8FOLD: Daylighters # 2, "Dungeon Crawl"

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Sat Nov 24 18:25:51 PST 2018

Traditional superhero teams can't deal with the number and scope of
threats to life on the planet Earth. In their place has risen THE
DAYLIGHTERS, a loose and decentralized social network of costumed
adventurers and specialists.

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| |__| | (_| | |_| | | | (_| | | | | ||  __/ |  \__ \
|_____/ \__,_|\__, |_|_|\__, |_| |_|\__\___|_|  |___/
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              |___/     |___/  [8F-184] [PW-32]

      # 2 - DUNGEON CRAWL

------- MISSION: KYOTO ---------------------

Melody Mapp, DARKHORSE, age 20.
Speedster and full-time superhero.

Kumari Starshell, CASCADE, age 29.
Aquamancer. Half-human soon-to-be Queen of Lemuria.

Super-strong monster. Ex-villain serving time in prison, on work release.

------- ALSO STARRING ----------------------

Bethany Clayton, KNOCKOUT MOUSE, age 31.
Controls the density of her right hand. Geneticist.

Derek Mason, BLUE BOXER, age 25.
Founder of the Daylighters, retired from active duty, focusing on
big-picture solutions and delegation.

MEDUSA, age four months.
Benevolent artificial intelligence network providing logistical
support and intel.

Ghedi Dirie, ZIP, age 15.
Long-range teleporter and travel blogger.

Claire Belden, RAINSHADE, age 30.
Metamancer. A double agent concealing the existence of The Company.
Romantically involved with Blue Boxer.

Pam Bierce, LOOP, age 30.
Chronomancer. Has reemerged after having been presumed dead for six years.


It wouldn't be accurate to say that Melody is used to being stared at,
because it's not something you ever really get used to. She doesn't
hate it, necessarily, at least not the way that Bethany does; there's
a certain shallow and fleeting thrill to the adulation of the crowds.
But it can get tiring, it can get overwhelming. Which is one reason
why she loves Tokyo, and especially Akihabara; everyone's staring at
everybody, and no one's staring at her.
   In the middle of the street, Ghedi materializes along with Lobsterman.
   "Hey, Lobsterman," says Melody. "How're you doing?"
   "Lobsterman fine," says Lobsterman. "How Darkhorse?"
   "Darkhorse fine," says Melody. "How about you, Ghedi? Been a
while." Since she can circumvent the globe in eight minutes without
breaking a sweat, she's not as reliant on Ghedi's teleportation as
some of the other Daylighters.
   "Can't complain," says Ghedi. "Sorry I couldn't drop him off at
Kyoto." (Ghedi can only teleport to places he's already been.)
   "You off on some other adventure?" says Melody.
   "No; I already got Bethany's group where they needed to go. So
until they need a pick-up, I'm going to hang around Tokyo, take in the
   "Sights weird," says Lobsterman. "People weird."
   "You're a little weird yourself," says Melody. "You're a seven foot
talking lobster."
   "Lobsterman not weird," says Lobsterman. "Lobsterman normal. People
weird. Also, Lobsterman seven feet two inches."
   "Duly noted," says Melody.
   "Everyone's weird," says Ghedi. "And that means everyone's normal.
The more places you go and people you meet, the more you'll come to
appreciate that. Travel enriches the mind and the soul."
   "Lobsterman mind and soul way Lobsterman like them." Lobsterman
stops and looks up. "But Lobsterman like sky better than prison."
   "On that note," says Melody. "Take it easy, Ghedi. Come on, Lobsterman."

