Big Man grinned widely as he followed Ra and Crow to the command deck of the World League of Protectors’ helicarrier. The crew turned their heads, then stood and applauded.
Big Man smiled and waved politely, “I’m happy to be here.”
Ra raised his hand, calling for silence, “I know everyone is excited to officially have Big Man on the team and many of you are hoping to speak with him. However, we have one last thing to brief him on, so everyone below Level A clearance will need to leave the deck.
The mood immediately soured. Some seemed to be bracing themselves for what was about to happen. Others were offering a sympathetic word to friends or coworkers as they put whatever they were working on aside or passed on to someone else. The crew of at least fifteen was reduced to five, plus the four superheroes.
After the last one left, Ra stepped forward and grabbed a remote control, then hit a button. A second set of doors closed and locked.
Big Man’s expression grew pensive. He had always been optimistic, but he knew there were certain things he would learn once he was officially inducted into the greatest team to ever protect the world. Previously unknown threats, government secrets, the true fate of M.I.A villains. He braced himself for whatever was to come.
Ra sighed and nodded to Crow, who tapped away at one of the stations for a moment. Suddenly the main screen displayed the face of a man. The man had sharp features, messy windswept hair, piercing grey-blue eyes, and a bit of scruff around his jaw. Aside from looking like he needed a good night’s sleep, Big Man didn’t think there was anything particularly remarkable about him. He could have been anyone on the street.
“This is Jonathan Rose,” Ra started. “He is an Omega level threat. He’s been involved in numerous incidents across the globe. Most notably the 2010 Kaiju incident, the 2004 group ‘Anti-Titan’, and the 2003 Scouring.”
Big Man’s brow furrowed deeply at the last one, “What do you mean? Did he set the dragon loose? Summon it?
Ra sighed again, deeply. Before he could respond, Crow answered, “No. He IS The Dragon.”
Confusion and horror filled Big Man’s face.
“It took us a while to put all the pieces together, but when he partially transformed during his fight with Ultima-” Big Man turned to look at her, who leaned against the wall by the door, expression flat. “All the clues we had suddenly made sense.”
“So… now that I’m on the team we’re going to take him down, arrest him, right?”
“No. Exactly the opposite.”
He recoiled at Ra’s words. “But… He’s a monster! Surely there’s a plan to stop him?”
“The only plan we have is to not trigger him again.”
Big Man turned to Crow. “What do you mean?”
“Jonathan Rose is the attributed cause of death for several heroes during the event known as The Scouring, including Finitous. Who at the time was considered one of the three strongest Heroes on the planet. Ultima may have only survived the incident because she was rendered unconscious until after it was over.”
Big Man looked back at her again. She hadn’t moved, but her whole posture and expression had tightened.
“This is in addition to the loss of several major cities and towns, and most of their populations. He nearly killed Ultima in their fight and broke out of the highest security cell we have on board only a few hours later.”
Ra picked up, “He then is believed to be responsible for killing the leader of the Anti-Titans. After that he stayed close to the ground and there were no major incidents for five years. While we do have several deaths attributed to him over the years, he hasn’t caused any mass destruction and criminals and other Super Villains seem to make up the bulk of his kills, with only one Hero death confirmed to him in that time.”
Big Man tried to process this… “So…you know he’s killed… MILLIONS of people, including some of the greatest Heroes of our time, and that he’s going to keep killing people… and you’re just going to let him walk free?”
“Yes. We are.”
“It’s the best course of action we have. Whatever motivates him to kill, he’s keeping his head down otherwise and that’s better than risking a second Scouring.”
“How many people are you going to let die just because you’re afraid of what MIGHT happen?”
“A few hundred a year. Average of three-hundred-and-five per year to be specific. Plus or minus a dozen,” Ultima answered.
Big Man turned to her, eyes wide, before snapping back to Ra. “Hundreds a year!?”
“What part of Omega Level Threat are you not understanding? Attempting to engage him is asking for massive collateral damage even if he doesn’t transform. He might just be the most powerful thing on the planet.”
