“So, are you ready to meet your Russian doppelgänger?” Whitney asked.
“Don’t doppelgängers have to look like you?” Corey countered.
“I guess so.”
“And Auralux is a girl, so…”
Whitney rolled her eyes, “Point made.”
I grinned as they kept arguing. We were all standing on one of the landing pads waiting for the Union team to arrive. Was I ready? Probably not. Still, If Auralux could help me find out where my powers came from, I wanted to know.
“Are they running late? I would expect we would have seen their aircraft by now,” Ian said, scanning the sky.
“They aren’t flying,” Hollands replied.
“Then how are they getting here?” I asked.
As if on cue, a small disk of white light roughly the size of a quarter formed in the air.
“Oh,” Ian and I said in unison as the disk started to expand into a ring of white. In the middle of the ring, small motes of light started streaming through like snowflakes. The silhouettes of several people came into view once the ring was large enough.
The figure in the middle of the group stepped through the portal, and the veil of light rippled like water to reveal a scruffy looking man in a heavy coat. He didn’t look like much; mistaking him for a homeless man wouldn’t be difficult. A short, untrimmed beard of black hair covered his lower face while tired eyes peered out from under something that looked like a stylized military cap.
“Hello,” He said in heavily accented English as the other members of the Union filed through behind him. “It is a pleasure to meet you all. I am Yakov Lomtev, also known as Kapitan, leader of the Union of Russian Heroes.”
“Nice to meet you,” Erin said, stepping forward to shake his hand. “Erin Vuorela, aka Norn, leader of the Argonauts.”
“Ah, yes, I believe I remember you. We reached out to recruit you for Northern European branch?”
“Yes, sir,” Erin said, looking surprised.
Kapitan nodded before turning to Grey. “Mr. Hollands, nice to see you again.”
I recognized the name Kapitan but didn’t have a face to put with it until now. There were rumors that he was some kind of zombie, practically unkillable and unstoppable unless he was completely atomized. I guess he wasn’t all that different than John in that regard, but there were a few offensive powers thrown in the mix with Kapitan’s case.
The others that came with him were a little more impressive. A tall woman with icy-white blonde hair was the first to follow Kapitan. It looked like she was wearing some kind of wizard robes straight off a movie set, and it may have just been a coincidental breeze, but I felt a wave of cold brush past me when she got close.
After her, there was a bodybuilder looking guy that would have been really impressive if I hadn’t already met Vindicator or Paladin. Next came two people roughly my age; a guy with a buzz cut, and a girl that must have been Auralux.
“Aleksei? No way! What are you doing here?” Whitney asked.
“Whitney, Corey! It’s good to see you again,” The young guy said, walking over to give the two of them a hug. How did they all know each other?
“And You must be Prophet.”
I looked up to see Kapitan holding out his hand.
“Uh, yes, Sir. Nice to meet you,” I said shaking his hand.
“And this is Auralux,” he said, motioning for the girl to introduce herself.
“Zoja Kulakov,” She said.
“Nate Peterson,” I replied, trying to give her a friendly smile. She was wearing a uniform and cap similar to Kapitan’s, but there was a different symbol on her hat. Rank maybe?
“So, you have the same powers as me?” She asked. It didn’t sound like she was very thrilled about it, but maybe that was just her accent.
“That is what we are here to figure out,” Kapitan said before turning back to the gateway portal. “Spasibo, Buyan. YA pozvonyu, kogda nas nuzhno zabrat’.”
A figure on the other side gave a thumbs up and the gateway closed. “I suppose proper introductions are in order,” Kapitan said, returning to our group. “Argonauts, this is my second in command, Iryna Voroshilov, known as Cryos.”
For someone with such an obvious ice theme, Cryos’ smile was surprisingly warm. “Privet,” she said with a small wave.
“And this is Vladimir Medvedev; North Guard.”
The brute gave a simple nod; probably not a man of many words.
“And it appears some of your team already knows one of our newer recruits, Aleksei Eristov, known as Miracle.”
Miracle? I thought to myself. That was the name he went with? Then again, I was calling myself Prophet, so maybe I shouldn’t judge.
Erin ran through and introduced the rest of us in return. It made me glad she was the one in charge. She seemed to be in her element talking to the pros. Hell, she was talking with the leader of the largest team of heroes on the planet without batting an eye.
From what I could remember from my highschool class on Argus, The Union was the overarching organization that spanned most of northern and central Eurasia. It was, like every sanctioned team, separate from any government, with Kapitan in charge of the entire organization in addition to personally leading the main team from Moscow.
From there, they had smaller teams spread out across the continent that responded to more local threats. All in all, I think they had more than fifty members. It might have seemed a bit excessive, but Russia had the highest rate of mutant births and, unfortunately, meta crime.
“Shall we get to the purpose of our visit?” Kapitan asked once everyone had been introduced.
“Of course,” Hollands said, motioning for us to follow. “We’ve set up a specialized testing range so we can directly compare Auralux and Phrophet’s abilities.”
