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The Road to Divinity (MCU SI-OC)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Darwin-18, Jul 8, 2020.

  1. Darwin-18

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Over time he'll realize its a far easier and suitable option when he gets more accustomed to those quick spells. Just making it seem like he doesn't have every ability imaginable and is too experienced, just character progression at its pace imo.
    Zeus and CmirDarthanna like this.
  2. Index: Chapter 6 – Practitioner of the Mystic Arts

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Chapter 6 – Practitioner of the Mystic Arts
    The next morning, I woke up relatively earlier than Hank and Laura, so I decided to take it easy for once. I dared not to interrupt Laura, and Hank seemed to be out of it. Since I spend countless hours studying and expanding my arsenal, I couldn't really tell the difference.

    After a quick shave, and I really do mean quick, I was able to go about my day a lot sooner. Some of those tedious tasks are simpler now, proving to be more effective than regular means as well. I made some cereal and sat in one of the comfy silver armchairs, turning on the TV to eat my breakfast rather than just eating in pure silence. Hank was to my left, still in deep sleep. Just by the facial expression, it was obvious how tired he truly was. Deciding to lower the volume to not disturb him, I began flicking through the channels to find something decent to watch.

    Having the bowl hover right under my mouth, I had no trouble using the remote or relaxing for that matter.
    After skipping dozens of channels, my finger stopped pressing the button when it switched to the NEWS channel. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see what was happening inside the crazy city that never sleeps. It was still barely nine AM, so there still wasn't anything worthwhile. That is until the anchor mentioned the follow up of yesterday's police raid, the scene switching to show a wide shot of a street late in the night.

    I jerked in my seat slightly, recognizing the location. It was the same street where the underground lab
    was. The scene switched to countless police officers escorting the scientists and guards towards the two vans, numerous others doing other work, such as escorting the victims towards medical assistance and keeping the reporters at bay. The anchor said they managed to get a statement out of the police captain.

    The scene switched quickly, one moment showing the captain, which was an Asian woman with black hair that went down to her chin, then turning to her giving her statement. I turned up the volume just a bit to hear more clearly.

    "[We're still yet to properly identify the culprits, and how they were able to set up a station underground.]" Yuri stated, not batting an eye before resuming. "[A few days ago, we apprehended a total of twenty-five gang members, along with their leader. We have reason to believe these two groups are connected in some way. The weapons we obtained from these groups seem to match, so there's little doubt these groups have a deeper root. Until we get more information, everything else is just speculation.]"

    The police captain merely walked away, not bothering with the swarm of reporters taking pictures and asking questions.

    Yuri Watanabe, huh?

    Truth be told, I didn't know much about Yuri until I decided to look her up after playing Marvel's Spider-Man game. I knew the basics and her status, so it was good knowing the police have a capable leader. My only concern was whether or not she would end up becoming Wraith. I certainly hope that won't be the case in this reality, she really is better off where she is now than with the supervillain façade.

    Seems like I'll have to pay a visit and get into contact with the captain.

    After the NEWS had concluded, Laura walked in, seemingly wide awake. It was difficult, but I did my best to restrain myself from chuckling at seeing her with the clothes I gave her as pajamas. It was a hassle to even convince her to even change her clothes, but after finding out they've been in that lab for a little over two weeks, it was enough for me to make her change her mind. Other than that, including the conversations before and during dinner, she was very quiet and timid. She would avoid eye contact like it was the plague.

    It was sad, truly. Having no childhood and raised to be an assassin. To be even driven to the point of asking yourself do you even have a soul. Yeah, she definitely didn't have it easy.

    "Morning, sleepyhead," I said to her as I put my bowl in the sink, watching her slowly look over the cabinets. "Sleep well?"

    "It was acceptable…"

    Laura responded without even taking her eyes off the cabinets, unsure which to open,
    "Hungry?" I asked, taking out the cereal from one of the cabinets. "I can make you some breakfast if you-"
    Laura snatched the box out of my hand. "I can do it myself."

    "You know, it's not a bother-"

    "I said, I can do it myself."

    Laura snapped at me, her head turning at me. If looks alone were enough to kill, I'd most likely be already dead on my own kitchen floor. Seeing that I had nothing else to say, Laura turned away to make her own breakfast.

    "Just trying to be a good host…"

    That went poorly. Note to self, try again, preferably a better and more natural approach.
    Deciding to just go back to my seat, I was glad to see Hank slowly waking up.

    "Oh, good morning," Hank greeted me while he rubbed his eyes, his expression quickly changing. "Wait… what time is it?"

    "Firstly, good morning," I returned the gesture with a smile as I sat back down. "Secondly, It's a little over nine."

    "Huh, I thought I would sleep through the whole week." Hank said jokingly as he sat straight up.

    "I wouldn't blame you if you did. You really should be resting," I said softly before a thought popped up, "Say, how are you feeling? I mean, compared to yesterday, do you still feel anything?"

    "Quite well, I might add," Hank smiled as he hit his chest with his fist. "I can't say for certain until I get to my lab, but judging by the way that I'm feeling, your spell worked wonders."

    "Really?" I asked with curiosity. "Truth be told, I never used that on myself or on anyone else, so I didn't have much practice. But thought learning some of these might be useful at one point."

    "They most certainly did," Hank agreed. "It took out most of it from the more important parts of the body, I should know, I remember the areas it would hurt the most, and by how fast the side effects wore off when all of the serum is drained. Usually, that kind of procedure would take hours to drain every last drop, you just did it in mere minutes. It's an achievement of medicine in my eyes."

    Frankly, I was flattered by his praise. Having an effectful and useful spell to remove any liquid when in danger. Just need to expand that healing gig as well. If you have magical abilities and are not bothered with learning healing magic, I see you as an idiot. It's going to be more difficult for severe injuries, but I'll figure that out until then.

    "That's good to hear, and thank you, Hank," I told the blue-furred mutant sincerely. "Any feedback is welcomed, whatever way to improve is enough for me."
    "Say, I know it would be rude of me to ask this early one, but I was curious, what are the limitations to this, healing magic?"

    I waited a moment before answering, trying to recall all the information I had on healing magic. "Well, that's a tricky to answer. It's all based how well you know the field to properly use this type. In theory, almost every injury can be repaired."

    It was true. While base magic does include countless medical solutions for any scenario, some more effective than others. Albeit the procedure for removing the liquid seemed like nothing because it was the first higher-skilled spell I learned back at Kamar-Taj. This is the field I'm particularly excited to tackle on, since I can make some impressive stuff later on.

    "Fascinating," Hank rubbed his chin. "But I'm guessing not everyone is capable of accessing this knowledge, let alone be proficient enough in it to be a skillful user. But is it possible to convert certain aspects into regular medicine?

    "At the current moment, not so much. Only because I don't have the right tools to expand my little project. I do plan on doing further research in the future. Usually, I'm actually forbidden from using magic, especially healing magic in public and such, would cause too big of a ruckus. But there are loopholes to work around on. Might take some time before I make such a discovery."

    "If you ever need a hand, I'd be honored to help," Hank said excitingly. "Uncovering different methods of improving modern-day medicine? That's something I'd love to be a part of.
    I pondered at his offer. Having some help with research with medicine and finding new ways to implement them is definitely needed. Hank would be a fine addition to that department, and did already have a few people in mind to ask. "You know what, let's table this discussion for another time. If we start now, I doubt we'll be able to stop."

    With that done, we proceeded to talk about a variety of things while Laura made Hank some breakfast as well. He mostly led the topics, going into more detail about his position within the X-Mansion, while also talking more about other members and what they do. After a while, Laura brought a bowl for herself and Hank, so I decided to watch the TV while they ate in peace. After they finished, I wanted to get to business.

    "So, now we should talk about getting you two home."

    "How is that going to work, exactly?" Laura asked questioningly, Hank raising an eyebrow with interest.

    "Very simple," I formed a see-through map that had a nice view of New York, also the whole area around it. I already had a general idea where the place is, but I had to make it seem like I dont know about the place. "Point on the map, as I feel you should know this. Any detail would help, open field, any pathway, and anything you suggest that will be of help in finding it easier."

    "While you do that, I just need to do something real quick."

    I went to my bedroom, since I wasn't in my usual attire, and for getting my little protection against the Professor. It was a beads necklace, a singular line, but had more than enough beads for tons of enchantments. While digging through the pile of books, I stumbled upon these things. Sorcerers frequently use these beads and have it set for protective spells. Since I will encounter a telepath, we can't have him go lurking through my mind, now can we?

    On the drawer, the necklace hovered above a stone that leaked blue energy, all of it going into the rune of the bead. It took all night, but it's complete. Simple and well hidden, it might just become my most useful tool. After this, I'll definitely have to dig through and add more of them.

    Placing the necklace around my neck, then my mask. With two claps, my regular clothes changed to my robes, along with everything else I'll need. I then went back to the living room. "Did you find it?"

    "You're wearing your mask, too?" Laura asked, raising an eyebrow.

    "What can I say, I like it," I said with a hint of enthusiasm.

    Hank nodded. "It's right here," then pointing his finger on the map.

    I asked for any other details before we began. After about a minute, I created the portal in the spacious hallway, an open field of grass alongside a pavement waiting on the other side. Gesturing them to go first, I was the last one to go through. Looking around, I was glad to see the very luxurious mansion further down the road.

    "See? Told you it was simple." I said turning to Laura, my mask hiding my wide smile.

    Laura merely huffed, turning her head to the side, prompting Hank to let out a chuckle. Walking towards the mansion, it didn't take us long till we got to the front door. For a split second, I caught a flash of white through one of the windows next to the door. Just as we walked up the short flight of stairs, Hank went to turn the door knob, only for the door to be opened wide from the other side. Ororo Munroe, or Storm, stood there, her face switching between shock and happiness as she looked at the two of them.

    "Hank… Laura…" Ororo uttered as her sights switched between the two, before throwing herself at them, embracing them both in a tight hug. "Thank goodness, you two are safe. We were worried sick."
    Hank was the only one to return the hug, while Laura just stood there awkwardly. "Were okay now, Ororo. Sorry for the scare."

    "I'm just glad that you two are back," Ororo said happily as she released them. Her focus then turned towards me, but didn't outright say anything. "Come, let's step inside first."

    "Ororo!" A loud and gruff voice called out. Just as we stepped in, a tall man with hair all over his face, wearing a black leather jacket and dark blue jeans came into view from the left. Right from the start, I realized that it was Logan. "What's got you in such a… fuss…?"

    Logan trailed his words as he saw Laura and Hank, his focus centered on his daughter. The two rushed toward one another, entering a tight embrace, not a single word uttered. It may not be the appropriate moment, but I couldn't shift my focus from Logan, or how I see it, Hugh Jackman. At this point, I had zero idea how this reality worked, at all.

    It wasn't until now that I realized how many students surrounded us. They were only whispers, but a good portion was talking about Laura and Hank returning, while the other half was centered on me. Even though I might be forced to remove my mask soon, I was glad I decided to put it on beforehand. I'm not overly fond of being the center of attention. If it weren't for the mask, I'd most likely look anywhere to avoid this much eye contact.

    From the sea of children, a tall and muscular figure came into view, quite hard to miss actually. On his sides, a girl with bright red hair wearing a green sweater while also sporting blue jeans and a man with a black visor that had a thin red line across it, wearing a light blue dress shirt and black pants were walking alongside him, by their appearance alone it was safe to assume they were my age. There also appeared to be a space in-between them, but only a bald head was visible.

    Once the crowd made enough space for them to pass through, I got a clean view of Charles Xavier, Jean Grey, Scott Summers and what I assumed to be Colossus heading our way.

    "Hank, Laura, you're back," Charles Xavier spoke in a soft tone as he rolled up next to them.

    "Yes, Charles, we're back," Hank said, flashing a smile to his old friend.

    Xavier gave a smile of his own, knowing his friend and student are safe. "I'm sure we all can rest easy knowing this ordeal is behind us. But please, tell me, what happened to you two? We looked everywhere, but I still couldn't reach either of you, even with Cerebro."

    "Heh, it's a long story, really. I'd rather not go into much detail, especially right now," Hank tried shifting the subject. "As to how we got back here, you can thank him."

    Hank pointed with his thumb behind him, Charles' eyes went off to the side, landing on me, the same going for Jean, Logan and almost everyone else. Figuring my time for being silent is over, I took a quick breath to go back into my normal and "charming" attitude. "Hello there." I said with a slight wave of my hand.
    The Professor made his wheelchair turn to the side and move towards me with a neutral face. "My apologies, but we don't seem to have met."

    "Oh, but of course," I said as my hands went to my mask, slowly removing it from my head. All the while removing it, I had a smile on my face before it even came off, holding the mask with my left hand. "Ethan Chester, Practitioner of the Mystic Arts, at your service. It's a pleasure to meet you in person, Professor Xavier."

    I said while extending my hand at him. In the corner of my eye, I could see both Laura and Hank rolling their eyes. At the moment, I could feel some sort of strange tingling sensation that was spreading across my head, slowly becoming more noticeable from all areas, but the feeling never became bothersome. My focus back on the Professor, I noticed the faintest change in his facial expression. His eyes widened, but only slightly and stayed frozen way longer than normal, he seemed to be holding his breath as well. "Is something wrong, Professor?"

    That pulled him out of his trance, blinking several times and forming a smile. "No, no. everything's alright. It's a pleasure to meet you," The man said as he accepted my hand. He then rotated to face his students.
    "Everyone! Classes are dismissed!" The Professor announced. "Please, return to your rooms for the time being. We will be with you all shortly."

    Cheers erupted from the field of students, half dedicated to the fellow members that returned, and the other for getting out of class earlier. I simply stood there with a smile as the students went back to their own activities. Slowly, the hall became less and less crowded.

    "One moment, please," Charles turned around to Hank, as well focused on Laura. "Should we escort you to the medical wing for a checkup?"

    "Might as well," Hank agreed. "Get that over with sooner rather than later."

    Charles nodded, then turning to the rest of his students. "Jean, Piotr and Scott, please keep our guest company until we return, if you don't mind?"

    "Of course, Professor." Jean agreed happily, with Piotr agreeing as well. Meanwhile, Scott stood still, not saying a word.

    Xavier nodded, turning to me. "We shouldn't take long."

    I raised my hand. "I'm in no rush."

    Charles, Ororo, Logan, Laura, and Hank proceeded to go towards the medical bay. As they were walking away, I took a quick look under my robes at my bead, seeing the rune blinking on and off with a blue color. A quick smirk formed on my face before turning back to normal. The look on Charles' face says it all. The enchantment worked perfectly, especially with his expression, which might have given him a heart attack in the process.

    My attention turned to the insides of the large mansion, doing a full spin to admire the interior of the mansion.

    "This place… sure is amazing."

    Aside from it being aesthetically pleasing, you can feel liveliness in the air, the mansion's full of it. It was either that from being inside the X-Mansion for real or my sensory skills were getting better.

    "That's one way of describing it."

    Turning back to the remaining members, Scott was the one who walked up to me. Just by the way he was walking, the man could be mistaken as soldier that was on duty, in form, and with near-perfect coordination.

    "Scott Summers," He said calmly. "Thank you for rescuing my teammates."

    Even the way he introduces himself was awful. He could have put in at least an ounce of feeling into it.
    Me being me, I decided to ignore his poor attempt of introduction, I accepted his hand with a smile. "Think nothing of it."

    "But if you'll excuse me, I'll have to go ask Hank and Laura for myself."

    Just like that, Scott walked passed me, going to the medical bay as well.

    "That was just rude…"

    Is this really one of those versions of Scott where he's a prick? It wasn't what he said, it was how he said it was my problem. Guess basic manners is one of the things that never mushed well with the guy.

    "Ignore him," Jean said as she and Piotr stepped closer. "He isn't usually like this. Once you get to know him, he's actually quite nice."

    "Don't stress about it," The towering man tapped my shoulder a few times. While to him it seemed like a friendly gesture, to me it felt like he was hammering down a nail, even in his normal form. He then took my hand and shook it with both his own hands. "Thank you, my good man. We've spent many days searching for them, but we had little luck."

    "T-Think nothing of it," I said while trying to avoid the slight pain from his grip, rubbing it a bit when he released it. "Couldn't just leave two mutants to sit in captivity and be experimented on."

    "Ah, so that was it," Piotr said in a surprised tone. "Still, your kindness is greatly appreciated. But now is not the time to dwell on the past. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Piotr "Peter" Nikolaievitch Rasputin, but please, simply call me Piotr. I must ask, you don't seem to have any physical changes, what sort of mutation did you have?"

    "Mutation? Oh, no, I'm not a mutant."

    "You're not?" Jean asked in surprise, her eyes wide while stepping closer.

    "Nope," I put more emphasis on the pop. "You see, I'm more mangled with the… supernatural side of things.

    "Supernatural?" Jean questioned. She scanned me from head to toe, her focus going to the book on my waist along with my attire. Once we made eye contact again, I raised my eyebrow with a smirk, seeing if she could make a correct guess. "By that, you mean… magic, right?"

    "Bingo," I said cheerfully, turning to Piotr. "She catches on quick."

    "Magiya?" The tall man asked in confusion. "That's one set of skills you don't hear every day."

    "What can I say, it's fun," I shrugged my shoulders with a sheepish smile. "Besides, you don't see a school dedicated to mutants, but yet, here I am. You learn something new every day."

    "Fair point. Now then, enough business talk, as the first non-mutant, allow me to welcome you to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters! Home to all mutant kind." Piotr exclaimed loudly with his arms wide open. "Please, follow me. We will show around."

    The Russian giant began walking, Jean and I right behind him. I listened to every word as he spoke, learning new bits of trivia of the X-Mansion every step of the way.

    "I appreciate the tour and everything, but he's getting a little too into it, don't you think?" I whispered as I leaned closer to Jean, not wanting to interrupt him.

    Jean barely contained a laugh, using her hand to cover his mouth. "He tends to that. We let him do his thing, he seems to enjoy it though. Every time there's a new student joining the school, he's the first one to volunteer for the tour."

    "Ah, that makes sense," I told the redhead while looking back at Piotr. "For a second there, I thought he prepared a script by the way he's talking."

    That earned me another laugh from Jean. "You wouldn't be too far off if I'm completely honest," There was a slight pause between us, the only sound of Piotr going on about the school's foundation. "Sorry, I just can't wrap my head around it, magic? Really?"

    It may have been just a whisper, but I could hear the excitement in her voice.
    I raised an eyebrow. "What? You've got a school filled with extraordinary people with all kinds of unique powers and abilities, and you're interested in magic?"

    Jean merely pouted. "Well excuse me for getting excited when I heard magic. It's not just that either, I'm used to meeting new people, but it's not every day you met a non-mutant at this school. You'd be the first "normal" person I've met since I don't even know how long anymore. Sorry if I find it interesting."

    "Fair enough I suppose," I drew my hand out, creating a small bird made out of azure fire, this particular fire in this state itself wasn't harmful. The bird swiftly flew towards Jean, catching the girl off guard as the bird landed on her hands. The small azure creature let out a low, but cute squall as it changed its color to red before exploding, leaving only a trail of red dust before disappearing altogether.

    "There's your magic trick," I said quietly then trying to catch up to whatever Piotr is talking about, something about them as a team going to Peru? "Didn't have much time on the spot to think of something better."

    Jean's face was in one of surprise, before letting a wide smile. "Alright, that, was pretty cool."

    "Heh, glad you liked it."

    Just then Piotr turned around suddenly.

    "After that, we made our way back home," The giant said with a cheeky smile, before changing to a confused one as he caught me just as I finished with Jean. "Did you pay attention to anything I said?"

    I looked over to Jean, only to see her averting her eyes with a cheeky smile of her own. Looking back at Piotr, I tried to remember something out of his story. "About how you all as a team titled the X-Men, successfully completed a mission in the… Cloud Forest, something about chasing rouge mutants causing havoc and safely returning home?"

    "Very good," Piotr resumed walking. "Now then-" He continued talking about another mission they had.
    "By the way, I never got your name?"

    The redhead smiled as she held out her hand. "Jean Grey."

    I shook her hand as we walked with a smile. "It's nice to meet you, Jean."

    After about another thirty minutes after non-stop chatter from Piotr, even though Jean and I chatted about various things all the while, he was called to take care of something in another part of the mansion, leaving me and Jean on our own. We ended up going towards the kitchen.

    I let out a sigh of relief. "That man can talk."

    "Don't worry, you'll get used to it. He grows on you very fast," Jean pointed towards the fridge. "Want anything?"

    "Surprise me." I simply said, leaning onto the counter to admire a very, very large and state of the art kitchen. My, what a beautiful sight. I can just imagine the number of things I could create with something like this.

    My train of thought was broken when I heard footsteps approaching. Looking to my left, I spotted Logan entering the kitchen, with his eyes focused on me. Since we already made eye contact, it was late to break it off. I shifted my body to properly face the man.

    "Logan! Just in time," Jean called out from the fridge. "You want anything?"

    "One from my stash." Was his response with a quick look to Jean before turning back to me. It wasn't until he got way closer than he needed to before stopping. Jean came back with our drinks, a can of coke and beer bottle flew into mine and Logan's hand.

    "Logan, this is Ethan," Jean began introducing me as she motioned her hand at me, before turning to me. "This is Logan, he's Laura's father."

    Still, another word to be said by neither of us, so I was a little worried about whether or not to start. Right then, Logan extended his hand out to me, I took a moment before accepting it, receiving a firm grip
    "Thank you for rescuing my daughter."

    Logan said slowly, but the sincerity in his tone was genuine. Okay, crisis averted, we're good.

    "You're welcome...?" I said, more sounding like a question than anything. "As I said to everyone, don't think much of it. Just doing my job."

    "Where'd you find them?"

    Logan proceeded to form the middle claw, easily taking off the cap of the beer bottle, taking a long sip from it.

    "...In an underground lab in the middle of New York."

    Just as I said that it occurred to me how familiar of an answer that is to him.

    "Aha." Logan nodded, looking off into the side, his expression barely changing.

    I decided to add some good news to the story. "In case you're wondering, they're rotting in jail with a severe headache."

    He looked back at me, a sliver of a smile spreading across his lips. "To that, I can drink too."
    I looked over to Jean, getting a small smile as confirmation.

    Professor Xavier then entered the kitchen not a few seconds after, a smile came across his face as he spotted us.

    "There you are," Charles spoke to all of us, but his eyes were centered on me. "My apologies for just disappearing all of a sudden. Wanted to make sure they were in good health, so I could rest at ease from these last few weeks."

    "I'm just glad knowing my little trick was of help."

    "Ah, yes, Hank did mention how easily the sedative was removed from his system, quite the interesting story. But please, let's step into my office first. I'd say we have much to discuss."

    We stepped into the Professor's office, Charles going behind his desk, Logan leaning on the wall off to the side, with me and Jean sitting on the couch.

    Our conversation started off with Charles asking questions regarding Hank and Laura. Again, I gave the entire rundown everything I know, trying to recall as many details as per his request. I told him about who orchestrated it all, and the bald man wasn't too happy with the newfound information. We discussed a little more until Charles decided to switch things up

    "Well, with that out of the way, we can move on to more enjoyable topics," Charles leaned on the desk with his hands atop of one another, a smile forming. "Please, tell us a little about yourself, Ethan. I for one am intrigued, particularly by your title.

    "Hmm, where to start," I stayed silent for a moment. "Think of me as a watcher of sorts. My role is to make sure any supernatural incidents are handled and properly covered up so the regular folk don't start any wild theories or to know the existence of such a concept."

    "I would be right to presume you aren't the only one who, in your words, practice magic, no?" Charles asked. "There must be some sort of place where this, field is studied and practiced, no?"

    I had no intention of going into more detail, but I'll leave him to think. "All depends, honestly. I tend to operate in more various fields, not just magical threats. Someone like me wouldn't usually do what I did to not risk exposure, although I tend to bend that rule a lot. Truth be told, there's a lot going in the world at the moment, most of it kept out of the public eye. But I assume you're familiar with that?"

    "It's a very difficult process for humans to understand us, a delicate subject to bring up. My life's work is centered on this Institute, to give a home to the ones who are cast out. I know keeping our existence a secret won't last, that is why I'm trying to take proper steps to ease the situation, to better present ourselves. The last thing we want is for them to see us as a threat. That's why I opted to keep as a secret all this time until the proper time presents itself," Charles explained with a tender tone. "But I'm curious, Hank told me you have already had a firm grasp on Mutant kind. Is this… common knowledge where you come from?"

    "All I can say, Professor, you'll have a difficult time trying to hide anything alarming from Sorcerers," I said calmly, feeling the need to state that here and now. "But no threat, we're a peaceful bunch. Just don't try causing unnecessary trouble and you're good. Sadly, I have a feeling that sooner or later all these little problems will just reach a limit before it all explodes."

    "There's much of that going around I suppose, we can only fight and protect to live another day." Charles drove away from his desk. "Still, it's good to know this world has people willing to help. You have my deepest gratitude for saving members of our family."

    "Again, think nothing of it," I said simply. "I'm just doing my thing."

    After our little talk, Xavier told us to resume to our tour, as he had to discuss something with Ororo before handling the students.

    The Professor also allowed for Logan and Jean to take me down to the sub-basements, and we know where that leads us. I knew that he probably couldn't have any peace at the moment, the fact his mind-reading ability was ineffective to a newcomer inside his very own home. Still, he was still forced to show hospitality, as I did return his missing teammates. While on second thought that might actually make him more suspicious of me. Nevertheless, I had to make sure my mind was safe, so I'll have to be more careful around him in the future if I notice any weird behavior.

    Going down the elevator, we walked through the white hallway towards the Danger Room, while Logan went off to another room. As the slide doors opened, revealing a long hallway with slick dark blue walls, with white LED panels on the ceiling, giving it a futuristic and high-tech appearance. Entering the control center of the Danger Room, it was quite spacious at first glance. The room reached its end with glass windows as walls, a long row of machines underneath various screens that had a view of the environment below it but in different POV's.

    Near the control panel, Laura could be seen off to the side, wearing a new set of clothes with her arms crossed, watching the feed intently.

    "Laura!" Jean said a little louder than what could be considered normal volume, going into a slight run to close the distance between herself and Laura.

    Before Laura could even respond, Jean bombarded the poor girl with question after question, but Laura tried answering nonetheless. I just remained quiet the whole time, knowing that this was the first time in weeks that they've seen each other, so I felt it was best to exclude myself from talking this time. Although, even though Jean would give Laura little breathing room, she would still throw a glance at me when she thought I wasn't looking.

    When they were finished, Jean and I watched alongside her in silence. On the feed, Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Rogue were fighting against two fairly large robots with canons for arms. The area around them was one of a heavily damaged city street with tall buildings. They already seem to have destroyed a few of them, only having to face two more to finish the course. Rogue hurled large rocks and leftover remains of the nearby wall at the closest robot, damaging its head and one of its canons, causing the robot to fire aimlessly with its other weapon. Kurt teleported back and forth to save Rogue before the canon was aimed at her, going behind some building for cover. Kurt then teleported Kitty to one of the over-sized feet, using her powers to have it phase down to the ground, immobilizing it.

    Next on the list for the teleporter was to destroy the other cannon, using his tail to pierce through it, causing it to act faulty. Seizing the opportunity, Rogue ran at top speed, one punch was all that's needed to fully destroy the knee of the leg that was in the ground. That caused the robot to spring upwards, crashing onto the last bot behind him, making it fall to the ground. Just as it was about to get up, Kurt teleported Rogue on the robot's head, smashing it into pieces.

    With that, the simulation was over.

    Once the training session was over, all of them entered the room. Kitty was complaining about something, but only Rogue was listening, or more like forced to. Their uniforms were all mostly black with different small changes on each of them.

    "Hey, Laura, Jean," Kurt greeted the two girls with a wave, then looking at me questionably. "…and someone we don't know."

    To save me the energy, Jean took it upon herself to fill in on the ones who I haven't still met yet, quickly going through the introductions, also mentioning the fact that I wasn't like them, which I hoped wouldn't make the interactions awkward.

    "Ah! So you're one the Professor mentioned!" Kurt said excitedly as he quickly jumped to me with his hand out. "A friend of Hank and Laura's is a friend of mine."

    I returned the gesture with a smile. "Thanks, a pleasure to meet you as well."

    "Sorry that we didn't come up when they first arrived," Kurt said apologetically. "We saw them exiting the elevator while on our way for training. When we find out both of them were alright, we just went to blow off some steam, peacefully this time."

    "No worries," Jean dismissed it with a wave. "Just giving the finishing touches on the tour."

    "Oh, and I have to say, this training system is outstanding," I commented as I couldn't just contain myself. This was the actual Danger Room, the training course of high-revolutionary design that can create any scenario, it was indeed impressive. "I looked so real. From my perspective, I couldn't really tell the difference at first glance."

    "Thanks! But trust me, that was nothing," Kurt said. "That's not even half what this machine can do. You can set any scenario up, to pretty much anything depending on the kind of training you want to do. I like to do more "dangerous" and "fast-paced" ones, but every time I suggest them, they shut me down before we even got a chance to start… I don't know why, though."

    "That's because you always overdo it and wind up in the hospital wing..." Rogue was quick to shut him down.

    "Now, hold on," I said softly while raising my hand slightly at her. "At first, this thing right here sparked my interest, but now, he has my full divided attention. Can you show me more?"

    "Sure," Kurt quickly walked to one of the seats, sitting cross-legged, furiously typing away at the keyboard. "What did you have in mind?"

    "You said dangerous and fast-paced? I'd expect it to live up to its titles." I replied with a grin.

    "Now we're talking!" Kurt went back to searching through the countless options on the screen.
    Laura whispered to Jean, asking if they should really let them do one of Kurt's ridiculous courses. The redhead's only reply is that they'll intervene if Kurt truly does pick an awful one. Knowing him, that would be a high possibility.

    The sound of the sliding door opening and closing, revealing Scott approaching them with a tablet in hand. Looking at the new entry, I could see he was about to say something, but stopped when he spotted me. I shook my head slightly and went back to the screen, not wanting to even bother with his, how should I put this, "displeasure" with me being here, so I went back to talking with Kurt.

    "Listen up," Scott stepped forwarding in a commanding tone. "We'll try out a new strategy I've been planning." Scott proceeded to explain his plan, but Kurt and I weren't paying too much attention to him. After about a minute, he finished the rundown for his training for the day, which was met with silence.

    "Can I try?"

    I asked Kurt in the moment of silence, neither I nor him acknowledged Scott all. The sound of a low growl could be heard.

    "Sure!" Kurt said excitedly. "It has a ton of different courses to choose from. You can even pick individual ones to your liking. Look, this one brings up-"

    "Hold on," Scott's arm cut through between me and Kurt. His gaze turned from Kurt to me. "Not happening."

    "What? Why not?"

    "This isn't some public gym, in case you haven't noticed," Scott stated. "This is a highly advanced training course, not some toy you can play with."

    "It looks like an oversized and advanced playground to me, so what's the difference?" I said jokingly. "Come on, man, do me a solid and let me try it out."

    Without even making the slightest expression from his bottom half of the face, he only uttered. "No."

    "What a guy!" The immediate thought formed in my head when looking at his emotionless face. Just like before, his tone is ticking me off.

    Raising my eyebrows slightly, then forming a slight smile. "A vote, then. We put it to a vote, the fairest way of them all."

    "You're overstepping your welcome, pal."

    "Look, we're all civil here, everyone should have a say in the matter," I said calmly, before pointing at the control panel with my thumb. "Besides, I seriously doubt this entire place belongs to you, so can you knock off the act like you own it. Anyway, let's hear what everyone else has to say."

    "Eh, ah' don't really care." Rogue lazily raised up one of her hands.

    "I wanna see what the new guy can do!"

    "Same here!"

    Kitty and Kurt both raised their hands excitedly, much to Scott's displeasure. Turning over to
    Jean also raised her hand slightly, also wanting to see how well a newcomer would fare in the Danger Room, on a relatively normal setting, of course. Laura seemed to be pondering whether or not to raise her hand as well, a slight nudge by Jean was enough to make her join in, but looked in a different direction to make it seem like she didn't care.

    Seeing that literally each and every teammate of his inside the room agreed to this, Scott was at a loss. He could only grit his teeth slightly when his mouth twitched, refraining from making this a heated argument.

    "Then it's settled!" I clasped my hands lightly in excitement, returning my attention to Kurt. "Now, my friend, show me what this puppy can do."

    Having a similar level of excitement, Kurt motioned to lean closer to the control panel. "First off, we need to select an environment for the course to take place in. Here, all the ones that are availa-"

    Kurt's explanation was cut off when a loud, loud alarm went off.

    "Ehh… what's that?" I asked Jean.

    "Someone's attacking us." Jean answered as she broke off into a run, other members going as well, with me following right after them. Running into the control room, we met up with Ororo, Hank, Logan and Piotr. More members entered the room moments later. Hank, who was already typing away at the computer, put up a few windows that displayed security cameras of the outskirts of the property where the iron fence was destroyed. At first, a giant clad in dark red armor all around his body except on his arms and legs walked through, a man wearing a red helmet with purple outlines.

    Magneto, and his Brotherhood. The team consisted of him, the Maximoff twins? Toad, Blob, Sabretooth, Mastermind, Pyro, Avalanche, Unus and Juggernaut.

    "That doesn't look good." I said upon watching the screens.

    "Listen up, everyone," Scott called out to his fellow teammates as he adjusted his visor. "We have to act fast before they get too close to the mansion. The Professor is already on his way up, so we have to move quickly. It's most likely going to get messy up there."

    Scott gave a rundown of the potential strategies they might want to use while the other members were getting ready. Once done, all of the members rushed through the exit, leaving only Jean, Scott and myself. I grabbed my mask and went to follow them.

    Just as I was about to pass him, Scott did a double-take. "Where do you think you're going?"

    I stopped to look at the man, he cannot be serious. "You're kidding, right? Eight people break through your gate and heading your way. You expect me to do nothing?"

    "That's exactly what I'm expecting," Scott demanded, stepping closer towards me. "This is our problem, and since you're not a mutant, it means you have no involvement in this. Just stay here and don't make much of a mess while we're gone."

    "Do you have your head that far up your ass?" I retorted. "This is the first time I'm actually hearing someone not wanting an extra hand."

    "That's an order. I'd suggest you follow it."

    "You ain't the boss of me, and I don't listen to nonsense."

    By this point, we were up in each other's faces. There it is again, that tone. I was willingly offering help so the mansion doesn't end up blowing up, since whenever Magneto and his posse show up, nothing good ever comes out of it. Just as our argument was going to start up again, Jean got in the middle of us, pushing me and Scott away from each other.

    "Scott, you go up to everyone else," Jean turned to Scott, speaking calmly. "I'll catch up."

    The visor wearing mutant remained still but started to walk back with his focus on me, quickly turning to Jean before rushing out.

    Jean looked back at me with a regretful look, I already knew what was coming. "Come on, you can't be serious? You're not letting me go too?"

    "Listen, I know you want to help, and I appreciate that, I really do. But just as Scott said, this is between us and them. We have a history of sorts, a pretty complicated one at that. We should be the ones who stop him after all. Besides," Jean took a quick glance at the screen, a worried expression formed before turning back to her confident smile. "We took them on before, and I don't need to tell you who came up on top. Don't worry about us."

    The look I gave her in itself could spell that she was lying. It was the look, I could tell. This encounter seemed to be different than any of their previous ones, meaning it's not going to be pretty in a few minutes. Jean took one step forward, uttering quietly. "Just in case any of them break into the mansion, promise me you'll protect the students."

    Truth be told, I was surprised that she asked me this, and realizing I stayed silent, I was kind of forced to agree. "Um… yeah, sure. You can count on me."

    Before leaving, Jean gave me a grateful smile, then went along to group up with the others.

    Was I really going to just sit here and watch everything through the cameras? Of course not! Revealing my hand this early only presents more problems for me, but nothing wrong observing from the side just in case anything happens.

    Sitting cross-legged on the iron floor, I entered my Astral Form and went up to the surface, wanting to get a close-up view. Right in the wide and open field. Magneto and his Brotherhood were taking it one step at a time, seemingly in no rush at all.

    Magneto's Brotherhood consisted of himself, Toad, Pyro, Mastermind, Juggernaut, Blob with the Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver to round it off. I was surprised to see the Maximoff twins were here, which begs some questions that may come up in the future when speaking about canon, but that will be an interesting thought process when I come to it. So far, let's spin the indisputable fact that canon is thrown out the window with this.

    Aside from the twins, who wore a more normal set of clothes, everyone else had a resemblance to their various comic outfits with a modernized and appealing look to them. Magneto, who wore black spandex mixed in with some red accents, his helmet having a similar color scheme and purple cloak, had various armor pieces around his body for an extra layer of protection, flew several feet off the ground with his chest out and arms wide, radiating with pride.

    I crossed my legs and leaned back slightly to get in a good position. Just in time as the fully lined up X-Men got within range of the Brotherhood.

    While Charles may have appeared calm on the outside, the same couldn't be said within his mind.
    Going faster than any of his teammates, he easily took the lead, just like Erik did with his own group who emerged from the woods. Charles wasn't sure how well their talk will go, but he has to at least try. No matter how their views may differ, entering another nonsensical fight is the last thing he wants.

    "Charles, how good it is to see you again." Erik called out to his old friend, a mix of sarcasm and sincerity.

    "I would say the same thing to you, Erik, but we both know you didn't come here for a friendly visit." Charles said in a neutral tone, stopping when the two could easily talk to one another.

    "Don't be so quick to judge, but knowing you, you'll only see this as a one-sided attack."

    "Oh, pardon me, the proper term you would use would be "recruitment", if I'm not mistaken?"

    "Your students, just like other members of your team are just wasting their time, the real change happens with me."

    "Seems like you managed to find new followers for your cause, haven't you?" Charles said while eying the new additions to Erik's group.

    "Not to worry, I was just about to give you a proper introduction," Erik flew back to the brown-haired girl and silver-haired boy, placing an arm around them both. "Charles, meet my daughter and son, Wanda and Pietro!"

    Upon hearing their names, Pietro flashed a cocky smile with his arms crossed, while Wanda looked off to the side, not particularly glad about the sudden spotlight brought upon her.

    Charles, on the other hand, was at a loss for words. "If this is your attempt at having a sense of humor, it isn't working."

    "What makes you think I'm lying?"

    "Erik, I've known you for a good portion of my life, and had many, many encounters, surely I would have picked up on the fact of you having offspring." Charles said in a more aggressive tone.

    "True, I did only find out about them recently, but nevertheless, we have a lot of catching up to do," Erik said smugly while lifting himself into the air. "Our first outing is just this, me showing them the true way of life!"

    Charles merely scoffed. "Don't make me say the same thing for the umpteenth time, Erik. What you're doing here means nothing, the end goal you have in mind will change nothing, only add more fuel to the fire."

    "Oh, that's where you're wrong, my dear friend," Erik responded this time around in a calmer tone than the other times this topic comes up. "For decades, we stayed silent, forced into hiding. Clinging to the shadows as a resort to even stay alive. Until now. You know it too, Charles. You pay attention. The world as a whole doesn't know what to believe anymore. First, we have Stark throwing himself a parade, then a creature with enough power to decimate an entire neighborhood with ease. This is our time to make our presence known to the world. After everything that's happened, after everything we've endured, I refuse to stand a single day longer in silence!"

    "We both know the way you plan to present yourself to the world, by doing so you'll only make them feel frightened. This takes time, Erik, you know that." Charles tried reasoning with him.

    "I've told you, I'm done waiting."

    Erik proceeded to call out other members of the X-Men, Jean in particular. Honestly, she was getting irritated each time the man singled her out. Seems like he started noticing that her powers were improving, making herself stand out for his revolution. No matter how many times he tries to persuade her, the answer will never change. Sure, it might take another fight and everything she's got to make sure herself and her teammates make it out with minor injuries at least.

    Nevertheless, she doesn't plan on going easy on them if they try anything stupid.

    John Allerdyce on the other hand, was losing his patience. Just like many times before, the same discussion was ending in the exact same way, and it was irritating him to no end. His only saving grace is that soon enough, he'll be able to let out some steam. Besides, their goal was inside the school, not here. To spice up the already dull formula, a change was in order.

