The Cult of Midnight: Confrontation

LAS VEGAS

CANYON RIDGE CHURCH BASEMENT


The church’s basement had brick walls, concrete floors, a couple of pool tables, and folding chairs enough to seat the people who were tempted by the Cult of Midnight. There were about a dozen of them today – an average yield. Not too bad.

 

Sin went over the books and personnel files A couple of bank tellers, good money. Five junkies, who knew some minor paranormal enforcers, easy enough to convince and pay off, probably. Four tourists, looking for a good time, thinking that they’d found something crazy about Vegas. They’d leave and spread the bullshit that was Anathema’s new cult. The cash was going out, but it was coming in, too. Who knew that religion could be a decent income.

 

He flipped a few more pages, sighing. After the initial boom, recruitment had slowed down. Boom Boy or whatever his name was had infested the Legion, and Smokescreen had gone over the Freelancers under a different name and alias, courtesy of Sin’s contacts.

 

He spoke to a few of the more intelligent cultists, and went into the small office to send an email report to Anathema, to see what else needed to be done.

 

Sin was about halfway through his job when he realized it was unusually quiet. Usually after a good ministering of the Midnight, the pawns are riled up, excited about the positive life change that’s heading their way, cursing out their old bosses and talking about what’s next. Now there’s just hushed whispering, and a low… hum? Is the heater acting up again?

Sin pinched the bridge of his nose. He might kill that repairman this time. He swore he had it fixed LAST time, and Sin had shelled out more than enough cash to keep him quiet about the Cult, too. He gritted his teeth, and took a deep breath, though his eyes were bright, bright red. His insurance, that metamorphic weapon that Travis had sold him months ago, was still wrapped around his chest underneath the suit.

 

He stood up, and walked out of the office to the main room, growling under his breath.

 

It wasn’t the heater.


Oathkeeper was near the door, in that great golden armour, ushering his cultists, his yield out the door with promises of ‘help’ and ‘protection’. She didn’t notice him yet.

 

Oh. FUCK. Were the first two words that Sin thought. The demons were screaming again, and it already gave him a migraine. Pride, like always, took the reigns, and Sin quietly slipped back into the office. He pulled out a large automatic, stuck it in the back of his nicely tailored pants, a couple of extra clips, (Wrath pointed out this would only piss her off, but it might distract her) and an investment. A flashbang grenade, should be enough to distract her, pelt her with bullets, and run like the dickens. He pulled the pin but kept his hand around the release.

 

The metamorphic gel transformed from a protective plate into a long black chain, slithering out of sight and behind him, using his TK. Then he put his best smile on, his eyes changed to a deep, dark purple, and he walked back out to the main room.

 

“Alice. So good to see you.” Catch her off guard with talk, then sucker punch.

 

Her expression is hazy behind the golden halo she wears as a helmet, but you can see her eyes widen with surprise and anger. “You.” she says. “I should have known you were behind this, you were working with her. You were with her son. I just didn’t know you were so…” She looks at the folding chairs and her face twists with anger. “Involved.”

 

Sin spread his hands wide, chuckling. Well, she didn’t just knock his head off with her Warhammer, that’s good.

 

“What can I say? She knows talent. Turns out I’ve got a silver tongue, forked as it may be. Though, you’re looking quite good. I thought you’d at least have a small scar to remember me by, after our little chat in that cafe.”

 

He kept sidestepping, walking slowly, mentally getting a grip on every chair in the place. His TK had improved by leaps and bounds since getting involved with Anathema, and he wasn’t in Alice’s weight class, but he was definitely moving up.

 

The halo vanished for just long enough to reveal Alice’s face and head clearly. Her long waves of hair are gone, and her hair is in a pixie cut with a small headband brushed through in an attempt to add some femininity back to it. “They shaved my head,” she snarled. “I was in surgery for ten hours, I nearly -” She bites back the words and the halo reappears. The warhammer flickers to life. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Sin blinked, pausing his walking for just a half moment. The demons sensed something, but what? They were trying to puzzle it out. Keep her talking. He needed more time. There were other things that he could use in this basement. Pipes. Cement chunks. Rebar. He just needed time to gather it.

 

“You did have such good looking hair.” He mused, quietly. He paused a moment. “You nearly died. Was it really that touch and go?…. You’ve been immortal for so long, haven’t you.” He chuckled again, mirthlessly. Coldly.

 

“I think I know what I’m doing. I’m helping someone who helped me.” He stopped a moment, and then lets his fingers tapped lightly on the chair, as the long black chain slithered quietly as it could along the ground, towards Alice. “But let’s say that I don’t. What do -you-, Alice, think I’m doing?”

 

She takes a few deep breaths, and her gauntlets open and close, flexing around the warhammer. Then she speaks, and she sounds… calm? Serene? “I think you’re making a mistake. I think you’re in over your head. Let me help you.” The warhammer vanished, and she stepped forward.

 

Sin can’t help but laugh, as she stepped forward, every chair moved to face her, like there is an invisible audience. “Help, me?”

 

He laughed, long and hard, holding his stomach. And Sin looks back up at Alice, eyes flaring into a brilliant crimson red. “Let me recall something. ‘You’re just a bunch of demons in the skin of a human’.” He laughs again, but it’s mirthless. “You want to help me but you’re just as Fallen as I am, aren’t you? You just look prettier on the outside.”

 

“I – I was wrong to say that, I -”

Her armour flickered. Just for a second, less than a second, but you noticed it. It was there, and then it wasn’t.


“I’ve been getting help. It’s okay to need help.”

She… the armor was gone. Just for a moment. There was something wrong with Oathkeeper. No, Alice. She wasn’t some Avenging Angel like mom said she was. She wasn’t sent by God. She wasn’t all powerful. She wasn’t Divine. She wasn’t everything everyone said she was. The demons smelled blood.

 

“Wait, wait, wait. Let me get this straight. “The Chosen of God, the Avenging Angel…” Needs help.” The chain was a little bit closer now, near her ankles.

 

“You realized something, didn’t you? Back when I left you as nothing but a chopped up piece of meat. You… oh my. You’ve never been close to dying before, have you? And now you’re… what…. Scared?”

 

She stepped back suddenly, eyes wide. “I’m not afraid. God is with me, He chose me for this purpose. He would never -”

Her words say something, her body language says another.

 

And her armour flickers again.

 

Sin laughs, and somehow, the shadows seem to grow longer in the basement. Maybe there is something supernatural in Sin. Or maybe just the bulbs in the dinky little lights are getting worse. Or maybe because that glowing armor is flickering…. .

 

“God is with you, hmm?” The chairs begin floating around Alice, and Sin takes a step forward. Red, baleful light is spilling from his eyes, and his grin is absolutely devilish.

 

“Where was he to save you when I commanded the glass to tear you to shreds? Has he struck me down? No, look at me now! I have been…. Empowered. I have grown, Alice McGowan.”

 

Another step forward. “Tell me, did you see a light in the darkness when you were so close to death? Did you feel his loving arms? No?”  Another step, and a light bulb shatters over Sin, casting his half of the room into darkness, save for the crimson eyes staring at her. The shattered glass starts whirling near Alice. “No, you didn’t did you? It was just emptiness. And pain. Even while you were out, you felt the pain, didn’t you?”

 

The armour goes out. Sin realizes it before Alice; she looks down, panicked, and then moves to throw herself backwards behind a pool table. One hand fumbles for her comm device. “Evac, come on, evac, I need – Please God I need -”

 

No.” Even to Sin, he’s a little shocked at how his voice sounds, a deep, reverberating growl roars out of his throat as he telekinetically wrenches the comm device away. Another light bulb shatters, and another, and another. The metal folding chairs start clacking together in the dark, banging into one another. Finally, there’s only one little light bulb hovering above Alice’s pool table.

 

“Are you afraid, Alice? Are you?” The chain slithers up beneath the pool table, and begins swaying in front of Alice. Not the Oathkeeper. Never again the Oathkeeper. Just another person. Just another scared little girl.

 

“God isn’t here to save you, Alice. So who will save you from Sin? Because you have SO many Sins…..” Deep inside, somehow, Sin thought it was a bit much…. But somehow, it also rang true. Was he really possessed…. He wasn’t so sure about it not being true anymore.

 

She had attempted to tip the pool table over, and scrambled beneath it when it refused to budge under her weight.

 

“You – you don’t have to do this.” Had her voice always been so small? “You don’t have to do this. You can still walk away. Do you think the Legion is going to leave me to die a second time? No, things changed, they changed, and they can change for you –

The chain swayed with her, before sliding away. The chairs folded, and started encasing her beneath the pool table. Clack. Clack. Clack. Slowly, so slowly, they begin blocking out the remaining light, and begin to bend inward.

 

Sin’s voice is far away, muffled behind the groaning metal chairs. “I don’t hear anyone, Alice. They’re not coming for you. You’re alone. Again.”

 

Further away, but rougher. “Think on your sins, Alice. I’ll be waiting for you after you die. But not today. Suffer a little more in this world, before I get my hands on you in the next.”

 

And Sin booked it OUT of the basement, out of the church, and onto the Vegas streets. He quickly called a taxi, and made for the nearest Underground waystation. That was way too close…. And that was a bit scary, even for him. How the HELL did his voice change like that?

 

Inside the basement, Alice felt her heart slam against her rib cage. “God, give me strength.” She whispered. “God, give me -” and her armour burst forth, exploding the chairs and blowing the pool table back. She stood, eight feet tall.

 

He was gone.

 

She stared at the open door, and wondered what it all meant.

The Cult of Midnight: Breakthrough

THE MILLS HOUSE

TWIN FALLS, IDAHO

 

“Callister?” Anathema’s voice called. “Callister, my son?”

He had been called home an hour or so earlier. Something about this felt wrong.

 

“Mother?” He came down the stairs, buttoning up his shirt. His hair was still wet, dragging against his shoulders and sticking in damp strands.

 

“I received a report from our friend in the Infinity Legion.” Anathema stood, her back to him, at the bay windows. “About the Oathkeeper.”

“Yes, how is she?” Callister smiled, pulling his hair up into a bun. He looked idly for the inevitable tray of biscuits but frowned when there was none around.

 

Anathema stayed by the window. Mathilda was usually there to dote on Callister, but she was strangely absent. “She is broken. You and your friend Sin went too far. Her armour faltered, her warhammer vanished. She is no longer the unstoppable, unshakable avatar of Faith.”

‘Yes? She is now and forever an easier target. She’ll falter easily to your plans.” He remained standing, but stuck his hands in his pockets and defiantly slouched.

 

“She was mine to break.” Anathema finally spins around, eyes blazing. “She would falter before me, knowing that I was the cause of all of it.”

“She does! She already blames you more than Sin or me. I don’t see what difference it makes.” Callister grew sulky as the interview went on. They did a good job. An excellent job.

 

“She nearly died. You nearly killed her. Did you know that? She was in surgery for ten hours. Touch and go. How dare you.”

“You were happy then! And she’s now much more ready to give in to you.”

 

“How dare you speak back to me, defy me. You are lucky, you insolent little child, that I’m willing to forgive you.”

“What do you want me to do? It’s done! You should be grateful that we did all your hard work for you!”

 

“I want you to find Sin.” Anathema approached, looking up at her son. “I pulled all of my support. Took everything away. He’s back on the run again, miserable creature that he is. Find him.”

“What? But Sin did good. Sin’s pulled me out of a lot of cra- trouble!”

 

Her approach changed, her features softening. “Callister,” she said, gently. “Do you trust me?”

“Yeah. Of course I do. You’re my mother.” He relaxed at her change of tone.

 

And then, for the first time, she said the words Callister had been yearning to hear his entire life. “I love you. Do you love me?”

“I do, Mother. I do.” He lost his impudent slouch, his hands dropped to his side.

 

She reached up, gently, placing her hand on his cheek. “Will you…”

Her eyes blazed suddenly, amethyst and cruel.

 

Let me in.”

Callister blinked at her. “Mother?” He felt it, the force of her power. He felt the strength behind her suggestion, felt the power coil behind it…and felt it slide over him like oil over water.

 

“M-mother?”

 

No, she couldn’t have . She didn’t mean to…

 

Her eyes examined his face, shocked and curious. Then she moved away, face a mask. “Good boy. Go to your room.”

“You tried to-” The words choked in his throat. “You tried to- to to take me!” Callister stumbled back.

 

She paused for a moment, as if she was considering whether to deny it or not. Then she sneered. “You wouldn’t let me in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but… you may be useful yet. So you may stay in my home.”

“You tried to take me!” And the rage broke free from the shackles of shock. “Me! I am your son! I have done your bidding all my life! I already was your slave!”

 

“Were you?!” She snaps back. “You talk back to me, you swear, I know you’ve been taking up with women outside my home, have you been attending Mass all this time? You are my son in blood only, but your character is weak. Taking you would have been the only way to save you, Callister.”

“I have done nothing but your work! I’ve done everything you wanted, stole Smokescreen for you, made roads on that other one….I’ve lied, killed and stolen for you!”

 

“And none of it was enough, was it?” She hissed.

 

Callister recoiled, the hurt naked on his face.

 

“What have you ever accomplished, hm? You’re a pawn, Callister, you’re a weapon. You’re good for nothing but going where I point you to.”

Callister started trembling. He swallowed, after some effort. “T-hank you for your critique, Anathema. I will endeavour to forge my own path now.” He turned on his heel, his deliberate thread going up the stairs. He could be heard moving around the rooms, then there was silence as he stilled.

 

Later, he came down, but went only to the kitchen, and soon after his car could be heard leaving.

 

There was no note.

 

There was no Mathilda.

 

There were no clothes left in either of Callister or Mathilda’s rooms.

 

Anathema stood in his room for a moment, staring. She had expected a short rebellion, a temper tantrum, and then he would return. She had groomed him to return. She had sunk two decades into this investment. And then he walked away?

She closed her eyes and moved to one of her children, a young woman on a city street. The woman turned, walked to a phone, dialed.

“Hello, 911? I’m reporting a stolen vehicle leaving Twin Falls. I saw the driver on a wanted poster – Callister Rayne, the Red Knight? I think he had a hostage. I’m scared. Can you send a hero to stop him?”

 

The Cult of Midnight: Release

A SAFEHOUSE

SOMEWHERE IN AMERICA

Callister had called, and warned Sin about an ‘incoming package’, but he didn’t expect this. His grandmother, Mathilda was ​old​, and old in a weird way. In this future, people aged well, aged with tight skin and bright eyes and good health. Even people who were sick – actually sick – looked better than Mathilda.  She looked old, and worn out, and tired. She couldn’t be more than seventy, but she looked two hundred and ten. She looks at you with dull amethyst eyes as Callister loads her out of his car.

 

“We’ve left her,” said Callister without preamble. “She tried to take me.” There was suppressed rage in the boy, rage, shock, betrayal. “How safe are we here?”

 

“Shit.” said Sin. “Well, your grandma is under her control. Shit, wasn’t sure I was ready to try this. Shit. Okay, we’ve got maybe a day before she figures out we’re here, I pretty much told everyone that was controlled by her or was about to that I was staying somewhere else, but it wouldn’t be real hard to figure out this is where I am, not after grandma tips her off. Shit.” He looks almost sympathetic towards Callister. “Sorry, man. Didn’t think she’d do that to you.”

