A year and four months after the Berlin Attack, three months before Ember’s Exile
Ember opened his eyes, torn from a deep sleep by a profound feeling of unease, only to stare into six glowing red orbs.
Before he’d even finished that though, he’d already leapt to his feet atop his bed (he didn’t really need bedsheets anymore) and punched (rather clumsily, all things considered) the shadow in its face – I’m a giant, with a fist made of diamond – preparing to connect to his world and negate whatever protection his power offered… only for his punch to be stopped dead in its tracks by the shadows surrounding it, which rose in the shape of a human arm – maybe even his real arm, only shrouded in darkness – to casually slap it aside.
He didn’t manage to get even a passing glimpse of his world, beyond what his power was already giving him all the time – he could not even sense him the same way he sensed other people within his projection range.
Now now, calm your ho-
Remember what Macian taught you. Punch straight, aim for the head or throat, put all your weight behind it.
He punched him with his other hand – a rocket on my elbow, and diamond-gloves – but the enemy raised a hand and simply caught his hand in his palm with no visible effort.
“Uff.” He’d been stopped dead in his tracks, again. The long, black fingers wrapped around his hand, holding him like a vise.
He could feel his world, but not see it, as if it was locked off.
Relax, son. You-
“I’m not your son! I’m no one’s son but my mom’s!” Henry shouted as he used the leverage provided to jump up and kick him with both feet in the face.
This time, he put all his concentration behind the kick, and for a fraction of a second, he actually felt a connection establish itself, as his kick threw the Dark back against the wall.
Not bad, he said in that freaky voice-of-the-legion of his.
Ember jumped off the bed and towards him – he had no illusions about his ability to flee from him, but one good punch might take him down.
Enough now. He moved faster than the boy could follow. One strike to his legs made him tumble through the air, another got him in the gut and threw him back onto the bed.
“Ow!” he shouted as the air was forced out of his lungs. He rose to a sitting position on the bed, holding his belly. “That hurt! How did you hurt me!?” No one had managed it since he’d manifested.
A dark chuckle emanated from the figure as it approached him, until he stood in front of the bed, looming over Ember.
Every power has a flaw, my dear boy. And I’ve figured out yours. It’s rather basic, really.
“What do you mean? I don’t know about anything like that!”, replied Ember hotly. That punch had really hurt. He’d already healed the pain, but still.
It’s simple, really. The bigger the power, the bigger the blind spot. If you figure it out, you can generally shut it down.
“But what is it? What’s my weakness?” He’d been trying to find it, based on Macian’s insistence that he know all the aspects of his power, but he hadn’t been able to determine any real weakness apart from needing to touch his targets (which, according to Macian, was not much of a weakness considering how fast he could move if he wanted).
Again, that maddening chuckle. Ah, now, telling you would be spoiling, wouldn’t it? No, I’d rather keep it to myself. But don’t worry. Very few should be capable of figuring it out, and even if I told others, few are likely to be capable of exploiting it – though anyone capable of figuring it out by themselves would normally be capable of exploiting it.
He thought that sentence over. “That tells me… exactly nothing, except that it’s not something obvious… which I already knew.”
It’s an art form. Now hush, I need to think this over.
“Think what over? Why are you even here?” Ember asked, suddenly more worried. What did the King of Supervillains want from him? “Do you want me to bring someone back for you? No, you wouldn’t be knocking me around for that.”
I’d like to mention that you attacked me first, dear boy. But no, I don’t want you to bring anyone back, the villain said. To be precise, I came here to kill you.
“What!? Why!?“, he shouted. “What did I do to you?”
The Dark shook his head, though it was barely perceptible, save for the movement of the eyes. It’s not what you’ve done, but what you are. You’re too powerful. Too dangerous to the… the status quo, so to speak. Raising the dead? That’s too big a power for this world. He raised one shrouded hand, and it shifted into a wicked-looking blade. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure it doesn’t hurt.
“NO! I don’t want to die!” Ember screamed at him. He reached into the bed beneath him, starting to warp it- but a blow to the head knocked him aside, breaking his concentration.
Ember, calm down. You don’t want to wake your poor mother, don’t you? I’d rather she doesn’t see this.
Taking quick, ragged breaths, Ember calmed himself down. What had Macian said? Be calm. Be efficient. Analyze. Adapt. Advance. “Mama… mama can’t sleep well… takes… takes pills.” He rose up again as he regained control. “No chance she’ll wake up from a little screaming. Why do you think I’m bad for the world? I just help people!”
The Dark halted, looking down at him. It’s a sad truth, son, but sometimes, the best intentions only lead to… suffering. He seemed sad, saying that. Ember wasn’t sure, it’d been a while since he hadn’t been able to simply feel what others felt.
Though it was refreshing, in a way, to be able to talk to someone who wasn’t an open book. If only he didn’t want to kill him…
“Are you… are you talking about me, or yourself? And her?”
The Dark flinched.
Maybe I am… but it’s not important. The fact of the matter is, unless someone stops you, you’ll break the balance I’ve spent decades building up… there’ll be another world war, and this time, there won’t be a single unified front against a clear villain. Only… chaos. And chaos ain’t good for the game, my dear boy. Not at all.
“So you’re gonna kill me in cold blood to keep the world stable?”
Cold blood? Maybe you could call it that. I certainly neither enjoy it, nor do it easily. Child murder… is not something I enjoy. At all.
Ember got a sick feeling in his gut. “You… you’ve killed children, before?”
The tall man nodded. When it was necessary, yes. Sometimes, there’s not a clean solution. Sometimes, even innocent children get powers… that should not be. A girl who absorbed people into a hive mind, and every victim absorbed others, too. A boy turning people into vampires which turned others. Another girl who thought she could heal people, but was killing them and replacing them with monsters. But her power would not let her see that. And others who were… even worse. Far worse.
