And here we are. Every lesson Lincoln has learned has led him to this point. It's time for him to prove to the world and himself that he's ready to become the hero he carries within. I'm so happy to be able to share this chapter with all of you!
As always, special thanks to the always loyal readers:
Flameas: Yup, pretty much lol
meowloudly: About the "female Apollo", it was a silly "personification of the Sun" thing, probably not the best one heh. Thank you so much, and yeah, my idea is to treat these stories as superhero movies.
FanficFan920: Yeah, Tetherby's pretty awful.
TristPHT: I would love to elaborate more on every single character, but the plan is to eventually explore all of that in their specific fanfics. The next story after this one will focus on Luna, so we'll start there :D
Jeff: They got there just in time, and yes, it's his moment to prove that he has what it takes to be a real hero.
STR2D3PO: You're absolutely right. Nova didn't trust Lincoln, and that ended up backfiring for everyone. Maybe she has some lessons to learn from all of this.
copet: I absolutely adore the way you summarized how much of an eclectic hero my version of Lincoln/Ace Savvy is lmao I personally like to see him as a Batman/Spider-Man mashup, with a little bit of Captain America in there like you pointed out.
Tristen: I know! So close!
burtonfan422: We'll eventually keep learning more about his biological parents, but that's sort of the long-game. And we're about to figure out whether he'll be able to save her… or not…
My last stand.
"Dang it," I cursed to myself, hiding between the branches and leaves of the tall tree I was currently using as a watchtower, "I'm too late!"
After saying goodbye to Jordan, I wasted no time in putting on my superhero suit and running as fast and stealthily as I could towards Ace Savvy's manor. I had a terrible feeling about what was about to happen, and even though all I could base that sense of dread on was a hunch, I didn't want to waste a single moment, nor did I want to accidentally go unprepared. I needed to be ready for the worst.
Both my paranoia and my hunch ended up being justified when, having just arrived at Wayne Avenue at 1900, I found that the street was blocked with fences. A couple of men wearing yellow vests and construction hats were standing next to a light post, but the more I observed them, the more I realized that they weren't doing anything, just faking that they were working. More urgent and vital, though, was the fact that parked in front of Ace Savvy's manor there were two white vans with no plates and a black truck similar to those that carried sodas to big stores. Only that the trailer was covered entirely, so I couldn't tell what was inside. What could they be bringing here?
I didn't need to be a genius to figure out what was going on. My theory had been correct. There was simply no other alternative, these vans belonged to Tetherby, and the only way he could have found out about Ace Savvy's address was through Katherine Mulligan. He was probably inside the manor already. I couldn't afford to keep losing time.
Analyzing the area from my birdseye point of view, I could see that besides the two men dressed as electricians, another three guards were patrolling the front yard, walking in circles by the entrance, the stairs, and the main door. If I moved with caution and precision, I could manage to get in without being seen. But something told me that once inside, it would be impossible to avoid a confrontation, and if they were to call for reinforcements, then it might be for the best to get them out of the picture before getting there.
"Alright, Lincoln. You're an eleventh level rogue. You're the master of stealth. No one will see you," I told myself, moving my arms and neck to warm up and prepare for what was about to happen.
I waited until everyone seemed to be looking away from my position before dropping out of the tree and dashing quietly as a shadow towards the vans. I slid at the last second, rolling under the car. I was no mechanic, but I began to break and tear apart as many cables and tubes as I could find. When I saw oil starting to leak, I figured the vans were compromised enough to avoid anyone getting away should it come down to it. Hopefully.
The next step was distracting the guards to get inside the property. The first employees I needed to distract were the two pretending to be electricians. And I already knew how to.
I snuck around the truck and, with a quick move before hiding once again, I threw a metal Ace at the cables at the top of the light post they were pretending to be working on. It cut through several of them, splitting them in half and having them fall all around the goons, surrounding them.
"AAAH, DON'T BE GROUNDED, DON'T BE GROUNDED!"
"WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!"
"I DONT' KNOW, JUST DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!"
The two men, who clearly knew nothing about electricity, would be busy for a while.
"I really hope those were phone lines. Everyone uses cellphones nowadays anyway," I said to myself, though in all honesty, I had probably just left a whole block without electricity. Oh, well, it was for a good cause.
The two men yelling got the attention of the three armed guards stationed inside the manor's grounds. I took a glance at them, confirming that the diversion was working, before sneaking through the left side and climbing the fences as fast as I could. I fell on the inside and rushed to hide behind a bush. Fortunately, Ace Savvy had been a fan of gardening, or at the very least he paid for an awesome gardener, and so the front yard was filled with bushes and small trees that I could use for cover.
"What's wrong with those idiots?" The guard in the middle asked.
"They were supposed to just stand there and do nothing."
"You know how Tony is, he takes his roles way too seriously. Remember when he just needed to pretend to be a doctor to get the boss out of the hospital but ended up helping a lady give birth?"
The guard at the middle and the one standing at the entrance of the house seemed to be happy to spend time roasting their coworkers, so I seized the moment to rush at the one closest to me. He was standing dangerously close to the peripheral vision of the other two and thus I needed to act fast and efficiently.
The poor guy must have awakened a while later not understanding a thing. He never knew what hit him. I sneaked in from behind, jumped at the last second, and threw a strong karate chop at the union between his neck and his shoulder. He plummeted to the ground, and I made sure to drag his body behind a bush to keep him hidden for a little while.
"...I'm serious, I like the guy, but I feel like he should just take acting classes and try to get some gigs out there, right? This ain't the right job for him. What do you think, Joe?" The middle guard asked, apparently turning in the direction his coworker had been standing up until a few seconds ago. "Joe? Where the heck did you go?"
I sneaked a peek. The two guards were now moving their heads around, trying to find the missing person, which made moving around much harder. I managed, however, to keep gaining terrain until I reached the left side of the house.
"I don't like this at all," the middle guard said, going back to the house entrance next to his buddy. "Where did Joe go?"
"I dunno and I don't care, he can go to hell for all I care."
"The boss' gonna get his ass fired."
"What did he do to get you to hate him so much?"
"He never lets me drive the van. Always rushes to get the keys before me so he can drive. What is he, fifteen years old? It's not like he owns the damn car."
