2279, 3 Years since the Re-opening of the New York World’s Fair and the defeat of Clive.
Tanner held the small, fluttering piece of paper pinched between two fingers. The wind whipped and tore at the paper, but he held firm. The picture was wrong.
He’d tried at least two dozen times to draw it right, to reproduce the image that was in his head. Tanner’d give anything for a photograph, but nothing like that had been available to him. He had nothing to remind him of her, nothing to remember her by. So he tried, poorly, to reconstruct her image.
It was a boy’s face. Inaccurate of course, as he had never seen the child’s face. He drew the features different every time, picturing all the different combinations the child could be. But it was nothing more than a thought. A myth, a story. A dream.
“You should stop drawing those.” His companion growled, standing alongside him at the rooftop. “And I should stop you from drawing them.”
“You can try.” Tanner said softly, tucking the picture back into his coat. It was wrong. They eyes needed to be more squinted. Did Pan have squinty eyes? Tanner’s own eyes weren’t very squinty. He wondered what their son did actually look like.
Tanner met the Man’s haunting gaze levelly, then forced a smile that he thought was warm. The Green Man stared back, watching Tanner, then looked away, muttering to himself.
“Whatever.” The Man said aloud. The Green Man was just an alias he used. His real name was Mathias, although whenever Tanner referred to him as such he got glared at. “You shouldn’t draw them anyway. You need to forget the past.”
“It’s not the past.” Tanner said firmly. “And it’s the one thing I won’t forget.” Tanner wouldn’t forget. Hell, if this wasn’t necessary, he wouldn’t be away from his family.
Mathias grumbled against, scratched his neck, and stared back at Tanner again.
Mathias set off across the roof top, toward a short wall that ran the rim of it, and pointed across the street.
“Your target is there.” Mathias pointed to a sprawling, Victorian house, which stood out among the desolate landscape around it. It was a mansion, but not a well-kept one. Well, at least all the walls and roof were in one piece.
“Right.” Tanner said, reaching into his coat for his shoulder holster and the tarnished 9mm pistol that sat there.
“No, you fool!” Mathias snapped, gripping Tanner’s wrist in an iron-grip. “Not with your pitiful weapon!”
Tanner jerked his wrist from Mathias’ grasp, and stepped back, eying the Green Man warily. Mathias sunk deeper into his enveloping cloak under Tanner’s gaze. It was a ragged, brown thing, worn by time and age, covered in stains of all kinds and frayed at every edge.
“I’m telling him it.” Mathias mumbled to himself, stepping away. “Yes, I know it’s the most important, he’s just not a very good student. See- don’t talk back to me!” Mathias’ voice suddenly rose in that last sentence and Tanner grimaced. Tanner had needed a teacher, so that he could learn about his… abilities, and Mathias was the only non-psychopathic-murderer of a psyker Tanner could find.
However, unfortunately, Mathias was also quite mad.
Tanner wondered if he would meet a similar fate.
Turning his attention back to his teacher, Tanner watched as Mathias grumbled incoherently to himself some more, before looking to Tanner again. “No guns! Do you think your guns will do you any good against Hades, fool-boy? He will turn bullets aside with a thought! No guns!” Mathias snapped viciously, gnashing his teeth.
Tanner gave him a curt nod, making a show of letting his coat fall closed, and lowering his hands.
“Your photokinetics. Now.” Mathias demanded, squaring up to face Tanner from where he had stopped, now standing a few feet away from the Knight.
Tanner nodded and stepped back himself, before furrowing his brow in concentration and picking out a spot in front of him. The air seemed to shimmer, the sun was hot, even shielded as it was by the darkening clouds. Hot. Scorching, unbearable heat…
“Focus!” Mathias beckoned sharply, which really didn’t help. Just a little bit more…
There was almost a flash of light between, like a bulb burning out, and then nothing. Tanner glanced up from where he’d been staring, to Mathias.
