Dice/Hollow 1: Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory (chapter 3)
Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
Even when you roll a bunch of ones, a twenty could be just around the corner...
0034hrs, Dec 12, 2015
FBI Office, Chicago, IL.
A tiny cubicle in that bastion of federal lawkeeping...
“Hey, Holder!” The voice stirred his mind a moment. Groggily, he pulled the book off his face and looked blearily around. He’d been taking a short nap on his break, in his chair, laid back, feet on the desk.
“What, Harding?” he answered, identifying the voice as belonging to one of the young blood walking towards him with a pot of coffee and a cup. That was a surprise. Holder was here late by choice, doing paperwork. It wasn’t as though he had a life to go back to. Just a tiny little apartment.
“You should see this. Looks right up Special Bounty’s alley,” the younger agent said, setting the cup in front of Holder and pouring him a cup, black. “Come on, drink up, wake up, and come look,” Harding said, walking off, then pausing to wait for Holder. Samuel Holder sighed, grabbed the coffee, and drank, grimacing at the taste.
“You couldn’t have brought some sugar?”
Harding just laughed. He led Holder to the break room, where a news segment was playing, or rather, replaying. On screen were distant shots of a building collapsed on a college campus, police, fire crews, and even the MCO on scene. The MCO had opened fire on something, when distinct purple barriers sprang into place. Holder spat out his foul tasting coffee in shock.
“Dude!” Harding complained, shaking his now coffee burnt hand in complaint.
Holder wasn’t paying attention. He set the coffee on the nearest surface, a desk, and pulled out his phone, wide awake. He punched in a number and hit send, then held perfectly still, vibrating inside with energy. “I need a plane, a helicopter, something fast. I need to get to Maryville, Missouri,” he said into the phone. “Yes, I know it’s midnight. Sir, I found Dice. Yes sir, Dice. How do I know? I’m staring at video footage.”
His father was looking down at him and laughing as he picked himself up on the ground. He had two good, healthy limbs. No strong man, not a real athlete, but he liked to run. Running was fun. So were games.
No… no please, not this dream… I hate this dream, his voice whined out in sorrow and pain. The dream continued.
He dusted himself off and glared at his friend, Nick. Nick just smiled innocently. “Pulling the bloody chair? Seriously? That’s an OLD gag!” he complained with a smile. His father set a plate of burgers and dogs in front of him. Nick’s mom laughed silently, and his dad just shook his head at their son. Lucas’s own mother reached out to help him, but stepped back when his dad shook his head. He was a big guy now, almost 16. He could at least stand up on his own without mom coming to the rescue.
That was the last happy night of my life… Dice moaned, watching the scene through his own eyes, unable to change a thing. He didn’t want to see what followed, not again. That didn’t stop it from coming.
He hadn’t even gone to bed yet. He was still putzing around in his room, playing with his new set of dice, all of them cut from a series of rose quartz crystals. He had his backpack still packed from their last gaming session, sitting at his feet. The dice were the only things he’d taken out of it. He was playing around with them, ogling them and examining them. It had been an incredible session. He had rolled high damage on every attack, and rolled eleven criticals… out of twelve attacks. Everyone insisted he had to be cheating, but no matter which dice he used, he was just lucky that night, pure and simple.
That was when he heard the screams. He raced out the door only to run straight into his father running up the stairs. His father never ran in the house. He had blood on him. “Lucas! Lucas, grab your bag and get ready to run!” he shouted, shoving his son back into his room. Lucas stared in horror at the blood on his father’s shirt.
“Where’s mom?” he asked. His father didn’t answer, but he didn’t need to. His eyes were haunted, and he looked away when his son asked that question. He couldn’t look away for long, however, as Lucas tried to shove past his father.
“NO, NO! You cannot! You cannot, we have to get you out. I don’t know what it is, but I’m not letting it have my son! Here, take your bag,” he ordered, grabbing his son. “The phones are dead, I don’t know how. We tried to call the police while we hid from it… but it was going for the stairs. Your mother… she loves you, son. She distracted it so I could get you out. HURRY, son,” his father urged. He shoved his son’s backpack and random clothes, some of them dirty, into it and placed it in Lucas’s hands. “I’m going to distract it. Head for the back stairs, run until you can call the police.”
No, please don’t… please don’t make me watch again… he begged, but the dream continued without mercy. It always did. No spell or power he’d ever found would make it stop. Dreamless sleep did not save him. Meditation would not help. Nothing ever did.
Instead, once again, he watched. He watched, terrified, wanting to cry, to weep. “Promise me you’ll do everything you can to live, to love, to learn, to grow, to be amazing. Don’t settle for mediocre. Be incredible.” He could only nod numbly, promising without voice. Then… then he could only watch as his father looked out the door, then dragged his son behind him and shoved him towards the back stairs before charging at some… thing that came barrelling up the stairs. “NOT MY SON!” he shouted, and tackled it. They tumbled down the stairs.
