Comatose

What Happened in Edmonton

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Jacklyn stepped up to the checkpoint.  Three bored-looking guards sat at a card table, watching the trickle of people flowing through.  They were all presenting cards of some kind.  Maybe a pass?  She hoped it wasn't required, or that she could acquire one here.  She noticed a second lane, currently empty.  Perhaps for newcomers?  Jacklyn hesitantly stepped into that line.  One guard turned to her.   "Are you new here?"  He looked askance at her robe, but probably assumed she was deformed or something.  Sparks, who wore a CLOAK?  She really needed a better disguise.

"Hello?" the guard prompted.  Right.  Focus.  She nodded, careful not to reveal her face.  “Then you should take this.” He picked up a brochure on the table.  “WELCOME TO OLYMPIA POLARIS” was emblazoned on the front.  He extended it to her.  She reached out with a gloved hand to take it.  Jacklyn wore the gloves as an additional precaution, though it was hardly necessary.  She knew it made her look even more strange, but that was worth it when she was entering a city she knew next to nothing about.  He looked her over again.  “Are you an Epic by any chance?” It was a loaded question.  She shook her head.  Her secondary abilities were much harder to use if others knew about them.

“Alright, then I will have to subject you to a brief search.”  Calamity! She should have expected this!  She had really hoped to avoid word of her from spreading to any Epics again, but Jacklyn had no other options now.  Unless…

Jacklyn stepped forward, indecision warring in her mind.  However, fate seemed to make the decision for her.  As she moved, her foot caught on her cloak, and she tripped, hood flying back.  Her cloak tore with a terrible ripping sound.  The Epic ended up on the ground, cloak in two, completely exposed. Well, there went that.

Edited by The Young Pyromancer
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Umm,” Liam said, “either way, she can’t come with us.” They let out the breath they hadn’t realized they’d been holding. Awkward situations were not their forte.

Liam placed his hand on Kokichi’s shoulder and steered them away. Their old besties hadn’t been hype about friendliness. Kokichi respected their personal space issues but come on, it’d been tots lame. 

 

”Hallelujah,” they said once they were out of ear shot, pushing strands of their messy hair that had gotten in their face behind their ear, running their fingers over the piercing holes they’d long since let heal. “I had no idea what I was going to do there!” 

 

“I’ve figured out what we,” Liam said and Kokichi lit up at the word we, “are up against. Karabiner, the Epic I’m tasked with eliminating, runs a black market that specializes in equipment that mimics Epics. Quite dangerous. However, Dr. Moore mentioned that the lab purchases a number of these items for research purposes, which I presume are kept in storage.” 

 

“Oooh,” Kokichi said. Most tech like that they’d heard of didn’t work for Epics, which they thought was pretty stupid, but it’d be pretty awesome if these did. And  if they didn’t, Liam gaining super cool abilities too, even fake ones, would be great! 

 

The secratary said something, but Kokichi didn’t pay attention cuz they were watching Liam pull some awesome hacks on the door. They had to get him to teach them. 

 

“Take a look around. If it’s labeled as Linked, tell me.” Kokichi saluted and immediately began tearing up the place, shoving things that looked important into their hoodie. 

 

“Oh, like this?” they said as they found something with the word Linked on it. 

Edited by winter devotion
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                                                                                               Image result for end of the world

                                                                                               However Long Ago Chrysalis Took Over Calgary

Alex awoke, covered with slime and muck. No different than any other day, of course. It’s the same routine, day after day, week after week, and month after month. Alex would wake up, smell the trash that people threw into his alley, find food, and start a new day of preaching. It didn’t matter how much he talked, there was no one who truly understood the truth: that humanity is scum. Even before Calamity came, you could see it in the evil dirtbags that walk the street at night. The way epics act isn’t anything new, it’s just human nature coming out completely due to lack of consequences. And yet, they still walked as if everything was fine. As if the answer to the problem was ignoring it. It’s not. The answer is to cut off the issue at the source. Without humanity, there’s no way for the inherent personality of all people to come through.

As Alex finished this thought, he suddenly felt enormous power rush into him. He rose up, in awe of this amazing feeling. Has my wish finally been granted? Knowing in his heart that it must have been, he tried to use his power. Mysteriously, life persisted. Trying again, he failed again. Getting frustrated, he pushed all of the will he had into this power-and failed. He came to a realization-his weakness. If he couldn’t use his power, then it must be because of his weakness. Thinking, he decided that if his power was his greatest wish, then his weakness would be his greatest hate. The heathens, those who can not, no, will not see the truth. He went to the streets with renewed passion, and began to spread his wisdom to the streets of Calgary. And suddenly, people listened. Not everyone, but a reasonable population came to him, listening, and believing. Urging them to rise up, they did. Thinking, he came to the logical conclusion. These people were loyal to his cause, but he couldn’t just take the city right now. He’d have to grow and train his army. He ordered his lackeys to continue normal life. Once he gained enough, he would be able to take the city with ease.

Continuing work, he hid out in an old abandoned warehouse, going out and ordering his minions. When he was ready, he would gather his army in one place, and attack. Days before he would’ve been ready, Chrysalis came. Her swarm of bug monsters tore through his army like a hot knife through butter. Fleeing, he barely got out of the city alive. Fuming with rage, Alex watched as the city, his city, was taken over by some upstart no-name epic. He will get it back. There’s no doubt about that. The only question is how. I need allies. Turning, he considered his options. None of the epics had joined his group back in Calgary. That was dead to him. The next best place nearby was Olympia Polaris. Looking around at the barely dozen members of his formerly powerful army, he made his decision. Turning his gaze northward, he started walking. There would likely be someone willing to help along the way for a good cause.

                                                                                                                                   Present Day

“Draft up a letter according to those specifications, general.” The man saluted and walked away. Hopefully the man could manage to write a decent letter. He had been promoted for his military experience rather than his intelligence, so it wasn’t a sure thing. Oh well, it can hardly be helped.

Turning to the boundaries of his territory, he surveyed the area. It seems his construction was going well. With luck, he would have protection from any fool walking in before the month was out-but the real protection would be coming from the note he would soon be sending to each of the prominent players in Olympia. There was little to stop some medium strength epic-or even the Reckoners-from just waltzing in and murdering Alex where he stands, but that was soon to change.

“Sir, I’ve completed your orders. Would you like to review it?” Turning, Armageddon saw the same man as before.

“Of course. Hand it over.”

Dear the powerful figures of Olympia Polaris,

This is Armageddon. Some of you may have gotten an idea into your heads to come and assassinate me, due to my current lack of powers. However, you should know that I have a power that comes seperate from my Epic status. I have strength in numbers. Each and every one of my followers have been instructed to ravage and destroy the city if I am killed, kidnapped, or even if someone attempts to do so. I have complete faith in my underlings ability to kill and demolish the city; and surely there’s no point in leading the city if there is nobody to lead? Of course, my door is always open to any who wish to join in the noble cause of ridding humanity from this world.

Best regards,

Armageddon

Armageddon smiled. “It’s perfect. Make copies and send one out to each of the major players in Olympia. Perhaps now they will be hesitant to assault me.” He hesitated. “But… leave out Typhon. We don’t know enough to be confident a letter will do anything, and I suspect she could likely take out the whole army with ease. I don’t want to take any risks in offending her.”

****

John stood next to the forcefield nervously. Nobody really knew much about the epic that apparently creates it-and John wasn’t gonna be the one to touch it and find out. Circling, he eventually came upon the single entrance. Spotting the two guards always there, he hesitantly stepped up to them. “I bring a message from the almighty leader, Armageddon.” he said, quickly handing over the small piece of paper. The guards curtly nodded, and John hurried away as fast as he could without seeming rude. Well, that went about as well as I could have hoped.

****

Sarah could tell she was in Arachnerds area when the webs prevented her from seeing even a foot in front of her. OK, calm now, stay calm. This is what Armageddon needs, and you will do it. It didn’t help. The spiders were not going to eat her. It wasn’t going to happen. That’s not what spiders do. Of course, they could bite. Spiders do do that. Shaking off the fear, she tried to decide the best way to get the message to Arachnerd without having to go too far into spider territory. Noticing a small spider to the left, she hesitantly went up to it. “Um… I-I bring a m-m-message from Armageddon. Here, let me just,” she folded it up and put it onto the spiders back. That’ll probably make it’s way there, right? Yeah. It will. And with that, Sarah bolted in the opposite direction.

****

Paul strutted into the University like he owned the place. Glancing about, he noticed a man standing by himself. Walking over, he started explaining. “I’ve got a letter from Armageddon.”

“Hand it over.” He did.

“You know, you guys are nothing. The Minor Epic Coalition is really just a group of all the epics who were too weak to do what people like Armageddon has done. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that letter says that he’s going to tear your group apar-”

****

“Sir?” Armageddon glanced over from his pondering and sighed.

“Yes? This better be important.”

“Paul Johnson, the one we sent to the MEC, hasn’t returned. Missing in action, or dead.”

“Oh? What a shame. I was hoping to keep relations with them as civil as possible. Ah well. Send someone to apologize over.”

