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Avenger Assembled

Hell Broke Loose: The Terminus Invasion of 2018

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July 10, 2018

 

8AM

Joan Collier's soothing voice greeted Freedom City's commuters on July 10; those that didn't already have today off anyway. "All of Freedom has turned out for what may be the largest gathering of metahumans in recent history; a commemoration of the death of the Centurion twenty-five years ago-" 

 

In the waters off the coast of North Bay, Aquaria watched as Jessie and Baxter played fetch in the surf. Tourists usually didn't come to the beach by the airport, which made it the perfect spot for locals in the know looking to get away - especially when one of them generally couldn't be seen by human eyes. They'd brought their gear, just in case superheroing turned out to be necessary; but this was supposed to be a day off. 

 

In Bedlam City, Anna Cline was up early with her plate of breakfast sausage and eggs and a live newsfeed. Thanks to the satellite hookup her sidekick had made, she didn't even have to see the stupid Bedlam talking heads. 

 

In Britain, UNISON heroes Mark Lucas and his wife Monsoon were eating lunch in Vanguard's headquarters, their son sitting on his father's lap. It had been a good teamup. 

 

Woodsman slept late that morning, curled up in his tent screened from the bushes, his motorcycle chained to a nearby tree. Next stop, Minneapolis. 

 

The Omegadrone called Harrier sat in his house with his woman and was content. The cameras were off and the world outside them quiet. This was a day when neither of them needed to go out. 

 

In Emerald City, Washington, Citizen backed himself up that morning, prompted by one of several emails Miss Americana had sent him that night. After that, it was time for a morning speech to the Archetech staff, and then maybe time to get to work?

 

 In the VIP section of the audience in Riverside Park, Fast-Forward sat alongside his wife, occasionally shooting a glance over at Wail elsewhere in the crowd of dignitaries. He hadn't seen a crowd of supers this big since...well, since 2013. 

 

Elsewhere, Heyzel remembered "And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father" - but found the holy words bitter comfort. 

 

9AM 

"Thanks for that, Carl - that was Carl Stallone on location with the Freedom League Auxiliary and True North in Greenland, where it seems one giant rock monster found that it bit off - more than it could chew." Joan frowned, as if judging her teleprompter, before continuing. 

 

In an undisclosed wing of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Ashley and Jaycee sat in a room free of any electronics and ate breakfast together - practice for that fall. "So, uh, are you really a...a lesbian?" Jaycee asked Ashley while she was sipping her orange juice. Ashley was a veteran superhero and Secret Service agent. She managed to swallow it. 

 

11AM 

 

And all at once, psychics and mystics across the city screamed in mixed terror and pain as they felt the very stuff of the universe be violated - 

 

- And Harrier crashed to the floor without so much as a sound escaping his lips - 

 

And the sky ripped open above the assembled crowds like the tearing of some great and terrible wound, and with the sound of hellish trumpets the Omegadrones poured forth from the sky like so many locusts-

 

NOON

The image of Captain Thunder and the Alpha Omegadrone, plunging together into the base of the Sentry Statue and sending it tumbling to the Earth amid belching smoke and flame, remains one of the most infamous images of the Invasion of 2018- 

 

Fast-Forward felt his tendons pull as he runs his way through the city, grabbing people and running them out, but he doesn't care  - not yet, not time for that-

 

-And in the center of the city something happenned to the DuTemps Building; great black wriggling things like umbral tentacles spread across the building from the castle downward, enveloping the entire structure like a squid around its prey before tentacles and castle alike vanish altogether

 

1PM 

"A body count already estimated to be in the hundreds and-yes, I've just gotten word that the portal in Liberty Park has been closed but that the crisis is not over-" 

 

2PM 

"YOU CAN EVADE REALITY BUT YOU CANNOT AVOID THE CONSEQUENCES OF AVOIDING REALITY!" cried Abby Brio from her throne, the great golden chair glowing above the burning remains of the Ashton neighborhood, the chair itself cast in an eerie light by the great green dome overhead, flanked by Omegadrones. 

 

5PM 

 

"And we are reporting now that the Freedom League has been driven away from the enemy fortress in Kingston as well, thus leaving two Terminus strongholds right in the heart of Freedom City." It was shortly after this moment that Joan Collier handed her desk off to someone else. 

 

8PM 

The sun is setting. There are war councils afoot and civilians being rescued. The skies are red, but stars glow defiantly through them. There are bodies in Kingston and Ashton, and terrible things are being done to the dead  - and very soon to the living.

 

Omegadrones are flying - and the Sentry Statue is still burning

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Fju9o8BVJ8

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OOC timeline: 

 

July 10-13, 2018

 

Another Castle [Evac] (TT GMing, WRAITH [Fox], MISS GRUE [TiffanyKorta], GHOST GIRL [Gizmo]) - this takes place from around noon on Day One to around 8PM on Day Four


Early Freedom Evacuation Thread (EternalPhoenix and Ari GMing, PRISM [Thunder King], MANNEQUIN [Vorik]) - this takes place around 7PM on Day One

 

Crack the Anvil [Kingston] (3 players, Gizmo GMing, REPLICA [Cubismo], CANNONADE [Trollthumper] , BLACK MAMBA [Tarrakesh]) - this takes place on Day Two

 

Shepherd the Flock [West End] (3 players, Gizmo GMing, PINNACLE [Jander-Prime], DREADNOUGHT [Exaccus], GLAMAZON [HG Morrison)] - this takes place on Day Two

 

And the Moon Is In Shock [Lantern Hill] (TT GMing, PHANTOM [alderwitch], MS BRITANNIA [TiffanyKorta], RENE DE SAENS [Supercape]) - this takes place on Day Two


Technobabble Thread (3 players, Cubismo GMing, TERRIFICA [EternalPhoenix], SALVO [Zeitgeist Blue], SOLAR SENTINEL [Thunder King] ) - this takes place on Day Two  

 

How Much Further to Fall [Bedlam][/url] (TT GMing, ARROWHAWK II [Ecalsneerg], LADY HORUS/WADJET [AvengerAssembled], JETTE [EternalPhoenix]) - this takes place on Day Three

 

The Only Thing I Know For Real [Claremont/Southside] (Olopi GMing, Rev [Supercape], Pacer & Stalwart [EternalPhoenix], Facsimile [Exaccus]) - this takes place on Day Three

 

Running up that Hill - TiffK GMing, RED LYNX [Angrydurf], ASAD [TheAbsurdist], DALIR THE DASHING [HG Morrison] - this takes place on Day Three

 

NIHILOR - AvengerAssembled GMing, WANDER [Electra], MIDNIGHT II [Gizmo], PSYCHE [Alderwitch] - this takes place on Day Three


FREEDOM CITY - HG Morrison GMing, SINGULARITY [Electra], SEA DEVIL [AvengerAssembled], COBALT TEMPLAR [KnightDisciple] -- this takes place on Day Three

 

World's On Fire (3 players) - TheAbsurdist GMing, PHALANX [angrydurf], TRIAKOSIA [TiffanyKorta], GAIAN KNIGHT [Fox] - this takes place at around 6PM on Day Four

 

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Vignette Prompt - June-July-August 2018 

WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE INVASION, GRANDPARENT? 

 

For vignette credit for the summer of 2018, please write a story about what your character/s did during the Terminus Invasion of 2018! You can write this whether or not you or your character participated in an active thread. 

 

Did you fight Omegadrones? Rescue civilians? Feed the hungry? Beat one of the low-ranking Annihilists? Celebrate the victory afterwards? Mourn the dead? Cavort in the ocean? Weep in terror and rage at the cosmic injustice of it all? Spend all the time on your girlfriend's bedroom floor? Yell imprecations at the Moon? 

Either way, go ahead and write it up and post it below - the usual double credit for a vignette of more than 1000 words applies. 

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Sea Devil 

Descended From Voyagers 

Day One - Evening 

 

Sea Devil descended alone into the crater where the DuTemps Building had stood that morning, her helmet partially retracted so she could hear and smell all around her. It was dark down here and wet, broken water lines meaning that the hole had partially flooded before the underground rivers had been closed. But dark and wet were no foes of hers; and so she silently picked her way down the crater walls, occasionally catching from the pooled water below that told her the skies above had none of the metallic servants of Destruction for the moment. She took a deep breath, and then another, thinking about what she heard and felt. She couldn't radio her report in from here, but she could sing it in her head. 

 

I can hear the song. It is not the song of Destruction - something else happened here. She stopped for a moment in the shelter of a broken sewage pipe, reaching down to run her armored fingers over the lip of the strangely-divided rock. As smooth as if it had been cut with a knife, she mused - or perhaps something as sharp as her armor's tridents. She could tell some mighty magics had happened here but the song was too great, and too strange, for her to know more. As if many voices sang at once; but not all of them in harmony. She would have to go deeper - literally. With a smooth dive, she leaped from her perch to the sheltering water below, reluctantly closing her armor's vents at the last moment so that she wouldn't have to taste and smell water poisoned by the chemicals of the city. 

