Tieshaunn

About the Patreon Interludes

Tieshaunn

Hello my dear fans,

So, I was working at the factory today and that takes about 0.42% of my brainpower, so I used the rest to plot out some stuff for Brennus and the Dreaming, and think about my writing in general, and I realised that my current system for Patreon Interludes just plain does not work.

Currently, I’m basically giving my Patrons a vote at the end of each arc to have an Interlude be about a subject of their choosing – which, considering how long my arcs tend to be, means it’s unlikely there’ll even be one each month. Yet you guys pay me each month.

Yes, that money is not specifically for Interludes, but for updates in general, but I still don’t like it; thus, I’m changing the system.

From now on, there will be one Patreon Interlude a month, usually towards the end of it, regardless of whether the current arc is finished or not.

Though it is a little late for this month, I’ll still try  to put one out (the next Brennus chapter is a prime candidate for having a breather before its resolution), so, here’s the current pool of Interludes:

  1. Argonauts: a short on the Mars mission mentioned way back in the early chapters, now approaching their destination.
  2. Toybox: an Interlude in the style of a webforum, in this case the (in)famous Toybox, online playground for Gadgeteers.
  3. Of Apes and Togas: Includes at least 1 Ape and 1 Toga. No monkeys!
  4. Amateurs: a Day (well, Night) in the life of Severance.
  5. Justice, like Lightning: Life in Brazil

Now, before we get to the vote proper, there is still the matter of the two of you who’ve pledged $25 or more to my Patreon – you get to suggest another option, each, after all.

Since this needs to happen fast, I’ll ask you to give me your suggestions until Tuesday evening, 23:59 CEST. After that, everyone who’s pledged $5 or more will vote until Thursday, 14:00 CEST and the Interlude will then be up by Friday, 11:59 CEST!

The vote itself won’t be a simple 1-Voice vote. Rather, everyone will rate all options in order of preference, with first choice being worth the most “points” and last choice the least. Whichever option gets the most points will be the one I’ll write.

That should be all. See you soon with the new chapter!

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn Tanner


Filed under: Patreon, Update
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Semicoop

Art heist

Semicoop

The art on the cards of Codenames: Pictures is so deliciously weird and effectively confusing during the game. We love it!

So last week was my birthday and Heinze gifted me a dexterity game I’ve always wanted ever since I saw it: Junk Art! The simplicity of building weirdly shaped blocks just speaks to me. And if it’s a game: even better! My mother for one clearly didn’t understand why I would be happy with a box of coloured blocks as a gift for an adult, but I guess that ‘misunderstanding’ is worth a comic on its own. 😀

The game is just a fun quick dexterity game that appeals to most people. I think we’ll play it quite often with our friends since most of them got giggly enthusiastic when I explained the concept of the game.

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Jun 22, 2017 at 2:32pm PDT

There is a clear winner in our little Facebook poll of which game we should buy from our Amazon credits… and the winner is: Clank! We would have enjoyed every game on the list, so naturally, we are excited. 😉 Thank you all for voting!

Which do you prefer? Codenames or Codenames: Pictures?

The post Art heist appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

K’Tepolu: Part 3

In My Daydreams

We watched him go. Gray skinned with big all black eyes, Lee wore a silver robe that would have made many UFO fans confident that they were right after all. What they wouldn’t have known is that the silver robe could reform into a Xiniti battle suit, complete with weapons.

I only knew it because my implant provided the information—just like it provided me the location of every Xiniti on the station. Aside from Lee and ourselves, that meant exactly one other, Katuk, the Xiniti who was meeting us here.

There were several more off the station. Their ship was docking at an airlock not far from us. Not coincidentally, Lee was walking toward that very same airlock. Within minutes, he’d boarded the ship, and within an hour after that, the ship passed through the gate.

The station made ship traffic and gate use available via video or implants. I told the implant to notify me if anything happened to his ship and when it appeared to be a minute from going through the gate.

It’s not as if we watched his every step though. Once he disappeared into the doorway at the wall of our bay, we could only watch him in our heads—assuming we wanted to. We had bigger issues to deal with.

I didn’t know how the others felt, but as Lee disappeared through the door, the full weight of the situation fell on me. It was all ours to handle now. We’d be responsible for keeping fifty colonists and their spaceship safe and then protecting the colony for however long it would be before their regular protection arrived.

We turned four chairs to face each other and sat in the ship. The spaceship’s windows now looked out into what was basically a spaceship parking garage. Though cool in its own way, it was much more mundane than staring out at the stars.

Jaclyn said, “We should make a plan. From what I’m seeing about the mission requirements, the more quickly we get the colonists out of here, the better it will be.”

I wasn’t sure specifically why, but a quick look at the mission files came back with the information that all the colonists were wanted by the Human Ascendency, one of the larger “nations” inside human space. It included hundreds of worlds. The files described it as being closest to Abominator culture of all the human nations. Somehow this was relevant to the fact that they were “breeders” and that agents of their Genetic Management Office would be coming after them.

I decided I’d have to read them in detail later, but I said, “I guess so. There are a few parts that I’d hoped we’d have time for me to replace—“

“What?” Cassie interrupted me. “Don’t they work?”

I shook my head. “It’s not that. They’re all parts for faster than light travel. You replace them before they go bad because you don’t want to discover they’re bad when you need to jump or worse, while you’re jumping.”

Marcus cocked his head, “What happens then?”

I shrugged. “I’ve never had it happen, but I’m sure it’s bad. Best case scenario, you’d pop into normal space before you went very far. Worst case, maybe you never come out of jump.”

Marcus blinked. “Yeah, let’s not do that.”

Raising an eyebrow, Cassie asked, “Don’t you have spares?”

I shook my head. “Not really. I can’t fit everything we need in a ship this small. K’Tepolu’s big enough that it probably has spares as well as specialty shops to construct them if it doesn’t.”

Jaclyn’s eyes narrowed. “Whoa. How long would that take.”

“Not long,” I said. “They’re atypical, not insanely weird. Maybe four hours of work if I have to rent space to do it myself.”

Sighing, Jaclyn said, “I’d been thinking we’d meet the colonists together, but we should split up. You and Marcus go get that done and Cassie and I will meet the Xiniti and the colonists.”

Marcus frowned. “It’s not that I don’t want to go with Nick, but don’t you think he can handle getting the parts on his own? I’m not going to be much use except maybe for carrying them.”

“It’s smart,” Cassie said. “We don’t know this place. Nick might need backup.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Jaclyn said.

Thirty minutes later found Marcus and me riding a train through the asteroid. I use the word “train” loosely since while it was a series of cars connected to each other, there were no rails. Also, people tend to use train when they mean something that runs on the ground on Earth. This train ran on the main walkway, above it, or below it—probably for the convenience of the architect.

It felt like riding on a train in Star Wars. Some of the other passengers were human. The rest were alien—more alien than you can get out of slapping a prosthetic forehead on an actor. For example? I’m fairly sure I saw a sapient plant—that or I saw a decorative plant in a moveable pot.

I’m fairly sure decorative plants don’t drive their pot.

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Tieshaunn

I don’t like doing it, but…

Tieshaunn

I’m sorry about it, but I have to delay the chapter until Tuesday. Had some surprise family visits today, and they ate more of my writing time than they should have.

Why Tuesday and not Monday? Well, that’s because Monday is Workday, and I doubt I’ll manage to finish it then. So Tuesday it is, for now.

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn

PS: I’ll still try to finish today, but it doesn’t look good.


Filed under: Update, Writing
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James and the Fae (2)

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Impact on his life? He is one of an exclusive number of humans to be a fully-qualified Court of Kings lawyer, and given the maddening complexities of fae law, this is an achievement to be appreciated, even if he himself is a bastard of unequalled measure.

The Court of Kings is the ultimate court (heh.) of appeal when it comes to fae law – as there are incalculable inconsistencies, and laws on the books that should have been removed centuries ago – traditions that conflict with more modern styles of thinking, and laws that simply can’t be applied equally across the fae races.

So anyone who has the stamp of approval from the Kings is someone in high demand. He’s someone who can name his hourly price, and will have people pay whatever he asks.

He had mostly tried to lead a “human” life, leaving fae business behind at the end of the working day – this being especially true whilst his wife was still alive. After Charlotte died, however, he has moved deeper and deeper into Faerie, now working exclusively for fae clients.

A primary of which is the Magpies – for which he is the primary legal counsel. And more than occasional sounding board for Magpie – subtle reminder here that I mean Mags’ mum. 😛

Fun Fact 1: Magpie did ask him to be the father of her human child. He thought about it, but declined – so in some alt-universe, Mags and Stef are sisters.

Fun Fact 2 [Grab your pitchforks]: When Charlotte died, and he went to the hospital to see her body, he invoked Death and demanded (yeah, demanded) that she trade Charlotte for Stef. Death, naturally, told him it did’t work that way.

And then may have brought Alexandria to Stef’s bedside.

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James and the Fae (1)

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So on top of everything else, James knows about the fae.

[Unfinished ficlet about him finding out.]

*

James stared at his fingers, irritated at the slight scuff on his nails – the manicure usually lasted longer. Even if he was a student, he had an image to practice, an image to maintain. There were expectations on his shoulders, and those expectations did not include plebeian, scuffed, fingers. He steepled his fingers, hiding the offending nail, and looked up to Harper to finish his impromptu dissection of the man’s gaming system. ‘If I am to understand your rules correctly, this avoids any and all legal ramifications, and puts forth a case for remuneration and damages.’

There was real, palpable relief in Harper’s eyes – from the outset, the man had been taking the situation far too seriously, and he had done his best to match him – this wasn’t a game – lawyers were far from the evil robots everyone seemed to think they were, but there surely couldn’t be a market for the type of Dungeon, Dragons and Legalese that Harper had been suggesting. There was something more going on – and even if it was nothing more than a thought experiment, or some incredibly strange waste of time, it had been an enjoyable diversion – the laws – the purported “rules” were full of so many possibilities, if only one knew how to properly exploit them.

‘So then,’ Harper said slowly, stopping to swallow, as if his mouth were dry. ‘I- I mean-‘

James leaned forward, closing the space. ‘You’re free and clear,’ he said, ‘now, why don’t you tell me what this really was.’

‘I could kiss you right now,’ Harper said, and he seemed to go limp as he reached for the half-empty beer.

James quirked an eyebrow at Harper. ‘It’s not as though I’d stop you. You are…attractive enough,’ he said, unwilling to put himself on the line any further than the simplest of compliments. Harper was attractive – deep brown eyes, tan skin that was blotched with patches of paler vitiligo – unlike a lot of engineering majors, though, Harper actually seemed to take some pride in his appearance.

Harper’s look turned cagey for a moment. ‘Are you gay, James? You’ve never said anything.’

‘Bisexual,’ he clarified. ‘And I find that intercourse is rarely relevant to discourse.’ He sat back against the supple leather of the chair. ‘Now, talk or kiss me, but please do put your mouth to some use.’

Harper took a sip of his beer. ‘Do you believe in the Socratic paradox, James?’

James reached for the words, and nodded. ‘I know that I know nothing. There is wisdom in understanding the bounds of your own ignorance, the places where you need to reach for outside counsel, and the areas you can refine when you choose to better yourself.’

Harper, with an exaggerated calm, put down his beer, and began to unbutton his shirt. ‘I could make your world a far larger place, James, but I am unsure if you’re willing to play Alice, and tumble down the hole.’

James pushed himself away from the chair, reached across the table, and grasped the free edges of Harper’s shirt. ‘I won’t liken myself to a girl in a mathematical parable, but I am a willing student.’ He bit the inside of his cheek. ‘Show me.’

Harper’s hands came to rest on his, and after a moment, the shirt was open – the rest of the buttons torn open. Beneath the shirt, Harper wore a tailored undershirt.

‘This is nothing I haven’t seen before,’ James mused, allowing his fingers to brush down Harper’s chest. Harper wasn’t particularly muscled, and seemed to be that kind of thin that came with forgetting to eat, rather than by design, still, he was pleasant enough to touch.

‘What do you think,’ Harper asked, as he freed his undershirt from his pants. ‘That you’re going to see?’

‘I wager a hundred pounds that you’re not human.’

Part of him knew that, in his place, a hundred other men would have claimed that the words had slipped out, that the words had come from some irrational place, some extrapolation of an old childhood wish.

He’d never wished for fairies, never desired to run to Narnia or Neverland…and right now there was nothing he wanted more than to pull Harper’s shirt off, and see something amazing, to find an unexpected wonder.

‘Help me with this,’ Harper said, and together, they lifted his shirt.

James rested his hands on Harper’s hips as Harper finished taking the undershirt off.

Harper’s chest appeared human – there was nothing that gave it away as anything other-

Movement caught his eye.

A triangle of green and purple rose up above Harper’s right shoulder, which grew larger as James watched. A matching shape rose over Harper’s left shoulder, and slowly, with no overtones of hallucination or dream, a pair of large wings unfurled behind Harper’s back.

James reached forward, his mind stalled, all the words of his vocabulary held prisoner behind silver bars of silence. Harper’s wing strained forward – there was no prehensile movement to it, just the basic articulation like a-

His fingers came to rest on the wing.

James opened his mouth, and a small, perfect “oh” of surprise made its way through his shock, through his silence, but no more words came as Harper’s mouth came to close over his.

The kiss did nothing to help with his shock, but it wasn’t something he was going to back away from. He reached forward, and pulled the- ‘What are you?’ he asked, pulling back just enough so that their lips separated. ‘I need to know what to-’

‘I’m a fairy,’ he said. ‘Is this what you were expecting?’

‘No,’ James said, taking the opportunity to draw Harper closer – with his wings extended, it was easy to shift the taller man onto his lap, as they seemed to-

Magic and physics spun in his mind as Harper kissed him again.

James wrapped his right arm around Harper, explored the man’s back, feeling the points of connection between Harper’s wings and his back. There was no smoke, there were no mirrors. This wasn’t some random mutation – not that something so beautiful could be called a mutation, like it was some stupid black and white movie monster.

The wings were smooth, shiny, like- Keratin. It was probably made of keratin. There were a couple of different sensations under his exploring fingers – as if the wings were made of membranes and panels, like a dragonfly’s wings.

The wings flapped, and Harper pulled away, moving to stand on the low table. ‘At this point,’ he said. ‘Humans usually have questions.’

‘Turn around,’ James said. ‘I want to see them properly.’

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Stef in Kensington Gardens

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It’s James’ fault that Hook came into Stef’s life.

So, Stef had this old copy of Peter Pan, and loved it. It was one of the first books she ever read to completion by herself. (Yeah, she was reading really young. Genius happens when you instinctively know to stay quiet in your room, or face getting yelled at).

So it’s no surprise that the Lost were aware of her, but with limited resources, there are only so many children they can look after; and though the emotional abuse was rife, Stef’s life was never in danger from her situation.

This kinda changed one day.

Charlotte didn’t know how much James hated Stef – she never figured it out, even to the day she died – so would insist that occasionally, James go out for a day with Stef. Usually, he was able to make this a “take your kid to work day” and pawn her off onto an assistant. This day, however, he wanted some fresh air, so they went for a walk, and ended up in Kensignton Gardens.

Which suit Stef just fine, for reasons as demonstrated by this picture:

image

So Stef’s happy and quiet, and sits and reads under a tree while James sits at a park bench and reads the paper. Then he gets a call on his cell phone – the call to let him know he’s been made partner in his law firm – whereupon he folds up his paper, and rushes off to celebrate with his beloved wife, leaving Stef behind.

Stef…notices after a little while. But doesn’t react. She’s about five. She has no idea how to react. She knows her father hates her – there’s no way she can’t. But some part of her still believes, deep down, that he surely couldn’t have abandoned her. So she reads. And there are people around, and they all have bystander syndrome – assuming she’s with one of the other families.

And hours pass. She reads the book over and over. She gets scared. She cries. She keeps reading.

And from thin air, a man dressed like her beloved Captain Hook – the way she always imagined, a regal king gone slightly dusty. The bright twinkling eyes of a grandfather. He bows, and introduces himself. He sits with her. He uses some Lost magic to make them just out of sight for people who might look in their direction. Not…invisible, your eyes just slide away. She’s no longer a child alone. No longer a target for any bored kidnapper.

And he feeds her cheese sandwiches. And apologies for the paltry fare – even though the choice was a deliberate one. He wanted to give her something simple. Something that was safe and homely and the antithesis of being abandoned and alone.

He tells her stories. Stories that aren’t in the book. Adventures and fights against the Lost Boys. He gives her his coat to keep warm.

The sun fades, and he tells her that he’ll take her to Neverland when the second star to the right becomes visible. No part of him would leave a child alone at night.

But Stef’s parents finally show up – having just realised that none of their staff was caring for their daughter. James, of course, blames her for taking valuable time away from his celebration.

When she looks around, Hook is gone, so is his coat, and the crusts from the cheese sandwiches. But there’s the smell of salt an the sea in the air, and she knows it was all real.

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James Mimosa (1)

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So Stef has talked about her father in various ways and had little thought asides. The most that has been established in V3 canon, I believe, is that he is an abusive asshole that loved his wife, and had zero love whatsoever for his daughter. Well, that’s true, but it’s so much worse than all that.

Why he hates Stef: Charlotte’s pregnancy with Stef was problematic, both mother and child nearly died several times. Charlotte rode out the last couple of months on strict bed rest, expecting every day to lose her life, her baby’s life, or both. And James watched this, hoping and praying that Charlotte – objectively the only person in the world he truly loves – would survive, hating the unborn child more and more every time Charlotte was in the least little bit of pain.

And when Stef was finally born, Charlotte lapsed immediately into postpartum depression, so James just held onto his life, and cursed Stef’s very existence. He saw her, from the moment she entered the world, as nothing more than the monster who tried to kill his wife.

Why didn’t he secretly have her killed off? It’s something that’s well within his power to do so. But – Charlotte loved her daughter, if only in her own way. [The postpartum depression and associated fallout meant she never quite bonded with Stef; on top of having this image of what he daughter should be, versus the child she really had.] So he wasn’t going to take away something that Charlotte wanted.

After she died…honestly? He sees her as a breathing organ donor, and nothing more. Something that could be harvested, should he ever get hurt – or just feel the need for a new kidney.

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Hiatus. For Real This Time.

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Ok. So. This has been a long time coming.

I tried to keep going. But- There’s nothing left in the Cookie tank at the moment.

I would love to come back one day. But it’s not on the horizon right now. Real life and junk.

I’ll do a longer post later. But for now, I’m honouring my promise. I always said that if it looked like I was going to quit, I would post every spoiler that I knew.

I’ll be dealing these out as they come to me. Or in whatever order they’re asked.

Ask me anything. No answers are off the table.

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Crying Grumpies

La Biblioteca Isawa, el podcast de Leyenda de los 5 Anillos LCG, episodio 1.

Crying Grumpies

Ha costado de editar, pero ya tenemos aqui, para todos los que esperan con las uñas comidas el próximo juego de cartas de parte de Fantasy Flight Games, ¡el primer episodio del podcast Grumpy sobre Leyenda de los 5 Anillos, el juego de cartas LCG!.

Recordamos que el juego tiene prevista su salida en el ultimo cuarto del año, con una salida/preview en la Gencon del mes que viene, así que ahi ya veremos todas las cartas y componentes que traerá el juego.

Así que aquí tenéis los enlaces a Itunes e Ivoox tanto del primer episodio (donde hablamos de la estructura de turno con nuestros colaboradores, Chef Grumpy, Grimagor y Salvi), como del piloto de presentación.

Piloto en Itunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/es/podcast/piloto/id1251323103?i=1000388952205&mt=2

Episodio 1 en Itunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/es/podcast/la-biblioteca-isawa-episodio-1/id1251323103?i=1000388975349&mt=2

Piloto en Ivoox:

http://www.ivoox.com/18550286

Episodio 1 en Ivoox:

http://www.ivoox.com/19406305

Esperamos que os guste, suscribios y mensualmente tendréis vuestra ración de audio venida desde… ¡La Biblioteca Isawa!

¡Reserva aquí tu copia!


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In My Daydreams

K’Tepolu: Part 2

In My Daydreams

K’Tepolu lay ahead of us. It wasn’t a planet. It was a collection of asteroids connected by tubes. As statements go, that was an understatement. Two huge asteroids, one following another, lay in the middle, connected to each other by round, gray structures wide enough for spaceships to fly inside. That was the only attempt at a pattern that I could see in the construction. The rest of the asteroids stuck out from the main ones with no rhyme or reason, sometimes with a tube to another asteroid, sometimes isolated.

Even more disturbing from an engineering perspective, there were multiple levels. While some asteroids had a tube to only one asteroid, many of them had six tubes (four to asteroids on their level, one pointing up and the other down). Most had more than six tubes and they were almost always diagonal instead of straight.

It wasn’t even possible to come up with an overall shape for the conglomeration of parts. Few of the asteroids pointed in the same direction, some stuck out from the main group—with another two or three attached to the end and additional tubes that led deep into the mass of asteroids.

Jaclyn summarized my thoughts in a sentence. “What a mess.”

Marcus laughed. “And here I was thinking that it was cool. I mean, that says space. You can’t build stuff like that on Earth. It’d be crushed under its own weight. Plus, look at all the spaceships.”

It was hard not to see them. We’d seen a lot near the jump gate—which had rings several times larger than the last jump gate we’d been through and that one in turn had been several times larger than Earth’s. It had flashed white and a stream of ships of all sizes had come out. When it was over, it had flashed again and several more had come through.

K’Tepolu, for lack of a better cliche, reminded me of a beehive. Spaceships, small and large, flew between the asteroids, dodging the connecting pieces and landing inside the open bays.

Something dinged inside my head. The words “K’Tepolu Station” appeared along with it. I mentally agreed to take the call.

“Xiniti ship… Beeblebrox?” The perfect, androgynous voice didn’t quite seem to know what to make of the name. It didn’t sound like a Xiniti ship.

“That’s us,” I said.

“Since this is your first trip here, we’re giving you a berth on one of the outside asteroids. We’ve sent your ship the berth number as well as your approach route. If you choose to manually control your ship, please follow our directions precisely. If you don’t believe you can do it, let your ship’s computer do it. Timing is essential. Imprecise approaches risk collisions.”

I don’t know if I would have tried it without the implant, but with the implant it wasn’t bad. They weren’t kidding either.  Ships crossed my path both before and behind me. With as many ships as I’d seen, it made sense, but I wondered if they might be overdoing the coordination.

On a whim, I started the song “Major Tom” playing.

As we approached our landing spot, Cassie watched our destination asteroid grow bigger as the ships behind us branched off, decelerating as they aimed for their own landing bays.

“Did you notice that there are landing spots on every asteroid? It’s like they added them to each new piece instead of designating one starport.”

My implant volunteered that that was exactly what they’d done. I opened my mouth to tell Cassie, but she shook her head, saying, “I know.”

When I brought the ship inside, the directions said to turn off the maneuver jets. I did, and the gravity panels on the floor and ceiling moved us along.

As we floated down through the hangar, ships stacked on shelves on both sides of us, I asked Lee, “What kind of place is this?”

Lee leaned back in his chair. “Ask your implant… I’ll give you a hint though. It’s from that movie. The one with spaceships?”

Everyone looked at him.

“You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy,” he said, and then he grinned.

Marcus shook his head, “Star Wars? How long has it been since you watched a movie?”

Lee shrugged. “Not important, but before I go, I should tell you a couple things. First off, you’ve probably got an effectively unlimited expense account. You’ll have to check your implant. They might be less generous with young Xiniti who have to prove themselves. It’ll cover docking fees and food at the very least. If yours is unlimited, don’t abuse it. It won’t look good. You don’t want to fail this test that way.

“Second, most people will leave you alone. Humans are scary because of being the Abominators’ soldiers. Humans who are part of the Xiniti nation  are doubly scary because everyone knows how you become part of the Xiniti, but… There are some people who will see it as an invitation. Watch out for them.”

The ship floated upward, landing in a row next to several other similarly sized ships. The row was only five deep, but there were rows on either side as far as I could see.

We stopped moving. Lee said, “Well, that’s it. I’m going to leave. I’ll see you when I’m done. If you’re done first, don’t wait for me, but do leave a message for me. The Xiniti implant has a name that will find me. Any questions before I go?”

I checked my implant, knew Lee’s alias as well as the name of the Xiniti we’d be taking on, the ship and colonists that we’d be guarding… It seemed complete. “I’ve got one question. If we could bring relatives, could I have brought Rachel too?”

Lee stood up from his chair, letting the restraints fall to its side. “Sure, but it would make things complicated. Her intangibility means more than you think and we don’t have time to sort that out right now. Let’s just say she’d have connections to more than just the Xiniti, and we don’t need that.”

“Okay,” I said.

Then, taking the form of a Xiniti, he stepped through the nearest hatch, stopping for a moment. “One more thing. If you go back without me, don’t go through the system with the battle.”

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Semicoop

Heads or tails

Semicoop

 make heads or tails of someone or something
Fig. to understand someone or something that someone has said. (Usually with the negative.) I can’t make heads ortails of Fred. No one can make heads or tails of this problem.

Heinze often has quite brilliant ideas, but sometimes they are a little bit too complex to explain to others right out of the blue. 😉 This one is rather simple if you have basic knowledge of binary numbers, but else… well, it can be rather difficult.

So we have these affiliate links on our website to board games on Amazon.com and we’ve now referred enough people that we can actually buy a board game ourselves from the credit we’ve received. Since we owe that to you, our dear readers, we wanted to give you a chance to influence how we spend it! You can vote on our Facebook Page, which game we should get! Right now Clank! is quite ahead of the rest, but please do vote if you disagree with that. 😀

A while ago we received a copy of Lucidity by Fox Tale Games, a push your luck dice game with a nightmare-ish theme. Despite all the horror, we’ve had a lot of fun playing it. And it looks just great:

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Jun 4, 2017 at 8:24am PDT

Lucidity is currently on Kickstarter and the project was funded within 48 hours! If you think Lucidity looks interesting, you should definitely check out their Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/foxtale/lucidity-six-sided-nightmares

Do you know any game mechanics that might be a little too complex?

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In My Daydreams

K’Tepolu: Part 1

In My Daydreams

From a Report by Agent 957 of the Human Ascendancy’s Genetic Management Office…

Location: K’Tepolu System
Date: Day 139 in year 9043 of the Human Ascendency
To: [Name Redacted], Director of Breeder Reclamation

It’s my hope that the War Council will no longer be involved in our operations, but rather that their involvement will be limited to providing assistance that only they can provide and making any requests they might have clear. As they’re not in my chain of command, they should not be making any sort of attempt to give me orders or use our resources for their own projects.

Our management of the breeding stock has provided them with thousands of years of effective soldiers, spacers, and technicians with no loss of quality or deviation from the designs of the Architects. It could even be argued that we’ve been responsible for some slight improvements and efficiencies in the process of their creation.

I inform you of this because their current involvement in my mission very nearly caused me to lose track of the escaped breeders.

One month ago I was requested to watch a group of breeders whose purity officers suspected that they were preparing to escape. This was a mixed bloodline group associated with Cterrek, one of the larger cities in the K’tek system. The group is believed to have been contacted by the Institute for Human Freedom, a charity funded by many Alliance worlds. Our intelligence personnel have reason to believe that the Hrrnna funded its creation and continue to give money to the group.

After the breeders disappeared, it was found that the breeders had been saving money at higher rates than the norm.

There’s no law against breeders saving money. In fact, it’s been found that the more control breeders have over their own lives, the better they accept our occasional interference.

Contact with foreign powers, however, is illegal. That, I’m disappointed that we didn’t detect. When I was last in contact with them, our people were still searching for the methods they used to avoid our detection.

However they did it, they disappeared from their residences, their jobs, and all their relationships in one moment. The next time we became aware of them, it was because one of their own number contacted us through their world’s network. The next we knew, we’d assigned personnel to track them, not least of which included me.

I went immediately to the nearest starport, requisitioned a starship and began following them as I am now.

Within a few jumps, they made it outside Interdicted Space. Our forces could have caught them if I’d had the ability to compel their obedience instead of the other way around. When we jumped to the edge of Interdicted Space, my ship was surrounded by heavy fighters given the responsibility to keep citizens within the Human Ascendency.

I was then ordered to cease pursuit and to report to one of several systems to assist them in border patrol operations. Though they weren’t in my chain of command, they’d convinced local officers that my ship was necessary to their efforts.  With some work, I was able to contact our headquarters to countermand the order and given leave to pursue my original mission.

By that time, I had hopelessly lost the breeders’ ship. Only an ansible message from a mole among the breeders put me on track. I was able then to follow them to K’Tepolu.

I’ve hidden my ship among the asteroid belt near K’Tepolu and have continued to be updated regarding current events by the mole.

I have learned the following:

1. The breeders are receiving some level of cooperation with the Alliance government. As suspected, the Alliance has designated a world for breeders to settle. The mole does not know the coordinates, but does know that it’s within a few jump gates of K’Tepolu. When they do leave K’Tepolu, we’ll have the opportunity to destroy them or to follow and learn the colony’s location. My recommendation is that we hold off and discover the colony’s location as well.

2. My recommendation that we hold off is connected to another piece of information I’ve learned. The Xiniti will be escorting the craft to the colony. My ship has no chance against the Xiniti standard ship or a Xiniti crew. If it were to turn out that the Xiniti are not directly protecting the ship, my recommendation might change to capturing and interrogating the escort for the location of the colony. That would depend on the nature of the escort.

3. If recapturing or killing the breeders is regarded as more important than discovering the colony, we currently have an opportunity to strike. The Xiniti have not yet arrived. The only major risk is that the authorities at K’Tepolu might learn who attacked the breeders and prevent future Human Ascendency ships from using the port. The economic damage from that could be considerable.

Awaiting your response,

Agent 957

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Tieshaunn

B13.8 Call of the Sleeper

Tieshaunn

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Basil knew he wasn’t the most… sensible person out there. He often overlooked people’s feelings, not out of malice or a lack of care, he thought, but simply because they tended to seem so… unimportant, compared to everything else on his mind. The inventions, the science, the fight against evil, the fight for good… compared to all that, there was precious little time to worry about how others were feeling, oftentimes, and there’d been steadily less and less time, to boot.

Still, he would have needed to be blind, deaf and an imbecile not to notice that something was seriously wrong with his friend. Dahlia looked like she’d been crying a lot, in a very short time. The little bit of mascara she tended to wear even underneath her mask, against his recommendation, had run down her cheeks in two quickly fading black streaks; her eyes were bloodshot and all of that was visible because she wasn’t wearing her mask.

Stepping forward, he put himself between her and the junior heroes, if only for appearances sake, reaching out to put his hand on her right shoulder, as Hecate was hanging onto her left one, her arms around Dahlia’s torso.

He squeezed it, feeling her tremble, then calm a bit. “Welcome back,” he spoke as softly as he could, trying not to show the anger he was starting to feel.

Someone had hurt her badly. He could tell. He could see it in her eyes.

That someone was going to hurt a lot, if he could in any way arrange it.

First, though, he had to take care of her. Or at least help do it.

“Thanks, guys,” she said in a wavering voice as she reached out, grabbing him by the shoulder and pulling him in so she could hug him along with Hecate.

He barely managed to get his rifle out of the way before he was being crushed against her – she definitely wasn’t watching her strength, squeezing as hard as she could. Not that he, or Hecate, were going to complain.

After a good half-minute of that, he finally pulled back, though gently. They weren’t exactly in a situation where they could afford to spend too much time on this, as much as he felt it necessary.

“Tyche, what-” he began, trying to inquire as to what happened to her while they were separated, but she cut him off as she looked up from embracing Hecate, her eyes painful to look at, but determined.

“I know where she is,” she spoke, her voice firmer than before, as if the little group hug had actually helped her a bit. He certainly hoped it did. “I know where Dusu is, and what way to take to her. But we need to hurry.”

