Real Men Wear Tights

High school can be tough for everyone. This is especially true when you're hiding a secret that can never be told.


9. In Which Partners Are Made Part 1

/ / /

There was a suspended moment before the first bullets reached him, time seeming to slow as the light from the muzzle flashes less than fifteen yards away caused flowers of fire to bloom on his retinas. John counted one, two, three beats of his heart pounding against his chest before the bullets managed to reach his tightly compacted barrier.

The first bullet impacted against the invisible shield inches from his right shoulder before it flattened and fell, having no noticeable effect except for causing a rippling wave to shiver through the air. The second reached him before the first had fallen an inch, the bullet pressing down on the rippling barrier and causing the wind to pinch slightly against the hero's skin as it crumpled and rebuffed the bullet’s attack. After two long, agonizing seconds in which the mobsters kept their fingers depressed on their triggers, the forty-third bullet to strike his straining barrier managed to transfer its full kinetic energy directly to his body, causing each impact after it to feel like a solid punch landing against his chest.

Each subsequent blow was like a blow to his confidence, as John could literally feel his barrier being chipped away. He grit his teeth tight and tightened his grip on Casey’s shaft as he sent every bit of willpower he had into maintaining it, his mind racing through his possible options as he searched for a way out of this.

Any chances he had of escaping back the way he’d come were dashed as he saw out of his peripheral vision that the thugs who had been directly behind him had each taken up position behind the crates and boxes littered around the dock, their weapons trained on his back in case he attempted to retreat that way. That was a risky plan, putting their own men in danger of being struck by friendly fire, but it was effective in keeping John pinned where he was.

Though each impact was painful, John pushed the pain away to a place that he couldn’t feel it, clearing his mind and centering himself. It was hard to concentrate with his body jerking from the force of the impacts, but he had little choice but to weather it if he was going to be successful in his next move.

Ignoring the rule to never take your eyes from your enemy, John let his eyelids slide shut as the outside world faded to something muted, the sounds of gunfire becoming nothing more than the gentle pops of a child’s fireworks.

Taking a slow, deep breath, John reached deep within himself and sought the mental tug that he’d long come to associate with his connection to the wind. Its gentle sway was a constant sensation always just at the edges of his consciousness, the feeling subdued enough so that it was never more than a mild itch in the back of his mind.

When he reached the source of the tug, John took a moment to observe it, the formless sensation given shape as a rushing river of air inside his thoughtscape. This was the tether between himself and the wind, the bond that connected their wills together. John had always been cautious in how he treated the link, always aware that there lurked beneath the immediate surface a broiling hurricane of power, tempting to him in its allure but frightening in its potential. John had never more than skimmed the depths of this connection for fear of what might happen if he ever truly let loose. Now, with the impacts of bullets against his barrier shaking his bones to the point that he was feeling it through his meditative calm, John concentrated on wrapping his awareness around that hum of power, the wind starting to sing in his ears as it sensed his intention. And then, with a sharp intake of breath, John pulled.

Back in reality, the results of his action were immediate.

The wind which had been whipping up against the hero’s form stilled completely for a fraction of a second, the pressure of the air increasing exponentially, before it literally exploded outward with a surge of energy. Invisible tendrils of wind shout out from around him in a crashing wave, his enemies halting their fire to try and ground themselves against the display of power. With a single thought of “defend,” the tendrils began to swirl and coalesce, wrapping around his form and hugging him tightly until, moments later, John was floating in the eye of a miniature tornado, his blue eyes glowing brightly behind his goggles as they thrummed with power.




There was stunned silence from the gangsters for a precious few moments while everyone on the dock openly stared at the spectacle in front of their eyes, the hero having never before presented any indication that he was hiding this much power. While it was comparatively small for a natural tornado and had yet to pick up enough detritus to become fully visible, it was still an impressive demonstration of John’s true potential. The stupor of the crowd was broken as a very small wooden box, having been picked up by the howling winds, crashed into one of the lighted poles placed around the dock, the debris smashing into the floodlight and bathing that area of the dock in darkness in a shower of broken glass. As guns were once again drawn and barrel-mounted flashlights activated, the perimeter of gangsters spread out, giving the hero a much wider berth as they resumed firing.