Go help our father! You have power, use it! Save him! Or at least die there… no… no I’m sorry dad, I… I won’t quit, I promise. I won’t quit…
Torn, he hesitated… then obeyed. He obeyed his father’s dying wishes…
His eyes flickered open to a pounding headache and an immense feeling of hatred flowing at him in waves. He was bound tightly to a tree with ropes he couldn’t seem to budge, and his head was pounding. The hatred… the hatred was MCO Officer Wilson. The man was standing in front of him, holding a gun, looking at him with a face of manic glee. Oh… shit. He reflexively reached out with his TK… and his headache tripled. This… this was bad.
Lionheart ducked under the thrown spear, which had already proven itself able to get past his PK shield. The wounds carried some kind of taint, but Rainstep had thus far proven capable of washing it out with his water blessing. The battlefield was in chaos, but one of the superteam's primary objectives had been accomplished. The combined efforts of Summer Breeze’s wind powers, his own strength, speed, and blessed sword, and Rainstep’s water blessing had allowed them all to more or less tie down the “Fallen Angel” class manifestation.
It seemed to answer to the name Cadrien, but this was most likely not its true name. It looked vaguely male, but emaciated, black and white in skin, with the wings of a bat. It had two pointed horns curling forward on its head. Despite all that, it had a glow and aura… it looked utterly beautiful. It must have had a glamour of some sort.
They attacked in sequence. Rainstep would throw his water into the sky, then Summer Breeze would take it up and spread it all over. The mist stung and burned and had limited the creature’s movements, forcing it to fight within a limited area. That limited area worked for Lionheart, who could leverage his strength and power well in a tight brawl. His blessed blade had no special power to cut or wound, at least none he had experienced. It was blessed however, and so where wounds from most weapons and attacks healed quickly, wounds from his blade did not. Even Rainstep’s water blessing, while painful, was not as effective. It hurt the monster, it stung and injured it, it could cleanse taint from wounds it inflicted, and the creature’s wounds closed more slowly when faced with that blessed water from a goddess… but they did close. Only the four wounds Lionheart had dealt it with his blessed blade did not close at all. The creature had figured that out quickly.
However… that had allowed them to maneuver him. The battle no longer took place above the school, but over farm fields nearby. There were still houses out here that could be endangered, but they were few and far between, unlike the massed dorms of the university campus. He loosed a wicked grin when they finally moved the creature and its master off the campus. He leapt into the fight with renewed ferocity, eager for the battle. He lead off with what looked like a two handed overswing, but this was a feint. When the monster tried to block him, he expertly flipped his sword around and pulled it upwards in a reverse grip, slipping under the strike and knocking the creature’s spear out of his way. His other hand held a marble, which he flicked at the monster. Of course, it was just an ordinary marble… with ten tons of force behind it. The creature grunted in surprise as it realized just how powerful Lionheart actually was, and went sailing backwards well out into the fields. “ATTACK!” Lionheart roared, his shouted echoing through the night with a roar even famed Arrowhead Stadium, the loudest stadium in the NFL, would be envious of.
The battle against its master was another matter. Scintillation ducked, dodged, bobbed, and weaved expertly. Years in the Whateley flier’s club had taught her how to maneuver with the best fliers the school had offered to her, and she had continued that practice in the training room provided by Princeps at their HQ. Endeavor flew near his massive ship, protecting it from attack as crew scurried about aboard it, trying most likely to fix the damage done to its cloak. The still unnamed dropship, which Lionheart hoped to make their signature transport, flew circles around the slow moving ship, pouring fire at it, which Endeavor was forced to intercept. The ship had its own defenses, but they were inadequate to the task on their own.
She was fortunate that the ship seemed not to possess magical means of attack, merely mundane machineguns, heavy caliber rounds, as well as lasers. The lasers were the easiest, as they did not fire quickly. Oh, the beams themselves were plenty fast and dangerous, but the guns firing them were simply easy to dodge thanks to her foresight charm. “Kegger, we’re not really hurting it, this is a massive friggin stalemate,” Scintillation called over the comm to her friend and teammate. “GL’s still tied up digging out the rubble, and even if he wasn’t I wouldn’t want him fighting this!” she called out. He was unquestionable the biggest rookie of the group, and no brick. She had magical charms to defend herself and an education at the academy. GL was being trained by the whole team, but while he had years of street experience in the rougher parts of KC and even a few years of martial arts… no, she did not want to risk him here, even if he’d probably have rather been in the thick of the fight. But he had major respect for Lionheart, so he obeyed.
“Where the hell is the National Guard or the Army?” she called out to Keggers.
“The governor just finished wakin up or sometin,” Keggers replied. “They’s comin, should be deployed any minute, but the damn local commander had to call people in without official orders! They aren’t at full heave ho yet!” his voice was light and calm, a counter to her own irritated calls, but that was deliberate. He was trying to help keep her calm and avoid riling her up. It would do little good to rile her up enough she screwed up and died. Or have something worse happen...
