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[Archive] With This Ring (Young Justice SI) (Story Only)

Discussion in 'Story Archive' started by Mr Zoat, Jan 30, 2019.

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  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Three worms more coming door-. Door closed worth preserving structure no.

    Acid midair construct barrier destroyed physical barrier melts partial neutralisation-.

    Mr. Yao sings and the acid looses all momentum and falls back to the ground. The worms aren't bothered by it but the material covering the floor begins bubbling.

    "Back, beasts!"

    Abednego raises new witch-signs, each the size of kite shields. He gestures at the closest worm, which responds by lunging out of the ground and chomping at him! I yank him back, the sign attached to his left hand passing through the worm's maw with no noticeable effect.

    "Ha! What fun."

    Melmoth has a cup of tea and is sitting watching us, the-. The console appears to be immune to the acid.

    Leonid blasts the door, which distorts slightly but then holds fast. His next shot hits one of the walls to even less effect.

    The worm that failed to grapple Abednego burrows back underground as two others-.

    The room tilts measurably. We're being undermined.

    Strands of orange light connect my right hand to the console, causing it to briefly glow-.

    Melmoth looks mildly disappointed as the console decays and his illusion project fades away.

    The new worms spray acid upwards Mr. Yao sings acid keeps coming! He twists aside, acid burning through his robe but missing his body. His song changes and the temperature of the room drops, frost forming on the worms and walls.

    The worms appear unaffected. The two new arrivals lunge for Peter, forcing me to pull him towards the top of the room to dodge their mandibles. The two original worms spray acid in a wide arc, splattering Leonid's construct armour-

    Hunger.

    -which holds, which I'm pleased about. I form a construct railgun with the same rune work, load crumblers, point it at the door and fire. The hit causes a hole about forty centimetres across, which Peter might be able to squeeze through but is far too narrow for the rest of us. I reload and fire again as Leonid literally chances his arm by punching a lunging worm. It gets slammed back into the now-gelatinous floor with a quiet splat, Leonid jerking his fist back as the construct gauntlet gives up the ghost.

    Vitriol.

    Vitriol containment procedure requires countermagic or feeding it base until it's neutralised. There isn't an easy way to deal with it. With the worms being a constant source that won't work. Killing the worms might, but escaping is a priority. I've got a range advantage while their spit-pressure appears to limit them to shots of about three metres.

    Second railgun shot fires, and-. The door is somewhat abraded, but it's still very much whole. Worse, the door appears to be regenerating the damage of the original shot by shifting material from the rest of it.

    Alright, be clever, then. I fire strands at it with the aim of assimilating-. They're turned aside by a magic effect. Fine, assimilate-.

    Buh-?

    Leonid shoves me aside as acid sprays past where I was, droplets splashing on my construct armour anyway. I twist in the air, letting them spray off and shoving an x-ionised sword at the worm's neck as it lunges for me! The blade goes through its grey epidermis, shearing its three-pronged head from its neck, acid dribbling from wound. The blade's a write-off so I drop it, and-.

    The worm-corpse explodes! Fragments of its armour and blobs of highly acidic floor gunge spray outwards in all directions!

    I try to interpose barriers and Mr. Yao howls a wave of kinetic energy, but all of us are hit! Anarawd's face is a rictus of pain as his right leg gets coated, the glutinous blob dripping down having eaten down to the charred bone! Peter frantically tries to wipe what he can off with the tattered remains of his travel cape before it can eat through his armour, but I can see the point where it gets through on the left side of his stomach.

    "YAAAAAGHHH!"

    Leonid copies my action in shaking the stuff off his construct armour and uses precise energy blasts to knock the worms' heads away from us. Mr. Yao shouts the.. same note he used when Klarion mind controlled him, break-breaking the universe around the door and carving a hole out of the surrounding walls. Abednego flies through immediately before turning small witch-signs on himself. His clothing appears to have protective spells bound into it, but the acid has eaten its way through and has badly burned the flesh beneath.

    Leonid grabs Peter while I grab Anarawd and we both head for the door while Mr. Yao turns his doom song on the console room. What's left of the console evaporates, along with the floor and the visible parts of the worms. I-.

    Mr. Yao doubles over in the air and coughs, small flecks of blood-.

    I yank him out and put up a hungry construct wall between us and the console room.

    "Physician?"

    I don't say anything stupid like 'can you heal yourself?', because he'll tell me if-.

    "Purple…"

    I draw my purple healing ray and-

    On the other side of the barrier I see a new worm breach the surface and launch a spray of acid. The construct is thicker than our armour and can take it for now, but that's a temporary thing and I need to do something nice for Wallace when we get back.

    -shoot Mr. Yao in the mouth. Sonic scans…

    "More worms coming. We need to go."

    "Yes." Mr. Yao straightens with a nod, and I offer Peter the purple ray. He takes it, his breath unsteady from the shock. "Starfire, lead the way. Lantern, rearguard."

    I nod as Leonid takes-

    The building shudders and the walls tilt.

    -off down the corridor towards the stairs.

    "The acid's sinking the building."

    I float backwards, holding Anarawd in a construct while the worms alternate between spraying acid and ramming my construct barrier. It looks like their innate magic isn't restricted to their acid, because those impacts shouldn't be doing that much damage.

    Abednego helps Peter get moving, and a low hum from Mr. Yao tells me that he's listening to the vibrations of our surroundings. Pull back pull back-.

    I transition myself and Anarawd back as a worm explodes in from the left wall, squirting acid in all directions! The others take immediate advantage of my barrier vanishing and surge forward, cracking the construct-.

    I drop the construct, lash out with x-ionised blades, then create a new-.

    The blast hisses through the air! No sludge this time, but super hard fragments wreathed in acid annihilate my barrier construct and eat into my armour construct and-.

    Oh. No, that's gone through my regular armour as well.

    I take advantage of the momentary respite as more worms pull themselves up to remove melting lumps of my own flesh from inside my armour, disintegrate what the acid hasn't and then heal myself. Then I create a new barrier and continue to pull back.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2020
  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20:03 GMT -5


    "The doorway is blocked."

    I grimace faintly as I use very strong railgun shots to knock the worms back, keeping them off my barrier as we near the exit. When we headed down I could scan reasonably freely, but now it looks like Melmoth's flipped all of the switches. I can't even scan the next room with a default scan, and alternate sensors aren't returning completely reliable results.

    "By a door or by the earth?"

    "Neither? It looks like… Lichen? Dark grey?"

    I feel through the construct holding him as Anarawd twitches in shock.

    "If you know something-?"

    "I have underestimated the Dark King."

    "Not a capital offence. Care to narrow it down?"

    "Orange Lantern!" I switch my attention from our Sheeda prisoner to Mr. Yao. "I should be able to sing open a hole, but for us to clear the distance-."

    "I'll shield us and move us."

    I move closer to the exit, the six of us clustering together. Something else for the slate: an alchemically-enhanced base to go with the alchemically-enhanced acid. Sure, in a situation like this it would cause a colossal explosion, but it would probably be a mostly-conventional explosion and I'm good at surviving those.

    There's no countdown. Mr. Yao opens his mouth and I've already wrapped everyone in a rune-inlayed construct barrier, dropping the barrier to our rear. The worms have lost a degree of their focus and aren't quite as quick to go after us as they were when they first emerged, but-.

    Mr. Yao pronounces the-. Yeah, great, now my ears are bleeding. The grey organic stuff covering the entrance is torn apart, the soil behind it blasted aside… For a moment.

    I seal the construct and then shoot us forward, spinning construct drill pushing the subsiding soil aside and pulling us through for a few seconds until we're back out over the desolate plain.

    I stop, turn, and turn the construct drill into a construct platform.

    What little is still visible of the tower is rapidly sinking into a highly acidic bog, though that might be due to the empty chambers below the tower falling in on themselves. The worms are… Breaching the surface in a dozen or so places, though they aren't trying to attack us. I don't see any eyes, so perhaps they can't see us?

    The grey lichen-like material is visible in patches all across the wasteland, and… I can see it slowly growing. It doesn't appear to be affected by the worm's acid. Our mounts are gone. The worms might have taken them, or they might have fled. There aren't any flying Sheeda creatures that I can see-.

    I add a dome shield around the platform we're standing on.

    "Anarawd, I would appreciate it if you would expand upon your answer."

    "It-."

    "Orange Lantern." Mr. Yao fixes me with a steady glare. "His leg."

    "Right." I move Anarawd into a standing position and attach filaments to the acid-burned parts. "You might experience a few moments of discomfort."

    Unlike with the creatures below, when he's not wearing armour Anarawd is perfectly simple to scan. Reconstituting his leg using my own revulsion at physical imperfection and desire to hear what he has to say is a simple matter.

    When I'm done he stares at his new lower leg in nearly as much discomfort as he showed when he lost it.

    "How long does it last?"

    "I don’t know. How long do Low Born Sheeda usually last?"

    "The discomfort. It feels physically normal, but it does not share my soul."

    "I'm afraid that I can't really help you there. If you come back with us to Earth, I can ask a biomancy specialist to take a look. Now about that lichen-stuff."

    "The Earth of the Land of Summer's End is not like your Earth. The light of the vampire sun weakens and kills; it does not nurture and strengthen as your sun does, nor the suns of this world."

    "Yes?"

    "But the rest of the world is altered as well. Our creatures may borrow some parts of their form from the creatures of your era, but they are altered; larger, fiercer, enhanced by magic and possessing something of Sheeda biology."

    "So.. I've already noted."

    "Our buildings are the same. Our great vessels as well. Each is in part alive; a creature as those Core Worms are or as the Spider Mounts are. Our buildings are the same, and the Earth itself, that is enveloped by it the… Lichen? That is what you call it?"

    "Until I can analyse it properly, yes."

    "Our entire world is alive in some form or another. But our world is sustained by the Harrowing."

    While… Melmoth's… "You think he's transforming this world?"

    "I am not High Born. I do not understand the magics which allow us to raid the past. But if Melmoth feared that no more Harrowings were possible, or if he intended to cause this one to fail to spite the Queen-."

    "We'd remember you, and never let ourselves become you. You'd need somewhere to come from, like a planet full of people with Sheeda DNA who used Sheeda-style magic."

    "The pathways to future and past bring us from our world to yours. I always assumed that they were the same world; that we were your future. But if Dark Melmoth sought to secure us a new past… This…"

    I take another look at the grey-coated worm-ridden landscape.

    "This is how it would start."

    "You do not understand. Everything we know about ourselves-."

    "No, I just don't care. Will the people who live here be able to survive if the world is Sheeda-formed?"

    "I-. Yes, certainly. Not so easily as we, but the beasts are controllable and for the most part work at their intended function without distraction."

    Abednego nods. "'T'would mean the end of Columbia."

    Peter hands me the purple ray back. "We must warn the town. Mayhap we can stay ahead of the beasts."

    "How does that lichen interact with other plants?"

    "It grows best on rock, but it will throttle any living thing not born of the Sheeda, given time."

    "Does it have weaknesses? Some way to stop it? To kill it?"

    "There are creatures which feed upon it, but never to the point of eradicating it."

