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Dice/Hollow #1 - Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory

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3 years 1 month ago - 3 years 2 weeks ago #35524 by Iwasforger03
Iwasforger03 created the topic: Dice/Hollow #1 - Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
Part 1 - Review/feedback requested prior to migration to WhatIF section of Main Site. Part 1 has seen some editting, but I'm hunting for additional reviews now that my wonderful Beta Reader Esar has helped me clean up a few things! I should probably call him an Alpha Reader actually.

Can you hear the rattle of rolling dice?

December 12th, 2015
1400 hours
Maryville, MO, United States
The “Acadabox” aka Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics, and Technology

“Kho, get your ass in gear, we’re gonna be late for our final!” Khōkhalā Zinda’s roommate Kenzie yelled, trying to usher her out the door. Khōkhalā grumbled as she pulled herself away from the laptop she had been issued by the school and slammed the lid shut.

“I am trying to write here!” she complained to her roommate. Khōkhalā was 5’5” of very beautiful Indian girl. She was dressed like a typical American teenager. As far as she was concerned, she was a typical American teenager. Her parents were from India, but she born here in the US, and no amount of family visits to the “homeland” would change that.. This was also her first semester of college! She was in college at fifteen!

She was a physics major because there was good money in physics, but she had signed up for a minor in literature. It was the end of the semester, and she and Kenzie both got stuck with finals that ended monday. She was stuck here for the weekend. It could be worse, so was Kenzie. It was not like she would be alone.

“Ugh, physics,” Kenzie muttered once Hollow joined her in the hallway. They vacated the place, heading north out the backdoor and past the library up to Garret-Strong, the science building. “Why did I agree to take physics as a freshman?” she muttered again as they walked up the front steps inside, past the shiny little faux-cafe, and to the left. Not that Kenzie was a normal freshman. She was a highschool junior, just like Khōkhalā. She was just also a college freshman.

“Because you thought there was money in physics?” Khōkhalā replied. As if she was alone in her motivations for her major. Their shared major was part of the reason they were rooming together, despite the age difference. Of course, that would have been a problem no matter who Khōkhalā roomed with. “It is not that bad, you can handle it. We studied plenty yesterday. You can handle this,” she assured her roommate with a shoulder squeeze.

Kenzie flashed her a grateful smile. She shifted a little nervously when she saw some of the college boys looking their way. They were smiling at Khōkhalā, not her. Kenzie was overweight, and she didn’t know how to make that work for her. Hollow had seen girls heavier than her who knew how to dress and walk with a confidence that made them of great interest to the boys, but Kenzie didn’t have that. She had wide hips and nice breasts, the kind a boy might like to play with, Khōkhalā would guess. Certainly larger than Khōkhalā’s A cups by a good bit. She just had no confidence to make herself seem more appealing or interesting.

The test was conducted by their physics teacher, a severe looking older woman who had no real sense of nonsense. She did not accept jokes in her class, she did not accept snarks or asides. There was no talking. Khōkhalā sat down in her seat, a little annoyed. Her muse had really been on track today when her roommate dragged her out for their 2:15pm class. Physics was only on fridays and it was nearly three hours long. The test, however, would not be anywhere near that bad.

Khōkhalā expected at least a 95 out of a 100. She expected Kenzie, despite her fear, to do even better. Kenzie was one of the smartest girls she knew. If only she had the looks to boost her confidence. Still, she couldn’t worry about her roommates stellar academic performance yet, she had a Physics Final to complete.

“Alright. Once all of you have your copy of the test, I will tell you to flip it,” her teacher began, sounding annoyed. “Then you may begin. Remember, all answers go on the scantron, show your work on the scratch paper provided. You are expected to provide your own pencils and erasers. Do not talk, chat, or check your phones. If you brought a VI into my classroom and failed to place it on the desk, I will fail you,” she stated fiercely.

No one voiced a complaint, but one person scurried up to the desk and put their VI on the desk, switched off. She smiled smugly at him, then turned to the rest of them. She began setting test papers on the desks one at a time. When every student had their test, she sat down at her own desk at the front of the room. “Begin.”

Khōkhalā flipped her test her, licked her lips, and licked her pencil for luck, and begin. She had of habit of licking her pencil when she studied. She’d read a blurb in a magazine article from her mother which explained that the taste you remember as you study helps you recall the same info while you take a test. Some teachers would not let you eat candy or chew gum, but no teacher objected to pens and pencils. It was not a pleasant taste, but she thought it worked.

The test really wasn’t all that difficult, she thought. At least, the beginning was not. This was all the things they had done in class or lab. It was in the books and notes they had used to study last night. However, as the test wore on, she started feeling a bit too warm. She had dressed for the weather, so maybe that was it. She pulled off her sweater, which seemed to help a little.

She was nearly done with the test before she was sure she was sweating, but she still managed to finish the test. She slumped into her seat with nearly twenty minutes to go, and slowly began rechecking her answers nervously, worried that her distraction might have thrown off her answers. She was only halfway through rechecking when her sweating stopped and she felt normal again. She finished rechecking everything and realized she still had ten minutes to go, which surprised her. She had expected she would be chased down to the wire rechecking her test.

As soon as they were free of the test, Kenzie grabbed her arm. “Kho, you alright?” she asked nervously.

“Sure, no problem,” Khōkhalā replied with a smile. “Just a little warm for some reason, but I am alright. Come on, let us go see if we can catch a few of the others before dinner,” she said, pulling Kenzie along. They walked off, talking about what they’d do to keep themselves entertained of the weekend wait for monday so they could be clear of all their finals and go home. For Khōkhalā, home was no longer good old St. Joe, but instead this new little town in Illinois. Her father had gotten a job there as an accountant with a local law firm. Her parents had decided that since she’d made it into college, it was time to move themselves out of a big city and into someplace with a nice proper Hindu community.

They chatted with their small circle of mutual friends at “The Circle,” which was the gathering place both for the nerds and nerdettes of the Anime Club, the barely alive Fellowship of the Tower, and the strongly represented Common Ground clubs. All three of which had a great deal of overlapping members. The real fun was missing however, since most of the regulars were already out of town for winter break. Still there were a few people around to have some fun with.

Eyes glowed in the darkness of the private study, recessed deep within the bowels of the ship. They reflected the light of a figured wrapped in barbed wire, writhing in pain. “What I seek will be here?” the voice attached to those eyes asked.

“Yes… there is where it will form, tonight, just before midnight. You must be swift. Linger too long, and my vision cannot see what occurs,” the figure replied in pain.

“I will have my prize,” the voice of the eyes muttered, as a massive tall body, long wings draped across its form like a cloak, stood to its full height and strode out of the chamber. “The Missouri Academy? Well, there are odder places, but it will do for a debut,” the figure mused as it exited its private study to prepare for its endeavor.

After hanging at The Circle and getting dinner, they headed back to their room inside the “Acadabox” as it was affectionately nicknamed. It had better security, harsher punishments, regular patrols, restricted internet, curfew, lights out rules, and a variety of other things to keep the underaged residents safe and out of mischief. Thus, the rest of the university students nicknamed it “The Acadabox” in reference to it being the box where the Academy students were kept. The pair of them were back ahead of lights out. While Kenzie sat down to compose an email to her parents about her tests and watch one of her favorite tv shows, Khōkhalā put together her plans to write her latest fanfiction idea. She had a brilliant idea for a story about an Arrancar that had the “releases” of a Shinigami. It was a little odd, but she was also planning for it to be a crossover with Mahou Sensei Negima, her other favorite manga.

Lost in another world, forced to manifest, eating souls of good and evil alike to sate his unsatiable hunger… She could feel her muse prickling, singing itself back to life as she started writing down her plan for the story. It was going to be a good weekend, she could feel it.

That horrible sensation of a bad roll

December 12th, 2015
2347 hours
Maryville, MO, United States
A few miles outside town, near the lake

The silence dripped from the leaves like rainwater. So heavy he could feel the emotions of the tiny insects and animals around him, the squirrels in the tree across the way and even the spider above him. He had no fear of those, however. He had long since learned the trick to warding simple minds away from him.

That would keep him safe from the animals while he slept. Hopefully people too. Of course, there were other things than people out there. That was the real problem. Three days, it had been three days. It was time… dangerous to sleep until something came… too dangerous to stay up. If nothing happened now and he didn’t sleep... and fighting on two days of no sleep? Too dangerous.

With a careful sigh, he settled in the tree hammock to sleep. It was comfortable, and easy to escape for him. He could only hope the night would pass quickly, and maybe it would happen in daylight. Maybe. It wasn’t hard for sleep to find and take him, with the dim emotions of life around him to lull him to sleep.

At first… at first his dreams were pleasant. Memories of learning to play games with his father. ‘It was a small gift. Just a little wrapped package, only a few inches on a side, but long. He ripped the paper off with joy, while his father and mother sat on the couch across from him and watched. They were whispering to each other, and smiling. The paper’s removal revealed a long rectangular box with a simple swing latch. He popped it open and lifted the lid. Inside, seven dice of purple crystal, with numbers etched into them with lasers, lay on velvet padding within. A full set. They were beautiful. “WOW!” his young self declared with feverish joy. He lifted a hand out to touch them, brushed them with his fingers…’ and the dream changed.

A place of inverses and opposites where everything made perfect sense floated before his ears, and he smelled his hand as it heard those same gems. The blunt edges threatened to heal his wounded hands she had this done, but succeeded. It was there, it was then, as his beginning twisted and blew away and his arm melted, he… ‘a silver hand, tipped with claws carved with runes, reached out. Twenty feet away was a figure, one he did not know. Darkness, blackness, and a sword… shadows and steel and a glowing skull. He was going to kill the bastard, this time. It ended here, now. Just touch him with this arm, this gift of metal, and he couldn’t escape. Nothing to escape, no warp, no teleport, no portal, nothing. This time, he wouldn’t escape to some other dimension or time or… whereever. This time, he would not survive. His dice spun into position, as twenty feet away, the monster turned to face him. This time…’

He snapped awake, tumbling to his feet as something loud split the silence like the Red Sea. There was a glow out towards town. That couldn’t mean anything good. Not if it was loud enough to wake him up out here. It might not be for him. It hadn’t come after him directly, and there were no new emotional responses in range. He was still devoid of sentient companionship out here.

“Guess I should go look. Better than… having that dream again,” he let out a sigh. He set out for the town across the lake.

Officer Jameson was new to the Maryville Police Department, but he was hardly new to town. It was a college town. A car fire was always well within the realm of possibility, and the University had been set aflame before for a variety of reasons. Accidents, arson, and even unexplained events. But this?

“Jameson! Jameson! Wake up and keep that crowd back!” his sergeant shouted, shaking him. He snapped awake and hurried to the line, where some of his fellows were trying to keep the crowd from bunching in and getting in the way of SWAT. There were more problems than just fire, a leveled building, and missing students. There was a monster.

Nobody could see it very well, but it seemed to be made of smoke, not fire. SWAT had fired bullet after bullet and were hitting air. They’d sent for huge fans, the kind of industrial equipment that could blow the smoke away. Professor Gerden, a Physics professor and the only mutant on the teaching staff, was brawling with the smoke. He had minor speed powers and could manifest a carapace shell that filtered the air. He wasn’t a retired superhero, but he was a judo instructor in his spare time.

SWAT was backing him up with everything they had, but all they’d managed so far was to keep the beast from getting out to the rest of campus. “Monica!” a student called out, trying to shove past one of the other officers. Jameson held back a young man only a few years his junior. “My sister is in there!” he shouted, and Jameson had to grit his teeth.

“Don’t! Stop shoving! We are doing all we can, but if you get in the way, it makes it harder to save your loved ones!” he shouted. That got a few of them to stop and listen. “We are doing all we can, but if we must protect you and save your friends, this will only become harder! Please! For the sake of the injured stay back!”

The crowd was calming. “Listen to the officer's directions!” a firefighter with a blow horn called. “WE are doing all we can. Several students have been pulled out of the rubble. We will do all we can, but we cannot be distracted with more civilians to protect!” Jameson suddenly heard an incredibly loud screeching howl from behind him.

“Something else is here!” the professor shouted. “Get back!” Jameson turned around and watched a piece of swirling smoke suddenly dissipate as if something had cut the smoke. A high pitched shriek that sounded completely different from smoke blasted through the night. Something slammed into the professor and threw him clear, slamming him into a fire engine. The impact left a crater and moved the engine a few feet, almost tipping it over in the process. The smoke creature screamed again as whatever else was in there seemed to attack it again. It collapsed backwards, falling against a wall, if a thing made of smoke could fall, and everyone saw it.

It, or rather she, seemed to be a small young girl with horns. It was difficult to make out much in the spotlights focused on her, but they could see bladed weapons in both hands, and make out a feminine figure. It, she, shrieked again, a high pitched sound, and hurled herself at the smoke.

“Out of the way, coming through, out of the way!” a voice started shouting from behind him as the creature and the girl started fighting in earnest. “MCO, clear a path!” a voice shouted. Agent Ryan from the local MCO officer had arrived with a squad of power armor, finally. “Clear a path, let them through!” Officer Michel called from down the line, and people started trying to get out of the way.

As soon as a path was cleared the power armor ran up while Agent Ryan stepped up to the Chief. “No, don’t worry, we aren’t gonna do anything to the professor. Simple case of extreme circumstances, defense of self and others,” he said instantly. The local office kept a constant eye on the professor and the campus, which had a number of mutant students. It only made sense they’d have a large local office near such a high concentration of mutants. Still, these were college kids, not teenagers. They’d survived being a mutant for as many as 10 years in some cases, the MCO here wasn’t about handling new emergences, just “keeping an official presence for the protection of all students, faculty, staff, and townsfolk.” as the tagline went.

The Power Armor arrayed themselves around the front of the building. “Don’t fire!” the Chief told Agent Ryan sternly. “We’ve still got kids in there!” he added with fire in his voice. “I don’t give a damn if the mayor did ask you to help, this is still my jurisdiction!”

“Sir, we might have to open fire to save the kids from… whatever that is. The Kansas City Knights are still almost twenty minutes out, since they don’t have super sonic transport or a warper. With the professor down, we might be the only thing standing between that thing and the rest of the students,” Ryan countered bitterly.

“I know they’re twenty minutes out, I called them!”

“How many kids are in there, officer?” a young man, black, in a trench coat, asked Officer Jameson. Kid couldn’t be more than twenty, and he was on the higher end of five feet, almost six, but not quite. Jameson was six foot. “And who is that?” the young man asked, pointing at a standing alongside the MCO power armor. He was holding a clipboard, wearing sunglasses at night, and Jameson didn’t recognize him.

“I.. don’t know. There’s always a few dozen kids in the academy, and we’ve on accounted for thirteen so far,” Jameson responded, then blinked. Why was he answering this guy’s questions?

“Don’t let the MCO fire, that monster isn’t bothered by bullets, and they don’t have any castershells,” the student said. Jameson realized with a start that the right arm of his coat hung slack, because he had no right arm of his own. “They’ll just hit students,” the kid added. “Better tell your boss,” the kid added, nodding towards the argument, “and bring Mr. Stranger to his attention,” he added.

Jameson blinked, shook his head, and felt a little groggy all of a sudden. But the kid was right. Better make a point of it. He turned and started towards the chief.

When he did, it left Lucas with a better view of what was going on. He pulled on his goggles and focused his eyes on the fight. There were… two creatures in the fight, and plenty of signs of life scattered through the rubble. This was a bad sign, very bad. Lots of innocent casualties. It had been a year since the last time he’d had innocent casualties…

The cops were arguing with the MCO agent and the anger was pouring off them in waves. Good. That meant they were trying to reign in their tempers. The local guy, at least, Lucas guessed he was local, didn’t seem especially eager towards violence. So not typical MCO “All mutants must die” thug. Then he felt something shift.

The fight itself was inside his range, but he felt nothing from it. And the emotions of most of the students were muffled by their unconscious state, but his goggles showed plenty of people alive. The combatants showed him no emotions at all except… hunger. They were at the extreme edge of his range, where his senses were weakest, and there were so many people between him and them… the crowd wasn’t helping either, it was a solid mass of fear and worry.

The shift, however, came from the other direction. Hostility. The man with the clipboard turned for a moment and looked at the crowd. It was Wilson. Special Investigator Stanely Wilson of the MCO… a grade A mutant hater who had tried to kill Lucas twice. Lucas took a step back into the crowd, despite the emotions buffeting him.

His dice drifted across the darkened ground, small and all but invisible as they maneuvered into place. He knew the MCO would open fire. Not because the man arguing with the police wanted to, but because Wilson would. Wilson didn’t care.

He turned to head around the edge of the building. This was going to get ugly. He needed better vantage. He could feel… more hunger as he ran, streaming off the battlefield. He started making miniature platforms to run up into the air as he started praying. Hail mary, full of grace…

He could feel it when the Power Armor Jockeys shifted their emotions. They went cool, more focused, as they prepared to fire. Lucas only forestalled a curse because he was still praying. This had just gone worse. The Power Armor squad opened fire at the same moment a series of large purple circles appeared, barriers blocking their shots. The shots were useless against the Possessor spirit, but they’d do wonders on the poor kids still trapped. Bad wonders.

“It’s him! The Dice Killer!” Wilson started shouting. Wilson would recognize his barriers anywhere. “There are shoot on sight orders for him!” Wilson added.

Dice, however, was ignoring the MCO now. They were insignificant. That… other thing, something he hadn’t seen before, was much clearer now. It was hungry. Just that. Nothing else. It also had the look of a young girl. A mutant? A rager, Lucas decided. Well, something similar. Anger was lacking compared to a traditional rager.

“Now… I just have to kick the Possessor out of its borrowed form… or…” he realized after a moment that the Possessor wasn’t as strong as it should be, in fact… there wasn’t a noticeable change in the hunger of the… thing, but the Possessor was getting weaker. It was being… absorbed. He moved away from the spotlights, and back down, to avoid being spotted. A guy standing out in the sky was an easy target, even if he could-

The smoky form of the Possessor spirit suddenly vanished, and Lucas watched it vanish from his goggles’s sight. It was… dead. That created a new problem. The monster is gone… so the Hunger needs a new target, and if it can eat a spirit entity, then… His line of thought was confirmed before he could finish it. It charged at the MCO power armor Agents, two of whom still had weapons trained. One of the purple barriers, his own work, swung into position between blinks of the eye, and the Hunger bounced off the barrier at high speed. As it flew off at a new angle, the lightning struck, followed by a spinning double headed hammer. A big one.

It whacked the Hunger into the bushes behind the rubble, across the little university roadway, past even the giant library. It also made it vanish from his empathy. Lucas ran that way as fast as he could. He had to see it for himself. Was it unconscious? Was it dead? They were shouting behind him, but he was faster than even power armor when he had to be.

The creature… he found it quickly. It was a young girl, about five feet and a half or so, and she was… odd. Her head seemed to be covered by a weird bone mask with small horns, and her skin was white, but was not caucasian. Her skin color was impossible to make out in the black and white of his magic’s nightvision. She was slender and slight, young, way younger than the normal college age range. She was younger than him by a year or two. She was covered in burn scars. She lifted into the air and he started running again, her unconscious form flying along behind him. Leave her for Wilson and she’d vanish.

There were shouts and arguments and a power armor team heading their way, and he was surprised at how heavy the girl was, she put him near his, for a telekinetic, fairly weak weight limit. On the upside, he didn’t lose speed just because she was heavier than a 5’5” teenager should be. That still put the next building north of them a good run, and an obstacle he needed to go around. The college campus had lots of space to get lost in, but what he really needed to do was to run until they had no reasonable chances of finding him… which probably meant tipping his hand and fighting enough to stall them. A super team was on the way though…

He stepped across a sidewalk as a spray of bullets blew away a tree about twenty feet to his left and back, and then he suddenly felt a new set of emotions blossom into place above him. Reflexively he threw a shield above him and something exploded against it, actually cracking the purple barrier. The blast wave actually caused him to stumble. He was almost instantly surrounded by a spotlight.

“Ah, so this is our would be kidnapper,” a loud masculine voice said from high up. The spotlight on him meant even if he had switched to sun shades he would see nothing, making this a very bad position to fight from. The light was steady, which told Lucas nothing in regards to what was creating it. “Well, hand me the girl, little mage, and I might let you live. I’ve no interest in the politics of those Mutant Commission Office fools. You’ve some skill. I could always use another minion,” the voice offered. It, he, sounded bored.

“Who are you? You’re apparently not the superheroes they were waiting for!” Lucas called back, shading his eyes and trying to look around. The spotlight had him and the girl fully illuminated. His other barriers caught up and sprang into position around him, covering him from fire at ground level, but his cracked barrier might not be able to withstand another blast from this villain, it had been an extremely powerful one. As Lucas’s blinded eyes adjusted to the light, he realized it did flicker a little, so maybe it was some sort of magical light. A lantern of some sort?

“I am Endeavor. You have one more chance to give in before I roast you both. Even with the damage you did to knock her out, she should survive, but you, I surmise, are flesh and blood ordinary, little mage. Give in,” the voice said snidely.

“Offer is appreciated,” Lucas replied as his dice spun into position around him. Little hedron formations pointed their taller ends upwards towards the voice, while another set slipped into position, “But I’m good. Not the surrendering type.” He fingered a particular twenty sided die, or d20, in his right hand.

There was no verbal reply. Just fire. Thankfully Lucas had a second barrier prepared under his first. It paid dividends to have backups, after all. Otherwise things like this would have killed him already. The barriers merged corners, creating a partial shield covering every direction but forward. Lucas made a mad dash, trusting his hasted speed to see him away.

Special Investigator for the MCO Wilson Stanely waved the Power armor team forward when the second fireball exploded on their new target. “Engage the aggressor! We have a fifteen minute eta on the Knights!” Much as he preferred to take all the credit, and he might have if Dice had not first gotten in his way, this supervillain threw a wrench in the plan. A power armor team wasn’t likely to be able to handle this one. An airborne villain with some sort of airborne vehicle, a big one, throwing around fire powers while also summoning a wall of energy to block them off from him was not a good sign.

He’d need to try and keep them pinned down or distracted until the supers got here. Even if half the team were mutants, letting a super villain go free was a bigger concern, much less a super villain and a known murderer. Dice had set a monster on his own parents and killed four MCO agents and five local cops during that first incident, and had been involved in seventeen other cases that they knew of. He wasn’t going to waste this chance. The KC Knights would handle the villain when they arrived, letting him focus on finally capturing Dice.

However, things didn’t go as planned, to his utter lack of surprise. The boy threw a barrier up and avoided getting roasted by the blast. He had to catch that brat, to restore himself. He was doing inspections because of his failures to catch Dice, and he was sick of them. He HAD to get him. However, he also didn’t want to be directly responsible for any failure to capture Dice again.

“Agent Ryan!” he called out, turning towards the man. The Power armor jockeys were deployed ahead now, using the emptied buildings as cover as the police finally convinced the students and other civilians to run for cover. This was now a super villain fight, and they wanted to be out of the line of fire.

“Sir?” Ryan replied. “What do you need, Inspector?”

“Ask our friends the police to put together a pursuit team to track our escaping suspect while-” he was cut off by a massive explosion that impacted where fire crews were finally digging students out of the rubble despite the supervillain overhead. It wasn’t safe, but it sure as hell wasn’t safe for the kids, and those men and women cared.

“Holy shit!” Someone shouted behind Wilson as he ground his teeth in burning rage. That rat bastard of a villain had just blown up noncombatants. That couldn’t possibly have been a simple miss, there were no power armor or police fire teams at that location, just rescue.

“Have some entertainment while I deal with my prize,” The villain, who they still hadn’t been able to get a good look at, said with a chuckle. A glow suddenly appeared around the rubble and the visible corpses. They started getting up.

“You… no no no…” one of the cops moaned, falling to his knees as he saw the corpses start to pull themselves out of the rubble. Students and rescue alike. Wilson stopped grinding his teeth, pulled out his sidearm, and clicked off the safety as he aimed straight for a rescue worker corpse digging at something in the rubble.

