On the weekends it looked like the Wardens of Justice went out on patrols in pairs. We had been lucky enough that almost everything going on had happened when they were out of school, because they couldn’t all be pulled out if school at once- too conspicuous.
I spent the morning sleeping, almost until noon, when my Wardens communicator buzzed to tell me my patrol was soon. I pulled myself out of bed and got dressed. Sean had already left. According to my schedule, his patrol was immediately before mine, with Dame Danger. Mine was with Kismet. It looked like we were paired up based on who they thought would work well together. I covered up the body armor with more civilian clothes and left the dorm.
I retrieved the helmet from where I had stashed it and pulled my darkness over my clothes, completing the costume. I didn’t bother to take off the civilian clothes- they were impossible to see under the darkness.
When I entered the Warden’s building -I had apparently earned the right to enter the building now- Guardian Angel and Dame Danger were just returning.
“You know, this would have been very useful yesterday,” said Guardian Angel casually, twirling the new spear. It was mostly the same, but I recognized parts from the device Dame Danger had had on Thursday.
“Sorry!” Said Dame Danger hastily.
“No, no, it’s fine. I managed perfectly well without it. I ran into a Tinker called Daedalus with some electromechanical wings. Would have been useful to have some range.”
“Not a villain I’ve heard of.”
“Not a villain, a hero. Long story.”
“Anyway, as it was yesterday, it would have set you on fire. Dr. Mind helped me out with that.”
“Oh. Well I’m thankful I didn’t have it, then.”
“Any action?” Asked Kismet, entering the room through another door.
“No, actually. Plateau and Legion didn’t see anything either. It’s odd,” said Guardian Angel.
“How so?” I asked.
“There’s almost always some crime going on downtown,” he explained. “I’d guess we just couldn’t find it, but we’ve got those emergency boxes all over the area and the police like to call us in a lot. We’ve had nothing. Could be we’re just lucky this morning, but I’m not so sure of that.” The emergency boxes had started as a blue-light system on Collswell’s many college campuses, and had gradually expanded to encompass the majority of the city.
“No more talking,” said Kismet, stopping me from replying. “Let’s go.”
Kismet and I started on the route Jamisson had highlighted on our communicators. The streets were busier than they had been the previous times I’d gone out as a hero, so I got some strange looks, mostly from tourists, and some hateful looks which I had expected but were still painful to bear. Almost worse were the uninterested people, so jaded by the presence of metahumans in Colswell that they never realized how much we changed their lives, and not always for the better.
“I have to ask, what was that about your dad yesterday?” Kismet asked, her eyes widening a moment later. I still couldn’t get used to her precognition. It looked like I would be telling the truth.
“My dad was a villain a while back. He never really believed in the whole lifestyle, he just didn’t know better. He had a pretty messed up childhood.”
“Yeah. And both his parents were villains. They kinda taught him the trade. He retired from villainy when he met my mom, but they divorced when she found out he was a villain. I don’t know what he’s doing now. I spent most of the time with my mom, but my dad’s not a bad person, really.”
“Woah. That’s must have been a rough thing to learn.”
I felt strange movement in the air around a just ahead of us which I recognized almost immediately, along with the accompanying *wumph.* Kismet stopped suddenly.
“Stay back,” I said. “There’s something going on around there. Let me handle it.”
I stepped around the corner and came face-to-face with Limit Break.
“Afternoon,” I said cheerfully. “Just making sure you’re not going to do anything stupid.”
“You! You were with the Wardens,” said Spit. Sham plucked a gun from the air and leveled it at me. I waved a hand unconcernedly.
“Independent contractor. I work for whoever has the money. They needed help with the wardens out of town.”
“Why should we trust you? You fought us,” said Sham. I laughed.
“I put on a good show didn’t I. I couldn’t actually take you out, though. Bad for business,” I watched their faces carefully. “I actually helped you get away. Plus, it would upset the boss.”
They all reacted visibly, the most controlled of which was Sham, who merely raised an eyebrow, keeping the gun steady at me. I tried not to show how much that unnerved me. I felt Kismet stir the air around her as she shifted and I realized she was relaying this back to HQ.
“Did he tell you that himself?” Asked Spit. They are working for someone, I thought. I hazarded a guess.
