Characters/Relationships: Warren Peace/Monica Keller (OFC), Will Stronghold/Layla, Zack/Magenta, Ethan/Chloe (OFC), Principle Powers, Joy Peace, original characters
Word count: 25,305
Content Advisory: Violence, description of wounds, near-death experiences
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing.
A/N: Written for journeystory. Sequel to War and Peace In Mind. This story won’t make a lick of sense if you haven’t read that. Thanks to immortal_belovd for betaing, and hiddencait and Saj te Gyuhyall for bouncing ideas off of them and pointing out plot holes. Thanks to susanmarier for the lovely artwork!
Summary: When most of the world's super-powered people lose their powers, it's up to Warren Peace and his friends to figure out how it happened and how to stop it. But learning why this happened and what they need to do could take them into legend - and legends don't always end well.
The trip to New York from Maxville was deathly quiet once Ethan had given us a quick rundown on our foes, everyone wrapped in their own thoughts. I’d been unbelievably lucky; for perhaps once in my life I was the completely stable one, without family troubles of any sort to distract me. Everyone else hadn’t had as much experience in knowing their family was vulnerable. Mom had been so fragile for most of my life; I hadn’t realized how much of a relief it had been when she took up her title again.
Now everyone else was suddenly feeling what it was like on the other side of the coin.
“Times Square incoming,” Zack called, and Magenta looked over the edge of his pocket, her guinea pig nose twitching as the huge screens came into view. Along with the fountains of sparks, arcs of electricity, and the screaming. It hadn’t taken us that long to get there, but clearly the Kill-O-Watt Squad was loving the fact that virtually every superhero in New York capable of taking them out was down for the count.
Guardian ducked down below the line of the TV choppers, trying to keep us a secret as long as possible, until a ground-bound news crew spotted us. Zack, Layla, and I were clinging to a vine harness wrapped around Will’s body, with Ethan and Magenta shifted and hidden in pitcher plants and pockets respectively, and that was as distinctive an entrance as Comet’s. Just as the roar of recognition went up, people chanting out names, Will powered forward into the Square itself. We didn’t even need a shout from Zack, just threw our arms in front of our faces to protect ourselves from his light assault.
Layla unfurled the vines around us, lowering us down to the ground amidst the curses and shouts of pain from the Kill-O-Watt Squad as the light faded. They’d herded a group of citizens right below the biggest screens of the Square and were keeping them penned in with electricity stolen from all around us. Lightning seemed to be making a dome around them, keeping anyone from making a break for it, and the five-man Kill-O-Watt Squad was demanding some insane dollar amount to keep them from turning the rest of the electricity in the city against its citizens.
“Let them go!” Will thundered, in full Guardian mode. He hovered above us as Rose Queen discreetly cast some of her seed capsules on the ground behind her, growing more plants to be ready if the Squad decided to push their luck.
From the look in their eyes, an arrogance only slightly tempered by Guardian’s presence, I had no doubt Will was going to get to punch someone today. Of all of us, only Brilliance had any immunity to electricity, and his only went so far. Zack was just not powerful enough to absorb any direct hit from supervillains who practically lived in electricity. Viscosity and Violet Cavy were nowhere to be seen, and that was just fine with me.
“I’m south, Viscosity is east,” Magenta hissed through our comms as Buzz and Zapp flanked Overload while he seemingly gave Guardian’s ultimatum some thought. Volt and Wattson kept sucking away electricity, the air stinking of ozone all around it. It was making our hair stand on end, and the citizens inside the electrical fence were shouting in panic.
“Come on,” I muttered under my breath. Another minute and someone was going to freak out and try to breach the dome, and that was an almost guaranteed death sentence. I caught Rose Queen’s eyes, she nodded to Brilliance, and we slowly began to separate, not giving the Squad any single place to target. No use trying to call the utilities department to shut down the grid; the Squad had control now, and they weren’t going to let up for anything. They’d been thwarted by Broadway and the Class Acts for years, a team of three power-adaptors that could handle whatever the Squad could dish out, and not even the son of the Commander and Jetstream was going to make them surrender when their biggest nemeses had been taken out of play.
“How about you just fly on home, little Guardian?” Overload said with a nasty smile. I sucked in a breath watching Will’s face darken at the insult, when another voice rang out over the crowd.
“I don’t think so, Overload!”
