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Avenger Assembled, May 17, 2015 in Freedom City Stories
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Reaching Out A Hand
It wasn't exactly easy getting into Freedom Hall that day, even with super-powers. By 10am, both the bridges were backed up for miles, one with an accident resulting from a road-rage-fueled duet, the other by an elaborate Circque du Soleil-esque performance piece being enacted by dozens of commuters on the cables. Several less-affected flying heroes were keeping an eye on that situation, but if nothing else, the wave of musical magic seemed to endow its victims with a certain amount of proficiency. By the time Henry Franklin made it into his office, half the morning was gone, most of his appointments had canceled, and he felt in desperate need of a lozenge from the two chorus parts and one solo number he'd gone through already.
He settled for a bottle of water from his mini-fridge as he sat down and began to review his notes. The last time a song-wave like this had ripped through the city, he'd been working overtime for weeks afterwards, helping his patients to cope with the secrets dredged up and made public through the music. This phenomenon seemed a little less targeted on dragging truth from people and more on spectacle, but Henry didn't doubt he'd have a number of his metahuman patients needing extra counseling in the next few days.
His musing was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Doctor Franklin?” came a woman's dulcet tones. “Are you there?”
“Oh, yes, come in,” he replied, rising hastily from his desk and looking at the ledger. “I'm sorry, I thought all my appointments this morning were cancelled.”
The door opened to reveal the gorgeous Miss Americana, one of the city's most celebrated scientists and philanthropists, and someone who most certainly did not have an appointment with him. She was turned out immaculately as usual despite the chaos of the day, simple navy slacks and a white shell topped with a lightweight jacket of intricately patterned navy and maroon. He'd always wondered why she only ever wore those colors; was it an affectation of her codename, or were they really her favorites? Could anybody wear that much red, white and blue and never get sick of it? He didn't realize he was staring until her voice broke his reverie. “I'm sorry I don't have an appointment, but this was a bit spur of the moment. Do you have a few minutes?”
“Oh, yes, of course, come right in and have a seat. My schedule has opened up today, what with all the excitement,” he told her cordially, gesturing her to one of the seats in the conversational grouping opposite his desk. She walked in, followed, somewhat to Henry's surprise, by an assistant he'd never seen before. The assistant was turned out nicely too, perfectly coiffed hair, nice makeup, clothes that may have been designer, but it was hard to tell by the way she slouched in them. She looked a little bit like a very low-rent version of the superheroine she worked for. She never so much as looked up, keeping her face determinedly turned towards her tablet. “Ah, did you want a private conversation?” he asked Miss A delicately, looking towards the assistant.
She followed his gaze, then shut the door behind them. “No, that's quite all right,” she assured him. “You're bound by doctor-patient confidentiality, are you not, even within the League? Nothing that is said to you is anything you're free to share?”
“That's correct,” Henry replied reassuringly. The beautiful paragon seemed almost nervous, quite an unusual look for her. “Whatever you tell me will be held in strict confidence. Is there something you would like to talk about.”
Miss Americana took a deep breath. “Yes, there is. I have... a problem. A secret. A phobia.” The words were rushed, running over each other. “It's not easy to explain. But it's limiting my life, and it's hurting people I care about. I can't... I can't...”
They both looked up as the music began to play out of nowhere, gentle keyboard and chimes presaging an oncoming song. Suddenly Miss Americana's eyes closed, her face going slack, and her assistant looked up for the first time, towards the music that seemed to be issuing from somewhere near the ceiling. “Oh thank god,” the assistant said with great feeling, then seemed to give herself over to the magic and sang.
“After all the years I've tried,The way I've lurked behind the walls,The way I've lied,Maybe I might get it right this time.
It's been years since I hid myself awayAnd maybe she's the best of me, who's to say?But please, can't there be a new way?”
She walked over to the somnolent Miss Americana, tapped a few expert fingers under the heroine's jawline, just beneath her ear. Baffled, Henry first thought she was trying to revive her boss, but then a hinge released and part of Miss A's face opened up, revealing an intricate tapestry of circuits and incredibly fine wires. A robot. How could she be a robot? And this woman singing... The lightbulb went off, and Henry listened harder.
“All my life, I've been a dreamer,Now my dreams are tearing me in two.But I still believe in love,And loving Steven,Maybe I can make his dreams come true.
Now, I'm not sure what to do.I'm reaching out a hand to you,Help me through,With human eyes I get a clearer view.”
The look she gave the robot was one he'd seen before, part affectionate, part resentful, the look a person gave their far more successful sibling when she knew the two of them were being compared. The music swelled again, driving towards its conclusion.
“All my life, I've been a dreamer,And I know my dreams may not come trueBut I still believe in love,And loving StevenWe'll keep on dreamingAnd maybe we'll make something new!
We could make something new!Can youHelp me?I want to believe in me...”
The music faded, and everything was very quiet for a few moments. The assistant's... no, not assistant, somehow this was Miss Americana, and yet not. Her face was tilted down, shadowed by the fall of her dark blonde hair. “Did you come here today specifically for the music's help?” he guessed.
She nodded. “Didn't think I could get it out if it wasn't compelled,” she muttered, almost too low to hear. There was another beat of quiet, then she raised her chin, forced herself to look at him. “My name is Gina,” she told him. “I'm afraid of everything. Can you help me?”
Henry smiled at her, even as he mentally cleared his afternoon calendar as well. “It's nice to meet you, Gina. I'll do everything I can to help.”
(Music Source: "I Still Believe In Love," by Carole Bayer Sager and Marvin Hamslich, from the musical They're Playing Our Song.)
Raising a Hand
Wildcat just couldn't believe the day he was having. The usual stuff -- thugs, genocidal poisons, monkeys -- that, he could handle. He'd come to expect that sort of thing by now, he'd been running around doing this 'hero' gig for a few months now. The details sometimes got a little weird, but the fundamental issues remained the same.
Find the source of the problem; hit the problem in the face until it stops being a problem.
He'd run across a middle-aged housewife in a housecoat with curlers in her hair, performing some sort of sonnet, or aria, or whatever, in the middle of four lanes of traffic that were trying to get home from work. She didn't even miss a line when he'd bodily carried her back to the sidewalk, and things had just gotten stranger from there. A pair of cabbies who had collided with one another seemed to be engaged in a rap battle, and he'd had to haul them apart before any caps were popped. A little girl, six years old at most with her hair in pigtails, had been doing a dance routine at the edge of a four story roof, and her grand finale had taken over the edge, with only a last-moment catch from Wildcat himself saving her from splattering across the sidewalk. He likely still would have been bruised from that one, if things weren't the way they were.
He had no idea what was behind all of this musical chaos, and it was really starting to get to him. He put his ass out on the line in order to give his inner beast a less harmful outlet than taking it out on his friends and family, and he just wasn't getting any of that today. People were acting so weird, and he was spending all of his time putting out fires, metaphorically speaking, and none of it doing what he wanted to be doing. The sun was down entirely now, and he found himself prowling some of the worst neighbourhoods he knew, just itching for a fight.
If he didn't find some outlet for the beast inside, things were going to be bad. His head was pounding and it was going to come bursting out of him, one way or another. He could actually hear the pounding. He--
"I think I'm feeling wild insideI think I'll take a run through the nightI'm gonna beat up everything in sight.
The last word was almost a sigh of relief, as he came to an alleyway and saw what looked to be half a dozen members of a street gang pelting down it at full speed toward him, bats and chains and knives in hand. Oh, thank goodness. He leapt to meet them, a fierce grin on his face as the aggressive music poured out of him.
"I'll prowl on down your streetAnd throw a punch at everyone I meetTrample everyone beneath my feet."
He met the first of them and exploded into action, a spinning elbow drawing a spray of blood in passing as he didn't even slow down.
"Free-for-all, they say that I’m excessiveBut I kinda like to brawlI think it's what I need.
Yeah, I'm a feralI wanna tear it upYeah, I'm a feral.
He slapped away a swung bat, using the momentum to drive him toward one of the others with a knife, driving his shoulder into the man and sending him to rebound off the side of a dumpster with a dull clang that meshed with the music. A length of chain slammed into his back, and with a grunt of pain he whirled on the rest behind him...seeing another three enter the alleyway behind then, similarly armed.
His smile widened.
"Tonight this 'hood will be a ringI'm gonna fight, punch, kick and…sing?I'll dance around losers so lameToday, that’s the game!I want to quench this rage insideI'm gonna throw down, you should hideThen I'll be on my wayAnd come back another day.
His hands almost a blur, he flung nearby bits of improvised weaponry as he sang his battle anthem; a broken chunk of brick catching one high on the cheek, drawing blood; the lid from a metal garbage can buckling the knee of another; a broken fork with two tines missing buried the remaining two into the shoulder of yet another. The rush faltered for a moment, and he gleefully hurled himself into the middle of the pack, fists connecting with flesh and boots stomping onto toes in the confined space.
Yeah, I'm a feralI wanna tear it upYeah, I'm a feral."
He was far too much for any one of these punks, and downed several with well-placed, savage blows, but the rest managed to get a few licks in. He could feel the bursts of pain and a few trickles of what might be blood, or sweat, and only let it feed the savage within.
"So many dumb thugs, so little timeSo many reasons, I'm not the crimeI'd like to beat you upI'd like to beat you up."
The footing was starting to get a little uncertain with bodies on the ground, and with a rush he sent a pair of the group stumbling back and moved forward to fill the space, the others rushing to keep up as they yelled in odd counterpoint to his singing.
"Free-for-all, they say that I’m excessiveBut I kinda like to brawlI think it's what I need."
Knuckles bloodied -- could he taste blood in his mouth? -- Wildcat continued to lash out in the close quarters, letting the feel of flesh meeting flesh and bone drive him onward. Sure, he could escape from this -- but why would he want to? Wasn't this why he was here? Wasn't this his purpose. Another goon went down, and another, their ranks thinning.
"Yeah, I'm a feralI wanna tear it upYeah, I'm a feralI wanna tear it up."
Three left standing -- he caught the swung chain in his left hand and hauled the man into his right fist, sending him heavily to the ground.
"Yeah, I'm a feral,"
The last two came at him simultaneously, from both sides, and he took a shallow slash along his forearm in return for grabbing the both of them and slamming them together with bone-grinding force, both bouncing back, and crumpling to the ground, motionless.
"Yeah, I'm a feral!"
Blood still singing, panting heavily, he surveyed the alleyway with triumph. A wreckage of battered and unconscious men met his eyes, six, no, nine -- no, twelve? When had the rest come in? The adrenaline started to fade, and in its wake came equal measures of pain and...disgust. He had just bludgeoned, battered, and broken a dozen other human beings, some of which he was certain would take months at least to heal properly. The beast within sated for the moment, he was able to feel sick about what he had done, and who he had been while he'd done it.
His shoulders bounced off the wall, and he realized he'd been backing away from the carnage he'd left. Unable to take his eyes from the human detritus, he tore his mask from his face and sucked in great gasps of air, not caring that the air was thick with the reek of garbage, blood, and urine.
"Yeah. I'm a feral...."
(Music Source: Burn It Up, by the Offspring, off the album Ignition, 1992)
Mad architects. It wasn't something that really came to mind when you wanted to append a profession after "mad." Mad scientists, mad doctors, maybe the occasional mad painter... mad architecture implied a waste of time and investment. But this was Freedom City, and if someone could find a route for eccentricity that would pay off somewhere down the line, they would.
Temperance had been following the spiritual disturbances for weeks. In neighborhoods across Freedom, the spirits had grown sluggish, even falling dormant. Pyramid Plaza, once thick with spirits of glamour and commerce, was now almost sterile. The inspiration spirits of Hanover were barely able to put two thoughts together. Even The Fens, an ecology of all the darker spirits of human vice, was starting to look clean by comparison. She hadn't been able to find much of a connection... until she saw the sign of Laynard Builders. A sign that she'd seen in every other neighborhood. She'd ventured onto one of the construction sites, and gotten a sensation like someone ringing a tuning fork inside her head. Whatever was going on in these projects, they were turning into dampeners for spiritual activity.
When news broke of ground breaking on another project, this one in Southside, she decided to check it out. The site was simple, when she arrived - just a level lot, with some equipment set up and a few holes dug for foundation posts. Absolutely standard, for a site like this. The person at the center of the lot, however, was not. He was clad in black robes, run up and down with arcane sigils. Some sort of old surveyor's tool hung in his hands, a plumbed weight on a string, and he was chanting in a dead language.
"Here I thought they just planted a time capsule in the cement."
The chant broke and the man turned, barking out a harsh syllable. Temperance was rooted to the spot, unable to move. "As I thought," he said. "You're one of the manifestations, just clad in flesh. Odd; usually that's supposed to have more of an effect..."
"The fact that this is a regular thing for you prompts so many questions." The man took a step back, passing under the glow of a street light; as he did, Temperance got a glimpse of the face under the robe. "Bruce Laynard, is it? This is your firm. What's a construction magnate like you doing dabbling in the dark arts?"
"Dark? Please. This is the true magic. Grabbing the pulse of the living world. Only... your kind are in the way. Humanity is meant to tap the source of the world, but you stand in the way. The earth, the air, the fire, the lightning - they need no voice, when we are meant to speak for them. Command them. When you are gone, this will be the city of the enlightened."
"I think you have the wrong idea. If you would just --"
Laynard barked another broken word, and that ringing kicked off in her head, running through her nerves like ice water. While she struggled to regain control, she could hear him ramble on. "The Freemasons had the right idea. A city as circle of power, with mankind at the center. Freedom shall become an altar to mankind. The granite-faced 'god' will have no place. This city will be free and true."
Temperance wanted to say something, but the ringing made all speech impossible. Then, strangely enough, the ringing seemed to shift. Instead of a piercing drone, it turned into a rhythm. Drum beats... then guitars... then bells.
"What... is that noise?"
She had this feeling - that something was speaking through her. No - it was an ensemble. Herself, whatever spirits were near, and... something else. But she wasn't one to pass up the opportunity.
"I think you got the arrangement wrong, Mr. Laynard," she said, getting to her feet. "Now listen closely."
She opened her mouth, not sure what might come out next - but she couldn't say she was entirely surprised with the final result.
"Dance, d-, d-, dance animisticWhole world’s a dance animistic now
Whole world’s a dance animisticWhole world’s a dance animistic nowWhole world’s a dance animistic"
Temperance broke from whatever binds were holding her, striding - well, more like dancing - forward.
"World’s a songJust got a lot of discordHear that wind?Lots of gripes and whispers
Catch the trainYou’re in the serpent’s bellyAnd that snake don’t stop for anyone"
The sorcerer conjured fire from his hand, hurling it out like a burning javelin. With a simple gesture, water rose to Temperance's command, blocking the missile and producing nothing but steam.
"Now don’t freak outThe windows are all watching
The lights go outBut the shadows ain’t stoppingThe water runsJust like a herd of horses
And it brings the gossip everywhere"
A blanket of frost rushed out from Temperance's feet, turning the pavement into a skating rink. It caught Laynard under his feet, sending the sorcerer plummeting to the ground. Temperance paused, standing stock still on the thin ice.
"But the city really wants to thank youFor living in its heartYou found a way to sing outYou're not afraid to sing outAnd they all wanna knowIn the world of ephemeral flowWhy, how do you stand out?Flesh, flesh, soul, soulConstanceAin’t bound unto a roleThey all wanna knowIn the world of ephemeral flow
Why, how do you stand out?