“Right away.”

Edited by Kidpen
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download.jpg.56d2202aa25bb6764867b5772cb5a16d.jpg

A floating, illusionary letter appeared in front of the high school.  It read:

Dear "Armageddon",

Why do you wish to destroy humanity?

-Blank

Edited by The Young Pyromancer
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Rachel watched the video feed with a critical eye, observing as the cameras in a certain area were knocked out one by one.  "You're sure he's a Circle of the Shield Agent, and not an impostor Dr. Moore?"

"He had the insignia, and he seemed to know what he's talking about.  As I said, it isn't unexpected that the Circle has sent someone for Karabiner."  

Rachel sat back, trying to think things through.  Of course Margaret would be meddling.  The woman couldn't keep her fingers out of anything.  Why does it still feel like I'm juggling with only one arm?  "Where are they now?"  

"My guards are searching all wings, but based on the missing footage, we believe is is in Storage Zone B, the low security zone."  

"Anything of value we should be worried about?"

"There might be a few faulty motivators or linked items that seem to have lost their charge.  We are checking on our high security storage, and those locks seem to be intact."

Rachel turned to look at her desk, where mountains of reports and paperwork awaited her.  She wished she could designate someone to handle things for her, but knowing the Circle of the Shield was looking into things made her nervous.  This would need to be handled delicately if she wanted things to work out to the Government's advantage.  

"Let them run their course for now.  But keep an eye on his pet epic.  Have him run through are system, and see if we can turn up a name.  When you get a chance, arrest the agent, and give me a call, and try to get rid of the epic.  I would like to speak with him personally"  Rachel nodded, and the secure line was disconnected.  "All right Louise, let's get some of this out of the way before the next call comes in."

 

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A group of 20 people of various ages, heights, gender and ethnicity walked silently along a small dirt path. Their clothes were almost universally tattered to the edge of usefulness, their expressions exhausted. At their head a man in his 30's walked confidently along, examining his mobile periodically to consult the map and check for messages. A few feet behind him a small family walked, huddled close for support and warmth.

Somewhere in the middle of the group a teenage girl walked alone, others had tried to speak to her over the trip, but most seemed to respect her decision to remain silent. Her solemn demeanour combined with the mess of tattoos that covered her skin led most to believe that she had experienced some unspeakable horrors from an Epic or gang. Lucy Lockser made no attempt to dissuade any of the other refugees of these opinions over the trip, instead keeping a close eye on each member of the group to ensure that no Epics had snuck in with the rest.

They'd had to abandon the bus a few miles back when it ran out of fuel but they were close now, close to a city as far from the chaos of Oregon as they could manage. Edmonton was apparently called Olympia Polaris these days, a name that instantly made Lucy frown with disgust, but the refugees cared less about what it was called and more about its reputation as a city that had largely avoided the destruction of other cities.

Another hour of trudging along eventually led their group to a small shack. The waypoint where they had been told to meet their guide. A coyote who would be able to smuggle their group into the city, hopefully avoiding any special notice and being able to settle into the new city.

Most of their group collapsed onto the ground, a mixture of relief at reaching their destination and exhaustion at the length of time it had taken them to arrive. Some pulled small canteens of water out and began passing them around, one young man pulled out a small flask which, from the smell of it, definitely did not contain water but rather something much stronger. The young man kept the flask to himself, taking only a small sip before secreting it away and looking around frantically to see if anyone had noticed, wiping a few stray drops from the patchy beard sprouting from his face.

Lucy watched him, her face showing some expression at last as she frowned at him, one hand twitching. The boy jumped as he noticed her standing only a few feet away before shrugging and attempting to sheepishly hold the flask out to her. Lucy's frown intensified as her hand lashed out, knocking the flask to the ground before she turned away and headed towards the shack.

Inside she saw Jordan, the man who had been the nominal leader of their party, speaking with an elderly man who she didn't recognize. The elderly man stood out compared to the rest of the refugees in both demeanour and appearance. His shoulders were hunched under the weight of his age, not the exhaustion of fleeing for his life. The tooth he was missing appeared to have fallen out naturally, not been smashed loose from the collateral damage of an Epic fight or forcibly pulled by one of the more sadistic Epics.
His clothes were dirty, but this appeared to be a deliberate choice, an attempt to seem unkempt and inconspicuous, beneath the layer of dirt his woolen jumper appeared to be relatively new and unused.

"Security's tightened up a bit recently so we'll have to go through the edge of one of the slow zones." The elderly man said. "Not ta worry though, I'll get you all in without any fuss. Provided our deal is still acceptable?"

Jordan nodded and handed over a small sack, the metallic clinking sounds within caused the elderly man to widen his smile still further.

"Excellent, I'll let you all rest for a spell before..." He trailed off as he noticed Lucy entering the wooden interior of the shack. "Well hello there, not to worry miss, I'll get you in without anyone seeing."

He turned to face Lucy directly, the gap in his smile growing more obvious in the low light of the room.

She walked up and gave him an appraising glance, her face dropping the frown she had still been carrying before speaking in a quiet, cracked voice.

"How can we know you'll be able to manage that?"

Jordan turned to look at her, surprised to hear her finally talk after several weeks on the road together. The older man didn't seem to notice, instead approaching closer and leaning in to whisper conspiratorially.

"Old Mick knows his trade, don't you worry. You folk are from Oregon yes? Not the first ones from there I've snuck in."

With a flourish, he pulled back the sleeve of his jumper, revealing a watch that consisted of a burnished silver before turning one of the dials on it slightly. His figure seemed to shimmer for a moment, not seeming to turn invisible exactly, but just becoming far less remarkable, as though it was merely a lump of clothes in exactly the shape of a person, and nothing that anyone should pay any attention to.

A moment later, Lucy snapped her eyes back onto his form as she managed to notice him again. She felt a shudder coming on, feeling as though her skin was crawling and let out a faint shudder.

"Know it can make people uncomfortable, but with this I can shield us all from notice, long as no one is doing anything too drastic no one will pay us much mind. Want to see?"

Mick walked even closer to Lucy, stepping to her side and holding out his wrist for inspection. She reached slowly up to grasp his wrist, and leaned in, seeming intent on the watch before suddenly tightening her grip and focusing her eyes even more intently upon the wrist. She watched as ink began moving off of her skin and onto Micks, the shape of the words remained the same before giving off a dull flash.

"Oww! What was-" Mick pulled back with a start, yanking his grip from Lucy's now limp grasp and massaging it.

Jordan walked up as well, face now stern and frowning in Lucy's direction. Before suddenly stopping as he saw her face.

Lucy smiled towards both men, but no mirth reached her eyes, just a grim sense of satisfaction.

"Thanks." She said simply, turning away as she actualized the word she had left on Micks hand.

They both stared after her in confusion for a moment before Mick began to intensify the rubbing on his wrist, the rubbing quickly turned into a scratching as he felt an unbearable itching and he looked at his wrist in the low light that was still present in the room only to let out a small screech.

A red circle began to slowly spread, starting in the skin beneath the watch. By the time it reached his elbow, the flesh where it had started was a deep crimson, slowly turning to black. The consistency of the flesh itself seemed to be changing, slowly becoming softer, almost stretchy. The metal of the watch seemed to be similarly affected, losing its shape and beginning to stretch, almost sliding completely off of Micks arm.

Both men watched in silent horror as the circle of affected skin continued to spread, reaching his shoulder, but more concerning his hand itself slowly began sinking to the floor, the flesh that attached it to the rest of his arm continuing to stretch before finally completely changing to a liquid and spattering the floor in a grotesque shade of red and pink, slowly mingling with the silver of the watch as it too dissolved into a liquid.

Scribbler walked away from the shack as the screaming began, the refugees began running towards the shack to investigate but she continued moving away, leaving them behind as she walked towards Olympia Polaris.

"Those powers are never good, no matter who holds them." She quietly whispered.

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The heartbeat was strangely... invigorating. It reminded Red of the arrogant yet shameless thrumb of another heart she’d once listened to and the short yet thrillingly ruthless days she’d spent with her head nestled directly to his neck, hearing the pulsings so near.

The beat wasn’t anywhere close to Nighthound’s pattern yet her cheeks flushed the same way they’d had back then. She longed to seek it out, to prostrate herself before its source.

Her own heart was pounding. It took effort to force herself to walk towards the origin at a reasonable speed. Approaching her— Red was reasonable sure it was a her though she couldn’t quite figure out why she knew that— at a run might force an attack.

Not that Red was afraid of being attacked. The idea of such a heated soul pinning her to the ground in preparation to strangle her made her tremble in anticipation. Would she be subtle in their strength, as Faith was? What weapons would she use? 

Perhaps she’d be a bladed Epic, ready to slash throats with a grace unlike any other. There was no doubt in Red’s mind that this girl or perhaps woman was in Epic. No vanilla could set Red aflame with such a passionionate soul. 

She wasn’t walking slowly any more. Red’s movements bordered on a sprint. Her cuffs slid up and down on her wrist as she moved. Old bite marks throbbed with a need to be reopened.

