Styx sniffed and glared down an alleyway as he caught sight of more graffiti. It was the same racist trash they’d found more and more of around the city, especially concentrated around where White Boar members tended to congregate.
“Don’t get distracted, Styx.” Simikiel’s voice crackled to life through his earpiece turning his attention back over the crowd in the middle of the park. Simikiel herself was floating overhead on the opposite side of the park perimeter.
“Yeah, sorry.” Styx said before feeling all of the shadows around him, finding nothing but the movements of a semi-organized crowd, sporadic street traffic, and a few gawkers. He looked up at the banner that proudly displayed the name of the event; “Give Back”. A prison reform charity organization for regular and variant humans that helped root-out corruption, improve conditions, and helped inmates after their time was served; headed by Senator Laurel Decker. It had gained traction over the years and even some attention from the DVA; Supers and Powereds weren’t cheap to contain long-term after all, especially repeatedly.
Styx looked over the crowd and found the two reasons he and his teammates were there on guard duty. A young man with the marks of recently removed facial piercings that occasional zipped about in a blur and another man who was in a were-bear form. They were part of the group of released criminals with exceptionally clean records that served to make the events more “authentic”, though they were the only Supers of the bunch. The charity even sprang for a telepath to screen them before they got to do public events.
Despite that, Heroes still needed to stand guard at these events. Even as reformed and productive members of society, Supers that were open about being ex-cons at public events simply attracted too much attention. Humanity First purists, Pro-Super extremists, and Super gangs looking to recruit were just a few of the reasons this place could get targeted. So, a few Heroes were always on stand by when Give Back did a special event involving a them.
So far, aside from the graffiti, the only potential problems Styx had encountered was staring down a large, bald man with some intricate tattoos that had been glaring at the event from another alleyway. He’d run off after Obsidian Wraith started floating over, but Dispatch didn’t identify the man as having any warrants so they didn’t pursue. The other potential problem was the fact that… people were scared of him.
It was a startling realization and it certainly wasn’t everyone, not even most really, but the signs were stark. He hadn’t noticed during the patrols, as his attentions had been on looking for concealed weapons and snipers, while the occasional comfortable fan approached him and Spectrum of their own volition. Some people in the crowd sped up when walking near him, others whispered while shooting glances, and a few even snapped pictures of him. But none approached to talk the Hero with shadows writhing around him.
It wasn’t like he was doing it to be intimidating, it was just that it was easier to attack when he had a few shadows prepped for to go already. Lenny had warned him this would happen with Heroes that worked the “scary” angle. He’d just have to get used to.
“Hrnn.” Simikiel accidentally intoned through the comms.
Styx looked up at the noise and saw that she was looking down at the booth about corruption and mistreatment. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I was just wondering… Why does corruption seem so much more prevalent among the human authorities? My parents didn’t talk much about regular law enforcement and the Vista HCP didn’t help much either.”
“In my experience; it’s because of how thorough we get to be.” If Crusader was concerned about being overheard, she didn’t show it, she spoke clearly through the comms without even trying to lower her voice. “Each HCP only let’s ten students graduate every year which, on top of providing only the best of the best, makes it much easier for vetting and; us Heroes get to be a little more… proactive in taking down our comrades that go rouge.”
“Even with all of that though, the percentages aren’t that far apart when you factor in DVA staff as well; the dumb ones just rarely get much of a chance to attract public attention.” Obsidian Wraith surprisingly chimed in after waving and disengaging from a group of civilians. “Conversely, though, the corrupt scumbags we have to deal with tend to be a lot more methodical and clever about how they do it.”
Styx had some scant worriers about talking about corruption in the Hero system in such a public venue, but not enough to voice it due to the general noise of the event and the fact that most of them were outside conversation range of the crowd.
But even if he had, Styx wouldn’t have been able to as Dispatch’s voice crackled to life in his ear a second after Obsidian Wraith stopped talking.
<Styx, prepare for transport. We have a teleporter anchored by a DVA agent that is hunkered down in a building reinforced by tech-genius equipment. A civilian had called the police reporting a man with blonde hair and a scar along his killing a civilian before simply disappearing. A Hero with tracking abilities traced the suspect back to a downtown residence which kicked off the current incident.>
By the way his teammates had nearly twitched Styx could tell Dispatch had let them know what was about to happen as well. “What about Spectrum? Shouldn’t he accompany me?” He asked, his mind felt a little stunned from the sudden rush of information.
