Folie à Plusieurs V. The Watchmaker I

A figure shrouded in black leaves a building.  He, for it is, in fact, male, makes his way across a human encampment, teleporting, running, and jumping incredibly quickly.  As he approaches his targets, a demonic energy increases in power.  When he encounters the drug dealers, the demon’s presence is indistinguishable from his own.  Though he could defeat a thousand of them in seconds, he draws a fight with three of them to last for five minutes.  He throws the first blow at four minutes and thirty one seconds, without drawing either of his swords.  He reaches out with one hand and lightly pushes on one of their heads. With five eighths of a second left to live, the dealer starts to turn and adopts a shocked expression.  His head, no longer attached to his body, flies forward, smashing into one of his comrades.  The shocked expression of his disembodied comrade is the last thing he sees as his entire body is electrified.  The last of the triumvirate attempts to flee.  He discovers that his feet are frozen to the ground.  His terror increases as he notices the ice is creeping up over his body.  He dies before it reaches his crotch.  The killer begins to feast upon the bodies, an unnatural jaw taking chunks out of their flesh.  I turn around to leave.  This one does not need interference.

A muscular boy is speaking to a reporter.  The boy is not very intelligent.  The reporter is.  One’s name is Oliver Goldberg, but he is often called Everest.  The other’s name is Andrew Myers, but he is frequently called Asshole.  The reporter is angry.  His son is sick, and he blames metahumans.  He is correct to, though not for the reason he thinks.  If he spoke about his son’s illness to anyone, his problem could be solved. Instead, he takes out his frustration by ruining careers.  He is trying to do that now.  He will fail.  Though he will accurately show the lack of intelligence, the muscular boy has a following that is not founded on his depth of character.  The following will be sorely disappointed in less than one month, though not because of the reporter. The reporter’s troubles are drawing to close.

A boy who is almost a man is fighting.  He is sitting in his room.  He, more than any other on his team, is in conflict.  He has great potential, but how he will use it is uncertain.  I will talk to him when he is a man.  Neither of us is in a rush.  We have all the time in the world.

The two I have come here to talk to have just stopped fighting.

The two I have come here to talk to are about to fight.

The two I have come here to talk to are fighting.  I pop up and stand in between them.  The Destroyer’s punch, intended for the Wise Woman hits me, instead. Though I slow the punch before it hits me, my jaw will be pulverised. I wait for it to happen, then reconstruct it, reverting my body to how it was four seconds ago.  To them, it will have appeared as regeneration.

“Hello,” I will say.

“Who are you?” asked the Wise Woman.

“A chronoton is a unit of time that represents how far one can predict or travel in the past or future based on the amount of variables in play.  In the average one on one fight, in a close environment, with no air flow or outside interference, no weapons, no powers, just fists, a chronoton is approximately five minutes,” I say, answering his question.  The Destroyer frowns, then will have an epiphany.

“So, you’re The Watchmaker, huh?  What’s a chronoton?” He asks, looking at me expectantly.  For once, the Wise Woman is confused.

“The Watchmaker,” I will have said.  A look of realization dawns across her face.  I realized the problem.

“Nice catch,” I said, altering my appearance slightly, changing my clothes to fit the time period, “I hadn’t even realized I was off.” The Wise Woman nodded.

“Rune told us to expect you.”  I laughed.

“Oh, Rune!  That ol’ dog! Did he ever tell you about that time he and Bash inspired the Greek legend of Damon and Pythias?”  Seeing their faces, I paused.  “No, then.  Ah.  Right.  He wouldn’t have.”  I looked at the two of them and shook my head, smiling a bit.  “Oh, you two.  You have so much ahead of you.  Exile, you’ll become greater than you can imagine.  Nidh- no, wait.  That’s not your name yet. Well, you’ll see.”  They stared at me in confusion.  “Anyway, I didn’t come here to reminisce about the fun we’ll have.  I want to help you defeat King.  Both of them, though the latter comes later.”  The Destroyer waved his hands in the air vaguely,

“Aren’t you supposed to be some sorta…  benevolent but bound guardian of mankind?  Policy of non-interference?”  This time, the confusion belonged to me.

“Why on earth would you think that?” I asked, furrowing my brow, “I do whatever I want.”  The Destroyer laughed.

“Alright, I can get behind that,” he said, “Now, how are we going to kick King’s ass?”  The Wise Woman looked at him.

“Wait,” she said, “Who’s the second King?”  Without moving his head, the Destroyer replied.

“We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?  Besides, it’s best not to ask more questions than you need to.”  The Wise Woman nodded.  I walked up behind them, and put my arms around their shoulders.

“What’s up, guys!” They jumped and spun around.

“Fuck!” The Destroyer cried, relaxing.  “Weren’t you ahead of-  Oh, for fucks sake.  Of course you would use godlike mastery of time to play stupid jokes.”  The Wise Woman stopped walking.

“Hold on, hold on.  Zeta.  How did you know his power was godlike mastery of time?”  We both looked at her.  Before The Destroyer could open his mouth, I responded.

“It’s best not to ask more questions than you need to,” I said.  She fumed, but didn’t say anything else.  As we walked out of the gym area, The Fool entered.

“Oh, hey, Jay, Sar- Ah!  Zeta and Exile!  Umm…  How goes the crime fighting?”  The two of them rolled their eyes.  The Destroyer took my shoulder and guided me out, bringing me to his quarters while the Wise Woman made her excuses to the Fool.

“So,” he said once we had reached his room, “while Sarah is explaining you to Oliver, what’s the deal?  You have some questions to answer.”  I thought for a moment, tapping my chin.

“Okay.  What you need to know about me for now…  I am called The Watchmaker.  I triggered about six thousand years ago.  Since then, I’ve perfected the use of my power and lived eight trillion years, three months, twenty-four days, three hours, fourteen minutes and fifty three seconds.  I am functionally immortal, invincible, and unkillable.  I am omnipresent, omniscient, and fairly close to omnipotent.  And… I will be your friend.  If, of course, you survive that long, which you will.  But barely, and not without effort and my help. I know about your powers because I’ve seen you in action… with your real power, and I’ve talked with Khan.”  At that, he reacted.

“Where is Khan, then?  He normally likes to be here for things like this.”  I looked at The Destroyer seriously.

“He is not you.  He is not your friend.  Do not forget that.  I have blocked him for now, but I cannot help you with him.  But…  do not be fooled.”  He stared at me and shook his head.

“Why should I trust you?  He’s told me things about myself I needed to know.  He’s helped me plenty.  And what?  You, a random stranger who could be anyone, is telling me he’s an evil manipulator?  Yeah, sure, I’m being tricked by a serval. Sooo suspicious. That’s fluffy doom, right there.”  He stood up and opened the door. “Get some proof, and maybe I’ll consider it.”

“He’s told you you’re weak.  He’s wrong, by the way.  He’s sealing your powers.  I am who I say I am, simply because there is no one who would dare to claim to be me.  Evil?  Yes.  Demonic.  He is no more a serval than you or I.  He can appear however he wants.” The Destroyer glared at me.  “Use your powers, dragon.  See what you can do without his influence.”

“Out.  Now.”  Despite myself, I grinned.  I knew it would end up like this.

“When you’re ready for your fate, let me know.”  I walked out the door, and promptly disappeared.  Next to Rune, in a different, earlier time, I looked at a rampaging superhuman.  Bash swore.

“Shit,” he said, “This guy’s gotta be stronger than me.  I can’t get near him without risking my life.”  Rune frowned.

“Nothing I can do against his caliber without making things worse.”

“He’s protected against me, too.  Sorry.” I shrugged. Bash spat, narrowly missing Rune’s black Regulator uniform.

“Anyone you know who could take him?  Can you pull someone out of their timeline, pull them back here?”  I thought for five seconds, considering the possibilities.  At last, arriving at a suitable candidate, I nodded.

“Nidhogg could take him.”

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Folie à Plusieurs V. Crane I

It’s a very strange matter of affairs, to say the least. However, being a superhero is far less remarkable than any of my preconceived expectations. Eighty percent of my time has been spent in training, or just lulling around our “headquarters”. No one plans operations there, at least as far that I can tell. I spend a good deal of time just kinda staring at walls and thinking. I really haven’t even gotten to slam anyone around since I had attacked the police station. That had been fun. It had been me against everyone else, and I loved it. I had taken them by surprise and though at the time, the group was operating at the same level as a limbless down-syndrome baby, I still enjoyed what I considered a victory. No one else looked back on that with as much joy as I do, but in my eyes, I won. That being said, I had come to appreciate my friends, well, most of them. I try to keep to myself, enough to avoid some people but not enough to come off as a pretentious fuck, hopefully.

Anyway, I’d become remarkably bored again and had decided to take a walk through the lovely, crime-ridden back alleys that make up our city. Although I was free from most of the demonic influence, the mask still left me with….cravings. I have not told anyone in the group yet, but I fear that some of them are catching on. Zeta, Exile, and Apollo.  Exile knows demons, Apollo knows people, and Zeta knows bloodlust. Mirage…  she’s clueless.  We’ve been sleeping together for two weeks, and she doesn’t even know that I control her access to my mind.  That being said, she’s not a bad lay.

In order to relieve the more violent desires, I’ve been killing criminals in the streets, even minor thieves. My major concern is that these forgettable criminals are becoming harder to find, and if uncontrolled, my desires could lead to, well unfortunate interactions with civilians. I have seriously begun to consider starting small crime circles, like a drug or sex trade, just so I can get by another week. In fact, I had begun acting upon those thoughts using the SVRA resources, only to discover…  well, nothing, yet.  Glimmers of the trails of half-glimpsed things.

Anyway, I took a right at the old Stanford building and walked into the large parking lot that was in the shadow of the 30-story building. However, there was something different about the lot today. It was that there wasn’t a car in the entire lot, in fact, there wasn’t much of a parking lot left. Massive pillars of metal, stone and cement were sticking up out of the ground, a real concrete jungle. I felt as if I had just stepped into an ancient forest, frozen in stone, combined with a futuristic recreation of where the dinosaurs might have lived.

