Month: September 2015

Chapter 69: Holding On

the world moved around him

he walked down the sidewalk doing his best to avoid the other pedestrians

a particularly large man bumped into him before he could move out of the way and he had to let himself fall to the ground before the other man went sprawling

the man kept walking

a part of him wanted to hold his ground and watch the heavy man fall but it wouldnt do any good it wasnt his fault that he didnt know to get out of the way

he stayed silent but even if he shouted nobody would hear

after so many weeks he would have expected to grow used to the isolation but even now he prayed that somebody he looked at would look back even though he knew they never would

he wasnt sure how long he had been stuck like this time didnt seem to matter when nobody expected you anywhere

the only things that mattered were where his next meal came from and if he would be able to sneak into his old room that night

food was easy enough but he had to make sure what he took wouldnt be missed the first week hed taken too many meals from the same place and somebody nearly got fired

sleep was harder his mom hadnt touched his room he wasnt sure if it was because she had forgotten about it altogether or if some part of her remembered that somebody slept there

either way it was a place to sleep and it was one of the few things he had left that were still his

he still had his name even if the only place he could see it was on the bottom of an old art project from the second grade

john andros

it was a boring name he decided but it was his

his name his room his mission

the mission was still going strong if only because he had nothing better to do

in the last few weeks he managed to clear most of the distributors out of his neighborhood but it wasnt enough

so he began to push outwards  taking out the lowest levels of asclepioss network and putting down any new guy fast and hard

it wouldnt do much to the villain

he knew that this was just one of thousands of cities that asclepios used but any pain he could cause to that man was worth it

because now hed taken two sons from his mother and that wasn’t something he could forgive

but even with the mission there was still so much time in the day

he went to some of the meetings still even if he couldnt say anything

a part of him had hoped that will or mach or allspades would have been able to notice him there even if  he was just a blip on a radar or an extra mind to notice

the first night he was there he thought he saw will looking at him before everything began but will seemed to shrug it off like nothing was wrong

he hadnt had much hope but he couldnt help but feel a small bit of betrayal when he noticed that his chair was missing the next week

when slipstream warned mach about frankenstein he made sure to follow he as close to her home as he dared

he couldnt help but notice the way she moved as if somebody had spiked her drink or maybe like someone whod only just realized they had run a marathon

it wasnt until after she was in the hospitale that he realized she probably hadnt slep in days.

when frankenstein had attacked he did what he could but in a fight like that the best help he could give was catching red when hed launched himself into the behemoth

after that he had to run or get caught in the crossfire between every mecher in town

everything had grown just a little worse after mach went to the hospital

powers running out of control had become a rather intimate subject for him in recent history and he prayed that someday there would be a solution to his own problems

hed have accepted losing his legs his arms his voice anything just so long as people would be able to look at him again and not pass over him like an empty spice jar

but that wasnt going to happen

it was hard enough to get people to help somebody right in front of them getting them to help someone they cant see hear or even remember was an impossible task

so he resigned himself to being an invisible shadow

another walker bumped into him

“sorry.”

John froze

it had been an automatic reaction the woman wasnt paying attention and apologized for bumping into something she hadnt noticed

shed probably have done the same if she walked into a street light as engrossed as she was

but john held onto it all the same

those were the first words that had been directed at him since he met barber and ran his way into nothingness

and it was something proof that he might not be entirely isolated from the world he once knew

it was more than hed gotten from his mother or his friends or his brother sitting in an empty room in rehab and it had come from a complete stranger

he wanted to chase after the woman to thank her even if she couldnt hear instead he started back home

maybe just maybe there was a chance

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June looked around her carefully. She’d wanted to apologize to the kid she walked into but he was nowhere to be seen.

Instead she felt the familiar aura of another slider crawling across her skin. It was like cold oil dripping off her every limb.

She shivered. He hadn’t opened a gate, she would have noticed that, but the amount of rift radiation leaking off of him suggested some massive powers were in use.

June disappeared into an alley and into her own gate. Janus walked out the other side.

A slider hoarding that much power was either out of control or up to something dangerous.

Either way she needed to track him down.

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Chapter 68: Letting Go

Tina stared at her legs.

Her parents were here now; they were talking to the doctors. She wasn’t paying attention, but the word ‘options’ was coming up repeatedly. It didn’t matter anymore, she’d stopped listening when they told her she’d probably never be able to move them again.