Flesh, flesh, bone, bone
ConstanceAin’t bound unto a roleFlesh, flesh, bone boneConstanceAin’t bound unto a role"
"No," said Laynard, scrambling to his feet. He spread his hands; the ice cracked, and the stones rose up to meet him, swirling around like a defensive barrier. "No, I will not abide this mockery! I can see you, Metropolis! Out there in the darkness! Come and face me! Don't send your puppet to taunt me!"
"This isn't mockery, Laynard," said Temperance. "I'm sure only you could think an affirmation of reality is a mockery of your purpose. Maybe you should listen more closely." Orbs of ice formed around Temperance, as if in answer to Laynard's stone barrage. She strode forward once more; as she did, Laynard sent the stones flying forth. But her missiles launched in turn, able to deflect and destroy his.
"The earthquakes strike, ‘cause no one offers good termsFire breaks, ‘cause it don’t get paid unless it burnsThe power’s out, ‘cause the lightning hates the wiresAnd it wants to sing across the skyThe blizzard hits, and it wants to strike a bullseyeThe streets all cracked
‘Cause the pressure makes ‘em wanna cry
The city laughs, ‘cause it’s always been standingAnd no one is gonna let it die"
One orb lashed out, catching Laynard at his feet; quickly, it spread and cemented into a icy shackle, lashing him to the ground. He tugged harder, trying to break from his bonds.
ConstanceAin’t bound unto a roleFlesh, flesh, bone boneConstanceAin’t bound unto a role"Laynard raised his hands to the sky. Temperance could hear metal creaking above her, then a sharp snap. She rolled out of the way; a girder plummeted to where she'd been standing, embedding itself in the earth. Laynard was playing for keeps... but so was she.
Catch the trainYou’re in the serpent’s bellyAnd that snake don’t stop for anyoneNow don’t freak outThe windows are all watching
The lights go outBut the shadows ain’t stoppingThe people laugh
‘Cause they just got the punchline
And it turns out that it’s all in fun"
Laynard let out a roar. The ground cracked under him, sending up large spikes of concrete. Temperance was able to dance out of the way of the assault, keeping her footing all the while. But she could hear the groans of metal all around her; this wasn't going to go well, either way.
Laynard closed his eyes, his hands moving in a complex warding gesture. Temperance didn't know much about the hard practicalities of magic, but she had an idea of what signs of protection looked like... and what Laynard may be protecting himself from. She let out a barrage of frost, trying to cut him off before he did something truly stupid. The barrage knocked Laynard over, sending him to the ground... but that didn't stop the building from shaking around them. Temperance just shook her head.
I meanLook at youYou just a constant spark in fickle fleshEver, yet neverY’all eternal and fleetingAnd free, free to be freaksFlesh, flesh, bone boneConstanceAin’t bound unto a role"
Laynard let out a roar of fury, and the beams above began splintering like fragile wood. Temperance willed her water to rise up around her, forming a cushion and catching the falling debris... but she knew it wouldn't provide much support. Suddenly, she felt another voice speak through her.
"What's the matter?The pavement wriggle under your feet?
You hear the phone speaking to you?There something in your walls?Doctor, your patients are running out"
The building shattered like crystal, plummeting down around them - and then froze, a cloud captured in amber. There was another person behind her, clad in robes and armor, with a face like stone. Laynard looked truly afraid.
"This is not your city," said Doctor Metropolis. "It never was. You were not one of its people; you were just someone who thought he could make it what he dreamt it could be. Leave. Now. Or you will see what it is like for a city to turn against you."
Laynard didn't even say a word. He just ran down the street as far as his legs could carry him. Doctor Metropolis waved his hand, and the damage seemed to reverse, the building rising up rather than tumbling down.
"Glad I got your attention," said Temperance. "Was he really avoiding your notice?"
"He was," said the city god. "I am not sure how - I felt the pains, but could not find the source. But, with that font of spiritual energy, it was enough to trace that something was up."
"So... that wasn't you, producing the song?"
"Do I look at all musically inclined?"
Temperance decided that silence would be the best solution in this case. When the site stood as it once was, Doctor Metropolis turned and left with stony silence. As he prepared to turn the corner, however, he paused to look back at Temperance.
"That said... that was one remarkable performance."
"Intervention" (Please note, this NPC vignette is not done for points, just for fun. The idea got stuck in my head)
Jessie folded her hands tightly in her lap as she sat at the long formica-coated table, glancing periodically at the faces arrayed around her. Friendly faces all, sometimes too smiley, sometimes falsely happy, but all of them were here to help her. She knew that. She had to believe that, or she would rapidly start running out of things to believe. But when they started talking about things like supervised release and college attendance, it became substantially harder to rely on their benevolence.
“I don't... I don't think I'm ready,” she mumbled in the direction of her lap when there was a brief break in the discussion of plan-based outcomes.
“Oh Jessie, of course you are!” Dr. Garza the occupational therapist told her bracingly. “You've passed all your life-skills classes, you've completed all your mandated therapy, and you've gotten your GED. You've been with us for twenty-six months now, which is a little longer than average for an in-house stay at Project Freedom, but you've come a very long way. It's time to move you to the next phase of your rehabilitation.”
“But I haven't got anywhere to go,” Jessie mumbled, still not quite meeting anybody's eyes.
“Aquaria has been talking about the two of you becoming roommates outside of Project Freedom, isn't that something you're interested in?” Harriet Wainwright asked her kindly. “The two of you have gotten along so well, I believe you could both help each other adjust to life in a wider world.”
Jessie nodded jerkily, then shook her head. “I, we... there's no money,” she admitted. “We can't get a place.”
“Oh, don't worry about that!” Miss Wainwright assured her. “Your counterpart has set up a trust fund for you to draw on that will help you to get started, even go to school if you want to. Apparently she's made some very wise investments for such a young woman, and with the budgeting skills you've learned, you should be able to make it last all the way through a degree program.”
Jessie just stared at them, dumbfounded for a moment, casting about for more of the many, many good reasons she should not be unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Suddenly, though, music began playing as though piped through loudspeakers into the room, and everyone else in the room was all at once grinning and bopping from side to side along with the music. She shrank back warily in her seat as they began to sing, all in unison.
Oh here's to you, Singularity,Freedom loves you more than you can know,Whoa-whoa-whoa,Get better please, Singularity,Almost time for you to go away,Hey-hey-hey! Hey-hey-hey
We've found out all about you and we've put it in our files,We fixed your mind so you could fix yourself!Look inside you, all you see is peaceful fields of whiteNothing really hurts even though you don't have a home.
So here's to you, Singularity,Find yourself a place that you can go,Whoa-whoa-whoa,God bless you please, Singularity,There's nothing here for you if you should stay,Hey-hey-hey, hey-hey-hey!
Hide those little fears away where your mind never goes,With those stolen memories you can't forsake,It's a little secret, Singularity's last stand,Just make sure to forget all you did!
Koo-koo-ca-choo, Singularity,Don't you know there's so much you don't know?Whoa-whoa-whoa!But don't you see, Singularity,It's time to go, we can brook no delay,Hey-hey-hey, hey-hey-hey!
You can have a new place by next Sunday afternoon,We really see no need for more debate.Wander's found a place for you,You don't need to choose,Simply no way here for you to lose!
Goodbye to you, Singularity,We all love you so we'll make you go,Whoa-whoa-whoa,Do as you please, Singularity,But try not to throw all our lives away,Hey-hey-hey, hey-hey-hey!
The music trailed away, and suddenly it was as though everyone was released from thrall. The counselors looked at each other, cleared their throats, smoothed their hair. Finally Miss Wainwright asked, “Did we miss a memo about the Maestro being released from prison?”
(Music Source: Mrs. Robinson by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle, from the album Bookends, 1968)
It was a dark, cold night on the rain slick streets of Wiltshire, the moon was full and round as it hung in the sky , the serenity only broken by Jonathan hale, the only idiot out at such a time, patrolling noisily along in the imposing black armour of his recently inherited station of black knight, betrayer; terrorizing every housecat in the province with its angular shape and thunderous clanking with only the cantankerous intelligence of the sword aldonite to keep him company he soon found his mind wandering away from the belligerent urging of the blade and to thoughts of Arnasaq in faraway Greenland.
It was about this time that he began to feel an odd sensation building in his mind, a mental nudge even more irrefutable than the swords bloodlust and bluster, he’d heard the stories by now of course, tales of people bursting into song spontaneously had been all over the news; he found himself oddly excited at the prospect, it was rather fun to think about, spontaneously bursting into song and dance, his heart fluttered a little as the thoughts of singing a unheard ballad for his distant beloved even as his eyes closed behind the visor and his lungs filled of their own volition he was needless to say surprised and disappointed when he instead sang out
“The black knight marches upon his kinTo fight the fight He Just can’t winStill he’ll stand and give his bestAgainst the sword that Balor bless’d
To fight the king and take his headTo Stain his steel crimson redThe swords shall pass with joint last breathAnd the knights find peace at last in eternal rest”
Though eldest sons shall rise anewSeeking revenge for what the sires slewwith hearts of hate and baited breaththe cycle begins and ends in death."
He felt his form shudder with a dread so total at the ominous verses he’d sang in a voice not quite his own about the fate that the sword had no trouble reminding him of, his impending act of murder and the painful death that was to follow it.
He might have remained there for hours stewing in his thoughts, trying to think some way out of the path he was apparently inexorably set headlong upon, so he might escape his dark and depressing fate and maybe grow old with Arnasaq and die surrounded by loved ones but there was a lot of Wiltshire to patrol and very little night left to do it in.
So. Setting off again in total silence he could have sworn that the steel plates of his armour felt heavier still than they had when he’d affixed them, the solitary sound of clanking armour had certainly gotten that much louder as the bowed but not yet broken knight carried on through the streets Only the moon and its vanguard of stars overhead to guide him on his dark and treacherous journey into the black of night, his reflection in the pools of rainwater stared silently back as he passed over them.
(Source: Self written.; Notes: Damn formatting)
Broken Needles (I Can’t Go Home Again)
He was finally asleep. His small chest rose and fell peacefully beneath his Freedom League Adventures pajamas, and his little hands still clutched his stuffed puppy close against the side of his pale, smooth face.
Slowly, determined not to wake him, Becky extricated herself from the covers and got carefully to her feet. He had had another nightmare. She hadn’t needed to ask what it was about. For a while she was afraid he would never get back to sleep, but a glass of milk and a few stories had finally sent him off. She brushed back a lock of hair from her nephew’s face, patted him gently on the shoulder, and padded from the room in her bare feet, closing the door softly behind her.
Now, of course, she was wide awake. Perfect. She had a test tomorrow, and she needed to be rested for it. She could hear Omid snoring contentedly all the way from their bedroom. Lucky bastard.
She went to the kitchen and switched on the light. Milk had worked for Arthur, maybe it would work for her. If she failed this test because she hadn’t gotten enough sleep, someone was going to pay. And it’ll probably be me.
Memories came to her unbidden. When she had been small, she had had nightmares too. Quite a lot of them. And every time, no matter how exhausted she herself had been, Sam had held her and comforted her until she drifted off again.
Yeah, well. That had all changed, hadn’t it? She hadn’t seen her in years, and she was still cleaning up after her. She knew full well what Arthur’s nightmares were about.
Across town, Sam lay in darkness.
The quilt was bunched up around her. It didn’t make any sense, but every time she lay on the couch, she hoped that maybe this time she would be able to sleep. And every time, she wound up doing this – nothing, just laying there and waiting for the sun to rise. She had gotten good at waiting.
A sudden restlessness took her. She kicked free of the blankets and got to her feet. What was the point, really? It was a waste of time. Funny – in her old life, if she hadn’t been able to score, she would sleep practically all day and night. At the time, anything was better than facing reality. Maybe this was her punishment. No more drugs, and no more sleep too.
She took a step and tripped over one of her boots. She caught herself against the wall and winced, glancing towards the room where Asli was sleeping. She would hate to wake her at this time of night.
Asli’s rest seemed to continue undisturbed, so Sam sat herself on the edge of the couch and pulled on her boots. If she couldn’t sleep, she would go out. Maybe she would find something to occupy her out in the city. She shrugged into her jacket, pulled her hair back into her usual ponytail, and vanished in a flash of light.
She stood on the roof, looking out at the city. She felt almost like she was sneaking out to go to a party, like she used to do in high school. Whenever she managed to do it without waking Becky, at least. Which wasn’t often. Becky had always been a light sleeper.
A dull ache shot through her gut. She wondered what Becky was doing right now. Sound asleep in bed, no doubt, just as she should be.Then a strange thing happened. Music began to play, seeming to come from the thin air. A gentle, rhythmic, song. She had barely enough time to think Oh, s—t, before she opened her mouth.
"Old burned photographs and broken needlesA sister left behind"
Becky pulled open the refrigerator and took out a jug of milk, barely noticing that she had begun to sing.
"Far from the homes of the sun-kissed familiesIs where my sister lies"
Sam shot straight up into the air, a glowing contrail of energy streaming behind her. The wind rushed past her ears as the rose into the starry sky.
"Look for me among the skies and the starsSee the light that set me free"
Becky slammed shut the fridge with rather more force than was necessary as she snapped her response.
"No, you live in the trash with the thieves and the drunkardsAnd maybe that’s just where you should be"
There was a flash, and Sam stood now on the roof of her old apartment building. Where she had overdosed, where everything had changed.
"And when the stars’ lightShines down on all of my mistakesI cannot make this rightAnd I can’t go home againI can’t go home againI can’t go home againI can’t go home againAgain"
Becky poured some milk into a glass as she sang.
"When we were but girls how the walls of the life we sharedThey seemed to draw in near"
The corners of Sam’s mouth quirked, although there was nothing funny about it.
"Held to each other when our mother was angryAnd together, we had no fear"
Flash. Sam stood on the moon. Her feet kicked up drifting clouds of grey dust as she spread her arms wide, as if to embrace the spectacle of the Earth hanging in the void before her.
"But oh, have you seen all the gods and the heroesAll the kings and the knights of the sky"
Becky threw herself into a chair, her knuckles white as she gripped her glass.
"No, I remained here, still trapped on the groundWhere you left me to raise your child"
Flash. The roof of the Rath & Stromberg building. The glowing city sprawled and twisted about in all directions around her. Sam hopped up to the very edge of the roof.
"And when the stars’ lightShines down on all of my mistakesI cannot make this rightAnd I can’t go home againI can’t go home againI can’t go home againI can’t go home again"
Flash. For a moment, she wasn’t sure where she had gone. Then she knew. She recognized the modest apartment before her, with the grey walls and the crayon-drawn greeting taped to the door. She could see a shadow moving in the kitchen, and her heart seemed to contract as she nearly shouted her words.
"Lies and drugs and old fights tooThey keep me from youPain and shame for the words I threwAll keep me from you"
Becky paused. She thought she had seen a flash of light from the street, and she thought she heard a voice. She rose and went to the window, and as she approached it there was another flash. She drew aside the curtain and peered out into the night, but the street was deserted.Sam watched the house from far above, standing in the air with her hands tightly gripping her elbows, singing quietly now.
"But oh, my sister, though our lives may have partedThough you may never forgive my sinLook for me in the night and the shadowIf someday you want to see me again"
A flash, and she was gone.