    The pyromaniac made his move the moment his leader was wrapping up his little speech, running past him to throw his left arm out, creating a small spark of fire. That single spark was enough to form multiple large fire projectiles, with Charles being their closest target.

    Charles was surprised and shocked by the attack. He did sense what his intentions were beforehand, but he didn't have that kind of mobility to evade the attack. It wasn't until Kurt suddenly appeared behind him, grabbing a hold of his wheelchair and teleporting the two out before the flames hit him, with Jean creating a wide force field to act as a shield.

    "Thank you, Kurt." Charles thanked his student, turning to look at him with the rest of the team.

    "You should really stop going all by yourself only to be open for an attack, Professor…" The dark blue fur-colored mutant expressed with an exhausted sigh.

    "Alright, I've had enough." Logan said with a growl, crossing his arms in an X to release his blades. Charles and Scott tried preventing Logan from rushing head-first, but there was no stopping him. Just as he blasted off into a sprint, Laura drew her own claws, easily catching up to her father.

    Pyro was going to make another attack but was quickly slapped across the face when Erik swopped down to his position, muttering something under his breath. The one time he decides to discuss his goal peacefully, the pyromaniac has to mess it up. Even to go on his own, he's yet to realize who was in charge. Only a sign to tighten the leash so this doesn't happen again. Turning back to the Wolverine and his… daughter. With two swipes of his hand, he sent the Wolverine hurtling off to the side, about to hit Laura as well. The black-haired girl effortlessly sidestepped the hit, knowing there's not much that she could do for him. As a result, Logan crashed near the trees, taking out chunks of the green field until they came to a stop.

    Laura kept moving forward, closing the gap between herself and her targets. Wanda shot out long red energy beams to try and stop the assassin.

    She wasn't sure what kind of projectile was heading her way, but it made no difference as she was quicker, none of the projectiles landing. However, what she didn't take into account was for one of the beams she dodged to pull her leg from behind, holding her upside down briefly before being tossed far away.

    Seeing how carelessly his teammates were tossed like ragdolls, Scott couldn't just do nothing. Ignoring Jean and everyone else, Scott ran a bit, firing numerous and strong ruby-red optic beams at the Master of Magnetism. Instead of blocking them himself, he let his daughter have the honor. With a flick of her wrists, Wanda formed a dark-reddish aura around her arms, sending out red bolts leaving out a faint trail. As they met, Wanda's bolts easily canceled out Scott's optic beams, quickly turning grey before evaporating. Scott went off to the side, trying to get in a few sneak attacks at least. Wanda, a little was taken aback from how quickly the new beams were coming, managed to match them in the last second.
    Wanda drew her hands closer to her chest, then throwing them out widely, releasing a red wave of energy towards Scott. The leader tried dodging the attack, but when the wave hit the ground around him, it threw him off balance, the wave knocking Scott away when it hit him. Jean used her powers to catch him, lowering him near the Professor.

    Seeing as the time for talk was over, Sabretooth, Blob and Toad charged, with Pyro right behind them. The Juggernaut took two steps, before Erik raised his hand, signaling him and Wanda to stay behind. He then commanded Avalanche to shake things up a little. Within seconds, due to Avalanche's influence, the flat grass field was quickly destroyed, first causing a large rift before distorting the area as a whole, large rocks erupting from the ground in the process. Scott was back on his feet, increasing the intensity of his beams, then fired away at Avalanche, who was too occupied to dodge his attack.

    Logan, taking the opportunity while Magneto was distracted, tried going for a sneak attack. Erik was the one to spot him coming from the side, but it was Juggernaut who stopped him from advancing further. Swinging his abnormally large hand, Logan had to stop in his tracks to duck. Just as he was about to stand, his body froze, making him take the Juggernauts backhand, sending him crashing towards a nearby tree.

    Unable to stand, Logan had to bare a kick to his ribs that sent him deeper into the forest. Magneto kept his eyes set on the wild beast, allowing Marco to have his thrill. What he didn't expect was an optic beam to hit his right shoulder. Cyclops and Storm were firing away as they moved closer, aiming at Magneto but some almost hit the other members.

    Storm was flying over the battlefield, forming clouds in the clear blue sky. Hard rain began, with lightning bolts that were focused on the Brotherhood. Unus created a psionic field around her, which caused Storm to be stuck in place, unable to move. That resulted in taking a wide blast of red energy to the chest, causing her to come crashing down, Jean catching her before she hit the ground.

    Beast was going up against Sabretooth, with Nightcrawler teleporting Colossus on top of him to catch him off guard. Unus pushed Blob forward, crashing into Colossus and Sabretooth with only Beast sidestepping him. Laura regrouped with the team, her eyes set on Sabretooth. Slashing away, it didn't affect the wild-beast in the slightest, but was enough to distract him. The rest of the X-Men could focus on other matters, such as the second towering giant they had deal with. Nightcrawler, alongside Rogue, teleported behind Blob, absorbing some of his power and making him take a knee, allowing Colossus to hit in his right temple. With another earthquake, the team was divided into smaller groups.
    Back on her feet, Storm made sure to stop Pyro, aiming to extinguish the fire. Jean's priority was keeping Magneto, his daughter and Unus in line. While they had experience with almost all of them, and being slippery as they were, it was only a matter of time before they overpower them.

    The most trouble that they faced was Magneto's children, one being unreasonably fast and the other a powerhouse. Pietro easily took them by surprise while long-range projectiles caused further problems. With an already created psionic field, Unus sent Laura, Scott, Rogue and Colossus flying back, but not before Scott shot a beam at him, knocking him back as it hit his stomach. The others regrouped back with Charles, Jean protecting them as they made their way back.

    "Marco," Erik turned his head slightly to the towering giant, who just tossed Wolverine away like it was nothing. "Put an end to this dispute, if you so please."

    "On it." The Juggernaut spoke with a smirk. With his very first step, the ground started to shake, knocking off several members of the Brotherhood in the process. Each step felt like its own earthquake. The X-Men members began preparing their counter strike to fend off against the approaching menace. It was never easy to figure out the correct way of stopping him, but they had to try their best. Jean, Colossus, Ororo Scott and Hank were the first ones on the ready, planning to throw him in a different direction, while other members caught Jean's mental warning, getting back up and getting into their own positions. Logan and Laura grouped up, ready to spring back into action on a moment's notice.

    Within a few seconds, the Juggernaut will be within their range.

    What nobody expected was a ring with golden sparks began forming in Juggernaut's way, drastically increasing in size, cold air coming through the other side. Increasing just enough for the tall giant to pass through, then began falling towards the snow. All that was heard was a loud boom when the man hit the ground, with the ring-closing completely.

    While the members of the Brotherhood were stunned at the sudden disappearance of their comrade, their moment was short-lived however, when long pink crystals fell from the sky, exploding the moment they touched the ground. All of them were tossed to the side, all expect Blob who just fell on his side.

    Another ring appeared a few meters off the ground, a figure with a mask, wearing some sort of set of robes fell, easily landing on the ground, straightening himself and crossing his arms. Only one group knew about this new arrival.

    "Sorry. Thought I might level the playing field."

    I wasn't quite sure how they planned to deal with that walking mountain, but it would be beneficial for everyone if he was out of the picture sooner rather than later. Guess it's better to reveal myself to the Brotherhood than letting them struggle with Juggernaut. I had more than enough time to figure out what would work best against them, all except Magneto, that's the only one I'm not a hundred percent sure of so I have one shot to neutralize him.

    Luckily, I observed the mutants long enough to analyze them, giving enough time to pick my spells and plan in what order to go.

    Meanwhile, across the field.

    Now, who could this be?

    Erik on the other hand was intrigued by how quickly The Unstoppable Juggernaut was removed from the brawl, and even forced back everyone else. How greedy of his old friend, he wouldn't even give them a proper introduction, going as far to not include him on his little team. While he was pleased a fresh new mutant was present, it also sparked curiosity as well.

    Let's do a test.

    "Pyro, by all means."

    Pyro, now having the permission, spread his arms wide, releasing another wave of fire from his built-in flamethrower. When the size itself was massive, he manipulated the flame to grow in size, increasing about four times in comparison. While the size was remarkable, so was the speed.

    Raising my hands, my fingers danced as they completed the required moves, sending out singular transpired blue ripples from each hand, quickly spreading. When they both met, the flames began turning into glass shards, the effect going off quickly all around. The glass shards simply floated above me, moving at a very slow speed. Fire, compared to all other elements, was relatively easy to remove and turn into something else, so long as the field was placed in time. I was pushed back while maintaining my position. As the last bit of the flame was transformed, I flipped my hand around to make all the shards rotate to the sharper end, sending all of them back where they originally came from.

    All of the Brotherhood members ran back, only Magneto and his children stood in place. Wanda was the one to act, waving her hands to form the red aura and spread it all around them, cocooning themselves from the attack.

    Magneto paced slowly in the air, observing this new arrival with interest. "Seems like you've found yourselves a new member as well, Charles." The Master of Magnetism said loudly enough for almost everyone to hear.

    "I told you to stay back," Scott said furiously as he and most of the team came up behind me.

    "And yet, somehow, my plan seemed more preferable than letting that giant rip someone in half," I said sarcastically while eyeing Scott with my head slightly turned. "Seemed the logical thing to do."

    "Erik Lehnsherr, what a pleasant surprise."

    Magneto raised an eyebrow. "So, you know who I am?"

    "And a lot more about what you do, can't say I'm much of a fan," I told him, wanting to say a whole lot of other things but decided not to.

    "Then it's a shame we meet on such circumstances. I'm sure they've already filled your head with stories about me. I'd like for you to know that they tend to over-exaggerate certain aspects. But tell me, friend, I trust you know many things about me, while I still don't even know your name."

    "That's not of importance," I stated just loudly enough for him to hear. "Not to you, anyway."
    Magneto grumbled. "No need to be rude, after all. We're all the same here, it be best if we were all properly acquainted."

    "Just so you know, your little attempt at persuading me for your cause won't work, I'm not a mutant. So you might as well drop this."

    Right after hearing this, Magneto's mood instantly changing. "What?" he growled, slowly clenching his fist before releasing it slightly. "Then answer me this, what is your business being here?"

    "Just passing by. But now since I have the chance, I'm here to dispose of a nuisance, that being you."

    "See, Charles?!" Magneto roared with burning rage. "Another perfect example of how humanity interferes. They can't help themselves, now someone who knows of our existence wants us dead!"

    All the while Magneto expressed his rage, his hand didn't stay still for a single moment.

    "Oh, for Christ's sake, then allow me to be more specific!" I interrupted his little speech of nonsense. "I don't have a problem with mutants as a whole, I have a problem with you. You're out of line, pal, a dangerous one at that. You seem to not understand the consequences of your actions, and believe me, do they attract attention. It's not only me you should worry about, but you'll also have your share of enemies soon enough. With sheer luck, I get to be the first of many."

    "You're playing a dangerous game, child," sneered Magneto, his fingers slowly moving back and forth. "It would be wise that you don't test my patience. This is your final warning, step aside now, and don't interfere."

    "I ain't scared of a man whose only goal is to tower over humanity, and I surely don't have the tolerance to watch said man leave a trail of chaos behind him. History has already shown us what happens to people like you, the only thing in your future that's for certain is your downfall."

    "Very well, have it your way then."

    Magneto said grimly, a grin spreading across his lips as he hastily balled his fist.
    Noticing a faint sound of something flying at high speed, something that wasn't there a moment ago, Hank spotted a metal spear in the corner of his eye.

    "Look out!"

    Before his target could even turn, a metal spear pierced through his spine, going all the way until it went out of his chest. There wasn't much time for anyone to even act before more thin and lengthy spears embedded themselves all around his body. In a span of a few short seconds, Erik easily disposed of the real nuisance.

    All of the X-Men members were beyond shocked, especially Charles. He knew Erik wouldn't take too kindly if he knew a non-mutant interfered with his plans, but not like… this! With this, the Professor knew that his friend no longer had any concern when someone, especially non-mutants, was in his way. Charles gripped the arm of his chair tightly, gritting his teeth in anger.

    "If only the boy stayed silent."

    Logan and Laura, who watched from the sidelines, we're wide-eyed upon witnessing the sight, their rage increasing substantially. Without wasting time, they charged back in.

    With a wave of his hand, Magneto lifted up Logan off his feet, hovering slightly over Laura. Slamming his hand down, Logan fell right atop of his daughter instantly, pinning them both down onto the grass. Laura tried slipping away, but it was no use, and that only made her more enraged, how easily he was able to stop them. With a commanding tone, he sent his son with Mastermind towards the two, the mutant beginning to work his psionic illusions.

    Back with the team, not a word was said between any of them, not fully comprehending the sight before them. The only one to even step forward was Jean, but couldn't do more than one step at a time at first, before rushing towards him. Her eyes were wide as dinner plates, not sure where to look at all, wherever she looked it only made her more nauseous. They were everywhere. Almost every single important area of the body was damaged, and the blood was gushing by the number of wounds. Jean didn't want to, she really didn't want to face the truth, but it was impossible for anyone to withstand this much damage.

    Without realizing it, she was on her knees next to him, her voice trembling. "E-Ethan…?"

    All that she got as a response was a slight twitch of the head with a gargle, more blood dripping from underneath his mask. It only made it more painful for her to see.

    His body got pulled forward, barely responsive on his own accord. Snapping her head towards the Brotherhood, Magneto held his hand out.


    Quickly rising to her feet, Jean threw her hand out, using her powers to stop him from being dragged away. It may be too late, but Jean won't let him defile his body any longer. Usually, her concentration wouldn't be this off, but with her hand shaking heavily and mind in a state of disbelief, she was losing focus rather quickly. Before she could put more effort to bring him back, one of the metal beams was pulled out of his back towards her rapidly, forcing her to break her focus entirely to stop the weapon from wedging itself into her skull.

    Because of this, Jean didn't have another chance to bring him back, as his body was now too far out of reach.

    "As I said, Charles, I'm done waiting for change. So I'll be the one who will make a real change," Magneto turned his attention to the dead corpse floating in front of him. "A shame, really, but it had to be done. The first of many, but all for the greater good. This is a prime example of how humans react when they feel threatened by our kind. They always have to interject themselves into our affairs. Killing me in cold blood wouldn't simply stop how humans would view mutants. That was his first mistake, opposing me.

    "I'll be the catalyst for us mutants!" Magneto roared. "From this day forward, no one will stand in our way! The quicker they learn, the more mercy I will show. It's as simple as that, my dear friend. To teach them a lesson, a proper demonstration is needed. Humans will never change, it's in their nature to feel frightened of those who are different, and that gives birth to hatred. I've witnessed it first-hand, and I will not rest until I know that won't ever happen again. Change starts today, with me leading it and trust me, I'll show humanity the full wrath and extent of the superior race!"

    Magneto announced proudly, widely spreading his arms with a smile on his face, nobody answering back at him.

    "You know what your problem is?"

    Interrupted at the end of his speech, Magneto lost all focus on his current thoughts to find the source of the voice that was relatively close to him. Magneto was shocked when the head of the boy he just killed rose up slowly at him. The Brotherhood, who looked at his direction, were all shocked to see the human was still alive. As for the X-Men, they weren't sure what was happening on their end, only for Charles who read the minds of the others, his eyes widening upon reading their thoughts.

    "You've got a massive ego, and that's going to be your downfall."

    Before Magneto had a chance to do anything, a swarm of black ravens morphed out from his bleeding body, all of them aiming for Magneto. One managed to fly across his face, leaving three deep slash marks on his face that were revealing, making him cry out in pain. They were too fast and were coming from every possible direction. Magneto tried flying away, but wherever he would go, the birds followed.

    He pulled several spears out of the body and formed additional protection to cover his exposed, yet damaged face, while also shaping them into thin sharp blades, spinning them at an intense speed then making them rotate all around his own body. While the armor protected his chest, other parts of his body received deep cuts, the metal not attaching in time to increase his defenses. Wherever he went to fly away, the birds prevented him from going far, pushing him back by some kind of force, leaving him only to keep as much distance whatever opening was available while mowing them apart.
    Wanda and Pietro tried assisting their father, with the other members trying to help as well, but only more birds were born from the human's body. Due to them being too elusive, it was difficult to destroy them.

    The X-Men weren't particularly sure what was going on but could see the body of their new acquaintance slowly disintegrating away as more birds morphed out of his body.

    "What's happening...?" Scott said, confused, taking a step further to get a better angle.

    "I can't say for certain, but all of them seem to be going into panic mode." Charles spoke while reading all of their minds to get their point of view.

    "That means that isn't the real Ethan, right?" Kurt asked as he looked around them before looking back down at the Brotherhood.

    "But where is he then?" Jean said worryingly.

    "Right here, of course."

    I chirped as jumped slightly behind them, shocking them all at my sudden appearance. Damn, I got them good, hah.

    "Jesus! My dude," Kurt whipped the sweat of his forehead, before giving me a look of disbelief. "Never, never do that again..."

    "What? What's a magic trick without a little suspense?" I said easily while scrolling through the pages and summoning the Green-Jaded Hook. I felt satisfied with the execution, and that I have about a twenty more second window before it all goes to waste, better wrap this up.

    "But how did you know of his attack? There was little time for any of us to even react." Charles asked.

    "The moment I cast my first spell, of course," I replied as I coated the hook with a dark blue aura, which prompted a few additional blades to come out from the side as the color changed to a cobalt blue. "For the finale…"

    I spun around, setting my sights on Magneto, who was still trapped within the flock of ravens. Winding up, I threw the hook in his direction, rapidly increasing speed as it traveled. When close, the birds made an opening to let the hook reach its target. It wrapped around his torso in a matter of moments. Opening my right hand, a green flame appeared before it coated my entire hand. I slammed the chain, all the way until it reached the ground. The rest of the chain started falling down like it weighed a few tons. Once it reached Magneto, it slammed him into the ground.

    Just like that, he can forget about flying away. Only by my own means well he will be able to even be lifted off the ground.

    Tossing the chain to the side, I won't have to worry about it being broken or taken away. It would only respond to me and would take a great deal of power to break it, and I don't plan to give Wanda the chance to do so.

    I turned to the X-Men members behind me. "Okay, now we can continue."

    Scott walked up, giving me a sharp glare before turning to the other members. "Alright, people, let's move!"

    Everyone was riled up to start the second round, their expressions showing nothing but determination. Not a second later, we all broke into a run, Jean on my right with Nightcrawler on my left.

    Avalanche made another earthquake, distorting the ruined field even further. The whole team went on their separate ways, eyeing individual opponents for a more preferable match up. My first goal was to go around the whole damaged/broken terrain, opting to have a clear view rather than behind a rock that only blocks my vision. I had my sights set on the more powerful mutants to take out, but needed to keep my distance as well.

    Jean and I were going off to the left, as cracks on the ground quickly managed to create distance between everyone. Jean easily tossed the incoming rocks off to the side, making our way to the parts of the field that weren't damaged, yet.

    A long silhouette emerged, the source coming upwards. Both of us looked up, finding Laura kneeling on top of a rock a few meters away, a face with murderous intentions with her claws out.

    "Laura?" Jean asked softly while looking at her friend and teammate, only to receive a fierce growl from the black-haired girl before lunging at us. Using her telekinesis, Jean merely sent Laura flying back to not harm her. Using her claws, Laura caught onto the rock she was just on, kicking herself off to make another assault.

    This time, Jean used her powers to throw numerous rocks to block her off. Laura easily jumped from rock to rock, managing to dodge anything that came her way. While Jean was already distracting her, I conjured a simple chain spell that will keep her in place. Jean seemed to catch on with my idea, with me placing the chain behind the rock before Jean threw it at Laura. Just as her claws met the stone, my little trick quickly trailed to her arm, while also tightly sticking onto the rock. It quickly wrapped itself around her body, not allowing her to dodge this time. Jean used her powers to shoot her away, for the time being, giving us a moment to think about what to do next.

    Jean looked to the other side of the battlefield, finding Logan facing off against Scott and Piotr. "They're under the influence by one of the enemy mutants."

    "You know how to bring them to normal?" I asked her while staying focused in case Laura tried to sneak up on us.

    "I did it before, but two at once is more difficult. Plus having them be distracted is a nice bonus if possible. Right now, I doubt we'll get enough time to deal with both of them."

    "Can you take care of Logan? I'll handle Laura."

    "I can keep him still while the Professor does the rest. As for Laura, are you sure? She can be a little… too fierce to take on alone." Jean argued.

    "Think I'll survive," I said reassuringly while looking for the mutant responsible. "I'll take care of that one so he doesn't do it again."

    Jean stood still before giving me a confident smile. "Alright, take care of yourself out there."


    With that, Jean was off, using her powers to levitate herself towards her teammates.

    Turning my attention to the Mastermind, who was left behind, unable to do much on his own as Quicksilver was somewhere else. Perfect. I clasped my hands together, creating a small bird with four wings, each part of its body entirely made silver energy rings. The bird quickly flew across the battlefield, locking onto Mastermind. When the man noticed something was heading towards him, he tried running away. Once it was close, the rings on its body separated to form multiple chains, first tying up his legs before locking his entire body of any movement.

    That will keep him out of the fight for good.

    I was done just in time to lock onto Laura again, going around the large pieces of rock for a stealthier approach. Without thinking twice, I retreated into the debris, a spell ring in one hand with my other going back forth to summon dark brown vines from every rock possible, latching onto her arms and legs. Just as new vines would grab her, she would effortlessly cut off the old ones. I had to look back repeatedly while moving so I wouldn't fall.

    Her agility and speed were incredible, and nothing to underestimate. With each jump, she would evade several vines, making it so we were only a few meters apart. When the vines got a hold of her left upper arm, she ran up until she was twisted to her left, using the opportunity to lead with a kick, a singular Adamantium claw quickly coming out of her boot that aimed for my sides. The spell ring was large enough to meet the sharp tip at the very edge but still close for comfort. If it wasn't for the vines that slowed her down, I'd probably be sliced in half from this position.

    I could have done whatever I wanted to get her off my tail, but that wasn't the goal. I needed to cleanse her mind, and I had one option that works fast. Releasing my shield, I placed my hand behind my back and began channeling my needed spell. I had to be quicker now since I had no protection, nonetheless, my vines managed to keep her away long enough. What I was making was a Cleansing Orb, its outer shell being made out of what resembled glass with white strings flowing inside to enter the mind of your desired target for repairs.

    "Come on, Laura! I know you find me annoying but you don't have to cut me into pieces now!" I tried calling out to her to try to keep myself calm while not trying to end up like a kebab. The orb was ready to go, but I'll have to get a clean and effective shot to make sure it properly clears her head.

    "Don't be mad at me for this, Laura."

    I waited for her to lung at me again, that's when I would strike. With her arms wide, she lunged forward, right into my trap. With my fingers, I controlled a few vines to grab her legs in order to pull her back. On the ground, she went to cut off the vines holding her legs, before more of them grabbed a hold of her arms, additional vines tying themselves around each other to keep Laura in place. Right now, she was on her knees with her head lowered.

    She raised her head just in time for me to slam the orb right in her forehead, glass shards dispersing everywhere before disappearing, and the white strings slowly entering her head. The black-haired woman kneeled back down, releasing multiple whimpers as she closed her eyes shut. I made the vines disappear, with me grabbing her before she hit the ground. Seeing two rays of red in the corner of my eye, I pushed us towards the rock, letting her lean on it before she regained her senses. That same beam wasn't too far from hitting us. The beam came from Scott who tried landing a shot on Toad, who jumped on top of him, messing with his visor, while the other came from Wanda assisting her team. Toad jumped just as Blob slapped Scott with his overly sized hand, sending him flying back.

    Avalanche, alongside Pyro were keeping Jean and Colossus from having an easier time helping Logan. Neither the Professor in a safe enough range to clean his mind.

    In the center of the distorted field, which had some even ground, held everyone else. Rogue was dodging blows from Blob, while landing some of her own hits, and was coming out on top. Some members of the two teams were out of sight for now, but changes quickly happen in the battlefield.
    Pyro made it very difficult for the X-Men to advance further, keeping them at bay with two giants made out of flame. Jean was able to keep the flames in place, the only problem being that Pyro used his flamethrower to increase the overall size tremendously. Throwing her hand out and clenching her fist, she crushed the compartments on his arms, nullifying his ability to create more fire.

    With another wave, she knocked Pyro off his feet, breaking his concentration on manipulating the fire, leaving Jean with enough time to extinguish it.

    Looking back down, Laura finally seemed to be coming to. Slowly opening her eyes, she blinked several times while looking around herself. When her eyes widened a little when they landed on me. "E-Ethan?" Laura asked with a hint of confusion.

    "Hey there, sleepyhead," I greeted Laura. "Sorry if I hit you too hard in the head, would have used a different method but this one was the quickest."

    Laura still seemed taken aback with me in front of her "What happened back there? I'm positive I saw that Magneto killed you."

    "You missed the twist, a shame really, it was a good one too," I shook my head playfully, turning back the situation at hand. "But enough chit-chat, you should go help them, think they might need your help."

    Laura looked in the direction I was facing, eyes widening when her father came into view. "He's under the same influence as you were. Jean and the Professor will get him back to normal. You should go and help them."

    "What will you do?"

    "I have my own plan on how to put an end to this fight. Eliminating their hard hitters is a must. Don't worry, i'll pull my own weight."

    It took her a moment to fully digest everything. But not long after, her eyes narrowed, with her claws popping out as well, ready to take action.

    "Oh, and before you go," I said hastily while pulling her back down. On the palm of my hand, a silver rune appeared, letting out a faint glow. I grabbed Laura's hand and squeezed it firmly two times, transferring the Rune over to her. When done, she looked at the mark with confusion. "It's a Rune that will create a force field around anyone or anything it touches. From my observation, Magneto can toss Logan and Colossus around since he has control over that kind of metal. It has two charges, one for each of them, with about a twenty-minute window before it expires. Make sure you use it on them, a single touch should do it."

    With the newfound information, Laura nodded as she clenched her fist, jumping to her feet and set her sights on her father and teammate.

    Having done that, I made my way out, using the same route where I had my little dance with Laura. While making preparations for my next spell, I was hit from my right side, throwing me off my balance and tumbling to the ground. It came so fast, leaving little reaction time. I did notice a faint trail coming towards me, but by then it was already too late. Rolling on to my chest, I saw the silver-haired speedster, standing over me with a smug expression on his face.

    "You have to be quicker than that."

    The mutant taunted before vanishing, leaving a faint bluish trail that quickly went away. Just as I got up on my knee, I received a kick to my stomach, knocking the wind out of me while throwing me back. I didn't even land on the ground before I was hit again, propelling me in another direction. This continued on for a bit, kicking me around like a soccer ball. Due to my slight enhanced durability, I was able to take the repeated hits until it started piling up,

    Having little breathing room, I was limited to what I could do, but it was enough to buy me some time. I cast a Sound Bomb from my hand. I wasn't worried about him reacting to it, as to him it was practically invisible, and when it's ready it will explode automatically. For me, there wasn't any difference since my mask was enchanted to protect me from such an attack.

    As for Quicksilver, not so much.

    This sent the speedster hurdling to the ground, clutching his ears shut while still moving on the ground like a wild animal. He went out of sight to recover, still unable to take his hands off his ears.

    "That's it, I've lost my patience." I muttered under my breath while on my chest, taking out my dagger. Covering it with a lime green aura that appeared in my other hand. The blade was lit with green energy, and for the final piece, I made a small ice crystal, before it was sucked into the blade, flashing blue and white lines into the green blade. When it was ready, I plunged the dagger into the ground.

    Looking around, I spotted Quicksilver leaning onto a tree with his eye-brow raised while cleaning his ears. With a shrug, the speedster zoomed off, nothing but a faint trail that followed him. When he got into range, his speed drastically decreased as he started slipping on the grass, like the surface was made out of ice. Furthermore, thick vines grew from the ground, following him like wild snakes. As they grabbed a hold of his legs, it wasn't long before he fell entirely, the vines sprayed across his body, tying him up like a neatly wrapped present.

    I got up and walked to Quicksilver, who was about eight meters away. When the dagger was placed, about thirty meters of the area was equivalent to walking on ice, without the area changing at all. The vines were also part of the marked area, whatever walks in its path will track it down and immobilize it, with it working to predict its targets movements.

    That was step one, as for step two…

    I slightly sped up to wind-up, kicking the silver-haired youth right in the jaw. The vines hardly let him budge, and without any help, he should be there for a while.

    "That's for being a prick."

    My moment of payback was short-lived as I saw a red energy wave vastly heading towards me. Throwing my hands in the air, my thumbs simultaneously moving down to project dozens of thin blue lines before me. I was pushed back slightly when her attack met my shield, but I refused to let up. The blue lines absorbed the red blast, leaving behind purple particles as they mixed.

    As they slowly disappeared, the figure of one very angry Chaos Magic-user came into view, slowly walking with balled fists that were covered in red vapor.

    "You so much as touch my brother again, I'll promise you'll regret it." Wanda Maximoff threatened, her voice dripping with anger.

    "In my defense, he started it."

    "Then I'll be the one to end it."

    "Fair enough. Now, shall we dance?" I bowed slightly, quite eager to see how well I fair against another magic-user.

    The girl merely scoffed at my remark, not fond of how my mannerisms were on the lighter side. Wanda slowly walked off to the side, her eyes fixated on me all the while, so I decided to follow along. It was like a Western Shootout, with each second becoming more and more suspenseful. She was nervous, I can tell that much, but she still carried herself with confidence.

    Seems I'll be the one who does the first move.

    Crossing my arms to form an "X", two green crystals forming in my hands. I threw the crystals at her, their size expanding while traveling with parts of the crystals broke off, a whole swarm of them now heading her way.

    Acting quickly, Wanda formed a shield around her. Upon impact, miniature explosions came when the crystals shattered. The smaller crystals weren't a problem, but the larger ones were more difficult to fend off. When all of them exploded, she amplified her shield, now resembling a massive red wave of energy with three spheres of lighter shades of the same color floating inside.

    When it was ready, she unleashed her barrage. Just from the looks of it, Wanda put in some extra juice, burning the grass as her projectile traveled. Now knowing I was able to grab her own energy and use it as my own, even if it would be a small portion, I can use it against her.

    Behind my arms, two see-through containers appeared. Shooting my hands out, the containers flew into the air to meet her projectile. They started to suck in the energy, but not all of it though. While they did reduce the size and intensity, I wasn't safe yet. I quickly started walking backwards to evade the cracks on the ground that were forming from her wave.

    My left sleeve was burnt as a result, up until my elbow, but all of the energy was absorbed.
    With a slight move of my pinky finger, my book opened on my desired page. Now having an abundance of her energy to use, I was able to create a few creatures with relative ease than in normal circumstances. The wild energy that was stored was used to make my new companions, the energy itself transforming on its own.

    The first creature was a Land Shark. Its head was bullet-shaped, thin eyes on the far side of its head. It was roughly three meters long and a meter tall. A long maw with two sets of teeth were visible. It also sported two sets of legs, the ones on the front more bulky and had sharper claws. The whole top part of the shark seemed to be reinforced with an additional shield for protection

    The second creature was a wolf, its body looked like it was made out of thousands of little ruby crystals, Wanda's glowing energy flowing inside its body, giving it an illuminated appearance.

    The last one was a hawk, the edge of its wings, and claws glowing a darker shade of red. I had a blob of the energy in my hand that I simply tossed to the ground behind me.
    With my little performance set up, it was time for a counter-attack.

    The land shark jumped slightly off the ground, before diving into the soil, its large body leaving outlines where it traveled, but its speed was amazing. The Wolf was the second to follow, with the Bird starting off last.

    Wanda's face was in shock when she witnessed that her own power was used to make these... creatures! Her eyes shot to the ground, quickly spotted the trail of soil raised from the shark-like creature. Squeezing her hand, the area she aimed for, red trails touched the ground, beginning to crush from the inside. It destroyed chucks of the ground with no effort but was still unable to hit her target.

    Spotting the creature's arm due to one of the holes in the ground, she was able to pull it out, since she was able to sense and control her own energy she could see, she was able to defend herself. Fully pulling out the creature was more difficult than she imagined, but once she had a firm grip the shark was plucked out of the ground, a mere two meters apart. Even though she was able to contain it, the shark would make an attempt to jump forwards, its maw barely out of reach from Wanda's position. She tried crushing the monstrosity, only parts of the armor cracking for now.

    Realizing that two other threats were coming, she looked around, seeing the wolf speeding across towards her, she would have to retract one hand to hold it off, while potentially losing her hold on the shark. As a solution, she ripped the shark's abnormally large arm off, throwing it in the wolf's direction, piercing through its chest and immobilizing it.

    What Wanda failed to notice was the bird swooping in from above.


    Wanda shut her eyes, hissing as the bird scratched her upper right arm, leaving three slash marks. Ignoring the pain, Wanda's eyes shot wide open, radiating a dark-red glow, her anger drastically rising. Closing her fist, she put enough force necessary to crush the shark. The creature roared as its body was being crushed from within, the monster's head and lower body were pulled from the inside, crippling the creature, but still moved its arm and whatever was left of its tail. Raising both her hands into the air, she sent the wolf and shark hurdling at the hawk. It was able to avoid them both, leaving the bird caught in-between. Right then, the two energy creatures exploded, incinerating the bird before it got a chance to escape.

    After she eliminated all of them, with the smoke gradually fading away, Wanda's rage was only increasing.

    Huh, I'll be darned.

    Using both her hands, she channeled her power for a short duration, before blasting off a singular red beam.

    I retorted with throwing my left arm out, shooting out a similar beam but the only difference was that it was orange. It was a mix between my own and her energy I took.

    As the two beams connected, it was a battle who would overpower the other. Due to her raw power, I was slowly losing. The intensity alone was tearing whatever was left of the ground, and I'm sure I can see Wanda struggling as well.

    Okay. Time to end this. While she had raw power, I know how to bend this to make me come out on top.

    Charging another beam in my other arm, this time the color being blue. Shooting it alongside the orange beam, the two beams mixed together. Smaller blue streams went off to the side, evading Wanda's beam and traveling alongside it, striking Wanda in the chest, making her lose her concentration on her own beam, allowing my blast to pierce through hers. Realizing that there wasn't much time to add enough power to stop the opposing beam, Wanda decided to put a stop to it, right now. Turning both her hands over, causing the middle-point of their beams to explode. It made us both back off, while also forcing us to stop from continuing our bout.

    As our respective beams went away, our bout was met with silence. On my side, I firmly stayed in place, barely getting warmed up. Wanda however, was panting heavily, using her powers to this extent was taking a toll on her body. During our moment of rest, I was able to deduct this iteration of Wanda's abilities. She had the power, loads of it, way more than an advanced sorcerer would have. Her one and fatal flaw was that she had little control. Yes, she can use her powers in quick succession and a strong enough blow might do it, but when she herself doesn't know her potential and where to start improving, she'd be only doing herself harm if that doesn't change.

    "Impressive," I complimented the brown-haired girl, impressed she was still willing to fight. "I didn't know you could make me go this far just to keep up."

    "I didn't know you could be this annoying." Wanda huffed angrily.

    "But you know what you lack? Control. You have an amazing gift, one that comes very rarely. It would be a shame to waste it."

    Wanda scoffed. "What would you know?"

    "A lot, actually. With our little dance alone, I can pinpoint quite a number of things. I can give you a list if you like," I remarked wittily, adding more fuel to the fire. "Believe me when I say this, you've yet to scratch the surface of your abilities, your true potential."

    "Seriously? Do you really expect me to believe any of that bullshit? What you did today only proves Father was right."

    "He's using you, all of you for your powers, its plain as day," I told her loudly. "He views you all as his pawns, his soldiers to do his bidding. When one's gone another replacement is easy to find in his eyes. The only thing you're guaranteed with him is that your life will be wasted following a man who can bring nothing but death.

    "I'm done talking to you," Wanda said coldly. "I'd suggest you stop wasting my time."

    I could only shake my head. "I really do hope you realize sooner rather than later how corrupt his view is, and that it's not too late to make a change for yourself."

    Then, a long piece of metal landed in the ground not too far away from me. Got other people to stop.

    "Sorry! Would love to stick around longer, but maybe next time!" I waved slightly before mentioning one little detail. "Also, this might hurt a bit."

    Wanda was confused at my remark until she heard something surfacing on the ground below her. Just as she looked down to find a mole that was made out of her powers, but its form was a lot smoother than the previous one. Latching on to her foot, an intense shock surged through her body, a loud shriek escaped her lips. With a few seconds passing, Wanda fell to the ground.

    "Better to take the quicker and less extreme route than drag this out further." My eyes shifted toward the on-going battle.

    It seems like this time around, they were winning. With all the trouble Wanda and Pietro caused, since this was their first encounter, they weren't sure what strategy worked. As of now, Sabretooth was duking it out with Logan and Laura, who received dozens of cuts with their combined effort. Rogue was still having to deal with Blob, as Kitty's efforts seemed to be helping. Kurt still was having trouble with Unus, but was able to hold his own.

    A great deal of members on both sides seemed to be down for the count.

    As for Jean, she was facing off against the "Master" himself. Even before, she was taking him from the start. While she was able to block his metal projectiles with her mind, or using rocks as a shield, the sheer number of attacks was slowly overpowering her. Looking over the half-empty container of Wanda's energy, I formed the shape of a bird, different from the first one. The creature flew out of my reach, fast, with Magneto catching sight of it, moving some of his shields to squash it. Evading most of them, the creature was finally sliced in half a few meters away from him but knocked back from the explosion the two halves caused.

    I teleported right next to Jean, giving her a hand so she could stand up. By now, Magneto was already back up on his feet, getting ready for a counter-attack.

    "Tag team?" Jean asked, her eyes narrowing at Magneto.

    "Tag team." I agreed to her offer, taking a battle stance.

    Magneto easily took apart the metal, making more weapons to aid him. When done, a flick of his hand was all that's needed to send them flying at his desired targets, us. Quickly tapping the side of my forearm, a pink hexagonal barrier instantly appearing around us, blocking the first of his attacks. The barrier was tough, making every metal spear bounce off when hitting it. Jean would be able to grab ahold of the metal, but only momentarily as Magneto wasn't giving any free chances, but the rocks around were enough.

    Jean tried to keep him in place, but it was futile, it only made him angrier. With a roar, the metal that was around him was sent flying at us. Compared to moments before, the attacks were beginning to leave cracks in the barrier. Need to do the same to him.

    "You can grab a hold of energy and use it as your own, right?" I asked her.

    "Somewhat," replied Jean with a grunt. "What'd you had in mind?"

    While still focusing on the barrier, I used my hand to form a pulsating green energy sphere, something that will last and quickly replenish itself. "Will that work?"

    Hovering her hand over the sphere, Jean was easily able to take some of the energy, form various shapes at will. A smirk appeared on Jean's face. "Sure will."

    Using that energy, Jean used her mind to send it flying at Magneto, evading his shields and skidding backwards as it hit his stomach. Giving a quick approving nod, Jean was already making numerous more projectiles to use. The sphere will give her as much firepower as she wanted. Now having another set of attacks, Magneto's defenses were less effective.

    The armor he wore was slowly torn apart, forcing him to constantly make repairs to not reveal his exposed skin.

    Seeing as now Magneto had to hold off from attacking, I had a shot as well.

    Being close to the lake, I pulled some of the water towards me, growing it to an about half a meter in size as it traveled across the field. When close to Magneto, it diverged into three separate streams, each focusing a different part of his body. With our combined effort, we had him right where we wanted him. While his armor was more durable, it still wasn't able to fix itself before more projectiles would hit him. Coordinating our attacks, be both struck him at the same time, dodging most of his shields. It knocked the wind out of him, another blast to the helmet knocking down.

    Seeing as he was on the ground, I commanded all the streams to strike him from above, trapping him in a large bubble. He tried getting out of it, but it kept pushing him back to the center, some of the metal falling to the ground as his hold on them was vanishing.

    Jean and I moved cautiously towards him, in case something happens.

