Dice/Hollow 1: Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory Part 5
Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
Sometimes, you just have to roll the dice...
0458 hours, December 13, 2015
Somewhere south of Jefferson City, Missouri
A wall of fire burned on the deck of the ship. It reached high into the night sky as Endeavor used it to ward off the hero known as Lionheart. His PK shell was incredibly powerful, able to lift and carry and throw and punch ten tons or so of force. Endeavor was reminded again of exactly why it was he had a contract with a being as powerful as Cadrien, and he was in the middle of deciding he needed another one. Lionheart’s power was simply beyond most of his resources at the moment. However, the lionman was currently bound by enchanted chains that would eventually break. It was the closest Endeavor had come to actually harming the hero.
Those chains, combined with a wall of fire, had let him temporarily remove Lionheart from the playing field as he gathered more essence. There were spells that could deal with him, but Endeavor knew very few of them. Why bother, when one could manifest and control fire hot enough to melt steel? Fire could penetrate most PK shells… or at least the heat would, if they let in sunlight. Most shells that allowed light allowed heat. If they didn’t, their wielder would freeze to death.
As a result, he had not learned very many spells to replace his fire, but he did know a few, at least. They simply required considerable power. He would be ready for Lionheart soon enough, but first… first he had to take care of the other one. The fool calling himself Princeps, who wanted Endeavor to believe he was some sort or reincarnated Roman Deity. Endeavor knew that wasn’t true. He’d met more than one god of Ancient Rome and still more ancient Greece. Princeps was a pretender.
He was shielded though, not merely from fire, but from Endeavor’s telepathy. Endeavor required touch to reach the minds of his victims and dig out their secrets; except for those of whom he had a close and often intimate relationship, like his pet Froggy. Flesh to flesh, and the power armor on this man was quite well built. Better than the designs his newly contracted pair of gadgeteers had come up with. Of course, he probably had more money to burn than Endeavor, and Endeavor could detect the hint of devises in play.
He disdained devises, for they intruded on the sovereignty of magical supremacy and made mockery of both it and real science. Science was something Endeavor understood. Sciency, consistency, the experimentation that lead to results, to truth… Devises told no truths. Lies had their uses, but what Endeavor wanted was truths.
Still, Princeps’s defense was at best a minor annoyance. Only the manifested spear was truly dangerous. Endeavor himself was largely bulletproof, even without his magical defenses. His skin was harder than stone. He was the monster everyone had feared him to be. That too was a truth of this world.
He conjured a spear of his own. It was an imitation of the ones Cadrien wielded. He hefted and hurled the conjured weapon at Princeps, but the hero deflected it. His minions had tried to flank and fire RPGs at the power armor, but it had shields that had absorbed the bullets and explosions. Fortunately its mystical defenses were weak. It had some, likely the work of the woman he held captive, but her puny contributed defenses were weak enough he had already overcome them.
The PK legionaire shield, however, resisted his attempts to damage this Princeps. The armor protected the pilot from fire, and some sort of energy shield protected the armor. He had defeated the child mage, Dice, but the professional heroes were proving an annoyance. It was, for the moment, a stalemate, and their ship still flew circles around his own, though it did not fire. He did not know how they had dropped his shields, but it was obvious that he had somehow been outflanked.
They had found a ship that could not be scryed, which was invisible in the darkness of this near moonless night, that could have been going anywhere. They had overcome his impenetrable shield after stopping his unstoppable ship by the simple virtue of “like cannot pass through like.” They had thrown up their own shield, and let the interaction between them bring his ship to a near halt. Only the essential magical nature of the ancient vessel had kept the stress from simply ripping it apart. Then they had assaulted him with two skilled heroes and an amateur.
Princeps was obviously the less experienced of the two. He relied far too much on his defenses, and was not nearly aggressive enough, nor did he attempt to dodge. He had total faith in his armor. That was why Endeavor intended to deal with him first. He’d come this way for a reason. There was something out here he’d been hoping to find, and he was nearly on top of it when the heroes had appeared. If what he desired was out here, he’d be able to defeat Princeps easily. That would buy him the time he needed to prepare for Lionheart. First, however, he had to distract Princeps.
He began shaping his essence as his gaze took in a number of things cluttering the top of his ship. Specifically, the corpses he had accidentally created from his own minions during the fight. As a rule, Endeavor tried not to kill his own minions, or torture them. Loyalty earned through competence and clear-headed leadership was more effective in the long run, and less likely to create traitors. Even if they did take magically binding oaths of service, those oaths were not life long. They were part of a contract that included pay and certain expectations of his own behavior, like most standard Syndicate hiring contracts for minions. Execution of a minion for treason was in the contract, otherwise firing a minion and erasing his memory was how it worked. The Syndicate offered too many benefits to him to ruin his paid membership to them.
However, Syndicate contracts offered no protections to minions for being stupid or being in the way. That was how so many bodies had come to be on his deck, almost a dozen of them. They’d done something very stupid. They hadn’t cleared the deck when he ordered them to. They hadn’t gotten out of his line of fire. They’d been between him and the heroes. He was fairly sure at least three of his former minions had been killed by the guns of Princeps, but the rest had been burned alive by his fire. In one case, the fool had gotten in the way of a hurled spear.