As the music faded, Becky looked around, then shook her head groggily. What the hell just…right, the song-wave thing. I guess that’s what it’s like. She tried to figure out the significance of what she had been singing. It was about Sam, she knew that much, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had only been singing half the song.
Whatever. She was too tired to decipher it right now. She drained her glass, placed it in the sink, and switched off the light. She returned to her and Omid’s bedroom, finding her way there easily despite the pitch blackness. He had seized the opportunity her absence offered to roll over spread-eagled onto his stomach and take up the entire bed, and it took a minute of pulling, prodding, and halfhearted threats to get him to roll back onto his side and let her in. She lay down beside him and pulled the blankets over her, still thinking about the strange song. I’m “trapped on the ground?” So where the hell is she, piloting a 747? She shuddered at the thought.
It didn’t take long for sleep to chase all thoughts of Sam from her mind. The last thing she thought before sinking into unconsciousness was that the voice she’d heard outside had sure sounded like a woman singing.
(Music Source: Yankee Bayonet [I Will Be Home Then], by The Decemberists, from the album The Crane Wife, 2006)
The Hardest Job In The World
“Oh Beth, they're precious! They both look just like you, too. And they're getting so big!” Paige passed the cell phone back to Beth Walton-Wright and picked up another box of cake mix. “Seeing any signs of walking yet?”
“Crawling like mad,” Beth, better known as Lady Liberty, replied with a grin, tucking her phone full of baby pictures away. “No walking yet, but the doctor says it'll probably be early. They're both stronger than normal for their age, more alert, more perceptive. And I swear I saw Mary trying to fly, just for a second, when she fell off the couch last week.” She passed a carton of eggs to Paige, then hefted her own rolling pin and began to flatten a heroic-sized pile of cookie dough.
“Those early powers, they'll surprise you!” Kayla put in from her spot by the oven, nodding with wisdom borne from hard experience. Kayla hadn't gone out as her alter-ego Frostflame much since her kids were born, but they'd both inherited her elemental resistance and a slightly alarming tendency to burst into flames. Paige had taken Holly over for a playgroup at their house earlier in the year and noticed with a bit of wonder how many things in a home could be fireproofed. “Though at least you had reason to suspect it was coming.”
“It's awfully nice of you to help prep the bake sale tonight,” Paige told Beth, even as she measured milk and chocolate pudding mix into her cake. “The school needs more boosters.”
“I want to get an early start,” Beth joked, “the girls' names have been on the enrollment list since the ink was dry on their birth certificates. I'd love to see them be able to start a preschool early-intervention program sometime soon. Besides, after the day I had with this song wave, I needed a sanity break.”
“I'd just like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that any songs sung today are firmly in “let us never speak of this again” territory,” Kayla announced. “And that includes if we get stuck inside a Happy Baking Song montage.” Everyone paused for a moment, breath bated, but no music started.
“Christina said we might be only a year or two away from preschool at the last board meeting,” Dipalesa chimed in, her face intent as she frosted an intricate gingerbread cookie. “That would be very good. Thuto and I have been talking about having another child once our residency is sorted, but if he'll be another infant strongman, I'd like a bit more help this time!” That sentiment drew understanding laughter from all the women. Paige knew Dipalesa mostly from volunteer afternoons at school, but she understood enough to know that the decision to leave South Africa, where they'd been established superheroes, hadn't been easy for her or her husband. As Lebona and Keromang, the one who sees and the one who was sent, they'd been doing important work, but an uncontrollably strong child who couldn't sleep for all the information pouring into his senses had sent them halfway around the world for help.
“The earlier, the better,” Paige agreed. “I feel lucky that Holly didn't start really powering up till she was eight, but I wonder if it might not have been so traumatic if she'd already been getting training.” She poured the cake batter into a greased bundt mold, then paused, cocking her head. “Did anybody else hear something?” It was so faint, she couldn't really tell if it was something aloud or a vibration in her mind.
Beth put down her cookie cutters and listened as well, but it was Dipalesa who nodded. “There is something in the south wing, something large and moving quickly. The alarm system is breached, but it's only beeping, I believe something is wrong with it.”
“Who the hell would break in here?” Kayla demanded, yanking open the oven with a bit more force than necessary to remove a tray of brownies with her bare hands. Already her skin was coating with the rime of flame-retardant frost that kept her safe while she was working.
“Some villains are just not very smart,” Paige said with a sigh, wiping her hands on a paper towel. “Bu whoever it is probably didn't expect anyone to be here tonight.”
“Well,” said Beth, looking to the others. “shall we show them the error of their ways?” In moments, the foursome had stripped off gloves and aprons, exchanging them for gauntlets, morphic molecules, and a nimbus of fire and light. With Lady Liberty in the lead, they hurried down the corridor towards the school's science wing, where an increasingly audible commotion was taking place.
They caught up to the intruder outside the chemistry supply closet, which he was attempting to rip from its reinforced hinges. He was an ugly one, Paige decided, more than seven feet tall, with a face as flat as old beer and a distinct aroma of body odor and desperation. He noticed them coming from yards away and turned to face them. “FLEE THE FURY OF THE PSYCHONAUT!” he roared at them. “I WILL HAVE WHAT I COME FOR AND YOU SHALL ESCAPE WITH YOUR PUNY LIVES!”
Beth folded her arms and studied him. “Yeah, I don't think we can do that. We're big boosters of the school, you know. Our kids go here, or they will.”
“WRETCHED WOMAN, SHUT YOUR MOUTH!” the Psychonaut roared, with breath that was truly fetid. “TO EVEN FIGHT YOU IS BENEATH ME, YOU REEK OF THE KITCHEN AND OF SERVITUDE.”
“Better than what you reek of,” Kayla opined, waving a hand in front of her nose. “And we're nobody's servants.”
“We are mothers,” Dipalesa agreed with a firm nod. “And you are in no way equipped to face our wrath.”
Paige looked at her companions, met their gazes, and then suddenly the music was starting up, a fast guitar beat, perfect for a little violence. As the women spread out, they began to sing together.
You crashed yourself into our school cause you've a troubled mind,You thought you'd scare us but instead you will just waste our time!We've battled lice, head colds, faced bullies, baths and poo,There's really nothing you can do, yeah!
Long tongues of flame began to leap from Frostflame's hands, chasing the villain back from the door a few steps, even as Hologram's subtle pychic nudges began to unbalance him. He looked around uncertainly. “WHY ARE YOU SINGING?”
We've watched you storm in here and act like a buffoon,Nothing says bake sale like some jumped-up supervillain goon.We're gonna stop you, cause we're here to defend,But maybe you'll buy some pies at the end?
Lady Liberty drove in then with an uppercut to the Psychonaut's face, sending him sprawling backwards several steps. Keromang was suddenly there behind him, giving him another hard shove to unbalance him further, then she was back with the others, just in time for the chorus!
If we're all heroes, then can you just call us super-mom?We'll bake some cookie bars, then kick your ass with perfect aplomb!The kids are tucked in snug and nothing will stop this fight,Mommy's night!
Kayla and Paige both burst into laughter and fell out of the song for a few beats, but the pull of the music and the draw of the fight were insistent. The Psychonaut pushed himself back to his feet. The choral singing continued.
We don't look strong but we're not weak,All of our kids are so unique,We take for granted having super-powered friends around!You swaggered in, full speed ahead,We're heroes here or you'd be dead,We'll beat you up to keep our children truly safe and sound!
By now, Lady Liberty's relentless barrage had the Psychonaut almost pressed to the nearest exit door, looking much less confident than he had a few minutes ago. Frostfire began welding the lab door shut for safekeeping while the others helped along with the music.
If we're all heroes, then can you just call us super-mom?We'll drive the carpool first, then go to work and defuse a bomb!We fight for justice, good, and knowing your left from your right,Mommy's night!
If we're all heroes, then can you just call us super-mom?We'll save the universe, and we'll be there to chaperone prom!We hold the future and the future is super-bright,Mommy's night!
One last punch, and the Psychonaut was through the door and on the school's pretty lawn, scrabbling to his feet before running away. Beth sighed. “I suppose I'd better go after him,” she finally admitted. “Can't have somebody like that running loose. We'll do this again sometime, right?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Paige agreed. “But next time, way more videos.”
(Music Source: Kryptonite, by Three Doors Down, from the album The Better Life, 2000)
The Whole World
June 3, 2015
Richard was on his way out of Freedom City when he burst into song - words that burst from his heart and soul as he ran down the Interstate, watching Captain Thunder and Captain Thunder Jr. flying overhead. He was keeping up with them (and would have outpaced them if he hadn’t been keeping it slow early in his run), but something about the sight of father and son working together, the flash of lightning and sound of thunder in the sky, made him want to...sing!
“I love the Captains,
I love when people fly!”
“Crap!” He kept running, and to his surprise the song faded. He’d heard all about the Song Wave sweeping across Freedom City (and even into space from what he’d heard), had made big plans for a full-on new wave number if the music ever hit him...but it seemed like he’d finished in just a couple of lines.
He tapped his earpiece again. “On second thought, I think I’m finished.” It was an oddly disappointing thought. “Should I keep the thing on?” The ‘thing’ was an Archetech Go-Fast, a Go-Pro specially modified to be compatible with super-speed powers. The tape of “A Day In The Life of a Speedster” was going to be used for a Discovery Channel promo - assuming he didn’t sing his way through it all.
He ran the 2770 miles from Freedom City to Tijuana in about fifteen minutes, where El Spectro and Camazotz were supposed to be waiting to meet him for an interview about supercrime on the US-Mexican border. He ran through the city, reached Rosarito Beach, and found the masked luchadore and the dark god of vengeance in combat alongside a pretty blonde princess in armored Atlantean garb. Their foe was a gloating fish-faced sorcerer wielding a glowing red trident, firing deadly beams of energy at the heroes and the fleeing civilians.
“FOOLSSS! ARCANISSS WILL PUNISH ALL!” he hissed in a booming voice like a frog’s croak.
“Need a hand?” called Fast-Forward as he ran up and into the battle. They beat the monster working together - Fast-Forward using his magic text to blast Arcanis, the Deep One wizard, with bolts of solar energy that dried his flesh, Nereid pummeling him with her fists, Camazotz blasting him from afar, and finally El Spectro closing in to catch him in a headlock! Richard hadn’t expected to come into combat that day, but secretly he’d enjoyed it thoroughly. He put the book away and zipped over to join the other heroes, running past the glassy craters left behind by Arcanis’ poor aim. He grinned at Nereid, who looked no older than Will despite being several years his senior, and clapped the princess on the back.
“I love Atlantis,
I love his plans awry!”
“What?” she asked, a baffled look on her pretty face as Richard’s song finished. The other heroes seemed equally baffled - though of course it was hard to read expressions through full-face masks.
“Awry, it means ‘away from the appropriate,’ I got it from my word of the day calendar,” Richard said easily. “Oh, wait, the singing? Yeah, that’s catching these days. It’s best just to be cool about it.”
When Nereid took the Deep One wizard away, Fast-Forward and the Mexican heroes recorded their pre-arranged talk about border crime - and then he shook El Spectro’s hand before running away off into the Pacific. Man, that guy’s strong!
The run across the Pacific was, as ever, not very interesting - even with the promise of a stop in Honolulu to meet Kahuna III, the volcano-controlling legacy defender of Hawaii. Mostly to get my hands on some sweet, sweet pineapple pork, Richard admitted to himself. Hawaii went well enough (Richard found himself disappointed he didn’t join in the ceremonial luau, then decided he’d just have taken attention away from the nice kids who’d put on the show) - which was good, because it was a full _half-hour_ to get to Lhasa, his next stop!
The meeting with Nagpo-Chenpo had been carefully worked out for months in advance - the fearsome-looking divine incarnation (who was an empowered PLA officer) would speak about the many demons of the Tibetan countryside and how helpful the Chinese army had been in fighting them, and neither man would say a word about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Richard ran through the gorgeous mountains, past fields and rivers, and right into the government building in Lhasa. He shook hands with the translators, met the local commandant, and was introduced to the big-eyed, sharp-toothed, club-wielding hero.
And of course promptly burst into song, music rising out of thin air behind him.
“I love our freedom,
And your angry frowns!”
The translator, a middle-aged woman in a PLA uniform, actually fell out of her seat.
“Crap! Sorry, sorry!” he declared, waving his hands as the room fell into dead silence. “Have you guys heard about the Song Wave? Hitting Freedom City, going up a cosmic string into space? Everybody bursting into musical numbers?-”
Nagpo-Chenpo looked at his handlers, looked at Fast-Forward, bared his massive fangs, and began singing.
“<I don’t know how to tell you this - but it’s been here for daaaaays->”
Being a duet partner in what Richard later learned was Canto-Pop wasn’t actually that bad; the music was peppy, he had the legs for the dancing, and Nagpo-Chenpo really had a beautiful voice. Afterwards, once again back in the clean, comfortable government office, they all had a nice big traditional Tibetan meal of papza mogu and thue (Richard had long since learned not to clean his plate when visiting East Asia) and Richard got his interview, resisting the urge to yawn as he stepped outside. It was dark over Lhasa - but his day wasn’t even halfway through! He tossed back a Coke from his bag (both for the pick-me-up and to get the taste of yak butter out of his mouth) and nodded.
“Time to go!”
Running through the Himalayas, he was out of contact with the world, but he let his mind wander - there were flashes in the sky as he went, the sound of a late-night thunderstorm at the roof of the world. When he stopped on a nameless road to catch his breath, taking shelter underneath the leaves of an especially large tree, he sang in time with the thunder overhead.
Karachi went well enough - Doctor Chagai, wearing a saree and blouse made from atomic particles, gave Fast-Forward a tour of Pakistan’s largest city, the nuclear scientist-turned-heroine earning cheers from the crowd in the (carefully vetted) neighborhoods they toured. Fast-Forward interviewed a few young Pakistani men and women who wanted to go to Freedom City to work in the superhero industry “and see the city with all the superheroes!” and played DDR with two young men in thin mustaches and New York Yankee shirts. I won! That game's not so bad after all.
He passed through India quickly, stopping to film some absolutely gorgeous Bollywood dance numbers that were springing up everywhere from New Delhi to the countryside, watching young couples spinning cheerily around each other and singing, old men in turbans high-kicking in sparkling crowds, and he had almost no idea what any of it was about.
“Looks like they’re having fun, though! This is the best magical disaster in years,” he said cheerfully into his Go-Fast when he took it off to scratch his head. And then, after a quick snack from a vending machine, it was time to run! He took to the sea again, dipping back on to land just long enough to bypass Socotra, for the long run to Cairo. Twenty minutes! Ugh, I am going to have the worst damn headache after this. Shoulda broughta aspirin.
He stopped outside Cairo to watch the sunrise over the city, settling down in an empty suburban park to enjoy the view. It was all very pretty - at least until the giant pyramid shimmered to life over the city, cutting off the sunset, spoiling the view, and getting Richard on his feet with a muttered curse. “YOUR CITY IS NOW THE PROPERTY OF DR. RAMSES!” declared the loudspeaker’d voice even as the holographic head of a man in what Richard thought of as a “Pharoah’s hat and beard” shimmered to life. “SURRENDER, MORTALS!”
The Battle of Cairo (2015) was actually a pretty ordinary day for Egypt’s superheroes. People showed up in Egypt a lot to cause trouble, usually in costume, trying to seize this or that ancient artifact, or “simply to squat inside the Great Pyramid and drink their foul American beer!”, as Khery-Heb put it to Richard afterwards. It was worse in summer-time, when Americans were on vacation.
