Imp 6: A Very Imp-ortant Date part 3

Buffalo NY, Sunday late morning, Oct 28th, 2007

The last time I’d seen the Moonrise Gallery, had been three decades ago. It looked almost exactly the same, on the outside. The inside, however, had been remodeled some time ago, and looked quite a bit different.

At one time, the Moonrise Gallery, my family owned gallery, had been like a second home to me. I had a lot of pleasant memories of this place, of wandering the halls and admiring the pieces of art. This was where my love of art had begun, and after I’d run away from home all those years ago, I’d missed this place even more than the house where I’d grown up.

I’d arrived at the gallery pretty early, well before any employees had shown up, much less opened the doors. And though I could simply have asked Danny Boy for the keys, there was no fun in that. Because of that, I’d slipped in and looked around on my own, the same way I had other art galleries and museums over the years. The main difference was, this time I hadn’t come to steal anything, or to even scout the place for a job. I simply wanted to see my old stomping grounds again, and see how they’d changed.

Once I was done looking around the gallery, I slipped on out and went up to the roof. I always felt more comfortable, moving by rooftop rather than walking on the ground. From up here, I could see everything going on below, which included possible threats. Another advantage, was that most of those same potential threats, had a harder time reaching me. Of course, that all went out the door when flyers were involved, but the advantages were still well worth it.

I was in the middle of walking around the rooftop, looking for a good spot to sit and wait, when I saw some movement from the corner of my eye. Snapping around for a better look, I saw a man standing on the other side of the rooftop. He noticed me at the same time and carefully came in my direction.

The newcomer was wearing a spandex type costume, which was primarily a mixture of dark green and white, but there were a few bits of metallic gold trim. A dark green mask covered his entire head, so that I couldn’t make out his features, hair color, or even skin color. And then, in the middle of the white that covered most of his chest, there was a dark green symbol, which I was quite familiar with from my computer keyboard. It was an asterisk, or as a lot of people tended to say anymore, a ‘splat’.

“Halt, evildoer,” the man exclaimed in an overly-dramatic tone.

“Evildoer?” I asked, standing there with my hands on my hips and giving him a wry look. “Really? Is that the best you can do?”

The hero continued to approach, but I had the impression that he was grinning beneath his mask. “Bad guy. Robber. Criminal. Thief. Delinquent. Ne’er-do-well…”

“Ooooh,” I responded with a smirk. “Someone has a thesaurus…”

“Is that a type of dinosaur?” he asked, sounding amused. “If so, I want one… Can you imagine… Halt evildoers…ne’er-do-wellers, or I’ll sick my thesaurus on you…”

That was enough to make me burst out laughing. “Oh, you’re a snarky one. I like that.”

The hero bowed in exaggerated manner. “I have a black belt in snark fu…”

“Your snark fu is strong,” I responded, speaking like a badly dubbed martial art’s movie, so that my lips didn’t really match the words. “But it is no match for my mine…”

“We shall see, evil one,” he stated, taking an exaggerated martial arts stance.

Since the hero seemed happy to square off with words rather than fists, I decided to have some fun and play along. After all, this was my specialty.

“So,” I asked, pointing to the symbol on his costume. “Why do you have a cat’s butt hole on your chest?” Then I gasped in mock realization. “You must be the Sphincter.”

The Sphincter took a step back, gasping as though I’d just hit him. “No… I am the mysterious…the awesome…the incredible…”

“The long winded,” I added cheerfully.

“Asterisk,” he finished, giving a sweeping bow.

“That’s quite a mouthful,” I pointed out with a smirk.

Asterisk laughed. “I can give you a lot more than just a mouthful.”

“Sorry,” I countered. “But I’m not into little smokies.

“Hey,” he protested. “I’m at least a kielbasa.”

“And what kind of name is Astrix?” I asked, trying to keep up the momentum. “Isn’t he that midget cartoon viking, with the big dumb sidekick?”

Sphincter gave a gasp of mock insult. “The outrage. That cartoon is a classic…”

And while I agreed with Sphincter, that Astrix was a classic cartoon character, I wasn’t about to roll over and take a hit. “Far too good a name for you then, Sphincter. I think Sphincter is a much more appropriate name…”

“Oh, and I suppose yours is better?” he asked.

“Of course,” I responded, before announcing, “I am the beautiful, talented, and fabulous Imp.” Then, I took a sweeping bow.

“Talk about a mouthful,” Sphincter joked. Then he said, “I know who you are, Imp. I used to be a big fan…”

I grinned at that. “Why, thank you…”

“Back when I was a little boy,” he finished. “Wow, you look good…for your age.”

I blinked at that. I wasn’t THAT old. I was only forty-fi…thirty-nine and holding… No, I was twenty-nine and holding.

“Tsk tsk tsk,” I responded with a forced smile. “It’s not nice to make fun of a lady’s age…”

“Oh, I’d never do that,” Sphincter replied. I had the feeling that he was grinning evilly beneath his mask. “If there were any ladies here…”

For a moment, I was actually starting to get irritated by that, until I suddenly realized what he was doing. He was pushing my buttons. He was trying to get me upset and distracted, so I wouldn’t be able to think or act as well as I should. The Sphincter was trying to pull an Imp on ME.

I burst out laughing. “It’s been a long time since I’ve run into a hero who could hold his own in a battle of wits…”

“I can do more than hold my own,” Sphincter responded smugly.

With a roll of my eyes, I said, “With the size of your little smokie, I’m sure you can hold a full dozen of them…”

“Hey,” Sphincter protested, but I’d already turned and ran, giving myself a little boost with some concentrated PK energy, so that I leapt from the roof and was able to make the jump to the next one over.

“Sorry to joke and run,” I called back. “But I have business to take care of…”

To my surprise, Sphincter ran to the edge of the gallery roof…and kept running through mid-air, until he came to the roof I was on. Then, he did a leap and a flip through the air, landing right on the other side of me, as though he was going to keep me from getting away.

Before I’d come to Buffalo, I’d done my research on the hero who’d been snooping around the gallery, so I already knew a few things about the Asterisk. I knew his codename and what his costume looked like, but more importantly, I knew a little about his powers. He was supposed to be either some kind of null or warper. From what I’d been able to find out, he could make himself immune to other people’s powers, and he could even make himself immune to certain laws of physics, such inertia, conservation of energy, and obviously, gravity.

“I’m too smart for you to escape that easily,” Sphincter announced in a smug tone.

“Oh?” I responded with a cheerful grin, considering my next move. “And how smart are you?”

“Have you heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates?” he asked. “Morons.”

“Well, never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line,” I responded with a broad grin and a swish of my tail. For a moment, we stood there staring eat other, before simultaneously exclaiming, “INCONCIEVABLE!”

After Sphincter and I both stopped laughing, he said, “As much as I enjoy the witty repartee, I still have to take you to jail…”

“No you don’t,” I responded, reaching into one of the pouches on my belt and pulling out a card, which I handed to him.

Sphincter looked at the card, then started laughing again. “I can’t argue with this,” he said wryly, holding up the ‘GET OUT OF JAIL FREE’ card from a Monopoly set.

“No you can’t,” I agreed with a grin. “Besides, I didn’t do anything illegal…” Well, I did do a little breaking and entering, but he didn’t need to know that.

Though I couldn’t see Sphincter’s face, I could imagine his skeptical expression. “You’re a notorious art thief, and I caught you on the roof of an art gallery…”

“But you didn’t catch me with any art in my possession,” I pointed out. “I haven’t stolen anything from this gallery, nor do I intend to. In fact, I’m here today by invitation of the owner…”

“Somehow, I find that hard to believe,” Sphincter said. “That’s like the chicken asking the fox over for dinner…” He paused at that, obviously remembering that he’d been investigating Danny Boy for money laundering. “Then again…”

I quickly considered my options, then decided on a partial truth. “Daniel Kade promised me a painting from his private collection, if I did him a little favor. You see, some criminals weaseled their way into his business and have been using it to wash and dry their cash, and he wants me to get rid of them.”

“And why would he ask you for help?” Sphincter asked. “You’re a criminal too…”

“Well, duh,” I responded with a roll of my eyes. “For one thing, you’d arrest him before even hearing him out, and that would create a lot of problems that he just can’t afford to deal with. For a second, he figured that someone in the business had better odds of negotiating the problem away, without escalating things into a war that would destroy his business. And finally, he’s flat broke, and I agreed to accept a painting in lieu of cash. It’s a really nice painting, and I don’t even have to steal it.”

“Why should I believe you?” Sphincter demanded.

I rolled my eyes again. “You shouldn’t. But maybe, you should dial the number on the back of the card.”

Sphincter looked at the ‘GET OUT OF JAIL FREE’ card I’d given him, and saw that there was a hand-written phone number on the back. While he was distracted by that, I pulled my vanishing trick and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

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Buffalo NY, Sunday early afternoon, Oct 28th, 2007

I quietly chuckled to myself as I thought about the Sphincter and our ‘fight’ a couple hours ago. It wasn’t often that I ran into a superhero with a good sense of humor, much less, one that was so similar to my own.

“But what kind of tool names themselves after a punctuation mark?” I mused. “What next, the period? The fearsome Comma? The Exclamation Point? Or maybe…the awe inspiring Hashtag.”

But in spite of naming himself something as silly as the Asterisk, Sphincter had actually been a lot of fun to fight. There had been no violence, no risk of pain or death, merely some good, old-fashioned smack talk.

“Witty banter is a waning art form,” I said with a sigh. “Maybe I should teach a class or two on it. That might make a great class for winter term.”

The Sphincter had been so amusing, that if I wasn’t retired, wasn’t based out of another area entirely, and hadn’t already invested so much time into my relationship with Chickenhawk, I might very well have considered taking him on as an archenemy. If nothing else, an archenemy like that, would make things a lot more amusing. Then again, it might be too much like going against myself, which would probably get old eventually.

Then with a sigh, I forced my thoughts away from the Sphincter, and on what I was doing at the moment. After all, it wouldn’t do to get distracted when I had work to do. That would be an easy way to get myself killed.

I was currently inside an old office building, that looked pretty legitimate from the outside. However, I’d been hanging around inside for the last hour, hidden by my chameleon field, and I’d seen enough to convince me that this wasn’t the case.

Once I’d gathered enough information, I decided it was time to make my move. I easily slipped past the guards, who were all dressed up to look like normal office workers, and made my way back to the main office. The door was closed, but that had never stopped me before.

Making sure that no one was watching, I slowly crept up the wall, to the very top of the door, while remaining hidden with my power. Then, I knocked on the door. As soon as it opened up, I slipped into the room, right over the head of the occupant.

