about you. One of the… many things.”

Basil had trouble seeing anything, had trouble breathing, but he forced the words out, anyway: “I love you, Prisca. I wish I could… put it into words, what you… mean to me, but words have never… been my strong suit. I love you, and I’m not going to give up for as long as I live. Not on you, not on anything.”

Her lips trembled and, for just a moment, her hand seemed to regain some strength, as she held onto his as tightly as possible, nearly cutting off the bloodflow to his digits.

The machines around them were starting to edge into red areas, warning signs starting up. Especially the brain monitor. It wasn’t going to be fast. It was going to be slow, and painful, and ugly, and they all knew it.

“P-please, g-g-go,” she croaked, voice thick with tears. “I, I, I don’t want you, to, to see-“

He didn’t want to. He didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to watch, didn’t want to do nothing. Didn’t want to be there, didn’t want not to be there.

But he couldn’t choose, so he at least fulfilled her last wish.

He left.

***

He found himself back in his bedroom. Somehow, he’d managed to get from the hospital to his and Amy’s home while barely noticing it. Barely remembering to pull up his hood and hide his face.

Seeing how he’d been blind with tears the whole way, it was amazing he hadn’t run into anything or anyone, or been run over by something. Or maybe he had and he just didn’t remember.

He’d thrown his cloak onto his bed, and taken his lefthand gauntlet, the one with the variable force-field emitter off, holding it in his hands as he stared down at it. His ravenbot had flown off his shoulder and sat atop his computer screen, watching him with what might have been curiosity if it’d been an actual animal.

There was none of the numbness he’d hoped for. Even though people often talked about how they went numb when overwhelmed by tragedy, he felt none of that. There was no numbness, no deadening of his emotions, no relief.

He threw the gauntlet at the wall with all his strength, hard enough that it dug into it through the expensive wallpaper, becoming stuck.

What was even the point of that thing? What was the point of any of his inventions, his ideas, if none of them could even save the girl he loved?

He tore his armour off, bit by bit, even the boots, throwing them aside without a second thought. Tore off the top of his bodysuit, throwing it onto the bed to join his stupid, pretentious cloak.

Thought and memory my ass.

”I…” he began to talk to the empty room, but broke off. What could he even say? “I-“

There was a flash of red hair, a brief vision of a sweetly curved body in a private school uniform, and then her lips met his, her strong, soft arms wrapping around his neck.

He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close, pressing her body to his, feeling her softness and warmth as his other hand went to the back of her head, fingers intertwining with her hair, pulling her even closer, deepening the kiss.

When her lips parted and their tongues touched, all the worries and the sadness and the grief disappeared, leaving just her.

He clung to her like a drowning man, and she to him, mashing their lips together, their tongues dancing lovingly inside their mouths, from one to the other and back again, they-

She was gone, gone as fast as she’d appeared, and he was alone.

He staggered back a step, raising a hand up to touch his lips with two fingers.  Feeling the warmth. Still able to taste her.

Had she really been here? A last flash of her power, as she’d drifted off to her final sleep? A desperate hallucination of his? A random memory his broken mind had called up?

His computer’s screen lit up, pure white, showing only two words from Eudocia.

She’s gone.

His scream shook the house.

***

Somehow, at some point, he put on some clothes. A black shirt with some print on it, a gift from Dalia, black jeans and black socks. Dramatic, but somehow appropriate.

He’d thrown a jacket on over it and put on his shoes and just left. It was inadequate for the cold weather – it had started to snow, even – but he didn’t care. Somehow, he found his way to the park again, to the bench he’d talked with Magnus, what felt like a lifetime ago. The park was covered in snow, but was otherwise completely empty, save for himself and his raven.

He was still not numb. He wished he was, but he wasn’t.

He was hurt. Heartbroken. Grief-stricken. Pained. Tortured. Tormented. He could go on, think of more words. Everything, everything, except numb.

The only reason he hadn’t yet thrown up was because he hadn’t eaten a thing in over twenty-four hours.

And so he sat amidst the snow on the bench and watched the busy street in the distance, past the bare trunks and branches of the trees. Cars and pedestrians passing by, carelessly, carefree. Happily.

He saw children smile and point at Christmas ornaments in the store windows, or at toys they wanted (there was a toy shop right there in a straight line in front of him, on the other side of the street).

His raven’s programming had it fly over, landing on a branch near the street so it could watch over the people, looking for trouble.

Yet all he could think of was that Prisca wouldn’t get to enjoy a single Christmas with him. That she wouldn’t get to dress up in what she’d called a ‘slutty Santa dress’ and show off her perfect dream-body.

And one of the reasons why she wouldn’t was he. Because he hadn’t been good enough, in the end. He’d gone to bat, or at least he hoped he’d gone to bat, all out, and it had still not been enough.

God, I hope there really wasn’t anything more I could have done, a treacherous little voice spoke inside of him. If there was and I just didn’t do it…

He lowered his head, hot tears burning on his cold skin before they fell down to join the snow at his feet.

Time passed and Basil still did not feel numb.

Snow crunched underneath someone’s feet, and Basil turned his head, slowly, to the right. He saw their feet, first. Beautiful winter boots made of soft, brown leather, sporting hand-crafted stitching decorations and sensible, yet still distinctly noticable heels. Even if he hadn’t seen these boots before, he’d recognise the handiwork instantly.

Feeling his heart skip a beat, he slowly raised his head, up along the long legs in black stockings, the sensible, knee-length green skirt and the hand-made cream-coloured sweater under an expensive, thin winter jacket worn open. A pure red scarf (hand-made, of course) wrapped around her slender neck to protect it against the weather.

She also wore a handmade red wool bonnet with floppy ear covers from which two long tassels extended, and held Graymalkin in her arms, the heavy cat happily snuggling against her chest as she seemed completely unbothered by his prodigious weight.

Her eyes were red, as if from crying, making their green colour stand out even more.

”Vasiliki,” he said, his voice thick. It didn’t surprise him that she’d found him. They’d taken steps, long ago, to make sure each of them would be able to find the others, if need be. For him, it was done with his ravens, with transponders sewn into select articles of clothing. For Tyche, it was just following her gut, which usually worked out. Or so they’d thought. For Hecate, it was via samples of their blood, a little from each of them, contained and preserved within a jewel for each.

He expected her to glare at him, or accuse him or just shout at him, but instead she just took a step closer and looked at the bench.

Scooting over, he watched her sit down, her knees touching and tilted to the side. Graymalkin stretched after she put him down on her lap and got up, patting over onto Basil’s lap where he walked in a circle, then rubbed his face against Basil’s hand, once, before he curled up and went to sleep.

Basil looked down at his cat, petting him behind the ears, before he looked up at Vasiliki again.

Once more, he had no idea what to say.

Her eyes searched his face, for something. He couldn’t tell whether she found what she looked for.

”I’m so sorry, Basil,” she said, her voice thick. “Eudocia, she told me what happened. I came as soon as I could.”

He looked away, unable to meet that soulful gaze of hers. “It is over,” he said, lamely. He couldn’t say that it was alright, or anything like that. He didn’t want to.

”I wish we could’ve… that maybe,” she choked on the words, and he could hear renewed tears in her voice. “I tried to come up with some kind of healing spell, but nothing worked. Maybe, if w-“

”I thought you would be angry at me,” he cut her off, unable to bear listening to her say exactly what he himself was thinking. “I would have expected you to scream at me, not…”

”Angry at you,” she said in a neutral tone. “Of course I’m angry at you, you blockhead,” she continued, her voice both softer and harder at the same time. “More than you know.”

He kept his eyes averted. “I am sorry,” he said, feeling his stomach turn over and over. “I am sorry, but I could not betray her. Even if she may deserve it, I could not have turned against her, not even when I learned that she had killed your-“

”Is that really what you think I’m angry about?” she asked in a disbelieving, pained voice. “Do you really know me so little?” There was honest, true pain in her voice, like he’d just struck her.

He was so surprised he turned his head and looked at her, at the tears running down her cheeks and the wet eyes with the red veins running through them. Opening his mouth, he didn’t know what to say but tried…

“Did you really think I’d be angry at you for standing by your family?” she pressed on, not giving him the chance to say anything. “That I, of all people, would resent you for choosing your blood over the law?” Her hands clenched on her lap, digging into the soft, warm fabric of her skirt. “I really thought you knew me better, Basil.”

It was like a stab right into his heart, as the pieces fell into place, slowly but surely. Renewing his tears along the way.

”I’m angry because you didn’t tell me,” she snarled the words. “We’re… we’re teammates, we’re friends, we’re… We haven’t known each other for very long, I know that, just a few months, and yet it feels like I’ve known you for so long, and I thought you felt the same way.”

“I do,” he croaked, now unable to avert his eyes from hers.

”Somehow, in those few months, you’ve become… my best friend,” she said, softly. “More so than Dalia. Even more so than Stephie, and I’ve known her since I was five.” Her frame shook with a sob, as she briefly averted her eyes to take out a delicate handkerchief and wiped her eyes with it, before blowing her nose. Not that it helped much, as the tears were immediately replaced. “You’re my friend, you’re my brother, you’re m-“ She cut herself off, briefly, then started again. “I care for you,” she continued, though she seemed to have meant to say something else, at first. “And I trusted you. And I thought that you trusted me.”

”I should have,” he admitted, feeling another weight settle on his shoulders.

”But you didn’t,” she pressed on, rightfully accusing him. “You didn’t trust me. You didn’t trust me that I’d not do something stupid if you told me, or that I’d leave, or that I’d turn against you. You didn’t trust me and you left me to interact with my soi’s murderer! I laughed with her, I hugged her, I treated her to food in my family’s restaurant!” She all but screamed at him, her every word cutting into his heart like a red-hot knife. “That may seem silly to some, but it matters to me.”

She finally turned away, wiping tears away with her bare hand. “But you know what hurts the most? It’s realising that you never trusted me to begin with. And that, that’s what breaks my heart, above all and I’m sorry, I’m sorry, sorry, I shouldn’t be putting this on you now, not when you just lost Prisca,” she bent over, burying her face in her hands. “You’ve gone through so much, and you’re a good person, a good hero, but I just can’t, can’t get over the fact that the boy I fell in love with lied to me the whole time we were together!”

He hadn’t thought he could possibly feel any worse anymore, but he’d been wrong. He hadn’t even thought of it like that. That he’d been betraying her trust – and she had told him everything about herself, had never held anything back whenever it had come up, and he’d…

Then her last sentence reached his brain and everything crashed.

Graymalkin opened his eyes and looked up at him, and somehow he seemed to understand something of what was going on, as he looked just infinitely annoyed at him.

”L-love?” he stammered, looking at her with wide eyes.

She looked right back, face flushed bright red. “I know this is absolutely not the time, but… really? You never noticed at all?” she asked, sounding simultaneously amused and heartbroken. “Why am I not surprised?”

He cast his mind back, through his memories, looking for any signs of it, any hints, anything…

”I never noticed… anything…” he admitted.

”Basil, I’d say something like ‘what does a girl have to do, rip off her clothes and dance naked in front of you?’ except I did that and you still didn’t get it.”

He thought back to that particular occasion.

”But… that was for an experiment… and you need to be naked to perform some of your rituals…”

“Basileus Bartholomew Balthasar Brant-Blake,” she spoke his full name with perfect pronounciation and in the most dry voice he’d ever heard as she rolled her eyes, “When a girl, any girl, willingly strips naked in front of you and dances, no matter the reason she admits to, and it’s not a life-threatening situation, then you can safely assume that she’s trying to express some interest in you!” By the end of it, her face was glowing brighter than the Dark’s eyes.

Basil leaned back on the bench, his mouth opening and closing wordlessly, as he looked down at Graymalkin to avoid looking at her.

”Oh,” was all he managed to say.

”Yeah, ‘oh’,” Vasiliki replied, leaning back as well and putting her hands down to her left and right, the fingers of one hand briefly brushing over his fingers. “Basil, you’re the smartest person I’ve ever met and I love you, but sometimes, you’re a fucking idiot.”

”…”

He stared down at his cat, feeling like said fucking idiot.

I’ve really fucked it up completely, haven’t I? he couldn’t help but think. I lost Prisca. I failed to save her, even after trying for so long, going so far. And I broke my best friend’s heart all along the way, as well.

”I’m such an idiot,” he said, letting the tears run.

She only gave an unrefined grunt in response.

They sat there like that, being snowed upon and ignoring the cold, their hands nearly touching on the bench, but not quite, as she stared off into the distance and he looked down at his cat, rubbing his ears and making him pur.

Suddenly, the quiet contemplation was interrupted by a sudden spike of pain in his head, making his hand shoot up from Graymalkin’s head to his own, as he barely bit down on a scream.

”Basil? Basil, what’s wrong?” Vasiliki asked, frantically. “Did something happen?” She looked around, frantically, as if expecting to find a threat.

Then she fell quiet, and Basil realised that the street beyond the park had gone entirely quiet.

Graymalkin on his lap had turned his head towards said street, looking at something there with feline disapproval.

He followed his cat’s gaze, slowly, until he saw the street, where everyone had stopped moving.

Cars stood in the middle of the street, some with their engines still running, as their drivers either leaned out of their windows or stood next to them, looking up in blank horror.

On the sidewalk, people had stopped doing what they’d been doing and stared up with matching expressions. A mother knelt in the snow, hugging her child and sobbing bitterly, as the little boy stared up without comprehension. Two girls around Basil’s and Vasiliki’s age were hugging each other, tears running down their cheeks as they, too looked up.

Everywhere he looked, the same scene repeated itself, over and over, until he saw it.

A strand of light, glowing softly, so white it made the fresh snow look dirty, its tip two metre or so above the ground.

Vasiliki’s hand found his, her fingers intertwining themselves with his and squeezing them, seeking comfort.

He followed the strand of light up, and up and up, as more strands joined it, becoming a single, impossibly long mass of glowing white hear, leading up to a pair of delicate feet with nails which glowed in the exact same colour. The feet led up to long, lovely, flawless legs, bare, that joined into a gentle V-shape at the top. Above that, a flat stomach and a pair of large, but not disproportionate breasts, leading to a swan-like, flawless neck. At her sides, long, delicate arms with fingers that looked like they’d been crafted to play the piano, long, delicate and smooth, tipped with glowing nails a few centimetre longer than usual.

Atop it all, a face so impossibly, unnaturally beautiful, it could have made artists cry for being unable to ever truly do it justice, were it not marred by an utter lack of expression, her lips slightly parted open, her eyes blazing white, uncaringly, seeming to look at no one and nothing at all. Even her eyebrows were sculpted to perfection, and glowed as if they were made of light.

Snowflakes fell around and onto her, but none of them reached her skin, nor were they melted by any body heat; rather, they slid down her form, stirred by the cold wind to dance around her as they fell, creating a gorgeous dress, as ephemeral as a dream and just as beautiful.

The pain in Basil’s head intensified as above, light spread across the sky, slowly branching down towards the ground in the distance, the branches broadening to fill out and cover the heavens entirely.

Bree Whitaker’s, Desolation-in-Light’s, blazing eyes swept over Basil and Vasiliki and he knew for a fact that they saw neither of them.

Basil squeezed Vasiliki’s hand back.

Finally, he felt numb.

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: Basil, Desolation-in-Light, Graymalkin, Hecate, Primrose, Prisca
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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 9

In My Daydreams

Maru looked up at me, blinking, as the door opened. It wasn’t that he was especially short. It was just that the door to the ship was a couple feet off the ground.

As he stepped inside, I realized that, if anything, he might be taller than I was. The stealth suit in “silver fake Xiniti mode” gave me an inch or two.

He met my eyes or at least the part of the helmet and mirror shade lenses that covered them. “I’m sorry to interrupt. Jadzen heard that you’d talked to Iolan and then Geman and Dalat and then disappeared into your ship.

“Is anything wrong?”

Jadzen was keeping a closer eye on us than I’d expected, but given what I’d seen of her, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I shook my head. “No. We’re just investigating. Iolan, Geman, and Dalat all gave us some good ideas. We’re checking out the ansible to see if we can find anything there. After that, we’ll follow wherever it leads us.”

Maru nodded as I talked. “I see. I hope you don’t mind that I ask, but I’m sure Jadzen would like to know where you think this investigation is going. What have you learned from the ansible so far?”

I shrugged. “Nothing. Literally nothing at all. We just downloaded piles of information from it, but we haven’t had any chance to look at it yet.”

His lips tightened for a moment. “Surely you must know something. You asked the ansible for information. That means you had a question to ask. Even that might help Jadzen figure it out on her own.”

From behind me, Cassie said, “That would ruin the surprise.”

He blinked, staring at her, and I didn’t blame him. In the half darkness of the cabin, half of her costume reflected the light coming through the cockpit window while the other half was dark, reflecting the darkness in the rest of the ship. On her hip hung an Abominator gun (which he might have recognized) and on her back hung her father’s sword. Even though he probably didn’t know what it could do, its purpose was obvious.

She took a couple steps forward, stopping just behind me and to the right and folding her arms across her chest.

He took a step backward. “Surprise?”

There was no denying it. Even in practically the same costume, she did intimidation much better than I did. I could have blamed it on her weapons, but it probably had more to with her attitude—or maybe mine.

She smiled at him, her mouth slowly widening. “The surprise. If we figure out that there is a mole and then find out who it is, we want to surprise him, her, it or whatever.”

I nodded at him. “That doesn’t mean we won’t tell Jadzen. I’m sure she’ll be one of the first people to know, but we’re going to be careful about it. ‘Loose lips sink ships,’ right?”

He blinked, not recognizing the World War 2 era slogan. “Ah. Absolutely.”

“It’s an old saying on my world,” I said, smiling in the hope that maybe I’d balance out Cassie. “My grandfather used to say it. It meant that you shouldn’t say too much because you never knew who might be listening.”

Nodding, he said, “That’s educational. We’ve had similar folk sayings that date back to the Abominators, but I think that’s the first I’ve heard that talks about ocean going boats.”

“Huh,” I said.

“There is one other matter that I should bring up and I hope you don’t take it badly.” He looked me up and down, glanced over at Cassie, froze, and then back at me. “Jadzen’s daughter—Kals—was seen talking to you.”

I considered that and reached for the first thought that popped into my head. “Is that against some custom here? It seemed like everyone was talking to everyone. And she wasn’t holding herself back from talking to people…”

He gave a quick laugh. “No. There’s nothing like that. It’s more that she might want to leave and you have a starship. We’re worried that she might ask you to take her with you when you go, or maybe she might persuade you to bring her somewhere else before you leave.”

I frowned. “That wouldn’t make a lot of sense. We can only take jumpspace—which means a week either way—by which time this will either be over because the Xiniti arrived or over because the Human Ascendancy found you. Either way, that would be hugely irresponsible on my part, so that’s not happening.”

He met my eyes. “You might not have a choice. Kals may not have told you, but she’s trained as a motivator and trained at one of the better schools the Human Ascendancy has. Now, I’ve seen that you have a motivator-mute, but someday she may find you without it and then reason will not matter. You’ll simply obey.”

As I tried to figure out how I wanted to respond, Cassie jumped in. “Why are you so worried about her? Has she tried something like that before? ”

Maru shook his head. “No. It’s that she doesn’t want to be here and she’s always done what she wants instead of what people tell her to. She’s very much like her mother in that way. Jadzen joined the resistance even though much of the Ascendancy hates it, and where would we be if she hadn’t? Kals wants her old life back and if she makes it off this planet, we may lose everything. Before you say anything, I’m not suggesting she’ll betray us willingly, but there are motivators good enough to get you to tell them anything you know.”

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Tieshaunn

Brennus File 16: Meta-Powers

Tieshaunn

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “Meta” rating is the most nebulous power classification there is, encompassing a wide variety of effects with only one commonalty: they are powers about powers. From the power nullifier all the way to the power granter, any metahuman whose abilities affect their own or others’ powers earns a Meta rating.

No two powers are ever exactly alike (there are cases of two people having the same power, but in that case, they literally have the same power, not a power each which are exactly alike) and this counts double for Meta powers – not only is the power itself always unique in some form, but it’s also most likely going to show differences in how it interacts with any other power, some obvious, some subtle – and it’s the details that can be the most important.

Furthermore, responses to Meta-powers have to be as varied as the abilities themselves – against a power nullifier, a power mimic or a power thief, you’ll usually want to rely purely on normal human troops, while fighting a power shifter or someone who grants powers to their minions requires that one throws as many and as powerful metahumans at them as possible to overwhelm their power advantage.

So why not just split the classification further? Well, because, for one, there are already so many different ratings and complicating it even further is not well-advised. Furthermore, there are some common themes that run through all Meta-powers, perhaps not pertaining to how to combat them, but to where they come from and how they may function.

Above all, though, ratings are not meant to be the be-all end-all in figuring out how to deal with a threat. When you’re in the heat of combat and you hear “Meta!”, that means you assume the worst and verify the situation first before proceeding. Metahuman assets are pulled back until the nature of the threat is understood. It means you assume that things are going to get weird, because no powers ever get quite as weird (barring time-manipulation) as meta-powers.

In fact, weird could well serve as an alternate classification for meta-powers.

***

Common Origins

Meta-Powers as the dominant/main power all but always arise from Origins in which other powers were heavily involved – it can’t have been just other metahumans playing a role, but rather, their powers had to be a deciding factor. A much rarer form of Origin is one in which there was a distinct lack of any theme, an absence of input.

In technical literature, there are four accepted  types of Origins for Meta-Powers, and Meta-Powers themselves are classified according to those four types. The four known classes are Plus, Minus, Null and Wyrd.

Interestingly, these terms were taken from the remnants of Gwen Whitaker’s own research notes, a stack of which she handed over to a Canadian research team in 1981 in secret. Someone must have let that slip, though, and several villains, as well as at least one Intelligence Agency, attacked the lab trying to obtain them. During the resulting chaos, the lab and the notes were destroyed, with only a single page (partially) left over, on which these four words as well as fragmentary descriptions could be made out.

Someone later published those same pages and they became the basis of much speculation, due to their cryptic nature, as well as the basis for the classification of Meta-Powers.

In detail, the four Types of Origins are described as:

Plus
This term is applied to Origins where powers played a positive role. They may arise from someone being protected by a power during a crisis, being healed or otherwise supported by powers (such as a person manifesting while under the effect of a power-granting power). This most commonly results in powers which, in turn, affect other powers in a positive way – enhancing powers, granting powers, mimicing powers and such.

Minus
The exact opposite of Plus, the term ‘Minus’ refers to Origins which involve a negative relationship to powers. Someone who’s being electrocuted by an Electrokinetic, or being mind-controlled or otherwise harmed in some fashion, be it physically, emotionally or mentally. This tends to heavily emphasise powers which affect other powers in a negative fashion: countering powers, negating powers, shielding from powers, stealing powers and so on.

Null
One of the rarest kinds of Origins of all are those which are so lacking in definition as to be best described as empty. A person has lost all their memories and has not yet had time to build much of a foundation for their personality, lacking the usual lifetime of experience that powers mold themselves to. An abused child, kept locked up in a room since birth, leaves its prison for the first time. Two girls manifest powers before even being born, having not yet made a single experience for their powers to refer to.
With such an utter absence of definition, the resulting powers usually lack definition of their own and work with that – power mimics, thieves and shifters are most commonly Nulls.

Wyrd
As the name might imply, this is possibly the weirdest kind of Origin one can have – Wyrds are those who manifest due to or while a power breaks reality in the viscinity or in relation to them. A man manifests while caught in a time loop. A child manifests while being teleported away from its mother. A youth manifests as a cataclysm shatters the world around him, setting him adrift between realities. A girl manifests after her own death.
When reality itself no longer applies, the weirdest of all powers are born. Unlimited power shifters (often with heavy drawbacks), powers which interact with reality, including other powers, through non-standard vectors. The specific law of reality which was broken tends to heavily inform the resulting power (if time was broken, then the resulting power will often involve a temporal aspect; if space was broken, there will be a spatial theme).
These are the rarest of rare Origins, with only four confirmed cases known.

***

The Results

While the individual powers tend to be extremely diverse, there are some common types of effects that can be described:

Negation
All but exclusively Minuses, these powers reduce other powers in some fashion. This can range from reducing the intensity of an effect all the way to negating it entirely. However, few are so powerful and comprehensive as to categorically negate any power at all – the strongest known Negator, Ember,  found himself unable to negate the Dark’s power, with the implication that it wasn’t that the Dark was unique in some form, but that there was a flaw even in his power – aside from the fact that he had to be touching his target anyway.
Most Power Negators usually work in a lesser fashion, such as dampening powers, cutting down their effect by a set percentage, or preventing them from being used under specific circumstances.
While not technically power negators, metahumans who add negative side-effects to other metahuman’s powers are usually lumped in together with Negators.

Enhancement
In contrast, these powers arise all but exclusively from Plus Origins. Enhancers boost the powers of other metahumans to varying degrees. This can mean outright boosting its raw power (flames burn hotter, strongmen lift more weight, teleporters reach further) or affecting other parameters – making powers easier to use, negating negative side-effects, preventing backlash, and so on.

