The Hood & the Wolf Pack Chapter 2

The Team

THE HOOD

I’ve seen monkey shit fights more organized than this place.

This place being S.I.L.A.S.

That’s the name of the government organization meant to watch and train people with awakened superhuman genes, or I should better say, an organization meant to keep them in line.

While I don’t have any powers, being the descendant of an immortal and dressing up in a mask would be something to put me on their radar. I would say I’m surprised that they didn’t bother me sooner, but it makes sense now that I know their director.

Director Knight, or better Claire Knight, Davy Jones, Cowboy Anne, right-hand of Genghis Khan and Assassin of King Xerxes. There isn’t much positive in that resume, but then again, who am I to talk? I just know that apparently, she’s my grandma and she’s kept me out of trouble.

Grandparents are the best, aren’t they?

Aegis City is where she decided to make S.I.L.A.S.’s version of the Pentagon, in my city on the West Coast in Northern California. Unlike the Pentagon, she’s making use of an already existing building, the Aegis Needle. Yes, the city named all the tourist spots with Aegis.

The Aegis Needle is like the Space Needle in terms of looks, only it has an actual purpose of scientific advancement and is humongous in size to fit this purpose. It can fit a whole government department, and the facilities needed to house superhumans. To put it into perspective, it has its own particle collider.

Claire tells me that that’s her real name, that she didn’t feel like making up a new one for this era. As she leads me down white hallways lined with glowing blue and green lights, I look at her face.

Her arrogant smirk runs in the family, so I see through her. I see the smirk and I see the hope in her eyes, she wants me to be impressed. From the moment, I saw her making friends with my dog, I knew she wanted something she could only get from being my friend, but she’s going to push it and try to be my family.

Why she saw me and thought she wants to be family with that, is beyond me.

“So, what do you think?” she asks me, craning her neck to better look at me. She does remind me of myself in terms of looks, having that same darker skin tone that I’ve only known in my sister and less so in my father, beside me. She doesn’t have the round face of a woman of African descent, nor the hair of wool, which always confused people about my sister and me. I bet she gets a lot of people guessing where she’s from, especially with her straight dark hair.

With so many scientists and operatives, most who I notice aren’t trained fighters, I tell her what I think. “I think I don’t know how you plan to deal with superhumans with the resources you have, so this team better be pretty good.”

Claire still smirks, but the hope is hidden better. She’s doing that thing where old people see themselves in the young. That’s probably fair.

She informs me as we continue down the hall, passing a cafeteria and a gym fit for a college. “S.I.L.A.S. has the most advanced technology on this planet, so that’s generally how. We have fewer operatives because one of ours is ten times that of any other organization, foreign or otherwise.

I wonder if that was a dig at the F.B.I. or organized crime. She scratches her head, purposely trying to build up to her reveal, “There is my team that outclasses everyone though, if we’re being honest.”

She keeps talking up this team as we walk in a goddamn circle, I wonder what kind of training and powers these guys have. Better question, “How many people are on this team?”

“Four, including you,” she says, as if she knows that I’m definitely joining.

Still, three? These guys need to be top notch.

Claire stops in front of wide double doors, and walks across me to lean against it. “They’re in here, what the engineers technically call the Training Room, but I like to call it the Danger Zone when I’m feeling nostalgic.”

“Something tells me you really liked the 80s.”

“I did,” she admits, then turns around to a panel that scans her eye.

Why does everyone like the 80s? As if racism and sexism weren’t enough, the music wasn’t that great.

“Only I can enter while they’re training.”

And the buildup continues.

The double doors open and I’m shown another white room, and while it too needs a paint job, this one has something going on.

All three are superhumans, I can see that plain and clear. The Training Room uses hard-light technology to project androids, ninjas, and insect monsters. This would have been a 90s kid’s dream for a cartoon.

Two girls, and one boy, each fighting their own battles.

One girl wears this sleek padded material acting as protection over her legs and chest, but it seems unnecessary when you look at her arms. She doesn’t have clothing for sleeves, she has ice. There’s a whole ice armor over her arms and face, her hair is frozen too, but it doesn’t seem to impede her speed at all.

She’s trained in acrobatics, that I can see. She’s leaping over an insect bigger than Nina with ease, using one hand to cartwheel over it.

There’s thinking to her fighting too, as she freezes it with a touch of her finger, leaving nothing to waste. She’s not perfect, when she lands her footing is decent, but her forward thinking is not as a movie ninja comes and kicks her in the back.

As she slides across the ground, her powers show range as she raises her hand and lets loose a spray that could freeze over hell. The ninja’s chest freezes over and shatters, then phases out looking like programming code, aka, hard-light.

