Before the Villain Maker could complete the word “them”, Echo whirled and used a “gentle” palm strike to send me flying into the lantern boy. When I saw the kid, I figured she would do something like the moment a fight started, so I was ready. I possessed him on contact. He must have been powerful, because I immediately felt the strain.
There was something odd about this possession. As I slipped into the body, I felt his consciousness wrestling with me. I felt him push back against my will. That had never happened before. I had to focus and concentrate on maintaining control. My movements in his body were sluggish; I was still in charge, but I could feel him clawing at me frantically, disrupting my commands to his body.
Assessing his power was also a struggle. I could tell he had some kind of energy blast from his lantern, but that was about it. Gritting his teeth, I swung the thing sluggishly towards Cero. The violet-eyed woman had already stepped in front of her and formed a translucent-pink force field around them both.
Unfortunately, the shield allowed people to attack from within. Cero pulled out a large handgun and shot me in the head before I could activate the lantern-boy’s power. I was immediately kicked out of the body, and I collapsed, my vision swimming. I had not had sufficient time to recover fully from possessing Dragondancer and attempting to possess the boy had been even worse.
Cero shot at me again, but I had managed to roll, so the bullet struck my shoulder. It had to be a magnum or something equally powerful, because despite my durability, I felt the bones crack as the bullet buried itself in my flesh. I managed not to cry out, and kept my roll going to try and get to my feet. Unfortunately, doing so depending on me lifting off from my now injured arm, and I’d already been in the process of using it to try and stand. Instead, as the pain lanced into me, I dropped back to the ground. Cero hit me three more times in the chest and once in the skull before her gun ran out. My vision swam again as the wind was blasted out of my lungs and agonizing pain shot through me. I swore I felt my skull crack.
The woman in the kimono leaped at me. I was already shifting my body, having toughened it as far as my slight frame could get, and sprouting two blade whips from my back. I lashed forward with speed that even Echo would find difficult to dodge, but the woman ducked under them easily. She reached up and snagged them, and I instantly felt them freeze, right down towards the root. I disconnected them and let them fall off, so the freezing effect wouldn’t take hold on the rest of me. I leaped back and her frozen hand barely missed me. Frost collected on my face as the white mist trailed off her fingers just an inch away.
I shifted my ribs, splitting off and speed growing them into sharp javelins. My chest opened like a great maw, hurling the bone shards at her like a shotgun blast. She twirled and somehow dodged every one. She snatched one out of the air and winged it back to me, covered in jagged ice flakes. I barely raised an arm covered in a dermal plate, and the entire arm became trapped in a block of ice that weighed me down, almost making me pitch forward right into her reaching hand.
Once again, I disconnected the affected to limb and barely managed to avoid having my head frozen. This was just great. I finally ended up in an actual fight, and it was against someone I can’t even touch.
I fired off several more bone shards to force her to dodge, but this time lash out with another blade whip right towards where I expected her to be, aiming for her neck. I hoped it was just her hands that did the freeze effect, and I could safely strike the rest of her, but it ended up not mattering. She was too fast, and managed to intercept my strike with her arm, snaring my tendril, and yanking me forward. I tried to disconnect, but it was too late. Her hand slapped onto my face and I felt my thoughts freeze over.
The tall bikini woman didn’t rush me, but instead threw three quick punches in the air. Each punch launched a gout of multi-colored energy, like rainbow fire, that morphed into the form of an animal. Three rippling, roiling constructs of iridescent flame shaped like a tiger, a lion, and a bear lunged at me.
I was already gone in a blur of motion, dodging around the flame beasts before the bikini woman had even launched the third punch, and headed straight for Cero. The violet-eyed woman’s force field appeared the split-second before I could reach her. I punched the thing a hundred times in quick succession, as hard as I could, but the field held solid.
