What the hell was I going to say to Corey? I thought, turning off the shower and stepping out to towel off. I hadn’t been able to take my mind off it. But just because I was distracted didn’t mean Erin pulled any punches. I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. My arms and torso were covered in bruises. Some of them were almost healed while others were fresh. There were more old ones than new ones; maybe it was a sign I was getting better. The training at least had some benefit; I was leaner than I was when all this started.
Holding up my hand, it engulfed itself in blue light, but the glow didn’t spread any further. I was better at this, at controlling my power. Did I want to be? There was a time that I wouldn’t have been. I used to be so afraid of hurting people. Now, I hurt people on purpose. Bad people, but still. And yet, I wanted to be here. I liked the team, but lately…
There wasn’t any way around it, I’d have to talk to him eventually, better get it over with.
Setting my mind to it, I got dressed—only mildly wincing from stretching sore muscles—and walked out into the common room. The TV was on, and I spotted a head of blonde hair peeking up from the back of the couch.
“Hey, Whitney, do you know where Corey is?” I asked, walking over.
“No, I thought he was training,” she said, flipping through channels, not even glancing at me.
“I think he was, but Erin and I were training…”
She raised an eyebrow and gave me a look that seemed like she was trying very hard not to be frustrated.
“Have you checked the roof?”
“He has wings, Nate, he likes to fly up high when he’s upset.”
Whitney’s glare informed me of my stupidity.
“Right…” I sighed, sitting back on the couch.
“Look,” She said, turning off the screen and pulling up to sit cross-legged and face me. “Corey is a sensitive guy. He can slice a motherfucker in half, sure, but he’ll still feel really bad about it for weeks. Just tell him you aren’t gay, and he’ll get over it eventually.”
“Even if you are, don’t string him along, and don’t make him feel like an idiot who ruined a friendship, okay.”
“I-he-he thinks he?”
“He thinks he made a fool of himself in front of someone he has a crush on,” Whitney said, matter-of-factly as if it were my fault.
“—Yes, you moron. Now go talk to him before I bring the building down on you.”
“Okay.” I said, my head spinning as I stood up.
“I mean it, glowstick!” Whitney called out as I stepped out into the hallway.
“Perfect. If I screw this up, I have the living bomb to deal with,” I thought.
I needed time to think. Coming to a stop, I looked back down the hallway towards the common room, and then down the way I was headed, past the other sets of dormitories. No one in sight. Reaching out my hand, I focused my powers. Blue cracks formed in the air before collapsing into the swirling vortex of light. Taking a calming breath, I stepped through into my dimension.
The dead wood was the same as it always was, eerie, but otherwise quiet without the presence nearby. Lazy rivers of mist flowed around the beached tree trunks that stretched upwards towards the inky sky.
Standing there, I tried to take in the silence, but my mind kept gravitating back to the big question at hand: Was I gay?
Honestly, I’d never thought about what I was into, guys or otherwise. I was always too focused on being afraid I’d accidentally kill someone. I could count the number of dates I’d been on with one hand, and J—
It was like my braid hit a wall. I remember that I’d be set up on a blind date before, but I couldn’t remember who set it up. I remembered the girl, the was nice, but why did it bother me so much that I couldn’t remember that name?
I guess it didn’t matter, but the point was I didn’t really have any…experience either way. But did I like Corey? I mean, he was a friend, sure, but did I like him? Could I even weigh something like that?
My mind raced, but I couldn’t seem to find an easy answer. But then something hit me. He was a friend, an honest to god friend. One of the best friends I had, whatever that was worth. Everyone on the team was. Ian was borderline, but I would still fight with him. I would be damned if I let that slip away.
“Okay,” I said aloud, my breath visible in the cold dimension. “Let’s see if I can really teleport; take me to the roof.”
