Monday, July 7, 2014

Only Sand

     Oliver jolted awake. As he sat up, pain in his side forced his eyes shut. Echoes of voices and gunfire sounded off in his mind. He slowly opened his eyes again.
     He was in a large tent. It was dark, but there were holes in the fabric roof, letting blindingly-bright patches of light inside. The air was thick with moisture and the smell of salt. Oliver looked down at himself. His clothes were damp, dirty, ripped, and covered in sand. He was lying on a small, tattered mattress—probably from a ship's bunk. He rolled onto the ground, forcing himself to ignore the pain and stand. There was no floor, only sand. His shoes were gone.
     Oliver slowly stepped outside the tent. He was on a pale beach. The ocean lay on his right; ragged-looking palm trees lined the shore on his left. At his feet he saw a broken plank of wood. He let himself fall to his knees as he suddenly remembered yesterday.

     Gently whispering breeze. The scent of saltwater. Endless ocean waves tinted orange by the sunset. Oliver Queen stood on the deck of his family's yacht, leaned over the railing, and sighed with a smile. This is so much better than Metropolis, he thought. No school, no drama with friends, no getting taken hostage, nothing but standing barefoot on a boat in the middle of the ocean.
     "Having fun doing nothing?" a voice said from behind.
     Oliver turned to see his father, Robert Queen.
     "Absolutely," Oliver said. "Nothing is the best kind of fun to have."
     "Well, maybe when you feel like doing something, you can give this a go."
     Robert handed Oliver a long box. Oliver took it and opened it. Inside was an archer's bow—a simple recurve bow, made of yew.
     "Your mom and I picked that up for you while we were in Japan," Robert said.
     Oliver frowned and handed the box back to his father. "No thanks."
     "I already told you I don't want to do archery anymore."
     "But Ollie, you're already at pro level. In another year or two you could be in the olympics."
     "But I don't want to. I spent every other weeknight practicing since I was ten, and for what? My lucrative archery career?"
     "Forget money, you've got real talent. Besides, what else are you planning on doing?"
     Oliver turned back to the ocean.
     "Hopefully nothing, for as long as possible."
     Robert stared at Oliver for a long moment, then turned and walked away.
     Oliver felt a slight pang of guilt. Should I go say I'm sorry?

     "Well, our son wants to do 'nothing' with his life," Robert said as he walked into the bedroom.
     Laura Queen looked up from her book.
     "Well of course he does. He's seventeen and he's spent the last two weeks on a private yacht without a care in the world. Why would he even be considering taking responsibility for anything?"
     Robert tossed the box onto the bed as he sat down.
     "I don't know what to do about him. You and I had to work for what we have; we built our company ourselves. The way things are going, Oliver's gonna end up a lazy, rich snob who's never worked a day in his life. What are we supposed to do? Cut him off? Make him make his own way?"
     "Do you think that's best?"
     Robert looked at Laura. He hadn't really meant it, but...
     "...Maybe. I'm scared for him."
     Oliver stood in the hallway outside, just out of view of his parents. Their words hit him like an anchor. Slightly stunned, he turned around and walked into his room, shutting the door behind him.
     They want to cut me off? He thought. Am I really that... bad?

     A rapid clacking noise echoed from above deck.
     "What was that?" Laura said.
     "I don't know," Robert said, "it almost sounded like a machine gun."
     Laura sighed. "We're alone in the middle of the South Pacific; I don't think anyone's shooting at us."
     Robert was excitedly peering out the window, looking in both directions.
     "Honestly," Laura said, "sometimes I actually think you'd like to get shot at."
     "It might be cool."
     "If we survived and everything."
     "No more James Bond marathons for you."
     Robert gave her his best sarcastic pleading face. "But Ollie and I are almost through the Timothy Dalton era!"
     Robert shook his head and turned back to the window. "Nevermind. You don't understand."
     Laura didn't reply, but there was a sudden loud crack from where she was standing.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dangerous Discoveries

     Alfred looked up from dusting the couch to see the penthouse elevator doors slide open. Bruce stepped out, frowning for no apparent reason and staring at nothing.
     "If you don't mind me saying, sir, you look like I did on the day I found out I'd been selected for military duty. Surely the school day wasn't that dreadful."
     Bruce rubbed his forehead. "School is idiotic, but no."
     Alfred looked at Bruce expectantly.
     "Alfred," Bruce began, "I'd tell you, but it's better if you don't know. It's probably dangerous."
     Alfred stiffened. "You forget, sir, that my job these past eighteen years has not been merely to serve you, but to protect you as well."
     "You're not my legal guardian anymore. I'm an adult."
     "A single birthday doesn't make me obsolete, Master Bruce. Whatever danger you may be dealing with is for the both of us to face, so long as I live on this planet."
     Bruce was a bit surprised and slightly amused. "Have you been pretending to be soft on me this entire time?"
     "Well, seeing as you're an adult now, I wager you can handle me being straight with you."

