Hey everyone! I've been planning this for several months, and I think there's no better time to launch this thing than right now, the day a superhero special from the show premieres.
So, here are some facts about me: I love AUs. I love superheroes. I love comic books. I love Marvel movies and the MCU, and I love The Loud House.
This thing I'm starting right now is my big, big, big project. This is going to be definitely more ambitious and important than my latest big project, Requiem for a Loud. I'm gonna replicate the MCU in a fanfiction format.
This is the first entry of the Heroverse. A series of interconnected stories, all taking place in the same universe, with characters meeting each other, teaming up, and going through their own personal arcs. I think of every story as a movie, and it kinda follows a movie structure. I could not launch this with anything other than Ace Savvy. Lincoln is our cornerstone, and it felt right to kick everything off with him.
Two little things to mention before we start:
One: even though everything will be interconnected, the idea is that every single story is a standalone story. Like the Marvel movies!
Two: Remember, this is an AU. Don't look at Kings of the Con and the Full Deck and think that everyone's going to have the same superhero identity from the show. These are my personal views of them as superheroes, and most of them have nothing to do with what they are in canon.
So let's deal out some justice!
Credits to JamesSunderlandsPillow for coming up with Eclipse's name. "And who the hell is Eclipse?" You'll find it soon enough.
A bad roll killed my hero.
I'll be honest: sometimes I wish I wasn't a hero.
Being a hero is complicated. It's exhausting. It's difficult and dangerous. You have to always be responsible, you need to be an example, you must constantly put yourself at risk to protect your community. You have to miss out on dates or game nights with your friends just so you can go outside and help complete strangers. It takes most of your day and you don't even get paid for it. It's not like you can put on your cape, your mask, and go to the movie theaters asking for a discount on popcorn. People would think that you're taking advantage of your reputation, and that's not very heroic, isn't it?
At the end of the day, though, I feel like I'm doing something that matters. Yes, sometimes it's a little annoying, and yeah, sometimes one would rather stay home than dodge bullets on the street, but I gotta admit that even that has its fun side.
Yeah, being a hero is complicated, but I think I wouldn't trade it for the world.
My name is Lincoln McBride, and this is the story of how I became a hero, all because of one disastrous roll. And just like every great story ever, it began with our heroes hanging out on a tavern.
Of course, the tavern was imaginary, and the people hanging out weren't exactly heroes, but rather they were my friends and me, but when you're playing Dungeons And Dragons it's ok to refer to yourself as your hero. We were all gathered in my basement, sitting around a table upon which our friend Stella placed our miniatures and drew the maps. She was the one that got us into DnD, and she's such a great DM, with her brief but immersive descriptions, her eloquent vocabulary, and her great ability to improvise. She motivated us to become better players, engaged and creative.
We had all fallen in love with getting into character, acting out our dialogues with funny voices, describing our actions and even making sound effects every time we made an attack or cast a spell. Actually, and I don't want to toot my own horn when it comes to my sewing and design skills, but I had even confected costumes for each one of us, and we loved putting them over our clothes every time we hang around to play!
Ok, look, I could honestly spend hours just talking about the campaign we were playing and how the destiny of the Forgotten Realms was directly tied to our decisions, but that's not really the point of this, so let me just fast forward to the time where rolling dice changed forever my life and the history of our city.
Our heroes had opened their way through a subterranean dungeon crowded with monsters of all kinds. The party was formed by Liam's ranger, Zach's warlock, Rusty's rogue, Clyde's cleric, Jordan's bard and, of course, my very own paladin, Silver Edge. I chose that name for him because he had a silver, magic sword with a +2 bonification against undead creatures, which I thought was super cool.
After finishing off a handful of giant spiders, we left behind a room filled with magic items and treasure, and we entered what would end up becoming a stage of death.
"You close the door behind you, placing an iron rod against it to keep it from opening from the other side, and you turn around to find yourselves at what appears to be the edge of a cliff," described Stella, giving me the creeps. "The darkness around you is maddening, but the light coming out of Silver Edge's sword is enough to let you pick up some details on the carved stone of the floor. You can tell this cavern isn't natural. A little further, two torches flaring up with a magical, soft fire are flanking the entrance to an old bridge made out of rope and wood planks. There's a soft breeze running through the open space, making the bridge move slightly from side to side, and the very low noise of water in movement manages to reach your ears from down below. Almost like the whisper of a sea filled with condemned souls."
We all exchanged a worried look.
"There's definitely something down below."
"Some giant tentacles are going to attack us as soon as we reach the middle of the bridge."
Stella just smiled at us, which only made us feel more anxious.
"How far away are we from the bridge?" Asked Liam.
"I'd say, uh, about sixty feet. That's roughly the space between the stone wall you came from and the edge of the cliff."
