Bonus Chapter. Bird

(October 31, 2017)

“Honestly,” I said.  “You have got to stop playing that song.”

“Awww…,” she whined, “but it’s so fitting!”

The sound of Marilyn Manson’s This is Halloween wafted through the air.

“Bee, I don’t care, we’re not playing it.”  She pouted.  At least, that’s what I assumed she did from her tone of voice.  In retrospect, I had no idea.  Her mask wasn’t the most revealing.

She was dressed in a small, black, chitinous costume.  It had an extra set of arms below the normal ones, reinforced legs, and a giant hump.  Her face was covered in a bug-eyed mask, with two long mandibles stretching down about six-inches.  Though designed to creep people out, it was practical.  The arms had obvious utility.  They gave her an edge on the rare occasions when she was involved in actual combat, and let her build stuff faster.  The reinforced legs let her support all the weight, and the eyes and mandibles were stuffed full of gadgets.  The big hump…  Honestly, I don’t even know.  I’ve seen it sprout little robotic arms, turn into a giant cannon, and she’s pulled enough raw material out of it to make my costume ten times over.

What can I say?  The name Beetle was well deserved.

My suit is the opposite.  Where Brenna went for a creepy look, but very practical costume, I went for pure elegance, to the shameful extent of cutting some useful gadgets because they ruined the aesthetics.

My costume is a suit of black body armor, styled after my namesake, a bird.  I had mechanized claws on my feet, lightly textured to evoke thoughts of bird legs.  I had a utility belt around my waist, and a beak shaped helmet.  My magnum opus, though, was the magnificent set of wings on my back.  The culmination of all my different works, I’ve been offered millions of dollars to let someone borrow them for a day. Nigh-invincible, but flexible, combining some of the tech I got from a technician-tinker named Bastion, and some materials I got from Deadalus [sic].  They fold up and can fit onto my back so well that nobody knows they’re there.  The thing I’m most proud of is how silent they are.  I’m the first tinker, regardless of classification, to make a compact and yet stealthy method of flight.

That’s part of why people have given me the “mobility” specialization, just like how Beetle’s is “exponential creation.”

They’re wrong though.  I don’t know what my specialization is.  I just built a mobile suit because I liked it, and it complemented Brenna’s slow and large suit.

We made a perfect team.  I dealt with strong, single enemies, and she dealt with the hordes. Luckily, neither of us were feeling useless that day.

I was flying around, shooting energy blasts at some of the big guys, while Beetle was using her tinker-tech to build a swarm of minute soldiers, yet somehow still finding time to play music and chat with me over her comm.

“Shit,” she said, “Ben, I’m gonna need some help.”

“I told you, Bee. Codenames. Call me Bird while in costume.”

“Fine, Big Bird, get your pansy ass down here and actually do some fucking damage to the demons.”

Bird,” I muttered, “Just, Bird,” but flew down to help her anyway.  I retracted my energy blasters, and drew my photon blades.  Another unique construction, I built them after Brenna finally convinced me to watch the Star Wars movie.  They work by-  no, I’ll stop there.  Just… light and heat.  And radioactive decay.  Not going into a technical explanation.  All that matters is that they sliced through the demons like paper.

If only that killed them.

“Remind me why we took this job, again?” I asked, switching my comm on.

“Because,” she grunted, “we’re minors, and though people don’t officially know that, they can guess.  We have stuff to prove.  This is proving it.”

“Yeah, but don’t you think this is a little much for a couple of fourteen year-olds?”

“Shuttup, we can do this!”

“I mean, I get the whole, proving that we’re at least anti-heroes, thing, but saving a kid who fucked himself over seems a little extreme.”

“It’s not extreme!  He was overconfident!”

“How overconfident do you have to be summon a legion of demons?”

She started ignoring me, and switched to external speakers,

“John!  Johnathan Fusk!  Where are you?  Can you hear us?”

From behind the horde we were fighting, we heard a voice say, in a deep, dark, definitely not fouteen year-old boy voice,

All too well…”

We froze.  Moments later, instead of taking advantage of our pause, the demons froze, and started kneeling.  Half in the direction of the voice, half in the other.  We heard a huge thud, then the demons started fighting amongst themselves.  From the direction of the thud, we saw a figure approaching.  Tall and muscular, he carried a twisted black knife, and walked with a strange feline at his side.

Half a second later, my helmet identified it as a serval.