John grunted as the firing resumed, though this time there wasn’t even a tickle against his senses to indicate the impact of bullets. As soon as they were entering the wind’s path, the projectiles were being snatched out of the air and consumed by the vortex. Still, reining in the overwhelming power vibrating through his veins and resonating with the wind was taking its toll, and John could feel sweat starting to roll down his forehead after just a few moments.

It wasn’t that the hero was having any trouble keeping the tornado going; it was just the opposite, in fact. The winds whipping around him were pulling at his control, calling to him, begging him to give in to its power and threatening to swallow him whole as it strained against his tight hold on it, its wild nature yearning for freedom. It would’ve been easy to give in, John knew, but he wasn’t sure what would happen if he did. Something deep inside him told him that this would be a monumentally bad idea, and he wasn’t willing to test that feeling anytime soon.

The winds were starting to pick up dust and debris now, becoming much harder to see out of. John could just make out the Midnight Crew thugs a few dozen yards in front of him, the muzzle flashes still flaring, their flashlights pointed steadily at his form in the middle of the maelstrom.

John barely heard a muffled call from beyond the dark curtain of wind, the words themselves swallowed by the roar of air around him. The popping sounds of the guns ceased, but John wasn’t sure if it was to reload or to strategize against him. The latter seemed more likely, since up until that point they had been staggering their fire so that there had never been a pause in the hailstorm of bullets. The fact of the matter, he supposed, was that they were at a bit of a standoff, the Midnight Crew unable to reach him with their weapons and John unable to fight back for fear of not being able to control the power he’d already let loose. With the amount of force he had at his disposal at that moment, he’d be just as likely to completely obliterate the dock as he would be to take out the bad guys.

Simply flying away wasn’t an option. He now had the cover needed to pull off such a maneuver successfully, but running away had never been possible. He’d made that decision the moment he’d read the Midnight Crew’s note. To leave now would be to turn his back on the innocents of his city, and besides, the hero never ran away.

Running through the only options he had left, John frowned in thought, keeping half his attention on the gangsters he could now barely see outside of the violently swirling winds. With the power of the wind coursing through his veins like he’d had a shot of pure adrenaline to the heart, he didn’t doubt that he could keep the barrier spinning until they realized the futility of their attacks and left. It was the aforementioned problem of keeping it all under control that was worrying him. Whatever he was going to do, he needed to do it soon; the tornado had already started to pick up in intensity, the winds feeding on John’s emotions and the desire to protect its avatar as well as it’s nearly uncontrollable desire to run rampant and be free.

Directing the wind at any one source could prove too unpredictable. He’d be just as likely to blast a person five miles as he would ten feet. Dispersing the wind altogether wouldn’t work, either, as that would leave him in the same predicament he had been in earlier, with a barrage of bullets coming dangerously close to punching through his regular barrier. Maybe he could direct the majority of the winds out onto the waters while retaining some for his own use? That was a thought, but John wasn’t sure that he had the control to pull something like that off in his current state. Still, it was the best thing he could think of at the moment.

John bent his knees low and readied himself to leap higher into the air to begin his counter-attack, his muscles tensing as he redirected a strong gust under his legs. Just as he was about to kick off his windy platform, he noticed movement beyond the wall of swirling air.

Boxcars was making gestures with his hands, and the others were flocking to his side. John saw that even the men who had positioned themselves at his rear were withdrawing, moving around the edges of his tornado to stand alongside their partners in crime. The lights from the gun-mounted flashlights never wavered from his form, however, indicating that they all still had their guns trained on him. As he watched, the large figure that he assumed to be Boxcars held out his hand, and what appeared to be a troll pulled something from inside his jacket and put it in Boxcars’s hand. John squinted in an attempt to make out the identity of the object, but the poor lighting combined with the now dark-grey winds surrounding him were not very good conditions for seeing a fist-sized object fifteen yards away with any clarity.

