Dice/Hollow 1: Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory Part 4
Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
When all you have is luck...
0120 hours, December 13, 2015
Rooftop of the FBI offices...
Holder ran out onto the roof against the rushing wind of the chopper blades. He wasn’t going to reach Maryville until it was all over, but this was the closest to live events he’d ever gotten when it concerned Dice. The bureau, more specifically, the Special Bounties office, wanted him. He was connected to a web of unrelated cases and incidents. Things that normally involved cleaning up a lot of dead bodies.
Dice held answers. Dice had to be found. Holder would find the kid, one way or another, and no damned MCO was going to get in his fucking way.
The night is dark and full of terrors. This was a truth Dice understood about the world. This was a truth he had learned hard and harsh one late summer evening. That lesson had been repeated for him again and again. “The night is dark and full of terrors,” he repeated aloud now, as he ran through night dark, one filled with terrors. The terror of the unknown. The terror of death. The terror of murder. The terror of being taken. The terror of being taken from. The terror of losing, of having lost. The terror of knowing she was gone and he was failing.
“The night is dark and full of terrors. Yet, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… I shall face the evil, and it will quail, for I have more boom,” he muttered, “And a bigger torch,” he added with a grim smile. There was only one choice open to him. Only one chance. The heroes. They might be able to do something. He had no idea how much time he’d lost to unconsciousness. No idea how far away she was. All he had was hope and the plan hinging on it.
So he ran. He should have felt exhausted and weary. Instead, he felt fresh, as if from a good rest. So he ran. He ran and it felt good. It was good to be doing something. It was good to have a plan, however vague. It was good to be acting, for once. This time, he was truly the hunter. “I swore to be a light, so I shall be. I will find her. I will take her back,” he promised the darkness. It did not reply.
Time passed without remark. The moon was only a day past new, and offered no discernable light to see by. He had to rely on the magic of his ever versatile goggles, enchanted by he himself. He had to do everything himself. No teacher. No school. No safety. Books he could scrounge or dig up, scrolls, secrets teased off internet pages that were most likely fake. These were how he learned. These plus pain and failure and a driving need to survive.
Every other day, it seemed like, he was fighting something that did not belong where it was, or something that had no concept of humanity and just wanted people to go away. As often as not, Dice was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was just how his luck worked. Either he found them or they found him.
He was swinging west to go around the university campus entirely. He’d seen a few flashes of light to indicate combat just after he’d gotten clear of Wilson, but nothing since. He hoped that meant the heroes had won. Maybe he wouldn’t have to fight that monster himself. Oh, it was clearly a man, a mutant, but Dice saw no reason men could not be monsters. Wilson was a monster who was a man. Why not one that actually could have played one on TV?
He’d never really gotten a good look at the creature. Even his nightvision had weaknesses, and the bright light of the monster’s flames had made it hard to see very many details. That could pose a problem later, if he had to fight it. So again he hoped the creature would be defeated, but he did not think it so.
Dice ran… until he spotted the dropship taking flight. He could see bits and pieces of a battlefield spread out around him in the star lit night. Grass ripped up, trees broken, impact craters… it had been some fight. He saw no bodies. The Dropship was just taking off from the ground, not too far away. It was lit, and on the side, for just a moment, he could see the emblem of the Kansas City Knights emblazoned upon it. A shield before a sheathed sword, with KC in big gold letters on it.
It was obvious they were leaving, but he didn’t get the sense they were victorious. He frowned at it, wishing he was close enough to sense their emotions. He didn’t see anyone else nearby. That meant this was about his best chance. He’d simply have to risk getting their attention and hope he could do something useful with it. A lot of hope tonight, he thought to himself wryly. It might just become a habit. Before he acted, he mentally looked to the place he thought of as “Hollow.” It surprised him to realize there even was a spot where he expected her emotions to be… but even the thirty or so minutes he’d spent near her were more than he’d deliberately spent near another living person… in a long time. More than that… it was the first time in over a year he actually cared about them personally.
“If I hadn’t met her tonight… I wonder how much longer…” he didn’t finish the thought. “No time for that. Just time… well, I guess it’s time to roll the dice,” he said with a chuckle, and then he began to laugh. He laughed, and even to his own ears it was a demented laugh. He laughed at his own poor joke as he strode out into the open fields and let loose a bolt of lightning past the bow of the Dropship. “Come, come! Come, oh heroes! Come and save a young woman! Prove your worth! Show me your colors true!” he shouted. “Join me in my gamble! The dice are rolling loud and they are many! The odds shift! Heroes!” he shouted as loudly as he could.
The dropship turned to face him, and slowly it flew towards him, lights sweeping over him, as though to pin him in place. He stood, undefended, arms wide, and welcomed them onward.
“What the hell was that?” Auceps shrieked as a bolt of lightning seemed to fly past the drop ship's bow. Lionheart was setting Rainstep inside an empty tub, which began to fill with water as he watched. Rainstep would be whole again, hopefully soon. Cracks and breaks, contusions and bleeding, these his powers would fix, so long as he had water to draw on. “Holy shit! It’s that kid! The one the MCO was after! He’s standing out on the field, fucking waving at us. I think he’s laughing and shouting at us too,” Jimmy added.
Having seen to Rainstep, or Jason, Lionheart turned towards the front, and strode up there. “Give me a look,” he ordered. “Are they still on your scopes?” he asked Jimmy.
“Yeah, here,” he said, and two images popped up. One was a camera view zoomed in on the kid, while the front window of the Dropship highlighted the distant boy. Another was a satelite map showing a dot where the flying ship was carrying away their friend. “What the hell does he want?” Lionheart did not reply.
“Do you have audio?”
“Sorry chief, no can do on the sound,” Keggers replied for his buddy.
“Take us over there, now. Open the door, I want to hear what he has to say,” Lionheart stated. He turned and strode to the side hatch of the dropship as Jimmy maneuvered it into position. It opened for him as he stepped up to it. He took a hand to the grab rail, and leaned out as the ship rotated to bring him in line with the young man, then flew him closer.
Once he was close, he finally got a look at the fellow. This was Dice? He was a black guy just under six feet, with a missing right arm and a really big long jacket. His clothing wasn’t all that distinctive otherwise. Jeans and a jacket that looked a bit too thin for winter.
“About damn time,” Dice called out. “We’ve got people to save, hero! The ratass bastard took her!” he said, striding forward. Lionheart considered telling Dice to cease, but he did not want to risk the young man not listening.
He stopped anyways, waiting. “Who took who?” Lionheart asked.
Dice scowled at him. “Hollow! He got what he fucking came for! The supervillain, Endeavor! His minions captured her and waltzed off with her, left me to the MCO. I got loose, and I knew you couldn’t just leave the girl with them. Not a bunch of heroes, right?”
Lionheart couldn’t place the accent, nor could he decide if he was dealing with someone desperate to meet a hero he could trust, or who actually believed heroes were good. “They took the girl?”
“That’s what I said! Hollow! He came here just for her, and now he has what he wanted!” Dice said.
“How do you know this? How the hell are you involved in all this? Why?”
“Wilson told you about me, didn’t he?” Dice called back. “She’s a student here! She manifested tonight, and something happened, something attacked her. I’ve never seen one go after a human before, but it’s a type of spirit I’ve encountered previously. They make bodies after some random pseudo-elemental substance, like smoke or fire or poison or chalk, and they try to kill other spirits here in our world. Well this one came for her, and she killed it. Then the MCO was gonna kill her, or she was gonna kill them… so I got involved. I knocked her out and got her away from the MCO… then supervillain prime shows up and starts going all ‘I’m so awesome, I will enslave you all,’ about her. Said she was his prize. Then the MCO shot at him, and I ran for it with her,” he stated. Lionheart nodded.
