Author's Note: The sudden inclusion of Trixie the cat came about because during this time I was writing the "Warren vs" comedy one-shots. Take a look at "Warren vs. the cats" and "Warren vs. Trixie" for the full impact.
“So, to avoid getting yelled at by Boomer, are we actually going to make an appointment with the principal this time?” Layla was saying to Will.
“I think we better,” Ethan said, adjusting his glasses. “We don’t want to look like panicky kids.”
“But I don’t get why they didn’t think of this like… months ago or somethin’,” Zack said.
I probably should have been contributing to the conversation, considering how important this was for us in general and me personally, but I couldn’t even look in Zack’s direction without cracking up. I had started taking my cat Trixie with me to our study sessions, mostly because I was gone so much of the time otherwise (apparently my cat had abandonment issues, the less said about that, the better). Today she had chosen to sit with Zack, and right now it looked as if she had been hooked up to a Van der Graff generator. Every hair was standing on end, and she looked like nothing so much as a brown and black puffball.
“Maybe it was so obvious they just dismissed it. You know, like hiding in plain sight,” Magenta offered.
“That makes sense…” Will said, nodding. “They might have been overthinking it.”
There was a pause, and Magenta smacked me on the arm.
“You totally missed a good one there,” she accused. “Will… overthinking…”
“Sorry,” I said, and nodded over at Zack and Trixie.
“Aw…” Layla said, smiling, and reached out to pet her, getting a shock for her trouble.
“So, do we have any brilliant ideas on how to track down the Weaponsmaster? We have to do something about this, other than just telling Powers,” I asked.
“I was hoping you did,” Will said a little sheepishly.
“Look, all we know about the guy is that he has a home in Bern, some technopathic power, a list of supposed crimes as long as my arm, and is apparently retired. We’re a little far away to spy on him,” I pointed out.
“Well… how did, um, your grandfather get that information the first time? Couldn’t he do it again?” Will asked diffidently.
“He got it from a citizen, one of the Weaponmaster’s servants,” I told them, and everyone sighed in exasperation. Citizens were not supposed to get involved in superhero/supervillain conflicts, and there was no way we could ask one to spy for us. It would be monumentally dangerous and irresponsible, assuming we could even contact said citizen.
“Ok, ok, then maybe Principal Powers knows someone who can help us,” Will said reasonably. “And then we have to convince her that we can help too. I don’t want to be left out. I mean, she wasn’t going to tell us about Royal Pain’s academy until Coach Boomer overheard us.”
“I can think of a few people…” Ethan began, and then went off on a long lecture on various superheroes that could give us a hand. Despite the importance, I only gave him half an ear. We couldn’t personally ask any of them for help; most of us were minors. I had my hero’s license, but I still hadn’t graduated. We didn’t have anything in the way of legal authority to request help from the Bureau or commandeer any resources, short of an immediate, world-shaking crisis. So all of this was pure speculation until we got Powers’ approval and help.
Ethan wound down eventually and we turned from speculative spying to our Superhero Geography homework. It sounded like a ridiculous class, but honestly, most supervillains choose large city centers or prominent power plants for their targets, and so we had to memorize the general street plans and blueprints for nearly two dozen major cities and facilities. More than one superhero had let a villain get away because they didn’t know about a nearby airport, subway, or sewer connection.
I was working with Magenta and Zack on the complicated roads of Paris, while Trixie helped by occasionally batting Zack’s pencil around.
“You seem really calm about all this,” Magenta commented to me, as Zack desperately tried to locate L’Arc de Triomphe on the map.
“What I am supposed to do? Go around panicking all the time?” I asked reasonably, trying to distract Trixie from moving Zack’s pushpins to different parts of the map.
“I dunno, I just somehow figured you’d be a lot more surly than usual,” she said, smirking. I rolled my eyes.