    Hearing a loud scream, I had to turn to the source, finding a rampaging wave of red energy heading towards us. I put extra focus to that side of the shield, grabbing Jean by the arm to get on the ground. Sadly, the wave obliterated the shield before we got away, sending us tumbling to the ground. Once we stopped moving. I was first on my feet, quickly forming a shield around us. Due to how powerful Wanda's attacks were, it didn't last long. When Jean was able to a second layer of protection, I formed two silver cubes and pushed them off to the side. These will attract the metal flying at us, just enough for them to miss us.

    Jean and I suffered a mixture of attacks, varying form cuts caused from the flying metal that barely didn't pierce our body, and the energy attacks that broke our shield before a stronger from could be made. I made numerous advances with my water bending to stop them, but with a limited supply at the moment, I couldn't do much, only able to make some defenses and slow them briefly. I tried several other spells when I got the chance, but they weren't as useful.

    Magneto and Wanda pushed us back even further, bringing us closer to the lake. Our only form of protection being a ring of water with enhanced durability with another layer courtesy of Jean.

    "Got any ideas?!" Jean asked loudly.

    I looked behind me, I examined the area I had to work with.

    "Yeah, one," I uttered slowly, still focusing on keeping the shield up. "But you'll have to cover me for a bit so I can set up!"

    "Whatever it is, it better be quick!"

    Jean was quick to take over in the shielding department, my sphere disappearing while her force field took over. I didn't have much time, so to take them both out, I'll have to give it my all. Clasping my hands together and closing my eyes, I tried forcing everything out of my head, leaving one simple thought in; controlling as much water as I could. With all the extra energy I saved, I could increase the amount I can control. There's no holding back for this one, so I better make it count.

    Ah! I could feel a stinging sensation that started off from my head and spread across my body, meaning it's working. Thirty seconds. If I do it in thirty seconds, I'll be fine.

    With most of the water from the lake under my influence, I made a towering wave that would be enough to take them out, all of them. The wave stood at about eight meters tall, while the length seemed endless while it was ever spreading. I stood in the middle of it all, a stream of water hoisting me up. Now, I could somewhat match Wanda in raw strengh, while also not having to worry about Magneto as Jean still had my back as they tried desperately to come out on top. Swinging my arm, I formed a separate pillar of water that surged forward at high speed. My control of its shape was flimsy, making it appear more wild and terrifying.

    Wanda had enough time to make themselves a shield, while also trying to stop the water entirely. Just as she was able to stop it, smaller streams diverged in from the pillar, hitting Magneto and Wanda not long after. It knocked them off their feet, as the intensity of the water was amplified.

    Losing precious time, and the strain on my head becoming irritating, I swung my arms out swiftly to send more and more waves at them. While on the ground, Wanda still tried to properly shield them from any possible projectiles, with Magneto creating a large enough sphere for the two.

    Sadly, defense was a luxury they weren't able to obtain.

    They were tossed around, not given a moment to rest because another towering wave was about to hit them. The next several seconds were nothing but blow after blow, coming at a speed and in a direction they weren't able to prepare for in time. With the number of hits I landed, I was surprised they were still able to stand.

    When the chance presented itself, Magneto pulled the half-formed sphere towards him and Wanda, fully developing the sphere around them. Now that they're inside, I have my chance to get them all out of here.
    Pulling my hand out, I winced as I felt the side effects becoming more apparent, the strain becoming unbearable. The strain I can live with, but the pain in the back of my head was an indication that I was reaching my limit.

    Just a little more.

    I sent more waves towards all of the Brotherhood. Mastermind and Quicksilver were the easiest to snatch, trapping them inside the wave. Not long after, almost everyone else was trapped as well, the only difficult ones being Sabretooth and Blob, but not even them could escape the amount of liquid that surrounded them.

    The X-Men, who were fighting the remaining members, stepped back when they spotted the waves approaching.

    When all of them were rounded up, I pulled my hand back to command the wave to shift its trajectory, having it go in the opposite direction, which is when I made the chain disappear. I shorten the wave in length and height, making the wave resemble a big square made of water. They were within my hold, like a neatly wrapped up present. Now to give them a one way ticket out of here, for good.

    Since the wave was coming straight at me, I took the few important seconds I had left to create a portal, making it large enough for a good portion of the box to fit. It was right underneath me, growing wider with each millisecond passing. When they were close, I could faintly see their reactions.

    "Enjoy the wild!"

    I shouted at the Brotherhood just as they passed through the portal, dropping them off on an island far of the African coast, closing it the moment they did. Immediately after that, I mentally cut the connection from using my reserved energy, making so that any liquid that was still under my control plummet to the ground. As a result, I was falling towards the ground as well. One singular stream went upwards to catch me, then lowering me down.

    I turned towards Jean, who was looking at me wide-eyed.

    "See? That wasn't so hard was it?" I jokingly said.

    Without even moving, I felt like my whole body was growing heavier each second that passed. Speaking of which, why can't I stop my body from leaning forward? Before I knew it, I fell face-first onto the wet grass, losing the last bit of strength I had left.

    The last thing I could comprehend before blacking out was that my mask had been taken off, accompanied by some yelling I couldn't make out. Before I completely passed out, one thought was present in my mind, already getting a feeling of disappointment.

    "Okay… maybe my calculations were a little off."

    All of a sudden, my eyes shot wide open.

    The first thing I noticed was the bright lights above me, which were irritating, to say the least, along with a machine going "beep" every second.

    What happened to me? The last thing I remember was… throwing all of the Brotherhood through a portal on the other side of the world before passing out, where was I now? I seemed to be lying on some sort of bed, my eyes scanned the area, with me head turning slightly. A white ceiling with black lines running across them, light panels in every third row. Slowly turning my head to the side, I spotted Jean and Laura beside Hank, it seemed like he was explaining something to them. Okay, at least that question answered.

    Did I really use every last drop I saved for me to pass out? My body feels… relatively fine, nothing seemed to be hurting. I trailed my hands across my chest, I could feel several wires were attached. Traveling along my pale chest, I stopped every time I would come across a cut, or when an area would hurt.

    I tried lifting myself up slowly, unable to stay still for a second longer. Oh, that was it, and here it comes, the headache, along with pain across whatever part of my body I moved. The slightest movement was enough for me to feel like a shock ran across my entire body. With the newfound discomfort, I only moved slowly to properly sit, a long groan coming out in the process.

    This seems to catch Jean's attention. "Ethan!" The redhead screamed, running towards the table I lied on.

    When she got close to me, for the life of me, I couldn't find the strength to say anything, resorting to only nod with each question she asked. What was wrong with me?

    "Thank goodness, you're awake," Hank came towards us with a tablet, Laura following right behind him.

    "You were unconscious for a few hours, we were worried there for a moment that something more severe happened."

    As the two came closer, I still found myself with my mouth firmly shut. Again, what was wrong with me? All I could do is turn forward to look at anything else in the lab.

    "Come on, Ethan, say something." Jean pressured on.

    Deciding to give in to her request, I tried opening my mouth to say something, then immediately closing it. Okay, what the hell was-oh, oh no. Not that, not now.

    "Talk to us, Ethan. If you're hurting anywhere, just tell us." Hank reassured me.

    Him, Laura and Jean stared at me in complete silence, with me only blinking and turning my focus to each of them every few seconds. Not good, I don't know how long I can hold it in, if I can that is. My eyes scanned the room, trying to find some sort of solution. There it is. I looked down at the wires on my chest.

    Off. Now.

    I scrambled to take them all off, catching them all by surprise, even more so when I jumped off the table and ran towards the nearby sink. Luckily, it was empty when I got a closer view of it. When I got there, I couldn't hold it any longer, I vomited like I was at death's door. I came to a stop for a brief moment, regaining some strength into my arms. As I said, it was a brief moment before I lost it all and my head was back in the sink.

    "There goes yesterday's dinner…"

    I could hear Jean talking to me while coming up from behind me. Oh, come on, don't let her see me like this! Flipping the faucet upwards quickly to wash my face, just in case I had anything on my face.

    "Are you alright?" Jean asked softly.

    I turned off the water, lifting my head up to meet my reflection on the mirror on the wall. I was most definitely pale and looked like I just got out of a coma, my white skin

    "Yeah, I'm okay." I slowly turned around, leaning back with my arms clutching the edge for extra support, just in case. Jean handed me a water bottle, muttering a quiet "thank you" before I took a long continuous sip before stopping, letting out a relieved sigh.

    I limped back towards the table, with Jean walking beside me if I needed help, even though I told her I was fine.

    "You gave us quite a scare," Hank tenderly said while repositioning one of the monitors so I can see the display. "Initially, we-"

    "Yeah, yeah, yeah, listen, I would hear you a lot better, if you had some Ibuprofen or anything to kill this headache."

    Hank speedily moved across the lab to find a small bottle, handing it over to me. Taking a pill out and placing it in my mouth, then drinking more water, stopping for a moment when swallowing it. Suddenly, I poured some of it on my face.

    "Okay…" I said with a sigh. "I'm better now."

    "We thought you might have had internal injuries in your and Jean's fight with Magneto, but once we brought you in, we soon realized that wasn't the case. Our scans didn't show such an injury, several bruises, a few cuts and severe exhaustion sure but nothing to consider life-threatening. Here, look."
    Pointing with his finger and changing the screen's display, Hank went on to number a few more things, nodding every now and then. "We were wondering if you could fill us in on a few areas."

    Eh, might as well explain some bits to get off the hook quicker.

    "Well, there's an unspoken rule in magic," I began explaining while taking another sip. "An unspoken rule that basically means anything your mind could fathom is definitely possible. Any desire, any amount of power or knowledge is accessible if you know how to use them. If you can work around some of their rules and side-effects, you can get off scot-free from any payment necessary. What I did back there was use every last ounce of power I saved for a reserve to take them out. In normal circumstances, I'm not skilled enough yet to do heavy-based abilities on their own, so I have to resort to using the energy I stored up from before. The more I use that particular ability, the quicker I lose fuel, so to speak."

    "How much did you use for you to end up out cold like that?" Laura asked
    I shrugged at her question. "Two weeks' worth, maybe? I'm back to square one in that field. One particular side-effect that's annoying is that it amplifies the strain the body takes with each spell cast with it. If properly timed, you get off with minimal damage. Overusing it too much with little supply every time can lead to more severe nerve damage."

    "And yet, you used it anyway when knowing the cost?" Laura asked with a raised eyebrow.

    "Eh, can't know your limits unless you confront them head-on. I'm still breathing, aren't I?" I merely shrugged with a sheepish smile. "Besides, I wasn't out that long… was I?"

    "A few hours, actually," Hank corrected me.

    "Ah," was all I uttered, taking a moment to fully digest. "I see…"

    Hank insisted I stay a little longer, to do a few more tests for safe measure. Laura excused herself when I was on my feet and awake, but not long after, I was allowed to leave the hospital wing, Hank deeming I should be good enough to walk without any trouble. Even though I was walking slowly to avoid testing my luck, making it easy for the sake of my body. I only took a water bottle with me, not feeling like carrying anything else on me.

    Jean stood by me all the while, keeping me company while we strolled around the institute, before walking outside for some fresh air, coming close to perfection as the sun started to set, not a better way to forget the thought of lying unconscious the last few hours.

    I, however, wasn't thinking about that all. Okay, maybe a little bit.

    For the first time in a while, I actually slept several hours in a piece without using my Astral Form to take advantage of every single second available. It was a little weird how fast I got used to ignoring the need for "proper" sleep.

    I tried paying attention to whatever Jean was saying, but I kept zoning out when I would follow along. Right now, she talked about how everyone was pitching to repair all the damages caused by the battle, and that she offered to help but was told to take it easy as well. I was still trying to find a way to describe my recent showcase. To be frank, I was glad that I was able to test my capabilities, now I have a measuring chart to know where I stand. Before I would be content with using several spells at a time to hold up a fight, now I was controlling it when I would push myself to the limits. Jean's efforts cannot go unnoticed either, it was like we were in sync, without being mentally connected. I was fully on my own, I would have had to take out instantly with a strong enough attack.

    Wanda and Magneto did put up a good fight, and I could definitely see her surpassing him.
    What really grinded my gears was how stupid I was for slipping up. Trust me, when looking at the faintest of details, I see that as a failure. I greatly underestimated how much my body could handle, that was my first mistake. When I could feel I was reaching my limit, I should've stopped using the Power Bank's stored energy, instead of using alternative methods to not push it.

    Which begs the question, how can I improve faster?

    While a slight setback, I now have an idea of what certain fields I should focus on. Task number one, amp up the training big time. I'm close to accessing my own Pocket Dimension that's linked to my bag, a perfect field to practice. Since I can't tell how much passes in my Astral Form, I'm glad I won't ever know how much time and nerves were spent studying it and the Mirror Dimension, excluding the time prior before I had to learn it manually. It took a few months, but well worth it. I'll have to retrain myself from trying anything over the top, and practice

    Also, potions.

    Right now, I felt like my body was tossed through a shredding machine. When I get the space and start brewing some potions, I won't have to go through this sluggish state ever again. Might not fully recover if I use this repeatedly without a proper healing factor, but will cover most things. Better to have them ready for any scenario, as it would be idiotic to not use them. Since it requires time and delicacy to properly make, along with strictly following instructions, might as well call it "cooking two-point-o".

    If I had one of those potions on me, I could relieve some of the pain that's washing over me right now.
    Hmm, what else, what else. What else could I do? Need to think bigger, like-

    "Ethan? You in there?" Jean waved her hand over my face, causing me to blink repeatedly at the sudden gesture.

    "O-Oh," I rubbed my eyes for a moment. "Sorry, Jean. I was just... thinking about something."

    "Care to share?" Jean asked with an eyebrow raised, a hopeful smile appearing as well.

    "Nothing important, really. Just what happened today, been troubling me ever since I left the hospital wing."

    "Why? Are you feeling sick again?" Jean asked, already getting unnecessarily worried. "If so, let's go back. Hank won't mind doing another checkup-"

    "No, no, no, nothing like that," I quickly dismissed her concerns. "It's on the more in-depth side of things, boring magic stuff to be honest."

    "Well then, make it interesting then."

    I could help but grin at the redhead, it seems like it was hard to change the subject when she's around. Might as well open a little. Aside from a mage who is a few hundred years old, I didn't have much interaction with anyone else besides "To be honest, I'm glad how I did today. Compared to everyone else, it's reassuring to know I can stand my own against stronger threats."

    "On your own?" Jean quoted me as sounding offended, but her expression and tone said otherwise.

    "Of course, you've deserved half of the credit as well," I gave the redhead her well-deserved praise. "Looking back, we made a pretty good team. Our fighting styles meshed really well. You had my back out there, so thanks."

    "Guess I was right about you, you are a bag full of tricks. I had no idea you could pull that much water around. You should have seen the look on their faces, they didn't know what hit them!" Jean said energetically.

    "Was surprised myself, to be honest," I said slowly, looking away momentarily. "Up until this point, I never had to resort to going all out. Good to know where I stand in that category."

    "You use situations where you almost died as a measuring point that nonchalantly?" Jean asked.

    "Am I supposed to contemplate the amount of times I should have died instead?"

    "Fair point."

    Jean and I stayed silent while watching how the mutants were fixing the landscape. Together, they can finish any task with ease. That is to be expected, really, considering how much this place gets targeted for an attack.

    I was about to spark another conversation, but Jean beat me to it.

    "Thank you, Ethan."

    I turned to the telepath, somewhat confused. "Eh, no problem, for what, exactly…?"

    Jean shook her head playfully with a soft laugh. "For helping us, dummy, what do you think? To Scott, it may have looked like you were just butting in, but to me, I greatly appreciate it, and I say for a majority of people here think the same. When Magneto is involved, things rarely go smoothly. Being what we are, forced to fight our own kind with someone like him at the helm, each battle becomes increasingly difficult. That, and for being the only non-mutant who doesn't have any prejudice against us. The moment you step foot here, you didn't show any fear or treat us differently. Nobody will come out right and say it, but that behavior alone carries a lot of weight. You heard the Professor, It's not easy for humans and mutants to live peacefully, let alone work together. Guess what I want to say is, thank you for risking your life for us, I won't forget that."

    For the whole duration, I simply stared at Jean, not yet fully realizing the full implication of her words, meaning I only blinked every now and then. It wasn't until she had nothing left to add that I realized I had to respond. "Wow… I… was not expecting that. Truth be told, I didn't even put much thought into it. You all seemed like a friendly bunch, and you didn't treat me with any hostility, all I did was treat you all the same way. Also, you seem to be forgetting something, I'm a guy dressed in robes that uses magic, so I wouldn't outright call myself normal."

    "Still, it's a refresher to have someone not run away screaming when they see us," Jean looked back to the destroyed field. "On one hand, I can't hold it against them for being scared, but at the same time, it's just so… how do I put it, unfair. I just want to show them were not all that different from one another."

    "I still think that might change," I said in a similar tone. "The world is starting to believe the unbelievable, so eventually, they'll have to realize different people live among them. If done right, and with a good first impression, the chances of humans and mutants coexisting become more obtainable."

    "You think so?" Jean sincerely asked.

    "I know so," I confidently said while looking back at her. "It's going to take some more time, but I'm sure we'll get there eventually."

    Jean was about reply, but "Ah!" I winced at the sudden occurrence of pain at left side of my chest. "God, this is annoying."

    "I'm still not sure you should be even walking," Jean told me, with a hint of worry. "I know you think you can shrug it off, but right now, in your condition, I think moving is the last thing you should be doing."

    "Come on, Jean, what are you talking about?" I looked at Jean with a skeptical look to hide my grin, going for a witty remark before taking another drink to ignore my discomfort. "I'm in perfect condition."

    "Ethan, you're walking slower than a crippled tortoise," Jean stated with a half lid expression.
    Right after taking my drink, I spat the water out while laughing, coughing mildly at the same time. "Okay, I'll give you that one."

    I looked down at my shirt, finding that my chest area was completely wet.
    Wait… where are my beads?

    I checked under my shirt, gone. My face went pale quickly realizing I've been walking around without my only form of protection against Xavier!

    "If you're looking for something, I got it right here."

    Jean reached into her pocket, taking out my enchanted beads, extending her hand out for me to take them.

    My head snapped to inside the school, the bald Professor instantly flashing through my mind. Did he lurk around in there while I was out?

    "In case you're wondering, neither I nor the Professor were inside your head. I made sure of that, I can promise you that."

    I looked back at the redhead, a mixture of disbelief and shock. Did… did she really make sure my mind wasn't tampered with? At the moment, I was skeptical whether I could fully trust her, as this precaution was essential to keep everything safe. The worst possible scenario, my mind was exposed and the bald man had a thrill finally going through it, or Jean really make sure I wouldn't be tampered by Xavier.

    "So you knew what it was, huh?" I asked calmly as I took them out of her hand, placing them back around my neck.

    "Not at first. We had to remove everything when we brought you on the hospital bed, just so it doesn't get in the way. I try to not use my telepathy on anyone, but sometimes I notice certain things around me, I'm not always in control, so it happens accidentally. I could feel like something was blocking my powers when around you. Once it was off, those walls were non-existent. Can't honestly blame you for having such a thing, this ability, in the wrong hands, can cause devastating effects."

    "All the more reason to be prepared for anything," I simply answered. "I'm not comfortable having anyone going through my head. Especially if I can't even tell if someone did. Always a little paranoid, I guess."

    Jean chuckled softly. "You do have a solution for everything, don't you?" The redhead continued on with a similar tone. "

    "I think I'm not still properly adjusted to this level yet, that's why."

    "What do you mean?" Jean asked.

    I probably shouldn't have said that, or at least have constructed the sentence better. Looks like my mind is still not properly working. While I cursed myself for saying something like that, I still felt some relief nonetheless. Besides a bold sorcerer who's a few hundred years old, I didn't talk to too many people aside from simple conversations that were nothing more than to pass time. This time around, I'm actually holding a conversation with someone close to my own age, something I haven't done in a long while.

    Might as well only reveal a small piece of the truth.

    "You see, I wasn't always involved with this kind of stuff, quite the opposite really," I finally said, looking back at the students doing repairs. "When I got entangled in this world, I had come to terms with some things, some things that never came up before. Everything that's happening right now, it's all insignificant when compared to the bigger picture. It's a nasty place, with people who are just as bad. The more I think about it, the more and more problems arise that need fixing. Someone has to keep everything in check, even if different methods are required. If need be, I'll do what's necessary to keep the peace, or make a change that's long overdue."

    For the next minute or so, we stood in complete silence, the only sound coming from some of the kids who were messing around in the long hole in the field instead of doing repairs.

    "Why don't you just, you know… not get involved?" Jean asked sincerely, her tone low. "If you think it may be too much to handle, nobody is forcing you to put your life at risk. I can tell you want to do-good in the world, and I don't need to read your mind to know that, but you have to think about yourself before anything else. When you get overwhelmed, you can't think rationally sometimes."

    I chuckled at her response. It's definitely something Jean would say, after all. "Actually, it's the other way around. It's because I know I can make a difference that pushes me forward, no matter the risk. I can't sit back knowing another dilemma is just waiting to happen, it's just not in my nature. Before, I didn't have the ability to do anything, but when I stumbled upon magic, I knew I had to act. To me, power is nothing more than a tool to use, and there's never a cap on how much is enough, so you always have to have a leg up on whoever you're facing. I've been close to death before when I had no powers, and I don't plan to live through that again."

    "I guess, but still, you should never do something like that unless you're sure you'll be okay afterwards. Who knows what would have happened if the circumstances were different." Jean argued back.

    "Then I'm lucky I got excellent help to prevent that." I said coyly.

    "Just be careful next time, would ya?" Jean said with a shake of her head, a smile present as well. "I'd really much like to avoid the anxiety, you know."

    "I can agree to that."

    "Say, since we're already talking about it, what did you do before you learned magic?" Jean asked, another spark of interest spreading across her face.

    "About that…" I trailed off. Don't worry, I already thought of a backstory that should cover everything if I ever needed it. I was thinking it over, while also wanting to find an excuse to avoid the topic.

    "You don't need to talk about it if you don't want to," Jean said reassuringly with a smile. "
    I know it's bit of a personal question, so I won't force you."

    "Thanks, Jean." I gave her a smile of my own, glad I didn't have to open that box just yet.

    Our brief moment of silence was interrupted with, what sounded like, an explosion. Our heads snapped back to the students, a large fire could be seen spreading. The kids yelling at the top of their lungs.

    "I think they might need your help over there." I leaned in closer to say lowly, not taking my eyes off the fire-engulfed field.

    "Yes," Jean sighed, rubbing her temples. "Yes, they do."

    "Guess this is my cue," I turned to the X-Men that accompanied my leave. "Finally, I can put this hectic day behind me."

    Jean, Laura, Hank, Ororo, and Charles escorted me out of the mansion, now standing next to the statue. Just before I left the mansion, I made some quick repairs to my robes, who were now good as new.

    "Farewell, Ethan," Charles said with a smile. "We won't forget what you did for us today. If you ever would like to visit, know that you are always welcomed."

    "I'll keep that in mind, Professor," I said to him before turning to Hank. "I haven't forgot about our little discussion. When I'm free, we'll set a date and work around the details from there."

    "Looking forward to it." Hank replied with a grin.

    Lastly, Jean and Laura were left. "Guess until next time, right?"

    "For sure. When not fighting for our lives, I enjoyed our time together. Looking forward to next time." Jean said happily. Laura on the other hand, just stood next to the redhead with half lid eyes, along with her arms crossed.

    "What? I don't even get a goodbye for my troubles?" I asked Laura, acting hurt at her cold demeanor.

    Laura merely facepalmed, then lazily waving her hand, not bothering to put any effort. "Goodbye."

    "I have a feeling that's the best I will get," I said, feeling slightly disappointed. "Not getting better than that for now, I suppose."

    With one last wave, I opened my portal to my apartment.

    When crossing through the portal, the golden ring disappeared, leaving me in my living room. Ah, forgot to give them something. Quickly opening a smaller portal, right above my chest so I could stick my head to the other side. Finding them going back towards the mansion, a simple "hey" was enough to make them turn around. I tossed one of my Communication Stones towards Jean, who caught the stone instinctively with her powers when she saw it falling in front of her. Pulling the stone into her hand, Jean gave me a questionable look.

    "If you ever need to get in touch with me, you can use that at any time. Three taps on the mark should do it," I said cheerfully, tapping my closed index finger with my thumb as a demonstration. "And if it's a fight, please call beforehand. Until then, bye-bye!"

    This time around, I left for good. The moment the remaining gold sparks disappeared, I collapsed onto the couch, a long and exhausted sigh escaped my lips.

    "Finally!" I thought, wanting to do nothing more than to take it easy. I tried keeping in every single possible complaint I had until I was all alone. I didn't want them to have to deal with my whining, and to be frank, I wanted to be left alone for the remainder of the day.

    My thoughts were broken in half when Helix landed on top of my head, looking down at me with his head tilted.

    "Hey, little guy," I smiled slightly at the sight of my pet, lazily placing my arm on my stomach, a motion for Helix to jump onto it. Looking around for the clock on the wall, I was surprised to see it show a quarter past eight p.m. on the display. Groaning, I used my free arm to take out a small bowl from the cupboard and filled it with water, making it stay in the air while I took out some meat from the freezer alongside two plates. I also took out a frozen pizza, something to make on the fly. Pulling them towards me, I sat the two plates onto the table, flicking my fingers to make the meat float slightly, placing on the plate.

    Helix looked at me questionably with his head tilted, I looked back and forth between him and the food, giving him the go-ahead. The bird jumped towards the table, using its wings to stabilize his landing in front of his food, firstly dipping its beak into the bowl before starting off the main meal.

    Glad that I've finished giving my pet its food, even though he still didn't need it. With a gesture, the pizza was pulled out of the box, which I sent flying towards the trash. Slowly spinning my finger in a circle, the pizza started rotating at a similar pace, the bread starting to heat up. Within less than a minute, it was ready, a snap, the meal was split into eight separate pieces, then placing them on the plate. As I slice flew into my hand, I leaned back for a more comfortable position.

    A year. I got about a year before Loki's invasion on New York, which is going to need a lot more fire power. Now that I should have a few things up and running, I can cut some time off. But that won't be enough. Challenging, but doable.

    What to do, what to do. In this state, I'll be mostly relegated to more Astral Form studying. Better find something new to work on. Then an idea popped into my head.

    "After this, and some rest, I really should start the next-"

    -"[And now, the first episode of HBO's hit series, now on reruns, The Wire.]"

    I stopped to look at the television, my attention was immediately drawn to the TV. Alright, maybe I should rest up a bit, without doing anything, just lying on this couch.

    I think I can go one evening pretending like everything's normal again. Just this once.
    And with that, we've covered the X-Men. They will get a good amount of time in the story, and there are so many ideas to incorporate I wanna see what we could make with this. I love a big portion of the X-Men and their characters, and I'm sure some will already have an idea who 2ill be featured in the future. To the person who mentioned I altered canon but hasn't showcased the deeper implications of those changes, a good portion of them will be addressed. As to why he's "still believing in the canon timeline", he doesn't, he never did fully trust it since on Day 1 the theory of a different timeline was always present. This Chapter, which featured the Maximoff twins, only proves that the original MCU timeline is out the picture, but might also keep somethings all the same. Just to state that for the record.

    Also, before anyone lunges at me with pitchforks, Magneto couldn't escape the flock of birds. I feel like I don't need to spoon-feed that. In case someone argues on that "plot hole".

    Took some more time before releasing this one to think about the further changes this timeline might have, and where to take it. I also thought I was fair when writing the fight scene. This was a big one, so some stuff might be missing as adding everything in detail would be longer then it needed to be.

    If there are any errors, let me know as I was looking over this late at night to make sure I didn't miss anything, with the help of my editor who did an amazing job. If you have any suggestions for further plans and ideas, let me know. On a final note, I've also been doing a little side project that should soon be up, in case anyone is wondering if I plan on making anything new.

    Thats all I got for now, until next time, cya and stay safe yall!
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2021
    Asdercol, Dacraun, TheToFu and 26 others like this.
  3. Anthony1967

    Anthony1967 Not too sore, are you?

    Apr 9, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Bro what the actual fuck

    That's 25k words, do you have a problem with your brain? Do you need to see a doctor? Writing that much definitely can't be healthy!

    Edit: (That's sarcasm, great job!)
  4. Darwin-18

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Hahaha to be honest, this Chapter should have been split in two but when reading it the flow would just break the flow, and I didnt feel like having a chapter sit aside for 2 weeks as I knew I would be left un-happy as a reader if it ended in the middle. Plus, the characters in it will become part of the main cast (a few people specifically), so wanted to give them some to shine. Hopa ya enjoyed it.
  5. Alchto

    Alchto Like to play with pussy(cat)

    Nov 22, 2019
    Likes Received:
    Lol really subtle what you're doing with the main character and jean, for 5 five chapters he didn't speak to no one with intimacy and the first time he meets her he's acting sheepishly and making funny remarks about piotr or something for her to laugh, definitely could be better but I'm not complaining since a 25k chapter just got dropped on my lap for free. Yummy!
    cokesmoke23 likes this.
  6. sdarian

    sdarian Know what you're doing yet?

    Jan 11, 2015
    Likes Received:
    So you changed the bird's name? It was Helix in earlier chapters.
  7. Darwin-18

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Aww shit, that's embarrassing, looks like I didn't notice this slight error, I'll fix it right away.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2021
  8. Darwin-18

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Glad you're enjoying it. I'll admit, my dialogue with a more intimate and personal focus could use some work, so I'm trying to improve on that front. Also, brownie points for picking up that detail.
    Alchto likes this.
  9. Index: Chapter 7 – Control From Within

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Chapter 7 – Control From Within
    Nick Fury paced slowly around in his quarters, a blank expression on his face as he stared at the floor.

    He'd just got off from a call with the World Security Council, which was something he loathed. Almost every time, it boils down to the same two conclusions, with them requesting more or making the man's day a living Hell. There was no middle ground when discussing with the Council. There were a lot of things on his mind that he wanted to say with their demands during the call, but restrained himself as arguing with the old coots won't get him anywhere, only a few ranks down the ladder.

    Still, he couldn't let this minor annoyance throw him off balance.

    Taking one bottle from his drawer, that housed various alcoholic beverages to get him through the day, he poured himself a glass before focusing back on the computer. The moment his fingers graced the keyboard, he got a report from Coulson about debriefing several of their agents.

    Holding in his disappointment at the poor timing, Fury drank the entire glass, before walking out of the room towards a different section of the Helicarrier.

    Upon entering the meeting room, Fury didn't bother throwing a glance at anyone inside, the only exceptions being Coulson and Natasha Romanoff. There were plenty of assignments to hand out, with all the agents paying close attention when they would be called out. The only person to not pay any attention whatsoever was the red-headed assassin, listening in every now and again but there wasn't anything new or something she didn't already know.

    The infamous Black Widow watched as the last agent left, her boredom disappearing as she will find out the reason for her being called. "What are we dealing with here anyway?" Natasha asked casually, crossing her arms while sitting at the edge of the table.

    "That's the thing, we barely know anything at all," Nick answered while adding the finishing touches on the assignment he gave the members who left. "We might as well consider him nonexistent, appearing only a few times on camera, even then it's nothing much to work with."

    Pressing a button on the keyboard, Fury brought up the very small file they had on the vigilante. Piquing her interest, Natasha stood up and walked closer to the screens to take a better look.

    "Like I said, very little to work with." With another press of a button, the first clip played, one where Fury studied numerous times before. The side of the building where two men were falling surrounded by water, the masked man walking to the flipped car. Lastly, the newest footage they were able to acquire, recorded from inside one of Aldrich Killian's test facilities. While the primary focus was the unknown entity, Natasha's eyes couldn't turn away from Killian's test subjects, barely recognizable from the picture she saw of the man before. The image froze and zoomed in on the monstrosity that was once Killian's right-hand man.

    "You were right… very little to work with." Natasha said calmly while pulling all the images together with the very little amount of information about him. The gang that was apprehended not too long ago had ties with the group of scientists and armed men underneath that fish market. Meaning their new masked friend definitely paid them a visit. There is some information she can dig up from the two groups, although Natasha would like to know how he operates. While he wasn't sloppy by any means, he wasn't perfect, otherwise, he wouldn't let this happen.

    It was a challenge, just what Natasha wanted.

    "What do you think? I can't make a proper deduction with barely a page's worth of data. Can't tell what kind of angle he's playing at. His movements seem… random, although that's not saying."

    "I'm not sure, but at the moment, I don't care," Nick spoke without any emotion while eyeing the images. "I want to know every single detail about him. We don't even know the full extent of his powers, but we can safely assume he's an Enhanced. We're not sure what his allegiance is, or what kind of incidents these are. I feel like he won't give you too much trouble, anything else would be just a waste of resources. As of now, we have a new player in town. For what we know, he could be on our side, or a dangerous and problematic threat we'll have to deal with."

    "Owww, this is now becoming insufferable!"

    I groaned while leaning on the wall of the bathroom, my mouth wide open, the toothbrush rapidly moving all around in my mouth, with a small stream of water coming in every now and then.

    It has been several days since my dance with the Brotherhood and the pain was still present but decreased ever since I took some time off. I'd tried using some methods to make my body recover sooner, the only problem was that I couldn't use the more effective ones because every time that I did, my wounds would act up, making it difficult to complete till the end. I'd only managed to make a quick potion, something that would ease my head, it being the most prominent area that still caused pain. It being so simple to make, didn't result in it being all that helpful, but did get the job done.

    Finishing up in the bathroom, I made my way to my living room, I made several gestures to enter my newly acquired Pocket Dimension! The moment I learned teleportation, this one was the most struggle I had on learning the technique, but the number of days and countless hours studying and perfecting the requirements in Astral Form to make it, I can safely say that it was worth it.

    As for its appearance, there was a lot of variety. Most of the place was made out of mahogany wood, giving it a matching appearance with the furniture that fits the overall aesthetic. The large area was covered by a silver dome, something that could be easily changed on a whim. On the edge of the room, there were four sets of circular staircases, two going on the room below, while the remaining ones led up to the second floor. The second floor had lots of room around the corners, giving the first floor a nice wide view of the customizable dome. It served to be the room to tinker with various creations and inventions, with plenty of bookshelves to be filled and materials to house. The main floor served for relaxing or laying back, a spacious table in the far right corner. It was still pretty empty, although that will change when I figure out what else to put in here.

    Another piece of decorations I couldn't resist to add, multiple stone figures holding up the second floor. There were a total of four of them with identical Spartan armor, their heads only being the only difference in appearance, having the head of a lion. Three were the same size, except the one far down, who towered over the wide table. The kitchen, which had zero technology whatsoever, was outstanding by magical means.

    Sitting down at my brewing station, one wave was enough to pull the ingredients on the table closer, focusing on the see-through beaker that contained the potion I so desperately needed at the moment.

    Up until today, I caused a miniature explosion by accidentally adding a few extra drops of the needed red liquid, almost poisoning the air at first when the heat temperature was too low for the potion to adjust and acid-like substance when missing the proper window to add the following ingredient. I'll consider myself lucky since I wanted to experiment with potions that are a tad bit difficult to make this early on if not careful.

    Potion brewing, was one tricky and complicated field of work if I might say. But on second thought, I've survived the training phase of my own cooking, so I see this as a reminder that the utmost delicate hands and precision were required to exceed in the craft.

    Something I took up as a personal challenge.

    The potion needed twelve hours to cool off before I could finish it, but when it was time, I threw in a few pinches of green dust Helix I got somewhere from the outskirts of Russia, and so, it was done. I waited a few more minutes to see if this is the one and judging by its behavior and the very, very detailed instructions, it was a success. Taking a small glass flask, easily filling it to its limit. With just one whiff, it sent a chill down my spine by the split second of taking in the smell.

    Well, I hope it tastes better.

    Taking one small sip, I was close to spitting all the liquid out, but barely restrained myself, so I simply swallowed it.

    "Christ, it tastes like a mixture of monkey piss and grape juice."

    Ignoring the horrid taste, I kept on sipping till I got used to it. I stood up and went down to sit on one of the couches. Drinking almost half of the liquid inside the flask, I could slowly feel the pain fading away. After a few days of being confined to my couch, I'm finally able to move around without much trouble. The muscle strain I could live with, but the feeling of your head hurting like it was used as a drum, not so much. Later, I'll start off preparing other potions I had in mind, but right now, let's finish another room I was planning on setting up. Before I got up, I took a wooden figurine that I left overnight so it could be ready as soon as possible.

    Walking up to the wall with a stone panel on it, doing the necessary gestures required for the wall to move forward a few inches before sliding upwards. Inside, it contained my soon-to-be training room. The Mirror Dimension, which I was finally able to access, still didn't mean other training methods were unwelcomed. The inside was spacious, still pretty empty until I get all the equipment set up.

    It was a room dedicated for various training sessions, the walls enchanted so even fairly powerful attacks won't damage them, and if they are, they will repair themselves. The room was spacious but rather empty at the moment, itself was like a pseudo-Mirror Dimension that was easily accessible and is used for non-magical training. Because I was out of commission from using heavy levels of magic until I properly recovered, but in about thirty minutes to an hour, I will be able to at least put in some physical training in the meantime, something that will come in useful to stay in shape.

    Reaching the center of the room, I placed the figurine down on the floor. Slapping my hands together, then twisting them to activate the figurine's ability. Over some time, the size increased exponentially, its final height towering over me by a few inches. It was a training dummy that was used back at the temple, and it could be enchanted to fit the required training session. The dummy had a bulky build, only the joints marked with a thin gray line, not many other characteristics in terms of appearance, only having a helmet that only left opened its lower parts of its face.
    Taking out the other pieces of paper I grabbed, one by one holding it up in front of the dummy, the small pieces disintegrating and letting out red dust that faded away. It was an indication the move set was transferred. Kamar-Taj used these dolls for training, and this particular paper to choose what kind of fighting style you want it to use, making it optimal for hand-to-hand combat training for Sorceress. I'll have to add more types of fighting styles to get the full advantage of it.

    That's for next time. I went back to my little work station, ready to begin with my next experiment, creating armor.

    The robes were really comfortable and adding more enchantments over the next few days, but it still wasn't the most optimal choice for protection. For starters, only certain clothing can be turned into armor, but the metal had a better structure that when combined with various enchantments, made it resistant to plenty of things. On regular circumstances, sorcerers didn't bother with using it as they stay secret and only tackle mystical threats.
    But as for me, who deals with pretty much anything, will be really handy.

    This had been on my mind for some time now, as I need to figure out the most optimal way to use magic in order to make it. I had quite the collection of Vibranium to use, but I couldn't just make Black Panther like armor right off the bar. For starters, I'm not entirely sure how precisely this method of molding the metal will work with magical means, and I won't bother getting the equipment if I can do it like this. I forgot what the needed temperature is to make it bend, along with the setup needed to start the procedure.

    Instead, I used a long piece of steel as a start, as it would be significantly easier than Vibranium. Making some space at the far end, I created four energy support beams that were roughly about thirty-five inches tall, same going for the length, then a yellow see-through wall connected through all the beams. These were made to be specifically resistant to high temperatures, to about five thousand degrees Celsius. If my memory is correct, or at least partly, it's more than enough to bend its shape. At the edge of the table, where the box was located, I made another one that extended off of the surface, the beams going down until they reached the floor. Around halfway, I filled the box with water to use later to cool off the metal, keeping them close together so I could finish the process without any additional hassle.

    But that's where we run into a bit of a problem, conjuring that kind of heat is challenging. I doubt even with it being charged up, I can't come anywhere near close to that kind of temperature right off the bat. It would need some time until it could reach that level, which shouldn't be that big of a problem. Placing the metal inside, it hovered a few inches as the walls made it so that it wouldn't move. It was basically a magical cooker. For stainless steel, it needs over a thousand degrees Celsius for it to bend. A basic fire spell slightly amped up on each wall and a function so I can shape the metal when it becomes bendable, with the added option of rotating it along with some safety promotions that will keep everything inside. All of the work being done on the inside, there was a measurement line on all sides that could be moved for easier use.