Something happened to the Epic, something that made her nervous. Usually a vulnerability like that would’ve made Red disgusted, would’ve made her spit on the ground, would’ve made her kill. Somehow, this time, it didn’t.

The weakness was as intoxicating as any strength Red had ever known.

Intoxicating. Now that was a good word for this burning passion running through her veins, giving her a need for this unknown’s brutality towards Red. It was like alcohol inside her, tripping her up and making her dizzy. 

Before she realized it, Red was at a checkpoint, bumbling through a crowd of boring, boring, boring vanillas to stumble upon the most beautiful girl, no, person she’d ever seen.

She was more gorgeous than any work of art Red had ever seen, more majestic than Nighthound, and absolutely perfect in every single way.

Red couldn’t describe what about her was so brilliant. It was every single detail, subtle and complicated alike. Her hair shone in the light, indescribably gorgeous. The cloak she must’ve lost laid discarded on the floor. 

Her skin was flawless, any imperfections balanced perfectly to make her seem all the more human despite her godlike status. She was a diamond in the dirt, more pure than anything that Lucentia could’ve created.

She deserved devotion. No, not simply Red’s devotion, but that of the world’s. How had nobody else not realized the value of swearing fealty to her? No slaves followed her, as far as Red could tell.

That must be a mistake on Calamity’s behalf, one Red wanted to, no, needed to correct at once. The blood in her cheeks only grew stronger the longer Red looked at her.

Red dropped to her knees immediately, almost unaware of her actions but absolutely certain that  perfect obedience to this flawless girl would be worth whatever price she demanded. 

Not even the first sight of Nighthound had warranted such immediate love in Red’s heart. No, everything she’d ever felt for Nighthound paled in comparison to what this girl evoked in Red. 

 

“Most beautiful and powerful Epic, I pledge my allegiance to you forevermore. Please, mistress, make me your slave and use me however you see fit. I am not worthy to worship the ground you walk upon.” 

 

Red only turned her head up so she could hear easily. After she finished, she shoved it into the ground, putting herself in the most vulnerable position possible. 

 

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Sapphire.jpg

Last Night (Will Change this once Time is Confirmed if Needed)

Sapphire watched through binoculars as the two thieves fled Orbit's penthouse, and the bulbous epic crime lord rose above the building, searching for them.  

"Well, well, well," she said, turning to her two companions.  "It seems like Orbit might be in need of our assistance, ladies."  

"Ooooooh, does that mean we get to do something fun?" Sangria's vapid expression shifted slightly, as some excitement began to take over.  Sable rolled her eyes, but remained silent.  

"It means, we have a chance to get some influence with one of the players in this sorry excuse of a city.  With Doubletake gone, there's a power vacuum, and someone is going to need to fill it.  I have a decent amount of influence among her remaining followers, but acquiring Orbit's good graces should help to strengthen our position."  

Sangria cocked her head to the side, quizzically.  "And then we'll rule over Doubletake's old area?"  

Sapphire smiled.  "Then, we will finish Doubetake's work and assert our dominance over all of Olympia Polaris."  Flames had started to spill out of the windows of Orbit's penthouse.  Seeing her opportunity, Sapphire stepped forward, and reached out to the flames.  The fires changed from orange to blue, becoming more intense for a moment.  Then, Sapphire called the fire out of the penthouse.  Vibrant blue flames spilled out of the windows, streaming towards her.  Sensing she had removed the flames from the penthouse, Sapphire made a sharp gesture to either side.  The blue flames flared out a flash explosion, and then vanished.  

Knowing she had Orbit's attention, Sapphire raised a hand wreathed in blue flame in salute.  Then, taking out her mobile, she sent Orbit a text.

You're welcome.  If you are looking for allies to assist with this pesky problem, meet me at 1:00 PM tomorrow.  Victoria Park Pavilion.  

  "Get ready ladies, the game starts tonight."  

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Jacklyn ran.  She burst into the city, ignoring the lines.  She dashed around the corner, trying to get some distance between her and WHOEVER that was.

Edited by The Young Pyromancer
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Canada-Shield.png

Liam found Kokichi standing in front of a large box-like container, towering up to the ceiling. The container had drawers and compartments, all enclosed and marked individually. He looked at the particular compartment that Kokichi had mentioned. On a small plaque was the inscription “LINKED L024 X.” It must say what it is on the catalogue, Liam thought. Beside the plaque was a keypad, presumably for opening the compartment.

“L024 X,” Liam murmured. “L for Linked, the number is definitely the ID, but what’s X?” He checked a few other compartments nearby. L035 X. M006 X. L010 X. Every compartment was labeled X.

“I’m going to throw out a wild guess here and say that X means something bad. If it was something good, this stuff wouldn’t be stuck in a dusty storage room,” Liam pondered. He leaned in to examine the keypad, taking out a Blocker to bypass the code. With the Blocker in place, the edges hissed as the vacuum seal was broken, and the compartment slid out, revealing its contents.

“Woah,” Kokichi said. Inside the newly opened compartment was a hat, a charcoal-colored trilby to be precise. It appeared to be a little scuffed up here and there, but otherwise was in good condition. There was no indicator of what it could do. “Sick hat,” they said. Liam took it, then shut the compartment firmly and removed the Blocker. After a second, there was a suction sound as the compartment resealed.

Liam looked at the hat a few moments, then placed it on his head. Nothing happened.

Then he flickered.

His body went invisible for a second, then reappeared, then disappeared again for two seconds. Liam watched as his hands disappeared before his eyes, then reappeared. After a minute, he took the hat off. “I suspect that X means broken. This was probably some sort of invisibility device, but not anymore,” he said.

“That was awesome. What other junk is in here?” Kokichi began looking at all of the other compartments, reading the labels to himself out loud.

“Wait, be careful,” Liam began. “L071 X!” Kokichi exclaimed, and punched through the compartment, pulling out a red rubber bouncy ball.

And then the alarm sounded.

WHA WHA WHA WHA WHA WHA WHA WHA WHA

“Oh, now look what you did!” Liam shouted, trying to speak over the blaring alarm.

“Sorry!” Kokichi said. There was pounding on the door. Liam ran past Kokichi towards the back of the storage room. The pounding at the door continued.

“Follow me!” He called to Kokichi and ducked behind a shelf. At that moment, the door burst in and guards began to file into the room.

“We have you trapped! There is no escape here. Approach us with your hands in the air and we will not shoot.”

Sparks,” Liam hissed. He turned on his com. “Bear?” There was a moment of silence on the line before Bear’s cheerful voice spoke.

“’Sup, Moose?” The guards began to search through the aisles. Liam moved further into the back accordingly.

“Hey Bear, this isn’t the time to chat. I need you to pull up the building plans for Strathcona Community Hospital,” Liam directed, hoping he remembered the name from the front of the building correctly.

“Where are you hiding?” One of the guards called. He sounded quite close. Liam moved to a shelf a bit further away and peeked through the boxes. Thankfully, the guards were a few aisles away, and moving slowly.

“Strathcona…” Bear hummed to himself. “Strathcona. Got it. It’s a pretty new building, built about a year before Calamity. I’ve got the plans right here.”

“Good. Can you see if there are any other entrances to the storage area in the left half?”

“Uh… you mean the loading area?” Liam’s eyes lit up. Yes.

“Yes. Perfect.”

“Wait a second, Moose. I’m looking at your com position, and I’m making an assumption here, but you’re not in the loading area. There’s a wall in the way.”

Liam looked at the guards, who were getting nearer every passing second. They were all armed, assault rifles from the look of it. Bulletproof vests. He could take out a few with his shotgun, but he’d prefer if no one got hurt. Well, at least not killed. Liam check behind himself. There wasn’t much room left to retreat, only a few more aisles. After that was a wall, presumably the wall keeping them from freedom.

He leaned over to Kokichi and whispered, “Can you break through walls?” Kokichi looked at him and grinned. “Well, duh. I can break through anything if I put my head to it,” they said. “Cuz, you know, I put my head to it…” They trailed off. Liam looked at Kokichi strangely.

“So, you want me to run you into the wall?” Liam asked after a moment. Kokichi winked. The guards were closer now, almost to the shelf where they were hiding. “Well,” Liam said. “It’s better than dying.”

Checking to see that the path was clear, he peeked out from around the shelf. The back wall was bare, and the ground, though dusty, was uncluttered. He looked back at Kokichi. “You really want me to ram you into the wall?”

“Yes. Heck. Freaking. Yes.”

“Alright, here goes nothing,” Liam muttered under his breath and picked up Kokichi under his arm, their head facing the wall. Kokichi was lighter than they looked, but the bright red hoodie wasn’t best for stealth. As they stood up, one of the guards spotted them.

“Hey! I’ve found them!”

Liam bolted. Well, after a second while his legs spun in midair. Then he bolted. With Kokichi’s head out front, he sprinted towards the back wall, the dust billowing in clouds behind his feet. The guards opened fire, bullets pinging off steel shelves and ripping through boxes. Some shots ricocheted off the tile floor at Liam’s feet, but he was remarkably unscathed by the storm of gunfire.