“I grow weary of this,” Endeavor suddenly called out. “Lucky me, it seems the situation has shifted in my favor!” he gloated. Scintillation gave him her full attention… and saw four new figures on the deck. Actually, three were returning, and the last was the only new face. It was the woman he’d seen looking… maybe intimate with? She had not gotten the best look. Endeavor landed on the deck, and suddenly the shields defending the ship seemed to strengthen.
Endeavor reached out and seemed to stroke the chin of the girl, who… it was hard to say if she shuddered with anticipation or dread, but Scintillation could almost taste the lust coming off the creature. Then he turned to the new face. She was taller than the other girl, but both had some distinctive GSD. While the minion’s skin was a flaming red and she had feathered wings growing under her arms, the new face had broken horns or something coming out of her head as her only obvious oddity. She was shaking and Scintillation watched her collapse.
She began throwing wave after wave at the ship, and Keggers and Auceps were tossing all the firepower they had at it, but that shield had suddenly gone from very penetrable and underwhelming to excessively whelming, maybe even overwhelming. Nothing was getting through.
“LIONHEART! SHIT JUST HIT THE FAN! HE’S GOT HIS TARGET!” She shouted into the comm. It had to be that. He’d been holding back, buying time while his minions retrieved his prize, and now he no longer needed to wait in a position to support them. “KEGGERS! Tell the guard to get their asses in gear! We’re out of time!” she screeched angrily into the comm. Scintillation glared at Endeavor, feeling the anger start to burn. It was incredibly fantastically rare, but it did happen. A Wiz type mutant who was also a class 3 rager. Scintillation was the living proof. Worse, the only 100% surefire way to cool her off was currently keeping her teammates alive fighting a fallen angel class monster. The waves of energy coming off her suddenly ratcheted up several notches. The shield shuddered under the hit.
It had taken them years to even figure it out. She didn’t even get diagnosed until her junior year, when she suddenly flipped and nearly killed someone during a combat final. Normally, there were lots of PK fields, manifestations, things like power armor, that could stand up to a few hits before they started to crack. Ways to defend against it or withstand it. She wasn’t much of a combat mage by most other people’s standards. She relied on her namesake attack for that, and devoted her magic to things like flying or various useful utility and support roles. It placed her on the upper tier, sure, but never at the top of the threat list, nowhere close.
When she’d gone rager for the first time; she’d almost burned down Arena 99 and killed her opponent, who had thought himself essentially fireproof. Mule was one of the most indestructible students on campus until she lost it. Her flames had gone from, “Needs a few hits to melt concrete,” to, “what concrete?”
That was her now. She couldn’t even see or hear Keggers or Auceps anymore. All she saw was that Endeavor had played them, had his prize, and was about to leave, and he thought he’d gotten it over on them. She had to stop him. Had to make him pay.
Lionheart heard her shouting, and he knew instantly what had just happened. It didn’t do them a lot of good, but it was what had happened. Scintillation had just flipped her lid. “BOSS! Scint’s gone and lost it!” Keggers called, reinforcing his conclusion.
“Lost what?” Grinning Leopard called out over the comms. The rookie sounded scared. “What did she lose? Holy shit!” he called out, obviously sighting the fireshow of Scintillation when her rager state kicked in.
“GL! Don’t worry about her, finish your job!” Lionheart roared, pounding down at the creature, Cadrien, like a railroad spike. “Rainstep!” he called, just as a blast of water smashed into the recovering fallen angel. It threw off the monster’s aim.
“Can’t! You know if I leave he’ll kill you!” Rainstep called out. Lionheart winced. It was true. Even with all they had, they still only had this damned thing on the defensive. However, they weren’t making any progress against it. It hit almost as hard as Lionheart, and it could punch through his PK field.
“I’ll help her!” Summer Breeze called out. “I can help a little, a calming gentle wind should be just the thing!” Breeze offered. It wasn’t as good as Rainstep’s water blessing, but unlike Rainstep, who did not dare try to make it all the way to Scintillation, cool her off, and come back to Lionheart, Summer Breeze’s usefulness was largely ended now that they had the thing away from the civilians.
“Breeze, she’s throwing around waves strong enough to incinerate buildings at a touch!” Rainstep called out fearfully.
“She’s my friend too! We’ve practiced this! You can spare me!” she countered.
Lionheart growled in irritation as he countered a blow from the creature. If his blade not been forged of adamantine, it would have long shattered. “Go, Breeze, Quickly!” he called out.
She flew off in a flurry of wind and heat. Lionheart had no time to watch her go, however. He had a monster to hold off. He roared in its face, ducking a blow and for once managing a lucky knick on its thigh, which caused it to growl. This damned thing was tough.
Breeze, meanwhile, was flying for all she had towards Scintillation. Scint had been her roommate their senior year at school. She considered the woman her dearest friend. She well knew Scintillation’s temper. She was the only girl in Dickenson who hadn’t been scared off of being roommates after her meltdown during the previous year’s combat final. Well, one of the few, and of those, the one most vocal to try. She had a… knack for keeping people calm. It wasn’t a true empathic ability, but rather something to do her avatar spirit. Still, she’d wanted a reason to test it on a rager…
She knew it could work. It didn’t always, not like Rainstep’s water blessing. It didn’t always work, but it had to, this time. This was not the time for Scintillation to lose it.
