The Hood & the Wolf Pack Chapter 3

The Magician

THE HOOD

Persistence doesn’t mean success, something that criminals for some reason cannot get through their heads. I didn’t know that when Claire tried to recruit me for her superhero team, that I would have been joining a team right before they get sent out into the field. Being that half of them have revealed their identities to the world, Espada and Pyre, guess how long it took for crime to happen during their school hours?

One day. That’s it. Who said criminals were complete numbskulls?

While that does leave more for me, the day time and the light just don’t leave me much leeway in terms of fear. I’m in an all-black suit, I stick out like a sore thumb. There’s a reason Batman does this at night.

When the brain is filling in the blanks, most don’t do so in a way that preserves sanity.

Aegis City has an interesting architectural style. The northern portion of the city is much older than the southern. Some people had the goal of making it the New York City of the west coast, others the Chicago. The Chicago north is pretty old in design, still has gargoyles which I appreciate. They make for great jumping off points to glide to anywhere in the city.

The New York City south is more classic with sleek skyscrapers. Not much to climb though.

Thankfully, the leftovers of the Carone mob family is a nighttime gig apparently, so I don’t have to worry about them as I look after the city.

I look out for anything the police can’t handle in a couple seconds, or something they’d mess up. To do I listen to the police reports and the news, my helmet being locked into the security and radio systems across the city.

A program all my own narrows down the kind of crime best treated by me, and before I know it, it finds something for me.

My program brings a report over my eyes. There’s a bank robbery, where 1st Street meets 4th. Odds are horizontal, evens vertical, good old grid system, easy to get around.

I leap off a gargoyle, and a few seconds into my freefall, I pop out my wings onto my back. By wings, I mean six metal blades, three facing my left and three facing my right. Between them runs an electrical current that allows me to glide with an added boost from a jetpack. I can’t fly, the jets aren’t that powerful. There had to be a weakness somewhere in my suit.

So, I glide across the city between skyscrapers heading from my position on 2nd and 3rd, southeast to the robbery. It’s close enough that my glide will last until I get there, so I look up the cameras in the bank.

I see on my screen that the men have raised their weapons at everyone and have finished getting everyone down on the ground. They’re bringing one person to the back vault to open it. Being North Aeg, this bank is old, simple. Modern furnishing and technology but it’s nothing grand on the inside. Tellers line the left, back, and right wall from the entrance, vault in the back, tell them to get down they’ll have some ample protection.

I’m looking at the guys in there as I turn onto the bank’s street and glide my way down towards a shorter building. I count ten, each with varying weaponry, things they could have bought at any gun store, weapons they shouldn’t have.

995TS FGs carbines, not weapons permitted by this city’s laws but anyone can go out and come back with one. I’ll make sure to look into that later.

The police haven’t been contacted yet, my program is good enough to get it first, so I’ll be the first one on the scene. They’ve shot too many people trying to be the first ones to kill the criminals, better I go in first than them.

Unlike them, I want to take the time to figure out how to avoid casualties.

Now I have two viewpoints, from the rooftop across, looking down and in with my helmet’s infrared, and the cameras in the top left corner. It’s during school and work hours, not many people which is why the thieves chose it, aside from avoiding the teenage superhumans flying around. The trio of clerks are now on the ground behind their desk, caught before they can ring the alarm, the thieves must have gotten there fast.

Wait, now I can see from all angles. The vault isn’t right in the back, this building holds more than only the bank, there’s a hallway behind it that reaches around the building. That means there are more people at stake. Terrible design, puts more people at risk of danger, but hopefully they know to stay away.

The hallway is empty. This is important because when the crooks move from the hallway, to the door across from the bank to the vault, they have a perfect getaway.

Back to the hostages, aside from the trio of clerks, there’s only five civilians, lined up on the wall, makes it easier for me. I’ll glide in, put bullets in the heads of the two watching them, and I’ll throw down a portable barricade I made for these kinds of situations. Those two at the ends will have to dive for cover, so they have to participate somewhat, but self-preservation usually kicks in. People from North Aeg aren’t exactly foreign to crime.

It’ll turn into a gunfight, but I can systematically use one thief at a time as a bullet shield to take out the rest. In my experience, I’m fast enough to deal with thieves who can’t aim for shit. They’ll be lucky to clip me once or twice as I move between them.

Strategy ready, pistols out, wings out.

Time to go.

I nosedive off the building, I’m a lot higher than the one floor up of the bank. There are stairs leading up to it so I see the arch coming. I pull up at the second and third floor from the terrace, boost with my jetpack and I right myself up. I’m gliding towards the glass windows feet first when I turn off my infrared.

CRASH!

I see the two guarding the hostages, so with my left hand in succession, I put one through both their heads before my feet touch the ground. I slide across the ground, bring my right hand to a compartment of my suit that holds the barrier instead of my wire, it pops out in disc form, and I slide before the hostages. As it opens up, I see people clamber towards it, North Aegs know what to do.

Three seconds.

I turn to my left as two of the thieves had turned their heads around from the three tellers they had bunched together, one thief is behind the counter with them. With my right I aim towards the two like clockwork while focusing my left gun to headshot the thief with the tellers.

Five seconds

My left gun shoots first, and then two successive shots go through the other two’s heads. I get the first in the heart as he squeezes his trigger, prompting a couple screams, but it shoots away and no one’s hurt. So far so good.

Eight seconds.

The other two fall right afterwards.