 

“Okay. Where to from here?” The idea that Sin wouldn’t help him hadn’t crossed his mind. “We didn’t bring much. Clothes, some weapons, and all the money I had on hand.”

 

“We’ll move outta Vegas. Shit. I think we can scare the Underground into helping us for a bit longer, I’ll try to think of some places. Though, you probably need to rest, mate. You look ragged, and so does your grandma.” He sighs, thinking. “Weapons I’ve got. Money I’ve got, no worries there.” He takes a deep breath. “Yeah. Okay, let’s try this.” He looks at Callister, straight on. “Callister, I know I ain’t the most trustworthy guy, hell, if you did trust me, I’m gonna tell you right here and now, you shouldn’t. But…”

 

“You’ve been straight with me an’ I appreciate it. So I’m gonna ask you t’ trust me. I think I can get your mom out of your grandmother’s’ head. D’you want me to try and do that?”

 

Mathilda smiled blankly throughout the conversation.

 

Callister paused. The kid never looked worried, he was always nineteen and filled to the brim with confidence. But now he glanced at his grandmother. “Would it hurt her?”

 

Sin takes a deep breath. “Honestly, I dunno, kid. It might hurt. It might hurt a lot. But I think I can do it.” He takes a deep breath, trying to calm down. “But I guess you’ve gotta ask the question. D’ya really want your grandma to be under her control any longer? Think about how pissed off you were when she tried to take you. And what, your gran’s been under her control for years, now, I bet.”

 

Callister looked at Mathilda. “I…f-” He caught the swear. Not gonna swear in front of his grandmother. “I don’t remember having anything other than purple eyes. But I don’t know if she’s strong enough if it hurts.”

 

Mathilda gripped Callister’s hand with one of her own, and she smiled. “I’m strong enough for you.” she said, voice quiet. “I love you so much, Callister. I always have. I know you’ll only do the right thing.”

 

Sin blinked. “Huh. Well, that’s good enough for me, man.” Sin grimaced for a second. “And I’m going to be real brutal here, Cal. I’d rather be dead than in your mom’s control. Pretty sure your Mom was gonna try to pull the rug out from under me, hence why she didn’t know about this house, and a few other things.  But letting this one be up to you, since your gran – no offense, miss- might not be the one talkin’ right now.”

 

Callister looked at Mathilda’s old hand in his. He knew it might not be his grandmother talking…but Anathema never spoke to him like that. He swallowed the lump in his throat. “This might kill her. Can you stop before it gets too much?”

 

Mathilda just gave a vacant smile at both of them.

 

Sin shrugged. “This is new ground I’m breakin’. I’ll do my best. Can’t promise anything, though.” Sin was grim, and being as honest as he could. Kinda hurt. Kinda felt nice.

 

Callister tightened his grip on Mathilda’s hand. “Alright,” he breathed out. “Let’s try this.”

 

“My dear boy.” she murmured. “My good Callister.”

 

Right. Sin ushered her and Callister into the main living room, seating Mathilda onto a chair. Sin sat across from her, and rubbed his temples. He had ideas for this kind of thing, had told Nat that he could (Which was just BS to try and lead them along), but now … here was the real deal. And he actually kind of didn’t want to murder the old woman, or Cal. Fucking connections and their bullshitness.

 

Sin took a deep breath, and another, and focused. He focused on Mathilda’s mind, and went… in. He never really tried developing the telepathy but…. well, lets look around, as his mind’s senses delved into Mathilda’s.

 

It was like drowning in confusion, thick and foggy. Pathways had been burned out, lights have been dimmed. It was like being chest deep in water while trying to navigate a labyrinth. Then a voice called through the chaos: “Over here!”

 

Sin gathered himself in. These mind games were making sure you had a sense of self, and no one had a better sense of his own goddamn selfishness than Sin. He waded, then charged over, Pride guiding him. He was going to do this, because why? Because he kicked ass, and no one would beat him. Burning purple flames for eyes kept him through the fog, and moving forward to the Over here.

 

There was a woman struggling, waves roiling over her and threatening to drown her. Auburn hair was soaked through, blue eyes wide and wild. “Please, she’s drowning me! –“

 

In a mind, there was power, you had to make it real. Sin moved, wary, but he moved, to reach a hand out to the woman struggling. His mental TK, if that what it was, here, shoves across the waves, plowing a path, if he’s strong enough. But he might not be….

 

The waves shudder, separate, and the woman falls to her hands and knees gasping for air.  Your lungs ache, limbs go numb.

 

“Gnnghg…” Sin takes a deep breath, blinking. “Shit. I mean. Well. That -sucked-.” He rests on his hands and knees, trying to get a breath.

Callister hovered worriedly.

 

As Sin fell to his knees, struggling to breathe, Mathilda looked up. Her eyes were blue. “C-Callister?”

 

“Grandmother?” He bent beside her. “How do you feel?”

 

“Nah, friend of his.” Outside, in reality, Sin keeps talking, but his eyes are blank. “Trying to get you out, miss, from your daughter. Gonna help you focus, much as I can. Get you outta here.”

 

“She’s still in my head, Callister. She’s still, I can hear her -” Mathilda gripped her grandson’s hands. “She’s coming back for me, I only have a minute – I ​love​ you, Callister, don’t you ever listen to her –“

 

And then that purple glaze came back.

 

Inside the mindscape, Sin attempted to grab onto Mathilda, swearing profusely and creatively as he did so. Pride wasn’t enough, but now he was pissed. He was SO GODDAMNED CLOSE. Wrath joined in, swirling crimson flames around his eyes, adding to his strength, and driving some of the weakness out of his body. “No, no no lady, don’t give up yet. You’re you, and your grandson needs you, goddammit. I’m not letting her take you back.”

 

As he grasped her hand, the deep waters of confusion swirled, twisted. For a second, everything went black.

 

Then you awoke.

 

Sin was in a church. A girl sits in the front pew. She was alone.

 

In the real world, Callister gripped Mathilda’s hand with, his face full of naked emotion.

 

“What the- ” Sin walks through the church, carefully. He moves slowly, carefully, the mix of scarlet and purple flames in his eyes fading to just a mix of the iris. “Oh, dammit. Who’re you?” Though Sin had a sneaking suspicion who she might be.

 

Anathema looked up, amethyst eyes burning through a curtain of black hair. “You can never have her, and you can never have my son. I ​will​ bring them home, and I ​will​ teach Callister his place.”

 

Mathilda, clutching Callister’s hand, cries out.

 

“Grandmother!” This was going south. He gave Sin a desperate look.

 

Inside, Sin just looked at the little girl. “So this is what the mighty Anathema is. A little girl, alone in the church. She reaches out, and hollows people out, because she’s alone.” Sin laughs, loud and mockingly. “That’s all you are. You’re afraid of people leaving you. So you dominate them. Make them yours, am I right?” He laughs again. “You’re still acting out a fantasy of a kid, because you can’t let people go. You can’t let anyone go, because… oh, oh this is it, I did some research, here.”

 

Sin grins, full of malice and wickedness. “You can’t let them go because you think they’ll go to her. To Oathkeeper. To Alice Fuckin’ McGowan. Because she’s better than you.”

 

Anathema stood, a grown woman now, towering over Sin. “How ​dare​ you. Howdare you​. She’s nothing. She is NOTHING, and Callister would never, ever, ever give up the war against her, not even for a second.”

 

“Oh please.” He grinned up at her. “You know that half the time Callister and I were working? He was on the phone with his boyfriend. Which was cool, kid needs to get out there.” Sin says nonchalantly.

 

Outside, Sin’s eyes twitch, and he mouths to Callister, “Trying. Fighting… your mom.”

 

But in the mind scape, Sin laughs again. “Oh, and she’s nothing, huh, Hyacinth? She’s the one you’re so obsessed with. If she was nothing you would have said good job on breaking someone who was in your way. But no, no, You – and this is funny, considering I’m hosting Pride itself- had to have SO much pride, to be the one that broke her.” He makes a decent showing of a ‘oh wait, thinking pose’.

 

“But that was ME, wasn’t it?”

 

“Oops.” He snickers.

 

She snarls, hands turning black and purple with flame. In Mathilda’s mind, the flames do not burn. She pushes you against the church wall. “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”

 

Outside, Mathilda’s eyes flicker blue.

 

“C’mon, Grandmother. You can fight her.” Unnoticed, Callister’s hands started glowing red around Mathilda’s hand.

 

“Oh, c’mon girl, that all you got?” He chuckles, though the hit REALLY did hurt. Poker face, poker face. The flames weren’t hurting though, and then…. “So, I break the Oathkeeper, I’ve been setting up this little cult for you, and I know more about your son than you do? Hmm.” Something… demonic, seems to power him. More than usual. His eyes burn with Pride, smolder with Lust, rage with Wrath and Envy, hunger with Gluttony and Greed, and freeze with despairing Sloth. “You might have thought me a puppet, but who’s really pulling the strings now, Hyacinth? All this, and I’ve gained so much. I’ve gotten stronger. And what have you gained? Pawns? The plan that I gave you? The access that I found for you? The people that Callister delivered to you?” He sneered, and one hand tried to pry open Hyacinth’s arms, He might be growing. It might just be an illusion. “You’ve done nothing but sit on your fat ass, and grow old, you worthless cow.”

 

“You’re a ​demon​!” she screeched. “You are a demon, and I will purify you from the face of this Earth, I’ll -“

 

The church disappears.

 

Hyacinth disappears.

 

Sin woke up.

 

Mathilda has thrown her arms around Callister, sobbing into his shoulder. Callister gathered her up, holding her tightly.

 

“I always loved you,” she was sobbing. “I was always trying to do right for you. I’m sorry I let her do that to you. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. I’m sorry. I love you, I love you -“

 

Sin smiles, tiredly. He’s worn out, exhausted. But this, he could do for a friend…. Shit. Yeah. Callister was a friend. Well, fuck. That was new. And in Sin’s eyes, there’s warmth in them.

 

Callister only held his grandmother, murmuring comforting things to her. His eyes when they looked at Sin gleamed with unshed tears.

 

Sin flashed his usual cocksure smile at Callister, and nodded to him.”We’ll move in the morning. Get some rest, mate, and spend some time with your gran. I’m gonna go crash.” He chuckled, got up, and went to go collapse on a bed.

 

“Thank you.”

The Cult of Midnight: Negotiations

A PREARRANGED MEETING LOCATION

(CONFIDENTIAL)

Who,” Alice groused, pacing in front of the meeting room. “Made this law again? He has free passage to negotiate with us? And we can’t do diddly squat about it? He probably doesn’t know anything. He wanted to taunt me, taunt Nat by giving em the call and having em talk to us, and now he’s going to thumb his nose at us.” She paused, turned on her heel, and paced another lap. “It’s a stupid, dumb law.”

“Hon, I wish you wouldn’t ask me questions you don’t actually want the answer to,” Tabitha said, meticulously dismantling, examining, and reassembling her stunbolt pistol. “And while you may be right, I expect you to be graceful and courteous. We want to maximize what chance we have at cooperation.”

 

Alice shot her an incredulous look and then reached for the suppression collar. “Snap this on me. Stupid law. ‘Right to feel safe with a suppressed agent’. Stupid.”

“I sure as shit hope you don’t expect me to wear one of those,” Nat looked at the collar a little wide-eyed as Tabitha snapped it around the Oathkeeper’s neck.

 

“Your powers are low-tier enough that they don’t fall under that clause.”

 

“Well now I’m weirded out and insulted.”

 

“It’s a mixed blessing.” Alice growled, and then practically threw the door open and strode into the interrogation room like she intended to beat everything and everyone inside to a pulp.

 

It would have been terrifying if she was Oathkeeper.


As a Suppressed Alice, it was slightly comedic.

 

Inside the room, looking quite pleased with himself, is Sin. He’s wearing a black suit, impeccably tailored, with a red tie. An average, slightly overweight man is standing next to him, wearing a similarly but less garish suit and tie. He’s all business suit and boringness, however, the briefcase he’s holding next to him has a gold plate on it stating “AVERY, JACOBSON, AND BONDS.”

 

The lawyer firm AVERY, JACOBSON, AND BONDS represented Adam Nova to ensure his pardon, and had basically been the key defenders in many supervillain and superhero trials over the last fifty years. They were the best, and the most expensive. They were utterly ruthless when it came to money and courtroom tactics. However, they were absolutely one hundred percent loyal to the law, and outstandingly rigid when it came to even thinking about bending the law. Loopholes, however, were another thing entirely.

 

Sin smiled. “Ladies, Ey. This is Mr. Jacobson. You know who I am. Shall we get down to business?”

 

Alice looked at Jacobson, and for a moment it looked like she might have a stroke. She sat down in the chair, trembling with barely repressed rage. “So. Nice. To. See. You. Again.” She bit out. “And Mr. Jacobson. So good to see you as well. What was it you said the last time we met? Public menace, out of control on her own ego?”

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with us on peaceful terms, Sin,” Tabitha’s voice and face were both as calm and as professional as they’d ever been, her back straight, eyes cold but clear. “Mr. Jacobson, good to see you well. It’s been a while. Yes. Let’s begin.”

 

“Of course.” Intones Mr. Jacobson. He sits, and opens his briefcase, taking out a pen, paper and recorder. He’s old school. “My job here, ladies, ey, and gentleman, “‘enby’ is fine, thanks” is to assist and verify the pardon between Blake Smith, AKA Sin, and the Legion. I am also here to be a neutral witness to ensure Mr. Smith’s legal rights are not infringed upon, and that he does not do anything to harm or commit subterfuge that would negate the pardon. Is that clear?” Jacobson nods to Nat and makes a note on his legal pad.

“Crystal, Mr. Jacobson.” Sin nods, and then grins at the enraged Alice. His eyes are a royal purple, and he seems very confident.

 

“What data can justify us not hunting you to the ends of the earth?” Alice peers at the USB key as if it’ll be neatly printed on the outside. “You nearly killed Nat, nearly killed me. This can’t just be a token offer.”

“The Home address of Anathema. Her plants in both your Legion and the Freelancers. The details of her entire cults, the addresses that they are using. Oh, and the name of the entire city she’s taken over, too.” Sin says nonchalantly. He sits back and puts his hands behind his head, yawning.

 

Alice closes her eyes and begins visibly counting to ten. Once she hits ten, she keeps counting, hands shaking.

 

“Please reiterate what you’re requesting in return.” Nat seemed to be doing eir best to channel Tabitha; eir face was calm and relatively free of affect.

 

“A little addition to what I had last time. A full pardon for myself, retroactive for everything that I’ve done, cleared records, and also for one Callister Rayne. One hundred thousand dollars. And a passport that will allow me to go anywhere in the world. Oh, and just to be clear, in case Nat didn’t pass on this tidbit: Yes, I can break Anathema’s mind control.” He smiles lazily. Jacobson is writing furiously, taking notes.