She glanced up at the doctor, and immediately had to look away. His pen, his lab-coat, even his tie were all inherited from his father. He power had grabbed onto everything both doctor’s and all of their patients had placed into them.

She hadn’t looked away quickly enough. She felt the bile burning the lower half of her throat as she forced herself to take slow, deep breaths.

“Tina.”

A hand on her shoulder brought her back into the present.

“Tina.

She kept her eyes closed until she was sure she was looking at her doctor’s face.

“I’m fine,” She choked. “It’s just a lot to take in.”

The doctor nodded and looked to her parents.

“It might be best to keep her here another few days. That way you can discuss how best to handle her new situation.”

Her mother couldn’t speak without sobbing.

“We’ll see what we can do,” her father said.  “Thank you for everything.”

The doctor nodded and walked out of the room.

Her father turned to her. “Are you going to be all right here tonight? One of us can sleep on the chair if-“

Tina shook her head. “No. Please. I think I can manage for tonight.”

Her father nodded reluctantly. “One of us will be in first thing in the morning okay? Call if you need anything. No matter the time. Got it?”

Tina painted a smile on her face and nodded. Her mother leaned down and wrapped her arms around her, letting her tears soak into the hospital gown.

When she spoke it was muffled and quiet, but Tina understood.

“I love you too mom,” she said. “Make suere you get some sleep tonight, okay?”

Tina felt her gown shift under her mother’s head as she nodded. After a moment, her mother reluctantly let her go and stepped to the side. Her father hugged her too, much more briefly and less mess, but just as caringly.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow,” her father replied with a nod.

She watched the door close behind them, and she kept watching it until the smiling nurse came in.

“Is there anything you need to do before we turn the light out?”

Tina shook her head.

“Okay. Just remember to press the button if you need anything.”

The smiling nurse flipped the switch and shut the door behind her.

She would have been in complete darkness if not for the small reading lamp above her head. A small part of her wanted to turn it off immediately; her power had a hard time picking up on anything she couldn’t see. But her power wasn’t going away anytime soon, and she couldn’t’ avoid looking at anything of value for the rest of her life.

She started by focusing on the small mirror next to her bed. It was cheap;, mass produced, but enough people had stared into it at some of the worst times of their lives that it couldn’t help but pick up something of them.

She was so focused on the mirror that she almost didn’t notice the second face reflected alongside her own.

The mirror flew through the air and landed further down on her lap. Tina quickly checked each direction and behind her. There was o one to be seen. She tentatively reached for the mirror again. The face was still there, sitting beside her.

“Sorry about that. I probably should have given you some warning.” His voice was quieter, less powerful, but she knew it all the same.

“You were inside of my head.”

He nodded. “Good. I hoped you’d remember that; I suppose that I have their intrusion o thank for your recollection.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m you,” the man said. “Or rather, I’m a part of you mixed with something else. Most of me has been here since the day you were born. Although, neither of us were quite aware of that at the time.”

“Azriel.”

The man nodded. “When he healed us, he left a little piece of himself behind. Not enough for either side to suffer, but enough to change my nature, if only the tiniest amount.”

The man seemed antsy, as if he despised being trapped in the mirror almost as much as she was stuck in this bed.

“I’m sorry, and I’m sure you have many questions. But I am afraid that I can only keep myself visible to you for so long. I hope you don’t mind if I hurry.” The man began to pace within the confines of the mirror. “I want to know what you’re going to do next.”

Tina stole another glance at her legs. “I don’t know if there’s anything to do,” she said. “I can’t control the suit right if I don’t have legs.

“Nonsense. You might never fly around again, but that doesn’t stop us. It can’t stop us.” The man sounded overly certain, maybe even desperate.

“A wheelchair bound hero isn’t exactly what the world is screaming for,” Tina said. “I would die if I went out there like this.” She vaguely waved her hand towards her legs. “I think it would be best to just…let it go, and move on.”

“But-“

Tina turned out the light. She could talk to her delusions when she felt less crazy for doing so.

She heard his voice muffled in the back of her mind, but it wasn’t anything she couldn’t ignore, just the faintest murmuring in the background lulling her to sleep.

Tina closed her eyes and tried to push the thoughts of the day out of her mind. It couldn’t be done; even without the mirror man’s voice, her own thoughts crashed around inside her head like thunder.

She tried in vain to push them aside for hours, until exhaustion finally won out and she fell asleep.

She dreamed of flying,

 

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Chapter 67: What Happens Next?