Nine seconds.

That’s half the thieves down, and I’m turning to my right in roughly eleven seconds, I should be better. I should have four left, and one in the vault with the manager. I turn to my right and-

Impossible, I checked the cameras, I saw and counted that they all were dressed the same, carrying the same weapons.

Why am I now looking at three of them following a monster?

By monster I mean a man in body armor that could take a bullet from a Desert Eagle carrying an LMG, not legal anywhere near Aegis City last time I checked.

The barrier for the people won’t hold, but he’s aimed at me and I’m not standing in front of them so I’m going to feel the brunt.

I take a few steps away from the civilians, drawing his gun, but I’m not doing myself any favors.

I get off one more shot as the brute’s finger squeezes his trigger and I headshot one of the guys to my left. Then I cross my arms and wait for the pain.

My armor will probably hold, probably.

So many powerful bullets at once might overcharge the cantorium’s ability to absorb damage, I have tested it like that before.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

I can only describe the sound of his LMG to sound like mechanized thunder. Maybe that’s not the most relatable simile but in person it would make sense.

As I wait for the pain time slows, as it does in moments like this where I know I’m about to be fucked up because I fucked up. I’m running this scenario through my head, how the hell did this giant get past me? There’s something extraordinarily wrong, there has to be.

SWOOSH!

PING! PING! PING!

You’ve got to be kidding me.

With a smile on her face, Espada moves faster than these speeding bullets, by the strain I saw on her face, I bet it’s the fastest she’s ever flown. She flies fast enough between me and the bullets that she has the time to plant her feet and pose with her hands on her hips.

Little much.

The bullets are crushed as they hit her invulnerable body, bouncing off of her like someone was throwing candy at her. I stay behind her.

When the bullets stop coming, she turns her head towards me with a shit-eating grin on her face, which I guess she earned.

I can eat my pride when I need to, she saved me there, maybe not from death but from pain and in a few seconds from having to go hand-to-hand to take down that monster.

I thank her with simple words, “Thanks,” I can be polite.

She’s surprised to say the least, I bet she expected something mean and cold. I have those in ample supply if she doesn’t do her job in the next second. The moment I move from behind her to aim my gun at the armor less lackeys, she remembers what’s at stake.

I squeeze the trigger but the bullet doesn’t get to him, she catches it. She tells me, “Nobody dies when I’m here.”

Is that a catchphrase?

Also, I can’t help but notice that the daughter of a Republican just caught a bullet meant for a criminal. Talk about ironic.

Then it’s like it was a few days ago, she uses that speed and flight of hers to fly in front of the bullets. For the first shooter she grabs the gun and slams her palm into his chest. Not full power since she won’t kill and it’s not me.

Still, she sends him through the wooden wall that’s supposed to separate tellers and normal people.

CRASH!

Not anymore.

For the big gun, she moves almost too fast for me to see. She uses her super speed to grab his arm and his gun as she bodychecks him, sending his insides for a loop, then flips him over her head to his back, through the ground. He’s going to be stuck there.

For the last guy, she looks at him with a shake of her head as he empties his clip into her. Her suit isn’t even scratched. When his clip is empty, he throws his gun at her, prompting an arch of both our brows. Her head recoils in confusion when he goes to punch her, so she lets him and I bet it hurt, like punching a wall.

Espada asks him with a shake of her head, “The bullets didn’t work, why would you think your fist would?!”

She grabs him by the mouth before he speaks to tell him, “It was rhetorical,” and throws him through the teller’s window like the other guy.

Espada turns back to me, and floats to me in the way she does. Now that all the thieves in this room are down, people come out of hiding to see two costumed vigilantes having a stare down. Oh, and the cops finally show up.

“What were you going to do to the big guy if I wasn’t here?” she asks, her arms crossed, a smirk taking over her grin as she even leans her head back at me, showing me her nose hairs.

“Stab him,” I say, as I pop out a knife and pop it back in as proof.

She tilts her head, a condescending and doubtful move all at once. “How were you going to throw a knife with all those holes in you?”

She really wants me to compliment her, doesn’t she?

“My armor would have held,” and to rub it in her face, I point out, “it held against you, remember?” By the way her brow narrows, I would bet that she remembers all too well.

As the police swarm us, they all have their guns raised, but also their eyelids. Let’s say it’s confusing to see Aegis City’s pride and joy in Espada, a non-lethal, government sponsored, rich kiss up, standing next to a psycho known for obliterating the mob and gangs throughout the city. I can understand the confusion.

I assure them that we’re playing nice by pushing her buttons, “Shouldn’t you be in school?”

She gives the police a nice smile as her eyes sway back to me and my smartass. With a dry mutter, she informs me, “I’m taking a gap year, I’m not in high school, you know. Then Director Knight called wanting me to look out for you, imagine how happy I am about that.” She waves to the cops and I turn my back to them to head towards the last thief in the vault.

She’s quick to tell the officers that we’ll handle it and catches up to me. I inform her there’s still one more, so let’s finish this up quick so I can leave before she starts giving out autographs.

“Hmph.” She makes the noise everyone makes when they don’t hear what they want.

The cops, of course, aren’t going to let a kid and a possible serial killer take the lead, so they follow, just not very close. Some of them do think I’m a serial killer, I’ve listened in to their radio stations. 