“Is someone trying to mess with me?” the man demanded.

Several people in the hallway gave each other blank looks, before one man said, “I don’t think so…”

The room’s occupant scowled, then went and sat back down behind his desk. I slowly moved around the room, being careful not to go fast enough for him to actually see me. That was one downside of my chameleon field. If I moved at any real speed, it couldn’t adjust to my environment fast enough, so that instead of being invisible, I became an Imp shaped blur.

The man behind the desk was Richard Dunn, a skinny man with a severely receding hairline, and wearing a thick pair of glasses. Dunn looked more like an accountant than a mobster, but I supposed that was appropriate since he was actually both. He was the head of the small ‘investment group’ which had initially bailed Danny Boy out of his financial trouble, and had then begun using the gallery for money laundering.

After waiting a couple minutes, until Dunn got comfortable and settled in again, I said, “We need to have a talk.”

Dunn immediately leapt to his feet, reaching for the gun that was hidden beneath his desk. However, I’d already removed the gun a minute ago, to prevent any unfortunate ‘accidents’. He snapped around the room, and as soon as his gaze was past me, I dropped my chameleon field and now stood visible, in the corner of the room.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” I said, stepping forward and holding my hands out to show that I was unarmed. “You can yell for your people if you want, but if you do, they’re likely to start shooting, and you’re a lot more likely to be hit than I am. The advantages of being able to turn intangible.” Of course, intangibility was NOT one of my many gifts, but he didn’t know that.

“Who are you?” Dunn demanded.

“I am the fabulous Imp,” I announced, giving him a dramatic bow. “I am primarily an art thief and forger by profession, and I’m here to talk business.”

“Oh, you are?” Dunn asked, giving me a wary look. I could tell he was thinking about calling out for help, though he gave me a curious look, which suggested that he wanted to know why I was there.

“The Moonrise Gallery,” I stated, watching Dunn carefully as I did so. “I had some plans for it, but while doing my research, I found that you were already using the place.” I shrugged at that and tried to look casual. “I figured, no big deal. I could cut you in and we could come to an understanding.”

“Now, you have my interest,” Dunn said, adjusting his glasses. “What kind of an understanding, and what kind of percentage are we looking at?”

“Well, that WAS the plan,” I responded with a dismissive wave. “Before I found out that the whole place was infested with feds…”

“What do you mean?” Dunn demanded, trying to act calm and in control, but I had him worried now.

I held back a grin, though my tail still twitched a bit. “You didn’t know? The feds are onto your operation, and have been digging into it for the last month. So far, they think that Kade is the ringleader, so you’ve got that going for you…”

Dunn adjusted his glasses again and carefully controlled his expression. “Of course, I was already aware of this investigation and have taken steps to deal with it. However, I am curious how much you are aware of.”

Of course, Dunn was obviously lying, trying to make himself look strong and in control of the situation. I wasn’t offended though, because I was lying too. As far as I knew, the feds didn’t have a clue about what was going on in the gallery, though I doubted it would be long before someone figured it out.

“Well, you’ve also got that superhero nosing around,” I continued. “The Asterisk.” Dunn nodded at that, confirming that he actually was aware of the Sphincter. “I know that he’s about ready to come down on Kade like a ton of bricks. The only reason he hasn’t, is that he’s waiting to see if the feds make a move. Either way, I figure you only have a couple weeks at most before your entire operation there collapses.”

“As I said,” Dunn told me, “we already have steps in place to deal with the situation.”

From what I knew of Dunn and his people, those steps were either throwing Danny Boy under the bus, so he went to prison for their crimes, or putting a bullet through his brain so he couldn’t possibly testify against them. Then again, they could just point the finger at him, while he had an ‘accident’, giving them the best of both worlds. None of those options were good for my brother.

“I’m sure you do,” I commented in a casual tone. “And I’m sure those steps will cut your losses, but won’t actually provide any profit, nor will they do me any good. So, I have an alternate suggestion.”

Dunn gave me a suspicious look. “Oh? Please explain.”

“Your operation at the Moonrise Gallery is done for, one way or another,” I explained. “Even if the feds…and that pesky hero just up and leave, there’s already too much attention on your business. At the very best, you pull out before they close in, and open up again elsewhere. At worst, your entire organization could suffer serious damage.”

“And why do you care?” Dunn asked.

“Because I still have an interest in the gallery,” I answered with a grin. “If this hero and the feds come busting in, then the gallery becomes useless to me. But if you leave quietly, before the trap snaps shut, then I can be patient and still make use of the gallery once all the attention fades away. It might be year or two, but I can afford to wait. You, however, can’t.”

Dunn gave no reaction to my words, though he continued watching me for several long seconds before asking, “Why would you be interested in the gallery?” I remained silent, giving an enigmatic smile instead. “You said that you’re an art thief and forger… You either want access to the artwork you can acquire through the gallery, or you want to use it for distribution… Forgeries or your stolen pieces, perhaps both. Perhaps through the auction house…”

It was interesting to see Dunn’s line of thinking, especially since it made sense. For an art thief and forger, an art gallery and auction house would provide a number of useful opportunities. In fact, I’d once tried something along those lines, though it hadn’t lasted long, before some nosey do-gooders ruined things.

“I would have gotten away with it too,” I mused, “if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.”

“Regardless of what I want the gallery for,” I said, giving Dunn a somewhat friendly smile, “it’s a problem for you. So, I propose we make a deal…”

“I’m listening,” he responded, still trying to mask his reaction.

“I provide you a small…relocation fee,” I explained cheerfully. “You sell me your interest in the gallery and pull out, before the hammer drops. You avoid the feds and the hero nosing into your business here, and I get a gallery that I can use once the interest fades.”

“That sounds like it might be profitable for us,” Dunn admitted. “In theory. However, we still have to clean up a few loose ends.”

“I’m afraid that I need Kade,” I said, knowing that he was the loose end that Dunn was talking about. “He’s a useful piece for my plans, or at least, he will be once the feds and that hero are no longer watching him. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as long as business is no longer being conducted through the gallery. And as a bonus, he’ll owe me big for it. Enough to do what I require, and keep his mouth shut too…”

Dunn considered this for a moment before asking, “What kind of relocation fee are you thinking?”

I was pretty sure that no matter what I offered, he was going to make a counteroffer, demanding a larger amount. However, that was to be expected. We talked numbers and negotiated a tentative deal.

To my relief, Dunn didn’t go looking for proof of the feds snooping into his business. He was paranoid enough that he expected them to eventually get involved, and he saw Sphincter’s involvement as evidence enough.

Once we were finished, I said, “Then I’ll see you tonight to finalize things.”

“Just make sure you bring the money,” Dunn told me.

“Of course,” I agreed. And with that, I went to his window, opened it up, and said, “I’ll see you then…” And with one final nod towards Dunn, I climbed out the window and left.

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Buffalo NY, Sunday afternoon, Oct 28th, 2007

I felt a little nervous, standing out in the open like I was, especially here and now. Without much conscious thought, I pulled my large coat closer to my body, then reached up to adjust my hat.

With a deep scowl, I whispered, “I shouldn’t be here.” I couldn’t afford the risk of someone recognizing me as the Imp, and certainly not here. But at the same time, I had to come. “I never should have come.”

My eyes fixed on the two stones that were set into the ground in front of me. Tombstones. One read ‘Elizabeth V. Kade’, while the other one read ‘Gregory E. Kade’. These were the graves of my mother and father, whom I hadn’t seen since running away three decades ago.

At that moment, my heart felt heavy with the weight of regret and bitterness. And admittedly, there was even some grief too. My parents had never understood me, or even wanted to. Frank had been more of a father to me than my own ever had. But in spite of that, I’d still mourned them when they died.

I felt like a hypocrite, standing there at their graves. I hadn’t wanted to see them when they were alive, so why should I be here now? And I had no doubt that they wouldn’t have wanted me to come either. Even now, I could hear them gasping in shock and horror over what the people in the neighboring graves would say, about them having a mutant daughter.

“So, here I am,” I said. “I know you’ve both been dead for a couple decades now, but better late than never, I guess.”

After this, I wasn’t sure what else I should say. “Hey, it’s me, the daughter you wished had never been born.” or maybe, “I’m a professional criminal and supervillain. And I bet you didn’t think you could be even more disappointed or ashamed of me.”

“I’m sorry,” I finally said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t the daughter you wanted, and I’m sorry you weren’t the parents I needed.” After that, I stood there for at least a minute as the emotions rolled through me. Then, I wiped away the tears that were starting to form and simply said, “Rest in peace.”

I turned and began to walk away, lost in my thoughts and memories. However, I’d only taken a couple steps when someone called out, “Candice? Is that you?”

Looking up, I saw Danny Boy walking towards me. He was wearing a nice suit and had a somber expression on his face. Of course, I remembered him almost always having a serious expression. As a little girl, that was one of the things that had annoyed me the most about my big brother. He’d always been way too serious, and he’d always seemed offended that I wasn’t.

“You shouldn’t be here,” I told Danny Boy. “You should be bunkered down somewhere until this is all over with.”

“I’m surprised to see you here,” Danny said, gesturing to the graves. “I didn’t think you cared.”

I gave Danny a flat look. “In spite of my devilish good looks, I’m not some heartless demon.”

“Maybe not,” Danny responded. “But you are a supervillain. When I saw you on TV, I couldn’t believe it. I nearly had a heart attack.” He shook his head at that. “It’s a good thing that Mother and Father never saw that, because they would have been heartbroken.”

“Honestly,” I said, looking Danny in the eyes. “Sorry, I’m all out of fucks. They lost the right for me to care what they thought, a long time before they died.”

Danny looked offended by that. “They loved you…”

“No,” I responded in a cold tone. “They loved you. Me, they stopped loving me the moment I grew a tail.” I flicked my tail in emphasis.

“You don’t know what you’re taking about,” he started.

“Don’t fool yourself,” I snapped. “You were always their favorite child, the one they were proud of, and who they showed off to their friends and neighbors. Even as a little girl, I was nothing more than a disappointment…and an embarrassment to them. And after I manifested, well, they were so ashamed of me, they tried to lock me up and hide me from the world. After all, it wouldn’t do to let anyone find out that their daughter was a mutant. What would the neighbors think?” I let out a loud snort at that. “Well, nobody puts baby in the corner.”

Danny Boy stared at me with a look of wide-eyed shock. “Is that why you became a villain? To spite us?”

“No,” I told him with a roll of my eyes. “I didn’t care enough about your opinions to bother spiting you.”

