The window shattered on impact. He heard the sound of wood splintering all around him. His vision blurred as he fought off unconsciousness. Slowly, stumbling, he rose. His head hurt, luckily his helmet straps had held, otherwise Jeremiah was pretty sure he wouldn’t still be among the living. He nearly slipped as he tried to walk through the splintered remains of a table and chairs. The room was tilted, decorated in forest greens and earthy tones. The smell of roasting java beans permeated his iron helmet. Realization came to him.
The bastard had thrown a Starbucks at him.
Slowly, half crawling he made his way out of the franchise turned projectile. It’d have been easier to just ignite the twin jets of his rocket pack and fly out of the uprooted coffee shop, but with so much of its contents turned into kindling after its abbreviated flight he couldn’t risk igniting the wood. After all, he couldn’t very well risk burning down half the city he was trying to save. Painstakingly he withdrew himself from the wreckage. The tint of his helmets “eyes” painted everything in dull shades of blue and gray creating a surrealist take on a destroyed suburb. A hundred or so yards away, near the craters edge where the Starbucks once stood, was the man who hit him with a coffee shop. A hulking brute, fourteen feet tall, wide as a Volkswagen, and ugly as sin.
He called himself Collateral Damage and he took pride in destruction. He wasn’t alone however, and inch by inch the giant was being driven back by two costumed warriors attacking him with a flurry of blows.
Darting around his titan frame was a women as lithe as he was large. Clad in a black body suit and flowing cape she struck at him with a fencer’s grace. Alongside her was a youth wearing a beaked mask and alabaster robes. Where she was graceful, striking at exposed areas with extreme speed, he was thoughtful landing powerful kicks and punches where they would do the most damage. Despite the pressure they were putting on Collateral, their attacks seemed to do little more than piss him off. The pair was known as Blackbird and Crane Kick, a hero/sidekick duo who typically operated in the area downtown near the boardwalk and took their name from a none too clever newscast from the start of their career as vigilantes.
Launching into the air Jeremiah decided he must have blacked out, if only for a moment. He had been the first “mask” to respond to Collateral’s rampage. Having by luck or coincidence to be flying above the current battleground. Prior to being nearly crushed, he’d been fighting the hulking brute alone. Staying out of reach with his rocket pack and plinking away with his revolver. It was never a fight he could win himself, truly “super beings” were just out of his league. Still, the fact that he needed saving was irritating.
Unable to fire his trusty revolver into the combat without risking the life of Crane or Blackbird, Jeremiah was forced to adopt a holding pattern as he looked for an opening. The costumed vigilantes below had yet to score any serious damage on their foe but they were keeping him occupied.
Perhaps if I…., Before he could finish the thought Collateral Damage scored a lucky hit. A devastating open palm slap across the chest of Crane Kick sent the teenage hero flying across the street. Reacting with practiced speed Blackbird reached into her utility belt and released a swarm of her trademark “Homing Birds”, designer flash bangs which would fly to an enemy’s eye level before detonating, a half dozen of the miniature explosive detonated just inches from the giants face.
Releasing a scream of, quite literally, blind rage. Collateral lashed out at the acrobatic heroine. The titanic villains clumsy attacks seemed moot in the face of Blackbird’s graceful movements. The grueling life of an gymnastic gold medalist provided her with the skills necessary to dodge the club like swings of her opponents massive arms and for every one of his missed attacks she countered with a powerful kick or viper-fast punch. With all of Collateral’s attention turned towards the heroine, Jeremiah saw opening and took it quickly cutting his jets so that he could land on his targets back. Wrapping both arms around the stump like neck, Jeremiah found himself desperately holding on for dear life while trying to apply enough pressure to cut Collateral’s blood flow. ….So maybe a sleeper hold isn’t the most heroic way to end this but at this point I’ll take anything…he thought to himself, clenching his arms as tightly as he could.
“Skye Raider!”, Blackbird called out to him as she dodged a meaty fist. “I was starting to think Lurch had put you out of commission for good.”
“Hardly, BeeBee. I just forgot to tip my barista.” The grill of his helmet, plus Collateral’s wailing made him worry she hadn’t heard his witticism, but after an impressive back flip to dodge another clumsy swipe she laughed.
“Well, as long as it was just the tip I-…” Before she could finish her reply Collateral’s titanic foot came down hard. Tumbling to the left she managed to avoid the blow, only for his heel to pin her cape to the ground. With surprising speed for his bulk Collateral’s left arm shot out with a devastating backhand. His fist, larger than a cinder block and twice as hard, connected across her jaw line.
