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War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 25: Battle's Battle
Sky High
Drama/Sci-Fi

Battle’s Battle

 

“Can I help?” I asked quickly to Reginald. The others Battles stopped what they were doing to stare at me briefly. Reginald looked a little startled, but nodded quickly.

“Of course Warren,” he said briskly, and I shoved away from the table to go change, blessing all the tedious hours we spent practicing quick changes in school. I was armored up in only a few seconds, and felt marginally superior as I waited for the rest of my uncles to finish getting ready. Reginald was ready first, in his guise as Fire King. All of my uncles’ costumes looked like elaborate medieval court robes, with crown-topped headdresses and simple domino masks, all in shades of scarlet, vermilion, ocher, and gold. Lauren, as Tesla, was similar, but in silver instead of red. Fire King gave me a quick up and down glance as we waited.

“Hmm… that’s a bit flamboyant, don’t you think?” he commented idly. I looked pointedly at his own costume.

“You’re one to talk,” I said, nodding at the glittering gold crown. He actually unbent enough to laugh, startling the hell out of me.

“All right, all right, we’re all flamboyant. Adds to the mystique, don’t you think?” he asked rhetorically as everyone else trooped in in a swirl of red and gold.

“You’re late,” he commented, and Fire Prince snapped something back in German that made the rest of the group stifle laughter. Fire King looked mildly pained, but ignored the comment otherwise. The banter reminded me of the gang, which was actually blowing my mind a little. Though I had guessed my dad's family might be polite, even politely interested, I hadn't expected them to be... playful. Not with what I'd seen of Tobias.

“Phoenix, I want you guarding Tesla. You’re the only one of us who has actually had any bodyguard training,” he said as he began striding out towards the hangar. “The Brotherhood really hates her, but we need her to take down Heat Sink. You watch her back so the rest of us can contain Cold Cobalt.”

I nodded shortly, shoving aside the impulse to ask to go after Cold Cobalt with the rest of them. Emotionally I wanted to be in the thick of the fight, but intellectually I knew we had plenty of firepower, pun intended, amongst the other five pyrokinetics. They needed me to guard my aunt, and this was their turf. This was my first time out in an official capacity, and it wasn’t time to start arguing tactics with people who had not only been in the game for decades more than I had, but who had faced these villains before and won. I had done pretty well guarding people before, and despite any ambiguity I felt for these people as my relatives, I refused to let a fellow superhero down.

The Brotherhood of Frost was a group of cold-themed supervillains that were motivated by money and power. They were thieves, rather than megalomaniacs or mad scientists, which meant that if you resisted strongly enough, they were more likely to run than pull some kind of doomsday stunt or scorched-earth tactic. It made them one of the easier kinds of villains to face. It didn’t mean that they weren’t ruthless or violent, because they were, but they were also more interested in self-preservation than getting things done.

I was very thankful I had gone up against Cryo Club several times in the last few months, so the tricks I would need were right at the forefront of my mind. Pyros versus cryos was always an interesting kind of fight. If either dominated, it could spell doom for the loser. Get my body temperature down to “normal” range, and I’d probably die. Bring a cryokinetic’s up to “normal,” same result. But the advantage usually remained with the pyro, if for no other reason than most people lived in places where the temperature was normally above freezing. Only in winter or in polar regions could a cryokinetic dominate a pyrokinetic in a fight.

The Brotherhood was going to have their hands full, but that was no reason to get cocky. Cold Cobalt wasn’t technically a member of Brotherhood, because she lacked the critical qualification of being able to lower the temperature, or create or manipulate ice or snow. Her power was to manipulate cold metal. She could draw it to her and make it do whatever she wanted, but only if it was below freezing. I had no idea where she had gotten her powers, but they were certainly up there on the scale of strangeness. And possible danger. Though our heat could neutralize her cold metal, all she would have to do would be very fast, and we could find ourselves impaled. Not, this was not the time for overconfidence.

The Brotherhood itself actually numbered in the dozens of official members, so I pressed Fire King for specifics as we got to the hangar. It couldn’t be all of them, or I doubted only the six of us would have been going.

“From what we know, it’s Heat Sink, Coldwind, Snowfall, Snowman, Iceknife, and Icestar,” he said, waving us into what looked like a dark red limousine. I should have known better as Fire Knight took the controls and powered up the car. It was a rocket, just like the Sky High school buses, and soon we were hurtling through the air on our way to Berlin.