The boy is much less impressive. His outfit is the same, only it has tight sleeves like a t-shirt, and a flame wrapping around his leg to his chest, looking like some kind of dragon.

Basically, white people shit.

His skin is on fire and he flies around leaving a flaming trail. He’s certainly flying faster than a plane but he’s no jet. His turning is pretty roundabout, no crazy angles from him.

He’s flying between the legs of two giant daddy long-legs. Of course, they’re moving faster than they technically should, but they’re testing his speed and ability to dodge. Others would think he’s doing well, I know better. He’s barely dodging them, laughing, treating the training like a game.

The giant insect almost catches him, and thumps him on his side, causing him to spin and right himself. He smiles and laughs it off, “Whoa, that was close,” then he sees Claire and me at the entrance, and announces, “I think it’s time to clean this up!”

He splays his hands out and scorching hot fire erupts from him in a blast that hits everything. He burns away the insects in a few seconds which means he was holding back for the fun of it, not because he’s crazy, because he’s stupid.

Now the last girl, she’s the one who interests me the most. She flies and pounds androids away like scrap metal. She wears a black cape with silver underneath. It closes around her shoulders and her outfit. It’s padded leather like the other two, only silver which reveals the pattern.

She has a crest on her chest, with this insane ‘E,’ on it. Unlike the other two, it looks like something a marketing team came up with, rather than any scientist. If that sounds like a stretch, know that she doesn’t have pants, and has the bottom half of a unitard instead.

She holds an android right out of a sci-fi action film by its neck, so it takes its gatling gun arm to her chest to unload. The bullets bounce off her as she turns her head to the flaming boy, “Watch your back!”

She throws the android at a bug about to come out of the fire behind the flaming boy.

The flaming boy dodges out of the way, and groans seeing the bug take a metal rock to the head.

“You need to pay attention,” she yells at him.

“Sorry, we have guests,” he says and points to me and Claire.

Then she sees me.

That’s enough!” Claire yells and as if her voice were god’s, the hard-light machinations dissipate. The three superhumans all drift down to face us. The fire and ice go away to confirm the fear that I had.

They’re all kids.

I cross my arms, not bothering to hide my discontent with the fact that this team is in high school or college. As I get a good look at them, Claire introduces them, walking behind them as if they were prize horses.

The girl with the ice is, “Marie Xu-Lin, the most experienced of my team, codename Icicle,” the boy with the flames is, “Tommy Rodriguez, he’s Pyre,” and I interrupt before she introduces the flying wonder.

“Emily Burke.”

Before we start talking, I take a good look at all them. Marie Xu-Lin, seems about average height, Chinese descent and probably nothing else. Her hair is straight and uniform at her shoulders. Not quite military grade but it’s fitting some kind of rule book. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary with her.

She watches me with distrust and hesitance, which is understandable. I think Icicle is the one I would watch out for if she were more powerful and had a better codename.

Tommy Rodriguez in a physical sense is intriguing to me, even though his goofy grin makes me about as disinterested in his personality as I am in baseball. He has a Hispanic last name but this kid is white with blond hair and blue eyes. There’s a story there that I should know, if at least for my own entertainment.

I already know Emily Burke. Father is a big shot Republican senator, the last one in California, and only able to survive because of the money from his billionaire wife, who’s the CEO and second largest shareholder of Burkestone Industry.

Oh yes, he took his wife’s last name, both lost and won a few votes for that.

This powerhouse certainly looks like her mother. Her auburn hair color leans towards brown more than red, and shines just over her shoulders.

I bet Burkestone designed that costume, the film division specifically, and S.I.L.A.S. just made it for her.  

Emily doesn’t walk up to me, she floats, and peers over me with a grin that lets me know just how full of herself she really is. If she were standing, we’d be the same height, so she’s not short.

“So, you know me?” she asks.

I shut her down real quick by stating, “I know your family.”

Emily grows this hint of annoyance, so she might be easily aggravated, which is great, considering her super strength and invulnerability.

Then she floats back down to stand between Marie and Tommy.

Claire sees the tension already building between the two of us, and informs me, “Here we call her Espada when she’s in costume.”

“Great,” I drone, I want them to know I’m annoyed with what I see, “so this team of yours is made up of a discount Iceman, Superman, and Human Torch. At least one has the powers for an A-list comic character.”

I anticipated that all three would be quite insulted and they are. Not a single one didn’t respond to the insult with grimaces and furrowed brows aimed at me. To my surprise, Emily’s face changes from a scowl to a grin, and she floats several feet off the ground with her arms crossed. What does she think she’s doing?

She crosses her arms in front of her, not like she’s pissed but in an ‘X’.

“I’d prefer discount Wonder Woman if you don’t mind,” she corrects. Alright, she takes my insult in stride. She learned something from her father, how to turn trash talk to gold.