This was mildly annoying at best. All that kept it from being amusing was that it was a stalemate, in truth. He quite likely could have made it very amusing, but he did not wish to play so much of his hand tonight. Endeavor hid his inner smirk. Tonight was, admittedly, not going to plan. Of course, that was to be expected, in a way. Few things ever did go precisely to plan. Thus, it was necessary to have contingencies. He, of course, had many. His slate gray skin did not reflect the light of his fire, but it did glow from the heat. If he kept this up much longer, angry red veins would begin to form, and his stony skinned exterior, which looked only vaguely human, would begin to seem more like molten magma. His manifestation had given him the appearance of a stone gargoyle, though hardly the limitations of one. He was strong, and swift, and could fly. More important though, he wielded FIRE!
That very flame burned through the air towards the female hero, Scintillation. She was an annoying pest, but had an interesting quirk he’d like to study. Her own “flames” were not merely fire, but several different energies, not all of which he recognized. The scintillating pattern of her fire was obviously her namesake, but that did little for his deeper understanding of her incredible potential. He added capturing her as a bonus option to his list. She’d make a nice battery as well.
He willed more power into the flickering shields of his vessel, the Dragwyn. It wasn’t actually his own design, but stolen from someone much stronger… or rather, someone who had thought themselves the mightier. Endeavor had enjoyed that. He could fully reinforce the shields. He had judged their full power vs the capacity of his opponents, and found himself in the greater position. That, however, would cut off his minions. Let it never be said that Endeavor was cruel to those who served well and understood their place. Minions might be plentiful, but a little kindness went a long way to ensuring they worked their hardest with little oversight. It was also a hassle training new ones.
More importantly, however, it would cut him off from little Froggy and his prize. Froggy was his favorite toy, though Cadrien was his most powerful by far. Little Froggy was a lovely specimen, and he’d wrapped the girlboy in layers of psychic and magical fear and compulsion so deep he didn’t even realize how badly Endeavor had ruined him. He was even quite beautiful, aside from his the singular flaw of not truly being female. Still, that made it even easier to keep control of the girlboy. He also made an excellent minion leader, and while Zelos had failed and died, Froggy would retrieve his prize, no matter how many the girlboy… ah hah!
His psychic link to Froggy, painstakingly forged over a process of months to breach the mental defenses erected by the quite powerful spirit inside his toy, showed him that Froggy had hold of his prize, or nearly so. Idly, he threw a massive wall of fire, backed by some of his own mystic energy, at his opponents, both the little mage woman and their pesky dropship. It gave him a precious few moments to gaze through Froggy’s mind and see. His toy had defeated the MCO and the fledgling mage child, and his prize was nearly in Froggy’s total control. The foolish Mutant Commission Office soldiers had interfered and been taken out.. By his prize! Interesting.
He saw a chance to further bind Froggy to him… a very amusing one. He reached out to the girlboy with the last of the precious seconds of attention he could dare to spare. Execute the MCO and bring me the prize… but leave that last one, the leader. Execute his men in front of him, but let him live, he ordered maliciously. Now Froggy would have the MCO’s full attention. They would know his new face, not merely the old face of Elaine Jerrough. One more reason for him to fear the world without his master’s “Protection.” Endeavor could almost have laughed, but that could wait.
He turned his full attention back to Scintillation and her fellow heroes. It would only be a few short minutes before his final prize arrived. Endeavor did not smile, but he did stop frowning.
Elaine flew, carrying the girl she had seen running on air. The girl did not fight back at all. She just hung, limp. She… Elaine once she would have said this girl had given up the fight. Given up, just like her. That was before she gained the flames. Before the fire found her. Before the phoenix. She wasn’t Jean Grey. Not a psychic. Not even an empath. However, the phoenix was the fire of life, the eternal cycle incarnate. The spark had not gone out of this girl. So Elaine could only guess at another alternative. She was just biding her time.
That didn’t matter to Elaine. All that mattered was avoiding punishment. She did not want a “reward” but it was better than a punishment. The girl was letting herself be delivered. Once Elaine had done so, her task was complete. The master would not blame her for what the girl did once delivered. That was his domain. He had mercy, after a fashion. Not kindness, not for her, but mercy yes. Broken toys are not as much fun to play with.
They flew with good speed towards the battle, taking the long way to try and come in from an angle unlikely to get them attacked, and they flew low. They passed around the university entirely. Some piece of Elaine hoped that most of the students were alright. She knew her master had mercilessly killed some and created walking corpses to distract the police, but hopefully most of these people weren’t dead. She could do nothing for the inevitable scars, mental and physical.