 

So she was greatly surprised, just as she hit, to realize that the water she hit was pure and clean - and as cold and thick about her as the depths of the ocean! She thought this a trick, having been warned of the canniness of the forces of Destruction, and lit her tridents in defiance - but there was nothing about her to be seen - no metallic monsters came for her, no gateways to the daemon sultan's realm opened; but the water around her was not the polluted water of Freedom City's underbelly, but the pure, clean salt water of the depths of the sea. She'd known its touch so rarely in her life; but she knew it as she would have the song of her tribe. With that she dived lower still, more eager than ever to find the solution to the mystery that had taken another home, and another family, from her - and now to know what had given her the miracle of the cleansing waters. 

 

She swam down low, past debris that had fallen into the water, Surface vehicles and a few sad bodies, trying to reach the very bottom of the crater dug out by the building's disappearance. She swam deeper, and deeper still - and then she saw it. The trident, lodged at the bottom of the inverted pyramid, the trident, which from its workmanship was made by Deep One hands, the trident that she had never seen before but seemed to call to her like a lost member of the People. She could hear the power that rang through the metal and knew that something had delivered this great and mighty weapon to her - but who had done so? She swam down to the trident, studying it uncertainly, the faint glow of her suit reflecting off the burnished black metal into her great gold and black eyes as she weighed whether or not this was a trap. 

 

And then she heard the song; and saw to her right a vision. Herself, in a twisted mockery of herself, her body swollen and misshapen like an Atlantean's, a Surfacer's long black hair streaming behind her, tiny eyes seeming to peer at her uncertainly. And to her left, as the song deepened, another vision - herself, covered in glory, with Dagon's fleshly mantle upon her face and Hydra's gaze upon her brow, a Deep One descended to the ranks of the most blessed! Her heart hammered wildly in her chest as she studied her 'sisters' and they studied her. Finally the blessed one's many eyes moved, and the cursed one's small head moved, and Aquaria realized that they like her were studying the trident. 

 

Who should take it? Aquaria herself? The monstrous one, who surely had great need of power? The blessed one, who surely knew the songs of the gods very well indeed? After what seemed an eternity down there where her home had once been, Aquaria realized the answer to the riddle. The cursed one could never hold the power of the gods and the blessed one had no need of it - the only bearer of the trident had to be the one made in the image of the gods themselves. The Water-Bearer-In-His-Mouth! She reached out for the trident and gripped it tight with her left hand, and as she did she felt the power of it surge through her like a lightning strike - 

 

Under the water, Aquaria blinked as her gold-black eyes rolled over to a deep shade of black. Her mouth moved with a voice that wasn't hers, a sinous echo like the movements of the vasty deep. Her heart felt, for the first time in a long time, the great joy of faith rewarded and confirmed. 

 

The children of Destruction have forgotten their father and moher. Teach them our songs

 

When the blessing had faded, she stared at the trident for a long moment, wondering if she would be again indwelt. But she heard no voices, and her eyes remained hers. "I will carry your power, Dark Father and Mother,," she croaked reverently, "I will sing to the stars - and make this world right." when no other signs were obvious, she took the trident and hung it from her back, then began swimming in quick, powerful strokes for the edge of the pool. Perhaps she had no certain answers about the fate of her friends, but it did not seem the forces of Destruction had taken them today. And if the gods themselves had entered the fight for Freedom City, who could stand against them? 

 

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First Family 

Watchdog and Pulse 

Day 3 

An undisclosed location 

 

"Ah'm sorry I asked if you were gay."  

 

Ashley looked into the nervous face of the teenage First Daughter, Jaycee twisting her long dark hair around her finger as she spoke, and considered that this was a conversation that neither her time as a superhero nor her time as a Secret Service agent had prepared her for. "It's all right. We're going to be spending a lot of time together in the near future, so questions like that are perfectly normal." She gave Jaycee a small, professional smile. "I'm not gay-" but oh, hadn't a lot of boys assumed she was! Especially the boys who were supposed to be full-grown men. "but pretending to be is a good way to stop a lot of awkward questions." Extemporizing, she sipped her tea - Vietnamese lotus, something she'd introduced Jaycee to that week as a way of keeping her from dwelling on what was happening in Freedom City. "Claremont has, ah, a lot of teenagers from all over the world, most of whom are away from home for the first time, some of them far from home. People date a lot; and if the boys think I like girls, they won't be asking me out much." 

 

Jaycee sighed, took her finger out of her hair, and absently fingered the small gold cross she wore around her neck. "Do you think Ah could date there?" she asked her bodyguard. They were alone in the small kitchenette, her older sister having gone to ground at the Secret Service facility in Muskogee, her younger sister with their mom in the infirmary, her father trying to help save the world. That, at least, was a question Ashley had thought about how to answer. 

 

"I'm your bodyguard, Jaycee, not your parent," she said simply. "I can't tell you what to do. But I can tell you this." She gave Jaycee a flat, level look. "My job means that I will be risking my life for you, every day of the week, as long as I'm on duty and you're at Claremont. That's my job if you're being smart, that's my job if you're not being smart. But if you make smart choices, my job is a lot easier - and a lot safer." She smiled again, trying to soften the words. "If you do get a boyfriend, you have to explain it to your parents, not me." 

 

"Fair enough," said Jaycee, smiling back. Ashley had noticed how Jaycee, always quieter and more withdrawn than her siblings, had been noticeably silent during their time in the facility. That smile was a good smile. "Ah probably wouldn't want to date anybody there, Ah mean, Ah'd have to lie to them the whole time and that's not very Christian, not if it's somebody you're courting."  

 

"Mmm," Ashley said noncommittally, taking a moment to sip her tea. Her background wasn't that far from the First Daughter's, albeit Catholic vs. Protestant - but even agreeing could be potentially hazardous to her professional health. "Well, the important thing is that whatever you do, you don't try and dodge me or the other agents. Whatever you do with yourself while you're at Claremont, you need to keep your detail close at hand." Stealthier than most of her fellow agents, Ashley could probably have just followed her protectee around - but that sort of thing didn't breed trust either. "We're not going to tattle on you if you do something your parents wouldn't approve of." The list of that was fairly long, even if you ignored the security situation. 

 

"Ah promise," said Jaycee, "cross mah heart and hope to die." She actually did the first, then smiled. "Ah was thinking about getting a tattoo..." 

Ashley smiled, glad to see her protectee so relaxed. "Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it." She hesitated a moment, then undid her left sleeve buttons, pushing the black material of her jacket and the white material of her shirt. Jaycee's eyes widened as she took in what Ashley's long sleeves usually hid. "That's the Sacred Heart of Mary," she said, pointing to a red heart pierced with knives, getting a nod from the Sunday school-trained Jaycee. "This is my father's name in Vietnamese characters, and this is..." She felt her cheeks flush as her fingers touched the short name up by her elbow. 


"Who's Tyler?" 

 

There were a lot of answers to that, but only one was appropriate under these circumstances. "A jerk," Ashley said firmly. "which is why you should think hard about tattoos." And be sober when you get them, she added, definitely a comment she wasn't ready to make in front of Jaycee. "You never know how things are going to change." 

"Ah guess not," said Jaycee, shifting a little. She turned her head and looked towards the underground situation room; and it occurred to Ashley, not for the first time, that her ward could probably hear what was going on in there. "Ah think Ah'm ready for a nap," she said, "Mama'll be there all afternoon with the troops, and Jaydee'll be right there with her." Jaydee was notably the most social of the Cahill girls, something that was a source of stress for Ashley's colleagues when they considered that she was just a few years away from dating herself. "Could you, ah, help me?" 

"Okay," said Ashley, just a little uncertainly. She followed Jaycee back to the room she was sharing with her sister, nodding at Agent Harrison at the door, then sat down next to the bed as Jaycee threw herself down on it, fully-dressed. Just don't get used to this, kid, she thought as she reached down and put her hand on what her old yoga teacher would have called her crown chakra, the top of her head. She concentrated, reached out - and saw Jaycee tense slightly before the girl dropped abruptly into a sleep that would be untroubled by radio dreams. 

 

Used to this by now, after several weeks of practice, Ashley leaned back in the bedside chair, shaking her head. If only we were all so lucky. 

 

Omegadrone numbers growing. Situation in Freedom City growing more dangerous...

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Curtain Call

Masque

 

”Ladies and gentlemen, right this way, right this way!”

 

Masque did her best impression of a big top ring master, twirling her crook staff and directing the small crowd down an alley toward safety. Probably safety, anyway - safer than here. Get them to cover, get them off the street. Nearest shelters. No fighting.

 

She could do this.

 

----

 

“I don’t think I know you.”

 

It wasn’t a judgement, and she tried to not take it personally. “I’m...new,” Masque admitted, catching herself trying to shrink into her cloak. She tilted her mask-clad face instead, in attempt to be odd instead of scared; it only mostly succeeded. “But I can help.”

 

There was silence, and the silence only made things worse. Outside was not silent, and the quieter it was in here, the louder out there seemed. “I can help. You need all the help you can get.”

