Ceramic Dm (final judgement posted, New Champion announced!) - Page 47





  1. #461
    Quote Originally Posted by alsih2o
    I'm a guy, that's how we show fondness, technology and weird animals.

    Are you saying you didn't like the digital pig?
    Nah, the pics are just fine. Quite interesting actually. Technology just isn't a place I generally go with writing, which probably makes it a good thing you include it. It's very challenging for me.
    SilverMoon's D&D meets Wild West Campaign. Check out the Story Hour Revenge, Renewal and the Promise of a New Year.

 

  • #462
    Quote Originally Posted by orchid blossom
    Nah, the pics are just fine. Quite interesting actually. Technology just isn't a place I generally go with writing, which probably makes it a good thing you include it. It's very challenging for me.
    I mistyoed, and now fear I came across wrong.

    That line should have read "You didn't like the digital pig I sent you for Valentines?"

    It was funnier in my head(man, but I say that a lot)

  • #463
    Quote Originally Posted by alsih2o
    I mistyoed, and now fear I came across wrong.

    That line should have read "You didn't like the digital pig I sent you for Valentines?"

    It was funnier in my head(man, but I say that a lot)
    Oh, in that case....

    I loved it, but Ao was a little pissed.
    SilverMoon's D&D meets Wild West Campaign. Check out the Story Hour Revenge, Renewal and the Promise of a New Year.

  • #464
    Quote Originally Posted by orchid blossom
    Oh, in that case....

    I loved it, but Ao was a little pissed.
    You should see how my wife reacted. I got her an analog pig!

    Ba-dum-ching!

  • #465
    It gets quiet like this.....makes my heart warm.

  • #466
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  • #467
    Quote Originally Posted by mythago
    Well, it's not as though you heart could get COLDER.
    Sweet truth!

  • #468
    Ceramic DM Semifinal Match: Carpedavid vs. Berandor

    For lack of a better term

    "Excuse me - are you a superhero?"

    Hans immediately knew she was a reporter. Her hair had the cemented firmness necessary for outdoor shoots, her face the required mix of intelligence and sex appeal. The casual clothes clung to her, enhancing her womanly shape without endangering her professional attitude. Another indicator was the stale taste forming in Hans' mouth when he looked at her.

    Of course, the sweating photographer following her helped as well.

    Hans closed his eyes for a moment to savor the question. True, he didn't wear a costume, but still...

    "Miss," he began.

    "Underwood. Laura Underwood," she interrupted, "Splash Magazine."

    "Miss," he repeated, waiting for her to interrupt again. In his experience, reporters could ask questions all day, but listening to the answer was not their forte. When she said nothing, however, he continued, "you are at Bruce Wayne Memorial Home for Senior Citizens with Superhuman Abilities, or BWMHSCSA as we affectionately call it," he loved that joke, "so what do you reckon?"

    "Uh-huh. You don't look like a superhero."

    Her exquisite rhetoric enamored her even more to Hans. He was already annoyed. He got so easily annoyed these days, but then again, he'd never really had had patience for reporters. Which was, of course, one of the reasons that they didn't visit him very often. Most of them came to see...

    "Miss Underwood?" the nurse's commandeering voice rang through the meeting hall, "He is ready for you now."

    A grin appeared on Underwood's face, and she blushed slightly before rushing off, her photographer struggling to keep up. Hans sighed. He should have known who she'd come for. Weakly, he lifted a gnarled hand and waved after her.

    He looked at the hand. It was skinny, and the skin had turned brown in places. It did not tremble, however. Once it had been able to support his whole body weight easily. It could still crush tangerines, however. It had been able to defuse bombs without tools. It could still procure coins from behind ears, however. It was a good hand, Hans thought. It might be older than it had been, but it wasn't "old".

    Hans felt his thoughts turn towards the past again, but he was thankfully distracted by the appearance of Kit and Kat, the Ghostly Twins. They painstakingly crossed the room, as silent as they'd always been, their skin white as flour, their malformed heads bobbing fore and aft. As he watched them approach, Hans couldn't help but notice his surroundings.

    He saw the linoleum floor (for ease of cleaning), the adamantine chairs and tables (complete with scratchmarks from a certain bad-tempered resident), the walls made of lead (for privacy reasons), the surveillance cameras with their malevolently blinking red eye (for circumventing said privacy), the multi-functional sprinkler system (capable of emitting various gases, liquids, and alien substances as well as sonic waves), and the smell of stale urine permeating everything (thanks to several residents who had found new uses for the phrase "Super Beam").

    Hans had been here for five years now, and the moments when he saw the Home like that were getting scarcer every day. Some day, he hoped, he'd simply not notice anymore. It was the only way not to despair. He turned his attention back on the Twins.

