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Chapter 03

     Part 3: Revelations and Complications
      
      The office was large and well furnished. The occupant was obviously wealthy, but his wealth wasn't displayed in gold or silver, it was displayed in age.

      The desk was over two hundred years old and if the stories were to be believed had been Abraham Lincoln's presidential desk. It was massive and made of mahogany wood; polished to a shine by the care of many previous owners. He had acquired it from the museum where it had been on display for years.

      The two chairs before the desk had been obtained from Buckingham Palace and were supposed to have been built by Leonardo daVinci. The fabric had been replaced multiple times, but the wood was original. The chairs had been so well built that there wasn't even a crack in them.

      The settee by the window was from Louis the sixteenth's castle and had to have been liberated from a museum in Paris.

      The book case taking the entire wall behind the desk was the man's most prized piece in his collection. It had been built in the fifteenth century in a Monastery in Ireland. It had been the most difficult piece to acquire as the monks had been quite reluctant to let go of it. In the end he had had to pay the mercenaries extra because of the trouble the monks had caused them, but it had been worth it.

      The man was sitting in his only concession to modern time, the presidential chair of Eisenhower.

      For all his time spent behind his desk he was a well built man. He made sure to go to the gym every day and the gray suit he wore enhanced his form. His black hair was cropped short and it flowed on the side of his square face directly in his beard.

      "Come in," he said in his deep voice when someone knocked at the door. He was reading a risk to cost assessment on a lumber project in the Amazon. Attached to it was a report on the big cat population in the area.

      The man who entered was rail thin and much older, with only a crown of gray hair left on his head. "The second attack failed," he reported as he closed the door behind him.

      "Do we know what happened this time?" He set the report aside and leaned back in his chair.

      "Sanguine was left tied up, but alive," the man said. He didn't move away from the door. "The Combine liberated him from the police and forwarded us his report. According to it a parahuman intervened and prevented him from terminating the target; some unknown martial artist."

      "How reliable is Sanguine?" the younger man asked after a moment of silence, "can he have made up the parahuman to cover up his failure?"

      "That's unlikely, sir. While he's very much at the bottom of the ladder among the Combine's assassins, he has no history of lying with previous failure."

      "How likely is it for two attacks to be interrupted by two different parahuman?"

      "Rather unlikely, sir, but still possible."

      The younger man rubbed his chin for a moment. "How about the people we have studying him, have they reported anything?"

      "Nothing out of the ordinary; as far as they can tell he's a perfectly normal boy.  He's bullied, he's among the better runners the school has and has a small circle of friends, none of whom also seem to be anything special."

      "Thank you Albert, please remind the Combine that they will not be paid until the boy is dead, and that I will take it very poorly if they decide to renege on the deal. Also, call my wife to confirm she still wants me to pick up the children from school."

      "Very well, sir."

      The man waited until his secretary had left before taking an envelope out of the desk. It was yellow, but it wasn't because of age or coloring. His scientists had told him that the paper was made from untreated wood pulp, but they hadn't been able to identify the type of tree it came from. He was surprised that there was a tree left his scientists hadn't catalogued, but the world was large and still kept many secrets from him.

      From the envelope he took out a Polaroid of a skinny boy. On the back was a name, an address as well as the name of a school. With the picture was a letter written on the same type of paper. The writing was very precise, the mark of someone who had to take great care with his writing. The ink was made from squid ink, but it didn't contain any of the impurities now common in it.

      "The picture," it read, "is that of a man who will cause you great problems if he is allowed to come of age. You must take every step possible to destroy him regardless of the cost." The letter had arrived over the summer, it had showed up in his personal mail without postage and no one in the mail room could recall seeing it before.

      Unlike what the letter advised he didn't rush to have to boy killed. He hadn't become a successful businessman by blindly jumping at every warning he was given, but he also wasn't going to ignore something that had seemingly magically appeared in his office.

      He'd had one of his researchers compile a file on the boy and nothing unusual came up. Still he had contacted the Combine and hired them to remove him, but not at all cost. He wasn't going to put his plans at risk for some unnamed potential ally.