Minions were there for mostly mundane tasks, not to support him in super fights. He hired men who could work weapons and had provided them with decent weapons and equipment. Their real purpose was to ensure he did not have to waste his time on mundane things like the military or other baselines. He had held them back tonight out of pride. It was his debut, he wanted to show off. The world needed to know he was dangerous, and it was unwise to fully tip his hand, either.
He surveyed the bodies on the deck again as he prepared to make his first move of his new plan against Princeps. These two heroes were good, and strong, and capable. They, unlike his minions, stood near the top of heroes, he would guess. Even that would not protect them from unflinching, unthinking and unfeeling corpses of the dead. Endeavor unleashed his essence at the bodies of his minions. The corpses of his former minions clawed their way to a standing position and charged at the hero Princeps. He imagined the feeling of horror the hero would feel.
Then he turned his attention to the next step. He leapt from the ship, wings spreading as he dived downward towards what he sensed. The ship continued to descend. The heroes, he knew, would pursue him, and that suited him fine. He should have drawn them away from the ship sooner. It was just a pity he would not be able to summon Cadrien again for several more hours. The creature had its uses, and they were immense, but as with any contract with the creatures of outside, it came with limitations.
He needed more servants. It had never been his intention to remain long enough for the heroes to reach him, but many things had gone badly wrong with the plan. His adjustments had ensured he succeeded in acquiring his goal despite all that. Now though, something had allowed the heroes to track him here. It was probably the boy, Dice, as he had claimed, or perhaps the girl. He needed more servants. What he had come for would do the job perfectly. It might even make a better servant than Cadrien...
Lionheart felt the last of the chains snap free as he flew off the side of the ship after the villain. Princeps had told him to go. He could handle zombies. Lionheart needed to keep that villain occupied until Dice had gotten the others out.
“I don’t think the kid has noticed, but even after the shield went down I’m getting no contact from either him or Keggers, boss,” Auceps stated, trying not to sound worried. He failed pretty badly, in Lionheart’s estimation. Being a rat with human intelligence had to make things difficult for him. He cared about his friends and technology, and little else. Auceps was only on the team because he considered them friends. He didn’t give his own ass about the rest of humanity. Keggers was his best friend on earth. Of course he was worried.
Lionheart stowed his GizRust Portable and grabbed out his backup handgun. It was the latest model of the Cobra Linear Induction model, and it was loaded with web rounds. He just hoped he could get close enough to the incredibly fast moving Endeavor to fire. He doubted even with those wings Endeavor had great maneuvering, but his diving speed exceeded Lionheart’s. Those wings were allowing him to accelerate downward beyond what Lionheart’s PK field could manage.
That worried him, because he didn’t get the sense Endeavor was trying to escape. He had to be after something else down there… but what could it be? Was there a graveyard? That wouldn’t help him though. So what on earth did he think he was gonna find down here?
Lionheart pulled up short when light blossomed below him. It was a gray light, it didn’t really show anything. Nothing suddenly became visible… but something outlined Endeavor. He stood over a river that had etched its bed fairly deep into the earth. Lionheart could hear the water enough to know it was there, but he did not know the area well enough to say which river. They might have been been near the lakes. Suddenly, the place below was lit with a more intense light.
The ground rippled. Then the ground heaved. It ripped in two and something tore itself out of the ground. It was impossibly long and huge, a serpent of some sort. It had arms… and as he watched, something else ripped free and became wings on its back as it tore itself out of the earth, which seemed to crack and shatter. Had Lionheart possessed night vision to see it properly with, had even simply remembered to put on his goggles, he would have been blinded. If he had been able to see it, and not been blinded, he would have seen the earth dying in a great circle as this abomination against life finally freed itself of the constriction of the earth.
“EVERYONE! Endeavor has animated some kind of massive serpent… thing!” Lionheart called out, as he began to ascend. He didn’t have the firepower to fight that massive form. He wouldn’t even be able to lift it! It had to weigh far more than ten tons, and it was nearly a hundred feet in length. Endeavor gestured, and the creature flapped its wings and rose off the ground.
Lionheart fled back towards the ship, or more specifically towards Princeps. “Auceps, bring all your available guns online. Any word from Keggers or Dice?” he demanded.
“I’ve got the deck clear, Lion-o,” Princeps cut in. “What’s this about a giant ass serpent?”
“It’s big, has wings, and looks like a Serpent. And it’s coming towards the ship,” he explained as he flew. He didn’t bother wasting ammo on the creature, web rounds would do nothing to it. It was bound to be too strong.
Undead were usually close to the strength they had in life without any extra effort on the part of their creator. This thing was massive. That could only mean it had strength in proportion to its size, at least. It might have more.
“No word Boss,” Auceps replied worriedly as the Dropship swung lower and weapons folded out along it.
He flew above the ship and the serpent, flying far faster than it had any right to, was following him up. However, Princeps had taken to the air and started unloading from his remaining heavy weapon, a laser cannon he only reserved for situations exactly like this. “Have a taste of Zeus’s thunder!” he called out, cackling. Lionheart resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Princeps didn’t actually believe he was a reincarnated god, but he’d adopted that as his “heroic” persona and played the role to the hilt.
