Quebec City, Canada // February 24th, 2008 // Shortly after midnight
The blue and violet figure streaked over the city skyline with such apparent determination that no-one could doubt that she was on a mission. Her momentum increased with each passing moment, and it was not long before what started as a clearly identifiable human female became nothing more than a brightly-coloured blur.
Unseen by those on the ground, the woman reached down to grasp a small, purple and blue oval-shaped pendant that hung around her neck. It had started to glow almost as soon as she took to the sky, and it was glowing more and more brightly as she headed across the city. She knew that it was leading her somewhere, to something, but she had no idea what.
Knowing my luck, she thought to herself, it will be another run-in with Airwave. I’m still smarting from our last bout!
She continued to rocket north and allowed her mind to wander back over the events that had led to that moment. Her name – for she did indeed have one, and it was not ‘Purple Blur’, ‘Blue Streak’ or any of the others the people walking the streets surmised as she flew by – was Valerie Tapeis, although, for the previous three months, she had gone by the name ‘Valour’.
Once, Valerie had operated a jewellery store in Montreal, which carried stock ranging from the finest productions coming out of Europe to the most simple costume jewellery, much of which she made herself. It was in that capacity, where she scoured weekend markets and garage sales for simple baubles she could attach to string in order to produce her wares, that she found the pendant.
It had been sitting in a small cardboard box surrounded by plush toys and a handful of plastic figurines. It was roughly cut and, in its existing state, not at all suitable for any sort of jewellery, and it was certainly out of place in the middle of a toy box. Still, Valerie could not help but pick it up and examine it more closely.
The moment she came in contact with the stone it seemed to call to her. Not literally, of course – she did not hear voices in her head, or experience compulsive urges. It just seemed as though it wanted to be with her, to be very close to her, and Valerie enjoyed the feeling. She bought the stone for only a few cents and, when she arrived home, smoothed its edges and attached it to a thin silver chain to form a pendant she could always wear.
In the days that followed, Valerie experienced a number of unusual occurrences. The first was discovering the apparent ability to transport herself enormous distances almost instantly – one morning, she stepped out of bed and found herself on a rooftop in the US city of Seattle. After her initial shock, and a long bout of panic, Valerie found out that with concentration she could will herself back to her original location.
With practice, the process became easier, and she learned how to adapt the ability to simulate flight, and even how to take large objects with her. But that was not the only change she discovered in her life – suddenly, people were remarking on strange ideas they were having, and senses of deja vu, which almost always echoed what Valerie was thinking at the time. Despite her best efforts, that was one ability she found she had no control over.
Although her initial panic had faded quite quickly, Valerie often found herself wondering where her strange new abilities had come from; much to her dismay, it was weeks before she realised their source was the purple and blue pendant that she never – could never – remove.
She tried to use her powers again and found, as she teleported, that the pendant always began to glow blue and shimmer, excreting a pale blue mist for a second before she disappeared, and there was always a moment’s wait after she materialised at her new destination for the pendant – often still glowing – to appear around her neck.
Valerie also discovered that the pendant would glow whenever she experienced strong or difficult emotions and thoughts, and that the periods during which the stone would shine perfectly matched up with the times that those around her seemed to share her thoughts.
She tried many times to remove the pendant but was never successful. With each attempt came the sense that if she did remove it, something extraordinarily awful would happen. She could never tell exactly what, but she knew it would be something she would never want on her conscience.
It eventually occurred to Valerie that it would not be entirely out of the question to make a debut as what the global press were calling a ‘superhero’. Several had emerged within the previous few years, from the Australian ‘Southern Cross’ – whom she was more than willing to admit was someone she had more than a small crush on – to the French ‘Wonder Wizard’. She could do without the extra attention but, she told herself; she had an obligation to use the strange abilities lent to her by the pendant to do what was right.
And so, several pieces of stitched-together blue and purple spandex later, Valour was born.
It was on her first patrol (which basically consisted of teleporting from one high-risk location to the next and keeping an eye out for trouble) that Valour encountered Airwave. Like anyone who watched the news, Valour had already heard of the villain – how he had allegedly used his own superhuman powers to board a plane, rob its passengers, and blow it up in mid-air.
Apparently, he had also decided to try robbing banks.
As Valour reconstituted her body on the roof of a Montreal bank, the red-and-grey clad form of Airwave struck her in the right arm and spun her around, the force of the impact so great that she almost blacked out. Airwave zoomed past, then curved, seeming to be aiming for another hit, but instead, he landed beside her and looked her up-and-down.
“Nice costume,” he said in what Valour thought was a British accent. She felt, however, that it was a little off somehow. “You here to stop me?”
