Sunday, February 26, 2017

Blue Nexus #62 - Recruiting Day

            Mira wrapped the bandage around Kyle’s arm with practiced ease, as if she could do it in her sleep. Kyle sat patiently on the bench, though could feel his legs still moving as if he were back on the field. Mira slapped his leg and Kyle unconsciously calmed down. Kyle clenched a tight fist when he looked back on the field. Andreus almost blew through a defender, though it was clear his power was in control. The defender just couldn’t stand up to him. Still, Kyle had to flinch. Mira looked on the field when the whistle blew louder than normal.
            Coach called everyone over to discuss the play they’d just run for the fifth time. Kyle leaned back against the bench.
            “See, now you can appreciate me taking my time,” Mira said. “You don’t have to listen to your coach screaming at you.”
            “It’s not screaming,” Kyle said. “He’s just raising his voice.”

            Mira slapped the bandage and Kyle got back on his feet. He picked up his pads and slid them over his shoulders. Mira put his helmet atop his head, but had to cough and looked away from him, so she poked him in the nose with the helmet.
            “You okay?” Kyle asked.
            It’d been five days since the fog settled over Adelita, and five days since Rafael called himself God. Needless to say the town was abuzz, but the whole world seemed to catch wind of it. Social media was to blame, again. Mira apparently hadn’t been infected too bad by the fog, and when it cleared she was better than ever.
            Mira asked Kyle if she knew anything about Rafael, and Kyle couldn’t blame her for the assumption. As far as he knew, mages were about as common as superheroes: their existence was documented, but how many actually were there? Thus, Kyle could’ve heard about Rafael. She was still trying to wrap her head around how he was a mage and didn’t tell her, or any of his friends, about it; Kyle wasn’t about to explain how he’d been sent to another dimension and used the powers to break free, though.
            Mira nodded, placing the helmet on his head. She smiled.
            “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said.
            Coach yelled for Kyle to come over, since the huddle was breaking. Kyle started but saw Mira hesitate to get back to fixing up the first aid kit.
            “No, for real,” Kyle said. “You good?”
            Mira shrugged. “Just feeling a little off, kinda tired, I guess.” She gestured at the field. “I’ll talk to after, maybe, or something. I don’t know.”
            “Text me if you need anything,” Kyle said, and ran back on the field as Coach shouted even louder. He rushed over to Andreus instead, since the two Captains were held responsible for one another. More so than Coach realized, Kyle thought.
            Andreus nodded at the bleachers subtly. Kyle looked over through the peripheral that was partially blocked by his helmet. He saw four men with clipboards scattered around, trying to blend with some of the parents that came out to watch practice.
            “Scouts,” Andreus said. “They’ll be at the game tomorrow, too, I bet.”
            “Makes sense,” Kyle said. “Not to mention we’re here.” He nudged Andreus with his lacrosse stick. “Gotta see how a pair of mages stack up against regular people, right?”
            “Think that gives us a disadvantage?” Andreus asked.
            “Depends on the recruiter,” Kyle said. “If they just wanna win, it’ll give us an advantage, right?”
            Andreus shrugged. He pushed Kyle away when Coach turned to yell at them, and instead just wound up barking whatever was on his mind to Kyle. Kyle jogged over to his position, once again looking up in the stadium to the scouts. Coach finished his screaming session, leaving his face sufficiently red, and Kyle prepared himself. He played right-midfield, meaning he would spend much of this next playing running up and down the field, depending on how things turned out.
            He wasn’t so much the lynchpin of the play as much as Andreus and the attackers were, since Coach wasn’t a man who relied on defense. The team wasn’t a glass cannon, though the office was certainly a crutch that they needed to alleviate themselves from more.
            The whistle blew and Kyle immediately forgot about the recruiters sitting in the stands, or Mira watching him from the benches, or Coach screaming at various players. He ran straight for his position in the play.
            Kyle received the ball and found himself in a no-win situation. The problem with playing against his own team was that, well, they knew the play. The coaches emphasized playing defense based on their instinct, but with a recruiter there they wanted to outshine the offense, to stand out. Kyle had two opposing midfielders rushing at him immediately, boxing him in with no lanes by which to pass. He saw one of his players nearby, but a defender lurked just off to the side.