Basil was still trying to process that statement when Hecate spoke up. “It’s ‘which way’, not ‘what way’,” she corrected Dahlia, her voice wavering, as if she was on the verge of tears herself.

“Drop dead, Grammazon,” Dahlia replied with a smile. “Any-way, we should hurry before more of these losers show up, right?” She looked at everyone else.

“I have a few questions, actually,” Tartsche spoke, coming closer with the others. “But you’re right, we should get away from here. First, though, I must insist we check you.”

“Check me?” Dahlia asked in confusion, though Basil immediately picked up on what Tartsche meant.

As reasonable as it was, he still felt like slapping him over the head for possibly putting her in more distress. “He means that he wants to make sure you are not under some form of mind control or other coercion, and that you are actually who you say you are,” he explained calmly. “Remember the infiltrator protocols I made you memorise?”

She nodded, as understanding dawned on her face.

“Wait, you guys have your own infiltrator protocols?” Spellgun asked, sounding surprised.

“Of course!” he and Hecate replied in tune.

The junior heroes, minus Gloom Glimmer and Osore, looked at them in surprise.

Tartsche was the first one to recover. “Well, anyway, we don’t actually need that right now, provided that Gloom Glimmer’s power is cooperating?” He looked at his teammate, who’d pulled her hood up to hide her face, again, her cape falling over her shoulders to hide most of her form, other than the toes of her feet, clad in the black cloth of her suit.

She nodded, stepping forward. “I have just the power for that,” she spoke, her voice a little more normal than usual, without the odd harmonics beneath it that tended to freak Hecate out so much. “Do you consent to me using an Esper power on you, Tyche?”

“I get a choice? ” Dahlia asked, surprised. “I figured you’d insist on it anyway.”

Gloom Glimmer shook her head. “I’d rather do this with your permission. It’s rather invasive, after all, and you have no way to tell whether I’ll look at more than just whether or not you really are who you say you are and whether you’re under the influence of another power.”

The redhead surprised them all by chuckling, as if amusing. “Go ahead,” she said with a sad, brittle smile. “Can’t be worse than what’s already happened.”

Basil’s grip on his rifle tightened, hard.

Gloom Glimmer reached out with both hands, as Hecate stepped back, letting go of Dahlia’s torso to hold her hand instead. She put her hands onto the redhead’s temples, gently, and lowered her head, standing there quietly for a few moments.

Then she stepped back, letting her arms fall down and disappear beneath her cloak. “She’s clean,” she announced, as her hands rose again, dropping two blue-and-white pills onto her palm, swallowing them quickly. “Can’t find any sign of mental tampering and she’s definitely whom she appears to be.”

Tartsche nodded, looking relieved. “Great. Sorry about that.” He gave Tyche an apologetic smile.

“Nah, don’t knock it,” she replied easily. “Only good sense. So, are we  gonna get going before these bozos wake up?” She nodded towards the downed villains.

“Yes, let us get moving,” Basil agreed. “You can tell us what you found out while we are on the move.”

He looked around at the others, to see if anyone disagreed. No one did, and so they left, running (in Gloom Glimmer’s case, floating) after Dahlia as she ran down the hallway.

***

The group quickly passed by the entrapped, unconscious Chronicle and ran down the hallway that Basil, Polymnia and Gloom Glimmer had come from earlier.

“So, how do we get to Dusu, and how do you know where she is?” Basil asked Dahlia, keeping pace with her with some effort – apart from Tartsche, he was the only one in the group who didn’t have an enhanced physique, and unlike him, Tartsche hadn’t just come out of heavy melee combat with a sword-wielding lunatic.

“We’ve got to get to the train station – they have trains running through this entire place!” Dahlia replied, looking at him over her shoulder.

He was glad to see that, now that she had something to do, she looked better, if marginally so.

“We’ve got to take the D1-line West – I came with the East line – to the D-hub, then take the D-line North to the main hub. From there, we can take the A-Line to the A-hub, and the A3-line to the last stop. That’s where Dusu’s lab is ‘posed to be, according to the guy I got this from!”

“Who’s that?” Hecate asked, as she stuck close to her friend without any apparent strain.

I need some proper power armour again, Basil thought in annoyance, even as he listened closely. Lugging this much gear around is such a pain, no matter how much I reduce the weight.

“Some guy named Im-Immanuel,” she replied, tripping over the name. “A creepy German guy, not that that’s anything unusual.”

“Immanuel, huh?” Gloom Glimmer spoke up while flying closer, briefly touching Basil on the back.

He almost yelped when he lifted off, floating along with her, though he reigned it in – and his legs immediately made their gratitude known.

“Yeah, weird name, right? Do you know him?” Dahlia asked, looking forward again.

Basil frowned. He’d have expected her to keep looking over her shoulder and rely on her power not to trip up or run into anything. It might have been nothing, just a whim, but it felt more significant, considering the state she was in.

“No, unless he’s the famous eighteenth-century philosopher,” Gloom Glimmer replied. “It’s not the most popular name ever, but it’s pretty common in the German states, as well as other parts of continental Europe, though usually in a different spel- ah, but this isn’t important at all.” She popped another one of her pills.

Basil took note of that, if only because he’d finished analysis of the one he’d filched a while ago, and knew just what they did. Or didn’t do. I wonder whether I should tell her… but then again, I doubt Lady Light of all people would be lying to her daughter out of malicious reasons.

“Well, he hinted that he was, at least, old enough to know Weisswald, even though he looked like an early twenties sex god,” Dahlia said casually.

“Yeah, that makes him even more trustworthy than just the fact that he’s in this place,” Bakeneko threw in with a sneer.

“I know, I didn’t trust him, either, but…” She paused, apparently searching for the right way to phrase things. “Everything he told me has been true so far, and… he said he wants us to find Dusu.”

“Did he say why he’d want that? It sounds mightily suspicious,” Polymnia spoke as she jogged along.

Dahlia nodded, without turning around. “Yeah, he said he thought she wasn’t really worth the effort to support anymore, and this is some kinda last test for her to prove she’s worth being around, otherwise she might as well get whatever she deserves.”

“Now that’s just gotta be bo-” Bakeneko began to say.

“That makes sense,” Gloom Glimmer interrupted her, speaking quietly. “The Gefährten have done this before, like that mess in Chicago a while ago. That was them putting the former Ascendant to the test.”

“Wait, the Ascendant is a member of these madmen!?” Tartsche and Spellgun asked in concert, sounding shocked. Everyone else was staring at Gloom Glimmer as well, at the same time.

“Yes, I… heard about it from Dad. The Ascendant is a legacy that’s belonged to the Gefährten since the beginning, really. But the former holder wasn’t living up to his duties – making more people have origins and manifest – so they gave him one last chance to prove he was worthy of the name. Now that he’s failed, there’s probably an all new Ascendant, somewhere around here,” she explained.

They took a right turn down another hallway, finally leaving the waxen section behind. Not that cold steel was any more comfortable or anything, just more… normal.

“So this is a reasonable course of action for these people?” Basil asked, wanting to make sure.

“As far as I know, yes,” Gloom Glimmer replied firmly. “I’m not an expert on them, obviously, but it fits.” She fell quiet for a moment. “Say, where’d you meet this guy? He must be pretty high up in the hierarchy here, to make a decision like that.”

Dahlia gestured up towards the roof and ahead. “On the top of that huge-ass tower in the middle of this fucking place. Some kind of meditation chamber, it was.”

Basil, Gloom Glimmer and Polymnia traded glances; he could tell they realised what that meant.

“What did you just think?” Hecate asked, looking back at the three of them over her shoulder, running ahead with Dahlia. “You three were trading very knowing looks there.”

“Gloom Glimmer used a danger sense earlier, when she found Polymnia and me,” Basil explained. “Among other things, it told her that there was a massive threat at the top of that tower, someone more dangerous than even the Dark.”

That caused a few moments of silence.

“Oh,” Dahlia said, almost gasping. “Fits, I guess… he was really extraordinarily scary, as nice as he was…”

“What can you tell us about him?” Basil pressed the issue, as he reconsidered just how much he could afford to trust her right now – if this was someone more dangerous than the Dark, so likely more powerful than the Dark and someone who was also old enough to have known Weisswald, then it stood to reason that he might be powerful or skillful (or both) enough to evade detection by Gloom Glimmer, as powerful as she might be.

“He… he was really way, way pretty, like,” she began to reply, her speech a little stuttering. “Like, the prettiest guy I’ve ever seen, ever,” she continued, speeding up. “He didn’t use any obvious power or anything, not that I noticed.”

They reached a small train station that was, like most of the complex so far, completely abandoned, both train tracks empty.

Slowing down, then stopping near the edge, they gathered around Dahlia, though they kept a little distance, so as not to crowd her; only Hecate remained right next to her, still holding onto her hand, squeezing it in support.

“He just… well, he just talked to me. But… he knew a lot. WAY too much,” she whispered, looking down at her feet. “He knew, he knew about my equipment… he knew how my power worked better than I do… he knew my name.” She shuddered, as several people around her gasped, and Hecate stepped even closer, letting go of Dahlia’s hand to wrap her arm around her waist instead, pulling her into a hug.

“Oh Tyche, I… I’m so sorry,” she whispered, putting her other arm around her, as well.

Dahlia turned fully towards her and embraced her in turn, hiding her face against the side of Hecate’s hood.

Basil was pretty sure she was crying.

He… he wasn’t sure how to describe how he felt. Wrath was too soft a word to describe it.

Worse yet…

If he could find out hers, does he know that of the others here? Or would he only find out if we came too close, if he found out via his power?

He looked around at the others, seeing various degrees of shock and outrage on their faces… and no small amount of fear.

Gloom Glimmer was hard to read, her face and body almost entirely hidden, but her mouth was set in a tight line. She had no reason to be worried herself – her identity was public anyway, and anyone who tried to go after her family rather than her deserved what they got, but she seemed angry nonetheless.

Polymnia, Tartsche, Spellgun and Bakeneko looked fearful. Each of them had a secret identity, and (likely) family to care about, even if Aimihime, at least, didn’t like her father all that much.

It was impossible to read Osore and Basil frankly didn’t know a thing about the boy other than that he was ethnically Japanese. He really should have asked Aimihime more about her boyfriend, what kind of friend failed to even think of that…

He couldn’t see Hecate’s face right then, but he knew her well enough to know that she must be terrified, seeing how tight she was with her (very expansive) family.

Basil himself… well, if there was a villain out there – mayhaps a really powerful telepath? – whom could find out secret identities easily, or whom had an organisation with the resources to do so, even for obscure, young heroes like Dahlia, then that was a problem, but not so much for himself. His only family was Amy, and she certainly didn’t need any protection from enemies who’d be interested in someone of his level.

Still, I need to talk to Amy about this… assuming she doesn’t kill me after this stunt.

Just then, the train arrived. A quick look at the driver’s cabin as it passed showed that it was automated, and the doors opened smoothly.

They entered, together, Dahlia disentangling herself from Hecate to do so.

Inside, the train car was… surprisingly normal. Simple, lightly padded seats with red cotton covers. Everyone sat down, with nothing better to do, except for Basil, who leaned against the window right next to the seat that Dahlia and Hecate sat down on together, putting Dahlia between himself and the Greek witch; Gloom Glimmer didn’t so much sit as move into a lotus position in mid-air, lowering herself until she was level with the seat that Polymnia sat on, since the latter’s armour took up a little too much space to make for comfortable sharing of the seat.

The others also paired up – Bakeneko and Osore, and Tartsche and Spellgun, the four of them facing him and his team, while Gloom Glimmer and Polymnia sat at a right angle to the rest, their seats facing the back of the train.

“Is that why you are not putting your mask on?” Basil asked in a soft voice, looking down at Dahlia as he folded his arms in front of his chest.

“Oh, that?” She looked up with a surprised expression on her tired face, fresh tear tracks visible on her cheeks, through her mascara. “I completely forgot about this, sorry…” She pulled a tissue paper out of a pocket of her leather jacket, spitting on it a few times before she wiped the mascara off her face, then she pulled her mask back on. “I guess, yeah, I didn’t see the point, so I forgot about it,” she said, her voice now slightly muffled by the mask.

Basil relaxed, just a little bit – he hadn’t even noticed, but he was glad she had the added protection against strikes or shots to her head, even with the opening for her red hair in the back, he’d been more tense than he would otherwise have been while she’d been so exposed.

“What else can you tell us about this Immanuel? Did he give you any hints as to what his power is, or his true designs?” And how much did he really know about your power? Basil wasn’t sure he wanted to draw too much attention to that, not with the junior heroes around. Anything he said might move up the ladder, in time, and a probability manipulator would be a prime target for recruitment, maybe even more so than himself.

“As I said, he was… nice,” she spoke, her head lowered and her hand holding tightly onto Hecate’s. “Even while he… spoke about some… troubling things… private things.” She looked up at the junior heroes. “I’m sorry, you’re all great and all, but…”

Tartsche raised a hand, looking surprisingly calm in spite of the situation. “We understand. You don’t have to tell us about that. Just tell us any salient information you may have on him.”

“Um… there’s one thing that stuck out. He seemed to have some kind of… well, when I asked him where you guys all were, he immediately knew, and could point it out to me,” she replied quietly. “Like, knew it down to which level of the tower you were in, or that B-Six here and the Popprincess broke out with some anti-EMP stuff. But he said it was ‘a pain’ to keep track of you.” She looked at Gloom Glimmer.

They all looked at her, and Basil, at least, felt very curious about what that could mean.

“That could mean he’s a pretercognitive,” Gloom Glimmer explained calmly. “I know that some aspect of my power messes with them, though I don’t know what, exactly. I can’t do it deliberately, at least.”

“Preter-what?” Aimi and Dahlia both asked at the same time, and with nearly the same voice.

“Pretercognitives are particular sub-category of Espers…” Basil began to answer…

“What did I tell you about Exposition, Brennus!?” Hecate snapped, pointing an accusatory finger at him.

Oh, come on… “Two sentences or less…” he grumbled, remembering one of her many, many lectures.

“And you remember the penalty for breaking that rule?” she pressed on.

No more free food at your family restaurants, he thought as he nodded. “Yeah.”

She nodded. “Good. Continue.”

He grumbled something under his breath about people who were ungrateful about getting detailed information and continued, trying to ignore the amused looks everyone else was giving him.

“Pretercognitives are a sub-category of Espers, specifically Post-, Peri- and Precognitives; that is to say, people who view, in some manner, the past, present or future. They are the rarest form of Espers and some of the most powerful and interesting powers out there, particularly the various forms of Precognition, belong to that class,” he said, stopping before he could actually recount the sum of his knowledge about the subject – and he’d researched it extensively, for various reasons.

Gloom Glimmer nodded. “Also, they’re known for having strange interactions and suffering interference from some kinds of powers, of which mine appears to be one. Sometimes, they work on me just fine and sometimes… not.”

“Alright, so we can reasonably assume that he has some form of Pretercognition, though he may also simply have been patched into their computer and surveillance systems – there ought to be more security around here than we have noticed so far,” Basil followed. “Anything else?” He asked, after the others nodded.

Dahlia shook her head. “Not really. I mean, he might have been a telepath, to figure out so much about me, but… he also knew stuff I didn’t know about, so… I dunno.”

“Where all the things he knew that you didn’t know just about your power? Because if so, he might have some kind of power analysis ability,” Hecate proposed.

Her friend shook her head, though. “No, he knew more than that.”

They looked at each other, Basil, Hecate and Dahlia, before falling quiet.

That’s it then. I don’t have the foggiest idea what kind of power he might have, beyond it being some form of Pretercognition, which might mean anything, Basil thought to himself.

“Uh, this is all fun and all,” Spellgun spoke up, making everyone look up at him. “But we’re kind of ignoring the fact that, whatever his power is, it probably doesn’t matter if Gloomy is right and he’s just going to let us take on Dusu. We should maybe focus on that, first, then worry about him.”

“What if he, however, objects to us leaving after we’ve performed this little ‘test’ for his subordinate?” Basil countered, perhaps a little more sharply than he needed to.

He really was, rather extraordinarily so, angry, even if he had so far managed to keep it simmering beneath the surface.

“Then we deal with that later,” Spellgun stood his ground, setting his jaw. “Let’s focus on our immediate problems, and worry about the rest if and when we get to it.” He looked around at everyone in turn, as if challenging them to disagree, but no one spoke up.

He does have a point, after all, Basil thought. “So be it then,” he agreed, finally. “Our next issue, then…”

“Excuse me,” Polymnia spoke up, raising a hand as if she was in school. “I do actually have something huge to talk about!”

They all looked at her, but she was looking just at Basil… or rather, at his left gauntlet.

Ah, right, I forgot that this would happen…

“Brennus, you have a force-field projector!” she spoke intently, her vocaliser sounding far too human. “That’s a huge thing! When did you come up with it, when did you find the time to build it? What else can it do, other than that shield? And do you think you can make more? And what is it with that thing attached to your thigh?” She finished by pointing at the ovoid that was magnetically attached to his thigh armour.

Everyone’s attention was on him, now, ranging from curiosity to concern to… well, he wasn’t sure what Hecate was thinking, exactly, but she seemed amused.

“My gauntlet’s a force-field projector, yes. I came up with it after we worked on the Arc Caster… well, it’d be more accurate to say that working on the Arc Caster allowed me to finally finish some fragmentary ideas I have had for a while now. I cannibalised some other projects of mine and assembled this prototype.” Polymnia looked like she wanted to say something, but he pressed on, turning to the other new invention he’d brought along. “As for th-“

He was interrupted, suddenly, when the lights went out, from one moment to the next, followed by red emergency lighting turning on.

Everyone who was seated jumped up, reading powers and weapons, but the train kept driving, though slowing down.

“What happened!?” Tartsche asked, his voice firm. “Gloom Glimmer, do you see anything?”

“No! I was looking out for anything dangerous or such, but I didn’t see anything coming!” Gloom Glimmer replied as she floated up by a few inches, her cape billowing open. Her hands were clenched into fists. “But we definitely just… enterd the territory of some kind of power. A dimensional shift? Yeah, I think that’s it – we’re in some kind of pocket dimension.”

The train slowed further, then stopped, and the doors opened.

Basil traded glances with Hecate, before he turned around to look at Gloom Glimmer. “Can you get us out of here? Straight out, with some kind of power?”

She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry… dimensional travel is a rare one, even for me,” she replied. “And this place… it is protected, somehow. People aren’t supposed to get out, even with that kind of power, I think.”

“So then… how can we get out?” Tartsche asked, holding an assault rifle in each hand. Basil was pretty sure they were loaded with lethal ammo, unlike the usual rubber bullets he fired back in New Lennston.

“I figure we have to find whoever made it and get them to let us out. I’m certain they’re in here with us, somehow,” she answered.

“No use in dallying then,” Basil said, loading a new shot into his rifle. “Let us go out and look for them.”

***

As soon as they stepped out of the train car onto a dark floor made of regular squares, Basil immediately noticed something new.

“I am glowing red,” he said flatly, looking down at his left hand, turning it so he could look from every direction. It – and the rest of his body – was surrounded by a halo of soft, almost imperceptible red light.

Looking around, he saw that all the others were surrounded by the exact same glow.

“Any idea what this means?” Spellgun asked, holding tightly onto his rifle.

“I… think it has something to do with… not being part of this reality?” Gloom Glimmer said. “Ugh… I think this is a contrivers work, it’s not usually this hard to figure a power out… but I think we should look out for anyone with a differently coloured glow about them.”

“I can’t ask for a straighter line than that!” a female voice boomed from all around them.

Basil raised his rifle, turning in a circle to survey their surroundings quickly.

They were in a huge, bare room, so large that the walls and ceiling couldn’t be seen – just a floor made of perfectly regular, glossy black squares, fitted so tightly they seemed almost like a solid piece, illuminated by a light that seemed to have no source, casting soft shadows on the ground.

The only break in the pattern were the train tracks and the car they had come in on, which seemed to come from and go to nowhere.

Then, in the distance with the train car in Basil’s back when he looked in that direction, a glow appeared, a glowing white point that extended into lines spreading over the sky.

“Uh, guys, I’m feeling some really, really, really powerful magic around here…” Hecate said in a hushed, almost awed voice.

“Oh shit,” came from several mouths all at once.

Basil stayed quiet, aiming in the direction of the light with his rifle, even as the lines formed mystical designs, pentacles, circles and other diagrams, several layers of them, interlocked and shifting.

Finally, a person appeared in the distance, walking closer.

He were tall, a man built like a bodybuilder’s ideal, muscular without being  ridiculous about it, he wore a silver bodysuit and a white cape, his smooth black hair slicked back over his head, his face open, friendly and honest. The kind of face you could instantly trust in a crisis, who’d console even the most despondant, panicked innocent. His smile was all the same, only even more so.

He was surrounded by a soft blue glow.

Dahlia was the first one to manage coherent words at the sight. “Guys… isn’t that… the Protector!?

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: Bakeneko, Basil, Dahlia, Gloom Glimmer, Hecate, Legend, Osore, Polymnia, Spellgun, Tartsche
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Tieshaunn

B13.7 Call of the Sleeper

Tieshaunn

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Their enemies burst into motion before their teammate even had time to slide down the wall. The man covered in dancing lightning threw his arms out, unleashing four solid blue-white spheres the size of footballs that rose up into the air above the burgeoning fight.

At the same time, the woman in the bird-mask reached out and grabbed her shattered sword, without even looking at it, and dissolved into a murder of shaggy, black crows.

Just then, Gloom Glimmer waved her hand at them in an imperious gesture, sending forth a ripple that travelled through the wax floor, as if it was liquid.

Their enemies saw it coming, of course, and reacted much faster this time; the man in blue and Skulls jumped over the ripple as it reached them, avoiding contact – only to stagger as they sank into the ground, up to their knees, the wax seeming to liquefy, then immediately solidify again, trapping them.

The woman with the book landed on her feet, staggering, as the ripple moved towards her, barely holding onto her shredded book. Basil could see her eyes widen as she saw it coming towards her, with no way to dodge.

“Boltstar!” she shouted, almost a squeal, sounding younger than he would have guessed – he mentally re-assigned her as a girl rather than a woman.

The man in blue twisted around at the hip, throwing out a hand towards her. A crackling, unstable sphere of white-blue energy shot out, hitting the ground just a few feet in front of the girl with the book, where the ripple was.

The very moment it touched the ground, the four spheres he’d thrown up into the air flared up, releasing bolts of painfully bright lightning, one each, striking that point.

The wax was vaporised, making the girl with the book cry out – but the explosion also disrupted whatever power Gloom Glimmer had sent out, protecting the girl with the book from its entrapping effects.

Boltstar twisted around once more, shooting another crackling sphere, this time towards Basil – no, towards Gloom Glimmer, who was floating just over his shoulder and behind.

It hit her in the chest, the spheres above immediately releasing their lightning once more, converging upon her sternum.

He didn’t have the time to check on the effect it had on her, as the crows converged as well, reforming into the purple-clad villainess, to his left and out of his rifle’s firing arc, swinging her broken sword down at his weapon, still enough blade left to possibly slice through the barrel, or at least seriously damage the weapon.

It didn’t work out, as he triggered the force-field on his left arm’s gauntlet, the circular shield springing into existence, flaring up with circuit-like patterns of light as it absorbed and spread out the force of her blow, deflecting the sword.

There was no time for a counter-attack, however, as she immediately dissolved into a multitude of birds once more, obscuring his vision as some of them charged his head, fluttering their wings right in front of his face and cawing up a storm.

No, not playing that game, he thought, triggering one of the defensive modifications he’d done to his armor with a twitch of his eyes. The crows screamed as they were charred to death by a powerful electrical current, at least those who had been in direct contact with any part of his equipment, from his rifle to his cloak, as he rolled to the side, bringing more of them into contact with the cloak and dodging any possible attack at the same time.

He couldn’t smell the charred flesh of the dead animals – he’d sealed his helmet, just in case one of their enemies used a gaseous attack – but he saw their burned corpses twitch on the ground before going still.

The remaining crows pulled together again, reforming into the woman; not a willful action, because she reformed right in front of him; her costume was charred, burned, whole sections of it missing to reveal pale skin underneath; the only thing that protected her modesty being the burns covering most of her torso as she staggered, nearly falling over.

Basil shot her in the knee, the power of his rifle dialed down to where it didn’t tear the limb off, merely shattering the bone and making the woman cry out as she fell.

“Chronicle!” she screamed in pain even as she fell – and then she flickered and leapt at him, whole and unharmed, her the pristine blade of her katana slicing through the barrel of his rifle like it was made of butter.

What?

He rolled back, still holding onto half of his rifle, and saw the man – Boltstar – standing atop the wax, as if he’d never sunk into it, releasing another four spheres to rise up in the air as Hecate and Spellgun, who seemed to have engaged him, stared in surprise.

Coming up into a crouching position, he realised that those two weren’t the only ones suddenly unharmed – Skulls was free as well, once more and so were all her drones. The entire two dozen downed Skulls that his friends had taken out earlier were standing, unharmed and fully armed, surrounding them all.

And then the real fight started.

***

What just happened? Irene thought, feeling panic rise inside as she dodged one of Boltstar’s spheres, not wanting to test her defenses against twice the power it’d had before. His first hit had burned a hole into her costume, though it’d only delivered a painful, but not serious impact to her chest underneath; but that had been before he’d doubled the number of turrets, as she thought of the spheres above.

She combined her dodge with a spin, letting her see the result of the sphere impacting the wall behind her, across the hall – eight lightning bolts hit in a massive explosion, making her feel quite glad she’d dodged – while she completed her pirouette, to face the core of her opponents – Skulls, Boltstar and Chronicle.

The crow-woman was busy fighting Ba- Brennus, now that she’d been rejuvenated, but he was as slippery as usual, dodging her strikes or deflecting them with his new force-shield – Seriously, he came up with a force-field? Dad is going to descend into paroxysms – while he actually pressed the attack, striking at her with the butt of his ruined rifle, swinging it like an improvised tonfa, having reversed his grip on it.

She didn’t have time to admire his tenacity, though, because the dozens of Skulls around them had drawn her team’s attention from Boltstar and there was nothing to stop him from lobbing more of those targeting shots of his, every one of them triggering the eight turrets above to devastating effect, forcing her to dance through the air, cloak flying wildly, even as taser shots from the Skulls were bouncing off her skin, tearing tiny chunks out of her costume.

It was quite clear that her current power loadout was not up to the task of fighting off this assault, but to risk letting go of them… what if she got something unsuited to the task? Just one hit from Boltstar’s turrets would most likely knock her out, forcing her into her safe mode and leaving her friends to fight alone.

I need some breathing room, she thought, only to realise that she did have the means to get it.

Flight, impenetrable skin and reinforced organs, enhanced reflexes and liquefying ripples. The solution was there.

After dodging another one of Boltstar’s spheres, she threw her arms open, causing ripples to spread out from the ground underneath her, carefully restraining them so they did not liquefy the ground enough to trap anyone – that would’ve hit her friends, as well; no, instead, she caused the wax to buck, the ripples enlarging into waves, liquefying just enough to hold onto the feet of everyone, causing them to be thrown about, yet not lose their footing, disrupting the fight for a few precious moments.

She used them to stop holding onto her current abilities. Her power, which had already been aching to change, immediately switched them out, the current set rapidly fading away to be replaced by new ones.

Taking on new abilities was always a strange, yet familiar experience to Irene. The old ones would… fade, as if sinking down into a deep ocean, only for new powers to rise up from the darkness, taking their place. The strange part being when they settled in and knowledge of them filled her mind, as if she’d always had them. Not always complete knowledge, but knowledge nonetheless, letting her put them to use straight away, even if she didn’t always immediately understand every aspect of them.

A new form of flight, tapping into gravity around her, rapidly flipping it to keep her in place, accompanied by a light sense of vertigo before her inner ear adapted; it would allow her to corner at extreme speeds by flipping and enhancing the effect of gravity on herself, with the side-effect of being able to turn herself into a powerful projectile if need be.

A defensive power, a kind of discorporation, that would have her body instantly turn into smoke upon being hit, avoiding damage of all kinds.

Finally, an offensive ability, unraveling her limbs into countless tendrils that could snap out and crush or slash targets with incredible strength.

Irene frowned. The abilities didn’t fit. The flight was too powerful, taking up too much of her potential in one power that was wasted in such tight confines. Her defense made both the offensive aspect of her flight, as well as her main attack power useless, as she’d discorporate upon impact, negating any damage she might cause.

Her body burst into smoke as countless taser shots penetrated it, causing no damage whatsoever. The same held true for Boltstar’s shot, which simply flew through her, rather than trigger a shot from the eight turrets above.

It was then that she discovered another problem with her current powerset – while her tendrils were numerous and fast enough to strike the taser bolts out of the air, but she couldn’t suppress the smoke-defense, as it was completely automatic.

No, I need something else!

She flew up, still in smoke form – at least it still let her flight work, though it was slower than she knew it could be – and reformed above the battle, just in time to hear a massive caterwauling sound.

Below her, Melody’s attack left the villains reeling, though it did nothing to her team – the junior heroes all had protective earbuds, courtesy of Melody herself, and Hecate either had her own defenses or something made by Brennus.

The villains were not so lucky – the only one who seemed to resist was the crow-woman, who burst into a murder of crows, much the same way Irene had burst into smoke to evade attacks.

Osore was the first one to capitalise on the distraction, as he unleashed his literally fearsome, black blasts, shooting two Skulls in rapid succession. His body was already bulging, at least twice as heavy as he had been at the outset, sucking up the fear around him. Having the Skulls rejuvenated might have given the enemy more firepower, but it also gave him more fear to feed on, even if their emotions were suppressed – his fear blasts took care of that.

Still, the fight was not going well. Hecate was on the defensive, having erected a bubble made of a green force field as half a dozen Skulls focused fire on her.

Boltstar, meanwhile, kept shooting at her, preventing her from pulling herself together and focusing; at least until something hit his knee hard enough to shatter it, making him fall down and scream in pain.

Brennus. Somehow, his rifle was still functional, even with half the barrel missing.

Irene immediately reformed her body and let go of her current powers, mentally pushing them away, reaching for something new, something useful.

She started to drop as her gravity power faded, only to catch herself as a duo of new powers set in. A powerful aerokinesis, starting around her, stirring up the air to hold her aloft, more floating than flying, growing stronger as it spread further around her; the other was stranger, a power she’d had before, though rarely. A kind of pericognition tied to her sight, letting her glean progressively more information on powers the longer she focused on a person within her line of sight.

Boltstar, came the information as she focused on the man who’d been focusing on her in turn, charges up over time to create up to four turret-spheres that he can release and recall at will; trigger-spheres release lightning bolts from turret-spheres. Charging up new spheres takes longer than existing spheres persist.

She frowned, even as she dodged another one of his trigger-spheres, simultaneously recognising another use of her aerokinesis – anything that entered its growing sphere of influence, she could feel through the way it disturbed the air, giving her an edge up on dodging attacks.

This, this is good, she thought. I love it when I get a good one like this. Still, how did he make eight turrets when his limit is supposed to be four?

His form flickered, again, and he was standing once more, unharmed like before – and repeated the exact same movement as last time, releasing another four spheres, which spread out towards the walls, for a total of twelve.

Not his power, she thought. Someone else’s.

She sent a blast of air at him, forcing the man to dive out of the way instead of sending another trigger-sphere at her, buying herself time to focus on the crow-woman.

Karasuha. Contriver, specialising on enchanting items with animal-spirit th-

No, not her, she thought. It wasn’t Skulls, either – she’d already figured his power out. Which left only the last one, Chronicle. But she was out of sight, outside the tower in the hallway.

Got to get a good look at her, Irene decided, and dove down, both dodging Boltstar’s next attack – which utterly destroyed an entire fourth of the fifth and sixth level of the prison tower, as no less than twelve turrets fired upon it.