“Them,” it said. “I’ll kill the tall one.”  Realizing it meant me, I hit the ground, hoping to dodge in time.  When nothing seemed to happen, I looked around.  The tall man had dashed behind me, somehow knocking off Beetle’s helmet in one hit, exposing her red hair and freckled face. He had scored a long cut across her cheek, and was running his finger along his knife standing behind her.  Rather than her back spouting a cannon and shooting him, as I expected, she knelt in front of him.  He nodded, then she, walking mindlessly, moved towards the serval, then stopped, standing at attention. The serval, noting her immobility, moved towards me.

“King,” it said, “take her back to the base.  I’ll catch up with you, and send our little Legion to follow you.  Don’t expect him tomorrow, it’ll be a few years.” Then, passing through the horde of demons without being touched, the serval came in front of me.

“Call me Khan,” it said.  “You will not survive this encounter.”. With that, it raised one paw and slammed it down on my back.  Looking at the suit monitors, I saw that three long holes had pierced the armor on my back… And my stomach.  Uh-oh.  That’s not good.

“Activating lethal wound procedure,” I heard from my suit.

/Thank God!/

I felt the pain in my chest, all of a sudden, and barely managed to hold back a scream.

/It thinks I’m dead.  If I can play possum for long enough… I can get away, and rescue Brenna!/

I heard sounds of conversation in the distance, and strange screams, but ignored it, focusing on my inventions to distract me from the pain.

/That claw thing the serval did… Perhaps I could replicate it with focused air blasts?/

As I thought, I gradually noticed the demons leaving. Some burrowed, some walked, some flew…. But many just disappeared.

/What are those fuckers?/

When the field was empty, the serval, Khan, returned.  Looking at my body with pity, it said,

“What a funny-looking corpse.  Ugly fuck.” It paused.

“Not even a twitch.  Dead, then. Sorry, Copy Tinker.  You would have been his friend, and we can’t have that.”  With that, it disappeared.

As as I slipped into unconsciousness, I heard the faint sound of music from a dropped speaker:

“I am the wind blowing through your hair

I am the shadow on the moon at night

Filling your dreams to the brim with fright

This is-“

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Tyrant IV. Zeta I

“Hey, beautiful.  How’s it going?” I said softly, gently pushing open the door with one hand.  It had been a week since our fight with Giant and Mouse, and Diana was still in the hospital, despite her Adonis-type body.

“Not so good,” she responded, “That bastard hit me in a weak spot. And not all of us have your amazing physique.”

“Aw, shucks,” I said, faking a blush and a bumpkin accent, “Yur too kaend.” She glared at me.

“I was referring,” she said angrily, “to your high level of muscle growth, innate combat prowess, abnormal regeneration, and ridiculous pain threshold.  Not all of us can pull ourselves together after getting stabbed.  And what?  How many times did Crane run you through?”

I chuckled nervously, running my hand through the back of my hair,

“Oh.  That physique.”

She grinned, her voice suddenly becoming deeper and throatier,

“Though, if you’re feeling up to it, I could give your other physique an … examination.  We are in a hospital, after all, handsome.”

I chuckled and walked over, putting the flowers I had brought next to her bed, along with the other bouquet from a few days ago.

“Let’s wait until you’re recovered, no?”  She pouted.

“You’re lucky I’m not at full health, or there’s nothing you could do to stop me.”

“Hey, what makes you think I’d want to?”

“Just a feeling. I should get Mir- um.  Olivia to read your mind and find out for sure.  Oh!”

“What now?”

“I should get her to just brainwash you into doing what I say!”  I took on a surprised expression to hide the sudden rush of… anxiety?  fear?  … Terror?

“She can do that?” I asked. Diana grinned.

“Oh, yeah.  Forced telepathy and mind control.  Perfect for making boy-toys.” Taking a deep breath to steady my heart rate, I said calmly,

“The two of you would discuss that.  Well, lovely chatting with you about subverting my will in order to abuse my genitals, but I have a press conference to go to.”  Diana, chuckling, spoke in her “seductive” voice again,

“Oh, what we’d be doing isn’t called abuse…  what I’d be doing.  I’m not sharing you.”

“How sweet of you.”

“You really have to go?” she asked, jokes aside.

“Yeah.  But I’ll be back this afternoon.”

“Promise?”

“Promise,” I said, bending down to kiss her.

Two minutes later, we broke off, panting slightly.

“You are such a tease,” she said, watching me as I walked out the door.

“Why the grin?” Exile asked as I pulled on my goggles.

“Oh, no reason,” I said, “Just a song in my heart.”

She glanced at me skeptically, but didn’t press, likely due to the team members just entering the locker room.  I nodded at Apollo.  He ignored me, and went over to talk to Crane, who was lying on top of the lockers.  I started to say “hi” to Everest, but stopped at the look of shock on his face.