Power Control
The power to control another’s power while still leaving it in their hands. This can range from having complete control over another person’s power to merely being able to set when it is used, but not how (or the inverse) or to affect a single parameter (like being able to determine at what range a power will take effect if used, or preventing it from turning off).

Endowment
The ability to grant powers to others; specifically, while Enhancers improve on existing powers, Endowers add powers, either to metahumans, norms or both. This may well be the most coveted kind of power there is, at least as far as the world’s governments are concerned.

Mimicry
Being able to copy powers (usually with some limitation) used by other metahumans. Very rarely able to assume powers on a permanent basis, and even then only with other limitations (such as being able to retain a copied power permanently, but only being able to hold three such powers at a time). The prototypical Meta-Power.

Theft
Powers which steal powers from other metahumans. The difference between these and Mimics is that Mimics generally don’t affect the ‘target’, Power Thieves most definitely do, reducing their powers in some fashion, in the rarest cases even permanently!

Cultivation
The ability to grow powers over time, often adjusting them as they so grow. Only two known cases, both the result of Wyrd Origins.

Adaptation
Gaining powers in response to specific circumstances (such as assuming defensive abilities suited to environmental threats, or the feared Nemesis-type, who gain powers suited to fighting a specific metahuman they target).

Shifting
Similar to Adaptation, only more active, with the metahuman being able to actively choose powers, usually from a limited (but not necessarily fixed) selection.

***

Exemplary Metas

  • Desolation-in-Light: Generally considered to be the most powerful metahuman short of the Godking of Mars, DiL has an apparently unrestricted ability to choose multiple top-tier powers at will (on top of at least two major permanent abilities). One of two known pre-natal manifestations.
  • Gloom Glimmer: DiL’s younger sister and the only other pre-natal manifestation known, Gloomy’s power can provide an apparently unlimited variety of powers, though she has little in the way of actual control over what she gets – and sometimes over how to use it, even – and can only try to hold onto or push away a given ability, hoping that her power will cooperate for once. Fortunately, her control has been improving as of late.
  • Baba Yaga: A Null if there ever was one, Baba Yaga awoke with no name, no past nor much in the way of higher thought, but with the ability to permanently steal the powers of any metahuman of whom she gains a sufficient genetic sample, gaining them at full strength. Recently she’s also demonstrated the ability to bestow these same powers unto others, losing access to them herself in the process.
  • General Disarray: One of the founding members and current leader of the Chaos Corps, a British team of (borderline) supervillains and the Archenemies of Lord Buckethead’s Gremloids, General Disarray is capable of enhancing or dampening any metahuman power within about a block of himself, as well as controlling any power in use (he can’t force someone to use their power, but if they do, he controls it, so long as it happens within his range).
  • Major Mayhem: Another founding member of the Chaos Corps, Major Mayhem is a power thief. He can drain other metahuman’s powers by punching (or otherwise striking) them, draining a bit of their energy with each hit (the bigger the hit the more he takes). Powers so diminished recover over a short amount of time, unless he manages to land enough hits to drain a hundred percent, in which case it takes days for them to recover. He can himself use a lesser version of any such power (a tenth of its original strength at most, no matter how much he drains), running on a limited charge based on how much he drained. The charges don’t run out on their own, so he can store a wide selection of powers until he needs them.
  • Corporal Disorder: The first teenage (and female) member of the Chaos Corps’ ‘Brass’, Corporal Disorder can empower any physical object she touches (usually her gloves, bullets she fires or, most commonly, the pellets in a gadgeteer-made paintball gun) with an effect which scrambles the the nerve signals of anyone they hit, with the effect growing more and more discombobulating the more often the power is applied. If she hits metahumans, the effect also spreads to their power, causing it to go out of control.
  • Ember: Among his many, many, many other abilities, Ember was capable of simply shutting off the powers of any metahuman whom he managed to physically touch with his hands. The limits of this ability (other than the limited range) are unknown, though the Dark’s ability to counter it certainly proves there is at least one.
  • Queen Madeleine: One of only two known Power Cultivators, Madeleine started off with but a single ability (being able to increase or reduce her own density) and cultivated more and more powers over time. Currently, six God-Tier powers have been confirmed, including a much more powerful version of her original density-manipulating power, as well as the ability to control the effects of any one power within her sight (giving her both a main and derived meta-rating). She is now working on her seventh.
  • Cyclops: A Greek supervillain and one of the few confirmed Wyrd Manifestations, Cyclops manifested while stuck in a time loop with the ability to assume any power at all, but only one at a time. Each power comes with a time limit, after which it disappears, only to be replaced by another. Both the time limit and the number of powers he can choose from after each such cycle vary due to unknown factors, a great source of frustration for him.
  • Aphrodite III: The third Aphrodite, a member of the Olympians, can enhance or reduce the powers of any metahuman by touch, with the effect petering out over time. The longer and more intense the contact, the stronger the effect.
  • Rounds: The leader of the New Lennston United Heroes’ team, already mentioned in the Spawner file. He can create spectral copies of any metahuman he touches, which have one half of the original’s powers, while he gains the other half, for as long as the copy persists. Can make up to twelve such copies.

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Semicoop

The Great Western Taunt

Semicoop

Great Western Trail is a highly appraised game by many people and it’s even on number 11 of the Board Game Geek ranking list! … It’s totally taunting us standing there on one of our shelves. It’s been at our house for multiple weeks now, but we just haven’t had the time to tackle this big and great game, But we really really want to, because the game mechanics seem so interesting. Hopefully: SOON! 😀

Until then, we amuse ourselves with shorter games on normal weekdays like Pandemic Legacy. We tried beating the practice game again last week, and we lost AGAIN on the last turn. It’s definitely bad luck and not our lack of skill. 😉 We’re going to try again tonight and we hope to beat this monster and finally get started on January. I’ll let you know next week if we finally beat it or not.

The end of 2017 is nearing and that means it’s almost time for Semi Co-op’s Golden Standees! And like last year, we would like to invite our readers to participate in the People’s Choice awards! 😀 We really enjoyed giving people a platform to express their cool ideas and creativity. Remember that you really don’t need drawing skills to participate – stick figures or a photo can be really funny as well.

More info on how to participate in the blog post next week. 

Remember that we added an item to the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund Auction? It raised far more money that we could have imagined and we’re so grateful that we were able to help other people in such a fun way. We’ve made a custom Semi Co-op avatar for Ashley and this is the result!

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Nov 22, 2017 at 10:33am PST

Do you have any unplayed games in your collection that you really want to play but you just lack the time?

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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 8

In My Daydreams

My implant requested that it be allowed to present my identification as a Xiniti representative. I gave it my approval and added that I’d need to keep a connection to the ship’s AI as it was my assistant. Cassie must have had the same conversation because the door opened and we were both allowed to enter. A small glowing representation of the ship followed me just as a representation of the gun floated on her hip.

As we floated through the door, Cassie glanced over at me. “For a second I thought it wouldn’t let the gun in. Abominator tech sets off alarms for these peo… Uh… things.”

I didn’t reply as I was looking at the room we’d stepped into.

It wasn’t really a room, of course. It was actually a representation generated by my implant to help me feel comfortable.

If it was supposed to help me feel comfortable though, I wasn’t sure how well my implant was interfacing with my brain because this place was at best weird. I can only assume that my brain contains more Steampunk than I remember reading because the room was somebody’s Steampunk dream.

We stood in front of a wooden counter. On top of the counter was an unidentifiable brass machine that looked like a combination of a cash register and a typewriter. It had a flat, glass surrounded area at the top where letters and numbers appeared. For example, at that moment, the letters said, “WELCOME.” While the side that faced us was flat, the keys from a typewriter filled the other side.

No one stood there to press them, though.

Behind the counter, several bins lay on the floor, all of them filled with envelopes. New envelopes poured out of one glass tube. Another glass tube pulled them in with brass gears, flashing each envelope with a light before letting the wind in the tube pull it away, turning it into a small white blur that shot down the tube to the outside.

Leaning toward Cassie, I asked, “Are you seeing some kind of steampunk post office, too?”

She looked around, staring at the brass machine on the counter for a little while before saying, “If that’s what all the old timey tubes and gears mean, then yes.”

Well, at least we were seeing the same thing. That would make communicating easier.

I stepped closer to the counter. “Cool. That’ll be less confusing.”

Cassie stepped in front of the machine and said, “I guess. So, what’s your plan?”

“I’m working on that.” I checked the brass machine. It still said “WELCOME.”

What did I know? I knew that local admin accounts were hidden from the operating system running the ansible, that no local admins’ accounts but the default one had their actions logged, and that there was unexplained bandwidth usage before and after Jadzen Akri’s trips into Human Ascendancy space. Plus, I knew that Rinson, their ansible tech, had created the modifications to allow this and then conveniently died—becoming tiger/terrier food.

Finally, whatever I did, it couldn’t turn off the hidden accounts or the lack of logging or I risked exposing the colony’s existence and location to everyone using the ansible network.

Whoever the mole was had either manipulated or forced Rinson to create an account and then arranged for a force shield malfunction. While that wasn’t a good thing, it did have one good side effect—it meant that the mole probably wasn’t technically competent too.

That meant they might not be thinking about all the possible reporting options an ansible had—which meant that rather than use the ansible personally at a different time than their admin account, they might use one after the other, assuming that the admin account was hidden and nothing it did would be logged.

Not sure what to talk to, I decided to address the device on the counter. “I’d like a log of all the communications made before, after, or during the periods where there is unaccounted bandwidth use, starting three days ago. This should include accounts of those communicating.”

Cassie leaned in. “And I’d like a list of any calls made to the Human Ascendancy along with times during that period. Send it to his AI.”

The counter device made a clunking noise and the word “WELCOME” was replaced by “SEARCHING.”

I thought about it. It was a good idea. I came up with a few variations on the idea which basically amounted to the same search before the trip and also a search based on unaccounted bandwidth use in general, even outside of the periods when Iolan noticed it.

It seamed like a good start anyhow. It would probably take us hours to go through it or, alternately, seconds for HAL to go through it.

Then the counter device made a series of clunking noises and the word “DELIVERED” appeared. Hal confirmed that he’d received the data.

With that, we left, coming back to our senses in the cockpit of the ship, and realizing as I did, that someone’s was knocking on the ship’s door.

I looked out the window to see Maru, Jadzen’s assistant. He was alone, so it probably wasn’t an emergency. Clicking on the door release, I decided to find out what he wanted.

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Tieshaunn

B13.19 Call of the Sleeper

Tieshaunn

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Gloom Glimmer’s power drew them together above the floating city, as the ribbons of distorted space intertwined around them, creating something of a shell that they all sat within.

She’d grabbed everyone who’d been in that room, other than the Dark himself, Immanuel and Syrinx. Even Dusu was there with them, looking down at the floating city in shock.

Basil didn’t even have the energy left to feel disgust or hatred, or even satisfaction at seeing the grin wiped off her face – though he’d enjoyed seeing Hecate beat on the woman a bit – as he leaned back against the odd ‘wall’ of the capsule they found themselves in.

Amy was with him, her head on his lap and groaning as she came out of the daze caused by whatever drug Immanuel had injected her with. She was still far from lucid, but at least he was pretty sure it wasn’t anything that’d cause lasting damage.

The others weren’t in much better state. Gloom Glimmer was crouched over Polymnia, who’d taken a worse beating than he’d thought at first, slowly healing her mangled arm as the young gadgeteer sniffled, trying not to cry anymore. They’d taken her armour off, leaving her only in her spandex shorts and top, and her armoured boots, while Gloom Glimmer also fixed multiple bruises across her exposed skin.

Tartsche and Spellgun were huddled together, with the latter all but sitting atop the former’s lap, looking through a pair of copper binoculars at the battle going on below.

Bakeneko was hugging Osore, shuddering and sobbing, while her boyfriend showed all the emotional range of a rock, even though Basil was quite certain he had recovered fully by now – if his regeneration worked off of feeding on fear, like the rest of his powers, then he’d certainly gotten more than enough energy to work with by now.

Tyche had paired up with Hecate, hugging her knees to her chest as she leaned into Hecate’s side, while the witch was stroking her hair with one hand and staring into the distance – or maybe she was looking at something, but he couldn’t tell what.

He looked away from her, with an odd, painful feeling in his gut.

The only one who seemed comfortable was Graymalkin, who’d reclaimed his resting place atop Amy’s breasts, curling up and yawning before he closed his eyes. The thought of how she’d freak out once she woke up and saw that almost brought a smile to his face, before he was reminded of… well, everything else, and that smile got squashed like a bug; so instead, he focused on the scenery below instead.

Though they were pretty high up, he could still make out details by using his visor’s zoom function.

The Companions’ floating city had turned into utter Bedlam. The Dark’s wraiths were everywhere, hundreds, thousands of them. Most of them were the small ones he tended to produce en masse, skeletal humanoid torsos with blank, six-exed faces, emaciated, clawed arms and no real lower body as they crawled across the floor, simply melting into darkness where their hips should be and below, said darkness forming an almost serpentine shape, if a rather short one compared to the rest of them.

They were his weakest creations, and they went down by the dozens, crushed, torn, penetrated and otherwise relatively easily destroyed by the many, many powers the fifty or so metahumans of the Companions’ brought to bear, being only a little tougher – if at all – than normal humans.

Even so, their sheer numbers more than made up for it, and Basil watched with rather clinical curiosity as half a dozen of them managed to break through to Boltstar and literally pull his limbs off, before one used his own leg to bash his head in.

Chronicle either couldn’t or wouldn’t rewind him, and then his corpse was obliterated along with the wraiths when one of the newcomers unleashed a spherical, orange explosion that disintegrated both them and the ground beneath.

Everywhere he looked, the carnage continued. Fifty metahumans, none of them lightweights judging by what he’d seen of the Gefährten so far, and yet for all their power and numbers, they might as well only have been an annoyance to the Dark.

For the first time, Basil really understood how he could still stand at the top.

The wraiths moved in waves, surging against the villains, and every time they did, they whittled them down a little more, breaking up their formations, taking down one or two – even if they didn’t stay down.

Basil could see Immanuel, standing in a circle of white light maintained by a nude woman with strips of some kind of white fabric instead of hair, along with a man covered head to toe in crystal shards that seemed to have either been jammed into him or grown out of his body and another man in a golden robe, holding a set of scales in one hand and a crystal ball in the other. He was clearly giving out instructions, speaking to his companions (at least one of whom likely transmitted them), coordinating his troops. Chronicle was there, as well, clutching her book to her chest, shoulders hunched and apparently frantically using her power, over and over, continuously rewinding any one of her people who was killed or crippled, whenever she managed to get her eyes on them.

The Gefährten had the advantage of numbers and sheer power, with at least fifty different metahumans, but they just couldn’t seem to break through the Darkwraiths in force, and every time they exchanged blows, every time they broke another wave of wraiths on their defenses, they lost one or two more, sometimes permanently, and their formations kept being pulled apart, separating them.

Meanwhile, the Dark just kept spawning more wraiths, replacing his lost ones, buying time for the greater ones to return to him and be… repaired? Recharged? Basil wasn’t sure how it worked, but he was healing those with actual powers of their own, while sacrificing the mindless crawlers and some larger, sturdier, but still powerless brutes.

In spite of the mad rush of his creations, the Dark himself seemed calm again, coordinating the battle and clearly pursuing a strategy of dividing and then obliterating his enemies; and it was working.

The King of Supervillains towered above the carnage around him, standing tall as more and more wraiths poured forth from the darkness at his feet. His head didn’t move to track the battle around him, not that he needed to – it was pretty well-known that he shared his wraiths’ senses – and he only moved when someone managed to break through his wraiths’ lines to attack him directly, countering whatever they threw at him with contemptuous ease.

A murder of crows dove down at him, pulling together into the form of Karasuha as she brought her sword down upon the Dark’s head, but he simply caught the blade, arresting her entire drop, and reached up with his left hand, grabbing her head and smashing it down on the ground to hard it burst like a melon. Before he even rose up, he flipped her sword around to grab it by the hilt and beheaded a man in a cheetah costume who’d rushed up to him with unnatural speed.

Karasuha’s form flicked and she was returned to life, her sword back in her hands, but the Dark simply brought his now empty hand down in a motion reminiscent of a karate chop.

Her body flickered and was replaced by another, a huge mountain of a man – though he was still shorter than the Dark – with his arms raised and crossed, ready to take the blow.

The ‘chop’ simply cleaved through him, through his crossed forearms, through his head, his torso, his loins, splitting him in half.

And it wasn’t just the Dark himself who perpetuated the slaughter. There were other wraiths, greater ones. Each with unique variations to their appearance, they were fighting the Companions with their own powers – Basil counted eighteen of these unique wraiths, and each one was at least equal to any two of the Companions’ villains.

“Hey, Gloomy, didn’t your power say that Immanuel was more dangerous than the Dark?” Melody asked, her voice sounding much more steady and  calm than she looked. “Because he’s totally kicking everyone’s ass – and giving me enough nightmare fuel to last a lifetime,” she concluded as they watched one particularly brutal scene where a wraith unraveled into scores of thin black tendrils, which stabbed forth into an enemy’s body, then tore him to pieces, pulling him apart from the inside out.

Most everyone looked away from the gruesome sight.

”It did,” Gloom Glimmer replied in a subdued voice, looking down at the battle, her expression saddened. “It still does, in fact.”

”It occurs to me,” Basil interjected, making both girls and some of the others look at him, though he kept looking straight down, “That perhaps your power is judging how dangerous they are to you, personally, not how dangerous they are in general. I find it hard to believe that the Dark is that big a threat to his own daughter.”

Gloom Glimmer thought it over, then nodded.

“Dunno about you guys, but I’m plenty glad he’s dangerous right about now,” Tyche mumbled, barely audible since half her face was pressed against Hecate’s collarbone.

“A-fucking-men,” Spellgun agreed with her.

”Gloom Glimmer, please take us home,” Tartsche spoke up. “There’s nothing left to do here.”

”Hey hey!” Dusu spoke up in protest. “The f-“

Spellgun shot her in the face, knocking her out.

The Dark’s daughter looked down at the fight. “But…”

“Irene, the best we could hope for if we got involved in that would be to not be used against him by his enemies,” her team’s leader spoke softly. “Even you aren’t strong enough to help him, not against such an enemy.”

She didn’t look at him, didn’t look away from her father, but she nodded. “Ok,” came a soft whisper, and then the capsule they were in began to move, seemlessly. There was no feeling of acceleration, no G-Forces pressing them flat against the ‘walls’ – they simply accelerated, instantly, to such a speed that their surroundings became a blur. “It will take a few minutes to get there,” Gloom Glimmer explained as she finished fixing Polymnia up. “Does anyone else need healing, while I still have it?”

Basil leaned back as Gloom Glimmer went around fixing the last remaining bruises and other wounds they’d accumulated in their short – and very one-sided – fight against Immanuel.

He noticed that Hecate had turned her head, her hood now pointed towards him, looking at… Amy’s head on his lap, his hand stroking her hair as she slowly recovered.

”I am sorry,” he said quietly, so quietly the junior heroes were unlikely to hear it.

She turned away.

They kept moving without actually moving, until Gloom Glimmer walked up to him and Amy – the two of them sat a little apart from the rest – and squatted in front of them.

Basil looked at her face, trying to decipher her expression, but she just seemed calm to him.

“I’ll fix her up, if you don’t mind,” she spoke softly.

He nodded and took his hand off Amy’s hair, while Gloom Glimmer reached down and put her glowing palm onto the villainess’ forehead. Unfortunately, this also caused Graymalkin to snarl at her and leap off his resting place stalking off with the kind of offended aura only a cat could project.

After a few moments, Amy’s eyes fluttered open and she groaned in pain. “Ugh… my head… princess? Basil? What’s going on?” She looked at the two of them in confusion, yet still calm.

”We are safe,” Basil said, to head off a freakout. “Gloom Glimmer brought her father and then took us away. He is tearing the Gefährten up now.”

”Wu-what?” she stammered, shocked. “The boss is here? I’ve got to help him!” She shot up, using her power to stand up near-instantly, but Basil grabbed her by the wrist.

”I do not think that he needs any help,” he spoke calmly. “Plus, he seemed really angry at Immanuel… way beyond what I would expect, even in this situation.” He looked at Gloom Glimmer, as did everyone else in the capsule, all with the same question on their minds.

What the hell could piss the Dark off that much?

Gloom Glimmer sighed. “I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ve never heard of Immanuel before, and Daddy never mentioned anyone he hated that much to me before,” she explained, her voice betraying just a hint of a whine towards the end.

”Well, that’s a mystery then,” Amy quipped as she brushed her hand over Basil’s helmet’s top, a brief gesture of affection. “Still, he’s my boss and I should be there. You brats are safe now and I’ve got to make up for going down like an amateur twice now.”

She looked down at Basil, and their eyes met. He nodded, and she smiled. “Let me out, princess,” she said, using the nickname without any bite to it.

Gloom Glimmer shrugged and the capsule stopped its movements above the sea, the water stretching seemingly endlessly in every direction.

”Alright, see you later, Basil. Princess. Brats,” Amy said, looking at all of them, before she dropped through the floor, reangled herself in mid-air and then shot away so violently, she distorted the air around herself, though they heard nothing of it inside the strange capsule Gloom Glimmer had created.

They moved on again.

Basil looked away, briefly, then looked back at Gloom Glimmer, who was still sitting on her haunches in front of him and studying him, as if she could see through his mask.

She probably can.

“I know it sucks,” she said softly, making him look up at those unnaturally blue, warm eyes. “Family’s family but Wrong’s wrong, too and how’re we supposed to do the right thing there?”

He smiled weakly. “A catch-twenty-two if I ever heard of one.”

She smiled back. “Yeah. Look, I know we barely know each other, and this is obviously quite private and all, but… if you need someone to talk about it… you can talk to me. I understand, and I won’t judge. Just, uh, just wanted to say that,” she spoke, sounding insecure again as she blushed a bit and averted her eyes.

”I will keep that in mind,” He lowered his eyes as well, feeling strangely humbled by the offer. “Thank you.”

A few seconds passed, and then she did something he absolutely didn’t expect – Gloom Glimmer leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead, her lips and jaw going through his helmet like it wasn’t even there.

Her lips were warm and soft on his skin and felt a great deal of tension melt off at the simple gesture.

She leaned back again, far too soon. “I’m sorry we couldn’t find the cure. I… maybe we can find some other way to help Prisca.”

”Yeah, maybe…” He couldn’t bring himself to agree, not really, and looked away.

Gloom Glimmer didn’t press the point and walked back to join Polymnia, who wrapped an arm around her friend’s shoulders and pulled her head to rest against her shoulder.

Minutes passed, minutes during which Basil found himself unable to really focus on anything. There was just too much on his mind. Worry for Amy. Vasiliki’s reaction to the truth about his sister. Dalia’s own tragedy. Dusu. The Gefährten. The Sleeper. The constant presence of his power at the back of his mind, coming up with fragments of ideas even now, for him to try and assemble into a cohesive whole. Prisca.

He looked at Dusu’s passed out form. Just how am I going to explain this to her? To her mother? That it was all so…

Pointless.

He might have continued to wallow in his misery, had Tartsche not gotten up and moved over, stopping just a step away from him, his arms crossed as he looked down on him.

“I believe you promised me and the others some answers, Brennus,” he said in his usual calm, firm tones. “Much as I understand that you just took some major blows, I think it’s best we get this over with before we get back to New Lennston and I have to make a choice about how to proceed.”

Behind him, Tyche frowned and leaned forward, as if to get up, but Hecate pulled her back by the arm wrapped around her shoulders, while her other hand remained on Graymalkin’s back – at some point, he’d crawled onto her lap and curled up there.

The others all turned to look at Basil and Tartsche, as well.

“By ‘how to proceed’ you mean ‘whether or not to immediately tell Amazon and the UH in general’ about Mindstar’s and my relationship and our identities’,” he stated with neither rancor nor bitterness in his voice. It was just a fact.

Tartsche didn’t even look abashed or anything. “Exactly. This is too big, really. Mindstar’s a wanted criminal, and not a smalltime crook, either – having one of the Five blow her secret identity like that, that’s the kind of thing I’d normally tell them instantly. But,” he temporised, “I am willing to hear you out, first. Not just about you and her, but also about whatever the fuck,” he spoke the swearword like a gunshot, hard and fast, making nearly everyone jump where they sat, and Graymalkin throw him an annoyed look, “happened when Osore nailed you with his power.”

He turned his head and looked at the Japanese hero. “By the way, not cool, even if you knew what was going to happen,” he admonished him, then raised a hand to cut off any reply, “I know it saved our butts. Just saying.”

Turning back to face Basil, his mouth and jaw – the only part of his face currently visible, as he’d removed his helmet’s mouth guard – were set in a severe frown. “So, are you going to tell us what the fuck,” he made everyone jump again with the force of the expletive, “is going on? And before you say anything like that it’s private or that we’re better off not knowing or any of that crap, you owe us the truth, after all this,” he finished with a firm glare.

Basil met it without flinching, though at that point, that was simply because he was too worn out to react much, not because of any amount of fortitude on his part. “I do not have any secrets left, at this point,” he replied, looking over at Hecate. “Ask and I shall answer to the best of my knowledge.”

”Who are you, really?” Tartsche asked, straight up.