“She woke up just afore you got here. We was pinned down by Mr. Villain again when your water friend and the magic lady attacked him. We ran again. He sent minions. We beat minion #1, had to kill the guy to get away, and tried to circle back. We was aiming to turn her over to the cops so they could protect her from the MCO when the MCO and more minions show up. I got knocked out, and when I woke up, it was just some ash piles, a corpse, and Wilson and broken power armor. No Hollow, no minions. I broke free and ran for you. He has his prize, doesn’t he? So we need to fucking move!”
“Boss, we just lost all telemetry on the target,” Auceps voice sounded over the comm. “He’s gone uber stealthy and ditched us all. He was heading for the Iowa border when we lost him,” Auceps offered, then started squeaking and cursing in what Lionheart believed to be the native tongue of rats everywhere.
“He is beyond our reach,” Lionheart said with a rumble. “My people lost one of our own to him… and he has taken a second. We were tracking him, but he is vanished. We would help you, if we but knew where he was,” he stated. He could see the anguish on Dice’s face now, in the light. Dice was angry. Angry and sorrowful. It was a look Lionheart had long learned to recognize. Failure of something important. Failure of a promise. The failure a hero wore when they didn’t save anyone. When they were too late.
Then he saw something else flicker into place on Dice’s face. “Good,” he stated. “You’re being honest with me. I appreciate it. I can find her. I WILL find her. I just need a map and a grid of squares divisible by ten. Give me that, and I will give you his location. Let’s go.” He started forward towards the dropship. Lionheart blinked.
“How the hells are you going to do that?” he asked in surprise.
“Luck. I’m an odds mangler,” Dice said. Suddenly a trio of dice flew up and stopped in front of Lionheart. “So I’m gonna roll the dice.”
Oh, so that’s why he’s named Dice, Lionheart thought to himself as he stared at the map of the nearby area of the USA, divided into a grid of ten thousand pieces. “You genuinely mean to say you never get a wrong number?” he asked the boy.
“I always roll the right number. Whatever number I need, and right now, I need the number of the grid point that monster has Hollow at. The answer is 322,” he replied. “So let’s get moving,” he stated determinedly. The other two members of the Knights with him eyed the kid warily. Lionheart had let a man with warrants for over a dozen murders onto their ship, and was actually listening to him.
“Oh right, the elephant in the room. I’m wanted for a couple dozen murders, right?” Dice asked. “I didn’t kill my parents. I don’t control the monsters, I just have to survive them. Look me in the eyes, Mr. Big Hero. Look me in the eyes and make a fucking decision. Or I’ll go hunt her down on my own,” Dice stated. He stared at Lionheart. The massive lionman loosed a rumbling sigh, and turned and looked into Dice’s eyes.
He wasn’t a psychic, but he’d been a hero for over ten years now. He was, at just over thirty, the oldest one here. He’d learned a lot about how to read people in that time, how to deal with killers, and what they looked like. Dice didn’t have the right look. No two ways about it, there was something wrong with the kid. Very wrong. However… It was more than the look. It was the smell. He didn’t smell like blood. Lionheart had long ago learned to trust his nose. People never understood their own scents. Killers didn’t all smell alike. A cop didn’t smell like a soldier, and usually neither smelled like a wanton killer. Dice smelled… like a hunter.
“Jimmy, plot us a course to that point. As we get closer, Dice will perform more divinations to zero in the location until we find them. They have our Scintillation. They have a young girl. We get them back,” he rumbled. Jimmy and Kegger snapped to work in an instant, locking in coordinates as the engines roared to life. “As for you… explain to me what you can do, and I’ll walk you through what we know. Then, if we have time… I want to hear your story, Dice. I want to hear it from your lips.”
Dice gave him a withering look for a moment, before it softened a little. “Alright. Thank you.”
Several hours later...
Elaine lay still in the bed, pressed against her master’s naked side. The sheets were crumbled, but roughly thrown over them, covering her shame just a little. Just as he’d said, she was given the chance to sleep. She should be asleep right now, in fact. Master had been… attentive tonight. Attentive and gentle towards her. He hadn’t called her “boy” or cuffed or hit or cut her. He’d flooded her with pleasure and pleasant thoughts until she was clouded by it. She couldn’t really remember any other details, save that he’d finished sooner than she expected, and he hadn’t hurt her. Her hand drifted up to her throat. He’d even taken off the collar when he was done. He’d never remembered to take the collar off before.
She was being given a chance to sleep, and she was exhausted enough for it, but… but she could not sleep. Her thoughts now drifted again and again to the ones her master had taken. Not merely to the girl she captured, or the mage, but the others taken before. The ones claimed before and after her. Two of them slept below, powering the engine together. Another slept in the room next door. Her figure did not please the master yet, but her talent for magic provided more essence to the master, so he always kept her nearby. At least he didn’t make her sleep in a doggy bed or bird cage. He had kept Elaine in a bird cage once…
She knew better than to disturb her master. If he woke up and found she was not using his gift of sleep, he might decide she didn’t need rest, and start again. She didn’t want him to start again. She steeled her gaze, and kept still, wishing she could just go to sleep. She didn’t want to think about the utter despair on that girl’s face when Elaine had brought her to the master. She didn’t want to think of the strange hole master had created in her stomach, a hole that did not kill her.
Neither did she wish to think about the mage, the hero. Elaine did not know the local heroes. She was from Santa Fe, New Mexico, not Kansas City, Missouri. Mama… poppa… she whispered in her mind. Do you still love me? Are you still looking for me? I want to go home… I don’t want to be his slave… but if I leave… if I leave, they will come for me. I’m a murderer thrice now. I am a kidnapper now too… I’m a mutant. The MCO will take me away. I don’t want to die either… Mama… what should I do? She did not cry. She was too afraid to cry.
Suddenly, the ship lurched, badly. It lurched hard enough Elaine slid partway off the bed with a shriek of alarm. Her master snapped awake. “What the devil is going on b-” he snapped his mouth shut, as if remembering he was pleased with her. “Elaine, what is happening?”
“I do not know master, shall I go look?” she asked, trying to hide the fear in her voice.
He looked at her fondly, and gave her a smile that she was glad did not send a shiver down her spine. “No. I do not want the crew to ogle you tonight. Get dressed, but stay here. I will return,” he said. He sounded soothing, reassuring, calm. Elaine nodded meekly, and reached and began to dress as her master strode out of the room, clothing simply appearing on him through the power of his magic. He could afford to waste essence for such trappings, thanks to her and Berry. They were his pets, his essence batteries. He could siphon essence from them whenever he needed it. That meant he had plenty to waste on frivolous things like magically getting dressed.