    After a few minutes of setting up, I dial appeared at the bottom left of the box that connected to all the walls, giving full control on changing the temperature. Alright, let's see how this goes.

    It took a while for the temperature to reach the required heat, which was about less than an hour. If it were to go any higher, it would take more time to prepare. When it got to that point, it was time to begin. Outside the box, two green see-through energy gloves hovered on the bottom, my tools to safely mold the metal. Putting on the gloves, another pair appeared on the inside, ready to begin. Of course, I couldn't just instantly bend the metal, I had to take my time with it, and something I learned with my hours of crafting at the temple. Knowing the measurements of my arm, and turning off the head, I used the gloves to craft my arm piece. It was different and took a few minutes to get adjusted to it, I was able to make my item as it wasn't anything too complicated. Or anything I was unfamiliar with.

    I wanted for the armor to be easily attached and removed, so I split the metal into two, it is now a front and back piece.

    With the crafting process done, I walked to my left with the energy gloves on hand, I controlled the ones inside to transfer the armor in the cooling box, dipping it into the water only for steam to rise. When they cooled off, I placed them back on the center of the table, going for the finishing touch. On the edges, I started adding magnet-like connectors that will attach to its match, something simple but effective. Placing my hand on the bottom part then placing the top one moments later, instantly latching on, the first attempt was now a success.

    The feel of armor on my arm was interesting. Never have I thought I would ever actually have my own made set, the only thing closest to this was the plastic toy ones when I was younger.
    My how times change, and drastically I might add.

    As for the weight, it wasn't that heavy but when other pieces are stacked up together it will be heavier for sure. Luckily, I know the exact spell to help out.

    Wait... is the spell I'm thinking of actually used to tear metal or my mind is betraying me? I stayed still while contemplating if I knew what the spell was. I got it... I got it... and it's gone... shit.

    Well, looks like I'm back to the drawing board until I find the appropriate tool.



    Not it.

    Definitely not it.

    Okay. I knew I came across it somewhere. Why didn't I mark it? It's a damn spell for reducing the weight on almost any object!

    I kept scrolling between the pages on one of the books until I found what I was looking for. By now it feels like I finished these books numerous times but they still had more to them than one might think.

    I need to start remembering more of these spells, just to save me time in the future.

    Seeing a pair of thin legs landing on the top of the page, I was greeted by Helix with his questionable stare like usual.
    "Yup, we're back here again..."

    Helix's head looked down slightly, then looked back again with his head tilted.

    "If that's you asking me if I found what I was looking for, then it's a big fat no," I responded with a huff while stretching a bit. "Annoying, I know, but it is what it is…"

    After he got his answer, I was about to resume my research. I spotted him sitting off to the side, getting comfortable in said position. Looks like I got myself company.

    "Thanks for sticking around, better than being alone in this giant man cave by myself."

    Gently petting the top of his head, only to receive a happy squeal in return, I went back to my searching.

    Okay, I'm sure it was somewhere around here.

    "Found it! Finally!"

    After a few hours of searching, I found my ticket. Splitting the piece back into two, I began working on a new Rune for the spell to take effect. If I would just use the spell on the metal without the Rune, then there might be a chance for it to wear off, something that I can't leave to chance, especially when in a full suit of armor. Converting the spell into Rune format didn't take long, as I already knew most combinations, and this one wasn't too difficult.

    Putting the mark on the two, I put the armor back on. I did a few more arm motions to get a feel with the weight, then with a single activation sigh, the Runes went into action, removing all weight from the metal. If anything, it was like wearing regular clothes. Now, with that taken care of, all that's left is to reinforce it, make it even more durable. It won't be the same as Vibranium, but it will make a perfect substitute for now.

    With enhanced durability, something that can easily stop bullets and maybe tank an empowered hit. I spend several minutes adding the necessary enchantments, now all that's left is to see if they are enough. Given how durable it is now, it should stop a bullet without leaving a dent, not to mention if someone tries a sneak attack it won't penetrate it that easily. Lastly, I need a more "exceptional" example to be sure

    What do I use?

    Looking over my table, I spotted one of my Sol Blades. Perfect.

    Picking it up, I charged it up slowly for the familiar orange-colored blade to appear. Since it had magical properties and wasn't just a simple sharp blade, it makes it the ideal testing tool. I wanted to test if this intensity, which is around slightly higher than standard, if I could pierce it and how deep it would be, so I placed my arm on the table. Winding back a little, I stopped for a moment as second thoughts quickly flashed through, but I already made my choice.

    With all my strength, I slammed the dagger towards the table.

    I jerked slightly as I felt a warm and sharp energy blade cut through my front forearm. I stayed still, remaining calm and trying to figure how much of the blade went through. On a closer look, it only scratched the surface, and just barely. Once the blade was out, I took the armor off, which had a thin entrance now, to look at a thin cut on my arm that started bleeding slightly. The wound itself wasn't that painful and seemed like it didn't go too far.
    Barely a few millimeters.

    Just like I said before, perfect.

    A brief smile flashed across my face upon knowing my plan had worked but quickly changed when I felt slight pain when moving my arm. I had to tend to my wound before I do anything else. Healing the insignificant injury was over in no time, only I took a few more minutes just in case, to make sure the flesh properly closed.

    "A total success, and what a big one at that," I leaned back in my chair and lifted my feet. "With that done, I have one less thing to worry about. Before, I had to keep my distance if I wanted to make an offensive move, while also having a countermeasure in place if something pops up. It all boils down to quick movements to have a spell in place, a field that can always use improvement and if too slow, it can be costly in battle. It's something that I will get better over time, I still can't place all my chips on reflexes, especially while they are still, on their own, normal."
    I reached towards the table, grabbing my mug that was right at the edge, I took a sip. "While I'll give magic users praise for being quick on their feet, I can't wrap my head around the fact that a majority of them depend on that or rarely have any kind of armor on them. It just makes no sense if you ask me. In my case, who has a habit of getting into situations that are too close to comfort, I plan on using every trick to keep myself safe."

    Taking a glance at the pile of metal, I knew I had more work to do. Before I went back to that, another thought I pushed to the side popped up while thinking about improving my defenses. "It's a long shot and could be nothing more than a total waste of my time. Still, I can't ignore the potential fact that acquiring that kind of ability can open is countless. I know only a small number of people who've mastered the technique, with an even smaller number who are willing to give it to me."

    Finishing my tea, I set the mug aside to get another refill while I checked my arm. With everything good to go, I took my refiled mug and stood up, walking to the pile to take another piece.

    "First off, needed to finish this before I move onto that."

    "Now, let's see if we can find ourselves a certain Master of Kung Fu". If he exists in this universe that is. "

    I may be stuck not using spells until I properly heal, but I was lucky I could still access my Astral Form. I wasn't all that sure if this person existed in this particular universe, but with the inclusion of the X-Men and Fantastic Four, my guess all bets were off the table. That and I've heard some stories that circled this area of town, so now all that's left to see if my hunch is correct. Learning Chi was on my to-do list for quite a while. I didn't put much thought into it while in the temple, due to being occupied with other assignments. I'm not even sure if I could learn it there, but I was content going this route. I can't absorb it like any other energy source, so I'd have to learn it from the one man I know.

    Truth be told the constant need to fly around different sections of the city in this form was enjoyable to some extent, but it also annoyed me. Moving around like this was tedious, but it was the only way to travel without any way of getting seen. I know S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra is going to get my image and details at some point, there's no preventing that. The best I could do is keep the list short. My armor will be complete in about two days, so fearing bullets will become a thing of the past.

    Aside from that, I went back to searching.

    Chinatown, like other parts of the Big Apple, was still new to me, so I was going in blind. I had Helix do patrol to cover more ground, as I gave him the necessary information on who we're tracking down, so if he finds him, I will know. It was a bit cloudy outside, other than that, the night was relatively normal and silent.

    Until I saw the door of a local Ramen Restaurant bursting wide open.

    I was pretty high up, so I dived down to see who's ruining the peaceful evening. From inside, several masked individuals, four to be exact, exiting the establishment with baseball bats and crowbars, all of them laughing as they did.

    "Same time next week, Mr. Tong! Don't forget!"

    The last one stayed behind momentarily, sharing a similar laugh as his companions as he broke into a run to join them with a large bag behind his back.

    Seems like I have to call off my search for a few minutes. This shouldn't take long.

    They went around the corner, running in a straight line until they made several turns, after several minutes they were long gone from the food place they just robbed, and most likely trashed. This particular part of town had the buildings so close together, somehow making the environment around feel claustrophobic. After a few more minutes of running, they reached their hideout, going through the backdoor of a three-story building that wasn't in the best condition.

    "Alright, let's get this over with."

    Before I sent myself back to my body, I saw someone turning around the corner, then running on the same path as the four goons. Huh, this is interesting, looks like someone else wants to join in. I flew down to him and the building where the goons were. The individual made sure to check his surroundings numerous times in fact, and when he knew for sure not a single soul was around, he used a trash can to give him a lengthier jump, clutching the last iron beam from the fire escape. Without much effort, he quickly climbed up to the first story, making his way to the top in no time. Once there, he looked over the edge for another round of surveillance.

    This gave me the chance to properly examine him as I lower myself to his level. He wore a red jumpsuit, only having a small section on his chest being a black color instead of being fully read. He was an Asian male, in his late twenties with short black hair that swayed to his left, with an athletic build that fitted the suit perfectly.

    Holy crap, this is Shang-Chi of all people. So when I try searching for him the old fashion way, I find not a trace, but get side-tracked for less than a minute and he pops up just like that? Well, why am I to complain?

    Not long after, he jumped to the next building. Athletic or not, with the buildings so close to each other, he didn't need to waste too much of his energy. Shang-Chi reached the rooftop of the hideout, kneeling at the fairly large air vent. He raised his hand, which let out a low yellow color, easily removing the exterior, tossing it aside, and going in.

    Okay, so I might get first-class seats of one of the best Martial Artists around and how he kicks ass.

    Bloody terrific.

    Going for a swan dive, I phased through the roof and looked around the third floor, going through all the rooms only to find nothing, the same going for the second and first floor. They were located in the basement, the place where they had stashed all their robberies it seemed. The room was dimly lit, just enough light for them to count the money, the only thing around them was some furniture and the rest of their weapons, but had a low number of firearms, if any to be exact.

    As for the group themselves, they were the residence of Chinatown and I didn't find out if they were a part of a bigger gang or just a small group, not like it was important and if it was, I'll find out soon enough if the larger group might pose a problem.

    I sat on one of the armchairs in the corner of the room, ready to enjoy the show.

    "I think this is the easiest score we've ever done!" One of them laughed.

    "That moron will never learn, will he?" Another spoke in a similar fashion.

    "Listen, all I'm saying is that we need to think bigger," The third one perked up, grabbing their attention. "We hit the spots that are still untouched, and after we-"

    Before the man could finish his sentence, the door to the basement came crashing down the steps after a loud smack, taking everyone by surprise. All of the members instantly stood up, two grabbing the only available bats that were on the ground next to them. Casually, and with style, Shang-Chi walked down the stairs slowly, not even bothering to look at the faces of the shocked gang, only doing so when he was on equal ground, his expression unreadable.

    "Who the hell do you think you are, you son of a bitch?!" The supposed leader spoke up first, unfazed about the intruder, who was standing several meters away.

    In response, Shang merely raised his eyebrows ever so slightly, seemingly unbothered in this predicament.
    "You better start talking, or else…" He tapped the desk with his bat.

    Pecking his lips slightly, Shang lifting his hands slightly off to the side. "Or else it is, then. But I warn you, you all better give it your best shot."

    All of a sudden, the man closest to the cupboard that had a gun on top, made a run for it. Shang's eyes darted towards the ground, where he saw a piece of wood from the door right next to him. With a swift kick on its edge, it made the wood jump upwards that he easily grabbed, then instantly threw it at the man running for the gun, hitting him straight in the teeth as he turned his head, hitting him so hard it knocked him onto the floor while clutching his mouth.

    The other three looked at the Martial Artist, who merely did an "oopsie" expression.

    Taking initiative, the leader slammed the bat on the table with a war cry, charging at the intruder with no fear. Shang took two steps back as the leader swung his bat left and right, just out of reach but it didn't faze the man in the slightest. After dodging another swing, Shang kicked his right knee, making the leader fall to his knees and cried out in pain, but received a clean hit to his left temple. The others who were on their feet made their attempt at the same time, one with another bat while the other only with his fists.

    Charging in with a swing, Shang ducked and rotated, going for a kick to the head that hit with precision. Since the second one was coming weaponless, all he had to do was sidestep when the gang member went in with a punch, Shang grabbing his wrist with his left hand, squeezing it severally. Crying out in pain was all the man could do, but was cut off with a right-kick to the stomach that made him fall back.

    The Kung Fu Master's eyes went to the far end of the room, where the one he threw the piece of wood at crawled on the floor, making another attempt at reaching the gun. Just as he grabbed the edge of the cupboard, pulling himself up, he was knocked back down as Shang ran up behind him with a kick to the back.

    The leader found himself to be the only one on his feet, too far away from his bat, only up-side is that the intruder was turned around. Rushing towards him, the man in the red jumpsuit spun around while raising his leg, going for a spinning hook that hit the leader in the jaw. The leader wobbled backwards, crashing onto a pile of boxes.

    The other two got back up at the same time, going at Shang simultaneously once more. Moving towards the closest one, Shang swiftly punched the man in the jaw then jumping slightly to reverse kick the second one in their right temple. They won't be getting up after that.

    On the third attempt, the thug finally managed to grab the firearm, a relieved smile forming momentarily. Flipping the safety switch, he turned towards the intruder that was a few meters away. Pointing it towards the man in the jumpsuit, he attempted to pull the trigger before his hand covered the front of the gun. The man expected to blow a hole through his hand, but after pulling the trigger nothing happened. Shang's hand radiated a soft yellow glow, crushing the gun little by little before tossing it aside, then landing a swift uppercut.

    While the overall encounter seemed longer in retrospect, it was all over way too quickly.

    Looking around himself, Shang made sure all of them were knocked out for good. Walking towards the table, he took the backpack from the middle and put every last dollar inside, alongside a few pieces of jewelry that were there as well. While he was packing, his hand movements slowed down, then looking around himself. Shang wasn't focused on the thieves, rather on something else entirely. For about two seconds, his eyes landed on the area where I was located, before looking away.

    With everything packed, Shang-Chi walked up the flight of stairs, heading towards the front door. I floated behind as he did, going a bit higher after leaving the building.

    Going back to the restaurant that was robbed, Shang found the owners, who couldn't be over a day over forty, sitting at one of the tables in distraught as he entered through the door. The moment they heard the door-knob click, they immediately jumped to their feet, only for Shang to calmly reassure them he meant no harm. He simply walked to the neared table, placed the bag on the top, and turned around to leave. Just as he opened the door, he stopped, turning his head slightly to the right, only uttering a single sentence.

    "You two are safe now. They won't be coming back anymore."

    With that, he left the establishment.

    "He's a good man after all, with a big heart to compliment that," I thought while following him out. "To think he most likely lives in some rundown apartment with barely any money to come by. "

    I turned my attention off him by hardly two seconds, and he was already off the streets, now climbing the side of the building like it was nothing. It made sense though, as it would be smarter to move on the rooftops of the buildings to spot any additional crimes and not be in the open for anyone to spot him. He jumped from building to building for quite some time, doing more patrol for the night. Luckily, things seemed to be quiet, deciding to call it a night and head back before the rain started pouring harder. The two to three-story buildings in this street were all huddled together, having small openings in-between them every now and then.

    "This seems to be the place alright," I confirmed my suspicion of this being his place while doing one more check-up before porting back. The place itself was acceptable, just enough room for a single person to live, only having two other separate spaces, those being a small bedroom and a tiny bathroom. Speaking of which, the living room and kitchen were connected, having a barstool to separate them. For its overall appearance, it seemed to be on its last leg.

    Shang set his weapons in a cabinet that stored several others, then went to his kitchen, making whatever food he had left along with some tea.

    As he was done making some noodles, he began preparing his green tea, but something seemed… off. His hand movements were slower, much slower, and his face wasn't focused on it anymore. Shang's head slowly turned to the right, his eyes moved from the floor to the wall, looking back at the far end of his apartment, now focused at the upper-left corner of the room.

    The same spot I was at.

    His stern and unbreakable stare made me jump slightly. There's no possible coincidence that he decided to drop what he was doing to peak around his apartment. That's when it hit me, his Chi. He must be at that stage where he's that proficient with the technique where he can sense the slightest form of life across his surroundings.

    Shang's glare didn't change, not one bit. If anything, it got more intense by the second. I was testing my luck, seeing if there was anything else that caught his attention other than me. Sadly, he only focused on this particular spot, making me feel more nervous than I already was.

    Seeing as how things were going, it was time to disappear.

    Within a second, I found myself back at my Pocket Dimension, lying on one of the couches.

    "Damn, he's good."

    I huffed while sitting upright. I wasn't expecting to be "caught" that easily, that's what I get for underestimating a person of his caliber who also had several magical affairs.

    Shang's eyes never left the upper-left corner of his apartment, his expression yet to change. Only now, he was sure he was alone once more. Whatever was there had just vanished, within a moment's notice. This was unlike anything he'd sensed before, which was in that case, was alarming.

    "Some kind of presence was here, I'm positive of that," Shang thought while his hands went for the steaming teapot, averting his eyes to focus back on his dinner. "I felt a similar presence back in that room with those thugs. I wasn't sure what it was then, I'm not that entirely sure now, only now I'm certain someone, or something, was here."

    Instead of dwelling on the matter further, he decided it was best to revisit the subject once he gathers more information. While he wasn't worried about this unexpected arrival, he was sure about one thing.

    If this "presence" does come up a second time, then it means he might have to be more careful during their next encounter.

    Now confirming that Shang-Chi exists, and knowing his location as well, I had to come to him for help. Hand-to-hand combat was one thing, but if I could learn Chi, I can step up my game exponentially. It's a very versatile tactic and could be implemented in a lot of scenarios. My mind already thought of some noteworthy tactics it could be used for, only that was still beyond my reach. First, I have to get it in order to use it.

    Which brings me here.

    A decision that could be considered as a bold one, or a very stupid one. To be honest, I think it's a heavy mix of the two.

    Several buildings away was where Shang lived. It was still a rainy day, a quarter past one in the afternoon, the clouds blocking the sun, making it feel like it's going to start up again any second. I want to avoid using anything that might set him off, as he can knock me out, or flat-out kill me before I could even blink. I had one ace up my sleeve, so I hope it doesn't get activated on its own.

    I entered a steady pace as I set my sights on my target. There weren't that many people walking around at this time, a lucky break for me as this neighborhood didn't have that much activity. Going inside the building, I stopped for a moment to observe the wooden staircase that was in critical condition, along with the walls that had planks popping out or had some kind of damage.

    Still walking up to the second floor, I stopped when I reached Shang's door. With it being the only residence on that floor.

    Hope this goes well.

    Gently knocking a few times, the door creaked open slowly after the third knock.

    "This is by no means a good sign."

    I can't see Shang not locking his apartment door, and the lock doesn't seem to be broken. Something's very off here. I'm not liking it so far. He would just sense my Astral Form if I were to use it,

    "Hello? Is anyone there?"

    I'd very much like to take the safer route of checking the place, sadly, we have to go the old fashion way for this. Slowly pushing the door with my fingers, I peeked through the open space, only able to see the hallway, with a small view of the living room. Fully opening the door, I made sure to check every inch I could see. The doors on the side were closed, I couldn't hear a single sound from within. Looking up, I was glad to know he wasn't hiding in one of the upper corners.

    Stepping inside, I walked with caution, constantly shifting my gaze all around.

    That is when I heard a low sound of wood hitting against each other slightly.

    Before I could react, a ten-inch blade appeared in the corner of my right eye, with it instantly going down towards my neck while a hand firmly grasped my left shoulder. My eyes widened upon the realization. Not that I was concerned that Shang managed to sneak up on me, rather he activated the card up my sleeve. When the blade and hand came into close range, even before that actually, I had to move my arm to the side as the spell was triggered. A dark-purple four-dimensional cube that moved in every possible direction, only the yellow sphere stayed in the center. The aura it released could make anyone's skin crawl, not to mention the eerie sound it produced.

    Damn it! He triggered it! I shifted my focus upwards, seeing a small opening on the ceiling, the wooden tiles lifted up that revealed a secret space where he waited.

    His grip tightened and his blade drew itself closer to my neck. "Do not try anything. If you do, you will be dead before you could turn around." Shang said lowly, and for the first time, his voice was very much threatening.

    I swallowed the lump that was in my throat, and I could feel sweat starting to form on my forehead. I would say that I held composure, only my mind was occupied with the problem that was in my hand rather than the one behind me. Taking a sharp breath, I tried to respond calmly. "I don't plan on doing anything, all I want to do is talk. Preferably without neither of us wanting to kill the other."

    "What is that in your hand?" Shang asked.

    No use in lying, he most can sense how dangerous this thing is. "You know what a dead man's switch is? Imagine that but only a few dozen times more intense."

    "You say you've come here to talk, how am I supposed to believe that when without hesitation use that… thing?" Shang asked. "Also, I haven't seen you around these parts, so tell me, who are you?"

    "Actually, this "thing" activates on its own when someone steps too close, so I'll have to apologize if that startled you. As for your other question, we've technically already met, just not face to face."

    Due to the only sound coming from the "bomb", I could hear Shang gasping slightly since he was probably a few inches away from me. "That's how I recognize you. In that case, it would appear we're in a stalemate."

    "Not necessarily," I spoke more freely. "To tell the truth, I'm an admirer of yours. My intentions weren't to stalk you, I'm not an idiot who bites off more than he can chew. I just so happened to come across you while I was doing patrol."

    "Then deciding to leave only when getting caught?" Shang asked. "Then knocking on my door a day later? That doesn't seem like a coincidence all on its own."

    "As I said, all I wanted was to find you and talk, nothing more. How about this, we come to an agreement?" I offered. "I will deactivate this dead man's switch and nullify it completely. I have nothing else on me, nor do I intend on using anything else. I didn't want this to come out at all, but even you should know walking in without a plan is a fatal mistake. You can keep your blade on me until I do so, only I trust that you will allow me to talk to you in a civilized manner after I do. Here."

    Moving my arm slowly off to the side, the outer-sides of the cube were now being absorbed within the yellow sphere, the aura around going in as well. It took about twenty seconds to fully deactivate, as I needed to be careful to not accidentally set it off. With a low pop, the sphere disappeared. I raised my hands slowly to show I had nothing else while proving I was willing to cooperate.

    Now that the bomb was gone, I could breathe properly again. All that's left is hoping Shang doesn't knock me out. "No more tricks. If I wanted to harm you or blackmail you, I wouldn't have deactivated my only defense. If this won't convince you, I don't know what will. I only came here to talk."

    After a few seconds of standing completely still, his grip on my shoulder tightened, making my eyes go wide when realizing what's coming next. Suddenly, his grip softened before fully removing his hand off my body, then retracting his knife. Releasing a sign, I lowered my hands at the same pace I raised them, now finally being able to turn around to face him.

    When I got to see his face, it was the same stoic face, exactly like it was yesterday. The only thing that was moving was his eyes that scanned me top to bottom. Looking behind him, I raised my eyebrow. "Couldn't you at least close the door when you sneaked up on me? You might be used to this, however, I seriously doubt the neighbors are as well."

    Shang walked backwards till he reached the door, closing it, then walking back to me. "There aren't any."

    He motioned towards the living room, to which I followed. Actually being inside, it looked even messier and was starting to cave in. Shang then moved his arm towards one of the seats, to which I sat in one of them. While waiting, I noticed Shang eyeing me as he walked to his kitchen, his gaze never going off of me. I simply smiled and looked around his place to avoid that much eye contact.

    "Since you're so inclined on meeting me, best do it over some tea, no?" Shang asked, his eyes still firmly set on me.

    "Oh, yes please, whatever you have will do." I replied.

    Not long after, he arrived with a tray in hand, setting it down on the coffee table as he sat down. Taking my cup along with its own plate, I waved my finger over it, making the heat die down a little to take a sip.

    "Mmm, now it's perfect."

    Taking a look at Shang while going for another sip of my tea, I saw his hands resting on thighs with an upright posture, eyes fixated on me and me alone.

    "Before I start, I'm sure you have some questions to ask me, right?"

    Shang's eyes narrowed slightly. "How did you follow me? To be more specific, what kind of ability was that?"

    Placing my cup on the plate, I answered. "That was me separating from my body to access my Astral Form. I'm quite surprised, didn't expect anyone to spot me while I'm in that state. I think you'd be a first to do that."

    "Hmm, that's what that was. I've heard of such a technique before, but I've never witnessed it first-hand." Shang rubbed his chin. "Now answer me this, who are you, and how much do you know of me?"

    "My name's Ethan Chester, I'm a Sorcerer from a temple called Kamar-Taj, and to be frank, you and I are very much alike," I said calmly, taking another sip from my cup. "Only we have different methods of approaching a problem. You deal with street crimes while I focus on more dangerous threats. As for your other question, I did say I was an admirer. I read a few reports of some notorious gangs from Chinatown being taken out. It would be safe to assume that was you?"

    Shang stayed silent, only to speak up after a few seconds. "Correct, that was me. Feel like there's no point in denying that since you already witnessed my work first hand."

    "It was unlike anything I've witnessed before," I praised him. "Your movements are flawless, each hit was executed with precision. It was quite the show."

    The next several minutes was one-sided questioning, which I didn't mind all that much. It was necessary to establish a trustworthy connection. I was careful how I would answer and when it was too much, I couldn't get carried away so easily. He had some knowledge of the Sorcerers' temple, only very little of it. "Something is still a mystery to me."

    "Which is?" I asked.

    "Your reason for being here," Shang clarified. "A person such as yourself coming to me to establish some kind of contact? I feel like you're leaving out a few details."

    "Well, you see, it's never a bad thing to call for some help, you never know when it can come in handy. I know working solo is more preferable, although there are times where we bite off more than we can chew. For you, it might not make a difference how many in a group there are, but that doesn't mean there will be a situation that can be solved all on your own. Over time, I feel like it's going to mean a lot more than it does now, so it's best to keep the option on the table. Might as well do it with the people I think I can trust then wait until the last second."

    "You've already done this before?"

    "A few times, yes." I replied simply.

    "So your only reason for coming here is to offer help if needed and nothing more?" Shang asked, not beating around the bush.

    "Now that you mention it, there is one thing I need your help with," I said optimistically. "If you're available that is?"

    "What might that be?" Shang asked curiously.

    "When that thug tried shooting you, you placed your hand on the front of the gun, stopping the bullet before it even left the gun, that's when your hand started glowing. Correct?" I asked while reminiscing of yesterday's events, receiving a nod from Shang. "At first, I wasn't sure what that was, since I've never seen it before in person. I've heard of multiple people in New York that use that technique, seems like I managed to find someone who's not a criminal using it. Now, I'm sure it's what I saw was the ability to channel Chi. Partly the reason I came here is to ask for your guidance, I'd wish to learn such power. In return, I will do whatever you ask of me."

    Shang stood still, making it difficult to get a readable expression off of him. He took his time before replying.

    "I cannot help you." Shang said dismissively. "That type of power is not carelessly taught, nor does it belong in the hands of any person willing to learn it. It would be irresponsible of me if I would give out that kind of knowledge just like that. Aside from the fact that we've just met, I don't see you being the type of person who would deserve that form of power. It's no simple feat of acquiring it either, but as of now, I don't see you being worthy of learning its secrets."

    "Oh, that's a shame. I was hoping to ask for some fighting lessons as well," I said sadly, finishing my drink then standing up. "The tea was outstanding, but I feel like I took up enough of your time."

    Shang raised his eyebrow. "Just like that? No attempt at persuading me otherwise?"

    "Nope," I said with a pop while fixing my clothes. "I'm more than pleased that we've officially met, and you've listened to what I have to say, so I thank you for that. We are bound to meet once again at some point, so I'd like to know we're on the same side. Other than that, I thank you for your hospitality."

    Saying goodbye, I casually walked across the hallway and began to leave.

    Closing the door, I didn't waste time in creating a portal back home. Sitting onto the couch, I thought over my encounter with Shang. The odds of him teaching me Chi right off the start were slim, even I knew that. I'll have to come with a different approach to make him reconsider, there's bound to be something I can do. I can only be glad that we started off on the "right" foot, it's the best start I could have got.

    Now, how can we approach this?

    "Please, come in."

    I opened the entrance and gestured to my guest, Shang himself, to follow me through the door. The man's face was filled with wariness, the same degree of caution as well, nevertheless the less he went to step inside. I contacted him with the stone I left, and I was surprised he answered, even though I had to somewhat annoy him for him to show up here.

    The place was barely lit because there are only a few windows around the second floor so not much light was available without turning on the lights.

    "What are we doing here?" Shang asked, his tone completely neutral.

    Walking off to the side, a few feet away from a control panel, I flipped a couple of switches when I got in reach. Numerous lights came to life, giving an appropriate view of the inside. It had a boxing ring in the far left that part of the building having the most room. Beside it, there were dozens of gym equipment and dozens of boxing bags by the side. Next to the ring, countless training mats covered the floor, most commonly used for sparing or even training.

    The only slight downside to this luxurious establishment? It was a bit messy and kept out of shape. Trust me when I say when the cost was quite cheap in comparison. Luckily, this guy can whip this place into shape. I did most of the main problems right off the bat, fixing the broken glass and parts of the walls that needed another layer to hide the holes, making it seem brand new. Essentially, this was an easy investment.

    "Your new place."

    I walked past him, him following me as we walked to the small office room that was near the stairs. "I apologize for the slight mess, I've been doing some cleaning to help out. Believe me when I say I was able to get this place at a fairly low price. People just don't see the investment. Also, if you're going to ask, the place is legit, paperwork and all that stuff included."

    Motioning to the office with my hand. "Has all the things you'd want to know about the place, as well as a bed, and over there has a small kitchen too. Showers upstairs, with some empty rooms. It's got plenty of space, and when it's whipped up to shape, it's a fine upgrade from what you currently have. Plus it's got a training area. That would be a deal-breaker, right?"

    I stopped walking to let Shang take a proper look at the place without bothering him. He took his time to eye the place and only spoke up when he looked over the corner of the inside.

    "If this is what you think will make me reconsider teaching you Chi, I have to apologize, it won't work," Shang said as he turned back to face me, his tone and face still neutral. "While I appreciate the fine gesture, such things matter not to me. My current home does its job well."

    "Yeah, I kind of expected that," I commented sheepishly. "Still, this place is yours, whether you're willing to teach me Chi or not. This right here, consider this a gift from me."

    "So you're doing this out of the kindness of your heart and nothing more?"

    "Eh, something like that," I shrugged. "I just thought you'd deserve at least something for your troubles. We may have met just recently, but you've stacked yourself a bit of a reputation, a good one in my eyes. You're the type of guy I can count on. Might as well let you have this to be on your A-game, will make things more interesting, at least."
    "Count on for what?" Shang asked, raising a single eyebrow.

    "Oh, if a situation ever gets out of hand or goes completely to shit, I'll know you'll be there to help out. That would seem reasonable. It's hard to find a person who would do what's right without a second thought, this is my way of paying back to those who keep on fighting the problem, instead of becoming a part of it."

    The Master of Kung Fu stood silent, going back to observing the wall behind him. On it, dozens of picture frames that were previously busted and cracked, showing notable fighters throughout history.

    "One test."

    Said Shang, making my head snap towards him upon hearing those two simple words. "Excuse me*"

    "If you're so determined to display your true self to me, there's only one way that you can show me if you truly deserve it," Shang said calmly. "Words so far haven't told me anything I wanted to know. In order for me to truly understand who you really are, I will have to ask all but one requirement, facing me in battle. I will get my answer there. If you manage to do that, I will teach you how to manipulate your Chi without question, and at the time you find most appropriate."

    "Oh, now we're talking," I said excitedly, while also keeping my composure. "What kind of test, and what are the conditions?"

    "A simple match, that's it," Shang said clasping his hands softly, now walking towards me. "I want to see how well you do in a fight against me. Through combat, only then will I be able to decide. If you are willing to accept, we can start immediately."
    "That's just dandy…"

    My brow twitched when finished. I knew exactly what I would be getting into if I were to accept, one big on an ass-kicking. Going up against him is like signing a death wish. That only begs the question, what kind of test would it be? Is it asking me if I would blindly do anything if would mean achieving my goal, or if I thought about the risks and was confident in passing his test. Which then brings up another question; how much was I willing to risk?

    The truth, I wasn't quite sure.

    I always had a minute at least to think of a plan, any plan, just as long as I had an idea what course of action I would take. Hell, it didn't need to even be a good plan, because I never could trust myself acting on pure instinct. In order to succeed, I'd have to go in blind and at least try to survive in one-versus-one against one of the most skilled Martial Artists in the whole Marvel Universe.

    Nevertheless, I made my decision long ago, and to just, what, chicken out now? He can play the intimidation game if he wants, but that won't be enough to make me back out. The benefit greatly outweighs the risk and having a new understanding of how to control the power I already have and the new things I could do with Chi.

    I smiled slightly, realizing that I might indeed have made a foolish mistake doing all this. Seems like I'll have to do what I always do when facing these kinds of matters, keep going until I get it done.

    "I accept."

    I breathed in, then breathed out. The most difficult part is that my composure might not be at a hundred percent. Not long after I agreed, I quickly changed into clothes more suitable for fighting that didn't restrict my movements, that being black sweatpants with a gray t-shirt.

    Shang wore his usual red jumpsuit, standing in the center on training mats with his hands behind his back. That's what's making it difficult for me, his calm and calculated behavior, each second that passed made me feel more nervous. I closed my eyes, taking one last breath and keeping it in for a few seconds while clearing my mind. When I was ready, my eyes shot open as I released the air, then moved closer to meet Shang in the middle.

    "If you wish to call it off, the option still stands." Shang expressed calmly.

    "You'd like that, wouldn't you?" I asked with a grin, attempting to show confidence. "Trying to talk me out of it won't work, I'll tell you that much."

    Oh yeah, I was a nervous wreck alright.

    Shang merely perked his lips with a light shake of his head. "Whenever you're ready, we can begin."
    Clenching my fists, I took my stance, the one I learned back in Kamar-Taj. It was primarily a defensive stance, just to get into the right mindset.

    "Now, how do I do this?"

    I know for a fact that he won't be the one to initiate the dance. Shang wanted me to make the first move, something I wanted to avoid at all costs. He can counter any move I make in eleven different ways, making it difficult to think of how to go in, and land a hit.

    I took slow steps off to the side, starting to circle him, only for him to only move his eyes. If I don't do anything, this stand-still is going to last all day.

    Here goes nothing.

    Deciding that there's no point in waiting, I charged in. Shang never moved a muscle, while I was barely a few meters away. Going with a punch to the face, Shang moved his head slightly to dodge it, slapping my hand away. It was enough to make me lose my balance at the moment, retreating for a moment before going back in. The next several attempts were of no use and would end the same way. After a certain point, once he slapped my hands away, his open hand hitting me slightly below the chest.

    That alone was enough to make me lose my breath, forcing me to back off. Shang's hits move way faster than mine, making it difficult to counter them if my hands are out.

    While thinking of an optimal strategy, Shang suddenly ran towards me. Taken aback by the sudden action, my mind immediately jumped into preparing my defense. Shang jumped into the air, going for a flying kick. I ducked towards the left, barely dodging it, only for another kick heading my way as I got back up. While I could block it, I was getting pushed into a corner as he threw more and more kicks. The only reason why I could hardly keep up with him because he wasn't using his full strength. It was drastically one sided from an outsider's perspective.

    After a few minutes, my arms were slowly becoming sore from all the hits I blocked. When he saw an opening, he built up a kick but quickly retracted it only for the leg to spring back, hitting me directly in my stomach. It hit me with such force that I was sent backwards, rolling on the ground upon falling. When I stopped, I rolled off to my side, getting into a kneeling position with my hands on the floor.

    "This isn't going so smoothly," I thought grimly. Looking off to my side, I found a water dispenser. "He didn't specify what kind of style of fighting."

    Raising my pinky, I was about to get ahold of some water before I felt my left eyelid twitch, clenching my fist as well.
    No. I can't do that. I won't do that. No matter what kind of disadvantage I'm in, there's no way I'm going to cheat like that. Winning in that type of fashion won't get me anywhere. I knew what I was signing up for, meaning I'll play by his rules fair and square.

    Of course, also being so damn persistent to not know when to give up. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't survive in this world for as long as I have, and I don't intend on letting this stop me. Rising up, I whipped off the small amount of blood dripping from my lips, forming the same stance once more.

    Shang threw me a look of acknowledgment, seemingly impressed by my commitment, so instead of one waiting for the other, both of us met each other head-on.

    Every time I got remotely close, Shang would evade my attack while simultaneously easily landing a single hit on me that pushed me back a little at every physical encounter. Defending myself until I get a very good opening is my only chance, fighting with extreme defensive won't take me far. It was increasingly difficult to keep up the more we fought. I used every ounce of knowledge of combat training and experience, it still wasn't enough.

    I didn't know how much time passed during our brawl, I long forgot to keep track of it.

    I panted heavily, trying to regain whatever strength I had. By now, each blow got significantly more painful. My defenses were falling apart, the pain becoming more and more unbearable. Whatever I did, he'd easily counter and punch back harder. I can make do with blood coming out of my mouth, the numerous hits to the head are just now starting to make me dizzy. I wasn't sure how much more I can take, nor how to figure out a way to turn the tables.

    I may have been beaten from the start, but that doesn't mean I will be branded as a quitter.

    With a sigh, I whipped off the blood from my lips. I'll just have to do what my gut tells me.

    "It is over," Shang said calmly, closing his eyes while taking a relaxed stance as he moved forward. "You are your limit. I don't take any pleasure in this fight, nor do I want this to be prolonged more than it needs to be. You'd be only causing yourself more pain, it be foolish if you-"

    I lunged forward, my fist met with Shang's jaw while he was too busy talking. It wasn't by any means my strongest punch, but it wasn't going to quit now. Due to my state, I was quickly losing balance, only managing to recover the last second. Turning around, I got a good look at Shang's face, mouth hanging while his hand was on his jaw.


    I want him to see I wasn't joking around.

    "Too bad... I'm not done yet..." I breathed heavily as I raised my hands for defense. "I've risked too much already... I have no option of backing out... not now. I already told you… talking me out won't work. The only way to advance further… is to overcome another obstacle, just like the many… many trials I faced… until now. One of two things are going to happen... either I'll achieve what I set out to do... or... I'll die trying. If it's the latter… you might want to clean the floor after this… "

    Even though I was severely outclassed, and was getting the living crap beaten out of me, I enjoyed it. I might not get Chi how I envisioned, I still found it fun for some odd reason. I wanted to prove what kind of person I was, so I'll show him first hand.

    Shang, still taken aback by my sudden attack, watched as I made my declaration. I didn't allow him another moment of peace as I charged at him. My first few steps were wobbly, almost making me fall down, only that wouldn't stop me. This time around, Shang deferred from moving at all, staying firmly in place while only reacting with a hit to shove me back. My fighting became sloppier, making me miss out on potential openings, with my reaction time going down as well. There wasn't a muscle in my body that wasn't in pain, and I wasn't doing them any favors by further pushing myself.

    I no longer could focus on how much pain I was in, rather how tired I was. Very, very tired. I only kept going and going, resisting to stop. Because if I did, I know I wouldn't be able to continue.

    "Keep going… just keep going." That one thought plagued my mind as I limped towards my opponent. I didn't want to give in, but realistically, I was reaching my limit, for real this time. My head was so dizzy I could barely make out in what direction I should be going, my muscles going on pure will power rather than strength, as I presumed I was dangerously low on it with each step I took. One quick look in front of me, I confirmed Shang was about three meters away from me. I didn't stop, the best I could do is ignore the overwhelming pain as long as I could. I started raising my shaking fist when I reached my destination.