There were only four chairs.

Will stayed in the shadows by the entrance as the group filed in one by one into the empty auditorium. It was the quietest they had been since the first meeting. Even Red Racer’s energy was drained to nothing.

Burnout didn’t sit down.

He vaguely stared at the last empty chair before walking around and sitting on the stage.

Will gave them a few moments before he walked out of the shadows.

Burnout met his eyes.

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*16 Hours Earlier*

Nobody? What do you mean nobody can help her?”

Will didn’t turn from the window. Burnout had followed him when he walked the agent out of the hospital, and he’d made sure to lead him a room far from Mach’s.

“It’s not the kind of damage that can be fixed. The part of her brain that controlled her legs has been fried. She’s lucky that’s all she lost.”

“She’s a mecher. She’ll find a way around it.” Burnout nodded forcefully as he spoke.

Will shook his head. “If it was something in her spine sure. A healer would even be able to help with that. Or if it was actual mental damage a good tel could help her. But even if she made something that walks for her, she’d have to think about every step. She has a chance to walk, but she’ll never run, and she definitely won’t be able to fight.”

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Will looked away first. He had three others to worry about.

“For most of you, this is the first teammate you’ve lost since you put on a mask.”

He hated this speech. Even before he’d quit being a hero, he’d had to give it half a dozen times a year. It changed each time, but it made him feel like a cardboard cutout with a voice box taped to it.

“And for the rest of you, you’re learning that it doesn’t hurt any less. It never does.”

But that didn’t mean you couldn’t get used to it.

“And sometimes it hurts a lot more.”

An image flashed before his eyes. She had her back turned to him, but he’d recognize that shade of brunette anywhere. The smell of warm apples brushed against his nose and a soft song reached his ears. He tried to run after her, but his feet didn’t move. He watched as she slowly drifted into the distance.

“Some people will call you lucky. Mach’s alive. They think that that’s the better option.”

But she would never be Mach again. The girl behind the mask would have to find an excuse for why she would be crippled for the rest of her life.

“But that’s a lie. The fact is that the girl you knew will never stand by your side again. You might stay in touch, you might even be best friends the rest of your lives, but it will never be the same.”

Because neither of you will ever look at the other the same way again.

“Because you’re the hero who gets to keep saving people. And they’re the person you couldn’t save. No matter how much time passes or how close you get over the years, that will never change.”

This was the part he hated the most. He was telling them something they already knew, something they’d already admitted to themselves. But it had to be said, because they would spend the next decade trying to figure out what they could have done differently.

Will took a breath.

“You’re going through one of the worst times of your lives as heroes. That also makes this one of the most important times of your lives. Because soon, you’re going to look in a mirror, or stare at the stars, or just freeze, and you’re going to ask yourself a question.”

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*16 Years Prior*

Rumor stayed in the shadows as they lowered the coffin into the grave. The name on the stone was Blake McGuile, but he’d never known him by that name.

He wanted to get closer; he wanted to be able to pay his respects before they filled in the grave, and to tell Blakes mother that her son had been brave and selfless and that he didn’t deserve to die. But he wouldn’t be welcome. Rumor may not have been the one to throw him off that building, but he had been the only one who had a chance of catching him.

Blake’s mother was whispering to the grave now. A line of family and friends had already formed behind her. One by one they carried their flowers to the grave and tossed them inside.

Rumor stayed through it all. There wasn’t anywhere he needed to be more than here right now. Here, he was surrounded by the dead. It felt like he belonged.

A small cat wandered through the tombstones and stopped next to him. It stared blankly at him before sitting down and absently started to bathe itself.

The crowd was walking away now. It was time.

The cat followed Will as he approached the grave.

Memories flooded his mind with every step. Had it really only been two weeks?

I’m the Wizard Baroque, and you would do best to remember it.

I know I’m not the best mage around, but I’m not gonna let that stop me.

I’m going to people remember by name. There won’t be a prowler or jaunter around who won’t run away when they hear I’m coming.

And then it had been over.  Bunyan had tossed him off the side of the building like it was nothing. And nobody could reach him in time.

Rumor stared at the gravestone.

“I know it doesn’t mean anything, but I’m sorry. You were supposed to become the best hero in the city, and I let that giant oaf to ruin it for you. It won’t mean much, but I’ll never forget your name, Baroque.”

He walked away from the grave, with the cat following close behind.

A single question ran through his mind.

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“What happens next?”

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