{TDA} First Steps: Chapter 1

Chapter 1


On July 9th, 2016, at exactly 1:45 pm, a hole in the sky opened up over midwest America.

It happened fast. Just a few milliseconds, then back to normal.

Various governments would probably notice later, if they had the equipment to even register the event in the first place. A number of individuals would speculate if what they saw was just a glitch in the machine. A possibility so strange the only reasonable reaction was to laugh it off.

A day later, a missing person case would be submitted concerning the disappearance of 172 Cessna, and the teenage boy flying it. The family were undoubtedly confused, for this young man was responsible and not prone to running off without warning.

The fact that these events correspond at exactly the same moment is not a coincidence.

Let me back up a bit.

Hi. My name is Jacob Taferin. I’m a rather average 17-year-old kid. I attend high school in the small town of Pleasant Hill, Missouri. I play the occasional sport, make decent enough grades to make my parents happy, and try my best to get along with two older and two younger siblings.

I have a few hobbies. Carpentry (by which I made side money during the summer), dirt biking with a few of the other guys in school, and hitching rides in my uncle’s crop-dusting business. That last one is the most important. Why? Because that’s what got me into this mess.

On Saturday, the day of the event, I had managed to convince my oldest brother Brandon to let me borrow his truck for the summer. It took a bit of bargaining, but eventually, he agreed that I could use the vehicle whenever needed, on the condition that I paid off his last parking ticket.

Meh. I couldn’t really figure out how the heck he got a parking ticket in a town like ours (I mean, there weren’t exactly full parking lots anywhere), but he managed somehow.

Regardless, I figured it was worth the price. Cause it meant I now had transportation out to the airfield where my uncle Tib had his hanger.

Giving an air pump of excitement, I threw together some lunch to go, kissed my mom’s forehead, tickled my little sister Beth till she couldn’t stop laughing, fist-pumped my little brother Simon on the way out, and gave a “Yeehaa!” to some very surprised cows in the home pasture.

I love flying. Always have. Likely always will.

There’s a feeling of freedom that can only be obtained when you’re in the air, when you have the feeling of sky beneath you and above you, when the birds become your only company in a vast wilderness of wind.

It’s how I would describe true freedom, and the closest I can achieve it is by flying in a single-engine prop plane. A hunk of metal that by all reasonable rights shouldn’t leave the ground, propelled by power and physics, beating the air into horizontal submission, and slipping through the streams of gravity.

I fell in love the first time my uncle ever took me up as a kid, and have been begging him ever since to teach me all he knows. He grinned so wide when I first asked that his smoky laugh came out all in a bellow. When he finally caught his breath, he promised to take me up again “Sure as shootin!”

That was eleven years ago, and it probably isn’t much of a surprise that I ended up getting my pilot’s license two years before my drivers’ license. Now, I fly sorties for Uncle Tib, scouting out fields that potential customers need dusted; sometimes even pouring a load of the stuff myself. Tib covers the gas needed and pays me under the table, so I don’t make as much as most of his licensed pilots, but then again, I don’t really do it for the money.

It was a beautiful afternoon. The skies were clear with a slight wind out of the west. No exams to worry about, no chores required to block my concentration. Today’s flight was purely for pleasure.

I drove up to the small airfield, taking the back gate that completely surrounded the field, and punched in the same numbers used for as long as I’ve been alive. Five, four, three, three. The fence was mainly just to keep out stray livestock anyways. As I pulled up to the back hanger, one of the mechanics currently working stepped out from under the engine block of the latest downed aircraft, and nodded in my direction.

“Hey there Jacob! Looking for Tib?”

This was asked by what can only be described as a bush of a man. Five-foot six, tan skin and a grizzled brown beard that stretched to his gut, Glenn’s defining feature was his hairy limbs that would have put any local Bigfoot to shame. Scratching his cheek with oil slick fingers, he seemed more than happy to take a break from his current occupation.

“Heya Glenn. Nah, I don’t need to talk him if’n he’s busy.” I nodded to the coverless plane that sat naked between multiple tool chests. “Working on the 182? Hundred Hour?”

“Ya, your uncle wants this one back out by Tuesday at the latest, but there’s some issues with the mags, so it’s a toss-up till the parts come in. If you want to take something out for a spin, you pretty much got the 172 or the Piper. Everything else is on a job or scheduled for one right now.”

“That’s fine, I like Papa Ten.” I nodded towards the small above wing Cessna sitting near the taxi line. “Mind if I?”

“Nah, go ahead. I filled her up this morning, so you should be good for a few hours.”

“Thanks man.” I gave Glen a last nod, before parking the truck off to the side of the hanger and walking over to what was probably my favorite plane on the field.

With its weathered paint job and slightly warped panels, the old Cessna 172 had endured many a year, and with Uncle Tib in charge, would likely endure many more. I began the rundown and pre-flight checklist, enjoying the combination of cool breeze and golden sun rays as they warmed my back. Finishing up quickly, I glanced in the cargo space to confirm the Go Bag (a small compact tool and emergency kit) was onboard.

Finally, I settled in the Pilot’s seat and began warming up the engines. It was flying time!

There was a little sputtering as the engine turned over, but a few turns and pulls on the gas knob caused it to flatten out. After carefully winding my way over the taxiway and onto the runway proper, I radioed in with the nearest local tower. Receiving the all clear, I finished my check. Less than two minutes later and I was taking off, enjoying that sudden feeling of weightlessness that falls in your gut when you leave the planet’s surface.

The sky was beautiful this time of day, a grand mist hung over the world, and the Midwest of America seemed to exult in it. Small puffy clouds dotted the deep blue surrounding me, and I breathed in the quiet and serene landscape.

Time passes quickly when you’re in the air, and that day was no exception. As I settled into the familiar routine of a standard sortie, the minutes just flew by. Pun intended.

Looking back on that flight, I don’t really know of any way I could have prevented what happened next. It was something quite literally out of my control, almost even out of my understanding.

The sky opened up and time froze. I was aware of the plane no longer moving forward, the propeller no longer spinning. I could feel a heaviness around me, as if gravity had increased. The sharp smell of ozone filled the air.

And there in front, a yawning portal begin to stretch into existence. A surge of power washed over me, through me. I could not resist, though I tried. I could not move, though I desperately wished to. I couldn’t even draw breath, and my chest hurt for lack of oxygen. I knew my death had come, and I had no frame of reference to even understand it.

The portal… no… the void of space began to fill everything in my vision. I could see into infinity… a kaleidoscope of existences stretched from an origin into the beyond. All connected by branches of lightning so vast, they challenged the scope a mind could handle. A light made of colors I could not recognize, and energy formed of power I could not fathom.

It would not stop, but instead grew worse.

My body felt stretched and my mind began to close down. Yet, before my vision faded completely I reached forward across space and pushed the throttle for all it was worth, then threw the landing gear down. If I made it through, I would be crashing. I didn’t think in this moment, I simply reacted.

I felt Death’s teeth on my soul, and it tore and burned. Darkness filled my vision, creeping up the corners of my peripheral then shattered by the brightness of space.

I died. And death was pain. I was ripped apart and then stitched together, again and again. I could feel movement, but I was not the cause. I could think, but my mind was too overwhelmed to comprehend.

I survived. And life was glorious.



{TDA} First Steps: Prologue



Sand shifted as a hot wind blew.

