The hotel we had been staying in, en route to the next press conference, had been utterly destroyed. Six dead in the building; guards, mostly. Their deaths had been swift. Utterly swift. The motel we were staying in kept leaving food by our doors. The baskets piled up by the table. On the table. All around the table. Fruit, jerky. Things for the road. Phone numbers. Requests for autographs.
Mostly things left for A rankers. S rankers. The people who put on a show for the cameras to keep up morale.
But now they had been left for me. Every so often, another knock at the door. There was no point hiding where they were in the building.
It was jarring to see my mentor, Excelsior, sitting on the couch, looking down, his spine bent. The strength had left his body, all at once, leaving this quiet thing that was a bizarre juxtaposition to the larger than life figure I’d always known.
The radio in the room was turned to the emergency hero channels. Supposed to have lost use, with the newer systems.
But here we were.
“Chicago is approachable with escort only. Take note, it is under occupation by the Fourth Wave. I repeat, Chicago is approachable with escort only. Los Angeles is on fire. If any B class heroes or higher can approach the city and rendevous…”
The radio buzzed on and on.
“Alabama is under a state of Emergency. All aid is being sent to Montgomery to deal with the growing situation there. If there is an emergency near by, contact the local authorities. Hero support will be delayed or non existent. If there is an emergency, the nearest shelter is in Fairhope. Please be warned, Alabam is under a state of Emergency…”
“No mention of us, huh?” I asked, dimly.
“Not a word,” Excelsior said, turning to look at the grimy motel window. “Something’s brewing up in Montgomery.” His left hand reached for his blade.
“Are you up for it?” I asked, stupidly.
He paused, his fingers touching the pommel, the blade sketching across the muggy carpet. “I…” He swallowed, slowly, and I watched his neck bob.
“It’s never been a matter of whether or not I am up for it, Gale,” He said, turning to look at me. “It’s a matter of being there. Of showing strength. Of showing people that there is a fight to be had. That they do not need to be afraid. To refuse the call when…” his one good eye slid over to mine.
“When you’re already showing me you can handle it here. How could I do anything but rise to the task?” his face was still bandaged. His arm unhealed. This wasn’t mere heroism. This was something unbalanced.
My heart skipped a beat in my chest. Like hands tapping against the jail bars of my rib cage, it thumped. My eyes jerked down to his hand.
“Your sword,” I said, flatly.
“You noticed,” he said, flat, and it fell to the ground. Blood dripped from his fingers from where his left hand had touched it. “My left hand is dishonorable. Not worthy of holding the blade in combat.”
My soul sank like the Titanic. Screaming. Filled with people. Hopes, dreams. The high ranked hero in the entire ruined city. Declawed.
“They can’t find out,” I said, slowly, looking at the window.
“You understand the problem a bit, don’t you?” Excelsior said, grim. “State of emergency. Nobody coming to help.”
“They can’t find out that you’re out of commission like this,” I said, desperately. “We’re cut off. Days from receiving anything at all.”
The burns on my skin suddenly seemed red hot, and the bandages itched. I needed air.
How ironic. It was the one thing I could do, make a little breathing room.
My breeze flew through the room, rustling Excelsior’s golden hair. His face, stern, grim, relaxed slightly. He laughed, though it was the hurt laugh of a caged bird.
“Easy pickings for any villain who figures it out. Not a B class among you. All D and C class,” His eyes flicked up to mine. “Well, I say that, and look who we have in front of me.”
I ran a hand through my hair. I needed a shower, and a coffin to bury myself in. “It was… It was a fluke, sir,” I said.
“A fluke that saved us all. Your last stand, your streak of brilliance. Your moment in the sunshine.” He swallowed, and I watched his adam’s apple bob slightly. “Do you think you can do it again? Keep it up? Just until the crisis is over.”
“K-keep it up,” I said, my voice wavering. “Just… keep telling people what to do? Keep pretending I know what to do?”
“It’s for the greater good,” He finished, finally. I could trace the burns that covered his face, see how his neck was burned from the blast that took his arm. Blow back and bone fragments cut lines across the bit of his chest that was exposed. He was lucky to not have missed the other eye.
“Is hero work always like this?” I asked, hesitating slightly. I didn’t want to hear the answer. Not really.
“There are good moments, too. It’s being an A rank that leads us to these places. Blasted things, really.” He threw his head back and laughed, splitting the barely formed scab on his chest. He bled slowly, and it rolled down his chest. “Perhaps you could even blame me for drawing this here. My existence has been a plague upon this town.”
“That’s stupid,” I said, calling him out. “Nega-force would’ve hit somewhere, somewhen. We’re lucky we weren’t in a bigger city. Someplace with more casualties.”
“What brings someone to do that?” I asked, leaning against the wall. The radio crackled on more cities that were in trouble. The emotionless tone of the announcer made me wonder how many people were screaming out for someone to save them from the threat that was overtaking the country. To save them from their fates.
How many people were going to go down fighting?
“To kill?” His eyes flicked to mine. “It’s simple, Gale. They weigh the life of someone against what they know has to be done. If the life is less than what they know they have to do…” he trailed off.
“They end it?”
Excelsior chuckled. “They end it.”