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The Amazing Hawlucha Man

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Oh man. I can tell this is a good story because I opened it up, started reading and lowered my phone a few minutes later to find I'd somehow acquired a smile. Which is a testament to the strength of what you're doing here, I think, because honestly, I do not care for superheroes in the slightest, for the most part. But I'll have to make an exception for this; it's just so charming and campy, and it hits all the right notes, from implausible villainy to a deadly serious “this is what I'm fighting for” speech delivered from a rooftop.

I feel like one of the biggest and least well-remarked-upon influences on writing of the last half century has been TV and movies (and, in more recent years, video games, though I guess that goes without saying in a Pokémon fanfic). And this is, like the Halvarsaga, wonderfully and gorgeously cinematic; you have a real flair for action scenes, huge and visual and just about ready to leap from page to screen, and that skill really shines in a story like this. Sometimes the in-story camera and the camera of the story (so to speak) even collide, as in that interesting moment in chapter two where Blaziken Man is fighting Sloth and the whole thing is being broadcast live, blow by blow, and everyone is cheering it on like spectators at a sports game despite the potentially lethal stakes. It's sort of deliriously hypermodern, taking Debord and making something strangely positive of it. Weird, but very cool.

And the way at the end of that same chapter that Alex's thoughts swing from “fortune and glory” to “I need to help people” and back to “fortune and glory” is interesting, too. It's so twenty-first century, where even people who have never so much as looked at a single piece of superhero media (like me) are familiar with all the big superheroes anyway because you can buy literally anything with their faces on it; it's all buzz and persona and image, explicitly so, and yet the story doesn't try to paint this as a moral failing. It's just a part of how this particular public service operates. It's super cool, and I don't know what I think of any of it yet, but it's definitely interesting.

One interesting counterweight to that is the fact that being a costumed vigilante is so much more open in this world than it usually is. People have pokémon, and if they also have a mask then they're halfway there already; they don't necessarily need a massive amount of money to get hold of gadgets and stuff. Lots of these people do have that, but like, as far as I can tell Echo is just a woman with a guitar and a couple of pokémon and the Ronin is a guy on a bike with a broadsword and a samurott, and you can tell how you wouldn't need to be Fake Bruce Wayne to become the Phantom, just have some ghost-types and a nice dress shirt. So it is, in a sense, very egalitarian, and it adds a cool twist to the world.

Speaking of the various heroes, the concepts are spectacular, by the way. And there are so many! That massive, multi-chapter action sequence where they're all slugging it out is just a delight to read. Explosions, giant robots punching each other, people throwing cars around – it just has everything, and all of it fits so well, too. It's fun, and it works. Neither of those things are assured when you set out to write something like this, but you've achieved them both.

If I have a complaint, it's that the moral stuff often feels a bit heavy-handed, especially that first encounter with the Ronin, where Alex is just sort of declaiming his issues to the world at large. That said, it's much better framed in chapter twelve, I think, so perhaps that's not something you need to worry about going forward. I also feel like the big takeover thing, while the scene itself was very cool, sort of … took the wind out of the plot's sails a bit. You spent so much time building up for the massive fight, and then everything just kinda fizzles out. It's definitely a little disconcerting, but I don't know if that's in a good way.

It might also be nice to see a bit more of Alex, as opposed to Hawlucha Man. We get glimpses here and there – at the start, and in chapter ten – but it feels very marginal; I don't have a very strong sense of who he is or what sort of place he's coming from, and that feels like a little bit of an oversight in a superhero story, where secret identities and the difficulties they cause are usually part of what drives at least some of the plot. I thought you were going to go into that more at the start, where you introduced Alex's skitty, university and landlady, but since then it's just been Hawlucha Man all the way.

Finally, something that's much less of a considered response than just some raw enthusiasm: god damn I love Gwen. I loved her a lot already, but I loved her even more when she put on a pair of cracked sunglasses while trying to ride a motorbike at night. That's the kind of commitment to the aesthetic you just have to respect.

All in all: this is really, really fun. I can't wait to see what you do with it next.
 
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Firebrand

Indomitable
Chapter 13

Alex had learned two things so far that night. The first was that his suit was fireproof. The second was that Sergeant Matsuri cursed like a sailor when she was pissed off.

He and Hierro crashed through the third story window of a supposedly abandoned tenement house while Matsuri kicked down the door on the ground level, each blow punctuated by the fragment of yet another curse. “Son of a bi… Motherfu... there we go!” There was a crash as the door was knocked off its hinges and Matsuri’s booted feet stomping across the first floor landing. “Hawlucha Man, you have visual on the runners?”

Alex glared at the unkempt old man huddling in the corner of the dingy room. He muttered to himself and hugged five Pidove close. Alex inclined his head and walked out onto the landing. They weren’t here to clear out squatters. The man’s door had been broken down, and the door at the far end of the landing was standing ajar. “No visual, but they came through here.”

“Damn it! All right, I’m heading out the back.”

He and Matsuri were pursuing the leaders of an opiate ring that Matsuri had been chasing down leads for since before the Sins’ attack. In the aftermath of Sloth’s downfall and the Sins going dormant, the drug suppliers had cut ties with Gluttony and thrown in with the Baron’s organization and expanded their Avenbrooke operation. Matsuri had enlisted Hawlucha Man’s help in ambushing them in what they had hoped would be a quick sting operation, but Antoine and Thomas Coquille had managed to slip out of their main supply base and had led Matsuri and Alex on a mad chase through their safe houses.

Alex ran across the landing and vaulted out the broken window onto the fire escape. The building across the way had no windows facing the alley, so he had to assume the drug czars had taken to the roof. He called this down to Matsuri and sprinted up the fire escape. When he and Hierro reached the top, he estimated the distance across the alley. He could probably make the jump, but he thought he would need his wingsuit to clear the distance. Antoine and Thomas only had a Breloom and Sabeleye to aid them, and neither would provide much help in crossing the gap. The building stood on a street corner, meaning it was open air to the right and straight ahead, which left only the left neighbor. The building there was flush up against the tenement house, but another story taller. Hierro was already running forward, bounding up the wall with two quick leaps. Alex followed after, jumping as high as he could and dashing up the wall and just managing to grab the lip of the roof. He reached up with his free hand and felt Hierro’s hand grab his wrist, hauling him up the rest of the way.

Matsuri reached the roof just in time to watch Alex scramble up the building. “Oh, you have got to be fuckin’ kidding me!”

“Can you make it?” Alex called back.

Alex assumed by the stream of curses that she probably couldn’t. He scanned up and down the street, but the Coquilles had moved fast. He and Matsuri assumed they were taking a circuitous route to their hideout somewhere in the sprawling, labyrinthine warehouse district, but they had hoped to head them off before the Coquilles got that far. The warehouse district was too much ground even for the entire Eleventh Precinct to cover, and too many criminals had vanished into its alleys. Alex had to assume Thomas and Antoine were heading vaguely northwest, and the most logical path for them to take would be up St. Martine Avenue, especially if they were trying to shake a pursuit.

Alex and Hierro turned back towards Matsuri. “I can’t see them, so looks like we’re going for Plan B. I’ll take the rooftops towards St. Martine.”

Matsuri swore again. “The night market?”

“The night market,” Alex agreed.

The Avenbrooke night market spanned several blocks along St. Martine Avenue, clogging the streets with shoppers and revelers as they sampled food from all over the world, traded wares and got drunk. The night market was a major tourist draw for Avenbrooke in the warmer months of the year, but the bulk of the patrons were locals who just wanted fried, greasy food and to enjoy a beer outside under strings of Solstice lights. The problem with the night market was between the stalls and the foot traffic, it effectively barred motor traffic and consequently made it very hard to police. An enterprising criminal could shove their way through the crowd and lose a pursuing officer, even if the officer abandoned their cruiser and followed on foot.

But not many criminals counted on a pursuer from the air.

Alex stretched out his arms. “You go back down to the street and loop around in your car. I’ll take the rooftops.”

Matsuri nodded. “I’ll rendezvous with you on Seventeenth.”

Alex and Hierro ran to the edge of the building and took off, soaring out over the street. The rooftop had been the tallest for several blocks, and a steady, favorable wind was blowing. Alex angled his body northwest, towards the gentrified neighborhoods that slowly gave way to the lights and revelry of the night market.

Rooftop gardens and elegant backyard patios flashed by below Alex and Hierro as they shot overhead, occasionally dashing across an empty rooftop. Alex could see the glow of the night market, even from several blocks away, a golden haze bleeding over the tops of distant buildings.

As they closed the gap, the wind shifted, and Alex felt himself quickly losing altitude. He spread his wings as wide as he could, but they couldn’t catch enough drag to keep him aloft. He quickly angled himself so that he drifted over the brownstone apartments on the side of the street so he wouldn’t fall quite so far and lose precious time. The rooftops rushed by underneath him as he scanned for a place to jump from, but the buildings all had jumbles of machinery and HVAC equipment on the roofs, and he had no safe place to make a landing.

Three buildings ahead, he saw a well-lit rooftop with a terrace garden, and knew that he would reach it just before he crashed. He prepared to land, and then saw that the rooftop was occupied. A long table stretched across its length, and a dinner party seemed to be in progress.

“Oh crap,” Alex muttered.

He landed on the table with a bang, and was immediately off and running. The party guests shouted in alarm and indignation as he sprinted down the length of the table, doing his best not to step in any of the food as the diners hurried to snatch up their plates. “Sorry! Really sorry! Oh, watch your wine!” He stumbled and nearly face planted into the main course before righting himself and continuing onward. “Sorry again! This all looks really good, by the way.”

When he reached the end of the table, the man sitting there stood up in a huff. “Now listen here, you—”

Alex jumped off the edge of the table, onto the lip around the building’s edge, and sprang off. “Kind of in a rush right now! Enjoy the rest of the party!”

Hierro drifted down to glide beside him and silently shook his head. Evidently the Hawlucha had managed to remain aloft and had watched Alex’s mishap from above. At least Hierro had the grace not to laugh in Alex’s face about it. Or at least, he didn’t laugh now, but Alex was sure he wouldn’t hear the end of it later.

They reached the night market without further mishaps, and paused on a rooftop to scan the crowd. The market stretched down St. Martine Avenue, with tents selling food, booze, and virtually everything else under the sun on each side of the street. A thick press of bodies drifted up and down the avenue, filling the night air with chatter. The shifting sea of people and pokemon made it too hard for Alex to focus on any one individual, but Hierro’s eyes were far sharper. “You got something?” Alex asked.

Hierro nodded and pointed off to Alex’s right. Alex couldn’t make out anything specific in the undulating crowd, but he backed up a few paces from the lip of the building. “Lead on, partner.” They shot out over the night market, and Alex heard several gasps down below.

“Hey, is that Hawlucha Man?”

“Hawlucha Man! Hey!”

“What’s going on? Should we be worried?”

“Look, it’s Hawlucha Man!”

Hierro stooped into a dive, and the crowd parted around the flying type as Alex alighted behind him. “Antoine Coquille. Don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”

Antoine whirled. “You don’t know when to quit, do you?”