All of us, Champions and the Squad, turned to look at the speaker, a broad-shouldered man with a surprisingly animate, expressive face behind his little white domino mask. He was garbed in a costume that managed to gracefully combine superhero armor with a white tuxedo, with a red rose pinned to the clasp of his white-and-red cape. He was old enough to be my dad, but had the underlying toughness typical of the man who’d been one of New York’s finest superheroes for the past ten years.
“Broadway!” Overload said, eyes widening with surprise. Flanking Broadway were two women in Grecian robes, one in a Comedy mask, the other in a Tragedy one – The Class Acts, his sidekicks, posed dramatically to enhance Broadway’s entrance.
“No, no, no, no…” I muttered under my breath, not moving my lips. We’d been called to New York because Broadway had lost his powers. He had to have, or the Bureau wouldn’t have hauled us halfway across the country to save Times Square. Broadway was too vulnerable right now to handle the Kill-O-Watt Squad. What the hell is he doing? Bluffing? I thought.
“You interrupted my performance,” Broadway said, his voice carrying over the explosions easily. “I warned you last time to never do that again.”
“Drop the cage now!” I shouted. “I got Wattson and Volt on the left,” I added quietly over my comm. At least I could stop them from confining the citizens and get their leverage free. “Viscosity and I have Buzz and Zapp, but we’re gonna need back-up. Stun-caps don’t work on these guys,” Violet Cavy said, a wince audible in her voice. Pity, those electrical stun caps were both her and Ethan’s primary weapon, and a good one, but they had other options. Rose Queen flicked her fingers to get my attention, letting me know she had it under control.
“How about… no way you powerless hack!” Overload said, and raised his hands. Showers of sparks came shooting out, not aiming for the very obvious threat of Guardian, but for Broadway. The Champions struck at nearly the same time, my fire winging Volt and Wattson, disrupting the cage as they lost control over their power-siphoning, while Rose Queen’s plants pounced on Zapp and Buzz like trained tigers. Guardian dove for Overload, making him curse frantically and half-abort his attack to try to react to the new threat, and that was the only thing that saved Broadway.
Comedy and Tragedy fearlessly stepped into the sparks, hands up and out, glowing with an odd white light that seemed to attract the sparks like moths to a flame. My eyes widened as I saw them in action. I knew the two of them were power-adaptors, the same as Broadway, but only at Sidekick strength. That was Broadway’s shtick, that he could “take on any role,” literally, by absorbing and using people’s own superpowers against them. His sidekicks could do the same, but they weren’t supposed to be able to handle what he could. For a second I thought they were just trying to absorb enough of Overload’s attack to save Broadway, but I realized Broadway’s hands were up too, and they were also glowing. I narrowed my eyes, seeing something off about the glow, and almost choked. He had some kind of supercharged glowsticks up his sleeves, like the kind Zack sold at raves at Glitterdust, the club he DJed at. Broadway was faking it, faking having powers to keep the Squad’s attention on him and off the citizens, and his sidekicks were helping him sell the role.
My sense of wrongness flared as the sparks finally cleared, and I knew Broadway had to be in a lot of pain, but you wouldn’t have known it to look at him. He smiled as if he didn’t have a care in the world, Comedy and Tragedy standing steadily at his sides, their robes smoking slightly from trying to absorb such a powerful shock. If Overload hadn’t split his attacks, they might have all gotten way more than they could handle.
And hell if the Champions were going to waste that kind of opening. Guardian’s punch landed even as Broadway held a smile on his face, and Overload went flying backwards a few blocks. I didn’t get a chance to see much of the fight between them, because Rose Queen and I were two busy with the remaining four members of the Squad. I kept the flames on them, making them too busy dancing to avoid getting a hotfoot to notice Rose Queen’s vines wrapping around them, eventually turning them into green mummies, ready and waiting to be put in jail. While Layla and I had been auditioning the Squad for the chorus line, Magenta and Ethan had gotten the citizens out of the fire, more or less literally, guiding them past sparking power lines and debris to get them out of danger.
I only caught up with what Will was doing when Overload went sailing over my head a few minutes later, looking much worse for the wear, to collapse against the side of a building. Guardian flew up a moment later, fists clenched, face like a thundercloud.
“Don’t ever do that again!” Guardian snarled, and my eyebrows flew up behind my mask. I saw Will sneak a look over at Broadway, now prone in the street with Brilliance guarding him and The Class Acts nearly covering him from outside view, and had a rush of understanding. Supervillains attacking powerless superheroes about the same age as his parents? Overload should be glad he wasn’t dead.