We walk to the back, I hop over the teller’s desk as she floats over, leaving the cops to walk around. I head into the hallway between the bank and the vault, and filter through my lens to see if there’s any smoke from a firearm. It’s good for now, but it’s possible the last man hasn’t left.

The vault is closed, and I turn on the infrared to look in the vault… and I see nothing. Did the last thief take the manager as a hostage, maybe he was accomplice? All possible.

I could spend the time trying to cut a hole or hack the number combination along with the eye scanner, but it’s much faster to ask Espada next to me.

I gesture towards the door with both hands. “Would you care to do the honors?” I ask her.

“Can’t do it yourself?” she taunts with that arrogant smirk on her face. It would be cute if it weren’t directed at me.

“I can if you want to wait half an hour,” I assure her, “but I figured the safety of the innocent was something of a priority for you.”

She sees my point and makes a groaning noise in the back of her throat as she floats to the ground. She plants her hands on the vault’s door and tells me to stand back. As I back away the cops finally make it and are understandably shocked by the girl tearing apart steel with her bare hands.

Superhumans have been public out for a few years now, but how long does it take you to mentally prepare for seeing one in person for the first time?

This one sticks her hands into steel like it were butter, and twists instead of just pulling. She’s trying to move the door without moving the whole vault. She knows something at least, which makes me wonder Claire thinks they need a guy like me? What people can be killed by a gun but can’t be taken down by this girl’s fist?

In second,s she’s ripped the door and the vault is open. I walk in before the cops, just as she bows and says, “After you…”

The vault isn’t all that high-tec, a collection of small safes and drawers holding people’s valuables that they don’t want to store at home. Most of the drawers opened up, but most are full. I turn on my x-ray vision to look for a drawer with fingerprints, and find them on one the thief closed back up.

As I look at it, I also see the manager in the middle of the room, lying on the ground with his eyes closed. I walk and squat next to him as Espada flies to his side.

I press my fingers to his neck and check for a pulse but she tells me, “I hear a heartbeat.” Guess I don’t need to check his pulse.

Then the cops swarm in and look around. Several want to come to the manager, but they’re hesitant to approach with me here.

Espada tries to order me, “Move so they can help him.”

I don’t, because, “Something doesn’t add up. Why wasn’t his body caught on infrared, and why aren’t any fingerprints showing up on any of my helmet sensors?” It’s a like a curtain has been pulled over the particles in this space, like with the armored thief.

Espada places her hands on her hips as she bends over in the air. She blames it on my helmet, “It’s probably broken.”

“No,” I mutter, not really caring if she’s listening, “there’s something going on in here.” Vision is affected, but not sound or smell maybe. Before Emily opens her mouth again, I order everyone to, “Stop moving and shut up!

All the cops freeze, too shocked to disregard me probably. Emily is flabbergasted, I can tell by the way she lets her jaw hang in surprise and disgust.

I listen and smell for something.

With my helmet reacting to my mental commands, it cuts out all noise in the room from the people it can visually see. The breathing, the moving, Emily’s complaining, and does the same for the smell of donuts, cologne, and perfume. If there is no one else in this room, I should go deaf and lose my sense of smell, any noise made from their movement should go unnoticed.

I still hear breathing.

I’m certain I hear breathing from the front corner, near the exit, trying to slip out from beside a tense cop.

I take out my handgun, it should both have four bullets left. I take aim right where the last scoundrel should be as I let my senses come back to me, just in time to hear Espada yell.

I shoot the bullet and she goes to catch it, but moving too close to the coward breaks the illusion. She catches the bullet right before it hits a wall close to the cop. She probably thought she was saving him from ricochet or bullet fragments, not the face materializing before her hand.

A man with a metal bird mask over his eyes, a top hat on his head, and a grey coat that goes down to his thighs, appears in time to draw everyone’s attention to him instead of me. What interests me is the gauntlet on his left hand, with a white ball on top and wiring connecting to his fingers with fingerprint markings over his finger pads.

He holds his hands up above his head as he was trying to squeeze through. The costumed thief complains, “Son of a bitch.”

He shoots his hand forward and the white ball flashes along with his fingertips, releasing this white light that my helmet immediately filters out. It’s like a solar flare that blinds everyone, letting him shove a cop to get out of the vault.

I run after him into the hall, and he makes a right towards the windows to avoid running into more cops. To keep track of him in case he pulls anymore tricks with his gauntlet, I switch out the clip in my gun for one with tracer bullets, not in the normal sense, my own with a homing beacon.

I take aim and shoot towards his back, that way he has a chance of surviving. I want to know about that gauntlet. I hear the thud that the bullets makes it to his vest and he stumbles to his knees.

He looks back as I’m closing the distance, and waves his hand, the light in front of his fingerprints changing to the colors of the rainbow, and an illusion appears before me.

The hallway seems longer, wider, and it’s moving before my eyes. He’s trying to make me sick and lose my balance, but I know that it’s an illusion, I won’t fall into the trap. If I can get close enough the illusion will shatter, I was two yards, maybe three.

I never slow and I run through the illusion, the corner of the hallway turning back to normal with painful straining combing over my eyes. I see him running down the hall and aim my gun again, but with the pain over my eyes I risk it and shoot.

I miss for the first time in a long time, and hit the ground in front of him to his left. He jumps and screams like a girl and turns around to see me now with my gun aimed right at him. I’ve changed my mind, if he doesn’t give up, I’m not going to question him if he tries to run. I’m just going to shoot him in the head and see the gauntlet for myself.

