SimRico: I think she thinks she has eyes on everything.
Schulmanator: Totally, dude. I think I've found my protagonist!
PREVIOUSLY on The Best Defense: Hoshi-Hime is under Naruki's spell, and is now working with Morning Angel! Morning Angel has her eyes set on a perfect reality, and now she's padding her team with extra muscle to further her cause. Oh, and all those other supervillains who were able to escape The Mines, they're out there, too...
Titus stood at Mizu-no-Hime's shoulder and peered the information on the computer screen in the Defenders' HQ.
Titus: And this is all he could send us?
Mizu-no-Hime: Yes. Austin said that it took longer than it should have because the files were either almost all on paper or blocked by security clearance. He said it was strange that an average college student would have that kind of protection on his record. Someone was hiding him, it seems.
Titus: Hm. They covered their tracks well. Read through this more carefully, we'll see if we can come up with some ideas.
Titus left. Mizu-no-Hime kept herself focused on the file, unaware of Sensational Girl walking into the room a few minutes to stand at her shoulder where Titus was moments before.
Sensational Girl: What's this? Naruki Matsuzaka? Who's he? Should we be worried about him?
Mizu-no-Hime: You don't know him?
Mizu-no-Hime already knew Sensational Girl did not know him, but felt that she should say something to the bubbly blonde girl behind her. The urge to speak did not strike her again and she remained silent even as the other girl answered and then kept right on talking.
Sensational Girl: Hehe, no, he's from, what, Gray Rocks? I'm from Mt. Plains, same as Cosmette. It's so crazy to think that we're from the same place, you know? I think we were destined to be friends somehow, you know? It's like, if she hadn't gotten covered in that metal from space, we would have almost been classmates, she's only like a few years younger than me. Where's he from again? Gray Rocks? Hm... Gray Rocks... That place sounds familiar. I feel like I know someone from there.
She paused and looked at the file, seeing a picture of Naruki go by as Mizu-no-Hime scrolled through it.
Sensational Girl: But not him. He's handsome, I guess. Nice hair, for sure.
Mizu-no-Hime: Are you going on patrol again soon?
Mizu-no-Hime was all innocence, wanting to spur Sensational Girl and her lesser intellect out the door without a fight.
Sensational Girl: Heh, like, no. Gragus, he like, he wants me here because I can get anywhere from here more easily than if they get in a fight in like, Hayes, if I'm stuck out at like, the End of Civilization or wherever. I'll have to go out again eventually, though. It's kinda fun to ride the jetcycle. I can't fly like the rest of them can. Can you fly?
Sensational Girl: I'll bet it's like, totally awesome to be able to fly by yourself, you'd never have someone carrying you, you'd never be stuck in traffic. I wonder how heavy it would be to carry someone else though... I'm not super strong, like Cosmette or Titus or Gragus. Gragus, he's like, totally scary. That had to have been terrifying to fly back here with him! I can't-
Sensational Girl stopped and noticed that Mizu-no-Hime wasn't paying attention to her at all. She considered her options but decided that a girl who wasn't paying attention to her might be the best listener she had ever met.
Sensational Girl: My powers, I'm getting better at using them, though. I don't get sick at all anymore when I boost someone else's powers, but it's still pretty awful to block someone's. The more powerful they are, the sicker I get. Sometimes it's like my insides are being torn apart, that when I sick up, it's actually part of me that's coming out. But usually, it's like a hangover. Like, the worst hangover ever, but still, you know? I don't suppose you've ever had a hangover?
She paused and watched Mizu-no-Hime diligently studying her files on the computer.
Sensational Girl: I didn't think so. You're probably better off that way. I don't think I've had a single drink since I've been here, other than the red carpet thing I did, what, like less than a week ago. Has it not even been a week? It feels like an eternity. What is it with this job? I hope that I'm not aging like, super-fast too. I saw Morning Angel last week, too, she looked super-awesome, not any older than I am! I hope that my powers will help me look hot for a long time, too. What's that? That Matsuzaka guy plays football for PMU? My friend Erisa, she's dating the quarterback, I'll bet he knows that guy! Do you think I should go talk to them? I might be able to find out something interesting you could use.