A wet “thwack” rang out. Blackbirds head lolled to the side, adopting an impossible angle as her body collapsed. Stunned, Jeremiah barely registered the anguished screams of the distant Crane Kick. Concentration lapsing at the death of his fellow hero he inadvertently loosened his grip. It was all the opening his opponent needed. Reaching a massive hand behind him and grabbing onto the jetpack he yanked Jeremiah off and tossed him down the street in one motion. The rocket powered hero bouncing and skipping off the pavement like a smooth stone on water.
…Where the fuck are the actual supers…He thought as he tried to rise. Nothing felt broken, but if he was in shock nothing would, would it? He felt more than actually was aware of a presence by his side.
“Skye Raider! Are you okay?” A voice. Young. Shaky. A face leaned into view, a white and red beak leaned in. If not for the his helmet it may have very well poked out his eye.
“Oh thank god. I thought he had K-…Like Sandr…I mean- Blackbird she’s…she’s…” The kid was cracked. Jeremiah had seen it before. It’s easy to play at being a hero, chasing bad guys and stopping purse snatchers. He’d heard Captain Thunder once say it was the end of all ‘masks’, a derogatory term for heroes without actual ‘super powers’, eventually they’d come across something they couldn’t handle and the house of cards would come down. He didn’t doubt it was the truth. He’d seen his share of horrifying shit in his day, but he’d be damned if an up jumped bully would be what pushed him over that edge. Every inch of his body hurt, and he struggled to rise.
…Get up Jer, get up…
The voice was distant, removed. A thing from the past. Aida, his fiance long dead but still with him. Mentally, he knew she wasn’t there but the thought of her calling out to him, cheering him on was enough. Slowly, legs shaking, he rose. Down the street he could see that Collateral Damage had lost interest in what was already a finished fight and was knuckle dragging his way towards down town as fast as he could.
“Help.” He rasped. The grill of helmet made the word sound hostile. Crane shrank back a little.
“…what?” Crane asked, clearly struggling with the death of his mentor. “I…” Stopping the youth before he risked losing him to shock he repeated himself. Doing his best to sound supportive.
“Crane, go. Get. Help. Someone, anyone. We need…” He hated to say it. “We need a Supe…don’t you have a car or invisible jet or something?”
“What…no. The..The Birdcage is near. I…I could use the communicator….I could…I could reach the Freedom League! Captain Thunder he could…he could take down Collateral.”
Jeremiah winced. It was hard to tell if it was from his current injuries or an old scar on his pride. He’d be “saved” by the Freedom League before and had yet lived it down, especially as he hadn’t needed help at the time, but they’d been quick to mention it and make “offer him a place amongst their ranks.” As if he needed bureaucracy to do what was right.
“Then go” As he spoke Jeremiah slowly reloaded his pistol. More than likely the rounds would ricochet off Collateral’s hardened skin but maybe he’d get lucky.
“But…what will you do?”
The familiar heat of his idling rocket packs cascaded down his lower back and legs.
“Don’t worry about me. Just…get help.” Before Crane Kick could reply he ignited his rockets. The explosive force launched him into the sky and soon Jeremiah was racing down the street. He only hoped he could keep the bastards attention long enough for the cavalry to arrive.
Downtown was saved. The Fens? The Fens where fucked.
Unable to prevent Collateral from advancing towards the city Jeremiah instead attempted to redirect the brute and while his pistol rounds never caused serious injury it was clear from the yells that they still hurt like a bitch. Always hovering just out of reach and then darting off he kept the monster on his heels while leading him away from the most populated areas of the city. Unfortunately. That happened to be the Fens.
Perhaps the seediest part of Freedom City the Fens was the closest the normally conservative city had to a red light district. Decades ago the whole area had been an uninhabitable salt marshes, used by bootleggers and mobsters to hide illegal liquor and bodies. Eventually, civil works drained the swamps and paved over the sticky red clay mud as the city grew ever larger. However, while the environmental aspects of the area became more pleasant the area was still known for “sucking people in”. Strip clubs, illegal gambling, Asian massage parlors, XXX Theaters, and run down dive bars dominated the area. Few people chose to live in the fens, and those that did tended to be scraping to get by with what little they had. Pimps and perverts might bemoan any damage done, and people’s lives might still be at risk, it was a safer alternative than Collateral Damage rampaging like a bull through the shopping center of the city.
“Come on…come on. Ah, Can’t catch me.” Jeremiah taunted as he fired his rocket pack again. His pistol was dry. If he could get some respite he’d attempt to load it, but preventing the big bastard from completely leveling the Fens required him to be an “attainable objective.” as they called it back in the Air Force. Collateral lunged out for him again, narrowly missing.