            “Sorry, Coach,” Kyle said in a quick breath and spun. He tossed the ball to one of his defenders, who didn’t expect it.
            Kyle’s midfielders charged past Kyle as Coach screamed at him. The defender, realizing what Kyle had done, did not want anything to do with the ball, and lobbed it back to Kyle.
            “Thanks!” Kyle exclaimed.
            The two opposing midfielders tried to cut back and run but Kyle had the ball already. He pulled his arm back and cranked it right down, letting it soar across the field to its intended destination. The defense had pulled up enough already where Kyle’s target was wide open.
            The play ran as expected and the offense scored. Coach approached Kyle while one of their assistant coaches gathered up the offense, this time running through a new play just to walk-through.
            “Raiden.” Coach practically bumped into Kyle. “What was that?”
            “Improvisation, coach,” Kyle said.
            “It wasn’t the play,” Coach said.
            It was improv, Kyle thought, but instead said, “I know, Coach. But the play was dead, it’d been figured out and I needed to change it up.”
            Coach nodded. He gestured at the scouts the same way Andreus had. “See them? They like that. It shows leadership. If you’d just ran with the play they may give you a few points, little notes or whatever, for overall performance, but it’s that, Raiden. That little bit that may just push you over the edge.”
            “Uh, yeah,” Kyle said. “Not sure I want to go over the edge or beyond it, but whatever.”
            “Don’t get technical,” Coach said. “You know what this means for tomorrow, though, right?”
            Kyle nodded. “More improv?”
            “No, you moron, it means you have to actually perform,” Coach said. “Not like last game where you just sleepwalked the whole damn time.”
            Kyle grimaced. Coach patted him on the helmet and went to the huddle to probably yell at some more players. Kyle shook off the memory of the previous game. It’d been just a day after the fog and Kyle was recovering from helping organize everyone as Blue Nexus. He’d had to answer so many questions alongside Brenda that his head was spinning. Thankfully they had the day off of school while everyone tried to figure out just what the hell had gone on.
            Practice ended a bit early, just a few minutes after the scouts left, and Kyle looked around for Mira afterward. She wasn’t near the locker room helping anyone with their injuries and she wasn’t with the training staff cleaning up.
            “She went home pretty quick,” one of the students said.
            “She’ll be at the game tomorrow, right?” Kyle asked.          
            “I mean, probably,” the student said. “Why, you need her for something?”
            “No, I can just text her,” Kyle said.
            He did text her, but to no response. Not even a “read,” though Mira kept those off. He tried not to worry about her too much on his patrol that evening of East City. He flew around the city a few times and then hung out down below, watching and waiting as Phoenix had instructed so long ago.
            His patrol ended early when Veloce, a speedster, took over for him. Kyle hardly knew Veloce, but apparently he got his powers in a different manner than the Delta Squad’s member. It wasn’t from some freak lightning or chemical accident, either, nor was it from the Awakening. Apparently Phoenix found him running at super speed and Veloce hadn’t even realized it. Riko helped him hone his skills and one costume later Veloce was another East Coast superhero.
            Kyle had been getting to bed at reasonable hours, around one or midnight, each night and was thankful for it. He missed the comfort of more than three hours of sleep. Granted, he often just slept through lunch and would hurriedly eat his food before practice, but now he didn’t have to worry about that as much.
            He drifted through the next day of school quite easily as well. He wasn’t used to the rhythm of it all, since it constantly changed as the school tried to put on different events or themes for the seniors. It was getting near the end of the third quarter, and apparently not much was planned outside of a week-long event in the fourth quarter, besides regional testing. Anyone that hadn’t been placed into their colleges had until Spring Break to do so.
            Kyle still wasn’t sure what he was going to do. Kip and Luke dedicated themselves to Adelita Community College and Mira was headed to the big university to try and study medicine, perhaps even get into Nursing school at one of the other universities. Andreus had committed to a smaller school for lacrosse before the season started, although it was just a verbal commitment and he had yet to sign anything.
            Kyle…fought crime. Played lacrosse, got decent-enough grades to get him by with the time that he had available. None of that could be placed on a college essay. The only break he could get was a scholarship to a school for lacrosse, but that schedule would be insane to work with around the Blue Nexus. Plus, if he had to relocate, could anyone else really be trusted to look over a metropolis like East City? It was a large city, and normally it took both Kyle and Brenda to look over it. He trusted Brenda enough to watch over, but she had the problem with the mages to think about.