“Heat Sink is going to have to be practically joined at Cold Cobalt’s hip for her to use her powers, and Coldwind and Snowfall rarely leave each other’s side. So it’ll be Iceknife, Icestar, and Snowman we’ll have to deal with directly,” Fire King continued. I tried to smother a chuckle at the mention of Snowman, and the Burning Duke gave me a sardonic smile.

“I know animating snow is a ridiculous power, but just wait until he starts swarming with two dozen snowmen. A normal person can smother under all that. We’d just end up drowning in cold water,” he pointed out, and I sobered up immediately. That was possibly the worse fate I could imagine, barring being suffocated.

Heat Sink’s power was, obviously, to drain heat from the environment around him. He could even absorb fire, up to a limited point. Obviously Cold Cobalt wanted him near so he could keep the metal around her cold. But if we could hit him with enough fire, eventually he would have to reach his limit, and Cold Cobalt would be out of business. Or Tesla could take him out in one hit, because absorbing lightning was not on his list of talents. That’s why she was coming. If she hadn't been there, any one of Fire Court could have been in serious danger of becoming hypothermic if they got anywhere near him.

Coldwind had power over winds, and Snowfall could make it snow anywhere, though both of them were closer to Sidekicks than supervillains in their own right. Neither of them was particularly powerful, but together they could make a pretty close approximation of a blizzard. That meant visibility could be crap for all of us, because it was damn hard to hit what you couldn't see. Their friend Iceknife could make and throw knives of ice, while Icestar, the last of the bunch, was a true cryokinetic. All together, the Brotherhood of Frost could be a nasty bunch of foes.

“Icestar is probably going to have a stroke when he sees all of you,” Tesla quipped with an evil smile when the explanations were done. “With what you did to him last time, Fire Lord, he’s going to be scared out of his mind.”

“I set his cape on fire,” he explained at my perplexed glance. “He was wearing this fur-trimmed monstrosity in the worse possible taste, and of the most flammable materials possible. He had it coming to him.”

“I would have been disappointed if someone hadn’t crisped that thing. I swear, that ugly rag was a weapon in and of itself,” Fire Knight called from up front. “Get ready, we’re down in one minute.”

I took a few seconds to calm myself, closing my eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Even the light banter didn't really help settle my nerves, because that was exactly what my friends and I would do before Coach Boomer put us through some fiendishly difficult permutation of the Gauntlet. Tesla put her silver-gloved hand over mine, seeming to sense my nervousness.

“It’s going to be all right, Phoenix. You can do this,” she said softly. I looked over and her and smiled a bit, then took a final deep breath, trying to leave all my fear behind me. I've trained for this my whole life, and I refuse to screw this up now, I told myself firmly.

There was a very faint bump as we landed, and I privately was grateful that Fire Knight was better at driving than Ron Wilson. Picking myself off the floor wouldn’t have been a very auspicious entrance to my first battle. The doors swung open and the members of the Fire Court strode out. Police ringed the bank at a respectful distance, and much, much farther away, a crowd had gathered behind barriers. I could see frost riming the heavy bank doors, and the cold was palpable even from where I was standing.

The Fire Court should have looked strange and out of place amongst the modern buildings. They looked like nothing so much as a medieval tapestry brought to life, in their robes and crowns and all. But it was more like the opposite, like the real world was the fake one, and they were the ones that truly belonged. I wasn’t sure how they managed that, but it was a very cool effect.

There was actually cheering from the citizens down the block when we stepped out, and Fire King gave them a royal wave with a graceful nonchalance. The police looked extremely relieved to see us, and someone who I guessed was the captain stepped forward to talk briefly with Fire King. They nodded shortly, and the police pulled back.

“The Brotherhood is after information in the vault, not to mention money. If they manage to get in, we’re free to use any and all means to get them out again. They are not to have access to the vault for any length of time,” he said, and there were savage grins all around. Fire King turned and led us up the stairs, flames beginning to flicker along his hands.

“We’re going in the front door?” I asked dubiously, but in a low voice. I was expecting a lot more scouting and strategizing, honestly, and fear started to knot my gut despite my earlier self pep-talk. Fire Court having confidence in their abilities was one thing, but this casual approach was perilously close to hubris.