“I do not know,” Basil replied calmly, looking at no one in particular. “I thought I knew, but I have found that all my memories previous to about three, maybe four years ago are entirely fake. So are Amy’s, for that matter.”

He heard a few gasps, but didn’t bother to look at anyone to gauge their reaction.

”Three and a half years ago,” Bakeneko spoke up in a small voice. “That’s when we first met in middle school.”

“Wait, you know him?” Spellgun asked, startled.

Basil didn’t see it, but he was pretty sure Bakeneko was shrinking into herself at being the focus of attention all of a sudden.

“Y-yeah. We’ve been friends for… years. Though I, I didn’t know he was… Brennus… until recently,” she admitted in a near-whisper. “I didn’t know Amy was a villain, though… It just doesn’t seem to fit… I mean, she’s kind of… really weird, and a huge perv and totally overprotective and she always knows more than she should and… actually, it totally makes sense now.”

”Mindstar’s memory’s are fake, too?” Tartsche pressed on, focusing on the core of the matter. “Are you sure she’s not faking it? Making you think she’s your sister while suppressing your memories…” He seemed pretty uncomfortable bringing that last point up, but did it anyway.

Basil twitched, briefly, tempted to lash out at him for the mere suggestion, but…

”I have considered that,” he admitted, and a part of him felt like a traitor for doing so. “But I have dismissed it for several reasons. One being that she would have to be vastly more powerful than she has ever shown herself to be. Another the fact that…” he frowned, trying to figure out how to put it. “It is more of a gut feeling, really. But I know that she is my sister, even if we can not even remember our parents.”

He didn’t seem happy with that, but didn’t get push the point.

“There’s no way in heaven or hell my dad doesn’t know about that,” Gloom Glimmer stated firmly. “Not if it affects one of his Five.”

“You sure?” Tyche asked her, while her eyes remained on Basil.

”My dad’s the most nosey person on the whole planet,” the man’s own daughter stated with perfect conviction. “I’ll bet you anything he knows and hasn’t told anyone because he thinks it’s funny or something.”

“You really think he’d take such a risk with one of his Five, just for his own amusement?” Hecate asked in a disbelieving voice.

”Absolutely,” both Gloom Glimmer and Polymnia replied instantly and in perfect synch.

They gave everyone a few moments to digest that, before Polymnia spoke up next.

“What about your reaction to Osore’s power?” she asked through her vocoder, her eyes on Basil.

He sighed. “I have no freaking idea whatsoever,” he replied. “It has only ever happened when Osore used his power on me. Not even when I was in a life-threatening situation, like when Hastur had me in her clutches. I do not remember at all what happened during either episode, though I at least have a recording of this last one,” he explained, reaching up to stroke the head of his sole remaining ravenbot.

”No idea at all?” Tartsche asked.

Basil frowned. “Well… there is one… but is less of an answer and more of… another question. A whole host of questions, in fact,” he amended his earlier statement. “I may be connected to someone named Macian, somehow. At least, I found a journal written by him, amongst my things and I sometimes have memories of being another person, someone who’s also a gadgeteer.” Plus at least two distinct personalities in my head, other than my own.

“This is unbelievably fucked up,” Tartsche replied after a minute or so of just staring at him.

For just a moment, Basil felt a manic grin spread on his face as he looked up at the armoured boy. “Try living with it.”

Tartsche shuddered. “No thank you,” he said, finally. “Well, this was… not at all informative.” He looked around at the others, before focusing on Basil once more. “I’m sorry, but considering the situation, and what we know about your sister – if she even is your sister – and… everything… I can’t possibly justify not raising every alarm I can as soon as we’re back.” He groaned, reaching up to pinch his nose, only to remember he was still wearing his helmet. “Hell, I should probably take you into protective custody – or something – straight away, but I have the feeling that wouldn’t work out too well, considering what you did to the Skulls’ group.” He gave a side-long glance to Gloom Glimmer and Bakeneko. “Nevermind that I can’t be entirely sure whether all my teammates will support me on such a course of action.”

Both girls blushed and averted their eyes.

Basil raised a finger. “I know it is not exactly the smartest thing to do, but let me remind you that I have only ever been able to perform on that level after being affected by Osore’s power, so unless he shoots me again, you will not have to worry about that,” he corrected him.

Hecate palmed her own forehead.

With a chuckle, Tartsche responded, “Yeah, I’m not that slow. Still…” he put his hands on his hips, tapping his foot… which didn’t actually generate any sound, since there wasn’t actually any floor to tap it on. “Are you going to come in willingly? I know it’s an extremely shitty situation and all, but it’d help a lot, and ease a lot of worries, if you just came in and explained yourself.” He sighed, lowering his head. “The United Heroes are good people. And Amazon’s real fond of you. I’m sure we can work this all out.”

He looked up at the slightly older hero, then down again. Then at Hecate and Tyche, before he looked at his raven again. “I… do not regret what I have done today,” he said first. “Not the attempt to get into the base, not revealing myself or the risks I took. I only regret that it was not enough, and wish I could have done more, gone further…” He stopped, looking down again. “I will not run from it. But I will go and give Prisca the news myself, before anything else.” He looked up at Tartsche, locking eyes with him even through their masks. “You can make your report, meanwhile. Bakeneko knows where I live, and where my lab is,” he turned to look at his shapeshifting friend, “and she has my permission to share. You’ll find me… afterwards.”

”Alright,” Tartsche replied, turning his head away. “I believe you. And… I’m sorry.” There was a world of emotion behind those last two words.

“Thank you, Tartsche,” Basil replied, and took his helmet off, looking up at him with a tired expression on his face. “You went… above and beyond what anyone could expect of you, for the sake of strangers, and I thank you for that, from the bottom of my heart. You and all the others.” He looked around at the other teens, some of whom, at least, met his eyes.

Tartsche took a step away, then stopped. “You’re wrong, you know?” he spoke softly, making Basil focus on him again. “I expected more of myself.”

With that, he sat down next to his boyfriend again and fell quiet.

***

The rest of the journey passed in silence and they arrived in New Lennston, where Gloom Glimmer first dropped Basil, at his request, off in front of the hospital, before moving on to take care of the rest.

He didn’t know what Hecate or Tyche were going to do, but he had to prioritise somehow, and neither of them was dying right then.

Standing in front of the hospital, having appeared basically out of nowhere, he drew a great many surprised looks, in large part because he hadn’t bothered to put on his helmet, his drawn-up hood the only protection for his identity. Not that he really cared at this point.

He ignored the stares and walked into the hospital, ignoring the two armed security guards at the front entrance and simply breezing past the reception – he more than knew his way by now.

Walking through the hallways, ignoring every attempt to stop him or talk to him, he wondered whether he should’ve gone through with the idea of dragging Dusu in here and presenting her to Prisca and her family, but he’d dismissed it, and not just because he doubted that Tartsche would allow it – he didn’t want something like Dusu to spoil Prisca and her family’s final days together.

If she even had days left.

Oh God, I hope she isn’t already dead…

He could call Eudocia, ask. He hadn’t even thought to contact her.

Too late now. I’ll know soon enough.

He took the stairs up, eschewing the elevators – if he had to stand still for however many seconds it took them to go up, he’d explode.

Taking the stairs three steps at a time, he quickly reached the fourth floor and entered the intensive long-term care wing.

There, in front of Prisca’s room, sat several people on some chairs, while being watched over by multiple professional bodyguards in expensive suits – suits which, to Basil’s eye, showed modifications for combat and hiding weaponry.

As soon as he entered, the men whirled around at a sign from the one who’d been facing the door, drawing their weapons on him.

He ignored them and just moved on.

Beyond the bodyguards, a startled young woman rose up, and his heart both clenched and relaxed at the same time, though he showed none of it on his face.

Rosalie Fion took heavily after her mother, just as Prisca should have, and basically looked a lot like Gilgul, though older, being in her early twenties, and a little more lithe and a little less… top-heavy. She was wearing a simple, dark red dress that reached her knees, black stockings underneath and her rich red hair loose. She only wore a little make-up on her finely featured face and was currently busy staring at him, her mouth open.

That she was there, it meant that Prisca was still alive. She would have been inside the room if she was dying, and she would be mourning if she was dead. But that she was here also meant that there wasn’t much time left.

”B-basil? You… you’re…” She stammered, staring at him with wide green eyes the exact same shade as Prisca’s had once been.

He nodded to her as the guards stepped between him and the door (and Rosalie), though they seemed less openly combative now, as he seemed to be known.

Still, they were in his way, so he glared at them, briefly.

The first two men nearly fell over as they staggered aside, while the three behind took a startled step back, and he used the distraction to breeze past them, briefly nodding to Rosalie – and getting a nod in return – as he walked up to the door and, without bothering to knock, opened it and stepped through.

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: Amy, Basil, Boltstar, Chronicle, Dusu, Gloom Glimmer, Hecate, Immanuel, Karasuha, Polymnia, Rosalie, The Dark, Tyche
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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 7

In My Daydreams

“No,” I told her. “I didn’t think to try that, but you know what I just thought of? I should be trying to listen in on them now.”

Ignoring her reply, I turned on the sonic receivers in the suit, setting them to focus on the buildings and hoping the walls weren’t thick enough to prevent sound from escaping.

They weren’t.

I heard Dalat’s nasal tenor. “Do you think they can hear us? A lot of actives could probably still hear us.”

Geman replied in his much lower voice, “I don’t know, but if you’re worried, we should just use implants.”

After that, I didn’t hear anything.

I pinged Cassie with my implant. “Do you hear anything?”

“No.” Cassie’s voice was low. “I don’t think they’re saying much of anything. It looks like they’re just eating snacks and drinking beer.”

“You’ve got a visual? What kind of system is the gun using?” I had a little bit of a visual if I narrowcast sound at the bottom of the door, but it was fuzzy. I didn’t get much more than two blurry figures and a blurry table.

The gun’s voice broke in. “SUPERIOR TECHNOLOGY! THE KIND THAT YOU WILL NEVER MATCH IN MILLIONS OF YOUR YEARS!”

For half a second, I considered asking it for details or hints, but then I decided that life was too short to spend it in conversation with an AI that was constantly shouting.

“Sorry,” Cassie said. “He’s way too noisy sometimes. I’ve shut him up. What are your ideas for the next step? I know what mine are and you’re not going to like them.”

We stopped walking and I looked at her, hearing the wind rustle in the grass. “Why? What are your ideas?”

She glanced back down the dirt path toward the building. “You heard them. They’re covering something up and they wanted us out of here. What I want to do is go back and get it out of them. It probably wouldn’t work and it would cause us no end of trouble, but I’m sure something would get them to talk.”

I raised an eyebrow even though she couldn’t see it. “What are you going to do? Torture them?”

She shook her head, frowning. “No. It wouldn’t work, but I want to do something and walking away isn’t it. If they really are planning to betray their friends to a bunch of Abominator wannabes, I want to put the fear of God into them and if God’s not available, the fear of me.”

I laughed. “I get it. I’m not planning on walking away. My idea was more along the lines of contacting the ansible and finding out what we can find out. The way I read it, all Xiniti have admin level access to the ansible and between the two of us we’ve got access to two AI’s, both of whom might be able to help us with this.”

Cassie glanced down toward the gun in its holster. “Sounds awesome. There’s nothing I like more than quality time with Mr. Sparkles. You want to do it now?”

I thought about it. “I don’t think we have time to waste. I’m little worried about how to explain it, though. Do you think they’ll believe we’re doing maintenance?”

Cassie rolled her eyes. “This whole place is sex-crazed or thinks we are. They’ll probably assume we’re screwing.”

I felt my lip curl as I imagined telling someone we were doing maintenance. I could practically hear them putting quotes around the word. Cassie was right. They probably would. Then another thought hit me. “People haven’t been using the ship for sex, have they?”

Cassie shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve barely been around this last year, but if they were, you and Haley started it.”

I took a step across the grass toward the ship. “We never got that far. Even if we’d been trying to, we didn’t have time. We got attacked by a robot hitchhiker. Anyway, a ship isn’t the place for that. Juices and stuff could get into seats and on the carpet and maybe places that actually make the ship work… We’d have to clean it out and that would be gross.”

Cassie laughed and started walking. Aloud, she said, “C’mon lover, let’s go to the ship. That upholstery isn’t going to ruin itself.”

“Not funny,” I said.

We walked across the field, stepping on the grass and watching as insects, some of them the size of mice or larger, scurried out of our way. There were small furred animals too, but I didn’t recognize them.

The ship’s hatch opened as we stepped up and we went inside. Its small cabin felt almost inviting after being on the planet for a few days. It did smell like a locker room though—which, given that we’d spent more than a week inside it on the way there, wasn’t a surprise.

Cassie sniffed the air. “I’d say it needs a good cleaning either way.”

“I’ll have the ship pump fresh air in—provided there’s a way to avoid bringing contaminants home.”

We sat down at the front of the ship and I used my implant to connect to the ship, getting a 360 degree awareness of everything around the ship as well as the space above it. Cassie did the same and I could see her there, floating along with me. The gun glowed softly at her hip—which it didn’t normally. It marked an inorganic intelligence.

I opened up a connection to the ansible. I could have done it anywhere, but had decided I’d have a better connection both to the ansible and the ship if I used the ship’s connection.

A visual representation of the entrance appeared in my mind as an iron door against a field of stars.

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Crying Grumpies

Astérix en Itália, domando a un clásico

Crying Grumpies

453172-944-635

Una de. Las cosas más difíciles para un creador creo que debe ser enfrentarte a un legado dejado por otro creador. Entregar la siguiente parte de una epopeya galáctica querida por fans alrededor del mundo, continuar las aventuras de un botones aventurero o como hoy veremos las aventuras de los dos galos más intrépidos del mundo suelen ser tareas titánicas y de las que es muy difícil salir airoso. Hoy acompañaremos a Astérix y Obélix en en su viaje por Italia.

37es

Espero que no haga falta presentaros a ninguno de vosotros a Astérix y Obélix, esos galos de una aldea irreductibles creados por Goscinny y Uderzo. El año 2005 salió el último álbum de la colección firmado por  uno de los maestros. En el 2013 y con los creadores ya muertos Jean-Yves Ferry, guión, y Didier Conrad, dibujo, retomaron las historias del duo. Este año ha salido el tercer volumen y empiezan a cogerle el pulso a la serie.

Después de Asterix y los Pictos y El papiro del César nos llega Asterix en Italia. La historia que nos presenta este nuevo volumen es bien sencilla, el senador encargado de carreteras del Imperio Romano decide organizar una gran carrera por las autopistas de la península itálica. Como es de esperar nuestros protagonistas se animan a participar en la carrera para humillar una vez más al Cesar. Como siempre tendremos running gags, giros argumentales y demás tropes habituales de la serie.

ICULT NUEVO ASTERIX EN ITALIA

Jean-Ives hace un trabajo muy correcto, aunque sin ningún tipo de duda se queda corto si lo comparamos con los grandes álbumes de la serie como La Gran Cizaña o Astérix en Egipto. Quien se pone a la altura del clásico es Conrad que replica a la perfección el estilo de Uderzo a la vez que con las nuevas técnicas de dibujo digital le da un aire más moderno y fresco.

Astérix en Italia es un cómic correcto que sigue la estela de los clásicos y que si como yo aprendisteis a leer con esta obra te transportará a un momento donde todo era más sencillo. Espero que poco a poco los nuevos encargados vayan agregando nuevos matices a la obra como hicieron en su momento Tome y Janry en su Spirou.


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Semicoop

Near and False

Semicoop

In the game Near and Far there are artifact cards players can build and one of them is a singing skull! Whenever a player visits the Saloon, that player gains 1 reputation. It’s quite a handy card to have and combined with my character’s talent Piano Playing (gain 1 food when visiting the Saloon), it’s a hilarious idea.

So we picked up The Networks at Spiel in Essen and after playing it a few times with two and even four players, we can really say we like this game! The artwork fits perfectly with the slightly sarcastic and funny theme. It’s a hit in our gaming group. 🙂

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Nov 14, 2017 at 12:15pm PST

The end of the year is coming near and that means Board Game Geek’s Secret Santa! 😀 Members of website Board Game Geek who signed up, get assigned a victim for which they have to buy a (board game related) present! Our Santa has already been doing a great job, sending us fun messages and a series of questions. It kinda makes us feel bad that we haven’t really contacted our ‘victim’ yet. But no worries! This Santa has been very busy and will certainly step up their game – soon!

Do you ever sing or quote songs during a game? (We tend to hum Star Wars tunes during Imperial Assault… a lot. )

PS. Heinze just noticed that our previous comic about Near and Far also contained singing… false singing. We’re not sure why this is a returning theme in our comics about this game. 

The post Near and False appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 6

In My Daydreams

Geman’s voice carried through a storm of technical details about the ansible network. “Are you okay?”

Dalat looked up at me. “You’re looking kind of white, kid? Did you just get an implant?”

“About a week and a half, maybe two weeks ago…” My voice trailed off as my implant gave me the exact number of seconds. I took a breath, concentrating on the process of breathing as I’d learned to do when meditating.

It was better. The roar of detail became background noise.

Nodding, Geman stepped closer to me, looking me over. “Yeah. That fits. People take time to adjust to new implants. It gets better. When you start out, the implant’s got so much information you don’t know. As you use it, some of that becomes part of your regular memory. So instead of opening up ten or twenty streams of inquiry with one question, maybe you only open up five or one or two? Anyway, you learn how to filter it  better and only follow up on questions a little at a time.

“You can tell it to slow down. Don’t forget that. I don’t know what speed the Xiniti set their implants at, but it’s probably faster than the human norm. What’s your C-sets rate?”

I queried the implant. “It normally has me at 400 something, but based on my reaction to the most recent data push, it’s throttling me down to 360 or so.”

Dalat stared at me. “Three hundred and sixty? That’s got to be wrong. What geneline are you from? That’s some serious mental mods.”

I tried to keep my tone even. It wasn’t hard. I wasn’t even lying except that I wasn’t mentioning the world. “None in particular. I’m from a fallow world that got a bunch of genes added to the mix. What modifications we’ve got are completely random.”

Dalat’s eyes flicked between Cassie and me without saying anything.

Geman glanced over at Dalat and then back to us. “That’s pretty impressive. The normal human rate is closer to 120 and unmodified humans are closer to 60.”

My implant confirmed his figures, adding that my C-set rate wasn’t unusual for Xiniti, but that they’d been modified to take cybernetic enhancement better.

I chose not to follow that line of inquiry to its end, but it opened a lot of interesting questions. For example, was my capacity random Abominator modification or random stuff from Lee’s people?

Whatever it was didn’t matter now, though. We were here to find a mole and I had a direction to go now.

I looked between Geman and Dalat. “Cassie asked if you knew if anyone else could get access to admin on the ansible. What do you think?”

Geman’s brows furrowed and he frowned. “Can’t say. We haven’t given anyone local admin access who isn’t supposed to have it. Registered ansible techs can still get in. Plus, we basically turned off logging of admin actions in case the ansible gets audited. Right now it only logs the actions of the default admin account and no one’s using that one.”

Dalat nodded. “I know you’re not supposed to do that, but we had to. No other choice if we wanted to keep it secret.”

Geman nodded. “That’s right. If they ever figure out it’s anything more than a deep space relay, the colony’s screwed. We’ve had to set things up so that all the admin accounts are hidden, filter out our actions from the logs, and give our special local accounts total power over the thing.”

So basically, if someone created an account for anyone outside the admin group, you’d never know.

Off in the distance, a large animal roared and something else screeched. I couldn’t tell whether it was defiance or a death cry. I glanced over at the force field poles that surrounded the grassy field of the starport.

“Who set up the ansible to work that way?” From what I now knew about ansibles, they weren’t easy to modify.

Geman sighed. “Rinson. He was one of the earliest colonists. He used to be an ansible tech and he came from a geneline optimized for tech work—long, thin fingers and toes and mental mods. He might have had a prehensile tail too. I can’t remember now. It’s been a while.”

Cassie had been watching them without talking, but then she said, “What happened to him?”

Geman paused, but after a moment said. “He’s dead. One of those dog-things got him years ago.”

Dalat turned his head to gaze at the line of shield poles, but turned back to us. “We weren’t even involved then. The guy died and Iolan was the only admin for a while, but then he brought us in because he didn’t have enough time to handle it alone.”

He frowned as he ended. “Sorry, but Geman and I were about to have a meeting when you showed up. It’s good to be neighborly and all and chat, but we still have to talk.”

Geman glanced down toward him. “It’s no big thing, but you probably shouldn’t be here. It’s colony security stuff.”

“Sure,” Cassie said. “We get it.”

She stepped away from the building and I walked away with her. I considered opening an implant communication channel to her at about the time she opened one to me.

Her words tumbled out as we connected. “Were you watching them with sonics or anything? The gun gives me a few different ways to see in the dark, but I can use them for more than that… Did you see that their heart rates spiked when you started asking about the ansible?”

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Tieshaunn

A personal Advertisement

Tieshaunn

Hello everyone,

before anyone asks, yes, I’m writing, yes, it’s coming along, but this is a huge chapter and I want to do it all in one go, even though it’s already as big as two updates, so I’m still writing.

Meanwhile, I’ve got something I’d like to advertise:

One of my favourite academics, Frank Erik Pointner, is working on a passion project of his, writing Christmas music and recording it with a friend of his for the vocals, and his own guitar play. They’ve already produced two songs and are working on more.

You can find both songs on youtube, following these links:

First Christmas

Christmas All Alone

Or you can search for “Roseate” in youtube and you’ll find them that way.

Take a look if you’re interested and share it if you like it!

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn Tanner


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PenintheStone

Drew Hayes (RT The Pen in the Stone):
Yowza, this is a busy Con! We're already out of SP: Year 1 and Forging Hephaestus. Enjoying the heck out of this town.

PenintheStone
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PenintheStone

Drew Hayes (RT The Pen in the Stone):
I'm at booth #947. See you folks in a few hours! https://t.co/OkH1zhvVfV

PenintheStone
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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 5

In My Daydreams

I wished we had Daniel there because given what I’d heard it sounded like someone was organizing people against us. Daniel could have sorted that out in seconds. Between Cassie and I, all we had going for us were our combined insight into people.

I might have been underestimating Cassie, but I wasn’t optimistic.

As Cassie waved at them (“Hey!”), I used the implant to ask her, “Did you overhear what he said before he turned around?”

When she thought back, “No,” I sent her the memory because the implant suggested it was possible. Technically, it might not have been a memory as much as some sort of temporary data cache of everything I’d recently seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched, but in the moment it didn’t matter.

She thought back, “This just got more interesting,” without visually giving any sign of it. She smiled as Geman and (as we’d guessed) Dalat stepped out of the doorway. Dalat looked us up and down. “I didn’t know humans worked with the Xiniti. I heard it, but I’ve never seen anyone who was. Do they make you wear their armor or do you wear it because its better?”

We were close enough by then that I had time to notice that Dalat was almost a foot shorter than I was. “It’s not their armor. It’s my design. I made it look like Xiniti armor because I didn’t want to have to explain that we were working with them.”

Dalat cocked his head to the side, looked me up and down, cocked his head to the other side and looked at Cassie. “I wouldn’t have known the difference. Is it as powerful as theirs?”

I shrugged. “Don’t know. They only Xiniti I’ve ever fought either wasn’t wearing it or it was partially disabled or something. He was dangerous, but that’s because he was dangerous—not because of his armor.”

Dalat blinked. “Is that how you’re with them then? You killed him? I heard that when you kill a Xiniti that they make you a Xiniti citizen.”

“Kind of,” I said. “It’s not any time you kill a Xiniti. It’s when you kill a Xiniti and they feel like they owe you for it—like if the guy was a criminal. The guy we fought was.”

Dalat looked over Geman who had stepped out of the doorway, towering over his coworker. “Pretty impressive,” Dalat said. “They killed a Xiniti. Not a lot of humans can say that, but a lot of them can say they’ve been killed by Xiniti—whole systems.”

Under his breath, Geman said, “Dalat… Not now.”

Dalat didn’t seem to hear him. He shook his head. “After all the humans they killed, I can’t believe they’re protecting us. Strange how the wheels turn, you know? More than one hundred years ago, my father’s side of the family barely got off their planet before the Xiniti scrubbed it. They burned it all down to the dirt. There wasn’t anything left alive except maybe bugs and fungus. What do you think of them? I heard you had one.”

Cassie and I looked at each other. She responded as I wondered where Katuk was exactly. We’d last seen him back on the ship, but I didn’t remember Jaclyn asking him to com along. He had to be with them though.

As I thought, Cassie answered Dalat. “Eh… He’s quiet. Keeps to himself. We barely know he’s around most of the time.”

“Doesn’t hate humans then?” Dalat frowned. “Well, I guess they can’t act like they do in online vids back where we’re from. In the stories they’re just waiting for their chance to scrub a world, you know.”

Cassie shook her head. “If he’s waiting for the chance to destroy a solar system, he hasn’t told us about it.”

It seemed like the kind of thing that might come out during a game of Monopoly, I thought. Anybody might choose to destroy the world after finding they have to pay the rent at Park Place while short of funds.