"Huh. I'll go take a look around, maybe he got out or something."
"Do whatever you want, you can go to hell for all I care."
I heard a sigh and some steps slowly getting away. Taking advantage of it, I climbed to the top of the porch, got to where the guard was standing, and as soon as I saw him take a step out of the stoop, I jumped into him, hitting him with both hands at the same time and taking him out of combat ninja style.
I even managed to catch his body before it hit the ground. Flawless job. Now I could drag him to the back where no one would—
"Fuck it, I've had enough," the last guard said, stopping his walk and turning around. "I wasn't gonna say anything but someone has to bring it up. You're such a…"
His eyes met mine. He then looked at his unconscious buddy, whom I was currently grabbing by the legs. He looked up at me once again.
We stayed in silence for some very long, tense seconds.
"You know what? I'm done with this job," he said, showing me how he slowly unbuckled the belt where he kept his gun, letting it drop to the floor. "I don't get paid enough, they don't give me vacations, and all my coworkers are assholes. I'm not gonna shoot a kid, and I would rather not have you break my bones, so don't worry about me. I quit. This isn't worth it. The boss' inside with some soldiers and the news reporter. Do whatever you want with them. I'm out."
He didn't even give me time to say anything back or to thank him for his cooperation. The guy simply walked away, leaving through the main gate and completely ignoring the calls for help of the two guys that were still trying to get out of the cable cage that surrounded them.
"Uh… Okay… that just happened," I said, surprised once again by the attitude of Tetherby's employees. What awful conditions did he keep them in for all of them to be so incompetent or unloyal?
Such a truly evil man.
Going inside through the main door didn't seem to be a particularly smart idea. I needed to keep the element of surprise on my side and sneak into wherever Tetherby and his goons were. If they knew I was coming, they could potentially use Katherine Mulligan as a hostage and threaten her to stop me. I couldn't let the situation escalate to that point, so until I could get Katherine to a safe position, I had no other option than to stay hidden. Careful not to make any noise, I went to the back of the manor and climbed to the second floor. The windows to what seemed to be a guest room were closed, but no lock was a match to my superhero strength. Trying my hardest not to make any more noise than what was absolutely necessary, I forced the lock open and snuck inside. From what I could tell, the entire house was dark.
"Dang it, those were electric lines," I said, facepalming. "I better save the day, or they're definitely gonna arrest me."
I peeked my head to the hallway and heard voices coming from down below in the big living room and library with the cathedral ceiling, where the entrance to Ace Savvy's secret lair could be found. Since I could still see all the furniture, I knew that they hadn't found the book that revealed the armory and base of operations.
I wasn't so late after all. I was still in time to stop all of this before it was too late. I still had a chance to save the day and keep Tetherby from snatching the cube and use it for his evil plans. Speaking of Tetherby, his voice soon reached my ears.
"We can stay here all day and check every single damn book on the shelves, but it would really be in everyone's best interests to finish here as soon as possible, so just tell us which one opens the secret door."
"I don't know, I never paid any attention to which one it was," said the exhausted voice of Katherine Mulligan, sounding dizzy, dragging every word. It was weird listening to her like that, so lethargic, considering that she was known for her entertaining and energic way of talking and presenting news. It was as if she hadn't slept at all during the night, or like she had had one too many drinks.
"Alright, I guess she's telling the truth," Tetherby said, sounding annoyed. "You three! Faster!"
I moved stealthily until I could get a clearer visual of the situation. Tetherby, with his top hat and a ridiculous black cane, was watching over three of his guards taking books out of the shelves, one by one. Behind him, another four soldiers were surrounding Katherine Mulligan. She was wearing her yellow attire, as usual, but her hands were tied in front of her, and she seemed to be making a conscious effort to stand up. She didn't seem to be hurt, but there was something weird about the way she stood and how she talked. She seemed… drugged.
"The truth serum," I remembered.
I squeezed my fists. I had imagined that this would happen after hearing about the truth serum last night and figuring out who was behind Katherine Mulligan's disappearance. Seeing her in that state, however, filled me with unbridled rage. The fact that Tetherby would dare drug someone just to get what he wanted was making me sick. What kind of monster was he?
"You're not gonna get away with his," Katherine said, making Tetherby turn around to look at her.
"And who's gonna stop me? You?"
"I… can't do anything," she said, sounding surprised at her own words.
"At least I know you understand the futility of your rebellious attitude," he replied with a smile.
"But… the heroes… they'll stop you."
"Ha! Don't make me laugh, woman. The two blondies are busy with the fire at my warehouse, I made sure to keep them entertained so they wouldn't stop us in the worst-case scenario. And that nosy Ace Savvy Jr has become a public enemy. I made sure of that as well. Do you see it now? You can't trust heroes to keep you safe. They'll always, always let you down."
"I believe in them."
Tetherby stepped forward, getting dangerously close to her. One of the guards hit her with the back of the gun to make her fall to her knees, leaving her at eye level with Tetherby. He put the top of his cane under Katherine's chin, forcing her to look at him in the eye.
"Your hope is misplaced."
He turned again, looking back at the guards trying out the books.
"If you're not going to help us accelerate the process, I don't know how useful it is for us to keep you here. Don't tempt me into tieing out loose ends."
The guard that had just hit her poked her back with his gun, a little harsher than necessary.
"Come on, back on your feet."
Katherine turned her head to give him a nasty look over her shoulder.
And right then, I stood up and raised a hand so she could see me. She seemed surprised to realize I was there and stared at me for longer than I wanted. I quickly made a gesture for her to stay quiet. I just wanted her to be aware that she wasn't alone in this, and that I would save her. I wanted to prove to her that she wasn't making a mistake trusting heroes. Trusting me.
"I said, stand up!"
To my surprise, Katherine nodded in my direction, and instants later, she dropped prone to the floor.
"Wow, wow, what's going on?" The guard said, catching the attention of Tetherby.
"Oh, for God's sake, I told you not to hit her too hard!"
"But sir, I didn't do anything!"
"Don't be an idiot, I saw you when you hit her! We need her awake in case something happens! You fool, why must you fail me so often?! Get her to a sofa or something and pray to God she doesn't pass out or I'll leave this place with fewer employees than I entered!"