I give him one chance, “Get down on the ground, and I won’t kill you.”

“The hell?!” he yells as his hands just trace over his ears. “You should be puking in that stupid helmet!”

“My helmet’s stupid? You’re wearing a plague doctor mask with a glove and cheap magic tricks.” Here’s hoping to coax some information out of him. I know it isn’t magic.

Of course, such logic doesn’t dawn on him and he blabbers on. “Dickhead, it ain’t magic, and you don’t have the-”

BASH!

No, goddamn it, the damn girl wonder blasts through the wall behind the thief, fists on her hips, doing that stupid goddamn, media-corporate designed hero pose.

Espada grabs him by the coat, lifting him up off the floor, bringing them face to face, stupid dumbass.

I start running to her, to warn her, we don’t know the extent of his gauntlets abilities and she just ran right up to him. I call to her, “Put him down!

She looks at me like I’m the last person she’s going to listen to, until the thief slams the gauntlet into her face.

I take him and start popping off shots as the light goes off and consumes her face, but she flails around with him in her hand and takes most of my shots. The gauntlet clings to her face, vibrating with circles of light forming around it until she lets him go.

I check my clip and find that I only have the one in the chamber left. As I aim down my sights, she’s gone insane in the air, clutching her face and throwing her arms around. Before I even have a shot that I know won’t be wasted, she punches him out the window, a whole story down to the street.

She continues to freak out, looking all around her, I can’t tell if she’s seeing something or if she went blind. I call her name and she doesn’t respond as she kicks her feet as she floats, kicking holes in the floor and flying wildly.

As I stop, I realize that I have two choices, I can go after the thief with the gauntlet, or I can try to knock Espada out of whatever trance she’s in.

She keeps going, who knows what’ll happen, who knows what senses are messed up for her, but last time I checked, the innocent and anyone on Claire’s team aren’t my main objective, not even a necessarily high priority.

Knowing her power set though, she could level whole skyscrapers now that she’s out of control.

I’m closely approaching the point in my life where I need a stronger word than ‘fuck.’

She starts flying and twirling without any direction towards the sky, screaming and yelling nonsensically. As she barrels through the ceiling, I run and hop over the holes she made in the floor. I use a boost from my jetpack to go up and through the ceiling after her to the next floor.

I climb up and see her still barreling upwards, but now through the window. Seriously, ‘fuck me’ is not enough to describe my mind right now. I’m chasing after her and as she’s flying without reason, I jump out the window. I snap out my metal wings and push my jetpack to the max, my hand reaching out to her leg.

Let’s hope I make it.

ESPADA

What did he do to me?

What’s happening?

I don’t see anything, and yet I see too much. My eyesight keeps bouncing between what I can only guess is electric fields between matter, and the different spectrums of light constantly lighting up my eyes.

I don’t hear anything but the buzz and the zaps between electrons and molecules, there’s no concept of gravity anywhere. There’s the explosions that sound like bombs being dropped every nanosecond, hitting so often that my ears go numb as fast as they heal.

And I smell so many different things, if I live how can I find anything unrecognizable?

I can say that I taste air, that sounds insane, I can taste the difference between air polluted from a power plant, and the air that hits a modicum of purity. I don’t even taste the air I usually breath, what we breathe is a mix of pollution and purities, have I ever taken a breath of clean air?

The scariest thing is that I can’t feel anything. I don’t feel pain, touch, temperature, or gravity. I could be floating in the middle of the hallway looking like an idiot in front of that asshole or I could be flying towards the atmosphere, wrecking buildings.

Oh my god, what do I do?

I try to slap my head with both hands, but I can’t feel around for where my hands are.

I don’t even know if I’m crying on the outside like I am on the inside. I let that thief with that weird glove get away, who knows what he can do with that thing.

I get it now, that’s why the Hood didn’t even know he was there. He seemed surprised, unprepared, I mean how stupid would you have to be to walk in front of an LMG? He’s changed all of the senses until someone else breaks it by moving too close to him. I bet the Hood already figured that out.

If I get far away enough will I be freed? I don’t even know if I’m moving, or what I have to move away from, he blasted his light-magic-thing in my face!

Zap.

Aaaahhhh!” I scream, I can hear my own scream! I felt the pain of electricity flow through me as the world pulls back. My eyes, my ears, smell and taste, all my senses are pulling back, and I can feel the wind flowing.

My eyes pull back from the subatomic universe, I thought those were atoms. Light folds back into what I can see through, and my ears develop that ringing I had after the Hood hit me with that disk.

Hold on, I’m not flying on my own and I feel the wind, so I’m falling until I stop. I float who knows how high as the world comes back into view.

I begin to hear this roar move farther and farther away. I look around as the clouds and skyscrapers become clear below me, so I was definitely flying before. I look around and find a plane flying away from me, I would have hit that, I would have killedeveryone on it.

How did I stop?

I was hit by electricity, and that ringing in my ear is like the sonic disc, so, the Hood. Where is he? He’s falling.

I start searching for him, listen for him, listen for someone screaming. No, he wouldn’t scream, a buzz, the electric shock should vibrate in his armor even after he stops using it, just like when we fought. I listen, and then I have a hint of where he is.

I turn around as I follow the sound down until I see him, heading towards the ground fast. Shit.

I fly full speed ahead as he uses… I don’t know if I would call those wings, but they seem to be slowing his momentum, but not by much. He spent too much time in a nose dive, or just too much time in the air.