Hollands rambled on, but Auralux had ended up walking next to me as we made our way thought the halls. I glanced back and saw Whitney and Corey chatting with Miracle.
There was so much I wanted to ask Auralux, but I was crazy nervous for some reason. My powers were one subject I never talked about unless I had to, not even with James unless I accidentally slipped up and used them like what happened at the gas station. My family knew about the visions, since it was kind of hard to explain why I sometimes suddenly shot blue light from my eyes or woke up screaming in the middle of the night. I didn’t tell them everything I saw, or how real they felt, mostly because I didn’t want them to worry.
Now there was someone else that might be able to understand. “So, do you think we really get powers from the same dimension?”
Auralux glanced at me, before turning her attention to watching where we were going. “It is possible. If Doctors say so, I trust them.”
“Do you have visions and all that?”
“Visions?” She asked, confused by the word.
“Uh, you know…like seeing things before they happen.”
“Oh. What about strange dreams?” I asked, a bit disappointed.
She shrugged, “Maybe. What are not strange dreams?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, not sure how to answer.
“My powers make me stronger and faster and shoot energy. Nothing else.”
My spirits deflated a little more. “I guess you don’t hear the voice or anything, huh?”
“You hear voices?” Auralux asked, raising a concerned eyebrow.
“Never mind,” I said, feeling my cheeks flush slightly.
Mercifully, we made it to the testing range which I realized was nearly identical to our gym in the basement. Several tables had been arranged with an assortment of computers and scanners and displays scattered around.
“Everyone, this is Doctor Hope Slater, the director of Argus’ metahuman research, and this is Doctor Logan Ortiz who spearheads our research focused on extra dimensional spaces,” Hollands said, introducing the two scientists.
“Nice to meet you,” Dr. Ortiz said. He was a heavyset man, with a face that looked like cinderblock with a moustache stolen off Stalin’s corpse. He seemed nice enough but preoccupied as he turned back to reading something off multiple screens at once.
“High everyone, so glad to finally meet you,” Dr. Slater said, her smile just a little too wide for her thin face. Unlike her associate, she stared at us with laser focus, a mass of curly hair threatening to swallow her head. “And, now that we’re all here, we can get started. Or, rather, Auralux and Prophet can get started. The rest of you are free to observe, but I don’t think we’ll need your assistance.”
“We’ll stay,” Kapitan said, crossing his arms.
“Uh, Kapitan…” Miracle said, stepping next to his boss. He said something in rapid-fire Russian I couldn’t make out in the slightest.
The hero paused for a minute before exhaling loudly through his nose. “Go.”
Miracle’s face relaxed and he nodded. He hurried off, Corey and Whitney leading the way.
“Alright. Well, we have everything set up, so if you two will take your positions; Prophet on the left and Auralux on the right, we can get started right away.”
I walked over and stood on an “X” made from two strips of duct tape and saw a raised section of floor that had a target painted on it. Okay, I think I had a pretty good idea of what was going on.
“Since Prophet lives here, we’ll use him as a baseline. Whenever you’re ready, just unleashed the strongest continual blast of extradimensional energy you can muster and hold it for as long as you can, aright?”
“You got it,” I said, surrounding myself with energy. Auralux’s eyebrows raised a fraction of an inch and I couldn’t help but smile. Maybe time to show off a little. I felt extra power surge through me, and I unleashed a single torrent of blue light from my hands.
“Beautiful, just hold that as long as you can—” Dr. Slater said as a group of techs rolled a semi-circular device close to my beam.
I widened my stance a little bit and tried to brace myself. My arms were already starting to ache from the energy flowing through them. The same thing happened when I fought The Butcher, but this time it seemed to come much faster. Why? Maybe I wasn’t on an adrenaline high this time? Either way, I couldn’t hold it for much longer.
After another few seconds, I couldn’t take the strain anymore. It felt like my arms were going to snap in half. I let the beam fade, and I instantly felt a measure of relief. I wasn’t what the target was made off, but my blast left a sizeable dent in it.
“Was that it?” Auralux asked.
“That was amazing, dear. Now for our guest’s turn. Fire when ready!”
Auralux glanced at Kapitan who gave her a nod. She didn’t surround herself in energy like I did. Instead, a blue light glowed to life under her skin in her forearms, illuminating her bones and blood vessels like some sort of x-ray.
But then, like a pot boiling over, fire-like energy bristled into existence along her arms. She brought her hands together like I did, but the beam that came out put mine to shame.
I had to shield my eyes as the entire room shook from the force of the attack. Everything was illuminated by the harsh blue-white glow. The blast itself was almost wider than Auralux was tall, and it didn’t just dent the target plate; there was a faint sound of tearing metal that could barely be heard over the torrent of power signifying the target being disintegrated.
Finally, it stopped, and I looked to see Dr. Slater blinking rapidly. She was probably half-blind like me and trying to banish the light spots from her vision. “Thank you, that was…impressive.”
Yeah, no shit, I thought to myself. Just how much more powerful than me was she?
