We exited the building to a sea of cheers, even though what had once been one of the main buildings owned by Park Manufacturers was now burning to the ground. Fire control teams were arriving now, and doing their best to the control the fire that Atlantis and Tempest had been unable to. Honestly, I hadn’t been expecting them to either. I had just wanted to get everyone out. Tempest floated into the air, trying to get a vantage point through the crowd, but all it really did was make them cheer. A group of reporters ran in front of the police line, and walked straight up to me.
“You’re Skyfire, right? You’re in charge of this group?” The woman holding the microphone asked.
“Yes,” I replied. She seemed stunned by my voice, I guess I was going to have to get used to that.
“Who are you?” She asked. If she could see my face, she would’ve seen a massive grin. As quickly as I could, I pointed out each member of the team, and gave them the names that the public would know them by.
“We’re heading out!” I said to my team, and we walked down into the crowd of people, and towards wherever it was Tempest had landed the drop-ship, which I only now realized I didn’t know.
The next morning felt like the happiest morning in our corner of the Sandman since, well, ever. There was no ill will when I walked into the diner for breakfast, Penelope, Alan and Iris all sat down with me to talk about what we had done yesterday. Penelope was beaming as she regaled how she’d fought off Pyrus on her own, as I’d taken on the brute. Apparently, the guy really had been as good as he had claimed to be with fire, and had given her quite a hard time. She seemed to believe that she’d won because the guy was a cocky prick, and had been too full of himself to realize when he was losing. From what I’d seen of him, she wasn’t wrong, but it was still a little scary that she could hit me as hard as he had, or perhaps harder. What was more interesting though, was that we now had a glimpse into Kronos’ power. She called it psychokinesis, or rather, Walter did. Apparently it was a combination of psychokinesis and telekinesis, which basically boiled down to the idea of her punching with her mind only. It was an interesting and incredibly confusing concept, and she had thankfully refrained from attempting to explain it. We had seen it in action, and that was good enough. Something still irked me though. That brute that we had fought seemed far and away more powerful than any of the others we had fought. Either Streamline was kicking it up a notch, or he had been restraining himself before now. I don’t know which was worse, but it meant that whatever his gang had taken, he’d wanted it badly.
“Mr Schmidt!” Lake exclaimed as the door slid open. I turned around to see the General, standing in the doorway. He had a smile on his face, so obviously, we’d done something right.
“Hello. Nice job yesterday. Sorry I couldn’t congratulate you when you got back, but I think you’ll understand that I had a lot of phone calls,” He grinned, and took a seat next to us.
“So Edward. You know what I think, but how do you think you did?” He sounded annoyingly like one of my old teachers. Mr Green was the worst.
“We did the best we could. Couldn’t stop a robbery, or stop the building from burning down, but we saved lives. That’s what’s important,” He smiled as I spoke.
“Well said kid. All of you should spend the rest of our time leading up to the thirtieth training,” He got up and left.
Once I was finished eating, I followed Walter’s lead, and headed out of the diner, and went to go back to my room to change into something more suitable to work out in, but instead, I was stopped in the hall by May. She grabbed onto my hand, and dragged me into the Doughnut, and locked the door behind her. She shoved me, and made me trip over the back of the inset couch. I barely managed to catch myself before I hit my head on the coffee table. I pushed off of the ground, and sat down on the couch instead of in an awkward position between it and the table. May jumped over it, and sat down next to me. Something was definitely up.
“Why the hell did you do that? Why did you let that thing drop you?” She asked. It had been quite the stunt, and barely surviving it wasn’t exactly the plan. I would much rather have survived that without having to let that thing drop me out a goddamn window.
“Sorry. Did I scare you?” I teased, and she blushed. Well, that wasn’t a good thing.
“So what if it did?” she asked.
“Nothing. Look, I didn’t want it to drop me. I guess I just thought, better me than anyone else. Like, at least I had a chance at survival,” I tried to smile, but really, it had been terrifying. I really had hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but the fight had been going downhill, and it was the only solution I could think of in the moment.
“So why’d you do it?” She asked.