“The back door can only admit us one at a time, and I’d hate to create a bottleneck. And I’m too old to go swinging through the skylight,” Fire King murmured back.

“Then let’s get started, Grampa,” Fire Prince quipped, in what sounded like a long-running joke, judging from the faint laughter from the others.

“Coldwind and Snowfall will probably try to distract us the moment we get inside. Just follow our lead Phoenix,” Fire King added, then nodded to Fire Prince. Both powered up and, without further ado, grabbed the doors, flinging them dramatically open to crash into the walls with a hollow boom.

The huge marble lobby was ankle deep in snow falling from the ceiling, frost rimming the lights above and crawling along the walls. The Fire Court powered up simultaneously and crossed their wrists in front of them, me just a half-second behind, as a cold, snow-laden wind lashed forward to try to blind us. With the heat we were all putting out, we were just pelted with a fine, warm mist, and we heard a curse from somewhere in front of us. First trick, didn't work, I thought, confidence trickling back in.

Behind the teller’s counter were two women, one with wind-whipped hair and the other dusted with snow, both dressed in variations on shimmering blue, obviously Coldwind and Snowfall. A taller guy dressed entirely in white proved to be Snowman, as a half-dozen humanoid snow figures pulled themselves free from the drifts and began to run towards us. Nearly simultaneously there was a rumbling, then a screech of metal as pipes and wiring ripped from the wall. From behind the counter, a woman in a metallic blue super-suit directed them to come stabbing after us, while a small guy in blue and red next to her made a cupping motion in his hands.

Just in front of them stepped two more, a guy in a spiky silver and white ensemble, Iceknife, and another with a silver star on the chest of his blue super-suit. Icestar’s eyes went wide when he saw who it was, but powered up anyway at a scream from Cold Cobalt. The two began to hurl ice shards and ice spheres as Cold Cobalt’s metal lashes closed in on us.

The Fire Court swung into action, Fire King and Fire Prince focusing on the metal coming out of the walls, heating it until Cold Cobalt could no longer control it. The Burning Duke, Fire Lord, and Fire Knight were meeting the icy projectiles with their own fireballs, keeping them away from the rest of us. The snowmen were ignoring the rest of the Fire Court entirely, heading straight for Tesla and I. I smiled wickedly and began target practice, each fireball turning a snowman into an explosion of slush and water.

Snowman was frantically trying to animate as many as he could, but the temperature in here was rising, and his snow was melting. Snowfall and Coldwind kept trying to keep up a distracting blizzard, but with six powerful pyrokinetics in the same room, the snow was turning into rain. Soon we were in more danger from slipping on slush than from any icy powers, and the Brotherhood of Frost was looking worried.

Then Tesla finally got a clear shot at Heat Sink as the air cleared of snow, and electrical lances flew from her fingers to strike the man square in the chest. He was blown clear off his feet, and Cold Cobalt started to panic as the metal began to cease obeying her commands.

“Retreat! Into the vault!” Cold Cobalt yelled suddenly, and the Brotherhood turned and ran. We gave chase, but with the water and slippery slush underfoot the best we could manage was a brisk, soggy shuffle or risk measuring our length in cold water a dozen times from slips. It was nearly impossible to tumble through the muck, and with every countertop slick and wet, we had no choice but just to shove our way through the ankle-deep muck. There was a heavy thud before we could get to the door, and before we could catch up to them, they had managed to lock themselves in the vault.

“Now what?” I asked, trying to think of anything we had that could get through a bank vault door quickly. If we'd had Ethan with us, he could have possibly melted under it, or hell, Will could probably have crumpled it up like cardboard. Was there anything back in the jet? Explosives?

“There’s too much important information in there to let them have the run of it for any length of time. We’re melting the door. Tesla, get ready to blast on my command!” Fire King said, and placed one hand on the door. What the hell...? I thought.

“Phoenix, help us,” Fire Knight said, as the rest of the Fire Court joined hands to Fire King.

“What?” I asked intelligently; I had no idea what they were up to.

“The family motto, it’s literal as well as figurative. Our powers combined…” he trailed off as I realized what he was getting at, and I grabbed his hand. Looks like I’m not the only one whose powers can be fed…

We powered up at Fire King’s nod, and I could feel the heat draining from me into the chain of hands, ending at the door. It wasn’t quite like healing; it wasn’t nearly so tiring, I realized with relief. I watched in fascination as the flames at Fire King’s hand went from orange, to yellow, to yellow-white, and finally to the blue-white of an acetylene torch.