Rusted weapons stood forlorn and forgotten, dully reflecting twin suns above. A tattered cloth caught the edge of a breeze and began to slowly beat a quiet rhythm.

In the midst of these relics of war from a bygone age, a figure abruptly appeared. Body trembling, knees in the sand, the man took his first wretched gasp of air. Ragged clothes and a tattered cloak covered him from the beating heat, and bronze-tinted glasses gave his eyes some relief from the surrounding glare.

Catching his breath, his head gradually raised.


The word dropped from his lips surprised him, for he did not recognize the voice. But should he? Stumbling to his feet, the man began to turn swiftly, taking in the endless hills of sand and the ancient weapons strewn beyond the horizon.

“Where am I?”

Again he noticed the odd cast to his words, the taste of them unusual against his tongue.

“Who am I?”

As if in response, a dull thrum filled his head, the beat heavy and alien. Crying out in pain, he grasped his head in both hands and shook it viciously. Several minutes passed, the booming echo within his skull eventually fading to a quiet throb. At that moment, a feminine voice began to speak.

“Greetings Traveler. You have arrived safely and thus your trial will soon begin. Before you may enter The Climb, please state your name. Keep in mind, whatever name you choose will be how you are universally known, and will directly affect your Legend. As always, the larger your Legend spreads, the greater you affect those around you. Choose wisely.”

The man waited a moment, but no further words were spoken and nothing was repeated. Sighing, he turned to the task at hand. After a quick reflection, he realized he could still remember nothing beyond the past few minutes. Whoever he might have been apparently no longer mattered in this barren world.

“So be it,” he spoke into the open air; “Ego sum tabula rasa… and so I shall be called Rasa, for I have no past to speak of and an unknown future to find.”

The world was still for a few seconds after his decision, and he began to worry that he had made a mistake. Then, the female voice returned.

“Name accepted. Welcome, Rasa! Your Legend has begun! To enter The Climb, please choose a weapon. You have no restrictions currently in place, so all weapons are available. Remember, your weapon is a part of your Journey and will directly affect what skills and talents are available to you. Choose wisely!”

“Hmm. Ever deeper do the questions turn.” Rasa’s gaze moved to the land around him.

His choices certainly weren’t limited. Taking his time, he began to walk stiffly across the dune, occasionally drawing an object from the sand and pausing to inspect it. Swords of steel and iron, bows of bone and birch, halberds, axes, daggers, and staves. There were shields of every size and make; and numerous boxes and books that seemed to emanate with an unusual glow.

Continuing to stumble upwards through the deep sand, Rasa cursed his seeming weakness. His entire body felt as if he had been beaten without pause, and his muscles trembled with even this small amount of exertion. Cresting the dune his feet finally gave out, and he fell to his hands and knees gasping for breath. Rolling over, he lay still for a minute; his gaze tracing the slow-moving clouds above.

His eyes noticed the flight of a lone hawk, the slow glide memorizing as the bird fought against the wind.

“This shouldn’t be. I have no memories, but… I know somehow, I should not be this weak.” His voice barely a murmur, he continued to track the path the hawk flew as it finally caught a draft and rose to face the distant mountains. Mountains?

Sitting up, Rasa stared in awe as he realized the clouds had been cleverly obscuring the horizon. Before him, towering into the atmosphere of the very world itself, stretched an inescapable leviathan of rock and earth. Its valleys and crags became vast sierras unto themselves, its mass reaching across the world and filling his vision even as its peaks disappeared into the distant sky.

“Ah. At least “The Climb” makes slightly more sense now.” The scope of his journey for a moment sought to overwhelm him, the sheer power of the land itself dragging him down. Then gritting his teeth, he ruthlessly shoved the feeling away.

“Every journey must start somewhere. Very well, to the task at hand then.”

Reaching out to the nearest pole, he leveraged it to pull himself fully upright. Standing tall, regardless of his weary body, he faced the towering mountain. As he began to step forward, he stopped, staring now at the staff in his hand. Or at least what he had assumed was a staff. He continued to pull it free, releasing the bladed end of a now recognizable spear. Turning it, he could see that the metal of the double-edged spearhead was a glistening violet hue, catching and reflecting the sun’s golden rays. The pommel was made of the same metal, fashioned into a short point. Examining further, Rasa was startled to realize that the wood of the stave appeared to be flowing gently under his hand. The entire spear, from tip to pommel, measured almost eight feet in length.

For a still moment, as he contemplated the weapon in his hand, he could hear the softest hum… as if the spear was whispering a tune only he could hear.

“This one. This is my weapon.”

Quiet once again reigned, broken only by the now familiar voice.

“Weapon accepted. Weapon name is unknown. Weapon origin is unknown. Weapon potential is unknown. The Weapon has no prior history in The Climb and therefore will have no starting bonuses. Due to current wielder having no weapon restrictions, the Bond will begin immediately. Please choose a Name to initiate the Bond.”

Rasa chuckled. “No name? We can’t have that. Let us see, what feels right for such a beautiful work of art?” Again he felt that comforting hum, only this time it seemed to be in appreciation of his words. “Ah. Not impartial to a bit of flattery are we? No matter, it seems you’ve already chosen for me. I do believe you are… Whisper?”

The hum increased to a high rumble, the wood spiraling in odd formations and spinning in rapid circles. “Whisper it is then!”

“Weapon Name accepted. Bond commencing.”

A flood of strength poured into Rasa’s aching muscles, every part of him feeling instantly rejuvenated. Stretching in the sudden joy of health, he laughed in astonishment.

“Yes! YES! That is more like I remember!”

He gave Whisper a twirl, smiling as it seemed to sing in the air around him. Slowly he started to spin, the tattered rags of his cloak picking up the breeze as he moved faster and faster. A spin turned into a lunge, then a riposte, back into a crouch, and forward into a flip that landed with Whisper snapped back into the ready position.

A sly grin spread across Rasa’s face. Here was at least one answer to his questions. Once more, the female voice rang out around him.

“Bond complete. Congratulations Rasa! You are now ready to begin The Climb. Attributes unlocked. Skills unlocked. Your Journey awaits! Good luck!”



{CToC} Dawning of the Mistcrowned: Chapter 1

Chapter 1


The young woman brought the contents of the mug to her lips. Then promptly choked.

Best known as cloudim, the steamed milk drink was always served spicy and piping hot. Gretchen had sat so long watching the dancing troupe her drink had begun to cool.

She didn’t mind too much.

These were the moments of life that she loved.

Besides, there was a chill wind blowing outside and the warm crackle of the hearth nearby made her rather lazy.

So she remained seated, even knowing her father would be disappointed.

Belphon stretched languidly out in the seat next to her, nursing his mug. His green eyes would occasionally drift to the female performers as they spun and twirled, his gaze contemplative.

“Hey Fri. Bet you a pence the red-haired one is from Patali.” He murmured to the table’s other occupant.

Fridon laughed heartily, his dark bushy beard covered in the foam of a third drink. “Nah, she’s too skinny to be from the south. That’d be the darker one. Still, me mind is set on the tall one with golden hair!”

Gretchen rolled her eyes at the discussion. “The only one either of you will be able to fight over is the one Doric doesn’t choose. Which will probably mean none of them. Regardless, Bel is right. The red-hair is definitely from Patali.”

“Aww, don’t be like that Gretchy.” Fridon nudged her shoulder roughly. “Besides, Doric isn’t even here. We can’t be beat!”