 

He ran his hand through his hair, sighing and looking at a map someone had hastily pinned to the wall. ‘Evacuation coordinator.’ She didn’t even think it was a formal title, that it would be recognized by anyone outside the building. This wasn’t her city; she knew enough to know she didn’t know enough to know--

 

“No fighting,” he said, at last, turning a sharp but tired eye on her. His uniform was torn, but looked like an EMT’s; it was worst around the missing arm. “Don’t pick fights, we don’t need to be rescuing heroes, too. Find people, get them to one of these spots -” - he paused to gesture at his map - “- or get them here, and we’ll do what we can with them. Okay?”

 

----

 

The nice thing about streets and sky full of death and terror was that it made people really easy to herd, once you got them moving; even a strange woman in a full-face mask was more welcoming than the screams and destruction that were everywhere else, as long as she stayed bright and colorful and kept them moving. “One shelter, not too far, let’s keep the pace! Squeeze in, side by side, no stragglers, you never know--”

 

It was hard to talk with a spike through her chest. The drone had snuck up behind the group, and she’d barely turned in time to see it when someone in the crowd screamed; lost from its pack and already badly damaged, like someone had grabbed bits of its flesh and twisted it out of shape. Or, more out of shape, she thought. The last thing she thought.

 

She grinned at it, trying to talk but making no noise, blood running out the corners of her mouth as her body went up like flash paper. A ball of white fire dropped down from somewhere above it, catching it off-guard and dropping it to the ground to expire and burn.


At the other end of the alley, Masque planted her staff end-first in the ground, leaning against it in what she hoped was a jaunty pose, framed by a jarringly out-of-place arrow, all bright lights and cheap neon-tube animation, directing the crowd south.

 

“Well! That was exciting,” she announced, smile audible even behind the mask.

 

The memory of stabbing pain, unformed words. The taste of blood in her mouth. Don’t think about it, smile for the audience. “Just a little more now, no stalling, no shoving! You’re my third crowd today and I haven’t lost one yet, so don’t you all go disappointing me.”

 

The show must go on.

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July 3, 2018

 

 

 

Preparations

Posted 8 hours ago         |      21084 views     | 87 comments

 

 

Well, most of you will have heard of the Parade by now, so I won’t go into detail with that. What I will go into detail on below, however, is what I’ll be doing during it, since you can bet I’ll be attending. There’s a schedule listed all the way at the bottom, but let’s talk about the most important part first.

 

 

Next to just blogging from the event on here and my various other accounts, I will also be livestreaming from various locations as I travel around the city. I’ve posted a rough schedule below, however please be aware that this will likely change over the next week and I will notify you all of any significant changes.

 

 

So, where will I be spending my time? Well, there's quite a few places that…

--Click Here to Continue Reading—

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 10, 2018
Liberty Park, Freedom City
10:57 AM

 

 

 

The infrastructure that had been put together for the event was pretty stunning. It made sense, sure, this was probably the biggest thing the city would see in years, and lots of people were involved in the planning. Still, everything that had been put together, from the transport into the city, to the various stalls that had been set up on the outskirts of the parade’s route, it was amazing to see.

 

 

Especially if, like Cass, you’d been involved in putting all of it together. Sure, he hadn’t played a major role in it all, but he’d still contributed to getting all of this to run. Not that he could rest on his laurels, he’d be pretty busy the entire day, streaming from various places scattered around the city so those that didn’t make the trip could see what was going on, too. He’d only just arrived in Liberty Park for a previously arranged interview with one of the main organizers of the parade, who would arrive any minute hopefully.

“And over there you can see the last preparations for the parade being made, which I will of course be attending. If you didn’t see my last post about it, whether or not I will actually be able to stream from inside it is unsure right now, I’ll update you as I know for sure. “

 

 

He was speaking into his phone, and behind it, a few thousand people who were watching him livestream. He’d planned to start some kind of regular livestream for a while but had held off until today to start with impressive numbers and hopefully continue growing from there. He didn’t really need to for any reason of course, but he’d started to really enjoy watching streams over the past few months so launching an own one had seemed like the right course of action.


“Alright, the interview was scheduled to start right now but it looks like there might be a tiny delay, which, with all these preparations, is underst-“

 

 

“OH SH##”

 

 

Without really thinking about it, he raised his phone, to show what he was seeing. Out of nowhere, the sky had seemingly been ripped in half. One glimpse had been enough for Cass to know what was happening. He’d been watching a lot of recordings of 25 years ago leading up to the parade. Not that avoiding them at all would’ve been possible considering they were in all the media.

 

 

“THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENI-“ With that, the stream cut out, on the picture of hordes of Omegadrones appearing from the portal.

 

 

Of course, the stream going offline did not mean the same would happen to the chat, which had been commenting along occasionally, with slightly more finesse and pleasantry than one would’ve come to expect from an instant messenger on the internet of its size. Not that that latter part lasted. The chat could not bear the load of many thousand messages being send in within a second or two, so conversation spread onto various other communities on the internet within the minute.

 

 

Before any real reports had made it online, footage from the last two seconds of the stream was already being shared on every social media platform out there, being spread as fast as the dread that came with it.

 

 

That dread hardly compared to what Cassidy Bauer was feeling right now. He was surrounded by, well, a lot, of people. If he wanted to, he could probably sneak out right now, his powers would probably allow for it. But that would’ve meant leaving all these people to die.

 

 

He couldn’t fight the Terminus though. At best he could hold off a few of the drones before their sheer number overwhelmed him, killed him, and then everybody else in the park. People would die. No matter what he did. People he knew, people he’d worked with. He could at least do the world a favor by living to fight in a fight he could take.

 

 

Sneaking out would’ve taken too long. He had to get back to his apartment ASAP to gather up his equipment. If it was even still there. The drones were fast, they’d probably have the city devastated within the hour. He could really only see one option to get there on time. One option he really, really didn’t like.

 

 

He just hoped nobody here had a camera set up. And that nobody would be watching closely enough to remember it. And that the Omegadrones were too busy to notice him as his body began to first glow softly, then erupted into flames, soon being nothing but a man-size flame floating off the ground.

 

 

As soon as he regained even a modicum of control over his body, something that always took a bit with the fire, he blasted off, straight northwards, leaving behind the scorched floor and a trail of fire in the sky. He did not have time to think about anything, he had to push himself forward. The faster he went the better his chances at making it out of this alive. He couldn’t pay attention to his surroundings, he had to spend what little focus he could maintain right now on avoiding all the large buildings that stood in his way.

 

 

Of course, all of this also meant that he was wholly unaware of the Omegadrones following him, at least until two bolts of Entropy whizzed past his head, a third one actually managing to hit him, immediately sending him reeling from pain – and worse – leaving him unable to control his flight, dropping him straight into the ground.

 

 

Fortunately enough, fire cared very little about being dropped from a fair height at high speed, so that part didn’t do much beyond slowing Cass down. The entropy, on the other hand, hurt like hell. He could barely hold it together and work through the pain. In a strange way seeing the four Omegadrones above him once he’d recovered from the fall actually helped. It gave him something to focus on.

 

 

It was time to figure out if all this training had paid off. The drones closed in, but moved just slow enough for Cass to mount a response by creating a wall of fire surrounding him, protecting him, and allowing him to slowly draw strength from it. One of the drones’ stabbed its pike straight through, completely unafraid of the fire but Cass managed to twist the flames of body around it, something he suddenly was very glad he’d decided to train.

 

 

Combat went by in a blur, with Cass relying exclusively on his instinct, reflexes and what he’d learned over the past year or so of combat training. In the end, he stood victorious, but not without having taken another handful of blows, some just grazing him, some actually doing a fair bit of damage. He’d just survived being at essentially the epicentre of the invasion, he wouldn’t die in some minor FC street. He took a moment to gather his strength, before blasting off again, keeping a northern course, and arriving only a minute or so afterwards, without any more Omegadrones in sight.

 

 

Phasing his hand through the inconspicuous metal contraption next to the door and igniting the inside of it was all he had to do, and the door opened. This place really was a marvel of engineering. It hadn’t exactly been cheap but having a proper base of his own had felt worth spending all this cash on. Especially with all the discounts he got.  

 

 

The door closed behind him as he flew through what was meant to be a living room, currently housing nothing but an old mattress. He hadn’t had time to move yet, but he hadn’t come here for the comfort. One more door, one more lock and he arrived where he’d planned to go. Some weird machine he honestly didn’t understand at all took care of the fact he could usually not turn off his fire form, and moments later, Cassidy Bauer sat in front of four PC screens, an earpiece feeding him all the most recent information.

 

 

After getting a first look at the situation, he got back up and grabbed a bag he’d placed next to the door for a situation like this. He hadn’t imagined it’d be this but right now he was glad he’d prepared at least something.