The guy sighed in annoyance but tried his best to carefully grab Katherine from under her arms and softly drag her to a sofa on the other side of the living room. Now I understood what Katherine's plan was. No other guard was following her, so now she only had one guy next to her, which greatly helped me and my plan of getting her safe as soon as possible. I just needed to wait for the rest of the goons to get distracted enough for me to neutralize that soldier and prevent her from being caught in the crossfire.
The distraction, unfortunately, wasn't caused by me, but rather by the soldier that finally moved the red book. The whole room started to shake, and the walls began to fold, beginning the transformation sequence to reveal Ace Savvy's secret lair. Tetherby and all the guards around him jumped in surprise and began to observe with great interest how the wall in front of them disappeared into the floor.
"Now," I said, shooting my grappling hook at the roof.
I swung through the air at full speed into the one guy watching over Katherine Mulligan. I hit him with both legs on his back, tackling him. Wasting no time, I kicked his rifle away, and when he tried to stand up, I hit him in the stomach hard enough to take him out of the fight. Time was against me, so I immediately used an ace to cut the ties on Katherine's wrists.
"Are you alright?" I asked her in a whisper, though the sound of the entire manor's architecture morphing into a new room would have allowed me to speak louder.
"No," she said right away, rubbing her wrists. "They gave me an injection and I couldn't stop myself, I said everything I knew about Nifty."
"It's okay, don't worry. I got this. Does he know about Ace's power source?"
"Uh… the red cube?"
She nodded. "I told him about it. I don't know where it is, but he knows what he's after."
"Then I need to stop him. I took care of the guards at the entrance, you should be able to run away safely. Call the firefighters, get them to explain what's going on here to Nova and Eclipse. I'll try to stop Tetherby or at least buy enough time for them to get here."
I stood up, decided on giving out my everything to solve this situation. She grabbed me by my wrist, stopping me before I left.
"It feels like I'm dizzy, and I can't control what I say," she explained, "I can't help but say everything I know or feel out loud."
"He gave you a truth serum, you should probably call an ambulance to get checked up," I suggested, but she shook her head.
"What I'm trying to say is that… I believe in you. I know you'll solve this whole situation."
I was left speechless, not knowing what to say. She smiled at me, and with some difficulty, she stood up.
"Go. Stop this madman. I'll make a few phone calls."
With one last look, she left as fast as her physical state allowed her to.
I decided to follow her example and stop wasting time. Inspired by those truthful words, I now had not a single ounce of doubt left in me. I couldn't allow myself to doubt. It was me against six armed men and Tetherby, and it was entirely up to me to stop him from getting his hands on the… tesseract, as Katherine Mulligan had called it. I still wasn't completely sure of what the deal was with that object, but I knew it was powerful and thus dangerous if it fell in the wrong hands. I wasn't precisely the most trustworthy person around, as my short career had proven so far, but at least I had no intentions of making an army of super soldiers. That had to count for something, right?
"Hahahaha! At last! Ace Savvy's secret armory!" Tetherby celebrated, extending his arms and laughing like a madman.
He and all his guards were too entertained staring at the newfound room that had revealed itself to them to pay any attention to the eleven years old kid that snuck from behind. I needed to eliminate as many of them as fast as I could because, in an open battle of fists against guns, the long game benefited them.
Ace Savvy had asked me to burn down his place and reduce it to ashes just to destroy all his secrets and weapons. Out of respect and because I wasn't a destructive person by nature, part of me wanted to keep as much of the furniture and artifacts as intact as possible. This was, after all, everything that was left of Ace Savvy. But my priority right now was to get rid of these guys and make sure they wouldn't get away with it, so I decided to prematurely forgive myself for all the damages to his property that I was about to cause.
Stella was a great DM, with an incredible capacity to surprise us all with her original and challenging encounters. She wasn't a fan of simply throwing out some monsters and attack, no. She was always looking out for creative ways to surprise us and put us in strange situations, forcing us to get creative and be original. And I had learned a couple of things from her, such as the art of misdirection and unexpected attacks from above.
I breathed in, getting ready for the confrontation.
"Time to be a hero," I said.
I began by throwing three green Aces, creating a sudden smokescreen that surrounded Tetherby and her footmen. They were taken aback and began to cough, not ready for all the smoke making its way into their lungs. I then threw an explosive card to the wooden ceiling right above them. The trusses exploded, with pieces of wood and slate falling over the villains. One of them got hit by a log big enough to knock him unconscious, while the rest were just knocked to the ground and covered in debris.
"Sir, stand back!"
"What is the meaning of this?!"
"On your positions, we're under attack!"
Two soldiers managed to get the debris out of them, and when they crawled out of the smokescreen, they saw me standing there.
"It's Ace Savvy!" One of them alerted the rest, standing up.
"What?!" Tetherby said, trying to find his way out of the smoke, waving his hand around desperately. "Stop him!"
The guards took his guns, but they were too slow. Before they could even take the safety off, aim, and shoot at me, I had already activated my grappling hook gun. The cable passed right in the middle of the two men, and they seemed to freeze in their place for a few seconds, probably scared thinking I had shot at them. They weren't my target, however. I planted my feet on the ground and readied myself to counteract the strong pull of the retracting mechanism. My whole torso shook as the force hit me, but I managed to anchor into the ground tightly enough so instead of me flying towards them, the hook pulled the table it had grappled itself around to me. It hit the two guards on the back, knocking them down and making them drop their guns. I ran towards them and broke them by the cannon, leaving them completely useless.
The rest of the guards had by now crawled out of the debris and the now dissipating smokescreen. Tetherby ran away as far away from me as possible within the huge room, yelling at his men.
"TAKE HIM DOWN! TAKE HIM DOWN!"
"This is your last chance to surrender," I said, trying to sound threatening.
They seemed to be more afraid of their boss, though, since they soon grabbed their guns and aimed at me. I was about twenty or so feet away from them, enough distance for them to get a couple of rounds of bullets in me before I got to them. I needed to move with precision to avoid a painful death.
