A Bit of an Urban Fantasy Superhero Plotbunny

Yes, my plotbunnies are careening into and out of ideas like spiders given caffeine. The past month has been… extremely stressful, even by my standards. So given the choice between banging my head against the wall and not writing anything, or jumping into new (or, as in Whispers, much older) stuff and getting something written each day, I’m taking the writing option. Even if that means leaving some current works-in-progress to sit until I’m feeling a little less, “oh man, lawyers and more Federal paperwork around every corner.”

(I now know how to order official death certificates. Which are needed for all kinds of paperwork. This is not something I ever wanted to know.)

So. Currently the plotbunnies want colorful! Fantastic! Awesome powers! World-shaking magic!

But, bunnies being their usual contradictory selves, they also want a more small-scale story instead of an Epic Save The World. And they want to get in bits of real history.

Three images. First, a Hero/Villain battle crashing into a bookstore near the manga aisles.
Thwump.
Mystic bonds come down.
Disgruntled Sorcerer: “I was having a quiet day.”
Proceeds to check out, shove the fight out into the parking lot, and vanish before the cops can show.

Second, the head of the Heroic Group that’s chasing the Villains that stole a bunch of Ancient Magical Artifacts exasperatedly asks the Ancient Temple Master just why are they so upset, what got stolen, the Ring of Solomon or something?
Ancient Master: “I wish. It was the Ring of Ja’far.”

And then the poor Ancient Master has to deal with Disney assumptions, and trying to explain no, the ring is not from the Arabian Nights, Ja’far is just one of the more notable people in the recent past who’s owned the ring and used its magic.

It actually serves the Ancient Master right. The spirit in the ring, A’akinesh, has been locked up by the Master’s temple the past several decades or so for the simple “crime” of being a Powerful Entity that was on an opposing side. Think “Thrainduil hanging onto ancient dwarven weapons because Cranky.” Just, mystical temple, not elves. They didn’t even bother to try communicating; they assumed the ring was tied to a powerful djinn, and so was an evil weapon to be kept away from mortal hands.

Third: “HeroTemps! How can we be your hero today?”

Yep. There is a hero team that handles city-level threats and supervillains for (Currently Unnamed Fictional City). But there are also a fair number of people with minor but useful abilities… and there is a call center for all of them. Jane Donovan works in that center in the Artifacts and Items division. She’s the one A’akinesh lands on, and ends up working with him as the Sorcerer. How, I’m not quite sure yet.

(Yes, Sorcerer, not Sorceress. The two of them are having great fun trolling everyone. Think like this but genderflipped.)

A few things I know: While super-powered individuals and monsters have shown up through history, mostly they’re thought of as myths, legends, exaggerations. Only samples coming back from Mars got scattered about ten or fifteen years before the story begins, and things… quickly got Interesting. Magic is, belatedly, being recognized as real in some cases, which has made many people Very Unhappy. (In fact, “magic” draws off the exact same energy source as superhero powers – people who learn magic just learn specialized ways to manipulate it instead of Automatic Fireblast and such powers.) And there is a really unhappy supervillain Mad Scientist out there who stole the Magical Artifacts… and lost A’akinesh in the process. Not that he knows A’akinesh is anything but a magic ring either.

Oh, and Jane lives across the hall in the same apartment building as the civilian identity of the Badass Normal hero team tactician Jot – who she knows as a fellow HeroTemps employee, of course! They sometimes gripe about work together.

A few things I don’t know: What did the Mad Scientist steal the items for? Does Jane know Jot’s hero identity as well as civilian when the story starts? (More likely than you’d think, given she is one of their magic item experts.) Possibly most important – whose POVs do I use in-story? I need Jane’s, likely A’akinesh’s as well; I’m not sure if I also need Jot’s, though it would be amusing to have an outside POV for the mass facepalm of Cranky Ancient Sorcerer antics.

So… there is more, but this is some of the basics. Thoughts?

35 thoughts on “A Bit of an Urban Fantasy Superhero Plotbunny

  1. Of course, Thranduil had good reason for being cranky. Among other things, the Dwarves were _really_ pushing the bounds of Hospitality and would have been breaking Guest Right if they’d actually bothered seeking it to start with. Most of the time, that’s left out of people’s discussions of that event.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. If I remember correctly, Orcrist was the personal sword of Turgon (King of Gondolin) – it was an ancient _Elven_ weapon.

      (The Elves of Doriath, on the other hand, did commission Dwarven blades.)

