Brightstar: The Rising Superhero
From the bottom of her stomach, Ria burst out laughing. "Did he just jump out of the window?"
Jake let out a defeated sigh. "This guy. We better go check on him. Seriously? The dude only got out of the hospital. I mean. Damn. Damn it."
"Hey, it's okay. He is going to be okay. Besides, it's good for him, right? A bit of exercise never hurt anybody," Ria chimed in.
After packing their lunch, both of them head downstairs. On the way down, Jake couldn't help but nag all the way while Ria responded by laughing. Ria did find it was funny, and it's what she expected from the boy who saved her. Always headfirst in full speed. This was certainly better than the breakdance fiesta.
Back in my current situation, the strange girl was stuck between my arms after I rammed it against the wall behind her. From her neck to the tip of her ears was turning red. While her flattened lips quivered a bit for the slightest shift in my movement. She brought her clasp hands above her heart as she raised her sight at me with her golden and glimmering eyes.
A heavy and hot gust of wind poured out from my lips as my heart tried to regain my tempo. It must be the way I breathe that caused her face to redden. I can’t help it. My heart is beating way too fast. I should have taken it easy.
No matter, I just need to control my breathing. I couldn’t believe all this running took so much wind out of me. I was a Hero a couple of weeks ago.
“Uhm, excuse me?” The tiniest and the most nervous voice cut through my thoughts.
My eyebrow raised at the new realization of how short the distance between my chest and her face. I backed off the wall till my lower back was against the stone railing behind me. A set of bloody handprints was left behind. My head dropped to a defeated tilt while a half-nervous smile appeared.
“I’m sorry!” A shout, I supposed, a little quieter than what I’m used to, but a shout nevertheless. It’s cute, but I don’t understand why she needs to apologize. I’m the one who chased her. I should be the one who apologizes. “Uhm, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Isn’t that why you chase after me?”
“Not at all. Actually, I kinda forgot what it was about.”
“Yes, I did. Maybe I thought I could still save what was left of my dream, ah, I mean I wanted to know how did you find out I was Brightstar.” That was a sort of clean save. I didn't mean to pour out my heart to a stranger.
Juliet pouted then pursed her lips before saying, "I saw you."
"That doesn't shorten any option. Where exactly did you saw me?"
Imagine a puppy getting excited over nothing, it’s cute and adorable. It’s how her face perked up with excitement before saying, “The bank robbery.”
A sigh escaped me, “Duh. Sorry. A scarf for a mask? Seriously, Kenn? And I didn’t even mask my voice, did I? I must have looked like an idiot and that speech. Cringe inducing." My gaze wondered at the pebble near the tip of my shoe.
"That’s not true!" Her outburst snatched my attention. Flustered cheeks accompanied the outburst along with a panic glance before she calmed again. Shoulders tense and with a pout, she said, "You were so cool. You're the light."
Juliet was angry, to say the least, or mad at what I said. With a half-smile, I slapped both hands together and stood up straight, "I was wrong. You were right. I was cool."
Her eyes perked up, "Huh?"
"You convinced me. You said I was cool, so it's pointless for me to deny it."
"No… your hands." Juliet pointed at it. "You're bleeding."
I lowered my gaze to my palms, "Oh, I forgot about that."
“Come here.” Juliet wrapped her hand around my wrist as gently as she could. I didn't pull away when she led me toward the closest sink. As the blood washed away by the running water. She took a closer look. “Why is it full of splinters?”
"I flung myself off a tree branch," I replied with a casual attitude.
"Oh. Cool." She didn't seem surprised at all. Even the sight of blood didn't bother her much as she picked the splinters out with a clipper. Her eyes remained focused on my hands. Her nervousness had disappeared. "Does the pain bother you? Should I be more gentle?"
"Not at all. Hmm, it's still painful, but I don’t know. Distant. The pain feels distant."
"Distant?" She lifted her long lashes and looked at me with curiosity.
Before I gave her an answer, a small chuckle escaped me. "New arms. It's not important. I want to know about you. Juliet. Who are you?"
"Me?" Her lips pursed as she pondered on her answer. "I'm a fan."
"A fan? That's all you're going to give me?" I raised an eyebrow accompanied by a smile. She responded with a shrug and a smirk. "Well I hope, I lived up to your expectations."