Then they collided with the wall. Kokichi’s head smashed through the cinderblocks, throwing up a cloud of dust and rubble while they stumbled through the gap they had made. Liam tumbled to the ground, losing hold of Kokichi, who rolled into a dashing pose as the dust behind them began to settle. I can’t believe that worked, Liam thought, slightly dazed.

“So cool!” Kokichi exclaimed. Liam glanced back at the startled guards, who had paused their gunfire when Liam had burst through the wall. He scrambled to his feet and pulled out his shotgun from his jacket as he ran to catch up with Kokichi.

The guards looked at each other for a moment, then pursued. “Targets are behind the building, on the run. Requesting backup. Over.”

“Cycle patrol deployed. Over.”

 

Liam’s heart pounded in his chest as he ran towards the front of the building. He had to get to the van. Guards were everywhere, and Liam was diving every five seconds to avoid becoming Swiss cheese. Kokichi was bouncing the red ball as they ran. Up ahead, in the parking lot, a line of guards had formed.

“Halt! We have you surrounded!” Beside the guard who had spoken, the line raised their weapons. “Hands in the air where we can see them!”

Kokichi looked at the ball in their hand. They grinned, that same mischievous glint flashing in their eyes. “Nice,” they said, lifting their arms. In one fluid motion, they tossed the ball towards the line, bouncing on the pavement before coming to a rest at their feet. The guards began to back away, but not before a bubble of energy sprung out of the ball, knocking the closest guards off their feet. The bubble lasted only a few seconds before it flickered into nonexistence.

Those few seconds were enough. Liam and Kokichi were already sprinting past them. “STOP!” The guard shouted, and the line opened fire. Liam spun around and fire off a few warning shots with his shotgun, causing a few guards to duck. They were almost to the space where he had parked the van. With his free hand, he reached into his pocket for the keys.

Up close, the visual distortion on the van didn’t work as well. A hazy afterimage could be seen within five feet of it. Amid the flying bullets, Liam flung himself around to the other side of the van, unlocked it, jumped in, and started up the van. The gravatronics hummed, the engine roared, and Liam opened the side door for Kokichi to get inside.

“Climb in, it’s getaway time.”

Bullets pinged off the sides of the van. Thankfully, Liam had outfitted the old Samba for battle, and this wasn’t even the worst it had been through. He turned on the stereo.

The warden threw a party in the county jail

The prison band was there and they began to wail

The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing

You should’ve heard them knocked-out jailbirds sing

Liam grinned and gunned the engine. The van sped out of the lot and swerved towards the main road. It smashed through the chain fence with barely any problem, and within moments the sound of gunfire was behind them.

Let's rock everybody, let's rock

Everybody in the whole cell block

Was dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock

Liam turned to Kokichi. “Let’s not stop in with them anytime soon.”

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Armageddon chuckles at the note. "I don't suppose you can hear me?" The words remain unchanged. “Suppose I’ll have to get writing then.” Turning back to his desk, he writes out his message for the mysterious epic.

Dear Mysterious Forcefield Epic,

It's simple, really. Humanity is scum. Just look at me. I'm trying to destroy humanity. Does that seem like the actions of a good race? Circle logic I suppose, but it applies to everybody. We epics aren't changed by our powers-we just no longer have consequences. Without consequences, we don't have any reason to be good to other people. If a normal person could do whatever they wished, they would surely lose all perceptions of good or bad just as we have.

Sincerely,

Armageddon.

Looking up, he noticed that the words in the air had changed:

If you believe killing humanity is justified, then you are doing the right thing by attempting to destroy it.  Therefore, not all humans are bad. Are you an exception to your own rule? What about your followers?

-Blank

“Well that’s interesting. You can see, but not hear. Well then.”

The thing is, we're all horrible people. Murdering is undoubtedly evil-but primarily because of the effect it has on others. So therefore me destroying humanity is justified, but not me killing at a whim like I have done, as have my followers.

He looked back to the letters expectantly as they began to shift and change again.

If it's bad, then why do you do it?

This was starting to get irritating. Scowling, he went to write his response.

Simple. I. Don't. Care. And neither do you. Do you mean to tell me that you've never killed a child? And that's the problem. I know intellectually that it's wrong-I just can't bring myself to care. And that demonstrates exactly why it would be better just to completely restart.

Looking up, he saw the final response.

You have a point.  Very well.

And the illusory text disappeared with a puff of mist. That was interesting. Perhaps a new ally has been met. And with that, Armageddon turned back to his ledgers.

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What am I doing here?  Brandon looked out at the Oregonian refugees around him, making up stories in his head about where they came from, what their dreams were, and how they had all survived the absolute terror of what happened in Oregon.  In his mind, his fellow survivors became political leaders with the ability to inspire crowds and lead in tough situations, soldiers with incredible determination and physical prowess, or scientific geniuses  whose ideas represented small rays of hope shining into the darkness that was slowly consuming humanity.  

Only in Oregon's case, the destruction hadn't been slow at all.  

It made sense that the few people Brandon had come to know during and since his escape from Oregon had survived.  Each of them had skills and gifts that supported a predisposition for survival in uncertain circumstances.  Ian, the unofficial leader of Brandon's group, was survival skills expert and a travelling lorist, with a catalogue-like level of knowledge of Epics and their powers.  Grant was unremarkable in a way that made him difficult to notice, allowing him to escape the attentions of epics.  Despite his small stature and the fact he was well into middle age, Grant had proven himself to have an impressive level of endurance, and his casual demeanor had a way of putting people at ease, even when he was mocking them with his sharp wit.  

Brandon, on the other hand, had no survival skills, no knowledge of epics or their powers, no innate ability to fade into the background, and no natural ability to diffuse situations.   What right did he have to still be drawing breath, and not only that, to be in relatively good circumstances, with competent allies on his way to a place of relative safety, when so many more worthy individuals were dead in the ground.  

"Don't feel guilty for being born lucky, B.  So what if things come easier for you?  That's not your fault.  Just remember to pay it forward now and then, okay?"  Brandon shook his head at the memory.  I'm sorry Lewis.  You should have made it here instead of me.  Lewis, at least, would have known what to do.  Brandon's last plan for survival had been to pretend to be in love with a maniacal epic shape-shifter and pop star, and he had barely escaped with his life.  High cheekbones, a handsome jawline, pillow-like lips, and moderate acting abilities shouldn't have been enough to get Brandon to where he was today.  And yet, here he was.  

"Hey B, come over here a minute," Brandon frowned at Ian's casual use of his old nickname, but kept quiet.  Ian couldn't know what the name meant to him.  

Brandon stepped over, and took Ian's binoculars, easily finding Edmonton, or Olympia Polaris as it was now called, in the distance.  "Finally.  And it's still standing.  After Calgary, I was growing worried."

Ian took back the binoculars and replaced them in his pack.  "I have a lorist friend there who should be able to put us up once we get into the city.  As much as I love living in the roughs, it'll be good to have a shower and get clean again.  And you, my friend, need a shave.  Not so pretty now that your stubble is becoming a full fledged beard."  

Brandon stepped back, taking mock offence.  "You're calling my beard bad, with that tangled mess on your face?  How dare you sir!"  

"I'm a woodsman.  This is my natural state.  Something tells me that mug wouldn't be as welcome at fashion week as it normally would be."  

Brandon ran his hands over jaw.  With Radiance, and then with Taylor, it had always been important that he kept up his appearance.  Even before that, between auditions and dating, he'd never really let himself go like he had the last few months.  It was partly freeing and partly terrifying.  After being the "incredibly attractive guy" for so long, who was he if he didn't have a mug fit for a magazine?  

"Well, looks like the group is moving again.  We still have a ways to go, and I want to split off early enough to choose a less visible entrance.  According to my contact, Edmonton has done fairly well for itself, but it's still a dangerous place, especially in certain parts.   Actually, before we get there, there's something I should tell y- . . .  Hey Grant!" Ian turned, and Brandon found himself momentarily jealous to have Ian's attention divided, "You ready to go?"  

"Yup!  Sorry, I was just finishing up with fixing your camera."

Ian took the camera, and took a few practice shots.  "Wow Grant!  Your a lifesaver.  Glad to have someone around who knows how to handle technology.  I swear I'm cursed.  You know," Ian paused, scrunching his brow slightly like he always did when thinking, "I actually think these pictures look better than they did before it was broken."  

Grant seemed to grow bashful for a moment.  "I. . . uh. . . swapped out the lense.  I had a couple spares kicking around in my bag and one of them fit."  

"Neat," Ian put the camera away, though it seemed to Brandon that he had wanted to say more.  "Well guys, we've almost made.  Let's see what Olympia Polaris has in store."  

*****

After trying, and failing, to participate in a conversation about mountain climbing with Ian and Grant, Brandon fell back a little.  Before Calamity, and up until he had left Vancouver, Brandon's primary form of exercise had been the kind you did in a gym, and there was only so much interest he could fake in stories about climbing different mountains that all sounded the same.  

"Hi Brandon!"  Brandon turned to see Charlene, another refugee, waving and hurrying to join him.  Leila, one of Charlene's travelling companions, followed after, more hesitantly.  

