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After my disastrous interview with the Alpha Alliance in L.A., I took a week off from crimefighting. I expected it to take a couple of nights before anyone noticed I wasn't going out on patrol -- everyone takes a few days off now and then. But apparently, everyone wanted a report about how things went in Los Angeles.

So the first night, around 9 o'clock, there's a knock on my dorm window. Hybrid's perched on the window ledge, grinning like a cat. "Let's go, Squiddie!" she says. "I wanna hear some stories about L.A. You gotta tell me if you saw any movie stars!"

"Not tonight, Hy," I say. "Have a good patrol." And I close and latch the window.

Ten minutes later, there's a knock on my door. I look out the peephole, and there's Jonni Rotten, both middle fingers extended. I open the door, 'cause otherwise she'll stay in the hallway and stink up the whole dorm.

"What's the problem, Pittman?" she growls. "You blowing off patrols tonight?"

"Nice to see you, too, Jonni," I say.

"Whatever, Pittman," she says. "Get your gear together and let's go beat the shit outta some muggers."

"I need a few days off, Jonni," I tell her. "I need to get my head together."

"What, you too good to fight crime in Metro City now that you're a big shot in El Lay?"

"Bye, Jonni," I say as I close the door.

Twenty minutes later, my phone buzzes. Quite unsurprisingly, it's the Cobra.

"Talk to me, Lenore," she says.

"I don't want to, Cobra," I say. "I'm tired, and I want to skip patrolling tonight. Nothing wrong with that."

"Iota told me you pretended to sleep all the way back from California," she says. "The Los Angeles papers are useless. So what the hell happened down there?"

"None of your business, please," I say. "Really, can you guys leave me alone for a while?" And I hang up on her.

No one else bugs me the rest of the night.

I get a phone call from Atlas late the next afternoon. "Lenore, I'm so sorry," he says. "I had no idea they were going to be such dicks to you. I've already called Aegis and registered my extreme displeasure. The Star has, too. I'm not sure he'll survive whatever Cobra'll do to him if she ever makes the trip to L.A. Every hero in town has got your back on this."

"Let's not make too big a deal of this, okay?" I say.

"Hell with that," says Atlas. "If I ever get my hands on Doc Matter..."

"He was only doing what was necessary to rescue people I'd endangered."

"No, Lenore, he wasn't," he says. "There was no call for that kind of behavior, on any of their parts. That whole damn team should be ashamed..."

"Atlas, this is not something I want to revisit, okay?" I interrupt him. "Could everyone just drop it? Just drop the whole thing and leave me alone?"

And another two days after that, my mom calls me to see if I'm still coming over for dinner on the weekend.

"Lenore, hon, I hear you haven't been patrolling lately," she says. "Is that so?"

"I've had some other stuff on my mind, mom," I say. "It's nothing to worry about."

"The Chrome Cobra said she's concerned about you, and that you won't talk to the other superheroes," she says.

"When did you start talking to the Chrome Cobra?" I ask.

"Well, she came over one evening after dinner, and we invited her in."

"You just invited her in?!"

"What else were we going to do?" she says. "Leave her on the porch? Of course we invited her in. We had a very pleasant conversation over coffee, and --"

"No, I'm sorry, that's too much," I say. "You had coffee with the Chrome Cobra? I've never seen her eat anything. I've never even seen her remove the mask."

"She pulled up the bottom of it," she says. "Just so her mouth and nose were clear. Maybe your father should've taken a photo on his phone so you could see part of what her face looks like."

"I know what she looks like already," I say. "Remember the X-ray vision? I can see through her mask -- I just don't know who she is or what her name is."

"She has much worse table manners than you do, you know," she says. Mom always notices table manners, 'cause Grandma stressed 'em when she was growing up. She hates it when you point this out to her, because she thinks she'll sound like a suburban gossip, but she still notices manners a lot. "She got all slouchy the moment she lifted the mask, and she slurps her coffee. She burps, too, but she at least says 'Excuse me.' "

"Mom, please don't tell anyone but me about that. I bet she'd get really upset if she heard that something like that was getting around."

"Oh, I haven't told anyone else," says Mom. "But anyway, she said you had stopped going out on patrols and wanted to see if it had anything to do with your trip to California."

"Did you tell her it was none of her business?"

"No, because that's not how you talk to guests, Lenore," she says. "And I would like to know what happened in California anyway. You haven't told us anything about the trip or the interview, and that makes me fairly suspicious."

"Please don't be suspicious, Mom," I say. "It does stuff to your blood pressure."

"No, that's salt and fried foods," she says. "And don't change the subject. If the Alpha Alliance treated you badly, I think your family has a right to know, and I think you'd feel better if you talked about it. I know you'd feel better if you were out with your friends beating up supervillains."

"Mom, I really don't want to talk about it," I say. "But I promise, I'll be back on the crimefighting beat Thursday night, okay?"

And hey, I'm a woman of my word.

Thursday night, 9:36, corner of 116th and Swan Avenue, Penitente and Hybrid have a couple of muggers cornered in an alley and are closing in for the collar. That's when I make my appearance.

I know I'm looking awesome. There I am, showing up from the rooftops overhead, the streetlamps throwing my shadow over the alley.