    "Orange Lantern." I look at Mr. Yao. "Get in contact with Lantern Stewart. I need to consult with Wonder Woman."
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2020
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20:03 GMT -5


    Much as this sucks, as planetary invasions go

    Sivana grins menacingly as he flips the switch on his hex-generator, and the sky ripples as the harvest-ship that has been eating its way through what's left of Detroit suddenly loses its wards and becomes visible. It had been a disturbing sight: factories and homes just vanishing without rhyme or reason, and unlike with the raiding bands it isn't just a matter of hunkering down until the invisibility spells lose power. I don't know what they can do Sheeda-side, but on a magically active planet like modern Earth the ships can keep it up indefinitely. Not just invisible to the electromagnetic spectrum but almost unthinkable.

    The arcane engineers in the Queen's employ will realise what's happening at once, and they'll shout warnings. I can already see insect-riders rising from the stable-bays-.

    "It would be so easy…"

    Sivana's hands are twitching over the console which controls his other tools-.

    I shake my head. "Doctor, the Queen isn't even here. I didn't like letting them destroy our shipyard in Kenya, but I did it because I knew it was necessary. If you can't control yourself-."

    "I know. But to have-" A light comes on. "-them…" He recovers his smile. "There. They're calling for aid."

    Jon and Sam agreed to pulling back US military assets once we discovered where the harvest ship was. They may not be real warships, but their beam weapons would shred pretty much anything that could be sent against it. The only avenue of attack is to take advantage of the fact that it has relatively low power reserves, and… You'd have to maintain a constant attack for days and take tremendous casualties to make that matter. China decided to ignore my advice and try that after their nuclear strike failed, and… It will work. After about a week and the deaths of half a million soldiers.

    No. We need the Queen to deploy Castle Revolving somewhere we can get at it. And given how they really don't want to lose the harvesters…

    BOOM! Kill.

    Two blaster-equipped drone squadrons fly out of the boom tubes and fly at the Sheeda air cavalry. I learned the painful way that any attack that doesn't kill them lets them adapt their armour spells to nullify it, which forced me to bench my entire purple death ray force. Ah, yes, the Sheeda have spotted them-.

    "They're calling again. Do it now!"

    My eyes flick his way for a moment. "I'm choosing to interpret that as a request."

    I raise my right arm, fusion cannon construct manifesting as I point it at the harvest ship. Which thanks to Circe hasn't spotted us yet, though that will soon change. This time the gun manifests differently, the ongoing terror of everyone left in the city and the fear of a world under assault meaning that I can afford to put a little more pressure on things.

    Let's see. Don’t want to knock the ship out completely

    There. Here I Stand.

    I aim at a point just above and to the left of the primary harvesting array. And I fire, a blinding line connecting me to my target and punching through the far side. Face Me!

    I step up onto the bonnet of an abandoned car and stride down the roofs of empty vehicles, Circe's ward evaporating around m-.

    One of the harvest ship's underslung beam weapons orientates on me and fires, an entropic ray about a metre across hitting me on the upper right side of my chest. The crashed vehicles behind me decay in moments but I'm a New God. I am fuelled by the Source. And I did just shoot out about two thirds of the power relays to the lower platform. That probably helps.

    I target the gun and fire again as I continue my advance, neatly shearing off the gun that shot me.

    "Face me, Queen of the Sheeda!" WHERE IS YOUR NAME, THAT IS WRITTEN IN THE STARS?!

    For a New God, that's throwing down the gauntlet. A demand that they confront the one shouting it, and a gamble from the one shouting it. Because if they demonstrate their nature and successfully slight yours, you get a very long term disadvantage using New God technology and God-powers against them. Of course, by making such a bold statement you get a boost and if you can make your claim of superiority stick then you keep it. To anyone else it's pretty much just an insult: strongly implying that since they're not one of us that they are ultimately unable to affect a change of any significance.

    But it's still God-speech. A challenge shouted on a thaumically active planet. So when the Queen gets a request for help… If we're right, then she'll think of this as a personal insult and turn up to put me in my place. If not? Well, then I get a free harvest ship.

    With the challenge issued and unanswered, my armour's ability to resist attacks by anyone working for the Queen is magnified… To a point. An unanswered attack will still weaken it, but only if the attack actually does something and is entirely unanswered. I don't have to spend the rest of eternity chasing down one guy who got a lucky hit in. But as the gunners on the back to the Sheeda flies try to find time to focus on the ground targets that they're designed for while the drivers duck and dive to try and avoid the blaster shots… They must recognise them by now. A couple who-. Ah, they're tanking shots, they've already acquired immunity. I could probably power through it using-

    Red beams from their entropic rays hit my chest to very little effect.

    -my God powers, but that would imply that they were significant enough to warrant it.

    I raise both forearms in their direction, generate pulse plasma guns on both forearms and open fire. I do add a little of my own power to the shots to make my point, because there's nothing quite like a coup de grâce that misses to make a person look foolish.

    What emerges from the guns are barely visible flickers of burning white, each existing only for moment before losing their heat to the surrounding environment. But in that moment they punch through Sheeda fly wings and harnesses, causing mutant insects and riders to tumble through the air and crash uncontrollably into the ravaged city.

    Looks like Sheeda armour isn't very good at absorbing kinetic shocks. Worth remembering. I drop the construct on my left forearm and aim the one on the right at the fliers trying and failing to duel with the far more agile drones-.

    And there's the castle. There's no transition; it doesn't shimmer or generate any kind of portal I can see, even with my goggles. One moment local airspace contains drones, insect riders and a harvest ship and the next there's a giant… 'Lump of radioactive coral' would be my best stab at describing it.

    I don't know exactly what the glowing green bits do but it's somewhat irrelevant. By answering my challenge, Queen Gloriana Tenebrae has created a link between us. I might be able to exploit that unaided, but-

    I twist the knob on Circe's amulet, which starts sparking.

    -why have friends if you're not going to exploit them?

    "Hush tube." Stand before me.

    "Ping."

    "Sivana-."

    "Lex is already en-route."

    "Good show. See you shortly."

    Because while I can probably kill the Queen, stopping the ship is a dicier prospect. But what the heck? I dismiss my gun construct, fold my arms behind my back and walk through the hush tube in an utterly unhurried manner.

    And I appear in front of the Queen's throne, Sheeda I assume to be the command crew at stations around the room and what must either be her bodyguards or her handmaidens crouched at her calves.



    The bondage theme is strong in this one.

    "Queen Gloriana Tenebrae?"

    Guns and blades are drawn and I affect an air of being utterly unimpressed.

    "I will now permit you to surrender."
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2020
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    20:07 GMT -5


    "So confident."

    "Yeah." I smile, nodding. "Pretty much."

    I look left and then right.

    "These guys are… Veterans, right?"

    "These are High Born. Augmented by Sheeda science and magic to be far greater than any man."

    "But you're the only one with head cancer." I frown. "Might want to get that looked at."

    The right-hand handmaiden hisses, showing off her fangs.



    Can I get homesick for a place I've never lived? Because if they worked a little red or blue into the monochrome colour pallet in here this could actually be Apokolips.

    "Derog? Kill this intruder."

    A male Sheeda in armour plucks a spear off the wall and spins-.

    I shoot him in the chest with an energy pulse and he slams backwards into the wall.

    He drops to his feet and smiles. "Foolish, Child of Spring. My armour-"

    I draw my daiklave and generate a fusion cannon construct.

    "-is now impervious to-"

    I fire, and only the photosensitive properties of my goggles allow me to see Derog parry a beam of ultra-hot high pressure ions, in a way which somehow nullified the energy therein completely rather than sending it into one of the neighbouring stations. The goggles also allow me to aim the tip of my daiklave as I make a ring-assisted lunge, shoving the point through his philtrum and into his spine. Then I swing it around to the right in an arc, taking away his body's support and causing it to collapse.

    "That was fun." I turn away from the growing blood-pool-. I shoot Derog in the face until his head is entirely disintegrated because I don't know how well Sheeda aristocrats regenerate. "Might want to consider helmets."

    "You're not wearing one."

    "I'm not seeing anything that's actually a threat to me. You, on the other hand-."

    The amulet splutters and dies.

    Wait…

    Uh.

    "You're not her. You're a body double." I shrug with both arms. "This is what I get for fighting idiots for so long; it confuses me when I run into someone moderately clever. Pretty good effort for someone with no direct exposure to Apokoliptian technology."

    "Kill him."

    Right handmaiden lunges for me with more than human strength and speed. Guess they don't know that much about Apokoliptian technology, then. The challenge is still in effect, and if whoever-that-is on the throne sends people at me without having the other party designate them her champions…

    Fortunately, I have more than human speed too. Sword's out of position but she's not wearing a helmet either. My left fist hits her in the side of the head and sends her flying, though she's tough enough that her skull didn't shatter. In the fraction of a second when she's still in reach she tries to cut my gauntlet with her nails and.. scores a tiny scratch which doesn't penetrate. Not bad for a fingernail.

    "Bored now."

    I raise my fusion cannon and shoot the queen in the exposed midriff. The shot bores right through her and into the throne, and almost immediately her outline changes from demon prostitute to… Humanoid insect thing.

    Meeting a distraction with a distraction. I'll admit to being mildly impressed.

    Wreck the Empty Throne.

    The barrel of my gun widens as the Sheeda form up behind me, sword, spears and shields and I've no doubt that they're all quite good with them. Instead of fighting them I fire again, the left handmaiden diving aside as the throne and the wall behind it are annihilated.

    And then I run through the hole, leaving the command crew behind.

    "Mother Box, get me a location for Sivana."

    "Ping."

    Because now the command crew have to choose between doing their jobs-

    An arrow plinks off my back plate.

    -and pursuing someone who has demonstrated the ability to kill them.

    "Ping."

    "Are you sure, because-?"

    "Ping!"

    "Okay, no need to take that tone! Boom tube."

    "Ping."

    Fine. Angle?

    "Ping."

    I point my fusion cannon just a little to the left of the focus of the ship's temporal manipulation effect and fire a wide beam, carving a line through the ship's internal structure. Then I fly, trusting my armour to keep the heat and poisons off me. Flying out-.

    There's a green bubbling pit surrounded by some sort of ritual space. A heavily bleeding Thaddeus Sivana shoots the Queen though the head with.. a gun that hurts my eyes to look at. She's-. Why are there arrows-?

    Sivana shoots her through the heart, collapses, then props himself up just enough to shoot her through the neck, fully severing her head.

    Artemis drops down from a crenellation. "I was going to take her alive!"

    "And I wanted her dead, so I killed her."

    I frown at her. "Artemis, what are you-?"

    She glances at me, frustration evident though her mask. "Mister Miracle found a back door."

    Someone else who decided to ignore my advice. "Right. I don't know…" Sivana pulls a device out of his coat and draws a rune on the floor in his own blood. "Doctor?"

    "This is the centre of their time drive. The green substance is literally trans-temporal."

    "Okay, yes, good-."

    His device glows.

    "I'm going to use it to erase the ship from the present. If I'm very lucky, I'll wind back what they did on Venus-." He coughs up some blood. "But I doubt it."

