Brightstar: The Rising Superhero
I looked at the toad man from up to down. There’s a ring on his finger: a wedding ring. I remembered what Mr Aariv said:
All you need to do is look at them and look closely. You may find it surprising how much the world affects them as much as they affect the world.
“Are you married?”
“Huh, why do you want to know?” The toad man turned his gaze at me while his eyebrow raised.
“You have a ring around your finger.”
He let out a sigh before answering, “I was.”
“Do you have any kids?”
“I do. A daughter.”
“If you have a kid then why are you trying to rob a bank?”
“My kid needed the money.”
“If you needed the money then why not get a job?”
“It’s not that easy, kid. Have you looked at me? I’m half toad. I was a delivery man and I lost my job because a woman accused me out of suspicious. She thought I was trying to scope her house for a robbery. Ironic, now I’m actually a robber. No one wants to hire me after that. All of them were disgusted by me.”
“I’m not disgusted by you.”
He looked at me with widened eyes. Suddenly, he started laughing his ass off. I joined in his laughter. Although it was painful for me to do so since all the small jittering movements strained my wounds. But, I still couldn’t help myself but be contagious by his impulsive joy.
When the laughter simmered down, I proposed a deal to him, “I can help you escape if you promise me not to get involved in any more crime.”
“You would do that for me?”
“You are not like other heroes, are you?”
“I’m the one and only, Brightstar.”
The toad man let out a sigh as he rose from the floor. He extended his hand at me. I took it and was lifted off the floor. I groaned and grimaced at the ache. Suddenly, he wiped off the dust and fixed my hood.
“She is about your age. A hybrid too, but she ain’t like me. Headstrong, studious, and even braver than me. She told me that her dream was to take care of me when I’m old. She wanted to buy me a big house, so we could be together, and she even said that she would take care of everything, money and all. Such an idiotic girl. She should worry about her happiness than worrying about mine… still, I’m proud of her.” A tear ran down his cheek.
“She sounds like one hell of a girl.”
“She is. I have no other relatives to rely on, and I can’t support her with my jobless ass. It’s better for her if I was out of the picture. The government will take care of her.”
“I’m turning myself in.”
“You won’t be able to see her. Are you sure?”
“I am---Thank you for stopping me. Robbing a bank? What in the hell I was thinking? I’m done disappointing her.” His smile was a sad one, but his gaze was full of resolve.
Behind the toad man, the robber I took out earlier awoke from his slumber. He had his gun out and aimed at us. I grabbed the toad man by the shoulders and was about to push him away when he pushed me away first. My eyes widened.
The gunfire echoed, blood trickled across my face. He still had his smile as he turned and expanded his tongue at the other robber. He tossed the man against the wall, knocking him out and caused him to lose his gun. The toad man dropped to the floor. My jaw dropped as a puddle of blood emerged from underneath him.
The front door burst open. A Japanese woman in a red and silver superhero suit appeared. No cape whatsoever and every glimmer of light reflected off her shiny suit. Her body was covered from neck to waist and hands, but her legs were bare except for her feet which were accompanied by the same theme high heels boots. When she turned to me, her bob haircut with the colour of black swayed slightly. I couldn't get a look at her face because it was hidden behind a silver mask that goes around her eyes.
I knew her. Who doesn’t? It is none other than the Crimson Diamond.
With pleading eyes, I gazed at her and back at the bleeding man within my arms.
She kneeled beside me and immediately examined the toad man’s body. The woman let out a sigh of relief then turned to me with a comforting smile.
“He’s going to be fine. The bullet missed any vital organs. Here. Keep pressing this cloth against his wound. I’m going to make sure everyone else is okay. And hey, you did a good job.”
A row of police officers, paramedics, and firefighters entered the building. The toad man was taken care of by the paramedic. I kept myself close to the man, but when he entered the ambulance, our path diverged.
Staring at my bloody hands, I almost sight of the world when a bunch of reporters surrounded me. Flashes of light blinded me. I was trying to find Jake amongst them, but couldn’t.
“Are you a new Hero?” Several questions were thrown at me at the time, “What do they call you?’
“Uhm… My name is Brightstar.”
Around the corner, I saw Jake waving at me with the cat in his hand. “I need to go.” I turned to the reporters, nodding my head apologetically before leaving the area.
When I covered enough distance between me and the reporter, I turned around the corner and met with Jake. We walked toward the swings. Suddenly, a massive headache hit me.