Elaine pulled on her clothing a piece at a time, starting with the bra to fit her small chest. She’d already cleaned herself of her master’s touch, at least with some wet wipes. She supposed she was fortunate. Master liked her form. He was still providing her with the hormone treatments she had been taking since she was still a little boy. He wanted her to retain her figure, to keep growing into an even more beautiful woman. She looked down at her one deformity, her great shame. Her penis hung limp between her legs, and even so it was too large. Once, it had been tiny for a “male” her age. Her hormone treatments had kept it small, kept her looking and feeling almost like a real girl. In another year or two, she’d have been able to have surgery to remove it entirely. Then she’d have truly been a real girl. Now though… now she was stuck with it. Her regeneration was absurdly strong… and she wasn’t an exemplar. Worse, her spirit… her spirit had changed her. The feathers, the red skin, the ears, her hair… the more she used her powers, the more she changed. The more birdlike she became. If she stopped… after a while most of it would revert, but it felt like a little less reverted each time. Before today she hadn’t had any feathers in her hair, except framing her face. Now she had feathers hanging down the back of her head in place of part of her hair. It had also swelled her penis back to the proper size for a boy her age, then even a little bigger. It hadn’t affected the rest of her looks. Her hips, her breasts, her curves… but that… she didn’t understand why.
She’d learned from her master that some Avatars could talk to their spirits. Commune with them, especially ones as strong as her own. She couldn’t. She couldn’t sense or feel it at all, but her master was certain the spirit of a phoenix resided inside her hallow. That was where the fire came from, the regeneration, the feathers, the wings… the talons…
She finished dressing herself. She put on simple clothes, jean shorts and a t-shirt over her bra and panties. At least he let her dress like a girl, since he liked to look at her. She didn’t need much clothing for warmth. The fire of her phoenix spirit kept her warm in even the worst chill. She sat down on the bed as the ship shuddered again. Maybe… what if the heroes had found them? What if they’d come to save their friend? If they had… master would not be happy. Maybe… maybe if she helped stop them, he’d be pleased with her. Nights like tonight were still better than being given to the crew or… or Cadrien. A shudder that had nothing to do with the ship raced down her spine. She wished she could forget her few experiences at Cadrien’s hands.
She had to escape that. She had to please him. When he was happy, he was nice. Almost enough to make her believe it was genuine. She knew it was a lie but… if so, she’d rather the lie than Cadrien or the MCO. She stood up and ran to the door. She opened it and peered out into the hallway. The ship was massive, and the master’s cabin did not open up only onto the main deck. This second door led to stairs down to the lower levels, and other stairs went up. She saw and heard no one in the stairwell. It was unlit, but to her phoenix given eyes, the little light spilling out from the master’s room might as well have been the sun. She ran down the stairs to the lower levels. She knew where the prisoners were kept.
The ship shuddered again, and it began to list to the side suddenly. This tossed her into a wall, bruising her arm. For a brief moment, fire lit the stairwell as her regeneration kicked in. The bruise was gone almost as fast as it had appeared. She knew she didn’t heal as fast as they said some regenerators did. There were reports about some girl up in Boston about ten years ago, who healed faster than the bullet could travel through her body. However, while she might not be that fast, she was still very fast.
She got down to the next level. There were shouts of alarm from there. “He’s in the pipes! He’s in the fucking pipes!” somebody shouted.
“Oh GOD MY EYES!” someone else screamed. She ignored those and focused on her own mission. The heroes had arrived then, that had to be it. The heroes had come. She had to be useful! The prisoners, they’d be going for the prisoners, she told herself. They were another floor down, or deck, or whatever it was called. She jumped down the stairs, feeling her bones rattle, but she ignored it. She’d be fine. She would heal. Have to get the prisoners.
She opened the door at the bottom, peering out into the next deck. Crew still moved about on station here. The brig was forward, towards the front. This was the engine room. Engineers scurried past, ignoring her. They didn’t know she was supposed to be in her master’s room. They just saw Master’s favored slut, his toy, obviously about his business. She tried not to think about some of the times she’d been offered up as a reward to one of them as she walked calmly down the corridor. Instead, she began to sing to herself.
A king there was in days of old: / ere Men yet walked upon the mould. . .
Thus did she sing the Lay of Luthien, all she knew, to shield her mind from the memories she did not wish to recall. It was one of her favorites, and Tolkien had always been one of her most beloved authors.
Soon enough, before she was past the third canto, she reached the doorway to the brig. It was shut. She touched the scanner and it read her, then opened wide to let her through. She stepped inside, past the cells in the first row, past the empty ones in the second, to the two cells at the back where the two captured woman lay. Then she heard a noise behind her and spun around.
Lionheart raised his eyebrows as he looked at Dice and absorbed what had been said. Dice wasn’t certain a lion’s eyebrows could normally do that, but then again, Lionheart wasn’t really a lion, he just had some form of GSD or one of its relatives. He certainly made a better deal of it than a few GSD cases Dice had run across in his short life. Curiosity and distrust wafted from the massive hero. These were directed at Dice. Sadness and pain also radiated out from Lionheart, but these were not focused on Dice. They were focused on what was behind the lionman.
Dice avoided looking at the covered tarp in the back. The heroes had lost one of their own tonight, killed by the enemy. Not just killed… there was something wrong with the corpse. It gave off a slick, oily feeling. The kind Dice associated with the incident and… and the Contract. Lionheart said her wounds wouldn’t heal with magic. At least, that was what the kidnapped Scintillation had screamed before she was herself hit with the same attack.
“You need to get that locked down by a mage or more likely a shaman,” Dice commented, pointing at the body, but his gaze was fixed on Lionheart. “I… recognize the sensation it gives off. It’s tainted, and if you leave it alone, the taint rubs off onto other things, infects them. Insanity is pretty common if you deal with that shit too much,” he explained. Yeah, insanity… nightmares… forgetting his promises….
Lionheart glanced at it. “We can’t do more without… All of our magical experts are down. Auceps and Keggers do tech. I’m a PK brick with a lot of holdouts, but I’m not a mage. Do you have anything?” he asked, staring down at Dice. It was hard for the lionman not to stare down at people, of course. He was over seven feet tall. His tail swished behind him, though Dice didn’t know cats well enough to say if that was any specific emotion. His emotions didn’t really seem to have changed. The emotions of the two men in the front of the craft changed, however. They were unhappy about his presence here. They did not trust him, but they trusted Lionheart. They kept silent.
He didn’t want to look at it, but he slid his goggles onto his eyes again with his TK and had another look. “Maybe? I got a few things that could work, but… I mean, I haven’t had lots of chances to try them out. My usual response to that sort of thing is to incinerate it. Fire purifies a lot of things, especially when you’re dealing with magic. Yeah, it destroys it in the process, but better destroyed than tainted with… that,” he concluded.
“I’d rather her parents had a body to bury…” Lionheart stated. His voice was somber, just like his emotions. “Could you give it a shot?” Dice raised an eyebrow at the lionman, then shrugged. Lionguy didn’t flinch at the way his one shoulder just… well, shrugging doesn’t look quite the same with only one arm. Dice wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. It was nice, not having somebody react poorly to his missing arm, but that usually only applied to people who had seen a lot worse pretty often. Lionguy was hard to get a read on. The emotions were there, plainer than the muzzle on that face, but interpreting them… he shoved that concern to the back of his mind and set to work.
Dice concentrated, and his namesake began floating out of the pockets of his coat. They floated towards the body. Most of them were d6s, or six sided dice, but there were a couple others, including the backup d12s he used for his goggles to recharge his optical defenses against what he was currently dealing with. Lionheart watched cautiously as the dice began to form into patterns he wouldn’t be able to understand.
Every shape of die had a way to be used, and every number on every die was important. A few of those d6s were sequential instead of in traditional order. One and six were still opposite, but three was next to four and two both, and five was opposite three instead of two. Other dice also had odd sequences. Technically they were still all considered equally random, but even so, nobody would have been willing to let him use those dice for gambling, even if they didn’t know about his strange luck with dice, or any of his other powers. Gamblers and tabletop rpg players both have always naturally distrusted dice that aren’t numbered in the traditional manner. Well, others did. Dice had long ago learned he could trust anything that was a die, no matter how odd. As long as it was really a die, he had faith.