“Ya, where is the legendary hunter?” Belphon made a half-turn with his head, staring around the crowded tavern. “He never misses an evening like this.”

“Oh, he’ll be around, I’m sure.” Gretchen soured at the thought, and no longer felt quite as comfortable. Doric had been a problem for a while now. A well-known womanizer, he had tried pursuing her multiple times. He certainly wasn’t the only one.

Now that she had entered her nineteenth year, many of the village men had done their best to win her hand.

Bel and Fri were some of the few who didn’t even try. They had all grown up together and were as close as the rest of Gretchen’s siblings. Her older sister Temi had been the pretty housewife, all prepared for a family and kids. Her younger brothers didn’t have to think about a family yet, which just left her.

She’d been the one to take up the workload of the farm after Kadon left for the city. Her father had been disappointed when his eldest son left but had struggled on regardless. Wheat and maze would not grow itself. Together, the two of them had made ends meet. It was one of the reasons her father had not pushed her into leaving to start her own family.

Then Salvie came along. Her father had fallen in love with the traveling singer and had somehow convinced the woman to marry him.

By the time her step-brothers arrived into the world, the farm was considered one of the most successful in the valley. The value of hard work, her father always said.

And now she was past normal marrying age, and no man in the valley besides Doric would even try.

One hand under her chin, Gretchen watched the dancers finish their performance and pondered her future. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a family someday. She just hadn’t met the right man. And she was adventurous! Well, she wanted to have adventures. She just hadn’t been given very many opportunities growing up.

The Salvie came into their lives, telling stories of vast lush forests to the south, clinging to the side of mountains that rose beyond the clouds. And giant oceans surrounding the entire country, where creatures of the deep roamed and preyed upon unlucky sailors.

And what of the faraway kingdoms, were it was whispered races other than humans dwelt in hidden sanctuaries? Where lived the elves and dwarves, gnomes and orcs? Were there really cruel demons that screamed far below the earth? And did the floating cities built of gold and jewels host powerful angels?

What about the rest of the world?

Salvie had many stories, but even she had only ever lived in the kingdom of Daeton. Gretchen wanted to know if such places were true, if they really existed!

So no, she hadn’t gotten married. She did dream though. Just like Salvie, a man would come through the village of Bluthown, and he would be magnificent! Tall and broad-shouldered. Strong features. Black hair. Sharp blue eyes.

He would see her and know. Know she was his, and he was hers. Together, they would leave the farmlands behind. They would travel the world and explore every mystery, every lost secret and hidden ruin. Their love would be eternal. Immortal. All who heard of them would bow in respect. Their fame would spread beyond the seas, the stars, and even the…

Her elbow was abruptly knocked off the table, and she barely caught her balance before falling. Bel was grinning ear to ear, and Fri was holding his shaking belly as laughter pealed out. Embarrassed, Gretchen chugged the rest of the drink. The furious coughing that followed helped disguise her red cheeks.

“Well boys, that’s enough for me. I’d better get home before it gets any later.”

“Awww.” Fri tried to hold her with one arm, his belly still rolling a bit. “Don’t be like that Gretchy, it was just some fun.”

“Ya, I didn’t mean to hurt your timid feelings or anything.” Bel was still grinning.

“Oh sod off. I’m serious. I’m already late as it is. You guys can stay and get mopped, but don’t forget to be in the east pasture two marks past sunrise. We’ve got to finish getting that grain off the ground or it will rot. Be there.” She smiled to take the edge off her voice and slipped loose from Fri’s grip. She did care for them. And knew they felt the same.

Gretchen began to wind her way across the tavern floor, pausing to drop a few copper pence into the small basket at the front of resting trope. She exchanged light pleasantries with the dancing girls and dropped a few hints about the boys in the corner table, just to make up for her early departure. She also confirmed that, yes, the red-haired girl was indeed from Patali.

Lastly, she bid a hasty goodeve to Bijok the tavern owner and his wife Glenoa while backing towards the front entrance. Glenoa could talk your ear off if you let her and Gretchen wasn’t really in the mood tonight.

The tavern door slammed open behind her, prompting Gretchen to move aside as Doric loudly pronounced his entrance.

“Bring me the best ale in the house tavernkeep, for I have hunted a rare beast and survived to tell the tale!”

Rolling her eyes at his over-exaggerated antics, Gretchen waited for Doric to pass by her.

He didn’t. Instead, he turned and looked her up and down. “My my, hasn’t little Gretchy filled out a bit! What say you darling, want to hear my tale of bravery and valor?”

“Those are the same things, idiot.”

Doric looked a bit taken aback by her sharp tongue but quickly recovered.

“Of course I know that, for it took twice the bravery to accomplish this heroic endeavor!”

Gretchen squinted her eyes at his clothing. “Did this heroic event involve rolling in cow dung?”

Now she had done it. His eyes sharpened in anger, but his tongue stayed as glib as ever. “You see, I found and fought the Dire Wolf hunting our herds. The ensuing battle covered much terrain. Hahaha!”

This provoked quite a few responses in the tavern crowd, most clamoring for evidence of his tale. Doric continued to keep his eyes on Gretchen but reached up to the large pack around his shoulders. A quick tug on the straps, followed by the thud of a heavy skin hitting the floor.

Drat. Gretchen had thought his tale a falsehood. But there was the evidence in front of all, in the form of a massive gray wolf pelt. She hadn’t realized his pack was anything other than traveling gear, as he had purposefully hidden the pelt under his tent canvas.

Sighing, she met his gaze. “Fine, you found the dire wolf. Doesn’t mean you killed it.”

A twitch of his eyes, imperceptible to most in the tavern, but enough evidence that she knew her guess was correct. Gretchen turned away, heading towards the door even as many of the villagers gathered around the bloody wolf pelt.

In a sudden flash, Doric’s hand had grasped her arm, much tighter than Fri had earlier. His face pulled close to her own; close enough that she could smell the alcohol on his breath.

Barely above a murmur, his lips moved beside her ear. “You continue to vex me, girl. I’ll have you know I plan to ask your father’s approval after this. I have no doubt what his answer will be. Then you won’t have anywhere to run to, and I’ll be able to taste what no other man has.”

Furious, Gretchen jerked out of his grasp. His gaze met her own and she could see his intent plainly across his face. Then he took a step back, giving her a wink before turning away to laugh at the surrounding patrons.

“Patience, patience my friends! Allow me a moment to drink and let my feet up, then I will be more than happy to tell you my tale!”

She snarled, clenching her fists in anger. How dare he?!

Across the floor, she could just make Bel and Fri, half risen from their table with worried looks. Shaking her head at them, she signaled them to sit back down. No point in causing a ruckus now. It would only make Doric appear even higher in the eyes of the townsfolk.

Talyion gag it, she hated that man.

Pushing her way outside, Gretchen stopped to take a breath of the crisp night air. It was refreshing, and helped to wash away the feeling of Doric’s aura. Her eyes remained closed for a minute, then with a sigh, she shook it off and stepped down onto the dirt road. It was a long walk home.

Right now, she needed it.

{PotGA} B & B: Chapter 7

Chapter 7


Acies sat comfortably tucked into the rooftop alcove, blue eyes locked onto the warehouse doors.

