Sunday, February 17, 2019

Deleted Chapters

I thought I'd post some chapters I ended up scrapping when I got stuck hard a little over halfway in. I highly recommend reading the whole of Graven before reading this section.

Partway through Graven, the main team finds itself needing to cross over from America to Asia, following the trail of the Villain Maker. I was initially planning to have the story be longer, with a whole adventure where the team gets captured and ends up diverted to Japan (and later Ireland), where various shenanigans would occur before Team Graven can finally get back onto the main mission. Ultimately, I just couldn't figure out how to make it work, and decided to go with the more streamlined version of the story.

This unfortunately meant that we never did get to really see the world outside of America and an admittedly exposition-heavy glimpse of New Gondwana. This diversion was intended to show some of what the Pacific Alliance was like, starting with the remnants of Russia. Ultimately, this would have also expanded the cast further, with an ostensibly heroic version of Ojau even joining the group.

At this point, I also was considering splitting the team apart. In the final version, the Earth Mage offers his teammates the option to walk away, but every decides to stay on. In one version, Hitchhiker, Shoggoth, and Max opt to leave, but would have come back later for some plot reasons I don't remember. As such, you'll notice they're missing from these chapters.

Thirdly, this was also when I was already wanting to experiment with adding new character perspectives, possibly even having the entire Pacific Alliance Arc be told from other character's viewpoints, with Team Graven's continuing story being seen through the eyes of those who saw them as antagonists.

So without further stalling, I present the Scrapped Chapters of Graven!

(Just to warn, there's some light sexual content, especially in the first chapter, something that I ultimately decided to keep out of Graven.)


Another day, another round of going through the motions. I did my usual patrol around the small base, checking in with the handful of human personnel they send up here to make sure we superhumans aren’t just slacking off and getting paid to drink and fuck.

For the most part, though, there really isn’t anything to do other than drink and fuck. Our mission is to be the first line of defense on the northern front against the dreaded American Incursion, but it is a farce, at best. There is no Russia anymore for Americans to compare dick sizes with. Oh, Japan may pay the remnants of our homeland lip service of how “we Russians are free to determine our own future and rebuild our nation”, but they know we have nothing. They still claimed our lands as Territories and it is they who have imposed their military policies upon us.

98% of our people were wiped out in the Extinction Wave, leaving only the sparsely populated villages and towns of the far northeast. Most of those have been abandoned, unable to self-sustain in the harsh climate without support from the State. Some have migrated south to take advantage of the re-colonization efforts of China and Korea. Some have migrated west, in the hopes to re-establish a life in the larger cities and towns they never could afford to move to previously. The rest, who simply don’t want to leave their old homes, remain in the old villages, maybe one to three families making ago at self-sufficiency.

We’re not a country anymore. We’re barely even a people anymore. Less than 1% of China’s territory escaped the Extinction Wave, and their survivors outnumber ours, three to one. And in both our cases, we are now simply extensions of the Pacific Alliance. They call the shots, and we let them, because otherwise, we’d fall back into the dark ages without their support.

All this means is that the remnants of the Russian military now take orders from Japan. And Japan says that we must be vigilante against the American threat. As if America doesn’t have enough of its own problems. As if they would actually send a military force through the Bering Strait to invade Asia. As if they’re just bleeding refugees across the Artic Circle.

I tried not to grumble too loudly as I passed one of the human patrols. I’m sure they had a similar mindset, but I am still their superior officer. I retain an air of professionalism, not just in dress, but in attitude, for their sake. Even if it seems pointless, knowing that I took the job seriously gave these far away sons of Russia a bit of confidence in their position. Out on this cold, god-forsaken rock, we took what comforts we could manage.

My usual comfort tended to come in the form of the young lady currently lounging on a large rock, watching the ocean waves crash against the shore. In the distance, Little Diomede can be seen. The smaller island remained under American control, still home to a single Inuit village.

“Anything to report, Comrade Skylark?” I said.

She looked up at me, brushing her blond hair out of her face. “Nope,” she said. “Same as usual. They just putter around with their chores.”

Skylark was a superhuman, of course, the only reason a woman would even be stationed here. She could fly at a hundred miles per hour, had telescopic vision, and Rank D superhuman strength and durability. She was unremarkable as superhumans went, tenacious, but in a fight against even ordinary soldiers, a powerful enough rifle could still shoot her out of the sky. She was slower than any plane or helicopter, and had no ranged attack. On the battle field, she was the definition of a grunt.

She was also a nice, tight fuck, and a very enthusiastic one at that. I knew I wasn’t the only man on the island she fooled around with, but I was the only one who really counted. She got a bit of a thrill playing with human men. Despite being a short slip of a young woman, even the strongest of them was unable to break her grip or push her back or pin her down. I, on the other hand, was a Rank C in strength, and a Rank B in durability. She couldn’t even make me budge if I didn’t want her to, and I could snap her in half if I was of a mind. Dominating was fun for her, but being dominated was a thrill, one I intended to engage in presently, if only so at least one hour of the day wouldn’t seem so tedious.

“Care to join me in checking the north end?” I said.

She looked up at me and smiled coyly. It had been a little while since we had indulged, and she was definitely ready for it. There was a small cave in the north end where we usually did it. She floated into the air and held out her hands. I locked my grip around her wrists and allowed her to carry me.

“I don’t suppose there’s been any word on a transfer, hmm?” she asked. It was the main topic of interest on the base, and one which made us increasingly frustrated. When I shook my head she just sighed and didn’t press any further.