"By Merlin's beard, that was a close one," Zach said, using the deep voice of his character. "I don't know about you guys, but I spent almost all my magic, I only have one spell left. I could really use a short rest."
"Ha! I knew you wouldn't be able to keep up with my pace. I could have taken this mission on my own," said Rusty with a raspy voice that he had chosen for his goth, edgy, dagger-throwing, antisocial assassin. It's not a secret that none of us like his character.
"What Shadowblade is trying to say is that it'd be dangerous to rest in here," said Jordan, speaking with a very formal British accent. It's no secret either that she tends to be the voice of reason in our games. "Even though I could really use a short rest to heal some of my wounds."
"After hearing that, Silver Edge will walk towards Circe and use Lay on Hands on her so she can gain fifteen hit points back," I said almost immediately, taking the first chance I had to help Jordan's character.
I, uh, I guess I should probably mention that I like her.
We had always been good friends at school, classmates ever since we were six years old, but it wasn't until last summer where I began finding myself staring at her more than necessary, trying to be on the same team as her, and getting jealous whenever Liam or Rusty talked to her or put an arm around her shoulders in a casual way. To be honest, I wouldn't have really figured out how much I like her if it wasn't for that time when Clyde, as we were lying down in our shared room, pointed it out for me. I didn't understand what these feelings really meant, but ever since then, Clyde had been trying to get me to ask her out on a date.
I was, of course, terrified and completely against that idea. I wouldn't be able to stand a rejection, and I didn't want to risk our relationship being ruined because of my feelings. We were only eleven years old, there was no need to hurry, right? No, no, I didn't want to even think about confessing my feelings. That was a responsibility I wasn't ready to take.
But that didn't mean I couldn't spend half my healing on her.
"Very well. How do you cure her?" Stella asked with a knowing grin, moving her hand towards me and Jordan, who was sitting right next to me, in an unmistakable gesture of "show us".
She used to ask those types of questions so we could "get into character", but I was pretty sure she knew about my feelings for Jordan, and she was trying to make me look like an idiot in front of everyone. Or maybe she thought she was helping me, but in that case, she didn't know me enough.
I looked to my right, and Jordan's pretty eyes found mine. I felt butterflies in my stomach, and my throat got dry.
"I raise my hand and I… g-gently put it on Circe's cheek," I said, raising my hand in the air in front of me, but Stella pointed at Jordan once again, and as I moved my hovering hand and placed it on her cheek, I wished that the cliff and the bridge would materialize right there in my basement so I could jump into the void, so no one could see my blushing face. "I close my eyes and think of my oath, and let the divine energy cure her."
I did as I said, closing my eyes, pretending I was trying to get into character, when really all I wanted was to mask the embarrassment I was getting from touching the face of the girl I liked. The contact only lasted for a few seconds, but I could perfectly feel the corner of her lips curling up into a smile. And it was too fast to tell for sure, but I swear I felt her face slightly warmer than usual.
"Thanks, Silver Edge," Jordan said with a smile. She wrote her new hit points on her character sheet.
I tried to respond, but I ended up masking my incoherent gibberish with a fake cough.
"Can we tell what's beyond the bridge, or is it just darkness?" Clyde asked, trying to change the topic like the good brother that he is so I wouldn't die from embarrassment.
Ok, yeah, you'll probably be all like "Brother? But Lincoln, you and him… uh…" Yeah, I know. We don't look like we're related, me with my straight white hair, him with his curly black hair. The truth is that I'm adopted. Clyde's dad and his husband adopted me when I was three years old, so ever since I have memory, he has been my brother and best friend. He's such an inspiration to me. Super smart, super kind, super supportive. He's definitely one of the best things in my life, and I would give it all for him.
"Make a perception check, please," the DM asked.
Clyde grabbed his die, blew some air on it, rolled it, and then proceeded to grunt.
We all looked at each other. Stella smiled. I gulped.
"It is definitely total darkness, you can barely even see the bridge under the soft, green torches. You can make about fifteen feet of it, but after that, nothing. It might go on for thirty feet, or two hundred."
"We can't rest if we don't know what's on the other side of the bridge," I said out loud before looking at Stella. "I'll make a gesture to my friends so they wait here, and I'll try to cross the bridge, see how far it goes. As I'm moving, I'll keep an eye out for anything trying to attack me from down below."
Stella's smirk became even more pronounced, much eviler, and I knew I was walking right into a trap. I would be regretting this for sure, but my character was a hero, he didn't run away from trouble. If he had to walk right into a trap to make sure that his companions would be safe, he would, because that was his personality.
"Before that, Circe will kiss him on the cheek and give him bardic inspiration," said Jordan, writing down the use of her ability on her character sheet before looking at me. "You can add 1d8 to… well, pretty much any roll."
A kiss on the cheek? Seriously? Gosh, why was this girl so nice and pretty? Couldn't she tell that I was crazy for her? I thanked the gesture and tried to look calm as Stella described my character walking onto the bridge, but I couldn't keep myself from stealing looks at Jordan.