            It gave Kyle headaches to think about, but the thought plagued him so often that he couldn’t avoid the headaches.
            The only thing that helped turn his attention away from it was trying to focus so intently on his schoolwork that he forget everything else around him. The problem was that the senior teachers had, basically, given up and just let them hang out in class. Kip and Luke were scattered around Kyle’s schedule, and Sandy didn’t go to school anymore. He and Mira shared a shorter class together, but she seemed distant. Kyle didn’t approach her. Too nervous.
            The lacrosse team was forced to stay after school to hang out until the games started, if they were at home. This one happened to be so. They hung out and did homework in the cafeteria before getting a meal, usually from a chain restaurant, and then heading back to the locker room to prepare. Andreus still had his group of friends to hang out with, who weren’t at all disparaged by the fact that he had super abilities, so Kyle mostly kept to himself. Some of the younger players tried to gravitate toward him to either get tips or brownie points.
            He didn’t even realize he was walking on the field for warmups until Andreus slapped him on the back of the chest, almost sending him tumbling forward. Kyle caught himself and jogged onto the field, catching a lacrosse ball one of the coaches tossed at him.
            Mira was down on the field setting up the benches with some of the other trainers. A few of the away team parents were in the stands. He caught sight of Kip and Luke, who came to all of his games, hanging out at the top of the student section, checking their phones.
            Someone flew by overhead, probably Riko. Everyone but Kyle gawked at it. He looked down at his hand, where his glove was tied tight over his bracelet. No way he was going to be transforming. That’d be…pretty bad.
            The game got started a half-hour later. Kyle approached his position, behind some of the attackers, and scanned the stadium again. Everyone was attentive, cheering, waiting for the game to get going. The stands weren’t too big so it was easy to spot who was and wasn’t actually at the game. Kyle twirled his lacrosse stick, not noticing anyone in particular…
            Until a woman with striking green eyes sauntered up to the fence. Tania. Kyle glanced at Andreus, who was focused. She didn’t seem to be masking her presence for anything; perhaps she just wanted to check out a lacrosse game.
            Kyle looked to the other side of the field, where there was just the practice field after the fence. Some of the young siblings had their lacrosse sticks out and were playing around with a stolen ball.
            The ref’s whistle blew and Kyle’s feet did the work for him while his mind, momentarily, stayed on Tania. When he felt the ball soar by him, he switched into game-mode almost instantly.
            They were up by four at halftime yet Kyle couldn’t help feel disappointed. He’d only possessed the ball twice the entire half and wasn’t even tired. He was sleepwalking again. Coach could only shake his head at Kyle when he examined the huddle. Kyle bowed his head, clenching a fist.
            When they broke to sit at the benches, he noticed the recruiters, all sitting in separate positions from one another. The only thing they shared in common was that they were all looking at Andreus and taking notes on him. Kyle tapped his stick against the bench but didn’t sit down.
            Kyle wandered over to the water cooler and filled a cup up. He slid his helmet up a bit so he could drink. Mira was on the other side of the table, texting away on her phone. Kyle grimaced. She looked up from her phone, saw Kyle, and then stepped away. The grimace turned to a frown rather fast.
            Kyle was sidelined for the start of the half. He remained close to Coach just for when he changed his mind. He checked over his shoulder and saw Tania intently looking at the field, watching Andreus. He bowed his head again, then leaned forward and watched his co-captain blitz down the field all by himself and score a pretty easy goal.
            “Damn good goal,” Coach muttered. He stole a glance at Kyle. “Damn good.”
            Kyle strummed his fingers on the lacrosse stick. He could see the glow of the Nexus bracelet underneath the glove. It’d be so easy. This game would be a joke. He could walk through the other team—literally. He’d score goals so fast even Veloce would be impressed. He could probably score from his house.
            He rested his hand on his bracelet arm. So easy. Too good.
            Coach put him in for the last five minutes, after they went up by six. Kyle remained in his position and got a few more touches, but it was all ineffectual. He was having to carry the team, basically, by applying pressure. Their second string was out there and trying to impress Coach enough to become starters. Kyle wondered if he were doing the same now, too.