“Of course not. I’m not suicidal. I don’t even know what he looks like.” True enough. It helped to intersperse truths into the lies and ambiguities so they’re harder to tell apart. “I’m guessing he told you guys to lay low too and the way I figure it, he’s got at least half the city’s villains working for him some way or another.” There were more looks of surprise. They didn’t know. “None of them are active. You guys go out, you get stomped as all the city’s heroes converge on you.”
I had figured out they were working for someone by their targets. I’d done some research and noticed that they haven’t hit any really high-value targets, just lots of high-profile ones, museums, and high-security banks. Hitting a high-security banks is actually less likely to have lots of profit because they’re more careful about keeping it decentralized- one of the tidbits I picked up from my dad. More than half the time they didn’t even get any haul or made off with something famous they couldn’t conceivably sell to anyone, or it would be recognized instantly. There was no way they were making a living off of that.
I figured they were being paid by someone to create a distraction: the targets they were hitting were almost guaranteed to attract heroes. Looking at the timing between their jobs compared with other criminals in the city, Masquerade, Shatterpoint, Labyrinth, who we now knew were working for the Upright Man in some way whether they knew it or not, and others were timing things specifically to distract the city’s heroes from something. It’s a tactic my dad often employed and occasionally did for others. Two crimes happen at once, the more showy one gets covered by the media, gets more attention.
From their expressions, they hadn’t known. “…Or he didn’t tell you, and you’ve outlived your usefulness. Oh dear,” I let my voice fall. “Damn, he’s not going to be happy with my spilling the beans to you. I’d assumed you were just going against instructions. Shit.”
This was actually bad news for me. I may have just inadvertently stopped a villain team from being captured. The gun leveled at my head lowered, though. Sham and Flicker weren’t quite buying it, but they were all showing some doubt.
“Like with Masquerade and Labyrinth,” said Limelight. I almost sagged with relief. It would be much easier for me if they were trying to convince each other- shifted the focus off me. “Isn’t it convenient that they get carted away as soon as they aren’t needed? Masquerade was just freed to distract Savage, and hear Labyrinth went nuts on the Warden’s building. I bet that was to let Shatterpoint out, if they’re both really working for our benefactor.”
Our benefactor. They don’t even know what he’s called. They were giving me a lot of good information.
“I bet we were just a distraction. That’s why he paid us more for jobs where we went against more capes,” said Golem, his voice like grinding gravel. “Hazard pay? Bullshit.”
Sham dropped the gun and it vanished into the air before it could hit the ground and turned to her group. “Dammit. What do we do now?”
“I’m skipping town. He finds out I tipped you off and I might just conveniently vanish,” I said, planting the idea.
“That doesn’t sound like too bad an idea,” commented Flicker.
“We’re going to have to set up a whole new base. I hate having to do that,” said Spit.
“We still have plenty of cash from the last job. Enough to make it out to another city, lay low for a bit, get off his radar,” said Limelight. “We could do it.”
I felt them coming before I saw them, and I suppose that was a good thing. I knew my turn was over. Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm tore through the alley, wreathing everything in fire and frost. It was intimidating, but didn’t actually cause any damage to anything. I took the excuse to get out of the firing line.
“I’m outta here!” I yelled to Limit Break and sprinted back to where Kismet was still waiting. Once I had reached her, I asked: “More reinforcements coming?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Guardian Angel, Legion and Plateau. Shockwave’s still busy with family stuff and Dame Danger doesn’t have anything ready.”
“Good. You get that?” I nodded back to where I had been talking with Limit Break.
“Yeah. Jamisson recorded it all, going to cross-reference some details. Told me to tell you that you did good. Did…” She trailed off. “Did you get any of that from your dad?” She asked, somewhat suspicious. I hoped I hadn’t managed to convince her I worked for the Upright Man too.
“Yeah, I guess I did. Picked up a few tricks. We should probably go help Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm.”
* * *
Cryoclasm cooled the air around Golem. As the cracks in his craggy form filled with condensation, she pulled harder, and the coating of water froze. Golem shattered it easily, but Cryoclasm had accomplished her goal. The expanding water as it froze had forced the cracks open wider. The remaining ice steamed off as a wave of heat blasted out from Pyroclasm before he turned back to focus on keeping the others walled in.
I was facing off against Flicker.
“Sorry mate,” I said to him. “Can’t afford to blow my cover. Got a reputation to think of.”
