What happened last night?
Oh yeah, I remembered as I sat up.
I looked over at Corey, sprawled out on top of his sleeping bag, shirtless by his own drunken choice and using his wings as a blanket. The poor guy had puked his guts out more than once last night. He really couldn’t handle his alcohol. Yeah…he was really drunk last night; didn’t know what he was saying.
But. I mean. Was he…?
I shook my head: I needed a shower. Corey didn’t stir as I gathered my stuff and unzipped the tent flap. The cold morning air made me shiver slightly as I started for the center of camp. Thoughts swirled through my mind as I walked, my shoes getting damp from the dew that still clung to the grass. That barely registered, though.
He probably won’t even remember anything, I assured myself. Did I want to be assured? Corey was a nice guy, but I didn’t really know him that well. I didn’t know any of our group for that matter. Then why do I feel such a connection to them? I asked myself. Was that a part of my fucked-up memory, or was Eli just getting in my head? I wondered.
There weren’t usually too many people out this early, but I noticed a crowd forming near the main building. A man was talking with a raised voice, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. Suddenly, there was a chorus of shouts and a few screams as the crowd panicked.
Out of some alien impulse, I broke into a run, blue energy springing into place as I pushed through the densely packed Idyllians.
Why was I doing this?
In the middle of the crowd, Quill was standing with a knife pressing itself dangerously against his neck. I could see where he got his apparent nickname; foot-long spines had extended from the back of his hand and his forearms, all of them sweeping back behind him like a porcupine’s. He was holding one in his arm which was wound back like he was prepared to throw them.
Standing on the opposite side of the clearing of people was a man in a slate grey suit with bright red hair with a well-trimmed beard of the same color. His eyes were dimly glowing like dying coals, watching Quill like hungry dog stares at a bone.
When he noticed me pushing my way through, his gaze flicked over to me, and his eyes seemed to burn deeper into his skull. “You….”
“Who the hell are you?”
A predatory smile slowly stretched across his face. “Well, well; the bitch was right. You don’t remember a damn thing, do you?”
Alarm bells were ringing like crazy in my head. The Presence was stirring like it was agitated; I didn’t remember it acting like that before. Why was this guy so creepy? I felt like I wanted to punch him. Repeatedly.
“Nate get back. Let me handle this,” Quill said slowly. Apparently, it wasn’t slow enough: the knife inched closer to his neck.
“You’re in no position to talk,” The creepy guy said.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jeremy slinking his way up behind the stranger. And a faint fog slowly crawled over the ground…
“Now. I want to talk to Savant and her little lap dog.”
Jeremy shot forward, lightning cracking around his fist as he tried to drive it into the stranger’s back. Suddenly, the man evaporated into a swirling mass of red and black energy, leaving Jeremy to hit nothing put air.
The stranger reappeared behind Jeremy as suddenly as he left, pressing a new knife against his throat. In the same instant, a spire of fog erupted from the ground, enveloping the knife pointed at Quill. As soon as he was free, the meta threw the spines in his hand with inhuman speed.
I wanted them to hit, but they stopped just short of their target, floating harmlessly in the air just like the knife had. Then the stranger made a dismissive motion with his free hand, causing the spines to fly back to their owner, impaling Quill in the shoulder.
He howled in pain, and I tried to rush in, but my whole body locked up. I looked around frantically, and then I spotted her, lingering in the back of the crowd. Eli, shaking her head slowly.
Why was she doing this?
I gritted my teeth and tried to move, but it was like all my muscles were frozen. Powerless to do anything else, I turned back to the fight. The fog swelled again, this time enveloping the stranger and Jeremy completely. When it receded, Jeremy was left standing alone, no stranger and no knife.
But then, the man returned in another swirl of energy, teleporting back from wherever Luna sent him. This time, though there wasn’t just one knife. Five, ten, thirty—more knives blinked into existence, aiming themselves at Jeremy, Quill, me, and some of the random faces in the crowd.
“Last chance before I start cutting!” The stranger shouted.
The crowd parted, and Savant confidently strode towards the stranger, Edward only a half-step behind her.