“You… and Crane…”

“Thank god!  Finally!” Exile said in exasperation.  “Yes!  Zeta is Jay, I’m Sarah, and Crane is Alex.  God, you’re thick sometimes.”

Grinning, Everest said, “Well, I feel stupid.  It was the faces that made me realize.”  I snorted, and slowly clapped my hands.  Everest dawned his hurt puppy face, and everyone laughed.  I pulled my half-mask up over my mouth and nose, then led my team to face our greatest threat; bad publicity.

“How can you justify the amount of property damage done over the past few weeks?”

 I coughed.

“Currently, we are working on driving out the gang known as the Court, which has controlled most of the state since May 2018.  A certain amount of property damage must be expected.”

A bearded man holding a small microphone quietly cleared his throat, but instantly commanded the attention of the entire crowd.

/Oh shit.  A reporter good enough to make an entire mob of Superazzi shut up./

“March 4th.  South Haven High School burnt to the ground.  A local gym with damage to the foundation and floors.  March 18th.  Three casualties, severe damage to the road.  March 26th.  Seventeen civilian casualties, twenty three police officers. Irreparable damage to four buildings.  August 25th.  Irreparable damage to three buildings, severe damage to two.  Two villain casualties, one civilian injury.  Two days ago. Irreparable damage to one building, severe damage to two others.  Not a great track record, huh?”  My jaw clenched.

/I know this guy,/ I heard in my head, /Mr. Myers.  He’s a muckraking journalist with a grudge against supers./

“The issue is, Mr. Myers,” I smothered my grin at his shocked expression.

/That’s right.  I know your name, asshole./  

/Only thanks to me./

“That we are dealing with people determined to kill us.  They have no qualms about wanton destruction.  In fact, my girlfriend is currently in the hospital because of injuries sustained in a recent fight.  In order to beat them and return our state to its former prosperity, we must be just as ruthless as them.”

/Good,/  I thought, /They’ll be too busy writing about the blooming intrateam romance to focus on the actual fights./

He opened his mouth to respond, only to be interrupted by a voice from the back of the crowd.

“S’cuse me, coming through.  Urgent message.  S’cuse me.” After a minute or so of this, a small figure appeared at the front of the crowd.  Dressed in clothes right out of Oliver Twist, it was young boy, cockney accent and everything.  We stared in surprise.  With a dramatic flourish, he presented an envelope, bowing at the waist.

“Well?” He said, “Wat’cha waitin’ for?  Opn’ it, govna!” Without taking my eyes off him, I bent forward and grabbed the envelope.  It was very fine parchment, slightly yellowed.  Carefully, I opened it, and drew out the sheet within.  The rest of my team gathered around me and we read:

Congratulations!  You’ve shown yourself to be strong enough to not be defeated solely by underlings.   Your repeated victories have shown your worth and abilities.  In fact, your battles have given me enough information to compile a list of “stats!”

Team Overall:

Close Combat: 8/10

Long Range Combat: 6/10

Strategic Thinking: 4/10

Zeta:

Close Combat: 10/10

Long Range Combat: 3/10

Strategic Thinking: 7/10

Apollo:

Close Combat: 7/10

Long Range Combat: 9/10

Strategic Thinking: 9/10

Selene:

Close Combat: 8/10

Long Range Combat: 1/10

Strategic Thinking: 6/10

Exile:

Close Combat: 4/10

Long Range Combat: 10/10

Strategic Thinking: 8/10

Mirage:

Close Combat: 1/10

Long Range Combat: 3/10

Strategic Thinking: 9/10

Crane:

Close Combat: 9/10

Long Range Combat: 6/10

Strategic Thinking: 5/10

Everest:

Close Combat: 5/10

Long Range Combat: 0/10

Strategic Thinking: 2/10

Just for reference:

King:

Close Combat: 10/10

Long Range Combat: 10/10

Strategic Thinking: 10/10

Your prospects are bad enough already, but you might want to know:  I know all your real names and addresses, thanks to the informant I have very close to you.  First to go down is the black bishop, Crane.

-King

We finished reading in stunned silence.  As we looked up to stare at the messenger, he gave us a cheeky grin before dissolving into a mass of slowly fading blue polygons.  Mr. Myers, the journalist, was the first to break the silence.

“A ki-construct?  An actual, moving, apparently intelligent being composed solely of ki?  That-that’s pretty high level. What did the letter say?”

Ignoring him, I gestured to the team, and without a word, we all retreated into the preparation building, ignoring the sudden shouts from the press.

“Well, shit,” Everest said, “I’m the weakest, then.”

“What? No way,” Exile instantly said, drowning out Apollo’s own protest.