"Oh, Hi Char.  Ian says we are almost there.  How's the walk?"  

"Oh, not bad.  Well, actually, it's awful.  My feet were killing me.  Honestly, I thought heels were bad some days, but I'd take that kind of pain over this any day.  Plus, my butt looked way cuter."  

Brandon laughed, but he couldn't help but notice how his reaction made Charlene's smile widen slightly.  "I always forget.  Things were pretty normal in Corvallis, weren't they?"

Charlene shared a glance with Leila.  There's something she's worried about telling me?  While she was often silent, Leila seemed to be the unofficial leader of her and Charlene's group from Corvallis, much the same as Ian was for Brandon and Grant.  The two women shared an almost uncanny resemblance, aside from Leila's lighter hair, and freckled complexion, but swore they were not related.  "Pretty normal, yeah.  I mean, I had an office job, which you don't find most places these days.  But on the other hand, my boss was a flying, shining, dictator who could control the weather, so we had our share of excitement too."  

"Right, the 'Queen of Corvallis'.  Rainbringer, or something like that, right?  What ever happened to her?"

"Rainmaker."  Charlene glanced over at Leila again, as if asking for permission to continue.  "It was all so chaotic at the end, I don't really know.  I think she helped destroy the city in the end.  Either the power finally got to her, or maybe, after all the insurrection she felt it was better to wipe away her mistakes.  No one's really heard about her doing anything for the last year or so, so most people assume some other epic must have defeated her when everything went to hell at the end there."  

"Hey Zach," Leila broke her silence to call over her shoulder.  Her tone was crisp and professional, and Brandon found himself involuntarily straightening his posture at the sound of her voice.   "You want to join us?  Drink some water, you look thirsty."  Zach, who, with his carefully styled hair and hipster-style clothing looked almost as out of his element as Brandon felt, seemed to sigh as he slunk over.  Though Brandon didn't know the group from Corvallis very well, it wasn't hard to tell that Zach was a kind of outcast.  Brandon got the feeling that the guy didn't particularly like travelling with the others, and followed along more out of convenience more than anything else.  

"Anyways" Charlene continued, seemingly eager to recapture Brandon's attention.  "You were in the Dalles when it fell, right?  That must have been crazy."  

"Yeah, it really was.  I actually came there hoping to get away from all the insanity, and thought a settlement controlled by regular people would be the place to do it.  Thing was, I actually think it was crazier there than some of the epic-controlled cities I've been to.  Epics might be driven to extremes, but regular people can be too, if the circumstances are right. . . or wrong, I guess."  Leila returned the water she had shared with Zach to her bag, and straightened her glasses, frowning as she took in Brandon's words.  She'd actually be kind of pretty, if she took off those glasses, let her hair down, and smiled a little.  

"Were there really epics who served the Vanillas. . . or, I guess the word is 'Maples' now that we are in Canada."

"Yeah, kind of.  They all had their own motives and objectives though.  There was this telepath there, Reader, who would say the cruelest of things even to his superiors, just to show how indispensable he was.  I think he would have been willing to burn the whole city to ground if it meant he could say "I told you I was the best" at the end.  Some, like him, only served the government in the Dalles because it gave them positions of comfort and power.  Some might have been more altruistic, but for the most part, they were all regular epics."  Worrying he had been talking too much, Brandon decided to shift the focus of the conversation.  "Ian was telling me that in Corvallis, you had an epic who could make people happy all the time.  What was that like?"

"Oh, nice enough, I guess."  Charlene's response came short and clipped.  Ian had described how it had felt realizing his memories and emotions had been tampered with after leaving Corvallis.  Brandon guessed that Charlene must still be figuring out what she thought about it all, and wasn't quite ready to talk about it yet.  

"You guys excited to get to Olympia Polaris?"

"I'm just looking forward to the chance to shower, honestly.  And I hear the Albertan Government is still functioning, so maybe I can get a job with them?  If not, we've heard that Epoch's area of the city is supposed to be fairly organized, so I might try to find something there.  How about you?"

"Ian says he has some lorist friend who we can stay with to start, and then I don't know."  Brandon had grown almost, comfortable, travelling this last while with Ian and Grant.  Thinking about what separate paths they would take once they were settled was one more terror to add to the list.  

"Ian is a lorist?"  Leila seemed to perk up, her interest obviously piqued.  

"Kind of, I guess."  Brandon felt panic rising in his chest.  He hadn't realized that Ian being a lorist might be a secret.  Had Ian told him to keep it quiet?  Why couldn't he remember?  "He's like a, sort of, field researcher, I guess?  I don't think he knows much about the organization as a whole, but he does research and stuff, I think.  What did you do back in Corvallis, Leila?"  

Leila, after expressing the closest thing to genuine emotion Brandon had seen from her, retreated back behind her mask.  What is she hiding?  "Office job.  Same building as Char."

 

 

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Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone

Little Joe was blowin’ on the slide trombone

The drummer boy from Illinois went crash, boom, bang

The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang

The red van sped through the formerly quiet neighborhoods of Sherwood Park. Though here and there a house lay vacant and unattended, its lawn overrun with weeds and its window shutters stolen by some looter, suburban life seemed to go on as normal. It was clear that the Albertan government kept up some utilities in the area. Liam caught glimpses of startled residents peeking out their windows as the Samba zoomed past.

Let’s rock everybody, let’s rock

Everybody in the whole cell block

Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock

Liam reached over and turned down the music a bit, then called over his shoulder to Kokichi, who was sitting on the sofa in the back, munching on some gummy worms.

“So, uh, Kokichi. Tell me a little about yourself. Where you’re from, what you do… if you’re fine with that.”

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Ashla dialed another enforcer posted in the area, Alder Moran. The last one was too far away.

"Hi. How far are you from Mill Wood checkpoint right now?"

"A bit less than ten minutes walk. Why?"

"Good, close enough. Epoch sighted a suspicious visitor entering, big heavy cloak. Look into it. You will be sent a location."

"Understood," he sighed.

"Right, bye."

Ashla set her mobile aside, and started browsing a report on the Belt's recent activities.

.  .  .

Alder checked his mobile. Yes, this was the right way. Towards the strangely dressed visitor. Who even wears a cloak these days, anyway? It was probably nothing, though. There were a lot of strange people entering the city right now. Sending enforcers to nag every foreigner in the city was kind of pointless.

He kicked a rock along Millbourne as he made his way towards the checkpoint, and then abandoned it as he turned a corner, as he spotted her. It was difficult not to.

There was a lady on the street, keeled over and breathing heavily as if she had just been running hard. She was, by all standards, stunningly pretty, and it threw Alder off balance.

"Hi," he said lamely. "Um. Is everything okay?"

He realized, maybe she was running from something. The appearance of a sketchily cloaked stranger seemed too much of a coincidence. Maybe Epoch was onto something after all.

"I don't suppose you were runnning away from somebody? Maybe somebody in a big cloak?"

He waited for the stranger to catch her breath.

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Lorri could recall Armageddon's words quite clearly. She prepared to recite them to Orbit, idly wondering if the message would have any effect. So far as she knew, no epic had ever been able to accept the tidings that humanity deserved extemination (more evidence of the vileness of humanity: those with enough power to ignore the truth always did so). Except for Armageddon, of coarse. Armageddon had known the truth before anybody else did; he was exceptional in many ways. Obviously, Armageddon was still a despicable person that deserved to die a painful death, just like everyone else on the planet. But, at least he was doing something to fix the problem.

The glass doors slid open as Lorri entered the Belt headquarters, which appeared to have once been a shopping mall. She guessed that the Belt was aware of her by now, though no members of the Belt had revealed themselves to her, yet.

"Hello?? I have a message for your boss, Orbit. Anybody home?"

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Jacklyn looked up to see a man looking toward her.  “Hi,” he said. “Um, are you okay?”  He looked around uncomfortably, before seeming to realize something.  “I don’t suppose you were running away from somebody?  Maybe somebody in a big cloak?”

Jacklyn thought quickly.   The man was probably referring to her, and if he was, then she did NOT want to be found out.   “Yes,” she panted out.  “There was a woman in red wearing a cloak that way.  She took the cloak off though.  She seemed insane.”  She pointed in the general direction she had started from, then slumped against the wall.  She then noticed the pamphlet still clutched in her hand. She began to read it over.

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Longbow stepped out of his office, fixed his bow tie, and wandered idly towards the entrance, noting the woman who stood there. He waited a moment near a monitor before the scanner showed she had no obvious weapons, and then walked out into plain view. He did his best to ooze the class his mother had always tried so hard to impress on him, and straightened slightly before making direct eye contact with the woman. There was a reason he ran the politics of the Belt; the others in the organization were slightly less...refined. Save for Orbit, of course.

“How can the Belt be of service to you, madame?” He asked, performing a slight bow that was scarcely more than a tip of the head.

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“Yes,” she panted out.  “There was a woman in red wearing a cloak that way.  She took the cloak off though.  She seemed insane.”

She pointed towards the checkpoint, then slumped against the wall. She looked genuinely concerned. And still impossibly good-looking.