    "Is there a reason why you're rushing this? If we capture the ship-."

    "You're going to prevent them from ever being. I can't take the risk of this ship disappearing on us. I think I should be… Sorry, but I barely care about myself at the moment and I certainly don't care about you."

    "Artemis to team, get out of here!"

    Sivana smiles peacefully. "Two…"

    I step forward grab Artemis and fly at-

    "One…"

    -the pool!

    "Goodby-."
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2020
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th May
    02:47 GMT -5


    "…anything in the system?"

    John shakes his head. "It's a binary system. Having a habitable planet here is strange enough already. There's some dust, but no asteroids worth talking about."

    "Did your ring recognise the location?"

    Another quick shake. "No. We could be in a parallel universe, or another time, or just another galaxy where the Corps doesn't have good star charts."

    "Or all three."

    I glance at the doors leading to the parliament chamber where Abednego is making his full report.

    "I've never evacuated a planet before. You?"

    "Yeah. Once. You know what a 'maximizer' is?"

    "A type of badly programmed AI. One that is told to do something and given no mechanism for assessing its objective relative to the wider needs of society. You ran into one?"

    He nods. "It wasn't all that clever, but it had already converted pretty much its whole home system into machinery. By the time Lanterns got called in, it was already getting near another inhabited planet. That was a bigger evacuation than this, and they were able to terraform their planet back after we got done destroying the robots. This isn't the same thing. If we take these people away, they can't ever come back."

    He thinks for a moment.

    "You got a way to beat this thing?"

    "Giving the Columbians better profane and arcane technology will probably allow them to survive. Better necromancy…"

    "What about using your ring to disintegrate it? You said that the Sheeda stuff you tried it on turned to dust."

    "On a life form by life form basis. And while I didn't get a perfect look, I think this planet is covered in Sheeda beasts. I think Melmoth brought a cross-section here with him and told them to go forth and multiply. My worry is that he's spent the rest of the time since his 'death' doing the same to other planets. Or that he's trying to convert the entire mass of the planet."

    "How dangerous are they? Unless there's something I'm not seeing, you killed them easy enough. And they can't use technology, so they can't get off-planet."

    "The worms we fought were his mining tools. The magical super-acid was their equivalent of a drill, not a dedicated weapon. Assuming that the Columbians have been reasonably thorough in keeping Sheeda creature levels down… I'd assume that the really dangerous creatures mostly live away from here. If Melmoth was mostly leaving them wild he wouldn't want them near where he was building his settlement."

    "How was the village planning on handling it?"

    I shrug.

    "Their creatures broke their obedience spells when Melmoth flicked his switch. They handled it, but can't evacuate without a way to transport.. food, at least."

    "They could come here. You said there aren't that many of them, even if every small town packed up and moved out."

    Yes, like the town with the maggot pit. Whose inhabitants are almost certainly turning into spine rider thralls even now.

    "I doubt that the Columbians would accept that. I didn't ask them to point out their warlocks, but I'm confident that there are a few."

    He folds his arms across his chest. "You think they'd sing the same tune if we told them we're helping everyone or no one?"

    I raise my eyebrows. "Would religious fanatics fold to external pressure quickly?"

    He looks away. "Yeah."

    "Of course, religious fanaticism could help. If I give one of the locals an orange ring, they might be able to carry out a purge."

    "'Purge' as in 'get rid of the Sheeda animals', or 'purge'-."

    "I'd wrestle it off them if they attempted genocide. But the locals are far more invested in this world than I am." I exhale. "It's a shame I wasn't able to make common cause with Melmoth. If he's got a plan to defeat the Queen, we could make use of it."

    "How exactly is he planning on getting his animals back to Earth?"

    "Pass. We still don't know how he got all these people here in the first place. It could be that there's a space ship somewhere on this planet that we haven't found. He clearly has a good enough command of magic to hide it from our scans, and I don't know if Doctor Mist understands this planet's magic or the magic of the Sheeda well enough to locate it quickly. And…"

    Oh heck.

    "It's not like we actually know that the settlers on Roanoke were the only people he abducted. There could be any number of settlements across this world or across others in the same situation."

    "You actually think that's what's happened?"

    "No idea. Which is rather the problem."

    We stand there for a moment, and I strain to hear any sound coming out of the debate chamber. No, no chance of that in a society of magic users.

    "Do you have someone in mind?"

    "For what?"

    "Recruiting. If you need to recruit a local to deal with the Sheeda lichen, or animals. That Abednego guy?"

    "No, his style of magic means that he doesn't think in the right sort of way. If I actually had to pick someone I'd probably ask them to line up witch-hunters and get them to drop their personal wards so I could get a good look at them. But if I had to pick someone now… Beulah Bleak."

    "Klarion's sister? Doesn't she hate you?"

    "That's not necessarily a bad thing."

    John snorts in amusement.

    "She was willing to die if she got another shot at Klarion. She's driven, selfless and devout. I'm not sure her staying in the Corps afterwards would work, and she's definitely a genocide risk… Or if Doctor Mist finds a way to transport everyone here back to our Earth."

    "You think that's a good idea?"

    "They've got a very useful skill set. I'm sure we can find somewhere to settle them if they're willing to trade their arcane knowledge. And if three witch-hunters handled coming over without being disabled by culture shock, I'm sure they can manage. And we could put the warlock-breed a long way away from the rest, if that was going to be a problem."

    I know Russia would snap them up, especially if we sent the rest to America. There's no future in relying on uneducated tribal shaman, and no obvious way to transition them into something better.

    "In fact, I should probably-."

    My ring blinks, and John's does as well. We both raise them, and Alan's head appears.

    "Paul? John? We've got a problem."
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2020
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Ahead, I see Alan shove the wave of grundywomen back, the revenants losing their footing as he moves them faster than their sluggish reflexes can accommodate. And this is a problem. The mob I can see represents a sizeable portion of Columbia's industrial base. While a powerful headshot will destroy a grundywoman, it will also ruin their economy. They literally won't be able to sustain themselves.

    And I think Alan knows that and is holding off, because he's just as capable of headshotting them as I am. I don't see any living Columbians around, which is a moderate concern. Undead work gangs usually have overseers who make sure that their charges remain focused on their work and make running repairs to the flesh and the spells as necessary.

    "Blue Lantern! What set them off?"

    I come to a halt a short distance from him while John goes higher, green light strobing out as he searches for people in need of rescue.

    "Your guess is as good as mine."

    Unlike some types of fictional zombies, grundymen are completely silent. Their footsteps make noise, their clothing still rustles and blows still pound, but not a single sounds issues from their mouths. No breathing, no moaning, no unbidden words.

    "They're strong; stronger than the ones who attacked us at my home. But-"

    He shoves the grundywomen he has contained, keeping them squeezed together and off-balance. They can't bring their strength to bear in a coordinated way.

    "-I think I've got them."

    I nod, taking a look through empathic vision. If someone is manipulating them, I should be able to see a reflection of their desires-.

    Oh.

    Strands leap out from my outstretched hands, striking each grundywoman on the back of her neck. Where every spine rider is crouching. And assimilate.

    Most simply evaporate as I strike them, the undead they were controlling becoming listless and purposeless without their motivation. A few draw their swords from their host and slash my strands. That works until I reallocate strands that have already destroyed their targets and attack them from multiple directions. Hm, alright, I know that assimilation doesn't work as desired. Let's try something a little different.

    I release my construct-Lantern wraith and deposit it just above the undead.

    "Possess one of the Sheeda-faries."

    "Gladly, master."

    One spine rider simply tries to flee, and the orange spectre swiftly undulates through the air and catches up with it, circles around it and then lunges, passing into its body and causing its eyes to flare with orange light…

    No disintegration.

    I sigh. I'm going to need to assimilate more demons. I wonder if I can get a warlock to summon some for me?

    "Did you get them all?"

    Quick check…

    "All the ones in the immediate vicinity. Remember, they can stab through construct barriers."

    "I'll have you know I've dealt with stronger grundy-men than this." He dismisses his construct. "Green Lantern, did you find any stragglers?"

    "No." John flies back our way. "And I didn't find any living people, either."

    I look around-. We're on the periphery of the capital here, where they put their tanneries and other industrial processes so that the sound and smell can't offend the living. I can see people… Some distance away, but-.

    "There should be more people here than this."

    Alan blinks. "Melmoth kidnapped them?"

    "Spine riders control people, and can plan and execute complex strategies. They could do this without Melmoth's direction." I look from Alan to John. "I don't suppose that either of you have a secret ward-bypassing scanning technique?"

    John frowns. "I thought you did."

    "Yes, but I doubt that we'll have hours. I-."

    "Captain Atom to Blue Lantern and Green Lantern."

    Alan nods. "We're here, Captain. Go ahead."

    "I'm in a town to the north. We're under attack by some sort of stinging insect. I need one of you here to cover the evacuation."

    Alan nods to John. "You're faster than m-."

    "Physician to Justice League. A town to the north-west is under attack by a group of Sheeda-altered mantises. I would appreciate help."

    Alan nods. "I'll take that one. Orange Lantern, can you follow up on these abductions?"

    "On it. Canis, are you busy?"

    "Even the songs they sing in praise of the Source are bland."

    "Brut can track people shielded by magic, right?"

    John shoots off to the north while Alan creates a compass construct before heading for Mr Yao.

    "Of course."

    "Please come to my current location. Spine riders appear to have abducted some locals."

    "I come."

    I look at the spine rider my wraith is possessing.

    "Does your host know where they're going?"

    "No, Master. This one was not called to return, merely to take a zombie and attack any humans it could find."

    "Do they have an easy way to locate each other?"

    "No, Master. Mundane senses only. Its magic skills are innate, not learned."

    I nod as Brut lands at the end of the road and bounds towards me, Canis on his back.

    "You have something for him to scent?"

    "These grundywomen were taken by spine riders, and I've got a spine rider here."

    I have the wraith-possessed spine rider fly downwards, and Brut gives it a quick sniff.

    "And those who were taken?"

    "No list. Their supervisors were taken too, and I've got no idea who owns each company or where they are."

    "Then we will start in their middens. Forward!"
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2020
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Canis lets Brut lead him inside the main… Beamhouse? Inside of Smyth's Tannery, and nods as the dog makes a sort of gurgling growl at one of the liming vats.

    "Yes, I see it." He looks around with a mild frown. "Odd that they only used one, but then I suppose they were pursuing the mindless-"

    He pulls out his mace and smashes it into the wooden side of the vat!

    "-dead." "Strike the Lies."

    The wood cracks, and for a moment I see gallons of putrid fluid stream towards us..! Which then fades out, leaving a gap in the beamhouse and a hole in the floor about two metres across.

    And neither my empathic vision looking for emotional resonances nor my ring's scans could tell the difference. I.. wonder if it's possible for a human to become a New God? If it is, that might cover my… Not 'weakness' exactly, but the.. hole in my strengths? I'll ask later.

    Canis moves to the edge of the hole and looks down the vertical shaft. The floorboards have been… Gnawed? And the soil which makes up the first few metres is being held in place by more of the lichen. At least it wasn't acid-melted, but that does mean that the spine riders are either cooperating with another type of Sheeda creature or are perfectly capable of suborning non-humans.