John didn’t have long to be curious before Boxcars hurled the object directly at his position, the wind catching it and orbiting it around him as soon as it made contact with the funnel. As his eyes followed its silhouette, John’s heart nearly leapt into his throat as realized exactly what it was.

A grenade.

John’s reaction was instinctual as he dropped Casey and brought his arms up to bear in a defensive gesture, the wind around him condensing in front of his arms at the same time as it tried to expel the grenade from its clutches. But it was too late for that.

John had just enough time to urge the force of his tornado against the weapon’s side before it literally blew up in his face.

The hero was rewarded for his efforts by not immediately being killed. Rather than having his organs liquefied inside his body, John felt a blast of force surround him and press against his hastily erected barrier, squeezing him as if he were in a vice. In the next second, John felt himself being propelled violently from the center of his vortex, passing through the barrier of wind and out the other side, his flight completely out of control. The whole experience seemed eerily calm to John, though that probably had something to do with the fact that the only thing he could hear was a persistent ringing.




In the seconds before he connected with the ground, John managed to twist his body midair so that at the very least his head wouldn’t take the brunt of his inevitable impact. What little wind that had been skirting the outer layer of the funnel rushed at him with alarm, bending together to try and cushion his fall. Despite its efforts, John still connected with the ground too hard and too fast, the resulting stab of pain from where his left shoulder met the concrete leaving him gasping.

John lay there for an agonizingly long second, trying to force his thoughts through the pain, before the reality of the situation slammed in on him like a ton of bricks. There were no flashlights trained on him just then, but he all the same couldn’t afford to lay there and nurse his wounds; his life was in danger. He couldn’t afford to stay still. The teen took in a sharp breath as he tried to push himself up, the faint smell of burnt fabric filling his nose as smoke rose from his singed costume. The alarming stab of pain which spread from his shoulder across his chest made itself known again, and John became distinctly aware of a wet sensation slowly trailing down the left side of his face. His ears were still ringing, but hopefully he’d only been temporarily deafened.

Ignoring the pain in his shoulder as best he could, John rolled to a crouch, only just then realizing that Casey was no longer firmly gripped in one hand. His body wobbled as his vision suddenly swam, so he steadied himself by pressing his right hand firmly against the ground, drawing in a long, slow breath.

He was brought out of his stupor when, with an angered howl that John didn’t hear but certainly felt, the tornado completely unraveled without its master’s influence, the resulting wave pushing out and crashing over everything within its range and shoving it all sharply backwards, including John himself. For the second time in under a minute, John was thrown from where he was and collided painfully against the ground. The hero was content with the knowledge that he probably hadn’t been the only one to hit the ground that time, however.

John allowed his aching body a few moments of rest as he laid still, a jagged bit of gravel from the concrete dock digging into his cheek, but he paid that no mind. He was jolted into action when the wind carried to him a sharp warning and several flashlights fell on his form. His hands pointed straight at the ground, John instantly generated two bursts of concentrated air and let them fly, the concussive blasts picking him up from his prone position and throwing him backwards at least a dozen feet. The move hurt like hell as his left shoulder screamed in agony, but John counted his blessings as he noticed a hail of bullets impacting where he’d just been, the bullets burrowing into the ground and sending chips of cement into the air. That had been too close.

Whether by the wind’s guidance or through sheer luck, he landed in a controlled crouch beside a small forklift placed near the edge of the pier. Taking stock of his fortune, John quickly tucked himself behind it, slumping down with his back pressed to the large piece of machinery. He was thankful for the temporary cover from his opponents, but he didn’t exactly feel all that safe at the moment. The teen dared a hurried glance over the forklift’s cab to gauge his opponent’s movements, but besides the pair that had just fired on him, most seemed to only just be collecting themselves off of the ground. John had maybe a minute to himself if his luck continued, more if no one had caught where he had been blasted to moments prior. He needed to use the time wisely.

