Folie à Plusieurs V. The Watchmaker I

A figure shrouded in black leaves a building.  He, for it is, in fact, male, makes his way across a human encampment, teleporting, running, and jumping incredibly quickly.  As he approaches his targets, a demonic energy increases in power.  When he encounters the drug dealers, the demon’s presence is indistinguishable from his own.  Though he could defeat a thousand of them in seconds, he draws a fight with three of them to last for five minutes.  He throws the first blow at four minutes and thirty one seconds, without drawing either of his swords.  He reaches out with one hand and lightly pushes on one of their heads. With five eighths of a second left to live, the dealer starts to turn and adopts a shocked expression.  His head, no longer attached to his body, flies forward, smashing into one of his comrades.  The shocked expression of his disembodied comrade is the last thing he sees as his entire body is electrified.  The last of the triumvirate attempts to flee.  He discovers that his feet are frozen to the ground.  His terror increases as he notices the ice is creeping up over his body.  He dies before it reaches his crotch.  The killer begins to feast upon the bodies, an unnatural jaw taking chunks out of their flesh.  I turn around to leave.  This one does not need interference.

A muscular boy is speaking to a reporter.  The boy is not very intelligent.  The reporter is.  One’s name is Oliver Goldberg, but he is often called Everest.  The other’s name is Andrew Myers, but he is frequently called Asshole.  The reporter is angry.  His son is sick, and he blames metahumans.  He is correct to, though not for the reason he thinks.  If he spoke about his son’s illness to anyone, his problem could be solved. Instead, he takes out his frustration by ruining careers.  He is trying to do that now.  He will fail.  Though he will accurately show the lack of intelligence, the muscular boy has a following that is not founded on his depth of character.  The following will be sorely disappointed in less than one month, though not because of the reporter. The reporter’s troubles are drawing to close.

A boy who is almost a man is fighting.  He is sitting in his room.  He, more than any other on his team, is in conflict.  He has great potential, but how he will use it is uncertain.  I will talk to him when he is a man.  Neither of us is in a rush.  We have all the time in the world.

The two I have come here to talk to have just stopped fighting.

The two I have come here to talk to are about to fight.

The two I have come here to talk to are fighting.  I pop up and stand in between them.  The Destroyer’s punch, intended for the Wise Woman hits me, instead. Though I slow the punch before it hits me, my jaw will be pulverised. I wait for it to happen, then reconstruct it, reverting my body to how it was four seconds ago.  To them, it will have appeared as regeneration.

“Hello,” I will say.

“Who are you?” asked the Wise Woman.

“A chronoton is a unit of time that represents how far one can predict or travel in the past or future based on the amount of variables in play.  In the average one on one fight, in a close environment, with no air flow or outside interference, no weapons, no powers, just fists, a chronoton is approximately five minutes,” I say, answering his question.  The Destroyer frowns, then will have an epiphany.

“So, you’re The Watchmaker, huh?  What’s a chronoton?” He asks, looking at me expectantly.  For once, the Wise Woman is confused.

“The Watchmaker,” I will have said.  A look of realization dawns across her face.  I realized the problem.

“Nice catch,” I said, altering my appearance slightly, changing my clothes to fit the time period, “I hadn’t even realized I was off.” The Wise Woman nodded.

“Rune told us to expect you.”  I laughed.

“Oh, Rune!  That ol’ dog! Did he ever tell you about that time he and Bash inspired the Greek legend of Damon and Pythias?”  Seeing their faces, I paused.  “No, then.  Ah.  Right.  He wouldn’t have.”  I looked at the two of them and shook my head, smiling a bit.  “Oh, you two.  You have so much ahead of you.  Exile, you’ll become greater than you can imagine.  Nidh- no, wait.  That’s not your name yet. Well, you’ll see.”  They stared at me in confusion.  “Anyway, I didn’t come here to reminisce about the fun we’ll have.  I want to help you defeat King.  Both of them, though the latter comes later.”  The Destroyer waved his hands in the air vaguely,

“Aren’t you supposed to be some sorta…  benevolent but bound guardian of mankind?  Policy of non-interference?”  This time, the confusion belonged to me.

“Why on earth would you think that?” I asked, furrowing my brow, “I do whatever I want.”  The Destroyer laughed.

“Alright, I can get behind that,” he said, “Now, how are we going to kick King’s ass?”  The Wise Woman looked at him.

“Wait,” she said, “Who’s the second King?”  Without moving his head, the Destroyer replied.

“We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?  Besides, it’s best not to ask more questions than you need to.”  The Wise Woman nodded.  I walked up behind them, and put my arms around their shoulders.

“What’s up, guys!” They jumped and spun around.

“Fuck!” The Destroyer cried, relaxing.  “Weren’t you ahead of-  Oh, for fucks sake.  Of course you would use godlike mastery of time to play stupid jokes.”  The Wise Woman stopped walking.

“Hold on, hold on.  Zeta.  How did you know his power was godlike mastery of time?”  We both looked at her.  Before The Destroyer could open his mouth, I responded.

“It’s best not to ask more questions than you need to,” I said.  She fumed, but didn’t say anything else.  As we walked out of the gym area, The Fool entered.

“Oh, hey, Jay, Sar- Ah!  Zeta and Exile!  Umm…  How goes the crime fighting?”  The two of them rolled their eyes.  The Destroyer took my shoulder and guided me out, bringing me to his quarters while the Wise Woman made her excuses to the Fool.

“So,” he said once we had reached his room, “while Sarah is explaining you to Oliver, what’s the deal?  You have some questions to answer.”  I thought for a moment, tapping my chin.