I felt just like I did during that gym class with the dodgeball game the day I figured out I had superpowers. All their movements seemed obvious and predictable to me. They weren't hiding their intentions, and I could instinctively guess where and when they would shoot, so I could be one step ahead and avoid ending up like a strainer.
When the first round of bullets came my way, I had already rolled to the side. A small but interesting detail that I caught during those milliseconds was the fact that the sound of the assault rifle shooting came just after the bullets flew past me. Did that mean that if I wasn't careful enough I could die before even hearing what had killed me? It was a terrifying thought.
And yet, at no point was I ever truly scared for my life. The adrenaline running through my body was stronger than my fear of death. Maybe because right then, my mission was more important than my life. The real Ace Savvy had died just to protect me, and he had only asked for me to make sure that the cube —tesseract?— didn't fall in bad hands. Katherine Mulligan would try to follow my instructions and call Nova and Eclipse. Even if I died, everything would be alright as long as I managed to keep Tetherby and his goons busy enough for them to get here in time and save the day. They had proven to be up to the task, unlike me. They were the heroes this town needed.
Not being afraid of death didn't mean that I didn't recognize that I was more useful alive. I rolled, jumped, slid, and dodged to the best of my acrobatic capabilities. I couldn't allow myself to stay put for not even a second, and I put special effort into moving in a way that made my cape move around and expanding on the air as much as possible. By occupying more space, it concealed my body and made it even harder for them to aim efficiently at me.
It all worked out perfectly in the end, even if my cape ended up pierced on several spots by bullets that came dangerously close to hitting me. I was moving like a hurricane, circling the entire room. The air was impregnated with the smell of gunpowder and wood splinters that jumped everywhere product of lost bullets.
"SHOOT HIM DOWN! GET HIM! HE CAN'T LEAVE!" Tetherby kept shouting over all the chaos.
"You're running out of time!" I warned them just as I jumped over and slid on the metallic surface of one of Ace Savvy's tables, knocking down all the objects and books placed there.
"You're the one running out of time!" A soldier responded as they kept shooting at me.
"Oh, I've got all the time in the world!" I said, grabbing a book and throwing it at the guy's face.
They kept shooting at me, but I knew I only needed to run and dodge for a couple more seconds before finally closing the distance between them and me. And once I did that, the danger of the bullets would disappear, and I would take the fight where it was more convenient for me: hand to hand combat. So, I bought some time by keep rolling on the floor and throw an Ace into one of the fluorescent tubes that had appeared with Ace Savvy's armory. The sparks were enough to make the soldiers take a step back, giving me time to stand up.
"You can't run forever!"
"I don't have to," I said, somersaulting to avoid incoming shots, "only long enough…"
And suddenly, the sound of gunshots stopped, and no more bullets flew in my direction.
"...for you to have to reload," I finished with a smile, cracking my knuckles.
They all seemed to understand what was about to happen, but I still dashed into them full speed. Some were smart enough to drop their weapons, while others thought they could be fast enough to reload in time before I got to them. A very unfortunate miscalculation on their part.
Those were the ones I focused on at first, trying to disarm them. The closest soldier to me tried to hit me in the face with the back of his gun, but I stepped aside before it hit me.
"I'm gonna need that!" I said, hitting him on the wrist with my forearm to make him drop it. I grabbed the gun before it hit the ground, and turning my whole body, I used it to hit him in the face like a baseball bat.
"UGH!" He grunted, falling to the ground with a bloody face.
"Sorry!" I apologized, even though I wasn't really sorry. I used my knee to break the weapon in two and leave the pieces on the floor.
Two more soldiers tried to punch me, flanking me from both sides. I covered my face with my right arm. Even though I avoided being hit in the head, it hurt like hell, and I guessed that an ugly bruise would appear there the next morning. To the one that came to my left, I had no other option than to throw him before he got me, sweeping the floor with my leg and making him trip.
I looked once again to my right, and when the guy tried to punch me again, I managed to catch his fist with my palm.
"That was super rude!" I said, pulling his arm to the side to make him lose balance and then punching him in the center of the stomach.
The last two that I hadn't hit yet were in the middle of reloading their guns, so I had to act fast. I run into one of them and I jumped, twisting my body and giving him a flying turnaround kick right on the neck. He plummeted to the floor and dropped his weapon. The other one, realizing he wouldn't get to shoot me, tried to use his gun as a club, but I simply let myself fall back. I threw my hands behind me to use them as support and I let my body do a full backward roll, kicking my legs up to hit his hands and push the rifle out of his reach. Once I stood up again, I moved my face just in time to dodge a hook.
"Watch out!" I yelled, feinting a low kick.
He tried to defend himself, moving his hands down to catch my leg. But the kick never came, and I instead took advantage of his opening to land a jab on his chest and a cross to his face.
"Two for flinching!"
I picked up the two guns and threw them to the other side of the room, accidentally hitting one guy that was in the process of waking up in the head, knocking him out again. Everyone was disarmed now and most weapons had been destroyed.
I turned around to find some that weren't, but without even giving me time to react, one of the goons jumped on me. I tried to push him away, but he was much heavier than me, and we both rolled on the floor. I managed to end up on top and releasing myself from his grip. I hit him square in the chest, and I was about to do it again, be he managed to land a punch just under my rib cage, taking the air out of my lungs.
Taking advantage of my momentary distraction, another goon came from behind, circling his arms around my chest and keeping me from moving. He lifted me, restraining me, and the rest of the soldiers began to regroup.
I couldn't allow myself to play fair, there was too much at risk. I moved my head until I managed to bite him in the arm.
I felt him flinch in pain, and the moment he softened his grip, I threw my head back, headbutting him in the face and leaving him out of combat. The other four surrounded me, one on each side, in front, and behind me. I was in the middle of them all, waiting. I raised my arms in a boxing pose and glanced around to look at each of them.
"So, who's first?" I asked, trying to sound confident.
The four of them attacked at the same time. For a whole minute, my body moved by itself, and it's hard for me to explain what I did to deflect every hit that was thrown my way. The key was to never stop moving. Turning like a hurricane, I never stopped blocking punches, dodging kicks, deflecting hits, and pushing whoever got too close for my liking. On more than one occasion I didn't manage to duck in time, and I got several hard hits in my face and body, but none strong enough to bring me down. And even though I was too busy defending against four adult men, I took advantage of every single opportunity I had to land a hit of my own. These guys were tougher than they looked, though.
