Shadows of Giants 6.6

I felt numb and incoherent as I stumbled towards my room. My body was still stiff from the residual effects of Temple’s power.

Temple, I thought. Chaos. I recognize that. The connections were frustratingly slow to form in my mind. He said he was in the army. I remembered now where I’d heard the name before. Commander Chaos. He was a comic book villain or something. He’s Temple? I thought the CEO of Temple Sun was… someone else.

I shambled through the double doors leading into Planchett Hall, thoughts whirling now. I could hear conversation from the entrance into the common room.

Why did he think I would kill Myriad for him? Why didn’t he do it himself? And what was his power? Reminded me of Basilisk. I shivered, recalling the blinding, burning light.

“The nation mourns the loss of a legend today with the death of Paragon, a national hero and role model for the world.”

The somber newscaster’s voice tore me out of my reverie as I walked past the entrance to the common room. I peered through the doorway and saw a group of students clustered around the flatscreen television mounted on the wall. On the screen was an image of Paragon, slowly panning out from his masked face.

Paragon is dead? I froze. How?

The camera perspective changed to show a building toppling in slow motion as a tiny group of heroes tried to deflect its fall.

“The aftermath of the second nightmare attack on Collswell City since 2000 has many questioning whether it is a safe place to live,” said the news anchor.

A nightmare event? How did I miss that?

“It is a statistical anomaly,” chimed in another voice. “And besides, the docks being so thoroughly destroyed so soon before repairs on the subway system are supposed to wrap up will be a serious blow to the city’s economy.”

“Assholes,” said Kevin’s over the sound from the television. “Talking about how this will affect the economy? People fucking died.”

“Yeah, but you do have to consider the long-term effects,” added another student. “Collswell is like, one of the primary shipping ports in the country.”

“Fuck you!” Kevin snapped.

The crowd dissolved into conversation argument, and I could no longer hear the news report over the argument. Probably better to get this online, I thought. I missed too much. I left the common room behind and headed up the stairs to my room.

I entered the room to find Sean lying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. His blond hair was plastered to his head, and he spun something small and metallic in his hands- a ring, I guessed.

Oh. Paragon died.

“You know, everyone on this floor is a metahuman,” Sean said, voice flat.

“Really?” I said carefully. I moved into the room and sat on my own bed, looking across at him, trying to gauge his emotional state.

“Yeah.” He paused. “Which means you lied to me,” he said, accusing. “A lot is starting to make sense now. You know I’m Guardian Angel, don’t you?”

I paused. “Yeah,” I said at last, deciding on honesty. “Since the first day we met.”

Sean’s voice turned bitter. “Figures. I guess I really am just that clueless. But I think I have it figured out now.” He flicked the ring up into the air and caught it. “Kevin is Dark Archon. Did you know that?”

“What?” I asked, surprised.

“I guess not. I just figured it out a day or so ago, but it looks like I still beat you on that one. And Wren’s been on Denudine this whole time and didn’t know it.”

“Shit,” I said. That makes sense, strange as it is.

“Yup. Oh, and it turns out Liam worked for Blackwell. A lot of stuff makes sense now. The only missing piece is you. I’m fucking tired. Of secrets, of lies. So don’t make me figure it out.” He raised his voice for the first time towards the end.

“I-” Sean’s bloodshot gaze snapped over to me, freezing me mid-sentence.

“Today, Davy Jones killed my father, and then I killed him,” he let out a breath. “Yesterday, I pushed a man off a building to his death, and then shot someone.”

My instincts screamed at me to think up some clever excuse, some reason why I could be innocent in this. I’m in a band, came to my lips, and it was difficult to stop myself from blurting it out. That’s why I’m gone so often, why I’m behind on homework, why I never go to parties.

“I know I probably shouldn’t trust you,” Sean continued, “but goddammit I need to tell someone this stuff. If your life is at all as crazy as mine, I’d bet you do too, so stop hiding who you are. I don’t care, I just want to know.”

I stayed silent for a while, struggling with myself. Why is this so hard? I know he’s right- we’re both in over our heads. It was so tempting just to fall back on the easy lies.

“I’m Shadow,” I blurted out. Just saying it felt unnatural.

“Hah. Figures. You are related to Denizen, aren’t you? If it wasn’t for the voice I probably could have guessed.” He gave a wry grin. “You know, I expected a lot worse.”

“And there is something I need to tell you,” I confessed, forcing myself to confide. This isn’t something I want to deal with myself. “Temp-” I stopped. Mentioning Temple, I recalled the blinding light burning through me and shivered. Oh crap, I realized. What if he has some kind of mental power? Commandant showed that it’s possible. I can’t mention this to him. Not right now. “Virtue is up to something. They’re naming Rob Banks the new head of the Collswell branch.”

“Yeah? Well I’ve discovered that there’s a psychopathic psychologist out there deliberately turning metahumans into Nightmares,” he countered.

“Woah,” I said. “You win.” I felt queasy at the possibility.