Assessing the damage done to his body was his first priority. A serious injury meant having to adjust his method of fighting to accommodate, and he needed to be as effective as possible when he inevitably made his position known and was forced to fight. Sound was beginning to trickle in through his right ear again as he crouched against the metal frame of the forklift, which John considered a small victory. His left ear continued to ring despite its counterpart’s progress, which was making it hard to judge the distance of the shouts he was now hearing. Almost hesitantly, he touched his right hand to his left ear, his gloved fingers coming away damp with blood. That was troubling. If his eardrum had been damaged, that could mean a whole host of issues, the least of which being possible permanent hearing loss. John clamped that fear down as soon as it arose; you had to be alive to have hearing loss, after all, and that meant surviving this ordeal. At least his inner ear wasn’t damaged enough to throw off his equilibrium, a fact which John considered a small blessing.

The next injury he catalogued was his still throbbing left shoulder and arm. A probing diagnostic of the area with his fingers revealed a distended bump in the front of his shoulder that was very tender to the touch. It took John a moment of running through his symptoms before he realized what exactly he was touching. He’d only ever dislocated a shoulder once before, and that had been his right during a particularly heated sparring practice several years prior. This was good news, as John would take a dislocated shoulder over a separated or broken shoulder any day, even though he was still risking nerve damage and despite the fact that it would hurt like hell to properly realign the bone into the socket. Though he hadn’t enjoyed it much at the time, John now considered it fortunate that his father had guided him through setting his own shoulder, appreciating for once that his dad was fond of employing the tough love approach. Had the man done it for him that first time, this situation would be looking a lot bleaker; John might have been stuck with an increasingly painful dislocated shoulder until he found his way home.

First things first, he let his fingers gingerly ghost over his arm and shoulder, checking for any fractures or damage that could have been done to his humerus that might prevent a safe or effective setting. Finding nothing, the hero slowly stood up on shaky legs, bracing his back against the forklift. He took a step forward, letting his arm hang limply at his side before bending his back. Grabbing his left hand with his right and then shifting his body to rotate his shoulder, John could feel the pressure mount until, with an audible lurch, the shoulder slipped back into place on its own. The hero grit his teeth as a jolt of pain flared sharply above his chest, but after that the relief was almost immediate. Using his right hand to pull and rotate the appendage ensured that the realignment was at least sound, so John was satisfied with that. The movement of his arm felt a little too stiff as he tested it out, but stiffness was the least of his concerns at the moment. He could assess possible rotator cuff damage when he wasn’t being shot at with assault rifles. When he lifted his arm, the acute pang of pain from his collarbone made him hiss under his breath. He did his best to ignore it; if the bone there was broken, it was something that could only heal with time or surgery.

John leaned against the forklift, listening with his good ear cocked to the movements and shouts from the Midnight Crew. All things told, he actually considered himself pretty lucky. What he had just come out of could have left him with a lot worse than a dislocated shoulder, one potentially burst eardrum, and a broken collarbone. If he hadn’t caught sight of the grenade when he had, he could have been torn to pieces by the force of the explosion or been knocked unconscious and left to the mercies of the Midnight Crew. He wasn’t always going to be as lucky as he had been, especially against opponents who were not fucking around. A lesson for the future, assuming he walked away from this.

At the very edges of his senses, John could hear the muted but familiar sirens of the police off in the distance, though he was unable to judge just how far away they were. He cursed internally, knowing that this fight now had a set time limit; at this point, the only thing the arrival of the police would mean would be a rise in the number of potential casualties. He didn’t want to pull the local law enforcement into a battle that would probably require S.W.A.T. to put down. One way or another, he needed to finish this soon.

The wind swirled with alarm at the same time as a host of gun-mounted flashlights lit up the forklift, alerting John to the fact that the bad guys were back in position and closing in. Almost as if on cue, bullets began to pepper the side of the forklift, causing him to duck quickly back against its frame.

This was not a favourable position to be in. There was nothing except exposed space to either side of the forklift and the Midnight Crew undoubtedly had weapons trained on the air directly above it, so flying was out. There was some merit to the idea of diving off the dock behind him, but he wasn’t keen on finding out firsthand how cold those waters were or how difficult it was to fight while being weighed down by wet clothes. If he flew straight out and kept low to the water he could maybe circle around his enemy without them noticing, but that too was risky. He’d be a sitting duck out on the open waters, just as if he left his cover to fight on the dock.