I’d become a criminal partly because I fell into the career, and partly because it seemed to be the only career available for someone who looked like me. The last time I’d actually gone and tried getting an honest job, I got shot for my trouble, and then arrested.

“My job is fun and exciting,” I explained with a cheerfulness that I didn’t really feel. “The pay is great, I have lots of travel opportunities, and the benefits are amazing. I mean, I only have to obey the laws I want to.”

“You’re insane,” Danny gasped.

“I also happen to be damn good at it,” I stated as a simple fact.

Since Danny Boy was being so judgmental about my previous career, I decided not to tell him that I’d actually retired and was working as a teacher. Then again, nobody else seemed to believe that, so why should he?

“And your art career?” Danny asked me.

I shrugged at that. “Nobody wants to buy art from a professional thief and forger, so it’s nice having another identity I can do that with.”

“Your pieces are nice,” Danny grudgingly admitted. “You’re talented.”

A faint smile formed on my lips, almost against my will. “Thank you.”

Danny stared at me for several long seconds with a strange expression on his face. “It might not be my place anymore,” he said carefully. “But that kind of life sounds like it might be lonely.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “It isn’t your place.”

“Are you alone?” Danny asked, giving me a look of concern and pity. “Do you have anyone in your life?” When I didn’t answer, he asked, “How can you live like that?”

“How I live isn’t any of your business,” I told him sharply.

“Candice,” Danny said in a soft tone.

I didn’t like the way this conversation was going, and after thirty years, I certainly didn’t feel comfortable enough with Danny Boy to spill my guys to him. And even if I did trust him enough to get all personal, he’d lost that right a long time ago.

“Time for me to go,” I announced. “I still have a few things to take care of if I want to get you out from between a Sphincter and a shit pile. Now, while I go and take care of that, you should find a nice out of the way place to lay low.”

Then, I tipped my hat to Danny Boy and began walking away, while whistling the tune for the song, ‘Danny Boy’.

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Buffalo NY, Sunday late afternoon, Oct 28th, 2007

I was crouched down on top of a two story building, hidden by my chameleon field, as I carefully watched the courtyard below with intense scrutiny.

Richard Dunn had just arrived, with a briefcase in hand. A dozen of his people were already present, scattered about and guarding the area, as well as providing a show of power. Dunn wanted to remind me that he wasn’t just a businessman and accountant, but also someone who would be dangerous to cross.

Dunn’s thugs amused me, because I’d been in the business for a long time, and I’d rarely seen minions who were dressed so nicely. Most of them were dressed as office workers, with nice shirts and ties. One large guy, who looked like a typical legbreaker, was wearing a polo shirt and khakis. However, all of them were armed, so I knew I shouldn’t underestimate them.

As usual, I’d arrived to our meeting spot quite a bit early, which gave me plenty of time to scout the area and watch for potential funny business. We could have skipped this whole clandestine meeting thing, and simply completed our business in Dunn’s office. That had the advantage of being neat and professional. However, it was also firmly in his territory, which gave him several advantages. I’d insisted on a more neutral spot instead.

When the time for our meeting arrived a minute later, I used my best Beetlejuice voice as I loudly called out, “ITS SHOWTIME!”

With that announcement, I set off a couple of my smoke bombs at once, and stepped forward, making it look as though I’d suddenly appeared in a burst of smoke. Dunn and his men were all focused on me now, though Dunn was scowling. He didn’t seem to appreciate my dramatic entrance, but it had served its purpose. I’d just reminded him that I wasn’t just some local wheeler and dealer. I was a genuine, bonafide supervillain, someone whom he did NOT want to piss off. I didn’t usually like to think of myself as a supervillain, but there were times when the label could be useful.

“Imp,” Dunn announced. “If you’re finished with the theatrics, I would like to conclude our business.”

“No problem,” I responded with a cheerful grin. “I’ll be right on down.”

A moment later, I held up the briefcase that I was carrying, then simply stepped off the side of the roof. I focused the energy of my PK aura into my legs, so when I landed, I was able to absorb most of the impact. I knew from experience that this made me look pretty damn cool to anyone watching.

“If you’ve got the paperwork,” I said, “I’ve got the cash.”

Dunn nodded. “Everything is in order on my part.”

I slowly moved towards Dunn, fully aware of his armed goons, as well as the would-be sniper a couple roofs over. I’d seen the guy during my scouting, and knew exactly where to stay if I wanted to keep some obstacles between us. Since I seriously doubted that he had any professional training, he wasn’t nearly as big a threat as he could be. I stopped, right before stepping out of the protected area. Though I was fairly confident that Dunn wasn’t setting me up to kill me, I wasn’t going to take a chance.

“I think that this should do it,” I said with a grin. “I don’t want to make it too easy for your guy.” I gestured in the direction of the would-be sniper.

“The money,” Dunn asked.

With a nod, I popped open my briefcase and showed the cash I’d brought with me. If Dunn was going to try anything, this would be the ideal point. He knew I had the cash right here on hand, and he hadn’t given up anything yet. Fortunately, I’d done my homework on Dunn, and knew that he had a certain reputation for professionalism too. That was why I’d decided to deal with him this way, rather than doing something a little more dramatic and fun.

Dunn opened his briefcase and pulled out a stack of papers. Then, as I watched, he signed in a couple spots. Once I’d looked the papers over and verified that everything was acceptable, he returned them to his briefcase, and then we simply exchanged cases.

Until now, Danny Boy had officially been the official owner of the Moonrise Gallery, and the unwitting scapegoat for when things inevitably went wrong. Dunn had been the silent partner, owning a controlling interest under several different names and shell companies. As of now, I was the one who owned that controlling interesting. I didn’t know if my parents would have been delighted to have the whole thing back in the hands of the family, or if they would have been horrified that those hands were mine. The truth was, I didn’t really care. I wasn’t doing this for them.

Since our business was completed, I was about to slip away when I suddenly heard a voice call out, “HALT EVILDOERS!”

“Sphincter,” I said with a sigh, turning to look at the source of the voice.

The hero was standing atop a building, one opposite of where I myself had been perched a short time ago. He was doing the standard ‘hero pose #1’, which was standing there with his hands on his hips, trying to look imposing and heroic.

“Or maybe that should be freeze, criminals,” Sphincter continued, “Cease and desist, outlaws. Or maybe just a general stop where you are, bad guys.”

“Who the hell is this guy?” one of the nearby thugs asked, looking confused.

“If you do not,” Sphincter announced, “I will be forced to unleash my thesaurus on you, and it will bite, chomp, or gnaw your butts off.”

I laughed at that, then told Dunn. “You go ahead and take off. I’ll deal with the Sphincter.”

But in spite of my instructions, one of Dunn’s men opened fire, using some kind of grenade launcher to shoot at Sphincter. His shot came short, and he hit the side of the building, but it caused enough damage to send the hero falling over the edge. Sphincter let out a version of the classic ‘Wilhelm’ scream, very reminiscent of Goofy, as he fell towards the ground. Then, right before he hit, he abruptly came to a complete stop, mere inches above the ground.

“Air breaks,” Sphincter commented, before abruptly dropping the few remaining inches, and immediately scrambling back to his feet.

Unable to help myself, I actually began clapping, which earned me a look of disbelief from Dunn. “What can I say?” I told him with a grin. “I’m a sucker for the classics.”

“Everyone, leave,” Dunn ordered his people, before they immediately began taking off, him included.

“Sphincter,” I exclaimed, as if greeting an old friend. “Long time no see.”

“Imp,” Sphincter responded in a similar tone. “The Impster… Imperoonie… The Impmeister…” Then he paused, and I had the feeling that he was grinning beneath the mask. “Or maybe I should just call you a naughty little Imp…”

“Why?” I teased. “You feel like spanking me?”

Sphincter laughed. “Maybe I should call you a horny little Imp instead.”

“Sorry,” I responded with a smirk, “but you’re just not my type. I’m just not interested in little smokies. They just don’t have enough meat.”

“I get no respect,” Sphincter said in an obvious Rodney Dangerfield impression. “No respect at all.”

“So, Sphincter,” I started, only to have him interrupt me.

“My name is Asterisk,” he reminded me. “As in the most awesomely amazing punctuation mark…the one that often annotates an exception to the rules. After all, I am totally exceptional.”

“Ass Terisk,” I repeated with a smirk. “Well, Mister Terisk, do you mind if I just call you Ass?”

“Why?” he asked, sounding amused. “Do you like my ass?”

With a shrug, I responded, “Not bad, but I’ve seen better.”

There was a few seconds of silence, then Sphincter commented in an almost casual tone. “I called the number on that card you gave me. Imagine my surprise, when I get some woman, who claims to be Lady Astarte, and who vouches for you.”

I just grinned at that, thankful that I’d filled Carson in on what I was up to, before I’d left the school. Since I knew that I’d be running into a local hero, I figured it would be a good idea to take a few precautions. “I’m sure your reaction would have been entertaining.”

“She told me that you’d retired from being a supervillain,” Sphincter continued. Then he teased, “Did you reach mandatory retirement age?”

“Naw,” I responded. “I just took an early retirement in order to enjoy my ill-gotten gains.”

“Then what are you doing here?” Sphincter asked. He looked around, then said, “This doesn’t look like the French Riviera, or some non-extradition country like Karedonia.”

I just laughed at that. “Retirement job, but a little better than greeting at Walmart. I figure, I’ll do a simple job for Kade, one that doesn’t require me to really come out of retirement and do anything supervillainy, and in return, I get a painting that I’ve had my eye on for awhile.”

“Then what was all this about?” Sphincter asked, gesturing to my briefcase and then the general area. I figured that he was referring to my meeting with Dunn.

“Just a simple business deal,” I answered with a grin. “I just bought out Dunn’s interest in Kade’s gallery, so he doesn’t have to worry about it being used for laundering, or about getting shot for saying anything. Kade gets his freedom and gallery back, I get a nice painting, and Dunn gets a bit of cash. Sounds like a win-win for everyone.”

“Except me,” Sphincter replied. “I admit, meeting you has been quite an entertaining experience, but not quite what I had in mind. Its cwiminal season, and I aim to gets me a cwiminal.”

I grinned at that, letting my tail swish back and forth. “Well, I’m no snitch, so I can’t tell you where Dunn hangs his hat. However, I can make you a deal…”

“You wanna play Let’s Make a Deal?” Sphincter asked with mock excitement. “I love that game.”

