Judas’ fight was over the second The Eagle showed up. We all watched as the villain tried to outmaneuver the star-spangled hero, but The Eagle was too fast. Spectral hovered a few feet above us, watching the fight intensely, his arms crossed.
The rest of the Shield of Freedom were likewise occupied. Hex was the only one I didn’t recognize from seeing the team on the news. She must have been new. The others, though, were famous mostly by association with The Eagle.
Kindle looked like she could pass for a normal person if it weren’t for the gun strapped to her leg and the glowing tendrils snaking up from her shoulders. Her powers let her make massive golems of rubble or anything else she could reach. For now, she seemed focus on watching the fight and making sure her leader wasn’t getting overwhelmed.
Abrams looked tensed and ready to jump into action at any second. He was a big guy, almost as broad in the shoulders as Corey was tall, but that wasn’t due to his powers; he was just that big. He was an aerokinetic from what I remembered, but an explosive one. He could compress the air around him with enough pressure to outclass bomb blasts.
The last of their team was helping the Guards of Britannia peel Lancelot off the wall. His suit almost seemed to ooze over Lancelot’s armor, but it wasn’t like Euclid. It seemed less organic, pixelated in a way. When he first debuted on the hero scene, he called himself Techomancer or something like that. Unfortunately for him, the public and the media dubbed him Glowplug because of the glowing sections of his suit, and the name stuck.
A massive crashed snapped my attention back to the fight. Judas was laying in a fresh impact crater, gasping for air. He rolled over and pushed himself into a kneeling position. The Eagle slowly lowered himself to the ground, staring down at Judas.
“The great blasphemer himself,” Judas spat, getting back to his feet. “A symbol of this worlds adoration of false idols.”
“Spoken by a zealot so selfish and twisted he abuses his gifts and kills innocence because he thinks it’s right,” The Eagle said, getting ready to move if Judas tried anything.
“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” Judas snarled.
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” The Eagle retorted. “You’re done. Stop and come quietly.”
“I’ll be a martyr before I bow to you!” Judas screamed, throwing a punch with blinding speed only for the hero to catch it with ease.
“You’re done…” The Eagle said.
“Fuck yeah!” Whitney said, “Take that, motherfucker!”
Erin looked tired, but Whitney’s smile was infectious. But just as everyone started to relax, my vision drowned in a sea of blue.
When the vision focused, I was looking down on the street and saw all of us standing there, frozen in time. Just like before, everything was washed out into shades of blue. In the vision, I looked over and saw what looked like storm clouds on the horizon.
The vision shifted, and I was standing on the street, surrounded by the other heroes I couldn’t move, my eyes locked on The Eagle leading Judas away in dampener cuffs. Suddenly, the clouds surged down from the sky, rolling forward like a black cloud of death. Then it abruptly stopped right behind the hero and the villain.
I felt the laugh more than I heard it. My hair stood on end as the malice rolled over me. I knew that laugh. Two red eyes peered out from the dark clouds, burning like coals.
Invisible hands suddenly wrapped around my throat. I couldn’t breathe. I clawed at my neck, but there weren’t any hands to peel away.
Two arms reached out from the storm, grabbing Judas and pulling him into the darkness. The clouds surged forward again, and the vision took a familiar shape as the clouds cleared. I was standing under the headless statue again, surrounded by my team and the other heroes. Under the crushing foot of the statue, I saw Judas flying there, six glowing circles going up his arms and a seventh glowing brightly on his chest. The seal flared, and a blinding sphere of light shot out, destroying everything it touched.
“Nate! Nate! Are you alright, man?”
I came-to to Corey shaking my shoulders with the rest of the team looking down at me.
“Did you have another vision?” Erin asked.
I had to warn them, “Shard’s coming!” I said, scrambling to get up.
“What?” she asked, looking at me like I was crazy.
I summoned my energy and looked around to see the Eagle and Glowplug trying to fit Judas with dampener cuffs. And then…nothing?