Impressive entrance? Check. Dramatic crimefighting situation? Check. New costume? Check -- red and black outfit, with facemask and cape, and some dark red highlights streaked into my hair.

Suitably impressed bystanders? Check. Hybrid looks up and says, "Squid Kid? Is that you?"

I am sooooo rocking this.

Awesome speech? Check. Here we go: "Squid Kid? No, I'm not using that name any more. Rhymes and jokes and playtime are over. Let the forces of evil be put on notice -- there is a new heroine in Metro City. I am vengeance. I am the night. I am the Kraken!"

Blast of thunder punctuating the speech? Check. No, wait, that was one of the muggers shooting me. Wow, that dumpster in the alley is getting closer and closer and ouchie.

So Hybrid and Penitente fish me out of the dumpster and haul me back to my dorm room. The bullet went straight through the shoulder and is already healing up fast, but they're under the mistaken impression that I'm delirious with a fever. They give me icepacks and Advil and take my temperature, and of course, I'm just fine. But they still tell me to stay put and get some sleep. I tell 'em okay and get in bed, then Hybrid tells Penitente to wait in the hallway, and she makes me get out of the costume and put on jammies. Phooey, she's too smart. But I change clothes, get in bed, wait for them to leave, and start making my plans to sneak back out and try to have a more impressive post-debut.

I wake up five hours later. Man, healing up from bullet wounds always wears me out. Maybe I'll just stay put for another few minutes and rest my eyelids.

Then the light switches on, and there's a girl wearing green and yellow and silver in the room with me.

"Aww, Cobra, turn out the light, please?" I groan, pulling the covers over my head.

She flips the covers off me and says, "The Kraken, Lenore?"

"Um, yes?" I say. "Like it?"

She grabs me by the shoulders and drags me halfway out of the bed. "The KRAKEN?!"

"Okay, so you don't like it," I squeak. Dang, I hate it when she makes me get all squeaky and terrified.

"Are you on Kraken, Lenore?!" Oh, I hate it even more when she gets so angry she starts making jokes.

"It doesn't seem like a bad name, ya know," I try to reason with her. "It's a name that wants to intimidate supervillains. It's got mythology, it's got monsters, it's got everything."

She drops me back on the bed with an irritated groan and goes to sit in my desk chair.

"Just think how bad it coulda been," I say as I sit up. "I could've gone with Octopus Lass or Captain Cuttlefish or Girl-with-Stretchy-Tentacles-that-Come-out-of-her-Back. It's not like there are a lot of options for my particular powerset."

"Jesus, Lenore," Cobra says, sounding more tired than usual. "What the hell is the matter with you?"

"There's nothing the matter with me," I say. "I ran around town in street clothes, called myself a silly rhyming name that sounds like a joke, had an epic career as a superhero screwup, and came this close to getting the Alpha Alliance killed. Why the hell wouldn't I want to be a real superhero for once in my damn life?"

"You -- You --" she says, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Listen, this -- Ah, Jesus, Lenore."

Nice. How often does anyone manage to render the Chrome Cobra speechless?

"This counseling stuff is out of my job description," she says. "This is more Miss Mega's thing, or Atlas. You should be talking to them. I mean, you're a good superhero, Lenore -- you don't have to go dark and edgy just because the Alpha Alliance are a bunch of assholes."

"Cobra, don't hand me this line of bull," I say. "You've never seemed all that happy to have me in the superhero game in the first place. Now you're all nostalgic for the old useless me after I've changed my name and costume and decided to be a better hero?"

"No, I -- listen, I already said I'm not good with this talking-people-through-personal-problems stuff," she says. "I'm good at building battlesuits, beating people up, stuff like that. You -- You're good at being Squid Kid, not some grim, edgy avenger of the night."

"Whatever, Cobra," I say. "Since there's no one here for you to beat up or build a battlesuit for, maybe you should turn out the light, get out of my dorm, and let me get some rest so I can go on patrol tomorrow night."

And I lay down, turn my face to the wall, and pull the covers over my head. And a minute later, the lights go out, the door opens, the door closes.

Holy crap, I feel like such a badass right now. And I also feel a little bit miserable. And that lasts 'til I go to sleep.

I spend Friday going to class, fixing up the bullet hole in my costume, ignoring my cell phone (except for Mom and Dad. I don't know how they heard I got shot, but that stuff always gets 'em upset and weepy. Guess it's hard to blame them.), reading a couple chapters of homework, and psyching myself up for tonight's patrol.

Devil Wasp has just busted out of jail and wants a rematch with Gamma Girl -- too bad I get to him first. Well, actually, El Phantasmo got to him before me, but you know what I mean. Phantasmo is having an unusual amount of trouble with DW -- looks like he added some kind of psychic scrambler to his weaponry, so Phantasmo's ghosts are getting temporarily discorporated left and right.

I'm able to drop on DW from above, landing on him and wrapping a few tentacles around the wing structure of his armor. "You picked a bad night for crime, Devil Wasp!" I tell him as loudly as I can. "You picked a night when Metro City's Titanic Tentacle is on the job! Prepare yourself for the wrath of... the KraaaaAAAAAA...!"