I was so distracted, in fact, that I barely heard Stella describing how halfway into the bridge, a group of zombies came running right at me from the dark. I tried to move back with my companions, but Stella was evil, and from the top of the cavern (not the bottom as we had imagined), a Grick (like, a twenty-foot worm with an eagle's beak and tentacles around its head) fell on the bridge, standing between my friends and me.
Not only that but after rolling for initiative, my character ended with the last turn.
Again, I don't wanna bore you too much with this, so let me go straight to the point: by the time it was my turn to act, I had already lost most of my hit points. The Grick was a pretty nasty monster and standing at the edge of the bridge, it kept my friends away from me, leaving me all alone. I might have been able to take down one or two zombies in my turn, but unless I could come up with a marvelous play…
I asked Stella for a few minutes to think this through, and no one had a problem with me taking some time to analyze my situation. I had many ideas… I checked my spells, looked back at my hit points, I tried to think of the mathematical probabilities of getting a critical hit… I thought about it over and over again, but in the end, I decided to stop trying to come up with the mechanically most efficient option and just go with what my character would do.
Silver Edge was honorable. He believed in his cause. He was brave, kind, determined. He knew that the party was on the edge of glory, about to do something great for mankind. Millions of lives depended on their mission. He could not let it fail.
Even if that meant that he wouldn't be there to see it completed.
I sighed, and my eyes slowly looked up to meet Stella's.
"I'll use a bonus action just to look over my shoulder, to my friends, my brother, Circe, Shadowblade, all of them… and with my action, I'll cut the bridge's ropes."
It was as if someone had cast Polymorph on Stella's face. Her sassy, fun, evil-ish smirk turned into a look of surprise and terror that almost made me feel bad. She blinked, shocked, and she began to frantically look through her notes as the rest of my friends stood up, scandalized, telling me not to do it, that there had to be a different way, that I was still in time to change my mind. But I had already declared my action, and I wasn't going to back away from it. It's what my character would do.
What any real hero would do.
"I… uh… Everyone… All of you watch as Silver Edge cuts the ropes," Stella announced, clearly affected by my reaction. "The blade shines bright as it moves in the air, drawing a perfect arc that cuts both of the ropes that keep the bridge handing. For a second, for an instant that stretches out and remains forever captured in your memories… it all stays the same. Gravity's not working yet, time stops, and all of your eyes stay connected to your friend. And then, when the fraction of a second passes… the bridge falls, dragging down with it the dozen of zombies, the grick standing in front of you, and Silver Edge, his glowing sword losing itself in the dark void of the cliff, like a fleeting shooting star… A-And that's where we'll end today's session."
We had only been playing for two hours, but no one complained. They were all with their hands on their faces, staring at me with open mouths and incredulous eyes. I had just caused our first character death in our campaign. It was definitely a tough moment for everyone, especially me, but I tried to pretend that it wasn't that big of a deal.
Still, I was pretty bummed out as we all packed our stuff and took my costumes away, while Clyde and I also tried to make sure our basement looked presentable. Zach, Liam, and Rusty came to say goodbye to me, and they apologized for not being able to help me before grabbing their bikes and pedaling back to their homes. Stella came to me after them, and I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was blaming herself for my decision. As if the fun scenario she had carefully thought about had ended up with all of us feeling miserable and with my character dead.
"Hey, don't worry about it," I assured her, trying to smile. "I think it was a super dramatic moment. It was a pretty clever encounter. Besides, I've always wanted to play a Monk, heh. I guess now I'll finally be able to do it."
My attempts at comedy seemed to at least make her smile, but she still asked me not to create a new character yet. To give her a few days to think. She also grabbed her bike and left after saying goodbye.
I was suddenly aware of the fact that the only one left was Jordan, and I'm pretty sure my hands began sweating.
"I should probably get going now," she said, grabbing her bag and putting on a jacket.
"No one's picking you up?" Clyde asked.
"No, my parents are working now. I'll just take the bus."
To be honest, I wasn't totally fond of the idea of her going back to her house alone at night time. If she had a bike, maybe, but an eleven years old girl waiting for the bus by herself? Call me old-fashioned, but I didn't feel comfortable with that.
"I'll go with you," I found myself saying before my brain could fully process my thoughts. She looked at me, and I was suddenly a victim of my own insecurities yet again. "I-I mean, to the bus stop. I wasn't implying I wanted to go to your house, no. It's just, you know, it's late… and… well…"
"Lincoln's right," Clyde intervened, probably trying to stop me from looking like a total idiot, "it's not a good idea to wait alone at the bus stop."
Jordan smirked and let out a little laugh, but I also noticed her changing the weight of one leg to the other, and her hands playing with the straps of her bag.