This part of Chicago lay near the old docks and was currently being repurposed away from its former industrial mindset. The new wave of hipster culture had made it a point to lock down many of the potential buildings for bars, clubs, apartments, and shops, along with whatever other business the evolution of changing times might bring. Politically, however, it was a lot harder to finance such a push by the new mayor’s campaign, so for now it was just a work in progress. 

Eventually, it would become a shining example of modern commerce in the city, but for the next four years, this would be the perfect location for training. The problem was, he still needed to find the funds to purchase it. While petty theft might have been an option for some individuals, Acies felt such an act carried too much risk on the off chance it might backfire. Plus, he was far too old and set in his ways. Even if he couldn’t call himself a hero any longer, by all that’s holy, he could still act like one. No, this called for a change of plans. 

Previously, he had wanted to set up a location, then draw in his target, then figure out the best path forward. But being here had already changed things. Getting others involved was almost inevitable. So… he shifted from his comfortable hidey-hole. 

Time to call on some old friends. Or new ones? Bleh, this crap was confusing. 

Two hours later found Acies slouching outside of a well-known bar on the south side of the city. This was a dangerous place for him. Not because he had any fear of being recognized but because the faces here might pull up memories he would rather do without. Though usually in civilian clothing, almost all those entering or leaving this place had the same hard look and vigilant gaze about them. This was a bar for active and retired heroes. 

Bill’s Sports and Grill Bar had been around since the 60s. It had endured the hard times and the peaceful years, largely due to the reputation of its founder and proprietor Bill “Ironsides” McGrath. All those who had worn the mask were welcome within its thick walls, and it was a perfect place to meet peers and discuss sensitive information. Acies was confident he could pass as a still-active hero but truthfully didn’t want to push it too far. Besides, the individual he was currently after always left about this time. His schedule never changed. Three fingers of whiskey straight and a quarter past six, he would walk out the front doors and head home. 

It was about that time when a young couple walked towards the building, coming fairly close to Acies’ position in the alley. The woman glanced in his direction, eyes passing over his form like normal, before frowning and murmuring something towards her partner. 

They both paused to take a closer look. 

Acies cursed mentally. It would not help things if he was found right now. Still, he needed that money, and he needed it yesterday. This was his best option, and he really didn’t want to try again later. 

Thankfully, he didn’t have to wait much longer.  

A man that could have walked right out of a 10 cent detective novel made his appearance, stepping through the bar doors and out onto the sidewalk. He situated his fedora, rearranged the grey domino mask on his face, gave a casual shake of his dark leather trench coat, and began to stride past Acies’ position. 

And none too soon, as the couple had almost reached his alley. Quickly but carefully Acies scaled the building beside him, from the dumpster to balcony to window.  Looking down, he saw the man and woman inspecting the area where he had so recently been standing. Too close. Acies would need to stay away from this area for now, till the time was right.

He continued to track the fedora-wearing individual, pausing once as the man below lit up a giant cigar. A small smile touched Acies lips. 

In a world of constant upheaval, Rodney Derrabon never changed. Literally. As if frozen in a picture, the man known as Nightwatch had operated for almost a century without fail. 

Course, Acies knew the real secret beneath the fedora. 

Seeing no deviation from the man’s usual route, Acies decided to skip ahead to the hideout and avail himself of a glass of bourbon that was undoubtedly hidden somewhere in the office. 

He had been sitting on the comfortable couch for a while by the time the front door opened but didn’t mind too much. Rodney really did know his alcohol. He took a sip, watching quietly as the man first checked each room, then relaxed enough to drape his trench coat over the desk chair. 

At this point, both revolvers were pulled from their shoulder holsters, each being checked before being gently set on the desk nearby. Finally, the dark-haired man collapsed into his chair, leaning back to remove his hat and gingerly run his long fingers across his scalp.

“You’ve got an excellent choice in bourbon Rodney. I knew that, I just didn’t think you’d keep a bottle of the best in your desk.” 

Acies voice was calm, pitched low and with no threat attached. He wasn’t too worried about Rodney’s reaction, but then again he hadn’t known him at this point. Thankfully, his instincts proved true.

Before the fourth word had been spoken, a revolver was pointed in his direction, no waver in the hand holding it. 

“I like to keep a bottle nearby just in case I get visitors. Case in point.” The gun motioned in his direction. “Now… who the fuck are you?”

“Why, I’m an old friend Rodney. From a long time away. Now, you might not know me yet, but I was very familiar with your predecessor.”

Rodney’s eyes narrowed. “Funny, he never mentioned someone of your description.”

Acies waved his glass in a shrug. “Yes, well, Charles always was a forgetful sort. In this case, literally. He had all the memories of our… adventures… wiped about a decade before his death. There are a number of reasons for that, but they are his secrets to keep.”

Carefully standing, Acies made sure to keep his hands in the open, though he continued to drink from his glass occasionally. He approached the desk slowly and slid a file across its surface.

“Just take a look at this. If it doesn’t pique your interest, I’ll leave, right now; and you never have to see me again.”

With his gun hand still focused on Acies’ chest, Rodney flipped the file open. Not even bothering to look at its contents, he simply placed his open palm down upon the papers within. At first confusion, then fear, then adrenaline flashed across his face. 

In a single lunge, he crossed the desk and smashed the glass out of Acies’ hand. “What was that!? What the fuck was that!?” His left hand was twisting the front of Acies’ shirt into a fist, and the barrel of his revolver was grinding into the lower jaw of the taller man.

Holding his hands wide and open, Acies stared straight back into the steel gray pupils of the man threatening him. “The truth, Rodney. The truth only a very few will ever be able to see. Now you know why I’m here. Now you know who I am. The question is… what are you going to do about it?”

Slowly, the gun slipped from its position, finally tumbling out of shaking hands. Tears filled Rodney’s vision, and he slumped to the floor in front of his desk. Acies remained standing at first, then carefully lowered his bulk to the floor as well. Before leaning back, he grasped a silver inlaid box on a lampstand nearby and fished a couple of cigars out. He cut and lit one, then handed it over to Rodney, who took it without looking. Then he did the same for himself.

Then he leaned back, slowly enjoying the taste of the tobacco, occasionally blowing out long streams of smoke.

Sighing, he spoke softly, letting the words form on his tongue before exiting. “It won’t be an easy thing. What we have to do. But it is necessary. We won’t be entirely alone. There are a few others I can surely convince.”

Rodney stared at his hands, cigar held between limp fingers. “Will it be worth it? Will it even work, this plan of yours?”

Acies shrugged. “It might. It’s the only chance we get though. I’ve already screwed that up, unfortunately.” 

Nodding slowly, Rodney felt his mind beginning to engage the problems they faced. “Shit. Today’s the start of the semester, isn’t it? Initiation and all that.”

With a grin, Acies flicked his ash into a nearby tray. 

“Yep. It sure is.”



{PotGA} B & B: Chapter 6

Chapter 6


The student flat was old and smelled like a dozen ripe socks. Lela Belaudon sighed in exasperation. She had expected the standard dorm situation when applying for college, but this was pushing it. Shoving her small stack of boxes further into the suite, she took a better look around. 

Besides the smell, it actually wasn’t too bad. A large hallway opened into a living room with a correspondingly tattered couch and lazy-boy. Connected to the side was a tiny kitchen with just enough space for a decently sized refrigerator, microwave, and oven. Virtually no countertop meant there would be a problem if they ever cooked a large meal. Tucked away into another room on the other side of the flat, an open dual sink setup allowed a large restroom mirror to reflect two simple shower stalls.

