Heya, people! The following is the fourth non-canon chapter for Summus Proelium, as chosen by our $5+ donators! All patrons regardless of level have access to this chapter, and it will be released to the public tomorrow.
AUTHOR'S NOTE - THOUGH THIS NON-CANON CHAPTER TAKES PLACE IN THE SUMMUS PROELIUM WORLD, THERE ARE NO REAL SPOILERS FOR THAT STORY. NO CHARACTERS FROM THAT STORY APPEAR IN THIS CHAPTER, AND IT DOES NOT TAKE PLACE IN THE SAME CITY. ONLY VERY MINOR WORLD-BUILDING INFORMATION IS GIVEN.
With a loud scream, the dark-haired woman fled from her pursuers down an empty alley. It was late enough that no one would hear her. She raced, struggling to reach the far end where it opened up to another street. Yet the woman could hear the footsteps of the three men quickly closing the gap as they laughed, hollered, and taunted her.
Another shriek filled the air. This one, however, came from above and behind the group. All three men, and the woman herself, turned reflexively just in time to see a hawk soar out of the sky. Moments before it would have crashed into the closest attacker, the bird shifted its form and became a man, whose feet slammed into the man and sent him crashing to the ground. Before the other two could recover, the newcomer caught both of their arms, spinning to hurl them off a good twenty feet to crash into the wall. The one who had been hit first lifted his pistol from the ground and fired, but the two shots seemed to do nothing to the man, who produced a green orb of light with one hand and flung it into the shooter’s face, knocking him unconscious without even looking that way.
“Oh… oh my God… oh my God, you--” the woman started, seeing the fallen figures of the men who had intended so much harm.
“Don’t worry about it,” Haiden Moon informed her in a flat voice. “In about five seconds you won’t remember the details anyway.” He stepped away from her, crouching to check on the men he’d knocked out while she stood there and gaped at him. “Human,” the man muttered under his breath. “Totally human. But what--”
“Why don’t you have a mask or a costume?” the woman quickly piped up, after he had been examining the unconscious figures for a minute.
“What?” Haiden blinked that way. He’d expected the woman to run away by now, or for the Bystander Effect to at least make her forget the details of why these men were unconscious.
“You’re Star-Touched,” she hesitantly announced. “But you don’t have a mask. Aren’t you afraid of people figuring out your identity? You--you have powers. You turned into that bird, and that forcefield--and you made--you lifted those men so easily.”
Haiden rose, turning to face her. “You remember that?” he asked sharply. “You--you’re not a Heretic. You’re not an Alter. What are you? What--are you Undocumented?”
“What?!” The woman blurted. “I’m a legal citizen, asshole! I was born here you--what--wait, that’s not what you… what?”
“What?” Haiden echoed, just as clueless. “Look, it’s been a hell of a day. I was just at home with my family and--never mind. Where the hell am I? And what’re these Touched things you’re talking about? And how the fuck do you remember what happened a minute ago?”
For a long, silent moment, both he and the woman stared at one another, before both spoke together as one.
“What the fuck is going on?”
Six Years Later
“Please, stop, please God stop!” The pleading, sobbing words were accompanied by a chorus of muffled agreement from the dozen already-gagged figures who surrounded the speaker. All of them lay in what appeared to be an unfinished basement, tied and chained to the various walls. “You don’t have to do this! Listen, listen to me, goddamnit, you don’t have to do this!”
In response to the pleas, the sole standing figure, a heavy-set man with a thick graying beard, tilted his head. His expression was almost impossible to make out in the dim light cast by the single, flickering lightbulb that hung from the ceiling. But the collected prisoners could see a glimpse of his teeth as he smiled. “Don’t have to?” His voice was almost sweet, like an elderly man speaking to a beloved grandchild. “But if I don’t, how will Maricoxi know that I’m thinking of him? How will the great and terrible god understand that I serve him if I don’t offer a sacrifice?”
This man and those who followed him (they were elsewhere in the house or had already left) were one of the so-called Abyssal Cults.
At most times, Abyssals looked like any other person. They often didn’t even remember anything about what they really were. But whenever one ran into another, two Abyssals would transform into their monster selves and attempt to kill one another, heedless of the destruction they caused. And because of their sheer power, because of the damage and death the monsters could cause, many small, scattered groups had taken to worshipping the giant monsters who plagued humanity and caused so much destruction.