“I think you’ll like this one,” I assured him. “Kade isn’t worth you going after. He’s not a criminal, just some schmuck who made a bad business decision, then got squeezed because of it. You leave him alone, and I’ll give you this shiny ticket, to some of the greatest entertainment you’ve ever seen.” I held out a ticket and waved it back and forth in front of Sphincter.

“What kind of entertainment?” Sphincter asked, sounding vaguely curious, but also a bit skeptical.

“Juggling,” I answered cheerfully.

“Juggling?” the hero repeated. “I hope its flaming chainsaw juggling, or something cool like that, because that sounds like a really lame deal.”

“Nope,” I replied with an evil grin. “Numbers. Lots and lots of numbers.”

I let that sink in for a moment, and I could almost feel it click in Sphincter’s head. This ticket happened to be for a business, where Dunn was doing the same kind of money laundering that he’d been doing at the gallery. However, this was an older operation, and one with a lot more records tied to it. If the Sphincter wanted to take Dunn down, then this would be a much better place to start investigating.

There’s an old saying about honor among thieves, and in certain circumstances, there actually can be. Among professionals, keeping your agreements is important, because not only does your reputation depend on it, but so can your life.

However, I had absolutely no problem turning Dunn over to a hero. After all, not only had Dunn squeezed my brother and threatened his life, he’d also messed with a place that had been like a second home to me while growing up. That alone had earned him a little somethin somethin. But more practically, if Dunn was busy dealing with law enforcement and heroes, then he’d be too busy to bother with Danny Boy.

“I’ll take that deal,” Sphincter said, snatching the ticket out of my hand. “But if Kade is a bad boy and gets his nose dirty, then all bets are off.”

“Fair enough,” I agreed.

“Now,” Sphincter mused, looking in the direction that Dunn and his people had run off. “Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?”

“He went, thataway,” I responded, pointing in that general direction.

Sphincter chuckled at that. “It was interesting to meet you, Imperoonie…”

“And you too, Sphincter,” I responded. “Now exit, stage left even…” And with that, I threw a smoke bomb at the ground and pulled my vanishing trick. As I slipped away, the hero even clapped in appreciation, which brought a grin to my face.

--------------------

Crystal Hall, Monday late morning, Oct 29th, 2007

Chris Matthews sat at his usual table in the Crystal Hall, staring down at the tray containing his half-eaten lunch. Then, he let out a loud sigh.

“Is there something wrong with your burger?” asked the boy sitting across from him.

“No,” Chris answered, looking up at his friend Jon, who was better known around the school by his codename of Voodude. “Just frustrated is all.”

“What in the world do you have to be frustrated about?” Jon asked with a chuckle, which made it clear that he knew exactly why Chris felt that way.

Sometimes, Chris wondered how he and Jon had become friends, since they had so little in common. He was a white boy from the East Coast. Jon was a black kid from the West Coast. He liked sports and athletics. Jon was into music and magic. He had an aggressive ‘go get em’ attitude, while Jon was much more easygoing and laid back. Perhaps, Chris thought, they were friends because they were so different. They tended to balance each other out a bit.

“You know, I’ve been trying to get into the Future Superheroes of America,” Chris complained. “But they don’t take me seriously. Nobody does. And every time I try to prove that I have what it takes, it blows up in my face…”

“Yeah,” Jon agreed, giving a sympathetic look. “It totally sucks.”

“I’m trying as hard as I can,” Chris added.

“Maybe that’s the problem,” Jon suggested. “Maybe you’re just trying too hard.”

Chris snorted at that. “In my experience, there’s no such thing as trying too hard. As my old coach used to say, you’ve gotta give a hundred and ten percent, at the bare minimum…”

Jon chuckled at that. “Now that sounds like a total jock thing.”

“I am a jock,” Chris reminded him. “Or at least, I was, until I manifested.”

Chris shook his head at that and let out another sigh. At one point, he’d been the best athlete in his entire school, and it had seemed like he was destined for fame and glory on the football field. But then, he’d manifested as a mutant, and was no longer allowed to compete. All his dreams had crumbled to dust, until he’d found a new dream. If he couldn’t be a sports hero, then he’d be a superhero. Chris was determined to achieve that goal, and he was going to give it everything he had. But first, he had to get past his slump and earn a position on the team.

Suddenly, Jon exclaimed, “Look at that ass…”

Chris snapped around to see who Jon was staring at, but instead of a hot exemplar girl like he’d expected, he sat that it was an exemplar boy who was walking past. Chris gave Jon a look of annoyance. “I hate when you do that.”

“Do what?” Jon asked with a look of innocent.

“When you try getting me to look at a guy,” Chris said, giving Jon a look of annoyance.

The other boy just chuckled, not the least bit ashamed of it. Jon was pretty open about being bisexual, and he didn’t seem to care who knew. At first, that had made Chris a bit uncomfortable, but since Jon never really hit on him, he’d quickly been able to get over it. After all, this was just part of who Jon was.

“Are you jealous that I’m not checking out your butt instead?” Jon teased him. “You know, if you weren’t straight, then I might consider asking you out.”

“Then it’s a good thing for me that I am straight,” Chris replied with a chuckle of his own.

“Well, what you need is a girlfriend,” Jon abruptly said. “There’s gotta be someone you like.”

Chris shrugged at that. “Not really.”

There were a lot of hot exemplar girls around school, and if he’d still been as popular as he’d been at his last school, he might very well have asked one out. Unfortunately, he’d gone from being a big fish in a small pool, to being just a minnow in a lake, and he was pretty sure that none of them would want to hang out with him now. Not until he proved that he could be a hero, and joined the Future Superheroes of America. Then, things would change. Then, everything would be better.

“Roulette isn’t bad,” Chris thought aloud. She was a pretty good looking exemplar, and she seemed really nice. She didn’t come off as stuck up and full of herself like a lot of the other exemplar girls were.

Jon chuckled at that, amused for some reason that Chris didn’t get. “Sorry, but she’s already dating someone back home.”

“Figures,” Chris grumbled. “Maybe Peacock. With that hair of hers, she really stands out, even at this school…”

“Oh, Peacock is a special girl all right,” Jon agreed with a grin. “But I don’t think you’re her type. How about Mischief? She seems kind of cute.”

Chris gave Jon a wry look. Mischief was definitely cute, and she looked like she might grow up to be pretty hot one day. But in a school full of exemplars, simply being ‘cute’ wasn’t enough. And even more importantly, Chris suspected that she might be a bit insane, and his dad had warned him to never date crazy.

After they finished eating, they dropped off their trays and left Crystal Hall, so they could head to their fourth period classes. However, almost as soon as they began walking through the Quad, Chris noticed some trouble a short distance away.

Unstoppable was a large boy and a well-known bully, who definitely looked the part. He was huge and muscular, especially from the waist up, but his upper body was noticeably larger than his lower, giving him the exaggerated proportions of a cartoon gorilla or thug. At the moment, he was towering over two little girls, who appeared to be about ten years old, who Chris recognized as Miranda and Ember, from Hawthorne. From the cruel smirk on Unstoppable’s face, he was having fun intimidating the girls.

“These are our cookies,” Ember exclaimed. “Amy made them for us…”

“And I think you need to share them,” Unstoppable said with a gruff laugh. “Give em here…”

“Not on my watch,” Chris stated as he puffed himself up. Someone had to help those girls, and he was the right person for the job.

“Not again, dude,” Jon said in warning. “If you keep this up, you’re gonna earn yourself a UV badge in no time… Let security deal with it.”

“That’s not gonna happen,” Chris responded, already starting to move forward. “I’m a hero, and this is my chance to prove it. Time to show everyone why I’m called Aegis.”

Chris put his game face on and went straight towards Unstoppable. The much larger boy turned to look at him with an almost bored expression.

“Oh, it’s you again,” Unstoppable said with a smirk that reminded Chris of how badly their last encounter had gone for him. However, Chris was never one to let a minor setback like that stop him. He just had to push forward even harder, and give it even more effort. There was absolutely no way he was going to back down or lose to a bully and future supervillain like this.

Chris snarled, “This time, you’re going down…”

Unstoppable immediately swung a fist at Chris, who saw it coming. Chris responded by immediately tensing up his power, so that it glowed a golden color, sure that he was tough enough to shrug off the hit. For a brief moment, Chris stood there with a smug confidence in his power, until his nose suddenly exploded in pain and blood.

Chris yelled in pain and collapsed to the ground, holding his broken nose. Blood gushed through his hand, while Unstoppable just laughed.

“Looks like you’re the one who went down,” Unstoppable said, right before giving Chris a swift kick in his ribs. Even with Chris’ powers protecting him, the kick still hurt, enough to make him fear that his ribs had been broken. “What a wuss…”

“You leave him alone,” one of the little girls demanded.

“Yeah, you big bully,” the other one added.

Suddenly, Unstoppable’s clothes burst into fire, making Chris’ mouth drop open in surprise. A moment later, the large boy shot up into the air, only to come crashing back down again, twenty yards away.

“We did it, we did it,” Miranda cried out.

Ember jumped up and down as she finished, “We saved him from the bully…”

Chris just gaped in shock, horror, and complete humiliation. The little girls he’d been trying to save, had just saved him instead. He’d been rescued by two girls, who couldn’t have been any older than ten. As much as his body hurt at that moment, that was nothing compared to the pain suffered by his pride.

“My reputation is ruined,” Chris whispered with a horribly sinking dread. “The Cape Squad will never take me now…” He closed his eyes for a moment, wondering if his day could possibly get any worse. Then, he opened his eyes and saw security.

--------------------

The Village, Monday late afternoon, Oct 29th, 2007

I was sitting in the Brown Moose Café, enjoying a delicious dinner of grilled salmon, asparagus, and potatoes au gratin. Rick and Dave, the proprietors of this fine establishment, had outdone themselves tonight. And with a nice glass of wine to go with a meal like that, I was currently a very satisfied Imp.

Sitting across from me was Maria Ricardo, my neighbor, fellow new teacher, and friend. Normally, as of late, she would have had her roommate Donna with her, but Donna had to work late, so tonight, it was just the two of us. Three, if you counted the psychic projection that appeared to be occupying a third seat at our table.

“So, how was your trip yesterday?” Louis asked me. He took a bite of his own dinner, which was just as much an illusion as that body.

“It was trippy,” I answered in an even tone.

I didn’t really feel comfortable sharing my personal business with Louis, or anyone else. Carson was one of the few people who knew where I’d gone yesterday, and the only one at school I’d told the real reason to. And then, the only reason I’d told her that much, was that she already knew my original identity, and I needed her to back me up in case I got in trouble.