Last but not least, two separate doorways opened into the main sitting area, each leading to a bedroom with several bunks.

“Yep, this is college alright.” Lela blew a stray hair out of her face and considered whether it would be easier to just continue shoving her boxes across the suite or go through the trouble of picking them up individually. Thankfully, neither proved necessary, as a head popped out one of the open bedrooms. 

“Heya.” The tall athletic girl who waved casually while walking across the living room could only be described as tomboyish, with short spiked hair colored a brilliant firehouse red, occasionally interspersed with what looked like fresh snow. “The name’s Delphia. You one of my future roomies?”

“Yep! I’m Lela. Mind helping with a box or two?”

“Sure, no problem.” Delphia easily grabbed the largest box off the ground and began carrying it back to the bedroom. “You hauled all this up the stairs by yourself?”

“Well, my older brother was just dropping me off, and he didn’t have much time other than to say goodbye. I figured it would be safer just to make the trip in one go. Thankfully caught one of the elevators half full.” Just thinking about the past struggle of fitting all she had in that elevator added to her exhaustion. Thank goodness she didn’t have to walk up 25 flights of stairs.

“Ah,” Delphia nodded. “You must be native to Chicago then.”

“Yep. Told the rest of the family goodbye this morning. Hopefully, they’ll give me some time before coming to visit. I’d rather have found a school out of state, but… you know.” Lela squinted at her new roommate, unsure if she should say anything else. 

Delphia smiled back. “Heh, no worries. All incoming HCP students are required to room together, for safety and other reasons. Probably easier when keeping a secret identity.”

Lela nodded, she had figured as much, but it was always better to be safe than sorry. “So, you met our other two roommates?”

“Yep,” Delphia set the box down gently, pushing it the rest of the way into what was apparently Lela’s small closet. “They went out to grab a bite, said they wanted to explore the campus. You’ve seen the Market?” 

Lela nodded. She’d gotten the tour earlier in the year, and was fairly impressed with the size and scope of just the regular university. Due to being within a major city (one with its own fair share of history and wealth), many extra commodities had been added over the years thanks to generous donations by various alumni. 

Apparently, it was a common issue with many schools to have poor cafeteria food. The Market was just one of the many ways Sizemore bucked that trend and was certainly an interesting part of campus. Conveniently located at the juncture of the new Stangel and Randolph Hall dorms, the Market consisted of a collection of shops and food court style restaurant chains selling a variety of options. While most were your standard mall fare, a few legitimate places plus easy access to innumerable faux chain storefronts offered an attractive alternative from traditional dining halls. 

It was a popular place for students to hang out and socialize, especially since all the stalls accepted the college’s meal plans. To this end, large sets of television monitors had been placed throughout the food court area, providing a centralized spot for checking out events, getting reminders of specific dates, or just seeing tv clips and music appealing to the average college student. 

Thinking about it a bit more, Lela came to a realization. “I know I should finish unpacking first, but honestly hanging out sounds way more fun. Wanna join me?”

Delphia glanced around the room, but then shrugged and grabbed a light jacket off the back of her desk chair. “Sure, why not. I don’t feel like getting cooped up just yet.” 




“I can’t get this to stay on the nail!” 

A young man of average height shook aside a lock of black hair out of his vision. Staring frustratedly at the large framed painting beside him, Alphonso Acuna wondered once more why he had agreed to take his mother’s art to college. It wasn’t bad, in fact, the landscape scene could probably have sold for a decent amount back home. He knew she meant it out of love, but right now it was just annoying. 

“Here,” Rubin tossed him a fork from the kitchen. “Slide the middle tongs between the nail, and then use that to guide the painting down.”

Alph did so, and grinned as it fit perfectly. “Huh. Well what do ya know, it worked!”

Rubin just nodded sagely. “Not my first rodeo with moving.”

“Uh, not to interrupt or anything, but I finally got the X-station up and running.” The new voice appeared to come from below the front of the couch. Immediately after, a boy that would undoubtedly fit the role of a popular Cuban heartthrob jumped up from his crouched position in front of the tv. “You guys up for some split-screen? We got four controllers, so…”

Malachi motioned towards the mostly empty recliner, where only one spot was currently occupied by a guy who had recently introduced himself as Rueben. He waved back with an already spoken for controller and grinned. 

“Ya, come on guys. We need at least 4 to make it a challenge. Bot mode is just sad.”

“Right.” Malachi nodded sagely. “As my new companion so eloquently put it, the best way to make friends and test a man’s mettle is on the battlefield. Even if that field might be virtual in nature.”

Rubin and Alph glanced towards each other, then simultaneously shrugged and moved over to grab the controllers held in their direction. 

Only while taking a seat did Rubin’s eyes begin to sparkle with mischief. “Hey, I got an idea guys. Why don’t we make it worth something to win.” The other boys automatically perked up at the idea. 

“Let’s see, why not have the losers have first go at the cleaning schedule.” This was quickly met with unanimous approval and with a shout of “You’re on!” the battle began.




Ethan stared at the elevator doors, wondering if it really would have been faster to walk up the stairs. His arms were full with the last two containers he needed to carry to his dorm room, and he had hoped to skip the journey up the steps once again. Sighing, he decided to get on with it and turned quickly to move in the direction of the stairwell.

His sudden movement had happened quite unpredictably, which was likely why the rather tall girl behind him had no chance to move back before the inevitable crash occurred. A small gasp was all that could be heard as several boxes hit the ground and scattered their meager contents. 

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Startled, Ethan glanced up from the mess on the ground, and felt his heart just… stop.

Staring back with a bit of a perturbed look was the single most gorgeous girl he had ever seen. She was at least six and a half foot, with dark caramel skin and an athletic build. Long white hair was tied loosely in a single braid down her back, and her features clearly carried an exotic tint to them. 

What had caught his attention most though was the color of her eyes. They seemed green at first glance, but if one looked closer, they would notice a shifting palette hidden behind thick eyelashes.

“Well. Are you just going to stand there or are you going to help me pick this up?” Her voice carried the faintest of accents but Ethan thought he heard a hint of French layered in. Then his brain caught up to what she had said, and the young man blushed deeply. 

“Again, I’m very sorry.” He dropped his own containers to the side and quickly bent to help gather the odds and ends that had spilled. Together, they managed to shove most of the contents back in the box before yet more people arrived to catch the next elevator. At this point, the girl straightened to her full height and looked over her shoulder as she carried the boxes onto the waiting lift. 

“You should be more careful to look where you run off to, Mr. Impatient. Sometimes waiting is the better option.” Ethan nodded, chagrined, before starting in the realization that the elevator doors were closing and he was on the wrong side of them. He made a motion to grab his stuff, but the action was pointless, and he could almost swear he heard a giggle from the girl just before the doors closed in his face. 

Well, he probably deserved that. Shaking the vision of beauty from his mind, he turned to once again face the workout that was the 756 steps to his floor. Absently, he wondered if this was the best or worst thing about living in such a tall building. At least the option of exercise would always be available.



{PotGA} B & B: Chapter 5

Chapter 5


Ethan stared out the window of his hotel room, sipping his coffee and considering his future.

