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. Rune I

I tend to get passed over nowadays, ignored as the guy who’s just hanging around, watching over stuff.  I’m okay with that.  I’ve had my time in the spotlight, I’ve been the hero.  I got bored and disillusioned, as we all do, sooner or later.  Later for me.  It took a lot of deaths, a lot of hardship before I saw what He had been trying to tell me all along.  What the ones I’m watching over are on the precipice of learning, still in that blissful period before they start dying and I have to tell them the truth about the SVRA.

Oh, bliss.  Some of them, I won’t ruin.  Exile’s probably figured it out herself, by now.  That girl…  If this were 1,000 years ago, then she would be the greatest hero known to man.  If I had half her talent, or a quarter of her wit, I’d be living in Florida with my best friend drinking hard lemonade and reminiscing about a well spent youth.  Instead, I’m jaded before forty, and I haven’t fought seriously in a year.

Last fight I had wasn’t actually too long ago. I threw a brief sparring match against Apollo, to give him the ego boost he needed if he’s gonna fight King.  Speaking of Apollo, he’s one of the ones I’m going to have to ruin.  He’s a good guy.  Reminds me of…  him.

Looking back at what I just wrote, I can’t believe myself.  I’m being so vague, leaving my backstory as the mysterious mentor figure to be slowly revealed!  Nope.  Here it is:

I have some Gypsy blood, some Italian, some Jewish.  I come from a few long families of mages.  I learned I was a mage before superhumans became public.  My family taught me various magic specializations, and I excelled.  A friend of mine, whom I met playing around the town, found out he had superpowers when we were ten.  We became major players in the superhuman circles, acting as “regulators.”  Basically, we took down anyone who threatened to reveal our existence to the “civs,” as we called them.  We were big, but not big enough to be recruited for the SVRA… at least not before it existed.  The team known as the “Enemies of Injustice,” were gathered together as a back-up plan for if someone got through the regulators.  They would show up, like a bolt from the blue, and save the land.  Then, capitulating on their influence, they would get the SVRA established with pre-prepared legislation, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We joined the SVRA, got assigned to separate teams, kept in contact.  Then, I heard he died.  Killed himself.  Sorta.  Forced into suicide and murder.  I’ve been working on that.  Trying to find his killer, I’ve delved into things.  I pulled strings to put me in the right place at the right time.  I met some people.  Right now, that’s what I’m working on. If I’m to get my revenge, I’ll need help.  I need firepower, more than I can supply alone.  I need this team to get stronger.  Soon, they’ll have to fight for me anyway, I’m just making sure they’re strong enough.

“-still there?”

“Sorry, what did you say?”

“I was asking if you were still there.  I thought you zoned out.  Considering where we are…” With a wry grin, Exile gestured out over the expanse of the city.  Squinting, I looked through her arm.

“Where…?”  She sighed, and facepalmed, her hand hitting her forehead without making a sound.

“Astral form, Alister.  You wanted to see King’s reaction to Ronin’s loss?”  I whipped my head around at her use of my real name. She chuckled, and met my eyes.  “Jeez, it’s like you didn’t just teach me this.  You broadcast your thoughts and can start to fade if your willpower slips while astral projecting.” I shook my head.

“If I didn’t think you already knew it, I’d tell you that-”

“Oh, and don’t worry about the firepower.  We’ve got your back.”  I stared at her, speechless.  “Yeah, that happens to people a lot when they talk to me.”  I shut my mouth and narrowed my eyes.  After a deep breath, I sighed.

“Let’s just see what King’s up to, okay?”

He held his hands, cupped, over Ronin’s stump, a white glow emanating from his palms.  Ronin was tied to the table, writhing and screaming against leather restraints.

“Yeesh,” Exile said, floating over to behind King.  “I don’t think it’s working.”  I ignored the action, pacing the room, waving my hand in front of King’s face, making sure he couldn’t see us.  After checking out the room, I looked at King’s hands, the power he was using.

“What is this guy’s power? A power switcher?”  Exile shook her head.

“I don’t think so.  Upstairs, there’s a ginger girl sitting on her bed, staring blankly at the wall, not moving.  She’s under the influence of some sort of mind control, and it’s connected to King.  I’ve seen him use way too many powers, often concurrently, as well.” I tapped my finger against my chin.

“Something else, then.  A domination power, perhaps?  He can control people… probably with their blood… and use their powers?  That’s probably just within a radius… if they’re willing.  Probably more, too.  A varied powerset.”