“Are you okay?”
The kid beside him tugged on my jacket.
“Thank you, Brightstar. You are an awesome hero.”
“Sorry, kid, but we need to leave.” Jake took hold of my arm and pulled me away from the park.
With no one else near us, Jake pulled me into a desolate alley. My breath was quick and short. I took off my jacket to let some air in. The look Jake gave me was worrying. Out of nowhere, I almost dropped to my knees, but at the last minute, Jake caught me.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Exhausted, that’s all.”
“It looks like you are about to have another attack.”
My sight went dark. Everything was black. All the surrounding sounds disappeared. Without warning, I fainted.
In a dim and foggy world, a river stretched across the plane and was endless to a mortal eye. Near the river bank stood a two-story house. A white picket fence surrounded the front yard, vibrant green grass, and a single flamingo decorated the lawn. The house’s walls were built with individual bricks stacked on top of each other. Built like a brick outhouse, strong and unwavering.
A hooded robed skeleton appeared out of thin black smoke. She hovered to the gate, pushing it open, and walked up the lawn toward the front door. Knocking on the door, she waited for a couple of seconds before turning the knob and revealed the living room behind it.
“I’m home,” said the skeleton with a feminine soft voice.
“Welcome home. I’m in the kitchen.” A man greeted her from the back of the house.
She turned to the crow perched on top of a branch stand in the corner of the room. It looked as if it was resting, and that was exactly what the bird was doing, having a nap. She walked up to the bird first, petting its head before making her way to the kitchen counter. She took a seat and watched as the man in front of her cooked something.
Wearing an open shirt and an apron, the man was comfortable in his home.
“How was your day, honey?”
“It was---how about we start with yours first?”
“Oh yeah? I had the strangest dream today. He appeared while I was fishing.”
The man took a pinch of herb and spread it in the pan above the fish fillet. The aromatic scent rose to the ceiling. In a few minutes, the house’s air was infused with the whiff of a seared fish.
“He did? How was he?”
“The boy likes to ask questions. He was also bad at fishing. Anyway, he does look happy and healthy. I couldn’t ask more than that. One more thing though, he does look adorable. All confused and whatnot.”
“I would like to meet him one day.”
“Maybe we could, but who knows?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. I might scare him off.”
“Don’t be silly. He would love to meet you, Aeterna.”
He presented a plate of well-cooked fish before her. Almond-shaped eyes and thin lips. Slick black hair with a ton of grey on each side.
Not for a single second, he glanced away from her eyes. Like staring into the universe itself, black, but filled with twinkling lights. With a gentle smile, he rested his hand on top of her skeleton’s fingers.
“You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid my eyes on.”
“That came out of nowhere.”
"Your eyes are like the universe. So beautiful and so vast. If the mortal worship the stars. They would worship you, and I would too.”
Aeterna pulled her hood down, covering her eyes while lowering her chin. If a skeleton could blush, she did, somehow without the blood coursing her non-existent cheek.
“What is with you today?”
“Nothing. I want to compliment the woman I loved. Is it wrong to do so?”
“No… but it does come out of nowhere.”
“Do you not like it?”
“Then I shall continue--maybe all complement could lead us to the bedroom. If you prefer it that way?”
“Ah, using names already. You’re fast.”
Aeterna’s expression was driven by fear. She took hold of his hands and pulled his attention back to her gaze.
“It's about them, isn’t it? That’s why he was there.”
“I tried everything, but the wheel of fate has started moving. However, there is another way. I know someone who could help you. Yet, the price. I don’t think you can afford it.”
“You know I can afford any price if it’s for them. You, on the other hand?”
“I don’t want to see you get hurt, but I know that pain won’t stop you.”
“Aeterna… then I will stay here with you.”
“What? How about your family?”
“I won’t help them without your blessing. Besides, you’re a part of my family.”
Haru walked over to her and gently pulled her head against his chest. She laid her hands against his chest, gripping his apron.
A blanket over my body as I lay on top of my bed. Exhausted, I can’t even move my arms or legs. Every inch of myself felt cumbersome as if something humongous was sitting on top of me. I stared at the ceiling.
Jake took a wet cloth and wrung it before wiping the trickle of blood off my face. He did it so gently and carefully. After cleaning my face, Jake took the jacket and the scarf then stored them in my wardrobe. Letting out a sigh, he sat against the side of my bed.