He snarled and vanished with a *thump.* a moment later, he reappeared behind me. I was able to turn around with my power and dodge his strike before he vanished a moment later, appearing next to Pyroclasm. Pyroclasm ratcheted up the heat around him, forcing Flicker away. I looked over at the rest of Limit Break. Spit was trying to take down Pyroclasm, who had them walled in with a ring of fire, but Plateau was creating walls and pillars to block his shots. Kismet was keeping Flicker off of Plateau and spotting Spit’s shots for him.
Flicker decided it would be safer to take me on. He appeared before me, already punching at me, but I was able to block it. He teleported away before I could land one on him. Almost before I was ready, he was to my side. I grabbed his wrist in an attempt to overbalance him, but he tried to teleport away again. There was a flash of light and a feeling similar to when I used my power to move. I still had my grip on his arm, so I continued to pull him off balance. He tumbled onto the ground and I realized my surroundings had changed. We were now on top of a nearby building. I could hear the sounds of combat from the street below and see Limelight circling above. I had somehow gone with Flicker when he teleported.
Limelight had launched off from the ground as soon as Pyroclasm and Cryoclasm had made their entrance and was circling above us. He took aim and fired off a blast of light at Pyroclasm, but Guardian Angel swooped in from above and deflected the shot with one of his wings. Limelight looked confident. He had taken Guardian Angel out easily the last time they’d fought. Guardian Angel aimed his spear at Limelight, who barely managed to dodge as a bolt of electricity shot out of the tip of the spear, uncannily straight. This time around, they were on more equal footing.
I approached Flicker. There was a loop of darkness around around his wrist where I had grabbed him. I could feel it there, like the darkness I had covering my own body. I felt the shift again and the ring of darkness was inside a building across the street. Before the feeling faded, I pulled at it and was inside an apartment holding Flicker’s wrist again.
“What the hell! How are you doing that?” He asked.
“I told you, you haven’t seen half of what I can do,” I told him. I honestly had no idea how I’d done it, but I didn’t want him to know that.
He teleported again and I followed him, appearing in the street again. I appeared just in time to see a pillar of concrete shoot out of a wall courtesy of Plateau and hit Golem, whose weakened form shattered off him, revealing the small grey-costumed man within. He dropped to the ground from his ruined shell and started running, but Kismet caught up with him and took him down. Flicker tried to hit me with his other arm, but I yanked on the wrist I held and his swing went off. He teleported again, several times in rapid succession, but I followed each time. I saw Limelight hit the ground, twitching from the electricity that had knocked him out of the sky.
Sham was one of the few members of Limit Break still standing, back-to-back with Spit inside a ring of fire and walled in by Plateau. Guardian Angel had taken out Limelight, Golem was down, and I had Flicker pretty much locked down. Sham looked around and pulled a megaphone out of the air.
“We surrender. You win,” she said, resigned. “Let’s negotiate terms.”
* * *
The two groups watched each other warily across the table. Limit break was restrained with Dr. Mind’s specialized cuffs.
“The Upright Man,” said Guardian Angel.
“Never heard of him,” said Sham.
“Neither had we until this week. We know he has at least Shatterpoint and probably Labyrinth working for him, and since it was Shatterpoint who broke out Masquerade out, probably Masquerade as well.”
“Shit… I didn’t know who we were working for. We’d just find notes with instructions and the locations of a stash of money.”
Dr. Mind slid a wrinkled piece of paper across the table. “Do you recognize his handwriting?” On the paper was written:
they are not dead
you will never see them again unless you cooperate
labyrinth is in the cell next to this one
tell him it is time
go to the lab
find the nullifier
destroy the generators
return to me
Sham went pale “Yeah, that’s it. What’s this about?” She tapped the paper with one finger.
“We put Shatterpoint’s family in the Witness Protection Program.” Said Jamisson over the speakers. He was still at the console. “Shatterpoint thinks the Upright Man did something to them.”
“Oh. How do you know he didn’t?”
“We don’t. That’s out of our hands now.”
“Yeah… I guess we were working for him. I don’t like to think about what’ll happen to us now.”
There was silence for a moment, until Dame Danger asked, “what’s he trying to do?”
I came to a realization. “It’s a show of power,” I said. “He stopped all the metahuman crime in the city. It’s a threat.”
There was silence in the room as the assembled metahumans took it in. The members of Limit Break kept glancing at me suspiciously. I think they still thought I was a double agent for the Upright Man.
“How about a deal,” proposed Sham. “We help you take this guy down, we get out of jail. I hear you can get community service as a hero now, and as long as we can stay together and make a decent living, I think we’ll be fine.”