Unfortunately, I knew that structures of this nature were likely not extreme works of modern art or rapid geological expansion, but the elaborate set up of some villanous metahuman. I also realized that I had been standing still for much too long, and would likely be experiencing a great deal of pain in the next few seconds.

Almost on cue, a spear of metal erupted from the ground. I managed to blunt its impact with a rapidly produced ice shield, but was still sent flying several yards into the air. I hit the ground hard, and as a shifted my weight and sat up I saw a figure approaching. He had long, stringy, black hair, no shirt, sweat pants, and a large, round amulet on his chest. As fast as I could, I hopped back onto my feet. My mask crawled over my face.  With the feeling of greeting an old friend, I covered myself in shadow. The chaotic feeling of power surged through my entire body. Ice crystals started to form around my left hand, and I could hear the electricity crack and snapple in my right.

“Hello there, Conan! Isn’t it a little cold to go au naturel?” I asked giddily, ignoring the horror movie sound of my speech.

“Silence, demon. I am known as Ronin, and I have come here to wipe your vile stain off of this planet.” With this declaration, the earth at his feet surged forward and a massive pillar of stone exploded under my feet. To avoid another embarrassing injury I flipped backwards and landed, standing, on one of the Stanfords building’s windows as one would stand on the sidewalk.

“Ooooooooh, a new elemental power to add to my collection.” I paused, trying my best to make sure he could see my smirk. “ Now, Ronin. It is Ronin, right? I would recommend you make peace with whatever you believes governs your existence, as I’m not planning on letting you leave…  in one piece, at least, if I’m feeling merciful.” With that, I flicked my left hand and sent a twenty foot shard of ice soaring at his head. With surprising speed, he pulled out a katana, jumped to the side and sliced my shard in half, then turned and disappeared into the stony maze.

“Alright, now it’s personal, dick! The katana was my thing!” I kicked off the window and soared out above the stone forest. Sensing a trap, I solidified a path of ice above the tops of the stones.

I landed softly on top of my pillar and crouched, focusing my demonic senses.  I followed the largest energy signature, and “saw” him waiting at the base of another pillar. I dashed forward, intending to slash open his back.  At the last second, he spun around, and met my blades with his own.  I pushed hard, intending to overpower him and… you know… eat his heart, or something, but he resisted my onslaught, pushing back with incredible strength.  As he forced my retreat I snarled at him, “What are your powers, you freak?”

I spun out and slashed at him, using a varying patterns of strikes at his upper and lower body sides, but my blades couldn’t land a hit. He used his sword to protect his mid body, and if my secondary blade punched through, there was always a piece of stone that exploded upwards to deflect me. I started to get frustrated and widely overstepped my guard. Ronin exploded forward and kicked me in the face, sending me tumbling through pillar after pillar of cement.  As I slowly stumbled back to my feet a storm of stones and metals flew into me, tearing through the shadows that protected my body. One relatively large piece of granite collided with my left arm and there was a sickening crunch. I stood back up, arm hanging uselessly, and focused on getting myself some space.  My natural healing factor, vastly accelerated by the demonic influence, quickly took care of the arm.

“My turn”, I said, my malicious intent evident through my tone.

I side-stepped a series of stone pillars jabbing up from the ground. Surrounding the area with darkness, I spun around a pillar and shot a flurry of ice crystals at the samurai-wannabe.  Ronin easily dodged my assault and laughed. He flipped his blade around and touched his amulet, and the ice coating the surroundings melted.

/What the fuck?/ I tapped into the demonic mask, letting a bit more of its influence seep into me, in return for an assessment of his abilities.

He’s a terrakinetic… Let me kill him and eat him and gain his powers…

/When I figure out how the power eating works, sure.  How did he melt the ice?/

He has two artifacts on him. The first is his sword, which is abnormally sharp and corrosive to demons.  It can also dispel demonic energy, so don’t waste your energy trying to cover him with darkness.  Any direct contact will make you weaker and him stronger while you touch, so don’t do it.  Kill him from afar, and then eat his body.  The other artifact is the pendulum, which gives him the power to absorb, redirect, and reflect certain types of energy from any metal or stone.  Don’t use lightning to fry him; eat him raw.

/Alright.  Thanks for the input.  Now, away with you!/

No

I was about to respond, but Ronin had gotten tired of the pause and rushed to attack me, spinning his sword to confuse me.  I stepped back, avoiding the slashes.

/Now…  How to finish him?/

Give me control

/I thought I sent you back, asshole/, I thought, leaping back and running deeper into the forest of stone…  almost a maze, at this point.

Not until I have my meal

/If I give you control, will you give it back once you get your meal?/

You don’t have the option to bargain.  You cannot escape him. You cannot defeat him without me.  Eat, or be eaten.  

/Eat, then./

…and vomit dribbling from his lips.

“Kill me, you bastard,” Ronin spat, more vomit coming up with his words.

“Tsk tsk. Foul words leave a foul taste in my mouth… and yours, too, apparently,” I said, poking his face with my foot.

A quick glance into a reflective metal pillar revealed that I had changed a bit. My limbs were masses of long tendrils, some of which rose up off my back like tentacles. The section of my mask where the mouthpiece was had shifted into a jagged maw.  It was hard to believe that I was human under all of that.  Well… metahuman, anyway.

How are you back already?  I haven’t eaten yet!

/You slipped, bub.  Don’t worry.  You’ll get your meal./

Tendrils stiffened and extended from my back, like the legs of a gargantuan spider, and came down quickly, pinning him to the rubble. His hand twitched, and my hyper-reactive eyes followed his intended motion.  His sword was embedded, down to the hilt, in the ground five feet away.  Extending my tentacles, I picked it up and drew it effortlessly.

“Hmm.  Without a human body, it lacks even the feeblest defense against demons.  Interesting.” I glanced at Ronin’s face, frustrated and defiant, then twisted my shadow-face into a malevolent grin.  With a flick of my mental wrist, I sent it flying, and watched his face begin to crumple.  I lifted my face to the sky, and sang, serenading the dark clouds.

“Poor little Bo peep has lost his sword,

doesn’t know where I threw it toward!

Leave him alone, and he’ll come home,

sporting his shiny new hand of chrome!”  His eyes widened as he realized what I was saying, and his struggle to get free renewed in intensity.

FOOD

GIVE ME FOOD

EAT /EAT/ EAT /EAT/ EAT /EAT/ EAT /EAT/

Camly, I bent down, looking into his face.

“You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just…do things.  King has plans, Khan has plans, Exile has plans.  You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I’m not a schemer. So, when I say…uh, come here.”  I took his hand, lifting it to my gaping maw. “When I say that this is nothing personal, you know I’m telling the truth.”  I stretched my mouth abnormally wide, then snapped it around his hand, with a beautiful “shink, squelch!” sound.  He tried to scream, his back arching and his tendons standing out, but no sound escaped the shadowy gag in his mouth.

/Don’t know when you did that, don’t care.  Good work.  It’s always better when they can’t even scream./  

As the demon digested the hand, a surge of pleasure flowed through me, orgasmic in its intensity.  I writhed, throwing off globs and tendrils of shadow.  I woke up hours later, the mask gone, but my clothes ripped and covered in blood. I rubbed my head, then started the trek back to the base, sticking to lonely alleys and back streets, to hide my disheveled appearance… and the wide, unhinged grin on my face.

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Folie à Plusieurs V. Everest I

“Hey, Mirage.  Olivia.  Whatever you want me to call you.  What’s up?”  I said, greeting the short blonde.

“Ha, Olivia or Liv is fine.  And actually, I have a favor to ask you.”

“Oh?” I asked, cocking my head. “What can I do for you?”  She reached out and grabbed my shoulders, standing on her tiptoes.

“I’d like for you to talk to Jason for me.  There’s something I need him to do, but he’ll be suspicious if I-  No, that’s not right,” she said.  I opened my mouth to s-

“I’d like for you to talk to Jason for me.  There’s something I need him to do, but he won’t do it if it’s me ask- No, that’s not right either.” I opened my mouth to s-

“I’d like for you to talk to Jason for me.  There’s something I need him to do, but I’m too shy- not quite.  Closer, though.  It’s a good thing you’re so dumb, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do this, no matter how much physical contact.  Shame I’m not a mind-control specialist, huh?”  I frowned.

“First of all, I don’t like being called dumb.  Second, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  She patted my cheek endearingly.

“I know you don’t.  I know.  Don’t worry about it.” I opened my mouth to s-

“I’d like for you to talk to Jason for me.  There’s something I need him to do, but I’m too nervous to do it myself.  Can you help me out?”

“Sure, of course!  What do you want me to?”

“Well,” she said, “It’s kinda complicated.  It’d be easier to just show you… mentally.  I need you to empty your mind, then completely open yourself to my will.”  I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“Okay, I’m ready.”  To my surprise, she grabbed the back of my head and planted a fully-fledged, tongue-included kiss on my lips.

“Wha-”

—-

“Huh, that’s an odd thing to say, Oliver,” he said, narrowing his eyes.

“What?”

“I mean, its not like you to ask me that.”  Jason stopped taking off his costume, and shrugged his jacket back on. “You’re my friend, and one of the most loyal people I know.  You wouldn’t ask me if I’m confident in my abilities as a leader.   You’re the sort of person who would simply trust that I know what I’m doing.  Why the sudden doubt?” /Aww… that’s nice of him to say…  if only I knew what was going on!/

“I… I have no idea what you’re talking about.   I must have just zoned out.  Last thing I remember…  I was talking to Olivia about … something?” He stared at me.

“Do you think she influenced your mind?”

“No!  She wouldn’t do that, would she?  Besides, I’d remember it, wouldn’t I?”

“She would do it.  And there’s no guarantee you’d remember it.  She’s fairly proficient at mind control, I’ve recently discovered.  She’s probably strong enough to  wipe your short term memory, or make you a puppet.  And worse, most likely.”  He ran his fingers through his hair.  “I want you to stay away from her for now, okay?  Until we figure out what she’s after.  Just trust me on this one, okay?”

“Sure.  Whatever you say, chief,”  I said, frowning a bit. /I’m starting to see why he hates psychics…/ He nodded.