"Sparks," he cursed. "Sorry about all that, enforcement will try to deal with it."

He started to run off towards the checkpoint, now dreading what he would find there.

"Good luck settling in!" he shouted as he started to run towards where she pointed. "Maybe see you later!"

 

He jogged down Mill Wood, breathing heavily as he pulled out a mobile.

"Ashla. Stranger abandoned cloak, causing disturbance at checkpoint. Is wearing red, I think. I'm heading towards them."

"What? Is it an epic?"

"Don't know," he gasped.

"I'll tell Epoch then."

Ashla hung up. Alder stowed his mobile and continued towards the checkpoint, until he spotted somebody who definitely fit the bill for Epoch's mysteriously cloaked trespasser, now wearing red. And she didn't look very happy.

Lorri.jpg

A fancily dressed fellow emerged from the headquarters.

“How can the Belt be of service to you, madame?”

His head inclined in a slight bow. Well, that already beats the reception we got from Chrysalis. I wonder if his demeanor will change after I've said the message.

"I come bearing a message to the Belt, from Armageddon." Lorri began reciting it from memory.

"He says 'Some of you may have gotten an idea into your heads to come and assassinate me, due to my current lack of powers. However, you should know that I have a power that comes seperate from my Epic status. I have strength in numbers. Each and every one of my followers have been instructed to ravage and destroy the city if I am killed, kidnapped, or even if someone attempts to do so. I have complete faith in my underlings ability to kill and demolish the city; and surely there’s no point in leading the city if there is nobody to lead? Of course, my door is always open to any who wish to join in the noble cause of ridding humanity from this world.'"

"Can you pass that on to Orbit? And, as always, do not hesitate to drop by if you wish to help end the world. We can always use more volunteers."

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Lexi ran out of an alley and onto the road, traffic wasn't exactly common these days given the limited availability of fuel but she still needed to nimbly dodge out of the way of a slow moving sedan as it gently rolled down the street. Once she was on the other side of the street she put her weight firmly on her right leg, feeling the muscles tense as they sprang back with enough force to push her entire body to the left.

Just in time for a large crack to rip through the air as a stone brick just ahead of where she had been exploded into shrapnel as a bullet collided with it.

"Sparks, sparks, sparks" She mumbled in a continuous stream as she continued her zigzagging motion down the sidewalk, passing by a cafe and leaping over a nearby table she heard the lourd, cursing voices behind her continuing to drop away. She was losing them, but without anywhere else to duck into they'd still have a line of sight on her as she ran.

A window in a storefront next to her shattered as her pursuers fired off another shot, thankfully this section of the city was pretty empty so no one else was in much danger. Then again if there were more people around they would have had a harder time tracking her movements.

As she passed an open door into an old apartment complex she again shifted her weight onto one leg before explosively extending it back, throwing herself into the entrance. Colliding with the wall she managed to turn herself around, slammed the door shut and pulled to a stop. Taking a second to catch her breath and brush her short-cropped black hair from her face she reached back and pulled her satchel around, shoving her hand in and rummaging for a few tense seconds before eventually finding what she was looking for.

A functional glock 22. The gang she'd stolen it from had likely pilfered it from one of the police stations after most of them had closed down but they'd kept it well maintained. And, as she saw when she checked the cartridge, was fully loaded.

Lexi slowly backed her way up the stairs, keeping an eye on the door and trying not to make too much noise. At the first landing she braced herself against the railing of the stairwell and took aim at the entrance.

"Two hands on the gun." She whispered to herself. "Calm your breathing. Tense your legs enough to run but not too tense in your arms."

A few seconds passed as she continued reciting her lessons to herself.

The door cracked open slowly, the long barrel of a rifle poking through. Lexi immediately unloaded a shot into the door, her aim was off slightly but seemed to clip one of her pursuers in the side. She fired another shot as a warning before bolting up to the second landing and rushing through the door there.
 

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Impact walked the streets of Olympia Polaris, a long black coat pulled around her hid most of her body but her hair blew freely behind her and her clear, blue eyes faced directly forward, staring intently at anyone passing. Most of the people here seemed to have enough experience to know that only an Epic walked with such an expression of challenge and pride. They respectfully walked around her as she passed, many crossing the street entirely or turning about completely and trying to avoid crossing her path at all.

A condescending smile tugged at her lips as she watched them scurrying about. These people knew that she could crush them like the ants they were. These people knew how to treat an Epic of her stature.

It seemed that the term 'Maple' was used here to describe those who weren't chosen by Calamity. But Impact cared little what they called themselves, so long as they did as they were told.

As she took another step she twisted her abdomen awkwardly and felt the muscles there spasm slightly, causing a wince of pain that she quickly erased from her expression. The wounds she'd sustained in Oregon had healed as well as they likely would but she still had to be careful of certain motions, and her voice still cracked on occasion due to the damage her vocal chords had suffered.

But like most things in life, if you were clever you could turn these apparent weaknesses into a strength.  Only an idiot spends all their time speaking anyway, better to respond with only a short phrase when needed and keep everyone guessing. And if walking occasionally caused her pain, well then she could simply use her powers to move instead, and turn the simple act of moving from one place to another into a show of strength.

She stopped walking and instead used her gift, feeling her power lift her into the air slowly, one foot dangling gracefully as she left the ground behind her and took to the skies. She flew above the city streets, lifting herself higher and higher. Finally coming to a stop she examined the world below her, the city unfolded beneath her, small pockets of activity discernible where particularly dense population centers were.

She smiled as she watched it all, and knew that one day it would be hers.

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A beat. 

A single moment in time where everything was in balance and Red's world still made sense before her life was upended. The beautiful Epic before her who made Red weak in the knees in a way that nobody had since Nighthound... rejected her. 

Rejection. That was synonymous with disappointment. 

No. 

Everything fell silent. Deathly silent. Weakness silent. Red couldn't think, couldn't hear, couldn't breathe. No. She was choking on nothing. No, no-- no! 

The blood pooling from the cut on her arm felt... empty. There wasn't the familiar thrum of energy pulsing through every cell in her body that she'd grown used to relying on. Suddenly, she was a maple. She was less than a maple. She was-- she was-- 

She was a failure. 

Red was already on the ground but there was always further down to go. Hitting rock bottom was impossible with her. She collapsed into a ball, wrapping her arms around her body. This fear wasn't attractive. It didn't make anyone want to take a bite out of her. 

She couldn't hear that traitorous heartbeat anymore. She couldn't feel anything except fear. She'd failed at the only thing that she was good at-- being a toy for someone else's pleasure. That beautiful Epic rejected her and, in doing so, invalidated everything Red thought she'd become. 

A person came over to check on Red. After all this time, people still tried to be kind. It would be a miracle, if Red didn't feel like killing every single maple and Epic alike here so they couldn't share her weakness. She couldn't, though. She didn't kill without a purpose. 

Red was a beast without a master. She'd been on her own for too long. Independence didn't suit her. If that Epic wouldn't use her, then someone else had to. Really, it wasn't her fault. That Epic was the disappointment. She was the one who'd failed to accept the opportunity. 

The opportunity. This was an opportunity and that coward had rejected it. She didn't deserve to be called an Epic. It wasn't Red who'd failed to please. It was her
Red would make this Epic pay for rejecting her, but she wouldn't kill her. Red'd make this lesson hurt.  

She’d been handed an opportunity and she’d turned it down. Red would take the failure’s mistake and turn it into her own chance. Red would get noticed by one of the big Epics around here. 

One who did not run from tools. 

The heartbeats were back. Power beneath Red's skin ached for release. Not yet. First she needed to make an escape from this area. The maples would ask questions she wouldn't answer. 

Speaking of questions... 

A newcomer arrived. 


"Hello," she said to the stranger. 

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Kokichi leaned back, listening to the beat of the music and letting it wash over them as they nommed on their delicious snacks for a moment before going back to actually paying attention to reality.

They didn't exactly use sugar and the hype it provided as an escape mechanism from the harshness of existence. Being all hyped up on their snacks didn't mean reality stopped being a thing that happened. It just meant that they didn't have to take it seriously. Besides, it enhanced their powers. Or maybe it made them more energetic and that energy made their powers stronger? Or randomer? 

Kokichi wasn't sure what the difference was. That is, if there was a difference and if that potential difference was relevant in any way, shape, or form. The focus showed itself in between their eyes but beneath their eyebrows in lines and darkness. 

“So, uh, Kokichi. Tell me a little about yourself. Where you’re from, what you do… if you’re fine with that.” The words snapped them out of their thoughts, and Liam's not-quite-a-question provided a prompt for them to start talking about their favorite subject: themself. 

But where to start? Kokichi had been in a bunch of places over the years, even before they gained their awesome powers. Well, before Calamity came in the first place, really. They considered numerous starting points as the boomph boomph of the song continued. 

The whole 'sharing tragic backstories' was an important phase of any friendship. A trip to exposition city down memory lane was always nice. 

"Well, let's see," Kokichi said, before a thought occurred to them. "F-Y-I, you'll keep driving normally so don't worry about crashing." 

