“This is incredible, absolutely incredible.” The reporter was crouched behind a tree and kept ducking every few seconds as loud explosions or gunshots echoed all around her.
<You don’t have to tell me.> Seth was leaning forward with his eyes glued to the TV.
He’d participated in free-for-all battles in the HCP, and the amount of damage a bunch of teenage Supers could do was incredible. This jailbreak had hardened criminals fighting for their freedom while seasoned Heroes tried to rein them in.
“There goes another one.” A loud crack echoed from close by and she ducked. “We at WKYTV know that sound well. That’s Bender, a member of the Rocky Guard from Denver, and he just made us a little safer by taking out another one of these criminals.”
The reporter was smiling so widely that Seth was sure her jaw was going to be sore for a week. He tried to ignore the commentary and pay attention to the action. The reporter – at least she was cute – really wasn’t adept at covering something like this, and that was a shame because footage like this was never seen live.
Super battles were inherently destructive so the media tended to record from afar. Sometimes there were people embedded in the action, but they never showed it live. It was like war footage. Seth bet in a few months there would be an entire special aired showing everything leading up to and during the fight with some of this footage. The only difference would be that the major networks would edit out the newbie.
“Oh my god! Zoom in…zoom in!” She pestered the cameraman as she pointed forcefully at something in the opposite direction of Bender’s latest victim.
The picture blurred as the cameraman swiveled and had to go around the tree, but once it focused again Seth had a clear shot of the side of the building with several holes in it. There, he got a perfect view of Lilly stalking toward another figure.
“Holy shit!” Seth’s jaw dropped as Lilly and Mr. Morningstar engaged in an intense fight.
The reporter was chattering the whole time, but Seth ignored all of it. He studied the fight. Both of the fighters were extremely skilled. He’d been in the HCP long enough to see that. Lilly was quicker and stronger. She was able to bounce back from hits faster, and that would probably be the deciding factor. Mr. Morningstar was no slouch though, but he either wasn’t using his power or it wasn’t working. Sooner rather than later he began to lag, and Lilly exploited that.
“Hero and villain locked in a titanic battle for…” the reporter was spouting off meaningless dialogue when a Morningstar punched Lilly right in the face.
Seth winced at the sight, but it was quickly overtaken when a vicious roundhouse kick did some real damage. Even from the treeline, Seth could see the kick had hurt the Hero. Mr. Morningstar was cradling his arm to his chest. He tried in vain to stop the follow-on attacks, but Lilly’s fist seemed to blur she struck out so fast and caught the older Hero right in the throat.
“Oh no,” the smile fell from the reporter’s face as Morningstar fell to the ground. “Go to commercial or pan away you idiot.” She reached out and physically moved the camera, but not before Seth and millions of Americans saw Wraith pull a pistol and aim in at the fallen Hero.
“Bender! Over there!” The reporter must have seen the local Hero and pointed out the Hero in distress.
A big man came rushing over, slid on the ground, and practically shoved the report aside as he brought up a sleek, deadly looking rifle. The cameraman got a close-up view of the Hero doing his job, but that wasn’t what Seth was paying attention to.
His heart had leapt into his throat the moment he saw Mr. Morningstar go down, and he felt that heart breaking when he heard three shots echo through the TV.
<It could have been someone else. There is SWAT there and other Heroes.> He tried to convince himself that Lilly hadn’t gunned down the leader of the Protectorate. That she hadn’t just thrown the promise she made to him in the dirt and smashed it to pieces.
A resounding boom echoed through the TV as Bender took aim and fired. Somewhere in the back of his mind Seth already knew it was too late. Lilly had killed the Hero, and judging by the nasty looking rifle recoiling into the Hero’s shoulder, she might be dead too.
Something hard, sinking, and dark filled Seth’s gut. He felt like he was going to be sick. He rushed to the bathroom and emptied his stomach into the porcelain throne. He’d been mostly on a liquid courage diet lately, so it flowed out of him easily. It smelled like half-rotted asshole, and that made more come up. He retched three times before everything was out of him, but the darkness in his gut was still there sinking deeper and deeper into his soul.
Depression turned to anger. He lashed out. His fist smashed through the mirror above the sink and into the drywall behind it. Glass and blood went flying as it sliced through his fingers and split his knuckles. He ignored it all.
He just screamed. He screamed his lungs out. He tried to rid himself of everything pent up inside him, but it didn’t help. If anything, it made it worse. He didn’t remember what happened next. His mind went blank with anger and pain. When he finally came to he was standing in the hallway, he smelled smoke, and some guy was unconscious in front of him.