“Nate? Are you okay?” Corey asked hesitantly.
“I—I saw Shard, in my vision…He grabbed Judas and vanished.”
“Nate,” Erin said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Calm down. It’s over.”
Glowplug and The Eagle were shaking their heads. The glowing circles weren’t disappearing from Judas’ hands. “Hex, he’s gifted, can you give us a hand?”
“Uhh, yeah,” She said. I realized she, along with the rest of the heroes, was looking at me like I was crazy. After a lingering stare, she walked over to the villain The Eagle was having to restrain himself.
“Nate,” Erin repeated, more sternly this time.
“Yeah…yeah…I’m okay,” I said, watching as geometric shapes appeared in Hex’ palms. It looked like they were made of energy as they shifted until she found what she was looking for. “I-it was just so real.”
“Let’s go guys,” Erin said, putting her arm protectively around my shoulder and gently trying to pull me away.
The last thing I saw before I turned away was Hex holding one of the glowing runes towards Judas. I watched as the air rippled and the glowing seals faded away. The man suddenly looked weak, slumping down if it wasn’t for The Eagle holding him up.
Was my vision wrong? It just seemed so real. I felt like I should sound the alarm, get them to listen, but…nothing was happening except for Judas being led away. I thought back to what happened with my vision in Chicago. I saw Wrath destroy the city, but that didn’t happen. Maybe my visions were just things that could happen.
“Come on, it’s over,” Erin said as upbeat as she could, still sounding exhausted. She nearly pulled me off my feet, but I yielded and let her guide me back towards the partially destroyed Argus field office.
I let my energy fade again as the rest of our team except for Ian fell in step with us. Riot seemed to stumble a bit before pulling off his mask and looking around confused. “Holy shit is that the Eagle?” he asked, sounding like Adam again.
“Yeah, we’ll fill you in when we debrief,” Erin said.
It looked like he wanted to ask a billion more questions, but he just shrugged and walked on with the rest of us.
“What did you see, Nate? In your vision? Corey asked.
“Like I said, I saw Shard, but it was like he was a storm coming down the street at us. Then he reached out and pulled Judas into it and they were gone.”
“Then maybe you just saw something further in the future?” Corey suggested.
“Hey, let’s drop it for now,” Erin said. “We did our part,” She said, looking up at the hole Whitney made.
“Yeah, I should have maybe toned that down a bit,” Whitney said.
“No kidding,” Corey said with a grin.
As we walked over the rubble, I just felt out of it. Ian pushed open the front door of the field office when we got close. “Everyone in one piece?”
“Yeah, we’re good,” Erin said as we stepped back inside.
“You did really good back there,” Ian said, giving a quick nod.
“Thanks, Ian. And good work with the comms.”
“Oh, that wasn’t really anything.”
“What do we do now?” I asked, not wanting to stay longer than we had to. I couldn’t shake the feeling that Shard could pop out from behind any corner. Was he even still alive? Argus couldn’t find a body, but what if my powers turned him to dust? Cypher said he was probably too hurt to fight, but what if Chess knew a biokinetic like Asclepius?
“Well, Judas is probably going to be labeled a potential Class I and hauled off to Site III,” Ian answered.
“What about that guy Judas killed in the interrogation room? Did that not seem insane to anyone else?” Corey asked.
“Maybe he had a death wish,” Adam suggested, sprawling out on a bench in the empty lobby.
“No, something was definitely wrong with him. Maybe Judas did something to him, or he was some kind of fanatic. Either way, I say we call James and let him debrief us, then we go back to HQ and relax for a bit,” Erin said.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Whitney said, pushing Adam’s feet off the bench so she could sit down.
“No way,” Corey said, his gaze distant.
“I mean, hey, if you have a better idea, I’m all for it,” Whitney said absently.
“No, that’s fine. But look who’s already here,” Corey said, pointing outside.
Two news vans had driven as far as they could across the broken street before coming to a stop so the reporters and camera men could get out and swarm the Eagle, shoving microphones in his face.
