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. 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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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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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. 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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Tyrant IV. Selene II

“Ugh,” I said, “Is this seriously my costume?  I feel a bit like a stripper.”  I turned around, showing Dagny, no, Mirage the front of my new suit.  It was all in white, of course.  The top part was a tube top reaching down to just under my breasts, with an “S” inside a crescent moon on it. The rest of my chest was completely bare, but the skin-tight pants reached down to the middle of my calves.

“It’s because you’re armoured,” Mirage said sagely.  “A, you’re protected from damage when you’re fighting, so no need to give you protective gear.  B, since you’re an attractive female, the SVRA is going to want to market your sex appeal.  But, since you’re armoured…  the SVRA wants to make the few times you’ll be exposed as revealing as possible.”  I groaned, and flopped down onto my bed.

“This is such bullshit,” I said.  Mirage laughed.

“Hey,” she prompted, “What about this?”  She was holding out another white garment, one that I had chosen to ignore, then promptly forgot about.  I shrugged.

“Dunno.  I felt the leather and dropped it.  I assumed it was like…  fetish wear, but now that I already have pants…  Pass it.”  She tossed it over.  As it flew through the air, it opened up, dropping something on the floor.  I swore.  I shook out the leather, glaring at her.  Because of the glare, she saw what I was holding before I did, and promptly cracked up.

“Oh god,” Mirage choked out, “I don’t have to do any matchmaking after all!  The fucking SVRA is doing it for me!”  I just shook my head.  They had given me a white, kev-weave belly jacket, then styled it to make it look like leather.  Simply put, I looked like a female version of Zeta, but in white.  “I’d bet,” she said slyly, “That if you look on the floor, you’ll find goggles and a utility belt.”  I didn’t bother.  I knew she was right.

 

 Zeta leaped over the rooftop, using his flight to make the jump.

“C’mon,” he shouted, “I’m winning in distance AND style!”

“Show-off,” I muttered, just loud enough for him to hear me.  I jumped as far as I could, then used a strategically placed stilt construct to do a flip over the rooftop.  I nailed the landing, touching down with my feet together and my arms up.  Zeta grinned at me.

“Show-off,” he teased.

 

“Hold on a sec,” he said, panting.  “You win, you win.  I can’t beat you without using flight.”

“Please,” I said, injecting every ounce of haughtiness I could into my voice, “You couldn’t beat me if you had all seven of your powers at once!”  He chuckled. Encouraged, I continued.  “Zeta, you have been defeated!  You cannot hope to stand up to the might that is, I, Mistress Selene, Goddess of the Moon!”  He burst out laughing.   “Oh, come on,” I said, deflating.  “It’s not that bad.”

“Not that bad?  I’m almost positive you stole that from an episode of Teen Titans!”

“Hey, I loved that show!”

“And so did I.  It’s still corny.”  I pouted.

“Well fine, Zeta.  But you-”

“Jason,” he interrupted.

“What?”

“Jason. My name. You can call me by it.  Actually, use Jay.  Most of my friends do.”  I grinned at him.

“Awww, you’d trust me with your name?  That’s so sweet!  I’d offer you mine, but I’d expect you already took it from my file, like you did with my brother.”  He winced.

“He told you about that?  Well, yes, but this is different.  I know your name, but that doesn’t mean I can call you that.”

“Hmm.  So, by giving me your name, you’ve put yourself in an interesting position, then?”  I leered at him.  “I can call you whatever you want, but you’re still forced to call me Selene.”

He didn’t rise to the bait.

“Very true,” he responded evenly. “So, what’s your desicion?”  I thought about it for a minute.
“I will give you my name,” I grinned, “On one condition.”

“Oh?”

“You have to call me Mistress Selene, Goddess of the Moon.”

At that, he broke his poker face, a giant smile spreading across his face.

“Oh, so you’re into the kinky shit now?”  I swatted at him.

“Go on!  Say it, you wimp!”  He fended off my hands, laughing.

“Alright, alright.  I surrender, Mistress Selene, Goddess of the Moon.”  I relaxed.

“Ha.  I actually like the sound of that.  But, a deal is a deal. My name,” I said, Mirage’s words dancing through my head, “is Diana.”

 We paused on a rooftop again, after four hours of absolutely nothing.