The human soldiers had four-month shifts, but we superhumans had been here for a year already. Prior to that, I was tasked to guard the port city of Vladivostok, to oversee the flow of people from the surviving island nations into the mainland.

At the time, I had thought it a dreadfully boring position. As the Annihilator, I was one of Russia’s foremost superhuman military assets. During the days when the Empire was rebuilding, I was expected to be one of their heaviest hitters, should a war between superhuman armies break out.

I never got the chance to fight in an actual war, but I saw my fair share of skirmishes. When some of our superhumans proved to be troublemakers, I was one of those sent to dispose of them. When a patrol of Arabian super soldiers illegally entered one of our allies’ borders, I was part of the unit sent to drive them back. When one of China’s super soldiers, the Infinite Tiger, went on a rampage, and attempted to destroy one of our southeastern border towns, thinking it the headquarters of spies, I was the one who ended him.

So what was I doing playing border guard near the Artic Circle? If the Pacific Alliance needed strong superhumans, surely a man of my station deserved something loftier, more adventurous. I’d petitioned the Alliance for something that would net me a grander standing. To be part of the Pacific Defense Force, to be on one of the exploration teams of the “new frontier” towns.

Instead I, like Skylark and Iria, were told that “Russians should concern themselves with Russian affairs.” To the Pacific Alliance, to Japan, we would always just be gaijin lessers, Westerners whose foolishness probably allowed the Extinction Wave to take us. I perhaps made my displeasure known a bit too well by being a bit too aggressive in putting down a drunk superhuman Japanese who was causing a disturbance in my city. It turned out she was the daughter of a wealthy businessman, one who had the sort of government connections you did not want turned against you, superhuman or no.

I found myself transferred here to Big Diomede, and I took the job mostly out of disgust at the time. Now, I wish I’d perhaps groveled a bit better so that maybe I wouldn’t have ended up stationed on the top of the world with an annoying slut as my closest companion. Vladivostok didn’t seem nearly so boring by comparison.

Ah, well. Boring was good, right? There had, in fact, been one attempt by an American superhuman to breach the borders just before I was transferred, and the base had been devastated by their attack. Even though nothing had happened since, that was enough to keep the PA on alert, and keep a heavy hitter like myself up here. It was a convenient excuse to keep me up here.

“You don’t have to brood, you know,” said Skylark. We had reached the north end of the island already. I let go of her arms and dropped down onto the wide ledge that formed at the entrance to the cave. Set on the side of a nearly-sheer cliff, flying or treacherous climbing was the only way to reach us, ensuring privacy.

I started removing my clothes, taking the time to fold them neatly. Skylark pulled hers off and tossed them to the side while she remained floating. She kept hovering a few inches above the ground so that we were eye to eye. She cupped her hand around my head and pulled me in for a kiss, at the same time she reached down and pulled another part of me closer to her other lips. I decided to be firm and set myself, so instead she ended up pulling herself into me.

My arms wrapped around her, trapping her against me. She moaned as she slid herself into position, using her own strength and floating power to adjust herself. We made love with me standing up this time, supporting her weight easily.

With my durability, I barely felt it. She took more direct physical pleasure from the act than I did. For me, my pleasure was more cerebral, just enjoying the act itself, the feel of a soft, warm body in my arms, to know that I was found desirable. A man has appetites, and contrary to what many of the young soldiers here may think, laying your seed is not the end all, be all of it. When you get older, you learn to appreciate it beyond the intimacy itself, the way a man and a woman fit together so well.

Not that I would admit to such a poetic descriptor of my desires. For Skylark, all that mattered was that I was available and that I could over power her the way no other man for at least two thousand miles could. She asked me to let her get on her knees, and I held her. She fought me, getting into it, biting me and hitting me, acting like a brat. I showed her who was in charge, pushing her against the wall and pinning her arms overhead, railing her until she couldn’t take anymore. Despite my apparent manic thrusting, I was actually being quite careful. I could shatter her pelvis if I actually did get carried away. Being unable to feel much down there had its uses; it helped ensure that I kept control.

When I let her go, she was thoroughly satiated, pleased far more than if I had given into her demands. Such was the way of a woman. They nagged and pestered and demanded, but what they really wanted was for you to put them in their place. Any of the super women here could have assumed command, had probably been told to by our superiors, but instead, they let me have the position. It wasn’t just for my former high status. Women wanted to be led by a man they knew could take charge. Even with superhuman powers, few women were so willing to take on the risks and responsibilities of leadership.

Skylark was curled up, hovering in the air, enjoy the afterglow of sex, while I sat against the cave’s wall, looking out over the ocean. We could spend a few more minutes cooling down before we had to leave.

She floated over and nudged my shoulder with her toe. “Hey. You didn’t finish again.”

I brushed her foot away. “I told you not to worry about it.”

“Boys relax better when they cum, you know.”

She was rather insatiable, for a woman. A slut, as I said. I was already getting annoyed again. “Nevermind that.”

She sighed and floated over to her clothes, setting down finally to start getting dressed. “Such a grump.”

I watched her dress before doing so myself. When I was ready, I allowed her to fly us back to the base.

“Back to staring at villagers like a creep,” she said, taking her place on her perch to spy upon Little Diomede.

I nodded curtly and turned away. She was fine company under the right circumstances, but outside of them, she was tiresome. I went back to my route, heading towards the south of the island, knowing there wouldn’t be anything worth seeing there.

As it turned out, my expectations of another tiresome day were about to be upended. A small, dark skinned girl was running full tilt towards us. “OJAU!” she called in the Common tongue. “SKYLARK! WE CAUGHT SOMEONE! WE CAUGHT THEM!”

