CHAPTER ONE: A MEETING IN THE DARK
June 13, 11:32 P.M., Detroit, Michigan.
He was late. However, it was expected of him to be late. He had been late to things his entire life. It was simply part of him. It wasn’t some attempt to prove that he was evil. He didn’t have to kidnap children or rob banks to prove that. People knew that he was cruel just by seeing the gray, inverted pentagon covering his face. The two eye slots, black and empty, were enough to reflect his wicked reputation.
As he crept through the sullen city streets, his black cape did not rustle. His dark suit did not make a sound. He came to an alley and placed his ebony glove on the wall, gently moving his hand from the light to the shadow. Darkrot seemingly touched the shadow on the wall and tasted it with his fingers. The masked man enjoyed the bitterness, but didn’t stay in the state for too long. Being late was one thing. Missing the meeting was unacceptable. He was told of a solution, and his curiosity had been enticed.
The moon was covered on that night and clouds infested the sky. However, they could not spout, for Darkrot’s daughter, Acid Rain, had made sure that the meeting would be in the complete darkness of night, but not under a torrent from the Detroit sky. This was one of the rare times he needed her help. Although he was proud of his daughter, he didn’t want to seem too soft by letting anyone know that. She would make for an excellent heiress of his world if she had the motivation to work her way there.
As he approached the end of the alley, he twisted the second garbage can lid as he was previously instructed to do. The wall that was the end of the alley disappeared. Mr. Magician must have also helped with the meeting, he presumed, as this was typical of the old illusionist. Standing in the section of the unused street were several other villains.
Mr. Magician was the first to look back. He lowered his Alzheimer pistol when he realized it was another guest and not a pesky hero. He holstered it inside his purple and yellow vest which, was covered in faint, white, swirling designs. Mr. Magician was a much older man, somewhat of a veteran in the trade. He had fought his way to the top after years of scrutiny and change. It was shown through the angry, tough wrinkles in his face.
Darkrot straightened his ebony top hat and looked at the other villains. He thought it strange that he would see so many persons of evil deeds convening. It was unorthodox for villains to work with one another. For those who tried to create a team, it was, as one hero put it, “like raccoons and chainsaws.” Many villains had different goals. Those goals rarely ever mixed without flaws.
Impromptu morphed his hand into a clock and spoke, “It’s about time you got here. We were wondering if you’d ever show up.”
“Well, I’m here, and that’s all that matters.”
Mr. Magician spoke out, “This is ridiculous,” a phrase that seemed ironic when coming from a man dressed as an overdramatic prestidigitator.
Fever, a pyrokinetic ball of sass, inquired, “What are you talkin’ about, old man?”
“I mean, just look at us! We’re forced to meet in an alleyway like a pack of street thugs! We used to be something to fear! We had fortresses and minions and money. We may not have always succeeded, but we had respect. Now they’ve got us, as the papers put it, running for our lives!”
Impromptu asked, “Well, what do you suppose we do about it? They got half of us whipped and the other half in jail. The morale’s goin’, and a lot of people are goin’ with it. I saw Shark Tank the other day. He’s thinkin’ about changin’ his identity and becoming a marine biologist!”
Mr. Magician rioted, “Don’t you see? We have to start thinking and working differently, or else we’re never going to get back in the limelight. I’ve seen three or four new generations rise up in my time, and this newest one is the most ambitious. They’re likely to run us out of business if we don’t freshen up our act. If we’re going to get our slice of pie, then we have to try new things, be more vicious, maybe even work together.”
Fever proclaimed, “No, thank you. In case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t the most honest profession. I don’t trust any of you as much as I can freeze you. The second we succeed, we’ll be at each other’s throats for our own share.”
Impromptu agreed, “She’s right. There may be honor among thieves, but we qualify for a higher caliber of treachery than that. I do say we get with the times, though, maybe change our image or somethin’.”
Darkrot listened to him and found that, for once, the dunce was speaking sense. Of course, Impromptu himself was a prime example of the necessity of change. He looked at the symbol on Impromptu’s red chest, a question mark and an exclamation point fused together. Although this was unique and recognizable, the rest of his attire suffered. Impromptu wore a red, pocketed jumpsuit with maroon accents and a maroon bandana covering half of his head; too red.
Although he had some respect for a fellow shapeshifter, Darkrot knew he was classier and definitely more powerful. Darkrot did, after all, have a sense of style that most villains didn’t. He found that jumpsuits and spandex were overrated and too old-fashioned, but he still enjoyed a flair for the dramatic: its vanity and presence worked well for him. He was original just by wearing a suit, cape, and top hat, which had earned him the nickname “Duke of Shadows.” The shadow-plastic mask he wore was more of a necessity than an accessory, yet it worked all the same in solidifying his moniker.
He knew that a villain couldn’t be running around in shorts and a tank top and expect to be taken seriously (except for Bully, but that actually worked for his shtick). However, there were some people who just had more creativity and wit, which brought them higher revere.
Darkrot couldn’t help but find another example of poor design in Fever. The Fire Flayer had on a purple spandex top with white diagonal lines across the chest as well as light purple leggings. Her mask covered only her eyes and had swirling twists that sprouted from the sides of it which made their way to her ears. It was still too simple, too predictable, as if no time or thought had been put into it. People could look at her and, unless they knew of her powers, they would likely think she was the mascot for some kind of laundry detergent.