Devil Wasp takes off flying, I fall off the top of his armor, and end up hanging on by my tentacles while he drags me halfway across the city.

He flies me at a lot of buildings, and I have to keep just barely pulling myself out of the way in time. This always looks exciting when they do this in the movies, but it's actually really -- well, it's exciting, but for all the wrong reasons. And it's a little tedious. So I finally start reeling myself in so I can wrap some more tentacles around him and, if necessary, beat him down to earth.

That's the point where he starts doing loop-the-loops, gets me dizzy, and slams me into an alleyway wall. El Phantasmo finds me in the same damn dumpster I ended up in last night.

On Saturday night, Atlas calls me and asks if I'll consider taking the evening off so he and the Star can talk to me about best heroic practices or something like that. Sounds like a waste of time, so I tell 'em I'll meet them at a coffee shop on the north side, then I go out crimebusting downtown.

I go after Johnny Staccato and his gang in one of their usual hideouts. I go in one of the upper windows of the warehouse. Johnny and his lieutenants are in one of the offices, probably planning a new heist. I find the fusebox and shut off the lights.

They come out of the office, guns drawn, but I'm hiding in the shadows up in the rafters.

"Johnny Staccato!" I yell. "Your days of victimizing this fair city with law-breaking, violence, and corruption are at an end! Prepare for the righteous retribution of Metro City's Eight Long Arms of the Law! Prepare for... the Kraken!"

"Squid Kid?" yells Johnny. "Is that you?"

"No, I just said I was the Kraken!" I shout. "Aren't you listening?"

"Hey, boss," yells one of Johnny's thugs. "I found the fusebox!"

All the lights come back on.

"Is that a new costume, Squiddie?" asks Johnny, smiling and pointing his tommy gun up at me. "I think I'll consider this a mercy killing."

That's when Hypothermia and Defender show up, flinging ice blasts and stunner beams, and get the gang disarmed and in custody in only a minute or two. I even get to tie some up, though Johnny teleports away, as usual.

"Thanks for the assist, fellow crimefighters," I say after all the action is over. "Would you care to accompany me on my evening patrols?"

It's hard to get a read on either of them. Hypothermia doesn't have a regular face, and Defender's mask is one of the few that my X-ray vision can't see through. Hypo's facepalm kinda bypasses all body-language barriers, though.

"There's no need for that," I tell him.

"Dear, I would desperately like to have a nice long laugh right now," says Defender. "But I actually don't think I can manage it tonight. Weren't you supposed to be talking to Atlas and Star right now?"

"I don't have time for that," I say. "Crime waits for no one."

"If I ever see anyone from the Alpha Alliance again," says Hypo. "I'm going to hurt them."

"Oh god yes," says Defender. "I don't know what they said to you, Lenore dear, but could I ask you to completely disregard it?"

"No, I won't," I say. "And you guys should stop asking me stuff like that. I haven't been a good superhero for a while, and I think we can all agree I'm working to become the best superhero I can be."

"I can't agree with that," says Defender.

"Me neither," says Hypo. "And a good superhero wouldn't bail on a meeting with Atlas and Star. Could you at least head out there and talk to them? Just for politeness' sake?"

"Well, alright," I say. "I would've been there already if I hadn't stumbled onto Johnny's operation here."

"Good enough," says Defender. "Have a safe night, sweetie."

Of course, I don't go to the coffee shop. They're going to try to talk me into going back to being a joke, and I don't much want to hear that. So I go off and look for more bad guys.

On Sunday morning, I wake up and -- hey! Why am I tied to the bed!?

"Morning, Lenore," asks Daphne Diller. "Sorry to surprise you at home like this." She, Atlas, and Hybrid are all sitting in folding chairs next to the bed, while Express is leaning against a wall behind them.

"You guys had better have a really good excuse," I say. "Like mind control or -- really, it better be mind control. Anything else is gonna make me think terrible things about you."

"Nope, sorry," says Hybrid. "No mind control. It's just us."

Now that I'm awake, I can tell there's some sort of cords or cables up and down the bed holding me flat. I pop all my tentacles and try to snap the cords, but I can't do it -- I can get my tentacles free no problem, but they're not strong enough to get the rest of me out.

"Titanium alloy cable," says Atlas. "Not the strongest material in the world, but strong enough."

"What the hell, guys," I say. "This is wildly unnecessary."

"No, once you're avoiding meetings with Star and me, it gets necessary," says Atlas. "Once you're running around taking dangerous risks, once you're scaring everyone with your crazy behavior, it gets necessary."

"Every time someone says they want to talk to you, you run away from them," says Daffodil. "This was the only way we could think of to make you sit still and listen to us."

"That is fucked up on so many levels, guys," I say. I'm starting to get mad.

"Everything is fucked up on so many levels, Lenore," says Atlas. Sounds like he's starting to get mad, too. "The Alpha Alliance treated you like crap, and you're taking it too seriously and too personally. And it's not helping when you run away from us and act like we don't know how to help. I need you to understand how fucked up that is, alright?"

"Just a second," says Hybrid. "This is getting too heated too quickly. Could we please calm down for a bit?"

"Could you please let me the fuck out of this?!" I yell.

