337: Not All Heroes Wear Capes
There were eyes watching me, I could feel them. I wanted them to see me, see what I could do.
When you come right down to it, right down to the very bottom line, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is up to. Even if you know their secrets, the reason for the world being the way it is, you still have to do your own thing.
That’s where it helps to have your goals worked out in advance. It must be nice to wake up every morning and know exactly what you want from life.
The guy who makes a shit load of money, who can buy whatever he wants, and the next morning can’t wait to go do it all over again, that’s a happy guy.
What do you give the man who has everything? More.
Buddhists think we should give up desire and attachment to worldly things. I think the opposite. Be grateful if you find something to obsess about. It’ll make the time go by much faster.
The problem is when people have all the stuff where they are, and then they want all the stuff where you are.
You have to be able to defend yourself from the barbarians at the gate. They might only have clubs and sticks, and listen to terrible country music, but there’s more of them than you think.
And if you’re a barbarian, you have to be able to defend yourself from the smug twats inside the gates, who think they should get to decide what’s best for everyone.
The Romans spread culture and learning throughout the world, and then they got crushed by angry thugs who didn’t agree that writing numbers with Vs and Xs was such a great idea. It’s a persuasive argument, especially when you back it up by burning Rome to the ground.
When it comes down to it, brute force wins every time. It just does.
I had never felt more powerful than that moment outside the shrine. Whether or not people wanted to do as I told them didn’t matter. They had no choice. Sure, they could sit down and wait to die, but what kind of choice is that? Don’t be pedantic, it’ll only make you look small and petty.
It wasn’t really about controlling others. My real goal had always been to control myself. I think that’s everyone’s goal, whether they realise it or not. What you do, what you don’t, how you manage your whims and cravings. The things that you could have done are just as important as the ones you did, they’re just easier to forget about.
I’d had these forces inside me, but I never tried to use them to their fullest. Occasionally something would leak out, but it was frightening, the lack of control.
I always knew I could go further, but then what?
Become a hero. Become a superhero. Become a god.
Now, I didn’t really care. Maybe this was where I had needed to get to. I’d only been alone a few days, and I’d progressed a vast amount. Maybe this had been Maurice’s plan all along, to get me to a place I had resisted getting to. And then they’d all jump out and surprise me. I wasn’t alone, they’d been waiting for me all this time.
The heat between my hands was intense. Far more acute than anything I’d been able to produce before. I’d manage to make fire that burned fiercely, but this was something else. The clearing outside the shrine was lit up by the white bloom I was producing. It was like nuclear fusion between my fingertips.
I’d reached the cusp of going nova a number of times, and each time I’d back down for one reason or another. Some people might say I bottled it. Some people might say no, that wasn’t fair, it would be more accurate to say I pussied out.
Both sides make good points, I won’t deny it.
I’d say I wasn’t ready back then. The way my arms were starting to burn, I was beginning to feel I still wasn’t.
But little me was right. I had reached some kind of tipping point. It was different now. The frog Elder had spoken about the source of magic coming from an imbalance. Lack of balance was something I inherently had, I think it would be safe to say, but this time, I didn’t feel like it was draining me. It was flowing through me.
There was a searing pain down both arms as the white fire between my hands swirled into a tight ball. I wanted to make it big and impressive, put the fear of god into the locals, but it kept trying to condense to a point.
My hands were being drawn closer, and it didn’t feel like it would be wise to let them touch.
The pain was hard to bear. It only took a second for me to go from willing to take the next step in my evolution, to thinking, Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.
The islanders began emerging at the edges of the clearing. Probably curious about what the hell I was doing.
I had a choice to make. Release my first fireball and wipe out most of the islanders in a white phosphorous death blaze, or pussy out once again. The agony in my arms made it hard to think clearly.
If I could produce this kind of power at will, I didn’t have to use it right now. They could all see what I was capable of. They were probably terrified of me, right? Ready to follow orders.
With quite some effort, I pulled my hands apart and let go of the flame in my mind.
The white ball in the air should have petered out. It didn’t.
Instead, it split into two, one for each hand. The flames sank into my skin, which made me scream a little bit. I could tell the islanders were starting to realise what they were up against.
If he’s willing to do that to himself, what’s he going to do to us.
That’s what they were probably thinking.
Both my hands were incandescent, and not in a good way. I fell to my knees, my arms spread out, the smell of my burning flesh filling my nostrils.
The islanders could smell it too. Dinner time, self-service barbecue.
The thing about most superheroes is that the first time their powers manifested, they would have ended up killing themselves.
Whatever their ability might be, flying or breathing underwater or running very fast, they would try it out, lose control, die. Ninety percent of cases.
You get those stories where it’s a more realistic take on being a superpowered vigilante — Oh, Christopher Nolan’s looking at it from a real-world perspective, what it would really be like — but give me a fucking break.
“I’m Batman. Wait, my cape’s caught in the car door, no, Alfred, don’t… argghhhhh.”
You can’t transition from normal to superfreak with a snap of your fingers. You will get yourself killed, unless you also happen to have some kind of invulnerability or healing factor.
As it happened, I could do a bit of healing.
I poured every bit of healing power I had into my arms. It would probably end up reducing my life expectancy to some time tomorrow afternoon, but I was beyond caring. No point saving up for a rainy day. I was from England. Every day was a rainy day.
The pain lessened, but my arms continued to glow white from my elbows to my fingertips. It was like they were made of light. I didn’t see it as much of an improvement.
First I couldn’t jerk off because I had a middle-aged lady living in my brain, now I wouldn’t be able to touch myself without melting my dick off.