Trapling, an orphan girl from India who’d been sent our way just a month ago, grabbed my hand excitedly and tried tugging me towards the southern shore. “Come on, come on! We caught them!”

I didn’t budge. “Comrade Trapling,” I said in Common. “Such behavior is neither ladylike, nor acceptable of a soldier.”

She blinked up at me, then blushed. She stumbled back and stood up tall, snapping her hand up in a salute. “C-comrade Colonel! We have apprehended American intruders within my Barrier.”

I didn’t let my surprise show. A whole year of dicking around on this rock, and nothing to show for it. Then out of no where, our presence is suddenly justified. And to think I was almost getting to the point of considering abandoning my post.

“When did this occur?” I said calmly.

“About ten minutes ago, Comrade Colonel,” she said. “I went looking for you, but you weren’t on your usual route.”

Skylark floated up from the ground and hovered in place, arms crossed. She gave the girl an amused little smile. “The Colonel asked if I would help fine-tune his Annihilator.”

Trapling gave her a confused look, and I restrained a scowl. “That will be enough, Comrade,” I said waving Skylark off, while keeping my eyes on Trapling. “So, where are they located?”

“Right on the southern end, Comrade Colonel,” she said.

“Alright, then. Let’s go see what they want.”

I finally did something useful! Hurray! When the Pacific Alliance sent me up here, and I saw the island for a first time, my heart sank a bit. I had not expected there to be a spectacular fortress or anything, but there was not even a village. I was told that back in the 1940s, the indigenous population of Big Diomede had been forcibly moved, and that the only human inhabitants were the Russian soldiers in their base. Little Diomede still had its native village, but contact with them was forbidden.

I’m not really sure what they were worried about, I mean, they’re just an Inuit tribe. I was pretty sure they weren’t secretly deadly agents working for the American government. But what did I know? The whole reason I was sent here was to assist in barricading the way between our great nations.

It was a real shame. The only people to hang out with around here were the stuffy male soldiers, some of whom gazed at me in ways that made me uncomfortable, and my three fellow superhumans. The soldiers tended to keep their distance, as if never sure what to make of me. I think they were scared.

Skylark never wanted to hang out with me. I think she thought I was a pest, still a kid in her eyes. I was already fourteen, but I guess to a twenty year old, that must still seem like a child. I probably reminded her of an annoying kid sister or something.

Ojau the Annihilator, well, he was an older man and always so formal. I didn’t dislike him, but, well, every time we spoke, I felt like I was in trouble for something. Like a very stern patriarch, he always had a comment about my mannerisms, and didn’t seem much interested in what I had to say.

And then there was Iria. She was a drunk.

This left me with very little to do and few people to interact with. So, day after day, I just practiced my power, erecting my special Barriers around the island’s shore. It used to take me several minutes to complete just one, but by now, I could form one in thirty seconds!

The Pacific Alliance sent me up here because I was young, I was untested, and I was a foreigner, a survivor of the Wave. All superhumans in the Alliance must work for the government, usually in a military capacity, and my power just wasn’t combat-impressive enough. Not knowing where else to put me, they threw me in what I assumed was the least likely place where I could get underfoot.

I figured if I just trained my powers while I was here, I could eventually prove to someone higher up that I could, in fact, be useful. And lo and behold, my chance had come!

Two strangers had been snagged in my Trap! My power enabled me to erect a Barrier Zone, which would root a person down to the ground if they tried to move through it. It was an amazing defense against speedsters, teleporters, fliers, etc. The problem, of course, was that in the time it took me to set one of them up, even at my current speed, anyone capable of moving that fast could beat the hell out of me ten times over.

If it did catch someone, though, they couldn’t move from where they were until I allowed it. Well, they could still move the rest of their body, but their feet or whatever part of their body was touching the ground, simply couldn’t come up off of it.

So it was with the two strangers who were now standing on our shore, having appeared out of nowhere.

I ran ahead, with Ojau and Skylark following. As we neared a low spot on the shore, we could hear them talking. They were speaking English, which I recognized, but didn’t really know. They were clustered together, close enough to touch the other.

The two spotted us and went silent. Ojau stepped forward, sizing them up. He muttered something in Russian, which I only knew about five words of. Still, I recognized the term “Earth Mage.”

I took a careful look at the group, and then I spotted him. I had been so excited, I hadn’t really taken a good look at who it was. A tall, fair-skinned man with long black hair, in the classic tan robes and green sash stood tall within my field. He was even holding his crooked staff. Next to him was a black woman dressed as a cowboy, with the long brown duster and wide-brimmed hat.

“Earth Mage!” said Ojau in Common. “You and your companion are trespassing on Alliance military territory. State your business!”

The Earth Mage smiled and gave pilot bow. “My apologies, sir,” he said, also speaking in Common. “I am presently operating under orders from the Superhuman Defense Force, and am presently bound for Japan. The fastest route was to go over land.”

Ojau frowned. “Were they expecting you to come this way? We were not told you would be passing through.”

“Negligence on my part, sir,” he said.

“I see,” said Ojau. “And what, precisely, were you doing in America? I thought you were based in Australia.”

“I am. However, I was contacted by the SDF for a mission. I’m afraid I cannot divulge the details to you.” The Earth Mage shrugged. “You know how they are.”

Ojau snorted. “Indeed.”

The cowgirl, meanwhile, had spent the whole exchange looking confused. She said something quietly in English, and the Earth Mage blinked in surprise. He replied in English as well, going back and forth a bit. I heard him say “Common” a few times. Then he smacked his forehead.