“That is possible. I’m afraid you’d have to do it in a different city, though. Too much bad blood here, and we can’t fully trust you to not betray us to your former employer,” said Jamisson.
“We were going to have to anyway. The Upright Man seems to have decided we’ve ‘outlived our usefulness.’”
“Then welcome to the Redemption program.”
* * *
“Jamisson, I have an idea,” I said into my communicator.
“Yes, what is it?” he asked.
“I have some …contacts who might know about the Upright Man.” He probably knew who I was referring to. Limit Break had been sent away and contained until Jamisson could get the paperwork done, leaving just the Wardens of Tomorrow and me.
“Yeah, okay. I hate to rely on them, but we need the intel.”
“Who are you talking about?” asked Guardian Angel.
“Nobody important,” I lied. He frowned.
I punched in my dad’s number. He picked up almost immediately. I put it on speakerphone so the rest of the team could hear it.
“I need some information,” I said immediately. My dad would probably recognize the number and I didn’t want him to use my real name, so I hoped he would notice that I was changing my voice with my power and know I was in-costume.
“Shadow? It’s been a while,” he sounded almost bitter. I almost sighed in relief. He’d noticed. “You should visit sometime. What do you need?”
“Have you heard of a villain called ‘the Upright Man?’”
“No, I haven’t. Hold on,” there was silence for a moment, then he continued, “no, neither of us have.”
“No, you don’t understand. That is very unusual. She and I keep track of every known villain and then some, partially out of habit and professional respect, mostly out of boredom. We need something to do with ourselves now. That we haven’t heard of him means one of two things. One, he’s very new. That seem likely?”
“Not really,” said Guardian Angel. “He was employing a number of other villains. Shatterpoint, Labyrinth, Masquerade, and the members of Limit Break. That would be hard to set up quickly without leaking information. Limit Break and Shatterpoint have been active for years.”
“Has anyone seen him? Can I get a description?”
“We don’t have any confirmed sightings. Well, one, but he was wearing someone else’s costume at the time.”
“That’s not good news, because the other possibility is that he’s been deliberately remaining unknown. That means he knows how to be subtle. The fact that you’ve heard of him now probably means he wants you to know about him for some reason.”
“Why would he want us to know about him now?” Asked Legion.
“Maybe he wants attention,” said Guardian Angel, “Wants to make the news.”
“He broke into HQ and stopped all the metahuman crime in the city for a day. Maybe he’s showing us he’s in control,” proposed Plateau.
“Wait, did we get any calls from the police today?” I asked, remembering what Guardian Angel had said earlier.
“No, none,” said Jamisson.
“Did anyone think to check on the police station?” I asked, raising my voice. Guardian Angel’s face shifted to horror.
* * *
We arrived at the police station to see it’s ruins. I was relieved at first to see no bodies, but a moment later realized that could be worse. The building was simply missing, a hole in the ground where the foundation once laid. Dark cracks radiated out from the hole, into the street and up the walls of nearby buildings.
“How has this not been reported?” asked Plateau. “Someone should have called us in at some point. This is obviously a villain’s work.”
“Why would someone do this?” asked Dame Danger. She had finished cobbling together something with the help of Dr. Mind. She was almost becoming his protegé.
We approached the edge of the hole. It wasn’t very deep, just as deep as the lower level of the station, but it was filled with rubble and detritus from the building that had once stood there.
“What do we do now?” asked Kismet.
“Get Savage down here. See if he can pick up any trails,” said Guardian Angel, who then repeated it into his communicator. I stood on the edge and felt a breeze flow down into the hole. Most of the top was the lighter stuff, wood and furniture, with the lower layers being concrete and glass shards. A pipe had broken and its contents flowed down into the hole.
“There’s a broken pipe leaking into the hole,” I said, “I don’t think it’s sewage, though.” I continued sounding out the crater. “No movement down there. It seems like the whole building collapsed. I’m thinking Shatterpoint, possibly.”
“No way does he have that much range,” said Dame Danger. “Two meters at most, judging by the holes he made in HQ.”
“People have been known to show spikes in power when in extreme emotional states. It’s possible,” said Guardian Angel.
“Sorry for listening in,” came Jamisson’s voice over Guardian Angel’s communicator, “But I think I have an idea of what may have caused this. His daughter has gone missing.”
“That would do it, but why the police station?” asked Legion. A news helicopter had appeared seemingly from nowhere.