“Never have,” Alex quipped back.

Antoine snarled and whipped out his left hand. Hierro shrieked as a Sabeleye burst from the shadows and Thomas Coquille rushed out of the crowd, a wicked-looking knife clutched in his fist. “Eyes on me!” Alex barked, and he saw Hierro tense. Alex swept low and drew his batons while Hierro jumped up and launched off Alex’s back, driving his taloned foot into Thomas’s chest, sending the man flying back into the night market crowd. Alex activated the electric current in his batons and clubbed the Sabeleye as it lunged. “Everyone stand back!” Alex commanded as a few men made to grab Thomas’s arms. “The CCPD and I have this under control. I don’t want anyone getting hurt!” The crowd withdrew as Antoine commanded his Breloom to attack. Alex swept his leg up into a roundhouse kick, knocking the grass type into Hierro’s fist.

“Yeah Hawlucha Man! Show ‘em how it’s done!”

“You can do it!”

“Teach ‘em not to mess with Avenbrooke!”

“Kick his ass, Hawlucha Man!”

Antoine gritted his teeth and drew a gun from beneath his jacket, brandishing it at the crowd. “Out of the way,” he snapped. The crowd instinctively parted, and Antoine sprinted through. Hierro tried to snatch Thomas as he ran by, but only managed to tear his coat. The Coquilles' Sabeleye melted back into the shadows as the Breloom bounded after its trainers. Alex and Hierro took off after them, but the Coquilles did not make it easy. They overturned small stalls in their wake and shoved people and pokemon down, forcing Alex to leap over them, losing precious seconds.

“Hawlucha Man, over here!” A fruit vendor waved to Alex from the bed of his pickup truck and pointed at the roof of his stall. “Jump on up!”

Alex grinned beneath his cowl as he vaulted into the truck, onto the cab, and then finally pulling himself onto the stall. Hierro dashed up behind him, and together they raced across the top of the night market. The crowd below cheered him on as he dashed over ramen stalls, kebab stands, clothing merchants and grocers. Below him, someone had managed to haul a large industrial fan out into the thoroughfare, and angled it upwards. The fan spun to life with a roar, and Hierro jumped off the roof to catch the updraft. Alex followed a second later, and the two of them shot out over the heads of the crowd.

“Thank you, citizen of Avenbrooke!” Alex called as the wind caught his wings. They blew out over the end of the night market, and saw Matsuri’s police car screech around a corner, hot in pursuit of the Coquille’s getaway van. She slowed down when she saw Alex and Hierro and stuck her hand out the window to wave them down. Alex landed with a gasp on the sidewalk next to the car, running to keep up. Matsuri reached across the center console to pop the passenger door for him while he threw open the back for Hierro. “Come on!” the sergeant cried and Alex tumbled in. As soon as he pulled the door shut behind him, Matsuri was off, her siren wailing.

Her Raichu chittered in the back seat while Hierro clutched at the upholstery. The Hawlucha had never liked cars, and he especially didn’t like speeding cars. They peeled off the main roads and onto shadowy backstreets as the warehouse district loomed. There was a brief moment where they lost the van, but when they shot through the open gates of the freight yard, they saw the vehicle abandoned by the gaping doors of a dilapidated warehouse. Alex was jumping out of the car almost before Matsuri had it in park, wrenching open the back door to let Hierro out. The two of them sprinted across the gravel lot to the warehouse and plunged into the darkness. Alex activated the night vision Jiro Sasaki had built into his suit, but his scan of the warehouse turned up nothing. He switched to thermal imaging, and his shoulders slumped.

“Oh, that's not good.”

The sound of their entry had roused the massive colony of Zubat, Golbat and Crobat that had roosted within. The sound of hundreds of leathery wings filled the air, and Alex could only watch in horror as the poison types descended, their fangs glinting.

A blinding flash lit up the warehouse, and the bat pokemon screamed as electrical current coursed through them. Alex quickly averted his eyes, and when he saw that the harsh light had dimmed, he turned to see Matsuri standing in the doorway. Her Raichu glowed as it discharged power, driving the bats back. Matsuri ran across the warehouse, signaling for Alex to follow. “That won’t hold them for long!”

They burst out into the night air again, following the footprints in the gravel. Matsuri broke down the wooden door to the next warehouse with a well-placed kick, but drew up short when she and Alex entered into a quiet, softly lit space lined with wooden bedframes stacked three high. The sergeant scanned the open expanse and scowled. “Looks like we found the main den.”

As they stalked down the aisles of beds, Alex saw that many were occupied. All of the sleepers were wan and ashen-skinned, with deep dark circles beneath their eyes. He knew the effects of dream dust when he saw it. It was a powerful and addictive opiate, distilled from traditional morphine, but strengthened with Breloom spores and crystalized Musharna smoke to ensure a deep sleep. Occasionally, one of the sleepers would stir, their body struggling to rise to consciousness only to fall back under the heavy blanket of the drug.

“Are we going to arrest all these people?” Alex murmured as they padded across the concrete floor.

Matsuri sighed. “I don’t know. I have to take as many names as I can, it’s department policy. The CCPD tries to help, but so many of these addicts slip through the cracks. Sometimes it’s easier to just get them off the streets.”

“It’s not like they’re hurting anyone.”

“I don’t make the laws, Hawlucha Man. I want to help but… sometimes it’s out of our hands.”

“Hawlucha… Man?” One of the sleepers struggled to rise, his pale hands grasping the edges of his bunk with white-knuckled intensity.

“You go on,” Alex told Matsuri. “I’ll catch up in a second.” He and Hierro crouched next to the bunk, and he couldn’t help but gasp when he saw Pierre Espalier, his face gaunt, and his veins beginning to blacken with the effects of too much dream dust. “Arceus, Pierre, what are you doing here?”

“The Baron,” Pierre muttered, his words slurred. “He keeps me here. Between jobs. Keeps the voices quiet.” Alex saw the air shimmer as Pierre waved his hand, a tiny wall forming and breaking apart just as quickly. “I’m all under control. Out of the way.”

“This is…” Alex struggled to find the words. “Pierre, this is terrible. It’s inhumane. What happened to Mimsy?”

The esper raised his other hand, and Alex saw that a pokeball was tied to his wrist with a leather cord. “Mimsy doesn’t like to see me like this. I sleep, he sleeps too. Different sleeps.”

“I’m going to get you out of here. I’m going to get you help.”

Pierre jerked his hand in a gesture of dismissal. “He’d just bring me back. The Baron. Signed a contract.” The esper sighed, his mouth tugging up at the corners into a lazily smile. “You can’t… sometimes you can’t… not everybody can be saved. Should go, Hawlucha Man. Let me have the dreams. Can’t hurt anybody now.” The mime slipped back into the drugged slumber of the dream dust, his face slackening and the tension leaving his muscles.

Alex slammed his fist against the concrete floor and winced at the pain. “Damn it,” he muttered. “Damn it, I should be able to save you. I should have…” Hierro put a hand on Alex’s shoulder and jerked his head in the direction Matsuri had gone. There was a crash, and Alex jumped to his feet and took off at a run.

He heard a gun go off, once, twice, and more glass shattered. Hierro bolted ahead of him, and he heard the Hawlucha shriek as Matsuri’s Raichu cried out in anger. There was another flash, a muffled curse, and then Alex rounded the corner to see Antoine clutching the bullet wound in his shoulder, and Thomas struggling to rise from Hierro’s attack. Their Breloom and Sabeleye twitched on the warehouse floor, paralyzed by Matsuri’s Raichu. The sergeant stood with her gun pointing at Antoine. “Last chance to come quietly,” she barked.

Antoine snarled in wordless rage and lurched forward, his uninjured arm drawing back to strike. Alex was on him in an instant, driving his knee into Antoine’s chest, his elbow into the man’s injured shoulder. “No more chances,” Alex growled. When the chemist staggered back, Alex unclipped the batons from his belt and cracked them across the man’s jaw. He twirled them in his hands and drove the blunted tips into Antoine’s abdomen as he flicked the switch to engage the stun function. Antoine’s back arched as the electric current coursed through him, and then collapsed in a heap. Alex pivoted on his back foot as Thomas moved his hands, and struck the back of the man’s head. The second Coquille dropped like a stone.

“Thanks for the help,” Matsuri said. “Avenbrooke’s a better place now that these scumbags aren’t on the streets.”

Alex nodded to the sergeant and clicked his tongue at Hierro. Together, the two of them walked past the rows of beds while Matsuri called in for a prisoner transport and medical personnel for all the addicts under the spell of the dream dust. Alex kept walking through the broken warehouse door and out into the night. He didn’t stop until the warehouse district was far behind him, until he could find a quiet alleyway and a sturdy fire escape, until he was on a distant rooftop far, far away from the unsettling quiet of the warehouses and the equally unsettling bustle of the night market.

He didn’t need to be there when the police arrived to escort out the somnambulists with their blackening veins and vacant eyes, to watch them loaded into a hospital transport to be whisked away to Metro General, or the detention cells nearby. He didn’t need to watch the narcotics division pack up the Coquilles’ laboratory and confiscate their chemicals, the chemicals that had ruined Pierre on the Baron’s orders.

He didn’t need to see it, because he knew what would happened next.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
I like the follow up to the last chapter with the Baron turning to a (relatively) lower key chase affair. Narratively speaking, it's a nice break that we get before (I'm assuming) things start to pick up again with our new big villain in town. And I feel kind of bad for Matsuri. Like, she's definitely making the effort. And that reminds me of the police actually doing stuff in the Avengers movies. But, you can tell she's a bit outclassed here and it's very human of her that her frustration shows through here. Also a bit of comic relief. At the same time, she works well with Hawlucha Man, and I like seeing that teamwork dynamic in play. The bit where he crashes a rooftop party is a classic, Spider-Man-esque comical moment, and his comments are on point and got a laugh out of me. And hey, look, he's getting a bit of name recognition and help from townsfolk. Guess he can't complain about being an unknown hero anymore.

It was therefore very interesting to see things taking a very swift swerve into a much darker tone with the discovery of the somnambulists. Admittedly, I do wish this was expanded on a bit more. The descriptions of their appearances are pretty chilling, so I'm all for a little spooky/creepy body horror kind of stuff. But, as it is, it does the job well. Then we have Pierre, poor Pierre. I'm admittedly still a little confused as to just why Hawlucha Man has such a vested interest in helping this guy. Maybe there's a flashback or something you haven't made yet that expounds on this? Anyway, I do like the sort of resigned acceptance that Pierre has for his situation, not to mention this line:

You can’t… sometimes you can’t… not everybody can be saved.
It's only a brief moment here, but I do like seeing this moral quandry pop up in superhero stories, so I'm interested to see if this subject will get brought up again.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Alex has certainly come a long way, hasn't he? From watching other people cheer on Blaziken Man to being cheered on by a ring of onlookers himself – and even getting a little boost from a fan with a fan. What a great touch. It's just nice, I guess, to see him finally kickboxing his way towards that fortune and glory that he's been after.