I was really curious what they were on about, now. But I’d figured out by now that the cowgirl did not know Common. I found that curious, since it had spread completely throughout the Pacific Alliance territory.

The Earth Mage looked a bit uncomfortable for a moment, and the cowgirl cocked her head the side, raising a skeptical eyebrow. He sighed and leaned over to her. She shrugged and they touched lips. I couldn’t call it even a chaste kiss.

Superhuman powers, when seen in large scale, had wrought much devastation on the world. But there were the occasional times a power had proven quite beneficial. An Arabian woman calling herself Babel had gained the power to create and spread a kind of “super language” which she referred to as Common. This Common language could be passed from one person to the next via the mouth. After a simple kiss, a person effectively “downloaded” this language into their psyche, enabling them to speak it perfectly. This power had become a tremendous boon to the various nations of the Pacific Alliance. Unlike with English, which not everybody had learned well, and which could often be garbled from a thousand different accents, Common was spoken the same way, by everybody, with no learning curve.

I didn’t know more than five words of Russian, but with Common, I was able to communicate with my fellow soldiers perfectly.

“Sorry,” said Earth Mage, breaking away from his companion. “I, uh, had not yet had the chance to give her Common.”

“Hello!” she said, smiling at us. She seemed pleasant.

Ojau narrowed his eyes at her. “And who is this?” he said, crossing his arms. “Even if you have clearance for yourself, Earth Mage, that does not enable you to bring unauthorized persons into our territory.”

“This is my partner, Strider,” he said. “She was also in America while I was on mission, and became a valuable assistant to me.”

“Is she a citizen, then?” said Ojau.

“No, actually,” she said. “I am a refugee from Europe. I had gone to America with the intent to start a new life as a bounty hunter, but I wasn’t there for very long, and I never actually established citizenship.”

He stared at her for a long few moments, until the Earth Mage tried to speed things along. “I understand your caution, and commend your dedication to your duty, but the information I possess is of vital importance. Please, contact the SDF. I presume this base has a direct line to them?”

“It does,” said Ojau cautiously, still staring at Strider.

“May we be released, then, so that we may verify our identities, and our mission?”

Ojau turned to me. “Keep them pinned.” He looked to Skylark, who had remained hovering a few feet in the air. “Keep an eye them. I’m going to fetch Iria and I will contact the SDF once we have her assessment.”

Skylark nodded, and kept her gaze on the Americans. Well, no, the Australian and European. I wasn’t sure why Ojau was so suspicious. The Earth Mage had been a hero for the Alliance for years, and the Alliance was on good terms with the AIE.

Then again, I was not well versed in politics or military proceedings. I was as much a grunt as the human soldiers here, and due to my age, I was on a need-to-know-even-less basis, I’m sure.

Well, nothing to do now but pass the time. I was bored and these were the first people I’d seen in quite a while. I never thought I’d actually be meeting the world’s first superhuman, for that matter.

“Um, excuse me, Mr. Earth Mage?”

“Yes, ma’am?” he said, smiling pleasantly, perfectly polite. As pretty as he was in appearance and mannerism, I’d wager he was certainly closer to an ideal woman than either of my fellow female soldiers on the island.

“Don’t talk to them,” said Skylark. “Could you not tell Ojau doesn’t trust them?”

“They aren’t going anywhere,” I said. “So, um, sir, what’s it like in America?”

He frowned slightly in thought and put a hand to his chin. “It’s definitely a bit chaotic.”

“I heard it was a total war zone,” I said. “Gangs fighting with citizens in the streets, guns everywhere, superhumans going crazy, everyone’s on drugs, there’s riots over food shortages, and there’s practically a race war happening.”

Strider turned to him and smirked. “I think Hitch would like this kid.”

The Earth Mage chuckled, shaking his head. “Nothing like that,” he said. “The vast majority of people are responsible and hard working, just living there lives just like here in the Alliance. Yes, citizens have guns, more than ever before, in fact, thanks to superhuman presence, but almost no one just uses them foolishly.”

“Almost,” said Skylark.

The Earth Mage shrugged. “There’s always a few bad apples, I guess.”

“What about the superhumans?” I said. “Do they really go crazy over there?”

His frown returned. “There have been problems with some superhuman citizens acting erratically.”

“Do you think it will happen here?” I said.

He shook his head. “I should hope not.”

“So what were you doing there?” said Skylark.

“That is for the SDF to discuss,” he said.

She opened her mouth to say something else, but then, we heard a loud curse.

“Leggome!” came the slurred cry of Iria. Ojau was physically dragging her by the arm towards us. She stumbled and staggered, and kept wincing as she clutched her head.

Skylark sighed. “Guess she convinced the boys to give up some of the good vodka last night.”

“We dun got n’gud vokder, we gettha schwill,” Iria grumbled. She was a total mess, dressed in her uniform, but it was wrinkled, her jacket hanging open, and her shirt only half-buttoned, mismatched in the ones that were. Her long blond hair was scraggly. Ojau stopped in front of us and yanked her forward. She stumbled to her hands and knees, and cursed again. I knew the move didn’t hurt her. Ojau was always in total control of his strength and we were standing on a small stretch of sand, but still, I didn’t like seeing him treat a woman so roughly, even if it was Iria.

“Comrade Iria,” said Ojau, stiff and formal as ever. “You have been given ample time to recover from your debaucheries. If you wish me to allow you to indulge them again in the future, you will do your duty.”