"Are you gentlemen suggesting that you want to come with me to the bus stop to protect me from dangerous stuff?" She said, raising an eyebrow. "And how would you two help me if something happened?"
"Oh, no, I'm not going," Clyde said, raising his hands and taking a step back. "If the basement isn't in perfect condition by the time our dads come from work, they're going to kill us. Metaphorically speaking."
Oh, great, that would leave me alone with Jordan, which only increased my probabilities of acting like a major idiot and ruin it all by, I'd say, tenfold. She stared at me, waiting for an answer to her teasing question. I tried to answer confidently and smart.
"Well, if anything were to happen, I'm pretty sure I can scream for help louder than you," I said, trying to make fun of her soft voice and how she-
Wait, dang it! That didn't sound brave or smart AT ALL. Had I just make fun of myself? She definitely seemed to think so, because she let out a soft, girly giggle.
"I can't argue with that," she admitted. "So, let's get going."
I took my orange hoodie with black sleeves and a zipper in the middle and put it on over my favorite shirt. We both said goodbye to Clyde, who as soon as she turned around, smiled in my direction and put his two thumbs up.
We got out of my house and we started to walk into the thankfully well-illuminated streets of a residential neighborhood near Royal Wood's midtown. We walked past houses and sidewalks filled with trees, but just after a few blocks we already started to see low buildings, three or four stories tall, and stores on the street level. The bus stop that would take Jordan to her house was only about eight blocks away, which left us with a couple of minutes of walk to get there.
The first few seconds were spent in uncomfortable silence. I mean, it was definitely not uncomfortable for me. This might sound stupid, but just having her walk right next to me was enough to make me happy. It probably wasn't the same for her, though, so I made sure to start a conversation so she wouldn't think that I was boring or bad company.
"So, did you have fun tonight?" I asked.
"I did, actually, it was super fun. I wasn't expecting a room full of giant spiders," she said, her eyes glowing at the memory, although she then looked at me with a mischievous smile. "But obviously you couldn't let an opportunity pass to make some drama, didn't ya?"
I snorted, putting my hands in my hoodie pockets and pretending to be mad.
"You say that as if I had planned to die tonight."
"Oh, come on, Cotton-Top, you're aaaalways looking for a moment in the spotlight. Why else would you try to be the one to explore the bridge? Just so we could all be impressed by your bravery and strength."
My smile hesitated. Was that she way she thought of me? Someone trying to always be the center of attention?
"My armor class is the highest of the group," I explained, trying to justify myself. "And I'm the one that had taken the least damage in the previous battle. If Clyde went there and there was a trap that made damage to him, he could've fallen unconscious. I didn't do it because I wanted to be the center of attention."
I might have gone too much on the defensive, because her playful smile faded, and her walking became slower by my side. Dang it, I had ruined it once again, hadn't I?
"I know, I know, I'm sorry," she apologized, speaking softer. "I honestly don't know what to say. I wasn't expecting you to… sacrifice yourself like that."
"I definitely didn't think of it when I went in to explore," I admitted, trying to sound more cheerful so she wouldn't feel bad. "But hey, I guess I'll be able to create a new character. I might turn him into a coward, so he never suggests going first."
We both laughed.
"It's a shame, though. I liked your character."
"Same. Honestly, it was hard making that choice."
"Then why did you do it?" She asked, genuinely curious. "We didn't know what might have happened. There might have been a chance for us to save you."
I took a couple of seconds to consider the question, but I didn't really need them to know the answer. I had it all clear the moment I made the decision.
"Because that's what Ace Savvy would have done," I said with a big smile as I looked up at the stars. She softly nodded, smiling as well, and I could see from the corner of the eye how she stared at the red shirt underneath my hoodie, with the black logo of Royal Wood's last protector.
Oh, right, I should probably explain to you who Ace Savvy is. Alright, let's start from the beginning.
As we all know, at the beginning of the eighties there was a cosmic explosion on Earth's atmosphere, right over North America. No one really knows what caused it, or what it actually was. What we do know is that it released an unprecedented amount of energy that expanded throughout the whole planet. Most people didn't feel it but said energy caused some changes in 0,01% of the world's population. From one day to the next, these people gained abilities of all kinds, unique from each other. Before mankind was able to react, there were superheroes amongst us, or as media called them, "metahumans". Many were converted at the moment of the explosion, but in a way that science can't yet explain, the rest of mankind was injected with potential metahuman genes, which means that even today, two or even three generations down the line, there's a small, tiny chance of a baby being born with superpowers. These powers usually manifest themselves in the first two years of life.
This obviously had major geopolitical repercussions on a worldwide scale (the end of the Cold War, the stock market crash, the South American and Eastern African countries rising up as the new superpowers, and the sudden disappearance of K-Pop as a musical genre), but let's be honest, no one cares about politics, so let's just go back into the good stuff.