“Fire at the zombies!” he shouted loudly as he opened fire. “There could still be children or Fire fighters in there alive! If we don’t kill the zombies, they’ll kill anybody else still alive. Come on!” he shouted, walking forward and firing several more shots center of mass on the zombie. It fell over and didn’t stand back up. Headshots were more effective, but he didn’t have night vision so the dark made it hard enough to see, much less headshot a moving target. “Riot shields to the front, or whatever’s handy! We need a defensive wall while a second line fires! Police! Move your asses and save the living!” he shouted as loudly as he could. This was officially a nightmare.

The Chief of Police took up the cry, imitating Wilson and starting to get everything organized. He had to let Dice go. No way could they spare manpower right now. His best hope was that Dice wouldn’t be dead when the heroes arrived, which might let them capture both.

Lucas was running for everything he had. He’d cleared the main campus and reached the student apartments he’d spotted on his way in. They were very uniform, but they were useless as cover, since they’d just invite more innocents to be killed. He’d let enough people die for him when he was powerless. “Come on you cocky bastard!” he shouted, firing back towards whatever was tailing him. It didn’t seem to be the villain yet, but that would follow soon after. If the guy wanted this girl, he wasn’t going to simply let Lucas run off with her. He needed to pause and get his bearings soon. He threw up the equivalent of a magical flashbang and ducked for cover.

He was crouched behind a building out of necessity, needing a moment of breathing room as he considered. He’d allotted himself about ten seconds to pause and catch his breath, when he heard a soft moan. Make that a couple minutes…

The girl was stirring, and started showing signs of distress as she realized she was floating. Lucas released his hold over her and she dropped the few short inches to the ground… coming up an inch short. She must have her own ability to fly. “Hey, hey, calm down, I’m a friend. Stay quiet, there are people after you. You’re just off campus. I’m Dice,” he said, holding out his one good hand to show it was empty. She opened her eyes, which actually glowed green as she looked about. “Who are you and why is my vision all funny? Why is my head ringing?” she asked. She put her hand to her forehead, then began to panic as she felt the strange partial mask covering her forehead. She said something in a language Lucas didn’t recognize as she felt at the mask, her confusion growing. However, her accent, while not thick, was noticeable. He’d have pegged her by stereotype as Indian, as in the actual country.

She began to feel all over herself, touching all her burns and scars which Lucas now saw weren’t too bad. She obviously had quite the resilience. “You manifested as a mutant, just now I’d guess. You were in a fight, do you remember it?” He asked her cautiously, glancing upwards. Something was now hovering above them, but it gave off no emotions for him to sense. Her panic was real, but muffled, like something was interfering in his ability to sense her emotions. He wasn’t having any trouble with the building full of college students, most of them asleep despite the crisis occurring so close, but a few felt panicked and one pair was projecting nothing but pure lust and pleasure.

“Stay in control,” he told her calmly. “Panic is natural, but it won’t help you. This is a crisis. You’re being hunted by a mage type supervillain. He wants you for something, I’m trying to help you. The MCO is on site, but I don’t trust them… do you?” he asked her.

She took several deep breaths and seemed to concentrate. Her panic was matched by determination and focus and she was relatively more in control. “I am from India,” she explained. “The MCO is not to be trusted by mutants. I am a mutant. I will not trust the MCO. Dice, you may call me Zinda for now. It is my family name. What do we do?”

“We run if possible. If not, we pick our best chance for a fight and die,” he replied, “but I’m a lot tougher than I look,” he replied, glancing at his missing arm.

“Were you in a gang? I do not trust American gang’s so called ‘toughness,’” she replied.

He almost laughed, which was a severe surprise. He didn’t laugh much anymore. “No. Did you just stereotype me for being black? I’d probably be offended if I hadn’t assumed you were Indian from your accent. I’m a wanted criminal on false charges. I learned how to survive being hunted and how to hunt the hunter. I’m a mage,” he added. “Our hunter has eyes on us, and so far I haven’t managed to hit it, and I can’t seem to get a good look at it,” he added, pointing up.

She glanced up. “It is some kind of floating eyeball, though it looks mechanical, but there is a… glow to it. It… looks tasty,” she said, then stopped and looked at herself. “Why does it look tasty?”

“Wish I could answer, no time. Tell me if I hit it and if I damage it, and I’m sorry if this blinds you,” he added as he lined up three sequenced shots in his best guess, and let loose with three consecutive lightning bolts from his arrays.

“Last one hit, it’s smoking but it isn’t falling,” she said. “That should have blinded me, shouldn’t it?” she asked, cocking her head to the side without breaking eye contact with whatever was watching them.

“Yeah, but if it didn’t, right, time to kill the eye in the sky,” he said. To his surprise, humor arose in Miss Zinda, and he felt a chuckle escape him at the bad pun. “Then we run. Aim for open fields, we can’t be drawing innocents into this fight,” he commented. She nodded, and he fired, not waiting for his shots to connect.

At first, he slowed himself down a little, but was surprised again when Miss Zinda easily kept pace as they dashed out of cover. “Did I get it?” he asked.

“Yes, but it still did not die!” she shouted in reply. He wanted to curse, but he couldn’t afford to waste the essence. He’d burned through nine shots tonight and a quarter of his shield energy. Those fire blasts were insane. He checked Miss Zinda’s emotions as he ran. Fear and panic were present, but she was still in control of herself. He started funnelling essence into his dice again as he ran. Good thing the hammers were still almost full. He began cycling through his other options.

“I think I can take it out if I can get a sense for it with my TK, but I’d have to stop running,” he told her between breaths as they ran. Even with the temporary magical augmentations, which would also take a day’s work to replenish, he was actually slower and more out of breath than Miss Zinda was. She didn’t even seem to be winded yet.

“If I understand my new abilities better,” she replied.

“Don’t go down that road, focus on the next minute, not wishing for what you don’t have,” he warned her sternly, which surprised her, but she nodded.

“Are you working more magic? You seem to be covered in a strange glow, and there are lines moving around you, and... Are those dice? They glow also.”

“You can see essence in action? Damn, that’s powerful. Mage is one of my mutations and I still couldn’t make heads or tails of sensing it for weeks,” he replied. There was a massive line of trees near an apartment complex, that could provide good cover. “The trees,” he said, pointing. He felt her assent as they ran. “You’re handling this very well,” he added, sensing her storm of emotions despite the dampening effect she experienced. His words however, brought out a brief spike of panic that she wrestled down.

She was doing well? Khōkhalā sucked in a breath. He thought she was doing well! She fought down her panic as she considered what she was doing well against, but something else helped. The… pressure, she didn’t know what else to call it, in the back of her head was growing in size, but it didn’t seem to hurt. The pressure only grew when she started to lose control, but it receded as she regained it.

“I’m just… this… um…” she wasn’t sure how to explain it. “I think my powers make it easier,” she finally said, not sure what, exactly, her powers were, but she’d never felt that strange pressure before. Like another awareness, but one she couldn’t actually speak to. At least, it never seemed to speak back.

“They certainly make you hard to read,” the boy, Dice, replied as they ran. He wasn’t handling running as well as she was, which excited her and worried her. “Though not impossible,” he noted with an amused tone, causing her to blush. “I’m an empath, did I mention that? I can read your emotions, but not as clearly as with most people. You’ve got something that seems to be trying and failing to block me,” he explained further. “I can’t project, and I can’t read minds, just emotions,” he adds. “Promise.”

“Why do I find it so easy to trust you? I haven’t even-” she started to ask when there was a loud explosion behind and ahead of them and they both pulled to a stop, the forest a good dozen meters ahead of them. She looked up at the sky and this time easily picked out what caused the explosions. A man… thing? He was humanoid, but not human looking, and was surrounded by much more powerful energy than Dice, though Dice made up for it with all those little bits of concentrated energy floating around him. She supposed those were dice, given his name. Counting all of those, Dice had more than the thing above her. Way more.

The creature hovered some hundred meters above them, but her new eyes had no trouble picking him out. He gave off a strong glow independent of the power surrounding him. She didn’t like the look of it, it made her feel very weird inside, and somehow that new sense of “FOOD!” she’d been picking up since she woke up to meet Dice seemed to find him very… inedible. More violently than she had Dice.

“You’re certainly trying to make me earn my victory, and I see my prize has woken up. Well, no matter, it really doesn’t make a difference. Come along quietly and I will keep this painless. If the testing tells me the right things, I might even keep you alive and make you one of my servants,” the creature, who had a rich voice, said. It made her shudder.

“Do you want to go?” Dice asked her kindly. She looked at him and found she shook her head. “Then I recommend you tell him so,” Dice replied with a smile. “I’ve got your back my lady,” he told her with a smile, and she felt her heart flutter for a moment. She turned back to the creature with a face her kathor had taught her to wear in sparring.

“I’m not going with you!” she shouted, then it occurred to her, how was she going to stop them? How were they going to stop them?

“Don’t let the fear control you. We can do this. There’s a super team on the way. He can’t fight them and hunt us,” Dice said quietly. He was doing something with his dice, they were moving around. “You… were fighting earlier, you had some kind of weapon, can you pull it out again?”

Fighting? Earlier? She didn’t remember that at all. Or… now she felt something familiar, but she couldn’t focus on it, because the thing above them finally spoke up.

“Done chatting? Since you refused, I guess I’ll just do this the hard way. Here, have some of my pets to play with, they should occupy you. I’ll enjoy watching this,” he said from above. Around them on the ground, five circles appeared, glowing with a sinister light very similar to the creature above them. Reflexively, she held her hands up and took a readied stance as her teachers had taught her. To her shock, something appeared in her hand. It was a sheathed short sword of Japanese make… the wakizashi looked just like she had imagined it. She drew the blade as creatures, some fusion of beetles and dogs, appeared around them.

As the blade left its plain black sheath she could see the hidden truth, feel it with her hand. Two blades, set together to seem as one in a single sheath. It was beautiful. She pulled them both out, and the sheath turned to mist. She took a blade in each hand as the creatures charged. She felt a sudden burst of hunger from the pressure inside her head. She counter charged.

Next to her, Dice let loose his assault. A hammer came hurtling at one of the creatures as barriers appeared blocking the others from attacking herself or Dice. Though she was not as familiar with these blades as traditional weapons, something about them felt… right in her hands.

She rolled under the creatures initial lunge and slashed with both blades as she did so, slashing across its softer underbelly. To her surprise, she came out of her roll to discover the creatures converging on her. Dice’s barriers got in the way and one of the creatures vanished, but the one she had cut yet lived. It was weakened, and she felt something strange. Like, a reservoir of new energy she didn’t recognize, filling up inside. It already had some in there, but more flowed in. Through the blades… from the creature. It felt… good. She wanted more.

She tackled the creature and sliced into it. It tried to clamp onto her arm and managed to inflict no harm at all as she stabbed it repeatedly, feeling power flowing from the creature into herself as she did so. The rush was incredible.

“Don’t just stab it, kill it!” Dice yelled, and another one vanished, but the other two were still trying to get past Dice’s barriers, one of which was beginning to crack. She drove a sword into its head as another slashed out its throat, and the body turned to much, a massive influx of power flowing into her, but she was still hungry. As Dice assaulted the fourth creature, she leapt over his barrier and sunk a blade into the creature. They were surprisingly easy to handle, the wakizashi blades, but it meant she had to get close. Fortunately for her, nothing these creatures did seemed to be capable of harming her.

Her blades could easily pierce their hides, which seemed to surprise them and Dice both, so she just chopped off the creature’s head as Dice made the final one vanish. She felt more power fill the reservoir inside her, but while she could not see how much it could hold, she knew it was nowhere near full. She still felt a strange disassociated hunger inside her.

“What… did you do?” Dice asked. “It was like you absorbed them, almost like you ate them,” he said in awe, looking at where the bodies should be. She wasn’t sure, but his description seemed fitting. The… pressure in her head was relaxed, if that was the right word. It wasn’t a description of emotion, but rather of how it barely seemed there at all.

“WELL, that’s just lovely! You two surprised me by surviving that. That was well done. Creating a rebound to forcibly undo my summoning is very impressive, but it won’t work on something stronger i expect. Still, stealing essence from the rebound is quite clever.” Without warning fire blossomed around them and tried to swarm them, but Dice’s barriers blocked the direct heat. It still began to grow hot.

“Damn, I didn’t consider a sustained heat,” she heard Dice mutter next to her. She began to spin the blades in her hands idly. She had the swords… did she have anything else? As she spun the blades, she felt something on the cusp of happening, just just out of reach, like she wasn’t quite doing enough. Could it be “Kaze o Wakeru?

“I saw those things fail to hurt you. If your skin is that tough, it should be fire resistant too. I’ll open a hole in the barrier and let you make a break for it. If we divide his attention, I think I can attack him,” Dice suggested. That was just suicidal. If he opened a hole, the fire would flood in and kill him!

“Why are you trying so hard to save me? You don’t even know me!” she yelled at him. The anger, the fear, the panic, they were real and terrible. The pressure flared up, trying to squash them, but she resisted. This random boy showed up and was doing everything he could to save someone he’d never met. He wasn’t even a hero, he was a wanted criminal!

“You needed help, and I won’t let them take you. Neither the MCO nor this monster. Fighting monsters, whether human or non, is just what life is for me. I will fight the monsters without becoming one. That is my creed.” He wasn’t looking at her, but she could see the way the power flowed around him. Her strange new eyes could see. There was something there, something that reassured her, made her want to trust his words. Not a power. An honesty.

“Alright. Thank you, but I refuse to let you die for me,” she replied. “We will find another place,” she stated firmly.

“Die? I’m not dying today. I can shape the barrier to exclude you-” he cut off when the fire vanished. A boom echoed from above them and they both looked up. Someone had smashed into the creature above them and attacked it. They seemed to fade in and out of view in a different spot every time, throwing something at the beast. It had him distracted, and when she felt something wet fall on her face, she figured out what it was. Water, rain. It was a pity she didn’t have a jacket. In fact…

“It’s December! Why am I not freezing?” she asked as if to distract herself from the spectacle above. She was practically in nothing compared to the usual winter clothes, yet she hadn’t felt a hint of the chill even when she woke up. The water from the battle above just made it weirder.

The hero above them was Rainstep. The power to warp from any water he could see to any other, as well as to walk on water. He was a new hero, and she and her friends had enjoyed watching him on the news. He was VERY good looking. He was the one throwing around the water, neither she nor anyone else seemed to know if the water was a power or just something he carried with him.

He was fighting the fire monster above them, but despite his ability to throw water around and counter the fire, he wasn’t winning. Then a barrier that looked orange appeared around the super villain and Rainstep vanished elsewhere. That would be Scintillation, the Knight’s mage. A cascade of, obviously, scintillating colors washed over him, her signature attack. Khōkhalā could see the way the energies mixed together creating an attack of multiple types of energy different and much less clear than the energy of the fire, or what Dice had been using. She guessed it to be magic. Even though she felt like she shouldn’t be able to see it, she could make out Scintillation’s outfit, a set of flowing robes over a dangerously short skirt… with armored stockings and what was probably armored clothing layered with defensive magic, all in a carefully arranged variety of colors. White, Red, Blue, Green, and Gold decorated her outfit and she looked really good in it.

“Come on, they’re distracted, we’ve gotta run!” Dice urged, taking her hand. She let him as he pulled her away and made a break for it. They took off at a full run, she quickly turning the tables and dragging him behind as they ran. Abruptly, he slowed even further, prompting her to turn and see him panting just as they reached the edge of the woods. “Damnit, not, huff, now,” he panted. He looked worn ragged and part of the glow had vanished from around him.

“Cadrien, get out here and deal with these interlopers!” the villain’s voice echoed from sky with more force than before. She glanced back to see him shatter the barrier Scintillation had tried to entrap him in. “Zelos… bring me the prize, alive. Kill the boy,” this time the voice took on a cast that sent a shiver down her spine.

“Break’s over,” Dice replied as he began trying to run again. On impulse, Khōkhalā reached out a scooped him up, slinging the tired older boy over her shoulder and taking off as a very fast space. “This is… new,” he breathed out, sounding uncertain. She was glad he couldn’t see the red blush that had certainly blossomed across her face. “At least I’m not the only one embarrassed,” he suddenly added, almost causing her to stumble. By all the gods, did he have to be an empath? She bemoaned.

“There you go, that helped calm you down,” he muttered cheekily. “Just stay focused and keep running and… thank you,” he added. His voice sounded distant, a little unsure of himself, but he wasn’t fighting back against being carried. It had to be very embarrassing, but apparently he wasn’t lying about his skill in survival. That must have meant his pride could suffer being carried to safety.

“For carrying you or caring enough?” she responded, confused.

“For not wanting me to die for you,” he replied, “So both.” She blushed again, but this time it wasn’t a distraction. She kept running. “Which way?” she asked.

“Keep going straight north,” he replied. At the same time, he replied, “Turn to the left here.”

“What does that mean?” she voiced confused again, and this time worried. Two voices?

“I said go straight/left!” he replied, once more his voice overlapping and saying two things at once. She looked at him over her shoulders, but nothing had changed. Suddenly a triangle of glowing dice appeared before her, pointing off to the left. “Follow those dice! Don’t follow those!” his voice said, but he was frantically pointing and the dice were being insistent about going left.

She blinked and stared at him, then the dice, then she saw it. The glow of magic was ahead of her, but no dice were there, while there was a glow around the dice as well, but it looked wrong. Why was there a glow like the dice, but no dice? Why was she hearing double? She ran straight. A few steps later and something popped, like her ears popping, only… more. The dice vanished from the left and appeared ahead. “Go straight!” she heard Dice shouted from over her shoulder.

“I am!”

“Oh good, it worked!”


“He had some kind of siren illusion, I had to block it off the cuff with a counter frequency, but I suck at most off the cuff, wasn’t sure that would work,” Dice’s voice explained as she ran. “Keep running please,” he said in a pleasant voice.

“No shoulder seat driving,” she chided with a grin, eliciting a chuckle.

“Ya know, I don’t normally laugh this much, but you really seem to have a good effect on me,” Dice commented. “Remind me to tell you my real name when we get out of this,” he asked. She didn’t respond for a moment, mulling over an answer.

“Thank you,” she finally said. He was being very nice, but how could he laugh in this situation? Why wasn’t he as terrified as she wanted to be? That pressure was back, pressing down on her negative feelings, her fear, her panic, or worry, but it wasn’t having much success. Then she thought she heard something. “Um… is something following us?”

“I can’t see it. I was debating saying something before I was sure. I’m not used to working with someone, I didn’t want to scare you more than you already are..” She really wanted to fault him for that, but somehow she just couldn’t do it. She really wanted to panic, so he wasn’t wrong to worry about setting her off. “Damn, I’m sorry, I’m being an ass,” he suddenly stated in a sorrowful voice. He must have noticed her emotions again. Damn empaths.

They were deep into woods and farm fields now, having left the university, and her life, behind. She didn’t know if that was temporary, but she didn’t want the MCO to make her disappear. Her kathor always told stories about how it was even scarier back home, in India. The MCO had almost total power to take away mutants, and families would be GLAD to see their mutant children swept off. That was why people like the Asura, despite being villains, were seen as heroes by many. The Asura was a legend for always targeting the MCO and gathering up mutant children and smuggling them out of the country. He was technically classified as a supervillain, but to most that was just a matter of politics. At least, that was how her kathor always told it.

“I am trying not to panic so…” she replied to the young man slung over her shoulder. He did seem older than her, at least. Maybe she shouldn’t call him young. “I think your caution is not wrong,” she added, trying to sound more lighthearted than she felt even though he could sense her emotions. It wasn’t him she was trying to fool.

“Right. I can’t tell exactly what it is or what it wants, but I’m guessing it’s that… Zelos he sent after us?” Dice mused.

“What do we do? I’m running as fast as I can… I think. It’s still back there.” She was not going to panic, she was not going to panic, she was in control! Really! She was!

“Fight,” Dice replied, and she almost tripped in surprise.

“Fight?” she asked in surprise and her worry increased. Sure, she’d won against that beast, but could she win against this Zelos? It had to be way tougher than those monsters or the guy wouldn’t have sent it after them alone.

“I’m hardly a pushover and I’ve yet to see you seriously injured. I mean, I didn’t even try to wake you up, you woke up on your own after just a few minutes, and that was hitting you with two lightning bolts and a hammer in sync. Your scars are already mostly gone. You’re VERY tough, and those swords are sharp. We’ve got a shot, and running isn’t working,” he explained rationally, his voice falling slowly into a kind of cold edged thing. It sounded as though he was trying to be reassuring, but instead he sounded… eager. She skidded to a stop.

“Alright, so how do we fight?”

“You seem to have night vision and a sense for magic exceeding my enchanted equipment. And you move pretty quiet without shoes,” he added, pointing at her feet with his hand. She glanced down and realized she’d not been wearing shoes. And it was December in Missouri. She was in her sleepwear. She blushed but resisted trying to cover up. Her sleepwear was shorts over boxers and a tight t-shirt. She should be freezing, but she didn’t seem to even feel the cold. Her nipples weren’t even… do NOT think about that right now, she admonished herself. That was not a good distraction. She looked back up at him. He only had one arm. How long had he only had one arm? The entire time? She hadn’t noticed?

“Zinda, Miss Zinda, you there? Don’t worry about the arm, that wasn’t tonight. Focus on the now,” he told her, snapping his fingers in her face and snapping her to attention.

“Right, right. So, how do we do this? Am I supposed to see him coming and warn you?” she asked him. He nodded, opening his mouth to explain.

“Or maybe you can stand around and let me catch up,” a voice sounded behind them. She whirled around, searching for it with eyes and ears, but seeing nothing. The air was suddenly thick with what she took to be the signs of magic. The pressure in her head started going nuts, and a scent played with her nose, causing that weird disassociated hunger to appear again, strong and focusing. She inhaled deeply, and the scent wafted into her nose, driving the hunger into a frenzy she could feel like it would swallow her, but it, somehow just couldn’t.

Her eyes snapped into focus on something crouching in a tree. The form was dark and covered in the night breeze, which somehow concealed it from sight, but its scent… its scent made it perceptible to her, and that let her eyes pierce its veils enough to know it was there. She snarled. “He’s in the branches of the tree I’m looking at!” she said, and she heard a whooshing sound. A massive double headed hammer spun into the spot and smashed through the branch, but missed the creature.

She charged, springing forward with both swords drawn and held. She ran straight at it but it leapt over her head as she did so. She leapt off her footing and tried to swing at it, but its reflexes were better than hers and she missed. She landed in the tree, turning and scanning for it with a snarl.

“You have good instincts, the master will be pleased,” a voice whispered into the night. Dice had one of his purple barriers set against his back as he turned slowly, scanning for their foe. Whatever it was, she couldn’t make out any details about it, just its location. Now she had to do it again. It sounded male though.

“I don’t care if he’s pleased,” she retorted, hoping if they kept him talking he would give himself away. It wasn’t much of a plan, but she couldn’t smell him as well this time, nor could she see him. “He’s using magic, but I can’t see it clearly,” she hissed at Dice. He nodded in reply, still scanning about.

“Don’t sit still, it’ll make you an easy target. Either put your back to me or keep moving,” he replied, sending a hammer to smash at nothing. She had no idea if it was a hunch or blind guess but he missed. She leapt, only as she did so did it occur to her she’d never actually stood on the tree branch. She again landed on air like it was a solid platform, looking down in surprise. Coming to a stop as she did proved to be a mistake.

Something very heavy smashed into her back and she went flipping end over end, landing upside down… still resting on nothing but solid air. Behind her she caught a momentary glimpse of a vague form that vanished. Its scent did not linger about her.

“He’s a siren!” Dice called out, a bolt of lightning blasting several spots near where the creature had stood, and this time, there was a bleated call and a form wafted into view. In a moment Khōkhalā was on her feet again, running in a full blitz down a slope of air straight at the thing. Its form had the legs of a goat and horns and a furry face, but a man’s upper torso.

She slashed at it, but it tumbled out of the way, bleating at her, and she felt a slight pressure against her as it did so, before it vanished again. As the pressure vanished, so too did her prey. “Can you counter him?” She asked Dice, looking around for the creepy goatman.