"Alright, hold it," says Express, stepping forward. "Let me say something. I came along because I agree that I want you to talk to us, but I thought this tying-Lenore-up shit was a little extreme. Not actively harmful, or I wouldn't have let them go this far. But as of now, it's gone on long enough. Atlas, you gonna let her go?"

"I will when I'm ready," Atlas says.

"No, you agreed that you'd let me say if I thought it'd gone too far," said Express. "And I think we've hit that point now. We let her go free now, okay?"

Atlas grumbles. "Alright, fine," he says.

"But first," says Express, kneeling down next to me. "Lenore, you gotta remember, this wouldn't have happened at all if we weren't all worried about you, okay? And I don't mean just us four -- I mean every superhero in this town. You can't keep avoiding people. This evening, you pick a time and place, and you meet with Atlas, Star, me, anyone else you want to have there. Your parents, if you want 'em, anyone else. But you gotta listen to our concerns, and you gotta let us hear yours, too. Promise me you'll do that -- and it ain't a request, girl, I mean you make that promise right now."

"Okay, fine," I say. "You got your promise. Now let me out of this."

"I think not," says Atlas in a strange tone of voice. "I think this suits my purposes very well."

Everyone looks at Atlas. He's got a weirdly smug look on his face. What the hell? What kind of accent was that?

"You alright, man?" asks Express warily.

"You speak to no mere man," Atlas says with a smirk. "You address Preceptor Yan Sin, and you may all cower at my approach."

"Shit," I yell. "Shit, shit, you guys, get out, get out, get the hell out of here now!"

Atlas lunges at Express, who backpedals at superspeed. But there's not a lot of room to maneuver in my dorm room, and Atlas manages to smack Express overhand, knocking him back against a wall. At the same time, the door gets torn off its hinges, and the deep one and snake man charge in and tackle Hybrid. Yan Sin and the Mi-Go in the lab coat follow right behind them, and the Mi-Go holds up his hypnotism machine in front of Daphne, who immediately gets that glazed, terrified look on her face.

Hybrid has monstered out to fight those guys, but the snake man bites her hard on the shoulder, and I guess he pumped her full of some kind of venom -- she starts getting slower and more woozy immediately. Shit, I've seen her handle a snakebite without too much trouble, but how much poison does a human-sized snake have? Can her regeneration handle that much venom?

Yan Sin looks at Atlas. "Sleep, poltroon," he sneers, and Atlas falls over like a ton of bricks.

"Shzzall we dezzztroy zzzem allzz?" asks the Mi-Go.

"It is unnecessary," says Yan Sin. "We have the prize we sought." He waves a hand at me, and everything goes black.

And after a while, everything goes light again. I'm in a warehouse somewhere, most of the lights shut off, strapped upright to some kind of flat structure. Wait, I'm still tied to my bed! Those lazy jerks just dragged me and my titanium-steel-alloy-wrapped bed out to some warehouse! What a bunch of -- waitaminute! They dressed me in one of my old costumes! One of these assholes got me out of my jammies and -- Oh, goddamn it, I'm pissed now.

"You even dug the fishnets out of my sock drawer?" I yell. "You guys are completely pervy fucks!"

"You have returned to consciousness," says Yan Sin, stepping out of the shadows. "Are you now prepared to come be part of us? Or must there be more unpleasantness in our dealings?"

I finally notice that Yan Sin has a piece of tape over the bridge of his nose. "Unpleasantness?" I ask. "Like when I busted your nose back in L.A.? Untie me and I'll show you some more unpleasantness."

"As I suspected," says Yan Sin. "You are not yet willing to submit your will to the Spawn of Y'gthulu. But soon enough, you will join us, either of your own free will or through the corrupting powers of my magic."

"Whatever," I say. "Hey, you got something on your face."

And I lash out with one of my tentacles, trying to get it around his throat and make him call off his monster goons -- and SMACK, the tentacle jams into some invisible barrier! Hurts like hell, too...

Yan Sin smiles as wide as he can. "This time, we have placed you inside an Elder Sign," he chuckles. "It will serve to keep you imprisoned until we have determined your final fate."

Sure enough, they've painted a giant Elder Sign around me -- looks like a big crooked pentagram with a flaming eyeball in the middle, based on a design August Derleth came up with for one of Lovecraft's concepts. Don't know why it's blocking my tentacles now -- I've got a dozen Elder Sign pins at home, and all they do is look pretty.

"The perfect cage, designed to imprison you and you alone," says Yan Sin smugly. "Now that your movements have been constrained, perhaps now is the time to introduce you  to your future associates?"

"Serpent man, deep one, shoggoth, Mi-Go, and you're a tcho-tcho," I say. "I read books, dude." Granted, I thought they were all fictional, but hey.

"You will wish to know their proper names, won't you?" says Yan Sin.

"Don't tell me you named them?!" I laugh. "You gave names to a bunch of mindless servitor races? Do any of them even know what you're saying when you talk to them? Do you call the shoggoth 'Mr. Snuggles'? How 'bout the Mi-Go? Hi there, Poofykins!"

"I am not mindlezzz," says the Mi-Go. "And I am not a shzzzervitor. He callzzz me Dr. Yuggoth."

"Oh god," I say. "If my hands were free, I would be making the loser-sign at both of you right now."

