Penumbra 2.5

In the street in front of us was Pyroclasm, standing at the heel of the Upright Man. He was a tall asian man dressed in a crisp grey suit, who stared off into the distance, ignoring us. I had been expecting mid-20’s from the description, but he looked more like he was in his mid 60’s.

Old enough to be Phenomena’s father.

“You!” Yelled Emily angrily. “I’m going to kill you! Fucking kidnapped me.”

Pyroclasm stepped forward, but the Upright Man put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

I contacted Jamisson immediately.

“Jamisson, we’ve got hostiles. Pyroclasm and the Upright Man. We were wrong about him, he’s not Phenomena, I think-“

I felt a disturbance in the air and there was a sharp jab at my injured ankle. It screamed with pain as it collapsed out from under me. I shifted my weight onto my left leg and danced away from the apparition which I could feel disturbing the air but couldn’t see. I tried to get a feel for what it was when a sudden weight crashed into my back and I fell, tumbling painfully to the ground.

“Wh- ph- sh-tztt -sk. Ap-th -on.”

The response from Jamisson was unintelligible. Something had been damaged.

My head pressed against the ground by the Upright Man’s projection, I saw that the others were in a similar position. Dr. Mind had been violently separated from his pack, the straps still dangling from his shoulders. He jerked and stumbled as he was assaulted by unseen forces. Emily was faring better, but was just as powerless. The Upright Man had gone straight for each person’s weak point, so his first attack on her had been a jab at her unprotected eyes. She had thrown an arm across her face to protect her eyes. No longer a threat, the Upright Man focused instead on Adam, who was pushing past a horde of the Upright Man’s projections, shaking as if buffeted by strong winds. He was making his way towards where the cryogenic chamber floated, to defend it. The corner of Adam’s right eye shone a bright orange, erratically flickering to red. I could feel what seemed like a whole crowd of people straining to hold Adam back, invisible feet skidding along the asphalt. The Upright Man looked merely nonplussed, and Pyroclasm watched, a strange expression on his face. I overheard Pyroclasm speaking,

“None of these people were there.”

I used my power to teleport to where I’d marked Emily and started speaking quickly. Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say, and if she could find some offensive use of her power we might be able to fight back.

“Emily, use your power-“

I was cut off abruptly as the Upright Man noticed me and one of his projections tried to drive a shoulder into my midsection. I dodged narrowly, throwing my weight away, but another appeared and kicked out at me before I could react, knocking me away from Emily. Emily gasped. She had been punched in the gut, preventing her from responding to me. I doubled over from the force, but it failed to knock the breath out of me- not having to breathe has its benefits. I rolled to my feet and tensed up, expecting another attack, but for a moment, none came. All of his projections had vanished. He was using his precognition. Behind me, Adam took the opportunity to leap onto the floating cryogenic unit and clamber atop it. Realizing what was happening, I sprinted for the Upright Man, my ankle screaming protestations, but in that moment, the projections appeared again with new targets. I slammed into one that appeared in front of me, driving it to the ground. It vanished before it hit the ground and another appeared behind me, about to dive onto me. I used my power to spin myself around and swiped its legs out from under it, but it vanished before it hit the ground.

The projection was replaced almost immediately by one in position to stomp on my head. I shifted to my feet and kicked out at its knee with my good ankle and was rewarded with a sickening crunch. I had been able to get in an attack fast enough to land before the projection could disappear. The Upright Man winced, but the injured projection just vanished.

I can’t damage them. But I’m getting closer to their source.

“they are a part of the same corrupt institution”

the Upright man said, replying to Pyroclasm without moving his mouth. His voice didn’t come from where he stood, because he was speaking through his projections, I realized.

The cryogenic unit rocked as the projections clambered up onto it. Adam kicked the air where he felt them grabbing at his ankles, knocking some of them off to the air, where they vanished and reappeared below. Adam looked angry now. Dr. Mind likewise was faring better, though not by much. His pack was scattered, but he had retrieved a pair of strange goggles and a headband with a ring of ultrasonic sensors around it, which apparently allowed him to see the projections, along with collapsible baton wired into a compact battery strapped to his back. Armed with a way to detect and dispatch the projections, he advanced  steadily towards the Upright Man, who had directed a few projections to slow him down. He was clearly injured, judging from his pained expression, but had a lot of experience fighting with injuries. Blood dripped from under his goggles, but it didn’t seem to slow him down at all, so exactly  how badly he was injured, I couldn’t tell.

