HEROES & VILLAINS
I never took my eyes off of hers. But I knew we had jumped realms because the quiet countryside became awash in noise. The trees and bushes became some of the highest buildings I have ever seen. We had landed in an alley in some sort of huge city.
There were people everywhere but nobody seemed to notice a blue young man and a fiery redheaded girl in torn clothes wearing a metal hat materialize right in front of them.
Molly shouted that word again, “Huzzah! I LOVE that! You buzz out and then BANG, another new world!”
“”I’m glad you’re enjoying it” I said
"You're not?" she asked me in an astonished voice.
Before I could answer, a large piece of the building we were standing next to was blasted away and falling towards us. Just as we were about to be crushed, a tall dark haired man wearing a blue body suit and a red cape swooped in and held it in place. "You should probably move now," he said through a huge, toothy smile. We ran out of the way and he flashed out from under it. The chunk of building came crashing down in the exact spot where we had just been standing.
He asked us if we were ok and we told him we were. He told us to have a good rest of our day and then just flew away.
Molly had a look of absolute euphoria on her face and began jumping up and down. "No way no way no way!" she laughed and ran to where she could get a better look at the world around us.
I ran after her calling out "What is it? What are you so excited about?"
She stood there smiling and looking up at the night sky. I followed her gaze and immediately understood why she was awestruck. High above us we could see the same man who had just helped us engaged in some sort of battle with another person encased in a metal suit. Armor maybe? I couldn't be sure from that distance.
"I can't believe it," she said, never looking away.
"Where are we?" I asked, feeling just as much wonder as she was.
"We are in a world of heroes and villains! No! It's a world of super heroes and super villains! I can't believe a place like this is real!" she told me.
"What exactly is a "superhero" I asked.
"Come with me," she said, pulling me along by my cloak, "you have so much to learn."
And learn I did. She told me tales of mighty warriors and nefarious evil doers, psychotic men dressed as clowns and scarecrows being hunted by an equally psychotic man dressed as a bat. There were people with the powers of spiders, one who could set themselves on fire and fly, and women that were essentially indestructible.
It was fascinating.
"And now," she said, "we are in their amazing, astonishing realm."
"But how do you tell the heroes from the villains?" I asked.
"Easy," she said with a wave of her hand. "The good guys do the good stuff and the bad guys do the bad stuff."
"Some of the stuff you told me about the good guys sounded pretty bad," I said.
"True," she said with a shrug. "I guess you just have to judge them by their hearts. Do they want to work for the good of everyone and unite people or do they want to divide people and use hate and violence to hurt people? That's how you can tell."
As we sat on a bench near the city center, a dark figure wrapped in a black cloak and a mask covering the upper half of its face and head, came toward us. We didn't hear it coming because it was standing on a round disc that was hovering above the ground.
"Hello," the figure said and we both just about jumped out of our own skin.
"I'm sorry to frighten you," it said. "But we have been alerted that a Realm Weaver has entered our world and upon investigation, we have narrowed down the identity of this magician and believe it to be one of the two of you."
"I suppose that would be me," I said.
"What is your name, young man?" the figures asked.
"My name is Tearan, and this is my friend Molly." I said.
"Tearan, Molly, I am The Dark. Could I ask you to come with me?" he asked us.
Molly stepped in front of me and said "Hero or Villain? Which are you?"
"I assure you, although I have my faults, I strive to be the best hero I can be," it told us.
"Seems very sincere," I told Molly.
"But their name is The Dark," she said. "We don't have much of a choice though."
The Dark sighed and said "That's true, actually, but thank you for agreeing to come."
Two similar discs disengaged from the one The Dark was on, each tethered to the main disc by some sort of red beam of light. He instructed us to stand, one on each disc, and then we were off.
Oddly, there was never a fear of falling from these devices. Riding atop them felt no different than standing on solid ground. The Dark asked us if we would like to go higher to get a better view of the city and we agreed immediately.
Molly seemed to be having the time of her life but I could tell she was wary of our new host.
We arrived at the peak of the tallest building in what we now knew was named Mega City. We were left to wait in a room made entirely of windows. One could look out over the entire city and spot any sign of trouble. It was very impressive.
Molly seemed quite apprehensive. The entire situation, she told me, just didn't feel right to her. She tried to explain to me what the phrase "anti-hero" was but our talk was cut short when The Dark, accompanied by the hero who had saved us earlier that day, entered the room on a platform that was raised from under the floor. Again, quite impressive.
The hero that accompanied The Dark walked over to where we were standing and said "Hello again! I'm pleased to meet you officially this time. I am Superior Man."