I could feel my mouth starting to drop as the temperature rose and the door began to glow a dull red. When I powered up, I could get up to five hundred degrees on average, sometimes a little over six hundred if I was really pressed; almost enough to melt lead. But with all of us working together, Fire King was actually melting steel, getting his flames up over three thousand degrees.

The heat and light were a little hard to bear, even for me, and I wasn’t sure how long my uncles could stand it, being closer than me. Fire King was actually sweating, and I knew that was something that a pyrokinetic just didn’t do normally. It was several long minutes before Fire King’s voice finally broke the silence.

“Tesla, now!” he called. I turned to see her raise her hands and lash at the soft, half-melted spot on the vault doors with two javelins of lightning. Softened metal exploded, and now there was a ragged hole in the vault door. Cold Cobalt and the Brotherhood of Frost were looking at us with utter astonishment, and Fire King gave them a sardonic smile.

“So good to find you at home, Brothers. Come along quietly now,” he quipped. The Brotherhood wasn’t interested though, and rushed past us in a desperate bid for freedom, slamming freezing bodies through the exhausted Fire Court, bowling us over into the freezing slush in their rush to escape. I abruptly discovered that while channeling heat wasn’t as draining as healing, it was still pretty tiring. I and everyone else were pretty slow on the draw, and it took us a few seconds to start throwing fireballs again. Tesla began chasing them with lightning immediately though as they froze the water underneath their feet and literally skated out the back door.

“Cowards! Babies! Unsophisticated swine! Rank amateurs!” she shouted after them as she chased them out with miniature lightning bolts at their heels. A roar from a jet was heard a moment later, and I knew they had escaped even before an annoyed Tesla walked back in.

“They’re learning since we captured Frostfire,” she commented, and the others made exasperated noises.

“The important thing is we chased them off before the managed to get into anything important. Come on, let’s go home,” Fire King said firmly. A quick check of the vault showed very minimal damage inside and luckily no nasty traps waiting for some unsuspecting citizen. With a firm nod from Fire King, we began to walk back out through the water and slush, now rapidly melting and running out the doors. I looked over my shoulder at the back door, and set my jaw at the frost-etched handprints from the Brotherhood's escape.

Villains escaped all the time, it was nearly inevitable, and it was something they had prepared us for at Sky High. You generally only caught villains when they were either extremely desperate (like Royal Pain) or extremely crazy (like my dad). Villains were generally cowards at heart, and unwilling to sacrifice their life or freedom for their cause. Hence, most of them were escape artists. You couldn’t let it get to you or you’d go crazy, so I just tried to shrug it off.

We stepped outside to the sound of a cheering crowd, and I felt myself beginning to smile, minor disappointments of escaping villains being washed away in their roars of approval. I don’t know how long I had wanted to hear that sound, but right now I was nearly basking in it. It felt great, better than I had even imagined. Citizens, police, and reporters gathered around us as we emerged, shouting questions and comments, smiling broadly. Fire King held up his hands for silence, and amazingly, got it.

“The Brotherhood has been defeated and has fled. They will trouble you no more this day!” he said grandly, and more cheering rippled through the crowd. Almost simultaneously with our little press conference was the sudden influx of a cleaning crew and bank officials behind us to get the place up and running again.

It was kind of funny when you thought about it, at how casually relatively small battles like this were taken. When someone asked you why you were late when you were just going to the bank to make a deposit, you could easily say, “Traffic was terrible,” or “The lines were long,” or “The Brotherhood of Frost was trying to rob the place,” and all could be considered legitimate excuses. Places like this (and a great deal of private citizens) carried “superbattle insurance” to cover the expenses from things like ripped-out plumbing and melted vault doors. Otherwise superheroes would have been in a lot of trouble every time they used someone’s car as a projectile or shield.

It was a heady experience to be up in front of a crowd of people that were cheering for me, who wanted me, who liked what I had done. For some inane reason, I found myself thinking, “How could my dad have ever given this up to want to rule people through fear?” Nothing could compare with this…

I heard photographers calling out everyone’s name, trying to get good pictures of each person, though there were a few moments of hesitation as they caught a good look at me. I was new; no one knew my name or who I was. Fire King figured it out at once and gestured for me to come to the front.