I made the joke to myself in my head, but even as I did it, the implant gave me access to the standard Xiniti procedures for destroying every form of life on a planet. I’ll skip the details, but there were a lot of ways to go about it and cases that I’d approve of (at least in theory)—stopping the spread of a fast-killing, species-jumping disease, for example.

I couldn’t say I approved of all the reasons I saw though.

Ignoring the wash of images and access codes, I did my best to follow the conversation. Cassie didn’t seem to have triggered the same thing in her head. In the time that I’d hit a burst of world destruction stories and Xiniti WMD access codes, she’d moved forward in asking questions that were actually relevant to the mission.

“You probably know that we’ve been looking into the idea that someone’s spying on the colony. Is there any way someone could get admin access to the local ansible without being one of the admins?”

As she asked, I knew the answer on my own. The Xiniti had access to the network on a deep level—including self-destruct access codes to parts of the ansible network. At the same time, they were freakishly security conscious. The implant gave me a crash course in ansible tech. Getting access to it required more than simply a password, it required codes deep within an implant or if no implant, identifying DNA (or a different species’ equivalent) and appropriate records inside the system that that individual is allowed to access it and what permissions they had.

I’d have to investigate on my own, but it looked like any Xiniti who came through had access, but beyond that it was pretty much impossible. Sure, they had control of the local relay, but a quick request through my implant gave me the list of the local admins gave me Geman, Dalat, and Iolan, all of whom had DNA and various identifiers unique to implant tech on file.

No one was getting past that easily.

If someone was, they had to be an ansible tech, a Xiniti, or (and this seemed most likely to me) they had to have control over one of the admins.

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Semicoop

Do something!

Semicoop

During a game of Magic Maze, players are not allowed to talk to each other during the most important parts of the game and that can be quite tricky in a real-time cooperative game. There is however… a DO SOMETHING pawn! Players can put it in front of another player to catch their attention and notify them that they are probably missing something important and should … do something! What makes this such a tricky game? Well, there are four hero pawns on the board and every player has a certain action they can make all the hero pawns do. For example: one player can move any of the character pawns to the north, another player can move them to the east, etc etc. Just thinking about that already made my head hurt. I imagine it is a little more relaxed than Escape: The Curse of the Temple though, in which players can constantly scream at each other, need to roll dice (the noise!), while neurotic music is playing on the background.

We haven’t played the game yet and we’re not sure if it is a game we would enjoy. Nonetheless, this gameplay mechanic of a DO SOMETHING pawn made for an excellent comic idea. 😉

Our item in the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund Action is a blast! The highest bid is $200 so far and THAT IS AMAZING! We’re so thankful for the generosity of people and we’re grateful we get to help people who need it in this way. If you’re interested, this is the link to the auction item: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/230490/item/5749356#item5749356 The auction ends tomorrow.

PS. I’ve been swamped with work since Essen, so I haven’t had a chance to work on our animated Semi Co-op project. Hopefully, I can block time in my schedule to get some serious Semi Co-op work done in December. 🙂

What’s your opinion of hastily real-time cooperative games like Magic Maze and Escape?

The post Do something! appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 4

In My Daydreams

Cassie and I both looked at him, but I spoke first. “Your entire stock? I’m hoping it’s gone in the multitudes of happy customers sense and not in the swarms of unhappy villagers with pitchforks chasing us sense.”

It drew its branches upright and spoke with the air of someone whose pride had been touched. “I’m a respectable businessman. I only deliver the best service and this sort of place is the exact sort of client I specialize in.”

“Captive?” Cassie grinned, winking at me.

“I prefer to think of them as underserved,” it said.

“I hope that you’re not taking advantage of them,” I said, “because we will have a problem with that.”

“Far from it,” its leaves adjusted to catch the sun. “I’ve been discovering areas in which they desperately need my services—particularly financially. They have accounts that they have no access to because they didn’t have time to move them. I know beings that can—for a suitable, but not inappropriate fee. And that’s far from the only issue that I can handle. They have property and possessions that haven’t been confiscated by the government, but that they can’t in any way maintain or sell. That’s only few of the things that they need fixed, but I can fix them. Fixing is what I do. I’m afraid, though, that I need to be there in person to get things started and that’s where you come in. When can we leave?”

Hadn’t it been listening? I was almost sure we’d talked about it while it was around. Caught in my memories, I delayed long enough that Cassie replied before I did.

Stepping closer to it and the ship, Cassie looked down. “We’re stuck here until the Xiniti arrive. We can’t leave at all. If we do and the Human Ascendancy shows up, we’re useless as protectors, right?”

The plant’s leaves rustled.  “I have friends that I might be able to get protection through, but I don’t know our coordinates. If you wanted to leave the planet, it’s possible I could arrange something.”

Cassie laughed. “What kind of friends? Are you talking about pirates? Organized crime? Because that wouldn’t be better. Look, you’re stuck here until we can leave. After that, we can drop you off anywhere on our way, but if you find out where we are, I’m pretty sure we have to leave you here for the Xiniti. Okay?”

Some of its leaves twisted toward her. Making a noise that our implants translated as a grunt, it said, “You’re making this difficult, but I accept. I’ll wait for you to leave. Please let me into your spaceship.”

“Sorry, no,” I told it. “We’re not letting anyone in there right now. If you want shelter, you can stay with the rest of us in the council building.”

It floated upward. “I find your lack of faith in me disturbing. I’ve done nothing but help. Still, to win your trust, I’ll go back to your rooms. I may be dormant when you return, but should something change, speaking to me will eventually get my attention.”

We watched as it floated away.

Cassie shook her head. “That thing’s a piece of work. I’m halfway between thinking that it was trying to trick us into giving it the location of this place and thinking it is what it seems—a borderline criminal with connections to the space mafia or something.”

I glanced over to follow its progress toward the village and then back toward Cassie. “I don’t know. I never seriously considered that it might be a spy. It’s never given off a hint that it’s trying to dig for information—though I suppose a good spy never does. I’m running with small-time criminal as my model to explain what it does. That said, that’s bad enough. If we told it where we were and it called in its ‘friends…’ I mean, what would we get? A bunch of thugs? We’d get in trouble, and bearing in mind what Kals said about the colonists—that they were basically the rebels to the Human Ascendancy’s empire? I wouldn’t be surprised if the thugs tried to take something and the colonists simply killed them.”

Cassie raised an eyebrow. “You think they’re that dangerous?”

“I don’t know, but the way Kals described them, it made them sound like they experienced bad things and did bad things before coming here.”

Her expression didn’t change. “Well, if you say so. Either way, we’re here to talk to Geman.”

I nodded. “I guess we’d better do that. Maybe if we’re lucky the other guy will be here too.”

“Dalat?” Cassie glanced over at the three egg shaped buildings in the middle of the field. “Let’s see who’s there.”

We started walking. As we did, Cassie tapped her costume in its pseudo Xiniti armor mode. “I’m sick of wearing this crap. I think the last time we wore anything like normal clothes was the party and sure, that was only last night, but we’ve worn them since we left home. I mean, no offense, you designed them and they’re comfortable, but it gets old.”

“I know. I’d prefer to be in t-shirt and jeans.” Looking ahead, I noticed that the door to the three egg building cluster had an open door and a figure standing in it with his back to us. Bearing in mind that Geman was tall, dark-skinned and muscular whereas the figure in the doorway was light skinned with blond hair, short, and skinny, I guessed he might be Dalat.

For all that wearing a mask on my face got uncomfortable, the newest version of my suit gave me much better hearing.

The man in the doorway was saying, “—said we shouldn’t say anything—“ but then he turned around, seeing us. “Hey there!”

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Tieshaunn

B13.18 Call of the Sleeper

Tieshaunn

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He’d failed.

He’d failed, and it had all been pointless to begin with.

Basil staggered back, away from Dusu. Not hearing, or even really seeing how the others reacted. He just turned away, looking around the room without seeing anything.

There were voices, in the distance, but he paid them no mind, ignored the hand that reached for his arm, didn’t even register who it was.

She has no cure. She has no cure. I can’t come up with one, I’ve never been that good with actual biology. Maybe, if she had the actual formula… but she said she put it all online already, and I’ve read everything there is on the plague online. Prisca only has a few days left, at most.

Life support could only keep her going for so long, especially after the additional damage Hastur’s attack had caused. She certainly wouldn’t survive a flight to England. Even if Gloom Glimmer teleporter her along with all the life support… no, she’d never survive the journey to Ember himself. And even then…

They’d opened the Protectorate again, on a limited basis, after he’d revived that baby, but… it was a toss-up whether he’d actually react to anyone who managed to get close enough. More than once, one of the countless hopeful had weathered the pressure of his empathic assault, managed to get the remains of a loved one all the way to him… only to be promptly ignored until they passed out or went mad.

Basil didn’t know whether he could make it through that, not with the way his mind had gotten screwed up, but he would do it.

However, there was no way Prisca could survive it. If he took her in while she was still alive, in her current condition, it’d likely kill her, if it didn’t destroy her mind.

Ember could fix that, obviously. Assuming he got to him.

What if I put her into stasis? the thought came suddenly. Put her into a state where she’s not truly conscious. It would protect her from his aura…

Don’t be stupid. Just wait for her to d-d-die and take her corpse to him.

The whole point of this is to make sure she doesn’t die in the first place!

Then forget Ember and the Protectorate! You need to focus on working out a cure!

How!? If even Dusu couldn’t… she’s been working on this for half a decade! I have days, at most! Nevermind that I’m not a bio-gadgeteer to begin with and this is, is, it’d take ten bio-gadgeteers to work this out!

Then find a non-biological solution!

How!?! I’ve tried so much… I can’t just replace her infected body parts, because every part is infected in three different ways? Removing her brain to later implant it into a new body, even if I could perform surgery like that, would be meaningless because her brain is also infected!

That’s it. Her brain, that’s the solution!

Of course… I can’t physically remove her brain, but I could scan it, save a complete engram of her brainwaves… it would require more storage than even my computers have, but I’m certain I could convince Mrs Fion to buy any materials I might need…

I save the complete engram. That’ll buy me time, it’ll allow me to figure out how to create a new, healthy body for her, then copy it over… since it’ll be made while she’s still alive…

It can only be made while she’s still alive.

That way, she’ll never have to experience death… whether or not we can get her to Ember…

I can call this Plan A, and getting her to Ember would be Plan B.

There is another issue. Would she want that? To be copied over to a new body? Technically, she wouldn’t be the same Prisca as before. Her mother might not want that, either.

I’m not a philosopher nor a priest. Leave the existential debate to someone else.

But shouldn’t any proposed solution be considered in light of Prisca’s wishes? She is the one whose life is at stake. Copying her mind into a new body – and it’s far-fetched to believe I could do that – only to create a copy of her which does not consider herself to be the Prisca would only serve my own peace of mind.

Stasis.

Like on Tartarus Star. That might be a solution. I could perhaps work out a stasis chamber, or maybe trade Stasis himself for the designs or a complete chamber… or perhaps Mrs Fion could buy one off of him… we could keep Prisca alive indefinitely while I work on finding a cure.

Stasis is no hero though. He works for the government and he is committed full-time to maintaining Tartarus Star. His technology is considered a national secret; it is very unlikely that he’d be allowed to reveal his designs, nevermind actually buying a stasis chamber off of him – they’re supposed to be incredibly expensive, to boot.

Between Mrs Fion’s wealth and the technology I can of-

***

A hand closed around his biceps, tugging him around. He looked up at Amy, black eyes to purple ones.

Hey, baby bro, she whispered gently into his mind. You need to calm yourself down, before you give yourself a stroke.

He looked away, then looked up at her, feeling his expression harden. I can not afford to, right now. I need to find a solution! Could you scan her mind? Perhaps she’s keeping something secret?

Amy shook her head, causing him to feel even colder inside. Even more so when he realised she was trembling, sligthly. Just what had she seen?

She didn’t lie, nor did she ommit anything. She really has no clue how to fix it, Amy told him. And… there’s more. The blood she took, earlier. And what they’ve been doing here. Where these monsters came from. I saw it in her mind.

What’d you see? Basil asked numbly. He wasn’t sure there was much of anything he could get worked up over right now, as worn out as he felt.

Too much, she replied. But first… what about her? She nodded towards Dusu, who’d calmed down considerably, simply sitting cross-leged on the floor and chuckling occasionally, completely unperturbed by the looks of disgust and hatred the others were throwing her. Maybe you’ll feel better if you give her one of those concoctions you said you’d prepared just for her?

Basil looked over his shoulder at Dusu. Those were always meant to force her to give up the cure, in the end, he replied. No point to that, now. Besides, how could I possibly top that? He gestured towards the twisted, half-decayed woman.

Let’s just get this over with and go home.

***

Melody wouldn’t have thought she could hate a complete stranger as much as she hated Dusu right then. Just looking at the woman sitting there on the floor, looking so darn amused.

Amused that she’d destroyed so many lives.

Amused that she’d drawn them into such a dangerous, unnecessary battle.

Amused that she’d crushed their hopes, Brennus hopes in particular, and of all those innocents she’d poisoned, and all those whom cared about them.

She’d used to have trouble accepting Irene’s insistent statement that her father, while evil, was far better than most. Even after meating him in person, she hadn’t really changed her mind.

But now? Looking down at this, this coprophage, this… bitch, she saw true evil. Senseless evil, evil that didn’t have a purpose other than its own betterment.

At least the Dark clearly cared about his daughter. Melody wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that Dusu didn’t have anyone she cared about, that she would have sacrificed her own child if she’d had one, just to try and undo her own fuck-up – for herself.

It took a lot for her not to unleash one of her more cruel tunes on her, just to make her suffer a bit. A bit more, she amended the thought, watching how the woman laboured to draw breath, the way she repeatedly twitched as if in pain, in spite of her carefree attitude.

A little tune to make her bowels empty themselves as violently as physically possible, or cramp up painfully and remain so for a while. Another to throw her sense of balance completely off for hours. Or perhaps one she’d never yet used, because it’d seemed too cruel, a tune that’d give the victim a painful tinitus that’d last for days, if not longer.

So many options. So many incentives to explore them, one by one.

Fortunately for Dusu, Melody was distracted from the recreatively violent train of thought when Brennus came back towards them, shadowed closely by Mindstar.

And wasn’t that a shock? When Mindstar had first appeared, she’d been scared, then relieved – she did work for the Dark, so she wouldn’t turn on Irene and her friends, right? Then it’d seemed like she was going to attack anyway, and Tartsche had tried to reach Brennus to protect him from her (she still remembered the briefing when they’d been told that she might target him – Tartsche had clearly remembered it, as well), only for her to slap them all down with literally just a thought.

She’d known that telepathy was Irene’s one true weakness, but she hadn’t expected it to be that effective.

And then it turned out that Brennus – no, Basil, that boy she’d sat next to in school a few times! – was her brother and he proceeded to beat her, one on one.

If it wasn’t for Irene confirming, while under the aegis of Tartsche’s power, that it was all genuine, she’d have thought the whole fight, no, their every interaction, had been staged.

Now, of course, she was instead faced with the fact that a boy she’d been thinking of as a friend, if a distant one, was the younger brother of a major supervillain…

Which, really, didn’t mean much to her, seeing how her best friend was the daughter of said supervillain’s boss. It would have been the height of hypocrisy for Melody to condemn Brennus for his relationship with his own sister, when she so readily accepted Irene’s relationship with her father.

The only thing she could, maybe, accuse him of was not being open about his relation to her, the way Irene was about her being the Dark’s daughter…

But then again, their situations were very different. Brennus, for one, didn’t have the aegis of Lady Light and the United Heroes to protect him.

I wonder whether she’s the reason he didn’t join us to begin with, she thought to herself as she watched them join the rest of the group.

All those thoughts and more continued on in her head, though they were quickly overshadowed by dismay at how utterly worn-out Brennus looked. In all the time she’d known him, she’d never known him to express a sense of defeat, a lack of purpose. Now though…

“Let us wrap this up,” he spoke in a listless tone. “We should get away from here.” He looked down at Dusu, his gaze briefly hardening – but then it softened into listlessness again. “What did she do with our blood?” he asked no one in particular, apparently.

It did seem directed at Mindstar, however, as she sighed and stepped forth, while Brennus’ helmet floated off the floor and into his hands. “I’ll show you,” she said, gesturing at the computer console.

Using her telekinesis, she logged into the system, making Dusu frown in annoyance. “Y’know, you don’t have to use telepathy… I’d just tell you, at this point.”

“Shut it,” several people said all at once.

“This is the place where they made those monsters that appeared yesterday,” Mindstar spoke seriously, with neither levity nor anger in her voice. “They’re all spawned from the same source…”

The screen switched to a three-dimensional model, showing the floating city they were on, before zooming out and moving down, showing an incredibly long tether that lead down into the depths – the same one they could see before them, dozens of cables thicker than grown men – and following it down…

And down…

And down…

Until it reached the bottom of the ocean, and the view moved, looking down from above, at an angle, at…

A gigantic something at the bottom of the ocean, connected to the station via the cables in front of them.

As the image focused on whatever was below, it was rendered in successively more detailed layers, with Mindstar talking over it, sharing what she saw within Dusu’s mind.

“They found something down there. Something huge. And I mean, really fucking humungous. It’s over a thousand miles in length, and over three in diametre,” the villainess explained as the bottom dropped out of Melody’s stomach, her eyes widening at the rapidly expanding sight of… that.

“What. The. Holy. Fuck,” Tyche succinctly summed up how they all felt.

“That’s what they used to make those monsters,” Mindstar spoke, her voice growing hushed. “They injected it with… human blood. It doesn’t always work out, not even one in ten times, but when it does…”

Brennus looked down at Dusu again. “So that is what you took our blood for,” he stated as he put his helmet on. “Mine and… whose else?”

Before Dusu could respond, Mindstar did so. “All of us. It wasn’t just the four you saw. They got samples from all of us…” She frowned, stroking her chin. “I mean, they came here and found them… put them here in other timelines… ah, fuck time travel! They got samples from each of us, except for the princess, using Elysium’s power.” She looked at the console. “And they injected it all into this thing. That’s what Dusu and that nobody over there were responsible for – figuring out a way to inject something through its armour, after the Gefährten realised that extracted samples bonded with human DNA.”

Melody’s fingers went to work, tapping the air to formulate a sentence. “And that’s how they made Crocell and the other three monsters?” she asked, keeping her vocoder’s voice much calmer than she actually felt.

“Yeah. Only successes they’ve had so far. They injected forty-three samples and only four of them spawned something,” the villainess replied in a cold voice, glaring at the unperturbed mad scientist on the floor. “Though they never injected so many at once, like she just did.”

“Hey, you can’t blame me for being in a bit of a hurry!” Dusu protested Mindstar’s accusatory tone. “Besides, aren’t you curious what might come out of it?”

“No!” shouted half a dozen people at once.

“Alright, so, may-be this is totally obvious and Ah’m just missing it,” Spellgun spoke up for the first time in a while, his accent even stronger than usual, “but what the fuck is that!?!” he gestured wildly towards the three-dimensional model on the screen.

“It’s God!” Syrinx shouted fervently, floating upside down where Mindstar was holding him in the air. “It’s a fragment of the divine tri-“

Hecate reached into a pouch on her belt and threw a handful of glittering green dust at his face, which flew farther and in a tighter stream than it ought to, and he went limp, falling asleep instantly.

“Oh, thank God,” Dusu rolled her eyes. “Guy’s a cutie, but h-“

Hecate whirled around so fast Melody actually jumped, and struck Dusu across the face with the butt end of her staff, knocking the woman over and causing her to cry out in pain.

“Don’t you dare address me in any way,” the slightly spooky superheroine snarled, her English distorted slightly by a faint accent Melody had never noticed before, her tone of voice so vicious it made nearly everyone take a step away from her, even Mindstar.

Not Brennus, nor Tyche, though.

Dusu rubbed her rapidly swelling jaw, having finally stopped grinning, or smiling or otherwise looking happy, as she glared up at Hecate – but she kept her mouth shut.

Mindstar actually looked impressed, giving Hecate odd looks, though the spooky heroine couldn’t see them.

“They’re not sure what it is,” Mindstar continued where she’d left off earlier. “Or at least, if the Gefährten know, they haven’t told Dusu. But she, and her co-workers have a few running theories – all unproven, admittedly. One is that it’s a metahuman whose manifestation just plainly went spectacularly wrong. Another is that it’s some kind of by-product of superpowers as a whole, maybe an animal that soaked up whatever energies power metahumans. And another is that it’s either the source of superpowers, or connected to it in some way.” She shrugged. “Honestly, they don’t even know how long it’s been down there. Seems like time goes wonky around it, so they can’t even analyse the age of the cracks in the rock around and beneath it that it’s caused, because they don’t age uniformly.”

No one spoke up for a minute as they digested that. Finally, Melody turned her head to look at Irene, who’d remained still so far, hovering an inch or so above the floor, her cape closed in front of her and her hood drawn deep, like a white shroud.

The hood twitched as Irene looked up, her face hidden in the shadows, mostly, save for her blue eyes. “I don’t know what it is. I have some suspicions, but… nothing I’m sure of enough to say,” she answered the unspoken question.

Melody felt both disappointment and relief, as part of her just plainly didn’t want to know what that thing really was – she was afraid that it was even worse than she could expect.

“The blood is already injected?” Brennus interjected, directing the question at Mindstar, at his sister.

His helmet-mask always distorted his voice, but even so, Melody’s ears had no trouble picking up the fact that he still sounded… defeated, really. His voice was flat, lacking its usual intensity.

“Yeah, it is. Nothing we can do to stop it anymore,” Mindstar replied, her voice softening almost imperceptibly (to anyone but Melody) as she addressed her brother again. “All we can hope for is that none of it causes this… Sleeper to spawn another monster.”

“How long did it take before they knew whether an injection had been successful in the previous cases?” Brennus continued his line of inquiry in that same tone of voice, his head tilted forward as he looked at something he was holding in his left hand. Melody couldn’t see what it was, though it had to be palm-sized.

“Anywhere between five minutes and three hours,” the answer came almost as soon as he finished. “If it doesn’t work, it’ll eject the rejected blood in crystalline form – they have computers looking out for it.”

As if on cue, a new window opened, showing a black-and-white image of a bismuth-like crystal growing in fast motion, right out of one of its scales, before it detached and floated away.

“Aaaaaand that’s one,” Mindstar sighed in undisguised relief. “Eight more to go.”

“Is there anything we can do to abort the process?” Tartsche asked quietly, sounding as calm as ever as he held onto Spellgun’s hand. “Force it to purge them all or something like that? Some way to make sure no more monsters are generated?”

Both Mindstar and Dusu shook their heads, one seemingly impassive, one very clearly quite pleased with herself.

“And there’s nothing here about a cure?” Tartsche pressed on. “She doesn’t know anything, or have anything we can make use of?”

Mindstar shook her head, and Tyche and Hecate slumped a little, while Brennus showed no outward reaction, though Melody thought she might’ve heard something from within his helmet. She wasn’t sure though, as quiet as he was being.

“We should go, then,” Brennus concluded what was obviously Tartsche’s thought process, putting away whatever he’d been looking at. There was barely any inflection at all left in his voice. “Every second we remain here just increases the probability of another enemy showing up.”

“Now that’s as good a straight line as I could hope for!” a new voice spoke up.

Melody squeaked in shock as she turned, just in time to see Mindstar stagger forward, nearly falling, her hand going to her neck and pulling a tiny dart tipped by a needle out of it.

“Huh?” She stared at the dart, her eyes growing unfocused.

Brennus grabbed her, pulling her away and behind him, revealing the person who’d stuck her with the dart, who…

Oh God he’s so yummy, was the first thought that came to Melody’s mind as she saw the gorgeous, brown-haired young man in what appeared to be black-and-gold workout clothes, only of much higher quality than usual, and reinforced, fingerless gloves.

If she hadn’t met so many insanely pretty men since manifesting her powers, she’d probably have squeed and melted on the spot.

He stood there, looking as calm as if he was just taking a stroll, with an easy smile on those perfect lips.

“Immanuel!” shouted Tyche, taking a step away from him.

Wait, Immanuel? That guy? Melody blinked, remembering what Tyche had told them earlier. Fuck, we have to-

She raised her arms to fire at him, only to stop when Irene cried out.

“Wait, no, stop!” Irene shouted as she was enveloped in ribbons of twisted space… and then she disappeared.

Immanuel looked at the empty space where Irene had just floated, looking only mildly surprised. “Heh. Nice one,” he said, grinning.

***

Space unfurled around her and dropped Irene onto a grassy hill, which looked out over a tranquil beach and the ocean.

“No!” she shouted, desperate, reaching for the power which had brought her there. “No, no! Take me back! I’ve got to get back, Melody is still there! My friends are all still there! Take me back, please!”

She begged her own power, even as she felt the teleporting effect – one she hadn’t had before, to her recollection – sink beneath the darkness, tears beginning to run from her eyes.

She’d been so focused on that giant thing below, that, that thing that might have been, just possible, one of them, perhaps. A steward, in this world. Her parents were going to flip out.

Somehow, even though she’d had her danger sense up and running, that man, that… Immanuel, he’d managed to sneak up on them, and then her power had reacted to the suddenly present, overwhelming threat by taking her away from her friends.