Rose Queen smoothly went to Guardian’s side, calling up more vines to wrap up the groaning Overload. I could feel the wrongness that meant he was hurt, but definitely wasn’t going to die, and didn’t feel like wasting my power on him. I slipped away to join Brilliance, a new wave of wrongness hitting me as I got near the fallen Broadway.
“Help him, please!” Tragedy cried, jumping to her feet and hauling me next to him. Not dying, no, but definitely in a bad way. Underneath the “show much go on” attitude, Broadway was speckled with painful burns all over, and it hadn’t done the rest of his body any favors to be hit with that much electricity, even peripherally. He was lucky it hadn’t stopped his heart. I was damn impressed; it had taken a lot of guts to face down the Squad armed with nothing but glowsticks and some help from his friends.
“Good show,” Broadway said weakly, managing a smile even as my hands began to burn with the reddish ember flames. I looked up at Zack, and he made a motion as if to dope-slap me. I rolled my eyes but let the ember-fire take over anyway, sure that Zack would shake me out of my healing trance when I was done. Then I lost all awareness of my surroundings as my focus narrowed to brightening the flames shadowed by Overload’s attack.
“Oh my God, are you kidding me, Beau?” Tragedy said, shaking Broadway fiercely as Zack punched my shoulder to pull me out of trance some minutes later. I had sealed over the worst of the burns, but Broadway would still need time to recover. Hell, I figured he needed the time off his feet to keep himself from doing anything else that risky, if Comedy and Tragedy’s reactions were anything to go by.
“You nearly pulled it off. The looks on their faces!” Comedy said lightly, trying to calm Tragedy’s near-hysterics.
“You nearly died!” Tragedy said, glaring up at Comedy.
“With panache!” Comedy said.
I gathered that, at least in the main, this was an argument they’d been having for years.
“It was good improv performance,” Broadway declared, slowly and carefully sitting up. “And bravo to both of you. Bravo!” He winced a bit as they helped him to his feet, but he covered it quickly and grasped my hand in a firm handshake.
“A good show from your team. Though I shan’t hope we need an encore,” he said sincerely. “And fine special effects from you, Phoenix. I take it I should stay off the stage to improve my technique for a bit?”
Zack didn’t quite suppress a laugh, and found Comedy joining him in snorting at Broadway’s theater talk.
“Don’t mind the peanut gallery,” Broadway added with an air that this was a common occurrence in his world.
I shook my head, huffing out a laugh myself. “You nearly died,” I said. “I did what I could, but I didn’t know if we’d get called again soon-.”
“Quite right, quite right, budgetary restrictions and all that. I understand!” he said breezily. “A bit of a retreat is exactly what I need. Rest and reflection, working on improving my craft, all of that.” Broadway kept up his cheer until Tragedy finally heard what she wanted to hear. With a penetrating look at her hero, she jerked her head at Comedy, managed to corral Brilliance, and went to help the police put the Squad in the transport trucks.
“That was suicidally brave,” I said flatly.
“I need to be good for something, don’t I?” Broadway said, his rich actor’s voice going rough. “The Bureau is being cagey about this whole mess and I still have idiots like the Kill-O-Watts running around my city. We lost most of New York’s superheroes to this… whatever-it-is and the Squad only respected me. I had to try to help.” He looked over at Guardian and Rose Queen and narrowed his eyes. “He shouldn’t even be out in the field after what happened to the Commander and Jetstream.” Broadway sighed and held up his hand before I could protest. “I know, I know, who else could take his spot? Tell me, do you have any idea what happened to us Phoenix? No one is talking to us yet. Afraid we’ll do something stupid, I think.”
It was gallows humor, and I cracked a grim smile to match his. What Broadway had done would probably be repeated over and over again until we figured this out. You didn’t lose the desire to help just because your powers were gone. Hell, Will didn’t even think he had powers and still went up against me in a rage in high school because he’d been trying to do the right thing. Normal cops and soldiers and firefighters did the same thing every day, except they didn’t have to deal with people like the Kill-O-Watt Squad.
“We don’t know yet,” I confessed. “But believe me, we’re going to find out.”