Lobsterman is much too heavy for Melody to carry, and so the trip from
Tokyo to Kyoto is made via the latest version of Dr. Fay's
tread-cycle. Lobsterman straps himself into the passenger seat, and
Melody runs on the treadmill at the front. The vehicle moves with her,
at close to her natural speed, while she vibrates the whole thing out
of synch with reality so as to pass harmlessly through all the people,
vehicles, and buildings in her way. As usual, and despite Dr. Fay's
many improvements and precautions, by the time the trip is completed,
the tread-cycle is a smoking wreck, despite the fact that she wasn't
going much faster than a pleasant, steady jog of a hundred miles per
minute. Still, three minutes beats four hours, and it's not like
Lobsterman can comfortably fit on a bullet train.
   "Well, that's another sixty thousand dollars down the drain," says
Melody as she and Lobsterman step away from the wreckage.
   "Actually," Medusa whispers in her ear, "Reverse lives in Kyoto. I
can ping her, see if she has time to use her negenthropic powers to
repair it."
   "Cool beans," says Melody. "Any word from Cascade?"
   "She's here," says Medusa. "I think she wanted to make an entrance."
   "Behold!" booms a voice from above. "In your time of need, the one
you call Cascade is here! True heir of Lemuria, last of the blood of
Kandam, the heart of the ocean!"
   Cascade descends, blade in one hand, mace in the other.
   "Hello to you, too," says Melody.
   "Darkhorse," intones Cascade solemnly. "I know in days past, we met
as enemies, when you fought alongside Prince Terak, whose family stole
the throne from the line of Kandam."
   "Yeah, it's not a big deal," says Melody.
   "But it is," says Cascade. "I hated you and Terak both with the
hate of a thousand generations. But now, I am to be married to Terak,
uniting our two great houses, and restoring my sacred birthright. So
we are enemies no longer."
   "That's great," says Melody. "As for the mission..."
   "Just as I shall learn to love Terak," continues Cascade, "I shall
love you, as a comrade-in-arms. Nay! As a sister!" Cascade embraces
Melody, squeezing so hard that Melody wonders if she'll need to
vibrate her atoms at super-speed so as to avoid damage to her internal
organs. "For we are like sisters, you and I, having both shared
Terak's bed!"
   "Is that how sisters work in Lemuria?" says Melody.
   "I do not know!" cries Cascade. "I am an only child!"
   "Lobsterman only child, too," offers Lobsterman.
   "Well, now that we're all here," says Melody, "why don't we go talk
to some people about video games?"

After some pleasantries, our heroes are taken behind closed doors,
where preliminary work is underway on what the Nintendo
representatives will only call project NX - a console they're aiming
to release sometime in twenty-seventeen. (While that's not too far
away from the last day of twenty-fourteen, it still has a far-off,
distant-future connotation for Melody, who was supposed to die six
days ago. She's still getting used to the idea of having a future.)
   The Nintendo reps explain that they discovered some aberrant code
in the prototype's architecture, and that the code started to edit
itself. Shades of the Gorgon, but the Gorgon's supposed to be dead,
replaced by Medusa.
   Medusa breaks in: "I confirmed it wasn't the Gorgon, nor any
offshoot. This is something new. Mostly. There's significant overlap
between the aberrant code and the RNA for the FEVER splice virus." [1]
   "Lobsterman confused," says Lobsterman.
   "Here's the short version," says Melody. "That bad day in August,
bunch of folks around the world got infected with this virus which
made them insanely violent at the drop of a hat. It also allowed their
brains to serve as vessels for the alien psionic network that was
coordinating all the various attacks on the earth. We kicked the
aliens out, but those people are comatose. Medusa, could this be
another attempt to establish that psionic network?"
   "If so, two and a half years is a long time to wait."
   "Not as the Pulse measures time," says Melody. "They've been around
for thousands and thousands of years, building their space empire
piece by piece. So they must be patient if nothing else."
   "Well, that's what we're here to find out," says Medusa. "But
there's something else. There were some symbols embedded within the
aberrant code. Gentlemen, if you please?"
   The Nintendo reps scramble, and that's when Melody realizes that
separate instances of Medusa were speaking to them in Japanese. A
moment later, they've laid out some sheets of paper onto the table.
   "By the blue lady!" says Cascade.
   "They're very similar to the Lemurian alphabet," says Medusa. "But
they're different enough that I can't read them. We were hoping you
would have better luck."
   "I fear that is not the case, machine woman who lives in my ear,"
says Cascade. "No one who lives can read this script. It is lost even
to us. But my eyes have beheld them once before, in the forbidden
   "Well, that sounds cheerful," says Melody.
   "It is not, friend Darkhorse. It is a place of horrors and
torments, and of deep magic. But I fear it will be there that we find