“If someone really wants to find me, they’ll find me. Just remember I’m expecting a spectacular rescue from the rest of you if that happens,” I said, watching Zack searching the entirely wrong side of the river. Trixie succeeded in moving at least two pushpins while he wasn’t looking, and now when he looked back at the things he was supposed to have marked off, he got the most confused look on his face.
“I just hope you don’t get taken to Paris, because we’re never going to find you!” Magenta said, focusing the last words at Zack.
“I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’!” he exclaimed. “Give me a hint?”
“Nope, you’re supposed to be able to do this on your own,” I said, suppressing a smirk as Trixie batted out another two pushpins.
“Ok, this is ridiculous. Zack should only have to deal with his own problems, not your cat’s too. Can’t you control her?” Magenta demanded.
“Impossible,” I said with a sigh.
“Fine, fine, I’ll take care of this,” she groused, and shifted. Trixie immediately lost interest in Zack’s map and climbed down to give the guinea pig a thorough bath.
Zack finally found L’Arc de Triomphe ten minutes later.
The next day we made Will go see Mrs. Erickson and make the appointment with Principal Powers. He was still a little intimidated by her, even though we were on really good terms with the principal. But he couldn’t be the leader if he wasn’t willing to do little things like, you know, lead.
“But I could, what’s the word? Delegate!” he had said triumphantly, when he was still hemming and hawing about it.
“Try it and I’ll make you look bad by ignoring you,” I warned him, and he gave it up. So it was shortly after school that we found ourselves in Powers’ office again, with Will, Ethan, and Zack explaining what we had figured out about the Weaponsmaster last night.
“It was one of those things that was so blindingly obvious that we dismissed it immediately,” Principal Powers said finally, sighing. Magenta smirked triumphantly. “But you’re right, it makes far too much sense.”
“So we do we do now?” Will asked, crossing his arms, looking a little belligerent.
“You think you know how this conversation is going to go, Mr. Stronghold?” she asked raising an eyebrow in a knowing way.
“Um…” Will trailed off, blushing.
“Let me see if I can guess. I’m supposed to say that we’ll take it from here. You ask how you can help. I say that you need to be concentrating on school right now. You remind me that these threats and rumors affect your team personally. I claim that it’s all under control. You point out that your group found out these connections in the first place, which puts you ahead of us in the game. I say we have more experience in this kind of thing. You protest, I pull rank and make you go back to class, and then you spend the rest of your non-existent free time trying to figure this out yourselves while simultaneously thinking I’m an idiot and hating my guts.” She said all of that in one breath, too, pretty impressive.
“Ah…” Will couldn’t even seem to come up with a counter for that. Neither could the rest of us, truth be told.
“Am I right?” she asked, and we all looked at each other dumbly.
“Do you know why I’m not going to do that?”
“…Nope,” Will said finally.
“You kids are smart. You’re special. You handled a very bad situation with a great deal of poise and skill, and handled it far better than some experienced heroes I know. What I ended up forcing you into has given you a professional rivalry before you’re even out of school. You might have resented me for that, or even hated me. But instead you’ve stepped up.
“The people at this school are following your example. I’m sure you’ve noticed how much better our senior groups have gotten since you started. And it’s not only because they were embarrassed to get defeated by sophomores, or realized how unprepared they really were. It’s also because they’ve seen how you’ve stepped up to the plate, and they’re eager to show they can do the same. All of you are doing an excellent job of leading, and I can’t thank you enough for that,” she explained.
Will was blushing; I think most of us were.
“Look, I can help with this, but I want to ask you to be patient. Even if the academy graduates their students in the spring like we do, I think they’re going to delay, to give people time to become complacent. We won’t let that happen, because we’re going to need every scrap of time we can get.
“Now, you’ve been hunting through Bureau records and doing everything you can on your end to help.” Principal Powers flicked her eyes over to me briefly when she said that, and I tried not to smirk.
