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The Amazing Hawlucha Man

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Firebrand, Jan 28, 2017.

  1. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter Listing
    Chapter 1
    Chapter 2
    Chapter 3
    Chapter 4
    Chapter 5
    Chapter 6
    Chapter 7
    Chapter 8
    Chapter 9
    Chapter 10
    Chapter 11
    Chapter 12
    Chapter 13
    Chapter 14
    Chapter 15
    Chapter 16

    Chapter 1

    Someone screamed as the horde of vacant-eyed civilians advanced down Milton Boulevard. Several carried baseball bats or broken pipes, and they smashed the windows of any storefront they came across, grabbing anything shiny that they could carry. Those that were empty-handed simply pounded on the glass with their fists until the tide of bodies pressed them onward. Many had bloody hands from reaching through the shattered glass, though they seemed oblivious to the pain.

    Bringing up the rear of the column was a woman in a hooded sweatshirt with a group of Exeggutor, their leafy fronds glowing faintly in the flickering streetlights. She snapped her fingers at one man whose hands were laden with an assortment of diamond necklaces. The man fell back a few paces, and the woman took his spoils and put them in a large nylon bag she carried over her shoulder.

    A man stood on a rooftop some distance down the street, carefully keeping to the shadows. He turned to the pokemon crouching next to him. “Almost there. Just one more block.” He peered out and fiddled with a clasp near his armpit. “Okay, we got this. Yeah.” The Hawlucha next to him rolled its shoulders and stretched. The man held up his gloved hand and counted down from three. “Ready, go!”

    He and his Hawlucha sprinted from the shadows and leapt from the rooftop. Hawlucha spread his wings to catch an updraft before diving over the mob of stumbling people and angling for the Exeggutor in the back. The man pulled a ripcord on his red and white nylon suit, making the green cloth sails between his arms and torso unfurl and catch the wind. His descent slowed sharply as he caught the same updraft as his partner, and together they shot towards the ground.

    Hawlucha struck first, crashing into two of the woman’s four Exeggutor before flapping back up into the air and angling his body to come around for a second pass. The man took advantage of the momentary chaos to drop out of the sky. He landed lightly on the balls of his feet and somersaulted to lessen the shock of impact on his joints. When he sprang up, he readjusted his lopsided mask and smirked at the stunned woman. “Whatever you’re doing to these people, you need to stop. I don’t want this to get ugly.”

    “Well, because you asked so nicely…” The woman unslung a coiled whip from her shoulder. “Honestly, has that ever worked?”

    “No, but I figure it’s always worth a shot.” The masked man unclipped two stainless steel rods from his belt and twirled them in his hands. “People like you always want to do things the hard way.”

    She snapped her whip at him, and the masked man dodged to the side. He stayed low to the ground as he ran at her, raising one of his batons to strike her wrist. The woman feinted out of the way and barked an order at one of her stunned Exeggutor. “Give me a hand here!” The grass type ambled forward and its fronds began to glow again, only for Hawlucha to drop out of the sky and attack it with a flurry of kicks and clawing talons. The Exeggutor stumbled back against a wall and toppled over as Hawlucha jumped back up to attack one of its fellows that was approaching the man from behind.

    “Thanks partner,” the man said as he and the woman circled. “So what’s your gimmick, anyway? This seems a little too heavy handed for the average jewel heist.”

    “You trying to get me to drop my guard, buddy?”

    “Let’s call it professional curiosity. You have an alias?”

    The woman lashed out with her whip and managed to catch the man’s arm. With a yank, she dragged him closer and pulled him to his knees. “You can call me the Soothsayer, if you’ve got to call me anything.” She kicked him in the stomach, making him drop his batons. “And you’re going to regret sticking your nose in my business.” She kicked one of the rods away and used her free hand to pick up the other one.

    “You ought to be honored,” the masked man said. “You can tell all of your new friends in the cellblock that your plot was thwarted by none other than the amazing Hawlucha Man!”

    “Never heard of you, kid.”

    “You will. Now, buddy!”

    The Hawlucha shrieked and dove straight at the last standing Exeggutor, its body becoming cloaked in a brilliant white light. The flying type crashed into the squat body of the Exeggutor and lifted it off its feet, knocking it through the air and sending it flying towards the Soothsayer. Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, Hawlucha Man jerked his arm down and pulled the Soothsayer off balance. As she stumbled, the Exeggutor sailed by over her head and crashed down behind the mob some ways distant. Hawlucha Man jumped to his feet and delivered a punch to the side of the woman’s face, making her gasp and drop the whip.

    “You son of a b*tch!” she screamed, rushing in with his baton. Hawlucha Man grabbed his remaining rod and brought it up just in time to block her telegraphed overhead strike. He delivered another punch to the Soothsayer’s abdomen, knocking the wind from her lungs. As she sucked in another breath, she cringed. “You want to call yourself a hero like Blaziken Man, but you’d beat up a girl?”

    “In my defense, you do kind of have it coming.”

    When the Soothsayer came at him again, he grabbed her wrist and contorted his body in such a way as to use the force of her own attack against her. He stopped just short of making the Soothsayer faceplant into the pavement, instead putting her in a headlock and applying pressure to her carotid artery. “Nice and easy now,” he muttered in her ear. “Just go to sleep.” The Soothsayer passed out, and Hawlucha Man set her down next to a lamp post before handcuffing her to it. Hawlucha landed next to him and cocked his head. Hawlucha Man reached down and scratched the feathers on his partner’s head. “All according to plan, more or less.”

    Hawlucha huffed in what passed as laughter, and they waited for the police to arrive.

    It didn’t take long, though preventing the mob from continuing down Milton was taking most of the Eleventh Precinct’s resources and manpower. Simply taking out the Exeggutor behind the mind control had not been enough to dispel the mind control like Hawlucha Man had hoped. But that wasn’t really his department, and the police were better equipped to deal with it than him. Nothing to do now but wait.

    Hawlucha Man sat down on a stoop and began massaging a cramp from his leg, and had just about worked through it when a police cruiser turned off one of the narrower side streets and onto the main boulevard. He squinted his eyes against the flashing blue lights as the cruiser pulled up to the curb in front of him. The driver and passenger side doors opened, and Hawlucha Man pulled himself to his feet. “Nice to see you again, Captain. Detective.”

    Captain Anderson rolled his eyes as he opened the rear door of the cruiser to let his Houndoom out. Detective Reyes inclined his head towards Hawlucha Man. “Nice work. You cleaned this one up faster than I thought.”

    The Houndoom ambled over to Hawlucha Man, and he knelt down to scratch the police dog’s neck. “Hey Oscar. How’re you today? Are you being a good boy? Yes you are.” Oscar’s mouth lolled in a canine grin, and Hawlucha Man patted his head before turning to the detective. “Speedy service with a smile, that’s my motto. What’s got the captain’s feathers ruffled?”

    “He lost the betting pool.”

    “Betting pool?

    “He thought it would take you half an hour from contact to bring this one in. I bet fifteen minutes.” Reyes smiled wider. “So coffee and donuts are on the captain next week.”

    Hawlucha Man clapped the detective on his shoulder. “At least I know one person in the Eleventh has some faith in my awesome skills.”

    Anderson knelt down next to the Soothsayer and pulled back her hood. “Meg Kingsley, like we thought,” he muttered.

    “She in the system?”

    “Dropped out of a biochemistry program a few years ago,” Anderson replied. “We’ve brought her in for a few petty thefts and she made a plea bargain to get off easy. She informed on some of Wrath’s boys about some aerosol weapon they wanted her to make.” He went to remove her handcuff and chuckled. He undid the cuffs and held them up for Reyes to see. The detective laughed as Hawlucha Man turned as red as a Tamato berry beneath his hood.

    The captain jangled the fuzzy Liepard print cuffs and fought hard to keep a stoic façade. “You going to be wanting these back, Hawlucha Man?”

    “Hey, guys, listen, they’re not mine, I swear…”

    “No, of course they’re not,” Reyes said.

    “Look, there was a girl… and she was kind of into… all of that that. I had to make do with the resources at hand, alright?”

    Anderson put the still catatonic Soothsayer in the back of his cruiser and unhooked his own handcuffs from his belt. “Listen, kid, take these. You do good work for us. I’ll, uh, keep this one quiet for you.” He shook the fuzzy handcuffs. “Unless you really want to hang on to this pair?”

    Hawlucha snatched the police handcuffs. “Oh Arceus, no.”

    Anderson tossed them into a nearby garbage can. “Well, that never happened, as far as I’m concerned. Reyes, on the other hand, might have noticed a thing or two…”

    Hawlucha Man turned to the detective. “If you say anything you’re dead to me.”

    Before Reyes could reply, his phone went off. The detective answered and asked a few brusque questions before hanging up. “Sir, we better let the CSU guys handle the rest of clean up here.” He showed Anderson a picture on his phone. “The Ronin dropped off a body for us.”

    Anderson scowled. “Who is it this time?”

    “Hard to say, he didn’t leave the head or the hands, so no dental and no fingerprints. But the body type matches that rapist with a good lawyer from a couple months back. First responders found a good amount of blood, so we might be able to run some tests at the lab.”

    “The bastard may have gotten past the judge and the jury, but the executioner caught up with him,” Anderson muttered. “All right Reyes, see if you can get anything else while I finish up here.” Reyes nodded and walked a little ways down the street, talking into his phone. Anderson looked at the four fainted Exeggutor and ran a hand through his thinning hair. “I’ll get some guys from the PPS down here for the Exeggutor, I guess. We’ve got it from here, kid. Why don’t you take off?”

    “What about the people under mind control?”

    “Seems like Miss Kingsley here used some kind of spores to get people riled up and then hijacked them with her pokemon. With the psychic control gone, my boys are getting the people to calm down. We can handle it.” Anderson glanced at Hawlucha Man. “You know the Eleventh exists for a reason, right? You can leave some of our job for us to do. Blaziken Man didn’t get where he did overnight.”

    Hawlucha Man shrugged. “I gotta stay on my toes. Avenbrooke isn’t like midtown, captain. We’ve only got two heroes for all the things that go bump in the night.”

    “Calling the Ronin a hero may be a bit of a stretch, kid.”

    “At least he only goes after the bad guys.”

    “The Ronin went down a bad path. You’ve still got time to go another way.” Anderson put a paternal hand on Hawlucha Man’s shoulder. “And I’m really hoping you do, kid. I’m not telling you to get out of the game, because I know you wouldn’t listen. Just be careful, all right?”

    “It takes a lot to bring Hawlucha Man down.”

    “I’m sure.” Anderson sighed. “I have to go deal with this. You get on home, kid.”

    Hawlucha Man tapped two fingers to his forehead and gave a lazy salute. “See you the next time things start to bump in the night, cap’n.”

    “I can count on it, can’t I?”

    “Damn right.”

    Anderson held the door to the backseat open for Oscar as Reyes came back up the street. He turned to the captain. “We’re pretty sure it’s our guy. When we brought him in, he had a tattoo on his left bicep. There’s a pretty bad acid burn right where the tattoo ought to be. We’re collecting some blood from the site for a DNA test, but it’ll probably match up. Still, we better put in an appearance. This one’s pretty ugly.”

    When the cruiser drove off, Hawlucha Man turned to his partner and clicked his tongue. Hawlucha, perched atop a stone Pyroar, looked up from his preening and cocked his head to the side. Hawlucha Man sighed. “You’ve been smoothing your feathers for ten minutes. I think you’re done. Let’s get out of here.”

    Hawlucha jumped down and followed Hawlucha Man down a dark side alley between two old brick apartment buildings. When they were sufficiently out of sight from the street, Hawlucha jumped up and grabbed a fire escape ladder, dragging it down with his body weight. The two of them quickly ran up to the tenement rooftop, sprinted to the edge of the building and jumped out across the gap between buildings. They traversed a block’s worth of rooftops this way until they reached a building sufficiently tall enough to glide from.

    As they prepared to take flight, Hawlucha Man held up a gloved hand and pointed out across the rooftops to the west where across the river, the skyscrapers of midtown Clarus City rose up against the night sky, their bright lights blotting out the stars. The sweeping towers and illuminated suspension cables of the Concord Bridge and, further down the dark scar of the Umber River, the brutalist bulwark of the Forbes Bridge connected the boroughs of Avenbrooke and Greenpoint respectively to the sprawling metropolis. Far on the other side of the city, the Crown Bridge spanned the West River to Ridgewood and Lenox Hills.

    Hawlucha Man rocked back on his heels and sighed. Laid out below his feet, was Avenbrooke, his stomping grounds, his protectorate. His home. “I never get tired of looking at this, buddy. This is what we’re fighting for.” Hawlucha rolled his eyes. He had heard this speech enough times. “We’re doing this to keep all those lights burning. There are a lot of people who want to put them out and do Arceus knows what in the shadows. But we’re not going to let them.” Hawlucha Man balanced on the edge of the roof, his arms spread wide.

    “You just watch!” he shouted towards the shining city. “Avenbrooke is under my protection, and I won’t stop until every last son of a b*tch knows that if they want to make trouble in my town, they’re going to have to deal with the amazing Hawlucha Man!” He jumped out into the open air and pulled the cord on his wingsuit. Hawlucha sprang off the roof just behind him, and together they angled towards another building several streets away. After a series of short, looping flights, they came to rest on the roof of a small apartment building on a narrow street.

    Hawlucha Man removed his mask and hood and stuffed them in a small duffel bag near the rooftop access door. He shrugged on a battered leather jacket and stuck a pen behind his ear while he fished out a textbook and two notebooks. He turned to his partner and held out his fist. Hawlucha bumped it with his closed talons. “We did good tonight, Hierro,” Hawlucha Man said. “Our first supervillain. To many more!”

    His Hawlucha raised his fist in agreement. Hawlucha Man fumbled around in the duffel bag for his key and unlocked the rooftop door. He and Hierro quietly made their way down the stairs, and Hawlucha Man opened the door to a small apartment. Hierro sprang across the room and perched on the back of the only chair and immediately began to preen.

    “Alex, is that you?” someone asked from down the hall. “What are you doing out so late?” A woman on the far side of middle age poked her head out her door.

    Alex turned to her and grinned sheepishly, showing her the textbook in his hand. “Sorry to disturb you, Ms. Eliot. I was out on the roof finishing up some homework. The fresh air, you know?”

    “Just don’t go catching a cold,” Ms. Eliot chided. “And be careful! The TV was saying that there was a commotion over on Milton.”

    Alex raised his eyebrow. “Really? Nothing serious, I hope?”

    “Well, the police got it under control,” she said. “But honestly, the state the city is in nowadays. All those criminals, and the vigilantes are little better.”

    “I know, it crazy. I should be getting to bed, Ms. Eliot.”

    “Oh, yes, don’t let me keep you.”

    When she closed her door, Alex let out a breath, grateful she hadn’t picked up on his white spandex pants. His landlady generally had his best intentions at heart, but she was terribly nosy. He locked his door, dropped his duffel bag and books and collapsed on the couch. Dimi, his Skitty, immediately pounced on his chest and Alex scratched him behind the ears. He had meant to wash out the dishes in the sink before falling asleep, but far be it from him to try to move Dimi once the cat had made up his mind to stay somewhere. Besides, he was too exhausted to get up again.

    Alex checked that the alarm on his phone was set before relaxing against the couch cushions and closing his eyes. If he didn’t get to sleep now, he would probably wind up dozing in one of his lectures tomorrow. Sometimes he envied the other people in his program who only had to worry about finishing their assignments on time and taking good notes in lectures. The double life of a masked vigilante wasn’t an easy one, but the Ronin couldn’t clean up the streets of Avenbrooke on his own. Or at least, he couldn’t without leaving a rather grisly mess.

    And so, by day, Alex Alvarez was just another beleaguered engineering grad student, but by night he and Hierro became Hawlucha Man and his daring partner, sworn to keep the streets of Avenbrooke safe.

    “Good night, buddy,” Alex said. Hierro chirped back, and Alex sank into unconsciousness.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2018
  2. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 2

    Alex sat in the coffee shop near the university trying to focus on the notes he took two lectures ago, but it seemed that about halfway through he had stopped writing legibly, and now trying to decipher his earlier scribbles was like attempting to translate hieroglyphs from an ancient language. He looked up, trying to find something to distract him for a moment. The TV behind the counter had just changed over to an urgent news broadcast, showing helicopter footage of midtown Clarus City. The camera zoomed in, showing two armored figures exchanging blows on a rooftop. Alex signaled the barista. “Hey, can you turn that up?”

    “… responded quickly to the threat,” the off-screen reporter was saying. “Damage so far is limited to the Industrial Trust building and first responders are already on the scene.” The helicopter camera rapidly panned away from the two armored combatants to show a Slaking bounding up a nearby building and then leaping over to the rooftop. The figure in red and gold armor turned away from his opponent and thrust his palm out towards the rapidly approaching ape. There was a flash as a blast of heat and light shot from the armored man’s palm, and the Slaking fell in a heap.

    Taking advantage of the red and gold fighter’s distraction, the other armored man delivered a sharp uppercut, knocking the man in red and gold off his feet. The man in red armor fired off several more pulses from his hands, but his opponent shrugged them off. Alex and several other customers were all leaning forward in their seats, watching the fight unfold. The man in unadorned armor raised his fist to deliver the final blow, only to be tackled by a red blur. There was a flurry of quick strikes, buying the man in red armor time to stand up.

    The Blaziken that had distracted his opponent jumped to the man’s side, and they stood back to back, facing down the Slaking and its armored trainer. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Alex crowed. “Blaziken Man’s going to turn this around!”

    The two men charged at each other again while Blaziken engaged the Slaking. The news anchor’s voice broke in over the live footage. “We are receiving reports from Clarus City police that they believe Blaziken Man’s opponent to be notorious criminal Marcus Braun. Police have cordoned off the area to reduce interference in apprehending him.”

    A murmur rippled through the coffee shop. “Sloth himself,” Alex whispered, watching Blaziken Man and the criminal kingpin of Clarus City trade blows. He tried to remember the last time Sloth had taken an active hand in his own operations, and figured it had to have been at least a year ago. Normally if he needed muscle, he would send Pride or Wrath’s crew, or if he needed something specifically, Envy or Greed. Whatever he had been after in the Industrial Trust building had to have been important.

    Blaziken Man activated the repulsors on his armored legs, shooting up into the air to strafe the ground with shots from his gauntlets. Sloth nimbly jumped out of the way and waited as Blaziken Man descended before leaping at him. The two rolled across the rooftop, and Blaziken Man managed to kick his assailant off. Sloth’s Slaking grabbed him out of the air and hurled him at Blaziken Man’s partner. The fire type ducked down and came up with a punch that cracked the chest plate of Sloth’s armor. The Slaking bellowed and charged at Blaziken, only to be tripped and sent sprawling. Blaziken Man fired a pulse at Sloth’s chest, knocking the man down.

    Blaziken Man stood over Sloth, his gauntlet glowing with another charged shot, obviously offering him a chance to surrender and come quietly. The two men regarded each other for a long moment, too far from the news helicopter for anyone to hear what they were saying. Outside the frame, a column of fire shot towards Blaziken Man, and the armored hero turned just in time to counter it with a blast from his gauntlet. He used his left hand to steady his shot, and in the momentary distraction, Sloth was back on his feet and delivered a punch to Blaziken Man’s beaked helmet, sending him staggering back. Blaziken tried to go to his partner’s aid only to become ensnared in the coils of a massive Seviper.

    A woman with close-cropped dark hair and wearing black assault gear strode across the rooftop, a Pyroar on her heels. “We have confirmation that the woman we are seeing matches Braun’s associate Julia Richelieu,” the anchor said.

    “Pride,” someone in the coffee shop hissed. “This isn’t looking good.”

    The woman pointed, and her Pyroar pounced. Blaziken Man fired on it again, only to be tackled by Sloth’s Slaking. Sloth and Pride advanced as Blaziken Man tried to fight a battle on two fronts, but after his drawn-out battle with Sloth, it was clear he was starting to flag. The Slaking managed to get Blaziken Man into a lock as Sloth strode forward, his armored fist drawn back to strike. Before he could, the rooftop was bathed in intense white light. When the camera managed to refocus, Blaziken had been released and Pride’s Pyroar was down.

    A young woman dressed in white and red stood before Pride, a metal quarterstaff inches from the bridge of Pride’s nose. With a quick turn, she brought the butt of the staff around and knocked Pride’s knees out from under her. Pride’s Seviper lunged at the newcomer, only to stopped with a blast of intensely hot air as a large white moth descended from the sky. The Volcarona kept up its Heat Wave, driving the snake back. The girl hurled another flashbang at Sloth, momentarily blinding him as the optics inside his helmet tried to adjust to the rapidly changing light.

    “Yes!” a man two tables down from Alex shouted. “The cavalry’s here!”

    “Volcarona Mask!” another woman cheered.

    Blaziken Man and Volcarona Mask stood back to back as Sloth and Pride charged with their pokemon again. Volcarona kept Pride’s pokemon pinned with distance attacks as Blaziken sprinted to his partner’s side. Blaziken Man and his pokemon bumped fists just before the armored hero caught Sloth’s Slaking with a pulse in the center of its chest, sending the hulking normal type crashing to the ground again, its fur smoldering. Sloth himself targeted Volcarona Mask, whose costume afforded more mobility and flexibility but lacked the defensive plating of Blaziken Man’s suit. To her credit, the masked hero nimbly dodged all of Sloth’s strikes with a series of pirouettes, flips and acrobatic maneuvers. Using his broad, armored back as a springboard, she launched herself off of Sloth and towards Pride, delivering a kick to the middle of the woman’s abdomen as Blaziken Man unleashed a full-power blast in the weakened center of Sloth’s armor.

    Sloth was sent flying backwards, his armor smoking. He bellowed something to Pride, and the woman tossed a small device at her feet. The capsule exploded into a billowing cloud of thick black smoke, obscuring the view of the rooftop. Volcarona swooped down low and used the beating of its wings to blow the fog away, but by the time it had, Pride and Sloth, along with their pokemon, had vanished. Volcarona Mask jumped to her feet and seemed to quip something to Blaziken Man before climbing onto her pokemon’s back and shooting off into the sky, obviously to track down their opponents.

    Blaziken Man turned to the news helicopter and held up his hand before he and his Blaziken jumped from the rooftop to a neighboring building. The newscast cut back to the studio, where the anchor shuffled her papers. “We have received word from the CCPD that Blaziken Man and Volcarona Mask are in pursuit of Braun and Richelieu. Due to the attack on the Industrial Trust building, streets will be closed from Third Avenue and Sixty Second Street to Sixth Street and Sixty Fifth Street while the police conduct damage control. Citizens are advised to seek alternate routes.”

    The crowd in the coffee shop began to disperse when it was clear that the action was over. Alex finished off his coffee and gathered his things so he could get to his next lecture. As he made his way back to campus, it seemed that everyone had seen the news broadcast, and the buzz of conversation was all about Blaziken Man and Volcarona Mask, and the reappearance of Marcus Braun.

    Blaziken Man, also known as Jiro Sasaki, had been the first of Clarus City’s heroes to start acting publicly to curtail the increasingly bold criminal underworld that had sprung up in the past few years. Sasaki was the president and CEO of Sasaki Industries, and had used his resources and engineering genius to design the Blaziken Man suit. After causing a large public stir with his first few appearances and his success in halting a massive riot started by some of Wrath’s anarchists, he went public and revealed that he was the armored figure that had been keeping watch over Clarus City.

    After Sasaki, other heroes had started to follow his lead. Volcarona Mask and the Hammer joined Blaziken Man in protecting the city proper, while the Dryad had used her seemingly inexhaustible stable of grass types to maintain order in Lenox Hills across the river, to the point where any disreputable characters fled from anywhere she established an arboretum. The rumor went that Pride had a deep, abiding hatred of the Dryad for driving her out of one of her primary bases of operation.

    Those four were the originals, the ones who got the news coverage, the public acclaim, and the right to call themselves heroes.

    The newscasters seemed to go back and forth on whether the Cavalier and the Gunslinger in Ridgewood were heroes or vigilantes depending on how successful they had been in the preceding days and how much collateral damage their actions had caused, or at least failed to stop. But people like the Ronin, or Echo and the Phantom in Greenpoint, were never anything better than vigilantes at best, as far as the public was concerned. At worst, they were menaces to society that were little better than the criminals and lunatics they brought to justice.

    It certainly didn’t help matters that out of all of the outer borough vigilantes, only Hawlucha Man had a good relationship with his borough’s police force.

    But just being a vigilante wasn’t enough for Alex. He wasn’t necessarily in the crime fighting business for the glory and prestige that the original four heroes got (though he would admit that the thought of it certainly sweetened the pot). He did it because even though Clarus City was growing into a shining beacon of progress and innovation, its growing light only made the shadows around it deeper and darker. Someone needed to put in the work to keep the city and its civilians safe, and the ability to work a little bit outside the structures of the law allowed Hawlucha Man and the other heroes and vigilantes to do some things the police force simply couldn’t.

    Alex got to his next lecture and took his usual seat in the back of the lecture hall. After he had set up the 3D rendering software on his laptop, he pulled up the Clarus Herald and the major local TV news website, scanning the headlines for updates on Blaziken Man and Volcarona Mask’s pursuit of Sloth and Pride. While he waited for the lecturer to arrive, he saw a small block of text in the Avenbrooke section that talked about the mob on Milton Boulevard and how the terrorist using a potent biological weapon to incite chaos had been stopped by the combined efforts of the Eleventh and “local vigilante Hawlucha Man”. He allowed himself a small smile while the professor called for the class’s attention at the front. Alex minimized the news sites and turned to the lesson at hand.

    Juggling the responsibilities of a student and superhero had proved a difficult task, but Alex had conditioned himself to sleep in short bursts and get by with the minimum number of hours possible. Making sure he could get all his work done on time was the biggest challenge, but he managed. Occasionally though, around especially pressing examinations, the Eleventh was left to patrol the streets of Avenbrooke alone. Though there had yet to be a night where the police couldn’t handle the things that went bump on their own, Alex still felt a little guilty.

    After putting together his first wingsuit with cast off scraps he gathered in the engineering labs, he had begun using some of his downtime to make improvements on his costume, allowing the sails under his arms to catch greater lift or making a new belt out of a lighter polymer to reduce drag. On his budget, Alex couldn’t afford the kind of gear that the Cavalier or the Phantom had, let alone Echo, who relied on a high-end electric guitar and microphone as her crime fighting tools. When he allowed himself to indulge in fantasies, Alex dreamt that after graduating his program, he could work as an engineer at Sasaki Industries, with access to all the technology and resources that would entail, not to mention the generous starting salary the engineering and development department enjoyed.

    But that was a long way off, and maybe by then, Hawlucha Man would have the same kind of respect and prestige some of the other heroes had, simply by virtue of his public service alone. That was unlikely, however, as most of the other heroes rose to prestige by facing down a powerful criminal element in a very public fight that was guaranteed to capture the public eye. But due to the underworld politics around Avenbrooke, all the Sins except Envy had learned to give it a wide berth, and the Kuromori Clan rarely had business on his side of the river. The Baron didn’t need to call on outside mercenaries for extra muscle when he had plenty on his own payroll. And the Baron’s methodology made a drawn-out public fight unlikely.

    Alex sighed as he copied down the notation on the projector screen at the front of the room. He was just going to have to hope that the newspapers picked up a few more stories about his work, because he doubted his nemesis was going to give him his ticket to the spotlight.
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017
  3. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 3

    Alex alighted on the rooftop of one of the warehouses at the end of the docks as the two black town cars pulled up in front of the one across the road. He motioned for Hierro to crouch down, and together they watched several people climb out. A man with muscles that strained the material of his expensive suit got out the passenger side door of the first car and walked to the back door, opening it for middle aged man, similarly dressed in a tailored suit and just the right amount of gray in his dark, close-cropped hair. The door on the other side swung open and a woman in a leather bomber jacket unfolded herself from the backseat. She slung a heavy metal baseball bat over her shoulder and indulged in a wide yawn. She sauntered over to the warehouse door and leaned against the doorframe before lighting a cigarette and taking a long drag.

    Three men in slightly cheaper suits holding large black cases piled out of the second car and greeted the middle aged man coldly but courteously. The bodyguard gestured for them to step into the warehouse, but his boss paused for a moment to say something to the smoking woman before following them inside. The woman palmed a pokeball from her belt and tossed with a languid flick of her wrist. A massive Aggron appeared in a flash of light and growled something. The woman shrugged again and said something back. The Aggron lumbered to the other side of the door and hunkered down.

    Alex swore under his breath as he adjusted his mask and checked his batons. He hadn’t counted on Gwendolyn Culain being here. The owner and sole employee of Aegis Security hired herself and her Aggron out to anyone willing to pay her exorbitant prices. When she had first arrived in Clarus City a few years ago, the various factions had not known what to make of her. The so-called Iron Maiden had no interest in pro bono hero work, nor did she seem to have any interest in carving out a niche in the underworld. A few members of the Clarus City elite had engaged her services as a private security detail when they felt that the city’s less desirable elements were targeting them.
    Over time, Gwen had developed a reputation for cold professional ruthlessness, quickly and efficiently taking care of any duties her employer set her to. In time, Clarus City’s myriad criminal organizations had approached her to contract her services, and Gwen had taken their money and done what was asked of her. Alex had heard that she refused to do anything expressly illegal, for liability reasons, but she had no problem standing outside a meeting between Lust and Keita Kuromori to ensure that no one got in the way of a treaty between the two factions, or ensuring that no one interfered while Gluttony and her thugs roughed up a reluctant “business partner” or terrorized the leaders of trade union.

    People who did interfere tended to get hurt, though she generally stopped short of permanently crippling or maiming. Generally.

    But now in spite of her reputation, she was in Hawlucha Man’s way. He had reason to believe that the Baron was brokering a deal for some seriously dangerous weaponry tonight, and he couldn’t in good conscience allow the kingpin of Avenbrooke to get that kind of firepower, terrifying security detail or not. He took a deep breath and stepped back so he could have a running start. He soared out over the edge of the warehouse, Hierro just behind him.

    When Gwen saw the two shadows flit by over her head, she glanced up and swore under her breath. “Guess I have to earn that paycheck. Up and at ‘em, Maximus.”

    Hawlucha Man dropped out of the sky and drew his batons. “Things will go a lot easier for you if you step out of the way.”

    Gwen shouldered her bat. “Yeah, probably. But a contract’s a contract.” She pursed her lips. “Listen kid, you want to make this easier on all of us and just walk away? I really don’t give a damn.”

    “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

    “I figured. Your type always says crap like that. Hard way it is.” She hefted the baseball bat and closed the gap between them in an instant. Hawlucha Man barely managed to bring his batons up in time to parry the blow, and even then the shock of the impact reverberated up and down his arms. He tried to counter, but Gwen lazily swung her bat back around and knocked his strike out of the way. Hierro chose that moment to swoop down and attack. Gwen winced as the Hawlucha’s kick connected with her left shoulder, but she didn’t falter. “Hey blockhead,” she called over her shoulder. “Earn your keep, yeah?”

    The Aggron lurched to his feet and lowered his spiked head before charging at Hawlucha Man. Alex managed to roll out of the way, and Hierro winged his way back up into the air. Alex whistled to his partner and pointed at the Aggron. Hierro dove again, this time battering the Aggron’s face. When the steel type tried to retaliate, Hierro soared back up and out of range.

    Gwen and Hawlucha Man traded blows, warily circling around each other. “It’s nothing personal, kid,” Gwen remarked casually as she swung down with the bat. “I’ve got nothin’ against you. But business has been slow lately and Pirozzi pays well. I got bills to pay, you know.” She feinted, and when Hawlucha Man took the bait, she swung the bat across his ribs. Alex fell back with a gasp, clutching his side. Gwen looked a slightly impressed. “I didn’t hear a crack. That suit padded?”

    “A bit,” Alex managed to say. “Reinforced material too.”

    Nice. But you’re going to have some nasty bruises if we keep this up. Last chance to back off.”

    “I’ll take the risk.”

    They traded another series of blows, and this time Alex managed to score a hit on the arm Hierro had injured in his first pass. Gwen grimaced muttered a curse. “Come on, Maximus, help me out a bit!”