“Hmm… So, he surrounds himself with followers to use their powers?”  I nodded.

“I’d guess so.  Tread carefu-” The door to the room smashed open, and a figure surrounded in a glowing bright aura burst in.  Exile and I covered our eyes and retreated, hiding in the corner. From the bright blue haze, a voice came.

“Milord!  A delegation from the Followers of the Path of Mankind has arrived!  They wish to discuss territory!”  King stopped his healing, and looked up, staring right into the figure, as if the lights weren’t there.

“Shit,” I whispered to Exile, “That guy must be a ki manipulator.  He can see us, and hurt us.  We need to go.  Back into the wall.”  She nodded, and backed up, walking through the wall.  I stuck around.  “The Followers of the Path are here…” I whispered, a glimmer of excitement beginning within me.

“Ronin!” barked King, turning his head.  Ronin panted, but his eyes opened, and he moved his head to acknowledge King.  “Go visit the tinker.  She’s a technician, so she should be able to fix you up with something.”  He waved his hand, and the restraints snapped open, leaving Ronin to fall to the ground and stumble towards the door, falling down twice.  “Delegation.  Explain.”  The blue shape quivered a bit… tensing?

“They are led by an unknown figure known as Ranger.  He projects a powerful aura, A-class at the least.  The other members are inconsequential.  If problems arise, they will likely send one of the Apostles.”  My heart lept into my throat.

/No…  They can’t come yet… they’re not strong enough!/

King nodded.  “Get me some of Ranger’s blood, secretly.  I will control him and prevent the Apostles from coming.  He will acquiesce to a deal wherein he shall receive some land, but stay out of mine.  They will send me soldiers, as well.”  I swore to myself.  This was terrible, terrible news.  The team wasn’t ready for the Followers of the Path yet, and if King gained more troops, he would overwhelm and destroy the territory.

/I need to stop King before Ranger comes under his control… but there’s not enough time.  I need The Watchmaker./

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Folie à Plusieurs V. Dr. Barr I

“Miss, please, you’re making a fool of yourself.”  The young psychic sent another wave of emotion towards me.

“Ha!” She screamed, “Let’s see how your mental defences stand up against this, you old fuck!”  Like waves crash upon a rocky beach, her attack briefly pressed against my mind, then failed without making a difference.

“Please, Miss Mirage.  Calm down.  We’re here to talk about your problems, not ineffectually bludgeon them.”  She finally gave up, plopping down on the couch with her arms crossed. “Very good,” I said, smiling indulgently.  “Now, why are you trying to kill me?”  She sulked, and looked away.

“I wasn’t trying to kill you,” she muttered, “just control you.”  I continued to smile, though I was groaning inwardly.  /Fucking control freak psychics.  Was I like that when I was younger?/

“And why is that?  I’m here to help you, not hurt you.” She leapt up.

“I don’t need any help,” she shouted, fists clenched, “and especially not from an old fuck like you!”  I withheld my grin, and leaned forward.

“Is that why I sense death in your near future?”  Suddenly, all the wind left her sails.  She flopped down on the couch, staring at me.

“W-w-what?”

“Mirage, this is basic stuff.  Psychics can use telekinesis, telepathy, forced telepathy, mind control, precognition, and possession.  Each psychic has a specialty, which determines how proficient they are at each of the categories.  The only exception to this is general psychics, which are equally proficent in all of them.  Interestingly, this is what you claimed to be, when you took the name Dagny.  We can go over that another time.  Now, I, like you, specialize in forced telepathy.  My official specialization is stealth telepathy, yours is sensory illusions.  Now, I’m no precognition expert, which is why I can’t give you details, but I sense a lot of death in your near future.”  /Did that work?  Is she going to cooperate now?/  I used my power to worm my way into her mind, trying to get a sense of her emotions. I sighed.

“Don’t fuck with me!” She screamed, jumping up again and mentally attacking me. /Guess not./  I made a note on my pad, then forced her assault back.

“Mirage, we’ll end today’s session today.  I want you to think about how you responded to dealing with someone you can’t control.  I haven’t lied to you today, so I’ll leave you with a few more thoughts.  First of all, you underestimate the mental fortitude and depth your teammates have.  Second, I don’t think your relationship with Crane is healthy.”  She paused for a second, processing what I said.  As it sunk in, I felt the rage build up in her mind.

“Get out of my head!” She shouted, clasping her hands over her head, “AAAAAHHH!”