“When I tell you that I’m going to need to talk with some people and have them take it from there, I’m not trying to brush you off or be overly protective. What’s going to happen is we’re going to start spying on the Weaponsmaster. For that we need people that are skilled and experienced in that kind of work, have the time available for a long-term mission, and are also familiar with the area he lives and works in. Since he lives in Switzerland, I’m not keeping you out of this just to keep you out.
“I’m keeping you out because right now there are people who can do this job much better than you. Eventually, Miss Patterson, Mr. Howard, you might become good at this kind of work. But for now, I want experts on this. Do you understand?”
“Who are you going to send?” Ethan asked.
“Mind Mist and The Ghost,” she said, and Ethan nodded knowingly.
“They’re the best,” he said to us, and the rest of us nodded finally in agreement.
“What else is going on? Is there anything else we can do right now?” Layla asked. “You look kind of tired, Principal Powers.”
Powers gave us a wan smile, and now I could see what Layla was talking about. Fatigue was in every line of her face, mostly hidden by make-up, but when you looked closely at her, she looked exhausted.
“I am, Miss Evans. This has been my most difficult year as the principal of Sky High in my twelve years as an administrator,” she said with a sigh, dropping her head for a minute. When she lifted it again, she looked oddly determined, as if she had just made an important decision.
“Do you want to know why?” she asked.
“Sure,” Layla said with a nod, and Powers waved as us to take a seat.
“Being the principal of one of the superhero high schools is nearly the equivalent of a directorship in the Bureau. Most people don’t realize that unless they’re in the system. We’ve tried to keep the schools as much like a normal high school as possible, to keep things for you as normal as possible, and most superhero parents haven’t thought about them any other way. They tend to forget that we’re preparing their precious babies to go out and put their lives on the line, even with things like ‘Save the Citizen’ tournaments going on.
“When I switched the curriculum last year, everything thought it was a good idea because of what happened with Royal Pain. But when I told them what I had learned from Speed, Lash, and Penny about the about the academy, they called me crazy and paranoid. And when I told them how I had asked you to defend them, the rest of the community felt as if I had pulled a fast one on them. It wasn’t until they had seen the tapes before they truly believed everything I was doing.”
“Crazy and paranoid?” Zack asked.
“I’m afraid so. I did not want to subject the rest of you to a public inquiry under those circumstances. That’s why I haven’t asked you to go in front of the school board until now. I had to make sure it was going to be a question and answer session about Cutter’s Crew and not an interrogation into my fitness to lead Sky High. That would have been grossly unfair to you,” she explained.
“Aw man… we’ve talked this to death,” Zack complained, legitimately I might add.
“I know. I waited until now to ask you to make sure the questions would be about you and not me. You’re more confident now in your abilities, and I think that will help you in front of the board.”
“They’re going to ask if we thought we were prepared though, right?” Will asked.
“Most likely. Don’t feel you have to defend me, or demonize me, or anything. Just say what you know to be true. I’ll take care of myself,” she said with a soft smile.
“So… When do you think you’ll know anything about the Weaponsmaster?” Will asked after an awkward silence.
“Hopefully we should be able to find something in under a week. I’ll let you know as soon as we know anything.”
“How’re you doing though? With everything?” Layla asked with concern.
“Well enough, Miss Williams. I know I’m supposed to be keeping a proper appearance of respect and authority, which does not include letting children under my jurisdiction be privy to my personal opinions and problems. However, you know, better than some right now, how much the superhero world is changing. I’m not going to sit up on my high horse and refuse all help when it’s just a few words away.
“We’re supposed to be preparing all of you to be superheroes, and my students shouldn’t go around believing it’s all fun and games and no one ever has any problems with it. Just because everything has gone fine up until now doesn’t mean we should be complacent. What you’ve done, taking it upon yourselves to figure out your own problems, lets me know that I’ve succeeded. Thank you for that,” she said with a solemn nod at us.
Wow, ok, I don’t think I’ve gotten an accolade like that out of anyone but my mom… I thought faintly, very surprised that Principal Powers would be willing to see her in any kind of vulnerable position.