Which of course makes the juxtaposition of that with the next scene that much stronger, and I think that this scene does a much more effective job of highlighting the moral quandaries that trying to bring justice to the world than the Ronin encounter did, mostly because it was all carried through by the action rather than by two people debating ethics or by Alex declaiming his issues to the rooftops. It might have been sharpened further by being followed through to a greater extent, so that what happens next is less something projected from Matsuri's dialogue but something we see, but then, Alex isn't really involved with what happens post arrest, so I don't know what the logistics of that would be. Definitely for the kind of scene you're writing, with the particular sort of structure it has, I think what you've got is pretty solid; you deal with the things that have to be said rather than shown with a couple of terse, to-the-point lines, and rely on the narrative itself for the rest, which is an approach that really pays off.

Anyway! Couple of other little things:

Antoine and Thomas only had a Breloom and Sabeleye to aid them

Minor thing, but 'sableye' doesn't have that first E in it.

He didn’t need to see it, because he knew what would happened next.

You've got a superfluous '-ed' on the end of 'happen' here.

That's that, then. I'm glad to see an update! I'll be looking forward to the next one for another shot of adrenaline-fuelled action writing, for sure.
 

Firebrand

Indomitable
Chapter 14

Alex glanced down at his phone display, then at to the number plate on the building in front of him, and then back to his phone again. The numbers matched, and he hadn’t been sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t a seemingly vacant used car lot attached to a machine shop. Hierro looked up at him and shrugged.

Two days ago, Alex had gotten a text on the burner phone Jiro had given him, the first communication he had received from the any of other heroes in two months. Instead of a message from Blaziken Man, it had simply read: “This is the Hammer. Come to the following location. Wear training gear.” A minute later, he had received a second text from the same number with an address and a date.

It had taken them the better part of the morning, but Alex and Hierro had crossed the Umber River, made three subway transfers, and finally made their way up to the upper west side. Alex raised his fist and rapped the door three times. He heard movement within, and the sound of several heavy door bolts being thrown back. The sliding metal door rumbled aside, and a Conkledurr loomed up in front of them. The fighting type looked them up and down. “Are they here?” a voice boomed from around a corner. There was a clatter, and the Conkledurr rolled its eyes. “Send them in, Siegfried, for Arceus’s sake!”

Siegfried stepped aside and motioned for them to follow, leading them through the main workshop, where two expensive sports cars were propped on hydraulic lifts. In a second work room, Johannes Schlagen threw aside a newspaper and hoisted himself to his feet. “Hawlucha Man! Good to see you!” Alex saw Johannes’s arm was still in a splint, but the man seemed otherwise in good spirits.

“And you, Hammer! But please, call me Alex.” He glanced around the workshop, where chrome beams and heavy iron weights were stacked in organized piles. “Did you need my help? I haven’t heard from any of the other heroes in weeks, and I was starting to wonder if—”

Johannes cut him off with a wave of his hand. “There’s no need to concern yourself, lad. Jiro, Lakshmi and I were simply waiting for the dust to settle. In the interim, I thought it prudent to spend some time with each of you younger heroes, to see what you can do.” He led Alex out through the back of the workshop to a long rectangle of packed earth, hidden behind a screen of junked cars. “Normally, I’d handle your training myself, but…” The Hammer glanced down at his broken arm and shrugged. “When you’re my age, you don’t heal quite so fast. I’ll have my pokemon take over instead.”

Siegfried lumbered out into the yard after them, and the Hammer stuck two fingers into his mouth and whistled. “Albrecht, come on out!” His Hariyama sashayed out from among the cars and took up a position next to Siegfried at the far end of the packed earth.

Alex glanced at Johannes. “What kind of training did you have in mind?”

“Oh, I’ve always preferred the hands-on, sink-or-swim approach.” Johannes snapped the fingers of his good hand, and his two pokemon surged forward. Hierro shrieked and tackled Alex out of the way, and they both sprang to their feet. Alex unzipped his windbreaker and cast it aside, leaving him in a t-shirt and loose, comfortable cotton pants, the sort of clothes he had worn when he was still training in martial arts years ago. A shared glance with Hierro communicated all he needed to.

The Hammer was unlikely to let his pokemon cause him serious harm, but it didn’t seem like they were going to pull any punches either. Neither he nor Hierro had the raw strength necessary to stop their opponents’ blows, so their best hope was to dodge and look for an opening. Johannes had trained his pokemon to be respectably fast, but Alex and Hierro were definitely faster.

Siegfried managed to turn around first and came at Alex with a powerful punch. Alex had a split second to be grateful the Conkledurr was not using its concrete slabs in this bout before he dropped his weight and rolled under the strike, lashing up at the fighting type’s forearm with a well-placed kick when he passed below Siegfried’s center of mass. He heard the Hammer make a surprised exclamation as the Conkledurr recoiled. Siegfried gritted his teeth and raised both arms above his head before bringing them crashing back down where Alex had just been an instant before. Alex jumped to the left and sidestepped around the Conkledurr before jumping up and delivering two swift kicks to the center of its back.

Hierro screamed as he raced towards Albrecht, bounding up and over the shell of a car to strike at the Hariyama’s upper torso. Albrecht took two hasty steps back and thrust out its open palm, knocking Hierro out of the air. The Hawlucha tried to sweep Albrecht’s legs out from under him, but the Hariyama’s prodigious bulk allowed Albrecht to keep his balance. Hierro hissed in irritation and puffed out his feathers before leaping back to try again.

Alex struggled to avoid Siegfried’s powerful strikes, knowing that if any one of them landed, he would be effectively out of the fight. The Conkledurr telegraphed all of its attacks, but even knowing what was coming, Alex was hard-pressed to evade. None of the blows he managed to land seemed to faze the fighting type; Alex knew he was far out of his weight class, and Hierro was too. Raw force wasn’t going to help them this time.
Alex grinned. Unless…

He whistled to Hierro. “Follow my lead!” The two of them dashed to the middle of the Hammer’s proving ground and stood back to back. Siegfried rushed at them from the north while Albrecht ran from the south. “We’re going to do a little science experiment,” Alex muttered. “On my mark.” He saw the Conkledurr’s muscles tense, saw the fighting type reach the point of no return, where it would carry through the strike even if Alex dodged. “Now!”

He and Hierro bolted to the side just as Siegfried’s fist shot out. It missed Alex and Hierro completely, but Siegfried was unable to stop the motion before his fist collided with Albrecht coming from the other side. The Hariyama was sent flying backwards and struggled to rise while Siegfried whirled on his opponents. The moment he turned, Alex and Hierro shot forward and jumped up, delivering a double uppercut to the Conkledurr’s jaw. Siegfried roared as he staggered back, clutching his jaw.

“Enough!” Johannes boomed, following it up with a deep belly laugh. “You never fail to impress, Hawlucha Man! How did you come up with that move?”

“One of the first things you taught me, remember?” Alex grinned and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Back when we were fighting the Iron Boyar, you said you were going to show me what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.”

Johannes threw back his head and laughed again. “Well I’ll be damned! I’m a better teacher than I thought!”

Once Siegfried and Albrecht had recovered, the Hammer had them fight another two bouts. By the end, all four combatants were struggling for breath, and their muscles ached. When Johannes called an end to the third round, Hierro sank to the ground and flopped backward. Siegfried lowered himself on his haunches beside the flying type and did the same.

Johannes smiled and motioned Alex to follow him inside while the pokemon rested. They sat on either side of a small, rickety kitchen table while a small coffeemaker burbled. Alex rolled his shoulder to ease the aching muscles and regarded the Hammer for a moment. “Well, that was invigorating, but now are you finally going to tell me what’s going on?”

“How do you take your coffee?”

“Black, two sugars. And don’t dodge the question. It’s been two months since the Sins’ attack, and I’ve been in the dark the whole time. You all said you’d be in touch, but I haven’t heard a damn thing.”

The Hammer lowered himself into his chair. “We needed to be sure it was safe.”

“Safe? I’m out there risking my life every night trying to clean up the mess the Sins left us with. Safe isn’t even part of the equation. How can I be safe if I don’t know what I’m up against?”

“Alex,” Johannes said. “There’s more at play now than you understand. We’ve kept you in Avenbrooke fighting against the Baron and his men because that’s where you’re as safe as you can be in our line of work. The entire balance of power in Clarus City has changed, and there are now forces in play that are far more dangerous than anything Jiro, Lakshmi and I thought we would be up against when we began this. I was in the room when Marcus Braun died. I saw how it happened. Believe me, he was not an easy man to kill.”

Alex leaned back in his chair. “Then start at the beginning. Bring me up to speed. Who was the woman that went into Nimbus Tower? How did Sloth die? Why have the other Sins gone quiet?”

“I suppose it’s best to begin with Archangel.”

“What’s Joshua got to do with this?”

“How much do you know about espers?”

Alex shrugged. “As much as anyone else, I guess. Some people develop psychic powers, just like psychic type pokemon. There’s probably something genetic to it, but there’s other factors that we don’t really understand. Who gets powers and who doesn’t is basically random. But the odds are like one in a few hundred thousand, right?”

“More or less. The world governments loosely classify espers on a scale of one through five. Most class ones never even realize they have powers. They might just feel like they have good intuition, or hand eye coordination.”

“But it’s actually weak psychic voodoo?”

“Essentially, yes. Most espers that we know of as such are class twos. It’s a fairly broad classification, so how powerful they actually are can vary. Anything from moving bottle caps with their brain to telepathy to all-out mind control fall under the class two umbrella.”

“All right. So Joshua…”

“Archangel is a class three.”

“Oh.”

“You need to understand that the difference between a class one and a class two is immense, and the gap between even the strongest class two and a class three is far greater. Fortunately, the higher class an esper is, the rarer they are. To the best of my knowledge, there are less than fifteen class threes in the world, and the military and government of whatever region they are born in monitors them closely, usually in a laboratory setting. Archangel was taken from his family at an early age and was raised in a facility where his powers could be studied and honed.”

“He was raised to be a living weapon.”

“To put it cynically, yes.”

“That’s fucked up, man.”

The Hammer took a long sip drink of coffee to gather his thoughts. “Believe me, I had no knowledge of this until just a few years ago. I find it as abhorrent as you do. The project was shuttered and Archangel was released back out into the world. He’s still under close observation by the government, but there has been an attempt to allow him to live something approaching a normal life.”

“Okay, so Archangel is some crazy powerful esper. What’s this got to do with Sloth and Nimbus Tower?”

The Hammer sighed. “Archangel was not the only class three under observation. There was another, a woman, several years older. While Archangel’s strengths lie in telekinesis, this woman’s was a powerful telepath. Specifically, she excelled at mind control. She was kept in a hermetically sealed room and allowed next to no contact with any living person for years, for fear of what she would make them do. It made her go a little unhinged.”

“Can’t say I really blame her, under the circumstances.”