“This is Our young friend Phoenix. He is visiting from America and was kind enough to aid Us when the call for help came in,” he explained simply, giving nothing away I wouldn’t have wanted, and I gave him a nearly imperceptible nod of gratitude. He was being particularly discrete... but then again with how my dad was viewed, he probably didn't want Baron Battle brought up any more than I did.

None of the crowd had heard of me before, obviously, and the reporters gathered around with questions. I was just glad that tireless work by the Bureau over the years had finally gotten it through the media’s heads that there were some questions we just would not answer, no matter how many times we were asked. However, there were a few perfectly legitimate ones I was dreading, but I knew I was going to have to answer sometime.

“What are your powers?” someone yelled.

“Pyrokinesis, same as them,” I said with a nod at the Fire Court, powering up briefly. A few more flashbulbs flashed, and I kept myself from smirking when I thought about some of the classes we'd had in Heroic Poses and Posturing. I'd gotten very good grades in that class...

“Are you part of the Fire Court?” another person called.

“Are you related to anyone in the Fire Court?” someone else asked simultaneously. That was the question I had been dreading the most, but I took a deep breath and answered anyway. Let’s see how this plays in Berlin…

“I’m the son of the Peacemaker and the Red Knight,” I said clearly. I waited for people’s faces to fall. My choice of words was very deliberate. My father was known only by his real name in the superhero community for two reasons: one, had identified himself as such when he went on his villainous rampage, and two, he had been formally stripped of his superhero name at his sentencing.

It was meant to keep from having to say they had a “former superhero” in jail, and supposedly to keep what good he had done under that name free of the taint he had smeared on it by association. In checking my father’s records, I had been surprised at the amount of good he had done as the Red Knight before going crazy. Of course, not many citizens remembered the Red Knight now, but since he had been part of the Fire Court, anyone that did remember it was going to realize exactly what was going on.

I watched for people’s reactions, and saw surprise cross several faces, but I was honestly surprised to see no frowns, no second looks, and no expression of bitter hatred. I guess people don’t hate me as much as I think they do. Or it just might be that it’s been nearly two decades since this happened, I thought idly. People in the superhero community had taken my dad’s defection to the dark side a lot harder than most citizens had, apparently.

“Our young nephew is welcome to work with the Fire Court whenever he likes, but he will be working primarily in America,” Fire King spoke up quickly to answer the first person’s question, which was good, because I hadn’t been sure what to say. All of my potential responses to that revelation had been for damage control! More questions were called out, mostly about specifics from the fight, and Fire King answered them all himself, allowing me to step back into the Fire Court again, slightly bemused about the crowd's response. Tesla put her hand on my elbow to get my attention.

“Neatly done Phoenix,” she murmured. “I think Fire King is winding down, start walking towards the car.”

We casually strolled through the crowd, which parted like magic, and I sank down gratefully into the seat inside. A few minutes later everyone had cleared out enough for a take-off, and we were flying back to the Battle estate. Despite the curveball of being asked my parentage right there at the end, I was still having a hard time not smiling.

All that training, all the Gauntlet runs, strengthening, target practice, agility training, all of it had paid off. My first real fight out of Sky High and it just hadn’t been easy… it had been, well… fun! I know hero work was supposed to be rewarding, but was it supposed to make you want to giggle hysterically? I wasn’t having a power reaction, at least I didn’t think I was, but I still couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Even my parentage had been a total non-issue; it was like a weight I had been carrying around for a long time had just been lifted off my shoulders for good.

“What in the world is going through your mind, Phoenix?” Tesla asked, taking off her headdress and mask.

“Is… Is it bad that that was kind of… fun?” I asked finally. Lauren turned to her brothers with a look of triumph, holding out her hand, palm up.

“Pay up, he said it,” she said, and groans came from the rest of my uncles as they fished their wallets out of their costumes and slapped euros of various denominations into her hand.

“We had a bet,” Andrew explained, removing his Fire Prince headdress. “That you would be too serious to have any fun. And I’m out fifty euros!”

“I don’t take a bet that I’m not sure I’ll win, you should know that by now!” Lauren said with an impudent grin, folding her money and tucking it into her robes.