San Francisco. Cradle Tech HQ.
   Pam and Knockout Mouse spend about an hour waiting in one of the
conference rooms, and over the course of that hour, Pam gets kinda
sorta caught up on the last six years. Intergalactic space wars and
universe-erasing primordial destroyers are quite a bit heavier than
the stuff she was used to in Jolt City. "And they put Derek in charge
of all this?"
   Knockout Mouse smirks. "I know what you mean. He's different than
he was. I mean, he's still bad at superheroing, but he finally
realized that and so he doesn't go out in the field anymore. He looks
at the big picture, helps us assemble teams, deals with the government
people. He's a lot happier than he used to be. A lot fatter, too."
   "He was kinda chubby to begin with," says Pam.
   "Yeah, well, he's a little sensitive about it. So I thought I'd
give you a heads-up."
   "What, you think I'd say something?"
   "From what he told me about you? Yes."
   "Okay," says Pam with a nod, "that's legit."
   There's a knock, and then the door opens. Derek enters, followed by
a white woman in a green costume carrying an umbrella. Knockout Mouse
wasn't kidding; Derek's put on forty pounds. In six years, it seems
like he's aged twelve: his face is tired and worn out. But his smile
is the same.
   "Hi Pam," he says.
   "Missed you, squirt." Reflexively, she gives him a hug, and that's
when she realizes it's the first hug she's had in six years. She
squeezes him harder. "Missed you something awful."
   "Missed you too," he says, ending the hug. "And your cooking."
   "Yeah, I bet you did," says Pam. "But I see that didn't stop you
from scarfing down whatever Dani's been feeding you."
   His face falls. "Dani, uh, Dani died a couple years ago. Cancer."
   "Oh, I'm sorry, Derek," says Pam. "I didn't know. I liked Dani."
   "Me too."
   She hesitates, then: "Martin?" [2]
   He shakes his head. Silence descends over the room.
   She takes a breath, then relaxes her entire body. Tightly-wound
time unspools before her like ribbons. She tenses up again and
exhales, greeting him again with a hug, her first (and second) hug in
six years.
   "Missed you too," says Derek, ending the hug. "And your cooking."
   "I missed my cooking, too," says Pam. "There's only so much you can
do with canned vegetables."
   "Neat trick," says the woman with the umbrella. "You must be able
to sidestep all sorts of embarrassment that way. Don't like the way a
conversation's going? Just take it back a few lines." [3]
   "You could tell?"
   "My name's Rainshade, dear," says the woman. She offers a gloved
hand, less like she expects Pam to shake it and more like she's
expecting her to kiss it. Pam shakes it. "Like you, I'm a mancer."
   "So, what's your shtick?"
   "Metamancer," says Rainshade. "Basically I borrow the magic of
others, use it for my own nefarious ends." She smiles, but it's a
flat, lifeless smile, a smile that feels like an affectation. "I'm
also the team's mystical expert, so I can answer any of your
questions. Provided, of course, that you don't mind answering a few of
   "Another time, perhaps," says Pam wearily.
   Derek breaks in. "You've been through a lot, Pam. I don't want to
make any presumptions, but you're still legally dead. Until we can get
things cleared up for you, did you want your old room?"
   "Sure," says Pam. "As long as you and your girlfriend haven't been
going to town on my mattress." She throws her thumb back toward
Knockout Mouse.
   "Um, actually," says Knockout Mouse, "we're not dating anymore."
   Rainshade touches Derek's shoulder. "We have our own mattress."
   "Oh my gosh," says Pam.
   "Allow me," says Rainshade. Pam feels something tug at her from the
inside out, and suddenly Derek is talking again about how she's
legally dead, and offering Pam her old room.
   "That'd be great," says Pam, staring at Rainshade. She flits her
eyes back toward Derek. "When can we get out of here? It seems like
they ran a million tests on me, and I don't go in for the whole lab
rat treatment."
   "Sorry," says Derek. "We should be getting the all clear in a few
minutes. We, uh, we had to make sure that you were, well, you. Near as
we can tell, you are."
   "Who else would I be?"
   "Well, there was a body," says Derek. "It sure looked like you. It,
uh, we cremated it, per your instructions."
   There's a sick feeling in Pam's intestines, like a black hole
collapsing in her guts. "I don't understand how that could be."
   "I have some theories," says Rainshade. "But I'll need to know more
about how your powers manifested, and what happened in Vegas. Like you
said, we can talk about that later. When you're ready."
   "You know," says Pam to Derek, "it's funny, squirt. For a while I
just existed off to the side of your world, and I was fine with that.
A little weirdness out of the corner of my eye, and life was normal
otherwise, and that was about right for me. And now?
   "Now I'm a time-traveling wizard-person who's back from the dead
after spending six years living in a secret underground bunker."
   "It's a lot to process," says Derek gently.
   "Yeah, well, let's just say sleeping in my old bed and futzing
about my old kitchen are looking real attractive right now."