“Okay.  What you need to know about me for now…  I am called The Watchmaker.  I triggered about six thousand years ago.  Since then, I’ve perfected the use of my power and lived eight trillion years, three months, twenty-four days, three hours, fourteen minutes and fifty three seconds.  I am functionally immortal, invincible, and unkillable.  I am omnipresent, omniscient, and fairly close to omnipotent.  And… I will be your friend.  If, of course, you survive that long, which you will.  But barely, and not without effort and my help. I know about your powers because I’ve seen you in action… with your real power, and I’ve talked with Khan.”  At that, he reacted.

“Where is Khan, then?  He normally likes to be here for things like this.”  I looked at The Destroyer seriously.

“He is not you.  He is not your friend.  Do not forget that.  I have blocked him for now, but I cannot help you with him.  But…  do not be fooled.”  He stared at me and shook his head.

“Why should I trust you?  He’s told me things about myself I needed to know.  He’s helped me plenty.  And what?  You, a random stranger who could be anyone, is telling me he’s an evil manipulator?  Yeah, sure, I’m being tricked by a serval. Sooo suspicious. That’s fluffy doom, right there.”  He stood up and opened the door. “Get some proof, and maybe I’ll consider it.”

“He’s told you you’re weak.  He’s wrong, by the way.  He’s sealing your powers.  I am who I say I am, simply because there is no one who would dare to claim to be me.  Evil?  Yes.  Demonic.  He is no more a serval than you or I.  He can appear however he wants.” The Destroyer glared at me.  “Use your powers, dragon.  See what you can do without his influence.”

“Out.  Now.”  Despite myself, I grinned.  I knew it would end up like this.

“When you’re ready for your fate, let me know.”  I walked out the door, and promptly disappeared.  Next to Rune, in a different, earlier time, I looked at a rampaging superhuman.  Bash swore.

“Shit,” he said, “This guy’s gotta be stronger than me.  I can’t get near him without risking my life.”  Rune frowned.

“Nothing I can do against his caliber without making things worse.”

“He’s protected against me, too.  Sorry.” I shrugged. Bash spat, narrowly missing Rune’s black Regulator uniform.

“Anyone you know who could take him?  Can you pull someone out of their timeline, pull them back here?”  I thought for five seconds, considering the possibilities.  At last, arriving at a suitable candidate, I nodded.

“Nidhogg could take him.”

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Folie à Plusieurs V. Rune I

I tend to get passed over nowadays, ignored as the guy who’s just hanging around, watching over stuff.  I’m okay with that.  I’ve had my time in the spotlight, I’ve been the hero.  I got bored and disillusioned, as we all do, sooner or later.  Later for me.  It took a lot of deaths, a lot of hardship before I saw what He had been trying to tell me all along.  What the ones I’m watching over are on the precipice of learning, still in that blissful period before they start dying and I have to tell them the truth about the SVRA.

Oh, bliss.  Some of them, I won’t ruin.  Exile’s probably figured it out herself, by now.  That girl…  If this were 1,000 years ago, then she would be the greatest hero known to man.  If I had half her talent, or a quarter of her wit, I’d be living in Florida with my best friend drinking hard lemonade and reminiscing about a well spent youth.  Instead, I’m jaded before forty, and I haven’t fought seriously in a year.

Last fight I had wasn’t actually too long ago. I threw a brief sparring match against Apollo, to give him the ego boost he needed if he’s gonna fight King.  Speaking of Apollo, he’s one of the ones I’m going to have to ruin.  He’s a good guy.  Reminds me of…  him.

Looking back at what I just wrote, I can’t believe myself.  I’m being so vague, leaving my backstory as the mysterious mentor figure to be slowly revealed!  Nope.  Here it is:

I have some Gypsy blood, some Italian, some Jewish.  I come from a few long families of mages.  I learned I was a mage before superhumans became public.  My family taught me various magic specializations, and I excelled.  A friend of mine, whom I met playing around the town, found out he had superpowers when we were ten.  We became major players in the superhuman circles, acting as “regulators.”  Basically, we took down anyone who threatened to reveal our existence to the “civs,” as we called them.  We were big, but not big enough to be recruited for the SVRA… at least not before it existed.  The team known as the “Enemies of Injustice,” were gathered together as a back-up plan for if someone got through the regulators.  They would show up, like a bolt from the blue, and save the land.  Then, capitulating on their influence, they would get the SVRA established with pre-prepared legislation, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We joined the SVRA, got assigned to separate teams, kept in contact.  Then, I heard he died.  Killed himself.  Sorta.  Forced into suicide and murder.  I’ve been working on that.  Trying to find his killer, I’ve delved into things.  I pulled strings to put me in the right place at the right time.  I met some people.  Right now, that’s what I’m working on. If I’m to get my revenge, I’ll need help.  I need firepower, more than I can supply alone.  I need this team to get stronger.  Soon, they’ll have to fight for me anyway, I’m just making sure they’re strong enough.

“-still there?”

“Sorry, what did you say?”

“I was asking if you were still there.  I thought you zoned out.  Considering where we are…” With a wry grin, Exile gestured out over the expanse of the city.  Squinting, I looked through her arm.

“Where…?”  She sighed, and facepalmed, her hand hitting her forehead without making a sound.

“Astral form, Alister.  You wanted to see King’s reaction to Ronin’s loss?”  I whipped my head around at her use of my real name. She chuckled, and met my eyes.  “Jeez, it’s like you didn’t just teach me this.  You broadcast your thoughts and can start to fade if your willpower slips while astral projecting.” I shook my head.

“If I didn’t think you already knew it, I’d tell you that-”

“Oh, and don’t worry about the firepower.  We’ve got your back.”  I stared at her, speechless.  “Yeah, that happens to people a lot when they talk to me.”  I shut my mouth and narrowed my eyes.  After a deep breath, I sighed.

“Let’s just see what King’s up to, okay?”

He held his hands, cupped, over Ronin’s stump, a white glow emanating from his palms.  Ronin was tied to the table, writhing and screaming against leather restraints.

“Yeesh,” Exile said, floating over to behind King.  “I don’t think it’s working.”  I ignored the action, pacing the room, waving my hand in front of King’s face, making sure he couldn’t see us.  After checking out the room, I looked at King’s hands, the power he was using.