His blast took the serpent in the wing, cutting a rip through the decaying leather, and the Serpent crashed into the ship, yanking it down with the sudden introduction of too much weight. Whatever means Endeavor used to keep the vessel afloat compensated quickly and the vessel slowed back to its original descent speed almost as soon as it started, and the serpent clawed its way on deck.
“Princeps, keep it busy! We can’t let it get in the way until our people are clear,” he growled into the comm. “Auceps, light it up!” This whole situation had gone sideways, he knew. Come on, Dice, show me I’m not a fool for believing in you, he prayed as Auceps let loose with a barrage of missiles and large caliber fire from modified M230 chain guns.
Then they heard a second massive scream issue from the earth below them.
Hollow could not distinguish between herself and the pressure in her head. It was like there was no pressure, or perhaps there was no Khōkhalā. She could see,think, and to an extent, reason, but some tiny piece of herself was just barely able to distinguish that something was wrong. Her memories were hazy, she did not remember how she got here. She remembered a couple faces… a dark-skinned boy, a red skinned girl… She also remembered hunger. She needed food, and she could smell food near. There! A great coil of flesh and food sat before her, upon the wooden surface, the deck, memory indicated. It was a serpent… thing, a living corpse. It was food
Her body leapt on the serpent thing, blades slashing, digging into it. She tasted food, pulled from the monster, as more than flesh vanished from it when her blades cut as deep as they could. A massive clawed hand lashed out, smashing into her and tossing her body like a ragdoll into the wall of the ship. Her head actually failed to go through the reinforced timbers like some piece of her expected. She fell limply to the deck, then her body stood up, already healing the minor scuffs and damage. She had tasted food, and she needed more. She knew that without this she would die. She had to have this food, and nothing else could matter but that.
Her body still stinging with pain, mind still numb with hunger, she leapt to the attack. She smashed painfully into the serpent and slashed madly at the reanimated mega-carcass. Each cut drained a little more energy out of the beast. She was gaining more than it was costing her to attack it, and it was delicious. Suddenly its tail whipped around and smacked into her, sending her flying past a creature who was half-man, half-cat. Her memories recalled him vaguely, but it was not important. She was flung out into open air. She skidded to a halt despite having nothing to skid against and loosed another shriek.
She followed up the shriek with a hurled blade of wind to distract the creature as she closed on it. The creature, however, was not deterred. It hurled itself at her, breathing in the tantalizing scent of its prey as it pursued her. It thought she was food, but would soon understand how it had been fooled.
Something else was coming, she could smell it. More food was on its way to her. A weird shriek, like the sound of a thousand thousand creaking trees, rocked the ship for a moment. A blast of natural lightning split the night somewhere close, deafening her as she prepared to charge once more towards her food.
Suddenly a hand grabbed her and pulled her. A fusilade of some strange explosions assailed her prey, causing it to roar and rear up in irritation, swiping at some sort of loud round metal object larger than her prey. It took to the air, but she did not see more as her head whipped around. She took in what had grabbed her, it was the catman. He held her tightly, too tightly to escape. She shrieked at it and raised her blade against it. The blow was poorly made. As well, some piece of her recalled the cat thing now, it had formidable defenses. Another piece of her, however, held no doubts that the interloper would die so she could resume feeding.
Her blade slid through those formidable defenses like a hot knife through butter and laid open the lionman’s arm from elbow to shoulder. The lion hero roared in obvious pain and his grip reflexively loosened. She instinctively drew deep on her internal reservoir, no longer empty, but still so very far from full. She was still overwhelmingly hungry, but a little spent now would ensure she could feed shortly. Strength surged into her arms and she leveraged her sudden spike in power to break out of the loosened grip. Shrieking, she twisted and made to stab both blades into the lioncreature’s chest.
The lionthing proved wily, however, and with movements faster than she expected, grabbed and flipped and threw her away from it, causing her to miss. With sudden exultation, she saw that she was free. The lioncreature shouted something, words in her own tongue, but she did not heed them. Its face was a mask of some unreadable emotion. Had it been human, perhaps she would have understood it.
Her momentary pause to take in that face allowed her prey to catch her unawares, as its massive jaws snapped shut, enveloping her entirely. She reacted on instinct, cutting and slashed at it, drinking deeply of the suddenly available food as the serpent prey tried and failed to swallow her.
Lionheart could only stare in abject shock and horror as he realized he’d flung the berserk girl away from him and into the path of the undead serpent. It swallowed her… then it began writhing in pain as her sword blades, which had so easily pierced through his own PK defense and his body armor, also cut easily through its hide.. Body armor made with Titanium plates and titanium flex joints and a kevra weave base layer and top layer. All told, very little should have been able to hurt him… instead his arm was bleeding quite a bit. If he didn’t see to it, it might bleed out despite his very minor regeneration.
The simple problem was he couldn’t afford to leave the girl. “Princeps, I need you to cover the girl, target away from the mouth. I have a wound to patch,” he called through the comm. It was fortunate planning that he carried basic med supplies that were still intact and had teammates to watch his back. He yanked out disinfectant and bandages for a tourniquet and set to work as he flew up and away.