“Karma’s a bitch,” I muttered, almost soft enough to escape her notice.

“I take it you’d prefer if I kept my voice down?” I looked up at my newest patient.

“I beg your pardon?” I asked politely, readjusting my spectacles.

“Well, you just had a session with Olivia the screamer, I’m figuring your ears are a little sensitive right now.”  Astonished, I stared at the speaker.

“Exile, I presume?  Your teammates spoke, for the most part, highly about you and your deductive capabilities.”  She sat down on the couch, nodding.

“Please, I’d prefer Sarah.  And of course it’s me, I’m your appointment for now.”  /Clever girl… she’s the leader in reality, if not in name./ She continued, “So, Will spoke the highest of me, then Jay, and the ‘for the most part’ is due to Olivia’s scathing report.  Am I right?”  I found myself grinning.

“On all accounts.  Sure you’re not a psychic?”  She mirrored my grin.

“Positive.  I just pay attention.  By the way, your professional demeanor slipped.  You might want to fix that.”  I frowned, straightening my back.

“Nice catch, Sarah.  So, since you seem to be rather knowledgeable about what should be happening, what do you hope to get out of these sessions?”

“Actually, I’d like to talk about my teammates.  I want to get someone else’s perspective on them.”  I paused for a moment, considering her request.

“I’m supposed to have client confidentiality, but I suppose, in this case, I could make an exception…”  She leaned forward.

“Excellent.  I’d like to start with Everest, and his inability to…” As she spoke, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into…

“I dunno, not much for me.  I was doing well in school, good home life, had plenty of friends, and then one of them flipped out and started trying to kill people.  I triggered, and well, the rest is history.”  I raised my eyebrow.

“You are a terrible liar.  You do realize that there is information in your file that directly contradicts what you just said, right?”  He stopped his constant shifting for a moment, and looked at me.

“Really?  What’s my file say?”  I rummaged around in my bag to make it seem like I hadn’t been reading it right before he came in.  When I judged a decent amount of time had passed, I pulled out the file from the front of the bag and flipped through it.

“You lived alone, somehow paying for an apartment despite lacking a legal occupation, estranged from your parents and most of your friends.  In fact, of your closest friends, all but one triggered.” He seemed surprised.  After a moment, he nodded.

“Yeah, I suppose that’s true.  I hadn’t even realized.  Well, no one knows what is going on with Cyner.  He might have been a superhuman all along. And John isn’t a para, but I just met him.  What do you think that means, Freud?”

“I noticed you used the present tense for Cyner.  He’s the one who disappeared, right?  He was declared dead a while ago. Wh-” He cut me off with a wave of his hand.

“Cyner’s not dead.  He’s not the sort to die easily.”  /Exactly what I wanted you to say, Zeta…/

“He also had an apartment with no income.  Does your certainty of his survival have anything to do with how you paid for your living space?” His eyes narrowed. “I have two theories, Zeta.  The first, and the less likely, is that your proximity grants the potential for powers.  It’s not impossible, but it doesn’t exactly fit with the rest of your powers.  The latter, and Rune agrees with me on this one, is that part of your secondary powerset is the ability to sense latent potential.” He laughed, stretching his legs out in front of himself and resting them on a nearby cabinet.

“Secondary powerset? Do tell.” I leaned forward, eager despite myself to share my theory.

“I haven’t figured out everything yet, but you have your main combat power… or powers, as it seems, though my intuition tells me something is off about those, and a secondary, less flashy powerset.  Rune and I agree you have a type of low level pre-cognition that allows you to see about a chronoton in the future, at least while in combat.  There’s the subconscious sensing ability, and a few oddities in your musculature that dull pain and increase muscular growth.” Zeta idly picked at his jacket.

“Interesting theory.  What’s a chronoton?”  I hesitated.

“I’ll let the Watchmaker tell you about that, when you’re ready to meet him.  I couldn’t do it justice.”  I saw anger flash across his face, and I felt the rage and bloodlust without even trying.  Taking a deep breath, I broached the subject.

“I’ve also been meaning to talk to you about your anger iss-” I froze.  “Another time, then.” He let the fire die away, and rubbed his face.

“Sorry.  Sensitive topic.  I’ll try to talk about it next session, okay?”  Slowly, I nodded.

“Yeah.  Sure.  I’ll await it… eagerly.”

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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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Tyrant IV. Zeta I

“Hey, beautiful.  How’s it going?” I said softly, gently pushing open the door with one hand.  It had been a week since our fight with Giant and Mouse, and Diana was still in the hospital, despite her Adonis-type body.

