Blades & Barriers: Chapter 5

                Brett had grown up around training rooms. With his father being Hank Rhodes, it was inevitable that he’d be dragged along to at least some of the personal coaching jobs Hank booked through the years. The one time Brett had been truly bowled over by a facility was when he’d entered the West Private HCP. Now that was a place to train, and he’d used it almost every single day in his time on campus. There was a reason he’d made it four years without losing to anyone outside the professors, who didn’t count for obvious reasons.

                The Wayward Wraiths had a nice set-up for their training; not the most lavish Brett had laid eyes on but certainly a far cry from the squalid bases of less established teams. Ultra-dense weights for strength work lined a short wall, along with the more mundane variety for those without enhanced muscles. There was also a track, a pool, a few moveable training courses, and of course the one place no Hero team could have a base without: the sparring rooms.

                It was into one of these that Unseelie led Brett, Justin, and Angela. The room was vast, easily forty feet in any direction, and the dozens of small holes and scratches in the concrete spoke to how much use the team obviously got out of it. Aside from the decor of destruction, it was largely bare, with only a small weapons rack in a far corner and chipped red circle painted in the center of the floor. That wasn’t to say there was nothing eye-catching as they entered, however, as two figures were already present, talking quietly to themselves.

                Even if Brett hadn’t done his homework on the team, which he obviously had, he’d have still recognized Bloodfyre. The man had a look that stood out, even among other Heroes. Spikey dark hair dyed red at the tips, a sleeveless shirt that showed off his toned arms all but covered in tattoos, dark pants with red trim that ended in matching boots, and an ever-present sneer just beneath the mask styled to look like burning flames. The vast majority of Heroes tried to keep their looks family-friendly, but Bloodfyre was one of the few who’d gone in the other direction, trying to inspire fear in criminals rather than hope in the masses. Oddly enough, he’d still managed to catch on, albeit more with the punk and rocker crowd than the mainstream, but merchandise sales still counted regardless of who bought them.

                The other man was, shockingly, a complete mystery to Brett. A few inches shorter than Bloodfyre, and with a frame that spoke to emphasis on muscle mass over leanness, he wore a hunter green costume that covered most of his body and face with minimal variation. He looked too old to be another rookie, but there was no age limit on HCP entrance, so it was technically possible, and it made the most sense.

                Luck was with Brett in that moment, as before he could call out a greeting to their fellow new graduate, Unseelie spoke.

                “I’m sure you don’t need the introductions, but just in case, gentlemen, allow me to present to you your mentors for the duration of your internships: Bloodfyre and Bayou.”

                “An honor to meet you both,” Justin said, somehow not stunned by the revelation. For his part, Brett managed to bark out a quick noise of agreement while his mind finally got itself caught up.

                That was what Bayou looked like? Every time Brett had seen him, every picture he’d dug out from the internet, always portrayed Bayou as more creature than man, so much so that it was generally agreed he was a shifter. Bayou ordinarily looked like a writhing mass of living vines, ones which he used to grab and pummel criminals while they ineffectually swatted at his undulating form. That would have made any stranger the obvious candidate for Bayou, except that shifter costumes were very recognizable due to the special fabric they had to be made from to accommodate size and shape changes. The hunter green, partially armored outfit, was definitely not for a shifter.

                “Pleasure to have you on board, though I wish the circumstances had been different.” Brett nearly jumped at the voice, unprepared for the cheerful tone which sprang from Bloodfyre’s lips. In spite of the tattoos, facial piercings, and all around hardass image, Bloodfyre was wearing a wide grin and spoke like he’d just gotten incredible news.

                “I… yes, sir. I’m truly honored by the chance to learn from a Hero such as yourself.” Brett shook the man’s hand, at last getting his bearings.

                “No need for the ‘sir’ talk, we’re going to be spending way too much time together for that kind of formality. Just call me Bloodfyre when we’re in public, or Cecil when we’re safe here in the base.”

                Brett’s eyes went wide, though whether it was from Bloodfyre so casually revealing his name or that name being Cecil even Brett couldn’t say for sure.

                “As I told you both already, this is a team that is built heavily around trust,” Unseelie said, perhaps at the shock on Brett’s face. “We know each other’s names, faces, weaknesses, and strengths. We know as much as we possibly can, all so that when the critical moments come, we understand what our teammates can and cannot handle.”

                “Don’t worry, she eases up on the speeches sometime after the first week,” Bloodfyre (Brett couldn’t yet think of this man as a Cecil) said in a mock-whisper. “Also, I owe you an apology for not picking you up. We’re on standby today, and a call came in, you know how it goes. Or you will soon, anyway.”

                “It’s fine,” Brett assured him. “I got the texts, and I listened to the fight on the news. You all took that gang apart.”

                For a brief moment, something flickered behind Bloodfyre’s cheery expression. “We didn’t lose any more lives than necessary, which isn’t the same as not taking any, but I suppose it went as well as it was going to go.”

                Before Brett could dig any deeper, Unseelie called out to the room. “There will be plenty of time to chat later on, right now we’re seeing everything the new interns have. Elmer, yours is a little closer to the circle, so why don’t we have Mr. Greenspan start first.”

                “For his own modesty, I’d like to request time for my intern to change into a proper costume,” Bayou, whose name was apparently Elmer, called back. Brett noted a distinct twang in the man’s voice. Southern, but certainly not from Florida.

                “Oh, actually I sort of thought something like this might happen,” Justin said. He untucked his shirt to reveal a green and gray costume peeking out from the exposed gap. “I came prepared.”

                “Preparedness is fine, but what if something had happened to expose the fact that you were wearing a costume?” Unseelie asked.

                “I’d have lied and said it was a fetish thing, Heroes aren’t the only people who like tight outfits you know.” There was zero shame in Justin’s voice as he tossed out the idea while stripping away his outer layer of clothing. “But more likely if I thought there was a chance of getting caught, I’d have just hidden it. My power allows me to… actually, it’s a little easier to show than tell. May I?”

                “Go for it,” Bayou said.

                “Yes, by all means,” Unseelie agreed. “I’d like to see just what you can do, Gunk.”