     Bruce explained the situation: the financial nonsense with Excelsior and the weirdness going on with Morgan.
     Alfred thought quietly for a moment. "If Morgan did kill his parents..."
     "Actually, I think he only killed his father. His mom I'm not sure about. Maybe that was the trigger that pushed him over the..."
     Bruce sighed.
     "Over the edge?"
     "Accidental puns happen to the best of us, Master Bruce."

     "Is there any way you can further investigate what's being done at the Edges' tower?"
     "Not unless I want to break in, and I'm not sure I want to risk that. I had to be careful enough in the elevator not to look too interested..."
     Sudden realization hit Bruce. "Lucy."
     "Is she in danger?"
     Bruce's head sunk into his hands. "She could be. She saw everything I did and didn't try to hide it."
     "The Lanes have been through more than enough. We need to ensure their safety."
     "We can hire personal security for them; maybe tip off the authorities that someone might be after Lucy."
     "I'll handle that. What do you plan to do about Morgan?"
     "It looks like we'll have to play the long game. I'll stay in Metropolis; keep close eyes on him and wait until he slips up and does something obvious."
     "In the meantime, you also should keep up your unaware persona. Go to school—if you're still required there—spend time with friends..."
     "I don't have any friends here anymore, Alfred. Clark and Diana live in Smallville, Zatanna's busy touring, and Bart's not even in this century anymore."
     "You must have some old acquaintances from Excelsior."
     "I only really hung out with Oliver. I guess I could see what he's up to."
     Alfred's face told Bruce he'd stepped on a subject land mine, like bringing up a recently-dead relative.
     "Sir... I thought you knew. The Queen family was lost at sea several months ago. The wreckage of the ship was discovered. Not all the bodies were recovered, but... Oliver is most certainly dead."

     Rapid bursts of gunfire echoed over burning fields. Soldiers screamed commands in Chinese at the top of their lungs. Workers ran from the fire, but were gunned down before they could escape. A cough was heard from the crops; a soldier sprinted for the sound. A woman got up and ran from her hiding place in the unburned corner of field; the soldier raised his gun and fired. The woman tripped and fell to the ground before the first bullet could hit; she crawled forward, hoping she could hide again. The soldier kicked her once before rolling her over and shoving his gun in her face.
     "YOU RUN, YOU ONLY DIE SLOWER," he said in rough Mandarin. He pulled the trigger, shots exploded from the gun, but none of them hit their target. The soldier's corpse hit the ground, a large arrow protruding from his skull.
     200 yards away, a man lowered his bow. Rain-soaked, covered in torn clothes, scarred, and bloody, he stood tall against the light of the moon, silently daring the soldiers to ignore the civilians and come for him instead. The soldiers obliged.
     Oliver Queen raised his bow.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Behind the Eyes

     "Lucy, what are you doing here?"
     "I go to school here now!" Lucy said, bouncing on her toes excitedly.
     "How? You're only twelve."
     "I was twelve, two years ago. I'm fourteen now, dummy."
     "...Right. So why... how are you here? At this school?"
     Lucy sighed. "Oh, I don't know. I got a free scholarship or something."
     Bruce did the math in his head. Given the fact that Lois had been taken hostage at Excelsior once and later killed by the school's biggest supporter, it made sense that the school would want to offer the Lanes something to keep them from pursuing any kind of legal action.
     Lucy hug-tackled Bruce. "I missed you."
     Bruce peeled Lucy off his neck. "Thanks, Lucy. But shouldn't you be going home now? The school's about to close."
     "I take the bus home."
     Bruce looked over Lucy's shoulder. "You mean the bus that just left?"
     Lucy turned. "Oh... oops."
     Bruce sighed and rubbed his forehead. "I'll take you home. Do you have a cellphone?"
     Lucy nodded. "Yeah, I got one for my birthday! Look, it has—"
     "Good. Call your parents and let them know I'm taking you home. Let's go."
     Bruce's phone rang in his backpack.
     Lucy's eyes went wide. "Ohhhh, your ringtone is way cooler than mine. Mine is—"
     "Tell me later; I have to answer this now." Bruce had never been more glad to take a call from Principal Reynolds.
     Bruce answered the phone. "Yes sir?"
     "Mister Wayne, I have a matter to discuss with you. Would you mind stopping by my office before you leave?"
     "Sorry sir; I've already left."
     "I can see you out my window, Mister Wayne. It won't take more than a minute, but I'd prefer not to explain myself over the phone."
     Bruce sighed. "I'll be there in a minute."