    Maximus turned from his futile struggle to hem in Hawlucha Man. Alex ducked beneath a swing of the Aggron’s heavy arms, knowing that he had nothing in his arsenal that could hope to scratch the steel type. Brute force was more Hierro’s department. He heard his Hawlucha shriek angrily over Maximus’s head, but that quickly turned into a cry of dismay as Maximus launched jagged stones from vents on his back. Alex ran out from beneath the Aggron and sprinted for the door.

    Gwen’s bat connected with the back of his knee, knocking him to the ground. “You’re a persistent bastard, I’ll give you that.” She sighed. “But look, I’ve really got to wrap this up. I’ll just have Maximus knock you out for a bit and we’ll stash you somewhere Pirozzi won’t find you. No one has to know you were here tonight. You wake up, you go home, you pop some painkillers and we forget this ever happened, yeah?”

    “Can’t do that.”

    “Unfortunately, it ain’t an offer, kid. Just letting you know why your head’s going to hurt like a b*tch for the next few days. Maximus!” The Aggron lumbered towards Alex, but before he got close, Hierro landed in front of his trainer and spread his wings as wide as he could, puffing out his feathers and lunging at Maximus. Instinct took over, and Maximus turned to swat at Hierro with his tail. Hierro’s foot connected with Maximus’s tail, and he turned to kick into a push, launching himself back at Alex and seizing his trainer before the two of them crashed through the warehouse doors.

    Hawlucha Man stood up with a groan and ruffled Hierro’s feathers. “Nice move, buddy.” He twirled his batons and turned to face Gwen again, but the woman had lit another cigarette and was sitting on Maximus’s knee. She stretched out her legs, patted her pokemon’s flank, and winked.

    “That’s all for us, big guy,” she said. Gwen waved at Hawlucha Man. “Pirozzi’s just paying me to keep everyone out. You got in. As far as I’m concerned, you’re out of my jurisdiction. Do whatever you think you gotta do.” Hawlucha Man couldn’t help smiling and touched two fingers to his forehead in salute. He and Hierro turned towards the dark floor of the warehouse, but Gwen stopped him by raising a hand. “Hey kid. I like the suit.”

    Alex’s grin widened underneath his cowl as he and Hierro ran into the gloom of the warehouse. A small light flickered at the back of the cavernous space, the shadows occasionally shifting as someone moved in front of it. Alex and Hierro slid to a stop just outside the circle of light, though the sound of their footsteps against the concrete floor had long since alerted the Baron and his guests to their presence. The Baron himself sat behind a small, utilitarian desk with several papers spread across it. Two of the men in cheap suits stood off to one side in front of their bulky black cases. The third man sat across from the Baron, poised to sign one of the papers. The Baron’s hulking bodyguard stood just behind his employer’s shoulder, fingering a pokeball with one hand and the other on his sidearm.

    “Might as well give it up,” Alex called, making sure his voice was loud enough to echo throughout the warehouse and cover the sound of his and Hierro’s light footfalls. “I’ve got half of the Eleventh outside waiting to take you down.”

    “Now we both know that isn’t true,” the Baron said, his voice low and smooth, carrying none of the coarser accents that Avenbrooke was notorious for. “Hiding in the shadows ill becomes you, Hawlucha Man.”

    “You willing to call my bluff, Baron?”

    “Even if you were telling the truth, there is nothing illegal about me brokering shipping contracts slightly outside of normal business hours.” Alex gritted his teeth. That was what had made the Baron so notoriously hard to pin down. By day, Carlo Pirozzi was the wealthiest and most influential shipping magnate in Clarus City, but in less reputable circles he was a notorious smuggler and arms dealer. The criminal empire he oversaw was intimately tied to his more legitimate operations, often using his legal shipments to smuggle in illicit materiel or drugs. Because his operations were so effectively hidden in his shipping company, it was difficult for law enforcement to pin anything on him, simply because it was so hard to prove he had actually done anything wrong. He was very careful to make sure that the racketeering, black market sales and occasional execution his subordinates carried out was very far removed from him, or at the very least ensured he had an ironclad alibi. The Baron smirked. “And I highly doubt that Ms. Culain would allow the boys of the Eleventh to surround her without finding some way to alert me of the situation. How she let you slip through, I can’t fathom.”

    “I managed to get out of her jurisdiction.”

    The Baron sighed. “Mr. Giordano, please remind me in the future to be more fastidious in my wording in Ms. Culain’s contracts.”

    His bodyguard nodded. “Will do. You want me to take care of the kid, boss?”

    “Please. I would like to conclude here quickly.”

    Bruce Giordano tossed out the pokeball he had been toying with, and after the flash of light cleared, he placed a hand on his Blastoise’s shell, muttering instructions. Hawlucha Man snapped his fingers, the signal for Hierro to burst from hiding. The Hawlucha leapt at the Blastoise’s forehead, in between the sights of both of the jets on the water type’s back. Hierro delivered a sharp kick to the turtle’s hard skull, making Blastoise lumber back a pace. Giordano drew his pistol and fired off three rounds, but Hierro had already winged back to the cover of darkness, and the shots went wide. Hawlucha Man darted in on Giordano’s periphery and brought one of his batons down hard on the the bodyguard’s kneecap while he swung up with the other hand to crack Giordano’s elbow. Bruce hissed and inadvertently dropped his gun while Hierro distracted his Blastoise. The hulking water type fired off several pressurized blasts, but Hawlucha Man’s agile partner proved too quick.

    Hawlucha Man kicked away Giordano’s gun and boxed out the large man’s ears, momentarily stunning him. Blastoise changed tactics and fired a blast of icy air from its jets in a wide arc, striking Hierro’s left wing. The flying type crashed with a shriek, and Alex waved him back. “Get clear! I’ve got it from here.” Hierro shook his head. The Hawlucha struggled to his feet and charged at Blastoise. He swept his legs low and knocked the heavy water type off balance before somersaulting backwards and disappearing into the shadows before the water type could respond. Blastoise teetered for a second, but could not regain its center of gravity and fell backwards, struggling in vain to right itself.

    Hawlucha Man twirled his batons and pointed one at the Baron. “I don’t know what you’re doing here, but I know it’s probably in Avenbrooke’s best interests to stop it.”

    The Baron sighed. “You have been a thorn in my side for quite a while, Hawlucha Man. I’d rather not do this, but you leave me no choice.” He reached into the inside pocket of his tailored suit and flicked out a pokeball. A towering Empoleon appeared and regarded Hawlucha Man with a dispassionate sneer. The Baron waved his hand. “Augustus, do what you must. Now, Mr. Nakamura, if you would be so kind to sign here and here.”

    The Empoleon swung down with his sharp claws, and Alex only barely managed to throw up his baton in time. Augustus huffed out a breath and wrenched the baton from his hands, tossing it out into the dark with a clatter. Hawlucha Man tried to punch the water type, but its rigid feathers made it feel like he was striking a sheet of solid iron. The Empoleon swiped Hawlucha Man off his feet with a backhanded strike from one of its fins, and Alex struggled to rise as Augustus trudged over to finish him off.

    A red and white blur tackled the Empoleon, causing the torrent of water Alex was about to be blasted with to go wide, making a crater in the concrete just two feet from his head. Hierro battered the Baron’s pokemon with his wings, having chipped off the ice in the shadows. Alex seized the opportunity to jump to his feet and sprint past the two battling pokemon. The man in the cheap suit sitting before the Baron flew up from his chair and ran to his associates. One of the other men had called out his Kadabra, and the three of them vanished in a flash of light, taking the large black cases with them.

    The Baron slammed his fist down on his desk as Hawlucha Man ran up. “Well, I hope you’re happy,” he snapped, his calm and polished demeanor evaporating in an instant. “It took me months to put this meeting together, and now all that’s for nothing.” He rose from the table and recalled his Empoleon, making Hierro kick through empty air as the pokemon disappeared back into its pokeball. The Baron roused Giordano with the tip of his imported leather shoe, and the bodyguard rolled to his feet with a groan.

    “Where do you think you’re going?” Hawlucha Man said.

    “I have no business here anymore,” the Baron replied. “So I’m going home to get some sleep.” He waved his hand lazily at the contracts on his desk. “You can bring those to your friends at the Eleventh if you like. Without the last few signatures, they’re worthless to me. Of course, they aren’t going to find anything to tie them back to my business, but you might have enough to put that coward Nakamura in some hot water with Interpol.”

    “Bastard deserves it,” Giordano grumbled.

    The Baron scoffed, his coldly polite persona back in place. “Normally I frown on speaking ill of someone behind their back, Mr. Giordano, but in this instance, I’ll let it pass.” The two of them exited the warehouse, and Alex soon heard their car drive off into the night. It made no sense trying to pursue. There was nothing to charge the Baron with. Alex fetched his baton from where the Empoleon had tossed it, and he and Hierro limped back out into the night air. Gwen Culain had vanished as well, leaving the two of them alone in the shipping yard.

    “Ugh.” Alex put a hand against his aching ribs and shook his head. “Have I mentioned that I really hate that guy?”
  4. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 4

    Alex ran the flannel shirt through his fingers, scowling as he felt the material. It was a nice shirt, good quality, and would probably last him a few years. But he wasn’t sure if he was willing to pay out almost double what he normally paid for his clothes. After a moment of reflection, he sighed and put the shirt back. It wasn’t worth it.

    Blaziken Man probably never had to look at price tags.

    He poked around the clearance section of the department store for a few minutes longer but found nothing that really caught his eye. Alex gave up and left, heading back out into the shopping district towards the next stop. He needed some new clothes, but it was hard to find things in his price range. Before he had become Hawlucha Man, money had been tight enough, but now that most of his extra cash went to tweaks and improvements on the suit, he had even less money to spread around. He turned the corner onto the main boulevard just in time to see four black SUVs careen after an armored truck. The truck skidded to a halt in front of First Clarus Bank, screeching up onto the curb. Guards spilled out from the bank doors to form a perimeter around the truck.

    The SUVs slowed down as they cruised closer, and the doors all flung open at once. From each vehicle, three men dropped and rolled across the pavement as the SUVs quickly reversed and drove off. The twelve men all wore black facemasks and advanced on the bank guards. The guards drew their tasers, but before they could use them, a man in black and white motley stepped from the crowd and stood in front of the robbers. The charged wires from the tasers shot out and struck the air in front of him, colliding with the invisible wall the mime conjured there.

    Alex swore under his breath. “This was supposed to be my day off!”

    He ducked into a nearby coffee shop and ran into the bathroom, digging the Hawlucha Man costume from his backpack as soon as the door swung shut behind him. Alex could faintly hear the employee behind the counter shouting that the bathrooms were for paying customers only, but he paid it no mind. He quickly zipped himself into the wingsuit and called out Hierro from his pokeball. “No rest for the weary, partner. We’ve got a heist to stop.”
    The two of them charged out of the bathroom and into the now considerably more crowded coffee shop. People from the streets had fled to the shelter of the nearby stores to get out of the crossfire of the bank robbers and the recently arrived police. As Alex shoved his way through the press to the door, a man grabbed his arm. “What are you doing, kid?”

    “My job.”

    “Who the hell do you think you are?”

    “I’m Hawlucha Man. And I’m going to put an end to this.”

    “Why not just leave it to the cops?”

    “Blaziken Man wouldn’t stand on the sidelines, and I’m not going to either.” Alex shook free of the man’s grasp and stepped out into the street. The police had arrived and had surrounded the armored transport. Several Koffing drifted above the transport, and an Ursaring stood warily by the bank’s doors. One of the police cars was a mangled wreck after having a civilian car thrown at its hood. The police had their guns drawn and stood behind riot shields, but no one made a move. The man dressed in black and white motley stood in front of the armored truck, and the air before him seemed to ripple and shimmer.

    When Alex ran up, the captain turned and shook his head. “Oh no. I am not dealing with any costumed freaks today. I got enough on my plate.”

    Alex glowered at him. “If Blaziken Man dropped out of the sky right now, would you tell him to piss off?”

    “Kid, you sure as hell aren’t Blaziken Man.”

    “Maybe not, but Hawlucha Man is all you’ve got right now. Radio Captain Anderson at the Eleventh, all right? He’ll attest to my record. I’m here to help.”

    “I don’t have time to play dress up. It’s bad enough Greed and her boys took hostages, but I’ve got that motormouth over there to deal with too. Hasn’t anyone ever told him mimes aren’t supposed to talk?”

    “I know. I’ve dealt with him before. For Arceus’s sake, radio Captain Anderson.”

    The captain scowled but had one of his men comply. The man came back a moment later and nodded. “Hawlucha Man checks out. Might be best to let him help, captain.”

    The captain folded his arms. “All right. You say you know how to handle the esper. Take care of the psychic freak and let us handle the hostages. Just make sure he doesn’t drop anything on us.”

    “Walls are all he can do,” Hawlucha Man said as he stepped through the police line. He approached the man in black and white. “Pierre? Pierre, it’s me. I need to know what you’re doing here. You’re supposed to be in St. Ambrosius’s.”

    The man’s face lit up. “Hawlucha Man! Ms. Petrovna and her friends got me out! And look, they found Mimsy too!” He pointed at the other side of the truck where a Mr. Mime wove together a similar shining barrier to the one in front of Pierre.

    “I see that. Pierre, can you drop the wall?”

    The mime shook his head. “I’m not supposed to. Ms. Petrovna said.”

    “I just want to talk with you. You can put it up again as soon as I come through. You know I don’t like talking to you this way.”

    Pierre sighed and waved his hands, and the air in front of him returned to normal. Alex took three paces forward and the wall reappeared behind him. Alex took a deep breath. “Listen, Pierre. These people are not your friends. They’re just using you to get what they want.”

    The smile disappeared from the mime’s face. “I know.”

    Alex nearly took a step back. He hadn’t expected that. In the past, Pierre had gleefully gone along with any of the Sins when they reached out to him, thinking that they would be his friends and if he helped them. It had been a simple matter of convincing him that the Sins were only using him for his powers to get him to stand down and come quietly. Now he would need a different approach.

    “If you know they’re using you, why are you doing this?”

    “Even if they aren’t my friends, they helped me. They got Mimsy back. If I don’t help them, I have to go back to the hospital.”

    “The hospital is only trying to help you.”

    “They took Mimsy away from me!”

    “It wasn’t safe for you to be around Mimsy.” Alex spread his hands, showing that he meant no harm. “But maybe things can be different this time. If you agree to come with me and go back to St. Ambrosius, I’ll see if I can get them to let Mimsy stay with you. Arceus as my witness, I’ll do everything I can.”

    “You promise?”

    “I promise. Cross my heart. But you’ve got to bring the wall down and let the police in, or they won’t listen to me. Okay?” Alex signaled to the police to lower their weapons and prepare to move in.

    Before Pierre could respond, a black shape passed overhead. “Have no fear, citizens!” someone boomed. “Captain Unova is here!”

    “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Alex muttered. “It just had to be this guy.”

    A man dressed in blue and white dropped out of the sky just inside of Pierre’s invisible wall. As he did so, a Braviary swooped down to claw at Mimsy. Pierre whirled on Hawlucha Man. “You tricked me! I thought you were my friend, but you tricked me!” He threw up another wall, knocking Alex back. Mimsy fired a psychic pulse at the Braviary, making it climb back up into the sky. The commotion drew the attention of the robbers in the bank, and a rattle of gunfire came from two of the windows. The police fired back, and Alex ducked for cover behind the armored truck.

    Captain Unova turned the corner of the transport and tapped two fingers to his helmet. “Didn’t see you there, friend. What say the two of us handle this together? I’m sure we can wrap it up in no time!”

    “You absolute moron,” Alex spat. “I had everything under control. Pierre was about to stand down. And then you show up and ruin everything!”

    Beneath his helmet, Captain Unova cocked an eyebrow. “Well then, I suppose we’ll just have to improvise a bit.” He glanced around the side of the transport. “You flank left, and I’ll go right. Our partners can come in high, and that should be enough to distract the clown. I’ll have my Braviary take down the Ursaring. Then I’ll storm the bank doors.”

    Alex gritted his teeth. Captain Unova’s plan made a fair amount of sense, but he didn’t have to like it. It was just his luck that out of all the heroes in Clarus City, he had to team up with this guy. Of course, forcing his way into already-escalated situations was the only way Captain Unova ever teamed up with other heroes. “All right,” Alex finally said. “But leave the Ursaring to Hawlucha. Braviary would be better off rounding up those Koffing.” He jerked his chin at an Ariados scuttling across a web slung between two of the ornamental columns on the bank’s façade. “And I don’t like the look of that spider. Best to take that out before it becomes a problem.”

    “If you say so, partner. On my mark.” Captain Unova held up his hand, counted down from three, and nodded. He and Alex darted out from behind the transport and tore off in two separate directions. Alex stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled to Hierro. When he had his partner’s attention, he gestured towards the large Ursaring before launching himself off a pile of debris and spreading the wings of his suit. Pierre had not managed to get a secondary barrier up before Alex slammed into his chest feet-first, knocking the mime to the ground.

    When Pierre had struggled halfway to his feet, Alex shook his head. “I’m really sorry about this.” He grabbed the mime in a lock and spun him around. He applied pressure to Pierre’s neck and felt him go limp as the esper slipped into unconsciousness. Before he blacked out, Pierre managed to gasp out, “Don’t let them take Mimsy. You promised.”

    Alex lowered Pierre’s body, and almost immediately the invisible barrier the mime had conjured flickered and vanished. Hawlucha Man turned and waved the police force forward. The riot squad moved in to surround Greed’s men guarding the outside of the bank.

    Hierro clashed with Ursaring, claws and talons flashing as the two struggled to gain the upper hand. Captain Unova’s Braviary screamed as it flew circles around the Koffing, finally selecting a target and using its talons to knock the poison type into the Ariados’s web, knocking the spider to the ground. The police force’s team of Growlithe soon had the insect surrounded, keeping it pinned down. Captain Unova wove through the chaos with his signature kickboxing moves. When one of Greed’s grunts charged at him with a baseball bat, the man casually dodged to the right, brought his knee up into the man’s chest and then caught him with an uppercut, knocking him flat.
    For all that Captain Unova got on his nerves, Alex had to admit he knew how to get the job done.

    As he ran to back up to Hierro, the doors blew off the bank. Alex ducked behind an overturned car as the heavy metal slabs flew across the street and crashed into the storefronts on the opposite side. Smoke billowed from the gaping hole in the wall, and slowly several figures resolved themselves from the murk.

    “What did I say, Yevgeny?” a booming, accented voice said. “Wrath may be a crazy bastard, but his explosives are top of the line. In that, at least, I trust him as far as I can throw him!” Alex peeked over the top of the car and saw a giant of a woman with half of her hair shorn off, and the bare part of her scalp heavily tattooed.

    Anya Petrovna, known to many as Greed, flexed one heavily muscled bicep. From what Alex had heard, trusting someone as far as she could throw them was high praise from Greed, especially if the rumor she had once hurled Gluttony out of a wrestling ring was to be believed. Greed looked at the riot squad dispassionately snapped her fingers. “Blow them away, yeah?” Her men raised their guns, but before they could fire, a brilliant flash of light filled the air. There was a great rush of wind, and when the light cleared, a woman cloaked in bright orange and white stood atop the armored truck, a large Volcarona hovering behind her on iridescent wings.

    “All right!” she shouted. “Amateur hour is over!” She extended a telescoping metal staff and spun it over her head. “Volcarona Mask is here to kick! Your! ***!”

    Greed snapped her fingers at her Ursaring. “Oy, Stepa, on your feet. We’ve got a real fight now.” She raised her gun and laughed. “Bring it on, bitch! I will swat you like the tiny insect you are!”

    Volcarona Mask leapt from the top of the truck as her pokemon partner began to superheat the air. Greed’s men fired into the crowd, and Alex was forced to run for cover. His suit was reinforced to prevent blunt trauma from crippling him, but there was no way it could stop a machine gun salvo. He was way out of his depth here. Pierre was neutralized, and now that Volcarona Mask had shown up, it was clear that the situation had escalated beyond what an upstart from Avenbrooke could handle.

    Though if he was honest with himself, the police in riot gear should have been his first clue that he was going to be punching above his weight class.

    Bullets pinged against the overturned car Alex was hiding behind, and he tried to make himself as small as possible. He cursed under his breath. Alex told himself that Blaziken Man didn’t cower when the situation got too hot. Then again, Blaziken Man didn’t have to worry about trivial things like bullets. Alex waited for the shooting to move away from him and peered around the car.

    Volcarona Mask pirouetted through the chaos, hurling flashbangs and sonic grenades to stun her foes before moving in to dispatch them with her metal quarterstaff, all the while working her way to Greed. Her Volcarona spiraled through the air above, deftly dodging bullets and launching streams of fire at the bank robbers below. The police had rallied around Volcarona Mask, providing cover and support. Captain Unova traded blows with one of Greed’s lieutenants, shouting encouragement to his allies while the police shouted back at him to stay out of the way.

    Out of the corner of his eye, Alex saw a slim figure slinking out from behind one of the bank columns, carrying a large metal briefcase. The figure moved from cover to cover, obviously not keen to get caught up in the firefight.
    Alex tracked the woman (he was pretty sure it was a woman) as she ran and decided that he was better suited to bringing her in than facing down Greed’s guns. He whistled to Hierro and sprinted off after the woman in black. Once he and his partner were clear of the firefight, he hung back just enough to make it difficult for the woman to see him tailing her. He chased her down several blind alleyways, and was surprised at how little noise her footfalls made. After several minutes of running, he heard a clang and the noise of feet on a fire escape. He and Hierro immediately found a fire escape of their own and ascended to the roof.

    The woman in black vaulted across the low rooftops of the lofts outside the shopping district, and Hawlucha Man glided after her, soaring from rooftop to rooftop with his wingsuit. He could no longer hide his pursuit, and when the woman spotted him, she dropped back down into the maze of back alleys and blind corners between the buildings. Alex cursed under his breath and followed after her.

    Her footfalls were not nearly so silent now, and he tracked her with ease. “Leave me alone!” she shouted over her shoulder. “Take a hint, why don’t you? No one likes a man who doesn’t know when to quit!”

    “What were you doing at the bank?” Alex shouted back. “What’s in the case?”

    “None of your damn business!” He heard her muttering increasingly frantic curses as she turned down a blind corner. “Oh damn it!” Alex turned and found the woman in black standing in a dead end with sheer walls on three sides. She whirled on him and took a deep breath. “I don’t like getting my hands dirty like this, but you’ve left me no other choice.”

    Alex held up his hands. “Easy now. If you come quietly, maybe you can work out some kind of deal. Give us information on your friends back there and maybe the police can help you out.”

    “Turn on the Sins?" She scoffed. "Yeah right. I’ll take my chances with you.”

    A purple blur darted out of the shadows on Alex’s right and instinct kicked in. He lashed out with a chop and knocked the Purrloin out of the air as Hierro pounced, pinning the feline beneath one talon. Alex unclipped his batons from his belt and spun them. He glanced down at the Purrloin and then back at the woman, who now seemed a little less enthusiastic about the prospect of a fight. “Not a bad trick, but it’s a pretty basic one.” He sighed. “Look, I just want a few answers. What’s in the case? What were you doing at the bank?”

    The woman backed up against the wall and took a shaky breath. “I don’t know much. I’m just a freelancer, okay? Like the mime guy.”

    “A freelance criminal?”

    “You’re a freelance superhero, buddy. You don’t get to give me that look.” She tossed her head back. “Besides, I’m a damn good freelance criminal. There’s no vault in the world the Shadow can’t crack.”

    “The Shadow? Never heard of you.”

    “Well yeah, you wouldn’t. That’s kind of the point.” At Alex’s look, the woman sighed again. “Listen, all I know is Greed wanted me to open a vault. Straightforward job, good payoff, whatever. I’ve cracked First Clarus before, it’s a piece of cake. I was thinking I’d just go in solo, take what she wanted, skim my cut off the top and call it a day. But no, Greed wants to make it a whole damn thing, because apparently it’s bring your fucking family to work day. You saw how well that went, and here we are.”

    “And in the case?”

    “My cut.” The Shadow shrugged. “Listen buddy, you know how banks work? This money is insured, all right? The rich assholes I’m taking it from are going to get it all back. Closest damn thing I can think of to a victimless crime. Hey, I’ll tell you what.” She slowly knelt down next to the case and popped the clasps. She reached in and held up a large stack of bills. “This right here is yours if you want it. All you gotta do is step aside and have your bird give me back my Purrloin.”

    Alex wasn’t sure exactly how much money the Shadow was offering him, but it seemed like a lot. Definitely enough to cover his expenses for several months. Several months of decent food and actually turning on the heat. Blaziken Man never had to make a call like this.

    “Sorry. Can’t let you do that,” Alex said. It was times like this that he hated having to be one of the good guys.

    “Well aren’t you a ****ing paragon of virtue,” the Shadow muttered before snapping the case shut again. “Guess we’re doing this the hard way, huh?” She balled her fists and darted forward.

    “Lady, you’re going to regret the day you crossed the amazing Hawlucha Man.”

    “Hawlucha Man? Never heard of you.”

    Hierro danced nimbly back from the Shadow as she approached, keeping the Purrloin pinned in his claw. Alex moved in to attack, but the Shadow jumped out of his reach. She tried to strike, but Alex dodged her punches. She might have been as skilled a cat burglar as she claimed, but she hadn’t trained to fight like Alex and Hierro had. Alex prepared to bring the fight to a swift conclusion when he was overcome with a sudden chill.

    “About damn time you showed up,” the Shadow snapped.

    Alex felt an icy hand on his shoulder and heard something breathing in his ear. Something wet tracked up the side of his face, and Alex quickly felt himself becoming numb. He fell to his knees and collapsed on the ground, and Hierro shrieked at his unseen assailant. A cloud of purple mist resolved itself next to the flying type, and the Shadow’s Haunter licked the Hawlucha too. Hierro’s grip on the Purrloin slackened as he collapsed, and the Purrloin scampered back to its trainer.

    The Shadow collected her case and stepped over Alex’s prone form. “Well, that was fun. See you around… Hawlucha Man.” She laughed and strode off into the lengthening evening shadows with her pokemon.

    Alex and Hierro were left to lie in the alley until their paralysis wore off. When Alex was once again able to move his lips, he managed to growl just one sentence.

    “Blaziken Man doesn’t have to put up with this shit.”
  5. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Alright, with a title like that, it's hard to say no. :p

    :3 I like Hierro. But then again, bird Pokemon acting birdy pretty much always makes me squee.
    Ahhh, so we've got a seven sins theme going on here, do we? I'm interested to see your take on them. ;D
    Pride has a lion? I see what you did there. ;D
    Sooooo, he's our Iron Man, then? xD
    Pffft, I like her already.
    Oh god what. xD
    D: Aw. I feel bad for the guy.
    Sooooo...I take it Hierro doesn't have Limber. :p
    Pfft, now there's a place to end it. xD

    I was a bit thrown off at first by the fact that I couldn't quite pin down the intended tone of the fic. Seemed like a fun romp at times, but also kind of serious, but then there was some conflicting info. Like the implication that the police were doing somewhat okay without his involvement, which made it feel like his borough wasn't completely swamped in crime...but at the same time he was also worried that taking a night off was something he couldn't afford to do. So I was like...is this town in serious trouble? Is he just extra help for a situation that isn't that bad? But as of the recent chapter, I think things are gonna start getting worse. That's my take on it, anyway.

  6. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 5

    The diamond cufflinks were a silly indulgence, he knew. He would have been far better off with a more practical button-sleeve, but he had always believed that appearances counted for far more than people gave credit to. He reached up and fixed the white satin mask that obscured his eyes and nose before tapping his gilded cane against the ground twice. The humming noise behind him grew in intensity as the looming shape of his partner bled out of the shadows and took on solid form.

    The villains in Greenpoint knew to flee to their wretched dens when the Phantom walked the streets.

    The young man brushed a speck of nonexistent dust from his silk jacket and leaned casually on his cane as his partner analyzed various radio signals. With a deep bass hum, he alerted the Phantom that he had found something. “Well then, lead on.” His partner’s broad hands clamped down on the Phantom’s shoulders, and he felt himself drawn into his partner’s pliant body. It was followed by the lurching sensation and acute vertigo that always accompanied their travel in this manner, and fortunately it was over as abruptly as it began.

    When his partner released him, the Phantom found himself in a dark, dead-end alley with an alarm ringing some ways distant. He stepped out onto the main street and found himself a block from the Clarus Geological Society. “Envy’s stooges, I’ll wager,” he muttered. “How predictable.” He gestured for his partner to hang back and strode up the baroque façade of the Geological Society and leaned against one of the Doric columns. He withdrew a gilded watch from the pocket of his waistcoat and nodded. “If they’re after what I think they’re after, and the alarm started then…” A window above him exploded outward in a cascade of glass, and several forms rappelled down. The Phantom snapped his watch closed. “Right on schedule.” He stepped out from the shadows of the pillar and inclined his head to the burglars. “Lovely night for a stroll, gentlemen.”

    The three would-be robbers whirled on him, and the leader’s Sneasel and Sabeleye prepared to pounce. “Who the hell are you, fancypants?” the second bandit snapped. His Hypno raised its pendulum and the third robber’s Ariados clicked its mandibles together.

    “I am the man who is about to make things rather unpleasant for you if you don’t return the Harcourt Diamond to me immediately.”

    “How did you know that we—?” the third robber asked before being cut off by the first one with an impatient wave of his hand.

    “Doesn’t matter how he knows. Just get rid of him!” He clicked his tongue, and his two dark types charged. The Phantom twirled his cane and swatted the Sneasel out of the air. With his free hand, he snapped his fingers, and a glowing purple orb struck the Sabeleye, knocking the unfortunate creature flat. His partner’s humming filled the air as the Dusknoir loomed up behind the Phantom.

    The second robber drew his pistol. “We still have numbers on this guy. C-Come on!”

    “I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” the Phantom quipped. He tapped his cane against the ground, and ghostly flames appeared in the air around the burglars. The pinpricks of light quickly resolved themselves into a Chandelure and two Lampent, even as the shadows the three ghost types cast began to writhe. A cloud of Ghastly and Haunter surged out of the darkness, quickly surrounding the three terrified men. The Ariados attempted to scurry away only to be singed by a gout of flame from one of the Lampent.

    “Y-You’re crazy!” the third robber said.

    “You’ll find I’m quite stable. Methodical, even,” the Phantom said as he strode through the cloud of ghosts. “Though you’ll have to forgive me for indulging a bit in theatrics. It’s just that the diamond I am reasonably certain you have stolen has a certain personal significance to me, and I would like to see it returned to its rightful place.”

    The second robber fished something out of his pocket and tossed it to the Phantom. “If you want it so bad, then have it. Arceus man, just let us go. We were only following the boss’s orders. We never wanted to hurt anybody!”

    The Phantom caught the bag out of the air and weighed it in his palm. “I wish I could believe you, but the fact remains that you are guilty of breaking and entering the Geological Society, and I cannot let you escape without punish—”

    The Phantom was cut off by an explosion several streets away.

    “Well gentlemen, it seems this is your lucky night. However, I can’t allow ruffians like you to menace Greenpoint without consequences, so…” He clapped his hands and most of his ghosts dispersed, vanishing back into the shadows they had sprung from. “Cornelius, Erasmus, ensure these ruffians stay put, and Brahms, see to it that the gentlemen of the Eighth are informed of their new wards.” A solitary Ghastly shot off into the night while two Haunter descended on the terrified robbers and quickly immobilized them. When they had been dealt with, the Phantom turned on his heel to face his Dusknoir. The opera cape he wore flared out around his legs in a way he thought was suitably impressive and dramatic. “Now then Gregor, shall we?”

    The Dusknoir enveloped him again, and when the Phantom emerged from the disorienting darkness, he found himself several streets over. Someone crowed with raucous laughter and gunned a motorcycle engine. A group of young men on motor bikes tore around a corner, whooping and shouting. They carried bottles filled with oil and topped with burning rags. They hurled the fiery cocktails indiscriminately through windows, reveling in the chaos they created.

    “Wrath,” the Phantom spat. Of all of Clarus City’s Sins, Wrath was the one he detested most. The anarchist and his gang sowed strife everywhere they went, and Sloth made no effort to rein them in until their antics threatened his own interests. As far as the Phantom was concerned, Wrath was nothing more than a rabid animal with a long leash, and rabid animals needed to be put down.