She challenges me by feigning disinterest as she asks, “Then again, you’re nothing more than discount version of an already discount Punisher.”

“Punisher?” Tommy asks.

“It’s on Netflix,” she tells him.

Tommy makes a face of realization, like that confirmation gave him the courage to speak. He points at me and informs the other girls, “You’re the Hood, then you’re the guy who’s taking out the mob and the guys selling their drugs.”

“Good,” Claire interrupts as she walks between us, “you’re acquainted with his work, then you should be glad to know that I’ve invited him to be on your team.”

Suffice to say they were up in arms.

Marie is the first to understandably point out, laughing at the unbelievable idea, “Okay, so I haven’t listened to the news in like… years, but if half of the shit they say is true, this guy is a psych-o-path, a serial killer. You want us to be on the same team as him?!”

“Listen, I got massive respect for anyone who keeps drugs off the street,” Tommy says, waving his arms in front of him, “but I’m not gonna kill anybody.”

Claire shocks even me when she informs him, “He’ll kill for you. When you go out into the field, somethings are going to come at you that are going to push you to places you wouldn’t believe, and when you’re not willing, he would be.”

“You won’t make one of these kids do what they have to, but I’m already a killer, so its fine?” I question my great-grandmother.

“That and your suit, you can take more than any operative I can send.”

Miss Burke decides to really push the antagonistic glare by challenging me, “Alright, then we make someone good suit or take his, why do we need him?

“Take my suit?” I repeat. “And how are you going to do that?”

“I have superstrength, and you’re just little man, how else?” she challenges me.

Tommy agrees, “Yeah, I’m with Em on this one, again, no disrespect, but anyone of us would take you down in seconds.”

Oh, I hear the challenge coming.

I don’t think Marie has uncrossed her arms since she stopped fighting ninjas and insects. She now proves to be the only one with any kind of common sense. “What is that armor even made out of?” she asks, thinking about the important questions.

Already mimicking her own body language, I tilt my head, and with my helmet that has an undoing effect on most people. I guess Marie isn’t most people since she doesn’t respond at all to it.

I only tell her, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“I would,” Emily interjects.

“Jesus Christ,” Claire groans, as she rubs the bridge of her nose, “I got you all together for five minutes and already you’re about to fight.”

I press forward on the idea, “Who said anything about fighting,” I ask with a wave of my hand, “giving a couple kids a few licks isn’t something I would call a fight.”

“How much older than them do you think you are?” Claire asks me.

Well, now they know I’m not old, if they’re listening carefully, so not Tommy.

He’s busy powering.

“Oh, I call first dibs,” Tommy tells the girls as he spreads his feet and clenches his fists, setting himself on fire.

Claire has stepped between us, about to stop us, but I bring a hand to her shoulder and pull her back.

The fight starts now, whether he was prepared or not.

As I pull her back with my left, I pop out a knife in my right. With a snap of my fingers, I send it flying towards Tommy’s face. The knife is cantorium, he can’t burn it, it’ll absorb the heat energy, but that’s not what I want anyways.

Tommy’s reflexes are good enough that his head dodges, but his skill isn’t as good as his eyes follow the knife flying past him. An honest mistake during a near death experience. He doesn’t watch out as my fist connects with his face.

POW!

He goes to the ground, making the girls. If they were really a team, they would have just jumped me together, but they’re not.

Tommy leaves soot as he burns across the floor. He brings his fist to his lip, clearly shocked by what just happened, more so than the other superhumans here. My armor holds quite well.

His flames still linger on my fist and I give it a little wave to put them out. My whole suit is made of cantorium, let’s say that it is a very special metal, and it absorbs energy. Not to use, yet, but it will lessen any impact to me.

I start walking towards him as he floats back to his feet. He charges a fireball over his hand and I run at him. He throws it at me, but fire isn’t the fastest moving thing in this room. I jump and flip, dodging the fireball, which earns several more.

He flies to the side to get a better angle at me, and it becomes a game of keep away. I continue to dodge until I slide under a third fireball, flick my wrist for my remaining knife, and throw it with pinpoint accuracy.

It goes through a fireball, but I’m willing to bet he doesn’t realize that if my knife can take the heat, so will my armor.

It sinks itself into his shin, and he clutches it as he flies lower. I grab my first knife on the ground and I close the distance.

With all eyes on us, I leap over him, and he raises his hand and lets loose an inferno.

Fire consumes me, I can’t see anyone and no one can see me. I hear Claire scream, maybe she does care, but it’s fine, my armor holds, I don’t even sweat.

I come out of the fire, and even with a head of flames, Pyre’s face and black eyes emote his surprise perfectly.