<There is no time to get him out of his meeting at the base, the damage the tech is causing is escalating by the moment and you are the closest Hero on hand with the power best suited to neutralize the threat.>
Before Styx could respond a man in a plain, black suit appeared next to him with a pop of displaced air and held out a hand towards him. Styx almost, almost, hesitated before grabbing the mans hand and feeling the bottom drop out of his stomach as he was whisked through space and appeared on the roof of a building. Defensive Dugout was there in full costume and she had manipulated the ground to rise up in front of them as a thin, see-through shield.
Maybe Styx had gotten a little too use to the structured nature of the HCP and the semi-controlled life of his internship, but he felt his resolve harden as he focused on the task at hand and remembered the numerous lessons his grandfather had given him. Hero work wasn’t structured and often didn’t have the courtesy to telegraph itself; it was wild and dangerous with only the continued vigilance of other Heroes allowing even the faintest of warnings. The fact that his mentor and team had been near by during all of his incidents had coddled him a bit, but he had to realize that they wouldn’t always be there to cover for him.
And as he heard the first shots ricochet off of Defensive Dugout’s shield and looked around at nearby streets, that sentiment was firmly planted into his mind.
The destruction itself didn’t phase him as it might have other people, he had been toured through the aftermath of Demolition and Manhattan Class threats. No, it was the suddenness of it that struck him; the streets were basically rubble, there was a thick mist of dust billowing around half melted and flipped cars, and the buildings near what he guessed was the fortress were barely standing from how riddled with bullets and partially melted some of their walls were. And he hadn’t heard a single bit of it until Dispatch had alerted him; it was unnerving to realize this kind of raw destruction could occur in the same city he was supposed to protect and he could completely miss it.
Styx tore his eyes away from the destruction though and focused on the threat in the epicenter of the ravaged city street. The building itself was bland, fairly old looking, and slightly isolated from neighboring buildings. Which made the sight of the story high electric fence, several turrets lining the perimeter that swiveled and shot at anything that moved, and more advanced looking weapons poking out of the windows.
“Are those pulse cannons?” Styx asked with some awe as he vaguely recognized the general design of some of the weapons swiveling at the very top of the roof. That level of weaponry either took a seriously talented Tech-Super or a lot of money to acquire.
“Yeah, but don’t worry; my shield can tank a dozen or so hits before I need to reinforce it again.” Defensive Dugout assured him. “Dispatch said you can clean this up quickly. We can’t just have someone with enhanced durability charge in smash them or a blaster destroy each one of the guns; the idiot holed up inside already fired off an entire salvo of a warning shot while the street was only partially evacuated. So, all of these need to be destroyed almost at the same time to prevent nearby buildings from collapsing.”
Styx nodded. “I can do that. Is the teleporter holding any hostages?”
“Rebound already did a sweep; there’s only one human bodyguard in there with him. We don’t know if he’s being backed by a gang or if this is something else entirely.”
<This has been classified as a Demolition Class threat and the lives of aggressors have been given a low priority. Though suspects for interrogation would be desirable.>
“I understand.” Styx said, and he did. Suspects for interrogation were nearly invaluable if the DVA could get clearance to use a telepath. But innocent people were in danger, that meant finishing this quickly and efficiently, even if it meant potentially killing potentially valuable resources for knowledge.
He deeply tried to ignore how the prospect of throwing potentially lethal force around still made his stomach tighten a bit. It was easier in the heat of battle as a snap decision, this premeditated stuff just wasn’t for him yet.
With a steadying breath he connected to the shadows of every machine surrounding the building, careful not to solidify or move them unnaturally so as not give any forewarning. Styx concentrated with his power, preparing to cut down the most destructive looking ones first and then hitting the smaller calibers a second later; like a directed torrent of shadows. The sensation was much like tensing a muscle, connecting all of those shadows, aiming them in his mind, and holding them a hair-trigger away from being solid in preparation for his strike.
Then Styx released it as he exhaled.