“That’s more like you, buddy.” His face suddenly went grim.  “Oliver. Without looking behind you, just go to your room.  Go now.  Pretend everything’s cool.”

“That won’t work,” I heard from behind me, “I can read minds, you know.”  Jason swore.

“Go!” He shouted, pushing me.  I tried to leave, but my body locked up.  I felt an arm curl seductively around my shoulder and heard Olivia say,

“Once a connection has been made, it’s always easier the second time.  It’s even easier with weak minds like his.”  Jason pulled his half mask over his mouth.

“I don’t know what you’re planning, Mirage,” Zeta said, “whose team you’re on, or what you want.  But you can’t mindfuck me like you did Everest.”

“You’re right.  The same methods would get a fraction of the result.  But that’s enou-”

“Uhhhh…  my head…” I heard.  I shook my head, trying to clear my vision and my headache.  I was lying on a roof, in full costume, being helped up by Zeta.  He was groaning too.

“Jesus.  What happened?” he said, rubbing his forehead.

“Dunno.  Last thing I remember, we were talking about something in the kitchen,” I shrugged.

“Yeah.  Me too.  Hmm.  A supervillain?”

“Maybe… oh, hey, XYZ.” /I feel like I should be panicking, but…  well, if Jason isn’t bothered, then I shouldn’t be./

“Wha- Oh,” he said, blushing, then zipping his zipper.  “Oops.  That’s never happened before; I never forget my zipper.”  I grinned.

“First time for everything.  Speaking of time” I said, checking my watch, “It’s 5:00.  We have another hour of patrol before we can head back.  It is our day, right?”

“Yeah.  But it’s going to be slow going until Crane gets attacked.  The only thing we’ve had to deal with since he gave his message is those tinkerbots.”  I looked at him curiously.  He slapped his forehead. “Oh, that’s right, you haven’t been at one of those.  King occasionally releases a small, foot or so high robot that builds other things.  It builds more robots, which build more robots, and so on.  They’re weak, but you need to take them out quickly, before there are enough of them to start building weapons.  Apollo and Selene accidentally let one group of them build a small cannon.  It demolished an entire building.  Just keep an eye out.” I shuddered.

“Let’s hope we don’t run into any.  I just want to go back to the base and sleep off this headache.”

“Agreed.  Let’s get moving.”

“Wake up! Wake up! Get your fat fucking asses up!”  I groaned and turned over.  From outside my room, I heard all the other members of the team stumble out of their doorways and grunt at each other and their alarm clock, Rune, in the hallway.

“Go to school and let me sleep,” I muttered into my pillow.  Luckily for me, I had graduated from high school last year, and was just sticking around for the team.  All the others had stuff to do during the day.  Diana and Will went to a small private school to get their senior year in, while everyone else went to South Haven High School.

“You know, for someone so mad about being weak, you seem to take training rather lightly.”

Almost everyone, that is.

“I need my beauty sleep, Alex.”

“With that ugly mug?  Not likely.”

“You’re composed enough to be witty.  Not wearing the mask, then?  How’d you get in my room?”

“Maybe I walked in with it, then took it off.  Ever think of that, Sherlock?”

“Yeah, you took it off.  Cause that’s always worked so well before.”

I heard him shifting around.  Hiding my face, I grinned.  “There’s a trade off, Crane.  The weaker the power, the more sane we stay. Compare me and Diana to you and Jason.  Apollo, to a lesser extent.  I’m quite comfortable as I am, thank you very much.”

“Then leave.” My grin faded.  “I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now,” he continued,  “This isn’t a place for weaklings.  Not this town, not this state, not this world.  Zeta told you your options.  Become strong, or leave.  This team isn’t for people who can’t even control their own powers.”

I flushed.

“It’s a temporary thing!  I’ll fix it soon! I just need to train a bit more!”

“Which brings us right back to you, being asleep, in bed, while everyone else is up.”

“Fine!  Fuck!  Don’t know why you’re getting up early, you don’t have school either.”

“I have an assignment.  I’m doing some grassroots destroying.  You’re being a lazy piece of lard.”

“I’M GETTING UP!”

“Ninety-nine… One.. Hundred!” I let the weights drop with a clang, just as Exile and Apollo walked into the gym.  Apollo walked over and nodding at me, picked up the dumbbells I had just dropped.  Frowning, he put them back down, then walked over to a rack and picked a pair seven sizes up.

“Why are you lifting so light?  Literally, everyone on the team can go much heavier than that.  You should be trying out the ones we can’t even get our fingers under,” he said.  I sighed.

“I can probably tell you two this…  just don’t tell Zeta, okay?”

“Sure,” Will replied with a shrug.

“No promises.  I will if I have to,” said Sarah, folding her arms.

“Well, I can’t control my powers.”  Instantly, I regretted opening my mouth.  Their faces instantly went cold and stony. “No, they work fine while I’m fighting!  I just haven’t been able to activate anything outside of combat!” Sarah frowned, thinking.

“Fine,” she said at last, “I won’t tell Jason.  But if you don’t fix it soon…”

“Where is Zeta, anyway?” I asked, looking around, “He’s usually here by now.”

“He’s getting lunch with a friend of his.  John, his name is.  Frankly, he gives me the creeps,” Will said, “He seems normal half the time, then I turn around and he’s staring at my back like he’s going to eat me.”

Sarah sighed.  “That’s the point.  All of Jay’s closest friends are… off. You never met Cyner, because he disappeared before you came, but he was similar. Not quite so hostile, but he always made my hair stand on end.  Gave off this… aura, I guess, of being on a different level than all of us.  I’m not really describing it well, but it was like standing next to a reactor.  I don’t know how to describe it better than that.  Jason is the same way sometimes.  I remember, one time, back when we were freshmen, some upperclassmen were picking on him.  One of them pushed him in the hallway, hard enough to make him fall over.  I expected him to jump up and attack the guy.  Then I looked at Jay’s eyes.”

She paused, taking a deep breath.

“I thought there was going to be a death count.  I thought he was going to start killing people with his bare hands and teeth.  He looked less like a person and more like… a wild animal.”  I recoiled a bit.

“He’s…  he’s not that bad, is he?”

Will nodded, ignoring me.

“I know what you mean.  I’ve seen him fight.  It’s brutal.  He fights like a rabid dog. And one day,” Apollo continued, a determined look in his eyes, “he’s going to have to be put down.”

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Et Sic Incipit III. Apollo II

I remembered the sparring match, and turned to watch. Diana had just dodged a punch from Zeta. She rolled out of the way, and kicked him in the back of the knee. His knees buckled, but he rolled with the fall, and grabbed Diana’s foot. He pulled her down, and she fell flat on her face.  She quickly spun onto her back, and jumped up. She feinted a kick, and as Zeta fell for it, she punched him in the jaw. He fell backwards, right on his ass, still reeling from the punch. He regained his bearings, and kicked her legs out from under her. She landed on her back, and instantly leapt up using only her feet. He was still on the ground, so she tried to kick him, but when she wound up for the kick, he grabbed her foot and threw her across the room. She hit the wall. Hard.

I vaguely remember hearing Exile say, “Oh shit,” behind me. Everyone froze. She staggered to her feet, but it was clear she was going to collapse. Zeta rushed over to help her, but she waved him off. He was apologizing profusely.

“I’m so sorry! Are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Honest.”

“Are you sure? I feel so bad are you ok?”

“Yes! I’m fine! No hard feelings.” She moved to give him a hug. He didn’t know what to do, so he just hugged her back. “See?” she said, “No hard feelings.”

Before anyone could move, I was on my feet, bow drawn. I shot an arrow into Zeta’s arm. He shoved away from Diana, and pulled it out.  I drew another arrow from my quiver, and got ready to shoot him again, but Exile saw what I was doing, and before I could take another step a seven-foot wall of fire shot up in front of me.  I tried to go around it, but she changed it into a circle, surrounding me. Through the flames I could see Exile pull Diana up off the ground. Zeta grimaced, and pulled the arrow out of his arm, inspecting the wound closely, then shrugging. I couldn’t hear what was happening.

Exile started yelling at me, but I couldn’t hear her over the flames. She must have been mad, because the flames around me pressed higher. Zeta, on the other hand, was furious. He started running at me, fire burning from behind his goggles.  Exile saw his charge, and suddenly disappeared, reappearing closer to me.  She threw out an arm, clotheslining Zeta.  He fell to the ground, clutching his nose.  That made him angry, but it sure as hell made me feel better. What made me feel even better was that Exile’s attention slipped, and the flames went down enough for me to jump over and join the fight.

Before Zeta could hit her back, she blasted him in the face with a fireball. She yelled to Everest, and he grabbed Zeta from behind. Luna started yelling at Exile, who turned around, and set a circle of fire around my sister, too. Zeta bent down, then jumped up to the ceiling and flipped, leaving Everest to fall to the ground.  He slammed down, landing on top of him hard enough to drive the density-changer’s body another foot into the ground.  I, just reaching the fight, drove one of my arrows into his wounded arm, narrowly avoiding his riposte.  He started swinging wildly at me, acting as if he hadn’t just gotten stabbed.  I grabbed one of his fists, trying to initiate a grab, but the bastard was sandbagging.  He twisted out of my grip and grabbed my arm, flipping me over his back and into the wall.  To add insult to injury, he surrounded me in another wall of fire.

Zeta hit Exile in the back with a fireball, which set her shirt on fire. She waved her hand and put it out. She turned around and yelled, “ENOUGH,” loud enough for even me to hear. Everyone stopped. Well, I was trapped in fire, and Everest was almost unconscious on the floor, so really just Zeta and Luna. The flames lowered just the smallest amount.

“Leave. I’m going to try to fix this, but right now, you need to go.”

“But–” Zeta started to say, but Exile cut him off.

“Go.” She pointed to the door. He stalked out of the room, anger rolling off him in waves. My sister glanced back at me, then ran after him.  Exile waved her hand, and the fires surrounding me went out. She stumbled over to the bleachers, clearly drained from the fight. I ran past her to find Zeta.

I caught up to him just as he was reaching our bunk.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I asked as I shoved him, and he stumbled a few steps. He spun around, and shoved me back.