“What do you want?” Savant demanded, locking eyes with the stranger.
“I’m just the messenger today,” The stranger said. All the knives disappeared in small puffs of energy as the man adjusted his suit and tie. “We want our answer. Chess is getting impatient. If he doesn’t get what he wants in the next thirty-six hours, Idyllium will be burnt to the ground with everyone in it.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Savant hissed.
“Sorry, I was told to be vague. But things are changing. You came here to run away from Argus? You think you’re safe because you have a few hundred people here? It’s cute. Maybe the Pantheon wouldn’t bother you, but we aren’t the Pantheon. We’re worse,” The stranger said, disappearing in another swirl of energy.
For good this time.
I stood there, stunned for a second before I realized I could move again. Savant and Edward were already rushing to Quill to make sure he was alright.
“Agh, I’m fine,” Quill protested, trying to pull one of the spines out of his shoulder.
“You’re not.” Savant insisted. “Luna, get him to the healers.”
At her orders, the mist swelled again, following over Quill and making him disappear as Luna teleported him somewhere else.
“How’d he get past without Sentry noticing him?” Edward asked, clearly enraged.
“He’s a teleporter,” Jeremy shot back as he walked over.
Edward’s expression hardened, but he didn’t reply.
“Everyone stay calm. Go about your day and try not to let this get to you. There are people out there who want to tear down what we’ve built, but if we let them frighten us, they will win. We are stronger than that. We are metahumans. We’ll all be alert and make sure no one else trespasses so easily.”
Savant’s words seemed enough to placate Idyllium for the moment at least. The crowd slowly broke up, but not without a lot of murmuring. I looked around for Eli, but she was already gone. Something was going on.
I spent almost an hour looking for Eli, but she had made herself scarce. Word had traveled fast while I looked, and I ended up running into the rest of the group looking for me.
“Nate! My god, we were worried,” Erin said with the others following behind her. Whitney looked about as hungover as humanly possible, but the rest of them looked relatively fine. Except for Corey. I tried to meet his gaze, but he kept his diverted.
“Yeah, sorry,” I said.
“Did you see it?” Ian asked, stepping past Erin who raised an eyebrow at his urgency.
“The creepy guy? Yeah.”
“Well, what?” I snapped back.
Ian’s expression turned sour, “Was it a thin guy in a dark suit with red hair and glowing eyes?” he shouted, drawing the attention of a few of the people standing nearby.
“Ian!” Erin snapped.
“Looks like someone needs to reset the Wi-Fi router,” Whitney muttered.
“This isn’t a fucking joke!”
“Yeah, but you are,” Whitney deadpanned.
Ian looked like he was about to pop a vessel. “Yeah, that was him,” I finally answered, a part of me feeling bad for him.
That apparently didn’t improve his mood any. He massaged his temples, but it was clear he was freaking out. “What did he want?” He asked, clearing forcing himself to act calmer.
“He just wanted to talk to Savant and Edward. He said that if some guy named Chess didn’t get what he wanted in the next thirty-six hours or something, they would burn Idyllium to the ground.”
“Oh god—” Ian said.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Erin asked.
“We need to…uh…hey, Mr. Edward,” Ian stammered. We turned to see Edward walking up to us, a grave expression on his face.
“We need to speak with you all. I’m afraid it’s very urgent.”
Edward took us straight to the main building where Savant, Jeremy, Luna, and a few others I didn’t recognize were standing around a table. “Everyone’s here except for Quill. Let’s get started,” Edward said.
“I’m sure you’ve all heard by now of our visitor this morning. There is apparently some sort of conspiracy against one of our citizens. Edward an I have been talking, but…we’ve never heard of this ‘Chess’ person before. Have any of you?” Savant asked, scanning the faces of everyone in the room.
“Ian?” She asked, setting on my…acquaintance. Friend seemed like a bit of a stretch.
Ian stiffed when she singled him out. “I get it. This is an interrogation.”
Savant’s face fell. “I’m sorry for using my powers on you in this manner, but this is urgent. You are difficult to read, but there was acknowledgement when I said his name.”