“Shit,” he said, “This is really boring.”  I nodded in agreement,

“Absolutely.  Care for a drink?”  He glanced at me curiously.  I dangled Rune’s hip flask in front of him.  Rather than having one of the typical reactions, like, “Oh, sure,” or “No, I don’t drink,” or even the good old, “Drink that Satan Piss?  I would never,” he just started cracking up.

“What’s so funny?” I asked, a bit miffed.

“Hold on, hold on,” he gasped.  “This is good.”  He reached into his own jacket pocket, and pulled out a flask exactly like my own.  “I stole one of his flasks too!”  I collapsed laughing.

“When did you even…  OH GOD, HE’S GOING TO BE FURIOUS!”

 Ten minutes later…

 We sat with our feet dangling over the rooftop, masks off and at our sides, taking the occasional sip from the flasks.

“You know,” I began, “You’re really not such a bad guy.” He looked over at me.

“You know,” he said dryly, “I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

“No, no,” I protested, “I’m serious.  My brother spent half of boot camp ranting about how much of an asshole you are.  But really, you’re nice!”  He sighed, and sat back, lying against the roof.

“Okay, let’s get this over with. I am an asshole.  The biggest.  Sometimes.  It’s like, there’s Happy Jay, me right now, who can crack jokes, flirt with a pretty girl, do normal stuff.  But there’s also Angry Jay, no, wait.  Let’s call it Jay and Zeta.  I’m Jay, and Zeta is me, but angrier, and stronger.  It’s not like, a separate personality, more like, a separate set of emotions.  Got it?”

“Wow, you’re such a great flirt,” I joked, “Word to the wise: if you have to reassure a girl that you’re not crazy, you’re doing it wrong.”  He didn’t laugh, didn’t even smile.

“I wish I could reassure myself of that,” he whispered, so quietly I barely heard him.

“You might think you’re unique, and that’s okay,” I said, gently as possible. “But you’re not.  Listen.  I’ve had my powers all my life, but I’ve always had to keep it a secret.  Secret identities of my Dad and Will, and all that.  So, powers, something integral to me were cordoned off, forced to be something that Diana shouldn’t do, not something that Diana is.  It causes problems.  I think that’s what you’re going through now.  There’s another you in your life all of a sudden, on top of all your problems.”  He smiled at me, a wan, thin smile.

“Another me in my life… Ha. You have no idea how true that is.”

“I just want you to realize, you don’t have to deal with this alone.”

“You’re right,” he mused sitting back up, “I’ve always got Khan there for me…”

“And,” I started to say, then hesitated.  He looked at me expectantly. “And,” I continued, “You’ve always got …” I stared into his eyes, ” You’ve always got me.”  I reached towards his face, as he leaned towards me, and–

Alright, here’s the story.  This was spontaneous and a surprise to the people writing.  It was originally going to be deleted, but then people really liked it, said it was really well written and they wanted to know what happened a lot.  So, we kept it in.  Feedback MUCH appreciated. Do you like it?  Would you like to see more of stuff like this, or less?  Is it anathema to your existence? Thanks for reading!

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Et Sic Incipit III. Apollo II

I remembered the sparring match, and turned to watch. Diana had just dodged a punch from Zeta. She rolled out of the way, and kicked him in the back of the knee. His knees buckled, but he rolled with the fall, and grabbed Diana’s foot. He pulled her down, and she fell flat on her face.  She quickly spun onto her back, and jumped up. She feinted a kick, and as Zeta fell for it, she punched him in the jaw. He fell backwards, right on his ass, still reeling from the punch. He regained his bearings, and kicked her legs out from under her. She landed on her back, and instantly leapt up using only her feet. He was still on the ground, so she tried to kick him, but when she wound up for the kick, he grabbed her foot and threw her across the room. She hit the wall. Hard.

I vaguely remember hearing Exile say, “Oh shit,” behind me. Everyone froze. She staggered to her feet, but it was clear she was going to collapse. Zeta rushed over to help her, but she waved him off. He was apologizing profusely.

“I’m so sorry! Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Honest.”

“Are you sure? I feel so bad are you ok?”

“Yes! I’m fine! No hard feelings.” She moved to give him a hug. He didn’t know what to do, so he just hugged her back. “See?” she said, “No hard feelings.”