Going back to Buffalo had been strange, and more than a little uncomfortable for me. Being there brought back memories and issues that I’d thought were long since buried and forgotten. I hadn’t been very happy, being forced to revisit those parts of my past, which were better left forgotten. So, as soon as I’d finished with my business, I’d rushed to the airport and returned to Whateley.

“You know how it is,” I said, cheerfully chatting away. “They begged me to come to the art forgery convention as a guest speaker, but when I arrived, someone was imp-ersonating me, and forging my signature on all their fake copies of my…duplicates.”

“So,” Louis said, “they forged your signature, on the forgeries of your forgeries.”

I grinned at that. “Exactly.”

Maria laughed at that. “That sounds completely and utterly ludicrous, which is why I’m tempted to actually believe it.”

“Nobody else pulls off ludicrous quite as well as Christine,” Louis said in agreement.

“I am an Imp of wonder and mystery,” I said. “And it is not wise to dig too deeply in the greatness that is the Imp.”

“You’re full of it,” Maria told me.

Louis just smiled and asked, “Any more words of wisdom, oh fabulous Imp?”

“Life is like a box of chocolates,” I stated in a sage tone. “Leave it out in the sun, and it becomes a gooey mess.”

“Yep,” Maria said. “You are definitely full of it.”

“Oh, Imp definitely has her surprises,” Louis told Maria. “If you go back far enough, I’m sure you’d be completely shocked at what you find…and so would Liz.”

I gave Louis a flat look and mused, “Lime jello is awesome. Do you have a favorite flavor?”

Louis made a show of zipping his mouth shut, though he started chuckling a few seconds later. “Well, ladies. As much as I’ve enjoyed the dinner conversation, I’m afraid that I have to get going. A couple children are playing a little too close to my pool for my comfort, so I need to make sure there are no accidents.”

“Later then,” I said.

“Adieu,” Louis responded, standing up, making a show of brushing off his clothes, and then giving a polite bow. A moment later, he was gone.

“Even after four years here as a student,” Maria commented. “That still amazes me, every time he does it.”

“This place is a madhouse,” I said in agreement, swishing my tail back and forth. “I like it.”

“You would,” Maria pointed out with a smirk.

I finished my dinner, then gestured to Dave. “I’m ready for dessert. I’ll have the tiramisu.”

Maria finished her own meal, then let out a sigh. “It’s hard to believe that Halloween is in only two days. It doesn’t feel like it should be time for it yet.”

I just smiled at that since Halloween was my favorite holiday. “Ah, trick or treating.” I rubbed my hands together gleefully and gave an evil chuckle. “Oh, this is gonna be so much fun.”

Maria shook her head. “I don’t know. After what happened last year, I can’t imagine everyone just forgetting about it…”

That made me give Maria a curious look. I knew that last year, the Syndicate had actually attacked Whateley on Halloween, which was a major no-no on almost every level. Since people had died, I was pretty sure that there had been some serious retaliation behind the scenes. After all, with people like Lord Paramount on the board of directors, they weren’t going to just sit by and take it. Not without returning the favor in spades.

Maria, apparently eager to change the topic to something less depressing, abruptly asked, “What are you going as to the Halloween party?”

I blinked at that, since I hadn’t even considered that, then grinned. “Why, I’m wearing the best costume ever. I’m going as the fabulous Imp.”

“Come on,” Maria urged me. “It’s Halloween. You HAVE to wear a costume.”

“I love Halloween,” I admitted, “but I haven’t worn a Halloween costume in thirty years. It’s the one day of the year when I can walk around as myself, and not worry about freaking out the muggles.”

Maria stared at me for several seconds, then pointed out, “Um… You walk around as yourself, every day…”

I blinked again, realizing that she was right. Living at Whateley Academy meant that I had been able to walk around in the open as myself, without having to wear a costume. Until now, that kind of thing had been a real special occasion, but now it had become almost common.

A grin slowly formed on my face, and my tail swished back and forth. “You have a point,” I admitted. “I just might have to get a costume after all…”

“So, what are you going to come as?” Maria asked me again.

I just grinned. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

It was about this time that I noticed Carson stepping into the café. Her gaze swept over the place, and then she immediately came towards my table.

“Christine. Maria,” she greeted us.

“Liz,” I responded with a nod. If she was going to be casual, I could be too. “You should try the salmon. It’s really good tonight.”

“I just might have to do that,” she responded. “But unfortunately, I’m here on business.

“Oh?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “What kind of business?”

Carson’s eyes went to Maria, then back to me. Maria immediately got the hint. “I’m done, so I’ll get going.” She nodded to me, “See you later, and I look forward to seeing your costume.”

Once Maria was gone, Carson sat down in an empty seat, the one that Louis had previously ‘occupied’. She set a folder down in front of herself and then looked me in the eyes.

“I’m afraid that I need to ask you to take on a special project,” Carson said.

“I’m listening,” I replied, curious about what she was up to.

If Carson wanted to assign me some work, it probably would have been easier to call me into her office. Instead, she comes to me while I’m having dinner. That meant, she wanted me in a good mood, to be more receptive.

“I have a problem student, who is quickly becoming more problematic,” Carson stated, sliding the folder over to me.

“Aegis,” I said, reading the name on the file. As I flipped through it, I asked, “Isn’t he that overzealous hero wannabe?”

Carson gave me a wry look. “I’m afraid so.”

“Okay,” I asked. “What does this have to do with me? He isn’t in any of my classes.”

“As you said,” Carson explained with a look of annoyance, “Aegis is overzealous. He keeps jumping into situations without looking, and getting in over his head. He’s only been at Whateley for two months, and he’s already been in more fights than most students get in during their entire four years. At the rate he’s been going, it’s likely that he won’t survive until graduation.”

“It sounds like he needs an ultraviolent band,” I observed.

“I’m considering it,” Carson admitted. “But some of the situations, like one from earlier today, happened without him making a single offensive move. Or defensive. He just stood there and let a much stronger boy punch him.” She shook her head at that.

I chuckled at that. “If you want to complain about a wannabe hero, I’m happy to listen,” I told her. “But I have a feeling that this isn’t why you’re here.”

“No, it isn’t,” Carson agreed. “When I see a problem, I prefer to find a solution, rather than just complain.”

“And I have a part in this solution, I take it.” I took a bite of my dessert, smiling in delight. “You’ve got to try this.”

“Maybe later,” Carson told me with a wry smile. “And yes, I do want you to play a part in the solution.”

She paused for a moment, looking like she was considering what she wanted to say, or at least, how to word it. I still wasn’t sure what Carson had in mind, but she was good at grabbing my curiosity.

Carson explained, “I have several problems when it comes to Aegis. The first is discipline, which I will take care of. Unfortunately, I can slap a UV band on him and give him detention until the end of the year, and I don’t think it will change his behavior. So, I also need to give him a better chance of surviving these encounters.”

“And that sounds like Mister Miyagi’s job,” I said.

“Aegis is taking basic martial arts,” Carson said. “But Tatsuo tells me that he refuses to learn. Whenever he gets into a fight, he seems to forget everything that he’s been taught, and simply charges right in without thinking. Tatsuo is going to try pounding the lessons into his head a little more firmly.”

“And my part?” I asked.

With that, Carson flipped the pages in the file, opening it to a section on Aegis’ power testing results. I read through the notes and realized what she wanted of me.

“I see,” I mused, not exactly happy at this revelation.

“I’m not going to order you to help with this,” Carson told me. “But I honestly believe that you may be this boy’s best chance at surviving until graduation.”

For a moment, I just stared at Carson, hardly able to believe what she was asking of me. Then, I let out a sigh and nodded my agreement. “Fine. Count me in.”

-------------------

Arena 91, Tuesday afternoon, Oct 30th, 2007

Aegis wasn’t a bad looking kid, being a little taller than average for non-exemplar boys his age, as well as noticeably athletic. His hair was bleached blonde and brushed straight up, in a manner that probably required a good amount of hair care product, and which made him look a little like some kind of frat boy douche.

Even though Aegis wasn’t in any of my classes, I was pretty familiar with the kid. I’d already heard a few stories from students and other faculty, about the kid who was so intent on playing hero, he kept charging in when it isn’t needed and getting in way over his head. He’d only been at Whateley for two months, and in that time, he’s developed a reputation for accusing GSD students of being monsters, badmouthing the Bad Seeds about their parents, and generally being a punk to anyone he thought of as a ‘future villain’.

From what I’d heard about Aegis, I had a bad feeling that he was on the path to become another ‘hero’ along the lines of T Rex, the Crimson Kid, or Jack Rabbit. The idea of helping him put a bad taste in my mouth, but the idea of just turning my back on a kid over what he ‘might’ do sometime in the future, was even worse.

The boy wasn’t exactly here because he wanted to be, but because Carson told him to come here, at this time, as part of his punishment. However, in spite of what Aegis might think, this was less about punishment than about helping him.

At the moment, Aegis had no idea that I was here, watching him from my hiding spot. He’d only arrived at the arena a couple minutes ago, where he’d been met by Gunny Bardue. Now, he was getting his briefing, as short as it was.

“Your mission is simple,” Bardue told Aegis. “A supervillain just stole the MacGuffin Gemstone, and your job it is to catch the villain and get it back. Any questions?” But before Aegis could ask any, Bardue continued, “Good. Now go get your ass in gear.”

With those words, I slipped away and hurried to get in position. A minute later, I was inside the arena, which was currently set up to look like a cityscape, and perched atop a building near the entrance. I wrapped a purple cape around myself, put on a hat, and simply waited.

A minute later, Aegis entered the arena play area, so I decided it was time to make my dramatic entrance. I stood up at the edge of the three story building, where he could easily see me, and loudly announced, “I am the terror that quacks in the night.”

“What?” Aegis exclaimed, staring up at me with a look of surprise and confusion.

“I am the popcorn kernel that gets caught between your teeth,” I added in a dramatic tone. Then, I flung my cape open and made a dramatic pose, finishing with, “I am Darkwing Imp.”

Aegis froze, staring up at me with his mouth agape for several long seconds. Then, he glared at me and exclaimed, “You’re that supervillain teacher…”

With a grin, I dropped the cape and hat, since those props were no longer necessary. “And you’re a Bart Simpson lookalike.”

“What?” Aegis gasped, reaching up to touch his hair a little self-consciously.

“Don’t have a cow, man,” I said with a laugh, which earned me another glare. Then, I grinned evilly as I held up a large red crystal the size of a baseball. This was the ‘MacGuffin Gemstone’ that Aegis had been tasked with recovering. And of course, I’d give one good guess as to who the supervillain was.