            The recruiters stayed after a few minutes, finishing up their notes. Normally Coach pulled Kyle and Andreus aside for them to give their post-game thoughts, but this time Coach only pulled Andreus aside and pointed out the recruiters. Kyle lingered for a few minutes while they talked, but when Coach walked off and Andreus was left to gawk at the recruiters, Kyle knew it was time to go.
            Tania appeared in front of him. Kyle walked right into her, stumbling back and tripping on his feet.
            “Watch out,” she said. “A little bit of running and you’re already all worn out?”
            “You here for him?” Kyle asked.
            One of the recruiters rushed down the steps and went straight for Andreus, shaking his hand. Tania shook her head.
            “Here for you,” Tania said. “I’m in a bit of a bind.”
            “It can’t wait, like, a day?” Kyle asked.
            “I’m meeting with Vivian today,” Tania said. “The Pillar of Deception.”   
            Kyle almost burst out laughing. “So you picked your side, then? Wow, that was pretty easy, wasn’t it?”
            “I didn’t,” Tania said. “You don’t turn down the Six Pillars.”
            “You fight back,” Kyle said.
            “Said the boy giving up in his sport,” Tania said. Kyle brushed past her. Tania appeared in front of him, but Kyle knew it was just an image. The world faded around him into a gray void. Tania rushed up to him. “I need help. If Vivian pulls anything, you need to be there to stop her with me. We might be able to take her together.”
            “She knows I’m with Magus Forest,” Kyle said. He turned and Tania was right in his face. “She won’t say anything to give away their plans.”
            “If the Six Pillars have a weakness it’s their ego,” Tania said. “She won’t care you’re there. I bet she’s actually counting on it.”
            “Then it’s better that I’m not there,” Kyle said. “I can run to Magus Forest and get Shindari. She’ll know better than me.”
            “She’s a mage,” Tania said. “Vivian would sense her. The surprise would be ruined. You? The Blue Nexus is cosmic energy. She can’t sense anything you do, if you do it fast.”
            The world started to become colored again, despite the nighttime surroundings they were in. Kyle saw Kip and Luke waiting by the fences. They were waiting for him, to walk home together and see what was happening.
            Kyle shook his head at them, and they nodded. Kyle groaned. “Cover me. I’ll transform and we’ll go.”
            Tania nodded. “Good. Let’s hope this is done quick.”
            “And painless,” Kyle said. All the people around Kyle vanished and he pulled off his lacrosse gloves. He swiped his hand over the bracelet and let the Nexus outfit and energy bathe over him. As the crowd reappeared, Kyle rushed off under the shadows of the large lights, then burst off into the night.
            Tania floated by him. “I’ll take my car. We’re a few miles south.”
            “We?” Kyle asked.
            “You’ll see,” Tania said.
            Kyle turned about and blasted off to the south, soaring through the sky. He kept himself low so he could see just what Tania was talking about. Tania didn’t like to think small, so if she said we it likely meant…
            Hundreds. Mages sat around campfires, letting their marks glow in the night’s darkness. Their chatter rose to meet Kyle all the way up in the air. None of them noticed him, although he didn’t have his aura around him. He sighed. Tania wasn’t messing around with her recruitment at all.
            They were in a camp, of sorts. A thin veil surrounded the mages, probably the combination of a Shield and Reality mage’s work, to keep them from plain sight. No doubt, too, if one walked through the barrier and weren’t a mage they would simply faze through it. Kyle’s Demon mark came in handy once again.
            The night’s darkness also got alleviated within the barrier, as the fires reflected off of them a bit.
            Tania’s car pulled up in a large lot of cars that the barrier didn’t reach, but they were hidden on the opposite side of a hill. A dirt road led up to the camp, coming from the direction of town as well as another small town to the west a bit. Kyle dropped down into the camp, near the northern entrance. Tania jogged across the way to meet him. Everyone noticed her run by, and then gawked at the sight of Blue Nexus.
            Kyle waved to them all, but gestured for them to return to their business. Like anyone, they ignored him and continued staring.
            “Let’s go to my place,” Tania said. “Vivian’s probably there already.”
            “Those Six Pillars are pretty prompt,” Kyle admitted, and followed Tania around the edge of the camp, to keep them out of sight. It’d be quite difficult to keep the Blue Nexus flying into your camp at random out of mind, though.