Before anyone could move, I was on my feet, bow drawn. I shot an arrow into Zeta’s arm. He shoved away from Diana, and pulled it out.  I drew another arrow from my quiver, and got ready to shoot him again, but Exile saw what I was doing, and before I could take another step a seven-foot wall of fire shot up in front of me.  I tried to go around it, but she changed it into a circle, surrounding me. Through the flames I could see Exile pull Diana up off the ground. Zeta grimaced, and pulled the arrow out of his arm, inspecting the wound closely, then shrugging. I couldn’t hear what was happening.

Exile started yelling at me, but I couldn’t hear her over the flames. She must have been mad, because the flames around me pressed higher. Zeta, on the other hand, was furious. He started running at me, fire burning from behind his goggles.  Exile saw his charge, and suddenly disappeared, reappearing closer to me.  She threw out an arm, clotheslining Zeta.  He fell to the ground, clutching his nose.  That made him angry, but it sure as hell made me feel better. What made me feel even better was that Exile’s attention slipped, and the flames went down enough for me to jump over and join the fight.

Before Zeta could hit her back, she blasted him in the face with a fireball. She yelled to Everest, and he grabbed Zeta from behind. Luna started yelling at Exile, who turned around, and set a circle of fire around my sister, too. Zeta bent down, then jumped up to the ceiling and flipped, leaving Everest to fall to the ground.  He slammed down, landing on top of him hard enough to drive the density-changer’s body another foot into the ground.  I, just reaching the fight, drove one of my arrows into his wounded arm, narrowly avoiding his riposte.  He started swinging wildly at me, acting as if he hadn’t just gotten stabbed.  I grabbed one of his fists, trying to initiate a grab, but the bastard was sandbagging.  He twisted out of my grip and grabbed my arm, flipping me over his back and into the wall.  To add insult to injury, he surrounded me in another wall of fire.

Zeta hit Exile in the back with a fireball, which set her shirt on fire. She waved her hand and put it out. She turned around and yelled, “ENOUGH,” loud enough for even me to hear. Everyone stopped. Well, I was trapped in fire, and Everest was almost unconscious on the floor, so really just Zeta and Luna. The flames lowered just the smallest amount.

“Leave. I’m going to try to fix this, but right now, you need to go.”

“But–” Zeta started to say, but Exile cut him off.

“Go.” She pointed to the door. He stalked out of the room, anger rolling off him in waves. My sister glanced back at me, then ran after him.  Exile waved her hand, and the fires surrounding me went out. She stumbled over to the bleachers, clearly drained from the fight. I ran past her to find Zeta.

I caught up to him just as he was reaching our bunk.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I asked as I shoved him, and he stumbled a few steps. He spun around, and shoved me back.

“What, mad your sister is an actual person?”

“Fuck you!” I pulled my sword out of its sheath.

“No!” Diana came running out of the girl’s bunk. She stood between us, and put a hand on each of our chests, separating us. “Stop!”

“Why? Your super, special big brother wants to fight me. Let him.”

“Move out of the way, Diana. Now.” She wouldn’t budge.

Suddenly, Rune appeared. “The two of you. Come. Now.” We followed him into the main building, and he sat us down at a table. He was seething with anger. He turned to Zeta.

“Zeta, watch yourself.  You’re supposed to be the bad boy of the team, but nearly killing your own subordinates is shit that not even Hacksaw does.” He pouted.

“I wasn’t trying to kill them.  I only used two powers.”  Rune just looked at him.

“You should probably go.  Make sure Exile is okay.”  He shrugged, and walked out of the room.

Once Zeta was gone, he turned to me. “You’re supposed to be the voice of reason. You’ve been on a team before. You of all people should know what happens when teammates fight. It gets people killed. You of all people should know,” he said again, with greater emphasis.  I refused to look him in the eye. “Hey. I know you want to protect your sister, but you can’t. She’s not a little kid anymore.” I still refused to look at him. He sighed, shook his head, and with that, he disappeared.

I sat there, still brooding, when I heard the door open.  A shadowy figure slipped in. It was Crane, using his stealth powers.

“Where were you during all of this?” I asked, not moving my head.  He sat down in front of me.

“Watching,” he hissed, “As I always am.” I looked up at him in surprise.  His mask was on, and his eyes glittered like obsidian.