“They handle the witness protection program in this city. Would have documentation of where his family was, but if she’s gone missing that doesn’t make sense.”
“Could be this was him learning she was missing.”
Savage bounded up, skidding to a halt on the pavement. He looked more like a large panther than human, bunched muscles rippling under his dark fur. He circled the hole, sniffing. When he reached the side we were on, he said,
“Shatterpoint, some others went this way. Lots of fear.” His words were mangled by his inhuman mouth, understandable. He loped off down the street and we sprinted after him. There wasn’t time for us to get back into the van. As we left, a news van that had been chasing Savage pulled up at the crater and evacuated it’s crew to get some footage of the former police station. I could hear arguing behind us about whether to stay and get footage of the crater or follow us. I never heard the decision, as we turned a corner and were out of hearing range before they decided.
We came to a house several blocks away from the police station. The door was hanging open, and Savage entered. We followed close behind, to see Shatterpoint holding two police officers hostage. He was back in his costume, but he didn’t look entirely in control of himself.
“What the fuck took you so long?” asked Shatterpoint. “These guys said they called you in as soon as I arrived at the station.” The two officers were backed up in a corner of the room. One was clearly afraid, but the other was set with grim determination.
Guardian Angel was surprised. “We haven’t gotten any calls today. The Upright Man has all the superhuman criminals in the city inactive.”
“You didn’t think that maybe it just seems that way? You didn’t even think to check if he’d disconnected the phone line into the building? I couldn’t believe it still ran on a land line. Idiots! If you’d gotten my message hours ago this wouldn’t be necessary,” he gestured at the two officers with the gun in his right hand.
“It’s not like you did any better,” said Shatterpoint to the officers. “Didn’t even bother to send someone to the building.”
“What do you want?” repeated Guardian Angel.
“I want you to take that asshole down. He’s got my daughter, and I don’t care what you have to do, but kill that motherfucker.”
“We’re going to have to take you in.”
“Go ahead, take me to jail. I don’t care any more, but I can tell you where he lives.”
Plateau, seeing him distracted, raised a barrier between Shatterpoint and the officers. Surprised, he fumbled the gun from his already shaking hands and was blasted down by a burst of plasma from Dame Danger’s latest experiment. It left my ears ringing and spots in my eyes, but Shatterpoint was down. We exited the building, Savage carrying Shatterpoint’s unconscious form. Plateau let the wall he had constructed sink back into the floor as Kismet and Legion helped the officers up.
“Where are the rest of the officers?” asked Guardian Angel.
“Home, mostly. We evacuated the building as soon as Shatterpoint got there. What was that about an ‘Upright Man?’”
“A villain who’s been giving us some trouble,” Guardian Angel explained. He called Jamisson at the console. “Jamisson, tell Dr. Mind to reconnect the phone line. We’ve got Shatterpoint again.”
“You sure it’s him this time? Your comm does say you’re at his house.”
“Yeah, pretty sure.”
The officers were thoroughly confused by this exchange.
“The police station’s been demolished.”
“Huh. Tell them they can set up here until they get a new building. We’ve got a lot of space now that the Warden’s of Justice aren’t here.”
We exited the building to see that the news van, or another very similar van, had pulled up in front of the house.
“You can see behind me that the Wardens of Tomorrow have apprehended Shatterpoint for the second time in the last week after his meltdown at the police station. They are working hard to make up for the Wardens of Justice retirement, yet metahuman crime is still on the rise,” he turned to face us as we went past.
“Guardian Angel, care to comment on the recent outbreak of metahuman crime across the city?”
“We’ve apprehended Shatterpoint, Labyrinth, Limit Break, and Masquerade, but we’re still searching for the person behind it.” I cringed inwardly at his slip.
“You suspect there’s one person directly causing it?”
“…no comment.” We continued walking, but the news team just followed us. The metahuman transport van we had arrived at the police station pulled, up, driven by Savage.
“Are you worried that now with Limit Break off the streets that the Colswell City Specialists may expand their territory unimpeded?”
“Is that what was going on the first time we ran into them?” asked Dame Danger quietly.
“No ma’am, they’ll have to go through us first,” said Guardian Angel as he got into the van.
In the moment before the door closed, I heard the cameraman mutter: “Like that’s much better.”
* * *
Sean entered the house where the party was starting. It wasn’t difficult to find, being a large house with a number of vehicles already parked around it. He pulled open the door and entered.