What mattered for Richard was the chance to meet new people (in advance of his planned interview) - and that he spent the fight providing background music. He started singing the moment his feet hit the pavement, and it seemed to naturally flow into the rhythm of the battle. The Nile Guard were already on the scene, and he slotted into the fight alongside them as if he had been, well, choreographed. He ran past Khery-Heb, the priestess calling on the incarnate spirits of Thoth and Hequet, as a rain of frogs began falling on the giant pyramid overhead, obscuring its radar and letting the others get in close and personal.
“I love your potions,
I love real giant things!”
He dodged a Giant Sphinx alongside the Desert Wind, a veteran Egyptian speedster in black and brown. and like trained dancers he and the other man ran in opposite directions simultaneously, stirring up a whirlwind that began pulling the pyramid down low enough for the ground-bound heroes to leap aboard and begin battling their way through the Anubis-bots inside. He turned to the other man and declared, music rising behind him for a moment, -
“I love to go fast,
I love these ancient things!”
When the interview with the Nile Guard was done and he got a harmonized invitation to come back any time and bring his family, he turned on his commlink back to Freedom City and, grinning, listened as Aoki, his Discovery Channel tech, sang about how boring her job was with the distant sound of the rest of the tech crew in the background. When she was done, and he was running across North Africa, he harmonized in reassuring tones.
“I love our world,
and all its wackiness!”
In the Mediterranean, he stopped at an alternative artist colony on the southern shores of Italy to film an illusionist telekinetic put on a display of lights and colors that brought out a cheery -
“I love some Play-Dough
I love your acid trips!”
from Fast-Forward. He took another break on the shores of the Atlantic, stopping in Lisbon for a big McDonalds breakfast, before getting back on his feet for one last big push. He was running away from the sun now, so he took off his sunglasses, ran a comb through his hair, and took off across the Atlantic! Keeping up a banter about the ocean and the weather as he went, he found his mind wandering to the wife, son, and daughter waiting for him at home, and what a damn lucky bastard he was to have all that after everything he’d done. He started singing again, far out at sea.
“I love my freedom
I love my witty quips,”
Freedom City was coming into view now, first the Pyramid Plaza, then the DuTemps Castle, and he found himself slowing down to take in the view.
“I love my family
And this crazy place,”
He ran into the Discovery Channel studio and, on cue, the staff raised their hands and pumped their fists in time with -
"So, think you can get anything from this?”
(Music Source: Boom-De-Yada, as sung by the Discovery Channel)
A dark night, and the weirdness was even beginning to affect Oracle. It was a night meant for the weird, and the strange. Standing six stories up, perched on the edge of the building, she was watching for crises. She had finished a ghost-inspired costume that afternoon - this was her first patrol in costume, and people needed help tonight of a very different sort. In her mind, the hum of background thoughts and emotions began to swell from thousands as they burst into song or began dancing spontaneously. It was going to be difficult to resist. She knew she would ride it out, like a surfer too far to see to ride a breaker in, waiting for the right swell. Each surge would pass her by, and for a moment, she could feel the world pressing on her mind. And each time, she would rise above and outside it, and watch it roll underneath her. Still, there were those that needed help. It would be here soon.
She saw something else... an old man in a uniform, a night watchman coming down the stairs. She could sense his confusion as the music took him - she could feel the pain as he was forced to start waltzing to the music - she could hear HIS song as clearly as if it was her own.
Some day, when I'm awfully lowWhen the world is coldI will feel a glow just thinking of youAnd the way you look tonight;
It was a Frank Sinatra classic, and although the old man was crying his smile was radiant. She felt the searing pain of recent loss, but years, decades of warmth overshadowed it. She could see his wife's face clearly in his mind's eye from that moment 40 years ago to her last moments. But she realized suddenly that he couldn't see anything else. Without a thought she was free-falling towards him, cape billowing out like wings. He was getting far to close to the railing of the stairs. Four stories up. Nothing to stop him if he went over.
Yes, you're lovely, with your smile so warmAnd your cheeks so softThere is nothing for me but to love youAnd the way you look tonight;
With an eerie sound, the falling super heroine vanished, leaving only a trail of rapidly fading black and yellow interlaced spheres to show where she'd been Her new position had her on the stairs, much to the startled security guard's amazement. She reached out, brushing her fingertips to his as he went over the rail... and stopped. Surrounded by the same yellow and black aura, he floats back to the landing, the song still causing his body to move uncontrollably.
He looked into the shimmering yellow eyes of the young girl in the costume, and then realized he has a little control now, feeling relief and hope. As her eyes return to their normal brown color, she stepped into the waltz with a smile and joined him in the song.
Lovely ... Never, never changeKeep that breathless charmWon't you please arrange it? 'Cause I love youJust the way you look tonight;
Lovely ... Never, never changeKeep that breathless charmWon't you please arrange it? 'Cause I love youJust the way you look tonight...
But even as the song ended, she teleported away in a flash of yellow and black. He saw the counter flash reflected in the windows of a row of brownstones near the riverfront. Then he saw and heard a big, burly man wearing a ski mask running away from the brownstones still clutching a crowbar in a death grip, screaming like a little girl. Around his head and eyes were familiar yellow and black dots. That man was so scared he ran straight into a light pole with a clang. Grinning, the old man raised his radio, and called his dispatcher, reporting that a robbery in progress just off his site was being thwarted by a costumed superhero "...and, I might add, a swell dancer."
"Dispatch: Copy the robbery in progress. Is it the crook or cape dancing?"
Fleur de Joie
It had been a crappy day for Stesha, all things considered. Sure, there were some good parts. The advent of consistent warm weather and sunshine made her job on Sanctuary a lot easier, and having all the traveling heroes back in Freedom City had taken a lot of pressure off the FLA to fight crime and stop evil. A group of scientists, mostly grad students in environmental scientists and oceanography, had just arrived to have a look at the sadly neglected coastline and give advice and help on her remediation efforts, and she'd finally managed to round up almost all of her Freedom City-local teachers and instructors for coffee and a planning meeting at her home. It should've been a good day, but dammit, everybody was singing again.
Stesha hated the singing. It was okay for some people. Ammy was cute as she could possibly be when she'd sung about her breakfast that morning, and until the instrumentals had started, Stesha had thought it was just an adorable preschooler thing. Getting her own backup orchestra had only encouraged Amaryllis, who had proceeded to narrate the rest of her morning, opera-fashion, until Stesha had dropped her off at the creche with her own riff on “So Long, Farewell,” from The Sound of Music. And it wasn't like Stesha didn't like musicals! She did! But she had vivid memories, the sort that hit in the dead of night when she was trying to sleep, just to make her squirm, of the incredibly embarrassing ditty she'd cut loose with last time the singing apocalypse had come to Freedom City. If she could've stapled her own lips shut for the rest of the day or week or however long, she gladly would have.
It didn't seem fair that even leaving the dimension didn't seem to have insulated her from the effects this time. Not only had Ammy been singing (and she might've caught the bug in Freedom City and just brought it home like a cold), but others were singing too. Lots of others. Stesha groaned into her cup of coffee.
“Hey, grumpypants!” Stesha looked up at the address and a nudge on the shoulder from her neighbor on the couch. Allison was teaching the middle grades in Springfield and Homewood this year, and in many ways she was a godsend, when she wasn't being ungodly annoying. Right now Allison was giving her an entirely too knowing grin. “You tuned out on the meeting, no pun intended. Tired out from the big insect production number earlier?” She was completely unfazed by the murderous glare Stesha sent in her direction.
“Oh, is that what that was?” Mika was Ammy's regular teacher at the Homewood creche school, so Stesha knew her better than some of the others. Which made it all too easy to read the amusement on her face. “We heard a lot of buzzing this morning, but there were no alarms, so I thought it was just something going on at the hive. Were you in on that?”
“Yes,” Stesha muttered into her coffee. She'd been grateful to only be in the chorus and providing special effects for the spectacular hive-wide rendition of Imma Bee that had disrupted the bees this morning, till she realized that a large field trip from Springfield was present to watch the entire affair. Whoever was responsible for this, she was going to hunt them down and do really painful things to them.
“It was awesome,” Allison assured the other women, raising her mug in tribute to their host. “The kids haven't stopped talking, sometimes singing, about it all day. But I think we're getting distracted from the reason we've gathered together today.”
“Right, yes, um, that's right.” Candace, the cultural anthropologist-turned-home ec teacher for displaced adults rifled through a stack of notes she had on her lap. “I've got a beginning weaving class starting up in the evenings in Mayberry that's drawing a lot of interest now that we've got most of the wool from the spring shearing spun into something useful. There's a couple of people who already know some weaving who are helping, and I'd like to start a weekend class in Springfield-”
“That's great, but it's not what I meant,” Allison interjected with a wave of her cup. “I'm talking about the oceanographers.”
“What about the oceanographers?” Stesha asked blankly. “I haven't asked them to do any lectures, we don't know anything about their findings.”
“Maybe not, but we did see them when they portaled in yesterday and were checking out their diving gear,” Allison explained. “I believe the technical term is 'yummalicious.'”
“Oh?” Candace asked, raising one interested eyebrow.
“Mm-hmm,” came from Sophie, who taught the creche school at Springfield and was Allison's usual partner in crime. “As an amateur mathematician myself, I have to say that there is a statistically disproportionate number of attractive men in that outfit. Did you catch a look at the lead scientist?”
“I thought he was like sixty,” Mika pointed out skeptically.
“Silver fox,” Allison assured her. “And brains are sexy. PhDee-licious.” Stesha leaned over far enough to thunk her forehead against the coffee table. Allison gave her an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “Come on, boss, we've already talked all the lesson plans over by email, we know what we're going to be doing. You wanted us to socialize, right? We've had our coffee, now how about a little beach trip?”
“The oceanographers are not for ogling,” Stesha protested, not lifting her head from the table. The words came out a little muffled. “We are professionals, we do not think with our hormones-”
“Of course we don't,” Mika told her soothingly. “But we all live here now, and it's not exactly a big community, at least not for those of us who may go back to Freedom City one day. It doesn't hurt to blow off some steam by admiring the visitors.”
“Respectfully,” Candace added.
“Totally respectfully,” Allison agreed. “And don't tell us you couldn't use it too. You haven't done anything but work since Christmas and we all know it. We all appreciate it, god knows, but you need to relax a little, too. There's nothing wrong with having a little fun. You deserve it! Come on...”
Suddenly there was music in the background, an increasingly urgent beat overlaid with single minor chords. “Nooooooo....” Stesha moaned, only to have herself hauled to her feet by Allison and Mika. They were both grinning, enjoying themselves. Clearly they were insane.
“Come on, we're your friends!” Allison encouraged, with Mika offering an enthusiastic and oddly echoey“uh-huh” in the background, “and have we got a trip for you! Come on, overworked boss-lady, and leave the cowl at home!” And then there was singing.
“Temperature is risingJob pressure's finally low,We're marshaling our forcesThe beach is where we'll go
Cause on this day it's just youAnd all of your single friendsFor the first time in months and months,We're gonna meet brainy men!”
By now, all the other women had risen to their feet as well, first humming along, then tapping their feet and swaying to the music. Now, though, everyone except Stesha burst into surprisingly harmonious song. That was one thing Stesha had to give the spell, it made most people sound good. Even when the songs themselves were sheer madness.
“Those brainy men,how we love them,those brainy men, amen!We're gonna go out,We're gonna have us a lookAt someone who could write a book!”
By now tables and chairs had been shoved aside, offering enough room for all the women to gather around Stesha and sing directly to her, smiling and holding out their hands invitingly.
“All right Mother Nature,You're a single woman too!You're building heaven,But that's not all you want to do!Let go of that angerLeave the past behindGet yourself to the ocean shoreWho knows what you might find!
Like brainy men!How we love them,Those brainy men,every specimen!Doctor, teacher, geologist,Smart leads off our sexy list!”
Allison gave Stesha a broad wink at that last one, leaving Stesha blushing furiously. But she couldn't say a damn thing because suddenly she was singing as well, belting out the chorus with everyone else.
“For brainy men!How we love them,those brainy men, amen!Oh brainy men,Hallelujah for brainy men, amen!Those brainy men...”
There was no sign the song was ever going to end without outside intervention or an appropriate fade-out, and Stesha was not sure how long she could cope. With a sign that was maybe just a little bit feigned, she opened a portal in one of her forsythia, large enough for all of them to walk through onto the ruined beaches of Sanctuary. “This is a terrible idea,” she finally managed to say, even as she walked through with Allison's arm around her shoulders and Mika hugging her waist. But maybe it was just a little tiny bit fun as well.
(Music Source: It's Raining Men, by Paul Jabara and Paul Shafer, performed by The Weather Girls, 1982)
The Freedom League Auxiliary meeting was winding down, and Comrade Frost hesitated before speaking out loud. It had been a long hard day for Dimitri - having spent much of his time in consultation with the magical heroes of Freedom to deal with the ongoing damage of the Song Wave, he had come back to report no successes as of yet. But the work was ongoing. If Adrian Eldrich succeeded in bridging the gateway into Hell, they could lead a strike team of magic champions into the Pit to end the Hell War that was causing all this chaos. If, if, if...
He spoke up. "As for our conflict with forces of Hell, it goes with difficulty. We are days away from penetrating defenses of Perdition. And entering gates of Hell will not end struggle but begin it - all of Freedom's magic champions will be needed for this, perhaps our greatest struggle!" He turned to his great antagonist on the team; the dragon princess who warred alongside Gaian Knight. "Given nature of conditions in Hell, non-human allies will be best. Therefore, Lady Tiamat, though we have had differences, I have request of you. I..." Suddenly, from behind him, the guitar music swelled up, and he dropped to one knee before his teammate.
"All I wanna do is see you turn into a giant dragon,A giant dragon!"
The PowerPoint behind him, which had previously showed the layers of infernal protections the magical heroes were working through, suddenly transformed into an image of Tiamat in full dragon form, setting fire to what looked like a medieval castle. Frost put his hand over his cold dead heart and went on singing, going with the rhythm of the song and enjoying a little levity in the moment. Why I sing in English? Must be language of Hell after all!
"All I wanna be is someone who gets to flee a giant dragon.All I wanna do is be burned up with glee by a giant dragon,A giant dragon!All I wanna be is someone who is made so free by a giant dragon."
The PowerPoint behind him kept moving, now showing Tiamat rampaging through a medieval countryside, pursuing one particular knight in frozen armor, one who seemed very bad at evading the flaming projectiles coming from her mouth. Frost spread his arms wide, as if inviting her into his heart. Hah-hah, she probably will not kill me in front of so many witnesses...probably!
"Oh I know it's just my fate and I just can't wait to see some dragon weather.If you give it a chance you can do a mighty dance because you are a giant dragon.You might even like burning up my face like a piece of leather"
He grinned ingeniously, wondering if this would make things awkward with his teammate. Ah well! I suppose they could not make things more awkward than they already are. He finished with a crescendo of music, the gentle guitars playing behind him a soulful commentary on his big, puppy-dog eyes.
"If you hear my plea, I'll be burned to bits by a giant dragon,A giant dragon!All I wanna do is see you turn into a giant dragon..."
His voice trailed off as he realized the song was gone - and he was still on his knees before Lady Tiamat, the rest of the room having been frozen to the spot by the song even if they hadn't actually joined in. He steepled his fingers and spoke, his voice sounding considerably less warm with the song
"Hahhah, well, that was not what I meant to say...maybe we discuss strategy tomorrow?"