Taking stock of his surroundings, John spotted Casey laying in a pile of chipped and splintered cement not a few feet from his cover. Crouching as closely to the edge of the forklift as he could, John quickly reached out for her with his uninjured arm, closing his hand around the handle and wrenching the warhammer back just as several streams of bullets burst into existence in the space where his arm had just occupied moments prior. Someone among the Midnight Crew was quite the shot.

The hero licked his lips, swallowing down salt and the sharp, coppery taste of blood.

As safety glass tinkled harmlessly on John’s hooded head from a few shots impacting the forklift’s cab, the teen reached up and pulled his mask down. Turning to the side, he spat a mouthful of blood onto the ground, his eyes closing behind his goggles as he re-affixed his mask.

The vibrations of the gunfire impacting against the forklift thrummed at his back, and for the first time John felt himself losing some of the confidence he had built up. In his half a decade of crime-fighting, no one had ever injured him like this before. No one had ever caught him this off-guard. But then again, nobody had ever gone so far as to bomb a building just to get his attention, either. Not until these men had appeared in his city and shown him something he might not be capable of stopping. The Midnight Crew was overwhelming him and, for a moment, he felt the fear he had been holding back creeping into his awareness. They wanted his blood and they weren’t going to stop until they had it.

With a mental push that felt almost physical, John squashed those feelings ruthlessly, his shoulder giving a thrum of pain as if to remind him that it still existed. He wasn’t going to let them take Heir down this easily. Not while they still posed such a significant threat to his city.

Gripping Casey with his good hand high up on her shaft so that he could more easily wield her one-handed, John gathered the wind around him once again, its presence both reassuring and worrisome as it pressed down lightly against his shoulders as if warning him to just stay put in the relative safety of his shelter and not go into danger again.

John squashed the warning just as he had squashed his fears, shoving it somewhere in the back of his mind where it wouldn’t make itself known. He most likely didn’t have long before the police arrived, and he wanted this done by the time that they did. And that meant he had to move.

Just as he was about to take his chances and hope that his re-formed barriers would last long enough for him to either fly to a safer vantage point or begin his counterattack, something peculiar caught his attention. Along with the more insistent tugging of the wind that he remain in place, the noises of his surroundings were changing.

At first he wasn’t positive, what with one ear still providing nothing but static, but after a few moments he quickly realized that there were distinctively fewer guns firing than there had been moments ago. As John listened and focused in on the sound, the number of shots ringing in the air continued to steadily decrease. Odd.

His curiosity getting the better of him, John tightened and focused his barrier before he peeked his head over the edge of the forklift, his eyes quickly taking in the scene. The gangsters were arranged in a very loose box formation, the bright flashlights letting John know that there were about a dozen of them left, with Boxcars standing at their centre. It looked like Boxcars was directing them to stagger their fire so that there were always bullets in the air, while the few off to either sides were keeping their barrels aimed upwards in anticipation. There looked to be two more thugs approaching his position off to the side, most likely hoping to catch him by surprise while the rest of the Crew held him pinned to that one spot. It was probably because they were all so focused on him that they were entirely unaware of what was going on behind them.

As John watched, a shadow of black and red darted just past the last row of men and pulled an unsuspecting goon back into the darkness, the troll’s flashlight disappearing and not coming back on. The next one to go went just as quickly, though this time John managed to spot a familiar gloved hand wrapping itself around the man’s mouth and a pair of glowing eyes before he was jerked back, his gun clattering to the ground uselessly as he flailed his arms in surprise. The last member on that row seemed to realize what was happening, because John saw him turn around with a start and aim his gun into the darkness. A svelte figure was illuminated for the briefest of seconds before the gun was knocked from the man’s grasp, his body soon being pulled into the darkness just as his companions’ were. That was three thugs downed in a mere handful of seconds. There was only one person John knew of with that kind of speed and ability.

His suspicions were confirmed when, a moment later, his fellow hero stepped out of the darkness into the pale light of one of the few remaining working street lamps on the dock. Hemogoblin stood still only for a second, his neon red eyes alighting on John’s position for a brief instant before he moved to take out yet another unsuspecting target.




