The search lasted for four days in the end, and spanned the entire district, the city’s various hospitals and police lockups, and the various venues Wren had frequented.
On the fourth day, Savage turned up.
“Who’s missing?” he snarled aggressively to the campus at large, irritated by the interruption of his usual activity, I assumed. His black fur bristled with barely restrained hostility as he stalked onto campus. A few students suddenly realized they had pressing engagements elsewhere, though I also spotted a few hero program hopefuls steeling themselves to deal with this obvious threat.
I hastily ducked into a secluded corner to cover myself with darkness, getting into my ‘Shadow’ persona, then moved to intercept Savage before he started ‘interrogating’ people. By all reports he wasn’t the most patient person. He turned to face me as I approached and started to speak, but I cut him off.
“A student here by the name of Wren Castor went missing a few days ago, without a trace,” I said, not bothering with introductions. I wagered he wouldn’t appreciate the delay. “I’ll show you where he was last seen.”
Savage didn’t reply, so I turned and started heading towards Planchett Residence Hall. He followed me so silently that if it weren’t for the air currents he stirred in his wake I would have had to check behind me occasionally to be sure he was still there. When moving, he looked more like a large, oddly proportioned panther than a man. Under his camouflage pants, I could tell his legs did not conform to the normal human shape. When we reached the building, I led him to Wren and Kevin’s dorm room. I picked the lock quickly and let him in. He prowled around the room, sniffing the air.
“Three people have been in this room,” he said. “Two men, one woman. You after one of the men?”
“Yeah,” I said, and Savage turned and left the room without another word.
I followed him through the building back to the doors. He pushed the doors open, then abruptly dropped to all fours and broke into a loping sprint, made more efficient than running on two legs by his strange physiology.
I swore under my breath as he vanished from my line of sight in a blur and took off after him. Even taking advantage of my power to ignore air resistance and reduce transition time, I could barely keep up. I could only keep up with him at all because he occasionally stopped to sniff the air to find the trail again.
When we reached the edge of campus, he loped straight out into traffic, causing a loud chorus of honks and shouting as he weaved between the gridlocked vehicles. This street was usually empty, except for a few key times of day when it suddenly became the busiest street in the city.
I wish I’d thought to mark him before he took off, I groaned inwardly. That would have been so much easier.
An idea struck me as I approached the street, and I was reminded of what I’d done when I was chasing down Chastity. Well, here goes nothing.
I used my power to rotate my body backwards 45 degrees, angling my velocity upwards over the street. The ground jerked out from under me and I suddenly felt weightless, my momentum lifting me off the ground.
I arced gracefully over the traffic, easily clearing the cars. I laughed out loud as I flew over the street, getting a hang of rotating to redirect my velocity. It seemed like I could do the two things most teleporters could not: change positions and change direction. I landed on the sidewalk on the other side of the street, redirecting my downwards velocity along the sidewalk, turning on a dime.
I could get used to this.
The pedestrians had already dived out of the way for Savage to pass through, so I was able to avoid colliding with anyone, though I could see a few smartphones out taking videos of us. I somehow managed to keep pace with Savage, who barrelled down the sidewalk faster than any human could run.
I followed him through the city, mostly taking back alleys, until he stopped suddenly, rising to two legs. His limbs changed while he ran, I noticed, becoming more like those of a panther than a man. As he stood I could see bones lengthening and joints shifting into different places, transitioning seamlessly back into more human legs, though still by no means normal. It looked unnatural, but then again, I myself looked like me-shaped hole in the universe. I stopped beside him and immediately recognized where we’d ended up. Savage made a strange sound deep in his throat, and it took me a moment to realize he was laughing.
“This kid you’re after is either in big trouble,” he said, “or he is the trouble, and I’m not sure which is worse.”
“Oh,” I said, comprehension dawning. I surveyed the area we’d come to. The buildings were just starting reconstruction now that a volunteer group had chipped away at the massive crystal growths that sprouted from almost every surface. The twisted metal creatures left behind by Mafic had been sold as statues to help fund reconstruction. The city had learned to recover fast.
“I know why the amateur at the university couldn’t track him,” said Savage as we walked among the piles of rubble arranged to be trucked out by the large construction vehicles constantly moving in and out of the area.
“Well, he was right. One of the trails just ends in that room, like they just vanished.”
“That makes sense,” I looked at him and furrowed my brow. “Sasha’s a teleporter.”
Savage chuckled again at my ignorance and said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “Sasha is a strange name for a boy. The trail I’m following is a young man.”
That was a surprise. I frowned behind my concealing darkness. I didn’t like what Savage was implying, but thinking about it now, I had to admit it was a possibility. My first thought had been that Wren had been kidnapped by someone who knew how to cloak a scent trail, but as far as I could tell there was really no reason for someone to want to kidnap Wren. Thinking about it now, though, I remembered the news from four days ago. Wren disappearing and Blackwell gaining a new member at the same time was too much of a coincidence to discredit entirely.
I contacted Jamisson, “I have news.”
“Savage seems to believe Wren Castor may be Dark Archon. Wren’s disappearance lines up almost perfectly with the appearance of Dark Archon, and the trail leads to the battlefield between Blackwell and Charity.”
“Hm. It’s possible. There were sightings of Dark Archon before Castor disappeared, though. I’ll… look into it.”
His hesitation unnerved me. Is he hiding something? I decided not to press it. I wasn’t exactly in the best position to do that at the moment.