Seth looked behind him and saw flames licking at the sofa of his apartment. The smoke was growing and any second alarms would start wailing. His mind focused on the man in front of him. He vaguely recognized the man as the guy from the front desk. He needed to get him to safety.
He hoisted the man’s unconscious weight into a fireman’s carry and started toward the elevator. He was halfway down the hallway when the fire alarm went off. When Seth got to the elevator he wasn’t the only one trying to cram into the small space. He knew he shouldn’t be taking the elevator when the building was on fire, but he wasn’t going to carry the guy all the way down to the lobby by himself.
His mind started to drift back to the pain and anger of his situation as the elevator plodded along, but he forced it down by checking on the man. His pulse was strong and his breathing was regular, so there wasn’t any danger there. His jaw was clearly dislocated, so he was in for a long and uncomfortable recovery, but he would live.
A soft ding announced the elevator arriving at the destination, and it opened into a lobby full of activity. The fire department had already arrived. The apartment building was on the ritzy side, so they knew their response time needed to be quick. Half a dozen men in fire-resistant clothing ushered the group from the elevator outside where an ambulance and four cops were waiting.
“Shit, kid.” One of the cops helped Seth lower the unconscious man onto the stretcher and noticed all the blood on him. “What the hell happened to you?”
There was a large blank period in his memory, but Seth remembered what happened beforehand. “Glass.” He looked down at his blood covered hands and the multiple lacerations.
“Let’s clean you up.” The paramedic pulled Seth away from the cops and got to work bandaging his hands, while to firefighters went to work.
Thirty minutes later and the team that had gone upstairs came back downstairs with water dripping from their coats. “The fire is out,” they announced, “but no one is going to be able to go back in until the fire investigator and building inspector from the city come take a look and declare it structurally sound.”
That got a bunch of groans, but Seth wasn’t one of them. Sitting there getting bandaged and waiting for the fire to be put out had left him too much time to think. Melancholy had overwhelmed him.
“Do we have to wait here?” He asked the nearest cop. “I’ve got a study group,” he lied.
“After you give us your name and info you should be good to go. We’ll contact you if we have any questions.”
Ten minutes later Seth had given his information to the cops. He refused a ride to the hospital and instead jumped into his car and peeled out of the parking lot. He knew where he was going. Less than a few minutes later he was sitting behind a well-worn bar with his fake ID out and demanding the top-shelf stuff. A swipe of the credit card later and he was upending an expensive bottle of scotch to replace what he’d vomited out.
By the time he was halfway through that bottle his emotions had numbed to the point he didn’t want to lash out in anger. His bandaged hands didn’t hurt anymore either, so he couldn’t think of another place to spend his time.
<Is she dead?>
<Are we done?>
<How can I ever trust her again?>
The questions that had been rattling around in his mind were silenced with every successive shot until he wasn’t thinking about anything at all.
“Isla are you coming or not?”
Izzy sat on the couch with her face glued to the TV. One of the greatest Super battles of the year, possibly this decade was happening right in front of them and all Marcy wanted to do was head straight to the club so she didn’t miss dollar-shot hour.
“Isla?” Marcy put her hand on her hip and gave her a pointed look.
Marcy was model thin, with model good looks, and model tastes. Her straight blonde hair was done up in a way that made it a little exotic and crazy. Her mini-skirt showed off plenty of tone, tan leg, and her top was tight enough to show off her modest bust. Half the time Izzy didn’t even think the girl needed her power.
Marcy manipulated pheromones, so she could make people do a lot of things for her; including letting the bouncers let her in underage without the cover charge. She was nice enough – a little spoiled maybe – but Izzy didn’t mind her as a roommate. What she did mind, was her as an HCP classmate. In Izzy’s opinion, the beautiful blonde did not have what it took to be a Hero. She didn’t know if it was Marcy’s upbringing or the way her power worked, but the girl was lazy. She always got everything she wanted – even some truly ridiculous things – and because of that she’d never learned the value of hard work. For someone who’d had to claw their way to get where they were it wasn’t an attractive look.
Izzy predicted she’d end up walking a runway or married to some sugar daddy, but Marcy would not be a Hero.
“Isla, focus?” Marcy snapped her fingers.
“No I’m not coming.” Izzy shook her head and kept her eyes on the TV.
The parties that Marcy did drag her to were pretty awesome. She’d give the blonde the credit she deserved. The bikini party at the sorority had been a lot of fun even before Seth jumped over the fence.
“Oh my god he’s so cute.”
“You know that guy?”
“Please tell me you have his number and are going to ride that.” The comments she got when she returned from her short conversation ranged from flattering to wildly inappropriate, and made her the life of the party for ten minutes.