      "Who are you," he asked the letter, "and what do you have to gain by this boy's death." He folded the letter, put it and the picture back in the envelope. He probably wouldn't find that out, but it didn't matter. With the Combine executing the work the boy would die, it was just a question of time.

      * * * * *

      As I'd predicted, after a week of Maggie meeting me after each one of my classes, people started talking. It took me that long to convince her that she didn't have to follow me around in school. No one was going to attack me here, not with a school's worth of witnesses.

      Of course, by then I had already been branded as the uncaring boyfriend since she was obviously head over heel in love with me and I didn't treat her as anything more than a friend. Those who knew us a little figured it was about time that we got together; we'd been best friend for so long it was the natural next step.

      Eddy was the only one who knew us well enough to believe us when we said we weren't together. He did question why she was following me everywhere if that was the case. I could tell she wanted to tell him the truth, but instead she told him it was a social experiment.

      After that she'd meet up with me at my doorstep and then as we left school. She also forced me to get over my aversion of that spot of sidewalk in front of the Pater's house. It was about a week later, we were heading back home. As I started to turn to go to the other side of the road she grabbed my arm and stopped me. We were at the corner of the block.

      "Okay, this has gone on long enough," she said as she started pulling me along, "you have to deal with this."

      I dug my feet in and we stopped moving. She was a little shorter than I was but about the same weight so I only had to put a little of my strength in it to keep us where we were.

      "You can't make me," I stated.

      "You can't ignore this for your entire life."

      "I figure that once I've moved out to go to college I won't have to think about it anymore," I replied trying to make light of the situation.

      She sighed and let go of me.

      "This isn't healthy. If you don't deal with this it's going to come back to haunt you."

      "Look, I don't want to deal with this," I said, "not now." Or ever, a voice added in the back of my head.

      "Well you can't just avoid this like you're trying to avoid fighting. You need to learn to deal with stuff."

      "What do you want me to do," I said angrily, "just pick a fight with someone and hope I don't break their necks?"

      "Of course not," she said with a touch of exasperation in her voice. "Obviously fighting isn't something you can just jump in and work on, but this is." She pointed down the length of the sidewalk and I looked in that direction.

      Like every time before I saw the blood and the body parts.

      "I can't," I said weakly.

      "What are you so afraid of? They aren't going to come back." She eyed me for a moment. "Or do you think you should have saved them?"

      "Of course not," I said forcefully. Don't you? the voice asked, 'thy shall not kill' is one of God's commandment. Shouldn't you have stopped him from killing them?

      "Then what's the problem?"

      "I don't know, I just can't."

      "Let's just try okay? We'll walk together."

      I looked at her and the earnestness in her eyes made me nod. I looked down at my feet and took a step forward. The second one was shaky. On the third one I happen to look up to see how far I was from the spot and the sight of all that blood froze me.

      "I can't," I was barely able to say. I wanted to turn and run in the opposite direction, but I couldn't get my body to do anything but stare ahead.

      "It's okay," Maggie said, "breathe."

      Only when she said that did I realize I'd been holding my breath.

      "Close your eyes."

      I did as she instructed. The inside of my eyelids was blood red.

      "I want you to imagine that you're jogging on the track at school. You told me once that when you jog you feel like you can leave all your worries behind you so that's what I want you to do now."

      I did that and the red was replaced by the blacktop of the track. I forced myself to hear the sound of my shoes hitting the ground rhythmically and I felt my breathing calm down. I had to keep my breathing calm when running to maximize the oxygen going to my lungs.

      "Are you ready?" she asked. I felt her place hand in mine.

      I nodded as I closed it over hers.

      "Good, were going to take one step now."

      There was a flash of red but I focused on the blacktop again.

      "Another."

      My breathing sped up. I forced myself to slow it down. I couldn't afford to hyperventilate while running.

      "Another.

      "Another.

      "Another.

      I froze as a cut up body appeared on the track. The blood pooling around it was vivid red.

      "Are you okay?" she asked when I didn't move.

      "Just a minute." There was no body on the track. Coach Timberson was adamant about the track always being clear. There also was no blood. In fact there was nothing red anywhere near the field. The closest to that was the brown brick the school was made out of. The body and blood disappeared from the track and I started jogging again.

