Month: February 2015

Chapter 44: Preparations

Jack slowly walked into his apartment.

The kitchen was in front of him, centered around a pristine stove and oven. The refrigerator was empty, and nothing in the freezer had cost him more than a few dollars. The microwave would have to be thrown out. He tossed it in the trashcan, crushing the piles of paper plates and plastic silverware.

He didn’t take his shoes off. He had walked on the carpet barefoot once, and had no desire to feel the gooey floor again. There was an odd stain near the window on the far wall that had dropped the rent a good 40 bucks a month. He’d decided not to clean it up.

The couch could stay, it had a large dent in the center cushion, but it was far from worn out. He was tempted to lift the cushions, but he had lost the remote there once, and he didn’t have any desire to see that again. The boxes he used as a table wouldn’t be a problem for the landlord to toss. The TV, the one thing he had let himself spend real money on, would be a shame to lose, but someone else would find a better use for it.

He walked into the bedroom. A few thin sheets sat on the old mattress. He couldn’t feel the cold, and he had slept on the ground for years. Anything else seemed silly. He grabbed a few things out of the dresser. Clothes mostly, and a couple old trinkets.

He turned to the closet and let out a soft sigh.

The doors swung outward.

He looked at the dark blue uniform with slight disgust. Queen had suggested a symbol stitched into their uniforms, something to distinguish them a bit more, but they never had the time before the end.

It still fit like a glove. It was designed to stretch, but it had always felt tight across the chest. When they were younger, he’d asked Paige if she’d had the same problem. She’d sent him through a wall.

“You deserved it.”

He ignored the voice.

A pair of heavy gloves still sat on the bed. He glanced down at the ridged fingers. Fake callouses, because he hadn’t been able to get his own. He’d lost his grip on his sword one too many times before they’d given those to him.

He stared at his hands. He had real callouses now, courtesy of that night. He didn’t know what had injured his hands enough to give them to him, but maybe he’d find out soon.

He looked at the other end of the closet.

Allspades’s uniform was there. It was just some clothes he’d grabbed from an army surplus store, but it had been the first uniform he’d decided for himself.

He couldn’t leave it here; Allspades wasn’t famous, but that didn’t mean he should be left behind like that.

The pants were still good, and it was always good to have a spare pair, but the jacket was unique, conspicuous.

He gripped the symbol he’d placed on the back and tore it off. He didn’t have the luxury of time; a large hole was left in the jacket.

That left the gloves. The symbol was on them too, smaller and less noticeable, but there. He stared at the spade. It wasn’t supposed to mean anything, it was just a reminder of old days.

He tucked the gloves in his pocket. He had more old days to remember.

Knight left the apartment.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

“You’re sure?” Will asked. He didn’t have to. He’d known the short man since he’d moved into town almost a decade ago. Phil was crass, annoying, and often enough whiny, but he wasn’t a liar. He was too old to bother with it any more.

“Ya. The spook didn’t stay long, and he didn’t seem the kind ta chat. But he said enough for the kid to run outta here like death was on ‘is heels. Said you guys could have the cake without him, whatever that means.”

Will gritted his teeth. Allspades had left on his own, that much was clear, but he was a hero now. The government didn’t get to call on them like that; that wasn’t how it worked.

But he couldn’t do anything about it either. As much as Allspades was a hero, Will wasn’t. And even if he went to The Council, or brought up a complaint himself, they hadn’t recruited him as Allspades. They had called up a retired agent, who had accepted. As far as they were concerned, Allspades had nothing to do with it.

“You can’t do anything can ya?”

Will shook his head. “No. They didn’t force him into it, or ask him to act as a hero. There’s nothing illegal about what they’ve done.”

Phil nodded.

“But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Will started out of the gym. Phil trotted after him.

“Where ya goin’?”

“I need to make a few calls.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Rose heard her phone ringing and groaned sleepily. She checked the clock. Apparently they’d managed to beat her alarm by three minutes.

After she managed to work her hand out from the tangle of sheets, she flipped off the alarm and answered the phone.

“Ya.”

“Rose! Thank god you answered.”

“What is it Barry? I’d like a chance to take a shower before I have to go back to the office.”

“I got here early, and you won’t believe who else is here.”

“If it’s anyone who’s gonna fire me for not being there before 8, then I’m sick.”