Mathias sighed. “Pathetic.” The Man turned his gaze on Tanner, and then the air really seemed to shimmer, but not in the same way Tanner had caused it to.
Immediately, Tanner felt a wave of nausea rack through his body, making him drop to a knee. It was crushing, threatening to squeeze the life out of him.
“Just because you’re immune to radiation, worm, doesn’t mean I can’t still fry your insides.” Mathias threatened, his voice low.
Tanner gasped, feeling as if some insurmountable pressure had settled on his chest. Mathias was trying to kill him. This wasn’t new, the Man had done it before, but it just reinforced how dangerous he was. He almost succeeded several times.
Tanner’s vision danced, spots of black settling into his eyes. He went for his gun, then froze. No- no weapons.
The sun. The light. It settled on him, cooked his skin, was there all around him, speeding by. He couldn’t see it, yet it was his, and he was perfectly aware of all of it at the same time. He reached out, bending it to his will, doing something. The air seemed to come to life once more and Mathias stumbled backwards, as if struck.
Suddenly, the weight lifted, and Tanner greedily drew in air. He looked up at Mathias glared at the Glowing One underneath the hood. The ghoul’s luminescent flesh, stretched over a gaunt face, seemed to hum with life and his eyes looked as if they were bursting at the seams with some kind of great power.
“Not bad.” Mathias said. “But not quick enough. That wasn’t even close to my full strength. I could’ve killed you in less than a second, if I wanted to.”
Tanner coughed weakly, just getting his breath back. He unsteadily rose and watched Mathias through narrowed eyes. “What did I do?” He croaked.
The ghoul turned away. “You hardened the light in front of you and bounced radiation back at me. Come, we have work to be done.” With that, Mathias simply jumped from the rooftop. Tanner swallowed, took a deep breath, and then did the same.
The ground rushed up at him, too fast, but he’d learned a long time ago how to slow his falls. Mathias had taught him how, first thing, telling Tanner that it was the most important.
As a psyker with a photokinetic discipline of power, Tanner wasn’t necessarily very powerful compared to a Glowing One or Mirelurk King, in terms of being able to attack offensively. All he could do were clever tricks, and even those took their toll on him.
As he dropped through the air, he imagined the finite particles that made up light, those that were currently speeding by him at millions of metres per second, were just a little bit denser. He didn’t know how it worked, but he forced his thought onto the area around him, and the air seemed to become thicker, for some reason. Tanner dropped to the ground in sudden impact, landing in a crouch. It wasn’t perfect, but at least he hadn’t broken both his legs. Yet, as always, something about using his ability made him feel… sick. Especially when he used it on himself.
Mathias glanced back at him. “Now follow.” The man started off down the street, with Tanner in tow.
“I hate that.” Tanner muttered as they walked.
“Good.” Mathias said bluntly. “The day you get comfortable with it is the day you should stop using it.”
Tanner furrowed his brow in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“The things you can do, they aren’t even remotely natural. Think of a Nightkin. They are master of stealth, having adopted it as their art. But what happens when they overuse stealth boys?”
Tanner was silent for a moment, mulling that over. “It drives them insane.”
“And it will do the same to you, if you aren’t careful. Moderation. Not only that, but your abilities alone are dangerous. Not only is there a chance of madness, but in turn you’re going to be directly drawing massive amounts of light to your body. That will be incredibly harmful to you. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up giving yourself third degree burns across your entire body, or cooking yourself alive. In addition to that, the amount of source you draw is proportional to the adverse effect it will have on your mind. If you draw too much light at once, it’ll drive you mad. And it’d be your fault.”
Tanner didn’t really want to think about the implications. He didn’t even really intend to make much use of the photokinesis aside from matching Hades.
He supposed that was part of what brought on the madness. They were addicting. In fact, he needed to look no further than Mathias for an example of what happened when you succumbed to the power.
They stood outside the mansion now, looking up at the massive structure. Rain began to patter down.