“The guy is popular. It’s not his fault,” Adam said. “And who knows, we might be that popular someday…”
“Nate wake up. We’re back,” Corey said, shaking me awake.
I groaned and rubbed my eyes, sitting up in the back of the dropship that had brought us back into Switzerland. “Thanks,” I said, trying to shake the sleep off. The others were already gathering their things and filing out the back of the aircraft.
“Did you guys hear anything more about Judas?” I asked, following Corey out.
“Nothing much; they’re keeping him locked down at the field office with The Eagle standing guard until Argus can get a small army to take him to Site III.”
“And we made the news,” Adam said over his shoulder as Erin opened the door for us.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Ian said, “One of the news stations snuck a camera man past Argus’ perimeter and got a really good shot of you blasting the bastard with Evangelion and the Dubliner.”
“Oh,” I said, not knowing how to react.
“Don’t look so glum about it. You looked pretty cool,” Erin said. “And you can’t see your face in the video because of your energy.”
“Yeah, no, that’s awesome, I just…”
“Your vision?” Corey suggested quietly.
“Well, yes, but I guess it’s just kind of odd; I never wanted to be a hero, and now I’m on the news with them.”
“You’re on the news as one,” Whitney corrected, clapping me on the back.
I smiled, but it felt hollow. Why was I so shaken up? Was I that afraid of Shard? It was like I was slipping back into how I was before all of this started.
Maybe it happened subconsciously, but I let the others go on ahead as I slowed my pace. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Corey had stayed behind.
“Thinking about Shard?” He ventured.
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
He shrugged and tilted his head to the side, “It’s not that hard to guess. He came after you in the worst kind of way, and you said he was in your vision…It happens. People get caught up on an enemy and it eats them up inside.”
“You think that’s happening to me?”
“Maybe not, but I don’t want to see it happen either way. I mean, you’re my…friend, at least, I think we’re friends, right?”
That caught me off guard a little, “Uhh, yeah…yeah, man, of course we are,” I said with a real smile.
He smiled back, looking relieved. “And I know it’s late, but I haven’t forgotten about what you asked me in Chicago. About me showing you some of the stuff they taught us in the academy and all that.”
“You want to show me that now?”
“Well, yeah. I think it might help with your visions and all that.”
It was dark outside already, but I was curious. “Sure,” I said after taking a second to think about it. “What could it hurt, right?”
Corey grinned and started walking us over to the elevators. He took me down to the training room which was completely abandoned and almost eerily quiet this time of night. It was usually only the team that practiced here, but knowing we were here late gave it a different air.
“Okay,” I said, looking at Corey. “What’s first?”
“Sit down,” he said, taking a seat on the floor and crossing his legs.
I followed suit and sat down a few feet in front of him. He took a deep breath and stretched out his wings to the side.
“Now, summon your energy. One of the big things they taught us at the academy was to not fight our powers. Our bodies know how they’re supposed to work and fighting them only reduces their effectiveness.”
“Okay,” I said, as the blue energy started to swirl around me.
“Now, you said you can’t have your visions at will, right?”
“No, they come whenever they want. They’re more annoying that useful, really,” I said.
Corey chuckled a little, “Close your eyes.”
“Is this the part where the rest of the team jumps out and starts the hazing?” I asked as I closed my eyes.
“No, of course not—”
“—I’m joking, Corey,” I said with a grin that I quickly realized he couldn’t see.
“Oh,” he said with a nervous chuckle before clearing his throat. “Okay, now, try to focus on how your powers feel, like, are there any mental pictures or muscle tension you focus on when you use your powers?”
“Good. Most people have them, but they can be completely different depending on the powers. Try to ease into those feelings but don’t actually use your powers, like when you try to balance a light switch between on and off.”
That visual oddly made sense, and I pressed into the wall in the back of my head, feeling the energy around my hands starting to vibrate.
“Come on, really try to lean into them—but not too much.”