     "You remember Morgan Edge?"
     Bruce frowned slightly. "We weren't friends, but I knew him."
     "Have you heard about his family?"
     "I heard his mother died in a car accident a few months ago."
     "Two weeks ago, his father died as well."
     Too many orphans at this school, Bruce thought.
     "Remarkably, the same kind of accident, down almost to the exact detail."
     "That's... odd."
     "You wouldn't be the first to say that, but all reports indicate it was a freak coincidence."
     "...Weird, but why does this matter to me?"
     "Morgan hasn't shown up for school in over a week and isn't returning calls. I'd consider it a personal favor if you'd go talk to him."
     "You think since I'm an orphan too, I'd be able to get through to him?"
     "That's the idea."
     "Sorry. I'm not your errand boy."
     Bruce turned and went for the door.
     "Bruce, wait."
     Reynolds sighed. "I think you know the board forced you back here because they want your money."
     Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Well, obviously."
     "In the last few months, the school has lost the funding of both the Wayne and Luthor families. If the Edge donations cease as well, the school will likely go bankrupt."
     "You charge insane tuition prices here; how is that even possible?"
     "Between you and I, the board's spending is... questionable."
     "So they're sinking and they need our donations to stay afloat?"
     "Until they can re-balance their budgets, yes. And if they lose the Edge donation... they may resort to drastic measures."
     "You mean they'll start breaking the law and extorting us?"
     "As the principal, I am inclined to disagree with such accusations."
     "However accurate they may be."
     Reynolds gave the slightest of nods.
     Bruce thought for a moment. "I'll talk to him on my way home today."

     As Bruce left the office, Lucy jumped up from her seat in the waiting room. Selina was sitting next to Lucy.
     "What are you doing here?" Bruce asked.
     Selina smiled and shrugged. "Something about assaulting a boy in the girls' locker room."
     Lucy giggled. "We've been talking about you."
     Selina winked at Lucy.
     Bruce looked back and forth between Lucy and Selina. "Awesome."
     He turned and left, Lucy following in his shadow.

     The receptionist clicked off her earpiece and looked up at Bruce.
     "Mister Edge says he'll meet you in his apartment at the top floor, and that you can take the private elevator there."
     She gestured to a hallway near the back of the lobby.

     Bruce and Lucy stepped into the glass elevator, both wondering why it was made of glass if there were walls all around it. As the elevator started moving, they quickly understood. The private elevator shaft went through every main research and development floor in the building, giving the Edges a perfect view into what their company was doing.
     Bruce frowned slightly. Galaxy Communications was a media corporation. The Edges owned over half of the major media outlets in Metropolis. But what Bruce was seeing on several of the R&D floors—chemical labs, hospital beds, huge steel chairs with restraints—looked more like biochemical research. Human biochemical research. It all went by so fast that Bruce barely had time to figure any of it out.
     Lucy leaned toward Bruce. "Why are they making helmets for sick people?" she asked.
     The elevator doors opened.
     "Okay, Lucy, you stay here in the hall. I'll go talk to Morgan and be right back."
     Lucy seemed a bit uneasy about being left alone.
     "It'll just be for a minute," Bruce said.
     Bruce walked to the apartment door and lifted his hand to knock. He sighed and whispered to himself, "why do I have to play counselor?"
     Before Bruce could knock, the door opened.
     "Bruce!" Morgan said cheerfully, his arms open wide. Bruce somehow felt threatened, but he usually did when people tried to hug him. He quickly held out his hand for Morgan to shake, diverting the danger.
     Morgan noticed the maneuver and half-chuckled. "Same old antisocial Bruce. So what did you want to talk about, exactly?"
     "It's... complicated."
     "Sure. Come on in. Sorry about the mess; I've been redecorating."
     Bruce followed Morgan inside. It looked like half of everything in the apartment was boxed up or being thrown away. Bruce found that odd, but he found Morgan even odder. Morgan and Bruce had been classmates for three years, but they'd rarely spoken. Now Morgan was acting like they were best friends... and Morgan seemed happy. Not entirely fake-happy either—he was pleased, for some bizarre reason. But the tinges of fatigue around Morgan's eyes told Bruce that he wasn't sleeping well, and the way his eyes twitched back and forth made it obvious that he was hiding something. Bruce's senses told him that Morgan was, at the very least, unstable, if not somehow dangerous.
     Morgan casually sat down on the couch. "It's complicated how?"
     Bruce sat across from him. "Excelsior wants you to come back to school, or at the very least continue your family's annual donation."
     "Pssh. Well of course they do. Money's all they care about. You know the board takes that money and buys yachts with it?"
     "Yeah, well apparently they didn't expect their three biggest donors to drop out at once, and they're deep in trouble."
     "Me, you, and the Luthors."
     "...Right. Wait, why are you here telling me this? I thought you graduated?"
     "I did. But they decided one of my class credits wasn't valid and I needed to go back. They want me to resume my family's donations or they'll probably not let me leave until the end of the semester."
     "Wait, they're extorting you?"
     "Bruce, you need to go public with this. Lest you forget, I now own a friggin' media empire. I'll have Channel 5 do an expose on the whole thing, get you out of it all, and take them down while I'm at it."
     "Morgan, if you do that, it'll take so long that I'll have to stay through the entire semester, and they'll probably find a way to fail that one class so I'll have to retake it again. If the two of us put our donations in for this year, I can be out and have my diploma reinstated by the end of the week."
     Morgan sighed. "Well, I guess I can spare the 300k."
     "Thanks. I owe you one. And now I need to head out."
     Bruce and Morgan both stood up.
     "By the way," Bruce said, doing his best to feign casual interest,"what's everybody working on in those R&D levels?"
     "Eh, just some stuff the brainiacs down there want to work on. Something about testing the effect our programming has on the brain. Some statistician says it'll help increase ratings by 30%."
     "Ah. Cool."
     Morgan was lying, and Bruce knew it.