SONG SOURCE (Rebecca Sugar "Giant Woman", sung by Zach Callison for Steven Universe.)
Harrier & Jack of all Blades
Steve and Erik hadn’t seen much of each other after Eden’s birth - after all, they both had their jobs and their own homes, and now Erik was busy being a new father. Steve had brought several baby gifts, including what was obviously a homemade chew toy, but hadn’t lingered much in a household with a new baby. Like so many things in life, it made him...unsettled. But for once their schedules were in sync - Min was with the baby and Steve didn’t have a date night with Gina, there was no serious crime in the city tonight and HAX was conducting no late night experiments.
Of course, the city wasn’t entirely free from mystery - the Song Wave had already hit both the dojo and HAX in the last few days, but with the Freedom League and its magical specialists on the case, Steve was willing to let others handle this one. As he pushed open the cracked door of the bar named BAR, he let himself wonder how much he could really help. He was familiar with the idea of contagious waves of emotional distortion - but none as...easy as this. He’d arrived early, since he wasn’t the one who needed to put a baby to bed, so instead he walked up to the bar and declared firmly, “Two Bud Lights.”
It was, after all, an all-American beer. When he had two, he took a seat in a corner and placed his back against the wall, waiting for Erik to arrive. On the television, the sportscaster was just winding down from a song about the “wonderful wonderful Comets!” After a couple of weeks of this, only a few people were staring.
He wasn’t waiting long before the door swung open and Erik pirouetted into the dimly lit establishment, abruptly straightening as the door closed behind him and cut off a down tempo aria on the subject of properly sorting recycling. The lean man tugged on his jacket and coughed self-consciously as he spotted Steve and sauntered over, his ever-present day’s worth of stubble in contrast to his friend’s hairless face.
“Roped into backup dancing,” he muttered by way of explanation, dropping his plain brown jacket on the back of his chair and sitting down with the effortless poise that came from his incessant training. If most of the city’s residents had gone along with the Song Wave with a minimum of fuss and even some amusement, it was clear that it had left Erik with his hackles up. Looking at the label of the open bottle in front of him his expression fell slightly. “Aw, Steve.”
“Is it bad?” Steve inquired seriously, looking at the bottle with concern. “You had said the lime was an insult to your heritage, so I had hoped the plain beer would be less offensive.” The truth was it all tasted largely the same to the former Omegadrone, who largely expressed favorite foods and drinks as a way of establishing social norms. He added, “I know you were not actually insulted by the lime beer, but I wanted you to know I listened to what you said.” He smiled, a faintly awkward look that rarely seemed to quite fit the face, if not the soul, beneath. His friend’s unease was easy enough to read - but it wasn’t something Steve was well-equipped to soothe.
There has been no cannibalism! He slid his hands together on the table in front of him and asked, “How is your family?”
Erik’s frown fell open into a lopsided grin at Steve’s earnestness. It was tough to let minor annoyances slip too far out of perspective around the big, bald man, even if his taste buds seemed to be as absent as his eyebrows. Steve was, plain and simply, a good friend. For someone whose relationships were characterized by good-natured teasing and competition it could still take him by surprise.
“Good, good,” he assured the somber security guard, taking a swig from his bottle. The sooner he finished it the sooner he could buy something else for the next round, after all. “Eden’s getting a kick out of all of this and we spend a lot of time singing to Mia anyway.” If airing millennia worth of emotion in song had been a little more harrowing than he was making it sound, well, that was best kept private. “You and Slugger holding down the fort for Mara alright?”
“Things are well.” Steve drank his beer as if he was trying to bolt it down, tipping his head back in a handful of long swallows. “Once it became clear the current situation is not the product of super-science, the phone calls and unauthorized visitors stopped and Mara and her colleagues were able to go back to work. Except for what Erin called a 'Happy Workers' song, which…” Steve fell silent. “Hmm. I am sure Mara will tell that story. To your sister, if nothing else.” He studied his friend over the rim of the bottle, thinking about how it was he and the sharp-tongued swordsman had become close.
“I never thanked you,” he finally said, setting down the bottle with a faint clink. “For inviting me to be there when your child was born. That carried weight.”
With a glance at Steve’s empty bottle, Erik took a long pull from his own beer. “Well, yeah, man, of course. I mean, I know I don’t usually say this stuff out loud--” Piano music began to swell all around their table leaving him just time to run a hand through his short, dusty brown hair and sigh, “Walked into that one…”
You’ve got a friend in me.
You’ve got a friend in me~
Erik was a passably good singer on a normal day, his smooth, confident inflection lending itself well to melody. With the distractingly sulphur scented magics of the Song Wave behind him it became practically impossible to go out of tune and his words reverberated clear and sweet.
When your armour plates are shed,
And there’s piles of trials stuck in your bald head,
You just remember what smiling Jack said:
Steve, you’ve got a friend in me,
Yeah, you’ve got a friend in me~
Steve patted his friend on the hand reassuringly, then to his surprise broke into song himself - he was only a little familiar with the concept of the duet.
You've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me~
His hairless brow wrinkled slightly - how had they learned to sing together? Oh well - it was just one of the many happy mysteries of Earth-Prime that he was content to live through rather than investigate.
There’s one thing I’d never tell you, guy,
When I see your life,
And all the things inside,
I wish I had more in mine...
You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me!
Steve blinked - well, that had been a revelation he had not intended to make that evening. But from what he’d heard around HAX, the advantage of the Song Wave was that what was said was said - and the singer bore little responsibility for it. Or so he hoped, anyway.
Erik didn’t look surprised by Steve’s lyrical admission, per se, but the was a look of mournful commiseration on his face. Past his loud, boisterous persona the fencer was a deeply empathic person and he was chagrined to realize he hadn’t made it more clear to his literal minded friend exactly where they stood. The remedy for that seemed obvious.
Some other teams might be a little bit smarter than we are,
Charming and well liked too. …maybe.
He continued to sing with a certain nonchalance, gesturing vaguely to the bar around them in a way that was meant to encapsulate the entire community and by extension the Interceptors. Turning back to look Steve in the eye, his mouth quirked up in a grin.
But our table’s got a place for you;
If you want to~
Erik extended his hand across the table, offering it to Steve with a full blown grin and a raised eyebrow.
It’s me and you, guy.
Steve reached out and took Erik’s hand - no, squeezed it almost painfully tight, as tight as the muscles at the corners of his eyes. People in the bar were watching, and one was taking pictures, but by now the Song Wave was familiar enough that most people were letting it go. After all, it might be them tomorrow.
Words failed him at this moment - but the song didn’t.
We all will likely die
In fire however we try
But even though we may not survive
You've got a friend in me.
He actually leaned across the table and clapped Erik on the shoulder, sitting back down with a greatly moved look on his face. As grim as the words might have sounded to Earth-Prime ears, they were among the most sincere praise he could offer. Behind him, the music was beginning to fade, dialing down into silence as if someone were turning some invisible control.
Erik ran a finger under his nose as conversation resumed its natural course, grumbling something about mystical scents that didn’t manage to entirely remove the grin from his face. “I should have outright offered sooner but I wasn’t really sure how you’d feel about joining up with a group,” he admitted, finishing off the last of his beer without complaint. “Glad to have you on board officially, hermano.”
(Music Source: You've Got A Friend In Me by Randy Newman, from the Toy Story soundtrack, 1996)
Another levitating thumbtack drove itself into the massive bulletin board on Kimber’s bedroom wall in the Dutemps building, affixing one end of a piece of pastel coloured yarn to a diagram of an arcane circle. The other end was attached to a set of chants copied out of a borrowed tome with ideas for modification jotted in the margins using gel pen. More bits of yarn created a web of interconnected notes, sketches and computer printouts hanging above stacks of books that had probably already been musty when she was alive.
The phantom herself however in front of the sprawling display with a thumb stuck between her teeth, eyes narrowed as she double-checked her own work intently. With the ‘Song Wave’ washing across the city for the past few days she’d been planning to head out and about invisibly, taking in as many of the impromptu performances as she could find, but inspiration had struck and helped her get past a bit of eldritch algebra that had had her stymied for some time. Now she’d found a groove and wanted to get as much work done on her project as possible.
Lying on the foot of her bed, Avro seemed less convinced that the trade-off was worth it. Kimber didn’t actually use the furniture but the room, so much larger than the one she’d shared with Indira at Claremont, seemed conspicuously empty without a bed. The manticore kitten let out a brassy yawn, scorpion tail flicking back and forth in the air before he hopped to the floor and padded over to stand at her feet expectantly. When she didn’t immediately turn her attention to him he rapped his paw loudly against the hardwood floor. “Mrrrrow?”
Looking down and blinking, the poltergeist smiled as light notes of piano and chimes rose subtly in the background. “Avro?” Smoothly flipping almost upside down in the air she scooped the little beast up in her arms and lifted him up to see her work.
Do you wanna build a soul scythe?It does more than just slay!I never touch things anymoreFloat through the doorIt’s like I’ve gone away~…
Kimber’s beaming smile faltered a bit at that as she hugged her pet a little closer to her chest and studied the strands of translucent blue hair that wafted across her field of vision, held aloft by a wind that wasn’t there. Her gaze unfocused a bit as she bit the corner of her mouth.
I used to have a bodyAnd now I don’t.And though it’s rad how I fly~!
Shifting Avro to the crook of one arm, she reaffixed her smile and gestured dramatically to the bulletin board in a bit of forced cheer.
Do you wanna build a soul scythe?…it kinda has to be a soul scythe.
The young manticore wasn’t convinced by the entertainment value being proposed nor his mistress’ show of positivity and huffed accordingly, giving Kimber a lidded look. The spectre just sighed dramatically.
Setting him down she telekinetically opened the lid to the big antique chest at the foot of the bed and began lifting her collection of treasures out of it. The pieces danced in the air around her, bobbing up and down to the swelling music as she danced midair, picking up energy as she went.
Do you wanna build a soul scythe?I’ve got a sword shard for the blade.I’ve got a silver branch and arm bone, too,An idol to renew,The spellwork’s all handmade~!
Sending the artifacts back into the chest in a flying parade, she slipped through the wall and out into the hallway, belated remembering to open the door for Avro with a wave of her hand. The kitten scampered out after her, claws clicking against the slick floors as he hurried to catch up.
It’s getting kind of lonely,Haunting all these rooms,Just watching them pass me by~
The music following them slowed gently, orchestral strings rising to fore as they moved slowly throughout the reconstructed castle. The structure was big enough that even with the sizeable staff employed in its upkeep it wasn’t hard to go for a while without running into anyone. Lost in thought, Kimber let her smile fade into a small frown, a thin layer of frost trailing behind her.
Yowling plaintively, Avro hopped in the air high enough to sweat at her ethereal ankles. Stopping in her tracks, Kimber lowered herself into a crouch just above the hardwood and scratched behind his ears.
Yes, I know they love me,Indira’s asking where I’ve been.Eve says, "sois courageuse” and I’m trying to,But I’m see-through and blue,Not felt or seen~
The music quieted, just a simple piano carrying the melody as Kimber closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Letting it out again she set her jaw resolutely and reopened her eyes, straightening back up to her full height. The music crescendoed back to its full volume as she declared,
I can’t just live on sorrow,So just wait and see.Here’s what I’m gonna do~…
Shooting spiraling through the air like a flurry caught in a storm’s wind she raced back to her room, a surprised Avro bleating his objection before sprinting after her. Not having to worry about going around inconvenient objects Kimber beat him there and floated again in front of her notes, beaming from ear to ear once again. It was going to work. It had to work.
Do you wanna build a soul scythe?
(Music Source: Do You Want To Build A Snowman by Kristen Bell, Agatha Lee Monn & Katie Lopez from the Frozen soundtrack, 2013)
StormcrowCandy Shop of Horror
It was another unusual day in Freedom City. Isaac was walking down the sidewalk to one of his regular stops, trying to ignore the couple dancing in the street and singing about their relationship troubles. There was no way that was anyone's business but their own. Fortunately he wasn't far from his goal. Just up ahead was the sign covered in mock cobwebs. Then, as he reached for the door a queasy feeling came over him as he began to hear music. With a broad sweeping gesture he beckoned a woman escorting a young boy to enter as he opened the door. Ushering them in he began to sing.
"Boys and girls of every ageWouldn't you like to taste something strange?Come with me and you will seeThis, the Candy Shop Horror."
The pair looked at each other and, the mother seeing the look in the boy's eyes, decided to relent. Together they entered the shop ahead of Isaac. Stepping off the street they stepped into a dimly lit witches's den with frightful thing littering old rickety looking shelves. In the back, behind a counter, a tall thin woman in a black dress and skeleton face makeup stirred a fogy cauldron. Behind the mother and son Isaac continued to sing.
"Isn't this harrowing? Isn't this harrowing?Little kids scream with fright!"
A little girl with big blue eyes and blonde pig tails stood near by. In her hand he held what appeared to be a beating heart, which she happily showed the boy who had just enter. The boy's eyes went wide and he let out a scream, only calming a moment later when he realize it was a candy replica. With a dancing stride Isaac moved deeper into the shop and with his arms spread he made a slow circle.
"Isn't this harrowing? Isn't this harrowing?Everybody let out a scream!"
While Isaac continued to dance in random circles a clerk shelving a fresh catch of creepy candy displayed a few items for all to see. Bug and wriggly things to make you squirm. As the clerk showed off the candy he took a turn singing.
"Tricky treats that'll make your neighbors die of fright.In this ..."
Isaac made a sudden leap towards the clerk and raised his hands in the air.
Promptly after Isaac's interjection the clerk went on."... the Candy Shop Horror."Running a hand over a nearby Isaac plucked up a fist sized tarantula. It looked so real. From it's hairs to it's eight big eyes. Dangling it over the boy's head he wiggled it in the air."Here is the spider dropping on your head,With staring black eyesand fangs glistening bright."
Seeing the spider candy, and realizing, like the heart, that it wasn't real the boy raised his hands above his head to take it. In response Isaac smiled and released his old on the spider, letting it drop into the child's waiting hands. The boy chomped into the arachnid like a vicious little monster feeding on it's victim. Moving on, Isaac stepped up along side the boy's mother and, opening his hand revealed two handfuls of wriggling worms.
"Here are a dozen worms crawling in your bed.Slithering up your fingersand crawling in your hair."
The woman scrunched up her face and eyed the candy wearily only for the strange man in front of her to dance away his arms spread, as if to engulf the entirety of the candy shop.
"Isn't this harrowing? Isn't this harrowing?Harrowing! Harrowing! Harrowing! Harrowing!"
While Isaac danced the clerk who had been placing new horror themed merchandise on the shelves stepped forwards and gestured humble towards the woman stirring the foggy cauldron behind the front counter.
"In this shop we call HorrorEverybody hail to the Skeleton Queen!"