“Different strengths.  He was only going off of the base attack.  You’re a tank, focusing on defense.  Normally, that would let you attack more, but since your strength comes with a speed reduction…”

“I guess,” he muttered, “still doesn’t make me feel great.”

“Then train.” I said.  “Train to raise those values in the time left before he challenges you.  Become our ace in the hole.”

“I…  Don’t know that I -”

“Try it. If you can’t, then leave.  But don’t give up.  According to that sheet, if you don’t man up, you could get one of us killed.”  I stood up, and ripped of my mask.

“It’s time to get this over with.  My name is Jason Leigh.  I may not be the most compassionate or caring person, but I will never let one of you die while it is in my power.  This is my face, this is me.”

Next to me, Apollo stood up.

“My name is William Alexander.  I may not have the power that some of you do, but I have trained myself to be strong.  This strength is for you.  This is my face, this is me.”  I looked at him gratefully, but he just looked over at the team.

“My name is Sarah West.  I have power, and I’m not afraid to use it against anyone who falters while saving a life.  This is my face, this is me.”

“My name is Olivia Radd.  I’m not strong, but I’m clever.  This is my face, this is me.”

“My name is Alex Roke.  I’m strong, fast, and vicious, but I fight for the boss.  This is my face, this is me.” Finally, Everest stood up.  Clearing his throat, he said,

“And to complete our ceremony of trust and bonding:  My name is Oliver Goldberg.  I will become strong, or I will leave.  This is my face, this is me.” We all nodded at each other, realizing the bonds formed in that moment.

/For now, at least, we’re a team,/ I thought, shielding my thoughts from Mirage.  Crane slumped down on the bench.

“I’ll stay vigilant-e. Get it?  Vigilant, as in, watchful of the promised attack, and yet vigilante, cause I’m working on my own to take out crime in the seedy districts?  Eh? Eh?” I rolled my eyes and turned around.

“Have fun with the pun, Alex,” I said, waving my hand over my shoulder, “I’d stick with you, but I have a promise more important than your lives to follow through on.”

As I walked out, I heard Exile say under her breath,

“Hey, stop joking around, Jay.  It’s not funny.”  I pulled my half-mask over my face, concealing my grin from everyone but me… and Khan, of course.

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Character Profile: Apollo

Real name: William Alexander

Alias: Apollo, SVRA Agent# 1890

Age: 18

Sex: Male

Body Type: Muscular

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 184

Hair Color: Blonde

Eye Color: Blue

Power: Hyper-proprioception, Enhanced Strength, Super Reflexes, Enhanced Speed, Hyper Coordination, More. Apollo got a large amount of small and useful powers.  He has super proprioception, mildly enhanced strength, speed, super reflexes, and perfect coordination.  He has a minor healing factor, and will not age past maturity.  He could theoretically live forever if not killed, and his powers, although all physically related, will continue to increase.  

Power Rank: A, Progressive

Origin:  Innate

Status: Hero, Minimal Turning Chance.

Current affiliation(s): SVRA CT Chapter I

Previous affiliation(s): Lynde & Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School Basketball, SVRA Milwaukee Chapter IV

Image

Hey guys, I’m Flurry, novice writer and basically an assistant. Right now, I’m helping out with a lot of the behind the scenes work. In the future, if there’s a screw-up like this one, there’s a good chance that I’ll be posting the “sorry” notes. That being said, sorry we don’t have a new section to put up, but as Zeta said, all of the writer are really busy. However; we do have some great sections planned for the future. Hope the first posted profile makes up for it! 

~ Flurry, Novice Writer

 

Sigh.

Well, despite there being a lot of us, nobody has any time. So, we couldn’t get a post ready in time.  Partially because of schoolwork, partially because parents frequently find it a good idea to scream for three hours about college.  There’s also the whole, “New Batman game coming out” thing that makes a few members of our group MIA.  We’ll get you stuff when we can.  Sorry.

Do you know how hard it is to get people to write? I remind them all week; hey, remember that you promised to do a section for Saturday?  Then, they start working at 11:15.  Two minutes later: “What do you mean I have to write more than three sentences?”  You know, I tell people, and remind them incessantly about it for a reason.  BECAUSE I HATE MAKING THESE MIDNIGHT POSTS!  I feel really bad about it.  And rather pissed off. I spend my free time trying to stay ahead in this thing.  And when someone says they’ll do a section in time, they don’t. Fuck it.  Make a bunch of comments dissing mirage and Discharge, cause they’ve messed up posts too many times.