Mizu-no-Hime: The quarterback?
Mizu-no-Hime swivelled around in her chair and looked at Sensational Girl with something approaching excitement on her face.
Mizu-no-Hime: That's actually a really great idea!
Sensational Girl: Uh... Thanks?
Mizu-no-Hime: You're welcome. Go investigate, do other hero stuff while I take care of hero stuff here. Thanks.
With that, Mizu-no-Hime spun back around and dove back into her computer research. Sensational Girl looked at the back of her head for a moment, then got up and left the room.
Sensational Girl: What a strange girl. Nice enough, I suppose, but she like, totally wanted to get rid of me. It gives me a chance to talk to my old friends again, like I need an excuse to do that. Maybe I'll have Taro take me over there, he'd love to see her again, too. No, I'll take the sky-cycle thing, it'll be better to leave using that in an emergency and no one will get mad at me...
Mizu-no-Hime stopped her research and took a deep breath. It was nice to have the silence, but something about the energy surrounding Sensational Girl made her regret her passive-aggressively sending her away like that. Now she felt somehow... less, sitting in front of the floating monitor in front of her.
Mizu-no-Hime: I never should have sent her away. Sitting there talking away, so happy, I didn't realize how nice it was until it was over. What was I thinking? She wasn't even being annoying, not like Serena or Tomi can be. Speaking of Serena, where is she? We've been trying to reach her for over a week! Ever since she went on that date with Naruki, we've barely seen or heard anything from her! Are we suddenly not important to her? What's going on with her?
The next day, Gragus stood in the middle of an almost empty street in Kardon staring at Adam the Wonderful Man before him. As small and average as he may have looked, he was unbelievably strong, able to take on the full team of Defenders single-handedly (although actually defeating them was another matter altogether). So, seeing only Gragus, Adam was filled with confidence as he thought about his impending victory.
Gragus: You will come with me or I will batter you into submission and bring you with me unconscious.
Adam the Wonderful Man: No.
Adam turned and began walking away. Since the island fell under martial law, the Defenders split apart and patrol the island individually. They felt a need to be everywhere at once, even putting Sensational Girl on a jetcycle before second thoughts changed that strategy. Gragus felt lucky to come across Adam on an empty street in Arrinson, and he smiled an evil smile at the chance to relieve some of the stress of leading the Defenders under duress.
Gragus aimed his staff at Adam's back and blasted him off his feet. Adam rose to his hands and knees and glared back at Gragus.
Adam the Wonderful Man: Ouch.
Adam leaped over the next blast towards Gragus, taking a nasty swing at him as he landed next to him. Gragus dodged backwards and Adam took advantage of his lack of balance to wrench the giant man's staff from his hands.
Gragus: Give it back.
Gragus and Adam stumbled away from each other.
Adam the Wonderful Man: No.
Adam took a moment to glance at the thing.
Adam the Wonderful Man: How does it work?
Gragus: Let me show you.
Gragus jumped towards Adam, but the comparatively diminuitive strong man batted him away into a building with the staff.
Adam the Wonderful Man: I like this thing!
Gragus came flying out the building and tackled Adam. Tumbling across the road, they traded punches, grappling in super strength, rending the road beneath them apart. Adam released his grip on the staff and kicked away from Gragus. Surprised by the tactic, Gragus found himself on his back. He sat up and looked around. Adam was nowhere to be found. The night became silent, and Gragus took a moment to catch his breath before resuming his patrol. To say that Adam was stronger than he looked was a gross understatement, and it caught Gragus off guard. Rising slowly back into the air, he began to inform his temporary team.
Gragus: Defenders, I have encountered Adam the Wonderful Man...
The following morning back at Defenders' HQ...