“Take my word for it, stay active heroes. The stress on the body may be a little more, but at least you don’t have to worry about politics so much! Your parents were much smarter than me, Mr. Stronghold,” she added, and Will blushed a bit.
“I’ll expect you to be ready to talk to the board on Wednesday night at seven. Now, go home, and don’t think this lets you off the hook for class either!”
Wednesday night was nerve-wracking. We had found out we would be facing the school board alone, and Ethan had nearly had a panic attack when he learned that. Well, ok, we probably all had small, private panic attacks. We had kind of counted on being able to back each other up if necessary, but we simply gritted our teeth and bore it. What were we going to do otherwise, refuse to talk? Yeah, that would have given the school board a wonderful impression of our maturity.
Our parents were actually not allowed to attend, or even to talk with us between questions, so we had been dropped off at the Bureau office downtown amidst hugs and flurries of encouraging words. It hadn’t made a lot of difference in the way I was feeling, not with knowing who we were going to be facing. Not even my mom’s words of courage were denting my rising wave of unease.
Will was the first one to go in, entering the massive doors of one of the conference rooms with a lot more confidence than I was feeling. The rest of us really couldn’t think of anything to say to each other, and spent the tedious minutes in awkward silence. It must have been a good fifteen or twenty minutes before Will emerged again, breathing a sigh of relief. He didn’t say anything while the door was still open, but he grimaced and made a “so-so” gesture with his hand at our looks of inquiry.
“Mr. Peace? Please come in,” a voice drifted out. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and walked in, the doors slamming shut behind me.
I looked at the board members and seriously considered walking out and asking Will if he could fly me home. First off, everyone was in costume, which didn’t help me relax any. Second, Crimson Tempus was there. Third, I recognized all the other members, most of them contemporaries of the Commander and Jetstream; people whose kids went to school with me, kids who still avoided me wherever I went. I couldn’t exactly have the best reputation in their parents’ eyes, no matter what Principal Powers had told them about me. Or what my mother had said; she was rather undeniably biased when it came to me.
Copper Flash, with her super-speed, Gale Force, with her wind-control, The Lynx, with his mountain-lion shapeshifting, Zodiac Salvo, with his prophetic powers, and Karma, with her ability to alter luck, all together they made a very intimidating bunch to face. I was used to throttling down anger though, and I could throttle down this fear too. I didn’t like facing superheroes of my dad’s generation, because most of them had taken Baron Battle’s defection to the dark side as a personal affront. And some took my existence as a personal affront, just on general principle.
The few I had met, primarily my friends’ parents, had been fairly nice to me, mostly because we had met after the first Royal Pain incident. But I couldn’t let myself forget how the great majority of the superhero community still viewed me. Mrs. Olsen had made that abundantly clear in nearly exactly those words. And the first time I had been to the Maxville Bureau office, there were veiled glances in plenty that let me know I wasn’t quite trusted.
“Mr. Peace, do you know the reason for this inquiry?” Gale Force opened.
“You had questions about Cutter’s Crew,” I said simply, and as neutrally as I could.
“Questions about your actions in your battle against Cutter’s Crew. Because we’ve never had superheroes this young in action before, we want to clarify a few things. Now, how did you learn about Royal Pain’s academy?”
I quickly told them how Will had figured it out one night while we were studying, how Boomer had overheard us the next day, and how, after taking us to Powers, she had requested our help in protecting Speed, Lash, and Penny.
“Did it occur to you that you had the right to refuse anything you were requested to do if you deemed it too dangerous?” Copper Flash asked.
“I knew we could. But why would we? They needed our help, and I knew Principal Powers was desperate if she was asking us,” I said.
“Desperate? In what way?” Zodiac Salvo said, nearly pouncing on my words.
“She was worried that there were spies at the school, and so it was either use us or have the academy attack us all unprepared,” I said with dangerous calm. The school board members looked at each other for a moment and turned to write things down. Crimson Tempus actually gave me an encouraging wink, which startled me.