Dice shook his head. He was still scanning around them. If only she could see it, or… or smell it or something, but how could his ability to manipulate sound mask him from sight and scent so well? His scent was fading, so he had to be hiding it somehow. She needed something else, another option. If he attacked again… she dropped down above Dice, turning as he turned, standing over his head on a platform of air that did not interfere with his barrier. Maybe the barrier existed precisely under her feet.

“You smell so delicious. I wish I could eat you up instead of bringing you back,” The voice whispered. She wanted to ignore it. Defeating it was the real priority, but that hadn’t worked out well so far.

She had an idea though. Something she’d considered earlier. The swords… if she had those, maybe she had that. Wilder things were happening, it could be. “Dice, I have an idea. But, uh, it’s kind of crazy, so put your barriers up please?” she asked. Dice glanced up at her, and she saw he was trying to control his blushing. At least it wasn’t a skirt. He nodded and barriers sprang up around him.

Dice drew in a deep breath as she took the stance she had always imagined. She hoped this worked. Her swords sat one with blade flat to the ground, the other held high. “First, plant your feet solidly. Spread wide, well balanced, blade set for the slash,” she recited to herself from her own imaginations. “Breath in deep, and let your energy flow. Feel the blade as a part of yourself. There are not three separate entities, but one being. One weapon. Me. KAZE O WAKERU!” she shouted as one blade slashed across her body and the other slashed downward. She felt it take hold as she slashed, the blade cutting into the wind itself. A blade of wind cut across the space between her and what was in front of her. She slashed again and again and again, throwing blade after blade made of pure wind across the space of their battle. Trees and branches fell in rapid succession as blades of wind cut everything in their paths. They even sliced part way through one of Dice’s barriers when she accidentally hit it.

The sudden barrage of random strikes, however, bore fruit before she could accidentally cut the man himself. An arm flashed into being as one of her attacks managed to hit their assailant hiding in Dice’s blindspot. As soon as it did, Dice hit her with a hammer blow, knocking her off balance and halting her attacks. Lightning flashed twice, impacting on the target. She landed badly as Dice called out. “Sorry! Had to stop you as soon as we found him!” Dice offered by way of apology. However, he wasn’t looking at her. He was focused on the goat man.

Suddenly chains erupted and wrapped around their target. She sprang at the creature on instinct, one blade stabbing the detached arm to the ground and another stabbing into the target on his left shoulder. “Got you!” she called… then she felt a jolt. Power flowed out of the creature and into her. It felt so good, so good. The pressure on her mind seemed to writhe in joy as food flowed into her. Food! It was food! So good! She needed more… more…

She woke up sitting with her back against a fallen tree, shaking stars from her eyes. Dice was kneeling over the form of the creature… the creature… she sprang to her feat. It didn’t look like a monster anymore, but instead a man. He was middle-aged, balding, and a little overweight. Dice was performing chest compressions as he tried to perform some strange green looking magic on the wound where her sword had stabbed into the man. “Come on, come on, please…” he whispered as he kept trying.

“What’s going on?” She asked, running over. Dice looked at her with a brief look of horror before his face took a neutral cast.

“You… you didn’t mean to. You don’t understand your powers yet. He was possessed by something, it transformed him. You… you ate what transformed him, but you did it before it could heal his arm. Between a missing arm and the wound you gave him, he’s… I can’t stop the bleeding and even if I did, I think he lost too much.” Dice’s voice was follow, monotoned, far away as he continued his chest compressions. “I… you ate what was keeping him alive… he’s…” Dice said.

She felt her legs go out from under her. It wasn’t… she didn’t… she… he was dead. “I… it felt so good, it felt so delicious. Food, I needed food, and he was food and I killed him! I… I ate him! No… why… I’m a murderer… I…” she clutched her head, staring down at her knees as she felt tears well up. She could feel the horns and the bits of… mask. The bits of mask, she realized. She was… “I’m a H-”

An arm enveloped her while a pressure, almost like more arms, seemed to grip her from the other side.. Dice pulled her close and held her tight. “You aren’t a murderer. You killed him, yes,” he admitted. “You aren’t a murderer. He wanted to do horrible things, kidnap you. You don’t have to feel guilty for that. He… he was possessed. You killed him, but you did not know,” he whispered. “You did not know. How could you? You are possessed too. Do not blame yourself like that, do not believe you are a murderer. You killed and ate a spirit. It was the spirit who forced him into this situation.”

“I… but I wanted to! I chose to stab him, that wasn’t the spirit!”

“You did not know, and that matters. How could you? He… we do not know if he was an evil man. If he was evil, then he had earned his punishment for more than tonight, and death would have come for him. You are not wrong to defend your life, and he was wrong to threaten it. Your spirit corrupted you, but you can fight that. It doesn’t control you. If he was innocent… Zinda, if he was innocent, I could not have saved him. I do not know how to release someone possessed, nor restrain him long enough to find someone who could. Death… if he is evil, then death has rendered him up for punishments he has earned. If he was good, then death has freed him from a great burden and a terrible curse, and he may receive a reward. We cannot know, but we cannot stop, either. Look upon this with regret, but repent of your lack of control, and do better,” he whispered to her, holding her tightly. “We must not stop moving forward.”

She nodded, but that did not stop the tears. It would take far more than that to stop the tears.

Her pain was his pain, her sorrow was his sorrow. She was frightened, out of her depth, experiencing urges alien to her, being thrust into danger and forced to fight for her life. Of course she cried. He was amazed she’d held up this long. Some piece of him tried to stay above the pain and sorrow welling out of the small young woman in his arm. The rest of him was flooded over with her powerful emotions. Even with the parasite blocking her, at least, what he guessed was a parasite, he could still feel them like the light of the sun.

Eventually, he whispered, “I’ve killed too.” She still had tears in her eyes, but he had her attention. “It was… almost a year ago. The MCO had been hunting me, but the real problem was the monsters. I’m a magnet. They find me, they hunt me, they try to kill me. Or I find them. It’s quite literally my luck. I’m an odds mangler,” he explained to her. “Heard of those?” she nodded.

“I basically always get the result I want with dice. However… I can’t avoid running into monsters. Everything that goes bump in the night. One of them found me. It was using the MCO to assault me by possessing a high ranking MCO officer. I was cornered, outgunned. I had to fight them off with minimal resources and lots of luck. I put a couple of them down hard, not dead, just hurt, and ran. It was an industrial construction site. He ran after me with a bunch of goons, but he sent them in ahead of himself. I cut back around. He was… I’m not sure, but I think he wasn’t really quite alive anymore. When we fought, I burned off part of his clothing and the flesh underneath was rotting. I’m not sure how much longer he could last, but I killed him by dropping a steel beam on him, and cutting him in half. The agent… he thanked me. Said he wished he hadn’t wasted his time hating mutants.”

She was… calmer now. Not quite as in a hurry to drive herself into despair. The pain and sorrow remained, but they no longer dominated and controlled her. “Than…” she took a deep breath as she choked down sobs and her breathing was a little steadier when she was done. “Thank you for telling me,” she managed with a shaky voice. “I… I can go on. I won’t give up easily. I want to live. Um… I… I’m Khōkhalā Zinda, my name.”

He blinked in surprise. He hadn’t expected her to volunteer her name so easily. “It, um, it has an English meaning. Kind of… The Living Hollow,” she explained.

“Who names their child Living Hollow?” Dice blurted out, then covered his mouth. “I’m sorry,” he said. Her irritation had spiked at his words, but it didn’t feel directed entirely at him.

“My parents. They won’t say why,” she said in a more worried voice than any he’d heard before. Fear, but not for herself, welled up for a moment, but it vanished quickly, buried under everything else.

“Why… did you explain that?” he asked, a little confused.

“I… the name, my name it… I think I have a clue what my power is, maybe? I, um… do you know the manga Bleach?” she asked in a nervous voice.

“I… yeah? The anime had just finished airing a bit before I manifested. I wasn’t a big fan though, but I saw the first few seasons.” Bleach… Japanese ghosts with swords and weird powers fighting against monsters called hollows that ate souls. Ate… souls. “Are you comparing yourself to a Hollow because of your name?” he asked in surprise and concern.

She shook her head. “No, I mean, well, no, not exactly. And yes. I… I’m a big fan. Were you around long enough to know what Arrancar are?” she asked him. Dice shook his head. “They’re hollows that don’t have masks because they took them off somehow. They worked for Aizen. They have these really cool powers. See, they’re supposed to super strong, and hard to hurt, and they can use Ceros, and they have zanpakuto!” She was getting excited as she explained her favorite anime. Dice said nothing as he watched the fear and panic momentarily recede in the face of the fervor of a fangirl in full geek out mode. “Their swords release their old monstrous hollow forms though, instead of shinigami powers like Shikai and Bankai. But there’s also these Shinigami called Vizards. They’re shinigami with Hollow Masks, and apparently even though they have the same shikai and Bankai, they can do a reverse release and become a full hollow. So I… figured why not have Arrancar do that? I was writing a fanfic tonight before bed, with this character I made and… I gave him a shikai and a bankai instead of a hollow form release. He had blades just like mine.” She slowed down as she spoke of the last part, coming back down off the high of excitement as the reality of her situation intruded again. She didn’t panic, but the manic joy receded and fear and worry surged back into place. She maintained her calm, however. “He could do that windblade trick too.”

“Are you… you’re literally turning into your own fanfic character?” Dice asked worriedly. He would hate to see a young girl go through the trauma of forcibly becoming a guy… unless, he supposed, maybe she wanted to?

“Just the powers. I, uh, the character was a male,” she explained, embarrassed.

Dice nodded. He’d been paying attention. Still, it hadn’t occurred to her that her mutation might change her gender, and he saw no use in suggesting it and giving her more cause for panic. “Well… if there are that many parallels, I guess maybe that’s the case. Um… would you like me to address you by your name or ?” he asked, unsure. He felt the impetus to ask and change the subject since she seemed embarrassed, and he needed her to focus again.

“Um… Mutants get code names and stuff, right? Just, call me Hollow. It’ll be easy to pronounce, and it is, technically, my name,” she said, managing a smile. It was mostly faked, but there was just a hint of something that might have been joy buried under everything else.

Dice nodded. “Right, Hollow it is. We need to find the cops, not the MCO or anybody else, except a hero. Either of those might be able to help you. If we can get you into the hands of somebody who doesn’t trust the MCO, and who has power, and get them to believe you’re you, fingerprints, anything like that, we can protect you and you can have a life again. There’s mutants on the Kansas City Knights, they won’t be quick to hand you over to the MCO. Does that sound ok?” She might not go for it, but she should. Still, he worried. This whole situation was… messed up in too many ways. It set him on edge how crazy everything had turned. He wasn’t used to dealing with other people. Or having a girl who ate spirits and monsters on the run from the MCO. He had a bad feeling about this.

I am a Sexy Shoeless God of War - So suck it CP!
Last Edit: 3 years 2 weeks ago by Iwasforger03.

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3 years 1 month ago - 3 years 2 weeks ago #36952 by Iwasforger03
Iwasforger03 replied the topic: Dice/Hollow #1 - Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
Chapter 2
When you can’t roll above a ten...

Minutes earlier…

Mildred Francis Grover sat in her comfy seat as she felt the jostling happen again. Kegger had promised he was going to get that particular kink worked out of the gyro stabilizer someday, but “someday” just never seemed to get around to happening. Still, it wasn’t as bad as usual, so maybe he HAD done something, at least. She glanced from her seat to the securely strapped in Grinning Leopard, who was doing anything but. GL looked green (they’d made that joke so many times already she couldn’t even work up a smirk at it) as leaves on a spring day. He hated flying with a passion. ‘IF man was meant to fly, we’d have wings!” he sometimes said, ignoring the fact that at least two members of their little team could, in fact, fly without wings or gizmos or magic.

Bree glanced over at him as well, then met Milly’s gaze with a shrug. Bree, or “Summer Breeze,” was a wind manipulator, thus her ability to fly without wings. She had no problems with flying, but she just wasn’t fast enough. She could only get airspeeds of about 100 mph. Milly could hit nearly 300mph, but only in short bursts. Bree and GL were good friends, had been since school, though they’d never dated. GL was too much of a player boy for Bree, who wanted someone reliable and calm. In the back of their hovercraft dropship sat the leader of their little team, Lionheart, checking his weapons and holdouts. It always amazed Milly how a pk/exemplar brick combo like Lionheart, a guy who could get hit by tank rounds and shrug it off, always carried so many holdouts, like he was a mage or a devisor or someone way weaker than he was. Someone who, by popular consensus, would actually seem to need holdouts. It also impressed her. Lionheart was a veteran hero of eleven years now, with a long history of successes. That’s why he was the boss.

Suddenly Kegger stuck his head inside the passenger bay. “We’re getting close, but boss, you might need to hear this,” he announced. “Something about the situation went and changed. Looks like we’re not going in for a monster fight, we got ourselves a supervillain now.”

“Why didn’t you just patch me through from back here?” Lionheart asked, not looking up from his laser pistol as he checked the battery pack.

Kegger, bulbous eyes seeming to look at her at the same time he looked at the boss, probably would have blushed if he was capable of it. Being a pseudo octopus though tended to make actual blushing difficult, and Kegs never showed his real emotions with his natural camouflage powers. His tentacle like arm reached up and his rubbery weird five pronged tentacle hand rubbed the back of his head as his hat slipped forward. “Well… apparently it done shorted out just after takeoff. I thought I had the stabilizer fixed, but I had to route power around a block I didn’t have time to really fix, cause of the emergency and all, and it just… blew the comm lines to the back. Still getting transmissions in the cockpit fine though,” he assured Lionheart, who finally looked up.

“Scintillation, come up front with me please,” he said by way of polite request. Lionheart never gave ‘orders’ to the women on his teams. Just very firm, forceful, but polite, requests he expected to be obeyed if they were in the middle of an operation. “Rainstep, prep for an early jump,” he ordered Greg. Milly, or Scintillation, winked at Greg as she got up, set her book down, and strode towards the front behind Lionheart’s massive Leonine form. Lionheart was “grooming” her for a job as his second. He thought she had potential… lord, why did she have to show off when she first met him? She liked being lazy. She followed in behind the seven foot tall form of her boss proceeding her. She might only be 5’7, but she had a chest to make most women jealous and the kind of hourglass figure she’d have almost been willing to kill for before she manifested. Her auburn hair was carefully arranged in intricate braids down her back and worked with runes and charms.

The cockpit wasn’t cramped. There was technically room for five up there even with Lionheart’s massive size, but instead it was just Kegger and Jimmy, or Auceps. It meant something resembling “Trapper” but in Latin. Jimmy was a rat, rather literally, but he saw no reason a rat couldn’t have “Culture” as he termed it. “Hey boss, how they looking?” Jimmy asked from his pilot’s seat, as his clawed hand flicked a control and a screen folded out to display video from local news, and another showed a small screen with the words, “Maryville Chief of Police” on it and a voice stress reader.

“Everyone is as ready as they can be,” Lionheart replied. “GL will be fine once we are no longer in the air,” he added with a chuckle everyone in the cockpit shared. “Chief, This is Lionheart, go ahead,” he added, looking at the screen.

“Thank God! We’re holding out for now, but only because the supervillain doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass-” Milly shot Jimmy a look, and he was giggling and pretending to check and make sure his ass was still attached. “-About whether we do anything. We don’t have the firepower to threaten him, and the National Guard haven’t been cleared to engage either. Local MCO is doing what they can, but their firepower is doing buckall to the villain. He… he killed a number of students and rescue workers shortly after his arrival, and turned them into, well, zombies…”

“Lionheart, this is Special Investigator Wilson of the MCO,” a new voice broke into the conversation over the same channel. Lionheart went stiff for a moment as a second screen popped up displaying a name and a voice stress reader. Milly would have to guess Lion recognized the name somehow. “I’m coordinating between our power armor and local PD SWAT with the chief here. We have the… undead under control, but you need to be aware there’s a second criminal. A wanted murderer we’re referring to as the Dice Killer, or Dice for short. He’s some sort of mage with a bent towards sending monsters at people. He’s run off with what we think might be one of those monsters, and possibly a student as well. He doesn’t seem to be cooperating with the super villain. Dice is an unregistered Mutant, be cautious. However, while the MCO cannot handle this supervillain with our available resources, we can handle Dice once you’ve engaged the villain. The villain’s nom de guerre is apparently Endeavor.”

Milly frowned as she listened. That was… abnormally open for the MCO. Straight up telling a super team composed primarily of mutants that the MCO wanted to hunt down a known mutant murder, who apparently wasn’t being classified as a supervillain, in the middle of a super fight with a legit Supervillain? Something about it immediately set her on edge.

“We appreciate the information. I’m sending my two fastest ahead,” Lionheart stated. Under his breath, she heard him mumble, “I hope.” He turned to the screen, which had a time delayed news broadcast that had just been cut off, with the reporters on screen discussing the events with expressions far too calm for the situation. “Knights out,” he added, waving Milly to follow him.

“Rainstep, you ready to go? Situation changed, we got a real supervillain now,” he said, holding his hand out. Kegs set a small handheld screen in it, which displayed a list of observed abilities, sent by the police, regarding this Endeavor fellow. “This is him, Endeavor. Some form of GSD they can’t get a good look at. He’s hiding behind extremely bright lights and has some sort of flying craft available to him. He’s mostly used fire attacks, but he has magic too. There’s another one the MCO is claiming dibs on, and much as it galls me, we can’t directly gainsay them. They’re legit on this one. The supervillain is a bigger concern right now, but keep an eye out for a young mutant of some kind. He’s unregistered, but the MCO is calling him Dice.” His growls of displeasure at the MCO reverberated through the dropship.

Greg, Rainstep, nodded. He was an Imbued, a servant of some kind of Rain Goddess, she didn’t know all the details because he didn’t share them. However, his particular powers would let him, hopefully, get to the location much faster than the rest of them. However, Lionheart had said he was sending his two fastest… “Scintillation, are we in range of one of your shortcut charms?” he asked her. She was already pulling it out with one hand while another grabbed a screen and pulled up a map. “Almost. You want me to jump ahead behind Rainstep and keep the villain tied up until you arrive, right?” she asked him.

“If you would,” he requested as politely as ever. She smiled and gave him a wink, then stepped over and gave Rainstep a kiss on the cheek. “See you there big guy,” she told him as he pulled his long distance vision goggles, a devise Keggers had put together, onto his eyes. They were like binoculars, only WAY more powerful. It let him get a very clear picture from miles away, letting him warp to bodies of water he shouldn’t even be able to see.

Greg smiled broadly as he stepped over to the door on the right, while she took the left. The doors slid open at a command from the cockpit and they both jumped out of the extremely fast moving dropship. She had buffer charms prepared to protect her from the extreme pressure wall of air that hit her, and a moment later she dropped precisely through a portal that opened up below her as she went sailing down behind the ship. Rainstep had already vanished.

Back in the dropship, Bree was looking at Lionheart as he stroked his well trimmed mane of hair and scratched at his leonine jaw. “Boss, Are we gonna be ok dealing with the MCO like this?”

“Probably. MCO keeps well staffed officers near all large colleges and universities in small towns, but most of the agents are locals or the like, and their habit of making kids vanish doesn’t apply to college kids, usually. Any mutant in college is generally someone who’s had powers for years afterall, longer if they are on staff. Way harder to make that kind of disappearance even remotely plausible. Northwest Missouri has a decent student body, but I’d guess the MCO probably only has about four to six power armor frames there, and not a lot of heavy munitions or equipment compared to the units in KC or even St. Joe. Still, if that agent actually believes he can handle a wanted mutant criminal with just two to four power frames, I gotta wonder how dangerous this poor Dice kid actually is…”

“Kegs, we got a few minutes still. See if you can find anything on this Dice while we wait for word from-”

“We’re engaged!” Scintillation’s voice came through his head. It was a magic charm she’d created to let the team communicate, but it had to be renewed every couple of weeks, so they only used it during operations or emergencies since that helped avoid wasting essence. Now qualified.

For her part, Scintillation threw a scintillating (what else?) pattern of energy at their opponent as she floated in the air a good distance away. She was good at engaging from long range, where she had more time to react and prepare. Still, she had a slight advantage over most other mages thanks to her innate ability to throw her attacks without using essence. Her signature move combined two different warper energies, manifested fire, malkuthian energy, and solar energy in a strange fusion of energies and a brilliant pattern of colors; which she could launch up to five hundred feet or so with good accuracy. It was where she’d gotten her codename. She wasn’t a very powerful mage, but she made up for it with the variety of uses her Scintillation had for defense and offense.

However, her attack, like Rainstep’s, didn’t seem to be overly bothersome to their opponent. He threw up his own manifested fire in front of a second layer of magical defenses, confirming her worries that he had magic. “Endeavor is almost definitely a mage,” she said into her charmed mic, which transmitted her words perfectly and instantly back to Lionheart. Unlike a real mic, this one didn’t need power, nor was it constrained by broadcast ranges, frequencies, or any of the other usual problems with a comm system. It was one of her best workings, but the teachers at Whateley had been a huge help with it. “Also has a fire manifestation power, or possibly pyrokinesis,” she added, throwing up her own barrier to block a counterstroke by Endeavor. She also ducked under the attack, which proved wise when his fire, empowered further with his mystic might, managed to shove itself through her barrier. “He’s powerful!”

“Cadrien, get out here and deal with these interlopers!” Endeavor called out a barked order. Behind him floated a ship shrouded by shadows. Until the others arrived, she didn’t have enough time and safety to do something about its cloak to make it visible. It was all she could do to keep Endeavor entertained with the help of Rainstep. His manifested water and her own power didn’t really conflict as much as pure water and fire would have, however his mystic water was good at wiping out Endeavor’s flame shields, keeping him off balance whenever she threw an attack at him. Of course, now that he was bringing out help… “Zelos… bring me the prize, alive. Kill the boy,” the supervillain barked further.

“He’s got at least two minions,” she said into her mic. Rainstep was too busy jumping about on clouds of steam to speak. His water and Endeavor’s fire were creating quite a lot of places for him to jump to, but Rainstep just lacked the raw offensive power of herself or Lionheart or even the absent Princeps, who had been out of the city when the call came in. “We’re about to engage one of them. I saw our secondary when I came in, he’s with a female teenager, probably that student. I couldn’t give them much of a look, but I thought he was defending her, not kidnapping her,” Scintillation explained over her comm as she exchanged shots with their target while retreating. Rainstep appeared nearby, throwing a burst of water to fizzle out one of Endeavor’s attacks as the new player entered the field from the patch of shadows that constituted their ship.

Something seemed to explode outward into view from the ship. It was a massive form, standing about ten feet tall, with white and black skin, horns curling around its head, and bat wings and a long tail. Its coloration should have blended well into the night, making parts of its hard to see, but instead it seemed easily visible somehow. “Fallen angel class entity,” Scintillation whispered into her comm as she threw a barrage at the monster and prepared a special hex charm specifically for dealing with such beings. A blessed folding fan from Japan, blessed by Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, Hindu, Jewish, Islamic, and lastly Catholic priests appeared in her hand. She promptly waved it at her energy attack and it hurled forward with an distinct white glow outlining it.

“You call me out here to deal with a witch and blessed water?” The fallen angel, Cadrien, snarled at their original opponent. However, as he did so, Scintillation caught sight of something else hitting the ground for a moment before the night swallowed it.

“Second bogey pursuing Dice, unable to verify,” she replied as she used her fan to try and blow away a wall of fire hurled by Endeavor. She suddenly started as pain washed over her from her shoulder. She almost dropped the fan, but it was enchanted to be hard for her to lose her grip on it or drop it by accident. A black spear was protruding from her shoulder. “Shit, I’m hit!” she murmured. Another spear seemed to be forming in Cadrien’s hand. He’d hurled it straight through her defenses with such speed she’d had no chance to try and direct her energy wave against it. She hit the spear in her shoulder with her energy wave and watched the whole spear pop. That freed up her shoulder to move, but it still had a hole in it. Her prepared healing spells kicked in, stopping the bloodflow, but it would be a while before she had full use of the shoulder again.

