Faraday’s tomb was a mottled thing. Carved out of the local rock, as they’d insisted the hero be placed among the other victims of the attack, the mottled stone structure still towered over the other graves, if only because, as in life, Faraday’s body remained an existential threat to the world at large.
“Though I may sleep caged, the world sleeps free,” etched across the stone.
Excelsior had spared no expense from his accounts.
I stared down at the gravestone, my heart thumping woodenly in my chest. My hands shook. Despite the cold sun of autumn far overhead, it felt roasting, sitting in the fine suit with my hands thoroughly bandaged.
Excelsior’s empty sleeves stared back at me, no matter how far I tried to look away. The empty seats, marked for each hero who couldn’t show up, who hadn’t been found yet, who didn’t know the news, dotted the procession like land mines.
My eyes couldn’t help but settle on where my dad should’ve been seating. I’d always been the odd one out of my family. Home grown heroes the lot of them, developing powers as they aged. Dad was… or had been, or…
Dad was part of the second wave of heroes. Big name for his part in rescuing those stranded in hurricanes. Powers wide enough that they offered him spots on most of the major teams. He’d turned down all of them to remain on the Florida Archipelago. Saving lives. Fishing. A symbol for the shell heroes in the metro areas to look up to.
Was he still there, busy with the approaching storm, or was he among the missing?
Would he be proud of me, a killer?
How easy had it been, when the moment came, to weigh the man’s life against those around me? Was it up to me, Gale, d class, D ranker. Last picked, to weigh the life of a man?
But this wasn’t a funeral for me, or for my father. This was a moment for Faraday.
“So few showed up,” Excelsior said, quietly. “How far back do you think we’ve been set?” He wasn’t looking at me. He wasn’t looking at the funeral. He wasn’t looking at anything, just staring up at the sun.
His sword sat at a haphazard tilt beside him, barely even off the ground. I remember how it ate into my skin and yelled at me. Told me I was unworthy to wield it. Nerve damage. It might be recoverable from. It just might be.
Now it just looked abandoned.
“Communications are still down,” I said, eyes flicking over to where his communicator sat in the open chair next to him.
Excelsior’s hand slid into a fist, his muscles bulging as he looked unbalanced. Unhinged. “I’m not good for a fight like this.”
I didn’t want to remember the look of his arm lying on the street. Pulped. Or those furious moments where I cooked in my own skin, cradling the reactor next to my body. But it’s what came to mind as I stared down at him. I’d gotten off easy. Just… burns. I could deal with burns. Could deal with my skin sliding off. My kind of work rarely involved anything this physical. Would never involve anything this physical again. Once in a life time event. The handbook said that. About as useful as a civilian. The handbook said that.
My eyes tore myself from my mentor’s quiet form and drifted over what few heroes that had made the journey. Didn’t recognize a single name. Mix of D and C classes, staring over at the unmarked grave. Lead lined. The box sat above ground, with a simple plague next to it.
I didn’t like looking at it. Couldn’t get the feeling of how easy it had been to beak through the delicate parts of the neck. How easy it had been. How delicate the necks of everyone here was. Matching the sensation to my memories, robotically.
Then, slowly, as we stared at the death of one of the greatest heroes in the south, they made their way over to us.
“Who avenged him?” asked one.
I hated that word already. Avenged. Like it was justified. Like there was something poetic here. Like there was something other than the abrupt violation of the natural order. It dug at my skin with tiny hooks.
I gave Excelsior a look and begged him, quietly, with my eyes. Begged him to take credit. To keep it between us.
His dull eyes slid from mine down to his shoulder, then at the people gathered around us. “Gale. Gale did it.”