“That’s the ticket,” Broadway said. “Break a leg, then.” He turned to limp away, and then turned back. “Break two,” he added, very solemn. “You’re going to need all the help you can get.”
“Look at this!” Allie shouted, making everyone jump. She pointed up at the screen, now split between a flat map and a spinning globe, oddly surrounded by floating strands. I looked up from my spot at the table, startled out of my half-trance of numb staring at the maps in front of me. As good as the technopaths were, the Director wanted a second set of eyes, and Monica and I had been dragooned into service not long after we’d come back from New York. Wisely, she’d let the rest of the Champions go home. I hoped Layla was having luck dealing with Will, because we couldn’t risk him going near-postal every time we got a call. If I could have, I would have asked my mom for help, but she was busy defusing mass panic in several major cities. We were on our own.
“Talk to me,” the Director said, standing up.
“We were scanning different wavelengths of energy, using the search parameters you did for finding a way into the academy, and we found this. The powers aren’t gone, they’re here. They’re being streamed--”
“Where?” the Director said sharply. “Who’s the target, who’s taking them?”
“Ah… there’s no terminal point. They’re just orbiting.”
It looked like strands were just pushing out of the Earth, like worms out of an apple, endlessly circling, circling, looking for… what?
“Why the hell would someone go to all the trouble of siphoning off thousands of powers and then not use them?” the Director demanded to the air.
No one had an answer. And the Director didn’t seem to expect one.
“Scratch that; if we don’t know by now, we’re not going to know unless whoever did this steps forward,” the Director said, making a negating gesture with her hand. “Concentrate on who lost their powers, and when. If we can learn that, maybe we can work backwards and find this person through process of elimination.
Allie looked at the others and picked up her laptop with a nervous glance in my direction. I felt a chill for foreboding. “Director, we’re already ready with our report on the first part of that.”
“Let’s hear it; we’re all listening.”
“To the extent of our knowledge, everyone who lost their powers was at least part of a second-generation super family. All had children or nieces or nephews with powers. Some had even more extensive genetic history. Essentially all we have left are first-generation or last-generation powers.”
My heart stopped for a second. That wasn’t right. I shouldn’t be-.
“No common demographics other than that, age, nationality, type of power, nothing. Our database on supervillains is sketchier, but what we do know matches so far. The odd thing is, while there is that common thread among the superpowered, not every superpowered person who fit those parameters lost their powers.”
“Who is left outside those parameters?”
Allie looked over at me with sympathy. My gut turned into a ball of ice. The Director had told me earlier. My family was all right. The Peaces and Battles were all right. But they shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t be either. The last generation superpower in our family wasn’t me, it was my eleven-year-old cousin Thomas.
“The Peaces and the Battles.”
The Director turned to fix me with a stare that outmatched what she’d given Meduka earlier by a factor of ten.
“Go to Berlin. Get Tobias Battle to spill everything he knows. Now.”
Tobias looked at the projection of gleaming lines encircling the globe like a ball of yarn. Strands of power were streaming from hundreds of points on the globe, coming up from the powerless heroes and villains on the ground to join the rest of them in orbiting the planet restlessly, the ends waving like they were looking for someplace to take root.
“The Director just gave me some news, along with a rather like piece of her mind. It seems that the worldwide power loss wasn’t so simultaneous as we thought. It spread out in a wave; an exceptionally fast one, to be sure, but it did have an epicenter.” Tobias pointed to a spot in the Alps, his movements oddly stiff. I realized he was afraid, and covering it well.
“What’s there?” I asked, as the silence stretched on. The plane trip over had been bad enough, with the waiting grating on my nerves, but the long conversation I’d had with Mom during that trip hadn’t been much better. She’d been as frightened as I had been that we’d somehow been spared a world-wide curse.
“It’s not what’s there now, but what was there. Or rather, who,” Tobias said, and turned around. “Warren, I believe I know what is going on.” He sat down, tugging his suit straight as I struggled with my temper.
“Why the hell didn’t you say something before?”
“I didn’t know until I saw this diagram just now, and heard that we are going against the trend of power loss. This is ancient history, even for me. But if I’m right… you and yours are going to need everything I’m going to tell you.” He leaned forward and traced a hand on a thin stone block that served him as a desk blotter, fire following in his finger’s wake. “Tell me, Warren, do you know the legend of Prometheus?”
“No way,” I said faintly. “No fucking way.”