    They'd almost reached his table now. Looking at them, Hans felt affection flooding through him, warming him. The Ghostly Twins had been his friends for almost half a century now; together with Woodwhiskers and the Invisible Stalker, they'd formed the Hand, one of the lesser know superhero teams around. Their moniker had been a play on his name, as he'd been their leader and spokesperson.

    The Twins had finally reached him, and sat at the table.

    "How are you guys?" They swayed their heads sideways.

    "I'm sorry to hear that. Is anybody up for a game of chess? Kit? Kat?" Both shook their heads.

    "You're just scared of losing." Nodding.

    "It doesn't matter. I'm glad to see you, anyway. Where have you guys been all day? Chasing the nurses again?" They looked at him silently, their heads tittering. Whether of age or amusement, Hans could not say.

    "I'll take that as a yes." He smiled. "You've never been able to keep your hormones in check, have you? I still remember how you almost fell for Tentacular." They shook their heads vehemently now, but Hans was lost in his memories.

    "Tentacular..."

    ---

    "I looked on as the Ghostly Twins and Woodwhiskers were in its tentaculous grasp, and for the only time in my life, I was afraid." Hans made a pause and leaned forward, regarding his audience with his good eye. Dick was drooling again, and Sue looked at him with wide eyes and an open mouth, totally enraptured, as if she'd head the story for the first time. That's why Hans loved to talk to these two - he could tell them the same story over and over, and they'd forget it just as quick. And he loved to tell that story.

    "This beastly abomination was strong, intelligent, and clearly did not hesitate to kill. Only the Invisible Stalker and me were still around to fight. And I couldn't signal the Stalker, or I'd give away her position. Suddenly, I had an idea..."

    "How'd you know where she was?"

    Hans inwardly cursed. Life in the Home could be good, if it wasn't for Him, his curse, arrogant bastard that he was. As He swung himself into a chair next to him, Hans watched Dick and Sue turning towards him, their eyes lighting up. Oh, how he hated Him.

    Forcing a smile on his face, Hans said, "Good evening, Clark."

    "I've told you a hundred times already, Emmy. Call me Supes." Clark Kent had aged with dignity. Despite being almost eighty years old, he still had an athlete's built, a dazzling smile of his own teeth, and a spandex costume that fit him tightly and snugly. At least his full, black hair was a wig; Clark was almost completely bald. Still, he looked great for his age, and the worst thing was, he knew it.

    "As you very well know - Clark - I like to call people by their real name." Hans took a deep breath. His doctor had warned him to avoid excitement. Well, he wasn't excited to see Clark, anyway.

    "But Clark is not - forget it." Clark waved his hand dismissively, only to flash his smile again and point a finger towards Hans. "What's a name among friends, eh?"

    "You were saying?" Hans had to force himself to keep civil. It would not do to attack Clark. In his age, broken wrists didn't heal as easily as they used to.

    "Huh?" He really shared a vocabulary with Laura Underwood, probably literally. Hans could see him not using specific words because "Laura uses them today." That thought brought a smile to his lips. He might be inferior to Superman in most ways, but he was still smarter than he'd ever be.

    "Oh, yeah. How did you know where she was? I mean, she's invisible, isn't she?"

    "I... simply knew." Great. Now he was trying to make him look stupid.

    "Could you see her?"

    "No."

    "So you heard her?"

    "No, I didn't."

    "Then how'd you know?"

    He'd had enough. "It's my power, Clark!"

    "Knowing is your power?" The bastard grinned. He knew exactly what he was doing.

    "Yes, Clark. Knowing, extrapolating, foreseeing, guessing, outmaneuvering - I'm cunning, damn it!"

    "So your cunning business strategies led you to have what? One guest appearance in Aquaman? As opposed to several movies, comic and TV series, merchandising, and of course, memorials?"

    Hans stood up and left Dick and Sue with the still-grinning Clark. He hated that bastard. Of course, Hans had brought his enmity upon himself. If only he hadn't put kryptonite into Clark's breakfast. At least, he should have used the green kind instead of the white. Who knew there were different colors?

    Hans still remembered Clark's look as he put it off as a harmless joke. What had seemed like Hell to him before had only intensified tenfold afterwards, as Clark had made it a personal goal of his to embarrass Hans.

    Hans had to distract himself, so he went to the media room to watch TV. He decided against using one of the personal TV sets and simply sat down next to Tony in front of the big plasma screen. Tony was breathing laboriously, as always, and was watching Fox, as always. Hans simply nodded at him as a way of greeting. Tony didn't react. As always. The news was on.

    "...as the town is getting ready to celebrate America's greatest hero's eightieth birthday, Superman himself seemed to be genuinely ashamed of all the publicity."

    Life was not fair. Hans almost screamed in frustration. Massaging his temples, he contemplated whether he should rather kill himself or try and find green kryptonite.

