The building was an old farm house, long abandoned and dilapidated, about three miles north of Granville, North Dakota. It was a tiny town mostly untouched by the ravages of superhuman conflict. This old farm had once belonged to my grandfather, Ian James McLeod. I regret to say that I never got to know the man while he was still alive. I vaguely remembered having visited this place a couple times when I was a small child, but who really gets to know their elders at that age? Unfortunately, I had never been back since, and he passed away shortly after I fled the country. My father had technically inherited the property, but clearly hadn’t done anything with it.
I wasn’t about to inquire, either. I had yet to contact any of my surviving family. They were still alive, I knew. In fact, I had become an uncle three times over in the last few years. But when I fled, I completely cut all contact, believing it would be safer for them. It seemed to have been the right decision. They all seemed to be living perfectly normal lives. I’m sure they knew I had become the Earth Mage, but I had left them no means to contact me. I had deleted all my e-mail accounts, social media accounts, went to the other side of the country and used only cash and a fake ID. The most they could have done was try to pin point my location from news reports, but by the time they could have managed that, I was under military watch, and my presence and actions were intended to be classified. And then I fled to
by that point, I had assumed my family had given up. Australia
Nostalgia, I suppose, brought me back here. I didn’t share such details with my new team, however. Instead, once we arrived, I set to work with my power, making repairs and activating utilities at rapid speed.
My gift enables me to manipulate the elements around me, but it’s a bit more complicated than simply wishing for the earth to move, and then it moving. Firstly, my power primarily works by enabling me to sense elemental mana. It’s difficult to describe the sensation; I say that I can “see” the mana in my mind’s eye, but it’s not really a visual information. Neither is it like sound or pressure or taste. It’s more like how some animals can sense an electric field, or how an antenna picks up radio waves. My brain can sort of filter that information into a visual overlay, but again, I’m not really seeing the mana, it’s more that I can imagine what it would look like if I could.
The Mana, I am told, is not really there. No scientific equipment, however sensitive, has ever been able to detect what I am sensing. No natural senses, from man or beast, seem to react to it when I move it around. I have yet to even find another superhuman that can sense it. If I had to guess, it seems to just be some kind of interface that my elemental power creates to better let me control it.
Controlling it is easy, though. I simply focus on the clusters and lines of Mana and will it to move. I often make hand motions to do so, but it’s not really necessary any more. It used to just be a way to focus on what I was trying to do, but now it’s mostly out of habit.
Depending on how I will it to move, the correlating substances in the environment also move to match. If I wish to move a pile of earth, then I must mentally seize the Earth Mana I can sense, and will it to move. The Mana flows, and the earth follows suit. It is the same with wind, water, fire, electricity, metal, and non-living wood. Like a classic elemental wizard, I can command the environment itself. Over the past eleven years, I have refined this technique quite well, and can perform very fine-tuned actions.
For example, as I focused on the farmhouse, I bent the old wood back into shape, relocking the broken frame together, mending the cracked, warped, or decayed walls and roof. I slipped thin layers and rods of earth into the walls, then stiffened it into solid rock, reinforcing the structure. I swept away the layers of dust and dirt, forming a scrubbing storm that scattered away all vermin infestation. Use of wind and fire Mana created a dry heat that scoured away the build up of plants, fungi, and mold, and swept it out of the busted windows. The broken glass I molded back into shape and reset into the frames. I re-enforced and scoured clean the old furniture and rugs, taking rust and grime away from the wires and pipes, stripped away the peeled and cracked paint and wallpaper. Within the space of about fifteen minutes, the building now stood almost as pristine as when it was first built, save for the bare walls.
“Damn,” said Hitchhiker. “You could make a killing in construction. What are you even a superhero for? You could have made a billion dollars restoring half of
Max couldn’t resist. “And then another billion fixing the half the Fantasmas broke.”
Hitch gave her a cool look. She opened her mouth to retort, but I cut them off before it went further.
“That should do it,” I said. “There are three bedrooms upstairs and a guest room on the first floor. I can take the couch.”
“Don’t bother,” said Strider. “I’ll sleep in the basement.” With that, she “terraported” away, going straight inside to the ground-most floor. She always made a little stepping motion when she did it, but I knew this was just for show. Perhaps like me and making hand gestures to move the mana, it was a habit from when she was still getting used to her powers.
Her ability was interesting to me. I could easily sense how she unconsciously hooked herself into the Earth Mana and rode it to her intended destination, extending her being from one point to the next, and yanking herself along that path to instantly travel from one spot to the next. And yet, she didn’t seem to actually sense the very Mana she used, even though she could sense things through it that I could not. More proof, I suppose, that my Mana-sensing power was, in fact, just the way my brain chose to interpret my elemental control. It may simply have been coincidence that our powers functioned on a similar wavelength.
It was definitely a bonus, as well. If I wanted to neutralize her, I could simply bend away the Earth Mana, without even having to move the earth beneath her, and she was disconnected. It didn’t take much, either. At the same time, I could boost the Mana beneath her, and direct it to connect great distances. Combining my power with hers meant she could carry us hundreds of miles in a single step, rather than just one mile at a time. It’s how we were able to reach the northern border of the
States from near the center of in just a dozen quick steps. Mexico
Ah, but of course the
didn’t exist anymore. There was now just Mexico , all the states and
provinces of the main three countries brought together under one singular
government. Much had changed since I fled the old country, and it was hard to
not still think of the continent as it had been before I left. America
“Not the ritziest of headquarters,” said Shoggoth. “But better than the holes I’ve been sleeping in.” He hefted his suitcase and walked on inside. He was still in his angelic male form. I kind of wondered if he was trying to outdo me. I wouldn’t say I was an Adonis, but I’d been told I had sort of “delicate handsomeness”, whatever that was supposed to mean.