“Scintillation, the power armor squad from the MCO has gone off in pursuit of Dice,” Kegger’s voice sounded over the standard comm unit. Oh good, they were in range, her shocked mind thought as she threw up a wall of energy and managed to barely avoid another spear. Rainstep was engaging Endeavor, but he was, at best, distracting him. The fallen angel, Cadrien, had a brilliant and innocent smile on his face as he hurled another spear at her. “She could be a fun one,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. Oh no… it was never good if something like this took a personal interest in you.

“Good news though,” Keggers added when Cadrien suddenly jerked back. “The local priest showed up to bless SWAT’s weapons and ammo.” Thank God for that, Scintillation thought with a tiny hint of a grin. And thank Mother for insisting I keep going to church, she added as a mental note. “I’m about to send a gift your way, clear the hit zone please,” he added. “Targetting array just got a nice little lock on our friend. Should distract him plenty good,” he explained.

“Rain, did you hear that?” she asked over her own comm. Rainstep sometimes missed communications over the normal technological radios if he was teleporting a lot, but her own magic comm didn’t have that problem.

“Sure did,” he replied. He popped up next to her and sprayed some water on her shoulder. “Keep the taint out of the wound,” he said, though she’d known as much. His manifested water was blessed by his rain goddess, and had natural abilities to remove disease and the like. Not powerful, but it would clean a wound of taint or rot that was fresh at least. It did wonders on demonic entities and dark magics.

She ducked another hurled spear since she had an idea what to look out for as she heard the whistle of the incoming projectile. She sent a wave of energy washing out, forcing Cadrien back as she used her standard comm to intercept the police channel. “Keep clear of a 100ft radius around the target!” she called over it. SWAT teams were unloading everything they could throw at this thing. They also did the smart thing of backing up.

The missile Keggers had launched was a devise of his own design. It was a singularity bomb, a design he’d gotten off another devisor in portland, but his was way bigger. That didn’t necessarily make it better, Scintillation thought wryly as she threw wave after wave at the enemy and pulled back from the blast zone. Cadrien looked up with amusement as the missile came streaking in and… he caught it. Not by the nose, no he dodged around and caught it by the middle “Amus-” it exploded on him even though it hadn’t actually “hit” its target. He was, after all, dealing with a devisor. Keggers had seen that trick before.

Gravity went wonky as everything started being dragged into the singularity that was within 100ft of the center. Scintillation was outside that and Rainstep was down below, making sure he had all of SWAT and the fire and rescue workers outside the radius. However, both Endeavor and the fallen angel Cadrien were well inside that radius… as was something else. The shadow of their ship was being pulled in. Suddenly, the singularity bomb stopped… as the shadows popped off the massive vessel, revealing a very large looking sailing ship, something out of the era of the revolutionary war crossed with some sort of steampunk! It had no airbag over it, but it had whirling rotors and wings and a dragon helm and it had to be nearly 300ft long! “Holy shit…” She muttered in surprise.

Then, as Cadrien crushed the singularity bomb in his grip somehow, more explosions started, smaller ones. The others had caught up. “Knights! Deploy and defend!” roared Lionheart as he leapt out of the deployment hatch on the side of the dropship. She wished Keggers, Princeps, and Jimmy would finally agree on a name for the damn thing. It was nice, but it really wasn’t all that special without a name to identify it.

He had an oversized plasma rifle in hand and was firing at Cadrien as he swept down upon them from the air. Bree was launching wind attacks against the massive, and brightly lit, flying ship behind their opponents while Keggers manned the weapon systems on board the dropship and unloaded on both ship AND supervillains. It was about time.

GL leapt out of the dropship with a jetpack strapped to his back and went sailing downwards at high speeds, aiming for Endeavor. He manifested his PK “Leopard Claws” and tried to slash the guy while he was distracted by Lionheart’s rifle fire, but Endeavor dodged aside. GL landed on the ground and ran towards the rubble. He obviously had orders.

“Scintillation, pull back and recover for a moment please,” Lionheart requested as he flew straight at the supervillain. He impacted with a very LOUD sound and the two went tumbling. Apparently Endeavor hadn’t been expecting anybody to manage to get close to him, but Lionheart had the confidence of a long career to make him sure he could take the risk. However, even that was no match for facing both Endeavor and the fallen angel at once, and he had to back off when spears started being hurled at him. If they could go through Scintillation’s magical defenses, they could pierce Lionheart’s PK and body armor. Endeavor stepped back for a moment and began launching attacks at Breeze and the dropship, forcing them away from his own ship as Cadrien began to engage Lionheart and Rainstep, dodging water while hurling spears. He proved to be incredibly fast and also had some kind of chain whip weapon in his other hand.

Scintillation watched Endeavor reach his ship, where several individuals appeared on the deck. She wished she could hear what was being said, but with the dropship’s spotlights, at least they could see it. Endeavor was cupping a young looking female’s face. She had GSD that gave her feathers and red and yellow skin. Not quite a bird, but definitely evocative of one. Scintillation couldn’t see their expressions at all, but Endeavor pointed, and the female and another three individuals in flight harnesses took off from the ship as he turned to engage the dropship. So far, her own attacks had been sufficient to cancel out his fire powers. With the heavy firepower of Keggers and Auceps on her side, it might be enough to pin him against his ship, leaving Rainstep, Breeze, and Lionheart to engage the fallen angel. An Imbued, an Avatar, and a knight versus a demon… it was probably their best shot. “Lionheart, I’m switching with Breeze to back up Kegger and Auceps. My Scintillation can cancel out his fire, but that demon is too fast for me,” she explained, flying that way.

“Understood,” Lionheart replied, then he unleashed a roar as he drew his sword and batted away a hurled spear. Rainstep launched a jet of water at their target as she flew past Breeze, who waved at her as they exchanged dance partners. “Stay safe,” he added as he took his stance. “I am Sir Lionheart! Duly Knighted defender of the realm by the Queen of England! I bear the blessed blade Gladius De Raphaelis! Face me and die, Fallen one!” He roared in challenge.

Elaine quietly cursed fate as she flew with her master’s minions behind her after their targets. Four MCO power armors had gone charging off after the master’s prize, and since Zelos had failed, that meant she had to pick up the slack. If she didn’t… she did not want to think of the pain that would result from her failure. Of course, success would be little better. Being saddled with idiot minions was… unnecessary. It was not as though her master would have difficulty watching her every move. No, they were supposed to be there to help, if that was even possible for third rate minions.

She could almost smell something in the air, some lingering scent that smelled good, but she wasn’t sure what it was. It wasn’t the mission either. No, she was to fly to where the master’s mystic senses had decided Zelos’s corpse must be, and from there, find their prey… after she made sure the power armor was… handled. She had not been ordered to kill them, not yet. Maybe she could make them lost, lead them on a goose chase. That could work!

There was no great difficulty in tracking power armor. It was loud, and obvious. It made noise and it left tracks. “Sir,” one of the bloody minions, Calville, spoke up. Master’s little torture. Everybody called her “sir.” They all knew. They KNEW. Some of them even enjoyed mocking her. She didn’t hear that in Calville’s voice. Maybe he was just new.

“Yes?” she asked irritated when the minion did not continue. Would it kill the master to hire competent help? If only it would and he did. That, however, was never going to happen. Never…

“I think we’ve found them on radar, Sir.”

“Where?” she asked, trying to suppress her irritation. She couldn’t afford to be irritated. Master might assign her even more irritating minions.

“Two clicks to the east, a click… south?” he asked hesitantly, as though she’d have the answer.

“We must have passed them. Come on, follow the radar then,” she ordered, turning and flying that way. The wings, wings of a bird, that she used in place of arms still felt odd to her, flying like she did. Weren’t the wings supposed to sprout from the back? Instead, when she wanted to fly, her arms became wings… but she didn’t really have to flap to fly.

She left the minions behind as she flew. She was faster… she wanted to be free. Just run… just run… then the pain started. The fear took hold. Alone, out there. They’d hate her. Murderer. Killer. Mutant. It didn’t matter why. It didn’t matter how, or who. It was an accident. They’d still take her life. She was just a mutant. It didn’t matter. She…

She stopped flying, and almost fell out of the sky. She caught herself in time, however, and flew back up to the others as they caught up. “Everything alright sir?” Calville asked in concern.

“Fine. Take the lead, Calville, guide us in following the radar,” she ordered. As long as she obeyed, the pain… the fear… they stayed away, the master made sure of it. If she did really well, he might even let her blank out of her reward. She’d still have to get rewarded, but maybe she wouldn’t have to remember it. That would be… better.

“Yes ma, ah, Sir,” Calville responded, swinging into position in front of her and leading them towards the MCO power armor squad. He’d almost called her ma’am. That was new.

MCO Special Investigator Agent Stanely Wilson was doing what he liked most about his job. He was in hot pursuit of a wanted felon and had all the justification in the world he would need to just kill him if he resisted at all. If he didn’t… Dice was the slam dunk the MCO needed. A dangerous mutant who went psycho the moment he manifested and killed his own parents.

Now he had four power armors, including himself, chasing that very menace. The super villain was duly entertained by the KC Knights, leaving Wilson free to run down Dice. They still didn’t know what, or who, he’d seemingly grabbed from the scene. Whatever had knocked out the Professor and killed the monster… but was it a newly manifested mutant or another monster? Or maybe Dice had picked up an ally somewhere. That could complicate things, but Wilson felt sure that Dice could be handled with four power armors. The mutant was dangerous, yes, but any monster he called would not stick around if he was killed. He also had those barriers, but they, Wilson knew from experience, could be beat with raw force.

“Keep your eyes peeled, the HUD and radar and even infrared could miss it if we aren’t sharp. Dice is a crafty one, he’s been evading us for over two years now,” Wilson reminded his subordinates. His own eyes were on his HUD, but also the sky. He was in the middle of the formation, which meant it was his job to watch the skies. Dice had attacked from above before. He could attack from many angles, but these power armor suits were reinforced against electric shock, EMP, and had force fields to protect them. Their armaments were fairly generic, but that was fine.

They were moving in a simple triangle formation with Wilson in the middle of it. Point watched forward, the others watched the sides and rear, Wilson watched the sky. Thus, even though Radar had basically been useless all night, he still saw the approaching formation flying in the sky. The girl glowed especially bright. “Incoming!” he called, opening fire. They obviously weren’t the heroes. Fire from his heavy gun lit the night as the other units began opening fire. Dale had the heavy rail cannon while Franklin and Evero had machineguns and rockets. The incoming fliers took an evasive pattern and shot over head, dropping fire that failed to harm their MCO issue power armor, or the jockeys inside. However, one of the fliers dipped low and pulled out a flaming sword. It was female, and she had wings for arms. As she flew past, her flaming sword flicked out and sliced off part of the arm of Franklin’s armor, causing it to sag uselessly and began to overbalance his suit, though the auto-balance was working fine. He wasn’t about to fall over.

However, the enemy was being very evasive in the air, far more so than their original quarry. They divided up into four and made more howling passes at random, often as soon as any power armor turned to engage another threat. The real threat was, of course the mutant, but the men with flight packs could still get lucky. They carried powerful laser rifles, quite possibly devises instead of real technology. Wilson was getting angry. He had other business to be about. He continued firing on the fliers, but was having no luck hitting any of them. “Disengage aim prediction systems and switch to manual,” he ordered. “They’re probably relying on our own systems to screw us,” he muttered. It wouldn’t be remotely the first time somebody had managed to hack the MCO and learn how their power armors’ pattern prediction software worked, and use that against them. Wouldn’t be the first time Wilson had been forced to teach such idiots a painful lesson.

When he switched off the prediction system and used his own brain, it worked. With one shot, he winged a flier and sent the man spinning out of control. The other three fliers took off in pursuit of their errant partner, showing more solidarity than he expected of most supervillain scum. “Follow them! We’ll gut them while their busy before we get back to business!” he shouted, angry. One of the fliers, the mutant, had turned back even as he gave orders, and was still doing an excellent job of dodging fire. However, she was now their sole focus. She got hit, hard, with a stream of rounds from the belt fed gun carried on one of the frames. She fell out of the sky. “MOVE!” As much as he wanted Dice, this was another mutant menace begging to be killed. He needed to verify she was dead, then blow her to gooey chunks. Kid or not kid, and he’d thought she vaguely looked young, she was a threat who attacked him.

He charged towards her.

Dice was leading Hollow only because he was the one with the plan. She could see in the dark better than he, even with his vision enhancing goggles. However, he was the one with the brilliant plan to get her back to the proper authorities. Sneak back to campus, find the police, and hand her to them if he thought they were likely to protect her. The MCO had no power over the police at all, and he’d seen how the chief acted towards the local agents. More to the point, he’d felt it. That man wouldn’t let a teenaged girl into the hands of the MCO if they held him at gunpoint.

They still had to get back there. Hollow was fast. They were over two miles out, at least, by the time they had that fight. So they had to backtrack. And they needed to avoid the superfight still visible way away in the night sky. So they had to go around.

That put them approaching city streets to come at the college from the northeast. They weren’t quite to the streets yet though, still in open fields with a couple trees nearby. However, they would be soon. Dice had let himself be carried again, but now they needed stealth more, and Dice was leading. He had far more practice than Hollow, after all.

He waved her forward and she slipped forward quietly at a run, her bare feet making little noise. She reached him quickly. Past here it was streets and houses and people. They had to try. He turned to look at her. The fear, the anger, the worry, the panic, they gnawed at the edges of her psyche, but determination and courage bloomed atop those. She was in control, and she was doing great. He opened his mouth to tell her so when he saw the streak of fire come shooting down out of the sky from a long way off. The distant sounds of battle had been coming from that direction, but it was so far away he’d ignored it.

“Down!” he called, ducking low as the streak of fire blossomed into a bundle of panic and fear and humanity when it got close enough. It was a person, flying, or rather crashing. He plowed into the ground and that bundle vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. Pieces of the body and the flight pack went sailing and one almost got him in the eye. Several bounced off Hollow, further shredding her poor nightshirt. He was lucky she was still covered at all, at this point.

The loud sounds of a battle rapidly began drifting closer and more flyers swerved their way on jets of fire. Another glowing flier crashed to the ground nearby, the glow of tracer fire hitting it and taking it from the sky. It seemed to take forever to crash to the ground. When it did, it landed just in his range; aa bundle of fear, panic, and such utter sorrow and misery that he doubled over in physical pain exploded into existence within his empathic sense. “Dice!” Hollow called, grabbing his sides to hold him up. “What’s wrong, are you hit?”

“No, no, just… oh god, so much misery, so much pain…” he started staggering towards the source. Most empaths would have run the other way, but every since he’d first seen that battle tonight, been bombarded by that fearful, worried crowd… something had woken up, like it had been asleep. An instinct, that primal urge some individuals have… the need to help. He wasn’t sure when it had gone to sleep, he’d never noticed. He’d just been running and killing anything that came after him. That was all he had, all he was. As he did, memory stirred, of a promise.

“Dice, the cops are that way!” Hollow called, but Dice didn’t hear her. She dashed after him, calling for him until she caught up, but neither of them had needed to run far to find… her. She was standing up, the wounds of the bullets already healed. Her skin was the red of flames, her face beautiful and stunning, with exotic feathers giving her a crest. Wings adorned her arms, or perhaps it was better to say her arms were wings. She was short, barely more than five feet, even shorter than Hollow. She was dressed in black, a tank top and vest and shorts. She was certainly beautiful, even covered in mud.

Dice could feel the misery flowing off her like a physical force, this close. She looked up as she dusted herself off, scowling in an anger Dice could barely perceive beneath the constant misery… when she saw them. “Oh no,” she said. “Why did you come to me?” she asked, and if anything, the sight of them only made her misery increase. “Now I have to catch you…” she muttered morosely.

There was a loud crack and Dice crumpled. He’d felt it coming, but it was so… miniscule beneath that tidal wave of awfulness he couldn’t process it. He could just stare blankly up at the figure in armor and a flight pack, with a gun in hand, who stood over him, weapon aimed at him. He was on his side, but he couldn’t process when it had happened. His vision swam, and started to go dark.

Elaine could only stare in horror at the sight of her prey running up to her. Deep down, she’d hoped they would evade her. Instead, she’d lead the MCO right to them. She saw Calville sneak up behind the little mageling and smash his rifle into his head. The older boy simply let it happen and crumpled to the ground. “Dice!” shrieked her target… a young girl from India. She was slight, just a bit taller than Elaine, perhaps five feet five inches tall, but petite, not stocky. She had hair down to her neck, pulled into a simply ponytail. She was wearing tatters that barely concealed a body that was clearly deserving of the title “a beauty in the making.” She had wide hips, and shorts. She, like Elaine, didn’t look even slightly cold in the winter chill, despite her bare feet.

She also pulled a sword from somewhere, prompting Elaine, on impulse, to pull her own out and counter her as she went for Calville. “You hurt Dice! I’ll kill you all before you take either of us!” she shouted, and attacked. Elaine almost lazily parried her strikes. She wasn’t an amateur, but it seemed obvious her sword skills were lacking. Elaine had been learning fencing since she was five. She was strong, but strength was of little benefit if you did not understand how to use it, and fencers adored opponents who relied on brute force, but lacked protection or skill or finesse. She was just full of openings. Elaine tagged her in the shoulder, the leg, the back, countering her moves with ease. She felt bad for the girl, but she couldn’t go back to the pain...

“Sir! MCO!” one of her minions called. She snapped her gaze towards the MCO power armor, powder blue, crashing towards them. She ducked slightly aside, brushing a slash by the girl and sending her sprawling into the ground.

“Get them, don’t let them interfere with the prize. Keep your weapon on the boy,” she ordered Calville. “Girl! Neither of us wants the MCO to win, fight them, then you can have me… or I can order my minion to kill your friend,” she offered. It was the only quick option she had to turn the girl into an asset. She couldn’t fight her AND the MCO, that would be a mess beyond all belief. The master hated it when she failed, and he hated it when she wasted minions… losing all the minions AND the girl… she shuddered.

There were tears in her target’s eyes. How long had it been since Elaine had dared to cry? The girl glanced at her stunned companion, then turned to Elaine with hatred burning in her gaze… then she charged the MCO. Elaine let out a breath of relief and joined the attack. “Stay back, give us covering fire!” she ordered her remaining minions.

The four MCO power armors, one of them missing an arm, came at them firing. Elaine felt several bullets hit her, causing moments of brief pain before her wounds, lit by fire, healed. Sword in hand, she flew at the enemy, then came to a stop in awe. The girl hit the first MCO armor like a wrecking ball, bowling it over, and her blades flicked out and sliced off one of its arms through its forcefield. Their fire hit her several times as she did, but she did not stop or fall. Those rounds were rated to stop even high level exemplars, but the girl ran through the storm of fire like they were mere flies and she the flyswatter. In short order she had dismembered three power armors. The fourth skirted around her and charged at Elaine, firing. His shot missed as she dodged and exploded behind her. He was then tackled from behind by the girl, who sent him bowling end over end to land near the place where the minions had that boy. She landed atop him and dismembered him.

Elaine flew over and came to a stop, staring in surprise at how quickly and easily the girl had ripped through the MCO… despite having just manifested that night. However, she realized quickly that whatever it was… it had exhausted the girl. She practically fell over as soon as the last armor was done. Execute the MCO and bring me the prize… but leave that last one, the leader. Execute his men in front of him, but let him live, her master suddenly ordered in her mind. Elaine winced, but forced back the tears, the fear, the pain…

“Drag the bodies over here,” she told the other minion, but then Calville suddenly called for her. “Boss, quick!” he was pointing at the body in front of him, the boy.

Elaine ran over, the girl… more like crawling. There were at least three bullet holes through the boy, and he was bleeding out. She looked from Calville, to the boy, realizing that tired or not, she’d just lost her hold over the girl.

The girl though… she just stared in shock and horror. “No… no, no , no, NO! DICE!” she scrambled to her feet and ran to him, shaking him in fear. “No, Dice, please, no! NO!” she wailed. Froggy turned from the sight, sick to her stomach, and looked at her minion, using his rifle as a laser cutter and yanking unconscious MCO officers out of their power armors. She turned, hating herself, and forced the remaining one onto its face so its occupant, the leader, could see. Then she felt movement and spun. The girl was stepping towards her… but not to attack. She looked frightened, desperate, sad…

“Please… help him, please! If you can help me, please! Take him to a hospital or something, please! He was just trying to help me! He had his own troubles, but he was just trying to help me… don’t let him die, please,” she said, sinking to her knees, and bowing to Elaine. What, or how, she thought Elaine could help was beyond her but…

She turned, eyes hardening, to the two men she’d been ordered to execute. Apparently, one of them had gotten tagged by friendly fire, judging by the giant spattering of bullet holes in the corpse. She… she could…

“I’ll go quietly, I won’t fight back, please… if you can save him,” she heard the girl cry. Elaine stiffened. There it was, that quiet compulsion… she had a way to get everything she wanted… and… and she could save someone. Just this once, she could save a life…

“Don’t look,” she told the girl, as she stepped up to the MCO officer on the left. Both of them were young looking men in their twenties, still far older than her own fifteen… she set her hand on him and he began to burn. She forced herself to watch as the fire spread across his shoulder, ripping into the insides of him until it was pouring out of his mouth. His partner struggled to get away, but he was barely conscious and badly battered. She saw her minion strike him unconscious out of the corner of her eyes as she used her flames to burn away a life to ashes. Then, glad this one was unconscious, knowing she’d never have dared disobey her master’s intent by knocking him out herself… she repeated it.

Soon, two piles of ash stood where once there had been men. In the back of her mind, she could hear their boss screaming invectives at her, and she deserved every one. “Mutant filth! Murdering genescum! You deserve far worse! I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you with my own hands! I’ll burn you in molten steel for this! I’ll watch you burn to death, and then I’ll laugh, knowing your mutant filth soul is burning forever in hell!” If only he actually could she thought idly, maybe at least the pain would stop for a bit…. Elaine had tried to commit suicide once, but the sheer amount of pain that came with dipping herself in acid… a gun wouldn’t do it. She was mostly fireproof on top of her regeneration… then she’d still regenerated anyways… she’d been little more than BONES and she’d come back…

She gathered up the ashes of his men, her whole body alight with flames in a multitude of colors, and walked to Dice. She hated this power. Rejuvenation. Healing, yes, but at a cost. Only she came back infinitely, inexhaustibly. Anyone else… for anyone else, an equal amount must be paid. Life for life. She knelt by the cooling corpse of the boy, and sprinkled the flaming ash on him, and her fire raced across his body. Bullets were shoved out of wounds, and his back arched as he drew in a breath. He lived.

“It is done,” she said, turning to the girl.

“You’re crying,” was all her target could say, her own tears flowing freely. She had to be lying. Elaine never cried anymore. Tears brought too much pain.

I am a Sexy Shoeless God of War - So suck it CP!
Last Edit: 3 years 2 weeks ago by Iwasforger03.
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3 years 4 weeks ago - 3 years 2 weeks ago #39302 by Iwasforger03
Iwasforger03 replied the topic: Dice/Hollow #1 - Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
Chapter 3
Even when you roll a bunch of ones, a twenty could be just around the corner...

0034hrs, Dec 12, 2015
FBI Office, Chicago, IL.
A tiny cubicle in that bastion of federal lawkeeping...

“Hey, Holder!” The voice stirred his mind a moment. Groggily, he pulled the book off his face and looked blearily around. He’d been taking a short nap on his break, in his chair, laid back, feet on the desk.

“What, Harding?” he answered, identifying the voice as belonging to one of the young blood walking towards him with a pot of coffee and a cup. That was a surprise. Holder was here late by choice, doing paperwork. It wasn’t as though he had a life to go back to. Just a tiny little apartment.

“You should see this. Looks right up Special Bounty’s alley,” the younger agent said, setting the cup in front of Holder and pouring him a cup, black. “Come on, drink up, wake up, and come look,” Harding said, walking off, then pausing to wait for Holder. Samuel Holder sighed, grabbed the coffee, and drank, grimacing at the taste.