     Bruce said goodbye, gently took Lucy by the hand, and got back into the elevator—being careful not to be seen looking at the R&D floors.
     Bruce's face was perfectly neutral, but he somehow still looked horribly tense.
     "What's wrong?" Lucy said.
     "Nothing, Lucy. I just want to get you home before your parents think I kidnapped you."
     Bruce almost felt guilty lying to Lucy, but he couldn't even give a hint that he found anything suspicious. He glanced around the elevator car, feigning boredom. Sure enough, there was a tiny black lens hidden in the corner of the car. They were being watched and recorded.
      Bruce had looked into Morgan's eyes and seen a reflection of himself—a young man who had lost both parents and been left king of an empty castle. But Morgan was different. There was something else there, hidden in plain sight. Morgan had partially lost his mind. He was literally overjoyed and devastated at the same time. It was understandable, given the circumstances, but Bruce doubted that this was simple depression or isolation. If Bruce was right—and he knew he was—Morgan hadn't merely lost his parents; he'd killed at least one of them.

Friday, August 16, 2013


     Bruce watched her as she sauntered towards the back of the room. Short jet-black hair, eyes of ice, and pale skin. Her jeans, jacket, and boots were all black. As she sat down and part of her jacket slid aside, Bruce caught a glimpse of the text on her purple shirt: "F&%# the halls with bells of holly."
     The teacher, Miss Ganch, looked up. "Selina Kyle, I told you to never wear that shirt in this classroom again. Why aren't you in school uniform? And get your feet on the ground."
     Selina shrugged nonchalantly as she silently slid her legs off the desk. "They haven't given me a new one yet."

     Bruce was a tad bit mesmerized by Selina, but he couldn't put his finger on why. There was something about her eyes...
     Selina noticed Bruce staring at her, gave him a look as if to say "hey idiot, stare somewhere else," then almost giggled as he sheepishly broke eye contact and quickly turned back towards the front of the room.

     The sunlight was annoying, but otherwise outdoor P.E. was something Bruce actually rather liked, for a couple of reasons. First, he was good at it. There wasn't much in the way of traditional physical activity that he didn't excel at. Second, it was his chance to prove how much better he was than all the other students. He knew it was a terribly egotistical thing to think, but, from his perspective, it was hard to ignore the facts. Most everyone else here was a hormone-driven moron who deserved nothing more than to be ignored.
     Bruce ran down the track, lapping the other four boys in his group for the second time. He knew he was pretty fast, but that seemed a bit ridiculous. He glanced back at the group after he passed by; they were running slowly on purpose—"running" was being generous, actually—so they could stare at the girls doing gymnastics on the field. Bruce rolled his eyes, then saw Selina gracefully twisting over a high bar. He inadvertently slowed down. Something shoved into Bruce's shoulder. He turned to see the other four boys had passed him. Bruce shook his head to clear his mind and kept running.

     Bruce stayed on the field for as long as possible. He hated having to share a locker room with two dozen sweaty guys after class; he'd just wait until they were gone. It was his last class of the day, so he didn't have to be anywhere immediately.
     Selina apparently had the same idea; it was nearly sunset and she was only just now going inside. One of the ogling boys from before—Trent, a six-foot-tall lineman—quietly stepped out from behind the bleachers and followed her. Bruce stopped what he was doing and moved for the building.