I shouldn’t have ignored the fire-beasts, however. Even if their creator wasn’t as fast as me, it turned out they were. I felt three powerful jaws grab me, one on each arm, and one on my left leg. I twisted, planting on my one free leg to swing the beasts around me, but their strength matched mine. I felt the burning fangs bite into my flesh. They hauled me back and positioned me onto the floor.
I unleashed a focused sonic scream to try and blast the creatures, but it went right through them and instead blasted holes in the walls. They could touch me, but I couldn’t touch them. That was pretty unfair, but I still had one free limb to work with. I kicked my right leg up, then brought it slamming down into the floor, causing it to cave in. The whole floor didn’t give, but a large enough hole was made to send me, my captors, the bikini woman, and the kimono woman down to the next floor.
The bikini woman, in mid-fall, made another punch, and this time a large wolf figure appeared. As soon as we hit the floor, it snared my right leg, biting deeply.
The bikini woman landed painfully on her hands and knees, but the kimono woman managed to twist in the air and land on her feet. Not sparing me a second, she lunged for me, icy hands reaching for my head.
A then, two blue beams of light speared down through the ceiling and made a perfect, quarter-sized hole in the skulls of both women. The bikini woman froze for a second, mid-way through getting to her feet, then collapsed.
The kimono woman froze, misting hands reached out to me, a look of shock on her face. She then pitched forward, collapsing next to me, and I braced myself for some kind of freezing attack as she landed on top of me. Instead, the mist vanished from her hands as they touched my face, her powers deactivated upon death.
A moment later, the fire beasts vanished, leaving me with deep, sizzling, cauterized wounds in my limbs.
I heard the commotion, but without being able to terraport anything on the top floor, I was helpless to do anything. I could have dashed inside, but that would have left me nearly powerless.
Instead, I terraported a column of concrete formed from the street, and made a pillar I could transport myself to the top of, near the window where flashes of light indicated the battle had happened. By the time, I got myself positioned, however, it seemed I was too late to help. A blue glow lit up the room, and I could see the results of a quick and vicious battle
Hitchhiker was on the floor, shot-up and bleeding. A teenaged boy with a lantern on a staff was lying next to her in the fetal position, and I could see he’d been shot in the head. A frost-covered Shoggoth lay unmoving on the other side of the room. A woman in a lab coat was kneeling down, clutching the smoldering stump of her left arm. Next to her was another woman lying a ground with a hole in her head. In the middle of the room, there was large hole in the floor, and Echo was no where to be seen.
I repositioned the column of concrete so that it pressed right up against the side of the building, carrying me with it. I dropped into the window, keeping a hand on the column. I didn’t sense any other vibrations of movement off the building. Was the fight truly already over?
“You!” I yelled at the lab coat lady. “Stay down!” I called into the hole in the floor. “Who’s alive down there?”
“I am,” yelled Echo. “Though I’m not going to be able to walk at the moment.”
I heard a thump just then, and a naked dwarf with almost tumor-like musculature burst into the room, several long fleshy tendrils lined with giant serrated teeth whirling about him. The thing quickly appraised the situation. I realized it was Shoggoth in a stunted battle from. Part of him must have had to ditch the frozen body.
At the same time, I saw from the corner of my eye movement from the teenaged boy. He got up, using his lantern staff as a crutch, and shook his head as if to clear it. There was still a large bullet hole in his forehead, and the back of his skull was blown open. Yet, as I watched, the wounds filled in, his flesh melting and molding to reconfigure his head into a solid shape again.
Shoggoth whirled, tendrils poised to strike, but the boy held up a hand. “Peace!” he said. “Peace, I beg you!” He knelt down, holding one hand up, the other still clutching his staff.
“Bringer of Dawn,” said the woman in the lab coat. “What is the meaning of this?”
“I was never under your control, Cero,” the boy said. “I thought I was the only one.” He scowled at her. “I was loyal to you anyway. I thought you were doing what was best for us all. But you shot me without hesitation. You killed me. You could have had me restrained, but you killed me.”
“She kills people the moment they are of no use to her, or are even the slightest threat,” I told him. “She killed the Super Fem Force members she left behind in America.”