“Your father almost killed me.”
Savage’s voice from beside me jerked my head around.
“Twice. At least.”
“What?” I asked. “My father?” How the hell does he know?
“Psyghast, second generation villain, protege to Denizen of the Dark.” He looked sideways at me. “You’re not as good at keeping secrets as you think you are.”
I was speechless for a moment, and Savage laughed at my bewilderment.
“Let’s see, the Living Shadow is, what, your mother then?” he mused. “No, too old. Grandmother maybe?”
“How-” I started to protest, but he continued, disregarding me completely now.
“Yeah, that’s it. Grandmother. Hah, that’s an interesting tidbit. God, you’re awful at this. Your name is literally one word away. I wonder who…” he looked thoughtful. I had no idea how he was reading me through the covering darkness, but he was doing so very effectively.
“How…” I trailed off
“You idiot, I heard you when you were motivating Shatterpoint’s kid,” he said, laughing again. I hadn’t pegged him for the talkative type, but he was much more inquisitive than I had expected.
“I’d forgotten about that,” I confessed sheepishly.
“Listen, kid, I like the dark, mysterious vibe you’ve got going. Hell, I went for the same reputation. We can’t all be flashy and grand like Paragon or his showboating nephew. But you can’t let yourself slip like that if you’re going to make it in the big leagues.”
He was right, and I knew it. I had no experience, less even than the kids in the Wardens of Tomorrow. I looked down at myself, an indistinct black blur smeared across the surface of the world. I did have a few tricks my dad had taught me -picking locks and the like- but as to real-world experience, I had a few convenience store stickups under my belt and that was about it. It seemed sometimes like my powers gave me the image but without the ability to back it up.
“What’s your deal, anyway? Why do you do this?” Savage asked.
“Honestly? I don’t really know.” I took a moment to collect my thoughts before continuing. “I never knew what I wanted to do with my life. I always figured I’d be a banker, because that’s what I thought both my parents did- ironic, really. I thought maybe I’d be a writer for a while, too. But then I got powers, and I figured out who my dad was, and my mom figured out who he was, and it all kinda… fell apart. I decided I wanted to be a hero to get back at him for what he put my mom through. That didn’t work out so well.”
“Why not? He go all purple fog on you?” Sarcasm. Hadn’t expected that.
“No, he approved. Said he didn’t want me to make his mistakes.”
“Huh,” snorted Savage. “Not what I would have expected.”
“What do you mean?”
“The guy was terrifying, even scared me a little,” he said, serious now. “You walk into that fog of his, you don’t come out until he says you can come out. It fucks with your head bad as anything I’ve ever seen. I can tell you’re telling the truth, or you’re a better liar than I gave you credit for, but I know he would lie in a heartbeat, even to you. When you say you had his blessing in becoming a hero, I think you really mean he wanted you to spy on us from the inside for him.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “He changed a lot when he met my mother,” I said hesitantly.
“Judging by your age, no he didn’t,” said Savage coldly. “Assuming they met before you were born, he was still active long after they met.”
“Yes, he was, but he stopped once we found out,” I said indignantly. I had no idea where he was going with this. “And?”
He looked over at me curiously for a moment, but remained silent. We circumnavigated a pile of rubble; the remnants of a now-unidentifiable building. The sound of a construction worker jack-hammering away at the base of a massive quartz and feldspar crystal interrupted our conversation briefly.
“If you’re going to be useful, you need to consider what you bring to the team,” instructed Savage after a few minutes. His whole demeanor had changed from moments ago.
I thought for a moment. “Mobility?” I said, unsure.
“No!” he exclaimed, irritated. “Look, you’re nigh impossible to see in the dark, you can clearly see in the dark yourself judging from how you move, you hardly make any noise and barely have a smell, and you can tail people more effectively than anyone short of me. You need to talk to Jamisson and request night patrol.”
“You know, patrol, at night? None of the others have any stealth at all. He’s sent them out with me before at times. No subtlety at all.” He barked out a laugh.
Now he’s complimenting me? Indirectly, but still, it’s a far cry from grilling me about my family history.
“What?” he asked me, somehow sensing my confusion, or possibly .
“Why are you telling me all this?” I asked. “Why bother?”
“Agent Jamisson asked my opinion of you. I needed to form one,” he informed me succinctly.
“And have you formed one now?” I asked after a moment.
“Yes, I think I have,” he said pensively. “To be entirely honest, I was also just curious about you. Curiosity is just one of my many vices. I was interested how you would react.”
I remained silent. I knew I should feel mildly offended at being manipulated like that, but his honesty put me off balance. I started to reply, but stopped myself.
Beside me, Savage sniffed the air, then took off again. I ran after him, using my power to take corners at full speed. This time, he stopped near a pile of debris at the base of a destroyed building.
“Everyone help move this rubble!” he roared. “There’s someone trapped under here, in the basement!”
He bent and lifted a piece of concrete and rebar almost as large as he was, forcefully throwing it away. I set to work clearing what I could, though I wasn’t any stronger than a baseline human. A contingent of construction workers and volunteers ran up from various directions and joined us in clearing it out. After a few minutes, one of them managed to commandeer a bucket loader and started clearing the rubble in huge chunks.
It became clear that this pile of rubble was different from the others when our excavation revealed a staircase buried beneath the collapsed building and filled in with detritus. When it was cleared out enough, Savage tore the warped door out of its frame and bounded into the basement. I followed close after.