    My fists moved on their own, probably wouldn't respond if I told it to otherwise.
    "Just a little more… and-"


    On instinct, my hand froze upon hearing the command. My head fell to my left, only to see Shang closing his eyes. "I've seen enough. There's no need to continue."

    Oh no, we aren't going through this again.

    Winding up slightly, I went for another swing.

    What I didn't notice is that instead of my fist colliding with his face, it simply went off to the side, completely off target.
    As my arm traveled, my weight shifted as well, the feeling in my legs giving out on me, making me witness how I ever so slowly collapsed onto the ground. Even though my body crashed, I was relieved for a moment that I could rest in a still position.

    "A few seconds…" The thought ran through my mind, trying to prevent my eyelids closing shut. "A few seconds and I will be… back… on my… feet…"

    I groaned upon waking up, to some extent wishing that I didn't.

    The moment I opened my eyes, I remembered how I ended up in this state, with Shang beating me to a pulp. Every single part of my body was in pain, slow movements were enough to make me wish he'd just finish the job while he was at it. The irony, last time I was out cold by using too much power, now I was out by getting smacked around by a Martial Arts Master. We've come full circle without too much time passing.

    "Where's my bag. I need those potions. Right. Now."

    Looking around slowly, I realized I was on the bed in the office. On the nearby table, I spotted my bag with the upper part of my robe. Moments later, I heard the door open.

    "I see you're awake." Shang spoke softly while carrying a tray with two cups and a pot.

    "Unfortunately… would prefer still being out." I responded lowly as I sat up, moving inch by inch to prevent further pain.

    "I'm surprised, not many people would keep on fighting when going up against an opponent who outmatches them, let alone on the verge of passing out," Shang commented while pouring in our drinks. "I certainly wasn't expecting that level of commitment. You've earned my respect."

    Groaning when I fully raised myself, I signaled towards the bag with my head, instantly regretting it. "I'm glad I got something out of that fight. Mind handing me that?"

    Shang went across the room to retrieve my bag, placing it on the bed beside me, muttering a quiet "thank you" as he did. Reaching into it was torture in out of itself, my fingers and wrist struggling with each movement. After some searching, my hand recognized the shape of the bottle I was looking for. My hands were shaking slightly when I gripped the cap and removed it, making sure not to spill a drop. Upon taking the first round, I could feel some discomfort and pain going away, just enough to make me wish I wasn't dead. The second potion came soon after, speeding up the effect of the first potion.

    I took my cup of tea, using it to wash away the taste of the potions. We were met with silence while I drank the liquid, only for Shang to break it after sipping his own tea. "Now that you're up, there's a topic we need to discuss."

    "Yeah, yeah, I know," I muttered disappointingly, taking another round of the three beverages. "I lost, no need to mention it. Just like we agreed, I won't bother you anymore. You can still take the gym, I have no real need for it."
    Shang raised his hand slightly, indicating for me to stop. "You misunderstand, that wasn't what I was going to say. Quite the contrary, I have decided to teach you."

    Due to his very blunt nature, and the condition I was in, I was very sure I misheard him. "Ughh, what?"
    "I have decided to teach you Chi." Shang repeated, more clearly this time. "You've shown me everything I needed to see."

    "Wait, wait," I repositioned before continuing. "I lost, very badly. How does that convince you to teach me?"

    "Simple," Shang started before taking another sip. "Words can only prove so much, but actions tend to speak louder than words. In a fight, you can clearly tell what kind of person your opponent is. When we fought, I got to see who you really are. None of your moves indicated any hate nor rage. From start to finish, there was no change whatsoever to show me otherwise. I had to push you further to see if my theory was true. When I saw how far you're willing to go, I realized you indeed are the kind of person you claim to be. I've met many people who lusted for power, willing to do anything to get it. However, with you, it honestly felt like a simple spar rather than a matter of winning. I'm now positive I can trust you with that kind of power."

    For the first few seconds, I stood still, then slowly nodding. "I'd react more energetically, only I would pass out if I would even attempt to stand up."

    A smirk appeared across Shang's face. "Judging from those drinks, I'm sure that will change soon enough. Would you like to know the moment where my opinion started to change?" I nodded for him to continue. "When you raised your finger, I was positive you intended on using one of your abilities, but you didn't. I could tell by the look in your eyes, it wasn't about claiming victory, it was proving yourself to me. Even when you could barely stand, you used nothing but your fists. I'm not sure how many people would go about the way that you did. Everything else, just confirms my suspicion."

    "All in all, it was an agreed fight between two opponents, using my powers to get an edge didn't feel right. Win or lose, I don't feel like I would have earned your respect if I didn't fight honorably. I'm glad to know I managed to prove myself, even though I was tempted on using my powers for a second there.

    "Being tempted is one thing, actually giving into it is another," Shang said wisely, then moving on to the main question.
    "When would you like to start?"

    "Eh, give me until morning," I said somewhat excitedly as I finished my tea. "Just enough time to get the feeling in my arms and legs."

    "Very well," Shang stood up. "I'd advise you to rest. If you need anything, I'll leave the door open so call me."
    "Not much I can do at the moment, might as well get some shut-eye."

    Before the man left the room, he focused on the wide training area before looking back at me. "The place really is impressive. It will be of great substitute compared to my current apartment."

    When hearing that, a wide smile appeared on my face as I got into a comfortable position. "Told you. Have fun back there."

    "In order for one to access their Chi, one must place the proper balance on the mind, and on the body," Shang explained calmly as he walked back and forth slowly. "While that may seem like a pretty basic explanation, it's more layered than that. An improper balance of Chi can cause many problems to one who isn't suited for it, even though it would be possible for anyone to use it."

    Shang instructed that I sit in a comfortable position as he sat with his knees. "You do have some experience in manipulating energy, and from what you've shown me, it's a good starting point. Using water as a versatile weapon by controlling it has its similarities with Chi Manipulation. One key difference, you don't focus on letting that energy flow out of your body, rather channeling it all in. Right now, I want you to clear your mind and relax your body. Focus everything you have into right here. You'll know the feeling when you experience it, as well on how to manipulate it on your own once you do." Shang tapped at the center of his chest.

    "Hope you don't mind me asking, but can you be more specific by any chance?" I asked curiously. "I know it's not that straightforward, however, I'm not sure what I should focus on?"

    "In all honesty, it varies from person to person, as all have a different process," Shang explained. "We already did the movements required to channel inner peace, it's up to you to put the pieces in the correct order."

    After that, I've got a weird sense of Déjà vu.

    It was like my first day when I began training, which I very much liked. It made me feel easier as I passed these trials already. As more time passed, I felt like I was moving one step at accessing my Chi, that might be since I would repeatedly ask Shang various questions whenever my training would come to a halt. I'm guessing that was a contributing factor as it made the process easier.

    When my body and mind were synchronized, I'd imagine my heart as being the center point of my focus. While I was able to block out all sound, my heartbeat only grew louder in my head, which was a good sign. Over time, it felt like my whole body was experiencing that sensation. While my attempts were lackluster the first dozen tries, I wasn't going to stop any time soon. I figured out how the process should go, now it was all about trial and error. The mechanics were similar to how Kamar-Taj taught drawing out Dimensional Energy, only the slightest chance meant the experience was different as well. Although, this would also help me out getting that type of energy to fuel my spells much easier. While I was doing my meditating, Shang would use the free time to train in a variety of ways in his new gym.

    Just like in my Astral Form, time became irrelevant. Accessing my Chi was my main goal, meditating and synchronizing my mind with my body. The feelings I would have while channeling it would be amplified, serenity and state of clear mind became so… intoxicating. My resolution persevering through any doubt or hesitation I might have felt along the way. As more attempts were executed, I was having trouble fully summoning that much Chi into my whole body. For the solution, I tried focusing all the untapped Chi at the center of my palm, a similar tactic I used when training for Water Manipulation. If I can firstly create a small object of Chi, I can go off from there. While I was faced with more errors, I never stopped using my method, going up until I managed to succeed in my task.

    Then, a breakthrough happened.

    Shang and I observed the small ball of Chi that swirled in my hand, a yellow circle in the center of my palm acting as an opening. Its appearance was beautiful with the sphere incomplete, which is perfectly understated for my first time. After all that trouble, I've acquired one of the most flexible forms of manipulation, all that's left is to become comfortable with it.

    "Intriguing," Shang commented with a hand on his chin. "This is unexpected."

    "How come?" I said with a smug look as the sphere disappeared. "Didn't expect me to nail it so soon?"

    "Not that," Shang expressed without missing a beat. "Those who have experience manipulating energy will have a head start compared to those who haven't. The fact you managed to manifest Chi as a small sphere rather than building it up inside your arm is what interests me the most. I had a hunch you'd be able to do it within some time with enough practice, however, this is something I didn't foresee."

    "Why, is it unheard of?"

    "No, it's known to happen, although on rare occasions," Shang answered. "Now, we have our work cut out for us."

    "How so?" I asked with a raised eyebrow.

    "Now that you can channel Chi, this allows us to improve some aspects to better suit your particular situation. I think I just might have the ideal method in mind."

    "Really?" I asked with a tone of interest. "What would that be?"

    "You can call it "fine-tuning"," Shang answered simply. "After that, I trust you can figure out the rest on your own."

    "In that case, may we proceed to the next step?" I asked, a smile forming on my face all the while.

    "You did well today," Shang said proudly, sitting on the bench right opposite me. "It seems like your training at the temple you attended taught you well. Your ability to control energy is remarkable when only practicing for three months. It's not anything to scoff at, but having a solid start is good nonetheless."

    "Heh, thanks for the pep talk. Glad to know on what stage I'm on when it comes to that, it has been a bit difficult to come to a conclusion on my own," I thanked the Kung Fu Master while packing up my gear. "Being able to tap into Chi this early on is a milestone in my eyes. I have a general idea on how it functions, so I think I should be able to figure out the rest on my own."

    "Is there anything else I could assist you with?" Shang asked.

    "I think I've troubled long enough, should be fine on my own from now on," I merely shrugged. "The only thing I could think of is a sparring match whenever you're free. Training dummies do their job and the styles I asked you for will help too, but it isn't the same as sparing with a real person, ya know?"

    "I guess it isn't," Shang agreed with a smile. "I hope your training goes well, if you ever have any problems, you know where to find me. I'll make sure to take good care of it."

    "As long as it's of use to you, it's all that matters." I said happily.

    A few moments of silence passed before the conversation resumed. "What will you do now?"

    Without skipping a beat, I replied instantly. "Break someone out from a highly secured prison."
    Shang's eyebrows jumped slightly. "Pardon?"

    "Ah, that... came out wrong, hold on," I began digging through my Holding Bag, trying to find a certain file, of a specific soldier. It was filled with information I added on my own, as I didn't need to steal any for this one, for now that is. However, I still needed to keep it all in one place, especially when I get some real evidence in there. "Here. This should help."

    Shang took the file and read what's inside, and judging by his facial expressions, some parts piqued his interest but also confused him. "Is this… all true?"

    "Trust me, that isn't even half of it," I admitted, feeling I had no real need to keep this kind of information a secret, especially with people I plan on working with in the future. "There are still many things that are yet to be discovered. This is just scratching the surface. It took a while to gather that info alone, the rest is gonna be a bit more difficult, so it's going to take some time until the ones behind the whole thing are caught."

    "I'm not sure what to make of this." Shang admitted as he kept going through the file.

    "I do, it's messed up, and that's putting it lightly," I said, deciding to keep it simple. "I can't say for certain what else they did or didn't do, only it's a matter of time before I uncover it all."

    "Do you think this is a wise choice?" Shang asked. "Make no mistake, it is not my place to tell you what you should do, or be involved in any kind of way. However, I feel like I should voice my opinion. Would this be a smart move?"

    "An innocent man is held captive and they've used him as nothing more than a weapon for killing, actually, I consider that a suicide move if I walked in unprepared, but it will bring me one step closer to taking them down," I stood up, shrinking the Bag of Holding and threw it into my backpack. "Besides, someone's gotta do it."

    "You mentioned you've had some health problems?" Shang brought up. "If you insist on doing this, will you be able to succeed?"

    "That was some time ago, I should be good when I actually go do it," I responded leisurely. "Plus now that you've taught me Chi, I'll have another trick up my sleeve to depend on. I should make it out alright, without a scratch of course."

    Shang stood up as well, extending his hand. "Then I wish you the best of luck."
    Shaking his hand, I replied with a smile. "Likewise."

    I turned around to make a portal back home. Just before I passed through, I looked back at him. "Now don't get rusty, you hear?"

    Shang pursed his lips slightly and shook his head. "Feel free to visit then. If I do get "rusty", then the outcome of our next match might end in your favor."

    Letting out a chuckle, I waved back at the man, closing the portal a few seconds later.

    After making a quick meal to refuel. The moment I was done, I immediately went into my secret room to begin planning. While I did tell Shang I would be capable of using my spells, I might run into trouble if I use them for an extended period of time. To compensate for that, I'll have to use some premade spells to have them on me as primary tools. Sure, I have Chi under my belt now, the only problem is that I can't rely on it. It's more of a wildcard than anything. At best, I can probably make one solid move out of it and nothing more. One attack, for now, should be my only focus when using it.

    If I'm lucky, I could maybe channel some for a thin layer of protection if I have some to spare.
    Sitting at my workstation, I tried thinking about what I would need to accomplish my mission. It's going to be underground, tight spaces, tunnels, and all that kind of stuff. My best course of action would be using the environment to my advantage, as my armor will help me out for the most part. A tool that will alter the terrain or activate its action when I use it instantly.

    Something small, compact, and effective. But what?

    Looking around my table, I tried to come up with some kind of idea, when I saw the old gym membership I use to make my fake ID. Then something started to click.

    Reaching towards it, I flipped the card back and forth. Small and compact, that can use the terrain to my advantage.

    "Hmm, this could be a fun one," I thought with a grin forming on my face. "Everyone likes a good card trick, right?"

    "Ok, quick and simple this time."

    I thought in my Astral State as I observed the bank on First Street, which was located in Washington, DC. The place where the Winter Soldier was kept.

    From my memory, I recalled the last mission Bucky did was last year, where he fought against Black Widow, so he wasn't used since then. Right now, he is in cryostasis underground, the place being used as an "S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house", yeah right. I already did a sweep of the place, the underground section was divided into a few sections, having two more levels when down under. Of course, there were S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra agents all about, only they didn't have any notable pieces of tech that were dangerous.

    Unless you count guns, but I honestly doubt that will stop me.

    I prepared the tools I would need for this since I wanted to try a different approach anyway. Instead of the laurel green robes I usually wear, I went with an all-black version for the occasion. I completed a full set of armor, easily using a spell to have the joints connected and each part would stay in its place. Being able to move freely and comfortably will be a big boost. I did several other tests to make sure my armor will be effective.

    Like always, I'll have to remove any evidence of me being here. The cameras they've had weren't battery-powered, meaning they go off when the electricity does.

    Going back to my body, I opened a small portal on the ceiling of the security room that was occupied by only two guards. It was tightly concealed, meaning access was only available from the inside. Diving through, I kicked the guard closest to me in his left temple. As the man was sent back, the other guard jolted from his chair as I fully landed, lunging towards his gun that was on the edge of the table. I instantly created an Eldritch Whip and flung it his way, latching on his wrist the last second. Pulling the whip back, it pulled the guard as a result, to which I head-butted him.

    Easily knocking the two guards out, I tied them up with energy whips that looked like rope and will fade out over time, throwing them both into the closet.

    Looking over the camera feeds that were scattered in the underground hideout. Everyone was still in their positions just like I saw not too long ago. This really is a golden opportunity, Bucky is still frozen and the scientists that are supposed to activate him were rooms away. My guess is when the lights go out, he'll make a book towards the Winter Soldier. Not to mention a room full of guards was around them, at least it will be challenging without going all out. It would be good if I grab the book from them as well, just in case. All the more reason to have some fun.

    The best part, S.H.I.E.L.D. won't get any of this. Calling them for backup or reporting this break-in? Not happening. Don't misunderstand, Hydra will be fuming, only they will still have to cover this up to avoid questioning. A possible scenario is that they do report it with a whole different story, only that sounds like more trouble for Hydra so sweeping this under the rug seems most likely. Another scenario is that they call for backup, only they won't be able to get in nor be of any assistance as they will be too late, no matter the response time.

    Not that there's going to be any evidence either way.

    It being a safe-house, there was barely anything of value here. I'll have to make some money to keep my balance in check. Reaching behind for my bag, I took out a light-blue transparent card that had what appeared to be numerous sparks of electricity moved all-around inside as the image, only letting out a low sizzling sound. This little nifty creation was my answer to quick spells without needing to open the Codex or waste any of my energy.

    Taking a few steps back, I flung my energy card towards the control panel. Upon contact, the card exploded into bolts of electricity that entered the machine, making it go haywire. Moments later, all the power this place had was out. Before moving in, I formed a white cube that will expand in size when placed on the door towards downstairs. Don't feel like simply teleporting the two out but don't want to waste more time while already going this route.

    Opening another portal to the room with the scientists, with them and every single other guard turning towards my kneeled form, a single dimly red light made visible to them as they armed their weapons hastily.

    "Evening." I greeted them cheerfully as one hand went for my dagger and the other to my bag for another card. This time going for a lime-green colored one with swirling lines, letting out low sounds of wind blowing. I threw it towards the middle of the room, slamming my dagger downward, a thin energy blade appeared last second, keeping me in place. They unleashed their array of bullets only for it to have no effect. When the card reached its mark, it divided into four separate spheres of air, then releasing four gusts of intense wind, blowing everyone and everything in the room away.

    I ducked slightly to avoid getting hit by anything. When I looked back up, I found the whole room to be in a mess. Most of the guards were knocked unconscious, only a few still awake, with one of the scientists ending up right next to the exit while the other was knocked out. Following the scientist, I was greeted with a wave of armored guards, forcing me to take cover in the same room I just exited. While I could take the hits, I'd rather not stay in the open. Raising my right arm, where a white gem allowed me to shoot energy beams from it. It was an experiment to make weapons out of any object that can hold energy.

    I kept shooting while keeping my primary focus on the scientist running in the massive crowd. They weren't prepared for the beams that knocked them down, however, they were coming in numbers, meaning more to slow me down.

    Taking out some of the guards, I knew I had to clear the place up. While shooting, I grabbed a brown-colored card with dark green lines all around it. Jumping to my right, I threw the card out, going upwards towards the ceiling. Moments later, a layer of wood started spreading from the source, traveling across the ceiling and moving down around the walls, closing off some entrances to other rooms. From it, countless vines shot out towards the guards, grabbing them and pulling them to the walls or ceiling. Startled, the men tried fighting back against the vines, only it was no use. It sent them in a cocoon-like state, fully trapping them inside. Only a few of them were left, which didn't take long to take out. Walking through the now silent hallway, I tried not stepping on any of the unconscious bodies on the floor, the vines not bothering to grab ahold of them due to them not sensing any movement.

    Reaching the end, I entered a spacious but empty room. The two doors on each side housed nothing more than guns and other supplies. There was one way where the scientists snuck off to, that being the two massive iron doors that opened on the side to let a single guard out. Compared to every previous guard, this one significantly taller, with what appeared to be a different kind of protection than the standard ones.

    "You aren't getting through me, chump." Taunted the big bulky guard, the only one that was protecting the chambers.

    "Give me a minute and we'll see about that." I responded leisurely.

    The man roared as he charged towards me, while I entered a defensive stance. When he was in range, he tried bombarding me with punches that I dodged by moving back. Seeing as how I was more agile, the guard lifted both his hands up and lunged forward, slamming his hands down at me. Instead of moving back, I crossed my arms as I lifted them up, stopping his attack with minor difficulty, only pushing me down slightly. Looks like my armor is holding up pretty well, I could hardly feel any impact and with my slightly amped durability, knocking me down won't be so simple.

    While in this position, I pushed his arms away with my own and kicked his kneecap. Falling onto his left knee, I smacked him right in the nose, breaking it with ease. The big guy went down, now for the scientist. Out of nowhere, I heard a war cry coming from behind, making me jump in that direction. A single guard ran down the hallway while shooting his assault rifle as he ran.

    I crouched down while lifting up my arm, shooting multiple beams at him, the third and fourth shots hitting him in the upper right shoulder and stomach respectively. Getting back up, two large arms came around my waist, keeping my arms in place as the bulky guard hoisted me up in a bear hug. His initial plan didn't work out as he couldn't increase his grip due to the armor, so instead, he started running forward to the nearest wall to slam me into it.

    My arms may be stuck, however, with one flick of my hand, a small form of the green card slid out from my sleeve that expanded to its regular size. I activated it by squeezing the card as hard as I could, summoning a powerful gust of wind between us. As a result, the force made him lose his hold on me, only I flew upwards while he was pushed back, landing back on the floor. I maneuvered so I could ease my landing, sliding backwards as I went into another crouch when fully stopping. Resilient fellow, that guy.

    "Hmm, eh, might as well."

    I thought about whether or not to test out my new little project, deciding it would be a shame to miss out. Brining my right hand behind my back, I spread it wide open, slowly starting to focus all of my Chi into the palm. Even though I was wearing armor, I could feel thin lines of pure energy traveling to my hand. The weight in the center started growing heavier, by now forming a sphere of Chi in the size of a baseball with streams of energy surrounding it. The sensation of using this ability was phenomenal, and quite addicting. With that ready, I charged in.

    The guard was back on his feet, and going to meet me head-on again. Big mistake. With my left hand, I summoned my Green-Jaded Hook to catch him off guard. Throwing it out, it passed right above his left shoulder but looped around his neck, but pulling forward wasn't the idea. Sending out a whip, the chain extended further from the edge of the hook, a single chain locked as the rest grew in length. When we got close, I revealed my right arm, a golden-like aura circling around a white sphere with golden traits, while pulling the chain back with my left.

    The chain around his neck pulled him slightly, stopping him in place with his chest wide open. Lunging forward with my own version of the Rasengan to his stomach that he left unprotected, it left him completely stunned upon impact. His whole body was sent flying backwards, the sphere pushing him until he crashed into the wall next to the metal doors, sliding down moments later.

    Rapidly moving to the doors to complete the mission, I admired the final result. This version was just a prototype and a much weaker variant as I didn't know how it would work on a living target. It broke through his armor, leaving an open space around his stomach area, the flesh slightly burnt.

    While still learning how to control Chi, I could only accomplish this move about two or three times in a fight before it starts taking a toll. Back to the metal doors, I could just teleport through, only that wouldn't be as fun, would it?

    Lifting my right arm again, I formed another Rasengan, conjuring more Chi this time, slamming it at the centerline where the doors separated. The doors blew open, chunks of metal flying back when it revealed the final room.

    Seems like I'm just in time.

    Bucky was out of his cryo-chamber and was restrained by metal bars on a table while catching the scientist in the middle of reading the activation code. His face was full of shock when his eyes spotted me, but couldn't do anything as one of my beams hit him in his left shoulder, knocking out the familiar red book out of his hand.

    Taking a closer look, I could see that Bucky was in a daze, and quite possibly still in pain. That is to be expected from someone who got out of a freezing pod and immediately mind-controlled. Should put him to rest right away.
    Bucky's eyes widened, going back and forth from me to the scientist on the ground, who was just outside of his field of vision. Closing the distance, his breathing became heavier and rapid.

    "It's alright," I said softly as I could, trying to ease his suffering. "I'm here to break you out. Just relax, I'll do the rest."

    Reaching into my bag, I took out a tiny glass flask containing a small dosage of tiny vapor. While I didn't think it was possible, his eyes grew even wider at the sight of the bottle. I immediately raised my hand. "Please, do not worry. This is to calm the nerves, ease the pain as well."

    His eyes darted back between me and the bottle. Not that the man had any options to choose from, so with a slight nod, he agreed. Taking off the cap, the purple vapor started leaking out, then bringing it closer to his nose. By the second whiff, his eyes started closing, no longer struggling against his restraints.

    Within seconds, he was out cold. I made sure this wouldn't cause him any further pain. It was a hassle to whip up, although the end result was well worth it. Picking up the red book, I stashed it and went to cut the restraints with my dagger, opening a portal when done, carefully removing him from the chair by laying him down on the ground, creating a thin energy layer beneath him that acted as a bed, then taking him to the other side with his normal arm over my shoulders. I set him down on the couch in the Pocket Dimension. When I did, I looked at his sleeping form and for just a split moment, I realized this was probably his first time in a long while that he could sleep normally.

    I wish I could say that he was scot-free, only there was one crucial problem to fix, the brainwashing. I did study some cleansing magic, something that will help Bucky greatly. With my numerous hours of research, this particular type of brainwashing should be, and I quote, "out-of-date" and "simple", which I find surprising to say the least. Taking out the red book from my bag, I looked at it before looking back at the Winter Soldier.

    He should stay like this for a while, so I better get to work and see what I can do.

    I was sure that I would be able to greet the War Veteran peacefully this time around, sadly, it didn't go so smoothly.

    "Woah, woah, calm down there, pal," I spoke calmly with my hands moving up and down. "No need to raise the metal fist in here."

    When I finished cleaning his mind, which took plenty of time in out of itself, I moved him to the couch of my actual home to make things easier to explain. While waiting for him to wake up, I began preparing our dinner. At some point, he jumped out of the bed without much warning, which is where I have to calm him down, again.

    "Where the hell am I!?" Bucky blurted out, scanning every inch of the living room. His stance was defensive, and more like he didn't want to engage in a fight at all. "What year is this?!"

    "My apartment, and two thousand-eleven."

    "Where? Exactly?" The soldier asked the second I answered, his heavy breathing not changing.

    "In New York, close to Central Park to be exact," I moved towards the window slowly, motioning him to follow. "Please, take a look for yourself."

    Bucky stood in place, his body still in a defensive stance, looking in every possible direction to make sure his surroundings were safe. Step by step, he walked towards another window, slowly moving the curtain off to the side to see for himself. Once he did, Bucky was mesmerized by the sight. Cars that, to him, were way different that he remembered, buildings having more color and… screens that showed various items and names he wasn't familiar with, not in the slightest. Alongside the buildings that shone with lights, it complimented the night sky greatly. Looking down, he tried staying focusing on one person at a time, but he was overwhelmed with how much there was going on, and how… different everything looked.

    "Is this… how the future looks like?" Bucky asked himself, unable to trust his own thoughts. While he'd liked to know more, he had a different dilemma at hand. Now he has to find out if this person is with Hydra and this is another one of their "tests" they'd like to toy him with.

    Looking back at the person in question, Bucky was determined to get some answers, speaking in a low tone. "Who are you, and why did you bring me here?"

    "I'm sure you have, like, a million different questions on your mind right now, and I will answer all of them, I promise," I motioned back towards the dining table. "Please, let's discuss it over some dinner. I'm sure you're starving."

    I went back to the kitchen to add the finishing spices to the roast beef I was preparing. I already made vegetable soup, two plates cooling off on the table. When adding the final touches, I waved my hands over the tray to form a yellow energy box on it, heating up the meat to have it ready sooner instead of using the oven. Since he's awake might as well not waste time.

    Hearing a sound that resembled a slight gasp, I could tell Bucky was shocked to see such a thing, where I couldn't help but smirk slightly.

    "How did you do that?" Bucky asked, awe in his voice as he watched the food heating up. "What kind of technology is that?"

    I clicked my tongue as an initial response, swiping with my hand to the right to lift the tray and place it on the table. "It's not actually technology, not the type you'd expect that is." I seated myself in one of the chairs, forming a reassuring smile towards Bucky for him to join me. "It's magic, actually. I will explain that as well."

    The soldier was still skeptical, contemplating whether or not he should feel at ease, deciding it was the only thing he could do at the time being. His movements were stiff and robot-like, which is to be expected. Circling the liquid of my bowl with a spoon in hand, I was just about to begin before deciding to throw another glance at my guest. Bucky's eyes studied his meal as if he was trying his hardest to find some kind of flaw in it.

    "Is… there a problem?" I asked genuinely.

    Bucky's only response was to shift his focus from the soup to me, his emotionless stare looking back at his bowl.
    "Oh, I guess I'd be slightly concerned about food poisonings. Let's fix that. "

    Waving my hands quickly, the two plates with the liquids stayed in place, only shaking slightly as the two plates flew an inch off the table to switch sides. Bucky jumped in his seat as he witnessed the plates move on their own, now having the other bowl before him.

    "As I said, it's vegetable soup. I'm not that cruel, especially when a person hasn't eaten in God knows how long." I expressed truth in that sentence, knowing how crazy I would be if I was locked up without a decent meal. "You can add anything you want from here."

    I said motioning towards the spices in the middle. Now showing that this wasn't any trick, I hoped he could trust me a little more unless he thinks I would try and poison the both of us.

    That would be a little too much, no?

    After a few seconds, Bucky took his spoon to eat his serving, seeing as he could potentially relax for the time being, potentially. Putting the spoonful into his mouth, there weren't words that could describe the feelings his mouth was experiencing. He wanted to gorge down on the soup, but he wanted to act polite, that being the difficult part.

    The dinner proceeded with peace and quiet, and when we were finished, I cleared the table with a gesture and decided it was time to get the ball rolling.

    "There, with that out of the way, we can move on to the topic at hand," I spoke as I whipped my mouth with a napkin. "Would be fair to hold up my end of the bargain, so ask me anything."

    "Your name would be a good start..." Bucky said lowly. "That and who you work for."

    "Fair enough," I sighed leaning back into my chair. "My name is Ethan Chester and believe it or not, I don't with anyone. I work alone, as of late that is. I was enrolled in an "institution" not that long ago but I had to go on my own after a few instances involving another member."

    "Does that place also have people who do magic?" Bucky asked. "I thought those were just made-up stories."

    "You'd be right to think so, it isn't exactly a place you'd find on the side of a street. Only a few know about our existence, while the rest of the world are oblivious. There's a reason why we Sorcerers tend to work from the shadows rather than going public, you know."

    "That reason being?"

    "It involves having to deal with that pesky group of people who held you captive for nearly seventy years, so," I replied while shrugging my shoulders. "Actually they're one of the reasons but you get the idea."

    Bucky's hands balled into fists after just mentioning Hydra. He paused when thinking about his next question. "Why did you bring me here? I've been asking myself that ever since we started eating, and I still don't see your angle in breaking me out. If you truly say you're not one of them, how can I be sure that they won't find us?"

    "Well, when you find out one of the world's most troublesome organizations uses brainwashing on a World War 2 veteran, one that supposedly died helping Captain America fight that same group, to turn him into an assassin to do their bidding, the answer becomes rather simple," I replied honestly. "Hydra can't find us, I have this whole block under surveillance, nobody can find us and there's no way to track us down. To them, we out there appear like we don't even exist. As for Hydra as a whole, I did extensive research on them when I first discovered them. After snooping around a little, I've come to the conclusion that sitting around is a no-go. Thought that cleansing the minds of the people they control would be the moral thing to do."

    Bucky's eyebrows furrowed. "What do you mean by "cleanse the mind"?

    "Exactly that," I responded without missing a beat. "All the work Hydra put into brainwashing you was removed, for good. Removed in the span of a few hours."

    Upon hearing this, Bucky's eyes grew at the size of dinner plates, with his mouth hanging. At first, he wanted to ask how, but his mind wanted a different approach. "I don't believe you."

    "Why would I lie?"

    Trying to remain calm as possible, Bucky tried answering. "They've… they've been messing with my mind ever since I was in the War, that I can remember clearly. Every time they would bring me out, they'd… do something to me. You said it's been almost seventy years, so I seriously doubt whatever you did in a couple of hours scratched the surface of what they did over the course of a couple of decades. I just can't see you or anyone else fixing what's wrong with me."

    As a response, I waved my finger in order to summon the familiar red leathered book that was lying somewhere in the house, gently placing it on the table. Upon seeing it, Bucky flinched, but I was quick to act. "This right here is now absolutely useless. I went over every single aspect of mind control they implemented into your mind. The words that they used to make you into their puppet don't work. If I were to read them out loud, they'd seem like ordinary words, just how they should be."

    I didn't get any sort of reply, just flat-out silence. From how things were going, I don't think he had any intention of replying.

    "So that's how it is? Guess that leaves me with only one way of proving it."

    I closed my eyes for a few seconds, taking long breaths through my nose as I prepared myself for what I was about to do, and the risk that comes along with it. I'd like to have him by my side, as there's a low amount of people I can properly work with. In order to accomplish that, I have proven my sincerity without fighting back when I do this.

    "Longing." I spoke the first of the ten trigger words, trying to mimic a Russian accent as accurately as possible.

    Instantly, Bucky jumped back in his seat with his eyes wide, gripping the edge of the table. "No…"

    "Rusted… Furnace…" I continued on calmly, each word made Bucky jump. "Daybreak…"

    "Stop it!" Bucky yelled as he shot up from his seat, walking backwards with his hands covering his ears.

    "Seventeen… Benign…"

    Even though his ears were covered, it just wasn't enough, he could still faintly hear them, understand the motion of my lips. It was setting his mind on fire, the memories of the pain flashing through his mind became unbearable. He had to stop them, now.

    "Nine… Homecoming-"

    I got the word out as Bucky rushed towards me, grabbing me by the collar and hoisting me up, simultaneously pushing me until my back crashed into the wall, then firmly gripping my neck. The moment he grabbed me, my hands gripped his wrist, just so I could remain focused. With his enhanced strength, it was enough to make my knees shake as the grip slowly became tighter.

    "I swear to God, if you say one more word…!" Bucky threatened by slightly raising his metal arm.

    "O- One…!" I choked out, just one more to go.

    His grip tightened, fully raising his other arm. "Bastard! I told you to stop!"

    "Just one more…!" I internally screamed while closely watching his movements. His fist was almost fully raised, only it felt like time slowed down significantly. I have to finish this right now. With the last ounce of strength I had, I spat out the last trigger word. "Freight Car!"

    Before his fist came into contact with my face, it stopped roughly about a few centimeters from my nose, staying in place while also shaking. Retracting his hand back, I got a good look at Bucky's shocked expression, closely observing his metal arm before going over the rest of his body.

    Seems like he realized the mind control is gone for good.

    Tapping repeatedly the arm that held me against the wall, Bucky let go of me after a few seconds while moving backwards. Taking deep breaths and rubbing my neck, I straightened myself up before speaking. "As I said, you don't have to worry about that anymore…."

    Bucky to this moment looked over his hands, still unable to believe the words didn't affect him at all. "How did you… manage that?"

    "Just as Hydra has the ability to control one's mind, people like me have the power that can repair it," I explained with some difficulty, limping back to my seat. "Now that I've proven myself the only way I know how can we go back to talking?"

    It took a few moments for him to properly respond, still looking at me with a skeptical expression. Even though he still had some doubts, he returned to his seat, this time more relaxed than before.

    "Is there anything else you'd like to ask me?" I moved us back on track as I took a sip of my tea.
    Reestablishing eye contact once more, Bucky spoke up. "Can they… somehow bring it back if they capture me?"

    "By simply using another combination of words, no. They'd have to go from the start, that is if the method is even optimal anymore. I'm not sure if they can recreate the same procedure to control someone, so just in case, I can offer you some protection if they ever get ahold of you again."

    Lastly, Bucky moved on to the most dreaded question yet, looking down at the table. "What happens to me now?"

    "To be honest, that entirely depends on you. I'm seeing two options here," I said calmly, prompting Bucky to look up. "If you want, you are by all means free to go, and we will never encounter one another ever again. I won't hold you against your will, or ask for payment in return for releasing you. I can provide you with some assistance to help you get accustomed to this day and age. Although I must warn you, I'm not sure how far you can go on your own. I should inform you, just in case your memories are foggy, but as of now, Hydra, are everywhere. Agents hiding undercover at every single turn, surveillance at every corner, countless businesses and organizations corrupt, while also having resources to burn. Shortly after the War, Peggy Carter went on to form an organization, called S.H.I.E.L.D., to stop people like Hydra. Sadly, they didn't notice they were infected from the start. The world's most powerful group of people that are meant to protect, are nothing more than a cover for Hydra, so you can kiss security goodbye."

    I was met with silence for the next minute or so, patiently waiting to hear Bucky's response. "What is option B, then?"

    "You can stay and help me," I said hopefully. "You see, I plan on eliminating Hydra. Time is scarce enough as it is, giving them any more results in us dying sooner. Like I said, they are severely infected, meaning in order to get rid of them, we'll have to play around two groups. While I'll admit there's some good on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s part, trusting or even working with them are too risky. In fact, they might not even know that Hydra is still active. While we may be short in numbers, I believe it can be pulled off with the proper plan."

    Bucky's eyebrows furrowed when I finished, coughing slightly as he leaned forward. "If they haven't even been noticed since the War, and are really that powerful, what makes you think that you'll leave more than a dent?"

    For the first time, I couldn't hold my ego in. Not because I was overconfident, but I knew what kind of advantage I had on my plate. "Just like the whole world didn't know Hydra was under their nose, they are oblivious to my existence as well. I have various methods to counter their tactics, while also having the element of surprise. I know what I'm going up against, they don't. I wouldn't be asking you this if I wasn't sure if my operation would work. Besides, what I did to remove Hydra's program still has more to it. The memories they've removed can eventually be restored, the reason I didn't do it is that restoring that many memories can cause brain damage if done recklessly. It seemed fair to me to let you choose what you would like to do with them."

    I wasn't over-exaggerating, Hydra is a dangerous foe that should be dealt with caution. If I play my cards right, I will come out victorious. They are bound to be a bigger threat than what I'm familiar with, but I won't give them the opportunity to hit me back. If Bucky decides to stay, I'll have someone who has experience with Hydra, and will make the task of eliminating them much easier.

    Still, it's his decision.

    I rose up from my seat. "I understand this is not something you can decide on the spot, I won't put any further pressure on you. You can give me your answer in the morning. There's some new clothes over there, plus the spare bedroom is the first door when you make a turn down the hall. That's all I got, so good night, Mr. Barns,."

    I walked towards my bedroom, aiming to get a head start on the books I want to finish. I won't focus too much on Bucky, the man needs his space and he'll decide in the morning.

    No matter what the answer might be, I'm just glad I prevented plenty of damage in the long run.

    Even though it was somewhat late at night, there was life all around.

    The sound of people talking couldn't be escaped when outside, and for Bucky, that alone felt abnormal to him.
    It was the only thing he wanted to do, no, it's what he needed to do. Bucky didn't trail far away from this… person who willingly broke him out of captivity, now sitting in the park that was in the view from the apartment window. While he had several doubts about him, there weren't any indications that meant Bucky was in harm's way, at least he thinks. There's no argument that Bucky was furious when that person, Ethan, began saying those accursed words. They alone brought many memories he wished he could forget, although he was still in control when he was done, so it meant he was genuine when he said that the program was out for good. Bucky was still on the fence about fully trusting him, though.

    Right now, he attempted to enjoy the peace he so longed for, calmly seated on a park bench that wasn't far from the iron fence, allowing him to hear the voices of people who passed. While Bucky originally planned on going somewhere quiet, he realized that's the last thing he needs. The voices of other people, regular people, eased his mind more than he could imagine. With the new clothes he was offered, being a grey tracksuit, Bucky was able to hide his metal arm and put the hood on to hide in plain sight, not that a single person bothered with him anyway.

    To tell the truth, Bucky wasn't sure what to do now. Hell, how could he know?

    He had the option of getting off the grid, which greatly tempted him. Finding an isolated place where he can spend the rest of his life. There would be no more fighting, no conflict, just himself. After everything he's been through, was it too much to ask? Bucky realized that he was marked for life, with Hydra now in their prime being on the run from all authority is going to be difficult. At best, he could buy a few months or even years, if he would move every now and then that is.

    On the other hand, Bucky felt like it was his duty to stay and fight.

    He was a soldier, it was job to keep on fighting. Bucky didn't hesitate when signing up for the Military, and knew what kind of risk he was putting himself into. Yet, putting his life on the line was a low price for the good guys to win. Under normal circumstances, he would jump right back in without a second thought. Now, it just wasn't the same.