Iria coughed, hacking a few times, then moaning and clutching her head. She pulled a small flask from her jacket’s inner pocket. She unscrewed the lid and almost took a swig, but Ojau’s eyes flashed, and the thing disintegrated in her hand.

“Buh—t’ fug!” She turned to him. “G’dammuh nee’ed tha’ t’cler meh ‘ed!”

You weren’t supposed to be able to screw up pronouncing Common, but somehow, she was so plastered she managed it.

“Comrade Iria,” Ojau said stonily. “There are more efficient ways to clear your hangover. Use one of them.”

She blinked, bleary eyed at us. Then she scrunched her eyes shut and pressed her fingertips to her head. She made one large wince, then relaxed. When she opened her eyes, she seemed much calmer.

I watched our resident psychic use her mind-over-matter ability on herself. She was not normally superhumanly tough or strong, but she could will herself to be, through a trick of her mental power. This also included forcing herself to ignore pain, heal faster, and have “perfect reflexes” or something like that. I’d only seen her do it once, and it seemed like she couldn’t do that while maintaining her strength and toughness. It took too much concentration.

Her main use, aside from being the island bicycle, was her telepathy. She was, as far as we knew, the only mind reader in all of the Alliance. Possibly on the planet, though who knew what the Americans had in their power? I knew why the rest of us were here, but I would have assumed someone like her would have been fast-tracked the SDF immediately.

But then, Japan didn’t exactly trust us Russians. Before the Extinction Wave, our country was on the verge of outright war with them. Also, Iria was a devout lush. I wouldn’t have trusted her in the Scouts, frankly.

I watched as she forced her own hangover down and took on a nearly robotic state of calm. I saw Trapling take a step back. As obnoxious as she was drunk or hung over, there was something very creepy about her when she got focused.

Ojau nodded in approval. “Comrade Iria, if you would, scan the minds of our intruders.”

“Affirmative, Comrade Colonel,” she said, in a perfect monotone. She turned to the two caught in Trapling’s little Trap. They were only ten feet away, but half of that distance was within the Trap, and Iria had to touch someone to reach their mind. Trapling nodded and motioned for her to go in.

The kid usually did something to modify her Traps so we could walk or fly through them, but she had entire line of the things around the island, and she sometimes forgot. I spent three hours stuck in a spot on the edge of a cliff that I’d tried to fly over, only to get thrown to the ground and pinned by her power. I wanted to punch her lights out afterwards, but I figured Ojau wouldn’t approve, so I spared her.

Iria came up to the Earth Mage first. He frowned, but permitted her to scan his thoughts. She spoke aloud as she read them.

“James McLeod. Codename: Earth Mage. New York Doorway. Mission to America: find the culprit behind the Supervillain Epidemic. Villain Maker confirmed to exist. Villain Maker headed to India. Intent to report to the Superhuman Defense Force and spur them into action to find and defeat the Villain Maker.”

She turned to Strider, who tried to jerk back. “James,” she said, trying unsuccessfully to hide a tinge of panic in her voice.

“Reading her mind is unnecessary,” he said.

“Is there a problem, Earth Mage?” said Ojau.

The Earth Mage grabbed Iria by the arm. “She has nothing relevant to add,” he said. “I kept her in the dark to my mission until just before we traveled here.”

“Then there should be no problem with a simple mind scan,” Ojau said.

“I would rather you did not,” said Strider.

“You do not have a choice.” Ojau glanced out to the water, and his eyes flashed. A building-sized hole appeared away from the shore, and there was a boom as the water and air surrounding that spot suddenly imploded into the area. His power of annihilation had eradicated that large chunk of water from existence.

“You will allow us to scan your mind or I shall do to you what I did that section of sea,” he said.

Strider swallowed, then closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. I chuckled out loud. I knew she was trying to block or confuse Iria’s mind probe. That never worked.

“Iminathi. No last name. Orphan. Namibia Doorway. Codename: Strider.” She paused. “No. Current Codename: Strider. Former Codename: Atalanta, the Terraporter.” She paused again. Then, Iria’s eerie calm suddenly broke. She jerked back as though she’d been burned. Strider looked at her with wide, almost fearful eyes.

“Don’t,” she whispered.

Iria stumbled back and dropped on her butt onto the sand. “Comrade, what is it?” said Ojau, tensing up even more, if that was possible. He gave the two foreigners a steely gaze. “What did you see?”

With a trembling hand, Iria pointed at the woman. “A Queen. One of the Ten.”

Ojau’s brow furrowed. My eyes widened. Trapling just looked confused.

“What?” said Ojau. “What are you saying?”

Iria backpeddled and scrambled to her feet. Her hangover was forgotten, but I think much more from shock than actively suppressing it with her powers. “She’s one of the Ten Queens! Atalanta the Terraporter! It was her power that formed New Gondwana!”

“I had help, to be fair,” the cowgirl said calmly. I’d been staring in shock at Iria, but I jerked my gaze back to the cowgirl. Her expression had become unreadable as she gazed at us.

Ojau, however, I saw his eyes light up, metaphorically this time. I could almost see the clicking together of pieces in his head.

“Your partner is one of the Ten Queens? And you tried to bring her into our nation?” he said. I swear he was fighting a grin.

“Hold up, Comrade Colonel,” I said. “What would a Queen even be doing outside of New Gondwana?”

He waved me off. “Who knows the logic of a Queen? But you know Iria’s scans are never wrong.”

Trapling was looking her over. “She seems a bit young, don’t you think?”

“Appearances can be deceiving,” he said. He bent down and helped Iria up.

“She could kill us at any time!” said Iria.

“Nonsense,” he said. “They are still in Trapling’s barrier. Keep an eye on them.”