Irene dropped down in free-fall, catching herself just five feet off the ground and generated a gust of wind powerful enough to bowl over the Skulls around her, buying everyone but Basil, Spellgun and Tartsche some breathing room.

The former because he was busy kicking Karasuha’s ass, beating the woman senseless with punches and kicks, the latter two because Tartsche had his power active over both himself and his boyfriend, keeping them absolutely safe.

Osore had swollen in size, his body deformed, a huge pot-belly forming as his skin started to turn into a purplish red colour, his mask beginning to fuse with his face; Bakeneko rode on his shoulders, shifted into a cape-like mass of furry tentacles that lashed out at the Skulls around him as he waded through the enemy’s lines, smashing left and right with his enlarged fists, while firing more fear blasts inbetween to spark more fear, and thus more growth.

Then, the Skulls flickered, all of them, and they were whole again, as Osore dropped in size by almost a foot, the effects of his power on them reversed along with the damage.

Irene averted her gaze, looking through the gate at Chronicle.

Can record people and objects by touch, reset them to the state they were in when recorded. Requires line of sight to trigger reset. Favourable interaction with powers of her teammates.

She could see it now. Resetting Boltstar to a charged state, so as to release more turrets. Resetting Skulls, which somehow also reset his entire collective, fixing them all at once. Resetting Karasuha… there had to be an interaction there, as well, with her contrivances. She wasn’t going to check – Contrivers tended to give her a headache at the best of times, she really couldn’t afford that now.

If I take Chronicle down, it won’t matter. She’s the key member of her group, she thought, twisting into a spiral to avoid another trigger-sphere and letting loose another gale-blow, this time aimed at the main Skull, knocking him/her into the wall just as he/she had been about to shoot Melody in the back.

She might have made that blow more brutal than it needed to be, but… fuck it, he deserved it.

Next, she shot forward, flying so low her breasts nearly dragged over it, her cape billowing in the gales she used to propell herself.

Shooting past Boltstar before he could take him, she blasted him out of sight from Chornicle, helped by the fact that the girl saw her coming and dove out of the way, away from the gate into the tower.

The others reacted instantly, all except Karasuha, who didn’t have the leisure to do anything but try to fend off Brennus. Boltstar threw a trigger-sphere at her with what seemed to be alarm on his face, for the first time in this battle; no less than half the Skulls, including the main host, opened fire in her direction.

Gale-like winds shot out from her, violently, blowing the taser-bolts away as she also moved herself forward and around the corner, just barely dodging the crackling trigger-sphere.

Buoyed onwards by the explosion behind her, she shot down the hallway towards the fleeing Chronicle, relinquishing her aerokinesis to her power’s urge to change – the hallways were too narrow to use it effectively. Unfortunately, her power-sight went with it, torn away along with the power over wind to make room for another.

A new power rose up as she fell towards the ground, a familiar, warm one. It was a power she often drew upon, ripples and waves in various forms, affecting both matter and energy; every time she used it, she felt safe, even when it had nothing to do with defense. It was a big power, always, no matter what form it took, explaining why she had lost the costly power-sight as well as the rather costly aerokinesis.

She hit the ground rolling, the way her mother had taught her to take a fall and, as she came up onto a crouching position, she slapped the ground in front of her with an open palm.

Ripples spread from the point of impact, through the floor, towards Chronicle, over the walls and even onto the ceiling.

She could feel them spread, rapidly, propagating through the wax and the other materials beneath it, overtaking Chronicle who was only moving with the speed of a normal, if fit girl.

As soon as they had spread far enough, she triggered the ability, the way her innate understanding guided her to do.

The ripples congregated into six different points, focusing, and then the wax shot out in six spikes towards Chronicle, spearing through the heavy robe she was wearing, though not hitting her body – pinning her in place, standing up, coming out from all around and ahead of her.

“Shit! Shit, fuck you, fuck you you bitch!” she shouted, struggling, trying to break out of the waxen spears holding her in place.

Irene charged at her, pushing the ripples away, new, simpler powers coming up; a burst of speed, enhanced strength, toughness and a sense for weakpoints and resistance.

Using the speed she flashed forward, until she was right behind the girl. Using her enhanced sense, she hit the back of her head with just the right amount of strength to knock her out, without causing lasting damage. She didn’t actually want to risk killing anyone.

The girl’s body grew slack, the strength going out of it.

“That’s what you get for being a potty-mouth,” she quipped, grinning, before she whirled around to flash towards the door.

Before she could even reach it, there was a massive, ear-bursting blast of sound, and Boltstar was slammed into the wall, through the gate; he hit it so hard he left behind a man-shaped impression after falling off, unconscious.

Irene took the corner and got ready to intervene, but there was no need – Karasuha was already down, and so Bas- Brennus had joined forces with Hecate and Melody, the two of them hiding behind his force-field, while systematically taking down the Skulls whom Osore – who was halfway towards looking completely like one of the mythological Oni his power had styled itself after – and Bakeneko were not already taking care of. Tartsche and Spellgun were supporting their efforts from another angle, and without Boltstar’s deafening, powerful blasts and, most importantly, Chronicle’s continuous resets, they were mopped up quickly.

The main Skull went down last, snarling as he/she tried to dodge a shot from Melody’s gauntlets, only to take a blast of smoking green fire into his face after it curved around Brennus’ force-field.

And just like that, it was over.

They looked at each other, as they surveyed their enemies. “Wow, that was…” Irene began.

“… intense,” Spellgun finished her sentence, stepping away from Tartsche, out of his protection.

Irene nodded, approaching Melody. Her friend looked like she had taken a few hits, chipping away at her armor, as well as some bigger hits.

“What happened?” she asked, worried, letting go of her powers.

“I got caught in one of turret-sphere-guy’s blasts. Only at the periphery of it, but it was enough to shake me up,” Melody replied, making a pained expression.

Irene felt her face screw up, briefly, trembling all over as she had to fight herself not to whirl around and cut loose with the fiery blast that had just come up, obliterating the unconscious Boltstar for his offense – but at the same time, she also got a kind of healing power, a slow, but versatile ability to fix matter.

Helping her friend was more important than punishing the guy who’d hurt her (not to mention more ethical), so she stepped forward, reaching out for Melody.

The musician reached out in turn and took her hand, clasping fingers; whether she knew Irene had a power that could heal her, or just wanted to show some affection, it was enough to use the ability.

Melody shuddered as the power spread through her body in ripples, starting from her hand where it touched Irene’s, repairing both the (fortunately superficial) damage to her body, and to her equipment, working from the inside out. A sigh escaped her lips as the pain disappeared.

Brennus walked up to them, followed by Hecate.

“Would you mind using that on my rifle?” he asked, holding out the two pieces of his weapon.

“Not at all,” she replied with a smile, taking them and holding them together as her power worked on the weapon. “Though, it doesn’t seem like this was enough to break it…”

Hecate snorted derisively. “If that idiot had known Brennus at all, she’d have known that he builds redundancies into his equipment.”

Brennus chuckled as Melody looked curiously at the weapon. “Yeah, I built it so it can work with up to seventy-five percent of the barrel gone, though the more it loses, the more both accuracy and range drop.”

“That’s a smart design philosophy,” Melody praised him.

“You probably won’t like this, but you really remind me of my dad sometimes,” Irene joked. “He’s always on me about having safeties, redundancies and generally being prepared for everything possible.”

He tilted his head, as if surprised. “Hm, is that just your father? What about your mother?” he asked with curiosity clear even through the distortion in his voice thanks to his helmet.

“She pretty much says the same, but she’s not as obsessive about it as dad,” she replied lightly.

The others joined their circle, Osore back down to his normal size, Bakeneko clinging to him, back in cat-girl form, her arms wrapped around his neck from behind. Tartsche and Spellgun were holding hands, as usual, but in such a way that both of them could still hold their rifles – Spellgun in his right, Tartsche in his left, as he didn’t have to worry about recoil.

“Not to break up the fun, but what are we going to do next?” Tartsche asked calmly. “This thing is already borderline-FUBAR – should we retreat, or do we press on?”

“My goal has not changed,” Brennus replied while inspecting his repaired rifle.

‘My’ goal, not ‘our’, Irene thought.

“I am going after Dusu and getting that cure. If anyone wants to retreat now, I will not hold it against you, nor will anyone else who is sane,” he said calmly.

Tartsche frowned, seeming almost insulted. “Like I’m going to abandon you in this place, alone? No, I’m in this to the end. I’d just rather advance with a plan – do we even know where to find Dusu? We already know that Gloom Glimmer can’t locate her.”

Irene sighed, still annoyed that her power was betraying her on that count – but at least it’d helped properly in fighting the enemy, so she’d cut it some slack on that front.

Still… She took out her bottle of pills, swallowing three of them. Better safe than sorry. I almost lost it a moment ago, after all.

As soon as she took them, the constant pressure that was her power – like water held back behind a valve, constantly trying to break through – eased, calming her.

“We will just have to interrogate one of our captives,” Brennus replied calmly. “At least one of them ought to know where she-“

“Tyche!” Hecate shouted, suddenly, bursting into smoke that rushed past Irene.

She whirled around, surprised, to see her reform at the gate, throwing her arms around a stunned-looking Tyche, bowling the girl over as she hugged the life out of her.

“You’re alright!” Hecate cried, sounding like she was sobbing.

“Ugh… breath… can’t… dying…” Tyche flailed her arms, though she didn’t actually seem to try and push her friend away.

“Oh, sorry!” Hecate shouted, leaping up onto her feet. Then she reached out, offering her friend a hand, and pulled her up onto her feet in turn – only to wrap her arms around her again, this time more gently. “I was so worried, though! What happened?”

Irene watched the reunion, a smile on her face. I wonder if she feels the way I felt when I found Melody? She could feel a power rise up, to find just that out, but she resisted it, pushing it back down again. That would have been a waste, surely.

Brennus joined them, putting a hand on Tyche’s shoulder where Hecate wasn’t draped over it.

“Welcome back,” he said, softly, the relief audible.

“Thanks, guys,” Tyche smiled a brittle smile, hugging both of her friends, one with each arm.

Irene frowned, studying her closer.

She looked… horrible. Her face looked like she’d been crying, her eyes were bloodshot and her mascara was running down her face.

Her face! Irene thought in shock. She’d taken off her mask, thrown it back like a hood, her face free for anyone to see. Why? What had happened to her.

“Tyche, what-” Brennus began, obviously noticing the same thing while pulling back from the hug.

“I know where she is,” Tyche cut him off, as she leaned into Hecate’s embrace. “I know where Dusu is, and what way to take to her. But we need to hurry.”

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: Bakeneko, Basil, Boltstar, Chronicle, Dahlia, Gloom Glimmer, Hecate, Karasuha, Osore, Polymnia, Skulls XIII, Spellgun, Tartsche
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Tieshaunn

Upcoming 16/06/17

Tieshaunn

The chapter might be a little late, but it’s coming soon! And by soon I mean an hour, at most two (if something happens to completely distract me).

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn Tanner


Filed under: Update, Writing
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In My Daydreams

Space: Part 8

In My Daydreams

After passing through three more star systems, I was almost certain we were free of well, whichever of Lee’s people was watching the place.

I glanced over at Lee. “Do you know who it was?”

Lee shook his head. “I lost track of where everybody was long ago. That place was never part of the galactic main. It happened to be strategically useful to the Live faction at that time. I only ever came back because it was important to me—not because it was important.”

He frowned. “Whatever else may be true, we can be sure that they sensed something when Nick drew the sword even if they didn’t get the location. They think I’m out and about. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been watching there.”

Leaning back in his seat, he added, “Knowing that almost justifies the risk of going there. I’m going to have to sell what I do next though. My people will be watching. They just don’t know it yet.”

He looked up at the windshield and pointed, “Go that way for the jumpgate. K’tepolu is one jump from here. Once we use it, we’ll be logged into the system, but it shouldn’t raise any eyebrows. A lot of traffic comes through here and there’s more than one unofficial jumpgate out on the fringes.”

I checked the sensors. He wasn’t wrong. Even though the system didn’t seem to have an inhabited planet, there were more than thirty ships in the system, all of them heading toward the jumpgate.

As I watched the screen, the colors changed, or if they didn’t change, a golden glow surrounded the screen.

I looked around the cabin. The glow didn’t go away. If anything, I saw more colors. Looking out the window was easiest. A little added color didn’t make much difference against the darkness outside.

The screens on the dashboard made me feel queasy—conflicting colors fought to be seen and the words were overlaid with additional words.

I hoped I wouldn’t throw up.

“Looks like you’re in final stage of implantation.” Lee tapped on the dashboard. “I’ll fly. I’m told it’s disorienting.”

Behind me, someone (probably Jaclyn) tried to say something. She sounded like she was speaking in tongues.

I don’t know how long it went on. I felt half out of my body the whole time and couldn’t think straight, much less read well enough to know how much time passed. However long it was, it did stop. Rainbows of color shrunk into straight black lines, golden light disappeared, and my nausea disappeared, leaving me sitting in front of the dashboard in a ship in space.

Everything was normal, but I knew better. In the same way I could feel my legs, I could feel the implant. I knew its main functions: communication (including language translation and computer user-interface), and cultural knowledge and history with a focus on the Xiniti. I investigated the languages, learning that it knew thousands, all the major galactic languages, many minor languages, and a smattering of languages from other galaxies.

Remembering that the Xiniti we’d met told us that our implants would have the mission details, I requested them. It responded, “Information will become available as needed.”

In short, they’d feed us information at the Xiniti’s pace.

From behind me, Cassie said, “Everyone’s finally coming around.”

I turned around. Jaclyn was blinking her eyes and shaking her head. Marcus was stretching his arms. Cassie, however, sat up straight in her chair, watching all of us.

“What happened?” I asked. “Was it easier for you?”

“Get this,” Cassie said. “You know how I was worried it wouldn’t work with the Abominator stuff in my head?”

“Yeah?” I said.

She laughed. “It actually made it easier. The implant has to configure itself to communicate with us? The Abominator stuff already does that, so it plugged into there and I was done.”

It occurred to me to check what the Xiniti implant allowed me to communicate with and then I knew the answer. All of us were included, but that wasn’t all. I sensed the ship’s computer, “HAL”—Marcus’ nickname for the ship’s AI (an alien AI that specialized in fleet strategy and tactics), and a presence that was near Cassie and labeled “indirectly accessible.”

Knowing what that had to be, I concentrated on the ship’s computer.

The results were far better than I expected. At first, I realized that I no longer needed to look at the dashboard to know details about the ship’s speed, the amount of fuel in the tank, the fusion plant’s current power output… I knew the answer, but more than that, I could adjust anything with my head that I normally would have adjusted with my hands—including the weapons and shields.

I could even adjust my perceptions so that it felt like I was flying through space, leaving me barely aware of my body in the chair.

Were all the pilots using implants, I wondered? They’d be reacting almost at the speed of their thoughts. Had Grandpa had one?

I let myself become aware of my body again, but continued operating the ship without using my hands. “Wow,” I said aloud. “Does everybody have these?”

Lee shook his head. “People from richer worlds? Yes. People in the military? Yes. Most people have less invasive modifications or none at all.”

Reflected in the windshield, Marcus shook his head. “Have you opened the files on Xiniti customs? They’ve got more than fifty major clans and they’re all different from each other. This is crazy.”

“It is,” Jaclyn said. “I hope the implant suggests the appropriate responses because finding them… There’s a lot to look through.”

I would have responded except that the implant flashed a red arrow at me. It pointed toward three gray rings floating in space. Earth’s gateway had rings too, but these were much larger and understandably. The ship’s sensors now showed more than forty ships nearing the rings.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Cassie said, “but I’m going to let my gun communicate through my implant. It knows a lot about Abominator stuff. Plus, it’s a little wearing to be only one who can hear it sometimes.”

It became audible midway through a rant it was aiming at um… the universe?

“—AND NOW, MONGRELS, I RETURN FROM EXILE! FEAR ME OR BURN!”

Jaclyn’s jaw dropped and we all turned to stare at Cassie.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “Welcome to my life.”

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In My Daydreams

Space: Part 7

In My Daydreams

Then he turned back to the group of us. “Nick might remember that when we talked about my people, I told him that I wouldn’t notice them, but that he would. That’s because I was assuming that they’d be hiding the same way I’m hiding. He’s not. He’s broadcasting his position so that anyone who can sense us can hear.”

I glanced over at him. “Would flipping into near space help? It wouldn’t with a starship, so I’m guessing it won’t…”

Lee shook his head. “It won’t help. Shifting into blink space might work, but depending on who it is, well, that still might not do it. Stay in normal space. Don’t speed up. Don’t slow down. Pretend you don’t feel anything.”

“Okay,” I said. I tried not to think about what might be up there. While Lee hadn’t even ever told me his species’ name, I knew enough. It was near immortal, alien, and that those still living feared all sapient life but themselves. It would destroy Earth if we hinted that Lee had been there teaching people and it would call more of its people to finish the job.

While I’d never been sure whether they sounded more like Lovecraft’s Outer Gods, Marvel’s Thor mythos, Kirby’s New Gods, Babylon 5’s First Ones, or Zelazny’s princes of Amber or Chaos, I knew that I hoped never to meet another.

Concentrating on the controls, I watched our progress toward what I calculated would be the optimal point to switch into near space. It was only a few hours away.

“I know you’re probably all feeling scared,” Lee began, “ and you’ve got every right to be because if they recognize me, you’ll all die. But here’s what you have to remember—they can’t recognize me. All they can do is recognize that you’ve been affected by me, and you can control that—at least a little.”

“I’m game,” Jaclyn said. “It sounds better than dying. What do we have to do?”

Lee grinned. “Put simply? Don’t look up. Because you’ve spent so much time with me, your perception passes slightly into other places. If you look up where I told you I’d watch, you might see something there, and if you do, it will see you. Don’t do that.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jaclyn blink. “I wasn’t going to, but thanks.”

“Great,” Lee said. “One more thing. Nick, if you’re tempted to bring a sword into existence, don’t. You shouldn’t be able to without that gem Amy made, but don’t. Okay?”

“I wasn’t either, but I definitely won’t now.” I thought about that as I said it though. If the thing started chasing us, that might turn out to be a good idea. I decided to ask Lee about it if it came up.

“Good. Now, since you’re going to be at this for a couple hours, why don’t you watch a movie or something? I’ll watch the sensors.”

“I’ve got this,” Cassie said and pulled a tablet out of her backpack. After some fiddling around, the movie appeared in the back of the cabin. That’s literally “appeared.” The video appeared in the air without a screen.

A few minutes in, I looked over at Cassie. “Bring It On?”

“It’s a good movie,” she said and continued to watch it.

Not having much of a choice, I did. It didn’t escape my notice though, that I was watching a movie about cheerleaders stealing routines from each other while trying to avoid the notice of a being that would literally destroy everyone I cared about, starting with us.

Still, there wasn’t much else to do, and, if you want me to be honest, it wasn’t a bad movie. As soon as the credits began to roll, though, I turned back toward Lee. “How are we doing?”

“Not bad. We’re not dead and we’re nearly to the jump point. See for yourself.” He waved his hand at the controls.

He was correct. We were in the middle of infinite inky blackness, stars in the far distance and no planets worth mentioning nearby. This was the ideal spot to transition into near space. With luck I could hit jump around the jump point.

“Transitioning to near space,” I said. The stars stretched in the blackness.

Cassie spoke up. “Does anybody else feel like it’s following us?”

“Oh no,” Jaclyn said.

Marcus said, “I barely feel anything.”

When Cassie had started, I’d been too distracted by the ship to notice, but after? I felt it too. It felt like something big and empty was coming after us.

Lee said, “Remember, it’s trying to provoke fear. If you don’t show any, it won’t know you can sense it. Do what you would have done without it.”

The only good news I could find in that was that I’d always been planning to jump at this point anyway. Even so, I didn’t hurry. I took a couple more breaths, found that we’d reached the point where I normally would have jumped, and jumped the ship.

All the windows showed impenetrable gray, but I could still feel something. Could it have followed us into jump? Was I just afraid? I didn’t know. I’d been planning to blink anyway, so I watched for the right moment. When I changed states, the gray turned to white. After a minute, we were expelled into normal space and a normal star system.

Lee assured me that this one had a planet where the native life was sapient mushrooms. “Or,” he added, “maybe they’re normal mushrooms with hallucinatory side effects when eaten? Maybe both.”

Two near space transitions/jumps/blinks later, we still didn’t feel anything following us. Had we gotten away? I hoped so.

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In My Daydreams

Space: Part 6

In My Daydreams

Lee watched as we flew over a piece of what probably had been a planet. Maybe it had only been a moon, but it was round on the outside, jagged on the inside and big.

“They tried to hide there at the end of it,” he said. “They didn’t know it was the end yet, but I’d gotten my forces out of the area. Once they were safe, I used a new weapon we’d devised to fight them. It destroyed their shields, broke apart magical bindings and protections, and shattered the system’s planets. It damaged the star.”

I looked out toward where the computer said the white dwarf had to be. I’d wondered about that.

“But we won, and we’d taken out the Live faction’s most powerful fighters.” Lee stared out into the darkness. “They’d destroyed galaxies between them.”

Jaclyn turned away from the window and looked down at Lee in his chair. “What was the weapon? Do you still have it?”

Lee chuckled. “Not a bad question. You don’t have a word for the kind of weapon it is. Your species isn’t making them yet even if their precursors exist. Here’s something that you will understand though—it’s powered by the cores of several different galaxies.”

Oh. I wondered if it had any connection to his swords. If it did, I’d held more power than in my hands than I should have.

Jaclyn nodded. “Why fight in the first place? I get that your Live faction wanted you to leave the younger races alone and let them live. I understand that Destroy faction wanted to destroy them. What I’m wondering is why bother?”

“Same reason as violence ever happens—fear,” he said. “But, there’s a reason for the fear. We don’t experience time like you do. It’s not completely linear, so we live parts of our future out of sync with our timeline. A long time ago, some among our people saw their deaths at the hands of races yet unborn. They were ganging up to destroy us. Others were seeing their deaths at the hands of their own kind, but the younger races were on their side. You can guess the way things went from there.”

Jaclyn frowned. “When you see things, are they inevitable?”

His mouth twisted as he looked at her. “That’s complicated. Among all the parallel universes, there’s only one of us, but we exist in any universe we choose to. Normally death is no big deal. We manifest another avatar and go on, but we were seeing true deaths—our sources destroyed. That’s the kind of death you can’t ignore. It may only have been a possibility once, but with the Live faction dead or lost and Destroy’s policies working? We’re already halfway there.”

Before Jaclyn could say anything, Marcus asked, “What do you mean with, ‘Destroy’s policies are working’?”

“The Issakass,” Lee said. “They’re reptilian—kind of irritating to deal with, greedy, penny-pinching… But they’re not homicidal maniacs who stop killing their enemies only to kill each other. The problem is that that’s what they are now and I know why. It’s one of the archeological finds my people littered the galaxies with. The question is whether we’ll have to kill all of them or only most of them.”

He shrugged. “Destroy won’t be disappointed either way. It’ll be the end of trillions of beings. Since there’s no way to fix them once they’re infected, it’s a question of mass murder or genocide.”

Jaclyn shook her head. “I’ve got to admit I was a little disappointed you weren’t coming with us, but I’m glad we’re not going with you.”

Lee glanced out the window toward the darkness that surrounded us. “I don’t think you’re ready for that kind of mission yet. As for me, I’ve had to handle worse.”

For a time after that, all we did was look out the window. It wasn’t as exciting or even as depressing as you might imagine. Solar systems are huge and even after a gigantic, planet shattering battle, this one still didn’t resemble the ones in movies where you dodge endless asteroids.

More than anything else, it felt empty. We were close enough to the sun that we would have been within the orbits of the inner planets if there were inner planets, but there weren’t. The sun should have been a presence, but it wasn’t. I could find it with the computer’s aid, but it didn’t stand out much from the darkness around it.

If I wanted to, I could use the ship’s sensors to zoom in on ruined ships and worlds, but I didn’t. I kept my eyes on the sensors. I knew it had to be paranoia, but I felt like something might be watching us. The sensors didn’t detect life though—not even archeologists or salvage operations.

I didn’t know where it was, but if I had to guess, I would have said “up”—more or less where Lee said that he’d watch the system.

Before the feeling passed from “nothing to worry about” to “I probably ought to tell Lee,” Cassie said, “This is going to sound crazy, but I think we’re being watched, and I think it’s up there.”

She pointed in the same direction I’d been worrying about.

“I’ve had the same feeling,” I told them.

Jaclyn, (who had gone back to her seat by then) looked at each of us, and said, “You mean I wasn’t imagining things.” Then she eyed Lee. “That’s bad news, isn’t it?”

Lee took a deep breath and looked out the window, staring upward, frowning. “It’s bad news.”

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In My Daydreams

Space: Part 5

In My Daydreams

“That’s not quite accurate. I doubt that very many ships can do this, but the main reason ships have near space drives is so they can hitchhike on larger spaceships. If you’ve got a near space drive, you can get close to a larger ship and get pulled into jump space with them.

“After that, you can stick with them or go off on your own. You can do the same thing with a jump gate—stick with the registered destination or choose one. So we won’t stick out that much.

“The plan is that we’ll use abandoned or uninhabited systems to get to K’tepolu and after that we’ll use the gates like everyone else. The great thing about K’tepolu is that it’s a crossroads. It’s in range of so many jump gates it’s impractical to trace them all. On the way back, we’ll use one of the K’tepolu gates and then disappear on our way home.”

I turned back to the dashboard and checked the sensors as well as the view from the window. We weren’t in danger of hitting anything.

Lee turned back to everyone. “Let me tell you why we’re making this so complicated. Remember how Nick used a magical connection to me to create a flaming sword out of nothing? When I do it, it’s no big deal, but Nick’s not me. We don’t know if that got my relatives’ attention, but we can’t leave it to chance. I’ve set up a series of distractions in a number of universes and it’s time to make one here. So, I’m combining the Xiniti job with my own errand since they coincidentally need me to be in roughly the same place.”

He grinned at us. “My people probably won’t check the jump gate logs, but it’s best not to risk it.”

I continued to check our sensors, reading information from the fusion power plant as well as our relationship to the gateway. We were on our way to putting Earth between any jump gate user who might be watching us.

Once we’d done it, I activated the near-space drive. The shipped hummed and then the stars outside blurred and stayed blurred. In the screen on my dashboard, Earth blurred as well with a few bright lights glowing on the surface. Similar bright lights glowed among the stars.

Marcus said, “Everything just went weird outside. I take it we just jumped?”

“Technically,” I said, “we transitioned. You transition into near space because we didn’t actually jump anywhere we changed states.”

Cassie snorted.

“What?” Marcus asked. “Was I supposed to know that? Or were you laughing because Nick said ‘transition’?”

Oh, I realized. That could get confusing.

Cassie said, “No. The gun was talking. It hasn’t been off the planet in few thousand years and it’s looking forward to shooting people in space again.”

Marcus laughed out loud. “Didn’t it get to kill enough things when the dinosaurs invaded? The way I remember it, you were burning down hundreds of them at a time.”

Cassie didn’t laugh. “I don’t think he’s got a limit. He loves his job.”

“I’m so glad we give homeless homicidal weapons a forever home,” Jaclyn said.

For the next couple hours we watched the blurry stars begin to stretch—not much, just a little, but enough for Marcus to say, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Star Trek out there.”

I shrugged, “Well, the near space drive will pass light speed. It’s just that it’ll still take years to get anywhere. Still, it is cool.”

I checked the dashboard. “Actually, it’s time for another transition—this one into jump space. We’ll move into blink space almost immediately after that.”

“That’ll be interesting.” Reflected in the window, Marcus leaned forward.

I tapped a button. The engine hum grew louder and then faded. As it began to fade, the blurry starscape of near space faded into endless gray.

“Or not,” Cassie said.

“Yeah,” Marcus said. “People stare at that for a week?”

As I checked the dashboard again, Jaclyn stared out the front. “That’s what he said, but it’s not all gray. I think I see patterns. Don’t you?”

“Shh,” Lee held his finger to his lips. “They might hear you.”

She gave a sidelong glance. “Do you mean that?”

He brushed a lock of long black hair back behind his ear. “Eh, maybe, but people see strange things in jump space. Physics get weird and all. You know what I mean.”

Jaclyn turned to look at him directly. “I’m betting you’d know more about it than the rest of us.”

“Transitioning into blink space,” I said as the windows all darkened. Even so, it was obvious that the gray had turned bright, bright white.

It didn’t last long though, maybe thirty seconds at most and then we dropped into normal space again. Let’s put that more accurately—we dropped into ruins in normal space. The screens showed no planets, only asteroids. It also showed spaceships, some of them the size of small moons, all of them broken.

Jaclyn gasped as the jagged remains of a particularly large starship passed in front of us. Tumbling after it came either a mech or a space suit for a race of giant aliens—this one had ten limbs and reminded me a bit of an octopus or possibly Cthulhu. It was hard to say.

It wasn’t the only one.

Since I couldn’t find the system’s star visually, I checked the astrogation system. It had a star. It was a white dwarf, and I’d been wrong about not being able to find it visually. It was there. It just wasn’t very bright.

“As I told you earlier,” Lee said, “you’re best off traveling through normal space till you get past the star and the inner orbits. Make for the open spot.”

Marcus stood up and walked over to the windows on the left side of the ship. “What happened here?”

Jaclyn had gotten out of her seat at about the same time and stood near the front. “Are you going to tell us?”

“It’s the site of a battle, one of the many between the Live and Destroy factions. I commanded Destroy’s armies and fleets in the fight and they won. It was a difficult battle, taking place in multiple universes at the same time. I coordinated troops between them as well as with versions of the battle where the time stream ran faster or slower.”

He looked up into the darkness above the debris. “It was probably my greatest moment in their service. I came back here afterward too, but then only to think. I’d pick a spot up there and look down at the mess. Now though, it’s just a dead place with many jump points—which makes it an excellent place to sneak through.”

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In My Daydreams

Space: Part 4

In My Daydreams

Whatever it was, it wasn’t doing anything immediately. If it turned out to be useful though, it wasn’t going to be easy to copy it for the team back home.

“What’s next?” Cassie glanced over at Lee.

“It depends,” Lee said, and then he asked the Xiniti, “What’s the mission?”

“Your mission will be to slow down the Issakass expansion on the galactic rim. Their mission will be to protect some human colonists on the way to their colony and for a few days thereafter. There are other forces on the way to the colony, but they have other duties and won’t be able to keep to an easily predictable schedule.”

It stopped, watching us, waiting, I assumed, for more questions. When no one said anything, it continued.

“You’ll proceed to K’tepolu where you will meet the colonists as well as the fifth member of your group, a Xiniti. Your implants will recognize him. It is also the point at which your mentor will depart.” It looked up at Lee. “We’ll contact you in the normal way.”

“Understood,” Lee said.

Not long after that, we left. We’d had other questions, but the Xiniti’s answers amounted to “Your implants will have those details.” Rather than listening to him repeat that again, we’d agreed to say good-bye.

We left, avoiding the jump gates hanging next to the station in space. Each enormous metal rings had spikes extending outward pointing in the direction of the other two. I aimed our ship under the approach and departure lanes. Ships could come through more quickly than I’d be able to notice much less dodge.

Xiniti ships crowded above and below the gates, all of them shaped like flatted eggs, most of them sized for one occupant.

As if to justify my fears, a long wedge shaped ship came through in a blur. I recognized it as a warship—a small one, probably a corvette, and definitely not a Xiniti ship. It wasn’t surprising. Earth’s gate was a relatively safe one in human space. From all I understood, the Abominators had genetically modified humans into stormtroopers and set them loose in space. For safety’s sake, alien ships around here either were warships or were accompanied by them.

As we reached the other side of the path, I turned the ship to point toward the galactic core. At Lee’s advice, I’d already chosen the route. He’d told me K’tepolu was the destination weeks before we’d even left Earth. He’d also had a few specific spots he’d wanted to hit along the way. I aimed for my intended transition point.