Aboard Cascade's diving craft, en route to the bottom of the sea.
   Lemuria itself is contained within a pressure-resistant dome that
also provides its inhabitants with artificial atmosphere. The ruins of
the necropolis lie just outside the dome. That's no problem for
Cascade and Lobsterman, both of whom can breathe underwater and can
withstand the pressure and the near-freezing temperature. Melody, on
the other hand, cannot, and Cascade gets to work casting a spell to
   "Look at Lobsterman, everyone," says Lobsterman, cackling. "Look at
Lobsterman. Lobsterman am Darkhorse. 'Oh, Darkhorse puny human body
will be crushed by pressure.' Lobsterman laughs and laughs."
   "Dude," says Melody, "it's over a thousand times the pressure at sea level."
   "Dude," says Lobsterman, "it over thousand pressure at sea level!
Ha! Lobsterman still laughing!"
   "Not cool, Lobsterman. Not cool."
   "Silence!" demands Cascade. "The mystical arts require my complete
concentration! One error, and Darkhorse is doomed!"
   Which doesn't make Melody feel any better about all this. She's
weary of magic in general, and even wearier when it comes to Cascade,
who has tried to kill her on more than one occasion. Though honestly,
Cascade trying to be friendly is somehow worse. ("Sisters." Bleh.)
   "It is finished!" declares Cascade. "The enchantment should last
for three hours, but I wouldn't take any chances. Once two have
elapsed, scurry thyself back to the safety of my craft."
   "Ha!" says Lobsterman. "Lobsterman no scurry! Lobsterman strong!"
   "Got that, Medusa?" says Melody.
   "Two hours on the clock," says Medusa.