Aegis continued glaring at me for a few more seconds, with a look of fierce determination forming on his face. Then, he ran towards the fire escape on the side of the building and began scrambling up it as quickly as he could. I remained where I was, giving him time to reach the top.

“I’ve got you now,” Aegis announced in a cocky tone. He glanced around the rooftop, obviously thinking that I was trapped there. The poor naive kid. It looked like I was going to have to show him otherwise.

“Ay caramba,” I exclaimed in mock concern, before I flashed him a grin and ran. The look on his face when I leapt from this roof to the next one over, was priceless.

“You won’t get away from me,” Aegis exclaimed, sounding like so many heroes that I’d run into over the years, and all of them had been wrong too.

“Then come and get me, El Barto,” I called back with a smirk.

Aegis snarled and charged at me, leaping from the rooftop, much the way I had mere seconds earlier. However, his jump was far too short, and he fell down, smacked into the wall of the building I was standing on, and then he fell all the way to the ground.

“Oh, Bart fall down go boom,” I teased, sure that Aegis was all right. His PK shell would have absorbed most of the impact, though it probably wasn’t strong enough to protect him from everything. “Poor Bart.”

Aegis scrambled back to his feet, looking pissed. “You’re gonna pay for that…”

“Would you like Mastercard or Visa?” I asked. Then I held up the sparkly jewel. “I’ve got enough cash to go around…”

That only seemed to piss Aegis off even more, which had been my intention. He scrambled around, looking for a way to get up to me. This building didn’t have a fire escape, so he ended up going inside and using the stairs. I remained where I was, giving him a chance to catch up to me.

As soon as Aegis got to the roof, he charged straight at me. He threw a punch, which was slow and easy to dodge. He tried several more, but I kept skipping back and out of his way. Obviously, Carson was right. Once he got into a real fight, he forgot everything that Ito taught him, and simply relied on brute force. That kind of thing might have worked in his old school, where he was only going against other untrained baseline kids, and he was the strongest one there, but it wouldn’t work at Whateley. And in the real world, it would just get him killed.

“You’d better not lay a finger on my Butterfinger,” I taunted Aegis.

“You won’t get away with stealing that,” Aegis exclaimed, looking so serious that I had to laugh. It seemed that he’d gotten so caught up in our little game, that he forgot that this was just a prop. “You’re going to prison for a long time…”

“You sound like the Teletubbies,” I commented wryly. “Come on Bart, you can do better than that…”

With a broad grin, I stepped back to the roof ledge, waved at Aegis, and simply stepped off. I focused the energy in my PK aura to my legs, using it to absorb most of the impact, but I still rolled with it as well. Then, I looked back up and blew a raspberry to the furious Aegis.

To my surprise, Bart actually jumped off the roof, trying to follow my path down. However, he hit hard, rather than taking my smooth landing. I winced at the impact, pretty sure that he was going to have some serious bruises as a result. Well, it would serve him right, and might actually help him learn. I’d give him one thing though. The kid was persistent. If he was an exemplar, I’d probably think that he had Galahad Syndrome or something.

“You’re not gonna get the shiny back by laying down on the job,” I said.

Aegis slowly got back to his feet, giving me a look of hatred, as though it was my fault he’d jumped off the roof. Then, as I expected, he came charging at me again. This time, I turned and ran, letting him chase after me. I leapt over the hood of a parked car and then went down an alley, where I hopped a fence. Aegis followed after me, but his running method was slow and sloppy, so I actually had to slow down and let him catch up.

“I’ve got you now,” Aegis exclaimed, once I’d actually come to a stop.

“Really?” I asked with a smirk. “Are you sure about that?”

With that, I focused my aura around my tail, forming an invisible PK blade. Then, I snapped my tail around, slicing right through a light pole, which fell over, right towards Aegis.

Instead of jumping out of the way, Aegis tensed up and his PK shell began to glow with a golden blaze, right before the pole hit him. He took a pretty good hit from it, but didn’t go down. Instead, he started coming towards me. I hopped back, formed a pair of invisible PK claws from my fingers, and sliced open the side of a parked car, which caused him to pause and look at that damage with a worried expression.

“That doesn’t matter,” Aegis stated, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself than me. “Your claws can’t get through my PK shell…”

Aegis charged at me again, swinging his fist. I’d already played dodge with him, so this time I did something different. I focused all the energy of my aura into my hand…and simply caught his punch. It hurt my hand a little, but the look on his face was well worth it. Then, before Aegis could do anything else, I punched him, putting as much added oomph as I could into it. Aegis went flying back, though I knew his shell would have absorbed most of the impact, so he wouldn’t really have been hurt.

“You’re really gonna have to do better than that, Bart,” I said. Then, as he got back up, I announced, “Ninja vanish,” as I threw a smoke bomb at the ground and performed my vanishing trick.

“Where’d she go?” Aegis gasped in surprise.

“Over here,” I responded seconds later, as I came back into view right next to another building. “Come and catch me…if you can.”

With that, I quickly climbed the wall, while Aegis scrambled to come after me. He couldn’t take my path, so he ran around to the side and started using the fire escape. By the time he reached the top, I was ready to leap to the next building, leaving him to follow after me. This time, the distance was a lot shorter, so Aegis made the leap. I continued running, going through the open door, and down into the building. Aegis followed, and a couple minutes later, we both emerged again at street level.

“Get back here and fight me,” Aegis demanded.

“Why in the world would I do that?” I called back.

A minute later, I ran into a large construction site, which offered me a lot of potential. Aegis came after me, of course, which was what I’d intended from the start. There were lots of obstacles, which I easily danced around, though the hero wannabe had a much harder time. Then, I decided that it was time to have some more fun, so slipped out of the kid’s sight.

“Where are you?” Aegis demanded, his voice radiating the frustration.

Since Aegis was close enough to where I was hiding, I didn’t bother giving him a clue. A couple seconds later, he turned the corner and saw me. I was standing out in the open, wearing a top hat and holding a stick cane.

Aegis paused to look at me in confusion. “What the…?”

Seeing my cue, I immediately began dancing, while loudly singing, “Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal…”

For a moment, Aegis just stood there with his mouth open, looking stunned and confused. “What are you doing?”

I stopped my routine and stared at Aegis in horror. “Don’t you know a classic when you see it? Pfffft. Education today. I guess since I’m a teacher, it’s my job to correct that oversight.”

With a snort of disgust, I tossed the cane and top hat aside, then continued running through the construction site. Aegis immediately came after me, once again yelling for me to stop and face him. I just laughed at that.

“Eat my shorts,” I called back, then mused aloud, “When I’m done here, I think I’ll go hit up Moe’s Tavern for a drink.”

Suddenly, I heard a yell from behind me, followed by a crashing sound. I turned around and saw that Aegis was no longer on my tail. However, what I did see, was a large hole that had been dug, and which I’d easily crossed via a heavy beam that was laid across it. Screams and profanities could be heard, coming from the bottom of the hole.

“Ooops,” I said with a smirk. “It looks like someone lost their balance and fell…” I moved closer, then bent over to look down into the hole. Aegis was at the bottom, appearing to be embarrassed and angry, but otherwise unhurt. Of course, this provided another opportunity for taunting, which I just couldn’t ignore. In a childish tone, I announced, “Bart go down the hoooole.”

Aegis snarled and tried to leap out of the hole, but it was too deep for that. “When I get out of here,” he called out angrily.

“Well, Bart, you’d better hurry then,” I called back. “Time is ticking.”

Aegis continued trying to get himself out of the hole, but it didn’t do much good. If he’d been able to climb a sheer wall the way I did, then he would have been able to get out without any problem. But he couldn’t, so he didn’t.

I stood back and waited to see what Aegis would do, and after a couple minutes, a bell rang out, announcing that time had run out and that this game was over. That was fine with me, because I’d accomplished my purpose, and saw what I needed to. Taking pity on Aegis, I tossed him a rope so he could climb out, then I turned and left the training area.

A short time later, Aegis was standing in front of Bardue, getting debriefed on his performance. I was in the next room, out of sight but listening in. Bardue ripped into the boy, using words like ‘lackluster’ and even ‘incompetent.’ I nodded along in complete agreement on nearly every point.

“You used your powers in only the most straight-forward and brute force way possible,” Bardue told him. “After watching that piss poor showing, I’d swear that you didn’t even know how to use your own powers at all.”

Aegis bowed his head in shame, then awkwardly said, “Mrs. Carson said that you’d teach me how to use my powers better…”

Bardue snorted at that. “I’m afraid that there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding, Aegis. I’m not going to be your tutor. SHE is…”

With that cue, I stepped into the room. Bardue was gesturing towards the doorway, with a barely concealed look of amusement. Aegis stared at me with a look of shock and horror, which made this whole thing well worth the effort.

“But she’s a SUPERVILLAIN,” Aegis blurted out, glaring at me as though I’d just kicked his dog, or like I’d just spent the last half hour mocking and humiliating him.

“The Imp is a teacher,” Bardue responded gruffly. “One with a lot of experience, and who has agreed to take time out of her own busy schedule, in order to tutor you on how to use your powers more effectively.”

I casually tossed Aegis the shiny crystal that I’d been using as a prop, while looking him over. The truth was, I was less than impressed by any aspect of his performance. Aegis had the kind of reputation, which made me think that if he somehow survived until graduation, he would go on to become the kind of ego-driven hero I despised. After seeing him in action, I was even more certain of it.

“So, you want to become a hero,” I said, perhaps letting a little too much of my contempt slip into my voice. “You’re not off to a very good start.”

“What would YOU know about heroes?” Aegis demanded, glaring at me as though he wanted to take a punch.

“A lot more than you,” I answered. “I’ve been in the business for a long time, and I’ve met countless so-called heroes, and only a handful of them were really worth a damn.”

Aegis snarled, looking even more furious. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he spat out. “You don’t know ANYTHING about being a hero.”

“Don’t I?” I responded, looking the kid right in the eyes and making him squirm. “I’m the one who has to deal with every overblown ego and vengeful psychotic, who thinks that putting on a cape and calling himself a hero, actually makes him one. I’m the one who sees what these ‘heroes’ do when the cameras are off and nobody is watching them.”

“Imp,” Bardue started, but I gestured for him to keep out of it, so he nodded faintly and stepped back.

I moved a little closer to Aegis, still looking him straight in the eye. “I’m the one who saw a hero murder two innocent people, then frame someone else, and get him executed for the crime. I’m the one who saw a hero kidnap children, mind control them, and then send them off to die as cannon fodder. I’m the one who saw a hero recover the money from a bank robber, and then tell everyone that the thief got away with the loot. I’m the one who watched a hero attack criminals and mug them in the street, time and time again, while all the other heroes looked the other way.”