“Okay, we got some really good data from that, but we’re going to need to get some more sustainable—and less destructive—usages of your powers,” Dr. Slater said, glancing at the scorch marks that marked where the target used to be.
“I could open a portal,” I suggested, thinking that the best way to get data on another dimension was to scan it directly.
“Portal?” Auralux asked, looking confused. “What portal? I cannot open portal.”
It probably shouldn’t have, but hearing that gave my ego a small boost. “What, you can’t do this?”
Reality peeled back, forming a swirling ball of mirror-like shards and blue light floating to my left.
“No…” She replied, looking at the orb suspiciously. “Can I see it? What it looks like on the other side?”
My mind immediately thought back to Saint’s rats and what happened to them when I took them through the portal. Dr. Slater seemed to share my concern. “I don’t think we can let you do that until we know more. From our preliminary assessment, it appears that the dimension Prophet has access too is extremely deadly to any form of life except for himself.”
“Don’t you think we get powers from same place?”
“Well, yes, that is what your energy readings suggest, but that doesn’t mean you have the same survivability he does.”
“Then we shall test and see,” Auralux said, taking a step towards my poral.
Kapitan barked out an order in Russian, and Auralux snapped to face him, replying with equally heated words of her own. Kapitan sighed, and Auralux gave a satisfied smile.
“Take me through, and if there is trouble, send me back. Okay?”
I looked at Dr. Slater and Hollands for backup, but when they just looked back at me, I shrugged. “Alright, but if anything happens, it’s on you.”
“If you’re serious about doing this, then we can use this to confirm if it’s your shared energy source.”
Dr. Slater didn’t wait for our responses before joining the other people in white coats to gather the equipment they wanted us to wear.
“So, you’ve never seen the Forest before?” I asked, trying to talk about something instead of just suffering through awkward silence.
“Forest…?” She asked, her face turning slightly pale.
“Yeah, it’s a big forest with dead trees and mist on the ground…”
“I have seen it…in a dream once when I was little girl.”
“I thought you said you didn’t have strange dreams.”
“It was only a few times…”
“Did your powers go crazy?”
“Yes…how did you know?” She asked, an edge inching into her voice.
“The same thing happened to me.”
“Alright, that should be everything,” Dr. Slater said, adjusting a sensor on my shoulder. It looked like those small plastic cameras people put on their helmets when they were doing crazy shit. “Now, if anything goes wrong, get Auralux back as soon as you can.”
I nodded and snapped my fingers to open the portal with a little flair. “How long do we need to stay?”
“Only a few minutes should suffice. We mostly need to confirm Auralux can handle the intense cold and electromagnetic radiation.”
“Alright. Are you ready?” I asked Auralux who seemed more nervous the closer we got to going through.
“Da, ya,” she confirmed in Russian.
“I’ll go through first, and then you follow,” I said, stepping into the swirling mass.
The familiar wave of cold washed over me as I stepped out into the skeletal grove of trees.
“You there, creepy esoteric voice? We have a visitor,” I said.
Nothing responded. The mist continued to lazily swirl in slow eddies around the bleached tree trunks.
“Not talkative today, huh?”
I looked back at the portal just as Auralux stepped through.
“Cyka Blyat—It’s cold!” She shouted, hugging her arms and rubbing them for some warmth.
“It’s not that bad,” I said with a smile. “Are you feeling alright?”
“I don’t think I’m dying, if that is what you mean.”
“Well, that’s good,” I said. I looked around and gestured to the bleak surroundings, “Well, this is it.”
“It is creepy,” Auralux said.
“Yeah, but have you seen the sky?” I asked, pointing up.
“Wow,” She said, taking in the swirling mass of colors.
“Kind of beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yes, kind of.”
“Is this the place you saw when you were a girl?”
“I think so. It has been a long time. Except, I felt…like…like…”
“…Like you were being watched?”
“Well, there is sometimes a voice and a…presence—I don’t know how to really describe it—and it feels like It’s everywhere. Except now…I don’t feel it…”
“I think I might…” Auralux said eerily. And then I looked at the mist. It had pulled away from me, but it had started swirling around her ominously.
Auralux recoiled like she’d been struck. “That was the voice I was talking about,” I said.
The meta swallowed hard, like she was starting to panic. “I thought you didn’t speak Russian?”
“Then how did you understand…the voice?”
“It was in English,” I said, not sure what she was talking about. “Did you hear it in Russian?”
“It does not like me,” She said, looking terrified. The mist began swirling angrily as a gust of wind came from nowhere, rattling the dead branches of the trees.
Suddenly, I felt the presence flood my mind like Shard’s mind spike had. I could tell, it was angrier than I had ever felt it.
“What?” In addition to the presence, I felt my powers come back to me. I’d never been able to use them here before; was it because whatever the voice was just didn’t let me.
Even though I didn’t tell it to, my energy surrounded me on its own, snapping and cracking with agitated power.
“Prophet…” Auralux questioned hesitantly. “What are you doing? My powers aren’t working…”