    "Perhaps on e-bay?" he murmured, as the scene changed and a young woman reported from a fashion exhibition.

    "The exhibition's greatest discovery, however, has to be Yelena Vuckovich, a sixteen year old girl from Croatia. Yelena took the scene yesterday to standing ovations as she presented her Nouveau Chapeau line of hats."

    Hans simply stared at the screen, unbelieving. He didn't hear the rest of the report. Everything ceased to exist except for that picture of the young designer walking on stage, smiling, waving to the crowd, wiping a tear away. Impossible.

    "Impossible," he said. But there it was, right on the screen. Or at least it had been right there, before the topic had turned to the upcoming election. Tentacular was back.

    ---

    Hans used the rest of the evening for research. He still couldn't understand how his old enemy might have returned. The Superwar had killed all supervillains or sent them off to a parallel dimension. The good guys had won. That had been over thirty years ago, but the memory still hurt. The Hand had only been allowed to play a very minor part in the war. Of course, they'd all survived, and Hans knew they'd likely been obliterated by any of the more powerful villains had they been in the heat of the battle. Still, it would have been a hero's death.

    And now, of the forty-three superheroes that had survived the war, only 26 were still alive, and most of them had enough problems remembering their names or holding their dinner. Hans was one of the few who remained lucid and healthy enough to lead a reasonably good life. The only one who might be capable of still taking the mantle of a hero was...

    "No. I must do it without him." On top of his notes, he wrote "No Clark!" in big, red letters. It felt good.

    ---

    The next day, Hans resolved to put the Hand back together. This might be their chance to show the world they were the heroes he always knew they'd been. In the end, it wasn't important how Tentacular had survived, only that it was back. And he would stop it again.

    He found the Twins in the meeting room, moving towards the kitchen door.

    "My friends, the time has come for us to reassemble," he greeted them. They tilted their heads together.

    "Yes, you heard correctly. The world is in peril again. Tentacular is back." They regarded him solemnly, their heads motionless except for the constant tittering.

    "What do you say, friends? Shall we fight together once more, for the good of the people?" The Twins slowly shook their heads.

    "But..." Hans did not finish his plea. He thought about how slow they had become, these former master acrobats, and had to admit they would be of no use in a fight anymore. He'd disregarded the truth in lieu of their friendship, but they were right to decline.

    A nurse passed them, and the Twins began to chase her. The nurse pretended to flee from them, even though she could have outpaced them by walking briskly. This was their place now. Hans felt a lump form in his throat, and he cried a single tear for what his friends had become.

    His next stop was the garden. The Wayne Foundation had been very generous in their construction of the Home. A vast outdoor area formed what was called the "garden": a large meadow, a deep pond, and even a small wood. Hans waved over to where Hank lay on the grass enjoying the warm spring morning, and walked into the woods.

    He hadn't come here for a long time. At first, Hans had visited his friend almost daily, but when the mutant they'd only known as Woodwhiskers had never shown any reaction to his presence, the visits had soon become more and more infrequent. Hans was surprised how well he remembered the way. Soon, he stood in front of his old comrade-in-arms.

    Woodwhiskers resembled a man, but only in shape and size. In all other regards, he looked like a tree. And in his heyday, he had been as strong as a tree. Hans didn't know whether Woodwhiskers was still aware of his surroundings, or capable of uprooting himself, but he had to try.

    And he tried. He asked, he cajoled, and he ordered, but Woodwhiskers did not move. Hans pushed against the strong bark, but nothing happened. By all accounts, his friend was a tree.

    "At least wiggle with a twig so that I know that you can hear me." Nothing.

    Hans wondered whether maybe Woodwhiskers had died, and simply left this wooded shell behind. It made no difference. He was as lost to the Hand as the Ghostly Twins were.

    Hans walked back towards the Home, but after a few steps he turned around for a final time. Woodwhiskers stood motionless in his place.

    "Goodbye, my friend."

    Hans made his way back, and went up to his room. Lying on the bed, he closed his eyes. He was alone, and he alone had never been enough. If only the Invisible Stalker had been still alive, but a car had run her over nine years ago. He missed Kathryn's support, now more than ever. For the first time, he really felt alone. He had nobody to go to with his doubts, and nobody who would stand beside him.

    "The bane of growing old," he said. His friends were dead or senile, his body slowly fell apart, and nobody would remember him after his death. Superheroes couldn't afford families, and the public had other heroes to cheer. Perhaps it would be best if he simply closed his eyes and waited for death to come.

    He closed his eyes, and waited. After a few moments, Hans opened his eyes again. While he waited, he might as well watch TV.

    Tony breathed laboriously, watched Fox, and did not respond to his greeting. The news was on.

    "Security measures are increased as the Springtime Fashion Show prepares for President Clinton's arrival tomorrow, but today belonged to the new fashion sensation Yelena Vuckovich..."

