Scene 19 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Noon
The world cracked like glass and fell away, revealing the console room back at the Compound, where Mellas and Forester had apparently been spending time together – now, however, Sequoia was transformed into his wooden form, and an MLED agent had just sat in the console chamber. I snapped my fingers while Quinn was reorienting to give Hypnos a mask, since as far as I knew he had never revealed his identity to Quinn. “What’s the situation?” I asked.
“Heartbeat monitors said that two guards in the first subbasement went unconscious within about a second of each other,” Hypnos reported, “but nothing showed on the security cameras – they even showed the guards still standing. The guards didn’t respond to a check in, so agents went to investigate and found four intruders described as ‘medieval knights who make colored smoke’ by Agent Ramirez. One of them bent the tiles to create walls to protect themselves, leaving a hole through which one of the knights has been attacking. We’re trying to knock through their walls with a portable ram, but they have a good strategy – in the meantime, we’re evacuating tour groups and other civilians.”
“Powers?” I set up my command station, expanding the Compound’s subbasement and quickly finding the four attacking metahumans in their bunker. Quinn and Simone, meanwhile, ducked away to grab their costumes and get earpieces.
“The one with purple smoke seems to be the one controlling the walls,” the agent – his nametag read ‘Murphy’ – said. “Green has super-speed, and is the one coming out to attack. Blue and Red are defending the hole in their wall – Blue has taken attacks without flinching, so maybe some level of invulnerability, and Red looks to be superstrong.”
I frowned. “Controlling metal, super-speed, super-strength, invulnerability… and colored mist?”
“The possible connection to the Mountain King has been noticed,” the agent assured me. “His mist was gold, but it seems like all the same powers.”
I zoomed in even farther on the my map, even as I changed my appearance over to Loki’s, and saw that they were now fighting their way out of the fortified position that the metal controller had built and making their way up the corridor towards the stairs out. “That looks like the same style of armor, too,” I noted. “Obviously I’ve never met the man in person, but I’ve studied him…”
“What’s our strategy?” Hypnos asked me.
“Divide and conquer,” I told him. “If they each have only one of the Mountain King’s powers, they’ll be more limited. We should be able to take out all of them, if we do it carefully.” He nodded.
My phone buzzed in my pocket as Newton and Journey returned, the teleporter simultaneously producing her own to check the message, and I grinned when I glanced down to read it. “We’ve got a pleasant surprise, Journey,” I said to her. “After you drop us off a little closer, you’ve got another pickup to make.”
Scene 20 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Noon
Journey ferried us all downstairs – first me, Loki, and Hypnos, then Sequoia in a second trip. A moment later, Journey was gone, and we were on our own.
“Alright, here’s the plan,” Loki quietly told us. “I’m going to use my constructs to split these guys up and have you each take one or two of them on. Newton, you’re going against the purple earthbender – our presence will keep him from putting you on the back foot with his battlefield control, and he doesn’t look to have enough fine control to flank you by himself like Anima could. Hypnos, you’re against green speed – your precognition should let you match him. Sequoia, you’re up with the other two – you’re strong and tough, but if I’m right that these guys each have only one of the Mountain King’s powers, they’ll only be strong or tough. Your toughness should negate strength, and your strength should help you get through their toughness. In the meantime, I’ll be helping out as needed.”
Hypnos frowned. “That sounds like mostly a holding action,” he protested. “Those are all decent match-ups, but how will we tip the scales?”
“It is mostly a holding action,” Loki admitted. “But we benefit from that, they don’t. They need to escape to win – we can win by dragging things out until more heroes show up. Journey will be back in just a few minutes, and if not her then some of the New Champions will be here eventually. Not to mention that there are enough agents here to turn the tide, if we’re negating the advantages of their powers.”
“Alright,” Hypnos said. “Shall we?”
I rushed ahead of the others, my powers letting me move faster than anyone else other than Journey herself. I tried to pace myself though – while I had gotten a lot of experience with my powers over the last two months, the backlash still made drawn-out battles an exercise in pain. I understood that it was our best strategy, of course – I trusted Loki. I would just try to deal with the wanna-be-knights without bruising myself too badly.
When I emerged into the corridor where the running battle was taking place, the ground was rumbling and splitting apart, walls of fire shooting up along the cracks to split the knights – each of them instinctively stepping away from the nearest flames, even the invulnerable one whose breastplate spilled blue mist. A moment later, she made to walk through the wall towards the smallest knight, in green, but I vaulted over her and pushed her back into the center of her area on my way into Purple’s.
“Hi there!” I said cheerily as I landed in front of them. “I’ll be your designated opponent for today. And may I compliment you on your choice of theme colors? Royal purple, very classy.”