However, fresher faces were in the crowd, members of that newest generation that Mr. Magician had mentioned. Fifteen villains stood before him. Some of them he knew, and others he did not. Two of them garnered his interest. One was covered in metal armor, as if it was composed of it. Darkrot observed further to find that it was a robot. Its head was rectangular, and looked as if it had a snout with a few fangs in the front. The body was bulky, but not as to impede movement. Its arms and legs were round, jointed blocks that made it appear muscular. The tail behind it swung back and forth with a faintly glowing Morningstar attached to it. There was also a backpack-like apparatus on its back.
Darkrot walked over to the gray and brown robot and asked, “And who might you be?”
A voice emerged from the box-like head in robotic simplicity, “I am experiment M4L1C3, but my preferred designation is Furious Icon that Destroys Others: F.I.D.O.”
Impromptu laughed, “That’s an idiotic name. No one will take you seriously with that!”
F.I.D.O. pointed a laser sight at Impromptu’s forehead. Its deep, mechanical voice rebounded, “Would you like to tell me that again? My auditory sensors picked up static that sounded like you disapprove of my designation.”
The second person of Darkrot’s interest, an old man with a flat, circular hat and a kimono, reached forward a metal hand and said, “I believe that we should not create too much trouble while we are here. There are more important things to deal with at the moment.”
F.I.D.O. lowered its hand. Impromptu inquired, “Who are you? And why are you wearin’ a stuffed crust pizza on your head?”
The old Japanese man replied, “You may call me Despair. My hat is no concern of yours.”
Darkrot, intrigued, continued the conversation, “Despair? I’m afraid I’ve never heard of you.”
“I am not a villain in the terms you think of. I am simply a warrior in search of my worthy opponent. I was promised a way of finding the greatest challenger.”
“And I shall hold true to my promises,” said an unseen man.
From the shadows emerged an armored figure. His head-to-toe plating was futuristic, white and gray. It covered him from head to toe. His shoulder pads were elongated, stretching outwards like dull spikes. His helmet looked much like a pterodactyl’s head in length, as if someone had attached a small kayak to the top of an elaborate suit of armor. The top of the helmet was mostly a green, oblong, glass dome. The chest plate rippled as if to represent toned pectoral and abdominal muscles. Strange devices hung from his belt and bumped with each step of his approach.
The bottom part of the helmet softly flashed with each syllable as he introduced, “My name is Tourney. I’m the man you’ve been waiting for.”
The villains said nothing. This wasn’t what they had expected, but, then again, they hadn’t known what to expect. It was strange enough that he knew how to find them in the first place. They still kept their suspicions as he clunked forward.
“As you all know, you received a letter close to a month ago. In it was an invitation and some kind of key with which you were to escape your imprisonment. I knew that some of you would want some kind of retribution if you were captured in The Sweep*. Others, such as Despair, have personal goals that I can help with. No matter what reason you are here for, I am intent on helping you.”
Fever inquired, “So what are you going to do?”
“Well,” Tourney began, “you each have something you want, do you not?”
The assembled villains remained silent.
“For some it’s a worthy opponent,” he said to Despair.
“For others, it’s power,” he reflected to Darkrot.
“Or, maybe you just want to cause havoc,” he passed to F.I.D.O.
“Whatever it is, you want it, but you can’t have it. Why? Because someone is always standing in your way.”
Impromptu interrupted, “Will you just get on with it?”
Tourney took a capsule off of his belt and tossed it to Impromptu. The top part of it opened and unfolded in midair. A belt emerged and wrapped itself around Impromptu’s head. The shell of the capsule covered his mouth, and when he tried to take it off, it shocked him.
Tourney walked over to him and lectured, “The monologue is something few villains get to complete without having trouble come of it. I’d advise you to let me finish.” Turning back to the crowd, he continued, “As I was saying, you have someone constantly stopping you from getting what you want. I’m here to help you with that.”
He snapped his fingers, and sixteen orbs floated behind him. The spheres stared with their green, lifeless, cyclops eyes. Each orb sought a different villain (one of them used a claw to lean Impromptu against a dumpster).
“These are now yours. The next time your rival faces you, feign defeat and have your orb follow them after the battle. It will spy on your nemesis, learning their secrets and tracking their movements. Once it has finished its analysis, the orb will return to me, and I will contact you for the next phase of the plan. Easy enough?”
Darkrot, a swindler in the days before his powers, was not going to be hoodwinked. He asked, “What do you get out of this?”
“I’m glad you asked. All I want is a portion of your spoils. After this little treat is finished, I assume you should be able to get whatever you want. I ask that you would pay me a reasonable part of what you’ve earned. We can negotiate on what ‘reasonable’ is.”
Mr. Magician asked, “Why us?”
Tourney replied, “Oh, it isn’t just you. You’re the fourth and final group. There will be others.”
He turned around to walk back into the shadows. However, he spoke one last thing to the villains: “Before I leave, there is one other detail. If you don’t succeed at your goals, I won’t expect payment; no sense in kicking you while you’re down. However, if you do succeed and don’t pay me, I will find you and make sure you pay in some way. As you can tell, I don’t play games.” He chuckled, “Well, not yet.”
He then left them standing in the alleyway.
 Or dismemberment.
 Impromptu’s symbol is an interrobang. It looks like this: ‽
 An alternative name given to her by the press.
Copyright © 2017 by J. Nathanael Wilson