“That’s why I only bet five. Blasting apart snowmen is just about the most fun you can have with pyrokinesis,” David said with a smile, rolling up his Burning Duke mask. “Though I do admit matching Iceknife blow for blow is nearly as fun, if more demanding.”

“If you can’t have some kind of fun while being a hero, you’re going to burn out fairly quickly, pun intended, as always,” Reginald pointed out, holding his headdress to brush rock dust from the top of it.

I was also totally getting a kick out of the casual jokes and banter flying between them. It had the ease of long intimacy, and bespoke of the long years of working together. It was welcoming, strongly welcoming, though there would always be the barrier of age between us, it became not entirely impossible to think of them as a little more than just fellow superheroes. It was possible to think of them as being related to me. And that actually scared me a little. My dad had apparently grown up with these same people, but had still managed to go off the deep end. I quickly shoved the thought to the back of my mind and started talking, pressing questions about some more immediate concerns.

“Are they going to be back? The Brotherhood I mean?” I asked. How could they even think of coming back when they had seen what Fire Court had done? If I had been them, I would have flipped burgers or sold ice cream for a living before putting myself in a situation where I had to face people that could melt vault doors. Could the paltry amount of money or information they might have gotten away with been worth that kind of danger? Despite learning about some of that in class, I still didn't understand the supervillain mindset very well. I probably never would.

“They'll probably be back eventually. The Brotherhood's persistent, but easily scared off. And Houdinis when it comes to wriggling out of a bad situation. Don’t worry, our employer can’t complain about how we handled the situation,” Christopher said casually, loosening the throat of his Fire Lord robes.

“Who does employ you?” I asked. I hadn’t ever asked Tobias that before and I was a little curious. And asking about trivia like that would keep me distracted from the uncomfortable revelations of realizing my relatives actually were my relatives.

Isn't that why you're here in the first place? my brain snarked. Shut up, I thought firmly.

“It depends. We’re contracted for half a dozen large cities by various mayors, several states in their entirety in various countries. No countries in their entirety though, other than Liechtenstein, because having individual divisions for that country would be pointless,” Reginald said. I snickered a little at that.

“We generally don’t ever take a contract for a country as a whole to avoid questions of ‘patriotism’ and ‘loyalty.’ You can imagine what a mess that would create, politically,” Anthony called back from the front.

“Yeah… that could be bad,” I said. It made a lot of sense though; I couldn’t imagine the kind of havoc that could happen if a country tried to force a superhero to basically be a kind of superior soldier. Asking superheroes to use their powers against citizens could quickly turn into a witchhunt for superpowered being that would surpass the bloodiness of the Inquisition.

“You have a talent for understatement, Phoenix,” Reginald said pointedly, and nodded at my helmet after a minute.

“Oh, right,” I said, and finally took it off. “Sorry, I forgot.” Unspoken protocol in the superhero worlds stated that if someone was in costume or at least in their mask, you called them by their superhero name. Take the name off, and you revert to your citizen identity. Mr. Stronghold was sometimes really bad at that.

“You forgot you had it on? Reggie, find out whatever that’s made out of and copy it for our headdresses, will you? I swear the weight multiplies every minute I have it on!” Andrew yelled from the cockpit, which set me and everyone else laughing.

I didn't remember laughing this much unless I was with the company of my friends, but felt so buoyed by our success that I couldn't help it. Like my friends, they had accepted my powers without question, and there had been no hesitation on their part in accepting my help or being confident I had done my job. I hadn't had that from anyone but my mom and the gang before, and I could feel a few bricks in the old wall of resentment against my dad's family crumbling. And honestly I didn't mind at all, even with the slight attendant uneasiness that the change brought.

We landed back at the Battle estate without incident, and the rest of the family was waiting for us when we got back to the dining room, faces wreathed in smiles.

“Excellent job everyone, well done!” Tobias said warmly, clasping Reginald’s hand. Apparently they had all been watching us, as there was a huge viewing screen above the fireplace that was showing the tail end of our press conference. Bernadette turned and punched a button on the remote in her hand, making the viewing screen retract into the stonework, leaving the place looking like a proper ancient castle again.

“And Warren, I was watching the footage, very well done indeed,” he said with a nod in my direction. I actually smiled back, which completely startled him.

“Yeah, that was pretty fun,” I said casually, and Lauren extended her hand to the rest of her family members.