 

 

“Hey, Bonfire here. “ he began speaking into his earpiece as he left the room. “meet me at Managold Bridge. “

 

 

There were days when having the contact information of tons of his colleagues really did come in quite useful…

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Pray for the power to overcome

Red Moon

Morning of day 3(of infinite)

 

The wires sprouted in rivulets, in trickles and rills, fanning across the walls and floor in a dense mat. Filling most of the room belonging to those walls and floor was the severed head of the giant. In life they'd perhaps been beautiful, though Atraxia couldn't say. The earless, mouthless face was too chunky and broad, the lips pouted to the point of parody and the skin pale and thin as gauze. The eyes were the worst, and the sight of them had sent a shiver through the shriveled heart of the lunar vampire as she'd slipped noiselessly into the central power battery of the Ashton doomforge. The eyes were red like hers had been in life and stared out at her in mute appeal.

 

"Yes" her suit trilled, translating her words with a chorus of many voices "I can release you."

 

She paused, taking in the principle obstacles. A crackling energy field around the head, electrical pulses between the larger cables socketing to the brain, cycles of sizzling energy cubes whisking from apertures in the walls to pass through the field and be recharged before vanishing back into the doomforge's guts. Of course, the biggest hazard was the net of surveillance devices peppering the room.

 

First, the watching eyes had to blinded. A moment's work and they watched the room as it had been moments before she became visible.

 

The field around the outer perimeter, a space cluttered with mis-matched technology adapted from cultures and worlds Atraxia couldn't reckon, turning the raw power seething in the giant head into usable energy, was easy. Just a moment to disperse her atoms and she passed right through. 

 

Next came the cubes, lightning arcing between deadly prongs, burning red-hot and darting through the air with a speed and unpredictability that belied their shape. Regarding the air full of perils, Red Moon slid into the floor and flew silently past.

 

The cables shuddered and jumped, electricity that could fry her withered corpse even while dematerialized flashed and thundered, creating an impassible barrier.

 

Timing the discharges, Red Moon slowly braided two of the largest cables steadily together. Hour after hour she coiled the pair, opening a gap she at last could step through.

 

She looked into the eyes of the giant, her helmet pulling back in a cloud of smoke that parted to reveal  the face of the vampire. Comprehension and then resignation flickered in that ageless, agonized face. Slowly, ponderously, the eyes shut as Atraxia stroked one cheek with her taloned hand. She bent close, fangs glistening, and whispered 

 

"Be free"

 

as she struck.

 

Blood jetted out, splashing against the walls, the cables let out one final groan before falling dead along with everything that had hinged on the tortured half-life. The lights went out too, and as Atraxia lifted her head from her meal she could hear the Omegadrones charging for the power core. 

 

It would not do she decided to allow the risk of a reboot 

 

Without a sound she slipped into the floor to wait and watch, talons ready for the coming slaughter.

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Harrier and Miss Americana 

 

Day 3

Archetech

 

There had been terror on the first day - and despair on the second day fought off by desperate activity. And now the infiltrators were in place and the last stand was being made against the invading forces of the Terminus, and there was nothing to do but wait. On his back, Steve raised his eyes to the monitors before him and turned them off by blinking. His eyelids, skin and muscle plastered against his skull, were under his control. He could still hear what was going on outside, and take action if necessary - even if it was only to signal to someone else. What else could he do?

 

He could hear Gina in the other room and that was some scant comfort. She was on the phone again, her voice rising and falling as she paced and spoke. Whoever was on the other end of the line would likely be hearing Miss Americana’s dulcet tones, but here where there was privacy Gina’s voice was edgy and a little pitchy, far more real than any computer-softened sophistication. With the Miss Americana robot damaged and offline, Gina was nearly as stuck as he was, although for different reasons. She could still lend her mind though, so she did. Eventually her conversation wound to a close and Steve could hear the soft thud of her sock feet on the floor as she came near. “How are you feeling?” she asked quietly. “Any change?”

 

It was a genius’s question - one that made him concentrate on the situation rather than dwelling on it. His therapist had discussed the importance of the distinction with him. Come to think of it, Gina saw a therapist too. His voice sounded sick when he spoke it aloud; weak as he pushed through the words, but he did it anyway rather than surrender to his own body.“The pain and hallucinations have not returned.” The latter had been almost entirely psychological - but then the psychological could be very real. He’d known that even before therapy. “We are still alive. It is good.”

 

“Good,” she echoed, carefully reaching out to brush her fingers along his cheek. Even that feeling seemed muted somehow, thanks to the electrical signals running haywire through his cyborg body, but it was pretty much the best anything could feel right now. “I’m running some new simulations that are really promising. We’ll have you up and around in no time.” Gina’s voice was confident, but there were sleepless nights under her eyes and fear in the tiny wrinkles at the corners. “Gotta get you functional pretty soon,” she told him, obviously trying for good humor, “I’ve got all kinds of heavy stuff I need you to move around in my lab. I cannibalized four Emersons for spare parts to build anti-Terminus equipment and I’m stuck doing my own scutwork now. Do you know how long it’s been since I actually had to vacuum?” She laughed weakly.

 

Steve’s slight smile, tugging at the corners of his mouth, was real - the involuntary muscles powered by different nerves than the voluntary ones. If it didn’t last very long, well, it was sincere for all of that. All the great speeches about their feelings for each other had been given by now, and so had the quiet conversations about euthanasia (though those didn’t last very long given Gina’s feelings on the subject) so instead he said in a tone of perfect seriousness, “My labor is yours. Perhaps in...” He didn’t need to tell her which outfit it was. His left hand twitched and he winced slightly; as much pain as he was likely to show. It was easier to stay in the moment with her, so he did, focusing in with just his eyes. He could move his head, but it wasn’t a pleasant sensation. “...told the others I was in good hands. It was true.”

 

She winced along with him, taking his hand in hers despite knowing it was no more to him than an empty flesh and metal glove right now. “Do you want another sedative?” she asked quietly. “You could do with some more sleep.” Sleep wouldn’t do much more than change the venue of his suffering, take him out of the prison of his useless body and plunge him into hazy nightmares whose details remained just beyond his grasp, but sometimes a change was as good as a rest. “Or how about a mouth swab? I’ve got mint, lemonade or strawberry now,” she offered.

 

Steve hated dependency as much as he hated impracticality - there were no easy answers. At least his toughened skin was unlikely to give him bedsores, at least not in the span he’d been lying there. They hadn’t talked about what would happen if his systems did not reboot once the suppressor field was lifted - or if Gina was unable to repair them after the invasion. “...the lemonade,” he said, knowing that having a fix for a problem would take that look off her face for a while. He did not like seeing her that way, not for him, not for anything. So he could fix her, and she could fix him, and it would be one great cycle of the mechanic and the cyborg. Perhaps I do need that sedative, he contemplated as Gina worked on him. “...thank you.”

 

“No problem,” she told him, carefully selecting and unwrapping the appropriate sponge-tipped applicator. “These things are actually sort of cool, I’m thinking about teaching my home Emerson to use one when I’m in gestalt for a long time, keep me from waking up with that icky mouth feeling. Of course that means letting an Emerson near my face with a stick and I’m not sure I’m ready for that, but it’s still a thought…” She kept up a steady stream of inanities as she moistened his dry mouth, the best she could do for him when his throat muscles were untrustworthy and his digestion spotty at best. Meaningless words were a necessary distraction for both of them. Finally she tossed the swab in the trash and settled back into her chair, resting her hands on her thighs. “Did I tell you I’ve been thinking about coming out? As a superhero, I mean, we’re not about to have an awkward conversation or anything,” she added hastily.

 

Steve was quiet for long enough that it seemed he had fallen asleep, or more likely drifted out of the conversation entirely - but his eyes were still mostly open, and fixed on her. This had been a subject of discussion between them - never quite contention, since he knew how important her secret was to her but certainly - discussion. He’d have told the world who she was, in triumph, years earlier. “Yes. You deserve it.” He didn’t ask if this would mean more going outside, more socializing with friends - that was a conversation for later. His mind wandered - it had not, after all, taken the end of the world for Gina to reveal her identity. Would people find it more plausible now that Miss Americana was his lover? Better to keep that thought to himself too. “You should tell your brother.”

 

“Man, jump right to the hard stuff,” Gina complained half-heartedly. “I guess I might tell him, but the rest of my family can hear it secondhand. That way I get the satisfaction of imagining them watching the press conference.” She laughed a little. “It’s like imagining the audience naked, but less traumatizing for someone with an eidetic visual memory.” There was a moment of silence, both of them quiet and thinking. “I’d like you to be at the press conference with me… if I even do it.”

 

“Then I will have to survive. And so will you.” A war was going on outside still, one that would reshape the destiny of the multiverse - but a battle had been won inside their home. And it was their home now, and had been for a long time. “I love you.”

 

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July 10, 2018
The Plaza Hotel, Midtown, Freedom City

12:21 PM

 

This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. It was too unrealistic, something like this wouldn’t have happened. She was simply dreaming, all of this was one of her bad nightmares and any minute she’d wake up and everything would be back to normal.

 

Monica Gutiérrez was sitting under her blanket, rocking back and forth. She’d been invited to come to the Parade and hadn’t wanted to go in the first place, it was her mother that had essentially forced her to take this vacation. The city was nice, the hotel had all the things she could’ve asked for, especially since all expenses were covered, and the first two days of her vacation had been pretty cool.