“N-no,” Valour stammered. “I – ” She paused. While she had not specifically been seeking Airwave out, her goal was to stop any sort of villainous misdeed that she encountered. Admittedly, she had been expecting the odd purse-snatcher and not one of the world’s most wanted men, but still…
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
Valour closely scrutinised the man who she had just declared her foe. When he had first struck her, he had been moving too quickly for her to see what she was up against. He wore a dark grey, almost black, bodysuit that hugged his body much more tightly than her own. Most of his face was covered by a similarly coloured mask and a red, metal, fin-tipped helmet, but what Valour could see of his face identified him as dark-skinned, but not black – Spanish? Latino? – and about the same age as herself.
Airwave’s hands, shoulders and feet were adorned with large, flared red gloves, padding and boots, and around his waist and right thigh were belt straps with red buckles that firmly anchored a small pouch to his leg, which Valour assumed contained the tools of his trade – lockpicks, perhaps a small weapon or two.
He seemed quite athletic, and Valour thought that under different circumstances, she might have been inclined to make some sort of romantic overture – but being perched on a rooftop and having just declared her animosity towards him probably wasn’t the best way to set things up.
Airwave smirked. “Do you like what you see?”
“W-what…?” Valour asked.
“You’ve been staring at me for five minutes,” Airwave told her. “Are we going to do this, or what?”
Valour nodded slowly. “Sorry, I’m new to this.”
“Don’t worry,” Airwave smiled. “I’ll go easy on you. What’s your name?”
“Valour,” Valour answered. “I already know you. You’re Airwave.”
“Do you know how I got that name?”
He raised his hands and without warning, Valour could hear the wind whipping around her. The noise was so great that she could not concentrate, and without the ability to focus on her destination, the risk of teleporting was simply too great.
Valour heard the sonic boom long before she felt the waves of concussive force strike her body with enough force to hurl her not just off the rooftop, but across the street. The pressure on her body was enormous, but it did not hurt; and the further she sailed away from the bank, the less intense the pressure became, until she was able to control her descent and teleport safely to the ground.
She considered going back to try fighting Airwave a second time but decided, as the proverb says, that discretion was certainly the better part of Valour. She returned home, picked up the phone and urged the police to check out the bank.
And for months, she did not don her Valour costume again.
She had covered a lot of ground since she had first arrived in Quebec City and wondered, if she had taken the time to learn the lay of the land a bit more thoroughly, if she could have reached whatever destination the pendant had selected for her a bit more quickly by teleporting there directly. Instead, she was stuck guessing at the meaning of the pendant’s brief bursts of light, which had already led her approximately four hundred and fifty kilometres across the province of Quebec.
If it is Airwave, she thought, I guess I don’t have much to lose… Just my life.
Elsewhere in Quebec City a man stood outside of a dark pizza restaurant with keys in hand. He had just locked up for the night, a little later than usual, and had paused first to peer through the front window towards the store he had just left, then to spend a moment looking at his own reflection in the glass.
He was Michael Hunter and, he was proud to say, ‘Marco’s Pizzeria’ was all his… and that was a fact that made him very proud. Michael was young, having just turned twenty-five years old, and although he had lived in Quebec City for a little less than half his life, he was originally from the United States and about as American as they come.
Michael knew next to nothing about other ethnicities and cultures, least of all French or Italian, but that had never affected his dream to run his own pizza store. That dream was his and it was a success – thanks to a little ‘authenticity’ lent by his half-Italian brother and south-west European-looking fiance.
It was to his fiance that he was about to go, but not before checking out his tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired reflection in the mirror.
“Yeah, I’m hot,” he muttered to himself.
He began his long walk home, taking the same route that he had followed every night for the five weeks since the store opened. The journey was so familiar that Michael often felt he could navigate it with his eyes closed… except for the construction site a block-and-a-half away from the start of his trip.
Every night there were new signs suggesting the best detour or diversion to follow to avoid the rubble strewn across the street by the construction crews. More often than not, Michael knew, the detours led customers away from his store. He knew it was nothing deliberate on the part of the construction workers, but it did make him feel as though he had more of a right than most to cut through the construction site on his way home.
It was a feeling that filled him with warm and happiness… until he tripped and fell into a hole that turned out to be a little deeper than he was. In fact, it was a lot deeper than Michael was tall.
Great, he thought to himself, as he began to grip at the loose dirt and try to pull himself free. The soil slid away as he grasped at it; he was not going to be able to climb out but, he realised, the soil would eventually fill the hole and he could simply climb over it.
Unless it’s looser than it seems. Then I’ll just be buried alive.
On the other side of the construction site a tall figure, half-hidden in shadow, rummaged through broken pipes and shattered concrete. It was searching for something, but having no luck finding it. Angry, it kicked a metal barrel that was resting nearby, sending it rolling, loudly, across the site.
The figure heard the woman’s voice and stepped fully into the moonlight in order to see her. The figure belonged to that of a man and the voice to that of a purple-and-blue-garbed woman: Valour. His pendant was glowing brightly and, the figure guessed, would have provided enough light with which to see her even if the moon were hidden.
