"'Tis the most disgraceful country, that ever you have seen"
It was not true that the streets of Saint Paul were laid out by drunken Irishmen. But it was true that Irish settlers had been in the city since its name was changed from "Pig's Eye Landing." The First Minnesota regiment of Gettysburg fame had been mostly Irish and the sons of Irishmen. And though the city's character had changed much in subsequent years, many of Saint Paul's inhabitants still cherished their Irish heritage. Thus the recent tragedies and rescue of Ireland held a special meaning for the city. Irish music (particularly the laments) was a constant in the air these days.
Justin Battersly had a modicum of Erin's blood in his veins, so he'd made the trek to Saint Paul Cathedral for what had been billed as a memorial rally for the fallen. Unfortunately it had abruptly changed character to something much less uplifting.
"--And I say to you, if not for metahumans, there would have not been all these deaths! But what of the heroes, you say?" The speaker took a drink of water. "Well, it's all rather circular, isn't it? If the so-called 'evil' metahumans hadn't created this mess, we wouldn't have needed the 'heroes' to clean it up. With, I might add, the heavy loss of life among their merely human support troops."
"Did not the mightiest of these supposed heroes, the false god Avatar, did he not choose to stand with the invaders and oppressors? He may claim it was mind control, but I say to you now that Avatar lied! He showed his true colors in Ireland, then switched sides when he saw which way the wind was blowing."
The speaker paused for dramatic effect. "It is time we got rid of all the metahumans! Villains and so-called heroes alike! Only then will we be safe in our own homes. Who is with me?"
A man shouted out, "Me! Metahumans trashed my house in one of their battles!"
"A meta cost me my job!"
"One of them turned me into a newt!"
"Metas ate my baby!"
There were advantages to being nearly unknown, Justin assured himself as he eased towards the back of the crowd. This rally was turning ugly fast. The only good news was that it appeared the speaker was "clean" of using metahuman powers or devices to affect the crowd; Justin's own powers would have reacted to such things.
"Leaving so soon, Mr. Battersly?" Justin turned to see a young police officer, with the nametag 'Gonzalez.' "We could use you if this turns into a riot."
Justin shook his head. "If you know who I am, you know that my talents could turn this into a bloodbath. Not a good thing. How do you know my name, anyway?"
Officer Gonzalez smiled easily. "The older officers gave us rookies a briefing. They said you were pretty helpful, back in the day."
No one seemed to be paying attention to the conversation, the speaker having moved into a call-and-response pattern.
"You have to give cooperation to get it, or so my mother always told me." Justin looked back at the crowd. "This sort of thing passes, and people will remember how I acted. The people that count, anyway."
"That's true, I suppose. Hey, one of the old guys said that the mayor threatened to have She-Cat spayed if she ever set foot in City Hall again, for real?"
Justin grinned. "No, it was just his office. And that order was revoked years ago, I imagine. See you around, Officer Gonzalez."
The policeman waved as he turned his attention back to crowd control.
"Fool, to try to harvest on barren ground."
Justin steeled himself. Scary though this might be, he'd put it off long enough. He picked up the phone, and dialed the number he'd researched. The phone on the other end rang four times, then was picked up.
"Yo!" was the response from what Justin presumed was a female voice.
"Hello, this is Justin Battersly. May I speak to Emily Battersly?"
"Sure, I guess. Let me check." Definitely female. Not much on phone etiquette, though, as she didn't cover the mouthpiece for her next words. "Hey, Ma! Call from a Justin Battersly for Grandma! Wouldja get her up?"
"Who?" asked an older voice. "Let me at the phone."
There were sounds of the transfer, then the older (and now familiar) voice came on. "This is Jeanette Verchu. Who's calling, please?"
"Hi, Jeanette, it's me, Justin! Turns out I'm not dead after all. How's Mom doing?"
"I don't know who you are, Mister," and there was ice in Jeanette's voice, "but if you knew anything about my brother, you'd know the one decent thing he did for this family was die. If you *ever* call here again, I'll have the law on you, understand? Goodbye!"
Justin listened to the dial tone for a very long time.
"In the ranks of death you will find him."
It was unseasonably cool, but since it couldn't kill him, Justin had decided to dress lightly for this patrol.
The recent rise in crime would have made him feel guilty if it hadn't started two full weeks before his return from the grave. Evidently, with so many of the 'superheroes' away in Ireland, mere mortal criminals had been emboldened, despite the fact that Mighty hadn't gone. Wearing a costume for these patrols might have raised Talion's public profile a bit, but Justin knew that criminals tended to fade away if they saw someone in a costume coming. So instead, he posed as a normal civilian out for a walk.
So far, it was working pretty well. Talion had managed to break up three muggings, a convenience store robbery and an attempted rape. Only the incident in the 7-11 had involved serious combat, since most petty criminals didn't want to deal with a person who showed no fear. It was always better to resolve a situation without killing people, and it would look better on his Protectorate application.
Tonight's patrol route took Talion through the business district of Minneapolis, and he was anticipating a quiet night. And it was; quiet enough to hear the screams coming from more than a block away.
By the time Talion arrived, the fight was over. Even with the advances in personal defense, mere security guards were no match for three costumed criminals. The armored car was turned on its side, and one of the criminals, who looked like a large, deformed lizard, was slicing through the armor with his claws.
Talion recognized them as the Tyrannical Trio thanks to a recent television report. The news had said they'd been pardoned for helping out in Ireland, so he assumed they'd not been able to find decent employment. Much like himself.
"Excuse me, fellows, but I'm going to have to ask you to cease and desist. I'm Talion, and I'm making a citizen's arrest."
