This first arc contains some rather derivative elements which I accidentally took from other works I was reading at the time. I’ll get around to rewriting this eventually, but due to the much larger length of each chapter this would take quite some time and possibly disrupt the update schedule, which I don’t want to do. It will get done eventually, but for now just bear with it until the end of Casting Shadows, after which I’ve removed the derivative elements.
I got off the train and walked onto the campus. The train station attached to Collswell University was grand, with soaring arches and high ceilings, but was grimy in the way only train stations could get. The weather was fair, one of the few pleasant days left before winter kicked in. As I headed across the lawn between the metro and the dorms, I took note of the people. Most of them were freshmen, so I’d seen them at orientation, but there were a few upperclassmen interspersed here and there. More would be arriving soon, with freshman orientation done. I headed to the dorm my room was in, and swiped the student ID I’d been issued during the orientation event across the RFID reader on the door. Entering the building I saw a pair of new arrivals trying in vain to call the elevator.
“Elevator doesn’t work,” I mentioned as I passed.
“Thanks,” said one.
“You’d think they’d put up a sign,” commented the other.
They’d figure out why the elevator didn’t work for them soon enough if they didn’t know already. I took the stairs up to the second floor two stairs at a time as I always did- one of the benefits of long legs. When I exited the stairwell I noticed that my room was open. It looked like my roommate had arrived. I strolled across the maroon carpeting in the hallway and poked my head in. My roommate was unpacking and putting sheets on his bed. The room was a double, so it wasn’t horribly small, but it was still not what I was used to. With another person, it seemed even smaller.
“Hey,” I said. He turned towards me. His hair was shockingly blond.
“Oh, hi. You my roommate?” He asked, extending a hand. “Sean McNaugh.”
I shook his hand. He was wearing black leather gloves, expensive looking, fitted suspiciously well to his hands.
“McNaugh? Like Paragon?” I asked. He looked surprised.
“Yeah, he’s my uncle.” I could tell he regretted saying it immediately. “How do you know that?”
“My mom used to manage accounts for a few superheroes. I ran into him once out-of-costume when she was meeting with him, connected the dots.” I offered him an apologetic smile. “Don’t worry, I’m not about to out him. I know how much that would suck. I’m Will Denzien.” His double take was almost comical.
“Yeah, my grandfather. He was in jail long before I was born, though. Only met him twice. Nothing like having your supervillain grandad bust out of jail for your birthday.”
There was no hiding that. He never had a villain name, because he was one of the first, so the first time he was caught the papers just used his last name. Eventually, they started calling him “Denizen of the Dark,” for the more sinister air appropriate to a villain of his caliber.
Sean grinned slyly, “I don’t suppose you inherited anything?”
“Naw,” I lied nonchalantly. “ You know as well as I do that it’s not genetic.”
He faked a quite convincing sigh- I almost missed it.
“Me neither.” he replied in kind.
He finished putting sheets on his bed and turned to face me as the pair I ran into in the lobby walked passed, chatting. I could see how he could be related to Paragon; he had that cliché superhero build: broad shoulders, wide jaw, prominent chin and brow. “Hey, I’m going out to dinner with my folks, so don’t worry if I’m back late.”
“No problem. Your uncle going to be there?”
“I wish. He’s a great guy.” He pulled on a sweater with a weird triangular pattern on it. I recognized the pattern from somewhere, but I couldn’t place where.
“See ya later,” I said as he left the room.
“Hopefully!” he called back.
Once he was gone I sat down on my bed. Across from it, Sean had put up a Playing God poster, a nuclear reactor done in red, green, and black. It was one of the newer ones- the singer was Hype instead of Diva. Playing God was easily the most successful superpowered band, mostly because of Hype. Hype was an interesting one. The prevailing theory was that his powerset let him predict fashion trends and tell what will be popular, which could explain PG’s dramatic rise in popularity of late.