“Not so good,” she responded, “That bastard hit me in a weak spot. And not all of us have your amazing physique.”

“Aw, shucks,” I said, faking a blush and a bumpkin accent, “Yur too kaend.” She glared at me.

“I was referring,” she said angrily, “to your high level of muscle growth, innate combat prowess, abnormal regeneration, and ridiculous pain threshold.  Not all of us can pull ourselves together after getting stabbed.  And what?  How many times did Crane run you through?”

I chuckled nervously, running my hand through the back of my hair,

“Oh.  That physique.”

She grinned, her voice suddenly becoming deeper and throatier,

“Though, if you’re feeling up to it, I could give your other physique an … examination.  We are in a hospital, after all, handsome.”

I chuckled and walked over, putting the flowers I had brought next to her bed, along with the other bouquet from a few days ago.

“Let’s wait until you’re recovered, no?”  She pouted.

“You’re lucky I’m not at full health, or there’s nothing you could do to stop me.”

“Hey, what makes you think I’d want to?”

“Just a feeling. I should get Mir- um.  Olivia to read your mind and find out for sure.  Oh!”

“What now?”

“I should get her to just brainwash you into doing what I say!”  I took on a surprised expression to hide the sudden rush of… anxiety?  fear?  … Terror?

“She can do that?” I asked. Diana grinned.

“Oh, yeah.  Forced telepathy and mind control.  Perfect for making boy-toys.” Taking a deep breath to steady my heart rate, I said calmly,

“The two of you would discuss that.  Well, lovely chatting with you about subverting my will in order to abuse my genitals, but I have a press conference to go to.”  Diana, chuckling, spoke in her “seductive” voice again,

“Oh, what we’d be doing isn’t called abuse…  what I’d be doing.  I’m not sharing you.”

“How sweet of you.”

“You really have to go?” she asked, jokes aside.

“Yeah.  But I’ll be back this afternoon.”

“Promise?”

“Promise,” I said, bending down to kiss her.

Two minutes later, we broke off, panting slightly.

“You are such a tease,” she said, watching me as I walked out the door.

“Why the grin?” Exile asked as I pulled on my goggles.

“Oh, no reason,” I said, “Just a song in my heart.”

She glanced at me skeptically, but didn’t press, likely due to the team members just entering the locker room.  I nodded at Apollo.  He ignored me, and went over to talk to Crane, who was lying on top of the lockers.  I started to say “hi” to Everest, but stopped at the look of shock on his face.

“You… and Crane…”

“Thank god!  Finally!” Exile said in exasperation.  “Yes!  Zeta is Jay, I’m Sarah, and Crane is Alex.  God, you’re thick sometimes.”

Grinning, Everest said, “Well, I feel stupid.  It was the faces that made me realize.”  I snorted, and slowly clapped my hands.  Everest dawned his hurt puppy face, and everyone laughed.  I pulled my half-mask up over my mouth and nose, then led my team to face our greatest threat; bad publicity.

“How can you justify the amount of property damage done over the past few weeks?”

 I coughed.

“Currently, we are working on driving out the gang known as the Court, which has controlled most of the state since May 2018.  A certain amount of property damage must be expected.”

A bearded man holding a small microphone quietly cleared his throat, but instantly commanded the attention of the entire crowd.

/Oh shit.  A reporter good enough to make an entire mob of Superazzi shut up./

“March 4th.  South Haven High School burnt to the ground.  A local gym with damage to the foundation and floors.  March 18th.  Three casualties, severe damage to the road.  March 26th.  Seventeen civilian casualties, twenty three police officers. Irreparable damage to four buildings.  August 25th.  Irreparable damage to three buildings, severe damage to two.  Two villain casualties, one civilian injury.  Two days ago. Irreparable damage to one building, severe damage to two others.  Not a great track record, huh?”  My jaw clenched.

/I know this guy,/ I heard in my head, /Mr. Myers.  He’s a muckraking journalist with a grudge against supers./

“The issue is, Mr. Myers,” I smothered my grin at his shocked expression.

/That’s right.  I know your name, asshole./  

/Only thanks to me./

“That we are dealing with people determined to kill us.  They have no qualms about wanton destruction.  In fact, my girlfriend is currently in the hospital because of injuries sustained in a recent fight.  In order to beat them and return our state to its former prosperity, we must be just as ruthless as them.”