The three of them disembark. Each of them is accompanied by a Lemurian
glow-orb, programmed to float within two feet of their specific
biometric frequency. Without them, they wouldn't be able to see at
   Each of them wears a small mask over their nose and mouth. It's not
for breathing - again, Cascade's spell takes care of that as far as
Melody is concerned - but for speaking. Each mask is tuned in to each
person's instance of Medusa. Each Medusa in turn relays the message to
the other Medusas, who relay the message in real-time to the other
physical members of the group. This only works so long as they stay
close to each other; there's no Wi-Fi at the bottom of the ocean, so
they have to rely on short-wave radio transmissions.
   "How short?" asks Melody.
   "Maybe six feet?" says Medusa.
   It's hard for her to move. Her body might be withstanding the
pressure, but she's still moving through water, still moving against
the water. Her super-speed isn't going to be much use here, and her
other trick - vibrating through solid matter - is a non-starter in
this environment. When she gets startled while phased, her body tends
to snap back to reality, and if she does that when her molecules are
phasing through water, the water will end up inside her organs. Either
she'll drown or her stomach will burst. Maybe Cascade's spell will
prevent that, but she doesn't trust magic enough (or Cascade for that
matter) to chance it. [4]
   A cyclopean wall surrounds the necropolis. The boulders have been
worn down, some fallen, and there are gaps everywhere. Honestly,
Melody's surprised that it's lasted this long after thousands of years
at the bottom of the ocean. Probably something else to do with magic -
Terry would often prattle on about Lemuria's mystical heritage -
something else for Melody to be uneasy about. There's a gap in the
wall about twelve feet across, and Cascade explains that this is
called the gate between the worlds of flesh and of shade.
   "Grab a handful of earth in your fist," she says solemnly, "and
sprinkle it as you pass the threshold."
   "Lobsterman has no fist," grouses Lobsterman. "Lobsterman has
claws. Lobsterman no sprinkle. Lobsterman lack fine motor skills."
   "Then you risk the wrath of the dead," says Cascade.
   Lobsterman grumbles, then scoops up a clump of earth in his claw.
As he passes through the gate, he unceremoniously drops the clump.
   Melody sprinkles the dust as she follows Cascade through the gate.
"You said you've been here before?"
   "This is where my ancestors are buried," says Cascade. "The Kings
of Kandam, and the Queens of the Deep. When the usurpers stole the
throne, it became a gathering place for those who remained true to our
cause. One of Terak's ancestors couldn't stand that, and so it became
forbidden. A special dispensation was granted to my family, so that
once per generation, we might tend to the bones of our ancestors. I
came here as a child, as the last of my blood, and did my duty."
   She pauses, reflecting. "It's a comforting thought that I might
return here again a few years hence, after Terak has given me his
   "I don't need to hear about that," says Melody.
   "Lobsterman do," says Lobsterman.
   "Gross, Lobsterman."
   "Lobsterman lonely in prison."
   "Here," says Cascade, pointing to a stone structure that's barely
visible in the murky darkness. "It was within that tomb that I saw the
ancient language embedded in the stone. That shall be our
   "You said something about horrors and torments?" says Melody.
   "My ancestors are protective of their bones," says Cascade. "There
are fearsome guardians. They only let me pass because of my duty.
They're not likely to do the same this time."
   "Ha!" says Lobsterman. "Lobsterman beat up fearsome guardians!"
   "There are also subtle traps," says Cascade.
   "Lobsterman beat up subtle traps too!"
   "We must have our wits about us," warns Cascade.
   Melody is the first to cross the threshold. Even with the water
making her movements sluggish, she still perceives the world around
her through a speedster's eyes, everything unfolding in slow motion,
hyper-aware of her surroundings. Chances are she'll be the first to
spot anything dangerous, and will be able to warn her companions.
   Cascade follows Melody, and Lobsterman follows Cascade. The
corridor leading into the crypt is too narrow to accommodate
Lobsterman's breadth; he actually needs to walk sideways to pass.
   "Lobsterman walk like crab," whines Lobsterman. "Lobsterman no
crab. Lobsterman name not Crabman! Lobsterman name Lobsterman!"
   "It opens up a bit ahead, buddy," offers Melody as she steps into a
room. It's about ten feet wide and just as long. There's another
corridor straight ahead, and between the two, there is a chasm about
six feet wide. She can't see the bottom, even peering down at it, and
it extends from wall to wall.
   She turns to Cascade. "Nothing to do but to swim over it, right?"
   "Perhaps," says Cascade. "This was not here when I was a child. Not
the door," she points across the room with her blade, "not the chasm,"
she points downward, "and not this room."
   "But this is the right tomb?"
   "Yes," says Cascade. "That much I'm sure of. But something strange
is at work here."
   "Lovely," says Melody. She turns around to check on Lobsterman; he
should have gotten into the room by now. "Lobsterman? Medusa, do we
have ears on Lobsterman?"
   "Out of range," says Medusa. "But I'll keep trying."
   "I'll go back for him," offers Cascade. She turns to face the corridor.
   It's at that moment that Melody's eyes flit toward the chasm, and
sees the ginormous tentacle reaching up from its depths. "Cascade?"