Molly barked out a quick laugh, looked over to me, held her thumb and index finger slightly apart and said "We are this close to copyright infringement."
"What?" I responded feeling completely lost.
"Nevermind…" she said, turning back to Superior Man. "I am Molly O'Malley, pirate hunter and vanquisher of the damned, And this is Tearan Jak-Sera, Pure Born Realm Weaver. What is it you ask of us?"
"Well, pirate hunter and vanquisher of the undead, we need a bit of information from the pure bread realm weaver here," he said. "Let's all have a seat and speak candidly for a few minutes if that's ok with you."
I agreed and we all moved to a long, red, brushed metal table that sat in the center of the room. Three of us sat but The Dark stood just to the right and slightly behind Superior Man. It was strange that The Dark would choose to do that but it wasn't my place to question the way they chose to operate.
"Tearan, how long have you known about your ability?" Superior Man asked.
"Since this morning. My uncle left me a packet of cards when he died and I received the bequest this morning. Strange things have been taking place all day because we have bounced from realm to realm to realm," I explained. "At first, it was something that just happened. But, for some reason that I do not know, I seem to understand it a bit more every time I jump and I am starting to feel as though I am gaining control over the ability, though I confess I do not understand why."
Superior Man considered this carefully and then asked "You"ve never been trained? Never consulted with the Realm Initiative?"
"I don't even know what the Realm Initiative is," I replied.
"The Realm Initiative monitors and regulates Realm Weavers," Superior Man explained. "Realm weaving can be quite dangerous. Many would look to abuse such an amazing power."
"That actually seems reasonable," Molly said.
"I'm glad you feel that way," Superior Man said. "I have asked their representatives to cross into this realm to discuss the situation with you."
"You did WHAT?!" The Dark said with their voice raised not only in volume but intensity as well. "Why would you invite those fascists to Sentry Tower?"
"Because that is the directive handed down to us from the council of worlds. It is our duty to abide by those directives and we will do our duty," Superior Man declared.
"They don't regulate the realms, they exploit them! The Initiative keeps the realms under their thumbs to oppress the citizens of each. So don't preach to me about our duty." The Dark exclaimed.
The Dark grabbed Superior Man and threw him across the room. The move was quick and fluid and it would have been amazing had Superior Man not been able stop himself from hitting the wall because he can, you know, fly.
Molly was strangely relaxed as the chaos began and rolled her eyes when she saw me look over at her.
"It's the hero fight trope.Two heroes disagree so they start fighting because everybody thinks two heroes kicking the snot out of each other is cool. Not anymore! It's boring now," she said.
"It is silly, isn't it?" I said.
Molly then said "Right? This is what I'm saying!"
At that moment, the floor opened up and over twenty soldiers dressed in the same militaristic uniforms, all black with silver trim and guns at the ready, sprang into the room. They took their positions along each wall and surrounded us. After they were in place, a short balding man in a perfectly tailored suit, stepped from the platform.
"There is no reason for this fighting," he said. "We know that The Dark has their own issues with how we do business and we, quite frankly, could not care less. Superior Man, I thank you for your honorable dedication to doing your duty according to the directives. Shall we get down to business?"
This short, balding man never seemed to notice that The Dark and Superior Man were in battle when he entered. To be fair though, The Dark was holding onto the neck of Superior Man's spandex shirt, their fist cocked for the next punch while Superior Man was floating above The Dark preparing to shove them into, and through, the floor. And they weren't moving.
"I am Undersecretary Bivens, assistant and deputy to Xavier Zed of the Realm Initiative. He has sent me to explain the terms of your admittance into the Realm Initiative Training Academy," he instructed.
"Why do you think I want to go to your academy?" I asked.
"Want?" he mused. "What does want have anything to do with it? This is the way things are. Period."
Before I could tell him what he could do with his academy, a tall, dark, muscular woman crashed through one of the windows and landed in the center of the room.
The Realm Initiative soldiers were shocked. Undersecretary Bivens looked a bit annoyed as well as shocked. Superior Man drifted slowly back to the floor. And The Dark said "Wonderful Woman, thank the gods you made it back."
Molly shook her head and said "Wonderful Woman? They are getting a Cease and Desist letter for sure."
"A what?" I asked.
"Not important. Don't worry about it," she said.
At the center of the room, Wonderful Woman let out a growl then shouted "Who let this Realm Initiative scum into my tower?"
Undersecretary Bivens stood and announced "There is a rogue realm weaver here and we are going to deal with him. Understood?"