They inclined their helmet towards me in acknowledgment. “Thank you. And I appreciate your choice of plaid – I’m bi as well.”
I plucked at the kevlar-woven overshirt I had pulled over my costume, woven in shades of blue, pink, and purple. “This one is actually one of the ones I wear in support, not to represent myself. Something about identifying as ‘bi’ doesn’t feel right to me, as a nonbinary person attracted to all genders and the lack thereof,” I said, absently anchoring myself to the ground and leaning far to the side to avoid a metal plate that Purple had pulled from the wall and sent spinning at my head from behind, “so I usually just say ‘queer’.”
I stuck a hand out towards them, taking a quick moment to pay attention to my presence and check up on how the others were doing while Purple stared in confusion. Hypnos had just clotheslined Green, and Sequoia had Blue in a headlock. Just fine. “I”m Newton,” I said to Purple. “They/them pronouns. What’s your name?”
They paused, then took my hand. “Sir Amethyst. He/him,” he said.
“What about the others?” I asked, starting to focus in my other hand. The knife’s edge I was placing my mind in was a new one for me, but if I could keep him talking a little longer…
Amethyst hesitated before answering that one. “Sirs Alacrity and Ardent, and Dame Adamant,” he told me.”
“Alacrity in the green and Ardent in red?”
“Yes.” Then he pulled me towards him and grabbed me by the throat, a fresh wave of dark purple mist flowing from his cape as he lifted me into the air.
It came as a surprise – my presence being concentrated in the hand hidden behind my back – and I found myself instinctively scrabbling at his hand, but to no avail.
“Sorry about this, Newton,” he said as I struggled to redouble my focus, sounding genuinely contrite, “but you’re the most dangerous person here to us.”
1.19 moles of nitrogen and 0.28 moles of oxygen and
“Wrong,” I gasped. “But not entirely.” I thrust towards his helm with my hand and thrust towards it with my magic, directing the flash of light towards him as best as I could.
“FUCK!” Amethyst swore, dropping me. He stumbled backward, clapping one steel-gauntleted hand over the eye-slit of his helmet.
I rubbed at my throat, chancing another check-up on the other Journeymen. Hypnos was continuing to dance rings around Alacrity, who seemed to be dodging around what I could only assume were Loki’s illusory constructs, as they didn’t show up in my sense of presence, while Sequoia had grown a pair of wooden handcuffs around Adamant’s wrists and was sparring with Ardent to keep him away from her. We seemed to be winning.
I felt a shift in the metal tile beneath me and leapt up in the air, pulling at the ceiling and remaining there as the ground below me swelled up in an attempt to grab hold of my legs, winding up crouched on the ceiling. “Fun fact – not the first time someone has tried that on me,” I informed him. “It didn’t get Legion anywhere either.” I decided not to mention that Legion had, in fact, trapped me with her own version of the move, and it had only been Canaveral’s intervention that had saved me.
Amethyst hesitated. “Wait… you fought Legion?”
Something seemed odd about his inflection there, but I wasn’t sure what. “What did you expect me to do with the dangerous supervillain? Invite her to a tea party?” Again, I didn’t mention that I had, in fact, ended up talking to Legion – twice.
“No, I…” He shook his head. “Nevermind.”
“No, seriously,” I said, standing upright and feeling grateful for the practice I had done walking on walls and ceilings – it was still a little disconcerting to have everything be upside-down to me, but not as much as it was for my opponents to deal with an upside-down foe. “I’m ‘the most dangerous one here to you’, and you seem surprised that I fought Legion? What are you thinking here?”
“I’m thinking…” He tilted his head down, thoughtfully, then back up. “I’m thinking that we may have made a mistake.”
“Yeah, breaking into the MLED Compound,” I agreed. “Why did you do that, anyway?”
He shook his head. “Not important – we couldn’t get into the storage anyway.”
I frowned, not sure I believed him, but shrugged and launched myself at him. I pulled at the villain’s knees, causing them to buckle and giving myself a little more velocity, and vaulted over his shoulders, pushing him down in the ground. Canaveral and the director could worry about what to do with the hints Amethyst was dropping.
Scene 21 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
I checked again, almost compulsively, on how Newton was doing against ‘Sir Amethyst’. I tried not to micromanage my team, but… in a real situation like this, it was hard not to worry, especially about the least experienced member of the team. Especially when that was my best friend.
They were doing fine, though. Other than a brief scare when Amethyst had gotten them by the throat, which they had resolved on their own before I could burn the man’s retinas out, they had kept him busy and kept him talking – even gotten some potentially useful intel out of the man, like their names and apparent goal of the secure storage units. I didn’t think anything too important was contained in New Venice’s units right now – all I could recall being in them was some hypertech recovered from Motael’s power armor the last time that the New Champions had clashed with the man, and Starling had already stripped anything useful from it. They could maybe have been hired by Motael to recover the tech, but it had been over a year – surely he would have made an attempt sooner, if he was going to. So my guess is that that had been an attempt to lay a false trail, and I would tell Director Shepard that.