Idly, he rolled the three dice he’d been rolling all night. This time, they came up as 222. “They’ve reached grid 222,” he told the cockpit as his other dice went to work.
He was weaving a complex spell using components for a different spell, but he had confidence it would work. Distance, number of dice with the right sides, with the right enchantments worked into them, each was an important piece. They also needed to face in just the right ways. Heck, even the material the dice was made of mattered. Wood, stone, bone, gemstone, crystal, metal, various other natural materials… anything but plastic. Magic did not like plastic. There were a trillion or more completely invisible numbers involved beyond the numbers on the faces of the dice themselves. All magic was numbers, because numbers made up the universe. Since magic was part of the universe…
The problem with that… stuff was that while this universe ran on binary programming, this stuff basically threw in a 2. 0, 1, 2, instead of just 0 and 1. It completely screwed up everything. The other problem was that apparently it wasn’t just different, it was actively malevolent, or at least it certainly always seemed that way to Dice.
What he needed to do was lock up those 2s. It had to cut them off from the rest of reality, from a reality of binary coding, for a while. Had to make it so they’d stop interfering. In theory, he knew how to do that, but in practice… well, he’d just have to hope his theory was correct and that luck would, as usually, bridge the gap close to the first try. “I need more essence,” he muttered. Escaping Wilson had damned near drained him dry, and he couldn’t pull essence back out of his dice without ruining them. They were too precious for that. Even with his recharge rate, he needed more. This… working was off the cuff, which meant he needed insurance, so to speak. He was always bad at off the cuff.
“Scintillation keeps a few gemstones handy that store essence. She always keeps a few on the dropship,” Lionheart interjected. “I don’t think she’d begrudge you using one so we don’t have to burn Bree,” he said somberly. “Especially since you’re helping us track her down.” He walked over to a box attached to the wall of the dropship, and pulled it open. A couple holdout style weapons and pieces of equipment seemed to be contained inside. He grabbed a small ruby, and walked back over to Dice. “Can you get anything out of this?” he asked.
Warily, Dice looked at the stone and reached out his senses. It seemed as if it had been made to be accessed in not a screaming hurry. “Maybe. She’s probably got something on it to keep out unwelcome strangers…” While he might be able to get past it, it would reduce the net gain of essence from the stone. That was if it was protected.
He reached out, tentatively touching the stone, and imagined a power line plug, feeding energy from the stone to him. With a jerk, he felt the energy pool in. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. “I’m surprised that worked…” he muttered, then turned towards the array of dice. He concentrated, grabbing and shaping the energy he’d just absorbed, mixing it with what he already had. He cast that energy out into the dice, taking bits of programming from other spells, and adding what was needed to connect them into something else.
A barrier that could not be seen by the eyes of those who did not know magic sprang into being. “That won’t last more than a day,” Dice explained. “If we’re lucky. I’ve never done that before.”
Lionheart nodded. “You mentioned your experiences. We’ve gotten through explaining what we were each up to and I’m inclined to believe my initial hunch was right… but I told you, if we had time, you would explain. It is time to explain.” Dice could feel his earnest honesty. Lionheart would brook no arguments on this.
Dice looked at the lionman with an unhappy expression, then loosed a sigh. “You want answers? Ask questions,” he stated angrily. Just because he was going to answer… didn’t meant he had to like it. There were things he didn’t want to revisit.
“Why do you want to help her?”
Dice blinked. That wasn’t the first question he expected. “Didn’t I answer that? I promised her I would. I promised, and I will keep that promise. I keep my promises.”
Lionheart was silent for quite a while as he looked at Dice. Dice said nothing more, waiting for the lionman to ask a question. A conflict of emotions was playing out from Lionheart, curiosity, distrust, wariness, concern, fear, sorrow, pain… love. “That isn’t everything,” Lionheart finally stated. “I want the rest.”
“What rest? I give a damn about her! Why is that so hard to believe?”
“You’ve been on the run for years. Even if you are innocent… why? Why risk so much, capture, death, or worse? Why now, for her? Why did you promise her? Why did you help at all? You hadn’t promised her anything yet.” Lionheart’s gaze matched his emotions. Above all the others, not merely curiosity but overwhelming certainty was beginning to appear. Distrust and wariness were receding, even though Dice hadn’t said a damned word that was new.
“Why?” he responded. “Why not? Why the hell not? She’s a girl! She lost, and afraid, and she was attacked! I know what that’s like! I experienced that! I didn’t even know I was a mutant yet! I was a kid who’d had a day of weirdly good luck with my die rolls! Then suddenly, my father is running into my room, and telling me something just killed my mother, and I didn’t even hear it! He sends me running down the back stairs and out the door, while he tackles some kind of long necked monstrosity down the stairs to protect his son! He made me SWEAR to live! To be more than just a survivor, to have a life of happiness! Well I’ve failed, so far! My life sucks! It’s miserable! I’m not gonna let her go through that! I’m not going to let her life get destroyed like mine was, because of these powers I don’t understand, because the odds are against me! I won’t make her another victim!” He was shouting. Hell, he was screaming.
Lionheart said nothing. For once… for once Dice’s own pain, his own anger, his own despair drowned out the feeling of others in his head. Since the night he manifested, he’d been able to feel something he didn’t understand at first. Now he knew what it was. It was everyone, what they felt. Every single emotion they felt, echoed inside him. Sometimes, he felt like he was just a mirror for their emotions, not his own. Sometimes, he felt like a robot. How long had it been since he could just feel himself?
“I didn’t kill my parents! I don’t even know why this happens! Best I can guess, my own powers make monsters come to me, or I go to them! I don’t even know it’s happening, but it is! I’m a fucking magnet! Well tonight… tonight the monsters came for her, and I just moved! I wasn’t thinking it through! I just saw someone in trouble, and I wanted to do something. I know Wilson. I know what kind of monster that man is. I couldn’t leave her to him! No fucking way! Then a supervillain showed up to kidnap her! I don’t know why or how he knew she was there, or what he wants with her, but he took her. He took her after I promised I was going to help her, that I was going to keep her safe. I am going to take her back. I’m going to get her home, to her family. I’d work with the devil himself to make that happen, if I was pushed to it, but I’m not that desperate yet. I might be a shitty Catholic, but at least… God, at least I wanted to hope I could look to the angels first,” he finished, daring Lionheart to laugh, to do… anything but accept it. Daring him to live up to Dice’s expectations.
“I’m not an angel… but…” Lionheart began.
“We’ll get her back, mate!” Kegger called back. The distrust, the wariness, the fear of Dice, those were gone. Vanished like the wind. Determination and even hope had blossomed around him while he was lost in himself. He turned and stared at the bulbous eyed octopus man who stood in the doorway. “We’ll get them both. I’m sorry I doubted you,” he stated. “I’m neither a psychic nor an empath, but I can tell honesty when it’s screamed at the top of a guy’s lungs. Now we just gotta figure out how,” he stated. He held out a hand to Dice.
Dice automatically raised his own, not even realizing he was shaking the man’s hand until Keggers had already let go. His octopus suction cups left an odd sensation on Dice’s hands, but he wasn’t slimy at all, like Dice had expected. A little wet, sure, but not slimy. “Thank you… for trusting me,” he finally said. “All of you.”