“Thank god, no one is home right now. They would freak out if they saw what happened to you.”
“You were always there, Jake. When I needed you the most. I always trouble you, don’t I?” My voice was quiet as I tried to get the words out.
“Not at all. You would do the same for me.”
“I fail. I am a failure. I should have been faster. I should have taken the bullet. Not him.”
“I don’t know what happened, but you didn’t fail. You stop the robber. Nobody got hurt. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“Someone else got hurt.”
“It wasn’t your fault. You tried, Kenn. Besides, it was his fault. He is the one who robbed the bank. He knew the danger.”
“You don’t understand. He got a kid.”
“What do you want me to say, Kenn?”
“I don’t know.” My grip tightened on my sheets.
“You got out. Hurt, but safely. What more can I ask? I don’t know what you wanted to hear. So, I ask you again. What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t know, okay? I’m sorry. It’s just, I tried so hard, but no matter what I did...”
“You tried your best, and what’s wrong with that?”
The front door opened and shut. Two people made their way through the living room. One of them went straight to the kitchen while another knocked on my bedroom door. Jake turned his raised eyebrow at me. I covered my head and body with the blanket. Jake let out a sigh and reached the door.
“Kenn? Why is your door lock?”
Aunt Kusagi was on the other side of the door. Jake unlocked the knob and opened it slowly to reveal the half rabbit woman. She raised her eyebrow at Jake and peeked out to see me. Jake raised his finger in front of his lips, gesturing to her to stay quiet. Aunt Kusagi nodded her head. Jake stepped out of the room and gently closed the door.
“Is he okay?”
Even though the door was closed, I could still hear them talking.
“Kenn is a bit under the weather. He’s asleep for now.”
Another set of footsteps entered the conversation.
“Oh. Catty asked you: ``Did anything happened?”
“No. Nothing. He---you know.”
“You didn’t know? It happened a while back. Way before I met Kenn.”
“Catty, you know about this?”
“Why did you never tell me?”
“Out of proportions?! I deserved to know. It’s my right. He is...”
“I am calm!”
Suddenly, it went quiet then the door opened. Aunt Kusagi entered the bedroom with Mom and Jake. She walked to my side of the bed and took a knee. Her hand was above my shoulder, but she stopped and retreated, letting Mom be by my side.
Mom caressed my shoulder. All my worries and ache slowly dissipated, her hand was gentle and caring. I wanted to say something to her, anything, but for reasons unknown to me, I stayed silent the whole time.
Her gentle caress left me. I felt the creeping void slowly getting to me. Everyone had left the room. I should have said something to make them stay, but I didn't. I hated myself for that. The ache and cold dawned over me like a blanket. Sooner, my thought left me and there was nothing but emptiness.
Tick-tock, the time goes.
The door bursts open out of a sudden. The cold desolate air was washed away by the sweet smell of delicious meals. Like a ray of sunshine, a sense of warmth poured into the room. I peeked out of the blanket with widened eyes.
Mom, Aunt, and Jake with a big smile on their face brought trays of food into my room. They began setting it up beside my bed. The madness of it all, Aunt even brought in a short table into my room and the living room TV. I was perplexed.
“W-What are you doing?”
-Having dinner as a family.-
“Isn't it obvious?” said Aunt as she plugged on the TV and opened up a Korean Drama show.
The silence and isolation are gone, replaced by their rowdy nature.
“You’re joining us, whether you like it or not.”
Jake grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the bed against my volition. Jake sat me in front of the table with my ass on the floor. Mom took out a plate then filled it with roasted chicken legs and mashed potatoes. With a cup of gravy, she poured onto it like a waterfall. A glass was orange set beside the plate by Aunt. I watched as they set up their plates.
“Well, then my job here is done.” Jake was about to leave when Aunt grabbed him and sat him right next to me.
“Me too?” said Jake with widened eyes.
“Yeah, you too.”
-It won't be as much fun without you.-
“I don't want to be rude, but isn't this more of a family event?-
“We just met, but judging from the way Catty and Kenn treated you. You are pretty much a part of this family. Or, do you not like it?”
Jake let out a defeated groan and took a sip of the orange juice. Aunty patted his back then took a seat beside him. With her big proportions, she wobbled the table a bit as she slid her legs underneath it. Mom made sure the plate and glass didn't fall over. Aunt let out an apologetic smile and turned her gaze at me, and so did everyone with their smiles.