Johannes nodded to concede the point and continued. “Her name was Marinette, but her project designation was Dominion, and by all accounts, she preferred that. When the program studying her and Archangel was shut down, the government tried to keep her under observation, but it was impossible to keep track of her. Every time someone was sent after her, they would disappear for months at a time, and if they ever reappeared, it was months later, with no memories of the intervening time. Her ex-handlers were willing to assume she just wanted to be left alone.” He grunted. “Turns out they were off the mark.”

“So what happened in Nimbus Tower?”

“She just waltzed in and told the Sins to stop. When Braun tried to resist, she took control of his Slaking and hurled him out the window. A few minutes later, she had the other six all working for her.” Johannes drained his coffee mug and set the pot to percolate again. “I’ll be honest with you, lad. This woman terrifies me in a way that Marcus Braun never could. The Sins, the Baron, the Kuromori, all of them are dangerous, but they’re known quantities. We knew how they act, we know their patterns, and we know how the organizations work. They have a pattern. Jiro, Lakshmi and I have spent the past two months trying to connect the dots on Dominion.” Johannes shook his head. “There is no pattern.”

Alex scowled. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that she’s capricious. She’s unpredictable. None of her actions make any kind of damned sense. She’s been content keeping to the shadows for years, until one day, as near as we can assume, she just decided to topple the Sins as the dominant power and take over Clarus City, but then she burned herself out and circled the wagons. She hasn’t made a move, and she’s letting the day to day operations run on autopilot while her organization crumbles.”

“So when I didn’t hear from you…”

“It’s because there was nothing to report.” Johannes drummed the fingers of his left hand on the table. “Jiro also thought it was wise to keep you and the other heroes out of harm’s way. He was willing to draw all of her attention like a lightning rod if it meant keeping the rest of us safe. He told me he didn’t want her to compromise all of the city’s heroes in one fell swoop.”

“He thought he would be compromised?”

Johannes nodded gravely. “And if he was, he had plans for the rest of us to stop him. Fortunately, she hasn’t risen to the bait.”

Alex drained the last of his coffee. “So the less we knew, the better.”

“Precisely.” Johannes rose and refilled their mugs. “But the time for playing cautiously is over. No more keeping our allies in the dark. From now on, you will know everything we know. Our foes coordinate and work together, and it’s about damn time we started doing the same.”

“Are you training the other heroes too?”

“Echo and I have had several sessions, yes. And I have been training Isabelle and Archangel for several years, since we became heroes of Clarus City. The Phantom, try as I might, has been uncooperative.”

Alex smirked. “It seems like he doesn’t play well with others.”

Johannes snorted. “So it seems. But after seeing you in action, it’s clear you don’t need me to teach you how to fight. Your instincts are good, and you’re resourceful. Everyone can benefit from a bit of sparring practice every now and then, but I’d say you’re a natural at this.” He looked out through the open door of the work room to where Hierro was chittering away excitedly to Albrecht and Siegfried. “That Hawlucha of yours is certainly something. How long have you two been together?”

Alex shrugged. “About eleven years now?”

“Oh? Sounds like there’s a story to tell.”

“Maybe a short one.” Alex leaned back in his chair. “I never went on a journey. I’m from Unova, and the scars from the wars from when my parents were kids… well. It’s not as safe as it used to be going out on a journey, so my parents kept me home in Icirrus City. Like any twelve year old kid, I wanted a pokemon of my own, but my parents wouldn’t let me go catch one.” He took a sip of coffee. “So one day, the circus comes to town, right? This Kalosian troupe, and they’ve got everything. Acrobats, clowns, Pyroar jumping through hoops, a Riolu bending steel beams, the works. And one of the acts has this Hawlucha. Even from the stands, I could tell he wasn’t cooperating with the tamers at all, that he just didn’t want to be there. He was sick of being whipped and yelled at and made to do stupid tricks.

“So a couple days later, I sneak out of town to the marshes like I always did as a kid. I wasn’t supposed to but…” Alex grinned and shrugged again. “I was twelve. Anyway, I’m wandering around the marsh, and I see the Hawlucha from the circus trapped in a thorn bush. He was panicking, and he was only getting more stuck. It took me a while to calm him down, and by the time I was done I was covered in scratches, but eventually I got him out. I could tell that he’d run away, and he sure as hell didn’t want to go back. So I counted my pocket money and I made him a proposition.”

Johannes’s eyes twinkled as he listened, and Alex grew more animated in the telling. “I had just enough saved up for a pokeball, so I rushed back into town, bought one, and hurried back. The Hawlucha was waiting for me and… well, I caught him. I hid him from my parents at first, at least while the circus people were still in town. Once they left and weren’t looking for him anymore, I showed my parents, and after some cajoling, they let me keep him. Hierro and I have been together ever since.”

“Remarkable,” Johannes rumbled. “No wonder your bond is so strong. You grew up together.”

Alex looked out the door at his partner and smiled. “There’s no one else I’d rather have at my back. He’s my best friend.”

“And so you trained together?”

“Well, I’d been doing martial arts and gymnastics and stuff since I was little. But once I got Hierro, yeah, I started paying attention to how he moved, how he fought. We’re both small and light, so it made sense to copy his instincts. And then when I became Hawlucha Man, I needed him to teach me how to fly.”

“Remarkable,” Johannes said again. He stood up from the small table. “Come with me, there’s something I want you to see.” He led Alex into another garage in the back of his workshop, previously hidden from view.

A large metal structure stood in the middle of the room, composed of gleaming chrome pipes and half-covered in heavy metal plating. Tanks of hydraulic fluid stood in neat rows nearby, and Alex’s eyes went wide. “Is that…?”

“The Hammer armor, mark three,” Johannes said. “Braun and his Slaking did a number on the old model, so I had to start over. It’s taken me longer than I’d like, but when you only have one good hand, well.” He glanced down at his sling. “You do the best you can. Siegfried and Albrecht have tried to help as much as they’re able, but their hands aren’t made for delicate work like this. I’d like for it to be ready once I’m healed up, but at my current progress, that doesn’t seem likely. But if I were to have an assistant…”

Alex could hardly contain his excitement. “Are you asking me to help you?”

“Jiro says you’re doing mechanical engineering at AIT. If you’re looking for a little part time work on the side, I would certainly appreciate it.”

“Absolutely,” Alex said, without a second’s hesitation. “Just say the word and I’ll be here to help.” The long commute be damned, he was getting a chance to work side by side with the Hammer. Again.

Johannes led him back outside to where Hierro was waiting. “The summer term at AIT is coming up,” he said. “And most graduate students take on internships, yes? Have you secured something yet?”

Alex blushed. “Uh… no, not yet. My night gig is kind of getting in the way of, well, everything, honestly.”

Johannes nodded. “Let me make a few calls, I’ll see what I can do. I have my share of well-connected friends, and there are a few favors I can call in. You know,” he said, “I was an AIT man myself, once upon a time.”

“What?” Alex cried.

“There will be plenty of time for stories later,” Johannes replied. “I don’t want to keep you all day. Until my arm is healed, Clarus City is already down one hero. I need to give you some time to rest up.”

As Alex and Hierro left the Hammer’s auto shop, Alex glanced back over his shoulder. “Just a sec. Johannes, what are you? These sports cars, the metal suit, the well-connected friends, they’ve got to come from somewhere.”

The older man laughed. “Me? I’m just a mechanic! Now go on, get home. You’ll need to unwind if you’re going on patrol tonight.” He glanced down at Hierro. “You keep each other safe, you hear?”

Hierro snapped off a brusque salute and waved to the Hammer’s pokemon looming in the doorway. As Alex and Hierro walked back towards the subway stop, Alex reached down and smoothed Hierro’s feathered crest. He was ready to get back into the fight for Clarus City, to do more than just beat back the Baron’s hired thugs. The idea of Dominion gave him the creeps, but Alex felt that when faced with of the heroes of Clarus City, not even an esper that strong stood a chance.

The first thing the Hammer had taught him had been a physics lesson. The second was advice that Alex had taken to heart: always bet on the heroes of Clarus City.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Well, this is definitely a different start. I know other chapters have showed Alex in his free time, but I don't really think we've had any sort of proper training scenario. It's fun to see. And the callback to the last time Alex was with the Hammer was a nice touch too. Especially since he's taking one of the Hammer's techniques and turning it on his own Pokémon. Pretty clever, and a nice example of Alex thinking on his feet in a less stressful situation. At the start, I was expecting a sort of mentor-student relationship, but the middle part caused me to think that maybe it wouldn't happen. But, sure enough, you circled back around to it. And I liked the common threads you weaved between Alex and Johannes. Now, please don't kill him off, that'd make me sad...

But the good times don't last long, do they? After a couple of (what seemed like) filler chapters we're finally getting follow up with the esper situation and the end of the Sins. I like that you gave us a storyline reason for the Alex taking on the Baron in the last few chapters. It may be a simple explanation, but I'm glad to see that that stuff ties in. And the esper backstory is interesting. I do get some pretty strong vibes of both the X-Men in this scenario (government experiments on mutants, for lack of a better word) and also some Hydra vibes for Dominion (more specifically Scarlet Witch). Seems like we could see a Dominion vs. Archangel showdown of some sort in the future. Which ought to be interesting.

And then, of course, there's the story of Alex meeting Hierro. If that's based off something in comics, I'm drawing a blank. But I think it's pretty clever for what it is. Like, a Hawlucha is a pretty perfect Pokémon for a circus act, but it's characteristics make it way too prideful for something like that.

So, yeah. Looks like we're gearing up for things to come here. Should be plenty of fun. ^^
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Origin story time! And yeah, I'd say it's about time, at this point, to be delving a bit deeper into who Alex is and where he's coming from; up to this point, you've really effectively shown us what kind of a guy he is and what he's trying to achieve, but we haven't seen anything about his background. I'm also pleased to see that his personal life is starting to come back into the picture; so far, Alex's life has been more or less blank – like, I guess I've just sort of assumed that things are going okay because nothing's been mentioned as specifically happening, one way or another. Which has been okay, I guess, because you've been focusing on the superhero action, which is excellent, but also I feel like part of the thing about being a superhero is balancing your two lives, and honestly a night job like Alex's really should be causing him some trouble. It's nice to see that acknowledged, even if the fact that the problem is solved as soon as it's raised kind of weakens the impact. I guess a stronger way of structuring it would have been to raise the problem sooner and have it run through several chapters in the background before Johannes' offer solves it.

But! That's honestly my only real criticism of this chapter. It's quiet, sure, with a minimum of action, but that's fine; it's good to spend a bit of time with Alex, rather than Hawlucha Man, and it's good to get a little bit of insight into Hierro too – he hasn't been characterless, exactly, but we've seen less of his head than of Alex's, and it's been cool to see more of it here. Looking forward to more!
 

Firebrand

Indomitable
Chapter 15

Wyatt Reeves knew he wasn’t a good man.

On his best day, he figured he was a righteous man. He was definitely on the good guys’ side, but he was no Blaziken Man. He came from a long line of lawmen, men who had always stood in the light, the shield of the people they were sworn to protect. Wyatt had fallen out of that light, and he knew the blame for that fell squarely on his shoulders alone. He was doing everything he could to be worthy of his family name again. He wasn’t a good man, but by Arceus, he was trying.

