Threat Level: D
Powers: Can pull exploding pine cones out of thin air and occasionally leaves behind exploding seed pods. His wooden shotgun is almost as powerful as Fabricator-made plasma weapons. The mushroom men, though weak, can recover from most injuries and multiply if parts of them are ripped off.
The many sun lamps, heaters, and hydroponic systems had Druid drenched in sweat. They left his messy ginger hair frizzy and his back soaked. Patches of his skin had turned red, and he wanted nothing more than to escape into the shade, but he stayed. Instead, he continued to read out loud from his book. The novel was mediocre and featured an amusing protagonist. Comedy had drawn a response out of his friend and mentor. Druid hoped Trickster’s Tale would finally awaken her.
Humidity forced Druid to occasionally pause and moisten his throat, but he kept going for Dryad’s sake. Her head hung from the ash tree in the centre of the room. Meanwhile, the superheroine’s body sat at its foot. Solid green tendrils connected the two parts of her body. They pulsed with a soft green light. Her right arm and leg had almost reattached themselves. It wouldn’t be long before the head did the same.
Druid sighed, closing the book. “I really hope that’s enough to wake you up,” he said.
Low-ranking Fabricators often made money by selling weapons and bombs to the gangs in Hackney. Druid had seen Dryad lose half her internal organs to plasma beams and explosions. She had regrown them and several limbs over the years he’d known her. Occasionally, he had helped the regeneration along with his own abilities. However, he wondered whether Dryad could return from the decapitation and major brain damage. The League doctors struggled to make heads or tails of her mostly plant physiology and had no answers for him. Their superiors had doubts, too, but everyone put on an optimistic face. It annoyed how they made a display of doting on Dryad now. The League had ignored her requests of sending more heroes to Islington and Hackney, marking Power Merchant as a low priority. If they had more support, Dryad could've avoided her current situation.
Because of work commitments and in an effort to maintain his secret identity, he had to cut everyone out of his life. His family had long since died getting the staff out of the wrong hands. Now, he only had two individuals left to call his people. The first lay in front of him as a literal vegetable. The other he didn’t dare contact.
Druid wondered whether it was worth still maintaining his civilian identity. He spent so much time in costume that Louis O’Connor felt like a stranger to him. The identity didn’t help protect any loved ones. He only used it for a failing food truck, which required his salary from the League and sponsor deals to stay afloat.
Even though the League’s intelligence department did an excellent job, they struggled to reach the community as well as he did as an ordinary vendor. He found people responded to his natural charm especially well when he made them a hearty breakfast. It helped him keep in contact with his assets and maintain friendships with other business owners who loved to gossip.
The training hall’s entrance opened, snapping Druid’s attention back to reality. His mushroom men stilled as well, ceasing their maintenance of the ever-growing garden around Dryad to follow his eyes to the door. Druid willed them to return to work and stood. Fenrir strode towards him.
“Your hair is growing back,” Fenrir said, marching towards him. The hero stood almost as tall as Druid and had a wolf’s head. Even though it appeared organic, the mouth never moved, leaving Druid to wonder whether it was a mask.
“Slowly but surely it's getting there,” Druid replied, willing his mushroom men to return to their tasks. “How can I help you, Fenrir?”
“Given your current status—”
“You mean the on-and-off house arrest.”
“Yes, your probation. Given everything that happened with Dryad and your use of civilian assets outside the official records, we’ve decided you need to step back from this mission.”
“I’ve gotten us results, Fenrir.” Druid sighed. “It was my intelligence that got us closer to Power Merchant than anyone else.”
“Yes, but you used unreliable sources who failed to report what kind of firepower he employs. Thanks to said intelligence, a rostered League hero who we desperately need is out of commission for the foreseeable future.” Fenrir paused. His wolfish eyes glanced between Dryad and Druid. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That was harsher than I intended.”
“The League can’t bench me. I know Hackney and Islington better than anyone. Talon fell because he had inexperienced back up. If I wasn’t stuck here—”
“I’m not disagreeing with you, Druid. Just calm down and listen.”
“Henceforth, I’m taking point on the Power Merchant mission. Since I don’t know Hackney or Islington, I asked for assistance with intimate knowledge of the area. That’s you. I’ve put in a request for a junior hero to assist, too, and am also taking advantage of the asset programme.”
“Through Rebecca’s agency?” Druid asked.
Fenrir nodded. “She’s never failed us and we need more people that know the borough. Unfortunately, every hero that’s come out of North-East London is assigned elsewhere right now. I’ll try to get approval for access to your civilian network, too. “
“No, I’d rather we not do that.” Druid glanced at the camera in the room's corner. The audio input modules around the room were better hidden, but he’d felt them out through his botanic senses. He mentally urged his mushroom men to cause disruptions around them. “I excluded this from my report, but one of them helped me during the fight. I don’t know why he was there, but he saved my life. Power Merchant saw it and shot him for it.”
“Fine.” Fenrir sighed. “You’re in enough shit as it is. Let’s not make that worse. Is this asset of yours okay?”
“I don’t know,” Druid answered. “The League ordered me to cut all contact with the civilian assets. It’s been tempting to ignore orders and reach out, but I’ve resisted. The constant surveillance is suffocating.”
“But you’d rather put up with it than jeopardise your assets’ anonymity?”