“Please, please, just take me back!” she shouted, trying to reach for that power again, only to get… flight and the power to tell where magnetic north lay. “No, I need to be fa-“

“Irene? What are you doing here?” a tired voice asked.

She whirled around, staring at the figure behind her with bloodshot eyes.

***

“I think you’ve all had more than enough fun,” Immanuel spoke in a conversational tone, clasping his hands behind his back as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

Basil didn’t give him a chance to say more – torn between checking to make sure Amy was going to be alright and taking down the new threat, he chose to trust in her constitution and went on the offensive – and launched one of his grappling hooks at him, aiming straight for his belt buckle.

Immanuel simply stepped aside, dodging it by a hair’s breadth with such ease, it seemed rehearsed. “For those of you who don’t know yet, I’m Immanuel, and I’m in charge of this charming base,” he continued on, as if nothing had happened, even as he bent over forward, letting a blast of green fire fly over him and splash over Tartsche’s protective field, blinding Spellgun and causing him to miss his shot, which instead hit Osore in the forehead just as he was gathering up a fear blast in his right hand; his mask cracked, though not broken, he was thrown backwards as electricity raced through his body, stunning him and causing him to fall gracelessly and heavily onto the floor. “And while I greatly sympathise with your noble intentions, I’m afraid I’ll have to stop you right here,” he concluded, standing up straight again, smiling at everyone around.

How did he just do that? Basil thought furiously, stepping back to keep some distance between himself and the new enemy. That was way too smooth… he must be an Esper. Some major combat cognition. He stared at the empty spot where Irene had just been, then at Amy behind him, through the eyes of his bedraggled ravenbot. And we’ve already lost our two strongest combatants.

“What did you do to Gloom Glimmer!?!” Polymnia shouted at Immanuel, both of her clenched fists – and the speakers on the wrist modules above them – aimed straight at him.

“Don’t worry, I just gave her a bit of a scare,” Immanuel replied soothingly. “I suppose her power decided she was safer away from me than next to me.” He tilted his head to the side, both as a gesture and to dodge a shot from Tartsche’s rifle. “Can’t blame it, really. In fact, I’m quite grateful – makes my job easier.”

His expression turned thoughtful and he tapped his chin. “Hmm… just forty minutes before she comes back… with Lamarr. Maybe the Dowager, though I doubt it.” He blinked, as if another thought came to him. “Hm, no. She won’t come – just Lamarr and some of his people. Goldschmidt wouldn’t let her back here.” Without even looking, he bent forward and also lifted his left leg up, as if to kick out, though he merely tapped the charging form of Bakeneko – in the middle of transitioning from a bipedal to a quadrupedal form –  on the shin, lightly, causing her to trip and bowl into Polymnia, who just barely managed to brace herself and not get bowled over as well, though she still missed her shot, the twin beams of focused sound going wide and tearing up some computer equipment on the far wall of the room. “Nothing I can’t deal with.”

Basil barely paid attention to his words, instead opting to study his opponent more closely. The way he moved, the way every dodge of his led to them hitting each other in some way… it reminded him of the way it usually went when Tyche fought, except far more controlled.

Deliberate.

Speaking of Tyche, she was just standing there, her hands trembling as she tried to aim at Immanuel – but he didn’t seem worried at all, and she didn’t seem capable of actually pulling the trigger.

“I, I thought you said, you wanted us to, to succeed,” she stammered, taking a step back from him when he turned his head to focus on her.

He blocked Basil’s punch, which he loosened the moment his attention was on Tyche, with an absentminded swipe, “I did and I do,” then he deflected a knee-strike to the groin by raising his own knee and gently pushing it aside, “Though I never said I thought it was actually going to happen,” he turned into the follow-up elbow strike that Basil turned his over-extended strike into, “I did know that Dusu has never been able to figure out a cure for her own work,” his arm came up, applying minimal force to Basil’s elbow and causing him to strike the air above his head, unbalanced by the flawless counter, “Nor did I say I’d actually let you all leave after you reached Dusu,” he placed one hand onto Basil’s chest and the other one’s forearm against his waist, pushing with both and flipping him over until he hit the ground with his head, only his helmet saving him from being knocked out, though it still rang his bells quite well, “Sorry,” the angel-faced villain concluded, smiling apologetically at Tyche.

She gulped staring at him with wide eyes. He just smiled back, throwing Basil’s combat knife, which he’d filched from his belt when he’d flipped him, at Polymnia, without even looking at her.

The blade pierced the membrane of her right wrist’s speaker just as she loosened another attack, causing a feedback that overloaded it and made it blow up around her arm, throwing her aim with the other arm off so badly she shot Bakeneko instead just as she was about to get up again, making her cry out in pain and tumble away from the armoured songstress.

Polymnia herself cried out in pain, her arm covered in bruises and cuts from the explosion, though her innate toughness and the layer of ballistic weave she’d between her skin and the actual mechanical parts prevented heavier damage.

“Now, I’m not a complete jerk,” Immanuel followed up, stepping forward towards Tyche with his arms spread wide, following it up by an absent-minded kick to Dusu’s throat, causing her to choke up and bend over in pain, just as she’d been about to speak up. “I really don’t feel like listening to you, Heng,” he quipped, and continued to walk towards Tyche with a disarming smile.

Basil groaned, slowly getting back up on his feet – the strain of the last few days was really starting to catch up to him – as he blinked the stars out of his view. By the time he managed that, the only ones left standing were himself, Tyche, Tartsche and Spellgun.

Amy was on the ground, moaning softly with unfocused eyes. Bakeneko and Osore were both still conscious but stunned, lying on the ground. Polymnia was on her knees, holding her mangled right arm to her chest, sniffling as tears leaked from her eyes. Hecate was on the ground next to Immanuel, who was still holding one of her arms by the wrist. Basil hadn’t even noticed her go down.

Both Tartsche and Spellgun were aiming their guns at him, but since he stood between them and Tyche, they didn’t want to risk taking the shot.

Tyche was staring slack-jawed at him, her grip on her rifle quite loose.

Graymalkin had curled up on Amy’s breasts, using them as pillows as he yawned.

“So, now that all that unpleasantness is over,” Immanuel said with a small sigh, seemingly not even winded. “How about we have a nice talk, hm?” He looked around at the teens. “I have no interest in keeping the lot of you here, really. In fact, I’m perfectly willing to let you get back home.”

“What is the catch?” Basil asked suspiciously, not believing him for a moment, even though everything about him just plain screamed sincerity.

“Well, you do have quite a lot of damages to make up for,” Immanuel replied, turning his back to Tyche and letting go of Hecate’s arm, so he could face Basil. “So I think it’d only be fair if you and Melody over there were to work for us for, let’s say… a quarter of a year, each.” He clapped his hands together, smiling brightly. “You two promise me three months of servitude each – no wetwork, nothing illegal, even – and I’ll not only let your friends go right now, I’ll even pay you both quite handsomly. And you can get back to your own affairs. How’s that sound?”

“Never,” Polymnia replied, her voice coming out distorted. “Like we’d ever agree to work for someone like you!”

“Now, don’t be judgemental,” Immanuel wagged a finger at her. “You don’t really know me just yet.”

“We’ve… seen enough…” Hecate groaned as she got up on her feet, leaning heavily onto her staff. “You fucking people belong in a maximum security prison… or better yet, six foot under,” she snarled, her eyes flashing with raw hatred within the shadows of her hood.

Language, young lady,” he frowned at her, mockingly. “What would your grandmother say if he heard you talk like that?”

Hecate flinched, snarling audibly at him.

He knows too much, Basil thought, his brain racing wildly, trying to come up with an idea on how to take him on. If he’s some kind of combat precog, then the only way to beat him would be to trap him in a no-win situation.

Great idea, mate! Except for the little fact that he’s holding all the cards in his hands!

You’re not helping. Either come up with an idea or else shut up.

“Now, as I was saying – this doesn’t have to end in more tears,” Immanuel continued. “If you two accept my offer, I’ll even let you use all our resources to try and figure out a cure for Dusu’s plague.”

Basil clenched his fists, hard.

Immanuel smirked at him. “You know there’s no way you’ll be able to save her on your own. She wouldn’t survive a trip to the Protectorate, and it’s unlikely someone with your manifold issues would be able to reach him, anyway. And you don’t have the knowledge base nor the resources to work out a cure – but we might.” He put his hands together, palm-to-palm, as if praying – or begging. “Please, Basil. Think about it. You’ve always believed that the ends justify the means, no? I’m offering you near-endless resources, and the support of our best bio-gadgeteers – including Dusu.” He gestured at the unconscious woman. “Consider how much it would improve your chances if you had the actual source of the plague to work with, even if she doesn’t consciously know how it works or how to fix it! Accept my offer and not only will your friends be able to go back home safe and sound, but you’ll also be able to save Prisca.”

He bit his lip hard enough that it hurt, feeling angry with himself just for considering the offer. Yet he did, and Immanuel knew he was saying just the right things.

“Basil, you know the choice is barely one,” Immanuel pressed on. “Not for you. You know what needs to be done, and what needs to be done is a cure being found for Dusus many victims – are you really going to decline an offer to do what you know needs to be done?”

He lowered his raised fists, letting his arms hang loosely. Fuck. He was right, wasn’t he? Even disregarding the fact that there was no other option he could see to get his friends to safety – Immanuel seemed quite confident he’d be able to deal with Gloom Glimmer and any reinforcements she’d be able to drum up, even if those were members of the Dark Five – he was completely out of options as far as actually saving Prisca was concerned – the reason he’d organised this entire, ill-advised operation in the first place!

Even if he’s lying about letting me leave freely, afterwards, I’ll stand a better chance of getting out of this, nevermind of fixing Prisca, by playing along for now.

It needs to be done.

He sighed, releasing a breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding, as his shoulders slumped, opening his mouth to-

“To pursue what is necessary is the province of beasts – a true man must pursue naught but what he desires.”

He clenched his fists again, feeling an angry heat rise up from his gut. A snarl escaped his mouth, making Immanuel frown, looking honestly serious for the first time yet.

“Fuck. You,” he snarled at the villain.

Immanuel tilted his head, looking actually surprised for once. “Hm. I suppose that’s a no, then.” He put his hands on his waist, huffing. “The day’s full of surprises.” He looked over at Polymnia, who was still on her knees and craddling her bleeding arm.

Even though she was crying heavily, she glared back at him with defiance in her eyes.

“That’s a no then, as well,” he concluded with a sigh, lowering his head and shaking it. “What a waste.” He looked around at them all, watching as they all slowly got back up on their feet, at least those who weren’t still standing. Even Amy was getting up, on wobbly feet, barely able to balance on her stiletto heels, but determined to try, clearly.

Everyone looked scared, worn out and just plainly tired, but Basil could tell that they all intended to keep fighting.

He raised his fists again, clenching them, facing the brown-haired villain.

Even now, Immanuel looked, at worst, like he was annoyed, not worried.

“Well, let’s do… this…” Immanuel began to speak in a chipper tone of voice, but trailed off, frowning as he looked around the huge hall.

The lights flickered, once. Twice. Three times.

When they came back on for the fourth time, a huge, vaguely humanoid shadow stood between Immanuel and Polymnia, to Basil’s right, his back to the Esper who’d just kicked them all around so easily, looking down at the crying Polymnia.

“Me- Polymnia!” cried a familiar voice, and an equally familiar, white-cloaked figure stepped forth from next to the huge shadow, rushing over to her friend and throwing her arms around the kneeling girl, hugging her tight as light spread from every point of contact between them, gathering around Polymnia’s wounds and starting to mend them.

“So, this is it, huh?” the Dark said, curiosity in his distorted, choral voice, looking around lazily. “Now where’s that giant…”

He suddenly cut himself off as he turned around and looked down at Immanuel, who’d moved back by several metre, almost running into Tyche – as if he’d been trying to sneak away quickly. In his current form, the Dark was more than two heads taller than him, and Immanuel was by no means a short man.

The two supervillains stared at each other, one’s expression hidden utterly beneath the darkness of his power, yet radiating a sense of utter, disbelieving shock, while the other’s expression was calm, friendly, even amicable, yet he radiated nervousness.

“You,” the Dark breathed, sounding stunned. Off-balance. His voice barely more than a whisper. “You’re alive.”

“Long time no see, Goldschmidt,” Immanuel spoke carefully, putting his hands in his pants’ pockets. “Surprise, I guess.”

Whatever Basil had been expecting to happen next – whatever anyone had expected, from Tyche to Gloom Glimmer, all of whom were staring at the scene with bated breath – none of them, he was sure, expected what came next.

The Dark sobbed, staggering forward by a step, reaching out with a hand towards Immanuel, hesitating, as if afraid that he’d disappear if he made too sudden a move.

“Oh, oh… thank God… thank God…” he sobbed, his voice soft, the tears actually audible, though invisible. “I was so afraid… so, so afraid… that you were gone…”

The shadows he was wrapped in began to boil, spreading out slowly around him, like tar slowly creeping over the floor.

“That you had died…”

The shadows rolled off of him, writhing, expending, contracting, increasing.

“That I would never get my chance…”

He took another step closer, his voice breaking, another sob escaping him, like the sound a wounded animal would make when it finally found balm for its pain.

Gloom Glimmer flew towards Tartsche and Spellgun, pulling Polymnia along behind her with one hand, as more, ghostly hands reached out for all the others.

“To kill you myself…”

Basil found himself being pulled towards Gloom Glimmer, along with all the others, as she shot straight up, throwing a solid black sphere that blew through the ceiling, paving the way.

“To finally, finally… hurt you!”

Beneath them, as they rapidly flew above the floating city, the Darkness exploded, a tide of boiling shadows wallowing across the floating city like a tidal wave.

And above all, there was a scream, a cry of such utter, unadultered, unrestrained hatred, it chilled the blood in their veins.

Over fifty figures who’d been floating, flying and standing around the building Dusu’s lab was in charged forward to join their master in battle.

And then the Dark went to War.

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: Amy, Bakeneko, Basil, Dusu, Gloom Glimmer, Graymalkin, Hecate, Immanuel, Osore, Polymnia, Spellgun, Syrinx, Tartsche, The Dark, Tyche
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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 3

In My Daydreams

Back in our rooms at the council building half an hour later, we sat across from each other at the table, all of us thinking over what we’d been doing.

I looked over everyone. “I don’t know about you, but I feel like I have less direction than I had before we talked to Iolan. I mean, it sounds like Iolan’s already got the ansible under investigation and he didn’t offer to let me in. Plus, we’ve got a population that’s ready to freak out either because we can breed with anyone or because the Dominators might come for them. Also, I don’t feel like we got much of a direction from that party the other night.”

Cassie shrugged. “I don’t know. We know more than we did when we got here. I see it as long term thing. We get to know people now, keep on talking to them, and in a little while we see the big picture.”

Nodding, I said, “You’re right, but I’m not sure we’ve got a long term. We’ve got a short term and then the Xiniti show up and we go home.”

“Yeah,” she drawled. “If they show up. You’ve been following the news, right? Whoever the Issakass are, they started some kind of major war and the Xiniti are containing the edges of it. I’d say who’s in the middle of it, but that might be a bad idea.”

Marcus bobbed his head in agreement. “It is crazy to follow that whole thing. That whole race went crazy and now they’re fighting a war on five fronts when they aren’t fighting each other. And Cassie’s right about who’s in the middle of it. A major Issakass fleet started attacking itself. You know what that sounds like? The sort of dirty tricks he’s always been pulling.”

Jaclyn leaned across the table. “Nick, where do you think you’ve got the best chance of figuring it out?”

I thought about it. “Geman and the other guy, Dalat? They share admin responsibilities with Iolan. It seems like there’s got to be more there. None of them are ansible administrators or anything like that. I’m not either, but two of them are pilots and the other one’s a doctor. It seems like they could miss something, or that if one of them was hiding something, the others wouldn’t have the skill to figure it out.”

“You’ve got it.” She gave a wave toward the door. “Figure out how you’d get into the relay. We’ll get out and meet people. There’s got to be some way. Marcus? How about you come with me? And let’s go see Tikki. They’ve got to be teaching her a job. We can help and we’ll talk to people along the way.”

Marcus gave her a sideways glance. “I’ve got a feeling this isn’t going to be all that fun.”

Jaclyn gave him  a small smile. “I’m sure the two of you can sneak away eventually.”

Cassie looked me in the eye. “Which puts you with me. I’m guessing that sends us to the spaceport.”

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead, but I was thinking that I might talk to Hal. He can chew through encryption back home. I’m a little worried that he might not be as good here where he’s not as far ahead technologically. On the other hand, he’s built to assist in making war—which includes breaking encryption, so I’m basically asking him to do one of the jobs he’s designed for.”

Cassie grinned. “Better to use Hal than my gun. It was on ice for so long that it’s not current on anything but killing.”

Not long after that, Cassie and I were walking to the spaceport. I’d spent some time getting our costumes to imitate the clothes we’d seen on other colonists, so we fit in—at least visually. For all I knew, the costumes we wore had religious or cultural significance and simply wearing them delivered an insult that went back generations.

It wasn’t a bad day outside—though it was different taking the same path we’d taken at night back to the “spaceport,” a name that overstated its significance by far. It was a spaceport in the same way that a field next to a shack was an airport.

As we neared the ship, I noticed a few things—first that Bug’s Revenge was gone, presumably on the way back to civilization. Hopefully it wouldn’t get caught. The two fighter ships were out and shiny.

Finally though, Crawls-Through-Desert “sat” next to our ship in his pot. An empty gravity sled lay next to the plant on the ground. The last time I’d seen it, it had been piled high with devices.

“Not to rush you,” it said, “but when are you leaving? I sold my entire stock and I don’t have anything left to do but wait. So how long am I going to wait?”

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In My Daydreams

Ten Years Ago Today…

In My Daydreams

I started posting Legion of Nothing on November 8, 2007.

Crazy, eh?

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Semicoop

Cat in a box

Semicoop

This probably works… if you have only one cat.

Azul is one of the games we picked up at Spiel this week and we love it. The first turn we didn’t really know how it was going to be ‘a game’, but when we reached the second turn… it hit us and we saw the many choices you can make! Will I take this tile just to prevent other players from getting it? If I take this, then that… etc etc! We can’t wait to play this with more than two players.

This week we realized that the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund Auction is running! So we decided to offer something to the good cause: a custom avatar or selfie shot with us… plus we’ll send you a signed fridge magnet of the image! There is already an outstanding bid of $130 – maybe we can drive up the price even higher. 🙂  We would like to say that we are already astounded by the generosity of people, it’s an amazing to see the bgg community at work. Click here to see our auction item and if you’d like to participate in the bidding for a good cause! The auction ends on November 14th.

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Nov 2, 2017 at 2:37pm PDT


And we’ve started Pandemic Legacy 2! We’ve been so excited to get started with this game ever since finishing Pandemic Legacy last year. Alas, we lost our first prologue game (SO CLOSE!) and thus we decided that we won’t start with the first ‘real game’ and will keep playing the practice session until we win and are familiar with all the new rules and actions. We’ll keep you posted on what we think of the game, spoiler free of course. 😉

Any good anecdotes about the behavior of your pet(s) while playing a board game?

The post Cat in a box appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 2

In My Daydreams

I stood next to one of the counters in Iolan Mekus’ lab, considering sitting on it but then reconsidering when I noticed the same kind of square chips that had absorbed our biological samples.

Standing then, I asked, “So okay… If you think they’re using admin accounts to communicate and then deleting the specific logs of their ansible use, then who are the admins?”

Iolan grinned, but barely. “I see where you’re going, but it’s not that easy. That was my first thought. The other two admins are Geman, who is no fan of the Ascendancy government and Dalat, the other pilot, who is in his own world. I know anybody could be a traitor, but the two of them are poor candidates. I’ve been forced to look elsewhere.”

Marcus looked up from one of tables. “How about mind control? I know I’ve mentioned this before when we were talking among ourselves, but you guys have people who can tell you what to do and then you listen even if you disagree. It’s crazy.”

Iolan blinked. “Well, of course mind control is a possibility, but we do have some experience in resisting it here. Now, as for myself, I grew up in a leader gene line and even though we were stronger and more powerful than most humans, our best weapon against other humans had to be our voice. So, as for myself, I never discount that possibility, but there are so many potential motivators… If you think about it, I could theoretically be causing it despite not being interested in destroying myself or ever having any real interest in being a motivator at all.

“I was far more interested in learning to be a genetic counselor and doctor—so I left my motivator abilities quite underdeveloped. I’m far from the only one of us who is like that. You don’t become part of a group like this without hating that part of ourselves. The only people with good motivator training are Jadzen Akri and her daughter, young Kals. The rest of us have the potential, but we’re only good at the direct, obvious commands—the kind of thing everyone will pick up on.

“Only people with real training could both make someone use their ansible access against their will and make them unable to talk about it. Jadzen and Kals wouldn’t have needed to do it. Jadzen has been going back on and off to recruit for years. Kals’ training was interrupted and I don’t see any motivation for her to destroy her family. The only way for mind control to work like that, in this case, is if the Dominators got them and—“

Cassie looked up from whatever she’d been fiddling with and the desk she’d been standing next to. “Dominators? Whoa. Wait. You’ve got Dominators here too?”

Iolan cocked his head to look at here. “Of course. They’re all over human space. They were the Abominators’ group that handled problem humans and prevented human rebellion.”

Cassie turned toward the rest of us—Jaclyn, Marcus and I, mouth twisted and probably thinking what the rest of us were—that the Dominators were a supervillain team back home that specialized in mind control. It would make a kind of sense if they turned to be Abominator founded group—except we couldn’t explain that without explaining we were from Earth, something we didn’t want to do in case Lee’s people got wind of the fact that he came to space with us.

Cassie turned back to Iolan saying, “I always thought the Dominators were only on our world.”

Iolan nodded. “It would be better to think so. They’ve been known to plant commands that don’t activate for years. All the same, I’d have expected them to trigger long before now. If we are dealing with Dominators, guessing motives is useless and it could be anyone no matter how little sense it makes.”

Jaclyn frowned. “There aren’t any tells that someone’s been modified by them?”

Brows furrowed, Iolan put a bracelet on his wrist and tapped it. “There might be. I’ll do some research. Perhaps the Xiniti might do the same. There might be some default commands that we might activate to check for Dominator manipulation. It may be that I was wrong to discount them. It wouldn’t be impossible for them to include a mini-personality with the skill to use motivator abilities. We’ve had resistance groups broken up by exactly that. It’s just that they’re effective enough that I wouldn’t expect them to take this long to destroy us. They’d have found out our location and called in the Ascendancy long ago.”

“Okay,” Jaclyn looked over everyone. “I’m thinking we have to investigate the Dominator angle, but I don’t think we should assume that’s got to be it. We should be looking just in case it is someone else—even if we can’t guess who right now. Anyone else ready to call this meeting done?”

Iolan nodded. “One thing I’d ask of you all… Please don’t tell anyone that we’re suspecting Dominator involvement. We don’t want a panic. Some of us here only barely survived Dominator controlled personalities. Aside from that, who knows how the Dominators might have told them to respond?”

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Crying Grumpies

Pinball Arcade, Millones de nostálgia

Crying Grumpies

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Siendo el más joven de los grumpies soy o un xeleniall tardío o un mileniall primerizo, eso quiere decir que más que un chico de los ochenta soy hijo del noventerismo. Por desgracia cuando comencé a adquirir algo de autonomía los arcades ya no estaban de moda y al poco de conocer al resto de los compañeros de blog cerraron el recreativo en el que quedábamos para jugar al Time Crisis o al KOF’99. Al llegar a los dieciséis, me apunté a la escuela de cocina, empecé a trabajar yencontré un lugar mágico entre la escuela y mi trabajo que me transporto de vuelta al esplendor de los recreativos. Para ser más concretos al esplendor de los salones recreativos rellenos de pinballs. Cada tarde aprovechando que al trabajar se me permitía llegar algo más tarde a clase me paraba un rato y me jugaba las propinas en el Medieval Madness. Uno de mis sueños siempre ha sido hacerme con una de estas máquinas. Ahora y gracias a Farsight Studio y su The Pinball Arcade tengo algo muy parecido a ese mágico local en la pantalla de mi IPad.

Juegos que trasladasen máquinas de millón a trastos electrónicos siempre los ha habido, pero la gracia de la Pinball Arcade es que todas y cada una de sus máquinas son máquinas que existieron. La aplicación es un salón recreativo portátil, mediante DLC podemos ir ampliando nuestra colección de mesas. Aunque si sois de los que no pasan por caja con los DLC podéis jugar a cualquiera de las mesas disponibles de forma gratuita hasta alcanzar la primera High Score o jugar sin limite a cuatro mesas que van rotando cada mes a cambio de ver publicidad.

Las físicas del juego están realmente conseguidas y las bolas se comportan de la misma forma que lo hacen en las máquinas originales. Falla un poco el tema de mover la máquina pero en mi nivel de aficionado no es nada grave. Es muy posible que en las versiones para PC o consolas esto no ocurra al estar las acciones mapeadas en teclas y no en un lugar random de la pantalla de mi tablet. Otro fallo y esta vez un poco más grave es la imposibilidad de variar la fuerza con la que se activa el flipper, esto lleva a que algunas de las técnicas de control no se puedan realizar con la misma facilidad que una máquina de verdad.

