He could see the madness in her eyes as she swung. Pure, unquestioning bloodlust like nothing he’d ever encountered. In that moment, he understood: she wasn’t a fellow student, or even a Super. That woman was a monster. Without even thinking, he tried to push her away, and his concentration was suddenly broken by light, but undeniable, pain.
Brett Rhodes woke up in a sweat, his covers tangled around him. For a moment, adrenaline surged through his veins as the vestiges of the dream slowly fell away, revealing the reality around him. It was dark, which was to be expected since his clock told him it was just after two in the morning. He was at home, in the room he’d grown up in before heading off to West Private University. With his final school year over and a month until his internship officially started, he’d needed a place to crash while in-between life phases.
Moving slowly, still uncertain which reality each step would be taking him into, Brett padded across the carpeted floor and stepped into his small bathroom. The light blinded him momentarily, and a blue field flicked into existence around him. With a minor exertion of effort, Brett reined his power back in. Sleeping with it on was a great way to wake up to the shredded remains of what had once been sheets. Besides, he couldn’t very well do what he’d come in here for if there was a barrier between him and the world.
A slight chuckle escaped his lips as he pooled water from the faucet in his hands and splashed it across his face. Barrier. It was a silly moniker, when one got right down to it, but Brett had grown rather fond of the name since officially choosing it. Names were supposed to be personal, to have some deep meaning to the Hero wearing it. Truthfully, Brett was just happy to think of one that hadn’t been nabbed and fit his power. Good thing Hank Rhodes only trained Heroes; if he’d donned the cape himself then no doubt Barrier would have already been snapped up.
Thinking of his father sent a pang of loneliness through Brett’s heart. When he’d planned on coming here for the summer, he’d expected Hank to be around. He could hardly begrudge the man spending his summer helping HCP students train and cope with what they’d gone through, but it didn’t change the fact that Brett wished his dad was around. After the loss at Intermurals, he could have gone for Hank’s no-nonsense assessments and endless training.
Brett turned off the facet and grabbed a hand-towel, catching a brief glimpse of himself in the mirror. He had the frame of a recent HCP graduate; dark skin stretched across hard-earned muscle, along with a face that he liked to think was appealing. Not that it mattered; his face, like the rest of him, would be obscured under his costume. The first version was supposed to be ready in a couple of days, and Brett could scarcely wait to see how it came out. His costume was one of the few things looming on his horizon that didn’t fill him with anxiety.
It was a strange, new thing to be wrestling with. Brett clicked off the light and made his way back to bed, nearly tripping over a pair of bunched up jeans tossed haphazardly on the floor. He wasn’t used to being uncertain, or scared. He didn’t know how to deal with feeling vulnerable.
Sure, there had been losses in his time at West. The professors didn’t get those jobs based on their ass-kissing, after all. But amongst the students, he’d been unparalleled. Some of his peers were harder to beat, and some could create stalemates, but none of them had actually been able to defeat him. No matter how many times his father tried to tell him that no one was invincible, Brett had begun to think he might just be the exception to the rule.
And then… and then he’d fought Angela DeSoto. Watching her through Intermurals, Brett hadn’t been impressed. She won, sure, but it always seemed a lot closer than he’d have been against those opponents. It wasn’t until he faced her for himself that he understood. She never used more power than she had to, never showed more tricks than was necessary. She was brutal, efficient, and deadly; like a living sword with blonde hair. Fighting her had been scary enough. Losing to her, knowing a person like that could kill him… well, the nightmares said it best.
The soft glow of Brett’s phone shone on his face as he began flipping through the news. It was a habit he’d gotten into when he couldn’t sleep. He used to check for things around West, but ever since receiving his internship offer, Brett mostly read up on the happenings in Port Valins. On the southern border of Florida, it was a beachfront metropolis staffed by some of the toughest Hero teams in the nation. And soon, he’d be taking up residency there.
Ever since Rabble had offered Brett his internship, he’d started researching Port Valins. When the day to step into the field came, he was determined to be as prepared as possible. Failure had left a sour taste on his tongue; he was in no hurry to taste it once more.
Port Valins was a busy place, less established than some of the big cities in middle America and filled with the extra chaos. Crime rates were higher, both the Super and normal varieties, so every Hero there had their hands full. Constant combat like nowhere else could offer; it was the perfect place to get real-world training, especially for someone with a power-set like Brett’s.
As he scrolled through the newsfeed, Brett noticed an article about the Wayward Wraiths, one of the more prominent Hero teams in Port Valins. He clicked on the article and quickly realized the reporter was discussing a new member to their renowned team, one that was already making a name for themselves. No doubt a fellow recent graduate, one whose internship just started a bit sooner. According to the article, this new Hero was named Charon, and while no one knew much about them yet, not even their gender, what was evident was the criminals in the area had begun to scatter at even the mention of the name.
The hairs on the back of Brett’s neck raised higher the longer he read. He knew before he even scrolled down to the picture at the bottom, but he still had to see for himself. Sure enough, there she was in golden, shining armor, standing over the cuffed and beaten would-be criminals she’d easily defeated. After facing it himself, he’d know that metal’s glow anywhere. Angela DeSoto, now going by Charon, was in Port Valins too. Of all the cities in the U.S. why had she… for the same reason he had, of course. Constant combat, a place where there was always action. How could he have imagined she would go anywhere else?
Setting down his phone, Brett rolled back over and closed his eyes. Sleep would come eventually, it always did. This time, he suspected, it wouldn’t greet him with the same old nightmare. No, now things would be different. Now there were so many fresh ones it could drop on him instead.
All at once, the two weeks until internship started seemed like far too short a time.