“Ease up; you look like you’re about to slug someone.” Spectrum said to Styx as they walked down the barren city street, the occasional panes of glass polkadotted along the veritable cliff of brick, row houses that surrounded them on each side. The setting sun, halfway dipping past the horizon now, gave the entire street’s sky an urgent, purple hue.
With a strained breath, Styx followed his mentor’s suggestion and unclenched his fists. “Sorry, it’s just that the warnings those two gave have really got me wound up.”
The streets around the docks had been oddly deserted so far; even the usual bums that shuffled around weren’t anywhere to be seen. But that in of itself wasn’t enough to raise too much suspicion; some days were just quiet. No, the problem was that the locals, at those that looked like they were local, practically ran to walk down the other side of the street whenever they saw Styx and Spectrum approach. Some people crossed the street from approaching Heroes, sure, but normally not a lot and never with such urgency unless something was wrong.
Spectrum looked around to make sure that no one else was too close before responding. “I know what Trap Master said was a little cryptid, but you’ll have to get use to that when dealing with Subtlety Heroes. Though, to be fair, this is probably something minor and it provides a good learning opportunity.” He said before pointing at Styx. “I have a few ideas; but why do you think Rancid and Trap Master wanted us to patrol here?”
Styx’s answer was given after barely five seconds of deliberation. That exact question had been buzzing around his head as soon as Spectrum had confirmed that they’d be taking on the patrol. “Trap Master mentioned that something earlier today happened that made her think she needed tougher armor and more fire power. I’m guessing she lost a fight, probably involving a Super over powering her defenses, but judging by how nothing made the news and how blasé she was about it, the event itself wasn’t too severe. And, assuming all that is true, they probably want us to put pressure on whatever criminals might feel emboldened from it.”
Spectrum looked surprised for a moment before nodding with a smile. “Excellent deduction. I thought much the same when talking to Rancid. Well, in between all the time he spent ribbing me for hiring Pulp right after getting a bunch of interns.”
“It is a very rapid change in team composition.” Styx quipped.
Spectrum gave no more than a short snort of laughter before waving off the comment. “Regardless, you should try not to show too much stress. Looking intimidated won’t help much.” He leaned in then and partly whispered the last part. “And you know Crusader and Simikiel are doing their rounds only a few blocks away.”
Styx nodded and caught on to the unspoken message; For Supers like those two, several blocks was barely a brisk jog.
The duo turned onto an expansive courtyard, a large pool of water from all the recent showers occupying nearly a quarter of it. The surface roiled and oscillated regularly from the strong winds and the decrease in lighting from the setting sun gave the entire conglomeration of liquid a dark sheen.
Styx moved to walk around the dark pool and towards the alleyways on the other side of the courtyard, before Spectrum’s hand firmly clamped onto his shoulder and pulled him up short.
“Watch the water and get ready.” Spectrum said in a harsh whisper before stepping in front of Styx, keeping over four yards away from the lip of the puddle and staring directly towards the first alley while the second faced them from the left at an angle.
Styx had to split his attention between the water and whatever Spectrum didn’t have time to explain about the back street. At first, he couldn’t see anything really out of place, the alleyways didn’t have any weird shadows in them and the pools turbulence didn’t seem unnatural either. Then the subtle anomalies that Spectrum had picked up on were made even clearer when a few clouds parted and dim sunlight washed over the entire area for a brief instance.
Only the top of the pool was affected by the wind, the light let him see all the way through at how the bottom was unnaturally still as if it was frozen. While the alley entrance was subtler; there was a slight, almost imperceptible, distortion in the air not dissimilar to heat rising from hot pavement.
The voice was shrill and warbled, coming directly from the pool of water before the liquid itself rose up and flowed into the upper half of a vague, human shape, the bottom half tapering into a considerably smaller puddle.
“Let me guess; You guys came running here when we sent Trap crying home with broken arms?” Somehow the water-being was able to convey sarcasm through its unnatural voice.
The people in the alleyway weren’t far behind as the air shimmered and revealed over five men, they quickly threw out their own jeers and taunts at the two Heroes. Styx didn’t see any obvious weapons on any of them, but something could easily be concealed from this distance.
This was a dangerous situation. Assuming they were all variant humans, any sort of brawl would endanger all the civilians inside the apartment buildings around them. Not to mention the fact that they were the physically weakest of the team and were in direct line of sight of a group of criminal Supers and in melee range of what looked like a water shifter.