John’s pulse picked up as he pulled himself fully back behind the forklift before he got himself shot for staring for too long. How did the troll know to come here? Despite his earlier concern that the troll might get caught up in the Midnight Crew’s move to get rid of Heir, it had never really occurred to him that Hemogoblin might end up coming to his rescue, if only for the fact that the dockyards were a considerable distance from what he’d figured to be the troll’s normal patrol route. It was possible that he had somehow been diverted away from the bomb by whatever call had alerted the police to the shootout, though that seemed far-fetched; Hemogoblin was fast when he moved along the rooftops, faster than John could probably be were he to try traveling without the aid of the wind, but to get here before the police did was a stretch. Whatever his reason for being at the docks, however, John wasn’t going to complain. With an ally on his side, this fight was starting to seem a lot less hopeless.

Inspired by how readily Hemogoblin leapt into the action, John affixed Casey in her holder and squared his shoulders against the edge of the forklift, clamping his fingers around the bottom of the frame. Bending his knees low, he expelled a single breath before he heaved up and back with everything he had, at the same time sending as strong of a gale against the machine as he could manage in such a localized spot. He ignored the pain in his body as he pushed, and, with a heave of exertion, the multi-tonne forklift was sent toppling onto its side, the crash of metal and glass hopefully serving to further distract the Crew from noticing that they were up against two heroes now.

John wasted no time in leveraging his good shoulder against the machine and pushing its unbalanced frame roughly, the metal screeching loudly against the concrete as it warped and deformed, the teen moving directly towards his enemies with his feet leaving gouges where he dug in and pushed. The shots picked up in frequency as every one of the remaining members frantically tried to stop his march forward, but their bullets were wasted as they slammed into the makeshift shield.

As John reached the point where he had noticed a few of the thugs trying to sneak around the sides, he pulled the wind around him for protection, ready and expecting the sharp punches of rounds that would connect against him as soon as he left cover. With Hemogoblin there, that didn’t seem like such a frightening prospect anymore.

Without wasting a beat, John ceased pushing and rushed to his left, jetting out from behind his cover with the wind propelling him. He flew low and fast, catching his enemy off guard with the surprising boldness of his intention. Focusing on the first gunman he saw, John barreled straight into him without letting up on his speed, knocking the startled man a good metre back. The male toppled over from the force, winded but not unconscious, though John thought he’d heard something crack upon making contact. John landed beside him, delivering a swift boot to the temple to assure that the goon wouldn’t be rejoining this fight.

Just as he looked up from his victim, a bullet slammed into the barrier directly over his injured shoulder, causing the teen to wince behind his mask. With not a second to lose, John pushed through the air as quickly as he could, dodging as much of the sporadic gunfire as possible and flicking the rest away with tendrils of wind. Out of his peripheral vision, John saw that Hemogoblin’s presence had finally been noticed, as three men now had him surrounded. Two had exchanged their initial weapons for knives, rifles nowhere in sight, while the third appeared to be trying to aim his rifle. John trusted that the hero could take care of them on his own, especially when one was dumb enough to try and aim a rifle in such extremely close quarters.

With a twirl to avoid his gunfire, John landed next to a troll with a wild mane of curly black hair and vertical horns. Twisting his head to the side to avoid a jab from the butt of the troll’s rifle, John lashed out and gripped at the thug’s shoulder with his left hand. He was just about to take the troll down when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed what the troll’s companions were doing. With a tight grip on the clean black cloth of his expensive suit, John twisted his hand swiftly backward, causing the troll to stumble with the momentum. He quickly let go and pushed the opposite shoulder, spinning the troll violently around so that his back was facing John, John’s hand grabbing the troll’s arm and wrenching it high behind his back so that he was incapacitated. There was little time for the thug to struggle before bullets pounded into John’s makeshift living shield, the troll’s body shaking as he was intentionally shot in an attempt to hit the hero.