"DON'T LET HIM BREATHE! STOP HIM! IT'S JUST A DAMN BOY!" Tetherby complained.
"He's a meta!"
Even though it was true that I had the powers of a metahuman, or at the very least, I had artificially reached the top capacities of a human being, I wasn't invincible or anything like that. And I didn't know how much longer I could keep this up. I needed to take these guys down fast.
The original Ace Savvy would have defeated them all with his bare hands without sweating. I wasn't as skilled or amazing he was, however, so I was more dependant on my originality and wit than my muscles to get out of compromising situations like that one.
I waited for the right moment where everyone around me seemed to be recovering from a hit or getting ready to strike again. I then grabbed one of the blue Aces and jumped as high as I could. Once in the air, I threw it with all my strength to the floor right where I had been standing a second ago. The Ace shattered with the force, and it released the entire electric charge it carried within. I avoided being hit by it since I was in the air, not touching the ground. The four men, however, must have felt an abrasive current moving up their legs, making them fall to the ground with cramped muscles.
When I touched the ground once again, the current had already dispersed, and I had the four soldiers at my mercy.
"This is gonna hurt tomorrow, fellas," I warned them.
Punch with the left arm to the one on the front. Right jab to my left. Elbow hit with the same arm to my right. Round kick to the back. One by one, they all fell. The eight goons were now out of combat, some knocked out, some still conscious but in no state to get up and keep fighting.
I let out a relieved sigh. I hadn't come out of it unscathed at all. My suit and cape were all torn out with several slashes and holes where bullets scraped or pierced them. Still, even though I wasn't tired per se, that short fight had required a lot of focus and mental strain, and I had taken some nasty hits that would have knocked out cold my old self. This had ended up being much more threatening and dangerous than I thought.
But it was all over now. I had successfully neutralized the threat. There was only one bad guy standing. I turned with furious eyes to glare at Tetherby, who was trying to hide behind a sofa, his old, ugly face barely peeking out.
"You better turn yourself in before you give me an excuse to beat you up like another one of your soldiers."
"You think you're going to get away with this?" He asked, more of his body peeking out from behind the sofa. "What do you think you're getting from this? Do you really believe a stupid kid like you can stop me?"
I opened my arms, pointing at all his defeated goons. "I've already stopped you. And when the police find out what you did, you're gonna rot in jail."
He then began to laugh like a maniac. "Oh, you're so funny! Why would you think this will change anything? Don't you realize that nothing you do will ever change the way the world works? Do you really think your little hero adventure is going to end well? You're going to end up just like the real Ace Savvy."
"Tough words for someone with nowhere to run. Trying to buy time so I don't punch you in the face?"
"Oh, no, on the contrary," he said, raising a hand and showing me his black cane, which now had a tiny red light flickering at the top, "I'm just stalling to get you right where I want you."
I heard a buzzing noise above me, an electric sound that was turning sharper by the second. When I looked up at the hole in the roof that I made earlier, I could see but a shadow in the sky, impossible to appreciate in detail due to the lighting difference between the outside and the relatively dark inside of the manor. But I didn't need to have a clear visual of that figure to recognize the sound and realize that the situation had become much direr than I expected.
The first two shots took me by surprise. They pierced through the ceiling and hit the floor right next to me. The force of the explosion sent me flying several feet through the air, making me hit my back against one of the walls. It left me dizzy for a few moments, but I was forced to recover after hearing the heavy thud of several tons of steel landing in the living room. And when I looked up, I found myself staring at another battle suit just like the one that had almost killed me the night before.
Tetherby burst out laughing once again.
"You fool! Did you think I would visit this place in person without a contention plan in case metahumans showed up? You're even stupider than I thought?"
The mecha suit knelt and extended one of its palms. Tetherby jumped onto it, and the pilot opened the cabin and let his boss sit in what appeared to be a co-pilot seat. The crystal semisphere closed over them.
"Coronel, finish him!"
"Roger that, Sir," the pilot said through the speakers, and soon enough the suit extended both arms in my direction, ready to shoot a new round at me.
It had the decency to allow me to stand up, pat some dust out of my suit, grab an Ace, and get on a fighting stance. If I were to fall, I would do so in style and with all the honor and respect a hero should have on their last stand.
"Nova, Eclipse," I mumbled, aware that they couldn't hear me, "I'll buy you as much time as I can. The rest is on you."
Alright, so, in a way, what I'm about to do right now is kind of cheating. You see, what I'm about to tell you is not something I remember, it's not even something that happened to me, but rather a retelling of things that occurred simultaneously to my fight against the mecha suit completely unknown to me.
From what I could figure out, Katherine Mulligan left the manor when I asked her to, and she even managed to get into one of the empty vans and recover her phone. I can't tell the order of the calls, but the fact is that at some moment she managed to communicate with the fire department.
"This is Katherine Mulligan, calling from Wayne Avenue 1939, with urgent information for the chief of the department," she must have said.
Somehow they had put her in touch with the brigade that was working at Tetherby's warehouse, or maybe she just left a message to the central quarters and they talked with the brigade. The message was probably something like:
"You must tell Eclipse and Nova that their presence is required immediately in this address. Tetherby kidnapped me and brought a team of armed guards to steal a dangerous object that belonged to the original Ace Savvy. The new Ace is fighting to stop them right now, but he needs urgent reinforcements. Even someone as strong, brave, and handsome as him needs helps sometimes!"
Alright, alright, maybe not with those words. But the point is that she delivered the message that I needed Nova and Eclipse to get to the manor as soon as possible. How, when, or where they got told I needed them, that I'm not so sure, but Katherine did exactly as I asked her.
The obvious next thing to do would have been for her to run away, but that must have been the moment when Tetherby called for reinforcements. The mecha suit had been hidden inside the truck, and I guess that it didn't exactly get into stealth mode when it flew over the manor and struck from the sky.