“Riley got one good punch in on that thing, and that was it. She was basically hitting it with static. It doesn’t even matter how strong the electrical resistance of that thing’s skin was, it wouldn’t have hurt anyone,” May looked at me, considerably confused.
“Our brains do calculations as we shoot, regulating the electricity we send out. Say, we want to knock our opponent out, so, our power looks at all of the variables, and puts out an electrical current that will do that. I don’t know specific numbers for each shock, but I can say that Riley was doing nowhere near enough. Something was getting in the way of the calculations, and reducing how powerfully she was hitting it, and that’s a massive problem,” May still seemed confused.
“Okay. I can hit around twice as hard as I would need too to kill a normal human. Scary, but something I doubt will ever happen. Riley can hit two to three times harder than I can. It’s basically like if I punched you, I could break your ribs. If she hit you, she’d punch a hole through your chest,” She looked stunned.
“Holy shit,” She said.
“Yeah. I was pushing my limits in that fight. Only time I’ve ever hit harder was with that lightning bolt, which was arguably more dangerous than being dropped, by the way,” she punched me in the shoulder.
“Should I talk to her?” May asked.
“I’d better do it actually. I wouldn’t want to talk about someone behind their back,” I said, standing up to leave. I jumped over the couch, and walked out the door. May still had more to say, obviously, but I doubted it was something I could help with. There were some things I just couldn’t figure out, so I went to grab a group and train. I doubted that would be too hard.
I was wrong, it was a pain in the ass. Eventually, I had managed to get Riley, Iris and Lake to agree to come with me, but Riley and Lake hadn’t been too excited about meeting our friends, and had actively argued against it. Lake had, astonishingly, found a way to take a jab at me through the conversation, but once I had fully explained the lie I was using, they reluctantly agreed. Iris had called Chelsea beforehand, asking them to meet us in the same park they’d told us about their powers in, and to be ready for a work out. As we walked over the hill, I could see them. The girls were stretching, while Gordon was simply watching. Dude was weird. I ran up ahead of the group, grabbing Gordon’s attention.
“Edward! Whoa, dude. That doesn’t look like something you’re going to exercise in,” He said. That was true, I was wearing pretty casual clothes, but so was the rest of the team.
“True. But I’m not going to be exercising,” I said. Chelsea and Anna walked over to me, confused.
“So what then?” Anna asked. I turned around, and saw Iris leading Riley away to a place they could change into something to work out in, and Lake walked over to me.
“So these are your friends then, Stickman?” he asked.
“Yes. Gordon, Chelsea, Anna, meet Lake,” He smiled awkwardly. He really didn’t want to be here. Gordon was looking him over. Lake was surprisingly fit compared to him, and a little intimidating. He was the type of guy who looked like he could kick your ass on a whim. He probably could, too.
It took about five minutes of silence for Riley and Iris to come back, and when they did, we could finally get started.
“Okay, Riley. Come over here,” I said, standing in front of the gathering. She stood opposite me, and I took up a fighting stance. She followed suit, and Gordon looked at me, realizing what was about to happen.
“When you’re ready,” I said. After a quick pause, Riley grinned, and took a swing at me. I bobbed out of the way, grabbing her arm and tossing her into the ground. She rolled onto her back, kicking my legs out from under me as she did. I fell onto my arms, and she stood above me, waiting for me to get back up. At this point, a brute would’ve kicked me like a ball. I stood up, and took up my fighting stance again, but this time, we’d switched positions.
“Nice job,” I said. I hadn’t broken a sweat yet. I took a swing, feigning a punch at her head and instead jabbed at her stomach. She groaned as my fist made impact, and grabbed onto my arm, spinning me around to pin it to my back. She held on with an iron grip. A little static shock jumped from my arm to hers, and she recoiled backwards.
“What was that?” She asked.