“Hey man, come on in,” someone said, despite his having already entered.
Sean wandered over to a group talking in the room to his left.
“So then that shadow guy grabs him and when he teleports away, he like, follows him through or something. Gets sucked right up. Weirdest thing is the guy hadn’t shown any teleportation powers until then. I went and checked the wiki and it had nothing,” said one of the people in the group, wearing a black t-shirt. Sean recognized him from the Hero program, along with most of the others in the group.
“He isn’t exactly the most well known hero. Just showed up around the time we did. I’d bet he’s a student, actually,” said another, a tall girl with long braids.
“Then why is he with the Wardens of Tomorrow? I thought they were high-school kids,” said a guy with short red hair.
“Guardian Angel’s not in high school,” said Sasha, who had just appeared.
“Yeah, but he’s the leader. That’s different,” said the guy who had asked the question, entirely unfazed by Sasha’s appearance.
“God, I hope he doesn’t turn out like Phenomena.”
“What happened with Phenomena, anyway?” asked Sean.
“Guy went nuts last year, tried to kill some of the Junior heroes.”
“Wasn’t he a precog or something?” asked the girl with the braids.
“Yeah, Precog 3, flier 1, blaster 2, shaper 2,” said the guy in the black t-shirt. He seemed to be a bit of a cape-watcher.
“Jeez, a class 8? How did they take him down?”
“Plateau shoved him off the building.”
“Ouch. Wait, can’t he fly?”
“Flier 1, yeah. Not exactly powerful stuff.”
The house was starting to fill with people milling about, freshmen, and some sophomores. Loud music had started in one of the other rooms.
“What was Shadow’s ranking?” asked Sean, curious.
“At the moment it’s not really set. His powers haven’t been officially released. There’s a lot of discussion about that on the forums, though,” said the cape-watcher.
“Yeah. Guy just appears out of nowhere at the same time as the Wardens break up and the WoT get a new leader? Quite the coincidence.” he took a swig from the plastic cup he was holding. “There’s actually a theory that he’s actually part of Guardian Angel’s powers, but there were actually a few sightings of him a couple years back that would refute that.”
“You’ve gotta hand it to them, the WoT are doing a pretty damn good job,” said the girl with the braids. “Took in Limit Break, Masquerade, got Shatterpoint twice.”
“Yeah, but they couldn’t keep him in the first time, then he went and blew up the police station,” said the redhead.
“And the CCS are recruiting again. Those assholes,” said Sasha with surprising vehemence.
“Did you see that bit on the news earlier?” the girl with the braids asked to the cape-watcher. “The person behind it.”
“Yeah, that was weird. There’s already a whole slew of conspiracy theories about who he was talking about. I’d guess it was Labyrinth, the new villain they captured, but they already shut him down.”
“Well, Shatterpoint had to be working for someone. He works on commission.”
“What was the point of destroying the police station, though? They don’t even handle metahuman crime?”
“Maybe he’s working for a normal,” suggested Sasha. “I’m Sasha, by the way.”
“I’m Dave,” said the cape-watcher in the black t-shirt.
“Paul,” said the redhead.
“Susan,” said the girl with the braids, waving to the group.
“I’m Sean,” said Sean.
“So who wants to show off their powers?”
* * *
The assembled heroes cowered under the weakening forcefield. They had called for backup ages ago, but no help had arrived. A stone tower rose out of the ground, a relic of some ancient civilization.
<Run!> grunted the shield generator.
<we’re not leaving you behind,> said one of his teammates.
The tower twisted and bent, and slammed into the crackling sphere of energy. The force field generator fell to his knees, the shield shattering. His teammates started to pick him up, but Gom Ziggurat was already pulling the tower together to strike again.
Abruptly, the tower exploded away from them, showering debris into the air as a human figure smashed through it faster than the speed of sound. A split second later came the distinctive “thump-BANG!” of a sonic boom. The figure that had destroyed the tower sprawled on the ground for a moment before standing and running over to the battered heroes. Gom Ziggurat’s structures advanced towards them once more, a complex warren of ancient temples and buildings, constantly moving.
“You guys need some help?” He said in English. He sounded young.
“Yes, thank you. Who are you?” Replied one of the heroes who spoke English.
* * *
Paul had shifted into an orange ball of glowing energy and was suspended from the ceiling by a number of coruscating tentacles. He was using his vantage point to get people drinks from across the room.
“So Sean,” said Sasha, “What’s with the gloves?”