    This time, Wrath’s minions had targeted the old City Hall, blowing out the southwestern wing of the stately, centuries-old building. The Phantom had no idea what their aim was, if they even had one, but a desecration of an illustrious symbol of Greenpoint’s past couldn’t go unpunished. However, even with his army of ghosts, he didn’t fancy his odds against a band of bloodthirsty anarchists. But someone had to slow them down until the police could catch up to them. The Phantom spread his arms wide and beckoned to the shadows. “Chase them down.” Clouds of his ghost types poured from the darkness and took the air, shrieking and howling as they tore off after the motorcycles. “Titus,” the Phantom said. “To me.”

    A truly massive Haunter swooped down and wrapped one of the Phantom’s arms in each ghostly claw before rising back up into the air again. As he was buoyed aloft by Titus, the Phantom saw Gregor blur back into the shadows below. Titus soared above the wide boulevard, his breath icy on the back of the Phantom’s neck. Gregor’s shadow transportation was undoubtedly useful, but when giving pursuit, it was better to fly, especially when the quarry was driving as erratically as the anarchists.

    When Titus caught up to his ghostly brethren, the Phantom allowed himself a brief smirk of satisfaction at the sheer panic his ghosts had instilled. The fleeing anarchists were firing madly at the ghost types, but their bullets mostly passed through their gaseous bodies. Those that had more solid corporeal forms knew well enough to hold back. Titus put on a burst of speed to get out ahead of the motorcycles and lightly deposited the Phantom on the street in front of them. Gregor was instantly at his side, broadcasting his spectral hum.

    When the lead motorcyclist showed no signs of slowing down as he approached, Gregor fired a shadowy orb from the palm of his left hand. It struck the front wheel of the bike and launched the driver through the air. The rest of his ghosts descended on the cyclists in a screaming mass, knocking them from their bikes. When the ghost army rose back up into the air, the Phantom swept forward. “I see you’re not laughing anymore. Good. I assume I have your attention?”

    "You bastard." One of the anarchists stalked towards him, flicking open a switchblade. “No one trashes my bike. I’m going to gut you, nice and slow. Punks like you ought to know better than to mess with Wrath!”

    The Phantom sidestepped the first clearly telegraphed blow. “Am I speaking to the man himself?”

    “The one and only!” He angrily hurled a pokeball at his feet, and a red and black form burst from the capsule. The Incineroar pounced at the Phantom, only to receive Gregor’s fist in its gut. The Phantom quickly drew the concealed blade from his cane and spun to meet Wrath’s neck attack. The anarchist’s hair was in wild disarray, and his faded jacket was more patches than leather. It was, in the Phantom’s studied opinion, an entirely tacky and clichéd look.

    His ghosts kept Wrath’s minions pinned down even as they too summoned their pokemon allies. Gregor and the Incineroar battled back and forth, seemingly in a stalemate. Both Wrath and his pokemon shared an erratic, hard-to-predict fighting style that kept Gregor and the Phantom on the defensive, though it was rough, unschooled and lent itself to over-commitment, making it easy to take advantage of.

    “I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” the Phantom snarled as he and Wrath traded blows. “I’m going to put you down, once and for all.”

    Wrath scoffed as he parried the Phantom’s strike and drove a knee into the young man’s chest. “You know how many times I’ve heard that tune? Anyone who stands up to Wrath gets beaten down.”

    “I’m not just anyone.” The Phantom feinted and managed to drive the point of his blade into Wrath’s gut, drawing a gout of blood. He grinned and pressed his assault even as Wrath howled in pain and rage.

    “I’ll make you pay for that, you little punk! No one stands up to Wrath!”

    "I heard you the first time." The Phantom struck again, this time drawing a scratch along Wrath’s cheek. “When you only pick on those weaker than you, it has a way of inflating your own self-importance. And now, all your debts are coming due.” Though Wrath was unquestionably the stronger of the two, the Phantom’s cane-sword had a far longer reach, and he was pressing his advantage. “I’m going to make you pay in blood for everything you’ve taken from Clarus City. For everything you’ve taken from me!”

    “Bold talk,” Wrath hissed. “But can you back it up, kid?” The Phantom drove his blade into the meat of Wrath’s thigh, making the anarchist stagger.

    “All that and more, you pathetic bottom feeder.” He flicked the blood from his blade and engaged again. The Phantom caught Wrath’s knife on the hilt of his blade and held him there, their faces mere inches from each other. “For five years, I’ve been waiting for a shot at you. Five years ago, you took my parents from me.”

    Wrath managed to contort his grimace of pain into a smirk. “I’ve killed a lot of parents. You’re going to have to be a bit more specific.”

    The Phantom let his fury boil over, and he rained a series of blows on Wrath, driving the man back. Wrath stumbled over a loose paving stone, and the Phantom saw his opportunity to knock the knife from the anarchist’s hand. It clattered away across the ground, and the Phantom forced Wrath to his knees. He raised his blade, knowing exactly what he had to do.

    The Phantom, like almost every other hero in Clarus City, adhered to a strict, unspoken code that they were not to kill their adversaries, no matter how heinous the crime. They were always to bring them to justice, and allow the legal system to do its work. Occasionally, the Gunslinger or the Hammer or even Blaziken Man would go too far, but those deaths was always explicitly accidental. As far as the Phantom knew, only the Ronin openly flaunted the code, and the Ronin was barely considered a hero anyway.

    But now that he had Wrath before him, utterly within his power, he understood why the Ronin did what he did. Some men would only find justice in death, and if he was chosen by fate to become the instrument that delivered it, then so be it. After everything Wrath had done, the sentence was clear. The Phantom would be judge, jury, and executioner. No one mourned a rabid beast.

    Just as he was about to bring the blade down on Wrath’s throat, a triumphant howl split the air, shattering the Phantom’s concentration. The Incineroar managed to land a solid hit on Gregor, making the Dusknoir’s usual hum change into a protracted moan. At that moment, Wrath snarled a nearly unintelligible curse and drew a pistol from beneath his jacket. At this range, there would be no way for the Phantom to avoid a direct hit.

    Before Wrath could pull the trigger, the Phantom heard a high-pitched shriek, and then Wrath was sprawled on the ground several feet away, seemingly hit by an invisible force. Another shriek, and the Incineroar was likewise sent tumbling. The Phantom’s eyes widened as he realized what had happened, and an instant later Gregor had blurred and reappeared at his trainer’s side, his humming growing louder in preparation of what was about to happen next.

    The Phantom’s ghostly legion scattered as a loud reverberating chord shook every window up and down the street. The anarchists clapped their hands over their ears as the auditory assault continued. The chords were loud enough to almost have a physical force, keeping Wrath and his band of terrorists pinned down beneath a wall of pure sound. He saw blood leaking between the fingers of several of the vandals, their eardrums bursting from the pressure. The Phantom wasn’t sure entirely how, but the frequency Gregor broadcasted at seemed to give him some kind of immunity, which certainly made collaboration with the other Greenpoint hero a great deal easier.

    He wasn’t sure where Echo and her pokemon allies were exactly, but they had to be very close by to have this kind of effect. He owed her one. Another one.

    The anarchists writhed as Echo continued to play a cacophony of heavy guitar chords from her concealed location, and soon the Phantom saw the flashing red and blue lights of police sirens. The overpowering sound died out when the officers arrived, and Gregor subsided to his usual quiet hum. The police quickly apprehended the prone anarchists and began dragging them to their feet and into the waiting transport.

    Captain Ito of the Sixth Precinct nodded to the Phantom when she arrived. “I got the present you left my boys at the Geological Society,” she grumbled. “You’re like my wife’s Glameow, you know. Always leaving little ‘presents’ on the doorstep.”

    “Just doing my part,” the Phantom replied. Though he was still shaken from his bout with Wrath, he was doing his best not to show it. A hero was always composed, not a hair out of place. He reached into the pocket of his waistcoat and drew out the small black bag he had taken from the robbers. He tipped the contents into his palm and held it up to the light. The fist-sized, multifaceted blue diamond glittered in the street lights. He held it out to Captain Ito. “They were after the Harcourt Diamond. In all the confusion, I didn’t have a chance to put it back. Could you return it for me?”

    Ito took it and held it up to the light. “Nice rock.”

    “A little too gaudy for my taste.”

    The captain glanced down at his tuxedo and quirked an eyebrow up. “Right. The last thing you’d want to be is gaudy, huh?” She put the diamond in an evidence bag and handed it off. “You seen Echo yet?”

    “Afraid not, but I owe her my thanks. Had she not shown up when she did, things might have ended unpleasantly.”

    “Right,” Ito said again. This time, there was no sarcasm, only a tacit admission of fact. The Phantom wasn't sure if he ought to be offended or not.

    Moments later, a young woman in a black bodysuit trudged through the crowd of police officers, a red electric guitar slung over her shoulders. An Exploud and a Loudred bounded along beside her, and when he looked up, the Phantom could just make out her Noivern swooping and diving against the night sky. When she saw Captain Ito and the Phantom, she straightened, tapped her heels together and gave a brisk salute.

    The police captain smiled a bit at that, and inclined her head to Echo. “Damn fine work.” She turned to the Phantom. “That goes for both of you. But we’ll take it from here.”

    Echo simply nodded, and after a hesitation he hoped was imperceptible, the Phantom did too. Better that the decision was out of his hands. He and Echo stood off to one side as the police loaded the anarchists into an armored transport. After standing in silence for just long enough for it to be uncomfortable, the Phantom turned to her. “Thank you. You saved me again. You have my gratitude.”

    Echo jumped, clearly startled out of some kind of reverie. “Oh,” she replied. “Uh, n-no worries, F-F-Fancypants. I-It’s wh-what we do. H-Heroes and wh-whatever.”

    “I suppose you’re right. Still, I won’t forget this. I’ll find a way to make it up to you someday.” No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t understand Echo. Any time they had found a brief moment to exchange words after a conflict, she had responded only in short, clipped sentences. Shyness was one thing, but it seemed entirely paradoxical that someone who’s method of fighting relied entirely on sound, even going so far as to weaponize her own voice, to be utterly taciturn.

    Echo used the natural amplification abilities of her Loudred and Exploud to boost the resonance of her guitar and voice to make criminals yield, holding them in place until the police could arrive. It had proven effective, but there was no way to prevent collateral damage to bystanders. Still, she was good at what she did, and the Phantom had worked together with her on several previous occasions. They weren’t formally partners, and didn’t coordinate their efforts, they just happened to wind up at the same crime scenes. Greenpoint wasn’t such a large borough, really.

    Just as the police were about to load Wrath into the transport, there was a loud whoosh, and the Phantom found himself robbed of the ability to see. Judging from the high-pitched tone of alarm Gregor was broadcasting, he was not the only one. An impenetrable field of darkness had descended over the street, and the policemen were shouting to each other, trying to reorganize. The Phantom heard Echo unsling the guitar from her back and strum a few experimental chords, though without the amplification of her Exploud partner. The darkness was so absolute, the Phantom could not even see the faint spectral light of his ghostly legion not twenty feet away.

    As quickly as it descended, the darkness disappeared, leaving everyone disoriented and blinking in the glare of the streetlights. A moment later, there was an alarmed shout, and the police all went for their radios. The Phantom swept over to Captain Ito. “What’s going on? What just happened?”

    The captain shook her head. “Wrath is gone. Someone sprung him.”

    “S-Sounds like Lust,” Echo said. “He’s s-s-slipped past me w-with Night Shade before.”

    “Him and that damned Xatu,” Ito growled. “Well, safe to say that the Sins came to collect their own, but they left the rest of his thugs behind. We’ll see if we can get some kind of confession out of them. You kids hit the showers, we’ll take it from here.”

    “Are you sure?” the Phantom said. “He can’t have gone far, even if he was teleported away. We could canvass the city and—”

    “Look, you do good work. But leave this to us. Head home for the night.”

    The Phantom wanted to protest, but he felt Gregor’s hand on his shoulder, cold and heavy. This was a battle he wasn’t going to win. As much as he hated that Wrath had gotten away, a small part of him felt a glow of satisfaction. It meant the bastard was still out there somewhere, and he would have a chance to take him down again. The Phantom gave Captain Ito and Echo each a curt nod. “Until next time, then.”

    After he dismissed his ghost types for their nightly prowl, Gregor drew him into his body, and the Phantom once again was overcome with acute vertigo as they traveled back through the shadows.

    They emerged in a dark, tastefully decorated room, the curtains covering the floor-to-ceiling windows billowing from the slight breeze of their entrance. The Phantom shrugged off his cape and hung it on a carved mahogany coat rack before sinking into an antique leather armchair with a groan. Now that the adrenaline was seeping away, he was starting to become aware of just how sore he was. Wrath had done a number on him.

    He felt something warm near his face, and he waved his hand in the air before his eyes. His Chandelure drifted up higher, suffusing his father’s study (even after all these years, he still wasn’t comfortable thinking of it as his own) with an ethereal glow. He reached over to side table and picked up a crystal decanter of brandy and a highball glass. He poured himself a generous drink and savored the liquor as it traveled down his throat.

    Gregor’s eye dimmed as the Dusknoir went into a dormant state that passed for sleep. Through the windows, the Phantom could see his ghost types starting to return to the manor grounds, small shadows flitting through the moonlight and passing between the trees. He placed his glass down on the table beside him and ran a fingertip through the layer of dust that had accumulated there. Perhaps it was time he hired back the servants. The mansion had been empty for years now, except for the ghosts.

    He took off his mask and sighed. To bring back the servants would mean explaining his comings and goings, and that was something he was loath to do. He had enjoyed his free reign up to this point, but at least to the outside world, the end of his mourning period was long overdue. He was sure people were beginning to talk.

    The Harcourt mansion had once been famous for its opulent galas, the place to be for anyone who was anyone in Clarus City to be seen. But since the night his parents died, the mansion had been dark and silent. Edgar Harcourt had not been able to face the public, simpering with concern for his lost parents. Instead, he had withdrawn from public life, and as far as anyone knew, he had not left the manor grounds for years.

    Well, at the very least, he had not left the manor as Edgar Harcourt.

    Edgar poured himself another brandy, drinking more slowly this time. Something about this latest attack didn’t seem right to him. The Sins had been acting erratically lately, striking in broad daylight, hitting targets with no clear value to them. There was a pattern, he was sure, he just could not for the life of him figure out what. Arceus knew he had tried, going so far as to set up a corkboard with little bits of red string connecting things, like a conspiracy nut. But even that had not made the picture any clearer.

    It did him no good to dwell on it now, especially since he wanted nothing more than to drink himself into a comfortable stupor. It was a problem for daylight hours, but nonetheless, it was a problem he was determined to solve. He needed to stay one step ahead of the Sins if he was going to bring them down and have his revenge.
  7. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    Well, I was gonna say the titular character is my favorite, but who can resist a good ol' fashioned dapper anime crime-fighting gentleman? :V

    No, but really, I could say a whole lotta things about this fic so far. I mean, who could argue with a superhero fic set in the pokémon world, complete with hella creative ways to use pokémon? (Echo, you are a girl after my own heart.) Actually, before I get into the meat of this review, can I just say I'm really intrigued by the fight scenes? They're descriptive, for sure, and it's true that the heroes give their pokémon orders (some more than others, such as Alex), but it's interesting to see how much of a far cry each fight is from, say, a trainer's battle. Part of it is, of course, the creativity. (For example, Echo using her loudred and exploud to power herself up, Phantom using his ghosts to move about, and so forth.) But also, it's the independence each pokémon has, which in turn allows the story's focus to settle on either the human characters or the actions themselves. For example, Hawlucha Man and Hierro's battle against Giordano and Blastoise has them working side by side, which not only highlights their relationship but allows Hierro's moves to stand on their own. He doesn't need to have his techniques broadcasted, and as such, the choreography of that scene feels very kung fu action film-ish, what with this martial arts master landing flying kicks and somersaulting through the air and all kinds of other fun things.

    By contrast, you have the Phantom's battle with Wrath. There's all this action going on in the background, but the main focus is on Phantom's quasi-sword fight with Wrath himself. So we don't see Wrath's incineroar gearing up to strike Phantom's dusknoir, but we do get a lot of lovely character building and banter about/from honestly the most fabulous member of the cast so far. (Sorry, Volcarona Mask.)

    On that note, really, what makes this fic so interesting isn't so much its setting or its battles (although those are excellent as well) as it is its characters. It's quite obvious that you put a lot of thought into each one. Even if some of them are supposed to be hella campy (Wrath, I'm looking at you), they're still creative and fun enough to enjoy watching. Like ... stuttering rocker superhero? Dapper anime gentleman hero? Evil Zarya? Captain America **** YEAH? All excellent.

    But one person I'm still not sure about is Alex. On the one hand, let me gush for a second. I love his concept. He's very Peter Parker: a dork who constantly faces the struggle of balancing his civilian life with his superhero life. He's sarcastic, he feels under-appreciated, and he is stubbornly justice-minded, even if he has moments of near weakness now and then. (Like that moment he has where Shadow offers him cash. I mean, I can't honestly blame him. He's an engineering student. Dude's got student loans to pay and a cupboard full of ramen, most likely.) Not to mention he's hilariously awkward at times. Like the handcuff bit. Just sayin'.

    But at the same time, I almost want to see more of his background and motivation. In the first few chapters, all we really get to see is his opinion on other superheroes and what it means to be one, but we don't actually know why he wants to be one. Likewise, we don't really know much about him besides the fact that he's an engineering student, he lives in apartment with a rather nosy landlady, he's hi-I'm-a-student levels of poor, and he's a superhero alongside his best bro Hierro. For someone who's the titular character, I dunno. That kinda seems odd to me. Not to mention it's occasionally difficult to get into his mindset, which is why the conversation with Pierre seemed a little off. (Considering how he'd beat criminals up in other chapters without another thought, it's odd that he chose this moment not to have that be his first option. I mean, sure, he'd want to be smart about it, but the lead-up to that part was a description of the scene and Hawlucha Man's argument with the police, not so much analysis of the situation.)

    But! On the other other hand, I feel like eventually, we're going to get this guy's origin story. I mean, every good hero has an origin story, right?

    Long story short, uncertainty about Alex aside, this was a fun little romp, and I'm certainly looking forward to what other adventures our heroes get up to. Especially anime gentleman.
  8. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 6

    Though he would never admit it, Alex’s side still ached from a blow he had taken the night before. His suit had managed to cushion the impact, but not enough to avoid leaving a nasty bruise. Well, when you were a freelance superhero, bruises came with the territory. As tempting as it was to take a night off to patch himself up, he couldn’t let himself slack off after every fight where he got banged up, especially not after Wrath’s anarchists had blown up the old City Hall in Greenpoint. The whole city was on edge, and crime was only on the rise. The major criminal factions were all consolidating their forces for something or other, and the minor elements, the garden variety muggers and thieves, were picking up on the tension in the air and picking up the scraps. The police force was doing everything it could to keep the rise in crime under control while still trying to get to the bottom of what the Sins were up to, but it was starting to strain their resources. The last time Alex had seen Captain Anderson, it looked like he hadn’t slept in days.

    And so Avenbrooke’s friendly neighborhood Hawlucha Man was doing everything he could to help.

    Two nights ago, he had helped Detective Reyes and Sergeant Hinako Matsuri chase down some chemists from a notorious opiate ring that Reyes had been building a case against for months. When he had tackled the last man, he had screamed that Gluttony would make them pay for this, that it wouldn’t be long before the whole city was paying tribute to the Sins, and the police would wish they had turned tail and ran when they had the chance. Matsuri dismissed it as the usual crap, but something about the way the man said it made Alex uneasy. Normally when criminals talked about their connections to the Sins, it was all bluster and braggadocio to affirm their status in the underworld.

    But this man had sounded terrified.

    He and Hierro soared from rooftop to rooftop, listening for the sounds of breaking glass or sirens. Instead, they heard a scream. Alex slid to a stop, quickly calculated the best route to the direction of the sound, and took off at a sprint. When he reached the edge of the roof, he spread his arms wide, letting the wingsuit catch the night air and carry him along. It didn’t take them long to reach where Alex determined the scream came from, and they saw a woman running out from an alley, nearly tripping in her haste to get away.

    She had rounded the corner and vanished before Alex could land, but he heard a man in the darkness pleading. “No, please, Arceus no, you can’t do this, please…”

    “Stop right there,” Alex called as he and Hierro stepped forward.

    A snarling mass of fur jumped from the darkness and barred their path. The streetlights made the shells on its legs and head gleam, and a low growl reverberated deep in its chest. Hierro’s feathers puffed up as he stared down the Samurott, slowly flexing his talons. “Just keep moving, kid,” someone said from the darkness. “This doesn’t concern you.” There was a thud and the sound of scrapping metal. Then came the sound of a boot striking flesh, and a man fell out of the shadows, blood streaming from his nose. The assailant in the darkness drove a booted foot into his chest, and Alex saw the light catch for just an instant on the broadsword the man carried. He stepped out of the darkness and pointed the blade at the sniveling man. “This one’s mine. No one’s going to miss this piece of garbage.”

    “Ronin,” Alex said. “I don’t know what this man’s done. But this isn’t how we do things. There’s a system. It will see justice is done.”

    “This isn’t how you do things,” the vigilante snapped. His silver-gray hair was tied back in a severe ponytail, and he idly swiped at a strand that had come loose. “But we play by different rules, you and I.” The Ronin pointed with his free hand at the man cowering at his feet. “You want to know what this bastard’s done? He’s a rapist and a murderer. He’s worse than scum. Take a good look. He was in the papers.” Alex looked past the blood and grime and tears and realized he did vaguely recall the face. The trial had been widely publicized, and there had been a public outcry when he had been released due to a lack of evidence. “He got himself off on a damn technicality,” the Ronin snarled. “How’s that for your precious system? Now he’s back on the streets and preying on the weak again.” He lifted his sword. “So I’m going with a more permanent solution.”

    “You can’t just make yourself the judge, jury and executioner.”

    “I rather think I can,” the Ronin growled. When Alex tried to stop him, the swordsman shook his head. “Muramasa, keep them out of my way.” He picked the prone man up by the collar of his shirt. “Do you contest the charges?” The man was too terrified to say anything. The Ronin shoved him against the wall. “Say it! Do you contest the charges?”

    Finally, the man found his voice. “No, I… I confess. I did it. Please, let me turn myself in. I’ll confess to the police, I swear.”

    The Samurott had tackled Alex and forced him against the far wall of the alley, trapping him with its bulk. Hierro screamed and lunged at the water type, only to be sent sprawling when the Samurott struck him with a torrent of water. Alex struggled to escape the press of fur and muscle. “See, he confessed! We can take him to the Eleventh! Don’t do this!

    “It’s too late for that. He had his chance. Now he’ll face justice.” The Ronin threw the man to the ground again. “I’ll give you a moment to pray.”

    “Please, no. Please don’t do this!”

    “Pathetic,” the Ronin spat. He hauled the man up by his elbow and then forced him to his knees. And then, with no further ceremony, he raised his sword and cut the man’s head from his shoulders.

    “No!” Alex screamed as the Samurott released him. “Murderer!”

    The Ronin pulled a rag from his belt and wiped the blood from his blade. “We’re on the same side of this fight, Hawlucha Man. Spare your tears for this man’s victims. No one’s going to mourn him.”

    “You’re a monster.”

    The Ronin shrugged. “You aren’t wrong. But at least I’m on your side.” He prodded the corpse at his feet with the toe of his boot. “More than you could say for this sick son of a *****.” He sighed and returned his blade to its scabbard. “I don’t want you getting the wrong idea here, Hawlucha Man. I’ve seen the work you do. Hell, I can find it in myself admire you a bit. But I think you’re hopelessly naïve.” The Ronin’s Samurott padded over to him, and the swordsman scratched it under its chin. “We’re heroes for a reason, aren’t we? You took up this business because you saw people getting hurt. Criminals were getting away with things that the police were powerless to stop. They knew how to exploit the laws and get off, so the city needed people to operate outside the law to bring them to justice.”


    “But all that doesn’t mean a damned thing if you just turn them back over to the law. They know how to squirm out of that. For people like the Sins, the Baron, the Kuromori, the only way to deal with them,” the Ronin patted the sword at his hip, “is to put them down for good.”

    “I have to believe that there’s another way,” Alex said, his eyes still fixed on the dead man. “I have to have faith that the law knows better than I do. If I take that power into my own hands, how am I any better than the people I’m fighting?”

    “Well that’s just stupid,” the Ronin scoffed. “So long as you’re only using your power to hurt people who have hurt others, then you’re just balancing the scales.”

    “That’s a slippery slope.”

    The Ronin scoffed. “The hell it is. Like I said, you’re young and naïve. But someday soon, you’re going to have to make the hard call, or you’re going to get hurt.” His face softened, and for just a moment, he looked like nothing more than a tired old man. “Listen, Hawlucha Man. You must have seen it too. The Sins are planning something. A heist at First Clarus in broad daylight, the old City Hall, Sloth himself at the Industrial Trust… that bastard is moving pieces around the board, and we can’t see what he’s planning. If you aren’t ready to do what has to be done, then maybe it’s best you keep your head down and stay out of the way.”

    “I’m not running from this. I made my choice. I swore an oath to protect this city.”

    “How noble,” the Ronin drawled. “Young and damned foolish, but noble. I used to be like you once. A long time ago.”

    Alex couldn’t stop himself from asking. “What happened?”

    “I went to war.” The Ronin looked straight at him, but Alex got the sense that he was looking through him, at something far away. “I did things, overseas. Things a lot worse than this. It was decades ago, but I’m still trying to atone for it.” His focus snapped back. “I may be a monster. But sometimes, a monster is just what this city needs.” The Ronin palmed a pokeball, and his Samurott vanished in a flash of red light. “Call the police if you want. They’ll find the body soon enough either way.” He brushed past Hawlucha Man and straddled a motorcycle parked on the street. He gunned the engine once. “I’m sure we’ll run into each other again.” And with that, the bike roared to life, and the Ronin shot off up the street.

    Alex slumped against the wall and tried to take a deep breath, but the scent of blood and death filled his nostrils. He gestured to Hierro and the two of them crossed the street. Alex dug his cell phone out of a small pouch on his belt and dialed the emergency dispatch. “I… I need to report a homicide.” The dispatcher on the other end of the line took down Alex’s location with a professionalism that bordered on outright coldness, and informed him that the police would be on their way.

    Alex hung up and climbed a low-hanging fire escape to a nearby rooftop. He waited until he heard sirens in the distance before soaring over several streets to a rooftop he had found about a month earlier with a good view of the Concord Bridge and the Umber River. When he alighted on the gravel rooftop he pounded his fist against his leg in frustration. Hierro landed behind him and made an inquisitive chipping deep in his throat. Alex shook his head for a moment as he clenched and unclenched his fist.

    Finally, he turned to face his partner. “What if he’s right? What if I’m not cut out for this?”

    Hierro blinked, turned his head to the side, and shrugged. The chirps turned into a more drawn out coo.

    Alex sighed and kicked idly at the gravel. “It’s not me I’m worried about. But what if I do have to make that call and I can’t? What if I wind up hurting more people if I can’t bring myself to kill someone?” He shook his head. “I hate that the more I think about it, the more the Ronin makes sense. I am doing this because the system lets people slip through and get away with awful crimes. But the laws exist for a reason, don’t they? If I start playing by my own rules, then I’m doing exactly what Sloth and the other Sins have done. They think they’re above the system. But they’re not, and we have to show them that. We have to do it by the book… even if the book gets it wrong sometimes.”

    Hierro nodded, bobbing with most of his torso.

    “But I suppose when I think about it, I’m not doing this for justice,” Alex continued. “Blaziken Man and Volcarona Mask are, and so is the Ronin, but I think all of them have different ideas about what justice actually is. They’re doing what they do to stop people from getting hurt. And I guess when you look at it one way, I’m doing the same thing. But I think what matters more to me is helping the people who need it.” He sighed again. “Maybe it’s all just semantics and I’m tripping myself up with mental gymnastics. Maybe I’m just deluding myself and I’m really just doing this because it’s a rush and I’m getting addicted to it. I don’t know.” He turned to Hierro. “What do you think?”

    Hierro seemed to consider this for a moment, and finally he extended his right claw towards Alex. He glanced up at his trainer and then down at the claw, obviously intending Alex to take it. When he did, Hierro led him to the edge of the rooftop and make a quick, all-encompassing gesture with his left claw before extracting his right claw from Alex’s grasp and placing it over his heart. “You love this city? Is that it?” Hierro nodded and pointed at Alex again. If his partner hadn’t had a beak, he could have sworn that Hierro was smirking. “Yeah, I love this city too. And that’s worth fighting for.” He reached down and smoothed Hierro’s feathers. “Thanks, buddy.”

    They stood watching the distant glow of taillights crossing the Concord Bridge, the lights on the suspension cable reflected in the dark water below.

    Down on the street, a pane of glass shattered and someone screamed. Alex shook himself and Hierro’s feathers puffed up. Hawlucha Man spread the arms of his wingsuit and took several steps back from the ledge to get a proper running start. “Break time’s over, partner. We have a city to protect.”
  9. bobandbill

    bobandbill Winning Smile Staff Member Super Mod

    Disclaimer - only read the first three chapters thus far. I'll be reading more though. =)

    I've enjoyed this take on Pokemon and superhero tales thus far. Nice balance of action and world-building, especially between chapter 1 and 2 where we got some more insight into Alex's background as a student. 'd like to see more of that. I do get a bit of a Peter Parker vibe of him thus far; not a bad thing, but an observation at any rate. Hawlucha is a great choice to go for with this btw - love that Pokemon so I'm certainly enjoying seeing it in fic. =)

    Is the Blaziken superhero related to the one that shows up in the anime...? I know little about it beyond that there is such a guy who has his Mega evolve.
    Couple things noticed in the first chapter:
    Comma before 'partner' here (you did this in other cases like 'buddy' in the same scene).
    Double 'that'.
    it's crazy.

    Neat premise, looking forward to more. Keep it up!
  10. JX Valentine

    JX Valentine Ever-Discordant

    Y'know, when you described the Ronin to me, for some reason, I didn't imagine him to be quite as talkative. Granted, that's not a bad thing, exactly. In fact, the way he came out is rather interesting because he's talkative. So rather than this stoic but ultraviolent samurai that I had been picturing, he's overdramatic and prone to self-righteousness. Like ... that entire "trial" bit? That was over-the-top and slightly cheesy, but it makes sense for someone who's seen some serious shiz. And either way, it was just entertaining to watch.

    I mean, there were some awkward bits there (like the bit about how the dude was a rapist who walked could've probably been integrated a bit better, as not only was that summarized in basically two sentences, but also, I sorta feel like the Ronin stopping to ask Hawlucha Man if he understood what the guy did broke his dramatic stride somehow), and I do feel like Hawlucha Man's self-reflective speech at the end there felt like it was summarizing how he was feeling more than letting us see how he reacts to how he feels. But still, I feel like the Ronin's introduction is a great way to establish the other end of the spectrum from, say, Volcarona Mask, Echo, and Captain Make Unova Great Again. This could be a nice jumping-off point for a thorough discussion as to the relationship between law and morality (which I know is your intent, but still), and it should be interesting to see how down the rabbit hole Hawlucha Man goes from here.


    Hierro is an adorable cinnamon roll and all around Good Boy. That is all.

    (Actually, I kinda would like to see more of the pokémon here. I feel like so many of them have their own unique personalities, including and especially Hierro, but they're often sidekicks to the humans in more ways than one. Which for the most part is pretty cool, but in Hierro's case, he's totally Alex's BFF, so it'd be cool to see more of the adorable super-birb.)
  11. The Teller

    The Teller King of Half-Truths

    Don't worry! I'm still reading all the chapters and working on my own chapter, albeit very slowly. I still plan on writing at least a few more.

    Gotta agree with JX Valentine here. I didn't expect the Ronin to be so...talkative.

    Wait...is the war Ronin was a part of the same war Lt. Surge was part of? Were they roommates?! *enables first cross-ship*

    Overall, I've really been enjoying the world you're building for us, and I hope I do a good enough rendition whenever I get my lazy bum off the bed and type something down.
  12. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 7

    Reyes glanced up as a shape eclipsed the streetlight above the small parking lot. “Right on time,” the detective said, feeding the Noctowl on his shoulder another piece of the poppy seed bagel he was picking apart in his hand. Hawlucha Man landed with a grunt and jogged over to where the police cruiser was parked.