I could see Ian’s expression harden. “He’s a meta; leads a team of villains who call themselves the Kriegspiel. Went after Cypher and didn’t lose outright.”
“How do you know that?” Erin asked, looking at Ian strangely.
“I…my powers let me read classified Argus documents. I was looking for information, and I stumbled across Chess.”
“Your friends don’t seem to agree with your story,” Edward said.
“That’s because I didn’t tell them…”
“Wait, Argus was after us because of you?” Adam asked, turning towards Ian aggressively.
“Yes,” Ian whispered.
“Oh my god you little piece of shit! Why the hell didn’t you tell us?” Whitney asked.
“Because I need you to keep me safe,” Ian said coldly.
“What?” Erin asked, the pain clear in her voice. “Ian…”
“I’m sorry, but I did what I had to do.”
Adam and Whitney looked like they were holding themselves back from pummeling Ian into next week, but they looked to Erin for what to do next.
“Is there anything else you can tell us about Chess or his team?” Edward asked. For an empath, he didn’t seem sympathetic in the slightest.
“Then I think Its best you collect your things and leave Idyllium,” Edward said.
“Erin?” Ian asked.
“You should go.”
Ian nodded, walking out the door without another word. We were all stunned by the revelation. The Idyllians gave us looks of sympathy, but Ian’s confession just felt wrong to me. I obviously didn’t like the guy, but…
“I’m sorry, but we really don’t have time to let you process this,” Savant said. “What your friend said confirms what I was able to find out with my abilities. ‘Kreigspiel’ is coming for us. I can feel them from here, and Sentry has extended her vision to confirm it.”
“And who is Sentry, exactly?” Erin asked, her voice unsteady.
“She’s the girl you saw on the way in here,” Jeremy said, speaking up. His voice was deeper than I expected. “Her powers let her see in all directions and around corners for miles.”
“So, what are we looking at?” Luna asked meekly.
“Are you aware of the forest fires burning in the north?” Savant asked. Some of us nodded in response. “I’m sensing some kind of human emotion at the heart of the flames. More than one, actually. And they veered in our direction just after our visitor left.”
“So, he was literal when he said they would burn us down,” Edward said.
“Apparently. Now for the reason we’ve asked you all here. Quill, Jeremy, Seth, and Luna are the only ones who have officially committed to guarding Idyllium, but I’m afraid we’re going to need all of you to help. Am I correct in assuming you’ve had to fight Argus?” Savant asked us.
“Yes,” Erin answered.
Savant nodded and looked to the other people who I didn’t know yet. “And I know you’ve all said that you would prefer not to use your powers for violence, but we need your help. Will you all help fight for Idyllium?”
The others reluctantly nodded their heads, but we all looked to Erin, our de facto leader. “Yeah, we’ll help This is our home now, right?”
Savant smiled. “Good. I don’t know what’s about to come, but the future of Idyllium is threatened. If we want to make a place for all metas to be safe, we must defend ourselves. Even if it is against our own kind.
“Edward, once Quill is done getting patched up, put him in charge of defenses. Seth, Jeremy, what would you need to expand the stump ring?”
Jeremy shrugged, “One of the biokinetics, or someway to make markers for Seth to get used to.”
Seth nodded in agreement. He was a tall guy, taller than even Erin. It looked like he was related to Jeremy, maybe an older brother?
“Okay, get whoever you need. Maybe Susan?”
“Susan would work,” Jeremy confirmed.
“Victor, if they have fire coming, we’re going to need some rain.
The old bearded guy I saw in here on our first day nodded. “I’ll work on a storm to blow them away.”
“Luna, how long can you keep your powers up?”
“Well, if I try for too long, I get sick you know.”
“I know, but if you had to push?” Savant asked.
“Maybe a day? But I can’t use my powers while I sleep.”
“Then you should keep yourself rested, but ready to go. Understood?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Luna said.
“As for the rest of you. Your powers seem most suited to direct combat. Keep in touch with Quill, he’ll direct you to where you should be.”
We nodded and followed the others out. What the hell had we gotten ourselves into?