Princeps moved into engage the enemy target with his power armor and manifested PK arms and weapons. As Lionheart applied the disinfectant to his wound, he watched the other of his two real rookies engaged his opponent. Princeps and Grinning Leopard, who had remained behind to continue rescue efforts in the collapsed building and watch for surprises left by the supervillain, were the two youngest members of his team.
Princeps had used his money and connections as one of Kansas City’s richest and oldest powerful families to purchase both his power armor, his weapons, and the power gems that provided his powers. He’d then come straight to Lionheart to ask if the veteran would consider mentoring him and forming a superteam to defend KC. Kansas City was the last of the great midwestern metropolises to be without a real team of superheroes, but its prime placement in the center of the country made it a hotspot of trouble.
Princeps was an amateur, but he wasn’t without potential. He played it safe and careful, relying on both his armor’s personal forcefield and his manifested PK tower shield to defend against the snake, using his limited thruster capacity to dodge lightly so he didn’t take attacks head on. He thrust with his manifested Roman spear, which had some luck piercing the monster’s hide… unlike the other weapons they’d attempted to use so far. Auceps’ chaingun and missiles had done almost nothing useful to the monster.
The thrust went deep, and he had more than enough strength to to pull the spear free as the claws swiped at his shield. The tail came rushing towards him, but he deflected it, turning it into a glancing blow that failed to knock him over. Princeps was cussing up a storm in perfect Latin as he fought, a habit that Lionheart had repeatedly tried to convince him to break.
With a shriek, a piece of the serpent’s jaw suddenly came free, and the girl came tumbling out. Lionheart was just finishing tying off his own tourniquet when it happened. She came to a stop on solid air, not flying, but standing, and loosed a shriek.
He hadn’t heard a repeat of the sound that had come from below, that echoing grinding shriek of utter anguish, but he knew it could mean nothing good. Suddenly, his ears perceived a new sound from below… the flap of more wings.
He glanced downward… and discovered a glowing Endeavor flying towards the ship with all the speed he could apparently muster… and something was coming up behind him fast. It didn’t have a distinctly clear silhouette. It was big though, even bigger than the snake, and it was asymmetrical. It seemed to shift a great deal as it flew.
“We have incoming! Something else just threw another wrench in this mess of a plan of ours! Where the hell is Dice?” he roared as he double checked his tourniquet. He prepared to go in to switch with Princeps when something exploded out the side of the enemy ship.
“Dice here! I’ve got three hostages for ya, hero guy, where’s Hollow?” the young man in question asked as he came running out of the ship followed by two girls clutching to each other with desperate fear… no, three, Keggers came running at the rear with another one slung over his shoulder and Scintillation floated next to him. Four hostages total. Four hostages, and they’d only gone in with the intent to rescue two!
“Dice, what happened? No, get those girls to Auceps in the dropship! Hurry, we can answer questions when we’re ready to get clear of this mess!” he ordered as he flew in towards the battle, intending to take Princep’s place in the battle and order him to grab the girl. To his shock, however, she made his decisions irrelevant as she suddenly vanished, only for her signature shriek to sound from below as she appeared attacking the creature chasing Endeavor. “Oh no…” he moaned, as he realized things had just gotten even more complicated.
Dice hit the door out of the prison bay, head buzzing with something he couldn’t focus on. What he could focus on was Elaine, feeling… happy and warm. Something had happened to make her, for a moment, forget all trace of fear or misery. He let her happiness flow into him, and a smile spread across his face. He turned towards the rear of the ship and zeroed in on the two emotions close together that didn’t match the rest.
The ship buzzed with ordered panic, fear, confidence, or courage. Most of the crew was disciplined. Dice was inclined to guess Endeavor had somehow managed to afford minions from the Syndicate or some similar organization, considering how well most of them reacted. They were still very vulnerable to having their head smashed into a wall with nearly three hundred pounds of force however, the only problem was that he had to put the heroine down to hit them. At least his barriers fit the hallway and could take the full brunt of any firepower the bastards threw at him.
Dice didn’t waste time trying to finish them off, but he had no sympathy for how badly injured he might leave them. These men had been raping two prisoners, probably three, given the wreck that was Elaine. He had no sympathy for monsters like that. They were as evil as Wilson…
He ran off towards the feel of those two standout clusters of emotion until he found a door. They were on the other side of it. The last door had already been a little open when he found it, but this one was shut tight. The ship’s magical defenses were surprisingly vulnerable around the hull, meant more for large scale defense that precision, and weak to magic.
This door was heavily warded. “Hey, open up in there, rescue in progress!” he yelled out, unsure if the two emotions, which he hoped were the girls, could hear. The emotional responses spiked in response, worry and panic catching up the general despair they felt. They felt very similar to Elaine.
He spun up his buzzsaw and tested it on the door with one of his barriers set to protect him and the heroine. As expected, it ricocheted off and might have cut off his other arm if he hadn’t had his barrier up. Then he noticed it had cut into the floor pretty easily. He felt a grim smile plaster his face as he fought off the despair trying to flatten the good mood still radiating from Elaine. He would not fold to the exterior emotions, he would change them. He would give them hope. Elaine wouldn’t let him save her, but perhaps these two would be different… and now he might have a way in.