“What is this guy’s power? A power switcher?”  Exile shook her head.

“I don’t think so.  Upstairs, there’s a ginger girl sitting on her bed, staring blankly at the wall, not moving.  She’s under the influence of some sort of mind control, and it’s connected to King.  I’ve seen him use way too many powers, often concurrently, as well.” I tapped my finger against my chin.

“Something else, then.  A domination power, perhaps?  He can control people… probably with their blood… and use their powers?  That’s probably just within a radius… if they’re willing.  Probably more, too.  A varied powerset.”

“Hmm… So, he surrounds himself with followers to use their powers?”  I nodded.

“I’d guess so.  Tread carefu-” The door to the room smashed open, and a figure surrounded in a glowing bright aura burst in.  Exile and I covered our eyes and retreated, hiding in the corner. From the bright blue haze, a voice came.

“Milord!  A delegation from the Followers of the Path of Mankind has arrived!  They wish to discuss territory!”  King stopped his healing, and looked up, staring right into the figure, as if the lights weren’t there.

“Shit,” I whispered to Exile, “That guy must be a ki manipulator.  He can see us, and hurt us.  We need to go.  Back into the wall.”  She nodded, and backed up, walking through the wall.  I stuck around.  “The Followers of the Path are here…” I whispered, a glimmer of excitement beginning within me.

“Ronin!” barked King, turning his head.  Ronin panted, but his eyes opened, and he moved his head to acknowledge King.  “Go visit the tinker.  She’s a technician, so she should be able to fix you up with something.”  He waved his hand, and the restraints snapped open, leaving Ronin to fall to the ground and stumble towards the door, falling down twice.  “Delegation.  Explain.”  The blue shape quivered a bit… tensing?

“They are led by an unknown figure known as Ranger.  He projects a powerful aura, A-class at the least.  The other members are inconsequential.  If problems arise, they will likely send one of the Apostles.”  My heart lept into my throat.

/No…  They can’t come yet… they’re not strong enough!/

King nodded.  “Get me some of Ranger’s blood, secretly.  I will control him and prevent the Apostles from coming.  He will acquiesce to a deal wherein he shall receive some land, but stay out of mine.  They will send me soldiers, as well.”  I swore to myself.  This was terrible, terrible news.  The team wasn’t ready for the Followers of the Path yet, and if King gained more troops, he would overwhelm and destroy the territory.

/I need to stop King before Ranger comes under his control… but there’s not enough time.  I need The Watchmaker./

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Folie à Plusieurs V. Crane I

It’s a very strange matter of affairs, to say the least. However, being a superhero is far less remarkable than any of my preconceived expectations. Eighty percent of my time has been spent in training, or just lulling around our “headquarters”. No one plans operations there, at least as far that I can tell. I spend a good deal of time just kinda staring at walls and thinking. I really haven’t even gotten to slam anyone around since I had attacked the police station. That had been fun. It had been me against everyone else, and I loved it. I had taken them by surprise and though at the time, the group was operating at the same level as a limbless down-syndrome baby, I still enjoyed what I considered a victory. No one else looked back on that with as much joy as I do, but in my eyes, I won. That being said, I had come to appreciate my friends, well, most of them. I try to keep to myself, enough to avoid some people but not enough to come off as a pretentious fuck, hopefully.

Anyway, I’d become remarkably bored again and had decided to take a walk through the lovely, crime-ridden back alleys that make up our city. Although I was free from most of the demonic influence, the mask still left me with….cravings. I have not told anyone in the group yet, but I fear that some of them are catching on. Zeta, Exile, and Apollo.  Exile knows demons, Apollo knows people, and Zeta knows bloodlust. Mirage…  she’s clueless.  We’ve been sleeping together for two weeks, and she doesn’t even know that I control her access to my mind.  That being said, she’s not a bad lay.

In order to relieve the more violent desires, I’ve been killing criminals in the streets, even minor thieves. My major concern is that these forgettable criminals are becoming harder to find, and if uncontrolled, my desires could lead to, well unfortunate interactions with civilians. I have seriously begun to consider starting small crime circles, like a drug or sex trade, just so I can get by another week. In fact, I had begun acting upon those thoughts using the SVRA resources, only to discover…  well, nothing, yet.  Glimmers of the trails of half-glimpsed things.

Anyway, I took a right at the old Stanford building and walked into the large parking lot that was in the shadow of the 30-story building. However, there was something different about the lot today. It was that there wasn’t a car in the entire lot, in fact, there wasn’t much of a parking lot left. Massive pillars of metal, stone and cement were sticking up out of the ground, a real concrete jungle. I felt as if I had just stepped into an ancient forest, frozen in stone, combined with a futuristic recreation of where the dinosaurs might have lived.

Unfortunately, I knew that structures of this nature were likely not extreme works of modern art or rapid geological expansion, but the elaborate set up of some villanous metahuman. I also realized that I had been standing still for much too long, and would likely be experiencing a great deal of pain in the next few seconds.

Almost on cue, a spear of metal erupted from the ground. I managed to blunt its impact with a rapidly produced ice shield, but was still sent flying several yards into the air. I hit the ground hard, and as a shifted my weight and sat up I saw a figure approaching. He had long, stringy, black hair, no shirt, sweat pants, and a large, round amulet on his chest. As fast as I could, I hopped back onto my feet. My mask crawled over my face.  With the feeling of greeting an old friend, I covered myself in shadow. The chaotic feeling of power surged through my entire body. Ice crystals started to form around my left hand, and I could hear the electricity crack and snapple in my right.

“Hello there, Conan! Isn’t it a little cold to go au naturel?” I asked giddily, ignoring the horror movie sound of my speech.