 

Tabitha looked over at Nat, quirking an eyebrow. The Damselfly nodded emphatically, and Tabitha nodded too. “I have been authorized to grant you the terms as presented, and exactly as presented, with one exception: It is not within the Legion’s power to allow you passage through or absolution in Archaven. We simply cannot do it. Also, be advised that you are granted no further immunity; continued criminal acts will be punished to the full extent of the law. Moreover, should your testimony be needed in the prosecution of Hyacinth Mills, you will be subpoena’d as a witness, though your safe passage is guaranteed at that time as well. Is this agreeable by the terms you have set?”

 

Sin snorts, and Jacobson looks over to his client. “You’re practically the leaders of the free and unfree world, and you can’t make a deal with Nova?” Sin sighs, and considers.

 

“I can.” Alice’s knuckles were white and her eyes were still closed. “Nova has made it very clear he wants me hooked up, measured, and tested. He has made it clear that he will do anything for that favour. If you give me Anathema, I will make that deal.” Every word was tight with barely repressed anger.

 

Sin weighs that for a moment, then nods. “Okay. I cannot guarantee that Anathema will still be at her house, but I don’t think she thinks I’m smart enough to go to you and tell you all about her. If she’s not there, then you don’t have to make the deal with Nova. If she is there, you do. Good enough?” He reaches into a pocket and idly pulls out a coin, flipping it.

 

Tabitha’s face darkened for a moment, then cleared. “Well. I would refuse on the Legion’s behalf, since making an agreement that hinges on another agreement that has not yet been made is not something I personally would be willing to commit to. If, however, a Legion General should decide otherwise, her word takes precedent over mine.”

 

Her eyes fell upon Alice and stayed there, heavy.

 

Alice finally opened her eyes to look at Tabitha. “It’s Anathema,” she said, very quietly. “But I trust your judgement. If we want to… let the Freelancers speak for themselves, that is your call. What Tabitha says stands, Blake.”

“How about this,” Nat piped up, addressing Tabitha. “The Legion will good-faith negotiate with the Freelancers for your safe passage, preemptively agreeing to share the PR victory of taking down Anathema and payment for agent participation in the operation, as well as intel sharing. If the negotiations fall through, it doesn’t negate the agreement that the Legion made with you, but our advocacy will be sincere and thorough, and you will receive transcripts of the negotiation.”

 

Tabitha nodded. “That’s… more or less what I was thinking. I am not willing to preemptively barter the bodily autonomy of the Oathkeeper, not yet—but we will advocate for yours.”

 

“Good! Excellent! Great. Are we done here?” Alice snapped.


“That depends,” Tabitha’s gaze moved to Sin’s face and stayed there. Heavy.

 

Sin looks at Jacobson, who looks quite amazed, and possibly considering giving Nat a job offer. Jacobson shakes his head, for a moment, then nods at Sin. “That’s likely the best you’re going to get.”

 

Sin hmms a moment, then nods. “Done. The pardons for the information. Make the exchange, if you please.” Jacobson stands up, and offers the USB stick to Tabitha, awaiting the paperwork for the pardon.

 

Tabitha stands, extends her hand with open palm facing upward, and holds out a manila folder thick with stamped and embossed forms.

 

“Please review them to make sure we didn’t leave anything out,” she said as she handed the thumb drive to Nat. “Check it, please.”

 

“Aye aye, majesty,” Nat accepted the drive and plugged it into eir smartphone.

 

Sin’s information is all there. It details cults that have begun in America, and begun spreading their influence all over the world. Over fifty cells started in America alone, and other locations popping up as well, including some predictions/start up locations that Sin had ideas for. The two or more infiltrators into the Legion and the Freelancers.

 

But the main thing is Anathema’s location. Her home Address. And the City:

 

“Twin Falls, Idaho,” Nat murmured aloud.

 

Jacobson reviews the paperwork, and after a long few minutes, nods at Sin. “It is all there.” Sin nods, and stands. “So, we good, ladies, enby?”

 

Alice’s face has darkened. “Get this collar off me,” she snarls at Tabitha.

 

“In the craft, Alice,” Tabitha nodded to Jacobson and turned to depart, leading Alice away.


“Thanks for your time,” Nat murmured, eyes fixed on Sin. “All of you, in there.”

 

“We aim to please.” Sin said. His voice sounded like… multiple people, for a moment. Sin blinks, then coughs. “Sorry, what? Uh… yeah.” Jacobson looked a bit startled, as well, but shook his head, and gathered up his things, snapping the briefcase closed.

 

Alice turns, and if she wasn’t wearing the collar, she no doubt would have stormed back into the meeting room. Tabitha pulls her, and the door closes.


Sin is a free man.

 

The Cult of Midnight: Lights, Camera, Music

Black ops weren’t what they used to be, mused Emi as she sat. Not that she had a problem with that, but… it was a bit of an adjustment to make.

 

Nat was already there, floating gently behind Emi on blurry, gossamer, incorporeal wings. Ey had eschewed eir normal showy attire for a matte black catsuit, complete with matching gloves and moccasins. Even eir orange head of hair was obscured with a bandanna.

 

Pandora sprinted into the briefing room, sliding on the ground for a couple feet before finally coming to a halt. She was decked out in her usual attire: heavy headphones atop her head, MP3 player at her side, a neon-blue cross-top covering a decent portion of her upper body whilst her worn and baggy jeans fell around her hips to reveal the pair of neon-pink dance nylons below. Her platinum-blonde and purple-highlighted hair was slick with water from the shower and her cheeks were flushed a faint shade of crimson. [We… I mean… Ummm… Uhhh… I hope I am not late. Did I miss anything?] She signed hurriedly, waving to Nat and Elliot when she spots them.

 

Alex was running at a much slower pace than pandora, and his boots thumped into the briefing room right after her. He was in a tight but wrinkled under armor legion logo shirt as well as some wrinkled grey cargo pants. “Uh. Hey. We came as fast as we could.” He said a bit quietly with a bashful shade of red on his face as his mess of black hair hung wetly over his face. He eased from one leg to another uncomfortably. “How can we help?”

 

Elliot was already there in the meeting room when those two arrived, grinning and waving at Pandora.  He was in what looked like motorcycle gear with strange reflective panels up the jacket and the sides of the legs.  He didn’t look uncomfortable, though, helmet under his arm.  It was taking all of his will not to bounce up and down out of excitement– he’d already been told to please stop once.

 

“No one is late.” Emi said, favouring the Neon Ops team with a smile. “I have an important duty for the Neon Ops team, and I’m glad you could arrive. This is a mission of monumental importance, and we cannot afford any mistakes. Anathema is the most powerful psychic we know about on Earth, and she has been building a web of mind control for what looks like two decades now. We are going to attempt to break all of that down in a matter of days.” Emi pauses, dark eyes scanning the crew. “No pressure.”

“So hype. I am so hype right now.”

 

Alex straightens up,saluting. “You can count on us!”

 

Vin nods eagerly and gives a two-handed thumbs-up before realizing that the fly of her pants were not currently zipped up and doing that with an even brighter blush.

 

Normally, Nat would be as rambunctious as anyone else, but ey closed eir eyes, took a deep breath, and nodded. “I’m ready.”

 

Emi nodded. “I’m going to be frank. I don’t want any of you engaging with Anathema herself. None of you are ready, and I won’t risk any of you. That doesn’t mean you don’t have an important job to do. I hope that won’t cause any issues. There’s no room for glory hounds, here.”

Alex nods. “Keeping innocent lives safe is glory enough for me ma’am.” His stance was still uncomfortable, but he forced himself to stay focused.

 

[How will we be breaking her enchantment?] Vin asked after a short period of silence, looking over to Nat with a small look of worry. It was not like her to be so reserved. The new hero’s hands were shaking a little with nervous energy. ((Tag~!))

 

Elliot gives his helmet a little twirl and pops it on his head just in time to hide that he’s pouting at the HAVE NO EPIC HERO MOMENTS commentary.  He’s willing to play but the rules but but but– okay fine.  Helmet clicks into place, and all those lights on his helmet and suit light up, warming up more like.

 

“Check, check, and check. Also, I don’t know if sick beats are enough to like, jog their brains a bit? I mean, I don’t wanna give them a concussion to snap them outta it?”

 

“I’m capable of restraining them until the spell can be broken if necessary.” Alex said hopefully, thick branches growing from his wrists, wrapping around one another in demonstration.

 

“The last time we faced Anathema in such a manner, we learned that defeating her, taking her in, was enough to break the enchantment. I’m not sure why, or the details behind it, but she’s the root of the problem. That’s not to say that you won’t be playing an important role.” Emi taps her fingers against her chin. “The last time we faced her, we were also woefully unprepared. She was able to use her mind controlled assets against us. We need to keep them distracted and unable to act on their master’s orders.” Emi smiles again, a small and wry one. “Lights Show, Pandora, Alex. You’re going on tour.”

LED Hearts literally EXPLODE on the screen on Lights Show’s helmet. “YASSSSSSSSSS.” And he strikes the success kid pose, because he is SO DOWN for this.

 

Vin could not help but grin widely at this. She turned to watch Elliot and chuckled silently as she began to think more about what it was they would be attempting. [I have a feeling that this show is going to get a little wild. Cannot wait to try out my moves in that mosh pit.]

 

Alex smiles. He didn’t have as much show business experience, but he’d make a good stage hand. “You got it! We won’t let you or the legion down!”

 

Nat offered the rest of the team a tight smile. “You’re all going to do an amazing job. Emi put a lot of trust in me when she agreed to scout all of you, but… I’m so confident it was the right call. Please stay safe. We can’t lose any of you.”

 

Wait wait wait a MINUTE here, HOLD THE FRONT DOOR. “Nat. Bae. Um… You okay?  I mean. You’re comin’ with us, right…. OH NO NO NO, YOU ARE NOT USING HER AS BAIT, W-T-F!!!” And W-T-F is displayed on his mask, all big, red, and angry.

 

A similar anger blossomed in Vin, her teeth clenching and one of her hands becoming a fist. She does not sign anything, however, not wanting to get on the boss’ bad side so soon. Pandora does look to Nat though, even more concern showing.

 

Emi stared at Lights Show for a long minute, smile gone and replaced with a cold mask. “Did I say that, Elliot?”

“It’s okay.” Nat held up one hand, then fixed eir eyes on Elliot. “I asked for this. This mission is more important and personal to me than any other we’ve had so far, and… I have connections to the people we’re dealing with that no one else has. I have to do everything I can here. Please understand. I’ll… do everything I can to make it back alive.”

 

Emi turned her gaze onto Nat next. “Did I say I was bringing you as bait, Bug?” She shakes her head. “We have bait already. She’s eight feet tall in a suit of golden armour. I’m bringing you as my apprentice, Nat. I’m teaching you. And I will die before I let anything happen to you.”

Alex listened in, a determined look growing on his face. “You are both going to come back though. We all know you will.” He smiled to the rest of his group reassuringly. This wasn’t a time for anger. It was one for support. “And we are going to do our best to make sure you both come back.”

 

“No, I– I know, I’m not there as bait. I just recognize that I’m gonna be in the thick of it, and I can’t turn my Lure off, and just–“

 

Vin let Alex’s words calm her. She closed her eyes and nodded as she took in a series of deep breaths. When she next opens her eyes, she turned to her first friend in this new world of hers and gives em a hug.

 

Lights Show just couldn’t stand there anymore.  He walked up– bounced up, semantics— and threw his arms around Nat, hugging eir tight. “Hey, I believe in you, you Sexy Damselfly, so knock ‘em all a good one.” His helmet winked at eir, since his face was covered and all. “Love ya and see ya soon.”

 

“Yeah,” Nat’s voice was a little thick. “Be seeing you all. Real soon.”

 

Emi smiled at the Neon Ops crew.


She had a feeling everyone was gonna be alright.

 

The Cult of Midnight: The Sound of Freedom

DELTA, COLORADO

 

The call came in the evening, right around the time that a civilized person should be winding down their day, spending time with their family and getting ready to rest their heads. Emma Roberts should not have needed to watch her flock that night, should not have had to tend to their loyalty, should not have had to preach the word of midnight.

 

But then a call came. “Begging your pardon, Miss Roberts,” came the voice of one of her most loyal children.

 

“It’s all right, Andy. What is it?”

 

“There’s… something I think you’d better see. In person.”

 

Emma gaped at the colorful concert stage, a panicked note rising in her heart upon seeing the crowd gathering to watch. “How… how did this happen? In our town!”

 

“They set up real quiet, Miss Roberts, in only a couple hours,” Andy said meekly. “At the edge of town, we didn’t notice until they’d turned that bus into a… a–“

 

“A platform of sin,” Emma hissed. “We’re going to go up there and let them know they’re not welcome here, before the–“

 

–music started.

 

<Intro Track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUILQOVt4vU Astronaut – Feronia>

 

Standing atop the bus and augmented by its embedded amplification and systems, Lights Show blew imaginary kisses at the audience, then lit up the night with sound and light.

 

Pandora already stood near the front of the stage, facing out towards the audience as she closed her eyes and let the beat move through her. She started out by tapping her foot and bobbing her head in time to the groove and then, opening her bright yellow eyes to see the gathering crowd began to dance in full. Her headphones rested around her neck, this being one of the few times in which she removed them. As she danced she moved through the crowd to take people’s hands in her own as she moved with them a little so as get them into the beat as well, working her hardest to snap them out of whatever trance they might have been dragged into.

 

A few people were already moving a little bit to the beat, bobbing their heads or swaying. Almost all of them were teens, standing near the front of the crowd and listening as if a bit confused but liking what they were hearing. The faces of the adults further back showed mostly confusion as well, but some disgust and anger.

 

Pandora had no trouble drawing in some of the kids near the front of the near-ground-level modular ‘stage’, who gaped at the colorful, beautiful, fascinating woman moving near them.

 

Knowing full-well that the best way to get people dancing was to start with something simple, Pandora dashed with remarkable speed back to stand atop the stage. She jumped, throwin a single fist up into the air with a wide smile as she led the crowd to fist pump in time to the beat. Her eyes were gazing over the group near the back, however, knowing full well that if trouble were to arise, it would come from back there.

 

Sure enough, there was a bit of a kerfuffle. A woman with long brown hair in a simple, puritan, buttoned dress was speaking in an agitated fashion to a younger man who wore a mullet and a stricken expression. Several adults walked up to her and said something, jerking a thumb toward Vin and her crew. The woman shook her head, holding up a palm, and the adults who had approached her reluctantly backed away. She was in charge.

 

Meanwhile, the younger crowd had caught the infectious energy, bouncing on the balls of their feet, some of them pumping their fists along with Vin and a few dancing on their own. Those on the edge of the crowd were drawn back by parents or older friends, but a few of the adults were starting to feel the energy, smiling, nodding their heads.

 

Alex had hopped out of the bus with a big friendly smile and a giant bucket full of glow sticks, glow bracelets, glow just about anything under the sun. He jumped and pumped his fist to the music as he made his way through the crowd, chatting the kids up and handing them out liberally, going through looking for just the people who weren’t quite into it yet. Encouraging them with a friendly face, making sure they knew there was nothing wrong with a little music in your life!

 

Pandora chuckled silently as Alex stepped out and began to pump his fist in time to the music, raising two fingers to her lips and blowing a sharp whistle to get his attention. She waved her hands and pointed to the glow bracelets, clearly asking for him to toss her a couple to wear as she began to liven up her dancing to include far more intricate moves.