I see myself in his eyes, a black demon impervious to flames. His mouth and eyes agape as the demon comes for him. The fear gives me a rush.

I grab his head in my left as I come down him, letting him know that I can touch him, and I break his nose with my right. I can feel the cracking of his face, and I want to feel it again as I slam my left for follow up.

Before I can get my fill, I hear the growl of another one looking for a beating. I turn to my left and raise my arms in an ‘X’ to block a barrage of ice spikes. They shatter against my armor as I see Icicle rushing towards me.

I rip my knife out of his leg and let it slide back into my wrist. Pyre’s yelp of pain makes Icicle grit her teeth, she’s mad.

Good.

I run to meet her.

Icicle starts freezing the ground in front of her, sliding as she goes while she makes a sword out of ice in her other hand. Before our fists meet, she raises the ice she’s sliding on to fly up into a jump over me. Clever, using the high ground.

She brings her ice sword down in a slash, not a reverse-grip, mistake of someone without sword training. I fall prone to the left to dodge her slash, and she’s standing over me. I bring up my leg and kick her sword hand in the back of her wrist.

Crack!

At first, there’s the sound, but there’s no scream of pain, just the sound of ice freezing back over as she curls her wrist.

I kick her in the jaw before she turns on me, knocking the frozen spit out of her mouth.

Then I sweep her legs, bringing her to the ground.

We both roll to our feet, which means she has some skill, but I’m faster. I’m swinging my leg across her frozen face as she gets to one knee. I wonder if her armor protects her from bullets, and I reach for my gun on my waist to-

Agh!

WHISH!

I’m bodychecked and slide across the ground. I look up to see an angry Espada glaring at me with her fists clenched at her sides. I roll backwards to get to my feet, but I’ve underestimated her speed. The second my heels are on the ground, they leave it.

With her hand around my throat, she taunts me. “What are you going to do now, little man?”

I’m going to blow up her face for lack of a better word. I hold my left hand around her wrist, let her think I’m helpless, while my right moves to a compartment over my ribs. I take out a bomb- well it’s not really a bomb, it’s more scientific than that.

We’ll call it an atom grenade and say it packs about as much of a punch as a flying plane in a small vicinity.

It’s cylinder shaped and I slam it into her chest, it sticks and I bring my thumbs to her eyes to poke them, which means they’re probably not bulletproof.

She drops me as her hands fly to rub them, and I kick myself away from her. My atom grenade explodes before I hit the floor and I fly across it. I roll and move to my feet, my hand digging into the ground to stop my momentum.

I look ahead at the smoke cloud, then I hear a weird sound, like a whistle, and soon I know my mistake.

She sucks the smoke into her lungs like a vacuum before she blows it up towards the ceiling where vents catch it all. I see her clearly, there’s not a scratch on her, not even her costume.

Damn.

I run my left hand over my right to trigger a weapon that has to work, and I trigger it as I see her flying at me. She’s fast as sound, and I barely have my hands up in time. She barrels into me, her fists into my chest as I bring my hands over her face.

BOOM!

She slams me into the wall, and while my armor absorbs the damage, it hurts to say the least. It’s like being hit by a semi-truck, even with my armor on. This weapon is one of the few that has to work on everyone, because no matter how invulnerable she is, her body conducts electricity.

Zap.

The electricity flows from my suit into her body, her skull first. Her muscles tense, her bones freeze, and I can see her grind her teeth as her body is pumped with a thousand volts. I pull back on her skin, and I can see her gums as she makes a face of pain from being electrocuted.

Unreal.

She can still move; she really is invulnerable as she still holds me firmly in her grasp. With a snap she tosses me to the ground.

The only difference between now and before is that I’ve made her hair all frizzy, which means I’ve only pissed her off.

I pull out my handgun and start emptying out my clip into her, all headshots, but I’m aiming for her eye, to blind her. She’s walking towards me like I’m some pitiful bug, so understandable, until I get one right in her eye.

Aaahh!” she screams as she throws her head back, her hand over her eye. I hurry to my feet, but then I realize that there’s no blood running down her face. I watch as I reload my gun and see that all my bullet did was poke her, there’s no blood, just irritation, which means I’m just pissing her off more and more.

Time to see if she can feel a punch.

As she’s rubbing her eye, I rush her, and throw a haymaker across her face. It’s like hitting a wall but she feels it, and then I hit her with a combo of an uppercut, gut and kidney punches, and I end by bringing my hand behind her head and bringing my knee into her throat. Every time I connect with her it feels like I’m punching bricks, so I stop to see what I’ve done.

She stumbles after that combo, she rubs her neck, letting out heavy breaths as I nearly knocked the wind out of her throat. Not what I want, but I’ll take it. I can hurt her in my armor. I can tire her out.