/Good,/  I thought, /They’ll be too busy writing about the blooming intrateam romance to focus on the actual fights./

He opened his mouth to respond, only to be interrupted by a voice from the back of the crowd.

“S’cuse me, coming through.  Urgent message.  S’cuse me.” After a minute or so of this, a small figure appeared at the front of the crowd.  Dressed in clothes right out of Oliver Twist, it was young boy, cockney accent and everything.  We stared in surprise.  With a dramatic flourish, he presented an envelope, bowing at the waist.

“Well?” He said, “Wat’cha waitin’ for?  Opn’ it, govna!” Without taking my eyes off him, I bent forward and grabbed the envelope.  It was very fine parchment, slightly yellowed.  Carefully, I opened it, and drew out the sheet within.  The rest of my team gathered around me and we read:

Congratulations!  You’ve shown yourself to be strong enough to not be defeated solely by underlings.   Your repeated victories have shown your worth and abilities.  In fact, your battles have given me enough information to compile a list of “stats!”

Team Overall:

Close Combat: 8/10

Long Range Combat: 6/10

Strategic Thinking: 4/10

Zeta:

Close Combat: 10/10

Long Range Combat: 3/10

Strategic Thinking: 7/10

Apollo:

Close Combat: 7/10

Long Range Combat: 9/10

Strategic Thinking: 9/10

Selene:

Close Combat: 8/10

Long Range Combat: 1/10

Strategic Thinking: 6/10

Exile:

Close Combat: 4/10

Long Range Combat: 10/10

Strategic Thinking: 8/10

Mirage:

Close Combat: 1/10

Long Range Combat: 3/10

Strategic Thinking: 9/10

Crane:

Close Combat: 9/10

Long Range Combat: 6/10

Strategic Thinking: 5/10

Everest:

Close Combat: 5/10

Long Range Combat: 0/10

Strategic Thinking: 2/10

Just for reference:

King:

Close Combat: 10/10

Long Range Combat: 10/10

Strategic Thinking: 10/10

Your prospects are bad enough already, but you might want to know:  I know all your real names and addresses, thanks to the informant I have very close to you.  First to go down is the black bishop, Crane.

-King

We finished reading in stunned silence.  As we looked up to stare at the messenger, he gave us a cheeky grin before dissolving into a mass of slowly fading blue polygons.  Mr. Myers, the journalist, was the first to break the silence.

“A ki-construct?  An actual, moving, apparently intelligent being composed solely of ki?  That-that’s pretty high level. What did the letter say?”

Ignoring him, I gestured to the team, and without a word, we all retreated into the preparation building, ignoring the sudden shouts from the press.

“Well, shit,” Everest said, “I’m the weakest, then.”

“What? No way,” Exile instantly said, drowning out Apollo’s own protest.

“Different strengths.  He was only going off of the base attack.  You’re a tank, focusing on defense.  Normally, that would let you attack more, but since your strength comes with a speed reduction…”

“I guess,” he muttered, “still doesn’t make me feel great.”

“Then train.” I said.  “Train to raise those values in the time left before he challenges you.  Become our ace in the hole.”

“I…  Don’t know that I -”

“Try it. If you can’t, then leave.  But don’t give up.  According to that sheet, if you don’t man up, you could get one of us killed.”  I stood up, and ripped of my mask.

“It’s time to get this over with.  My name is Jason Leigh.  I may not be the most compassionate or caring person, but I will never let one of you die while it is in my power.  This is my face, this is me.”

Next to me, Apollo stood up.

“My name is William Alexander.  I may not have the power that some of you do, but I have trained myself to be strong.  This strength is for you.  This is my face, this is me.”  I looked at him gratefully, but he just looked over at the team.

“My name is Sarah West.  I have power, and I’m not afraid to use it against anyone who falters while saving a life.  This is my face, this is me.”

“My name is Olivia Radd.  I’m not strong, but I’m clever.  This is my face, this is me.”

“My name is Alex Roke.  I’m strong, fast, and vicious, but I fight for the boss.  This is my face, this is me.” Finally, Everest stood up.  Clearing his throat, he said,

“And to complete our ceremony of trust and bonding:  My name is Oliver Goldberg.  I will become strong, or I will leave.  This is my face, this is me.” We all nodded at each other, realizing the bonds formed in that moment.

/For now, at least, we’re a team,/ I thought, shielding my thoughts from Mirage.  Crane slumped down on the bench.