Now that my fireball had disappeared, the islanders began to close in on me. They weren’t too concerned about my fluorescent hands.
I needed to get it into their heads that we weren’t on the same level. This wasn’t a one man, one vote scenario. That they had to view me as a threat.
I spotted the President among them. He seemed the best candidate for a demonstration. They’d forced my hand, and now I would have to go to extremes to make my point.
“You.” I got to my feet and pointed at the President, finger aglow. “How do I open the shrine?”
He shook his head. People just don’t take you seriously unless you’re willing to be a shitty person.
“I don’t want to kill you,” I said, “but there are worse things.”
They were closing in from all sides. I didn’t have much of a choice.
I drew my wooden sword. It immediately lit up. I wish I could say it looked like a lightsaber, but it was more like a toy with a three-watt bulb in it.
I swung it. One swipe and the President’s left hand was sliced off. It was clean strike. Clinical.
He screamed. The islanders backed away. His hand fell on the ground and lay there steaming.
“Consider yourself lucky I’m in a merciful mood. At least you still have your right hand.” If I was going to be working with these guys, I didn’t want them to think I was unreasonable.
The president looked at me with pain and anguish in his eyes. “I’m left-handed,” he grunted through clenched teeth.
Nobody’s ever happy with anything I do. They just don’t appreciate the pressure I’m under. I see it in their faces all the time, the belief that they would have done a better job. Well, fuck them. Easy to think that when you never have to prove it.
I picked up the hand. It was a little scorched, but otherwise intact. I stuck it back on his wrist, and put both my glowing hands over the join. The president began screaming again.
I ignored him and used my healing. The stumps had been sealed over when I cut his hand off, but they were still hot and sticky. It didn’t take much effort to glue them together.
There was no sense of losing my own life force to him. Whatever I was channelling, it wasn’t coming from me, but it was coming.
Why bother when I’d probably have to kill him later anyway? To be honest, I had so much energy flowing through me, I wanted to see what I could do. How powerful was I now?
I let go and the president stopped screaming. He looked at his now reattached hand with wonder. He held it up, wiggled his fingers, turned it this way and that. Then he looked at me. “Thank you,” he said in between gasps for breath.
He was starting to realise I wasn’t all bad. I was willing to fix my mistakes. We shared a moment.
“You’re welcome.” I swung my sword and cut off his right hand. Hey, I still had a point to make.
“Now, I’m going to open the shrine,” I said once the screaming had died down to whimpering. “Not sure how, but it’ll probably be messy. I would appreciate it if you let me get on with it, no interference, no backseat coaching, no nibbling on my toes when I’m not looking. The ‘or else’ part, I think you can work out for yourselves.”
I looked around at the islanders. They hadn’t taken up attack poses. The ones with spears weren’t aiming them at me. Unpleasant as it was to admit, the threat of extreme violence was doing its job.
I turned to face the shrine, my back to my enemies to emphasise just how little danger I considered them capable of. It was a bluff — they could have probably found a way to overwhelm me — but it was an effective one. People really do respond best to being treated like shit. It’s very disappointing.
“I want to get rid of it,” I said. “Using force. I know Arthur probably set up a clever way to turn it back the right way, but I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out. He’s a strange guy.”
Damicar peeked out of the doorway. “Huh?”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” I said. “You might want to vacate the premises.”
“I think you would have liked Arthur,” said Wesley. “I’m sure he would have liked you.”
“First time for everything, I suppose. There’s a good chance your body is under there. Which means we might end up accidentally damaging it. Which should be okay, I’ll probably be able to heal it back to one piece, more or less. I just don’t want you to freak out if there’s a scar or two. Maybe a couple of bolts in your neck.”
“If you think this is the best way, I’m happy to help.” She seemed totally on board with my plan.
We discussed the best positioning, how I wanted the shrine to move, and then I let her take over. Once she was in the control booth, my hands stopped glowing, and started shaking.
My power had reached a level of intensity that was quite staggering. Wesley’s was on another level. She raised her palms to face the shrine, and the whole building began to vibrate. Stone and debris fell. The islanders retreated behind trees, transfixed. If they hadn’t given up hope of taking me down already, I was sure they had now.
The shrine shifted off its foundations. I thought it would slide off to the side, but it caught on something, and then tipped up. Then came crashing down, like somebody had pushed it over. Which they had.
The ground that was revealed was dark and full of movement. Beetles and worms crawled around, and basically things with either too many legs or none at all. They weren’t the tiny things in your garden, they were the size of kittens.
Wait, that doesn’t really capture how gruesome it looked. They were the size of dead kittens. Better.
And in the middle was a hole. With steps leading down.
Okay, stage one complete (finally). Now I just had to go down into the dungeon below, fight monsters, solve puzzles, yada, yada, yada, treasure chest with BiS gear, winner. I was at a point where I was confident I could handle whatever came next. Because I was stronger and more in tune with my abilities than ever before. But mostly because I had Wesley, and she could knock over a fucking building.
I took back control of my body and turned to the President.
“It worked. High-five.” I raised my hand, but he left me hanging, his face twisted in agony. I didn’t see the issue, he still had one good hand. I should have been the one looking betrayed.
You might be thinking I was being a bit obnoxious. I get the upper hand (no pun intended) and suddenly I’m acting like I’m better than these people. Let me remind you, they were fucking cannibals. Of course I was better than them.
I gingerly stepped through the creepy crawlies and approached the hole that had been under the shrine. The stairs led down into the dark. The sounds of footsteps approached from the other direction. Someone, or something, was coming up.