He cracked the butt of his revolver across the jaw of the bound Kuromori assassin and knocked the chair he was tied to off balance. When the ninja fell to the ground, he delivered a sharp kick to the Kuromori’s abdomen with the tip of his steel-toed boot. “Tell me what you know, you son of a bitch.”

He was willing to admit he could probably be trying a little harder.

Geronimo crouched silently in the shadows nearby, the Nuzleaf’s eyes tracking each subtle movement of the bound Kuromori assassin. Everything about his partner was silent. Wyatt didn’t think he’d ever heard Geronimo make so much as a peep. Other Nuzleaf did, from what he’d heard, but Geronimo preferred to keep his peace. What Wyatt did know was that if the Kuromori bastard so much as twitched the wrong way, Geronimo would cover him with a barrage of incendiary seeds.

The Kuromori glared up at Wyatt, as silent as Geronimo. Wyatt sank down to a crouch beside the assassin. “All right, partner. I’ve tried to be civilized with you. I know Saito is moving pieces around the board, and I’m getting real damn tired of being two steps behind. Tell me what your marching orders are before I start losing my temper.”

The ninja spat. “I know nothing.”

“Well that’s too damn bad.” Wyatt flicked open his revolver and slid six bullets into the chamber. “Last chance to try and remember.” When the Kuromori turned his head away, Wyatt shrugged. “Can’t say I didn’t warn you, partner.” He fired five bullets into the floor around the assassin’s body, before firing the sixth at the ninja’s torso. The casing broke apart the instant the bullet left the gun’s muzzle, sending the small needle into the man’s chest. The tiny electrical device in the needle sent out a small shock that caught on the web of Galvantula threads the first five bullets had created around his body. The assassin convulsed as hundreds of volts of electricity coursed through his body.

Wyatt sighed as the man’s eyes rolled back in his head. As he walked off the abandoned factory floor, Geronimo fell into step beside him. The Nuzleaf glanced up at his partner, and Wyatt shrugged. “I know it was overkill, but he was starting to piss me off.” He tugged at his hat brim and slotted another bullet into his gun. He raised the revolver to the sky and fired. The bullet made a loud shrieking noise as it arced skywards, and Wyatt heard distant police sirens that would soon be heading to his location to pick up the (hopefully) unconscious Kuromori.

Geronimo jumped up into the bed of Wyatt’s pickup truck, perching on the large toolbox full of locks, keys, drills and cylinders. Wyatt folded up the tarp that had covered the Kuromori on their drive out here and stuck it under his smaller toolbox before swinging into the driver’s seat. The Reeves Locksmith truck started with a groan, and Wyatt guided it out of the abandoned industrial park and back towards the heart of Ridgewood.

Wyatt took off his stetson hat and put it on the passenger seat. The Gunslinger persona had come about after a series of unfortunate circumstances and a rather abrupt fall from grace. Like every Reeves man going back as long as anyone cared to remember, Wyatt had been a lawman. The titles had changed over the years, from sheriff to detective to investigator to policeman, but there was a storied tradition of his ancestors protecting and serving their community. Wyatt had been a sergeant in the Sixth Precinct of the CCPD, and had the dubious honor of being the only Reeves man to abuse his position of power.

Wyatt Reeves had been a dirty cop.

It had started small enough, turning a blind eye to drug runners in exchange for a small cut of the profits and the like. It had just been enough to cover his expenses. Then, the drug runners kicked him higher up their chain of command, eventually all the way to Eva Muller, even before she became known as Gluttony. The takes had gotten bigger, but the things Muller was asking him to do became harder for his conscience to stomach. When Marcus Braun took control of the underworld, it was all the police could do to keep the city from devolving into total anarchy. Wyatt saw the way the wind was turning (and his comrades in arms dropping left and right) and cashed in his chips with Gluttony to became her obedient little Lilipup. Eventually, the CCPD wrestled back control, right about the time Wyatt was starting to overplay his hand.

He was caught, went to court, and was only spared a prison sentence thanks to a few connections on the force. He sank into an alcoholic haze for several months, until some of Muller’s thugs came knocking at his door again. When he refused to answer to Muller’s beck and call, the situation escalated, and Wyatt had been forced to use the pistol that he had (illegally) taken with him when he left the force.

The police had gotten involved, but the two thugs had rap sheets the length of Wyatt’s arm, and the lead detective on the case had been a friend, so his gun had been confiscated and the case had been quietly swept under the rug. But the confrontation had changed something in Wyatt, and he was no longer content to drink himself into a stupor. He had failed in his charge to protect Clarus City, and it was time he made up for it.

He privately contacted the captain of the Sixth and arranged for special dispensation to carry his grandfather’s old revolver. The captain had been hesitant at first, but Wyatt had always been the best shot on the force, and precautions were set that if Wyatt’s work as a vigilante ever crossed the line, the police would be well within their rights to take him down.

Or at least, that was the story the captain was telling. The real story was that Wyatt happened to know a few times the captain had been on Eva Muller’s payroll too, and he had threatened to go public unless the captain stayed out of his way and let Wyatt serve his penance. As far as Wyatt was concerned, sometimes it was more important to be righteous than to be good.

Once that had been settled, Wyatt took up his maternal grandfather’s trade as a locksmith to pay the bills. He’d always been fascinated by locks, the elegant artistry of all the delicate pieces fitting together. It was for the same reason that he loved his other grandfather’s revolver, with its sliding latch and spinning cylinder, the way each bullet slotted perfectly into the chamber, the satisfying click of the firing hammer when he feathered the trigger.

The police radio he wasn’t supposed to have crackled to life on the dashboard. “Police pursuit on Twelfth towards Belfry. Subjects are in three black sedans and one SUV. Likely Kuromori, responding officers are urged to use caution.”

Wyatt quickly calculated the distance in his head before reaching behind him and sliding open the rear window of the cab. “Hold on tight, Geronimo!” He floored the accelerator and wrenched the wheel of his truck around to take a side street. With his left hand he checked his bandolier, counting how many of each type of bullet he had left. Enough to stop a few more ninja assholes, probably. The old truck protested as Wyatt swung onto Belfry Street and double-parked on the wrong side of the road. He could only hope that no overzealous meter maid on the graveyard shift would brave the confusion and write him a ticket.

Wyatt settled his stetson on his head and rested his hand on the wooden butt of his revolver as he strode down the last hundred yards to the intersection of Belfry and Twelfth. The Gunslinger settled his stance as Geronimo bounded up a fire escape to perch atop the snarling stone Druddigon on Ridgewood Credit and Trust’s façade. The distant police sirens were getting louder, and Wyatt could hear the squeal of tires coming down the street. He had figured the Kuromori would make for the Niji Kumo Temple, where the Johtonian monks were rumored to aid the assassin clan in exchange for generous contributions from Saito Kuromori.

But to get there, they’d have to go through the Gunslinger.

The black vehicles were coming into view now, and Wyatt counted at least four police cars in pursuit. He raised his gun, flicked the hammer back, and pulled the trigger.

The bullet skimmed across the ground and embedded in the pavement just in front of the first black sedan. Two seconds later, as the car’s fuel tank passed over it, the bullet exploded. The back of the car was flung into the air by the force of the blast, and the overturned vehicle skidded across the ground for several yards before coming to rest mere feet from where Wyatt stood.

The second car raced forward, only to have its windshield shattered by a barrage of seeds from Geronimo. The driver lost control, and Wyatt shot two more bullets into the car’s tires, puncturing them and causing it to spin out and crash into a fire hydrant. The third car was accelerating now, trying to run the Gunslinger down before he could cause any more damage. Wyatt tutted and spun the cylinder of his revolver, shattering the windshield with two rapid fire shots to the same point of impact. With the glass out of the way, he fired his sixth bullet, one of his sleeping rounds, into the driver’s neck and stepped out of the way as the car careened past him, clipped a light post, and finally collided with a stone stoop, cracking the masonry but stopping the car.

“Yee-haw!” the Gunslinger whooped. If he’d learned anything from those uptown heroes, it was that you had to keep up the persona, even in the heat of battle. Especially in the heat of battle.

The SUV was still barreling forward, and Wyatt was out of bullets. He had enough time to dive out of the way, but he held his ground. As the van hurtled towards a narrow cross street, something raced in front of it, and with a shriek of rending metal, the front of the SUV was cleaved in two. The engine sputtered and exploded, and the Cavalier’s armor gleamed as they whirled their Rapidash around.

“Thought I heard you coming,” the Gunslinger said.

“I AM NOT HERE FOR YOU,” the Cavalier boomed. The police cars surrounded the mangled Kuromori vehicles, their guns drawn. Stunned and rattled Kuromori assassins were stumbling out of the less damaged cars, but the Cavalier paid them no heed. The Cavalier’s Honedge was wrapped around their right wrist and forearm, and they used that to point at a nearby rooftop. “I HAVE BEEN CHASING HER.” A shape detached from the shadows of a nearby rooftop, melting from the gloom and disappearing into the next patch of darkness.

“Well hell,” the Gunslinger drawled, slotting bullets into his revolver. “Vixen. We just walked into an ambush, didn’t we?”

“IT WOULD SEEM WE’VE BEEN OUTFOXED.”

“Please never make a pun again.”

A broad-shouldered man stepped out from the open doors of the Kuromori van. He slowly raised his hands over his head as the police officers went for their guns. “Easy now,” the man said with smirk. “Don’t go getting excited. Gunshots make my cousin jumpy.”

The Gunslinger gritted his teeth as his mind worked furiously. If Tarou Kuromori were here along with the Vixen, then the ninjas had banked hard on this operation. Saito Kuromori’s son lacked his father’s subtle mind and his uncle’s conniving acumen, but what he lacked in brains he more than made up for in brawn. All Kuromori operatives were skilled in hand to hand combat, but most favored a limber acrobatic style that allowed them to stay in motion and keep their foes wrong-footed. Tarou was just a brawler, plain and simple.

“I’ll focus on him,” Wyatt murmured to the Cavalier. “You keep your eye on the Vixen.” He saw the knight’s helmet rise and fall slightly, though the Cavalier’s eyes never left the rooftops.

“I’ll admit, you took us by surprise,” Tarou went on. His eyes flicked up Twelfth, but Wyatt didn’t waste time tracking his gaze. Tarou wasn’t famous for his poker face. He was stalling, waiting for reinforcements. He had stopped the pursuit earlier than the Kuromori had hoped, and that meant that the jaws of the trap weren’t completely closed yet.

He could use that.

Wyatt slowly reached up and tugged the brim of his stetson down over his eyes, drumming his fingers along the rim in a specific pattern. He saw Geronimo stiffen atop his perch, and the Nuzleaf crept back into the shadows. No one had paid the Gunslinger’s silent partner any mind, and that gave them a chance to get out ahead of this. “It’s a shame you all had to get involved,” Tarou was saying. “Our only target was the Cavalier. But since you’re here…” He flicked his wrist, and a slender throwing knife appeared from his sleeve. Tarou turned on his heel and hurled the knife through the eye of the nearest officer. The other surviving Kuromori had managed to gather their wits, and in the brief spell of confusion, they drew their weapons and fell on the assembled police officers.

