Hawk and James kept the peace in the city as best they could. Several weeks passed as they worked side by side, growing in power and trust. The previous day, Sparrow had announced there would be a change to the team's groupings and instructed everyone to meet in the main hall for a task reassignment.
James sat somewhat slumped in his chair, a pounding headache coursing through his skull from last night's fight, as Sparrow gave an update on the situation. "Nice work Owl and Super Static on taking out one of the cultist chapters and recovering a corruption crystal."
The table clapped and cheered at the news, James winced as the noise added to his misery.
"Hawk and Night Phoenix, you have been doing a great job on keeping crime and monster attack numbers down in the city." Hawk threw up a peace sign and grinned in satisfaction. "However," Sparrow continued. "Collateral damage has been high and the mayor is breathing down my neck to lower the damage our fights have been causing to the city."
"How are we supposed to control that?" Hawk cried out.
Sparrow snapped her gaze on him and let out a sigh. "I know it's not completely under your control but it may be a good idea to switch the teams up a bit. So, Owl and Falcon you are on patrol duty, Hawk can come with me. Night Phoenix and Super Static, I want you two to continue with the anti-hero group investigation."
"Yes, ma'am," Super Static chirped.
James gave Sparrow a thumbs-up and rolled his chair over to Static. She began to lay out the game plan that she and Owl had established as well as the progress they have made. "We managed to capture a member of this strange new organization. He has refused to give us any information. However, we were able to deduce their plans from his belongings"
James looked over the documents taken from the member's pockets while Super Static munched on a graham cracker. Crumbs fell all over the desk as she the entire pack apart.
Something in the report caught James' interest. "This report states they are using corruption crystals to create and strengthen monsters." He raised an eyebrow. "How exactly does that happen?"
Static threw the empty box of crackers behind her. They missed the trashcan and landed on the floor. "The crystals seem to activate a corruption process within the DNA of living beings. Depending on their resistance to the gem's influence, they will either turn into a monster or resist its power."
James grew a little concerned. When he looked at the corruption crystal he felt the strangest urge to touch it. He began to wonder if that meant there was some kind of evil residing in his heart.
She noticed he was becoming agitated and motioned for him to take a cracker. James declined but was appreciative of her offer. Static had a reputation of only offering her food to people she liked to be around so James took that as a good sign.
"So what is the best way to go about tracking these crystals down?" James asked, hoping to take his mind off his insecurities.
Static tore into another box of crackers and began speaking with her mouth half full. "Honestly, we just try talking to people, asking contacts and informants if they know anything. We got lucky a few days ago and the tip we got out turned into discovering an actual meeting location."
She rifled through a bag and started laying out items found at the scene. It was everything you would expect from a cult-like organization. Robes, candles, sacred texts. Static then pulled the last item out of the bag, a corruption crystal fragment.
James' eyes began to dilate as he gazed upon the sleek, quartz-like crystal rolling around in her hand. "You ok James?" Static asked, forcing him to snap back to his senses. "You look a bit glassy-eyed."
"Huh?" He responded after a short delay. "Yeah, I'm fine! I think I just overdid it yesterday. The fight me and Hawk got into was pretty intense."
"Oh, that's right!" She hollered. "Hawk was telling me you got some new epic fire powers or something like that."
James chuckled. "Yeah, it's pretty sweet! I like calling it black plasma because, well it sounds cooler if you ask me."
She shook her head up and down. "I totally agree."
Then, leaping from her chair, she wiped the crumbs off her suit and grabbed James by the arm. "Let's head out," she shouted enthusiastically. "We got a lead that the group has been trying to recruit inmates from local prisons, we gotta look into that."
They headed over to the prison on the outskirt of town. It was an isolated, run-down detainment center that was notorious for its poor conditions and bad treatment of the prisoners.
After running through the forest that surrounded the facility, Static waved at the front gate for them to let her in. A few minutes passed but the gate remained shut.
"Huh," she huffed as they stood there in the open, "they knew to expect me, I wonder why they won't open the gate."
James looked up at the guard posts, then out into the yard. It was unnaturally quiet and not a single person was in sight.
Static motioned for James to follow her around to the back. Once they arrived, they were greeted by a massive hole in the back wall.
"What in the world?" Static mouthed silently.
James poked her shoulder and pointed out into the forest. A large number of monster footprints led out into the woods and had forced down trees and vegetation.
Static looked back and forth at the prison and the pathway. "Let's check out the prison first, then we can follow up on the tracks."
He nodded and ran after her as she vaulted over the broken section of the wall.
Once inside, they started their investigation. James felt like he needed a tetanus shot just by being so close to all the jagged, rusty metal bars, many of which had been torn off their hinges and tossed onto the ground. "Whoever did this was very strong," James remarked as he stepped over one of the broken cell doors.