   Three tentacles shoot up, thick and curling, probing and lashing.
Between them they're big enough to take up the entirety of the chasm.
As they dance and twirl, and as Melody zips out of the way of first
one and then another, she peers across the room. It's dark on the
other side of the tentacles - their glow-orbs can't cast enough light
through the appearing and disappearing cracks - but in a
split-split-split second, Melody can see another tentacle entering the
room from the far door.
   "Watch out!" she calls to Cascade, who is currently bashing and
slashing at two of the tentacles. Those two part just enough for the
door-tentacle to shoot across the room, grabbing Cascade about the
waist. As it pulls her across the room, another tentacle enters the
way they came, this one squeezing Lobsterman.
   "Lobsterman no want octopus hug!" he bellows, beating against it
with his claws. His glow-orb hovers around him, darting to and fro to
avoid the writhing mass. To anyone else, it would look frenetic, but
to Melody's eyes, it's slow and sinuous, its trails of light and heat
   That gives Melody an idea, and over the course of two seconds her
super-fast brain turns that idea into a plan, mapping out potential
outcomes and contingencies, and then, immediately, she puts that plan
into action. She leaps up and grabs her own glow-orb between her
gloved hands. Her gloves may be insulated, but the glow-orb is hot
enough that she can feel its searing heat, like trying to take a
cookie sheet out of the oven with a pot-holder that's too thin.
   It will take a fraction of a second for her palms to relay the
message to her brain, and for her nervous system to register the pain.
Instantaneous for anyone else, but all the time in the world for
Melody, who is vibrating the glow-orb (but not her own body) so that
she can phase it into one of the tentacles. By the time she starts to
stifle her involuntary scream of pain, it's being drowned out by the
screaming of the creature.
   Its limbs wildly thrash about (Melody dodges them nimbly) and then
it recoils, back into the chasm, back into the doorways, eager to
release both Lobsterman and Cascade so it has time to lick its wounds.
   "Lobsterman almost beat him," complains Lobsterman.
   "You're welcome," says Melody, taking off her gloves before they're
seared to her flesh. Her palms are blistering. She might heal faster
than most - the perks of having super-speed blood - but chances are
that her plans with Simon for New Years just got a lot less romantic.
"Cascade, how are you holding up?"
   "It will take more than this beast of the deep to end the line of
Kandam with Kumari Starshell." Cascade haunches down just at the edge
of the chasm, closes her eyes, and waves two glowing fingers over the
darkness. Bubbles float into the light, casually at first, and then
more insistently.
   "With my aquatic magics," says Cascade (Melody hates the plural
form 'magics'), "I have conjured a current, which will show us the
   As if in response, the stream of bubbles takes a hard left, running
into one of the seemingly solid walls that are perpendicular to the
two exits.
   "Friend Lobsterman!" exclaims Cascade. "We have need of your mighty claw."
   "Yes!" he says excitedly. "Lobsterman love punching walls!"
   WHOMP! He leaves an impressive, claw-shaped dent in the center of
the wall. Almost immediately, the room begins to rumble and shift.
>From around the point of impact, pebbles and dirt spill forth, first
in a trickle, than a deluge. When the dust settles, there is a tunnel
where the wall once stood.
   "Hurray for Lobsterman!" he demands, raising both arms in triumph,
his eyestalks bristling victoriously.
   Melody sees it first, of course: the way the bubbles in Cascade's
current are multiplying, the way they're crashing against Lobsterman's
plated belly, the way the particles of dirt are moving toward and past
him. It's going to push him into the tunnel. There won't be enough
time for her to tell him to move - at least not at a speed he can
   Even with the water slowing her down, she's fast enough to get to
him, but speed isn't the problem. Just as was the case above ground,
she doesn't have the physical strength to pull Lobsterman out of the
way. Even trying is just going to hurt her blistered palms.
   There's another solution, but it's not necessarily a better one. As
a precaution and one of the terms of his work release agreement,
Lobsterman has a "puppet" implant in his neck that Derek's friends at
Cradle Tech reverse-engineered from FEVER technology. It's standard
for all the Daylighters who are currently serving time in
Super-Security Prisons for their past crimes, and the work release
program wouldn't have been approved without it. The idea is that when
one of the baddies is out in the field and decides to revert to type,
Medusa can use the puppet implant to take control of their nervous
system long enough to neutralize the threat. [5]
   In the half a second before he's sucked into the tunnel, Melody
could, at super-speed, tell her Medusa to tell Lobsterman's Medusa to
use the puppet implant to get him out of the way. Medusa wouldn't be
comfortable with that, which is unsurprising given her ancestry.
   More than that, it's not really what the puppet implant is for, and
it would be likely to short-circuit any trust the Daylighters have
built with Lobsterman. He's a very chatty jailbird (jaillobster?), and
that could damage the work release program in the long-run.
   If she felt he was in any real or mortal danger, there'd be no
agonizing; she'd already be telling Medusa to do the thing. She's not
sure what's going to be waiting for Lobsterman in the tunnel, but she
figures that he can handle himself, and if he can't, well, she and