Hypnos was doing pretty well too, I though, glancing at his portion of the battlefield. Sir Alacrity’s super-speed seemed to be less than precise, and Hypnos was able to dodge him without much difficulty – although he hadn’t managed to land a hit of his own yet, either.
Sequoia, on the other hand, had needed a little help. Some judicious illusions had-
I glanced up at the sound of a cheerful voice laced with poison, and saw the fifth member of knightly crew, white smoke rising from her helmet. Dame…
I frowned. Something wasn’t right.
“That’s me,” I agreed, performing a tricky spell to both hide myself and the floating screens and models that showed me the surrounding area and replace them, so I could move from my apparent position without her knowing. “And you are?”
“Dame Acumen, at your service,” she said, sketching a bow – in the direction of the real me, not where she ought to be seeing my image. “I serve the same function to the Round Table as you do for the Journeymen.”
Tactical commander, I noted, dismissing the spell that had apparently not fooled her, and possibly some kind of battlefield control or coordination. How was she seeing through my constructs? What kind of enhanced senses did she have, and could I fool them? “You stand at the back and snipe?” I asked, snapping my fingers and generating a concussive wave in her direction.
She sidestepped it easily, casually, as though she knew it had been coming. Some kind of combat precognitive, like Hypnos? “That’s right,” Acumen agreed. “I snipe. Not in quite the same way as you, mind you, but not all of us get lucky enough to have a combat-relevant superpower. Or combat-relevant magic, in your case. Those without have to get by with just intelligence.” There was a distinct smirk in her voice now. “If only I didn’t need it either.”
I frowned beneath my mask. “You know, Acumen, veiled insults like that won’t make people like you. For that, you’ll need to have an actual personality.”
“Oh, was that a veiled insult?” Acumen asked. “Funny, I wasn’t veiling it at all. Perhaps it just seemed so because you had to think about it-”
I interrupted by sending a lance of fire at her, simultaneously creating lasers on either side so she couldn’t simply sidestep a gain.
…but not preventing her from doing a split in place, apparently. The split dropped her low to the ground beneath the flames, her legs spreading underneath the lasers. “Ah, violence,” she mused as she bounced back up. “The first and last resort of the weak-minded.”
“It is kind of my job, you know. Besides, I’ve got to stop your yammering somehow – you’re not going to shut up on your own.”
“Of course not – why would I?” She stepped closer to me, and I raised a hand, generating illusory flames to crackle around it. “Oh, enough of the fire!” she sighed, dramatically. “Honestly, it’s the first time you’ve used it and it’s already old.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” I said, beginning to swing my hand over my head. The flames trailed behind my hand and formed a loop, a blazing lariat of fire that I made to throw at her.
She watched with apparent curiosity, tilting her head to the side, then spoke a word. I thought she spoke a word, at any rate – my magical senses could feel the sound and even a surge of power, but my brain refused to recognize what she had said. The word was clearly a spell, as the flaming lasso I had created instantly froze over and shattered into a cloud of bluish white mist, which slowly sank to the ground.
“I wasn’t sure if your spells would count as ‘objects’ or not to my magic,” Acumen confessed, a wide grin clear in her voice. “It seems like they do!”
I sighed. “You think the fire is getting old? Trust me, your whole thing is getting old.”
“Then why don’t you stop me?”
“Maybe I will.”
“Violence doesn’t seem to be working, why not-”
I created a remote control and pointed it at her, pressing a button with my thumb, and her voice instantly fell silent.
It seemed to take her a moment to realize that I had literally muted her, but her body language seemed positively offended as she put her hands on her hips, cocking them to one side and shaking her head. Then she raised her hands and began miming something.
I shrugged. “Shouldn’t have shown me how you focus your magic. Who’s weak-minded, again?”
She made some kind of complex hand gesture.
“Sorry, I don’t speak sign. I have no idea what you’re saying.”
The armored woman held up one gauntleted finger, and I laughed. “That I understand.”
Then she pointed over my shoulder, miming laughter. Instead of looking away from her, I chanced a glance at my screens and growled at what I saw.
Sir Ardent and Sequoia were grappling with each other, while Hypnos seemed to have been pinned down and gagged by Dame Adamant, who seemed to have broken away from Sequoia while I had been distracted by Dame Acumen, fearlessly stepping through my walls of fire. Alacrity, meanwhile, was now working with Sir Amethyst against Newton – they were holding their own by using flashes of light to briefly stun their foes, but were clearly struggling, and yet hadn’t called for help.