Flying straight down is something I don’t like doing. Depth perception becomes so unwieldy when it’s something as huge and flat as the ground. Yeah, I called the ground huge, I’m not thinking right now, I’m busy, leave me alone.

He’s trying to slow down but I see him give up, I see him wrap his arms together and await impact with the ground. No, goddamn it, and I fly faster than I know I should as I near the sound barrier, and I have to push my mind to operate as fast as my body.

I’m slowing down to catch him as my mind speeds up. I watch everything happen in slow motion as I come up on him. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he looked likes he was turning his head to look at me, but that’s physically impossible at this speed, unless he was already facing this direction.

Time moves slowly and I have to go about catching him carefully. If I catch him and just stop, the momentum will destroy his intestines. I’m not going to assume his suit is somehow magically able to compensate. This was one of my first lessons in using flight, I can’t just catch people, I have to be at the same momentum.

I’ve already slowed down close enough to his speed; I’m traveling a little faster as I begin to pass him. I grab him by his shoulder and another hand to his chest. I pull up to change direction and don’t slow him down just yet. We’re a couple stories up so I have the room to arch and fly up.

I stop thinking a million miles a minute and just do it. I have him, I fly fast, and I overshoot the downward arch and fly really close to the road. I turn him so my back skids across the ground, tearing it up.

My body rattles against the earth but I pull up before I hit any of the cars I’m flying between. I manage to fly up and above a taxi right before I clip its roof, though I’m sure I rattled every vehicle on the street.

As I start flying up and slowing down in ‘appropriate de-escalation,’ or whatever the eggheads called it, I feel hands lock onto my forearms. I look forward instead of up and the Hood is hanging onto me.

Once I’ve stopped our flight, I try to listen to his blood flow or his heart beat but I can’t sense anything in that suit of his. “Are you okay?” I ask him. Psycho or not, he saved me from killing a lot of people, and if someone was hurt because of me…

I hear him scoff and my worries are gone, even before he says, “You caught me, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know if I hit you,” I admit to him, I don’t know anything that happened for sure outside of that I flew and he hung on to me. “Did I almost hit that plane?”

He answers as I lower us down to the side of the building, a side rooftop, one that smells like a place people go to smoke on lunch breaks. “Yes, I had shocked you, but the sound discs didn’t work, and I’d rather not have a recreation of 9/11 with you smacking a plane into a skyscraper.” Was that supposed to be humorous or just highly inappropriate?

“I need to be caught up, what happened?” I ask him.

“What happened,” he repeats, clearly angered, which means I fucked up hard, “you flew right into that thief’s gauntlet after we knew he had illusionary abilities.”

Yeah, I fucked up. I look away from his helmet, I can feel the anger emitting from him like I can when my dad is mad. “Agh, I’m not… I’m not trying to get you to beat yourself up about it.”

 I turn my eyes back to him, and his neck is bent backwards over his shoulders, like I’m some little kid he’s got to take care of. He’s not my superior or anything… That’s not entirely true, he’s got experience, he figured out there was another guy hiding right under my nose, he figured out how to stop me from causing another national disaster. I guess I can see a little of what he can do that I can’t.

“Thanks,” I tell him, as unsure and defensive as him. I cross my arms, a way of defense, a sign I’m sure he can read to be a way of protection. “So, what now?”

“What now?” he asks back, moving out of my way, towards the edge of the railing. “I put a tracer on our thief. It got disconnected from my network, jamming technology but it’s still operational. I’m going to patrol until he leaves his safe zone, then he’s mine.”

He thinks he’s going to catch this guy without me. Fuck that, this guy fucked with me the wrong way, and if I can’t fix that, and… 

Well, now how the hell am I supposed to say that the Director is stupid and that we don’t need the Hood?

I fly in front of him to stop his exit. “I’m coming, I’m not going to make the same mistake again.”

“I’m just going to brood and beat up some mobsters, I’ll probably end up killing a few murders, you really want to join me as I do that?” he asks. It’s strange, it wasn’t the usual condescending tone he gave last time. this time it was like he was looking out for me, like I shouldn’t want to be around him.

I don’t, so he’s right in a way.

“We’re not killing, but yeah, I do.”

“You don’t have to prove anything,” he tells me.

“Don’t I?” I ask him. “I can’t exactly say that the team doesn’t need you if you’re doing my job.”

He shakes his head at me, and with a flexing of his arms he pops out his blade wings. “This isn’t a job, this isn’t a career, what you’re doing is a public service, and I’m not competing with you.”

“I-, I’m,” I’m caught off guard, I mean, it feels like he’s telling me to grow up without actually saying it. If we’re not competing then why didn’t he want to join us? If we’re not competing, working together for the greater good should have been the priority. I guess it’s possible that he thought we would be better off separate, but I can’t say I agree now that we needed each other today.

I guess, okay… one time does make a pattern.

“Why then,” I start to ask, “is it that you won’t join us? If this is a public service, why aren’t we working together like we did today? We helped each other.”

“You didn’t want to team up either, remember?” A dig that cuts deep, and it’s not baseless, I’m not crazy.

Fire starts behind his back; he has a jetpack?!

I have to make sure to tell Chester about… no I shouldn’t tell my little brother something that will make him think the Hood is cool

While I’m thinking a hundred miles per hour, he jumps over me and adds, “And what I’m doing isn’t a public service.”