     Bruce had been on the opposite side of the field. By the time he got inside, all he saw was Trent's shadow sliding inside the curved hallway to the girls' locker room.
     Bruce sprinted for the hall, then halted when he heard Trent's voice screaming in pain.
     "That's MISS crazy bitch," Selina's voice echoed. "Get out before I cut something else."
     Trent passed Bruce as he left the room. His hand was pressed tightly against the left side of his face; blood dripped from underneath his fingers.
     Bruce slowly stepped inside the locker room.
     Selina looked up. "Oh, for god's sake. Did you not see what I did to your buddy back there? You want some of that?"
     Bruce glanced up and immediately blushed. Selina was only halfway between outfits, and didn't have much on besides her underwear and half a pant leg.
     "N-no, I was just..." Bruce mentally re-focused. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
     Selina's face flashed with surprise and amusement.
     "Do I look okay?" she said with a smirk.
     Bruce almost blushed again, but stopped when he noticed the specks of blood on Selina's fingernails. Blood has a way of making everything more serious.
     "Sorry to bother you," he said, quickly turning around and leaving.

     Bruce decided to watch the sunset from the bleachers. Clark had told him once that it was relaxing. Thus far Bruce wasn't relaxed, just wondering how much he was damaging his eyes by staring at the sun this long.
     Bruce looked to his left to see Selina walking up to him.
     "Hey," Bruce replied, trying not to feel embarrassed again.
     Selina sat down next to him. Neither of them said anything for a long moment; they just stared out across the field.

     "You know we're killing our eyes staring at the sun like this," Selina said.
     Bruce smirked. "So look away."
     Selina smiled and shook her head. "I'd rather go blind early if it means living a little more."
     Bruce lowered his eyes.
     "But I'm guessing you're the other way around, huh?" Selina said.
     "I might need my eyesight for something later."
     "You say that like you're about to carry the One Ring to Mordor. What is it that's so important for you to do?"
     "...Nothing, just... life plans."
     Selina rolled her eyes. "Whatever, mister mysterious."
     "You're one to talk. Who are you, exactly? You weren't here last year, and everyone seems to hate you for some reason."
     "Not everyone hates me. The girls hate me, that's for sure. But the boys... well, I guess they do hate me—for not being the slut they wish I was, like the rest of the dumpster trash around here."
     "Thanks for that."
     "For not being a slut?"
     "You're welcome."
     Selina regarded Bruce for a moment.
     "What is it that makes you so different?" she asked him.
     "Different how?"
     "You're the ever-famous Bruce Wayne; you could be the king of this school if you wanted, but it seems like you despise it."
     "I really do."
     "But why? I mean, I get it, this place is like a cat ate a hundred-dollar bill and threw up, but no one else seems to care about that except you. You're rich, eighteen years old, and male; shouldn't you be more concerned with buying expensive cars and convincing girls to drop their panties?"
     "There are more important things to worry about."
     Selina stared at Bruce hard, searching his eyes. Then it clicked.
     "...Was it your mom or your dad?"
     "Who died. One of them did, didn't they?"
     Bruce looked back at her, questioning whether or not to get into it. His parents' death wasn't something he talked about with most people—ever.
     "...Both," he said, looking back towards the field.
     Selina's face fell. "Oh god, Bruce, I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
     "It was a long time ago."
     "Were they at the same time, or...?"
     "Mugged in an alley."
     "Were you there?"
     "How did you survive?"
     "...I don't know, really. The guy just ran."
     "Was he caught?"

     Selina felt like she'd accidentally torn open a wound in Bruce's side.
     "My parents died too."
     Bruce looked at her, his eyes carrying a tinge of sympathy.
     "I'm guessing you want to know how, right?" Selina said.
     "...I wasn't going to ask."
     "But you want to know."
     Bruce didn't say no.
     "My dad was a bastard," Selina said. "He had a pretty rough job out at the docks, worked hard and barely got paid, so he figured he'd take out his anger on my mom. He beat her to an inch of her life every other week. One day she decided to take the extra step for him and end it herself."
     Bruce opened his mouth to speak but Selina pressed her fingers to his lips.
     "I know you're sorry. You don't need to say it."
     Selina took a deep breath. "I found her in the bathtub one night. She'd cut her wrists, so she basically bled out and drowned in her own blood. The police found bruises on her body and figured out my dad had been beating her, so they tried to arrest him. He fought back and ended up getting shot."
     Bruce hung his head a little. "And all this time I thought I had it worse than anyone."
     "Were your parents nice? Were they good to you?"
     "Then you actually lost something. That's one way you had it worse. My mom was the only one that loved me, but not enough to stay alive. My dad got what he deserved. If life screwed me over, it was in never giving me anything in the first place."
     "At least you're still here."
     "Ha. Yeah, survival is the best thing I have going for me. But it's not enough."
     Bruce sighed. "No, it's not."

     Selina laughed. "As first conversations go, this one was pretty terrible."
     Bruce smiled a little. "It's not so bad. I think this makes us friends now."
     Selina mockingly chuckled a little as she stood up. "I don't have friends, rich boy. But I don't hate you, so that's something. Maybe I'll see you tomorrow... if you're lucky."
     Bruce watched her walk down the steps and leave.