“I’ll stay vigilant-e. Get it?  Vigilant, as in, watchful of the promised attack, and yet vigilante, cause I’m working on my own to take out crime in the seedy districts?  Eh? Eh?” I rolled my eyes and turned around.

“Have fun with the pun, Alex,” I said, waving my hand over my shoulder, “I’d stick with you, but I have a promise more important than your lives to follow through on.”

As I walked out, I heard Exile say under her breath,

“Hey, stop joking around, Jay.  It’s not funny.”  I pulled my half-mask over my face, concealing my grin from everyone but me… and Khan, of course.

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Tyrant IV. Selene I

Selene here.  What’s up?  Err… you probably know me as Luna, if you’ve been talking to my teammates, or my brother.  He’s always prefered that name.  He’s the one who made it up, and he likes to see that I’m being a dutiful little sister…  I’m probably being a bit too harsh on him.  He’s just a bit overprotective.  He had to be, really.  Our dad was always sorta distant, and my mom….  well, let’s say Will’s mom never liked me, and leave it at that.  I never met my own mom.  You could say troubled home, if you want.  After Will’s mom left, and my mom died, Dad started pouring his life into his work, and his…  other work.  Which, by the way, he thinks we still don’t know about.  He’s a vigilante.  Acrobat, to be exact.  You can look him up if you really care.  It’s besides the point.  The point is, no real parental figure for me, so Will tried to pick up the slack.  He got us trainers to prepare for joining the SVRA, made dinner every night, did laundry, helped me with my homework, all the little stuff.  You could basically say that I had two dads, and no moms.  One who was a superhero, one who wanted to be…  both training me for it.  They’ve shown me around SVRA bases and everything.  That’s why I was the only one not gaping when Rune showed us around our new base.

“After the entry hall, we have the common room.  Couches, big tv, game systems, basic stuff.  Through that door on the left is the kitchen, and the dining room is right through it,” Rune was saying as we entered the first room after the door.  “Through that door is the hallway with all your bedrooms, and through those two doors are the gym and the lounge.  Lounge is pretty self explanatory; you can check it out on your own.  Arcade machines, foosball, snacks, basic stuff.  The gym, you might need a tour.  C’mon.”

He led us into a gigantic room, easily three times as big as the common room.  It was filled with weight machines like you’d see at a regular gym, but also plenty that I didn’t recognize, including two vertical poles on two discs, each covered with holes about the size of my fist.  “Those doors over there are the locker rooms, and the pool is through those.  The enhanced strength weights are over on that wall, and the sparring room… follow me,” he said, pointing at various parts of the room, then walking over to a pair of metal-plated double doors.  Inside the doors was a large box with transparent walls, and a control panel attached to the side.  Leading us over to the panel, he started talking about how it worked, but I zoned out.  I had heard a clinking from inside his coat, and I was trying to see what it was.  I heard a few words, but I was focusing on the flash of silver I saw.  So, for me, it sounded like, “….solo… holographic enemies…  viewing wall in the lounge…rating based on perf-” I broke in,

“Is that a hip flask?  Yeah, it is!  There’s two, no three of them!  God, how much do you drink?”

“No,” he replied, flushing slightly, “It’s a magical drink.  It does magic stuff.”  I immediately turned to Exile.

“Is it alcohol?”  Completely deadpan, she replied,

“No.  It’s a magical drink.  It does magic stuff.” Then, slightly under her breath, “Like get you unbelievably drunk the night before you teach me how to summon a greater demon, asshole.”  My brother, rather than laughing, furrowed his eyebrows, looking slightly worried.  He’s remarkably tight-laced about drinking.  When I noticed that, a plan took shape.

“Can you give us a demonstration?” Dagny asked.  I glanced at her in surprise.  That was what I had been about to ask.  She looked at me and winked.

/Psychic.  Right./ I thought.

/Damn straight,/ I heard back, /Besides, I’ll do anything for a scheme like that.  Besides, you’re on patrol with Zeta tonight.  I’ve been trying to get that kid a girlfriend for ages./  I blushed, glancing quickly at him.  He was grinning under his mask, gesturing at my brother and the sparring cage.

/Not interested.  Not even remotely.  Besides, I think my brother would kill me./

/If he survives that long; look./  He was getting into the cage, followed by Rune, who had… yes!  He left his cloak outside.  As soon as the fight started, I rushed over to it, and started going through the pockets. I slipped one of the flasks into my own pockets, then returned to where I had been standing to watch the match.  Rune was glowing brightly, and somehow keeping ahead of my brother.  He was launching small fireballs and running around the suddenly hilly rink, jumping high, running on walls, and even crouching on the ceiling for half a second.  Will was alternating between shooting with his bow and lunging at Rune with a sword when he had the chance.  His guns were outside the room.