“Yeah, but…” Pyroclasm trailed off doubtfully.

Emily growled in frustration, the only one who couldn’t defend herself. The lines glowed brighter now as she wrestled with an invisible assailant. Now five rings deep, each ring about a meter away from the last. She fell to her knees as the projection vanished and a spectral boot caught her in the back of her head. She screamed in pain and anger at her helplessness- once again at the mercy of the Upright Man.

And the ground exploded.

The air filled with a chaos of shrapnel, shards of asphalt kicked up as the glowing lines around Emily detonated. I could feel the Upright Man’s projections being repositioned around him to shield him and Pyroclasm from the blast, leaving us exposed. My armor protected me from the brunt of the shrapnel, and the shockwave passed through me harmlessly, but one larger piece cracked the visor on my helmet and almost knocked me off my feet. Adam wasn’t injured by the shrapnel apart from a few cuts and shallow scrapes, but the force of the blast, helped along by the rotating footing, knocked him off the cryogenic unit onto the ground. Dr. Mind was less lucky. Though he was further away, a number of small shards that made it that far had penetrated his clothing, and he was bleeding from numerous small wounds on his face and hands. His eyes had been protected by his goggles, but the goggles had been ruined, so he stripped them off and threw them to the ground.

Emily herself hadn’t been hit by a single shard, though she was the epicenter of the blast. She remained kneeling, slumped to the ground, exhausted.

I realized only later that this was what the Upright Man had planned. Before we could recover, his projections repositioned around the trailing rope of the airborne cryogenic chamber and hauled it hastily away. Having the equivalent of twenty people pulling it made it much faster. I ran to stop him, but Pyroclasm screened their retreat with a wall of fire.

I stopped and backpedaled. Fire is one of my weaknesses- it goes right through me and burns me very painfully from the inside. Ironic, really, that the same aspect of my powerset that made me immune to explosions made me so vulnerable to fire.

When the flames cleared, they were gone. The fight had lasted less that ten seconds, and they had already escaped.

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27 Responses to Penumbra 2.5

  1. EDIT: I’ve done some extensive editing and reordering of this chapter to improve pacing.

    Okay, the first time the Upright Man shows up in person (not counting the other time, because he was disguised as Shatterpoint). Tell me what you think, how the combat seems. I may do some rewriting of this and the next few chapters, because I wrote them when I was really, really busy.

    Also, I can’t decide whether to do Umbra or Lengthening Shadows after this arc. One follows Shadow/Will and Guardian Angel/Sean, the other follows the Wardens of Tomorrow, breaking them up into smaller groups so the dynamics aren’t so complicated.

    Also, I have in the works an interlude with Charlie Daniels, wrapping up that story a bit, and another interlude which shows a bit of the world outside of the United States.

  2. I stopped and backpedaled Fire is one of my weaknesses- it goes right through me and burns me from the inside, very p

    Damnit, man, Periods! One period, really.

  3. So… Powers… What’s Emily’s? Explosions? What do her lines and rings do?

    The fight scene was good, though it lacked any serious action. It was mainly Shadow fighting off invisible things while observing everybody else do one thing at a time.

    • The most succinct description is explosive runes. Basically she has her father’s power, except she can leave marks on surfaces and detonate them from a distance later, though she has slightly less control than Shatterpoint did and it takes some time to make the runes.

      The lines and rings, though she hasn’t figured this out yet, influence the size and characteristics of the detonation. The size of the rings shows the force of the explosion, the lines direct the force.

      • Hmm. Now, if I were designing that power, I would probably power it up a bit, give it versatility, but then limit it a bit. For instance, perhaps give her various types of explosions. Sonic, cold, heatless, emotional… And then have the lines be physically draining for her, or be largely independent of her, or have something similar to Labyrinth, locking her in place, or erasing the lines if she moves an inch.

      • There are other limitations on it, and other effects as well, but most of that would be spoilers, so I didn’t go into those details. I was just giving general information.

  4. Bobby says:

    This fight was kind of… calm. Two enemies standing motionless, one hero standing motionless, three heroes flailing spastically trying to hit invisible things. Not much movement. Not much interaction between participants. Well, the Upright Man was everywhere, obviously, but it was all just… silent. Serene, almost. Then again, I’m somewhat tired myself, so I might not be feeling everything with as much intensity as I might normally.