Tobias’ lip quirked. “Oh, it’s not quite that way, but the parallels are too obvious to resist. Our family is ancient, Warren. Unbelievably ancient, and we’ve kept records. But this goes back to the very origin of our family, to the day we received our powers.”
The fire trails against the stone flared, died, and flared again as Tobias spoke, the words having the well-worn quality of an old, old story.
“A very long time ago, when our ancestors were just a small tribe, they lived in a rich valley below a mountain with three peaks. A rival tribe wanted their valley for its hunting and sought to drive them off. And though our ancestors were good fighters, there were not many of them, and the rival tribe would be able to drive them away very soon. So the chief decided to pray to the gods of the mountain, and saw in a vision to send his three children to the three peaks, the Peak of Storms, the Peak of Snows, and the Peak of Fire. He sent his two daughters and his only son with instructions to petition the gods that lived there for the power to protect their people.
“The daughters went and supplicated themselves and were granted power over lightning and snow, but their brother took three days to return. He wanted to protect his people, the same as his sisters, but he was hot-headed and demanded rather than asking. The god of the Peak of Fire could see the boy was sincere in his desire to protect, but also desperately needed his arrogance knocked from him. So the god blessed him and cursed him simultaneously and sent him back to his people.”
“Cursed him?” I asked.
“Our indestructibility, Warren. That was the brother’s curse.”
“Healing from virtually any injury and living a few extra lifespans is a curse?” I asked, eyebrow raised.
“Consider the time in which the brother lived,” Tobias said, raising an eyebrow right back. “Scars were considered marks of experience and battle won, and the brother would never have that. If he led his men into battle and failed to protect them, he and he alone would have to return to explain the deaths to their wives and children. He would have to live to see all his loved ones die around him while he continued on and on. The god had found the brother to be arrogant and unwise; he granted him an opportunity to find wisdom.”
I felt a little chilled at that. I had known, in the abstract, how long Battle pyrokinetics lived. And I knew that my father’s prison sentence had been worded the way it had for a reason. But now I could see it from Tobias’ angle. His wife was well into her nineties, the same as Tobias, and he could lose her at any time. He would lose his daughters, even his grandchildren, along with every person he’d known while he was growing up. When he died, another normal lifetime from now, no one would be able to understand what he’d gone through, except for his sons and grandsons, who would be facing the same long, lonely road.
Tobias gave me a moment and continued with the story.
“The god charged him with the same admonition that was given to the daughters. They would be given power to pass to their own children, and their children’s children, forever, as long as the power would be used to protect their people. They must always remember the gods and show them respect, for one day their power would be called to the gods’ service to battle against their enemies.” Tobias tapped the globe. “The call just came.”
“Whoa, what?” I asked. “I thought this was about our family. What about everyone else?”
“So it is. We were not the only family granted power, but we are one of the few to remember their origin. We were given… a temporary reprieve from the call.”
“You said you thought this was a legend.”
“It doesn’t mean I didn’t honor my ancestors. Gods-granted power or not, we worked hard to fulfill our family legacy. To sit by and do nothing is anathema. Your mother’s family became part of us when you were born, and luckily they have at least tried to uphold that philosophy.” Tobias sounded fierce, passionate, as much fire in his voice as his hands. “Warren, our debt is being called in. All the power is being called in.”
Something clicked in my head. “Why?”
“Because something is coming.”
I took a deep breath and thought hard for a few minutes. “The gods’ enemies.”
“Titans?” I asked, thinking back to the Prometheus legend.
“If you like. They’re not imprisoned under the Earth, but rather…” Tobias raised his hand vaguely upward.
“To our world, at any rate. But gods don’t war against gods; if Earth is the prize, they wouldn’t be able to keep the planet intact with their battles. But with avatars, invested with all the power they’ve scattered across the globe in a few centuries? Yes, that will do.”
“Our family… is going to be the gods’ avatars?” I said very slowly.
“No,” Tobias said, scoffing. “Don’t be ridiculous. We were left our powers as a courtesy, to warn those who were truly going to fight.”
“Me,” I said flatly, my stomach sinking.
“Not alone.” He nodded at my start of surprise. “Think about what they’re doing. Look at the diagram. All the powers of the world that they took are just circling and waiting for someone to latch onto. But there are so many more than when this all began. No single person could handle that power; I believe you are in a unique position to speak about that.”