    “You got the stuff?” Hawlucha Man asked. Reyes picked up a small brown paper bag from the hood of thand shook it.

    “Same as usual. Maple frosted donut for you, sesame seed bagel for your partner.”

    Sweet.” Hawlucha Man rummaged around in the bag and held out the toasted bagel to Hierro. The flying type snatched it and began to nibble away. Hawlucha Man took a bite of his donut. “Sergeant Matsuri not here yet?”

    Reyes gestured at the all-night donut shop with his chin. “She had to pee.” He scratched his Noctowl’s feathers. “Man, I can’t believe it’s collection night again. Seems like it just happened.”

    Every month in Avenbrooke, the Baron sent his men around to collect tribute from the local business and landlords. The police had done everything in their power to shut down the extortion, but the Baron was savvy enough to have his accountants and lawyers set the whole enterprise up in a way that was entirely legal and, to the surprise of many, entirely tax deductible. The Baron’s men would go and obtain a “voluntary donation” to the Avenbrooke Community Fund, the charity and shell company that the Baron had established to take the “donations”. The Fund acted as a perverse sort of insurance that the Baron would dip into to reimburse any business or residence that had been damaged in an operation by one of the other organized crime factions in Clarus City. Though the people of Avenbrooke hated the Baron shaking them down every month, they also weren’t fond of the idea of one of Wrath’s firebombs going out of control and taking a whole neighborhood with it, so they mostly paid up.

    And because every carrot needed a good stick, those that didn’t pay tended to wake up one morning and find their home or place of business had been struck by some sort of terrible accident. Holdouts on collection night generally didn’t hold out for very long.

    Nearly a decade ago, when the Baron had first started collecting, the police had tried to crack down on the Baron’s enterprise and stop the whole thing. The Baron had fielded his entire private army of thugs and enforcers against the police force in one of the most infamous nights of violence in Clarus City’s history, second only to Sloth’s vicious and bloody coup several years later. When the members of the Eleventh who were not comatose or worse arrived at the precinct the next morning, bruised and bleeding, they were greeted in the foyer by Bruce Giordano and Carlo Pirozzi, the latter of whom cheerfully informed them that what he was doing was entirely within the letter of the law and that he had the documentation to prove it.

    When they had tried to arrest him for his role in the previous night’s riots, it came to light that the rioters had taken their orders from a byzantine array of lieutenants and section bosses, and financed through an equally thorny tangle of shell companies. There was no way to conclusively tie them back to the Baron, or even substantial evidence to prove that the Baron had been involved in the riots at all. Of course, none of the men they brought in would testify against him.

    And so they had been forced to let the Baron walk free.

    Now the Avenbrooke police deployed en masse on collection night, but only to step in if things got out of hand. An uneasy and unspoken truce had been established over the years that should one of the Baron’s men become too overzealous in extracting tribute, the police could apprehend him and the Baron would disavow any association. It usually meant for a quick trip across the harbor to Redstone Prison, and the looming threat of abandonment by their patron and summary incarceration was enough to keep most of the enforcers in line. But the Eleventh knew better than to take that on faith.

    Sergeant Matsuri walked out of the donut shop, her Raichu bounding along after her. “All right boys, up and at ‘em.” She glanced at Hawlucha Man. “You saving that frosting for later or something?” Hawlucha Man grinned sheepishly and wiped at the corners of his mouth. “Anything on the radio?” Matsuri asked Reyes.

    “Nope, but it’s early.” Reyes watched a few feral ghost types pass in front of the moon and sucked at his teeth. “Seems like there’s a lot of new Unovan immigrants around this month. I’m sure they’ve been warned what’s coming, but they aren’t gonna like it.

    Matsuri nodded and folded her arms. “The whole city feels like a powder keg ready to blow. One little spark is all it’s going to take to send the whole thing up in flames.”

    A crackle came over the police radios. The three pokemon all perked up at the sound, and an instant later, Alex caught the garbled voice of a dispatcher. Reyes glanced over at Alex. “Call for backup at Third and Cedar. It’s a bit of a winding route in the car…”

    “But as the Murkrow flies, piece of cake,” Alex said, finishing the thought. “I’ll head over.”

    “We’ll be right behind you,” Matsuri said, swinging into the driver’s side and firing up the sirens.

    Reyes muttered something to the Noctowl on his shoulder, and the bird took off on soundless wings, spiraling up into the night air. “I’m sending Bella with you,” the detective said. “From what we got over the radio, sounds like there are shots fired. If you get there before us, be careful.”

    “Got it.”

    “I’d say don’t be a hero, kid…”

    “But that’s kind of the job description, yeah.” Alex was already sprinting to one of the four fire escapes he had identified around the donut shop. Hierro kicked off the walls of the alley to climb progressively higher while Alex scrambled up the iron steps, the metal clanging under his footfalls. He and his partner sprinted across the rooftop and spread their wings, soaring out over the street. Reyes and Matsuri’s cruiser screamed around a corner, and Reyes’s Noctowl swooped down to fly alongside them. Alex hit the next rooftop running, and in seconds he was airborne again. Hierro caught his eye as they glided, and he saw the Hawlucha’s irises shining in the streetlights flashing along below.

    The rapid report of gunfire greeted them as they touched down on a tenement rooftop on Cedar Avenue. Two pairs of police officers were crouching behind their cars, trading gunfire with a group of the Baron’s enforcers taking cover behind a car of their own in front of a storefront with shattered windows. Alex could see an older couple huddling near the store counter trying to make themselves as small as possible to avoid stray bullets. “You go left,” he said to Hierro. “I’ll go right. Ready?”

    Hierro bobbed up and down in a full-body nod. They stepped back a few paces to get a proper running start before jumping. Alex counted three enforcers, a Machoke, a Tyrunt, and a Magneton. He knew that the advantage of a surprise attack would only last for a second, and he needed to make that second count. Humans and most pokemon that weren’t small prey animals didn’t usually bother to account for an attack coming from above, and that was an advantage Alex and Hierro had continued to press.

    “Listen up assholes!” Alex shouted as his foot connected with one of the enforcers’ noses. The man fell to his knees, clutching his face as blood poured between his fingers. Hierro slammed into the Machoke before executing a backflip and driving his taloned foot into the sternum of the second enforcer. “I’m guessing the cops already gave you a chance to drop your weapons, so I’m skipping right to the part where we kick your asses.” Alex spun his batons and clubbed the Tyrunt across its snout. The rock type gave a stunned yelp while Alex turned and drove the heel of his foot between its eyes. He snapped his leg back and threw out a kick behind him, catching the third enforcer in the groin. When the man bent over with a low moan of pain, Alex whirled around with a roundhouse kick and dropped him.

    Hierro swept the Machoke off its feet before bounding off one of the bullet-riddled cars to deliver a punishing jump kick to finish the hulking fighting type off. Before Hierro could recover, the Magneton began to hum as electricity sparked along its magnetic poles. Alex knew his fists couldn’t deter the steel type, and he had been unable to find a non-conducive metal to make his batons. Anything he did to try to stop the Magneton would have been not only fruitless, but also very likely to seriously injure himself as well. And unlike Hierro, Alex’s body lacked the rapid metabolism that allowed pokemon to recover from severe attacks quickly.

    Just as Alex had braced himself for what was to come, Bella dropped out of the sky with a rush of wind. The gale spun the Magneton around, and the steel type’s eyes rolled as it struggled to reorient itself and charge up again. Before it managed to do so, Hierro had slammed his foot into the center of the cluster before hurling it to the ground. The Magneton buzzed faintly before it went offline. Bella landed on Alex’s shoulder as the Tyrunt struggled back to its feet. The Noctowl’s eyes briefly flashed red, and the rock type fell in heap, knocked unconscious by the Noctowl’s psychic powers.

    Reyes stepped out of the cruiser and held out his arm for Bella. The flying type flapped over to him, and the detective raised an eyebrow. “Matsuri and I got here a minute ago, but you seemed like you had things under control. You earned that donut tonight.”

    Alex reached out to smooth down Hierro’s ruffled feathers and grinned. “Just fighting the good fight.”

    Matsuri and the other officers were helping the shopkeeper and his wife out of the wreckage of their storefront and calling for a paramedic team for what looked like a possible concussion for the man. One of the officers handcuffed the three enforcers and put in a call for the PPS to take care of their downed pokemon. He nodded to Alex. “Nice work, Hawlucha Man. Who knows what they could have done if you hadn’t shown up?”

    The police radio crackled again, and this time Alex was close enough to hear it for himself. “Requesting backup from all available units. Code three-five-nine at Seventh and Whitechapel. Repeat, code three-five-nine at Seventh and Whitechapel.”

    Alex caught Reyes’s eye and nodded, already running for the nearest fire escape. Whitechapel was only a few streets over, and Alex could be there in minutes if he hurried. Three-five-nine meant an esper, and when espers were involved, things tended to get messy.

    As Alex hauled himself up an iron ladder, he shook his head. “I’ve got to get myself a grappling hook or something.” He and Hierro took off over the blocks of the apartment buildings, angling towards Whitechapel. The wind was in their favor, and they quickly made their way over the three city blocks. They ran parallel to the street across the rooftops towards the flashing police sirens.

    Two of the Baron’s men stood before the arched doorway of a rundown brownstone apartment building, glowering at the police. “No one’s getting roughed up here!” one of the enforcers shouted. “Mr. Pirozzi is just conducting some business. No need for this to get ugly.”

    “Yeah!” the second man added. “We don’t want to waste the CCPD’s time, now. I’m sure you got better things to do than harass a local businessman doing some community outreach.” A third floor window shattered outward, and a heavy wooden chair. There was a crunch as it hit the pavement, shattering into jagged spars.

    Alex glanced at his partner. “Looks like we’ve got a way in. I’ll take point.” They soared out over the street, and Alex adjusted his body so that he fell through the broken window feet-first. He rolled across the uneven wooden floor to cushion the impact and came up with his batons in hand. Hierro dropped in behind him, landing nimbly on his feet. Alex heard the click of a gun being cocked, and raised his eyes to see Bruce Giordano pointing a pistol between his eyes.

    “Bad move, Hawlucha Man.”

    Alex signaled for Hierro to stand down, and the Hawlucha complied, though his feathers remained puffed up. Carlo Pirozzi turned around and rolled his eyes. “You really do have the worst timing, don’t you?” He smoothed a crease in his suit jacket. “It would be troublesome to kill you at the moment, but I really can’t have you interfering. Mr. Espalier, I would be willing to overlook your earlier impertinence if you ensure our negotiations continue uninterrupted.”

    Something shifted in the shadows behind the Baron, and an instant later Alex found himself trapped in an invisible box. “No,” he gasped, realizing why the Baron was here. What he had come for. And then, louder, “No! Pierre, whatever he’s told you, do not listen to him!” He hammered his fists against the invisible walls that contained him, and though the walls felt solid beneath his hands, they made no sound. Pierre slunk out of the shadows and spread his hands in an apologetic shrug.

    “I’m sorry, Hawlucha Man. veEry time I listen to you, Mimsy and I get hurt.” He tugged at his tattered stripped shirt. “But Mr. Pirozzi promised to give me a job. I can keep Mimsy safe.”

    “He’s going to exploit you. He wants to use your powers to do bad things!”

    Pierre sighed and turned his head in a slow circle before settling his half-vacant stare back on Hawlucha Man. “I didn’t ask for my powers. I don’t want them in my brain. I just want to have friends, but I can’t because of my stupid powers.”

    “The Baron is not your friend.”

    “I know. But at least he’s honest with me.” A smile tugged at the side of Pierre’s mouth. “I’m going to go with Mr. Pirozzi. Something bad is coming, Hawlucha Man. The whispers in my head have been telling me that for a long time now. I just want to make sure that nothing happens to Mimsy.” Pierre turned to the Baron. “Please don’t hurt him. I know we’re on different sides now, but Hawlucha Man is the closest thing I have to a friend.”

    The Baron and Giordano shared a look. The bodyguard shrugged and cracked his knuckles. “Won’t hurt him anymore than I gotta. That’s all I can promise.”

    “Okay.” Pierre’s melancholy disappeared, replaced by an effervescent bubbliness. “Bye, Hawlucha Man!” Two of the Baron’s men hustled him down a darkened back stair of the apartment. The Baron strode over to where Alex was trapped, the heels of his expensive shoes clicking on the scuffed, uneven wood floor of the apartment.

    “Mr. Espalier, addled though he may be, does have a point, Hawlucha Man.” Carlo Pirozzi adjusted the sleeve of his silk shirt underneath the cuff of his tailored suit jacket. “A storm is coming to Clarus City. When the dust settles, we’ll see the strong separated from the weak. You ought to take care and batten down your hatches.” The Baron shrugged. “Consider this a warning, in the interest of fair play.”

    “Whatever you’re trying to do, I’ll stop you!”

    Pirozzi chuckled. “My boy, I have no intention of doing anything. I am merely heeding my own advice and consolidating my resources. The various other factions at play in the city are more than welcome to tear each other to shreds. I shall wait on the sidelines. Scavenging among the scraps is not glamorous work, though it is profitable.” He turned on his heel and walked over to the darkened doorway Pierre had disappeared through. “When everything hits the fan, as they say in the common parlance, do remember: I did warn you. Mr. Giordano, wrap things up here and report back to me at your earliest convenience. You’ll have to excuse me, but I have a contract to draft up for Mr. Espalier.”

    The sounds of his footfalls vanished down the stairs, and Bruce consulted his expensive wristwatch. “That box is gonna disappear in a minute or two. The boss didn’t really tell me one way or the other, and the mime asked nicely. So I’ll give you a choice. You want to do this the easy way, or the hard way?”

    Alex felt the invisible wall start to give way underneath his hands. It didn’t shatter or crumble, it just began to feel less solid, until finally the sensation of pressing up against something simply faded as though it was never there. Alex’s hands twitched down to the batons on his belt and he saw Hierro bracing himself in his peripheral vision. But before Alex could respond one way or the other, the door to the apartment flew open.

    “Freeze!” Detective Reyes shouted, leading in a team of armored and helmeted response units. "CCPD! Hands where I can see 'em!" A Drapion squeezed its way through the doorframe and clacked its mandibles, awaiting the orders of its trainer within the squadron. Reyes turned his gun on Giordano. “What’s going on here?”

    Giordano held his hands up. “Easy, officers. No need to raise our voices. Hawlucha Man and I were just having a civil discussion. I assume that’s still legal?”

    Reyes flicked his gaze over to Hawlucha Man. “Is that all?”

    Alex nodded. “They weren’t doing anything illegal. Nothing we can pin them with, at least.”

    “The esper?”

    “Pierre Espalier. He’s gone, and the Baron is too.”

    Giordano smiled, pressing his lips together in a thin line. “Now that our fine feathered friend has vouched for my conduct, am I free to go? Or am I being detained?”

    Reyes stepped aside. “Get out.”

    Giordano’s smile widened a nearly imperceptible amount as he sauntered past the riot squad and made his way down the creaking front steps. Once he had reached the street level, Reyes dismissed the armored police as well. When they were gone, he holstered his sidearm and turned back to Alex. “What happened?”

    “The Baron made some kind of offer to Pierre—”

    “Pierre’s the motor mouth mime that keeps breaking out of St. Ambrosius, right?”

    “Yeah. Anyway, he made him some kind of offer and Pierre took it. I don’t know the specifics. I tried to talk him out of it, but…”

    Reyes laid a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “You did everything you could. You can’t win every fight, and you can’t save everyone.”

    “I know, it’s just…” Alex sighed. “This one was personal. I let him down. Pierre went with the Baron because I failed him.”

    “You’ll have another chance. He’s still out there. In the meantime,” Reyes clapped Alex on the back, “you saved a few damn good police officers tonight. You ought to be proud yourself.” The detective grinned. “I’m thinking you might have earned a second donut. I’ll even throw in a cup of coffee.”

    “Well, aren’t you in a giving mood.”

    Reyes laughed and led Alex and Hierro down the stairs of the apartment. Before they walked out into the street, Reyes caught his arm. “All joking aside, you do good work. The Eleventh is lucky to have you.”

    Alex nodded. “Reyes, before the Baron left, he said that a storm was coming to Clarus City. Do the police know anything I don’t?”

    “Ah, hell,” Reyes replied with a shake of his head. “When isn’t this city teetering on the brink? Whatever’s coming, we’ll ride it out, same as we always do.”
  13. bobandbill

    bobandbill Winning Smile Staff Member Super Mod

    And caught up!

    I've continued to enjoy it, and I like how we're slowly moving onto a deeper plot (or the storm). Pierre meanwhile gives me the creeps. Don't envision good things involving that character down the track...

    I really like the other takes on superheroes you've gone with, such as a sound-based guitarist superhero using Pokemon to amp up her skills. That's really great. I also enjoyed Phantom's chapter as it did break up the story nicely. His motivation is maybe a bit cliche (including delivery of the reveal to his nemesis of said motivation) but I can go with it, haha.

    One thing that I've been noticing is a trend to start sentences with the same word every now and again. For example:
    Four sentences in a row here started with 'The'. While sentence length and etc is varied here, it is a bit repetitive. Another example:
    Three in a row here. Just watch out for it and try to mix it up more.

    Another minor thing:

    Keep it up!
  14. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    (A/N: My apologies for the unannounced hiatus while I wrapped up work on the Halvarsaga! Hopefully now that I'm back to juggling two projects instead of three, I can get this back on a slightly normal update schedule. To make things up to you all, this monstrosity of a chapter is the most action-packed yet!)

    Chapter 8

    The commissary buzzed with conversation as Alex loaded up a lunch tray and scanned the room for an empty spot to bolt down a quick meal before his next lab. He was reaching for an apple when the large television screens in the dining hall all flashed to an emergency broadcast signal. Someone lunged for the AV controls and turned up the volume. A female news anchor appeared on the screen, looking slightly panicked.

    “Attention, citizens of Clarus City. By order of the CCPD, a lockdown is now in effect. Midtown Clarus City has been targeted in a terrorist attack by Marcus Braun and his associates. Citizens are advised to stay in a secure location. The police are mobilizing to deal with this threat, and more information will be forthcoming as soon as we have it.” She touched her earpiece and nodded quickly. “I am being told that we have received an audio transmission from Jiro Sasaki now, who is working with the Clarus City Police. Uh, Jim, play it, okay?”

    A file photo of Blaziken Man appeared on the screen and the recording began with a burst of static and a loud report of what could only be gunshots. “Citizens of Clarus City,” Blaziken Man’s voice said. “I implore you to remain, oh son of a, to remain calm! The CCPD is doing everything in their power to contain this. Volcarona Mask and I are already on the scene, and officers from precincts all over the city are on hand.

    “But the Commissioner Bright and I want every available resource at our disposal to deal with this threat. I’m not sure I have the authority to do this, but at this point—” His voice was cut off by a burst of static. “At this point, I don’t see much of a choice. Heroes of Clarus City, I’m calling all of you in.”

    Alex’s tray clattered to floor as he turned on his heel and sprinted for the nearest bathroom. He dug the Hawlucha Man costume from his backpack and hastily pulled it on, dragging the mask over his eyes and calling Hierro from his pokeball. “This is the big one, partner. We just got called in by Blaziken Man himself.”

    Hierro straightened and puffed up his feathers, clearly ready to be off. They raced up the staircase of the student union building to the small utility closet that led to the roof access. “Hey!” a maintenance worker shouted as Alex and Hierro ran by. “You can’t go in there!”

    “Official city business!” Alex called as he pulled himself up the ladder to the roof. He didn’t wait to hear the man’s reply. He took off over the rooftop, his legs pumping as he ran for the edge. An instant later, he was soaring out over the quadrangle of the Avenbrooke Institute of Technology, angling to reach the lower roofs of the administrative buildings on the far side where he could climb to a better vantage point.

    He and Hierro bounded from rooftop to rooftop, soon leaving the campus behind as they crossed over into residential Avenbrooke. Police sirens filled the air, and columns of smoke rose up over midtown Clarus City across the river. Alex put on a burst of speed, every fiber of his body straining to be closer to the action, to the fighting.

    A squad car sped along the street parallel to him, its siren whooping. “Hawlucha Man!” Captain Anderson called from the loudspeaker. “Get down here! We’re supposed to get you across the river!”

    Alex angled his body and swooped down to street level, where Anderson’s police cruiser stopped with a squeal of tires. Captain Anderson reached across the central console and popped the passenger side door open. “The whole city’s gone to hell!” the captain snapped. “But if the commissioner says he wants all boots on the ground, then who am I to question him?” Alex slid into the passenger seat as Hierro crammed himself into the back with Oscar, Anderson’s Houndoom. The police radio in the cruiser crackled constantly, and Anderson drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on the dial, constantly changing between frequencies. “Whole city’s gone to hell,” Anderson said again.

    “What happened exactly?” Alex asked as they hurtled down the streets of Avenbrooke. “The emergency broadcast just said there was a terrorist attack and the Sins are responsible.”

    “Explosions,” Anderson replied through clenched teeth. “All across the city, all at once. And if that wasn’t bad enough, as soon as we move in to start damage control, every damn thug in Clarus City shows up and starts rioting. I have no clue what Sloth’s game is here, but I can tell you one thing. Wrath must be as happy as a kid on Solstice.”

    They pulled into an open lot near the piers where four black police helicopters stood waiting. Anderson got out of the car and motioned for Alex to follow. “We’re taking those?”

    The captain nodded. “Pride has her goons blocking the bridge. We’re trying to break through on the ground, but there’s no time to waste.” He swung up into the first chopper where Reyes, Matsuri and three other members of the Tenth Precinct’s best and brightest were waiting. Anderson returned Oscar to his pokeball and grabbed one of the canvas straps hanging from the ceiling, motioning for Alex and Hierro to do the same. The rotors began to whir, and soon they were airborne. The small fleet of helicopters swung out over the river, keeping the Concord Bridge to the right. As they came in low, Alex spotted a solitary motorcycle hurtling towards the barricade of wrecked cars Pride’s men had created.

    The motorcycle weaved between the police cars the officers were using as cover in the shootout and poured on speed. The rider tossed something out in front of the bike, and a large blue mass appeared beside him, already charging forward even before the light from the pokeball cleared. The rider reached for the long parcel on his back, and when he held it alongside him, the afternoon light glinted off the blade of his broadsword. The Ronin and his Samurott didn’t slow down as he raced towards the blockade, the water type knocking cars out of the way to clear a path for his trainer. The Ronin’s blade flashed as he swung it around, decapitating one of the terrorists as he continued to speed on towards the city. The whole thing happened so fast that Pride’s men hadn’t had the chance to come to their senses and fire off even a single shot.

    Alex glanced over at Anderson, but the captain just shrugged. “Good riddance.”

    The helicopters angled southward, passing over the fringe of the financial district. Alex saw smoldering craters dotted across the city, the source of the smoke pillars he had seen from Avenbrooke. “This is awful,” he shouted over the helicopter blades. “They won’t get away with this!”

    Hierro tugged at his arm and pointed at the streets below. Alex squinted and saw a man in a black cloak whirling amidst a crowd of Wrath’s anarchists and surrounded by a seething mass of ghost types. More reinforcements were arriving, and soon the man in black would be overwhelmed. Alex nodded and turned to Anderson. “We’re going down there. He needs help.”

    “Don’t be crazy!” Reyes shouted. “Backup is probably on the way!”

    “We’ll see you when this is over.”

    Alex and Hierro jumped from the helicopter, angling their bodies into streamlined arrows to cut down on wind resistance. The ground rushed up towards them, and Alex exhaled. He had never tested his wingsuit from this height before, and he had no way of knowing if this would work. Well, he supposed, he was about to find out.

    Hierro caught his eye and nodded, and they spread their wings. Alex felt the material catch the wind and buoy him up, slowing his descent as he soared over the street. “Wa-hoooo!” he screamed as he shot between two buildings, Hierro just behind him. Gliding over the roofs of Avenbrooke was one thing, but this was truly flying! Alex adjusted his weight to drop to the ground and landed with a somersault to spare his knees the impact. His batons were already in his hands when he came up, and he clocked an anarchist across the face as Hierro dropped a second with a kick. Alex cried out when a Dusknoir appeared next to him, but the ghost type’s fist shot out and took out a pouncing Darmanitan.

    “What are you doing?” the Phantom snapped as he lashed out with his cane. “I have this area under control!”

    “You were about to be overwhelmed!” Alex parried a Mienshao and sent it towards Hierro. The Hawlucha jumped backwards to kick off a Graveller and tackled the vulpine fighting type.

    The Phantom scoffed as he twirled his cane around and clubbed the heavy weighted end across a rioter’s temple. “Overwhelmed?” He snapped his gloved left hand, and the cloud of shrieking ghost types overhead descended on the mob, flitting between the combatants and wreaking havoc. “I can handle it myself! Just stay back!”

    The Dusknoir appeared at the Phantom’s side and threw a series of punches at an approaching Seviper and Toxicroak before vanishing again to reappear in the midst of a cluster of anarchists. Hierro took up position at Alex’s back, his claws flexing as he surveyed their foes. Alex twirled his batons and shook his head. “Blaziken Man called us in. We ought to be working together!”

    “I don’t need help!” the Phantom growled. He snapped his fingers twice, and a massive Haunter descended from above to attack a group of anarchists. “You’re only getting in my way.”

    Hierro whistled through his beak as he lunged at a Machoke’s knees, knocking the hulking fighting type off-balance. Alex dropped to a crouch and kicked the Machoke off its feet, sending it toppling backwards on top of an Exeggutor. A pack of Mightyena loped towards them, and Alex and Hierro began to beat them back, away from the Phantom’s specters. “This isn’t the time to show off how tough you are!” Alex called to the other hero. “We need to protect the city, and we’re stronger together!”

    “I am trying to protect the city,” The Phantom punched a thug and sent the man sprawling backwards, blood pouring from his nose. “By taking out the greatest threat to it. I need to lure Wrath out and take him down.”

    “You can’t go up against Wrath on your own!”

    “I did once before, and this time, I’m prepared.”

    Before Alex could reply, several clouds of thick white smoke appeared in the mob and rapidly spread out over the ground. He heard police sirens and saw their flashing blue and red lights through the haze. A large glowing shape passed by overhead, and he heard someone alight on the ground not far from him.

    “Hit the showers, rookies! The pros will take it from here!”

    A hot wind blew the smoke away, revealing Volcarona Mask and her partner, and a police perimeter surrounding the mob. Volcarona Mask winked at Alex. “Not bad, boys. But we’ve got to wrap this up quick, so I’ll take this off your hands. Why don’t you go find somewhere else to play?” She pirouetted in place and pointed at the crowd of anarchists. “Let’s give ‘em hell, Aethon!” Her Volcarona shook out its wings, shaking burning scales out into the mob. The men began to run as a hot wind blew from the fire type’s beating wings, setting their clothing ablaze. They ran right into the police cordon, where the assembled officers and riot squads attempted to apprehend them.

    The Phantom hissed a curse and seized Alex and Hierro’s hands. Before Alex could protest, the Phantom’s Dusknoir loomed up behind them and wrapped them in an embrace. Alex’s vision went dark and he experienced an acute sense of vertigo even as he felt his body stretched out and narrowed, as though he was being drawn through a straw. He began to panic, but he felt the Phantom’s hand tighten around his own, a hard pressure that was at once comforting and an admonishment. Then, as quickly as the bizarre sensation began, Alex was free of it.

    He staggered forward and found himself on the gravel roof of a nearby skyscraper. Volcarona Mask and her police allies were still fighting down below. Hierro whirled on the Phantom and shrieked angrily, his feathers puffed up and his eyes flashing with rage and indignation. The Phantom raised a contemptuous eyebrow. “Hardly the thanks I expected.”

    Alex turned to him, his hands balled into fists. “What did you just do?”

    The Phantom gestured to Alex’s wingsuit. “Your gimmick is useless unless you have somewhere to fly from, right?” He nodded towards his Dusknoir. “Gregor can travel between shadows. I just let you two hitch a ride.”

    “I, well… thank you.”

    “Don’t mention it.”

    “But why did we leave?”

    “Volcarona Mask can take care of herself. Just like her to show up and ruin everything.” The Phantom kicked at the gravel. “Anyway, with her there, Wrath was never going to show up. I’ll have to start over again.”

    “We should stick together. We make a good team.”

    “I don’t do teams.” The Phantom flicked his cloak back as his Dusknoir put a hand on his shoulder. The ghost type seemed to narrow and slip into the nearest patch of shadow, vanishing in an instant.

    Hierro glanced at Alex and shrugged. Alex huffed out a breath. “Well, he didn’t have to be rude about it.” He stepped back from the edge of the roof and looked up and down the street. This was one of the shorter buildings on an avenue lined with skyscrapers, but further towards the city center, Alex could see several older buildings with lower roofs, roofs he could jump from. He signaled to Hierro, and the two of them launched themselves into the air.

    They flew down the steel and glass canyons of Clarus City, the bomb craters only growing worse the closer they got to midtown. They landed in rooftop gardens and on office patios, catching updrafts from subway vents and the sea wind where they could. The sounds of sirens, explosions and gunshots echoed between the buildings. As they alighted on another gravel rooftop, Alex saw movement on a nearby street. A girl with platinum blonde hair on a narrow stone platform above the two baroque column standing astride the entrance of the main branch of the First Clarus Bank. She was flanked by a Loudred and an Exploud, and her hair flew about her face as she snapped her head up and down, playing hard on a red electric guitar. A Noivern swooped and dove over her head, harrying another mob of the Sins’ thugs below her.

    Alex squinted and saw that something about her music was holding the men in place, as though they were fighting a strong wind. She reached down and flicked something on her matte black bodysuit, and her music amplified even louder, so Alex could finally pick out her words.

    “…no retreat, no surrender, never compromise!
    We’re gonna burn you up, you’re gonna feel the heat!”

    She struck a pose with a flourish and shouted down a taunt that Alex didn’t catch before going back to playing, her golden hair flying around her face like a halo.

    “Tonight, all warriors scream!
    Justice and metal! Justice and metal!
    The crusade goes on and on!”

    She threw her head back and took a deep breath, and Alex saw her Loudred and Exploud brace themselves. Her Noivern dropped out of the sky, the dragon’s nostrils flaring. The guitarist struck another chord as she snapped her head forward and screamed in unison with her Noivern.


    The force of her shout and the sonic blast of her Noivern merged with the explosive power of her other pokemon’s abilities, and the resulting sound wave struck the assembled mob with a physical force. Alex could have sworn he saw the pulse actually ripple through the air. The thugs closest to the guitarist were lifted off their feet and flung through the air, some of them tumbling almost half a block before they came to rest.

    Alex turned to Hierro. “I think she’s got that under control.” Hierro nodded, and they took off again.

    A few blocks later, they heard someone scream in terror. A group of Gluttony’s men had herded a crowd of people into a plaza and were prowling around their perimeter. A Tyranitar, a Drapion and a pack of Pawniard and Bisharp circled the civilians as the leader of the thugs shouted at them. Alex didn’t even stop to think, and an instant later he was soaring out over the plaza. “Listen up, as[size=+1]s[/size]holes!” he shouted as he dropped out of the sky. He drove his fist into the leader’s solar plexus and gritted his teeth. “I don’t know what filthy sewer you crawled out of, but you’re in for a world of hurt!”

    One of the thugs rushed at him with a switchblade, and Alex disarmed him with his batons before smashing them across the man’s face. The Tyranitar roared and lumbered towards him, but Hierro dropped out of the sky and pummeled the dark type, darting in circles around the larger pokemon. Alex and Hierro twirled and circled, beating back the gangsters and their pokemon and taking care not to let the Drapion sink its poisoned mandibles into them. “Go!” Alex called over his shoulder at the terrified civilians. “Run, get out of here!”

    A few people raced off down the nearby streets, but most of them were too afraid to move. Alex kicked away a Pawniard and growled under his breath. He and Hierro were dramatically outnumbered, and they wouldn’t be able to hold out for long. He had hoped that he could draw the attention of Gluttony’s men for long enough to allow the civilians to escape, but if they weren’t moving…

    As Alex tried to formulate a plan, a large dark shape eclipsed the sunlight. There was a flash, and a beam of green and gold light shot across the ground, striking the Tyranitar. A pair of vines lifted a figure off the creature’s back and carried her to the ground. Alex could only watch wide-eyed as a goddess descended before him. Her orange sari flared around her ankles as she twirled, casting a handful of pokeballs towards the thugs. Her golden bangles flashed as she raised her hands above her head and snapped her long, elegant fingers. “Isolate and contain!”