John tried to tune out the cries of pain from the troll, reassuring himself that each member of the group was probably outfitted with at least a kevlar jacket, as well financed as they were. As soon as the fire lessened and John heard the dropping of spent magazines to the ground, the troll slumped, one leg giving out from under him before he went completely limp, a trickle of green blood leaking from his lips.

John didn’t have the time to observe the troll’s damage as he moved forward to take down his next target, easily lifting the unconscious troll out in front of him with a single hand, wary of another attack. He quickly scanned the area, looking for the one who’d just taken shots at him.

Not many of the thugs were left. Boxcars wasn’t making a move towards either Hemogoblin or Heir, seemingly content to stand and watch as chaos unfolded around him, an annoyed scowl on his face. That was a bit contrary to what John thought he knew of the man’s character, but it was possible that the mobster was planning something. He was smart enough to know that with all the violence happening around him, his inaction would prevent him from becoming an immediate target for either hero.

Across the dockyard, John saw a man struggling to reload, inexpertly trying to clear what appeared to be a jam by trying to force the magazine to load. That was probably the one who had just fired at him, John surmised, owing to the fact that everyone else in his immediate surroundings seemed to be focusing on the brawl with Hemogoblin. As he watched, the man threw down his rifle in frustration and pulled out a pistol from behind his back. Contrary to what John thought he’d do next, the man turned his sights on the beleaguered Hemogoblin, raising the pistol to shoulder height and sighting his target down the end of the barrel, taking careful aim. Aim at the hero who currently had his back to the man.

John reached behind his back, grabbed Casey by the handle, and threw her without a second thought, his eyes widening a split second after the hammer had left his hand as he realized what he had just done; Casey was no toy, and she was not to be used lightly. John’s eyes followed her path as she spun through the air once, twice, and then impacted with an audible crunch against the middle of the man’s chest, John’s aim having been perfect. The thug, immediately knocked back by the force of the hammer’s blow, dropped to the ground like a puppet that had had its strings cut, Casey clattering to the ground next to him. The man lay there silently, unmoving except for a series of jerking spasms that racked his body.

John averted his gaze as soon as he confirmed that the man wasn’t getting back up again, doing his best to quit replaying the sound of the man’s chest crunching that he’d heard clearly even with only one properly working ear. He had other things to concern himself with at the moment.

John tossed his troll shield at a man standing close by, the bullet-riddled troll falling limply into the other shooter. The hero threw a sphere of wind at the man’s head as he fell back under the weight of his compatriot’s body, his alarmed eyes clouding into unconsciousness as they both collapsed. That left only a handful still standing that were unengaged with one of the heroes, huddled in a group as they tried to figure out their next course of action. Of course, Boxcars himself was still standing in the middle of it all, looking more and more aggravated by the apparent failings of his lackeys. He’d be saved for last.

As John watched, the group of three Midnight Crew thugs who had been off to the side made their move to join the fight with Hemogoblin, most likely choosing him over John because the troll was closest. Without hesitation, John shot up into the air, pushing himself up into the sky before twisting his body into a dive. He slammed back down into the ground half a dozen yards away from where he had taken off, effectively taking the group who had been ready to rush the troll by surprise. His fists became gloved with sheaths of concentrated air as he then made swift work of the group, delivering a rapid series of right jabs to the heads of each thug. Within seconds, all three were dropping simultaneously to the floor, unconsciousness having already claimed each of them. They really shouldn’t have turned their backs to him.

Hemogoblin didn’t seem to notice John’s actions, being so engrossed in his own battle. From what John could observe, though, the fight was still skewed entirely in his favour despite his numerical disadvantage. As he watched, John’s eyes caught something strange as Hemogoblin snapped his arm forward in a quick swipe.

A dark blade was curving out of the troll’s wrist in the unmistakable form of a sickle, and for a brief, panicked moment, John thought that maybe the hero had been stabbed. But as his arm twisted, Hemogoblin connected the blade smoothly with the back of another troll’s hand, causing the troll to drop his knife and leaving a stream of yellow blood in its wake. As Hemogoblin brought up his other arm in a guard, John noted an identical blade in the same position on his other wrist, meaning they were obviously the hero’s own.





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