What does he think he’s doing then if not some kind of twisted public service? Anti-heroes are supposed to be believers in their job more than others last time I checked, that’s the hallmark of superhero movies, right? Do… do I not pay attention enough to them?

As he glides off the building, I fly after him, or really fly under him to talk to him face to face. To say I spooked him wouldn’t be accurate it, but I surprised him and now I’ve made it hard for him to ignore me.

“You know you can’t stop me from following you, I want this thief as much as you do,” maybe even more, “and maybe I realized I made a mistake judging you.” He ignores me as he glides and I have to lower my altitude to keep from knocking into him. “If I’m willing to see that maybe I was wrong about us teaming up, why can’t you give me the chance to prove the same thing about me?”

He’s still ignoring me.

Okay, we can play the petty game. I don’t just lower my altitude; I wrap my arms around his waist and I fly straight down with him. He drops an f-bomb and I bring us down to the sidewalk, so now we have to talk.

People are shocked and separate from us. Most stare, but a couple make a U-turn away from the guy with a submachine gun on his back.

“Goddamn it,” he curses at me as he shoves me away, or really shoves himself away from me. I don’t move. I can tell I’m really pushing his buttons by taking choices out of his hands.

He shoves his finger in my face, which I only arch my brow at. Does he think a finger gun is going to hurt me? No, he’s going to yell at me.

“Did it ever occur to you that while you had some dickish reason for not wanting to work with me, I had a different reason for you?” If it wasn’t a matter of skill… what’s his problem then?

“Are you going to tell me? Mind reading is not one of my powers.”

My sarcasm prompts a low groan that could just as easily be a growl. He brings his hand to his helmet, and I wonder if he ever forgets that the helmet isn’t his face.

“I don’t doubt that you can clean up crime, but for me, it’s… it’s personal- no, that’s… that’s not the word… therapeutic? It doesn’t matter, it’s not your business.

That’s incredibly vague, which means I don’t have to prove anything to him, I just have to get him to like me. Doesn’t sound too hard.

“Okay, if it’s personal, we’ll just have to work to that place.”

The way he twists his head, it looks perpendicular to his neck. Looks like I’ve stumped him. “What?”

“Listen, I wasn’t all that nice when we first met, neither were you, now we fix that,” I tell him, failing to hide the devious smile on my face. “If your reasons are personal then the only way to find out is by being friends.”

“Wait, what? No, I literally said ‘personal’ was the wrong word.”

That’s when I grab his hand and fly up with him, not to fast, I don’t want to hurt him. “I know this ice cream place that should be open, and I kind of feel like chocolate!”

What I would give to know what he’s thinking right now, even if it is what my brain looks like outside of my body.

“What the hell is wrong with you?! I can drive, you don’t have to carry me!” is what I hear him yell as he clutches to my arm as I fly away with him.

DR. MAGICIAN

That was a fairly successful heist if there ever was one. I got the goods, I made a fool out of a bunch a superhuman wannabes, and I’m that much closer to getting this damn mask off my face.

Yes, my whole crew was killed, but I hired them the month before for this job, barely knew ‘em. Maybe I’ll send their families a gift card or something. Wait, I have to know their names to do that.

Maybe I am the asshole.

Eh, not my problem anymore. All I have left to do is drop off this swipe, and I’m free, I can drop this city and everything else.

I have to take the subway, but with my special gauntlet, which I like to call the Worldbender, I don’t have to worry about people thinking, ‘why the hell is that dude wearing a bird mask?’ It bends light to look exactly how I want it, or something like that, I didn’t make it, I just stole it.

It’s connected to my nervous system, a wire clipped into my skin that connects with my spine. Dangerous, yes, deadly, not as much as you would think. If someone rips the gauntlet off me, the plug between my spine and the Worldbender comes out like an earphone jack. I get thrown for a loop, but I’ll live.

Now one might wonder, if I can manipulate light, and space in general, why do I care about the bird mask. Now I ask you, do you really want your face to be covered in a bird mask all your life, bird or not? I didn’t think so.

Without it though, I can’t see, bad side effect of messing with my Worldbender without the proper eyewear. It’s kind of like repeat episodes after taking LSD, or that’s what I’ve heard.

I’ve never actually taken that, just repeating what I heard in health class.

That’s all beside the point. I’m in the subway, a few people around, it’s during work hours, there are reasons this time was chosen, there won’t be a lot of witnesses, we all get it. My train should be coming… now.

Is it correct to call a subway cart a train? Eh.

Mine comes and people exit, I get on, the whole shebang. Once I’m on, I notice that a lot of people are still here. Well, they fall unconscious once the train starts moving. Gotta love sci-fi technology I am in no way capable of understanding.

The train somehow, feels like it stopped moving, but I’m not thrown across the floor so it’s a win.

“Mr. Settleborn, I assume you brought what was asked of you,” I hear from the definition of a femme fatale. To my left, the right hand of evil, forefront of the Savaage, Hundress Dawn.

Who names their kid Hundress? Probably foreign.

She doesn’t look foreign though as the portal opens up in the middle of the train cart. I see her with her raven black hair, which means real black. Her locks are blue when the lights hit them.

She walks in, six-inch heels or whatever, red like her dress. It’s tight, but not too tight. Like it’s got folds, but not a lot.