    Her three pokeballs flashed, revealing two Torterra and a Venusaur. The behemoths lumbered towards the criminals who were now hastily calling out more pokemon. A flock of Golbat and Crobat took to the sky, only to be struck by a gale from the woman’s Tropius. The first Torterra slammed into the Tyranitar while the second barreled towards the Pawniard harrying Alex and Hierro. The Venusaur roared as vines whipped from the flower on its back, snapping around the waists and arms of the men. Alex could only stand with his mouth agape. A pack of baying Mightyena raced towards the woman, but she seemed blithely unconcerned. “Rose legion! Iron legion! Let’s go!”

    Several dark shapes leapt from the roofs of nearby buildings, landing lightly on the street. A group of fifteen to twenty Scizor jumped back up into the air to beat the bat pokemon into submission while a similar number of Roserade set upon the Mightyena. A Raticate pounced at the woman in orange, only to be tackled to the ground by a Tsareena. A second hustled out of an alleyway and kicked the rodent back into the crowd of thugs before standing guard with its compatriot in front of her trainer.

    When the Roserade had managed to subdue the Mightyena, the Dryad snapped her fingers again. “Rose legion, that’s enough. We can handle things from here, get the civilians to safety.” The Roserade raced forward and began to corral the civilians away from the plaza while guarding their retreat. While the Dryad’s pokemon continued to drive back Gluttony’s men and their pokemon, she turned to Alex and walked to his side, her Tsareena honor guard just a pace behind. “You did very well, jumping in when you did.” She smiled, and Alex felt a warm glow spreading from his chest and through his limbs. Just feeling her eyes on him was like standing in a pool of sunlight.

    Hierro’s elbow jabbed him in the ribs. “Oh, uh, thank you.”

    She winked. “I almost felt bad stepping in. The way you fight, I’m sure you could have handled them.”

    Alex was glad that his mask mostly covered his blush. “Well, I, uh, I appreciate the help either way.”

    The Dryad nodded and looked over to where her Scizor and Torterra were subduing the few remaining thugs. “My pokemon and I can finish things up here. Once my Roserade get back, we’ll move on too.” She ran a hand through her thick dark hair. “Keeping this under control is a nightmare.”

    “No one said the hero thing was going to be easy.”

    The Dryad smiled again. “You’re absolutely right. If we get through this, perhaps we’ll have the chance to team up again someday, Hawlucha Man.”

    After Alex and Hierro had taken off again down the eerily empty streets of midtown, Alex turned to his partner. “She knows who I am! The Dryad knows who I am!” Hierro just rolled his eyes and scanned the buildings for a fire escape.

    For all the Dryad’s praise of Alex’s prowess, he and Hierro were at their best when they could drop down on their quarry from above, taking them by surprise and ending a fight quickly. Trapped on the ground, Alex was little better than a street brawlers in a fancy costume. In Avenbrooke, the proliferation of tenement buildings only a few stories high and fire escapes made rooftop access easy, but here in the heart of midtown Clarus City, the buildings rose up in sheer cliffs, thirty, forty, fifty stories tall, depriving Alex of his principal advantage. Even if he could just get to where the subway switched to an elevated train several blocks uptown, that would be something.

    “Well, well, well. A hero.” A man with a scarred face slunk out from the shadows of an office building atrium. A Weavile crouched at his heels, and a Druddigon lumbered out behind them. Alex turned to run, but a Muk oozed up from a sewer grate, spreading its arms and cutting off Alex’s escape. The man drew a long, wickedly sharp knife from his boot and whistled. “I was about to take a break, but Pride did say she was paying good money for the head of every hero we brought back.”

    Alex drew his batons as Hierro slid into a fighting stance. One man wouldn’t be hard to take out, and if Hierro could dispatch the Weavile, they could escape the dragon and the poison type. It was hardly a noble retreat, but Alex was starting to feel like he was in way over his head, and no one could blame him if he cut and run from one fight.

    “I don’t know this one,” a new voice said from across the street. A heavily muscled man lurched out of the alley, a Krookodile sauntering after him. “You sure Pride will pay?”

    “He’s got a mask on, and he looks ready to fight,” a third man scoffed, this one skinny as a broom. “He fits the profile. Pride may not pay top dollar for a pipsqueak like him, but I’ll wager that she’ll pay.” His two Scyther leered at Hierro. Alex glanced around and saw more men and woman bleeding out of the shadows. He had somehow managed to wander into a nest of Pride’s enforcers, and the lapse in judgment was undoubtedly going to get him killed.

    He settled into a fighting crouch beside Hierro. “We may be going down, but we’ll go down swinging.” Hierro nodded and flexed his claws. The scarred man rushed in, and Alex swept low, taking out the man’s knees. Hierro delivered a quick one-two punch to the leaping Weavile, stunning the ice type long enough for Alex and Hierro to dodge out of the way of the Muk and attack the Druddigon together. One of the thin man’s Scyther rushed in, and Alex caught the bug type’s blades on his batons. Hierro launched himself off of Alex’s back and delivered a flying kick to the bug type’s jaw, knocking it back into the atrium of the building the scarred man had emerged from.

    While Alex turned to deal with an approaching Hitmonlee, Hierro finished off the Weavile, hurling it against the pillars of the First Clarus Post Office. Alex ducked out of the way of the Hitmonlee’s first kick, but before he could counter, the fighting type was struck by a salvo of incendiary seeds. The large man and his Krookodile charged in only to be hit by a similar barrage. Alex and Hierro shared a glance and decided in an instant not to question their mysterious benefactor, but before they could strike out again, someone up the street whooped, the sound echoing between the buildings.

    “Yippie-ki-yay, b[size=+0]i[/size]tches!”

    Some kind of siren arced over Alex’s head, emitting a bizarre, high-pitched whistle. Alex gritted his teeth and tried not to let the noise get to him, knowing that if he threw up his hands to cover his ears, Pride’s men would seize the opening. “C’mon, partner, get outta there! I’m trying to give you an opening!” a man’s voice shouted. A series of small explosions burst at the feet of Alex’s foes, forcing them to retreat just long enough for Alex and Hierro to run towards the source of the voice. “The range is hot!” the man hollered, firing another barrage of his incendiary projectiles. A Darmanitan tried to grab Hierro as they ran by, but another blast of seeds sent the fire type back.

    Alex’s benefactor was a man in an anachronistic leather vest over an embroidered blue and white tartan shirt, a red bandana knotted around his neck. He had strapped a bandolier over his chest and carried a six-shot revolver in his right hand. He didn’t look up as he chambered six bullets, but when he slid the cylinder home, he tapped two fingers on his left hand to the brim of his wide-brimmed hat. “Figured you could use a hand, partner,” he drawled. The way he said it drew out the sounds of his words, so that Alex could hear every syllable of “parrdner”. “Let me take a crack at ‘em.” He raised his gun and closed one eye. “Keep ‘em pinned, Geronimo!”

    The Gunslinger fired off five shots in rapid succession. Alex waited for explosions or a burst of noise, but nothing happened. “Wait for it,” the Gunslinger muttered. A few of Pride’s thugs, seeing that the Gunslinger’s bullets had seemingly all missed, took a few hesitant steps forward. A burst of seeds shot out in front of them, clearing marking a line they were not to cross. A few more of the thugs moved in, scanning the buildings for the unseen assailant.

    “First you line ‘em up,” the Gunslinger said. “Then you knock ‘em down.” He fired his sixth bullet into the ground at the thugs’ feet, and Alex watched in a mix of awe and horror as their bodies contorted and fell to the ground. The Gunslinger smirked and doffed his hat. “Now that’s how it’s done, partner! Yeeee-haw!” He winked at Alex. “Galvantula thread. Conducts current like current like a dream, once you give it a little spark.” He plucked another cluster of bullets from his bandolier and deftly chambered the rounds. “But the fun’s not over yet. You ready to go another round?”


    “There’s a fair few varmints left to round up and I’m fresh out of Galvantula bullets, so we gotta do this the hard way. But,” the Gunslinger shrugged, “I’m not much for hand-to-hand combat. Why don’t you and your bird take point? I’ll get your flanks, and Geronimo will watch your back.” He clicked back the hammer on his revolver. “You in, partner?”

    Alex couldn’t help but grin before nodding to Hierro. The two of them sprinted back down the street as the Gunslinger whooped behind them. Hierro bounded up and over an abandoned taxi and sprang into the air, spreading his wings and soaring towards the mob of thugs and enforcers. The Hawlucha crashed into an Electabuzz, and before the electric type could recover, Hierro had bounded backwards and tackled it into a charging Machoke. Alex slid under a Darmanitan’s swinging fists and kicked up at the fire type’s center of mass, knocking it off its feet. As Alex stood, he saw one of Pride’s enforcers rushing at him with a switchblade. Before he could get his batons up, the woman crumpled in a heap, a strange dart sticking out of the side of her neck.

    The Gunslinger fired off two more shots, and two more thugs went down. Alex could see that the men were still breathing, so he assumed the darts used some kind of fast acting sleeping agent, another one of the Gunslinger’s trick bullets. As a Staraptor dove out of the sky at Hierro, it was knocked off-course by a green and brown shape that pummelled the bird to the ground. When the Staraptor fell unconscious, the Nuzleaf back flipped off its prone form and snapped a quick salute to Alex before jumping back up into the air to spray the enemy combatants with another barrage of seeds.

    As the Nuzleaf dropped, the Muk from before rose up from the street and snatched the grass type in its slime-covered hand. “Hey!” the Gunslinger roared. “Leave Geronimo alone, you rat b[size=+0]a[/size]stard!” His gun discharged four shots, and patches of ice began to spread across the Muk’s viscous form where the bullets hit. While the poison type thrashed and tried to break free of the spreading ice, Geronimo managed to wriggle out from the Muk’s grasp and jump back into the fray. The Gunslinger fired off the two remaining frost bullets in his revolver at the ground near the thickest clusters of enforcers, trapping their legs in patches of thick, fast-forming ice.

    Alex and Hierro fought back-to-back, covering each other’s blind spots. Without the Gunslinger and Geronimo providing backup, they would have been quickly overpowered, and even with their help, it was a near thing. The Gunslinger’s sleep bullets seemed far less effective on pokemon, with the larger specimens taking two or three shots to go down, and for every enforcer they dropped, their pokemon partners fought on even more fiercely. When the Gunslinger gave an exultant whoop, Alex wasn’t sure what the man was celebrating. They were clearly no closer to victory.

    “You hear that, you varmints?” the Gunslinger called. “The cavalry’s coming! You better run if you know what’s good for you!” Now that Alex was listening for it, he could dimly hear the clatter of hoof beats echoing between the buildings. The Gunslinger gestured with his left hand. “Clear out, bird brain! You don’t want to get caught up in this!”

    Hierro began beating a path clear of the crowd of enforcers, and Alex hurried to follow his partner. The sound of hooves was closer now, and an instant later, a Rapidash charged down the street. The figure sitting astride the fiery steed held a lance held in their right hand, and their full suit of plate armor gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. “VERMIN!” the armored knight bellowed, their voice seeming to come from every direction at once. “IF YOU VALUE YOUR LIVES, QUIT THIS PLACE AT ONCE!”

    The enforcers turned their attention from Alex and Hierro to the new interloper. The Gunslinger shrugged. “Well, can’t say we didn’t warn you.” He turned to the Cavalier. “About time you showed up.”

    Though the Cavalier’s eyes were hidden by their visor, Alex was fairly sure that the armored figure was glaring at the Gunslinger. “ONLY BECAUSE YOU CAN’T FIGHT YOUR OWN BATTLES.” They swept their lance down and raised their shield. “ON GUARD!” The Cavalier tapped their heels against the flanks of their Rapidash and the horse sprang forward, quickly breaking into a gallop. The Cavalier’s lance was blunted, but Alex watched as a Pangoro leaped at the armored fighter and was lifted off its feet by the sheer force of the Cavalier’s thrust. Geronimo and the Gunslinger laid down cover fire as the Cavalier swept through the crowd of thugs. Alex and Hierro climbed up onto the raised plinth of a statue portraying a long-deceased member of Clarus City’s moneyed elite mostly to stay out of the newcomer’s way.

    “FACE ME, FACE DEATH!” the Cavalier boomed as their Rapidash darted in quick looping circles through the mob, fire trailing it in long, elegant arcs. Alex could vaguely make out a blue-gray blur whipping through the vortex of flames around the Cavalier, but it moved too quickly for his eyes to track. Wherever the blur passed, humans and pokemon fell back with shallow lacerations on their chest and limbs. The Cavalier’s lance rose and fell, driving the enemy host back until a Jellicent braved the fires and wrapped its tentacles around the weapon and wrenched it from the Cavalier’s grasp. The blur set upon it almost instantly, forcing the water type to retreat, but not before the knight’s lance had fallen out of reach.

    But the Cavalier did not appear to be daunted. They raised their right hand skyward, and Alex saw that they wore no armor from their bicep to their fingertips. The blur slowed before racing towards the Cavalier’s outstretched hand. A blue tassel wrapped around the Cavalier’s arm, and Alex watched as the knight swept down with their Honedge in hand. “TWO CHANCES I HAVE GIVEN YOU!” the Cavalier’s voice boomed again. “I AM NO LONGER INCLINED TO BE GENEROUS!” They lashed out with the spectral blade, giving their foes no quarter. Many of Pride’s enforcers cut their losses and ran, disappearing into the dark alleys lining the street. The Gunslinger picked off several of the runners with his sleeping bullets. The Cavalier’s Rapidash dashed through a gap and cut off the escape of the stragglers while Geronimo kept them pinned on the flank. The Cavalier’s Honedge flashed as they swung forward. “NONE SHALL FLEE FROM ME! I’M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU YET!” Their Rapidash reared up and struck out at the Krookodile with its hooves. The Cavalier battered the ground type’s nose with their shield. “COME, GUNSLINGER! LET US CRUSH THEM!”

    The Gunslinger sauntered forward and doffed his hat at Alex as he strolled past. “Why don’t you go on ahead?” He fed six more bullets into his revolver and sighted down the barrel. “The Cavalier’s going to suck all the fun out of this.”

    Alex jumped down from the pillar. “Thanks for the assist.”

    “Anytime, partner.” He pulled the trigger once, twice, three times. Three men dropped. He spun out the cylinder and slid in two more bullets. When he fired them, two piercing sirens split the air. “Yeeee-haw! Better leave some for me, Cavalier!”

    Alex left the Ridgewood heroes to their fight and slipped into an alleyway between two skyscrapers. He and Hierro emerged in what had once been an elegant cobbled square with a fountain or small statue in the middle, but it had been reduced to a smoldering crater, pieces of wrought iron wreckage strewn about on the intersecting streets. A police helicopter roared by overhead, and after the sound of the rotors faded, Alex heard sirens and the cries of pokemon echoing through the city streets. Hierro tugged Alex towards the older quarter of the city, where the buildings were shorter and they could try to find a rooftop to climb.

    As they trekked through the labyrinthine streets of the upper west side of Clarus City, they took care to avoid fighting. The police and the Sins’ enforcers battled on the streets, with several brave civilians and their pokemon joining the fight to protect their neighborhoods. Alex and Hierro were heavy with fatigue, and there were several times they nearly leapt into the fray, only to see reinforcements arrive an instant later. Alex hated running from a fight, but he was near the end of his stamina. He had gotten in over his head again, and if he knew that he and Hierro had gotten lucky when the Gunslinger had arrived to bail them out. Sooner or later, the odds weren’t going to come up in their favor.

    Eventually, they reached a quiet street near the industrial quarter. Old tenement houses from two centuries ago were slowly sliding into disrepair, and had been since the steel plants had closed down nearly seventy years ago. The street had been torn up in an earlier battle, the concrete pocked with old potholes and new craters. Alex scanned up and down the streets for a fire escape or ladder, and was about to duck into an alleyway when he heard a clanking behind him.

    “Where do you think you’re going, hero? Don’t you know you’re in my way?”
  15. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 9

    Alex whirled and saw a man in combat fatigues standing astride a Metagross with a Bastiodon crouching next to him. The man’s bare arms were covered in tattoos, and he wore heavy metal gauntlets on his hands. A scar on his lip twisted his face into a leering grimace. “You aren’t the hero I was hoping to catch, but I have orders, kid. I see anyone who could be a spanner in the works, I take them out.” He pounded his right fist against his left gauntlet. “And no one escapes the Iron Boyar.”

    “Guess we have to do this the hard way, then.” Alex settled into a defensive stance and saw Hierro square up beside him. Mentally, he cursed. Sergei Polovich, or as he styled himself, the Iron Boyar, had been a minor name in the criminal enterprises of Clarus City before Sloth’s coup several years previously. He had controlled a small bit of territory on the upper west side, but had been largely unsuccessful in expanding his domain. When Sloth had turned the underworld on its head, Polovich had cut his losses and fell in behind Greed, quickly becoming one of her lieutenants and bolstering his status considerably. He was known for being implacable and no stranger to violence. Alex doubted that he and Hierro could do much to dent Polovich’s steel types, but if he could create enough of a distraction, Hierro could go get help. Alex figured he could hold out on his own for a little while, provided Hierro didn’t need to go far…

    “Boyar!” a voice boomed. Alex heard a hiss followed by a heavy thud, then a hiss again. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Too cowardly to come out and face me?”

    A suit of mechanized hydraulic armor, at least nine feet tall, stomped down the street, massive metal fists swinging at its sides. Polovich snarled a curse and beat his gauntlets together. “Hammer!” The Iron Boyar jerked his head to the side, and his Bastiodon lumbered forward. “I don’t have time for you today.”

    “You’d best pencil me in, because I’m not going anywhere.” The hydraulic armor strode past Alex, and he saw the man operating the colossus. The Hammer stood in the cockpit, his torso exposed. His white beard was neatly trimmed, and his muscles rippled underneath his shirt as he worked the levers that controlled the suit. He shifted something, and the suit’s fingers flexed before forming two heavy fists again. “Pay attention, young man! It’s time to see what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object!”

    The Hammer raised his right fist, and the hydraulic piston at his shoulder hissed as it propelled the arm forward. The Boyar’s Bastiodon lunged forward and intercepted the blow while Polovich signaled for his Metagross to advance. The silver cross on the psychic type’s faceplate began to glow, but two streaks of light shot out from the cockpit of the Hammer’s suit. A Hariyama appeared and hurled the Bastiodon away, while a Conkledurr swung one of its concrete pillars and knocked the Metagross off center. “Albrecht!” the Hammer bellowed. “Siegfried! Give them no quarter!” He turned to Alex. “You there! Where has your fighting spirit gone? Just moments ago you were ready to charge into battle! Are you to leave this fight to a pensioner like me?”

    Alex twirled his batons and grinned. “Not chance, old man!” Hierro puffed up his feathers and leapt into battle with a shriek, Alex racing in just behind. Facing down a small army of Pride’s enforcers was one thing, but going head to head with one of Greed’s top lieutenants with the Hammer at his back was another matter entirely. He had a second wind now, and the opportunity to fight alongside one of Clarus City’s original four heroes.

    All day, Alex had felt himself pushed to the sidelines by the other heroes, more of a distraction and a hindrance than an equal. But now the Hammer himself was giving Alex a chance to prove his worth. He gritted his teeth and lashed out at Polovich, determined to make every blow count. “Yes!” the Hammer boomed as he wrenched a lamp post from the sidewalk and swung out at the Metagross. “Give it everything you’ve got! Don’t hold anything back!”

    The Boyar used his metal bracers to parry Alex and Hierro’s blows, fending off their assault with a speed that belied the weight of the gauntlets. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with, kid!” Polovich snapped. “Do you really think a whelp like you can best the Iron Boyar?”

    “I was asking myself the same question,” Alex growled. He jumped up and delivered two swift kicks to Polovich’s abdomen, making the man double over and stagger back three paces. “And I like my odds!”

    Polovich gestured to his Metagross. “Crush them.”

    The abandoned cars scattered up and down the street began to rise up into the air as the Metagross’s steel cross began to glow again. The cross flashed and the cars flew towards the heroes. Alex was about to retreat when the Hammer’s Conkledurr blew past him, twisting his entire upper body and swinging his heavy concrete blocks around. The fighting type deftly battered away the first three cars and shoved the block in his left hand through the hood of a fourth. The Hammer threw his lamp post away and caught a fifth in his mechanized hand. The Metagross tried to raise two more cars, only to have the Conkledurr hurl his cement pillars and pin the automobiles to the ground. Meanwhile, the Hammer’s Hariyama threw its considerable bulk behind a reckless blow and sent Polovich’s Bastiodon sprawling. “Well done!” the Hammer cried, the joints of his suit hissing as he flexed its arms.

    “Damn them,” Polovich snarled, fumbling for something tucked into the back of his waistband. “Barrier, now!”

    A translucent wall sprang up, stretching from one side of the street to the other. The Hammer and his pokemon immediately rushed forward and began pounding against the barricade, their fists making the psychic barrier ripple. Alex could see tiny hairline fractures begin to form with each impact, but he couldn’t be sure that they would break through before Polovich could pull off another trick. He watched where the ripples traveled, tracking the contour of the wall.

    It seemed just like the barriers Pierre and his Mr. Mime would create, and those were finite. Depending on how much power the Metagross had, it was possible to get over it. Alex watched carefully as the psychic wall flashed with each successive blow and saw where the ripples stopped on the vertical plane. Almost fifteen feet up, but that was hardly insurmountable.

    “I can get over this!” he called to the Hammer. “But I need a boost!”

    The Iron Boyar ignored them, pulling out a flare gun and aiming it skyward. A bright yellow flare shot up into the evening sky with a loud whistle, and Polovich grinned. The Hammer gritted his teeth and turned to his Conkledurr. “Siegfried, get him over!” The fighting type nodded and cupped his hands. Alex took off at a sprint and heard Hierro’s talons skittering across the pavement behind him. He sprang up into the Conkledurr’s palms, and the fighting type launched him high into the air. Hierro bounded up the Hammer’s massive back, and the older hero raised his arm to give the flying type a better vantage point. As soon as Hierro reached the Hammer’s fist, the hero deployed the hydraulic mechanism, shooting Hierro past Alex.

    Spreading the wings of his suit wide, Alex dove at the ground and twisted at the last minute, bringing both of his metal batons to bear on Polovich. The Iron Boyar managed to raise his gauntlet in time to stop the first of Alex’s blows, but his momentum carried him through, and the second baton collided with the side of Polovich’s face. Alex heard a satisfying crunch as Polovich’s nose broke, and the man swore. “Take it down, buddy!” Alex yelled.

    Hierro shot down from the sky with a scream, driving his taloned foot into the Metagross’s back. The force of the kick knocked the hulking steel type off balance, and the wall vanished. The Hammer and his pokemon barreled through, but Polovich only laughed, the sound strange and nasally now. “Idiots. The main event is just getting started!”

    The sharp report of gunfire made Alex freeze. “So,” an accented voice drawled. “My boyar has finally drawn out the Hammer. I knew it was only a matter of time.”

    The man in the mechanized suit turned towards the sound of the voice. “Young man, get behind me.” His tone brokered no argument, and Alex hurried to comply. Peering around the bulk of the Hammer’s suit, Alex saw Greed stride confidently down the street with several of her men, her half-shorn auburn hair plastered to her skull with sweat. Each member of her band was toting a belt-fed machine gun, and their pokemon loomed behind them.

    Greed smirked. “You have been a thorn in my side for many years. Now that we have secured the primary objective, Sloth is letting me hunt you down.” Her finger curled around the trigger. “And with that the star spangled moron out of my way, there is nothing that will stop me!”

    She and her men open fired, and the Hammer threw up his armored fists in front of his face. The bullets pinged harmlessly against the armored suit, and Alex and Hierro pressed themselves up against the Hammer’s legs. His Conkledurr had retrieved his concrete blocks and used them to form a hasty cover, while the Hammer’s Hariyama moved with surprising grace and speed for its size to duck into an alleyway. “You can’t protect yourself forever, old man!” Greed shouted above the roar of her machine gun. “Soon your armor will break and I will tear you apart!”

    “Not if I have anything to say about it!”

    Something dropped out of the sky and into the midst of Greed’s forces. Alex heard shouts of dismay and the solid thumps of blows. A large bird of some kind shrieked, and Alex saw Greed’s gun fall as the belt jammed. Someone laughed, a loud, deep laugh that came from deep in the diaphragm. “You almost got away from me, Red!” Captain Unova exclaimed as his Braviary battered her Ursaring. “Fortunately, I tracked you down. Hi, Hammer!”

    “Captain Unova!” the Hammer cried. “Aren't you a sight for sore eyes!”

    The man in blue and white spun on his heel and drove his elbow into the face of a man trying to approach him from behind for an ambush. “Have a taste of my Striaton Smash!” He whirled again, delivering a combination of punches to a second man. “And a Castelia Crusher!”

    The chaos Captain Unova had sown with his arrival had thrown Greed’s entire force into disarray, and it gave the Hammer the opening he needed. With a wild roar, the man charged forward with his Conkledurr and crashed into their ranks, scattering the men still further. Sergei Polovich had used the confusion to limp back to his Metagross, and Alex saw him lean against the steel type’s leg and hiss “Smash ‘em to bits!”

    An eighteen wheeler from a nearby loading bay rose up into the air and hovered over to the street. The Metagross’s eyes had narrowed to slits as it focused its energies. With a screech like rending metal, the Metagross hurled the truck at Alex and his partner. Alex and Hierro could do nothing but watch in wide eyed horror as the truck arced towards them, knowing there was no way they could run out of the way in time.

    Alex let out what was sure to be his last breath and closed his eyes. “Motherfu—”

    “Be not afraid!”

    Alex’s eyes snapped open, which was his first surprise. The second was that a barefoot young man in a white collared shirt and jeans was hovering a foot off the ground in front of him, his right hand outstretched and the eighteen wheeler hanging suspended in the air. The man was obviously an exceptionally powerful esper to be able to hold at least thirty tons in the air without breaking a sweat. He slowly lowered his right index finger, returning the truck to the ground, and turned to meet Alex’s eyes. His face brightened into a beatific smile. “I am Archangel. I’m here to help.” He spun in the air and reached out his left hand towards Polovich’s Metagross. With a flick of his wrist, the esper sent the heavy steel type flying two hundred yards down the street, where it crashed and lay motionless.

    “Uh… thanks,” Alex managed to say. Hierro looked to his trainer and nodded slowly.

    Archangel’s smile grew wider, making the skin at the corners of his eyes corners of his eyes crinkle. “All in a day’s work. Shall we join the fight?” Somehow, a Kadabra had appeared at the esper’s side.

    “Right. Yeah. Let’s do that.” As Archangel began to glide away, Alex held up a hand. “Could you maybe give me a boost? My partner and I are best in the air.”

    “Of course! Brace yourself!”

    Alex was flung into the air by an invisible force, and when he reached the peak of his arc, he spread his arms wide. He and Hierro dove into the crowd together, their wings spread. As they came level with the fighting, Alex lashed out with a series of spinning kicks and punches, attacking human and pokemon alike. Just before his feet touched the ground, he saw Archangel snap his fingers, flinging Alex skyward again. When he descended a second time, he whooped and knocked out a lunging Mienshao. “That was so cool!”

    Captain Unova and Greed traded blows, and though Alex begrudgingly admitted the man’s technique was impeccable, Greed’s raw strength was starting to win out. The Hammer was unable to go to his aid, too preoccupied with fending off a Tyrantrum. Alex whistled to Archangel and pointed at Greed. The young man hurled a Hippowdon and Barbacle away with his telekinetic powers before flicking two fingers and giving Alex a psychic push towards the hulking woman. Alex slammed into Greed feet-first, knocking her off balance. She whirled on him, her face twisted into a demonic mask. “Little insect! I will crush you like the bug you are!” She brought her fists down, but before she could make contact, Hierro kicked out her left leg and sent her crashing to the ground.

    The Hammer watched her fall as he held back the Tyrantrum’s gnashing jaws. He threw back his head and laughed. “You see? We win every time! Stack the odds against us however you want, but I’ll always bet on the heroes of Clarus City!”

    “Then how about a gamble, old man?”

    Another crowd of thugs advanced from the opposite side of the street. At the head of the mob was Kekoa Aukai, known to most as Wrath. The Alolan’s Incineroar stalked by his side, and the anarchist grinned, spreading his arms wide. “I figured you couldn’t hack it on your own, Anya. But the Hammer’s a pain in my *** too, so I figured I’d give you a hand.”

    “Stay out of this, Wrath,” Greed snarled. “This is my fight!”

    “And you’ve royally f[size=+0]u[/size]cked it up. Time for me to step in.” He cracked his neck and flicked open a switchblade. “Let’s get ‘em, boys!” His anarchists rushed forward with a roar, but as Alex watched, Wrath’s shadow blurred and wavered and a figure leapt from the darkness, his fist connecting with Wrath’s chin.

    “Not so fast!” the Phantom cried, his Dusknoir looming up behind him. “I’m not letting you slip through my fingers again, you bastard!”

    Wrath’s men began to turn to help their leader, but they stopped in their tracks when a loud guitar chord split the evening air. “Heroes of Clarus City!” a woman yelled. “Are you r-ready to ROCK?” From the alleyways and side streets lining the ravaged thoroughfare, the Phantom’s army of ghost types rushed forth to engage the Sins’ fighters, shrieking with savage delight as they swooped and dove through the evening air.

    The Hammer hurled the Tyrantrum away and flexed his arms. “Like I said! Always bet on Clarus City!”

    The sound of the guitar came again, freezing Wrath’s reinforcements in place with a wall of sound. The Phantom continued to battle back and forth with Wrath, matching the man’s knife attacks blow for blow with his cane. Alex saw the anarchist’s Incineroar about to pounce and raced forward with Hierro. The two of them tackled the fire type before it could interfere. The Phantom whirled to dodge Wrath’s telegraphed slash, his cape flaring. “You again?”

    “We can help,” Alex replied, ducking one of the Incineroar’s claws. “You focus on Wrath. We’ll do the rest.”

    The Phantom’s lip curled. “Fine.”

    Alex nodded towards where he figured the guitar was coming from. “I thought you didn’t do team ups?”

    “Shut up. It’s not the same thing.” The Phantom turned his attention back to Wrath while Echo continued her auditory assault.

    “Stand your ground against the storm
    And dare to stand upright!
    Charge! Fight! Onward and attack!
    Army of the shadows, sworn
    Defenders of the night!
    Right here! Onward and attack!”

    The ghosts tore through the crowd of thugs and enforcers while the other heroes rallied around the Hammer. The colossus of a man charged forward with a joy just as primal and destructive as the Phantom’s legion, tossing foes aside with his hydraulic arms. Alex and Captain Unova battled hand to hand in his wake while Archangel and his Kadabra hurled their adversaries against the masonry. Hierro battled against Wrath’s Incineroar, the two of them trading lightning-fast blows as they shrieked and snarled.

    “When the night is cold and black,
    We sing onward and attack
    And we lead the storm of the wild!
    Be the fiercest of the pack!
    Screaming onward and attack!
    We’ll fight ‘til our last breath!
    Attack! Attack! Onward and attack!”

    The Hammer swatted Greed’s Ursaring aside and cheered. “Yes! Onward and attack! Don’t falter now, boys! Onward!”

    The street had descended into an all-out brawl, with the heroes surrounded on all sides by Greed and Wrath’s top fighters. Captain Unova wiped a rivulet of blood from his nose. “I’m not one to be pessimistic, but this isn’t looking good. We can keep taking them down, but we’re outnumbered almost ten to one.”

    “We’ll just have to fight on with ten times the power!” the Hammer bellowed, tossing aside a Boldore and whirling on a Haxorus. The heels of his suit dug into the pavement with enough force to leave craters in the concrete. He fended off the dragon with one hand while the he drew the other back, then shot it forward with a loud hiss, knocking the Haxorus back through the crowd. “Hawlucha Man! Watch your six!”

    Alex spun in time to see an Arbok coil and pounce, its fangs dripping with a dark green venom. “Oh hell,” Alex hissed as he dropped his weight and tried to dodge. The serpent sailed over his head but lunged again, and Alex just managed to avoid its snapping jaws. When he tried to land a blow on the Arbok’s head, a Machoke seized him from behind and held him in place. Alex struggled against the lock and winced away from the Arbok’s next lunge.