"In this shop ..."The clerk was abruptly interrupted, by a wild haired teenage girl who threw her hands up in the air and shook them."Don't be love it, yeah!"As if summoned by her outcry and wild gesturing a half dozen people leaped out from between isle. Amongst them teens, kids, and adults who sang together jubilantly."Everybody's waiting for the next surprise!"The patrons disappeared back into the isle and Isaac stepped forward. Leaning into the mother and son pair in a conspiratorial fashion he motioned to a counter on the left side of the shop where a obese man was tossing something in what looked like a frying pan."Around that counter man hiding with a frying panbugs and critters tossed in the air ...... and now you'll scream!"On queue the man tossed the candied bugs into the air causing them to rain down on customers. First they screamed in startled surprise. Then they laughed with relief. Isaac caught a couple as he began to dance in a circle again, his arms spread wide as if to engulf the entire store."Isn't this harrowing? Isn't this harrowing?Yellow, orange, and with a slimy sheen."Swooping in at the end of his dance number Isaac went down to one knee in front of the boy he had dragged into the little shop of candied horrors."Aren't you scared?"The kid made a resolved expression and shook his head. Isaac smiled."That's just fine."
Standing Isaac moved around behind the boy. He grasped the child's shoulders and pushed him towards the counter where he drew the boy's attention to piece of laminated cardboard with pictured of a variety of items shown under the counter. The images were arrayed in a circle and at the center of the cardboard was an arrow that spun like a clock. Isaac gave the arrow a flick, and it began to spin over the images.
"Say it once. Say it twice.Take a chance and spin the wheel.Ride it out. Give into the fright."The arrow stopped spinning on the image of a rat, resulting in the boy giving Isaac a questioning look. Then his nose bunched up when the obese man behind the counter opened a sliding panel on his end and scooped up what looked like a handful of rat tails. The boys balked, nose scrunching up as patrons jumped out of the isle and sang."Everybody scream! Everybody scream!In the Candy Shop Horror."
Before the young boy could recover from his confrontation with the candy rat tails Isaac dragged him along to a display to the right where a baboon's head glared out over the room. Unhappy that it had been removed from it's body, perhaps. Standing astride it I grasped hold of the fur atop the baboon's head and pulled, lifting away a section of the skull to reveal marshmallow sculpted into the likeness of a a monkey's brain.
"This is the monkey with a tear away skull.Look inside and take a taste."
The boy's curiosity compelled him to look. But on seeing the brains he shied away and began to look towards his mother when Isaac sang on encouragingly.
"Who is the 'who' in 'who dares'?Don't think twice. Don't give it a care."While the youth was mustering his resolve Isaac danced away to his mother who had begun to look at some of the shop's ware. Stepping up along side her he help up a box. It was a classic shape seen on Valentine's day carrying chocolate treats. But when Isaac opened it up, there were fingers!"A perfect gift for a moon lit nightOh, how your love'll scream with fright."Voices came from the isles as Isaac spun away and danced across the room.
"Isn't this harrowing? Isn't this harrowing?Harrowing! Harrowing! Harrowing! Harrowing! Harrowing! Harrowing!"
At the end of the chorus Isaac spun then waved a hand over and expand of malevolent looking treats on one shelf.
"Sour morsels everywhereLifes no fun without a good scare.That's their job but they're not mean.In the Candy Shop Horror."
A familiar clerk who had been shelving twisted treats earlier paused in ferrying goods from one place to another and began to sing."In this shop ..."The clerk was abruptly interrupted, by the same wild haired teenage girl. As before she threw her hands up in the air and shook them."Don't be love it, yeah!"On queue her outcry and wild gesturing called forth a half dozen people who leaped out from between isle. Teens, kids, and adults all exclaimed together jubilantly."Everybody's waiting for the next surprise!"As if in warning Isaac came in, and with the back of his hand pressed to the side of his lips he whispered loudly in conspiratorial fashion."Skeleton Sally might catch you in the back and scream like a banshee.Make you jump out of your skin!"Raising his voice anew Isaac began to dance in a large circle, arms spread out wide."Isn't this harrowing? Isn't this harrowing?Everybody scream!"At that exclamation Isaac jumped at the mother and son pairing, who had rejoined on another near the counters. They jerked back startled, but make no further action. Instead they watched and listened to the madness around them. Isaac stepped to the side in time for the obese man and the clerk to begin singing together.
"Won't you make way for a very special gal?Skeleton Sally is the Queen of the candy shop.Everyone hail to the Skeleton Queen now."At the same time the two men motioned to the silent skull faced woman. As they dig she stepped out from behind the counter with cauldron and ladle in hand. Children sprang out from the isle and began to gather around her at the center of the shop's floor. The flock of youngers danced around the middle aged woman with a bizarre mirth.
"Isn't this harrowing? Isn't this harrowing?Harrowing! Harrowing! Harrowing! Harrowing!"The chorus ended. The dancing stopped. A boy and a girl stepped forward. Together they sung a short verse. Their small voices, and the music, the only sounds in the shop.
"In the candy shop we call HorrorEveryone hail to the Skeleton Queen."
All the patrons erupted into song them. All except Isaac who was skirting the perimeter of the shop collecting various candies. Like a thief exploiting a distraction. Meanwhile at the center of the room Skeleton Sally was scooping up jellied slime and pouring it into the our reached hands of singing children.
"La la la la. Lala la lalala ..."
The la-la-laing went of for a minute before children began enjoying their slime, shop employees returned to their duties, and Isaac stepped up to the counter to make his purchase. All as if nothing had happened. After handing over the money to Skeleton Sally she gave him a wicked smile.
"Have a spooky day."
(Music Source: This is Halloween Marilyn Manson's version of 'This Is Halloween' for the re-release of the film in Disney Digital 3-D and 2-Disc Special Edition Soundtrack)
They’ll Sing Songs About You…
Kyle Steward liked to think that, after close to a month of living on Citadel five days out of seven, he had gotten used to the weirder details of the planet. He’d gotten used to ochre rain tailored particularly to nurture certain plants in this biome. He’d gotten used to species with too many eyes and not enough torsos. He’d gotten used to every sort of alien cuisine served in the canteen (at least, the ones with the proper molecular chirality).
The singing, however…
To be fair, this had been a relatively recent occurrence. Over the past few days, the normally staid order of the Star Knight homeworld had been disrupted by choruses, war ballads, eight-octave operas, and throat singing. Strangely, a number of the songs didn’t seem to be linked to the cultures of the singers – Kyle had sworn he’d heard someone singing to the tune of “Thunder Road,” but in perfect Lor-Van.
“There any update on the source of this?” Kyle asked into his head set.
“Nothing conclusive, Sri Steward,” said Mentor. “Current theories indicate a potential metaphysical disturbance, altering the metamorphic patterns of the universe. As such, new instincts and aptitudes are being written into various species, in keeping with general principles of the collective unconscious.”
“So… magic’s turning into an Intergalactic Idol contestant.” Kyle had to admit – after everything that had happened in the last few months, he’d happily take this over other existential threats. “It’s not making anyone act too stupid, right? No one’s breaking away from, say, bomb defusal to deliver a showstopper?”
“Those who sing seem aware of and fully able to interact with their surroundings, should the survival urge require it. They merely do so while singing.”
“Whistle while you work.” He cut it off like a cliff’s face, lest he go down that road. “All right, as long as it’s not going to turn into armies of well-armed chorus lines demanding we coordinate or die, I’m going to focus on what’s needed here.”
What was needed was, as always, another training course for the new cadets. They were coming in by the dozens these days, aiming to fill the hole left by the Communion’s push. Many of them were greener than Kyle’s armor, while others had a story to be told in scars. But that didn’t matter. He could handle being a teacher.
What he couldn’t handle was being a respected teacher. And it wasn’t just the cadets – he heard it when he walked through the city, when he picked up a drink in the canteen, when he did maneuvers over the city. He was the one who’d led the blockade at Lor-Van. He was the one who’d crippled Communion operations in the heart of the Khanate. He had been there when the world-killer was destroyed. He had become a shining example of the daring and determination of the Star Knights.
And all it reminded him of why there were relatively few Star Knights these days. And the strange luck that made him stand out by comparison.
He shoved it into the back of his head as he touched down at the landing pad, looking over a crowd of cadets that still seemed to be adjusting to the fit of their armors. “All right, class,” he said, “today is basic flying maneuvers. You’ve currently got a suit of equal parts composite matter and alternating frequency energy. Flight is a matter of equal parts gravity, electromagnetism, and applied kinetics. If you know how to apply them right, you’ll soar like a dart; if you don’t, you’re either a sitting duck or pancaked against the side of a building. So, our first exercise –“
“Did you hear he has his own call sign?”
He heard it on a back channel of his comms unit. Someone had been clever enough to hack the system to allow a private channel, but not clever enough to ensure he couldn’t tune in.
“I thought it was ‘Sri’ for everyone.”
“Yes, but he’s got another name, too. ‘Cavalier.’ They say it’s because of everything he did during the Coalition effort.”
“I thought it was because his planet has two Star Knights.”
“Velon had five Star Knights back in the day, and they all went by ‘Sri..’ No, he’s gotta--"
“Is there something you’d like to share with the class?"
Kyle had finally decided to speak up. Someone with red skin and four compound eyes, from around the middle of the crowd, looked forward. She stepped forward, somewhat contrite, somewhat humbled. “It’s just… well, sir…”
“Please. Don’t. I’m a Star Knight. Like anyone else here. Like any of you.”
“Yes, but… well, it’s everything we’ve heard…”
“Could be done by anyone brave, daring, blind, or stupid enough to charge into the heart of danger. And all of those terms applied at one time or another. You’re here to learn the difference between all of those qualifiers. Not to polish boots.” Realizing just how hard he’d been, and how much this was biting at him, Kyle decided he needed a second. “Take two. When that’s done, we’ll take to the sky.”
Kyle turned, taking a breath as the rest of the squad broke into conversation. He tried to turn inward, but of course, there was a fair bit of talk about him.
“…bit of a hard-ass…”
“Can you blame him? All of that…”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think the Communion shoved a rock all the way up him.”
“Didn’t you hear? There’s so much about him…”
There was an electronic piping coming over his headset. For a second, Kyle thought it was some sort of Morse code. Then he felt ice water flood into him when he realized what it was – a backing track.
“From Gruen Prime to Sol
From Lor space to Khanate control
From Tempest’s burning lights
To Farside City’s shining heights”
Kyle realized that the eyes of the entire squad were on him. They weren’t staring at him, though. Their eyes were shining with adulation. And they were singing.
“There are raging Jerreids with iron jaws
Arrogant Graleens who see all the flaws
But one hand serves to brush away the dark”
He couldn’t believe he was hearing this. This had to be a joke.
“For no matter what fate’s foretold
No matter what creed you hold
You can fight like a Broan
Race like a deer
But you’ll never be braver than the Cavalier”
There was a time he might have appreciated a bunch of squaddies singing him praises. This really wasn’t that time. If this was part of the singing outbreak that Mentor was talking about, then trying to intervene would just make things worse. For one thing, it might get louder.
“Okay, guys,” he said, “I understand what you’re trying to do. So I think it’s best if we take five.” Kyle clicked his thrusters into gear and took off, leaving the cadets to continue singing. For a few seconds, there was peace. Then…
“From Earth to Citadel
Everyone thinks they can give him hell
From the core to the Cloud
Big guys want to take him down“
It was piping through his headset now. It wasn’t Mentor singing – which would have been a thing to hear – but it was different Knights, all across Citadel, piping in at different points in the song.
“Grue intelligence reaches across the ‘verse
Lacking in wisdom, and the spirit’s worse
But there’s one man who stands out all alone
But you’ll never be braver than the Cavalier"
He raced up into the sky, trying to get some space to clear his head – but the song seemed to keep following him.
“You’ll never be braver than the Cavalier
You’ll never be braver than the Cavalier
You’ll never be braver than the Cavalier”
Finally, the song fell away. Or ended. He couldn’t really tell. He was up high, looking down at the patchwork beauty of Citadel. All he had was the thin atmosphere and his thoughts.
And something worming its way through his head.
This duty’s taken me far away
Far away from the memories
Of the planet I thought was my real life
A Star Knight
I’ve been one hell of a Star Knight
I’m just not sure it’s my right
Or if I can just go home anymore…”
Song Selections: "Commander Shepard" by Miracle of Sound, "Starlight" by Muse
Golden Age Adventurer’s Song
Even with the truck parked inside the warehouse and the loading bay door shut behind them the musclebound man with the bleach blond crewcut couldn’t shake the feeling of someone watching him. Paulie and the boys had done exactly as they’d been instructed and retrieved the newest shipment from their ‘out of town’ supplier and even if the creepy little guy made his skin crawl the whole thing had gone off without a hitch. As they’d left the meeting place, however, the hairs on the back of his neck had started to stand up and his nerves hadn’t calmed down since.
The rest of the boys quickly unloaded the truck and added the new crates to the stacks already filling a good portion of the warehouse when a draft drew Paulie’s attention upward. The skylight on the far end of the cavernous room was just slightly ajar, just enough for someone to have slipped through. The arms dealer opened his mouth to raise the alarm and every light in the warehouse abruptly winked out, leaving them in completely darkness.
A beat later a single fluorescent blinked back on, creating a spotlight in the centre of the room. Standing there was a figure clad in light devouring black from head to toe, topped with a black fedora and a blank void where his face should have been, broken only by a pair of red eyes that glowed like coal in a fire. Inky smoke roiled about his feet and in the stunned silence of the warehouse the only sound was the faint creaking of his gloves as he clenched his hands into fists. Despite the darkness surrounding him he looked directly into the blond man’s eyes.
“G-get him!” Paulie finally managed to sputter and the three of his men closest to the intruder rushed forward. Unbelievably, in the second before they reached the edge of the spotlight the mysterious masked man began to sing in a deep, resonant baritone:
I am the very model of a Golden Age Adventurer;I’ve martial strikes to vertebra, diaphragm and jugular~
He matched deed to lyric as his hands shot out to deliver blows faster than the eye could follow, sending the first of his attackers to the cold floor with a nerve strike to the spine before sidestepping an attempted tackle and countering with a rising knee to the stomach. The third gunrunner tok a punch to the throat with enough force to send him falling backward with a retching noise.
The rest of the boys were perhaps braver than they were smart and hurried to follow after their fallen comrades. The masked man almost toyed with them, taking them down one by one as he continued to sing, the echoes of the warehouse giving the jaunty song a terrible reverberation.
I know kingpins of felons and I quote records of pilferers;From murder one to jaywalking: judge, jury, executioner~
Showing the reason he was in charge, Paulie didn’t waste time watching to see if his men could take down the intruder with sheer numbers; the conclusion was obviously foregone. Instead he sprinted over to the new shipment, scooping up a crowbar as he went. The wooden lid gave way easily enough to reveal a stack of glimmering green metal with just enough in common with a mundane machine gun to be recognizable as a firearm.
Grabbing up the sleek weapon and pausing only to check that it had a full charge, he whirled around to the man in the spot light and with a roar began unloading a flurry of red hot darts of plasma. The masked figure rolled under the first volley and began leaping from one stack of crates to another, the lights in the warehouse flicking off and on to follow him as he continued to evade the assault.
I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters most peculiar;I understand dimensions parallel, perpendicular;Across alternate timelines, ethics or gender reverse~…
He stopped suddenly, crouching atop the newest stack of crates and putting a hand to his chin as though considering his next rhyme. Gritting his teeth, Paulie lined up a final shot only for the other man’s hand to grab something from a sheathe near his boot and fling it forward. The black escrima stick lodged perfectly in the rifle’s gaping muzzle just in time to cause a blowback that destroyed the weapon and sent Paulie scrambling backward with burned fingers.
With many dire warnings about the ending of the multiverse~
The groaning thugs scattered about the floor spoke up in unison, forming a chorus that rang out as the black clad man advanced slowly on their ringleader.