      I took a step, and then another and another.

      When Maggie had me stop and open my eyes we were on the other corner.

      I was panting and shaking. I felt as if I had been running around the track instead of imagining it, but I had made it across.

      "How about we don't do this ever again?" I asked fighting the impulse to look behind me.

      "How about we do it again tomorrow instead?" Maggie replied with a smile.

      It took me over a month to be able to walk this block with my eyes open, but it wasn't until after Halloween that I was able to do it without Maggie holding my hand.

      During that time the Terrorist destroyed an oil refinery in Fort Worth. It made the news because it was the first time he destroyed something in Texas. In the last five years he had destroyed over thirty factories over the world, all of them big polluters. Each time he gave a warning a week ahead of time that he was going to do it. That if the plant was completely shut down by then it would be spared. No one ever did it, even after all this time.

      Three of the Dallas/Fort Worth parahumans; Smack Down, Whiplash and Reverb, tried to stop him, but by the time the fight was over they were left unconscious and the refinery had been turned to dust.

      There hadn't been any casualties. He always gave everyone inside his targets time to leave, sometime going as far as throwing them out himself.

      How he destroyed his targets was something of a mystery. There weren't any explosions or radiations afterward, only a large pile of dust. Some scientists claimed that he had found a way to break the bound between atoms, but even they didn't know exactly how he did that. Some argues that he was obviously a scientific genius; his power armor was ample proof of that, so it had to be a device, while others thought the suit was just to confuse them and it was a parahuman ability that allowed him to do it.

      Green Peace released another of the Terrorist's message after the destruction stating that until mankind started taking steps by itself to stop polluting the environment he was going to continue protecting it his way.

      The mayor of New York City went on TV claiming that he was the perfect example of why parahumans needed to be registered.

      The President also went on TV to say that the United States wouldn't give into terrorism. That if the Terrorist really wanted to protect the environment he should turn himself in and use his obvious intellect to help them come up with a less disruptive solution.

      Personally I thought the guy had to be plain nuts.

      * * * * *

      "What are you guys dressing up as for the Halloween party?" Eddy asked. It was free period and we were sitting in the cafeteria just wasting time.

      "I haven't decided yet," I said with a shrug, "a ghost maybe."

      "That's creative," Maggie said, "Maybe you should go as Claw. He's big, strong and can really lay the smack down on the bad guys. You know, what you don't do."

      The look I gave her told Eddy there was some subtext he was missing, but he didn't comment. "What about you Maggie?" he asked instead.

      "I'm going as Madam Curie."

      We both stared at her.

      "What?"

      "How come you aren't dressing up as a parahuman again this year?"

      "Not everything I do has to revolve around parahumans you know," she answered with a distinct lack of conviction.

      I reached in her bag and pulled out a random note book. On it were half a dozen stickers of Justicar Members. Electrika, Claw, Black Jack, Goliath, Plasma and Phoenix. With a smirk she took the book out of my hand and shoved it back in her bag.

      "You should dress up as Electrika," I said, "it maybe Reverb."

      "How about Whip?" Eddy offered.

      Maggie guffawed. "No way, even if I dared wearing as little as she does I don't have the figure to pull it off."

      Whip was the most popular parahuman out of Atlanta. All she wore were leather high heel shoes, leather panties, leather bra and a leather mask. I wasn't surprise Eddy had suggested her. She was the subject of a lot of teenager's fantasies.

      "What are you going as?" she asked him.

      "I'm going as a Na'vi."

      "Well you certainly have the height and thinness for it," I commented.

      "Are they even going to let you in wearing that little?" Maggie asked.

      "Good luck getting a date being that much of a geek." I said.

      "I already have a date. Eliza is going with me, also as a Na'vi."

      "Eliza Munroe?" Maggie asked and Eddy nodded.

      We both looked at him. Eliza was among the best looking girls in our year, I mean even *I* had noticed how much of a looker she's become.

      "Err, are you sure she isn't pulling a prank on you?" I asked.

      "I am, we been going out for a few months now."

