Friday. We’d settle it on Friday.
I had no idea why I was even considering putting up with it. What sort of leader let people challenge them like this?
Admittedly, I knew the answer to that too. If I were in Colton’s position and thought the ship wasn’t sailing the right way, well… I’d do a lot to try and change it. Didn’t make it hurt any less. Didn’t stop me from walking around the strange city of Mobile, pretending I didn’t stand out with the cape trailing behind me.
The skies rumbled. It was an ordinary day in Mobile, and that meant it was probably going to rain. Came from being on a bay, bridges strung across it like arteries, though even now traffic was slowing as the grease on the gears of society rubbed off more and more. Supplies were running out, I knew that.
Wouldn’t be long until it all ground to a halt. I knew that.
Didn’t think I could get it started again half as easily.
I knew that, too. Made my heart twist in my chest like a meaty fist had slipped over top of it had reached in and was trying desperately to exchange it for a new, stronger one, but the old one was just too slippery to be wrested free.
It started raining as my boots stepped on the city streets, and I slid from overhang to overhand, dancing between buildings that wouldn’t look out of place from the french quarter of new orleans, before stepping into the mouth of a church.
It was dark, grim, and the music spoke not of christian overtone, but rather of something more uplifted.
My eyes twitched about the almost abandoned halls before settling on the emblem by the door. A twisting square rimmed with spears, crosses, lightning.
The Fourth Wave.
It’d clung to my head the entire time I’d been walking. Colton’s attacks on my ideals. The Fourth Wave. Just the sort of wretchedness I’d always managed to avoid.
But now I was curious, more than anything.
Eyes moved around the building. Statues set up next to action figures, little stands set up here and there. Capes. Replicas, or perhaps the originals.
The place was covered in memorabilia of every kind, long delicate things and the occasion knife. As I stared at them all, I read off the plaques. Names I didn’t recognize.
A shiver went down my spine as I stopped at the end of the room. There was still so much more of the hallway to fill, but the latest date had been from a super inside of the police building. The cape still smelled like ozone, and I recoiled back.
“A bit horrific, isn’t it?” I recognized the voice, though it seemed like it had been months. I turned around and saw Earnest standing there. He looked older.
“Good, you remember my name!” He laughed, rocking back on his toes. “Welcome to the church. We don’t get a lot of capes around here, you know.”
I peered at him for a long moment. “But you are…”
“Not anything I can be a hero with,” he said, stepping to the side and gesturing me on. “But enough that I can get free food from here. Counselling. Benefits. Come on, the other room has more of the traditional idols, once you get past the local shrines.”
The next room was filled with images of the Brawler; his neck corded with tendons, a statue recreation of his first moment of the limelight. His fists were covered in scars, etched in the dark brass. A man sat underneath of one of his massive feet, disarmed. His outfit was covered in bullet holes.
One of the bullets was on display in a lighted case. Earnest led me over to it. “Man simply had denser muscles than the rest of us. Hard enough to stop bullets.” He frowned, then turned to the side, where a resting statue. “Let to his death as a young age from a heart attack. His virtue was one of selflessness and sacrifice,” he looked over at me. “But you knew that already, right Gale?”
“I know,” I said. “I had to write essays on him. Made the Association possible, just by himself.”
Earnest laughed. “Not just by himself, of course.”
I relaxed slightly. “But what is this place about, really?”
“It’s part charity, part religion,” Earnest said, tapping on the glass then straightening up. “Donations are spent on upkeep and on the community.”
“Yes, but what is the Fourth Wave?” I stressed. I only knew the basics. Had been warned off of them.
“Combination of Christian and Greek mythology,” Earnest breathed out. “It’s a bit heavy, so I’ll summarize, There are myths of floods and great gods. Waves of strange things in the world, stronger than anything else. To the greeks, there were three great floods before their time. Each one was prefaced by the gods. Great individuals, fighting against the woes of the ages,”
My eyes flicked back to the Brawler’s bronze features.
“And as the Christians say, there is… The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. Genesis, if I believe.”
I felt a bit stunned by the accusation of divinity. That simple. Heroes were the children of angels, or the harbingers of the end?
Earnest stepped forward, chuckling. “A crude simplification. A bit insane, really,” He smiled, offering me his hand.
I was cautious and didn’t accept it.