I shuddered slightly. Being the focus for Fire Court’s power, with Mom as my conduit and Monica as my eyes had nearly killed me, and that had been nine people. Hundreds, thousands of powers were floating out there now.
“The gods have always worked in threes. And yet they know our limitations. I think there will be three again. Three groups chosen to represent them, fight against the Titans, and save the Earth. Three groups that they will chose from, if they petition the gods properly.”
“You think?” We couldn’t afford to get this wrong. If there wasn’t a more pressing threat, we couldn’t afford to pull the last few heroes from active duty to go on a wild goose chase if this wasn’t real.
“I know. They have to use more than three people, or their avatars will burn out.” Tobias raised a finger. “One group for the Peak of Snows, to represent unrelenting stability. One group for the Peak of Fire, to represent change and purification. And one group for the Peak of Storms, to represent the power and chaos of nature.”
“The Champions,” I said, ticking off one finger in return. Unrelenting stability – didn’t the Champions of Justice fight for that, instead of letting supervillains throw us into anarchy?
“The Redeemers,” Tobias said, ticking off another. Change and purification – the essence of Mercy’s group.
“And…” I trailed off, anger choking me as I realized who the last group had to be. “Cutter’s Crew.” Chaos and power – their bywords. If anyone could embody the elemental chaos of nature, it would be the Crew.
“All three of you can handle power. And I pray you’ll be able to survive it.”
“How the hell are we going to get the Crew to agree to work with us?” I asked.
“Get supervillains to agree to being infused with enough power to fight gods?” Tobias asked rhetorically.
I grimaced, but nodded.
“Find them. You don’t have much time.”
“They could just stab us all in the back and throw in with the Titans.”
“What does Cutter want?” Tobias asked.
“Our heads on a pike,” I said sarcastically.
“Power, wealth, infamy. They want the world at their feet. They don’t share.” Tobias swallowed. “Consider my son, Warren. Consider your father.”
I looked away, but Tobias was relentless.
“Baron wanted the world under his rule. He wouldn’t have shared. The Titans won’t share either. All humans would be under their thumb, if not dead, and even Cutter won’t stand for that. Find them. Tell them. I’ll show you where you have to be.”
“And if they go to stab us in the back later?” I asked.
Tobias raised an eyebrow. “I hardly need to warn you to be on guard for treachery, do I?”
From somewhere, I dragged up a smile.
It would be the first time I’d seen my entire team since the wedding. I totaled the time in my head and was amazed to realize it had only been two days since Monica and I had gotten that fateful call. Two days, and the world was already going a little crazy. With so many superpowers out of commission, a lot of the remaining supervillains had gone into hiding, and the heroes left were disinclined to go looking for them. With good reason. Though the Bureau had suppressed the footage of the Mount Rushmore battle, there was enough gossip through the grapevine to make any superpower worth their tights wary. The single upshot about the situation was that there hadn’t been a single super battle for nearly two days, which had to be some kind of record.
When the Director had heard my story from Tobias, she’d gone very quiet and thoughtful, holding up her hand to me to keep me from talking.
“I understand,” she said finally. “We’ve confirmed an impending threat.”
“You know that for sure?”
“Look at the globe,” she said, pointing to the screen on the wall. “Look how those strands of powers all stay away from that one spot?” I looked and could see what she meant, a curious bare patch somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. “If you push out from that spot, well beyond what most of our space probes can handle, there is a blip. And anything that far out that’s registering is powerful in the extreme. Too powerful for just a dumb chunk of rock. Yes, I believe Tobias Battle.”
She tapped her fingers on her arm and shrugged her hair back, revealing the red scar tissue and scarlet eye she usually kept covered, legacies of my healing rampage in the wake of the academy attack.
“You’re certain that you, the Redeemers, and the Crew are the ones?” she asked.
“Who else?” I asked quietly. “I’m sure Ethan could give you a full break-down.” I’m sure the Director could have too – she’d been the principal at Sky High for years, and she knew most of the teams still active. And those whom she didn’t know, the technopaths could find out for her. They, thankfully, were all first or last-generation powers. She either trusted my opinion, or had her own reasons.
“He doesn’t need to.” She turned to face me. “The same reasons the Champions work as a team are the same reasons you should go. You have diverse powers and perspectives, experience in working together, and great determination. The Redeemers are similar, with a factor of toughness that comes with how they’ve fought for their lives and sanity for so long.”
“You didn’t mention the Crew.”