 

The woman in the back was stalking around the edge of the crowd. Her only follower seemed to be the mullet-bearing young man; she seemed to think that she could stop this herself, somehow. She kept a berth from the stage as she reached the front of the crowd, turned, and started to shout back at the audience, catching the attention of some of the kids dancing at the edge.

 

Seeing the stalking woman approach the front, Alex quickly tossed the glow sticks to Vin with a wide grin before searching through the bucket, throwing more into the crowd until finally…he found what he needed.

 

Taking his giant megaphone he pushed to the front of the crowd, standing right next to the shouting woman.

 

“Delta Colorado let’s hear it for the dj who brings the Dazzle, man who’s a meistro! The one, the only, Dj lightshow!” His voice roared over the woman as he motioned to the DJ behind him, who brought the beats with a BOOM.

 

Lights Show responded by launching the next song even louder than the first, drowning out the woman’s words.

 

<Next Song: https://youtu.be/nnAy1906EHg Aero Chord: Break Them (feat. Anna Yvette)>

 

Pandora’s eyes burst into a fiery red as the newest song came on and she grinned as she felt a flame of power stir in the soles of her feet. Flipping onto her hands, the expert dancer began to spin and twirl as trails of multicolored fire painted the air behind her feet so as to light up the stage even more than it had before. Rolling through moves and break dancing in ways that very few had seen before, the woman was putting on quite the show to match the beat which Lights Show blasted over the crowd.

 

The woman realized quickly that she was being drowned out in both sound and spectacle; Vin’s special effects had caught the attention of even many of the adults who’d stayed detached until now. She turned to glare at Vin, her eyes blazing a bright amethyst.

 

Alex hopped right back into the crowd, this time using his powers to grow bright and colorful bioluminescent flowers all along his forearms and fingers, handing them this way and that, sticking them in girls hair, tying them into bracelets. He even managed to slip some on Vins ankles with a swift move of his hands as she break danced. He flashed her a wink, turning to the approaching…huh. Looked like a stereotypical principle from those TV shows. “Looks like we made somebody angry.”

 

Holding herself upside-down with one arm, Vin blew Alex a kiss from where she danced on the stage before turning her gaze to the amethyst-eyed woman. She grinned a grin which basically read “I DARE YOU” in all-capital letters before turning her attention back onto the crowd and flipping onto her feet with a backwards twirl which colored the air with two bright arcs of flame over her head.

 

Eyes blazing, the woman started to shout something at Vin, but realized that she wouldn’t be heard. Scowling, she rummaged in a purse at her side, turning up a marker and notebook. She scribbled furiously for a moment and held up a page:

What are you DOING

More scribbling, then:

Who sent you???

 

While the principal was busy, Alex snuck back into the bus. He had drinks to prep!

 

Pandora chuckled and knelt by the edge of the stage, plucking the woman’s notepad and marker from her fingers before scribbling her own message down and flipping it over for the woman to see.

Dancing and throwing a party, DUH!

We are here as a part of Light Show’s “Blow Your Mind” Tour.

She then tossed the notepad and marker back to the woman with an eyebrow raised and her arms crossed as if to say “can I get back to my job now?”

 

The woman wrote as quickly as she could, which was admittedly not as quickly as Vin wrote, but she eventually turned the notepad around, reading:

We did not hire a light show. You are here to tempt my children to sin.

Give me one good reason that I should not break this party up at once.

 

Vin took the notepad and marker back, scribbling on the pad of paper and revealing it.

  1. Because everyone is having a great time
  2. Because I have gotten into the groove and do not want to stop
  3. Because THEY have gotten into the groove and do not want to stop
  4. Because, deep down, you honestly want to join in on the fun
  5. Because you know you cannot break up this party anyway

She grinned a devilish smile and politely handed the pen and paper back to their owner.

 

“Free sodas and drinks in front of the party bus!  First come first serve!” Turning around there was a wooden, very natural looking stand as the beefcake hype man gladly passed out drinks of choice to anyone and everyone. He did not ask for IDs, and everyone who got a drink got their own bioluminescent something. Folks were really starting to let loose now.

 

Stricken, the woman turned away, staring at Alex, then taking a halting step forward, then stopping. She turned back to Vin, who’d already gone back to dancing and hyping the crowd. She seemed unsure of what she could or should do, paralyzed with indecision and helplessness. A few of her loyal followers stepped forward as if to help her, but she was unable to come up with a command, so they stood as still and helpless as she.

 

Vin had taken note of this, of course, and lept down from the stage to grab the woman’s hand. She pulled her gently towards the stage and then eagerly helped her up onto it. The woman now stood in front of a sea of party-goers who were all having a fantastic time as the music and spectacle washed over them like a cleansing wave. Pandora bumped her hip with the once-upon-a-time leader and gave her a thumbs up as she grooved in time to the music and gestured out to the crowd. The motion was clear: “They are having fun. Why don’t you?”

 

Before she could reply, Alex took note of what Vin was doing and added “And let’s not forget to give a roaring round of applause for the lovely pandora, and the woman who graciously welcomed us all here tonight!”  He motioned at the two on stage grandly. He bet she’d never heard applause like that as an oppressive cult leader.

 

The woman held up her hands as if to object, but halted as she saw the reaction of the crowd. Upon the announcement that she had supported this performance– though a clear lie –had been the step that most of the crowd needed to let go of the last of their reservations. Emma nearly flinched at the intensity of the cheer.

 

She turned to Vin, and for a moment that amethyst light in her eyes guttered like a candleflame in the wind. She said something that Vin couldn’t hear, but it was easy to read her lips:

 

“How?”

 

Pandora chuckled and pointed to the speakers, the lights, and the crowd of dancers with a wide sweep of her arm. She then pointed to the woman’s her ears before drawing a faint line from them to the woman’s heart. When she had reached the approximate area over the vital organ, Pandora gave it a gentle poke as if to emphasize her point. Music touches the heart.

 

She then grabbed the Emma’s hand in her own and raised it above their heads, gesturing to her with a flourish to inspire a chorus of cheering from the crowd. This, she thought, this would be the sound that brought change tonight.

 

She could see Alex beaming up at her, glad to see their plan was working. He let out a cheer and rallied with the crowd. “Now let’s get this party pumping!” He gave LS a thumbs up and large explosions of light blasted in the skies along the beat.

 

<Neon Ops Coup de Grace Track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0h2u87JwyA Madeon – Finale>

 

Emma looked over the cheering crowd, felt the music thrumming in her chest, stared into the middle distance, thinking about Pandora’s words. Gradually, the mask of indignant horror on her face began to melt, and Vin could almost feel a sensation like crystal breaking.

 

As Emma Roberts blinked away tears, the purple light in her eyes flickered, then flared, then died forever.

 

She fell to her knees and wept.

 

Pandora went to Emma’s side, wrapping an arm around her in a comforting manner as she smiled. She opened a palm in front of the woman, dazzling lights dancing through her fingertips as the music continued to pump its power into her. Lifting Emma’s gaze to her own, magenta eyes blazing, Vin smiled and gave her a hug before helping her back onto her feet and providing her with as much support as she needed before raising a single hand into the air and giving a thumbs up which created a dazzling explosion over her head in a show of triumph.

 

They had freed another town from Anathema’s control. They were winning.

 

When in Rome

P-MART GAS STATION

ROMULUS, MICHIGAN

 

They’d been driving on Route 94 for way longer than Vin felt was appropriate. She didn’t even know particularly where they were, only that when Alex had pulled off the highway to gas up the van in a town called ‘Romulus’, Vin had immediately begged off to ‘stretch her legs’, anything to get out of the stuffy vehicle interior for a little while.

 

The trip was still lots of fun, but a person can only take that kind of travel for so long. So she walked along the sidewalk, doing a lap around the building, when something caught her eye: a bit of graffiti. It looked like.. an eye with a horizontal line drawn through it, in pinkish spray paint. Then, over that, someone had put an X through it and written the word ‘MURDERER’ above. Odd.

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glmBscKJ530 Stonebank – Eagle Eyes>

 

Vin tilted her head to the side as she examined the odd graffiti, walking up to it and running her fingers lightly over its outline. She shrugged, deciding that this must have been some kind of an inside joke between two taggers and turned to continue her walk as she bobbed her head in time to the song echoing through her headphones.

 

“Scuse me, miss,” an authoritative voice said behind her.

 

When she turned, she saw a tall man and an even taller woman in standard police uniforms and sunglasses. A cop car was parked not far away; had they been staking out the graffiti?

 

“Mind if we ask you a few questions?” The male cop asked.

 

She raised an eyebrow at the pair, looking between them before shrugging and nodding. The mute woman pointed over her shoulder at the graffiti with her thumb before shaking her head in a manner to say that that was not her doing.

 

“Oh, we know,” the woman growled. “We know exactly who’s responsible for that.”

 

“Mighty fancy bus you got there, miss. What brings you into town?” The other cop asked.

 

Vin pointed to her headphones and MP3 player. She then opened up her palm, pointed to a specific spot on it, and drew a line through it in an attempt to say “just passing through.”

 

“Good,” the woman nodded, then lowered her sunglasses and peered over them at Vin. “We heard about your little band, yeah? We don’t need that kind of show around here. So once your little stooge gets done gassing up your freak van, just drive on out and don’t come back. This is Jorja’s turf.”

 

CODEX UNLOCKED: Jorja Stevenson

Human. Villain. Stevenson is a Human Rights Activist, extremist, and terrorist who believes in human supremacy and the end of Paranormals. She’s unafraid to throw a Molotov or assault a Paranormal in order to achieve her goals. She’s taken over a fair amount of Detroit, and has been working to purge the city of those who would threaten her goals.

 

“We’re not looking for trouble any more than you are,” the man smiled, clearly playing ‘good cop’ out of the pair. “We just want a nice peaceful town. Get me?”

 

Man, what on Earth crawled up her ass and died? Vin thought grumpily to herself as the woman insulted her and her friends. The new superhero crossed her arms and looked more than a little displeased. She had done nothing wrong that she could think of and yet was getting harangued by some uppity policewoman. Turning to look at the kinder of the pair, Vin nodded and made to leave as she ground her teeth together.

 

“Fuckin’ Para scum,” the woman muttered under her breath, and then there was a heavy thud and a cry of pain, and a small spatter of blood appeared on the pavement at the peripheral of Vin’s vision.

 

When she turned, she saw the female officer stumbling up from the ground, clutching at a long cut on her forehead that was bleeding freely. The male officer had already drawn his pistol, and was casting frantic glances about, searching for a target.

 

“You!” The woman on the ground growled, struggling to stand and draw her gun with a bloodied hand. “You brought her here! Are you working with her??”

 

Vin turned quickly, her bright eyes scanning the environment for whatever had attacked the female officer as she drew power from the song in her ears to heighten her senses to perceive the auras of those around her. She was not certain whether she wanted to thank them for doing what she wished she could have done or chew them out for attacking an innocent bystander, but she did know that this individual had just made things considerably more difficult for the band of superheroes traveling through the town. Even if she denied bringing… whoever it was the female officer was referring to, they probably would not believe her. She shook her head regardless. Might as well TRY to keep the peace, right?

 

Something glowed at the edge of her vision as she scanned the area: an aura, something alive, pulsing with protean strength and wound tight like a coiled spring. The shape… was distinctly not human, crawling along the roof of the P-mart store. Stalking them.

 

“Fuck you!” The officer struggled to her feet, drawing her pistol and pointing it straight at Vin. “Fuck this, and fuck you, and fuck your freak mascot! I’d gone months without getting marked, and this is how it happens? This?”

 

“Calm down, Deborah!” The male officer barked, still scanning the area. “She’s still here somewhere.”

 

<Current Song: https://youtu.be/ddFAIkUb7A0 Varien – Valkyrie>

 

As the song changed, the auras the woman had once been able to see faded away into nothing and her eyes turned to a bright-silver hue as a shimmering sword of frozen energy appeared in the woman’s hand. Sprinting past the female officer and shoving the weapon into the side of the building as she used it as a mobile hand-hold to help her scale the rough wall.

 

“Hey!” The male officer shouted, as his partner cursed and tried to wipe the blood dripping down into her eyes. “Stop!”

 

Vin reached the roof of the stubby building in moments, and the creature atop it wheeled to face her. It was a repulsive thing, spiky mottled fur all over with patches of scales showing through, long forelimbs and curved back ones that allowed it to crawl on four wicked claws.

 

Its face, however, was mostly human, save for the slavering maw full of fangs. Its eyes widened and it tensed, ready to lunge.

 

“Legionnaire!” The beast snarled. “Stand down! I am not your enemy.”

 

Not entirely certain of that fact, Pandora continued to face down the creature. She bounced on the balls of her feet in time to the music pumping through her headphones, testing the grip on her new weapon to find one that suited her best. Then, with a flourish, she pointed down at where the woman below had been injured and shakes her head in a disappointed fashion.

 

“Don’t pass judgment on what you don’t understand,” the beast growled, its eyes straying toward the frozen blade, “those people down there serve and protect humans only, and only some humans. They’re the rot making this city sick.”

 

Pandora shrugged, pointed to the pair of cops on the ground floor with her blade, and then gestured between herself and the creature standing before her. Sure, it was not her place to judge anyone or anything, but it totally was her place to protect those who could not effectively protect themselves. Even if they were dicks.

 

Still, she did not want to fight. Her powers wore her out and she did not want to use them any more than she necessarily had to. As such, she extended a hand to the creature.

 

The creature eyed the extended hand and growled, “I need to mark the other one and escape, before they call for backup. Just… get out of the way and let me do my job. Please.”

 

Pandora shook her head and extended her hand again. It was clear that she was not going to let this creature pass to harm another individual. It was also clear that she did not want to fight. Come on… Just take my hand and leave. Then I can let you go. She continued to bounce on the balls of her feet just in case.

 

“You fucking Legionnaires,” the beast snarled, circling her, “this is why they’re winning. This is why I’m fighting this war alone. Damn you. Now I have to do this the messy way.”

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMokMQ8Bu7Y Pegboard Nerds & Tristam – Razor Sharp>

 

Before Vin could react, the creature was a streak of fur and scales, leaping from one side of the roof to the other, far faster than a human. At first it seemed like the beast was zig-zagging its way toward Vin, but she quickly realized by its trajectory that it was aiming past her, to the edge of the roof. Toward the crooked cops.

 

She leapt off the roof with the creature, facing it in the air with vibrant-blue eyes as she spun to plant a kick straight into its abdomen with as much force as she could muster; the sword in her hand dissipating into thin air. The aim for her kick was exceptional as it hit the mark as perfectly as she could have imagined. Pandora landed with a cloud of dust kicking up from her feet as she skidded to stand over the police officers.

 

The creature, completely caught off guard by the sudden accuracy and calculation, caught Vin’s kick right to the midsection, and Vin felt a rib crack under the force of the kick. It tumbled to the pavement headfirst and landed hard enough to kill a human, bouncing and rolling before coming to rest in a heap, vainly struggling to stand and making high-pitched whines of pain.

 

At once, four men leapt out of a black sedan that had pulled up nearby, each one wielding a high-powered combat rifle. They aimed their weapons squarely at the beast on the ground, just as Vin felt a cold metal barrel press against the back of her neck.