I could see him smiling. This was huge. I knew he was thinking of a promotion. The great Annihilator, having caught one of the Ten Queens! This was his chance to leave this island, maybe even become part of the SDF and enjoy the riches of the Pacific Alliance’s wealthiest nation.

Ojau turned, crouched, and leapt into the sky. I had so rarely seen him use his strength for such a means of travel, that for a second, I thought he’d become so elated that he’d gained the power to fly. But no, he was just making one long jump back to the base.

I turned to the others. Iria was outright running away. Trapling was looking nervous, but staying put. I, frankly, had no idea what to do. I heard the Earth Mage and his supposed Queen talking in English again. I had learned English in school, but it had been years since I’d needed to speak it. I managed to make out something about “the mana was cut off.” I didn’t know how their powers worked. I knew the Earth Mage and the Queens were supposed to be powerful, but they weren’t trying to attack or escape. If they could break Trapling’s Barrier, I had to assume they would have done so by now.

I wasn’t sure how much I bought it. Despite my earlier warning to Trapling, I couldn’t help myself, “So what was a Queen doing in America?”

The cowgirl shrugged. “Change of pace,” she said. All trace of worry was gone from her expression. I guess once the secret was out, she decided to just accept it.



As aforementioned, I had the idea to do some chapters as being told from other characters' perspectives. When I dropped the Pacific Alliance Arc, I still liked the idea of doing that for Team Graven's invasion into New Gondwana. I thought the idea of seeing the adventure through the eyes of the antagonists whom the Team are coming to take down would be an interesting twist. Ultimately, though, I decided it was best, especially given how short that part of the book ended up being, to give every character one last chapter to shine and show their perspectives. As such, the following Chapter was scrapped, but if you've read Graven, then you'll probably see how it was rewritten into the final version.



I awaken at my usual time: whenever I damn well felt like it. The luxury hotel suite which served as my chambers was a bit of a mess, sleeping bodies, discarded clothes, and empty whine bottles littering the place.

With my vision, I saw that two of the naked men and one woman sprawled about were dead. I could tell it was my power that killed them. My memories were a bit foggy, but I supposed they must have displeased me somehow during last night’s orgy. I did sometimes like to indulge in a thrilling bit of sex play where if a servant of mine couldn’t make me orgasm within a time limit, I would kill them. I guess a few of them had failed.

For some, the chance to sleep with a Queen was a powerful aphrodisiac, but it was also a great risk. For others, those too cowardly to risk going through the Doorways, but who still craved the protection of superhuman power, they would do whatever it took to gain my favor, to enjoy the creature comforts of being part of my harem. And if they could not protect themselves even from me, well, at least the death I blessed them with was quick.

With my power, I could “see”, in my mind’s eye, the soul of all living things, not just humans and animals, but plants and fungi and even bacteria if I focused on my vision enough. At will, I could seize that soul and snuff it out like a candle flame. Every time I did so, their energy drew into me, empowered me just a bit. I could feel the increased power from last night’s three kills, the combined toughness and strength of their bodies magically stacked onto my own. It wasn’t much compared to other superhumans, and I burned through such power quickly upon its use, but it hardly mattered when my primary ability was so mighty to begin with.

I knew most of the twelve still living were already awake, had perhaps been so for a while, but none of them dared risk my ire by waking me too early. As I sat up and stretched, the two men and two women who had clustered around me to keep me warm practically scrambled away. Others laying about the floor started to get up, the few still asleep jolting awake as soon as they heard the commotion. One of the men, a large, strapping fellow, the sort of muscle-man it was hard to find these days, presented my dark navy robe.

I held up a hand. “I would bathe first,” I said. Hastily he bowed his head and backed away. I pointed to three of the women, one of whom was hung over enough to still be struggling to her feet. I sensed her soul ripple a bit as her body felt a wave of sickness. As she stood, she clapped a hand over her mouth. The girl to her left’s eyes widened in horror as she knew what was about to happen. She tried to grab the hung over woman and tilt her to the side, but it was too late. A reeking liquid sprayed from the woman’s mouth, hitting the floor at my feet. I didn’t shrink back; a Queen did not fear something so mundane as vomit.

It was rather undignified though, and everyone knew it. The others turned away, as the sick woman’s eyes boggled. Her headache-addled mind managed to piece together what had just happened. I allowed her that sweet moment when the horror fully dawned on her and her eyes moistened as her gaze met mine.

I snapped off her life force with a thought, like flipping a light switch with my mind. The woman stiffened for a moment, then pitched forward, landing face first in her own bile. A moment later, she defecated as her muscles relaxed. The reek of stale sex was overpowered by the reek of human waste. My servants were supposed to clean themselves out before attending to me. Twice now, this creature had seen fit to insult me with her incompetence, but the punishment was already carried out.

It wasn’t entirely her fault. She was only human, after all. Humans made mistakes. But a Queen had an image to maintain. Also, seeing her body cool on my floor made my nether regions tingle. As her strength added to mine, I felt rejuvenated enough for some extra morning fun. I glanced about the room to a young man whom had performed quite well last night. I pointed to him. “You, come with us. The rest of you, clean this up.” I raised my foot and wiped some of the vomit off on the dead woman’s back, so I at least wouldn’t trail it behind me as I walked.

I went to the large bath with my three chosen attendants, while the remaining eight scrambled to straighten up my room and dispose of the bodies. I let them have a little extra time to make it spotless, enjoying the male in the middle of large tub, while the females washed and caressed me. He was still exhausted from last night, but he valiantly rose to the effort. I decided to cut him some slack, even though he didn’t last quite as long as I would have liked. It wouldn’t due to have to kill all of my servants in one morning, fun as that might be.