"You have not met all of our organization yet," says Yan Sin angrily. "Perhaps if you gaze into the darkness behind me..."

That doesn't sound good in any possible way. I look back there, and back where it's as dark as possible, there's something perched, wings lifting and falling slightly. It looks like a manta ray, black as a shroud, with a single three-lobed burning red eye.

"I just call it the Haunter," Yan Sin sneers. "Do you have any silly nicknames for it?"

I hate it when something happens that makes me go speechless, but it seems like a pretty appropriate time for it. "The Haunter of the Dark" is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories -- I've got parts of it memorized. And the thing about the Haunter is that it's an avatar of Nyarlathotep -- and while Yan Sin's other monsters are all fairly powerful, Nyarlathotep is a freakin' god. An actual malevolent, horrific, unspeakably maddening god. He's one of Lovecraft's Big Bads, right up there with Cthulhu.

I hate to say he's one of my idols, but well, ya know...

So, really, where does this leave me? Nowhere real good. I'm surrounded by monsters, gods, and wizards. I'm tied up, and not in any fun ways. And more than likely, no one knows where I am, unless the Chrome Cobra has been hiding more tracers on my clothing. I'm not even sure I want anyone else here -- these Y'gthulu guys have mopped the floor with everyone I've seen them go up against.

"So we return to our original question," says Yan Sin. "Will you join us? Will you help us destroy this world? Will you help us eat the souls of your friends and family? Or will you force us to use harsher methods to ensure your cooperation and loyalty?"

Hopeless situation, insurmountable odds, no way out. So of course, there's only one answer I can give.

"Lick me where I bleed, Yan Sin."

"Your impudence will be punished harshly," he sneers.

"Don't even know why you want me in your group," I say. "Just because I can sprout tentacles doesn't mean I make a decent Cthulhu analogue."

"Your connection is stronger than you suspect," he says. "But it was a fortuitous circumstance when we happened upon you while freeing the shoggoth from his tar prison. You doubtless would have remained hidden from us if not for that meeting."

"Wait, did you just call that thing 'the shoggoth?' " I say. "Didn't you just say you named all of them?"

"Are you trying to distract me?" he asks. "That will do you no good at all."

"Yeah, sure, a minute ago, you wanted me to learn all their names, right? Now you're just calling it a shoggoth. Did you name it something really stupid that you thought sounded impressive?"


"Yo, Dr. Yuggoth," I yell. "What'd he name the shoggoth?"

"He callzzz it Szzlimebucket," says the Mi-Go.

"Stop laughing!" Yan Sin shouts. "Stop laughing! It is unseemly!"

"Oh god, oh god, what about the deep one?" I ask between breaths.

"Ichthyszz," says Dr. Yuggoth.

"Oh, crud," I say. "That sounds fairly respectable. What about the serpent man?"

"Jurasszzik," says Yuggoth, who sounds like even he may think it's funny. "He got it from a movie."

"Silence!" Yan Sin screams. "Silence, or I will destroy you both!"

"Oh my god, that's priceless!" I yell. "Get jurass over here, Jurassik!"

And ya know, in the books, the serpent people aren't usually very smart at all. So he slithers right straight up to me, like a good little reptilian puppy dog. And his tail smudges the lines of the Elder Sign away.

I totally meant for that to happen. And if you don't believe me, I'd ask that you keep it to yourself and allow me to lie with dignity.

Something else I totally meant to have happen -- and seriously for realz -- is how I choose that moment to finally break out of my bonds. Sure, the titanium-alloy cables are too strong for me to get out of, but the bedframe is made of rickety, badly-assembled metal -- and my tentacles are more than strong enough to tear that apart. And without the bedframe, those cables fall to the floor around me.

And hey, as long as I'm looking like a badass after busting my way out of a metal bedframe and a bunch of titanium cables, and as long as I've got a serpent man in front of me who's apparently so conditioned to follow orders that he'll follow anyone's orders, I point at Ichthys and say, "Sic 'em, boy!"

Chaos ensues, and I stretch a few tentacles up, grab the rafters, and haul myself up and out of one of the skylights in the roof.

Oh, like that's the end of it? No way. It's obvious they're going to chase me now, so I orient myself on the downtown area and head that way. I don't have a cell phone to call for any help, but I'll have a better chance of running into some other Metro City heroes if I'm downtown. I'd be making faster time if I was able to swing, but there aren't any buildings around that are tall enough for that, so I have to walk. But when you're walking on 200-foot-long tentacle-legs, you can still travel pretty quickly.

It doesn't take long for some of them to catch up to me. Dr. Yuggoth is on my tail after less than a minute, flying after me on his little fungal insect wings. He buzzes up next to me, brandishing a ray gun that looks like a cross between a crystal tea setting and a rusted machete.

"You muzzzt return with me to Yan Szzzzin," he says. "Do not forzzze me to shzzzoot you."

I'd pulled off one of the turbine roof ventilators when I went through the skylight. He really doesn't fly nearly as well once you jam that over his head.