      Now I outright stared at him.

      "How come this is the first we've heard of it?" Maggie asked.

      "Because my private life is private," Eddie stated. We were both surprised at that comment. Eddie used to be someone who shared everything about his life with us, even stuff we'd rather not know about at times. "And we won't be the only Na'vi there. There's going to be about a dozen of us. Even Chris Landon is doing it."

      "Chris Landon?" I asked, "Small and pudgy Chris?" Eddy nodded and I opened my mouth to say something, but I closed it just as fast before I said something even I would think was stupid. "I will not judge, I will not judge," I repeated softly to myself instead.

      "How about we change the subject," Eddie said, "have you decided what to write about for the history essay?"

      "Yeah," I said, "I'm going to write about how the Church mishandled things during the Second World War."

      "Aren't you Catholic?" Eddie asked.

      "Yeah, so?"

      "That doesn't sound like a very Catholic thing to do, speaking against the Church like that."

      "We're not blind followers," I said with a shrug, "anyone who bothers reading history books can see that the Church made mistakes at times. What are you going to write about?"

      "The destruction of the Twin Towers."

      "Does nineteen-ninety-eight really qualifies has being history?" I asked.

      "It might not have been that long ago, but there never was destruction on that scale due to parahumans fighting before. That's what launched mayor Guiliani on his quest to get parahumans registered."

      "There isn't any proof that parahumans were responsible for that," Maggie stated.

      "What else could it have been, and how about the record the news crew made? The explosions, light and other weird stuff that was visible."

      "That could have been special effects," Maggie replied, "Tell me this, if it was a fight between two groups of parahumans that brought the Twin Towers down, how come not even one of them has ever been identified?"

      "That's Guiliani's point," Eddie countered, "If they had been registered he would have known they were in New York and it he would have been able to prevent it from happening."

      I don't think either one of them noticed when I left the table. I didn't want to be caught in the middle of that argument. Eddie was very much a proof and scientific method kind of guy, and Maggie couldn't tolerate having parahumans painted as bad people as a group. So I sought the quiet of a table on the other side of the cafeteria.

      I took out my sketchbook and flipped through it until I came to the drawing I'd done of the Fist. I'd drawn my first savior so it seemed appropriate I draw my second one. Since saving me the Fist had made it on the news shows twice. The first time because he saved a woman from a robber, the image was grainy, from a security building on an adjacent building. The woman had been interviewed and described the Fist as being quick, efficient and polite. A few days later the robber was on the same news show going on and on about how the Fist had broken his arm and leg. In that report the robber was treated as an innocent victim of a ruthless parahuman attack. That report got at least twice the airtime of the previous one.

      Maggie had been pissed about it, but I reminded her that this was Tyberon, reports like that were about the best she could expect. It took her a few days to calm down and put it out of her mind.

      I flipped to the drawing of my first savior. I still looked at it once in a while to see if I would remember anything else to add. Nothing had come in a few weeks but I still did it.

      "That's pretty good," someone said behind me.

      "Thanks," I said as I looked over my shoulder at Coach Warner holding a tray.

      "Do you mind if I sit here?" he asked pointing to the seat in front of me.

      "No Coach." I wasn't going to complain about having him sit in front of me, I didn't often get to look at a well built guy without looking suspicious doing it.

      "Please, call me Thor," he said as he sat down. He put his tray down on the table. "Can I see it?" he asked as he pushed the tray aside.

      I handed him my sketchbook, "I'm not really used to calling one of my teacher by anything but their last name."

      "That's ok, you'll get used to it." He flipped through a few of the other pages but came back to the top one. "You're quite good. That's a very accurate drawing of him."

      "Thanks," I said blushing slightly. It wasn't often that an adult other than my parents or art teacher complimented me on my drawings. "Wait a minute. You said it's accurate. You've seen him before?"

      "Yeah," he said with a small chuckle, "I used to hang out with him a long time ago."

      I looked at him for a moment. It was strange hearing someone who couldn't be more than thirty talk about 'a long time ago.' He must have known him when they were kids.

      "Can you tell me his name?"

      "Sure, it's Kindar."