“Silence, demon. I am known as Ronin, and I have come here to wipe your vile stain off of this planet.” With this declaration, the earth at his feet surged forward and a massive pillar of stone exploded under my feet. To avoid another embarrassing injury I flipped backwards and landed, standing, on one of the Stanfords building’s windows as one would stand on the sidewalk.

“Ooooooooh, a new elemental power to add to my collection.” I paused, trying my best to make sure he could see my smirk. “ Now, Ronin. It is Ronin, right? I would recommend you make peace with whatever you believes governs your existence, as I’m not planning on letting you leave…  in one piece, at least, if I’m feeling merciful.” With that, I flicked my left hand and sent a twenty foot shard of ice soaring at his head. With surprising speed, he pulled out a katana, jumped to the side and sliced my shard in half, then turned and disappeared into the stony maze.

“Alright, now it’s personal, dick! The katana was my thing!” I kicked off the window and soared out above the stone forest. Sensing a trap, I solidified a path of ice above the tops of the stones.

I landed softly on top of my pillar and crouched, focusing my demonic senses.  I followed the largest energy signature, and “saw” him waiting at the base of another pillar. I dashed forward, intending to slash open his back.  At the last second, he spun around, and met my blades with his own.  I pushed hard, intending to overpower him and… you know… eat his heart, or something, but he resisted my onslaught, pushing back with incredible strength.  As he forced my retreat I snarled at him, “What are your powers, you freak?”

I spun out and slashed at him, using a varying patterns of strikes at his upper and lower body sides, but my blades couldn’t land a hit. He used his sword to protect his mid body, and if my secondary blade punched through, there was always a piece of stone that exploded upwards to deflect me. I started to get frustrated and widely overstepped my guard. Ronin exploded forward and kicked me in the face, sending me tumbling through pillar after pillar of cement.  As I slowly stumbled back to my feet a storm of stones and metals flew into me, tearing through the shadows that protected my body. One relatively large piece of granite collided with my left arm and there was a sickening crunch. I stood back up, arm hanging uselessly, and focused on getting myself some space.  My natural healing factor, vastly accelerated by the demonic influence, quickly took care of the arm.

“My turn”, I said, my malicious intent evident through my tone.

I side-stepped a series of stone pillars jabbing up from the ground. Surrounding the area with darkness, I spun around a pillar and shot a flurry of ice crystals at the samurai-wannabe.  Ronin easily dodged my assault and laughed. He flipped his blade around and touched his amulet, and the ice coating the surroundings melted.

/What the fuck?/ I tapped into the demonic mask, letting a bit more of its influence seep into me, in return for an assessment of his abilities.

He’s a terrakinetic… Let me kill him and eat him and gain his powers…

/When I figure out how the power eating works, sure.  How did he melt the ice?/

He has two artifacts on him. The first is his sword, which is abnormally sharp and corrosive to demons.  It can also dispel demonic energy, so don’t waste your energy trying to cover him with darkness.  Any direct contact will make you weaker and him stronger while you touch, so don’t do it.  Kill him from afar, and then eat his body.  The other artifact is the pendulum, which gives him the power to absorb, redirect, and reflect certain types of energy from any metal or stone.  Don’t use lightning to fry him; eat him raw.

/Alright.  Thanks for the input.  Now, away with you!/

No

I was about to respond, but Ronin had gotten tired of the pause and rushed to attack me, spinning his sword to confuse me.  I stepped back, avoiding the slashes.

/Now…  How to finish him?/

Give me control

/I thought I sent you back, asshole/, I thought, leaping back and running deeper into the forest of stone…  almost a maze, at this point.

Not until I have my meal

/If I give you control, will you give it back once you get your meal?/

You don’t have the option to bargain.  You cannot escape him. You cannot defeat him without me.  Eat, or be eaten.  

/Eat, then./

…and vomit dribbling from his lips.

“Kill me, you bastard,” Ronin spat, more vomit coming up with his words.

“Tsk tsk. Foul words leave a foul taste in my mouth… and yours, too, apparently,” I said, poking his face with my foot.

A quick glance into a reflective metal pillar revealed that I had changed a bit. My limbs were masses of long tendrils, some of which rose up off my back like tentacles. The section of my mask where the mouthpiece was had shifted into a jagged maw.  It was hard to believe that I was human under all of that.  Well… metahuman, anyway.

How are you back already?  I haven’t eaten yet!

/You slipped, bub.  Don’t worry.  You’ll get your meal./

Tendrils stiffened and extended from my back, like the legs of a gargantuan spider, and came down quickly, pinning him to the rubble. His hand twitched, and my hyper-reactive eyes followed his intended motion.  His sword was embedded, down to the hilt, in the ground five feet away.  Extending my tentacles, I picked it up and drew it effortlessly.

“Hmm.  Without a human body, it lacks even the feeblest defense against demons.  Interesting.” I glanced at Ronin’s face, frustrated and defiant, then twisted my shadow-face into a malevolent grin.  With a flick of my mental wrist, I sent it flying, and watched his face begin to crumple.  I lifted my face to the sky, and sang, serenading the dark clouds.

“Poor little Bo peep has lost his sword,

doesn’t know where I threw it toward!

Leave him alone, and he’ll come home,

sporting his shiny new hand of chrome!”  His eyes widened as he realized what I was saying, and his struggle to get free renewed in intensity.

FOOD

GIVE ME FOOD

EAT /EAT/ EAT /EAT/ EAT /EAT/ EAT /EAT/

Camly, I bent down, looking into his face.

“You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just…do things.  King has plans, Khan has plans, Exile has plans.  You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I’m not a schemer. So, when I say…uh, come here.”  I took his hand, lifting it to my gaping maw. “When I say that this is nothing personal, you know I’m telling the truth.”  I stretched my mouth abnormally wide, then snapped it around his hand, with a beautiful “shink, squelch!” sound.  He tried to scream, his back arching and his tendons standing out, but no sound escaped the shadowy gag in his mouth.