 

And then this. She’d seen the rift open up over Liberty Park from her window. She’d seen the news reports, and the first videos on the internet. Her phone had received the panicked messages and calls from her mom and her few friends. Not that she felt like opening any of them. All of this was simply a bad dream, really. She just had to wait and all of it would blow over.

 

The hotel had was not being evacuated yet, probably because of how many heroes were currently residing here. They’d come in from all over the planet, they’d be able to deal with something like this without having to drag along her as a crutch, especially one that would probably get targeted just for who she was.

 

Right after seeing the rift and the first Omegadrones passing through it, she’d closed the room’s blinds most of the way. The TV was running on mute, with Monica occasionally peeking out from under her blanket, she couldn’t avoid her curiosity completely. Her phone was constantly buzzing with alerts, interrupted by the occasional explosion off in the distance.

 

She could hear people hurrying around outside her door, probably trying to evacuate or find a safer place to hide. Not that there was one. The hotel was way too close to Liberty Park, sooner or later the horde of drones would arrive here. Yet it was safer than trying to travel around alone. Unless something big was distracting the Drones, any sort of organized evacuation would’ve made a massive target.

 

The heroes would figure out when … if it was safe to do so. Monica just had to wait until this all was over, until everything would resume as normal, until ….

 

It wouldn’t. She couldn’t even convince herself. She knew what this meant. This was a historic event, whatever would happen, it wouldn’t be the same as before. That was, assuming anybody survived it. And here she was, at the epicentre of it all, worrying the only people that cared about her, dying just to destroy their lives even more. Not that she could change anything about it.

 

At this point, tears forming in her eyes, she was just waiting to die. Punching the mattress wouldn’t do much but it felt like the right thing. Everything was screwing her over. Nothing in her life ever went right. She was only here because she’d gotten those damned powers and all they had done for her so far was paint a national-size target on her back. Everybody was out to just make her life miserable. Her “acquaintances”. The Internet. A bunch of pundits. The entire world and if there was such a thing as a fate, fate itself.

 

 Just dying when that truck hit her would’ve been much nicer. Maybe she would’ve been remembered her for something positive, for having done something good. And not for having the audacity of being chosen by some force she couldn’t control in any way.

 

All this energy meant she couldn’t just lie down, she sat up, slamming her fist sideways into the wall next to her at full force, maybe she’d get back some kind of sensation of her body, all she felt ruight now was dread and anger. Of course, right now the spirit had to flare up, as the fist left a sizeable dent in the wall but her fist was just fine. Not even that she could do.

 

Filled with frustration she grabbed her blanket and threw it across the room on a gut reaction. It hit a desk lamp and knocked it onto the floor where the glass lamp shattered into pieces. Great. Usually she would’ve hated this, but right now she couldn’t care. She got up and stomped over to where she’d thrown the blanket. Apparently she couldn’t get hurt, so why care about a few glass shards on the floor?

 

Maybe she also couldn’t get hurt by the Terminus and would live long enough to see everybody she ever cared about die horribly. At this point she could see it happening, apparently life liked to torture her like that. She grabbed the blanket and threw it back towards the bed. The TV screen was showing a bunch of videos of the rift opening, the ones that had spread across the internet like wildfire. Not that Monica needed any reminder of that, the bit of light that still entered through the windows had a notable red tint to it anyways.

 

A red tint, which at that very moment got a lot brighter and more red, as once more something exploded. This time, it was a lot louder than the previous dozen or so times though, something that pulled Monica out of her fit for just a moment, as she walked towards the window to peek out between the gaps in the blinds.

 

A swarm of Omegadrones was down on the street and in the air above it. They looked even more nauseating up close, Monica felt like throwing up just seeing them. They appeared to be fighting a handful of heroes in full costume, one of whom had just blown one of the drones out of the sky. Not that the fight seemed to be going particularly well for the heroes, the drones were outnumbering them massively and beginning to sweep in for strikes. The heroes dodged and fought back, but eventually one of the drones’ pikes found its target, and things spiralled out of control as more and more hits landed.

 

It was a gruesome sight, yet Monica could not take her eyes off of it. Something inside her compelled her to watch. And she could feel something building up. One got struck with a heavy blow right into the chest, dropping onto his knees, as a drone stabbed its spear straight through a woman in armor’s thigh, adding yet more blood onto the street.

 

It was at this point that Monica’s room was lit up in a bright, yellow light. As she looked down at her body, she felt her fear wash away. She wasn’t some civilian that needed protection. She was Monica Gutiérrez, the new Lady Liberty. She was the Light of Hope, and if there was ever a time that hope would be needed, it was right now.

 

Without so much as a second thought, she stepped back, ran forward and leaped straight through the window, her fist sending an Omegadrone directly into the building across the road before she dropped from the 8th floor like a shooting star and making the wish of hope come true. Assisted by the Light of Liberty the heroes could once more fight at full strength, and soon what drones hadn’t been destroyed thoroughly had been driven off.

 

Perhaps it would take a few more hours for some sort of evacuation. Perhaps there wouldn’t even be one. But so long as Lady Liberty had anything to say about it The Plaza Hotel would be a safe haven.

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Cannonade 

Pro Patria

 

4:00 PM

 

Joe Macayle stood at the end of the quarantine site, almost in a daze. He was not paralyzed; he was still doing what was directed, helping to guide the civilians nearby to freedom, breaking away when need be to go where he was needed. The sound of cries dragged him down Ellsworth Avenue. A family of four, likely stragglers from the celebrations, were being driven down a back alley by two Omegadrones, their power pikes bleeding darkness into the scarlet air.

 

He didn’t even bother to draw their attention. He charged forth like a bullet, his fist driving into the small of one Omegadrone’s back. Metal crumbled like tin foil, and he didn’t hear - or care about - what may have happened to its bones. He simply stared at the family. He didn’t even have to say anything. They just ran.

 

His victory was short-lived as he felt the fire spreading at his neck. The other Omegadrone had jabbed him with the pike, sending entropic agony shooting through his system. He tried to stay upright as the warrior moved in for another blow, trying to pierce his heart --

 

-- only for the pike to suddenly vanish from his hands. The confusion was short-lived, as the drone was slammed into the wall by a blue blur, blows landing on its head in a concentrated fury until it was unconscious. When all was still, Barrage - Joe’s brother Andy - stood over him, in his blue and white speed suit.

 

“You owe me one,” said Barrage.

 

“Good,” said Joe, half-heartedly. “You still owe me a dozen.”

 

Joe got back to his feet, adjusting his helmet. “I ran as fast as I could,” said Barrage. “The chaos hasn’t spread to Boston yet, and the city’s still preparing for the storm. Freedom looked like it could use my help. Mom?”

 

“She’s still with her family,” Joe said. “She’s fine.”

 

“And Dad?”

 

Joe looked past Andy. He just moved towards the mouth of the alley, trying to return to the chaos. He felt Andy’s hand on the shoulder, but broke free from it. The only thing that stopped him was Andy blinking in front of him, the rush of air running over him from the back.

 

“Joe. Where’s Dad?”

 

10:55 AM

 

Cannonade stood at attention, hands clasped in front of him. The VIP section was off in the distance - he’d just been a toddler when the Terminus Invasion happened, after all, and he hadn’t been there to face down its horrors directly. But as a hero, he knew he had to be here to pay tribute. And the city had decided that he should be there as well.

 

Eight years, and it still felt a little weird. He’d just been a kid trying to do good by his scene and his class. He was a worker, a punk, a guy just pulling his weight like he was expected to and making sure that he didn’t getting buried under a bunch of false plaudits. And now here he was. A hero of Freedom. There were still people who called him a radical, a thug, a dangerous man given validation - but the city most definitely didn’t see him as a menace. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here.

 

“It was a hell of a time.”

 

Cannonade turned to the man next to him, trying hard not to give too much away. He was far enough from the crowds that people wouldn’t necessarily suspect much if he was trading friendly words with Greg Macayle, a man who had managed to survive the Invasion back in the Nineties. And who happened to be his father.

 

“Still don’t remember it.”

 

“You were in diapers. You were expecting to remember it?”

 

“I don’t know. Maybe something. All I’ve really seen is the footage…”

 

“What, you thought it might dislodge something?”

 

Cannonade didn’t really feel like answering that one. He was starting to realize how foolish it all sounded. “How’s Mom doing?” he said, a little softer.

 

“She’s fine. Called me this morning. The funeral’s today, and she just wanted to talk. Get some support.”

 

The funeral for Great-Aunt Mary. A woman who had been born around the same time as Greg Macayle. Before he’d realized just ran through his family tree, Joe had just accepted his parents’ relationship as “a little different,” but still something that worked. Even though his father looked like a man 20 years his junior, which - going by the old photo albums - must’ve started at around age 30 and progressed at an exponential rate. Looking at him, one wouldn’t think he’d have been born in the months right before WWII ended.

 

It was likely some side effect of the treatment Joe’s grandfather had received. Even if his dad didn’t get the powers, he at least got the constitution of a man who could take on tank shells. He’d at least look relatively young and relatively fit into old age. Though the closer that time came, the more it felt… not strange, but on the outside of things. Like a displacement from the flow of the world.