“I still want to hear the rest of your story someday, Dice, but for now, let’s plan our assault,” Lionheart said with a rumbling chuckle. He tapped a control on a wall panel and a massive hologram appeared in front of them, showing the ship they pursued. “We got scans of it during the battle, but we can’t really tell much about the interior,” he explained.
Dice circled around it. “What’s it got for offense and defense?”
“Some advanced laser guns and various machine gun emplacements. It flies, as you guessed I’m sure. It also has some sort of shadow cloak that turned off when it got caught in Kegger’s Singularity missile,” Lionheart explained. “Kegs, what else?”
“Doesn’t really seem to be all that fast at first, but it’s got pretty slick acceleration. We’re just barely fast enough I think we can catch it before it gets out of Missouri. Lucky us they fled south instead of north. If they’d gone north, we’d have never caught up. Auceps is working to coordinate with the National Guard, but since we don’t have an exact fix for their location, it’s getting a little difficult,” Keggers explained. “We’ll get em though. However… ship doesn’t rely on speed or maneuvering for defense. It has a pretty tough defensive shield. Some of the big stuff could overwhelm it, but it really didn’t seem to do much damage. Once Endeavor actually got inside the shield… well we didn’t stand a chance on our own. Only firing another Singularity bomb might have done the job, and I’s only got one more of those. They’re damned hard to make.”
“That shield could work against them,” Dice muttered. “I think I can stop it. Let’s come back to that though. Do you have anything that could bypass a forceshield?” he asked the Devisor.
“I got something that only works on me,” Keggers replied. “Couldn’t get the damned thing to work on anybody else,” he replied. “I can slip through a forcefield with my gear. Can’t take a person other than me though.”
“Are you as flexible as a real octopus?” Dice asked.
“No, but I’m more flexible than stretchers. There’s this chick, Reach, I met once. Real tough beauty. Into chicks though, more’s the pity. Could stretch and constrict herself down inside air ducts and pipes and stuff, shimmy along to get into really secure places. Good cop too. I can constrict myself into much tighter spaces than even she can, but I ain’t gonna fit inside no beer bottle,” he explained. “I can also do optical camouflage. You thinking what I think you’re thinking?” Kegger asked.
“Probably…” Dice replied. “Take out the shield. Disconnect the power source, blow it up, or even just turn it off. When that happens, Endeavor will have to come at us himself. While he does that… I slip inside the ship. My empathy should let me find Hollow easily. It’s probable she and your friend are in the same spot,” Dice mused.
“True, but why not just have me rescue them once the shield is off?” Keggers asked.
“How good are you at fighting?”
“Eh, I could kick any baseline marine’s ass good, and plenty of others. I got bombs and guns and other fun toys too,” Keggers replied.
“Do you really believe you can fight your way out of that entire ship on your own with two hostages, including one Lionheart says won’t be able to move on her own? I can carry her telekinetically. Auceps flies the dropshop. Lionheart…”
“I get to risk my life fighting the mage. Damn I wish we’d grabbed GL before we left.”
“There were still kids in the rubble,” Keggers replied. “He’s right where he needs to be.”
“HEY BOSS!” Auceps suddenly yelled out. “Guess what?” the rat, who was the size of a small human child, about three to four feet tall, yelled from the cockpit. “The arse heard what was up, he wants to rendezvous! We got ourselves a Princeps!” the rat cackled. Dice marveled at the combination of excitement and hatred issuing from Auceps over the pronouncement. Keggers felt a touch annoyed, yet also happy and grateful at the news. Lionheart’s grin matched his emotions. Dice mentally filed away the look of a grinning lion, in case he ever needed to use it.
“Can he catch up?” Dice asked, raising an eyebrow. “Who is he?”
“Princeps is a power armor jockey and the last member of our team. He was using vacation time to attend some kind of party out of town tonight,” Lionheart responded to Dice’s question. “His armor flies under its own power, it’s faster than the dropship, and almost as tough as my PK field,” Lionheart explained. “This is very good news right now,” he pronounced. His joy and hope was palpable, and it made Dice’s own chest swell as well. He knew he was just echoing the feelings around him, but… it had been so long since he felt this happy or hopeful. It felt good.
The dice rattled as they rolled to a stop on the floor. He’d never done this, using it so consistently for something as madly random as this. Determining abstract information like locations using nothing but his absurd luck? It was insane, he knew there would be consequences. One of the first things he’d learned about odds manglers was that all good luck had balance. His good luck just had really epically shitty balance. That didn’t matter to her, however. To Hollow, all that had to matter was that he was going to find her.
He was going to find her… he had to. God…. God please. I’m really really bad at this, I know. I never pray until something happens. I ask for help for me all the time, and I never seem to do much for it. I haven’t been to mass since Easter Sunday… I haven’t been to confession since Easter Sunday either. I’m sorry. I.. just.. I know I’m a mess, but Lord… help her. Please, please help her. I’m a terrible believer, and you’ve sent a lot my way, and more. I screamed at you, I yelled at you, I cursed you, for the longest time. I hated you. I hated you, but you forgave that. I know this wasn’t done because of hatred, or because of cruelty. This probably wasn’t done by you at all. You gave us the power to choose. You gave us choice, and some people do horrible things with that. I don’t want to debate good and evil, or theology. Just… help me help her,” he begged. ”Help them both,” he corrected. Unbidden, a memory of tonight had risen up. A red skinned girl with feathered wings for arms, misery flowing off her so hard it threatened to make him physically ill. A girl he knew needed help. “Please don’t leave them to that misery,” he prayed.
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And deliver us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
He began the next as the dice lifted into place in front of him. This was the gamble. They had to find the ship to stop it. They were close, and they were cloaked. Somewhere nearby, a man in power armor flew. Keggers hung beneath the dropship, ready to drop down onto their enemy, and bypass their shields. Everyone’s attention was focused on him. Please God, let this work, he prayed.
Before him was a grid. Each square occupied only a few tens of feet this time. They’d been narrowing in on their target with roll after roll. One more should give them everything they needed. One more good roll, and they’d begin. One more good roll… 001 was his answer, as he looked at the dice. “Coordinate 001,” he claimed to Auceps, turning towards the now opening hatch. He hung onto the bar with his good left arm, while the rest of him hung into open space to give him a look.
In answer to his will, dice sailed forward with great speed, moving fast through the wind and ahead of where they now believed the ship to be. He had one chance to place them right. He knew he would. His luck would not fail him now. His barrier sprang into existence in front of where the ship should be… and a moment later something slammed into it.
Shadows burst apart and a form became visible in the empty night below, before the shadows returned. The light of its shield, protecting it from his own barrier. The ship twisted to one side violently as he hit it just barely off center to the left from nose on. The impact shattered his barrier. However, that wasn’t important.
His barriers did not depend on his telekinesis to maintain position. That would have been a wasted function. He couldn’t lift enough poundage for that sort of defense. Instead, he had designed them himself, through trial and error and error and more errors. They maintained position when they appeared, relative to the earth itself. They were as immovable as the planet. When something hit them strong enough to power past their defense… it was still hitting something tied to the position of the planet itself. It knocked the ship off course and sent it lurching to the side because his barrier couldn’t possibly absorb the full momentum of a three hundred foot long flying ship.
Another barrier sprang up along the side of the ship, catching more of its momentum. Once more the ship blew through it, but now it was barely moving. It’s engines has probably suffered damage in the sudden impact, or the helmsman had cut their speed. Either way, it was slow enough now Keggers could hit it and get in. He felt the bundle of emotions that was Keggers let slip from the undercarriage of the Dropship and fall onto Endeavor’s vessel.