“You need to understand one more thing.” Mathias began. “We’ve only practiced outside until now, but this is fundamental. You can only draw so much light from one source. Overstretching just what you can do is one thing, but if you attempt to pull more light than a source can provide, you’ll destroy it. It’s the equivalent of a lightbulb exploding because too much current flowed into it. You could go about shattering light-bulbs and putting out fires in your haste without even meaning too. And then, if you have no light source, how will you defend yourself if you’re unarmed?”
Tanner didn’t have an answer for that, and what Mathias said made a lot of sense. The photokinesis might extend his natural abilities, but even it had definite limits.
“And you can’t draw light from a source too far away. Even if it reaches you so that you can see it, you need to be able to draw enough light so that it can actually effect the area around you. You don’t create it, you simply bend it to your will, and only to the finest degree. You can’t make more from the light then what you have available. It’s why you can’t use a flashlight as a weapon. You could try to make it powerful enough to cut, but you’d burn out the bulb before it even got to that point. It’s also why you can’t create spears out of nothing and run them through people. That’s not how physics works, so that’s not how photokinetics works either. You need to understand that different rules govern these abilities than what you’re used to.”
“I understand.” Tanner said with a nod.
“You better. Now,” Mathias gestured to the mansion in front of them. “We’re going to head in there through the back. I picked the perfect day for this. Dark so we won’t be spotted, rain so we won’t be heard, but the sun’s still overhead so you can fight outdoors.”
“Let’s go.” Tanner said quietly, prepping himself for what was ahead.
The pair set off towards the rear of the mansion, the tails of their respective coat and cloak blown sideways by the now billowing wind.
Tanner moved through the darkness like some kind of night-time creature, a butterfly knife with a full-sized Bailsong blade sliding into each hand. He’d acquired the knives, specially made, because they messed so well with the elegance his abilities brought. Much different than the concealed gun he had inside his coat. Tanner whipped the blades unfolded- he’d been practicing that for a long time now.
A guard patrolled the lawn, rifle hanging carelessly from a sling around his neck. He spotted Tanner coming at him when a flash of lightning lit the air.
The guard immediately went for his gun and fired a single shot off at Tanner’s chest, the sound of the gunshot drowned out by the crack of thunder.
Tanner had anticipated this. He couldn’t think faster than a gunshot, so this particular skill was only useful if he knew the shot was coming and had time to prepare it in advance, or when in close quarters combat. He had solidified the light in front of him, it shimmed brightly, like a reflection of the sun in a mirror, and the bullet crashed into it. The sound was like something shattering, and as his shield fell to pieces, the bullet traveled only a short distance further before crashing into the ground.
The guard moved to fire a second shot, shocked, but was too late- Tanner was upon him, first ducking low with dexterous grace and slicing the man’s hamstring, and then rising high to drive the knife down into the man’s chest.
They passed to the mansion rear, near a door at its porch, and they each took a position on either side of the door.
Mathias nodded to Tanner, who stepped back, and kicked the door in. They stared into a spacious kitchen, where two guards stood about ideally, smoking cigarettes. Dressed in black fatigues, with assault rifles hanging from slings around their shoulders, they immediately jolted in surprise, fumbling for their weapons.
The room went dark, lights lowered to a mere dim. Tanner closed his eyes as his focused. This was easy, as he was really not doing much, just a simply taking the brightness for the photons immediately near the bulbs, and causing it to ripple somewhere else. It was much easier than hardening the light
“What the-” one of the guards began. Suddenly, a massive beacon of light, too bright to look at, took up portion of the room near the door, and the guards yelped in fear, then proceeded to blindly empty their clips at it.
Tanner moved to stand between the two men, both of whom were firing blindly. He lifted his knives up and drove them down into the swallows of their necks, the blades sinking deep into the soft flesh. The bodies limply fell to the floor as Tanner pulled his knife away.
Mathias nodded down the hall, and as Tanner sauntered from the room the kitchen lights snapped back to full brightness.