    I take a moment to try scanning for skin cells, air movements, footprints… Yes, there are a few things which suggest that they might have come this way, but Canis's blow hasn't removed all of the effect of their warding.

    "Is this where they left, or just where they came in?"

    "The trail is clear to me. Here they came, and here they left."

    "Could they be deceiving you?"

    "If they were deceiving me, how would I know?" He shrugs. "If you had asked me before I came to Earth, I would have cut you down like the Lowlie you appear as. But if I later considered the question, I would have concluded that only another New God could disguise things from my senses. But the Earth has shown me many strange things."

    "I suppose it doesn't matter. Do you know if the Spine Riders can affect you? Or Brut?"

    Canis cranes his head forward and points to his heavy gorget with his right hand.

    "I added this to my armour in preparation for this mission. And-" He pats Brut's collar. "-so long as I live, this shall serve as well. They may be able to take control of individual nerves… Perhaps. But then they are within striking range. Now forward!"

    Brut leaps, clearing the lip and twisting as he enters a shaft just big enough to fit him! He turns as his claws scrabble on the lichen on the far side and then.. dashes down, his claws finding just enough purchase to keep him anchored to the interior wall.

    I thought I was over my vertigo. Apparently I was wrong.

    I don my armour and fly after him face first, orange light shining from my body lighting up the interior of the shaft. Of course, most of what I can see is the back end of a giant dog, but it should give me at least a little warning of an oncoming attack as Brut dashes down at terminal velocity-.

    "Where is your joy, Lantern? Does this not fire your blood even slightly?"

    "No."

    "Bah! Does nothing excite you?"

    "Plenty of things excite me. Cleaning up the mess caused by someone else's egotism isn't one of them."

    "Hah! You must invite Cheshire to the Mountain! I wish to see how you change in her presence!"

    Brut makes a loop of the tunnel's interior as it bends and levels out, going from running on what would have been the new ceiling to the floor.

    "I'll mention it to her."

    No ladder, I note. Spine Riders can fly, but they can't carry their hosts. Or at least I've never seen them do so. So did another creature help them down? Columbians don't fly, and Sheeda only fly on the backs of their beasts.

    The tunnel doesn't branch, so they must have brought everyone they took to that one tannery and brought them here. Spine Rider hosts only move as fast as they normally do, so they're reduced to human running pace while Canis and I are much-

    Canis strikes the side of the tunnel with his mega rod and the tunnel ahead of us bursts into flame! Ring-!

    Oh.

    The flames are about 2000oC, which while extremely dangerous to human flesh doesn't do a thing to Canis, Brut or me as they wash harmlessly over us. So that wasn't intended to hold us off.

    -faster.

    I take a moment to look at the lichen-covering of the tunnel. No, that isn't affected by the flame either. I-

    "Master." The wraith flies level with me. "My host form was destroyed. I may take another at your command."

    I doubt that was intentional, but it does show how much more fragile than Canis and me the Spine Riders are. Unless it was keyed with some sort of bypass spell? It also implies that the ones puppetting the grundywomen weren't supposed to return, or at least not return this way.

    I draw the wraith back into my ring.

    "Canis, Apokoliptian Fire Pits. Does anything grow in them?"

    "Some strange creatures live around the edge. And there are tunnel-living Lowlies who live close to them. What of them?"

    "I was thinking that we could use this lichen as a heat-resistant building material."

    "Ah, a living world? An entire planet, alive and yet in constant pain, continuing to exist only by inflicting that same pain on others. Has the beauty of the vision enraptured you as well?"

    "No."

    "I wonder if the Queen is Apokoliptian. I have seen none of our technology, but the signs of a thing are not the thing in itself."

    Scrub that idea.

    We're heading… Further inland, into the areas the Columbians haven't settled yet. It's a little strange that they've generally grown their country back towards the lands their forebears fled from rather than away from them, but I suppose I can understand rallying your people against a known threat. It's not a sensible decision, but I can understand it.

    If I were a Spine Rider, what would I want out of life? Unlike Star Conquerors they're not helpless without hosts, even in maggot form. I… Think I'd want to use my ability to achieve a goal, but… I wouldn't want to be stuck on a host full-time. Of course, that assumes that Spine Riders have human-equivalent intelligence, which given their tiny craniums seems unlikely.

    Maggots can and will eat anything alive. To sustain a population, Spine Riders need enough for them to eat, and it wouldn't be practical for them to farm or hunt conventionally themselves… Host bodies as well-tended tools? Unless they're compelled to obey Melmoth or the Queen in some way…

    Not enough information.

    "Lantern! We just tripped a warding glyph! They know that we pursue them!"

    Hardly surprising.

    Far ahead of us I can see a light, but the tunnel hasn't turned up and there aren't any canyons in the area. Let's see what they've been building down here.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2020
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    There's light at the end of the tunnel, a dull and washed out blue clashing with my own orange glow. Otherwise there's next to no electromagnetic radiation… Though again, that could just be the wards. Can't scan ahead and I can't see much from this position-.

    Canis and Brut burst through the entrance first, and by some miracle aren't immediately riddled with energy blasts. I'm a half-second behind them-. It's a cavern, possibly naturally occurring-? Volcanic rock. An old magma chamber?

    Most of the interior wall is covered in the same coral structures as Melmoth's redoubt was made of, There are… Patches of the lichen, but it's not growing on the coral. I assume that it's designed not to attach itself to other Sheeda growths. Or perhaps enchanted? Globs of some sort of resin are attached to the coral in various places, and they're the source of the sickly light which permeates the gloom. There are a dozen or so tiny tunnels leading upwards towards the surface visible on the upper walls and the ceiling of the chamber-

    "Ah, you again."

    -and another image of Melmoth shining from a dais at the centre.

    "So glad to see you!"

    There's a staircase leading down near that dais, and I can see the abduction victims walking zombie-like down into the bowels of the earth. I fly-.

    "And-. Oh my, is that a God?"

    Something lands on my right shoulder and I throw up construct spines to stab it! The Sheeda maggot gurgles, gunge leaking from mouth and stab wounds as it shimmers back into visibility.

    "Canis?"

    "I haven't seen a God for millennia. What brings you here?"

    Brut slows as Canis stares around the chamber, as if he were searching for something. "There is something here. Something of the New Gods."

    "We can pull the place apart once it's safe." I fly for the staircase, strands darting at the Spine Riders who turn their hosts around and generate warding witch-signs. "Just-."

    "Are you trying to-" Canis swings his rod and smashes a maggot clear across the chamber and through Melmoth's illusory face. "-rise above your station, elf-man? Would you-"

    Two of the globs of light glow slightly brighter for a moment and then fire, beams of blue plasma lancing out to strike at Canis! A twitch of his legs and Brut jinks, the beams missing and-. And reforming into blobs.. at the point of impact, their glow now considerably dimmer.

    I've… I've never seen a weapon like that before.

    "-dream of-"

    Three start glowing, and Canis's momentum-. I interpose myself, taking a solid shield out of subspace and bracing in the air. The beam hits, and my armour takes it without too much-.

    Pjjccchhhuuukkk!

    My armour doesn't take that without too much difficulty! Explosive acidic plasma! Shield's gone, arm's gone and a lot of armour has been eaten through-

    "That looks painful."

    -and something is nullifying my usual pain nullification! Gaaagh! Cauterise! Remove affected armour plates and flesh! Regenerate and evade!

    Gritting my teeth as I dart aside from a follow-up shot, charred meat that used to be part of me falling out of the hole in my armour. Canis-. Took a hit, and I see him roll to his feet in time to dodge another two shots. Brut's heading for the people going down the stairs while his master tries to make it to the dais. Right, so I can-.

    Dodge again! Dodge again!

    "I rather thought that I'd hit a ring, there."

    Okay. Feeling slightly better with my chest and shoulder back in one piece. Railgun, solid shot, target a glob and fire.

    Shot punches right through without disrupting it at all.

    That's… Not how fluid dynamics usually works, but fine. Load mage slayer, fire and move!

    "Lanterns. Such an adaptable nuisance."

    The glob goes out and slumps, whatever was holding it together allowing it to survive in a semi-solid mass but not preventing the magic being nullified. Or something simpler, maybe? I evade again and wait until a glob near Canis glows and then fling a plate of steel into the space between them. It hits and creates a violent explosion, heat, pressure, light and acid exploding in all directions and only slightly redirected by the metal that it swiftly consumes! But Canis is unaffected and.. it doesn't appear to be re-coagulating.

    Whereas the one -dodge!- that I shot with my mage slayer just re-enchanted itself and tried to shoot me. Low tech solution it is, then.

    I head towards-. Darn it, the puppeted Columbians are out of sight. Head that way anyway, draw fire. Can't tell where the globs are going to be shooting reliably but the 'glow-to-fire' gap appears to be constant. Firing firing and throw! Yes! Another one dowand that's a lot of lights.

    Ah.

    "And you were doing so-."

    Canis does something to the console as Melmoth vanishes, which is progress, but doesn't do much to help with the shots I'm about to-.

    Think fast.

    Beehive structure, base filler to try and make it explode outwards when the two reach, secondary layer, tertiary layer and force field to protect against the mundane effects build build build! The near-sphere appears around me piece by piece as the orange light takes what it can from subspace and transmutes the rest, printing the material into three dimensional space as quick as I can make it! I can't see out once a layer is complete so I just have to cross my fingers and prepare to dodge if something-.

    The structure shakes as the beams hit home, and I start losing construct probes in the outer layer at the same time as the first base-acid explosions start happening. Given the patterns of pressure, angles of attack and the weight of the whole thing, I estimate-.

    The second layer explosions on the underside go off and the third layer is unaffected while the third layer above me is still taking damage. I use construct blades to cut a hole down and then fly down and out before dropping the acid shelter on the ground. Not bad for a.. two second job. Lights are out so I take light globes out of subspace and toss them around before heading for the stairs.

    "Canis, you alive?"

    A passing globe lights up the dais, shining on his face as he works the console.

    "Yes. I thought that Mother Box might have a little more luck against the Sheeda systems than your power ring." He shakes his head. "It is a sad day for Apokolips when we are less feared than you are."

    "I suspect that Darkseid would find the Sheeda instructive, if only as an example of mediocrity."

    "But they know us, know our technology and abilities. You are concerned for what their existence means for your people." Canis glances at me for a moment, considerably more serious-looking than I'm used to him being. "I am concerned what it means for mine."

    Yes, Apokolips being gone. What a… Tragedy.

    "Alright, you work on that, I'm going to follow the Columbians. I'll shout if I need you."
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2020
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    I send filaments down ahead of me, though not as far ahead as a truly cautious approach would involve. I am trying to rescue these people alive, and I'm far more survivable than they are.

    Nothing much, nothing, there! I grab the Columbian thrall and pin their arms to prevent the Spine Rider controlling them from using their magic. Then I loop filaments around their neck-. Got you!