“I think it’s my turn now,” she growls, something that’s never nice to hear.

She throws punches freely, but she telegraphs them. She takes a long reaching swing, which tells me she doesn’t know how to punch. I bet no one’s ever noticed because of how fast she moves, but I’ve fought faster.

I can deflect now, seeing how she’s slowed from earlier. I swat away and dodge her blows, only barely. I start throwing jabs into her sides and under her arms between her punches. This seems to work out fine until she gets angry and moves too fast for me. She punches me square in the chest. I stay on my feet and slide across the ground.

I watch the look in her eye, and see her fatal flaw as she brow furrows in determination.

Emily’s predictable.

She flies straight at me, her favorite move, I can tell. I duck and she flies over me. I hold my hand over a compartment and take out a sonic mine. I willing to bet she has heightened senses, and even if she doesn’t, this will hurt.

I place it underneath me, and roll forward and turn around to face her as she flies at me again, and triggers the sound mine.

Aaaahhh!!” I hear her scream as she floats above the ground, her hands clutched over her ears. She looks down as her world has to be spinning by now, and she slams her feet to crush the mine. She stops floating to stand on the ground, her arms falling limp at her sides as her ears are red, but they’re not bleeding. The last guy I used that mine on, his ears bled.

I admit, I’m still mad that I got caught off guard from before, so I run at her as she’s off guard and bodycheck her for good measure. I’m petty, I know.

For once it’s not me sliding across the ground, but she’s quick on her recovery. She’s floating back above the ground, visibly exhausted from this battle. I bet she hasn’t fought this hard before in her life.

At this point, I have to admit I’m out of options. I didn’t bring anything to take down a person of her power, and I’ve used up the best that I’ve got.

When she flies at me again, this time to punch me instead of flying into my chest I stand ready, until this blue bullet hits her neck, and she floats to the ground to better withstand the pain.

I look in the direction it came from, where Claire is standing as I’m hit.

Ergh.” I can’t help but groan as my arm freezes and shocks me over my spine. My armor protects me, but the electricity that comes from it entered from over the spine, so when electricity comes back at me, I have to feel it.

It fucking hurts.

Still, I stand even when my knees want to buckle. Emily is watching me, and as her mouth hangs open in shock, I don’t think she’s going to attack me. She hangs onto her neck as the pain lingers for her as it does me.

I look over at Claire and she’s holding this strange gun in her hand. It lights up with electricity and I recognize it as the same gun she must have used as the Hood. How the hell did she get it back again? That’s supposed to be evidence in-

Wait, she’s a director of a major U.S. defense department, she’s gonna have strings she can pull.

The gun is still steaming as I watch her walk towards us. She places it back in her jacket as she sees that we’re done and we’re not looking to be shot again.

“You know, when I thought of how this day would go, I expected it to be more like a kid’s first day at school, with awkward icebreakers.” As she stands close enough to kick me, she finishes, “I didn’t expect to be ringside at a wrestling match, and for everyone on the home team to lose.”

Emily couldn’t care less about Claire, she wants to ask me, “How the hell are you still standing? That gun would kill a man from the inside out!” I guess that’s why she’s so encumbered, the pain.

“I have a higher pain tolerance than most people, trained that way.”

As Claire walks between us, looking between me and her Espada, she looks over at Icicle and Pyre. The ice girl is helping the soon-to-be fuckboy stand up. Claire sees the blood gushing from his nose and I can see her fight to keep from getting angry.

In this growl, she reminds her team, “Now I’m sure you all know what the Hood offers to this team.”

As Icicle keeps her hand frozen, she holds it over Pyre’s nose as an ice pack. Then she tells Claire, “Yeah, we get it, but now I really don’t like him.”

“I’m so sorry for responding to a fight your friend picked,” I tell her, rolling my shoulders as I try to shrug off the phantom pains. Icicle tries to say something but a death stare from Claire silences that.

I do realize something else, I don’t fit on this team; this whole fight made that clear. Not only am I someone without powers, which means I fight differently, they don’t think like me, and that can be dangerous for us all if we never click. I don’t see me clicking with any of these kids.

I point this out to Claire by walking up to her, and muttering so into her ear. “We’re not going to work, anyone can see that, so why do you want to push this? This isn’t family bonding.” I can tell that Emily heard by the way she tilts her head and focuses harder after I mention family.

Claire sighs, knowing I’m right, but the vibe she gives me with her lack of composure tells me that it doesn’t matter. I don’t know if it’s the slump in her shoulders or the crane of her neck, but something tells me she’s worried about something.

She raises her finger and knocks on my helmet like she’s checking to see if its hollow. She stares into me, and I swear I see my own black eyes.