Tyrant IV. Mirage I

/God, do I love this feeling./ I felt the attention of the hallway gravitate towards the sound of my footsteps as my hips swayed side to side. I drank the attention like the sweet honey nectar of the gods; it filled me with immense pleasure, as usual. Since I love fooling with these ants, I decided to shift their perspective slightly so my body appeared even taller, curvier, and more impossibly buoyant than normal. I remember the power filling me from my toes to the crown of my head.

/Ah, the joys of school. Dear God, these drooling kids are hilarious./

 

Suddenly, I saw Jason out of the corner of my eye. The usual smirk on my face curled even farther upwards as I smoothly glided over to him and his mysterious new piece of fresh meat, some kid named John. As I walked over, my eyes slid up and down John, assessing his physical abilities before probing quietly into his mind. I waited eagerly for the moment when he would look and see me, shocked by the angel’s wings I decided to show him growing on my back.

 

I’ve always loved my power: first impressions are everything.

 

I watched his eyes widen as he took in the clearly impossible sight of a Victoria’s Secret-quality body attached to two giant fluffy white wings in the middle of a crappy high school hallway.

/Poor kid, he never even saw me coming./

 

I became momentarily bored with the new kid upon the sight of Jason. I decided to have some fun with him. He hates it when I read his mind, so I decided to tease him instead. You don’t have to be a telepath like I am to see the sparks between him and Diana. My best talent is finding people’s weak points and applying subtle pressure there. Every person is a weak conglomeration of supports: all my job is is to find the weakest one and either prod at it or destroy it altogether. Or, even better, I can make sure that that support leans on me. You could call me manipulative. I’m sure you’d be entirely correct.

 

“So, Jason, mind telling me what flowers are growing this season?” I murmured.

/Shit, that could have been so much more clever. Whatever./ I watched as Jason maintained a relatively steady countenance, but I knew from experience that he was momentarily flustered inside, his thoughts drifting to fantasies about him and Diana. I was satisfied that the reaction I intended to induce had occurred, so I gave up any further attempt to provoke him. Though he was my good friend, he could be pretty unstable. I knew I needed to handle him with prudence.

 

I left them without another word, completely at ease with my ability to disturb the usual balance, and continued to strut down the hallway until I arrived at my advanced multi-dimensional calculus course. The room, as usual, was filled with a bunch of nerdy looking freaks. These were all the kids with super powered brains, though, unfortunately, most did not acquire the same attractive appearances.

/What shame. I need to find some more people around here with sex and brains, these kids are too easy./

I always love a challenge, so that class passed by quickly as usual. I’ve never had much of a problem with math.

 

Next, I made another journey through the hallway to my favorite class: illusion magic. This was a course I excelled at even more dramatically than Math. That’s why they call me Mirage, I can show anyone any goddamn thing I want them to see. I don’t even need magic to do it: I just love sliding myself inside their heads with no more than a thought.

 

We began class with our usual exercise. Since I was taking an advanced course, we were learning complete immersion. Our exercise began  with our class splitting in half and forming two lines on opposite sides of each other. The teacher, Mr. Coxon, a total dick, dictated that my side was to go first.

 

Well, I shouldn’t write that he did that of free will. I never let him choose the other side.

/I should be teaching this class, these monkeys are completely incompetent./ Instead of immersing my partner in an island paradise as we were assigned to do, I decided to play a little practical joke on the teacher. I brought all the students in the class into a blank room. They knew what to do. I then focused my energy on the professor, showing him a classroom of students diligently working.

 

I guess I felt kinda bad for always doing this to poor Mr. C, but I really wasn’t so concerned with harming the other kids education. They were all more than capable of teaching illusion to themselves, and I wanted my damn day off. Keeping lasting illusions has always been my specialty, so I just walked out of the room.

 

I went to my favorite place in the whole world: my locker. No one knows this, but I love sliding into it and completely immersing myself in my own fantasy location. It’s perfect. Admittedly, my fantasies involve sex 99% of the time, but for now I needed space to think. /Olivia Radd./ I toyed with the name in my head. Even internally my tone sounded deep and smooth, a quality I love. /It seems so innocent. Just two little words. It is my whole privacy and everything I keep secret. Maybe I should tell my friends? I do love a good drama…no. I need my name. My namesake is an extension of myself. I’m an individualist, am I not? I chose this for a reason. I chose to leave my past behind and make my name like everything else about me: a mirage. Fuck, where did my cigarette go?/ I fumbled around in my pocket and drew out the long, 50’s style holder. Smoking illusionary cigarettes was a terrible, yet genius habit. I felt my lungs fill with the smoke that I knew wasn’t there. I was pretty sure that I was the only psychic who could create illusions for herself.