    Hans stormed into the garden, where he gave way to his frustration, shouting curses at the sky. What was he to do now? He couldn't stop Tentacular himself, but nobody seemed to recognize it, either. If he could not fight it, at least he had to warn somebody. But who would believe him? No, there was only one person whom they'd surely believe, one person who might be able to defeat Tentacular.

    For a moment, he considered doing nothing. But his sense of responsibility took over quickly.

    ---

    Laura Underwood had returned, together with her photographer - still sweating - to produce a cover story about Superman. Clark had sprawled on the bed, and Laura sat on the edge of the mattress, looking like a cross between therapist and lover with her casual outfit and the notebook in her hand.

    Hans felt immediately jealous of him, for the first time really recognizing his jealousy for what it was. Clark had everything he'd always lacked. And now he'd get the fame for defeating the world's last supervillain, as well.

    "Well, well, Emmy, come in," Clark said to him. Turning to the reporter, he added, "Laura, may I introduce you to the Emerald Fox? Emmy is a... hero, for lack of a better term."

    "Just like you are, Supes," she said, not even glancing in Hans' direction.

    "Not like me, no," Clark grinned, "but who is?" They both laughed. When the photographer joined in, they broke off. Hans rolled his eyes, but he had to tell him.

    "I've got a problem, Supes," he said, hoping Clark noticed the subtle hint. Indeed, the spandex-clad senior sat up, and smiled reassuringly.

    "What is it, Emmy?"

    "I..." Hans couldn't believe how hard it was to form the words. "You know about Tentacular?"

    "Is that the story you're always telling?" He turned to Laura. "You see, Emmy likes to tell this story, and..."

    "Yes, that one. It's back. Not the story, but the creature. The villain."

    "Tentacular?" Now they all looked at Hans, but more like one would look at a green elephant walking a rope.

    "Yes," he said slowly, carefully. "The parasite Tentacular, one of the greatest dangers I have ever met."

    "And you want me to...?" Clark wondered, lifting one brow.

    "Fight it. Warn the authorities. Whatever. Just stop it from taking over the president."

    Clark nodded solemnly, and looked at him with fake sincerity.

    "Of course. I will do that. I'm sure you're not trying to paint me for a fool, nor have you seen hallucinations. Three decades after the Superwar, I believe you when you tell me you've seen a tentacled parasite, even if nobody else has seen it."

    "It has disguised itself as a hat. It was on Fox News."

    "It has disguised itself as a hat, and you saw it on TV. Sure," Clark said, turning back towards the reporter. "You were saying?"

    Hans clenched his fists and stormed off. He could hear Clark laughing, and calling after him.

    "How did you defeat Tentacular again? It seems you never told me the story..."

    Back in his room, Hans took several deep breaths before he could think clearly again. His heart hammered almost painfully in his chest. After a few minutes, he had calmed down sufficiently to consider his options.

    Clark hadn't believed him. He would do nothing. The President of the United States would be taken over by a parasite, but Superman would sit idly by and do nothing. And Hans himself could do nothing. He was just an old man. Granted, he still had a cunning mind, but how would that help him? Tentacular had three powerful tentacles and a dangerous beak. Its mouth lay hidden by the tentacles, save for a small hole. In order to paralyze it, you had to put iron into this hole. There was no way...

    Or was there? As a plan began to form in Hans mind, he briefly considered staying in his room and doing nothing. Let Tentacular take over President Clinton. Hans hadn't voted for her, anyway. In fact, he'd never voted in his whole life. He would likely meet his death when he faced the creature, should he really risk it for a politician?

    He had already pulled his costume out of his closet before he admitted to himself that he really had no choice. A one-fingered hand couldn't make a fist, but it might still poke your eye out. Smiling, Hans changed outfits and resolved to poke with all his might.

    On his way out, he passed a nurse.

    "Mr. MacManus?" she asked, staring at him. Hans shook his head.

    "Emerald Fox," he said.

    He left the building just as his cab arrived at the front door.

    "To the Fashion Show," he said. To the rescue, he thought.

    ---

    The blocks around Groening Exhibition Hall had been closed to traffic. Hans had thanked the driver and now made his way through the streets on foot. His costume didn't fit as tight as it used to, one of its ears had a bend, and the shorts scratched in all the wrong places. Still, Hans had never felt so good in the last five years.

    He passed the security guards without problems, although he saw one of them circling his index finger towards his temple.

    "Haute couture," the guard said, rolling his eyes.

    Backstage, Hans approached a man who busily talked into a headset. The man froze in his tracks as he saw the costumed hero walk up to him.

    "Miss Vuckovich's dressing room?" he asked. The man simply pointed down a flight of stairs. Hans thanked him, and then continued on his way. He could feel the man's stare in his back for a moment, but then he resumed talking.