“You couldn’t have brought some sugar?”

Harding just laughed. He led Holder to the break room, where a news segment was playing, or rather, replaying. On screen were distant shots of a building collapsed on a college campus, police, fire crews, and even the MCO on scene. The MCO had opened fire on something, when distinct purple barriers sprang into place. Holder spat out his foul tasting coffee in shock.

“Dude!” Harding complained, shaking his now coffee burnt hand in complaint.

Holder wasn’t paying attention. He set the coffee on the nearest surface, a desk, and pulled out his phone, wide awake. He punched in a number and hit send, then held perfectly still, vibrating inside with energy. “I need a plane, a helicopter, something fast. I need to get to Maryville, Missouri,” he said into the phone. “Yes, I know it’s midnight. Sir, I found Dice. Yes sir, Dice. How do I know? I’m staring at video footage.”

His father was looking down at him and laughing as he picked himself up on the ground. He had two good, healthy limbs. No strong man, not a real athlete, but he liked to run. Running was fun. So were games.

No… no please, not this dream… I hate this dream, his voice whined out in sorrow and pain. The dream continued.

He dusted himself off and glared at his friend, Nick. Nick just smiled innocently. “Pulling the bloody chair? Seriously? That’s an OLD gag!” he complained with a smile. His father set a plate of burgers and dogs in front of him. Nick’s mom laughed silently, and his dad just shook his head at their son. Lucas’s own mother reached out to help him, but stepped back when his dad shook his head. He was a big guy now, almost 16. He could at least stand up on his own without mom coming to the rescue.

That was the last happy night of my life… Lucas moaned, watching the scene through his own eyes, unable to change a thing. He didn’t want to see what followed, not again. That didn’t stop it from coming.

He hadn’t even gone to bed yet. He was still putzing around in his room, playing with his new set of dice, all of them cut from a series of rose quartz crystals. He had his backpack still packed from their last gaming session, sitting at his feet. The dice were the only things he’d taken out of it. He was playing around with them, ogling them and examining them. It had been an incredible session. He had rolled high damage on every attack, and rolled eleven criticals… out of twelve attacks. Everyone insisted he had to be cheating, but no matter which dice he used, he was just lucky that night, pure and simple.

That was when he heard the screams. He raced out the door only to run straight into his father running up the stairs. His father never ran in the house. He had blood on him. “Lucas! Lucas, grab your bag and get ready to run!” he shouted, shoving his son back into his room. Lucas stared in horror at the blood on his father’s shirt.

“Where’s mom?” he asked. His father didn’t answer, but he didn’t need to. His eyes were haunted, and he looked away when his son asked that question. He couldn’t look away for long, however, as Lucas tried to shove past his father.

“NO, NO! You cannot! You cannot, we have to get you out. I don’t know what it is, but I’m not letting it have my son! Here, take your bag,” he ordered, grabbing his son. “The phones are dead, I don’t know how. We tried to call the police while we hid from it… but it was going for the stairs. Your mother… she loves you, son. She distracted it so I could get you out. HURRY, son,” his father urged. He shoved his son’s backpack and random clothes, some of them dirty, into it and placed it in Lucas’s hands. “I’m going to distract it. Head for the back stairs, run until you can call the police.”

No, please don’t… please don’t make me watch again… he begged, but the dream continued without mercy. It always did. No spell or power he’d ever found would make it stop. Dreamless sleep did not save him. Meditation would not help. Nothing ever did.

Instead, once again, he watched. He watched, terrified, wanting to cry, to weep. “Promise me you’ll do everything you can to live, to love, to learn, to grow, to be amazing. Don’t settle for mediocre. Be incredible.” He could only nod numbly, promising without voice. Then… then he could only watch as his father looked out the door, then dragged his son behind him and shoved him towards the back stairs before charging at some… thing that came barrelling up the stairs. “NOT MY SON!” he shouted, and tackled it. They tumbled down the stairs.

Go help our father! You have power, use it! Save him! Or at least die there… no… no I’m sorry dad, I… I won’t quit, I promise. I won’t quit…

Torn, he hesitated… then obeyed. He obeyed his father’s dying wishes…

His eyes flickered open to a pounding headache and an immense feeling of hatred flowing at him in waves. He was bound tightly to a tree with ropes he couldn’t seem to budge, and his head was pounding. The hatred… the hatred was MCO Officer Wilson. The man was standing in front of him, holding a gun, looking at him with a face of manic glee. Oh… shit. He reflexively reached out with his TK… and his headache tripled. This… this was bad.

Lionheart ducked under the thrown spear, which had already proven itself able to get past his PK shield. The wounds carried some kind of taint, but Rainstep had thus far proven capable of washing it out with his water blessing. The battlefield was in chaos, but one of the superteam's primary objectives had been accomplished. The combined efforts of Summer Breeze’s wind powers, his own strength, speed, and blessed sword, and Rainstep’s water blessing had allowed them all to more or less tie down the “Fallen Angel” class manifestation.

It seemed to answer to the name Cadrien, but this was most likely not its true name. It looked vaguely male, but emaciated, black and white in skin, with the wings of a bat. It had two pointed horns curling forward on its head. Despite all that, it had a glow and aura… it looked utterly beautiful. It must have had a glamour of some sort.

They attacked in sequence. Rainstep would throw his water into the sky, then Summer Breeze would take it up and spread it all over. The mist stung and burned and had limited the creature’s movements, forcing it to fight within a limited area. That limited area worked for Lionheart, who could leverage his strength and power well in a tight brawl. His blessed blade had no special power to cut or wound, at least none he had experienced. It was blessed however, and so where wounds from most weapons and attacks healed quickly, wounds from his blade did not. Even Rainstep’s water blessing, while painful, was not as effective. It hurt the monster, it stung and injured it, it could cleanse taint from wounds it inflicted, and the creature’s wounds closed more slowly when faced with that blessed water from a goddess… but they did close. Only the four wounds Lionheart had dealt it with his blessed blade did not close at all. The creature had figured that out quickly.

However… that had allowed them to maneuver him. The battle no longer took place above the school, but over farm fields nearby. There were still houses out here that could be endangered, but they were few and far between, unlike the massed dorms of the university campus. He loosed a wicked grin when they finally moved the creature and its master off the campus. He leapt into the fight with renewed ferocity, eager for the battle. He lead off with what looked like a two handed overswing, but this was a feint. When the monster tried to block him, he expertly flipped his sword around and pulled it upwards in a reverse grip, slipping under the strike and knocking the creature’s spear out of his way. His other hand held a marble, which he flicked at the monster. Of course, it was just an ordinary marble… with ten tons of force behind it. The creature grunted in surprise as it realized just how powerful Lionheart actually was, and went sailing backwards well out into the fields. “ATTACK!” Lionheart roared, his shouted echoing through the night with a roar even famed Arrowhead Stadium, the loudest stadium in the NFL, would be envious of.

The battle against its master was another matter. Scintillation ducked, dodged, bobbed, and weaved expertly. Years in the Whateley flier’s club had taught her how to maneuver with the best fliers the school had offered to her, and she had continued that practice in the training room provided by Princeps at their HQ. Endeavor flew near his massive ship, protecting it from attack as crew scurried about aboard it, trying most likely to fix the damage done to its cloak. The still unnamed dropship, which Lionheart hoped to make their signature transport, flew circles around the slow moving ship, pouring fire at it, which Endeavor was forced to intercept. The ship had its own defenses, but they were inadequate to the task on their own.

She was fortunate that the ship seemed not to possess magical means of attack, merely mundane machineguns, heavy caliber rounds, as well as lasers. The lasers were the easiest, as they did not fire quickly. Oh, the beams themselves were plenty fast and dangerous, but the guns firing them were simply easy to dodge thanks to her foresight charm. “Kegger, we’re not really hurting it, this is a massive friggin stalemate,” Scintillation called over the comm to her friend and teammate. “GL’s still tied up digging out the rubble, and even if he wasn’t I wouldn’t want him fighting this!” she called out. He was unquestionable the biggest rookie of the group, and no brick. She had magical charms to defend herself and an education at the academy. GL was being trained by the whole team, but while he had years of street experience in the rougher parts of KC and even a few years of martial arts… no, she did not want to risk him here, even if he’d probably have rather been in the thick of the fight. But he had major respect for Lionheart, so he obeyed.

“Where the hell is the National Guard or the Army?” she called out to Keggers.

“The governor just finished wakin up or sometin,” Keggers replied. “They’s comin, should be deployed any minute, but the damn local commander had to call people in without official orders! They aren’t at full heave ho yet!” his voice was light and calm, a counter to her own irritated calls, but that was deliberate. He was trying to help keep her calm and avoid riling her up. It would do little good to rile her up enough she screwed up and died. Or have something worse happen...

“I grow weary of this,” Endeavor suddenly called out. “Lucky me, it seems the situation has shifted in my favor!” he gloated. Scintillation gave him her full attention… and saw four new figures on the deck. Actually, three were returning, and the last was the only new face. It was the woman he’d seen looking… maybe intimate with? She had not gotten the best look. Endeavor landed on the deck, and suddenly the shields defending the ship seemed to strengthen.

Endeavor reached out and seemed to stroke the chin of the girl, who… it was hard to say if she shuddered with anticipation or dread, but Scintillation could almost taste the lust coming off the creature. Then he turned to the new face. She was taller than the other girl, but both had some distinctive GSD. While the minion’s skin was a flaming red and she had feathered wings growing under her arms, the new face had broken horns or something coming out of her head as her only obvious oddity. She was shaking and Scintillation watched her collapse.

She began throwing wave after wave at the ship, and Keggers and Auceps were tossing all the firepower they had at it, but that shield had suddenly gone from very penetrable and underwhelming to excessively whelming, maybe even overwhelming. Nothing was getting through.

“LIONHEART! SHIT JUST HIT THE FAN! HE’S GOT HIS TARGET!” She shouted into the comm. It had to be that. He’d been holding back, buying time while his minions retrieved his prize, and now he no longer needed to wait in a position to support them. “KEGGERS! Tell the guard to get their asses in gear! We’re out of time!” she screeched angrily into the comm. Scintillation glared at Endeavor, feeling the anger start to burn. It was incredibly fantastically rare, but it did happen. A Wiz type mutant who was also a class 3 rager. Scintillation was the living proof. Worse, the only 100% surefire way to cool her off was currently keeping her teammates alive fighting a fallen angel class monster. The waves of energy coming off her suddenly ratcheted up several notches. The shield shuddered under the hit.

It had taken them years to even figure it out. She didn’t even get diagnosed until her junior year, when she suddenly flipped and nearly killed someone during a combat final. Normally, there were lots of PK fields, manifestations, things like power armor, that could stand up to a few hits before they started to crack. Ways to defend against it or withstand it. She wasn’t much of a combat mage by most other people’s standards. She relied on her namesake attack for that, and devoted her magic to things like flying or various useful utility and support roles. It placed her on the upper tier, sure, but never at the top of the threat list, nowhere close.

When she’d gone rager for the first time; she’d almost burned down Arena 99 and killed her opponent, who had thought himself essentially fireproof. Mule was one of the most indestructible students on campus until she lost it. Her flames had gone from, “Needs a few hits to melt concrete,” to, “what concrete?”

That was her now. She couldn’t even see or hear Keggers or Auceps anymore. All she saw was that Endeavor had played them, had his prize, and was about to leave, and he thought he’d gotten it over on them. She had to stop him. Had to make him pay.

Lionheart heard her shouting, and he knew instantly what had just happened. It didn’t do them a lot of good, but it was what had happened. Scintillation had just flipped her lid. “BOSS! Scint’s gone and lost it!” Keggers called, reinforcing his conclusion.

“Lost what?” Grinning Leopard called out over the comms. The rookie sounded scared. “What did she lose? Holy shit!” he called out, obviously sighting the fireshow of Scintillation when her rager state kicked in.

“GL! Don’t worry about her, finish your job!” Lionheart roared, pounding down at the creature, Cadrien, like a railroad spike. “Rainstep!” he called, just as a blast of water smashed into the recovering fallen angel. It threw off the monster’s aim.

“Can’t! You know if I leave he’ll kill you!” Rainstep called out. Lionheart winced. It was true. Even with all they had, they still only had this damned thing on the defensive. However, they weren’t making any progress against it. It hit almost as hard as Lionheart, and it could punch through his PK field.

“I’ll help her!” Summer Breeze called out. “I can help a little, a calming gentle wind should be just the thing!” Breeze offered. It wasn’t as good as Rainstep’s water blessing, but unlike Rainstep, who did not dare try to make it all the way to Scintillation, cool her off, and come back to Lionheart, Summer Breeze’s usefulness was largely ended now that they had the thing away from the civilians.

“Breeze, she’s throwing around waves strong enough to incinerate buildings at a touch!” Rainstep called out fearfully.

“She’s my friend too! We’ve practiced this! You can spare me!” she countered.

Lionheart growled in irritation as he countered a blow from the creature. If his blade not been forged of adamantine, it would have long shattered. “Go, Breeze, Quickly!” he called out.

She flew off in a flurry of wind and heat. Lionheart had no time to watch her go, however. He had a monster to hold off. He roared in its face, ducking a blow and for once managing a lucky knick on its thigh, which caused it to growl. This damned thing was tough.

Breeze, meanwhile, was flying for all she had towards Scintillation. Scint had been her roommate their senior year at school. She considered the woman her dearest friend. She well knew Scintillation’s temper. She was the only girl in Dickenson who hadn’t been scared off of being roommates after her meltdown during the previous year’s combat final. Well, one of the few, and of those, the one most vocal to try. She had a… knack for keeping people calm. It wasn’t a true empathic ability, but rather something to do her avatar spirit. Still, she’d wanted a reason to test it on a rager…

She knew it could work. It didn’t always, not like Rainstep’s water blessing. It didn’t always work, but it had to, this time. This was not the time for Scintillation to lose it.

This was mildly annoying at best. All that kept it from being amusing was that it was a stalemate, in truth. He quite likely could have made it very amusing, but he did not wish to play so much of his hand tonight. Endeavor, once known as Brandon Convinzione to the world, hid his inner smirk. Tonight was, admittedly, not going to plan. Of course, that was to be expected, in a way. Few things every did go precisely to plan. Thus, it was necessary to have contingencies. He, of course, had many. His slate gray skin did not reflect the light of his fire, but it did glow from the heat. If he kept this up much longer, angry red veins would begin to form, and his stony skinned exterior, which looked only vaguely human, would begin to seem more like molten magma. His manifestation had given him the appearance of a stone gargoyle, though hardly the limitations of one. He was strong, and swift, and could fly. More important though, he wielded FIRE!

That very flame burned through the air towards the female hero, Scintillation. She was an annoying pest, but had an interesting quirk he’d like to study. Her own “flames” were not merely fire, but several different energies, not all of which he recognized. The scintillating pattern of her fire was obviously her namesake, but that did little for his deeper understanding of her incredible potential. He added capturing her as a bonus option to his list. She’d make a nice battery as well.

He willed more power into the flickering shields of his vessel, the Dragwyn. It wasn’t actually his own design, but stolen from someone much stronger… or rather, someone who had thought themselves the mightier. Endeavor had enjoyed that. He could fully reinforce the shields. He had judged their full power vs the capacity of his opponents, and found himself in the greater position. That, however, would cut off his minions. Let it never be said that Endeavor was cruel to those who served well and understood their place. Minions might be plentiful, but a little kindness went a long way to ensuring they worked their hardest with little oversight. It was also a hassle training new ones.

More importantly, however, it would cut him off from little Froggy and his prize. She was his favorite toy, though Cadrien was his most powerful by far. Little Froggy was a lovely specimen, and he’d wrapped her in layers of psychic and magical fear and compulsion so deep she didn’t even realize how badly he had ruined her. She was even quite beautiful, aside from her the singular flaw of not truly being female. Still, that made it even easier to keep control of her. She made an excellent minion leader, and while Zelos had failed and died, Froggy would retrieve his prize, no matter how many she… ah hah!

His psychic link to her, painstakingly forged over a process of months to breach the mental defenses erected by her quite powerful spirit, showed him that she had hold of his prize, or nearly so. Idly, he threw a massive wall of fire, backed by some of his own mystic energy, at his opponents, both the little mage woman and their pesky dropship. It gave him a precious few moments to gaze through her mind and see. She had defeated the MCO and the fledgling mage child, and his prize was nearly in her total control. The foolish Mutant Commission Office soldiers had interfered and been taken out.. By his prize! Interesting.

He saw a chance to further bind Froggy to him… a very amusing one. He reached out to her with the last of the precious seconds of attention he could dare to spare. Execute the MCO and bring me the prize… but leave that last one, the leader. Execute his men in front of him, but let him live, he ordered maliciously. Now she would have the MCO’s full attention. They would know her new face, not merely the old face of Elaine Jerrough. One more reason for her to fear the world without his “Protection.” He could almost have laughed, but that could wait.

He turned his full attention back to Scintillation and her fellow heroes. It would only be a few short minutes before his final prize arrived. Endeavor did not smile, but he did stop frowning.

Elaine flew, carrying the girl she had seen running on air. The girl did not fight back at all. She just hung, limp. She… Elaine once she would have said this girl had given up the fight. Given up, just like her. That was before she gained the flames. Before the fire found her. Before the phoenix. She wasn’t Jean Grey. Not a psychic. Not even an empath. However, the phoenix was the fire of life, the eternal cycle incarnate. The spark had not gone out of this girl. So Elaine could only guess at another alternative. She was just biding her time.

That didn’t matter to Elaine. All that mattered was avoiding punishment. She did not want a “reward” but it was better than a punishment. The girl was letting herself be delivered. Once Elaine had done so, her task was complete. The master would not blame her for what the girl did once delivered. That was his domain. He had mercy, after a fashion. Not kindness, not for her, but mercy yes. Broken toys are not as much fun to play with.

They flew with good speed towards the battle, taking the long way to try and come in from an angle unlikely to get them attacked, and they flew low. They passed around the university entirely. Some piece of Elaine hoped that most of the students were alright. She knew her master had mercilessly killed some and created walking corpses to distract the police, but hopefully most of these people weren’t dead. She could do nothing for the inevitable scars, mental and physical.

The rest of her was focused on the ship. She was so close to being done. So close to maybe escaping some pain for a little while! She almost looked forward to a reward… almost. What she wanted most was to just be left alone for a night, those were the best. She wasn’t sure if her master knew she liked those or not. She almost felt like if he knew she liked them, he’d use them as a reward, making them precious and hard to earn. Those nights alone occurred most often, she was not the only plaything for her master and his honored servants. She did not want to lose them.

She steeled her gaze, glad that her monster could only brush through her thoughts with intent, never idle listening. She wished her spirit could keep him out entirely, supposedly that was a benefit of Avatars, but it didn’t seem to really work for her. She didn’t know why. She’d tried to do research… but she knew she had to be careful. Her master could read her recent memories when he desired, and he kept track of her location to some extent, his range was quite long with those he was intimately familiar, like herself.

The master was defending his prized magical machine, a massive flying ship that looked so old and out of place. It had been her home for almost six months now. He flew before it shielding it with fire while the great barrier shield, which he called the “Magnus Murus,” deflected a great part of the heroes’ offense. The ship was taking some damage, but less than most would think. That ship could take an incredible pounding. She had seen it happen.

The master obviously was waiting for her. She could not get in with his prize if the barrier was at full strength, which the master could achieve if he but stepped within it. She flew with all host, hoping to find an end to the pain and maybe a little rest. The day had been long, and she hoped to have it over.

Bearing her package, she reached the ship from the far side of the heroes’ efforts to shoot it down. As soon as she crossed the barrier, her master followed her. He landed before her as she set the girl down on the deck and turned to face him.

He towered over her five foot nothin height, leering down with a happy look on his face of granite gray. “Well done Elaine!” he cheered, cupping her chin gently. “Well done my lovely Elaine. I shall give you a good gift tonight for this,” he purred. Elaine didn’t cry, though she wanted to. “I’m happy enough I think I’ll even let you sleep,” he whispered. She was receiving a reward then. At least he’d let her sleep. That meant she didn’t have to pay attention. He’d drown her in pleasure until she fell unconscious from it. It was the next best reward to being left alone, and she thanked all of heaven that wasn’t a reward he recognized as one. He’d be gentle. He was also gentle and tender when he was happy.

“Thank you, Master,” she replied with a smile she wished she did not feel, but she did. She was excited to be rewarded, excited at the prospect of how good it would feel, to escape the pain and replace it with overwhelming pleasure. To escape the fear for genuine rest after.

Khōkhalā shivered as she stood on the deck of the strange ship. She did not try to run. Dice was alive. She had given her word. She had surrendered. Maybe this way he could escape now. Be free of the trouble trying to help her had brought him. She hadn’t known what else to do… he was dying in front of her. He was the only person tonight who cared. He just wanted to help her. Just wanted to save her from harm. He’d failed, but the intent… she would not let the warmth of his intention cost him his life. That, at least, she could repay. She had. Now she… she was here. She looked up at the towering giant who looked like a gargoyle. A flaming gargoyle. She gulped when she saw his eyes drift appreciatively over her body. He even licked his lips.

“You will be fun to play with, little one, but first… first a test. Can I do as I had theorized?” he asked. Not her, just… asking the air. He reached out a hand and she watched the magical energy gather around it, then a ghostly replica of his hand reached out and slammed into her stomach. Searing pain washed through her and threatened to rob her of consciousness. Suddenly, with a great feeling of something being ripped out, she saw the ghostly hand pull back.

Her legs collapsed out from under her as she felt it, like a great hole in her stomach. She couldn’t even scream as the pain threatened to blind her. She reached a twitching hand to her stomach and felt… a hole. A gaping hole that did not bleed. Just… an empty space where her stomach had been. She began to cry, thinking she was dying, and the pain seemed to agree. She couldn’t hear what the monster was saying. It hurt! It hurt so much! By all the gods… oh… Dice… please live… thank you… I’m sorry you couldn’t help me… she whispered in her own mind. Even the pressure could not suppress this pain, for it writhed in pain as well.

Endeavor smiled as he felt the pulsing mass rip free of the girl. The energy was just as it should be, just as he’d predicted. It seemed to wriggle like a living thing in his hand. He looked idly at the hole in her stomach. It ran all the way through her, even through where her spine should be. He looked in surprise at it when he realized that. “Elaine, examine her. Did I kill her?” he growled. Elaine hastened to obey, examining the girl’s body, trusting the senses her spirit provided her.

“Death is not near her yet. I… do not know what this is, Master, but she seems physically well apart from the hole. It doesn’t even bleed. I… I don’t even think her spine is damaged,” she replied. Interesting. A visible hole in the spirit, not the flesh. Doubtless it would have formed eventually, since it showed the place where her parasite’s stomach connected to her, where they both must draw from the stores of energy it allowed her to absorb. Energy like what he held in his hand.

His ship’s great shield shuddered under another hit from the hero. She was screaming incoherently, hurling massive bolts of her strange power at him. They were much stronger now than they had been before. A rager then, a strong one. She was even more interesting now. He really did need to acquire her for his collection. “Prepare the ship to depart. Cadrien will see to himself. Move!” he growled, and his men sprang to work. He turned to Elaine. “Wait here and watch her,” he ordered, indicating his prize.

He did not bother waiting for Elaine’s reply. Even his mighty shield might yet fail before the barrage that woman was hurling. That would have to change. Before he could do more than fly to the edge of the barrier, however, something changed. He saw the fire mage’s attention divert for a brief moment, though she idly hurled more flames at him even as she looked elsewhere. Another hero had appeared on a horse made of wind, flying about. Winds tinged with some magical power flitted about the rager, trying to sooth away her anger. If he let it, it might even work. Not a mage though, probably another avatar, and not a vulnerable and naive little boy like his current prized pet.

He looked to the corrupted energy he held in his hand and smiled. He didn’t need her. She’d make a nice experiment. And thanks to Elaine, he was nicely recharged. So useful to have a battery around.