"You did...even better than I thought." She tucked a golden lock behind her ear while her gaze remained on my palm.
"Too bad, I had an early retirement."
A jabbing pain rushed out from my hand as Juliet unknowingly pressed her finger into the tiny cuts. I let out a yelp. In response, she let go of my hand. "I'm sorry. Why did you quit?"
"I didn’t have many choices in the matter. Besides, I kept getting saved by Crimson Diamond. I'm not fit to be a superhero. I don't have the skill or knowledge they have. I only make it worse." Whether it was a lie or the truth. It's what I told myself.
"Hey. You save me." The way she said it strung my heart. With so much pure admiration, it even caused me to avert my gaze and my cheeks to warm.
"Aisch-" I clicked my tongue in embarrassment and stood up. "It's a pleasure meeting you. I think I heard someone calling me. Juliet was it?"
"Yes, it is."
"See you around?"
"I hope so~" blurted Juliet before quickly regaining her composure. "I mean see you around too, Pal."
"Pal? Cool. Cool. Cool." A smile appeared on my face while I rubbed the back of my neck. After nodding my head, I turned around and started walking.
A stern lecture from Jake about my well-being while accompanied by Ria and Mr Aariv greeted me when I came back to them. Otherwise, school goes on as usual until it finishes.
We stood there in front of our school entrance along with Jake and Ria as we waited for my mom.
"Did you see the show last night?" asked Jake.
"I did with Aunty," replied Ria.
"You know you're lucky to get to live with such an amazing woman."
"I know. What? Are you jealous or something?"
My gaze wandered to the side. After raising my eyebrows when I saw Juliet waving her goodbyes excitedly at me. I raised my hand in response causing her smile to become even bigger before turning around.
A jab to my side pulled my attention to Jake. A mocking smirk accompanied those judging eyes, "So...not bad, bro."
"She’s just a friend, right Kenn?" Ria explained with a slightly annoyed voice while directed that explanation at me.
"And you said, I'm the one who got jealous. By the way, my boy here never formed a serious relationship before. Well, at least he was unable to after what happened- Anyway! I'm proud of you man."
As luck has it, my mom's Toyota Prius drove down the street then gently stopped in front of us. As the window rolled down, a delighted Catty accompanied by a slightly irritated Kusagi greeted us.
My mom was wearing her casual beige sundress while my Aunt wore something homier if I would describe it. A tank top with jean shorts and a pair of sandals. It seems like mom dragged her out of her workshop.
The three of us shuffled into the back. Surprisingly, there wasn't any book cluttering the backseat. I couldn't believe my mom cleaned her car, so I turned to my aunt for confirmation.
Our eyes met then she nodded her head, “Yep, I made her clean it.”
“Finally.” I sighed in relief.
-It wasn't that bad.- She released the brake and gently pressed the pedal.
“Oh yeah? There’s literally no room for the three of them if I didn’t force you to clean.” Aunt let out a sigh. “It’s bad enough we’re heading to that place. I bet they won’t even let me in.”
“Where are we going anyway?" I asked.
"Yeah. I don't mind tagging along, but at least, I like to know where we're going." Jake leaned forward.
Aunt tilted her head back while her gaze gravitated to me, “Catty and I talked about it. You wanted the truth. No...you deserve the truth. Catty is going to show you everything.”
“And you are okay with that, Mom?” I turned my sight at the rear-view mirror.
As if I asked the wrong question, her shoulders slumped slightly. She was beginning to doubt her own decision. However, she straightened her back and smiled when she glanced to meet with my sight in the rear-view mirror. -I’m okay.-
I know it’s hard for her to do this, so I will hold back my question for now.
The car ride was quiet and the atmosphere was heavy for an hour until we stopped in front of a small substation. High voltage thick wires hung from one electric pole to another and so on, but all of it centralized at the small concrete rectangle hut. A chain fence surrounded the hut, it looked slightly rusted, so it had been here for quite a while.
My mom turned the car off while Aunty got out of the car and leaned against the door. The three of us shuffled out from the back seat and glanced around us, seeing nothing, but apartment buildings around us. I kept trying to guess which building we were heading to, but none of them seemed interesting enough.