“No, you don’t get it. It’s that guy, the one in charge your group.”

Rose jerked up straight. “You’re sure?”

“Yes I’m sure. I saw him talking to the receptionist when I walked in. He just said his name and the guy gave him a straight pass up to 90.”

“The exec floor? Did you hear who he was going to meet?”

“Walked in too late. But the man looked serious Rose. I think something’s going on.”

“Keep an eye out. Call me if he leaves. I’m on my way.”

“You’re not gonna follow him, right?” Rose could hear the stress in his voice.

“I don’t know yet. But if something’s happening, especially if it’s with the group, I want to know.”

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Chapter 43: Summons

Phil gritted his teeth in pain. He’d spent enough money on punching bags, and he told Jack he’d be hitting punching mitts today. Of course, he hadn’t considered just how much Jack’s punches would hurt, even through the mitts.

No that he couldn’t take it, Phil had been hit by guys just as strong back home. But Jack hadn’t held back at all, and the mitts had been turned half way to mush under the force.

The worst part was the lack of conversation. Not that Jack was much of a talker, but at least he would respond to Phil’s barbs. Today, he was grinding his teeth so hard it was a wonder he could breathe.

The door to the gym opened. Jack’s fist paused just before hitting the glove.

Phil looked at the man standing in the door way. His posture was ridiculously straight; his suit was perfectly symmetrical down to the knot on his tie.  Even in the semi darkness of the gym he had on a pair of dark sunglasses.

“Government. I’ll get rid of ‘im.”

“Don’t bother. I know this one.”

“He one of your old mates? Looks like he couldn’t get a joke if it knocked him on his ass.”

“His name’s Craig. He was our go between the last few months. You might want to sit this one out.”

Phil grunted and plopped down on the bench.

Jack strode forward, slowly taking off the punching gloves. “Is there any reason I shouldn’t take your head off?”

The man, to his credit, didn’t flinch. “Now, now, Mr. White. You have had some months to track me down, if I was the one you wanted. You are well aware that the incident had nothing to do with me; I had no reason to wish you or yours harm. You also know that I am the only one who can help you find the man you seek.

“And since I am the only reason you weren’t hunted down after your disappearance, I believe I am due at least some respect.”

Jack grunted. “So why now? Did you lose track of the big bad mob boss? Or did you think you could handle it with an empty deck?”

The agent reached up and slowly took off his sunglasses. His eyes beneath them were an electric blue. “I assure you, even without you Cards, my deck is more than full. However, you are currently in a very unique position which makes you ideal for a task such as this one.”

“And what’s that?”

“You’re already dead.”

Jack sighed. “Well, it’s not the first time. Did I at least get a decent funeral?”

The agent nodded. “I swear your father almost shed a tear.”

“Even stones crack sometimes. So how can this dead man help you?”

“You can get Milton Plask and you can bring him to me. Of course, the normal rules apply.”

“No backup, no rescue. I know the drill. Just tell me where I’m going so I can get the bastard.”

“You’ll be briefed en route. Pack for warm weather.”

The agent didn’t wait for a response. He turned and walked away.

“You really goin’ with this bullshit? You should get the hell outta dodge; Let me call Will, he can get one of them rich guys to help you.”

“Not happening, Phil. Stiff might be a prick, but he’s the only chance I have of getting to Plask.” Jack tossed his gloves into a bag and slung it across his shoulder.

“Kid, you’re not an agent anymore. You’re a hero now, you can’t just go around running after this punk cause you think you got a free pass. Well let me tell you, heroes don’t get to call it quits just cause shit like this happens.”

Jack looked over his shoulder. “Then tell Will I quit. The others can have the cake without me.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Rose groaned when she stood up from her desk. She had been forced to work late again, and her back had long since decided it liked its new shape.

She’d already sent everyone else home. None of them could do anything until she went over these reports, and they could finish up tomorrow as long as it was ready.

Barry had stayed longer than most, but she had forced him out after the third time he passed out on the floor. He promised coffee in the morning, and donuts, but she wouldn’t have anything to do until they finished their work again in the afternoon other than “supervise” people who hadn’t eased up on their work for the last month. She might actually be able to get some sleep in the morning.