Gunshots cracked and knives flashed as the ninjas struck. Wyatt whirled around, emptying his cylinder of the six sleeping bullets he had loaded. Six Kuromori dropped. The bullet casings were designed to break apart when leaving the muzzle, propelling the darts inside forward. The darts were laced with a fast-acting neurotoxin of refined Ariados venom that paralyzed the victim and rendered them catatonic. Unlike some of his other bullets, these weren’t very lethal, but they did sting quite a bit.

Tarou and his Machamp fought side by side, lashing out at the remaining officers. The Cavalier swung their Rapidash around, battering away a leaping Sableye with their shield and lashing out at a Weavile with their Honedge. The Gunslinger reloaded and fired five bullets into the darkness behind the melee, taking cover behind one of the wrecked vehicles as he waited. A moment later, several shapes passed under the distant streetlights. Wyatt inhaled, held his breath, and then fired.

The electric web his bullets had woven flared briefly as several of the Kuromori reinforcements dropped, their bodies convulsing. Several more fell to their knees, but a few had managed to make it through. Before they reached the rest of their comrades, a barrage of seeds struck down the first two and the Mienshao racing along with them, and a pulsing indigo orb collided with a leaping Toxicroak. By the time Geronimo had landed, Wyatt had reloaded his gun with sleeping darts to pick off any other stragglers.

The Cavalier had rallied the surviving police. The sergeant who had led them had fallen in the first counterattack, and no one was bold enough to try and countermand the Cavalier’s booming authority. Their Rapidash darted up and down the street, and their Honedge hummed as they lashed out. The Cavalier’s armor and shield were pitted with marks from the Kuromori’s bullets, but they gave no quarter. More of the assassins jumped from the rooftop, and Wyatt emptied his gun before they could interfere. As he hastened to reload, another figure jumped out over the street. Unlike the black cloth hoods most of the Kuromori wore, this one wore a carved wooden mask made to look like a snarling canine.

“Look out!” Wyatt shouted as the Vixen leapt towards the Cavalier. The Cavalier’s Honedge tightened its grip on their forearm and whipped the knight’s arm around in time to parry the Vixen’s daggers. The Vixen slid across the pavement, and a burst of light shot from her belt. Her Ninetales appeared in a flash and pounced at the Cavalier’s Rapidash. Though the warhorse was well-trained, it shied away from the fox even as Tarou closed in. The muzzle of his gun flashed, the bullets pinging off the Cavalier’s shield.

The remaining Kuromori had closed ranks on the Ridgewood police, cutting them off from the Cavalier. Wyatt saw the knight turn the dark eye slits of their helmet to regard him, and the Cavalier gave a brusque nod. They kicked their Rapidash into a trot, curving away from Tarou as the Vixen sprinted after them. Several of the other Kuromori took off after her. Tarou reloaded and took aim, but Wyatt shot the gun from his hand. The mangled piece of metal fell to the ground, and Tarou clutched at his fingers. “How…?”

The Gunslinger just tipped his hat and winked. “Yippie-ki-yay, bitch.”

Tarou snarled in impotent rage and fumbled for his second sidearm. The heir apparent of the Kuromori clan fired off a shot as soon as he had freed the gun from the holster. Wyatt heard the bullet ping off a railing some ways down the street. He clicked his tongue and shot Tarou’s hand again. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you shooting from the hip only works in the pictures?” Wyatt spun his gun around his index finger and fired off three shots from the hip, a Galvantula thread bullet to each of Tarou’s shoulders and the trigger bullet to the center of his chest. The Gunslinger emptied the spent casings and slotted six more bullets into his revolver as the electric current coursed through Tarou’s body. “You best be getting on home, boy,” Wyatt drawled. “Your father’s going to want to know just how badly you failed.”

“You’ll pay for this,” Tarou snarled through clenched teeth.

Wyatt scoffed and shot the ground at Tarou’s feet. A small explosion cracked the pavement, making Tarou flinch back. “You’re going to have to try a damn sight harder than that,” Wyatt replied.

“Kill him!” Tarou barked, and tossed a smoke bomb at his feet.

The remaining Kuromori broke off from their fight with the surviving police officers and raced towards Wyatt. He settled his stance and fired, but the Kuromori and their pokemon were wise to his game now. They zigzagged across the remaining distance, making themselves a harder target. His gun clicked as it cycled back to an empty chamber, and Wyatt swore. He was useless in hand to hand combat, and there was no time to reload.

It was a damn stupid way to die.

A spray of seeds flashed across the street in front of Wyatt, and then Geronimo was in front of him. The Nuzleaf slid across the pavement and pivoted, leaping towards the Kuromori. A white glow radiated off his body, and a smell like burning chestnuts filled the air. “Geronimo, no!” Wyatt screamed.

There was a flash, a concussive bang, and a rush of air. The few Kuromori still on their feet reeled in the aftermath of the explosion, and Geronimo crashed to the ground, his small body smoldering. Before the Kuromori could gather their wits, the thunder of hooves echoed up and down the street. The Cavalier barreled by, their Honedge glowing with spectral light and their armor stained with blood. The ghostly blade rose and fell in the flat light of the streetlights, and the Kuromori dropped. The Cavalier reined in their Rapidash, and the warhorse’s sides heaved with exertion. The Honedge steamed as it drank in the blood along its blade.

Wyatt ran to Geronimo and cupped the grass type’s head beneath his hand. The Nuzleaf’s eyelids fluttered weakly, and Wyatt let out a relieved sigh. “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to use that technique anymore, partner.” Geronimo shrugged and managed to smirk. “Yeah, yeah,” Wyatt said. “You did save my ***. You going to be okay?” Geronimo nodded, and sank back into unconsciousness. Wyatt returned him to his pokeball, turned to the surviving police officers, and gestured up and down the street. “Can y’all handle this?”

One of the officers nodded. “We’ve radioed for backup already.” The officer carefully checked a knife wound on his arm. “Gunslinger… thanks for the help. If you hadn’t been here, things could have been a lot worse.”

Wyatt privately thought that if he was more like one of the uptown heroes, not just some righteous vigilante, things could have been a lot better. There would be fewer bodies.

Still, he nodded to the officer and walked over to the Cavalier. They hadn’t dismounted, and Wyatt wondered if their legs got sore sitting like that all night. The Cavalier regarded him silently for a moment before disentangling their hand from the Honedge’s tassel. “I THOUGHT IT BEST TO DRAW SOME OF THEM OFF.”

“It gave us some room to breathe,” Wyatt replied. “But if you hadn’t come back when you did, Geronimo and I…”

“WOULD BE DEAD, YES.”

“Right. Well. Thanks for coming back, partner.”

“WE ARE NOT PARTNERS. MY PURSUERS WERE DEALT WITH,” the Cavalier said. “I HAD UNFINISHED BUSINESS WITH THE REST OF THEM.” Wyatt looked at the blood staining the Rapidash’s coat and the Cavalier’s greaves. The fire type didn’t seem injured. The Cavalier let the silence hang in the air for a moment. “THEY ARE CRIMINALS AND KILLERS. NO ONE WILL MOURN THEM.” They paused again. “THE VIXEN GOT AWAY. HER KNIVES WERE POISONED. WITHOUT ARMOR TO STOP HER BLOWS, YOU ALL WOULD HAVE PERISHED.”

“Tarou escaped too.” Wyatt holstered his gun and sighed. “They’re getting bolder. Tarou said he laid the ambush for you. You worried about that?”

“I HAVE NO REASON TO FEAR VERMIN LIKE THE KUROMORI. IF THEY FOCUS ON ME, THEY CANNOT PREY ON THE WEAK.”

“Well, I admire your confidence, par—I mean, Cavalier. But they’re going to be gunning for us hard now. We need to be ready for them.”

“SO LONG AS THEY RISE, I SHALL BEAT THEM BACK.” Easy for the Cavalier to say, Wyatt thought. With a suit of armor like that and a warhorse to parade around on, of course the Cavalier was brash. But he was just a crack shot with an antique gun and a partner who always had his back. The Cavalier saw his glance down at Geronimo’s pokeball. “SEE TO YOUR PARTNER. I WILL CARRY ON ALONE TONIGHT.”

Wyatt nodded and started to walk away. “GUNSLINGER,” the Cavalier boomed again. Wyatt turned. “WHEN THEY COME AGAIN, I SHALL BE READY. I HAVE FAITH THAT YOU WILL TOO.” They thumped their right fist over their heart in salute. Wyatt reached up and tipped his stetson before limping back to where he had parked.

Sometimes, the path of righteousness could be a real pain in the ass.
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
Huh. When you mentioned a perspective change, I did not have the Gunslinger in mind as who you were going with. I know he's popped up for some of the multi-hero skirmishes, but it still strikes me as an interesting choice (and an unexpected one, to boot). These are minor things, but I like your use of the word "lawman," which evokes the deep south/Wild West vibes I've gotten from the Gunslinger so far. And the packing of Galvantula webbing into bullets is a really neat application of Pokémon materials into human weaponry.

The backstory is intersting, and moves forward at a nice, brisk pace. I'm less familiar with how superhero comics handle police, so I'll just say you're pulling in a lot of common threadlines from police procedural type shows. Dirty cops helping out crime rings. Alcoholism. Connections on the force. And some amount of blackmail toward a fellow dirty cop. All things I've seen before on cop TV shows. But that didn't make it any less entertaining for me. That said, there a couple of unique caveats you include. Like how he's working as a locksmith. That's just really funny to me. Maybe you're pulling from source material with that bit, but I wouldn't know.

“Well hell,” the Gunslinger drawled, slotting bullets into his revolver. “Vixen. We just walked into an ambush, didn’t we?”

“IT WOULD SEEM WE’VE BEEN OUTFOXED.”

“Please never make a pun again.”
No, don't listen to him! Keeping making puns! That was great. 10/10. A+. Five stars. All that jazz. XD

With the battle scene, I think it's a really nice blend here. I like the contrast between the Cavalier's up-front, all-out assault, and the Gunslinger's style of laying low and taking potshots at targets whenever he can. Of course, things don't go all that smoothly, and Geronimo going in for an Explosion (or was it Self Destruct?) definitely caught me off guard. At least the Cavalier and the Gunslinger seem to have a mutual respect for one another, even if they're not buddies.

My only tidbit is that, pacing wise, I feel like this might've been a better chapter to have put before the last one, where Alex gets a tride and true mentor. Since that chapter left me off with the impression that we'd be getting to Archangel soon, but then you followed it up with, essentially filler. Ultimately it's your decision, of course. And overall, I liked the perspective shift. It was interesting to see that, even with a bit more at their disposal, some of the other heroes struggle much like Hawlucha Man does.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
God, Wyatt, you're such a drama queen. And I love it. That whole opening scene is so of its type that it almost doesn't work, but the thing is that even something cheesy can be great if it carries off being cheesy well, and this really does. It's a great scene. After the first two paragraph – maybe even after the first line, given the kind of story this is – we already know who Wyatt is; he's That Guy, the penitent dirty cop, with exactly the character and backstory that we know and expect. “Sometimes it was more important to be righteous than good” is a perfect summary.