Focusing again, I watched as the fog parted to form a path. Thrilled that something happened, I took off, but my concentration must have lapsed, because the fog started to close. Creating a mental picture in my mind, I willed the path to stay, and the mist rolled back again until I saw a ring of exposed ground. The mist flowed around it, small eddies creating gentle vortexes of white before fading away. Hoping I wasn’t about to fall to my death, I willed another portal open, and stepped through.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect the roof to look like, but it was kind of disappointing. It was missing the sleekness that the rest of the buildings here had. It also looked like it wasn’t on the regular cleaning schedule.
It was mostly flat, but several exhaust vents made it hard to see everything from where I was. Corey could be anywhere if he were up there at all. I started wandering towards one of the edges of the roof and hoped I was going the right way.
No Corey. One down, three to go, I guess. Instead of trying to work my way back across the roof, I started walking around the perimeter. When I rounded the corner, I saw Corey sitting on the edge of the roof, legs dangling over the side with his wings wrapped around himself.
Here goes nothing, I thought.
I cleared my throat, “Uh, hey man.”
He jumped at my voice; I guess I did sneak up on him. “Oh. Hey. I didn’t hear you,” he muttered, pulling his wings close to his back and starting to stand up.
“Wait, I uh, wanted to talk,” I said, standing there. Awkwardly.
“About what?” he asked, gripping the lip of the roof as if to brace himself.
“Uh, w-well, I, um…” I stammered, feeling my face grow hot. “About Idyllium—” I finally spat out.
Corey seemed to recoil as he tensed up. “I-I’m sorry, I was drunk and…and…”
I was just making everything worse. Corey looked like he wanted to fly as far from me as he could get.
“…And I get it, you aren’t—I mean you don’t—look it won’t happen again…” Corey rambled on.
“Woah, wait, wait,” I said, cutting him off. I sighed and sat down on the edge next to him.
“I was coming here to apologize for being an awkward ass,” I said.
“It’s just that…I’d never really been…you know…hit on. Before.”
Corey’s face turned red.
“And my head was still fucked up because of Librarian, and Eli—The Anarchist, I mean, was there and probably messing me up more…”
We both stared at the ground below in silence after I trailed off. Neither one of us seemed to know what to say next.
“I shouldn’t have let myself get that drunk,” Corey whispered. “If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gone and fucked everything up.”
“You didn’t fuck it up, Corey. Look, that’s what I came here to say: I hate whatever this is between us right now. You—You and the others…you’re all the first friends I’ve had. I don’t want to lose that,” I said.
Corey was quiet for a minute, “Me neither.”
“And at Idyllium, I just didn’t know how to react, you know?”
“I… saw you and the Anarchist. I was drunk, but that night burned itself not my memory. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad, if I had known…”
“…That I wasn’t gay?” I offered when he trailed off.
“—I don’t know what I am,” I said quickly.
I noticed that Corey’s feathers, almost imperceptibly shifted.
“And if I was in my right mind, I wouldn’t have…” I shook my head in disgust, “Not with that manipulative bitch.”
“If you really think about it,” I added, “You saved me from making a big mistake. So thanks for that.”
Corey grinned, slightly “You’re welcome…”
“So. We’re good? Friends?” I asked, looking at him.
“Yeah. Friends,” he said, looking better.
We sat there for a bit, looking at the Swiss mountains in the distance. It was a nice evening; I could see why he liked to come up here, especially since he could fly.
“How did you get up here?”
“Uh, I teleported,” I said.
He smiled, “You’re getting better at using your powers.”
I nodded, “I guess so.”
“I know you asked me to help you get more comfortable with them…do you maybe want to get back to working on that?”
“Yeah, that’d be great.”
“Okay,” he said with a smile.
“Anyway. I guess I’ll, uh, see you later,” I said, opening a portal.
“Hey, Nate,” Corey called out as I was about to step through.
“No problem,” I said, stepping through.
“This is bullshit,” Whitney muttered.
“At least we aren’t responsible if anything goes sideways,” Ian said.
“We held him off once, I think we could do it again,” I said, watching the patchwork of camera feeds on the large monitor in the mission control room.