After that… they just had to wait and hope.
“Calville, what the hell are you doing here?” Froggy demanded authoritatively. The man was taller than her by over a foot. He was still a minion. She might be the master’s pet, but that still meant she was higher in the chain of command than him. At least she could make him think so.
“Securing the prisoners, ma’am!” he replied, sliding to attention. “I was given orders.”
“Oh,” she replied. “Good then,” she added. He called her ma’am. Did he maybe not know? Or what?
“LET ME OUT!” a voice called out. It was the girl. “I do not want to be here. Please, please do not keep me here,” she called out, switching from angry to pleading rather quickly. Froggy glanced at Calville, nodded down towards the cells, and waited for him to proceed ahead of her, then walked, hands on hips, to the cell herself. “Please!” the girl asked.
She sounded despair. “Please. Please, it hurts, my stomach hurts so much. I feel empty and hungry. Just let me out, please…” she pleaded. She was chained up, hands bound with manacles behind her back and then secured to the ceiling, feet secured to the floor by more chains and manacles. She was secure enough with magically reinforced chains that even a brick who could lift five tons wouldn’t be able to break them. Froggy didn’t know how they worked, only that they did. Master had tested her strongest fire on them too.
“Please…” she sounded like she was in pain. Froggy… Elaine’s gaze softened considerably. She glanced at Calville, only to realize he’d been looking at her. She blushed, though it didn’t really show on her skin, and frowned at him. That made him blush when he met her eyes.
“Ma’am, what should we do?” he asked, trying to pretend he hadn’t been looking at her… checking her out. If she wasn’t so afraid, if she wasn’t in this situation… she would have wanted to tease him. She wished she had a friend, at least.
“Just… go report this. The master needs to know, he wants her alive. I’ll stay and guard the prisoners,” she commanded. He didn’t salute, master didn’t have salutes, and made for the door. Once he was out, Elaine turned back to the girl. “I’m sorry. I am, but I can’t let you out. There’s some food kept here, would you like some?” she asked the bound girl.
She shook her head. “That is… not the kind of food I need. Whatever this… this thing in my head is, it needs food. It needs food and that… that thing, that monster ripped it out of me! I’m starving!” she insisted. “He took my food! I need to eat!” she all but screamed. Elaine recoiled a little as the face contorted, taking on a demonic caste… then she blinked in shock. The girl was crying.
“I… we’ll have to wait for the master. But… I’ll do what I can to help. I can… um… my name! I’m Elaine, but… call me Froggy, ok?”
The girl didn’t reply. Elaine starred, worrying at her lip, which seemed to catch fire with a flame that would not burn as she did so. She couldn’t even put her teeth to her own lip without creating flames. “I… I-”
“Why?” the voice cut into her uncertain words.
“I…” she looked at the crying pained face of the girl. “I killed someone. They were about to give me to the MCO when the master found me. He took me. He took me and at least this way I don’t have to… to…” To what, Elaine? she asked herself. You can’t die. You… you tried already. More than once. You can’t die, and it’s just… pain. Pain or rape. He makes you feel good, but he’s still raping you. The first time wasn’t any fun… yet now… now you hope to be raped so you don’t have to feel pain. How is this better than the MCO? she asked herself.
“I still get to read my favorite books. I get to play a few games. I get to wear nice clothes… I’m not locked up in some cell, being tortured day and night. I have nights where it’s fun, and nights where he makes me feel very special,” she insisted to the girl.
The girl didn’t look like she believed her. Of course, she also looked even worse now. Elaine looked towards the door, then back to the girl. She was slipping back into unconsciousness, she realized. She wasn’t sure what else she could do for her. She turned to the other cell. The hero woman was tied down, but she still had her costume on. Her hood was off, showing a beautiful young adult woman. She seemed obviously an exemplar to Elaine.
“Her name is Scintillation…” the girl called out from behind her. “I am… I am Hollow. You should not… lie to yourself,” she insisted. Elaine watched the girl, pain etched on her face, slip back into unconsciousness. She heard the door open.
“Calville, what took you so-”
It was nerve-wracking for Dice to wait. It was probably worse for the heroes, but he couldn’t tell. Auceps didn’t feel worried or concerned, but that was his friend in there. Lionheart and the man he hadn’t met yet, Princeps, were out of range. The last, Rainstep, was sitting in a tub of water, unconscious. Various little emotions came from him, but nothing Dice could make sense of, since he couldn’t see the man’s dreams or nightmares. He had no context for them, but his dreams weren’t pleasant.
However, the real difficulty was playing the part of decoy. They had to divide Endeavor’s attention. Of all of them… Dice promised he could be the flashiest. “HEY!” he shouted, as he stepped out of the Dropship and walked atop one of his own barriers. He walked slowly across the sky. As he stepped off one barrier, his dice flowed telekinetically into place and another barrier snapped into place under his feet. When he stepped onto that one, the other vanished and flowed forward to spring into place once more, creating a moving walkway of his own barriers as he strode across the sky.
He was flying several hundred feet above the earth. He was flying! Well… standing. He could see nothing below his feet but darkness tinged purple. It was an utterly empty abyss. A long way down, a long harsh way to die. The wind was calm here, it did not whip at him nor try to snare him. It was as if the air held its breath, in anticipation of the battle now being joined. He opened his mouth to begin.
“ENDEAVOR!” he roared, lightning bolts flashing and smashing into the nigh impenetrable barrier around the ship. “FACE ME COWARD!” he screamed. He hoped it would be enough after all. It was certainly flashy. Light spells flared into being as arrays of dice flared out around him. Almost invisible in the darkness, circles of twelve dice each, six sides to a die, took up position in front of him. They were ready to become barriers to defend him at the speed of reflex, faster even than conscious thought.
The crew scurried about on deck, now brightly lit. This time, Dice stood on high with light obscuring him from those below. This time it was Endeavor who was surprised. Despite the irony, Dice’s smile wasn’t nearly so real as he wished it to be. “ENDEAVOR!” he called again.
The villain himself, flanked by men with guns, strode onto deck. He looked up at Dice with a smug expression. Dice’s current position left Endeavor outside his empathic range, though what the villain didn’t know was that he was well inside Dice’s telekinetic range. Wouldn’t that be a fun surprise?
“If it isn’t the little mageling,” Endeavor responded loudly. He was amplifying his voice, a trick Dice didn’t know. Damned useful one. He couldn’t see enough to see how the villain was doing it though. “I’m going to enjoy eviscerating you for damaging my ship. Though I suppose I might owe you a thank you for revealing a weakness in my barrier. I suppose I could make it a relatively quick evisceration. If you surrender now, I think I’d still be willing to keep you alive, I could use a battery. You won’t enjoy it, but it’s better than being dead, boy,” Endeavor offered.
“I am Dice,” he announced. “I am here for the girl. Give her back,” he demanded. “If you don’t, I promise you, I will make you live to regret it,” he swore with a grim smile on his face.
Endeavor began laughing. “That’s unfortunate, boy, since you can’t possibly harm me. I have all the cards, even with those heroes helping you. I already killed one of them and stole another. I commend you for escaping what was left of the MCO agents after my little Froggy finished with you. However, you have nothing. I don’t even have to leave this shield.” he muttered. “Shoot him,” he ordered his men.