The rest of her was focused on the ship. She was so close to being done. So close to maybe escaping some pain for a little while! She almost looked forward to a reward… almost. What she wanted most was to just be left alone for a night, those were the best. She wasn’t sure if her master knew she liked those or not. She almost felt like if he knew she liked them, he’d use them as a reward, making them precious and hard to earn. Those nights alone occurred most often, she was not the only plaything for her master and his honored servants. She did not want to lose them.
She steeled her gaze, glad that her monster could only brush through her thoughts with intent, never idle listening. She wished her spirit could keep him out entirely, supposedly that was a benefit of Avatars, but it didn’t seem to really work for her. She didn’t know why. She’d tried to do research… but she knew she had to be careful. Her master could read her recent memories when he desired, and he kept track of her location to some extent, his range was quite long with those he was intimately familiar, like herself.
The master was defending his prized magical machine, a massive flying ship that looked so old and out of place. It had been her home for almost six months now. He flew before it shielding it with fire while the great barrier shield, which he called the “Magnus Murus,” deflected a great part of the heroes’ offense. The ship was taking some damage, but less than most would think. That ship could take an incredible pounding. She had seen it happen.
The master obviously was waiting for her. She could not get in with his prize if the barrier was at full strength, which the master could achieve if he but stepped within it. She flew with all host, hoping to find an end to the pain and maybe a little rest. The day had been long, and she hoped to have it over.
Bearing her package, she reached the ship from the far side of the heroes’ efforts to shoot it down. As soon as she crossed the barrier, her master followed her. He landed before her as she set the girl down on the deck and turned to face him.
He towered over her five foot nothin height, leering down with a happy look on his face of granite gray. “Well done Elaine!” he cheered, cupping her chin gently. “Well done my lovely Elaine. I shall give you a good gift tonight for this,” he purred. Elaine didn’t cry, though she wanted to. “I’m happy enough I think I’ll even let you sleep,” he whispered. She was receiving a reward then. At least he’d let her sleep. That meant she didn’t have to pay attention. He’d drown her in pleasure until she fell unconscious from it. It was the next best reward to being left alone, and she thanked all of heaven that wasn’t a reward he recognized as one. He’d be gentle. He was also gentle and tender when he was happy.
“Thank you, Master,” she replied with a smile she wished she did not feel, but she did. She was excited to be rewarded, excited at the prospect of how good it would feel, to escape the pain and replace it with overwhelming pleasure. To escape the fear for genuine rest after.
Khōkhalā shivered as she stood on the deck of the strange ship. She did not try to run. Dice was alive. She had given her word. She had surrendered. Maybe this way he could escape now. Be free of the trouble trying to help her had brought him. She had not known what else to do… he was dying in front of her. He was the only person tonight who cared. He just wanted to help her. Just wanted to save her from harm. He had failed, but the intent… she would not let the warmth of his intention cost him his life. That, at least, she could repay. She had. Now she… she was here. She looked up at the towering giant who looked like a gargoyle. A flaming gargoyle. She gulped when she saw his eyes drift appreciatively over her body. He even licked his lips.
“You will be fun to play with, little one, but first… first a test. Can I do as I had theorized?” he asked. Not her, just… asking the air. He reached out a hand and she watched the magical energy gather around it, then a ghostly replica of his hand reached out and slammed into her stomach. Searing pain washed through her and threatened to rob her of consciousness. Suddenly, with a great feeling of something being ripped out, she saw the ghostly hand pull back.
Her legs collapsed out from under her as she felt it, like a great hole in her stomach. She could not even scream as the pain threatened to blind her. She reached a twitching hand to her stomach and felt… a hole. A gaping hole that did not bleed. Just… an empty space where her stomach had been. She began to cry, thinking she was dying, and the pain seemed to agree. She couldn’t hear what the monster was saying. It hurt! It hurt so much! By all the gods… oh… Dice… please live… thank you… I am sorry you could not help me… she whispered in her own mind. Even the pressure could not suppress this pain, for it writhed in pain as well.
Endeavor smiled as he felt the pulsing mass rip free of the girl. The energy was just as it should be, just as he’d predicted. It seemed to wriggle like a living thing in his hand. He looked idly at the hole in her stomach. It ran all the way through her, even through where her spine should be. He looked in surprise at it when he realized that. “Elaine, examine her. Did I kill her?” he growled. Elaine hastened to obey, examining the girl’s body, trusting the senses his spirit provided him.
“Death is not near her yet. I… do not know what this is, Master, but she seems physically well apart from the hole. It doesn’t even bleed. I… I don’t even think her spine is damaged,” he informed Endeavor. Interesting. A visible hole in the spirit, not the flesh. Doubtless it would have formed eventually, since it showed the place where her parasite’s stomach connected to her, where they both must draw from the stores of energy it allowed her to absorb. Energy like what he held in his hand.
His ship’s great shield shuddered under another hit from the hero. She was screaming incoherently, hurling massive bolts of her strange power at him. They were much stronger now than they had been before. A rager then, a strong one. She was even more interesting now. He really did need to acquire her for his collection. “Prepare the ship to depart. Cadrien will see to himself. Move!” he growled, and his men sprang to work. He turned to Froggy. “Wait here and watch her,” he ordered, indicating his prize.