I heard steps and realized that Jaclyn stood between where Lee and I sat. “Hey Nick, I don’t want you to feel like I’m questioning what you’re doing at every turn, but I’m wondering why we’re flying away from the jump gates. I thought you told me once that very few spaceships had the ability to create their own jump points.”

From further back in the cabin, Cassie said, “I’d been wondering about that too.”

Marcus said, “I assumed he was going to fly around the Xiniti space station and come back.”

“It’s kind of a long story,” I said.

Lee chuckled.

“Well,” Jaclyn said, “unless you’ve been holding out on us and there’s another way to jump, we’ve got hundreds of years to hear it.”

“Okay. Give me a second and I’ll explain.”

Jaclyn turned and sat down in the nearest seat. “I’ll be right here.”

I checked the route for obvious potential collisions, set the time for transition and turned my chair around. With my back to the dashboard and a great sea of stars, I faced everyone in the cabin.

We had seats for fifteen and only four people to fill them, so it felt empty. Jaclyn sat immediately behind us, hands folded across her chest. Marcus sat in the second row, drawing on his tablet. Cassie sat in the third row. Her sword and her gun lay on the floor (which was either good or bad since they could both breach the hull). She wore a navy blue costume with the US flag on her chest. Her light blonde hair reached her shoulders.

Cassie leaned back in her seat, but watched me. “Lecture away,” she said.

“The first thing I should mention is that Lee doesn’t want to leave a trail back to Earth and every time a ship uses a jump gate, the trip is logged. That means that if we used jump gates the whole way someone could easily trace us back to Earth. Lee doesn’t want to leave one and he doesn’t want us to claim to be from Earth either—“

“I’ll tell you about that before I go on my way.” Lee turned around, interrupting, but then turned back to the dashboard.

“Anyway,” I said. “There are three kinds of jump space. There’s ‘near space.’ It’s the slowest and it takes about a week of acceleration to reach faster than light speeds. Even so, it can take years to go places. It’s also the easiest to use. There’s also ‘jump space.’ It takes about a week to get anywhere in reach of a jump, give or take a couple days, but it’s reliable. Finally, there’s ‘blink space.’ Conditions have to be perfect, but it takes less than a minute to travel and you go further.”

Jaclyn nodded. “Are you saying we’ve got a jump drive?”

Marcus stopped drawing. “Or a blink drive?”

“Almost,” I said. “It’s more complicated than that. Here’s the thing. Every major system in the League jet was scavenged from alien spaceships and then repaired and improved by my grandfather. He couldn’t find a jump drive that would fit in a hull this small, but he could find a near space drive. They’re all over because you need one to use a jump gate. They don’t have the power to to get you into jump space, but they can keep you there if something else pulls you through.”

I looked them over. They were still listening. “You know how Grandpa repaired and improved everything? Well, he redesigned the power plant to be more powerful and smaller. Then he did the same to the near space drive. Now, if we’re in near space, we can accelerate faster than normal. When we’re at the right speed, I can up the power and jump. After that, if conditions are right, I can throw us into blink space. It’s not as good as real jump drives or blink drives. Honestly, it’s a hack, but it works.”

Shaking her head, Jaclyn said, “Can other spaceships do this?”

Lee turned and answered before I could. “No. Nick and his grandfather are unusual in how they think about technology. All anybody else would accomplish is to go into jump and not come out.”

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Tieshaunn

Brennus File 14: Espers

Tieshaunn

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ESP, short for Extra-Sensory Perception, is easily the most common “power” in myth, folklore and popular culture – countless people are supposed or have claimed to be able to be able to see the future, see  things that weren’t there, talk to people who’re not present and receive messages from gods, spirits or the dead, among many other.

Perhaps it’s thus not surprising that the Perception classification – whose holders are usually referred to as ‘Espers’ – is one of the, if not the broadest one there is, covering a staggering multitude abilities, from the obvious to the strange. While classifications like Gadgeteer and Contriver cover a very specific powerset which stands apart from most, Perception is more of a catch-all classification for all powers that share a general theme.

To be precise, Esper powers cover all abilities that deal primarily with information in some manner.

Unsurprisingly, such powers are extremely wide-spread, though primarily as secondary or tertiary abilities, either in edition to or as support/enablers of other, greater powers.

Note: “Perception X” refers to the end result of the power, while “Esper”, usually, describes the source – for example, an Esper power might also warrant further ratings beyond mere Perception. However, they are just as often used interchangably in colloquial speech. Only scientists and cape geeks tend to insist on proper usage.

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Sensory Enhancement

Hands down one of the two most common kinds of Perception powers are those which directly enhance or alter the Esper’s senses. Sharper, even telescopic eye-sight, enhanced hearing that goes to the point of echolocation, a nose that can make dogs turn green of envy, a touch so fine it can locate people through the tremors they cause by walking, all those and more make up a large part of Esper powers; they are also the ones most commonly to appear as tertiary abilities, without a direct connection to the main power, but supporting it in some fashion – such as Polymnia’s extremely enhanced, fine hearing, which aids her in her work with sonic technology.

Sensory Expansion

The other most common class of Esper powers has a great deal of overlap with Sensory Enhancement, often going hand-in-hand with it – powers which expand senses, allowing one to perceive things they normally could not. X-Ray vision, Ultrasound-Hearing, thermal vision, remote vision and many more make up this class of powers. Again, Polymnia’s hearing would fall under this classification, as she is capable of hearing the full range of sound, not just the frequencies which normal humans are limited to. Mindstar’s ability to have a second “viewpoint” which moves independently from her body also technically falls under this header.

Sensory Alteration

A rarer, weirder form of Esper powers are those which alter senses entirely. This can be such things as permanent Synesthesia (such as perceiving sound visually, or hearing smells) or any other sensory power which completely alters/replaces one’s sense.

Enhanced Communication

Often considered to have one of the most desirable powers for teamplayers, these Espers are capable of sharing information in exceptional ways, allowing them to enhance or outright replace traditional means of coordinating groups of people. Their power may allow them to transmit their voice across an entire area, create a network of telepathically connected minds or otherwise allow for information to be shared across distance or through obstacles which would normally prevent it.

Expanded Communication

Perhaps one of the weirdest of Esper powers is the ability to communicate with beings or objects one would normally not be able to, or in ways that are normally not possible. This can mean “talking” to animals, or being able to interface with computers with just your mind (this would usually be rated as a Control/Perception hybrid), speak to inanimate objects (such as paintings, statues, trees) or even the dead (whether or not one actually talks to the dead is another matter entirely). Chayot’s ability to read and project emotions are a form of expanded communication, though in her  case it comes at the cost of the usual means of communicating with other people.

These sub-types are the most simple, straightforward ones and require little explanation beyond simply being defined. What follow are more abstract abilities which make up the most interesting kinds of Espers.

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Pretercognition

The three forms of Pretercognition are considered to be related due to sharing several attributes; in fact, as they stand apart from the ‘lesser’ Esper abilities, there have been repeat proposals to split them off into their own, separate power category.

All forms of Pretercognition collect, process and/or apply information, either from the past, present or future; how they do that is a question which has yet to be answered. Even pericognitive powers (those dealing with the present) seem to have leaps in the information they process which cannot be explained by sensory information available to the metahuman. If the vectors by which information is gathered are obvious, then the power in question is probably not any form of Pretercognition.

Furthermore, all forms of Pretercognition interfere with one another, especially with those of the same type; even when working together, unless Heterodyning is achieved, Pretercognitives are going to give each other a headache as their powers attempt to account for one another. This is most prominent with precognitive powers (the first predicts the second, the second predicts the first predicting the second, the the first predicts the second predicting the first predicting the second, etc) and least prominent with postcognitive ones. Pericognivite powers sit in-between, appropriately enough.

To be clear, one most not necessarily be precognitive to mess with another precognitive – peri- and postcognitive ones can do it, too, and vice versa.

Only very, very few pretercognitive abilities are resistant or outright immune to such interference, either because they deal with such specialised knowledge as to not butt heads with others, or because they are just so powerful they can out-perform all other pretercognitive powers; this last type is the rarest one, obviously.

Regardless of interference and barring a few lucky exceptions, overuse of any form of Pretercognition carries a great deal of risk with it:

  • Overusing Pretercognition tends to lead to powerful migraines – from mere headaches to crippling, day-long pain; in some extreme cases, it might cause the brain to hemorrhage or worse.
  • Pretercognitives who rely too much on their powers instead of using their own smarts may find that they go down strange, even non-sensical paths, as their powers run unchecked, building upon spotty foundations of mental leaps, lacking or plainly wrong information and a complete lack of (human) common sense.
  • All forms of Pretercognition – especially Precognition – carry the risk of making a mistake along the way, not noticing it, and going down a completely wrong path, as they draw conclusions based on faulty facts; this can and does often prove fatal, if not for the Pretercognitive themselves then at least for those who rely on the information they can provide the most.
  • There are certain powers/individuals who appear to be blind spots to Pretercognitives, and whose interference can thus seriously screw them up.
    • DiL, unfortunately, is the most well-known example, but there are others, as well.
    • Gloom Glimmer appears to turn into a blind spot intermittently.
    • Tartsche is a blind spot whenever he activates his power.
    • Pristine, much like DiL, is one all the time. However, some particularly powerful ones can work around her as she is a rather predictable person, even by mundane means.
    • Ember appears capable of becoming a blind spot at will, or even selectively, blinding some to himself and not others.
    • Emyr Blackhill appeared to have no protection from Pretercognitives whatsoever, yet he consistently defeated such powers – they would appear to work just fine on him, until they’d suddenly turn out to have been partially or completely wrong, for no apparent reason whatsoever.
    • Lady Light and the Dark have both shown themselves able to outwit Pretercognitives of all kinds; whether this is due to innate powers or due to a deeper understanding of powers is a secret they have so far kept.

Pericognition

The ability to intuit or just plain know facts in the present, as opposed to past or future information.

Pericognition refers to a great variety of powers, dealing with acquiring and processing information in the present, and so may often appear to be some form of sensory or communicative ability; while there indeed is a lot of overlap, the classification of Pericognition refers specifically to powers which gather and process information through unknown vectors, often seeming to work solely within the metahuman’s mind.

Such abilities can express themselves in a variety of ways, such as supernatural skill at planning, super-intuition, an extreme skill at reading people, combat intuition, the ability to use math or some other construct to analyse your surroundings, etc.

Of the three forms of Pretercognition, Pericognition is the one that’s most often overlooked, even though it is, in many ways, the most useful one – as it relies on facts in the present, it is not as easily fooled or led astray as Post- and Precognition.

Postcognition

Gathering information from/on the past, Postcognition manifests in powers such as being able to feel emotions an item’s owner has felt in the past, or see what has happened a few hours ago in some location, or otherwise access that which has already happened.

In many ways, this may well be the most ‘normal’ form of Pretercognition, as it’s not inherently too different from watching or reading a recording, even if it may go beyond just that.

Different kinds of Postcognition are reliable to different degrees – some seem to be all but absolute, always giving out correct facts unless interferred with by other powers, some appear to be able to go wrong somewhere along the way; however, the precise mechanisms by which Postcognitives work are as unknown as those of any power, ultimately.

Precognition

The master discipline of Pretercognition, this is the legendary power to perceive the future in some manner. It is, quite possibly, the most desirable power out there, provided it can be given proper support (which is why almost all Precognitives – even more so than other Espers – are part of some team); cape and cowl organisations worldwide recruit Precognitives as aggressively if not more so than even Gadgeteers.

Of all forms of Pretercognition, and ESP in general, Precognition is by far the rarest one – and even then, it rarely manifests in anything as straight as being able to outright see the future. Examples would include the ability to look someone in the eyes, mentally think of a course of action and see a colour which indicates how likely that person is to follow said course; or a danger sense that goes off like an alarm whenever one (subconsciously) perceives a threat coming, perhaps with the added advantage of intuiting an optimal response.

More powerful ones may be able to view a single possible future, and be unable to see ahead again until they have caught up to it; or they can only see their own future, from their viewpoint, or only the future of other people, from their viewpoint – never their own. Or any of countless other possibilities.

Straight-up seers who can look ahead at will or with only minor limitations, perceiving the whole of the future they focus on, are one of the, if not the rarest power there is, and the few known to exist are all top tier capes and cowls.

Precognition is the most fragile form of Pretercognition, likely because the future is ever-shifting, affected by countless constantly changing factors; as such, Precognitives are the ones most likely to go down completely wrong paths due to a single piece of misplaced or misinterpreted information; and they are the ones who are most strongly affected by other pretercognitive powers, as well as by blind spots interfering with their visions.

On the upside, even though other pretercognitive powers can seriously derail a precognitive’s predictions, they are also the ones who’re the most difficult to account for, and the ones most likely to be able to trump “lesser” forms of Pretercognition – though it may cause them one hell of a migraine to do so.

Precognition and Free Will

The age-old question – if someone can predict the future, is there even such a thing as free will? Can the future be changed, even if one knows what’s coming?

Barring a few specific exceptions of Precognitives whose powers forbid them from changing the future, the answer is “Yes, free will exists and the future can be changed.”

If there is a Precognitive out there whose visions are absolute, never wrong and impossible to change even by the metahuman himself, then they have yet to become known. As far as anyone knows, Precognition only gives one information of possible futures, not the one, inviolable future.

***

Common Origins

Usually, Espers come from Origins that are defined by a lack of information. The particular circumstances and nature of said lack are what then informs the individual Espers’ power.

Some example Origins:

  • Being lost in a dark cave, but not trapped; there is only one way to go, really – what is problematic are all the hazards along the way that one is incapable of perceiving and accounting for.
  • Struggling to make friends in a new town, but unable to penetrate the pre-existing social circles due to lacking knowledge of local customs and history, leading to a painful, perhaps humiliating rejection.
  • Having just stolen a huge package of drugs, the thief is struck by fear and indecision – they have the drugs hidden at home, but what to do now? Can they keep them hidden? Did someone notice they took them? Should they try to sell them as quickly as possible, or wait until the heat dies down? What’s the safe course of action?

***

Gadgeteers – Just another form of Espers?

In recent years, there has been an increasing number of proponents of the theory that Gadgeteers are actually a specific form of pretercognitive Espers. While such claims have yet to be proven, they are not without merit. The two most common theories are:

  1. Gadgeteers are subconsciously precognitive, reaching into the future to find technology which will or may exist in the future, and reconstruct it in the present.
  2. Gadgeteers are subconsciously post-/pericognitive, absorbing, analysing and correlating information through unknown means to develop their advanced technology.

Opponents of this theory often bring up the fact that Gadgeteers neither cause, nor suffer from pretercognitive Interference; however, proponents argue back that Gadgeteers may well just be such extremely powerful Pretercognitives, or so over-specialised, that they do not clash with other Pretercognitives or simply steamroll them with their own power.

Either way, the debate as to the true nature of Gadgeteering, ESP – and all other powers – goes on, still unresolved.

***

Espers and Intelligence

As one may have noticed, none of what has been said so far touches, in any way, on Intelligence.

Superhuman Intellects are a staple of fiction, and yet the closest thing to super-intelligent people, Espers, don’t tend to be more intelligent than normal people – in fact, since most Espers originate from situations in which they lacked or were unable to obtain information in some way, many of them tend to be less intelligent than average.

Espers have more information available than normal. Some have something in their heads – or maybe attached to their heads – which processes information better than any human could, before passing it onto them. However, they still must make decisions with their own intellect, based on the information which their power gives them – ultimately, they are no smarter than anyone else.

True Super-Intelligence was long thought to be a myth (with two exceptions), and to this day, there is no publically confirmed case of true Super-Intelligence.

Hemming may actually have such an ability, at least according to Macian – however, it has not yet been proven, nor is the specific mechanism by which it works known; does he simply think faster than normal? Does he have multiple brains to mull a problem over with? Does he just have really powerful pericognition that makes him act as if he was super-intelligent?

No one knows yet.

Lady Light, the Dark and Super-Intelligence

There is no question that Gwen Whitaker and Peter Goldschmidt are scientific geniuses. After all, their research somehow led to the advent of apparently supernatural, reality-warping superpowers. And even before that, they were far ahead of their time, making numerous scientific inventions over a wide variety of scientific fields, while also being very accomplished fighters, detectives, tactitians and writers.

After gaining powers, they each created huge, international organisations which essentially equal, if not outstrip, most nations in terms of political and economic power. Even though they are not invincible (in spite of Lady Light’s reputation of such), nor have the strongest powers there are, they have consistently remained at the top of the world of metahumans, over almost a hundred years of activity. They have even shown, consistently, that they can outwit, if not outright defeat, most pretercognition they have found themselves at odds with (when they can’t just plain overpower them on account of being physical powerhouses).

To which extent that is caused by them being just naturally that smart, and how much their powers play into it is unknown – some argue that they have to be just naturally super-geniuses, as they already performed so extremely well before Point Zero. Others argue that they were smart before, and only became smarter, not just more experienced, after, by gaining powers that enhanced their already considerable intellect.

Even more extreme is the theory that they were the first metahumans to begin with – long before Point Zero. Whatever they did on that day then allowed for others to become metahumans, or perhaps it would have happened anyway, and Point Zero merely hastened the process. Perhaps the two – the Advent of Metahumans and Point Zero – are not related at all, their connection a false correlation!
Much like with anything else about Point Zero, Lady Light and the Dark refuse to speak on the subject, if they even know the answer.

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In My Daydreams

Space: Part 3

In My Daydreams

“That’s not all it is,” I told her. “I grabbed soundtracks from a few different science fiction movies—Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, Iron Man—more than one from some series. Plus I downloaded TV show soundtracks too—Firefly is the obvious one, but a few other shows too. Plus, all my regular music.”

I felt like I could hear her eyebrow raise as she said, “So, SF movie soundtracks plus music that’s mostly appeared in Guitar Hero or Rockband, right?”

I thought about it and admitted, “That’s about right.”

“Did everyone bring music?”

Marcus and Cassie both said yes and Jaclyn said, “Good. It’s not that I don’t want to listen to what you have, but I don’t only want to listen to that, okay?”

“No problem. I think we could switch off between whose music gets played. This is a small spaceship, if we don’t do something like that, we’re going drive each other nuts. All we’ve got is the cabin, the bathroom, and the engine room.”

I turned to look back at her. Tall and darker skinned than Marcus, she wore a purple costume. As I turned, she was leaning forward, either toward me or toward the front.

“It’s bigger than my parents’ van when we drove to California. That was three days with both of my older brothers. It felt like we were on top of each other the entire time.” She shook her head.

I could imagine it. Her brothers were big guys and they had powers. They’d shown up for a couple group movie nights in the summer before my senior year.

“How are they?” Cassie leaned over the arm on her seat. “You said they’d moved to Atlanta, but I’m almost sure I saw one of them when I fought the fishmen in DC two years ago.”

Jaclyn shrugged. “Could be. They run around as quickly as I do. I’m sure at least one of them would show up if DC’s being invaded.”

They kept on talking as we closed in on the Xiniti space station. It looked like a gray ball floating in space, and also, yes, a little bit like the Death Star in Star Wars. The resemblances ended with the shape and color though. For one, the Xiniti station was considerably smaller. It wasn’t anywhere near the size of a small moon. For another, it didn’t have an indentation on the top for a planet destroying weapon—at least that I could see.

I’d been told that the Xiniti had orders to destroy humanity should they show any sign of causing galactic civilization problems. It stood to reason that they had the capacity for genocide somewhere on that thing.

Following instructions from the last time we been there, I aimed for the third group of landing bays from the bottom. One of the green force fields winked out as we approached, indicating which bay we should use.

By the time we’d reached the station, I’d already slowed the ship practically to zero, but once we were inside the bay, I used the gravitics to slow us down to nothing and land. The Xiniti station was just as strange on the inside as it had been the last time. Though the walls were silver-gray, they weren’t flat. Indentations suggested pillars or trees and bushes. The lights weren’t set to the level of brightness humans might expect. It felt like twilight.

The sensors on the outside of the ship reported that the atmosphere was Earth normal. If this all meant what it had last time, we could go out.

Lee confirmed it by unstrapping himself and standing up. “Get moving kids. It’s rude to keep them waiting.”

We all looked at each other and got out of our seats, following Lee out of the ship’s hatch.

A Xiniti stood outside the ship—only one. It looked like the classic pre-contact UFO hunter’s version of “the Grays,” aliens that appeared in stories offering enlightenment, or alternately, stuffing probes up people’s behinds.

It opened its mouth as we stepped out of the hatch, revealing a double row of teeth. I wondered what that revealed about its homeworld.

“Welcome,” it said, speaking each syllable as if saying the word for the first time. It held out its hand. Four small metal balls lay in its palm.

“Please take one ball,” it said, “and touch it to your temple.”

“Do it,” Lee said.

None of us had been wearing our masks, so it wasn’t hard. It held its hand out to each of us in turn. I picked up the ball, touched it to my temple and felt a brief pain, realizing that I couldn’t feel the ball anymore. Moving my hand in front of my face, I couldn’t see the ball at all. Touching the spot where I’d put it on the side of my head didn’t help either. There was no lump.

When I paid attention to the others again, Cassie, Marcus and Jaclyn were doing exactly what I had been. Well, almost. Jaclyn had fixed her attention on the Xiniti. “What just happened?”

“Successful implantation,” it said. “Your implant will identify you to other Xiniti and encourage communication. It will take a period to configure itself to your body and notify you when finished.”

Cassie stared at it, her Abominator gun hanging by a strap on her shoulder. “I can already communicate with Abominator tech. Did you know that?”

“Not unusual,” It said. “Interesting technique. We reverse engineered it years ago. Should be no problem.”

Flashing back to the death of the Xiniti we’d killed, I remembered its body appeared to be full of alien technology. What had we let into our heads?

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Tieshaunn

B13.6 Call of the Sleeper

Tieshaunn

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“So, what are we gonna do about this super-powerful new enemy?” Polymnia asked, making her voice sound unconcerned, even though her face and posture screamed concern.

“Nothing at all,” Basil said simply, crossing his arms. “As long as he stays up there, he can be as powerful as the Godking, for all I care.”

Gloom Glimmer chuckled, but Polymnia didn’t seem amused. “This is serious, Brennus! We can’t just ignore such a powerful person!”

“We also can not do anything about it, unless you can figure out what kind of power he or she has?” He directed the second part at Gloom Glimmer.

She turned her head, looking at the direction of the tower. Then she shook her head. “I’m sorry, but no… there’s too much… power here. Especially beneath this place; it’s like trying to read the radiation a single rod of uranium gives off, while standing in the centre of Nagasaki. I can tell THAT he – or she, I guess – is powerful, but not what kind of power it is.”

“Below, huh?” Basil looked down thoughtfully.

“Do you have any idea what what may mean?” Polymnia asked thoughtfully, though it wasn’t clear whether she was addressing him, or Gloom Glimmer.

“Crocell was created below, before rising up. It is likely that whatever process generated it and its kin is still going on, perhaps producing more such monsters,” he replied, sounding calmer than he felt. “If there is such an amount of ‘power’, as Gloom Glimmer perceives it, gathered below, it may mean that there are multiple such monsters stored below, perhaps in an earlier stadium of their development… or, perhaps, she is sensing whoever or whatever created them in the first place.”

Polymnia had grown steadily more pale as he’d kept talking, finally averting her eyes, gulping nervously. “Great. This whole thing keeps getting better and better.”

Gloom Glimmer reached out, taking her friend’s hand and squeezing it. “Don’t worry, Me- Poly. I’m here, remember? I’ll keep us all safe,” she promised with a reassuring smile.

The young gadgeteer looked at her friend, then at Basil, then back at her friend again, her mouth forming a soft smile. She nodded.

“Alright,” Basil spoke up. “Neither of this really changes what we have to do – find our friends, find Dusu, retrieve the cure for her victims, get away all in one piece.”

The two girls nodded, looking seriously at him, as if awaiting orders.

He took a deep breath, thinking over their options. “Gloom Glimmer, can you carry the two of us and take us back to where you and the others were locked up?” This would all be so much easier if you had just gotten them out in the first place, before coming to find us. At least it’s good to know your priorities.

Gloom Glimmer thought it over, briefly, then nodded, bending her arm as if to show off her biceps. “I can do it!”

Suiting action to words, she picked Polymnia up, making the girl squeal in surprise as she was thrown over her friend’s shoulder. Then she looked at Basil, who nodded and stepped forward, allowing her to pick him up over her other shoulder, as ridiculous as that looked (with their equipment, both he and Polymnia were a good deal broader and heavier than Gloom Glimmer and, in his case, also taller).

“Here we go,” Gloom Glimmer said simply, and took off, the hallways turning into a flowing series of streaks as she began to run.

Unable to do much of anything in this situation, other than trust in Gloom Glimmer not to steer them wrong (or into a wall), Basil instead focused inwards, past the chaotic stream of observations and ideas that his power was feeding him.

How come I, of all people, always end up taking charge?, he couldn’t help but ask himself. It hadn’t escaped him that both Polymnia and Gloom Glimmer had heeded his suggestions, even waited for him to make them. Which wasn’t the first time it had happened. He’d slid into the position of being in charge during previous crises, Crocell only being the latest example.

Even with his team, he’d somehow effectively become the leader, which just boggled his mind. Thinking about himself and the other members, he’d have expected Hecate to lead – in spite of being a Contriver, she was the most focused one, the one who was most reliable. Most sensible.

Yet even she looked to him for leadership, which was profoundly uncomfortable to Basil.

He barely had a grip on his own life, if at all; how could people trust him to take care of theirs?

***

Gloom Glimmer ran for several minutes, even though she was moving at least as fast as Basil had ever seen Outstep move – the structure they were on was huge, even bigger than it had seemed to be when viewed from above. Hallways, vertical shafts, elevators and staircases turned it into a labyrinthine mess, the navigation of which wasn’t helped at all by the fact that there were no signs at all to be seen, anywhere. She’d only found them as quickly as she had – and even then, it’d taken her several minutes – because she’d manifested a power to track Polymnia with, one which was useless now that she’d already found her and had thus been discarded in favour of the danger sense she was using to steer around threats.

Which didn’t help speed up their journey at all, but Basil had insisted that they dodge as many people as possible. He didn’t doubt for a moment that the enemy knew they were free inside their big secret floating city, yet there hadn’t been an alarm, as far as he could tell, nor a lockdown of any kind.

We should have been swarmed by Stormtroopers by now, Basil thought, as he finished cracking that communicator he’d taken off of one of the Skullmen. He’d tried to contact Hecate and Tyche on the communicators he’d given them already, but had found them blocked; he was hoping that he’d be able to use the Skullman’s communicator to at least listen in on their lines, even if he couldn’t contact his friends.

“Why’d you make your force-field permeable to sound?” Polymnia suddenly asked, turning her head to look at him.

“It seemed much more likely to me that I’d be working with you, rather than against another sonic-based aggressor,” he replied simply, pulling a cable from his belt to attach to it. A twist of wires and he could patch straight into the communicator with his interface. “Sonic attacks are not so common that it’s not worth the risk to plan for you having to attack enemies through my shield. We’ve been fighting together quite often, after all,” he finished explaining himself. “Besides, if I did run into another sonic-based fighter, I would simply call on your superior expertise on the matter to help me deal with their power.”

To his surprise, she blushed a bit, averting her eyes.

What? What did I say?, he asked himself, confused. I was only practical. Why’d she blush?

Girls were getting more confusing by the day. Vasiliki had been blushing a lot, at random times, lately. And Prisca…

He flinched, feeling a stab of pain as he violated his resolution not to think of her until he had the cure in his hands. Do not go down that road, Basil. Focus on the task at hand.

Fortunately, he didn’t have any time to get mopey – having patched the communicator into his mask’s interface, he now had access to the enemy’s line of communication, and he wasted not time accessing it.

“-nd, this is Skulls. Team 3 was just downed at the Southern holding facility,” the gruff voice of a woman said. “I advise a facility-wide lockdown to contain the intruders.”

“Negative, Skulls,” a male replied in a much calmer tone of voice. “We have orders from above. Mobilise our-“

“Sir, someone is using a Skulls communicator to access this line other than Skulls,” a second woman, this one younger, threw in.

“The gadgeteers. One of them must have taken a communicator fr-“

Basil terminated the connection, before crushing the little box. “Damn it. They realised I was listening in.”

“Did you hear anything useful?” Polymnia asked.

“They’re not going to lock down the facility, it seems,” he replied. “They’ve ordered someone named Skulls – apparently the leader of the armed troops we saw earlier – to mobilise something instead, but that’s all I heard.”

“Chin up, we’re almost there,” Gloom Glimmer interrupted as her run slowed, their surroundings turning from variously coloured blurs to what now looked like…

“Is that wax?” Polymnia sounded as surprised as he felt.

Basil, meanwhile, looked around as soon as Gloom Glimmer put him down, inspecting the hallway they were in.

It really was made of wax. The general shape was the same as the hallways they’d been in earlier, but it was all made of wax, and illuminated by (electric) lamps that were styled to look like candles sticking out of the walls.

Looking down, he saw that even the floor was made of wax.

The only other thing that stood out about the hallway was the huge, octagonal door in the middle of it. It was huge, flat and had the shape of a normal door engraved in it. There was no obvious means of opening it.

“I was locked up in the tower behind this door,” Gloom Glimmer explained. “I, uh… I didn’t really look for the others, I just…” She blushed, looking at Polymnia with an embarrassed expression on her face. “I kind of freaked out and…” She hung her head in shame.

Her friend, though, reached out and put an armored hand on her shoulder, squeezing it through the thick, white cloak and her black bodysuit. “Thank you,” she said with a smile. “That’s sweet of you – but you really ought to prioritise better, in the future. And you’ll have to apologise to them, alright?”

Gloom Glimmer hung her head, ashamed, nodding her assent.

“Do you know how to open this door?” Basil asked urgently. He didn’t want to waste time right now, not in this matter.

“Step aside,” she replied, taking a deep breath.

He did so, and she put the palm of her hand onto the door. An orange glow spread from her hand, slowly at first, then faster. At first, Basil thought she was heating the wax, but his sensors registered no increase in heat at all.

His musings about what she might be up to where answered quickly, as the glow spread all over the door – and then it all disappeared. Just winked out of existence, leaving the way open into…

A huge circular hall, the floor of which was covered in the broken bodies of two dozen Skullmen.

Osore stood amidst them, watching Bakeneko, Tartsche and Hecate applying first aid to a few of the men, while Spellgun stood behind the railing of a higher floor, holding his rifle ready.

Everyone stopped what they were doing, staring at the new arrivals.

“Brennus!” Hecate shouted with immense relief, as she burst into shadowy smoke, rushing over and reforming just a few feet ahead of him.

For a moment, he thought he was about to get a hug, but she stopped herself and simply put her left hand on his shoulder, still holding her staff with the other. Both were trembling.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Quite so,” he answered, reaching out to squeeze her shoulder back, feeling her relax. “What happened here?”

They both turned around and looked at Gloom Glimmer and Polymnia reuniting with their teammates, or rather, with Tartsche, Spellgun (who leapt down from above, using a surprisingly quiet shot from his rifle to break his fall before he impacted the ground) and Bakeneko, while Osore stayed where he’d been, seemingly just looking down at his own feet, or perhaps the defeated guards.

“We were teleported into individual cells,” Hecate explained. “They put me and Spellgun into a pentacle that cut us off from the sources of our power – I have no idea how it could block us both, our spellwork is completely different! – and Tartsche into another, and Bakeneko and Osore into individual ones, too.” She stopped, taking a deep breath. “He broke out, though. Osore, I mean. He’s somehow… super-strong. Like, way stronger than I thought he was.”

They both looked at all the foes on the ground. “Osore took them all out himself?” Basil asked, impressed. Now that he was looking closer, he could see dozens, if not hundreds, of tranquiliser darts on the ground around Osore. He himself seemed completely unharmed, though his leather jacket and his skintight top were full of holes, pale skin peaking out.