He sighed. “I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing. Damn it feels good to talk about this, though. Wow.” He sat up. “The worst part is, there are absolutely no leads. We have no idea where he’s going next. We’ll have to wait until he surfaces again, unless we can track him down somehow. And then I’m going to kill that motherfucker.” He paused, then said, “Do the voice.”

“Huh?” I said, surprised by the sudden change in topic.

“Do the voice,” he repeated. “You know, the James Earl Jones thing.”

“James Earl…” I trailed off, finally realizing what he meant. “Oh, right, yeah.” I cleared my throat and let my power into my throat a bit.

I was about to speak, but was beaten to the punch by a knock at the door.

“Hey Sean, you there?” said Kevin from the hall.

“What is it?” Sean asked.

“Wren’s back,” he said.

“Back?” I asked. “He was gone? I mean, again?”

“When?” said Sean at the same time.

“Just now,” Kevin said, ignoring my question.

Sean stood, slipped the ring he was holding onto a finger and opened the door. Kevin stepped in.

“You’re Dark Archon,” I said.

He stopped. “Yeah,” he said. “Is that a problem?”

“You fought for Blackwell,” I accused.

“He also fought against them,” Sean said. “And Blackwell did kind of kidnap Wren.”

That’s right. And I did a job for Blackwell too, even if it was to rescue Charity.

“Okay, but we all need to talk.”

“Later, please. There are more important things right now.” He and Sean started out the door.

I was about to ask what he meant when I realized. He said Wren had been on Denudine. That must mean he has powers. Oh. I hurried after them.

We rushed past the crowd that was still watching the news coverage of the aftermath of the Nightmare attack. I caught one sentence as we walked past.

“-Banks, newly-appointed leader of the Collswell branch of Virtue has pledged to help house those displaced by-“

I wonder if that’s altruism or publicity, I thought cynically before we reached the door.

Outside, it was full dark, and thinking back, it had been when I’d arrived as well. How long was I gone? I wondered.

“This way,” Kevin said, as he lead us around to the side of the building.

“Is he okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, he’s just… not used to having powers. I figured we-” he paused and looked back at me “-could help with that.”

“Yeah,” I said. “What are they?”

“I dunno, but I think it’s some kind of Trump, or a Joker. Something weird.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s too similar to…” Kevin trailed off without finishing the sentence.

“So, uh, what did I miss?” I asked.

“Last night, we searched through Liam’s laptop and found out that it was him who kidnapped Wren for Blackwell, and Wren teleported him away. We weren’t sure-”

“I was here last night. How did I miss this?” I asked.

“You weren’t here last night,” Sean said, confused.

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21 Responses to Shadows of Giants 6.6

  1. And I’m back! Sorry about the spotty schedule. Things got crazy for a little while there.
    I’m feeling pretty good about this for once. Finally getting to introduce some personal conflict and stoked for what I have planned. Fun fact, I wasn’t planning on introducing Temple until the very end of this arc, but he kind of barged in early… and it totally worked out.

    On an unrelated note, I’m doing a bit of maintenance, including a whole bunch of fixes for 6.5, because it didn’t get an editing pass before being published, updating the table of contents, and resolving some other minor errors that have been pointed out in previous chapters.

    Also, if anyone has a whole bunch of tiny blocks of free time and wants to try writing, I fully recommend listening to “Writing Excuses,” a podcast by two awesome authors I’ve been reading for years and some other guy who is also an awesome author but whom I have not been reading for years. It’s pretty much what kept me writing this last couple of weeks.

    And lastly, if you want, you can vote on top web fiction, but I’m not going to put a link in the body of the post anymore. I started getting too reliant on the numbers there, and it was making it difficult to write. However, I do want to mention that this week I’ve had 2000 views from 600 unique visitors, which BLEW MY MIND to see on my stats page.

  2. Michael says:

    You know, at some point, now that Shadow/Will are interchangeable identities in the dorms, I hope it’s only so long until people start getting him to do celebrity impressions, at least once everybody’s a little more friendly. Not to mention that being able to reproduce the sound of people’s voices would be really quite useful for a ninja-style hero(?) like him.
    Everything Will coats in shadow becomes permeable to air, right? So what happens if he coats a tank of compressed air in shadow? If he had grenade sized capsules of air at a few thousand psi, he could create a non-lethal, silent concussion that would knock everyone around him back while leaving him standing.
    Glad you’re enjoying writing again – even though this chapter doesn’t have a whole ton of stuff going on, it reads really nicely and has glimpses of people reacting in all the right places, as well as linking things together without too much exposition or recapping at all.
    I would find it absolutely hilarious if Temple’s power is to stop you from talking about him because you’re worried if he has a mental power, even though I know that’s probably not the case.
    Thanks for the chapter, and good luck going forwards!

    • That’s a really neat idea, but unfortunately impossible, for reasons you will probably see later in this chapter. I may incorporate something similar. For that to work, he would have to cover the inside of the compressed air tank. Covering the outside would have the (somewhat bizarre) effect of letting air pass through the compressed air inside without letting the air inside escape.