/Don’t know when you did that, don’t care.  Good work.  It’s always better when they can’t even scream./  

As the demon digested the hand, a surge of pleasure flowed through me, orgasmic in its intensity.  I writhed, throwing off globs and tendrils of shadow.  I woke up hours later, the mask gone, but my clothes ripped and covered in blood. I rubbed my head, then started the trek back to the base, sticking to lonely alleys and back streets, to hide my disheveled appearance… and the wide, unhinged grin on my face.

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Folie à Plusieurs V. Dr. Barr I

“Miss, please, you’re making a fool of yourself.”  The young psychic sent another wave of emotion towards me.

“Ha!” She screamed, “Let’s see how your mental defences stand up against this, you old fuck!”  Like waves crash upon a rocky beach, her attack briefly pressed against my mind, then failed without making a difference.

“Please, Miss Mirage.  Calm down.  We’re here to talk about your problems, not ineffectually bludgeon them.”  She finally gave up, plopping down on the couch with her arms crossed. “Very good,” I said, smiling indulgently.  “Now, why are you trying to kill me?”  She sulked, and looked away.

“I wasn’t trying to kill you,” she muttered, “just control you.”  I continued to smile, though I was groaning inwardly.  /Fucking control freak psychics.  Was I like that when I was younger?/

“And why is that?  I’m here to help you, not hurt you.” She leapt up.

“I don’t need any help,” she shouted, fists clenched, “and especially not from an old fuck like you!”  I withheld my grin, and leaned forward.

“Is that why I sense death in your near future?”  Suddenly, all the wind left her sails.  She flopped down on the couch, staring at me.

“W-w-what?”

“Mirage, this is basic stuff.  Psychics can use telekinesis, telepathy, forced telepathy, mind control, precognition, and possession.  Each psychic has a specialty, which determines how proficient they are at each of the categories.  The only exception to this is general psychics, which are equally proficent in all of them.  Interestingly, this is what you claimed to be, when you took the name Dagny.  We can go over that another time.  Now, I, like you, specialize in forced telepathy.  My official specialization is stealth telepathy, yours is sensory illusions.  Now, I’m no precognition expert, which is why I can’t give you details, but I sense a lot of death in your near future.”  /Did that work?  Is she going to cooperate now?/  I used my power to worm my way into her mind, trying to get a sense of her emotions. I sighed.

“Don’t fuck with me!” She screamed, jumping up again and mentally attacking me. /Guess not./  I made a note on my pad, then forced her assault back.

“Mirage, we’ll end today’s session today.  I want you to think about how you responded to dealing with someone you can’t control.  I haven’t lied to you today, so I’ll leave you with a few more thoughts.  First of all, you underestimate the mental fortitude and depth your teammates have.  Second, I don’t think your relationship with Crane is healthy.”  She paused for a second, processing what I said.  As it sunk in, I felt the rage build up in her mind.

“Get out of my head!” She shouted, clasping her hands over her head, “AAAAAHHH!”

“Karma’s a bitch,” I muttered, almost soft enough to escape her notice.

“I take it you’d prefer if I kept my voice down?” I looked up at my newest patient.

“I beg your pardon?” I asked politely, readjusting my spectacles.

“Well, you just had a session with Olivia the screamer, I’m figuring your ears are a little sensitive right now.”  Astonished, I stared at the speaker.

“Exile, I presume?  Your teammates spoke, for the most part, highly about you and your deductive capabilities.”  She sat down on the couch, nodding.

“Please, I’d prefer Sarah.  And of course it’s me, I’m your appointment for now.”  /Clever girl… she’s the leader in reality, if not in name./ She continued, “So, Will spoke the highest of me, then Jay, and the ‘for the most part’ is due to Olivia’s scathing report.  Am I right?”  I found myself grinning.

“On all accounts.  Sure you’re not a psychic?”  She mirrored my grin.

“Positive.  I just pay attention.  By the way, your professional demeanor slipped.  You might want to fix that.”  I frowned, straightening my back.

“Nice catch, Sarah.  So, since you seem to be rather knowledgeable about what should be happening, what do you hope to get out of these sessions?”

“Actually, I’d like to talk about my teammates.  I want to get someone else’s perspective on them.”  I paused for a moment, considering her request.

“I’m supposed to have client confidentiality, but I suppose, in this case, I could make an exception…”  She leaned forward.

“Excellent.  I’d like to start with Everest, and his inability to…” As she spoke, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into…

“I dunno, not much for me.  I was doing well in school, good home life, had plenty of friends, and then one of them flipped out and started trying to kill people.  I triggered, and well, the rest is history.”  I raised my eyebrow.

“You are a terrible liar.  You do realize that there is information in your file that directly contradicts what you just said, right?”  He stopped his constant shifting for a moment, and looked at me.

“Really?  What’s my file say?”  I rummaged around in my bag to make it seem like I hadn’t been reading it right before he came in.  When I judged a decent amount of time had passed, I pulled out the file from the front of the bag and flipped through it.

“You lived alone, somehow paying for an apartment despite lacking a legal occupation, estranged from your parents and most of your friends.  In fact, of your closest friends, all but one triggered.” He seemed surprised.  After a moment, he nodded.

“Yeah, I suppose that’s true.  I hadn’t even realized.  Well, no one knows what is going on with Cyner.  He might have been a superhuman all along. And John isn’t a para, but I just met him.  What do you think that means, Freud?”

“I noticed you used the present tense for Cyner.  He’s the one who disappeared, right?  He was declared dead a while ago. Wh-” He cut me off with a wave of his hand.

“Cyner’s not dead.  He’s not the sort to die easily.”  /Exactly what I wanted you to say, Zeta…/

“He also had an apartment with no income.  Does your certainty of his survival have anything to do with how you paid for your living space?” His eyes narrowed. “I have two theories, Zeta.  The first, and the less likely, is that your proximity grants the potential for powers.  It’s not impossible, but it doesn’t exactly fit with the rest of your powers.  The latter, and Rune agrees with me on this one, is that part of your secondary powerset is the ability to sense latent potential.” He laughed, stretching his legs out in front of himself and resting them on a nearby cabinet.