“Yeah. Took them by surprise, I think. Then Tartsche somehow managed to break out, too, and he freed me and Spellgun, and… well, the rest went over quickly,” she explained. “Hey… do you have any idea where Tyche is? She’s not in any of these cells.”

He shook his head. “No. I thought she would be here with the rest of you. Polymnia and I were teleported to the Northern half, most certainly because we are Gadgeteers, but I see no reason why Tyche would go somewhere else, unless…”

“…her power interfered,” Hecate finished his sentence. “But… where would she be, then?”

“I do not know,” he sighed, shaking his head. “I have no idea how their teleport interdiction works, so I do not know how her power might have changed things.”

“Hey!” Bakeneko shouted, suddenly, making everyone turn around. She was kneeling next to one of the Skullmen – one whose legs were both broken, among other injuries – in her ‘normal’ catgirl form. “This guy needs some medical attention, stat.”

Basil hurried over immediately, kneeling down next to him.

“Don’t bother,” Gloom Glimmer interrupted him, stepping over from where she’d been talking to her other teammates. “They’re already dead, anyway,” she explained when they stared at her, her expression as serious as it ever got.

“What do you mean, dead? He still has a heart beat!” Bakeneko protested, but Gloom Glimmer just shook her head, as she drew her hood up to cover her head, plunging her face into shadows.

“That’s not what I mean,” she said softly. “I can feel it… they’re part of a hive mind. Someone burned out whoever these men and women used to be, and connected them to himself. They’re barely sentient, more like automatons. Empty vessels that follow commands and stand ready as spare bodies for their master, in case his current host dies.”

“Wow, and people say my power is scary,” a gruff, female voice said from the direction of the gate.

Basil flipped around, lifting his rifle as he went up on one knee, holding it two-handed. The others all reacted as well, though not as quickly as he had, save for Gloom Glimmer, who just turned her head to look in said direction.

A figure in body armor identical to the men and women on the ground leaned against the frame of the door, her arms crossed in front of her chest. The only difference between her and the others was the fact that she wasn’t wearing a helmet, revealing her hairless, pale face – a face that might have been lovely, once, but had become withered, wrinkled without actually looking old, the only part that looked alive being her cruel, hard eyes.

Three more people stood there, with her, just beyond the gate. A woman in a black-and-purple armored dress, with a bird-like helmet obscuring her head and a katana which was strapped to her hip. In front of her and slightly to the right, a tall man in a skintight, dark blue suit, across which danced two-dimensional lightning, his handsome face barely obscured by a blue domino mask, his brown hair cropped short. And finally, another woman, this one shorter than the others and younger, looking barely old enough to not be a girl anymore, wearing a mystic-seeming yellow robe with rich golden stitching and holding a thick, gold-bound book that was thicker than her arm to her chest, her young face looking at them with arrogance in her green eyes, peering at them through her dark blonde curls.

The Skull-Woman stepped forward, studying them. “You’ve been quite the embarrassment, you know?” she said, her shrivelled lips stretching over sharp white teeth.

“To your security,” Basil said flatly, tracking her movements with his rifle. Is she the core of the hive mind?

She nodded. “Yup.” She looked at Gloom Glimmer. “You girl… you’re freaky. Just figuring all that out about my power? No one’s seen through it like that before, not since I first met our fearless leader. My name’s Skulls, by the way.”

“I’m the queen of freaky,” Gloom Glimmer said coldly, her eyes beginning to glow within the shadows of her hood. She looked past Skulls at the others, then at her again. “This is all?” she said, her voice dismissive, even disappointing. Haughty.

Skulls let loose a bark of laughter. “Cocky! Taking after your fucking parents, huh?” she asked, her face turning into a hideous snarl all of a sudden.

She wasn’t even paying attention to Basil or the others, as they spread out around Gloom Glimmer and him – Hecate and Polymnia with him, the other junior heroes on Gloom Glimmer’s side.

“You got a problem with my parents?”

“Yeah. Your dad put a hit out on me,” the withered woman snarled. “Something about me being too much of a psychopath for him to tolerate. The hypocrite.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Gloom Glimmer drawled at her, remaining calm, which only seemed to infuriate the woman. “My papa is bad, but he at least has class. You…” She looked the woman up and down. “You try to hard.”

The woman in the bird-helmet spoke up, just as Skulls was about to say something, her face twisted in even more anger. She spoke in harsh Japanese – Basil only caught a few words, ‘orders’, ‘deal with’ and ‘control’ – and Skulls subsided, stepping back.

“I’ll teach you about class, you little bitch,” she snarled at Gloom Glimmer, still ignoring the others in the room. “And when I’m done, I’ll send your daddy a recording of it. Bet that’ll make him reconsid-“

Basil opened fire, shooting the Japanese woman’s katana off her hip, shattering the sword into two pieces.

Before anyone could react, another shot destroyed the book in the arrogant girl’s arms, hitting hard enough to throw her back to slam into the wall behind, causing her to cry out in pain.

And then all hell broke loose.

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: Bakeneko, Basil, Boltstar, Chronicle, Gloom Glimmer, Hecate, Karasuha, Osore, Polymnia, Skulls XIII, Spellgun, Tartsche
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Tieshaunn

Writing!

Tieshaunn

I’m writing right now, and I won’t go to sleep until I’m done with this chapter!


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Tieshaunn

Release Schedule until End of May

Tieshaunn

There’s going to be a Brennus chapter on Sunday, probably in the late evening, and then either a Brennus or Dreaming chapter, or else a Brennus File, either on Monday or Wednesday.

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn


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In My Daydreams

Legion of Nothing Story at Drew Hayes’ Site

In My Daydreams

Some of you probably read Drew Hayes’ serial “Superpowereds.” Well, Drew’s on vacation this week and asked people to fill in. As it happens, I’m one of the people.

I wrote a new Legion of Nothing story to entertain people while he was gone and thought I’d pass it on to all of you that it exists.

In it Nick and Haley attempt to go on a date, but actually encounter that classic superhero scenario–the bank robbery.

http://www.drewhayesnovels.com/guestposts/gw4

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In My Daydreams

Space: Part 2

In My Daydreams

The Heroes’ League “Jet”

We were in space and flying toward Lagrange point four, specifically to the Xiniti space station that guards the jump gate.

I was flying the jet—which wasn’t really a jet, but was actually a spaceship that we referred to as a jet and mostly used as a jet.

Imagine a dashboard full of glowing readouts and a window above it that showed glowing pinpricks of light that were mostly stars except that I knew some of them were galaxies. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t say which was which, but the spaceship’s AI could if I wanted.

I didn’t at that moment.

From behind me, Marcus asked, “Why am I along, again?”

Reflected in the windshield, Marcus pulled his stylus away from his tablet. Brown skinned with black hair, he wore his green  “Shift” costume, newly configured for space travel.

Leaning back in his chair at the weapons console next to mine, Lee said, “Because the Xiniti are into family. Don’t worry about it.”

Alone among us, Lee wore normal clothing—blue jeans, a leather jacket, and t-shirt advertising his martial arts studio.

“Hey,” Marcus said,” I’m not worried. I’m just wondering. I’m not sure I deserve to be here.”

From the next row back, Jaclyn said, “Which leads to the question of why I’m here. Marcus is related to me, but I didn’t kill the Xiniti.”

“Or the sheriff or the deputy,” Marcus added.

“Easy,” Cassie said. “You’re being given credit for an assist. Nick and I couldn’t have hit that guy if you hadn’t taken him on first.”

“It’s nice to know Xiniti culture runs on rules similar to basketball,” Jaclyn said.

“And similar to South Pacific islanders,” I said. “Daniel mentioned that there’s a tribe that did something similar to the Xiniti. Basically if you killed someone in their tribe, you became part of the tribe. I don’t remember which tribe it was, but you can see the utility. I’m sure there must have been conditions, but if you do it right, you’d get connections with tribes all around you.”

“That makes sense,” Jaclyn said. “If they’re really going for connections, I can see why they might not be fussy about who technically killed the guy.”

“Might be,” I said, “but there’s more to it than that here. Lee was telling me about the Xiniti’s sense of honor. Somehow completing a task they’d been assigned to leaves them in your debt. I’m not sure how that works or how it helps, but it’s in there somewhere.”

Jaclyn sighed. “It looks like we might find out exactly how… Lee did you say this counts toward Stapledon credits?”

Lee turned back to face her. “They do. Stapledon requires you to get in a few hours in space, alternate universes, Faerie… Right now everyone’s feeling a little leery about visiting Faerie or Infinity City, so until then we’ll probably be taking people up to the jumpgate or maybe visiting the USS Jay or USS Kay. You’ll probably fulfill all of yours before you’re back.”

“Good,” Jaclyn said. “It’s not that going into space and visiting aliens isn’t amazing, but after everything that happened at Stapledon last year, I was hoping I’d just be able to do school there this summer. Except now it’s May again and not only am I not at Stapledon, but I’m flying away from the planet.”

Still turning around in his chair, Lee said, “If it makes you feel any better, the Xiniti asked for you specifically. They requested video of the Xiniti’s death if we had it and once they’d seen it, they demanded that you be included.”

Jaclyn sighed again. “Huh.”

“Which brings it back to me again,” Marcus said. “I’m here because I’m part of Jaclyn’s family?”

Lee shook head. “You’re here because I’ve seen the kind of tests new Xiniti get and I knew they’d need more people. If we brought Haley, we’d have to deal with Xiniti dating customs. If we brought Daniel, we’d have to deal with anti-psionic laws. With Vaughn, we’d be stuck on a spaceship with a guy who flings lightning… You’re the best choice. The Xiniti will accept bringing a relative, and you’ve got a power set that ought to work well in space. Okay?”

“There you go,” Marcus said. “You just gave me a straight answer. How hard was that?”

Lee turned around to sit in his seat. “Don’t expect it again any time soon.”

Conversation lapsed then and I turned on the music. Sounds of 70s pop filled the cabin.

A few songs in, Jaclyn asked, “Are we just listening to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack?”

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Wildbow discusses writing

Thoughts on Writing Serials

Wildbow discusses writing

At this stage I’m regularly getting emails and reddit PMs asking me questions and I’m giving the same sorts of answers to each.  In the interest of cutting back on the time spent answering those emails, as much as I’d like to personalize each response, I’m thinking I might write it out as a blog post and point people to it.

I’m thinking of writing a web serial.  Do you have any advice?  Any warnings or things you wish you’d known?

Okay, first off, you’ve got to figure out what you’re doing.  I really, really recommend writing yourself a backlog – 12 to 16 chapters you’ve already got done before you start uploading.  I encourage 12 or 16 because it’s what I did, and because I see an awful lot of serials get started and then stop around chapter ten.  Twelve to sixteen is enough that you’re testing yourself and seeing if you have what you need to really keep going.

The backlog serves a few purposes.  Above all else, a serial is like planning a year-long hike across North America.  You’re really plotting to jump into something for the long-term.  A goal here is to really test your ability and comfort level – getting a sense of the pace you can maintain.

My experience: I initially planned a short chapter every weekday, with interwoven storylines.  I thought twice about it, and considered about a chapter every other day, and then three a week.  I wrote the backlog and realized I’d burn out very quickly trying to do even that, and shifted to a twice-a-week schedule.

The second goal for the backlog is to really just allow yourself to weather the stumbles.  You will stumble, too, because you’re writing the serial while tending to your day to day life.  Stuff comes up.  Sickness, injury, weeks where you just don’t have time, family stuff, internet outages- the list goes on.  It’s not just valuable for yourself in a schedule sense, but in a psychological one too.  If you miss one day then it’s easier to miss the next, and so on, and before you know it you’ve got an inconsistent schedule and you’re not that committed.

You keep that backlog alive as long as you can.  If you have a twelve chapter backlog you release chapter one from it (possibly with revisions the day prior) as you get chapter thirteen written.  Release chapter two as you get chapter fourteen written.  The backlog will shrink over time – there will be those tough weeks.  It will eventually dwindle to nothing, but hopefully by then you’ll know the ins, outs, and your strengths and weaknesses, enabling you to maintain course.  You won’t lose heart and disappoint fans.  More importantly, perhaps, you won’t lose heart and disappoint yourself.

All of which ties into my general sentiment about setting expectations.  Being prepared and knowing your abilities is one thing, but know also what you’re getting into.  An analogy might be going on a strict diet to lose a lot of weight.

  • The initial part, where you most want feedback, is also going to be the part where people are least interested and impressed.  You might get a few rah-rahs or ‘that sounds cool’ lines but while you’re getting everything figured out, it’s a fairly lonely first few steps.  Some people might even be discouraging or believe you’ll fail.  Because a lot of people say ‘I’m going to go on a diet’ and get nowhere.  A lot of people say ‘I’m going to write something’ and few actually finish what they’re working on – if they even get started.
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  • You’re doing it for yourself, yes, and you might even tell yourself it’s solely for yourself, but a part of the motivation is external – you want some validation from people around you, and it can sometimes take a long time before you get that.  You’re a couple of months in and you’ve dropped a clothes size, and externally, not a lot of things have changed – people don’t treat you differently, they don’t say much if anything.  A lot of people want to write a serial because they want to get comments and fan involvement, but weeks and months go by and they see a few upticks on the blog stats screen, but no feedback.  Months become the first year and the comments, if they exist, are sporadic.  It can be discouraging!
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    …It’s at this point that I’ll stress that because so few people are commenting, the few people you do hear from are going to have a disproportionate weight.  Be wary of that one voice that gives you well-meaning advice that can derail you, and be wary of how hard that one negative voice can hit you if you’re really eager for feedback and it winds up being less constructive feedback.
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  • Real life gets in the way.  You’re trying to get into this new rhythm and flow, and shit happens.  You’ve got to travel to see people, or there are events, or stuff you’d worked into your plans for your diet/writing get discombobulated by circumstance.  It’s not always your ankle getting twisted and screwing up your exercise regime or your finger getting slammed in a car door, making typing a nightmare – it’s sometimes as simple as needing to keep doing what you’re doing when holidays happen and everyone else is relaxing from their usual plans & priorities.  (Holidays, in my personal experience, are as much a hassle for the regular writer as they are for the determined dieter.  I haven’t had nearly as much trouble with anything as I have had with holidays in particular)

The key to answering these issues is really just knowing what you’re getting into – start that diet or start that serial for the right reasons and keep those reasons in mind.  The old & tired adage of enjoying the journey rather than the destination is key.

I was lucky in that my expectations were nil as I wrote Worm.  Every new reader was a pleasant surprise, every uptick in views.  It didn’t matter that it took almost a year before comments were regular (and I stress that this was fairly fast as such things went), I was thrilled.  By contrast, people reading this post are liable to know who I am, they’ve likely seen Worm, and consequently they’re going to be aware of the fanbase and reader support it maintains.  I worry that even knowing this is happening elsewhere might adjust expectations when writing for the sake of writing and having no expectations at all might be better.

Either way, yeah, I do just want to communicate that it’s a tough and long road to travel and it’s often a lonely one to travel too.  There’s good to it, it feels great to be underway, it is supremely validating when someone gives you that thumbs up, and it really clarifies who has your back, while potentially introducing you to more people in the same vein.  That counts for a lot.

I think that mostly covers preparation and expectations.  Which leaves me floundering a bit when it comes to figuring out how to communicate some other stuff, because it’s not so tidy or easy to outline.  I’m just going to break up the sections here, in no particular order…
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Building a readership, key points to hit and ‘luck’.

Those who’ve followed my other posts on the subject are going to have heard these points before: Consistency, frequency, quality.

  • Consistency is king, in my book.  It’s why I stress the measures with the pre-written backlog to help manage stumbles and pitfalls.  Consistency means having a schedule and maintaining it.  It means providing your readers with an expectation and then holding yourself to that expectation.  It’s my experience that readers are very understanding and kind (it might be that I have awesome readers), but even as they clamor to tell me it’s fine if I take a break, I notice very real trends in readership numbers when I even make a shift from 2.5 chapters a week to just 2, for any length of time.The reality is that when you’re writing an online serial, you’re writing on the internet.  The internet has millions of webpages and countless games, countless other stories or webcomics or videos for readers to get involved with.  With consistency, you enable readers to make reading into a habit, which keeps them coming back.  With inconsistency, where you have hiatuses, delays, changing scheduling, you lead to readers losing track of you – and they’ll find other things to get invested in.
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    There’s a double-edged benefit, too.  When you write consistently, it really forms a kind of personal momentum.  Going back to the diet analogy, having a game plan and sticking to it is going to be wildly more successful than days of starvation and days of lavish eating.  There will be rough patches, days where it’s really a grind to get through, and being able to say ‘I don’t eat junk food anymore’ or ‘I always get a chapter out on Saturday’ really forms the absolute force necessary to move forward.  ‘I wrote a chapter on schedule the last 100 days, I’m going to get the next one out, or I’ll diminish all that effort’ leads to ‘I wrote a chapter on schedule the last 101 days, I’m going to get the next one out…’ and so on.
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  • Frequency plays into this.  While having a goal of one post a month is consistent, it’s 29.2 days between each update.  That’s a lot of time for readers to forget you exist.  Email notifications and RSS feeds, twitter campaigns and the like can help, but there’s no guarantee that when the RSS notification comes up that the reader is going to click it.  It’s very easy for a reader to put it off until tomorrow and forget, for distractions to win out, and so on.There’s a middle ground to strike here.  Chapter number and chapter size factor in.  A chapter every weekday might be too much, or it might demand softer cliffhangers or too many cliffhangers, making the story too fragmented.  Is it doable?  Sure.  But pay attention to what you’re doing and the following you’re cultivating as you do it.  Once a week might be too little, but again, I think it verges on the doable.  Something between is going to achieve an effect where readers are either reading your chapter or anticipating the next one.

Without being unkind or pointing to specific examples, I think there are shows and webcomics out there that maintain a steady readership simply through frequency and consistency alone, with a very low bar for quality.  Ideally, however, we do want quality.

  • Quality.  We put good stuff out there, that rewards and involves the audience.  We test our abilities and we grow, and we address our flaws and failings.

It’s possible, as I insinuated above, to do just fine by hitting two key points.  Can you slowly build up a readership by having something amazing that comes out on the 5th of every month?  Sure.  Can you pepper readers with something fun and intense updates – some weeks with no updates or one update and some weeks with six?  Sure.  You might lose some by the wayside but you’ll probably pick up a fair number.

The reality is that readership doesn’t grow steadily, not really.  It might look that way when taken in at a distance, but in reality, it’s that one fan who links to you on a message board or that one guy who gives a recommendation that opens the door to thousands of people giving your work a look.  This is the ‘luck’ factor.

You might notice the curious emphasis I place on luck, with the single quotation marks.  I’ve unfortunately had a lot of people say that my success was due to luck.  My personal feeling, however, is that it’s through consistency, frequency and quality that luck happens – these are the things that open the door for luck to happen, should opportunity stroll on by.  You have to be singing for someone to notice you’re a good singer and sign you for a deal.  You have to have work out there for people to notice you and mention you to their two or ten or two thousand friends.

Can you get lucky without frequency, quality, or consistency?  Yes.  But that really is chance and coincidence, rather than the luck one creates with time and determination.
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Tending to Audience

I like to describe things using a diagram I ran into during my studies in University.  We draw a triangle and we put Audience, Author, and Text at different points.


There’s a degree of interaction between each.  The author to the audience, the author to the text, and the audience to the text, and vice versa for each.  Be mindful of this.

Author and Text: it’s easy to let this slip.  When schedule demands and real life gets in the way, we can let the story drop in priority.  Given that the story takes place over the long haul and real life goes on in the meantime, it oftentimes has to.  The key thing is to remind yourself why you’re writing the story, what you like about it, and to be sure that you’re writing things you enjoy and things that challenge you.

Audience and Text:  Fans will have their own interpretations of the work.  As the fandom grows and the triangle takes shape, memes happen, conversations will happen surrounding the work, and the work may be tested.  There’s not a lot I can really say on this off the top of my head, except that it’s very easy and very common for fans to be faced with this one side of the triangle and to make judgments about the other point, about you.  I’ve been called a robot, a girl, Asian, black, elderly, a teenager, a Nazi, an only child, the youngest child in a large family, and three feminists in league to a demon, all by people who thought they had divined something about me from the text.  Which leads me to…

Author & Audience: In a normal book it’s very hard for an author to communicate to fans outside of a foreword and afterword.  As a serial author, your involvement may well be a regular thing.

This plays out on a few levels.  I, for example, get financial support from readers.  I’ve had many, many readers tell me I don’t need to actually write the bonus chapters I do as a thank-you for the support, but I do it in part to shore up the left side of that triangle up there.  It’s very easy for the author to become faceless, for readers to feel like they’re throwing money into a well with no feedback to indicate it went anywhere.  It’s where I really liked doing the thank-yous I was doing prior, before numbers made that rather difficult.

On another level, it might be worth just communicating to fans about where you’re at.  A comment on your own chapters, with thoughts and preliminary sentiment.  It lets you put your face out there and it does give you a hand in the discourse.  The fact that serials can enable the author-audience interaction like they do is good for you too, because it lets you adjust the story to correct or respond to misconceptions or gauge the pulse of the greater readership.  Again, be careful you don’t let too small a sample size have too large a voice (as suggested in one of the bullet points up above).
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On the other side of Audience, or being tended to by Audience

It’s a tricky thing, audience.  Approaching the writing of serials, it’s very easy to think that you’ll write something and people will see it and then you’ll have usable feedback and things are good.

In reality, it can be tricky.  When you start out, you get nothing.  When you reach the point you think you’ve put enough in to start getting feedback… still mostly nothing.  Then you start to get a few isolated voices with strong feelings about what you’re creating, and some are positive and some are critical.  It’s very easy to let that small sample size and the loudness of negative voices push you to adjust and adapt.

As those voices pipe up, try to keep in mind your rationale for the story – why you’re writing it, what your tastes are, the empty space on bookshelves where this particular book hasn’t been written to fill them yet.  Write the things you enjoy and trust your instincts.  I’ve heard far more from authors who made changes early on to respond to their fledgling audience and who were unhappy with the result, than I’ve heard from the remainder.

There’s a sweet middle ground where you’re starting to learn to pare out the good advice from the bad.  Some people think that negativity and criticism are the same thing when negativity is often something so omnipresent in a given person’s voice that you can’t pare out their good advice from the midst of it.  Beware the people who only ever have bad things to say, who want your work to be something it isn’t, or who take pride in tearing things down.  Find the positive voices and the middle ground becomes something you can learn from.  In my experience it was this time when I really grew.

It was also, I’ll stress, a time that was fairly short lived in my experience.  The audience grew further, in my case.  In others’ cases, where audience didn’t swell to the same degree, I’ve heard that the moderates lost out to the volume of the fanboys and especially to the critics.  Negative voices will always be louder and more determined, and over time they’ll drown out the others.

This is something I wish I’d known to brace myself for, and it’s a hard thing to articulate and really spell out.  With extreme success comes extremely high and loud populations – success I’ve not yet obtained but have seen in others.  I’ve seen online creators have breakdowns, lash out, get physically ill, and cut ties with audience completely, collapsing one end of the triangle, just because it’s such a constant thing.  I get several instances of criticism a day about one bad part of one story I put out three and a half years ago.  Thousands of emails at this stage.  Hundreds of orange envelopes on Reddit.  I expect to get thousands more before 2020 rolls around.

Just be aware that with time and success come a disproportionately high & loud population of negative voices.  It’s not a reflection on you, but just the way things go.
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Frequently asked question 1:  Should I have a donation button?

Put off the button for a bit, is my personal feeling.  Focus on the writing.  Focus on the consistency and frequency and quality, and on shoring up the author-text and author-audience relationships.  Focus on taking care of yourself first.

It’s very easy to include the button as a matter of course as you get your site set up, it’s very tempting, but I very frequently hear from people who do so and then feel discouraged when not only is their audience low in number, but the button goes unused.  It sets up a weird expectation.

If I were counseling my younger self, I’d say to keep doing what I was doing, and if people asked about it, I’d include a button.

As an aside, I try not to call it a donation button anymore, because Paypal is persnickety about the use of the language ‘donation’.  It implies charity which implies special taxation rights and rules, and when Paypal gets persnickety they often lock the paypal account and freeze the funds within.  Sometimes they freeze the bank account linked to the paypal account, and then you get into life-gets-harder territory.  I prefer to refer to it as reader support.

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Frequently asked question 2: Social media?  Advertising?

My stance is and will likely continue to be that I’d much rather spend time writing more and writing well than spending time fiddling with Twitter, Facebook, and banner ads.  I never really advertised or promoted myself, except to link to my work when asked about it, and I did okay.  I think it’s better to work toward producing something that sells itself than to try to sell something and hope it’s worthwhile.

Your feelings may vary – you may be an avid twitterer (twit?  I’m not sure of the lingo) who tweets like she breathes.  But my sentiment is that promoting your work like this is focusing overmuch on the destination rather than the journey, dwelling on audience overmuch (and often in a shallow way without lasting effect) rather than tending to the text.
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Frequently asked question 3: I wrote a book and I’ve decided to release it online.  Any thoughts?

So this is a complicated thing, because in all honesty it flies in the face of a lot of the advice I gave above.  I’ve reviewed a few web serials and it’s very easy to sort of classify them in two types.

  • There’s the organic web serial – chapters are written within a few weeks of them going live, they’re adjusted in reaction to the audience, and it’s all very fluid.  Quality can vary, real life gets in the way, there are factors to consider and measures to be taken to keep it all moving smoothly.
  • There’s the rigid web serial – the entire thing is written, and then it gets parceled out in chunks as a serial format.

My personal feeling, and I’m trying not to inject too much bias into this, is that you really do get major consistency points in the rigid serial, you can set things up in the initial week so it all gets released at set times and you don’t need to get yourself involved except to make sure things are running smoothly.  No fuss, no muss – you’ve already done the hard work.

The tradeoff, however, is that the rigid serial doesn’t feel like a serial in a way that really works.  Very frequently in works I’ve reviewed, you can tell that it was broken off at what felt like a good stopping point, instead of finding its way naturally to that point.  Cliffhangers may either feel shallow or forced.  The story is often well constructed and edited, but it doesn’t necessarily have a pulse, it doesn’t sprawl of its own volition or turn to face the sun when the sun shines on one part of it.  The author may be involved, but many rigid serials may struggle to really implement feedback in a way that causes ripples throughout everything that follows.  Changes and adjustments in reaction to the pressures and sentiments of the audience may be minor or feel mechanical.

When I say implement feedback, I should stress that I don’t mean deciding the story’s direction.  I mean more in the sense of a shift in tone or featuring more popular characters, answering questions or emphasizing different aspects.

There’s a lot to be said for what a story gains in consistency and quality this way – several stories that I believe were written this way have gone on to be picked up by major publishers.  But serial writing is a really unique and new form, and I think there’s a lot to be said for writing to the strengths of that form and seeing what happens.  That’s just me.


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In My Daydreams

Space: Part 1

In My Daydreams

Xiniti Space Station Batukti: Edge of Interdicted Space/The Human Quarantine

Nikataktuk of the Xiniti Jump Gate Command stood alone in his office. He’d rather be with the rest of his clan, but there were some things that were easier thought through alone—many things in his position.

He thought at the far wall and it changed. No longer a landscape of the jungles of his homeward, it mirrored the stars outside the space station. He turned toward the wall to the right, calling up a map of known space complete with jump gates, military installations, and major trade routes.

Then he used his implant to set the third wall to follow the young on the park level. Their pack hunting tactics would distract him if he needed it. He let the park’s audio stream run in the background.

With that set up, he focussed his attention on the map of known space. Interdicted Space was where everyone expected to find problems, but the Issakass had a new weapon and were expanding out on the rim of the galaxy. All reports indicated that species that fought them were exterminated or at the least defeated. The Issakass had never been pleasant, but their borders had remained stable for the last two hundred years. That had changed only in the last two. Along with their expansion had come a tendency to fight internally.  That had never been their pattern.

What had changed? He didn’t know, but he had his suspicions.

They needed more data. He used his implant, assigned teams to investigate. While it might not yet be his problem officially, he knew it would soon enough.

He had a solution in mind. He’d had one since the being the humans called Lee or “Immortal” visited the Xiniti space station in the humans’ solar systems. That one would be able to handle the problem without having to involve the Xiniti themselves which was a good thing. There were only so many of them, and also the Alliance were often too slow to authorize them to move in themselves.

No, the Immortal could cripple the Issakass long before the Xiniti were allowed to act. Then when everything had been officially put in motion they’d be able to risk less hunters from the Xiniti clans.

He liked that idea.

The other matter associated with Lee required a bit more sensitivity. A few of his proteges had killed a notorious Xiniti criminal. When that had been reported, he’d followed Xiniti tradition. They’d done the Xiniti clan a service when they’d killed that creature, removing a stain on their name, and he’d had the local Xiniti inform Earth that the humans were now a part of the Xiniti nation.

While true, the humans were young. The clan reasonably expected the new clan members to undergo the same initiation as all others—to handle one of the clan’s assigned tasks on their own and without help from the clan.

He’d found one that seemed suitable, a simple mission that youngsters with decent training should be able to handle. A small colony of human refugees near Interdicted Space would be receiving new and highly controversial colonists. The youngsters would have to protect the new colonists and the colony for a few days to a week while forces for the world’s protection arrived.

There were so many aspects of the situation that made the newest members of the Xiniti Nation perfect for the job. They were human for one, giving them an immediate connection to the colonists that a Xiniti would not have. They had a fast, well-armed ship. He’d seen it in action.

Still, there were aspects that troubled him. This might require more diplomatic skills than he’d expect as they’d been traveling from one system to another at first. The new colonists were infamous enough that some government might attempt to collect on the bounty.

And then there was the other potential candidate for adulthood in the clan. The Xiniti who had been killed by the Immortal’s students had one child. By coincidence, that child was now waiting for its chance to officially become an adult in the eyes of the clan. At this time, it was only eligible child from that clan that was ready, and given the age gap between it and the next group, it would remain that way.

Normally, if there were other Xiniti ready, he’d send them all out together despite any clan differences. He didn’t want to make any exceptions because they’d killed the child’s father.

The Xiniti had been bringing aliens into their clans practically since they ventured into space.

If there were trouble, it would be an embarrassment for the clan.

The Xiniti turned away from the map, staring out at the darkness of the stars that surrounded the station.

He’d made a decision. The Xiniti would go and so would the new human candidates.

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In My Daydreams

A Day in The Life: Part 22

In My Daydreams

When the dust settled, a flash of blue light brought me back to the Heroes’ League’s headquarters. I appeared on their starplate, a small version of the ones I’d destroyed. Control looked up from the controls to smile at me. “It’s over. All their gateways are gone.”

Then she stopped smiling. “Could you maybe step off the starplate? I’ve got to turn it off and I don’t want to accidentally send you somewhere, or worse, send part of you somewhere.”

“When you put it that way,” I told her, “I can’t say no.”

Her mouth twisted into a brief smile. “Thanks.”

I stepped onto the concrete floor, looking around the room. It felt familiar. Storm King, Gravity Star, Captain Commando and a few more stood together talking, sometimes laughing.

Shift sat in a chair, leaning back with his eyes closed next to one of the tables. On the wall screen, different windows showed local and national news. The dinos that survived were now captive. Except for a few isolated incidents, the fighting was over.

Next to one of the computer consoles, C and Gunther talked in low voices. I should have been interviewing them about the battle. Instead, I walked to the locker room and changed back into my civilian clothes.

When I finished, I walked back out to the collection of tables and computers they used as a communications center and started writing notes about my experience. I couldn’t say I missed being in uniform. I’d spent eight years protecting the United States and sometimes Earth. I’d destroyed cities, small armies and a battleship in the name of saving lives. I don’t know how many people I killed as collateral damage.

It wasn’t an easy life, but I could live with the deaths, knowing that I’d saved many more.