I glared at Acumen, whose distraction had allowed this to happen. “You,” I began angrily, but was interrupted by the welcome reappearance of Journey.
The amazonian teleporter appeared not far from the edge of the room, with Referee – already in costume – sitting on one shoulder. “Hey guys!” She said cheerfully. “Sorry I’m late, had to pick up a friend who came back home early!”
Referee hunched over a little, nervous around new people even when they were villains, but gave a slight wave. “Where do you want us, Loki?”
Scene 22 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
“Close to the knight in blue, with a normal aura,” Holly instructed me, and I thrust my mind in that direction, my body following a moment later with Molly in tow. We appeared standing next to the blue-clad knight, her gauntleted hand over Nic’s mouth as she sat on him.
A moment later, a bright light shone through the face of her helmet, created by the illusionist, and Blue jerked backwards in surprise. “What-” she started to say, but then Molly dove off my shoulder, twisting in midair to hit her with a vicious scissor kick.
Molly’s aura imposed fairness on the world around her, but it had a rather strict interpretation of ‘fair.’ If she was facing off other people in an empty room, with no one outside the aura who could shoot into it, with all combatants on their own side, then it would be perfectly fair. Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses would be magnified and reduced until they all had roughly the same specialties – the physically strong would still be strong, the fast would still be fast – but all had the same chance of winning.
That was not, however, how the world actually worked. One of the tactics that we had used to great effect in the paintball game of the previous year had been to have me teleport Molly around the field, bringing people into and out of her aura at Loki’s direction. Molly was an excellent martial artist, but I was a mediocre fighter at best, and neither of us were particularly strong, fast, or tough as metahuman went – that meant that the two of us tended to weigh down the strengths of anyone else in the aura, allowing Loki to strike at range against weakened foes. Even if our enemies were boosted by the aura, your capabilities shifting was a startling feeling, and one which Molly was far more used to than anyone else. By fluctuating its radius, she could tap into her opponents strengths when she needed them, and leave them reeling from a sudden change at any moment.
Molly’s aura insisted that the world be fair, but she herself didn’t fight fair.
I offered Nic a hand up, and he pulled himself to his feet. “You’ll get her next time, champ,” I teased.
He tilted his head to the side, listening to something. “Loki wants me up against number five – Dame Acumen, in white.” He nodded to where Molly had swiftly wrestled Blue back into cuffs. “Besides, Ref’s got it handled.”
Holly spoke in my ear again as Molly finished up. “Hug the red knight with as tight of an aura as you can manage,” she ordered, and I put a hand on the younger girl’s shoulder.
“Ready for a drop?” I asked, and she nodded. I tore through reality to appear just above Red, vanishing back to the floor as Molly came down on him elbow first.
He managed to grab her before she could land her blow, but the redhead wrapped around him like a limpet and held on tight. A moment later, Jack stunned Red with an uppercut, then took custody of him, Molly clambering off as the tree-like man held Red in a full nelson.
“Purple and Green next,” Loki directed, “wide aura,” and Molly and I were off once more.
We landed a few feet from the purple-cloaked man and were immediately targeted, the one in green zooming towards us at high speed. Molly and I each put out a leg, one on either side, and the speedster went flying into the air.
“Nice,” Quinn said, dropping down from the ceiling to land next to us. I offered them a high five, which they returned without looking. “Amethyst here is a pain to deal with,” they continued, nodding towards Purple. “He makes good use of his metal bending – I think he’s using it to enhance his strength in that armor, too. Likes to talk though.”
I flexed. “Strength I’ve got,” I boasted, “It’s mobility he should be worrying about.”
“Yeah, well-” Quinn leapt into my arms, the ground cracking around their feet to try and nail them in one position. “Again, Amethyst?” They yelled. “That’s three times, and it hasn’t worked once! Come up with a new trick!”
“…yeah, I think we’ve got this covered,” I said. “Besides, the MLED is sending in another wave of agents in a moment.”
“Good,” Quinn sighed. “I’ve been pacing myself, but before long my bruises are gonna have bruises.”
I tilted my head to the side a little. “That’s right, your power has a backlash to it, right?”
They eyed Amethyst. “Yeah, something like that. Honestly, I don’t tend to get bruises these days, but aches and pains? Yeah. Also, six feet that way please.”
I teleported us in the direction they pointed and set us down as Amethyst tore up the ceiling tiles above where we had been, shards of metal flying towards him and reforming themselves into a sword and shield. He leveled them at us.
Then everything began to glow.
If you enjoy my writing, please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. If you can’t afford a recurring donation, you can make an individual donation through Paypal, or purchase one of my books. The more I make from my writing, the more time I can devote to it, which will improve both the quantity and quality of my work.