But it works. And it works because you do it both very well, and very knowingly – the line about it being necessary to keep up the persona is one of the parts where the machinery underneath the standard superhero devices exposes itself for a moment. It kind of harks back to that early scene where Alex is watching Blaziken Man duel Sloth (I think) on the rooftop on TV, where that initial sense of costumed vigilantism as a hybrid of crimefighting and marketing campaign started to emerge. And that's one of my favourite things about this story, so I'm happy to see that brought up again.

It's also a nice change of pace. I think the last time the story followed anyone who wasn't Alex was when it focused on the takeover of the big crime syndicate, which at this point was a while back; the occasional segments that focus on other superheroes' work have been pretty infrequent of late – was the last one the Phantom? I can't quite remember – and it's cool to see that return, too.

So yeah. No complaints, really; it's a good character study, a good fight, and a good interlude, all well paced and delivered. Wyatt's thoughts and philosophies are definitely better integrated with the action than those of some of the other heroes we've seen, which is nice. I'll be watching for the next chapter with interest!
 
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Firebrand

Indomitable
Chapter 16

The gleaming face of Sasaki Tower loomed in front of him, a monument to the spirit of industry and innovation. Alex squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and checked again to make sure his shirt was buttoned right. He joined the press of people walking through the bank of revolving doors and let the tide of bodies carry him to the reception desk. A woman in a starched white blouse looked up from her desktop monitor as he approached.

“Yes, can I help you?”

“Hi, yes, I’m here for the internship. The AIT summer internship. In engineering. I’m supposed to start today?” At the woman’s blank stare, Alex fished in his pocket for the printout and unfolded it on the desk. “It says to, uh, ask for Ms. Takeda?”

The woman’s eyes scanned the paper, and she nodded. “Right, okay, let me dial her extension real quick.” She tapped a series of digits into her phone and waited as it rang. “Hello? Ms. Takeda? There’s someone at the front desk here for you. He has a document with your signature on it for an internship program?” She fell silent for a moment. “All right. Thank you.” The receptionist hung up and glanced back to Alex. “She’ll be down in a moment.”

Alex waited by the reception desk and watched the queue of Sasaki Industries employees walk into the building. There were suited executives, rank and file office workers in simple but chic business casual clothes, along with engineers and researchers wearing everything from lab coats to jeans to shirts and ties. They all swiped an ID badge to pass through chrome turnstiles to elevators waiting to whisk them off to the upper floors.

One of the elevators slid open to reveal Noriko Takeda. Her heels clicked on the tiled marble floor as she strode out through turnstile and held a tablet computer in one hand. “Mr. Alvarez,” she said with a curt nod. She transferred the tablet to her other hand, and held out a small plastic ID card. “You’ll need this. Now please follow me.” She turned and walked back through the chrome gates, Alex struggling to catch up. They boarded an elevator alone (Alex saw other workers steering clear), and were swept up to a higher floor. As the elevator ascended, Noriko glanced over at him. “We used the picture on file at AIT for your badge. Mr. Sasaki wanted you onboarded as quickly as possible. However, there is still some paperwork we need you to fill out.”

The elevator doors slid open, revealing another expanse of marble. Alex heard the faint hum of server banks as Noriko led him past a reception area and into a conference room with a large window overlooking midtown. She tapped a sequence on her tablet and set it down on the table before gesturing to a seat. “Please take a moment to read through the information there. It’s standard disclosure and privacy agreements.”

Alex nodded and sat down in one of the chairs, scanning the dense text in front of him. He reached the bottom and used his finger to sign the appropriate field. Noriko took the tablet back and brought up another form. “This is for your benefits, insurance, and compensation. If you would be so kind…?”

“Compensation? I thought I was an intern.”

“Sasaki Industries makes it a policy to fairly compensate all of its workers,” Noriko said in a clipped tone. Alex figured she had read it off a script. “As an intern and a student, you will naturally not be paid as much as one of our fully vested engineers, but Mr. Sasaki arranged for your salary himself. If you have any questions regarding your compensation, Mr. Alvarez, you are free to reach out to human resources at a later time.” She handed the tablet back to him, and Alex’s eyes went wide.

“That’s my hourly rate?”

“As I said, if you have any problems, you may bring them up with—”

“No, no problems at all,” Alex said, signing again. With that kind of money, he could start buying gourmet instant noodles. Or better yet, actual food.

When his paperwork was signed, Noriko motioned him to follow her again. They left the conference room and walked down a hallway to a room barely larger than a supply closet. An IT technician took Alex’s fingerprints (“A security concern, you understand,” Noriko said. “Company policy.”) and a retinal scan (“An added measure for certain secured labs.”). Alex complied, still in a daze, until Noriko led him back to the elevators and up to an even higher floor.

There was no curated marble expanse this time. The walls were a sterile white, and soft fluorescent light reflected off linoleum floors. Noriko and Alex had their eyes scanned at a small black panel on the wall, and were admitted into one of five workspaces on the floor. A single figure was seated at a table, his back to Alex. A Blaziken lounged on an office chair nearby. The seated man was bent over and tinkering with something before him, and Alex heard a crackle of electricity followed by the sudden reek of ozone. Noriko wrinkled her nose and cleared her throat.

“Jiro, Mr. Alvarez is here.”

The man at the bench stood and turned with a grin. “Wonderful!” Jiro Sasaki extended a hand for Alex to shake. “It’s so good to see you again!” When Alex returned the handshake, Jiro’s smile grew wider.

Noriko inclined her head. “Well, I’ll leave you to it. Mr. Alvarez, I wish you the best. And Jiro, try not to break anything.” She turned and went back to the elevators, her fingers already dancing over her tablet.

When the door slid shut behind her, Jiro sighed. “She insisted on being the one to handle your paperwork. Usually we get someone from HR, but this time… Well, she’s usually not that interested in the new hires.” Jiro cleared some space on a bench and waved Alex over. “Come on, sit down. You’ve got to let me know how the new suit is working.”

“It’s amazing,” Alex said. “It’s so lightweight, and it glides like a dream! And it’s so durable!”

“That’s fantastic. We’ve never tried using nanofibers for something like your wingsuit before, but we didn’t have the time to run a full battery of tests. I’d worried about that, but everything seems to be working?”

“I think the rooftops of Avenbrooke are a pretty good testing ground. I can’t complain.” Alex looked around the laboratory, taking in the machines and tools, and all the idling computers. “This is… a lot.”

“Oh, it’s not all mine,” Jiro said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Well, I guess it is, since the company owns it, and I own the company. But I share this floor with a few other engineers. I had them work in other places today so we’d have the run of the place.”

“I meant this whole internship thing. It’s a lot.” It wasn’t every day you woke up to an email from your dream company saying you had been selected for an internship you hadn’t applied for, an internship created especially for you.

“Thank Johannes for that,” Jiro said with a laugh. “He set all of this up.”

“I know. I have.” Alex had been going to the Hammer’s repair shop for the past three weekends to help weld the Hammer’s new suit. He hadn’t dealt much with hydraulic engineering and machinery, but Johannes had been patient and willing to teach him while Hierro sparred with Albrecht and Siegfried in the yard.

Jiro stood and walked back over to his workspace. “I thought for the first day or two you could help me out with some new pulse weapons I’m developing for the Blaziken Man armor. I’ve almost got what I need, but I think I need an extra pair of hands. We can chat later about what you want to develop, or anything you want to learn while you’re here. I’ve got the resources, so just say the word and I’ll get you set up. That work for you?”

Alex could have wept for joy. He managed to nod, not trusting himself to speak.

Jiro twirled a thin screwdriver between his fingers. “Hey, did you bring your partner along?”

“Yeah, Hierro’s right here.” Alex palmed Hierro’s pokeball from his belt, and the Hawlucha appeared in a burst of light. Hierro fluffed his feathers and glanced around the workshop, giving it an appreciative nod.
“Masakado, why don’t you take Hierro down to the fitness center?” Jiro said. His Blaziken unfolded itself from the swivel chair and stretched his arms over his head. The fire type gestured for Hierro to follow him, and the smaller fighting type bounded after the Blaziken. “I figure we’ll let them blow off some steam while we work.” Jiro tapped the gauntlet on the table. “Give me a hand with this?”

Before Alex knew it, hours had passed, and his stomach was starting to cramp up from hunger. Jiro heard it rumbling and grinned. “Time for a lunch break, I think. I usually have food sent up, but I guess it’s a good time to show you the commissary.” They returned to the elevators, and Jiro took them down to the fifth floor. The commissary took up the entire level and buzzed with conversation. When Jiro stepped off the elevator, a ripple passed through the surrounding area, and several people rose up out of their seats.

“Mr. Sasaki, do you have a moment?”

“I wanted to discuss the plans for—”

“Regarding our requisitions for the Devon merger—”

“Sir, if I could just—”

“Mr. Sasaki, your designs for the Mark V armor are—”

Jiro held up a hand. “Later. If any of these things need my attention, Ms. Takeda will let me know. I’m tied up with another matter presently.” He steered Alex towards the food counters with a wry smile. “This is why I usually have lunch sent up,” Jiro said. “Anyway,” he gestured to the trays of food lined up under heating lamps, “we stock the commissary with anything you could want. If you’re vegetarian we have counters for that, but mostly the food is divided up by region. We hire from all over, so we try to serve something that everyone is comfortable with.” He handed Alex a plate. “Load that up and then we’ll find a table.”

Alex picked up two sandwiches and filled the remaining space with a salad before following Jiro to a small table. Jiro set down a plate of sushi and glanced around the commissary. “Sorry about all this fuss.”

Alex shook his head. “Oh, don’t apologize!”

“They’ll be watching you now,” Jiro said. “We get interns all the time, but outside of a handful of people, no one in the company has the kind of access to me that you’re getting. They’re going to wonder why an intern gets to work so closely with me.” He popped a piece of sushi into his mouth and shrugged. “I know you try to keep your night gig on the down-low, and I probably just made that a lot harder for you. The more people start asking questions, the harder it will be for you to keep up your secret identity.”

Alex shrugged. “I’ll figure something out. I’m a genius prodigy from AIT, after all.”

“I think ‘genius’ is a bit of a strong word for someone who tried to punch Marcus Braun in the face,” Jiro said with a laugh.

Alex was about to respond when he caught a strong whiff of nicotine. A man slid the third chair out from their table and sank down with a sigh. He pulled a tablet from his bag, put one earphone in, and resumed a video feed, some Unovan crime drama. “Hey Jiro,” Noboru Takeda said around a mouthful of sandwich. “Nice of you to join the rest of us mere mortals today.” He nodded to Alex. “Good to see you again, kid. I see you survived my sister’s welcome wagon.”

“It wasn’t that bad, really.”