    Finally, Hans had found her room. Yelena Vuckovich hadn't been known at all before this show, so she had been given a room far away from the stage or the models' dressing hall. Hans stood in front of the door for a moment, and then knocked.

    "She's not here," a female voice said from behind him. Hans turned around to see an assistant something carry a bunch of flowers.

    "She's already in meeting room 2, preparing for the President. It seems Miss Clinton wanted to see her personally."

    ---

    Hans opened the door to the meeting room, standing in the open doorway for a few moments. The room beyond was large enough to hold twenty people comfortably. A large table with a dozen chairs dominated the center of the room. A small plate of soft drinks stood on a cupboard to the side. At the far end of the table sat Yelena Vuckovich. Tentacular sat on her head, motionless as a hat. For a moment, Hans wondered whether he had been wrong, but then Yelena opened her mouth and spoke.

    "So, the human finds me again?" Yelena spoke, but it was Tentacular's voice. The voice was shrill, and yet not without allure. Without wearing the parasite, however, it had no power over people.

    "You have let yourself be found," Hans said with as much menace in his voice as he could muster.

    "Silly human. Does he think I care for his arrival? Nobody believes human, and I dispatch him easily."

    "Dispatch me, and the guards will never let the President close enough to wear you." A slurping noise emanated from the parasite's beak. Hans recognized it as laughter.

    "Funny. Human thinks I want to take over important human, and rule? Has human not learned from last time? I dispatch human, and important human. I dispatch every human in this building, and then I hide. I can wait. I have time. I don't grow old. Not like human."

    "I have defeated you once, I will defeat you again, Tentacular." The parasite laughed - slurped - again.

    "Tentacular, yes. That is the name human gives me. I always like it. But why talk? Does human hope to live longer? He does not defeat me. This time, he is alone."

    "Am I?" With that, Hans jumped on the table and ran towards Tentacular. Yelena stood up, and the hat came to life. Three barbed tentacles whirled through the air, two slashing at him, and the last one coiling around his waist, cutting him in a hundred places at once. The tentacle lifted him up like a doll.

    "Fight is over." Hans fought against losing consciousness, forcing a smile on his bloodied lips, forcing himself to speak.

    "Not... yet... Sue, Kathryn - Now!"

    It was a bluff, and not a good one at that. But Tentacular remembered how almost forty years ago, the Invisible Stalker had shoved an iron spike into its body, and reacted instantly. The two empty tentacles lashed out blindly, while it pulled the third tentacle in. It was all the chance Hans would get. It was all the chance he needed.

    Closing his eyes against the pain, Hans bit his tongue off. Immediately, blood spurted filled his mouth. Hans aimed for the opening in the midst of the tentacles, and spit. A huge gob of blood flew forth, splattering Yelena's head, but a good part of it hit the hole and poured into the parasite's mouth.

    Tentacular shuddered.

    "What does human do?"

    "Iron... in blood," Hans said. Blood was still flowing freely from his mouth, and he couldn't pronounce the words correctly any more.

    "It won't... work instantly... but it... will... work." Tentacular screamed in rage. Its empty tentacles thrashed the room, while it drew Hans close to its beak.

    "For that, I dispatch human."

    Hans smiled, coughed, and smiled again.

    "I figured... you would..."

    ---

    The media room at Bruce Wayne Memorial Home for Senior Citizens with Superhuman Abilities was packed. Residents, nurses, and quite a few reporters sat or stood in front of the big TV screen. The last missing resident entered the room just as the special report began.

    "Hey, guys," Clark said, waiting for the heads to turn around. As the assembly continued to watch the screen, he shrugged, and pushed through the crowd. He lifted a wide-eyed Sue from her place next to Tony and sat down.

    "Hey, Tony. My birthday parade will be next month, so what are all of you watching?" Tony turned to him and put a bony finger on his lips.

    "Shh."

    "Oh, right. Sorry." Clark flashed his smile and concentrated on the screen. The camera showed several scenes from different cities, but they all showed the same object in the center of the picture. It was a giant hand, six feet tall, made entirely from iron.

    "Thousands of people congregated into their state capital today as at noon Easter time, 51 identical memorials were unveiled. The giant hand is a replica of Hans MacManus' right hand. MacManus was better known as Emerald Fox, the leader of the Hand, who just a few weeks ago saved America from the last surviving supervillain. MacManus died in the battle.
    In a press release, President Clinton dedicated the memorials to all the unknown heroes of our time, with or without superhuman abilities. "When Superman won't help," she said, "we may have to rely on men - and women - to do the job." From Washington DC, this is Laura Underwood."


    The TV screen went black, and for a moment, silent reigned in the room.

    "Emmy," Clark said. "He was a good guy. Did I mention that he bought me a birthday gift? From e-bay, wrapped in lead. I wonder what it is?"