My eyes start from where the dress ends above her knees, and slowly work up. I’m wearing a mask, she can’t see me-

She totally sees me. The perfectly done eyebrow over those black, soulless holes she calls eyes, are judging me to no end. My old pal who referred her to me talked about how her red lips drew in his looks, not me, her eyes have me locked. They fucking scare the shit out of me because they look robotic, like a robot pretending to be a person.

This doesn’t seem like the time for me to creep, I take out the satchel, not a purse, from under my coat and fish for the goods. I take out the rock, or metal, whatever it is I took from what safe they told me to.

I walk over to her and hand it over. She takes it from me and inspects it.

“Very good, Mr. Settleborn, this will make Ion most happy,” Hundress drones.

Even when she’s content she sounds like an android, so maybe that explains her mass production looks?

Of course, that being said, even though this woman literally popped out of a whole in the universe and scares the shit out of me, I gotta correct her.

“I aim to please with my work, though,” and I point my finger towards her, and her black holes flicker towards me, making me pause, “um, it’s uh, it’s not, Mr. Settleborn, I think it says-, I, I like to go by a different name.”

“You mean Evan?” she asks, her eyebrow arching with it.

I feel like she just shot me. Okay, not at all like that, but the put down was so subtle, I wanna give her respect, but I also want to curl up in a ball before she eats me.

I bring my hand to my top hat, and I scratch between it and my skull. “Actually,” I begin to explain, “I prefer to go by Dr. Magician, a moniker of sorts.”

Her eyes scan me, and proving herself a member of the Savaage with the recommendation, “Wouldn’t Plague Doctor make more sense?” That does make more sense, and its sounds way better.

But this is my bed and I will die in it.

“I still prefer Dr. Magician.”

She does a mock laugh, a sign of happiness completely and purposely fake. Sadly, it’s probably the only real emote she’s experienced all night. She turns her back to me, this open back dress of hers makes me wanna say that there’s some badass dragon tattoo on her back straight out of an 80s action movie, but there isn’t.

There is a barcode though, right over her spine. I’m not digging into that.

She steps through the portal, and I’m realizing something, I didn’t get paid. Before I can even bring it up, she invites me in. “Come, Ion wants to meet you.”

That’s a good name, why couldn’t I have picked that?

The Illusionist would have better one too. Magic-mike, the Illusionary, BAMF, all better names. Why did I not think of this before?

“Are you coming?” Hundress repeats, her hands not exactly gesturing me in. Something tells me she would love for me to say no, but I want money and I can’t leave without it, literally I got bills that I forgot to pay.

Sure,” I tell her, as I slowly inch towards the portal, and I can see the eye roll as she walks away from me. I take my time to go in, least favorite hand first, followed by my favorite foot. I don’t know why I like my left foot, I just do

By the time I get in, I’ve gotten an eye full of this place. A wide table, with many chairs, and one big one on the other side of the room. Gee, I wonder who sits in that one.

Dr. Magician, I’m so glad you could join us,” a voice of energy says behind me, as hands of energy fall on my shoulders and I feel the molecules shift throughout my body. That’s the best science I got, and I’m sure it’s wrong but who cares.

Point is, that fuzzy feeling a person gets around their head, that nice coaxing feeling, if it gets too strong it doesn’t feel so good, and it does not feel good anywhere but behind the head.

The hands are glowing, sort of, they vibrate with light and electricity. I have no idea what it’s made of, but it has a blue hue, with the edges being a vibrating mix of colors. I bet that’s something to do with light, I remember that little tidbit from chemistry, or was it physics?

Still the hands move as the man, or being comes into view. In an admittedly dashing three-piece suit with proper and prim cufflinks, a man of energy greets me with no face.

Literally, he’s a human shape of energy. If only I was a ten years younger, this would be cool and not terrifying.

At nine feet tall, he looks like something out of a creepy pasta, but I can’t find one that offers to shake my hand.

He introduces himself, “I’m Ion, I’m so very pleased to make your acquaintance, I don’t get many visitors so,” with a circular motion of his fingers over my clothes, “eccentric.

Well, at least he’s polite.

“Yes, uh, thank you, I do my best.” Why the hell did I say that? My codename is Dr. Magician, I’m not doing my best!

The man of energy turns his back to me, commenting under his breath, if he even breathes, “It works for you.” Now that didn’t sound sincere, but I’ll pretend it was. Ion walks over to Hundress, and she offers the rock to him. “Oh, this is exactly what I wanted,” he moans, he points to me and wags his finger, “give him the money, this is perfect.

“It’ll be transferred right now,” Hundress informs him, now standing at attention. That seems unnecessary, Ion seems pretty chill right now.

Give him the others pay too, I got a kick out of watching the new kids fly around the city. If only she hit that plane.

Ion slams the rock on the large roundtable, “Pure cantorium, not mixed in with any other crap, it’s the metal of the angels… and daemons.” He leaves it and holds his hand over it. He turns his head to me, but I don’t know where to look on that faceless face, he’s smooth remember?

He waves me over as he asks me, “Do you want to see something cool?

Did he just-? What the hell, if he were going to kill me he would have done it, right? Right?

It’s like he read my mind, and taps the closest chair to him, curling his fingers like a child about to snatch a sweet. I move to the seat next to him, and his height seems scarier sitting down, as if that were possible.

When I sit, I trade looks with Hundress, or more like she looks through me, and the threat is real.

Ion’s fingers grow longer over the rock, and bolts begin to crackle in the small space between his hand and the rock. The bolts don’t touch anything but air though, so who knows how that works.