"Agreed," Static whispered. "Let's keep a sharp eye."
While James waded through the crusty, dilapidated cell blocks light from cracks in the ceiling filtered in illuminating the facility in a haunting, yet beautiful glow.
"What happened to all the inmates," James asked while keeping close to Static.
"No idea," she replied. "Let's just keep our wits about us. I get the feeling those monsters won't be gone for long."
Using her power, she created a ball of electricity in her hand, lighting up the dark hallway they were currently venturing through.
James could detect an odd cluster of feelings seeping out from Kazav. It was a mix of sadness, anger, and disgust. "You okay buddy?"
"Yeah kid I'm fine," he mumbled sullenly. "This place just reminds me of being locked up back in my homeworld. Just be glad you only live for about eighty years or so. Being locked up for thousands is a fate worse than death."
After they had made it through the cell blocks they entered the cafeteria which was covered in a layer of dust. Stacks of clothing piled up in the corners of the room alongside chains, cuffs, and other prison equipment.
Footprints in the thick, snow-like powder revealed monster tracks interspersed with humans. "What happened in here?" James asked, his voice cracking in the dry, dusty air.
"Monster conversion," Static replied as she pointed to the tracks. "They used the corruption crystal to turn all the prisoners into monsters."
"What's with all the dust?" James asked Static while he tried not to inhale the ash-laden air.
Taking a handful of the powder from the ground she explained, "When an individual's body rejects the transformation process they turn into dust."
"So what your saying is all this stuff floating through the air is dead people?"
She nodded her head, James gagged and bit before covering his face with a cloth.
Their investigation was cut short by the sound of trees snapping in the distance. Something was coming their way, something big.
The walls of the cafeteria were torn down as a thirty-foot-tall monster burst through while letting out an animalistic howl.
With the head of a deer and the body of a morbidly deformed human, this creature shot to the top five ranking of most horrendous looking beasts James had ever seen.
Static let out a gag at the sight of it, mostly from the smell. "What have you been eating!" She cried out as its putrid breath wafted through the room.
The beast began to wave its head back and forth with its antlers on full display, a clear sign of aggression.
Super Static began to glow, arcs of electricity bounced across her body. "Alright you overgrown reindeer," she shouted out to the beast. "Come get some!"
With her hands outstretched, she let out a barrage of lightning strikes that sent thunderous booms echoing across the valley. The monster bellowed and howled but kept moving forward despite the intensity of her assault.
James joined in the fray by dashing past the monster and chucking fallen trees at the beast's back, forcing it to turn its attention back outside.
"Keep it busy," Static called out to James. "I need to charge and can't afford an interruption."
"Got it!" He shouted back while sending a mossy rock flying at the beast's face.
It closed in on him and attempted to smash him with its oversized fists, but the monster was slow and he could easily avoid its strikes. A few minutes went by of James evading the monster as it eagerly tried to pound him into the dirt before Static was ready to unleash her signature attack.
She instructed him to lure it over to her location, James gave her a thumbs up and started turning the monster back around. Once it was close enough for her to proceed she let out every ounce of energy she had charged causing a stream of lightning to flow out of the sky directly into the monster.
Like a plasma ball, arcs of electricity flowed around her in a majestic torrent, encasing her in glowing blue light.
The beast fell to its knees as an endless current shot through its body and out into the ground below. It cried out as its fur began to catch fire and its flesh cooked from the heat. With a strained grunt, she let out a final wave of power before the lightning stop falling and the air grew silent.
Wavering, she leaned to one side and began to fall over, her power now fully drained. James ran over to her and supported her head off the ground. "Are you okay?" He asked as she stared back up at him, glassy-eyed.
Her eyes went wide as she looked past him, prompting him to turn around. He flipped just in time to see the beast bring its massive arms crashing down on them. Instinctively, James brought his hands up and halted the monster's fists before they could accomplish their grizzly goal.
He shouted for Static to get to a safe distance so he could deal with the creature and allow her the space to recover. Once she was out of harm's way he flung the monster's arms back and crashed into its knee with a swift and powerful kick.
More enraged than ever, the beast started another series of punches aimed at James who dodged and weaved between them while charging up an attack of his own. Once it became overextended, James launched up to its face and let out a fierce plasma blow, sending teeth flying out into the tall grass.
Between Statics' lightning and James' plasma, it began to smell a bit like cooked venison. With the beast reeling from the blow James shot up into the air and began to spin rapidly. Now falling, he extended his foot and sent it crashing into the monster's shoulder. Loud cracks and pops confirmed the extent of the damage and the creature fell over, its spine no longer in one piece.
Now in better spirits, Static ran over to examine the beast. "Wow, you turned this thing's back into loose gravel!"