“Secondary powerset? Do tell.” I leaned forward, eager despite myself to share my theory.

“I haven’t figured out everything yet, but you have your main combat power… or powers, as it seems, though my intuition tells me something is off about those, and a secondary, less flashy powerset.  Rune and I agree you have a type of low level pre-cognition that allows you to see about a chronoton in the future, at least while in combat.  There’s the subconscious sensing ability, and a few oddities in your musculature that dull pain and increase muscular growth.” Zeta idly picked at his jacket.

“Interesting theory.  What’s a chronoton?”  I hesitated.

“I’ll let the Watchmaker tell you about that, when you’re ready to meet him.  I couldn’t do it justice.”  I saw anger flash across his face, and I felt the rage and bloodlust without even trying.  Taking a deep breath, I broached the subject.

“I’ve also been meaning to talk to you about your anger iss-” I froze.  “Another time, then.” He let the fire die away, and rubbed his face.

“Sorry.  Sensitive topic.  I’ll try to talk about it next session, okay?”  Slowly, I nodded.

“Yeah.  Sure.  I’ll await it… eagerly.”

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Folie à Plusieurs V. Apollo I

I’m not strong.  I’m not fast.  Sure, I can beat a civ at anything they care to try me at, but the extent of my enhanced strength puts me at just above Zeta.  I don’t have any spectacular fireworks powers.  I can’t regrow a limb period, much less in a few hours.  I don’t have precognition, I can’t make weapons from nothing, and I can’t run around the world seventeen times.  So, how do I compete with the others on my team?  I mean, Sarah, sorry, Exile, can summon demons!  It’s because I try.  I’m lucky enough to have a power that responds to effort.  When I work to overcome a limitation, my power changes my body to become better.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those lame adapter types.  I don’t get stronger by just facing hardship.  I’m classified as an “evolution trump.”  The “evolution trump.”  A power unique not just in its specifications, but also in its basis.  Doesn’t make it easier for me; it means I have to figure my power out as I go along.

As near as I can tell, with my current level of engagement, I get a noticeable change every month or two.  I’ll be able to lift another five, ten pounds, or be able to react another few seconds faster.  Big stuff for a human, but it’s not humans I need to be concerned with.  I need to be able to fight with the best of the best.  That’s part of why I left Milwaukee; there was no one strong enough to give me a real challenge.

“Tell me, Billy. Have you ever heard the term Blood Knight?” I scowled, dodging the blast of fire, then ducking as it curved around.

“No,” I said, lunging low with my sword, putting myself directly under my opponent’s guard.  Zeta moved aside an inch, enough to avoid getting stabbed, but still getting slashed on the side of his leg.  He dropped, crouching with his elbow pointed at my neck.  I arched my back slightly, deflecting the blow, then pushed backwards, leaping out of his way.  Zeta used the respite to heal the cut on his leg, grinning at me.

“It’s the term,” he said, “For one who endlessly seeks combat.  Sound familiar?”  I jumped forwards, raising my bastard sword in a two handed slash from above.  Using his super speed, Zeta whipped out his two telescopic batons in time to block it, then snapped his leg forward in a chest-high kick, sending me back to the edge of the cage.

“Sounds a lot like you, if that’s what you mean,” I shrugged, rubbing my chest where he hit me.

“Nah, I’m a different trope all together,” he said casually, “I was talking about you.”  I glared at him.

“I don’t seek combat for combat’s sake.  I fight because I have to.”  He snorted.

“Yeah, sure.  You just have to join a superhero team.”  I windmilled my arm, then brought my arms up into a ready position, beckoning him. He lunged, electricity crackling around his finger.  I stepped past him, pulling his arm past me and chopping down on his chest with my sword.  I felt an impact on the back of my head and stumbled forward, tripping over my sword.  Wait, what?  I pushed myself off the ground and turned around.  Zeta was standing behind me, grinning.  “I switched to speed and kicked you.  You fell.  Not good enough, Billy.  Gotta do better!”

I pulled the sword out of the ground and spoke,

“You don’t understand obligation. I have to protect my sister, and the best way to do that is like this.”  He raised an eyebrow.

“Making her fight superhumans while you try to kill yourself?”

“Where did you get trying to kill myself from?”

“In my last fight with the tinker bots, I broke three bones in my arm.  You’re trying to do the same, but without regeneration.”  Foregoing words, I lunged at him in a standard balestra. He grabbed my wrist to pull me off balance as he stepped aside, only to recoil suddenly as I drew my other sword and slashed across my body.  Normally, I’d never do that, but with his instinctive retreat, I would have at least a moment to recover.

Rather than having another short break, Zeta pressed the attack.

He’s on the ground, moving at normal speed and his body temperature is… normal.  That leaves lightning or regeneration.  He swung out with his batons, opening himself to an attack from any side. Regeneration, then. I took the opportunity, and s-zzzzzz!

I fell back, smoking and rather numb.  As I twitched, I saw the cuts I had made in Zeta’s side and back start to heal up.  He stooped over, and looked me in the eyes.

“Apollo. Your sister does more damage when I beat her in Mario Kart.  How the fuck do you intend to protect her when you’re so weak?”  I gritted my teeth and tried to regain enough control over my jaw to reply.  He shook his head. “You’re done for the day.  I’ll get Sarah to heal you up and take you back to your room.  Any time you want a rematch…” He stood up and walked towards the door.  “I’m always available for another fighter.”

“Dad, Will, I’ll see you two later.  I’m going out with some friends tonight,” Diana said, putting her folded up gi in her cubby next to her training weapons.  We stopped our sparring for a moment.