“Did the rest of your team know about the possibility of spies? Did any of them question Principal Powers’ request at all?” Lynx asked. I shook my head to both, and Gale Force asked the next question.
“Why were you the only one she told about the possibility of spies?”
“I stayed around after everyone else left to go to the Gauntlet room, because I remember thinking it was strange. She told me after I asked her. I didn’t tell anyone else because the rest of them aren’t that great at keeping secrets,” I explained, and Copper Flash repressed a smirk. I relaxed marginally.
“Now, I understand you’re the designated second-in-command?” Karma asked, and at my nod, went on. “The board was fairly impressed with the way you handled your team after Mr. Stronghold was tagged by Bloodtalon. However, we do have some questions about your tangle with Cutter…”
She turned and pressed a button on a remote, bringing up the short segment of the Homecoming tapes where Cutter had tried to attack me, and I had burned her. Then again when she had marched in Zack and Magenta.
“Why didn’t you try to take her down the moment she got into the gym, instead of talking to her? You had secondary orders to capture these people,” Lynx asked, glaring at me with yellow eyes.
“She… hadn’t done anything yet,” I said quietly, and trailed off. Yeah, I could have started flaming her the second she appeared. I knew what she had done to Penny; it wasn’t like I had to wait for her to start breaking any laws before swinging into action.
“Go on Mr. Peace,” Crimson Tempus spoke up for the first time.
“I’d have to of stopped fueling the firewall if I attacked her. We told Speed, Lash, and Penny to not break the ring unless we told them or everything went south. Zack blinded both her and Painbreaker, and he was going to stun them once he had a clear shot. But… you saw the tapes. Zack got taken down, Magenta got hurt, and I figured as long as she was talking, she couldn’t attack,” I said carefully. Hindsight is always perfect. Why the hell are they grilling us like this?
“And you consider burning Cutter to be an appropriate use of your powers?” Lynx demanded. I felt heat flash briefly along my arms before I squelched it mentally.
“Nearly any time I use my powers I’m going to burn someone. Should I have just not used them at all?” I asked a little sharply. What did they expect me to say? No, I’d much rather have negotiated her surrender with my astounding diplomatic skills. Yeah, right.
Lynx got a sour expression on his face, but Gale Force leaned over and said something in his ear, and he dropped whatever it was he was going to say next.
“Mr. Peace, at the end of the fight, when Mr. Cramer had been captured-,” Karma started.
“I froze. I got scared and I froze,” I said quickly, not waiting for her to finish the sentence. My stomach was starting to roil a little at the line of questioning. I knew we had all talked about a lot of this back in Yellowstone, but it had been in a simple way, in a non-threatening environment. I felt myself getting worried for Ethan in particular; it had been hard enough to explain to us why he had froze, how would it be in front of a much less sympathetic audience?
Karma looked surprised, as if she hadn’t expected me to admit to being less than perfect.
“And you let your three charges out of the ring to help you?” Copper Flash asked, picking up from Karma’s silence.
“Things were pretty far south at that point. They were protecting themselves, like they were supposed to,” I said.
The board put their heads together for a minute, and then Zodiac Salvo took up the next question.
“Last question, did you feel Sky High prepared your adequately for your fight?”
“Yes,” I said. “They had us running sessions in the Gauntlet for a week to help us get ready. If we hadn’t had that time, I don’t think we would have survived. Four teachers actually fought against us in our last runs to make it as real as possible.”
Crimson Tempus nodded at the others as they went back to writing notes, then waved at me in what was clearly a dismissal. I heard him calling for Layla as I stepped out of the room, my expression fairly black. I slammed myself down on the bench outside with the others, heat radiating off of me like a campfire for the next few minutes until the last of my temper cooled.
“So… not so great?” Will asked finally.