      "Do you know why he saved me?"

      "At a guess I'm going to have to say that someone paid him to do it. He's never been keen on the whole hero thing. He didn't mind saving people, but usually there had to be some coins attached to it."

      His eyes became distant for a moment. And then he was silent. It gave me the time to work up the courage to ask my next question.

      "Do you know why he killed them?" I asked softly.

      "He probably thought it was the best way to protect you," he answered as he gave me back my sketchbook. "Did he happen to say if he'd be looking after you for a while?" he asked with a tone of hope.

      I shook my head. "He said he wasn't coming back."

      "I guess I shouldn't be surprised," he said with a sad smile.

      "It's been a while since you saw him?" I asked.

      "Feels like many lifetimes ago."

      "I'm sure you'll get to see him again."

      "I know I will," he replied with a smile, "so long as certain people keep their promises. I saw you met the new parahuman." He pointed at my sketchbook.

      "Yeah, he stopped someone else from killing me," I said.

       Coach Warner, I just couldn't get myself to call him Thor, or even Eric, raised an eyebrow.

      "He said, Kindar I mean, that others would try to kill me." I wasn't sure why I told him that, other than we both knew him I guess.

      "What are you going to do?" he asked after studying me for a moment.

      "I don't really know."

      "Well, if you need any help you know where to find me."

      I looked at him as he started on his lunch; the cafeteria meatloaf, a coffee and slice of apple pie. He didn't react the way I expected an adult to react. He didn't tell me what do to, who to call and all that. It felt strange having an adult let me do what I thought was best in this situation.

      I was tempted to ask him about it, but the bell rang.

      * * * * *

      "The Magster wants to see you in the science lab," Eddy told me when he walked by me on his way home. I was standing by the school doors waiting for Maggie to arrive.

      "Why?"

      "She didn't say, but I'm guessing it's got to do with lifting some heavy equipment."

      That explained why I was still waiting for her. Normally she would be the one waiting for me. I went back inside the school.

      It had been a long time since I'd been in the school after hours. I'd forgotten how quiet it got; just going up one flight of stairs and the noise of the few people still leaving completely vanished. I slowed down my running to enjoy it.

      I never heard him coming. One moment I was listening to the silence, the next my face was being grinded against a locker. My mind went black with fear. One of them was in my school.

      "You think you can hide it," he whispered in my ear, "but I know what you are. Soon there's going to be a reckoning." He pushed my face against the locker again before letting me go.

      I spun around, this time I was going to defend myself, and watched Randall Mitchell walk away. I sighed with relief and leaned back into the locker. Randall wasn't out to kill me, he was just one of Billy's cronies.

      What he said confused me, what did he know, and how had he found out? Did it mean Billy knew too? And why had Randall harassed me on his own, Billy usually didn't let anyone else bully me.

      I looked around while I caught my breath and noticed that I was alone. With Randall gone there was no witness if someone decided to attack me. I ran all the way to the science lab.

      I heard Maggie exerting herself in the back of the room.

      "What are you doing?" I asked. She was bent over a slab of metal.

      "Good, you're here. Put that in there." She indicated one of the two square buckets against the wall.

      "Sure." The slab looked to be about a foot by a foot and a half and a few inches thick. It had been cast with handholds on each side. I grabbed one and lifted it, and almost wrenched my shoulder out of its socket instead.

      "Fuck, what is this thing made out of?"

      "Tungsten," she answered as she went to the storage room.

      "How much does it weigh?" I bent down and grabbed both sides this time.

      "About four hundred pounds."

      I believed her. I carefully put it in the bucket. It looked to be homemade. "What are you doing with it?"

      "I want to see how strong you are." She came out of the closet pushing a cart with more slabs on it as well as a disassembled bench press.

      "You're kidding, right?"

      "Nope, completely serious. You're afraid of your own strength. First step to overcoming fear is getting to know it. So we're going to figure out how strong you are and go from there."

      "Look, I'm not afraid of my strength, I just don't want to fight."

      "Fine," she said rolling her eyes, "then just think of it as indulging my curiosity. You're the only Parahuman I know. I want to see what you can do."