She moves out of the way and lays a hand on my shoulder as she explains to her team, “This suit of his, I’ve had it checked over and it’s made of cantorium, one of the rarest and most powerful metals on the planet. It’s also the same one that’s being stolen across the world.”

Well, that’s interesting, I knew this metal was rare, I didn’t know that anyone else had figured out its properties yet. If someone’s stealing it, they know how they can use it, or at least have an inkling.

“China, Russia, and Britain, they’ve all had their supplies stolen. Ours is the only one left, and while most of it is missing in the earth, we have some already in use,” with a pat on my shoulder, she tells everyone, “he’s wearing it.”

I cross my arms as it’s finally starting to come together. I remind her clearly, “I don’t need bodyguards.”

“We’re not offering,” Tommy spits out along with some blood. I notice that his nose is already in place, but not together. Minor healing ability, noted.

“That’s not what I want from this,” Claire states, silencing the blond youth, “I want you to find who’s been stealing it, help us combat it, and overall, I want you to help each other be better than you already are.”

Bit, soap opera-y, I chuckle, and try to laugh.

“What?” Claire questions me.

“As weak as it sounds, I’m not superhero.” When she rolls her eyes I point out, “I shoot people for a living, what did you expect?”

“You don’t get paid,” Emily interjects, she likes to do that, and she has a point.

I shrug and say, “Okay, I shoot people.” That does gain a chuckle Tommy. “My point remains the same, I’m no hero, and asides from Espada here, the other two are sidekicks at best.”

Tommy yells out, “Hey!” as if I care that he’s insulted.

But Marie, she stomps towards me, surprising her friends, and prompting Claire to bark orders at her that she ignores. She sticks her finger in my face, and makes sure I know, “I’m nobody’s sidekick,” then with a turn of her head towards Emily, “and definitely not hers.” With that she skulks out, leaving Emily to watch her with her eyebrow raised.

Something tells me this team hasn’t been together all that long.

Claire watches Marie take her leave, and grits her teeth. Still, clearly, I’m her priority and she asks me, “Will you do it?”

I can tell that they’re all waiting on me to say yes, but Claire wants me to join this team most of all. She’s not a kid their age, yet I bet she can reach them better than I can, considering the emotional rock that I am. She wants me to whip this team into shape, train and drill them, or maybe she wants us all to make friends like the sidekicks do in their cartoons.

I have my own issues, how am I supposed to deal with myself and somehow deal with other people?

I don’t answer, I turn to make my way out the door.

“Hood, wait!” Claire calls as she goes to place a hand on my shoulder, but I lift my arm to stop her.

“No, I have my own stuff to figure out, I don’t have the mind share for this, goodbye Claire,” I tell her and I make my way.

I don’t turn around to see them wallow or cheer, whatever they feel like doing now that I’m gone, and the second I’m out of the Danger Zone, I bring my wrist towards my helmet. With a push of a button, I have a feed into my helmet of what they’re saying. I planted a bug on Tommy with one of my punches.

“- don’t get why you think we need him,” Emily says as her voice comes into my helmet. “We’re doing fine when Marie gets that stick out of her ass.” Girls don’t seem to play nice.

Claire makes it pretty clear, “He’s been doing this longer than anyone thinks, and we’re going to need more than just you three to figure out what the Savaage are doing and if it’s them collecting cantorium.”

I’ve heard of the Savaage, a criminal organization supposedly rooted on the East Coast.

I listen in, but nothing happens, then I hear crunching and movement.

Claire tells me, “If you want to know more, you’re going to have to work with us, if not, don’t bug my team.” I hear a sharp ping as my bug is crushed.

Well played, Hood, well played.

NINE YEARS AGO, MAYBE MORE

I was taught how to fight. Everyone is taught, some by people, others by nature, and a lucky few by themselves. I was taught by a monster with others at my side. I call my mentor a monster not as an insult, but a necessary truth. The fact of the matter is, if he wasn’t a monster, he could never have helped me, and none of us would be where we are now.

It’s a little too much to say that the boy who wanted to take the name of the Hood would be taught by a man who goes by the name, the Assassin, but if we called each other by our first names things would get confusing. It’s easier to just accept the truth of the matter, my predecessor was an immortal taught by time, I was taught by someone with all the time in the world.

He taught me and other boys who would become my brothers how to survive when we were barely ten. It was decided then that to survive we would need to learn how to use our powers and know how to kill, or else we would die. It was decided that the frozen wilderness, on a world I did not know, was the best place to teach us.

The frozen wilds would teach us about how cold the world could be, how cruel and unforgiving specifically. If we could survive here, our naked shells would harden and be unbreakable.

Pretty extreme for a bunch of ten-year-olds, but we were being hunted so… it was honestly an improvement.