    The Columbian man stiffens at once, his heart racing and his breathing erratic. His pupils are dilated and aren't really focusing on anything. Ring, quick health check… Nothing he won't recover from on his own, but with a little power ring I can make that now.

    "Sir?"

    "B-by God Almighty-!"

    "Sir, you've been taken by a Spine Rider. I've killed it, but your coworkers are still being held. If you can remember anything about what it told you to do, that would be very helpful. Otherwise, please head up the stairs and stay close to my colleague Canis."

    "I-" He sits up, his right hand going to the back of his neck. I closed the wound when I treated him, but I use a filaments to pick up the Spine Rider's sword from the ground and hold it out to him. He sees it and nods. "No, good sir. I saw little of their attack before I was… T-taken, and then it was… As if I was in a dream, compelled to walk ever onwards with no sense of my own self. I-I have no idea what they plan for us, but I pray you, destroy these devils. Save my friends."

    "I'll do my best. Up, now." I give him a hand and he pulls himself to his feet. "Canis has a large dog with him. He's a little strange, but he knows his business."

    He nods jerkily and then darts up the stairs.

    There's no one else in range of my filaments, but the magic here is either making them fade out or preventing me from getting feedback.

    Or… Thinking about the feedback-.

    I check my spell eater, but it's still in place and at a reasonable temperature. Not cold; there's been enough magic thrown around to get it a little heated. But it should still be working.

    For one entirely inappropriate moment I'm reminded of when I started watching anime. It was completely different to any of the tropes I was all too familiar with from western animation, and I mistook that difference for originality. Here, I don't know if the Sheeda are being truly clever or if they simply use arcane attacks that happen to be different to the ones I'm used to guarding against.

    Not that it makes much difference; I'm here with the equipment I have now and I have to deal with them.

    I fly downwards. Not much dust, but my rings ever-so-helpfully point out the disturbances in the dust on the steps and the walls. Not walking lockstep in the way that star conqueror victims tend to. No spell snares, but I suppose that if a random group of tannery overseers are capable of using magics which could harm me then they certainly couldn't do so quickly.

    There's an opening up ahead, and a chamber beyond it. The ongoing sensor dampening magic is making me consider simply feeding on the magic… But I don't want to risk harm to the hostages unless a reasonable alternative presents itself.

    And…

    Huh.

    The Columbians are kneeling in ranks before… Some sort of multi-headed mosquito… Thing. Most are collapsed, and as I watch the mosquito finishes draining the last few and withdraws its heads. I can see the blood running through its translucent body and into… A… It's vast body, bloated and fat.

    A construct blade severs the heads. Filaments annihilate the Spine Riders and mend the Columbians. Other than the shortage of blood, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with them. Was that… It? The Spine Riders brought them here to feed this.. thing? I restore their bodies as best I can and then deposit them by the door. Working out what the heck Melmoth was trying to do needs to be my priority.

    Or… Does it? Can I think of a single non-evil thing that Melmoth might be doing with thirty pints of type-unmatched Columbian blood? No, no I can't.

    Thick bands of orange light connect me to the still… Aliveish? Mosquito-thing, as I have a crack at assimilating it. The things I cut off… Yes, they had mouths and eyes but I don't think they were actually 'heads' in any conventional-

    "Still alive, Lantern?"

    -sense.

    The creature is resisting, glowing runes all over its carapace making it hard to make contact. But that's fine; I'm trying to kill it anyway.

    I ignore Melmoth's voice and form a railgun, load mage slayer rounds and fire at the most important-looking cluster. The first round strikes him without difficulty, and this time it actually works.

    "How are you doing that? Some sort of leeching spell?"

    The runes near the impact site stop glowing, and some sort of feedback causes the carapace nearby to crack up and the runes there fail as well. Immediately I follow up with an orange strand and attempt to assimilate it. The strand connects, and the creature turns to dust.

    Mostly.. turns to dust.

    "Ah. Curious. That particular redundancy wasn't created with Lanterns in mind."

    There's a pile of.. tissue, or.. organic material. I assume that it isn't 'Sheeda' enough to have been included in the disintegration effect. It's.. like spider web: cream in colour, strong, slightly sticky in places and… It looks like it's cocooning… Someone or something. Columbian blood that hadn't percolated far enough through the system splats to the ground as I generate crumbler constructs and start… Pruning it back.

    "Other than you wanting to be as evil as you can, what is any of this about?"

    "Oh, this isn't about 'being as evil as I can'. There are far more ways to be evil than I currently indulge in."

    "So when you claimed that you 'really like hurting people'-?"

    "Oh, I do. But unlike some of my kind I know when to practice restraint."

    "You just prefer to live-" Behind me the recovering Columbians begin making a retreat. "-in a situation which doesn't require you to."

    "When I ruled these people I enforced my own laws in a completely fair and even-handed manner. I just didn't subject myself to them. What's the point of being king if you can't be king?"

    "To create the greatest and strongest realm you can, with the most prosperous and capable people, as a testament to the rightness of your rule."

    "Well…"

    "But I suppose that's not for everyone. Particularly if this is all you've managed since the last Harrowing, you malignant incompetent."

    The shape is humanoid, though I can't see anything that suggests that they're alive. But… This civilisation is rife with necromancy, and there are humanoid species with decidedly non-standard vital signs. I wouldn't want to kill an intelligent undead creature that hadn't done anything wrong.

    "You know, I had considered keeping you on with your facilities intact. Now, I think I'll let you watch everyone you know and love die screaming before I turn you into a gibbering pet."

    "Melmoth, if your threats worried me I wouldn't bother talking to you."

    "I suppose you have acquitted yourself reasonably well so far. But I rather think that's about to change. You see, after I was deposed and abandoned after our previous Harrowing, I had the complete run of a dead civilisation. Access to all manner of interesting things. All sorts of interesting people. And their corpses. The main drawback of replacing my blood is that I don't have any Sheeda blood in me any longer, but my seed is still Sheeda seed, and my descendants have me in their blood."

    "And it doesn't take a lot of blood to make a grundygod."
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2020
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    No, the logic is sound. If he got hold of a New God corpse and dosed it with Sheeda blood… Or Columbian blood, that's how grundies exist in the first place. I didn't realise it could be introduced post-mortem and it didn't occur to me how long grundies had to ripen for-.

    The room above wasn't created in the day since we gained Melmoth's attention. Someone built this a while ago. And the Columbians have been under low-intensity attack by Sheeda creatures for their entire history. Melmoth's thralls could have taken the occasional citizen or their blood, without it seeming remarkable. They could have introduced blood little by little for decades. Centuries. More than enough time, I'm sure.

    Still. Undead New God isn't exactly outside of my weight class, and that's assuming-.

    I sent filaments everywhere in the room except the stirring spider web cocoon.

    No, nothing here I can feel. Grundies are controlled by sigils, binding them to the caster. There's no one here to brand this one. Melmoth might be able to predict its behaviour, but unless a sophont magic user appears here he can't control it.

    A thin and pallid hand shoves itself free of the covering.

    Unbound grundies I did ask about, and Cyrus Gold's behaviour is apparently atypical. Usually they either lie in their graves or stagger towards light or magic. When confronted, they're not usually violent unless attacked, and then they usually only flail around and try to get away.

    I run a quick check on my armour and confirm that the Columbians have evacuated. Then I form construct blades and cut through what's left of the webbing.

    The figure within has clearly seen better days. Their flesh hangs loose on their muscles-. Her flesh hangs loose on her muscles. Her armoured cuirass is curious: steel plate and chain with New God style tron lines as part of the tabard and helmet. Her gaze is vacant, her skin the classic blue-white and what hair I can see is snow white in colour.

    "In case you're wondering, I carved the control sigil into her skull."

    Oh.

    "gnHHHHHHHH!" I Wake!

    Skin tightens, flesh swells back into something approaching full vitality as she pulls herself free. Her armour likewise starts to take on the shimmering, vital appearance of the version that Canis and his family wear.

    "I particularly enjoyed working on this one. Her father was the one who brought the Castle Revolving to my era. Whatever his Gods did to enhance him made him immune to my techniques, but his misery when I worked on the rest of his crew … That has kept me warm on many a cold evening. Aurakos? K-."

    I deaden the air, preventing the verbal command from reaching her, or anyone else he might have tucked away.

    "Ma'am?"

    I run a construct cable backwards towards the stairs-. Still being jammed. I fabricate a material cable and begin playing it up the stairs.

    "Ma'am? Can you understand me?"

    She grabs a sword with the same 'New God meets Iron Age' design as her armour from the webbing next to her, and the tron lines become active as soon as it's in her hand.

    Cable up, get me Canis.

    Compliance.

    "Orange Lantern to Canis, what happens when a New God is resurrected from the dead?"

    "That cannot happen. If a New God has a God-Name, then their soul would be unified with the Source upon their death. There would be nothing to resurrect."

    "How about if they were only mostly dead? Or if their body was reanimated? I ask, because-."

    "Because you are looking at some fresh horror of human ingenuity. I will come to you."

    "Get the Columbians out first." I turn my attention back to the-. To Aurakos. Daughter of Aurakles, presumably. "Ma'am, can you understand-"

    There's a dim yellow glow under her helmet.

    "-me?"

    She makes eye contact with me, and seems considerably more focused than the other grundies I've encountered.

    "You will die." Even the Odds.

    Construct shield.



    Construct shield.

    My environmental shield goes out and… I'm fully aware of my aches and my armour switches back to 'manual'.

    I deploy my right forearm's x-ionised blade as the Dead God lunges forward, turning aside her two-handed swing. In this armour I'm nothing like agile enough to dodge-. But I can be fast. Before she can recover I lunge, ramming my armour's bulk into her chest. She's knocked back slightly, and her sword is out of position as I punch with my left gauntlet. She's not any shorter than me but my head isn't particularly mobile like this-.

    She sidesteps, proximity sensors guiding me as I blind parry and then trigger the armour's flight system, flying back-. Not flying back because that's not working either.

    Oh this is bullshit!

    How to win a flipping sword duel? Firstly, given that while I have done some primitive weapon practice I don't have the drilled reactions of people who focus on it, ensure that I'm as accelerated as I can meaningfully be.

    I throw myself into a forward vault as Aurakos gets behind me and slashes at my back.

    Oh, she's just this fast. Not Flash-fast or even Kid Flash-fast, but far faster than physical power can explain. Fast enough that I can't just out speed her. Upside down in mid air I can see her reacting, moving, stepping forwards to keep the distance between us as small as possible.

    Taser? No, that's offline. Or rather, it registers as online but isn't actually doing anything when I trigger it. Blade in the other forearm? Doesn't deploy. I'm sure that if I had time and freedom I could hunt down whatever the core of this… Spell? Was bound to and shoot it.

    Behind her I see Canis coming down the stairs behind her. And then stop.

    "Lllllllll-"

    I land on the wall and push off, catching and turning aside her sword again and hitting her full in the chest with my extremely heavy power armour. This time she goes flying and I switch back to normal speed.

    "-antern, she is challenging you!"

    "Yes?"

    "You are bound together by the will of the Source!" Aurakos lands in a crouch, slides, and then locks her eyes on Canis. "You are balanced in power, by the Source's will!"