“What, mad your sister is an actual person?”

“Fuck you!” I pulled my sword out of its sheath.

“No!” Diana came running out of the girl’s bunk. She stood between us, and put a hand on each of our chests, separating us. “Stop!”

“Why? Your super, special big brother wants to fight me. Let him.”

“Move out of the way, Diana. Now.” She wouldn’t budge.

Suddenly, Rune appeared. “The two of you. Come. Now.” We followed him into the main building, and he sat us down at a table. He was seething with anger. He turned to Zeta.

“Zeta, watch yourself.  You’re supposed to be the bad boy of the team, but nearly killing your own subordinates is shit that not even Hacksaw does.” He pouted.

“I wasn’t trying to kill them.  I only used two powers.”  Rune just looked at him.

“You should probably go.  Make sure Exile is okay.”  He shrugged, and walked out of the room.

Once Zeta was gone, he turned to me. “You’re supposed to be the voice of reason. You’ve been on a team before. You of all people should know what happens when teammates fight. It gets people killed. You of all people should know,” he said again, with greater emphasis.  I refused to look him in the eye. “Hey. I know you want to protect your sister, but you can’t. She’s not a little kid anymore.” I still refused to look at him. He sighed, shook his head, and with that, he disappeared.

I sat there, still brooding, when I heard the door open.  A shadowy figure slipped in. It was Crane, using his stealth powers.

“Where were you during all of this?” I asked, not moving my head.  He sat down in front of me.

“Watching,” he hissed, “As I always am.” I looked up at him in surprise.  His mask was on, and his eyes glittered like obsidian.

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Et Sic Incipit III. Apollo I

I woke up at 5:30 for my morning jog, keeping as quiet as possible so as not to disturb my teammates.  The alarm clock wasn’t a problem; I hadn’t needed one of those since I was seven.  I put on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt, and grabbed my water bottle.  I tip-toed past Everest, held my breath as I passed Crane, then carefully opened my water bottle.  I raised it to my mouth to take a drink… then dumped it all over Zeta’s sleeping head.

I was out of the bunk before he stopped sputtering.

An hour later, as I finished my twelve-mile run, the others were just getting up for their training camp breakfast.  I grinned as I ran past Zeta, still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.  He flipped me off.  I toweled off in the bunk, and went to get my breakfast.

As I walked into the dining room with a plate of waffles, I started looking for my sister.  I noticed her talking to someone, and smiled.

/Oh good, she made a new friend!  I was worried about her adjusting to the new social environment./

When I saw who she was talking to, I stopped in my tracks.  The smile slid off my face, and my jaw tightened.  I spat, “Zeta.”  Resisting the urge to protect my sister, I stiffly turned around and walked to a different table.

“Hey guys,” I said, forcing myself to calm down.

“Hey!  How’s it going, man?” said Everest.

“Sup, bitch?” Crane drawled, leaning his chair back on two legs.  I sat down, fake-laughing.

“It’s all good with me.  How’s camp going for you?”  I asked. Everest just shrugged, and rubbed his biceps.  I nodded understandingly.  “Yeah, that happens to everyone.  It’s worse for you, you’re the strongman.  You gotta be as strong as you can.  They’re gonna be working you as hard as possible.”

“You can say that again,” he snorted.  “They just brought me up to 1,000lbs yesterday.  I’m dying.”  Crane laughed at that.

“1,000 pounds, and you still can’t land a punch on Exile.  What’s the phrase?  Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink?”  Everest stated at him blankly.

“What?”  He asked.  Crane sighed, waving his hand.

“Nevermind, simpleton.”  Everest stared at him in confusion for a minute.

“Did you just call me stupid?” He asked incredulously. I looked at Crane, and we both burst out laughing.  “What?  What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, nothing.  Don’t worry about it,” I responded.

“God, you two are worse than Jaso-” He broke off suddenly, looking stricken.  Crane sighed, and leaned over to me.

“Everest and I know each other I-R-L,” he whispered, “And he hasn’t realized it yet.  I was talking to Zeta, too.  They got lunch together the day before the interviews, but nothing.”

I whispered back, “Wow.  Are you serious?  He’s that dense?”  He grinned, and leaned back.

“Apt choice of words, but yes.”  Everest threw up his hands.

“Screw both of you and your mind games.  I’m going to go work out.”  As he left, Crane glanced towards Zeta and Diana talking.

“So… I have a question for you, Mr. Inexplicable Grudge.”

“It’s not an inexplicable grudge. We had a bad interview.  We now do not like each other.  End of story.  No inexplicable hating.  No friendly rivalry.  Just plain dislike.”  I sighed.  Crane nodded.

“Alright.  I can accept that,” he said, “So how are you going to react when he starts going out with your sister?”  I spat out my water.

“What? Who said anything about dating?  They’re just talking, right?  Right?” His trademark grin re-appeared, a mischevious glint in his hazel eyes.

“They’re just talking,” he said, “for now.  But, it’s only a matter of time.  They have compatible personalities, they’ll have close contact over long periods of time, similar relationship histories…they both have had experiences with overbearing authority figures…  I don’t know why, but my power has given me some insight into humans.  I use that term loosely, of course, seeing as how I’m including Zeta.”  I relaxed.

“Oh, well, you might want to get your demon-sense checked out, then. I don’t know what Zeta’s deal is, but Diana hasn’t gone out with anyone, and she’s never had an overbearing authority figure.  At least, not for very long.  I’m always there to help her out of stuff like that.”  He stared at me.

“Yes, that’s definitely it.  I’ll get my demonic mask-thing checked out.”  He got up, shaking his head.  “I’m going to go train people who don’t know as much martial arts as we do.  I’ll probably do sparring today.  I’ll have to partner Diana with Zeta, since they’re about the same skill level. Not that there’s going to be a problem with that, right?”  I furrowed my brow.

“How is Zeta the same skill level as my sister?  She’s been training all her life.”

“Zeta has a combat sense.  He hasn’t been training for as long, but his power gives him a leg up.”  He replied.  I smiled triumphantly.

“See!  Another difference. Diana works for stuff, while it just comes easy to Zeta! They’ll never go out!”

After Crane left, I finished my food quickly, and headed towards the range to practice archery. After an hour of practice, or at least an attempt at it, I stopped. I couldn’t focus knowing that my sister was spending time with Zeta, of all people. I decided to go check on my sister in the sparring ring. The conversation I’d had with Crane kept running through my mind. So how are you going to react when he starts going out with your sister? No, no, no. Not gonna fuckin’ happen. Ever.

When I reached the ring, they hadn’t started yet, so I took a seat in the bleachers to watch. Crane was still assigning partners.

“Zeta, you’ll be against Luna. Exile, you’ll be against Everest. Zeta and Diana are up first.”  Exile and Everest took a few steps away from the ring, but when they saw me, they came to sit with me.

“You look happy to be here,” Exile observed, as she sat down next to me. She put her feet up on the row of chairs in front of us and her hands behind her head.

“Shut up.” I was on the edge of my seat, angrier with Zeta than I’d ever been. Her nonchalance just made me angrier.

“Don’t bother, he’s been mad all morning. Ever since breakfast.” Everest told her.

Exile nodded to him, “Oh, I see,” She turned to me, and with a straight face asked, “Did a special someone pee in your corn flakes again?”

Everest burst out laughing.

“Shut up! Both of you! I’m just mad that Diana is spending so much time with Zeta, ok?”

“Ahaha! That’s what this is about? Don’t even worry about it. We all know that Zeta is an egotistical prick on a power trip, but he’s really just a nerd.  He’s not going to make the first move.  Besides, even if he wanted to do it just to piss you off, he knows I’d kill him.” She grinned.

“I know. I just don’t want Diana to get hurt. She’s my little sister, I still have to protect her.”

“Well, it doesn’t look like she wants your help anymore. She’s a big girl. Let her make her own decisions. And, if it makes you feel any better, she kicking Zeta’s ass.”

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Et Sic Incipit III. Exile II

I waited in the gym with the rest of the students that had been scheduled to take the MET that day. There was nobody there I knew– never mind. I did know someone there. That Olivia bitch. She’s this obnoxious, stuck-up girl that thinks she’s the shit. We have mutual friends, because that’s how life works, but we stay out of each others way. Mostly. I idly wondered if she’d still look smug if she woke up with her house on fire. Since I didn’t recognize anyone else, I just sat by myself on the last row of the bleachers. We were going to be given our results now. I was number twenty five out of thirty, so I had a while to wait. The proctors from the room filed in, and everyone stopped talking. The unsettling woman with the dark hair spoke first. “We will call your results by number. Depending on your result, you will separate into groups,” She had an unfamiliar accent that I couldn’t quite identify. She gestured at the numbers zero through five on the walls, “You will report to whatever your matching elemental score is. In these numbered groups, you will separate by element. Water on the left, then earth, air, and finally fire on the right. Your specialty, and elemental, will become a class added into your schedule, based on skill level, if any is found.” She gave everyone a moment to absorb the new information, and then started reading off scores. “Number one…” I waited until I heard number twenty-two to tune back in. “Twenty-three, water 3. Twenty-four, air 2. Twenty-six, none. Twenty-seven, water 5.” I no longer heard her words. A cold dread dropped to the pit of my stomach.
/Maybe I just didn’t hear it./
I was starting to get strange looks from the other students. They had looked for the person with 25 pinned to their shirt, and they had found me. They always announce scores, even if there was no skill found. I started playing with my necklace, a triskele, it was a nervous habit of mine. When she finished reading off she turned around, and walked out, followed by two more of the proctors. The man from the hospital stayed. The other students rushed out of their seats, my unfortunate circumstance forgotten, eager to find out who their new classmates would be. As I reached the bottom of the bleachers, the man from the hospital approached me.
“I’m Rune. I’m here to deliver your score personally, as we’ve only had this type of… occurrence once before. I can tell you’ve never been trained, which makes this all the more interesting. As you know, the normal scale is one to ten in elemental, and one to 30 in specialty. What your… performance resulted in was a nine in elemental, and a twenty-eight in specialty.” I was dumbfounded. The highest scores achieved by someone my age was an eight in elemental, then a seventeen in a specialty. “How is that even possible? I just told the coals to burn, and I just read from that stupid book, I didn’t do it on purpose.”