“But I’m not like that! My power really does help people… doesn’t it?”
Ah, but you are worse. War is prevented because people don’t want to die. Plain and simple. Despite all the powers in the world, Death is still the great equalizer. The great end. And only the insane are willing to die for their cause. But you… you remove that. With you, death is no longer final. Any war for the sake of capturing you is justified, as you could nullify all their losses. So I’ll… remove you from the equation.
That’s… that’s horrible! What does Lady Light think of that!?”
Another chuckle. She hates it. Hates me for doing it. But she always forgives me, in the end. That’s Gwen, she’s… she’s too good for this world. She shouldn’t have to make this kind of decision, so I’m making it for her.
“That’s not good. You can’t decide on other peoples’ behalf! And you can’t just choose who gets to live and die!”
Like the way you do?
That stopped him in his tracks. “I… I can’t bring anyone back if they don’t want back. I don’t choose who lives, I just give them the choice!”
But you choose who to use that power on. He stopped, shaking his head. Why am I even talking to you about this? This is only making it harder for both of us. Just close your eyes, and it’ll be over in a flash. He raised his hand.
“No! No, I can still fix it! We can save the world, make it better!”
I don’t think so. This world’s not worth it, anyway. None could be. So n- wait, what do you mean with we? He lowered his hand.
Ember was breathing heavily now. He couldn’t fight him, obviously. He couldn’t escape. He had to convince him to let him go. Or stall him and hope that, somehow, Lady Light would show up. “Me and… a friend.” He didn’t want to mention Macian by name. Not in front of him.
The boy you were seen with during the Berlin and London attacks?
“Y-you know about him!?”
The villain shrugged. I am the leader of the largest intelligence and villain management organization in the world, son. And you two weren’t exactly subtle.
“Oh. Yeah. Him. He and I are gonna save the world, just wait and see!”
Hahaha! Oh, that sounds great. But I fear it’s not that simple. He turned around, taking a few steps away from the bed. Not that Ember thought he could use that to his advantage. I don’t know what you two’ve cooked up, but it’s not gonna work, anyway. I… God, I’m talking too much tonight.
He suddenly turned and rushed forward. Ember scrambled back against the wall, until there was no room to move and all he could see were two glowing red orbs.
Alright, I’ll play. Let’s say I let you live. You and that friend of yours try to save the world – but you fail. And you will. What then?
Ember swallowed deeply. “W-we don’t stop. We look at what went wrong. We figure it out, we make sure it won’t be a problem when we try again. Analyze. Advance. Adapt. That’s what he always says.”
Does he? Sounds like a real hero, that boy. But what do you say?
“I… I say that… that it’s no use not doing it. No use looking back – you’ll only get lost. There’s no holding back, no surrender. Never surrender. You just keep on going, even if the world tries to stop you. Otherwise, why bother at a- Why are you laughing?“
The massive shadow had pulled back and was shaking on the spot, tendrils of darkness lashing out in all directions as his monstrous laughter filled the room… and beneath it, somewhere, someone else was laughing, a man.
Oh, oh, now I understand! That’s why I hesitated! He stopped shaking and looked him straight in the eyes. His orbs had changed for the first time, as if he was squinting. You reminded me of someone.
An idiot I knew, a long, long time ago. He talked like that. About saving the world. About advancing it, making it better.
“What became of him?” Ember asked, curiously. If there were more people who thought like he and Ember did…
He died. And it was his own fault. Now only a shadow is left.
Only a shadow… “He… my friend… he said… he said that you were a hero, once. One most heroes would do well to learn from,” he said, slowly. There was a clue there. “That… that whatever happened during Point Zero… it turned you into a villain. And it’s the same thing that makes Lady Light a hero. The hero.”
The Dark shrugged. So I was. So she is. But Gwen was always a hero, even if she was always a little too ruthless to really fit the stereotype… if I think about it, most people would have expected her to become the villain, and me the hero. She was always willing to make the hard decisions… the cruel decisions… so others wouldn’t have to. Like throwing a grenade into a ditch full of already wounded enemies.
“What killed you?”
“You’re talking about yourself. What killed you? What did you do, back then? That turned you into a villain?”
“You… I can guess some… I’ve been looking for stuff, travelling in my world… you found the door, didn’t you?”
You know about the door? For the first time, he seemed truly stunned.
“I’ve seen it… but I can’t open it. But you did, didn’t you? You and her… and you looked into it, I guess… what did you see?”
We saw… a friend. But then… I committed the gravest crime a hero can commit.
“What was it?”
“To do what? Who was that friend?”
He shook his head. That’s not important. None of the particularls are. I hesitated, and that’s something no hero should ever do. A hero must always press onward… otherwise, only villainy remains.
Leaning forward, the shadows spread around the figure. I wonder… you are so much like me. And your friend, Macian – yes, I’ve heard his name – he sounds so much like Gwen used to be… like she still is, in may ways. I wonder, when the time comes, will you too hesitate? Will you fail? I wonder.
“You won’t ever know if you kill me.”
Heh. Touche. Maybe… maybe it’s worth the risk. Yes, I think I’ll risk it… I’ll let you live, for now. Show me, Ember. Show me if you’ll remain a hero… or if you’ll hesitate, and fall. Fall into the Abyss.
“I… We won’t fail. And even if we fall, we’ll rise again and go on, until it works.”
He started laughing. Then he stopped, suddenly. We’ll see… I’ll see. I’ll be watching you…
And with those words, he faded into nothingness, leaving Ember alone.