Any person with a sense of self-preservation would have run away from imminent danger. Katherine Mulligan, however, was the most experienced citizen in town when it came to metahumans and dangerous situations, and she carried a flame of courage and bravery like no other. Maybe that's what Nifty Spades saw in her. Something they had in common. And so, instead of running away, she headed back into the manor.
I'm also not entirely sure how she managed this, but I imagine that she must have called one of the producers on the local news channel.
"Katherine? Where have you been?! We were so worried, you wouldn't—!"
"There's no time to explain!" She might have said. "I'll video call you and you have to put me on the air!"
"On air? What are you—?"
"Just do it!"
I don't know how the news works. I only know that I would eventually watch the videos on YouTube, and the recording would start this way:
"My name is Katherine Mulligan," she said, using her phone to capture her face, hiding behind a bookcase but trying her best to stay serious and focused in the face of danger, "reporting live for Channel 7. After being kidnapped by none other than Lord Tetherby, CEO of Tetherby Industries, I've been freed by the young and brave Ace Savvy, who's currently fighting against what appears to be an anti-hero battlesuit designed by Tetherby Industries. The situation is dire for our hero as we wait for the arrival of the police and the heroic duo of Nova and Eclipse. Ace Savvy is thus far the only bastion of defense against this unexpected threat, and it's in him where our hope resides!"
She would then proceed to move her phone to capture the fight almost in its entirety. The news spread at the speed of interconnectivity, and as luck would have it, soon my confrontation against Tetherby and his pilot was being broadcasted to the entire town.
But, as I said, at the time I wasn't aware of this…
As expected, the moment I moved towards him, the pilot shot at me. Having predicted this, I jumped in a zig-zag motion to avoid total disintegration. I threw a regular Ace at him, but it bounced on the glass with no effect. I kept advancing, trying to cut short the distance between us so it wouldn't be an option for him to use his ranged weapon attacks. Even though it was fast and very, very powerful, it would be easier for me to dodge its fists.
He played right into my game, and as soon as I got in melee range, the robot put its guns away and closed its fists. It was moving surprisingly fast, sure, but with how big and mechanical its articulations were, it was easy to read its movements. When it threw the first punch, I stopped dead on my tracks, letting it crash on the floor right in front of me, annihilating it, and leaving a small crater. Some splinters that burst out left small cuts on my shins, but at the time I didn't even feel them. I feinted moving to the left of the fist, tricking the pilot into doing its trademark spinning-torso move to swipe me. Of course, I canted my direction and moved in the opposite direction. Taking advantage of the few seconds of uncertainty, I ran right under the suit and threw three explosive Aces, one to each knee, and one below the main body.
The entire suit shook, and for a second the knees seemed about to give in, but it recovered faster than I expected, and spinning its torso once again, it turned to face me.
"You can't stop me!" Yelled Tetherby through the speakers.
The suit raised both arms and then plummeted them down in a gorilla-smash fashion, trying to give me a coup de grâce —I learned that from Stella. I managed to jump at the last second and avoid being reduced to a red stain on the floor.
"You're just a punk! An insolent!"
The robot marched on and began to dish out a chain of attacks that lacked any sense or coordination but that, regardless, formed a storm of destruction that surrounded me leaving me almost nowhere to move. I had to activate my Ultra Instinct to survive. I couldn't stop jumping from left to right, rolling, using my hands to push me back at the last second, throwing explosive cards to its arms to try to stop him, falling on my back to avoid a horizontal strike to decapitate me. And as relentless as the assault, Tetherby's final boss' threatening lines kept coming.
"You've messed with the wrong man! You are a nobody! A miserable wretch! An insignificant speck of feculent scum!"
I had no real possibility to counterattack. I could only dodge, trying to buy time.
Unfortunately, the longer this went on, the more I was exposing myself to a mistake, and that's how I eventually didn't manage to move in time, and I received a steel punch right on the side of my body. It felt like being run over by a car. The air left my lungs, my left arm almost shattered in a thousand pieces, and my whole body flew through the air like a ragdoll. I hit my back against a bookshelf, destroying it and falling to the ground with all those books and pieces of wood on top of me.
"You'll regret the day you crossed Lord Tetherby!" He yelled.
It felt like I was going blind. Every muscle in my body ached and burned as if I had fallen on top of a pool of acid, and for several seconds, I could only see black spots in my eyes. With some tears falling down my face, I managed to look up just in time to see a couch flying in my direction. I could kneel, but I only had time to cross my arms in front of my face and chest. The furniture crashed into me, hitting my head and knocking me down against the wall. I felt like I was choking, and when I coughed, some blood came out of my mouth.
"Finish him, Colonel! Let him burn like the legacy of this cursed town!"
"As you wish."
I heard a metallic sound, and with an inhuman effort, I managed to push myself out of the debris and stand up. My left knee hurt like it was only staying together with duct tape. I would have loved to be able to simply lie down and cry, but I got a little adrenaline rush when I saw the chest plate of the suit opening to show three missiles that were immediately launched. They left a smoke trail behind as they crossed the room in my direction.
My legs wouldn't respond, but I had enough mental clarity to take my grappling hook and shoot it into the trophy room, moving just in time to avoid a direct hit. The shockwave though was strong enough to make me lose my grip on the gun and change my trajectory in the air, making me hit one of the pedestals where Ace Savvy kept his mementos.
I heard some screamings, and even though my brain was too busy trying to keep me awake by stabbing every nerve in my body with unbearable pain that blinded my mind, I managed to understand that some guards were trying to get their unconscious buddies out of the manor. When my vision stopped being so blurry, I saw an orange glow in the metallic ceiling of the trophy room, and between that and the smell, I realized the missiles had started a fire.
Between all the suffering, a part of me felt surprisingly relieved.
"There you go, Ace," I said with my eyes lost to the ceiling. I could sense how my soul struggled to latch onto my body, and being this close to death, maybe it'd be easier for him to hear me. "Your house's on fire. Just like I promised."
"There no point in fighting!" Tetherby screamed with disgusting smugness. "Even someone as foolish and stubborn as you must realize you are DOOMED!"
And… yeah, the bastard was right. Even as I slowly caught my breath, I felt like a house of cards about to crumble. It was as if all my energies and will were occupied trying to keep me together, to keep me from falling apart. Each of my bones was surrounded by corrosive venom, and my muscle fibers were straining to the limit of their resistance.