     "I don't think I like her. Is she your new girlfriend?" a high-pitched voice said from over Bruce's shoulder.
     Bruce spun around to see a small blonde-haired girl staring at him.
     "Hi Bruce!" Lucy Lane said, her face beaming with glee.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


     Bruce kept his eyes firmly planted on the floor as he briskly walked from classroom to classroom. He hated this building: its marble floors; its green patina copper railings; its walls alternating between mind-numbingly boring tope and pretentious black stone. No, scratch that, it wasn't the building he hated; it was the people. The throng of hormone-driven teenage idiots and the overpaid egomaniacs leading it all. Bruce would say that calling the Excelsior Academy a special kind of hell was an understatement.

One Week Ago

     The phone rang in Wayne Manor; Alfred answered it.
     "Principal Reynolds from Excelsior for you, sir," he said to Bruce, who was face-down on the floor doing pushups.
     Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Put him on speakerphone."
     Alfred pushed the speakerphone key. "Sir?" Bruce said, "what can I do for you?"
     "Mister Wayne," Principal Reynolds said, "I regret to inform you that one of your class credits has fallen through. Apparently your freshman-year American history credit was never completed."
     Bruce narrowed his eyes. "Sir, I can guarantee you that I completed that course in its entirety. Whatever records you're looking at must be incorrect."
     "That may be the case, but unfortunately we have no record to confirm that you ever completed the course at all, regardless of grade. The school board has ruled that if you are to maintain an official diploma from the Academy, you must complete this course."
     "...The school board made a decision on how to handle a clerical error affecting a single student? I mean no disrespect, but isn't that your job?"
     "...Ordinarily, yes. But I do answer to them, and they insisted on making this decision themselves."
     "The board has their reasons. They also asked me to inform you that, due to the long-standing relationship between the Wayne family and Excelsior, they are considering allowing you the option to gain back the credit for that course by taking the three required tests for the class rather than going through an entire semester again."
     "That's... generous of them."
     "They also wish to thank you in advance for continuing the Wayne family's annual donation to Excelsior."
     "Of course they did."
     "Lastly, school policy dictates that you must actually attend class on school grounds until you have successfully passed all three exams."
     "I apologize for the inconvenience, Mister Wayne—"
     "This goes beyond inconvenience; I live halfway across the country now. You want me to move back for a week and sit in a classroom just because of policy?"
     "It's out of my hands; the board has made their decision. They expect you here on Monday."
     Bruce clicked the end call button and resisted the urge to break the phone in half. He'd spent months learning acrobatics, martial arts, and criminology; he'd spent an entire year learning from the monks in Nanda Parbat—which in normal time only seemed to be a few days—and now he was being forced to go back to high school for a week.

     "Sir," Alfred said, "you cancelled the Wayne family's annual donation to the Academy several months ago."
     "Did you at all leave the impression that the donations would ever resume?"
     "Not in the slightest, and they know it. They're extorting me."

     Bruce stopped in the hall to open his locker. He'd only just realized that he'd never actually cleaned it out before he left last year, and apparently they hadn't reassigned it yet.
     "I'd be careful with that if I were you."
     Bruce looked to his left. A slim redhead stood leaning against the wall, arms crossed, with a slight mischievous grin on her face. Veronica Vreeland was one of the popular girls in school, complete with her own entourage—who Bruce saw giggling as they watched from further down the hall. Fortunately, Veronica was also reasonably smart. Bruce didn't hate her.
     "Veronica," Bruce said. "Why, exactly?"
     Bruce opened the locker. A torrent of pink and red paper poured onto the floor.
     "Well, Bruce," Veronica said, mockingly imitating Bruce's serious tone, "because Valentine's Day was two months ago and all the idiot girls who didn't know you'd left put a note in your locker."
     Bruce picked up one of the notes. "This one says 'Veronica Vreeland.'"
     Veronica smirked and shrugged. "Hey, it couldn't hurt, right? I think most of the girls here consider it a good luck ritual or something. Like tossing a penny into a fountain and making a wish."
     Bruce sorted through the pile. "Some of these envelopes are thick; what did they put in there?"
     "Yeah, you may not want to open some of those in public. Especially mine."
     Veronica slowly winked and sauntered off.
     Bruce felt himself blush a little, and hurriedly stuck his face behind his locker door as if looking for something. His heart was pounding slightly; what was wrong with him?
     After taking a few seconds to recompose himself, he scooped up the letters as best he could, stuffed them back in the locker, then shut it and walked toward his classroom.