With many dire warnings about the ending of the multiverse!With many dire warnings about the ending of the multiverse!With many dire warnings about the ending of the multiverse~!
With the last syllable they collapsed as one back to the warehouse floor, unconscious. Paulie didn’t know what was going on and he was well past the point of caring. With a desperate shove he toppled over the crates between him and his pursuer, giving him just enough time to sprint to the truck and dive into the driver’s seat. Slamming his foot down on the the gas he reversed, crashing through the flimsy metal of the loading bay door and racing out onto the street with a screech of protesting rubber.
Grimacing as his injured fingers grasped the steering wheel, Paulie checked the rearview mirror. Horrifyingly, there was the masked man, riding atop a glossy black motorcycle with deep crimson wings painted on either side, the street lights above him turning off and on in sequence to continue spotlighting him as he quickly gained on the much slower truck. Against all reason, his singing continued, as clear to the arms dealer as if he had been sitting right next to him.
I’ve very good at mechanics and automotive retrofits,Furion intelligences rework them for my benefit~
The motorcycle pulled up just ahead of the truck with ease and something glinting faintly in the street lamp’s light dropped from a compartment on its rear. Paulie didn’t have time to even think of reacting before his front tires tore themselves to shred on the caltrops and the truck was sent swerving uncontrollably to collide with a fire hydrant. With no seatbelt on the driver was sent flying painfully forward into an airbag, his vision swimming as he struggled to remain conscious.
The last thing he saw before darkness overtook him was the masked man hauling him out of the wreck and lying him down on the pavement, looming over him with those terrible red eyes. Even as coherent thought deserted him, that baritone voice filled his ears.
In short, to lament of dictator, autocrat and emperor;I am the very model of a Golden Age adventurer.
(Music Source: Major-General's Song from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, 1879)
The Voidrunners had been tracking a crew of hijackers for a week now. They stole ships by pretending to be shipwrecked. Then after boarding their would be helpers the crew seized the ship. Sometimes they left the crew live for a ransom. But, usually a spacer wasn't worth as much the parts they were going to scrap so the results were a bit messier.
It seemed only fitting to take them down with a similar set-up. Slowly approaching what appeared to a massive junker of a ship holed comfortably in an asteroid field they were hit with a communication request. "This is Captain Krik of the Aurelius. To any who receive my emergency broadcast our ship was attacked by pirates. We were able to fend them off. But, our ship...it can't fly anymore. We're just floating in the black now running low on supplies. Please, if you receive this message send help before it's too late."
Ruby answered the message, under the guise of being a two person shipping crew, and offering to help with repairs on the Aurelius. Their bounties had successfully seized anything ranging from simple transport ships to large military crafts before. So the Voidrunners knew they had to be on alert. A three pronged assault. Roulette would stay behind to defend the Voidrunner (and their child passenger) from any boarders. Bliss was to float out using a space suit and sneak onto the large craft in the depths of space. Whereas Ruby would take the direct path boarding and talking all official like.
Thirty minutes into their plan the Voidrunner's scanner detected three teleport frequencies from multiple boarding parties. That was part of the plan. What wasn't part of the plan was for Roulette to begin to bursting into song as soon as the ship's alarm systems started blaring off.
"Impertinent spacers, lives on the lineAssaulted time after time, by those with no spineEvery plan seems to end in a brawlGovernments say they should just bugger all."
Roulette made his way from the bridge towards the cargo hold. Slowly creeping, for what it was worth after singing his way down the corridor. As soon as he turned into the hold he was greeted by the a scattershot of blaster fire. Poorly aimed for what it was worth, due to the fact that the five grey space suited hijackers were firing while performing a highly complicated dance routine at the same time. Roulette had no such considerations. Firing an optic blast directly into the center of the group and ricocheting it off all their bodies to take down the first group before running off towards the source of another teleport signal. Bursting back into deep, bellowing, song along the way once more
"But all we ever wanted was freedom to sayLeave us alone, let us live our way
Hard luck spacers, can't you see?Gotta fly, fly, fly to truly be freeHard luck spacers, one and threeGotta fly, fly, fly, through that black seaTo catch another detainee, catch another detainee"
Making his way to the engine room he found another quintet messing around. They were examining the shambles of the ship's propulsion system. Held together by four people who had proved themselves the furthest things from professional engineers. Roulette's boots made a creaking sound as he came closer. The engine was rickety, questionably held together, and far too volatile for either party to begin blasting unless they were positive they weren't going to miss. Such knowledge brought a moment a hesitation for the hijackers, taking a second longer than they could afford to draw their blasters, when Roulette took his shot. He didn't miss.
"Chic visor and a fast craftStolen Lor suit, better watch out for my blastNever liked to brawl, but I knew I sure couldGoing through life hustling, now I makes good
But all I ever desired was a life of grandeurBecause out in the Khanate, no one cares about the poor"
The third frequency was in the common area. Which meant by now the hijackers in the area had seen the various bounty posters the crew had collected. Perhaps they even suspected that it was a trap at this point. It didn't really matter. By now Bliss and Ruby had ran rampant through the hijacker's ship. Whistling along to the tune of the song at this point the Zultasian was no longer fighting the random burst of song. This group was well prepared laying down cover fire to try and stop Roulette. But he bobbed and rolled between shots. Practically dancing as he blasted the hijackers one by one.
"Hard luck spacers, can't you see?Gotta fly, fly, fly to truly be freeHard luck spacers, one and threeGotta fly, fly, fly, through that black seaTo catch another detainee, catch another detainee
Diving into danger once more, scaring the criminals out of their shroudsLiving life on the edge high above the cloudsIf I stop moving I'll soon be dead, every head has quite the priceSo if you want to leave with yours make sure to heed my advice
Claw, scream, and judge, but no matter what they sayI'll be impertinent until my dying day"
It was an ill timed lyric as the ship's alarm blared again. Before Roulette could figure out where the latest teleporting signal was boarding, he was hit by a well placed blaster shot. Right in the center of the Zultasian's back. Dropping to the ground, Roulette turned around to see a large purple lizard like being. It was holding a large rifle and slowly making it's way toward Roulette. Rifle pointed squarely at the purple man's head.
Being so focused on Roulette, the lizard man didn't notice the small youth sneaking up behind him. However, he sure felt the loud thud as a steel pipe introduced itself to the back of his skull. This time it wasn't Roulette who picked the song back up, but the stray Bliss had picked up during their travels.
"Hard luck spacers, can't you see?Well, we got no cause but we wanna be freeHard luck spacers, you and meGotta fly, fly, fly through that black sea"
The boy extended his hand to help Roulette up. Before together they closed out the song.
Hard luck spacers, can't you see?Gotta fly, fly, fly to truly be freeHard luck spacers, we're more than threeGotta fly, fly, fly, through that black seaTo catch another detainee, catch another detainee"
At this point Roulette was half positive something they ate had to have been drugged with some sort of psychoactive compound. They were definitely not shopping at that market again. One musical was enough. The pair stepped forward and Roulette found himself almost doubling over in pain Roulette groaned. "Okay, okay, enough of that med bay. Med bay!"
(Music Source: Hard Luck Hero by Krokus, Change of Address 1986)
Cho Paige Lee/Rampart
July 1st, Some unimportant country in a civil war...
It didn't matter which country it was. It didn't matter to this particular story, the final story of Cho Paige Lee and how she came to put aside this foolish hope of ever being a hero. She had spent the last months or so trying to find her teammates in the World Youth Rescue Movement, or WYRM. Alongside Racer Konchu, Magmatic and Felipe she had tracked down the other members to that country, forsaken by the rest of the world, stuck in a civil war. There Saboteur, Brainclay and Bestia Diablo awaited.
In the ravaged streets, Cho walked up to Bestia, while the other members of the once-united team waited on the sidelines. The team had been fractured. It was now a battle of ideologies, with one side represented by Cho and the other Bestia.
"Cho. Why are you here?" Bestia said, looking tense and ready to fight. Her hands had moprhed into claws.
"You know damn well why I'm here."
"Probably. So, you're going to stop me from actually making a change. Isn't that what you wanted? Isn't that what you signed for? Making the world a better place!"
"Not like that."
"There's no other way. You know that."
"Maybe. We'll see. But...why?" Cho clenched her fists, entropic energy spiraling out of them in red and orange crackles. "Why?"
The sad piano begin to play. The music start.
"I’m trying to understand. They told me you all had been killed.
Yet, here you stands in the very shadow of the thing I came here to destroy."
“You came here to avenge our deaths. You came here to reunite the team.
You see now, you cannot do both.”
Cho's eyes raised to meet her former comrade. Bestia met her stare, held it for only a second and turned hier attention to the bloodthirsty crowd.
"Tell me now. Is there a believer in here?
Is there no one who will stand up and believe?
Tell me Man, is there not one in all your ranks? Is there not one who still believe in them?"
“I looked to them once. And once so did you. Do you understand now?
Do you see that the truth is they don't want to change this?
They don't want to save them. They just want to be great, a statue to raise.”
“I've given everything I can. There are no heroes left in man.So it begins!”
“No matter which one of us lives, the ground we're standing on will crack and blow away.
And you will fight. But when you fight, you'll fight alone. And in the end you'll see that you were all wrong.”
“I've been here before. I've stood where you stand.
They called me their hero, called me superhero. But why should we be like them
when they stand only for themselves? If they deserve the title LET THEM EARN IT FOR THEMSELVES”
“We've given everything we can. There are no heroes left in man.
They'll let you die to save their face. They will not stand here by your side.”
“We've given everything we can. There are no heroes left in man. So let them watch as we decide the very fate of all mankind!”
Bestia stopped, looking at the crowd. People used to believe in heroes, superhuman saviors to right all wrongs. But was it that decided what was right and what was wrong? And where were these heroes when these people had suffered? Busy in their shining city, raising monuments to their own glory, static displays of their heroism for all to see, never changing anything in order to ensure the world would remain as it is so their existence would be justified. After all; if the heroes actually won, then they wouldn't need to exist. And with no reason to exist what would fuel their ego and delusions, then?
Cho also felt that way but she wasn't willing to admit it. If only because of Bestia and the other's methods. The world still needed heroes, after all. Or did it, really? Who was it that judged who was a hero? Cho and Bestia stare at each others, ready to move at any time. If this fight erupt, it will be bloody and horrific beyond all imagination.
“I will not fight you. (You have no choice.)
I'll stand beside you. (I don’t want to.)
You can still be a hero. (Not like them)
This cannot be the only way! (You will see.)”
“They don't deserve this. (When this is through,)
Now more than ever, (‘Heroes’ will fall.)
We can change them (They won’t change)”
“They know no better. (They fully know)
They’re doing their best (Best for who?)
Even now they can help end this (Your stupid words!)”
“I still believe in you. (You still believes?)
My heart was broken. (Your only weakness.)
My greatest strength! (Now we shall see)
You are not evil. (if they will change)
You are not insane. (for the better of all)
We both know they'll never change!”
The words slipped out of Cho's mouth. She knew Bestia was right. Nothing would ever change them. They would never do anything to actually help change the world. They would even go as far as to hunt her down and brand her a 'villain' to make sure they would look clean. But at the same time, there was no way Cho was willing to break the world to 'save it'. Surely there was another way. Surely, this whole hero gig had not been a lie, right?
“You finally get it.
There are no heroes.
Only villains pretending”
Bestia yelled at the crowd and Cho:
“They are not heroes! They are not saviors! They will hurt you because they’re only doing it for themselves!”
The crowd begin to chant like a choir:
"Destroy her!/You can end this/Destroy her/You're our only hope!
KILL RAMPART/KILL BESTIA!"
Screaming in rage and frustration at their misunderstanding, Cho and Bestia charged each others. Cho's terminus-infused fist connected to Bestia's morphed animalistic face, while her sharp claws plunged into Cho's body. The rest of the WYRM looked in horror as the two began fighting, screaming in anger all the way. Bestia screaming how Cho and herself had been a fool, that the so-called heroes had misled them. Cho screaming there HAD to be another way, that surely things could be changed. But she knew that they would never change.
No one saw the final blows. The light was blinding. The crash was deafening. The two former friends stood feet apart. Both in pain. Only Bestia fell. Her knees hit the ground. Before she could fall any further Cho was at her side. The former comrades embraced. Bestia was dying. Nothing could stop that now. Bestia looked up through strained eyes and tried to speak. At first nothing came. Summoning all her remaining strength,Bestia whispered these words into Cho's ears:
"If these people...tell this story...to their children...as they sleep...maybe someday...they'll see a Hero...is just someone...who think he's somehow doing something right."
Bestia was dead.Cho finally understood: There were never any heroes.
Music: Protomen The Stand (Man or Machine) and Protomen Sons of Fate
Defense Against the Dark Arts
So far, it hadn't gone half bad. Nick wasn't sure what to expect when Grimalkin had approached him about a guest lecture spot at Silberman's; she'd been trying to get a number of different nights going there, from poetry slams to "So you want to learn about the occult" lectures. The crowd was somewhat sparse - even in a city like Freedom, which was ankle deep in the supernatural even on a boring day, there weren't many people who wanted to dive in with both hands. But the crowd was rapt, and Nick had managed to assemble enough interesting material on the nature of necromancy to be educational without being didactic.
"...the binding is classically associated with necromancy - when the term came into popular use, it was believed sorcerers would use the art to summon the dead, bind them in place, and poke them with sticks until they coughed up info on the past or the future. Such bindings usually involved some sort of sacramental or blasphemous item, and were usually meant for short incarcerations --"
"How would we know what one looks like?"
Nick paused as someone spoke from the back. He was a mousy kid - he'd place him at 16 - who looked like he'd fallen through a Hot Topic at high speed and grabbed what he could. Nick studied him for a second before venturing forward. "There are a number of texts on old practices of necromancy, but they're usually all written from the perspective of nutbags. I'd say it's more like pornography - if you see it, you know what you're looking at. Now --"
"What are the names of the books? If they manage to pull it off, they couldn't have been that nutty, right?"
Ah. There was the red flag. Nick looked down the podium at the kid. "Look," he said, "I know how it is. You know this is out here, and you want to know how to master it. Everyone who's young, daring, and tuned in does. But sometimes, you have to know where to draw the line."
"How can I know that if no one's even gonna tell me where it is?"
The kind of thinking that led to newbies cracking open the Necronomicon and having their brain dribble out their ears. "Magic is not like a chemistry lab," he said. "There's not always going to be a shutoff switch, and you rarely get a supervisor who can rush in with a fire extinguisher. There are a lot of hard lessons to learn from workings gone wrong..."
Before he could craft the rest of his argument, he heard a drum line in the back of his head. The reactions of the others in the audience showed that he wasn't the only one. As the guitar kicked in, an old incident kicked back into his memory. Oh, man. This again?
“Alicia got with Holden, Holden got with Fred
He was holding Holden’s outlook on the topic of the dead
Mary was a tough Goth chick and Bobby loved his heresy
They were all in love with dark arts, they were doing them in Jersey.Alex called up restless dead and bound them to a sword
Well he should have crafted better chains, he’s answ’ring to the Lord
Everyone wants a draught of death to take into their soul
But it always burns like acid, leaving a ragged hole."
Nick kicked out from the podium, doing a slinking dance across the stage as slides appeared out of thin air behind him. He didn't even have a projector - or a screen. And the slides were... well, to be delicate, they were illustrative of the points he'd been making.
