With this cover, I feel like the most beautiful peacock on this site.
“Fuck you, come here. She’s dying!” Lure cursed at the starless sky, pushing her hand against her friend’s wounds.
A hoarse voice replied, “Was it too difficult?”
“Please do something.” Salty tears were rolling down her cheeks and even over her lips. She knew that she appeared miserable in front of Huic. Still, she begged, “Please.”
“It’s just training.”
“Training, don’t you see her agony?” Despite adrenaline running through her veins and suppressing her pain, undoubtedly, an expression of staggering agony twisted Sinistra’s face. Lure inspected her blood-covered hand, which smelled of iron. The pain of her friend was hers too, linked through something that only feeling hearts can perceive. Hang on.
“If you fight, you risk dying, you know? You are no longer a kid.” He bent over the wounded girl and injected from a vial a yellow solution in her mouth. “The world of the Empowered is harsh.” After saying that last sentence, he somehow looked older; wrinkles appearing more distinct.
“Why?” she suddenly asked herself. Why do we have to fight? Clenching her fist, she resolved herself to change something in this small world; something small that would blossom in the future and shake the world*.
Huic smiled like a winner. Perhaps because he had accomplished something? Lure was perceptive when it came to the whims or moods of her fellow humans and could masterfully read emotions. She couldn’t get angry anymore with him, because she had no more mental energy left.
Still pressing against Sinistra’s wounds, she declared,” I’m grateful to you, for you’ve taught me a valuable lesson.
Honestly, she admitted to herself, she had become cocky. Recently, she was used to being praised by Huic and the students alike and did not realize that she was but a weak D-rank, a sheep in a world of hungry wolves.
“Thank you,” she said, meaning her words.
“I must say you are quite mature for your age. Fifty years ago, I’d attack me on the spot in your place.”
Sinistra’s condition had already ameliorated. Blood-drenched and covered in scars, she looked defeated – her pulse and breathing were stable –, though she was visibly weak. Before reaching B-rank, an Empowered’s body was merely sturdier than an average human, after reaching that threshold, even a non-physically gifted Empowered could charge through buildings, the likes of Brutus could even crumble stones to dust.
Huic snapped with his fingers and Sinistra disappeared.
“How did you do this?” asked Lure.
“My gifts are centered around illusions. At S-rank my illusions became reality. There are some limits to it, of course. I made the world believe that I got a teleportation Power and so I had one.”
Her chin dropped. “That’s incredible and simply a cheat.”
Huic started laughing, he clapped his hands like a drunken orangutan, “No. S-rank touches the realms of the concepts, that’s why there are so many philosophers. Every S-rank can cheat reality in one way or another, that’s the difference between S-rank and A-rank, the latter can only manipulate reality.” He added, “Compared to some guys I know, I am but a foolish old man”. He further laughed at his own favoured joke.
“I have further questions.”
“Go on.” He made an inviting gesture with his hand.
“Why didn’t I see any pursuers, when we ran away? No, my question should be: did you mess with us?”
Amused at her question, he replied, “Of course I made that berserker both invisible and isolated the sounds he made, or let’s say I made an illusion, though that isn’t technically correct. Furthermore, I confused him, which resulted in him frenetically attacking you, mistaking you both for the villains he was fighting – the weakness of a berserker is easy to exploit.”
Berserkers have an ability called Rage, enhancing physical prowess, but reducing their wisdom and judgment.
“What about Tremble, it should only make you fearful, yet the experience I had…” She shuddered.
Some abilities were fairly common like Tremble, healing gifts and even mind communication, as well as physical enhancements, were frequent too. Though, there was still only a handful of Empowered with these abilities in a city at any given time.
“Tremble didn’t affect you much at all. I gave the berserker a helping hand and cast an illusion on you. I helped you to break out; the voice you heard was me.”
Protesting, Lure crossed her hands in a turbulent fashion. “First, you kidnapped us in our sleep, teleported us somewhere on a roof in 3N, then you teleported us again near a battle between villains and heroes. You cheated and gave the hero following us unfair advantages? “
Huic nodded, admitting everything.
A loud sigh escaped out of her mouth. Her tears had already dried out. Too tired, she couldn’t further argue. All she knew was that she was happy that her friend was healthy.