In this case, their chosen ‘god’ was Maricoxi, the forty-foot-tall ape-like Abyssal who created duplicates, sometimes hundreds at a time of varying sizes, attached to any point of his body.
Before the bound figure could sputter a pleading response, the cultist casually reached down to push a gag into his mouth, securing it with a cheery whistle while the man’s muffled cries joined the rest of the assembled prisoners. “Yes, yes, I’m sure you’re very excited to be a part of this. I promise, your sacrifice will not be in vain. When Maricoxi arrives to bear witness to your suffering and demise, he will see his loyal followers, and we will spread his word. We will help to destroy his enemies and ensure he reigns supreme over the other Abyssals. The time of human superiority has faded, and we must attach ourselves to the primal beasts if we are to survive. Maricoxi is the one I and mine have chosen, and we will ensure his dominance over all.”
With that, the cultist patted the last prisoner’s face gently, his voice softening as he addressed all of the gathered, protesting soon-to-be sacrifices. “I’m very sorry that it has to be this way. I have nothing against you, truly. Given a choice, maybe we could be friends.”
He rose then, picking up a large jug of gasoline, which he began to spill over the chained prisoners while their muffled screams of protest and pleading grew into a loud din that he had to raise his voice over. “Truly, I do regret this! But I’ve seen what these beasts can do. I’ve seen that they cannot be stopped. Placating them, serving them, proving that we can be useful is the only path forward. The world has changed, and with it so must we. Our survival depends upon adaptation.”
The large jug was empty by then, the smell of gas filling the room while the man stepped away over toward the stairs. From his pocket, he produced a simple, silver lighter. “Your sacrifice will not be forgotten. When our lord rises above his enemies, this day will be remembered for--”
“Good fuck, you’re already burning them alive, do you have to torture them too?”
As that voice interrupted from behind him, the cultist spun while reflexively flinging the now-active lighter down toward the room below. Before it could reach the heavy fumes, however, the lighter was encased in a small glowing forcefield the size of a baseball. It hovered there, trapped in midair even as the muffled screams of horror that had risen when the thing was flung died down into a din of confusion. The bound prisoners had no idea what was going on, and didn’t dare be hopeful that their situation had improved at all. Not with the smell of gas still choking their breaths and the flame from that lighter visible through the orb-shaped forcefield.
Meanwhile, the yammering cultist had spun around to look toward the voice. He caught a bare glimpse of a figure standing above him higher up the stairs before a foot lashed out. It caught him in the face, sending the man pitching backwards with a cry to land on the cement floor in the midst of his would-be victims.
“I mean honestly,” Haiden announced while coming down the rest of the stairs, “yap, yap, yap, has anyone ever told you cultist fucks that if you devoted half the hot air you’re spewing to something useful, you could inflate a goddamn zeppelin and fly to your wannabe god?”
Standing above the fallen man, and all the imprisoned would-be sacrifices, Haiden knew what kind of image he was giving off. Through the glow of the nearby small forcefield combined with the flickering lightbulb, the gathered people would see a man in a dark green, almost black bodysuit covered by slightly darker armor panels. He wore black gloves and boots, his face entirely obscured by a dark cowl mask shaped like the head of a bird of prey. A long, flowing cloak completed the look he was going for, a look that ensured people remembered him.
“Y-you, it’s--you blaspheme our rulers!” the fallen man blurted. His hand was already moving to grab the revolver from its holster on his hip. “Your death will summon his holy--” A second forcefield encased the pistol, tearing it from the man’s grip before he could pull the trigger.
“Yeah,” Haiden dryly informed him, “much as I’d almost love to see what would happen to you if you fired that gun with all the fumes in here, I actually give a shit what happens to the rest of these people.” With that, he summoned the forcefield to him, taking the gun, emptying the cylinder, and tossing it aside. Then he strode forward, reaching down to grab the cultist by the shirt collar before hauling him to his feet. “You know why none of your friends have come running? Cuz they’ve already been dealt with. You’re the last one. And do you know what I don’t hear?” Literally holding the other man off the ground with one hand so casually that he might as well have been holding an infant, Haiden cocked his head as though waiting for a response. “I don’t hear your god coming to save you. Huh. Guess he doesn’t give a shit.”
Tightening his grip, Haiden yanked the man closer. His voice was a low snarl. “There’s a lot I wanna do to you. A lot you deserve. But honestly? I don’t feel like traumatizing these people any worse than you’ve already managed.” With that, he brought his free hand up, slamming his fist into the side of the protesting, sputtering man’s head. As the figure fell limp, Haiden dropped him with a muttered curse.