Superheroes started to become public figures in their cities. They became symbols of respect and hope, mayors, governors. They opened their own companies, their own TV shows, their brands. But of course, just like some decided to use their powers for good, many others (probably, and unfortunately, the majority) decided to use their powers for… not so good reasons. Supervillains appeared as well. Can you imagine what that meant for cities like New York? One day it was a normal city, the next day over eight thousand metahumans were running or flying around the streets. Most of them with selfish intentions, some of them trying to help reinstate order.
In a small town like Royal Woods, the impact wasn't as big. I think that during the early decades there was a bigger impact. But ever since the 2000's, our city became famous in the Northern United States (the country was divided into four, by the way) because of the… high index of metahuman disappearances. One by one, all our supervillains and superheroes started to disappear. It's our city's greatest mystery. No one knows why, but no metahuman seems to last for more than four or five years on the scene before disappearing in mysterious circumstances for no one else to hear about them ever again. It's why most supervillains only attack our city a couple of times before moving out into other towns or cities, even if they're bigger and hold more heroes. No one wants to take a risk, even though all the superheroes that ever defended us disappeared.
All but one.
Ace Savvy, the Night Vigilante, is practically the last hero we have (not exactly, but let's not get ahead of ourselves). He started his heroic career in the early nineties, and ever since he's been protecting the citizens of our town. He's my personal hero, my idol, my inspiration. Silver Edge was clearly influenced by him. A brave man, talented, who never hesitates to help others at his own risk, who's always willing to deal out some justice and protect the innocent citizens. Not only that, but he's the only hero that has been able to survive for a little over thirty years on this city that seems to have a curse against metahumans.
I still remember that time when Katherine Mulligan asked him why he keeps defending us, and he said something that has always stuck with me.
"Because I can. And as long as I'm able to do so, that shall be my life's command."
Gosh, I love him! I was once next to him at a barber shop's inauguration. Well, not exactly "right next to him". There were about two hundred people between him, local journalist Katherine Mulligan (she had the most exclusive interviews with him) and me, but if you look at the tapes, there's a moment where you can see my white hair in the background! Ace Savvy and me, both together on the same frame! He's my biggest inspiration, and I'm convinced that if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have Nova and Eclipse either.
They're two young heroines, which is extremely rare here. See, in other places, metahumans start their public life as heroes or villains as soon as they feel ready. Most of them do so during their teen years, although it's not unusual for ten years old (or even younger) metahumans going around the street saving cats from trees or stealing candy. Royal Woods, however? If you use your powers, for good or evil, you're definitely gonna end up sooner or later on the long list of missing metahumans. That's why we don't have any new heroes, and only Ace Savvy remains of the old school. According to statistics, there should be around thirty metahumans in our town, most of them under twenty-five, and yet the only ones we know of are Ace Savvy and, for the past year and a half, Nova and Eclipse.
In a way, I'm glad I wasn't born with superpowers. I can't imagine how awful it must feel to have powers but not being able to use them for fear of being kidnapped, or dying, or whatever happens to metahumans. That's why I'm so glad to have Eclipse, Nova, and obviously Ace Savvy around.
They fear nothing, and they risk their lives just because they believe that's what's right.
"That's why Silver Edge preferred to die," I told her. "If the zombies and the Grick cornered you against the wall, we could have all died. But he had the option to stop it all before it escalated. Sacrificing himself, taking all the enemies down with him, and making sure that you were all alive to complete the mission and save the Forgotten Realms."
"Wow… now I kinda feel bad for making fun of you," Jordan said, giving me a light punch on the shoulder. "I think I need to start giving you more credit."
"Yeah, well, maybe you don't know me as much as you think."
We got to the bus stop, and we stood under a light post.
"What does that mean, Mr. Mysterious?" She asked.
"It means that maybe there's more about Lincoln McBride than meets the eye."
"Oh, yeah? Like what?" She said, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning against the streetlight.
Her blonde hair shone like the golden fleece under the artificial light, and her eyes looked as pretty and captivating as always. I felt my throat drying, and I had to make an effort to not lose myself staring at her.
"I have lots of skills you don't know."
"I can imagine."
"I mean it. I don't like to brag about it, but I'm a fantastic cook."
Maybe it was my mischievous smile, or maybe she thought I was joking (I wasn't, by the way, I love cooking), but she let out a beautiful giggle that she tried to muffle with her fist.
"Wow, this is embarrassing. I have a male friend that knows how to sew and cook better than me. Mother would be disappointed."
"But hey, I guess it must feel worse to you knowing that even though I'm a girl I'm a better athlete than you."
I couldn't help but laugh at that.
"That's even more sexist."
"But it's true."
"It is, yeah."
We shared a very cheerful laugh, and right then I felt like the king of the world. I couldn't help to show my disappointed face when we saw the bus turning around the corner. She walked away from the streetlight and fixed her skirt.