“The fire you created got so out of hand that I had to stop it.” He raised and eyebrow. “During your specialty, demonology, you didn’t summon an ordinary demon. You summoned a higher-level demon, which required me to exorcise it myself. This might seem like a non-sequitur, but do you believe in God?”
“Yes, I do.”
“That’s why you excel in demonology. People who believe that there is a balance between the spiritual and the physical often excel in such practices. Your connection with God
helps you control demons, and helps you resist falling under their influence.”

All I could say to this new wealth of information was a disappointing, “Oh.”

“I can train you. I’ll help you control your new-found abilities. All I ask in return is that you join the SVRA.” That didn’t sound so bad.

“Sure.” The training aspect isn’t really that interesting, so I won’t bore you with the details. I can shorten it up for you though. I needed to have a strong balance between mind, body, and spirit to ensure safety when handling magic. That means exercise. A lot more then I was used to. I played on two varsity sports teams at school, which should let you know how much work this required. Every morning at four I would go for a run, as far as I could go, and be back by six. I got up to the nine or ten mile range before tryouts. After running, I had to lift weights until seven, when I started getting ready for school. I had to be in tip-top physical shape before I could even start doing magic. Once I was physically ready, I had to get mentally ready. I had to do puzzles, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and all sorts of ‘fun’, mentally strengthening things. I also attended church every Sunday and Thursday. I learned incantations to summon, and exorcise demons, and I learned spells to create all sorts of fires. From fires used as weapons, to simply heating up my late-night lasagna, I learned how to create and control it. As my training progressed, I got stronger, but I still had a ways to go.

…Fast forward to auditions…

I was sitting in the waiting room of the police station, waiting for my name to be called. I’m not a very sociable person, so I didn’t try to make friends, even when a girl with a glowing hair band came over and introduced herself as Luna. I had progressed to the point in my training that I could snap, and a small fire, the size of a candle flame would appear over my fingers. I was snapping it on, playing with it, and snapping it back off again, when my name was called. I looked up to see where to go, and a boy with brownish hair, dressed in a black jacket with a Z on his belt called my name. He was shorter than me, but that’s not saying much, as I’m taller than most people I know. The little shit told me to “Move my ass faster if I wanted any shot at making it.” I already didn’t like his attitude. As I walked past him, I snapped my flame on, and set his sleeve on fire. He quickly patted it out, but not before everyone else in the waiting room saw it, and started chuckling with laughter. He shot me a nasty look, and stalked back into the room. Looking back on this now, it may not have been the smartest idea to set my interviewer on fire, but hey, what’re you gonna do? He dropped into his chair, and stared at me. Man, if looks could kill. “I don’t like being set on fire.”

“Tough.” There was a third person there, whom I immediately recognized as Rune. “Rune? I didn’t know you’d be here.” 

“How do you know Rune?” the kid at the table said, challenging me. He couldn’t have been much older than me, and I did not appreciate his tone. It drew a very aggressive response from me.

“Look you little shit, I don’t care how tough you think you are. You aren’t any better or more powerful than anyone else here. Check your attitude.” Before anyone started throwing punches, Rune stepped into the conversation, “Zeta, this is the student of mine that I’ve been telling you about.”

“Oh.” he said to Rune, “I’ve heard a lot about you, lets see what you can do, then.” I’m not sure what prompted such a violent response from me, but I just started setting things on fire. The table, the chair Zeta was sitting in, the ropes hanging from the ceiling, all went
up in flames. I started calling demons to me in numbers I wasn’t sure I could control. I was having so much fun that I didn’t hear Rune yelling at me to stop. He started putting out my
fires, and exorcising demons, but I kept relighting them and bringing them back. After a while I ran out of energy, and Rune took control of the situation. I turned to Zeta, who looked a little white faced. And not just from fear. I had burnt his mask off. I started laughing. “Jason?” I said, “You’re Zeta? Wow, nice tough guy act.” He flushed.

“Shut up, Sarah. Just because you’re inhumanly-not that that means anything anymore-strong doesn’t mean I’m not tough.”

“Yeah, but… c’mon! You’re Zeta? Oh god… you aren’t doing this to impress Olivia, are you?” His expression suddenly grew cold.
“Shut up,” He said. I didn’t notice the edge beneath the words. I started
laughing at him. “Ooh, Jason’s trying to be a t-“
“SHUT UP!” He roared, sending a wave of fire towards the wall with a fist. There was a
pause. Rune raised an eyebrow.
“Well, this is new for you, Spock,” he said. “It’s sort of a relief, actually. I didn’t want people wondering if you were an actual robot.” Jason does that every so often. If unsure how he feels, he’ll just stop giving out emotional cues. It happened at the beginning of this year, when he had a fight with his parents and moved out.  The emotionally unstable teenage with no adult supervision for 60% of his time just got super-powers.  Rather destructive ones, at that. “Shit. Sorry,” Zeta said, hanging his head. “It’s just hard. I’ve met a few team leaders from nearby states recently, and they’re all, ‘Oh, look at the little kid trying to be a hero!’ And, well, I’m tired of that Olivia shit. There’s nothing going on between us.  Just…”
“Alright, alright, I get it. It’ll take more than another burst of anger to drive me away. Don’t sweat it,” I said, waving away the rest of his apology. He recovered his composure quickly, and told me to go wait in the waiting room with everyone else. I walked outside, and
returned to my seat. I sat flickering my flame until he came out, followed by a kid that I recognized from TV, and announced that he had the final list. “The following heroes have been accepted. Apollo, Luna, Dagny, Everest, and Exile. To those applicants denied
acceptance to this pres-,” he stopped, and turned his head to the side. He started again, “To those applicants denied acceptance, please get the fuck out and never come here again.” As the other applicants and I followed him out, I muttered, “Rude bastard.” I heard a choked off laugh behind me. I turned to see that it was the boy loaded with weapons. Apollo, I think his name was. We followed Zeta outside, and Rune was there, waiting for us. He cleared his throat.
“Welcome to the SVRA, and congratul-,” Zeta rudely cut him off.
“You can give them the run down later; what’s the story?” Rune gave Zeta a look, half
pity, half annoyance.
“It’s Legion again, I’m afraid. He’s alone this time. Shouting for you to fight him.” Zeta did not look happy. A police van pulled up to where we were on the street. “Get in,” Rune said. “We’ll discuss the plan on the way there.” In the van, Zeta explained his history with Legion.

Apparently he was into demonology like me, but where I did relatively well, he goofed up pretty bad. The plan was explained to us quickly. Rune and I were to set up and exorcism circle, and fire and all that fun stuff. I was itching with excitement. I shook my hands and they became encased in flame. We all piled out of the van, ready for battle, only to meet an empty parking lot. Apollo was the first to speak, saying, “Very… anticlimactic.” I chuckled in agreement. “No crystals,” Zeta said, but didn’t explain why there would be any. “Alright then,” he continued, “Form pairs. Check out the area. See if he left any clues. Dagny and… Everest, go see if anyone saw him.” He walked off with Rune to the edge of the crater. Without saying anything, Apollo and I walked to one of the cracked buildings. He whistled as he looked at the crack, then turned to speak to me.

“So… What do you think of Zeta?” he asked me.

“Well, I’ve known him for a few years now. He’s pretty unpredictable, but decently smart and I think he’ll do as a leader.” I’m not sure what I said wrong, but he just stared at me, and then got really angry.

“Are you fucking serious? He’s a thrill seeker!” I did not appreciate being spoken to in that manner. I put a hand against his chest, and started an incantation to light him on fire under my breath. Looking panicked, Apollo asked, “Sorry? I didn’t quite catch that. What did you say?” I shook my head.

“Just some Latin,” I shrugged.

“Oh. Well, that… that sounds fine.”

I smiled and turned away. I started walking without checking to see if he followed, “I thought so. Now, let’s see if we can find anything about Legion.” After a moment, he followed suit.

Suddenly, Zeta called us over to the truck. He was holding a walkie-talkie.

“Get back in the fucking van!” he screamed, “There’s a powerful super villain at the Police Station! Legion was fucking distracting us!”

The van ride back was horrible. Nobody was doing anything. I decided to start the
beginning of a summoning, just in case. Zeta was pacing around. The other people in the van were clearly nervous. About half way through the drive, Zeta got up and addressed the team, “Okay, so-” That was all he got through before something t-boned the van.
Apollo rushed the back of the van, trying to push it open, but it was blocked. I pushed him aside, prepared to blast through the door, but it turns out I didn’t need to. Something blindingly bright tore through the side of the van, and buried itself in Zeta’s chest. He started convulsing, then collapsed, a large hole in the center of his jacket.

We all heard Apollo say, “Oh, shit.” It seemed to break us all out of a trance, and we tumbled out of the van and scattered. Apollo drew his bow, but not quick enough. A guy landed in front of him and cut his bow in half. It looked like he was wearing shadows. Apollo drew his sword, and they engaged in a brief sword fight, before Apollo was disarmed. The newcomer sliced a large cut in his upper arm. Apollo backpedaled, but the newcomer just stood there. He grabbed his sword from the ground and turned to face the shadow creature. It was useless; the thing just broke his sword, and knocked him down. Instead of running to help him, the rest of us just stood there. The thing turned on its heel, and headed towards the rest of us. I noticed that Dagny had gone missing, and Rune was nowhere to be found. The kid from the TV was first in the line of fire. He was bending the cement below him. Luna stood directly behind him, and then there was me. Not knowing what else to do, I started summoning. I don’t know how long I was standing there, but I looked up to the sound of the van crumpling on the pavement. Luna and Everest were both knocked unconscious, I was the only one left. I made a gesture with my hands, and the summoning was complete, “This demon has the power of corruption everything it touches will rot and decay. Have fun, you little shit.” I needed space, so I ran a few feet back, and then spun around to face it. I spoke, “Pyramidem igni.” and let loose a cone of flames, only to meet a sudden wall of ice. I kept pushing, but the wall wouldn’t fall. I ran out of energy, and fell to my knees. My vision was blurring, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I was going to stay conscious. Not long, apparently. When I came to, Zeta, Apollo, Dagny, God knows where she was during the fight, and someone I didn’t know were shaking me awake. I struggled to my feet, and we went around picking up team members, not talking. When we reached the last injured team member, Everest, Zeta stumbled a few steps, and collapsed. He stayed on the ground for a few minutes, before the stranger tried to help him up. Zeta refused, and started questioning him. “What’s your name?”