Rune jumped to the ceiling again, launched another fireball, then dropped, right onto my brother’s arrow.  He rolled when he hit the ground, holding up his hands and coughing out a surrender.  Will pulled the arrow out and Rune waved his hand over the wound, healing it instantly.  He clapped Apollo on the back, and stumbled out of the rink.

“Wow,” he said, “Good job, Apollo.  All your rooms are labeled, so excuse me if I don’t show you around.  Before you go, Zeta and Luna, you’re on patrol tonight.  Your route is already in the system, check it out before you go.  Lastly, Luna and Dagny, meet me in the common room for a costume discussion.

I felt a vague pang of dread.  I wanted to change the name “Luna,” but if it was already set…

“Selene, here’s your costume,” I heard.

“Huh?”  Rune was holding out a white bundle.

“Your new name.  Selene. We made you a costume,” he said, grinning.  “During boot camp.  We lied about the Luna costume.  Here, try it on.  And Dagny, we need to talk about your name.  How do you like the sound of, ‘Mirage?’”  As they walked away, I just stood there, holding my new costume.  Then, Dagny spoke in my mind.

/You’ve got to show me your new costume!  I’ll come talk to you before you leave for patrol./

I just shook my head in bafflement.

“How did they know about my na-  Psychics.  Right,” I said, answering my own question.

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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. Ranger II

I must have woken up shortly after blacking out, but the pain was all gone. Actually, now that I mention it, I couldn’t feel anything at all. I had a spectator’s seat on my life, and the game I was watching was gruesome.  My body was shaking and shuddering, and I realized after some time that hair was sprouting on my arms and legs. Some people at school used to jokingly call me a beast because I could be aggressive, but compared to what I was turning into, I had been a bunny. There was a foggy wall between me and whatever was controlling my body, but I could feel its rage and lust for blood. I saw claws sprouting from my fingers, tearing through my hands. Call me crazy, but then I started freaking out.

I fought hard against the instincts controlling me, trying to run back home, as if I could escape what had happened. For a while nothing happened, and I watched myself contort and roar.  I panicked, and there was a mental ‘click’. For a moment, I was back in control of my body. Then, the pain started up again and I lost my grip. My body was convulsing again, sprouting more hair. I picked up the scent of nearby animal and began charging. It was all I could do it hope that it wasn’t another human.

After trying to reconquer my mind again and again to no avail, I receded into a state of semi consciousness. Time seemed to blur, and I lost count of all the animals I attacked. I’d like to say that I didn’t kill any humans, but to be honest, I’m not sure. I hope, but I’m not losing any sleep over it.  But, I knew that by dawn there would be walkers in the park. It must’ve have been afternoon by the time I got to grips with reality again. I had come across a girl walking in the woods.  She looked familiar, but so does Scarlett Johansson, so…  You know the story.  Boy meets girl in woods.  Boy kills girl in a lycanthropic metamorphosis.  Boy gets chased down by an incredibly violent superhero team and killed.  That is the story, right?  Something like that, anyway.  It’s certainly what went through my mind at the time.

The moment she saw me her eyes widened and she started murmuring rapidly in Latin.

/Run, you moron, some dead language won’t save you…/

 As it turns out, it did.

Whatever form of black sorcery she was using it stopped me in my tracks. I could feel the fur on my arms rising and I began growl.

/Growling?! Since when did I do that?/

 I was recovering from her first spell quickly, and I leapt at her again. The vicious, walking carpet that I was had no chance against her spells. I was met by a solid wall of flames. The way I yelled was almost human. She must have been better with faces than I am because she seemed to recognize me through the fur and blood.

“Holy shit…. Pierce, is that you?!”

Her susurrus of Latin started again before I could launch another attack. I lost my ravenous hunger for murder, and I was regaining control over my body. Some of the pain was still there but it was eased by whatever spell she had just used. The hair on my arms and face began to recede. In a matter of seconds, I was human again.

“Well, that’s a relief. Deus ex Magica saves the day once again.  I suppose I won’t be able to growl anymore, but sometimes sacrifice is necessary. Onto more serious topics, you look familiar.  Have we met?”  She sighed, and face palmed.