Izzy didn’t think Marcy liked that and might have even used her power to bring the party back on course. Izzy didn’t mind, she had other things on her mind. As the TV showed the breaking news coverage of the Super brawl, he came to mind again.
She’d tried to give Seth some space. Sure she liked him. She wasn’t sure if it was the wounded puppy look, bad boy attitude, or him being an older, more experienced HCP student. If she was being honest with herself, she’d never been good at picking guys.
<If you never try then you’ll never know.> That was her motto and it made her smile.
That smile vanished when the screen showed a girl in black fighting to the death with a man Izzy recognized from local news coverage in Orlando.
“Oh no…pan away or go to commercial you idiot.” The reporter hissed as Wraith knocked Mr. Morningstar to the ground and pulled out a gun.
Even though the camera guy looked away it didn’t stop the mikes from picking up the sound of the three gunshots closely followed by a much louder boom. Her hands shot to her mouth out of shock and fear.
<He warned you.> Her mind told her as she remembered the conversation they’d had in the dining hall. <He told it to you straight and you didn’t really believe him.> Hearing it from Seth and seeing Wraith shoot a Hero in cold blood were two totally different things, and they put everything into perspective.
<What am I doing here?> She looked around and asked herself.
In front of her were a half empty pizza box and a two liter of soda. She hadn’t eaten the whole thing herself, and her HCP workouts didn’t make her too worried about gaining unwanted weight, but they underplayed something so much more.
<I need to be training. I need to get better. I can’t be pigging out and going to the club every weekend. There are villains like Wraith out there who are going to put a target on my back. I need to be ready.> She didn’t want to think that they could come for her at any moment, but she’d be lying if she said that thought wasn’t in the back of her mind.
Despite all of that, some things needed to come first. She fished around in the seat cushions and found her phone. It rang and rang and rang but no one picked up on the other end. She hung up and tried again, but only got the same result.
<Plan B.> She signed onto social media and searched for his profile.
Like a lot of teenagers in today’s world Seth had social media accounts. He hadn’t used them much since graduating high school, and hadn’t posted anything new for months, but he still had them. He also made some of the same mistakes as most kids. He left his geo-positioning software open for some of the apps. That way they could track his location and give him better deals or recommendations on whatever.
Izzy had learned to navigate these features while in the orphanages. They had kids run away sometimes, and she was the person who would find them. They never got far, because no matter how angry or sad the kid was they always took their phone with them, so she could always find them. Now, she was taking those tricks and finding Seth.
“Gotcha,” she whispered even though she was the only person home.
She used another app to call an Uber because the person she would have called for a ride was Seth. Whatever she wanted to think about the man’s attitude, he was pretty generous with his car.
<I need to get dressed.> she was dressed in a baggy t-shirt and sweats. That was fine for a night eating pizza at home, but not for going out to a bar. At a minimum she needed to look like an adult so they’d let her in.
Fifteen minutes later she was dressed to slay bouncers and her Uber was here. The middle-aged driver ogled her a little, but she didn’t pay him any attention. She had to focus on what she was walking into.
There was a line outside when she arrived, so she did what Marcy would have done. She walked right past the line and up to the bouncer. She held out a twenty between two of her fingers, thrust out her chest, and cocked her hip out so her could admire her curves. The man gave her a once over, took the twenty, and waved her in without even glancing at her ID.
<So easy.> She walked through the door and was immediately assaulted by the beer and BO.
There was a reason the guy had let her in so easily. This was a sausage fest. The girl to guy ratio was shit. She ignored the heads that rotated after her, and had to fight the urge to activate her power. Her shimmer protective energy would keep anyone from grabbing her ass, but it would also get her thrown out of the HCP. There weren’t many good solutions.
“Hey there cutie. You a spinner?”
<Here we go.> Izzy sighed.
She spun and grabbed the guy’s wrist that was reaching for her. A little twist and pull and she had it securely in a lock.
“AH fuck.” The guy fell to his knees when she put a little pressure into the hold. It wouldn’t take a lot to break it.
“Apologize to me,” she stated flatly. “Now.”
“Geez, ok..ok…I’m sorry. It was a compliment,” he relented after a little more pressure.
“Think of a better compliment.” She released his wrist and the man immediately retreated back to a group of his friends.
No one else gave her any trouble as she approached the bar. <Thank you, Coach Meyers.>
She really needed to pay as much attention to the alternative instructor as possible. That trick she’d taught them had worked like a charm. She’d called the impromptu class Douchebag Repellent 101, and with hindsight being twenty-twenty the name was perfect.
There weren’t many seats open at the bar, but two on either side of Seth were vacant. The broad spectrum elemental manipulator was giving off a not-so-subtle fuck off vibe. Then there was the tower of shot glasses he’d stacked in a wall around himself.