I sent the man to fetch my clothing while the two women dried me off. Ah, the perks of Queendom. This grand hotel, which served as my personal palace, and the surrounding district, had the privilege of running water and electricity, something I had not gotten to enjoy in my youth. Now, I was the one living in style, while most of the rest of the continent got to know what it felt like to live in the dirt.

The male was taking a longer than was strictly necessary, I noticed. Would I have to punish him after all? I crossed my arms and tapped my foot impatiently, and the two women cowered back.

Finally, a few seconds later, he arrived, looking suitably terrified. I let him shiver for a moment. When I didn’t kill him, he hastily, with shaking hands, slipped my dark navy robes over my shoulders. The larger man came in, presenting my mask to me. The wildebeest skull had been specially crafted to fit atop my head comfortably, sloped down to cover my face. Eyeholes had been cut into it so I could still see forward through the skull, but white mesh had been stretched over them so at first glance, it looked unaltered.

As I looked through it, however, I noticed something odd about my larger servant. There was something off about his life force. It almost appeared as though two souls were occupying his one body. It made me curious enough to pause and inspect the phenomenon. I had never seen anything like it before.

It was foolish of me, of course, to have not simply snuffed out both in that moment. Instead I hesitated, and just before I finished sliding the skull helmet back on, I felt the smaller male behind me press something to the back of my head, shoving it hard into my dreadlocks.

“Stay still,” he commanded.

I tried to…




I remembered and I obeyed.

The two women were screaming, reaching for the smaller male. But the male didn’t move his body. Instead, two tendrils of liquid flesh shot out from his shoulders, snapping around their mouths to muffle them. A moment later, their eyes rolled back in their skulls and they slumped to the floor, fast asleep.

“I can’t believe that worked,” said the larger male.

“Me neither,” said the smaller male.

While English had been one of the two official languages of Kenya before I made it part of my domain, they were speaking with American accents, entirely unlike how they had been speaking before. What was happening? Who were these people?

Moreover, why wasn’t I acting? What had they done to me?

“So, Kilika,” said the larger male. “I’ve got good news and bad news for you. You’re going to help us take down your colleagues. Be a good girl, and we won’t kill you afterwards.”

What was this lunatic blathering about? What was—

“She responds to the one who used the device on her,” said the other one. He leaned in closer to my ear. “Now, do as she says.”

“Of course,” I replied, without even meaning to. “What would you have me do?”

“You can call a meeting of the Queens, can you not?” said Larger.

“I can,” I said. “But only in the most extreme of circumstances will any of them arrive.”

The last time we had come together was to stop that invading force a month ago. That had been quite a rush, unleashing my power to such a degree. Xyla and Yrba had only empowered Atalanta on that scale before. For days afterwards, I’d felt like I had enough strength to shatter the world itself! I didn’t gain superhuman strength from superhumans I killed, of course, but I had absorbed several thousand souls at once, even as Ojau had annihilated those few whose powers rendered them immune to me. I had to have reached what they called a high Rank C in strength, if not Rank B. Sadly, I had had little opportunity to actually use such strength before it all bled out of me over the week that followed.

I could certainly have used such strength right now! But then, I don’t think it would have mattered. My body didn’t move like I wanted it to. My power didn’t even activate as I wanted it to.

“Very well,” said Smaller. “Our source says you’re one of the few Xyla and Yrba respect. Will they allow you access to them if you call them?”

So that’s what this was about. A grand coup. Where they had failed with their attempted invasion force, they hoped to succeed with assassins. Somehow, that cursed nation had found a way past the force field. No doubt, once they had had their way with us, they would send their armies to swoop in and perform a grand rescue that would cast them as heroes to the downtrodden people, the better to spread their own empire.

“Yes, they will,” I said. I managed to prevent myself from saying more. Somehow, these two had gained control of me, but perhaps my colleagues could free me. I knew I was one of the few they valued enough to not just kill the moment I hinted at being a problem.

“Alright,” said Larger. “First, you’re going to summon Ojau. Is there a place you prefer to meet?”

“He should already be in his library by now. It will be easier to take you to him.”

Larger quickly went to my bedroom, fetching some clothes for himself and Smaller. The two traitors then had me lead them to the elevators. They followed behind me as if they were attending to me, when the exact opposite held true.

We stepped out onto the lobby of the hotel. Numerous other superhumans and their groveling servants were coming and going, busy with the petty concerns of the lesser nobility. All who saw me stopped and bowed, as was only proper when their Queen passed. Unfortunately, none of them had any means of detecting the trouble I was in. When I got out of this, I was going to murder at least half of them out of general principle.

It would be a drop in the bucket compared to what I had already done. Yes, I remembered it all now. The world cast in an endless night, where vampires and werewolves ruled a thousand nations, where reanimated corpses filled military and labor forces, where a humanoid species not unlike elves lived a blissful existence in forest lit with magical suns. Their every need tended to until adulthood, when one by one, they gladly sacrificed themselves to feed their monstrous overlords, a duty to their caretakers. It had been a symbiotic relationship that had stabilized their small kingdoms for centuries.

First, my companions and I killed their innocent food source. Then, as they starved to the point of madness, turning on one another for scraps of sustenance, I snuffed their twisted souls out one by one in a grand march across their world.

My body trembled with the memories, almost euphoric. Were it not for my current predicament of having become these two men’s puppet, I would have spent the day writhing in rapture as I re-lived every glorious death in my mind.

