Chapter 244

               The bank of fog whispered up the side of Lander’s Foreign Language building, moving far too quickly for a normal bank of moisture being bandied about by wind. As it reached the top, the fog drew closer together, twisting and binding until it took the shape of an adult man. He was wearing simple clothes and one of the generic gray masks, like the students. It wasn’t because he didn’t have a costume and code name all of his own, though; Wisp had just never bothered to get new duds made. He wasn’t a Hero anymore; that could only happen temporarily if he was given emergency reactivation, and he’d never actually anticipated such an event happening. He blamed himself for that oversight. As a Subtlety Hero and pessimist, he should have known it was only a matter of time.

            “I’ve got eyes on one,” he said, tapping the com piece in his ear. “It looks like a giant insect hybrid or something. My guess is shifter, though it seems to have a lot of weird appendages. Maybe it’s someone who can touch insects and gain their power.”

            As Wisp watched the creature clawing its way up the side of Brenner Hall, it opened its mouth and fired a line of sticky liquid that solidified as it hit the ground. It took two more strands before Wisp realized exactly what he was seeing.

            “Widen that power set to bugs in general. I’m watching this thing spin a web as we speak.”

            “Roger that,” Impact said. “I’m sending Black Hole over to deal with it.”

            “This doesn’t rate Zero’s involvement?”

            “Look to your northeast,” Impact instructed.

            Wisp complied, not bothering to ask how she’d known which direction he was facing. As soon as he was paying attention, he saw the sparks of bright red light flashing in the indicated direction.

            “Insanely strong energy-projector. Her beams can cut through whole trees without breaking, and the shield she raised is too strong for even my projectiles to break through. She’s the top threat in terms of destruction, so that’s the one Zero is heading off to face.”

            “Yeah, seems like a pretty good call,” Wisp agreed. “That’s two of them; what’s left?”

            “We’ve got a speedster moving too quick to pin down, a telekinetic or possible full advanced mind that’s staying low, and a strongman that’s leaping around. All of them are too powerful for me to take out at range by myself.”

            “Then who do we have going after whom?” Wisp asked.

            “Since they’re all moving around so much, we’re switching to a quadrant response system. You’re to meet up with Zero and his target once they’re neutralized, though. We need to find out where the anchor and shield-maker is pronto.”

            “On it.” A younger Hero would have protested at being cut out of the action. Wisp could fight; after all, if he was defenseless, they’d have never given him the cape. Age and experience gave perspective, however, and Wisp understood that he wasn’t being cut out of the action at all. He was being trusted to do a job that only he could do, just as Zero was the only one who could stop the energy-projector with minimal casualties.

            The fog descended back down the side of the building and onto campus, eager to begin what Wisp hoped would finally be a successful interrogation.

*          *          *

            Alex leapt nearly a foot straight up at the small burst of air and sound that came from behind him. He spun around, ready to do battle, only to find a familiar smile staring back from under a gray mask. Were he to pull it back at that moment, he would send pink-streaked hair tumbling out.

            “Any new finds to report, Obi Wan?”

            “Not so far.” Unlike most of the other students, who were using whatever nickname had first popped into their heads, Alex was greatly enjoying his. Though he could never make it his actual Hero name due to the myriad of licensing and royalty issues, it was nice in the moment. Plus, it meant a lot to him that people were finally beginning to at least humor him when it came to how his power worked. He’d have preferred outright belief, but at this point, progress was progress.

            “Wait, aren’t you supposed to be checking in through Short Brain?” Alex asked. He and Mary were both scouting for people in trouble, but since she had the larger range, she was the checkpoint for more of the class.

            “Maybe I wanted to pop by and make sure you were still doing okay,” Sasha admitted.

            “Relax, I’m one of the safest people here. I’ll get ample warning before anyone—”

            This time, it was not a slight burst of air and sound that came from behind, but instead, what felt like a miniature hurricane coupled with the sound of a cannon being fired. They both turned to find a man in mundane clothes staring back at them. Even without the context clues, they would have known in a moment that he was a Super. It was all in the eyes. They weren’t an abnormal color; in fact, they were a rather dull shade of brown. No, what gave it away was that his eyes were vibrating in their sockets, scanning about so fast they almost looked like white blurs.

Alex moved slightly, just to reposition himself, and found a fist lodged in his gut. The force of the blow sent him flying backward, but he felt a strong hand slam into his back before he could even hit the ground.

            It was impossible for someone to be this fast. The only person Alex had seen come close was Professor Fletcher, and even he hadn’t seemed capable of moving so quickly. As Alex smacked into the ground at last, he heard hurried steps zipping toward his location before Sasha’s voice rang through the air.

            “Back off, fucker!”

            He pulled himself up in time to see the fast-man easily avoid Sasha’s attack, as well as her follow-through, and the one that came next. The man was toying with her; he’d achieved super-speed on a level she couldn’t have dared hope to match.

            Alex gritted his teeth and focused through the pain in his stomach and spine. Bones were broken and organs had likely ruptured, but he pushed all of that aside as he narrowed his thoughts down to the man attacking Sasha. Most Supers couldn’t use their powers well when distracted by pain. Most Supers also hadn’t spent three years getting the daily shit kicked out of them in preparation for moments exactly like this one. He just had to find the right opening.

            It came as the man stopped in front of Sasha, taunting her by moving his head away from her punches as quickly as she threw them. There was a moment, just a single one, when his feet stayed planted. Alex never wavered; he reached out mentally and grabbed the man’s ankle, jerking him up into the air.

            Sasha let out a yelp of surprise as her opponent suddenly did an unwilling flip and found himself airborne. As soon as the man was off the ground, Alex readjusted his grip, snagging the man’s torso, and turning him right-side up. The aches from his body were getting worse, but Alex refused to let it impact his focus. The ferocity of the man’s first attacks left no doubt in Alex’s mind: this guy would kill them if given the chance.

            “That was a great grab,” Sasha said.

            “Only able to pull it off because you kept him distracted,” Alex replied. “If you could go get a healer, and maybe someone strong enough to snap his legs, I’d really appreciate it.”

            “It would be a waste of time. There is no healer who can bring back the dead.” Both Sasha and Alex were shocked at the sound of the man’s voice; it was the first time he’d spoken since they encountered him. Before their eyes, he began to vibrate in the air, much the same way his eyes were already shaking. At first, it seemed fruitless, but then Alex felt his grip on the man beginning to slip. It was like trying to hold a ball bouncing in every direction. He narrowed his eyes and put all he had into keeping the man aloft. On nearly any speedster in the world, it would have been enough. But, tragically, the man was just a little too powerful.

            Alex gasped as he lost his grip, the sudden snap of broken effort causing him to feel dizzy. He saw the man’s eyes as he hit the ground, and Alex knew without a doubt what he intended to do. The next few seconds passed too quickly for him to register.

            A blur. Pain. Blood. More pain.