“Static, I guess,” I said, rubbing my own arm. I was pretending of course, but hopefully they’d all figure out what I’d done. I could trust deception to help me win this, Riley wouldn’t use her powers, even if nobody else would notice it. She was nervous, and I could see her starting to sweat. Her breathing was sharp and ragged, and although her heart rate would be up, it wasn’t adrenaline that was fueling her. Practice fights against her had gone this way a lot back in the early days, but when she was comfortable, she was virtually unbeatable. That is, if we were using powers. An impeccable warrior too scared to go out to battle. That was a problem no-one had been able to solve. Riley took a swing at me again, narrowly missing my head as I ducked out of the way, and taking another punch to the stomach. I swept her legs out from under her, and she almost landed on her face, that is, before I caught her. I didn’t want her getting too beat up, or May would have my head. She pulled on my arm, and got onto her feet, launching a knee into my stomach. I stumbled backwards from the force of the hit. She grinned, throwing another punch at me. She was getting more comfortable, but she was still beatable without her powers. She hit me in the chest, and followed through with a kick at my face. She missed, and threw herself off balance. I kicked the one leg that was still on the ground as she came around from the kick, and knocked her back down into the grass. She got back up once again, panting, and threw another volley of punches at me. I carefully backed out of the way of each of her swings, stepping back just enough for her to come close, which only made her swing harder. Sparks flew around one of her swings as it came all too close to my face. Perhaps she was getting too comfortable. I threw a punch into her jaw, pulling it enough to make sure I wouldn’t hurt her, just interrupt her focus. She was struggling for breath as she recoiled. She’d over exerted herself, and she was tired.
“You good?” I asked her, and she smiled, throwing another punch at me. It was slow, and I easily caught it in my hand. I twisted her arm around, and pinned her arm behind her back, like she’d done to me earlier. She punched my stomach weakly with her one free arm, before stopping.
“Okay. You need to rest,” I said to Riley, and she sat down. That should have taken much longer, and I was holding back. Without May around, though, a knockout punch could be fatal.
“If you want to, we can teach you how to fight like that, in, let’s say two weeks,” The majority of the fighting style we used was thinking faster than your opponent and perfecting the basics. Throw your powers into the mix, and it led to some really interesting fights. Lake had once dowsed me in water so that I couldn’t use my powers without hurting myself, and forced me to fight against high pressure streams of water with only my fists. That had not been fun. I think it had probably ended in a stalemate, when we both knocked each other out. Gordon stood up, and moved to oppose me. He raised one hand, and grinned at me. Oh yeah, he’d taken self-defence classes before school had gone mad. From what I’d heard, he’d been pretty good too. But I doubted he was as good as any of us.
“So, are we going to make this interesting?” He asked. I tossed my jacket to the side, and it landed on the bench with a slight thunk as my concealed pistol made impact. I pretended not to notice, and instead took up a fighting stance.
Gordon began with a kick. It was a smart move for him, because even though he may not know it, most of my opponents began with a punch. His foot smashed into my ribs, and he knocked me onto my back. I rolled out of the way of a foot coming down onto my chest. I rolled onto my stomach so that I could push off of the ground with my arms, and spun my legs into his when I was on all fours. I made him stumble, giving me the brief amount of time I needed to get back on my feet. I launched a punch into his chest, causing him to stumble back even further, and we began exchanging blows. I tried my best to bob out of the way of his punches, but every now and then he’d get a glancing blow off on me. I could do this until he tired himself out, but instead, I hurled another massive punch into his chest, knocking him onto the ground. I let him get up, and punch me in the chest. As opposed to his previous kick, his punch barely shook me, in fact, it seemed to hurt him.
“Okay. Guess I have to be a little more interesting,” His body turned grey, and suddenly dissipated into smoke. His fist made impact with the back of my head, and I launched my elbow back into his stomach, only to have it collide with smoke. He appeared in front of me once again, and hit me with an uppercut. He swung around to kick me in the face, but I managed to duck out of the way. Smoke rose over my head again as his foot slammed into my back, and sent me stumbling forwards. He wanted interesting, so I’d give him interesting. I quickly scanned the nearby area, and as usual it was abandoned. Nobody but us wanted to be this close to the ashes. I charged my fists, and rammed them both into the center of is chest He fell onto the ground, and I moved to grab his hand as he fell.
Annoyingly, he was laughing.
“Whoa. I guess that’s what I get for cheating,” He said. He shook his head rapidly, trying to shake the feeling of electricity coursing through his body.