After that, I see a black winged shape flying toward me. In the books, the Haunter's major weakness is light, and I don't have a flashlight with me. But by then, I'm by the Bradbury Freeway, so I lower myself as quickly as I can, wrap myself around a speeding semi, and hang on. All the car headlights will help keep the Haunter away. Unfortunately, I'm also freaking out some of the drivers, so it won't be too hard for the Y'gthulu gang to find me.

On the other hand, it doesn't take the semi long to get me to the downtown area, and by now, all the panicked phone calls from people on the highway have brought out some police helicopters and a chopper from one of the TV stations. And where the police copters go, superheroes are usually likely to show up.

I peel myself off the semi, launch myself at the nearest skyscraper, and start climbing. No danger of me falling off with these super-sticky tentacles, so when the police choppers swing close, I try to tell 'em a little about what's going on through sign language. Yeah, I know a little sign language -- most of the spandex jockeys in town know some, 'cause we were hoping to use it to communicate with the cops during situations like this. Too bad the cops have never shown any interest in learning any of it.

And while I'm stuck to the side of a building waving my hands at a police helicopter, that's when the Y'gthulu guys attack. Dr. Yuggoth flies in and tackles me off the skyscraper, and while we're dropping toward the ground, I see Yan Sin hovering above us and shooting some kind of magical beams at the helicopters.

Yuggoth's wings aren't quite strong enough to keep both of us in the air. I don't know if he planned for that or not -- maybe he figures he's a fungus so he can survive getting smacked into the ground from 400 feet in the air. I'm not willing to gamble on his survival, so I've got all my tentacles out trying to get some kind of hold on something -- it takes a few tense seconds, but I finally get three or four to stick to the skyscrapers on either side of us and haul us to a stop about 20 feet from the ground.

"Get off!" I yell.

"Szzztupid biped!" Yuggoth buzzes at me. "You are more trouble than you are worth! We will peel your szzecretzz from your corpzzze!"

"Get off me, you oversized pizza topping!" Yeah, dig my superhero patter. I just hope he knows what a pizza is, so he'll know how bad he got burned.

There's worse news on the way. The shoggoth (I can't bring myself to call it "Slimebucket" -- that's so undignified, even for a horrific formless blob with too many eyes) is on the street below, charging fast at us. I start to reel us upwards, but it makes a gigantic leap and wraps itself around Dr. Yuggoth's lower body.

Yuggoth buzzes and shrieks wordlessly, pulls out a ray gun and shoots the shoggoth in what passes for its face. Part of its protoplasm gets burned away, but it just tightens its grip on the Mi-Go. As soon as either one of them is finished with the other, it'll turn on me next.

Above me, there's a flash of light and an explosion. Hell, Yan Sin caught one of the police choppers on fire. Now I have to worry about a burning helicopter dropping on top of me, too.

I think maybe I could shake Dr. Yuggoth off of me, then swing out of the way of the crashing helicopter. The streets are clear at this time of night, and there'd be a lot of property damage, but no civilians are in danger. But there are a couple of cops inside that chopper.

This is going to be hard to pull off, especially with this heavy shoggoth and screeching Mi-Go hanging onto me.

When you have superstrong, hyper-elastic tentacles, you can do more with 'em than just tie things up and swing around the city. You can use 'em to pull yourself up as quickly and as forcefully as possible and shoot yourself into the air like a paper clip shot out of a rubber band.

It's not enough to get me all the way up to the helicopter, especially with all the extra weight, but it's enough for me to get some more tentacles wrapped around its landing skids. That starts it tipping over even more, but this time, when I launch myself up, it also means the copter door is facing right at me.

I don't know if it's luck or just split-second timing, but I get a tentacle to pull the door off right as I shoot inside the helicopter. I grab the cops in two different tentacles, throw the other door open with another arm, and shoot all the way through, scraping Dr. Yuggoth and the shoggoth off behind me inside the cockpit.

"Everyone hold on! This is probably going to hurt!" That's what I want to say, but I don't really have time. I'm pretty much just screaming incoherently by now. But I really do hope everyone holds on, 'cause this is probably going to hurt, and if it doesn't work, we're all going to get killed.

One tentacle lashes out, grabs a spinning rotor. Didn't get sliced off, thank god.

That was the easy part.

The rotor whips us around hard, swings us around once, twice, three times. I make a wild guess and let go, praying it's not going to throw us straight into the ground.

It doesn't.

So this is what flight feels like.

No time to enjoy it. I wrap the tentacles around us as fast as I can, faster and faster, cocooning us, cushioning us.

We hit the top of the Infantino Building at a couple hundred miles an hour, bounce, bounce again, and go over the edge.

But I get a couple tentacles out, grab the side of the building, and use the momentum to swing us back into the air, then back for a rolling landing on top of the building.

I uncoil my tentacles. One of the cops is reciting the 23rd Psalm at close to light-speed. The other is midway through the longest, most creative, most disgusting compound swear word I've ever heard. But we're all okay.

Yay, my tentacles make good shock absorbers! Add another mark in my "Awesome Powers" column!

There's a boom from the street below. We look over the edge of the building to see that the copter's crashed and exploded. There's broken glass, metal, fire everywhere.

I leave the cops up here where it's relatively safe and swing down to the crash site. I have no idea if the shoggoth or Dr. Yuggoth survived, but I don't see anything that looks dead. Heck, maybe they're both okay and heading to Tijuana for a vacation.

