There was a knock on the door.
Tedd normally knew better than to answer. There was a good possibility that someone of sinister intent desired access to the house, what with his dad’s work and all. But by this time, he was growing a little tired of ascertaining the identity of the person outside. It was normally Elliot or Nioi anyway, and, whoever it was, they tended to find the level of paranoia a little ... odd. Anyway, it was probably Elliot or Nioi, he scarcely needed to check.
Tedd opened the door, and recoiled. Standing outside was a tall, confident-looking boy whom he did not recognise.
“Are you Tedd Verres?” he asked.
“Y... yes”, Tedd stammered quietly.
“I am an old friend of your father’s. I need his help. Name’s Shade.”
Right on cue, Edward Verres arrived in the driveway and, observing Shade on the doorstep, further introduced him. Shade Tail had been a research subject in an illegal breeding program, raised to subdue a mad chimera who had been raised to believe that he was the master of fire and had been proving a severe security threat. And he had succeeded, although he had pointedly failed to prevent casualties on his own side. After this, he had been evaluated for release into normal society and was now living as a normal, respectable citizen.
As he entered the house, Edward invited Shade into the kitchen to discuss what help he needed.
Shade had arrived for a reason, and desiring Edward’s help was not it. In fact, his decent and charismatic appearance was a mere facade, one of several which he used to obtain and retain power.
Power was, after all, the fundamental currency of life. On his birth, he had been raised by people with power over him, who expected him to bow to their command destroying a monster more powerful than themselves. Feh! Obviously, they had their own power agendas. Everyone had, considering that power was all there was to life.
Hence he had played along. They wanted him to defeat a competitor to his own power, after all, and were even raising, providing for and protecting him for that purpose under the assumption that he would remain their subordinate. What fools! He could outsmart a whole team of those adorable dimwits. And Damien had proven a credible, even obvious, explanation for why the one man who knew how to defeat him had conveniently passed across the veil.
Once in the kitchen, Shade recited the reason he had formulated for desiring help. He had, he said, been born with flawed morphs which left his mass constant whenever he transformed. He had recently learnt that being transformed once with an object-oriented cosmetic morph device could resolve this issue. Hence he desired Edward’s, or more likely Tedd’s, help in this regard.
All this was true. But object orientation, being an aspect of control of the beam and not the beam itself, was not necessary or even relevant. In fact, any cosmetic morpher would suffice. But Shade had specified object orientation for a reason. Such devices, being unretailable on religious blasphemy grounds, were rare: the Verres’ possessed the only such devices they know of.
One of the slots on that gun was dodgy. This had been introduced by Tedd in his experimenting. One setting had the potential to kill instantly. Actually, only one in about a thousand people would die, others would just pass out. Only a few were especially vulnerable to the damage caused. Shade had managed to obtain this information: he knew the right person to ask, and Tedd was always under a certain degree of surveillance.
And Shade had plans. In a few moments, the phone would ring.
Tedd, while this was going on, was in the living room playing modified video games. Elliot and Nioi had arrived in the meantime, and they were generally having fun. Elliot and Nioi, that is. Tedd was very concerned with whether his alterations were worth anything to the others, having worked very hard on them, but he tried not to show this.
Tedd had only used the dodgy setting once, on himself, and he had come around a couple hours later. He had no desire to use it again, and would never intentionally bring it up. Intentionally. What would be the point, considering that it simply knocked him out?
Suddenly, Edward entered the room and informed the three of them that he was leaving on urgent business, leaving Tedd with the directive to show Shade how to use the gun.
“This gun,” Shade asked, “does it work on only humans, or only those with some Uryuom heritage, or everyone?”
“Everyone,” Tedd replied in his characteristic quiet, unsteady voice. “It will work on anyone who it’s aimed at.”
“Even if they aren’t magic?”
Shade lifted the device and appeared to examine the controls. “How do I actually use this?” he asked.
“I’ll show you.” Tedd replied and, pointing the gun at Elliot, pulled the trigger.
Only one in about a thousand people would die, others would just pass out. Only a few were especially vulnerable. And Elliot Dunkel, as Shade had learnt, was especially vulnerable.
Tedd was vulnerable in a different way. His mother had left when he was very young, and entirely because of him. Before she left, she had told him in no uncertain terms that he was worthless and pathetic, that he was unworthy to be called a son of hers and that, from her union with another of the most auspicious sorcerers in the land, she has expected and rightly deserved better. She had told his father very clearly that she would not have one of his kind in her house and, if that meant her leaving, then so be it. Shade knew all this. He had the right contacts to tell him anything.
So far, everything had gone to plan. Not too long from now, Tedd’s father would be found dead, having been killed in action at an incident which Shade had secretly staged. At that point, the already-vulnerable boy would be at his command.
Shade watched with hidden glee as Tedd saw Elliot turning grey, exhaling his final breath, falling to the ground, as Tedd realised what had happened, as he sank distraught into Nioi’s arms. He would, of course, think that this was entirely his own responsibility, that he had accidentally killed one of his best friends.
What Tedd hadn’t noticed was Shade, thumbing the controls, secretly changing the setting. This wasn’t the first time Shade had murdered, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Five years later
Tedd had come to view Shade as his protector. Having learnt of his father’s death, so soon after Elliot’s, and fearing arrest for Elliot’s death, Shade had offered to take him into his custody, hide them from the authorities. Left with little choice in the matter, Tedd had agreed. Nioi, refusing to be parted from her friend, had followed along.
Shade had fed Tedd a series of lies and half truths. To protect Tedd from criminal penalty, he had helped Tedd overthrow the government, first of the United States, and then conquering the world. He had just the right criminal connections, and such superb equipment, that none could withstand him. Tedd’s alternates were to be destroyed, before they would surely do the same to him, whereas in reality Shade was afraid of alternate Tedds who knew how to defeat Shade Tail doing so to him.
Shade did not take credit for any of this. Rather, he insisted to Tedd that he was a mere military leader, General Tail as he called himself, and that he had done all this at Tedd’s bidding, which bidding he had subtly suggested to and coaxed from Tedd himself. Lord Verres, as they called him, the supreme overlord of the Earth. Neatly diverting the murmuring and blame of the subjects to someone other than himself.
The credit to Tedd was not entirely unfounded. Rather, Shade’s equipment needed insane levels of magic, more than could be normally accessed by the most powerful wizard. Hence they were unmatched. What he was actually doing was draining power from Tedd’s near-bottomless supply, by means of a gauntlet which allowed Tedd to harness this supply but secretly gave Shade a back door to access however much he wanted.
As Tedd’s dependence on Shade had grown, Shade had withdrawn his charisma. Tedd would now submit, he did not need to be charmed.
Nioi had watched this with some horror, seeing her object of affection being corrupted and trampled over by Shade Tail, seeing Shade turning increasingly more aggressive and Tedd increasingly more dependant. The final straw had come when she had been confidentially contacted by a witness who told her the truth, that Shade had killed Doctor Sciuridae.
She had started researching into magical artifacts, seeking anything that would allow her to jump between universes. After some mishap, including the accidental cloning of herself, she had found the correct artifact.
And that was how Nioi, having obtained the portal, had come to alight onto the roof of Moperville North.
“Are you alive, Dr. Sciuridae?”, she whispered into the air. “Do you know how to defeat him?”