His saw cut through the floor as he dived into the hole without looking, landing on one of his barriers. This was the hold, full of supplies like food, water, and medical. He saw no weapons down here, but he didn’t have time to look. As Scintillation floated into the hold behind him, he looked to where he expected the right spot to be to cut upwards. His razor-edged manifested buzzsaw, one of the many spells he had prepared away in a set of dice, dug its way into the wood with vigor. It got halfway through the cutting before it suddenly vanished.
“Shit,” he muttered. The spell had run out of essence. He needed another way in, fast. He manifested a hammer and sent it smashing into the floor, kicking up a spray of splinters. He used barriers as platforms to leap up into the engine room as the fear, panic, and pain of the two girls flared. As he leapt he thought he detected a hint of fiery determination flare up.
He found himself looking at a dark skinned woman around Elaine’s height, with long brown hair, in sleeveless overalls. He couldn’t be sure if she was black, Latino, or a bit of both. She was standing scared, but holding a electrified wrench, but protectively in front of the other girl, who had a bulging stomach. That told him which was probably which. The second was blonde with blue eyes and a freckled face. She was taller, but hunched over and clutching her belly.
“I won’t let you hurt her!” the dark skinned girl declared, trying to sound fierce despite the fear. Dice clutched at the contented joy still strangely flowing out of Elaine to resist the overwhelming emotions in front of him, and held up his empty hand.
“I’m here to take you home,” he declared, hoping that would be a good opener. “I am not here to hurt you… more,” he said, realizing the pain was from splinters. “I’m sorry about the splinters. I… cannot offer a good excuse,” he offered with chagrin and sorrow, which he had to clamp down hard on. “I just want to get you out. Elaine told me where to find you,” he explained gently.
Their emotions were shifting all over the place, they couldn’t decide what to make of him. “I’m just here to help, please,” he said. “Will you let me?”
“Elaine… sent you? But she would never betray the master,” the second girl, Agatha, spoke up and he could sense the distrust from her. “She can’t… she’s been here the longest…” she whimpered. She clutched her stomach tighter, and he felt something buried behind everything else, not directed at him. She had love and protectiveness flowing from her towards the baby within, and Delilah felt the same.
“Do you want to see your child escape this fate?” he asked gently. “Do you have the courage to risk your trust on me, to make that reality?” he asked. “I want to help, please, if you’d only let me. I can’t force you to escape, I don’t have that kind of power. It has to be your choice, but please… Elaine wouldn’t let me save her. She thought I could save you though…” he pleaded, hoping.
Delilah looked from him, then glanced at the baby. “We… we…”
“I want to save my baby,” Agatha declared. “Can you… can you really get us out?” the barest flickering of hope began to blossom inside her as she questioned him.
“I can. I came with help. I brought a team of superheroes with me, the Kansas City Knights.” At those words, disbelief and hope both sparked into fiery conflagrations inside the girls before him. He was clearly older than both of them.
“Why didn’t you say you brought heroes!” Delilah admonished as she took a step forward. He rubbed the back of his head in shame at realizing how simple that could have made this.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Quit apologizing. Let’s go, come on Agatha,” Delilah declared, taking the other girl by the hand. She turned, and flipped a switch on the wall. Dice realized he wasn’t actually in the engine room. He was somewhere else, more like a storage room with some weird metal tubing and other gadgets. He heard the door behind him open up.
“I didn’t expect it to open so easily,” he said, turning as it swung open.
“It’s there to keep the master’s servants out without permission, not to keep us in. We know better than to run… normally, but… I have to try. We both have to try. So…”
Dice nodded, riding the fire of their determination as he ran out the door to the room. He turned, scanning the corridor, and started towards where he thought Elaine had indicated the exit was. “Wait, what about Berry?” Agatha’s voice cut through the still air.
Dice pulled up short, then looked at them. “I… Elaine said she was too well guarded, she didn’t tell me where she was,” he admitted.
“But we can’t leave Berry! She’s… she’s not broken yet. We can’t leave her to break like us… we can’t,” she declared, determined. Dice stared at her.
I dread to think what has been done to Elaine, that she is so much more broken but… I can’t force her to leave. I can’t force any of them… but I guess I have to try. “Which way is she?” he asked them.
“Those stairs go up,” Deliliah said, pointing the other way.
“Show me,” he ordered, and she nodded.
Dice had to unleash lightning and hammers both on the mooks gathered on that upper level to get to the door that held Berry. The minions put up quite a fight to defend the ship. However, their armaments could not pass his barrier, and their protections were not made to defend against heavy whirling hammers and blasts of lightning. The door should have provided a problem… but he had grenades to work with now.
“Berry! Can you hear me? If you can open the door, do so!” he called out. No answer. “Is her bed near the door?” He could only feel fear and terror and sorrow on the other side of the door, but no sign of a response.