For me specifically, the boy who would become the new Hood, there was a problem. My two other brothers had powers. Wolf could transform into a wolfman with strength and senses or a lizardman with paralyzing poison. Arrow had, still has telekinesis, which is powerful even if he doesn’t know how to use it. I had no powers, as I still don’t now.

The problem is pretty obvious.

The Assassin would watch from the shadows as we were drilled, having us fight each other through his own special regimen. It would be two on one, and every dozen seconds we would switch who was the one and who was the two. As a child, I struggled against my brothers.

Aaah!” I would scream. I remember what it was like when it was my turn to be the one. I remember when Arrow would hold out his hand and he would use his telekinesis. It was always simple at first, just a powerful blast, a pulse. His eyes and his hands would light up purple, and I would be on my ass.

I remember little old me, before the scars, before I had any empathy at all, tumbling through the snow. I remember digging my hands into it with anger that the second it was my turn I was on the ground.

In hindsight, Arrow was the nicest of us, he’s an asshole now, but back then he was the one most like a kid. Moment to moment he could forget his own guilt. In these moments he would hop over and laugh. He thought I was a jerk, he was right but I didn’t care.

I looked up at a face that looked so much like mine, laughing at me. I remember the skin that we all shared, the dark curly hair that turned wavy when brushed. The overbite we all had as kids before braces. It was like I was being laughed at by myself.

I had shaved my hair off so I wouldn’t look like him but it never worked. It drove me to rage.

From the specific moment that I’m remembering, I ran at Arrow while he was laughing with fists of fury. I tackled him, I pummeled his face and as I was doing it. I already had an excuse.

It was still my turn, it was still my dozen seconds, and until he said otherwise, I had no reason to think it was inappropriate to wipe that smile off of Arrow’s face.

Back then Arrow wasn’t as great at fighting hand-to-hand. He can hold his own against me now, but back then he was still learning how to use his powers first. He swung for my head, but I dodged real easy.

Then I grabbed his arm and went to crush his nose. I almost broke it; I did make it bleed.

Arrow to his credit, didn’t cry about it, he understood what we were doing. He fought back or at least he tried to. He tried to be a man and I applaud him for that now.

Wolf acted like he was the older brother and put an end to it. Right before the whistle came and my dozen seconds were done, Wolf grew that long lizard tail of his and whacked me off of Arrow.

I was on my knees ready to get back to my feet in a second, but this time I looked into Wolf’s face and I had to pause. Wolf was more like me, I stared at him from across a couple yards between us. He had Arrow’s face, but his hair wasn’t brushed. His hand was planted in the dirt, fingers partially changed into his lizard claws, a lizard tail slowly regressing as he shifted back into a boy. It was the image of a predator staring at me that made me pause, it was his snake eyes turning back to his normal brown.

His eyes were empty and black like mine, there was nothing in them but a flicker. That flicker was what distinguished us, he had hoped to be better, and I had not.

I was ready to face Wolf, it was his turn to face Arrow and me, but someone else said something.

“Enough.”

With a gust of wind I felt a presence behind me, even before the shadow cast over me. Wolf’s stone face breaks and he stands to his feet at attention. He wasn’t taught to do that; it was just natural for him. Arrow got to his knees; he was still so casual back then. He thought I was in trouble.

Our mentor, the monster, our father, for all intents and purposes… he rested a hand on my shoulder.

“Let’s have a chat,” he said. He turned me around, and I looked up at him. I wondered if I would look like him when I grew up, my biological father was much darker than me, but the Assassin was the same color. It still seems logical to look to his face for insight.

There was also the way he dressed. He dressed like his namesake, an Assassin with this black cloak that loomed over his shoulders, and the whole world sometimes. It went over his face, a hood that reached over the brim of his nose and covered his eyes in darkness.

I could still see his eyes, we always could, even when we were in darkness. They weren’t normal, they were a part of his many powers. They were red, reflective, and sometimes a pattern would shift and move around the pupil when they were in use, this white image atop of red. Sometimes they wouldn’t shift because he wouldn’t want anyone to know when he was using them.

But even in darkness, I could see his eyes.

I nodded my head, I didn’t care for his opinion at the time, I didn’t care about anything or anyone. Everyone in my life had died, but they didn’t matter to me. Like I said, I had no empathy, and I wouldn’t even have the sliver that I have now without the Assassin.

He led me away from Arrow and Wolf but I was no favorite, I was simply the more difficult of his three pupils. I had no powers, but I needed training all the same. I didn’t understand why he took us under his wing, but I was going to use him to get the power and strength that I desired.

He had me follow him through the snow. I trekked through the snow in nothing but shorts and underpants, admittedly wishing that he would take me under his cloak for warmth. My shell had hardened enough that I could fight that urge, even as snow fell on my head from the tree peaks above us.