Titus: And that's it? You lost a fight-
Gragus: I did not lose, he ran away, like a coward.
Coyote Versus: Ran away, whatever, you lost big man.
Coyote Versus was unable to hide his amusement at Gragus' misfortune.
Titus: Fine, he ran away, and that's it? No one else has seen anyone else?
Sensational Girl: I felt Tectonic Playboy's powers. But before I could shut them down he escaped, I guess he's like, way far underground now. What's weird, though, is that I can't like, feel Morning Angel's powers at all. Even during the fight with that electricity girl, I couldn't feel her using them to escape. She's so powerful that it's should to be hard not to feel her, but... there's just, like... like... nothing.
Juliet: She's masking her powers from you?
Juliet looked at her, slightly skeptical, and then addressed the room.
Juliet: Well, apparently, our files are useless against her and we can't track her. The other supervillains are laying low again and we're trying to play catch up. Is there anything I forgot? Are you guys going to do anything to make me think that you're not a bunch of incompetent nitwits?
The meeting erupted with angry shouting.
Coyote Versus: Nitwits?? I come here and offer you guys help, awesome help, and you turn around and mistrust me every step of the way and now you call me a nitwit? Who do you think you are-
Cosmette: I am so sick of you calling me names! If you keep calling me names and putting me down, we're gonna have to go somewhere and let our powers sort it out!
Juliet: Yes! You're nitwits! Not listening to you, Nerdgirl, LALALALALA, and you're all nitwits! I don't wanna listen to any of you! LALALALA-
Sensational Girl leaned over to Titus and spoke in a low voice to the only other Defender who seemed unaffected by Juliet's words (Gragus was too scary for her to speak directly to).
Sensational Girl: Titus, are we gonna let this go on? This is getting silly, every chance she gets Juliet picks a fight, and every time she does Cosmette takes the bait. I told you I trust Coyote Versus, but the timing is really weird, and look what happened!
Titus: I agree with you.
Titus' voice sounded through her earpiece.
Titus: These last few months have been a pretty rough stretch for the Best Defense, and their attitudes are not helping things out. I'll wait for them to stop screaming at each other and then we'll try to see if we can't get everyone to work together.
The shouting subsided a bit, and it left Versus, Cosmette, and Juliet all exchanging hostile looks with each other. Gragus stood up and put his fists on the table.
Gragus: Had I known that the great Defenders would be so fractured and ineffectual I never would have come to help defend your isle, and by extension all reality. Make no mistake, we face as dire a threat as ever, and your unceasing bickering is only going to allow our enemies to continue to slip through our fingers. I have half a mind to leave you to your own destruction-
Juliet: So do it! Why not? You're not one of us!
Gragus gave her a look that promised her a violent response were it ignored and her mouth snapped closed and she slouched a bit in her seat under his eyes.
Gragus: -that would mean leaving reality at the mercy of whoever wants to destroy it as well. It is not just your continued existence, but mine, the whole world's, countless other realities as well. Do you really need me to say it to you? Do you need me to look into your eyes and tell you that this is bigger than all of us and we need to work together? If so, then everything is in greater danger than I realized.
Silence fell around the table, even Coyote Versus stayed quiet, as Gragus' words sank in. He was perhaps the least likely person to say that to them, a man against whom they had fought in the past, a man whose morals and values did not always line up perfectly with their own. It was the nature of their work, stretches of weeks or months at a time where there is always some terrible happening that needs fighting, never getting a day off, never getting a break, having to push through all manner of feelings and fatigue and personal issues. And the team was at a point where it would be necessary to push through them again, just as everyone in the city would be conquering their own anxieties over what was going on.
Gragus: Morning Angel must be our top priority.
Gragus finally spoke, satisfied by the dark looks on their faces. They appeared to understand the gravity of the situation.
Gragus: We must locate her and neutralize her. All other villains will be secondary to that. Find her, neutralize her, and I will leave you to tear yourselves to pieces.
They nodded. A short rest once again, and then there would be work to do...