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There was a pause from the back as Kokichi thought, the only sound coming from the crinkling of the gummies' bag, the hum of the engine, and the quiet Elvis playing in the background. After a moment, they spoke.

"Well, let's see," Kokichi began, then paused. "FYI, you'll keep driving normally so don't worry about crashing." Liam blinked and looked back at Kokichi, who was still lounging on the sofa. He quickly glanced back to the road, but the van hadn't started to swerve at all. Liam turned back to Kokichi.

"How do you do that?"

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“How do you do that?” Kokichi rolled their eyes. 

“Because I’m so cool? Anyway, you totally ruined my flashback segue sequence! Whatever! I guess I could just begin like,” they waved their hands, “this.”  

Kokichi was probably nine years old when Calamity rose. They had another name back then, but since Kokichi was remembering this for the purpose of showing someone else, they refered to themself by their current name.

Their hair was longer and black, tied in a pony tail. Their eyes were a normal shade of dark brown instead of the purple they were in the future, though their fashion sense was still absolutely flawless in every way and anyone who criticized it was probably a loser with no taste.

Which was definitely how they looked in the actual memory the flashback was based on. There weren’t any visible injuries or chains around their ankles. They were short and skinny, yeah, but that was clearly just their natural body shape, not the result of any sort of malnutrition. Their hair wasn’t turning white, why would it do that?

They were rereading a page of a comic in their bare room, one of the few they’d managed to sneak in with them They couldn’t remember the exact issue, and it was tricky to tell just by the pictures. It was something with Deadpool in it.

They’d always liked the way he was more than a little bit nuts but didn’t let that stop him from being super cool. 

A tiny window revealed the skyline and the block bellow. A ‘Welcome to Florida’ sign was on the building across the street. If people could see them, they didn’t show it.

A faint red glow crossed the horizon. Kokichi carefully stowed the crinkles piece of paper in the small area beneath the floor boards and pushed their face up against the window. Their features were sharper, their edges harder, and—

No, that wasn’t right. They’d always existed in the not-quite-soft, not-quite-firm area of uncertainty. Why wouldn’t they? They were...

Their purple eyes tracked the glow of the crimson light as it rose in the sky. For a moment, they thought they could hear a voice, but it was gone once they’d looked down at that sign again. 

A perfectly pale white moth had landed on the glowing light. 

They didn’t know what it could be. As far as they knew, stars weren’t red, and that thing was too bright to be a star anyway. Probably. It’d been a while since they’d really seen outside anyway. 

This room that was ever so slightly sparsely decorated but was otherwise completely normal wasn't their entire world. They could leave whenever they wanted, they simply decided to stay because the world was scary. If that’s what he said then, they knew to be afraid of the world— Florida. 

It didn’t explain why they kept their comics secret. Why they didn’t like it here and wanted to leave even though they knew the outside world had to be scarier.

Things didn’t change all at once. The little pieces of the world they saw stayed the same, mostly. A few signs that read, “the end is nigh,” started popping up on the streets. Smoke rose from the skyline. Their small world got smaller. 

What little they had was discovered, eventually. Him finding their stash probably had little to do with what happened next, but Kokichi liked to consider the luck that’d came their way to be karma. 

The Epic that’d broken their small world wide open like an egg was called Crimson. Their memories of the day were hazy (and besides they didn’t really wanna show Liam that anyway) but they did remember crawling out of the wreckage. 

His body had been, for lack of a better word, flipped inside out. At least, they were pretty sure it was him. The building, which they could now tell had been seven stories tall, looked like it’d been mostly abandoned.

They were super scared. No, scared was the wrong word for it. Terrified, that one was better. But hey, things not to focus on.

Kokichi left the city as fast as possible. When they’d stolen a boat with a certain someone they totally weren’t going to talk about so don’t ask, something changed. Their feelings started appearing around them, along with those of others.

They returned to shore after a near miss with the cruise ship based society run by the food Epic and precog couple—  Fruitblast/Delphi. They’d landed near Babiwhatever where Kokichi had learned how to party like the boss they were.

Also, they raided a few libraries and stuff for more comics but most were totally lacking in superhero stuff. Kokichi ended up having to run from the city cause they kept pestering people about why they didn’t have more superhero stuff.

Nobody they cared about died in that encounter. Tots not. 

It took them a while to figure out how to leverage their abilities for fast travel and infinite food, but once they’d gotten that down, they were set for life. 

So that was basically their deal. Kokichi hopped around cities for a while, before deciding to chill in the plains or woods or whatever until they spotted Liam and he knew the rest so there wasn’t much of a point to flash back through that anyway, so they figured it was his turn to give them a flashback to his life, yo?

 

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One Day Ago - University of Alberta

Taya stepped up to the reception desk, carefully blending purpose and bewilderment to give off just the right impression.

“Hiya, I’m Whiplash’s new assistant,” she announced herself.

“What? But, I thought Bartlett was his assistant?”

“Dead, I'm afraid. Died in that skirmish with ERA lackeys, just a few days ago.”

“Really? Damnation. He was pretty alright.”

“In that case, I’m sorry.”

“‘sfine. Comes with the territory,” he said, shooting her a pointed look from over the ledger that was splayed across the counter. “Where’s Whiplash got to?”

“Stayed behind to mop up, but he should be back soon. I’m supposed to report that we found MetalFist, and there was a fight. Metalfist lost, and ran away.”

MetalFist was a lesser epic that had started rampaging in the vicinity of the MEC not too long ago. His power was exactly what it says on the tin: his hands were made of metal. 

“Huh. Okay." He made a note on the ledger. "Anything else?”

“Yeah. I’m supposed to go update Whiplash's records on MetalFist with some important new details.”

"Best go do that, then."

"Yeah. Which way to Whiplash's files again?"

“Office in Rutherford Library, that way,” he pointed.

“Right, thanks!”

Taya headed for Whiplash’s office. Whiplash acted as a lorist for the MEC, and kept pretty good records on Edmonton's epic population.

It didn't look there were any offices on the first floor of Rutherford Library, so she headed up to the second floor. She scanned the various side rooms, trying not to look like she was lost, before making a beeline for Whiplash's office when she spotted it.

“Hey, are you allowed to be in there?”

She froze in front of the door. A woman dressed in a guard’s uniform was regarding her suspiciously. She had light-brown hair and a slightly severe expression on her face.

"Of course. I'm Whiplash's new assistant, updating his files."

Taya held up the tag that hung around her neck, identifying her as such.

"Let me see that."

Taya handed her the tag.

“Interesting,” the guard mused, with an expression of dawning comprehension and... Satisfaction? Suddenly, Taya was alert.

“This really is an excellent forgery," the guard said appreciatively, looking remarkably more at ease then she had a few seconds ago. "You stole a real one and doctored it, didn’t you?"

Sparks.

Taya did not think or hesitate, she bolted.

She flung the door open, virtually throwing herself down the stairs. It didn't look like the guard was giving chase. She sprinted down a hallway lined with books, running for the exit...

"Please stay for a moment," the stranger asked politely, popping into existence in front of her. Taya's heart nearly stopped as she struggled to arrest her momentum, coming to a standstill right in front of the "guard", freezing.

This was an epic. Most likely a sparking powerful one, from her bearing.

"Thanks," the stranger grinned. "Don't worry, I'm just interested in your performance back there. I wouldn't have picked up on it, except that I saw Whiplash's real assistant yesterday. You did this alone, right?"

"Why do you care?"

"Well, I'm thinking about offering you a job," she said frankly. "I'm Jayce, by the way, but most people tend to call me Curator. You?"

"Taya. And sorry, Curator, but I don't really take jobs from epics."

Taya spoke without thinking. Stupid. Growing up how she did, she lacked much of the deference and circumspection that most people needed to treat the epics with on a daily basis. It was going to get her killed.

"Perfect." Curator flashed another smile. "We should get along well, then. Despite appearances, I'm not anything like an epic."

What?

"Wait a sec. Are you a reckoner?"

"Sparks no. You'll understand soon enough, if you come along and listen to my pitch."

Taya glanced back towards the stairs. Towards the records, the ones that her survival might depend on. "And what happens if I decline to come with you?"

"Nothing much." She shrugged. "Except that, you seemed pretty desperate to get at those records. The people I am with, we have better records than whatever is in there. If you come with me, I'll let you see them, with no further obligations. Just for hearing me out."

"That sounds very generous," Taya said carefully.

"Well, it isn't purely altruistic," Curator conceded. "If you stole Whiplash's records, they would tighten security, which would be inconvenient. Easier to give you what you want."

"Fair enough."

"So, what's it going to be?"

Not much of a decision. She needed those records. "I guess I'll hear you out."

"Excellent. My only condition is that you can't tell anybody about what I will be showing you."

She didn't seem very concerned about that possibility.

.  .  .

"South Common. This is South Common. Are you insane?"

"Well, at least I'll prove to you once and for all that I'm no epic," Curator observed cheerfully. "Trespassing epics don't last long in South Common."

"You are insane."

"That, or I know something you don't."