The Director clenched her jaw. “We could send the Storm Kings, the Geogods, or even the Gaea Avengers, but I don’t think they could handle it. I saw how badly that power meld affected you that day at the academy. For that experience alone, you and Mercy are amongst the best-equipped to handle getting that much power at once. Presumably you’ve spoken about that experience to your team at least once…” She paused, with the implication that if I’d been holding out, it might be a good time for story hour before things went much farther. “So the twelve of you are uniquely suited to playing host to the powers of the world. However, I can’t think of another team left, heroes or villains, who both fits the parameters and has the pure tenacity of Cutter’s Crew. They might be crazy on several levels, but if I had to unleash one of my enemies against a greater foe? I’d pick them.”
She didn’t want to, but she’d do it. I knew the Director had a grudge against Son of Silver too, and if she was willing to pitch him against these Titans, the gloves were truly coming off.
“Guardian won’t like this,” I admitted. Understatement of the century… my brain snarked.
“Guardian has reason. I’m seeing him in my office before we drop the bomb on them. He needs to know a little something about revenge.” She brushed the red scars over the side of her face. “Hopefully I can talk a little sense into him. No guarantees though. Everyone needs to decide for themselves.”
“You’ve got to be shitting me.”
Ash might be kind of a dick, but at least he was never really afraid to say what was on his mind. And if he hadn’t said it, Magenta would have.
“Like Warren would haul us down here just to shit us,” she said sarcastically, making Ash shrug. Will’s face was like stone as the others nodded or shook their heads or otherwise tried to deal with what I’d just told them. Since the Director’s office was still standing, I figured that however Will had reacted to Comet’s pep talk, he’d at least managed to keep his temper. I would have given a lot to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation.
“What do we have to do?” Ethan asked, fingers twitching like he wanted to start flipping through reference books.
“Tobias Battle knows where we have to go. We have to… get everyone together there and then, ah, petition to get the power.”
“Petition gods,” Michael said blandly. He didn’t quite believe me, and I didn’t blame him. If I paused to even think about it, I wouldn’t believe me either. It was ridiculous.
“Someone long-lived and powerful enough to siphon off most of Earth’s powers without anyone being able to stop them, so yeah, I’ll call them that until I get a better title,” I said.
“What’s it going to be like?” Layla asked, her hand twisted into the heavy fabric of her sleeve. “What’ll happen to us?”
I had, under mock-threat from Monica, told my friends what my “healing rampage” had felt like a while back, how I’d felt like I’d had limitless power at my fingertips, that I’d been connected to everyone like the stars in the sky, how I could feed all those fires at once. And also how much it had hurt afterwards.
“Like I told you, turned up to eleven,” I said. “And I’m just guessing.”
“Do we have to call Cutter?” Quint asked, his voice just a little unsteady. “Why can’t we handle it?”
The Director had been hanging back, letting us talk, but now stood and gestured at the screen, where the restless strands of power circled the planet aimlessly.
“All of that is going into you,” she said, a wave of her hand indicating all of us. “There’s over ten thousand powers lurking out there, between everyone we knew about, plus everyone retired or in hiding. Not to mention everyone else who has them is going to be giving them up to you.”
“Whoa, what?!” I asked, stiffening in shock. I heard echoes from nearly everyone else in the room.
“Process of elimination, Champions, Redeemers,” the Director said remorselessly. “I don’t know these… beings that are using us as their chess pieces, but I do know they seem to have held an audition and left the youngest and strongest of the remaining superpowered with their abilities. Why? Because they were looking to see who was going to step up to the plate. Who was going to figure out what was going on? They don’t want to power up just whoever was closest, or even who could be categorized as having the strongest powers right now. They want people who are smart, driven, and willing.”
“Why did they just…” Will’s jaw clenched and he spoke through gritted teeth, “pull the plug without warning? People got hurt and died because of what they did!”
“Because they don’t think like you do.” The soft, breathless voice, even and devoid of passion, nevertheless made us all jump as it suddenly sounded from behind us. We all turned to find Chronotrypsis standing there, leaning on his hourglass-topped staff, looking wan and thin, even for him.
“Chronotrypsis,” the Director said, easing everyone who hadn’t met him before off the trigger. Ethan’s eyes were enormous, and I knew if the Director weren’t in charge right now, he’d be reeling off Chrono’s powers and history faster than I could follow.