“You’re lying,” Aegis exclaimed angrily. “You’re just making that up.”

“And I’m the one,” I finished in a cold tone, “who was there when a so called hero, attacked a pregnant woman from behind, beat her half to death, and then tried to kill her.”

Aegis gasped at that, and I saw anger on his face, along with shock at my words. I wasn’t sure if he was really listening or not, but at that moment, I didn’t really care. I was on my soap box and ready to rant.

“A lot of people become heroes for the wrong reasons,” I stated in a cold tone. “Because they want fame and glory. Because they want to show off how strong or powerful they are. Because they’ve got a lot of anger and other issues, and they want to take it out on other people legally. And then, very rarely, you get one who’s in it because they legitimately just want to help people. I’ve seen more than my share of each of them, up close and personal.”

I paused at that to stare at Aegis. From his attitude, his lack of skill, and the way he simply charged in without looking or thinking, someday, he was going to get someone killed. If he was lucky, it would only be him.

“My job isn’t to tell you to be a hero or a villain,” I continued, easing my tone a bit. “That’s the kind of decision that you have to make for yourself. My job is to help you learn how to use your powers, so you don’t get yourself killed while doing it.”

“I AM going to be a hero,” Aegis stated defiantly, almost as though arguing with me.

“If I’m going to help someone become a hero,” I said, still looking Aegis straight in the eyes. “I want it to be the kind of hero I can be proud to have taught. When you go home, I want you to ask yourself why you want to be a hero. I want you to think about what kind of hero you really want to be. You don’t have to tell me, or anyone else what you decide, but I want you to think about it.”

“How come you’re the one who’s supposed to tutor me?” Aegis demanded, challenging me with the suggestion that there were more qualified people. I ignored the question.

“I can help you with your powers,” I stated, as though it was a simple fact. “I can help you learn to use them to their full potential, and in ways that you probably never considered. However, I’m not going to waste my time with someone who doesn’t want to learn, or who refuses to listen to me.” I looked Aegis in the eyes again. “If you want my help, and if you’re willing to learn from me, then come to my classroom Thursday after classes.”

Aegis stared at me with a defiant expression, though I saw flicks of nervousness. “Which classroom?”

Obviously, Aegis had heard about my special topics classroom. “My main one,” I answered. “My art classroom.”

A moment later, I turned and walked out of the room, not bothering to look back at Aegis. I was pretty sure that this was the last time I’d see him.

--------------------

Whateley Academy, Wednesday afternoon, Oct 31st, 2007

Halloween was my favorite holiday, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who actually knew me. It was a day of mystery and spooks, of tricks and treats, and of costumes and disguises.

At a school like Whateley, which was filled with devisors, magic users, and people with other powers, the classic elements of Halloween had the opportunity to be taken to the next level. I was bursting with excitement as I arrived at the campus party, eager to see what thrills and amusements awaited.

A couple students saw me, stared for a moment, and then began to snicker. I just grinned and waved, basking in their admiration for my costume. Or at least, their appreciation of the irony.

I saw a couple of familiar and friendly faces, so made my way over to join them. Louis was wearing a Star Fleet uniform, from the Next Generation, and he was talking to Lillian Dennon, who was dressed as the Queen of Hearts.

“Off with his head,” Dennon said, holding up a wicked looking battle axe. I hadn’t heard any of the conversation before this, so I didn’t know who she was referring to.

“Greetings and salutations,” I greeted my fellow teachers, and in Dennon’s case, she was also a former member of the black hat club.

Louis stared at me for a moment, then burst out laughing. “That costume is quite…fetching.”

Dennon gave me a look of amusement. “And ironic.”

“You think so?” I asked, posing a little.

I was currently wearing a flowing white dress, along with a pair of white feather wings and a halo, which I’d ‘borrowed’ from the theater departments prop room. My being dressed as an angel definitely went against my usual reputation, and may not have had the full effect since my horns and tail were still showing.

“Coming dressed as a devil would have been too easy,” I said cheerfully. “Besides, my pitch fork was a little slow in getting here…”

“Somehow, I suspect you already have a couple more,” Louis commented.

“True,” I agreed.

Dennon shook her head, and commented, “I remember that pitch fork you used to carry around on your jobs…”

“It looked pretty cool,” I responded with a grin. “And it made a great weapon. But it was hard squeezing through ventilation shafts with that thing. Trust me, it didn’t last long.”

“An angel,” Dennon said with a chuckle. “I can almost imagine the look on Roland’s face when he sees you…”

I grinned at that. “Actually, I’m dressed as shoulder angels, but I couldn’t decide whether to be the devil or angel, so I came as both.”

“Don’t mention shoulder angels around Liz,” Louis told me with a chuckle. “Somehow, I don’t think she’d appreciate the reference.”

“Actually,” I admitted, “I’d considered coming as Lady Astarte, but somehow, I don’t think our esteemed boss would have found that funny, and I do want to eventually get a raise.”

Louis burst out laughing. “She might have found it more amusing than you’d think.”

I looked around, taking in the sights, and appreciating the costumes that some of the kids came up with. Some of them were pretty impressive, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the kid dressed as Gandalf, could really throw fireballs.

Then, I suddenly caught sight of a girl who was wearing a black and red catsuit. She had black horns on her head, which were probably just plastic props, along with a black devil tail popping out of her backside.

“Is that girl dressed as you?” Dennon asked in surprise.

My first thought was that it had to be Melissa, wearing a dark wig, since she’d done something similar the first time I ever met her. However, a second glance revealed that this wasn’t Melissa, but another girl I recognized from one of my classes.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Louis told me with a broad grin and a laugh.

“Imp-oster,” I called out. “Imp-ersonator…”

The girl was dressed as me, turned and gave me a self-conscious look, until I winked at her. Then, the girl grinned broadly and ran off with her friends.

“Well, that was a surprise,” I commented.

A few seconds later, I noticed a group of kids walking towards the stage with some instruments in hand. They were rather noticeable, since almost all of them had severe GSD. And of course, one of their members was Dino, one of my most amusing students.

“This should be interesting,” I mused, as the group known as Outcast Corner began to play.

Their music was wild, loud, and energetic, which seemed to suit them perfectly. I watched in fascination as a dinosaur went at it on the guitar, completely shredding it…in the musical way.

“They’re good,” I commented.

Louis nodded agreement. “They like to practice beneath Hawthorne, so I get to hear them quite often.”

The band was about two songs in, when a couple of my favorite students started walking towards me. I immediately recognized Monkeywrench and Melissa, both of whom I’d been keeping an eye out for.

“Hey,” Monkeywrench exclaimed waving to me for my attention as they came over.

Monkeywrench was currently wearing a red baseball cap, along with a red shirt that had a yellow star on it. I wasn’t really into video games, but I still recognized his costume.

“Diddy Kong,” I greeted Monkeywrench with a grin. “Where’s Donkey Kong?”

The boy grinned broadly, obviously pleased that I’d recognized his costume. “He’s back home, passing out bananas to all the trick or treaters.”

Then, I turned my attention to Melissa, who was wearing old-fashioned clothes, including a poodle shirt, that made her look like she’d just come from a sock hop. However, not only were the clothes all white, and glowing just a little, but so was she. She’d covered her hair and skin with some kind of glow in the dark paint.

“I’m a ghost,” Melissa announced proudly. “Wanna see me walk through things or vanish, because I can do it?”

I laughed at that. “Good way of including your powers into a costume.”

“Isn’t it awesome?” Melissa asked, twirling around. “Trixie gave me the makeup, and paint that glows in the dark, and looks really cool…”

“It looks great,” I assured her, suddenly having an idea of what I could do with that stuff. I just imagined Melissa running around Manhattan, in the middle of the night, scaring everyone who saw her and thought she was a real ghost. I burst out laughing, which earned me a couple odd looks. “I just had a great idea for a prank…”

Melissa’s eyes went wide in eager anticipation, while Dennon gave me a worried look. “Somehow, I suspect it will only lead to trouble.”

“Probably,” I agreed with an evil grin and a swish of my tail, neither of which probably went well with my costume. “But that’s half the fun.”

After this, I excused myself from Louis and Dennon, and began wandering around, just to check out all the costumes. Some of them were really amazing, and impressed me with what these kids could pull off. But on the other hand, some were just plain lame.

I saw Barney a short distance away, though fortunately, he hadn’t noticed me. At the moment, he was dressed in the blue and gold uniform of the old US Cavalry. I suddenly hoped that he’d go mess with Charlie Lodgeman, Billy Two Knives, or those kids in the Nations, and pull a General Custer.

“Is it so wrong to wish another teacher to be scalped?” I quietly asked myself.

It wasn’t long after this that I saw the second person who’d come to the party dressed as me. She wore a black and red catsuit, identical to my own, which included the belt full of pouches. And to my amusement, she even had fake horns and a tail. However, what really surprised me, was that this was Elizabeth Carson.

I quickly made my way to Carson and announced, “You look absolutely fabulous.” I flashed her a grin.

“Thank you,” Carson responded wryly. I was pretty sure that she was a bit self-conscious, but she was covering it up well. Then, as an explanation, she said, “I lost a wager.”

“Really?” I asked with a grin, wishing that I had worn the Lady Astarte costume after all, because that would have been hilarious. “What kind of wager was this?”

“Merely one on how the Intelligence Cadet Corps would react in a certain situation,” Louis commented with a grin as he came over to join us. “The terms were, that the winner got to decide what Halloween costume the loser would wear, within certain limits.”

I raised an eyebrow at that. I’d heard that when I was dealing with the Teletubbies, that some of the faculty were making bets on how things went. I wouldn’t have thought that Carson would be one of those betting, at least not without being sure of victory.

“Then, it looks like you’re the real winner,” I told Carson with a chuckle. “You get the honor of dressing like me.”

“I won’t forget this,” Carson told Louis, who merely smiled.

“Well, I certainly hope that you don’t,” he responded.

As I looked Carson over again, I began to smirk, imagining how Barney would react to the sight. My tail twitched at that, and I began to grin more broadly, remembering where I’d last seen Barney. This was definitely promising to be a fun Halloween.

--------------------

Whateley Academy, Thursday afternoon, Nov 1st, 2007

I was in my classroom, staring at Melissa, and trying hard not to laugh. The glow in the dark paint that she’d used last night for her costume, was still covering her skin and hair, though admittedly, there was a lot less of it. Still, enough remained that it was quite noticeable.