    "Literally or metaphorically?"

    "Yes!"

    "That's not funny, C-!"

    "We are the manifestations of the Source! It has granted her this power! You cannot use powers or equipment she does not have, save to balance her! And the same applies to her!"



    And my rings are in my chest and my skull and my armour's systems are integrated.

    Damn it.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2020 at 8:15 AM
  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Aurakos approaches me slowly, sword partially extended. She's got better reach that me, because my blade is a backup weapon at most and certainly wasn't designed for duelling.

    "Canis, is there any way we can swap?"

    "Why?"

    "Because you're tr-"

    A small lunge which turns into a feint as I go to parry, then a stab aimed at my gauntlet which I counter with a power stomp which sends me into the air and lets me parry while sideways.

    "-trained for this. I'm artlessly-"

    Aurakos punches with her left hand, hitting me in the cuirass and sending me tumbling backwards.

    "-flailing."

    Things slow again as I correct my fall. My armour's movement calculation systems are clearly working; I'd never be this mobile without it. The question is: what do I do? Duelling the undead won't result in them tiring first. The only thing I can think of is taking a hit to give myself a clear strike at her forehead, but given that that's a New God sword and the fact that she knows what she's doing with it I can't guarantee that she won't simply use the opportunity to kill me. And while enough of her face is on display that I can hit the witch-sign if I get the right angle, there's a pretty good chance that I won't get that angle. And then it will simply be a matter of slashing into me and I'll die of blood loss.

    "Ah… That.. is true. But I don't think that I can alter her use of her God Name. She is a lot older than me."

    "What happens if I toss my swords away?"

    "I imagine that she would-"

    Aurakos stabs, letting me parry so that I can't stop her punching me in the faceplate. No real damage, but the sensors built into my armour aren't designed to take sustained punishment.

    "-probably stab you."

    "With a sword that-"

    Okay, my kinetic barrier isn't working. How about plasma shield?

    "-isn't equal?"

    I hear the signature faint hum of my plasma barrier as it actually responds to my activation instruction. I.. suppose that's working because it's a pure toughness boost, not a negation of a particular type of attack that she can't mirror.

    "Throwing weapons away isn't the same-"

    Another weapon lunge, another parry, but this time when she tries to punch me I reinforce the plasma barrier and counter, forcefully knocking her empty left hand away and giving me an openi-. No, damn it! Missed the damn witch-sign and just poked her in the cheek!

    "-as never having had them. That-"

    Grab her sword forearm, undeploy right blade, deploy left and it works, slash-

    "-doesn't make sense."

    She turns her head and I scour a line along the side of her helmet, while she twists her arm and stabs weakly at my right shoulder just about going through the plasma shield and poking a hole in the armour without hitting anything significant.

    Undeploy both blades.

    "Okay, what counts-"

    Push off and slam us both against the far wall, because while super strength fights are usually resolved by grapples neither of us are dropping our blades, she's undead and I'm in full armour. Choke holds are right out, she doesn't feel pain and if Canis is anything to go by she'll regenerate chip damage faster than I can inflict it.

    "-as armed?"

    I strain my legs to keep her pinned against the wall, letting my armour and plasma shield soak the punches and knee strikes she uses to try and force me back into sword range. I reciprocate with my right fist and she grabs it and pushes it aside so that I punch the wall behind her.

    "If she has it in her possession-"

    Good news is that she's not strong enough to simply squeeze through my armour. And she can't do what Printwhistle did and set us both on fire. And she can't fly, so she can't simply-.

    She tries lifting me off my feet, using the wall behind her as an anchor. Except that doesn't work because I can just adjust my posture, threatening to twist her into a pose that would allow me to grapple her before she abandons the effort.

    "-then she is armed-"

    I stamp on her left foot with my right, to no apparent effect. Grundies apparently can't exactly feel pain in the same way that living creatures do, but the idea that being injured is bad is so ground into human psychology that it remains there even after death.

    "-with it."

    "If I tell you-"

    Aurakos opens her mouth and tries biting my armour, and I hear a hideous noise as super strong teeth scrape across my outer plating.

    "-where in my body my-"

    I take a firm grip on her and the wall, then headbutt her in the forehead. I don't do any damage but I do cause her head to jerk back slightly.

    "-my ring is, how-"

    I try to repeat the action, but she angles her helmet and pushes against my grip, threatening to throw me back if I persist.

    "-quickly could you cut it out of me?"

    I punch her with my right gauntlet fist, trusting my left to keep her sword out of the way and my armour to hold against-. Against her own fist.

    "Not so quickly that-"

    Her neck is somewhat exposed, but she doesn't need to breathe!

    "-she could not slay you."

    Hellwraith, go and find a Spine Rider, then come back and try using it to control her.

    As you wish, Master.

    The wraith emerges from the ring in my skull and flies up through the stone into the chamber above. At least that confirms that the rings are functioning.

    "She's using the Source, right? What's-"

    She-. Aaaaargh! She drops her sword point-down on my left boot, and all my plasma shield can do is turn it aside slightly before it slides into my foot. In armour I'm not really putting much weight on my organic foot, but the pain and blood loss are noticeable and I wouldn't be able to use the armour's purple healing ray until the sword is out.

    "-the 'balance' for the Source?"

    Aurakos then uses her now-empty hand to get a better grip on me in order to hurl me away. But disarming yourself counts as armed.

    "Darkseid? The Anti-Life? The.. Great Darkness?"

    I deploy my right gauntlet's blade and try to thrust it into her forehead, and she's forced to use all of her concentration to keep it off.

    "How about the Ophidian?"
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020 at 8:20 AM
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th May
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    Left fist left fist left fist!

    Focusing on keeping my blade from her face, Aurakos can't react as I stop trying for a pin and settle for just punching her in the chest plate. As I somewhat-expected the blows don't do a great deal and my crumbler gauntlet fails to activate, but-.

    "I don't know?"

    She tries to stamp on my bleeding foot but I crouch slightly so that my left knee prevents her hitting her sword. She stamps on the side of the boot instead, which-.

    "Try it!"

    She doesn't break the armour, but a super strength stamp's opposite reaction results in her body jerking upward and my reflexive grab with my left hand results in me going with her. We hit the ceiling together and she brings her feet up to try and push off me. I latch my left hand onto her shoulder to prevent her changing angle, keep my right hand's blade pointing at her face and bend my left leg back-

    DRHHHHHHHHHHHH!

    -which causes her sword to drop out. OOOw!

    "Canis! Catch it!"

    Canis darts forward even as we both fall back towards the cave floor. The sword goes out to the side as Aurakos and I awkwardly wrestle for position, and Canis grabs it and pulls back just before we slam-

    HUGGGGGGGGGHHH!

    -back onto the ground! I land on my right side and Aurakos tries to break my hold to clamber on top of me.

    Ophidian.

    But the weight of this armour against the floor is nothing like enough to stop my arm moving and while she's wrenching at my left hand I stab with the blade on my right! She tries to evade but I still manage to slash under her helmet and cut through the flesh of her neck. I retract-

    A Sheeda maggot stumbles down the stairs, eyes glowing orange as its puppeted by my wraith. Not what I asked for, but-.

    The maggot collapses, and its bloated stomach undulates and writhes.

    -the blade and swing my right arm into the floor. Not a big swing -that just isn't possible from this position- but it's still enough to get me more or less upright while she's awkwardly hanging off me.

    Ophidian.

    The maggot bursts, and a wraith-possessed Spine Rider flies my way while Canis waves his Mother Box at his newly acquired sword.

    Ophidian.

    It's not that I can't feel her. There's definitely something there, but I can't feel anything like the level of responsiveness I usually get from her. Nice that she finds the Corps so enthralling…

    Without her aid, I try to feel Aurakos's connection to the orange light myself. Depending on her level of remote control, there might not be anything other than the direction which Melmoth is providing her. And it's… Working. I see a cage forcing the orange light to move-.

    "Wait." Melmoth's voice sounds uncertain. "What are you?"

    Aurakos copies me, bending her knees and swinging her feet against the wall with enough force to knock us into the middle of the room. Not wanting her to land on top of me I kick out with my right leg, hitting the floor and sending us careening-.

    She grabs my left gauntlet and yanks, finally separating us. I hit the wall near the stairs, drop, then roll onto my f-feet. She lands.. on her hands and handsprings onto her feet nearer the centre of the room.

    Break the Cage.

    The light from her forehead shimmers between sigil-yellow and avarice-orange, causing her to stagger and her eyes to unfocus. I could try charging her down and stabbing her, but that risks her desires aligning with Melmoth's desires, which would undermine my work. Interesting that she's still got significant desires in grundy form. Also interesting that this challenge system thing considers my armour's healing potion dispenser to be equivalent to her regeneration; the wound in her neck is gone with only a small amount of grey blood clinging to her where it once was, while my foot is considerably less painful.

    "Why do you obey your murderer!? Why do you obey the backstabber who murdered your father!?"

    Who do you Want to Kill?

    "Heroic resolve never ceases to be tiresome."

    Aurakos jerks as her sigil glows brilliant-white, the light-

    Wraith, now.

    Yes, Master.

    -shining from her eyes, presumably a sign of Melmoth asserting full control. But as the wraith-possessed Spine Rider lunges for Aurakos's neck, my environmental shield re-engages because apparently she can't use her New God powers while like this.

    Something's happening with her body, her armour shuddering in response to forces I can't see. But that doesn't matter, because my power rings are working again. I form a small construct crumble gauntlet, duke it under her helmet and push it in the direction of Melmoth's sigil.

    The lights from her head go out, and-.

    The armour covering her right arm explodes as the limb within expands to grotesque proportions! The skin has torn in several places, grey blood dripping through the tears and muscles visible beneath! The limb is about eight times its former thickness and-.

    The rest of her body is doing the same, armour failing under the internal pressure as whatever Melmoth just did causes her to grow. If I'm going to.. preserve her, I need to stop this. With the armour gone there isn't anything to stop my ring-based abilities, so-.

    A construct-claw grabs her helmet, severs the straps holding it on her head and pulls it off. The enslaved Spine Rider takes that as its cue to dart in, dodging her expanding shoulders to stab her in the swelling neck.

    "Wraith, cut her brain's connection to the rest of her body."

    Two dozen strands of orange light connect me to her grotesque and mostly naked body as I try feeling the magics being applied to her and feed on them.

    "Master, I do not know that I can."

    "Do your best. Canis, if you can help, do so."

    "Cutting off her arms-."

    "Canis."

    "We heal back mundane injuries. Though I suppose her current.. state may impact that."

    I remove my spell eater and attach it to Aurakos with a construct necklace.

    "Let's not do anything we can't repair. I meant New God abilities."

    "Are you.. giving her to me? I did not think-."

    "Canis, less… Less Apokolips. Alright? We're trying to help her."

    "Then we should destroy her. Being twisted into something other than what we are is a most supreme torture for a New God." He comes a little closer, looking at the twitching abomination before us with… Actual distaste rather than the fascination he usually shows in situations like this. "I think that is what New Genesis would do."