“I’m going to crush you!” The behemoth screamed.
“Ha, You have to catch me first.” Jeremiah shot back as he rocketed further down the street.
He was almost an entire block away when he realized the telltale “crack” of the giant crunching its way after him wasn’t with him anymore. He turned around to see that the ugly bastard was smiling ear to ear. Jeremiah’s stomach dropped, he was watching Collateral experience an idea…no, an epiphany. Leaning down he picked up an old tattered muscle car as if it was a sheet of paper.
“No. I’ll just make you come to me.” The titan roared as the launched the automobile into a nearby dive bar like it was a javelin.
“Goddammit.” Jeremiah shouted as he raced back towards his foe.
Never in his career as a masked vigilante had anyone, ally or enemy, accused Jeremiah ‘The Skye Raider’ Skye as being master of unarmed combat. He had military training of course, but he was a pilot, not a marine. Three weeks of training nearly ten years ago didn’t prepare him for fighting a hulking monstrosity in the shared parking of “Skin FliXXXs” and “The One Eye’d Warrior, Sports Bar.” Instead he adopted a more passive “just fucking dodge” mentality. The fresh memory of Blackbird’s sudden departure from the land of the living reminding him of what would happen if Collateral Damage ever got a hold of him.
“FIGHT ME!” The beast screamed, showering the parking lot in phlegm and halitosis as Jeremiah triggered his rocket pack for a quick hop up and over his incensed opponent. …Where the fuck are the other super freaks at?…He thought as he landed heavily. His early injuries were starting to slow him down. If help didn’t arrive soon…
A reversed elbow slammed into his back, throwing him onto the ground. His vision darkened as a giant shadow covered him. Jeremiah closed his eyes.
…So this is it, the final flight of the Skye Raider…
The killing blow never came.
A voice rang out, loud and clear.
“Hey, Giant. That was my favorite bar.”
It seemed as if the whole world had stopped in its tracks. Inside his iron helmet Jeremiah couldn’t hear anything but his breathing. Then, slowly, the sound returned. The crunch of pavement under Collateral Damage’s feet as he turned to face his accuser. Jeremiah tried to stand, only to collapse under his own weight. Try as he might his body was spent, instead he craned his head around trying to catch a glimpse of the newcomer.
He was unimpressed.
Standing proud with the crumbling remains of One Eye’d Warrior’s behind him the strange didn’t inspire confidence. Tall, blonde, bright blue eyes. A mane of hair and an impressive beard. It was hard to tell where once started and the other stopped. Dressed in jeans and a ratted out sweatshirt. Jeremiah tried to raise again, not for himself but for the newcomer. He had to save him. Jeremiah refused be party to suicide by giant asshole.
“Woah, woah. Stay down Elton Jon. I’ve got this.” The new comer motioned down with his right hand in Jeremiah’s direction.
Jeremiah raised an eyebrow. Apparently so do did Collateral.
“You know, Elton Jon. ‘Rocket Man’…” A look of disgust crossed the blond man’s face. Clearly taken a back. “You know, ‘Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids?’ No, nothing?…Reallly?”
Somewhere, high above the clouds parted letting a bit of light through. That’s when Jeremiah saw it, the glint of polished steel. The stranger rested a wicked looking ax over his left shoulder. Despite the behemoth in front of him he looked totally relaxed, adopting the pose of a pinch hitter just waiting for his chance to swing for for the fences
Unsure what to make of the newcomer, Collateral shifted his weight from massive foot to massive foot. Eventually settling on his default reaction to new stimuli.
“I’ll kill you!” The Goliath screamed as he charged.
“No, you won’t.” And to Jeremiah’s surprise the blue eyed stranger charged back.
Unable to stand Jeremiah crawled instead. Clawing his way out of the war zone and towards the open lobby of Skin FliXXXs. Behind him he could hear the sounds of battle. The grunts and screams of Collateral and the clear laughter of the stranger. Once safely, or as safe as you can be from a titanically proportioned man who calls himself “Collateral Damage” and still be in the same area code. Jeremiah turned his attention to the combat.
The laughing axeman was a sight to behold. Where Jeremiah had played for time or Blackbird and Crane Kick had tried to beat brawn with agility the blond warrior stepped into Collateral’s swings ducking at the last minute and delivering devastating blows to the giant’s chest like he was attempting to fell an ancient forest oak. Swing after swing Collateral missed his target and swing after swing the axeman landed his blow in the same place.