"No, listen. I've heard a lot about this 'Typhon' thing. If even a half of the stories are true, the only thing keeping Typhon from ruling or destroying the entire province of Alberta is that it's so corrupted that it can't think. And while everything they say about Typhon sounds like a load of overblown rubbish, I've read about the epics that Typhon has definitively killed, and seen some of the footage. No matter which way you cut it, way too many of the stories are true."

The Curator smirked. "I've heard some of those stories, too. I kind of started some of them. Come on."

She grabbed Taya's hand and strode into the ruined complex. Typhon's lair. In the distance, she thought she could make out the vague shapes of people, cringing under crushed buildings, scurrying about with obvious fear. Curator dragged Taya deeper. Alarm seeped through her.

Taya set foot on the debris-littered curb, and what she was seeing changed. A shift in perspective. All the damage was revoked. The curb resolved into a clean pavement walkway. Collapsed roofs and ruptured walls were mended, many of them now complete with small gardens perched on top. Derelict interiors became an assortment of shopfaces, most of them repurposed into homes or storerooms. Broken windows became whole, and lights began to shine through some of them, revealing the occasional scene of a bustling cafe or living space. A man and a woman stood off to the side, engaged in a lively argument, both of them conjuring up images from thin air to illustrate their points. They both waved in greeting when they spotted Curator, and Curator waved back.

She was standing in the midst of a single block of a neatly kept, populated enclave, still surrounded on all sides by ruins.

"Welcome to South Common," Curator declared.

Taya gaped.

"The ruins aren't real," she explained as she kept walking, Taya following behind. When they reached the fringe of the scene, the area in front of them shimmered and shifted, drawing back to reveal more inhabited space. Taya looked back, and the area behind them had transformed back into a dilapidated wreckage.

A tiny city within a city.

"We started all this a handful of years ago, when 'Typhon' first appeared. Keep walking, by the way, those records you wanted are at the HQ."

Taya increased her pace, catching up. "But-- I don't understand. How?"

"Illusions. Basically, Typhon is an elaborate deception, designed to keep the epics out of our hair. Anybody desperate enough to seek shelter under Typhon's shadow has found this place."

"Illusions... Is that how you managed the teleportation trick back in the library?"

"...in part, yes," she hedged.

"Where do the illusions come from?"

"An epic. You'll meet him soon. It's kind of a long story, but somehow, giving away all his powers made him an exception. He lives a comparatively normal life."

"That... Doesn't make any sense."

"I would have thought so too, but, here we are."

They walked on in silence, Taya considering the implications. She had dealt with more epics than most. She had never heard of anybody gifting away all of their power like this. Most gifter epics would probably be offended by the idea.

They walked past some kind of market, sprawling on top of a parking lot. None of the people paid them much attention. She spotted a mural of deep green foliage rendered in brilliant detail along the walls, and noticed that it had the illusion of depth. The leaves glistened with dewdrops, and were puncutated by the occasional sunburst of a small white blossom catching nonexistent rays of sunlight. The vibrant decorations and bustle in her immediate surroundings remained encircled by an illusory backdrop of decaying structures, creating an interesting contrast. She noticed that the ruins had retreated significantly, expanding her field of vision to encompass more of South Common at once.

"Well, I'm glad I came to see this... Wow."

"Heh. You should see the gardens sometime."

"I think I would like that."

"I'll try to show you them. But right now," she pointed at a looming cathedral across the path, with four distinctive spires lining the front, "this is where we're headed. Twenty-third Headquarters."

"A cathedral building?"

"Oh, it's something different every day. Sometimes really wacky stuff. You'll have to ask Beckett about what it is today."

"Huh."

Curator stepped into the building, holding open the door for Taya behind her. The interior looked more like an office building, and possibly smaller on the inside. They walked through the atrium, passing a hyper-realistic illusory model of the entire city splayed out on a square table, which Curator practically had to drag Taya away from, and entered into a small conference room.

"Welcome back," a tall man with grey-black hair greeted Curator.

"Hey. Taya, meet my husband Beckett, who is the source of the illusion powers. He handles a lot of the internal affairs of South Common. Beckett, meet Taya, who may be joining us soon."

"Pleased to meet you," Beckett said. "Welcome to South Common, and Twenty-third Headquarters."

"And you," Taya returned. She recalled what Curator had told her. "The headquarters, are they modeled after a real world building?"

"Ah, yes. Today it is a miniature reconstruction of La Sagrada Familia, one of the most distinguished pre-Calamity structures, in its own right. Do you like it?"

"I've... Never seen anything like it," she said truthfully. "Did you create it?"

"No," Beckett said more seriously. "I don't use the powers."

He seemed to want to leave it at that.

Curator seated herself, motioning for Taya and Beckett to follow suit.

"Right, I'll cut to the chase," she started, addressing Taya. "As you can see, we're sheltering a fair few people here. It's getting kind of tight, honestly. But, there's always room for a few more."

"This is only possible because of Typhon, and other measures to handle the various other players in Olympia Polaris," Beckett added. "Which is where Curator comes in."

"We defend ourselves with illusions," Curator resumed, "Which involves a lot of pretending. I have a pretty big team of illusionists that do just that, hiding the real South Common from prying eyes, nudging events where they need to be nudged, and spying on the city's epics in case one of them ever attacks us. Do you see where I'm going with this?" Taya thought she did. "I noticed your escapade with the MEC. Call it a spur of the moment judgement, but I think you could help us. I think we could help each other."

A difficult call to make.

"Take your time. Think about it. And in the meantime, let me go fetch those records for you... What in particular are you looking for?"

Taya's expression darkened. In the last half hour, she had almost been able to forget.

"...I was looking for a healer."

"Oh. Oh." Curator's eyes widened. "I'm sorry. Could I ask who for?"

"Yeah, it's fine. I narrowly escaped the epic Fume in Fort Sasketchewan a few days ago. I got poisoned in the process. I'm not sure how long I have left."

"Oh dear. That's difficult."

"I'm not sure I understand," Beckett spoke up. "We do have some medical equipment here. If the poison moves this slowly, can't they just flush it out of your system?"

"Normally, yes," Taya answered. "But that's kind of Fume's shtick. It works slowly, but you never get better from it. No cure, except maybe another epic power."

"Oh. That is difficult."

"Yeah."

"We'll do what we can to help you," Curator reassured. "But, I think it would be in your interest to work with us here," she added.

"Thank you. Given the circumstances, I agree. I'll work with you. I don't think I have much of a choice." Taya answered with resignation. "But, for what it's worth, I probably would've agreed to join you regardless, even if my life didn't hang in balance. If my impression of this place is true, I wish I'd found something like this a long time ago."

"That decides it, then," Curator said conclusively. "We have a number of pressing issues to deal with, the most recent being Taya's poisoning... I think I might have an idea to hit a few birds with one stone, so to speak."

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"Hello," the red-clad intruder greeted him.

Talking. That was a good sign. Still, she had caused enough of a disturbance to send another lady running away as fast as she could. Alder unholstered his pistol and flicked off the safety, but did not point it at her.

"Hello," he replied warily. "Please relinquish your weapons and come with me."

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The stranger unholstered his gun. 

He didn't sound like he intended to use it on her unless she resisted. He looked kinda boring, to be honest, which meant he was ugly. Plain. Relying on a gun meant he didn't have any strong offensive powers, if any. Of course, the gun could be a distraction meant to convince her to underestimate him. It'd be foolish to write him off completely. He probably had something, given he was trying to threaten her-- someone who was clearly an Epic.

His heartbeat was cautious. He was hoping she'd comply without a fight, probably. Someone powerful with a distaste for conflict? The gun... It didn't make her nervous, but it's existence raised so many questions. Which faction did he belong to? What sort of gun was it? It seemed normal, but did it have a secret? Red was no High Epic. No invincibility protected her. Yet, this stranger couldn't know what her limits were. 

"Hello," he said. Her eyes flickered from the gun in his hand to the veins in his neck that she could slice open to kill him. She'd gotten quick with her abilities. The knife she carried was really a formality. She could slicing her skin with her own blood or force it to burst out, she just didn't like it. "Please relinquish your weapons and come with me."


His use of the word please was amusing. If he had the ability to make her do anything then he wouldn't bother adding it. If he didn't, then there was no point in obeying him. Unless he demanded she meet his leader. That might be interesting. Maybe this plain boy would have some substance behind him. Perhaps behind him was authority that could force her into submission. 

She took out her knife and dropped it to the ground, before pulling a marble of blood from a pocket and shaping it into a similar knife with her mind. Using one hand, she pushed it against her palm. Red let those drops of cherry red fall onto the ground beneath her. She met his eyes. The threat was clear.

"Can you make me?" 

A bullet could kill her, technically. She couldn't heal vital organs and broken bones healed normally, but she'd practiced quickly pushing shields of blood out from beneath her skin to guard her head in combat. Beneath her clothes, solid blood protected her chest and the organs there. Without activating her weakness, Red was difficult to kill.

If he took that as a provocation to reveal his own presumably weak Epic abilities, if he had any, then all the better. Red hoped he wasn't as dull as she'd assumed. Being proven wrong as he pinned her to the ground with her own knife would be quite the delicious surprise. 

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