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Yeah, I wasn’t saying anything about your story’s case, just about the example used. I’ve seen it too many times used as a “see, this doesn’t fit modern cultural sensibilities and I didn’t bother learning the context, therefore the dwarves did nothing wrong and Thranduil’s an old meany”, which is quite wrong. Not that Thranduil’s entirely guiltless, but it’s actually more of a case of “all the sides were wrong, and the dwarves are not the least-wrong of the sides”.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, but the Elves of Gondolin were related to Feanor, etc., whereas Thranduil was from Doriath, from elves who never went to Aman, which was why the Sea hit Legolas so hard. Totally different elven genealogies going on. And Orcrist came from Gondolin.

        Frankly, the dwarves had as much right to Orcrist by ancestry as Thranduil did — namely, none — whereas the right for finders and conquerors to own treasure is pretty absolute. The elves did not conquer the dwarves in fair fight, and usually you can’t just confiscate stuff from trespassers or imprison trespassers. Gondolin’s laws are the only precedent; and frankly, the Doriath people didn’t ever agree to Gondolin’s laws, or even know about them until after Luthien got captured illegally. (And the same thing with Gollum getting caught in the Minas Tirith secret outpost — their only legal justification for “being found here is death!” was Gondolin’s laws, and that was pretty highhanded illegal stuff to begin with.)

        This doesn’t mean the dwarves weren’t in very bad legal positions, because they were. But Thranduil was pretty much repeating all the mistakes of his old king, without having his own version of Melian or Luthien to argue with him.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. I need to sign up to nitpicker’s anonymous… Thranduil was asking dwarves to rework an item dwarves had given to someone else as an honor & friendship gift, who died as part of the consequences of Thranduil’s decisions, The reworking was to install the item that got their friend killed.

      I don’t think they knew that Melian told Thranduil to hand it over to the Feanorians, either.

      i do think they should have simply refused. Or kept to the original bargain instead of continually escalating demands. Honestly, I think, although the Silmarils are officially hallowed, they also, by this point, carry a curse.

      Just putting this out there, I won’t participate in exchanges, unless Vathara wants Tolkien nerdery taking over her comments. But my system is also going into the shop so I won’t have access later.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wrong Elven king. You’re thinking of Thingol king of Doriath and lord of Beleriand. Thranduil was king of the Woodland Realm (originally Greenwood the Great, later Mirkwood after Sauron’s influence spread), and the father of Legolas. The event we’re talking about is the one where the Dwarves (+invisible Bilbo) were captured/rescued by the Elves in Mirkwood. The Dwarves were being very rude and suspicious (because they wanted to keep all the treasure for themselves, and didn’t trust the Elves), and Thranduil was rightly worried that they were potential spies/saboteurs since they were acting like they had stuff to hide and were carrying Elven treasures with them that they refused to explain how they’d gotten ahold of, and Thranduil was already worrying because “the Necromancer” (Sauron, tho they weren’t yet sure of that) had already been trying to get spies and saboteurs into the Thranduil’s realm to undermine it.

        That said, the case with Thingol and the Dwarves of Menegrost did have a lot more wrong on the Elven side, I agree.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Possible Mad Scientist reason for stealing: Hoarding samples for later experiments? Magical items and artifacts are tricky (and expensive) to procure. Get a whole bunch at once and it gives Mad Science more time to percolate and pick the “best” experiment to run at any given time.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hmm. I’m leaning more toward a guy frustrated with Hard Work Hardly Works – he’s an excellent scientist but envious as heck of people who have more admired powers.

        (A’akinesh will not be impressed. Sorcery is awesome and powerful and fun, yes. It’s also work, research, more work….)

        Like

  3. I’m a little out of sorts today. Even found myself wondering if my bunnies were naturally nuts, or if I learned the quality from hanging around writers with that quality. (Thinking carefully, I have always had the qualities that seem to match (in my case) with difficult bunnies.)

    Seems like there is a lot of room for design variation in a mad scientist character. You’ve got choices available for several of the aspects. What kind of criminal? What kind of crazy? What kind of gimmick set as a comic book character? What kind of science/engineering?

    Especially if the public knows of magic artifact experts, that world will have areas of scientific research that we don’t. You’ve got superphysics, thaumophysics, and the intersection of the two. Intersection is going to be the area of the research that would be cause for a modern mad scientist to dig into ancient magical artifacts.

    “But why would a modern mad scientist have the background to be /needing/ ancient artifacts? Fifteen years isn’t anywhere near long enough to mine out the more accessible results that are still publishable.”