“Stupid crap questions. I don’t even know why we’re here,” I said a little darkly. There wasn’t much they learned from me, at least in my mind, that they couldn’t have learned from the tapes, our teachers, and having an open mind. I didn’t really like getting up in front of groups of people, particularly not when they kept looking at me the way they did. Like they were just waiting for me to screw up… I was seriously looking forward to the day when I graduated and could start proving myself. Because right now, they were still waiting for me to go villain.
Layla came out looking mostly composed, Magenta was completely unruffled, Zack came out looking rather frazzled, and Ethan (whom I had warned about the line of questioning) walked out with an oddly triumphant look on his face, like he had just won a round of Champion Debate.
“So… What happened?” Zack asked him finally, as we were taking the elevator up.
“Yeah, they asked me about freezing up. Thanks for the heads-up Warren,” he said, and fell silent again.
“And…?” Zack pressed.
“I had kind of figured someone was going to ask me about it eventually. Officially, I mean. So I’ve been kind of having this conversation over and over again as practice for a while. I had some expert help,” he explained.
“Like from who?” Zack asked.
“…Chloe,” he said quickly and quietly.
“Whoa! Chloe, like the tall chick we met in Yellowstone?” Zack demanded.
“Yeah… We’re kind of… going out…” Ethan said, quieter and quieter.
“Way to go my man!” Zack said, thumping him on the back. Ethan only blushed a little and looked at his shoes.
“So, spill!” Layla demanded. I was very carefully trying not to smirk my face off in the corner of the elevator. Normally I didn’t care for a lengthy trip in a confined space, but this was far too choice to be bothered by that now!
“Um… er… we started calling a little after Yellowstone. And IMing, and e-mailing. I, um, asked her to help me with this as… kind of a theoretical project. It wasn’t hard for her, because she’s a law student; she does this kind of thing all the time,” he explained.
“She’s gonna be a lawyer? Sorry dude, she’s evil, gotta dump her,” Zack said, and Ethan and Magenta smacked him simultaneously.
“Anyway, so when my family went to New York for Christmas, I got to meet her again. We went out to see The Nutcracker together.”
“Dude, you’re dedicated,” Zack said solemnly. Ethan didn’t dignify that with a response.
“We were walking back to her apartment-.” This time Magenta stepped on Zack’s foot before he could make a bad joke. “-and someone tried to mug us.”
“You didn’t say anything about this over Christmas!” Layla exclaimed, looking shocked.
“Well, let me explain! This guy had a knife, and tried to drag us into an alley. I was going to melt and let him have a stun cap; I figured I could try to explain to Chloe later. Then Chloe just… She just steps up, kicks the guy twice and puts him on his back, then calmly pulls out her phone to call the police! She told me later she’s been taking karate lessons ever since she had to be rescued by my dad, because she didn’t want to be another ‘helpless citizen.’ So she was all scared and trying to protect me!”
Zack snorted first, then Will broke down, and soon the elevator was ringing with laughter.
“Dude… dude…” was all Zack could gasp out for the next few minutes. The rest of us couldn’t even manage that much.
“And anyway, we’ve been going out ever since,” he finished up.
“Boy meets girl, girl rescues boy, boy and girl start going out…” Magenta drawled, which started setting us off again.
“So, Chloe lives in New York City?” Layla asked, as the elevator opened up finally and we all trooped out.
“Yeah, we’ve been doing the long-distance relationship thing. But um… she’s going to be in Maxville this summer,” Ethan said quickly. “She has an internship at Studebaker, Steinway, and Cline.”
“Way to go dude!” Zack said, putting Ethan in a headlock for a noogie. Ethan casually melted out of his grasp, leaving Zack holding empty air.
“Thanks,” Ethan said with more confidence, resolidifying on Zack’s other side. Magenta laughed at the expression on Zack’s face and stood on tiptoe to give him a kiss on the nose.
“Give him a break, or I will,” she warned him, and Zack tried to contain his enthusiasm.
Our somber mood from downstairs had been totally broken by Ethan’s inadvertent confession, and we actually left the Bureau in a fairly cheerful frame of mind.