“It won’t come off,” Melissa complained, pouting a little as she stared at the back of her hand, which still glowed a little. “I took, like, four showers already…”

“Well,” I responded with a faint smile of amusement, “you should have known better than to get your skin paint from someone who has been pranking you since school started.”

Melissa continued pouting, but she nodded agreement. “So, what am I gonna do?”

“The paint is definitely a lot lighter than last night,” I mused, looking Melissa over again, and a lot of it has come off. I figure, give it a day or two, and the rest will come off too…”

“But until then, I look like a night light,” Melissa grumbled.

“Or a glow stick,” I added with a chuckle. “If nothing else, you’re all set to go to a rave…”

“REVENGE,” Melissa abruptly exclaimed. “I need to get revenge on Trixie…”

“Well, of course you do,” I responded, since that was obvious. A prank of this caliber demanded an appropriate response. In fact, failing to respond could be seen as an act of surrender, or as an insult, depending on the circumstances and the prankster. Considering the two girls involved, it could go either way.

Melissa had stopped pouting, and was now bouncing with energy and excitement. Sometimes, I wondered at the girl’s rapid changes of mood. “I’ll get even with her,” Melissa exclaimed. “I will have my revenge…”

“That’s the spirit,” I encouraged her. “But remember, be careful of what you do unless you want to seriously escalate the situation, and be careful not to do anything that will make the faculty get involved.”

“Do you have any ideas?” Melissa asked me.

“Lots of them,” I assured her. “But this is something you’ll need to figure out on your own. If you want to bounce ideas off me, I’ll help you with that, but it has to be YOUR revenge, not mine.”

Melissa nodded emphatically, and I could see from the gleam in her eyes that she already had an idea. I was eager to hear what it was, and to see the results.

Before Melissa could tell me what she was thinking, my classroom door opened and another student walked in. Since classes were over for the day, I didn’t get a lot of students coming to see me, but there were often one or two with questions about their projects, or who just wanted to chat. However, when I looked up, I was startled to realize that this one was Aegis.

“Well, I’ll be,” I muttered in surprise, because I’d been sure that Aegis wouldn’t show up.

Aegis stood inside the classroom, looking self-conscious and a bit nervous. He glanced around my classroom, as though not sure what to expect. I supposed that made sense, since he wasn’t in any of my classes, and this was probably the first time he’d been here. I gestured for him to come in, then turned my attention back to Melissa.

“Well, I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes,” I told her. “But for now, I’m afraid that I have an appointment.”

Melissa nodded at that. “Okay. Thank you. See you tomorrow…” Then, she turned, gave Aegis a curious look, and then hurried out of my room.

“Come on in,” I told Aegis with a grin. “I don’t bite. Often.”

“I’m here,” he said unnecessarily.

“I see that,” I replied, giving him a curious look. “Honestly, I didn’t expect you to show up.”

Aegis squirmed uncomfortably as he admitted, “I almost didn’t.”

“Then what changed your mind?” I asked.

There was a long paused before Aegis answered. “I’m tired of always losing…of being humiliated.” He spat the last out with sharp bitterness.

Carson had told me about Aegis’ fight on Monday, if it could even be called a fight. From what I’d heard, it would more accurately have been called an ass-kicking, from which he was rescued by a couple little girls. That would definitely have to be humiliating, and was probably hitting a new low, even for Aegis. It was no wonder he was desperate enough to come to me for help.

“Then I can help you with that,” I said. With that, I went over and locked my classroom door, explaining, “So we don’t get interrupted.”

Aegis nodded at that, still giving me a wary look. “Now what?”

“The first thing we do,” I explained in a cheerful tone, “is review your placement test.”

“Placement test?” Aegis asked in confusion. “What placement test?”

“The one you took the other day,” I responded with a smirk. “What did you think that whole thing in the arena was all about? I wanted to see you in action, and find out exactly how you used your powers.”

Aegis just stared at me in surprise, as though he’d never considered the reasons for why he’d been sent to the arena. Did he think that I’d called him there, just to mock and humiliate him? Well, that did sound like something I might do, but there were more practical reasons at the same time.

“Whenever you used your powers,” I said, looking Aegis straight in the eyes, “you only used them in the most straight-forward and brute force method possible. When you attacked me, you just threw some punches. When you defended… Well, when I dropped the light pole on you, you didn’t even step to the side. You just stood there and let it hit you…”

“So, you’re going to teach me how to fight better?” Aegis asked, looking a little confused.

With a shake of my head, I corrected him. “Ito will teach you how to fight. I’m here to help you learn how to use your powers to their full potential. Sometimes that will help your offense or defense, and sometimes not.”

“I already know how to use my powers,” Aegis protested defiantly, but the fact that he’d come today, was proof that he already knew otherwise, at least on some level.

“Do you have your MID on you?” I asked.

Aegis hesitated before holding it out for me to look at. It said he was a PK 3 and a Regen 3. I already knew what he’d been rated, since I’d seen his power testing results.

“You are a PK 3,” I told Aegis, pointing to his MID. “This means that you have a PK shell, just strong enough to make you a light brick, but not a very strong one. To put it in terms that you might understand, you charge into a fight like you’re the Hulk…like you’re the biggest and strongest one there. But you aren’t. You keep overestimating just how strong your powers are. With your powers, you should be fighting more like Spider Man. You should use your shell to help deflect hits and shrapnel, not rely on it to make you invulnerable.”

“What do you know about my powers?” he grumbled defensively.

“Quite a bit, actually,” I answered. “I’ve seen your power testing results. You’re only a PK 3, but your tests indicate that your shell is a lot more flexible than most PK’s shells. You should be able to do a lot more with it than just make yourself strong and tough the way you have been.”

I stared at Aegis for several seconds, but I saw that he still didn’t get it. I let out a faint sigh, then considered how I could get through to him. Melissa was pretty ADHD most of the time, and I had to be flexible to get through to her. And if I could do that, I should be able to reach Aegis too.

“You saw me in action,” I said, looking Aegis in the eyes. “What are my powers?”

Aegis blinked at that, obviously startled by the sudden change of direction. “I don’t know,” he answered after a couple seconds. “You have a lot of different ones… You’re really strong, and tough, and can climb walls. Your claws are really sharp, and so is your tail. And you can teleport.”

I grinned at that, since I always got a kick out of it when people thought I could teleport. Then, I turned serious and said, “I’ve been in the business for a long time, and heroes are always trying to guess my powers…and guessing wrong. You see, I don’t brag about what my powers are. If you go into a fight, bragging about what you can do, you might as well be telling them your weaknesses too. It’s better to keep your enemies guessing, so they don’t know how to really respond to you.”

“Okay,” Aegis said, looking even more confused by this.

“I’ve never come out and told anyone exactly how my powers work,” I continued, “because if I did that, they’d know how to beat me. And in my old career, that could get me killed. In fact, I still have a lot of enemies on both sides of the business, so that knowledge is still very dangerous. I want you to know that, so you understand why I’m asking you to keep it to yourself.”

“What?” Aegis asked, giving me another look of surprise.

With that, I set my own MID down on the desk in front of Aegis. It wasn’t actually a real MID, since I didn’t trust the MCO or the DPA with my information. Instead, I’d made up a number of forgeries, which listed me as having a variety of different powers, for misdirection purposes. My various MID cards listed me as a mage, devisor, avatar, and I even had a couple that listed me as a baseline imbued or power gem user. However, the one I’d just set down was unique in that it was actually accurate.

“PK 3 and Regen 4,” Aegis read it off in surprise. It probably would have been more accurate to say that I was a low level PK 3, and a low level Regen 4, but this was close enough to get my point across. “That’s almost the same as mine…”

“And THAT is why I was asked to tutor you,” I explained. “Everything you saw me do in the arena, was simply different applications of my PK power… You see, I am undoubtedly the most qualified person in this school, when it comes to teaching you how to use your powers more effectively.”

Aegis just stared at me with his mouth open in a look of stunned disbelief. Maybe he was shocked to learn that my powers were so similar to his own, or perhaps because I’d actually told him what they were. I really hadn’t wanted to do that, but I’d agreed to teach Aegis, and this was the only way I could get through to him that I knew what I was talking about. I just hoped that I hadn’t made a serious mistake in the process.

“I am a PK,” I explained, “but I don’t really have a PK shell. Mine is more of a PK aura instead. It isn’t as solid and stable as a shell, so I can’t really do the brick thing, but it is a lot more flexible, which lets me do a lot of other things that most PKs can’t. You do have a shell, but it’s a very flexible one, so you should be able to learn how to do a lot of my tricks.”

“But how?” Aegis asked, looking confused again. “Everyone knows that being a PK just means that you’re strong and tough, and if you’re lucky, you can fly…”

“Those are the most standard applications,” I agreed, “but a lot of people with shells, can learn to do other things with them too…like filter out poisons, psychokinetically hold onto objects or walls, spread it out to cover their clothes or weapons, or even harden it into PK weapons like claws or blades.”

With that, I picked an apple off the corner of my desk and formed some invisible PK claws, and used one to slice the apple in half. Aegis’ eyes widened in amazement at that, especially as I continued slicing through the apple, where my clawed nail didn’t even actually touch it.

“I’m not especially powerful,” I admitted, “but what I lack in power, I make up in versatility. I don’t have a real shell, but I can do almost all those little extra tricks that other PKs can do.”

“And you think I can learn how to do that too?” Aegis asked, gesturing to the apple.

I popped one of the apple slices into my mouth, nodding as I did so. Once I finished swallowing, I said, “Probably. From what I’ve seen of your testing results, your shell isn’t as flexible as my aura, so you probably won’t be able to do everything I can. However, you should be able to learn a few of my tricks, which will give you a lot more options, besides just punch and get punched.”

“No way,” Aegis gasped, suddenly looking excited and eager to learn.

“It took me a long time to really master my powers and what I could do with them,” I told Aegis, so he didn’t get his hopes up and expect too much. “And it took a lot of trial and error, since I had to figure them out on my own. Lucky for you, you actually get someone to help with that.”

“So, what now?” Aegis asked.

For a moment, I just stood there staring at Aegis, remembering all my concerns. However, it was too late to be dwelling over them now. I’d already told him about my powers and made it all official. Aegis was now my student…and my problem. If I was lucky, I might be able to keep him from becoming the next T Rex or Crimson Kid. If I could do that, then dealing with this overzealous hero wannabe, would be well worth it.

“First,” I answered, “we’ll do some exercises to see how much control you currently have over your shell, then we’ll work on expanding that control and seeing what you can do with it…”



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