“It's behind you guys.” My aunt pointed behind us using a nod.
I turned around and it was the substation. My eyebrow raised, but my confusion was even more aroused when mom pushed the fence gate open. It was true after all that this small concrete hut is where we were heading. However, I was having doubts that this was the place, so I turned to Jake and Ria who had a similar confused look as I was. When I glanced at Aunt, she nodded at me.
Mom opened the door then gestured us to enter. Once we all were in, mom closed the door behind us. It was dark at first, but with a flip of a switch, the room was brightened by a luminous fluorescent light-bulb. Mom walked to another panel and opened it to reveal a scanner. She pressed her hand against it and closed the panel again.
The floor shook. It wasn't just the floor, the whole room was shaking. I glanced around me, seeing Jake and Ria in a state of mild panic while my mom and Aunt were calm as a cucumber. A sense of light vertigo rose inside me. The whole room was moving downward. It was an elevator, the whole room was.
It halted and I regained my balance. A loud ding appeared out of nowhere. A new door appeared behind a sliding locker, and we turned our attention to it.
“HANDS UP! DON'T YOU DARE MOVE A SINGLE MUSCLE!” A uniformed guard donned in high-tech battle suits, and each one of them wielded all sorts of powers. All of them were aimed at us. It’s not just the battle suit that struck my attention, it was the mask. Each of them had the same superhero mask.
My aunt let out an annoyed moan as she tilted her head back while the rest of us raised our hands instinctively.
Like the badass she is, Aunt Kusagi cracked her knuckles and neck as she walked toward them, showing no sign of fear. Almost all of them took a step back in response.
“HALT!” ordered the guards.
“Not the first time I heard that. It didn't work before, so why should it work now?” My aunt asked them back.
“HALT!!” A tinge of panic in the man’s voice as he ordered again.
“Step aside.” In a calm tone, a person in the back ordered the guard to part way. Without hesitation, the hefty amount of heavily powered individuals step aside.
A Hispanic woman with short curly hair walked toward us with an annoyed face. As she made her way to us, her hands were stuffed inside her pockets while the bottom of her white lab coat fluttered. She was short, half my size but older than me.
She stopped a couple of feet from us and tapped her feet repeatedly while her gaze examined each one of us. However, two people managed to pique her interest. One was accompanied by a pleasant surprise while another is a scornful look. Unhappy with the one who is in her presence.
“No. No. No. Hell no.” A deadly glare directed at the bunny's woman.
“It’s nice to see you again, Elena,” said Aunt Kusagi with a smirk.
“I heard you got a pass. I couldn't believe they would let someone like you back into this country, and even though you are here right before my eyes. I still wish it wasn't true.” Her demeanour quickly changed when her gaze met with my mom. “Milady, I didn't know you were coming back. You could have called first. I could have thrown you a warmer welcome party.”
-It’s fine. I’m here to give my son a glimpse of my past.-
“Your son. But?” She turned to me with a raised eyebrow. “Oh. I didn't know you had a son, but I thought---”
-He’s my son. I need a favour. Can you give us a tour? Also, I need to use the sparring room.-
“I would love to give you and your son and… I presume they are your other son and daughter?” She glanced at Jake and Ria.
-No, they are my son’s friends.-
“Are they powered?”
“I am,” answered Ria.
Elena cast her gaze at the girl and nodded her head with a smile, “Welcome, it's a pleasure to have another powered here.” Another question popped up but this time it wasn’t meant for Ria, it was for Jake, “How about you?”
“None that I know of,” answered Jake with a shrug.
“I see. Sorry, you are not allowed to enter along with that woman.” A glare directed at my aunt.
-I didn't remember this place having a rule like that back then.-
“Things have changed, milady.”
A step forward, the distance between me and Elena shortened. My eyebrows scrunched together, “Where are we?”
"An eager attitude. I love it. Welcome to The Sanctum." Arms raised outward at the classy office room. Wasn't the best sight, what with all the guards packed in this room. "Though, I wished you had used the front door. We just did a bit of construction. Very chic. Very nice. So the tour? I wouldn't mind giving it to you and your mom, and that young girl. However, not to that boy and that...thing over there. No offence, milady."
-You mean my Lil sister? She is...a thing.- It was a joke, a poor one at that. My aunt rolled her eyes as my mom hid her laugh.