    Bunnies: “There are two villains, a professor and a grad student. Professor is a pre-modern but not ancient magic user. Probably not even from the classical era. Maybe the student’s student of the ancient mystic master, with the master’ student himself having passed.

    Anyway, Professor lacks the master’s breadth and depth of lore, but is expert in mental enhancement magics, and has carelessly made himself a bit insane by systemic experimentation with stacked enhancement effects. He can produce a great many types of intelligence, but his immortality/healing magics do not reverse all of the damage he has done to himself along the way. He is bored, seeking intellectual challenge, and fell in love with mathematical physics during the 19th century.

    The grad student has the sort of backstory competence that your ‘mad scientist thief’ never really displays again once they join a hero’s rogue’s gallery. (Partly because a hero who notices an impossible theft with no evidence can talk to the usual suspects, and see who reacts. The only way to defeat that countermeasure is to quit.) Young super genius, committed a small number of crimes while in high school, stayed clean while getting an undergraduate degree and reading an R2 university’s library, and then went back to crime. Commits small numbers of meticulous crimes to validate sense of ego versus others. Professor used enhancement magics to help him ID a supergenius criminal who had remained secret, and recruited the grad student. Student serves two, maybe more, purposes for the professor. One, guinea pig for stacking enhancement magic on supergenius. Two, a relevant superpower for studying the intersection of superphysics and thaumophysics. Three, a magical apprentice. Four, a genuine graduate student, and someone to pass on his secret physics research to.

    Grad student picked that collection, because per the professor’s unknowingly incomplete secret stash of magical lore, it contained everything he would need to test the professor’s theory.

    These two villains totally fit the combo of Jot and the ancient sorcerer. The spirit of the ring probably has knowledge of how to avoid the hazards of stacking enhancement effects. Jot, as a Batman power set, may well have a mundane skill that can replicate some of the effects of super genius. Like how people can learn ki for martial arts super feats.”

    So, yeah, I need to catch up on my sleep deficit, and work harder on work-life balance.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If temple people assume A’akinesh is a djinn, and make some assumptions about what that means, they might decide that it’s too dangerous to talk to him.
    “If we talk to the Djinn, we’ll be forced to make wishes that are turned against us!”

    Making assumptions like that guarantees you’ll be wrong sometimes, but that’s never stopped people from making assumptions.

    There’s a couple classic reasons for grabbing a bunch of artifacts.
    Maybe he wants to feed them to another artifact as fuel.
    Maybe he wants to study them and needs a selection.
    Maybe he wants to implode them and cause a super-critical magical reaction.
    Maybe he only wants one, but he doesn’t know which one (inevitably it’d be A’akinesh’s ring)

    Incidentally, his motivations don’t have to be correct.
    Scientists make assumptions just like everyone else, and Mad Scientists are more prone to it than most.

    Incidentally, have you ever read Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs?
    It has a character that’s a spirit bound to a ring, and there’s some interesting interactions.
    He is not a happy person.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m going to guess that Briggs was in the Supernatural fandom, since their ultra-cringe ‘omegaverse’ smut-genre got codified in the same year that Wolfsbane came out.

        Really wish people would drop the ‘alpha wolf’ theory from popular consciousness: The ‘alpha wolves’ of wild packs are really just the Mama and Papa of a family group. Likewise, extrapolating dynamics from wolves in captivity makes as much sense as extrapolating human behavior from a prison population.

        -Albert

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What did the Mad Scientist steal the items for?

    Material!

    How can you properly SCIENCE! without test subjects and items? Will he ever get over one of HIS items (stolen, fair and square) going through the test process outside of his control so he doesn’t get anything useful from it!??!

    **********

    Does Jane know Jot’s hero identity as well as civilian when the story starts? (More likely than you’d think, given she is one of their magic item experts.)

    Well, tactically speaking, compartmentalizing data is a better idea– knowing that they work at the same place, sure, but you don’t want to know what, exactly, they DO. One of the serious security issues in real police forces is the lack of safeties preventing a Bad Cop from getting all kinds of information. There are benefits to this lack– a lot of crimes are solved by folks on totally different cases gossiping and noticing stuff matches up– so a sort of culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” about ones self might be useful?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. FWIW, there are a *lot* of not-doing-cool-stuff type agents in real law enforcement, and it’s kinda like the military for having 4-10 people forming the support that allows that one pointy end guy.
        So they could even know each other’s department and not know anything beyond “hey, I have a contact in Operations– drop a note at work if you need something, they’ll push it to the person who can handle it.”