Cascade won't be too far behind. Better not to act in this case.
   She hates that. There are times when she's out in the field with
someone, and she can see that the bad guy's about to clobber 'em. And
part of her wants to stop them, wants to stop all of them, and once
upon a time, she did. It created a lot of resentment. The others felt
like she didn't trust them to do their jobs. After one such mission,
she got called into the principal's office.
   "How do you think it went?" Derek asked her.
   "It was great," said Melody. "We stopped the multiversal constant
from being redefined by the rogue thought experiment, and we captured
the Primordial Multipliers."
   "Did 'we' do it, or did 'you' do it?"
   "They were there," said Melody. She shrugged. "I guess they
couldn't keep up. But the job got done. No one got hurt. That's what
counts, right?"
   Derek squirmed. From his tone of voice and his body language, she
could tell he had rehearsed this encounter in his head, and she could
also tell that he wasn't expecting any pushback.
   "Yes," he said finally. "Absolutely, that's what counts. And if you
see someone about to get killed or seriously hurt, and you can stop
that, absolutely, you do your thing. But if you do everything for
everybody, they're not really learning from you, are they?"
   "Learn from me?" said Melody. "I should be learning from them. Most
of them are older than me and have been doing this longer."
   "You're better than most of them," said Derek.
   "I know," she said. "I don't have time for this."
   "Melody," he began.
   "I mean, I literally don't have time for this." She tapped her
watch - at the time, the only thing keeping her alive. "I've got six
months left. That's it. I can use it helping others feel good about
themselves, or I can get stuff done."
   "They're not mutually exclusive," said Derek. "Yeah, you got six
months left, and that sucks. When you're gone, we're all going to miss
   "Spare me," said Melody.
   "Let me finish," said Derek. "We're all going to look up to you,
too. You're like Julie Ann, or Bethany. One of the best of the best.
It's hard to feel like we can ever measure up."
   (Especially true in your case, Melody had thought at the time.
She's a little ashamed of that now.) [6]
   "Maybe you can do everything on your own," continued Derek. "But
the rest of us can't. Show us that it's okay to trust people, to rely
on them."
   "But they make mistakes," said Melody.
   "Let them," said Derek. "How else do people learn? Heck, make
mistakes yourself."
   She raised an eyebrow.
   "Small mistakes," offered Derek. "Just enough to show them that
you're human, and that it's okay for them to make mistakes. Just
enough to let people think that you need them, even if you don't, so
that they know it's okay for them to need other people, too."
   Melody resisted that at the time. She still does, to a degree,
though it's easier now. Part of that is that she's been working with
Medusa in her ear, and has legitimately come to rely on her. And part
of it is not dying six months after that conversation with Derek. The
disease is gone, and she has a long and extraordinary life ahead of
her. Her days aren't counted anymore; time feels infinite and full of
   Everything has just unclenched since then, and so it's with
relative calm that she watches Lobsterman get sucked into the tunnel.
   "Oh no," she deadpans under her breath.
   "It wasn't my current," says Cascade. "Some deeper, older magic is
at work here."
   "Swell," says Melody.
   Lobsterman's glow-orb followed him into the tunnel, and so now only
Cascade's is left to light the way. It's noticeably darker and murkier
in the room now, and climbing into the tunnel doesn't improve
   "Medusa," says Melody, "Can you keep pinging until you hook up with
the you in Lobsterman's ear?"
   "Already on it," says Medusa.
   Cascade takes point, weapons at the ready, her glow-orb floating a
little ahead of her, Melody close behind. "Darkhorse," says Cascade,
"do you recall when last we met? Crossing swords atop the coral tower,
in the Risen City?"
   "I remember you swinging a sword at me, yes," says Melody. "I don't
seem to recall having a sword of my own."
   "One was offered, woman of the surface," says Cascade. "But you
said that one who is good requires no instrument of death."
   "What I actually said was, 'Nah, I'm good.'"
   "Yes, precisely," says Cascade, a little irritated. "That's what I said."
   "Is there a point to this reminiscence?" says Melody. "Or are we
doing small talk?"
   "Only that here again I shall offer you a weapon - my sword or my
mace - whichever suits you best."
   Melody stares at her palms. The burns are barely visible in the
faint light. Still sting like hell, though. "Nah," she says. "I'm
   "Cling to your morality if you must," says Cascade. "But I fear you
do so at your own peril. And mine. It would be disastrous if you were
to die before my wedding."
   "Oh, am I invited?" deadpans Melody.
   "No," says Cascade bluntly. "Our Terak is beset by rivals and
intriguers. These factions fear the power of Kandam, and the joining
of our two houses. If anything should befall you at my side, they will
say I killed one of my romantic rivals out of petty jealousy, and turn
the people against me. The pretenders bear you no love, of course, but
you were quite popular with the masses. Well. For a glubber."
   "A glubber?"
   "That's what we call people from the surface," says Cascade. "After
the noise you make when you drown," here she fails to suppress a
laugh, "because, because you can't breathe underwater! Glub! Glub!
Glub! And your arms flail around and your eyes bug out! It is very