It was a rainy day in Chicago but the temperature was pleasant enough, and his room contained very comfortable furniture. He had tasks that needed doing, but he wasn’t really in the mood. Besides, it was the kind of soft rain that made you want to just sit and enjoy the moment.

He glanced down at the table nearest to him, full of scattered notes and files. Research. On the HCP, on Chicago, on Sizemore University. Blueprints of the entire campus lay there. Every restroom noted and every office labeled. Mom had taught him well the advantage of being prepared.

His purpose in becoming a hero wasn’t for revenge. He’d already accomplished that. Nor was it from some sense of self-doubt in his abilities. Stolen or otherwise. No, Ethan Burkhardt had a much more unusual reason for dedicating his life to such a goal.

An Oath and a Dream. His oath was his own, taken the moment he realized mother’s death was his fault. The dream could have been from anyone. It could have been his own subconscious causing trouble. He doubted that theory. It had been too clear, too easily remembered for it to be purely imagination.

His mom had always warned him about faulty memories, and though it was said with a laugh, he had taken it to heart. The next four years would likely be only the start of a career rife with hardships and pitfalls. He needed to remember it all. There was also the matter considering the drop out policy all applicants were forced to sign. It spelled out a version of identity protection that involved fogging a person’s memory.

While Ethan would do everything in his power never to get to that point, it was always better to be cautious. He had too much riding on this. He wanted it too much. He knew that. But it was worth it.

He would start with a small notebook, written in a code made of pure nonsense. Perhaps the pattern could be recognized, but translating it without the key would be nearly impossible. Nearly, because for whatever precautions one might take, there was undoubtedly a hero somewhere that could undo them with a snap of their fingers.

Notes, thoughts, reviews of training and combat, summaries of classes, and journals of daily activities. All offline.

He sat down his mug on the table and sorted aside his current semester schedule. There was English Lit, a history class, and Intro to Physics. A basic social elective filled out the calendar.

Only a few days left before classes began. He would be living in the dorm rooms and had already packed most of his items (such as there were) in preparation for the move. He’d have to put more work into meeting people once he was finished.

The problem was, he’d just been so busy trying to find a decent part-time job, but most were already locked down. This was Chicago, you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult for someone to find a place to work. His mistake was in forgetting that this was also the end of summer, and college students were flooding back into the area like locusts. The good jobs were all snatched up quickly, and what’s left were the dregs of… huh. Dregs. An idea began to form. There had been a number of cafes or coffee stands near the Market. Perhaps one of them would be hiring? The turnover rate was fairly sharp when working in retail or food industries. He might just get lucky.

Plus, his high school summers working in The Lodge might finally come in hand, and the thought of being a barista for a few semesters wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.

That goal in mind, Ethan moved back from the table, stretching widely before beginning the process of destroying the paperwork in front of him. It had served his purpose, and while not strictly illegal in any way, no evidence was always better than offering a confusing explanation.

His mind wandered to his future classmates. What would they be like? He fully expected the peace and quiet he was so used to while living alone to be shattered on campus. Hopefully, they would be interesting enough to make up for its loss… though actually, he’d rather desire that they be useful.

Ethan’s goals for the future relied on him becoming friends (or at the very least building connections) with a large number of Supers. Teleportation was at the very top of the list, but any kind of advanced mind would also be necessary.

The only question was, who would he meet first?




With a gentle stride, Jackson moved off the train and dropped to the floor of Union Station. He smiled a little then, looking about with eyes that saw more than they seemed. He shifted his duffel to the other shoulder, then began moving softly forward, the crowd of people in his path quickly giving him a wide berth. His obvious background showed clearly here in the city, his size only seeming to declare it all to the world. He disregarded the fearful looks that stared in his direction and made his way through the station to the taxi parking.

He quietly handed his duffel to the driver, who seemed fairly nonplussed about his size, and squeezed into the backseat. After giving the address of Sizemore Tech to the driver; he sat back and watched as the city flew past his window.

Well… it certainly wasn’t the forest. But to his surprise, Chicago did have its own unique beauty. It streamed from the high glass windows of the skyscrapers, flowing down across the brick and mortar of a weathered cathedral. There was a busy feeling to the city, a breath of purposefulness and determination, of excitement and possibilities.

“Heading to Sizemore, huh?” the driver glanced in his rearview mirror.

“Yes,” Jackson responded softly.

“Going to be Hero someday?” he grinned.

“Who can say?” Jackson turned back to the window. “The future is unknown. Full of potential, but undetermined nonetheless.”

The driver nodded with appreciation.“Huh. I guess that makes sense. Well, good luck anyway.”

“Thank you. Luck is always a good thing to have.” Jackson smiled back.

The rest of the drive through the city continued peacefully and without interruption, the taxi finally dropping him off at the front of the Sizemore Tech Campus. After a friendly goodbye to his driver, then shouldering his duffel once more, he made his way to the administration building.

Emerging about an hour later, he slowly began the walk to the designated dorms. Apparently, he would be living in Randolph Hall this year. He wondered what exactly that would entail. After all, a great many of the buildings in this area of the city were very old. Many voices resided here, though they might be worn with age and disheartened by remaining unnoticed for so long. He’d noticed much impatience while in the city, a far cry from the laid back feeling so prevalent in the forest.

Well, this time someone was able to listen. He couldn’t wait to get to work.




Travis stopped walking once he reached the curb and stared at the dorms, a look of excitement spreading across his face. Behind him, Casey continued dragging his suitcases over to the curb, waiting for the rest of the family to catch up.

The blond-haired young man was slightly winded, but couldn’t use his ability for fear of being noticed. It was definitely an odd feeling, that of trying not to stand out. The boys had always been… well, noticeable, and had thrived in such an environment. This was a much different atmosphere.

“Hey, Travis buddy, if it isn’t too much work, thank you could manage to liberate a few boxes from the top of the stack? I’d rather get moved in sooner rather than later ya know?”

“Sure, sure. Be there in a sec.” Travis continued to gaze with thoughtful delight at the surrounding campus. From their current viewpoint at the northwestern top of the quad, they could see over quite a large area.

To the south and east, the campus spread out in a fascinating blend of the old and new architecture styles Chicago was somewhat famous for. Ancient red-brick buildings surrounded the central part of the school, usually two to three stories in height. Only slightly further beyond that, one could see the gothic church steeple rising in the background. Since the establishment of HCP in the 50s, the small community college had undergone something of a renaissance, shifting into the massive sprawling institute it was now.

Lake Michigan provided the perfect backdrop from this viewpoint, its shining waters reflecting the sunlight into a myriad of colors. A soft breeze from the north shifted Travis’s dark curls, and he closed his eyes to just feel the moment.

It felt so right.

Casey’s hand landed on his shoulder, pulling him from his reverie and into a tight side-hug.

“Hey. She would have been proud ya know. Seeing you here.” His best friend had a solemn look on his face and was joining him in staring at the distant horizon.

With a small nod, Travis broke the hug and stepped back with a grin. “Here, let me help you carry that. Before you break something. Again.”

“Hey! It was one time ok! I just misjudged how much I could carry. Cause, ya know, I’ve been doing all this work while you’ve been daydreaming. So now we have to be without your fancy speakers. Boohoo.”

Readjusting his load, Casey waited for a few other students to move past them on the sidewalk before continuing his journey to the second floor of Stangel Hall. The atmosphere around them was full of energy as over 20,000 new or returning students made their way on the campus in preparation for a new semester.