“Um, A-Alex. Alex Ro-,” Zeta shook his head.

“No. Other name.” He glanced at Apollo, continuing, “I want this guy to join the team. He was stronger than all of us. Though I’m sure he’s weaker, he’ll still be useful.”

Alex spoke again, “Crane. That’s my name. Crane.”

The cat from the van appeared, and addressed our disheveled team. “Hey guys. Wonderful job in that fight. Really. Can’t think of a way you could have done that better. Especially you, Everest. God, you’re all a bunch of morons. Still,” he continued, “Crane shows promise. To be honest, you all show promise. If Everest can stop being such an idiot, he’ll do fine. Exile… you’ve got guts, brains, and whatever organ magic comes from. Keep it up, and you’ll be leading the team soon. Luna… that was pretty shitty, but we’ll see. That leaves… Apollo and Zeta? No, wait. Dagny. Hm. Make sure that you’re useful for more than just photo shoots. Okay, that’s everyone. Apollo and Zeta, you both are useless assholes.” Neither of them looked too happy about that comment. He looked innocently back at us and purred.

Zeta shook his head, “Alright, Crane. Just ignore the talking cat. Now, help me up before the media gets here.” So he did. Just as he got back on his feet, the first media van arrived. The camera men jumped out, snapping pictures, and Rune came back with the ambulances.

As the ambulances were about to pull away, Rune pulled us together. “When you get out of the hospital, we’ll start filling out the paperwork, getting you ready for boot camp, and making sure none of you are undercover criminals. Our files on you are already pretty extensive, but the higher-ups say psychic interviews before you join the team. Company policy, I’m sure you understand. But, we need to talk about your performances in this fight. That was pretty terrible. The only reason you won was because Zeta learned how to punch from picking fights with people bigger than him.” Zeta opened his mouth to say something, but I was done with his crap. I punched him in the arm, and he stopped. “That being said, not bad. I think. My first team did pretty badly too, but we turned out okay. I’m biased though. The real test is how the media reports it. Good luck on your audition, kids.” Then, he was just gone. We all stood there for several minutes, before Luna goes, “So, when should we expect a callback?”

Straight from the hospital, we were sent to training camp. The physical part, at least, wasn’t so bad for me, because I have to train daily anyway. If there’s one thing I learned it’s that they wanted me in SVRA for help, but also to keep an eye on me. That’s why we’re all here. I won’t go into all the gory details; I’m not very enthusiastic about it. I was trained in some other magical areas, besides fire and demonology, but not extensively. Our team got in a few fights, but nothing too serious. No one got too badly hurt.  The psych screening was strange though. I’m not so good with letting people into my head, so when they had their psychic people poking around in there, I wasn’t too happy. There may or may not have been some fires involved. Anyway, when we got back to base, I had about ten minutes rest. I was interrupted by Zeta bursting through the door yelling something about attacks in the woods.

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Auditions II. Apollo III

I coughed at him.
“Stop with the Reagan jokes, and save us,” I choked. His grin faded and he walked over to me.
“Man, what the hell happened to you, Billy?” He looked down at me piteously, and I spat up a glob of blood.
“Don’t fucking call me that. How are you not roadkill?”
“Third power. Flight. Woke up in the middle of a falling truck. Now, who tried to kill me?”
“Shadow fucker. Ice and lightning and solid shadows. No rational thought. Enhanced.” He winced.
“Ooh. That’s gonna be h-” He was cut off as his shadow came alive under him and knocked him on his ass. The shadowfiend was standing above him, and plunged a sword at his head. Zeta rolled to the side, and it missed him by an inch. “Woah. Watch it, man.” The other sword plunged into the ground, trapping Zeta.  But, instead of curling into a fetal position, he grabbed a blade in each hand, and drove what must have been a few million volts into the shadowfiend. While he was convulsing, Zeta rolled out from under him. At that, I saw that Zeta wasn’t exactly mint condition himself. He was hurting bad, and one of his hands was covered in ice. He fixed that pretty quickly, though. His hand went up in a small inferno, and water splattered the ground. By then, the shadowfiend was up again. He ran at Zeta, lunging with a razor sharp blade. Zeta saw it coming and jumped, flipping himself up and over the shadowfiend, using his newfound flight to make himself turn in midair, landing right behind the shadowfiend with an arm around its neck. He jumped up, pulling it with him high, way up into the sky. I turned my gaze upwards, but couldn’t see much. I saw a few bright red flashes, then one constant one, steadily growing larger. All of a sudden, I realized it wasn’t growing larger… it was falling. Fast. The body hit the ground hard and fast enough to make it bounce a few feet in the air. Zeta landed softly, and didn’t take his eyes off of him. For good reason, it turns out. Half a second later, it stood up, looking as if it had just stepped off the production line. Zeta, keeping his eyes on his enemy, said, “Dagny. I know you’re there. Link me and this asshole up.” There was a pause. “Yes, I know what I’m doing. I meant what I said! Establish a mental link between me, and the guy who’s been attacking all of us! And cut yourself off from it.” Then, all of a sudden, the shadowfiend’s back straightened, and he and Zeta started walking towards each other. They stopped… maybe an inch apart, and didn’t move. Until, that is, Zeta socked him in the face. The shadowfiend danced backwards, swords windmilling at his sides, and adopted a fighting stance before charging forward, spinning both swords in a whirlwind. Zeta shot flames out at him, but they froze and sputtered out before they could get close to the cyclone of death around the other combatant. Leaping backwards, all fire from Zeta ceased and electricity began spilling down his arms. He focused a moment and let lose a steady stream of electricity at his adversary. The shadowfiend dropped one of his swords and grasped the other with both, taking the full blast head on, which simply dissipated, absorbed into the blade. Arching over, he retrieved his second blade before jamming it back into the ground, sending a rapidly quickening trail of ice towards Zeta. Flames began billowing out again, and the ice stopped in its tracks, but Zeta was breathing hard and sweat was pouring down his face. Using his powers so much was beginning to cost him. He dashed forward, but was repelled by the blades. He tried for a sweep kick, but the enemy simply jumped backwards to evade. Finally,with a primal roar, Zeta charged recklessly forward.
The shadowfiend leveled his blades.
And Zeta was run through.
My eyes widened in shock as Zeta’s quavering arms raised up and grasped his enemy’s face.
“Burn in hell, with the rest of your kind, you bastard.”
And with that, Zeta and the shadowfiend went up in flames. Then, all we could hear was laughter.
It took almost a minute for them to finally calm down. Zeta was collapsed on all fours, but the shadowfiend was oozing darkness as if it was blood, and its swords dragged on the ground, like it barely had the strength to lift them.
Slowly standing while clutching his wounded chest, Zeta kicked the shadowfiend in the jaw with a sickening crunch, then clutched both hands into a ball and brought them down on its head, hard. Gazing at his now defenseless opponent, he shook his head and chuckled.
Zeta, still standing straight, plunged his hand hard and fast at the shadowfiend’s head. There was a sickening crack and squish, as if someone took a sledgehammer to a clay pot full of live flesh. All I could see was Zeta crouching over the body, moving his hand around like he was looking for something. When he stood up, I could see what he had found. He was holding a small, black remora. It was flopping in his hand, and he looked at it with contempt, then quickly closed his hand. When he opened it, there was just a black powder that blew away. Right after he killed the small fish, the shadowfiend stirred, and sat up. I expected its face would be mangled and destroyed, but no. There was no sign of the terrible… demon… that had been attacking us. Instead, there was a thin kid, with long brown hair. His face was unharmed, and the mask was gone. With it went the swords and the shadow that seemed to surround him. He lost all of the ominous aura surrounding him. Zeta gave him a hand and helped him up. They spoke, too quietly for me to hear, and then they shook hands. Zeta turned and started walking towards me. From behind him, I saw a black silhouette appear. At first, I thought it was a back up hero who had just arrived a little late. It was only when he pulled a spear out of his mouth that I got worried. The figure spun around briefly, then lobbed the spear straight at Zeta’s back, then disappeared. I tried to shout a warning, but no sound came out. The spear was going… I have no idea. Faster than I could ever throw one. I thought Zeta was a goner. Already wounded as he was, I doubt he could have dodged. Instead, a change rippled through the kid who had been possessed by a demon. The mask reformed on his face, and two swords appeared in his hands. I didn’t feel that scared, though. There were no shadows around him, and he had lost almost all of the … whatever made me scared of him. If he was still possessed (Well, he was. But, he was only possessed by one thing this time. Exile and Rune later explained that Legion had given him a demonic symbiote with a mind controlling demon inside of it. Demonception. The mask was still there, just not as powerful or driven to kill Zeta), then I was sure he would fall much easier than the first time. However, rather than trying to kill someone again, he just reached out his arm and changed everything. In a different world, perhaps he didn’t, and Zeta died. A lot would be different. Though fate has not yet run its course with us yet, I wonder… maybe the world would be better off.
Regardless of my suspicions, Zeta lived. Legion’s (C’mon, who else could it have been? Legion really has it out for him.) spear hit the guy’s sword and fell. Zeta turned around, and saw what happened. He beckoned the guy over to me, and together, they helped me up. We went around picking up team members, and not saying anything. Everyone was ashamed and angry. While we were trying to wake Everest up, Zeta just collapsed. He had been holding it off as long as he could… but c’mon. It was a bolt of electricity and a ton of abuse. He lay there on the ground, then the guy tried to help him up. Zeta brushed his hand away, and said,
“What’s your name?” The guy, suddenly looking very young, glanced at me and stammered,
“Um, A-Alex. Alex Ro-” Zeta shook his head.
“No. Other name.” He looked at me, continuing, “I want this guy to join the team. He was stronger than all of us. Though I’m sure he’s weaker, he’ll still be useful.” I thought about protesting, but decided against it. Everyone was still alive, after all. Hell, I could even stand again. Besides, Zeta was right. I nodded my head. Alex spoke, more confidently this time.
“Crane. That’s my name. Crane.” All of a sudden, a shadow slunk up against Zeta’s legs. I was worried for a second, but it was just the cat that had appeared earlier, in the van.
“Hey guys. Wonderful job in that fight. Really. Can’t think of a way you could have done that better. Especially you, Everest. God, you’re all a bunch of morons. Still,” it continued, “Crane shows promise. Not just anyone can cut me so badly. To be honest, you all show promise. If Everest can stop being such an idiot, he’ll do fine. Exile… you’ve got guts, brains, and whatever organ magic comes from. Keep it up, and you’ll be leading the team soon. Luna… that was pretty shitty, but we’ll see. That leaves… Apollo and Zeta? No, wait. Dagny. Hm. Make sure that you’re useful for more than just photoshoots. Okay, that’s everyone. Apollo and Zeta, you both are useless assholes.” Zeta and I shared a look, then glared at Zeta’s other self. He looked innocently back at us and purred. Zeta grumbled at him, then said,
“Alright, Crane. Just ignore the talking cat. Now, help me up before the media gets here.” Crane did. Just as he did, the first media van arrived. The camera men jumped out, and the reporters started begging for a sound byte. After that, there isn’t much to say. Rune came back with the ambulances. The attack was called an assassination attempt by Legion (not entirely untrue, I suppose. That’s all Crane ever was to him.) and Crane a concerned civilian who had helped out. The casualties were attributed to Legion, and Rune pulled a few strings to get Crane in the clear. Oh. There is one more thing. As we were all being sent to the hospital, Rune gathered us together and said,
“When you get out of the hospital, we’ll start filling out the paperwork, getting you ready for boot camp, and making sure none of you are undercover criminals. Our files on you are already pretty extensive, but the higher-ups say psychic interviews before you join the team. Company policy, I’m sure you understand. But, we need to talk about your performances in this fight. That was pretty fucking terrible. The only reason you won was because Zeta learned how to punch from picking fights with people bigger than him.” Zeta looked as if he was about to speak up at this, but Exile punched him in the arm and he stopped. “That being said, not bad. I think. My first team did pretty badly too, but we turned out okay. I’m biased though. The real test is how the media reports it. Good luck on your audition, kids.” He waved and walked away, towards the ruins of the police station. we stood for a minute, thinking about what he said. Then, Luna, my dear, sarcastic, wise-ass sister said,
“So, when should we expect a callback?