“How was your day, Jake?” asked Aunt as took a sip of the drink.
“Ah?! Hm. Nothing much. Kenn and I mostly hang out at the park.”
“That’s boring. Did you at least try to skip school?”
“What? It’s normal for their age. I skipped school a lot back then, and look where I am now.”
-Don’t listen to her.-
“Have you skipped school before, Miss Catty?”
“As expected from straight A’s students. Boring… There’s nothing wrong with a bit of rule-breaking.”
-We shouldn't break the rules. The rules are there for a reason. It was made to keep us safe and enforce the order. If there was no rule, there would be only chaos.-
“The rules are flawed. It was made by man, and man is flawed. It shouldn't be made to restrict us from doing the right thing.”
-Doing the right thing doesn't justify the means to an end. There’s a proper way to achieve something without collateral damage.-
“Said the girl who broke the law before.”
-That was a long time ago. I was young.-
“I still remember it to this day. Huh, whatever happened to that boy anyway? What was his name again?”
“Wait, Hugh?” asked Jake.
“Yeah. Catty had a thing for him back then. They both were such a sweet couple?”
“Mom, you had a boyfriend?”
-Of course, I did. It was before I ever met your father.- Mom let out a bittersweet sighed as she recalled the memory with her previous lover.
-He was always good with his hands…-
“What kind of skill, if you may? In detail, please.” Jake took out a notebook and a pen.
“I know right? That was one hell of an experience. Who knew, he could do us both at the same time?”
“Aunt? Wait, what?!”
-It was back then. Like I said we were both young and your aunt and I aren't blood-related anyway. So...-
“Oh, geez! I thought we were having dinner. Not talk about your sexual experience.” I shook my head while facepalming.
“It was a joke. Calm down.” Aunt shook her head and rolled her eyes.
After I removed my hand, I noticed all of them were looking at me with a gleeful smile. They look back at each other and back at me, still smiling. I raised my eyebrows and glanced around me.
-Nothing. You look much better now.-
“That’s the Kenn I know.”
“Welcome back, best friend.”
Oh. I was smiling the whole time. I never realized it before. It must have formed by itself. They all are a bunch of idiots. I was just smiling, nothing more. Truly idiotic. My idiots.
-Anyway, I got a date tomorrow.- A smirk appeared on my mom’s face.
“Woo, you go girl!”
“What!?” Both Jake and I were wide eyes at Mom.
“Damn it. Someone beat me to it.” Jake clicked his tongue while Aunt laughed.
-That’s a secret.- Mom winked at me.
Hanging cat poster, a complete tea maker set, and hidden astray in his half-open drawer. Mr Aariv leaned against his chairs as he tapped the pen against the clipboard. His thinking glass, that what he called them, rested near the tip of his nose. He laid his gaze on me with a raised eyebrow then turned to Jake right beside me.
“Kenn has a session with me, but you on the other hand, why are you here?”
“Yeah, why are you here?” I asked Jake.
“You needed the company. Also, here, for you, Mr Aariv.” Jake set a piece of half-crumbled paper on the desk.
Mr Aariv lifted it then read the content. He proceeded to let out a sigh and stored it in his drawer.
“Anyway… how about we start with you, Kenn? So, how are you doing?”
“My mom has a date, today! Do you believe that? Ugh. I don't even know the guy. He could be some jerk, or a nutjob, or worse, a cultist. I don't want my mom to join some creepy cult. Oh yeah, sorry Mr Aariv. I didn't mean to let it out on you. The answer to your earlier question was I’m fine.”
“It’s okay. We can continue with this. So, why does the notion of your mom dating again anger you so much?”
“I’m not angry. Who said I was angry? Pfft.”
“He’s totally angry right now, Mr Aariv,” commented Jake as he hid his laugh.
“I don't know, Mr Aariv. It just felt like…” My eyes wandered to the ceiling as I tried to find the perfect word to describe my feeling.
“How long has it been?”
“She’s been alone, right? After your father passed away.”
“She’s not alone. She’s got me. I’ve always been there. I just don't understand why she needs a random guy around when she has me?”
“Ah, I see. This isn't about her. This is about you.” Mr Aariv and Jake had a smirk on their face as they looked at me with judging eyes.
“You’re wrong. This isn't about me. This is about her. You know what? I don't need this.” I pushed the chair behind me and was about to leave the room when Mr Aariv stopped me with his words.