Noboru smirked. “You don’t have to be polite, she probably isn’t listening.” He glanced back down at his TV show for a moment. Without looking at Alex, he continued, “Your, ah, friend busted up that sleepwalker den in Avenbrooke a little while back, right?”

“Yeah, that was me… I mean him.”

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard,” Noboru rumbled. “That many sleepwalkers?” He put down his sandwich and shook his head. “Well, if nothing else, I hope they start taking this thing seriously.”

“Who’s ‘they’? And what’s ‘this’?”

“Jiro, I like this one. He knows how to ask the right questions.” Noboru gave Alex a wry smile. “‘They’ are anyone willing to give me a research grant. And ‘this’ is finishing the epidemic that the Sins started. I’m working on a medication to block the effects of dream dust, a new kind of naloxone for a new kind of opiate.”

Jiro’s expression grew serious, and he lowered his voice. “How are the trials coming?”

“Tied up in ethical knots,” Noboru replied. “Dream dust is fucked up, Jiro. I can make medication that targets the neurotransmitters dust targets and try to combat the physical effects, but there’s a lot of psychic type voodoo mixed up in there. It’s attacking the sleepwalker’s consciousness along with their mind. From what I can tell, targeting the physical effects and leaving the mental rewiring untreated could have serious long-term repercussions. This ain’t your average opioid. A pill a day and a twelve step program isn’t going to cut it for these addicts.” Noboru’s hands had started shaking, and his eyes darted back and forth. “If I send this to trial before I’ve accounted for the variables, the side effects could be worse than the drug itself.”

“Easy,” Jiro said. “You know you have the company’s full support. If that’s not enough and we need more collaboration, I can put out some feelers and—”

“That’s only half the equation,” Noboru said. “The other variable is time. The longer I take with this, the more time people like Eva Mueller and the Baron have to spread this on the streets.” He waved his hand. “I’m preaching to the choir, I know. You two just keep fighting your good fight, and I’ll keep fighting mine.” He finished his sandwich in two quick bites. “Well, I’ll leave you to it. I just wanted to say thanks for taking those chemists down. Let our, uh, mutual friend know, if you see him. I need a smoke.” He left, and Alex and Jiro turned back to their meals.

When Alex and Jiro returned to the lab, Jiro cleared his throat. “Noboru has a tendency to throw himself into his work, perhaps a little more than is healthy. Once he’s started in on something, he’s like a Granbull with a bone. Sorry if that was a lot on your first day.”

Alex shook his head. “No, I’ve seen what dream dust does to people. I’m glad someone’s working on it, especially someone who cares as much as he does.”

“Noboru more than anyone knows what it’s like to go down that road. He had help saving himself, and now he’s doing everything he can to save others. He may not make the headlines like we do…”

“But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a hero too.”

“Exactly,” Jiro said. He sat down at his work bench and twirled a screwdriver in his fingers. “Now then. As much as I would appreciate having an extra pair of hands to help me make tweaks on the Blaziken Man armor for the next few months, we made more progress than I thought we would this morning, and I created this internship to give you the resources you need for your night gig. I made your suit as close as I could to your original specs, but I’m not the one flying over Avenbrooke every night, so you’re the authority here. What can Sasaki Industries help you with to make your job easier?”

Alex nodded thoughtfully. “Well, I always have to keep weight distribution in mind. All of my equipment needs to be lightweight, or it’s going to drag me down when I try to glide. The suit has been pretty good about stopping knives, and the padding can stop some blunt trauma, but a solid hit is still going to leave me with a bruise. I’d love to reinforce it, but unless you’ve made another breakthrough in nanofibers, I think it’s as sturdy as it’s going to get.” He picked up a drill and tapped the bit. “Lately I’ve been wondering if I could add something to my fingertips, some kind of alloy that would allow me to dig into stonework. If I have to pull out of a glide and there aren’t any handholds, being able to make my own could literally be a lifesaver. But really, the thing I most want to develop is a lightweight grappling hook.

“Hierro and I need to be airborne to do our best work, and once we’re off the rooftops, we’re vulnerable. In the battle two months ago, I was pinned on the ground, and it nearly got me killed three times. In Avenbrooke, most buildings have a handy fire escape, but even then I have to climb. If I could safely get up onto the rooftops from anywhere, I’d be way more mobile.”

“Awesome! Let’s draw up some designs this afternoon and see if we can figure something out.”

After sketching some preliminary designs for his grappling hook, Alex looked up from the calculations on weight he was working through. “Jiro, why don’t you fly?”

“Huh?”

“Your armor has thrusters on it, right? You do the whole leap a tall building in a single bound thing, and it looks like it generates significant lift. So why not develop and implement sustained flight? Is it a power issue?”

Jiro tapped his pen against his lips. “You’re right, it’s possible. The reactor that powers the armor can generate enough power for the thrusters to make flight theoretically feasible, but the real problem is stability. The amount of power required to get off the ground is one thing, but to keep me in the air needs constant force. The gyroscopes in the suit can stabilize me if I’m just jumping up, but to maneuver in the air the way I’d need to if I was flying is too much. I’ve thought about different ways to work around it, but the amount of extra hardware it would require would make the armor too unwieldy.”

“And the thruster jumps have been enough so far, yeah. What’s your vertical with them?”

Jiro flashed an immodest smile, looking for all the world like a kid bragging about his new toy. “If I go all out, I can clear about seventy, maybe eighty feet.” When Alex whistled appreciatively, Jiro held up a hand. “To be fair, the landings are usually pretty rough when I do go that high but… well, it is pretty impressive, I have to admit.” He glanced down at some of his calculations. “What about your suit? I know how it should work theoretically, but I never had the chance to test it in anything other than lab conditions.”

Alex thought for a moment. “Speed and lift vary, obviously. Depends a lot on the winds I happen to catch. As far as swooping and diving, I’ve only been using the Avenbrooke rooftops, and not many of those are more than six, seven stories. During the battle with the Sins, I jumped out of a helicopter with the old suit and it held up okay, so I figure this one can probably handle that kind of speed and altitude too. Actually, a lot of it comes down to arm strength.”

“Do you think if we added more material you would have better results?” Jiro sat back and tugged at his beard. “I’m willing to defer to you here. You’re the expert, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Well, yes and no. There are people with bigger wingsuits who do like, base-jumping and whatever. And while they probably have smoother flights and better maneuverability on their drops, the suits are pretty cumbersome on the ground. What I have now is perfect for gliding from rooftop to rooftop, and I’m not about to go jump off Avenbrooke Tower. Or even another helicopter, if I can help it.”

“Right. You’ve got to balance your aerial capability with your work on the ground.”

“Exactly,” Alex said. “I need to be able to use my hands and feet without getting tangled up in a ton of cloth. Hierro and I are really mobile when we fight, and if I’m getting tripped up, I’m probably a dead man.”

“So minimalism is the way to go, then.” Jiro twirled his pen around. “Duly noted.”

The next time Alex looked up from the drafting table was when the lab door hissed open to let Masakado and Hierro in. The Hawlucha’s feathers were rumpled, but he seemed otherwise in good spirits. Masakado dropped into an empty swivel chair and rested his head on his knuckles. Jiro laid a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “How did the sparring go?” Masakado leveled his gaze at Hierro for a drawn-out moment. Finally, he lifted his hand and flashed a thumb-up. Hierro beamed.

Alex sat up with a groan and stretched before glancing at a clock on a nearby monitor. “It’s five already?”

Jiro nodded. “Easy to lose track of time here. Let’s call it a day. And,” he added, “don’t stay out too late. We’ve got more work to do tomorrow.”

“Will do. See you later!” Alex and Hierro got on the elevator and swept down to the lobby, where they joined the press of workers leaving for the day. As they stepped out into the early evening sunlight, Alex blinked and looked down at his partner. “I can’t believe that just happened. This is going to be the best summer internship ever.” Hierro bobbed in a full body nod. Alex grinned. “I can’t wait to show you my grappling hook designs. Jiro’s giving me access to everything I could possibly need.” As they walked to their subway stop, they passed a bakery. Hierro paused to look at the confections in the window, and Alex stopped short beside him. “Those look really good. Pick any one you want.” Hierro looked up, and then down at the pocket where Alex kept his wallet. Alex grinned. “No need to worry about that anymore, partner. Let’s get some pastries.”
 

Ambyssin

Winter can't come soon enough
I, for one, think you totally nailed that sort of awkward, nervous atmosphere one gets when they show up for a first day on the job. Especially when it's at some sort of big, corporate stronghold like you made Sasaki Tower out to be. Noriko has all the makings of your standard administrator; everything about her lines reads like time is of the essence to her.

With that kind of money, he could start buying gourmet instant noodles. Or better yet, actual food.
Student problems, man. Student problems. Least he has his priorities straight. Also, broom closet IT office. And big boss man getting swarmed by underlings in the cafeteria. I'm impressed with the number of office stereotype jokes you managed to squeeze in to this part, without making them seem forced. Everything flows quite fluidly. Which, considering this chapter's structured quite differently from the rest of the fic, is impressive.

I also like Noboru and (while I'm not sure this will be getting any follow up) the discussion of designing a drug to counter that dream dust. It's vague enough with the medical jargon to sound like a real, proper thing, without getting so bogged down that I wouldn't expect the average reader to understand. The stuff after that with the suits and mechanics behind them felt a little bit more dry for me. But I think that's just my natural aversion to the subject of physics and everything related to it. At the very least, it's got the promise of soem future upgrades, which is nice. All in all, it's nice to things looking up for Alex. And nice to have such a positive chapter. That feeling's probably not going to last long, is it? XP

Couple things I spotted:
Hierro fluffed his feathers and glanced around the workshop, giving it an appreciative nod.
“Masakado, why don’t you take Hierro down to the fitness center?”
Missing line break.

The reactor that powers the armor can generate enough power
I thought the two "power's" used in such quick succession made this part a bit awkward to read.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
It's nice to see Alex's career as a superhero paying off in some way -- so far, he really hasn't got much out of being Hawlucha Man except some injuries and job satisfaction, but at this point it feels like the superheroes (or some of them, anyway) are starting to gel together with him into a circle of friends. Which is nice in and of itself, but this one also comes with substantial career benefits, which is also good. And I like how it's handled, too; I've said before that I'm always down with seeing some of Alex's life as opposed to Hawlucha Man's, and seeing him so out of his element, after all the fistfights, is really cool. You have him noticing all the details of how the building operates on a mechanical level, and it's a great way of showing his inexperience of that kinda thing, and the nervous wandering of his eyes. Kinda cute, in its way. He can punch out bad guys, but corporate offices leave him stymied. More generally, I think that dazed tone works really well to capture that sense of dislocation on your first day on the job, when you know nothing and cannot for a single moment forget it -- something that's always particularly bad when
you've just arrived somewhere you've been in awe of for ages and you desperately want to seem like you're competent.

Oh yes, and one other thing:

"Yeah, that was me ... I mean him."

See, this is part of why it's great to have these Alex segments in among the Hawlucha Man ones. He's such a dork and I love it.
 
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