“Guardian, the… gods don’t think like you do. They acknowledge us as individuals, but the death of a few, or the injury of many, is nothing compared to losing the Earth. In that, they and I are of one mind. Certainly a hero like you knows about sacrifice?”
Will forcibly relaxed himself, a faint embarrassed flush creeping across his face. Ethan got up on tiptoe to whisper in my ear. “Will’s grandfather had to sacrifice a small town to save a hemisphere.” I nodded very slightly. We’d faced hard decisions before as a team, the hardest being the academy attack, but we’d gotten incredibly lucky with that. We’d lost people, but not nearly as many as we could have. But still, Will knew. He knew exactly how that could have fallen out.
But his parents had nearly died at the hands of people we were going to be fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with.
“We know,” Will said quietly, looking ashamed.
“The Crew is bad news, but if I had to pick someone to go against people trying to kill me? I’d pick the Crew any day of the week. They’re crazy, but dedicated,” Ash said, folding his arms, managing to look both defiant and disturbed.
The Director twitched slightly but otherwise kept herself still. She’d once told me she had a grudge against Son of Silver, and I’d seen that in action the first time I’d ever met him. That had also been the day he’d tried to kill me. If he’d been packing slightly heavier ammunition that day, or had been willing to go for a head shot, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it out of that fight.
“We can’t trust them,” Magenta said, crossing her arms in return. “They’re tough, no joke, but I don’t trust them any farther than I can toss Bruin when we’re shifted.”
Michael let out a small, slightly hysterical laugh before catching himself. “Enemy of my enemy,” was all he said. At that, Ethan straightened up, and Monica looked away. The first time we’d met, Viper had nearly killed Magenta, Monica had used her powers on Zach, Will had nearly gone on a rage-fuelled murder spree thanks to Bloodtalon, and Cutter had tried to eviscerate me. They’d nearly succeeded too; if we hadn’t been able to pull it together at the last moment, we would have been toast. They had been the academy’s star team for years, and had evaded us for six months on their own.
No, we couldn’t trust them. But they were the strongest ones left standing.
“We don’t have a choice,” I said quietly, looking at Will.
“Cutter doesn’t like anyone honing in on her turf, and Silver enjoys a challenge. So do most of the others. Give them power and tell them who we’re up against? I think they’ll do it,” Monica said. The other Redeemers nodded, some reluctantly, some shaking from fear, but all of them agreed.
“Will,” Layla said quietly. “Will, we have to.”
“The stakes have never been higher,” Chronotrypsis said. “Believe me.”
Will looked back at all of us. And nodded sharply.
“Get Tobias Battle on the line,” the Director said decisively. Allie pressed a few buttons, and the screen above them cleared suddenly.
Tobias looked down at all of us from the screen, looming like a king on his throne.
“I pray you’ve been informed?” His voice sounded deeper than normal, rough and ragged like he hadn’t been sleeping.
There were tentative nods from around the room, easily seen with the Champions’ bright costumes, less visible with the Redeemers’ muted colors. Quint and Brittany had their hands clasped together half behind her back, their knuckles white.
“Thank you,” he said. “This will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. I’m going to give you the last records our family has of the old gods, what little we know that you can expect. Beyond that, my only advice to the Bureau is that we let all remaining powers know they need to be ready to give up what they have.”
“Even you?” I asked, alarm making me sick. Tobias was over ninety, but barely looked sixty, and a youthful sixty at that. His indestructibility kept him healthy and youthful, and if that was siphoned off like everyone else’s power, I didn’t know what would happen to him.
“Do you think I would be so selfish as to not lend you what power and expertise is mine to give? You are to be imbued with so much power, and with it, the experience and knowledge to use it. So, in a way, everyone will be fighting the Titans. Just through you all.”
Will looked abashed as he stepped forward, losing the defensive hunch to his shoulders that had been there since he’d come to the Bureau hospital. “Thank you, Emberkeeper.”
“I’m sending you the location of the gods’ home along with what legends our family had preserved. Our hearts go with you.”
The screen went dark abruptly, and the Director turned back to face us. “You have an hour to talk to whoever you need to talk to. Then figure out a way to contact the Crew and go to where you need to go.”
“Time will be critical,” Chronotrypsis said cryptically, and winked out again between one blink and the next.
The Director stared at the spot where he had been and glared at the air. “I wish he would stop doing that.”