I moved my head, and that's when I saw it. Lying on the ground, glowing with soft red light, was the cube. The reason why I had my powers and skills. The object Tetherby was after, even if he didn't know exactly what it was. And there it was. On plain sight, and everything that literally stood between it and the villain was me. I couldn't depend on anyone else. The whole responsibility, and Royal Wood's fate, were resting on my shoulders.
A thousand images flashed in my mind like fleeting glimpses of my memory. My parents, my brother, my friends, Jordan, Nova, Eclipse, Ace Savvy… I felt every one of them looking at me from somewhere, cheering me on to stand up, to get on my feet once again, and defend what was important.
I closed my fists and moved entirely by my will and spirit, I managed to turn my body until I was lying on my stomach.
"I'm a hero," I told myself, gritting my teeth as my arms did the impossible to push me up.
"Seriously? Do you really think you can stop me?" Tetherby taunted me, laughing as he saw my pathetic body trying its best to stand up without falling apart in the process. "You're not fooling anyone, kid. There's no scenario here where you win, there never has been. Royal Woods is a cursed city, one without heroes. People were stupid enough to put all their faith in Ace Savvy. I only had to send an anonymous package to Wild Card Willy to take him out of the equation. Humanity has put its hope in the wrong place! And when you die with your ruined reputation, the doors will finally open for me to be in control of everyone's safety! Accept it! You would have lived longer if you didn't allow your ego and delusion of grandeur to take over your life!"
His laughter was lost in the sound of crackling wood just as the whole manor was filled with smoke and the flames extended relentlessly. The whole scene was a living image of pandemonium, and the feeling that the end was near increased with each passing second. And yet, every ragged breath I took filled me not only with air but a renewed sense of motivation and purpose. Just like the blazes around me, a fire grew inside of me, consuming every doubt and pain itself, giving me the last burst of strength I needed to overcome the adversity and put my life at risk just to buy more time.
It's at this point that I will cheat again just to remind you that, without me knowing, the brave Katherine Mulligan was filming me from somewhere in the manor, exposing herself to the dangerous battle and the fire itself just so the city would know the truth. Had I known that the entire city would listen to my words, I might have been too embarrassed to give a speech, but right then I needed two things. First off, I needed to keep him entertained with words for a few more seconds as I recovered my strength, just so he wouldn't shoot me. And secondly and most importantly, I needed to prove this megalomaniac just how terribly wrong he was.
"You don't understand!" I yelled, looking up and puffing my chest to show him I wasn't afraid. "We all put our faith in Ace Savvy cause he represented the best of us! He wasn't the strongest metahuman. He wasn't indestructible nor the most dangerous. Every day he went out to defend us he put his life in the line. But he never cared, cause that's what heroes do!"
I took a step forward, making sure that I didn't have any sprain or anything that compromised my mobility. Every muscle that I moved hurt like heck, but I could keep going. I could stand it. And as I kept going with my speech, I swiftly analyzed my surroundings. I was inside Ace Savvy's trophy room, with almost all pedestals shattered and the mementos thrown into the floor. These were objects that belonged to villains Ace Savvy had defeated. Many of them, powerful weapons that I had studied and discussed in Ace Savvy's subreddit.
A plan began to gestate in my head.
"I'm not afraid of death or you. You don't have that power over me. I'm not doing this for fame or power either, which is something you would never understand. You think you'll manage to control us all through fear and strength, but you're wrong! Maybe the Royal Woods Curse is real, and maybe it's not safe to be a hero, but do you really think no one will rise to do the right thing? The more scared and unprotected we feel, the more heroes will rise."
I extended an arm, making my cape flourish in the air behind me, and pointed a finger at him.
"I'm here to stop you because that's the right thing to do. There are two things I can do with my powers: to hide them and live a life of secrets and lies or use them to do what's right and protect my city and friends. You think that by defeating me you'll get rid of any new hero, but that's just because you're a greedy businessman empty inside that won't understand hope never dies. I might die right here and now, but after me, new heroes will follow. Hope didn't die with Ace Savvy, because as much as you try to end us all, there will always be someone who will stand up for what's right."
My muscles were still aching and cramped, but my own words had motivated me. I wasn't fighting for my own life anymore. I was fighting for everyone else's. For Ace Savvy's honor. For the concept of heroism itself and everything it carried. There was too much at stake, and I had no other option than hope my plan would work.
And if it didn't… then perhaps Eclipse and Nova wouldn't be too far away and they would finish the job.
The robotic arms moved. I thought he'd shoot me right away, but instead, it only clapped, the metallic sound of the colliding hands booming strong.
"Congratulations, Ace, you almost make me shed a tear."
"I doubt someone as vile as you is capable of expressing such emotions."
"Yes, yes, I'm terrible, you've made your point. Very well, if you're done with your little speech, I believe it's time for you to die."
"No," I said, readying my next move and flashing a challenging smile at him, "it's time to deal out some justice."
I jumped ahead, rolling on the ground to cushion my fall. As I did so, I grabbed a particular object that was in my reach, and as soon as I managed to kneel, I moved my arm as hard as I could, throwing said object like a javelin. The small trophy crossed the air like an arrow and hit the mecha suit right in the middle of the chest… sticking to it harmlessly.
"HAHAHAHA! Are you serious?" Tetherby gloated, peeking over his pilot to get a better look. "A plunger? Is this the best you have?"
"It's not a simple plunger," I explained with a smile, "it's the secret weapon of the Excusator! Flush!"
As soon as I exclaimed the secret word, a green light popped up on one extreme of the wooden stick, and the cup began to vibrate. Seconds later, it began twisting on its axis, and in doing so, it absolutely destroyed the suit's armor, twisting the steel plates like paper. The Excusator had been quite a ridiculous villain, but he had what it took to break into bank's vaults.
"Take it off, take it off! It's breaking the suit!" Tetherby desperately screamed. The pilot began maneuvering the mecha's arms, but it was hard for those big hands to get a grasp on the tiny plunger.