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Auditions II. Crane III

“So, you seem like a rich kid, playing with your mask and swords. Do you have anything to share with the less fortunate?” He said, “less fortunate,” but judging by the way he spoke and fiddled with something in his jacket revealed that he was making a threat. I doubted it was an empty one. “Those are some nice toy swords you got there. Care to give them to someone who needs the money?” Right. Sign that prick up for the Police Academy. Either that, or cut off his balls so he can’t reproduce. Either way, you’d have a winning choice on your hands.
“Hey, look, I really don’t have anything to give you. Just fuck off or I might just enjoy bisecting you, and leaving bits of you all over for your friends to find.” The last part was not characteristic of me.  I was honestly a little surprised I said it, but decided to roll with it.
“Really now, you little rat fuck? You think you can scare me?” He pulled his jacket away to reveal a glock-19.
“Yes.” I pulled out one of my katana, and as he reached for his gun, I sliced off his hand.
“Shit! What the fuck is wrong with you!” However, before his two friends could even move, I had launched myself up the side of the building and disappeared. I could hear their confused whispers. My heart was pounding and I found that I was smiling. I had enjoyed the terror I created. The desire for blood continued to course through my veins and a twisted grin formed under my mask that I couldn’t control. I slowed my breathing again and tried to regain control of my body. After a few minutes of deep inhaling I had found that my mask hadn’t retreated. I shrugged, and started back on my way to the Police Station. I was leaving the roof of the landmark building when I noticed the two friends of the recently…disarmed…individual, rooting through the jackets of a young man and women.

Their corpses were pockmarked with bullet holes. There, a once bright and colorful blouse had become a foul example of the clear issues with the city’s police system. My neck seized up again and I felt the rage build up inside me. As the two walked away from the bodies I stepped of the roof top and pulled out my blades. It seemed like I was falling slower than I really was. The windows were passing by as if gravity had decided to take a break and let me do whatever I wanted. By the time I had hit the ground, I had already planned out my course of attack. I landed feet first on the thug farthest from the road. As I landed on him I pushed both blades through his chest, then in a swift motion brought them up through his shoulders in a swift “V” like fashion. As his body toppled away I sheathed my swords and turned to his friend. His friend fired a shot, but I swiped by hand up and a stream of ice caught the bullet mid air.

In a flash I blasted him against the side of the building, keeping him trapped there in a thick sheet of ice. I looked at the fear on the man’s face. I should have felt pity, yet all I felt was a growing pain in my neck, and an intense desire to see what else I could do to him, how much more I had to push before he lost all of the light in his eyes. I grinned.  I touched my right arm to his face, my fingertips crackling with electricity, and released five streams of lightning directly into his trapped body. He screamed in agony, his head slamming back into the wall. His hands and legs began to spasm. As soon as the odor of burning flesh entered my nostrils I stopped. There wasn’t much of him left. Well, at least not much anyone could recognize. I started on my way to the Police Station again.
Despite my relaxed state I couldn’t relieve the intense pain that I was feeling in the back of my neck. Every time the pain spiked, an image of the same kid flared into my mind. I walked for several, uncomfortable minutes and reached the intersection where the police station was located. The building did not seem as imposing at it once had been to me, only a few hours prior. I pulled open the weighted front door and stepped inside the cool building. I looked up at the arched roof and back down to where a sign on the wall dictated that I was to take the left hallway to the weapons screening and visitor center. From my place I could see the gruff officer who had turned me down, sitting at his desk and chuckling about something he was looking at on his phone. I continued walking, but something caught my attention. It was the picture of the guy. His blondish hair was immediately recognizable.

However, I was surprised to find his picture plastered on the front of a poster for the SVRA. The searing pain erupted in my head again. There was nothing I could do. I was no longer fully controlling my thoughts either. I was present, but I couldn’t believe what I was planning to do. I had to kill this kid, or the pain would never fade. This kid was a part of the SVRA, and clearly had powers. The best way to attract the attention of heroes is destruction and slaughter. Now I was in a place that represented all they stood for. An attack here would attract some attention very quickly. Once again, an evil grin spread across my face.  I sprinted and crashed my way through the school and dove into the administration office. In a deadly whirl of gold and black I cleaved my way through a small crowd of officers, bits and pieces falling everywhere. As others drew their guns or tried to run I released blasts of ice, catching many of those who tried to flee. I turned to the direction that some officers had taken cover behind and lightning arced from my fingers catching some in a intense embrace and setting fire to the wall behind them. Then the shadows that rolled over me extended outwards and attached to the foundations of the building and tore them from the wall. As the building began to fall I sprinted out the same heavy door I had entered through, climbing up a wall and took perch on the building next to the police station. And from there I waited, and waited.

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Auditions II. Crane II

“I’m glad you made the rational decision” he breathed, a smile stretching impossibly far across his face.
The man stood up straight, the dark material on him writhing like a nest of snakes. Two black and gold katanas began to emerge from his back. He reached up and pulled the two blades out, black liquid spilling on the floor. The blades handles were long, and tapered into a point. The black material that the sword was comprised of was inlaid with gold. He handed the two blades to me. The first was light, but an intense cold radiated from the metal. The second blade was just as light, but had a hot and intense energy.
“These are Masamune katana, but with a little twist. Each sword possesses its own power. The left blade give you cryokinesis, telepathic control of ice, and the other, fulgurkinesis, telepathic control of electricity. Be forewarned, if you kill another human with an elemental power, the swords will take the new power, and the new power will become dominant. Go ahead, give them a try.”
I swung the two blades with an elegance and skill that I didn’t know I possessed. I’ve done a lot of martial arts training, but it was almost as if the swords had a mind of their own.
“Oh, you may also need this,” he said.
He handed me a bag with two long sheaths on the back. I put on the sheaths and found that they were still remarkably light, even with both blades in them. Now I decided to test out the powers that I had. Around my left hand ice crystals began to form in the air. I pointed my hand at the wall and mimed shooting something at the wall. To my pleasant surprise a shower of knife-like ice crystals flew into the wall and shattered. I tried to do this again, but this time I wanted to see what would happen if I relaxed. I opened my hand and a stream of ice shot forth from my hand and froze a row of trash cans to the wall.
“Alright, now we’re in fucking business!” I said.
Next was my right hand. I could feel the power pulsing through my hand and I made the motion I had used for the ice shards. A sudden burst of electricity exploded forward with a resounding sizzling sound. The dark man looked up and nodded.
“Very good. Now there is just one more power for me to give you. This will be your core power, your defining feature, if you will. But… before I give it to you, remember… take care of my, our, little itch.”
“Sure, sure.” I said, excitement still evident in my voice.
Then, faster than I was able to react, he dashed forward and grabbed my face, his fingers digging into the soft skin right under my jaw. His fingers became pointed and broke through my skin. Then, as quickly as it started, he pulled his fingers out and I dropped to the filthy alleyway floor. I turned to the ice on the wall and saw that I was reflected in it. There were four small black holes in my neck, and despite the trauma, there was no bleeding. I got up and began to turn to where he had been standing.
“What the fuck was…” He was gone. Not a trace of the man could be found.
I sat on the ground for a few minutes. I turned back to ice mirror and told my self to activate whatever had been injected into me. In a sudden flare of pain the four holes on my neck opened, and a shadowy material similar to that of the mystery man wrapped around my face. Two slits remained open for my eyes, and four short curved lines over my nose. There was enough space between the material and my mouth to allow for speech. In fact, the mask resembled an ancient kind of mask worn by ninja in feudal japan.
“Well. Apparently, I’m a ninja, now.  Looks like my costume have an Asian theme.” I thought to myself.  “Maybe I’ll get some Chinese food!”
I began to jog, but forgot that my mask was still active. My feet felt lighter, and found that I was moving forward with great speed. I tried to jump, and something pushed the bottom of my feet. I sailed up to a third story window.
“This will be fun. This will be very fun,” I muttered to myself.
I turned to the wall to my left, which was covered in ads for Big Poppa’s Gentlemen’s clubs.
In hindsight, I don’t believe Big Poppa knew anything about serving mink or fox hunting, but that’s irrelevant. I jumped across the alley, and started to run at the wall across from me. I found that in several swift kicks, I had sprinted up the wall. I looked down on the street from the roof of a three story building. I looked down at my arms and noticed that my normal clothes were no longer visible.  Instead, I was covered with what seemed to be a layer of shadow.   I looked in the mirror and noticed that I could hardly make out my image.  I tried out a few things, and discovered that if I focused my energy I could become almost invisible for a short period of time. I was overcome with an intoxicating and intense form of giddiness and joy, that seemed completely out of place. I sat down on the ledge and let my feet hang over when I was overcome with a searing headache, a pain on the back of my neck and the bizarre desire to tear a blondish teenage male to pieces.
A few minutes later I decided to return to downtown to give my new powers a good test drive. The headaches had become more and more frequent and I had started to fantasize about slicing some kid into pieces. The weirdest thing was that I started to form an unconditional hatred for him. I had my strong suspicions that this had something to do with the figure that had given me my powers, but I found myself unable to think about it for more than a few seconds. I got to running and began to sprint up a 10 story apartment building. The mask had taken its place and my deranged sense of excitement returned. I sprinted across the next building and kicked off a air conditioning unit onto the next roof. I landed as if I had just stepped down off of the stairs.