“Away from it, and she’s probably chained to the wall…”Agatha admitted. Dice frowned, then shoved a grenade against the wall at one corner, then another, then a third, and last a fourth. He used his TK to blow them up while using Barriers to direct the blast so it didn’t actually go into the hall or room. It was the best he could do as a quick jury rig. Then he hammered the wall open.
He stepped inside the room through his new opening to discover a small girl huddled on a bunk set against the far wall, chained up by a leather thong. She was naked and she was crying. She was also sick looking. “Berry?” he asked, but she barely responded, staring at the door in continued fear and panic.
“Dice, mate, that you?” a voice called. There was a nearby bundle of emotion he’d been too busy to take note of, more the fool he was.
“Kegger, over here! Quick, got more hostages!” he called, recognizing the voice. “Where you been?” he asked the octopus man as the hero stepped into the room.
“Causing havoc and chaos and keepin’ the weapons offline. I tried gettin’ in thar engine room, but more’s the pity, no luck. Warded tighter than Uluru,” the devisor muttered. “I heard a bunch of thunder up here, so I came to have a look. Who’s this one?” he asked, sparing a glance for Scintillation before he focused on Berry.
“This is Berry, that’s Delilah, and the mom-to-be’s name is Agatha. Hollow and Scintillation aren’t that bastard Endeavor’s first kidnapping victims,” he explained with an edge of desperate anger. The superhero was a facade of calm burying worry and fear for Dice, the girls, Scintillation, and his other friends. Well, that was Dice’s guess. He could tell the direction emotions were pointed, and when they were directed at himself, but he wasn’t a mind reader. Ultimately, it was still guesswork.
“Right hon, I’m just gonna pick you up real careful like,” the octopus man said, snipping the leather cord with some kind of cutting laser. Berry still didn’t answer verbally, but her emotions reacted. She nodded numbly as Dice felt surprise and hope well up. The poor girl was incredibly hungry too, but it had been so buried under the other emotions it had taken him precious moments to notice it.
“He’s been starving her…” Dice stated in shock and horror. “That monster…” he said in disbelief. “I shouldn’t be surprised, but…”
“No time for shock. We need to go. Blow a hole in the wall, we should have been out already, but I can’t fault ya saving the gals,” Kegger stated as he pointed towards the outer wall. Dice glanced down, regretting that there was still one more he hadn’t saved. However, Kegger had it right, he knew. There were four women who had to be secured. He couldn’t force Elaine while dealing with all of them. He’d simply have to come back for her. He’d promised, and he wouldn’t break that promise.
“Right.” Grenades flew up to the wall, barriers appeared to protect the others from the explosion, and with a loud thunderous roar, the wall exploded outward to the tune of numerous grenades. Dice went charging out in the lead, barriers providing walking space as the others ran behind.
“Dice here! I’ve got three hostages for ya, hero guy, where’s Hollow?” he asked as he came into the clear on the comm, which crackled to life. He tried to take in the chaotic scene. Something battled in the air with Princeps, while Lionheart floated off, doing something to his arm. He spotted Hollow, answering his question, as she took a slice out of the serpent monster fighting herself and Princeps. Despite the hero’s attempts to get its attention, it seemed fixated on Hollow.
“Dice, what happened? No, get those girls to Auceps in the dropship! Hurry, we can answer questions when we’re ready to get clear of this mess!” Lionheart ordered, diving towards the fight. Suddenly, Hollow loosed a shriek and vanished. Her emotions didn’t pop back up inside his range, and it took him a moment to spot her.
“Oh no…” Lionheart voiced as the girl’s body smashed into something flying up from below, giving Endeavor a chance to escape. During the brief moment Hollow had been in range, he’d felt nothing but pure hunger from her.
“Hurry, to the dropship!” Dice ordered, waving the others past him as Auceps flew the Knights’ personal transport into position, a hatch opening on the side, Shaking and shuddering, the two lead girls suddenly came to a halt in absolute terror. Dice realized it was Endeavor’s programming. “Keggers! Tackle them inside! They aren’t thinking straight! Quick!” he ordered. Keggers wasted no words and did as ordered, tackling the two girls into the interior, spinning and making Agatha land on top of him.
Dice sent Scintillation floating in behind them. “Take care of them! Hollow needs help,” he declared. He had to make sure Hollow made it out alright… he had to. He charged into the battle, running through the air on barriers of solid light.
Endeavor roared in fury, letting loose a roar to match that of the accursed Lionheart as he saw his precious toys running away. “Girls! Stop at once” he ordered just as they reached the entrance to the heroes’ ship. Two of his toys came to a complete halt, but the boy, Dice, yelled something and the other hero tackled them inside.
The boy! He’d been tricked, the boy was alive! He’d been fooled! They were making mockery of him, ruining plans he’d been preparing for nearly a decade! Worse, his newest tool only responded to orders in the broadest way. Every time he got control of it, it refocused itself on the girl! It wanted to eat her, his link with it told him that much. It had something that resembled a proper mind, more than he’d expected. That mind… wanted to feed on the girl. She seemed to exude something that made her seem delicious.
