“You remember the advice I gave you?”
Shane looked up and nodded at Jack before going back to checking over his costume for the third time that afternoon. They were in the backstage of Neal Chandler’s studio, Shane in his gleaming, black suit reminiscent of knights’ armor and Jack in more traditional Hero garb with a cowl and his iconic rainbow highlight.
The advice Jack had given him was crucial, simple to remember, and took a clear mind to properly execute. Which had made all the weekend recitals leading up to this day, while not annoying, more bearable in Styx’s eye.
There were three general pillars; Don’t reveal team secrets, whether it be the mechanics of powers, security measures, identities, or planned operations. Be sure to obfuscate and deflect about the specifics of his own powers or techniques if he had the skill to. And least important of all; maintain his masquerade, or “Hero persona”, whenever answering questions or initiating himself. The third one was of least consequence because, while a Hero’s persona was important to maintain for selling merchandise and a better relationship with the public, it was ultimately not vital to the more immediately dangerous parts of a Hero’s job.
“Yeah, I’ve got ‘em memorized.” Shane said after making sure every bit of his costume was firmly in place and looked at his surroundings. The backstage of Neal’s studio was both darker and brighter than Shane had expected, if that made any sense; large spot lights and cameras were angled down to light the set while entire other sections of the building were left in complete darkness. An, admittedly large part, of Shane’s mind took especial note of how conducive such an environment was for using his power.
“How’s the rest of the team doing outside?” Shane asked.
Jack raised an eyebrow at him. “Why don’t you just ask Dispatch to give you a direct line to them?”
Shane recognized that tone and, partial due to the mask, expression. “They’re on guard duty in a very hot city for Heroes. I’ve been on guard duty before in the HCP; they don’t need any more distractions necessary.”
“Good answer.” Jack said with an approving nod. “They’re doing fine with Atomic Conjurers acting as support. Well… aside from Goblyn and Samshiel throwing the occasional barb at each other. I swear, those two have been trying to one-up each other ever since they met.”
Shane took mental note of Neal going through his introduction on the stage before responding. “Is it a problem?”
“Not yet, but I’ll probably tell Terram about it, just to be safe.”
Before the conversation could go any further an anxious looking assistant gave them the single to walk on stage and take their seats.
‘Here goes nothing except my entire public image.’ Shane thought sardonically before walking fully onto the well-lit, wooden floor as Styx. He and Spectrum were immediately hit with a wave of cheers and hollers as the crowd finally got to see them. The name of the show hung boldly from the ceiling in confident silver and gold letters; “Variant Scoop”. It was bit of an odd name but had captured the attention of a lot of people hungry for news about the world of Heroes and Supers in general.
“And here is the dynamic duo themselves!” Neal said with, if not faked, slightly forced enthusiasm. “Spectrum, and his newest intern, Styx, have deigned to grace our presence.” The man had what Styx guessed would be medium length, black hair if it wasn’t slicked back into a pseudo-mullet and was wearing an electric-blue suit over his slightly pudgy frame.
Styx decided to give the crowd a little wave when he saw a few of them look nervous as their eyes fell upon him, before taking his seat beside Spectrum in the plush chair set up for him. It was odd that Neal hadn’t called him a ‘sidekick’ but not too unusual, it wasn’t exactly a secret what the official title was anyways.
“So, Styx; There has been a lot of talk surrounding the Lander HCP for the past couple of years. And, based on what little we’ve been able to gleam from some of the other Heroes, the class you came from has a particularly fearsome reputation and nickname. You ever heard of the name, ‘Class of Nightmares’ or ‘Shadow of Lander’?”
Spectrum chuckled a bit at that and Styx quickly answered. “It’s a bit theatrical, but that’s to be expected from a group that likes to professionally wear capes and cowls.” After letting the light laughter subside from that comment he continued. “Yes, I’m aware of the name and how it caught on during our final year of training.”
“And the other moniker?”
“I’ll be honest; I’d never heard of it until I became an intern. You say you just very recently heard the nickname from other Heroes?” At Neal’s affirmation Styx turned his head slightly towards Spectrum and, after getting the briefest of nods, continued. “Then it likely comes from one of my… extracurricular activities.”
The answer was cheeky, through and through, but it got a nice reaction from the crowd and didn’t reveal much of anything about what exactly his class done last year. Maybe this interview thing would go smoother than he’d expected-
“Hmm, as competent, and intimidating, those names suggest these new crops of Heroes will be, there are those who seemed concerned that such a violent name will glorify and embolden other Heroes to use violence when it’s not necessary.” Neal’s follow up question squashed such idealistic notions before they could even fully form.
‘Of course, things had to veer into controversial territory as soon as I got cocky.’ Styx thought before answering.
“Well, you see…”
* * *
Immadesco, after walking briskly out of a room and letting the door slam behind him, immediately turned toward the small sink in the corner of the “lounge” and began washing the blood from his slightly coarse hands. The room was really only a lounge insofar that it was a room between his current office and adjacent to his disciplinary chamber.
Out of the corner of his eye Immadesco saw one of his enforcers, a large man with tattoos all over his body and decorating his shaved head, straighten up as soon as he had entered the room. “Good afternoon, Francis.” He greeted, a small flutter of happiness appearing in his chest at the sight of one of his best enforcers remembering to show such respect.
“Nice to see you to, boss.” Francis said, his voice smoother than his rough appearance would indicate. “Brad told me to be here as soon as possible.”
“I only sent him that request an hour ago. Your promptness is appreciated.” Immadesco said as he finished drying his hands of the water and special cleaner he used, a minor effort of will making his palms completely dry. “I want you and the others to up your recruitment efforts in the poorer districts of the city, focusing on any Supers or Powereds you can find as well. I understand that a town with such a ‘diverse’ rooster of Heroes makes it slightly difficult to do so without getting some push-back; but there are still brothers and sisters out there that are sympathetic to our cause and only need the slightest push to have hope that the Heroes aren’t as indomitable as they seem.”
“Ah, I gotcha, boss.” Francis said. “I’ll call up Gregory and the rest of us to get on it but, if you don’t mind me asking. Why did I need me to visit just for you to tell me that?”
“You didn’t.” Immadesco said simply. “Brad sent you here because someone needed to carry Todd back to his apartment.” The tall man said as he gestured towards the door he’d originally come out of. “He’ll be on the table in there; he already knows what to do and don’t fret about the wounds. He’s in no danger of bleeding out.”
Francis wordlessly got up and strode towards the room, offering a quick “Yes, Immadesco.”, before opening the door and stepping through. He was thoroughly unsurprised by the warped and bleeding body his hazel eyes fell upon and quickly got to work.
His boss was smart, loaded, had a good power, and was apparently very well connected. And for that he had immense respect for the guy, and even agreed with the more brutal methods of discipline he’d become known for.
All of that in consideration though: Francis didn’t want to be around the unstable freak any longer than he needed to.