 

“Good going, hero,” there was a smirk in the male policeman’s voice. “Maybe you filthy paras are good for a few things. As thanks, I’ll let you walk away. Leave the Pariah to us. We’ll fini–“

 

Pandora’s eyes flared up with sudden anger as she reached behind her back and grabbed the gun without even needing to look. Once the cool metal was in her hands, she spun quickly and clocked the policeman right in the temple with a loud thud of impact. I JUST FUCKING SAVED YOUR ASS, DOUCHE CANOE! A GUN TO THE BACK IS NOT HOW YOU REPAY SOMEONE!

 

Not knowing how to fire a gun in the slightest, Pandora looked at the weapon in her hand and hurled the hunk of metal at one of the gunmen in the van as she sprinted as fast as she could towards the creature on the ground.

 

Vin realized her mistake before the pistol even connected with its original target. Calculations she could never otherwise make flashed in her head as the end of the song approached, feeding her the facts of her imminent demise like some kind of morbid, slow-motion commentator.

  • These people are all trained killers.
  • Those guns are fully automatic assault rifles.
  • They are already pointed at me.
  • I’ve only knocked out one.
  • By the time I’m three feet away, I will have taken a minimum of thirteen high-caliber rifle rounds.

 

Then, a variable raised its head and howlscreamed. The creature that the cop had referred to as ‘The Pariah’ was still awake, and it was angry. Almost as quickly as Vin’s eye could track it, the creature’s claws wrapped around one of the assault rifles and tore it from its owners hands, then used it as a bludgeon to knock the wind out of the man behind, then a sharp crack as the beast brought its stock up in a nasty uppercut to the jaw of the fourth.

 

The Pariah gave the battered rifle an easy toss to Pandora, who caught it without thinking, and then there were four more quick movements from the creature and four spatters of blood. The Pariah had put a mark on each gun-toting thug: a bloody, horizontal line across the forehead, a move so quick and easy that it must have done it a thousand times.

 

Pandora skidded to a halt and the Pariah looked up at her as the men surrounding her struggled to grab their weapons.

 

“I’ll keep them busy. Go,” the creature growled, “and if it makes you feel any better… I don’t kill. No matter what the news says.”

 

Blinking with shock, Pandora could not do much but nod as her feet began to carry her away from the scene. Her body screamed with exhaustion as adrenaline carried her back towards the party bus. Realizing that she still had a rifle in her hands, she turned one final time to face the scene, aimed it, and hurled the weapon like a javelin towards where she remembered the female cop had been. If she was going to run away with her tail between her legs, she was going to give that lady one hell of a headache to wake up to.

 

As she reached the bus, she blew on two fingers sharply to signal that they needed to get out of there pronto and hopped her way onboard. Whoever was sitting in the driver’s seat, Pandora shoved them out of the way and, making sure everyone was onboard, slammed her foot into the gas as she drove them the fuck out of Romulus.

 

“Get the fuck out? With armed men in the streets?” Alex asked haughtily. “Sure. But I think we need to make a delivery first. Lightshow! Plug in! It’s time to turn it up to eleven.” Alex grinned devilishly, panels along the sides of the bus opening up to reveal massive amplifiers. The jets roared to life, bringing them just above car level. He flicked through their music selection. “Something ranged for you baby.” He flicked the radio on full blast.

 

“Let’s show these guys Team Neon won’t just stand there and take their shit.”

 

The bus began speeding towards the street Vin was at, screaming just above normal traffic.

 

Elliot mumbled, an arm flailing up from a pile of blankets and curly blond hair sticking up at every wrong angle.  It took a moment for him to realize–OH SHIT STUFF WAS HAPPENING! And he was up, in a whirlwind of a blanket covering up and black motorcycle suit parts getting pulled on, until he was stumbling, bleary eyed, out to the DJ station with a cup of coffee in one hand and his helmet in the other.

 

He set his helmet down on the DJ dashboard, plugged it in, and knocked back the coffee like a shot while the system was initiating.

 

“Prepare for blastoff in 10… 9…” He still sounded like he wasn’t awake yet.

Outside of the van, some kind of horrible hairy beast thing with multiple nasty-looking bullet wounds seemed to be in the midst of pitched battle with about half a dozen shouting, armed humans… and they all looked up as the bus started bearing down on them.

 

Alex rolled down a window for Pandora to shoot out of, and then his passenger window…the only problem being that they were both on the wrong side. His booming voice roared through the van “hang tight!”  Before he gripped the wheel and pulled hard, swerving the bus mid air, almost flipping them, but just barely avoiding it as their back slammed against the gunmen’s escape vehicle. He timed it perfectly so Lightshows boom would go off now, right in front of them while the buses momentum was still shifting.

 

And boom  did it go. Right as Elliot finished his countdown, he slammed the helmet on over his head, and let the beat drop.

<The song: https://youtu.be/R5N7JaURMxQ?t=53s>

 

A concussion wave burst around the bus, waves of lights flying out like it was suddenly 2001 and they were on a Space Odyssey.  It was enough to knock most normal people flat on their asses– though Elliot hadn’t tried the whole, AOE effect before.  It was kinda cool. Like really freakin cool.

 

The shockwave hit the combatants hard, sending the humans tumbling to the ground, and the Pariah’s lighter-than-human frame flying ass over teakettle against the escape car, caroming off of it, and slamming into the exterior wall of the building behind. She crumpled to the ground, but the humans were too busy cringing and cowering from the kinetic assault to take advantage of the opening.

 

Alex, not being the showman Lightshow was, simply leaned out the window and threw a full can of Ebcoil Cola at one of the fleeing supremacists, at speeds rivaling or even surpassing most professional baseball players it hit the back of their head with a fizzy splash before they crumpled to the ground. He then proceeded to show all of them the middle finger, shouting “Don’t fuck with the legion!” Before speeding off. He thought that went well.

 

Behind them, they heard a catastrophic roar, and a glance in the rear view mirrors showed humans falling over each other to pile into their vehicles and escape, as some kind of ten-foot-tall lumbering monstrosity appeared, four tree-trunk arms raised and ready to fight.

 

It’d probably be fine.

 

The Cult of Midnight: Fly Bye

THE FLYING FORTRESS
OVER SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
VEHICLE BAY #3

 

<Current Theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbAUwi4D3Ew The Glitch Mob – Fortune Days>

 

The call came as the Neon Ops Team was unloading from a successful tour, over the Flying Fortress PA. Scanner’s voice, deadly serious: “Shadow Scout Team, departure at Teleport Bay Delta in ten minutes. Shadow Scout, Bay Delta, ten minutes.”

 

The tension in the air here at the fortress had grown taut as an E string, with everyone aware that the final assault on Twin Falls could begin at any time. Preliminary scouting groups had already been sent to the surface, but most had simple number or letter designations. This one just had a title.

 

Vin’s mind flashed back to the memory of that placard outside of Emi’s office. ‘Shadow Mask’.

 

Pandora’s eyes went wide as thoughts turned themselves over in her head. Emi had said that she was taking Nat along with her to deal with the problems in Twin Falls, hadn’t she? Yeah. Yeah, she totally had. That meant that Nat was about to…

 

The mute woman turned to her two compatriots and hurriedly began signing something about having forgotten to turn her stereo system off back in her room at the Flying Fortress. Before Elliot or Alex even had a chance to respond, however, she had already activated her teleporter and was off and running down the halls of her new home towards Nat’s room. She moved with such speed and urgency that when she turned to face her friend’s door she nearly ran face-first into it but managed to stop herself a hair’s width away from doing so. She took a deep breath and knocked on the door a few times.

 

When the door slid open to reveal a startled Damsefly, Vin’s heart dropped. Nat’s usual, colorful attire was nowhere to be seen; ey wore a figure-hugging catsuit of matte black, the kind designed to make its wearer blend into shadows unseen. The kind that Nat would never have willingly worn unless ey needed to.

 

Unless ey had something important to do that demanded it.

 

She could not help but frown at her friend’s abnormal attire, knowing exactly what this meant. [You are heading out to Twin Falls soon, aren’t you?]

 

“Um. Yeah,” Nat averted eir eyes for a moment, then returned them to Vin’s hands. “What are you doing here, Vin? Shouldn’t you be helping the team unload in the vehicle bay?”

 

Vin nodded. She probably should be, but had decided that this was more important. [I want to go with you. I know Emi said ‘no heroics’ and everything, but I do not see why that has to apply to me and not you. You’re a member of my team and I want to keep you safe.]

 

<Current Song: https://youtu.be/-seot5RyeX8 Andrew Bayer – Gaff’s Eulogy>

 

“Vin…” Nat clenched eir jaw, still having trouble meeting her eyes. “…no. You can’t. We all have our roles in this. Our strengths, our connections. This is mine, and Emi’s. We’re going in together. I’m still with the rest of you, just… not in person. As you all are with me.”

 

[But you’re not there with us. Not really.] She was upset, her signs a mix of sad and angry. [Even though we may not show it at the shows, it is clear to us all that we are missing something. Someone. We want you to be there with us. It… It’s where you belong. You may look good in black, but you are far better looking when you are dancing in colors.]

 

“Oh god, Vin…” Nat reached up and touched her face, eyes shining with tears that ey was having trouble holding back. “I know. I miss it too. It feels better when I get to play with all of you, be a part of our team. When we work together. We will again. I’ll be back in no time, and we’ll make the world shake.”

 

Nat’s tone was sincere, but there was something uncertain in eir eyes, a reserve. That bracing look of someone who knew that ey was wading into hell and might not come back.

 

Vin rubbed at her eyes, the sunset-orange color in them wavering as she struggled to hold back tears of her own. [I just… You are my first friend in this world. You helped bring me here. You helped me to meet all of these wonderful new people. You gave me more purpose than I had before. I… I don’t like that you are walking – flying – into danger without me.] She looks up from her shaking hands. [Are you sure I cannot go with you? I won’t be a burden. I swear.]

 

<Current Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDplwu9kH9Y Velvetine – The Great Divide (seven lions mix)>

 

Nat closed the distance in a moment, taking Vin’s face in eir hands and kissing her deeply.

 

She returned the kiss, taking in a stabilizing breath through her nose as her arms wrapped around behind Nat to hold em close. The embrace was powerful, an unwillingness to let go surging through the woman’s muscles.

 

The Damselfly’s thin limbs held her fast too, imbued with that uncanny strength and coursing with that passionate energy that Vin had sensed in Nat from the very beginning. When ey finally broke the kiss, ey didn’t let go; ey nudged one side of her can headphones with eir nose and murmured: “When we first made love to this song, you were already on the way to becoming part of my family. I’m not going to leave you alone without the fight of my life.”

 

Ey disengaged enough that Vin could reply if she wanted to, but also as a way of indicating that it was almost time to go.

 

This convinced Vin to hold on even tighter. She pulled Nat into her arms and snuggled the Damselfly close so as to nestle her lips close to eir neck, kissing the freckled skin gently. Eventually… She let go and took a few steps back. [I do not want to see a scratch on you when you return, you hear me? If I see even one scratch, I am going to be pissed.] The woman’s eyes were watering as she tried to look tough.

 

“I’m sure I’ll be very contrite,” the Damselfly smiled, wiping a stray tear from one eye. “I… I gotta go. Emi and I have a lot of ground to cover tonight.”

 

Pandora nodded, closing her eyes and sniffling a little. [You guys will do great. Kick some major ass out there for me, okay? I want to hear all about it when you get back.]

 

Nat laughed. “I think that’s called a ‘debriefing’,” ey said, and then gave her another short, tight hug. “Okay, now get outta here before I cry again.”

 

The Cult of Midnight: Bliss Is It

Bliss is It

 

INTERSTATE 84 SOUTH

JUST OUTSIDE BLISS, IDAHO

 

“All right, Nops,” Nat’s voice over the radio was deadly serious. “Bliss is the last compound we need you to hit, and time is of the essence here. This is the closest enclave to Twin Falls that we’ve found, and it’s likely that nearly everyone you meet is going to be a puppet and very hard to break. That said, don’t kill ’em unless you absolutely have to. Distract, confound, disable. Don’t count on being able to convert them. If y’all pull this off, you’re preventing an entire backup regiment from getting to Rooster and Wastey. Good luck.”

 

The lights of Bliss, Idaho shone in the distance as the party bus sped toward it.

 

Alex was going slow with the bus, cautious. Giving them some time to see what all was around them. Giving them time to make a plan. “So…doubt I will be able to be as ah…generous as I have been with past shows. You guys think I should just go full security? Might be better to just wait it out.” He muttered. He had a feeling in the pit of his gut about this one. A bad feeling.

 

Lights Show is a bit surprised when he hears Nat’s voice, but is also super happy too, and a big 😀 appears on the dome of his helmet in neon rainbow colors.

“Nat, bae, we got this. Like. Wow. WE SO GOT THIS.” He did a little spin, then moonwalked back to his console, “Hearts and kisses, butwegotthis.” And he’s totes not trying to convince himself of this more than trying to convince eir. Of course not!

Instead of thinking about it, he starts up his own brand of LET’S RIDE INTO THIS PLACE IN STYLE (AND STUFF) music, to set off the, um, set right.

 

<MUSIC: https://youtu.be/ps7VHOJLOfc>

 

“I know you got it, E. You all do. I’m so psyched to be on this team with all of you, and it’s just killin’ me that I can’t be there. All y’all best survive for victory makeouts. That’s an order.””WHOO!”

 

“That’s not actually an order,” Emi cut in on the radio. “The makeouts. Surviving is an order. Not the makeouts.””awwwwwww”

 

“It’sanorder,” Nat whispered. “Damselfly out.””WHOO!”

 

Pandora was stretching again, making sure she was loose enough to pull off whatever moves would be necessary. Even though Nat and Emi could not see her response, the mute woman flashed a nervous smile and a thumbs up to both present members of Neon Ops before placing her headphones over her ears once more and tuning her MP3 in to catch Elliot’s signal. Her pale-white eyes instantly shifted color to a bright golden hue.

 

As the bus approached the town, Alex took note of several flashes of color appearing in the distance… blue and red. Police. A blockade. The cops had blocked both sides of the road, and several well-armed troopers stood by the cars.

 

Alex turned the bus on very slow autopilot before jumping from his seat, hopping up and down taking in deep breaths, getting his adrenaline pumping. He went over to his teammates. “Alright guys we got this. Just a little blockade.” He gave them high fives as he jumped around peering back at it. “Nothing we can’t handle.” They could tell in his voice he was nervous. “We got this. We got his. Ok. Hands in.” He gave a marker to Vin so she could write on his hand as they huddled up. “Stop at the barricade, or go over it? Thoughts?”

 

Go over them, Pandora writes on the back of Alex’s hand with a small smile. Set us up as close to the center of the compound as possible so that we can have as big of an impact as possible. Turn this bus into a fucking musical fortress in the middle of their town.

 

Lights Show chewed on his lip, a loading wheel popping up on his helmet as he thought about it. “Hmm… Fortress? I… I uh think I can do fortress. I got some ideas? I mean, for songs. Not like. Viable plan ideas.” He lets out a nervous laugh, music a bit quieter as he muses on things.  After he shrugs (and an emoji shrugs on his helmet), the music turns back up again, leading their epic charge.