I have to say that the little guy certainly had a lot more guts than he did hair. But his self importance began to fade away as Wonderful Woman turned to him, bent down so they were almost nose to nose, and said quietly to him "Sit down. Shut up."
He did both without question.
Wonderful Woman turned to me and Molly and asked “Which one of you is the weaver?”
I stepped forward and said “I am. But I am hardly a ‘rogue” weaver. I didn’t even know I had the power until earlier today.”
Superior Man spoke up at this point saying “W, he’s only just learned of this power which means he has no training. You know what that means.”
“It means he is a pure born weaver, that’s what it means!” Molly said.
She contemplated this for a moment, looked over to The Dark and said “The Dark, these two are under your protection. I want you to do anything in your power to protect them. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”
“Absolutely,” The Dark said. “Everything within my power.” As she spoke, she quickly floated to where we were standing. At some point she had mounted her disc but I certainly didn’t see her do it.
Turning back to face the Undersecretary and Superior Man, she straightened to her full height and said “Superior Man, I know you are ‘By The Book’ and sincerely think you are doing the right thing. But these people, this organization, will lock these two young people away for the rest of their lives and exploit them until they are used up. Just like they do everything else.”
“Wait,” Molly burst out, “Why would they lock us both away if he’s the realm weaver, what do they need me for? I can’t do anything!”
The Dark leaned over and said “If he refuses to do what they want, what do you think they will use for leverage?”
“Oh,” Molly replied. “Well, that’s no good.
“No. It is not,” Wonderful Woman said, never turning away from the Undersecretary.”You are going to leave these two in peace. I do not believe this young man has any ill-intent for these powers. So I am making the decision, for everyone involved, that these two are under my protection. Do you understand?"
"Certainly," Bivens said smugly. "As long as they are in your realm, they are under your protection. But we both know that Chairman Xavier Zed will not let them just walk away and travel through realms however they wish."
"Xavier Zed. That mewing sycophant. He would kill his own mother if the WCR told him to. He's a small and pathetic man."
"You know, I don't think I want to abide by your decision," said the Undersecretary to the entire room. I don't think Zed will feel like waiting. We'll just take them now."
As soon as the last word was out of his mouth, his soldiers took aim and started shooting. Each time a round would hit its target, white light and arcs of electrical current would cover the point of impact for just a few seconds. Wonderful Woman moved almost imperceptibly fast. She grabbed one soldier’s weapon and threw it across the room hitting another soldier’s weapon, causing it to misfire.
She spun around, low to the ground, and slid the first soldier into the place where the platform had been recessed. She moved on each one of them, using their own bodies to throw off the other one's shots. It would have been exciting to watch had it not been for the fact that The Dark had grabbed both Molly and I and we were crashing through one of the tower’s huge windows.
As I heard the glass breaking, one of the soldiers got off a clean shot, striking The Dark in their back. The Dark yelled out just as we cleared the glass and kicked the disc they were riding into gear. But this time it was not a smooth ride. The disc slowed our descent but we were still tumbling.
Molly held on for dear life but I could see her slowly starting to lose her grip. The disc sputtered and we started plummeting once again. The shift in our weight on the single disc was causing the disc to malfunction (at least I thought that's what it was) and The Dark yelled over to me.
"That shot hit the control panel for the glider. You’re going to have to make a jump," she said.
"I don't know how to do that," I shouted back.
I heard a quick scream of surprise on the other side of The Dark and saw Molly lose her grip completely. The Dark made a quick move to catch her, grabbing her forearm just below the wrist. The disc was now almost sideways and The Dark was struggling to stay connected while keeping a grasp on Molly.
I could hear the strain in The Dark's voice when she croaked out "Well you better figure it out Tearan, or it all ends right here right now! Do you understand?!"
We were either going to die in this realm by hitting the ground or I was going to transport us somewhere safe. Those were the choices.
I fumbled with the satchel, trying to reach inside to grasp a new card. I finally got my hand inside as the disc glitched out and died. We were in complete freefall. It was impossible to get my bearings because we started spinning in the air.
The Dark lost their grip on both of us and we all somehow got tangled up with each other. My cloak got wrapped around The Dark's cloak, Molly's foot was between two sections of the disc, which was now beginning to come apart and her metal hat went flashing past my head.
I was finally able to free my hand and there was a single card pinched between two of my fingers. Without thinking, I threw the card in what I believed to be the direction of the ground, expecting it to just flutter away.
But it didn't. It flew from my hand in a fast, direct path. And before I could see what happened, I, like both of those falling with me, shut our eyes as the ground filled our vision.