After what happened in Grand Lake last fall, people questioned the new Heroes’ League’s judgement, asking if they could trust kids to make those kinds of decisions. It was a reasonable question, and not one I can answer directly. I wasn’t there then, but I was in this battle.

They weren’t bad.

Before anyone else, they recognized the invasion of what it was, passed along what they knew to the rest of the world, protected their city, and held their positions against enemies they knew they couldn’t beat. Aside from what they did themselves, they listened to more experienced supers—Gunther, C, and whoever “One” turned out to be.

I’ve seen professional soldiers do worse.

* * *

I finished reading Nadia’s article, relieved at her endorsement at the end. I couldn’t say I was wild about the entire article. Vaughn had a couple spots where he looked bad, but not unforgivably bad.

On the other hand, I was grateful for what she’d left out. When we’d been talking about destroying the dinos’ starplates, I’d asked, “The inventory says we’ve got an atomic bomb, but I’ve never been able to find it. Do you know where it might be?”

C had shaken his head. “We used it. Mark it gone. I’d be more surprised if we’d thought to sign it out.”

It wasn’t our fault, but it could be used to paint us as the kind of people who lost atomic bombs, and that wouldn’t have been good.

She’d skipped a few other events too. She’d had to. You can’t include everything in one article, but this is what I remembered…

By five in the afternoon, the doctors had finished and left, and we’d been debriefed by the FBI. No one had suffered a major injury, but there were cuts and bruises—lots of bruises, in fact. The doctors examined us thoroughly to make sure that the bruises were only what they appeared to be, so it took longer. The new armored costumes didn’t let much through, but they didn’t absorb everything either.

Nadia was back into civilian clothes, watching as people pulled out cots and sleeping bags from storage, or disappeared into the locker room to change into their own clothes. I’d already changed—which wasn’t what we’d planned, but Daniel said she was safe.

She moved slowly, carefully, as if anything she touched might explode. She stopped next to me as I rolled out a sleeping bag. Haley and I could have gone home or back to the dorms, but with everyone here, we’d decided to stay.

“So what’s next?” Nadia asked. “A giant slumber party?”

I shrugged. “Kind of. We’ll probably order take out from somewhere. We might watch a movie. I don’t know. We might just talk. Are you planning to stick around and interview us?”

She shook her head. “I’ve got enough material already, and besides I’ve got to write a couple more articles than I planned about what happened here today. I’ll be up till midnight, I’m sure.”

I glanced over at her. “Do you ever miss this?”

She shook her head. “The fights? Not at all. I don’t miss worrying about killing civilians or calculating the strength of everything I do. You know what I do miss? The people. I could tell you some great stories, but given the people involved, half of them are still classified.”

She sighed. “You want some advice?”

She didn’t wait for me to answer. “Do something with your friends that doesn’t include beating up supervillains.”

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Tieshaunn

B13.5 Call of the Sleeper

Tieshaunn

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A few minutes earlier

“Well, that didn’t go as expected at all,” Dahlia mumbled, as she looked out upon this freaky floating city, half admiring and half scoffing at all the weirdness on the half of it that, according to the freaky girl, was made for and by the Super-Crazies. “I’m not surprised.” Somehow, something had gone wrong when freaky girl had tried to teleport them in, and she’d somehow managed to end up alone atop this huge, weird tower – the one at the centre of it, which they hadn’t been able to tell the purpose of, earlier. To her surprise, while the tip – a wide disc, bigger than her old house had been – was transparent from the inside, even though it had looked opaque from the outside. Even the floor was transparent, where she stood, letting her see pretty much everything around and beneath the tower.

“Why is that?” a smooth, melodious voice asked from behind her.

Dahlia yelped, whirling around and drawing the collapsible staff Basil had built for her from her belt, extending it as she faced…

The fucking prettiest guy she’d ever seen, ever.

He sat on on a raised, flat platform in the centre of the circular room, which was made of a gleaming white material, like the stuff space ships were made of in one of those dorky sci-fi shows Tim liked to watch with Steph. It was the only part that wasn’t transparent, it and the floor immediately around it. The platform itself was flat and looked hard, with no cushions at all, yet he sat there, his legs folded in… what was the word… lotus position!… and his arms resting comfortably on them, forearms on knees.

None of it all was even remotely as interesting as looking at him. He was slender, looking like he could not possible be older than twenty-five, if that. His skin had the light tan of someone who spent time in the sun, but not excessively so, and was all smooth.

All smooth. He was wearing nothing but a pair of simple, dark blue drawstring pants, putting his smooth, hairless chest on display; not wiry, but not muscular either, at least not as much as she was used to from other metas – and she did not believe for one second that this guy wasn’t a meta, not here, in this place, and not someone who looked prettier than herself. His face was youthful, soft, with full lips and friendly, grey eyes that were so warm and cozy, just looking at them made her want to hug him and take him home. His hair was brown, smooth and just long enough that, combed back as he wore it, it reached his throat, almost but not quite touching his shoulders.

Holy shit he’s yummy, she couldn’t help but think, even as she reminded herself that this was a really bad place where really bad people worked at, no matter how yummy they were. And those eyes… They were almost hypnotic, so deep and inviting…

She shook her head, then focused again on him with a glare. “Who are you?” she asked, though it didn’t come out the way she’d wanted it to – her voice cracked midway through the sentence, and it wasn’t just because of how pretty this guy looked – she wasn’t an idiot, anyone who hung around this place, alone at that, and without any obvious weapons or job to do was either a major power or else someone’s boytoy – and she doubted a boytoy would get the tallest tower’s top to himself, or sit on a hard surface without any comfort around him.

He chuckled softly, slightly tilting his head to the side as he studied her, radiating nothing but friendly curiosity, an invitation to relax with him and maybe see if he was that hairless below the w-

Focus, Dahlia! Down, girl!

 “Relax, Tyche,” he spoke again, his voice even more beautiful than his appearance and god damn was it hard to remind herself not to drool. He even had just the slightest accent – German, maybe? Something European, at least. Only made it sound exotic and even better. “I mean you no harm. There is really no need for you to draw any of your weapons.”

She did relax, in spite of her best efforts not to – he sounded completely sincere, her usually so reliable bullshit detector having gone completely silent. “Yeah well, I don’t react well to suddenly being teleported into a weird room with a weird guy, all alon- hey, how do you know my name?” Had he picked it out of her head? Was he a telepath? Shit, what if he picked all the secret stuff she knew by now out f her h-

“I do watch the news,” he interrupted her train of thought, “You and your team have been making quite the name of yourselves lately.”

She let out a breath she hadn’t even noticed she’d been holding, the sudden relief palpable enough to make her knees briefly weak. “Oh, uh… that’s, yeah, that makes sense,” she stammered. It wasn’t proof that he wasn’t a mind-fucker, but at least it was a sensible explanation and why would he need to lie about it if he was? Still, it’d pay to be careful, especially since… “How do you know I have more weapons than this?” She held her staff, her only visible weapon, up.

“You’re on a team with a very prolific gadgeteer,” he replied smoothly, raising a hand and ticking off a finger. “Your power becomes exponentially more useful the more options you have to act.” Another finger, ticked off. “Your jacket is unevenly heavy, most likely because you haven’t distributed your equipment properly.” A third finger joined the others.

He knows? How could he possibly know of my power!? “How… how do you know?”

Again that head-tilt, to the other side now. His smile was incredibly calming, but not enough to overcome just how scared she felt. Far more so than she was used to, than she had been even when fighting Crocell.

“I didn’t get to where I am today by collecting bottle caps, Tyche,” he said with a gleaming, boyish grin. “Don’t worry – I’ll say it again, I mean you no harm.” He took a deep breath, then released it, sitting up straighter – he’d been leaning a little towards her before, as they’d talked.

She stayed quiet, after that, mulling the whole thing over. “If you don’t mean me harm, then what do you want… whoever you are?” she spoke, glaring at him, as much as she was able. God-damn yumminess.

He actually seemed taken back by that, before he ducked his head in embarrassment. “Oh, um, sorry, sorry! I don’t usually get unexpected visitors here; I guess my manners have atrophied more than I thought they would,” he said, giving her a heartmelting, boyish smile of apology.

He was making it very, very hard for her not to giggle like a schoolgirl. “Y-you are forgiven – if you tell me your name!” she replied with a tremor in her treacherous voice.

“Immanuel,” came his reply, as he rubbed the back of his head with one hand. “I’m afraid I don’t really do capes and cowls, so my real name will have to suffice. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tyche.”

“L-likewise,” she replied on instinct, not sure at all how to react to having him share his real name – or at least what he claimed to be his real name, she wasn’t quite foolish enough to take him on his word. Speaking of… “Well, this was fun and all, but I really gotta go.” I’ve gotta find the others – they’re probably in huge trouble.

“Go where?” he asked, sounding amused as he leaned his cheek on his left hand.

“To my friends, of course!” she answered him hotly. “Where else?”

“Of course, but do you even know where your friends are?”

“Well…” She lowered her staff, stunned. “Um… that kind of… slipped my mind. I don’t suppose you’d mind telling me, would you?” she continued, though it was mostly to buy her time to think. With my power, I could probably find at least Gloom Glimmer or Basil – freaky girl has the power to find the others, and Basil is the sort to always know what to do next…

“Hmm,” he tapped his chin, before sitting up straight and turning to the right, lifting a hand to point at a particularly weird tower on the Southern half of the city. It looked like nothing so much as a huge candle, with a flame at the top, made out of wax twisted into spirals. “They’re all there, on levels three, five, eight and fifteen,” he explained. “All in individual cells. Except for Polymnia and Brennus, they were teleported to another facility.” He turned to the North, pointing at a squat, circular building, like a huge coin, but completely smooth and featureless. “Both of them were sent into a capture room for Gadgeteers, but they broke out… ah, anti-EMP technology? Impressive.”

He frowned, scratching his chin. “No, wait. Gloom Glimmer broke out… where… ah, she’ll be with Polymnia and Brennus, soon. I think. That girl’s a pain to keep track of.” He shrugged, then smiled at her again. “You can just take the elevator down to level zero, then take the B-line North to station fifteen. From there, just follow the left-hand path and you’ll find the three of them. Or take the D-line South, then take the D1-line East and get off at station twenty-eight, and you’ll be at the Candlekeep, if you want to try and break your friends out of there on your own.”

She stared at him, uncaring that her mouth was hanging open. “Wu-what?”

He just kept smiling, which did not help her regain her wits, and remained quiet, waiting.

“Why… why would you tell me that?” she asked, feeling off-kilter again.

“Just trying to be nice,” he said off-handedly. “I have no particular reason to oppose you and your friends.”

“We’re attacking your big evil secret badguy base!” she shouted, gesturing wildly with both arms at him – she barely managed not to whack herself on the head with her staff. “We’re after one of your evil mad scientists!”

“Evil mad scientists? Isn’t that kind of redundant?” Again, that smile.

“I’m friends with two good mad scientists! Even if one of them thinks she’s Harry Potter with boobs!”

He nodded gravely, as if conceding the point. “Point taken.”

“Anyway, why are you helping? If you even are helping and not just bullshitting me!?” she shouted at him, trying to get things on track again.

He just shrugged. “As I said, I have no particular reason to oppose you children. You may not see it now, but we’re ultimately all on the same side in this.”

“Yeah, uh, bullshit. You guys are like, super evil. I mean, making giant monsters to attack all over the world was bad enough – if kinda awesome – but Hawaii? Seriously?” she countered, aghast. “You guys are, like, Weisswald levels of Evil with a capital E!”

That finally got a reaction out of him, as he winced, closing his eyes. “Ow. We’re not that bad, seriously.” He shook himself. “Adolf might have started out well, but he went way over the line.”

Dahlia was just about to rebuke him, hard, about the ‘started out well’ part, but then her brain caught up with the implications of the way he’d phrased his reply (you couldn’t hang out with Miss Fuzzypants for any length of time and not start paying attention to the wording of things), and she took a step away from him, feeling suddenly way less cheeky. “Y-you’re saying… you knew him? You’re talking like you actually met the guy.” Which would make this guy way older than he looked, which meant danger.

“Long story,” he waved it off. “Don’t concern yourself with that – you have more important things to focus on, don’t you?”

R-right… play nice with the possible pal of Weiss-fucking-wald. “Um, yeah, right, uh…” Think, Dahlia, think – what should I do next? What would Basil do? “Since you’re being so helpful and we’re all being secretly on the same side and all that, I’m sure you won’t mind telling me where I can find that crazy-ass bitch Dusu?” She didn’t actually expect him to rat out one of his own people, but then again, it couldn’t hurt to try… she hoped.

Again, he surprised her by pointing at a place on the North side of the floating city. It was on the North-Eastern projection, unlike the building that he’d claimed Basil and Rainbow Brite were in, which stood on the central part. “Take the A-Line until the hub station, then take the A3-Line until the very last stop, and you’ll be in Dusu’s laboratory. It takes up that whole structure.” He gestured to his right, and a circle formed on the white floor, rising up smoothly to reveal a simple, pure-white elevator cabin. “Just take the elevator down to level zero and go from there.”

“Alright, I give up,” she sighed, letting her arms fall down her sides. “Why are you doing all this? Why help us, why betray one of your own? If this ain’t all just your way of messing with my head, or setting me up to run into a fucking trap?”

Immanuel smiled that heart-melting smile again, making her knees tremble. “Because I feel like helping you out. Also, because Dusu has frankly turned out to be a monumental disappointment and she’s really not worth the effort, time or resources it takes to keep her work going. If she fails to even deal with a group of – please excuse the language, I don’t mean to be insulting – of amateurs, then she’ll frankly be getting what’s coming to her.”

“Ok, that second part, I get. That’s suitably villaneous and all,” she commented, feeling herself actually relax – evil insane power politics of evil, that she could get behind! Having the evil bad guy be nice and helpful, that just freaked her the fuck out!

He shrugged in response, staying quiet as he lowered his arm again and sat up straight.

“Well… ok, uh…” How am I supposed to talk to him? He’s a villain! He’s clearly insane! Yet he’s so nice! And helpful! And oh my GOD he’s so yummy at that! She shook her head, banishing those thoughts. “I’ll… I’ll be off then.” Well, he’s been quite nice and helpful after all… “And… thank you, I guess,” she said, as she began to walk towards the elevator he’d summoned, hoping it wouldn’t drop her into a shark-tank full of laser-eyed cyber-sharks.

“You’re welcome, Dahlia,” he replied with a warm, bright smile.

“Yeah, you too, Im- What!?!” She leapt backwards from him, drawing her staff again and moving straight into a defensive position again. “How the hell do you know my name!?” she screeched at him.

He looked a little hurt at her response, sighing in disappointment. “I really thought we were past the whole ‘threatening with violence’ bit. Please, relax, Dahlia. As I said before, I mean you no harm.”

“Are you fucking kidding me, Immanuel!?” she shouted again. “You know my power, you know my real name and I’m supposed to relax?! Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t beat you unconscious and drag you along to the others?”

He shook his head, looking at her in disappointment. “Dahlia, please, don’t be crass. I have done nothing but be helpful and polite, haven’t I? There’s no need to have this devolve into meaningless violence.” He sounded like her fucking middle school teacher, lecturing her for coming into class with juice in her hair, like she’d done it deliberately to insult him and…

He’s messing with my head! she admonished herself. Fuck, this whole time he’s been fucking with my fucking head! I just know it!

“How is defending my secret identity meaningless, huh?” she shot back, as she couldn’t really think of anything else to do other than attack, and somehow she didn’t think that was the smartest thing to do, right now. What’s his power? God damn it, what could be his power? Is he a telepath? But he wouldn’t need to mess with me like this, if he was, wouldn’t he?

“It would be meaningless as you would invariably fail,” he replied calmly, in as friendly a manner as he’d been speaking the whole time she’d known him. “There is no way that fighting me is going to lead to a better result, for you, than being civil and talking to me, I assure you.”

“You’ve been helpful and all, but I really don’t see how you could be more helpful than you’re a freaking danger because you somehow figured out my name!?”

“Dahlia, please, calm yourself. It’s not healthy to get so worked up…”

How am I supposed to calm down when you keep using my fucking name!?” she screeched again, her face flushing red.

“Alright, I’ll call you Tyche then. Does that help?” he asked with that infuriating, boyish ‘don’t-be-mad-at-me-I’m-too-cute-and-yummy’ smile of his!

“F-fuck… you… you’re unbelievable! How am I supposed to react to all of this?” She slammed her staff on the ground, pointing an accusatory finger at him as she screamed, “What do you even want!?!”

“I want to help you, of course.”

How?”

He rolled his shoulders, never breaking eye contact with her. “I’m going to help you understand your power.”

“What is there to understand? I have super-luck,” she snarled back at him, starting to feel angry again. Where did he get off, acting like he knew what her powers like, when even Basil and Miss Fuzzypants hadn’t figured it out? “I get lucky and my enemies get unlucky. So you better not mess with me!” She pointed her staff at him, wishing again that her mask didn’t cover her face entirely, so he’d be able to see her sneer at him. Stupid Basil insisting on full coverage…

“Oh, that much is obvious,” he said with a wave of his hand. “What’s important is whom it considers your enemy.” He smiled sadly at her. “Heard of Tanya, recently?”

She flinched, involuntarily, hunching her shoulders. “W-what about her? She… she got run over by a bus, wasn’t she? Stupid bitch didn’t look left or right.” She felt no satisfaction knowing that, no or when she’d learned of it. Yes, they’d made her life a living hell, but she’d never have wanted even one of them to die… not for real.

“That she did. Distracted at a crucial moment and then… dead.” He tilted his head, again, as if trying to look at her from a different perspective. “How’s Mandy doing?”

“Why do you bring them up? I hate them! I don’t want to think about them!” Wasn’t it enough that they’d driven her to nearly kill herself? Wasn’t it enough that they’d ruined years of her life? Why was he bringing them up?

“It’s important, Tyche. Please, how is Mandy doing?”

She frowned, not that he could see that, averting her eyes. “She’s… she tried to kill herself, I think. I heard something like that, from some old schoolmates.” She’d barely paid attention, really. It was… uncomfortable. She’d nearly killed herself, though her powers had come in just in time to save her.

“Yes, she did. What’s interesting is why,” he continued, his face turning from a smile to a sad expression. “She was in a club, you see? Someone slipped something into her drink, and then… well, I’d rather not say it aloud. But she thought she had no way of dealing with the memory other than killing herself.” He took a deep breath, then released it. “Fortunately, she failed, but the attempt has left… lasting damage. And her parents put her into an asylum, to be treated, rather than bother taking care of her themselves.”

Fuck… that’s… She shook her head. No one deserved that, not even one of those three. “I don’t know why, why’re you bringing this up? They got nothing to do with me! Not anymore!”

“What about Natalia?” he pushed on, asking after the last one of the bitch-trio.

“What about her? I haven’t heard of her in ages!” And good riddance…

“She was in the shelter underneath the mall, when Hastur appeared there,” he said calmly. “Strange coincidence, that she picked that one, of all. Natalia didn’t see her face… but she was caught by the monsters that resulted. Brutalised, to the point of manifesting.”

“Wait, that bitch’s got powers now? Just great!” She turned away from him, crossing her arms, trying to stave off the shivers she was feeling creeping up on her. Why was he telling her this? Why was this important? “What’s she… what’s she doin’?”

“She’s put on a cowl,” he replied. “Her experience in that shelter was just the last in a long line of humiliations and abuses, since you last met her. Now she’s sharing her pain with the world.”

“How… how do you know that? Are you just making all of this up!?”

“Sometimes I wish I did, but no. It is the truth,” he continued to speak soothingly, calmly. “What is important is why it happened.” Suddenly, his voice became… not hard, but firm. “Dahlia, look at me.”

She turned around. She didn’t want to, but she did, when she heard that commanding tone. “You said you wouldn’t use my n-” Her protest cut off when his eyes met hers, two grey mirrors that captured hers, somehow finding them even though her mask hid them entirely.

“They suffered because of you, Dahlia,” he said, and it was like a hammer striking her mind. “You knew this – Basil told you. Probability manipulators build up bad luck, and dump it somewhere – usually on themselves. But not you. You channeled it unto others instead.”

“N-no…” she whimpered, as the pieces began to fall into place. “I… I wouldn’t…” How didn’t I, she thought, but stuttered. It’s so obvious, now, but…

“Yes, you did,” he said, and yet there was no accusation in his voice. No reprimand. Only sympathy. “Your power guided them into misery, every time you defied fate.”

No… Her hands began to tremble.

“You won the lottery, becoming richer than you ever thought you’d be, free of the shackles of poverty,” he began, speaking as softly and as implacably as death itself. “And they lost their friends, abandoned to become pariahs as you had once been.”

It can’t be!

“You met Basil and Vasiliki, ‘by accident’, guiding the formation of your group, to be blessed with real friends. And Mandy was drugged and raped.”

Her staff fell to the ground.

“You survived the battle against Hastur’s monster, but Natalia was brutalised by them instead, until she snapped and became a monster of her own.”

Her knees hit the ground.

“Buildings collapsed atop you, and yet everything fell in such a way as to leave you spotless, not a hair harmed on your head. At the same time, a bus hit Tanya when she was distracted at the wrong moment.”

“Nooooo…” She… she hadn’t. She couldn’t. That couldn’t be true.

I can’t breathe.

“And those were just the high points,” he continued, mercilessly, his warm, silvery eyes captivating her. Not letting her blink, even, though tears made her vision blurry. “You don’t even know of all the small, petty miseries it inflicted. The small cuts, the twisted ankles, the embarrassing secrets that came out, the chance humiliations in public. Remember when you heard that someone pulled Natalia’s pants down in public, and she wasn’t wearing underwear at the time? Oh, how you laughed…” He sighed, still without averting his gaze.

She ripped her mask off her face, choking, trying to breathe.

But it wouldn’t come.

No, no, I’m… I’m a hero! I don’t…

“I’m a hero…” she protested weakly, trying to… to defend herself? What was she even saying?

It made so much sense. How had she not seen this before?

“You are,” he affirmed with a soft, soft smile. “But that doesn’t absolve you of the consequences of your actions. For every good deed you’ve done, your power has brought an equal amount of misery to the world. To those who hurt you. Whom you hated.”

“Whom you resented.”

“Wh-who… who else?” she asked, trembling. Her arms wrapped around her stomach, she felt nauseous and she couldn’t breathe.

“To a lesser degree than those three, your teachers. Your old classmates. Your guidance counselor, your principal. All the people whom you blamed for the torment you experienced, all those who failed to protect you when they should have, they each suffered to the degree to which you blamed them for it.”

“Nonono… I’m a hero! I’m… I help people! I never… I never wanted this!” she cried breathlessly, her voice cracking several times, as she tried to fight it.

Tried to deny it.

Tried not to follow it to its logical conclusion.

“And most of all, the one who let you down the most,” he continued, without mercy, without accusation, his voice so good, so soft, so… cruel. “The one who should have been protecting you, above all others, and failed. She suffered most of all, and suffers still.”

“Don’t… please, please… don’t…”

Finally, finally, he averted his eyes, those cold, beautiful mirrors releasing her eyes, letting the tears spill forth.

“You ruined your mother’s life, above all,” he confirmed all her fears. “Every broken bone from tripping over her own feet, every cut in her skin from glass that broke in her own hands, her descent into alcoholism to try and deal with the constant pains and humiliations… because you resented her, blamed her, hated her.”

“Noooooooooooooo!” she screamed at the top of her lungs, bending over, her forehead pressed to the ground. “No, no no no, I didn’t, I wouldn’t, I love her! She’s my mom! She’s my mom, my mom, I wouldn’t hurt my m-m-om…”

And yet, she couldn’t deny it, not anymore. Not when it was in her face like this. All this time, she’d… skipped over it. She’d seen her mother suffer, seen her break down, piece by piece, step by step, and she… she hadn’t connected the dots… How could she have been so stupid!?

“Of course you love her,” he spoke. “Of course you do. But love does not preclude hate. It does not preclude resentment. When you were broken, when you were being beaten on… your mother failed you. Never deliberately, but she was so busy, all the time, wasn’t she? Working two jobs to pay the bills, to put you through a semi-decent schools… didn’t even have time to feed you, didn’t she? You had to cook for yourself, more often than not. So many nights spent alone in front of the television, asking yourself whether life was even worth it. No friends, no father, a mother that was barely there, bullies who drove you to attempt suicide.” He sighed, as if he himself couldn’t believe it. As if it hurt him even a fraction as much as his words were tearing her up inside. “You know it’s true. I haven’t spoken a single lie to you.”

She cried, bitterly. Sobbing, tears and snot running over the cold, transparent floor. Her shoulders shook, even though she was hugging herself to calm her body. She could only press her face harder against the floor, trying to steady herself, to find… something… to hold on to…

Suddenly, his voice spoke from right above her.

“It’s not your fault, Dahlia,” Immanuel said, his voice overflowing with care. She looked up, seeing his bare feet, then his pants, then up past his body to his caring face. He knelt down, reaching out with one hand to cup her cheek.

His hand was warm against her skin. Warm and steady, when she was neither.

“You felt resentment for those who hurt you, for those who let you down – that is only natural, that was and is your right. But your power took that and turned it into fate,” he said, gently stroking her cheekbone with his thumb.

“What… what do I do… I don’t… I don’t want to hurt them… didn’t…” Her voice broke again.

He sushed her, as he pulled her in with both arms, wrapping them around her, holding her to his breast. So warm…

“Of course you don’t,” he spoke, his voice thick with feeling. “I truly am sorry for your anguish,” he caressed her back with his hand, as the other one held her tight, not caring about the snot and the tears that touched his bare skin. “But you needed to know. There is not a problem in the world which can be solved if you don’t know.”

She whimpered, limp in his embrace, without even the strength to push him away… or accept it.

He just held her. “Now you know. And I know, and I’m here, with you.” He held her tighter.

“We’ll find a way to fix it, I promise. You, me, Basil, Vasiliki and the others, all together,” he whispered into her ear, his voice full of conviction.

“Dafür sind Gefährten da.”

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In My Daydreams

A Day in The Life: Part 21

In My Daydreams

Something hit me from behind. I didn’t feel it, but I heard it sizzle as it hit my shield. It didn’t matter. I let the energy flow through me and build in my shield.

When I was in the military, scientists attempted to figure out where the energy that I use came from. They took genetic samples, poked and prodded me, fired different forms of radiation at my shield, and all they knew in the end was that I had the greatest capacity to draw power and hold it without using it that they’d ever seen.

By the time they got to that point, I could have told them the same thing.

Wherever the power comes from, it’s bottomless. I’ve always got more, but when I get tired, I get worse at controlling it.

I looked around. The dinos had cleared away from me, backing away as the air heated up. The concrete around me was turning black and cracking. A few of the dinos lifted laser rifles and fired. As focused as I was on absorbing energy into my shield, I barely noticed that they fired. Their beams’ energy went into the shield with the rest, adding some small amount to the total.

The dinos looked at each other, and turned to look and at a green feathered dino that stood behind them. After a few words, the dinos lowered their rifles and stepped to the side. The rest of the crowd moved with them opening a path in the middle of the crowd. A truck rolled forward, stopping with the rest of the dinos. The truck reminded me almost as much of a Hummer as it did a truck. It had large wheels while the body hung high off the ground. Unlike a Hummer, it had a metal circle in the last quarter of the top. The trailer attached there.

The trailer doubled as a platform for a gun. A red and black feathered dino sat behind the gun in a seat that moved as it aimed the barrel. Something deep in inside it glowed.

The gun rose above the truck, aiming downward at me.

It couldn’t have more power behind it than a nuclear blast. I knew that, but I couldn’t be sure. It might punch through my shield or even force me to lose focus enough that I’d let the power go in a way that didn’t cause much damage.

No, I decided, I’d gathered enough power. If anyone was going to let go of it, it would be me.

So, I did.

You may have watched old black and white movies the U.S. Government made to prepare citizens for nuclear war. There would be an explosion and the screen would turn white as the blast expanded outward, molten fire expanding to cover everything. Further out, the winds would destroy anything in their path until nothing stood, leaving only charred and sandy remains.

Eventually, a mushroom cloud would rise above the ground.

It was exactly like that.

I let the energy go and the world turned white. By the time it cleared, there were no feathered dinosaurs, truck/hummers, whole starplates, or even the dome they’d been inside.

I stood in the middle of an empty, ashen landscape. Melted metal with no obvious purpose was all that was left of the nearest starplates. The more distant starplates had been only partially melted, but pieces of them had been scattered around where they’d stood, many sticking partially out of the ground.

Sections of the dome lay across the area, looking like pieces of the same shattered hard boiled egg.

Dino bones had been scattered across the wreckage, bits of bones nearest me. Recognizable skeletons appeared further away. There were no surviving dinos.

I forced myself to look past the target. Who else had I hit?

The dome had been in the middle of a field, surrounded by dinos and vehicles that been lining up to enter, invade and eat their fill. The nearest dino to the dome had been turned into skeletons by the blast. In the distance, the dead bodies were recognizable dinos. A few might even have been alive.

Past the torn chain link fence, however, stood houses and not whatever kind of strange parallel universe houses that millions of years of dinosaur culture might create. Recognizable ranch style houses stood next to each other in the kind of suburb I’d seen all over the United States. There weren’t many trees and mountains stood in the distance, so if I had to guess, I’d have placed myself in the west, possibly in Colorado.

It was hard to see from where I stood, but it was humans not dinosaurs stepping out of the houses to stare at the devastation. I could only wonder what they saw. Was this a moment of liberation, or a moment of disaster? Could they possibly have supported the dinos, or even made a deal with them?

I wanted to interview them and find out what sense they made of it all, but C spoke over the comm, “Are you ready?”

I did the same thing two more times.

I’m good enough as a reporter. I believe I make difference in helping people understand the world supers inhabit and the decisions they have to make. As a weapon of mass destruction, though, I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do is kill cities at the request of authority figures.

It’s a strong argument in favor of being good enough. I sleep better as a reporter than I ever did as a soldier.

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Tieshaunn

B13.4 Call of the Sleeper

Tieshaunn

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Part of Basil’s inner self was admonishing him/itself for using an untested gadget in such a situation, nevermind bringing it along on such a sensitive mission in the first place.

Another, far larger part of him was jubilating at the fact that the force projector worked. It was just its most basic function that he’d used – in this case, using the stored energy in its batteries to generate kinetic force, which was then projected onto the door he’d pressed his palm to – but nevertheless, it had worked.

Had the situation not been so dire, he would likely have danced a short jig.

However, it was dire and so he focused on the room ahead of him instead. The door he’d launched into it had slammed into a group of armed, armoured men, knocking five of them over – painfully so, judging by the groans and broken limbs he could make out.

Which left seven more standing, raising their rifles to aim at him.

They were all clad in heavy, padded body armour, all black save for a crude skull apparently hand-painted onto each of their left breast’s, each sporting a belt with half a dozen grenades clipped to it as well as a combat knife and a baton in a holster, as well as wielding blocky rifles of a make he couldn’t identify, topped by scopes casting red dots, now rapidly centering on his body.

Alright, let’s hope the next one works, as well, he thought, his left arm rising up even before the trained soldiers could squeeze their triggers, presenting the broad side of his gauntlet to them.

They pulled their triggers just as he twisted his fingers in the correct activation sequence; their guns made surprisingly quiet pops, firing glowing blue projectiles at him; his gauntlet’s circuits filled with light, and a small disk, the size of a saucer, appeared above it. A thin circle appeared around it, wide enough that it shielded him from his head down to his thighs. Both looked like they made of crackling, unstable electricity, flickering like crazy.

Then the projectiles fired by the Skullmen impaced the seemingly empty space between the central disk and the outer circle, only for tiny bolts of electricity to arch between said centre and the circle, the force-field becoming visible as it absorbed the kinetic energy of the glowing darts fired at him, deflecting the projectiles themselves, bouncing them back and onto the ground.