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Por el lado positivo, más allá del realismo con el que están plasmadas máquinas, tenemos la gran variedad de mesas y lo asequibles que son pues cada mesa vale poco más de 5€. Aunque la principal mesa a la que juego es el pinball de destruir castillos gracias a la aplicación he descubierto alguna joyas como Black Hole o la primera mesa con una superficie de juego debajo de la superficie principal o Safecraker, una rareza en la que en vez de tener X bolas por partida lo que tenemos es una cuenta atrás, mientras quede tiempo suelta bola tras bola y si el tiempo se acaba termina la partida.

No me puedo ir sin mencionar el sistema online, en el que no participo, pero que nos ofrece torneos, objetivos y demás mandangas habituales. En fin que si alguna vez os han interesado los pinballs nos encontramos frente a una muy buena aplicación que nunca sustituirá el tener una mesa delante, tocarla y perder un poco de cordura con los sonidos estridentes pero que al igual que las versiones de juegos de mesa en cacharros electrónicos sirven de buena metadona.


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In My Daydreams

Venus Spy Catcher: Part 1

In My Daydreams

Department for the Analysis of Alien Artifacts, K’Kassa, Issakass Homeworld

The being that sometimes called itself Lee reformed in front of the building. A body formed around him with barely a thought, so little that he took a moment to check what form he wore. It wasn’t anything special. For the moment, he was bipedal with four limbs, blue-green scaled hide, and while he couldn’t see all of his face, it was obvious that he had a long snout.

He wore a short robe with a tool belt.

He was, he recognized, a typical, lower caste Issakass male, the sort of being that would never be noticed walking into a government building—not that it mattered.

There were no Issakass as far as the eye could see. He saw plenty of evidence that the Issakass still existed. The smell of smoke hung in the air and he saw evidence of at least four burning buildings with a quick look around. He knew he could pick out more if he cared.

He didn’t. None of the buildings were close, so it wasn’t as if the neighborhood were burning. This block of low government buildings must look the same as it had before the war. Blocky and made of old plastics and ceramics, all of the buildings had a grayish tinge, whatever color they’d been before. The kassetia vine grew more thickly on them than the Issakass preferred, hinting that this block had been abandoned before the current fighting.

It didn’t surprise him. He felt sure he knew why, but it was good to check.

Well, he told himself, there was no reason to wait and every reason to get it over with. Depending on what he found, it might make the endgame easier.

He walked toward the door, walking under a mural of intricate carvings. The Issakass traditionally decorated their more important buildings with carvings. He remembered visiting when the custom was new. The Issakass had been a young species then. Though they’d always been too focused on money for his taste, they’d had the energy young spacefaring races had—exploring here, going there, encountering other intelligent life for the first time…

He remembered doing that with the others—Kee (had she been calling herself Kee then?) had always tried to understand the way things worked, Nataw had always seemed to enjoy the traveling more than anything they found, Halas had wanted to keep them safe. Lee shook his head. The universe didn’t allow you to stay safe. He thought about those three and the many others they’d traveled the galaxies with.

They’d been so very young.

He wondered where Halas was now. The last Lee had seen him, he’d been with the Destroy faction, designing devices like the one Lee had come to inspect. A part of Lee hoped he might have died in the fighting. Better to discover Halas had died in the years since he’d left than to have to kill him himself, but Halas wouldn’t have joined the Live faction. It wasn’t in his nature. Besides, Nataw had, and Halas had always been on the edge of not getting along with Nataw.

Lee supposed that he was Live now, assuming he could ever persuade them not to kill him in retaliation.

He spent enough time remembering that he reached the artifact before he expected to. One minute he’d been traveling down a hallway and the next he felt the device. Knowing where to go, he stepped through an archway and into a nearly empty room.

The artifact lay on the floor, a tangled mess of wires sticking out of a ceramic casing. It was older than some galaxies. Lee crossed the wide, white tiles, reaching the artifact halfway across the room.

Lee didn’t even have to pick it up to find out what he’d wanted to know. It released an invisible cloud of nano-devices. He could feel them dig into his skin—if he’d been a mortal, he wouldn’t have, and they would have made small but important changes in his brain and body. He’d have developed the ability to influence other beings with his voice, a stronger, more resilient body, and a deep need for conquest.

While going mad in the way Halas intended might be entertaining for a time, Lee had things to do. He thought them out of existence and let the body he’d created repair itself.

Then he summoned a sword and stabbed the artifact. Because it was more than a sword, Lee could feel it as the artifact died, along with the nano-factories inside it.

Good, he decided, he might not have to kill the entire species. If the species were being lead into war by people changed by this device and others like it, he’d only have to kill the leadership. He’d have to inform the Xiniti. They’d be able to handle it. The Abominators had stolen elements of the technology and repurposed them.

He turned to leave, noticing a figure forming in the shadows in the corner of the room. More than nine feet tall, it had horns on its head and claws on its hands and feet. Great slabs of muscle covered its body, all of them tensing as it looked at Lee, ready to attack. Except its mouth opened and it said, “I didn’t believe it. I’d been told that you were back and that you were no longer with us, but I had to see it. Why did you do that?”

Lee shrugged. “It’s complicated, Halas.”

“Complicated?” Halas’ voice rose and the building groaned in response. “That’s all you’ll tell me? The younger races are going to kill us if we don’t destroy them first. You used to understand that—“

The ground shook as Halas stepped toward Lee. Feeling the power gather, Lee knew he’d have to match him, but he’d been planning to. He opened the doors to his power as he hadn’t for the first time in millennia…

From the Interstellar News Network:

The Issakass home world K’Kassia has experienced a series of devastating explosions. It’s not currently known if they are the product of fusion, fission or antimatter bombs.

Developing.

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Tieshaunn

Delay

Tieshaunn

Hello everyone,

I’m currently working on a new Dreaming chapter – or at least, I should’ve been. Unfortunately, Halloween got in the way, and I’m not finished yet, so there won’t be a new chapter today.

However, I am not skipping it – this just means there’ll be a late October chapter first, within the next few days, before I start on the November chapters.

I’m sorry I’m keeping you waiting.

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn Tanner


Filed under: Update, Writing
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In My Daydreams

Birthright: Part 10

In My Daydreams

Thinking back to how I’d pulled on Lee’s power in some way to summon a sword, I knew I wasn’t completely without powers, but I knew Amy’s magic had bridged some gap to allow me to do it.

Eyeing Iolan, I said, “So, if I have ancient, mysterious DNA, but can’t do anything with it, why is that?”

Iolan frowned. “Well, it’s simpler than you might expect. You might have abilities, but you lack the necessary power to make them work. Many people who have Abominator derived or created genomes have the same issue and ironically, the Abominators fixed it by adding in DNA that they’d reverse engineered to copy the ancient DNA that had caused them problems. I imagine that if someone lacked enough power to fully use abilities they might have, they’d use them at a much lower level, possibly undetectably.”

“Right,” I said. “I get it. That’s about as simple as you get.”

Remembering back to when I’d been tested by Keith with the Cabal’s powers test, I knew I’d gotten a hint of “energy” and “mind”—both of which were somehow oriented toward self-use as opposed to something I could aim at people. Even though the test might not cover Lee’s people as well as Abominator genetic manipulation, it wasn’t a big jump to imagine that “mind” might suggest an unusual ability with technology. A connection to the Cosmic Ghosts might explain the “energy” indicator. The fact that they were both barely blue might explain the subtle effect of whatever I had.

It wouldn’t surprise me if I got more out of it than that, but I’d have to watch for it. Also, I’d have to ask Lee a few questions the next time I saw him. It seemed like the kind of thing he’d be aware of.

More than that, it might explain his interest in my family going back a few generations. Grandpa had told me that Lee had mentioned knowing an ancestor of his once. He’d told me that he watched families with potential once. A connection to his own species might have been one of the reasons. Even if Lee hadn’t been the person who’d been caught, he might have known or even cared about them. Alternately, the person might have had abilities Lee found useful and wanted to cultivate in humans.

It was something I couldn’t put past him. Being immortal had to encourage thinking long term.

“Well…” Jaclyn glanced over all of us. “I think we’ve asked all we can about that. We should start talking about the reason we’re officially here. Jadzen Akri wanted us to help you find out if there’s a spy here. So, why do you think there is?”

Iolan nodded and then spoke slowly. “I told you at the meeting. I don’t have evidence of it. I wish I did, but I do know that there’s increased ansible activity before and after Jadzen goes on one of her rescue trips. And even though Alanna disagrees, it’s not just because they’re planning the trips. There are too many resources involved.”

Iolan had started talking more quickly as he went on, stepping forward and moving his hands to illustrate.

“Whoa,” I held up my hands. “How do you know there are too many resources involved?”

Iolan gave a short laugh. “I’m a little bit of a hobbyist when it comes to comms and the deep space relay system. If you’ll allow an old man his eccentricities, I’ll explain. It’s normal for children to get interested in the ansible system at some point. There’s so much to be fascinated by. There’s the history—it was created by the Abominators and is now used by everyone in charted space. There are the vids about the installation and repair teams that go practically anywhere, exploring worlds and getting caught up in adventures. You know how that goes I’m sure the real teams are bored in the middle of nowhere.”

He picked up a bottle from his desk and took a drink.

“Anyhow,” he said, “I never could pursue it as a profession since I’d been training to be a doctor, genetic counselor, and a motivator since childhood. No one, my parents included was going to let me train to run one of the signal generator stations, much less learn how to repair a station. I did manage to get involved at a volunteer level when I was younger, and when I got here, they made me one of the admins of our deep space relay. It’s so clever of them to spoof the system the way they do.”

At this point Iolan had gotten back into talking loudly and gesturing as he talked. He’d even pulled up a floating picture of the surrounding sectors ansible network from a machine on his desk.

Stopping, he said, “I’m almost certain that there’s an encrypted stream of data that’s activated whenever other data is going out. You would think that would be easy to prove, but I think they’re using admin channels so that that the data doesn’t appear in the official logs and statistics.”

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In My Daydreams

Birthright: Part 9

In My Daydreams

That was a lot to absorb. Marcus had Abominator DNA? If it was from his dad’s side of the family (and it almost certainly was) then Haley and Travis did as well. And what he’d said about me needed a lot more detail. I could guess at it, but—

Marcus talked over my thoughts, holding up his right hand and waving it a little. “Whoa, whoa, whoa… Wait a second. Abominator DNA? What’s going on there?”

Iolan shrugged. “It shouldn’t be a surprise. You’re a shapeshifter. They were shapeshifters. They knew where to get that characteristic. They put it into several different lines. The gene lines they optimized for repairing machinery had it. So did several soldier lines that they didn’t want to look like soldiers.”

Nodding toward Cassie, he added, “It’s interesting that you’ve got the Abominator Citizen’s Mark, but none of the mental characteristics that are supposed to go with it. Motivator abilities are generally in there too.”

Cassie shrugged. “I’ve never been much into telling people what to do.”

As he finished his sentence, I asked, “What exactly did you mean that not all of my DNA is human?”

Iolan’s face tightened and he glanced out the windows before catching himself and turning back to look at me. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m both a doctor and genetic counselor by training and there are certain things we weren’t allowed to discuss. I’m going to tell you this one, but be aware, it’s a secret and I’m only telling you because you, more than most, need to know. The Abominators came to know that they weren’t the first intelligent life after they made it to the stars. It wasn’t because they found other races, but because they found ruins, whole star systems where some civilization expanded and then ultimately destroyed itself.

“At first, they didn’t know what had happened, but after a time they studied these civilizations, finding that they’d often discovered some artifact, reverse-engineered it, and that the changes it brought about destroyed their civilization. Worse, they came to realize that all the artifacts had been designed to encourage exactly that outcome. Eventually, it struck them that the ancient artifacts had been designed by the same civilization even though they looked different.”

He paused, looking at each of us, probably looking for a reaction. Whatever he wanted, he started talking again.

“They became paranoid that whatever affected those other civilizations would affect them as well, and they were right. It did. Over time their society changed. They became power hungry, more cruel, and used other sentient life as toys but somehow they kept it in check. They discovered the worst of the traps in the artifacts and removed them. Their civilization lasted one hundred thousand years.  As horrible as the Abominators were, they were great scientists, and over time they managed to find and then capture one of the ancients that created the artifacts and get a sample of its DNA. Soon after that, the creature escaped, destroying the team that had done it and their world.”

Cassie sent a message over to me with her implant. “That sounds like Lee.”

I sent back, “Except I don’t think he’d get caught long enough for a DNA sample.”

She didn’t respond beyond shaking her head, and Iolan went on.

“But not all the knowledge had been destroyed. They were able to use it in their designs. Their strongest creations included sections of that DNA. The problem is that after that, they began to recognize that the ones with the ancients’ DNA were unreliable and were more likely to turn on them—with disastrous results. The Abominators found themselves warring with their own creations as well as the Cosmic Ghosts, the Xiniti, and many of the alien races that they’d conquered. You know the end. They were destroyed.”

I glanced over at Katuk. He had no reaction at all, watching without moving.

“Your DNA contains more traces of the ancients than any I’ve seen that wasn’t deliberately planned. You also contain traces of the Cosmic Ghosts’ DNA. I’ve always suspected that the Ghosts were related to the ancients, so that’s no surprise, it’s no great thing for you considering that in humans the Ghosts powers only manifest in women. Still, there are those who dream of interstellar flight without needing a starship, and the secret of how to do it is in your DNA.

“You should know that the Human Ascendancy will want it just like they’ll want the ancients’ DNA within you. Nevermind that you can’t do much with it. The ancients appear to have practically been gods. The Ascendancy won’t be able to leave that alone. Watch out if you travel to any of their worlds. If they get a sample of your DNA, they’ll want more.”

The doctor shook his head. “That’s why, as much as I want to, I can’t use your DNA to fix the colony’s problems. I might be able to use your friends’, but yours is too dangerous.”

Marcus glanced over at me. “Seriously? Nick doesn’t have any powers.”

Iolan frowned. “He may not be able to do anything, but his DNA is a library for those who want to. Now, as for you, I would like you to leave a sperm sample, preferably several. I don’t have the equipment necessary to do genetic engineering, but if I could arrange a few births with your sperm, I think I could save us.”

Marcus stared at him for a second. “Okay, I guess.”

Iolan smiled. “That’s absolutely wonderful.” He looked over at Cassie and Jaclyn. “I’d take your DNA as well, but eggs are harder to extract.”

I looked at him. “How would I get ancient DNA?”

Cocking his head, Iolan didn’t say anything for a moment. “Humans made with ancient DNA might have escaped to your world. That’s one possibility. Here’s another. The ancients appear to have had the ability to effortlessly become any race that intrigued them—not just appear to be them, but actually be them. If your world is like most others, you have myths about humans mating with gods. In this case, that may well have been true.”

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In My Daydreams

Birthright: Part 8

In My Daydreams

The next day found the group of us in Iolan Mekus’ office and lab. It was another of the egg-shaped buildings. This one was set at a distance from the main settlement—which I’d just learned had one of the least interesting names possible.

Marcus stared at Iolan. “You call it ‘Landing’? I get it. It’s right next to where you’ve got the starships, but I’d have gone with something more, you know, inspiring. It’s significant—the beginning of a human colony on this world. That’s crazy and amazing.”

Iolan frowned, leaning against his desk which was covered with clutter. There weren’t any papers but there were multiple black tablets and various small, plastic-looking devices of a variety of different shapes, ranging from flat squares to cylinders.

His desk matched the lab. While perfectly clean (to the degree it could be in the middle of a wilderness), all the devices stood next to each other with barely any space between them. My university’s chem labs were much better organized—well, except maybe for a few of the profs’ private areas. Those could get messy.

Iolan scowled. “We used to call it First Landing, but after a while everyone dropped the ‘First’. Now, I know you’re here to help me find out if there’s a spy—”

“Or spies,” I added.

“—Among us, but I got the impression that you wanted to talk to me about something else?”

Jaclyn spoke before I could respond, looking Iolan in the eye. “We found out that your colony’s going to get dangerously inbred soon because no one can have children except with people from their own group. We’re from one of the planets where the Abominators kept unmodified humans. We’ve got other stuff mixed in now, but we don’t activate anybody’s allergies so far.”

His brow wrinkled. “You know this how?”

“I touched Kals’ arm with my finger,” I said, “and she didn’t have any problems.”

Marcus gave half a smile. “Tikki and I… We touched a few other places—a lot of times. We didn’t use second skin or anything like that.”

Iolan’s eyes narrowed. “I hope not. I’ve been keeping all of that under lock and key. If people got into my stores…” He shook his head, muttering, “We need it for burns, but go on.”

Marcus’ jaw dropped a little. “There isn’t any more. You don’t want to hear exactly what we did, do you?”

Leaning against one of the tables, Cassie grinned. “He wants to hear it all—especially the embarrassing parts.”

Then Iolan blinked, realizing, I’m guessing, exactly what we’d said. “No. Not at all. That… That’s incredible. I”m not sure I can even believe you, but we can prove it even without bringing in people and risking nasty rashes. If you give me a little bit of skin or spit, I’ll be able to find out what we need to know.”

He turned to his desk, finding a stack of thin, glossy white squares, giving one to each of us except for Katuk. “Spit on it and pass it back to me.”

I took mine, spit on the square, watched as the spit disappeared inside, and passed it back to Iolan.

Taking the squares, he placed them next to each other on one of tablets. “We’ll have to wait a minute while it catalogues your DNA and compares to ours.”

After a little more than a minute, the edges of each square changed color, turning from white to red and then back to white. Iolan stared ahead as if reading something invisible above them. “They’re done and have made a preliminary report. You’re all of unmodified human stock or at least of unintentionally modified stock. Note though that I say unintentionally modified. You’re all basic human stock that have somehow inherited genes from more than one Abominator created gene line as well as a few completely new mutations.”

Turning to Cassie, he said, “You’re the most normal of the group, containing genes that one group of Abominators used as rulers—except that you lack the gifts related to ruling, have kept the improved physical abilities and immortality, but have an ability to heal that’s far in excess of what I’ve ever seen.”

He went on, pointing at Jaclyn. “You’ve got a collection of genes from different lines… I’ve never seen them combine like this and from what I heard from those who saw you in action, I’d need a great deal of time to explain your abilities.”

He glanced over at Marcus. “You’re as unusual. You’ve got many of the same genes combined with one of the Abominators’ soldier gene lines—one that included some Abominator DNA.”

Marcus looked as if he was about to say something, but Iolan turned to me. “You’ve got a bit of DNA from the gene lines I’m familiar with, but some that isn’t human or modified by the Abominators. You’ve all got a little of that, but you’ve got it most strongly.”

I wanted to ask him if he knew more than that, but he talked over me. “You were right, though. None of you should have any trouble breeding with any gene line.”

He shook his head. “This is going to cause all kinds of trouble.”

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In My Daydreams

Birthright: Part 7

In My Daydreams

Then he shook his head. “I still can’t see her working for the Human Ascendancy though. They killed her parents. They took her brothers and sisters away when they were two or three. I can see how she might hate them, but I can’t see how she’d work for them.”

Cassie shrugged. “People lie—”

“Yeah,” Marcus said, “but people here know her and her parents.”

“Right,” Cassie started talking the moment he stopped, “but they could still have something she wants—maybe her parents aren’t dead or they’re willing to let a brother or sister go? Look, if someone had your family would you let them die? You’d do something, maybe even betraying a bunch of people you only kind of know.”

Marcus exhaled. “I don’t buy it. It’s got to be someone else.”

Jaclyn looked over at Cassie, lips in a straight line, and Cassie didn’t interrupt as Jaclyn said, “Look, I know the two of you like each other. That was obvious on the way in, but be careful. She might be everything you say, but she might not be. I don’t want to find you in the woods with a knife in your back or maybe partially eaten by those dog things.”

He held up his hands. “Ok. Ok. I’ll be careful. Just don’t make Tikki feel like an axe murderer, right? Because she probably isn’t.”

Katuk looked from Jaclyn to Marcus. “Is murdering people with an axe common on your world?”

Everybody turned to look at him.

Marcus cocked his head, thinking about it. After a moment he said, “Not too common, but it’s memorable when it happens. You know, I bet people use the phrase because axes are scarier looking than other weapons. Almost no one uses them for fighting. People mostly use guns or knives.”

Katuk nodded. “That seems sensible. Axes are often unwieldy.”

No one seemed to have a response to that, so I asked, “Did you hear about any other possible suspects?”

Cassie shook her head. “Yeah and no. There are thousands of people on the planet, so one night isn’t enough. I heard about a lot of people, but I didn’t hear anything bad enough yet. I mean, remember that woman Alanna who didn’t believe that there could possibly be a spy here? She’s one of the colony’s techies. I figured that she was an excellent suspect. It doesn’t get much better than a techie who doesn’t want you to look for spies, right? Except here’s the problem. She had an affair with Iolan years ago, so they’re both on council now, but she opposes everything he’s for.

“Sure, maybe that’s enough motivation to betray the colony, but most likely she’s pissed off enough at him to argue, but nothing else, you know?”

Jaclyn glanced at Cassie. “I can’t say I came up with anyone we weren’t talking about earlier, but I know more about who’s who around here than I used to. It’s beginning at least. Maybe Iolan will have something better when we meet him tomorrow?”

I nodded. “The way they talked at the council meeting, it sounded like he’d been harping on this for years. Maybe he’ll have a list.”

Jaclyn pursed her lips. “I hope so. Well, we’re done unless anyone learned anything you think we should all know.”

Marcus raised his hand. “Get this. Did you know these people can choose to be fertile? The guys can shoot blanks at will. The women choose to release eggs and I might be wrong, but it sounds like they can choose the gender. You wonder why. I do, anyway.”

Jaclyn raised an eyebrow.

“Look,” Marcus said, “We were talking. It came up.”

We all went to our separate rooms and went to bed. In the silence as we waited for the chance to fall asleep, Katuk told us, “We, Xiniti, can choose our gender.”

Marcus asked, “What gender are you now?”

“Asexual,” Katuk said. “We adjust to the situation. There are no eligible Xiniti here, so procreation is not an option and recreational sex unlikely. In any case, creating a child in a place that might be invaded would be irresponsible as well as a distraction from our task.”

“Huh,” Marcus’ voice carried across the room. “That’s different. I had no idea. Say, you guys destroyed pretty much all the Abominators. Do you have any idea why they chose to give their enslaved humans the ability to choose whether they get pregnant or not? It seems like they weren’t interested in that kind of freedom.”

The Xiniti considered it. “I assume it would have some use in choosing when their subjects would get pregnant since humans are perpetually receptive to sex.”

I opened my eyes and looked toward Marcus’ dark lump of blankets on the other side of the room. “I figured it was because of the motivators. Without the ability to choose, you get a random baby at random times. With the ability to choose and motivators, you get babies whenever you want them. Plus you get whatever gender you think would be convenient.”

“I should have guessed,” Marcus said. “I suppose we’re all lucky that they’re dead.”

In his inhumanly precise voice, Katuk added, “The Human Ascendancy uses their methods. In that sense, they live on, and we may see them before the end of all this.”

That thought didn’t help me sleep any faster, but eventually, I did drift off.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

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Tieshaunn

B13.17 Call of the Sleeper

Tieshaunn

Previous | Next

Wh- what… what’s going on? Amy’s thoughts intruded into their minds once more, sounding weaker, more quiet than before, while her body stirred, groaning in pain. I feel like I got punched by God. After he took steroids for like, four thousand years.

Basil didn’t know how to reply, too focused on the standoff in front of him and so stayed quiet. The others didn’t seem to be in any better shape, staring at the new arrival.

Who the fuck is that? Amy asked in a groggy voice.

I have no idea, but he just saved Heck’s life, so I like him, Tyche replied, sounding greatly relieved.

That’s – ow – Journeyman! Polymnia told them excitedly, in between taking shots in the back. Gloomy – ow – told me – ow – about him!

Amy looked at her, and reached out with her right arm, causing the next shot to rebound off a force-field appearing above Polymnia’s back. And the next. And the next.

Thanks! Polymnia said earnestly, moaning in relief.

Thank me by telling us who this guy is supposed to be. Can he actually save our posteriors from that bitch? Amy shot back sharply.

I really dunno. Gloomy’s said he’s like, crazy-powerful, and a friend of her parents. Well, mostly of her mom. Anyway, I don’t actually know what his power really is, other than that he can ‘go anywhere’ and that no one’s ever actually put the hurt on him, Polymnia elaborated at the speed of thought, sharing it all before either the Ascendant, Elysium or ‘Journeyman’ acted at all.

“Who are you?” the Ascendant hissed at the stranger, clearly put off by his sudden appearance and ability to so casually block Elysium’s attack.

“I am a special news bulletin that interrupts your favourite show,” he replied.

“Huh?” said at least half a dozen people.

He sighed. “No one appreciates the classics anymore.” With a light tap of his foot, he caused Elysium to stumble back a step. Putting his foot down next to Hecate’s shoulder, he lightly tapped her with his heel, causing her to slide away until she reached Tyche and Spellgun. “Now, what do I do with you?” he directed his question at the empty-eyed blonde.