Ion spreads out his fingers, and like that, the rock he called cantorium melts, and looks flat. On instinct I go, “Wow.

Amazing, isn’t it?” Ion chimes, I can hear the glee. I’m glad he’s happy, that’s good for everybody.

Ion’s fingers reach over the rock and plunge into the table. In an even more impressive show, the table begins to light up. The surface specifically lights up and looks exactly like his skin, and when the light fades, it’s a shiny gold color. That’s nice, he made the table a nice color.

Wait, no! He made the table gold!

Do you see that?” he asks, his head now in licking distance to mine. I almost touched the nose of my mask to his face when I turned my head.

His finger is there and it flashes-

ACK!

Answer this question for me, Evan Settleborn, did you give us all of the cantorium you found in the vault?

“I gave you everything.”

Good, Hundress, the cantorium works with the mind as I thought.

My eyesight comes into vision, and I don’t remember what happened. What the fuck is wrong with me? I look at the Worldbender? Is it fucking with my head? Great, another thing for me to worry about.

I look back up, and I see that Ion’s face is right in front of mine. “Right now,” he begins to tell me,“you’re gold, in an instant I can turn any of your coal into gold for you too, doctor. Or I could turn you into coal, if that’s what you want instead, I can use coal.

I stare up at him, looking for some kind of sign of a response, but without a face, his expression is baseless. There’s nothing in his face. I can’t help it, my fingers shake on my hand, I try to not shake with my whole body, that seems like a bad idea.

I assure him, “There’s nothing I want more, sir.”

Good,” he states, his voice sounding like Hundress’s. The old Ion was back and he claps his hands, “I’m so glad we could do business, please have a safe trip back, maybe buyback Sharon,” and with a word my spine is frozen as he names my ex-wife.

He leans down to take my hand, and shakes it.

He covers the side of his face with his hand, blocking the sound so it seems like Hundress can’t hear, and whispers, “I hear women like being bought diamonds more than seeing where they’re from.

Who is this guy?

Before another word can be said, somehow, I’m walking back to the portal with his hand on my back.

He pats it like I’m an old friend.

With a wag of his finger, “You know, there needs to be more people like you in the world, people who survive by sheer will and intelligence. Not many humans are like that. For some reason nature has decided to make it harder for people like you, and for that I am truly sorry.” What does he mean nature has made it harder? Is he talking about the wannabe heroes? It’s strange to say that nature did it, there’s nothing natural about a girl who can fly.

I try to project confidence, and he seems to like that. I shrug and assure him, “Eh, the new superhumans aren’t a problem, they weren’t today, they won’t be tomorrow.”

It makes me so happy to hear you say that. Right now, as plans are coming together, the end ahead of us is only the beginning of something greater. We can’t have people falling to the wayside along the way.

Ion tells me all this as if I’m a part of his grand master plan as he gestures me through the portal. I go through it at his behest, wondering why I would ever have to see him again. I notice that the subway is still not moving, the people are still unconscious, and Ion is still staring at me.

He’s bent over to lean his head in to look at me. “Have a lovely day,” is how he says goodbye, along with a childlike wave.

The portal closes, and the train begins moving again. The people begin to rouse and I use the Worldbender to stay hidden.

Jesus Christ, what the hell was that?

DR. MAGICIAN

Now that I’m far and away from the wack pack, I can actually enjoy myself, and life as a millionaire. This time I will not gamble it away, I will use it with dignity and intelligence, which is code for I’m probably going to blow most of it away all at once.

First, eye surgery, then keeping it on the down low. It’s expensive, but it will be worth it. That’s a much better reason to go broke than a casino.

It’s gotten pretty late in Aegis City, with the north half looking rather intimidating at night, with all the gothic buildings and their gargoyles. Cannot say that I will miss this place.

I do appreciate the ways this city stays old… I can just walk past the stores not worth robbing. There’s this store with TVs against the glass like when I was younger and didn’t shop at Best Buy.

Of course, there are bars that keep others from getting in even if they break the glass, but I have to say its kind of lazy to not put the merchandise away. All a thief would need is a good laser to cut through the bars and the glass. Nowadays that’s not that hard to get.

“Looking at your next payday?” a familiar male prick taunts.

I turn around, but I don’t see anyone, not even on the other side of the street. Who said that all ominously?

“Kind of lowkey to rob a place that sells TVs after robbing a bank,” a familiar female prick taunts.

This time I realize the voice is coming from above. I look up, and curse, “Oh fuck me.”

“Not on your life,” the little schoolgirl jabs at me.

Her cape flaps as she floats a story above me, the Hood sitting on a window sill, watching me with a helmet that rivals Ion in the ‘I-don’t-want-anyone-to-know-what-I’m-thinking’ department.

“I know I said you can take him to the police,” the Hood starts, I don’t like the way this sentence is starting, “but I would appreciate it if I could have a moment.”

Espada looks at him, then looks up. “I’m not looking.”

Oh shit. Shit, shit, shitty shit.

I raise the Worldbender towards them, triggering it as I yell, “That was your mist- Aaah!

Something just stabbed into my arm! Oh, it’s a knife, that makes sense, I look back up and I’m knocked down to my back, with a hand at my throat. I look up into the black mask of the Hood, and I can think of one thing.

Why did I attract all the scary people today?

“I’m going to enjoy this,” the Hood says, and I look past him to see Espada floating away.

I’m not going to enjoy this.

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