“Over it is.” Alex gives off as confident a grin as he can given the circumstances, rushing over to the wheel. “Hold on to your lunch and plug in! It’s gonna be a rocky ride!” He pushed the pedal to the floor hard, making sure they would reach top speed by the time they reached the barricade and he grabbed the wheel to pull them up and over at the exact last second, hoping with his eyes shut that it would be enough!

 

The cultist troopers brought their weapons to bear and started firing! Bullets, slugs, and buckshot glanced off the armored exterior of the party van until nearly the last moment, and several of the troopers dove out of the way as the van barely cleared the cop cars, knocking the lights clean off of one of them.

 

Pandora stuck her head out of the passenger-side window as they go over the barricade and spat on top of one of the cultist’s head, making a face at the rest of them so as to rile them up a little. She then settled back into the passenger’s seat and put her legs up on the dashboard as she chuckled silently as the adrenaline pumping through her veins helped her to relax a little more.

 

OH shiiiiiiiiii was that gunfire? Lights Show rapidly switched the beat to one of the songs he’d been practicing for Pandora, hoping that he did it in time.

<Music: https://youtu.be/dSFrHi7z_ag Maor Levi – Reflect>

 

Alex opened his eyes just in time to hit the ground running, swerving the hover-bus this way and that, keeping damage to a minimum as much as possible. “Going to be reaching the compound any minute now, we probably need to take out those gunmen first!” Alex shouted over the roar of the bus and the fire and the music blasting.

 

Mercifully, Nat had anticipated this problem, making sure that everyone was fitted with a comm device that mimicked the one ey had implanted against eir jaw—the Neon Ops agents could all hear each other perfectly well, even over the loudest din.

 

Well. Except Vin. Nobody could hear her.

 

As the party bus caromed off the road on the other side of the blockade, the troopers who’d dived for their lives stood up and fumbled for their weapons while those on the sides kept firing, having little effect on the armored bus, which careened off the exit into town.

 

Route 30, the road cutting through the town itself, seemed clear enough going in, and mostly deserted… but Alex spotted people darting into buildings, barely managing to get out of sight. Nat had said to keep an eye out for the Bliss Community Church as a possible base. Said church had been renovated a few years before and was therefore the most modern and spacious building in town.

 

Alex saw the structure almost immediately, looming overhead and silhouetted by bright moonlight.

 

Alex brought the van into a skid, parking it right infront of the entrance with a horrible groan as it tilted juuuuuuust enough to not tip over, before slamming against the ground. He had taken all the handicapped parking. “Like a glove!” Alex shouted before popping the door open and jumping out. Seemed like they had some time before the police got to them. “Best we incapacitate these goons first.” He added, Alex’s arms and fists growing thick branch muscles and tough bark skin, he slammed them quickly into the concrete in search for dirt.

 

Dirt was easy to find; the pavement of the parking lot was only a few inches deep, with dry packed earth below. It wasn’t easy to get through, but Alex was plenty strong enough.

 

A high-caliber bullet smacked the pavement from a steep angle. Someone was in the church tower with a rifle.

 

Pandora spun in her chair before sprinting outside, her eyes a solid shade of grey as dust flew up from the ground in front of her from where the bullet had collided. With a grin, she moved directly into the path of where the sniper had aimed and pointed to her heart with a wide smile. Come on, buddy. Shoot me right here. I dare you.

 

Power-slide complete! Lights Show unplugged his helmet and sprinted outside–

 

“AH!”

 

He gave out an undignified yelp and jumped at the sound of the bullet, glancing quickly between Alex and Vin to make sure they were okay!  And he patted himself down. He was good. All epic leather motorcycle suit and shiny helmet. Phew!

 

Thankfully, he got that music going again, same song, figuring that, um, a barrier might be a good idea vs bullets and stuff. Maybe.

 

Alex was already on it, unflinching when faced with close bullet fire he called out “Vin! Cover my back from the watchtower!” Meanwhile the earth rumbled as a thick wall of heavy trees began forcing their way out of the ground, surrounding them and the bus from the oncoming police force and providing plenty of cover for both sides to use. It’d take a moment to complete though, he needed his team to keep him safe during the process.

 

A shot rang out again, and a bullet pierced Vin’s hand and chest, passing directly through her with what would normally have been a painful and debilitating wound. Instead, her flesh closed up behind the bullet’s path, and there were a few seconds of silence… and then a sniper rifle hit the ground, dropped from far above.

 

Alex’s shield started to rise just as a half a dozen armed cultists poured from the doors to the church, shouting. They fired wildly, some of them dropping to the ground after shooting Vin.

 

Pandora patted the spots where she had been shot with some form of shock as she seemed perfectly okay. She gave her two compatriots a thumbs-up to show that she was okay and moved to make herself a more appealing target for the goons to shoot at, moving as best she could to take shots to non-vital limbs so as to mitigate damage on her opponents. She did not want them to kill themselves, after all.

 

“Ignore the slattern!” Someone shouted. “She turns our bullets against us. Shoot the abomination and the robot!”

 

The gunfire shifted, aiming more toward Lights Show and Alex.

 

Slattern!? Pandora thinks to herself incredulously. I do not even know what that MEANS and I know that it is insulting! Whoever said that, you are the first on my nad-kicking jamboree! With that, Vin books it into the crowd. They may not be able to attack her, but she could certainly knock their weapons away.

 

As Pandora waded into battle, the cultists didn’t quite know what to do. This woman was charging them, attacking them, and they couldn’t hit back? Pandora was able to disarm several of them before some were able to get by, shoving her but not striking to get past her blockade.

 

After the reached a certain height, Alex began curving the trees, making them thinner, faster, going for the group behind Vin, flanking the back of the bus. The leafy flora tips began slapping them around their faces, making it extremely difficult to aim properly. He let out a grunt in pain though, as a bullet grazed his hip. “No your an A-BOB-NATION!” One of the tendrils shook a goon around angrily till he dropped his gun.

 

With the sound of impact, Pandora danced her way back through the crowd of goons and blew three short whistles to signal a change in song as she moved to Alex’s side to protect him from any more stray bullets.

 

Duuuuuude they totes thought he was a robot?! That was cool. A neon thumbs up appeared on the dome screen on his helmet, and he did a little spin, keeping himself as well shielded as he could while still playing.  

 

And of course, since they were changing their attention, it was time to switch songs!

<Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf6LD2B_kDQ>

 

Lights Show was quickly surrounded with rainbow pulsing light, small cloud of sonic bursts around him like a shield as he spun the song for Pandora.

As Lights Show beatmatched the song transition, bringing the trance backbeat into a halftime dubstep rhythm, the brainwashed troops fell back. A barely-audible shout came from behind Alex’s shield, and the troops near the periphery fell back further. Some stayed to try to fight or recover their weapons, but it was clear that they were losing ground.

 

Alex, being satisfied with his tree wall, shook his arms out of the ground, pointing at the fleeing troops. “Time to go on the offensive! Let’s round them up and cuff them up for the time being.” And with that he sprinted after the baddies trying to regain their weapons, kicking them away and clocking one in the face so hard he spun. Then Alex grabbed his arm behind his back and a heavy wood covering locked it there as he let the bad guy fall to the ground. “Were doing good team let’s keep it up!” He cheered, then pursuing the other troops with much vigor.

 

Clink. Clink. Two grenades sailed over the tree wall and bounced off of the asphalt.

 

“Shit! Get behind the bus!” Alex grabbed his captive and dived on top of him, hoping his body would at least somewhat protect the innocent.

 

On the playlist’s transition, Pandora lost her reflective immunity as her eyes changed hue; a swirl of rainbow replacing the simple grey. Lifting her hands, colorful light began to swirl above her palms as she turned towards a charging assailant and, twirling to the side to avoid a second attack from her flank, let loose a barrage of frozen energy towards her original target’s legs before turning to another cultists and blasting him against the tree wall with a beam of purest force.

 

Wait was that a– oh no, worse. It was two.  Lights Show stared up for a moment. It felt like a million moments, but they were grenades.  And then he acted, keeping the beat, but swinging his arms, launching into full dance.  A concussive arc hit the first grenade, launching it back towards the building, and then a second– okay, that one missed, but no one was looking.

The third (technically) concussive arc hit the second grenade, flinging it back as well.

Appropriately, there was a big red exclamation mark on his helmet at the moment. He was only screaming internally, though.

..and both grenades struck the wooden shield, bouncing back. Lights Show caught them both with another pair of arcs, and they bounced again. This time he’d get them over the top. This time–

 

Kneeing another thug hard in the side of the head to force him into the ground whilst her beam cycled harmlessly through its gamma form, Pandora’s eyes go wide as she sees the grenades being juggled between Lights Show and the wooden barricade. Beginning to sign something before realizing it would likely be lost in the chaos around them, she scrambled up one of the trees and, using a beam of concentrated water, used the combined blast and her own weight to try and move the trunk out of the way partially.

 

The grenades both exploded in midair, shrapnel pelting the bus, LS’s armor, and the tree behind which Vin was hiding. Nobody seemed to be too badly injured from the detonation, though the cultists were scrambling even more frantically, some of whom were bleeding from small shrapnel cuts. The smoke from the grenades mixed with the already increasingly-hazy night air as there was a brief lull in the action.

 

Alex jumped up from atop the cultist. “That was freaking awesome!” He shouted at LS and Pandora, beaming, before jumping right back into the action. He clotheslined another baddie right in the neck and downwards so they hit the ground hard, roots immobilizing any and every goon he took down as he waded through the enemy lines.

 

Oh no. Oh NO NO NO NO. His ears were ringing. He could hear the EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE and that was terrible because that meant bad things and he tries switching into the next song but what he’s playing is slightly off key.

<Music: https://youtu.be/WXrdYwG17PE>

 

Using the blast of the grenade to catapult her backwards a bit, Pandora slammed her feet straight into the face of a cultist. Springboarding off of this goon with a flip, the woman made a pair of finger guns and pointed them at the center mass of another goon. With a pair of BANGS that could barely be heard over the cacophony, she fired a stream of force bullets straight into this individual before landing. Stuck on the opposite side of the barrier from her compatriots, Pandora ran horizontal as she twirled and dove above and below strikes aimed her way, firing shots into the crowd with concussive shots of her own as she worked her way back around and into the fortress.

 

The yellowish lamps in the parking lot bathed the thickening fog covering the area in light, creating a haze that was getting harder and harder to see through. Luckily, this worked in Pandora’s favor: the brainwashed troopers couldn’t see her to hit her, and she heard bullets thunking against the wood all around her as she ran.

 

Alex was undeterred by the fog, growing two massive wooden plows on his arms and running through the enemy ranks like a football player, shouting out his position for his friends. ((Tag))

 

The screech of his ears was still there, but Pandora was running around, and now he was running out of cover into the fog, and he may have just panic switched songs. But, like, it fit. Right?

<Music: https://youtu.be/IJKolWUVcuA>

Lights Show dove out from behind the tree wall, tucking and rolling.  He came up in a sprint, flinging a sonic wave at the closest person right as the drop hit.

Not only did Vin’s eyes change to shadowy-purple, but soon she had vanished from sight completely as the dancer dove into a shadow. Moving slowly from one pool of darkness to another, Pandora soon leapt straight out of a goon’s shadow who was sneaking up behind Lights Show and swiftly plants her foot straight into his groin. She pats her companion on the shoulder three times to let it know it was her and that she had his back before diving into the darkness under a nearby tree.

 

There seemed to be… fewer soldiers. Had they gotten through all of them? And was that a burning smell in the air? Was something on fire? It didn’t look like there was the light of a fire anywhere nearby. Odd.

 

Lights Show sniffs, nose wrinkling. Did he singe some hairs in that explosion? He patted himself down, breathing a sigh of relief when he felt his helmet was still in place. Okay, good– WHAT ABOUT THE TREE WALL?!?!?! He whipped around, trying to keep the beat and multitask and HOLY SHIT was this more difficult than he realized it would be.

“Let go, little sinners.” A woman’s voice, somehow audible over all the music and violence. “There is more for you in heaven and earth.”

 

Pandora steps out of the shadow of a goon she had just taken down, eyes scanning the dark surrounding them as she tried to work out where the voice was coming from. Her muscles screamed with exhaustion, her powers draining her each second they were being used, but there was so much adrenaline pumping through her veins that she hardly even noticed. That would be something she would worry about later when everything had passed.

 

“I was like you in so many ways,” the voice said. Where was it coming from? Was that a dark shape moving in the suddenly-smoggy air above the tree shield? “Letting go, giving myself to her… it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

 

Alex busted through the smog to stand next to his friends once again. He didn’t pay mind to the figure above yet. “Hey, guys, you all good? Nobody hurt? Just throw an OK Pan.” He was bleeding from a cut on his leg, torn right through the pants. But other than that and his hip he was fine.

 

The mute superheroine flashes a thumbs-up to her partner and then points up into the air towards the woman with the same motion. Muscles tensed, body still as plans flashed through Pandora’s head. Their adversary could fly, that much was clear. In order to stand the best chance at success, therefore, they would have to get her onto the ground and pummel her to a pulp before she pulled out of range. That would probably be up to Lights Show and her as she knew that Alex was best on the ground. The smell, however, concerned her. It was that of an open flame. Could she use fire? Was that another ability of hers? No way to tell at the moment. Best to assume yes and avoid giving her more kindling to pump herself up.

 

Pandora turned to Alex and then pointed to the trees before drawing a slice across her throat. Cut them down for now. Trust me on this one. I think I have an idea. She then looked to Lights Show, pointed to the woman above as if she were drawing back the string on a bow, and blew three whistles on two fingers to signal a change in song.

 

“Ah… I…” Lights Show saw the signal, and he had no clue what song she could possibly be referring to.  He really didn’t have enough time to study them all (no, partying time was not time he should have been studying, shush).  And now…

 

“Do you trust me?” He gave her a weak look, which was thankfully hidden by the shiny black dome of his helmet. “I… I really hope this works.”

And he started playing another song.

<Music: https://youtu.be/502xxCTRfxo>

 

“Defiance,” the voice said. “You don’t take this seriously. Very well.”

 

Multiple dark shapes moved in the smoke, above and behind them.

 

“You got it love!” Alex saluted and shoved his hands in the ground, his trees bending down backwards, flat on the ground. He jumped up onto one of the flattened flora, looking back and up at the shapes trying to make sense of things.

 

A silent chuckle ran through Vin’s body as this new song came on, her eyes shifting to that multi-colored rainbow hue from earlier as she pointed two finger guns up into the sky. Bright and colorful energy swirled up her arms and gathered in her fingertips as she closed one eye to focus on the targets in the air in front of her. This was going to be epic.

 

Still audible over the music, the woman kept speaking. “Once you are subdued, hollowed out, free, you will understand as I came to understand. I no longer obsess over the gadfly I failed to kill. It will be hollowed out too.”

 

Cultists poured from the smoke in a unified wave, weapons raised.

 

“Oh no, that’s Smokescreen!” The alert exclamation flashed on his helmet again, replaced by the image of a light bulb turning on. “HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A MOMENT!” And he kept up the obnoxious music, crouching down to try to make sonic waves around them.  He was shaking, he was sweating way too much in his leather suit (yeah, his bad for choosing black leather, oops), and he was sure he was missing a beat now and then on the song, but, he HAD to get that smoke away from them.