It was finally time for Judas to be taken to his new home at Site III. The Stockholm Field Office had been holding him so far with an army of Argus soldiers and a detachment from the Union. I didn’t recognize anyone on the list. They were probably novice heroes like we were.
“Holding him off is one thing, beating him, though? Let’s leave that to the Eagle,” Erin said, arms folded.
“If this is such a big deal, why don’t they get Cypher involved?” Adam asked.
“He probably is. it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s pulling strings from behind the scenes,” Ian predicted. “In fact, it could be a trap for the Kriegspiel.”
“You think they’re coming for Judas?” I asked.
“They might be. Argus is certainly concerned about something going wrong,” Ian said.
“But Judas was hunting metahumans down when we found him, do you think he would work with a group of metas?”
Ian looked like he was getting annoyed, “We don’t know Judas’ motives. He’s a deranged serial killer driven by bloodlust and a warped sense of religious purpose. Chess is a genius of at least some caliber to play with Cypher for this long, so he might be able to make him toe the line.”
“Thanks, Ian. Now I feel worse.”
Ian rolled his eyes and turned back to the monitor. Hollands was shouting something to the people working at the computer terminals about getting the main feed up. His…aggressive encouragement seemed to yield results: the smaller grid of videos scattered to the other screens around the room as the main monitor showed an aerial view of the Stockholm Field Office. A massive armored truck was backing up to the building with a swarm of guards around it.
“Is Judas ready for transport?” Hollands asked.
“Then let’s get this underway,” The director said.
A group of heavily armed soldiers emerged from the building escorting a plexiglass cube containing a Judas in a straitjacket.
“Anyone else getting Hannibal Lecter vibes?” Adam chuckled.
“No muzzle,” Corey whispered.
The guards only had about a dozen feet or so to go, but before they even reached the halfway mark, everything went sideways. Spikes erupted from the ground, skewering the guards before they could move.
“Oh my god!” Whitney yelled, smoke reflexively rising from her hair.
As we all froze in shock, Hollands seemed strangely calm. “Alright, everyone stay calm and do your jobs. Strike Team one to the containment wing and strike team two to intercept Cerf Tueur and the Gold Diggers.”
While Hollands was still giving his orders, there was a red and black flash as Shard, Redline, Obyekt, and Euclid teleported on top of the armored truck. I felt queasy seeing that monster. He was wearing a black suit like always with a murderous smile plastered on his face. I could only watch and hope someone put him down.
“There’s no blood,” Ian said.
I glanced at him and then searched the screen. Sure enough, there wasn’t a drop of blood coming from the impaled soldiers. Some of them had mysteriously vanished, but the others were still moving. They swung their legs to kick the spikes holding them in the air, cracking the antler-like growth and freeing themselves.
Some of them tried to aim their guns at the villainous foursome, but Redline’s form suddenly blurred. His afterimage raced around the courtyard, slamming into the remaining soldiers who…shattered? Bits of rock flew everywhere in Redline’s wake. Some of fragments had glowing red lines that seemed familiar.
“Kindle,” Ian suddenly explained, “From the Shield of Freedom—the Eagles’ team—she can create and control sculptures, statues, things like that.”
Light from the glowing pieces seemed to reach out like strings or a spiderweb connecting the other glowing pieces. They were quickly gathering, some of them starting to stack on top of one another. The brute of a speedster was quick to respond, using his momentum to rocket through the rubble like a wrecking ball.
Shard, meanwhile, raised a hand toward the plexiglass cage which violently tore itself apart thanks to his telekinesis. Judas suddenly shot from the confines of the clear cell towards Shard who seemed taken aback. Before he could teleport away, Judas drove a fist into Shard’s gut, sending him sailing clear of the transport.