Scintillation didn’t understand where the breeze came from, or why some annoying person was flying about. She wasn’t getting in the way, so Scintillation tried to ignore her. She had something else to be angry at. The monster would burn! She would reduce him beyond ashes to atoms! Obliterate those too! The soul as well! Nothing left! Nothing! Nothing… no, no, she wasn’t supposed to do that anymore. It was wrong… wasn’t it? She didn’t kill people, she stopped killers! Killers like the monster! He’d killed lots of people, and he’d tricked her while he waited around so he could kidnap some poor girl who was probably scared and alone! Monster! She screamed as she hurled more power at the ship and the shield and the monster watching her mockingly. He’d die for this! No! Don’t kill him! Monster!

Breeze was afraid. She wasn’t too proud to admit it. Scintillation scared her when she lost it. It happened so rarely, but when it did… Scintillation always remembered it. She hated it. She hated losing it. She’d been in terrible pain for weeks once it wore off last time. Breeze couldn’t imagine what this time would do. Last time had barely lasted a minute.

Scintillation had spent a month in Doyle Medical, barely able to even move, the first time she’d had a rager incident. That incident had lasted for fifteen excruciating minutes in which nothing and no one could divert her from trying to barbeque Mule. Ito hadn’t even been able to get close, and she’d almost burned off Gunny Bardue’s arm. Mrs. Carson herself had been required to step in to contain her. Her and the teachers and a bunch of seniors all working together. It wasn’t because they couldn't stop her… it was because they hadn’t wanted to kill her.

Now it was up to Breeze. She’d stopped Milly’s second rager incident with her power, and once kept her from losing it altogether. She could do this. Milly was already responding to the breezes. She kept shaking her head, like she was trying to regain control.

Summer Breeze was so busy looking after her friend she never saw the enemy leave his protective bubble. Not until Kegger was screaming in her ear. “Look out darlin, he’s loose! RUN!” Kegger screamed at her as Breeze turned around to look at Endeavor.

A gout of green fire, so different from the flames he’d been throwing, flared towards her. She threw up a wall of wind and sand as she dived, trying to go below it. The fire hit her wall and ate it, and then followed her wind like a fuse. She screamed as the flames reached her.

Scintillation snapped into focus when the green fire reached Bree. When it raced up Bree’s arm and just seemed to eat at her. “BREEZE!” she screamed as the pain hit her like a hurricane. She ignored it. Breeze was in trouble. She gathered in focus, shutting out the pain even as it tried to paralyze her limbs, and reached out her magic. She had to save Breeze.

Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she could hear Kegger screaming. “He hit Breeze! Oh god, what is that stuff?” Scintillation reached out and swept up the strange green flames with a spell that ate fire. It was one of a number she’d learned to prepare because she tended to leave flames in her wake. The green flames went out as Summer Breeze plummeted to the ground.

Scintillation shot forward at almost three hundred miles per hour to catch her best friend and carry her to the ground. Her skin was cracking and she was shaking and the pain felt like it was going to eat her from the inside out, but all she could focus on was Breeze. Her eyes… her eyes were gone! Her shaking hands grabbed at the spell slips she carried and started throwing healing spells on her friend. To her shock and fear, the slips burst into flames. “No! NO! GOD, please, NO!” she screamed. “RAIN! RAINSTEP HELP! She’s not healing! Please!”

Breeze wasn’t healing. Breeze wasn’t breathing. No… She felt something slam into her back. She looked in shock to realize green fire burned on her as well.

Suddenly, Rainstep appeared, blasting her with water. The water blessing doused the flames on her. She cried as she clutched her friend. “Rain… help…”

The fallen angel, Cadrien, slammed into Rainstep, hurling him hundreds of feet away to crash limply to earth. Then he smacked her, knocking her to the ground.

“Cadrien! Bring the girl, leave the rest,” a voice, the monster’s voice, called out. For a brief moment, Scintillation felt the rage begin to take hold, which made it all hurt worse. Then the pain crashed down on her threefold, and everything went dark.

Elaine watched the monster land on deck, carrying the hero girl over its shoulder. Cadrien ignored her as he dumped the hero next to the prize Elaine had gained. She had watched her master work the energy he’d ripped out of the girl into his fire and hurl it at the two women. She knew the first was dead. This one though… she was wounded, but her wounds were clean. Whatever power that water hero had held, it seemed to work wonders against her master’s fire… and Cadrien.

She glanced fearfully at Cadrien, then hopefully at her master. “Excellent work, Cadrien. We depart. Did you kill the two men?”

“No, my Lord, they were… tenacious. I do not think I killed the water warrior, the blow was not a good one,” Cadrien replied. “The other is a tremendous warrior and fighter. I know of Lionheart. His blade bites deep, and his strength is real.”

Her master nodded. “Elaine, go clean up and wait in my room. I will have the crew see to these. Cadrien… return to your own realm for now. With one of their own dead, another injured, and her our captive, the heroes will not be able to pursue well. They cannot penetrate the shield, and soon the shadows will work once more. When that happens, they will lose us completely,” the Master stated. Cadrien bowed and vanished in a puff of smoke.

Elaine curtsied to her master, and then turned to walk away with only one last glance at her master’s two new victims. She suppressed a shudder, and looked away. Both of those women would suffer, and it was all her fault. All her fault, because she was too much a coward to resist, or run or…now that she was out of sight of her master, and knowing that a shower would wipe all trace away… Elaine began to cry.

Lionheart landed in a crouch next to Rainstep. The man wasn’t moving. “Don’t be dead. Please Lord, please don’t take more of my people…” the veteran pleaded as his massive paws carefully felt at Rainstep’s neck. He had a pulse. Slowly, Lionheart worked his way down the body. Plenty of cracked bones, but the spine… the spine seemed intact. “Kegger, are you there?”

“Kegger is a bit busy boss, trying to find a way to track that… that..” Auceps couldn’t seem to decide on a word.

Lionheart cut him off. “I need medical evac for Rainstep, fast as you can.”

“Breeze?” Auceps asked fearfully.

The growl of rage that answered that question told him all he needed to know. “Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Oh fuck…” the ratman moaned. “The… The National Guard is on station, late and… they’re willing to follow them, but well, they had that stealth field thing. They’ll probably have it back soon, and if they leave Missouri…” he trailed off. Lionheart understood. The Missouri National Guard’s authority ended at the state border.

“I understand. Do what you can, but… we have to save who we can, Auceps. Right now... that’s Rainstep. We aren’t giving up on Scintillation, but she wouldn’t forgive us if Rainstep died when we could have saved him.”

“I know boss, but… Damnit. Why the hell did Princeps have to go to a fucking party? We needed that self-righteous asshole!” Auceps snarled.

“Ceps! ENOUGH!” Lionheart roared. “We cannot change the past,” he said more calmly. “Princeps has a right to use his vacation time, same as the rest of us. We, none of us, could know the caliber of foe we would find here. We couldn’t know, neither could he. It is not his fault, Auceps. Neither is it yours,” he added. He understood. Summer Breeze was not the first teammate he had lost, nor would she be the last. Scintillation was not the first teammate he had seen kidnapped. He did not expect her to be the last either. It was the risk. One they all knew. One they all took, in order to do what they did.

To protect the world from Devastation… He chuckled a little in sad humor as he mentally recited his private variation of Team Rocket’s motto to keep his calm. To unite all peoples within our nation. To announce the beauties of truth and love, to extend our reach to the stars above… To find the joy in simple things, to bring the peace to living beings… to defend the heart of man from night, to bring wonder into day’s light… We are heroes.. He loosed a rumbling sigh as the Dropship descended towards him. I promise, Milly, we will find you. I will not let you go.

Wilson began talking, almost dancing with what some might have thought was glee around the tied up mutant. He also began talking at, even mocking, Dice.

“As a special investigator, I have access to so many of the latest toys. Even ones the MCO would never admit to actually using. Like this,” Wilson said, holding up a palm sized disk. “Enchanted. Makes it so most weak telekinetic abilities… just don’t seem to work right. Too hard for the user to concentrate, terrible headaches. Has to be fairly close… but I don’t really mind. Without your TK, you’ve got nothing, and I have all your dice,” Wilson added, pointing to a large trash bag filled with something. Probably his dice, just like Wilson said. The man sounded gleeful… but his emotions never changed. Hatred, then more hatred.

“Where’s Hollow?” Dice, Lucas, asked, wary, afraid, angry. The last thing he remembered was the girl covered in feathers, her utter misery. Nobody else was there. Just him and Wilson, no other emotions at all. There was… ash nearby, and four sets of power armor, utterly ruined, in the MCO’s distinctive powder blue within sight. There was also what looked like something with a tarp draped over it.

“Probably dead. It really doesn’t matter. I have you. My own little pony show to prove how dangerous you sick mutant fucks are. Finally, the boy who set a monster on his own parents is right where I want him,” Wilson almost sang. For just a moment, genuine joy appeared amidst the hate, but it was quickly washed away.

“You actually believe that?” Dice found himself asking. He’d faced that… demon enough tonight already. It would not win this time, or ever. “You need help, man,” he said instead. “Serious help. Go see a psychiatrist dude.”

“I believe in the truth. Mutants, all you genescum, are monsters. I just had that fact reminded to me tonight. There were three men with me, now there’s just me, a corpse, and two piles of ash. My men were on the ground, defenseless, because that mutant freak you’re working with ripped apart our armor. Then the one with wings burned my men to death… to heal you. Yes, you were dying, Dice, but she saved you, and then she took the other one with her. A pedophile and a murderer, that should work out nicely,” Wilson sounded it out. He sounded more sane with every second, but that hatred… it never abated. Lucas couldn’t get himself together to use his power, and his magic… he didn’t have anything for this. He sucked at off the cuff. Worse, Wilson knew that.

He needed an out. “Wilson, let me go. They took Hollow. You had to have seen how fucked up that supervillain is. She’s just a girl! I promised to protect her. Let me go!” he said. It wouldn’t work. God, if only it did. “She’s just a scared girl who was protecting the only person tonight who’s done shit for her. She knows she can’t trust the MCO, but I’ve seen you around civilians. She needs help, not hatred!” If only he could remember the right bible passage.

“Civilians yes, not gene deviant freaks. No… no, I won’t let you go, Dice. I cannot have her, but I WILL have you. One of the rare times we’ll be oh so happy to just hand you off to the police, the press, the FBI…”

“She’s a GIRL!” Dice declared loudly, trying to fight past the headache and focus, but it wasn’t working. Wilson just smiled that manic smile and ignored him. It didn’t phase him that there was an innocent young girl being kidnapped. All he cared about was making everyone see mutants were dangerous… that they had to be contained, or killed, or… whatever it was the MCO actually wanted to do to them. So Dice tried a new tactic. He stared at the bag supposedly containing his dice. This was insane. Ridiculous… he shifted, and suddenly he felt something. Could it really be? Of course it could. Wilson had no idea just how far Dice could stretch his luck. One last die, hidden away… no, both of them, but he dared not use the second. The first would do.

“Over here!” Dice yelled out. He had to distract Wilson, make him think someone was out there. He had to save Hollow. He promised. She was lost in the dark of the world, alone, without any light to guide her… he’d promised. He’d sworn an oath, not just to her, but… but there, then… it was one of the only two parts of the incident he could stand remembering.

‘He screamed with all that he had. He screamed, and those screamed echoed against unreality, forcing it back for an eternal moment, grounding a boy, a man, against that which threatened to swallow him whole. “If I am to be cursed to wander in darkness,” the words rang like sword clashing against sword, and that place paused as if to listen, “Then I will bring with me a TORCH! A BEACON! BLAZING WITH LIGHT!” he spat with fury. “A light for the world to KNOW! That they are NOT ALONE!” his voice rang clear, steel against steel, and unreality shrank back from it. “I will be the light in dark places, when all other lights go out,” he promised. A knell broke out through that space. Promises are binding to the soul in ways mankind has never truly comprehended, echoing back to the days when the Five-Fold court ruled. Mankind may break its oaths, and in this is a kind of power, but here, now, the stronger power was in making, and keeping, those oaths. This was a place of binding, of untruths and falsehoods wound so tightly together they became more real than reality itself, unmaking the world with their very existence. An oath such as this was anathema to that space, and to the being which was that space… but by the nature of that place where opposites made up reality, that oath was binding upon the soul more so than ever it could have been in any other space. Maintained, that oath brought a terrible price… but a power also. Forgotten… broken… its price would be far more terrible.’

“A light in dark places, when all other lights go out,” he repeated to himself as he watched Wilson turn to look. He closed his eyes, and he focused. Not on his TK, but on his will, his essence, his power, his luck… and his authority. “Centurion,” he stated, loudly and clearly. “Release me from these bonds.” He felt the drain, the massive drain. He hated wasting so much power just on this, but it was his one shot. He felt it slip away, just barely enough left that he didn’t extinguish his well… and something cut the ropes. Wilson turned back towards him.

“What the hell are you-”

Dice catapulted himself into Wilson in his best one armed tackle, knocking the wind out of the large adult. He rolled off Wilson and sprang to his feet, running as fast as he could, leaving everything else behind. All that mattered was escaping the range of that enchantment. It didn’t block telekinesis itself, just kept the user from turning it on. As he ran, he kept trying to reach out past the headache. Even before Wilson vanished from his empathy, the headache left. He let out a smile of delight as his mind reached back to his familiar lovelies, his precious dice… and lifted them all.

Wilson cursed, firing off shots at the dodging and weaving boy… when suddenly he was tossed off his feet by a force without obvious source. Then the trash bag exploded. There was no fire, no flame, just dice, hundreds of them, flooding out of it in all directions, flowing with great speed towards their damnable master. Dice was free, Dice was armed… Dice was running away.

I am a Sexy Shoeless God of War - So suck it CP!
Last Edit: 3 years 2 weeks ago by Iwasforger03.
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3 years 3 weeks ago - 3 years 2 weeks ago #40382 by Iwasforger03
Iwasforger03 replied the topic: Dice/Hollow #1 - Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
Chapter 4
When all you have is luck...

0120 hours, December 13, 2015
Chicago, Il
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 before. 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 existance 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 don’t want to be here. Please, please don’t 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’s… 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’m… I’m Hollow. You shouldn’t… 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-” she stopped as she turned and realized it wasn’t Calville. It was the boy from before. Dice, Hollow had called him. She blinked. “Oh no,” she muttered.

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 villainexplosion 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, then three more, that sliced a hole in the side of the ship for him. The timber resisted at first, but the blades were sharp and it was only wood. They 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t 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’s 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 slide 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’re a good person, that’s all,” Hollow decided. “I can tell, you don’t 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 Kenzie, 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…

I am a Sexy Shoeless God of War - So suck it CP!
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3 years 2 weeks ago - 3 years 2 weeks ago #40963 by Iwasforger03
Iwasforger03 replied the topic: Dice/Hollow #1 - Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
Chapter 5
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, and hurled 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 legionnaire 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. They’re 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 Khokala. She could see and 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 wasn’t important. She was flung out into open air. She skidded to a halt on the open air, and let out 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, wasn’t deterred. It hurled itself at her, breathing in the tantalizing scent of her 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 didn’t 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 flaws 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 couldn’t 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.

I am a Sexy Shoeless God of War - So suck it CP!
Last Edit: 3 years 2 weeks ago by Iwasforger03.
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3 years 2 weeks ago - 3 years 2 weeks ago #41094 by Iwasforger03
Iwasforger03 replied the topic: Dice/Hollow #1 - Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
Chapter 6
So this is where my luck leads me?

Time unknown
Place unknown

At the edge of her consciousness, something stirred. She did not recall where she was, or how she got her, only that she felt… hot. Hot, all over. Her groin was on fire, and her nipples… but she could touch nothing. She loosed a moan of discomfort and despair as the feeling began to take hold, yet she could take no action to relieve it. Nothing but agony as the feeling of need continued to burn and burn and burn…

Finally, beyond the need, she heard noise. “How much longer before your refuel arrives?” a voice she trusted asked.

“A couple more hours… so you’ve got a little more time. You’re certain you plan to leave?” an unknown but friendly sounding voice replied. “I’d be glad to help however I can. Legal trouble, lawyers, whatever. We owe you,” it insisted.

She didn’t hear a response, and her eyes wouldn’t open. She moaned and writhed as she continued to be unable to satisfy the overwhelming sensation suffusing her physical being.

“I’m more worried about her,” the voice finally spoke. “She… you saw the video and the news reports, right? Auceps pulled them up for all of us. Will she be safe? Can you really protect her when she’s got warrants out for her arrest like this?”

“I will do everything I legally can, and if that doesn’t work…”

“I believe you, but… there’s another problem. The serpent was fixated on her, did you notice? Way more than it should have been for something serving a guy who wanted her alive. There was another servant, something called Zelos. It looked like a satyr, it went after us at the beginning of tonight. It said it smelled her, said she was delicious… and there were these summoned things, they completely ignored me, too. The only thing they wanted was her. I think she’s got a scent that makes her smell delicious or tasty or something to the things she eats. I’m not quite sure though, but if she does…”

“She’s a danger to herself and everyone around her,” the other voice supplied.

“We’ll protect her anyways,” a growling voice spoke up, one she vaguely recalled somewhere buried in memories she ached too much to hunt for. “I will not let them have her, whether the monsters are the MCO or anything else. I promise you, Dice.”

The one she trusted let out a very loud sigh. Dice, that was Dice. “Thank you, Lionheart, Princeps, I… I should get moving. I think she might be waking up, it feels like she’s finally experiencing something besides lust… I don’t want her to have to say goodbye… I… I kept my word. I… need to get away. It’s… I can barely keep myself in control. I don’t want to have to be handcuffed anymore...”

She felt a hand touch her own for a brief moment. “Hollow, stay safe. I’m leaving… I… don’t want to feel the pain of you saying goodbye. I’m sorry, but I just… can’t. This insane lust is bad enough to leave with, but I…” he stopped talking, and his hand left hers.

All of the voices vanished, moving out of range of her hearing, or beyond a barrier. She felt herself begin to cry when they did, even as the heat still wracked her and she could do nothing to satisfy it. Dice was leaving her… leaving and she wasn’t safe. Safe for others. The monsters would come for her. She knew it was true. She remembered it now, being hungry. She remembered knowing that her scent would bring her food.

“I don’t want you to go…” she called out, but she knew there was noone to hear her.

When Princeps grabbed Hollow, Dice started running for all he was worth. The dropship took off, flying with all speed away. As he’d hoped, it was faster than the serpent that took flight after it in response. The forest pursued the serpent, but it was the slowest of them all, except Dice, but he just needed to run in a direction that didn’t go towards the dropship.

As soon as both he and the dropship were clear of the blast zone, he kept running, knowing this was going to be something he wouldn’t relish seeing. A plume of smoke signaled a missile launch as Keggers fired off his singularity bomb at the serpent corpse. Dice didn’t watch it hit, he didn’t watch as the massive singularity this time succeeded in eating its target, reducing it to something smaller than a mustard seed and making it vanish. Then it was just a matter of letting the dropship retrieve him and Lionheart. The battle was over.

The fight had left the dropship essentially out of fuel, not even enough to reach base in KC. That meant a wait of many hours as a fuel truck was filled and sent out to them. The three rescued girls were huddled in a circle outside the ship, being watched over and entertained by Kegger and Auceps. That left Dice alone in the ship’s main area with three unconscious people and Princeps… who turned out to be some wealthy guy not much older than Dice.

He was a nice enough fellow, Dice supposed, but Dice was focused on Hollow. She… she was overcome with a lust of insane strength. It was like all her hunger had been replaced by it, and he didn’t understand it. He could barely stay close to her, it was so strong. It threatened to overcome his own restraints.

“Princeps… see if Keggers has any devisor handcuffs I can’t pick with my TK, would you?” he asked, staring at the dropship from over a hundred meters away. That put Hollow outside his range, and the emotions of gratitude and hope and thanks and joy from both the girls and heroes… those were emotions he was much happier to coast on, but coasting wasn’t what he truly wanted to do. He felt like the only right thing to do was stay at her side. Someone she trusted needed to, didn’t they?

“What in Pluto could you need that for?” Princeps asked, leaning against his power armor frame. His emotional state was fairly neutral compared to the others, but overall it was positive. He didn’t seem nearly as shocked, surprised, or curious as Dice thought he sounded.

“So that if I lose control of myself near her, I won’t be able to reach her or myself…” Dice stated. “I… my empathy isn’t something I can switch off or shield well. If I step a few feet closer, I’ll be able to feel her overpowering lust and… but I’m wrong to stay out here. I…”

Princeps nodded and walked off towards Keggers. He exchanged a few words then pointed at Dice; Keggers pulled something out of a pocket and handed it to him. Princeps walked back to him, and held up a set of cuffs. “Come on,” he said, indicating the transport. “I’ll walk you in,” he offered. Princeps had a very neutral expression on his face, and it seemed to match his muted emotions.

“Thank you,” Dice replied with a smile. He followed the slightly older man into the dropship, fighting to hold himself against what he felt coming off Hollow. For a brief moment, he faltered at the sight of her. She was beautiful, and young. Her horns glistened in the overhead lights. She was thin, and her small chest was visible due to her lack of a bra… her ere-

Dice slapped himself, stunning and overwhelming his empathy with a sharp jolt of pain. The breathing room let him steel his will as he focused on the girl, not the sexual object his sense of lust demanded he do something with. “Princeps, cuff me now,” he ordered, “here, near the door.” Princeps had stepped towards Hollow, towards Khokala, who was writhing and moaning in pain.

The hero complied quickly at Dice’s order, glancing from the grimacing face with a handprint to the bound girl. Her arms and legs were all bound carefully with restraints Keggers and Auceps had pulled from somewhere. They gave her room to move, but left her stretched out and unable to touch herself. Her body ached to relieve its lust, but out of concern that she might hurt herself, they had left her no recourse to do so.

Dice sagged against the wall once the cuff was in place. He leaned against it, watching, battling the feeling flowing off the girl… his friend. She seemed so small and helpless, yet she had stood up to a pair of massive monstrosities and fought well. She was far from helpless. Far from it, yet he somehow felt like she was still in terrible danger, like she still needed his help, even though she didn’t.

“I’m leaving, you know that right?” He asked Princeps, who hadn’t left, but simply sat down and watched, like a chaperone. Dice felt grateful for the effort, but someone with stronger emotions would have been better… more intensity to focus on and override the lust. This close, those outside seemed a distant echo by comparison.

“You’ve got warrants out for your arrest, and you attract monsters or something. So for everyone’s safety, you can’t stay,” Princeps replied. “That about sum it up?” the man questioned him. Dice nodded.

“How much longer before your refuel arrives?” he asked Princeps. Hollow felt a tiny bit different. The lust overpowered everything, but he thought there was still something there. It warmed him a little. She was fighting back.

“A couple more hours… so you’ve got a little more time. You’re certain you plan to leave?” Princeps replied. “I’d be glad to help however I can. Legal trouble, lawyers, whatever. We owe you,” He insisted. Dice knew it was true. If he asked, the rich man would respond with all the resources he could offer. Dice wasn’t used to dealing with the wealthy. Still, knowing that the man believed every word told him a few things. His father’s belief that not all those with money were corrupt might have a ring of truth to it. Or perhaps they were just blind to their own corruption, and thought themselves good men? He didn’t want to believe that of Princeps.

Hollow moaned and writhed beside him. She wasn’t in pain, exactly, but he doubted it made much difference. She should be safe… but what if she wasn’t? He considered all he had seen, all he had heard...

“I’m more worried about her,” the he finally spoke. He looked at her body and he wanted to cry. He let himself, to take the edge off the lust he was still being bombarded with.. “She… you saw the video and the news reports, right? Auceps pulled them up for all of us. Will she be safe? Can you really protect her when she’s got warrants out for her arrest like this?”