“Huh?” Sean had declined to demonstrate his powers, because it would be a bit awkward for people to know he was Guardian Angel. Especially Dave, the cape-watcher.
“Every time I’ve seen you you’ve got those gloves on. What’s with that?”
“Yeah,” added Susan, though Sean was sure the party was the only time she had seen him outside of classes. Sean hesitated.
“Sure, why not,” he said, and pulled off his gloves.
The skin on his hands was puckered with scars and old burns. When he moved his fingers it tugged at the tight skin, making the scars stand out even more. Paul swung over and re-materialized from the ball of energy.
“Woah, what happened there?”
“Long story short, when I first got my powers there were some… physical side-effects. I freaked out and almost burned all the skin off my hands.”
“Ouch,” said Dave.
“It didn’t really help when my dad found out. He flipped, threw me out to live with my uncle.” Sean took a drink from his cup. He had a feeling it was at least slightly alcoholic. “My uncle got powers when they were kids. He was the older one, so my dad thought he’d get powers when he was older. He never did.”
* * *
“You aren’t my son”
“That wasn’t what you said when I was a kid.”
“You were never my son. You were always his.”
“My brother,” he spat, “Paragon. How I hate him now.” Sean was terrified of his father’s rage. He had never seen him so angry. “He got his powers, and each year, every day, I would think, maybe today. maybe tomorrow. That day never came.” His father’s voice broke, but he continued shouting. “One day I realized I would never be able to fight crime with my older brother like we had promised when we were kids. It took me years to get over that, years of therapy, but I finally did, when I met your mother. I loved her so much, I was blind. I never saw it. I didn’t even realize until you got your powers, not until you were grown. You’re his fucking splitting image.” His fury subsided for a moment, before he spat, “That’s why you’re going to live with your uncle. Not so you could ‘figure out your powers.’ You and your fucking special powers.”
* * *
“I asked, later. My dad was wrong, but he still rejected me. He hates metahumans.” Sean had left out the tidbit about his uncle being Paragon.
“Damn, that sucks,” said Sasha.
“My uncle helped me get over it. He’s a good guy.” Sean pulled the gloves back on.
“I think,” began Paul, “you need more to drink.”
* * *
“Never go flying while drunk,” cautioned Sean when he returned, then catching himself, shook his head and said, “I’m not making sense.”
“You are quite drunk,” I told him, looking up from my work. It bothered me a bit. He was supposed to be a leader. I hoped he wasn’t the type to get hung over.
“Am I? Damn, I was aiming for sorta-drunk.”
“Dude, get some sleep.”
Sean collapsed in his bed.
“This whole week has been nuts.”
“Tell me about it.”
I had thought Sean was already asleep when he asked, “you’ve figured out who I am already, haven’t you.”
I thought for a moment, then said, “yeah.”
* * *
“And you would be Adam?” Asked Jamisson kindly.
“Yes sir. I was told to meet with you,” replied the boy. Jamisson couldn’t believe he was old enough to be in high school. He kneeled to be on a level with Adam’s eyes. The LED in his right eye was pulsing a pale yellow.
“Good. Now, do you have a place to stay?”
Adam hesitated. “Yes sir.”
“Don’t lie to me.” Adam lowered his head.
“Okay, you’re going to stay here with me.”
“You live here?” Asked Adam, eyes wide.
“Yes. I’ve got a room here, and the Wardens all had rooms as well. There’s one set aside that you can use.”
“Really? Thank you!” The LED had turned a vibrant green.
“Come on, let me show you your room. This way.”
Jamisson led the way, Adam following on his heels, marveling at the building’s architecture. He wouldn’t be sending the boy out on any missions, not until he could get his power under control, but he would be introduced to the team tomorrow. Jamisson hoped Adam would make a good impression. Adam almost reminded him of himself at that age.
* * *
Wren woke up in a cold sweat. His dreams had been getting especially vivid of late. A gentle breeze blew across his face, chilling him. He abruptly realized something was wrong and sat up. Looking around him, he saw only darkness until his eyes adjusted. His dream, the memory of which was rapidly fading, had ended with him staring into a bright light. He found himself on the quad across from Planchett, in the grass. As he returned to his room, Kevin asked,
“Where’d you go?”
“Dunno,” replied Wren. “Must’ve been sleepwalking or something.”
“Weird. I guess I fell asleep and didn’t notice, ’cause I looked over and you were just gone.”