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Et Sic Incipit III. Apollo I

I woke up at 5:30 for my morning jog, keeping as quiet as possible so as not to disturb my teammates.  The alarm clock wasn’t a problem; I hadn’t needed one of those since I was seven.  I put on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt, and grabbed my water bottle.  I tip-toed past Everest, held my breath as I passed Crane, then carefully opened my water bottle.  I raised it to my mouth to take a drink… then dumped it all over Zeta’s sleeping head.

I was out of the bunk before he stopped sputtering.

An hour later, as I finished my twelve-mile run, the others were just getting up for their training camp breakfast.  I grinned as I ran past Zeta, still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.  He flipped me off.  I toweled off in the bunk, and went to get my breakfast.

As I walked into the dining room with a plate of waffles, I started looking for my sister.  I noticed her talking to someone, and smiled.

/Oh good, she made a new friend!  I was worried about her adjusting to the new social environment./

When I saw who she was talking to, I stopped in my tracks.  The smile slid off my face, and my jaw tightened.  I spat, “Zeta.”  Resisting the urge to protect my sister, I stiffly turned around and walked to a different table.

“Hey guys,” I said, forcing myself to calm down.

“Hey!  How’s it going, man?” said Everest.

“Sup, bitch?” Crane drawled, leaning his chair back on two legs.  I sat down, fake-laughing.

“It’s all good with me.  How’s camp going for you?”  I asked. Everest just shrugged, and rubbed his biceps.  I nodded understandingly.  “Yeah, that happens to everyone.  It’s worse for you, you’re the strongman.  You gotta be as strong as you can.  They’re gonna be working you as hard as possible.”

“You can say that again,” he snorted.  “They just brought me up to 1,000lbs yesterday.  I’m dying.”  Crane laughed at that.

“1,000 pounds, and you still can’t land a punch on Exile.  What’s the phrase?  Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink?”  Everest stated at him blankly.

“What?”  He asked.  Crane sighed, waving his hand.

“Nevermind, simpleton.”  Everest stared at him in confusion for a minute.

“Did you just call me stupid?” He asked incredulously. I looked at Crane, and we both burst out laughing.  “What?  What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, nothing.  Don’t worry about it,” I responded.

“God, you two are worse than Jaso-” He broke off suddenly, looking stricken.  Crane sighed, and leaned over to me.

“Everest and I know each other I-R-L,” he whispered, “And he hasn’t realized it yet.  I was talking to Zeta, too.  They got lunch together the day before the interviews, but nothing.”

I whispered back, “Wow.  Are you serious?  He’s that dense?”  He grinned, and leaned back.

“Apt choice of words, but yes.”  Everest threw up his hands.

“Screw both of you and your mind games.  I’m going to go work out.”  As he left, Crane glanced towards Zeta and Diana talking.

“So… I have a question for you, Mr. Inexplicable Grudge.”

“It’s not an inexplicable grudge. We had a bad interview.  We now do not like each other.  End of story.  No inexplicable hating.  No friendly rivalry.  Just plain dislike.”  I sighed.  Crane nodded.

“Alright.  I can accept that,” he said, “So how are you going to react when he starts going out with your sister?”  I spat out my water.

“What? Who said anything about dating?  They’re just talking, right?  Right?” His trademark grin re-appeared, a mischevious glint in his hazel eyes.

“They’re just talking,” he said, “for now.  But, it’s only a matter of time.  They have compatible personalities, they’ll have close contact over long periods of time, similar relationship histories…they both have had experiences with overbearing authority figures…  I don’t know why, but my power has given me some insight into humans.  I use that term loosely, of course, seeing as how I’m including Zeta.”  I relaxed.

“Oh, well, you might want to get your demon-sense checked out, then. I don’t know what Zeta’s deal is, but Diana hasn’t gone out with anyone, and she’s never had an overbearing authority figure.  At least, not for very long.  I’m always there to help her out of stuff like that.”  He stared at me.

“Yes, that’s definitely it.  I’ll get my demonic mask-thing checked out.”  He got up, shaking his head.  “I’m going to go train people who don’t know as much martial arts as we do.  I’ll probably do sparring today.  I’ll have to partner Diana with Zeta, since they’re about the same skill level. Not that there’s going to be a problem with that, right?”  I furrowed my brow.