 

Vin stood stoic despite being the closest to the smoke in front of her, taking a deep breath and holding it in as she continued to charge her attack with her one open eye still focused on those in front of her. Come on lungs, don’t fail me now. I cannot move or else this thing will not fire…

 

“Yes. Hello, Lights Show. It’s good to see you again. I look forward to you becoming part of the family. The gadfly is already defeated, did you know? Shadow Mask’s legs are broken. The gadfly is immobilized. The Oathkeeper is on the brink of surrender. You have lost. Give up now.”

CODEX UNLOCKED: Smokescreen

Once a stoic Legionnaire with a troubled past, Smokescreen was a versatile hero with the ability to create hundreds of kinds of specialized gas with uses ranging from deadly neurotoxin to healing. Sadly, when she was caught by the Lure of the Damselfly, the Legion found themselves having to hunt her down to retrieve their black ops agent from certain death. She was last seen unconscious over the shoulder of Callister Rayne, and is assumed to have been captured by Anathema.

 

DON’T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT MY FRIENDS LIKE THAT!” Lights Show kept crouched, teeth gritted, pulses of sheer beat swirling the smoke away in slow wafts. That wasn’t going to be enough.  He knew it wasn’t going to be enough. And if what she was saying…

Elliot closed his eyes, concentrating. He’d never tried this outside his bedroom before, but… Now or never.

He focused the bass down, like jets beneath his feet, coming from his palms, determined that he was gonna soar up there and uppercut that traitor!

 

Alex pointed a finger at the cultist battalion behind them and shouted “fire!”  The wall of trees that was flattened all rose up at the same time at high speed, like a tidal wave, and crashed towards the enemy, blowing a massive amount of the gas away from them.

 

With the command, Vin finally let loose her attack as a flurry of rainbow-blasts rocketed out from her fingers towards her enemies. Each one shaped like a cat for some odd reason, the barrage of concussive missiles would explode into shining fireworks as they struck their targets. Even those who tried to flee were not entirely safe as the trail of this barrage followed the path of the single, rainbow-colored eye Pandora had kept open as she continued to hold her breath.

 

At first Elliot was worried he wasn’t going to get off the ground, and he was just going to look like this sad little idiot in an anime pose on the ground but– oh shoot. He wasn’t on the ground anymore!!!!  He wobbled at first, panicking, and the beat skipped for a moment, but then he stabilized himself enough and pushed the bass even harder, shooting straight for Smokescreen.

 

The smog parted before him in a ring, pushed away by the pressure waves wreathing Lights Show. For one moment, they cleared completely around his opponent, her amethyst-tinted eyes wide with shock. They almost seemed to hang there for a moment, but then Lights Show slammed into her and they both plummeted to the ground, his fall broken by hers. Elliot heard and felt Smokescreen’s bones buckle under him as the shock of their impact with the ground jarred him.

 

As the last of her missiles collided with their targets or exploded, Vin jumped backwards into the clearing of air made by Lights Show’s takeoff. She took a couple deep breaths before managing to blow three whistles again, coughing a little afterwards as she let her body rest by Alex’s side for a few moments.

 

Alex held her gently as she let the coughs out, wondering slightly why he wasn’t getting affected by it to bad. He patted her shoulder and then got in a back to back position, scanning the area for more enemies…and Lightshow.

 

“Ah…” Smokescreen managed to gasp, blood trickling from her mouth and nose. “I can’t… feel. Pity. If I don’t … counteract it… this—this haze. Will end us all. It has been… good to serve.”

 

Despite her exhaustion and shortness of breath, Pandora blew out three whistles once more even as her legs shook with overuse. Her entire body was threatening to keel over.

 

Lights Show could feel his skin itching, and that couldn’t be good at all– he could hear Pandora coughing too.  And then it dawned on him.  First thing first: new experiment in songs:

<Music: https://youtu.be/yp3UeCguVVI>

 

Second, he ripped off his helmet– immediately his eyes started to water, and breathing felt like sandpaper, but it was easier to appeal to a person when you could see faces and stuff. Or something.  He grabbed her face, staring down at her, and pleaded.

“Look, I know you didn’t want to hurt Nat back there. It was just a lot of stuff gone wrong. Come on. You don’t have to do this.”

As the new song struck, crackling black energy shot through Pandora’s headset as her eyes turned a shade of pitch black. With a groan of pain, she collapsed to the ground and the energy rocketed into the air before clouds started to billow up above. The mute clenched her teeth with concentration as she tried to control the discordant song as rain began to fall and a great gust of wind began to sweep through the area. Lightning crackled and struck the top of the church’s steeple close-by as Vin grabbed her headphones and threw them off. The song was not coming from them this time, however, and so the power continued to build stronger and stronger as a tooth actually cracked from how hard she clenched her jaw.

 

“Ha… beautiful…” tears shone at the edges of Smokescreen’s eyes. “God, I can’t remember… the last time… I… I…”

 

Her breath hitched for a moment, and the amethyst light flickered in her eyes. “Oh God,” she murmured. “I … what have I done… what have I done!”

 

Alex grabbed Vin. “Hey! Hang in there!” His eyes were starting to water from the gas. There were the effects. He managed to lift the larger than him woman in his arms with ease. “We need to get out of here. Lightshow! We can’t stay here!” He put up an arm to brace himself from the wind, moving against it, hoping it’d blow the gas behind them, he went as fast as his failing and wounded legs would allow. He winced. He wasn’t going to make it at this rate. Not with the two of them.

 

Rain poured from the billowing storm up above as black energy continued to crackle through Pandora, her headphones dragging across the ground behind her and Alex as she opened her mouth in completely silent screams. Lighting struck the steeple again and then struck the ground close to its entrance, the strikes becoming more and more common as the wind continued to gust.

 

Elliot let his head drop, forehead resting against hers.  His eyes were stinging and he kept blinking, but he couldn’t tell if it was the smoke or something else. Dammit, he had something in his eye. That was the story he was– there wasn’t time for this.

“Hey. Hey, you can still fix this, okay? Just… stop the smoke. Please. Then we can get out of here together. Whatdya say?”

 

“Your… your friend blew the smoke away,” she choked. “It’s already inside you. But—”

 

She coughed out a thick white vapor, and Lights Show inhaled it before he could react. Suddenly his airways felt clear, his lungs stopped burning. He felt… almost refreshed.

 

“I can’t move…” Smokescreen whispered hoarsely. “…them… here… hurry…”

 

Alex was holding Vin tight. Looking her in the eyes. “I’m here for you love. Stay in there. I’m here.” He was already making his way to Lightshow. He would drag all three of them out of here if he had to. Even though he wouldn’t make it. They were in this together. “We need to leave before the smoke comes back!” He shouted over the storm to no avail, clutching Vin tightly. “The music…you’re hurting her!”

 

Vin “Pandora” Peter’s eyes focused upon Alex’s, pain clear in them despite how pitch-black they were as thin tears of blood leaked from their edges. If she would just pass out, this discordant power would finally come to an end. The song would not let her fade though, it kept her going and going as that black energy ripped at her. She reached a hand up to Alex’s cheek and gave him a pained smile. Hey, at least she had something nice to look at…

 

Lightning struck more fiercely, thunder booming in time to the beat as dirt was thrown up into the air around them all. Dust was moving at such speed that it could slice the skin thinly as rain came down like a hail of bullets. This song was not getting any better. It was getting worse.

 

“…them to me…!” Smokescreen was visibly struggling to stay conscious, reaching out her one movable arm toward Alex and Vin.

 

“Come on…stay with my Vin. Focus on my voice. Uh.” God damn it. There was desperation in his voice. He needed to do…something. Something fast. He began humming. “Twinkle twinkle…” He didn’t know the words. His fist clenched, water distorting his vision. Warm. He shook his head, continuing the song, pushing forward at any cost.

 

Huh. That was… weird and good. Okay, cool. Now– Elliot glanced up. Oh. Alex was carrying Vin away. And– OH SHIT THAT IS A BIG STORM. Lightning struck mere yards away as if in agreement.

 

All color dropped from Elliot’s face as his eyes widened as he immediately stopped the song, switching to one Vin had actually prepped with him.

 

<Music: https://youtu.be/c33DbNoVtAU >

 

Worried, but determined not to fuck this up any worse, Elliot reached down, wrapping his arms around Smokescreen as best as he could.  He struggled to stand, straining, then used a little bass to help him get up.  Wow that was a– whoa, off balance, gotta sway a bit, then he was firmer on his feet, and charging after Alex and Vin.

Smokescreen cried out in pain as Elliot lifted her, broken limbs dangling at angles they really shouldn’t.


“HEY COME BACK WECANFIXTHISOMGYOURUNTOOFAST!”

 

The black energy around Vin’s body fades away as the discordant song died. Her eyes cleared, a bright-blue shade shining through the darkness as the growing pain in her body began to lessen. A gentle breeze wrapped around her and Alex, the man’s wounded leg beginning to knit itself together even as the blackened scorches that colored Pandora’s veins remained. Continuing to look up at Alex, she reached a weak hand up to his eyes and brushed a tear away. She only had seconds of consciousness left in her.

 

Alex stopped at the end of the storm, the end of the song, and the end of Vins pain. He sniffled a bit, squeezing her to him, but with the end of his momentum…he let the poison take hold. No more adrenaline to keep him going. He fell to his knees, turning his head at the approaching Lights Show. He couldn’t really understand what he was saying, but at this point he wasn’t sure it mattered. His eyes were growing heavy.

 

Seeing Alex fade terrified Pandora, her eyes shooting open with sudden adrenaline. There was no more energy left in her body, the storm had seen to that, but she still focused intently upon the song that was echoing through the air as she begged it to help her. With her last remaining strength, she leaned up and kissed Alex, breathing a healing wind into his lungs to clear away the effects of the gas before her eyes turned that blank shade of white she had when there was no music and passed out.

 

Finally, Elliot dropped to his knees and powerslid over to them, right in time to see Pandora pass out and PANIC A LITTLE MORE.  Yes, internally, he was screeching.  Externally, he was doing things. Like gently putting Smokescreen down next to Vin, and hoping it wasn’t too late.

“Friends,” Smokescreen murmured, a white mist coming from her mouth, nose, hands, eyes, even skin. As they breathed it in, the burning in the air went away, their lungs felt clearer. “I betrayed you. I betrayed myself. Please… tell the Damselfly…

 

I’m s .. s o

    r

                   rr

                       …  —”

 

Her head lolled, and she was still.

 

Alex was dazed by the kiss, his eyes du for a few moments before finally snapping back into it. “Vin. Vin!” He shook her gently. “No! Don’t go!” He didn’t know about the white gas, and so he just looked at Lightshow desperately, red eyed. Helpless as tears streamed down his face.

 

“Hey, dude, breathe deep and shotgun that shit to her.”

 

Alex looked confused for a moment, but finally he caught on. He moved as quick as he could, breathing in as much as he could before desperately breathing it into Vins lungs. He didn’t care if it was some kind of trap. Didn’t stop to consider it as a possibility. Nothing else mattered.

 

“Neon Ops, come in,” a familiar voice came in over their comms. “Anathema has been apprehended. We’re alive over here. Is… are you guys okay?”

 

For a moment, Lights Show looked really excited to hear Nat on the com, and he pressed his own earpiece to ring in. “Hey, Nat, it’s Lights. We have Smokescreen–” He glanced down, and realized there was a dead woman in his arms.

He promptly fainted.

As the mist was breathed into Vin’s lungs, her eyelids fluttered a little bit and she opened them for a second. There was a moment of shock that she was waking up to a kiss, but soon realized that it was with Alex and thus was completely cool with it. The burns across her body healed slowly as dead nerves began to rewire themselves. It was… It was actually quite painful, really.

 

She made a small sound and then turned her eyes slightly to see the limp woman on the ground beside Lights Show who seemed to have collapsed. Breaking the kiss suddenly, Vin slapped Alex’s shoulder and pointed to her with some desperation before pointing to her eyes. There was still a tiny bit of blue in them as Elliot’s song drew to its conclusion.

 

Alex looked at the corpse, and back at Vin with a shameful, somber look before shaking his head. He clicked his earpiece. “We’re all safe Nat…only. Only one casualty.” His voice was breaking a bit as he called it in, his eyes still wet. “Not one of us…but.” He shook his head trying to think up how to word it.

 

The mute superhero immediately understood what Alex meant when he shook his head, some tears springing to her eyes as well. She may not have known this woman, but it still hurt to see someone they tried to save pass away. With whatever remaining strength she had, she wrapped her arms around Alex to give him all of the support she could muster before falling into another bout of unconsciousness; this time from sheer exhaustion rather than pain.

 

“Hang tight, gang,” Nat said, “a crew’s on their way. Good work, and um. Thank you. For staying alive. See you soon, kids. Love you.”

 

“Smokescreen is dead.” Alex said bluntly, after mustering his courage. “They said…that they were sorry.” He gripped Vin in his arms. Unsure how he felt about it. Conflicted.

 

“…oh.” There was a long silence on the other end of the connection. “Thank you. D-damselfly out.”

 

Alex moved Vin and Lightshow to the grass, making them comfortable until transport arrived. He looked at Smokescreens body. She could have killed them. His fist tightened, his lips forming a scowl, but it softened. “But she didn’t.” He let out a long sigh, letting his muscles relax. He lifted her up delicately, laying her a good distance away. He made her look respectable. “Thank you. I’m sorry you didn’t realize before. You had the potential for good. Everyone does.” He said quietly, before folding her arms over her stomach. It was time he got back to his friends.

 

The Cult of Midnight: Crowd Control

TWIN FALLS, IDAHO

THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE CITY

“I’m not going to lie to either of you. This isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Anathema’s mind control is complete, total, and they will attack to protect her.” General DeGeurr looked up from map of the city. “Our job is to keep them off of the Legion. And annoyingly, we can’t resort to lethal means. Not after some of the… public relations incidents we’ve incurred lately.”

Wasteland nodded to DeGeurr. “Understandable, sir. Uhm. Sorry.” Wasteland seemed embarrassed, as he checked and rechecked his suit. “Been working with some of the scientists, have some non lethal equipment additions.”

 

Rooster scanned the map. “Do we know what kind of opposition we’re facing? Any serious paras? Are they armed? Or is she just sending waves of cannon fodder?”

 

“Anathema had two Paranormal agents that we know about. Both of them are in protective custody. This is purely civilian forces, being used to delay until she can wipe out the Legion. But they’ll likely be armed with whatever’s at hand.”

“Who’re the Legionnaires we’ll be coordinating with?”

 

“Civvy guns, not too bad.” Wasteland said, then looked to Rooster, nodding. Good question.

 

“Oathkeeper, the AI unit they call Scanner, and their black ops unit. Oathkeeper’s just the muscle. She’ll be on the scene, but our main point of contact will be Emi Surikabe.”

CODEX UNLOCKED: Emi Surikabe. A shadow warrior hailing from Japan, Emi served with the Legion for over a decade before retiring with a knee injury. Those in the know suspect she never retired at all, merely repositioned to the Legion’s black ops unit. Only a few people are aware that she is still an active assassin and spy, working around the world to carry out whatever must be done for the Legion.