/I need a plan. It’s so stupid that I don’t have utter and complete control over the social structure here yet. It’s my damn friends messing me up. Should I mess with them? No, that would be wrong…I need a distraction./

As usual, my mind wandered back into itself. I started reminiscing about my past. I could still remember so crystal clearly the shame and humility my past carried. My thoughts meandered until they entered that dark tunnel containing everything I didn’t want to admit. I tell everyone that my life is filled with pain and darkness. In reality, the darkness is only within myself.

I spent my whole life believing that I was gifted and beautiful. I am, sure. But it’s all a lie. I’m not a bad person…technically. I’m just an illusion. I have spent my life fabricating a grand illusion for myself. The power I have been given is the power to show people, including myself, what they want to see. I have done just that.

If there is anything I have learned over time it is that the illusion is the truth. The illusion of control is control, and the illusion of love is as close to love as I have ever come.

Sex is the only thing that makes me feel truth. There is no lie in that most basic instinct.

But everything else…it’s all faux glitter and lights. Trust me, there’s no water in this desert. People are easy to control because they so desperately want to drink. I’m not real. I’m a mirage.

I crushed the dropped cigarette beneath my foot, and stepped out of my locker.

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Tyrant IV. Discharge I

Let me give you a riddle. More of a lateral thinking problem, really.

You wake up in a room with four walls, a floor, and a ceiling. No matter how hard you try, you can’t manage to actually see that ceiling, but you still know it’s there. There are no lights, but you can still see your surroundings without any form of night vision.

There are probably a lot of answers to that one.

But in my case, the room I woke up in wasn’t anything like what I had expected. It was far from the stereotypical all-white room with tiled floors. Nor was it a pitch black room filled with ominous sounds. Rather, I found myself tied to the ceiling above a blazing inferno.

“HOLY SHIT!” I screamed.

Or at least I would have, but instead my throat poured out a ghastly rasp that sounded more akin to a wounded house cat than to a human being. From the spike of pain that erupted from my neck, I surmised my vocal chords were damaged, if not completely burnt off.

As the flames slowly burnt against me, I struggled to form coherent thoughts. I finally settled on “Why?”

I suppose what I really meant was how. I knew what happened, and I had a pretty good guess as to why.

More and more mid level supervillians have been kidnapping civilians as of late. It’s still not 100% clear where powers come from, but their general goal seems to be capturing and breeding powers for use in a gang or army type group. Whoever decided to kidnap me must not have known I had already gained my powers, and how worthless they were.

Then again, maybe they really needed a spare phone charger.  That wouldn’t explain the fire, though.

Regardless, my attention was ripped away from the roaring heat before me as a robotic voice sounded from an intercom, echoing across the room, drowning out the crackling of the fire.

“Subject 74 now awake. Commence tests 45 through 52.”

“Subject!?” My mind raced. Whoever kidnapped me, they might have been after me for some other reason. Especially since they chose fire as their focus for whatever tests I was about t–no, had been undergoing.

Not really expecting an answer, I nevertheless shouted, as loud as my damaged voice could, “Who, what, and where are you?! Why and how are you doing this to me?!” I paused, and added as an afterthought,  “Why haven’t these ropes burned off yet?”

I heard a sound akin to gears grinding together before catching with a harsh “CLANG!!”

A low buzz filled the room and a vaguely feminine voice that was definitely not automated answered,

“Those ropes are made of kev-weave. Some little flames won’t hurt them, though you’ll probably have quite a few scorch marks if you make it to the morning.”

“And my other questions!?” I demanded, ignoring the slight twitch at her words.

There was a slight paused, before the voice slowly responded

“Understand, I’m only telling you this out of pity.”

“Telling me what!?” I screeched, then immediately subsided into a coughing fit from the pain in my throat.

“You’re part of an experiment to…draw out certain characteristics in people. You qualified as someone who had these qualities already, but not to such an extent that this process would be useless. So, the company I work for sent out some agents with very basic incapacitation abilities, and here you are.”

I let the crackling of the flames sink into my ears before I responded in my most chilling tone,

“What kind of quality requires burning someone to death to bring out?”

 “I can’t say,” the voice replied,” but I can guarantee that you’ll figure it out yourself before long.”

“Don’t leave me with that!!” I howled. “Who are you!? Where am I!? Why did this have to be me!? What did I do to deserve this!?”

The buzzing continued for about 5 seconds before it abruptly ceased

The metallic voice returned once more, monotonously dictating “test 45 is now 100% online. First trial commencing. Testing new functions. Seeking out maximum capacity in 3…2…1…begin.”