“How is Zeta the same skill level as my sister?  She’s been training all her life.”

“Zeta has a combat sense.  He hasn’t been training for as long, but his power gives him a leg up.”  He replied.  I smiled triumphantly.

“See!  Another difference. Diana works for stuff, while it just comes easy to Zeta! They’ll never go out!”

After Crane left, I finished my food quickly, and headed towards the range to practice archery. After an hour of practice, or at least an attempt at it, I stopped. I couldn’t focus knowing that my sister was spending time with Zeta, of all people. I decided to go check on my sister in the sparring ring. The conversation I’d had with Crane kept running through my mind. So how are you going to react when he starts going out with your sister? No, no, no. Not gonna fuckin’ happen. Ever.

When I reached the ring, they hadn’t started yet, so I took a seat in the bleachers to watch. Crane was still assigning partners.

“Zeta, you’ll be against Luna. Exile, you’ll be against Everest. Zeta and Diana are up first.”  Exile and Everest took a few steps away from the ring, but when they saw me, they came to sit with me.

“You look happy to be here,” Exile observed, as she sat down next to me. She put her feet up on the row of chairs in front of us and her hands behind her head.

“Shut up.” I was on the edge of my seat, angrier with Zeta than I’d ever been. Her nonchalance just made me angrier.

“Don’t bother, he’s been mad all morning. Ever since breakfast.” Everest told her.

Exile nodded to him, “Oh, I see,” She turned to me, and with a straight face asked, “Did a special someone pee in your corn flakes again?”

Everest burst out laughing.

“Shut up! Both of you! I’m just mad that Diana is spending so much time with Zeta, ok?”

“Ahaha! That’s what this is about? Don’t even worry about it. We all know that Zeta is an egotistical prick on a power trip, but he’s really just a nerd.  He’s not going to make the first move.  Besides, even if he wanted to do it just to piss you off, he knows I’d kill him.” She grinned.

“I know. I just don’t want Diana to get hurt. She’s my little sister, I still have to protect her.”

“Well, it doesn’t look like she wants your help anymore. She’s a big girl. Let her make her own decisions. And, if it makes you feel any better, she kicking Zeta’s ass.”

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Auditions II. Everest I

Hey, I’m Everest. Not the mountain, the density changer. You know, the one with the fangirls and the T-shirts? Okay, so almost every SVRA agent has those, but still. I’m the Justin Bieber of human tanks. Zeta told me to do this whole journal thing, telling who I am and how I got my powers. So I guess I should start at the beginning. I was born in New York City, but my parents wanted to get out, so we moved to CT when I was 8. I guess you’re also wondering how I got my super awesome superhero name. It’s so cool, I only could have gotten it after I got my powers, right? Well, I wish. I was a chubby little brat, and people used to say that I weighed as much as a mountain. So, Everest. Well, if they could see me now…
When I hit puberty in 9th grade, I noticed a lot of changes. My fat started to melt away, my voice deepened, my height shot up, and I started to get muscled. Then, a few months from the middle of my senior year, the school burnt down. It’s not really my place to tell you how Ja- Zeta got his powers, but that was when it happened. My powers came around the same time. I had been casually strolling away from the exploding building, (read: running as hard as I could) when I tripped. Yeah. My foot hit a rock and I fell. I barely got my hands up in time.
I thought I was safe, but when my hands hit the ground, there was something there! I slipped on the mysterious object, and rolled down a hill. When I landed, I groaned and tried to stand up. After I finally managed it, I heard a clink from near my feet. I looked down and saw the thing I had slipped on. It was a small, round blue stone. It wasn’t a jewel, not by any means. It was just solid blue. It looked a lot like a robin’s egg, actually. Still, I reached to pick it up, thinking it was interesting. I looked at it for a few minutes, then dropped it into my pocket. By this time, the fire trucks had arrived at the school, and I started jogging back to see if there was anything I could do to help. As I was running, I felt a sharp sting in my thigh, like that of a bee. I faltered, and clutched my hand to my leg, but the pain had faded by then, and I continued heading towards the school. It wasn’t until later that I realized the stone disappeared. I still have no idea what it was, just saying. But, a lot of people have asked me a lot of questions about it, and I’m guessing it’s important.