“What just happened?” Lake asked, getting him a laugh out of Anna. He looked dumbfounded, and so did Riley, she was just too nervous to say anything.
“I think we’ll call you Blink,” I said, and Gordon grinned. He was a bit of a nerd, and that was a term I’d picked up hearing him talk about video games. I wasn’t really one to talk though, that was more normal than some of the sciences I’d delved into. Lake was still astonished at my complete and utter lack of surprise and my friend’s sudden teleportation, and was now moving his gaze to the other two girls, trying to figure out just who I was associated with. I wasn’t surprised that he was shocked, I was more surprised at how suddenly Gordon had chosen to make a show of his powers. He wasn’t typically one to show off, that was more Chelsea’s and my area, even though I managed it with a great deal less grace. Gordon sat down with the ladies, and looked at me, eager for an explanation. I didn’t really understand how to handle the situation now, because, well, what was I meant to say? I couldn’t say anything about my teammates without getting on Walter’s bad side, and I couldn’t exactly explain why Gordon was comfortable using his powers around me without, again, getting on Walter’s bad side.
“Keep that a secret, please. Walter’s going to be ticked off no matter what I do, so I’d rather put that off for a little while,” Lake nodded, fully understanding what it was like to have Walter angry at him, but Riley seemed a little more reluctant. I didn’t expect her to blab about it, but I also doubted she’d keep a secret if Walter pressured her. But that was Riley in a nutshell- excellent in practice, bad under pressure. All we could really do is hope.
“Right then let’s split up. Riley, Iris, Lake, you three take the girls,” I motioned to Chelsea and Anna, who smiled as they walked over to Riley. They were keenly aware of her nerves, because Riley didn’t do a very good job of hiding them.
“And what about us?” Gordon asked, as the girls and Lake walked off. He must’ve had a feeling something was up, because the bright red glow that had filled his face while he’d been showing off had finally disappeared. Showing off, yeah, that was definitely the right term.
“We’re going to wait and watch,” I said. A sly grin crept across his face. Not the best choice of words then.
“Look, you can ogle Chelsea as much as you like. I’m more worried about the big guy over there,” I pointed over to a tall muscular man, sitting on a park bench near a small build-up of bricks, probably a park barbecue or something. I’d noticed him take quick glances at us as we’d fought, and now he’d probably have an idea about Gordon. The likelihood was he would have no clue who Gordon was, and thankfully this place didn’t have any form of security cameras. Other than the big guy, there was no way to tell who we were, or what we were doing. So now, the beast approach was just to watch him, and if he moved, I’d wander off.
And Skyfire would come back.
That plan would make it pretty obvious that my friends were associated with me if anyone else saw, and if he was part of Streamline, well, we’d be screwed unless he turned into a brute. I still had no clue about how Streamline’s connection with them worked, but it was scary to think that he’d gladly kill one of his own men for that burst of fighting prowess. I caught him taking a glimpse at us again, and focused myself on striking up a false conversation with Gordon, who was gladly following along with my plan. I pulled my previously discarded coat onto my legs, and brought my backpack up next to me. We looked over at the girls, who were carefully sparring against one another, while Lake walked around, showing them better form, and how to properly place their punches. It was mediocre kickboxing, nothing that would get them into a competition or anything professional yet, but it was enough to get us through fights so far, and basic enough for us to get creative with our own abilities. Gordon shifted awkwardly as he watched Lake shift Chelsea into a better fighting stance. Man that guy was obvious. I had a funny feeling Chelsea knew how he felt, but then again, I wasn’t exactly adept in that field.
“He’s getting up,” Gordon said. I didn’t move to look at the man we’d been watching. Standing showed how much bigger he was then I’d anticipated, and I made the connection all too late. He was slow, lumbering towards the girls whose fighting had already seen a significant improvement, and his footsteps hit the ground like boulders. This was definitely a brute, and boy was I getting sick of these guys.
“Get us up behind him,” I said, and Gordon looked at me with wide-eyed confusion. I’d wanted to avoid showing this guy our powers yes, but if we could beat him before he saw anything else, that wouldn’t exactly matter.