    "If she wants to destroy herself once she's back in her right mind, she can. First, we try and help her."
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2020 at 6:23 PM
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th May
    03:15 GMT -5


    Canis takes a moment to look over the stupefied undead mutant before us.

    "How?"

    "I'm curious to know that myself."

    I don't know if Melmoth can see us or is limited to hearing us, but in either case I want him not to be.

    I still the air and absorb the light around the periphery of the room, causing the walls to turn jet black. I don't know if that actually works, but it's the best I can do for now.

    "Was your Mother Box able to work out how Melmoth is interacting with this place?"

    "No. She deciphered an impression of his work that may help Doctor Mist comprehend it, but all I can say is that it he is not using New God technology." He continues to stare at Aurakos. "I did not even know she was here."

    "Ping."

    "Where?"

    I.. step closer. I've never tried using a purple ray on an undead before, and I.. don't think this is a good time to experiment. Without armour an x-ionised blade should be able to cut through the.. mutated parts. Cut them off-.

    "Ping."

    "Canis, if a New God has a limb cut off, how quickly do they regrow it?"

    "Unaided? If they focus their efforts, perhaps a month."

    "And aided?"

    "That would depend upon the nature of the aid. With a Mother Box, a skilled New God healer and a ready source of magic, less than a day."

    I closely examine the hole I made in her forehead. It's scabbed over and the skin of her face was affected by the uncontrolled growth a little, but… Okay, I can scan the bone and flesh… Somewhat. My magic sense is telling me that there's.. more that I'm not seeing, but… Whatever I do will literally be better than a hole in the head.

    A quick flash of orange light and the hole is patched.

    "How about… Internal organs?"

    "A little faster. Depending on the damage."

    "I ask because her head is least affected. If I cut it off and rebuilt a facsimile of her body, would she survive?"

    "That is… Somewhat outside my field. You could ask my uncle, or his natural father." He smiles broadly, still unable to tear his eyes away. "This is a fascinating experience. I had foolishly thought that I was beyond horror. When I commemorate this day, I will paint feelings that I thought I had forgotten."

    "Wraith, let her speak."

    "I am not preventing that, Master."

    "Okay. So, Canis, any idea on whether waiting and handing her over to someone else would be better than trying to restore her myself?"

    "I have never heard of anything like this."

    "Ping."

    "And neither has Mother Box."

    Hm. Well, I've seen enough people that I know what the fundamental drives look like. Implanting them in someone without them is well within my abilities. They won't be balanced; I can't give other emotions. But combined with New God physiology, it… Should jumpstart her. Without turning her into Larfleeze Mark 2.

    'Should.'

    "Orange Lantern to anyone."

    I wait, but there's no response. Then-.

    I look at the stairs, then at the giant grundywoman.

    She won't fit. Leaving her down here -even temporarily- seems like a bad idea. So I can either cut bits off her or try and fix her. Or I could blast my way out and potentially destroy Sheeda equipment which we need to analyze. Or.. I could send Canis outside of the area and request guidance.

    I fabricate a length of fibre optic cable, communication relay at both ends.

    "Canis, head back to the surface. Lay this along the way."

    I hand it to him and he takes it, nodding, finally looking away from Aurakos.

    "I'd like to help Aurakos, but the people of Columbia take priority. Tell Diana what happened and ask for orders."

    "Very well." He nods, turns to leave, then… Hesitates. "May I ask you to inform me before you work on her? I wish to see everything which occurs with my own eyes, hear it with my own ears. Smell it with-."

    "Mission permitting, yes."

    He runs for the stairs at what I recognise is his maximum 'not-trashing-the-environment-with-super-strength' running speed.

    And… Then it's me and Aurakos. Who's… Drooling slightly. Ugh. Okay, not doing anything major is only sensible, but I can… Tidy things up a little. And… Maybe a small shrine to Hades? She is undead, and I don't know anything about religious practices in her era. If she has another death god then she'll go to them anyway, but some death gods really don't like the idea of undeath and I don't want to create a restless shade if she gets rejected.

    As far as I can tell, her mutated flesh has grown in fairly predictable way. Veins, arteries and nerves… Yes, they're distorted, but they're still there, even if they're not doing their usual job any longer. And whatever New God exotic defence she would usually have appears to have been destroyed by Melmoth's work. Or at least massively weakened. So while a full genetic analysis is probably…

    Oh. No, that makes perfect sense to me. A bit more Neanderthal than most modern humans, but perfectly comprehensible. So I can clone the tissue I need for a patch-job, rather than cloning DNA-free tissue and hoping that her body adapts it. Grundies only decay from damage rather than microbial infection, so the lack of biological activity shouldn't be a problem.

    Right. Done. It's a patch job and it's probably magically wrong, but she could function as an organic life form now. I mean, she'd probably have trouble moving in a controlled way, but-. Actually what was Melmoth going for here? Boosted strength wouldn't help her against me. My main defence is agility, with selective immunity as a secondary. Being more muscular wouldn't help.. much, particularly not when it would cost her agility like this. An accident? Was she fighting his control and disrupted the spell? I didn't… See a flare of orange, but that's not a completely reliable guide.

    I send filaments to pick up the broken pieces of her armour and fabricate a clay bowl, along with a flask of scented oil and a piece of string to serve as a wick. Kneeling is.. awkward in this armour, but I pour oil into the bowl and lie the wick in it as I put in on the ground.

    "Lord Hades, please aid this fallen hero. I ask that you either receive her swiftly and painlessly and judge her fairly, or grant her forbearance and allow her to return to the living world."

    I watch it burn for a moment, focusing my mind on the image of Hades sitting in judgement. Going by the lines I saw last time I was there, he probably won't get to her quickly even if he hears me.

    Not much else I can do until I hear from Canis.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2020 at 2:03 PM
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th May
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    No… I suppose that's not true. Quite aside from the fact that I need to fight off any Sheeda creatures who head this way… It… Should be possible for me to track Melmoth by his own desires. I mean, he must at least suspect that I can do something like that. Certainly, any group with significant knowledge of magic is going to invest in wards to try to prevent back-hacking.

    The exterior of the room is still a jet black film, and I can't hear anything from outside. Do I want to try and lure Melmoth back into conversation and try that way? I mean, he'd almost certainly spot what I'm trying to do. Is he arrogant enough to let something go? Can I meaningfully distract him from whatever else he's doing? The animals appear to be attacking on their own recognisance rather than being instructed to go after a particular target, so that suggests that he's got the time to spare.

    Least risky options first.

    I try to feel the desires attached to this place, to any of the objects around me. I.. see memories… Floating? Around the fragments of armour I've collected, the wraith's blob of belligerence is completely apparent and a reflection of my plea to Hades in the slow-burning bowl.

    But the room? Nothing. Nothing fresh, at least. Simple… Impulses from the maggot that died, or… Metamorphosed? Into a Spine Rider. Just a desire to feed, as far as I can tell. I assume that they have a control system as well, but my limited ability to see this sort of thing doesn't show it.

    The only actual-.


    Construct stingers stab out, impaling the… Spider-things through the thorax. These have slightly more complex desires, and as their venom-squirt is intercepted by my construct barrier I try taking a closer…

    Oh. That's not theirs. It looks like Melmoth got a little curious. Not a lot curious, it's more a momentary 'I want to know what he's doing, go and take a look my spidery minions' than anything focused-


    I stab the one that was lurking back to watch the other two.

    -but it gives me a feel for his mind-state.

    "Wonder Woman to Orange Lantern."

    "Orange Lantern, here, go ahead."

    "Columbia is under attack from all directions. Can Aurakos be moved?"

    "Yes."

    "Transport her to a place of safety, then assist the Columbians in defending New Southampton. Damage to the cavern is acceptable, but try to leave the central console in one piece."

    "Understood. Orange Lantern out."

    I drop the sound-dampening and light-obscuring effects and generate a large crumbler construct-

    "Oh, hello again."

    -and shove it into the ceiling.

    "I wondered where my spiders had gone."

    It punches a perfectly circular hole through the soil and lichen into the chamber above. I grip Aurakos with a heavy duty spinal board construct.

    "Do you wish to negotiate at all before I leave?"

    "Do you wish to surrender to me and witness the end of your era in relative comfort, from which you may laugh at-?"

    "No."

    "You could-."

    I fly rapidly out into the upper cavern, then target the largest cluster of Sheeda-feeling desires that I can see and swing my crumbler construct into the cavern roof. Once again the lichen fails against Mr. Tuttle's masterpiece, and a moment later so too does the… Maggot burrow? As the crumbler continues on its unstoppable path to freedom.

    Hm.

    I fabricate a small squadron of drone weapons and leave them in the cavern. Given that even Sheeda beasts appear to consider visibility passé I doubt that they'll achieve much but it can't hurt. Then I and my passenger fly into the open air.

    "Orange Lantern to League, heading to New Southampton now. Would appreciate a situation update."

    New Southampton is south of here, on a lake fed by a tidal river. I know where it is because Abednego comes from near there. As I head in that direction I take a moment to scan the region.

    On the positive side, I'm not seeing any worms. On the negative side, I can see dead Sheeda creatures and defenders around just about every major settlement that I can scan.

    "Captain Atom here. We were being pulled in all direction trying to hold these.. bugs off. Then we all got jumped by supergrundies. You take yours down?"

    "Yes, and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to restore her."

    My surroundings blur for a moment and then snap back into focus. Fast flight isn't as fast as transitioning or stepping out, but I didn't have to travel all that far. Scanning the town-. Maybe I'm not seeing any worms because the gigantic spiders ate them.

    "The rest?"

    "When it comes to super zombies, I have a 'shoot first' policy."

    He doesn't have my crowd-control options. If they did that New God challenge thing he wouldn't have had any choice. And the others probably wouldn't have had better intelligence than Aurakos, so it isn't much of a loss on that level.

    "Rational."

    I form a railgun and take aim at one which is ignoring the grundymob trying to keep their attention while the living defenders reload their cannons. I can see a couple of actual witch-hunters but for the most part it looks like they're a militia rather than professional soldiers.

    "Has she given you any intelligence?"

    I open fire, my first crumbler round cutting off the right foreleg of a spider that was encroaching on one of the defenders' cannons. A moment later it fires, runes around the outside of the barrel lighting up as it blasts forth a blob of white fire that sticks to the spider which screeches as its thorax is consumed.

    "No, but Melmoth said that her people are the ones they got their time machine from."

    I put it out of its misery with a round to the face. Doesn't look like these ones have magic reinforcement; I can see their carapaces being chipped and broken by conventional musketry as well as the larger weapons.

    "Time machine singular. That confirms Sivana's claim that they only have one; they can't build more of them."

    Two railgun rounds stagger a spider that was trying to shoot toxic fur at the defenders, and-

    "So we deal with this one and its all over. Any of them who are still alive get stranded in our time and they can't send reinforcements."

    -I quickly form and fire a laser construct at a smaller spider that was trying to sneak up on the witch-hunter directing the defence. It falls from the building it was using as cover, spasming and screeching until the witch-hunter steps up with a pistol and finishes it off. He then spots me and gives me a quick nod before turning back to the fight.