    The END
    P-Pricken.de

    "I desperately needed to go throw up, but I was so busy reading your story I made myself wait until I was done reading it" Sialia

    Read my stories (PDF):
    Gwen / One Hour Later, Three Days Ago / Cold Fish / Indian Summer / Disillusionment / Rememberance / For Lack of a Better Term / The Hunt / The Second Coming (AU-Serial)
    "Berandor, what a beautiful story. It made me cry at the end." Eeralai on "Rememberance"

    Disclaimer 1: Above all, I am a very silly man. So if a statement of mine can be construed as joke - especially if it's not funny - it likely is.
    Disclaimer 2: I am also opinionated, so when not joking I am still voicing my opinion. Except when I am stating facts.

  • #469
    Cutting it mightily close here - and already seeing a spelling error. Oh, well.
    P-Pricken.de

    "I desperately needed to go throw up, but I was so busy reading your story I made myself wait until I was done reading it" Sialia

    Read my stories (PDF):
    Gwen / One Hour Later, Three Days Ago / Cold Fish / Indian Summer / Disillusionment / Rememberance / For Lack of a Better Term / The Hunt / The Second Coming (AU-Serial)
    "Berandor, what a beautiful story. It made me cry at the end." Eeralai on "Rememberance"

    Disclaimer 1: Above all, I am a very silly man. So if a statement of mine can be construed as joke - especially if it's not funny - it likely is.
    Disclaimer 2: I am also opinionated, so when not joking I am still voicing my opinion. Except when I am stating facts.

  • #470


    The Life and Death of John Chrysanthemum, Superhero



    Captain Chrysanthemum was never a particularly important superhero. He was not part of the team that stopped Dr. Colossal from destroying the city, nor was he among the coalition members that sent the Beryllians running back to their home world with their tails between their tentacles. No, for the past thirty years he had spent most of his days in the park, entangling pickpockets and politely asking passers-by not to trample the flowers. It was good, respectable work for a superhero whose only power was to rapidly accelerate the growth of plants.



    For John Chrysanthemum, today was much like any other day. He woke up at precisely 6:15, staggered to the bathroom, took a shower, brushed his teeth, staggered to the kitchen, ate a bowl of oatmeal, drank a cup of coffee, staggered to the bedroom, combed his hair, and stuffed himself into his uniform.



    He looked at himself in the mirror. Green boots and shorts framed muscular legs; green suspenders showed off his tight, flat stomach and crossed in the center of his powerful chest; a silver collar sat atop broad shoulders, while a silver cape and horned, green mask rounded out the ensemble.



    He smiled as he patted his taught stomach, and admired his broad chest; he looked eminently heroic. He could only hold his breath for so long, though, and when he exhaled, his high-school wrestler body dissolved into that of an aging superhero who didn't get enough exercise. He frowned. "You're not getting any younger, John," he said with a sigh. As he shook his head, one of the horns flopped in the middle. He tried to prop it back up, but it just flopped over again.



    "Maybe it's time for a new costume," he thought, "One without a cape."



    ***



    The Hall of Heroes stood at the east end of the park. Every day, while the important superheroes were out saving the world or stopping supervillains, John was stopping crime in their own backyard. Some days, he was amused by the irony. Other days, like today, it was merely frustrating. He had tried to join the group a number of times. When the Beryllian invasion was being repelled, he took the time to learn the alien race's unique sign language in the hope of being admitted.



    "John," Captain Fantastic had told him, "Leave the real superhero stuff to us."



    When Dr. Colossal had threatened the city, he volunteered again. That time, Captain Stupendous, Fantastic's son, had been less patronizing, but still firm in his rejection.



    "s," John muttered. He turned his attention back to a patch of daisies that he was tending. He carefully touched each flower, and watched as they grew and blossomed under his care. He smiled, and gingerly stood up, trying not to make his knees creek too much along the way.



    Then, suddenly, he heard a screech come from off in the distance. "Ah hell," he muttered, and took off running. He ran across the park, past the hot dog vendors, the musicians, and the fountain before he spotted a crying, elderly woman.



    She looked at him hopefully, then pointed at a young man who was racing toward the park entrance at a sprint.



    "Not in my park, buddy," he muttered under his breath as he pointed toward the grass in front of the man. It sprouted and twisted around the man's ankles, sending him sprawling. Once he was on the ground, John pointed again, and spiny weeds erupted from the ground, pinning the pickpocket's limbs.



    After catching his breath, John pulled out his cellphone and dialed 911. "Hello, this is Captain Chrysanthemum. I've just apprehended a pickpocket."



    ***



    John discovered his powers in the autumn of his sixteenth year. Although he spent most of his childhood outside, he had never felt any particular connection to the natural world, so when he took the shortcut through the woods to his friend Chester's house, he paid little attention to the forest around him.