With that done, he moved to start freeing the prisoners. “Try not to breathe too deep,” he advised while casually snapping the chains that held them to the walls and ripping the rest of their bonds. “Go up the stairs, turn left, out the front door. Go, go. You’re fine.” One by one, he worked his way down the line, freeing all the people while they quickly fled the way he had advised. Some took the time to thank him, though most simply ran. Not that he could blame them.
Finally, they were all gone. All save for Haiden and the main cultist. Left alone, Haiden stood there, staring down at the man who had just started to come around from his brief bout of unconsciousness. “You know, if it was my choice, I’d finish this right here.” Haiden’s voice was dark and low. “I’d put my foot down like this.” In demonstration, he put his boot against the man’s throat. “Just stomp a little bit and twist. Snap your neck and make sure you never hurt anyone again. But the people around here, they play by different rules than I’m used to. If I went around killing everyone who really deserved it, they’d see me as their enemy. And I don’t particularly want to fight people who are just trying to be superheroes. They’re good people. So I’ll play by their rules. You know, whenever I can. But let me tell you something.” His foot pressed down just a bit harder, cutting off the man’s air completely. With a very simple, slight twist, he could have snapped that neck. “If this system fails, I’ll pick up the slack. I find out you coasted on a technicality, escaped, hurt anyone else? I’ll come find you. And then, I promise, there won’t be any witnesses.”
He didn’t wait for any response from the man, because there was no point to listening to one. He wouldn’t have believed anything that the piece of shit said. All that mattered was that the man had heard his promise and would remember it in the future. So, without another word, he lashed out with a foot to kick the cultist’s face, rendering him unconscious once more.
By that point, the sound of sirens was rapidly growing louder as the local cops began to arrive. Taking one last look around, Haiden focused on his short-range teleportation power. It sent him out of the building and into the backyard, away from where the newly-freed prisoners had assembled. He could hear them muttering and talking to each other, worrying about where he was and whether the police would get there soon. A few thought they should go in and help in case the cultist leader had managed to overwhelm him, and Haiden tensed briefly as he readied to stop them just in case. But they were still discussing it as the authorities actually arrived.
Once that happened and it was clear the police had the situation well in hand, Haiden turned away from the house as his body began to shift and shrink. Just as the lights from several cops coming around to the back of the house lit up the space where he had been, the man was no longer there. He was already flapping hard to soar up into the sky in the shape of his hawk form. Behind him, Haiden could hear the sound of the police knocking in the doors and breaching the house. They would find all the cultists inside, unconscious and arranged for them, along with the evidence that would be necessary to prove everything that they’d planned to do with their would-be sacrifices.
They could take the situation from there. For now, he had places to go and people to see. Or rather, an orb to see.
Once he was several miles away, Haiden landed on a roof and transformed back to his normal self as soon as he was certain the coast was clear. This world, so like his own and yet so different. There were no Alters (or Strangers, as his old friends would have called them) here. Only humans. And yet humans with powers, thanks to a certain special little ball that seemed to show up randomly, speak Latin at them, and grant them powers.
Yeah, Latin. Specifically, it said the phrase ‘Summus Proelium.’ Which, of course, happened to be the name of the project that had given Haiden’s wife and the rest of the Olympians their powers. He’d been suspicious, to say the least, as soon as he heard of about that from the woman he’d saved that first night. The woman, whose name was Jamie, had been a huge boon. Convinced that he’d somehow been given amnesia along with his powers when he was ‘Touched’, she’d helped him get along in this new world.
And there was a lot she’d had to help him with. From the moment he’d arrived here, Haiden had been lost in so many ways. It was a huge adjustment. One minute, he’d been working to stop that Puriel bastard from attacking his family (not that he’d had much of a chance against the man who had been Zeus), and the next minute, the orb in the man’s hand had been shattered and Haiden found himself waking up on a completely different, yet achingly similar Earth.
This place was such a strange copy of his own world. It was a place with no magic, no Heretics, no Alters, a place of nothing but humans. And yet everything had progressed almost identically to the way things happened on his world. How was that even possible? How could events that he knew for a fact had involved non-humans and magic just… happen anyway? And people he knew had been Heretics simply weren’t in this world. How--how could that even slightly work?
He’d been so confused, so lost. He still was, in some ways, but through his first few months things had been much worse. He’d been frantic to find a way home, a way to his children whose… whose names he couldn’t remember. And to a wife whose name had also been lost to him despite the fact that he still remembered her face.