As they were busy with it, I went ahead and grabbed another object from Ace Savvy's collection. In this case, it was a yellow katana with a blade that imitated the texture of what seemed to be cheese. This was none other than the infamous sword of the Cheese Shredder, the enemy of teenagers, metahumans, ninjas, and certain reptiles.
I charged at the robot, who managed to take the plunger out before it fully destroyed it, but it had nonetheless taken grave damages, leaving the insides of the suit out in the open. The rocket launcher seemed to be fully destroyed, which was a huge relief, and there was also a tiny hose losing a lot of oil.
"You'll pay for this, you schmuck!" Yelled the pilot. He seemed positively enraged like I had just damaged his favorite car.
By now I was very close to their position, so he threw a punch at me full speed. I jumped aside and hurried to draw an arc with the golden sword. I didn't cut the entire arm like maybe I had hoped, but I did manage to cause considerable damage to the arm, leaving a deep gash. The blade made a terrible shriek when it cut the steel, like someone dragging their nails on a chalkboard.
The pilot twisted the suit's torso, a move that I was already expecting. I ducked just in time and then slipped between the robot's legs, where I gave two strong swings with the sword to the left knee before it tried to stomp me. I managed to compromise the joint and the immense weight of the suit seemed to aggravate the situation, crushing part of it as well. The whole mecha suit was now slightly tilted, the right leg several inches taller than the left.
"Just wait until I get my hands on you!" He yelled, looking for me as I scurried behind the suit.
I used one of the ginormous metallic calves as a platform to jump higher. I raised both my arms and with a swift downward motion, I dragged the sword through one of the flexible tubes that protruded on its back. As soon as I cut it, a burst of cold air escaped, and the whole suit shook in its place, with one of the arms losing control and falling stiff and unmoving.
"We're losing pressure!" The pilot warned.
"DESTROY THIS FOOL!"
The only inconvenience with that little stunt I pulled was that I couldn't move while in the air. Those few seconds where I couldn't move in the air reduced my reaction window to a fraction of a second, and I was, unfortunately, unable to move in time. My feet had barely touched the floor when the suit's torso spun at full speed, and the dead arm swung by inertia, hitting me square in the back.
I lost my grip on the golden sword and flew past the fire, hitting a wall that, mostly consumed by the flames, shattered into a hundred pieces as I broke through it. The pieces of ember fell on top of me, and I hurried to shake them off before they burned me.
Tetherby and the pilot kept screaming insults and threats. I studied the battle suit for a few seconds and it was easy to see that the tide had turned, and I had renewed chances of winning. The front was destroyed and covered in black oil that kept pouring out of the sliced tubes. One of its arms wasn't moving anymore. The damaged knee seemed to be on the brink of collapse. The whole mecha looked in a very poor state. Not that I was any better, but at least I had managed to balance the encounter.
It stretched the arm that still worked to try to shoot me, but that was the same arm I had previously damaged with the sword. After a few seconds of charging its shot, a blast of sparks covered it, and the beam of energy shot in a random direction far away from me.
"YOU BASTARD! GET HIM!"
The suit took a step forward, which turned out to be a fatal mistake. The moment it put the whole weight of the robot on the damaged knee, it pushed it past its limit, breaking it in half. The mecha suit fell prone on the floor, with one immobilized arm and a broken leg.
"NOO! NOOO! TAKE HIM DOWN! DON'T LET HIM GET AWAY! SHOOT HIM!"
With a few complicated maneuvers, the pilot managed to get the torso to rise a few inches and extend its working arm. They didn't notice, but right then, having fallen on its front to the floor, the entire chest, cabin, and arms of the suit were covered in a very thick layer of black oil.
"Wait! Don't shoot! You need to get out of the suit!"
I tried to warn them… I swear I tried to warn them.
"SILENCE! YOU WILL NOT STOP ME!"
Even though they were knocked down, with two destroyed limbs and surrounded by flames that had reached the second floor of the house, Tetherby was still obsessed with finishing me. He wasn't thinking clearly, he wasn't measuring the consequences.
"Don't do it!"
The pilot did as it was told. The suit's working arm began to shake as it charged up, but damaged as it was, it couldn't aim at all. The energy beam was lost to the roof, breaking a new hole in it. Unfortunately and for my utter horror, the damages in the circuits and the armor provoked a new burst of sparks and electricity.
Sparks that hit the big pool of oil the suit was lying on. The fire spread within a second, burning bright with blue tones for but an instant before it lit up in an orange flash. It slithered inside the broken chest, and I saw with my own eyes how something inside seemed to detonate like a bomb.
The interior of the cabin shone with a blinding glow before the pressure ended up shattering the glass that covered it. I heard no screams, nor did I see any movement. Seconds later, the suit fell inert, with the cabin lighting up in blazes that showed nothing but the destruction caused by greed.
Some might think that a hero would feel relieved at a moment like that. It wasn't my case. I felt like I was sick, about to empty my stomach right there. My knees wavered and I almost fell to the ground. I knelt there, speechless, stunned, watching the scene unfolding in front of me, waiting for a sign of life, that they had miraculously managed to escape…
Neither the pilot nor Tetherby walked out of the suit.
The heat around me was becoming unbearable, and I had trouble breathing. Everything around me was pure destruction and devastation. This is what Ace Savvy had asked me to do, and I should have been happy in that regard, but the truth is that I couldn't help to feel a certain sense of chagrin as I saw the entire life of Nifty Spades being consumed by the raging fire.
Despite the extremely dangerous scenario I was in the middle of, I felt no rush to leave. Now that the adrenaline rush began to fade, every nerve of my body was filled once again with numb pain. I could barely move my arms. My chest was burning, and my head was screaming for me to lie down, even if I was in the middle of a fire.
A voice in my head, however, was still trying to bring me back to reality.
"Ace! You need to leave!"
The voice was insistent, but my body wasn't able to react to my will. I stood there for several seconds, letting out a sigh. And the voice…
"Ace! You can't stay there! It's too dangerous!"
...wasn't in my head? I turned to my right, and standing between two columns that were yet to be fully consumed by the fire was none other than Katherine Mulligan, her phone pointing at me and her eyes pleading for me to move.
And then before I could react, what remained of the blazing ceiling collapsed over me.