She checked the time. At this point she might as well sleep in the office, but she needed a change of clothes and at least a couple hours in a real bed.

No one would be looking up anyway.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

The stride had been the hardest part to figure out. She could use lengthen her legs with a rubber tree spring and use it to jump rooftop to rooftop with no issue, but it wasn’t any faster than walking if she had to reset after every jump.

Coordinating her muscles with her powers had taken all of her concentration at first, but over a few weeks it had grown easier and easier.

But even with this, she had been losing more and more time. She had cut back patrols to two nights a week, and she still hadn’t had a full night’s rest in a month.

A part of her knew it should get easier, that this project would be the biggest one her department would get all year. But there was always another project, and they weren’t getting any smaller.

Maybe she could be sick tomorrow? She still had a few sick days left, and she hadn’t actually been sick in years.

She finally reached her building and swung her way down to her apartment. She should probably check the mail, but there shouldn’t be anything that couldn’t wait until morning.

She fell on top of the covers and instantly fell asleep.

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Chapter 42: Promises

“Is this really necessary? I think my legs are gonna die at this rate.”

Burnout sat in the center of The Court’s chamber. He had agreed to the examination, but he hadn’t expected to be stuck in the same spot for over an hour.

The Court didn’t respond. He was walking around George, carefully stepping around the metal circle on the floor.

Will stood in the doorway. “You were forced into a magical sleep. Until we figure out where it came from, you could be putting everyone near you at risk, especially with your new magic output. So until the Court says so, you’re staying there. And the longer we distract him, the longer it’ll-“

“Finished.”

Will mock glared at The Court. “You did that on purpose.”

The Court stayed silent.

Will sighed. “What did you find out?”

“Not as much as I would like. I succeeded in removing what remnants remained of the spell, but its origin is confusing. The spell appears to have entered visually at least several weeks ago, but he was not targeted. I believe the spell was worked into a manuscript and was designed to be set off at its creator’s whim.”

They both looked to Burnout.

“Um…I was researching magic at the college. Could it have been in one of the books there?”

“It’s possible,” The Court answered. “A prank or a trap set by the tome’s scribe. Something that should not affect anyone after his death. I have heard of such things done to keep apprentices from using advanced spells.”

Burnout glanced at the clock behind The Court. “Mind if I get going? I need to be somewhere.”

The Court nodded and Will stepped back while the young hero left the room.

Once they heard the door shut, Will turned to the mage. “Could that spell work on anyone?”

“Most,” The Court said. “A few would be immune. Trained mages, magic creatures, and anyone with Hero Blood should be immune. I suppose if you had far less magic potential than the average person, you could shake it off with willpower. Why?”

“Just a bad feeling. Could anyone make these things today?”

The Court thought about it. “A few that I know of, but they are spread around the world. I suppose an untrained mage whose innate talent was Runes, they might be able to pull something of the sort off, but they have to have a decent understanding of sleep magic as well, or it would require their magic to run. No mage I know of fits those requirements.”

Will nodded. “Thanks. I’ll double check with my guys, see if anyone like that’s around town.”

“Very well. Please inform me if anything of note appears.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

“You should really learn to cook. You can’t live on fast food forever.”

Jack gritted his teeth. He’d been hearing Paige’s voice more and more lately. He could bear it when other people were around, shove it under the noise of a crowd. But when he was alone…

“Don’t be silly, Knight. We promised we’d never leave each other alone, remember? We’re a team through and through.”

“Stop it,” he whispered. “You’re already dead, and I’m alone. You can’t change that.”

“Come on, Knight. If we let a silly thing like death stop us, how could we call ourselves heroes?”

It was just like her too. She’d always had an answer. She’d always been ready to stand her ground and fight it out, whether they were on a mission or deciding on dinner.

“After all, you always were a little hopeless on your own weren’t you? Always running headfirst into battle. A knight in shining armor who didn’t even give the princess time to get captured first. So much for fairy tales huh?”

“Heh. Like you were ever a princess. I’d love to see the prince who could rescue you before you got yourself out.”

“Why would I let a prince rescue me? I had my own knight already.”

“Some knight. I failed Paige. All those years of training, all the promises. None of it mattered.”

“Of course it mattered. Do you think I would have loved you if it didn’t? You never failed. Nothing you did could have changed that night.”