He did not bother waiting for Froggy’s reply. Even his mighty shield might yet fail before the barrage that woman was hurling. That would have to change. Before he could do more than fly to the edge of the barrier, however, something changed. He saw the fire mage’s attention divert for a brief moment, though she idly hurled more flames at him even as she looked elsewhere. Another hero had appeared on a horse made of wind, flying about. Winds tinged with some magical power flitted about the rager, trying to sooth away her anger. If he let it, it might even work. Not a mage though, probably another avatar, and not a vulnerable and naive little boy like his current prized pet.
He looked to the corrupted energy he held in his hand and smiled. He didn’t need her. She’d make a nice experiment. And thanks to Froggy, he was nicely recharged. So useful to have a battery around.
Scintillation didn’t understand where the breeze came from, or why some annoying person was flying about. She wasn’t getting in the way, so Scintillation tried to ignore her. She had something else to be angry at. The monster would burn! She would reduce him beyond ashes to atoms! Obliterate those too! The soul as well! Nothing left! Nothing! Nothing… no, no, she wasn’t supposed to do that anymore. It was wrong… wasn’t it? She didn’t kill people, she stopped killers! Killers like the monster! He’d killed lots of people, and he’d tricked her while he waited around so he could kidnap some poor girl who was probably scared and alone! Monster! She screamed as she hurled more power at the ship and the shield and the monster watching her mockingly. He’d die for this! No! Don’t kill him! Monster!
Breeze was afraid. She wasn’t too proud to admit it. Scintillation scared her when she lost it. It happened so rarely, but when it did… Scintillation always remembered it. She hated it. She hated losing it. She’d been in terrible pain for weeks once it wore off last time. Breeze couldn’t imagine what this time would do. Last time had barely lasted a minute.
Scintillation had spent a month in Doyle Medical, barely able to even move, the first time she’d had a rager incident. That incident had lasted for fifteen excruciating minutes in which nothing and no one could divert her from trying to barbeque Mule. Ito hadn’t even been able to get close, and she’d almost burned off Gunny Bardue’s arm. Mrs. Carson herself had been required to step in to contain her. Her and the teachers and a bunch of seniors all working together. It wasn’t because they couldn't stop her… it was because they hadn’t wanted to kill her.
Now it was up to Breeze. She’d stopped Milly’s second rager incident with her power, and once kept her from losing it altogether. She could do this. Milly was already responding to the breezes. She kept shaking her head, like she was trying to regain control.
Summer Breeze was so busy looking after her friend she never saw the enemy leave his protective bubble. Not until Kegger was screaming in her ear. “Look out darlin, he’s loose! RUN!” Kegger screamed at her as Breeze turned around to look at Endeavor.
A gout of green fire, so different from the flames he’d been throwing, flared towards her. She threw up a wall of wind and sand as she dived, trying to go below it. The fire hit her wall and ate it, and then followed her wind like a fuse. She screamed as the flames reached her.
Scintillation snapped into focus when the green fire reached Bree. When it raced up Bree’s arm and just seemed to eat at her. “BREEZE!” she screamed as the pain hit her like a hurricane. She ignored it. Breeze was in trouble. She gathered in focus, shutting out the pain even as it tried to paralyze her limbs, and reached out her magic. She had to save Breeze.
Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she could hear Kegger screaming. “He hit Breeze! Oh god, what is that stuff?” Scintillation reached out and swept up the strange green flames with a spell that ate fire. It was one of a number she’d learned to prepare because she tended to leave flames in her wake. The green flames went out as Summer Breeze plummeted to the ground.
Scintillation shot forward at almost three hundred miles per hour to catch her best friend and carry her to the ground. Her skin was cracking and she was shaking and the pain felt like it was going to eat her from the inside out, but all she could focus on was Breeze. Her eyes… her eyes were gone! Her shaking hands grabbed at the spell slips she carried and started throwing healing spells on her friend. To her shock and fear, the slips burst into flames. “No! NO! GOD, please, NO!” she screamed. “RAIN! RAINSTEP HELP! She’s not healing! Please!”
Breeze wasn’t healing. Breeze wasn’t breathing. No… She felt something slam into her back. She looked in shock to realize green fire burned on her as well.
Suddenly, Rainstep appeared, blasting her with water. The water blessing doused the flames on her. She cried as she clutched her friend. “Rain… help…”
The fallen angel, Cadrien, slammed into Rainstep, hurling him hundreds of feet away to crash limply to earth. Then he smacked her, knocking her to the ground.
“Cadrien! Bring the girl, leave the rest,” a voice, the monster’s voice, called out. For a brief moment, Scintillation felt the rage begin to take hold, which made it all hurt worse. Then the pain crashed down on her threefold, and everything went dark.