“I will do everything I legally can, and if that doesn’t work…”

“I believe you, but… there’s another problem. The serpent was fixated on her, did you notice? Way more than it should have been for something serving a guy who wanted her alive. There was another servant, something called Zelos. It looked like a satyr, it went after us at the beginning of tonight. It said it smelled her, said she was delicious… and there were these summoned things, they completely ignored me to. The only thing they wanted was her. I think she’s got a scent that makes her smell delicious or tasty or something to the things she eats. I’m not quite sure, if she does…”

“She’s a danger to herself and everyone around her,” Princeps supplied. Dice hadn’t shut the door behind himself, but he also hadn’t paid attention to it. He’d been too focused on Hollow and Princeps to notice the cloud of warm emotions approaching until they joined the conversation.

“We’ll protect her anyways,” Lionheart’s growing voice spoke up. “I will not let them have her, whether the monsters are the MCO or anything else. I promise you, Dice.” Dice could feel the determination and sincerity dripping from every word, the gratitude. Lionheart was more man than most men Dice felt like he’d had the displeasure of meeting recently. He was well named...

He loosed a sigh. It was still hard to think like this. He didn’t… he didn’t want to say goodbye… or feel her saying goodbye. “Thank you, Lionheart, Princeps, I… I should get moving. I think she might be waking up, it feels like she’s finally experiencing something besides lust… I don’t want her to have to say goodbye… I… I kept my word. I… need to get away. It’s… I can barely keep myself in control. I don’t want to have to be handcuffed anymore...”

Princeps stepped up, and undid the cuff. Carefully, with everyone’s eyes on him, Dice waded through the emotions pouring off Khokala Zinda, and set his hand on her own. “Hollow, stay safe. I’m leaving… I… don’t want to feel the pain of you saying goodbye. I’m sorry, but I just… can’t. This insane lust is bad enough to leave with, but I…” he stopped talking, and his hand left hers.

He turned away, and walked outside and did not stop until he could no longer feel her in his head. At least, that was his plan. When he reached where he had stood before, he stopped in shock. He could still feel her. Not brightly, not overwhelming like when she was close, but she was still there. He could feel which direction she was, and a vague sense that she lived, but nothing else. He turned and stared in shock at the ship, at her…

“Dice? Dice, is something wrong?” Lionheart asked, concern filling voice and flowing off him like water.

“I…” he shook his head to clear it, and stared again at the dropship. “I can still feel her, just barely. I… I shouldn’t be able to feel her at this range, but I can still feel her…” he uttered. The two men looking at him exchanged surprised glances.

“I… um… I definitely need to go, before she wakes up. I can’t stand the thought of what it’ll feel like, for her to let me go…” he repeated for the third time.

Princeps nodded, and reached into his pocket and pulled something out. Lionheart held up a pack. “Take this, please, and that,” Princeps stated.

Dice eyed both offered objects appraisingly. He sensed nothing but sincere gratitude regarding the objects, a hope… “What are they?”

“This has some supplies, rations, a pair of those handcuffs and instructions to using them, a few other little tricks I like to carry, a survival knife and a combat knife, blankets and a tent. Weights in at about fifty pounds. I think you could use it,” Lionheart explained. Dice’s TK picked up the pack as he looked towards the other object. It was a card, it looked like a credit card.

“This is a cash card. It’s good at most ATMs to convert to cash or pay for whatever ya need. Good up to $100,000,” Princeps explained.

Dice stared at the card in shock, then switched his gaze to Princeps. He didn’t sense any humor in the man about it. “That’s… damn, rich people really do live in a different world… My father didn’t make that much in a year and you’re just fucking handing it to me?” he asked, staring at Princeps.

“It’s the least of what I owe you for what you managed last night. I know it… probably reminds you of a lot of the problems in this country, but I can at least help a friend, can’t I?” Princeps asked honestly. “There’s a phone in the bag. It’s a satellite phone with the number for the Knights, as well as my personal cell and Lionheart and Kegger and Auceps. They all agreed. If you need anything, call us. We’ll do whatever we can to help. We can’t make you accept our help, but would you at least let us make the offer?” he asked.

Dice looked at both Princeps, only a year or two his senior, and Lionheart, a veteran hero of over ten years experience. He wasn’t sure why both men trusted him so much, but he knew they did. He wasn’t used to dealing with such people anymore. The cops didn’t trust him. Random people on the street didn’t trust him either, or they ignored him. He was a one armed black kid. Even if he’d been willing to abandon his coat with all the convenient pockets, he’d still be without an arm. He’d still be a tall black kid, anywhere he went. He’d still look ragged and unkempt and in need of a shower, probably.

“Thank you,” he found himself saying, reaching out and actually taking the card with his real hand, instead of his TK like usual. He held it reverently and with surprise, before stashing it in his wallet. “I’ll… well, I have no idea what I would even do with that much money…”

“You can’t run forever… can you? Call us if you ever run out of room to run,” Princeps offered. Dice nodded.

“I’ll… well, thank you, and goodbye,” he concluded, and turned his back upon them to make for the road and return to his wandering.

He kept walking until all the emotions of the people he had fought beside or rescued had vanished… but she was still in the back of his mind. Not emotions, just a presence, but it was enough. She was still there. He didn’t know what to make of it, but he took a steadying breath and walked onward.

FBI Agent Holder surveyed the wreckage of the building that had previously been known as the Missouri Academy. There, high school aged students had taken classes at Northwest Missouri State University for both high school and college credit.

Now it was pure rubble, though surprisingly, South residence hall, directly next door, had suffered no damage. Police and a large number of MCO agents were on scene, but the ones who really dominated were the National Guard. They were everywhere, at the order of the Governor, though they’d arrived too late to have any part of the battles that had occurred here. Instead, they’d provided relief, medical aid, and all sorts of other assistance. Counselors were being flown in to see to survivors…

Nearby, in a neat double row, twenty five bodies lay. Eight were students, twelve were rescue workers, and reports said the Kansas City Knights, who had vanished from here and reappeared south of the state capital, had lost one of their members. They had also apparently recovered several kidnapping victims from the supervillain.

Five bodies were so mangled they weren’t entirely positive if they were students or rescue workers yet. It would take the coroner time to identify them.

“There are at least five students unaccounted for, and at least three rescue workers. The missing students include Kenzie Baclava and Khokala Zinda, both of them roommates. Also missing are Benjamin Harris, Silvia Fairow, and Brianna Vespers. George Margus, Henry Smith, and Devine Prentice were all part of the efforts to dig the trapped students free when the supervillain hit the rubble with a fireball and burned them to death. The fire damage combined with the gunfire used to put down the, ah, animated corpses-”

Holder held up a hand to stop the officer reading off a report. “Call them Zombies, son. It’s the truth, or good enough.”

“Right, the zombies. Well, with both the burn damage and the bullets and explosives, it’s very hard to identify the last four bodies. We’re trying to check the names against the five women recovered by the Kansas City Knights, but one of them is unconscious at the moment. Another is the heroine Scintillation, and the other three whose names they have do not correspond to any of the women missing,” he explained.

“What information do we have on the missing paranormal interloper, Dice?” Holder asked the man.

“Not much. We can confirm only two sightings of him. He was unconscious during the fight that killed three MCO agents, and he either kidnapped a student or helped some kind of paranormal entity escape the original battle after the professor was knocked clear and the… smoke monster, was killed or whatever happened to it. If you want an account of the incident with the MCO, you’ll have to speak to ‘Special Investigator Wilson,’” the officer said, adding a note of disdain to his voice.


“Ryan and the local boys knew where the line was, and didn’t push it. They weren’t rabid mutant haters either. They were there to deal with the fact this college is generally considered “mutant friendly” so we have a small portion of openly mutant students, mostly cases where the kids couldn’t really hide their mutation. Total opposite of the elitists in Springfield. Wilson…” he didn’t say it, because he didn’t want to accidentally be the guy on record saying it, or so Holder guessed.

Wilson’s opinion of mutants didn’t particularly interest Holder. Only Dice and the sightings of monsters mattered. “Thanks for your help. I think I should have a word with Agent Wilson,” Holder said, shaking the hand of the officer, a young guy by the name of Jameson, before he walked away.

Wilson was responsible for convincing the police to rapidly open fire at the zombies. As a result, only injuries, but no deaths, had resulted, and so far as they could tell, no one had been infected with anything magical or necrotic. Basically, they weren’t looking at a zombie plague… probably. Holder had ordered the bite victims quarantined, just in case. The FBI Office of Special Bounties was an unusual position. They had shared jurisdiction with the DPA, and outright trumped it, in a very specific number of cases of paranormal phenomenon. Most of those circumstances were connected to dealing with things the public didn’t need to know about, because they could do nothing about them. The monsters that really did go bump in the night.

Of course, Holder considered with a twisted grin of self-mockery, in reality they farmed all the work out to the DPA or organizations like the Nightwolves up in New York. The simple fact was, most of Special Bounties was a shell, a joke. They paid out great big cash bounties to private individuals to “bump back.” The reasoning had made sense in the early days, back when both the FBI and especially Special Bounties, had been new. The FBI had no idea how to deal with these things, and the people who did were not the sort to work with the government very willingly… but they still fought the monsters anyways. So a special piece of the budget was created to provide big payouts to people who would deal with the bounties, to encourage them to cooperate with the FBI in the hopes of stealing their secrets so the government could eventually solve the problem themselves.

That was the plan. Was, because the people who did this work were very good at keeping their secrets, especially from an organization as distrusted as the FBI. However, Special Bounties was still there, paying out bounties that hadn’t been updated in nearly sixty years. They were a joke, but somebody had to be involved.

Nowadays, their main purpose was still investigative. They investigated incidents, scenes, and people involved in things related to possible bounty payouts, to ensure bounties would be paid to people who actually earned them, or point organizations like the Nightwolves at appropriate targets. Every blue moon or so, they got to do something more direct, like arrest one of the assholes playing around with the things they posted bounties on, instead of hunting them.

That had a lot to do with why Holder was here, and a lot to do with why he needed to speak to MCO Special Investigator Agent Wilson. The man stood near the wreckage of the Academy looking at it like he would expect a commanding general to survey a battlefield of pyrrhic victory. He had that much arrogance. He’d also kept a lot of people alive last night with his actions and response times.

“Excuse me, but I have some questions for you,” Holder said, stepping up and flipping out his badge. “Special Agent Holder, FBI Special Bounties Office. You are Special Investigator Wilson, MCO?” he asked, keeping his voice strictly professional.

“I am,” Wilson replied, most of the arrogance seeming to vanish from his demeanor as he turned to face Holder. He held out his hand amicably, and Holder shook it professionally. “How can I assist the FBI?” he asked.

“Just need answers to questions nobody else knows enough to ask yet,” Holder stated. Wilson raised his eyebrow. “I’m looking for information on something of great interest to the Bureau. I’m told you were the only other surviving witness to the deaths of your men?”

“Yes, I was, and what I saw is mostly recorded in camera footage I’ve already provided to the police, unedited,” Wilson replied, a little defensively.

Holder nodded, unfazed. “I understand. I’ve seen the footage, as well as the excellent news footage of the end of the original battle with the smoke creature. There are many unclear elements, but something I recognized from other reports that have crossed my desk were a series of translucent purple barriers,” he explained patiently.

Wilson looked up, eyes widening in surprise, then nodded. “Ah, those.”

“According to the police officers I’ve already spoken to, you immediately recognized those barriers as belonging to a wanted fugitive paranormal named Dice. The FBI reached the same conclusion, which is the real reason they sent me out here. It seems the FBI and the MCO may have been after the same prey,” he explained quietly. “I need whatever you can tell me, but I’m willing to share what we know as well,” he added.

Wilson nodded. “Of course, the Bureau will expect me to share first?” he asked.

Holder loosed his first careful smile. “Well, seeing as we have official jurisdiction…” Holder trailed off. He was offering to be nice, but he could see the MCO booted off this business and demand that information another way. It would take longer and he’d get less accurate intel… but he could. The MCO would either get nothing, or info even less useful than what they’d likely give the Bureau. The Bureau was infamous for loathing the MCO, it was rare they were willing to play nice.

There was no possible way, Holder surmised, that Wilson didn’t know that. He was being offered a hell of a deal, he just had to talk first. “Alright, done. Where should I start?”

“I want what the MCO knows about today, as well as what you know about Dice’s origins,” he explained. “We’ve never seen the MCO’s full report on that incident, just the incomplete police reports. Special Bounties investigated that incident, but we didn’t get there until almost a week after it happened. Your boys were on top of it from day one,” Holder admitted with a shrug.

“Today was the fourth time I’ve encountered Dice. I wasn’t part of the team that encountered him after he manifested. If I was, I’d be dead. I was brought in only after Dice had already been involved in a second incident involving the MCO. A capture team working with state troopers lost several men in that incident, so they called me in for it. I supposed I could start with his origins,” Wilson said, turning to look at the mass of people moving about, trying to do what they could to clean up a disaster of epic proportions.

“Dice didn’t show up on our radar until after the police called for more specialized backup. Denver has a touch and go relationship with the MCO, more so than the rest of Colorado, but the suburbs know when it's easier to call in us than Denver PD or a hero team. Dice was running from his house, and ran into a patrol unit. According to the dispatcher reports and dashcam video, he looked very panicked, but calmed down incredibly fast once confronted by the police. Remarkable, considering the relationship the average African-American has with the police. He said a monster had attacked his house and he needed help. The patrol unit said they would take him home in the back and have a look. They left him in the car,” Wilson pulled out a pipe and put it in his mouth, and started chewing on the stem, but he didn’t light it. Campus rules said no smoking, afterall.

“That car was later found ripped apart by another unit that was asked to have a look for the original unit responding, which wasn’t answering the dispatcher. Dice was still around the area, and made contact. He was described as frantic, angry, disrespectful, loud, and black by the unit on the scene. He refused to explain anything, just yelling at them to get away from his house. When officers attempted to restrain him, he hit one with his one baton and ran. That officer suffered a head wound and remained outside the house. The units that went in did not come out. That, coupled with the ruined patrol car and the probable evidence of an out of control empowered teenager, prompted local PD to contact the MCO for assistance. We sent in four officers backed by SWAT.” Wilson paused and took a deep breath.

“Our agents had a live video feed, and remained in constant contact, describing the scene. As you probably know from the report we filed with PD, the video feed cut off as soon as they were inside, but the audio… that didn’t.” He spat out a bit of wood he’d chewed off the stem of his pipe before he continued. “Our agents described finding the body of his mother, or at least, the lower half of an african american female of the appropriate age. Being as no other women were known to be involved at the time, they assumed it to be his mother. DNA later confirmed that. The father was found all over the house. The five missing police officers were located upstairs in what was identified as Dice’s bedroom, dangling from the ceiling. The officer who’d gotten a bit racist with Dice had apparently suffered the most before death, given the coroner report. Lots of bits of his flesh ripped off, no single one fatal. It was determined he’d been allowed to, very slowly, bleed to death before chunks were bitten off him.”

Holder didn’t particularly like the sound of the way Wilson was describing the scene, but it fit with the information he already had, though with a smattering of extra details. “They were arranged in a semi-circle, each hung with bits of wire ripped out of the walls of the house. There was a circle connected to the occult drawn onto the floor of the room. The carpet had been ripped up to make room for it. A second one was drawn in blood on the ceiling. Neither was finished. However, I’ve seen the photographs. We were able to get someone to look at them before they… fuzzed. We still don’t know why the photographs were corrupted. It was described as a summoning circle for some kind of very powerful demon, designed to release the creature, not contain it. It wouldn’t function at all until it was finished, however. Lucky for us, it was never completed.”

Holder nodded along.

“Dice reappeared at that point. The units outside reported him as pleading fearfully for everyone to get out, before slowly turning into a screaming angry lunatic ranting at the cops to get away from his house. At about that point, the agents inside realized one of the SWAT team and one of the MCO team were missing. We lost all four members of the MCO and half of the four SWAT team members. The last two made it out alive, but they never fully recovered their sanity. Their still in a psychiatric ward.”

Holder blinked. He’d not been able to learn the fate of the two surviving SWAT members. “Dice ran away again, and he hasn’t been seen near his house since then. When we came back the fourth time, we brought the local hero team, more SWAT, and our power armor frames. We lost most of the house, including the circles, in the process of killing whatever that thing was. We still are not sure precisely what it was, but it was believed to be a lower order of demonic entity,” he finished.

“Given later evidence of footprints, fingerprints, and his actions, warrants were issued for Dice’s arrest in for questioning in connection to the deaths, and the DA pushed to file for charges of Murder in the First,” Wilson concluded. “Of course, we’ve only ever once got Dice near custody. That was last night.” Wilson began to clinically explain the situation that had occurred the night prior, explaining everything that had occurred outside the view of the camera.

He had pursued Dice with Power Armor, replacing one of the four local pilots. The frames were nearly five years old, with very standard and outdated armaments, but in the MCO’s experience, Dice had never proven a major threat to massed fire or Power Armor. Proper insulation and shock absorbers could defend against his magical lightning blasts and hammers. Bullets and explosives could overcome the purple barriers he used to defend himself. The MCO frames were all equipped with capture gels, foams, and nets as well. The MCO very much wanted Dice alive.

Things went wrong when they found the flying minions of the supervillain first. They shot one down and then two, and pursued them. However, by the time they reached the second downed flier, a female with GSD that caused her to have red skin and look part bird, the mutant had regenerated. She and an unknown female seen in the video assaulted the MCO and devastated their power armor. Both paranormals, probably mutants, were able to bypass the defenses of the MCO power armor frames and disable them.

Things after that followed in line with the video. The girl performed a ritual of some sort, killing his officers and reviving Dice, who had been shot during the fighting. Why wasn’t clear to Wilson, and he claimed it wasn’t his place to speculate. Dice lived, but then they abandoned him and left him to rot along with Wilson. He didn’t know for sure why he was left alive.

“What little is visible in the news video of the original incident shows that the slightly taller girl who attacked my men, who was on the ground afterwards, fits the visible profile of the thing Dice attacks and later flees with from both us and the Supervillain Endeavor,” Wilson concluded. He didn’t actually make any conclusions, it was obvious he wanted Holder to make those.

Holder was tempted to make them, too. Dice’s behavior was odd. The girl’s presence was odd. Reports showed her cooperating with a supervillain, as did the video. If she was the girl from the original incident, she’d also attacked the professor and killed the smoke monster. However, the one thing Wilson didn’t explain was why Dice stopped the girl from attacking the police and MCO in the original incident. Holder didn’t speculate, but it was an oddity he wanted answered.

“Our interest in Dice is a result of the fact our evidence suggests Dice’s involvement in at least thirty seven open cases falling under Special Bounties jurisdiction. He is the only common element to the cases, and the bosses want answers. I’ll share the files with you, come on,” Holder urged, leading Wilson away.

Endeavor frowned as he opened his eyes and looked about. He was on the deck of his ship, with several crew members standing cautiously over him. “Sir? Are you awake?” his captain asked carefully.

“Captain, what the hell happened?” the gargoyle shaped man demanded angrily, clenching both fists. He could see the shield and shadows wrapping his ship, and no sign of heroes or anyone else. He had a feeling he knew, because he could remember a great deal of pain.

“You were wounded sir. The heroes overwhelmed your defenses with a concentrated barrage and then a coordinated strike by Princeps and Lionheart. The attack threw you onto the deck, wounded and unconscious. Your shield restored itself, and we’d fixed the shadow-drive. Without you to provide the majority of our firepower and direction, I ordered the ship to withdraw at full speed,” he explained.

Endeavor felt fire blossom across him as his temper threatened to boil, but he contained his rage with very careful breathing exercises. He’d gone through a great deal of painful effort to gain control, he refused to surrender it like this. The captain had made a wise tactical decision. He rightly believed without Endeavor they couldn’t overcome the heroes.

“You made a correct decision, Captain. Give me a full inventory. Start with damages.”

“Sir!” the men around him saluted as he climbed to his feet and stood tall, over seven feet of stone skinned monster. “All main shipborne weapon systems were manually disabled, but in a few hours we can have them all up. We’ve got three working already. The saboteur kept it simple, he didn’t waste time breaking anything, instead he just disassembled them. There are two holes in the ship’s hull, one directly outside Toy training room #1, the other close to the brig on deck #3. There are holes in deck #3’s floor leading into the hold and into the Energizer room where Toys #2 and #3 were being kept. Both prisoners are missing from their cells. The shield… we aren’t sure how the saboteur disabled it, nor do we know why it turned back on,” the captain explained with a gulp of fear.

“I do not expect you to know how it works, Captain. You are not an initiate into the mystic arts, after all. I will determine what was done myself,” Endeavor stated, considering. They’d blown holes in his ship and stolen five of his toys. Today was proving to be a near total loss, a complete disaster from start to finish. “Captain, what about the extra captures held in the brig?”

The captain turned towards one of the other men, and nodded. The man stepped forward. “Sir! I was dispatched to secure all prisoners when battle began. I regret to report I failed, however, your magical charms functioned as you described regarding the two captives in cells A and B. Both of the girls taken from the University campus are still there, the heroes did not rescue them.”

Endeavor nodded. “How did you fail? What did you do?” he asked, deceptively calm.

“I reported to the brig to find Miss, ah, your pet, Froggy, already there. She demanded to know what I was doing and I explained. She ordered me to guard the door and saw to the prisoners herself. However, she was unaware of the two prisoners in cells A and B. She only noticed the prisoners in Cells E and F. We noticed irregular behavior in your special prize, sir. She ordered me to contact you about it. The girl was complaining of extreme hunger and weakness. She looked… she did not look well, sir.”

Endeavor frowned. Froggy had disobeyed his orders to remain in her room and gone to the brig, but the heroes had left her behind. They also hadn’t seen his two other prizes. A young girl snuck from the wreckage of the dorm, and another captured from the crowd fleeing his entrance. Both had been divined by him as energizers… one of them was also a latent mage, he suspected. He was always glad of more pawns and tools to add to his power. He chose women because he also enjoyed breaking them and the feel of their bodies.

He had placed special charms on all six of those cells. Each charm would prevent someone outside it from truly perceiving what was inside… unless they knew what they were looking for. The heroes, including Dice, had known he held both the girl and the heroine. That made locating both girls without help plausible, but Froggy’s actions were worrisome. However, he was glad to know the two women the heroes didn’t know about had utterly escaped their notice and Froggy’s.

“Where is Froggy now?” he asked.

“I was knocked unconscious by the boy called Dice just after he entered the ship. When I came to, Froggy was tied up inside Cell E with a large number of cables, ropes, wires, and other things. She was unconscious, asleep more-like. I would guess exhaustion,” the man supplied.

“What was your name?”

“Henry Calville, Sir,” Calville replied.

“Well, Henry Calville, I did not ask for your speculations. Do not give them to me unless I ask. I also recall there being standing orders that Froggy is only to be addressed with male pronouns. Do not forget that. Now, where is he?”

“Sir! Froggy is in his assigned room on the second floor!” Calville replied stiffly.

“The rest of you, get to work. Calville, Captain, follow me. I must examine Froggy and see if he is a traitor or just foolish,” Endeavor ordered, striding towards the stairs near his room. The two men followed behind him rapidly as Endeavor cleared his mind and focused on ordering his thoughts and making decisions on what to do next. This entire affair had gone wrong because of Dice, and he’d failed to acquire his primary objective.

He strode into the room containing Froggy. The boy pretending to be a girl was sleeping under the sheets, all tucked in nice and neat. Endeavor strode up and sat down on the bunk next to the boy’s head, stroking it fondly to establish contact with him as the villain glanced at Calville. The man had allowed a very fond look to grace his face as he looked at the boy. So, he was Calville’s type. The man was sweet on Froggy! Distracted, Endeavor pulled up Froggy’s memories of Calville, and the girlboy had noticed it as well, but been far less sure if it was simple ignorance or something more.

For a brief moment, Endeavor almost fired Calville on the spot. Then he reconsidered. If Froggy was merely a fool and not a traitor, he might be able to use Calville’s affection for him to further his control of the girlboy. He slipped thoughts of Calville and his “gentle, warm embrace” into the head under his hand, suggesting he should accept the man’s affections and advances. Then he began digging into the boy’s memories of the night. He watched everything, including the terror of failing him as he pursued his master’s goals. Froggy was as afraid of reward as failure, or nearly so. He slightly wiped away a little of the fear he held of reward again, so the girlgoy would be just a little quicker to bend to his whims as he needed. He also heightened the fear of failure.