Did they think to horrify me? To gain my sympathy for their cause? To shock me into such guilt that I would turn to a desperate act of sacrifice to assuage some sudden need for heroism? Pathetic. The only thing that had shaken me from the Master’s influence had been my own boredom at how easy the purging had become.

A pity. I would gladly partake in that “boredom” now, in exchange for the base distractions I toyed with since my ascension to Queen. I certainly would take it over my current predicament.

We went outside to the wide open court, where two of my more devout priestesses preach of my divinity and wisdom to the ragged masses who had made the pilgrimage to my capital. Upon seeing me, the scraggily, dusty humans prostrated themselves before me. As always, the Great Shield cast the world in an omnipresent pink glow, making the crowd before me seem to almost blend together into a mass of lumpy flesh.

“Act as you would, without calling us out,” muttered Smaller.

I stood with regal bearing, tall, with my skull mask angled so its teeth were shown to my kneeling subjects. The wildebeest was an herbivore, of course, but from this angle, the skull still gave the impression of a maw about to feast on a downed prey.

“Oh, Kilika, Great Devourer of Souls, what wisdom do you have for us today?” said one of the priestesses. Her eyes were wild with delight at this particular good timing. I didn’t usually come down to interrupt the sermons.

“Always know your place,” I said, projecting my voice with practiced volume. “The mortal crawls at the feet of the goddess. Please her, and you shall enjoy her protection. Disappoint her and feel her wrath. If these options do not please you, you know the alternative.”

“The Doorway!” whispered the other priestess.

“The Doorway… the Doorway… the Doorway…” chanted the masses, almost hypnotically. “The Blessed Path… the Gateway to Divinity…”

“Yes,” I continued. “If you wish to stand tall with us, the Blessed, then you must do as we did, and brave the Doorways. Step into the Gaze of the Divine, and if you are deemed worthy, return as a God!”

“A god…” they whispered. And yet, I saw the hesitation, as I had thousands of times before. We encouraged them to enter the Doorways, through the fear of destruction or the promise of ascension, but so many chose to risk the life of mortality. Even though I never admitted it out loud, I knew why such temptations were resisted. Millions entered the Doorways. Hundreds came out. Until just a few minutes ago, even I could not have said I would be willing to take the risk, not knowing what lay in store for me.

When I had gone into the Doorway, it had been as a starving child, perhaps only days from death. I had truly had no better options. But most of these people, even forced to live as peasants scratching at the dirt under the dubious protection of a superhuman upper class, they had some assurance of life and provision, if they just did their level best not to piss off their masters. Were I in their shoes, knowing I had only a one in ten-thousandth chance of surviving, I might not have thought the powers were worth the odds.

But now I knew why so many never made it back. The Masters empowered us all, but only some of us returned from our missions to destroy those other worlds. Only a small portion of us broke their control, just enough to be sent back to Earth. The others who remained in their grasp were doomed to continue going on mission after mission, destroying world after world, until they burned out, sacrificed themselves to achieve their mission, or found an enemy that could actually defeat them.

I hadn’t broken the programming. Neither had several others the Masters had gathered one day. Myself, Xyla, Yrba, Ojau, the Shadow Queen, Ghostwalker, and a dozen others; they sent us back to terrorize our own planet, to encourage more humans to enter their Doorways. All to make the people of Earth so desperate to survive, to get revenge, to amass power, that they would swarm through the Doorways en masse.

The Shadow Queen had been the first to arrive, becoming the world’s first supervillain. Ghostwalker had come next, beginning his “sacred mission” to purify North America under the guise of eliminating the cartels. Both had been stopped American’s vaunted hero teams. Iria, Duriam, Xanathraxa, Celestian, Korba, they had insinuated themselves into the governments of Eurasia, pushing for Russia, Arabia, and China to renew their empires, and potentially cause a new World War.

We don’t know if they succeeded, but the fact that a massive superhuman army had attempted to break past our shield meant that it was likely one or more of those nations had succeeded in their conquest.

We, of course, created New Gondwana, and made it a glorious empire of human misery. It had all been Xyla and Yrba’s idea. We could have kept the power going, kept industry running, but instead, we blasted civilization back to the stone age. Cities toppled, villages burned, mortals forced to survive off subsistence farming and hunting. We set a precedent that only superhumanity was worthy of the fruits of civilization, and mankind’s place was in the dirt at our feet.  It was all to encourage them to enter the Doorways, to go, willingly yet unknowingly, into the waiting arms of the Masters.

“Why not force them?” I had asked.

The Masters, in their wordless way, had told us that forcing humans through their Doorways hadn’t worked. They had tried it before, but an unwilling human far too easily broke their programming.

They needed the willing. The courageous. The curious. The desperate. Those who came with a sense of purpose could have that purpose twisted. There were still the occasional failures, but the successes far outweighed them. That was why so many women came back to Earth then men. The male need for conflict was much more useful to the Masters’ purposes than the female need to nurture.

I almost wish they hadn’t still mind-wiped us. Gladly, I would have continued to do the Masters’ bidding, perhaps in exchange for returning to their battlefields after I’d vacationed here long enough. But perhaps they couldn’t trust us not to conspire against them. We were, after all, the worst of their artificial monsters.

This is where that monstrosity got you, in the end. Rivals and revolutionaries and those seeking revenge, always looking to end you. It seemed that my day had finally come, as it had for several other Queens over the years.

I finished up my words of the Divine, some vague drivel that none in the crowd had the brains or the guts to question, and went on my way, my two “servants” close behind.

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