The boy flinched. “No…” he whispered. Whoever he was, he clearly hadn’t had the full picture of what was happening.
“She butchered the populace of this island,” I pressed.
The boy’s lip quivered. I realized just how young he was. He couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen. “Sh-sh-she said… they were the enemy… soldiers… I… I don’t… I don’t know…” he said. The lantern clattered to the floor as he clutched his head. “I don’t know what to do!”
Cero, the woman in the lab coat, said nothing. She glanced quickly around the room, appraising her situation, but she didn’t make a move. She knew she couldn’t.
Shoggoth, meanwhile, had gone over the Hitchhiker.
With no idea what we’d be facing, I had decided to leave behind a bit of insurance. I knew that even if I were vaporized, I would reappear in the nearest location where a surviving bit of my DNA was present. However, if I died here, I didn’t want to re-emerge from another vial in another lab, halfway around the world. Instead, I left behind several little fleshy pods, no bigger than a pea, in several spots throughout the city as we teleported, as well as one in the parking lot outside, and another in the hallway before we entered. It had been a smart move. The ice-woman had frozen my entire body so completely, that my every cell was reduced to an ice-crystal.
I had regenerated as fast as I could, forfeiting any nuance to the body, and just making a solid mass of muscle and tendrils and teeth. But it seemed the fight was already over. Then, the teen boy with the lantern was getting up, regenerating as quickly as I could. It seemed he, too, had a consciousness not bound to his brain.
I then noticed Hitchhiker on the floor. I half-stepped, half-hopped my distorted body over to her, and set my tendrils upon her. I had wondered if she was too tough for me to heal. The skin-thread I’d given her had taken some effort, her body resisting my power, but it was a very simple trick focused in one tiny spot, so I’d still managed to pull it off quickly.
Now, as I tried to make her body mend multiple deadly wounds, I could feel her power resisting me greatly. I was able to affect her, but even straining my ability as hard as I could, her bones and flesh melded together with agonizing slowness. Her body wouldn’t even let me regenerate her blood more than a drop a second. There was a risk she would bleed out before I could mend her.
I decided to take a different approach. “Hey kid,” I said. The boy, who’d gone down on one knee and was currently clutching his head, looked up. I’d listened to his exchange with the Villain Maker, and it sounded like he wasn’t necessarily on her side.
“Do me a favor and get over here,” I said. He hesitated. “Now.”
He jumped and almost scrambled over. I think it was more so out of an automated response to an adult’s instructions, than any real desire of his own. But either way, he came over. “Touch her leg,” I instructed, pointing at Hitch’s calf. He nodded dumbly and complied.
I strained my power and jolted Hitch’s nerves. Her eyes fluttered open, and her mouth worked as she tried to breathe. “Possess him,” I ordered. Her brow furrowed in confusion. I forced her head up to see. “Possess. Him.”
For a second, I thought she was too out of it to respond. But then, she vanished, leaving several bullets behind to clatter onto the floor. The boy jerked back and gasped, as though he’d been holding his breath and suddenly started breathing again. A few seconds later, Hitchhiker popped out of him, now standing on the other side, fully healed.
“Oh, wow,” she said. “I get it now. Your life force is tied to the lantern. Neat!”
The boy looked up at her in shock. “Wh-what the hell was that?!”
Cripes. On the one hand, I was glad he wasn’t on Cero’s side at the moment. On the other hand, he was clearly a child way out of his depth in this situation.
Strider was keeping an eye on Cero. Hitchhiker knelt down, putting a hand on the kid’s shoulder. He tried to jerk back, but she put her hands up in a reassuring gesture, and gave him a smile that would melt any male’s heart.
I left her to it. I could hear Echo downstairs. I looked over the hole, and saw her next to the bodies of the ice woman and the bikini girl. I dropped down to see what I could do.