That question seemed to shake the Ascendant out of her state of surprised shock. Clenching her fists, she barked a new order: “Four-four-four, designate the person in front of you as Priority Target Lambda. Eliminate him!”

Elysium twitched, briefly, as Journeyman seemed to be content to simply watch with an air of polite curiosity about him; then she performed a high kick, seemingly at his head and he, predictably, did nothing to defend himself.

Basil recognised the move as soon as it began, and wanted to cry out a warning, but it was too late – the loop snapped shut, trapping Journeyman in the same motion of stroking Graymalkin’s ears. Trapping his freaking cat along with him.

The Ascendant breathed a relieved sigh, taking a step back as she relaxed. “Pfff. Not a problem after all. Just a delay.”

Journeyman flickered, reversing to his previous motion. Then there was another flicker, and then – a shift. His form twitched, as it was reversed, a second Journeyman overlapping the other, like an after-image only this one moved at the same time in a different way, not the same way at a later time, moving briefly as if it was straining against something.

The effect around him broke, popping like a soap bubble.

“A time loop? Really?” he asked, incredulous. “Maybe I do need to be a little more public, so people stop trying the same, tired old tricks against me,” he complained to the cat on his arm. “What do you think, pal?”

The cat looked up at him with a bored expression and opened its mouth in a huge yawn.

Elysium kicked him, her foot preceded by a slight distortion in the air, only to hit his left biceps to absolutely no effect – she didn’t even budge him, much less cut him apart.

“You’re absolutely right,” he said to Graymalkin. “Totally not worth the trouble. Anyway, best to focus on the situation at hand.” He looked up, at the same time as he turned aside. The one looking up crossed eyes with Elysium, stepping forward and making her take a step back as she tried to process what was happening, while the other one, still holding Graymalkin, walked over to Basil. “Go join your friends,” he told him, tapping him with a foot.

Basil found himself sliding over to where Hecate, Tyche and Spellgun – all three of them still quite thoroughly hurt, but not in any immediate danger.

At the same time, the other Journeyman and Elysium moved.

He struck at her from the right with his hand open, the fingers curled, which she blocked by raising her left arm, followed by a kick from the opposite side, aiming for his side. Journeyman used his left arm, pushing his elbow under her leg, then pushing up, deflecting her kick in a motion that would have unbalanced a lesser fighter.

Either due to her power, or else simply due to sheer skill – the original Elysium had been a master martial artist – the young woman managed to not only avoid that, but use it to her advantage, flipping backwards in a smooth motion that brought her heel up to strike at his chin; yet Journeyman was already moving to dodge it, leaning back just enough to make it miss him by a hair’s breadth.

Elysium landed on her back, and flipped back up onto her feet, just in time to see Journeyman’s fist fly at her chest and reacted by crossing her arms, blocking the blow – but it was still powerful enough to launch her backwards, a grunt escaping her lips as the air was forced out of her lungs.

Journeyman stepped forth to press the attack while she rolled back onto her feet, but was intercepted by a glowing twin spiral of green fire, emerging from thin air between him and Elysium.

The attack splashed uselessly against his chest, where before it had very nearly broken Amy’s defenses entirely, failing to so much as make him flinch, much less slow him down at all.

“Pilfering’s always a pain in the behind,” the Journeyman holding Graymalkin said as he appeared next to Basil, grabbing him by the elbow to help him stand. He didn’t seem bothered by his weight at all.

The ground underneath the other Journeyman’s feet turned soft and malleable, causing him to sink in down to his knees, then hardened again.

“How’d she do that?” Tyche asked, her voice strained, before she started coughing hard.

“Pilfering rejected timelines,” Journeyman explained as they watched his other self get hammered aside by the very same telekinetic blast Amy had used earlier, only magnified many times, hitting him so hard he actually broke out of the floor and tumbled for several metre. “She can rewind time up to the point she started using her power, over and over. That’s why she knew all your moves in advance – she’d played the same fight out dozens of times, before she moved on to the final iteration. I assume she only looped Gloomy during the final one, as well – allowing her to perform a multitude of various attacks that she can now access, repeating them as necessary,”

As if to illustrate his point, several hundred softball-sized spheres, in all colours of the rainbow, appeared out of nowhere, filling up the twisted, shifting tower’s floor all around, followed by a black sphere that shot at the prone Journeyman, impacting him with the force of a cannonball – except that was nothing compared to what followed, as every single of the rainbow-coloured spheres suddenly moved, impacting him with such tremendous force, the shockwave bowled Basil over again, pushing him and the other heroes away by several metre.

The Journeyman hit by the attack disappeared in a cloud of dust, while the one who’d just stood by Basil remained still, unperturbed by what may have been his other self’s demise – the shockwave barely stirred his robe, at that.

“I wasn’t there myself,” he continued on in a conversational tone of voice as he turned around and casually walked towards Basil again. “But I guess that’s how she fought Bree. She kept pilfering attacks from everyone even tangentially involved in the defense of Old Lennston, including, I assume, Bree’s own attacks.” He reached down with his free hand, helping Basil up once more. “She couldn’t affect her directly, see, but she could replay the powers she was using.”

Elysium took a step back, away from the dust cloud, half-turning to look at the heroes, who were quite bunched up by now.

And then a grey-blue streak shot out of the cover of dust, resolving into the shape of Journeyman as he came to a halt behind her, arm raised.

His blow smashed her into the ground, face-first, and splattered blood, brain-matter and bits of bone all the way over to Basil’s feet.

Her remains flickered and she whirled around in a graceful pirouette which ended with her foot buried Journeyman’s stomach, another hammer-blow as before – to no effect.

Unharmed by both the earlier assault with the rainbow spheres and the powerful kick, Journeyman reached for her face with his left hand, his hand nearly closing over it, but she blinked away, reappearing a few steps away from him, while another burst of telekinetic force went off where she’d just stood, magnified many times over its original strength.

While the same attack had previously blown him away, and was still powerful enough to shatter the ground for almost ten metre around him, it had absolutely no effect whatsoever on Journeyman himself, other than making his robe flutter about.

He took a step towards her, crossing far more space than he ought to, and backhanded her head, decapitating her.

Her headless body fell over, blood spurting out of her neck.

She flickered, whole again, and lifted her feet even as she fell, putting them to his chest and kicking off to put some distance between them, sliding across the ground…

His foot came down on her head, crushing it to a pulp. Basil didn’t even see him move.

Elysium’s headless corpse flickered and disappeared, before she reappared near the Ascendant, looking both unharmed and unperturbed – not that Basil thought she really could feel worried, as she was now.

“Here, hold this will you?” Journeyman spoke to him, holding out Graymalkin, who was looking at him with bored eyes.

“Oh, certainly,” he replied and took his cat. “Long time no see, Graymalkin,” he greeted his cat, who responded by purring softly and deigning to pat his chest with one of his furry paws in a show of affection.

“Graymalkin? You know him?” Journeyman asked, surprised, as he looked closer at Basil and the cat, the images on his mask shifting to show… Basil, and Graymalkin, back in his home. “Talk about coincidence. Or perhaps it’s fate?” Journeyman sounded amused. “I found him in Esperanza City, during the Crocell attack,” he answered Basil’s question before he could even ask him. “Well, we can talk more about that later, I’ve g-“

Everything distorted, briefly, a strange sensation, like vertigo but not quite the same, coming over Basil as black spots appeared in his vision.

Then it was gone.

Polymnia growned and threw up, nearby, and Basil very nearly followed suit – only the fact that he hadn’t eaten in a while saved him from that fate. The others looked nauseous but not nearly as bad as he felt, when he looked around at them.

“Ah-ah-ah!” the other Journeyman admonished Elysium, wagging a finger at her. “I can’t keep you from rewinding yourself, but there’ll be no general rewind while I’m around, young lady!”

“What the fuck are you?” the Ascendant whispered, staring at him in fear as she hid behind her creation.

“I already told you,” he replied off-handedly. “I am the fingernail that scrapes the blackboard of your soul.”

The candles kept turning around them for a few heartbeats.

“That’s not an answer!” she shouted in outrage. “And it’s a different one from the one you gave before!”

He lowered his head, making a truly long-suffering sigh. “No appreciation for real art, at all,” he complained to no one in particular, both of his selfs speaking in synch with each other. The one who’d been holding Graymalkin walked up to the fighting one and simply stepped into him, fusing into one.

“Well, this was fun and all, but it’s time to put an end to this,” he said to Elysium. “I don’t know whether you’re the real Elysium or just a doll with her powers, but either way, I’d rather not allow the Gefährten to have access to powers like yours.” He cracked his knuckles, before he took a step forward with his left foot, entering a loose fighting stance.

“Four-four-four, go all out and kill him!” the Ascendant shouted at her slave, hurrying to step back and give her some space.

Elysium spread her arms wide, beginning a new dance, moving her shoulders and hips in hypnotic motions, causing dozens, then scores of distortions, none larger than a medicine ball, to appear in the air around her.

Each of them unleashed a different attack, from explosions to beams to streams of liquid, but they didn’t fire at Journeyman. Instead, all the attacks – even the explosions, which ranged from Amy’s force explosion to sudden, explosive growths of pink crystals – were twisted and gathered into a single spot in front of her, condensed into a jet-black sphere the size of a peach.

Journeyman tilted his head to the side, as if confused, before the sphere burst, unleashing a torrent of scores of interwoven effects, a beam broader than Basil was tall.

A beam that was flying towards Journeyman, and the heroes that stood a good deal behind him, yet still within easy reach of the massive attack.

***

“Now!” Immanuel shouted and leapt into the distorted space that made up the ‘walls’ of this tower, leaving Heaven’s Dancer – who, even in an expendable body, was not going to leap into that unless absolutely necessary – behind outside of it.

He closed his eyes as he traversed the space, knowing that it’d just give him an even greater sense of vertigo than he was already experiencing as his simple leap – barely enough to clear two metre of distance – moved him through the entire structure, taking advantage of the distortions like one would of river currents, depositing him just a metre or so behind the Ascendant, just as Elysium’s distortions appeared in the air, obscuring him from everyone’s sight.

Immanuel didn’t know how the stranger was going to react to the attack that was coming, if he even could, but he had a hunch that he could counter it. In fact, he hoped that he did, otherwise they’d lose everyone but Gloom Glimmer to this, and wouldn’t that be a waste?

He reached the Ascendant, grabbing her by the elbow, and kept running, pulling the startled woman along as he reached for the doll, his hand coming down on her shoulder.

***

Journeyman countered the massive blast in the most simple manner Basil could have imagined there, other than just standing still and taking it.

He punched it.

Except, ‘punched’ didn’t really cover it. Not by several orders of magnitude. He moved no faster than a normal person, struck with no more weight to his punch than one would expect of a man of his size, timing it so the beam and his fist met each other at the apex of his strike.

The blow caused such a massive shockwave it shattered the ground around him, spiderwebs of cracks spreading all the way to the twisted walls and up. The shockwave utterly blew Elysium’s interwoven super-beam apart, revealing – nothing behind it.

Elysium and the Ascendant were gone.

The shockwave moved on and utterly destroyed the far ‘wall’ of the structure, causing an ear-splitting cacophony as blew a building-sized hole through several dozen layers of materials.

Sunlight flooded the spatially twisted structure, moments before a lesser shockwave hit Basil and the other heroes; though not so strong it’d blow him over easily, he still had to brace himself against it, turning his shoulder into it so as to shield Graymalkin.

When the squalls died down and he looked up, he briefly felt a sense of vertigo again, if for a different reason than before.

Whether it was an effect of Journeyman’s strike, or due to Elysium fleeing, the tower she’d built had… flowed back, for lack of a better term.

Since the tower had been made of multiple parts of the structure layered together and condensed, this meant that the damage he’d done to seemingly just one wall was now spread out all throughout the Northern half of the structure – perhaps the Southern half, as well, but Basil couldn’t tell from where he stood.

He and the others were staring out through a colossal hole, as the entire Southern side of the lab complex was gone, along with part of its roof. A trail of utter destruction snaked its way through the visible buildings and connecting walkways, all the way to the central tower, which had been nearly split in half, a huge, irregular crack running from its base up to its tip.

“What,” Spellgun and Tyche said in unison. The others didn’t even say that much.

Graymalkin yawned and slapped Basil’s chest with his tail, so he used his free hand to scratch him behind the ears, making him purr happily.

Journeyman looked at what he’d wrought for a few moments – or perhaps he was just looking at where his foes had just stood – then he turned away and walked to the bubble of looped time containing Gloom Glimmer.

“Soft hearts,” he grumbled, barely audible over the distance. “Must run in the family.”

“Can you help her?” a desperate-sounding Polymnia asked him, stumbling closer, her wrecked power armour screeching its protests against the motion. She hadn’t even bothered to wipe her mouth clean, and there were some remnants of her rainbow yawn on her collar and chestpiece, as well, at stark odds to her cheerily multi-coloured, colour-shifting hair.

“Oh, sure, sure,” he mollified her. “I’m something of an expert when it comes to weird temporal effects.” With no further ado, he reached into the bubble of looped time and grabbed Gloom Glimmer by the collar, simply pulling her out and causing the bubble to pop, disappearing.

Gloom Glimmer flailed around in confusion, until he lifted her up by her collar, holding her like a naughty puppy so her head was on a height with his, facing his mirrored mask.

“J-journeyman!” she squealed in surprise. “What, how, who… Diantha! Diantha was here! Where is she!?” She looked around wildly, then suddenly went limp. “Oh. She got away.”

“Worry about yourself for once, will you?” he told her, sounding fondly annoyed. “If you’d been paying attention, then you could’ve at least dodged that attack.”

“Journeyman, that was Diantha!” she whimpered, her hands clenching into fists. “Mom still… we have to catch up to her! Take her to mom! Please, you’ve got to help me!” she begged, sounding far younger than usual as she looked at him with big, shiny, wet eyes, her lips trembling.

“Spare me the puppy dog eyes,” he replied, though he did rather pointedly look away before dropping her. “You’re not going after anyone right now, other than whom you came here for.”

Gloom Glimmer looked up at him, looking shocked and betrayed, but didn’t get a chance to voice either before Polymnia fell to her knees behind her and wrapped her arms around her friend’s arms and chest, pulling her tight against her hard armour.

“You frwskung idior, you scaeed the carp out of me!” she wailed, her control over her vocoder slipping, distoring her voice.

“Mel- Poly, what, what happened!?” Gloom Glimmer cried out softly, clearly able to sense the damage her friend had suffered in some way.

“After she looped you,” Basil explained, having approached with Graymalkin in his arm. “Elysium kicked our collective posteriors.”

The others approached right after him, including an incredibly ashamed looking Bakeneko, who’d shrunk down to two thirds her usual height, with lusterless fur, hugging herself with her shoulders hunched. Osore stood next to her, the shirt he customarily wore underneath his jacket – his only real costume was his Oni-styled mask, even now – stained with blood and sporting a big hole, though he seemed to have recovered entirely from the gut shot he’d taken earlier.

“Oh God, let me-” Gloom Glimmer rose up, her hands glowing, and touched Polymnia and Osore first, the glow spreading from where she touched and over their forms, visibly repairing any damage to their bodies and their equipment, then did the same for everyone else.

Basil felt her power course through his body, fixing the bruises he’d accumulated over the last two hours, as well as the damage to his knee and his armour there. Even his fatigue disappeared – or at least, the physical part of it.

Soon enough, Gloom Glimmer had fixed them all; while they were all still quite tired, they weren’t hurt anymore. She even fixed Polymnia’s ruined equipment.

“Hey, what about that badass drone of yours?” Tyche asked Basil, when it didn’t look like he was going to let her put it back together.

“The pieces were in the path of Journeyman’s and Elysium’s attacks,” Basil replied regretfully. “I doubt there is enough left to fill a thimble.”

”Sorry about that,” Journeyman apologised. “I didn’t even think about retrieving it first.”

Basil waved it off. “Hardly a reason to apologise. You saved us. Losing just a drone to Elysium is an amazingly lenient outcome, all things considered.”

Tyche gave him a sympathetic look, and Polymnia even more so, though he honestly didn’t feel all that bothered by it… compared to everything else that had already happened and was still going to happen, losing a drone, no matter how sophisticated, was nothing at all.

“You should go after Dusu,” Journeyman told them, interrupting Basil’s increasingly morose train of thought by pointing towards the door they’d originally come in through. It was a mangled, broken mess now, revealing another heavy blast door on the opposite side of the hallway. “She’s in there, along with Syrinx.”

”And our blood,” Basil added, drawing startled looks from half the occupants of the room. “They drew some of my blood, earlier. And they had three other syringes, all filled with blood, when they left.”

“That can’t possibly be good,” Spellgun muttered, before he spoke up louder. “Dusu’s a bio-gadgeteer. There’s no telling what she could do with blood from us… especially since they seem to like cloning, or whatever these things are supposed to do.” He gestured at the numerous sarcophagus-like tanks strewn about the laboratory. Most of them had been destroyed by Journeyman’s attack, but there were still some left s tanding. Not to mention several bodies (or body parts) strewn about.

“Hrm, right, those,” Journeyman grumbled, raising a hand. He snapped his fingers, and all the remaining tanks in the room instantly heated up red-hot, melting into slag. The bodies that’d been strewn about by the earlier devastation were also incinerated, reduced to ashes.

Basil and the others stared at the casual display, feeling the heat wash over them. Graymalkin mewled in Basil’s arms, the only one present to enjoy the extra warmth.

”Uh, yeah, I think with you along, this won’t be a problem anymore, Mister Journeyman, Sir,” Tyche said in a small, respectful voice.

He shook his head in response. “I won’t be coming with you, I’m afraid,” he replied, sounding guilty. “I’m afraid my assistance ends here. I’m sorry.”

Both Tartsche, Hecate and Tyche opened their mouths to respond to that, but Gloom Glimmer spoke up first.

”It’s about that backlash you sometimes talk about, right?” she asked in a small voice. “You overused your power, or something.”

He looked down at her – even floating five centimetre off the ground, she was easily a head shorter than he was, and he stood firmly on the ground, with flat boots and a relaxed posture. His mask was a riot of reflections, moving too fast to be made out in any detail, until they settled on a simple, shifting pattern of glowing white circles moving across the mirror, reflecting only what he saw in front of himself.

”Kind of,” he replied, his voice just a little sad. “Suffice it to say, as much as I’d like to help you all more, I can’t do so, right now.” He sighed, sounding incredibly frustrated. “Power like mine comes with its caveats.”

“But… Diantha…” Gloom Glimmer whispered, her hands clenching around her cape, drawing it closer around her body.

“Can you sense her, Irene?” he inquired softly. When she shook her head, he continued, “Neither can I, right now. I’m not all-powerful, and neither are you. We could try, you and I – but it’d mean allowing Dusu to get away, all for the chance that we might locate that clone, or whatever it may be,” he explained calmly.

Though he was being nothing but gentle, she still shrank with every word, hunching her shoulders and looking so miserable, Polymnia stepped up and wrapped her arms around her, drawing her in tight.

“Even if we found her, it’s unlikely we could easily subdue her,” he pressed on in that same, gentle, even tone of voice. “You’re nowhere near the point where you could face someone as powerful as your sister and I… am limited in other ways.” He shook his head. “No, you must finish what you began. Dusu is near. Go.” H gestured towards the door.

“Come,” Polymnia spoke to her friend, turning her away from Journeyman.

The others looked at the two girls, then at the tall, strange man who’d just saved them. He was just standing there, his hands clasped behind his back, facing in their direction, though with his mask, it was impossible to tell whether he was actually looking at them.

Amy stepped forward, making all the junior heroes tense up as she walked to stand in front of Journeyman, her hands on her hips. Even in those ridiculous heels, she was still shorter than he was – and she wasn’t a short woman even without them.

“Thank you, for the save,” she said, sounding oddly subdued.

”You’re quite welcome, Amy,” he replied softly, making her flinch. “Yes, I know you. No, you don’t know me. No, telepathy doesn’t really work on me at all.”

She blushed, even as she took half a step back. “Who are you? How come I’ve never heard of someone like… like…” She gestured at the devastation he’d caused to the floating city.

He shrugged. “I guess I’m just shy,” he quipped casually.

“Yeah, right,” she snorted softly. “Well, either way, I owe you big time. So if there’s anything I can do for you, just say the word,” she finished with a smile.

Is she… flirting with him? Basil shuddered at the thought, even as he noted Hecate’s hand clenching tightly on her staff, staring at the two of them; her jaw, the only visible part of her face, was set into a tight frown.

“There is, indeed, something you can do for me,” Journeyman replied, leaning in closer.

“Oh yeah? Say the word, big guy,” she grinned, looking curious.

”You could…” he began, almost whispering as he leaned even closer, until his face was next to her ear. “Stop being a villain.”

Hecate sputtered when she heard that, nearly dropping her staff.

Her grin faded, replaced first by confusion, then annoyance, as she stepped back.

”I can’t do that,” she hissed at him, looking like he’d insulted her. “Don’t make impossible requests.”

”Impossible?” He seemed quite amused. “All I’m asking is that you be yourself.”

”I am myself!” She turned around, stalking away from him. “Weirdo.”

Journeyman remained in the same position, as if she still stood where she had. “No, you’re not,” he spoke quietly, barely audible. Yet it still made her stop. “You’re many things, Amanda, but you’re not yourself.”

He shrugged and turned around, while Amy just stared at him, slackjawed.

”It doesn’t matter,” he concluded, making a dismissive gesture. “All masks fall, eventually.”

He stepped over to Basil and reached for Graymalkin, scratching the huge cat behind the ears. “Goodbye, big guy. It was a pleasure travelling with you.” He raised his head, looking at Basil, who was quite certain that this strange man could see right through his mask. “Go. Bring an end to this.”

Basil nodded, numbly, finding himself rather unable to say anything meaningful. So instead, he turned around and walked towards the door, overtaking Polymnia and Gloom Glimmer.

Amy scrambled to catch up to him, before she remembered that she could fly and lifted off the ground, and the others finally turned away from Journeyman, to follow along, all save for Hecate.

”Yes, dear?” he asked her in a friendly tone of voice, speaking with only a handful of them at once now.

She took a short breath, and bowed deeply. “Thank you, Sir.”

“It was my pleasure,” he replied with a magnanimous nod.

The others who hadn’t yet scrambled to thank him, as well, following her example, save for Basil, who found himself in a strangely pensive mood, and Polymnia, who was focused on Gloom Glimmer.

While he waited on them to finish, Basil recalled his last raven, which had been drawn into the shifting space of Elysium’s tower, and had only now found its way back to him. With its fake feathers ruffled and quite a lot of scratches all over, it looked kind of… outraged, as it landed on his shoulder, as if even the tiny machine was getting fed up with things.

Graymalkin looked up at it, sniffing the air with a hungry look in his eyes, but was apparently able to tell it wasn’t edible – he sneezed, looking even more annoyed than usual as he dismissed the mechanical bird and looked away again.

Finally, they gathered together again (though Amy kept a certain distance from Basil, throwing rather fearful looks at the cat in his arms) and made their way towards Dusu’s lab, leaving the strange, powerful, irreverent man with the mirrored mask behind amongst the wreckage of the lab.

“Hey kids!” he shouted, suddenly, making them stop. “Remember – the only thing you need to blame yourself for are your own choices!”

The gathered heroes and villain turned around to look at him, confused more than anything, but he was gone, leaving no trace behind.

***

The final door between them and their target did not hold for more than a second or two, after Gloom Glimmer, Mindstar and Hecate all blasted it, utterly shredding it apart.

Beyond it, a huge lab was revealed that looked like a cross between a chem lab, an animal testing lab (though the appliances they could see were disturbingly fitted for humans, not smaller animals) and a cyberpunk enthusiast’s wet dream.

The latter was due to the huge structure dominating the laboratoy: Hanging above a wide hole in the ground that seemed to lead all the way down to the seawater, it looked like a gigantic mass of tree-trunk-sized metal cables, several spheres made of some kind of see-through material that didn’t seem to be glass, filled with various liquids and one with some kind of gas, and a multitude of other mechanical parts that were nigh-impossible to identify, even for Basil. From that, dozens of thick cables – really more like flexible pillars – wrapped in a black, fabric-like material reached down into the hole in the ground, disappearing into the water below.

At a console in front of the hole stood their target and her colleague, Syrinx, working on several dials and a keyboard. The syringes they’d stored the blood in had been inserted into fitting slots on the console and, just as they entered, a light next to them turned green and they were emptied of their contents.

Whatever it was meant to do, Basil decided not to give them time to complete it. Before he got to act, though, Mindstar and Gloom Glimmer did.

A single gesture of Amy’s pulled them both away from the console and lifted them into the air, followed by Gloom Glimmer gesturing with both hands, causing numerous gadgets to simply off their bodies, flying out of their sleeves and pockets.

Syringes, wrist launchers, throwing darts and more were gathered together in the air before a spherical force-field snapped shut around them, followed by it heating up red-hot, destroying everything contained within.

Hecate raised her staff, aiming at the console, but Basil reached out with his right arm, pushing it down. “No. We might need it for the cure. Besides, there is no way to tell what might happen if you just blow it up.”

She growled, jerking her staff away from him, but subsided.

