Upon witnessing Stargirl’s method of approach, I was concerned that perhaps our task today could not be accomplished. She flew in and landed on the stage, causing an uptick in the amount of screaming and jostling. Midnight only managed to keep holding onto my shoulder by digging his claws into the material of my shirt. Ceira was not a particularly large individual, so she was shoved around as well.
Fortunately myself, few people were as large as myself. Even though Stargirl’s fanbase was made up of a vaguely even mix of males and females, I was still above average size for a human. Especially with my recent growth spurt and muscle development. There had been some larger thugs and of course the giant called Titas, but he was a specific exception and… fortunately not here today. Sure, he was supposed to be in jail, but that hadn’t lasted long the first time. Then again, this time he was supposed to be more securely held.
I muscled my way forward, but not directly towards Stargirl’s portion of the stage. Ceira squeezed through the trail I made, crossing the tide of pressing bodies. Fortunately, arranging myself to see the dog was not terribly difficult, as it was a large one. If I remembered correctly, that breed was called a big dane. Good dane? Something like that.
“Midnight, it would appear that this is a different dog than previously seen.”
“Yeah, no crap buddy. It’s like you don’t even use social media.” A pause. “The first one is some sort of show dog, but then they got this one that apparently has powers. And while I cannot say that animals were unable to get portal powers, I would surmise they would have trouble using them in a consistent manner.”
“So you’re saying…”
“Bunvorixians may be stupid, but not as stupid as an actual dog. And I don’t believe Shooting Star has the ability to bond with familiars like you.”
“I’d certainly be surprised,” I nodded. “Her power feels way different. Also, does it have a name?”
“He’s called Spot,” Midnight said.
I narrowed my eyes, looking at the large, tan furred creature upon the stage. He wore some sort of outfit with stars and colors reminiscent of Stargirl’s whole theme. It was a bit thicker than I imagined just clothing to be. Armor? “Is the spot… under the armor?”
“I think it’s ironic,” Ceira explained.
“Or just moronic,” I said.
“I don’t think she’s actually stupid, despite whatever you think of her. It takes something to be a successful hero and icon.”
“I suppose so.”
To even have such a conversation we had to be uncomfortably loud, but fortunately we didn’t remain around the same press of individuals for long so nobody gave us more than a few weird looks.
At our current point it seemed that we would have to now follow the flow of individuals towards the front, if we wished to reach Spot himself. At that point, both Ceira and Midnight would attempt to converse with him to determine the truth of his identity.
The crowds pushed us both towards and away from Stargirl herself, but with enough elbow shoving I was able to maneuver us to a position where we could maybe yell at a dog from behind the barrier we found ourselves next to.
Then Midnight began barking. That was not as weird as it might seem, because he was currently disguised as the yappiest of dogs, a chihuahua. I could only assume that was what the name actually meant, but nobody said it along with whatever language it came from so Translation never told me anything different.
There was no acknowledgement from Spot upon the stage, though since I could barely hear Midnight right next to my head perhaps it was nothing. Even so, Ceira’s turn was next. She also began barking, but it was… significantly less put together. Perhaps if I didn’t know better I’d assume they were doing basically the same thing, but I was quite certain that Midnight’s attempt was actual language while Ceira was just barking. Magically, of course.
Spot’s head turned, but he only vaguely glanced in our direction. Even so, I could swear he rolled his eyes. That… wasn’t a normal dog thing, was it?
Midnight took his turn next. Suddenly Spot’s eyes focused on us, and he responded. A warning bark, or just a few words? I couldn’t tell, because suddenly the monstrous din of fanatics screaming was replaced by another sort of screaming.
It began at the rear of the crowd, synchronous with the wave of oppression. A power. I felt it coming, and I turned to face it. Then, I fell into darkness.
I was vaguely aware of people around me suddenly pushing even more strongly, pressing against the barriers around the stage or even leaping over them. The security detail that had been holding them back scattered.
But I looked towards the source of the darkness and… couldn’t take a step towards it. I couldn’t raise my hand against it as they trembled by my side. I was extremely cognizant of the presence of something that should not be, while at the same time being unsure of my own existence or that of anything else.
Then, I felt something. A force behind me, pressing into my mind. I could only barely detect its source, but of the two individuals I would trust who were present, it was neither of them. So I resisted, even as I wrestled against the darkness.
Around me, people ceased their justified panic and stopped moving. I knew it was bad. I knew it, I knew it. Nothing good could happen here. The fact that the individuals began to calmly distance themselves from the area without running over each other or shoving into me was only a coincidence.
Everything happened so fast. I could feel Stargirl doing something, but the source of the fear remained in front of me. I looked forward, seeing a robed figure and something akin to an empty hood. That made no sense, because I could see in the dark. There would have to be no face. No face, yet I felt the lack of eyes land on me for just a moment.
No. No no no no no no no! I wasn’t just going to stand here while that thing did whatever it planned. But I also couldn’t do anything. My body wasn’t in my control, barely standing atop my traitorous, trembling legs. The echoed fear from Midnight didn’t help, though strangely he didn’t seem to have any of his own. Instead, his actual mind was… weirdly blank.
The figure stepped forward, and I stepped back- except there was nowhere to retreat. Cold metal pressed against my back. I gathered mana for a spell. I had to do something. Anything. I had to fight.