I grit my teeth in pain as I pushed the kimono girl’s arm off me. My forearms looked like hamburger, and my calves looked worse. Only the fact that the wounds had been mostly cauterized prevented me from bleeding out immediately. There was still some bleeding, but more concerning was that the wounds had cut off major blood circulation to my hands and feet. The teeth of the creatures had bit all the way down to the bone.
I saw Shoggoth drop down in the form of some blubbery dwarf. “Hey,” he said as he leaned over me. He started shifting his body back to the beautiful blond man I’d become familiar with. At my speed, it was a strange effect, watching his features swell, melt and reconfigure with an almost graceful smoothness of motion.
“Hey,” I said.
“I’m afraid I can’t heal you. Your body is too tough.”
“I know. Don’t worry about it.”
“I think I should,” he said. “Unless you have some kind of regeneration, you could lose all your limbs.”
“That would be a problem,” I admitted. I was managing the pain, which wasn’t as intense as it could be thanks to my durability. It was still making my voice hitch.
He touched my arm, frowning.
“Severed arteries, severed nerves. This is bad.” I guess he could still read my body’s vitals, at least. “Alright, I have an idea.”
His flesh moved in that liquid way and I felt chunks of him flow over my wounds. I winced and grit my teeth as I felt him force his flesh into the scorched holes, filling in every gap. I felt the flesh wriggling as it configured itself, and felt needle-like threads connecting joints and blood vessels, matching the new gaps in my musculature. It hurt like a bitch, but I realized he was creating custom shunts to keep the blood flowing to my extremities.
“It’s not going to last,” he said. “But it should do for a very temporary fix.”
“I’ll take it,” I said. “I know a few Stilettos that can help me get fixed up, if we can get back to America.”
“Great,” he muttered. He was now fully restored to his androgynous beauty form. He stood and helped me to my feet. Even though it hurt badly, I was astonished at how thoroughly his flesh-plugs compensated for my injuries. He was still attached to them through his skin-threads, making sure to adjust them to how I moved.
I grit my teeth and sucked down the pain. “Let’s go get some answers,” I said. We headed upstairs.
“There were others, so many others,” the lantern boy mumbling. “I didn’t know what to do. Everyone just seemed to go along with her, and I didn’t… I just… I don’t know. She said she’d make it all stop. She’d make all the suffering stop. I don’t…”
He took a shuddering breath. “But she touched her thing to my head, and I just… nothing happened… but everyone else started acting different, so I just… I kept quiet and…” He balled up a fist against his head, clutching his hair so tightly, it looked about to tear out.
“It’s okay, honey,” I said. I gently held his other hand reassuringly. This really was just some kid, scared and confused. Even if he wasn’t under Cero’s direct control, it was easy to see how he’d just go along with the crowd. Maybe some function of his power, how his consciousness was concentrated in the lantern rather than his body, meant the device hadn’t worked when they pressed to his head. So he was left confounded among a growing number of adults who seemed to instantly follow Cero. Even if he didn’t agree with her methods, he probably felt he had no one else to turn to, especially not when the Super Fem Force, of all people, came to her side.
“Listen, we’ll take care of this, alright? For now, just sit tight, and try to calm down,” I said. “It’s not your fault. Everything’s going to be fine.”
I kept his hand in mine and sat next to him on the floor. I positioned myself to I could also help Strider keep an eye on Cero. Neither of us wanted to go near her. I had a handle on the lantern boy. Strider didn’t want to let go of the pillar that kept her connected to the ground. She didn’t go anywhere, though, so we opted to wait for the others.
I noticed then that her arm had been burned off. It lay against the far wall, still holding the gun. She clutched at the wound, but didn’t seem to be in any actual pain. I guess the kid must have done it, using his laser power to slice it off. Come to think of it, I guess he must have attacked the other three super women, too. Once we were in a calmer situation, I’d have to thank him for saving our lives.
As Shoggoth and Echo returned, I could see Echo was severely injured. Shoggoth had flesh patches on her arms and legs, but she was wincing with every step. She wasn’t going to be running any time soon.