Well, here we are, baby bro, Amy spoke into his mind as he turned to look at Dusu and Syrinx, who were looking at them with varying degrees of surprise and shock.

“How are you here!?” Syrinx asked, staring at them like they’d come out of a nightmare. “You should be-“

“Shut him up, please,” Basil said softly, and someone – either Amy or Gloom Glimmer – complied, causing his jaw to snap shut. Putting Graymalkin down, he advanced towards the two villaneous gadgeteers.

He came to a halt, just a few steps away from them, looking up at the immobilised and declawed Dusu, who looked down at him with a mixture of contempt and curiosity. What the others behind him were doing, he couldn’t tell.

“Please put her down,” he said, and Amy did so, lowering Dusu onto the floor in front of him. Basil reached up and threw his hood back, before he unlocked his helmet and took it off.

Lowering his arms, the helmet dangling off the fingers of his right hand, he dropped it, causing it to hit the floor with a loud clang.

Looking down, he beheld the woman he’d wanted to hurt for so, so long.

She was… average. A short Chinese woman with small, almond-shaped brown eyes, a perky nose and thin lips. The only thing that even remotely stood out about her was her long, silky black hair, formerly in a tight bun but now loose, as Gloom Glimmer had removed the chopsticks she’d used to keep it in shape.

Something’s wrong, the thought came up through the simmering rage rising up from where he’d kept it down for so long. Something about the way she looked, it was… off. In a way he couldn’t quite put into words.

However, there were other things he had to take care of.

“Dusu,” he said her name, his voice as calm as he could keep it, his black eyes boring into her brown ones. “I’ve been looking for you for a long, long time.”

“Aw shucks, you’re waaaaaaay too young for my tastes, sweetie,” she replied in unaccented English, speaking it the way someone who’d learned it as a second or third language would, as she grinned up at him, seemingly unperturbed by the situation. “Still, I’m flattered.”

The sound of heels on the floor alerted Basil to the fact that Amy had walked up to stand just behind his left side. “Want me to just get the info out of her?”

Tearing her mind apart would be a good start, Basil thought to himself.

But it’d be too quick, now wouldn’t it? the Man in the Moon countered.

“Not yet,” Basil replied to Amy, still focused entirely on Dusu. “Maybe she’s going to be reasonable. Then we get what we want and we take her back home, to stand trial.”

“I don’t really relish the idea of a trial,” Dusu interjected, as she shifted her position to sit more comfortably. “But I’d rather have that than getting mindfucked, thank you very much.”

The others moved up, taking position around Basil in a rough half-circle, all looking down at Dusu with varying degrees of contempt. Syrinx was ignored entirely, spinning slowly in the air, still gagged by having his jaw held shut.

“Why’s this bitch so calm?” Tyche asked, her voice almost a snarl. “She ought to be shitting herself right about now.”

“I feel fear,” Osore noted, breaking his silence for the first time in quite a while. “Not much, but there’s some.”

“You may have noticed that this place is crawling with terrifyingly powerful people,” Dusu quipped light-heartedly. “You guys are really rather adorable in comparison. Though I would like to know how you managed to beat the Ascendant’s doll back.”

Gloom Glimmer flinched, black veins creeping over her sclera, but Basil, who saw it through the eyes of his raven, raised a hand, cutting her off.

“We are not here for that,” he told Dusu. “You have something we need.”

“Ohhh?” she focused on him again, her cold, uncaring eyes studying his face. “What is it, sweetheart? What can I do for you? It’s not like I have much of a choice, huh?” she asked with a smirk.

It took all of Basil’s considerable restraint not to strike her across the face, just to wipe that smirk off.

Instead, he clenched his fists, his arms trembling due to the tension. “No, you do not,” he spoke quietly. “I am here because of the Hawaii plague. I want you to give me the antidote, or cure, or whatever y-“

He didn’t manage to finish his sentence. As soon as he mentioned Hawaii, her eyes widened – and then she started to laugh.

What? He stared at her, surprised, as she laughed and laughed, loud and shrill as she shook back and forth, wrapping her arms around her stomach.

“That’s… what you… came for?!” she gasped in between bouts of laughter. “You attacked this place… risked your lifes… wrecked our operations… a decade of research… all for that!?” she doubled over with laughter, her head nearly hitting the floor.

“What the fuck is wrong with this putana?” Hecate breathed, looking like she was afraid to catch something from the woman on the ground.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” Amy said resolutely, leaning in as she focused her power on her…

Only to recoil, staggering back. “What the fuck!?” she shouted, staring at the madly laughing woman with wide, shocked eyes. “How dare you… you… how could you? What kind of monster would do that!?” she screamed at her, lunging at the laughing woman with a snarl on her face.

Everyone stared in shock, completely taken by surprise by the sudden, violent reaction, and Basil barely managed to step in between them, blocking Amy’s lunge. “Amy, wait!”

He caught her in his arms, and would have gotten thrown aside or bowled over, had he not locked himself to the floor with his boots.

She struggled briefly against him, snarling. “Let me at her! That bitch, she’s… she has to die!”

“Amy, what is going on? What did you see?” he asked her, confused and more than a little worried. She’d never lost it like that before – she was very nearly frothing at the mouth.

The others stepped back from her, clearly intimidated – the only one who appeared to be unaffected was Dusu herself, who was still laughing like a loon.

“Heh. Heh heh hehahaha!” she shook all over, tears in her eyes. “I’ll show you! Look, look, I’ll show you what’s so fucking funny!” she half screamed, half gasped the words, having trouble speaking past the torrents of demented laughter.

Basil let go of Amy, who stepped back again, staring at Dusu with outraged eyes, and looked down at her.

The demented woman reached to the collar of the turtleneck sweater she was wearing underneath her labcoat, and grabbed an intricate, silvery charm hanging off a chain around her slender neck.

A single tuck broke the thin chain, tearing the charm off.

Her form distorted slightly, the wrongness he’d noticed earlier becoming more profound as he realised that he’d, however unknowingly, picked up on the fact that her appearance wasn’t real.

Beneath the disappearing distortion, a horrific sight became visible, making everyone, except for Basil, step back in horror and disgust. Even Syrinx, seeing it from a distance, gasped, sounding like he was about to throw up.

On the ground before them sat a woman who was barely more than a corpse. Lush black hair had turned pure white, mostly fallen out, leaving her haggart, flesh-less head – just skin drawn taut over bones – looking oversized, like a misshapen egg, the skin pale, greyish and thin as rice paper. Her eyes looked bigger here, due to the eyelids having become so thin and shrivelled, the eyeballs seemed to bulge out of her skull, their brown colour threaded through with grey, the sclera showing pink veins.

But that wasn’t nearly all. Her nose was gone, leaving a gaping wound in the centre of her face through which she drew air with a wheezing, sharp sound. Her lips had shrivelled and thinned, lacking any colour to distinguish them from the rest of her skin, revealing entirely toothless gums as she shook, laughed and gasped. Her cheeks had rips and holes in them, as if partially rotten, stretching obscenely as her jaw moved, distorting her laughter further into an inhuman, wheezing sound.

Her hands were similarly shrivelled, with chipped nails where they weren’t outright missing, the knuckles and wrists swollen as if infected by something. Her veins stood out starkly on her papery, greyish skin, where it was visible.

The rest of her body, though hidden by her coat, sweater and pants, was visibly emaciated, her clothes, formerly fitting tightly to her slender frame, now hanging off her bony shoulders, her pants legs so loose it seemed like she only had sticks within them.

Basil stared down at her in horror, recognising the symptoms. She looks just like… like… like Prisca…

“W-why?” he breathed the question, his voice nearly breaking as he felt his stomach turn cold.

“It wasn’t, wasn’t a plague!” she hollered, tears running from her bulging eyes as she looked up at him, the expression on her face, distorted as it was, dripping with sadistic glee. “I was… I wanted to be an Adonis! So jealous, of all these pretty boys and girls prancing around looking like they’d jumped out of a wet dream!”

She fell back, barely catching herself on her arms and leaning her negligible weight onto her hands, as if she was just relaxing among friends.

“So, you see, I got stupid. Too eager!” she continued, appearing to enjoy herself greatly. “I figured, well, I can do poisons real well – what if I do one that’s meant to make the victim better, rather than worse? I mean, that’s what medicine is, in the end, right? Just a poison turned on its head!” She tilted her head to the side, calming herself a bit. “Got in a real goooooood craze. Three days of work, non-stop. Didn’t eat, didn’t drink, didn’t sleep, hell, I didn’t even shit the whole time.” She made a coy smile, though it only made her look even more disturbing. “Didn’t turn out so well. I was so fucking off the rocker when I came out of the craze, I really, really wanted to be strong and beautiful and all so much… I just injected myself with it. Didn’t test it on anyone.”

She shrugged. “You can see the results. I’ve been trying to find a way to fix myself, but… no luck, so far.” She sighed, shaking her head as if disappointed at how the world was treating her.

“Hawaii,” Basil cut in, his voice barely a whisper. “Why Hawaii?” Why’d you destroy Prisca’s life?

“Well, I couldn’t find a cure myself!” she proclaimed, waving an arm in an exasperated gesture. “So I figured, hey girl, why not outsource that?” She grinned, an unmistakable note of pride on her distorted face. “All these rich vacationers, all in one place. I figured, even if the heroes didn’t come up with a cure out of the good of their hearts, all those richies would pay enough to get someone to fix them. And then I could swoop in and get myself fixed, too!”

The bottom dropped out of Basil’s stomach, his blood running cold as he followed the evidence to its inevitable conclusion.

“Of course, I hadn’t quite thought it through,” she admitted, pouting – not that she had much of a pout, with her lips as withered as they were. “I blame it on all the painkillers I was on at the time. But, you see, I’d custom-made the stuff to affect me. To work with my genome, not that of other people. So… it was rather more lethal than I had expected it to be.” She shuddered. “You won’t believe how worried I got, before the first news of survivors came through! Y’see, I’d only made one batch of the stuff, and I spent it all on that bomb, so if no one’d survived Hawaii, I’d have been royally screwed!”

She sighed, again. “Of course, my luck remained as rotten as ever. No one found a cure. No one. Been waiting for years. I even released what little I’ve been able to reconstruct about the serum on the internet, using pseudonyms and all.”

He’d found some of those. Downloaded the information, hoping it might help him, wondering who had managed to figure even that much out, as little information as it was.

“Well, that didn’t pan out. Turns out I’m way too awesome. Not even the Gefährten, with all their mojo, have been able to fix me,” she complained, sounding like a little child, averting her eyes. “Body’s gonna last a few more years, tops. Only chance I’ve got left is getting to that retard in Britain, only even if I could get close enough, I doubt that faggot would be willing to heal me, you know?”

She looked up again, grinning at Basil. “So, you wanna know what’s so funny? This is! If you want to find a cure for my serum… sweetie, you can have everything I got! You can use my lab! Hell, I’ll fucking assist you myself! If you succeed, I’ll fucking blow you!” She leered at him, waving one of her arms at the equipment all around her. “Use the computer! I got all my files on it there! Use my equipment, if you can! By all means, find a cure for all those poor, poor victims!” She started to laugh again, her torso shaking, head dipping up and down with each gasp. “You never had to attack this place! You never had to fight! You could’ve just called me up, sweetie, and I would’ve sent a fucking plane!”

Basil staggered back, his vision tilting oddly. His whole body was cold, barely felt at this point, even something as simple as stepping back becoming an unstable, uncoordinated stumble.

The scarecrow on the floor kept laughing, shaking all over. “So, can you do it, sweetheart? Can you… do… what all the others… have failed to? You can’t… can you?” She looked up at him, her eyes wide, nearly glowing with the insanity now unconcealed behind them. “I looked you… up… when you built… that equipment… for the little… Fion bitch… you’re no bio-gadgeteer… you only do mechanical stuff.”

She lowered her head, shaking with barely restrained laughter. “Well, too bad!” She suddenly looked up at him again, eyes as wide as they could go. “Because the only way you’re getting a cure is if you come up with it yourself! I sure as hell have no idea how to do it, I tell you!”

And she threw her head back, laughing, mocking, as Basil’s world spun around him.

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: Amy, Bakeneko, Basil, Dusu, Elysium, Gloom Glimmer, Graymalkin, Hecate, Journeyman, Osore, Polymnia, Spellgun, Syrinx, Tartsche, The Ascendant IV, Tyche
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Wildbow discusses writing

An End to the Twig Experiment

Wildbow discusses writing

I set out to write Twig with a few ideas in mind.  A major criticism as I wrote Pact was that the pacing was too intense and that the character relationships were lacking.  I set out to write Twig in a deliberate attempt to force myself to slow down and pace things out, and in an attempt to dwell on characters.  There were a few other things which I’ll touch on here.

As I decided to approach things from that angle of testing myself & forcing myself out of the comfort zone I’d perhaps settled into with late Worm & Pact (to good and bad results both), I took on a slightly more unique genre as well.  It was very much, I’ll admit, me taking stock and deciding I was in a position to take a few risks.  To not make the gamble would risk me settling into a rut.  To take the risk meant alienating readers.  With that in mind, I’m exceedingly grateful to those who stuck with me through Twig.

What succeeded, in this gamble?  First and foremost, I learned a crapton, to a degree I wouldn’t have if I’d gone on to write Worm 2 or something in the vein of Pact.  Some of those lessons were painful, some weren’t.

  • I learned a lot about pacing, I think.  There’s a lot to be gained by pacing out a story and giving it breathing room.  I saw where there was room to explore characters and inter-character relationships.  I also think that the pacing of Twig wasn’t quite the balance that’s best suited for me as a writer.  I struggled more to keep things afloat and maintain the narrative threads.  It was very easy for arcs to simply sprawl out into twice the length I would’ve normally maintained, once I’d relaxed the patterns and things that would’ve normally kept it tighter and more intense.  More on that in a short bit.
  • I forced myself out of my comfort zone in the writing of humor.  I’ve long held the idea that humor is hard to do well because it lands differently for different readers.  I liked a lot of the humor I wrote in Twig.  I pushed myself when it came to the banter in particular and I like 95% of it.  It was fun and fulfilling to write, even when it was about stupid stuff, and I want to write more in the future.
  • I forced myself way out of my comfort zone in the writing of romance and intimate stuff.  Similar deal to the writing of humor, but with the added awkwardness that family members read my stuff (Hi Uncle, if you made it this far!) and the fact it’s so damn personal, y’know?  Some of my favorite chapters are ones to do with romance and intimacy in its various forms and it’s something I pushed out there when I made Sy as connection-driven and intimacy-driven as he was, as a stark contrast to my past protagonists. It’s something I explored and I’m really happy with what I came away with, even if interpretations and comfort levels of the readers may vary wildly.  I’d like to think that what I taught myself in the course of writing Twig will make it so future protagonists and characters aren’t quite so sexless in the same senses Taylor and Blake were (in that both give the impression they could do without relationships in large part).

I’ve talked about this before, but when focusing on writing, you can dwell on the product (the writing itself, the nitty gritty), the process (how you go about it) and the context/environment (the lifestyle of the writer & the people/things surrounding it all).  With Worm, the issues felt isolated.  The arcs I’m least happy with coincide with holidays/family events.  Arc 10?  Written when I traveled to Winnipeg around the birth of my nephew.  The awkward Dragonflight part of arc 16?  Written around the Christmas holidays of 2012.  Arc 25 and 26?  Made a little more shaky by the fact I was trying to juggle family vacation time around the writing.

With Pact it was one big event (family wedding) and a bunch of stuff feeding into that or playing off of it – my mom being in the hospital on the regular, me trying to help where I could as a sibling, then also help my  mom do her part, and so the writing was distracted and it impacted the story on a foundational level, which fed into everything else, and blah blah blah.  The wedding itself was beautiful, my handling of pact in the space around it was not and it’s a regret.

Twig, by contrast, was maybe my first experience with burning out.  A different beast entirely, because it played out over a larger, more general span in a harder to define way.  It wasn’t anything to do with the writing, precisely, but starting in late summer of 2016, I started getting a lot of outside attention, with 20+ individuals reaching out about their scriptwriting, they were movie production companies and they wanted to work with [one of the three stories], they were a big name in the industry and they wanted to work with me, or they were TV people and they wanted to work with me, and so on.  A lot of interest, and most of that warranted really attentive and careful responses, with mind paid to traps and decorum and everything else.

My days off became days where I would wake up and write/answer emails from 11am to 8pm, squeeze in errands before & after, and try to get some editing for Worm in there somewhere.  Add in community management, a bat infestation (which flipped me to nocturnal, after several middle-of-the-night wake-ups), and something had to give.  The Wednesday chapters and my health/sleep schedule were that something.

I’ll say I feel like I could have made Twig better than it was.  There were a lot of weeks and even months where I didn’t feel I was putting out my best, in part because I burned out.  That said, I am reasonably happy that I was able to hold pattern without utterly collapsing or having any arcs that I look back on and feel were truly terrible or story-breaking.

That in itself was one place where I felt I tested myself and developed as a writer.  I learned a lot about myself in terms of dealing with burnout, the shape it took, and working through it.

And I know people will comment and insist on the subject, so I’ll address it here: No, I’m not taking a vacation.  The issue isn’t the writing itself.  I could write three days a week no problem if there weren’t other things in play.  Carrying on with writing restores that wherewithal and energy and helps with the burnout.

Where the struggle happens is that I was in a place where I was just trying to juggle too many balls and I started to drop some.  Writing one story, editing another for future publication, planning one further down the road, on top of all the general stuff that needs doing (managing IRC, keeping an eye on the subreddit, finances, answering the many non-professional emails I get, answering the semi-regular professional emails I get – which were super intense for a 5-month period-, plus everyday errands and chores) is what takes it out of me.

Taking a break would only make things worse.  Really truly.  The +SAN (sanity) I’d get from a break would be outweighed by the -SAN as I interrupted my stride and tried to find it again, and it wouldn’t address or even put a dent in the other stuff that’s what’s really taxing me.  So please don’t push it.

Getting back on track.  Twig.

I value Twig as a learning experience above all else, as a test to myself that I’m really glad I took.

What would I have done differently?

  • I think, based on the feedback I’m getting right at the end (from some), I really did a bad job of selling the genre, even in conceptualizing it for my own take on the story, when figuring out my approach.  Twig was always going to be about watching these characters grow up.  Coming of age, in a way, exaggerated and complicated by the fantastical aspect of it.  A lot of readers seemed to expect and want my more usual sprawling fantasy epic and would’ve wanted the growing-up part to be more tertiary.
  • I would have liked to keep it tighter.  I think, more than any of my other works, there’s a lot that I could trim without taking too much away from the story.  It’s very easy, in breaking from my most comfortable tempo (and I’m not talking about the super-high-intensity Pact tempo, mind), to try and leave room for two or three more chapters and instead end up with five to eight more instead.  Add one more scene and it takes longer than expected, which changes the structure of what precedes it and follows it, and so on.
  • I shouldn’t have made it so ‘monster of the week’ at the start.  It didn’t really play well off of any of the things I was trying to do (except perhaps pacing) and was just one more experiment when I was already employing several.  I think this played into the initial break in tempo and the fact that many readers weren’t pulled in as much as they were with more continuity.
  • In addition, with the beginning, when writing a setting that’s not plastered over the skeleton of the established real world with its conventions, and when that setting lacks any convenient labels to slap onto it (like ‘superhero’ or ‘modern supernatural’), it’s not doable to slow-roll the exposition or setting details.
  • I feel I wobbled a bit toward the middle-end, which played into signaling problems.  I had an idea of what I wanted to happen and where I wanted to take things, and I explicitly wanted to avoid the build-up to the same kind of big bad that I’d had in prior works.  But as reader responses shifted in one direction, really wanting that epic fantasy story, I pushed things that way in response.  It led to a final confrontation that was painted as one thing, only for the big bad to not feel as big or bad as they could’ve because it was never really the plan to have them there in that context.  Done again, I would’ve likely stayed the course and tried to tell a different kind of climax/end rather than one that was half and half.

All in all, Twig was a super-valuable process for me.  I really think I’ll carry positive things forward from it.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot (super important for an experiment project), I have a deep and abiding fondness of the characters and many of the setting details.

Thank you all for joining me for the ride.

What comes next

Worm 2 (Technically it’s Parahumans 2) is rolling out soon.  In the meantime, I’ll be dropping some very super minor tidbits on the Worm website.  These interim pieces will serve as kind of unofficial/prelude/tone-setting bits and will go up on my usual schedule, just as things for people to see if they’re keeping to their usual routine of checking in.  They will not be full-length chapters and may not even be 500 words long.

This will go on for a couple weeks (5-10 segments on the usual Tues/Possible Thurs/Sat schedule) and the final installment in the set will link to the site for the Worm sequel.  Links will also appear on all of my sites.  This will give me time to hopefully get some final preliminary work done, wrangle the mailing list, and (ideal world) fix my currently scattered sleep schedule.


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In My Daydreams

Birthright: Part 6

In My Daydreams

Jaclyn gave him a sidelong glance, but didn’t say anything. “The main point of having people over tonight was to get to know people and pick up leads for who might be passing along information to the Human Ascendancy. We’ve been talking about what we learned. Marcus, did you find out anything?”

He gave a brief grin. “Tikki and I kind of got distracted and we left, but I learned about her childhood and what it’s like to grow up a breeder in the Human Ascendancy. That was interesting. Technically, her gene line is ‘active’ but because the Ascendancy doesn’t have much use for it by itself, they’re used as breeders—which meant that both of her parents had to pass their genes along. She’s got half a dozen half brothers and sisters and she’s never met any of them. Crazy, right?”

I nodded. “It is, but it fits with what I found out.” Whereupon I explained what Kals had told me.

Cassie leaned forward, putting her arms on the table. “I think she’s exaggerating. I mean, sure, it’ll mess things up for the Human Ascendancy and all the other Abominator humans, but not very quickly unless they breed like rabbits. By they time the colony’s a problem for the Ascendancy, the whole situation could be different. The Alliance might let Earth’s ships use the gate.”

Marcus shook his head. “Wow. Tikki kind of told me that, but we skipped the part where sex could bring about the end of civilization.”

Shaking her head, Jaclyn said, “That might be the reason they aren’t letting us leave Earth. If we’d mess up the human civilizations around us that much, well, I get it. It might be that we’d be better off developing to the point that we’re too powerful to keep penned into one system before we leave. If you think about it, Earth’s in the middle of the worst neighbors you could get.”

At that, Katuk nodded slowly. “That is the Xiniti hope for the people of Earth, that when they leave their system that they’re strong enough to survive.”

Jaclyn looked over at him. “I hope they’re not part of the reason that our ships never qualify to be allowed to leave our solar system.”

His dark eyes gave nothing away. “I can’t speak to that as I was not personally involved.”

Jaclyn raised an eyebrow and turned back to the rest of us. “Did anybody get any leads that might tell us who is behind messing with the force field generators?”

“Not any good leads, but,” Cassie raised her hand to emphasize her point, “I can tell you that they’re spooked. They’ve never had that happen before. Iolan has said he’s seen evidence of sabotage before, but this is the first time that it’s this obvious. They’re not sure that it really happened here before the most recent ship of refugees, but it definitely has happened after.”

“Which means that it might be that the person came on the ship this time,” I said, “or it means that someone was already here, but maybe someone came in with the most recent ship that made them decide they had the necessary support to make their campaign more noticeable. So basically, two spies.”

“‘Always there are two,” Marcus said, “‘the master and the apprentice’.”

Katuk eyed him. “My classes in counter-espionage did not make that claim. Could you elaborate?”

I shook my head. “He’s making a joke. He’s quoting from a movie and probably the worst movie in that series.”

Marcus shrugged. “Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars movie I saw. I liked it.”

Before I could reply, Jaclyn started talking. “Before this derails into nerdery, does anyone have any suspects?”

“The plant?” Cassie glanced over at me. “He might have arranged that attack on Tikki to look good and get on board. I’ve been talking to people and he’s sold a lot of stuff. If that does more than he says, he has something everywhere.”

I thought about the possibilities. Information gathering is the obvious one, but if they could remotely do stuff (like detonate?), we could have a huge problem on our hands.

Jaclyn nodded. “Anyone else?”

“Well,” I said. “There’s Kals. She doesn’t want to be here at all. I can’t quite believe she’d betray her mom and her friends to be somewhere more interesting.”

“Plus,” Marcus said, “she wasn’t on the ship. She was here. Tikki told me that Jadzen Akri leaves this place to pick up new people every so often, but she doesn’t bring Kals. So that wouldn’t explain the fleet that nearly caught us on the way here. We don’t know that that was because of espionage, but it would be easier if it were.”

Cassie held up a hand, getting our attention. “Hey, one more possibility: Tikki. She was on the ship. She doesn’t have family, no friends among the rest of the people, and she managed to set things up so that she became familiar with us and how we do things—“

Marcus shook his head. “No. That was accidental. She couldn’t have known we’d come looking for her. Plus, how could she sabotage the force field generators? She was with us that night and only saw them after they malfunctioned.”

Voice low, Katuk spoke as Marcus took a breath. “That is where Nick’s theory of a second spy would explain access to the force field generators.”

Frowning, Marcus muttered, “Crap.”

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