Hitch walked past me without a word, but gave me a little sultry smile. I made a point to not watch her ass, despite her attempt to sway it in a way meant to draw my attention. She was now thankfully not dressed like a hooker, instead wearing a long, flowing red skirt, and a flowery yellow top. Her hair was tied back into a long braid. She looked like any typical pretty young woman. She might turn your head if she was your specific type, but you could still easily lose her in a crowd.
Max came up next to me, dressed in her usual biker outfit. “If she claims an upstairs bed, I’ll join Strider in the basement.”
“You two are going to have to get along.” I paused, realizing how ridiculous that sounded. “Let me rephrase: you two are going to have to learn to tolerate each other. She seems at least willing to pretend to put aside the past. I’m trusting you the most to be the professional in this group.”
“Oh, thanks,” she said. “No pressure or anything. A war criminal, a PTSD trip mine, and a total newbie. A ‘newbie’ that I suspect has a lot more going on than either of you are admitting. This is going to go great.”
I frowned. “The truth is, Max, I—”
Strider suddenly popped into being next to us. I’d sensed her coming through the Mana, so I had a half-second to prepare, but Max flinched.
“Oi,” said Strider. “There’s no power or water.” She glanced to Max. “Also, I may be a newbie, but I’m not entirely inexperienced. I would, however, prefer to let the past be the past.” She gave her a disarming smile. It was forced, but I could tell she was just trying to make a good impression. “So please, all I ask is that you give me a chance to prove myself, and you’ll wonder how you ever doubted me!”
Max gave her a once over, then made a little grunt of amusement. “Sure, kid. Do me proud.”
“Great!” She turned her smile to me. “So. Water? Power?”
“Right, right,” I said. “Sorry.” I looked around and focused on the Mana. One thing most people don’t know about my gifts is that I cannot simply make elements appear that aren’t there. I can only manipulate the Mana where the element already exists. I can’t cast “water spells” in the desert, or “earth spells” in the ocean.
Being essentially abandoned, the property had no water or electricity access, but the power lines, gas pipes, and water pipes were still intact. I used a bit more Mana manipulation to ensure they were in full repair once more. Then, from the power lines still active a mile down the road, I diverted a bit of electricity, sending it to the house. I did the same for the water and gas, reactivating the connections and filtering any impurities out.
I didn’t plan for us to be staying for very long, but I had a feeling the utility companies wouldn’t notice in at least the short term. If they did, well, I could find other sources.
“There you go,” I said.
“Cool, thanks!” She then vanished as instantly as she came.
“So,” said Max, turning back to me. “You were saying?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“Oh.” She crossed her arms. “Because I was really hoping you were about to say, ‘The truth is, Max, that while it may seem as though I have picked this completely random group arbitrarily, I in fact have the perfect plan, in which each of you is a very integral part!’ That would be really reassuring.”
I smiled a bit. “I do not speak with such overly verbose mannerisms.”
She looked amused for a moment, but got serious again, and leaned closer to me. She was only an inch shorter than me, so compared to most women, she could practically loom over me. “I’m serious, James. What’s the plan here?”
I had to admit, she somewhat had me on that. “Well, the truth is, Max, that I’m not completely sure how to proceed from here.”
She sighed and backed away, shaking her head. “Unbelievable. Echo was right about you. Heart in the right place, head missing a few cards from the deck.”
I frowned at that. “Tamara didn’t know me as well as she thought.”
“She knew what your cum tasted like.”
I scoffed in disgust and turned away. “Oh, for fuck’s sake! What the hell does that have to do with anything? We had a brief fling, that was all.”
She chuckled. “In my experience, sensitive guys like you like to act tough to impress the ladies, but once you’re actually with a woman, your defenses melt like wax the moment she gets her pretty hand around your dick. You’ll babble your heart out while she’s snuggled against you with your jizz on her breath.”
She gave another laugh and a little helpless shrugged. “And I mean, hey, I don’t blame you with her. I think Tamara’s hands did more to convince me to join her team than her words ever di—”
I turned and this time, I loomed over her, standing tall and glaring down. “Max, enough. I didn’t bring you on this team to be a shit stirrer, I came to you because you had a good track record, and I assumed one of Echo’s protégés would understandably be interested in finding out her former mentor’s fate. If I was mistaken in this assessment, then you can leave, and I’ll find someone else.”
She gave me a cool look, not very impressed with my outburst. At least she stopped talking like a pervert. I took a step back and took a slow breath to calm my nerves.
She gave me a slight smile. “You’re cute when you’re embarrassed.”
I wasn’t in the mood. “Oh, shut up. Are you committed or aren’t you?”
“Of course I am. I just want to make sure I’m committed to the right people for the job.”
“I do, in fact, have a purpose for each of you,” I said. “I constructed this team with an ideal array of powers, and whose motives I believed I could trust.”
“Even the Fantasma?”
I frowned. “Hitch may need some watching, but I believe even she doesn’t want to see her country get wiped out.”
“Fine.” Max shrugged, giving up the argument. “So if you don’t have a plan, do you at least have an idea?”
I nodded. “Get your stuff settled and I will call a meeting in an hour.”
“Sure,” she said. She hooked a thumb into the strap of her backpack, and head towards the door. She paused when she stepped next to me and said, “By the way, she said you tasted good.”
It took me a couple seconds to realize what she meant, and I let out another disgusted scoff, turning to launch a choice comeback. By that time, though, she had moved on past me, chuckling as she went up the front steps.