      "Okay, but you try to get me to fight and this friendship is over."

      "Sure," she didn't believe the threat any more than I did. "Now help me assemble this and we can get started."

      Once it was assembled she put the bar on the top notch.

      "I don't think so," I told her, placing it on the lowest one.

      "But I need to know how much you can support."

      "Doing it that way the moment there's more weight than I can lift the bar falls, breaks my neck and your parahuman best friend is dead."

      "Oh."

      "Yeah, oh," I echoed, "this way if I can't lift it, then I just can't lift it and you'll know. Also we're going to put something under those bucket so there's no weight on the bar when it's resting."

      We built a stand for them out of the notebooks and I put the buckets on them before adding a slab in the empty one.

      "Are you sure the buckets are going to hold up? There's going to be a lot of weight in them."

      "Yeah, I had them made by a guy I know who has shop classes."

      "I hope you're right," I said as I lied down on the bench and grabbed the bar.

      "Okay, we're starting with four hundred pounds on each side." She hooked the bucket and moved away.

      I easily lifted the bar a dozen times before putting it back.

      "That easy?" she asked.

      "Pretty much." I put another slab in each bucket.

      "We now have eight hundred pounds in each."

      Again I did twelve reps, but this time I felt the last three. I added one slab each.

      "twelve hundred pounds," Maggie said with trepidation.

      I didn't feel her excitement; in fact I was a little worried. I wished we had smaller weights. I lied down and gripped the bar. I focused my breathing for a moment and then forced it up.

      And I do mean forced. It took every ounce of strength I had to lift it. I lowered it and went for a second one. I was halfway there when I knew I shouldn't have tried it. Before I could lower it my arms gave out.

      The buckets slammed on the books and sighed in relief. It didn't last long. The stack of books on my left leaned out, I hadn't worried about it because it seemed solid enough, but now with the weight bouncing off it it moved a little more and then fell apart.

      I only had time to move the bar over my chest before I felt the full weight. At least I'd saved myself from a broken neck, but I had trouble breathing. Maggie ran off and I heard her break open a cabinet. I grabbed the bar and tried to lift but I couldn't get any leverage. I could barely take some of the weight off my chest so I could breathe. I swung an arm and hit the buckets, but it didn't move.

      Maggie came back with a large jar and a Bunsen burner. She emptied the jar around the inside of the bucket and then lit the content with the burner. The stuff burned so bright I had to look away for a moment. When I looked again there was a glowing line through the metal around the bucket; then the metal stretched and ripped.

      As soon as the bottom half fell off I threw the bar off me. To the sound of the slates tumbling out of the bucket I sat and held my chest.

      "How painful is it?" Maggie asked.

      "Pretty painful," I answered weakly; breathing was difficult.

      "Take off your T-shirt, I want to see how bad it is."

      I tried not to make faces as I took it off, but moving my arms caused the pain to flare up.

      "That looks pretty bad," she commented.

      "I know," was all I could say. The line made by the bar was red and the skin had broken in places.

      The Magster took out her camera. "Do you mind if I take pictures, I want to document how fast you heal."

      I tried to sigh, but the pain wouldn't let me. "Go ahead."

      She took her pictures and then we cleaned up. She poured sand on the fire that was still burning and melting more metal. I have no idea why there was sand in the science lab. She didn't want me to help, but I was the only one who could pick up the slates, although I had to be careful doing it.

      When everything was back in the storage closet the only evidence left were the vicious burn marks on the floor around where the bucket had landed. Maggie was going to have to do some creative thinking to explain that.

      * * * * *

      Maggie had to spend the next two weeks helping out her science teacher clean up the lab after school to pay off the damage to the floor and the material we'd used. She didn't mention my involvement, she told him that she had been testing the reactivity of burning magnesium to tungsten, whatever that meant, and that it had gone out of control.

      I offered to help out, but she wouldn't let me.

      I still waited for her. Partially to keep her company but mainly because Randall's attack had reminded me I was in danger and I didn't want to take a chance by walking home alone. On the up side, my reputation as a boyfriend got better for it.