And her voice. He remembered her voice. It was the same voice the people of this world heard when that magical orb appeared, spoke the words ‘Summus Proelium’, and gifted them their powers. It was her voice. That much he had been completely certain of from the moment the orb itself had appeared next to him when he’d stood in an alley several weeks after his first arrival.
The orb had appeared, he’d heard that voice, and it took him to some other, dream-like world to show him images of his life. He saw his children, saw his sister, saw his wife, he saw so many things. Was it Tartarus? The orb had some connection to that place, it had to. It was giving the people of this world powers and abilities similar to the way the Olympians had received their own, yet with obvious differences.
What was this orb? Why did it speak with his wife’s voice? Why was it giving people of this world Tartarus gifts? Where had this world come from? How did it exist and how was it so similar to his own despite all the incredibly major differences? He’d had so many questions.
In the years that had passed since those first few weeks, Haiden hadn’t gotten any closer to finding a way home. And he still had a lot of questions, though a few had been answered. Mostly thanks to repeated visits from the orb itself, which had begun to visit him several times a month. Always on the same days at the same time. No matter where he was, the orb would appear to him on the sixth, the eighteenth, and the twenty-seventh of every month. Usually at the same time on that day, though she would wait until he was alone before appearing.
She. At some point within these years he’d stopped thinking of the orb as an it and shifted to thinking of her as female. He wasn’t precisely sure why, aside from it seeming to be what the orb herself wanted. He’d even thought of a name to call her, given she produced powers for both good and evil people. Pandora. He thought of the orb as Pandora, and as good as it was to have Jamie to talk to, Pandora was the closest thing to a full confidant as he had in this world.
Oh, he trusted Jamie, of course. She was a very good friend (and only a friend). But telling her the full truth about where he came from, that was too much, even for her. As far as she was concerned, he was just a guy who had lost his memory and identity. And probably had some bad people looking for him.
Either way, no one knew the truth. No one in this world really knew where Haiden came from. Not that most even knew him as Haiden, of course. The public of this world knew him as Veilwing.
Yeah, Veilwing. It was the best he could come up with in this world where if you had powers, you were known as a Touched, a superhero (or villain). That had been quite a wake-up call for him to find out that the Bystander Effect wasn’t a thing here. Everything he did, people remembered. So he had to be careful about what powers he openly used, to maintain the idea that he only had a few semi-related gifts. Forcefields, strength, and his bird form were what he used most of the time, though he did maintain two other identities using different powers that he could pull out if he needed to.
Standing on the roof, Haiden heard Pandora’s arrival, the soft ding as the orb announced herself. Turning that way, he pulled off his glove and extended a hand, waiting for the glowing ball to float over and land in his palm. She almost seemed to coo a bit, snuggling down against his bare hand.
“Hey, little goddess,” Haiden murmured, moving his other hand to brush over the glowing white symbols along the pulsing blue orb. “Don’t suppose you’ve had any more luck trying to figure out how to get back to your mother, huh?”
Yes, in these years, Haiden had, thanks to an elaborate game of what amounted to charades or Pictionary played over the course of many visits, figured out that his wife had been the one who made this orb. Somehow, she’d created Pandora. Which made her the orb’s mother, simple as that.
He’d done his best to try to explain why giving bad people powers was a bad idea, but he was never sure exactly how much the orb understood. Sometimes she seemed to follow him completely, and other times she seemed to have no idea what he was talking about. Trying to learn anything from her at all was even more complicated because she never ‘explained’ anything directly. She showed images, projected ideas. And she didn’t do it in order. To get a full story out of her, he had to wait until she visited him several times, projecting different sets of images, and then rearrange them into an order that made sense.
It was incredibly complicated, but they had something of a system going.
As usual, the orb made a soft, almost mournful chiming sound when he asked if she’d found a way to get back to his own world.
“It’s okay, Pan,” he assured her, gently brushing his finger along the glowing ball. “We’ll get there. You and me, we’ll find a way to get home.
“And we’ll rescue our family.”
Now I'm Just Picturing A Scene With Haiden Fighting Himself As Two Different Identities Using Darkness, Cover, And Quick-Change Techniques Before Just Sitting In Another Room Calling Out Threats And Heroic Banter.
If You Think Haiden Trying To Explain His Full Situation To Jamie Sounds Amusing, Imagine Pandorba Showing Up To Help.