            Tania’s place was actually a large-pitched tent, complete with Power and Demon mages guards and everything. The inside was lit by a fake flame in the middle of the room, and a little lantern hanging from the top. Tania let Kyle in, and the two were greeted by a woman in a t-shirt and shorts and boots. She also had a hat on, but not a magician’s hat, just a regular cap.
            “You’re a little early,” Tania said.
            “Am I?” Vivian asked. “Oh, my bad.” She smiled. “Just kidding. Thought I’d come around and see who I could get.”
            “Get?” Tania asked.
            “You think I came here just to see you?” Vivian asked. “Sorry, girl, but you’re only as interesting as the people you surround yourself with.” Vivian eyed Kyle. She leaned forward, lowering her voice. “Although, keeping Mr. Raiden near you won’t help you that much.”
            Kyle clenched a fist at the sound of his name. He hated it when anyone, even people he knew, said his name while he was the Blue Nexus.
            “How?” Vivian asked before Kyle could. “My master, Rafael. And Axel fought you at school, of course we know who you are. Now take off that stupid hood and cloak, it’s not that cold out.”
            Kyle did remove the hood from in front of his face and rustled his hair a bit. Vivian leaned against Tania’s bed and crossed her arms.
            “Better,” she said. “More personable.”
            “I bet,” Kyle said.
            Tania walked across the room to stand between Kyle and Vivian. Vivian ignored Tania’s approach, instead just deciding to inspect her fingernails.
            “You’re not getting anyone from my camp,” Tania said.
            “Would you relax?” Vivian asked. She shook her head. “You’re always so uptight. Especially you superheroes, Blue Nexus. God, it’s awful.”
            Kyle unclipped the cloak from around his shoulders. Vivian nodded to that as well, but stared at the Demon mark imprinted on his tricep. Kyle became more aware of it the more she stared. He rubbed his shoulder. Vivian smiled and almost laughed but stood up moved, glowering at Tania.
            “Anything you want to say to me you can say in front of him,” she said.
            Tania loosened up. “Sorry.”
            “Sorry?” Kyle asked.
            “She’s resigned to her fate,” Tania said. “She knows she’s in a losing battle, so she’s just showing respect to someone a bit stronger than her. Something you don’t seem to have learned yet.”
            “I’ll try and work on it,” Kyle said. “It’s a shame one of those people isn’t in the room right now.”
            “You’re hilarious,” Vivian said. She walked around Tania. “You know, Kyle Raiden, if I wanted to I could make it seem like your torso and legs were split off from each other. Could make the whole room disappear and you’d never know where it went. Maybe even make you disappear. Deception mages are more than just Vegas parlor tricks.”
            “Again, I bet,” Kyle said. “But I’m not scared of you.”
            Vivian gestured at Tania. “Your pal Tania sure is. Ain’t that right, Tania?” Vivian winked at Kyle. “Probably doesn’t help that her family was slaughtered while we were looking for her to become the Pillar of Reality.”
            Tania flinched, Kyle noticed. Kyle reached a hand out but Vivian stepped between the two of them. She moved Kyle’s hand away.
            “Probably could’ve been, but wasn’t in the mood for it,” Vivian said. She ran her hand along Tania’s shoulder, and Tania shivered. “I bet this seems all-too familiar for you, Tania darling. Got a whole village of people and here I am trying to recruit you to join us. Not as a pillar, but having you along would practically make us seven Pillars. And you’d be on the winning side.”
            “What would you have me do?” Tania asked. She faced Vivian.
            “You’re asking us again?” Vivian asked. “We thought you grew out of such dumb questions.”
            “Then don’t make me repeat it,” Tania said.
            “Whatever you want,” Vivian said. “As long as Rafael agrees, duh.”
            “Then I’ll never join you,” Tania said. “He wants to corrupt magic and he’s willing to kill mages to do it? That’s not something I’m going to ever be a part of.”
            “And your people, they believe that, too?” Vivian asked.
            “They believe in me,” Tania said.
            “Then what makes you so different from Rafael?” Vivian asked. She moved to be in front of Tania again. Her look wasn’t soft like when she looked at Kyle, but hard. Angry.
            “I haven’t convinced myself I’m playing the good guy,” Tania said. She glanced at Kyle. “Because as of now I kind of haven’t been.”