     As much as Bruce didn't want to admit it to himself, there was a part of him that wanted to flirt back with Veronica.  For as much mental and physical training as Bruce had been through, he was still human. Lois had filled that void for a time last year, but he'd taken her for granted, shut her out, and then lost her completely last December. The monks at Nanda Parbat taught Bruce the path of removing desire from one's life, replacing it with pure focus, yet Bruce still felt unable to completely be at peace. He wanted to think he was above all the hormone-driven idiots in the school, but what if he wasn't?
     Bruce shook the idea from his mind as he sat down at his desk. All he needed to do was make it through the week and he'd be back to work on his mission, where he could distract himself from anything and everything. One week shouldn't be too much of a problem, Bruce thought to himself.

     Selina Kyle stepped into the room and took her seat.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Shadow Thief

     "I'm your what?"
     Carter chuckled again. Shiera was stunned that he could be laughing at a time like this.
     "I'm sorry," he explained. "It's just... your nose crinkles a little when you're confused. I haven't seen you do it in so long..."
     Shiera did crinkle her nose when she was confused, and she knew it. But all that meant was that Carter was a very good stalker.

     "Let me show you," Carter said, reaching for a thickly-bound book. He gently flipped to the first page, an old piece of parchment sewn into the binding. Egyptian hieroglyphics ran along its border, and an image of two figures sat in its center. The figures were a man and woman, clad in gold, with hawk heads. White wings hung from their backs. Their names were written in English along the bottom: "Khufu and Chay-Ara."
     "Is that supposed to be us?" Shiera asked sarcastically.
     Carter smirked. "Yeah."
     "So, what," Shiera continued, "are we, like, ancient lovers, cursed to be reincarnated century after century?"
     Carter flipped through the book, showing her the next group of pages, then the next, and the next. The same man and woman stood in the same position on each page, but very different every time. One page showed the couple wearing Roman armor—"Cassiel and Sibilla"—another showed them in Victorian-era clothing—"Charles and Sarah Hall." The last one showed them in the 1940s: "Christopher and Sally Hall."
     Shiera wanted to find another retort; to mock Carter's story with the fact that she'd predicted it so easily... but she couldn't. Every page in the book felt real. More real than deja vu; almost as real as opening the door of her own home.

     Carter's eyes clenched shut as he yelled in pain. As he doubled over, Shiera saw a knife protruding from the back of his shoulder. A man stood in the shadows of the hallway, his hand reaching for another knife.
     Shiera felt Carter's pain tug at her heart, as though she cared deeply for him. She twisted and rolled him behind a table and out of the way, spinning back towards the man just in time to catch his knife. Without looking at it, she flipped it end over end, took it by the tip of its blade, and hurled it back at him. The man caught the knife square in his chest. He paused, looked down at the blade embedded in his sternum, then began laughing. He slowly pulled the bloody knife out, then tossed it aside.
     "You'll have to do better," the man said with a demonic grin, "if you want to kill a man that's not entirely alive."
     Carter stood up, dropping the knife he'd just pulled out of his shoulder. He picked up a huge mace from the table, roared, then charged at the man.
     Carter and the shadowy man spun and struck at each other, tumbling their way down the hall into another gigantic room. Shiera felt lost; useless. She turned back toward the armory, trying to find something she could use to help. Finally, her eyes found the hawk-shaped armor.

     Carter bashed the man's face with enough force to break a cinderblock, but the man was unphased. His skin tore and his face bruised, but he kept on fighting.
     It's like he's a ghost possessing his own body, Carter thought, mentally deriding himself.
     The possessed man laughed at Carter's frustrated expression. "Ah, you've figured out only now that you grabbed the wrong mace! No normal steel can break this shadow!"
     Shiera's voice echoed from the door. "Then how about a little Nth metal?"
     The man glanced up only quick enough to see Shiera's mace slamming into his face. His body tumbled backwards through the air, landing crumpled and lifeless in the center of the room. His spirit, however, hung suspended in mid-air, made of shadow and little else.

     Shiera stood defiantly, piercing the shadow with her warrior's gaze. She wore the full hawk armor—Thanagarian battle armor, Shiera suddenly knew—lined with the ever-rare Nth metal. Shiera willed her wings to lift her off the ground. The Nth metal in her harness responded, and she gently floated upward.
     "I don't get it," she said. "You're a ghost. All the things in the world for you to do, and you come here, the one place where there are people with Nth metal that can actually hurt you."
     The shadow seemed to shrug, then it spoke. "What can I say? I'm a collector. I need that metal for my own. And I do enjoy killing you."
     Shiera suddenly felt memory flash in her mind. This same man, this Shadow Thief, in someone else's body, standing over her. No, not her... the last her. Sally Hall. The Shadow Thief killed Sally Hall.
     Shiera felt her insides burning with anger. She'd seen Carter murdered a dozen times over. She knew how that felt. If the Shadow Man had put Carter through that...
     Shiera flew towards the shadow, headbutting it with her helmet. The shadow yelped in pain, flying backward into a wall. Shiera landed in front of the shadow, thrust her mace straight into its belly, then pushed a switch on the mace's handle. The metal surface of the mace became electrified, sending jolts of Nth-metal-powered electricity and light directly into the Shadow Thief's transparent body. The Shadow Thief shrieked in pain, shredding into a thousand pieces and melting into nothingness.