The tunnel leads to an open chamber. It's big enough that in the faint
light of Cascade's glow-orb, the two of them can't see the ceiling, or
the floor, or any of the other walls.
   "Medusa?" says Melody.
   "Still trying," says Medusa. "No Lobsterman."
   Normally Melody would do a "rubber-band" - running (or in this
case, swimming) for a set period of time in one direction, then back
to her starting point, then in another direction, then back, repeating
it a few dozen times - to give her some idea of her surroundings. But
Cascade has the only glow-orb, and even if Melody were to carry her
(doable; she's not as heavy as Lobsterman!), there's no chance the
glow-orb could keep up with them. They could do it at normal speed,
but there's a very strong possibility that they'll get disoriented;
the whole point of rubber-banding is that you're zipping right back
two or three seconds later.
   What they need, then, is some kind of a landmark at the central
point, so that they know they've snapped back.
   "The solution is obvious," says Cascade. "You'll be the landmark."
   "But I'm the one with the super-speed."
   "And I the one with the light," says Cascade. "I will swim for one
of your human minutes. My Medusa can keep track of that, and tell me
when to swim back. As a child of the deep, I'm hardly one to get lost
in the waves."
   "I hate to admit it, but it makes sense," says Melody. "So I get to
float here. Alone. In the dark. Under water. I think I'll take that
mace, after all."
   Cascade hands her the mace. Melody grips it lightly with the
fingers of both hands, sucking her teeth. Then, Cascade turns and
swims forth into the abyss, her light following her, then fading, then
   "You're not alone," Medusa whispers in her ear.
   "Sorry, Medusa," says Melody. "I didn't mean it like that. Just out
of my element here."
   "I understand," says Medusa. "Would some music help? Perhaps a sea shanty?"
   "Very funny."
   Medusa starts playing some Wazowie. That's not what Melody would
have chosen. She's fairly agitated and a little nervous right now, and
Wazowie's peculiar brand of pop-punk isn't going to calm her down.
What it does, instead, is give the butterflies in her stomach
something they can dance to. The nervousness is amped up, turned into
music, turned into energy, and she can lose herself in that. It is, in
retrospect, a perfect choice. Medusa knows her better than most people
do, better than she knows herself.
   It's a four minute track. When it's over, the angry fleeting
euphoria almost immediately reverts back to anxiety. Melody's stomach
ties itself into a knot. Cascade should have been back by now.


Medusa created by Drew Perron and Tom Russell.

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