“I don’t know if I can,” He said. Right. Better not take that risk then. I stood up, hoisting on my coat and backpack, and extending a hand to Gordon. I pulled him up off of the bench, and together, we walked towards the rest of our group. No-one noticed us as we walked towards them, our footsteps were quiet on the grass compared to the pounding of fists echoing around them. They probably would notice the brute if he got close enough, but I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“There’s a man coming towards us,” I said, startling them all. Riley stumbled out of a kick, and landed on her face. She wasn’t the most graceful person. Iris looked over at the man who was still slowly lumbering forwards, and her displeasure was made apparent instantly. This was not your typical man.
“Rather brutish, wouldn’t you say?” Lake shot to attention hearing that. I was quite glad my name for them had spread, and I could tell that the three of us were instantly analyzing this guy, and comparing him to the other brutes we’d fought. Compared to them, this guy was scrawny. About six feet tall, absolutely ripped and wearing an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt. His face looked pretty normal too, except for the bulging veins on his neck and forehead, and his oddly absent eyebrows. I needed to think of a way to beat him quickly.
“Lake, don’t let him see you, or we’re screwed,” Lake nodded, and turned away from the brute, pretending to be heading off to get a drink or something. The brute paid no attention to me, and its eyes were fixated on Iris. I walked forward to meet it as it lumbered closer, and I got a much better comparison of it. It looked like Nick, the first time I’d kicked his teeth in.
“Excuse me sir, but is there a problem?” I asked it. To Streamline, if he was in control, we seemed like an odd group of teens too close to the ashes, if he wasn’t, the brute probably thought us just as odd.
“What?” It struggled. Its breath smelled of rot. I checked my power to see how much electricity I’d need to pump into it to knock it out, and it turned out to be surprisingly little. I needed a way to be a little surer that this guy was a brute though.
“I was wondering why you’re coming over here, or are we just in your way?” He punched me, knocking me onto my back and sending me rolling down the hill. I heard someone shout my name as I fell, but now I had the confirmation I needed. I pushed up, and blasted lightning out of my hands and into the brute, and a grotesque groan escaped its mouth as it suddenly fell to the ground, smoking. I walked up, and quickly checked the now unconscious brute over, and watched as Streamline’s power left its body. The brute shrank down into a normal man, spare muscle moving out of their mouth and onto the ground as the sudden build-up of flesh tried to escape their body. It was a nasty sight, and terrifyingly unexpected. Chelsea was mortified at the sight of the man on the ground, and keeled over from the sheer need to vomit, I presume.
“What the fuck did you do!?” Anna screamed, I guess it did look bad if you didn’t know about the brutes.
“Calm down, Anna. He didn’t do anything like what you’re thinking,” Iris said, standing up. This wasn’t how I’d expected today to go.
“Then what the fuck just happened?” Gordon asked. I didn’t blame him, but it still hurt just a little that he thought I would outright murder the poor guy. He probably had been bullied into Streamline’s gang in the first place.
“I knocked him out. He was a brute, or rather it was. The moment he was turned into a brute, he was doomed. There’s a superhuman in the ashes who does that to people, he makes them incredibly strong and tough, almost invincible, but with a few limits. Once the brute is knocked out, the power leaves their body, and they die. Should the superhuman who gave them their power choose they no-longer deserve it or need it, the power leaves them, and they die. If too much time passes, the body is overwhelmed by the power, and they die,” That last one I hadn’t really seen apart from on the night we’d actually fought Streamline, but I still wasn’t one hundred percent sure that was exactly what I’d seen. It could have been Streamline choosing to remove the power, for instance, and it also didn’t explain Nick, but they didn’t need to my doubts about the information I was giving them. For now it was enough for them to just know that when Streamline’s power was removed from the Brute’s body, they would die. It was a pretty grim reality, and it didn’t help the trio’s mood.
“I think we should call it quits for today,” I said. Gordon nodded, moving to help Chelsea and Anna, and Lake strolled back over to us. Discretely, Iris moved the brute’s body into the Ashes, and the four of us headed off, as pain began to grow in my chest where the brute had landed its monstrous punch on me.