“Bye honey,” my dad said, waving.  “Will’s gonna make dinner tonight.  I have to go out…” In unison, my sister and I finished his sentence.

“… and take pictures with the police.”

“Totally,” Diana continued, “the police department absolutely needs an amatuer photographer.” He chuckled uneasily.

“As it so happens… yes! 100%!” I rolled my eyes at her.

“Anyway, I’ll make chicken tonight. What time will you be home?”

Suddenly, she looked nervous.

“Actually… I’ll be home late.” Seeing my expression, she hurriedly continued, “Not too late!  Just around eleven!”  I continued glowering for a moment, then shrugged.

“Oh well.  I don’t control you.  Just… be safe, okay?” She broke out into a grin.

“I will!  It’s not like I can’t take care of myself! Thank you!”  My father and I exchanged a glance as she ran out the door.  He chuckled.

“Will, sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re less than a year older than her. And you’re only two months away from joining the SVRA…”  He shook his head.  “They grow up so fast!” I grunted in agreement, looking out the door.  He looked with me.

“Will…  I want you to follow her.  Use what I’ve taught you.  Keep out of sight.  Don’t interfere unless she’s in danger, okay?”  I looked at him uneasily.

“Why?  That’s kinda invasive, isn’t it?”

“Practice.  Remember the rules?”  Together, we said,

“One, No one looks up.  Two-”

“I’d rather not go on, sorry,” I said.  The doctor nodded.

“That’s okay.  We can talk about what happened next, or continue with the psychic recreation next session.  Which do you prefer?”  I sighed, and shook my head.

“You’d have to ask my sister.  It’s her story, I can’t share it without her permission.” He nodded.

“I’ll try to get it, then get back to you.”

As I left the office, I looked back, noting the sign for the first time in this state.

Dr. Frank Barr Psy.D.

SVRA Psychologist

“He’s gonna have a party with this team,” I said, snorting.

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Folie à Plusieurs V. Everest I

“Hey, Mirage.  Olivia.  Whatever you want me to call you.  What’s up?”  I said, greeting the short blonde.

“Ha, Olivia or Liv is fine.  And actually, I have a favor to ask you.”

“Oh?” I asked, cocking my head. “What can I do for you?”  She reached out and grabbed my shoulders, standing on her tiptoes.

“I’d like for you to talk to Jason for me.  There’s something I need him to do, but he’ll be suspicious if I-  No, that’s not right,” she said.  I opened my mouth to s-

“I’d like for you to talk to Jason for me.  There’s something I need him to do, but he won’t do it if it’s me ask- No, that’s not right either.” I opened my mouth to s-

“I’d like for you to talk to Jason for me.  There’s something I need him to do, but I’m too shy- not quite.  Closer, though.  It’s a good thing you’re so dumb, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do this, no matter how much physical contact.  Shame I’m not a mind-control specialist, huh?”  I frowned.

“First of all, I don’t like being called dumb.  Second, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  She patted my cheek endearingly.

“I know you don’t.  I know.  Don’t worry about it.” I opened my mouth to s-

“I’d like for you to talk to Jason for me.  There’s something I need him to do, but I’m too nervous to do it myself.  Can you help me out?”

“Sure, of course!  What do you want me to?”

“Well,” she said, “It’s kinda complicated.  It’d be easier to just show you… mentally.  I need you to empty your mind, then completely open yourself to my will.”  I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“Okay, I’m ready.”  To my surprise, she grabbed the back of my head and planted a fully-fledged, tongue-included kiss on my lips.

“Wha-”

—-

“Huh, that’s an odd thing to say, Oliver,” he said, narrowing his eyes.

“What?”

“I mean, its not like you to ask me that.”  Jason stopped taking off his costume, and shrugged his jacket back on. “You’re my friend, and one of the most loyal people I know.  You wouldn’t ask me if I’m confident in my abilities as a leader.   You’re the sort of person who would simply trust that I know what I’m doing.  Why the sudden doubt?” /Aww… that’s nice of him to say…  if only I knew what was going on!/

“I… I have no idea what you’re talking about.   I must have just zoned out.  Last thing I remember…  I was talking to Olivia about … something?” He stared at me.

“Do you think she influenced your mind?”

“No!  She wouldn’t do that, would she?  Besides, I’d remember it, wouldn’t I?”

“She would do it.  And there’s no guarantee you’d remember it.  She’s fairly proficient at mind control, I’ve recently discovered.  She’s probably strong enough to  wipe your short term memory, or make you a puppet.  And worse, most likely.”  He ran his fingers through his hair.  “I want you to stay away from her for now, okay?  Until we figure out what she’s after.  Just trust me on this one, okay?”

“Sure.  Whatever you say, chief,”  I said, frowning a bit. /I’m starting to see why he hates psychics…/ He nodded.

“That’s more like you, buddy.” His face suddenly went grim.  “Oliver. Without looking behind you, just go to your room.  Go now.  Pretend everything’s cool.”

“That won’t work,” I heard from behind me, “I can read minds, you know.”  Jason swore.

“Go!” He shouted, pushing me.  I tried to leave, but my body locked up.  I felt an arm curl seductively around my shoulder and heard Olivia say,

“Once a connection has been made, it’s always easier the second time.  It’s even easier with weak minds like his.”  Jason pulled his half mask over his mouth.

“I don’t know what you’re planning, Mirage,” Zeta said, “whose team you’re on, or what you want.  But you can’t mindfuck me like you did Everest.”

“You’re right.  The same methods would get a fraction of the result.  But that’s enou-”

“Uhhhh…  my head…” I heard.  I shook my head, trying to clear my vision and my headache.  I was lying on a roof, in full costume, being helped up by Zeta.  He was groaning too.

“Jesus.  What happened?” he said, rubbing his forehead.

“Dunno.  Last thing I remember, we were talking about something in the kitchen,” I shrugged.

“Yeah.  Me too.  Hmm.  A supervillain?”