“What, did everyone vote against me?” I asked, as Lauren collected from everyone in the room.

“Apparently,” Tobias said with some irritation, putting his wallet away, many euros lighter.

“Grampy, Great-Grampy, Great-Uncles, Uncle Warren, lookie lookie look!” a young voice shouted from the far side of the room. Little Thomas skidded into the room, went down in a tangle of limbs, slid into the table, and knocked over two chairs, all with his hands on fire. And to think in any other household that would be cause for alarm… I thought idly as Reginald casually reached under the table to pull the youngest pyrokinetic in the Battle house out.

“Well then, powered up for the first time? Wonderful! Now, put yourself out before you set someone’s clothes on fire. Or your own,” Reginald said with a mixture of pride and sternness. Thomas looked around at the rest of us, who were very carefully trying not to laugh. I schooled my face into an impressive scowl, honed by years of practice, and Thomas gulped and abruptly extinguished himself.

There he is,” Ivana said a moment later, strolling into the room, arm in arm with her husband. “He was watching the battle with the Brotherhood and was trying to imitate all of you on the screen. And he finally succeeded.”

“He melted the TV, didn’t he?” Reginald asked with a sigh, and Ivana nodded. I choked down more laughter, so ebullient at this point that my friends probably wouldn’t have recognized me.

“Oh, I think it’s a right of passage that you destroy something when you power up. I burned my clothes nearly clean off,” Andrew pointed off. “David actually burned the stove, Lauren fried the wiring in half the castle, Father told me he burned the bed-.”

“Let’s not get into details, shall we?” Tobias said quickly, and I smothered another round of laughter.

“What about you Warren?” Christopher asked.

“Side of my house,” I confessed, for once not feeling the wrench of anger that usually cost me.

“See, happens to all of us Thomas,” Andrew said. “Now, you have to make sure it only happens once. You know the rules.” Thomas suddenly went to attention, clicking his heels together, clasping his hands behind his back, and standing very straight.

“We have our powers so we can help others, and we cannot help others if we cannot control what we do. Fire uncontrolled is dangerous and destroys everything in its path. Fire controlled is the greatest tool of man,” he recited carefully, as Ivana and her husband (I could not for the life of me remember his name) beamed at him. Apparently all was well with the Battle family.


That night I didn’t mind dressing for dinner very much, as I found that my tuxedo had been cleaned and pressed again since last night, and Chester had finally gotten the hint that I didn’t want help. I didn’t have to struggle so much with the silverware, thanks to Ivana’s helpful comments, and with the euphoria over having a new pyrokinetic in the family, my own gaffs were much less noticeable. To my astonishment, Reginald even offered a toast in my honor, for my success in my first mission.

I raised my glass with the others, pleasure in my own success overcoming any reluctance I might have had at the pomp and ceremony of the occasion. All of the Battles were smiling at me, offering their own good wishes on top of the toast, and for a moment I actually felt very much one of them. And I hadn't really felt that since Will and the gang had taken me in.

My last thought before I went to bed was to wonder with all the general goodwill and acceptance floating around, how had my dad turned out the way he had?


I ended up crashing pretty hard though at night, sleeping the sleep of the dead until I was awoken at some ungodly hour of the morning by Chester.

“Master Peace, you have a video call,” he said politely as I struggled to get fully conscious.

“Who is it at this hour of the morning?” I groused, hoping to hell this wasn’t some kind of revenge for my first night here.

“I am not certain, but the number is American,” he said politely.

“Must be my mom,” I said groggily, though why she felt the need to call this early was beyond me. Chester handed me a remote and pointed to the viewing screen above the fireplace. He left politely as I finally got myself sitting up in bed and hit the connect button. Immediately the screen was filled with beaming visages of my friends, who started cheering the second they saw me.

“Yeah Warren! Awesome!” Zack yelled, clapping and yelling the loudest of everyone.

“Can’t we leave you alone even for a few days?” Will asked.

“Guys, it’s like three in the morning over here,” I pointed out. “What’s going on?”

“Dude, you’re all over the news!” Zack exclaimed, and Ethan pushed in a bit, fiddled with some buttons, and the screen divided in half, showing some of the American news footage of the press conference on the steps of the Berlin bank.

“You graduate and three days later you’re already kicking butt and taking names? That’s some kind of record!” Will said, grinning his head off.