He clarified, “This time I was specifically training Sinistra’s ability Regulate, which is a useful perception tool, too, since it heightens all senses. I can tell that she somehow even bested my veil of illusion, though she couldn’t hear or see her pursuer, she still could feel him.” He patted her affectionally on the back. “Look, I’d never scheme. I am but a harmless old fool, doing his best to protect both of you.”
Lure looked awry; the furrowed brows were a sign of her pulsating skepticism.
“Erm, let’s change the topic. Would you like to continue your training? This time I’ll give you the advantage.”
She asked in a hesitant tone, “Really?”
“Beat them up!”
Lumière was a chosen champion of the Institution. As an enforcer, she was tasked to protect citizens and arrest all kinds of criminals. However, this very night, for the first time in her vocation, she felt that something was off. The mist appeared out of nowhere, confusing her. Whereas in most cases she would just shout, “Nova” and her obstacles would be blown away, this was not the case today. She had come prepared, for a raid in Khalut was not to be treated lightly. With three B-ranks, herself included, three C-ranks and one D-rank, she had ample means to achieve her task: capturing a band of drug dealers. At least that was her order, in reality, duty did often not coincide with reality. Villains were simply arrested for not being part of the Institution.
The somber alleyways were always a perfect hiding spot for an ambush. Lumière was not kidding. The initial strike was successful and her group of seven did defeat the band of five, her target, near their hideout. Yet, something had happened. Feeling triumphant, she had ordered Muscleman to pursue a spying villainess, with a typical villain costume. A grave mistake. She had lost contact with the only C-ranked in her group, if something were to happen to him, this would mark the end of her flawless operations on her résumé.
“Did Ardent come back?” I can’t lose another one.
“No, enforcer. He did not yet contact me,” replied the other B-rank. Bizarre. This already made two. Worse, Ardent, as a B-rank, was absolutely needed in the upcoming fight. It was the standard procedure to stay together to avoid ambushes, yet in this mist, she had thought it to be wise to send a scout. What a mistake. She really started to hate this filthy, run-down district. The smell of trash was simply unbearable for an exalted, dignified superhero like her.
“Leader, should I go too?”
“The mist is treacherous. Believe me.” She looked at her crew, two women and three man in total left. Anxious, tired, demotivated. Yes, she knew it, her party couldn’t move on forever. Weirdly, she didn’t see any civilians. It was night-time, though wasn’t that the time for other villainous scum to appear? She continued running in circles for half an hour when she somehow revisited the villain hideout a second time. Albeit she did not expect it, she wasn’t shocked either to see their enemy back at their location. It may be the mist. At that point, she didn’t expect the mist to be just some magical phenomenon but being man-made instead.
“Prepare for battle!” From afar Lumière managed to get a glimpse of the enemy leader, as the mist cleared. After that, I’ll take an hour-long bath.
Lucky, Swiftly was so lucky. If the goddess Fortuna were real, he would make an altar. The night started horribly, though; his people had been attacked by some bloody enforcers. Refusing to work as a henchman for a powerful super villain or a cartel, he chose an honest life and gathered a group of likeminded people, which he called friends. Sometimes he heard a calling in his mind, either bending to NIP or becoming a common gangster with more power, a common fate in this district. NIP had a fatal flaw though; founding members had destroyed the country he knew and used to love dearly.
“We’ll have to battle again.” He kissed the woman next to him whom he had married months ago.
She whispered to him, “Their leader is Lumière. She had been in many magazines. She isn’t like us, who can’t improve anymore.” Indeed, he thought so, their leader is young, too young to have been affected by the Awakening. This can only mean one thing: she must be incredibly talented to achieve B-rank. For the first time in his life, Swiftly felt like an old man. His thirty-five years weren’t that much, but seeing and experiencing the energy of their enemy’s captain in battle – those vibrating halos of light – he felt no longer confident.
To the astonishment of his group, Lumière was suddenly reprimanding a subordinate. Could it be because of the captured hero? Heroes were emotionally trained to relinquish their companions if needed, for the greater good. Though many heroes would never sacrifice their companions in order to save civilians. Empowered people made terrible soldiers, only those with a strong mind or conviction tended to acquire a Power in the first place.
They quarreled. Swiftly could not believe his eyes, for he had never seen such a situation before. Lucky, I am so lucky. First the mist then two rare mishaps of the superheroes. Ah, it had never felt so good to be a villain. He, his wife and his friends were only villains out of protest; for once he embraced that identity.
“No rest for the wicked,” he shouted while grasping the golden opportunity. "Charge."