Elaine watched the monster land on deck, carrying the hero girl over its shoulder. Cadrien ignored her as he dumped the hero next to the prize Elaine had gained. She had watched her master work the energy he’d ripped out of the girl into his fire and hurl it at the two women. She knew the first was dead. This one though… she was wounded, but her wounds were clean. Whatever power that water hero had held, it seemed to work wonders against her master’s fire… and Cadrien.
She glanced fearfully at Cadrien, then hopefully at her master. “Excellent work, Cadrien. We depart. Did you kill the two men?”
“No, my Lord, they were… tenacious. I do not think I killed the water warrior, the blow was not a good one,” Cadrien replied. “The other is a tremendous warrior and fighter. I know of Lionheart. His blade bites deep, and his strength is real.”
Her master nodded. “Elaine, go clean up and wait in my room. I will have the crew see to these. Cadrien… return to your own realm for now. With one of their own dead, another injured, and her our captive, the heroes will not be able to pursue well. They cannot penetrate the shield, and soon the shadows will work once more. When that happens, they will lose us completely,” the Master stated. Cadrien bowed and vanished in a puff of smoke.
Elaine curtsied to her master, and then turned to walk away with only one last glance at her master’s two new victims. She suppressed a shudder, and looked away. Both of those women would suffer, and it was all her fault. All her fault, because she was too much a coward to resist, or run or…now that she was out of sight of her master, and knowing that a shower would wipe all trace away… Elaine began to cry.
Lionheart landed in a crouch next to Rainstep. The man wasn’t moving. “Don’t be dead. Please Lord, please don’t take more of my people…” the veteran pleaded as his massive paws carefully felt at Rainstep’s neck. He had a pulse. Slowly, Lionheart worked his way down the body. Plenty of cracked bones, but the spine… the spine seemed intact. “Kegger, are you there?”
“Kegger is a bit busy boss, trying to find a way to track that… that..” Auceps couldn’t seem to decide on a word.
Lionheart cut him off. “I need medical evac for Rainstep, fast as you can.”
“Breeze?” Auceps asked fearfully.
The growl of rage that answered that question told him all he needed to know. “Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck…” the ratman moaned. “The… The National Guard is on station, late and… they’re willing to follow them, but well, they had that stealth field thing. They’ll probably have it back soon, and if they leave Missouri…” he trailed off. Lionheart understood. The Missouri National Guard’s authority ended at the state border.
“I understand. Do what you can, but… we have to save who we can, Auceps. Right now... that’s Rainstep. We aren’t giving up on Scintillation, but she wouldn’t forgive us if Rainstep died when we could have saved him.”
“I know boss, but… Damnit. Why the hell did Princeps have to go to a fucking party? We needed that self-righteous asshole!” Auceps snarled.
“Ceps! ENOUGH!” Lionheart roared. “We cannot change the past,” he said more calmly. “Princeps has a right to use his vacation time, same as the rest of us. We, none of us, could know the caliber of foe we would find here. We couldn’t know, neither could he. It is not his fault, Auceps. Neither is it yours,” he added. He understood. Summer Breeze was not the first teammate he had lost, nor would she be the last. Scintillation was not the first teammate he had seen kidnapped. He did not expect her to be the last either. It was the risk. One they all knew. One they all took, in order to do what they did.
To protect the world from Devastation… He chuckled a little in sad humor as he mentally recited his private variation of Team Rocket’s motto to keep his calm. To unite all peoples within our nation. To announce the beauties of truth and love, to extend our reach to the stars above… To find the joy in simple things, to bring the peace to living beings… to defend the heart of man from night, to bring wonder into day’s light… We are heroes.. He loosed a rumbling sigh as the Dropship descended towards him. I promise, Milly, we will find you. I will not let you go.
Wilson began talking, almost dancing with what some might have thought was glee around the tied up mutant. He also began talking at, even mocking, Dice.
“As a special investigator, I have access to so many of the latest toys. Even ones the MCO would never admit to actually using. Like this,” Wilson said, holding up a palm sized disk. “Enchanted. Makes it so most weak telekinetic abilities… just don’t seem to work right. Too hard for the user to concentrate, terrible headaches. Has to be fairly close… but I don’t really mind. Without your TK, you’ve got nothing, and I have all your dice,” Wilson added, pointing to a large trash bag filled with something. Probably his dice, just like Wilson said. The man sounded gleeful… but his emotions never changed. Hatred, then more hatred.
“Where’s Hollow?” Dice, Lucas, asked, wary, afraid, angry. The last thing he remembered was the girl covered in feathers, her utter misery. Nobody else was there. Just him and Wilson, no other emotions at all. There was… ash nearby, and four sets of power armor, utterly ruined, in the MCO’s distinctive powder blue within sight. There was also what looked like something with a tarp draped over it.
“Probably dead. It really doesn’t matter. I have you. My own little pony show to prove how dangerous you sick mutant fucks are. Finally, the boy who set a monster on his own parents is right where I want him,” Wilson almost sang. For just a moment, genuine joy appeared amidst the hate, but it was quickly washed away.