“Totally! That’s excellent!” Ethan enthused.

“We’re so proud of you Warren!” Layla chimed in.

“Yeah, that looked great. And where the hell are you staying? The royal palace?” Magenta demanded, her eyes darting around my bedroom.

“The Battle estate. It’s like living in a museum,” I confessed.

“Oh, and nice abs, Warren,” Magenta added. I hadn’t bothered to put on a shirt to sleep, and I was sitting up in bed with the covers around my waist. Magenta was expecting me to blush and pull up the sheet, but today, even with being woken up early, I was feeling far too good to be ribbed on how I looked. I was a genuine, certified superhero as of yesterday, and my confidence was at an all time high.

Besides Magenta and the rest of them deserved a little bit of discomfort for not being able to understand time zones. What the hell, why not? I stretched very deliberately, even flexing a little, and Magenta flushed.

“They are, aren’t they? And you should know,” I said mischievously, and actually winked at her. She went completely crimson, and the rest of the gang nearly passed out laughing. I was glad Zack had such a good sense of humor, though, or I would have feared for my safety once I got back.

“What’s gotten into you?” Layla demanded, and I just laughed.

“I had a good day,” I said simply.

“Uh oh… I know what this is. This is happy skippy Warren!” Will said with mock horror. I just rolled my eyes.

“Anyway, it’s still three in the morning over here,” I pointed out.

“I thought you said you had the time zones figured out,” Will whispered frantically to Ethan. Ethan just shrugged.

“Sorry, I was doing… something…” he trailed off.

“Talking to Chloe, you mean,” Magenta said.

“At Anthony’s Italian with Chloe,” he corrected, with whoops and congratulations from the rest of the gang. I just shook my head.

“Still three in the morning!” I pointed out forcefully. I was tickled that they had called me to congratulate me, but I was still tired and jet-lagged.

“Anything else going on over there? I mean, are you going to keep working with the Fire Court?” Ethan asked more seriously.

“As long as I’m here. I haven’t forgotten you guys already, ok? I’ll be back,” I told them. I could guess what Ethan was thinking. The press conference from yesterday showed me being accepted by both the public and my relatives, and it was also very obvious that my father’s family was not hurting for money. In a place like this, with people that shared my powers, where they understood them, where I wouldn’t have to deal with people that saw me as a born villain, where we would all stand together… I suppose the lure might have looked irresistible from his angle. And I certainly wasn't totally immune to it. I'd crossed my mind more than once yesterday.

This is what Tobias wanted, I realized. I should have been angry with him, but I knew the rest of the family had been genuinely happy to see me and to work with me. He had said he wanted me back in his life again, and trying to lure me to stay here with the feelings of belonging was understandable. It wasn’t going to happen though. It might have been passive manipulation, but it was manipulation all the same, and I could see what he was trying to do.

Besides, someone had to keep Stronghold’s head on straight when he wouldn’t listen to Layla. Someone had to help Ethan with his newest theories, and keep Zack out of trouble. My Battle relatives were good people, and I realized that I really did like them. But I couldn’t stay here. I hadn’t grown up here, and while they welcomed me, I wasn’t really part of their world. As nice as the surroundings were too, I’d probably end up wanting to throttle Tobias within a week if I tried to live by his rules. That probably wouldn’t do anybody any good.

Would it be so bad to follow a few rules to have total acceptance from your blood relatives? They want you here badly; I'd bet you and the others could wear down Tobias if he was being too stubborn about something. And look how you'd be living! You already made up your mind about this before you came here. Now that you've really seen this place, are you that sure? my brain asked with quiet logic.

Sure enough, I thought, trying to ignore my slightly wavering conviction. I didn't want my friends to try to convince me one way or the other...

“Are you sure? Looks like you’re livin’ the high life over there,” Zack said, grinning.

“Nah, someone’s got to keep you guys in line. Look, thanks for calling me and everything, but I seriously need to get some sleep. And next time make sure Ethan’s not on a date before you ask him to do something!” I added lightly, brushing aside my inner worries. Ethan blushed but nodded and I disconnected the call after a chorus of good-byes. I flipped off the lights and buried myself back under the covers, sleep already overtaking me.

My friends are all crazy. Absolutely nuts, I thought idly as I drifted back into sleep.

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Timothy
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