I let out a startled yelp as the flames that were already lapping at my feet began to climb higher and higher and the roar of the furnace underneath me intensified tenfold. Sure enough, the ropes held fast, but already I could feel my flesh scald, my hair burn away at the roots. I tried to scream, to protest, to cry. Even the thin, choked rasp I’d been capable of earlier was gone now. Blisters began to form, swelled to the size of grapefruit, and finally burst, sending combinations of puss and blood everywhere, before those same fluids evaporated an instant later.

My eyebrows were gone, along with large patches of skin.

“Fuck you, Jay. Thanks for visiting me in the hospital. Really the way I wanted to spend my last few days before burning to death.  Recovering from burns.  Asshole. I’m going to die.” I thought to myself in utter terror. My mind chained thoughts together in mere instants, panickedly stringing together one thought and another, desperate to distract from the pain with something, anything.

“I’m going to die, all alone, in a strange building, and no one will ever know. Hell, no one will even notice. It’s not as if I told everyone I was in the hospital, nor when I got out. It’s not as if I ever gave anyone a reason to ask.”

“No one will even notice I’m gone,” I thought once more.

“No one will even care,” I wheezed out through what remained of my throat.

Tears began to fall, evaporating with a sizzle I realized was similar to grease on a burger.

The thought was gruesome enough that  I finally let my eyes close rather than wait out the rest of this agony.

The sizzling continued, despite my tightly shut eyelids.

I grimaced, clenched my eyes shut even further, and shook my head side to side, determined to die with a shred of dignity, unmocked by the disgusting sound of blood and tears evaporating into the air.

Finally, the flow of tears slowed to a standstill.

Still the sizzling continued.

Surprised, I allowed my now blackened eyelids to open up, revealing nothing but the white intensity of the flames.

The pain was finally starting to subside, I realized. Then I put two and two together, and bit my lower lip as I saw just how many nerves were missing from my body, along with the hunks of charred flesh dangling off my bones.

All of a sudden, the sizzling grew louder still, and I strained my neck to catch a glimpse of the source.

With that simple motion, I heard a metallic snap, and was flung forward at an angle, dangling sideways in the heart of the inferno.

Then I heard the same snap before hurtling head first into hell itself.

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Tyrant IV. King I

The man in the golden armor stood in front of me.  His jūmonji yari was pointed towards my face, its cross a reprimand for my sins.

“It’s over, King.  It ended the moment you ticked the Dragonslayers off.  Nobody escapes us.”

Slowly, I got off the ground.  Spitting the dust out, I said,

“It’s not over till I’m dead.  You can’t deal with my power, Duel.  Not like you dealt with Jormungandr.” Duel laughed humorlessly.

“Dealing with powers is what we do.  We got Port, a member of the SVRA Richmond team, to teleport your underlings away.  We got Tombstone, the bloodless abomination, to fight you.  I’m clad in armour, so you can’t touch me.  Plico is controlling the paper demon protecting the rest of my team.  Need I say more?  We’re destroying you.  Truly, there’s no shame if you surrender now.  Your death will be painless.”

I cocked my head, appearing to consider his offer.

“No,” I said.

“No?” He asked, looking seriously surprised that I rejected it his proposal.  “Ah well.  That’s too bad.”  He rushed forward, almost faster than I could react.  Almost.  I pushed his spear away with my hand, using my other hand to jab at his unguarded face, trying to get a scratch.  He flinched away at the last moment, jumping back.

“That’s faster than you should be able to go…  What have you been hiding?”  I didn’t reply.  I just sent a quick barrage of long range attacks at him.  Fire, ki blasts, even a few light constructs. Without waiting for the smoke and dust to clear, I dashed at him, sharpening my fingers into claws and hardening my body to the strength of steel.  As I entered the cloud, I turned on my ki-sensing vision, looking for his body.  Right…  Where?

Where did he go? Whe-AAAAAAHHHH!

I sat up suddenly, wide awake.  Looking around, I noticed I was alone, and relaxed. I threw off my opulent comforter and silently padded to the bathroom on bare feet.  As I brushed my teeth, my eyes fixed on my right hand.  As I moved it back and forth across my mouth, I flexed the fingers one by one, to test that they still worked.

In a world with Post-humans, many capable of healing and more of regeneration, you wouldn’t think that the loss of a hand would be too bad.  Inconvenient at first, sure.  But for those with power, finding a healer to restore it would be simple enough.  It was.  I found a healer the week after I escaped.  But, whatever dark power Duel had used to sear off my hand prevented it from regenerating for an entire year.

I screamed in pain as blood gushed out.  Duel walked out of the smokescreen, his armour gone.  Instead, he was surrounded by a dark mist, a sharp contrast to his white hair.