“At least you’re not trying to kill me anymore. And, for the fifth time, it’s Sarah.  Sarah West?” I shook my head, furrowing my brow as she continued,  “Jason and Cyner introduced us?  Twice?  Same history class?”

“Nope.  Doesn’t ring a bell.”  She glared at me.

“I don’t even know why I bother.  You always forget.”

“Everyone has their faults…”

“So out of curiosity, why the homicidal rampage?  Your ki-” She flushed all of a sudden.

“What?” I said, rubbing my forehead, “My kind is usually killed or in quarantine?  It doesn’t bother me; I got turned last night.”

 “I’d heard rumors of wild werewolves in Europe, but none in the US so far.”

“Yeah? Check again.  Maybe one swam the Atlantic Ocean just to bite me. That would be my luck.”

“Pierce, no more stalling this, you can’t go back home. If you lose control again, people will die. You need to be monitored, or else we could have a lycanthropy epidemic on our hands. Admittedly, your case is special, since I think I may have stopped the infection early enough in the transformation. If you want, they may let you join the SVRA. Lycanthropy  could be useful once you get control of it.”

“I’m no hero, Sarah.”

“Exile,” she said, “While I’m in costume,” she gestured at her red robes, “Think about it. We’ll send a couple agents to your house. You have until then to make up your mind about what you want to do. Just know that if its not the SVRA, it could be an asylum. You might be too dangerous to leave alone.”

I had to admit, being in captivity wasn’t my thing. I needed to be able to go outside and go for a run to clear my head. I needed freedom to explore and have fun. I needed action or I’d tear my hair out from boredom. Maybe the SVRA wouldn’t be that bad.

I trudged home in my torn and bloodied clothes, ignoring the screams of the walkers who passed by me. It was like any other day in the park. Toward the end of my walk, I realized that I had spent over 30 hours awake. By the time I rounded the hill near my house I was ready to collapse.

There was a jogger approaching me, wearing a sweatshirt with his hood up. I thought this was pretty odd, since it was a hot day, and running would only make it worse. He stopped right in front of me and pulled down his hood. I recognized him immediately. He was a leader of some sort of new super-powered cult. He had been all over the news and his group was growing exponentially in followers. His name was Alexander Regio, but he was most often known as “The Guru”.

He was reasonably tall, with a face that resembled that guy. You know what I mean, right?  The homeless man on the street, the guy running the cash register, the business man walking through the street?  He wasn’t like them, though.  His eyes gave him away. They seemed larger than they actually were, colored a bright orange-yellow, seeming to glow like mellow flames.

After talking to Sarah, I guessed that the Lycan who had attacked me had been brought here for a reason. Now, it seemed like I found my reason. Accusing him wouldn’t make me any friends, so I waited for whatever lie he wanted to tell me.

“Well, if it isn’t my young, recently cured friend. I have a job offer.”

“And what job is that?” I asked, trying to keep the contempt from my voice.

“To serve with me, of course. You are one of my more interesting experiments, and I’m curious to see how you will turn out. Your intuition already told you that I set you up with that Lycan and I see no reason not to be open with you. Because of what I’ve done, you will have unique powers.”

“How did you know that I would be cured? You can’t honestly expect me to believe anything you say.”

“I know, because I sent the report about the attack in these woods. I left the spell to heal a werewolf inside Exile’s room last week. I knew she would cure you, so I let her think that she has served her own, twisted sense of justice. You may not trust me, but I trust you. I know that you will go with me. You see just about as much of a future in the SVRA as in the asylum. I am your best choice.”

He was right. I hated the idea of joining the SVRA. They were all just a bunch of posers who dealt more with the press than they did with any of the super-villians. That magic girl was nice enough, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to make friends with them, and was far more likely to end up hating them, or being utterly bored by them.  There are few people unpredictable enough, strong enough, or psychotic enough to interest me.

“Why the hell do you trust me?”

“At its most basic level, trust is thinking that someone will act in a predictable way. You are drawn to the power that I can give you, and so you will come with me. Because of this I trust you.  Whether you trust me or not is entirely up to you.”

“I don’t trust you, but you’re right. I’d rather join you.  For now.”

A second hooded jogger appeared suddenly next to us, placing a hand on each of our shoulders.

/I guess sweatshirts and running shorts were part of the whole “path of mankind” uniform./

I could feel the weight of gravity disappearing, and the start of the teleportation.
I looked over my shoulder at my house, a mere hundred yards away. That was my last look at my old home. I had no regrets.

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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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