Then, I jumped from the roof of this building across the street. Unfortunately my jump fell short. However, when I reached out for the building long tendrils of shadows shot out of my lower arm and fastened to the side of the building, pulling my directly into the wall. After trying to determine whether my nose was broken or not, I climbed back up the side of the building and collapsed on the roof. I dropped down into the adjacent alleyway. From my best guess I saw I was rather close to the police station and began to make my way, however, I was stopped by a gruff voice.
“Hey there, slim jim. Chill out for one second, I just wanna ask you something.” said a tall twenty year old looking caucasian prick. If there was a standard degree for douchebag, this guy met it. His hat, his boots and baggy pants made it clear he was screaming for attention. He had two friends behind him, both of whom looked like they had some latino blood. They were snickering to themselves. However, I wasn’t sure if they were laughing at me, or at their friend who was walking in my direction.

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Auditions II. Crane I

I walked up to the front desk in the police station at about 2:15, nervous as hell.
“Um… hello? I’m interested in applying for the SVRA team?”
“Thats nice, kid, but you had to make a reservation. I’m not here to interview you.”
“Wait, really? The ad didn’t say anything about having to call. Today is really the only day I have free. Could I just meet with them quickly?”
“No.”
“Why?”
“Because procedure, punk.”
“Thanks for the details. Look, let me just show you what I can do, and you can choose to refer me to them if you are impressed.” I said
“Fine. Whatever, kid. What can you do, make the twenty bucks I have in my wallet disappear?”
I gingerly reached for a small knife in my coat pocket and quickly cut my upper arm. A small bit of blood began to seep from the wound.
“What the fuck?” shouted the cop.
“Wait, wait for it. I promise I have powers. Just give it a second.”
Despite my pleadings the police officer at the front desk did not look at all impressed. I stood there for another good twenty seconds, glancing nervously at the offensively bright, blue wall of the station’s interior. Then, the small cut I had made in my left arm started to close.
“That’s it?” The cop asked, clearly unimpressed.
“Yeah, pretty cool, right?”
“Kid, I’ve seen a stronger healing factor in a starfish. I’m sorry, you’d be lucky if that’s a D class power, and we simply can’t accept a low level power like that. You would get in the way of the other more…proficient members.”
“You’re shitting me, right? How many people do you know who can do that?” I probably shouldn’t have said that, as it was clear I was coming between the cop and whatever he was playing on his smartphone.
“Alright, now son. I know people who can spray fire from their armpits. What you have is hardly anything of interest. Hell, my great aunt is probably more interesting than you, and she’s dead! Now please, you’re keeping me from attending to the monitor and thus interfering with police activity. So please, get the fuck out.” I backed away, throwing a scowl the officer’s way before taking off running. I didn’t get far before a kid dressed in black, with blonde and brown hair walked out of a conference room. He cleared his throat, and said,

“The following heroes have been accepted. Apollo, Luna, Dagny, Everest, and Exile. To those applicants denied acceptance to this pres-,” He paused, his head drifting to the side as a devilish grin appeared on his face. “To those applicants denied acceptance, please get the fuck out and never come here again.” Then he marched out of the room, the six people he named following him. I stood there, stunned for a moment. I couldn’t believe the way these so called “heroes” were treating applicants. After a moment, I decided that it was in my best interest to leave. Maybe find someone more appreciative of my talents. Maybe strike out on my own, and become a vigilante. Maybe…maybe give up on this entire dream of being a hero. There were other viable jobs out there. It always seemed like there was a need for more telemarketers as the number of those people who were hunted down and killed must be remarkably high in that profession. Yeah, maybe that was the path for me. I knew that there was no immediate career in paleontology and I had to make some money first, and telemarketing might have been the thing for me.

I pushed through the large front doors of the station and made my way through the downtown area. The vast array of bank owned buildings towered over head, giving the illusion that I was actually in a large, and far more impressive urban center. It was time for some serious thought regarding my future, and when serious thought is called for it is best to smother that idea with a movie or some other distraction. After deep consideration I decided to just go buy a used game at gamestop, and head home.
To make up for lost time at the station, and to avoid getting to the store after closing hour, I decided to take a series of winding back alleys. It wasn’t too long before I began to regret my decision. The tight corridors of the alleys seemed to form a maze of brick and cold metal. The walls seemed to stretch up, tapering off into some unseen ceiling. I was so consumed with well designed urban architecture and my own troubles that I almost failed to notice a tall, lanky figure approach me. My eyes immediately started to hone in on him, but still, before I could even make out the basic figure of his body, I was struck motionless by an intense aura of uncontrollable panic. The corners of my eyes began to fill with darkness and a bitter chill cut right through me. With a good deal of effort I managed to shift my head upward and had my first clear look at the man who had frozen me in my tracks. He was tall, with long, thin arms and legs. His entire visage was shrouded in a thick shadow and constantly seemed to be shifting and bulging, making it difficult to make out any definite details. As I tried to focus harder on the figures head it would suddenly shift onto its side, then immediately back to its normal position. Simply focusing on the figures head was disturbing. As he approached I could see that he was wearing just a simple black hoodie and jeans. He removed his hood and bent down, to look me in the eyes. I stood there, unable to speak, or move.

At first, his eyes seemed normal enough. Vibrantly green, but otherwise human. Then…then, they changed. His eyes flipped to solid black, with just a tiny red dot in the center. I screamed. He brought his hands out from his pockets, and revealed long fingers with well kept fingernails. He shoved one across my face. I will never forget those eyes. Something in them implied … Look at it this way. Humans have three things going for us. That’s all that’s kept us alive since we evolved. Our brains, our hands, and our brutality. Our brutality, combined with the ability to make tools… that’s what’s made us the dominant species. When there were multiple hominids, we cro-magnons killed the rest of them, even though they were better in almost every other way. Since then, we’ve buried that side. We act politely, donate to charity. But, under that thin veneer of humanity, we’re still just brutal animals with a nice gimmick. What I saw in those eyes was demonic. It was not human. It was something far beyond. Infinitely more intelligent, looking at me as if I were an ant. But that wasn’t the scary part. No, what I saw in those eyes was a brutality so far beyond our pitiful human violence that there’s only one word for it. Evil. What I saw in those eyes was pure, unfiltered Evil. If I had seen them for any longer, I would have been left gibbering.

After half a second, his eyes turned pure white, and his expression changed. He looked as if he were trying to swallow an egg that a skunk had pissed on. Upon closer inspection, it appeared as if there was something slithering around under his skin. After a minute, he seemed to get it under control, and he looked at me, his eyes a psychedelic, changing mix.
“You look tense. What’s wrong?” He joked.
His voice was disturbingly relaxed. If I had been able to close my eyes and listen, I would have thought that he was an old friend, greeting me after a long separation. I could feel my limbs begin to relax, and control return to my muscles. I turned and began to run, but before I made it two steps, something cold grabbed my leg and pulled me back to him.
“Now, now” he said. “That’s no way to make new friends.”
“Who the fuck are you?” I shouted.
“Irrelevant. A far more interesting question is who are you…or perhaps, who could you be?”
“What?” My eyes widened a fraction. “Wait, what do you mean?” I asked.
“I know what you desire. I can smell the reeking stench of rejection, of failure. You strive to be recognized as something more, even when you really shouldn’t be. However, I find your desire to improve yourself…admirable. In fact, it reminds me of myself. That is why I am extending you an offer.”
“Wait, what do you mean? What are you gonna do?” I asked, fear starting to ebb into my voice.
“I’ve been watching you, and you really are not anything remarkable…not yet. Your power is weak, but I could offer you an alternative. An opportunity to be something, far greater than what you are now.” The soft certainty he said this with was chilling.
“Wait, so you can give me powers? Class A powers? What’s the catch?” I asked.
“Well, as I’m not one to lie, there will be certain desires to satisfy. One may stand out stronger than the others, however once you have “scratched” this itch, I think you will find you new power set very agreeable and, well, more stable.”
He paused and I thought over the opportunity. I knew that the ability to hand out powers was not common, and that there was probably something more to this man than I could see. I remembered the flat, bored face of the cop, and that smug look many with high class metahumans have. I was overcome with a burning passion, no, a lust to be more than mediocre.
“Yes. I’ll take it. Give me everything.” I said with more certainty that I was comfortable with.

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