Whatever the school board had learned from us had apparently satisfied them that Principal Powers wasn’t crazy and paranoid, or using the students to build her own private army, or whatever else they were trying to find out from us. Powers lost most of her pinched and harried look in the following week.
Eventually she let us know that Mind Mist and The Ghost were firmly entrenched in the Weaponmaster’s house. However, while they were certain he did have connections to the academy (due to some overheard comments), they still weren’t able to locate it yet. They were fairly certain he was actually going to go there for their graduation ceremony though, which meant that right after our own ceremony, we should finally have an idea of where the academy actually was. But until then, we all just had to wait.
For the rest of us, the last few months until summer vacation were busy, but we began to really gel as a team. We still lost sometimes to the senior groups, even with Will on the offensive, but privately we considered that a good thing. If the seniors could beat Will, they could take on anyone the academy could throw at them. Besides, anyone from the academy wouldn’t have the benefit of actually being able to practice against someone like Stronghold, which put them in the same situation the senior groups the first time Will had gone offensive; unprepared.
Despite our steady stream of close wins and near losses, I was getting more and more nervous the closer graduation came. It wasn’t that I was going to be saying good-bye to Sky High forever. I would still be coming here nearly every day to practice with my team until they graduated. But I would still be expected to do some hero work on my own, and it was scaring the living daylights out of me. I put in some individual time with Coach Boomer on solo Gauntlet runs, the kind I used to do back in my first two years here, to get back into the habit of watching my own back.
The others wouldn’t let me brood on my future too much, catching me up in the end-of-the-year festivities, making me help them on their homework, helping me on my night class homework, and generally making themselves such a nuisance that I didn’t have time to be very nervous.
The graduation ceremony at Sky High was, poetically, a lot like Power Placement. You stood on the center stage, did a quick change into your costume, and told everyone your superhero name while demonstrating your power. In past times, that was also when your Sidekick was announced as well, though that obviously wouldn’t be happening this year. I had voluntarily chosen to forgo the formal public ceremony because the rest of my group wouldn’t be graduating for another two years.
However, Principal Powers was going to let me have a little private ceremony in her office for my friends and my mom. I had been extremely careful about keeping both my costume and my superhero name secret from everyone until that day, just because I had wanted it to be a surprise to everyone.
I was oddly calm on graduation day, as if all the nervousness I had been feeling the past few months had finally burned itself out. I accepted my diploma from Principal Powers with a solemn handshake, actually smiling when my mom pulled out the inevitable camera and snapped a few pictures. Then I stepped behind the screen, and in a few seconds, stepped out the other side as a superhero.
My super-suit was a rich red from gauntlets to boots, faint touches of ghostly yellow flames flowing along the arms and hands, with an orange and yellow firebird spreading its wings across the chest. I had a red helmet and half-mask sculpted into the crest and beak of a fantastic bird, its eyes covered with golden lenses, the cloth feathers of red, orange, and yellow trailing down my neck.
I took a deep breath and powered up, flames engulfing my arms and hands, looking as if they belonged. Principal Powers was looking at me with unabashed pride. Probably thinking how she never thought she’d see me this way after throwing me in detention last year. Will was grinning his usual goofy grin, echoed by Layla’s brighter one. Zack was glowing as well as grinning, and Magenta’s smile had no trace of sarcasm about it at all. Ethan’s smile was just as wide as Zack’s; though I could also tell he was trying to figure out what my entry in the Illustrated Lives of Superheroes was going to look like.
I finally caught my mother’s bright smile, her eyes suspiciously wet. I could feel an outpouring of love and pride coming from her, shared by her powers, and I stood tall and proud as I announced my superhero identity for the first time.
“I am Phoenix.”
Flames rising from the ashes, fires of renewal, burning away all impurities. How long I had debated on my superhero name, I couldn’t even say, but soon after I had discovered my new power, there hadn’t been any other choice.
I can prove myself now. All the things my friends have done; they’ve given me everything I need.
I can do this.
I am Phoenix.