“She’s good. Good to know.” Wasteland said, quietly, looking at the map. “Anything snags or surprises from our intel? And numbers, if we know?”

 

“We’re dealing with tens of thousands of people. As for the nature of this mission… The city, and it’s population, move like an organic being. They are not individuals, not until Anathema is down. They are part of her will, and act accordingly.”

“Christ.” Says wasteland, softly. “That’s a lot of people.”

 

Rooster sucks her teeth. “So. We keep the whole city off the Legion’s back … until what? Do we know their mission success parameters?”

 

“This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Anathema had the city under her control back in the early 2000’s. Once she’s down and out, her subjects are released. We’re playing the stalling game. And then once the Legion acquire her, we’ll be escorting her into a Freelancer prison, as per the terms of our agreement.”

“Roger that. There could be a couple of good choke points, here, here… and one fall back one here, I think. Help prevent most of the numbers from getting to her, and overwhelming us.” Wasteland points on the map, thinking.

 

HALF AN HOUR LATER –

 

They had battled their way through Twin Falls to reach Wasteland’s chokepoint of choice. Each building had been perfectly arranged to look normal at a glance, but there were no signs of use. It was like moving through a perfectly arranged dollhouse.

At first, no one had noticed the massive suit of armour and Rooster moving through the city. That had been unusual at once. People had just kept their head down to sweep, or mindlessly opened and closed the cash register.

 

And then, all at once, there had been a shriek, a scrambling for weapons…

 

Now, one civilian had leapt on Rooster’s back, winding an arm around her neck in an attempt to choke her. Each side of the alley was filled with innocent people, eyes glowing a bright amethyst.

 

Rooster grunted and slammed her back into a wall to knock her assailant off. “Damn, I was hoping she wouldn’t notice us the whole time.” More people surged towards her and she flung them away from her.

 

Wasteland moved to cover her, his gauntlets snap cracking with electricity. Not full power, but enough to stun a normal human for a good amount of time…. At least, he hoped. It was Bowman’s stuff, and he was really good, but you never knew with people sometimes. The mind control might make them tougher.

 

So as another one attempted to jump on Rooster, he reached out, poking him. There was a loud ZAP and the mind controlled man fell back against the wall. Zap, zap, zap. But they just kept coming. “Would have been nice, right? You’re just too famous, Rooster.”

“Hey, I’m happy to give autographs,” she laughed, dealing someone a gut punch. As she did, a crowbar swung for her skull, but she blocked it with a thick forearm. “Wish they wouldn’t bring their own pens, though!”

 

BUZZAP! Go the gauntlets, and a baseball bat cracks off Wasteland’s armor. He probably didn’t even notice, but the gauntlet goes BUZZAP again on that guy, as well. “Well, you know, they are Anathema’s minions. Classy ain’t a thing. Handgun to your right.” Wasteland zaps another guy coming in, as a pile of them try to grab onto his arms and legs, attempting to restrict his movement.

 

The mind controlled man looks up at Wasteland, eyes gleaming violet once his body stops convulsing from the shake.


“You’re a monster in a suit,” hisses a woman’s voice. “You think you’re a hero?”

Spotting the gun, Rooster vaults forward to grapple the woman holding it. “Be careful with that thing,” she says, grabbing the woman’s gun hand and trying to disarm her.

 

“Nope,” says Wasteland, casually. “Just a mercenary, doin’ a job. Shit.” That last part was as a guy tried to wrap his arms around Wasteland’s helmet, before getting tagged by the taser Gauntlets. “You good, Rooster?”

 

She pulls the handgun away. “Yeah, no worries! Let me just …” She starts emptying its clip one-handed, doing her best to shove people off of her with the other. “Don’t want this thing going off in this crowd …”

 

“Totally. Oh, hey, look, I’m getting a group Anathema hug. Gonna need to wash the suit after this, bleh.” He manages to shock a few more people on him, tossing them away. A knife clinks off his armor, then a crowbar…. And a mop? “… I just got mopped. Double U Tee Eff.”

 

From above, there’s the hiss of heated oil and the stench of what smells like gasoline. A few drops hit the concrete at your feet, and there’s the sound of struggle from up on the roof.

 

“… that can’t be good.” Rooster discards the unloaded gun, pockets the bullets, and cranes her neck up.

 

A group of mind controlled civilians are attempting to scorch both of you – and their fellow civilians – with boiling oil from above.

 

If nothing else, Anathema is creative.

 

“Damn. Wastey, can I get a boost? I gotta get on that roof.”

 

“Sure thing. On three, alley oop!” Wasteland counted quickly, as more mind controlled Civilians rushed them. He got his arms free, and Rooster ran up towards him, as he pivoted so that his back was towards the oil group, holding his hands down to boost. Rooster jumped up, a little hop, landed one foot in his hands, and Wasteland heaved Rooster up as she jumped. She should have more than enough air to hop onto the building with the Hot Oil Civvies. “Rooster Hop is a go.” He laughed, from down below, as he dealt with another wave. BUZZAP!

 

Her landing shook the roof. She winced, seeing the hot oil splash onto the people maneuvering it. “Fuck mind control.”

 

The civilians move from the oil – which is clearly something that requires time and concerted effort – and move to Rooster. There are about thirty of them, all moving as one cohesive unit. Some of them throw themselves at her legs, others try to circle around to jump on her back.

 

“Your mother was right.” one of them hisses at her side.

 

She becomes a blur of limbs, hitting people in the guts and groin as they near her. “What the fuck do you care, Anathema?”

 

“Oooh, a polearm! That’s original!” Comes a shout from below, along with more Buzz Zaps from the gauntlets. “Well, you duct taped a knife to a broom handle. Somewhat original.”

 

“I’m just trying to help,” the female voice coos. “I know that you’re lonely. I know you miss having a family. Let me help you. Let me in.”

Rooster makes a retching noise as she grabs a man off her back and tosses him aside. She makes her way to the oil. “Wastey, what the fuck do you think we can do with a literal vat of boiling oil? Got any huge grease traps?”

 

“Been meaning to try this new recipe I read about online a few weeks ago!” He calls up to her. “But other than that, not sure. Did DeGuerr say we weren’t allowed to destroy property? Can’t remember.” ZAP!

 

“Maybe dump it on the building and hop back down? It’ll make it tough for anyone to get on top there for a while. Wait, we’re in Idaho, maybe find some potatoes. Fries for everyone after the mind control- ZAP ZAP- wears off.” The zaps are coming a bit quicker.

 

Rooster wraps her arms around the pot of oil. “Here goes nothing …” She takes a running leap for the edge of the roof, jumping to a roof hopefully not occupied by mind-controlled mooks. Some oil undoubtedly spills out on her way, hitting the people on the roof or in the alley, but she’s able to pour most of it out onto the empty roof once she arrives.

 

The oil bubbles and hisses on the empty rooftop. The cultists on the other roof amble to the edge, and it looks for a moment as if they might jump

 

Then they hesitate.


DeGeurr sounds off in your ears. “Callister Rayne is on the scene. I… don’t know how this variable will affect the civilians. Mission parameters have not changed.”

“Christ. Roger that. Is he helping us or her?” ZAP. “Goddammit, they’re just not stopping, down here.” ZAP.

 

“We… don’t know, yet.” DeGeurr says.

 

Another voice pipes in. A woman. Wasteland recognized her – Scanner. “I think she’s starting to waver. Try to talk to them. Maybe you can… stop the fighting. Please. Try talking to them.”

“Roger. Will attempt… uh… negotiating.” I really should have learned how to negotiate. He thought.

 

“Oh, hey… folks… calm down… uh… we’re just here to keep you from hurting yourselves. We don’t want any trouble, okay? Just…. Easy, all right? You’ve all suffered enough.”

 

One of the civilians in the front staggers to a stop, the left side of his face badly bruised. “Suffers?” He asks, questioningly.

 

Rooster makes her way to the edge of the building and starts climbing down the side.

 

“Uh, yeah. You’ve all been… working under Anathema for a while… but you don’t have to. You don’t have to listen to her, anymore, you know? We’re here to help you, if we can.” He keeps talking, and just… doesn’t fight the remaining civilians. It isn’t like they can really hurt him… but he doesn’t want to let any of them past to help Anathema…. Crap.

 

Rooster reaches the ground and joins back in with pushing the crowd back. “You’re not part of her and you don’t belong to her. You’re human beings and you don’t have to do this.”

 

More of the civilians begin to blink. The purple light in their eyes start to dim, and then fade.


“Where am I?”

“This isn’t anywhere near my work…”

“I remember… a church service?”

Rooster meets Wasteland’s “eyes”. Quietly, she says, “Do you think this is for real, or is it Anathema pulling back to trick us?”

 

“No idea,” he says quietly back. “But, they’re not all trying to get past us again.” Louder, he says. “Yeah, folks. Rest easy, all right? I’m Wasteland, this is Rooster. We’re here to help you. You were under mind control, okay?”

 

He raises his hands. “If you all could put the weapons down, and just… relax for a bit, we will get you all as much help as we can.”

 

Over the radio, he says. “Talking seems to be working. The influence seems to be fading.”

 

Most of them hardly seemed to realize they were holding weapons. Pipes and knives and a few guns clatter to the ground, and the civilians slowly sit.

“Rooster?” One woman asked, a teenager with a bloody lip. “Aren’t you… famous?”

Rooster smiles and gives a little wave. “Hi, yep. I’m the Rooster. The Freelancers and the Legion are working together to take Anathema down and save you.” She opens a pocket and pulls out a small first-aid kit. “Wastey probably has more supplies, more storage space in his suit, but – anyone need first aid?”

 

“You’re just jealous of my massive amount of pockets, Rooster,” Wasteland snarks at her. He does, actually, have a very large first aid kit that pops out of a thigh hatch. He raises his voice. “Also, folks, if we could do a quick check, make sure that no one has purple glowing eyes, all right? Everyone please stay calm, and we will get this sorted out.”

 

He goes to help those who need the most help, and begins relaying the situation over the radio. “Sir, ma’am, I can also take to the air and see if this is more widespread, or just our section, but it seems like everything has calmed down. No obvious Anathema influence anymore….”

 

She starts passing out band-aids and NSAIDs and generally checking in on people.

After tending to the civilians the best you can with the equipment you have on hand, DeGeurr’s voice pops up again.

 

“Anathema has been… neutralized. She is alive, on the roof of Baker’s Pharmacy, a few streets down. The Legion will help you bring her in from there.”

“Roger that.  Shall we, Rooster? Biggest super villain in pretty much history, right there.” Wasteland chuckles, as he finishes bandaging one nasty gash on a older lady. He stands, and checks the map in his suit. Oh, good, not too hard to get there.

 

Rooster stretches and cracks her knuckles. “Let’s go.”

 

Wasteland nods, and together, the two biggest badasses of the Freelancers head to Baker’s Pharmacy.

 

There’s a horrific sight on the roof. Oathkeeper is standing vigil over Emi Surikabe, whose knees have been nearly destroyed in the fight. Anathema is curled up at the paladin’s feet, sobbing racking, hideous sobs.

 

“Christ.” He looks to Oathkeeper. “We good here? Evac needed?” He’s used most of his first aid stuff, but looks at the very strange sight….

 

“First vessel took Nat and Callister away.” Alice says. “We’re waiting for a secure transport for… for… Hyacinth.”

All business, Rooster responds, “What about you and Ms. Surikabe? Do you have transport to the Legionnaire hospital ready?”

 

“Right.” Wasteland cautiously moves towards Alice and Hyacinth and Emi, taking out a pair of flex cuffs. “We can get ‘lancer medivac here quick if you guys are stretched thin.”

 

Alice looks at the Freelancers and pauses for a moment. “I’m staying with Emi.” she finally said. “Can I trust the two of you to get Anath- Hyacinth to the Freelancers?”

“Sure thing.” Rooster hits the comm button and relays the situation.

 

Wasteland pauses, and something very dark rears its head inside him. The worst goddamn person in the world, helpless. He shakes his head, slightly, dispelling the dark thoughts, before putting Hyacinth in the flex cuffs. “We got this. Get your people to help, ASAP.” Wasteland says, as he drags Anathema up with one hand.

 

Alice nods, slowly scooping Emi up in her arms. She takes a few steps, and there’s the soft hum of the Legion craft arriving.

 

Once the Legion is gone, Anathema looks up at Wasteland, face streaked with tears. Her eyes are… gray. Just gray.

 

Her lips quirk up into a smile for just a second.


“You could do it.” She whispers. “You can be the hero you want to be. The ends justify the means, don’t they?”

Rooster puts a hand on Wasteland’s shoulder. “Is she talking to you, man?”

 

Wasteland stares hard at Anathema. He can’t feel that hand on his shoulder, but he knows it’s there. Wrong and right. Good and Evil.

 

She was so evil. She had done so much to hurt so many people. She would do a lot more, a lot worse, if she ever got out again. She’d kill so many. She’d hurt so many already. And the Fire says to him, consume. Consume. Consume her life. Do it.

 

But Rooster’s voice cuts through the darkness. His voice is a little rough, at first, but it clears up quickly. “Just…. Stupid things.”

 

He looks up to the sky, awaiting the Freelancer transport. “Her eyes are grey. Does that mean she doesn’t have her powers anymore? Didn’t think that could happen to folks.” He says to Rooster.

 

“Maybe she’s burnt out? I know this may be news to you, Mr. Never-Ending Nuke, but getting beat half to death takes it out of some people.”

 

“Says the girl who makes Abram’s tanks look like slackers in taking a hit and dishing it out.” Wasteland laughs. “Well, here’s hoping it stays grey. Makes life easier on the rest of us. Oh, and you have the right to remain silent..” Says Wastey to Anathema, just in case. Reading the woman her rights.

 

“You still don’t know, do you?” Anathema’s voice has confidence now. “You don’t know what powers me. What powers her. You don’t know.” She throws her head back and laughs over her rights. “If you don’t stop me, I will keep going.”

“God, villain gloating. Why d’ya think they do it, Wastey? Like, do they really think that shit works on us?”

 

Wasteland shrugs. “Ego. Everyone’s got one, they just gotta keep feeding it. Like a never ending monster. And no, you won’t, silly. Besides, guess what. Everyone knows you’re a has been, now.” Great job, Wastey, taunt the mind controlling monster lady.

Anathema just smiled. “You need me. They’ll keep me alive until that’s not true anymore. And I’ll get out again. Unless…”

Her eyes searched Rooster’s face, and Wasteland’s posture, hoping for some sign of progress.

 

Rooster frowned. “Sorry, lady, we’re not buying what you’re selling.”

 

“You might not,” she admits. “But… what’s his name, again? Mister Cheney? He will.”

She scoffs. “You’re going into custody, and then you’re going to trial. You’re not getting a private meeting with the big brass.”

 

A last ditch effort: “We’ll see.”

The Freelancer transport nears, lifting up into sight from behind a building.

 

Wasteland stays quiet for the whole time. He waits. But when Anathema mentions Cheney, wasteland does look at Rooster. Wheels are turning in the suited man’s head.

 

“Let’s get going.”