"You know we're the same age, right?" commented my aunt with her arms crossed.
-Don't worry. She has mended her ways. You can trust me.-
“It’s hard to say no to the great lady who founded this place.” A sigh escaped her before she straightened her back. “Fine. But don’t touch anything.” not even a second from when she said it, my aunt had already touched something. A groan shook the air, “I said don’t touch anything. In a straight line, please.”
Marching footsteps, mocked Aunty Kusagi as she and Jake lined up behind my mom. Ria pulled me into the line. She seemed excited about this tour. While I felt a bit conflicted about the whole thing. This place was a large part of my mother's past and I had no idea about it.
Glimmering white marble from the floor to the ceiling. A hallway of high class coupled with high-tech robotic cleaners that hovered forward. A tech way beyond anything I had ever seen.
"Everything here feels so futuristic and high class. Who made all of this?" Ria asked.
“I did.” A proud smirk erected on Elena’s face as she puffed her chest out. “The Sanctum. A place of safety. A place of learning. A place where superheroes could rest from prying eyes. We offer protection, comfort, knowledge, peace, and any needs you may have. Though, we still have a limit. So far there has been a lot of praise in our service, and we never failed to cater to every need of our members' requests.”
“A place of learning?” asked Ria.
“Yes, little one. We offer those who are young and aim to be a superhero. A place where they could train and be taught by our best alumni. Every experience our alumni gathered over the years will be passed down to the younglings so one day they might exceed us and be the greatest superheroes they can be.”
Every door we passed by, a glimpse of a training hall, library, and all sorts of accommodations can be seen. It’s an amazing place, everything is so high-tech, unlike anything I have ever seen. This place was basically 10 years further in terms of architecture and technology. I was amazed.
“Can anybody apply to be a member?” Before Elena could answer Ria’s question, a loud chuckle from Aunt Kusagi cut their conversation.
“Of course, but we have a strict examination with varying degrees of tests in place to make sure that anybody who joins us is worthy of our services. Please follow me.”
Nearing a classroom, some students in neat uniforms and masks lingered near the doors. Subtle stares in the corner of their eyes were not so subtle to me, and not just me even Ria and Jake noticed it too. Whispering something to each other. “Did you hear that boy a nil?”
Jake’s shoulders sagged. A glance from Ria caused her hands to curl up into a fist. She was rightfully pissed when her friend was mocked, but a look from Jake told her to stay down.
“And they let him in? I thought this place had a strict rule about nil.” This so-called Sanctum may exude high class, but people will always remain the same. They couldn't help themselves but gossip at every opportunity.
A turn around the corner greeted us with a row of fancy portraits on both sides of the wall until the end of the hallway. Every great superhero had their pictures up here, from Slick Lightning, Hammerhead, to Gort The Molten, and many others. My mind concluded these people are the so-called alumni that Elena mentioned. A familiar face caught my attention. It was Crimson Diamond.
If what I saw was true, this place certainly had blown me away again. For every picture, I had to make sure I savoured every last one of the beautiful portraits as we moved forward. As we near the room, my heart tightened. A godly statue of Silver Cloak. Carved to perfection from her flowing cape to her featureless mask. Every detail is etched meticulously. The carver really went out on this one.
“Woah, Silver Cloak,” Jake’s jaw dropped in awe.
In the corner of my eyes, my mom was looking at it with a sense of familiarity, but not a pleasant one. One with a tinge of sadness and guilt. That’s when it hit me as if a bus rammed into a wall. I felt so stupid it took me this long to realize it was her. She was Silver Cloak.
"That’s you?" My mom confirmed my suspicion by nodding.
"Our Founder, Miss Catty T. Johnson. Also known as Silver Cloak." Elena stood beside us. "The greatest and the most powerful superhero ever existed," coo Elena with pride and admiration.
My mom turned around and proceeded to walk down the hallway. Not a single recognition or even a response to Elena’s admiration. It was as if she didn't even hear those words, or the closest guess yet is she refused to accept those compliments.
Elena finally noticed my mom was missing. In a hasty lead, she brought us to our mom. We stopped in front of a vault door. Thicker than anything I had ever seen. Beside that thick steel door accompanied by an even thicker glass window. It seemed excessive when I peered through to see an empty rectangle room inside.