    Two roars, one deep and bestial and the other mechanical, cut through the air. The crowd before Alex parted as a massive blue pokemon barreled through, a man on a motorcycle close on its heels. The Ronin spun his bike into a stop as his longsword slashed out, cleaving the Arbok in two as it launched through the air. The bisected halves of the snake fell to the ground as his Samurott slammed into the Machoke, breaking the fighting type’s hold.

    “Be more careful, kid,” the Ronin growled as he swung off his motorcycle and switched his grip on his blade. His silver-gray hair floated had mostly come free of its ponytail and floated around his head in thin wisps. “I’m not always going to be there to save your ***.”

    “What took you so long?” Alex grunted as he battered down one of Greed’s men.

    “Midtown traffic is a *****.” The Ronin spun his blade around and plunged it into the chest of a man who was struggling to reload his machine gun before wrenching it out again and drawing a long slash across the chest of another enforcer. “But I heard this was Clarus City’s hottest party, so I got over as quick as I could.”

    They continued to fight on, but Captain Unova had not been wrong. For every opponent they took down, two more ran forward to take their place. All of the heroes were giving it their all, but their strength was beginning to flag. Even Archangel’s incredible psychic powers weren’t enough to decisively turn the tide. The air popped, like a small thunderclap, and where before there had been just empty air, four figures stood atop one of the tenement buildings. As quickly as they appeared, two vanished, leaving a woman in bullet-proof vest and a hulking figure in a suit of powered armor.

    “So this is what’s been holding you two up?” the man in the armor rumbled. “Just a few heroes?”

    “They are remarkably tenacious, Mr. Braun!” Greed shouted back.

    “Then maybe we ought to lend a hand.” Sloth leapt down from the rooftop, and the force of his landing cracked the pavement. His female associate swung down after him, breaking her descent by vaulting nimbly from the windowsills. When she touched down, she flicked out two pokeballs, calling forth a Seviper and a Pyroar. Sloth flexed his fingers, and a Slaking appeared at his side.

    “This is bad,” Archangel muttered, and an instant later he and his Kadabra simply vanished.

    “Damn coward,” the Phantom hissed, throwing back his cape. A pack of Haunter jumped from the patch of shadow it created and rushed towards Wrath. “Echo! Turn it up!”

    Alex saw the young woman with the red guitar from before standing between her Exploud and Loudred on the roof opposite from where Sloth and Pride had appeared, her platinum blonde hair blowing about her head. She gave the Phantom a thumbs up and quickly switched her chords while her pokemon opened their mouths wider to increase the power of their sonic assault.

    “One more, for the brothers who fought beside us!
    One more, and forward again!
    Once more, we’ll fight and conquer!”
    Fight on ‘til the end!”

    The wall of sound kept the entire left flank of the Sins’ forces pinned while the Hammer swept through the crowd. “Marcus Braun! I should have put an end to you a long time ago!” He raised both of his arms up and brought them crashing down over Sloth’s head. The heavy powered suit moved with surprising dexterity, reaching up and stopping the strike cold. The Hammer’s armor hissed as he applied more force, but Sloth was proving too mighty a foe. He broke off contact and surged forward, thrusters on the back of his legs giving him an extra boost of speed. The leader of the Sins reached up and wrenched off the left arm of the Hammer’s armor with a squeal of rending metal and burst hydraulics. He flung the broken arm away as his Slaking leapt on the opposite side, striking the joints with its heavy fist.

    Alex sprinted towards the Hammer, not sure what he could do to help but desperate to try something. Pride lashed out with a kick and sent Alex sprawling back. “Not so fast, kid.” Alex jumped back to his feet and raced in again, heedless of her pokemon coming in from his flanks. Hierro screamed as he dropped out of the air and kicked her Pyroar away, while the Phantom and his Dusknoir jumped out of Alex’s shadow and knocked the Seviper down.

    “Thanks for that.”

    Alex saw the Phantom go red beneath his mask. “I kind of felt like I owed you one. Don’t get used to it.”

    Alex shrugged. “So about that team up?”

    “Just this once. You go high.”

    Alex and the Phantom charged in at Pride. The woman cracked a long whip, tangling the Phantom’s legs. As he fell, he flipped his cape aside and a Ghastly flew out with a scream, racing towards Pride’s face. It provided enough of a distraction for Alex to bound up and over a wrecked car and leap at Pride. “Listen up, asshole!" He descended with a spinning kick and finished up with a punch as he landed, knocking Pride off her feet. “I'm Clarus City’s new protector! I’m the amazing Hawlucha Man!”

    Pride got to her feet and snarled. “I’m going to make you regret you were ever born!”

    The Hammer’s pokemon had managed to fight through the crowd and free their trainer’s arm from Sloth’s Slaking, but the giant ape had already managed to cripple the limb. Sloth stalked in for the kill, his dull gray armor glinting in the evening sun. The Hammer furiously tried to work the controls of his own suit, but gave up in disgust. “It’s no use, old man,” Sloth said. “We’ve beaten you.”

    “Like hell you have.” The Hammer reached behind him in the cockpit and drew out a sledgehammer. “How do you think I got my name?” He flicked several switches and the restraints keeping him in the open cockpit retracted. He jumped down to the street and hefted the heavy club. “Looks like I’m going to beat you down the old fashioned way!”

    Sloth’s arm swung down, only to be knocked away by the sledgehammer. The old man’s biceps bulged as he followed through on the swing and brought it back around, managing to dent the kingpin’s chest plate. His Hariyama held the attention of the Slaking while his Conkledurr rushed in to distract Sloth. Sloth hurled the fighting type away while the Hammer rained blows on the armor until Sloth reached down and seized the Hammer’s left arm in his fist. The old man winced in pain, and Sloth flung him away. His Hariyama pushed the Slaking away and sprinted to intercept his trainer, catching him out of the air and sliding to a stop across the pavement.

    Sloth turned on the Ronin and Captain Unova, but before he could attack, a blast of red-hot plasma scorched the street in front of him. Blaziken Man descended on a pillar of flame, followed by Volcarona Mask and their partner pokemon. Blaziken Man blasted Sloth with several more fiery pulses. “Try picking on someone your own size!”

    Volcarona Mask dropped down in the middle of Greed’s men, spinning her metal quarterstaff. Captain Unova cheered as Echo played harder. “These guys have been going easy on you!” Volcarona Mask cried. “But that changes now!” Her partner pokemon bathed the combatants with scalding wind as the young woman pirouetted through the throng, hurling flash grenades to blind her opponents before dispatching them with a few quick blows from her staff.

    Alex took a breath as Pride retreated and glanced over at Hierro. “That’s Blaziken Man. Oh Arceus, that’s Blaziken Man!”

    Archangel descended to float beside Alex, his Kadabra appearing at his side. “In the flesh.” At Alex’s gaping stare, the young man shrugged. “I thought it was time to bring in the heavy hitters.”

    Jiro Sasaki’s Blaziken sprinted by, turning it into a running start for a leaping kick that knocked Sloth’s Slaking flat. The man himself strode forward confidently, his glowing metal suit clanking. “Thank you for holding them,” he said to Alex as he unleashed another barrage against Sloth. “The heroes of Clarus City never disappoint.” He turned to Alex, Archangel and the Phantom. “I have something that might be able to disable Sloth’s armor, but I need time to charge it. You’ve seen how powerful he is, and I can’t ask you to engage—”

    But Alex was already off and running. Hierro swooped down beside him, and together they jumped at Sloth. They managed to catch the kingpin by surprise, with Hierro landing a solid kick to Sloth’s center of mass. Alex jumped after his partner, beating around Sloth’s head with his batons. Sloth lashed out at them, but Alex and Hierro were light on their feet, ducking out of the way. The Phantom’s Dusknoir appeared behind Sloth and delivered a sharp punch to the man’s head. Though Sloth’s helmet absorbed most of the force of the blow, it gave Alex and Hierro enough time to renew their assault.

    This time, Sloth managed to seize Hierro. He lifted the Hawlucha in the air in his right hand and clenched his fist. Hierro cried out in pain, and Alex lashed out in pure unbridled rage. “You bastard!” he screamed. “Let him go!” He jumped up and wrapped his legs around Wrath’s torso, battering the man’s armored skull with his batons. Alex glared into the glowing eye slits of Sloth’s suit as metal rang against metal. He felt Sloth’s metal fingers close around his waist and pull, but he didn’t unclench his legs, continuing his attack until Sloth wrenched him away. Alex screamed again and tried to attack the gauntleted hand, but to no avail. Sloth flicked his wrist and flung him away.

    Alex saw the brick buildings rushing up as Blaziken Man’s gauntlet flashed. Just before he hit the wall, he felt something seize his waist and pull. The force jerked his neck forward.

    And then everything went black.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2017
  16. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 10

    Alex rose to consciousness with a gasp, as though surfacing from underwater. He thrashed for a moment and kicked the pristine white sheet off his legs, where it fell beside the narrow hospital bed. A heart monitor beside him began to beep rapidly, and Hierro stirred from the stool beside Alex’s bed to place a hand on his partner’s chest and force him to lie still. Hierro stared intently into Alex’s eyes, willing him to be calm, and Alex felt his breathing relax as his heart rate lowered.

    The sunlight streaming in through the two-story floor-to-ceiling windows bathed the room with light. Through the large glass panes, Alex could see the midtown Clarus City stretching out below him. His hospital bed stood in the middle of the bank of windows, connected to a heart monitor and IV drip. The rest of the room was done up in chic modern décor, with leather sofas, an electric fireplace, a titanium and steel workbench, and what Alex could only assume were expensive minimalist paintings.

    Alex tried to ignore the pain in his ribs and struggled to sit up, only to have Hierro flick a switch on a small console, raising the upper part of his bed into a sitting position. Alex nodded his thanks and surveyed the room “Where the hell are we?”

    An elevator at the far side of the room swished open and a man and woman stepped out. The woman wore a modest black dress and heels, her hair held in a sharp up-do with not a single strand out of place. Her makeup was minimal and rather severe. The man wore a collared shirt and charcoal gray slacks with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Though his beard was well-trimmed and he gave the appearance of unflappable professionalism, Alex could see deep dark circles under his eyes.

    “You’re awake, thank Arceus,” the man said, pulling over a stool from the workbench. Alex winced as its metal legs dragged across the floor.

    “What’s going on? Where am I? How long was I out?”

    The woman continued walking past Alex, her heels clicking rhythmically. “You’ve been unconscious for fifty-odd hours. And you’re in Sasaki Tower, obviously.” She sighed. “Pretty much the only place spared from this clusterfuck.”

    “Slow down, Takeda,” the man said. “He’s still going to be disoriented. We agreed we’d take it a little at a time.” He turned to Alex. “Thank you for all your help, Mr. Alvarez. What you was incredibly brave, but it was also incredibly dangerous.”

    Alex jerked as he remembered his attack on Sloth and turned to his partner. “Are you all right? You aren’t hurt?”

    The man placed a hand on Alex’s arm. “Your Hawlucha is fine. With your help I was able to temporarily disable Sloth’s armor, and we had the upper hand for a little while.”

    “You disabled…? Does that mean… Oh Arceus, you’re Blaziken Man!”

    Jiro Sasaki smiled. “I am.”

    “What happened to me?”

    “Archangel managed to catch you, but the force of Sloth’s throw knocked you out. You had a mild concussion, and when the fight was over I brought you back here so you could recover. The hospitals are overcrowded enough as it is, and we couldn't be sure the Sins wouldn't seek reprisal. Aside from the head trauma, you had minor cuts and bruises. But all things considered, you were very lucky.”

    “What about the others? What happened to the Sins?”

    “The police arrived shortly after you were knocked out, but Sloth managed to get his systems back online. We apprehended plenty of their men, but the four Sins all managed to get clear. The Phantom and Volcarona Mask pursued, but they lost them. The other heroes fell back with me to regroup.”

    “And the Hammer?”

    “He was captured.” The woman, Takeda, turned from the windows. “Greed grabbed him in the confusion.”

    Seeing Alex’s stricken look, Jiro held up a hand. “To the best of our knowledge, he’s still alive. The Sins have holed up in Nimbus Tower, and they’re holding him there.”

    “Along with plenty of other hostages,” Takeda added. “Commissioner Bright, the mayor, the president of our board of directors…”

    Jiro Sasaki nodded. “It seems that the chaos the Sins created was just a ruse so that they could kidnap the elite of Clarus City, hobbling the bureaucracy and the police. From what we can gather, their erratic operations the past few months have allowed them to seize control of several notable pieces of property and other assets throughout the city. The property allowed them to place the bombs that crippled the infrastructure, and once we were preoccupied trying to contain that, they went after their ultimate goal.”

    “So now what do we do?” Alex asked. “Hierro and I want to help.” The Hawlucha nodded and turned to Jiro.

    Jiro inclined his head. “For now, stay put. Volcarona Mask and I are convening a meeting of all available heroes shortly where we’ll plan our next move. We know where the Sins are, and for now the police have them pinned. But if we act too hastily, we could jeopardize our chance.”

    Takeda dropped a canvas gym bag at the foot of Alex’s bed. “I took the liberty of getting a change of clothes from your apartment, Mr. Alvarez. And I fed your Skitty.” She glanced over at Jiro. “I also expensed him a mop and a vacuum cleaner that were sorely needed.” Before Alex could formulate a reply, Takeda had crossed the room to the elevator and disappeared to another floor.

    “Noriko doesn’t mean to be so brusque,” Jiro said. “She really does mean well. Sorry if she ruffled your feathers.”

    “No, it’s fine,” Alex said. “Wait. How did you know where I lived? How do you know my name?”

    Jiro smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry to have outed you. I understand how important a secret identity can be. But I needed to figure out who you were so that we could look up your medical history and make sure that we alerted any family in case things went south. I hope you understand? If it makes you feel any better, the only people who know outside of Noriko and myself are her brother and my Blaziken.”

    Alex shrugged. “And you trust them?”

    “With my life. Your secret is safe.”

    “Then I’ll live with it.” Alex shifted to a more comfortable position and looked down at his hospital robe. “Where’s my suit?”

    Jiro walked over to his workbench and picked up the red and white garment. He silently passed it over to Alex, who ran it through his hands. A large rent had been torn in the right wing, and there were various tears along the material. “No,” Alex whispered. “No, this can’t be happening. The whole design is compromised. I’d have to start from scratch. I don’t… I can’t afford to make another one.” He felt his throat close up. “I can’t be Hawlucha Man anymore.”

    “That may not be entirely true,” Jiro said. He hefted a silver briefcase off the workbench and carried it to the hospital bed. “When I get stressed, I like to keep my hands busy. Repairs to my armor are mostly automated now, so after what happened three days ago, I was kind of a wreck. But after I saw what happened to your suit, well, I couldn’t help myself.” He set the case on Alex’s lap and pressed the clasps. “I tried to stay as loyal to your original specs as I could, but I couldn’t resist adding in a few little tricks of my own.”

    Alex opened the case and gasped. He ran his hands over the black and red material inside. “It’s so light! How did you…?”

    “Carbon nanofibers. It should be more durable than your old one, but with far less weight. It won’t be stopping any bullets, but it should protect you from knives, and it’s mostly heat resistant and non-conducive. We ran some simulations, and you should be able to fly just as well as before.” Alex slowly removed the new suit from the case. The black and red material ran smoothly through his hands, and he tugged at the wings beneath the arms. Jiro watched as Alex inspected it. “I opted to go with the black and red color scheme that some Hawlucha have. I figured it would be better than your red and white, since you’re doing most of your work at night. If you prefer the old colors, I can make a new one…”

    “No, no, this is great.” Alex tugged at the wing beneath the right arm. “This seems smaller than my design. Will it really be able to glide?”

    “The nanofibers are elastic. They’ll expand when you need them to. Check out the mask.” When Alex held up the black and green headpiece, Jiro leaned over and tapped the lenses over the eyes. “I installed night vision, infrared and heat sensors. And,” he reached into the case and drew out two metal batons. “I’m particularly proud of these.” Alex turned one over in his hand, feeling the solid heft of the metal, roughly the same density as his old pair. His fingers found a switch on the handle. “What’s this?”

    Jiro grinned. “Stun feature. I know electric types aren’t really your gimmick, but I thought it would be a good idea to have some extra power behind it. It’s not a particularly strong current, but I wouldn’t advise putting your hand on the end.”

    “This is… it’s incredible.” Alex shook his head. “I really can’t accept this. It’s got to cost a fortune.”

    “Don’t think of it as a gift,” Jiro said. “If it makes you feel any better, call it an investment.”

    “But why me?”

    “Because I saw you throw down with some of the most fearsome and deadly criminals in Clarus City without a second’s hesitation. Because I see the potential you have to become a truly great hero. I’ve read your file, Alex.”

    “I’m not anything special. I’m just a broke student from Avenbrooke.”

    “Nothing special? Are you crazy?” Jiro shook his head. “You’re a three time regional mixed martial arts champion. You could have been a professional gymnast, but you gave it all up to go to AIT on a full merit scholarship. Because that’s not enough, you’re an engineering prodigy too. For Arceus’s sake, you built a functioning wingsuit on… what’s your R & D budget?”

    Alex blushed and looked down at his hands. “Whatever’s left over after rent and instant noodles.”

    “Are you freaking kidding me?” Jiro exclaimed. “You built that on scraps? I mean, if you had access to a real lab, with the resources of one of my engineers…” He shook his head. “Anyway, sit tight for now. Like I said, we’re arranging a conference with the other heroes we can reach to talk over what to do about all of this.” Jiro rose and walked over to the elevator. “Hierro knows where the food is, he can get something for you if you think you can keep it down. I’ll be back soon.” The elevator doors hissed open, and Jiro shot off to another floor.

    Alex put a hand on his stomach as it growled, and Hierro jumped down from his stool. The Hawlucha walked over to a small stainless steel refrigerator and opened a cabinet nearby. He quickly prepared two peanut butter sandwiches and fetched a fruit-flavored sports drink for Alex. He hoisted the tray up onto the hospital bed and nudged Alex aside so that he could sit next to him.

    Alex took the sandwich in one hand and ran a hand through the feathers on his partner’s head. “I’m sorry to make you worry about me,” he said. “If things were the other way around, I know I’d be a nervous wreck.” Hierro tore off a bit of his own sandwich and cooed. They stayed like that for some time, until Alex felt his eyelids grow heavy.

    When he woke up again, the bed had moved several feet and now rested in a patch of shadow. Hierro had moved it out of the sun while Alex slept, and by the angle of the light, Alex guessed he had been out for at least an hour or two. The hissing of the elevator doors had roused him, and he saw Jiro and Noriko enter the loft again. “Think you can walk?” Jiro asked.

    Alex slowly lowered himself out of bed and massaged his legs. “Yeah, I’ll be good.”

    “Then you’d best get dressed. We’re heading uptown.”

    Alex hurriedly pulled on the t-shirt and jeans Noriko had gotten from his apartment and went over to the elevator. He felt his stomach drop as the elevator descended, moving rapidly down the floors of Sasaki Tower before slowing as it reached the sub-basement. They emerged in a nearly empty parking garage, where Jiro led Alex and Hierro to an unassuming black sedan parked nearby. His Blaziken and another man waited for them there.

    Jiro smiled when he saw his partner. “Ready to go, Masakado?” The fire type nodded and popped open the passenger side door, folding himself into the seat. The other man inclined his head to Alex.

    “You must be Alvarez. Nice to meet you.” He extended his hand. “I’m Takeda. Noboru Takeda.”

    Noriko saw Alex’s glance. “My younger brother, and your driver today.”

    Noboru smiled. “Well, you do keep trying to get me out of the lab.” He slid into the driver’s seat while Alex, Jiro and Hierro piled into the back. Noboru waved to Noriko as he swung the car around and headed for the exit ramp. He caught Alex’s eye in the rearview mirror. “Jiro says you’re at AIT, right? I was a Clarus Tech guy myself, but I gotta admit you guys have a better campus.”

    “You mentioned you work in a lab?”

    Noboru nodded. “I’m a chemist here. Mostly I’m working in the pharmaceutical division, but I dabble in some other stuff in my spare time.”

    “The Takedas are some of my oldest friends,” Jiro explained. “When I was starting Sasaki Industries, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without their help.”

    “Always a sweet talker,” Noboru said as he turned the car out of Sasaki Tower and onto the main thoroughfare.

    Alex stared out the window, where city crews were already working to repair the damage caused by the Sins’ bombs. Workers in hard hats and reflective vests guided their rock and ground type pokemon to fill in the craters as cement mixers stood by. Fighting and fire types worked alongside welders on damaged municipal buildings. “Aren’t they worried about being attacked?” Alex said.

    “It’s always possible, but it’s not likely,” Jiro replied. “We’ve mostly pushed back the Sins and their high ranking lieutenants to a couple blocks around Nimbus Tower. Any of their rank and file members are scattered, and the police are out in force. There have been a few flare ups while you were out, but nothing the police couldn’t handle.”

    Noboru flashed a badge of some kind at a police checkpoint, and they were waved through. The driver sucked at his teeth. “We’re going to have to take the side streets, Jiro. The expressway is still shot to hell.”

    “Where are we headed anyway?” Alex asked.

    “Volcarona Mask is holding the meeting uptown, away from most of the damage. Try and relax a bit, it’ll be a while before we get to Forbes Manor.”

    Alex’s eyes went wide. “Forbes Manor? You mean Volcarona Mask is Isabelle Forbes?” But as he said it aloud, it started to make sense. Volcarona Mask seemed to have a large array of varying types of technology in her arsenal, but she didn’t seem to have anything in the way of technical know-how. Having access to the inexhaustible resources of the Forbes Corporation would allow her to supplement her acrobatics with the latest in non-lethal weapons technology. Not to mention, she needed to have the resources to support and care for her Volcarona, so she obviously came from some means.

    And after what the Sins had done to the Forbes family several years ago, she had a solid motive for becoming a hero…

    “Yeah, that’s Izzy. We’re pretty sure the Sins have figured it out by now, but one of the perks of having virtually infinite money is you can afford a really good home security system.” Jiro laughed. “You wouldn’t know from looking, but Forbes Manor more secure than most military installations. Whenever we meet with other heroes, we do it there.”

    The steel and glass canyons of the city gave way to upper class residential neighborhoods where the Sins’ destruction was less evident. They had concentrated most of their attack on the commercial heart of Clarus City, striking primarily at the bastions of industry in the financial and manufacturing districts. Most neighborhoods far from the city center had been spared the worst. Eventually, the upscale brownstones and terraces receded as they reached the sprawling estates of the city’s moneyed elite on Clarus City’s northern outskirts.

    Noboru stopped in front of a large iron fence accentuated by intricate whorls in the metal. The artistry of the barrier did little to hide how thick it was, and small metal nodes along its length subtly hinted that it was electrified. Noboru held up an identification card to a panel set into one of the pillars alongside the entranceway, and the heavy gate slowly rolled open. He eased the car up the tree-lined drive and parked just in front of the pillared veranda. Noboru popped the locks and swung out of the car, winking to Jiro as he leaned against the hood.

    “I’ll wait around out here. No need for me to get involved in the hero stuff.” He dug in his pocket for a pack of cigarettes and lit one behind his cupped hand.

    Jiro, Alex, and their partner pokemon ascended the steps to the manor. Alex followed Jiro, who seemed to know exactly where he was going. They passed through several large, open rooms, decorated in a more opulent classical style than the room Alex had woken up in several hours earlier. Crystal chandeliers dangled from the ceiling, and the art adorning the walls was several centuries old. Jiro led Alex to a wood-paneled room lined with glass cases and bookshelves of varying heights that seemed to be exactly in the center of the first floor. He tapped his knuckles against the doorframe.

    The two women sitting within looked up as Jiro entered. The young woman in a white sundress was sprawled on one of the antique leather couches, and she lazily raised her head. “Hey Jiro. I don’t want to play hostess yet, so just like, grab some food or whatever? Cool?” She glanced over at Alex. “Oh, you’re the Hawlucha guy, right? How’s your head, dude?”

    “Honestly, it’s like a hangover on steroids.”

    “Ugh, brutal.” She fiddled with a remote on the table in front of her, pointing it at three monitors on the wall. Alex waited for her to say something more, but it seemed like the girl was done. The other woman gracefully rose to her feet and swept across the room, her red and gold sari swishing. She laid a hand on Alex’s arm, and Alex caught a whiff of jasmine and saffron that seemed to cling to her caramel-colored skin.

    “Don’t let Isabelle’s lack of social graces put you off,” the woman said, leading him over to a table pushed against the far wall. “She gets like this when she’s just woken up. Please, help yourself to something to eat. You must be exhausted after what you’ve been through.”

    Alex tried without much success to gather his wits about him. “Uh… yeah. Uh.”

    “Oh, of course, I haven’t introduced myself! And we only met for but a moment the other day!” the woman said with an expansive gesture. “I am Lakshmi Kandhari. And you, Hawlucha Man, need very little introduction.”

    Alex could only nod at the Dryad. “Alex. I’m, uh, Alvarez. Alex Alvarez. That’s me.”

    Lakshmi hid a dainty laugh behind her hand and handed Alex a plate. She selected several sandwiches from a spread across the table and piled his plate with fruit before getting food for herself. Alex walked in a daze to a couch perpendicular to Isabelle’s and picked up a pesto and arugula sandwich. Hierro hopped up next to him and snatched something with meat in it. Jiro and Masakado sat off to one side, tapping away on a tablet, while Lakshmi returned to her chair on the far side of the room.

    A matronly woman cleared her throat in the hallway. Izzy waved her hand lazily above her head. “Send ‘em in, Vivi. Just keep ‘em coming.” She made what appeared to be an attempt to sit up before flopping back down on the couch and pointing. “Food’s over there, dude.”

    Alex glanced up and dropped his sandwich. “Archangel!”

    The esper’s face lit up with a smile as he strode forward, his feet leaving the ground as he glided over to Alex. “Please, when I’m not working, call me Joshua.” He eagerly pumped Alex’s hand, though he had not yet touched down on the floor. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you’re all right! I was so worried when I realized you were unconscious. In the heat of the moment, I didn’t think to check my power and—”

    “You don’t have to apologize for saving my life!” Alex said with a laugh.

    Joshua sat down beside Hierro. “You’re sure you’re both fine?” He turned his smile on the flying type. “You were terribly brave out there.” Hierro puffed up his chest and began to preen. Joshua glanced over at Alex. “It’s really awful about the Hammer. We’ll have to do everything we can to get him back.”

    The woman from before, Vivi, appeared in the doorway again. “Captain Unova has landed on the south lawn. He should be joining you momentarily, Ms. Isabelle.”

    Isabelle groaned and looked over at Jiro. “Dude, why’d you have to invite Captain Loudmouth?”

    Jiro glanced up from his tablet. “Captain Unova is as much of a hero as anyone else in this room. He earned his place here, same as all of us.” Isabelle rolled her eyes and groaned again. She looked as though she was about to say more when the shadows in the corner of the room blurred, and a man stepped out from what had once been empty space. The Phantom was dressed in his full hero costume, mask in place. He inclined his head to the room.

    “Eddy,” Isabelle said, curling her lips into something that wasn’t quite a smile.

    “Izzy,” the Phantom replied cooly, and Alex could see him raising his eyebrow behind the mask. He swept across the conference room and reclined on a chair near Alex and Joshua.

    A moment later, Captain Unova strode through the door, also in his signature blue and white striped suit. “Hello! I hope I’m not too late?”

    “Think nothing of it,” Lakshmi said with a lazy wave of her wrist.

    Jiro stood and used his tablet to send something to the large television screens that lined the room. The monitors flickered, showing a map of midtown, a red circle drawn around the block with Nimbus Tower. “I think that’s all of us for now,” he said, fixing a small microphone to his collar. “Echo, Gunslinger, Cavalier, do you copy?”

    Two green circles appeared on the top right corner of the monitor. “Loud and clear, partner,” the Gunslinger drawled through the connection. “The Cavalier’s havin’ a lie down at the moment, but I’ll brief ‘em on anything new and interesting later.”

    “Sounds good, Gunslinger. Echo, what about you?”

    A crackle of static interference came through the speakers. “I-I hear you,” a woman’s voice said. “I’m j-j-just keeping m-my mic on mute in c-case something happens. F-Feedback, y-you know?”

    “Good plan.”

    Joshua leaned over to Alex. “We’ve all taken turns standing guard with the police perimeter around Nimbus Tower for the last few days to keep the Sins pinned down. Those three are all onsite now.”

    Alex nodded and waited for Jiro to go on. “For the last sixty hours, the Sins have forced us into a stalemate. Not only have they captured the Hammer, but they are holding Commissioner Bright and Mayor Lynden, along with various other Clarus City elites. Dorian Westfield, the chairman of the board of Sasaki Industries and my personal friend, was kidnapped from his home. Volcarona Mask has also confirmed to me that Ms. Emily Sage, the CFO of the Forbes Corporation, was also taken.”

    “The CEO of Harcourt Industries is being held too,” the Phantom said. “So I’ve been told.”

    Jiro nodded to him and then turned to the room. “As you can see, the situation is not ideal. The Sins have made it clear that if we move against them, they will kill their hostages. The police have made it clear that because the risk to the hostages is so great, they are unwilling to move against the Sins and will drag out the standoff for as long as it takes. As negotiation for their release is going nowhere, I’ve gathered us all here today because it seems the only way to effectively combat the Sins is to remove the hostages from the equation entirely. To do that, we would have to infiltrate Nimbus Tower unseen. Phantom, Archangel, both of you have pokemon partners that allow for some degree of teleportation, yes?”

    Archangel nodded, but the Phantom folded his arms. “Archangel, I don’t know about you, but for Gregor and I to take people along, we need to be physically touching them. That limits how many people I can bring along at once. Should I assume that you have a similar limitation?”

    “Yes, unfortunately.”

    “Right. And don’t we estimate that the Sins have something in excess of forty hostages?”

    Jiro sighed. “Yes, that’s correct.”

    “I can take maybe four people at once,” the Phantom said. “Archangel, what about you?”

    “Yes, four or five would be about all I could take as well.”

    “So between us, that’s only eight or nine people per trip. It would take at least five or six trips to bring everyone out, and I don’t think the Sins will give us that kind of time once they notice their only leverage vanishing from under their noses.”

    “We can all do basic math, Eddy,” Isabelle said. “If you have a point, like, get to it?”

    “I’m saying that if it was as simple as us teleporting in and removing the hostages, you all would have found a way to do that already. So there’s more to this plan, right?”

    Jiro glanced at Lakshmi and nodded. “We’ll need to work in three teams. The first group, the majority of us, would remain outside the tower, consolidating our resources with the police to draw the Sins’ focus while the other two teams maneuver into place. The second team, should you agree to it, would be the Phantom and Archangel, who would work to evacuate the hostages as quickly as possible. The third team would be teleported inside the tower beforehand to distract the Sins from inside and give the second team time to work. This would be the most dangerous assignment, and I can’t ask any of you to undertake it. I’ll lead it myself, and if need be, Masakado and I will go in alone.”

    “Listen partner,” the Gunslinger drawled. “Team two sounds real heroic and everything, but my skillset ain’t suited to hallways and blind corners. I’m going to have to stay out here. I can’t really speak for the Cavalier, but closed spaces and Rapidash don’t generally mix.”

    A burst of static punctuated Echo’s words. “I’m n-no good up c-c-close either. I ought t-to stay on the p-permimeter.”

    Lakshmi nodded. “My grass types and I can do our best work mobilizing outside the tower. It could inflate our numbers on the ground.”

    “I’ll do what I have to do,” the Phantom said. “But you all need to understand that Gregor needs shadows for his teleportation to work. If there’s too much light around the hostages, I won’t be able to reach them in time.” He sighed and adjusted his mask. “But I’ll deploy my ghost types to run interference outside either way.”

    “I’ll do everything I can to get the hostages out,” Joshua said. “Phantom, perhaps my Kadabra and I could carry in something that casts a shadow, to make things easier for you?”

    The Phantom nodded. “We’ll talk.”

    Alex looked around the room and then glanced at Hierro. His Hawlucha nodded, and Alex cleared his throat. “Jiro, I’ve got your back.”

    “Are you sure, Hawlucha Man?”

    “Yes. Hierro and I won’t be able to do much good outside, but we can handle close combat.”