“Maybe… oh, hey, XYZ.” /I feel like I should be panicking, but…  well, if Jason isn’t bothered, then I shouldn’t be./

“Wha- Oh,” he said, blushing, then zipping his zipper.  “Oops.  That’s never happened before; I never forget my zipper.”  I grinned.

“First time for everything.  Speaking of time” I said, checking my watch, “It’s 5:00.  We have another hour of patrol before we can head back.  It is our day, right?”

“Yeah.  But it’s going to be slow going until Crane gets attacked.  The only thing we’ve had to deal with since he gave his message is those tinkerbots.”  I looked at him curiously.  He slapped his forehead. “Oh, that’s right, you haven’t been at one of those.  King occasionally releases a small, foot or so high robot that builds other things.  It builds more robots, which build more robots, and so on.  They’re weak, but you need to take them out quickly, before there are enough of them to start building weapons.  Apollo and Selene accidentally let one group of them build a small cannon.  It demolished an entire building.  Just keep an eye out.” I shuddered.

“Let’s hope we don’t run into any.  I just want to go back to the base and sleep off this headache.”

“Agreed.  Let’s get moving.”

“Wake up! Wake up! Get your fat fucking asses up!”  I groaned and turned over.  From outside my room, I heard all the other members of the team stumble out of their doorways and grunt at each other and their alarm clock, Rune, in the hallway.

“Go to school and let me sleep,” I muttered into my pillow.  Luckily for me, I had graduated from high school last year, and was just sticking around for the team.  All the others had stuff to do during the day.  Diana and Will went to a small private school to get their senior year in, while everyone else went to South Haven High School.

“You know, for someone so mad about being weak, you seem to take training rather lightly.”

Almost everyone, that is.

“I need my beauty sleep, Alex.”

“With that ugly mug?  Not likely.”

“You’re composed enough to be witty.  Not wearing the mask, then?  How’d you get in my room?”

“Maybe I walked in with it, then took it off.  Ever think of that, Sherlock?”

“Yeah, you took it off.  Cause that’s always worked so well before.”

I heard him shifting around.  Hiding my face, I grinned.  “There’s a trade off, Crane.  The weaker the power, the more sane we stay. Compare me and Diana to you and Jason.  Apollo, to a lesser extent.  I’m quite comfortable as I am, thank you very much.”

“Then leave.” My grin faded.  “I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now,” he continued,  “This isn’t a place for weaklings.  Not this town, not this state, not this world.  Zeta told you your options.  Become strong, or leave.  This team isn’t for people who can’t even control their own powers.”

I flushed.

“It’s a temporary thing!  I’ll fix it soon! I just need to train a bit more!”

“Which brings us right back to you, being asleep, in bed, while everyone else is up.”

“Fine!  Fuck!  Don’t know why you’re getting up early, you don’t have school either.”

“I have an assignment.  I’m doing some grassroots destroying.  You’re being a lazy piece of lard.”

“I’M GETTING UP!”

“Ninety-nine… One.. Hundred!” I let the weights drop with a clang, just as Exile and Apollo walked into the gym.  Apollo walked over and nodding at me, picked up the dumbbells I had just dropped.  Frowning, he put them back down, then walked over to a rack and picked a pair seven sizes up.

“Why are you lifting so light?  Literally, everyone on the team can go much heavier than that.  You should be trying out the ones we can’t even get our fingers under,” he said.  I sighed.

“I can probably tell you two this…  just don’t tell Zeta, okay?”

“Sure,” Will replied with a shrug.

“No promises.  I will if I have to,” said Sarah, folding her arms.

“Well, I can’t control my powers.”  Instantly, I regretted opening my mouth.  Their faces instantly went cold and stony. “No, they work fine while I’m fighting!  I just haven’t been able to activate anything outside of combat!” Sarah frowned, thinking.

“Fine,” she said at last, “I won’t tell Jason.  But if you don’t fix it soon…”

“Where is Zeta, anyway?” I asked, looking around, “He’s usually here by now.”

“He’s getting lunch with a friend of his.  John, his name is.  Frankly, he gives me the creeps,” Will said, “He seems normal half the time, then I turn around and he’s staring at my back like he’s going to eat me.”

Sarah sighed.  “That’s the point.  All of Jay’s closest friends are… off. You never met Cyner, because he disappeared before you came, but he was similar. Not quite so hostile, but he always made my hair stand on end.  Gave off this… aura, I guess, of being on a different level than all of us.  I’m not really describing it well, but it was like standing next to a reactor.  I don’t know how to describe it better than that.  Jason is the same way sometimes.  I remember, one time, back when we were freshmen, some upperclassmen were picking on him.  One of them pushed him in the hallway, hard enough to make him fall over.  I expected him to jump up and attack the guy.  Then I looked at Jay’s eyes.”

She paused, taking a deep breath.

“I thought there was going to be a death count.  I thought he was going to start killing people with his bare hands and teeth.  He looked less like a person and more like… a wild animal.”  I recoiled a bit.

“He’s…  he’s not that bad, is he?”

Will nodded, ignoring me.

“I know what you mean.  I’ve seen him fight.  It’s brutal.  He fights like a rabid dog. And one day,” Apollo continued, a determined look in his eyes, “he’s going to have to be put down.”

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Chapter V: Folie à Plusieurs

“There are those whose primary ability is to spin wheels of manipulation.”

–C. Joybell C.

“We…  we were a pretty messed up team.  We were teenagers, what else would you expect?  I’m surprised it took as long as it did to… collapse.  Yeah.  That’s what it did.  Looking back, even before we entered our own, personal ‘dark age,’ stuff was pretty messed up.”

–Apollo, Unnatural Selection

“I guess it’s all about the dream
The ends justify the means
I’m telling you, shit is fucked up!”

–The Offspring

Writers: Everest, Apollo, Dr. Barr, Crane, Rune, The Watchmaker, Zeta

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