      • Michael says:

        So, if Will were to cover a compressed tank of mixed oxygen and propane with shadow, then hold a cigarette lighter to the outside so the flame was burning inside the shadowed substance, would the gas mixture be raised to its flashpoint, or would it only interact with the “outside” gas flowing through?
        Which brings me to a question – if Will covers a person entirely, for some reason it seems to include their GI tract. However, if the shadow has to cover a contiguous surface, then shouldn’t it just, sort of, not include the matter in their intestines and stomach, allowing all that air to float out? All that sulfate-rich, piquant air?
        And… what should really happen when he teleports people like this?
        You know what, forget I said anything.

      • I should probably not be explaining this, but whatever. It’s not really story important and will be explained shortly in-universe anyway.
        The answer to both your questions is actually quite similar. While it has been established that Will can be hurt by extreme heat or cold when air passes through him, it has also been established that he doesn’t need to breathe when he is covered. This is due to an aspect of his power which has caused his physiology to adapt to survive being covered completely for extended periods of time.

        So if he covered a propane tank and held a lighter to it, the flame would pass through harmlessly. Likewise, if he covered someone else and held a lighter to them, they would be fine. If he held the lighter to his own hand, however, his body would try to take in really hot oxygen and he would get burned.

        Inversely, if he covered someone else completely (inside and out), things would get messy fast, because they don’t have the adaptations Will has.

      • Michael says:

        …you know, that’s terrifying. He has a power that a) sticks to people b) allows him to track their every move c) will probably be lethal to use on someone’s entire body once he develops it further and d) cannot be removed by any known means short of cutting off the afflicted surface.
        How did that rat survive?!
        Also, I hope you realize that every second that Will isn’t commanding an army of henchmen with smouldering black handprints on their foreheads is a wasted second. Especially if he can coat bullets in shadow, then fire and teleport them through a henchman’s mark.

      • Hah! Haha! Hahaha! *ahem*

      • Michael says:

        He could totally have a ranking system based on their shadow markings. Ninja corps trained and outfitted to act while almost entirely covered in shadow. Twisted abominations with long and crooked fingers, brushing fungal spores soaked in darkness over enemies.

      • I like it, I’m gonna change it a little.
        Tons of spiders.

  3. sasamel says:

    Awesome man! Its good to see that you are back on track, and I really liked this chapter. I dont know what it is, but it seems to just… flow better than the last couple of chapters. So, I loved to see the way Sean reacted to his most important paternal figure´s death (also, incidentally, his biological father). Lastly, if you ever need help in any technical aspect of this serial or in your future Cyberpunk one you want to write (And i REALLY REALLY want to read) then feel free to ask, and I´ll help as much as I can providing scientific accuracy.

  4. Charles Rowan says:

    I’m glad you decided to ignore the numbers in top web fiction, they really mean nothing, Now with this episode, I confess i’m absolutelly lost, i will read all of it again to see if i can clear my confusion.

    Thank you for your effort

    • I was worried about that. I’m welding the last two arcs together here, and it’s tricky to make sense of it if the chronology doesn’t fit together for you. That’s why I was originally going to alternate chapters between these arcs, but I decided not to because that would put two (or more) weeks in-between each cliffhanger I decide to throw out and its resolution, and I didn’t want to do that.

      • Charles Rowan says:

        Its not a problem I’m confused a little bit, I will read the previous arc and this one to try and get it, but I like the story, so please do continue writting it, I would have liked if paragon survived, but hey not everything is possible.

      • Mm, yeah. Me too. As a character, he was useful to have around, but he needed to be gone for story and character reasons, and I had him on the bus “in Washington” for way too long.

  5. Michael says:

    A) Shadow doesn’t have to worry about drag.
    Thus, Shadow has an arbitrarily large velocity as mediated by gravity so long as he doesn’t impact a solid object.

    B) Shadow can conserve momentum even when reorienting reference frames.
    Thus, any energy lost to acceleration can be reclaimed by reorienting the reference frame.

    C) Shadow can wear a jetpack.

    Conclusion: Shadow can achieve escape velocity by jumping off a building, accelerating downwards with a magnetic or jet propulsion device, ceasing downwards acceleration, reorienting upwards, accelerating downwards as he falls again after hitting the apex of the jump, and repeating,

    I might be wrong here.

    This actually begs the question: Can Shadow breathe oxygen encompassed by his effect? For example, if he had an oxygen tank connected to his mouth and the whole shebang was enshrouded, could he breathe the oxygen within?

    Or is this overanalyzing a powerset at midnight?
    I think that’s it.

    • You aren’t overanalyzing it nearly as much as I have, actually. My goal when I put this together was to have something relatively simple and initially appearing to be useless but is actually very powerful and interesting with the right uses. Short answer is yes, he could achieve escape velocity, if he really wanted to. I’ve actually come up with an even easier way to do it, but I won’t tell you what it is, so you’ll have to guess.

    • And also, yes, he would be able to breathe the oxygen in the tank, provided he didn’t cover the inside of the tank or his respiratory system.

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