    Letting out a frustrated sigh, Bucky fully leaned back on the bench, shifting his focus in the distance to distract himself. As much as he wanted to make himself believe this is the same world when he was still "alive", it just wasn't. No matter where he looked, everything felt different. Even the way people talked seemed foreign to Bucky. With so many concerns flowing through his head, Bucky tried calming down by remembering the moments he cherished most.

    His childhood, teenage years, being deployed in the military. Of all those memories, they all shared a sense of unfamiliarity, but one person shined through them all.


    A sliver of a smile formed across Bucky's face upon remembering his dear friend, only to disappear when more memories came flooding in. He would never forget the last moment he saw his friend, the glimpse Steve's horrified face as he fell down to the cold river. Bucky had no idea how the mission went or if his friend made it out alive, but for some reason, he had a feeling that Steve pulled it off, he just knew. Enhanced super strength or not, Bucky always admired how Steve, even if the whole world was against him, would never run away from a fight, no matter the odds.
    "Hope you had a good life, brother…"

    Bucky looked up to the sky as he lowly uttered those words, making a mental note to find Steve's grave, to pay him a visit to give him a proper goodbye. All the memories they've shared flashed through Bucky's eyes one more time as he stood up.

    While reminiscing about his friend, Bucky's mind came to a resolution. He knew that he needed to keep going forward, it's what Steve would want. While he wasn't sure how much he could trust himself now that he was out of Hydra's grasps, there was only one way he could live out the rest of his life, by atoning for his sins. Mind control or not, a small glimpse of the actions he did before made him decide what to do from now on. It made him feel sick when remembering all the cruel things he did, and there's no possible chance he's going to let Hydra go unpunished. When he does that, he can then live in peace.

    Putting his hands into the pockets of the tracksuit, Bucky slowly began walking, going towards the gate, his mind set on his newfound goal.

    After my dinner with Bucky, I confined myself to my room and didn't exist from those four walls for the whole night. Like I said, privacy. Besides, I needed to go over the last few books I had on me to start practicing the more dangerous and intense spells. With Shang's help, I have other forms of combat to practice with my training dummy. Approaching the spare bedroom, I saw the door was slightly opened, but when taking a peek inside, I saw it was empty. Fully opening the door, I inspected the room top to bottom, it was exactly how I left it.

    "Can't blame the guy," I thought while closing the door. "I hope he'll stay out of trouble. They'll eat him alive if he isn't careful."

    Continuing my walk towards the kitchen, I stopped when I saw smoke coming from the right side at the end of the hallway. Immediately, my mind went into overdrive, breaking into a run towards the kitchen. Turning the corner, I wasn't greeted with danger of any kind. Frankly, it was quite the opposite.

    Bucky was cooking, and with the smoke coming from the pan that was on fire, alongside his jittery behavior, he was having some trouble.

    Jogging towards the stove, I waved my hands to manifest silver vapor from the tip of my fingers, instantly putting out the fire and clearing all the smoke when it came into contact. Turning over to Bucky,

    While I wanted to ask him if he decided to stay, my mind said something else. "You could have just woke me up, you know?"

    Bucky looked away embarrassingly. "Yeah... I was meaning to wait and ask you then, didn't expect that I would start a fire cooking a simple breakfast."

    "You never cooked before?" I asked as I disposed of the burnt eggs and bacon.

    "If you count heating up canned food then yeah." Bucky replied with a shrug.

    "You're in luck, I happen to be an exceptional cook. I'll get you up to speed." I politely offered while taking out the second batch of ingredients from the fridge with a few waves.

    "Sounds good." Was Bucky's reply.

    He stayed by me when instead of using my powers, did the normal way for a change. While doing so, I had to ask. "So, you decided to stay?"

    "I figured if the world's that bad, being on the run is gonna end badly for me I feel. I wanted to..." Bucky paused for a moment. "To thank you, for whatever you did. I feel like... my old self again. I don't have anything I can repay you with, but if you really do want to take Hydra down, I want to be of use. They have to pay for what they did. Not just to me, but to everyone else who suffered by their hands. "

    "Trust me, I'm only doing my part. I occasionally step in and do what I can. Besides, doing this kind of work is rather lonely. I'd be glad to work alongside you, Mr. Barns," I said honestly as I looked at him, then extended my hand out to him. "From here on out, I will be fully transparent with you, and we'll both work together, as partners. Have to warn you though, hope you get used to my methods, magic does tend to be confusing to newcomers."

    Bucky looked at my hand momentarily before accepting it. "I think I'll manage, and Bucky is enough. No need to make me feel older than I already am."

    "Then we have a deal, Bucky. Welcome aboard."

    For the next several minutes, we were met with silence as I proceeded to make our breakfast.

    "Oh, and another thing," Bucky began, turning my focus towards him. "I took your warning and didn't go too far away from the building, although I was wondering, can you tell me what happened ever since the war ended? Sure doesn't file like the same New York when I left it."

    I gave a slight nod, more than happy to inform him of all that's happened since then. "I'll make you a list, then."

    As for this Chapter, I decided to take a slow approach compared how the last Chapter went. I feel like it was necessary to show that using powers comes with consequences, that's why for most of the Chapter he doesn't use any bigger spells in the last half. Feel like having done this, I won't keep having Ethan get into these kinds of issues and should proceed getting stronger without these restraints up until now. Saw this as the stepping stone in getting fully familiar with your powers and won't have problems dealing with most threats, for now.

    We also got Chi, something I wanted to get for a while. It has many useful applications and can mix in with other techniques. It seemed fair that the process of learning didn't take the same time as when he first learned how to control energy, so there wasn't any need to waste much time there.

    Lastly, Bucky Barnes. I personally always felt bad about what this character had to go thru the MCU, and really felt like he deserved a break. With this, canon (which already was altered) lost more key moments and now all bets are off. Plus, though both Bucky and Ethan could use the company while going up against the world, cant do everything solo.

    Right now, I'm thinking about what I could do next, as there's still about a year (or less than a year) before the Battle of NYC, so any suggestions until then will be helpful. Lemme know what you think by leaving a review (civil ty)
    Until next time, cya
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2021
  10. Vanbers

    Vanbers Versed in the lewd.

    Apr 3, 2016
    Likes Received:
    Aw yeah, Bucky Barnes, the eternal sidekick.

    From Captain America to Secret Wizard, I can;t tell if that's moving up in the world or not.

    Now to just try and figure out how to break the whole "Steve is alive" thing to him, because if Steve comes back later, and he finds out Ethan knew? Well, that's just askin' for a fistin'.
    Asdercol and Grimmouse197 like this.
  11. Pez

    Pez I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Jul 22, 2020
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    Do we even know where Steve is at this point in the timeline? My memory is a rather hazy on if the movies every explained when SHIELD found him. I'm assuming they did right before they defrosted him, and didn't keep him in a freezer for years, because HYDRA would have taken advantage of that if they did.
    Asdercol likes this.
  12. Darwin-18

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
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    Yeee its Bucky's time to shine.

    Personally I think its a little bit of both xD, still on the upside.

    For Steve, we'll go for the "he went missing into the ocean" for the time being. Ethan knows by this point SHIELD got to him, but he cant contact him for obvious reasons. It would risk exposure and its still early on, not to mention of digging thru the massive SHIELD hole, that alone will take time. I also think its "too soon" for them to get back togeather. Keep in mind, this isnt the same world they remember, they would first need to adjust to it before they see each other. I think it would be a healthier step for now to have a white lie until Ethan tells Bucky he found Steve.
    Asdercol likes this.
  13. WearyRain

    WearyRain Getting sticky.

    Jul 13, 2019
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    I mean... that's only if he confesses to that... there's really no need to do that, just allow things to naturally progress
  14. Darwin-18

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
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    Agreed, let things go at nature's course, everything will work out.
  15. Index: Chapter 8 - Building a Team

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
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    Chapter 8 - Building a Team
    I hummed as I patiently waited at the front desk of the London Sanctum.

    Needing new materials and ingredients, nothing stopped me from visiting the Sanctum with all the resources. I got plenty of history books and videos to get Bucky back on track, but I needed some things as well. I finished most of the books I took from Kamar-Taj, except the last three that were more advanced, which I plan to start mastering soon. The books I now planned on taking will enhance the list of spells I already know while also adding more variety. There was plenty to go around, the more the merrier. Also plenty of ingredients for potions and enchantments.

    The Master who lived in the Sanctum seemed to be a grumpy fellow, especially when I presented with the list of things I needed. He wasn't the same guardian the last time I visited this Sanctum, which most likely means this is a substitute. Pleasant or not, the Master still went to get all the items I needed. Before he left, I tried getting some information on what's going on the magical side of the world. Seems like The Ancient One kept many of her subordinates in the dark about her whereabouts and her course of action, or they were asked to stay silent about the subject. I could only theorize what her plan might be, for now at least. Knowing her, it has to be important in some way, guess I'll have to figure out what's going on there as well at one point.

    When he returned, the Master told me a package just came in with my name on it. Naturally, I was totally confused. It was a sealed Bag of Holding that only opened when my hands touched the cloth. From within, I took out a brown-leathered tome book with various gold accents, the single gem in the middle shinning briefly. Opening it, there was an envelope neatly placed in the center on the first page, unfolding by itself.

    "Dear Ethan, I trust your training is coming along rather smoothly, since you've requested more books it seems like you've finished the last batch. I'm glad. This one is dedicated to practicing Chi. Personally, I think it's an interesting and versatile power that's very much worth the effort. I made a list of my preferred choices for more study material. I look forward to seeing how you progress." Signed, the Ancient One.

    "Universe, you work in mysterious ways." I thought gleefully as well as a little concerned. I knew far better than to question how she knew, so I should just be thankful she helped me out. I'll just never wrap my head around how she does this kind of stuff.

    With another trip inside the many rooms of the Sanctum, the Master returned shortly with numerous books floating by his side. I thanked him and left, getting a refill on my resources, I should be fine for the foreseeable future. Money is finite, although getting more of that from criminals won't be that much of an issue.
    Now I would have to ask myself, what else would I need?

    The logical answer would be to improve my physical capabilities, as that's what I'm lacking so far. My physique over the past few months has greatly improved, something I'm quite glad as I feel alive as ever, plus I was liking progress I was making. Still, while I can do more and more exercises to improve, I would still be limited on how strong I would be on normal means. Physically empowering your muscles with magic tends to end badly, as it's overly complicated and having it be in effect all the time would only damage the cells in the body over the years. Not saying magic users don't use this or fear of using it, it's just you can achieve certain results if you do it that way.

    Extremis or the Heart-Shaped Herb would be ideal, as they provide numerous other perks alongside physical improvement.

    Personally, I was never a fan of Extremis, the flaming body being the major reason for that. It did provide great healing properties, the worry of ever losing a limb disappears immediately after taking it. The insanely hot flames were cool, I guess, but it offers nothing new. I took the original and only complete sample of it as it might come in useful at some point, and I planned on recruiting Maya Hansen as well.

    That leaves the Herb.

    It's my preferred option and the superior one of the two. While thinking of its properties, I realized what huge benefit it would be. The enhanced speed it provides will help me cast a spell within an instant, while my senses would allow me to react quicker. Having night vision is nifty as well, with the bonus of being able to hear heartbeats those close to me and track any scent. It offers more beneficial properties, so it would be wise to get a hold of that plant.

    With my mind set on getting that Herb, I won't have to worry that much about coming up with a way of taking it. I know exactly how the room looks and a simple way of getting in and taking the Herb without raising any alarms. I might want to meditate a little before making a portal to properly envision the scenes from the movie just in case, as I only need that room. Wakanda is notorious for its highly advanced security systems, and an important area like that is bound to be guarded, except for the room itself.

    When I properly scan the room, which I'm fairly sure is still going to be like in movie form, I'll have my answer. The key is small openings. I don't need to actually enter the room to get what I want, rather I would make a small one first to cast a spell that would allow me to get a fully recreated copy of the room to see its layout. Once I learn how the place looks like to the last detail, I'll be sure to make my move undetected. Looking at it, I would take two, one for myself and one for Bucky, as well as some of its soil as well, I'm quite sure it possesses some properties that allow the plant to grow. Getting a third one, it would allow me to make many more afterwards, just in case. The Herb would most likely need low light in order to grow, that's why it's only lit up by torches.

    All I would need to do before I continue is picture the image in my head. While meditating, the room became more familiar as I remembered more details about its layout. When finished, I began making my scanning spell, a small silver transparent orb the size of a Cheerio.

    While I knew I was doing this completely blind, my hunch is still that within that room specifically this won't be spotted at the far end of it. The sphere won't let out any kind of light or sound, rather it will vanish instantly when it senses it entered a different area. Once it does, I will get a full scale replica of the environment with sensors that lets me see if anyone is moving from inside.

    Sitting cross-legged in my training room, where the room would change size to mimic the growth room identically, I created a very small portal that went upwards to take the sphere away. I waited for about five seconds before the environment started developing, each structure forming out of tiny grey cubes at rapid speed. At first the layout was only colored in grey, but after it was fully formed it gained its color as well. Before I knew it, I was standing in the center of the planting grounds for the Herb.

    Standing up, I looked around to see who was inside at the moment. Only two keepers. By the looks of it, they aren't aware what just happened, luckily the smaller the portal the lower the sound it produces. Walking about the grounds, I checked if there's any security to worry about, and there wasn't. All that's left to do is choose what plant to take.
    There were many plants scattered all around yes, but something in my mind made me scout out the least noticeable ones. I don't really care if they notice a few of them missing, as they won't even know who took them, nevertheless my OCD made me be careful.

    After circling the area, I found the three I'm taking with me. Two were hanging close to the edge while the last one was right near the brick wall. The keepers were doing their daily tasks of taking care of the plants, neither of them were remotely close to the ones I plan on taking. Having a clear view of the entire room, I walked to each individual plant, making a portal just the right size to swallow it whole. I took some of its soil from the far end. I don't need much, just enough so I can make more later on.

    With the Herbs were in my possession, I didn't need to waste any more time here.

    The two women were still going about their routine as if nothing ever happened.

    Dismissing the copied layout around me, I was greeted with three Heart-Shaped Herbs along with some soil in a silver container several feet away from me. Walking towards it, I grabbed a hold of one of the Herbs, taking out the important part while returning the shell to the container. I admired the Herb in all its glory, slowly rotating it in my hand. I now have the plant that's equivalent to the Super Soldier Serum, arguably even better in some areas. Gripping it gently, I let out a sigh of relief, happy that I've acquired another very useful upgrade.

    I don't know what it was, I just felt an overwhelming sense of relief while holding the Herb. These past few months took quite a toll on my mental state, to put it lightly. It always went back to the same thing, to become strong as fast as possible, so I would be lying if I was content staying the same. I was satisfied whenever I learned something new, as it wasn't enough. I can't tell what held my composure in place after all this time, but am I glad it's still going strong.

    However, I've managed to use every single minute of my time here to improve my odds.

    At times like these, I'm glad to be who I am.

    Realizing how much time I spent in the dead-silent room alone with my thoughts, I shook my head.

    "Damn, I wasn't kidding when I said this was taking a toll on me," I thought while rubbing my eyes. "I need to get out some time to get out of this funk. I should convince Bucky to take some time off with me soon, or I can maybe ask someone from the X-Men to just hang out? I can definitely use the opportunity to talk to people around my age, God do I need that."

    Walking out of the training room, I went to tell Bucky about our new fruits. He was in the corner of the library, sitting at the edge of the table with numerous books around him, but Bucky was focused on the video he was currently watching. The screen was wide and it was adjustable, the yellow energy lines around it made it easy to do so. I created several Silver Snitches that scan and analyze any sort of book, easily able to absorb any knowledge if it's on paper and start making a replica of it. They can do a lot more, but for now this was enough.

    Bucky didn't waste a minute after joining me to catch up on all the things that happened in the last century. I made sure to write down all that he would need to know, only I think I overdid it a little. Ever since I gave him that, Bucky didn't bother with anything else. He agreed to let me do another check up on him to be a hundred percent sure there were no loose ends, to which there weren't any. The human mind is very complex and delicate, I'm just thankful the spell I used did the job exceptionally well.

    Of course, I gave him my own version of all the events that happened before giving him the detailed script. Just as I expected, I was asked a question I wasn't necessarily prepared for, about Captain America himself. That topic in particular was troublesome to figure out. On one hand, they both deserved to know the other survived, that they had a connection to their "old life", but it wasn't so simple. They were in no shape to see each other at this time, it was too soon. It was necessary that they get adjusted to this world, at their own pace.

    For the time being, I had to go with a white lie. Just like in the history books, Steve Rogers was able to redirect the plane from hitting the city by crashing it into the Arctic Ocean, forever lost to the world. To say Bucky was devastated when he heard the news would be an understatement. The mission that would put an end to Hydra was all for nothing, and his best friend "died" young as a result. When I finished with the explanation, all Bucky said that he would make sure Steve's sacrifice will not go in vain. Hearing the sound of footsteps, Bucky's head turned for what seemed to be the first time in the last few hours.

    "Still not taking a break, I see," I taunted jokingly while taking out the seat next to him.

    "I did... for like two minutes," Bucky expressed leaning back slightly. "It's kind of a lot to take in, but I still want to see for myself what happened after the War. So far, it's safe to say plenty has happened."

    "You should take your time with that," I advised as I waved my hands to summon a teacup for myself and a long glass for him, water being a better option than more coffee. A teapot made out of dark green energy formed as I had everything else on hand. "Nearly seventy years of history isn't the easiest to learn all at once. I know how redundant that sounds, but I still think taking it slow for a while is the better route. You've been very silent the last few days, I wanna make sure you're alright."

    "No, no I'm fine, really," Bucky huffed, simultaneously looking back at the screen. "It's all I could think about, aside from eating and sleeping really. I wanted to see if we won the War, but we lost more in the long run. It's horrible, everything that happened."

    I'm absolutely sure I heard that before. "Don't worry, we'll do the cleanup. If we play our cards right, at the right time, their empire will come crashing down."

    Bucky stiffed a smile. "You seem to be sure a lot of things will go our way, how come?"

    "I like thinking ahead," I replied smiling upon drinking my tea. "That and doing my research. A few kinks have to be worked out, other than that we won't have any problems dealing with them. As a matter of fact, I just have the thing that will help us with that."

    Reaching into my pockets, I took out the two Herbs, placing them onto the table. Choosing to remain silent momentarily, as Bucky really didn't know how to answer, raising an eyebrow before speaking up. "A plant?"

    I held in a chuckle at the reply. "Not just any plant, Bucky. This is the Heart-Shaped Herb, the successor to the Super Soldier serum. In fact, it's theorized that Dr. Abraham Erskine took a sample of the Herb so he can create the serum."

    Bucky's eyes grew wide upon hearing that. "No way." His hand grabbed one of the Herbs, delicately examining it. "I never thought something like this existed."

    "Dr. Erskine did amazing work with the small sample he acquired, sadly, his final product didn't come close to the original," I explained, before backtracking a little. "Make no mistake, the serum he gave Steve was effective and a huge success, only the Herb offers more than the original serum does. After his death, Hydra tried replicating the serum the best that they could, luckily they couldn't come close to making it. Hydra spent lots of resources in making their own serum, which they inevitably did. From my research, the serum they injected you with is still in many ways inferior. With this, you'll double your current strength.

    "Wait, wait," Bucky stammered. "If this thing is basically like the same as the serum, where on Earth did you find this?"

    "I got a tip from one of my peers about its location, a guy owed me a favor." I lied causally. "Preparing a plan on taking it took a while, but it's an upgrade that will greatly benefit us. It belonged to the same people who originally owned the Vibranium I took from that smuggler."

    "The Wakandans?" Bucky asked questionably. "Aren't they supposed to be closed off from the world? Plus I can't imagine something like this lying around without it being heavily guarded. Won't they notice that you took their plants?"

    "True, but they were also too full of themselves," I admitted. "There is only one place where you can find this Herb and the area it's hidden in is armed to the brim with guards, as only a select few are allowed to enter. That being said, the room itself was the only place that didn't have any security, as nobody can go too far into the temple without sounding the alarms. They also have an abundance of these Herbs, and I've made sure to leave no trail. Trust me, I'm careful like that."

    Looking back at the purple plant, Bucky appeared to be somewhat skeptical. "So how do we do this?"

    "Wish me luck." I uttered before drinking all the purple-liquid that came from the Herb.

    Bucky nodded. "I'll be off by the side in case anything happens."

    Giving him a quick thumbs up, laying on my back with my arms crossed, feeling my eyes getting heavier as I was dozing off. For the longest time, I felt like my eyes wouldn't open, no matter how hard I tried. These past few months of using Astral Projection, this time felt slightly different, like my body was sinking down with no end in sight. After a certain point, I could feel slowly waking up.

    Turning my head to the side, I could barely see anything, my vision was blurry. Looking at the other side, I could see a simple table placed in front of a tree with purple leaves clear as day. After I laid my eyes on the tree, my vision slowly returned the more I focused on it. I was in some sort of grass field, glancing up to see purple streaks along the night sky, confirming I indeed am in the Astral Plane. The atmosphere itself felt vastly different, the air was cleaner and gave off a warm aura of sorts. Standing up, I walked slowly towards the table, where I noticed a familiar object placed in the middle.

    The Codex.

    Getting a better look, I already noticed something was off about it. The gems, they were red instead of green. Last time it was like that was before it took some of my blood, before I "unlocked" it. Flipping the book open, my suspicion was confirmed when I looked at the first page.

    "Blank." I uttered calmly.

    Now, this is interesting.

    In the blink of an eye, the peaceful aura was gone. It was like standing next to a fire, being so close to the flames at such a degree where it would become unbearable. Only this sensation was a hundred times more intense. I could feel how powerful the aura was, yet it was shrouded in mystery. It was difficult to describe the feeling, but I was certain of one thing. I wasn't alone anymore.

    Slowly looking up from the book, I was met with the downcast gaze of Bast herself.

    To my surprise, I didn't even flinch when I looked straight at her, calm as a cucumber. But the sensation she gave off made a chill go down my spine for the briefest moment. Seems like the countless hours of meditating are paying off in more ways than one. The Goddess was massive in height, her piercing white eyes along with the powerful aura made me realize how small I was in comparison, both figuratively and literally. Yet, I remained completely calm. My only train of thought was to make sure I properly think my words through before I speak. I walked behind the wooden table to sit cross-legged on the grass.

    "The Panther Goddess, Bast, the child of Ra and guardian of the Wakandans. It's an honor to meet you." I bowed towards the Goddess, my tone nothing but respectful.

    "You don't belong here, Planewalker," Bast said, her voice booming. "You've stolen what belongs to my people. Explain yourself, then I may consider your fate."

    "First and foremost, I'd like to apologize for that, I did not mean no disrespect. I'm fully aware of your status. Yet, I require your help, oh great Goddess."

    Bast's eyes squinted at me, a low hum escaping her lips. "I see. You are no ordinary human, nor is this your first time within this state. A sorcerer, I was not expecting this. I am aware of your kind, contacting the dead at your pleasure. However, The Herb does not belong to you, why should I listen to anything you have to say?"
    "From my knowledge, whoever eats the Herb receives the powers of a God," I began explaining. "We Sorcerers offer nothing but respect in the presence of a divine entity. I am aware that this kind of power is not that easily received, although I still believe I'm entitled to a chance to earn that."

    "Sorcerer or not, you humans are so predictable," Bast spoke in a disappointed tone. "You only lust for power and rule those beneath you. It's truly sickening, to treat your kind so horribly, it makes me question the loyalty you all have to your own kind."

    "Not to go against your word, but that's where you're wrong."

    "Explain." Bast commanded.

    "If you know about us sorcerers, then you must know we abide by certain rules. I don't collect power to be used to spread harm. Connections between humans and deities are common, giving the hosts powers in return of following their requests. I would like for you to do the same for me. With your help, I can fulfill my goal."

    "Then tell me, Sorcerer, what is your goal?"

    Without missing a beat, I answered with honesty. "To survive, and to protect those that need protecting."
    "How can I believe you?" Bast replied with hostility. "Empty words will only bring you closer towards your death, and it won't be a merciful one if one would defy me."

    "These aren't empty words, it's my whole existence," I shot back confidently. "It's what I stand for, and wouldn't let chaos flood the world. I would like to prove my worth to you, great Goddess. I've done such things before, and I will gladly do it again if that's what it takes."

    Bast was silent, as if she was thinking it over. "What makes you worthy of being my Avatar?" Bast asked. "Humans with power only give birth to new wars, a never ending cycle. Since you broke the tradition of my people, death would be the appropriate punishment. But I'll humor you, Planewalker. If you are so confident, what makes you so sure you won't fail with that promise if I would agree?"

    "Because… I won't."

    "Why is that?" Bast asked demandingly.

    "Simple," I responded calmly. "I refuse to bow down to some nut job that puts my life, and the life of others at risk. There is no order in the world, not from where I stand. Someone has to restore it, I intend to do that. Not just from humans, but from other worldly creatures that bring nothing but war. My duties as a sorcerer require me to insure Earth's survival, no matter the circumstance. For me to be its guardian, I ask for your help. If I were to become your Avatar, I promise you I will not only protect your people, but the entire human race as well. I only ask to be offered a fair shot."

    My plea was met with silence, her glowing eyes slowly narrowing. I gulped, the anticipation in my mind slowly killing me.

    "Very well."

    My eyes widened slightly, as if a massive burden was lifted off my shoulders. I released the breath I didn't realize I was holding in, preparing myself for whatever trial she had in store for me.
    "Your resolve is strong, Planewalker, I'll commend you for that. One trial. If you desire to wield my power, you'll have to complete one trial. Survive."

    I gulped at her request, not liking the little amount of detail in her demand. "May I ask what the conditions are?"
    "All the power and knowledge you gathered so far will be put to the test. If you claim to have the will to survive, and seek my power to fulfill your goal of protecting mortals, you must prove yourself to me. For the trial itself, you will be placed within a jungle where you will encounter creatures someone of your stature would be familiar with, with the objective being to reach the end of it, alive." Bast explained, stopping momentarily. "If you complete this trial, I'll deem you worthy of inheriting my power. But make no mistake, this will be no easy task."

    Of course, I wanted to know more before I jumped the gun. "Are there any other conditions? What would happen if I fail?"

    "The pain you experience will be very real, however, it won't affect your real body. If by chance you don't complete this trial, you will be banished from this realm." Bast explained, her tone becoming more menacing. "If I sense your presence entering this realm once more, I will not hesitate to wipe you out of existence. I have pardoned the crime of stealing the Herb from my people, but do not take my kindness for granted. I offer you one chance, Planewalker, what is your answer?"

    The moment Bast asked me that, I already knew my answer. The fear of the unknown definitely made me feel uneasy, as well as possibly being caught off guard when it's most important, but the drive for survival outweighed that fear. It's the same feeling I experienced on that park bench when I made up my mind on how to go about in this new universe, along with the promise I made to myself. I will not fail. I will survive.

    "I accept."

    "Good," The Goddess hummed. "Your trial will now begin. Survive within the jungle, and I will grant you my powers."

    When her paw crushed me, it felt like my very existence was whipped out. But a second later after it happened, my eyes shot open to find myself in a dark jungle. Examining myself, I felt normal, opposed to being ripped to shreds not a moment ago. My mask was in my left hand, with all my gear on, including the armor as well.

    "Damn these Gods..."

    Seems she was kind enough to let me use my powers, as if I had to go in barehanded then my chances of surviving would be slim. I could feel it in the air, this area is filled with mystical energy, along with who knows what kind of terrors lurking around. To get through this, I'll have to go with a different approach, kill on sight. Whatever this place is, I'm positive it's made by Bast herself for this trial to screw with me, as well as forcing me to my limit. I don't gravitate towards mindless killing, but I'll have to this time around. It didn't help that it was nighttime with the only light being the purple accents in the sky.

    To my luck, I extended my portfolio so I should come out on top. I focused on skills that are AOE and detection, perfect for keeping me updated when I approach things such as pseudo-Spider Sense poison, radiation and so much more. With the beads stacked up, I'll be prepared in more ways than one.

    I put on my mask before I began the first act. Clasping my hands together, I formed a small white sphere and threw it into the air, going way higher above the trees. Couple of seconds passed before it came down, going inside my sleeve into the Rune on my forearm, making a camera wide view pop up inside the orange rectangle. Welp, seems like the gigantic panther-like statue in the far distance is my finish line. I feel as if I teleport right to there I will get immediately disqualified, totally defeating the purpose of the trial.

    "Let's ace this test." I uttered confidently, taking in one last breath before breaking off into a run.

    While running, I waved my hands to form a platform from the earth's soil, then commanded it to propel forward, tripling my current speed. The terrain wasn't entirely even, but with my feet connected to the platform like a magnet, I won't be falling off that easily. My sensory beads were all active, so far it wasn't picking up anything. I have a long ride ahead of me, only good thing is that time won't be a factor within this plane.

    It wasn't until a few minutes of moving that I finally sensed something, and it was heading my way, fast. I could tell it was an animal, a big one, along with powerful electrical discharge. Leaning to my right, I jumped off the platform while commanding more soil to rise up to form a shield, exploding not a moment after it's formed. Landing on the ground, my head snapped in the direction where the lightning came from, a grim expression forming.

    In the distance, I was greeted with my first obstacle. A white bear that was about five meters tall, a bulky build with glowing white eyes, strings of lightning surging around its mouth. As it got closer, its footsteps grew louder, the ground trembling slightly. With a loud growl, the beast charged towards me with ferocious intentions.

    "Of course, monster-like animals, who would have figured…?" I mentally groaned, not missing a beat for prepping my counterattack. Throwing my hands up, a wide earth wave towards the bear with me on top of it, along with a spell-circle that repeatedly shot yellow beams, the bear matching them with his lightning bolts. When in range, the wave engulfed the bear as the earth surrounded it, trapping it inside. Before I could fire an empowered shot, it broke out of its prison with my beam burning its left shoulder.

    Landing on the ground, I sent countless earth spikes erupting from the ground towards the bear, scratching its paws slightly as it jumped high into the air. I could see sparks of lightning charging around its mouth, immediately forming a portal underneath me to get out of the way. The portal reopened way above the bear who crashed down and destroyed several nearby trees. As I was descending, I conjured four lengthy-sized spears and sent them down at the bear, piercing both its arms and shoulders, causing the creature to howl in pain. Once they were in, they instantly grew in size to stay in place, pinning its arms to the ground. I took out my Sol Blade as I landed on top of its oversized head, plunging it in right in the center, jumping off with an earth cushion waiting below me that widened the distance between us.

    The bear roared in pain, pulling away but the large spears kept it in place. Its left arm almost disjointed, barely staying in one piece. With one last tug, it managed to regain some freedom at the cost of ripping off its heavily wounded arm.

    "Come on, shoot a nice big one at me." I stood in place while raising my other dagger with a pure white blade with some electric sparks radiating from it.

    Pissed beyond any measurement, the bear intended killing me with one blast, this one being the most destructive one. That's it, keep it going. It happened faster than I expected, the bolt flying at immense speed, but with my dagger up and spell in place, the attack was gradually being absorbed. It was pushing me back, but I could withstand it. When enough was absorbed, I tilted my blade, causing a volleyball-like net made out of lightning going from my blade to the one embedded in its head. The action was swift, but effective. Its head split in two vertically, the lightning rapidly dying down, with its body flopping down to the ground with a thud.

    Approaching the lifeless creature, I located my dagger that was covered in blood and some organs. Cleaning it, I stored it into the holster and looked down. I need to be quicker and more decisive. I know I settled on "kill on sight", but I still have to make these decisions without hesitation. I think it's the fact that it's so easy to kill, and how quickly it can be done. It's… infuriating, I was always a pacifist and reserve, the sudden change was difficult but I knew there wasn't an alternate method.

    When my hand is forced, I will have to be swift.

    My thoughts were broken when I could sense something approaching, and fast. Without skipping a beat, I slammed my hands on the ground in that direction, causing the area to burst into flames in a cone, spreading wider so "it" doesn't survive. For a brief moment, whatever was moving stopped, only for a black wolf with most of its skin burned off to emerge from the flames. It was too late to react with a spell, so I tried evading it.

    My attempt to dodge it was foiled as its mouth latched onto my left ankle, dragging me away while running at top speed, my mask occasionally hitting the ground while moving. The constant shaking made me slightly disoriented, but I ignored it, begging to channel my Chi into my right hand.

    "Let. Go!" I yelled, plunging my hand into the wolf's side. I could hear the bones breaking as my whole forearm went in for his mouth to release me, the animal whimpering as it tried crawling away. Getting up, I channeled up my Chi Fist with increased intensity, striking its neck with a swift strike. Just as I silenced it, my beads picked up multiple new threats approaching. Hiding behind the trees, a pack of wolves double the size of the one I just killed.

    How fun.

    Sensing the first one lunging towards me at high speed, I raised my hands to form a barrier and repelled it off. Like vultures, the rest joined in on mauling me, managing to fully complete my barrier without any openings. They tried destroying it with brute force, pilling on top of each other to each get their shot.

    What they didn't expect is countless spikes erupting from the barrier, piercing the front pack then extending out to hit the ones in the back. Expanding the barrier to throw away the carcasses to the side, I formed multiple stacked red spell rings that flew off on their own, eliminating the remainder of the pack.

    Here I thought Killian and the Brotherhood were a nuisance. These beasts were ridiculously fast, and killing machines, with preparation being my biggest advantage. Fighting the unknown is always problematic, not to mention terrifying at times. Survival to the fittest isn't kind, so neither can I.

    Opening my Codex, I chose my set of spells I'd have ready at all times.
    Now, let's get out of this jungle.

    The deeper I found myself within the jungle, my perception of time grew weaker.
    I faced many animals along the way, deadlier iterations of animals that inhabit a jungle. While I couldn't tell time, I made it a habit to check my condition every now and then, using any necessary potion to stay sharp. After a while, my body started kicking back, unable to avoid the side-effects when in constant use. I was able to ignore it, making sure I preserve my strength so it doesn't worsen.

    Aside of insects and wild birds plaguing the sky, I was able to fight back against the ongoing swarm of creatures that just kept coming.

    Right now, I travelled on top of the river with a water board beneath my feet with two rings circling around me for protection. Every now and then, I shoot out water bullets from them at massive cobras that sprung from both sides. The longer I traveled, the river grew wider, and more unpredictable.

    "It's too silent, something tells me that isn't a good thing," I pondered as I constantly checked my surroundings. "If I didn't know any better, I'm bound to run into one of those creatures any-"

    My beads went off, sensing a big one coming, from below. In front, a wide maw belonging to a crocodile surfaced, closing just as I was about to pass it. With a slight jump, I evaded its attack, smoothly continuing my surf. I could sense it swimming towards me, at rapid speed. On the second attempt, the water ring sent out multiple crescent symbols toward it, slicing its mouth effortlessly.

    Not long after, a whole swarm of them started popping up, only to lose their mouths when doing so. Jumping around wasn't the problem, but it took up more time to prepare a counter attack. I had the water be pulled to the side, Moses style, creating countless water spears that pierced all the exposed crocodiles. Getting a proper look at them, they were about ten meters in length, sadly their skin wasn't helping them at all. Releasing my hold of the water, I was safe for the time being, entering an open area of the lake. I could sense small and faint movements, preparing for the unexpected.

    Suddenly, a crocodile ten times the size of the previous ones emerged. Its maw was already open, biding its time for the right moment to strike. If I were to jump away, I might possibly be crushed by its giant teeth, not wanting to see if the armor could withstand a bite that strong.

    Going deeper inside, I used the water present to form a sphere-like barrier, several seconds passing as it slowly built up energy. When ready, I made the sphere enlarge, pressing against the crocodile's stomach, easily breaking its bones. Moments later, I was out the other end with a massive hole in the creature that swallowed me, slowly drifting back down to the river's depths.

    I surfed towards the river's end, finally setting foot on ground once more. Sitting cross-legged beside a lengthy tree, my barriers immediately came to life. It was a while since my last dose, so I'd say it was time for another round. Taking the first sip almost made me throw up, trying my best to ignore it.

    Noticing my vision getting a bit blurry, I knew I was starting to push it.

    Oh well, can't quit now.

    "Close, I am so close."

    I focused on that thought, and nothing else. Since the start of this trial, I have sliced and killed countless monsters along the way, each more challenging than the last. Due to the inability to tell the time, I couldn't tell how severe the side effects of the many potions I drank and healing were to keep me up and running, but by now my system couldn't handle another potion. While my physical condition was fine, my mind was in shambles, the magical exhaustion made it difficult to cast the simplest of spells.

    I could have been in here for hours, possibly even days, but I did it, I've passed. I have been worked to the bone, but the satisfaction I felt as I limped out of the jungle. After a while, I decided to look up from the ground, once again being met with Bast's downcast gaze. She was silent up until I was a few meters away from her, kneeling and bowing down in respect.

    "Well done, Planewalker." Bast commended me, her voice filled with genuine praise. "You have passed the trial, proving yourself to be worthy of inheriting my power."

    "T-Thank you, oh great Goddess," I replied weakly with gratitude, now only concerned with getting this ordeal over with. "It's a great honor to be deemed worthy of your power."

    "Before I send you back to the mortal world with the powers of the Black Panther, there is one question you must answer first." Bast announced.

    Raising my head slowly, I looked up to Bast with a blank expression. "What?"

    "Do you still intend to keep the promise you made before the trial?" Bast asked, her tone menacing per usual.
    I replied instantly, more due to my mind not functioning properly from the tiredness. "I do not know what the future will bring, nor what kind of obstacles I'll encounter along the way. But one thing's for sure, I will not fail at my mission, no matter how difficult it may become. I give you my word."

    A few seconds pass in absolute silence, what already felt like eternity. Until Bast spoke up. "Then I have no other requests. As per the agreement, you will carry out my demand of protecting my people, as well as Earth itself. Even on death's door, I expect for you to fight till your last breath."

    The area around me suddenly grew brighter, the intensity only increasing until there was nothing else but white everywhere. Only Bast was still clearly visible, but slowly started fading away over time. "Do not disappoint me, Plainwalker."

    Then I was out, again.

    When my Astral journey was over, my eyes shot open.

    First and foremost, I swallowed the lump in my throat that built up while I slept. Raising myself slowly, I looked over myself to spot any changes to my body. Perhaps there were some minor changes around my muscles, only I couldn't notice any. When thinking about any physical changes, my ears picked up a faint sound. Focusing more on it, I could make out a "ba-dum, ba-dum" sound going off every second coming from behind, the left corner of the room to be exact. Breathing through my nose, I picked some sort of scent, with it becoming stronger the more I focused on it. Then a pair of feet gracing the floor, accompanied with a soft grunt.

    "Did it work?" Bucky asked with concern as he came from behind, lowering his hand to lift me up.

    "Pretty sure it did," I commented, accepting his help. "Never wanna go through that again."

    "You don't seem... any different," Bucky commented with uncertainty. "Isn't it supposed to, I don't know, buff you up big time?"

    "The Herb doesn't work like the serum does," I began explaining. "It doesn't alter your physical appearance that much, on the inside that's a different matter. The best method to test it out is the old fashioned way. Hit me."

    Bucky blinked. "You want me… to hit you?"

    "Yup! As hard as you can," I said before perking up. "Oh, and with your left arm as well."

    Instead of asking further questions, Bucky simply sighed. Raising his left hand, he gave me a warning as he leaned back, then striking me after a second of winding up.

    At that moment, it felt as if time slowed down.

    His metal arm moved way slower than a regular punch would, the same could be said for his muscles over all. I wasn't caught off guard by the sudden action, but was rather in awe how I could react to his attack without any effort. On pure instinct, my arm moved on its own, catching his closed metallic fist with my right hand, shaking at first until I strengthened my grip.

    Bucky was taken aback how easily his punch was stopped midway, retracting his arm back while we entered a neutral stance. "Guess it really did work."

    "Aside from strength that surpasses even a Super Soldier, the Herb has other perks as well," I said while motioning with my hand to make the second Herb fly into my open hand. "Enhanced speed, agility, endurance, durability and healing, possibly even more stuff. Quite the impressive list for one plant. It also allows the user to see in the dark, track a scent to great distances and hearing the heartbeat of those in close range. We should run some tests to make sure. Now, it's your turn." I opened a small portal, pulling my hand out to him so he could take the other Herb.