      Mom approved of my making sure Maggie didn't walk home alone. She said it made me a gentlemen. Dad thought it was sweet how I paid attention to her now that she was becoming a woman. I just rolled my eyes; dad had started hinting that I should find a special lady friend since the school year had started. I'd told him I wasn't interested in getting a girlfriend, but I don't think he really heard me.

      It was Friday when I was attacked again. It was suppose to be Maggie's last day of punishment, but her teacher let her go instead because she'd been so good about doing her sentence. To celebrate we were heading to the mall for a few hours before our Karate class.

      We were walking through the park when I saw the man come toward us. He was of average height and build he wore jeans and a white t-shirt. There was nothing out of the ordinary about him, but my body froze anyway.

      "What's wrong?" Maggie asked. She'd taken a few more steps before realizing I'd stopped.

      I didn't answer, I was too busy looking around for people. If I could find someone who could act as a witness I could convince myself I was panicking for nothing, but there was no one. We were in one of the small clearings that dotted the park and normally there would be people picnicking or just lounging, so where were they?

      When I looked at the man again he's covered half the distance separating us. He was looking straight at me with determination. I forced my body to take a step back.

      Maggie looked at the man coming toward us. "Oh shit," she said.

      I wanted to echo her, but I couldn't get my mouth to work.

      She looked around quickly. "I'm, I'm going to go get help," she said before running into the woods.

      I knew what she was going to really do, but I couldn't help feeling like she was abandoning me.

      "The pretty girl is smart to run," the man said. "Sharp doesn't like hurting pretty girls."

      He was now within striking distance. I told my hands to close into fist and hit him, but they wouldn't obey. He swung at me and at the last moment I was able to move out of the way. I dodged the next swing and took a few steps back.

      I closed my hands into fists and felt relief wash over me. I'd be able to fight back this time. Maggie was right. I couldn't spend my life being afraid. I'd take it easy with him at first and hit harder as needed.

      The pain of his fist hitting my jaw broke my chain of thoughts. Next there was a fist to my stomach and another to the jaw. Then I was on the ground.

      "Sharp waits for you to get up," he said. "Sharp is patient."

      Sharp didn't sound like he was the sharpest tool in the shed.

      "Hey," someone yelled, "get away from him."

      The Fist had arrived, I thought, but then realized the voice had been wrong. I looked up to some someone in black holding a sword running toward us.

      "You don't move," Sharp told me, "Sharp fights the black man and comes back to you." Sharp turned and walked toward the new guy.

      "Get out of here while I keep him busy," the man in the black said just before swinging at Sharp.

      I wanted to obey him, but again my body wouldn't obey me. He looked vaguely familiar with his black trench coat. What was it with trench coat, did everyone who saved me had to wear one? Even his shoes were black.

      "You have a sharp thing," Sharp said, "Sharp has sharp things too." His fingers elongated until they were thin, two foot long, skin colored blades. He used them to block the next swing and then swung at the swordsman.

      The man brought it up to block and the finger blades sliced through it.

      "You have got to be fucking kidding me," the man said as he looked at the three inches of blade still attached to the hilt. "I just finished making it today!"

      "Then you shouldn't have attacked Sharp," he said before swinging back and forth at his opponent. The man in black could only back up each time.

      Maggie came out running of the woods wearing her mask and trench coat. When she was just a few feet behind Sharp she jumped and kicked him. The man in black moved aside as Sharp toppled to the ground.

      "Get up Sharp," she said in her deepened 'Fist' voice, "I want to show you what happens to parahumans who come to my city causing trouble."

      "How do you know Sharp's name?" he asked as he stood.

      "You're joking, right?" Fist answered, "You're saying it every time you open your mouth."

      Sharp looked at Fist doubtfully before rushing.

      Fist easily moved out of the way of the swings and threw in a few strikes in the process. Sharp swung wildly to force Fist to move away.

      I could see the anger in Sharp's eyes now, and so could Fist. He reached inside his trench coat, and when Sharp rushed him again he threw what he was holding at him. Sharp stopped as the cloud of fine dust spread around his face.