I laid back on the bed. I had a while to myself, to think. I felt I could like my new roommate. He was certainly charismatic, though he was definitely lying about not having powers. The fact that powers aren’t genetic is true, but the idea that they aren’t inherited isn’t. Capes perpetuate the myth to protect their families. Judging by his relations, I bet he’d show up on the local superteam soon. That’s probably where he was now. I stood up, having reached a decision. I pulled out a pair of gloves and set about searching through his stuff. I was careful to put everything back exactly how it was, but I doubted he’d notice, given the disarray it was already in from his partial unpacking. After a few minutes, my efforts were rewarded. Two different cellphone chargers, one clearly not for any commercial cellphone to my trained eye. It was likely for whatever government-issued communications device he had. I put it back and hid the gloves. No harm being too careful.
That settles it, I thought. My roommate’s a superhero.
My life was about to get very interesting.
* * *
First five minutes of college, Sean thought, and my roommate has probably already found me out. Holy balls. I’d thought I’d gotten better at the ‘secret identity,’ thing.
Sean ducked into an alley to change into his costume. The white and gold costume was similar in function to his uncle’s but he was careful to make the design different enough to not appear associated. There were some minor differences, like the two slits down his back. Paragon flew by literally running across the air, but family members rarely had identical powers, just similar themes or purposes. Sean focused momentarily to complete the more physical part of the change as he pulled on a different pair of gloves; white, to fit with the rest of his costume. He winced as the wings tore out of his back, complete with feathers, and closed his eyes as the glow in his eye sockets blinded him momentarily before they adjusted. When he opened them, the world was aglow in infrared and ultra-violet hues. He would normally check his appearance in a mirror- appearances were important, but he had done this enough by now to know what he looked like. The white chainmail and gold armor plates, with the wings and the glowing eyes and white hair, he looked like an angel. He was meeting the Wardens of Justice today, and he hoped to make a suitably awe-inspiring first impression.
He stashed his civilian clothes and took flight, rising higher above the city with each beat of his wings. He savored the view for a moment before swooping down toward the Wardens’ building, a towering marvel of architecture. As he pulled up for a landing on the vacant helicopter pad, he saw the door into the building off the roof open. The person standing there to meet him was like a figure out of legend; Paragon, in his solid white costume, casually latent with power.
“Welcome to the Wardens tower, Guardian Angel. I have followed your career quite closely, and saw in you the makings of a true hero. We’re putting you in charge of the local youth hero group here,” Paragon spoke.
Guardian Angel folded his wings behind him, knowing it was much more impressive than pulling them in- they almost doubled his height. He considered mentioning his roommate’s knowledge, but he didn’t want to reveal that he may have already given away his civilian identity.
“I understand,” he said.
“Good. Now let me introduce you to the others. You’re going to report to us regularly, so you should know who you will be dealing with. You ready?”
The pair entered the elevator and it began descending. The doors opened into a brightly- lit hallway gleaming with trophies and memorabilia. At the end of the hall, they pushed through the set of double doors into the conference room, containing the rest of the Wardens and some select members of the press. Guardian Angel looked around the room. He recognized every face. The brilliant Dr Mind; Bulwark, the strongest woman in the world; Locus, the space warper; and Blueshift, one of the fastest men alive. Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm stood to one side, freelance heroes who graduated from the Wardens of Tomorrow the previous year, and the hulking form of Savage in the other.
“This is Doctor Mind, he’ll keep you and your team supplied with equipment.”
The brilliant Doctor Mind was somewhat underwhelming, looking more like a clerk than a supergenius, but his handshake was surprisingly strong.
“You just need a halo and the costume’s complete,” commented Doctor Mind with an unusually deep voice for so small a frame. Guardian angel knew Mind was no lightweight, though.
“This is Locus. You won’t need him much, hopefully.”
Locus just nodded silently. The air around him rippling with distortion at the movement as space bent around him. Locus was literally untouchable, a space warper and telekineticist. Anything that got too close would bend around him or fly off in another direction. Powerful stuff.