But I hope they're dead.

Not that I get any time to ponder what happened to them. Someone drops a glowing green fireball behind me that blows up and knocks me 30 feet down the street. By the time I quit rolling, I can see Yan Sin hovering down toward me, his hands glowing with an eerie green glow.

"Vile creature!" he shouts. "What have you done?! Do you understand what you have thrown away?!"

"Yeah," I yell back, getting to my feet. "It's called garbage."

"You are a fool," he says as he finally settles down on the street. "You have tossed aside the greatest opportunity of your life. You have dared stand against the Spawn of Y'gthulu."

"Are we still doing the trash talk?" I ask. "Okay, you're a loser. You're a douchebag. And you're short. So why don't you go run for the city limits, 'kay?"

He scowls and his eyes flash green. "Why don't you die?"

And he hits me a whole handful of green and purple electricity, blowing me back on the ground.

Jeezum craps, hurts like hell. It's not like I haven't dealt with electricity-shooting villains before -- I was fighting Mr. Punch and his electrified clown hammer not that long ago, right? -- but this is like electricity juiced-up on even more electricity. Makes every joint scream, feels like the whole world is on fire, makes it hard to think straight at all.

Then he shoots me again. Pretty sure I scream and look majorly undignified. Arms, legs, and tentacles flailing everywhere. As my non-existent Aunt Petunia used to say, I must look a fright.

"Any more jokes from you before you die?" Yan Sin sneers. "Or would you prefer to beg for your life?"

Fine, I'll beg. "Save me, Darth Vader, save me!" And I laaaaugh. God help me, I not only made a "Star Wars" reference, but I'm laughing at my own joke. I must be delirious.

Of course, Yan Sin doesn't see the humor in the situation. So he shoots me again. And again. This is getting tedious.

"Your struggle has been hopeless since the beginning," he says. "What means have you to oppose me? I have ancient magic, powerful and maddening beyond all possible nightmares. I have stores of knowledge greater than a thousand years of your modern sciences. You have nothing. You have tentacles and a poor attitude. Killing you will be my gift to the new world. Destroying you will be the greatest lesson of awwrk!"

The great thing about flailing, hyper-elastic tentacles that are part solid matter and part inky black horror-juice is that they wrap around the legs of tcho-tcho wizards and yank 'em off their feet.

By the time he's able to get up, I've made it back upright again -- a little shaky, but at least I'm standing.

Yan Sin gasps and points at me. "Y-Your face," he stammers. "What happened to your face?"

At first I thought he meant he'd burned me with lightning bolts, but then I remembered I've been using my powers for a while without taking a break -- I guess it's about the time everyone says I start looking monstery. I can't tell a bit of difference myself -- can't even see it in mirrors or photographs -- but everyone always makes like it's très creepy.

"See something you don't like, Yanni?" I ask, coiling a few tentacles around his arms just in case he wants to shoot me with more electricity. "You look a little scared, man."

"Your face," he gasps. "It -- It cannot be..."

"Why you going on about my face?" I ask, walking up closer to him. "You're gonna give a girl a complex."

"Dark lady, I meant no offense," he says. "I merely sought to destroy your host organism."

"You are such a charmer," I say. "Tell ya what, Yan Sin, you want another shot at me? Without the tentacles and scary face? How's that sound, assmunch?"

I drop the tentacles, and judging by the look on his face, the monster face goes away, too. (Hope someone manages to photograph it someday -- it must look awesome.) He smiles and brings both arms up, crackling with purple-and-green electricity.

And I punch him in the nose.

That's what I love about supervillain wizards. They never expect the girl to get physical.

I'm not giving him another chance to make any trouble. While he's still stooped over screaming, holding his nose, and trying to stop the bleeding, I uppercut the hell out of him.

It's a good punch. I don't really throw a lot of punches, but I think it's the best one I've ever made. I wish the Cobra could've seen it. Sending a dude airborne and having him hit the ground unconscious is probably the type of thing she'd love.

Things aren't over yet.

There's a whisper above me like a sharp knife slicing through the air, and the shadow of a monstrous wing passes overhead. It flies into the deepest shadows at the foot of a skyscraper, and after a moment, a man walks out. He's tall, impeccably dressed in a tailored black suit with a red tie. He has black skin -- perfectly, completely black, like obsidian, like onyx. His eyes are blood red, and even from a distance, I can see that they each have three semi-triangular lobes.

"Lenore Pittman," he says. "The Kraken herself. So wonderful to finally make your acquaintance."

"Seriously, could you please stay way the hell back there?" I say.

"Certainly," he says. He stops, inspects his fingernails, looks at me, and makes the most sarcastic smirk in history.

I'm trying to put a good, brave face on things, but I'm pretty much scared to death. The Crawling Chaos, the Messenger of the Outer Gods, pretty much the only one of Lovecraft's deities with a personality and a sense of humor. The books say he'll eventually destroy the world completely. Sure, he's a great character, and I love reading about him. But right now, I'm scared out of my socks. And he knows it.