      I closed my eyes as Fist brought the lighter out and even through my eyelids I saw the flash of light as the magnesium dust ignited. When I opened them The Fist was putting his foot back on the ground after kicking Sharp in the face.

      Sharp spun and stumbled around trying to keep his footing. The flash had pretty much blinded him, I'd been there the first time Maggie had experimented with the magnesium dust; I hadn't seen anything for a good two minutes, so he didn't see the man in black flip his hilt and hit him across the jaw with the pommel, hard enough that the hilt went flying out of his hand afterward.

      Sharp dropped like a rock. It was over.

      I couldn't believe I had been attacked again. It had been so long I'd begun thinking I was safe now. And I couldn't believe that someone else had been drawn into this. This hadn't been just a thug sent to hurt me; this had been a real parahuman. Maggie could have been really hurt, or worse.

      "What the fuck is wrong with you," I yelled at them, "you could have gotten killed!"

      "You have to excuse him," The Fist said as he handcuffed Sharp, "He gets like that when he's scared. He still doesn't get that this is what us heroes do."

      "Oh no," the guy in black said backing away, "I'm no hero, this was just a one time . . ." he froze in mid step.

      Maggie took off her mask as we exchanged a look. The unexpectedness of it chased my anger away.

      She stepped to him and waved her hand before his eyes. "Marvin, you okay?" she asked.

      Marvin didn't reply or even move. I couldn't even tell if he was breathing.

      "You know him?"

      "Yeah, he made the buckets we used to test your strength."

      He was in shop class. That's why he seemed familiar, I'd seen him at school.

      "You okay?" she asked me.

      "I'm fine, I'm more worried about what could have happened to you. This guy was an actual parahuman, not just a hitman in costume."

      "It was bound to happen eventually. Even if whoever wants you dead didn't escalate I'm considered a parahuman crime fighter. Someone was going to take a shot at me eventually. That's why I've been working on those gadgets to help me. All I need now is some form of protection and I'll be good."

      "No! You one eyed son of a bitch! That wasn't part of the deal!" Marvin said fist shaking at the sky. "All I was supposed to do was make a sword. You were supposed to leave me alone after that. I don't fucking care what the fringe benefits are going to be, I am NOT playing your game."

      Maggie waited a moment after Marvin was quiet. "Marvin, what's going on?"

      "It's Odin," Marvin replied with a groan still looking at the sky. "The bastard won't leave me alone." He paused and looked at Maggie. "Hey Maggie, when did you get here?"

      "I've, err, been here for a while."

      Marvin looked at her, his eyes going to the mask she was holding. "You're kidding. You're the Fist?"

      "Yeah, I am," she said, "you don't seem too surprised."

      "It's tough to be surprised anymore when you have an ancestral God meddling in your life. And it explains the experiment you had me helping with. Who's your friend?"

      "Marvin, this is Jay, Jay this is Marvin."

      "Pleasure to meet you," I said as I shook his hand, "not that I'm complaining, but what are you doing here?"

      "Odin told me to come here."

      "You mean here, here?" I asked.

      "Wait. Are you talking about the Norse God Odin?"

      "Yes, and yes." He took out a GPS unit. "The coordinates he gave me are just behind the tree line."

      I kept my mouth shut, the guy was obviously deranged.

      "Did he tell you to come here to help me?" Maggie asked him.

      "No, I was here to bless my sword." He looked at the pieces on the ground. "Aww man, now he's going to tell me to make another one."

      He reached for the hilt and as soon as he touched it, it started glowing. The other pieces glowed as well and then slid on the ground until they were all together. The glow intensified and then disappeared where the pieces touched. When the glow dissipated the sword was in one piece.

      "Okay," Marvin said with awe, "that is cool." He picked it up and swung it a few times.

      "How did you do that?" Maggie asked.

      I would have asked the same thing, but I was too stunned at finding out there was another parahuman in my school.

      "I don't know," Marvin answered. He was still looking at the sword in awe.

      "I take it that's one of the fringe benefits to whatever Odin wants you to do."

      "I guess so."

      "What does he want you to do?"

      "He wants me to become a hero."

      "Cool," Maggie said, "you wanna join my team?"

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