    If I can humbly make some suggestions: what was Dr. Mind doing in addition to beating up projection with that baton? Trying to accomplish something, get to the cryobox, get to the Upright Man? (He’s a hero! He acts!) Was he reeling, barely able to defend himself? (Make us feel some urgency! The villain is dominating!) What about Emily? Except for that one reference to her wrestling with a projection and getting hit at the end, it kinda looks like she’s just standing there, one arm over her eyes, making her little light show.

    Adam is pretty proactive, trying to defend the cryobox, and the whole thing with being on top of of some kind of object with a mob of enemies climbing is a classic. Shadow gets a B for effort and perseverance.

    Really, the Upright Man isn’t suited to big budget action scenes with a lot of special effects. He just stands there, and his power is invisible and basically silent. What I’d do is try to push the idea that this is all happening quickly, they’re scrambling to try and defend themselves but he’s smacking them down, them BOOM and he’s left already. It would probably be a good idea to describe some hits on the others, instead of only Shadow getting hurt. And that one kick on Emily.

    And maybe describe Adam as actually pushing and struggling instead of just “moving slowly”. Make him look like a badass who isn’t stopped even with a whole crowd of people trying to hold him back.

    • Thanks, definitely some stuff to think about. I think I’m definitely going to do some rewriting on this chapter so it comes off closer to what I was intending, because some of my intentions got across, but as you said really could have been clearer.

      This chapter and a few of the following chapters were basically written backstage during a show in-between scenes, so they do naturally need some revision. Since my buffer has exceeded my limits, I’ll get to work on that.

    • Okay, I’ve done some editing. It seems to flow a lot better to me and resolves a lot of the issues I had with it before. See if it’s up to par.

      • Bobby says:

        Better.

      • Bobby says:

        Random thought: the light of a flame mostly comes from incandescent soot particles. They’re white-hot near the fuel and then cool down to orange, red and then their normal color as they go up and away. So really, the flame and the smoke are the same thing, only at different temperatures. The point being, that’s solid, so it wouldn’t go through Shadow. Which means he mostly gets hurt by the hot air going through him.

        I’m not saying fire wouldn’t be a weakness or anything, just noting stuff on how it would probably work. If he can feel the ambient temperature over his whole volume, instead of only his skin, he probably hates winter with a deep, furious passion.

        Of course, if Pyroclasm makes clean, sootless flames, which would be either invisible or blue, depending on the temperature, Shadow would get the full impact. Of course, invisible flames aren’t flames at all, since flames are, by definition, the visible part of a fire… You could say the heat distortions are visible, but I don’t think that counts.

        Looking at the wikipedia page, it seems that the blue color we’re used to specifically comes from the excited electrons in CH and C2 molecules, and that it’s a mark of the combustion of hydrocarbons. I wonder how much you have to heat pure air before it starts giving off light… And which color it’d be. Actually, now that I think about it, it probably doesn’t start radiating until it’s heated into a plasma, like in a lightning bolt. So that would be white, I guess.

        Er, anyway, random rant over now.

  5. anonymus says:

    hi,
    thanks for the story (new reader, found this by clicking a name on an “A grey world”-comment)
    seems interesting so far

  6. Jerden says:

    So, first comment:
    Is there anyone not working for the Upright Man?
    Anyway, I like the story. The powers are creative and used well, and the characters are interesting. I’ll definitely be reading this story.

    • Yes, in fact, there are people not working for the Upright Man! For example, all heroes, Blackwell, the Colswell City Specialists, the american government and everyone affiliated with it (with one exception), Virtue (most of it), any Nightmares, Bastille, any Chipheads, etc. The only people who work for him are Shatterpoint, Labyrinth, and Limit Break, and the latter was just receiving wads of cash whenever they pulled a successful heist to distract heroes. The reason it seems that way is actually a part of his plan- he was trying to create an image as a sinister name behind all the crime in the city through strategic lawlessness.

      And thanks for reading!

  7. farmerbob1 says:

    The Upright Man seems to be rather good at controlling his other selves in a coordinated manner for someone who isn’t known to the hero or villain communities. Where did he practice? How did he get those combat instincts to match his tactics? He fights like he’s experienced, but nobody knows who he is.

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