"Thanks for coming with me, Lincoln," she said, all teasing gone from her voice, gifting me with a thankful look. "I had an awesome time today."
"No problem. I had a good time, too."
"Now that you told me you like to cook, you're gonna have to make me something one of these days," she added, her head tilting forward, slightly towards the floor, but her eyes fixed on me.
What could I say? Should I say no, play hard to get? Make a joke and play along? Wait, was she joking, or was she being serious? Was she actually asking me to cook something for her? To make something for her and bring it to the cafeteria? Should I invite her for lunch at my house? Would she accept the invitation or would she laugh at me?
"...I don't know," I ended up saying, in what was probably the greatest missed opportunity of my life.
I realized right away that she was clearly expecting a different answer. Her smile hesitated, and we stayed in silence until the bus stopped right in front of her.
"See ya later," she said, not as cheerful as she had been a minute ago.
And just like that, the bus door was closed, leaving me alone in the silent darkness of the night. I cursed myself as I turned around and began walking back home. Everything had gone almost perfectly. I had had ten minutes alone with the girl I liked, and it had been great. And right at the end… just when she was maybe giving me a chance to ask her out on a date, or at least to spend some time alone, my fears and insecurities had taken the best of me. Sometimes I hated being so shy. I saw an empty soda can on the sidewalk and I kicked it as hard as I could, trying to get rid of some of the frustration I was carrying.
When the can hit the floor, it made a thunderous noise that broke the silence of the night, as if a trash can filled with bricks and glass cups had fallen onto a gong. It was so loud that I stood still for a few seconds until I realized that there was no way that a simple can of soda could have caused such a mess. A new explosion happened to my left, and when I looked up, I saw them.
Jumping from roof to roof, running on the top of the buildings, well over the lights and concealed under a blanket of dark and mystery, there was a man dressed as a cowboy, with black, leather boots with spurs, a black jacket over a blue vest, claret gloves, a bandana covering the lower half of his face, and a wide-brimmed hat. And it seemed like he wasn't sure if he was maybe being too subtle because, just in case you didn't get the cowboy outfit, he was also carrying a burlap sack over his shoulder, filled with who-knows-what, and carrying a gun on his hand.
My muscles froze like a hare on the road, and I instinctively walked back against the nearest wall, pressing my back onto it as if I was trying to pass through.
"Wild Card Willy," I whispered to myself.
There were no doubts about it, I was looking at one of Royal Wood's most infamous villains. I refer to him as a villain and not a supervillain because he wasn't a metahuman. It's the same difference between heroes and superheroes. Not everyone wearing a costume and going out to help others is super. For a long time, people wondered if the reason why Ace Savvy hadn't gone missing like the rest of the superheroes was that he didn't have superpowers, but his superhuman strength, dexterity, and reflexes didn't seem to support that theory.
And speaking of that…
I saw Wild Card Willy looking over his shoulder and shooting his gun. I was kinda expecting a bullet, but what came out of the barrel was a red, glowing light that reminded me of Stormtroopers' blasters. It flew through the air almost faster than my eyes could catch, but after just forty feet or so, a small, white rectangle with an Ace of Spades in the center intercepted the beam of light, causing a small explosion similar to the two that had scared me senseless a few instants ago.
The moment I recognized that small rectangle, my heart turned into a charging rhino trying to pounce out of my chest. I turned my head to my left and, moving with the determination and the agility of a panther, there he was, Ace Savvy.
Even with the dim light I could identify his dark red suit, his bracelets, his utility belt, his black mask to conceal his identity, and his waving, dark blue cape. He moved through the rooftops, keeping pace with the villain of the night, ready to deal out some justice and make him pay for his crimes.
Never in my eleven years of life had I had such a clear view of him. That time at the barbershop I had barely seen flashes of his hair or his cape. Now, I had a good look at him, full-body, running under the soft light of the stars with the red spandex like the one my dad's use on their designs. I already knew how this was going to end. Ace Savvy had put Wild Card Willy in prison thirteen different times.
Trust me on the data. I'm a mod in Ace's subreddit.
The smart thing would have been to walk back home and tell Clyde what I had just seen, so we could both talk excitedly about our favorite superhero, and maybe, while he was busy with videogames or something, I could go to my secret atelier in the attic to keep working on my ultra-realistic Ace Savvy cosplay, which I was already finishing, looking forward to using it at the next Comic-Con. The smart thing would have been for me to keep that as a memory, treasure it, and move on with my life.
But, as you'll be able to confirm the more you get to know me, smart isn't really an adjective people use to describe me.
Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to see my hero in action, and the possibility to maybe record him on my phone, I ran after the figures on the rooftops. Wild Card was clearly dangerous, but there was no way that he could present an actual threat to Ace. At no moment I considered the possibility of my integrity being risked.