“I thought he didn’t have powers unless he…” Erin trailed off as the illusion faded, revealing The Eagle himself standing in Judas’ place.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction as Shard teleported away, clutching his stomach. The Eagle turned his attention to Euclid, Obyekt disappearing in the chaos. He threw a punch at the black and yellow villain, but his fist merely sunk into the goo with barely a ripple. The hero tried pulling his fist back, but Euclid’s form stretched like tar. The black goo started spreading up the heroes’ arm. In response, The Eagle flew back and up, but part of Euclid’s body broke away, continuing to envelop the hero.
Euclid’s body seemed to squirm as it filled in the cavity of missing material before floating to the ground and into the building. “Spectral, Glow Plug, prepare for inbound,” Hollands called out on comms.
“Look!” Erin said, pointing at one of the smaller screens.
A soldier body camera showed a hail of gunfire slamming into a growing wall of thorns as Cerf Tueur shielded the rest of his team. It looked like they were in some kind of tunnel, maybe the sewers?
Back on the main screen, Redline was still disrupting the moving pile of rubble before it could do whatever it was trying to do. Suddenly, a burst of wind tore across the courtyard. It was strong enough to knock Redline off his feet.
“Abrams,” Ian explained, as the hero came into view.
A swirling shell of air formed around the scrambling Redline, encompassing most of the area outside the building. The villain got to his feet and flew forward, but suddenly collapsed.
“What happened? I asked.
“Abrams created a vacuum. Speedsters probably use more oxygen than most; take that away and…” Ian mimed passing out.
So that was two of the villains dealt with, and the Gold Diggers backed into a corner. There was still Euclid to deal with, though. I glanced over to another camera feed of Judas’ real cell and saw Spectral had created a glowing energy barrier out of his wings with Glow Plug, Kindle, and Hex backing him up.
Judas was watching intently from inside his cell. His attention seemed to be focused on Spectral, looking at him with a hungry expression. Another feed from the hallway outside the containment area showed Euclid ominously floating down the hallway, arms clasped behind his back.
When he rounded the corner, Hex opened up with the first round of attacks. Glowing bands encased her arms as she fired beams of energy. Euclid’s form curved around the beams as he continued to approach. Hex’s lasers suddenly turned solid and wound around Euclid like a rope. Red lightning arced from the bindings in an attempt to taze Euclid.
The liquid villain just stretched and deform, enveloping the electrified magic restraints before shrinking back to its normal human shape. With a roaring surge, the waterfall of energy that Spectral was using like a barrier flowed across the floor and beneath the hovering Euclid. The pale blue energy suddenly shifted, as the camera picked up a strange distortion.
Euclid slammed to the ground, becoming a flat puddle. Once the barrier was down, there was an implosion further down the hallway. A searing beam of light slammed into Spectral, throwing him back. Gravity seemed to return to normal, letting Euclid ooze back into the air.
“What happened?” Whitney asked.
“Obyekt,” Ian said.
The cloaked robot must have rushed forward while we were still trying to figure out what happened; Glow Plug suddenly lurched to the side and then flew back as he was struck by his invisible assailant. In a similar fashion to Euclid, Glow Plug’s suit seemed to distort as small limbs grew out to put him back on his feet.
As soon as he stood up, Obyekt hit him again, slamming his head into the wall. The hero fell limp to the ground.
“Shit,” Adam said.
That left Hex as the only one standing. Poor girl looked scared out of her mind. She quickly wove her fingers in the air and red light swirled around her, Spectral, and Glow Plug before they all vanished.
Obyekt de-cloaked, revealing the lanky semi-humanoid machine. The air around its hand imploded as another bright yellow beam blew through the cell’s lock. Judas pushed it open and stepped through. He started to say something, but Euclid‘s arm burst forward and enveloped him.
Similar goo flowed from somewhere on Obyekt and Redline’s bodies, pulling them into Euclid’s pocket dimension before shrinking away. Euclid waited behind for a moment before looking dead into the camera. The thin yellow lines that covered their body seemed to shifted into a smiley face before its body pulled into itself, shrinking away into nothingness.