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. 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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Bonus Chapter. Bird

(October 31, 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only that killed them.

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

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

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

“Shuttup, we can do this!”

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

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

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

She started ignoring me, and switched to external speakers,

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

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

All too well…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

/Thank God!/

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

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

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

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

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

/What are those fuckers?/

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

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

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

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

“I am the wind blowing through your hair

I am the shadow on the moon at night

Filling your dreams to the brim with fright

This is-“

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Next

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. Discharge I

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

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

There are probably a lot of answers to that one.

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

“HOLY SHIT!” I screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a slight paused, before the voice slowly responded

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The buzzing continued for about 5 seconds before it abruptly ceased

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sizzling continued, despite my tightly shut eyelids.

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

Finally, the flow of tears slowed to a standstill.

Still the sizzling continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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Tyrant IV. King I

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

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

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

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

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

I cocked my head, appearing to consider his offer.

“No,” I said.

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

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

Where did he go? Whe-AAAAAAHHHH!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Milord.”

“Mmm?  Yes?”

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

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

“Yessir!”  The messenger saluted and rushed off.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, what’s the shtick?”

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

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

“Sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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