Then there was the creature. It wasn’t a lifeform known to him, but it was made of trees. Not wood, but genuine trees, living ones. Even as it flew, thin tendrils stretched all the way to the earth below. It wasn’t a single organism, but more the collective will of many. Why it had awoken now and come after him, he could but guess. Perhaps the devastation of his awakening the serpent corpse had angered its wrath enough to awaken it. Perhaps the infusion of such massive necrotic energy had triggered some ancient defense.
The heroes had four of his toys, including one of his new ones. His greatest prize did battle with the plant, but that did not grant him control, and his serpent even now flew after his prize to consume it. He had to gain control of this battle and take his vengeance on the boy.
“Captain,” he ordered, speaking to his ship’s commander. “Find every functional weapon, shoot the heroes, their ship, and the plant. I care only for my prize, all else is secondary. I will not leave so empty handed and humiliated,” he declared angrily.
“Sir!” his commander responded. He wondered if the ship had anything else. Well first things first, it was the boy he’d deal with.
More food! Her instincts sang with the smell of it. So much food! One prey followed her down as she dived at the new food source. It smelled different, far more appetizing. This new food was better, her nose said, and she followed it. She slammed into her prey and went skipping and slashing down the back of it with abandon. Vines and roots lashed out, forcing her to cut them and leap away. What she cut, withered as she absorbed the energy that powered it. Food! she sang gleefully, bouncing around the air as she cut at her prey.
The serpent prey slammed into the other prey and began tearing at it, even as its jaws tried to snap shut on her again. She dodged to the side, not wanting to be denied her better choice of food. She was so hungry, but there was so much food to be had!
Dice ducked a ball of fire that flew at his head. “Boy! I will roast you alive this time!” Endeavor called out angrily. “I do not know how you managed this, but when I’ve killed you, I will pull your soul back from the afterlife and torture the information out of you!” the villain screamed.
Dice was too busy trying to take in the battlefield. He’d had to do something about the villain to help Hollow, who was fighting the monsters, consumed by her forced hunger. The villain hurled more fire at him. He ducked below it again, he did not have enough shield power remaining to waste on this.
“Then I’ll take all the girls back, and I’ll punish them for letting you take them. They are my property! My slaves! You will pay a thousand fold for this insult, but they will pay one million!” Endeavor howled in rage.
Dice pulled to a stop. Right… drive him off, then help Hollow finish off those monsters. I’ll probably have to knock her out again, he decided. He could feel anger boiling in his own mind as surely as he felt it in Auceps and Kegger, buried under the worry and sympathy they had for the four girls in their care.
“ENDEAVOR! You want to know how I did it? How I found you, how I fooled you, how I’m going to beat you?” he screamed out, turning to face the supervillain, every spell he might be able to use save two swinging into place. Those… those were too dangerous. “The answer is simple! I am Dice! I have Matrim Cauthon’s own luck! I am the survivor! I have diced with Jak’o’Shadows, and I won! You are nothing compared to what I have fought and survived. You don’t even qualify in the top ten!” That was a lie. At the moment, Endeavor was registering as at least third, if not second. Only the sheer mindwarping horror of what constituted first place could unquestionably trump the supervillain. It was a toss up compared to second place.
Only the last was a lie though. He did have Matrim Cauthon’s own luck, and as to dicing with Jak’o’Shadows, well… if first place didn’t qualify…
He had the villain’s attention. “Lionheart, Princeps, we’ve got to take down Endeavor, I’m about to hit him with everything I can… but I need backup,” Dice declared gravely. “Oh, and close your eyes for a moment, it’s gonna get bright.”
A roar and a chuckle were his only answers, but those were answer enough. Endeavor had obviously managed to stalemate the two heroes… but toss Dice into the mix, and a stalemate became a losing battle. Just as Endeavor unleashed a blast of fire, Dice unleashed his own barrage.
Despite the glowing fireball and the lit ship’s deck, the night was in truth fairly dark up to this point. Somewhere far away a storm brewed, the occasional flicker of lightning providing illumination and thunder. When Dice attacked… he lit the night like a concert on the Kansas City Plaza at Christmas. No, brighter, like adding a full barrage of fireworks. No, brighter still. For a brief moment, it was daylight around Endeavor.
His mystic shields, restored during the time they were not being hammered by the relentless assault of the heroes, flared as bright as what assaulted them. They strained as twenty separate bolts of lightning, each carrying the full strength of a thunderstorm’s fury with it, slammed into them. They flared to their brightest, so bright no one could even look that direction, then they cracked.
Even Dice had his eyes closed. However, he could still sense Endeavor’s emotions. That was all the targetting he needed. Practice and practice, error after error had prepared his telekinesis to coordinate with his empathy to target what he wished it to, even if he couldn’t draw a visual bead. More than that, however… He was touching those shields with his own TK. He drew a line from the dice his TK held aloft to the shields he touched, and along that line, his lightning rode. When the shields cracked, he followed with one more trick. Four hammers came flying in from the front and smashed with all their furiously spinning centrifugal force directly into the barriers. The cracks widened and the shields shattered.
“HIT HIM NOW!” Dice screamed with all his might.