Big Man’s eyes went wide, “You said I was the strongest.”
“We said you MIGHT be the strongest HERO we had,” Crow countered.
Big Man’s face went blank for a moment, and his gaze slowly fell to his feet. After a moment, “This isn’t right.”
“No one is happy abou-”
“I can’t let this stand.” Big Man darted to the door, ripped it open, and vanished down the hall.
Ultima smirked, “You could have stopped him if you wanted to.”
“Perhaps,” Ra sighed, “But I’m not going to test our powers against each other in the heart of this ship.
Big Man hovered above a city, checking the wind again. After confirming its direction , he dashed off again.
Moments later he came upon a man, crouched on the corner of a building, smoking a cigarette and looking down at the people walking by.
The man’s head turned just the slightest bit.
Big Man didn’t know how the man would react, but he’d later decide that general disinterest shouldn’t have been such a surprise.
The man sighed and stood up, “Yeah.”
“I’m stopping your reign of terror.”
“My reign of what no-” Big Man’s fist struck Jonathan in the chest and launched him into the sky.
Big Man dashed after him, catching up in seconds. He heard Rose say, “You mother fu-” before punching him again, propelling him further through the sky.
When he caught up to him again, he had the barest fraction of a second to notice John’s eyes had darkened before he twisted out of the way of his next punch. Rose’s fist impacted Big Man’s head solidly, knocking him off course.
He turned back to see Rose falling, but not caring, his attention focused solely on him.
Big Man flew back to him for another go. Instead of hitting him though, he grabbed John by the coat. Rose struck him repeatedly, before Big Man spun him around and hurled him further away from the city and over the hills beyond.
Big Man flew after him, but in a burst of fire Rose suddenly stopped mid air and struck him. He spun off to the side then righted himself, facing Rose in time to see a ball of fire incoming. He barely dodged it, but it exploded as it passed.
The fire was much hotter than Big Man had expected, but shrugged it off, flying at Rose again. He blocked Rose’s next attack, and countered. Out of sight of the city or any town, the blow knocked Rose further away but also back to the ground.
Big Man followed Rose down, but flame burst from Rose before he impacted; slowing his descent though not enough. He hit the ground and gouged a trench through it, before caroming into a copse of trees.
Big Man hovered a few feet above the ground, looking down the path carved through the trees, waiting. Rose didn’t emerge, but the trees and shrubs were catching fire.
He landed and walked in, looking for wherever Rose had hidden himself. He walked directly down the middle of the path of destruction without realizing it.
Deeper in, almost at the other side, Big Man found him. Sitting on a broken tree with one leg cocked up on it. His eyes, though black, still shown in the shadows.
“You really know how to piss a guy off,” Rose said, his eyes flashing.
The flames around them erupted into a true inferno. Big Man flinched back and shielded his face. Fire had only felt warm before, but this was more than warm. It…hurt. Was this burning? Was he burning!?
Rose raised his hand and a blast of fire struck Big Man, sending him tumbling out of the copse and across the field. When he finally came to a stop, smoke rising from him and skin red, he stared up at the sky for a moment before he started screaming.
He rolled over, clutching his face and still screaming. He didn’t understand. Fire had never hurt him before…
Breathing rapidly, he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. He looked up as Rose strolled out of the trees.
“Man, that looks like it sucked.” Rose then threw his hand out and a torrent of flame rushed forward.
Big Man slammed his fists on the ground and a wall of earth and stone erupted between them, sending the flames roaring off too the sides. He got to his feet, and punched wall, sending a huge chunk of it towards Rose.
As the stone flew forward, the flames instantly died and Rose flipped over it and Big Man, a smug grin on his face.
Big Man swung his fists behind his back, and the wall broke apart and swung around, slamming into Rose and pinning him in place.
Big Man whirled and threw a punch that shattered the stone and launched Rose across the fields. He took a moment to breathe then took off in pursuit.