<Shit.> He was drunk…really drunk.
She took a seat next to him and he didn’t even notice. The bartender did. The worry on her face must have given her away.
“Do you know this guy?” He cocked his head in Seth’s direction.
“Yeah. Has he been any trouble?”
“Not as long as I keep serving him. I tried to stop once, but the look he gave me…” The bartender shuddered at the memory. “Just…will you please get him out of here. He’s going to get alcohol poisoning soon. I’m actually pretty impressed he’s still conscious.”
“I’ll do what I can.” Izzy wanted to order a drink but thought twice about it.
“Oh…and his phone has been ringing off the hook.” The bartender left with those final words of wisdom.
Slowly, glass by glass, she started to deconstruct the wall Seth built around himself. She’d started a commotion behind him, and talked with the bartender while sitting next to him, but it was only when she touched his booze-wall that he finally noticed her.
He turned to face her, and she had to bite her lip. His eyes were droopy, unfocused, and bloodshot. She hadn’t noticed it until now but there was an acrid smell to him that she couldn’t place. He clearly had trouble controlling his movements, because he knocked over some of his wall when he turned to face her.
Glass falling to the ground and shattering drew attention, but people’s attention didn’t linger. In their minds it was just another drunk idiot.
“Heeeeeeeey.” The one good thing so far was he smiled when he saw her. “How’re they hangin’, Iz?”
“Come on, Seth. Let’s get you home.”
“Whooooa. Already trying to get me back to my place eh? You got to buy me a drink first pretty lady.”
She blushed slightly at the pretty lady part, but knew she could use his addled brain to her advantage. “I’ve got a better idea. Let’s have that drink at your place.”
“Sorry…nope…can’t.” Seth got irrationally loud, and earned some irritated looks from the people around them. “Place burned down…poof.” He did a hand gesture that she couldn’t follow.
“What?” was the only logical response to Seth’s incoherent thought process.
“Fire…” he held up a finger and a small flame flickered to life.
“Seth!” She hissed and quickly covered it with her hand. That was a bad idea. “AH shit!” the flame burned her palm and she jerked back wagging it back and forth to try and cool it. “Can I get some ice!” she yelled to the bartender.
“Shhhhh.” He held up a finger to his lips and a stupid grin spread across his lips.
“Ok, we need to go.” Irritation replaced worry as she accepted some ice and placed it against her tender flesh.
“You’re pretty.” In typical drunk person fashion he quickly changed topics. “You’ve got nice hair.” He reached for her hair and she slapped his hand away. “Your face is hoooot.” He tried again and was rebuffed.
She half carried, half dragged him to the door and called another Uber with her free hand.
“Ok.” He held out his arms in a stopping motion when they reached the curb. He swayed on his feet. “We can do it, but we’ve got to go to your place. Remember fire.” Thankfully, he didn’t conjure fire in front of everyone waiting in line to get into the bar.
“The only thing we’re doing is getting you hydrated and to sleep,” she stated forcefully as she waved down the approaching Uber.
“But the sex…?”
“I doubt you could even get it up.” She shot back, and got a few snickers from the peanut gallery.
“But…” he pulled his phone out of his pocket and immediately dropped it.
“I’ve got it.” She waved him off. The last thing she wanted him to do was face plant.
She plucked the phone up off the ground. Lights were blinking on it indicating voicemails and text messages. Seth was too busy trying to get himself into the Uber so she opened up his main screen and checked in.
The texts were from his friends asking where he was and if he was ok. They must have seen the same thing that she had. She shot a quick text to Becca saying that she’d picked up Seth at the bar and was taking back to her place to get him to sleep. She wrote SLEEP in bold and all caps. Then she moved on to the voicemails.
She had to pry his passcode out of him, but she finally got it. The first two messages were form his friends again asking the same things they had in the texts. She deleted those.
Then she listened to the third one. Her face paled as she listened to the recorded voice of the detective.
“Wha…” he’d finally maneuvered himself into the car and had his eyes closed.
“We’ve got to make a stop on the way home.”
That was as far as she got before Seth blew chunks all over the backseat of the car.
Make sure to pick up my books: The Harbinger Tales and Two Worlds: Rags & Riches. Get them for next to nothing and you can even get The Harbinger Tales for free on kindle unlimited. After you read it, please take the time and write a short review to help promote the book. I’d greatly appreciate it.
Vote for Two Worlds on topwebfiction here, and check out the first installment of my TW short story tomorrow night 🙂. Taking a short tactical pause on TW, but the short story will fill the void for the next two weeks or so.