        My husband used that in the Navy, even– both when we were both in (different departments, basically avoided a lot of making work for other people by finding out the right place to send stuff first) and in later jobs, just by having someone to know to ask for better information.
        Never even sensitive details, of course, because that’s one of his weird geek fixations. But there’s definite, legitimate benefits to having connections between law enforcement, military and whoever is writing/enforcing/dealing with rules.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. As an unrelated suggestion, since you’re talking about mad scientists, have you read Miracle of Science? https://www.project-apollo.net/mos/index.html

    It’s got the most amusing worldbuilding for “what mad scientists _are_”. Those who are suffering (enjoying!) Science Related Memetic Disorder. It’s not just scientists/engineers who can pull off miracles, or are a bit disgruntled, or are magic-genius types. Instead, it’s possibly even relatively ordinary people, but who have gotten hit by a mind-virus to follow a specific pattern of activities (what particular stuff they focus on as their specialty may vary, but the overarching pattern of activity is nearly identical).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Let’s see… reasons for acquiring stuff:
    1) you want them to have.
    2) you want them to use
    3) you want them to keep other people from having/using them
    4) you want them to destroy

    Has your Mad Scientist Villain decided that these are things that Man Was Not Meant To Mess With? Or is he just trying to ensure the supremacy of Mad Science over Ancient Magic?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The mad scientist may have a brilliant or ‘brilliant’ theory about how Mars rocks influence who triggers with what powers, but can’t get enough funding to legally acquire sufficient research material.

    Obviously the solution is to make a portal to Mars to source an unlimited supply, but that means forcing a cape with dimensional powers. Sadly, an early experiment saw several artifacts caught up and scattered like Dragonballs after someone wishes Goku back to life. A’akinesh’s Ring was simply one such artifact, albeit a potent one, so both Mad Scientist and Ancient Monk feel that it ought to rest in their respective keeping rather than on Donovan’s finger.

    (Thank you for using ‘sorcerer’ correctly, by the way. Always makes me twitch when I see someone who thinks that Hasbro D&D knows what a sorcerer is.)

    -Albert

    Liked by 1 person

    1. *Wry G* The D&D split between spell-researchers (“wizards”) and innate spell-slingers (“sorcerers”) makes sense game-wise, but it does not fit how the terms were actually used in European lore and studies on magic up until… eh, the 1960s, I think?

      John Dee was by all accounts a student of sorcery, to name just one guy, and he’d have probably laughed out of court anyone who thought they could do magic without math.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dee

      Like

      1. I mean, from what I understand the term was coined in the 15th century as a conjurer of ‘evil’ spirits. Albeit that an earlier Latin-based term meant someone who divined fortune by casting lots.

        For my own usage, writing or game-making, I’m going to go with ‘someone who commands spirits’, with the note that the ‘evil’ connotations are due to using said spirits for hostile purposes a lot of the time. In any event, since the Ring gives Donnovan access to an ancient and mighty spirit, I figure she’s a legit Sorcerer even if there’s not the usual element of coercion in their relationship.

        -Albert

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Re: ordering death certificates — If it makes you feel any better, amateur genealogists are always having to order birth and death certificate information. Identity theft has made it a bit more involved, and online ordering has made it a bit easier. A lof of states have things like “official copies” versus “purely informational info,” so that it’s harder for people to get fake SSNs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I appreciate that. Mostly… it’s just every time I think I’ve got all the paperwork handled and can not think about it for a while, something else shows up?

      Honestly, I’ve had to deal with new paperwork/phone calls/etc. every 2 to 3 days since she passed. And there’s no one to handle it but me and Sib – our brothers have made it clear all they want is their share of whatever money is left, they’re not going to get involved with anything else. Including the paperwork.

      Edit: And the dog. Old dog, who we just spent a considerable portion of last week getting seen to for serious tooth problems… which I wish we could have caught last year, only Sib and I were too busy trying not to die to follow up when the vet’s office changed hands and they screwed up the physical and only did part of it ’cause someone didn’t get word he needed to be sedated if they went near his mouth.

      (Literally trying not to die. The preceding years were bad enough, then there was about a 6-month stretch when I was operating on 5 hours of sleep or less a night, and that usually interrupted several times. And errands still needed to be run, and she needed full-time care, and we had no spare money to hire any help. At all. And no one would help us. We asked. Everyone we could think of. No one. Nobody from work, no churches, no relatives – “You made your bed, you can lie in it”. Yes, same brother that wants the money.

      I am so tired of this mess.)

      Like

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