    The sky was grey and overcast, and a bitter wind whipped through the trees, sending the dried leaves scurrying along the path, searching for shelter. He turned up his collar and quickened his pace, eager to be out of the chill air and in front of a warm dinner. As he began to descend the final hill, he heard a loud snap, and looked up just in time to see a branch plummeting toward him. He dived forward out of the way, but caught his foot on a tree root and tripped, sending him tumbling down the hill.



    He rolled and bounced down the path, crashing through the underbrush and banging his limbs against trees and rocks, before coming to a stop at the bottom. Unfortunately, his last bounce turned him in such a way that he landed directly on the back of his neck. He heard a snap, hoped that it was a branch, and then the world went black.



    Images and sensations faded in and out as he lay on the cold, leaf-covered ground: the trees swayed overhead in the breeze, a squirrel chattered noisily off to the side, and leaves danced across his chest and face.



    Then, as his vision faded in again, a figure emerged from behind a tree. It was shaped like a man, but moved with a stiff gait. It walked slowly toward John, creaking like the wind-blown trees with every step. John's vision was blurry, but he could swear that it looked like it was made of wood. Moreover, it looked like its arms and torso were covered in some sort of fungus. As it ambled through the woods toward him, every branch it brushed against burst into bloom, and flowers erupted from the ground where it stepped.



    John tried to move, tried to sit up, but found that he couldn't. His arms and legs simply refused to listen, and any attempt to will them to move caused his vision to black out. The creature, whatever it was, finally reached him, and bent down, creaking and groaning all the while. Its head was shaped like an inverted tree stump and its breath was warm and earthy. John thought he detected a face carved into the stump through his hazy vision, but couldn't be sure. He thought about screaming, but the presence of the creature filled him with a great sense of comfort.



    Then it placed its hands on his chest, and he could instantly feel energy coursing through him. Warm, green power flowed through his veins and back into the earth, repairing him, mending his broken bones, and patching his internal organs. The creature emitted a musty sigh, and collapsed, crumbling into dirt.



    By the time John was able to sit up, all that was left of the creature was a pile of fresh, fragrant loam. He shook his head to try to clear the fuzziness from his mind, and then stood up on wobbly legs. As he staggered down the path, he felt different somehow. As the world became clearer, he realized that he could see the green energy flow through the forest around him. Fountains of it bubbled from the tops of holly bushes, while great pools of it gathered at the base of pine trees. For the first time in his life, he felt connected to the world around him



    ***



    John had just finished handing the pickpocket over to the police when a beautiful, young, elegantly dressed, redheaded woman tapped him on the shoulder.



    "Can I help you?" he asked as he turned.



    The girl said nothing. She simply smiled, motioned to him to follow her, and began walking away.



    "Odd," he thought to himself. "I wonder if she's one of those European models that can't speak English?"



    She led him past the hot dog vendors and musicians, past the fountain and the patch of daisies he had been caring for earlier. She said nothing - just turned and smiled at him occasionally.



    "Crap, why didn't I learn French or Russian or something?" he thought to himself.



    She led him toward the maintenance building in the far corner of the park. Once they rounded the back of the building, the girl stopped dead in her tracks. She turned and stared straight at him, the smile never fading from her face as the back of her head opened up.



    John stared in shock as a small creature climbed out. It looked like a cute little owl with a red beak, but it possessed three long, thin, feathered tentacles and a spiny tail. "Oh crap," thought John, "It's a Beryllian!"



    As creatures with neither vocal cords, nor the ability to communicate telepathically, the Beryllians had developed a complex sign language. It wiggled its tentacles at him.



    John's comprehension of the alien language was a little rusty, but he nodded his head, "Yes, I can understand you. What are you doing here?"



    Wiggle, wiggle.



    "What kind of information?" he said, suspicious. The mere presence of a Beryllian on Earth was a bad sign.



    Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.



    "Well, we fought off an invasion once, we can do it again," he said, trying to sound confident.



    Wiggle, wiggle.



    "Oh my. That's horrible."



    Wiggle.



    "You're right; I don't think we could fight off you and Dr. Colossal at the same time. How are they planning on releasing him?"



    Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.



    John gasped as the full weight of the information he was learning sunk in. If what the creature was saying was true, they would not only free Colossal, but kill a great number of heroes. "Ok, I'll communicate this to the Council of Heroes, but before I do, I have one question. Why are you telling me this?"



    The Beryllian wiggled its tentacles once more, this time at the ground in front of him. He watched as the plants at his feet burst into full bloom, growing and stretching toward the sun, and he understood.



    ***



    As John entered the Hall, he saw a young Japanese woman in a schoolgirl uniform being chased by two stylized humanoid cats. His heart jumped at the sight of her. Keiko - the name brought a smile to his face, even though she was young enough to be his daughter. "Keiko, Keiko, Keiko," he sighed to himself.