“This is Pyroclasm, and Cryoclasm. They just graduated the youth program, so they’ll be working alongside you from time to time.”
The twins wore costumes with matching designs in different colors; Pyroclasm in black and red, Cryoclasm in blue and white. Their powers were pretty much opposites, but the made a very effective team, each reigning in the destructiveness of the other’s power. Cryoclasm smiled warmly and elbowed her brother, who was leaning against a pillar trying to look cool. The irony was not lost on Guardian Angel.
“This is Bulwark. You’ll be reporting to her and Agent Jamisson.”
Paragon gestured to the large form of Bulwark, and then towards the normal in the suit who oversaw the management of the youth program.
“And finally Savage, our tracker and forensics expert, and Blueshift.”
Savage opened one enormous yellow eye and stared at Guardian angel. Blueshift was more friendly, offering a “Good evening.”
“It’s an honor to meet you all,” Guardian Angel said to the room in general.
“Now go and meet your team,” said Paragon.
* * *
After a while, I went to get some dinner at the dining hall. I, like all freshmen, was required to take the unlimited food option. I supposed they had one too many student suffer of malnutrition while attending from not eating enough that they had to make that mandatory. Jean Elliot dining hall was not the best food on campus, and not even on the same level as the food in the city, but it was close to the dorms and we didn’t have to pay for it, so almost all the freshmen went there for most meals. After going through the short line, I grabbed a slice of Jean’s surprisingly good pizza- one of the few things the place did well- and headed out to sit down. I looked around and spotted someone I’d noticed at orientation. He was sitting with a girl I didn’t recognize, but with a chair between them, signalling no actual relationship.
“Hey you mind?” I asked
“Nah, go ahead,” the girl replied.
“So what dorm you in?”
“Planchett, said the guy.
“Breccia,” said the girl.
There was a pause in the already lackluster conversation as we all ate.
“Look at you,” said the guy with a chuckle.
I looked up from my food.
“I’m so much better than you, and you’re just happily chatting away with me,” he clarified, “Like, you have no idea.
Before I could respond, the girl commented,
“Jesus, Liam, you’re such an elitist.”
Damn, I thought. This conversation is not going how I hoped. I finished my bite of pizza and responded:
“Okay, two pieces of advice. Never assume you’re better than someone, and second, never tell them that to their face, ’cause if they’re any less forgiving than I am they’d make it their mission to kick your ass.”
“Well put,” from the girl, whose name I still didn’t know.
“You couldn’t anyway. And I am better than you.” He looked around furtively. “I have powers.”
That sparked my temper for real. I could deal with people who thought they were better than others, because they are usually wrong. What I hate are people who legitimately are and still think that way. I raised my eyebrows fractionally, as if not impressed. That was clearly not a reaction he was used to. Agh! I’m trying to make friends, not enemies.
“See, that’s the kind of thing you’re not supposed to tell people,” I said, wagging my finger at him sarcastically. “Very dangerous. Look, you may have been the big shot at your high school in whereverville, being the only super,” cue melodramatic hand gestures, “but I’ve got news for you, not everyone here is going to take kindly to your superemicist attitude. In fact, last I checked, about… nobody does.”
“Woah, shot down by the norm,” remarked the girl. “Smooth,” she directed at me.
I admit I rigged the conversation a bit. I had picked him out at orientation as staying himself apart from the others, but not wearing the right clothes to fall into either the wealthy or the genius category. I figured the only way he’d get into this school with that attitude is some superpower; The school had one of the country’s most prestigious superhero training programs. I had been hoping to get some friends in the superhuman program, but it seemed to have backfired. The girl, I couldn’t place, though.
“Hey, who are you, anyway?” I asked her.
“Sasha. I’m this asshole’s friend.” She tipped her head towards Liam.
“And it’s probably safe to assume you’re in the Hero program too?”
“Uh, yeah. Hey, listen, we’re really not supposed to-“
“Eh, don’t sweat it. You’re not the first capes I’ve found out today,” I said, nodding at Liam and Sasha. And with that, I got up and made my way to the door, leaving them to wonder what I meant. I could almost feel Liam’s glare.