Every single gun on the deck spun to face Dice, and Dice alone. They fired. Dice avoided them by the simple expedient of turning off the shield under his feet. No need to waste barriers just yet, not when dodging worked just as well. He was briefly enveloped by the sensation of falling as he travelled, then his barrier formed under his feet and caught him. He ran to the side, avoiding more fire, but not returning it, not yet. He was being flashy and annoying, nothing more. “That’s an impressive light show! Did you learn that in stage magician school?” he called out mockingly.
Endeavor sneered and strode forward. His emotions sparked into existence in Dice’s head. He was angry, just like they wanted. He was distracted, which was also just what they wanted. However, it was the flaming hot anger he hoped for. It was an anger not altogether far from his own. Something cold burning that would leave his thinking fairly clear, not a blind rage.
“Come on, gargoyle!” Dice called out. That was what the man, the monster, looked like, right down to the wings. His skin even looked like cracked stone in a few places. It also turned his anger up a few notches. “Don’t you want to know how I found you?” he called out. That really got Endeavor’s attention. “It was easy!” Dice yelled out.
“I will have my answer when I catch you, boy. I’ll have Cadrien interrogate you,” he declared. He gestured and fire blossomed, streaming out in multiple small waves of flame towards Dice. One of them smashed into a sudden barrier, and a second seemed to get… eaten by something. Dice suppressed a grin. He wished he had more than one fire-eater spell, but he didn’t. Still, the nice thing about Fire-eater spells was that while they were a bitch to enchant, but it took forever to run out of essence. He couldn’t truly convert natural energies into essence, he was no sidhe, but even so, he could sap a little bit of the raw essence out of the fire as he ate it. He wasn’t completely sure why, since the book he’d gotten the spell out of had assured him repeatedly it wouldn’t happen. It was probably the dice.
“Gotta catch me first, sluggard! You’re almost as slow as real gargoyles! Hell, I bet you fly like one too,” he called out. He was still moving, running up and down and back and forth before Endeavor, taunting him.
Come on Keggers, man. Come on Lord… Dice whispered in his own mind as he played his deadly game. More tendrils of fire shot towards him when suddenly, there was an explosion that rocked the ship, and the shield vanished. Dice stopped, pretending to be surprised, and let the fire seem to hit him. He dropped, falling. An illusion, a hologram provided by Keggers, replaced him as he dashed with hasted speed to the side of the ship, hidden by the bright lights that seemed to fall with him as all his barriers and spells seemed to fall from the sky with the fake him. The real him ran straight at the ship, emotional presences snapping into existence in his mind until, faintly, he sensed what he sought… and surprisingly the other. A well of misery and a well of hunger stood near each other, and he knew them both.
His dice formed themselves into yet another spell, a buzzsaw blade. At first, it sparked as it tried to force itself through the wards, then it finally slipped through. Once it got purchase it sliced a hole in the side of the ship for him. The timber had some natural resistance beyond the defense of the wards, but the blades were sharp and it was only wood without the magic. The sawblade bit through and opened up his path.
As Dice ducked away and inside, the heroes opened up. Lionheart and Princeps landed each at one end of the ship, opening fire. A massive power armor twice the height of a man, with an enclosed cockpit frame, flight module with anti-gravity projectors and numerous thrusters, and lots of guns landed at the back end. Instantly, a glowing form sprang to life about it. It seemed as if a great Roman general, twelve feet tall, stood upon the back of the ship. In one hand he gripped a mighty shield, the other a sword. Robotic hands carried guns aplenty and he began to stomp forward to engage the supervillain. Opposite him the lionman charged, firing his plasma rifle with one hand while the other readied his PK enhanced claws.
Both of them slammed into a barrier, and were bombarded with flames. Yet the flames did nothing, while each hammered at the barrier or fired at or beat aside the minions swarming the deck with guns and weapons. Endeavor muttered a curse, and both heroes were blasted backwards, yet the power armor that contained Princeps flared with a crackling barrier and kept its feet.
“I am PRINCEPS! I carry the authority of the empire!” the power armor jockey roared as he charged back into the fight. In truth, his name was William Hall, son of the CEO of Hallmark and chief financial backer of the KC Knights. His powers came from a series of power gems that made him formidable. The power armor wasn’t built from scratch, but it was heavily modified even before he’d gained the aid of Keggers and the genuine technical genius of Auceps. William Hall might not be a mutant, but his skill with technology was nothing to sneer at either. Neither was his skill as a warrior.
Endeavor would not find this an easy battle.
That, however, was not Dice’s chief concern. Right now, he just had to follow the bundles of emotions. He took the expedient route of simply slamming any crew he found into the walls with his TK. Being slammed into a wall with over two hundred pounds of force was more than enough to daze any baseline for the precious few moments it took Dice to run past them.
He could feel both women ahead of him, down the corridor. There were bundles of fear and despair behind him in one of the rooms near the engine, but that was at the other end of the ship. What he sought was near the front. One guard stood outside the door, turning in surprise, but he was silenced with a mental shove of TK force before he could bring his weapon to bear. Dice came to a stop at the door, feeling them both beyond it, as well as several other bundles of emotion. Hollow was fading fast, hunger replacing everything else. Hurried, he pulled the door open and stepped inside.
“Calville, what took you so-” the girl started, but she cut off when she saw him. “Oh no…” she bemoaned. Wincing as he did so, Dice pinned her against the wall with his TK. When he did, her head banged off the wall harder than he’d intended, and a screen popped out, and came on. It was a television station from the Kansas City area.
“Early morning breaking news. In a shocking series of events, multiple monsters, followed by multiple supervillains, attacked the university campus of Northwest Missouri State University late last night and early this morning. Included are shots we just received of a vicious attack by the minions of one of the super villains against MCO agents on the scene, attempting to assist local police and the Kansas City Knights superhero team. These images are shocking, and not for the faint of heart.”
He watched in wide eyed shock as a videoclip began to play, seemingly recorded from the point of view of an MCO power armor. The footage was jerky and bad in places, but the fight was vicious and short, and several very good shots of a raggedly dressed Hollow were visible attacking the MCO. There was no sound. The very end of the video showed the girl in front of him burning two men to death while Hollow knelt in what looked like supplication. Then she took their ashes and sprinkled them over what Dice knew to be his own body. It was impossible to make out any details about him from the video because of the lighting and the angle, but he knew that had to be him. He watched as he suddenly jerked and then seemed to twitch a little, before the fire vanished and he lay still. He could see by the video that he was breathing.
“This is raw unedited footage obtained from an unknown source early this morning and delivered here to-”
“What the fuck was that?” Dice asked in shock, speaking over the news reported.
“The two women in the video are wanted in connection to the deaths and disappearances of not only the two MCO agents, but a number of missing students as well. We don’t have the names of the dead or missing at this time, however,” the news reported stated. Suddenly angry, Dice used his TK to smash several solid steel dice into the TV, breaking the screen.
“I saved your life!” the girl said, still pinned against the wall. “She begged me. She offered to come without resisting if I could save you. She was just desperate, I… I don’t think she really thought I could. And…”
“Did you kill people to save me?” he asked, angry, worried. The misery and guilt flowed off the girl, but he didn’t sense the emotional state he associated with a lie as she spoke. At least, not directed at him. Herself though…
“No! Master ordered me to kill them! I… I just didn’t want to waste their deaths. Please, please, I’m sorry… I’m sorry. I’m a monster, but I just… wanted to help someone for once!” she pleaded. The misery was real and so intense it was hard to concentrate, but when she called herself a monster, it very nearly swept him off his feet. His TK grip faltered and she landed on her feet, still against the wall, unmoving.