Next I focused on peeling open the doors to a portal and the energy across my body seemed to hum as I felt reality start to…bend for lack of a better word.
“Woah…” Corey said.
“What?” I asked, pulling back and losing the feeling of almost being balanced.
“Nothing,” he said quickly. “You just looked different. It was like you were vibrating or something. Come on, do what you just did, but try to hold it.”
“Okay…” I closed my eyes again, feeling the different sensations wash over me as I felt my powers get ready to fire.
“Are you there again?”
“Okay. Now you need to focus on how it feels when you have a vision. Try to ease into that mind set.”
I wasn’t sure how to do that exactly, but I tried doing what he said. My visions weren’t every what I would call ‘pleasant’. Most of the time they were outright terrifying. People got hurt in them, I saw terrible things.
“I can’t do it,” I said. My powers relaxed again as I opened my eyes.
Corey looked concerned. “You’re afraid of them, aren’t you?” He asked gently.
“Yeah,” I said, looking at the ground.
“Don’t try to fight it, Nate. They’re your powers; they’re a part of you.”
“I don’t want them to be!” I said harsher than I meant to.
Corey pulled back in momentary surprise, but he squared his jaw. “Then take control of them and don’t let them run you!”
“It’s not that simple!”
“Bullshit,” he said, grinning. “I’ve seen what you can do. You’re gonna let some daydreams kick your ass?”
He was right. I’d spent most of life hiding from my own powers.
“Close your eyes and try again.”
I nodded and listened, focusing on my powers again.
“Let down your guard. Don’t fight one if it tries to come. Grab it and focus on it.”
I sat there, concentrating for a moment until I felt something odd wander into my mind. It was weird, like the wall in the back of my mind, but it was like it was floating freely through my thoughts. Against my better judgement, I tried focusing on it, trying to break it open.
For a minute, nothing happened, but then I felt it crack.
“Nate…?” was the last thing I heard as blue flooded my mind.
A series of scenes and images flashed through my mind. It wasn’t the statue anymore; I was in a void, floating, falling, flying with nothing to grab onto except for fragments of foresight.
I saw Corey and I with the rest of the team standing back to back as a crowd of identical faces pressed in from all sides, a room of shifting psychedelic colors and patterns with a butterfly painted on the wall, a field of bones rattling and shifting like they were still alive, two stars violently clashing in the dark sky, and then everything converged to a single point.
I saw myself, older, in a uniform I didn’t recognize. I was standing on the edge of a cliff, staring at a giant mass shifting and writhing the distance. It must have been hundreds of miles across, and it was getting bigger. No, not bigger, closer. With every passing second, it drew nearer.
A deep gasp flushed my lungs with air. It felt like I’d been holding my breath for hours. I coughed and sputtered, sitting up and looking around. Corey was hiding behind his steeled wings, and I realized with horror there were scorch marks everywhere, all of them spreading out from me.
“What happened? Are you hurt?” I asked, getting to my feet and walking over to Corey.
“Oh God, I’m so sorry—I-I didn’t—It was—”
“Nate!” he said, grapping my shoulders. “I’m fine, you didn’t hurt me. Are you okay?”
“I—I don’t know. But, are you sure I didn’t hurt you? I’m sorry, I knew it was a mistake—”
My mind was running a mile a minute. What if I turned Corey to ash like Saint’s rats, or—
Before I could spiral any further, Corey hugged me. The sudden contact caught me off guard. I tensed up, not realizing what was going on.
“See, I’m fine!” he said, letting go, a grin on his face. “You aren’t the only meta you know.”
“—No, shut up for a second. Look at me, I’m fine. Neither one of us knew what would happen, but now we do. And next time we try, I’ll be behind a wall.”
“Next time?” I asked hesitantly.
“You bet your ass,” He said, smiling.
I looked at him in shock for a minute, but soon enough, after seeing how earnest he was, I couldn’t help but smiling a bit myself.
“Now, what did you see?”