“I wasn’t even trying!” Jack screamed. “You were right there, and I was doing all I could to save my own skin!”

“You thought I would be fine. You couldn’t have known my shield would fall.”

“I knew your limits Paige. I knew it couldn’t last much longer. I didn’t get to you in time. I never managed to reach you in time.”

“Never stopped you from trying though did it? Believe it or not, I loved it when you would charge in to rescue me. No matter how pointless it was.”

Jack felt his eyes grow moist, but he blinked it away. “I promised, didn’t I? I told you that I’d come for you, even if you don’t need me.”

“Even if I told you to stay away. I know Jack. But…make another promise for me. This time, just this once, really stay away. I’ll be with you no matter what, so don’t come looking, okay?”

A tear rolled slowly down Jack’s face. “Okay…okay. Just, wait for me will you?”

For once, the voice stopped. For once, he wished it hadn’t.

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Chapter 41: History

Will stared at Janus, his lips curling into a frown. “So you’ve actually talked to him?”

“No.” Janus clenched her fist nervously. “I’ve been talked at by him. He seeks out rift radiation, and he knows when someone new is using it.  We don’t exactly advertise it.”

“I thought you couldn’t get near him? Isn’t he supposed to scare you all?”

Janus nodded. “Sliders have defenses against each other; we can all sense rift rads. He puts off so much constantly that it makes us sick to be anywhere near him. But he can pop up anywhere. We don’t get much of a warning.”

“What did you do?”

“I ran. Every slider I’ve ever talked to about it did the same. He never shows up again, I think he’s just messing with us.”

Will sighed. “I guess I’ll need to ask him if they’ve met yet next time. Always fun to talk about Eclipse.”

Janus shivered. Will eyed her out of the corner of his eye.

“It’s a name. He doesn’t even like it. It’s not gonna summon him.”

Janus still looked nervous. “How would you know he doesn’t like it?”

Will’s frown deepened and Janus felt a shiver run up her spine. “I know more about that man than I’ll ever want to.” He glanced up at the clock hanging from the chamber wall. “I should get back. Tell Lux I’ll see him next week.”

Will walked out of the chamber before Janus could ask him anything else.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Zero and Janus had secluded themselves to the far side of the Councilate’s bar. Sigurd and Adamant were having a drinking contest on the far side, and Lux was already calling Jim Hob to haul at least one of them home.

Zero shook her head. “You’re lucky he didn’t snap. For a month after Kalliope, we thought he was going to end up killing someone.”

Janus had removed the lower part of her mask to drink. Her lips were pulled into a thin line. “I just think it’s suspicious. He’s talking about…him like their old friends who had a falling out.”

Zero started coughing. She quickly glanced up to make sure no one was looking their way while she shushed the other hero.  When she spoke, her voice was notably quieter. “Be quiet when you say stuff like that. There’s a reason he was called Rumor. You’re right about it being a little odd, but there’s a reason we trust the guy. If he wanted to find out more information on who Eclipse was he could. If Lux can be believed, his father used to work for the Walker Watchers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew a few people who can see past the black lines.”

Janus took a big gulp from her drink. “I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I don’t see why you all trust him so easily.”

“I think I may need to hear this too.”

Both of them looked up. Miss Mirror waved at the bartender and he quickly poured her a drink.

“I don’t think so. Just because you’re old enough to be here now doesn’t mean you get to listen in,” Zero said sharply. “You have 10 seconds to give me a good reason or get out.”

Miss Mirror glared at her. “If you tell anyone, I’m blasting you into space.” She waited for both of the others to nod. “My brother’s in that group of his.”

Janus looked unimpressed, but Zero’s eyes widened. “You’re telling us this now?” She hissed. “This is kind of important.”

Miss Mirror just stared at her.

“Fine, you’re in.”

Zero got another, large, drink and took a long sip before she started.

“The first thing you have to realize is that Will probably knows the identity of more heroes than any four other walkers combined. He doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter; half of his power is passive. Honestly, if he wasn’t trustworthy, we’d have found out a lot sooner. Lux is related to him, Adamant respects him, and apparently Court’s spirit sense or whatever tells him to. But, I can only really tell you why I trust him.”

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

*13 Years Prior*

It was before my second speed up. People still called me Minute-Girl, back when the news got to pick our names. Trust me, you’re both lucky you started after that.