As I walked back to Planchett, I had no doubt that Liam was following me.
Oh crap, I hadn’t planned for this, I thought. I waved myself in and took the stairs again. This time, though, I took them up past the second floor, with the beginnings of an idea. When I reached the top of the stairwell I was barely winded, even though I took several flights two at a time. I quickly picked the lock on the door onto the roof- something I had picked up from my dad at an early age- and went out onto the roof. The roof was flat and open- there were no guardrails. There was a light breeze that prickled through my skin.
When I first got my powers, a breeze such as this would have seemed unbearably loud. For a few weeks, I had been incapacitated even by doors opening and closing. After some time, though, I had become accustomed to listening to the wind, the gentle air currents and eddies that objects left in their passage. I don’t know if my dad had that, though Grandad could see perfectly in the dark. I suppose my dad must have had some sensory power, to see through his fog.
I stood perfectly still, I letting some gentle convection flow through my lungs, cycling in air. Breathing like this still seemed unnatural to me, but it worked far more efficiently than inhaling normally. I relaxed, and felt my hands stop shaking. I needed to look confident. As the breeze cycled around me, I felt the telltale disturbance of a person trying to sneak up behind me. I didn’t bother to turn, but just spoke as if to the air, ad-libbing as my idea formed. I pushed with my power and caused some gentle currents of air swirl around my feet, kicking up dust and hopefully making me look a tiny bit more imposing.
“So, you decided to show after all,” I said, trying desperately to hide my fear. The figure behind me, which I assumed was Liam stopped abruptly. “You really thought I was a student? Let’s see, I guess you must’ve thought you could get some quick revenge for me embarrassing you in front of your girlfriend. Maybe land a few punches.”
He started forward again, but then stopped as I started talking again a moment later, uneasy. I was starting to get rolling.
“You don’t even pause when I end up somewhere with no cameras, blatantly luring you out. Idiot.” I said sharply. “I work for the school. My job is to weed out assholes like you.” An obvious lie to the the observer, but an entertaining one, and hopefully he was spooked enough by the school’s strict secret-ident policy outlined in detail in their version of the orientation speech. “Not only did you reveal your nature to someone, you would have fallen into an obvious ambush. Unfortunately, we have a three strikes policy, so I can’t kick you out,” I continued sarcastically. This was actually true. I’d only listened in on the Supers’ orientation enough to glean some choice details like that, but I was supposed to be at the normal one, so I didn’t get much. I was mainly just lucky to overhear that. “But let’s just consider this an official warning, capiche?” He didn’t respond, just turned backed quietly back into the stairwell, as if trying to convince me he had never been there.
I let myself relax. He hadn’t called my bluff. I had a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn’t actually be able to take him in a fight, and I had no idea what his powers actually were, so I was gambling a bit there, but it looked like I came across with the right impression.
I stayed up on the roof, and decided on the spur of the moment to practice my powers. I breathed deep, and focused. There was no sound or fancy lighting effect commonly associated with teleportation. My vision shifted forward a tiny bit. I was positive this was an actual result, until I stumbled forward and realized that while my head and upper body had moved forward, my feet had moved backwards, leaving me unbalanced and not actually moved. That was pretty much the result of my previous tries. Interesting implications, but frustrating, and useless. I tried again, with much the same results. I knew teleportation was a part of my family’s powerset, but I had it in a much less powerful version, it seemed. Like the rest of my powers. I spent a while longer practicing my powers, with no real improvement.
* * *
Guardian Angel entered into the room where his team was gathered. He remembered the youth superteam he was on in high school. He had hated the woman who supervised the team, but he had stayed because he felt like he belonged with the other kids. He was one of those people who felt like his powers set him apart from others, but not above, and was a hero because he had powers and felt obliged to. To not would be horrible negligence, a guilt that would haunt him daily. He was glad now that he had struggled through Mrs. Dramstead, because now he was leading his own team, directly under the Wardens of Justice. He had gone over the team’s dossier on the way to the city, memorizing the names.
