A lone shadow stood at the top of the wall of the house when Michael opened his eyes. The crickets chirped and the occasional sound of a bullfrog echoed in the inky black night. Michael pulled his weary body off the remains of a rotten mattress and joined Maze.
“Couldn’t sleep,” the old man asked with sincerity. Michael looked around with his Enhanced eyes, absorbing the situation while marvelling at the total destruction. “The fog lifted an hour ago, but I’d guess we still have a few hours until sunrise.”
“Shit, Maze,” Michael gasped as he realized the house they were squatting in was once part of a neighborhood of several hundred, “what the hell happened here?”
The old man oddly chuckled, the first movement Michael had noticed since awakening. “Much of this was courtesy of an air elementalist, a particularly nasty one that specialized in weather systems. He called himself Death Spiral because he enjoyed dropping tornadoes down from the sky on his victims.”
“And this one guy wrecked the entire city?” Michael asked astonished. Growing up in Indiana, he witnessed several severe thunderstorms and tornado alerts, but the Joint Task Force sent teams, Enhanced specialized in weather-control or search and rescue, to deal with them. The occasional twister might tear up the random cornfield or toss a few trailers from a long-abandoned trailer park, but none had ever come close to a major city since the government took control over all Enhanced activities.
“Evil begets evil,” Maze said failing to hid his anger. “How do you think men like Herr Metall become so powerful? Forces like him draw in the other scumbags like a vacuum which is why they tend to leave the dirty work to their underlings. It’s another sign of their power over others.”
“What do you think he’s doing now?” Michael asked as he looked around the room they were standing in. He noticed several dolls a little girl might play with and a boy band poster trapped under a desk beneath the crumbling drywall rubble.
“Waiting. He’s a very smart guy and he knows to be careful around me. More than once The Old Guard stopped him by sheer luck – a fortunate vision of his plans or mistake by one of his goons. He’s been around long enough to know that patience isn’t just a virtue but a necessity in this game. He’s waiting for something and when it happens, we are all in deep trouble.” Maze forced himself to look away before he gave away his true thoughts. Michael destroying Indianapolis during his upcoming battle with Judge was just the type of catalyst the German was waiting to happen.
“We won’t let you down,” Michael said proudly. “I promise.”
No, you won’t, Maze thought sadly, because the girl will be Jury’s custody and you will be lost to Vengeance.
A smile appeared from under the cloak. “I know you won’t, son, but Death Spiral did not destroy the entire city. I paid him a visit a couple of years ago and let’s just say he’s a lot shorter now.”
“In other words, you solved the problem like you usually do. You killed him.” Alaina climbed the rubble in the room, stepping from the bed to the desk, as she joined Michael and Maze.
Maze chuckled loudly. “You sound so much like your dad when you criticize me, Archangel. What would you have me do? I had a small window to solve the problem and I took it. Death Spiral was a psychopath that killed thousands.”
“How did you stop him?” Michael asked trying to prevent another argument between his mentor and Alaina.
“I think it’s pretty obvious,” Alaina said pointing to the spot in Maze’s cloak that covered the Nanoblade.
“I got the reference,” Michael said while drawing his finger across his throat, “but a melee weapon against a elementalist is not good odds. How did you keep Death Spiral from launching you into the next county?”
Maze pointed his index finger into the darkness. “About two miles in that direction is a water treatment plant. It used to take all the shit and other stuff you flush down the toilet and treat it before dumping it back into the river, but now it’s a dried up maze of pits and tunnels. Death Spiral liked to use the spot to hide out after using his power. He was always paranoid the JTF would come after him.”
“Why didn’t they if he was as powerful as you claim,” Alaina asked skeptical.
“When your home is filled with rats and disease, you don’t clean the nest in your neighbor’s home first. The number of JTF Enhanced is limited and few mundanes are stupid enough to battle Enhanced even in Harris armor. Indianapolis, Chicago, New York, they all have their own problems with Enhanced. The JTF can’t risk one their assets dying to save a bunch of farmers. But that’s the difference between them and us.”
“And you found Death Spiral sleeping or something?” Michael asked trying to redirect the hostility of Maze’s comment.
“Not quite. Death Spiral never got along with Fireball, a very large tank that bursts into flames when he gets angry, which is most of the time. You can’t run your own private little kingdom out here when the guy next door constantly knocks down the buildings. My vision saw Death Spiral hiding out in one his holes while Fireball was looking for him. I found him first.”
“And Fireball and Death Spiral didn’t worry about the mundanes during their little feud until there was no one left.” Maze did not turn around, afraid he would betray his facade of strength by showing his anger and sadness. “That’s pretty much it. The Old Guard would have never let get this far. We would have taken care of business if not for the JTF and the chicken shit Enhanced too afraid to stand against them.”
Archangel fumed. Maze referred to her father again and his agreement that saved his aunt from prison. “And here you go again blaming my dad.”
“This was Orbital Strike’s territory, Archangel. I had to take care of the problem my way because your dad turned himself in. He abandoned the people who lived in this house and the people next door and the next street over. We are not his blood, but we were all brothers and sisters in this fight. He abandoned this family when he surrendered, just like Judge.”
Michael watched as the accusation of her father’s betrayal slammed against Alaina, each word piercing her heart and attacking her soul. She was a hero and wanted to believe her Orbital Strike was a hero too. He wanted to comfort her, but he agreed with Maze. The government could not help the people and the old heroes were too frightened to care.
“Say what you want about my decisions in Detroit, but only Orbital Strike is responsible for abandoning these people when they needed him the most.”
Alaina remained silent, her eyes looking at row after row of destroyed homes, homes that would still stand today if Orbital Strike had arrested Death Spiral. “I’m sorry,” Alaina said as the tears flowed down her face, the droplets leaving streaks of dirt across her face. “I’ve justified his actions to save our family but putting on the mask means a lot more than that to a lot of people, something the JTF does not understand. These people, our friends and neighbors, depended on the heroes to protect them and the government took all of that away. We let them take it away.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Maze said. “We are responsible for our own actions.”
Archangel stood tall and determined. “My blood abandoned these people, so my duty is clear. I will fulfill Orbital Strike’s responsibility and find this Fireball. And how it concludes is up to him, but he will answer for his crimes.”
Michael’s jaw dropped at Alaina’s declaration of war on another Enhanced and his gang.
“Sorry, Michael, but Indianapolis will just have to wait until I clean up this mess first.”
“Now you’re talking like a hero,” Maze shouted with renewed enthusiasm. “There’s no rule that says you can’t have help here. That’s why we formed The Old Guard in the first place. Let’s get to work.”