    “I’m going too,” Isabelle added. “Aethon will have to stay with the first group, but I don’t need him to fight.”

    “Count me in.” Captain Unova grinned. Isabelle scowled but held her tongue as the Unovan hero laughed. “Between the four of us, the Sins won’t know what hit them!”

    “I really can’t overstate the danger of this—”

    “I eat danger for breakfast,” Isabelle snapped. “And I wash it down with a side of impossible odds! We’re going to go in there and kick the Sins’ asses and free the Hammer and Ms. Sage and everyone else.” She smirked. “But like, if you don’t think you can handle the heat or whatever, just say so. I’ll go in and bust them up myself.”

    Captain Unova jerked his thumb at Isabelle. “What she said.”

    Alex nodded. “Yeah. We can do this.”

    Jiro allowed himself a small smile. “I’m sorry I doubted you. All right, the best time to strike will be in the middle of the night, which doesn’t give us long to prepare. If we mobilize now we could—”

    He was cut off by a burst of static. “S-Sorry to interrupt but uh…” Echo left the connection open, and Alex heard her Exploud bellowing in the background. “Uh, Gunslinger, d-do you see this?”

    The Gunslinger swore. “Who is that? What the hell is that woman doing? She’s going to blow this all to pieces!”

    “What’s going on?” Jiro demanded. The Phantom was already on his feet and running for the corner he had stepped out of. His Dusknoir appeared, and the two of them vanished while the room descended into chaos. “Gunslinger, Echo, come in! What is happening down there?”

    “Some crazy broad’s walked right up through the front door of the tower!” the Gunslinger shouted. “Ah, hell, we got gunshots! This is going to be ugly.”

    Jiro turned to the others. “All right heroes, suit up. We’ve got to contain this.”

    Isabelle was bounding out of the room. “Jiro, I’ll get the helicopter going. Head out back once you’ve got your armor on!”

    “See you there,” Joshua said to Alex before his Kadabra appeared and whisked him away.

    Lakshmi sighed as she got to her feet. “The best laid plans of Mienfoo and men…”
  17. PhalanxSigil

    PhalanxSigil BONK!

    Soooooooo, superheroes? In the Pokémon world? Count me in.

    I'm absolutely shocked that something like this wasn't done sooner, especially considering that Blaziken Man is a thing in the anime. And just judging from the first 2 chapters, this is gonna be super fun and schlocky and Saturday-morning-cartoony.

    Chapter 1

    Uh-oh, you might want to take a look at that, lady. Your 4th-wall awareness is showing.

    Can I say, just from this, but implied for the rest of what I've read thus far, that I love how light-hearted yet snarky Alex is? He's like a Trainer version of Spider-Man, and he's kinda one of my favorite heroes of all time, so I like him already.

    Don't lie, Alex, that was probably a pretty interesting night.

    Are we ever gonna get context for that, or are you gonna leave us hanging? It kinda gives me a little bit of a Twilight Lady vibe (she's from Watchmen, btw), so I think it would be good either way.

    Honestly, the little bit you mention of the Ronin reminds me a lot of Rorschach, too. Were you reading a lot of Watchmen as you were making this? If you were, I approve.

    Chapter 2

    So, we've got a "Seven Deadly Sins" theme going on. Not only that, but the classics depiction of Sloth actually being really quick and an able fighter looks like it's coming into play as well.

    I also really like the fact that we get a chapter where Alex isn't doing the heroing, but rather watching others do their thing. It's especially good that Alex is a civilian while this is going down, so he's basically cheering with the rest of the crowd, even with an insider's knowledge.

    Y'know, I could make another 4th-wall joke, but in reality, this could actually be an interesting lead-off for future plot points. Will their relationship deteriorate? Why is Hawlucha Man the exception, and how did he get that way? It's interesting stuff.

    I'm a fan of this so far, and I'm definitely gonna make some more reviews after I've read more. Keep it up!

    -Phalanx, out.
  18. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 11

    Some time earlier…

    Julia Richelieu crossed her legs and lifted her glass of wine to her mouth. Her lipstick left a burgundy stain on the rim, and she savored the taste of the vintage on her tongue, the cask having been liberated from the cellar of an exclusive upscale restaurant in the confusion of the preceding days. The rest of the Sins lounged around what had once been an executive boardroom near the top floor of the Nimbus Building.

    The past forty hours had been hectic. Once she and Sloth had beaten back the heroes on the upper west side, they had retreated to Nimbus Tower to regroup, much as she assumed the heroes were doing as well. Though the police seemed to think they had them pinned here like a treed Meowth, Julia knew that was far from the truth. Lust and his Xatu had been teleporting the Sins all around Clarus City’s boroughs for the past three days so that they could position their men and consolidate their hold on the city. So long as they were not seen outside the tower, the police force would be none the wiser.

    They were all waiting on Sloth’s next orders, but Marcus Braun seemed content to let them linger around the tower for the time being, only dropping cryptic hints as to the next stage of their plan.

    Julia had to give Bran the credit he was due; their plot had gone over marvelously well. For months, the Sins had appeared to act erratically, striking seemingly random targets, occasionally in broad daylight. However, the attacks had all been sleight of hand, textbook misdirection, designed to draw the focus of the police and the self-proclaimed heroes, forcing them to step in to halt the showy displays while the Sins gathered up the property rights and assets needed to truly throw the city off its axis. They had secured the rights to several key sites, and that allowed them to access the sprawling network of old sewers under Clarus City to plant their bombs with no one the wiser.

    It had all come together brilliantly, bringing the city to its knees while they instilled terror in the citizens and hobbled the police force. Braun had a brilliant tactical mind and terrifying physical prowess even without his powered armor, though Julia could not help feeling that his tendency to grow indolent after a successful heist was more of a liability than the other Sins would let themselves admit. But Braun got results, and she was nothing if not loyal. Braun had come to power in a desperate and bloody struggle for ascendancy in Clarus City’s underworld, and he had bested her with ease. Though he would have been well within his rights to have killed her right then, he had offered her a chance to join her strength to his and to rise at his side as his trusted lieutenant. Julia had agreed, and had never been given reason to second guess her choice.

    Together, she and Braun had brought order to Clarus City’s underworld, and he ruled with an iron fist. She could respect that, and he, in turn, respected her. Sloth had very little in terms of manpower that answered directly to him. Outside of the six other Sins themselves, he had a few cells of men from his original gang, but he preferred to delegate operations to his immediate subordinates, only dealing with the organization on a macro level. It was Julia’s keen business acumen that had helped them establish a solid power base as the dust of the coup began to settle and cemented her as the strong right arm of the Sins’ enterprise. Braun was the brain, she was the scalpel, and between the two of them, they could exert enough control over Aukai, who was the stick they used to beat down any opposition. Once they had all of that, the rest of the Sins had fallen in line easily enough.

    Braun, sprawled out on a large leather sofa across the room, caught her eye and turned his lips up in a lazy smile. He held a cut crystal glass of scotch with his large fingertips, slowly shaking the tumbler to make the amber liquid circle the base. He tilted it ever so slightly in her direction and raised it to his lips. Julia inclined her wineglass towards him, acknowledging his acknowledgement, and took a sip of her own.

    The small, reedy man sitting on the other end of Braun’s sofa nodded to her and fingered the stem of his martini glass, careful not to disturb Braun’s Slaking, who was sprawled at his feet. Johnathan Stocks, known more by his reputation as Lust, was an utterly nondescript man whose only distinguishing feature was the varied and somewhat garish collection of rings he wore. He had the uncanny skill to blend into the background of any surroundings, a useful trick when one traded in secrets and blackmail like Lust did. Julia was sure that he knew enough to take any member of the Sins down, and though plenty of her other associates were far more intimidating physically, she was reasonably sure that Stocks had the potential to be one of the most dangerous and terrifying men in Clarus City.

    Between her chair and the sofa, Kekoa Aukai and Anya Petrovna sat on either side of a small circular table, their hands locked together in an arm-wrestling match. Veins bulged on Aukai’s forehead as he strained with all his strength to budge Petrovna’s hand even an inch, with no apparent effort exerted on her behalf. For her part, Greed gave an exaggerated yawn and waved over one of her men standing at the fringes of the room. “Boris!” she called. “More vodka!” Then she turned to Aukai and smirked. “You are being rather depressing. Maybe use both hands to give me a challenge?”

    Aukai snarled with wordless rage while Petrovna casually threw back a shot and laughed. “You do not want my generous offer? All right.” With a casual twitch of her arm, she slammed Aukai’s hand down on the table. “I win again! That makes me four for four, yes?”

    “This is unacceptable!” Wrath snapped. He dropped his elbow on the table again and flexed his fingers. “One more round.”

    Petrovna waved her hand dismissively. “It will not change anything. Come, have some vodka.” Aukai begrudgingly accepted a shot, and the two of them drank together. Julia rolled her eyes at the two rowdiest members of the Sins, but privately she was glad that they were taking out their pent up energy on each other rather than driving the rest of them up the wall. Eva Muller, better known as Gluttony, chortled and elegantly raised a small sherry glass to her lips, the cup looking all the smaller in her large hands. She sat next to an abandoned poker game, one that they were not likely to return to. It just wasn’t as fun when more than half of the players could count cards.

    Yousef al Najem gave a derisive snort and leaned back against his Luxray, pushing his hair back from his forehead in what was obviously an affected pose he was trying very hard to make look natural. Envy was the youngest of the Sins by several years, and while he and Julia were of a similar temperament, she found him to be finicky and too obsessive for her tastes. The young man didn’t know when to let things go once he had set his sights on something, and that had made trouble for them all in the past.

    As she looked past al Najem, her eyes fell on the handful of hostages they had brought up to keep an eye on and occasionally taunt. The rest were being held in a conference room one floor below under heavy guard, but the truly special VIPs had been dragged up for a personal audience with the Sins. Commissioner Bright had been a thorn in their side for years now, and while her aggressive policies had forced the Sins into difficult corners, Julia noted with some satisfaction that she didn’t look nearly so “tough on crime” now. Mayor Charles Lynden had visibly lost all hope several hours ago after a beating by Aukai.

    And yet no matter what they did, the only one they couldn’t break was the Hammer. They had already broken his left arm, and his face was a rainbow of bruises. Every few hours, they would beat him again, try to make him submit, but the old bastard refused to give them the satisfaction. Even now, he glared at her from across the room, daring her to get up and try again. No matter what they did, they couldn’t even make him cry out in pain.

    Even when she looked away, Julia could feel the Hammer’s eyes on her, and it infuriated her. She set her wineglass down and prepared to stand up when Sloth waved her down. “Let him be for a little while,” Braun said. “If he’s making himself a tough nut to crack, it only means we get to drag out the fun a little longer.”

    Julia acquiesced with a nod and waved over one of her subordinates to fill her cup. The enforcer poured inexpertly, making a few drops splash out of the glass and onto the black marble tabletop, and Julia’s nostrils flared. But she bit back her irritation; she expected her men to be killers, not busboys. She recrossed her legs and took a slow sip of wine before tossing her dark hair over her shoulder. “So Braun, you’ve kept us in suspense long enough. What’s our next play?” Her lips curled up in a smile. “I’m starting to get antsy.”


    The woman walked past the police cordon with a blasé disregard for the heavily armed officers in riot gear standing all around. For their part, they seemed not to register the woman in a simple white blouse and sharp pencil skirt as she sauntered quickly but without apparent haste through their ranks. Once she was through, four vacant-looking men in nondescript suits fell into step alongside her, and a Gothorita skipped along at her heels. Together, the odd party stepped through the large glass doors of Nimbus Tower just as the assembled forces outside realized what had happened and the uproar began.

    The woman, however, heard none of this. The glass doors closed behind her with a whoosh, and the Sins’ guards stationed around the lobby sprang up with a shout. They pulled their weapons, and the woman shook her head. “Put your gun in your mouth,” she said. The enforcers’ eyes went wide as their hands moved of their own volition, and they all raised their guns to their mouths and bit down on the cold metal. The woman’s blank visage cracked into a small smile. “Pull the trigger.” She pointed to one man standing by the elevators. “Not you.”

    Seventeen guns fired at once, and seventeen enforcers dropped to the ground with holes in their skulls. The remaining man trembled as the woman and her guards walked closer. “Tell me,” the woman purred. “Which floor are your employers on?”

    “Forty six,” the man mumbled, the words muffled by the gun.

    The woman keyed the digits into the elevator’s number pad. “Thank you. Now you may pull the trigger.”

    There was a crack, and the man fell to the ground in a heap. The woman stepped over the spreading pool of blood, careful not to get any on her stiletto heels. The elevator doors dinged and swept shut, whisking them away from the carnage in the lobby.


    Sloth took another sip of bourbon and swirled the glass again before setting it down on a small circular table next to the couch. He shifted his position and rolled his shoulders back. “I guess I’ve kept you in suspense long enough,” he rumbled. “Stocks and I are already moving the money and liquid assets we’ve seized around our offshore accounts. About a year ago I set up three shell companies, so most of the money will be held there.” He paused, something his lieutenants were used to. “Interpol is going to be up our asses, so I’ll be going to ground for a while. The rest of you ought to take some vacation time and get out of Clarus City for the time being. I hear the Coumarine Riviera is nice this time of year. Or a sightseeing trip to Orre? No extradition there.” Braun laughed, and Julia indulged him enough not to hurry him along. “It’s in our best interests to keep a low profile for now. We’ll let the enterprise run on autopilot for as long as it takes to get the powers that be to let their guard down. Stocks is going to stay here and keep an eye on things while we get some R&R and let us know when everything’s clear.”

    “So your orders are to take a vacation?” Muller said. “I could get used to this.”

    The elevator dinged, and Julia whirled in her chair. They weren’t expecting anyone to come up. Four men in drab suits spilled out, guns in hand. The enforcers stationed around the room raised their own guns, and various pokemon prepared to pounce. As Julia reached for her own weapon, a woman stepped out of the lift. “Stop.” Julia’s hand froze and, try as she might, she couldn’t move a muscle. She tried to cry out and demand an explanation, but her throat wouldn’t move. The woman from the elevator raised a finger and slowly lowered it. The enforcers’ weapons dropped too, and a smile spread across the woman’s lips. “That’s better. Why don’t we all be civil?”

    Braun’s knuckles were white on the arm of the sofa. “Who are you?” he gasped out.

    “So you can resist?” the woman asked. “You aren’t just a dumb slab of muscle, are you?”

    Who are you?” Braun repeated.

    “A business rival, I suppose. I thought I’d swing by and scope out the competition.”

    Braun struggled to rise, only to be pushed back into his seat by a physical force. Esper, Julia thought. And a damn powerful one. The woman tutted and folded her arms. “Now let’s have none of that. You know, I was perfectly content to lay my own plans and carry on without interfering with you all, but your ill-conceived charade the other day made a real… well, a real clusterfuck of everything. I hate to curse, but there you have it. I had to step in and clean this up before you ruin absolutely everything.”

    Julia’s eyes darted around the room and saw that all of the other Sins were likewise incapacitated. Aukai’s eyes were practically bulging out of his skull as he strained against the invisible bonds that held them, while Petrovna and al Najem were quietly seething. Muller and Stocks were not visibly struggling, but they were watching intently.

    Braun had managed to raise himself to his feet, though the effort had seemed to take all of his incredible strength. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” he growled.

    “I know exactly who I’m dealing with!” the woman from the elevator cried. “I’m dealing with a man who thinks he’s so very clever, but any time you run into a problem you just pummel it into the ground. You have no sense of nuance, no sense of subtlety, all you do is break and destroy, and honestly, you have been nothing but a damned nuisance!” Her heel clacked against the floor as she stamped her foot in a petulant fit.

    Braun lurched forward, his fist swinging through empty air as the woman stepped back. She snapped her fingers and her four men turned their guns on Braun. “I was willing to negotiate with you, but I see that’s rather pointless.” She flicked her finger at Braun’s Slaking. “Get rid of him.” The Slaking lumbered to its feet, its vacant eyes hooded as it lurched towards its trainer. It raised one hairy fist and brought it down, but Braun was moving quicker now. He threw up his arms and stopped the normal type’s blow, but the impact shook him. The Slaking grunted and slammed its other arm across Braun’s ribs, hurling him against the glass windows on the far wall. The reinforced glass cracked with the impact, and Braun picked himself up with a groan. Julia could only watch in mute horror as Braun and Slaking traded punches, though the leader of the Sins could barely seem to wind his pokemon.

    The woman in the white blouse rolled her eyes. “Tick tock, tick tock. Let’s wrap this up.”

    The Slaking hip checked Braun against the window and threw another fist. Braun’s hands came up and seized it, stopping the blow in mid-air. Sweat poured down Braun’s face and his arms trembled as he struggled to hold it back. “Snap out of this,” he rasped to his partner. “You’re stronger than this bitch.” For an instant, the tension in the Slaking’s arm relaxed, and Julia thought that Braun had the woman beat.

    But she just gave an exasperated sigh. “Oh, put your back into it, why don’t you?”

    The Slaking growled and shoved off its back foot, slamming Braun into and then through the window. The momentum of the shove carried the Slaking out too, and Julia’s eyes went wide as Braun and his pokemon tumbled out the forty sixth floor window and disappeared. “You bitch!” she screamed and jumped up from her chair. Before the shock of being freed could pass, she felt herself locked in place again.

    “Let’s not make this any messier than it has to be,” the woman said. Julia felt a pressure in the back of her head, like an acute migraine. “I believe this is what the finance types refer to as a hostile takeover? So I’ll make you all an offer.” The migraine at the back of Julia’s head seemed to shift, as though it were a tentacled thing, and she felt another alien presence in her head. I can see you want power and order. I can give you that. It sounded like the woman was speaking just beside her, but Julia also knew that the voice was coming from inside her head. Julia tried to shut her out, but she heard the woman tutting again. Now you know that’s counterproductive. Julia Richelieu, I’m in your mind. I know what you want. You want to rule this city and remake it in your own image. What if I can give you that on a silver platter?

    Julia tried to amplify her anger, to force the esper out. She could see the other remaining Sins fighting their own private battles, and she had no doubt that the woman was in their minds as well. You followed Marcus Braun because you admired his strength, the woman said. And while I’m not the muscle-bound colossus he was, I think it’s fair to say my strength is greater than his, but even so, I can’t accomplish my aims alone. Julia, if you join me, I’ll use my strength to pull you up along with me, just like he did. All you would be doing is changing one set of coattails for another.

    It seemed acquiescing with the esper was the easiest way to escape this. If she agreed, she could just wait until the bitch’s guard was down and quite literally stab her in the back. The esper tutted in Julia’s head again. Now dear, that’s hardly a good idea. I’m giving you the chance to join me of your own free will because I value what you bring to the table. But if you don’t give it to me freely, I can just make a puppet out of you the same way I did with that poor Slaking. I’ll use you up, and then when I’m done with you, I’ll have you put a bullet in your head. That hardly sounds pleasant, no?

    So, Julia reasoned, she could join this esper and raise her status by being no better than a Herdier trained to come at her beck and call, or she could be a mindless puppet that would be summarily disposed of as soon as it became too troublesome to keep around.

    So glad to see we’re on the same page, dear. I think you’ll rather enjoy working for me.

    Julia gave a brusque nod, and saw Envy, Wrath and Greed do the same. Muller took another moment as she and the esper seemed to confer privately, perhaps working out the terms of their arrangement. Muller always was a stickler for contracts. Finally, after a long hesitation, Stocks gave a barely perceptible nod, really more of a narrowing of his eyes and a twitch of his head.

    “Wonderful,” the esper said aloud. “Now, you can keep those ridiculous little codenames Mr. Braun gave you if you like, though I shall not be using them. We have a lot of business to attend to, and as I understand it they have already mobilized the national guard to…” She turned to the hostages as though noticing them for the first time. “Who the hell are they?”

    “Some VIPs,” Muller explained. “The elite of the city. We were going to—”

    “I don’t give a damn what you were going to do with them,” the woman said sharply. “I have no use for them. Get them out of here.” She paused for a moment and pointed at the mayor. “Except him. I could have some fun with him.”

    Al Najem leaned forward. “But we spent weeks planning to—”

    “And your plans changed. Get them out of here.” Her four men and the enforcers around the room moved stiffly to the crowd of hostages and lifted them to their feet. Those that had their legs broken were supported by the other captives and bustled to the elevator. Julia felt the alien prickling sensation in the back of her head again, and the esper groaned. “You have more of them?” She flicked her fingers at two of her men. “Get down to forty five and move the rest of them out too. For Arceus’s sake…”

    Once the clamor had died down, the woman flopped down in Braun’s place on the leather sofa. “Now, as I was saying, we have quite a bit of ground to cover and very little time to do it, no thanks to the heavy-handed tactics of your former boss…”


    Alex adjusted his grip on his new batons and took a deep breath. The suit Jiro had designed for him fit like a glove. The nanofibers were light and breathable, and just like Jiro had promised, the material that made the wings was elastic and would stretch to increase drag. He hadn’t had time in their frantic rush to Nimbus Tower to test its flight capabilities, but if Jiro was to be believed, it would measure up with his old suit.

    According to Echo and the Gunslinger, not long ago a woman had breached the police perimeter and entered Nimbus Tower. The heroes had mobilized quickly, aided by Isabelle Forbes’s private helicopter. Alex, Jiro, Lakshmi and Isabelle had all piled in while Captain Unova flew ahead with his Braviary. Alex had watched in amazement as Jiro had procured his armor from the trunk of Noboru’s car, the various pieces anchoring themselves to his body with a hiss of their powered clamps. Pulling on his own suit had miraculously taken less than a minute, a far cry from the struggle it had been to don his old one. He had changed right in the driveway of Forbes Manor, sparing no thought to modesty.

    The helicopter flew at top speed over the city, and they quickly landed in a square a block away from the tower, arriving just before something was hurled out of the windows near the top of the tower. Echo had rendezvoused with the rest of the heroes when they had all arrived and reported that she was fairly sure she had seen a Slaking fall through the window, and a large human whose body type would be consistent with Sloth. However, only dental work would be able to prove that, as the only thing left of the falling forms was a large bloody smear on the pavement and an assortment of shattered bones.

    Using the combined credentials of Blaziken Man, the Dryad and Volcarona Mask, the heroes made their way to the front of the police barricade and were soon joined by the Cavalier and the Gunslinger. The Phantom and Archangel teleported to their side a moment later, and they formed a line just behind the riot squad’s clear shields.

    Hierro whistled low in his throat, and Alex glanced up. There was movement in the lobby behind the glass doors. The riot squads raised their guns as the doors hissed open and a crowd of people came tumbling out. Several had their hands raised over their heads, and many seemed to be injured. “Don’t shoot!” Blaziken Man commanded.

    “But what if it’s a trick?” a sergeant next to him said, still sighting down his rifle.

    “Don’t shoot yet.”

    Blaziken Man strode forward with his hand extended, his armor clanking. The white circle on his armored hand began to glow as he charged a blast, and fire crackled around Masakado’s wrists as he walked at his trainer’s side. As Blaziken Man reached the first people in the disorganized mob, one woman pitched forward, and he caught her with his left hand. “These are civilians!” he shouted. “Many of them are hurt!”

    “MEDICS!” the Cavalier boomed. “WE NEED MEDICS.”

    The police lowered their weapons as the heroes and emergency teams rushed forward to see to the injured. Alex and Hierro each got on one side of a swaying middle aged man who had a thick crust of dried blood on the side of his head, and supported him until a doctor relieved them. They turned back to find more people to aid, only to spy a familiar face.

    The Hammer and Commissioner Bright limped out through the lobby doors, the old man’s arm held in a crude splint. “Johannes!” Blaziken Man cried as he ran over. “What happened to you?”

    “I’ve had worse,” the Hammer grunted. “See to the commissioner.”

    While Blaziken Man led Bright away, Alex slipped under the old man’s good arm. The Hammer grinned despite the obvious pain he was in. “Well, if it isn’t Hawlucha Man! You changed up your wardrobe!”

    Alex couldn’t help but smile back. “It was time for an upgrade. What happened to you in there?”

    “Nothing I couldn’t handle,” the Hammer replied.

    “Is it true what they’re saying? Is Sloth…?”

    The Hammer nodded. “Yeah. Once the dust here settles, Jiro and I will have a talk and figure out how to proceed.” He and Alex reached the perimeter and an emergency technician shooed Alex away. Before he could leave, the Hammer grabbed his arm. “Don’t think that just because Sloth is gone the city is safe. The fight has only just begun, Hawlucha Man. Clarus City still has need of your talents. I’ll be in touch.”

    Alex nodded, and he and Hierro ran back into the press of bodies. Lakshmi glided to the Hammer’s elbow, and a single look at the medic made him think twice about sending her away. “Thank goodness you survived, Johannes.”

    The Hammer thumped his chest with his good hand. “It takes more than a few beatings to keep Johannes Schlagen down.”

    The Dryad smirked. “You and your bluster. You don’t have to keep the brave face up around me.”

    The Hammer looked around at the milling crowds. “I’m not doing it for you. In times like this, people look to heroes to set the tone. If I gave in to pain and despair, they would have too. I can lick my wounds when this is over.” He winced and sucked in a breath as the medic prodded his broken arm. “Jiro and Isabelle, they’re doing what I can’t do right now.” He glowered down at his arm. “I should be out there helping. That’s what’s expected of me.”

    “Johannes,” Lakshmi said gently. “No one expects anything more out of you right now. You stood up to the Sins and came out alive and undaunted.”

    “So has every hero here today,” the Hammer said.

    “You aren’t the only hero in the city, Johannes. Let the rest of us carry the burden for a little while.” Lakshmi turned and helped a woman through the police barricade and signaled several of her grass types to move further down the perimeter as the crowd began to disperse. “We won’t be around forever.” She nodded to where Volcarona Mask was herding a group of dazed men and women to safety. Nearby, the Phantom escorted a man in a tattered suit to an ambulance while his ghosts took up positions around the doors to Nimbus Tower. Archangel spoke softly to a hysterical man, and he quickly calmed down. Echo used the speakers wired into her bodysuit to direct the traffic, waving over those who needed help and sending them onward in an orderly fashion. Hawlucha Man supported a woman with a broken leg while his pokemon partner held the hand of a blind man who was clearly in shock. Lakshmi turned to Johannes and smiled. “You’ve done your part. Now it’s time to let the younger heroes have their chance.”

    “You’re right. As usual.” Lakshmi tracked the Hammer’s eyes and winked.

    “You’ve taken quite a shine to Hawlucha Man, haven’t you?”

    “Can you blame me? A talent like his, and no hesitation when it comes to facing down danger? For Arceus’s sake, he charged Sloth himself without a second thought.” Johannes laughed. “The lad has balls of steel!”

    “I watched him run to the aid of civilians in the initial attack. I almost wonder if the thought of his own safety even crossed his mind.” Lakshmi sighed. “We spent all this time grooming Izzy to be Clarus City’s hero when we’re gone. I’m starting to think we might have been too narrow-minded. We could never protect this city on our own, and it’s cruel to expect her to do it.”

    “I don’t doubt the little sparkplug could, but I see your point.” The Hammer settled back on his stool. “But we’re learning too. We already know what Izzy and Archangel are capable of, so maybe it’s time to widen our reach. With my arm busted, I’ll be out of commission for a while, so I’ll see if I can start laying the groundwork there.” He nodded. “Hawlucha Man, Echo, the Phantom, they all have the makings of great heroes, they just need a little guidance. It’s a hard road to walk, but it’s our job as the older generation to smooth the way as best we can.”
  19. Firebrand

    Firebrand Indomitable

    Chapter 12

    In the weeks following Marcus Braun’s death, life in Clarus City returned to normal. Or as close to normal as things could be in Clarus City, anyways. The heroes had gone their separate ways, and Alex had not heard from them since. The specific details behind Sloth’s demise were a closely guarded secret that Alex had not been made privy to, but the ultimate result was that the Sins had gone silent, leaving a power vacuum in the underworld. The Baron had always kept the Sins more or less out of Avenbrooke, but he had begun expanding his enterprise out into Greenpoint, and thwarting those endeavors had kept Alex busy. Though he knew that Greenpoint was Echo and the Phantom’s beat, they seemed to have other things they were dealing with, leaving Alex to fight on alone.

    On the other side of the city, across the West River in Ridgewood, the mercenaries and thieves of the Kuromori clan were grabbing up as much of the Sins’ territory as they could. However, Alex had yet to see any of their black-clothed warriors lurking around Avenbrooke, so he was content to leave them to the Cavalier and the Gunslinger.

    In the aftermath of the Sins’ offensive, Jiro Sasaki had given Alex a cellphone and had instructed him to keep it close, and that he would use it to contact Alex once he, the Dryad and the Hammer had figured out what their next move should be. But three weeks after the incident at Nimbus Tower and the phone hadn’t so much as lit up, and Alex was starting to wonder if it ever would.

    He and Hierro glided over the rooftops of Avenbrooke, letting a wind coming down from the north lift their wings and carry them along. True to Jiro’s word, the new suit flew like a dream. The material was lightweight and had very little drag, and the wings expanded to catch the breeze. It was durable, meaning Alex could fight more freely knowing he didn’t have to worry about errant tears, and he was able to eat a little better knowing that he didn’t have to sock away money for suit repairs.

    He and Hierro had picked up on a strange amount of activity by a nearly abandoned wharf over the last few days. The police had noted several cars with tinted windows pulling up, and occasionally men were seen lurking around the docks. The Eleventh’s informants had heard rumblings that some sort of deal would be taking place here tonight, but as far as they knew it wasn’t a gun runner or a particularly large shipment of drugs. As such, the Eleventh had placed it at a low priority and Captain Anderson had decided not to allocate resources that were better served cracking down on the Baron. But Alex’s curiosity was piqued, and he had struck out with Hierro to keep an eye on things.

    They reached the wharf and dropped down into a narrow alley between buildings, slipping into the shadows and keeping an eye on the gravel lot illuminated by a single flickering lamp. The scrape of a boot behind them made Alex whirl around, only to be shoved up against the wall of the warehouse. He instinctively reached for his stun batons, but his angle was wrong. Even if he freed them from his belt, he wouldn’t be able to bring them to bear on his unseen assailant, and as of now, they were concealed by his wings. If he kept them holstered, he could still surprise his attacker once he squirmed free of their elbow. He heard Hierro shriek and the Hawlucha’s claws skitter over the pavement, and his unseen foe grunted.

    “Damn it, you two?” The pressure on Alex’s back released and he spun around. A woman in a battered leather jacket swung her metal baseball bat over her shoulder. “What the hell are you doing here?”

    “What are you doing here?” Alex asked.

    Gwen Culain rolled her eyes. “I’m working a contract.”

    “What kind of contract?”

    “The kind of contract I get hired to work, dumbass. As far as I know, it’s all legal, if that’s what you’re wondering.” She scowled. “More than that, I’m not at liberty to say. All I know is my employer wants this kept off the books for what I assume are tax reasons. I’m just here to make sure he doesn’t get cheated out of his payment.”

    “Who’s the buyer?”

    “None of your damn business.” Gwen lowered her bat and looked out over the wharf. “Listen, this is legit, okay? You heroes may not buy it, but I do have morals. When the Sins started getting aggressive a few months ago, I turned down a lot of the jobs they kicked my way. I haven’t had a lot of solid protection work lately, and I need this. I got bills to pay, same as anyone.” She sighed. “It’s a simple drop off. I don’t want to make it all complicated. I just want to take my money and go.”

    Alex glanced at Hierro and shrugged. “You want backup?”


    “I figure another pair of eyes won’t hurt. My Hawlucha and I will hide out on a roof and keep watch. If something about the deal seems off, we’ll tail them and take care of it once you’re clear.”

    “What’s in it for you?”

    “I’m here, and I see a way to do something that will help. That’s what being a hero is all about.”

    “You heroes are fuckin’ weird, man.” She tensed and looked up at the rooftops above them. “Son of a—”

    Alex grunted. “I saw it.” Hierro bounded up the side of the building and took off after the interloper. Alex hauled himself up an access ladder and gave chase, sprinting over the rooftops. Gwen ran alongside on the ground, her teeth clenched. Hierro quickly caught up with the fleeing intruder and pinned her down. Alex quickly reached his partner’s side and glanced down at the captive. “You? Really?”

    The Shadow struggled against Hierro’s grasp. “You've got to be kidding me. You?”