Even though they were adults, and athletics had never been my strong suit, the fact that they were jumping from building to building helped me keep up with their pace. It was also pretty easy to just follow the explosions their chase had been leaving behind. I knew these streets pretty well since it was just a ten-minute walk from my house, so I could find some alleys to take as shortcuts and keep their pace. I would look up from time to time, trying to see my idol, and I did actually get to see fleeting glimpses of his cape and hair.
After about fifty seconds running behind them, I noticed they were about to reach the corner. They were both great acrobats, but there was no way they'd be able to jump from building to building across the street. Thinking fast, I imagined that they'd make a ninety-degree turn to the left. If I took the first alley to the center of the block, it would be a huge shortcut that would put me probably underneath them as they jumped from place to place.
I trusted my guts, and that's exactly what I did. The alley was dark, with stained, dirty, graffiti-filled brick walls. The heinous stench of some long-forgotten trash bags reached my nostrils, but I decided to ignore it and keep going. I got to the intersection of two alleys, that met each other at a right angle, connecting the two sidewalks.
The good news was that my math had been corrected, and I had gotten there just in time to intercept the chase.
The bad news was that the burlap sack fell a few feet in front of me, and after hearing some cursing, I saw Wild Card Willy descending a fire stair, getting right where I was.
My first thought was a word that my dads wouldn't have been proud to hear. My second thought was much more concrete and useful: "Hide". I looked around me. I could potentially run back to the alley I came from, but Wild Card was about to reach the floor, and if he turned around and saw me running… the last thing I wanted was to end up being shot by a piddling villain. My eyes focused on a trash container next to me, big enough to cover me completely, and without thinking twice, I jumped there, making myself as little as possible and trying to calm my shaking legs.
Wild Card Willy seemed to be about to reach his bag, but then a figure dexterously fell right in front of my hiding spot, and I was able to see Ace Savvy with a level of detail that I had never imagined.
He seemed even more impressive in person than he did in my posters and photographs. He was pretty tall, standing probably almost 6'3". The spandex held tightly to his muscles, showing proudly from his powerful calves, each one as big as my two legs, to the small muscles underneath his armpits. His broad chest stretched the Ace of Spades logo, all black with a white "A" in the center, and his square jaw ended on a pointy chin.
He was smiling, but he seemed to hesitate for a few seconds when his eyes met mine. Time stopped, and my heart almost did as well. I wished I had my phone ready to take a picture of him, but this was probably not the best time to ask for a selfie.
I don't know what he saw on my face. Probably a mix of absolute terror for being in a situation that I should have definitely considered more thoroughly, and adoration and fascination for being right in front of my idol. It wasn't easy to read his face, but I thought I saw a bit of surprise, confusion, and finally, resolve. The visual contact only lasted for a few instants, and he quickly got up on his feet, looking with a smug smile to where, I assumed, Wild Card was standing.
"Stealing shoe stores again? Come on, Willy, I thought you'd sworn not to steal anymore," Ace said with a grave yet charmful voice, as if he was having a nice chat with a taxi driver on a long trip to the airport.
"I swore that I would only steal to those who deserved it!" Wild Card challenged him. I couldn't see him from where I was. "The owner of this place has five employees in precarious conditions! She won't let them have their paid vacations, and she has them working extra hours on the weekends! She must pay for her insensibility!"
"You do know that she most likely has insurance for this, right? She won't lose any actual money."
"Oooh, but she will have to face bureaucracy!" Wild Card retorted as if he had just Ben Shapiro'd his opponent's arguments. "Imagine her spending six hours trying to make sure that all her papers are updated and in the clear, dealing with slow secretaries from the insurance companies! That'll teach her!"
Ace Savvy let out a soft chuckle, and I almost missed it, but as he kept his eyes focused on the villain, his right hand made a clear gesture for me to stay still where I was. Perfect, I thought. My legs didn't respond to my commands anyway.
"Willy, you know I care about you. If you weren't a chronic thief with a fascination for old western movies, we could probably be friends. But you can't keep this up. You need to stop stealing from evil employers."
"Oh, right, it's bad for me to steal from the bourgeoisie, but they can steal from the defenseless workers and no one bats an eye. Simply because the law they write protects them from facing the consequences of their treacherous acts."
Oddly enough, it was at that moment that I realized Wild Card wasn't as evil as I thought. He was more of a chaotic neutral, I thought.
"Laws are there to keep order and structure, Willy," Ace pointed out, staying lawful good in terms of D&D characters. "But I digress. We both know how this is going to end. Give up, let me handcuff you, and I'll talk to the police so they can reduce your sentence. Or at least give you satellite TV on your cell so you can watch The Magnificent Seven as many times as you want."
"Oh, but this time things are different, Ace," he said, with confidence that puzzled me.
There was a tense silence for a few seconds, but I noticed Ace's eyes squinting.
"Yes, I noticed. Where did you get that gun?"