The scene reminded Jeremiah of the stories his grandfather read to him as a child. Of ancient knights battling giants and dragons in the frozen north. Legends and myth from an era where man didn’t have heroes and heroines. They simply had champions.
But even a man as skilled with his weapons as this was bound to misstep eventually.
“No!” Jeremiah screamed, seeing the blow the axeman hadn’t at the last moment. A punch with all of the giants power behind it struck the stranger in the side. The punch threw the warrior clear across the parking lot and into workman’s scaffolding on the other side of the street. The temporary structure crumbled under the assault. Wooden planks and steel pipe collapsing in a heap burying the erstwhile warrior in a urban grave.
“Where. The Fuck. Are the supers!” Jeremiah cursed, as he reloaded his pistol. Determined to sell his life to buy as much time for the city as possible. Dragging himself to his feet, he raised the revolver at the giant and fired. His hand swayed as he tried to focus out the pain he felt in his legs. The first three rounds missed the target. The fourth impacted on the pavement in front of the approaching behemoth ricocheting into his thigh. The fifth and sixth nailed the giant in the heart. A grunt of pain escaped his lips but he continued to approach.
Jeremiah kept pulling the trigger. Hoping for a miracle.
“Hey! Rocket man, I told you to stay out of this.”
Across the street the axeman stood defiant his weapon still held in one hand while his free one pulled a four feet of scaffolding pole out of his chest. Jeremiah collapsed. No longer able to support himself. Collateral turned and charged adopting the knuckle dragging gait of a gorilla. This time however the stranger held his ground. Ices like a frozen lake stared straight ahead.
The giant raised its arms high above its head, forming balled fists, clearly intent on smashing the warrior to a pulp. Timing his moves perfectly the axeman took two steps backwards. The great blow missed their target cracking the earth where moments before he had stood so intently. In one fluid act the warrior grabbed hold of his ax and took a massive swing. moving the ax from his side all the way over his head and then bringing it down atop the hunched over giant’s skull like a man splitting wood.
Despite the strength behind the blow Collateral righted himself for another attack. A look of surprise crossed the warriors face. He’d put his all into that swing for the beast to still stand was clearly a shock. Jeremiah watched as the warrior raised his blade for another attack, however it proved unnecessary as the titanic man began to stumble before eventually collapsing.
The Axeman poked and kicked at the unconscious super to make sure he wasn’t attempting a some kind of ruse, not that Jeremiah thought Collateral had enough brains, especially after that last devastating axe blow, to be so clever as to play dead. Satisfied that his foe was defeated the axman slowly made his way to Jeremiah’s prone form. Kneeling beside him, he grabbed the badly beaten hero by the hem of his leather jacket and pulled him into a sitting position, propped up against the dirty movie house. Taking a step backwards he gave Jeremiah a once over.
“Skye Raider?” His savior asked hesitantly.
“Yeah…?” Jeremiah hurt all over. He was pretty sure nothing was broken, but from the way he felt everything might have been broken.
“Didn’t you die in the 60’s?”
“What? No…” Jeremiah coughed. Surprised by the question. “…a little out of touch with time aren’t you?”
The bearded man smiled.
“You have no idea.”
Achingly he rose his hand out in greeting. The bearded axeman gripped his wrist. An older greeting between warriors. Jeremiah found it fitting.
“Skye Raider.” He said in way of greeting. Meanwhile using his other hand to loosen the leather straps that kept his helm on. Once free of the iron mask he could breathe easier. The sudden brightness of the sun hurt his eyes causing him to wence.
“Pleasure…Are you okay?” The man said. He couldn’t help but feel he was avoiding introductions, but he let the feeling slip away. Why did it matter? This man had saved his life. Let him keep his secrets. Jeremiah opened his mouth to answer, but stopped short. Two figures were slowly descending from the heaven. He couldn’t help but roll his eyes. After everything that happened. Now backup arrives?
The first to reach the ground was clad in a form fitting sky blue body suit. A yellow lightening bolt pattern zigzagged down his chest. His hair and eyes where both the alabaster white of clouds. At his approach the hairs along Jeremiah’s arm started standing strait. Invisible currents of electricity leaped from his body. His name was Captain Thunder and he was a true hero. A test pilot who developed the ability to control lightning after an accidental crash, Captain Thunder had risen from the ranks of “lesser heroes” to become the leader of the nearly mythical Freedom League. A collection of earth’s greatest heroes. Jeremiah couldn’t stand him.