     Shiera took off her helmet, then stared at it for a long moment. She turned toward Carter, then slowly walked towards him.
     They looked into each other's eyes, Carter watching Shiera remember every moment of every life they'd lived together for four thousand years.
     Shiera didn't know where to start. "Carter, I..."
     "Shh. I know." Carter took her in his arms. "I know."

Friday, November 30, 2012

Stalker Boy

     Standing at five-foot-five, Shiera Sanders might not be expected to be the most intimidating girl at Golden Eagle High, but her unnecessarily tough attitude made up for it.
     An eighteen-year-old boy watched her from further down the hall as she opened her locker, standing under the shadow of a broken lightbulb. Same as always, he thought, looking her up and down. Red hair, very athletic, ceaselessly beautiful, even without wearing makeup. It was no wonder she kept up her constantly-annoyed persona; she had to fend off a hundred idiotic high-school boys every day. Then again, he thought, she's always been like that.
     Shiera closed her locker to see the boy standing one foot to her right. She almost jumped.
     "Hello," he said, a slightly creepy grin on his unshaven face. "I'm Carter."
     "...And I totally don't care." Shiera spun on her heel and walked away.
     "Hold on," Carter said, following her.
     Shiera stopped to turn back and glare at him. She had to stare almost directly upward to make eye contact; Carter was six-foot-three.
     "I've seen you watching me all day, you creep. Leave me alone or I'll tear your eyes out."
     Carter suppressed a chuckle, as if he found her more amusing than threatening. Shiera hated that.
     "You don't know who I am yet," Carter said, staring entirely too deeply into Shiera's eyes, "but we have a past together. And a future. Let me show you."
     Shiera stared at him, bewildered and weirded out. "Yeah, I'm thinking you're destined for a restraining order and maybe a psych ward."
     Shiera turned around again and walked as fast as she could without technically running.
     Carter silently watched her leave, then went his own way.
     A third party, a man, watched them both from the shadow of the school.

     Carter pushed open the front doors of his home with a loud creak and went inside.
     Shiera watched him from a nearby alleyway. She'd followed him here, all the way to the middle of downtown Midway City. She was thoroughly creeped out by Carter, but she also knew that whatever obsession he had with her wasn't normal. She followed him home mostly because she wanted to know exactly how twisted he was. If he had a shrine to her or something.
     Carter's home was... an old museum. Likely closed decades ago. The dark wooden front doors were almost rotting, but they were so thick it'd probably take another few decades until they fell off. The old "Midway Museum" sign was so faded it was barely legible.
     Shiera snuck towards the front door and pushed. It wasn't locked. She resisted the urge to shudder. It was almost like Carter wanted her to come inside. Shiera looked around; no one was anywhere to be seen. Just empty wood-paneled hallways lined with dust. Shiera walked down one of the halls quietly, arriving at a large room.
     The room was full of weapons. Medieval weapons. Maces, axes, swords, daggers, spears, glaives, throwing stars... more weapons than Shiera could recognize. Most of them were in glass cases, others hung on wall racks. But some of them were laid on tables around the room, almost like they were used recently and just dropped there. Shiera was very, very concerned at this point. Carter was apparently a literal axe murderer. She started to go back for the door, but stopped when a glint of gold caught her eye across the room. On the far wall, inside a large closet-sized compartment, hung a set of armor. Shiera walked warily towards it.
     It was small, thin, and curved for a woman. The main body was made of leather and very thin chain mail; it had no sleeves, neck, or midsection. Gauntlets, armored boots, and a helmet shone bronze-gold in the pale light from the window. Shiera found herself mesmerized by the helmet. It was arrow-shaped, like the head of a hawk, perfectly crafted with curved lines and sharp angles. The metal looked ancient, yet also brand new. "Eternal," Shiera thought.
     Shiera shook off the feeling. She took an overall look at the armor. Who would wear something like this? It didn't even entirely cover its wearer. With a muffled gasp, Shiera saw what hung on the wall behind the armor: a huge pair of feathered wings. Was that why the armor was so light? With this armor, was someone supposed to... fly?

     "Now do you remember who you are?" a voice said from behind.
     Shiera spun around. "No, actually, I don't,"
     "Shiera..." Carter said. "You're my wife."