For the people who escaped the building in time, not much was changed. School was canceled for the next few weeks, obviously, but neither the town gym nor the roads were closed. So I did what I usually do when I have nothing else; I worked out. I did my weight sets, and had just gotten on the treadmill when I started throwing up. It was sudden and brutal. I got on the treadmill, then, Bam!, dizziness and vomit. I felt like the floor was bending beneath me. Of course, it was, but I was too out of it at that point to notice. I had gone from zero to sick so fast I didn’t even notice when I fell off the bike and through the floor. Through. As in, my unconscious, puke-covered body smashed through the floor. And the one under that. And the basement. When I finally came to, there were people shouting at me from the top of a three story hole. Once they figured out that I was a newly changed metahuman, not an incompetent super villain, they started trying to get me out of there. At that point, I hadn’t realized I was a density changer and I thought I was going to be stuck weighing as much as a mountain for the rest of my life. While the gym-goers and the police debated over how to get me out, some thoughtful passerby threw me some food, a change of clothes, and a can of febreze. I ate the food, put on the clothes, then accidentally shattered the can when I tried to use it. I won’t bore you with the details, but within a few minutes, my pit smelled worse than it had when there was just puke. I started praying I could just float out of the pit, remembering a recent mention of a density changer in the news who could achieve virtual flight. I’m not the most religious guy. I admit it. But, in those few moments, I closed my eyes and concentrated. It barely took a second of concentration, and I was lighter than a feather! I drifted up and out of the pit, and had drifted more than a mile before I realized I had no idea how to land.

Three weeks later.

The twenty-fifth. By then, not even the people who were there remembered the density changer in the pit. The school was repaired by government supers. People tend to work quickly when they can make stuff out of nowhere, fly, or actually are a speedster. I hate speedsters. Hate, hate, hate. They can’t do much to me, but they’re too quick to hit. They just run around and annoy me. Sorry if I’m rambling; I just hate speedsters. Right. Three weeks. Twenty fifth. I was walking around the neighborhood. It’s a nice one. Or at least, it used to be. You see, in normal times, back before a metahuman was ever seen outside of a comic book (or a Nietzsche book, as Zeta says, but I have no idea what a Nietzsche is), South Haven used to be a nice place. As in, very nice. Not a high crime rate at all. But ever since the SVRA started setting up super teams in the more impoverished areas, South Haven hasn’t been getting much positive attention. Since super villains aren’t
complete idiots, they started coming here. With the amount of literal super powers coming in, the brutal territory wars expanded into the whole of Connecticut. Lately, it’s been peaceful-ish, but word on the street is that there’s a new gang (or a religious cult, or something) in New York state that’s looking to get some prime SVRA-free real estate in the ol’ Nutmeg.

Wait. SVRA. I need to explain this. The SVRA is likely the greatest thing to come out of the United States Government. I realize that isn’t saying much, this being the same government that created the Indian Removal Act, but listen for a moment. Twenty-five days after the first super villain appeared, twenty-two after the first superheroes,
Congress signed the Super Villain Repression Agency bill. SVRA. It’s somewhat of a government department. I say somewhat, because it is funded partially by tax dollars. The other part is where it gets awesome. The SVRA gets by, supports its heroes and equipment and awesome bases, by taking advantage of human nature. By “taking advantage of human nature,” I mean it. The SVRA sells T-shirts. And action figures. And comic books. It’s called by some to be the fourth branch of US government. Others call it the only, because it’s like having Donald Trump, Stephen Hawking, and Oprah into one. That is, extremely rich, extremely smart, and able to command an army with a single word. But, I’m getting sidetracked. The SVRA funds itself through tax dollars and merchandising. It exists to set up teams all over the country. Each of these teams has a specific region. There’s a national team, a New York state team, and a New York City team, and so on all over the country. The teams are made up of metahumans who volunteer for the job. When the SVRA sets up a new team somewhere, they find a vigilante willing to head a team, and then they put up posters and set up a base. The posters give a phone number and direct metahumans to the police station. They send out an experienced advisor, usually an old hand from a different team, and the advisor helps the new team leader conduct interviews. When they have the team assembled, they cut off the interviews and start training the team. That involves how to deal with journalists and other criminals, costume designs, base maintenance, social skills, and how to make your fans adore you. The heroics of the team draw a fanbase, the fanbase pays money, the team becomes more and more successful. When a hero wants to retire, they can draw a pension by letting the SVRA publish a comic book about their lives. There are inter-team events held every so often, and an annual tournament. For most towns, it amounts to having a baseball team that flies and stops crime. Getting a team involves a huge boost for the local economy, as well as for town spirit. With all this in mind, imagine how excited I was when I saw an SVRA poster outside my favorite italian restaurant.