His companion was equally legendary and quite literally mythical. Swarthy skinned with jet black hair and eyes the color of coal. Daedalus, known around the world as the Inventor looked like a figure from a child’s book on Greek mythology given life. His golden armor sculpted to resemble the ancient armor of the hoplites. Blessed by the god’s with immortality as payment for the tragic death of his son Icarus Daedalus had secretly lead humanities scientific advancement for thousands of years before stepping forward to help defend the very people he’d spent years guiding from the shadows.
Thunder was the first to speak. His voice booming like his name sake. “Collateral Damage. I’m impressed Skye. Even the Freedom League would struggle to defeat him!” He laughed, clearly expecting the other men present to join in.
“Eat. A. Dick.” Jeremiah half mumbled half coughed. He hated that Thunder and his pet god saw him like this. He could see in the elder supers eyes that what he was really saying was “Not bad…For a mask”. Concern crossed Thunder’s face as a coughing fit took hold of Jeremiah while Daedalus’s face tightened at the insult. Apparently only one of them had super hearing.
“What was that son? I didn’t hear you.”
“I said he did all the work.” Gesturing at the man who stood beside him.
“Is that so? Well, I doubt that.” Thunder replied as he turned to face the tall blonde “but I thank you for your assistance. What’s your name hero?”
“Just a concerned citizen doing my part, sir.” The axeman said flippantly, clearly uninterested in what the Freedom League commander had to say. His eyes never leaving Daedalus.
The Greek stepped forward inspecting the axeman like a lion might inspect a gazelle. Dark eyes scanning his opposite intently.
“You’ve shaved.” He said at last his voice dripping with distaste at the apparently unexpected reunion.
“I think you’ve gotten taller.” The man replied smiling as he straightened himself to his full height, forcing the dark skinned immortal to look up to keep eye contact.
Before the standoff could escalate further, Thunder helped Jeremiah to his feet.
“Blackbird. K.I.A.” Jeremiah said clutching his right side. Words hurt. Everything hurt.
“We know. Poor Kiran. The boy was heartbroken when he called us. I can’t believe Sandra would attempt to fight someone as powerful as Collateral Damage.” Thunder sighed and shook his head, worry lines creasing his brow. “"Speaking of, Skye, we discussed this after the incident with Totem Pole, and before that after Megastag wrecked havoc in the carnival. If you want to try to take on supers you should join the League. Let Daedalus or Armory replace your grandfather’s prototype with something modern. We could always use…”
“Blackbird.” Jeremiah rasped.
“Yes, Son. We know, she…”
“Her name. Her name…was Blackbird. And maybe if you got off your high horse and slumed with us masks on occasion she’d still be alive.” It was an unfair attack and though he personally couldn’t stand Captain Thunder or what he truly stood for he saw a look of deep hurt cross Captain Thunder’s face. Jeremiah regretted what he said instantly. Still though… where had all the supers been when Collateral Damage decided to level the city?
“Her name was Sandra Collins. And she was a friend to this city. Daedalus, come. Let’s get Skye Raider home and tend to his wounds. The rest of the Freedom League will deal with Collateral when they get here. I don’t think he’s waking up any time soon.” The elder hero lifted Jeremiah in his arms and began to ascend into the sky.
“Quite.” Daedalus said as he followed suit. Only breaking eye contact with the bearded stranger at the last possible moment.
Jeremiah awoke with a fright. He was in his room. Moonlight, unobscured by clouds, painted the inside of his trailer with a milky white luminance. His body hurt but he knew he’d be fine. Daedalus had seen to that. Making use of the alien technology and sorcerous abilities of his hoplite armor to heal Skye Raider’s injuries both external and internal.
Somehow his bed was too comfortable and no matter how he tried he couldn’t get back to sleep. So instead he replayed the day’s events in his head. Challenging Collateral in the suburb, the surprise of crashing through the Starbucks window dozens of feet above the ground. The moment of blackbird’s death the prideful smile on her face right before she realized what was about to come. Crane Kick’s panicked reaction. The look of terror as he watched a teenage hero crack. The Battle of the One Eye’d Warrior, His mysterious axe wielding savior….
Jeremiah couldn’t help but laugh. He laughed for what felt like forever. He couldn’t stop. He tried, but couldn’t. Over and over he laughed, physically unable to stop himself. Mentally he rationalized. He was experiencing his adrenaline levels coming down. He was in shock. Hell, maybe his brain was bleeding and the damned Greek hadn’t caught it with all of his gadgets and he’d soon die in his sleep. Anything to explain what was happening he clung to. Because what he truly feared was that maybe he had cracked too.