He knelt down, slowly, gesturing for Polymnia to do the same, until his shield was covering him entirley, before one of their foes got the bright idea to aim for his or her legs.

Soon, the hail of glowy shots stopped, leaving the ground in an arc in front of him covered in rapidly darkening darts, as the Skullmen reloaded their rifles, without exchanging a single word.

“You can make force-fields now?” Polymnia asked from behind. “Why am I not surprised?”

“I got the idea after working on Sovereign’s equipment. It uses- actually, let us talk about this later, we need to take these people out,” he replied calmly, or as calmly as he could, feeling as exhilerated as he did right then and there.

“You’re right. So,” she spoke, as the soldiers finished reloading and aiming again, filling the air between them with glowing darts once more, causing lightning to dance through his shield as it continued blocking their attacks. “How should we do that? Can that gauntlet attack while it’s also projecting that shield? Because at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it did.”

“No, it can not. Do you know what else it can not do?”

“No, but I assume it is important?”

“It is fully permeable to sound, and sound-based attacks,” he replied quietly enough that only she was likely to hear it.

“I could kiss you right now,” she said, instantly picking up on his meaning, as she reached with her arms over his shoulders, one on each side of his head, so as to remain behind the safety of his shield.

He saw the speakers built into her heavy gauntlets – if they were as heavy as they looked, then he doubted he’d have been able to use them without power armour, but her current set seemed to lack servo motors – start to vibrate. There were eight of them on each one, six arranged in two rows of three down the length of the forearm, while two more were facing forward, built into the part of the gauntlet that stuck out over her hands, at the wrists. The ones on the back began to oscillate, visibly, making a dull, thrumming sound for several seconds – but it was the ones aimed forward which actually performed the attack.

Concussive sound so powerful it visibly distorted the air shot out of the front speakers,  in two pairs of two, passing through his shield as if it wasn’t even there – which was just how he’d intended when he’d set the shield’s harmonics – and impacting the two rows of armed Skullmen.

As there were only seven of them, and they’d bunched up in a formation of one kneeling in front, with another standing behind, they were all hit by the blast, bowled over as it impacted the front row and burst.

It was a rather impressive display of raw force, Basil thought, watching their weapons be smashed to kindling, their bodies launched with such force they slammed into the walls around them – even the ones his attack had already taken down were moved, though not nearly as violently, sliding towards the sides of the room.

When it was over, there was no foe left standing – and judging by their lack of motion, few of them were even still conscious.

Still, it paid to be careful. “Can you determine whether they’re all unconscious?”

Polymnia left her arms as they were, aimed into the room beyond. After a few seconds, he saw her left hand’s fingers twitch. “Judging by their breathing and heartbeats, they are all unconscious.”

“Good enough for me,” he spoke, and rose up after she pulled her arms back. Deactivating his shield – it would not do to waste battery life – he walked into the room and did a quick triage of the Skullmen, both to make sure that none of them would die due to the wounds they’d received, and to get one of their communication devices.

Fortunately, he was successful on both accounts – they would all, likely, survive, and he got a boxy communicator off the belt of one of them that hadn’t been shattered by Polymnia’s attack.

“Brennus, take a look at this,” said heroine spoke up behind him. When he turned around, she held up one of the darts the Skullmen had fired at them. It was still glowing, slightly, though the light was growing steadily more dim.

“Looks like a knockout dart,” he observed, taking it from her hand to look closer. Running a simple spectrometric analysis revealed it to be filled by a commonly used sedative – one employed by most police forces, among others. That much made sense. What did not make sense was why they were built to glow (as were the rifles they’d been fired from), as it didn’t seem to serve any function he could make out. “Pretty common sedative, all things considered.”

“That’s kind of my point,” she spoke through her vocaliser. “These are the people who created those monsters, right?”

“As far as we know, yes, though I am reasonably certain of it,” he replied, wondering what she was getting at.

“And one of their members is Dusu, a woman who wiped out a large part of Hawaii’s population – almost a million people.”

“Yes, they are horrible people. What are you getting at?”

“Even though they are, at the very least, responsible for a number of casualties in the six-digits – likely even more – they… made an effort to create a teleport-interdiction system which split us up and deposited us – presumably – in separate rooms meant to disable and contain, instead of killing us. Their security forces even wield strictly non-lethal technology – those are flashbangs and other non-lethal grenades on them, no?”

He aimed his spectrometre at a grenade belt, analysing it. “Yes, they are…” he answered her, as he caught up to their thought process. “Which raises the question, what kind of group participates in wide-spread slaughter on a scale that’d make Weisswald proud…”

“… yet takes great pains to spare the lives of anyone who attempts to infiltrate their very stronghold – the place in which they ought to be at their most vicious when defending it!?”

He looked down at the knockout dart in his fingers, contemplating the question, but came up empty.

“It does not matter,” he answered, wrapping his fist around the dart and squeezing. When he opened it again, the crushed remains of the dart fell down on the ground. “We have to fight them either way – let us be on our way.”

***

Leaving the room proved to be no problem at all – the door behind the Skullmen had been open, leading out into a hallway with an octagonal cross-section, which however led straight to their first problem – hub where it crossed with three other similar hallways, giving them a total of seven options for where to proceed, but no indication as to which path they ought to take; there were no markings or signs whatsoever in this part of the structure and neither of them had any way to determine where to go; Basil had a compass built into his interface, but he had no idea where they were, within the structure they’d seen earlier on, and so could not say at all which direction was the wisest one to take.

In the end, they had to rely on Polymnia’s ability to pick up even the faintest sounds; though the only ones she could get, other than the heartbeats of the fallen foes behind them, were too faint to truly identify, she could determine which direction was the loudest. In this case, the hallway that intersected theirs at a right angle, specifically the right-hand part of it, was the loudest one by far.

Next, of course, they had to decide whether to move towards or away from it. On one hand, it was likely to be the least safe direction to go towards. On the other, it was also the one most likely to yield some information, which they were in desperate need of.

Which was why Basil had taken one of the unbroken communicators off the fallen soldiers (Polymnia had taken the sole other one that wasn’t ruined), and was now leaning against the wall, a cable running from a pouch on his belt to the communicator, plugging into a small port to give him direct access to it.

He could, of course, just turn it on and try to listen in on the enemy’s conversation, but he didn’t relish the idea of deliberately tipping his hand like that. While it was quite possible the enemy already knew he had a communicator on hand – though he’d so far failed to make out any cameras or other surveillance in the hallway, it paid to be paranoid, which was the reason why he was modifying the programming on this communicator. Fortunately, it wasn’t a gadget or – even more fortunately! – a contrivance, so he was able to make it no longer transmit its location, as he’d quickly determined it was designed to do. He also blocked it from being remotely turned on so as to listen in to what happened around it, then did the same for the one Polymnia had brought with her.

“How do we know they don’t have other means of listening in on us, though?” she asked once he was finished. “Microphones are much easier to hide than cameras – I ought to know – and they may well have people with powers that allow them to surveil us.”

“There is nothing at all we can do about power-based surveillance, as we are,” he replied, rolling his shoulders. “If Gloom Glimmer was here, then she could do something about it, but she is not – which, honestly, worries me more than anything else that has happened over the last month – what could possibly keep her occupied against her will?”

She screwed up her face, her shoulders rising into a slightly hunched posture. “Yeah… I can’t imagine why… she hasn’t come find me yet… I hope she’s alright.”

“I am reasonably certain that she is safe,” he replied calmly, as even he couldn’t overlook the fact that her eyes had grown quite wet in response to his concerns. “More safe than we are, certainly. Speaking of which, I am far more worried about the other members of our party – they are much less likely to have resisted whatever means our opponents deployed to subdue them than you or I, and certainly far less so than Gloom Glimmer.”

“You really think so?” she asked, her voice seeming completely calm, even if she looked more than a little choked up.

He nodded, reaching out awkwardly to pat her on the shoulder. “Think about it. They had some kind of contrivance that reacted to our attempt to teleport in, then divided us up based on our power sets and sent us into separate rooms, each likely meant to nullify our specific powersets in some fashion – almost certainly via contrivances of some sort, except for the EMP dishes in our cell, which I am certain were mundane technology or gadgets. Now, if they had a cell which can counter every possible power there is, then they would not have had any need to split us up – we would all just have been dumped into the same place. And since nothing short of that could contain Gloom Glimmer, she is likely already free and wrecking this place, or making her way to us – though she is probably refraining from simply teleporting here, so as to avoid a repeat performance of their teleport interdiction.”

She took a deep breath, calming herself. “That does make sense… however, I just had a thought. Maybe… they do have some manner of universal power nullification, and it’s just you and me who were separated from the others? After all, power nullification would be useless against you, and would only slightly impede me.”

He paused, surprised. “Oh… I had not thought of that.” He lowered his hand from her shoulder. “That is… certainly possible.”

Leaning against the wall again, he contemplated quietly, for a few moments. “Unlikely, but possible… however, you just helped me realise something.”

“What?”

“Assuming Gloom Glimmer’s analysis is correct, then you and me are currently on the Northern half of this city – they do seem to keep Contrivers and Gadgeteers apart; their system would have sent you and me North both for subduing us, and to put us right where people could analyse our equipment, once they pilfered it from us. Meanwhile, power nullification is not something we have ever seen gadgets do – that would be done by way of contrivances, unless they use a metahuman for that, which I doubt, considering their setup here…”

She picked up on his train of thought easily, getting a thoughtful look, wrapping one arm around her torso and putting her other hand under her chin in a classic ‘thinker’ pose. “Which would put them on the Southern half of this place, giving us an idea of which direction we ought to move towards!” Her lips had turned up into a smile towards the end, which he was quite happy to see.

Girls should be smiling, not looking depressed and on the verge of tears, as far as he was concerned.

“Conveniently enough, South lies in the opposite direction from where you are picking up the loudest sounds,” he added, pointing down the respective corridor which lined up exactly with the South his compass was displaying.

“Then let’s go kick some ass and find our fr- there’s something coming our way from the South!” Her exclamation turned into a shocked shout, her eyes widening as she picked up something Basil couldn’t begin to sense yet.

Whirling around, he dropped to one knee, raising his gauntlet to project his shield, as Polymnia joined him behind it.

Soon, he saw black-and-white blur race down the hallway towards them, far faster than either of them could track it.

“Wait, is th-” he began to say, but then it was upon them – and it simply ran around him, faster than he could have turned with it or attack in some way.

He heard a gasp behind him, and then the groaning sound of heavy-duty armour being compressed hard.

Dropping into a roll, he came up facing towards Polymnia, switching his gauntlet from the shield to its attack mode…

But he needn’t have bothered, as all he saw was Polymnia being hugged by Gloom Glimmer, who was squeezing so hard her friend’s bulletproof armour seemed to be on the verge of cracking.

“I was so worried!” she sobbed, squeezing harder, making Polymnia groan, though she did so with a smile. “I came as fast as I could, but my power wouldn’t give me teleportation again!”

“It’s alright, Gloomy,” Polymnia said, her voice coming out calm. “But if you don’t relax a bit, I’m afraid my head is going to pop.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” The daughter of the world’s chief heroine and villain let go of her friend, shuffling back with an embarrassed look. “Are you, are you alright?” she asked, clenching her hands behind her back, as if afraid she’d just hug her friend again if she didn’t hold them there, looking down at her feet.

“Yes, I am,” Polymnia replied to her friend, reaching out and giving her a light, brief hug. “Me and Brennus kicked butt here.”

Gloom Glimmer turned her head, looking at Basil – who’d stood up again, now that it seemed like they were at least temporarily safe – as if she’d only now noticed he was there.

Before he knew it, she had her arms around him, and gave him a squeeze he felt even through his armour.

Ugh… definitely super-strength…

“Thank you so much!” she said, before stepping back to wipe a few unshed tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry things went so wrong… my power didn’t warn me about this trap at all.”

“Well, how many people have a teleport interdiction system?” Basil replied with a shrug, as he rubbed his sides. That had been a really tight hug. “No one blames you for not expecting such an arcane security system, even in a place such as this.”

“W-well, that shouldn’t be a problem anymore,” she mumbled, looking chargrined. “I’ve got a danger sense now, and I’ll hold onto it for as long as I can.”

“That’s very useful!” Polymnia exclaimed brightly, stepping up to stand next to her friend, taking her hand and squeezing it softly. “Don’t beat yourself up over getting surprised by this – we all were, and it’s not your job to be ready for everything.”

Gloom Glimmer sighed, relaxing visibly enough, as soon as their hands touched, for even Basil to pick up on it. “Well, it won’t happen again… I’ve had this power before, and it’s a strong one. Should let me steer us around any big threat. And I’m pretty sure I can track down our teammates, too.”

“Any insights so far?” Basil asked. “We need any information we can get.”

She nodded. “Yeah, uh… there are a lot of dangers around here. Especially in the centre of this installation. The top level of the centermost tower, in particular, it’s glowing brighter than anything else around here.”

Both gadgeteers tilted their heads to the side. “What does that mean, exactly?”

“Oh, right, um,” Gloom Glimmer scratched her cheek with her free hand. “This danger sense highlights threats. Colour and intensity of the glow tell me what kind of danger it is, and just how dangerous, irrespective of whether they’re actually an enemy.”

“Meaning?” Basil pushed for more details.

“Um… meaning that, whoever or whatever is at the top of this place… they glow white. Which means, the danger they represent covers every base, physical, mental, social, emotional. And… they glow brighter than my dad.”

She took a deep breath, and looked South, and up – presumably towards this bright glow. “Whoever that is… they’re more dangerous than the Dark.”

Basil looked in the same direction, feeling… oddly calm, all things considered. It wasn’t like he hadn’t expected things to get worse.

“Super.”

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Filed under: Brennus Chapters Tagged: Basil, Gloom Glimmer, Polymnia
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In My Daydreams

A Day in The Life: Part 20

In My Daydreams

I flew past the hotel, a thirty-three-floor needle of mirrored glass that stood near a parking structure to my and a rust colored 19th century to its right—though a path that led to an old bridge stood between them.

I might be ready to disappear to an alternate world, but maybe I could do something.

The dinos swarmed down the wide sidewalk overlooking the river, but without the enthusiasm, I’d seen before. A few of them pointed at me and shrunk closer to the building.

Ahead of them, Bloodmaiden could only be described as being in her element. When she wasn’t skewering dinos with her spear, she threw it, punching them with gauntlets that burned with fire as she waited for it to come back.

Anything that came near her died and she never seemed to get tired. If anything, she seemed to have more energy.

“Voice,” C said over the comm, “get into the hotel and tell the civilians to stay inside. See if you can call back the people who are already trying to leave.”

“There’s some guy in there panicking,” the Mystic said. “I’ll send you a picture once you’re in my range. If he stops egging them on, we’ll be much better off.”

Doppelgänger stood next to Bloodmaiden. Though she (I assumed) was still tall and gray, she’d modified her form. The Heroes’ League costume covered her torso, exposing her legs and arms, but the skin around her limbs had thickened and hardened. Aside from the armor, her legs and arms had already thickened to the point that they looked like a bodybuilder’s.

Muscles and armor weren’t the only modifications she’d made. She had claws too. They looked exactly like Wolverine’s in the X-Men movies except that they weren’t metal.

I wondered how well they worked in real life. It seemed like the kind of idea that someone who read comic books would come up with, but I couldn’t argue with the results. She moved in a blur. To my eye, she didn’t seem as fast as a speedster, but she was faster than most and had the strength her muscles promised. When she slashed, she cut, and her claws didn’t  stuck. When one broke, she grew another, healing her own wounds just as easily.

The two of them covered for each other, standing by side or back to back. Above them, the Mystic slowed the dinos down, choosing the best moments to use telekinesis, tripping the front row of a charge and knocking over as many as five rows behind it like dominoes  before the crowd stopped.

Ghost caused as much mayhem as her namesake, becoming visible in the middle of a crowd of dinosaurs and firing her pistols, frightening them into jumping sideways to avoid her bullets. They fell into the river on the left of the sidewalk or tripped over the bushes to the right.

As clever and as brave as they were, they’d get tired in the end. Even if they hadn’t been hurt Bloodmaiden and Doppelgänger had been hit. The Mystic would get tired. Ghost would run out of ammo.

I could make it a little easier and maybe save them from a few bad memories. I let the energy build, dropping into the middle of the sidewalk. The concrete turned black around my feet and the dinosaurs dove into the water to avoid my shield’s heat, their feathers beginning to burn.

When I felt like I had enough, I let the energy go in a long thin stream—thin as my energy blasts go anyway. It burned everything in front of me, nearly disintegrating the closest, leaving several pairs of smoking boots. Further down the block, they were less fortunate—terminally burnt, but still conscious and wailing.

Still, the League costume’s readouts showed that none of us were near the blast. I could only wish the military had technology like it.

I let off a second blast that was stronger than the first to end their suffering. It blackened sidewalk, killed grass, and burned bushes, but it did stop the noise.

With that, I took to the sky. They’d be able to handle the few that were near. More would come, too many for anyone to handle, but that would be true until we stopped them at the source.

I didn’t have time to wonder when that would be because C’s voice filled my ears even as I rose above the city. “Control’s locked on to you, but it will be easier if you hover. You’ll be translated to another universe and appear within one of their domes. When you’re done, we’ll move you to the next.”

Hovering above the city, I watched more dinos step out of the gates, beginning to fill the holes I’d made in their ranks. They sniffed the burnt remains of their fellow soldiers when they reached them, looking around as if expecting to be attacked.

“How will you know when I’m done?” I asked.

C said, “The Rocket built a cross-dimensional transmitter into the costume’s comms. You’ll be able to tell us and we’ll be able to lock in and watch you. Ready?”

“Ready,” I told him.

The world changed around me, blurring, but then the sky disappeared, replaced by a giant concrete dome, supported by steel beams. Below me, eight black and silver discs glowed and dinos walked up ramps to stand on the platforms, disappearing when they reached the middle.

I dropped, letting the energy fill the shield around me, feeling it vibrate, hearing it hum. I knew what it would take equal the blast of a small nuclear bomb.

It wouldn’t take as much as you’d think.

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In My Daydreams

A Day in The Life: Part 19

In My Daydreams

The comm clicked and I heard C’s deep, bass voice. “Critical Mass. Please go to Gateway B. They’ll need your help.”

Taking a last look below, I let more power in. The sheath around me glowed with more energy and I flew upward, flying over the line of 19th century buildings with their carvings and decorations.

On the other side, the buildings changed from Victorian leftovers to modern parking garages—even if one of the modern garages looked Victorian, all red brick and ribbon-like carvings in fake stone around the corners.

I had no time to investigate the architecture, either to appreciate it or mock it. Dinosaurs filled the streets between the fake Victorian parking structure and a more normal gray, concrete parking structure that actually looked like a parking structure.

I’d seen them making the gateway disappear and reappear further down the street. What they’d gotten out of it was a force that appeared to be converging on the hotel. And how much sense did that make? While I understood that they ate people, it wasn’t where I’d send my forces if I had any control over them.

What bothered me was that there seemed to be so many more dinosaurs than I’d seen on the other streets, and it wasn’t because the other team had been slacking off.

They’d recognized what was going on, placing Night Wolf’s car and a cat shaped mech in front of the hotel. Both of them had sonic weapons like the Rocket’s suit and used them to keep the dinosaurs away while they fought. The Wolfmobile had fired off missiles that left tanks and a few of the twelve foot tall dinos burning on the ground. The Catmecha’s laser in combination with its clawed feet cut through the crowds that came near the hotel.

If that weren’t enough, Railgun stood between the two vehicles, spraying slivers of metal into the crowd like a giant, silver-gray humanoid machine gun. Occasionally, she’d shoot down one of the small, winged dinosaurs.

A large dumpster stood behind her. To my eyes, a quarter of it had already been absorbed and fired away.

By themselves that might not have been enough to control a crowd of dino soldiers that spread down nearly two blocks from the hotel, but that wasn’t all. Walls of impenetrable darkness around fifteen feet tall and just as thick surrounded the front of the hotel.

That must have been Shadow’s work, but I couldn’t see where she was. Storm King stood on the roof of the modern car structure.

A dark cloud hung over the block and lightning flashed from it into the dinos.

“Same thing as the last time?” I asked.

C said, “That’s right.”

I did, dropping as I let energy into the sheath and then let it free in a burst of light and heat. I aimed it down the street, carving out a gap in the crowd that was almost as wide as the street and more than a block long.

Screams of pain erupted from the dinosaurs during the beginning of the burn, but by the time I’d finished it was much more quiet. I hadn’t killed them all. They’d stayed alive on the sidewalks and the side of the road. I could only fire down the middle of the street unless I wanted to annihilate buildings and start the downtown on fire.

Night Wolf’s voice came over the comm. “That clears them out. Damn. I think we’ve got a fighting chance now. Thanks.”

Again, that wasn’t completely true. The dinos were still stepping out of the gateway in the intersection in front of the hotel, but ones that had survived the blast weren’t in any hurry to mass in the street and charge. They stayed next to the buildings, still cowering.

“Uh-oh,” the Mystic said. “New problem. The hotel residents are leaving.”

He wasn’t wrong. The hotel’s lower floor had clear glass and people were filling the lobby, many of them carrying suitcases, and running for the door.

The comm crackled and Voice said, “I’ve got this.”

Stepping out of shadows near the front door, she stood in front of doors. As they opened, she pointed at the hotel. “You can’t come out here. Back inside.”

You wouldn’t think that a terrified mob would listen to a slim, blond woman in a pink and white costume, but you’d be wrong. They turned around and went back into the lobby.

“Bad news,” the Mystic said. “They’re going out the other side of the hotel—the river side—and running toward the parking garage. Worse news, a bunch of dinosaurs made it to this side too. Bloodmaiden, Doppelgänger, Ghost and I are going to do our best to hold them off, but we could use any help you’ve got.”

Before anyone else said anything, the Rockets broke in. “You know how we didn’t get here instantly? We didn’t know where all the dinosaurs went before we showed up, but we’ve been seeing them at other downtown hotels. Accelerando’s been helping, but we can’t do much from the jet—“

C said, “Rocket, Night Cat, and Critical Mass, we got coordinates from Guardian. Expect to be translated over at any time. Blue and Blur join Acclerando in checking the hotels.”

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In My Daydreams

A Day in The Life: Part 18

In My Daydreams

“You know what I’m saying,” C said. “You’ll have to kill them. There’s no way around it. Do what you need to do.”

They did.

There were two gates. One now stood where a street deadended into a small park in the middle of downtown. Though there were trees and grass in the park, an open air amphitheater filled most of it. Five levels of seats faced a concrete stage. The banner hanging above the stage proclaimed “Sponsored by Rhino Breweries.”

The gate glowed bluish-white, but this one was wider than the gate in the alley. Twenty dinos could walk through at once and they were stepping through—except for the ones that flew. When the first gate opened it had been obvious that there was more than one species of sapient dino, but it was more obvious now. I could see at least three—small ones with wings, larger ones without wings (about five feet tall), but also much larger, close to twelve feet tall.

All of them, to my eye, were very nearly the same species. They looked close enough to the velociraptors that appeared in movies except that feathers covered their bodies and the winged ones’ feet were more like fingers than claws.

How to describe the battle? Chaos, but managed chaos.

Supers try not to scare normal people. Since the Second World War, superheroes have been careful to hold back, to capture rather than kill, to respect laws when they can. Battles where supers have to go all out show supers’ full potential, giving super-hating groups like True Humanity everything they need to stoke the fears of anyone who isn’t sure where they fit in a world where humans can challenge gods.

This battle was no exception. It was the kind of fight that gave public relations firms nightmares.

The Power, Gravity Star, and Captain Commando had set themselves up near the gateway. The Power stood on the roof of the Grand Lake Art Museum, a blocky, concrete building. Gravity Star stood on the roof of an ornate stone building that had once been a bank.

Captain Commando stood next to a red, white and blue motorcycle that looked exactly like the first Captain Commando’s motorcycle. For all I know, it may have been the same one. Her sword hung sheathed on her back as she aimed a purple gun with silver sparkles at the dinos. It looked like something that might have girl’s toy set—if Barbie used 50s style sci-fi ray guns.

And if girls’ toy sets did come with guns like that, they’d have been sued.

The dinos ran out of the gateway, not caring what could happen to them on the side, roaring, screeching, screaming. As they did, anything metal flew into the air. Some of them tried to hang on, but they couldn’t hang on long, letting go when they realized the weapons couldn’t stop them or the strap that held the gun to their bodies broke.

At the same time, many of them stumbled or fell over as gravity increased unexpectedly. In the middle of that Captain Commando fired the sparkly gun. Anything its bright, yellow beam hit burned.

Burnt bodies halfway down the block testified that she’d been using the gun successfully. The unburned, bludgeoned bodies among them hinted that the Power had been doing more than taking guns away.

That wasn’t the end of it. Because of their sheer numbers, many dinos made it through, but those that did faced lightning from not one person, but two. Red Legacy threw lightning from his hands. Red Hex threw lightning with her staff.

The gate had been disappearing and reappearing before we left the League’s headquarters and before they’d arrived. Hundreds of dinos must have arrived. Some had scattered into the city, but a many colored crowd had come to free the gate. If the dinosaurs hadn’t have been murderous, they’d have been beautiful. Their feathers were all the colors of the rainbow.

Talons outstretched they charged, ready to swarm Captain Commando and then the roof, but it wasn’t that simple. I’d never seen a troll before I’d visited Grand Lake. Big nosed with tusklike teeth and a muscled body twice the size of a normal human, it crushed the smaller dinosaurs under its feet, smashed the bigger dinos with the blow from its hands.

Next to Troll stood Gunther, one short sword in either hand. Wherever he went, he left a trail of blood and not just a trail—pools. Once in a while, he paused to shout at Fourpoint, the man who could mimic movements or Blur, the short speedster.

The odds seemed long, but I could believe they’d win this fight—at least for now.

The crowd of dinos went for half a block. I could make this easier. Checking the HUD for my teammates and not finding any, I spoke into the comm, “Taking a shot at the crowd east of the park. Stay back!”

I let go of my flight and started to fall, feeling the energy build. The glowing sheath around me glowed ever brighter as I dropped, but as I got closer to the ground, I let the energy go, throwing me upward as a blast of energy hit below.

My shields glowed a little less as I slowed to hover. I’d burned at least three-fourths of them to cinders. It was a good shot and it hadn’t hit any of us. Relief washed over me.

I wondered how the team fighting at the other gate was doing. It wouldn’t be hard to find out.

Meanwhile, dinos continued to pour out of our gate only to be met with a cloud of metal shards.

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In My Daydreams

A Day in The Life: Part 17

In My Daydreams

Just as it had earlier, Blue’s yell caused chaos. The giant winged dinos dove to avoid her voice despite anything their riders did with their reins. As they dove, the League jet circled around from over Grand Lake to appear behind us even as we dove to follow.

“I’m thinking we should use Blue to herd them,” the Rocket said. “If they stay low, it shouldn’t be hard to hit them from the side.”

Blue’s voice came over the comm. “I’ll try, but you’re going to lose a lot of windows.”

The Rocket said, “Hmmmn. You can narrowcast, right? Or maybe find a frequency they’re suseptible to that doesn’t break things?”

Blue’s grunted. “I’m not a computer. If you figure out the right frequency, play it for me and I’ll imitate it.”

As they talked, we dove toward the city. The dinos couldn’t fly between the buildings—they were too close—but they could dodge behind the taller skyscrapers and change direction.

Worse, they were doing it.

The group of them had flown around a boxy fifteen story building next to the river that ran through downtown. Two of dinos flew past it, angling themselves toward the lake when they were out of our sight. The other four flew toward the growing army of dinos.

Blue and I understood what had happened as we followed them around the back of the building, its mirrored glass reflecting my glow.

Blue spoke over the comm, “They’re scattering.”

A new voice spoke over the comm—Accelerando’s, “We’ll take the ones heading for the lake.”

Before anyone could reply, a purple colored figure appeared on the top of the ten story buiding next to the one we’d flown around. Then Accelerando ran across the roof, jumping, and hitting the nearest flying dino’s neck.

She pulled herself up on the neck in a blur of movement that ended with a blow to the back of the dino’s head. It fell and she jumped off, stubby wings extending from the back of her costume.

At that moment we learned what she’d meant by “we.” A beam of light hit the other dino that had been heading toward the water, cutting off one of its wings.

It fell, splashing down, and sinking beneath the waves.

I couldn’t tell at that moment where the beam has come from, but by the time I’d made it around the building I could. A giant red, white, and blue robot stood in the street, still pointing an arm that ended in a laser barrel at the sky.

The Shift’s voice came over the comm. “Wasn’t that a semi earlier? Did One just make you Optimus Prime?”

Two sighed. “He didn’t do exactly the same weapons, but yeah, in looks. Plus, I helped.”

I didn’t have time to pay attention after that. Too much happened at once. Night Cat’s voice came over the comm, “We’re concentrating on the right two. Blue and Critical Mass, left two are yours.”

Small laser beams peppered the outer two flyers, the League jet’s black silhouette dipping below the flying dinos, hitting them more than once.

“Taking the far left,” I said.

Blue accelerated past me. “Got it.”

Then she screamed (and not into the comm). The two dinos dodged in opposite directions to avoid the noise, mine left toward the water and hers to the right, toward the city.

I let energy through, feeling it throw me forward, and then as I came close enough I let go of my flight, let the energy gather further, further… Then as I felt there was enough, I let it all free, recovering my flight before I dropped on to the strange wave shaped conference center below me.

The dino burned in the air. I’d hit it with a cone of energy wide enough to surround all of its body but the wings. It turned into black ash.

It didn’t disintegrate, but when it fell, it became a pile of ash on the sidewalk next to its cooked but still fleshy wings.

Ahead of me in the air, Blue screamed again, and even though it didn’t hurt me, I could tell that it was loud. While the creature darted in one direction and then another, trying to avoid the noise, she grabbed the tail, swinging it around, and down to the ground.

It hit dirt in a huge junkyard on the north side of downtown, near where the old factories and warehouses began.

In the moment, I felt sorry for the poor, dumb beasts, if less sorry for their riders, but it wasn’t time for that. Even then I knew I’d be killing many more that day, some of them self-aware.

I took a breath, watching as the League jet dispatched one dino and then the other above the water. How they’d got them there, I had no idea.

Only then did I have time to realize that C had been talking to the group. “… The National Guard dropped enough bombs through the gateways near the armory that they closed the gates. We’re not going to do that. We’re going keep a perimeter around the downtown gates. Nothing must get past the perimeter, and we’ll do it as I’ve been telling you—powers with a wide area effect cover the gates. The rest of you cover what gets past them.

“And remember, you’re authorized to defend the country right now. We’re not turning these creatures in to the police. If the dinos see civilians, they’ll try to eat them. I can tell you this from experience.

“Hold the perimeter, and if the gates move, move with them.”

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The Dreaming

4.0 Applegate: The Fair Folk

The Dreaming

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“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.”

– Robin “Puck” Goodfellow*

Ah, if only things were so easy as the Bard wants us to think. Unfortunately for this author, and any other who has run across them, the actual Fae are, barring a few exceptions, nowhere near as charming and good-natured as they appear in this play – and we’re talking about a story involving involuntary shape-shifting and mind-control!

Actual Fae – also in use are terms such as fair folk, faeries, faerys, pixies (though most of them detest this particular term), elves and sprites (usually used to describe one particular subcategory) – are among the most common phantasms one of us Awakened is likely to run into, whether we tread through city or wilderness. They are also some of the most capricious, self-centered and just plain unpleasant beings one is likely to meet, even though they – well, some of them – like to pretend otherwise.

This particular writing will hopefully prepare the studious reader to deal with these beings, which can range from mere pests and annoyances to nearly implacable horrors one must carefully manoeuvre around.

First, this author must stress that the Fae are diverse. For all that they may emphasize their dual nature, they markedly differ from one another even within their respective courts, and while their abilities are relatively consistent, the way they use them is most decidedly not so.