Valour was standing on a small pile of lumber and staring down at the man, whose own appearance astonished her. From the neck down he was wearing a form-fitting costume but, she realised, it was not made of spandex or lycra or any other material she might have expected to see – instead, it seemed to be made of some sort of metal.
It was almost entirely jet black, the only exception being very thin red lines that repeated in regular patterns around what she supposed would be most accurately called ‘armour’. His head was covered by a similarly coloured helmet, only rather than the fixed shape of a motorcycle helmet – or, for that matter, a knights’ – the man’s helmet seemed to match the contours of his face and even his hair, as though the metal from which it was constructed was clinging to the individual cells and fibers.
His eyes and mouth were the same red as the lines on the rest of the suit, his nose was marked by thin, horizontal red slits, and where his ears would have been sat two red slightly-raised rectangular boxes.
“Who are you?” Valour asked.
The man smiled, and Valour could see the expression even through his helmet.
“That pendant…” he whispered. He took a step forward, his hand outstretched. “Give it to me.”
Valour touched the pendant briefly, focused, and willed her body to fade as the blue mist flowed from it and through her body. She disappeared and rematerialized several feet behind the man; he did not seem surprised, and simply turned to face her again.
“You have the potential to control both ansuz and raido, and that is all that you do with your power?” he shook his head. “Give it to me.”
“No,” Valour replied. “Besides, I couldn’t even if I wanted to. It seems to have developed an attachment to me.”
“I could remove it for you…” the man suggested.
“I don’t think so,” Valour told him. “The pendant led me here for a reason, and I don’t think it was you.”
As Valour finished speaking, the pendant began to glow again, and both Valour and the man quickly glanced around, trying to find what was triggering its activity. They both saw the man staggering toward them at once, holding a short red staff in one hand.
“Fehu!” the armoured man cried. He began to run toward the new arrival. His movement was so sudden that even Valour, with her instantaneous transportation, could not arrive before him. She knew that he had been expecting it, or something similar, and there was nothing that she could have done to respond to him.
The armoured man wrapped his hand around the other man’s wrist and held on tight. He pulled him forward and twisted him around, in order to clearly see his face.
“Michael…?” he whispered, but he did not let go.
I never expected this… the man thought to himself. I could have… I should have known this would happen. That Michael would be here. But it does not matter…
“Michael Hunter,” the man said. “I need you to give that to me.”
“What…?” Michael asked. “Man, you need to let go of me. Now.”
The armoured man tightened his grip.
“Give it to me,” he repeated.
“Don’t do it,” Valour said. “Whatever you’ve got, if he wanted it for something good – ”
“Yeah, you know what?” Michael turned his head to face Valour, then told her. “I’m the one with the pain shooting into my shoulder right now, okay? You need to shut up.”
The armoured man grinned then pulled hard on Michael’s arm. He heard the slurping, tearing sound of the joints in Michael’s shoulder being torn apart and the soft muscle fibre ripping apart. Michael lost all control of his arm and as it fell to his side the other man yanked the red staff from his hand and shoved him toward Valour.
“Fehu!” he said again. “With this I can more easily find black.”
“W-what are you talking about?” Valour asked. She had placed herself between the armoured man and Michael. The young man’s pain was too severe for him to flee, which meant she had to defend him.
“Do you really not understand the power you wield?” the man asked.
“I guess not,” Valour told him, “but I am starting to think it might be worth holding onto… and I might take that staff, too, while I’m at it.”
She reached forward, and the man immediately took a step back. He raised the staff in front of him reflexively, almost instinctively, and muttered something under his breath. A moment later a jagged beam of energy emerged from the tip of the staff and struck the woman as she approached.
It first hit the small pendant, which was glowing more furiously than ever before, causing razor-sharp blue pieces to hit her own body and to permeate his own armour. He grimaced as they scratched his legs, arm and chest. Valour’s bleeding body began to be surrounded by the familiar blue mist that accompanied all of her attempts at teleportation, and she slowly faded from view.
The armoured man smiled, but it was visible only for an instant as he realised the same effect was happening to his body. His armour started to feel loose about his body and his leggings and gauntlets faded away, surrounded by the mist, and then his own half-naked form began to disappear.
“No!” he shouted. “I was so close…!”
Events had taken place so quickly that, as the armoured man completely disappeared, he did not see the final target of his crimson strike. It continued past where Valour had been standing, carrying with it the shattered remains of the purple portion of the pendant. Michael Hunter raised a hand to shield himself but even as the red, lightning-like energy caused his heart to stop beating the thin, purple shards embedded themselves in his skin.
They tore at his dead flesh, leaving tiny droplets of red and purple blood beneath him but the dripping soon stopped as his heart no longer pumped blood around his body. Yet Michael Hunter did not fall – he simply turned away and began to walk, his limp, broken arm dangling at his side.
NEXT: The Worldwalkers!
AND SOON, IN EXILES: Serenity!
Written by Adrian J. Watt’s of SoftPixels