I followed him to a clearing, trying to figure him out, trying to decide how I would eventually surpass him. I learned eventually that I never will, and eventually I lost the desire to.

At the clearing, I must admit I didn’t understand what the lesson was that he was going to teach me. All I saw was a small valley, but large enough that the deer in the middle of it couldn’t see us from the trees.

I saw the deer pushing its head around the snow, looking for food. I assumed the Assassin had taken me here to kill it, to practice my aim, so I offered my hand and asked for my gun. I had been training with guns, and with a weak Glock I could hit that dumb deer. I would shoot the ground behind it, scare it into heading within the handgun’s range, and then I would shoot it in the head and heart in succession.

I held my hand for my gun, and only the Assassin’s eyes moved. They traced from the deer to my hand, and looked back.

“I don’t want you to kill it, boy,” he told me, and I couldn’t understand the reason for sparing the deer. Did he want to eat it instead? No, “but I do want you to watch it die.”

I was so sure he was going to kill it then and there, but then I saw the wolves. Even back then I couldn’t not respect wolves. Yes, the tiger and the lion are stronger, but the wolf does not perform in the circus. The wolf is an apex predator, not simply because it is bigger or stronger, but because it is smarter.

I watched four blurs move across the snow, two clearly much faster than the other two, and of the two fast ones, one was clearly the alpha by its size.

I’ve seen wolves hunt before, I practiced stealth by sneaking on animals and watching them. They always entertained me better than people, so I knew this was no normal hunt. Wolves, they surround the deer and nip at it, wear it down and take it to the ground. Now these wolves, not only were they fewer, but they were hunting with the alpha, and the alpha didn’t need to nip.

The deer never stood a chance, the two faster wolves chased it down and jumped on it. I watched the largest grey wolf leap onto its back like a lion, and sink its teeth into the deer’s neck. The alpha acted because it realized that the rest of the back couldn’t pull its weight, not letting them weigh him down.

The other wolf risked its teeth by chomping on the deer’s leg. It pulled back so the deer would trip and fall as the alpha sought to tear out its neck and throat. The other two, the slow ones caught up as the two front wolves killed the deer. This was when I realized that the back two weren’t wolves at all.

A dingo and a coyote, explaining why they couldn’t keep up with the wolves. Seeing them besides the wolves not only flabbergasted me, but it allowed me to see how small the other wolf was. It was not the alpha female, not its mate, it wasn’t even a beta, it was an omega wolf, the lowest inside a wolf pack, barely bigger than the dingo or the coyote.

I couldn’t believe what I was watching as this strange pack of four dug into the deer. An alpha wolf, an omega, a dingo, and a coyote. None of them were confused as to what they were. The coyote ate the small parts away from the alpha, scowling at him but not seeking to directly challenge his better. He did not like the alpha, he did not care for him, he did not like that he had to be beside an alpha wolf to survive, and the alpha did not care.

The dingo, completely out of its element, ate and tried to act as a dog, tried to play with the others, the alpha and the coyote humoring him, but the omega snapping and driving him away. It was clear to me that there were bonds in that group, and rivalries.

I almost accused the Assassin of creating this fallacy, this implausible group of animals. He must have gotten them all together or was using some kind of illusion.

I didn’t get the chance to see or try to understand the pack for long, because there was a roar and a bigger predator that snuck up on them, and sought to steal what was theirs.

A bear, a big fucking grizzly came, he got on his hind legs to roar down on the pack that he too must find so strange. He roared and the alpha roared back. The omega went to bite at the bear but the bear swiped at it, getting its eye. That scared the others, the coyote nipping at the omega to fall back, to live and fight another day.

The coyote knew, and the omega probably did too. Their small four mutt pack couldn’t take down the apex predator of that forest. They had to turn back, run away, and let the grizzly bear have their meal. That bear must have been starving for something to have picked such a fight.

I watched this with the Assassin, and as soon as the strange wolf pack began to run away, he turned to me with advice he knew I didn’t want to hear. His red eyes told me I had to listen anyway.

“There’s going to come a time when you need allies. I know you laugh at the idea of friends, of family, it’s all a foreign concept to your sociopathy.It will get you and prized arrogance killed, but you are one of mine and I cannot allow that.”

I didn’t take his words as strongly as he would have liked. This was a consistent problem with me for him. This monster tried to teach me about loyalty, teamwork, and doing what is necessary. I disagreed on all three.

After this point, I think he felt he needed to resort to extreme measures. He took my head in his hands and made me look into his eyes. They were red, and then they turned white. His eyes encompassed everything. Everything turned white, and something changed in me. He changed something that was fundamentally wrong.

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