He shoved his way past the boxes lining the hallway, then virtually threw his suitcases into their shared dorm room. “Hey man, you never did tell me how we got a room together. I thought that was a random thing for incoming freshmen?”

With deft hands, Travis continued sorting his clothing into the small closet provided. “Well, you see, first I had to bribe the dean of admissions, which was no small task by the way, then I had to convince the dean of students, which was slightly easier, but then I had to talk to the dean of the HCP, and that my friend, was the real challenge.”

He turned to find Casey staring at him with a dead expression plastered across his face and two upturned fingers presented expressively. Laughing, Travis threw a package of underwear at his friend’s face. “Nah man. There was a note in the application if you already wanted to room with another incoming student. Since we’re both freshmen in the HCP, it was approved.”

“Cool.” Casey belted the underwear back towards the other side of the room. “Want to grab a bite to eat after this? I could go for some pizza.”

“Sure. Uh, but seriously though, pizza? You know orientation is tomorrow, right? All that grease, rolling around in your gut. Just a disaster waiting to blow.”

“Nah, I ain’t worried. After all, it’s the first day. What’s the worst that can happen?”



{PotGA} B & B: Chapter 4



A landline phone rang shrilly on top of an empty desk, in the middle of a doorless, windowless room. A single-occupant sitting in the only chair provided stared harshly down at the noisy device, frustration evident in the intervening silence.

Finally, on the fifth ring, a hand reached out to snatch the phone off its cradle.

“Thirty seconds.”

The first voice was quiet, the meaning clear. The response was quick and cold.

“Then I won’t waste our time. The Game the Three of us have been playing at has just been escalated. Something has changed, and no one can foresee how. A new timetable is in the works, and unique pawns are approaching the horizon. The goal is this: take control of the incoming HCP class at Sizemore Tech. Utilize whatever methods as best you can, and gain their trust and loyalty by any means. Whoever controls them most by their graduation will likely win the final conflict.”

“Rules of Engagement?”

“No deaths unless agreed upon. No face to face contact. No blackmail of the HCP instructors. Addendums may arise.”

“When do we begin?”

“We just did.”

The phone went dead. A moment later, it was carefully and gingerly placed back in its appropriate position. The lone individual stood, then lifted the chair and tucked it underneath the desk.

First, a straightening of their sleeves. Then, a crack of the neck. Lastly, the whisper of a device being removed from the foremost pocket of their suit jacket. A sigh, then the device was engaged, causing a flash of light and a crack of ozone being left to echo in the now empty room.




Holding the last remnant of his bloody uniform, the tired-looking man gazed across the flowing fields of grass.

This was the day. It would begin in the next few hours, as the Windy City lived up to its name, and the young students began to explore their new home.

They had no idea what awaited them. And somehow… someway… he would have to save them. He had no other choice.

His attention was caught by the blowing rags, and the faded writing across its surface. Only the letters W A R… were still visible, followed by the number 1.  The patch above the letters had already been torn off, but he knew what belonged there. Acies. A good name. His name once. Well, one of them.

The last memories of a forgotten life. He let the rag blow away in the wind, following its wandering journey with weary eyes. When it finally dipped below another hill, he turned back towards the highway, gazing at the traffic winding into the sprawling city far distant.

The world didn’t need to know. Not yet. Hopefully never, but he was far too jaded to believe such a thing. This was the beginning of the end. Every action mattered.

Zipping up his new coat tighter, the man once known by many names, now only known by one, gave the barest of smiles. Acies was back.

After all, there were Heros to save.



{PotGA} B & B: Chapter 3

Chapter 3


Jackson sat quietly alone on the high mountainous ridge and absorbed the feel of the day into his skin. The whisper of the wind that flowed through his dark hair was a comforting friend, the cool summer breeze carrying the sound of forest glen and bubbling stream into his conscience. Time slowed in this world, space fluctuating in soft tones of gravity and light… he breathed deeply, dwelling in the moment, completely immersed in the peaceful absence. It was like the strongest drug, the clearest emotion, the purest definition of true energy. An energy suddenly tinged with worry.

His eyes slowly reopened; and expelling a soft sigh, he rose and began the long hike back to the ranch. Stocky, well-muscled, and with hair black as night; the man with an unmistakable Native American heritage picked up speed while traversing the narrow game trail. This would be his last sojourn to the mountains before departing, and it was already over too soon. Perhaps he could befriend a teleporter, there undoubtedly would have to be one in the program, even if they weren’t in the same year. 

With these thoughts in his mind, he arrived back home in short order. Striding into the ranch yard and up the front steps of the mill house, he took a minute to greet Old Brett. The worn cattle dog was getting quite on in years, but his tail still wagged as hard as any young puppy when he saw Jackson walk up to the front door. As he was busy kneeling and scratching the dog’s ears, Uncle William stepped onto the veranda.

Tall and broad-shouldered, Uncle Will showed every day of his 40 plus years. His blond hair and light blue eyes were evidence enough of his thick Scandinavian blood, but his weathered face and hands depicted a work ethic few could compare to. He smiled at Jackson though, and with a shake of the head, motioned him to sit on one of the wrap-around benches surrounding the house. 

“You have thoughts, what are they?” he calmly said, as a small pocket knife and short whittling stick appeared out of nowhere into his awaiting hands.

“I am worried. My future has seemed sure… but now on the mountain, I felt a disturbing emotion. Something is moving unseen, and those with eyes ahead do not like it.” 

“Does this prevent your goals? Will you be unable to accomplish what you wish to?”

Jackson thought about it for a minute. “Unclear.”

Uncle Will nodded. “Then nothing has changed. You will go to school, you will become a hero.”

Rising to his feet, Jackson looked over at the man who had taught and cared for him since he was a child. Without this man’s guidance, he would surely have long ago fallen into insanity. 

“Thank you, Uncle. I trust you will notify me if an emergency arises?” 

“Ja. You will find transportation?”

“Of course. It might take a few weeks though.”

“Only natural. Be smart, remember your surroundings. You are unused to the city. This will be dangerous.”

“Dangerous yes, but necessary. I must learn my weaknesses, and this is the best way.”

“Agreed.” Uncle Will sighed, rising from his chair as well, knife and wood disappearing into the air. Walking over to Jackson, he placed an arm around the younger man’s shoulders. “Now, you have waited long enough. Go tell your mother goodbye.”

“Is she still upset?”

“Ja, but I doubt she will stay that way for much longer. She loves you too much to let you leave while angry. Go, talk to her. Show her the man you wish to become.”

Smiling softly now, Jackson gave a quick nod; and turned to enter the house. 

“Oh, and Jac? You must find someone to confide in at this school. Another student would be a good choice, just make sure you are familiar with their desires before telling them of your own. Trust your power, and it will not lead you astray. 

“Yes, sir. I understand.”




The deserted country road stretched for miles in either direction, connecting the horizons by its cracked blacktop. The lone individual walking quietly down the single lane was wearing what had clearly been a uniform at one time; though it was now little more than torn and bloody rags. 

Closing his eyes, he breathed in a slow, deep breath. Ah, but the delicious quiet! He had missed the silence of this area of the world; the peacefulness of being surrounded only by rows upon rows of corn and wheat. How long had it been? Years at least. It felt like centuries.