    Bucky stood still for a second or two as he stared at the plant. "So what, I just take it and go to sleep for a while?"
    I stifled a cough. "Umm, actually, you first have to talk to a twenty foot cat Goddess."

    Upon hearing that, Bucky's eyes widened as he raised his head. "A twenty foot what?"

    "Now that I think about it, she might be bigger, I'm not really sure." I corrected myself.

    "I have a feeling I'm never going to get used to this…" Bucky sighed as he rubbed his temples.

    Now that Bucky and I were juiced up with the Panther Herb, there was one thing to check off our list.

    I may have gotten my supplies and some stuff to get Bucky up to date, but there wasn't anything he could use that he was familiar with. When he was awake after taking the Herb, I asked him how his experience was and it was quite different from what I've gone through. Due to being brainwashed for decades, his trial was to relive all those memories and with time nonexistent, it was his own personal hell. Since he woke up with the Herb's buffs, he was able to pass her challenge. I also liked to think he acquired some clarity as well, further strengthening his resolve.

    Pushing aside the Astral Plane and cat Goddesses, it was back to the real world, and I needed more supplies.

    Luckily, I had the perfect place to go shopping. First, I had to get a laptop to access the A.I.M. files to scout out the hidden bases Killian had made. I went across the world, one of New Zealand's islands to be exact, before looking through all the files. Have to say, I was satisfied with the things I discovered. Killian had numerous facilities across the US, only some were more valuable than others. I set my sights on the largest one with the most goods.
    When I went over there to see for myself, I discovered all its blind spots and disposed of them, then moved on to knocking the unit stationed at the base. I whipped up a sleeping spell that from one whiff, a person is knocked out for several hours. Covering the whole base with it, the people stationed began falling one by one, leaving all the goodies unguarded. Going back to base, I asked Bucky to tag along, opening a portal to the storage room of the facility.

    "What happened to them?" Bucky asked with an eyebrow raised.

    "Sent them to sleep," I replied nonchalantly, looking around at all the boxes. "That smoke when inhaled sends a person into a deep and long nap. Easier to just knock them out then clear out all their supplies."

    The further we walked, Bucky scanned the area while I stopped to examine the wide display of weapons for the taking. Taking one out, Bucky eyed the weapon as he took a shooting position.

    "You have more experience with guns, so take your pick."

    "Feels the same, just seems shinier." Bucky commented while inspecting the weapon.

    "From what I hear they're top of the line, the best money can buy," I picked up an M-16, first time actually holding a real gun. Right now, it didn't feel all that special. "What do you think?"

    Bucky gave another look across the field of weapons, nodding his head slightly. "This will work. In fact, it's more than enough. With the amount of ammo they have, we won't run out for a while."

    "Wait till you see what in mind for infinite ammo, you're gonna love that." I placed the M-16 back into its box, now preparing to clean the place out top to bottom. I created numerous energy platforms to place the boxes on, sliding them through a portal back to base when they were full. At the rate we were going, it didn't take us long before all of the weapons were in our possession.

    When the process was complete, I told Bucky he could go back without me, as I wanted to do two more things before we left. First, I wanted to check out if they had any worthwhile tech for the taking. Upon checking their lab and storage, I wasn't greeted with anything notable, or useful, I decided to not waste any further time.

    Lastly, I wanted their vault. I was conservative of the money I had just in case it would run out, now that won't be an issue anymore. While observing the place, I found they hid their funds somewhere underground in a massive and "impenetrable" vault. After locating the safe, I simply made a large square section of the lock disappear, allowing me to enter inside. On nine long tables that formed a U, piles of money neatly lined up, a single stack with a ten-thousand marked on the strap. If I'm positive, the total amount was somewhere around the three-hundred ninety million range, which I'd say is more than enough.

    I could do so many things with that amount of money, and invest to make more after I decide to make my own company. Thank you Killian for helping with the future finances.

    I created multiple portals to dump all the money in a storage unit back in the base, making a note to count it later just in case. When I made sure everything of importance was taken, I bid farewell to this place and to the poor souls who'll wake up without even knowing what happened. There were many supplies that were left behind since we got so much already, so I marked all the boxes and supplies to disintegrate after I left. The database didn't offer any useful information, nevertheless I deleted every file they had, bringing them to a total zero in terms of any resources.
    Stealing from criminals is so fun.

    After about a week from our shopping trip, it was safe to say we were pretty stacked.

    I, for one, wasn't that excited about obtaining dozens and dozens of weapons as I preferred other methods. Bucky, on the other hand, looked like a child on Christmas morning. I had a spell do the money counting for me, when finished, the grand total being three-hundred ninety six million dollars to ve exact. Every time I saw him on the shooting range, he had a wide smile on his face whenever I saw him pick up a new gun to try out. When I made it so that any empty shells that were left behind would be refiled, making it so we have an infinite amount of ammunition, Bucky couldn't be happier.

    With the Heart-Shaped Herb, Bucky was keen on testing his reflexes and aiming accuracy to their absolute limit, to which I happily obliged. I tended to his training before I solely focused on my own, as I wanted to give him everything he might need. Along the way, we got more creative with his training courses, as well as more challenging. After many attempts, Bucky was like a well-oiled machine, rarely missing his target when shooting and tended to be effective as possible. It's where I got to see some of his tendencies as a military soldier firsthand.

    We didn't spend every waking moment sticking to the same routine, we weren't robots. At first, the conversations would be short but over time they would be more fleshed out the more we learned about each other. Pictures and history lessons were one thing, but Bucky still craved to see the outside for his own eyes. Using a simple set of illusion and protection spells were enough to shield us from the outside, appearing as two totally different people to everyone else. I took him to the places he requested, which were the locations he would visit in his old life before he joined the army. The one that affected him the most was his used-to-be home, describing it as a whole different building entirely, only resemblance being the layout and nothing more.

    It was like taking a little child out in the big city for the first time, every slight detail catching their attention immediately. Honestly, it shouldn't have been comedic at some moments as I did feel bad, to him I doubt it was anything but pleasant.

    To take his mind off of… everything, I tried getting him into different hobbies to switch things up. Figured it would be the appropriate time for that. Since he seemed to never learn how to cook for himself, it was something I'm good at and I expected him to get the hang of it after a rocky start, I was dead wrong. After a few kitchen disasters, Bucky ultimately gave up, only deciding to get some basics down and came to the agreement I will be the one doing the cooking from here on out.

    It was a bust, but there are still many other hobbies to try. It would take some more time, but Bucky was slowly becoming more open and comfortable around me, but I was glad I was able to help the man out the best that I could.
    As for myself, I went ham at my new powers.

    Bucky and I were sure to take advantage of our sped-up regeneration to test our physical abilities. It got to the point I actually felt somewhat sorry for our training dummies. Hand-to-hand combat became significantly easier for me ever since then. My reaction time was incomparable than it was before, I could wait the last possible second before doing anything and my body would be fast enough to respond right away. It became sort of like muscle memory. Using the many fighting styles Shang provided, we practiced various different moves until we had to stop for some rest, which lasted for a short period of time. My experience with portals drastically improved, being able to create multiple ones at the same time and open much faster, the shorter distance the quicker they open. I practiced using portals during combat, getting sneak attacks in on weak points or for the element of surprise, maybe a Rasengan to the back will make things simple.

    Aside from combat training, I spend a while meditating as well. Chi, on the surface, has many other applications it could be used for, so I was determined to better understand it. A perfect example why the Herb's properties compliment a Chi user is that it extends the duration it can be used. Fatigue is a common symptom after excessive use, which could be avoided if the body is trained to withstand it. The healing factor negates that, meaning I get the most value of the two. They synchronize together quite nicely. Of course, Chi can amplify the powers granted by the Herb, further propelling me to get better at it. I'll have to go over all of its applications within time, for now, I'm more than content with practicing a few of them for now.

    Oh, and my control over water was smooth as ever.

    Each movement perfectly transitioned to the next one, with the enhanced speed giving me more freedom to use different moves on the go. My control of it is greatly amped, easily able to control more amounts of liquid unlike before in my regular state. Of course, I had to test my limits. In areas with large quantities of water, I was unstoppable, as before longer use of controlling water would take a toll on my body. I could keep it up for hours, without any hiccup whatsoever, meaning as long as I have some form of liquid with me I have a weapon at any given moment. Forming shapes was easier, and more responsive, I'd make a mental note to train with my legs to form spells and manipulate elements, would double my speed in certain cases.

    For my personal favorite, combining Chi with Elemental Manipulation.


    Shifting all of my weight forward, I sent a wild cyclone made out of water, with a yellow energy orb in the center of it all towards the training dummy that was five times its original size. The attack threw the dummy towards the wall, blowing off its entire chest, while leaving cracks across the body. I wanted an attack with such a density that could obliterate through any kind of armor.

    That's where the creation of the Water Cyclone came to be.

    Developing a brand new sub-form of magic wasn't that simple. It took countless attempts, with many hours of practice. The Herb made it so I could produce my attack way sooner, as fatigue was a thing of the past. With Chi being able to mix with Water, I was hard at work theorizing and practicing new attacks. There isn't any documentation of Chi infused Elemental spells, I was forced to walk into uncharted territory. Creating your own spells, in practice, isn't considered hard, it's more trial and error than anything. I knew two Elements at this time, add Chi on top of that and the final product packs one hell of a punch.

    Chi can be easily mixed with water than with any other Element, I could summon the liquid necessary to bond with it on the fly which made it the perfect combination. It all depends on the amount, as it needs very little amount of Chi to spread all across the water. To be honest, it acted like a Rasengan with Water Release, which was my initial concept. When forming a Rasengan, the Chi it leaks can spread to the water surrounding it.
    While it may seem one-note, its versatility allows for many other uses. The size can be changed, the intensity can be increased, and its purpose can be altered. It can be formed to serve as a lethal attack or when hitting an enemy, the liquid can change its shape so it traps the victim.

    It was only one ability, but it was good enough for me. Reinforcing water with Chi on a larger scale is possible, but making distinct abilities is never a bad thing.

    During training I thought of an idea I was immediately on board with, Chi Constructs. While making appendages, items, weapons and tools with simple Energy Manipulation from magic I already know, Chi is leagues better for that purpose. For starters, Chi acts like an extension of one's will, which alone makes its usage easier. For instance, I'd very much like something that's suited for both defense and offense, I have the perfect idea I wanted to turn into reality. As another bonus, I wanted to make some wings too. Unlike Dr. Strange's Cloak, I intended for these to be faster and used as defense, as well shoot out projectiles to even things out.

    Of course, I couldn't get ahead of myself with my planning. I wrote down my experience and started developing on my research, writing down notes the more I learned about its mechanics. I knew the existence of Chi Storage, making the foundation won't take long, but actually storing Chi and using it proficiently is going to take time. On the up side, the more I use it and train with it, I'll be able to increase the process.

    I went on to explore the Chi Storage idea. Having some knowledge how energy storages are made/used, so I could make that without a fuss. It then occurred to me how low my Chi supply was, which is to be expected. Even for a complete beginner one can channel enough Chi for many uses, but it wasn't close enough to create what I had in mind. I had enough for a few attacks and to enhance some body parts, which isn't a bad start. My goal is to use Chi to form my ultimate defense, as well as my ultimate offense.

    Turns out, the Herb expanded the Chi pool I had prior. If I remember correctly, my body had to be more physically prepared to handle a larger quantity, whilst allowing more options on using it. Being above the peak of human condition, more possibilities presented themselves. To accelerate the process, I'll have to use Chi as another extension of myself, not as a switch. At first, the process took some getting used to, but I could adjust way faster than I expected. With my fast regeneration and healing potions I can cut down the downtime in-between, which was my biggest advantage.

    For now, I'm content with empowering my attacks with it and occasional empowerment in my hands and feet. Next up, I had to get more advanced levels of security up and running. I need to get notified when and if something happens that requires immediate attention. Helix can place wards around the city that will get me a map in real-time with vision practically everywhere.

    New York is unpredictable and has a lot of important people lurking around, keeping an eye out for any potential threats is essential. The wards I have set up around my apartment aren't that widespread, serving only as a means for security. To my delight, the tall buildings make it so placing on top of them gives a clearer and wider view of the city's layout.

    With my mind set, I began working on my operation. I needed to add some tweaks to the wards I already use, then they are good to go. When they are placed, each ward will connect to the ones within range, forming a map of the areas that are marked. To make it more accessible, the map will appear with a tap of a bead. When I got everything I needed to set it up, I gave everything to Helix, opening a portal on the roof for him to be on his way.

    I had another idea for what to use Chi for, puppetry. The first time I used a puppet, I would have to be within a certain range of it while also using my hands to control its movements. I know it's possible to transfer Chi into an object to control it with a simple thought. Since I have an easier time emitting Chi out of my body, using it as an extension of myself into a puppet will increase my combat prowess without me having to lift a finger. Of course, I'd first have to establish a connection with it and maintain it, as well as practice for it to smoothly without a hiccup. To ease my troubles, I can add a sprinkle of magic to buff it up and fix any issues I find along the way.

    I planned on using the puppet I used to steal the Vibranium with some improvements, but for now, I wanted a new design. I would use Vibranium for the material, but I don't want to worry if it's suddenly left behind or captured, better to just use regular metal with enhanced endurance. Starting off with the skeleton, I made the upper body bulkier, with some room for hidden compartments. The weapons I wanted to make were blades that radiate plasma, as well as to turn into lightning whips that extent to about two meters. Along the blade, every few centimeters it was separated by a V that allows the plasma to pass along through, making it extendable to form the plasma whip.
    If I get proficient enough, I could use multiple puppets at once, without even having to lift a finger. I'll get more creative with further designs with different functions, use them to do the work for me.

    Not even an hour after I sent Helix on his mission, my bead started beeping.

    Not a good sign.

    Checking the map that formed in front of me, a red dot blinked somewhere just outside of Queens. Tapping on the dot, the map transformed into a feed of the ward that triggered the alarm. Showing the downcast view of the ruined street below, smoke everywhere but the ward had a filter that made the area more see-through. The entrance of a bank had a massive hole in its place, with rubble scattered everywhere, plus with it being a Sunday there weren't any people inside.

    As for the ones in the middle of the chaos, it appeared to be Spider-Man and what by the looks of it, Shocker as well.
    Every day I come across a different surprise, can't say I'm disappointed.

    "Should get over there right away." I thought as I dismissed the display, jumping to my feet with a clap of my hands to change my attire. I made my way to the other room where my mask and equipment were, Bucky sitting by the side of a nearby table.

    "Where are you going?" Bucky asked questionably.

    "Downtown, guy with high-tech weapons causing havoc," I responded hastily as I put on my mask. "Heading over there right now."

    Bucky's eyes widened slightly at my response. "Do you need me to do anything?"

    "Noup!" I responded, opening a portal then turning to him before crossing through. "Be right back!"

    Now on the rooftop on one of the buildings, I stepped closer to the edge. With a few quick waves, I formed an indivisibility field around me so I won't get spotted, as well to kill of any cameras nearby. Looking down, Spider-Man and Shocker were still going at it. They were an even match, albeit Spider-Man wasn't going all out, mostly evading Shocker's attacks. The street around them was slowly crumbling away, Shocker's gauntlets destroying whatever object was behind Spider-Man. It was impossible to land a long range attack, only that didn't stop him from trying again and again.

    Spider-Man didn't have his classic suit, it was more like a budget homemade suit. He wore blue sweatpants and a red hoodie, the holes on the mask had sunglass lenses. It's safe to assume this iteration of the Wall-Crawler is still new to the hero business. Shocker, on the other hand, had some similarities to his comic counterpart in terms of appearance but still vastly different. He wore a suit that appeared to be incomplete. The gauntlets were bulky, but aside of his arms, the rest of his body had openings that were unprotected. Only the mask was the same like in the comics. Although, the tech used on the suit seemed rather familiar.

    Back to the battle, there were no bystanders as everyone ran far away from the growing chaos. In the corner of my eye, I spotted a woman looking over the corner from an entrance of one the buildings, a phone against her ear. While Spider-Man dodged the blast, he caught sight of a large chunk of a building moments away from falling, a girl standing out in the open underneath it. Maneuvering in the air, Spider-Man thwiped in her direction, landing beside her and pushed her back in, throwing out another web to move him away from the falling debris.

    In that split second, he lowered his defenses just as Shocker flew at him, his fist colliding with the web-heads back, sending him flying upwards. I waved my hands to form a yellow sphere, engulfing the Spider as he was stopped in midair, while rapidly healing the injuries he had. Forming a portal beneath me, I teleported to his location with a yellow spell circle beneath my feet.

    "I'd say you got this covered, but the collateral damage is piling up, don't you think?" I said lightheartedly as I floated next to the hero.

    "W-What?" The Spider uttered confusingly, noticing his wounds vanishing while looking around. "It's... healing me?"

    "Correct, just a few seconds more and you're good as new." I explained as we floated down to ground level, bending down for the tip of my fingers to grace the concrete where I immediately cast a spell that started repairing the damaged area, the holes filled up instantly and the pieces of rock flying back to the buildings in their rightful place like they were Legos. Within seconds, the whole block was good as new.

    Shocker had no idea what just happened, nor did he have the faintest clue who this new arrival was. Either way, it didn't matter, he'll just kill two birds with one stone.

    The Spider-themed hero circled in wonder as he watched the city block that was in ruins moments before was now spotless. "You sure you couldn't show up a few minutes earlier…?" Spider-Man said jokingly.

    "I showed up the moment this got on my radar, so cut a guy some slack, will ya?" I replied with the same tone. "Need a hand with him?" I asked the spider-themed hero.

    "Y-Yeah," Spider-Man stuttered. "By all means, Magic Man."

    With a thumbs-up, I clasped my hands together, pulling them apart to reveal a circle of glass that had several cracks on it. Shooting both my arms forward to propel the circle towards Shocker, drastically increasing while traveling. Before Shocker could react, the large circle smashed through him, breaking into thousands of tiny glass shards. Once it broke, every single object and parts of the buildings started inverting, only to return to normal a moment later.
    Spider-Man, noticing the area around him seemed… different, decided to inspect it a little further. His surroundings seemed shinier and somewhat distorted, but other than that he couldn't be sure what it was. His Spider-Sense went off briefly when the "projectile" flew, but it gave no indication of harm heading his way, so he asked his savior. "What was that?"

    "To simply put it, a prison and some cover," I explained. "This is called the Mirror Dimension, a parallel dimension to be exact. Now that we're inside, we won't have to worry about causing damage or innocent bystanders as we're in a different plane altogether, it's only us three now."

    "Cool…" Spider-Man awed, almost forgetting about the criminal with shock gauntlets.


    With a war cry, Shocker slammed both his hands to the ground, sending a cone-shaped shockwave towards us. Just as Spider-Man was about to web-sling away, I stepped forward to form a wall of glass from the ground, absorbing the shockwave. Flicking my wrists forwards, the wall tumbled down, causing the ground below to send several waves as my attack.

    Shocker held his balance before he was knocked down, rapidly firing from his gauntlets. Sadly, they didn't come close to hitting me. Spider-Man put more effort while dodging, while I merely sidestepped or deflected with a spell ring at the last second. Clasping my hands together, two rock hands forming from the ground and slapping him from each side, then sending him crashing backwards.

    Feeling slightly dizzy, Shocker ignored whatever injuries he may have received, going for a different course of action. Tactical retreat. The left side of his suit was acting up a little, not a good sign. Shooting at the ground, Shocker propelled himself upward, setting foot on the building's edge, helping him get a bigger boost for the next jump.

    "He's getting away! I'll catch him!"

    Like a torpedo, Spider-Man blasted off at a remarkable speed, swinging from building to building with every ounce of strength he had. Seems like he already forgot I told him this was a prison, or maybe I didn't explain it properly. Eh, no reason to worry, more fun for me. I could teleport until I was close enough to catch him, but that would be way too easy, plus I wouldn't get to try some new moves. With my Chi training, I wanted to create some sort of utility to not always rely on my surroundings, that's where I created the Chi Step.

    Basically, I channel my Chi into my legs to enhance them, which alone would increase my speed considerably, after that, I would create a small platform that would act as a springboard. While using this, I'll have to send a flow of Chi over my body for stabilization while moving at that speed. For this technique, it all depends the amount of Chi I decide to use. It's quite versatile and will be battle-ready soon after some more practice, it will make it easier to maneuver while in the air instead of relying on substitutions or even tanking a hit.

    At the moment, I can channel a solid amount of Chi into a certain part of my body, as I can't handle controlling a large portion in my whole body at the same time. Nonetheless, I'll have to train harder to further unlock its potential. Imagining a percentage scale in my head, I channeled my Chi to the desired amount.

    "About three percent will be more than enough while I'm in here." I thought as I felt my legs becoming lighter, leaning slightly forward for better trajectory.

    Then I was off.

    I didn't even put all my strength into my jump, but the Mirror Dimension's buffs propelled me higher and faster than I originally expected. My already enhanced physique and endurance coated with Chi allowed me to smoothly travel in the air. Going for another jump the second my body started falling, I propelled myself even faster than the first time, gradually building up more speed with each jump. The experience of jumping on air was thrilling, fun as hell too.

    Definitely going to catch my enemies off guard with this one.

    It didn't take long before I was on their tail, the shards of glass floating above the road or on the side of the buildings leaving a nice trail. While in pursuit, I spotted an air blast coming from a mile away, courtesy of Shocker. Jumping slightly left to dodge it, I put more force into my next jump to thrust me even further. More and more projectiles were incoming, easily evading them all with no issue. The memory of playing that mission in Marvel's Spider-Man where you have to chase Shocker becoming more vivid.

    "Magic Man!" Spider-Man shouted as he saw me catching up, doing his best to avoid the projectiles as well.

    "Did I miss anything?" I asked in a laid-back tone, unbothered by the scenario I found myself in.

    "He's too darn slippery, just as I am about to close the gap he gets away!" Spider-Man complained as he did a barrel roll to dodge Shocker's attack. "He has what appear to be some kind of vibro-shock gauntlets, when activated can project a concentrated blast of air at an intense frequency. If it weren't for this Mirror Dimension of yours he would have made a big mess by now."

    "The way he uses his gear, doesn't seem like a newbie but no expert either," I deduced, an idea popping into my head.

    "Want a boost?"

    My offer surprised Spidey, that and avoiding another blast. Agreeing, I explained to him what I wanted him to do and when. After Shocker fired a few more shots, it was time to act. I made it so I jumped as Spider-Man released his grip from the web, creating a slightly beefed up springboard of Chi around the area where Spidey would descend. When his foot touched the platform, he leaned forward a little to spring himself off, flying like a bullet at the criminal. Upon getting close, Spidey shot a web that stuck to Shocker's leg.

    Like trying to swat a pesky fly, Shocker used his other gauntlet to shoot down at Spider-Man, not one-shot landing. Preparing a stronger Chi Step, stronger than the one I gave Spidey, I flew past the two like a speeding bullet. Spinning around, a platform stopped me in my tracks and stayed in the air. I made some distance between my jump, just enough time to prepare my "show". Clasping my hands together and folding them, the fingers of my right hand extended forward, aiming at the approaching Shocker.

    The criminal was shocked to see at what speed the second guy moved at, but he was prepared to blast him away. In the corner of his eye, he saw the side of a building break like it was glass, revealing a massive spider leg heading towards him. Panicking, Shocker aimed for the appendage to propel him backwards so it doesn't hit him, the sudden shift making him slide down a wall of a building, leaving glass shards in his wake. By some miracle, he didn't take that much damage from the fall, already on his feet as a second claw came crashing down beside him. Its appearance resembled an orange tarantula with a lion head, its size comparable to the tall buildings. From its sides, it released multiple webs that blocked any means of escape, acting like a triangular barrier. It may have been an illusion, but how the spell was placed it made it more believable. It used its claws to make Shocker jump around, like a predator playing with its prey.

    Spider-Man released the web and landed atop a lamppost, watching in awe. Sliding down, he regrouped with his teammate that was standing in the open street.

    "Ugh... is it friendly...?" Spidey asked somewhat reluctantly as his eyes could only focus on the building-sized tarantula with a head that resembled a lion.

    "Don't worry, it's just an illusion. It's more of a toy than anything," I explained while using the spider's legs to make Shocker zigzag around. "Wanna try?"

    The web head bobbed his head like an excited child, passing him the red orb into his hands. "So... how does it work?"

    "When you want it to do something, squeeze the orb with both hands and picture the thing you want it to do." I answered.

    Doing as instructed, Spider-Man squeezed both his hands and waited to see if his command would go through. The gigantic animal stopped in its tracks, Shocker taking the chance to blast its head off. As a result, hundreds of miniature spiderlings flopped down, crawling towards Shocker. I'm not sure if I ever heard a scream like his before in my life, if I was any closer I probably would go deaf. While they were illusions, they still moved and acted like they were real. Without much of a plan, Shocker fired in each possible direction while moving backwards, the wall behind him preventing him from going any further. Within seconds, he was drowning in spiderlings and screaming for his life, trying to swat away the endless swarm of tiny arachnids.

    "Think we tortured him enough." With a snap, every single spiderling popped like confetti, with the original one turned into butterflies that quickly vanished. Shocker was utterly speechless how everything suddenly vanished, it only made him even more furious.

    "That's it!" Shocker yelled in rage. "I'll end you both!"

    Slamming a compartment on his suit, the criminal's gauntlet's building up a strong enough attack, Shocker stood in place for a few seconds as his gauntlets stored a hefty amount, then using some of it to propel him upward, as well as heading straight towards us.

    "Here he comes…" Spider-Man uttered cautiously, entering a defensive stance.

    "Charging in without a plan, of course." I thought as my eyes locked on to his gauntlets. In quick succession, I made the necessary gestures to form two red energy spheres around his weapons, shrinking in size moments later. The sudden change crushed his gauntlets, letting out a small explosion on each of them. Shocker was still in the air while this happened, so he could only scream as he lost his focus, landing onto the ground a few meters away from us. Without the power from his gauntlets, he dropped down like a sack of potatoes.

    "That's an end to that," I said leisurely while brushing my hands together. I turned to the Spider, who seemed to be in a state of awe. "Wanna do the honors?"

    "O-Oh, right, on it!" Spidey said hastily as he broke off into a run. Shocker, who was still conscious, could only verbally harass Spider-Man as he dragged him to the closest lamp pole, using his webs to immobilize him completely, webbing up his mouth when he was finished.

    I looked around while walking towards the two, letting out a fake cough when I was close.

    That made Spider-Man jump up from his crouched position. "Hey! Listen, I wanted to-"

    I raised a single finger up before he could continue. "A moment, if you please."

    Waving my arms, I made a small gateway then expanded in size, going over the lamp pole so Shocker doesn't stay an internitiy in the Mirror Dimension. On the outside, we entered a nearby alleway to not stay in the open, leaving Shocker to be picked up by the police. I could feel a bead notifying me, making me raise my hand to form a camera-view that constantly changed, courtesy of Helix. Two police cruisers are heading our way, approximately thirty seconds from reaching us. "Listen, if you wanna chat some more, meet me at the billboard with the vacuum cleaner. The police are on their way and I don't feel like dealing with them."

    "Neither do I. Have a feeling they don't like me very much." Spider-Man commented as he turned to the sound of the sirens.

    "Well, I'll be there if you're down for a quick chat, but now, best that we disappear," I formed a portal beneath me, instantly dropping down. "See ya there."

    I choose this location for a reason, as appearing here without a plan beforehand would be irresponsible and stupid. While I had Helix map out the city, I had him carry seeds that when placed would act as an invisible dome, making the places he marks a secure location where we can't be heard or seen.

    I leaned back to the metal support beam, waiting to see if the young hero would show up to my offer. Truth be told, I was excited to potentially meet Spider-Man. By far, he was my favorite hero since I could remember, I know it might sound cliché but I essentially grew up right around the time the hero was at his highest selling point. There wasn't a place where that red and blue wouldn't make an appearance wherever you go, so it was kind of hard to miss him. Even though I lived here only a few months and met tons of different people, I was still looking forward to this encounter.

    After about another minute of waiting, I began hearing the familiar "thwip" sound. To my left, I saw Spider-Man swinging from building to building, doing a front roll as he went to land on the same roof as me. When he raised his head, he jumped back slightly when he saw me leaning back.

    "W-Wait, you're already here?" Spidey asked with a hint of confusion. "I didn't even see you standing here."

    "You can thank this barrier around us for that." I said cheerfully as I pointed behind him.

    When he turned around, he saw a transparent ripple effect that was fading away, tapping the edge of it with his finger for another ripple to form. "Wow… cool, it's like an invisibility field, right?"

    "Correct, as well as nullify any sound from within," I commented as I walked over to the edge, sitting down so my feet could dangle freely. "Can't be too careful these days."

    Energetically, Spider-Man walked over and flopped down to sit next to me. "No, you can't. Anyway, I wanted to, ugh, thank you, for lending a hand over there, you saved my bacon. I'm Spider-Man, by the way."

    He extended his as he introduced himself. It occurred to me that I never used a pseudonym or superhero name when meeting all these people, never had much of a use for it, except now would be a good time to start using it. I spent quite a bit of time thinking of what kind of name would be an appropriate fit to my persona. A name should hold some sort of meaning, especially a superhero name. I wouldn't want a boring name or use something stupid, so I had to choose carefully. After a while, I made my decision.

    "I'm Fulcrum, a pleasure to meet you." I shook his hand,

    "Fulcrum, huh?" Spidey said with a hint of surprise. "Was expecting something totally different, to be honest."

    "What can I say, it stuck out to me," I admitted sheepishly. "I saw what you did to save that lady, you did well out there. It takes a lot of courage to charge in head first like that, or to be slightly moronic. Still, you can take a punch that's for sure."

    Spider-Man rubbed the back of his head embarrassingly. "Y-Yeah, well, I'm still particularly new to this whole superhero thing.

    "I could tell, otherwise you wouldn't be wearing a budget homemade suit." I commented lightheartedly as I scanned his attire.

    "Hey! I'll have you know, this jacket didn't come cheap," Spidey quipped back. "Gotta make do with what you've got, right?"

    "Been there before, so I know what it's like. Speaking of which…" I trailed off as my hand swiftly grabbed his wrist, a gesture that I'm sure surprised him with how quick it was. My eyes examined the web shooter, finally being able to see the device that's the real deal. "Nice, nice. Small, compact, somewhat sturdy I'd say, shouldn't break that easily. Extra points for using broken watches as its base. How'd you make the liquid?"

    Spidey was embarrassed a little at my interest in his work, but was happy to answer all of my burning questions. Real life logic sometimes couldn't explain how some feats were executed and had some elements that only exist in fictional universes. He kept his other life on the private side, only going as far to discuss stuff about technology and some inventions he was able to make. After bombarding him with question after question, he wanted to know more about my skill sets as well.

    "Anyway, with a job well done deserves some lunch. What do you want?" I asked the Spider while opening a small portal and sticking my hand through the other side.

    "Oh, you don't have to-"

    "Dude, I could pull out anything from here, just choose."

    Spider-Man stared at me blankly for a few seconds before responding. "You got pizza?"

    "Pepperoni, please and thank you."

    "I could go for that," I turned to the portal to dig out one of the few frozen up pizzas I already made, pulling the box with various toppings, putting some Pepperoni slices on the pizza. Taking it out, I closed the portal with the pizza floating in-between us, placing a finger under it to light it up, within ten seconds it was cooked. A single snap made the pizza split into eight pieces. A twitch of my finger made the compartment over my mouth open, along with a snap for the pizza to split into eight pieces. Grabbing a slice, I gestured for the teen to take his own. "Enjoy."

    Taking one for himself, Spidey lifted his mask half way, releasing numerous hums after tasting the pizza. "Is it just me, or does magical cooked pizza taste better than regular cooked pizza?"

    "I think there's a point where it's made to perfection, but that's just my theory," I commented while I took another bite.

    "Beats having to wait, that's for sure."

    For the next several minutes, we enjoyed our meal in silence until I spoke up after finishing my half.
    "Say, I'm curious, what got you into this whole crime fighting business?" I asked inquisitively.

    "It's… complicated." Spider-Man replied

    "In this line of work, it always is. Don't worry, I got my share of complicated stuff, so I think I'll understand if you at least tried explaining it,"

    Spider-Man let out a defeated sigh. "A little bit of everything, around the same time to be honest. I wasn't born with these powers, when I got them it felt like a blessing but soon it became a curse. A person close to me once said, "With great power, comes with great responsibility". At first, I didn't really care all that much, it was only when I lost that person did I truly realize what that saying meant. I… could have made a difference, but I didn't. That day will haunt me for the rest of my life, but I made a promise to that person, as well as to myself, that I won't ever let such a thing happen again. As a long as I live, I will do what's right, no matter the consequence."

    Hearing his story firsthand was touching, but empathetic as well. All I could do is agree with my favorite superhero. "I respect that, I really do. Not a lot of people would go to those lengths, and I understand where you're coming from. Losing someone important to you is never easy, and to people like us, hits harder than regular people, we can't let it cloud our judgment. Personally, I think the people of New York are lucky to have a hero such as yourself looking out for them."

    While I couldn't see it, I could make out a smile beneath his mask. "Come on, don't sell yourself short, but I think you'd be a few ranks below me of course," The webhead said lightheartedly. "Anyway, what got you into this gig?" Spidey asked optimistically, somewhat glad the focus wasn't on him anymore.

    With a hum, I thought about my answer. "Instinct."

    "What do you mean?" Spidey asked questionably.

    "That's just it, instinct," I threw him a sideways glance as I started explaining. "I was always more of a silent type that would just let life pass me by while I did my own thing. Even so, my morals sometimes can get the better of me, and one day, I paid the price for it. While walking to a friend's house, I saw a kid playing on the road of a speeding truck. At that moment, I didn't think, I simply jumped forward and acted on instinct. As a result, my life wasn't the same afterwards."

    "Oh, is that when you learned magic?" Spidey inquired. "I mean, if you jumped at a speeding truck and you're here, something must have happened, right?"

    I nodded. "Magic works in mysterious ways, sadly, adjusting to this life wasn't an easy one. I was lucky I had an exceptional teacher," I stopped briefly before chuckling. "Actually, I remember why I did what I did that day and continue doing it. I did it because it's the right thing to do. I had the power and opportunity to make a difference, and we have a moral obligation to do so when we have those things. To me, it's as simple as that."

    "I see." Spider-Man replied lowly, with the next minute passing in comfortable silence.

    "Huh, certainly didn't expect this after fighting a lunatic with shock gauntlets. We aren't getting paid enough for the work we do." I said bitterly.

    "I don't know, man, just trying to get by as best as I can. Not sure how to move forward without things spontaneously combusting around me." Spidey expressed a low chuckle.

    "Just keep your head straight and don't give in, should be easy enough, right?" I said cheerfully, pulling my legs close to my chest so my feet can touch the ledge. "Been working for me so far."

    Closing the open area around my mouth, I stepped away from the ledge. "I'd love to stick around some more, but I should head back, have a few things to finish. Next time, you bring the food, sound good?"

    "N-Next time?" Spider-Man's head snapped towards me, scurrying off the ledge so that we were both standing a few feet apart.

    "Eh, I usually pop out of nowhere when trouble starts brewing. Have a bad habit meddling too much when it does." I admitted jokingly.

    "Same here," Spider-Man uttered, rubbing the back of his head. "Look, I don't know a lot of people who do this kind of stuff, and you, you're an actual wizard.

    "As a matter of fact, I was contemplating whether or not for us to stay in contact. You're alright, definitely wouldn't mind working with you in the future. So in that case…" I tossed one of my stones towards Spider-Man, catching it no problem. "Wanna team up?"

    The question left Spider-Man flabbergasted. "C-Can you repeat that, Magic Man?"

    "I'm trying to put together a small team, one that can keep things in line," I began explaining. "It's only me and one other person at the moment. I can offer you protection and a place to work on your inventions without any trouble. You see, just because there aren't criminals running around doesn't mean all is well, there are plenty of things hiding in the shadows waiting to make their move, I'd like to be prepared when it does, as well as have trustworthy allies by my side."

    I paused to create a portal, turning once more to the hero.

    "I don't want to put any pressure, so you don't have to answer right away. Sleep on it for a while, but if you only want some help here and there, I don't mind. I'd like to have all cards on the table if we would get properly acquainted, but that's up to you. Also, if by any chance a man in a black trench coat with an eye-patch comes knocking on your door, don't let your guard down around him. Stay out of trouble, Spider-Man!"

    I waved at the spider-themed hero as I walked through a newly made portal, closing off the portal before Peter could respond.

    Turning over the corner at our library, I caught Bucky in the same position before I left. Looking up, a smirk formed on his face. "What took you so long?"

    "Actually, spent more time eating lunch than dealing with the criminal, so you tell me." I taunted back with a smile of my own, taking a book out from the large shelf and joining him.

    Now, where was I?

    Several days passed since my encounter with Spider-Man, nothing major happened since then.
    While it could be said I was rather excited when it came to training, Bucky took it to a whole new level. A good portion of the day would be dedicated to the makeshift gym or the shooting range. I decided it was best to let him be on his own to blow off some steam, and I could tell there was plenty of that. All in all, it seemed he was doing well now that he's out.

    As I worked on my new puppet's interior, I got a notification that someone was calling me from one of my stones.
    To my delight, it was the Wall-Crawler himself.

    It seems like he thought about my proposal, deciding he wanted to meet up in person.

    Initially, I was surprised to hear that he was on board, not expecting he would come to a decision so soon. Just from talking with the fellow, I could tell he became Spider-Man quite recently, a few months at most. At this stage, Spider-Man is more naïve and carefree than he should be, meaning I did a first good impression. To be honest, that man has suffered many times in many different realities, it was something I couldn't allow to happen. I find it impossible that in a majority of realities he's put in shitty situations just like that unless it's some sort of cosmic rule then I wouldn't even be surprised. I don't know if the writers for Spider-Man really enjoyed beating him with the stick over the years, all I know is that I can't stand to see that happen in this reality.

    Peter is a smart man, and a very resourceful one, but also stubborn at times. Without proper guidance and a friend by his side, he'll just repeat the same cycle other Peters have across the Multiverse. I'll have to approach him as a friend, and that's exactly what I planned on doing.

    When I asked him at what time we should meet, he responded with anywhere after three PM if possible, right after school I'm guessing. Giving me the option to pick a destination, I set up safety precautions so we won't be interrupted or seen.

    Preparing to head out, I wore a fresh pair of black jeans with red sneakers, a dark blue coat covering the grey sweater I had underneath. As for the location I picked, it's the same reason like last time, security. I made it so the specific area was completely invisible to the human eye and any potential cameras in that area. Peter would have to go through an alleyway in-between the buildings, a chained-linked fence with a door on the other end. Rolling up my sleeve slightly, I tapped the rune on my wrist to check the camera view to see if Peter showed up, and he was already there.
    Truth be told, the way he acted it made it seem like he was waiting for his drug dealer, repeatedly looking around himself, unable to stand still for more than a second. All I could do was laugh a little at the sight, if it weren't for the area being invisible then he totally wouldn't look suspicious. Speaking of which, without his mask on, I got a clean look on this universe's version of Peter. He was neither of the three actors who portrayed him in any of the live-action Spider-Man movies, not entirely that is. I could see traits from each of them on this Peter, but the hair specifically reminded me of how comic Peter would style it.

    All in all, I'm glad I can potentially team up with my favorite superhero.

    "Better not keep him waiting." I said grinning, opening a portal beneath me to fall down right next to Peter. "Yo."

    Just as I did that, he let out a yelp and instantly jumped around. "What the hell?!"

    I couldn't resist but laugh softly at his reaction. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I couldn't resist, I don't often get to do this. The opportunity was too good to pass up."

    His surprised face quickly reverted to normal. "It's you… Fulcrum-…"

    "Of course it's me, you're the one who wanted to meet up," I said grinning. "Expecting someone else?"
    Peter waved his hands rapidly. "No, no, I didn't mean it like that. You surprised me, that's all. I wasn't expecting you to just pop up out of nowhere, whatever happened to a normal approach?"