"Ha! As if I was going to say it just like that!" Wild Card laughed. "Let's say I've got a secret sponsor that believes I'm right in my social justice quest. He gave me these two so I could get away with it."
"And what do they do?" Ace cautiously wondered.
"I… well, the red one seems to shoot some sort of concussive plasma," he said, sounding like he wasn't entirely sure about it. "And the green one… I don't really know what it does. But the note said that it would be my secret to success!"
There was a tense stare-off between them, and the silence was giving me chills. Couldn't Wild Card just surrender and end this before I wet my pants?
"Willy, I don't know who send you those weapons, but I don't think they're on your side. Put them away before you do something you'll regret."
"I won't have anything to regret if you just leave me alone!"
"I can't do that," Ace solemnly said. "It is my duty as a hero."
The alley was about fifteen feet wide. From my position I could only see Ace Savvy, and from the way he started to move, it looked to me like they were circling each other, keeping their distance and their eyes focused on each other. Ace was walking away from me, which probably meant Wild Card was getting closer. That made me even more nervous than that time when Rusty convinced me to get into the girls' restroom and write down Liam's number on the mirror. I felt like I was going to be caught any second now, and that would be my end.
"Leave the bag here," Ace offered, "drop your weapons and go away. I won't even arrest you. This doesn't have to escalate any further."
"And since when do you let criminals just walk away?"
"I'm not letting you walk away, I'm making a deal with you. Those weapons… I don't like this. Tell me who gave them to you, and in exchange for your collaboration, I'm offering you a chance to enjoy your freedom."
Nowadays, with more experience under my belt, I can see what Ace's plan was. He was trying to engage in a conversation with Wild Card, trying to get him to monologue and stay focused on him, to keep him from scanning his surroundings. He was trying to get them to walk around in a circle so he would end up with his back to me, giving me a chance to stealthily walk away sound and safe.
It was a good plan, but in my terrified, tense state, I didn't get it. The only thing I could see was Ace walking away from me, and I could listen to the villain's steps moving towards me. Wild Card wasn't a murderer, he was just a thief, but even then, he was carrying guns, and having him close to me was highly unnerving. I was scared, I got panicked. I could feel my heart beating like a drum on my ears, my fingers were shaking, and cold sweat was running down my forehead.
I turned to my left, looking at the alley where I came from. The corner was just about twelve feet away from me. I calculated my distances. If I could get a nice impulse, I might be able to leap forward, roll, push with my heels and get out of there in just a second. I wouldn't be giving Wild Card any time to react, and worst-case scenario, Ace would react first.
I took a few deep breaths before deciding what to do, and in an act of stupid bravery, I leaped towards the exit.
And the subsequent roll ended up becoming a turning point in Royal Wood's history.
I had obviously overestimated my acrobatic capabilities. My idea to jump forward and roll was taking for granted that I could a) be able to leap parallel to the ground and b) be agile enough to start the rolling motion in the air and continue the momentum on the floor.
I could do neither. My chest hit the solid concrete floor and my head bounced against it, making my chipped tooth closing painfully on my tongue. I immediately felt the metallic flavor of my own blood spilling in my mouth, but it was nothing compared to the immense terror that consumed me in that instant. To say that I felt frozen in place works in more than one level, because not only did I feel my whole body going stiff, leaving me motionless, but a cold sensation spread throughout my whole body as if someone had dropped ice cubes under my shirt.
It all happened so fast that I saw it in slow motion. I don't know how to explain it. It was like information had overloaded my brain, and instead of taking it all in real-time, my organism had to take a couple of seconds to analyze frame by frame the whole sequence that had entered my retina, just to make sure it was real.
The first thing I heard was a loud yell of surprise, and a much graver voice shouting "STOP!". I felt a tingling sensation on my neck, like all the little hairs under my head were charging up with static. In what little time it took me to turn my head behind, I noticed the whole alley lighting up, and when I could finally look over my shoulder, I saw Wild Card Willy's gun pointing at me, and a beam of green light began occupying my whole field of vision.
And at that moment, I remembered.
It was such a strange memory, so remote and distant that for a long time I thought it was just a nightmare. A recurrent nightmare that I used to have as a kid, during those weeks in the group home, and the first few years that I spent with my new family, the McBrides. I had completely forgotten about it, but in that instant, the memory hit me like a brick.
Quick flashes of light, two people running, the sound of my own crying, a female scream, and a blinding green light…
Even if my body wouldn't have been frozen in place, the shock produced by that memory had left me paralyzed. I couldn't react. I couldn't move. I couldn't save myself.
And it was my uselessness what caused Ace Savvy to jump. What made him stand between me and the gun. To open his arms wide. To stand there as the green light hit him right in the chest, causing an explosion that flared up and showed his silhouette through the cape.
I could only stare there, and watch in slow motion, as Ace Savvy's body fell to the ground right in front of me.