The lizard, who went by the nom de guerre "Jabberwock," looked up as his fellow criminals started hauling bags of cash from the vehicle. His grin was particularly unsettling. "You say your name was 'Talon,' huh? You one of those street-level vigilantes?" Jabberwock drew himself up to his full, impressive height. "Kinda scrawny-looking."
"Talion. And it's not what you have, it's what you do with it." Talion struck a martial arts pose, and beckoned to the villain.
"Hahaha! I like your moxie. So, you know a little kung-fu, huh? Then I got one of those Zen riddles for you. What's the sound of one hand holding in your spilled guts?" With that, Jabberwock leapt to the attack.
Talion pretended to dodge, feeling the villain's claws plunge deep within his belly. His power kicked in, manifesting the same wound on Jabberwock's body.
The reptilian criminal staggered. "Aghh! Your kung fu is good, Grasshopper. I didn't even see you move! Want another go-round? I can show you my shadowless punch!"
While Jabberwock prepared himself for his next attack, one of the other criminals, clad in rune-engraved black armor, took notice. "How many times have I told you about playing fair? Never do it! Let's see how fast this Talion is with his feet burnt off!"
With that, Doctor Stygia raised a hand, and baleful hellfire spewed forth.
The smell of roasting flesh wafted to Talion's nostrils as he felt his legs char. He fell over, but so did Dr. Stygia. Like many villains, he could dish it out, but apparently he couldn't take it. Talion didn't have long to appreciate this point, however, as Jabberwock's fist slammed into his ribs.
Jabberwock immediately regretted his action, and as he pulled back, the metaphorical light bulb came on. "Hey guys, what's a six letter word for 'an eye for an eye'?"
A hiss of pain escaped Dr. Stygia's helmet. "Talion! I remember now...but he's supposed to be dead. Does no one stay deceased any more?"
Talion pulled himself to a standing position. "Can't keep a good man down. Owww..."
"We shall see about that." The allegedly demonic Dr. Stygia waved a hand idly. "Brickyard, if you would?"
The third member of the trio paused, cash satchel in hand. "Oh, yeah. It's always Brickyard who has to slow down the superhero. Like I have nothing better to do with my life. You guys never ask me to come up with brilliant plans." He put down the bag and pulled out a stone hatchet. "Come forth, my Brickworks!"
Shambling, man-like forms arose from the concrete and tarmac of the surrounding area. Talion blanched. His powers didn't work on stone and metal. He rushed at Brickyard, but was intercepted by two of the inorganic creatures. Then the hurting really began.
It would have been worth it to break his cover and fly away, but at least one of the Brickworks was holding him at all times while the others worked him over. Talion decided the best policy was to play possum, and hope he could heal fast enough to tail the criminals when they left.
Naturally, it was at that moment that the circumstances changed. An electronically distorted voice boomed, "Do not fear, citizens, I will rescue you from this metahuman menace." Talion opened his good eye to see a humanoid figure in matte black armor, similar to a Star Wars stormtrooper. As he watched, it blurred. Abruptly, several of the Brickworks exploded. The newcomer blurred back into focus.
"That's just a taste of my power. I'm Steel Saturn of the Liberation Coalition, and you're all under arrest."
Brickyard gestured, and the remaining Brickworks turned on Steel Saturn.
The armored figure made a gesture of his own, and the stony figures slowed to a crawl. As Steel Saturn smashed them with metal fists, Talion had a strong sense of deja vu.
Steel Saturn broke free of the rubble of the Brickworks, and blasted Brickyard with apparently inbuilt weaponry. By this time, Jabberwock had managed to bandage his wounds, and tackled Steel Saturn.
As the two traded blows, Talion slowly mended. He could feel sensation returning to his legs, and hear his ribs popping back into place.
While Steel Saturn seemed to have the upper hand, Talion abruptly realized that Jabberwock had managed to gouge a hole in the back of the armored hero's costume with his claws. And the reptilian villain was maneuvering Steel Saturn into Dr. Stygia's line of fire. Talion didn't know whether the person inside the armor was robot or human, but either way, hellfire wouldn't do him any good.
This would take precise timing. Talion waited for the telltale glow from Dr. Stygia's runes, then flew into the path of the flame. Their screams rang out as one.
Distracted, Jabberwock fell to a straight right to the jaw.
Steel Saturn turned to see Talion hovering in midair. "You can fly. You're a metahuman." Even through the electronic distortion, his disapproval was obvious.
Talion coughed, a puff of smoke escaping his mouth. "For what good it does me. Mind, once you put on that armor, so are you."
The newcomer turned away, obviously not impressed with Talion's comeback.
As the sound of sirens rose in the near distance, Talion asked, "I know you probably want to keep your identity secret and all, but I have to ask. Does the name Montague Storn mean anything to you?"
"...No." It was impossible to tell if Steel Saturn was lying.
Talion busied himself with securing Brickyard's hatchet and checking on the security guards. No particularly bad injuries, it seemed. And he knew injuries.
The press was only moments ahead of the police, but all they got from Steel Saturn was his name, affiliation with the Liberation Coalition, and mission to "rid humanity of the metahuman threat." When the criminals were loaded into the specially armored police van, the armored interloper vanished.
"I'll take you home again."
The worst of the pain had faded by the next morning, and Justin turned on the early news. The lead feature was about Mighty, who'd saved several children from a burning orphanage.
After a few more local stories, the armored car robbery ran. As expected, Steel Saturn got the lion's share of coverage. Most of it was conjecture, as the television station had evidently not learned any more about the newcomer. Talion was only mentioned as "an unidentified metahuman who assisted Steel Saturn", and appeared on screen only as a blur in the background of one shot.
Justin finished off the orange juice he'd been drinking and sighed. "I told them my name. What gives?"
No one answered, but there was a sensation that something would break, and soon.
To Be Continued...
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