“I can respect that, kid. We’ll be working together, so I reckon it’s important we get to know each other’s powers. How about a demonstration? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
Fenrir waved at him to follow and exited the room. Druid hesitated, glancing between the giant man’s retreating form and his comatose friend. He wished her goodbye and sent the mushroom men a mental signal. They came sprinting to Druid’s side. They leapt once close, shrinking as they flew through the air. The creatures shrank from their knee-to-waist-high sizes to little caps no bigger than marbles.
The League’s training halls sat far below the river Thames. Before Dryad made the instruction and led him there, he’d only seen such tech in sci-fi films or Holo shows. They wandered past several occupied training areas. Druid spotted heroes with ranks and clearances far above his own.
Many reinforced their powers and fighting styles with weaponry and armour that Druid barely understood. His powers lay in life and essence, not destruction. Following Dryad’s advice, he kept the information hidden, and the tools they used made little sense.
Magic attracts magic.
Druid did his best to remind him of her words. It’s how they had found each other. They worried about attracting others whose purpose wasn’t necessarily positive. Druid had lost his family to people trying to claim the staff. He worried more would come after him if they discovered it was the source of his power. Most believed it was a weapon made using his powers. He hoped to continue the misconception.
“Here we are!” Fenrir exclaimed, stopping at the last training room on the floor. It lacked the luxury of special biomes. Instead, it looked no different from a random high-end residential street near Oxford Street.
“I don’t know what more I can show you,” Druid said. “All my abilities are out in the open. I can grow mushroom men. They’re great for causing distractions and can explode, creating spore clouds with varying effects. I got my pinecone grenades and my shotgun.”
“Really?” Fenrir’s canine brows furrowed. “Is that it? You can’t do more?”
“Like Dryad, I can grow vegetation and have minor controlling powers. She was teaching me how to heal and improve my abilities. My base power is improving, though. The scanners say my Spark isn’t far from A-rating.” Druid hoped Fenrir would buy the lie. He preferred not showing off his full powers in fear it would draw too much attention to him. Dryad loved the spotlight, but he wasn’t her. “I can show you my pine-cone grenades, though. The most powerful of them can bring down a building—”
“That’s unnecessary. The League hasn’t put kill orders on them. Yet. Power Merchant isn’t deemed a lethal threat. It’s his operation that we fear. How familiar are you with what I can do?”
“I know nothing besides you’re a Bruiser and a Master, to be honest,” Druid said. “I’m sorry.”
“No. No. Don’t apologise. I keep my capabilities secret for good reason.” Fenrir raised his head and opened his mouth for the first time since they’d met. He howled and the light in the room rippled. Spectral wolves rose from the ground moments later. They were each as big as a horse. “These are my friends. They’re the memories of every dog I’ve raised.”
“But these are wolves.”
“If you let a dog run free and wild under a good alpha, they’ll also blossom into wolves on the inside.” One of them came racing at Fenrir fangs bared. “They can track as well as any canine and are terrifying in combat.”
“What about your Bruiser powers?”
“I was hoping you’d have something fun to show me. If you don’t show me yours, I won’t show you mine.” Fenrir chuckled. The wolf leapt, and he tackled him to the ground. “Besides. For this mission, I hope we won’t need the ability.”
Druid did his best to remain nonchalant. He knew little about Fenrir and Dryad had warned him not to trust people just because they were a part of the League. Magic attracted magic, after all. Not all League members were as benevolent as their persona suggested. Most were in it to feed their egos and for profit.
Since Druid spent most of his time in the field, he’d never seen the supposed corruption and greed in person. However, Druid didn’t doubt it existed. He too had felt the temptation when sponsors made untoward demands of him. More than one of London’s rich and powerful had offered to pay him for a visit to their bedroom. It surprised him that the PR team didn’t turn away such requests straight away. Dryad had received them, too, and it meant there were heroes who accepted monstrous payouts for such requests.
“Don’t worry about it too much,” Fenrir said. “With me leading this thing, taking out a bunch of newly empowered henchmen and a two-bit Fabricator won’t be any trouble at all. We knock this out with no major hitches and I’ll get the big wigs to waive your probation. Everyone makes a mistake in their early days. We can’t have that impede getting sponsors, can we?”
“I suppose not.” Druid put on his best fake smile as the conversation continued. He didn’t know why, but Fenrir made him uncomfortable. He suspected the hero wanted information from him. His powers had a magical feeling about them, too, which made Druid even more suspicious.
As they continued to discuss the mission’s details, Druid’s mind wandered back to his friends. There was no telling whether Dryad would ever return to his side again or not. However, he hoped Danny was alright. Not knowing whether he survived the gunshot pained Druid. However, seeing Jose the Lizard’s entry in the super database gave him hope.
They were still students and Druid had just started learning the staff’s secrets when the ThreatLevel app’s illegal extensions spread through the HoloNet. He recalled Danny’s fascination with the database. He would send in pages of information regularly. It was while scouring them Danny made the connections between Louis O’Connor and Druid.
When they finished high school, using a food truck to gather intelligence was Danny’s idea. Working as a hero had gotten in the way of them spending time together, but they still kept in touch regularly. When dealing with new heroes or local villains, Danny proved a better source of information. As Druid climbed the League’s ranks, gaining higher clearance levels. The amount of scrutiny around his activities had increased significantly. As a result, his contact with Danny had suffered. However, it was the first time the League had cut him off from his personal life altogether.
I need to talk to Danny. Soon.