“You actually believe that?” Dice found himself asking. He’d faced that… demon enough tonight already. It would not win this time, or ever. “You need help, man,” he said instead. “Serious help. Go see a psychiatrist dude.”
“I believe in the truth. Mutants, all you genescum, are monsters. I just had that fact reminded to me tonight. There were three men with me, now there’s just me, a corpse, and two piles of ash. My men were on the ground, defenseless, because that mutant freak you’re working with ripped apart our armor. Then the one with wings burned my men to death… to heal you. Yes, you were dying, Dice, but she saved you, and then she took the other one with her. A pedophile and a murderer, that should work out nicely,” Wilson sounded it out. He sounded more sane with every second, but that hatred… it never abated. Dice couldn’t get himself together to use his power, and his magic… he didn’t have anything for this. He sucked at off the cuff. Worse, Wilson knew that.
He needed an out. “Wilson, let me go. They took Hollow. You had to have seen how fucked up that supervillain is. She’s just a girl! I promised to protect her. Let me go!” he said. It wouldn’t work. God, if only it did. “She’s just a scared girl who was protecting the only person tonight who’s done shit for her. She knows she can’t trust the MCO, but I’ve seen you around civilians. She needs help, not hatred!” If only he could remember the right bible passage.
“Civilians yes, not gene deviant freaks. No… no, I won’t let you go, Dice. I cannot have her, but I WILL have you. One of the rare times we’ll be oh so happy to just hand you off to the police, the press, the FBI…”
“She’s a GIRL!” Dice declared loudly, trying to fight past the headache and focus, but it wasn’t working. Wilson just smiled that manic smile and ignored him. It didn’t phase him that there was an innocent young girl being kidnapped. All he cared about was making everyone see mutants were dangerous… that they had to be contained, or killed, or… whatever it was the MCO actually wanted to do to them. So Dice tried a new tactic. He stared at the bag supposedly containing his dice. This was insane. Ridiculous… he shifted, and suddenly he felt something. Could it really be? Of course it could. Wilson had no idea just how far Dice could stretch his luck. One last die, hidden away… no, both of them, but he dared not use the second. The first would do.
“Over here!” Dice yelled out. He had to distract Wilson, make him think someone was out there. He had to save Hollow. He promised. She was lost in the dark of the world, alone, without any light to guide her… he’d promised. He’d sworn an oath, not just to her, but… but there, then… it was one of the only two parts of the incident he could stand remembering.
‘He screamed with all that he had. He screamed, and those screamed echoed against unreality, forcing it back for an eternal moment, grounding a boy, a man, against that which threatened to swallow him whole. “If I am to be cursed to wander in darkness,” the words rang like sword clashing against sword, and that place paused as if to listen, “Then I will bring with me a TORCH! A BEACON! BLAZING WITH LIGHT!” he spat with fury. “A light for the world to KNOW! That they are NOT ALONE!” his voice rang clear, steel against steel, and unreality shrank back from it. “I will be the light in dark places, when all other lights go out,” he promised. A knell broke out through that space. Promises are binding to the soul in ways mankind has never truly comprehended, echoing back to the days when the Five-Fold court ruled. Mankind may break its oaths, and in this is a kind of power, but here, now, the stronger power was in making, and keeping, those oaths. This was a place of binding, of untruths and falsehoods wound so tightly together they became more real than reality itself, unmaking the world with their very existence. An oath such as this was anathema to that space, and to the being which was that space… but by the nature of that place where opposites made up reality, that oath was binding upon the soul more so than ever it could have been in any other space. Maintained, that oath brought a terrible price… but a power also. Forgotten… broken… its price would be far more terrible.’
“A light in dark places, when all other lights go out,” he repeated to himself as he watched Wilson turn to look. He closed his eyes, and he focused. Not on his TK, but on his will, his essence, his power, his luck… and his authority. “Centurion,” he stated, loudly and clearly. “Release me from these bonds.” He felt the drain, the massive drain. He hated wasting so much power just on this, but it was his one shot. He felt it slip away, just barely enough left that he didn’t extinguish his well… and something cut the ropes. Wilson turned back towards him.
“What the hell are you-”
Dice catapulted himself into Wilson in his best one armed tackle, knocking the wind out of the large adult. He rolled off Wilson and sprang to his feet, running as fast as he could, leaving everything else behind. All that mattered was escaping the range of that enchantment. It didn’t block telekinesis itself, just kept the user from turning it on. As he ran, he kept trying to reach out past the headache. Even before Wilson vanished from his empathy, the headache left. He let out a smile of delight as his mind reached back to his familiar lovelies, his precious dice… and lifted them all.
Wilson cursed, firing off shots at the dodging and weaving boy… when suddenly he was tossed off his feet by a force without obvious source. Then the trash bag exploded. There was no fire, no flame, just dice, hundreds of them, flooding out of it in all directions, flowing with great speed towards their damnable master. Dice was free, Dice was armed… Dice was running away.