    The woman giggled when she saw him, and ducked behind him to hide from the cats. Her soft, small hands pressed against his back as she peered out at her pursuers.



    "Careful," she taunted, "If you don't behave, Captain Chrysanthemum will turn your heads into flowerpots!"



    "Maybe he'll turn our cocks into cucumbers!" retorted Neko, the cat on the left.



    "Or our balls into turnips!" quipped Neko, the cat on the right.



    John forced a smile. "No, I can't really," he trailed off. "Um," he muttered as he reached into a pocket and pulled out a small green stem. He held it in his palm, concentrated, and the stem grew, budded, and blossomed into a rose over the course of a few seconds. He offered it to Keiko.



    "For me?" she said quietly as she took the flower. "It's beautiful, John."



    "Better than a balloon animal," giggled Neko.



    "Get lost, you two!" Keiko yelled, and the cats ran off. "John, I don't know what to say," she said as she looked at him with her beautiful brown eyes.



    "It's ok. You don't have to say anything."



    "Thank you," she said, smiling, as she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek.



    He blushed, and she turned to walk away. After a few paces, she turned back, "I'd like it if you brought me more flowers, John."



    "Ok," he smiled, and then watched her walk away. After she turned the corner, he finally exhaled.



    On his way to the Council chamber, he passed the giant handprint of Dr. Colossal. At forty feet tall, the hand was both a memorial to those that had lost their lives fighting him, and a reminder that the 400 foot tall, indestructible behemoth lay in a state of suspended animation far below. He read the inscription at the base of the palm, "Never Forget," and had to wipe a tear from his eye.



    "I'm getting too old for this," he thought.



    When he reached the Council chamber, he saw Captain Stupendous about to close the doors. "Captain, wait!" he yelled, and saw Stupendous roll his eyes.



    "John, we're somewhat busy right now," Stupendous said.



    "But the Beryllians are about to invade again," John replied.



    "Yes, I know, that's why we're busy."



    "I have information about their plans, though."



    "John, we have the most sophisticated information gathering tools in the galaxy. Anything you might know, we doubtless already do."



    "But"



    "John," Stupendous interrupted. "Maybe," he paused, "Maybe you should think about retiring." Then he closed the doors, and left John Chrysanthemum standing in the hall.



    ***



    John spent the night in the park. He watched as the most powerful superheroes in the world flew off into space, as explosions lit up the night sky, and as the sun slowly rose over the top of Hall. He wasn't going to let Dr. Colossal get released, he wasn't going to let the Hall get destroyed, and he certainly wasn't going to let Keiko get killed.



    He waited, nervous that the Beryllian had been right, and nervous that it had been wrong. At a quarter 'till eleven, his stomach started growling, and he decided to get a hot dog. As he was standing in line, the hot dog vendor looked up, and pointed frantically toward the sky.



    Screaming directly toward the hall was a black missile, followed distantly by the caped figure of Captain Stupendous. "I was right, you ass," John thought to himself. He looked at the distance between the two, and realized that Stupendous would never be able to close the gap before it hit. He needed to do something quickly.



    John reached down and placed his hands on the bare earth. He could feel the green energy beneath his palms - ebbing and flowing as the earth itself drew breath. It cascaded from the tops of trees, lapped at the edge of the grass, and trickled along the cracks in the sidewalk where weeds had taken hold.



    He took a deep breath and pushed. Energy rippled out from his hands, and the blades of grass around him groaned audibly as they grew. He stopped and cursed at himself - grass tall enough to entangle a normal man certainly wasn't going to stop a direct hit from a Beryllian missile.



    He closed his eyes and tried to block out the panicked screams of those around him. "Harder," he thought to himself. His own pulse quickened as he pushed again. Energy flowed out from him, creating waves of green that crested and broke against water fountains and park benches.



    "That's not good enough, old man," he growled to himself, and then pushed again. His pulse and breath both quickened as he forced the energy inside him out into the world. This time, the waves crashed into and over each other, building on each other as they raced to the other end of the park. John could feel his pulse pounding in his ears as he gasped for breath. He didn't have much time until the missile reached the Hall, so he pushed again. This time, he felt something burst inside him, and he fell.



    He fell down, down into the green, down through the tumultuous surface into the warm comfort of the verdant sea. Above him, all was chaos. The green boiled and swelled, sending a tsunami of grass, flower, fungus, and tree careening toward their target.



    The green, fueled by Captain Chrysanthemum's anger, engulfed the Hall, forming a living, impenetrable shield. In the distance, far, far above him, there was sound, and there was fury, but down here, there was only calm and quiet. John smiled and relaxed, as he drifted farther into the great below.
    David Garrett
    Amalara
    www.amalara.com

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