Gears turned, a loud pang vibrated from inside the vault door, and slowly it opened. With a firm grasp over my shoulder, I was turned to face my mom. Her gaze hardened. -It was unfair for both of us,-
She pointed at Aunty and herself. -To take your choice away. So we decided we should give it another chance. It may be a difficult one, but... I will be proud of you no matter what.-
A hard pat on the back turned my head to see Aunt Kusagi beside me. “If you want to be a hero, kid, then show us that spirit.”
Still, in disbelief, I glanced at Jake. A half-smile on his face. "Dude, just do it. I hate seeing you all depressed and stuff. Just don't go overboard. I don't want to see you missing another finger."
A glance at Ria revealed her excitement, "You got this, Brightstar."
“Wait, what is this about?” asked Elena.
-We need to borrow your training room. If you don't mind.-
-A little family thing. If you don’t mind.- With a nodding smile, my mom replied.
Still confused, but it’s not like she can say no. “You kept saying don’t mind. Of course, I don’t. Please go ahead,” Elena answered.
Leaving the rest of the gang, my mom and I entered the empty room. A line of black drew from the ceiling to the floor. Crossing each other in the centre of the room. A soft white paint covered the entire room. There was nothing unremarkable in the room.
A few feet away from me, she stood with her arms slightly apart. -All you need to do is to come to me.-
“You got this, Kenn. Just think about why,” cheered Aunt Kusagi from outside the room.
With both eyes closed, she lowered her chin. A glimmer of light floated from her like bubbles. The chain tattoos around her body slithered and loosened. A metal snake unlatched around her neck causing her eyes to glow in silver light.
A momentary flash of light blinded me. The second time I heard my mother’s voice, it was soft and clear as she said, “Heavy.”
I dropped on all fours. Wide eyes. An expression of confusion was obvious on my face. My teeth gritted and my muscles bulged together to fight it. It took all my strength to stop me from laying on the floor. The spectator outside the room was even more confused by the situation they saw.
“Incredible…” said Elena as she stared at the room with raised eyebrows. A small screen device around her arm blinks red repeatedly. She held Ria back when the girl tried to move forward.
“What’s going on?” asked Ria. Now worry rose inside her.
Aunt Kusagi tossed a penny into a room. Instead of flying a little further as it expected, the penny immediately dropped flat on the floor the moment it passed through the doorway.
“Just now, the whole room's gravity has shifted. It’s 2 times heavier.”
A waterfall of sweats ran down my face to my shaking arms. Even by lifting my chin up was difficult, I gazed into my mother silver’s eyes and saw her pain. Putting her own child in pain was something unbearable, but she perseveres as she waited for me. My decision. My call.
So much power. Is this what she felt like battling people even stronger than her? Can I even do this? My power barely helped anybody. I couldn't even take down a bad guy without someone else saving me. It is even worse when my power hurts someone else. First, my power barely has its own usage, now I can’t even control it.
Why do I even want to be a Hero?
I could have been anything else. I could have stayed down. I picked that choice, didn't I? Things were simpler back then.
A memory played like an old film, I felt the time had slowed only for me. The crackling noise it made when I flung my bat against a straight ball, and it flew away outside the field. Then the cheers. The crowd goes wild. My name shouted in unison as I ran and ran. We won.
A good pat on my shoulder from the coach. Congratulated me on a job well done. It’s exhilarating. That feeling drove me back then to get better. I work hard. Harder than anyone else. I had no time for friends so every invitation to go out from my team, I rejected. I only strived to make people proud. Proud of what I achieved.
So when the cheers and the excitement disappeared. I was left with myself. Alone, tired, cold as I train my body to go even further. Every ache, I bear. Every pain I gain, I tossed it aside.
Of course, I thought people would gravitate around me. I was the centre of their winnings. I was the team’s ace. I am their sword and shield. Isn't that why I wanted to become a hero? Because I wanted to become the centre of the attention again?
No! That is not what happened. They saw me as an object. I made them see me as one. All that training I did became a goal they couldn’t achieve. They see me as an odd one. An excuse. A thorn in their self-esteem and my cold attitude only reinforce it. Isolated by my team. A subject of ridicule because it was the only way they can cope with their own frustration.