 

Then again, Cannonade had traveled to alternate dimensions, been flung back in time by horrible gods, and had his hear gear insulted by velociraptors, so who the hell was he to think that things felt out of place?

 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t make it out,” said Cannonade. “If I could --”

 

“It’s all right,” Greg said. “They understand. Mary was a bit distant from us; think you only saw her a handful of times.”

 

“Yeah, but… I don’t know. Guess I’m feeling weird about the whole family thing…”

 

“Does this have something to do with Asli?”

 

“Dad --”

 

“Look, I’ve told you --”

 

“Dad, I really don’t think this is the time for --”

 

The silence hit maybe a second before the shockwave. Cannonade could remember it well, because it hit with such speed, that it felt like the words themselves were caught on his tongue.

 

Then the screaming began, and the sky bled.

 

11:03 AM

 

They were everywhere.

 

The idea of focusing on anywhere else seemed ludicrous, because to Cannonade, the Omegadrones were everywhere else. The ones in the air flew in such tight formation that leaping up at them like a cannonball seemed like trying to knock down a brick wall with a tomato. The ones in the ground were marching in full formation, power-pikes at the ready, tearing through the crowd with dreadful precision.

 

Of course, the best way to deal with that was to just tear everything down. He rose, and he fell. He swung blindly, grabbed tight, tore through armor and shattered pikes in his hands. There was no time to breathe. There was just a path to clear. A way to get everyone out.

 

The blows kept landing. Cutting through his costume, searing his nerves. At this point, he was surprised his helmet was still on. He didn’t care. He just had to break these bastards. The more he took down, the more space there would be for everyone else to get out of the park. Get to shelter.

 

Finally, the ecstasy of fury became too much. Cannonade had to stop, had to breathe, had to assess the terrain. And that was when his heart broke.

 

A group of civilians were penned in towards the south gate, surrounded on all sides by Omegadrones. At the head of the group was Greg, standing in the way of everyone else.

 

Goddamnit, Dad…

 

Cannonade ran across the green at top speed, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough. The lead Omegadrone brought his power-pike down --

 

And Greg caught it.

 

And Greg bent it.

 

Cannonade kept coming, not letting the display give him pause. He arrived just in time for Greg to drive his fist right into the Omegadrone’s armor, denting it hard enough to nearly cave the thing’s chest in. Cannonade took advantage of the chaos to grab another Omegadrone and hurl it right into the other. “Run!” he said to the rest of the group.

 

They seized the opportunity. Greg did not. He just seemed to stand there, stunned.

 

“Dad…”

 

Greg smiled. “Well, it’s about ****ing time.”

 

Cannonade wrapped his arms around his dad. “How… I mean, damn, I thought…”

 

“Must be the same thing as you and Andy. Near-death experience. Guess I just haven’t been dumb enough to throw myself into harm’s way.”

 

“But the car crash…” Years ago, some asshole of a wannabe supervillain had seen Cannonade as a moral scourge on the city and decided to try breaking him. Greg had been hit by a car and sent into a coma. If this was enough to trigger his powers, then why hadn’t that?

 

“Maybe I needed more of a jolt. I don’t think this is supposed to be consistent. They gave this stuff to my dad in, what, the Forties? What the hell did they know about genetics back then?”

 

“Well, if they didn’t know crap, we wouldn’t be here.” Cannonade looked back on the burning park. There was still a lot to do. “What do you say? Macayle and son?”

 

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

 

12:00 PM

 

The sky was still on fire. Captain Thunder was trading blows with some mad god of metal and oblivion above, raining carnage down below. And there were still people unlucky enough to be caught, and monsters unlucky enough to be in the way.

 

Cannonade was leading a group of people out of the forest, where they’d sought shelter when the invasion had started. Greg, his suit practically in tatters by now, was driving back a horde of Omegadrones single-handed, nearly beating them into the ground like tent pegs. By the time Cannonade got back from the gate entrance, they’d be routed.

 

“Damn,” he said. “I didn’t know you could hit like that.”

 

“You didn’t see me in my boxing days. Guess I’ve been… penting it up for a while…”

 

He and Cannonade ran back into the field. “Not the right time, I know,” he said, “but we gotta come up with a name for ya. Cannonade, Barrage… it’s kinda become a thing. And if you’re gonna be wearing the atomweave with us…”

 

“As long as it’s not Blitzkrieg, I think I’ll--”

 

Greg started to slow, and Cannonade felt himself slowing to catch up. Greg was breathing hard, clutching his chest.

 

“Dad?”

 

“It’s okay. I think… I’m just catching up to it. Christ, when was the last time I went to the gym?”

 

“I had my growing pains, too. Don’t worry. We’re gonna --”

 

Something slammed into the earth like God’s fist. A terrible tower of black metal and red flame, folded within itself. It soon unfolded, turning into a strange tank poised on sinuous legs. It looked down on Cannonade and Greg, its jeweled eyes burning red.

 

“RUN!”

 

Cannonade and Greg ran in separate directions from where they’d been standing. Half a second later, the ground was… obliterated. Not in flames. Not exploded. Just… gone.

 

“We can’t let those bastards stay upright,” Cannonade yelled from behind cover. “The rest of the League’s already fighting the big guys, and if this War of the Worlds ****er joins the party for long…”

 

Cannonade paused. He realized, even in all the chaos, from several yards away, he could hear his father breathing. It sounded ragged, wheezing. Almost like a death rattle…

 

“...Dad?”

 

“Joe… I’m sorry. I don’t think I was… meant to have this. Not now…”

 

“Dad… Dad, listen to me. You’re going to be okay. We’ll get you out of here, the AEGIS guys will look at you --”

 

“Goddamnit, Joe, I’ve worked with guys who lived on beer and brats for years, you think I don’t know what a heart attack feels like?” Greg drew a ragged breath. "Joe... I've been feeling like this for the last thirty minutes. It's just... been getting real bad now... I just... I had to help you..."

 

Silence hung between them, even as the world burned around them. “Tell your mother I love her, and I’m sorry…”

 

“Dad…”

 

Greg pulled himself out from cover, eyes bearing down on the tripod. “Tell Andy… he’s going to be a great man…”

 

“Dad, please, don’t, come on, we can do this…”

 

Greg locked eyes with Cannonade.

 

“And Joe… you already are. I’m so ****ing proud of you.”

 

Greg charged towards the tripod. The flames bore down to meet him. Soon, there was only the rending of metal and the burning of flesh.

 

“DAD!”

 

The earth boiled away under Cannonade’s feet. He tried to run towards the carnage, but the earth was sweeping him away, like the torrents of an erupting volcano.

 

“DAD, PLEASE!”

 

And then, for a time, there was darkness.

 

7:30 PM

 

“Your father died a hero.”

 

There was a break in the chaos. Liberty Park was closed, but Freedom had become Ground Zero for the Terminus’s latest dreadful campaign. There would be no peace, and there might be no tomorrow. But there was at least enough time for answers.

 

Commander Grayston had met with Cannonade at a relief camp at Lonely Point, some time after the worst of the first wave. Enough time to recover from the onslaught at the park. Enough time to be pulled from the disturbed earth by Doctor Metropolis. Enough time to tell Andy the terrible news, and to listen to his mother break down from the other end of the line.

 

“The lab geeks… had a theory like this. That the reason your father never underwent the change after a trigger was that his body would recognize the strain it entailed. Your grandfather your brother, you - you all underwent the change in your early 20s. A man of his age… such a radical process might have overclocked his metabolism.”

 

“So? Why the **** did this happen?”

 

“Perhaps…” Commander Grayston threw his hands in the air. “I don’t ****ing know. Maybe your father was bullheaded enough to override the inhibitors. Maybe he was so determined that he willed his body into kicking off the change. Same way a man can get angry enough, he has a stroke.”

 

Cannonade felt like, if he was still in his right mind, he would have punched Grayston in the face for the comparison. All he could do was just stare ahead at the smoke rising over Freedom City.

 

“This is what your father wanted, Mr. Macayle. I know it’s hard to accept, but…”

 

Cannonade shook his head. “No. I get it. It’s… it’s how he’d want to go out. Same way I’d want to go out, I guess. Y’know, if my options were really ****ing limited.”

 

“Well, I’d hate to say it, but… I think we’re all looking down that barrel right now.” Commander Grayston looked to him. “Joe… if you want to honor your father…”

 

“Y’know, Commander… you don’t have to talk to me like you really knew him.” Cannonade got up and moved towards the door. “I know what I’m gonna do to honor him.

 

“I’m gonna kill every last ****ing one of them.”

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Solar Sentinel

A Soldier Serves

He had known war for an entire lifetime. He had breathed it, lived it. He would spend hours sitting and staring at the wall because there was nobody to give him orders anymore. He went through counseling, came to terms with the realities of what he'd faced. He went into being a superhero because it was a natural transition. It was an easy one, so to speak. Not that the job was easy, far from it, but it was easier than war. He let the bad guys on Earth live. He served his community.