With the three of us clearly indisposed, Shoggoth was the one who went up to Cero and grabbed her. He dragged her over to Strider, who teleported more concrete through the pillar, creating an extension that broke through the window next them, and formed a solid post. Shoggoth lashed Cero to it using more tendrils of wiry flesh.
The room was mainly lit by the boy’s lantern, and by the light from the projector, which had somehow managed to not get knocked over during the fight, even when a chunk of the floor had caved in. There was a sudden shifting of colors in the room as the image from the projector began to change. As I glanced back to see the image and I blinked in surprise. I pointed to the wall. “Guys? Check it out.”
I followed Hitchhiker’s point, and saw the image on the wall. It was a live camera feed showing part of the ocean. . Atop the waves, a large circular disk of white held up several thousand superhumans, while dozens of others hovered in the air above them. Before them was the rippling wall of pink energy that was New Gondwana’s continental force field.
We all watched the scene play out. At least a hundred of the superhumans were blasting the Great Shield with a variety of powers, concentrated into one large spot. The force field was rippling, starting to thin out. After nearly a minute of concentrated effort, a massive tear appeared in the wall, revealing only darkness within. The tear got wider, superhumans using both energy powers, space warping effects, and some even using their physical bodies to push against the edges, widening it further and further. As the tear spread, the camera adjusted the light levels, and the inner side of the shield could be dimly made out. A distant shore could be vaguely seen, silhouetted against the glow of the Great Shield’s dome.
“Call off your army,” said Echo. “You have camera access, I assume you can communicate with them.”
“I will not,” said Cero. “Even if you destroy me here, at the very least, my army will continue to carry out my objectives.”
As we watched, we saw several points of light suddenly appear on the dark shore beyond the tear. I felt a sensation of dread.
“Call them off!” I said. “NOW!”
I don’t know why I bothered. It was already too late.
From the numerous points of light erupted an enormous flash that made the image go white. When the light faded and the camera adapted to the brightness levels again, there was no longer a tear in the shield. There was no longer an army of superhumans, nor the platform they had been standing on. There was instead a massive implosion of water, as if the seas had briefly parted, and were now flowing back together. Among the churning waves, we could see the bodies of a few dead superhumans here or there being tossed about lifelessly, flung about like ragdolls by the surging waters.
We all just stared. I was the one to break the silence, stating what my comrades must have already guessed from my previous confession.
“Kilika. Ojau. Xyla. Yrba. They must have seen them coming. They must have sensed the Shield being attacked and went to defend it.” I looked to my teammates and nodded towards the Villain Maker. “That was the fire power she would have found.”
Cero turned and stared at me. Her expression seemed blank at first glance, but there was an intensity to her gaze that unnerved me.
I met her gaze steadily, acting undaunted. “Well, congratulations. You just murdered thousands of innocent people, all for nothing.”
“Just like you,” she said.
No denying that. I nodded. “Fair enough.”
Cero lowered her head, staring unblinking at the ground. I could practically see the gears turning in her head. She was trying to find a way out of this, trying to find some way to turn this to her advantage, to compensate for the set back.
“You told us the primary goal was to shut down the Doorways,” said Echo. “But you still just wanted to kill us all, didn’t you? Even though you had all them under your control, you didn’t want to risk any of them shaking your programming by threatening the entire world.”
“I didn’t know the Queens had a weapon of that scale,” said Cero. She looked up. “But yes. I intended to use whatever resources they had to end your species.”
Hitchhiker spoke up. “Well, now what? We have the Villain Maker. The Supervillain Epidemic should be over now. We can kill her. Or turn her in to the ASP or the Pacific or Europe.”
Echo grabbed one of the knocked over chairs, spun it around, and sat on it so she could lean on the back, in front of Cero. I could see the pained expression from her every movement, but she didn’t let it stop her. “I’d like some answers,” she said.
“Of course.” Cero seemed resigned. She didn’t even try to struggle against the flesh ropes that bound her.
“What are you?”