Interestingly, he had started noticing a trend in the names. It seemed like the short, one-word names were becoming popular again. His new team included Kismet, a limited precog with enhanced reflexes, Legion, a powerful duplicator with psychological side-effects, Plateau, who could extrude mass from surfaces and objects, Dame Damage, a tinker with some interesting specialties, and Shockwave, a speedster with an unusually destructive power, and he had been informed that there were a few known supers aging in soon.
Guardian Angel stepped into the Wardens of Tomorrow lounge on the lower floor of the Warden’s building. The Wardens of Tomorrow was the youth branch of the Wardens of Justice. The room was fancy, with expensive gadgets and furniture, but cluttered with an eclectic assortment of books, game controllers, and partially-assembled weapons.
“Good afternoon everyone. I am Guardian Angel, your new leader,” Sean said to the room. He pulled his wings in, knowing that after the initial impression of authority, he should show a less intimidating side. “As I’m new to the city, I’m going to be counting on you all for a while, so don’t be surprised if I delegate some authority to you.”
“Cool, so you’re just in charge of us now? We get no say?” Asked Legion. He looked strange, his red costume half off, the upper half tied around his waist, with a loose sweatshirt on above it.
“Shut up, Luke,” his comment earned him from Kismet, who was idly picking her fingernails in a corner, her dark hair in a tight weave under her mask.
“Yup. The powers that be have decided that you needed new leadership, and I will be in town from here on out, so it worked out.”
“Good luck. You know what happened to the last guy?” Asked Shockwave, his fingers twitching slightly as he talked.
“No, actually, I don’t. It’s on the ledger as ‘Honorable Discharge,’ but I was never told the specifics. Would you care to enlighten me?” Angel’s cellphone buzzed once briefly, meaning it was not urgent.
“Starting tomorrow, we’re going to be doing regular training sessions to try to improve your skill with your powers. Meet me here at five. Good night.” Guardian Angel left the room.
Dame Danger looked up from what she was idly deconstructing.
“He was interesting,” She commented shyly.
“Looks like Dame’s got-” began Plateau, extending a steel ball-bearing into a metal rod before snapping it back in.
“If you finish that sentence I will punch you in the face, Nick,” interrupted Kismet, not looking up.
Once he was out of the room, Guardian Angel checked his phone. The message was from his uncle. Called out of town on a mission, be back soon, hopefully. Hold down the fort while we’re gone.
The whole team was called out? Thought Guardian Angel. It must be something serious.
* * *
I came down from the roof, thoroughly discouraged. After carefully re-locking the door, I headed back down the stairs to my room. Some of my neighbors were starting an impromptu game of Hearts on the floor of hall the outside my room.
“Hey want to join?” asked Josh, one of the freshmen I’d run into at orientation. “We need a fourth.”
“Sure, why not,” I replied.
We chatted idly, getting to know each other. Josh was majoring in economics with a minor in graphic design. The other two, Kevin and Wren, were both in the music program, though Wren was minoring in computer science. I recognized the two as the pair trying to use the elevator earlier. Josh dealt me in, and I played a few rounds before excusing myself after almost managing to shoot the moon if he hadn’t sacrificed himself and taken the Queen of Spades.
Sean wasn’t back yet, which wasn’t surprising. I opened up my laptop and and pulled up a metahuman news site. There was some interesting news: Playing God would be in the city in a few weeks, and Gom Ziggurat , or ‘The Acropolisk’, as the article called him, was spotted close to Egypt. That could get dangerous, I thought. I refined my search and found what I was looking for. I eventually found an article titled: ‘Collswell City Youth Superteam Gains New Leader.’ After skimming it for relevant information I closed my laptop and laid down on my bed.
I woke up briefly to hear Sean come back in. I hadn’t realized I’d fallen asleep.