The Council back then was almost useless. They were caught up in so much red tape that they could barely even act as heroes; none of them realized quite how bad the city had really gotten. Hero deaths had become so common that gangs were using us as initiation targets.

I was working with another runner then, Hermes, or Speed of Silver, if you preferred the bloggers. We were one of three or four teams that kept the university clear. But it made us easy targets.

We’d been warned a few days before. We’d heard about Rumor, but there’s a reason he earned that name. He was in the background a lot, passing information that he’d heard or picked up on. But we’d never actually met anyone he’d helped, and nobody we knew had either.

He’d passed a message to everyone in the area that the Founders were going to be hitting heroes near the college. It said that they had a couple of Jaunters in the group. It even had guesses about their powers, but nothing solid. He told us to stay off the streets, that he was asking more experienced heroes to step in.

None of us listened.

Hermes was faster than I was back then. Not by much, but he liked to pull ahead when we went on patrol; he would always let me catch up, but never before he was out of sight.

By the time I caught up, it was pointless. Neither of the Jaunters had ever had a codename, but they didn’t need one.  They were a typical pair, a tank and a tel, but apparently they were twins. The tel could see into the future, and they shared perceptions almost constantly.

Hermes’ speed counter didn’t work against anything alive unless he told it to. The tel only had to tell his brother where to stand, and Hermes turned himself into soup.

They were waiting for me too. I’m lucky; my counter is almost perfect, even back then. But the punch still broke my collar bone.

If they were the only two there, then I may have still had a chance. But there were at least a dozen more of their gang there. They were standing back, but the moment I stopped, one of them shot me in the leg.

I thought they would kill me right away, just open fire all at once. But the tank brother was calling out one of the members in particular. He pretty much forced the gun in his hand and marched him over.

I watched them teaching the kid how to shoot. Apparently they didn’t let them practice so they would have to shoot the heroes as many times as it took to kill them.

I was going to die, but the tel started shouting that they needed to move.

Will just sort of walked up behind them.

One of the others was going to shoot him, but the tel told him not to. Kept saying how anyone who shot was done for.

Most of them were confused, but the tel looked like he was gonna have a heart attack.

And then Will walked straight up to the tel.

“What am I going to do next?”

The tel fainted on the spot, and the tank was twitching.

“I want you all to understand, no matter how this night ends, you are all going to jail. If you want, you can stop by the hospital first. I’m fine either way, but you’re all responsible for the death of one hero tonight; three others heard the gunshot and are on their way, and I brought two with me. I assure you, none of them will be giving you the chance to surrender.”

The gang looked cowed, but the tank charged at Will. Apparently without his brother he dropped a few IQ points, because whatever came out of his mouth was definitely not words.

Will just stood there. Then there was a bright flash of light and the tank was next to his brother, with a giant burn on his chest. The rest of them dropped to their knees and they were collected a few minutes later.

Will had stopped paying attention though. He was kneeling by what was left of Hermes.

“Do you know his name?”

It took me a moment to realize it was me.  But I nodded.

“Will you tell it to me?”

I asked him why.

“Someone has to tell his family. If I had been able to figure out where they were sooner, then he’d still be alive.”

I told him it should be me.

“You’ll be in the hospital. They need to know sooner than that. If you don’t want to tell me, it’s fine, but you’ll have to do it over the phone.”

I wanted to argue, but he was right.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

“I had my first drink when I got out of the hospital three days later. That’s when I met Slipstream and Lux. They were the ones with Will that night. That’s why I trust him, because the last time I didn’t, someone died, and a lot more could have.”

“He didn’t even use his powers? He caused and earthquake a few days ago and he couldn’t be bothered to fight them himself?” Miss Mirror asked; her voice had sunk low and grown hot.

Zero shook her head. “Will avoided the active side of his powers those days. Apparently there had been trauma. But even with them on passive mode he could put up a fair enough fight. I think he was trying to build up a certain image with the gangs.”

She looked over to Janus. “That enough for you?”

Janus shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I need to know more before I can be sure. You only know half that story. I think I need to ask one of the others.”

Zero sighed. “Fine, but not tonight. I don’t think Lux is gonna be in the mood to deal with anything after those two.”

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