Mana flowed from me, through me- and Midnight. At least my subconscious allowed me to target him as well, with whatever this was.
It was strange. Suddenly, I was able to move. Yet the feeling was still there, gnawing at my insides. Threatening to isolate me from everything until the end of time. I just… didn’t have to listen to it. So I didn’t.
My head whipped around to find Midnight. He had leapt off my shoulder over the barrier when the wave of fear happened, when Gloom had appeared. Now that my mind was free to be itself, I remembered that name. I had been inside that head, briefly. I caught Midnight’s eye, under the stage. I could feel only my own confidence reflected to me, and from him came a sense of numb understanding.
From the stage, I looked around to find another. I had no protective instinct for most of those present, but Ceira was also with us. I saw her, hiding behind a metal structure upon the stage. At this point, I wasn’t concerned about going somewhere I wasn’t supposed to, so I stepped over the small metal railing- though there were toppled ones not terribly far in either direction.
Ceira’s wide eyes looked at me as I stepped around her shelter, but I don’t know if they saw me. What did was certain of was that the secondary spell magic hadn’t done the same thing to her. She was not calm, merely finding that her current corner was the safest place she could flee. I put a hand on her shoulder to hopefully do the same thing I had done to myself. It was… costly. But I already found it worthwhile.
Ceira’s eyes came into focus, but before she could say anything a clash between light and darkness exploded at the rear of the area. We both turned to see Gloom and Stargirl engaged in combat.
It was… uncomfortable to watch. As I crushed a mana crystal in my hand and felt the power flow into me, my eyes attempted to track Gloom’s movements. A sphere of yellow light crashed into Gloom, the shadows dispelling… but he wasn’t there. Instead he was behind Stargirl, reaching for her neck.
She shot straight up into the air. A reasonable tactic, but… not necessarily appropriate for the situation. Somehow, I felt the darkness of Gloom’s hood was smiling. That was what the discomfort in my gut told me. Then he swept his hand towards the rear of the crowd, many of whom were already panicked and already attempting to flee.
Whatever he did had inconsistent effects. Some seemed to have no change from their former panic, others began to claw at their arms, and still others collapsed onto the ground where others took no note of them. Fortunately, there were relatively few behind those individuals, so they were stomped on far less than they could have been.
Stargirl continued to throw orbs of yellow light, exploding wherever Gloom appeared to be at the moment. With her other hand, a continuous beam of golden power tore up the ground as it chased after shadows. Watching the scene made me question my current antagonism with Stargirl. Not because I thought better of her, but because, well… I could feel her power output. It was absurd. No wonder she was one of the most popular, high ranking superheroes.
“What do we do?” Ceira asked from next to me. “Do we… leave?”
That was certainly an appealing option. But it wasn’t appropriate for me. “You can leave,” I said. “It’s not your job to do anything here. I’m obligated to assess how I can help in this situation.”
“And that would be…?” Ceira looked at me askance.
“Hindering Gloom’s mobility, perhaps. I cannot afford to attempt any sort of relevant attack when unsure of his actual location.”
I started moving forward, around the side of the crowd. Midnight hopped onto my shoulder, and surprisingly Ceira followed after me. It might not be the best direction to flee, but everything not directly away from Gloom was actually the easiest to traverse. Most people were pushing towards the other corner of the stage to begin with, so we were able to approach.
Stargirl remained up above while Gloom dodged her attacks, or perhaps never existed in the locations he seemed to be. If I were her, I would do the same thing as she did with the shadows, landing a spraying that uncomfortably bright light everywhere. Or even just getting close to the ground.
Soon enough I was close enough to begin Greasing up the place. At some point Spot had managed to make his way over as well, but he was hanging back as Stargirl peppered Gloom, while Gloom was slowly following the crowd to do whatever it was he did to any stragglers.
Midnight and I both began throwing Grease between Gloom and the crowd. It seemed he had some limit on distance for his more powerful attacks, so perhaps we could hold him back. Or something. I saw shadows flickering about at the edge of Grease, which to me indicate that we changed his movements. Or maybe I was imagining things.
Then Ceira reached out her hand, and the scraggly grass and weeds in the area suddenly grew many orders of magnitude in size, reaching up to grab anything nearby. For a brief moment, Gloom was stationary. Stargirl capitalized on that moment, using both hands to throw a larger attack that I saw impact Gloom directly. Then he exploded. It wasn’t the same dissipation as before, but more violent. A crater formed in the area as the plants were instantly burned away.
Then wispy shadows formed together on the near side of the writhing plants. They were indistinct- not that shadows were ever really solid, but I had the feeling they were like… only half as there. I thought I even saw an actual eye, but that could have once again been actual imagination.
Then the figure was gliding towards us. With no time to think, I stepped in front of Ceira. A moment later, Gloom’s hood was directly in front of my face. A voice that was the whispers at a funeral mixed with arctic wind seeped into my head through my ears. “Mage. So we meet again. Or perhaps for the first time?”
“Hi,” I managed in response as my brain began to leak out my ears, the contradiction of intense fear and the ability to ignore it warring inside me, with the darkness winning. Then there was only light. Fire burned my face- my whole front- dispelling both the darkness and my consciousness.