Rose tumbled across the ground, then flipped into a skid, tearing up the grass as he did. Big Man was on him in the next instant, hurling another punch at him. Rose caught it, but the impact blew the ground out from them. Big Man’s next punch whiffed as Rose flipped over him, twisted, and kicked him in the back, slamming him into the ground and cratering it again.
Rose landed lightly on the grass and bounced from foot to foot, grinning ferally. “C’mon, you walking punching bag. Get up.”
Big Man erupted from the ground, tackling Rose into the air. With one arm wrapped around him, the other pounded into Rose’s side.
Then in a burst of fire they both crashed back into the ground. Big Man groaned as he rolled over and Rose staggered back to his feet. He stalked over to where Big Man was still getting to his feet, and kicked him like a ball.
It only took a second for Big Man to catch himself. With a grimace he swung his fist up, and the wind immediately swirled into a whirlwind, lifting Rose off his feet and into the air. He then dashed in, ready to strike.
“Wrong move!” and the whirlwind burst into a firestorm.
Big Man flinched back and retreated a dozen feet before dispersing the wind and fire safely away from him.
Rose dropped back to the ground, flames still spilling from his hands and his eyes glowing.
Big Man thought for a moment, then was struck by the obvious. He raised a finger to the sky, then swung it down to point at Rose.
The clouds in the sky began to move, seemingly slowly at first, but soon it was clear the clouds were moving at terrifying speed, gathering into a stream and rushing to a single point.
Rose’s brows lifted at this, then his eyes shot wide as he realized how close it was. He threw his hands up just as the airborne river speared into him.
The explosion shook the ground and sent Big Man tumbling backwards, but his concentration didn’t waver. Thousands of tons of water rushed into Rose, but the massive eruption of steam blasting out concerned him. He forced the water into a narrow stream and sped it up.
But only a few moments later the water ran out.
The field was gone. Only stone remained for thousands of feet, with a faint fog hanging over it. Far enough out, the steam started to condense into pools of water. And at the center of the destruction, Rose still stood, arms stretched forward, and a ball of fire that was more a small sun hovered in front of him.
Rose’s arms shot out to his sides, and the fire quickly dispersed into nothing. He stayed like that for a moment before his fingers started clenching. Then his hands twisted around before his arms came together, stretching and twisting around each other, as his head rolled around his shoulders and his back arched. Then his hands snapped together in a loud clap and he looked up at Big Man, jaw tense.
Rose took a deep breath and pointed at him, “Torrent’s going to be PISSED when he finds out you stole his bit.”
Big Man took his turn to smirk, “Who do you think pointed it out to me?”
Rose sneered, “I should’ve known you weren’t smart enough to come up with that on your own.” Then hurled a fire ball at him.
Big Man dodged and flew in.
The exchange of blows was like a constant thunder. Dodged or deflected blows caused a swirling wind around them, whipping up the ash around them, while strikes that landed launched the target through the air or cratered the ground.
Eventually Big Man caught a grip on Rose, and slammed him into the ground, once, twice, three times, then a dozen more. He let go as Rose had gone limp sometime earlier, and looked down at him. Was it over?
Rose’s eyes met his just before another torrent of flame blasted him backwards.
He stumbled and fell back, clutching his face, but now roaring in frustration more than screaming in pain.
Rose got back to his feet and leapt at him, grabbing him by the head as he slammed his knee into his face, and the blow went off like a bomb.
The fiery explosion sent him tumbling end over end across the newly created wasteland. But then he caught himself and flew straight back. He speared into him, and grabbed him in a grip that could crush steel. Rose pummeled him as he flew, but he remained determined. Holding him at arm’s length, he ground Rose into the earth at several times the speed of sound, gouging a trough miles long before finally taking him into the sky.
He held Rose out by the neck, which just wouldn’t crush.
“What ARE you?!”
Rose smirked and peeled his fingers away from his throat enough to choke out, “You already know. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
Big Man scowled, “You’re right. I do. You’re a monster. A monster I won’t stand to walk the earth any longer.”
And lightning struck Rose, then again, and again. Bolt after bolt struck him, faster and faster until it was as if one constant stream of electricity snaked through his body.