 

Some days it was the only reason he got up. War was his purpose, but there was no war. Sure, there were wars, but his war was over. For a time, he was even happy being a hero. It made him feel better about what he done, what he'd been. He knew enough to understand what the Terminus was, what that meant. He had paid his respects at the memorials.

 

He was a superhero, sure. He had a costume, powers, a secret identity. When he stepped out of his apartment and gazed up at the sky, he wasn't a superhero anymore. He was a soldier again. There was an enemy to fight, an enemy to kill.

 

He quashed that line of thinking when he was called to help. With his speed he could be anywhere in seconds. He rescued people, protected people. He was a good soldier, and though these weren't orders, he followed them. People needed his help.

 

Every moment he helped, he felt the pull. Go fight, it told him. You are a warrior, a soldier, you were born and bred to kill. He ignored it, not because it didn't make sense, but because it made too much sense. He was a civil servant. He was here to help.

 

He was helping a bunch of civilians when he saw them. They were not people, not anymore. They were monsters, and they could not be reasoned with. There was no discussion, no peace talks, this was an enemy that would not quit until every last one of them was gone.

 

He felt the anger well within them. This was his home, the war wasn't supposed to follow him here. This was a place he could pay the price, he could pay for the blood on his hands, a little at a time. He couldn't let his bloodlust pull him in, he couldn't afford to. He clenched his fists hard enough to crush stone. His knuckles were white, he felt the rage build within him.

 

“F*** it.” He said the moment the people he was helping were. He was a blue streak, speeding through the air at the nearest Omegadrone. The bloodlust won. This was a day of war, a red day. A soldier's war.

 

This was a rage he had not felt in years, and he let himself revel in it. Tomorrow he would pick up his plowshare and put down his sword. He tore through the enemy, reveled in the bloodlust. More enemies, more to kill.

He tore a blue streak across the sky, this way and that, finding enemies to fight, helping where he could. He lost track of hours as he fought. It didn't matter if he was tired, as long as there were enemies, he would fight. He was a soldier, and this was a war.

 

Days later, exhausted from muscle to bone, he entered his apartment. He took off his mask, and collapsed to the floor. Henry stared at his hands. They'd been shaking for hours, and simply couldn't stop. This was the price he paid for fighting. He didn't know all the numbers, not the damage, not the death toll, not the casualties. It wasn't that he didn't care, or couldn't care. He was still numb, he hadn't processed anything. The details were all vague. Events disconnected from one another, forming packets of memory that had no relation to any other memories.

 

He sat on the floor in his apartment and just stared at his hands. He was distantly aware that in time, everything would make sense again. He would come back down to reality and, maybe with more counseling, he would be more okay.

 

Now, though, all he did was stare at his hands. He stared at them until, finally, he buried his head in them. Henry William Mason buried his head in his hands, and wept.

Edited by Thunder King

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While I Pondered, Weak and Weary

 

T-Minus 2 Days

 

Aleksander sat up in bed, sweating. The nightmares faded in a few eye-blinks, and all he had were aching scars and echoing bad memories. He ran a hand over his face, sighed, and laid back down to sleep. Just dreams, after all.

 

T-Minus 10 Hours

 

Aleksander was in the above-ground gymnasium of the Summers Manor, working hard enough to make some CrossFitters proud. Currently he was doing dips while holding up weights with his legs. He grunted, sweating, as he pushed himself as hard as he could. The last week, he’d had this feeling that he needed to go as hard as he could. He didn’t know why; most of the crime lords were quieter than usual, which really just made the Summers and himself antsy. But gift horses and mouths, and all that. So, Aleksander trained his body, and he studied how to work on the Unkindness with Mister and Miss Summers. He was still getting the hang of the more hands-on mechanical stuff, and wasn’t nearly as good with it as computers, but he’d get there.

 

He let out a breath, dropped the weights, then lightly dropped to his feet, walking over to a towel rack and grabbing one. He wiped sweat from his head and bare torso before taking a swig from a nearby water bottle. Then he moved to the squat machine, turned the weight up a bit, and got to work.

 

T-Minus 30 Minutes

 

Aleksander sat at the master console in the Rookery, idly tapping away at the keyboard as he contemplated the program he’d been coding on-and-off for months now. It wasn’t the sort of thing they’d likely need, but with as many spare models of the Unkindness, and the older Ravenmobile, that they had, never mind the older Corvids and Ravenplanes and Ravencopters, and it just seemed logical to build a contingency to do something with them. In Freedom City, you never knew what was going to happen. He just wished he could get the control loops to be more independent; as-is, you’d need someone managing them almost like the “AIs” in a lot of the older strategy games that still floated up from time to time. Suddenly, he snapped his fingers; an idea had come to him! Alek began typing furiously.  

 

T-Minus 0 Minutes, Seconds

 

Alek hit “enter” just as Duncan Summers walked out of the elevator (the one that linked to his personal suite in the Summers Manor above). At which point every alarm in the Rookery went off. Alek stood up, wide-eyed, and made a wave-off motion.

 

I didn’t do it, I swear!

 

Duncan wasn’t laughing. His face paled as he strode forward, hitting a few buttons and bringing up a huge map of the city on the main (oversized) monitor. Alek stilled as he saw the veritable swarm of angry red-black dots.

 

...Mister Summers, what are those?

 

Duncan turned to face the young man who had inherited his mantle, his legacy.

 

“Omegadrones.”

 

T-Plus 3 Minutes

 

Callie was on one of the screens.

 

“I forbi-”

 

Alek, now wearing the high-tech fabric “undersuit” that the rest of his Ravensuit was donned over, chopped off Callie Summers mid-sentence, his face stony.

 

I’m the Raven now. You told me that the mantle was mine. That you trusted me to do this. To make the calls. To be the shield in the night. To, if necessary, pay the price.

 

Both of their eyes flickered ever-so-briefly to Duncan’s long-injured leg; the retired hero just rolled his eyes as he watched from the sidelines.

 

You’ve got to stay at Claremont. And this is about more than just taking out Omegadrones. I can get whole squads of vehicles out there. I can evacuate people. Maybe not like some heroes, but I can do something. I didn’t call you to ask permission, Callie. I just called to inform you what the Raven is doing.

 

Her face had gone still, her brows furrowed. Finally, after many long moments, she closed her eyes and sighed.

 

“You’re right. Damn it all, but you’re right. I’m sorry, Aleksander. I did you a disservice.”

 

I’m not mad, Callie. Well.

 

He smirked.

 

Maybe slightly frustrated. But I look at it this way…

 

He turned and started walking to the Vault, the place where all of his suits and gear were stored.

 

At least I’m not stuck bottled up in a school with a bunch of hormonal teenagers while the world’s falling down around our ears.

 

“Be safe, Alek.”

 

Always, Boss Lady.

 

Alek walked into the Vault.

 

T-Plus 20 Minutes

 

Miles away from the Summers Manor, on the outskirts of Freedom City proper, the ground opened up. But instead of some hellish crack, it was a high-tech door that opened up. Out from it roared a vehicle that looked like a rougher version of the Unkindness. It was followed quickly by a couple of long, lean vehicles, and a handful of Raven-themed “normal” cars. Bringing up the rear was simple black high-capacity van.

 

So, putting aside that having that van along makes me feel vaguely like a creeper despite not even being inside of it, this seems to be working well, Boss Man.

 

“Raven, never let anyone tell you you aren’t brilliant with computers. This interface is easier than I expected.”

 

I’d blush if I weren’t terrified out of my mind. Did you get the Last Ravenmobile on the road too?

 

Suddenly, a lower, leaner version of the Unkindness roared up the road, keeping pace with the bulky vehicle Raven was controlling directly.

 

Good.

 

The ragtag fleet of cars roared down the road toward a hot-spot, where a couple dozen motorists were surrounded by a dozen Drones. Despite being over a mile from where the Flock emerged, it took less than a minute for Raven to arrive. He opened the encounter with a barrage of energy weapon fire from the two heaviest vehicles, and a handful of old-model concussive missiles from the longer cars. Only two of the Drones were completely destroyed; the others regrouped, with half their number moving off elsewhere (likely seeking easier prey, or perhaps going to form up with reinforcements) while the other half leveled their pikes at the incoming vehicles.

 

One of them was simply run over by the proto-Unkindness, while another was rammed into a wall by the heavy Ravenmobile. The two long cars turned in skid-drifts that saw them knocking the other Omegadrones away with sideswipe maneuvers.The other cars skidded to a halt next to the civilians and flung their doors open. The people present quickly got with the program and climbed in, even as Raven used his vehicles to battle a handful of Omegadrones.

 

T-Plus 45 Minutes

 

Raven pushed the ruined canopy from the proto-Unkindness aside, rolling his neck to work out the kinks. He was glad he’d equipped the extra armor plating on his suit before starting this brilliantly insane plan; otherwise he’d probably have whiplash and broken bones. As things stood, it would just be a few bruises.

 

Well, time to-urk!