"Well, okay, thank you," I say. "Really, really don't want to have a lot of contact with you, and I bet you can guess why. And being a smirky guy won't win you a lot of friends. Nor will walking around looking all red-eyed and black-skinned -- and that didn't sound right, but you know what I mean. Also, that whole 'being an eldritch monster-god who wants to drive the whole world mad and eat it like a biscuit' -- not a fan of that either. Am I babbling yet?"

"Yes, a bit," he says. He smiles at me. Perfect white teeth. Not a bit reassuring.

"Okay, fine, maybe I'll quit babbling," I say. "The rest of your Spawn of Y'gthulu are pretty much wiped out, alright? Am I gonna have to take you down, too?"

His smile broadens. "Thank you," he says. "I find your twinned bravado and panic quite refreshing. But no, you won't have to take me down. I've already promised... someone special... that I would not harm you in any way."

"Or drive me crazy?" I say. Can't be too careful, ya know?

"No, that's off the table, too."

"No driving the whole world crazy or blowing it up or destroying the city or being a giant monster douche?"

"Well... eventually, yes, but not today," he says. "Not for quite a while, I expect."

"Okay, then," I say, daring to relax a smidgen. "So what the hell do you want? What was the point of hanging around with a bunch of damn supervillains and kidnapping me and all that crap?"

"The point?" he asks, looking upwards like he's thinking. "The point was... to have a little fun, I suppose. And to meet you. I've heard some very extraordinary things about you, Lenore."

Dude is a hell of a lot more evil than I was expecting.

"Ya know, I -- I don't even want to know," I say.

"Are you sure?" he says. "I could drop some very interesting hints..."

"Nope," I say. "No way in hell. And not interested in hearing another word out of you."

I pop all my tentacles for emphasis. "Get out of my town. Get off of my planet. Get out of my galaxy. And don't let me catch you back here again."

He smiles again. "Your wish is my command, Lenore." He steps back into the shadows. "Be seeing you." And the Haunter flies up into the night.

Is it over then? No, not even then.

I go get a chocolate float from DeCarlo's Diner on 76th. Man, was I thirsty.

After that, it's over.

I go home and get some sleep. Or try to. I forgot I don't have a bed anymore. Stupid lumpy couch in the TV lounge...

Anyway, about the time I'm ready to head off to classes the next morning, I start getting calls. Turns out the TV chopper got the entire thing last night on video, and I looked pretty awesome. I get calls from all the local heroes over the course of the day -- they'd all been out looking for me, but were under the impression that the Spawn of Y'gthulu were backed by the Church of Sorrow, so they'd been out cracking evil magician skulls. By the time they heard any reports about what was happening with me downtown, I'd already put Yan Sin down for the count.

So anyway, lots of congratulatory calls from local superheroes. My mom and dad call, of course. The MCPD want to give me an award for pulling those cops out of the helicopter. All the guys in my classes have been complimenting me on the excellent shoryuken I hit Yan Sin with. The professor for my 10 o'clock class has been completely immune to my celebrity status all semester, and he asks me for my autograph after class. I consider giving him some trouble about how hard his tests have been, but hey, it's not like I can refuse my adoring public, right?

It's not all happiness and fame, though -- Yan Sin was the only one of the Spawn of Y'gthulu to wind up in jail. No way to tell if the others are dead, skipped town, or melted back into whichever interdimensional hellhole they came from. Yan Sin's good and pissed about getting caught, and he was on TV screaming some very entertaining rants at the judge who arraigned him.

Tonight's patrol was pretty fun. Hybrid catches up to me about five minutes after I set out -- she recovered from the serpent person's bite just fine, thank goodness. She brings a plate with a couple of her mom's enchiladas, so we take an early break and dig in.

On top of that, every convenience store I go into comps me my coffee. Pretty sweet.

Oh, and Gearbox brings me a DVD he burned of the TV coverage of the big fight -- and it includes a commentary track by Defender and Wheelman, with Phantasmo breaking in occasionally to yell "It's AWESOME!" about something.

There's also a couple of bonus videos on the disc. In the first one, the Chrome Cobra makes a video saying she's proud of the work I'm doing and thinks I'm a good superhero. She's absolutely awkward, the way she always is on the rare occasions when she does interviews, which makes it all fairly adorable.

In the second one, Defender's wearing a cheap Chrome Cobra costume from one of the local costume shops, and she does a five-minute speech in Christian Bale's Batman voice saying she's proud of the work I'm doing and thinks I'm a good superhero. Then she does some fake kung-fu moves, gets a bucket stuck on her head, and does some epic pratfalls. I have no clue how they cooked all this stuff up in just one day.

When I get home around 2:30-ish, I've gotten an e-mail from, of all people, the Alpha Alliance. It reads:


Finally caught the video of your battle against the Spawn of Y'gthulu. Very impressive. Profound apologies for underestimating you. Looking forward to having you on board as an intern and crimefighting partner this summer.

Alpha Alliance

It's nice. Relatively nice, I mean, for a bunch of superpowered douchepucks. I hit "Reply."

Thank you very much, but I've decided to stay here in Metro City this summer. I appreciate the offer and interview, but I have too many responsibilities here in the city.

Lenore Pittman

P.S.: The name is Squid Kid.

I consider attaching a photo of me flipping off the camera, but decide to just hit "Send."

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