“But the world is a strange place anyway,” The elderly powered said, stepping into the next room. “Who am I to decide what is real or not? To decide whether or not there are angels? Or great floods?”
“But why are we the Fourth Wave?” I asked.
“Because there will be a fourth flood, to cleanse the world of gods and Nephilim. Eventually. They mostly preach a modified Christianity down here, but we’re in the south, so what can you do really?” said Earnest. “But as for why I’m here,” he smiled knowingly.
“Why are you here? Isn’t this for… non capes?”
“They have free lunches for heroes,” Earnest said, and swept me into a spare room for food.
A surprising number of people were waiting there. Not heroes, certainly but the impoverished, or people who had been rendered homeless by the attacks. Even the Fourth Wave did their jobs for the community, keeping food flowing.
“Look who I found,” Earnest said, gesturing at me. “Our very own Gale, scion of the Hurricane.”
I could tell that a few of them weren’t worshippers. People who had been exposed to capes too early, or just didn’t believe and were just here for the food.
But many people stared at me with something like worship sparkling in their eyes. Their faces went blank with awe of even being this close to me. In their place of worship.
I swallowed and took a seat at the table. Too late to walk out now. Earnest took a seat to my left.
“Are you here to see the shrine to your father?” a man asked. Robes delicately covered in the same almost christian symbolism. He looked tired. Too tired, like his muscles had been carrying the weight of many men instead of just the sallow figure he cut at the table.
I kept my gaze level on him and wondered if he could see the shock that was playing through my brain at the idea of such a shrine even existing.
“I…” My voice caught in my throat as their gazes centered on me, one by one. Choked up a bit, saw their intensity. Wondered how they couldn’t see the flaws written across my face like a treasure map, see my insecurities.
But they kept staring and waiting for me answer.
“Yes. I’d love to see the shrine.”
“Let us say our grace,” The man said. Then he slipped into a kind of language that made my teeth grind together and my heart shudder. Latin, perhaps, or Greek, or some language I couldn’t identity, it swam through the air as if it in of itself had been transmuted into water, and I saw everyone else in the room go solemn as they listened in.
It lasted for ten minutes while the food cooled on the table, brought in from a distant kitchen, and then he stopped, smiled at us all. “May we excel in the virtuous life we pursue, and be guarded dutifully by the divine among us. Amen.”
Then we ate.
It took a lot of talking to get the congregation to not ask me questions like nervous fans, and even more to get me away from the table, but I’d figured out the perfect excuse for them to accompany me to the shrine.
“I’d like to see my father alone,” I said, solemnly, shooting Earnest a look.
The church man smiled slightly. “Of course. We’ll leave you to it.”
Then I was alone in that strange cult like procession. People were around me, but not a soul dared to disturb my path as I walked through.
The door had a fresh coat of paint on it, and someone had used a stencil to put an image of a whirring hurricane on the back, stark white against the ebony paint.
Somehow, it looked more like an occult symbol than the symbol that I’d known for most of my life represented my father. The knob was cool before my touch and crept inside with all the silence of the eye of the storm.
Considering how much the minders in my life had put my father on a pedestal, I thought it would be less strange to see him on an actual pedestal, but the brass cape looked almost life like enough to flutter in the wind.
Would be be impressed by me now, the little gust of wind? Did his eyes brim with the disappointment I had seen, just a flicker, when my powers had failed to develop further? Would he see me and tell me to try and take on less weight?
The pictures that surrounded him painted a picture of him; a hurricane fighter. Saving the gulf coast and further from storms. From weather phenomena. Hurling gusts of wind to divert clouds. Deflecting lightning away through quick gestures.
Was it any wonder that people thought we were gods, when the greatest of our number could do this?
I was so very far from him now.
Slowly, a sank down and took a seat at the single chair in front of the statue.
Virtue: Courage. In another city, in another state, he would be a footnote. Someone who was someone else’s hero. But here, staring at me as he was, brass skin reflected the dim lights of the shrine, I felt like I could reach out and feel the heat of his skin.
But I couldn’t.
Heat bloomed from behind my eyes and tears trickled out, piece by piece.
Why were we heroes?
Because there were people that needed saving.
Went against what I’d said earlier. Wasn’t sure which was right. Wasn’t sure what was right at all.
Wasn’t sure why.
Why was I there, tears streaking across closed fingers?
Because I had remembered where I’d come from.
And maybe, just maybe… I needed to know where Colton came from, next.