 

A charred and cracked metal hand grasped his throat, as the half-destroyed Omegadrone, sparking and dripping who knew what kinds of fluids, strode out of the wreck of the proto-Unkindness. It stared at Raven with unblinking eyes, its head tilting slightly. Aleksander cursed his pride and inattentiveness before pulling a small spray dispenser from his belt. Before the drone could react, it was against its chin. Nothing spectacular happened, though; a bunch of grey goop piled up, with a consistency between whipped cream and play-doh. A few careful twists and maneuvers saw the armored vigilante freed from the apocalyptic soldier’s grip and gaining a few feet of space...at which point he threw a Pinion at the ground, helping it hit just so such that it bounced up into the explosive gel smeared across the Omegadrone’s chin, triggering a reaction that left a headless body with a sparking neck stump.

 

Okay, so, this is going to suck.

 

T-Plus 1.5 Days

 

By now, Aleksander was using old aircraft, and had seen four of them crashed or destroyed; three Ravenplanes and a Ravencopter. Duncan Summers seemed cheerfully sad about the whole ordeal, as he was at least partially controlling them via Alek’s own computer interface. “Museum pieces given one last chance to shine”, he’d remarked.

 

Currently, Raven was leading a veritable convoy of his vehicles and civilian vehicles from one of the heaviest areas of fighting to a safe zone, the two remaining armed Ravenmobiles (both of them the long, powerful models from a couple of decades ago) taking the sides of the convoy while the two remaining Ravencopters took the rear, the last three Ravenwings flew overhead, and the Raven himself flew in the first Corvid, as (much like his current Unkindness) the automated repair systems were still frantically working to fix the urban aircraft. At the moment, he flew like a veterna military member, his movements smooth and precise while he kept watch on the sensor feed (greatly enhanced by having over a dozen networked, high-tech, sensor-laden ground and air vehicles moving in a group). Suddenly, something registered ahead. He looked, the canopy of his aircraft projecting a zoomed-in view of a veritable flock of Omegadrones. His eyes narrowed and his hands gripped the controls more tightly as he spoke.

 

Boss Man, tell the civilians things are about to get hairy, and move the planes up to support me. Keep the ‘copters on overwatch, I don’t trust that there aren’t some preparing an ambush. The guns on the ‘mobiles should be good anti-air as well.We can’t let them near the civilians.

 

Duncan Summers had too much control to let Aleksander hear that he was shedding tears. Tears for the lives lost. Tears of impotent rage at being stuck in a cave while a child fought. Tears that they were reduced to lethal violence, even though for the Omegadrones it was likely a mercy. Tears that Aleksander was so good at this despite his age. Instead, he spoke smoothly, efficiently, and professionally.

 

“Already done. I’m moving to cover you. Be careful.”

 

Within moments, the sky was filled with missiles, energy pulses, and bullets, and helpless civilians cowered in armored hero-cars as they raced along the streets.

 

It was just one of dozens of desperate battles.

 

T-Plus 2-and-change Days

 

“You need to rest!”

 

I am.

 

“Meditation doesn’t count!”

 

I’ve done several times this many days without sleep.

 

“Only when being abused by an insane cult!”

 

So without abuse I should be good for a few days at least.

 

Two men, one young and one old, scowled at each other. One slept in a bed. The other returned to a desperate fight.

 

Later that Day

 

Raven flew overwatch on a convoy headed to a National Guard safe zone, wearing one of the older powered armors that was flight-capable. His helmet’s HUD showed him incoming Omegadrones. Wordlessly, he angled toward them, and in moments, dark figures clashed in the sky while civilians ran and screamed in fear below.

 

T-Plus 3 Days

(Suggested listening)

 

The war, for that’s what it was, had taken its toll. Only the recently-finished Corvid and a flock of unarmed cars, SUVs, and motorcycles remained. All the Ravenmobiles, Copters, and Planes had been spent against Omegadrones. The only Unkindness that remained was not in a state to go on the road, let alone this mess. The only extra armor left was the bulkiest suit they had, nothing but armor, servomotors, and a few hardpoints. He’d put what gear he could in and on it, but he felt frustrated at its simplicity; he was used to the flexibility his regular suit offered. But in the fights he’d been in, it had been proved his regular suit wasn’t enough.

 

As for Alek himself, he felt like his entire body was a bruise, he ached to his bones, he suspected there were a few microfractures, and he wanted nothing more than to sleep. Instead, he fought. It was the only choice, after all.

 

He saw a half-dozen drones circling a building that his HUD said was an orphanage. He pushed the accelerator, and flicked on the targeting computer. Within moments, half the drones fell to the ground as smoking wrecks. Several minutes of intense dogfighting contained within a four-block radius saw two more drones downed. The last one scored a significant hit upon the Corvid. Alek glanced at his damage display, sighed, and secured his utility belts to his armor; it took no real thought to secure another bandolier with several cylinders on it, and then reach down and grab an over-sized grapnel gun. Hitting a few keys, he tensed, then relaxed, just as the Corvid ejected him directly toward the larger-than-normal Omegadrone. Mid-air, he turned around, impacting the creature feet-first. As they fell, he aimed his grapnel gun, firing it just so. As they approached the ground, the line began to go taut, pulling just enough that by the time the Drone was hitting the pavement, he was landing with just enough force to compress its chest plate, but not to injure himself. He’d feel it in the morning. If there was a morning.

 

Quick as a snake he was off the drone, stowing the grapnel while he all but slammed the cylinders together, until he had a metal pole assembled, one that extended a simple but powerful looking blade at one end. This was what he used to divert the power pike of the Omegadrone. This was what the Raven dueled one of the elite soldiers of Entropy with. This is what he beat the Omegadrone with, this spear.

 

The same spear that was pulled from his hands by a crackling energy whip. He turned, seeing a gaunt figure dressed in dark clothes that somehow looked flashy, almost gaudy. The man examining the spear, laughed, and threw it (with far more strength than his limbs suggested) into a nearby building, sinking it two feet into the stone.

 

“Delightful! A bit crude, but it’s a good foundation. You’ll do excellently with Mother, I think!”

 

I don’t know who you’re talking about you crazed freak, but you’re not taking me or anyone else anywhere.

 

“You would deny the Black Madonna? No matter, we will break you. You, and the other ones with potential.”

 

Raven went very still as he realized that not far behind this man, there was a whole crowd of children. Orphans. All of them shackled. Some of them bearing marks that looked like a whip. Slowly, his gaze returned to the servant of the Terminus.

 

You just made a big mistake.

 

“Oh? Did I? Why don’t you edu-”

 

And then suddenly there’s an over-armored fist smashing into his mouth, as Raven all but overclocks the servo-motors in his armor to practically fly across the ground between them. He doesn’t let up, either, pushing the whip-user back and back, away from the kids. His strikes are fast, efficient, and brutal. None will kill. But they’ll all hurt. One blow fractures the whip-user’s left arm into multiple fragments, only barely held in by his skin. The man just laughs.

 

“You’ll do wonderfully in the Pits! They will purge your weakness! Refine you like fi-”

 

Shut. UP!

 

The next blow is like a thunderbolt, and shatters the man’s jaw. His eyes flicker with anger as he rears back and strikes forward with the whip. The Raven is quicker, however, putting one arm up to catch the whip and let it wrap around his gauntlet. Even as the entropic energies slowly eat at the armor, Alek begins to wind more and more of it around his arm, bringing the servant of the Black Madonna closer as the agent of Entropy begins to visibly panic. Before he can think to just let go of the whip, the entangled arm grabs him by the throat. The other arm grasps at a device on his belt.

 

I took an oath, that I wouldn’t take a life. I’ve bent that oath for the sake of the tortured souls you scum shove into those armors. But you won’t get that mercy. No, you carry a message for me.

 

“Wh...w...what m...me...message” the frightened lackey slurred out.

 

Tell everyone that not only is Freedom off-limit. But that the children are especially off-limits. So says the Raven.

 

A quick press of a button on his own belt, and then his free hand reaches over to crush the crackling whip’s handle, killing the power and leaving his left arm armor scarred but intact. Then he thumbs a button on the device he took from the man’s belt, and a howling wound in space-time opens up. It resolves into a view high above the streets of Nihlor, just far enough from anything happening that nothing comes back through. Raven lifts the man higher, still a good 20 feet from the portal, and pulls back to throw him in.

 

You shall desecrate this place with your evil….nevermore!

 

A flock of robotic ravens swoops down from nowhere as the hero named after said bird throws the servant of the Black Madonna into the rift. Raven crushes the remote as the man and flock cross the threshold; the ravens will carry the man to the ground. Not gently, and they may harry and harass him until destroyed. His conscience was clear.

 

Raven turned and stumbled, leaning against a wall. He felt the earth shake at random, quivering as blows were exchanged between titans all over the city. For several long moments, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

 

“Alek...are you okay.”

 

I am now.

 

“Come home.”

 

Not yet.

His eyes opened within the helmet, and his face was set in a grim line.

There’s still work to do.

 

The grapnel gun lifted and fired, and the Raven flew off into the night. There were still people to save, and he still had strength in his limbs. He wasn’t done, not by a long shot. Even if part of him was weary.

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