The hero Lionheart needed no further prompting, and Princeps followed right on his heels. Claws coated with PK energy capable of ten tons of force slammed into Endeavor from one direction while a spear of similar energy, though with less power, slammed into the villain from the other direction. He was flung backwards with the force of it as chips of stone and blood flew from his body. Endeavor slammed into his ship, and suddenly his great barrier reappeared. Men ran about on the deck, running to their master’s side, and the ship began to take off again. Shadows rippled and covered the ship again.
Dice had already switched targets. Nearly all his essence was flowing into his barriers. He’d expended so many. It would take him days or even weeks to restore everything he’d expended this night. He’d be incredibly vulnerable to the inevitable attacks and encounters with so many precious resources expended. He could only hope the sheer insanity tonight would grant him enough relief to rebuild those resources. He was going to be doing a great deal of running in the near future, just to survive.
First though… first there was Hollow. The hunger snapped into existence in his head as he ran across the sky towards her and came into range. Nothing but hunger defined her… then he felt it. It made no sense, but he had no time to question it. A growing sense of lust was building inside her as she fed upon the monsters.
“Lionheart, Princeps, focus everything you can spare on that serpent! If we can kill that and drag Hollow away from the plants… that’s some kind of sentient forest spirit. I’ve seen one before, in New Hampshire. It won’t leave its own domain. We can run from it and it’ll go away, but that serpent ain’t gonna let Hollow go. We gotta kill it now!” he shouted. This was way more… physically obvious than the thing he’d almost gotten killed by in New Hampshire. That had just wanted him to go away as well, though. He’d been glad to. There had been the sense that things even scarier than his second place threat were lurking just out of sight, and he didn’t want his bad luck to have more chances to loose them on him.
A bolt of lightning slammed into the monster as it tried to snap its jaws shut on a dodging Hollow. A barrier appeared to block the swing of its tail as it aimed for the girl.
“That’s great, but she looks way more interested in the forest!” responded Keggers as the Dropship shot past, unloading chaingun rounds to distract the serpent and the forest both. Dice couldn’t really disagree, but still…
“Kill it anyways!” he yelled.
“Do what he says, everyone! Dice is the only one who even sounds like he has a clue, so we give him the benefit of the doubt. He found the ship and he got back our girl. He’s earned our trust,” Lionheart ordered as the PK brick went flying into the fight and slammed into the snake thing, drawing his sword.
Princeps landed on top of the dropship and added what firepower he could to the battle. “I need a refuel, I’m nearly out!” he called. “I’ve got plenty of power to the frame, but my thrusters are damned near dry!”
“So’s the dropship!” Auceps’s voice called out. “We need to end this fast boss!” Auceps shouted.
“Boss, I got one more singularity bomb! We just gotta get the girl far enough from the snake to hit it!” Keggers offered, probably manning weapons once more.
Dice had eyes only for Hollow. “Auceps, I got a plan. Princeps, can your hands hold her secure without hurting her if I get her to you?” he called out. “Or maybe I can knock her out, that worked before,” he muttered in addition.
“What do you need?” the rat asked.
“Just line up line like a catcher when I give you the signal,” Dice called out. God, you didn’t give me what I asked for, but I guess you had your own plan. Instead of three, I’ve saved four and left one behind. I need more. I’ve got to help her, he pleaded as he ran across the sky once more, running straight into the snapping jaws and whipping tail and slashing claws of the serpent. The forest, well, it had a lot of random things, but now he could see it a little better, it sort of looked like a dragon made out of a whole mess of different plants, with at least six eyes and truly massive snapping jaws, all made out of plants of all kinds.
“HOLLOW!” he shouted as he charged into danger to save the girl he barely knew, because of a promise even he didn’t quite understand, no matter his words to Lionheart.
The food was so glorious. These things were filled with such delicious amounts of food she could use all her power and she was still drinking in more. The delicious plants seemed to have no end of resources, far more than the serpent could provide. Then she smelled something familiar.
It was a scent that brought a moment of lucidity to her mind nothing else had. She knew that scent. From where? From when? Why did it matter again? She could not remember, but it wasn’t a delicious smell. It was still a precious smell. She’d been willing to die for that scent, she recalled, but her feral mind did not know why. It wasn’t food…
A man appeared, attached to that scent. He ran towards her across the sky. She walked on air itself, but he strode upon discs of light that vanished and appeared as he ran. He was shouting words, and because of the scent, her mind dredged up the memory of them. “HOLLOW!” he screamed… he called for her, for the name she had chosen. Why was that her name?
More discs of light appeared around them, separating her from both her foods for a moment. The discs were colored with the energy of the world, which some piece of her called magic. More little lanterns of magic that shed no light were scattered all over the place. She turned towards that scent, knowing it to be the source of this effrontery, wanting to be rid of it, but somehow, knowing she did not dare. However… FOOD she howled, and made to strike. A blast of lightning slammed into her face and a hammer followed it as she was hurled backwards. Another blast and another hammer followed, then it repeated again. She slammed into something solid, and something grabbed her hands.
Dice ran towards her, magic, essence, gathering in his one hand as she felt sapience vaguely begin to return. Before she could collect wits enough to utter words, however, he thrust the collected magic at her, and some great force of compulsion overrode her addled mind. “Sleep!” Dice commanded… and she recalled no more.