    Gwen climbed up to the roof and glanced between the two of them. “What’s going on? You know each other?” She groaned. “Why does everything have to always be so damn complicated in this town?”

    The Shadow slithered out from under Hierro and jumped to her feet. Alex reached for his batons, but she threw her hands up. “Hey, easy buddy! No need for this to get ugly. I’m probably sort of on your side. Kind of.”

    “You want to explain that?” Gwen thumped her bat against the palm of her hand.

    “I’m just here to swipe something from the Kuromori. You heroes don’t like them, right?” The Shadow smirked at Alex. “And I figure the enemy of your enemy is basically your friend.”

    “The Kuromori are in Ridgewood.”

    “Not tonight they aren’t.” The Shadow jerked her head towards Gwen. “But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

    “What’s she talking about?” Alex demanded.

    Gwen sighed, and the Shadow turned back to Alex. “Ms. Bodyguard didn’t tell you? Her employer is selling a priceless historical artifact to the Kuromori clan.” She was unable to keep the glee from her voice. “And I’ve been hired to make sure they don’t get their hands on it.”

    “Then I guess we’re going to have a problem.” Gwen stalked forward, and the Shadow skipped two paces back. “I signed a contract stipulating that I ensure my employer’s transaction is completed and that he gets away safely. If you’re standing in the way of that…”'

    “No, I don’t care about that,” the Shadow replied. “He can take his dirty money and go. My employer just wants to make sure that at the end of the day, the Kuromori don’t have it.” She waved her hand in a lazy gesture. “And while I’m pretty sure I can handle this solo, it won’t hurt to have my *** covered. So what do you say, bird brain? Want to help me spite some ninjas and keep some ancient Johtonian voodoo out of their hands?”

    Alex rolled his eyes. “I definitely can’t see any possible way this could go horribly wrong. But if it keeps the Kuromori out of Avenbrooke…”

    “That’s the spirit! What about you, Ms. Bodyguard?”

    “I have a contractual obligation to my employer to ensure he isn’t harmed and that he gets his money. Insofar as I have a guarantee of that, I’m willing to hear you out.”

    “Awesome. All right, so here’s the plan…”


    Gwen stood underneath the fluorescent streetlight, her bat slung over her shoulder and her Aggron looming behind her. Somewhere on a nearby rooftop, Hawlucha Man and his partner crouched in the darkness. The new suit had thrown her off at first, but she had to admit it was effective for staying concealed. She had no idea where the so-called Shadow was lurking, but that was probably for the best. The entire plan had sounded like something the girl had pulled out of her ass. But Hawlucha Man had begrudgingly attested to the cat burglar’s skills, and Gwen had decided to watch and see how it all played out. Her involvement in the plot was fairly minimal, and not much more than she would have been required to do under her contract. There was the slight chance that the Kuromori would retaliate against her employer later on if they suspected his involvement in the scheme, but that was beyond the scope of her contract. It might even make him consider employing her services again on a more long term basis.

    If that worked out, she could negotiate for health insurance. So it was probably a win-win for her.

    The Kuromori had stiffed her on a contract almost a year ago, but she was neither stupid nor suicidal, so she had decided to let the matter drop. But the slight to her reputation and professional pride still stung, and if this was a way to get back at the ninjas who thought they could cross Gwendolyn Culain and get away with it, then she was game to try. If nothing else, she and Maximus could bust a few heads.

    Gwen liked busting heads.

    A car pulled into the gravel lot behind her, and Gwen turned around. The driver’s side door swing open, and a reedy man hurried out to open a back door. Klaus Overstreet was helped out his car by his assistant, a man Gwen hadn’t bothered to learn the name of. Her employer was known to most of Clarus City as a well-heeled financier and the owner of a substantial family fortune. What fewer people knew was that Overstreet had made a series of abjectly terrible investments, and the recent upheaval with the Sins had left him in somewhat dire financial straits. He still made enough in a month to cover Gwen’s expenses for a year, but rich assholes have the tendency to want to keep up the luxurious lifestyle to which they are accustomed, so instead of selling off one of his yachts, renting out one of his townhouses, and cutting gold Magikarp caviar from his diet, Klaus Overstreet had begun fencing a few of his family treasures to finance a new round of investments in an effort to save his fortune.

    Gwen found the man insufferable, but she wasn’t paid to like her clients.

    Overstreet walked over to her, aided by a gilded cane. His assistant stood at his left arm, holding a box made of carved hardwood. A Kriketune hopped along on his right. Overstreet coughed into a handkerchief and looked up at Gwen from under eyebrows in sore need of a trim. “Ms. Culain, is everything arranged?”

    “The lot’s clear. Everything is ready for the handoff. The buyer will be here in,” she checked the clock on her phone, “five minutes, I guess. Now, about my fee…”

    “Yes, yes,” Overstreet grumbled, pulling his own phone from a pocket of his suit. He tapped a few buttons and nodded. “Half of the agreed upon amount has been deposited in your account. You will receive the rest when the handoff is completed.”

    Gwen checked the notification from her bank and nodded. “All right. When the buyers arrive, your assistant and I will go and make the swap. You’ll wait here with Maximus. Then, once everything is finalized, your assistant will come back with your money, you’ll get in the car and drive away. Understand?”

    “Ms. Culain, I am perfectly capable of handling my own dealings.”

    The bodyguard fought the urge to roll her eyes. She was a professional, after all. “Mr. Overstreet, I’ll be blunt. I’ve worked with the Kuromori before, and I have found it never hurts to be excessively wary when dealing with this type of buyer. It is better for all of us if you remain here. It minimizes the risk and liability, and my Aggron is perfectly capable of defending you until I can cross the distance from the handoff point. The price of the artifact has been agreed upon already, and so there is no reason why the deal cannot be completed by proxy.

    “My responsibility here is to protect you, and the best way for me to do that is to keep you out of harm’s way entirely.” Gwen planted her metal bat on the ground in front of her. “I don’t tell you how to do your job, so please stand back and let me do mine.”

    Overstreet’s face went red. “You’re an impudent one!”

    “And I get results. You hired me for a reason, Mr. Overstreet.”

    The rattle of tires over gravel cut off her employer’s response as four black cars with tinted windows pulled into the lot. Gwen pulled a cigarette from the pack in her jacket pocket, stuck it between her teeth, and lit it with the lighter she had taken from her father. She rolled the cigarette over to the side of her mouth, clenching it between her teeth like the detectives in movies she had watched with her mom when she was a kid. Some people thought she did it to look tough, but mostly it was to keep her hands free. She snapped her fingers at the assistant. “Come on, poindexter. Let’s get this over with.”

    As she crossed the lot, she glanced up at the rooftop Hawlucha Man was on. She thought she could make out his shape in the darkness, but only because she was looking for it. But for all she knew, it was just an exhaust fan. The streetlights had killed her night vision, but Overstreet had insisted the handoff be carried out somewhere well-lit, despite her advice otherwise. The Kuromori delegation met them halfway across the lot.

    The Kuromori were dressed in sleek black suits, none of the lightweight body armor and hoods they favored when engaged in their more usual business. She thought she could see the bulge of knives and perhaps a gun strapped underneath the jackets of the four bodyguards the Kuromori representative had brought, but that was just professional paranoia. She had never known a Kuromori to go anywhere unarmed. A Sabeleye, a Toxicroak and two Bisharp waited attentively at the bodyguards’ side.

    Sukiyama, the younger brother of clan patriarch Saito Kuromori, flashed a smile devoid of any genuine warmth. “Gwendolyn, how nice to see you again.” The thing Gwen hated most about Sukiyama Kuromori was that he had the gall to age with dignity; his hair was now more salt then pepper, but his beard was well-trimmed, and his eyes glinted with what could have been mirth or malice. His hands still seemed strong, and his name still instilled fear in the right (or wrong, Gwen supposed) circles. A Crobat perched on his shoulder, and Sukiyama reached up to scratch the flying type’s ear.

    Gwen didn’t like bats.

    She exhaled a plume of smoke, not quite in Sukiyama’s face, but certainly close enough to annoy him. “Suki. You got the money?”

    “It wouldn’t hurt to practice some social graces, Gwendolyn.”

    “I’m not paid to ‘practice social graces’. I’m paid to get results.” She saw a movement off to the left. It could have been nothing, or it could have been the Shadow moving into position. She exhaled another cloud of smoke and scuffed her boot against the gravel to distract Sukiyama and his bodyguards before gesturing to Overstreet’s assistant. “We upheld our end of the deal. Where’s the money?”

    Sukiyama sighed and snapped his fingers. The bodyguard on the left picked up a steel case and brought it over to Gwen and Overstreet’s assistant. He popped the clasps and showed them the stacks of bills within. Gwen glanced over at the assistant. “You ought to count that.”

    “You don’t take me as a man of my word?” Sukiyama asked, sounding almost genuinely hurt.

    “Absolutely fuckin’ not,” Gwen muttered. She would have advised the reedy guy to do that anyway, even if she weren’t trying to buy time for her co-conspirators.

    The assistant counted the stacks and nodded. “It’s all here.”

    “Well would you look at that,” Gwen said. “All right, give them the package.”

    The assistant handed Sukiyama the carved box, and Sukiyama reverently lifted the cover. His eyes shone as he looked down at the artifact within. “Incredible,” he gasped, running his finger along the edge of the glittering multi-colored feather resting on a red velvet cushion. “To see a Rainbow Wing so far from Johto, and in this condition…” He snapped the lid of the box shut. “Thank you, Ms. Culain. As always, it is a pleasure doing business with you.”

    “Whatever, Suki.” Gwen dropped her cigarette to the gravel and took her bat off her shoulder, pounding the cigarette twice with the circular tip, the signal to Hawlucha Man that the handoff had proceeded without any complications.

    They hadn’t decided on a signal for what would happen if there were complications. Gwen figured it would probably have been obvious enough.

    She and the assistant walked back to Mr. Overstreet, and Gwen quickly bundled him into the backseat of his car, all but throwing his Kriketune into his lap. “Go,” she hissed. She turned to the assistant. “Drive, and don’t stop until you hit the expressway. If you need anything else, Overstreet has my card.”

    Overstreet shouted a protest from the backseat. Gwen leaned down to the window. “Shut up and do as I say. You have your money, and you’re going to get out of here safely. Send me the rest of my fee from the car.”

    By this point, the Kuromori had reached their cars. Gwen heard muffled cursing as the drivers tried and failed to get their engines to start. Despite herself, Gwen couldn’t help but be impressed. If the Shadow had the skills to silently slip in and cut four engine lines without being detected in the tiny window Gwen had given her, maybe she wasn’t as much of an airhead as Gwen had thought.

    Sukiyama stepped out of the backseat of his car and pointed at Gwen and Overstreet. The orders he was shouting were indistinct from this distance, but Gwen caught the meaning well enough. She pounded the trunk of Overstreet’s car with her left hand. “Go!” She turned to her partner pokemon. “Maximus, it’s time to earn your keep!”

    Her Aggron lurched in front of her as the first volley of gunshots rang out across the lot. The bullets pinged against the steel type’s armor, and Maximus dug his claws into the gravel. Indistinct shapes bounded across the rooftops as Kuromori ninjas sprang from their hiding places. Several of them leapt to the ground and began to sprint across the lot. Maximus roared and swung his tail around, flinging several of them back. Two managed to drop their weight and slide underneath her partner’s tail, only for the first to be clubbed by the base of Gwen’s bat in the center of his forehead. The second managed to regain his feet only for Gwen to swing across his ribs and knock him right into Maximus’s follow-up swipe.

    On the rooftops, she saw Hawlucha Man’s partner kick a pouncing Seviper in the face, while the masked vigilante himself clubbed two ninjas with his batons. The Hawlucha screamed and jumped forward, its taloned feet lashing out with a series of spinning kicks. The disruption prevented more of the Kuromori from descending on her and Maximus, and she supposed she owed Hawlucha Man one for that.

    While Gwen had talked to the Kuromori representatives, Alex had activated the night vision Jiro Sasaki had implemented in his mask. However, the bright floodlight over the meeting had interfered with Alex’s view, so he as he fumbled to deactivate it, he had accidentally turned on the heat-sensitive lenses. The world had changed to a large expanse of blue-black, dotted sporadically with blotches of yellow and red. He had silently alerted Hierro to the threat, and they had made ready to reveal themselves when things went to hell.

    Alex had to admit that the Kuromori were far more skilled than the average thugs he and Hierro normally found themselves up against. Even among the organized crime factions, the Baron’s enforcers tended to rely on brute strength and blunt force trauma to get their point across, and the few times he had tangled with the Sins’ forces, it was their numbers that had made them a daunting challenge rather than their combat prowess. But the Kuromori were all obviously skilled martial artists trained for close combat. Alex had no time to catch his breath after dispatching one ninja before another one leapt at him. Hierro was similarly pressed, and Alex found himself glad that the Kuromori weren’t usually his problem.

    He jumped back as one of the ninjas swiped at him with a curved knife. Jiro had told him that the new suit was reinforced to protect him from knife attacks, but he wasn’t going to tempt fate. Alex went low and swiped out his foe’s legs from underneath him and then, when the ninja fell to the gravel rooftop, he jabbed his stun baton underneath the man’s ribs. The ninja briefly convulsed before falling still. As his next opponent jumped at him, Alex quickly scanned the ground below. Gwen seemed to be holding her own, but he saw no sign of the Shadow.

    Hierro jumped to Alex’s side, his claws balled into fists. The two of them stood back-to-back as the Kuromori closed in. His partner caught his eye, and Alex could see what Hierro was thinking just from the tautness of his muscles and the way the Hawlucha had adjusted his pose. Alex nodded, and Hierro flew back out towards the group of Kuromori attackers. The first ninja and his Bisharp lunged in, but Hierro bounded over them and seized the head of a Zangoose in his claws. He hurled the normal type at its trainer while Alex clubbed the Bisharp and grabbed the first ninja in a lock. He then used the momentum of the man’s forward motion to redirect him and hurled him back at his comrades, bowling two of them over.

    “Hawlucha Man, look out!”

    Alex dropped to a crouch when he heard Gwen cry out, and barely avoided Sukiyama’s Crobat as it swooped down. The poison type banked sharply in the air and whirled on Hierro, but the bodyguard’s shouted warning had given the Hawlucha enough time to react. As the Crobat stiffened its wings to strike, Hierro dropped his weight and rolled backwards. As the Crobat passed overhead, Hierro’s legs shot up, his talons balled. He struck the Crobat in its abdomen, throwing it off balance. Hierro bounded back to his feet and seized the flying type’s lower right wing. He spun it in an arc and threw it at the ground, where it slid across the gravel. A Darmanitan leapt at Hierro’s exposed back, fire brimming in its grinning maw. Alex sprinted forward and jumped, throwing his body weight behind a hip check that caught the Darmanitan in mid-air, throwing it over the side of the roof.

    On the ground, the Shadow watched Sukiyama send his pokemon away from her hiding place. She rolled out from under the Kuromori town car she had sheltered beneath and kicked out Sukiyama’s legs. As the man fell, she seized the wooden box from his hands. Sukiyama snarled and reached for the knife in his suit jacket, but an indistinct purple shape sprang from his shadow and licked his face. Sukiyama went rigid as the toxins from the Haunter’s tongue attacked his nervous system, locking him in place. “You!” he hissed through clenched teeth.

    The Shadow tucked the box under her arm and smirked. “You’re damn right it’s me.” Then she was sprinting away as Sukiyama’s stunned bodyguards struggled to disengage from their fight with Gwen and Maximus to pursue. A group of Alex’s opponents on the rooftops broke off and raced after the fleeing thief. Gwen clubbed another man down and signaled for Maximus to spin again. As the Aggron pivoted his considerable bulk, Gwen jumped up on Maximus’s rear leg and hauled herself onto the safety of his back. Sukiyama’s men ran as the armored behemoth’s tail bore down on them and their pokemon. She waved up at Alex. “Go after the Shadow! I’m clear!” Once Maximus completed his turn, she jumped off his back and returned him to his pokeball. She dashed across the parking lot to where she had parked her motorcycle and swung up onto the seat. She gunned the engine, pulled a pair of cracked aviator sunglasses from her jacket and slid them on. The bike roared to life and tore out of the shipping yard towards the expressway. A group of ninjas hurried after her, but even they couldn’t keep pace with a motorcycle going full throttle.

    Alex and Hierro sprinted to the edge of the rooftop and took off. By now, bounding across buildings was as natural to Alex as running, and the flat roofs of the warehouses in Avenbrooke’s shipping district made this easier than usual. He followed the Kuromori pursuing the Shadow, no longer making any effort to disguise their presence. The Shadow came to the tall barbed wire fence that marked the edge of the shipping yard and slipped through a gap in the links. The barrier only slowed the ninjas for a moment, and soon they were after her again.

    Alex and Hierro took a running start and soared out over the fence, clearing it with ease. The first of the ninjas reached the Shadow, but before he could reach out and grab her, a purple blur jumped at him. The man buckled as whatever it was hit him in the chest, and then fell back clutching his bleeding face. The Shadow’s Purrloin jumped back to its trainer and bounded along at her heels as Alex cruised in low. He and Hierro dropped onto two more Kuromori, knocking them flat. Alex saw the Shadow turned a corner up ahead and sprinted after her. They turned onto a long, straight alley, a straight shot through rows of old brick clerical offices with small blind alleys every ten or twenty yards. The ninjas were gaining, and Alex ran as fast as he could, though his lungs had begun to burn. Just as he caught up with the Shadow and her pokemon, he heard a car peel out of a blind alley just behind them before coming to a screaming halt. Alex whirled and prepared to fight, but he felt the Shadow grab his shoulder and pull him back. “Take it easy, bird brain! That’s our backup!”

    A towering figure jumped from the car and leveled a machine gun. The staccato burst of fire echoed up and down the alley as he fired several times into the oncoming crowd of ninjas. Alex saw several drop, while others ran down alleys to the side. The man with the machine gun glanced over his shoulder. “Hawlucha Man? What are you doing here?”

    Alex raised his batons again. “Giordano? What the hell?”

    The Shadow stepped between them. “Take it easy, Bruce. He’s cool.”

    “You didn’t tell me your employer was the Baron!” Alex shouted.

    “You didn’t ask!” the Shadow snapped back.

    “So we just stole some powerful ancient artifact from ninjas and gave it over to my arch nemesis?”

    “You sure got a high opinion of yourself, kid,” Giordano grumbled as he fired down the alley again.

    “It’s going to the museum!” the Shadow said. “And is this really the best place to have this conversation?”

    Giordano lowered his gun. “We’re clear.” He grinned. “I sent those ninjas running with their tail between their legs. You have the package?”

    The Shadow held out the box, and Giordano put it in the passenger seat of the car. He pulled his phone from his pocket and tapped a few keys. He nodded to the Shadow. “Pleasure doing business with you.” He slipped back into the car, reversed, and then drove away.

    Alex and Hierro almost raced after him, but the Shadow stopped them. “It’s not worth it, bird brain. Look, it’s not a big deal, okay? You can still be one of the good guys.”

    “We just aided and abetted criminals!” Alex growled. “I thought the Rainbow Wing was too dangerous to be in the Kuromori’s hands. How is it any better in the Baron’s?”

    “Because the Baron’s not keeping it, duh. He’s going to donate it to the Clarus Museum of Art and Culture.”

    “How do you know?”

    “Well, the last six priceless historical artifacts I stole for him all ended up there, so I’d say it’s safe odds.”

    “I… you… what?”

    The Shadow shrugged. “The Baron and I have a deal. He hears about things that he’d rather his rivals not have, so he contacts me to get them out of their hands. Then he makes an ‘anonymous’ donation to the CMAC and gets that artifact the best protection the city can afford. The museum gets priceless treasures to study basically for free, so they don’t ask too many questions.” She pulled out her phone and checked a notification for a secure money transfer. “And the gigs pay pretty well too.” She tilted her phone screen towards Alex.

    “That’s, uh, a comma, not a decimal point?”

    “Hell yeah it is. You ever think you’re in the wrong line of work, bird brain?”

    Alex glanced at Hierro and sighed. “So what we did… it was technically the right thing?”

    “Yeah dude, I guess.” The Shadow shrugged. “Or at least the only people getting hurt are the ones who deserve it. Anyways,” she turned and gave him a jaunty wave. “I’m calling it a night. See you around, Hawlucha Man. I like the new suit.”

    Before Alex could stop her, she had vanished into the darkness. Alex slumped against the wall and sighed. “Hierro, when did everything get so damn complicated?” He dug the phone Blaziken Man had given him from his belt and glanced down at the screen. Still no messages. Alex sighed and put the phone away while Hierro looked for a fire escape. It was still a few hours until dawn, and that meant a few hours for things to go bump in the night in Avenbrooke.
  20. Ambyssin

    Ambyssin Winter can't come soon enough

    Man, this is criminally underappreciated! Because it's definitely a fun, high-octane read. The characters are all very colorful and distinct from each other, be they heroes or villains. There’s plenty of source material I can see you pulling from, even with my limited knowledge of superhero movies. It certainly never stopped being entertaining, though I know people who aren’t total action fans might get turned off from this. That said, with maybe a few exceptions the action scenes never get too wordy. The only issue I might have is that sometimes the expositional backstory can drag the pace of things down a bit. Given the type of story this is, I’m not really sure if/how you could better address the subject, like police files or something. Otherwise, I don’t have much more to say on the subject. It’s just a really over-the-top thrill ride. But it’s a sharp contrast to a lot of the other stories around here, so it made things very enjoyable for me.

    Ch 1
    So, I guess I’d call this a cold opening of sorts? Hard to say, really. But I like that we’re diving right into the action here. There’s some pretty fun banter between our hero and the Soothsayer. With this one in particular getting quite a laugh out of me:
    And the following scene with the police department makes it pretty clear this is not an ultra-serious story. Which I’m totally fine with. It’s fun to see the police casually talking with Hawlucha Man like this incident is nothing out of the ordinary. And immediately I see this Ronin character brought up, offering a contrast to Hawlucha Man as a much more ruthless vigilante. And I do like that Hawlucha Man utilizes Hawlucha’s signature gliding in his own way with a wingsuit. It’s a nice touch that feels a step better than the Blaziken Mask schtick the anime did.

    Ch 2
    Alex’s mild-mannered moment at the start is perfect. Everyone’s reached a stuck point studying. It’s too relatable, ha ha. Getting into the news broadcast, it looks like you have an organized crime group based around the seven deadly sins? Cool. And utilizing a Slaking for Sloth is very appropriate. As is giving a Seviper and Pyroar to Pride (I get it, pride of lions, see I’m smart). The battle itself is interesting and it’s cool to see the humans actually duking it out with the Pokémon. Blaziken Man even balances his partner to some agree, the former using ranged attacks while the latter gets in close for furious kicking. Blaziken Man’s backstory screams Iron Man, while Hawlucha Man’s kind of makes me think of Spider-Man. I’m sure that’s intentional. At the same time, this chapter gives off hardcore Kick-*** vibes with these heroes springing up after Blaziken Man as well as the various villain factions running about.

    Ch 3
    Okay, we’ve got mobsters and what looks like a “private security” thug. I think the idea of private security contractors in the Pokémon world is cool and should totally be explored more often. Alex’s banter with Grace is pretty funny and she rings of someone who’s basically just a punch-clock enemy. With that said, this battle makes Hawlucha Man’s limited abilities pretty apparent thanks to Maximus. And it’s clearly a fight he can’t win, but manages to find a creative outlet to end it.

    This was hysterical. I love it when enemies just kind of give up for such trivial reasons.

    Moving onto the Baron himself. First off, I do think that, as far as narrative flow goes, it might’ve been better to put the Baron’s description early on in the chapter while Alex is still doing his reconnaissance. Where it is, it kind of serves to take me out of what’s supposed to be a bit of a tense standoff. But that’s probably just me being weird. As for the actual confrontation, the mobsters bring the guns out right away. Fitting, though it’s always weird seeing them in a Pokémon story. And, like with Grace, he and Hierro struggle a bit with the Baron’s Empoleon. Which is interesting to see early in the story. But given you pegged the Baron as someone who’s hard to pin down, his actions matched his profile.

    Ch 4
    Probably why my wardrobe hasn’t changed in years. :p

    Anyway, bank heist in progress! And the police captain’s not feeling quite as cooperative, though he acquiesces pretty quickly. It’s interesting to see Hawlucha Man interacting with baddies he knows versus ones he’s meeting for the first time. Seems like Pierre was in a psych hospital or something. Like a not-Arkham Asylum (but more benevolent, I hope).

    Steve Rogers, is that you? I see we have us a hammy hero. But I approve of the Braviary!

    The more-experienced (and better equipped) heroes do a good job of giving me a sense of just how outclassed Hawlucha Man is at the moment. That’s not to say he doesn’t end up sitting around doing nothing though, which is also nice to see.

    These lesser baddies are all hilarious and I love how unamused they are with the superhero routine.

    And, to one-up last chapter’s mess, here Hawlucha Man can’t deal with the Shadow and she’s able to get away (presumably) scott free! Poor guy. But hey, everyone’s gotta have humble beginnings.

    Ch 5
    Tuxedo Mask, is that you?! Aww yeah, we got a dapperAF character. He’s great too. Extremely polite. Very refined and eloquent. And apparently he’s one of the more “hardcore” vigilante types, which is either totally in line with the gentleman trope or the complete opposite and I’m not sure which to go with but I don’t care. It’s great. XP

    I also like Wrath’s choice of Pokémon (though I always though the Heel thing Incineroar did was an act) and how you do a good job making the Phantom’s ghosts appear sufficiently creepy with all the phasing they’re doing. And, as a great to foil to the gentrified Phantom, we have punk-rocker Echo (who makes me think of Ember McLain from Danny Phantom for some reason… oh god I’m dating myself here). It’s intriguing that she seems to have a stutter going to her. I can’t tell if she’s naturally nervous or flustered by the Phantom’s presence. Maybe both? In any case, it was really cool to see the Phantom’s ghost legion working in tandem with her, and the Exploud family acting as literal amplifiers for Echo. Nifty way to put the superheroes on par with their Pokémon, so to speak.

    Ch 6
    Aww snap, after some allusions we finally have the Ronin’s introduction. And he’s no-nonsense, as I expected. Don’t think I don’t get the reference with his Pokémon’s name, either. Much to my surprise, Alex doesn’t try anything to stop the Ronin from killing the guy. And, in an interesting (though I kind of expected it) twist, Ronin’s trying to convince Alex to behave similarly. The bit of his backstory is a far cry from any of the other heroes so far, in a sort of refreshing way. It’s like a dark, twisted take on the types of heroes related to the military (Captain America, War Machine, Hawkeye, etc.) And I’m very intrigued by the bit he drops where he thinks the Sins are up to something big. Can’t say I really liked Alex’s moody, self-reflective bit. Might’ve been better for things to have been a bit more subtle, but hey, overall in interesting chapter for one that’s comparatively low-octane.

    Ch 7
    Back to the Baron. And you go to great lengths to establish him as a decidedly more pragmatic villain than his counterparts in the Sins. Some parts Giovanni, with a bit of Lex Luthor for good measure. It’s hard to peg exactly what he’s after. Though it seems like he’s basically just in it for the money. I also got a kick out of Hawlucha Man sharing donuts with the cops. Actually, I really like their teamwork. I know it’s kind of cheesy to see police embracing superheroes like this. But, hey, you manage to make it very entertaining and I’m rooting for all of them.

    On the other hand, looks like the Baron manages to outfox Hawlucha Man again. And he’s recruited Pierre to boot. Poor guy can’t seem to catch a real break. But that doesn’t stop him from managing to be a bit creepy. I’m not sure why Hawlucha Man seems so insistent on helping the guy out, but that’s sure to pop up again as a future struggle for the guy.

    Ch 8
    My goodness, you certainly can’t paint much higher stakes to start off a chapter, can you? For one thing, all the heroes coming together. For another, it looks like the Sins are actually coordinating this time around. It looks like all the other heroes besides Hawlucha Man are getting brief moments in the sun here. Though it’s funny that they don’t seem to be the most cooperative. And we even get some new people joining the fray here. The Dryad seems more like a proverbial queen bee. Or, I don’t know, like a reverse Poison Ivy? In any case, it’s cool to see all the grass and steel-type Pokémon running about and giving the thus the work around.

    Aww, yeah, we got a hero called the Gunslinger. And he’s totally a crackshotter. I like that he imbues the bullets with some elements of Pokémon. And the descriptors of what some of the bullets can do are pretty nifty (like the ice ones freezing up the Muks). Even though these new guys are a bit on the stereotypical side, I do love me a badass knight riding in on a noble steed. Basically this is one giant, extended battle scene, that’s clearly continuing into the next chapter. But it’s very high octane and your constant introduction of different heroes keeps things from getting too stale.

    Ch 9
    And the fight moves onward. More villains getting introductions, along with heroes. I will say that their descriptors drag down the pace of the battle a little bit (and clutter things up). I’m assuming most of these aren’t one-off characters, so perhaps you could have saved, say, the Boyar’s description for another time. But I did like the Hammer’s hydraulic mech and the chaos it brought along with a Metagross. And it’s cool seeing the heroes actually teaming up, especially to give Alex and Hierro their best shots from the air. Things get over the top quickly, too, with Unova’s arrival and the 18-wheeler getting hurled. It’s really chaotic, especially with Greed and Wrath and all their troops, but I can follow it enough to tell what’s going on. A venerable living arms race of sorts. With both heroes and villains bringing out bigger “guns” so to speak. I was a bit let down that the ending is some sort of blast/pulse thing that Blaziken Man triggers that ends everything pretty abruptly. But given how much battling was going on up to this point, I can understand wanting to end it.

    Ch 10
    We immediately get to the aftermath of the situation here. Again, I think I’d have liked to have seen this in person rather than getting an after-the-facts play-by-play, but this is all from Alex’s perspective, so I won’t make a big deal over it. Having in Sasaki tower like this basically screams Spider-Man Homecoming to me (which I have not seen as of yet). Especially with Jiro modifying Alex’s suit. I know it’s an intentional reference; I just find it amusing. Just like how Alex gets a shiny Hawlucha color scheme.

    Well that answers some financial questions. Though it’s weird to see Alex’s idol semi-fawning over him. Then again, I think Tony Stark does that to Peter in the MCU, so what do I know? ^^;

    Anyway, this stuff is followed up with a parade of the different heroes from the big brawl in their civilian identities, it seems. Then we have a sort of Avengers Assemble-esque plan getting stitched together here. No surprise Alex takes the most dangerous option, but I didn’t anticipate someone trying to storm the tower on their own.

    Ch 11
    Ah, and now we’re checking in on the villains. It’s interesting to finally get a little headway as to what makes the Sins tic and some of their inner workings. They’re some stereotypical villainous gang. There’s a bit more to them than the initial appearance it seems. Greed is so stereotypically Russian here, it almost hurts. But all that is quickly stepped aside for the Sins’ operation to get hijacked by Ganonthis esper lady. I guess we’ve reached the point where the main villainous threat is upstaged by someone even more evil. Gotta say, I’d have liked to have seen a climactic stand off with Sloth, but I guess that strong desire means this new villain did a good job putting him down so quickly. But it is capped off by a nice, touching little scene between Dryad and Hammer musing about passing things onto the next generation. A pretty good scene to cap off this whole “coming together” business the last few chapters had. And important considering the new villain we have on our hands.

    Ch 12
    Back to more low-key hero work, it seems. Though things start out a lot more morally gray than any of the previous chapters, with rivals(?) teaming up so everyone can get what they want, in a manner of speaking. We have the introduction of the Kuromori, who seem to have some elements of a ninja clan, although it also feels like there are Yakuza roots in there. It’s funny that all of this involves an inept socialite, though. It’s pretty common to see them get mixed up with the wrong crowd in superhero media. Or at least, the limited amount I’ve been exposed to. And it’s nifty to see Hawlucha Man’s and Gwen’s more “up close and personal” combat style interacting with the Shadow’s heavily stealth and deception-based techniques. She’s clearly the one in control of the situation here. Which, I guess, is what you expect in a rival character of sorts. I do like how she alway seems a step ahead of Hawlucha Man and tries to complicate things by convincing him that maybe he’s better suited toward putting his strength elsewhere. At the same time, you continue to paint the Baron as a much grayer villain that his counterparts. But I like that he’s just a regular guy getting buy with keen acumen in this crazy world of superheroes and supervillains.

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