“So many powers.  You have more followers.  They have to be…  Plico.  Bring Port to the basement.  Check for a hidden chamber. Now…  King.  What to do with you…”

I stopped screaming and crouched over, trying to focus any healing or regen powers I had on my wrist.  The leader of the Dragonslayers walked forward, almost contemptuously.  “Our powers make us tools in the hands of God.  Our purpose is determined from the moment of our birth, and it is all we can do fulfill it.  It is your fate to die here. Why resist?  You merely prolong your suffering.”

“Weren’t you listening?  It’s not over…” I grimaced, bending my legs, “TILL I’M DEAD!”  With that, I leapt towards the ranged members of his team, shrugging off their blasts.  With Plico down in the basement, they didn’t have the stopping power to prevent me from tearing through them.  I burst out of my headquarters, blood pouring down.  As I ran, and the building reached the end of my range, I used the only power I had access to that helped.  I detonated my blood.  The explosion shook the ground, covering me in a wave of painfully hot fire, and collapsing the building.  Duel, at least, survived.  My followers…  doubtful.

I sighed, looking down at the scars covering my chest.  That day had cost me everything.  I had to leave the state, burn my bridges just to escape.  I had fled all over the country, running and running until the Dragonslayers moved on to Fafnir.  When it was clear they had truly given up on me, I moved to Connecticut, the place called Villain’s Haven. I built up my power base again, discreetly spreading my influence over the entire state.  I am once again, a true King.  But, I daren’t become too powerful, too influential, lest I attract the attention of the Dragonslayer again.

“Milord.”

“Mmm?  Yes?”

“Iapetus has lost.  He survived, and one of our psychics was able to glean an image of the fight from his mind while he slept in jail.  Would you like to see it?”

“I would.  I shall view it in my throne room, in ten minutes.”

“Yessir!”  The messenger saluted and rushed off.

 

A trio of shapes flew over the buildings, rapidly approaching the combatant.  One in black, one in white, and one in red.  Mirage, dressed impeccably in her dark red, skintight suit gently lowered herself, pushing the dust away from her feet.  Zeta flew down as fast as he could, landing in a dramatic pose and cracking his knuckles.  Everest, in his form fitting white body suit, crashed down on a nearby building, sending bricks everywhere.

“OW!” He shouted, rubbing his head.  Zeta and Mirage rolled their eyes simultaneously, then turned to the villain.

“Iapetus, is it?” Mirage asked, “What are you doing?  Why is this necessary?”  Zeta glanced at her.

“Why do you think?” He said,  “I’ll bet you twenty dollars it’s the same reason Giant and Mouse attacked.  Shadowy boss of the Court, or some other gang, wants to test us.”  Mirage donned a thoughtful expression.

“Giant and Mouse…  those wouldn’t have to be the ones you killed, would they?” Zeta took on a blank expression for a second, then nodded.

“Yeah.  It’s a shame Selene killed them, we might have been able to learn something.”  Mirage shot him a sharp glance, then turned towards Iapetus again.

“So, what’s the shtick?”

“Zeta’s right, I’m afraid.  Another test.”  Iapetus said.  Mirage groaned.

“Damnit, that’s twenty bu-  Everest!” She shouted suddenly, spinning around. “I need your help!  Zeta, fight him for now!” Zeta shrugged.

“Sure.”

I stopped watching Zeta and Iapetus as they flew into the air.  I’ve seen enough aerial battles, one more wouldn’t give me anything useful.  I looked over to Mirage and Everest.

-sion,” she was saying, “We need to evacuate that building.  Now.  I’ll start levitating people on the top floors out the windows, you enter from the front and start warning people.”

“Are you sure they’ll know who I am?” Everest asked nervously.

“You’re not wearing a mask, your face has been all over the news, and you have a picture of a mountain summit on your chest.  I think they’ll recognize you.  Now, go!”  They rushed off.

At that moment, I heard a whistling noise from the sky.  It also occured to me that if Iapetus was fighting Zeta, he wouldn’t have known what was going on here.  Hmmm.  That psychic must have an interesting specialization.  I need to find out more about it.  It sounds like a useful ability.  

The whistling noise was growing steadily louder, like a bomb. Then, just as Mirage levitated the last person out of the fifth floor window, Iapetus’ body smashed into the bottom of the building, Zeta pushing him at supersonic speeds.  The building disintegrated.

The image I was watching began to fade into darkness.  The last thing I heard was a female voice saying,

“Thank God for Precognition.  He’s still alive, let’s get him into the holding cell.”

“Interesting,” I said, sitting on my throne, “Leave me.  I must think carefully about what I have seen.”  My followers kowtowed out of the room, and I was alone in the darkness, once again.

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