Ah, but this author should not be too hasty. Best to focus on some better more useful simpl general information first, no?

The Fae are phantasms, though they primarily inhabit the material world, living hidden amongst humans – or in the untamed wilds – in their real, flesh-and-blood bodies, rather than using proxies such as the ones favoured by demons and their ilk. As such, they can be killed like any other living being, yet they are also much harder to entrap with magic, as they also lack the usual weaknesses of beings possessing proxy bodies.

They tend to stick together in smaller courts, usually with a particularly powerful, brutal or intelligent fae acting as said court’s lord, a title distinct from the Lord of a region as acknowledged by Awakened society as a whole, which is why they’re also often named fae lords so as to avoid confusion – though there is nothing to prevent a fae lord from also becoming a Lord, provided they have the skill, power and ambition to claim and hold such a position.

Historically speaking, the various fae courts – as well as the two great Fae Courts – have been very close to humanity, for better or for worse (usually the latter), having more influence on even sleeper history than many would care to admit**.

To understand how to deal with the Fae, one must understand their nature, the duality of their courts which is so integral to their very being.

Most people have, of course, heard the stories of the Summer Court and its queen, Titania the Great. Just like how they have heard of her opposite number (and twin sister), Mab, the queen of the Winter Court, and their never-ending war for dominion over the land…

Except said war ended centuries ago, in 1803.

Ah, but this author is getting ahead of himself again. Let’s put up a few important tidbits of information, so my dear readers won’t be too lost when I explain what happened during that fateful time in humanity’s history.

First of all, back in the day, the Fair Folk – be they Summer or Winter – were powers of the Wild, lords of the untamed lands and forests (and in some cases, lakes and seas). By their very nature, they rejected human civilisation, even though they themselves emulated it in many ways.

Their famous vulnerability to cold iron and church bells was tied into their opposition to such concepts – it was not merely those specific objects*** which repelled them, but rather the very concept of human civilisation and refinement which they so embodied. Church bells – and the churches they were a part of – were symbols of human civilisation and progress, in many ways; the most refined objects in most any village or town for many, many centuries, swollen with tradition and ritual, overflowing, really.

For the same reason, the Fair Folk have had (and still have) trouble entering a private dwelling, provided it is not a mere hovel – civilisation repels them.

Obviously, this presented their kind with quite the conundrum as human society advanced, especially when the Industrialisation kicked off for good. Cities became more and more… refined, less and less wild****.

More and more hostile to the Fair Folk. They found themselves increasingly driven back into their forests, locked out of many human settlements by sheer dint of such things as paved roads, proper fortifications and and decorated, sturdy buildings.

With their forced abstinence from the centres of human society, their influence and power also waned; more and more of their kind was forced to retreat into the Dreaming, rather than remain in the Material World they so adore to mess with.

It was then that one particular Fae, the Princess Gloriana, daughter to Titania, hatched a daring, one might even say deranged, plan – if humans were changing so much, then the Fair Folk had to change, as well!*****

Against her mother’s and aunt’s wishes, Gloriana gathered several faithful retainers and set out for what was, at the time, the centre of human civilisation – our beloved London itself!

Walking into the city during the early nineteenth century, when the Industrialisation was at its height, must have been a profoundly tormenting experience to Gloriana and her people. Eye witness reports speak of their feet burning at the touch of the pavement, of coughing up bloody lung tissue after breathing in the soot-stained air and other, worse ailments that befell them.

And yet, this was not nearly the beginning of what Gloriana had planned.

This author does not know what followed their arrival in London, other than that it is considered to be unspeakable among the Fair Folk, the things Gloriana and her retainers did to themselves and each other so horrible, perverse and wrong, it is considered abominable to merely mention the fact that such things might ever have occured, especially amongst the Wyld Court.

No matter what kind of ritual was performed – if it even was a ritual in the classic sense – the results were impossible to overlook:

Gloriana and her people had changed themselves, inverting their very nature. Where before they had been spirits of the wild, free, unrestrained and indulgent, they had now become their own opposites – beings who revelled in the trappings of civilisation, in ostentatious appearances, rituals and gestures, as refined as they had once been wild; they had become the Fae of the Urban Court.

Summer, Winter and the Urban Ones. Three were one too many, said the very nature of the Fae.

Perhaps Gloriana had foreseen that this would happen. Perhaps not. But what followed was utterly unprecedented in all history this author is privy to – when the duality of the courts had been upset… the courts adapted.

Now that Gloriana was queen of the Urban Court, Summer and Winter, being so much more alike to each other than they resembled the Urban Court, literally fused together, becoming what is now known as the Wyld Court, which opposes the Urban Court.

Titania and Mab themselves became one being – or perhaps, two beings inhabiting one body, one of them always dormant while the other rules, switching places during solstices – when it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere******, Titania rules over her Summer Court, when it is winter, Mab rules over her Winter Court, both opposing their now shared daughter Gloriana and her Urban Court.

With this change, the roles of the Court’s changed, too. Whereas before it had been a struggle between growth and decay, emotion and reason, what now opposed each other were the forces of rigidity versus fluidity, civilisation and wilderness, oppression and savagery.

The Wyld Court is, in many ways, the true heir of the courts of old. Its Fae are wild things, unrestrained by the trappings of society (most eschew any and all clothing, these days, or only wear plants or animal skins), savage and coarse. Their animalistic orgies are as legendary as their mercurial nature, as is their hatred for the sound of church bells and prayer (regardless of the actual religion behind said prayer). They adore the crude, the rough and savage, and are repelled by refined speech and bearings, abhorring them the way humans abhor physical abuse. In the same way, they are vulnerable to symbols of such refinement, be it cold iron (meaning, any processed iron), religious icons held up with true faith to bolster them and so on.

The Urban Court opposes the Wyld in nearly every way, revelling in elaborate celebrations of themselves, wearing incredibly expensive and fanciful clothing and always speaking in the most refined, convoluted manner they can manage. They adore intrigue and manipulation above all else, abhorr direct confrontations and anything savage, wild and unrefined. They are particularly harmed by rough weapons (a branch broken fresh off a tree to serve as a weapon, a chipped, worn old stone knife, etc) and repelled by rough, coarse language and appearances.

However, beneath these facades, both Wyld and Urban Fae are ultimately not so different. Both are cruel, capricious, self-obsessed, xenophobic and, above all else, vain creatures.

You see, dear reader, it is no coincidence they are known as the Fair Folk, for you see… what you will see when you encounter a Fae will not be its true form. It will be whatever form they choose to wear, currently, using their glamour magic to make themselves look however they want to.

For beneath their Glamour, all Fae are… Butt Ugly.

This author can not stress enough just how disgusting and, paradoxically, bland the Fae appear beneath their pretty illusions.

And they hate nothing more than to be reminded of – or worse, forced to confront – that fact. It is considered just good sense for a Fae to murder any outsider who sees their true form, regardless of the repercussions it may yield. In the name of their own vanity, they would bring untold Calamities upon themselves, just to make sure no one sees them as they truly appear.

Which ought to tell you just about everything you really need to know about these creatures, dear reader.

Try and avoid them*******. These shadows will offend you. And most likely get you killed on top of that.

* Interestingly enough, the Puck is not strictly an elf, so much as he is – as was discovered several centuries after that play was written – merely a Mask worn by none other than that trickster Loki!
** For a well-known example, read Madame Chevreuil’s excellent treatise on the subject of Louis the Great, ‘Le Roi Soleil é le Fées de la Nuit’
*** Well, one object and one sound made by another object.
**** From a metaphysical standpoint, at least.
***** The idea that the Fair Folk might be anything less than perfect, and thus having to adapt, was and still is utterly alien to most of their kind.
****** You ask, ‘but what about the opposite seasons on the Southern Hemisphere? How does that work with the Wyld Court’s seasonal journey!?’. To which this author can only reply, ‘Dear Reader, have you read anything on how the human population is distributed across the globe?’
******* Or if you cannot, at least play to their insanities and their vanity. Kissing their butts is universally effective in keeping them happy and indulgent of their ‘guests’.

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The Dreaming

3.5 Who’s afraid of the Boogie-Man?

The Dreaming

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The darkness around me was all-encompassing. There was no light, at all, only blackness before my eyes, so dark I saw random colours flicker across my sight, indistinct after-images of the hallway just moments earlier, when my torch had still been whole.

As if it wasn’t enough that I was stuck in a locked, lightless hallway with no other human within screaming distance, I could also feel the presences of the monsters I had earlier believed to be able to scare away… only now they were scaring me, and doing a damn good job at it.

They hadn’t attacked me, yet, even though several seconds had passed during which I’d been frozen entirely, completely open to any attacks – but nothing happened. Yet just when I started to relax even the tiniest bit, I heard something scuttle up towards me from behind.

Click-click-clicklick-

I whirled around, blindly, raising my arms up to shield my face… and the sound of the approach stopped, leaving only the beating of my heart and my suddenly laboured breath to fill the hallway with their sounds.

What’s going on!? What are they… what are they doing?

Turning my head left and right yielded no results whatsoever, a weak attempt at triangulating sounds that weren’t there, stupid as it was.

My heart was beating a mile a minute, getting so loud it drowned out my own breath, and I had no idea what to do.

Sam is… Sam is gone. Shadows need light, without it, they might as well not exist, I recalled what the book had said. Knuckleye is… he wouldn’t be any use, anyway, he’s a disembodied hand for crying out loud!

I was so screwed. There was nothing, nothing I knew to do. There’d been a spell for creating light, in the grimoire, but I hadn’t had the time to practice it, and it required drawing a precise symbol on a flat surface… finding a flat surface wasn’t hard, I still remembered exactly where everything stood, but actually drawing something with any degree of precision…

Even without the monsters around me – quiet though they were being, instead of just swarming and eating me, or whatever they planned to do – I would have been hard-pressed to cast a spell, any spell, when I hadn’t had time to practice even one. I’d only ever cast a single door-unlocking spell, and it’d nearly made fall over!

The cloying sensation around me thickened, and something came at me again, bony claws making those unnerving, sharp clicks on the floor.

“Eeeeh!” I cried out, even though I should have seen it coming, and pressed myself against the wall – really, I pretty much threw myself at it – trying to dodge, but I needn’t have bothered. It just stopped before it even got to where I’d been a moment ago.

What the hell?

I stayed where I was, slowly regaining control of my breathing, and my wits.

They’re not attacking me, they’re just… toying with me, I realised, surprised. But why? I’m easy prey, aren’t I?

Unless…

They’re phobophages… they feed on fear. They don’t want to kill and eat me, they want to scare me and eat my fear!

Which meant… I actually stood a chance, if all they wanted to do for now was use scare tactics like that to mess with me.

It’s not like I have to beat them up… I just need to get to the door. I didn’t hear it lock, really. It just fell shut. I just need to get to it, open it and there’ll be light… I can just run into the big room, where there’s plenty of light, and fight them, or just run away.

I took a deep breath. That was a plan that could work. I just had to… make it work.

Using my left sleeve to wipe the sweat that’d gathered on my brow, I didn’t wait for them to do anything more – I ran towards where I knew the door to be, as fast as I could.

That was a mistake, as I found out presently, having barely taken two of the five steps I assumed I’d need to get to the door when something surprisingly light, but very bony in a very sharp, pointy way, slammed into my legs with an angry hissing sound.

Another squeal, this time of pure shock rather than fear, escaped my lips, my arms flailing around in a futile attempt to regain balance – with the only result being that I couldn’t use them to cushion my fall and slammed onto the thin carpet and, more importantly (and painfully) the hard wooden floor underneath.

For a short, dizzy moment, I groaned in pain and surprise, but even that was short-lived. Next thing I knew, something tackled me again, slamming into my side even as I lay there flat on the ground.

I cried out at the sudden pain, getting thrown around onto my back, just in time for another of those things to scuttle up my legging-clad legs, until I felt the disgusting, stinking, bony body of that thing I’d seen on the stairs lay on top of my stomach, its bony legs clamping down on my sides, hanging tight, while it took a hissing breath that, on the following exhalation, shot its disgustingly sweet, rotten aroma straight into my nose.

It made me gag, and it wasn’t a small one, either. I very nearly threw up in my mouth, fighting to hold what remained of my earlier meal in, while my brain registered the fact that the most disgusting, monstrous thing I’d ever seen was now perched atop me.

Demonstrating my chops, which clearly qualified me for this mission I had taken upon myself to fulfill, I freaked out.

I freaked out hard.

There was a sharp, loud sound, something screeching and discordant that hurt my ears, until I realised it was my own scream as I flailed around, tears sliding out of my eyes as I screamed and trashed and screamed and trashed…

One of my fists connected with what I assumed was the head of this creature, though it was higher up than I would have expected, even though it was pressed flat against my stomach, and it was thrown off of me, its legs letting go of my waist.

Ugh… uhhhhh… I turned on my side, groaning, nearly throwing up on the nice, clean carpet. What just… what just happened? It had let go of me, even though my strike hadn’t been all that strong, nor had I aimed it in any way. Not that I could, without any light to go by (fighting in the dark was not in my list of skills. I’d never found much use for martial arts in my life… a stance I clearly had to re-examine once this was over…

I put a pin in that thought, feeling my mind calm down again as it treaded more familiar territory, and started to push myself up onto all fours, in preparation for getting back up on my feet and get to that darn door!

Clearly, I should’ve recalled that there were supposed to be several of those things in the kindergarten, as another one leapt onto me from behind, slamming hard enough onto my back that my arms lost their grip and slipped, my face kissing the floor hard enough to hurt.

This one felt different from the one I’d seen on the stairs, its body longer, more sinuous yet just as skeletally thin and, judging by what I could feel through my sweater and jacket, probably covered in rough scales on a snake-like body that promptly began to wrap around me, its long tail rubbing over my calves, then my thighs and butt, making me shiver in disgust and fear.

I struggled, I really did, but it was too heavy, pushing me down with its rough, snake-like body’s weight, slowly, so damn slowly, wrapping itself around my waist and legs – the cloying, oppressive sensation that filled the entire hallway nearly to bursting only getting worse, while it also somehow tore my backpack from me, nearly dislocating my arms with the motion as it prepared to completely wrap around me and squeeze the life out of m-

“FUCK OFF!” I shouted, my voice high, shrill and utterly unrestrained in fear, as I realised what it had in store for me.

And the snake-thing obeyed, its body making a motion that seemed like a pained flinch to me, its coils loosening around my lower body.

Perhaps if I was more lucid, I would have stopped to consider what that reaction meant (and probably gotten caught again when it decided to tighten its coils once more), but fortunately, I just scrambled onwards in near-blind panic, trying just desperately to get away from whatever was attacking me.

The door, the door, get to the damn door, Ash! I told myself, eyes wide even though they couldn’t see anything.

Then there was a very distinct sound, a sound I had no trouble whatsoever recognising, which made my stomach plunge down into my feet.

The lock turned, very audibly locking the door and barring my exit, just a moment or two before I could take the final step and grab the handle that’d lead me towards (relative) safety.

After that, the sound of one of the old, rusty antique keys they still used for the doors actually inside the building scraping out of the lock, beyond my reach the moment it no longer was within the lock whose position I actually knew.

Oh no… what do I do? What the hell do I do!? They’d locked my way out into the main room, had destroyed the only source of light I had with me, other than some matches…

My matches! I knew where I’d put them, of course, the left front pocket of my jacket, however… if I pulled them out now, they’d likely just be slapped out of my hand, or something like that. The phobophages didn’t seem to have any problem seeing in the dark, after all.

I still don’t know what kind of phobophages they’re su-

My train of thought was cut off when something soft, squishy and yet firm wrapped around my ankles, making me cry out again before it tightened, drawing my ankles together painfull, then yanked, and I was pulled off my feet, hitting the ground hard with my back, barely avoiding taking a hit to the back of my head.

Owwwwww…

I sniffled, turning sideways and curling up in pain – but that was a mistake, again, as it only made more pain shoot up and down my back. That had been a bad fall.

Still, I wasn’t helpless, yet, and so I kicked my feet, straining against the disgustingly soft, squishy thing wrapped around my ankles… that scorpion-thing’s raflesia-topped tail?

Ewwww…

Trying to kick it off or force it to loosen its grip wasn’t having much of an effect, and I could hear something else, something like a huge snake, coming closer from where I’d left the other one behind earlier, from the side my head was pointed at. Soon, they’d both be upon me, and I had no illusions about my ability to fight these things off by main strength.

I have to make light. I need Sam! He, he’d know what to do! He had to! But if I try to use my matches right now, they’ll just stop me… unless…

I flipped myself around, onto my stomach – as much as that hurt me – and curled up, making a bit of a hollow beneath me, steading myself with my elbows on the ground as my hands went for my jacket’s pocket, even as the thing holding onto my ankles started to pull me towards itself.

Finding the matches almost immediately, I pulled them out, trying to hide what I was doing beneath my body, angling my head so the top was pressed against the ground, allowing my to look – not that I could see anything yet – towards where my hands were at work.

Snapping a match out of the paperboard folder, I pressed it against the striking surface. My hands were trembling so much I was afraid I’d break it off rather than ignite it, but when I scraped it over the coarse paper, it ignited.

I never would have thought I could feel such relief at the simple sight of a burning match, but there it was…

“Get the HELL away from her in a flea’s poo, you damned sheep’s farts!” Sam’s voice boomed near-instantly, the moment there was light, its usual smooth, honey-like beauty twisted into a rough, trumpet-like sound, making me jump on the spot, nearly dropping the match.

But that was nothing compared to the phobophages’ reaction, both of which screeched, audibly scurrying back from me, the one that had been pulling on my ankles letting go of them, too.

“S-sam?” I asked in a mixture of bone-melting relief and utter shock at his sudden, coarse language, and the effect it’d had.

“Ash, they’re urban fae!” he hissed, his dark form dancing in the small area of light my match created on the floor. “That’s what I was trying to say – they’re repulsed by all things coarse and unrefined!”

I remembered how the snake-like one had reacted to me cussing at it. So that’s why, I thought to myself.

“S-so how do I fight them?” I asked him, my voice nearly breaking. We had to hurry, before those things caught themselves again and rushed me – they had to know that they could just put out my match and leave me helpless in the dark again.

“Use that stick you brought along,” he said, referring to the old hokey stick I’d packed just in case I’d need a blunt instrument, “Beat them out of this place, and cuss like a sailor on shore leave while you’re at it!”

“I can’t!” I replied, immediately seeing the flaw in that plan. “Even if that’s effective, I can’t see them! A match ain’t enough to illuminate the hallway, and I can’t swing a hokey stick and also keep a match safe at the same time, anyway! Nevermind the fact that I don’t know where they put my backpack!”

“You have to open your sight,” he spoke hurriedly, while I could already hear the two faeries starting to move towards me again. “Bugger off, you smelly dogs! Go and scratch!” he shouted seemlessly, his voice shifting easily from smooth and soothing to coarse and loud.

“M-my sight? What?” I blinked away tears I hadn’t even realised were running out of my eyes.

“Your sight, your third eye!” he continued. “I’ll open it for you – use it to find them and beat them!”

And then I felt the oddest sensation, as Sam slide up my knees, where they touched the floor he was on, and across my thighs, hips and stomach, from where a long, slender arm slide up to my face, the sensation so alien it nearly made me drop the match which was the only thing letting him be with me.

“Ash,” he spoke, as I felt something not unlike a thumb being pressed against my forehead. “Open,” the scuttling sounds of the two faeries were almost upon me, their hissing breathing filling the air with that disgusting, cloying odor, “Your eye!”

Then the world unraveled around me, at the same time as the cuttling scorpion-faerie slammed into my butt hard enough to make me cry out in pain, rolling over my head, flipping over, with the sudden impact, dropping the match.

The sensation of Sam on my body vanished the moment the light went out, the same moment that I landed on my back again, making fresh pain lance up my back.

I opened my eyes, startled, even though there was only darkness to be seen…

Except, it wasn’t dark anymore. At least, not really.

There was still no light, but… there were other things. I could see… not really the ceiling above, not the walls, but I could see something… cloying and dark, like a blueish-black smoke curling in the air above me, interspersed by motes of pale light, both flowing around in entrancing swirls.

W-what am I seeing? I thought to myself, startled by the strange beauty of it.

I didn’t have long to enjoy it, though, as I felt something crawl onto me again, this time onto my front, bony, claw-tipped legs scrambling over my legs again…

Crying out, I lowered my gaze to look at it, expecting to see the scorpion-like thing I could feel on top of me – but I only saw a figure, roughly humanoid even if it was moving on all fours.

Except, I couldn’t really see it, because there was no light. But I could see how it moved through the flowing smoke and the motes of light, displacing them, making them flow around it, giving me a rough idea of its contours.

It looked like nothing so much as… a child. A very young teenager, perhaps, only thin, almost cadaverously so, and its head was malformed. Though I couldn’t make out any details, it reminded me of nothing so much as a dog’s head, perhaps. I couldn’t be sure, it was really hard to make out, would be really hard to make out even if it wasn’t climbing on top of me.

Fight back, Ash! I ordered myself, and lashed out with my right fist.

Clearly, the faery – that was what it was, right? – had not expected that. Taken aback by my sudden attack, it didn’t even try to dodge, and my fist took it fully on its misshapen snout.

With a startled cry, it was thrown back violently, blown clean off of me. It was much lighter than I had expected.

Even so, its snout had been hard. It freaking hurt, even though I’d punched it just like how my Papa had explained to me, keeping my thumb outside the fist, and all.

No time to pity yourself, there’s another one! And you need to find your things, too!

However I was now able to see them – this had to be the third eye Sam had mentioned, something the grimoire had only mentioned in passing – I still had two faeries to deal with which ought to be getting pretty pissed off by now.

Flipping myself over onto my stomach, I looked up just in time to see an identical humanoid shape scuttle towards me, on all fours, even as the only thing I heard was the sound of a snake-like, roughly-scaled body sliding across the carpet and hardwood floor.

They’re using… illusions! I realised, seeing the way the smoke immediately around them was clinging to its form in the rough shape of some kind of huge serpent, even as I pushed myself up onto my feet, running towards it, my mouth opening into a loud, unrestrained scream. I howled at it, and just like before, it screeched, repelled by the sudden, unrefined noise. I could see it flinch and avert its charge towards me, as if faced with something utterly repugnant.

As it did, I saw the smoke that filled the air – if it even was anything like smoke – brush against a lump on the ground that certainly had not been there before.

My backpack! I almost cried in joy as I ran towards it, reaching the discarded bundle.

My hands closed around the grip of the hokey stick that I’d put into it upside down, its bottom end sticking out of the top of the old backpack, and pulled it out like King Arthur pulling the Sword in the Stone out of the stone – Note to self, check how much about the Arthurian Myths is true! – and whirling around, now standing near the end of the hallway, next to the door I’d come in through originally.

Shifting into a broad stance, I held the stick in front of me with both hands, as if brandishing a sword.

Down the hallway, I could see my enemies – the two dog-faced, child-sized figures, both on all fours on the ground, snarling and hissing at me, more dark smoke shooting out of their snouts towards me, accompanied by that sweet, cloying, disgusting smell and… more shapes, coming down the stairs, two walking like people and another on all fours.

Five urban fae, all of them at least a head shorter than I, but with unknown magic powers of which I’d only figured out one yet – the ability to create illusions which I now could see through.

They were weak to rough, coarse stuff. Cussing at them was like using some kind of repelling magic.

Beating on people with a hokey stick was unlikely to count as anything other than unrefined and brutish, either.

Also, I had a perfect memory and had heard plenty of insults and curses from listening in on my Papa and his friends when they thought I was asleep.

Taking a deep breath, I stared hard at the faeries in front of me and snarled, baring my teeth.

“Come and get some, you arseholes!”

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Tieshaunn

Brennus Files 13: Origin Stories

Tieshaunn

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Everything comes from somewhere, and so do metahumans, and the powers that come with them. While few, if any, really know where the powers as such come from, there has been an enormous amount of research put into the process of Manifestation and the so-called Origins which precede it.

Origins

An Origin (always capitalised when used to refer to this concept) is the event, or series of events, which precedes a person becoming a metahuman.

What exactly qualifies as an Origin varies from person to person, with the minutiae of each having a significant impact on the attributes of the resulting metahuman, beyond just the nature of their power.

While it is pretty much impossible to predict what exactly might lead to a person manifesting powers, there definitely appears to be a common theme of extreme emotions which can be seen in every Manifestation to date; they’re usually events which push the person to physical and/or mental extremes, or come about due to those extremes.

In general, they can be divided up into two categories: negative and positive Origins.

A negative Origin is what most people think of when they speak of an Origin.

A man trapped underneath tons of concrete, trying desperately to get out before he is crushed by shifting rubble or suffocates due to the lack of air; a girl trapped in a burning building, breaking down in screams as the flames begin to lick her body; a young man finding himself on the cusp of achieving his life’s dream, only to hesitate at the last moment and lose it all; a heavily bullied boy, barely holding on at school, finally snaps when his tormentors drive away his last friend; another boy, running from a blazing monstrosity, desperately trying to carry his baby sister to safety even as he tears his own, bare feet apart.

That’s just a small sample of possible negative Origins, events which push people to the extreme in ways that threaten to, and often do, break them. Unfortunately, they happen to be the most common type of Origin by far, making up at least eighty percent of all recorded Origins – and likely far more, considering that not only is it considered a taboo to openly ask a metahuman about their Origin, but that many, especially heroes, often lie about or else obfuscate their Origin, for various reasons (not the least of which being an attempt to dissuade people from chasing harmful experiences in the hopes of gaining powers).

As they almost always result from people coming to harm, negative Origins generally lead to Manifestations providing violent, combative powers, which further skews the perception of the public, as the most visible metahumans – capes and cowls – are fighters, and so “favour” people who experienced a negative Origin.

Such power comes at a price, however, a price beyond simply having to undergo and then live with an experience harmful enough to cause a Manifestation. It colours the Manifestation, those unforgettable visions which all metahumans experience and which perhaps only a handful, if that many, people in the world actually comprehend. From that point forward, that person’s power is forever linked to these experiences, and every use of it will remind them of what they went through to gain it.

Furthermore, negative Origins are extraordinarily more likely to cause serious derangements, which can range from the annoying, but harmless (Hecate’s super-OCD) to the monstrously demented (Mindfuck’s obsession with making others suffer as he suffered), as well as serious physical mutations.

A positive Origin, in contrast, is an event diametrically opposed to its counterpart, yet also quite similar – an event which pushes a person to their physical, mental and/or emotional limits, and perhaps even beyond those, resulting in a manifestation. The difference being that they, as the term implies, are positive experiences – good things happening to you can also give you powers.

It could be the athlete who, after sacrificing most of his childhood to prepare, finally wins Olympic gold, in that moment when he stands upon the podium with his medal, bathing in the adulations of the crowd and his own euphoria; the social worker who, after years of failure, finally manages to save one of her charges and see them off to a better life, at last finding affirmation that it wasn’t for nothing; the boy who lifted a car off of his mother with nothing but his own muscles and will; the girl who, after years of toil, ostracism and sleepless nights, finally sees her dreams come true, side-by-side with her love, stepping forth into a new tomorrow; the last of a long line of treasure hunters, thought to have been nothing but madmen, finally finding the treasure his ancestors sacrificed everything to find, vindicated at last.

Such Origins are extraordinarily more rare than negative ones, as the threshold to manifest out of a positive experience seems to be much higher than vice versa; however, the rewards are more than worth it.

Positive Origins usually result in less focused, more versatile abilities (often lacking a clear, distinct issue to focus on, such as a collapsing building, fire, or bullying and abandonment); sometimes more abstract ones than usual, as well. Some of the strongest metahumans known claim decidedly positive Origins (Elysium’s/Diantha Whitaker’s great dance with the love of her life being one of the most well-known examples for having resulted in a decidedly overpowered ability), as do most metahumans with non-combat powers, such as Second Season, the man who travels the world making crops grow and trees bear fruit to combat world hunger.

The greatest advantage of such Origins, though, is the fact that they are the ones most likely to leave a metahuman stable, without any, or merely minor, derangements. As well, their powers are forever tied to a memory of jubilation and success, rather than being a reminder of the lowest moment of their life.

If only more people underwent positive Origins, perhaps cowls wouldn’t outnumber capes four to one even in more civilised places such as the USA.

***

While it may seem, so far, that Origins are usually singular events directly preceding the Manifestation, them is actually not always so. While that is most often the case, an Origin can actually cover a lot of time, a series of experiences which are topped off by one final crescendo pushing the nascent metahuman over the edge.

The build-up and the finale can contrast, too. An Origin may be many, many good, happy things happening to someone, only for one final, big catastrophy to hit, undoing or tainting all those happy memories in one fell swoop; or a long, long series of disappointments and despair, only to finally find success and vindication at the end of it.

Generally speaking, Origins taking place over longer periods of time tend to result in more complex abilities, as well as a disproportionate amount of Contrivers and Gadgeteers, rather than the simpler, more straightforward powers that a singular Origin may cause.

***

Armourface: A derogatory term referring to the idea that powers come about as a direct response to a single event (get stabbed in the face, face gains armour). This is almost never the case, and even when it is, there are usually aspects and deviations which put lie to the idea that things work in so straightforward a manner.

***

Second-Generation Metahumans

In some rare – though increasingly more common cases – metahumans appear with powers that appear derived from those of other metahumans whom they are close to – often family members or close friends.

These so-called second generation metahumans seem to require far less stressful Origins in order to manifest and are less likely to be deranged or to have some manner of inherent issue with their powers.

While their powers tend to be related to those of their ‘parents’, they are not necessarily directly derived; it is far more likely that a 2nd Gen will show aspects and elements in their power related to that of those metahumans they are related to, while their actual powers are, at their core, fundamentally different.

As metahumans become more and more common, the number of Second Generation Metahumans has also been rising, slowly countering the trend towards a disproportionate amount of cowls compared to capes, as these people do not require nearly so traumatic experiences to obtain powers.

There does not appear to be any meaningful difference between second- and third-generation metahumans.

***

Usually, there are common themes, connections and relations between an Origin and the resulting powers, such as:

  • An obvious, physical threat -> offensive power.
  • Bodily harm to the nascent metahuman -> protective power
  • Threat of harm (real or imagined) -> change self to escape or evade
  • Lack of information at the core of the issue -> Esper power
  • Recurring issue over a long time period -> Contriver or Gadgeteer

The reversals of these can lead to the same kind of powers, through a positive Origin:

  • Resisting bodily harm -> protective power
  • Resolving an issue by uncovering information -> Esper power
  • Overcoming a recurring issue -> Contriver or Gadgeteer

And so on.

However, these are just simplified examples, and it would take far too long to go in-depth as to which particular Origins may lead to what kinds of powers, nevermind that that’s always just guidelines anyway – in the end, one may still end up completely surprised by the result of a Manifestation.

***

Deviants

There are always those that buck the trends, cases where the apparently established powers simply don’t seem to apply at all. Some known cases of such would be:

  • Type/Level Zero: Persons who show signs of minor Physique powers (healthier, more fit and more beautiful than normal), without any other symptoms of being a metahuman, nor having ever experienced an Origin or a Manifestation.
  • Born Metahumans: Both DiL and Irene Whitaker/Gloom Glimmer manifested at birth, with no apparent Origin whatsoever. Irene does not remember experiencing any kind of Manifestation, either.
  • Queen Madeleine: Eye witnesses report definitely that Madeleine died to wounds inflicted on her after days of torture, as well as extreme exhaustion. Her status was confirmed and she was officially declared dead, before she appeared to spontaneously reincarnate into her monstrously powered form.

***

Final Words

This is but a small primer into the issue of Origins, Manifestations and power mechanics. Expanding upon the subject would not only take a long time, but would also risk an enormous amount of spoilers I am unwilling to divulge at this point in time.

As such, I’m afraid this will have to do for now…

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