He gripped her, lifting her off her feet again, but he didn’t slam her into the wall. He looked at the cells she stood by. Both the woman he was here to save were right in front of him. “I don’t have time for this. I’m taking them back,” he declared. Miserable, she nodded.
“Hollow! Hollow, can you hear me?” a voice called, and someone stroked her cheek. She forced her eyes open as the feeling of hunger clawed at her, trying to drag her into blackness. She felt so weak. She could not smell any food.
“Dice?” she murmured, trying to focus on the image. Something bobbed, resolving into the nodding head of her new friend.
“Yeah, I’m here, Hollow. Just have to get you out of these chains, ok?” he said to her sweetly. He was being so sweet. She wanted to cry, but she just did not have the energy. He came for her! He came! He came!
“You came for me…” she murmured, her face twisting into a smile for a brief moment. “You found me…”
“Yeah, I did. Hold still while I find a way to slip these chains free… this girl doesn’t have any keys,” he muttered, sounding annoying.
“Her name is Elaine Froggy,” Hollow muttered groggily.
“How do you know?”
“She told me,” Hollow replied. She saw Dice nod, not really looking at her face. She weakly flexed a hand, and felt something fall into it. “Swords, use my swords,” she told him.
“Your swords?” he asked, confused, and she felt the handle of the blade slid free of her grip.
“Imagined them as sharp… cut anything,” she tried to explain. “Hungry…” she murmured after. She felt weak and hungry, so so hungry. She needed food. The hunger was clawing at her, trying to take control of her. She didn’t want it to, but she had so little energy to fight with.
Suddenly she dropped for a moment as whatever was holding her was cut free with a soft ringing sound of steel on something much more dangerous. She heard her blades cut again and again and her hands and legs were freed from the manacles. She groggily stood up, only to fall over and find someone holding her up. To her surprise, it was the girl, Elaine. “Why are you helping?” she asked.
“I… I don’t know, I just…”
“You are a good person, that’s all,” Hollow decided. “I can tell, you do not want to be here… why not leave?”
“I can’t! I can’t! If I leave, they’ll find me, they’ll take me! I’ll vanish and… and… I don’t want to be alone,” Elaine cried. “I can’t… I…”
Dice was frowning down at her, a very worried expression on his face. “Something’s wrong with your emotional state,” he declared, peering at little Elaine. “Very wrong. This… fear, it’s all…” he didn’t seem to know how to describe it. Suddenly his eyes went wide and he glanced downward in surprise.
She opened her mouth ask what was wrong when the ship lurched violently and all of their feet rose off the floor for a few moments before slamming down, toppling both herself and Elaine to the floor. Dice kept his feet, barely, steadying himself against a wall.
The door at the end of the corridor swung open. A few moments later, her eyes went wide. “FOOD,” she intoned, pulling a deep breath in through her nose to catch the scent. She smelled food. The hunger very nearly conquered in that moment of weakened surprise, but she fought back against the dual pressure of stomach and head. “I smell food,” she moaned.
“I… I think I just got my monster,” Dice muttered, staring down at the floor.
“Monster?” Elaine asked, confused.
Hollow stood up on her own feet, lurching towards the door. “I… I need to go, find the food…” she whimpered. Dice grabbed her, and she fought to let him, to not fight against his hold.
Elaine looked at her, then at Dice, then towards the cell with Scintillation. Then she screwed up her face into a determined look.
“There’s a bottom hatch two decks down you could use to get out,” she stated. She couldn’t believe she was saying it. The fear, the panic, the pain, they suddenly welled up in an explosion. Dice visibly lurched, staring at her in shock, while Hollow barely seemed to be with them mentally, still fumbling weakly towards the door. “If you’re taking these two,” she said with a gasp, fighting back against the tide, “Take… take Delilah and Agatha too,” she asked. “Please.”
Dice looked like he was concentrating really hard as she fought to hold back the flood. She was going to be thrown out, or given to Cadrien, or… or… or… “It doesn’t matter,” she said aloud, spitting at her own thoughts. “I want to be a good person,” she told herself aloud.
“You are,” Hollow replied automatically. “We can all choose… who we are,” she said, holding her head and momentarily not trying to get to the door. “That includes you…” she added, trying to smile, but she seemed to be losing some important internal battle. With a snap, her eyes turned to slits and she hissed, then bolted for the door with a burst of speed.
“Who are Delilah and Agatha?” Dice asked, looking at her, then at the door where Hollow was vanishing. He seemed torn, as though he wanted to just rush after Hollow, but something held him back. She heard the door of the cell behind her click open, and the sound of something spinning in the air could be heard.
Oh right, the hero! Elaine reminded herself. “They’re back in the engine room. They’re both energizers, mutants the master kidnapped to provide power to his ship. Extra power, anyways. He… well… please, get them out. Master is evil. Beyond evil. Agatha is pregnant because he shares them both out to his minions. Delilah will be soon if you don’t get her out,” she stated. “Please, take them with you. They won’t fight back…”
“You’re coming too,” Dice stated. Elaine’s eyes opened in horror and the tide took hold. Master would catch her. Master couldn’t kill her, but the pain… no more days being left alone, no more books… the MCO would take her away. She’d be nothing, gone, gone, gon-
Her head snapped back from the slap. “Ow!” she exclaimed in surprise. Dice shook his hand, wincing. “I can’t. I… don’t take me. I’ll slow you all down. I’m… I’m sorry, but I just can’t. And… and there’s Berry, I can’t just leave her. She’s much better guarded, too well guarded, you couldn’t get her out with the rest… but… I can’t leave her alone. I… I have to stay, to help her if I can. We’ll… we’ll survive.” She wanted to cry, but she blinked back her tears.
“I don’t know how he did it, but he’s screwed up your head, Elaine,” Dice said, then he bent forward and kissed her brow. “But you are one amazing woman anyways,” he stated. “If you want to stay I… I’ll come back. I’ll come back and get you, once I save the others. I’ll come back for you if I have to travel to the stars. I won’t leave you to him,” he stated. “And… and I’m sorry about this,” he added.
Suddenly, bits of broken and cut ropes and chains flew at her, slamming her into the cell and pinning her to the walls, tieing her and themselves to anything they could. “If I tie you up, maybe he won’t think you betrayed him. Good luck,” he said, staring at her in horror. He wrenched his gaze away, and charged down the corridor. The heroine’s body floated behind him.
Elaine shook in shock. She’d… she’d betrayed the master. She couldn’t leave, but she’d done something worse instead. He’d find out, and he’d make it hurt so much… but… but… but she smiled anyways. She’d done something good, for once. She was a monster, but maybe she’d at least be able to say she saved someone, right?
I am more proud than words can say, my dearest Elaine, a voice suddenly echoed in her head. I’m so proud you found your courage. I’ve been asleep so long, waiting for it. It wasn’t much, but it was so beautiful, sweet Elaine. I’m so proud. Your master won’t find any treasonous memories. I promise, I will lock them away, keep them safe. I will sleep soon, my beautiful brave Elaine, but have hope, and courage. I am here, waiting for you to wake me up again, the voice promised. A beautiful warm feeling filled her mind, and for a moment, it was like a fire she’d never noticed burned inside, warming her very soul. Her spirit! Her spirit had woken up for a moment! He’d spoken to her! She wanted to cry in joy, she felt so happy and safe for that brief moment. She reveled in it, knowing it would not last, but not wanting to let it end too soon. She’d done something right, and it felt so good…