The miles had slowly passed behind the plodding individual, his mind wandering, until he slowly glanced up to see a small skirting of trees beside a small creek. “Perfect,” he decided. Carefully, he crawled through the barb-wire fence and walked through the knee-high crabgrass to the trees. After deciding to pause for at least a short rest in the grove of sycamore, he slowly and carefully began laying out what was left of his kit in front of him. A sword (about a meter and a half long) was laid gently down, it’s blade made of a bright silverish alloy. A dagger followed; the once decorated sheath that had held it was now in poor condition. A brace of throwing spikes, a now thoroughly mangled set of revolvers, and a variety of damaged gadgets all joined the small pile of equipment. 

Sighing, the weary man lay back and rested for a few minutes. Just a few minutes, nothing more. Just enough time to… 

Waking with a start, he immediately gathered energy and let it roll across his skin. Flying upwards into a kneeling position, he took a fighting stance and prepared to destroy… the stray cat calmly licking its paw. 

Slowly exhaling his pent-up tensions, the man scowled and sank back to the ground. He needed a place to rest. A safe place. Unfortunately, this was a world filled with impossible acts and incredible gifts; all directed by people with personal agendas. Nowhere was safe. In fact, the only reason he hadn’t already been found and pulled in was likely because he had been running a constant telepathic interference blanket since arriving. He could keep the interference up indefinitely, even when asleep, but almost all of his other skills required concentration and focus. Thus the need for sleep. He had lost so much in the transfer. So many skills, so many hazy memories.

Was there anyone in this world he could trust? Quickly running off a list of individuals in his mind who might consider helping him; he, unfortunately, had to discount many due to his current situation. “Hmm, wouldn’t understand, couldn’t comprehend, didn’t like them in the first place. Maybe, maybe, maybe… ahh.” 

Smiling now, he gathered his weapons and equipment up. He had a destination, and he had a goal. He only hoped it was the right one.




The door to the sleek (and obviously modified) Lamborghini opened with a barely heard hiss. Its two-toned red on black highlights stood out brilliantly in the midday sun, and it’s silver-edged rims slowed their rhythm to a stand-still. The man who could be seen emerging from the vehicle’s interior matched its theme perfectly. 

To most outside observers, they could have easily assumed that such a well-dressed individual would appear perfectly at home on the courthouse steps, or in the high rises of Wall Street and vast corporate kingdoms. Yet, he was here, on a simple university campus, walking briskly across the Commons adjunct to the Administration office. That wasn’t to say he didn’t enjoy the admiring glances his ride got. 

The man continued walking in and around a variety of office buildings and boardrooms, before finally stopping in front of an innocuous-looking file closet situated down an empty hallway. Pressing his hand to the side of a cabinet, he watched disinterestedly as a small light flickered on the top of the doorframe. When the light turned a pale blue, he simply walked through the still visibly closed doors. 

“Hello, Adrian.” A petite looking Asian woman smiled warmly at his entrance onto the elevator. 

“Yoko! When did you get back? I thought you were going to be gone until at least just before the semester began?” 

“That was the plan originally, yes. I changed my mind after hearing a few underground whispers about HCP schools being under watch.” 

Adrian Steels peered down at the much smaller professor beside him. “We already knew about Overton though.” 

“Overton, yes. They’re not the only one though, just the most obvious.” she shrugged off his further questioning glance with a wave of the hand. “I’d rather not go over everything twice; you’ll just have to wait till we’re in the meeting.”

“Fine. But I expect all the juicy details of your vacation later. And don’t think that getting back early gets you a pass on our sparring session on Tuesday. I need the practice more than you do anyway.”

“I wouldn’t dream of missing it. After all, it’s not every day we professors are allowed to destroy the reputations of our fellow peers.” She smiled to lessen the blow.

“Ha! That’s funny. You can try, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. I might be inexperienced when it comes to sharp steel and bloody maces, but I’m perfectly capable with these.” He held up his hands to emphasize the comment. 

Kiyoko Masuyo smiled softly once more. “We shall see.”

She might have said more, but the elevator dinged at this point and opened to show the HCP center. Walking past the auditorium and into the office’s section of the underground facility, the two friends continued to bring each other up to date with what had been happening over the summer. Pausing before heading into the boardroom, Adrian looked closely at Kiyoko. “It really is good to have you back, you know. Chicago just wasn’t the same without your smile brightening its streets.” 

“Thank you.” she dipped her head in response, then looked distantly away for a few seconds. “It means a lot to hear that.”

“You’re welcome. As long as you don’t forget it. Now, let’s go get this mess started.” he stated as he swung the door open to allow her entrance ahead of him. “Ladies first.”

Entering the boardroom revealed the rest of the staffed heroes gathered around an oval-like table, student files and many piles of paperwork scattered about haphazardly. 

“Good.” Dean Jackson looked up from his position at the head of the table and thoroughly scanned both of them. “Glad you guys could make it,” he commented dryly. “Now sit down and buckle up. We have a lot of work to get done, and no time to do it in. Amery, would you mind giving us a quick update on the upcoming senior class? Any issues we should be made aware of, or concerns with the students?”

The older focus instructor shifted in his seat and thought for a few seconds before answering, his Swedish accent more prevalent than usual after the summer break. “That would be a negative sir. Perhaps we’ve gotten lucky, but this year’s senior class is fairly straightforward. No situations have arisen as of yet, and I don’t foresee any in the near future.”

“The same could be spoken for the junior class.” Coach Langston’s matter of fact tone broke in. She continued to peruse a few separate files before nodding to the dean. “Should be all good for the beginning of the year, at least until trials start.” 

“Okay, then let’s move on to our more immediate subjects.” He motioned towards the display in the middle of the table. “I’m sure you’re all aware of what’s been happening in and around Overton lately. Now, there isn’t much we can do to help them directly; but I’ll be damned if I let some scrubmaker politicians try to take over our schools. In the interest of cooperation, I agreed to allow the reentrance of an extra student or two into the program, albeit if their original dismissal was unjust, and if they had the necessary potential to continue. As such, we have one applicant currently in processing.” He shuffled a few papers before pulling one out and focusing on it. 

“Susan Owens. A shifter with some interesting properties. End of second-year dropout, so she’ll be quite a bit ahead of the current sophomore class. You all have the same file in front of you, so in the interest of expediency, we’ll skip the basics. This could be potentially throwing something of screwball in our current class, but I’d like to see how they handle the changeup. Thoughts? 

Adrian grinned before mentioning what was certainly on everyone’s minds. “Meredith Hopkins is going to have a hard time handling a new top dog.” 

Langston nodded quietly. “We’ll have to keep a close eye on Miss Hopkins. Regardless, I believe Susan will be entering with quite an advantage due to her extra experience. Is there anything you wish us to implement with her training? No point in wasting forward movement.”

Dean Jackson shook his head, though he did seem to ponder the thought for a few moments. “I’ll tell you what, let’s judge her combat matches for ourselves before we make any further commitment to her future training. Regardless, I want an advanced roster and schedule replanned. Let’s keep on track with everything else we can.”

After receiving multiple nods of confirmation, he turned to the largest mixture of paperwork and files lying in front of him. “Alright, then without further ado… let’s figure out who we want to see get beat up this year.”

As the rest of the teachers good-naturedly chuckled, a screen projected to the wall on their right; filling up with a tournament-style bracket, aligned vertically with a long list of names. The Freshman beat down was about to begin.