You love it. It makes you feel that you are better than them, didn't it?
It did… But, how am I supposed to react? I did my best every day, and I gave it all to them. For the team. Then one day suddenly they told me I couldn't do my best because they can’t? I thought our goal was to make it. To go beyond. Isn't that what all that pep talk was all about? All that bullshit about preserving, giving it all, and supporting your team is for whom?
All of it only grew after each victory, didn’t it?
But good for you, you never gave them a chance. You stick to your training and keep going. Until one particular girl stepped into your life. The one who never gave up on you. The one who broke you. No… unleash you.
Another flash of golden locks fluttering the wind. A girl of pure warmth and kindness. She strolled down the bleacher with a bright smile on her face. That smile alone was full of joy and hope.
Yes. Remember her. You were about to burst that day, but you didn't because of her.
I fought with one of the team members. It got so heated. I wanted to punch him in the face, but she showed up. I heard she was the coach’s nephew, but at the time, I didn't truly care who she was. She stopped the fight. I was angry at her at that moment, so I stormed off. I wanted to be alone.
Yet, for some reason, she couldn't leave you alone. For every day, from day to night. Even when you were busy with training, she would keep bothering you. Such a nice girl. She brought you food. Talk to you. Spend time with you. Commented on your training, sure it was rough advice. She didn't know what she was saying, but you could tell she got better in time. She makes the effort for you. Yet, for some reason, you keep trying to push her away.
Looking back it was very cold of you to do so. Not to mention ungrateful.
I was scared. I couldn't give her what she wanted. I was empty and cold. I had no personality. No life outside baseball. Every day I either spent it training or going home. I couldn't even think of an interesting subject to talk about with her.
Yet, she never gave up. A new friend she gifted you. Jake. You both might have started on the wrong foot, but look at you now, best friend. He had a thing for her, and you respected that. Though deep down you may have some feelings for her, you threw it away. Easy for you and them.
Speaking of love. It boggles you when she goes out with him. That boy from your baseball team. At first, you didn't believe it, but when you confronted her, it was clear as day, she was love-stricken for that boy.
But you knew the boy for what he truly is. You may don't care much about spending time with your team, but you observe, and you listen. That boy was no good, wasn't he? However, the question is what you did. So what did you do?
She went out with him.
She grew close to him.
And when her guard was down. It was too late because you did-
I did nothing.
Correct. Absolutely nothing. You kept your mouth shut because you thought it’s better for her to be with a boy so vile than being heartbroken. After all, she was happy. You were afraid to take the first move. She asked you before she wanted to go out with him. For your permission because she looked up to you. She trusted your judgment. Your call!
Two lines of tears dripped down my cheeks.
What happened next, a girl her age went through something so atrocious that it broke her. How quick was it for her to disappear from your life? A day I tell you. The rumours. The gossips. The leak. Everything went up in flame when that freakin boy couldn't stop himself. When everything was spilt, that boy somehow managed to put all the blame on her and slither away like a snake he is.
Jake fought for her, but it wasn't enough. No one would believe him. A delinquent.
So... My favourite moment. The day I was born.
You were angry. Furious I tell you. It was your right to be so. Even though it was partly your fault, you wanted to feel none of it. He was your aim. I could go on. However, I wanted to hear from your mouth truly on what happened next.
I walked into the classroom. I saw him.
He was joking with his friends. Not a single guilt on his face. He was proud of himself even.
So I snapped.
I went after him. Pinned him to the floor and started wailing my fists against his face.
How long does it take when you see red?
After the fourth punch, his cheek started to tear apart, and I didn’t stop. Not even my knuckles were spared. So many reds. I don't even know which one was my blood and which one was him. All I did know this boy deserved everything I flung at him.
Yes, all that rage. You have what it takes. Use it. Get up and go forward!
No. I’m not you any more.
Without me, you won’t make it.
Then it’s fine.
You… Kehehehe. Then what is all this for?
I don't know yet.
A slither sensation crawled back into the deepest of my mind. My anger was leaving me. Without my anger, my strength deteriorated. I found myself laying flat on the floor. With the heavy pressure on me, I wanted it to end. I gave up before, and I can do it again.