“A fire that is too bright will never show its source. Ponder on what I said. We’ll continue again in the next session. One more thing, I worry about you, but you do look...better. Keep it up, but don't push yourself too hard. Lately, I've been seeing you with more bruises and cuts. Don't do anything dangerous, okay?”
“Okay, Mr Aariv.”
I left the office to find myself in the hallway. My eyes wandered at the long winding and desolate hallways. Stuck in the middle of the corridor, I didn't feel like going back to class. However, what Aunt said last night spoke to my heart.
“Maybe a little rule-breaking won't hurt.” Only the empty air heard me as I started walking toward the staircase.
Not one single soul was present, not even a teacher. It is so quiet here and almost feels like a ghost town, but my empty reality when I heard the lecture from the class besides the staircase. Sneaking past it, I climbed the stairs until I reached the highest floor of the school.
A door separated me from the rooftop, I grabbed the handle and pushed it open. Behold, the blue sky above the vast city. A couple of trails of white clouds can be seen as an airplane or a superhero soaring without limits.
This view would be great for a picnic, mom and the gangs would love to hang here. I can imagine the freshly squeezed juice and the vibrant stacked sandwiches. Mom always cut the crust off and shaped it into a triangle. She probably has a good book in her hands while Aunt does her meditation. Jake, hahaha. He probably ate all the sandwiches before I could.
However, I was not alone.
A brown-skinned man in a white tight-fitting shirt with folded sleeves underneath a black and blue vest coupled with a nice black tie that goes underneath the vest. He looked formal along with his black leather gloves, but his hair was messy. That unkempt hair throws off the formal get-up. His eyes though, his inner iris was red, but the outer border of his iris was brown.
“Shit, did I get caught?”
He let out a gentle chuckle, with a thick British accent, he said “Don't worry, I’m not a teacher. Kenn Tashikawa Johnson, that’s your name, right? I thought you would be taller.”
“Have we met before?”
“Of course not.”
“Haa. So, how do you know my name?”
“Oh, call me Bradford.” He walked toward me and extended his hand for a handshake.
I hesitantly took it, he had a tight grip before releasing me.
“Who are you?”
“Who?” I tilted my head to the side with confusion.
“I’m with the government. Have you heard of E-HAD?”
“Of course not. If you did, you wouldn't be standing here right now.”
I took a step back. This man, even though he said it so casually, but in reality, this man just threatened my life right this very instant.
“Don't worry, I'm not here to hurt you, instead, I’m here to congratulate you on your earlier heroic deed. It must have been tough saving all those people by yourself, Brightstar.”
Wait, did my cover just get blown?
“Oh, I forgot to explain: E-HAD stands for Extra-Human Accommodation Department. We specialize in helping heroes in their day-to-day activities. We monitor, secure, and enforce the regulation that was created by the government along with the help of Delta. We are like your lawyer, slash, nanny, I guess. Don’t worry about your secret identity, only I held that information.”
“Here.” He handed me a card with my superhero name on it.
“Your probationary licence. Also, here.” He handed me another object, but this time, it was a small handbook.
“In this small book are the guidelines of what you can and cannot do as a Superhero. Read it. I highly recommend it.”
“All of this is too much to process.”
“Take your time, by yourself that is, because I need to go.” He walked past me.
“Wait!” I stopped him.
“What is it?”
“One of the robbers. Did he…?”
“He is fine. Don’t worry about him,” said Bradford with a smirk before turning, but he suddenly stopped.
He turned toward me, placing his hand on my shoulder. I raised an eyebrow at him. A sudden explosive burn shot up to my head causing me to fall on my knees. Out of nowhere, Bradford planted his fist in my gut. I almost threw up but held it back at the last moment by sheer will.
“W-What the hell man?!”
“Advice for you: never touch me again. Also, pain is a great teacher, think about that because you will face a lot much worse than this if you want to stay on your path.”
Bradford left me as I squirmed in agony.
Who is this guy? What kind of man just gut-punched someone out of nowhere. I almost fainted from the pain alone. I didn't even realize he had moved his hand before it was too late. That wasn't just a normal guy, he’s dangerous. Mental note on that.
I stared at the card laid on the floor while my face was sleeping against the warm concrete. A smile suddenly formed.
“I’m officially a hero now. Hell yeah.” It was a mini cheer, small and quiet, but nothing less in sprite from a regular one.
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