Endeavor moved on. He found Froggy’s memories of failing to sleep after he was done rewarding his toy, and the decision to try and earn his approval when the attack began. He was pleased with that. Froggy had gone down to secure the prisoners himself, assuming correctly the heroes had come for them. He watched and listening to the conversations with both Calville and the girl, who called herself Hollow. Froggy’s memories blacked out as the door opened again and he saw Dice enter the brig.

The very last of Froggy’s memories was Dice binding the girlboy with all the things Calville had described, and that was when Froggy’s memory ended. Everything else was dreams.

Endeavor stood up and left Froggy to his dreams. Froggy had disobeyed Endeavor, but for a reason Endeavor desired to encourage. He saw no need to punish the girlboy at this time. He would use mundane punishments for his toy’s failure to secure his prisoners and for disobeying his orders, but it would not have to involve anything truly unpleasant. Just enough to reinforce Endeavor’s displeasure.

“Calville, keep watch outside. Captain, I am heading to my study, ensure I am not disturbed,” he ordered as he strode out. He would have to make corrections to the timeline of his plan. There were many matters to attend to, but one trumped all.

Calville snapped to attention and walked out to stand at the door. The Captain saluted and strode off to do his own job, as Endeavor headed down the stairs and down again, until he reached the belly of the ship. He walked through the hold, glancing idly at the damage Dice had inflicted to his beloved vessel. He clamped down hard on the anger that boiled up, and strode past the damage to the back of the hold.

To distract himself, he glanced into Froggy’s head. The girlboy was already dreaming of Calville. The dream was of Calville, shirtless, slowly pulling Froggy in and kissing Endeavor’s favorite pet tenderly on the lips. The kiss slowly deepened in passion as it continued. Endeavor smiled as he reached his study. All was going as he wanted on that front. His hidden door recognized his presence and swung itself open for him without him having to lift a finger.

Endeavor walked inside and it swung shut, causing his private study to vanish. He strode to the rug at the center, and took his seat. He began to breath carefully until he was in tune with the hum of his ship. When that happened, he began channeling his essence. He’d taken a great deal of extra essence from the very plentiful stores available to Froggy, and his own WIZ trait had gained him more. He had enough for this. The essence flowed, shaped automatically by the fung shui of the room and twisted itself as he desired.

A creature in blue began to resolve like mist into being before him. It was entwined about with what looked like barbed wire made of iron. The pointed ears suggested much about the nature of the spirit. “Why did you not foresee the boy, Dice?” he demanded of the spirit he had carefully bound and enslaved to his will. His eyes remained closed and his breathing rhythmic as he spoke.

“He is a maverick, a walking mar on the pattern of the world,” the spirit of the oracle replied, grimacing in pain. “He cannot be seen but in tiny glimpses at random, and events are twisted around him, leaving the outcomes mared. He is not foretold. He is not foreseen. No fate touches him…”

Endeavor knew the spirit could tell him no lie. He had made sure of that. “That will be a problem. When next can I find my prize?” he demanded of it.

“I cannot see all ends, and less still can I see where the boy treads, but I see her in the east, a few moons hence. In five moons, I see her again somewhere west, beyond the mountains near the sea. Then… then I do not see her again, until your goal is ended,” the spirit informed its master, still grimacing in pain. Endeavor snarled, and with a wave of his hand, dismissed it, granting reprieve from the torment of its summoning. The essence began moving again as Endeavor shifted himself two feet to the left. Once more the fung shui of the room took hold and once more, the essence was shaped automatically as Endeavor desired.

Slowly, an image of something red flicked into life in front of him. “Master, I must report abject failure,” he intoned.

“Indeed? Please, my beloved apprentice, tell me everything, so we may take appropriate action for next time,” the voice of his master replied. Endeavor obeyed.

Her eyes snapped open as she felt something splash her face. She looked around frantically until she could focus on what had gotten her wet. A man lay in a tub next to her, and his hand was dripping with water.

“I see you are awake, Miss Zinda,” he said weakly. He looked like he was in bad shape, but he gave her a smile. With a start, Hollow realized she was looking at Rainstep. She’d fantasized about meeting him… and her fantasy were nothing like this, seeing his badly battered body soaking in some kind of special tub while she was literally bound hand and feet.

“Where am I? What’s going on?” she asked frantically.

“You are safe in the Knights’ transport. Lionheart had you tied down so you wouldn’t hurt yourself or anyone else with all your thrashing about,” Rainstep replied calmly. “Sorry for splashing water on your face, but my water has odd properties, I hoped it would help and… I guess it did.”

Someone stepped into the room she shared with the hero. It was Lionheart himself. “Ah, I see you’re awake, little lady,” he rumbled as he strode up to her. “If you would kindly hold still, I can get you out of these restraints. Do you know where you are?” he asked gently.

She nodded, holding still as his clawed, yet so very velvety soft, hands undid her restraints carefully. She slowly sat up and swung her legs down as she looked around. “Dice… he left, didn’t he?” she gave voice to the fear just beginning to grow inside. She remembered now. The conversation. Dice had said goodbye because he didn’t want to endure the pain of parting with her awake. He didn’t want to feel her when she said goodbye…

Lionheart nodded gently. “He did. He is alright, and you are safe,” he assured her.

She shook her head. “No, I’m not. None of us are, because… the monsters will come. I heard you, I heard him… I remember now…” she was beginning to shake, but she gripped the edge of the seat with all her strength and held it back. “I was so hungry, and I knew… my scent draws my prey. It brings me food, but… I can’t turn it off. I can’t! You’re all in danger!” she insisted, looking at Lionheart worriedly.

Gently, he reached out and set a massive hand on her shoulder. She felt Rainstep touch her leg. “We can deal with that. It will be alright,” he told her in his deep rumbling voice. She wanted badly to believe him… but she knew she was dangerous to them all. What would happen if she got too hungry again? Who would snap her out of it this time, without Dice? He’d saved her from herself twice!

“Hollow, Hollow, it’s ok, you’re safe and we will protect you,” Lionheart promised her.

“What about the video?” she asked as she curled into a ball, knees to her chin, looking down at the floor. “It was… the MCO had video of me attacking them, didn’t they? I did it cause that minion was threatening Dice and the girl… she said that was my only option, if I wanted to save him… but they won’t buy that. The MCO will just take me away… how can you protect me from myself?” she asked. Lionheart’s face looked stricken as she looked up at it.

“We’ve got some good lawyers on our side. We’ll get you out of this, I promise,” he told her. “I’ve got to go see to a few things, but Rain… damn. Just stay here, I’ll send Auceps in to keep an eye on you, ok?” he asked. Rainstep had slipped back into unconsciousness.

She nodded, and the lionman walked to the front of the craft and spoke to someone in the front portion, telling him to come back and look after her. Then he walked out the side door. A moment later, a rat that looked a little human walked into the space, taking in the sight of her.

He walked over and hopped onto the seat next to her. “So, what’s eatin ya, kiddo?” he asked in a squeaky voice. Unexpectedly, Hollow felt a giggle escape her at the unquestionably odd sight.

“That bad, huh?” he responded with what she hoped was a smile.

“I’m not safe to be around. I… my scent attracts monsters. I’m a threat to all of you, and the MCO is gonna take me away, cause I attacked them. I helped get some of their men killed. The police will have warrants out for my arrest, and my appearance is really distinctive,” she muttered. “I’ll be identified unless I live in hiding for the rest of my life. I don’t want to live in hiding…” she added. “I don’t want to get taken away… and…”

“He ditched you,” Auceps finished for her. “You probably get why, but he left and you didn’t get a say in it, and that eats at you. I may not get all the emotions you humans go through, but that much I do. I’m the result of some bastard’s lab experiment. I’m a super genius supersized rat. I was abandoned a lot, but this one guy, he stuck by me. Had no reason to, didn’t want anything from me, just… decided to stick his nose in. No benefit for him, nothing but risk, and to help some random as hell science experiment!” he exclaimed with a chuckle. “I tell ya, what a sucker he was. But still, he did it anyways. He got me free, he got me declared “A sapient being and a properly born natural citizen of the US,” with all the rights and shit. Cause I was born in the US, and the experiments were conducted here too. So he sued on my behalf, nearly drowned in the legal fees, but he got me freed! Then he just tried to walk off, told me to go live my life, ya know?”

He sat a paw on her leg. “So I followed him. You met Keggers yet? He’s the idiot that saved my life. Lionheart ain’t gonna thank me for saying this, but I’m not human, I’m a rat. Why should I give my own behind what society thinks the right thing to do is?” he asked, getting another laugh out of her. “You do what ya gotta do, kid. What you think is right. It’s the only way to learn. Follow your heart,” he advised. He nodded sagely with what she was now certain was a massive grin, and turned to squeakily walk back into the room he’d been in. “I’m just gonna step into the cockpit here. Oh, Lionheart left a bag of extra supplies, a tent, blankets, and shit over there by the door. Just in case or something. I dunno, but he did. I gotta grab something, but I’ll be right back out, so don’t go anywhere,” the rat admonished her with a laugh and a squeak.

She smiled, understanding his intent. As soon as he walked into the cockpit she ran to the door and grabbed the pack. Someone had put a fresh, but badly fitted, shirt on her at some point, for which she was grateful. She slapped what she guessed to be the door control and ran outside. Lionheart looked up at her, but she turned and ran, following her nose. She knew where Dice was. She could smell him. She wasn’t safe with the Knights. She put them in danger, both monstrous and legal. Dice though… he’d already proved himself up to the task. He wasn’t going to get away with running out on her! There was no way she was going to leave him alone again!

Dice paused for a moment on his trek northward. He’d been walking for nearly an hour. At first, he’d considered stopping and setting up camp, but the phone the Knights had given him included a GPS. It was a fairly new smartphone and it contained an unlimited data plan as well. There was a motel another thirty minutes away. He could get a room there for the day. No one was looking for Dice out here. The Knights had promised to say nothing about his part in the rescue, and the girls all agreed. They owed him their lives, they said. They wouldn’t betray him.

What had prompted his pause was a change in the sensation in his head. The little blip that was Hollow. It was getting closer. He turned towards it, waiting. He could guess what it meant, and part of him was grateful. He was tired of being alone, yet how could he just accept letting her come? Then again… how could he stop her, unless the Knights could? Then… if they could stop her, they would have, he decided. He just smiled a little, as he felt Hollow getting closer and closer.

Lionheart loosed a rumbling sigh of resignation as he watched Hollow’s retreating form. It was possible he could catch her. He was reasonably fast in flight, but she could outmaneuver him since she could walk on air. She was running at speeds akin to an Exemplar 5, and he was only a 4 without his shell.

He’d known as soon as he left Auceps in charge of watching her this might happen. He’d made it her decision. The fact was… he didn’t believe he could protect her. He’d have done everything in his power, so long as she was willing, but at the moment, he wasn’t sure he had any options that would have kept her out of MCO hands. The moment they got hold of her, she’d be gone forever. Or… until Dice could find her, if she wasn’t killed first. Then she’d be on the run again anyways.

So he’d set a second pack aside, and left the one member of his crew he knew would give advice he could never offer in charge of her. Jimmy didn’t think like a man. He understood, for the most part, how humans thought, but he wasn’t human. He did, however, understand repaying a person who saved your life for no reason but one. It was just what one did. That was why he trusted Keggers, and so long as there was Keggers, there was Jimmy.

Plenty of professional heroes, veterans even he was junior to, would cry foul. They would hate or detest him for letting a teenaged girl run off to join the wandering of a black teenaged boy, or if they weren’t stupid, just a teenaged boy. However… Lionheart felt he understood Dice better than that. Dice would never take advantage of her. It was the line he could not cross. It was part of what separated him from the monsters, and Dice… Dice was a good man. He fought the night because the night came to him, but he would not join it. He refused to become what he fought. Dice was strong. Dice would do what Lionheart could not.

In so doing, he would let Lionheart do all he could. Most importantly… Lionheart’s team, Lionheart’s people, would be safe. “Boss… Richard… are you sure?” Princeps asked him nervously. The young man stood behind him, watching her go.

“I genuinely doubt I could catch her. Even if I could, it would take a lot to restrain her. Those blades went through my PK shield like butter, Will. They’ll do the same to steel. We can’t force her to stay, it’s that simple. We’ve done all we can to aid them directly. The rest is a job for money and lawyers. Somebody needs to start straightening out the defense for those two, when the time comes. For the one we didn’t save, as well. All three will need our help in the future, when the law catches up or there’s nowhere left to run. We’ll be there, and we’ll be ready,” he promised. Lionheart kept his promises, as best he was able. It wasn’t magic. It wasn’t mystic. It was just what one did. A knight kept his oaths and looked after his own.

Hollow saw Dice ahead of her, watching her approach, just waiting for her. She slid to a stop on the air, the cold december air slowly warming in the light of the rising sun. “You left me,” she stated.

“I thought it was the right thing to do,” he replied, grinning. “I’m happy to say I was wrong,” he added.

She blinked in surprise. “You are?”

“I know I can’t make you go back. If this is your choice… I’m glad I’m not alone anymore,” he replied.

She leapt at him, enveloping him in a hug. “I promise, you won’t ever be alone again. I’m staying with you. I’m not safe anywhere else. I’m your friend, Dice,” she insisted, looking up at him with her own smile. “Don’t forget it,” she added as an order.

“I won-” he started to reply, then his gaze snapped to his left. He snapped into a guarded posture, a barrier snapping into place. Hollow followed him, blades appearing in her hands as she slid into what she hoped was a defensive posture of her own.

A man walked out of a portal in the air, stepping onto the ground. He looked at them curiously, then held up a package in his arms. “I have a delivery for a Lucas Koenig, from a Mrs. Potter. I was told to be at this GPS location, at this time, and deliver it to a one-armed boy in a long coat, but only if he was accompanied by an Indian girl in a too big coat with swords and horns on her head. That would appear to be the pair of you. Could you sign for it please?” he asked, holding up a clipboard.

Dice goggled at the guy, looking from package, to the clipboard, to the man. Then his shield vanished. Hollow could only guess his empathy had told Dice that the delivery warper spoke the truth.

Dice took the package carefully, and signed for it. “Thanks, good luck,” he added, and vanished the way he’d arrived, his portal closing behind him.

Dice looked at where the man had been, then his TK grabbed the package and hauled it some thirty feet away and tore it open. It tipped onto the side as the box opened, revealing a letter and a scroll. The inside the box was festooned with wards that had kept her sight from noticing the magic contained within, but the scroll was suffused with a warm soft glow. “It’s magic…” she whispered.

Slowly, the box, card, and scroll all floated closer. The card turned out to be a letter, which Dice opened slowly. “It’s addressed to me,” he muttered in mock surprise.

Dear Mr. Lucas Koenig,
My name is not important. You will one day find a time when you decide that you cannot run away. When that day comes, I hope you will call the number I have listed here. It will help you. The scroll is a gift, to help you survive to see that day. I hope it helps. I will not wish you good luck, that would be a waste on you. God go with you, young Dice.

There was no signature. A phone number followed it instead.

The two of them stared at it in surprise, rereading it several times, before unrolling the scroll. “I… it’s Greek,” Dice said in surprise. “That’s helpful, I don’t read Greek…”

“I do,” Hollow spoke up. “But this is old. Incredibly old. I can’t believe this thing is even still in such good condition. Maybe it’s the magic…” she mused.

Dice shrugged. “Perhaps,” he replied, rolling up the scroll and tucking both inside his coat. “There’s a motel a short walk from here. I could use some sleep in a real bed for once… you coming?” he asked.

She nodded, and the pair of them started walking again. They weren’t sure of their future, but each felt better to have the other to hand. A lot of strange events had happened in the past eight hours, but many more were sure to follow. At this time, Dice wouldn’t face them all alone.

He started humming a song, and when to his delight Hollow joined in, he began to sing.
Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are our feet,
Still round the corner we may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but we alone.
Tree and flower and leaf and grass,
Let them pass! Let them pass!
Hill and water under sky,
Pass them by! Pass them by!
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
Apple, thorn, and nut and sloe,
Let them go! Let them go!
Sand and stone and pool and dell,
Fare you well! Fare you well!
Home is behind, the world ahead,
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows to the edge of night,
Until the stars are all alight.
The world behind and home ahead,
We'll wander back to home and bed.
Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
Fire and lamp, and meat and bread,
And then to bed! And then to bed!
To be Continued...

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Last Edit: 3 years 2 weeks ago by Iwasforger03.
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3 years 2 weeks ago #41194 by Iwasforger03
Iwasforger03 replied the topic: Dice/Hollow #1 - Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
What follows is actually the prologue, set at the beginning of the Story. I post it here so it is obvious something was added to the story. It will also be edited into the original post. You don't need to read it twice.

Can you hear the rattle of rolling dice?

December 12th, 2015
1400 hours
Maryville, MO, United States
The “Acadabox” aka Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics, and Technology

“Kho, get your ass in gear, we’re gonna be late for our final!” Khōkhalā Zinda’s roommate Kenzie yelled, trying to usher her out the door. Khōkhalā grumbled as she pulled herself away from the laptop she had been issued by the school and slammed the lid shut.

“I am trying to write here!” she complained to her roommate. Khōkhalā was 5’5” of very beautiful Indian girl. She was dressed like a typical American teenager. As far as she was concerned, she was a typical American teenager. Her parents were from India, but she born here in the US, and no amount of family visits to the “homeland” would change that.. This was also her first semester of college! She was in college at fifteen!

She was a physics major because there was good money in physics, but she had signed up for a minor in literature. It was the end of the semester, and she and Kenzie both got stuck with finals that ended monday. She was stuck here for the weekend. It could be worse, so was Kenzie. It was not like she would be alone.

“Ugh, physics,” Kenzie muttered once Hollow joined her in the hallway. They vacated the place, heading north out the backdoor and past the library up to Garret-Strong, the science building. “Why did I agree to take physics as a freshman?” she muttered again as they walked up the front steps inside, past the shiny little faux-cafe, and to the left. Not that Kenzie was a normal freshman. She was a highschool junior, just like Khōkhalā. She was just also a college freshman.

“Because you thought there was money in physics?” Khōkhalā replied. As if she was alone in her motivations for her major. Their shared major was part of the reason they were rooming together, despite the age difference. Of course, that would have been a problem no matter who Khōkhalā roomed with. “It is not that bad, you can handle it. We studied plenty yesterday. You can handle this,” she assured her roommate with a shoulder squeeze.

Kenzie flashed her a grateful smile. She shifted a little nervously when she saw some of the college boys looking their way. They were smiling at Khōkhalā, not her. Kenzie was overweight, and she didn’t know how to make that work for her. Hollow had seen girls heavier than her who knew how to dress and walk with a confidence that made them of great interest to the boys, but Kenzie didn’t have that. She had wide hips and nice breasts, the kind a boy might like to play with, Khōkhalā would guess. Certainly larger than Khōkhalā’s A cups by a good bit. She just had no confidence to make herself seem more appealing or interesting.

The test was conducted by their physics teacher, a severe looking older woman who had no real sense of nonsense. She did not accept jokes in her class, she did not accept snarks or asides. There was no talking. Khōkhalā sat down in her seat, a little annoyed. Her muse had really been on track today when her roommate dragged her out for their 2:15pm class. Physics was only on fridays and it was nearly three hours long. The test, however, would not be anywhere near that bad.

Khōkhalā expected at least a 95 out of a 100. She expected Kenzie, despite her fear, to do even better. Kenzie was one of the smartest girls she knew. If only she had the looks to boost her confidence. Still, she couldn’t worry about her roommates stellar academic performance yet, she had a Physics Final to complete.

“Alright. Once all of you have your copy of the test, I will tell you to flip it,” her teacher began, sounding annoyed. “Then you may begin. Remember, all answers go on the scantron, show your work on the scratch paper provided. You are expected to provide your own pencils and erasers. Do not talk, chat, or check your phones. If you brought a VI into my classroom and failed to place it on the desk, I will fail you,” she stated fiercely.

No one voiced a complaint, but one person scurried up to the desk and put their VI on the desk, switched off. She smiled smugly at him, then turned to the rest of them. She began setting test papers on the desks one at a time. When every student had their test, she sat down at her own desk at the front of the room. “Begin.”

Khōkhalā flipped her test her, licked her lips, and licked her pencil for luck, and begin. She had of habit of licking her pencil when she studied. She’d read a blurb in a magazine article from her mother which explained that the taste you remember as you study helps you recall the same info while you take a test. Some teachers would not let you eat candy or chew gum, but no teacher objected to pens and pencils. It was not a pleasant taste, but she thought it worked.

The test really wasn’t all that difficult, she thought. At least, the beginning was not. This was all the things they had done in class or lab. It was in the books and notes they had used to study last night. However, as the test wore on, she started feeling a bit too warm. She had dressed for the weather, so maybe that was it. She pulled off her sweater, which seemed to help a little.

She was nearly done with the test before she was sure she was sweating, but she still managed to finish the test. She slumped into her seat with nearly twenty minutes to go, and slowly began rechecking her answers nervously, worried that her distraction might have thrown off her answers. She was only halfway through rechecking when her sweating stopped and she felt normal again. She finished rechecking everything and realized she still had ten minutes to go, which surprised her. She had expected she would be chased down to the wire rechecking her test.

As soon as they were free of the test, Kenzie grabbed her arm. “Kho, you alright?” she asked nervously.

“Sure, no problem,” Khōkhalā replied with a smile. “Just a little warm for some reason, but I am alright. Come on, let us go see if we can catch a few of the others before dinner,” she said, pulling Kenzie along. They walked off, talking about what they’d do to keep themselves entertained of the weekend wait for monday so they could be clear of all their finals and go home. For Khōkhalā, home was no longer good old St. Joe, but instead this new little town in Illinois. Her father had gotten a job there as an accountant with a local law firm. Her parents had decided that since she’d made it into college, it was time to move themselves out of a big city and into someplace with a nice proper Hindu community.

They chatted with their small circle of mutual friends at “The Circle,” which was the gathering place both for the nerds and nerdettes of the Anime Club, the barely alive Fellowship of the Tower, and the strongly represented Common Ground clubs. All three of which had a great deal of overlapping members. The real fun was missing however, since most of the regulars were already out of town for winter break. Still there were a few people around to have some fun with.

Eyes glowed in the darkness of the private study, recessed deep within the bowels of the ship. They reflected the light of a figured wrapped in barbed wire, writhing in pain. “What I seek will be here?” the voice attached to those eyes asked.

“Yes… there is where it will form, tonight, just before midnight. You must be swift. Linger too long, and my vision cannot see what occurs,” the figure replied in pain.

“I will have my prize,” the voice of the eyes muttered, as a massive tall body, long wings draped across its form like a cloak, stood to its full height and strode out of the chamber. “The Missouri Academy? Well, there are odder places, but it will do for a debut,” the figure mused as it exited its private study to prepare for its endeavor.

After hanging at The Circle and getting dinner, they headed back to their room inside the “Acadabox” as it was affectionately nicknamed. It had better security, harsher punishments, regular patrols, restricted internet, curfew, lights out rules, and a variety of other things to keep the underaged residents safe and out of mischief. Thus, the rest of the university students nicknamed it “The Acadabox” in reference to it being the box where the Academy students were kept. The pair of them were back ahead of lights out. While Kenzie sat down to compose an email to her parents about her tests and watch one of her favorite tv shows, Khōkhalā put together her plans to write her latest fanfiction idea. She had a brilliant idea for a story about an Arrancar that had the “releases” of a Shinigami. It was a little odd, but she was also planning for it to be a crossover with Mahou Sensei Negima, her other favorite manga.

Lost in another world, forced to manifest, eating souls of good and evil alike to sate his insatiable hunger… She could feel her muse prickling, singing itself back to life as she started writing down her plan for the story. It was going to be a good weekend, she could feel it.

I am a Sexy Shoeless God of War - So suck it CP!

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