Flattered, James let out an awkward chuckle. "Thanks, I suppose all that training has been paying off."
Static charged up her hand and sent one last lightning bolt directly into the monster's head. Satisfied that it was dead, she leaned over to James and said, "Just checking."
She cracked off one of the antlers for Bella to examine and motioned for James to follow her.
"Where are we going," he asked as he helped her keep steady.
"Back to the guildhall. Sparrow is gonna want to know about what went down here. If they are planning on hitting the other prisons then we have a real problem brewing."
Static leaned against James' shoulder as they trekked back. She was exhausted from the fight and needed his support, limiting the speed at which they could travel.
James felt a bit like a big brother to her at times. They had an interesting dynamic and would often tease one another back at the guildhall much like siblings would. "She would have to be an adopted sister," he mused to himself. "Because she looks nothing like me."
While James was tall, with black hair and green eyes, Static was quite short. She kept her fine, ash-blond hair at about shoulder length and had deep, dark, crystal blue eyes.
As she leaned against him, James couldn't help but feel an inner warmth. It was nice to know he could actually protect his friends rather than be dead weight like in his early training days. Static noticed the smile growing on his face and wondered what was prompting it. "You seem to be enjoying hero life," she remarked, as they walked along the back alleys.
"Yeah," he chuckled. "Although, it is a bit more painful than I was hoping."
She let out a giggle and squeezed his arm. "True, but you look like you can take a beating."
James blushed at the compliment and tried to find one to shoot back. "What you did back there was amazing! I half expected the monster to be vaporized from the raw power of your lightning strike."
"Thank you!" She chirped. "Who would have thought electricity is useful for more than just giving people carpet shocks?"
They both let out a hearty laugh before again walking on in silence. Static was still weak from the battle and James was not exactly gifted with small talk. "So, why did you want to join the guild?" He asked, hoping it was enough to jump-start the conversation.
She stopped walking and turned her head to face him. In a serious tone, she stated, "If you ever ask me that again, I'm afraid I'll have to kill you."
James began to stammer, afraid he had crossed a line. "No, no...I didn't mean...I'm sorry if-" He stopped floundering as a smile grew across her face, revealing she had been teasing him.
"That wasn't very nice," he remarked, the concern now vanishing from his face.
She let out a giggle. "You're gonna have to get used to the teasing. It's how I communicate with my friends."
James let out an awkward laugh while Static snorted in amusement. "Gotcha, I'll keep that in mind."
Once the joy of teasing him faded her face grew sullen and melancholy. "Well, I don't have a sob story like Hawk or Sparrow if that's what you're wondering. My life was pretty normal compared to most other heroes. I had good parents, no siblings, went to school, and got good grades. Once my powers manifested I had two options, live a mundane and boring life or live a life full of actions and adventure. I chose the latter."
James smiled and nodded as she spoke. He knew there was a lot she was keeping to herself, something dark and painful, not that he was looking to pry.
"So how about you?" She asked. "Have you always wanted to be a hero?"
James took a moment to think about how to word things. He was not, after all, a real hero and didn't manifest his powers naturally. "Hmm, well I guess my story is more or less like yours. I had a decent family life, went to school, got a job. I guess the difference between us is I did live a boring life before I joined."
She let out a snicker, then asked, "What made you change your mind?"
A pensive feeling built inside as he thought back to all the moments he wished he could have been a real hero, all the moments he wished he could change things for the better. Suddenly, the right words appeared to him as if by magic. "I suppose I just got tired of being ordinary."
She nodded her head, impressed with its simple eloquence. "That is a really good answer," she admitted.
Letting go of his arm, she stood on her own and let out a massive yawn. "Wow, I'm starving! What say we pick up the pace and get back to the guild so I can destroy the pantry?"
James grinned as she took off running. "Yeah, after eating all those crackers you must be famished."
She placed her hand on her stomach and gave it a rub. "I'm a big girl, I gotta eat."
They made it back to the guild before sundown and as promised, Static went on a carb bender. Only when she passed out into a food coma was her rampage brought to an end.
Sparrow kept them together for a few weeks, spying on the other prisons in case they got hit. It was mostly uneventful aside from the occasional monster attack. Due to the lack of activity Sparrow teamed up with Static and had James pair with Owl for a special assignment.
Alone in the guildhall, James waited for Owl to drop down from the rafters like he did every morning. He often wondered why he wasn't called Bat or something similar. Hanging upside down, staying up all night, that was all bat stuff, right?
Sure enough, morning came and Owl flipped right side up as he fell, landing on his feet without making a sound.
Staring intensely into James' eyes, he let out a foreboding warning. "Prepare yourself for the battle young hero, this one may well be your last."
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