    "And if I understood what my alter ego did to time correctly, that will be it. They get one swing and then even though they use time travel they can't bother us with it any more."

    "Then we better make sure they swing and miss."
     
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2020 at 9:29 AM
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  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th May
    03:28 GMT -5


    Suffer-Not-Obstinacy Chandler shoves his sabre through the head of a wounded spider, takes a moment to check that the strike was mortal and then takes a moment to survey the town. He exhales sharply through his teeth then heads back towards my aid tent. I haven't simply been able to flit around healing everyone because while the majority of the attackers were nice and visible, a few weren't and exposing myself wasn't a good idea. But with the attackers slain the local civilians have been bringing their fallen friends here in a way which suggests a degree of familiarity with the process.

    "We are done for now." He looks at two I haven't touched. "They are cursed in some way?"

    I nod. "My healing techniques appear to make the wounds worse. Can you do anything about it?"

    "I am trained to wound, not mend. And the local Reverend was targeted by the assassin spiders before the attack commenced. We will have to arrange for them to be escorted to New Plymouth."

    "Do you need me to remain?"

    "We are far from secure, but it would be churlish for me to ask that when our fellow Columbians are still under attack." He looks at the area where the local grundies are being stacked for salvage. Most of them are severely damaged, but I suppose that they won't dispose of them as long as they can soak a few hits. "T'will be a hard planting season with our labour gone. What is that strange grundywoman you have brought with you?"

    "Another victim of Melmoth's. I want to see if we can restore her mental faculties to the point where we can question her in detail."

    "I can break her to your will, if that is your desire."

    "No, thank you. I'm not even sure that she's completely dead. If she can be truly resurrected, I wouldn't-."

    He scowls for a moment before schooling himself.

    "Many are those who have looked to a grundy for the mind and soul of the departed. 'Tis absent, and 'tis sinful to pervert their purpose."

    "I.. assure you that I wasn't planning anything 'sinful'. She wasn't born of Melmoth's line, and I'm hopeful that she doesn't have the same restrictions as your people's grundies do."

    He shakes his head. "When I speak of 'sin', I do not merely refer to lust for the pleasures of the flesh outside of wedlock. But if she can be restored to true life, then what you say may be true. Where will you go now?"

    "I'll find out. Orange Lantern to Justice League. The attack on New Southampton is over. Orders?"

    "Blue Lantern here. Have you got room for refugees?"

    Evacuating the smaller settlements is a sound plan, though I can hear that Alan's not happy about doing it. I raise my eyebrows at Mr. Chandler, who nods cautiously.

    "Aye, we can, though food will become scarce if this situation continues."

    "Yes."

    "I'll fly them your way, then. The Columbians are getting hit all over, and I'm sure the outcasts are getting it worse. You got any way to track Melmoth down?"



    "Wonder Woman, how long can you spare me for?"

    "What do you have planned?"

    "I felt the pattern of Melmoth's desires on the creatures he sent after me. I might be able to feel him through the Honden. It will be far quicker than a waveform scan if it works."

    "And then?"

    "Confront and control. Sheeda normally self-destruct when I try that, but he's immortal. Then I can either have him end the attack or at least remove the higher level coordination."

    "Do it. We will hold here."

    "Understood. Orange Lantern out." I look at Aurakos. She might be able to cope with the journey, but I'd rather not chance it. "Mister Chandler, would you please look after Aurakos while I'm away?"

    He nods. "Certainly. May God bless you with good fortune."

    And deep breath and out we go.

    Hm. Again, I look around for the Ophidian but I can't really see her. Honestly, it just feels unnatural at this point, but… On with the job. I focus on the desire-patterns of the Columbians I've come to know, most importantly on their commonalities, and I find myself drawn in their direction. There's a sense of movement and having travelled but the journey feels like it takes no time at all.

    And I'm in an edifice to their shared drive and a room and a corridor and yet I know that it's not a real 'place' in any normal sense. Trying to describe it in material terms is an exercise in futility. Instead, I look for those desires which don't quite fit. Deviants within-.

    I press my lips against his and pray that none disturb-.


    No, not like that, though it's hardly surprising that the Columbians forbid homosexuality. How about-

    …would be so much more efficient if the grundymen could be repaired rather than interred. A small change in the blood magic animating them-.

    Yes, a warlock.

    …joy as I cut off another of its legs and watch as it tries to crawl away.


    Hello Klarion.

    It can't understand what I am, can't see that I'm so much more than it is-. But then I realise that I could be in the same position; that something greater than me could be ruining my fun. I look away, my mood ruined, and resolve to make sure that can't ever happen.

    Yes, more like that.

    Desires move around. Or I move around them, until the ones which feel like that are a table/map/diagram in front of me.

    I hold out my hand and the outline of the desire I felt from the spiders appears.

    More like this.

    Some desires flake off, returning to their usual webs. But a few remain, their feel and structure and relatedness being all the more apparent.

    I don't recall Lanterns operating in quite this way before. Perhaps it would be best to monitor this one a little more closely.


    Good. Now show me desires related to this. Desires from the same person.

    The network grows.

    Look at them all run! Look at them all bleed! Look at them die! Not so clever now, are you, dear children?

    And more and more. I try not to look at them all too closely, limiting myself to checking that they have the same feel and flavour. And more and more they grow, millennia of desires laid bare before me-

    A full belly. Just for once, to be freed of the pain-.

    -earliest to latest. I pull the latest towards me, surrounding myself in the feel of his avarice.


    And then I step in.
     
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2020 at 8:06 AM
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  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th May
    At Some Point


    Melmoth's eyes widen fractionally as I appear in what looks like-

    Entropic rays orientate on me and fire, the modifications I made to my armour to enable it to better resist them performing well enough to keep me in one piece long enough for my railguns to retaliate.

    -the control room of some sort of.. facility..? Multiple control panels show that it was designed to be operated by a larger number of people than the one who currently occupies it. Illusion projectors show a variety of scenes from Columbia and other places, and a large window to the exterior shows… A red coloured rocky desert. No, yellow-brown, it's the dim light from above that's red.

    "Now-."

    As the last ray projector slumps in its ball mount I reach out for Melmoth with orange strands and brand.

    He grits his teeth, and I can feel him resisting. The images I saw suggested that he had a similar upbringing to Larfleeze: starving and scrabbling for every crumb. But while Larfleeze learned absolutely nothing from the experience, Melmoth learned discipline. Mental strength and focus. Even as he tries to suppress his own desires to zen-like calm the witch-signs he'll use to fight me are forming around his fingers.

    But I didn't use every trick when I taught the Green Lanterns to resist me.

    Enkindle Need.

    Because while assimilation works best on people with little self-control, there's a difference between control and mastery. Melmoth could probably go centuries without hurting anyone if he had to without any adverse psychological consequences. But he could never let go of that desire and as his eyes glow orange and he tilts his head back with a gasp he abandons his effort at control in favour of lunging at me, rationality overwhelmed by his burning need to hurt something.

    The brand finishes forming a moment before his face slams into my chest plate.

    I reset his desires to their baselines as he stands and takes a closer look. Yes, he's… Flaking a little, but he's healing faster than it can take hold.

    Normally I'd speak instructions at this point, because this brand is a temporary thing and whoever I've done it to is going to have to be rehabilitated at some point. But in this case… I think he's.. if not a lost cause then at least one I'm not inclined to look for.

    Instead I reach into his soul, search out the atrophied drives for cooperation and camaraderie and empower them while I turn down his selfishness and cruelty.

    "Melmoth, stop the attack."

    "Ah-? Yes. Well, I… Can't." He hurries over to a control panel. "I set up the trigger before I left. I can release the counteragent-" He pulls a lever. "-but that won't stop any attackers who are already 'triggered' from carrying out their instinctive behaviour. And I should shut down the mass mutation device I left on the great southern island."

    "Is there anything else you can do to help them?"

    "Certainly!" He presses a few more buttons, and the… Some sort of ornament in the middle of the floor spurts a green fluid from… Oh, it's a fountain, from the top and the liquid flows beneath the keys as Melmoth presses them. "We'll be there in a moment."

    "Where are we now?"

    "We're over what used to be the Atlantic Ocean. Before it dried up." He smiles as the scenery outside the window shimmers and vanishes. "The one place no Sheeda would look: the miserable period before the first Harrowing."

    "We're in the future?"

    "No, the past! I won't be born for centuries!"

    He hurries between the consoles, pulling levers, pressing buttons and briefly creating small witch-signs to manipulate the machinery.

    "My future?"

    "The future of humanity; the death of the world and the succession of the Sheeda. But put it from your mind! We have a people to aid!"

    "What were you planning to do with them?"

    "I imagine that you've deduced most of it. I wanted to create a reserve of people with whom I could colonise the Earth after the Harrowing."

    "But they all hate you."

    "Yes, but the moment they decreed that certain things were forbidden they created an opening for my return. Hating me is part of their official creed, which naturally means that anyone they define as being outside of that creed suddenly doesn't feel the same need for animosity. With sufficient time I would easily have talked the warlocks and warlock-breed around. Once I offered them my aid in improving their skills… Once I repaired their pupae forms into true Sheeda, and once I led them to victory against the Columbians, then they would accept me as their leader."

    He blinks, giving his head a small shake.

    "Not that that matters now. What a horrid waste of time."

    The churning kaleidoscope of textures on the other side of the window fades away, being replaced by the stars I recognise from the skies over Witchworld.

    Immediately, Melmoth moves over to another control station.

    "I can use the integrated weapons to cull the horde a little. You should be able to speak to your allies now."

    "Orange Lantern to Justice League. Mission success. I have Melmoth and-"

    I scan the structure we're standing in. It's a huge cylindrical vehicle which floats unsupported in the air.

    "-his base of operations."

    "Is Melmoth under control?"

    "Effectively. He's being very helpful. He's shutting down the attackers as much as he can and taking shots at the rest. You should be able to see-."

    "The ship, yes. I see it now. Remain with him to ensure that your controls remain in place."

    "Yes sir. Have.. you any plans on what we're doing with him once the immediate crisis is over?"

    "Not yet. That will be… Difficult."

    Telling me…

    "I'll meet you on the ship once the fighting is over. Wonder Woman out."

    I nod as Melmoth continues to treat Central Columbia as a shooting arcade.

    I just went to the far future. I… Don't think that's something I… Can do at-will. Time travel. I certainly… I'm not usually one to turn down power but that would sort of make me responsible for everything and I'd… Rather not be.

    "Melmoth, do you have any idea how I reached you in the future?"

    "The water, probably." He points to the… Place where the water was flowing through the central console. "A small amount I temporarily stabilised from the fountain at the core of the Castle Revolving's time displacement system. It flows through time, which means that it escapes constantly. It wouldn't surprise me if it made the usual separation of eras somewhat less of an issue."

    "And the Queen has the Castle?"

    "Unless she lost it somehow. I think that's fairly unlikely, but that was how I was overthrown." He glances at the central console. "I'm afraid that if you want to do it again then you'll need more of the water."

    I nod, torn between disappointment and relief.

    "Keep up the good work. I'll stay out of your way."
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2020 at 8:22 AM
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