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Trial By Fire I. Zeta III

A few minutes later, we were in the weight room with a good 20 other people, barricading the door to buy us time if the out of control metahuman came towards us. TMB and I knew it wouldn’t stop anything, but it could help the other people delay it long enough for the two of us to escape. As we shifted benches and stationary bikes, I heard someone say,

/We can stop him./

I looked around, but TMB didn’t seem to hear it, and nobody was reacting, so I ignored it.

/Don’t ignore me! I know you can hear me! Fuck You! Here I am, trying to help you realize your strength, and instead, you’re just, all, noooo, I’m gonna stay a fucking norm! Well, listen up! I’m talking to you!/

“What the fuck?” I said, earning a few strange looks from the surrounding meat shields.

/Look. I’m here to help you out. Realize your hidden potential and all that Yoda crap. Listen to me./

/Seriously, who are you, and why are you in my head?/

/It would be pretty weird if I wasn’t in your head./

/Huh?/

/You see, I am YOU!/

At that point, I heard TMB talking.

“Hello? You there?”

“Shit, sorry. Talking to myself, apparently,” I responded. He stared at me, blinked, then shrugged and went back to work. Yep. My friends are fucking awesome. I continued barricading the door, and the voice continued.

/If you’ll forgive the M. Night Shyamalanian plot twist, I’m an extension of your own consciousness. I can make a sorta physical form, but I don’t feel like it yet. I know everything you know, think, yada yada. I’m you, pretty much./

/Bullshit./

/What?/

/I don’t believe you./

/But it’s true! I’m your spirit! I think your thoughts, feel your feelings, emote your emotions! Right now, you’re feeling bored, and aggressive! See!/

/ I always feel like that, and make no secret of it. You’re not convincing me./

/You’re a semi-sociopathic thrill-seeking anarchist.  Your closest friend displays all the emotion of a brain-dead coma victim.  You’ve never been able to hold down a girlfriend for more than 48 hours because you’re prone to mood swings, violence, and oh yeah,  being a giant asshole./

/Fuck you./

/That would be mastrubation./

/If you’re really me, say something only I would say./

/…Fuck you./

/Ah Ha! See, You’re not me after all! But… here’s the deal. I’m sort of in a life-threatening situation, so why don’t you make yourself appear, and if you can, I’ll accept that you’re my soul or whatever./

/Spirit, really, but sure. Make me./

/You can’t appear.  So… you’re a telepath who decided to fuck with me./

/What? No! I mean, force me to appear. It’s easy, just imagine your spirit solid./

/Do I need to give it a form? Cause if I do, my spirit is gonna be a fucking dragon./

/No, I already have a form. I’m a cute, fluffy little cat that can run really fast and tear your throat out./

/Wait… So my spirit animal or whatever is a cheetah?/

/No, smaller./

/Housecat?/

/Bigger…/

/Lion?/

/Smaller…/

/I give up./

/A serval.  Idiot./

/A what?/

/A serval. It’s a spotted cat./

/How big?/

/You’ll see./

/Or…  you could to tell me now./

/Jesus. The crap you say annoys even… you… Just go already!/

I concentrated as hard as I could. My head began to ache from the strain, but I didn’t stop. I had my eyes closed, and sweat was beading on my forehead for what must have been five minutes until I heard someone say, “So… How long is he going to stay like that?” I opened my eyes, and saw TMB sitting down and watching me. Right next to him was–

“Is that what a serval is?  It looks like a midget leopard.”

“Calm down,” gestured TMB with a wave of his hand. “He appeared, and while you were working out your poor fiber, he explained everything to me. He can appear when he wants, and chose who he is visible too. Anyone who can see him can also hear him, and if they intend no harm, touch him.”

“Huh. That’s pretty sick… except for the fact that you can’t attack people.  Or you know, do anything.” I said.

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