            Vivian rested a hand on Tania’s shoulder. “So that’s a no?”
            Before Tania could answer, Vivian flipped Tania over and flung her desk at her from across the room. Tania crashed into the desk. She snapped her fingers and someone outside screamed before the tent ripped open.
            Kyle threw an energy ball at Vivian that was intercepted by an arrow and Kyle was subsequently kicked in the side straight out of the tent.
            He crashed to the ground as fires sprang up around the tent and the mages started to scatter. Shadows sprang up near flames and lashed out in attack. Axel jumped out of the tent and launched an arrow. Someone shouted out just as he released it.
            Kyle was on his feet fast and attacked Axel. Axel dodged his initial two punches and landed a swift kick into Kyle’s ribs before flipping him over. Kyle pushed himself away to dodge the swing of Axel’s sword.
            His lance appeared in his hand and he propelled at the Pillar of Combat. Axel blocked each lance attack as if a toddler were swinging the thing and punched Kyle across the face with the bottom of his palm, breaking Kyle’s jaw. Kyle paused in amazement, and pain, before Axel launched his assault once more. He kicked Kyle’s lance out of the way and drove a short-sword through Kyle’s shoulder.
            Kyle slammed against the ground as Axel’s leg stomped down on him. Kyle tossed him away with one arm and plunged the sword from his arm. It disintegrated the moment he swung it at Axel, who blocked his arm and punched him in the chest, knocking the wind from him. He held onto Kyle’s arm and broke his elbow, then clocked Kyle in the face for good measure.
            Kyle stumbled back, trying to stay on his feet. His left arm was useless from the blade wound and his right arm was screaming in pain. Kyle glowered at Axel, who couldn’t helped but smile and hold out his hand for a longbow.
            “Don’t miss,” Kyle said.
            The arrow shot through his ribcage and soared out the other end, ripping through who knows how many tents on its way across the camp. Kyle gasped blood and dropped to his knees. Axel approached as a tent exploded behind him. He rested an arrow tip on his forehead.  
            “You’ve got a second form,” Axel said. “Next time you’re going to use it.” He pulled back the bowstring. “And when you do I’ll make sure to release this bowstring.”
            He lowered the bow and kicked Kyle across the head as he turned and faced Vivian, who made the two disappear with another snap of her fingers. Kyle was unconscious before he hit the ground.

            Kevin Miles turned the TV on but didn’t sit down on his couch. Didn’t want to put more pressure on his lower back if he sat down. He rubbed the spot where the bullet grazed him, feeling the crusty blood along his back.
            He changed the channel to the actual news, not the local channel. Helicopter coverage showed what looked like a campsite alight in flames. Shadows were dancing all around, and when each one made contact with a tent, flames would shoot into the sky. People ran, terrified.
            “This previously unknown campsite seems to have fallen under attack by a local group of terrorists,” the anchor said. “Though there are some who belief it’s magic, not unlike what was seen in East City some months ago.”
            The camera tried to focus on two individuals among the mess. One was glowing blue, and getting his ass handed to him.
            Kevin clenched the couch pillow. “Blue Nexus, come on.”
            The man glowing with purple energy, a Combat mage, loosed an arrow into Blue Nexus’s gut. Kevin turned the TV off and dropped the remote.
            He looked out across Pacific City, glowing in the early nighttime. He thought his shift was over, and he could let Maya handle some of the work now.
            He approached his closet, opening it up and staring at the silver outfit looking back at him. He rested his hand on the gun he’d just put down.
            “Back at it, then,” he said.     
            The Sentinel reached for the communicator, the Zanderia communicator, that had gathered so much dust over the last few years. Phoenix’s icon sat right in the middle of the phone.
            Kevin let the communicator up to his ear, pressing down on Phoenix’s button. Before the other super could answer, Kevin simply said, “Get me Shindari.”
            He clipped the communicator to the back of his belt and pulled the silver outfit from the closet. The Sentinel had a promise to live up to.  

Next time: The Sentinel recruits two mages to help him take down who he thinks may be behind some of the strange magic activity in Pacific City, and someone that may hold secrets to Rafael's power! Check it out in "Blue Nexus #63 - A Sentinel, A Sword, a Shield"!

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