Styx could barely hear Spectrum say something under his breath, calling in back up he hoped, before his mentor’s voice crackled to life in his own earpiece. “Walk forward, say they’re under arrest, and shake their confidence, try to capture the momentum.”
It was clear that this was an order rather than advice or a suggestion, and when practically surrounded by enemies, there was no room for hesitation. So, Styx immediately walked forward, back straight and head held high. The gang members, at least what Styx thought most of them to be, seemed to draw back a bit before rallying themselves.
A big burly man stepped forward, his hands glowing like mini-stars as he held his hands forward. Styx almost flinched to dodge, until he realized that the man was just letting the light shine on him with a grin on his face.
Did these idiots really think?
With a sigh he animated a shadow in the middle of their group and had leap forward among them, snacking around legs, to severing several essential tendons on the man’s arms and legs, cutting through his thick jacket and jeans as if they weren’t even there. He went down with a rather unmanly, short squeal of agony while his fellows fell into a deep panic from the barely seen attack that seemed to have almost come from their own ranks. And as a bonus, the towering figure of water that claimed to have beaten Trap Master seemed to hesitate a bit at what no doubt looked like a man falling for no reason followed by fear.
Styx couldn’t have hoped for a better opportunity.
“You are all under arrest.” He said, quickly grabbing all of their attention. “You all know who I am and how I operate. Anyone that moves to do anything besides get on the ground will go to a hospital instead of jail.” He’d never been particularly gifted at intimidation, at least not as much as his sister, but he’d seen enough Heroes work the scary angle to get a general sense of how to swing it. Keep the tone clear, authoritative, and curt. Don’t acknowledge the jeers or show any reaction about their claims of beating Trap Master.
A glimpse of red and white dipped below the tops of the buildings nearby.
And for god’s sake, don’t look up and giveaway the position of your teammates.
“What the fuck are you guys doing?!” A crass and deep voice called from farther back in the alley. Suddenly a man with a shawk of dark hair and in an expensive looking leather jacket stepped forward, his silver eyes glaring at the thugs that shrunk away. “Seriously, just charge em’ and-“
The man’s mouth hung open as his silver eye’s met Spectrum’s increasingly surprised, and then livid, brown ones.
“Styx, don’t let him get away!” That single line, filled with anger and desperation, set everyone into action.
The silver-eyed man moved first out of everyone; running deeper into the alley while throwing something small and black from a coat pocket over his shoulder and his other hand seemed to gesture toward the group still in the mouth of the alley. Both Heroes immediately recognized the small object as a stun-grenade as all the thugs seemed to freeze and twitch oddly, as if going through loop of motion.
Styx ignored the strange phenomenon though, lifted an arm to protect his eyes from the inevitable flash and tried to focus on connecting to the shadows in the alley before a blast of heat from nearby distracted him. By the time his mind realized it was probably just Spectrum dealing with the water shifter the stun grenade had already gone off, banishing every shadow near the man and filling the air with a deafening boom. Then he felt something slam into his, he barely had a half-a-second sensation of wetness before the blade of water sliced inches into his torso and was thrown in an arc through the air.
The white, hot pain of the of the cut made him want to scream but the force of the blow knocked the wind out of him. Out of instinct, rather than any conscious thought, Styx covered his head as he came back down on his side, a fresh wave of pain flaring out upon impact with the unforgiving ground.
Half deaf, disoriented, and probably bleeding; Styx grit his teeth, sucked in a breath as something shifted in his hip, and staggered to his feet after struggling to push up with his arms. Another wave of heat washed over him and he turned his head to see that there was nothing left of the watery figure besides a large patch of scorched concrete and Spectrum was running towards him and saying something that his ringing ears couldn’t hear.
Something green and black flashed through the sky and both Heroes looked up to see Simikiel start to fly after the impossibly fast cloud of colored mist before stopping short as Styx, barely, heard Crusader yell at her to return. Simikiel hesitated, before quickly joining the violet form of Crusader, both approaching the group of strangely moving group of gangsters and the squirming man on the ground.
“-yx, a healer is en route. Just don’t move too much.” Styx heard his mentor say before trying to gently sit back down, failing as another flare of pain made him stagger to his hands and knees. He sighed as Spectrum helped him onto his back and Maria appeared a few meters away from a shard of light with a man in a suit in tow.
As they both came running to him and quickly removed his helmet so that the man could place a hand on the slim area of exposed skin between his suit and mask, as his flesh began to mend with unnatural speed and smoothness, Styx thought that this was going to be a bitch to complete his debriefing on.