Eventually, the lightning petered out, and Rose hung limp in his hand. He let go, and Rose fell.
Big Man watched for a few moments, before dashing after and punching him, sending him crashing to the ground like a meteor. He chased after, ready to pound him into the earth’s core if he had to.
But as he came back into focus, Rose stood up.
The shock of the blow created another crater, with its own cloud of dust. He could feel Rose’s hand on his fist, and see the damnable glow of his eyes through the cloud. Then as the cloud settled, he could see some sort of armor… No, scales, closing in around Rose’s face, and when he spoke, he could see his teeth had become fangs.
“This is your last chance,” Rose growled, “Fly away, or die.”
“I’ll never give in!”
Flames erupted all around them, as Rose dragged him down and punched him into the ground, then kicked him into the wall of the crater. Big Man bounced up and over the edge. Rose leapt after and spiked him to the ground. He landed nearly on top of him, the flames still blazing all around and across his body.
The blows fell like rain, and soon Big Man became numb to the pain, and everything outside of it as well.
But then they slowed and…stopped?
Rose stood up and turned to someone… Whose voice was that? What was going on…?
Scribe sprinted towards the battle, wishing they’d been able to get her just a bit closer… But she knew they couldn’t risk picking her back up in case they moved AGAIN. She’d just have to run her ass off and hope she got there before they moved again. Or Jonathan killed him. Or worse.
Fortunately, in a way, Jonathan seemed happy to just keep punching Big Man’s face into the ground.
She reached him, and shoved her hand into his face, sending the commands, “Calm” and “Stop” into him. All she could do now was catch her breath and see if it worked.
Jonathan’s punches slowed, and slowed…and slowed. He turned his head to look at her. The glow slowly leaving them, and eventually coming back to normal. He turned back to Big Man and punched him in the face again then stood up and turned to her.
“What’re you doing here?”
She raised her hands and her eyebrows, “Trying to stop a murder?”
Jonathan looked down and kicked him, relatively, gently, “He started it.”
Scribe chuckled and rolled her eyes, “Yeah, I know. The WLP called me right after he left.”
He shook his head and started searching his pockets. After a moment he cursed under his breath and turned to Big Man (who seemed to just be coming back to his senses) and gave him a light kick, “You owe me a pack of cigarettes.”
Scribe laughed, “I can buy you more cigarettes.”
John turned back to her, “I can buy me more cigarettes. That’s not the point.”
Scribe nodded her head, “Okay, just, don’t hold this against him, okay? He’s new to this whole thing.”
“Yeah, yeah, fine. He seems too good for his own good anyway.”
Scribe nodded, then perked up, “Before I forget!” and ducked around John to pat Big Man with the words “Heal” and “Painless”. She stood back up and smiled, “So, uh…aside from all this,” she said, swirling her finger around to point at all the destruction before ending on Big Man, “How’ve you been?”
“It was pretty quiet. Guess it was about time for something to happen.”
She grinned, “Yeah, I hate it when it gets boring. Shame it had to be a fight between heroes.”
“I’m not a hero.”
“Well,” she smirked, “I guess it depends on your definition.”
He laughed, “You have a low bar.”
She rolled her eyes and shrugged. “Anyway. Would you like to get dinner some time? Or hit an amusement park? I’m gonna be in the city for a couple weeks.”
“Maybe. Don’t know if I should be so public after this though and… uh… Which city? Where even are we? I lost track of things…”
She laughed, “Oh yeah! We’re closer to Hook City now. You guys started in North Bay, right?”
John’s eyes went wide, “Yeah. Wow. Well, give me the hotel you’re staying at and I’ll call you later. But I need to go get a shower, some clean clothes, and maybe a nap.”
Scribe grinned widely and clapped, “Excellent! It’s been so long since I was able to hang out with a friend.” She pulled one of her business cards out and put the information on it.
He gave it a glance and then tucked it into his jacket. “Alright. I’ll be in touch,” and he turned and ran off.
Scribe turned back to Big Man who was sitting up and looking substantially less burned. “Well? Have you learned your lesson?”