They arrived at a crux in the house. A grand flight of stairs lead upwards, while a second flight of stairs through and open doorway led down into a basement.
Mathias pointed at his own chest then towards the ceiling, signaling that he’d check upstairs. Tanner nodded and headed towards the basement stairs himself. He trudged down them, and winced at each creak as his weight transitioned over the old wood. He arrived at the basement floor. It was solid stone, a drain in the center of the room.
He frowned, sweeping in to the room’s center, and glancing around. It was entirely empty, at least at first glance.
On further inspection, he noticed there was a bookcase constructed to hide a false wall that, when pulled aside, revealed another room. He smoothly moved into it on silent feet.
“Please, make it stop…” A whispering voice begged. Tanner surveyed the room he had entered. Shackles lined the walls and men and women were hooked into them, arms held securely above them. Most were in various states of starvation and hunger, with hallowed cheeks. A surgical chair and tray sat in the center of the room, with a large wood table pressed up against one shackle-less wall. Various syringes, scalpels, and other instrument sat on the table, and the chair was stained darkly with blood. The speaker was a very frail man, whose wide, beady eyes had focused on Tanner. He was strapped into the surgical chair.
Tanner heard footsteps coming in his direction, towards the room. He was about to call out, thinking it was Mathias, when the newcomer spoke. It was certainly not Mathias.
“I’m so very sorry about this.” The voice rasped. A ghoul. Tanner took to the shadows near the doorway, squeezing in between two empty sets of shackles. “But I must do this before I deal with whatever cause that racket.”
The ghoul stepped into the room, and Tanner wanted to gasp. Its flesh was luminous. Another Glowing One, and sentient at that. How had Mathias found this person? Tanner eyed the ghoul’s slight frame, dressed in the rags of a lab coat as it was, and realized this was a woman. He could detect it slightly in the voice as well, just barely recognizable as a feminine pitch.
“You see,” The Glowing One said, coming to stand at the chair’s side. She had a large syringe in her hand, a thick green liquid pulsating inside it. “I have to know how it works. How I can replicate it.” She brought the needle down towards the man’s arm.
“Stop!” Tanner stepped from his cover, the Glowing One’s own light shining on him. The ghoul jerked backwards in surprise, eyes shooting up towards Tanner, and it dropped its syringe. It shattered on the ground, the green fluid oozing into the stones.
“Who-? What?!” The startled ghoul began, then stopped. She growled in frustration. “Oh… look what you made me do!” She eyed Tanner, glowing green eyes narrowed. “You. You’re a handsome boy. I could have use for you.” She stepped forward, towards Tanner, whose grip tensed on his knives.
The ghoul smiled wide. She locked gazes with him. “Your eyes. You’ve been touched. You have it, but no visible effects, just your eyes... does that mean…?” She stepped around the chair, approaching him.
Tanner lifted one knife, blade pointed towards her. “Stay back.” He warned, voice hard as steel.
“Now, now.” The ghoul said, not paying his weapon any notice. “None of that.” She suddenly glow vibrantly, letting off a massive burst of radiation. It was the normal ability associated with Glowing Ones, not the refined ability that Mathias had. Tanner didn’t even bat an eye. Although her sudden attack had surprised him, it was useless. Superficial gamma rays had no effect on him.
The ghoul’s eyes widened in surprise at the uselessness of her attack, and reached down to her waist, likely for a weapon or some other object that might injure him.
Tanner struck forwards, knives flashing, but she unleashed a second burst. His proximity worked against him, and the simple force of the energy caused him to involuntarily recoil, stumbling away. The ghoul kicked the surgical tray over, scattering tools to slow his advance, as she drew her own weapon--a laser pistol--and sighted it on him.