" I don’t mind the Fates at times, the wonders that they show
There are ashes fresh upon my skin and some grave dirt in my clothes
Frankincense and funeral wreaths and softly-spoke omens
You never know just how it looks ‘til right before it ends"
He slid back into place by the podium, trying to regain composure - and swiftly losing it.
"Some will die in blind glory while trying to beat the Reaper
Some will die clutching their sheets as the end comes creeping nearer
Some will burn their hearts away trying to keep their soul
Which goes flying out the brittle husk, leaving a ragged hole"
The air temperature in Silberman's dropped 10 degrees in a few seconds - the classical cold spot, all over. The song was kicking higher, and so was the spectral backing behind it.
"I don’t mind the Fates at times, the wonders that they show
You never know how it all looks ‘til right before it ends"
To the surprise of the crowd - and, at that, the surprise of Nick - a number of ghosts came walking into Silberman's, mainly through the walls and floor. They all looked like their ends hadn't really been pleasant, and they were softly swaying to the song.
"Jenny got her head tore off while trying to bind an imp
Paulie got beat down by wraiths, left with a nasty limp
Then there was the spectral killer hunting without mercy
They were all in love with dark arts, they were doing them in Jersey
Lex wanted eternal life and tried to prove his worth
Now he’s bound into an amulet, buried deep within the earth
But it always burns like acid, leaving a bitter hole"
The very air turned turbulent, as the movement of the ghosts sent force rippling through the air - not enough to topple shelves or knock over chairs, but enough to create the impression of a strong wind. Nick found himself waltzing through the blank space in the seating arrangement, ready for the show stopper.
Frankincense and funeral-wreaths and softly-spoke omens
You never know how it all looks ‘til right before it ends”
The ghosts all rose into the air, moaning in time to the guitar riffs. Nick hit his knees, beyond his own control, as the spectres blew out of existence in a flash of pale flame. As the guitars died down, he felt his senses fully return - and saw everyone in the crowd, especially the mousy boy, staring at him with shock.
Oh, yeah. I'm not being invited back.
Song: "Pepper" by the Butthole Surfers
“Is that really the kind of thing people want to see on the street tonight?”
The question still rung in Joe’s head as he leapt across the roofs of Southside. Tensions had been high recently, and for good reason. The issues that seemed endemic in other cities were much more muted here – good relations between the local PD and the citizens were open and honest, and even Joe wasn’t exactly one to lift high the banner of “ACAB.” But there was always somebody waiting to set off a powder keg – and these days, it didn’t even have to go off right next to you. White Knight had decided to go on one of his little hate tours again, torching a historic meeting hall in Roanoke. Several people – most of them black – had been gravely wounded in the attack, and the bastard himself had escaped custody. And with his attack digging up the spectre of American racism once more, his goddamn fan club, the Crusaders, were taking to the streets to “agitate” and draw attention to “the greater problem of black-on-white crime.”
They try anything, they’ll see what white-on-white looks like. That hadn’t been what rankled Joe, though. Dealing with racist assholes with more misspelled tattoos than brain cells was second nature. But just when he’d been starting patrol, a journalist from out of town had flagged him down. She was with one of those YouTube channels dedicated to getting a second look at the world.
“They’re pricks,” he’d said. “Always been pricks, always will be pricks. Always trying to make the real problems about their crusade. We need to show them the city doesn’t belong to them, and we’re not gonna buy what they’re selling.”
“Your record of going against these guys is ironclad. I was just wondering why that is.”
"Because they're pricks. Thought I made that clear."
“Yes, you did. It’s just… the iconography of your costume. The clothes, the colors, the patch --”
“Yeah, I know who I am. So does the city.”
“Are you doing this because of who they are, or because of who you are?”
“I don’t really --”
“You’ve been vocal about trying to improve the image of skinheads across the city. Would you say that’s been a guiding focus of your career as a superhero?”
He could see where this was going. “What I’ve been doing is trying to make this city a better place for everyone,” he said. “And I mean everyone. If I do it while wearing this, and that makes things better for kids in the scene, then that’s a good side effect.”
“But it’s the matching of the iconography. This city’s long had a problem with the white power crowd, and certain imagery – and clothing – is associated with that. On top of that, you’ve spoken on the helmet as a tribute to Legionnaire. Are you sure about marrying the image of someone like that to this particular subculture?”
Cannonade raised his hand. “Look,” he said, “I meant what I said. If you’re trying to get me in a ‘gotcha’ here --”
The journalist lowered her camera. “This isn’t about making you look like an ass,” she said. “I’m just trying to get you to understand. People here are starting to see you as the face of the fight against Freedom’s Nazis. You’re doing good work.”
“Sensing a big ‘but’ here…”
“It’s not just you. With White Knight doing his stuff for years, lots of people on the streets of his city learn to walk the other way when they see someone dressed like you. You may have made it a little better… but there’s a lot of us who don’t have time to learn the plumage of skins, figuring out which ones might not kick our heads in.”
“This isn’t about me. It was never about me. I just wanted to make the best city for everyone. And if that happens to include the people I run with--”
“I think the question is, how much is for us… and how much is for them?”
It had gone better after that, but the question did ring around Cannonade’s head for most of the night. He thought he’d been standing behind a banner he believed in – and he still did. But what did waving that flag mean? Had he really made it about – God, he hated thinking this – “not all skinheads”? Was he really hogging the spotlight for his own concern, instead of trying to push for a more unified city?
The shouting distracted him from his reverie. No, not shouting – singing. He headed towards it. Down on the street, a bunch of Crusaders had been staging a protest – which, given their tactics, likely meant hurling racist abuse at others in classic “not touching you” style. And, in turn, a group of counter-protesters had formed to stare them down. But then it had turned into singing. The Crusaders were singing something by Skrewdriver – it’s always ****ing Skrewdriver – and the counterprotesters were singing something that sounded like “La Internationale.”
He touched down on the street, watching – and as he did, both songs came to a stirring close. But there wasn’t time for cheers. He was getting plenty of stinkeyes from the Crusaders, and…
Was he imaging it, or was he getting stinkeyes from some of the counterprotesters? One of them, the guy right at the front holding the microphone, seemed to be giving him both barrels. Was he just being paranoid?
I didn’t do this for me, he wanted to say. I wanted to do this for everyone. Did I **** it up? How can I make it better?
He didn’t say it. Instead, he heard drums and pipes roaring in his head. And soon, the words came surging out of him.
“You gotta keep your own push ‘gainst the bastards
No one else is gonna light the spark
You gotta set up you own bonfire
Before you can strike out against the dark
But if you keep to your fight, no other
You’re gonna get driven down alone
So stand up, sister and brother
And show that together, you’re harder than stone
It’s all our fight
We all got our own blades to bear
Our wrongs and rights
So stand up, strike out, and go declare
Don’t lose your sight
We stand apart, we’re torn to pieces
Remember the dream
It’s the one thing they can’t ever break”
Cannonade looked at the protesters around him. Many of them were listening intently… but some just didn't seem to be buying it. He traced back over his words as the pipes played in the background, and suddenly realized what was wrong. Aw, crap, he thought, did I just tell people to stow it for the greater good? That wasn’t what I meant… how can I say what I meant?
“I had my cause and I had my banner
And I hoisted it up high
I stood my ground, and I held my light up
And sometimes, it just got in my eyes
I made my bones, I’m not gonna break ‘em
Just wanna fight by another’s side
I got in this to make it all better
And I ain’t gonna grind it all down for pride”
The people who’d been giving him the stink-eye seemed to be warming… slightly. Which is why, when he opened up again, he was surprised to hear them all join in.
“It’s all our fight
He stepped forward – not enough to lead the crowd, but enough to step in if things seriously went south.
“Our wrongs and rights
So stand up, strike out, and go declare”
The Crusaders didn’t look happy with the rallying crowd. The curses and invective came faster and with more salt, but Cannonade almost didn’t hear them. The music was too loud.
And sometimes, it just got in my eyes”
The crowd took one step forward, and he followed. For tonight, this wasn’t his fight – until it needed to be.
The Crusaders looked like they were going to break – either away, or forward. Cannonade braced for it, ready for whatever came next.
It’s all our fight”
The first brick flew and hit him right in the head. He didn’t feel it, and he didn’t care. The tide pushed forward, and he was there, keeping things as calm as he could. Or wanted to. For now, this was his fight.
No. It was a fight he was a part of. And that was better.
Song: "Memorial Day" by the Dropkick Murphys
Edge + Monsoon
Do You Hear The People Sing?
Scenes from the end of the Song Wave War
Here they were - an assemblage of the world's mightiest heroes. Not just heroes, Mark thought, as he looked out at the crowd; even villains were in the crowd. It never ceased to amaze Edge that he was included in that number; much less that he might be called on to speak! But here he was, framed behind him by a burning natural gas field, and on either side were monitors showing the musical numbers, anthems, ditties, and tunes breaking out across the world. It was a live satellite feed of a situation getting worse and worse - there'd been plane crashes now, and patients dead on an operating table, and well-choreographed riots in many major cities. If the world's greatest defenders didn't take action - the whole planet might tear itself apart in song! For a barely perceptible moment, Edge gripped the sides of the podium where he stood - he was here as spokesman not just for UNISON but also the Liberty League, and the weight on his shoulders was heavy. But that moment passed quickly and Mark raised his hand, calling the crowd to attention. They were here at the door, rallying and organizing as people arrived from all over the world, - but how could he keep them together as they readied themselves for battle? There were so many voices out there, so many faces - as the music swelled behind him, the third time it had happened that day, Mark smiled and let the song solve his problem. Pointing to the monitors, he asked,
"Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song they cannot stop
Everyone's getting really angry
And the world's about to pop
When the rhythm of the streets
Sounds just like a Broadway show
We know that something must be done
And it's time to go!"
Unfortunately, sometimes life didn't unfold as it should. Following Edge's speech came a heated debate from the assembled champions and their various spokesmen, one which broke out into heated back-and-forth choral singing so often that Mark was glad it was all at least being recorded. The Chinese and Russian representatives (with the exception of a vigorously hopak-dancing Comrade Frost) were urging that nuclear weapons be sent through the vortex to Hell rather than deploying valuable metahuman agents; while many practitioners of what Adrian Eldritch would have called "the dark arts" were suggesting that the planet make an alliance with one side or another in the Hellwar, never mind what Mark had been told were profound spiritual consequences. (He wasn't really sure what that meant, but he was pretty sure making deals with demons was bad news - he'd learned about that back in high school!) When he took the stage again, he tried to rally the crowd to his side - making sure that the criminals, dark wizards, and other questionable characters brought there by the UN knew that the heroes were going in whatever sneaky deals they tried to pull.
"Will you join in our crusade?
Who will storm Hell to stop the song?
You know the trip will not be pleasant
And it might be very long
But the heroes will go because
Their job is righting the wrong!"
There was dead silence at first - and then a sudden roar of approval, an atonal one at that. Hey, they really mean it! They're not just being made to sing backup for me! As the crowd's applause swelled in reply. Mark smiled in relief - they were actually going to do it! He spared a thought for Monsoon back in Freedom City, who'd volunteered to join the force preparing for the inevitable demonic counterattack. Nina's first demonic invasion! Man, those demons were in trouble.
A warrior queen in blue and white, Monsoon raised her sword to the sky and screamed a wordless salute to the dragon who had just beheaded the multi-winged demon prince rising from between the towers of the Pyramid Plaza. The scene around her was one of chaos - Jill O'Cure was by a dimensional gateway, exploding demonic cherubs as fast as they could fly out of the whirling red vortex, while the charging form of a mighty lion was tearing its way through a horde of rampaging succubi. But the innocents were still being protected, she saw with satisfaction, even in the midst of a day's battle - she caught sight of Erin's dimensional counterpart and her Deep One friend, working in their uniforms to help hustle a group of civilians down below. Rising high on the geysering spray of a nearby shattered fountain, Nina took to the skies and began to sing a warrior's ballad to the champions below!
"Will you give all you can give
So that our city will survive
Some may die and some may live
while the demons lay us low!
But the spilling blood of demons
will soon be dripping down below!"
She missed Edge, there on the battlefield, but she knew he was doing what had to be done in the deep infernal realms below. Landing on a city street she didn't recognize, she stood before a coffeeshop full of half-visible, oddly familiar faces, raising her sword and waving to the civilians within before turning to battle the hellworms at the other end of the street. Today there were no fathers, no forgotten homelands, no divided souls. It really was a good day.
Down below, things weren't so great - the unholy cacophony of music, screaming, and screaming music around the doorways of Amdusias' fortress had knocked everyone off their feet. Mark had heard loud noise before - but this was like nothing else, an assault of sound and inharmony made physical. Rising to his feet, he shook off the pain from the mild burns on his hands and knees and turned to the crowd behind him, the ebon steps of Hell's mansion before them. To his eyes, it looked a little bit like the pictures he'd seen of Graceland - but defended by a gloating demonic horde pressing them down with the screams of iron-black trumpets in their hands!
There was only one way around this - Mark ran from person to person, rallying their assault force as he pulled people up off the rocky ground before they could be burned by the unholy heat, his voice raised in song for one last battle, one last struggle against the armies of Hell! "Do you hear the demons sing?
Singing a song of scaredy cats?
It is the music of an army
About to be knocked on their ass!
Tonight we stop this war
And tonight we end these songs!
We'll have all our voices back
When tomorrow comes!"
Edge's song on their lips, the heroes rose to their feet and charged the steps - victory within their grasp!
(Source: Do You Hear The People Sing, from Les Miserables (with lots of lyrics help from Electra)
Silberman's Books. Tuesday, June 16th, 2015. 3:05 pm
"She's gone." Gretchen had felt the break of contact with Lynn like an electric shock that passed through her whole body in an instant; it took her several minutes just to muster up the will to say those two words.
"She'll be back," said Kiki as she did her best to sound confident. "She always comes back."
Lynn's assistant wandered aimlessly around the store, eventually finding herself behind the bar, where she'd hidden the birthday present she'd bought for her boss. She'd been debating with herself all morning whether she should wait until tomorrow or just break down and give it to her today.
And now, who knew when she she would return? As she turned the small package over in her hands, the young musician began to sing, quietly at first, but then with increasing volume. Her strong alto voice trembled with a feeling she almost never expressed out loud.
I never see you comingYou always just appearLike a sudden flash of sunlight Or the roaring in my ears
I no longer can tell up from downOr North or South from WestIt takes all my strength and courageTo calm the storm inside my chest
Because you're ancient and unknowable, I cannot look insideA heart that changes day to day and shimmers in the lightYour eyes have gone from brown to blue and every shade betweenI am lost when I'm without you In a world that's never beenSo mutable
But your armor isn't always upI caught a glimpse one timeOf the frightened child hiding thereYou try so hard to hide
I want to tell you it's alrightThat everyone's afraidI'll protect you 'til my dying breathAnd my debt to you is paid.
And nothing good can come of itNothing good at allBut I just can't help myselfI know I'm gonna fall
I've been inside this trap beforeI know these walls so wellBut there's nowhere else I'd rather beThis lovely little hell
Because you're ancient and unknowable, I cannot look insideA heart that changes day to day and shimmers in the lightYour eyes have gone from brown to blue and every shade betweenI am lost when I'm without you In a world that's never beenSo mutableSo mutableSo beautiful
Kiki and Lance never even looked up once. Gretchen tucked the package back under the bar and whispered, "Happy birthday, boss."