I woke up to a knocking on the door of my room. I sat up and blearily looked around. Sean was still asleep. I hopped out of bed and pulled on my bathrobe. I opened the door and was greeted by Sasha, surprisingly bright-eyed for the early hour.
“Hey, uh Dean Storm wants to talk to you,” She said.
“At…” I briefly checked my phone’s clock, “Eight in the morning? My first class isn’t even until ten.”
“I imagine that would be why,” she countered.
“Right. Wait, weren’t you in Breccia?”
“Yeah, but you and Liam are in Planchett. The dean wanted to see him too. Half an hour ago, actually.”
“Language!” She said, sarcastically and turned to leave.
I wouldn’t have caught her sudden disappearance once she was out of my view if it weren’t for the replacement of the air in the space she had occupied until a moment before with air at a lower temperature- as it was warmed the expansion caused some interesting air currents.
I threw on some clothes and headed out to the dean’s office. I remembered where it was from the campus tour, near the biology building. It was starting to get cold at night, so the air was still relatively cool. I entered the building where the dean’s office was and made my way to his door. I knocked thrice and waited for a response.
“Yes, come in, come in,” said the Dean.
I opened the door and entered the room. The dean of the Metahuman Studies department sat at his desk, his feet not touching the ground and the desk still high on his chest. The lights lit his wiry plume of hair, setting it aglow. His office was unusually large, and had small windows. The room had some other peculiarities, such as thin copper wires subtly running down the legs of his desk and chair, as well as most of the other furniture in the room, and every drawer and shelf had some kind of bar or bolt across it. There was a bookcase with a plexiglass door on each shelf, and his computer was bolted down. They weren’t really noticeable individually, but together they made quite an impression. I was pretty sure that if I were to check the windows they would have been similarly reinforced.
“So, Mr, Denizen, I understand you had an altercation with one of my students recently,” said the dean calmly.
“Yes sir,” I replied.
“I understand,” he looked down at his desk briefly. “He revealed that he was a metahuman in an attempt to intimidate you.”
“An unsuccessful attempt, sir. I imagine you heard this from the teleporter, Sasha?”
He looked mildly surprised, but the expression faded swiftly into mild amusement.
“Yes, well, I suppose we’ll all have to be careful around you. Let’s see, he was angry, so he followed you back to the dorm, where you somehow managed to frighten him off.”
“Even though he was invisible.”
I thought quickly.
“He was walking loudly, sir.”
“Yes, let’s call it that, shall we,” the dean said, slightly sarcastic.
“Be honest with me,” he continued, his tone shifting suddenly, “Why aren’t you in the hero program?”
I was slightly surprised he knew I had powers, but then I remembered that he is the dean of the metahuman studies department. He probably has that job for a reason.
“Can’t sir. Family heritage,” I said, bitterly. I didn’t even bother to deny it.
“Oh, right. Denizen. Hmm.” He furrowed his brow.
The school wouldn’t admit people who were the kids or grandkids of known villains because of the risk of information leaking through them. In that regard, my family was pretty much stacked against me.
He pulled open one of his drawers and started sorting through a stack of papers.
“Have you heard of the Redemption program?”
My pulse quickened. I attempted to sound curious but calm. I don’t think I was very successful.
“No, sir.” My voice sounded tight in my throat. He looked up at me.
“It’s still in it’s early stages, which would be why you haven’t heard of it. It’s not ideal,” he sighed, “but unfortunately it’s the best you’re going to get. Get through that and we can admit you sophomore year. We need more like you in the program.”
“Observant, quick thinking, intelligent, and respectful… we get a lot of people so used to being able to bully their way out of problems they don’t try to think their way out, and those who are intelligent mostly use it as an excuse to look down on others. It’s unfortunate, really.”
He handed me the paper he was looking at. “Here are the details of the program. You’ll have a handler, and you’ll participate in missions with the local youth superteam.”
“Thanks, I’ll think about it.” I turned to leave.
“Don’t get yourself killed.”
I would have taken his last comment to be a joke, but his tone was dead serious.