Tanner, however, wasn’t even remotely afraid (okay, he might’ve been a tiny bit afraid, with a gun in his face and all). Lasers used to seek him out, back when he didn’t even know he had his ability. They would bend towards him. Mathias had theorized that the reverse could happen, and it could. When she fired, blasts aimed for his head, he simply pressed outward slightly, as if he could force the light away from him. Since these beams were headed directly for, they curved away slightly, missing their intended target- he had manipulated the lasers to refract. This wasn’t perfect, as he could still be hit frequently, but it made it much less likely that he would take a direct, killing shot from a laser weapon. No, it was far from perfect, but it was better than what he had before.
Every one of her shots missed. The ghoul stared in awe at Tanner for the split second before he lunged forwards and drove twin knife blades down into her chest. Both psyker and ghoul went down, the former on top of the latter.
Tanner stared coldly down at the ghoul’s face as she choked out her last breaths.
“Mathias…” She whispered hoarsely, focused on something over his shoulder. Tanner glanced back. The Green Man was standing in the doorway, still shadowed by his cloak. When Tanner looked back to the ghoul woman he jerked away- she had brought her face within a breath of his, eyes wide and crazed.
“You are not the first! Do not trust him! Beware what he tells you!” She quickly rasped, her words barely intelligible, before slumping back to the floor. Tanner stared down at the cold corpse for a moment, before withdrawing his knives, and then flipping them back into their closed position.
He stood and turned to face Mathias.
“That was good. But too quick. It won’t be so easy next time. You need to move more, need to rely on your abilities, like a real psyker does.” The Glowing One said.
“I just killed a psyker.”
“You killed a half-crazed ghoul. She was no fighter. I picked a simple fight for your first time.”
“What was this?” Tanner demanded. “A hit?”
Mathias watched him from beneath his hood, face invisible. “Does it matter? Can you deny that the world is not better off without her?”
Tanner glanced around the room at the shackled people, the man strapped to the surgical chair. No. No he could not. He turned back to Mathias, eyes narrowed with suspicion. “But what kind of justification is that?”
“The only justification we need!” Mathias replied sharply, voice rising right to a shout. “I’ve showed you how to kill, worm! I suggest you use it! You’re going to need kill a lot more, if you ever hope of defeating Hades!”
Tanner watched Mathias for a moment. They watched each other. Each baring an unreadable gaze, but certainly not trusting.
Mathias turned from Tanner and swiftly moved out of the room. On his way out, Mathias stopped to investigate where the surgical tools had fallen.
“Now that is a fork.” The ghoul chuckled, stooping to pick up the object, and shoving it into a pocket before disappearing from view.
Tanner watched the doorway for a moment, before going to unshackle the starved people and the man in the surgical chair.
“Oh, bless you…”
“Thank you, a thousand times thank you!”
Tanner freed them all without a flicker of emotion. He should’ve thought himself a hero, yet inside he felt colder than ice.
“Who are you?” One matronly woman asked, staring up into his eyes, eyes that were infinitely greener than they should’ve been.
“I’m a man who has lived through things he shouldn’t have.” Tanner answered after a moment.
Tanner touched his face, running a finger along the familiar groove in it. The long scar over his eye was still there, faded, but just visible to one who was close enough. Mathias claimed it should’ve healed already, since it had happened before his exposure to FEV. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
As Tanner moved out of the room, he spotted something on the wooden table. A leather bound book. He picked it up and opened it to the first page.
Theories and suggestions regarding the existence of an anti-serum to FEV, a scrawl on the page read, Personal notes. Denice Keller.
Tanner took the book. In moments, he was ushering the wounded people out of the mansion and down the street as reinforcements converged on the place to investigate the gunshots. Once they were far out into the streets, Tanner turned back to look at the glowing mansion as the guards' shouting became frantic.
The numbness was gone. He’d found something to replace it. His focus had returned. The spark was back. He’d been thinking too small. Tanner had never thought small. He’d often faulted himself for thinking too big at times. For thinking too much.
A plan began to form, one he’d never even given a thought before.
He’d have it.
Vengeance. Vengeance on Hades. Vengeance for giving him a life and then ripping it away. Vengeance and more.
He turned into the night, into the waiting rain, and went to go find someone to make him a gun.