    I merely shrugged. "I honestly can't tell the difference anymore. The only thing I do that's remotely normal is cook, but I digress," Then, I extended my hand with a smile. "Ethan Chester, a pleasure to formally meet you."

    Peter accepted my handshake, with a smile of his own. "I'm Peter, Peter Parker. Nice to meet you as well!"

    "Huh, I knew you were young, but you look about my age," I commented as I broke off the handshake. "It's the voice, I thought I was talking to a High School freshman for a while."

    Peter chuckled in embarrassment. "I'm eighteen, actually," he paused momentarily. "Wait, how old are you, anyway?"

    "Nineteen, my birthday is in a few months."

    Peter nodded, shifting his focus to the ripples visible to us within the bubble. "It's just like the other day."

    "Way too convenient not to use," I commented while observing the people walking along, oblivious to our presence.

    "Can't hurt to be a little extra safe, never know when someone might be listening when they shouldn't."

    "Ah, you mentioned a little about that the other day, I wasn't quite sure what you meant." Peter exclaimed while rubbing the back of his head.

    "I don't blame you, I wouldn't either. I'll go into detail about that later if you'd like," I paused with a hand on my chin.

    "Now, I was thinking of going somewhere where we could talk more freely, but that's up to you." I offered.

    "Wait, quick question," Peter blurted out, to which I nodded. "Since you're a wizard, does that mean you live in a big wizard lair that defies any sense of logic and filled with all kinds of magical stuff?"

    "I live in an apartment complex." I replied with a straight face.


    "But I do have something similar to that." I added with another grin.

    That sparked his interest alright. "Can I see it?"

    With an eye roll I spun my hands downwards to create a portal on the ground. "Watch your step."

    Taking a single step forward, I fell down about a few feet until I easily landed on the floor of my little hideout. I took another step off to the side to let Peter have enough room, doing his signature spider landing as he jumped several seconds later. Twirling around when he stood up

    "Oh, my god. This. Is. Amazing!" Peter gushed as he looked around place, abruptly stopping when the silver snitch halted in front of his face. It opened its shell to reveal a dim blue light before quickly closing, flying away in a different direction.

    "Sorry about that, it notices when anyone or anything enters this place and gets a quick scan of it. Little feisty at times, but they get the job done. I was able get the whole library set up with their help."
    "That's a snitch from Harry Potter, isn't it?"

    "It is... only better."

    Way practical too. Aside from using them to scan anything within its sights, it can also set up strong barriers and force fields while inside this place. Their range was somewhat limited, that's why they were so easy to make, and should experiment more with them.

    "Want a tour?" I asked the energetic teen, where he replied by furiously shaking his head.

    To me, it felt so plain while giving the tour, as by now this wasn't "interesting", but Peter would jump up and down like a hyperactive child. Every new sight showcased something he would observe every corner, even asking me permission to touch some of it. I think what took the cake was when I showed him the Sol Blades when turned on, then explaining the ability to change into any type of blade. He was so excited while swinging it around, he dubbed it the Magical Lightsaber.

    The fanboying was amusing since I had the same thought while exploring magic, but not to this extent.
    Peter was more than infatuated when I showed off the training room, the vast display of possibilities for the choosing made his mouth drool a little. I nonchalantly offered him to try it before moving on, not giving him enough time to respond.

    Up next were the lengthy bookshelves surrounding the wide table, where I saw Bucky as he turned the corner. "Oh, Ethan, you're back," Bucky greeted as he caught sight of me, his eyes locking onto Peter. "Who's that?"

    "Hey Buck, right on time. This is Peter Parker, and Pete this is-"

    When I turned to look at the young genius, I was taken aback when I saw Peter's eyes wide as dinner plates with his jaw hanging. "Is… is that…?"

    Before neither of us could open our mouths, Peter sprinted towards the soldier, now standing mere inches from his face. "Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes from the second World War! It has to be! Wait, how are you alive, and why do you look so young? Weren't you like twenty-six when you joined the war? I got it, time travel. Right? Anyway, what was Captain America like?"

    While I did find the scene funny in its own right, Bucky was like a deer caught in headlights. Most likely since this is the second person he met after getting out of the ice and it just so happened to be a hyperactive teen who can talk until next week without stopping.

    I tugged on his shoulder a little, causing the brown haired boy to look at me confusingly. "Slow down, Pete. See the poor War vet can barely keep up? Go easier on him a little, okay?"

    Peter looked back at the Soldier, now realizing how uncomfortable he made them man with his bombardment of questions. "S-Sorry, got a little too excited. It's an honor to meet you, sir."

    The boy extended his hand, trying again with a more polite approach. Nevertheless, Bucky accepted the gesture. "No worries. A friend of Ethan's is a friend of mine."

    "Say, speaking about Captain America, I think you'll love what I'm about to show you, come here." I gestured Peter to follow along, Bucky joining us as well.

    With a swipe to the left, a square section of the wall moved in that direction, revealing the many containers of Vibranium neatly stacked on beside one another, with plenty more behind the front row. The sight to us two was nothing special, but I could practically hear the anticipation just by looking at him. "Question time, do you know what material is used to make Captain America's shield?"

    "Oh, Vibranium, of course. But it's an extremely rare material alloy that is known to only be found in Wakanda nowadays, but during the war Howard Stark managed to get a very small amount that was turned into a shield. It's stated that it's virtually indestructible when properly molded and in theory, be used for all-"

    I threw one of the containers at him to cut him off, his hands clinging to it so it doesn't fall on the ground. "Excellent, then you're gonna have a field day with this. I took this stash from a smuggler who's been hoarding this stuff for years. I was saving it until I figured out everything it can do, but seems like you know your stuff."

    Peter's eyes danced back and forth from Bucky to me then to the container, only letting out slight gasps each time he turned his focus.

    Bucky, for the umpteenth time, gave me a confused and questionable look while observing the teen that began spouting what sounded to him, and to a slight extension myself, gibberish that was barely comprehensible.
    "Should we be worried or...?" Bucky leaned in with a whisper.

    "Nah," I replied with a smile. "Not yet anyway."

    "I can't believe I got to meet a World War 2 veteran today! Here I thought the highlight of my day was getting an extra sandwich at lunch." Peter gushed as he followed me to our next destination. Bucky excused himself to go do his daily training session.

    "Then I'm glad I could spice up your boring Tuesday."

    "But seriously, how is he… you know, here. There has to be some story behind it, right?"

    I released a sigh at his question, no reason beating behind the bush. "There is, it's not a pretty one. Since you plan on sticking around, I feel like you should know as well," With my finger I motioned him to get a little closer, immediately picking up what I was about to say meant to be a secret. "You read the textbooks, you know the day he "died", no?"

    "Yeah, his and Captain America's final mission on stopping Hydra and ending the War. On their mission, they had to hop on a moving train, where Mr. Barns fell out while fighting the bad guys. It's stated he fell into a river, but the body was never recovered so it was presumed he didn't survive."

    "He was a hair away from death, if it wasn't for Hydra themselves. They fished him out of the river and did… experiments on him." I said remorsefully.

    "Wait… what do you mean by Hydra?"

    I went on to give a short explanation on Bucky and his relationship with Hydra, leaving out some details that weren't necessary. Peter, for the entire duration, was silent. The expression on his face said more than words could after the revelation.

    "I-I didn't know…" Peter expressed remorsefully, unable to think of any other kind of reply.

    "It's ok, nobody could have known. Just don't go heavy on the questions. I patched him up, he's good as new, but I'd still like it if he adjusts properly on his own pace."

    "I understand," Peter said solemnly. "I'll be more careful next time."

    "That's what I wanna hear," I said appreciatively. "That reminds me, what you think of this."

    As Peter turned around, his senses gave off a slight warning, his hands catching a small glowing core, the Arc-Reactor I stored all this time. Peter's eyes blinked repeatedly, unable to believe the sight of the item he was holding. "I-I-Is… is this a-an Arc-Reactor…?"

    "Indeed it is, but not of Tony Stark's design," I began explaining. "If you remember a few months back at the Stark Expo when that crazy Russian attacked, he powered all of his droids with one of these. I was lucky enough to snag one of these from their remains, always wanted one so I couldn't resist. That's where you come in, I want you to study it, figure out what makes it tick." I offered.

    Peter's eyes grew wide with excitement. "Really?"

    "Yup. I had a thing for tinkering with machines and trying to make something out of old parts but I was limited. Kinda sucked at advanced engineering and science was never one of my stronger suits. You said you were an expert at that kind of stuff, think you can do it?"

    "Well, I wouldn't say an expert but..." Peter replied sheepishly. "I mean, I wrote a couple of theories about the Arc-Reactor on how it's made and potential applications for it. In normal circumstances, it would take years to just figure out the kinks in order for it to even work. With this, I could just tear it apart and make a new foundation from there."

    With a hopeful smile, I asked. "I'll take that as a yes?"

    "Of course! There wasn't a single thing I couldn't tear apart and put it back together even better," Peter admitted excitedly, forming a downcast look at the Reactor. "But I don't have the appropriate tools to even open this up, plus finding the right equipment isn't something lying around in a scrapyard." Peter muttered while in a thinking pose.

    "Then you'll be needing this." I answered his worries by handing him a black leathered notepad.

    Taking it into his own hands, Peter examined the item. "This one of your magical books?"

    "Nope, just paper." I replied with a grin.

    Remaining quiet for a few seconds, Peter contemplated whether or not to ask a "dumb" question. "...Magical paper?"
    I couldn't resist holding in a laugh. "It is technically made with magic so I guess you can call it that," I walked a few steps towards him, gently tapping on the surface of the notepad. "I want you to write down everything you'll need to set up your own lab. Equipment, energy sources, materials, the works. Also, don't think about expense, that won't be an issue."

    Peter was speechless. "I-I don't know what to say, I mean, all the stuff I made so far is just from old machines or stuff I found lying around with nobody using them. This is something I only dreamed of doing if I ever got to the levels of Tony Stark or Reed Richards, I'm not sure if I'm capable, to be honest with you."

    "That's the insecurity talking. Believe me, I was nervous as hell when I started learning magic, I was practically at the bottom of the barrel starting from scratch. However, I knew I wouldn't get anywhere if I only thought I couldn't reach the levels of my peers." I said reassuringly. "I also know what can be achieved when the proper resources are provided to the ones who have talent. I was fortunate enough that my teacher gave me all that I needed to get on my own feet, so I would like to do the same in my own way. I told you what my plans are, and what I intend to do. The choice is yours, I'll be happy with whatever decision you make. What do you say, Peter Parker, can this sorcerer count on you?" I extended my arm with a smile.

    The teen was stunned, looking at my hand for a short period while thinking it over. "No." Peter uttered before furiously shaking his head and correcting himself, rapidly shaking my hand. "Wait, I meant yes! Got confused, sorry. Anyway, yeah, I would love to work with you. Like... I'm honestly speechless. I always wanted to go bigger than just tinker on the small table in my room, but I never thought something like this might happen. I promise I'll live up to your expectations."

    Smiling, I spoke up. "Just take your time, Pete, I look forward to seeing you in action. Think I might need some tutoring in that field so I don't get lost."

    As we finalized our agreement, Peter went into overdrive on the notebook, writing all kinds of equipment and things we may or may not need. I gave him an idea what kind of setup I'd very much like and the stuff we'll start off with.

    "Hey, would it be a problem if I made one of my dream projects first?" Peter asked pleadingly as he stopped writing.

    "And what might that be?" I asked.

    Peter stepped a bit closer to whisper his suggestion, my eyes widening slightly at what I heard. "You wanna build that?"
    The teen could shrug with a small smile as a reply.

    "You know what, my stuff can wait, go wild."

    Oh yeah, this is going to be fun.

    One lead, that's all Natasha desired at the moment.

    Her current assignment only annoyed the hell out of her. She is yet to find any concrete proof or lead on the new ghost in town. Going off of the little she knew, Natasha started at the only place where actual footage was taken. With Killian's sudden death, and his work exposed, there's a connection there but it was still thin. If anything, his death most likely was his own fault judging by the corpse.

    Natasha did some digging around Killian's facility where the video took place. For her target, it was a dead end, somewhat. The areas inside were heavily damaged, and there weren't any clues that could pinpoint her targets skillset. Whoever her target was, he at least knew how to cover up his tracks. There were no recordings or files in their servers, all of it whipped clean off. He was cautious, Natasha will give him that, but everyone slips up eventually, and this just might be her lucky day.

    While back in S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, there was a report about a person with advanced tech robbing a bank and causing havoc around the block, with two vigilantes present as well. Unfortunately, there weren't any recordings of the event as the woman who witnessed it called the police before she was interrupted and the call went silent. The description her colleague gave her, was that the street was in "ruins", but upon her arrival the area was spotless. Something wasn't adding up.

    They dispatched a unit to where the criminal was located, tied up around a light pole and was quickly taken into questioning. Natasha wasn't sure what to make of that, specifically the criminal himself. Herman Schultz, or as he likes to be called, Shocker, wasn't of any use whatsoever. Every question they asked him was met with silence or denial, making Natasha believe for a moment the nitwit was an exceptional actor to keep up a convincing poker face. When they hooked him up to the polygraph, the second round of questioning showed no results, a steady heartbeat for most of the duration, only acting up when asked about robbing the bank. Only more questions than answers arose after that little encounter.

    That begs the question, how did he do it?

    Judging by Schultz's behavior, it was like he was genuinely hearing that for the first time. It's a high possibility his memory was tampered with, he wasn't on any drugs nor does his file state about having any medical conditions. First, she'll have to confirm her suspicion if she was to move forward with her investigation. Tracking down the woman who made the call, she knocked on her door.

    "Hi, excuse me, I'm Antonia Stanovic, from NYPD," Natasha expressed while showing the lady her fake-badge, receiving several nods from the lady. "Around a quarter past five PM you reported a robbery at this address, I just wanted to ask some questions to fill a few gaps."

    "Ah, yes, I did," The woman answered with uncertainty. "But I'm not sure you're going to believe what I saw."
    Natasha merely chuckled. "Ma'am, nothing can surprise me anymore. Please, if you could provide as many details as possible it would be a big help."

    Reluctantly, the woman agreed to answer some of Natasha's questions afterwards. Besides Herman, the woman noted there were two other males present. They had some data on the first one, a vigilante with spider-like powers in what essentially is a blue and red onesie with a mask. S.H.I.E.L.D. picked up on him a few months ago, becoming more active in low-level crimes as of late. As for the second one, it's the same ghost they've been searching for weeks, the description fitting perfectly. She stated that prior to the third one's arrival, the street trashed and damaged before it was "fixed in seconds" with all three parties vanishing without a trace.

    It only confirmed one of Natasha's suspicions, Supernatural aspects were in play. She checked the woman's file just in case, so whatever she said happened most definitely did. An entire block was trashed and cleaned up within seconds, all parties disappearing afterwards.

    "How troublesome..." Natasha frowned at the total information she was able to collect. "If he's slippery as this then it's all up to chance. Unless bating him out, but that's "if" as well."

    On her way back to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, she pondered what course of action to take. There's a high likelihood he'll reveal himself if a high-level crime is underway, and when it does, they have a short window to collapse on.

    Just a little more.

    Just a little more and Natasha will be able to put all the pieces together. She does love a challenge after all.
    (Edit - I noticed/read some sentences were repeated or left unfinished. Word file bugged on me so I fixed the ones I could find.)

    That's it for Ch8. I'd like to think I covered a lot of stuff with this one. We received the Heart Shaped Herb and its benefits, as well as some new ones. I didn't want to go too long with Bast than just with his specific trial, since it's been done. I only touched a little how drastic the buffs were at the start, but Ethan's progression is coming along smoothly.
    I didn't want a too-long info dump of what he can do without much practice. So the next Chap will expand his training with a small time skip.

    Also, we added Spider-Man to the list. Nothing against MCU Spider-Man, just wanted a different version to fit my story and think can accomplish so much with it. Personally I think the movies didn't do enough justice but those are my two cents. It will be an interesting trio and look forward to writing those three more.

    Next Chap will come out faster since I know what to do plus I have already started writing it.
    The link for Discord is " www - discord gg - 328ptdwC4j", dunno if the name sucks so I'll change it if so (still have to edit some channels and customize and such). Will fix it up in the morning if anyone decides to join.

    That's all I got, till next time, cya.
    Asdercol, Levko, SIDoragon and 13 others like this.
  16. Dacraun

    Dacraun Friendly neighborhood robot

    Aug 11, 2019
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    I wonder what he'll do with his dose of Extremis.
    At least you addressed that he still has it. :p
    I wonder whag Bast made Bucky do.
    Grimmouse197 likes this.
  17. Darwin-18

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
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    Will be addressed in the next Chapter, and I didn't forget about it, just saving for the right occasion.
    Asdercol likes this.
  18. Index: Chapter 9 - Troublesome Threats

    Darwin-18 Making the rounds.

    Jun 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Chapter 9 - Troublesome Threats
    A solid month had passed since our little team was formed, and business was booming.

    In that time, we, Peter and I specifically, had set up our lab. Usually, these kinds of setups were restricted by how much space was available, and since that wasn't an issue whatsoever, Peter could constantly expand the room if needed.

    You'd be surprised how easily it was to get a hold of the needed equipment and resources, finding the right suppliers didn't take that long at all. The underworld had many options to explore, but I was only interested in assembling our lab. Some would sell to me without asking any questions, while others needed some convincing.

    People are so easily persuaded, especially when a stack of bills are being waved in front of your face. I was civil and polite, but even then some flat out refused to sell the tech to me. To my delight, those instances would be with corrupt criminals trying to keep their scheme afloat, meaning I didn't need to throw away money.

    Honestly, they should have taken the deal.

    I got him some of Stark's state-of-the-art supercomputers, which of course, he upgraded further to fit our needs. Digital displays, generators, customized tools, next-gen forge, the works. A highly advanced, and expensive, 3-D printer that went through further upgrades to fit Peter's vision, which was worth every penny. Add in an extensive chemistry set and we were set. It was like Christmas morning for Peter, and in a way, for me as well.

    Having various kinds of advanced technology and equipment made me all giddy inside. While I was initially overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff and its purposes, since this was way beyond my level of understanding in terms of tech, but I was honestly surprised when I realized how quickly I learned it all.

    By quickly, I mean almost instantaneously. I noticed some weird changes the first week after taking the Herb but didn't think much of it, only after a full month when Peter's non-stop rambling about the machines and their functions did I notice it. I was processing information way faster than before. There was no way in hell that I could learn all that stuff from the get-go and still memorize it with ease. The following month spent continuing my magical education confirmed it, I could memorize texts and pull off most spells on the first try, some with minor difficulty. Seems like the Herb granted me some more buffs I didn't even know were possible.

    Wakandans, of course, had more secret tricks up their sleeve.

    Back to our newly developed lab, it was like a view from a dream. Sleek white walls with black lines, workstations that had a similar design, and everything neatly positioned in its rightful place. It took several days of non-stop work and equipment hunting, along with magical means to speed things up, but we assembled our ideal laboratory.

    In the Arc-Reactor project, I was happy to say that we now owned a fully functional one with Peter's input. Before we (he) took it apart, several machines were built to scan it first and have a file saved just in case. While initially nervous about tinkering, Peter was elegant and precise as a doctor operating on a patient. Having the layout in front of it might be considered a cheat, Peter fully understood how it functioned, stating the "missing pieces" now made sense, while also expanding it further with his own improvements.

    Within a few days, we were able to power everything in the lab with a new and futuristic design of a miniature Arc-Reactor. We made other energy sources for other purposes, such as powering Peter's mask and recharging his gadgets.

    As for Peter in general, there was plenty to say about him.

    When he joined, I had to give him a long and detailed lesson on who our "protectors" are. Now that he was in the big leagues, it was imperative that he realized how corrupt the world was, how difficult it was to navigate in this world because of that. I made it so that his home was absolutely foolproof from anything, and I do mean anything. If S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to snoop around in the Parker residence, they'll be met with random "old lady nonsense" and no actual footage if they leave cameras. I won't have them getting any clues if they try to recruit him, we'll know the second Fury or anyone else with ill intentions shows up.

    He was a total madman, which could be considered an understatement. After his first day here, Peter spent every free minute switching between a dozen different projects. I have underestimated how big of a genius he is, within days some of the heavier projects were finished. Realizing two pairs of hands weren't enough, I made several energy constructs that do a specific task that would help out to make the process flow smoother. The computer we made was way off from being the best, but it was more than enough for the time being until more upgrades came rolling in.

    Peter was kind enough to give me a "thin" notepad full of stuff to help me learn these particular fields. It is going to be a while until I can do anything on my own, since I need to get some actual practice in to get started.

    Then we moved on to our personal favorite subject, re-imagining his suit.

    Simple pajamas weren't going to cut it, but he wasn't too optimistic for a full set of armor so we had to meet in the middle. We decided to use graphene for the suit since it was the most flexible, impermeable, and stretchable material, it was the ideal choice. Plus it fit with what Spider-Man should be; fast and agile, of course, I added my own touch with enchantments to help out with low to mid-level crimes.

    I was reluctant to agree to a red and blue colored scheme, but when I noticed our design was becoming similar to the Advanced Suit from the game, to which I went with the idea until it was identical, Peter seemed to like it as well so it's a win-win.

    For the mask, we did the same thing the MCU did, the lenses changing depending on the facial movements, adding a U.I. on them as well. The thought of creating an A.I. is both tiresome and a headache, so our solution was simple commands that would activate that specific function. It had many nifty features that would help the web-head on his day-to-day job. One of them being a device that detects cameras or any sort of device that captures video and audio to be disabled

    Of course, we also wanted various web-combinations, and there were a lot. Peter was able to improve his web-fluid formula, storing more in a single cartage and could hold more weight.

    On my end, we went on to make a simple Vibranium suit for the time being that was also infused with an Arc Reactor. With my ability to convert other energies to use for myself, I could take advantage of having a reliable source to use right on hand. I could control the amount I'd want and monitor how much goes into it.

    Also storing Kinetic Energy was an added bonus. I updated my mask to now fully resemble the Mask of Life, my nostalgia wanting to recreate it to its entirety, it was a darker shade of grey unlike before, but I preferred it this way. With a highly advanced U.I. and hacking system, alongside algorithms for different uses, it had everything I needed.
    I loosely stuck to the same training program as it was highly effective. I'd focus on a single ability and strictly focus on it until it was ingrained in my mind, revisiting it later during actual combat practice to test out plenty of variations. My Chi progress was boosted to a solid degree. With the Herb's benefits, I'd use it to its limits, greatly improving the amount of time I would need than from before to get right back up.

    With more practice, I got a better feel for it, slowly becoming more natural, it would take years to master it but with these shortcuts it was ways easier to not overwork my body. I could form constructs that would last until I said otherwise, since it's difficult to actually break it, creating various abilities for convenient uses. It took me a shorter time to channel it as well to actually use it for what I want it to. I didn't tap the full potential of it, but I will if I keep this up.

    Researching, as well as integrating a variant of Power-Bank Cells, I upgraded one of my more critical weaknesses.
    My proficiency with Dimensional Energy was getting better, but I still didn't prefer that method as I could have plenty of reserves in place, however using it for mid-level spells isn't so bad. Vibranium had many magical properties, I knew that already but actually studying it then tinkering with it provided a more thorough look. After some tweaking, I made a storage device out of it, the armor itself held the energy as well as separate units I kept hidden for safe measure.

    I made two variants, Chi Storage and Arc Storage, the latter being a name for the energy stored from the Arc-Reactor. With one naturally generating energy, all I had to worry about Chi, with it requiring me to simply meditate. The book the Ancient One gave me revealed that Chi replenishes faster if a storage system is present, the time needed to fully refill it depends on the amount and if the process is sped up. I was able to re-create some of my favorite abilities I always wanted to use, and trust me, I didn't hold back for this one.

    I explored more Elemental Magic since I wanted know way more than just water. Ice and earth were on my list with some lightning by the side, as those combination were most appealing to me. This time around, I wasn't as focused to only learn new spells, but rather buff up the ones I already know, just to have more options, which I counted as a win.

    As for Bucky...

    "Ghaaa!" Bucky roared as his newly Vibranium coated fist collided with the last eight-foot tall training dummy. "Again. I wanna try something else."

    "On it," I called out from the spectator's room with Peter while resetting the training course with a simple spell. "Three, two, one, start!"

    With a quick nod, Bucky entered a defensive position momentarily as he analyzed the sea of dummies in front of him before charging in.

    Having both the Herb and Soldier Serum, Bucky was packing some serious strength. If we were to measure raw strength, Peter and I are leagues behind. Since he was a Martial Arts Master, we would learn a whole new array of moves. Bucky advocated to teaching Peter moves that would allow him to be all over the place, fitting his style perfectly. This used Peter's abilities to quickly read the situation in front of him, expanding his options to be prepared for countless scenarios.

    That's not even including if he goes beyond his limits the more he trains.

    For me, I wanted more close combat experience, as I can mix in magic mid-way for added effects. I was able to process the lessons more fluidly, recreating the moves he taught us within the first few tries flawlessly. Just like with Peter and his notes, I was able to learn a lot faster than it would normally take.

    Over time, my body experienced slight changes after taking the Herb. I stayed at my usual five feet eleven in terms of height, my body was leaner and had almost no unnecessary body fat, now having the physique of a pro-swimmer. The abs weren't as redefined but they were perfect in my opinion for this form, my arms and legs ever so slightly increasing in muscle mass to give them their sharp appearance.

    I haven't gone to my swimming roots for at least a few years and now I achieved my ideal form I always wanted without much effort.

    That's what I call working smarter, not harder. Even though I cheated.

    The sparring sessions, while fun, could get rough at times. With Bucky, the longer the spar lasted the more difficult it was for to keep up with him, and more challenging. Peter, who has the Spidey-Sense, had a rough time when they went up against one another. It was true that Peter had no prior training whatsoever, and had trouble keeping up. Even if was well trained and achieved his feats from the comics, Bucky would still be able to stand toe-to-toe against him.

    We practiced Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Aikido and redefined some of the Kung Fu I already knew. While my body and senses were enhanced, I still very much wanted to know numerous fighting styles because not always will I be able to use my wide arsenal, plus it helped me cast spells faster, not to mention using my whole body in case I'm airborne. It was a massive help to Peter as well, using his agility and speed to the fullest as he now knew different tactics, not having to rely on pure instinct anymore.

    Peter improvised some of his own moves and started dubbing it "The Way of the Spider" the more we practiced. Of course, he would name his improvised style something like that.

    After taking care of Peter, we even managed to give Bucky an upgrade. Well it was a second metallic arm, which he was, of course, reluctant about until Peter showed him how harmless the procedure would be and he was more open to it, after he learned about every minute detail.

    We only needed a small portion of the Vibranium since we only wanted to coat it not fully recreate a limb. Just like with my own armor, I made sure to make it invisible to the Wakandan eye, as if they get a whiff of their precious metal used they will swoop down like Vultures.

    First, a simple paint job that won't have it stand out, a darker shade of white seemed to fit. Next, a very powerful Rune that covered the entirety of the arm, making it so if scanned would appear as titanium. I had to mark various locations so it would be more effective but it should do the job. I added in shields, blades, tools, the whole nine yards. I might have also given him an optic beam that might be considered overboard but you can never be sure. For safe measure, I threw in some spells for stealth and recon missions.

    His armor set was a replica of my old armor with various enchantments for the extra boost. Once we fully get UMF suits, I can only imagine what the increased durability will look like. The only field he was lacking in was in mobility, and I don't mean on the ground. On the side of his legs, we developed a small compartment that would pop out when needed, shooting out long-range wire ropes with a versatile grappling hook that can be changed depending on the scenario.

    Peter and I watched as Bucky maneuvered through the tall buildings while shooting at springing target dummies with his pistols and arm enchantments. Some would block his path but a single kick would smash through them, continuing with the momentum he slowly built up. Moving targets were no issue at all, more of an inconvenience than anything.

    Since I didn't like using the same course right after the previous one, I prepared something different for the finale.

    Landing on the floor, Bucky eyed the countless destroyed target dummies when he felt the ground shake slightly. From the wall, a twelve foot-sized stone giant stepped out, its bulky frame itself giving of a "menacing" appearance.

    The stone giant charged at Bucky, with the latter standing in place and raising his left arm to block its massive fist. It sent Bucky skidding backwards, but the punch stored a good amount of kinetic energy, the palm of his hand releasing blue vapor which indicated how much he could dish out. Preparing his own assault, the golem shot small rocks from its arms, Bucky easily evading them all.

    When in range, the golem decided to retort with its oversized fist at inhuman speed, the soldier sidestepping it and jumping, aiming for the chest. Upon contact, the whole torso exploded into tiny pebbles, the libs falling off afterward, standing triumphantly as he completed the training course for the tenth time without taking a break.

    Yup, he was now officially a one-man army.

    The amount of flexing that man could pull off without boasting too much was unreal.

    "That was amazing, Bucky!" Peter gushed when Bucky entered the spectators' room. "That's your best time yet!"

    "Still think I could've shaved off a few seconds," Bucky remarked coyly. "Just glad it's not like the first time where I almost crashed through a building when trying this thing out."

    "What do you think about the gear overall?" I asked eagerly. "It fits?"

    "Think we could increase the speed when the hooks go out, other than that, I think they're perfect," Bucky commented. "I like that you can quickly change the shape of the hook to fit the need. Feel like you already thought about the potential "jamming" issue, and the lengths it can go is pretty far, so I don't have anything else to add."

    "I'll be sure to fix that," Peter wrote down on his tablet. "If you have any other suggestions, just let me know."
    "What about the arm changes?" Are they to your liking?"

    "I was skeptical at first, but it's growing on me," Bucky rotated his arm, a lengthy blade coming out that turned into a shield. "It immediately responds when I give it a command, and I have to focus for it to activate so it doesn't accidentally turn on when I don't want it to. I could get used to this."

    "I'm glad," I said but remembered to mention a crucial detail. "This is just the stuff I thought might fit with your fighting style, so we can make additional changes along the way if you'd like them. I threw in some other enchantments that might be useful for silent or non-combat situations."

    Bucky nodded. "I noticed. I wanna get used to it first before adding more stuff, but I'll make sure to try out everything before I let you guys know. But until then…"

    Bucky's hands towards the plate of bagels I baked, taking one, two, then half of them, making his way towards the door while stuffing his face, his lips forming into a faint smile before walking out. "Gotta refuel."

    Seeing as he didn't need much additional help, the two of us went back to talking about a new invention we had in mind. While Peter and I were looking over the prints for our new invention, a loud and intense beeping noise came from the computer. Rushing towards it, Peter was the one to take the helm, a shocked expression forming not soon after getting on.

    "Woah, is this even possible?" Peter asked in awe as he rapidly checked the scanners over and over.

    "What is it? What kind of situation are we lookin' at?" I asked for him to elaborate a bit hurriedly.

    "A… absurd amount of Interdimensional Energy sparked on the East Side of Manhattan. Like, this kind of energy doesn't just pop up by regular means."

    Furious typing at the keyboard presented numerous camera views of the location of the source of it all.

    The Baxter Building.

    Somehow, I'm not surprised.

    Flipping open the Codex on the page where a 3D view of New York formed in yellow color, zooming in the Buildings location until it was visible from all sides. Waving my arms, from top of the building a transparent barrier started forming, rapidly surging down until it reached the ground. This particular form of barrier isn't for protection as much as they are used as cover, one for blocking off the energy radiating from within the building, making it appear normal like it was several minutes ago.
    Seeing that Peter eyed me curiously as well in anticipation for an explanation. "A barrier that prevents any scanners from picking this up. We better head over there to see what's going on."

    "That's the home of Reed Richards, possible that an experiment gone wrong?" Peter theorized.

    I shrugged for a reply, unsure what antics Marvel's First Family might be up to, but it's certainly a safety hazard if this is going on. Signaling Bucky from the training room to stay in gear, Peter and I quickly suited up as well, meeting up around the library table. I gave him a quick rundown of what's going on and for him to be prepared just in case. When all of our masks were on, I opened a portal on top of the Baxter Building.

    Placing my fingers on the ground, I went to see what was going on in there. From my perspective, I could visually see from multiple angles from within the building, the main focus point coming from within their lab.

    I could faintly see the Fantastic Four all located in the same room, but I focused on the others present. They were thin purple humanoid creatures with a mix of insect and crab-like features, two sets of arms, seven feet tall and a set of lengthy insect wings, alongside two fangs on the sides of its mouth. Their whole body were covered in armor with the same color, only small openings between the joints.

    "Dozens of "lifeforms" down below, definitely not human, and more keep popping up." I informed quietly.

    "Not human? What's that supposed mean?" Bucky asked.

    "You'll see in a moment." I spoke while standing up and opening another portal

    Going through, we entered a high-tech laboratory with pure white walls with black accents, several pieces of equipment were utterly destroyed while portions were left undamaged. There was a wide portal opened in the backend, the beams used to stabilize it going haywire as more bugs passed through. As our three forms met the eyes of the Fantastic Four, a mix of worry and anticipation on their faces.

    Speaking of which, I got a clear view of this universe's Fantastic Four. It may have been just me, but I couldn't ignore the resemblance as they were similar to the animated series of the early two-thousands, slightly adjusted but it was uncanny.

    Again, this reality is weird.

    "Oh, great going, Reed!" The Human Torch spoke, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he pointed his arms towards us. "You invited more problems to our building."

    In that moment of letting his guard down, and with Susan losing focus on her force fields, a few bugs slip through, going for a sneak attack at Johnny. Flicking my wrists, a green spell ring formed, sending it towards him that diverged into three small rings that flew faster once they did. They passed beside him by a few inches, slicing off the heads of the bugs that were behind him. Looking at the carcasses with surprised faces, he and the rest of the team shared a similar expression this time around.
    "We're here to help," I spoke calmly while preparing my next spell. "Or to do pest control."

    Slamming my open hand onto the floor, sending a singular ripple-like effect of a transparent blue wave throughout the building, more so specifically the sections the Fantastic Four own. Aside from negating sound and appearance from the inside, it reinforces the walls and floors so the bugs can't break out of the building. Susan was able to keep most of the force field up, until a bug swooped from the side towards her, using her powers to shield herself but losing focus on keeping the barrier up.
    Once it was down, the bugs were free.

    Peter and Bucky immediately jumped into action, going for the insects closest to them. The Fantastic Four didn't bother asking questions, only focused on taking out the invaders.

    "Who are you people?" Reed asked as his neck stretched from his body until his head was close to mine.

    "Name's Fulcrum, and we don't have much time for introductions, Mr. Richards," I spoke hastily while sending a spell ring to cut down an approaching bug. "Back on topic, all we have to do is close that portal, right?"

    "Yes, that would be correct, but-"

    "Good," I said pleasingly as I turned to the portal, opening my hand to prepare my attack. "I have just the thing to close-"

    "No!" Reed yelled out, scratching until he was in front of me. "You can't destroy it! If you do, it could incinerate the entire building in instant, at worst a few city blocks! It has to be manually shut down to not risk any potential malfunctions with the system!"
    "Well, that's reassuring…" I thought sarcastically. "Then how do we fix this?"

    "To minimize the damage, we have to manually shut it down. The risk of destroying it is too high." Reed explained hurriedly.
    Before I replied, I jumped with a red spell ring in hand to cut the bug coming from above in half, throwing it towards Reed who sliced off the bug that was coming behind him. "How long will it take you to do it?"

    "With all these distractions…" Reed said gloomily, examining the growing chaos. "I'm not entirely sure…"

    "I see, then I'll get you an extra pair of hands," I turned my focus to Peter who webbed two bugs simultaneously with Johnny burning them to a crisp. "Spider-Man!"

    Catching his attention, he immediately swung over to us. "I need you to help Mr. Richards close off that portal."

    Reed instantly intervened. "This is a delicate piece of highly advanced technology, I am the only one who can properly operate-"
    Spotting three dots in the corner of my eye, I threw my fist to the side and gripped it tightly, crushing three approaching bugs with Chi Strings that quickly formed around them. "I know we've just met, and given the situation time is scarce enough as it is. But trust me, this man right here is capable of assisting you, just get him up to speed."

    Reed was reluctant, rightfully so if I might add. However, one glance to the side was proof enough that there wasn't time to debate, nor to waste said time. "Have you ever operated an interdimensional teleportation device before?"
    Spidey turned towards me momentarily. "No… but I catch on quickly." Spider-Man said with confidence.

    Another wave of wariness spread across Reed's face, not convinced in the slightest. "Follow me…"

    As the two geniuses went to the control panel, I had to provide them some cover. While the area was slowly getting a little overcrowded, more and more bugs went towards the shredded doors, wandering into the floors below. Taking out then swiftly throwing a Barrier Crystal at the main control panel, it expanded just enough to allow them to work without any concern.

    Afterwards, I formed a familiar green-jaded orb that released several beams of the same color that targeted the bugs, the lab becoming somewhat less occupied for the brief moment until more arrived, just to give the Fantastic Four some breathing room.

    "Nomad, you guard Mr. Richards and Spider-Man just in case," I called out to him while all of their attention was on me. "Countless of these insects went to the floors below, we have to take care of them as well."

    "Aww shit! If they get into my room I'm going to lose it!" Johnny yelled out in worry, clutching his head as he descended.

    "Of course you would only care about your room…" Susan dissed him as followed right behind him, turning towards me. "

    "They'll be fine," I reassured her. "That barrier can't be broken so easily, besides, my teammate can keep them safe until that portal's closed."

    "I'll stay behind and help out," Ben spoke while squashing an insect's head with his large hand. "They're annoying, that's for sure, but they're no match for us."

    I nodded in confirmation, gesturing the siblings towards the wide exit. "Lead the way."

    Giving birth to flames that covered his whole body once more, the Human Torch blasted off. Using her powers, Sue created a wide enough platform for two, quickly motioning towards her that I didn't need it.

    With the green light, Sue flew off as well, in hot pursuit for her brother, I formed a Chi Step to follow her. Since I had faith in Bucky and knew The Thing won't be easily taken out, I made an energy construct that grew in size until it fits the destroyed door frame, preventing any more from getting out.

    "They just keep coming." Bucky uttered lowly as he pulled out his blade from a bloody carcass.

    "Yeah… too bad they're severely outnumbered." Ben spoke confidently.

    In that instance, dozens of more insects crossed through the portal. Only these ones seemed more aggressive than the last batch.

    "I don't think your math checks out…" Bucky muttered with the slightest hint of sarcasm.

    "Ask me again after I bust a few heads," Ben spoke with a slight grin. "It's clobberin' time!"

    Just as Ethan went his way with the remaining members and blocking off the door, Bucky observed the… rock man beside him as he charged in first, with Bucky following right after him. Due to the only exit now blocked off, they would have to swiftly execute as many bugs as possible and repeat the action until the portal disappears.

    Within mere seconds, the monstrous insects once again began swarming the room that was slowly getting a little crowded. A few quick punches would sometimes do the trick, but as more crossed the portal Bucky needed to find an alternative solution. The insect's skin that acted like armor while resilient, didn't protect them from their blows in the slightest, easily cracking it and breaking several bones in the process.

    Even so, they wouldn't yield, going back for more until their bodies couldn't take anymore, losing limbs felt like a minor inconvenience to them. They were fast and agile, but there was strength in numbers.

    A weakness. Everything has a weakness, all he has to do is find it.

    As Bucky took out the ones in front of him, his senses warned him to react from behind, rotating so that his Vibranium elbow would counter the sneak attack. Getting a better look at the insect he just elbowed, Bucky noted the abnormal behavior it experienced, its body rapidly shaking with no signs of stopping, dropping to the floor while it shook until it stopped moving entirely. Looking at the area Bucky hit it, it left a decent hole with green liquid slowly dripping out.

    "Right side, close to its upper arm, most likely a few inches away from its shoulder blade." Bucky used the split second to theorize the plausible weakness, deciding it was best to hit the same spot.

    Reaching to his left side on his hips, the handgun coded onto it materialized, quickly taking it out and aiming for the nearest insect. Unloading a single round at the same location, it pierced through its armor-like skin with ease, causing it to have the same jittery behavior like the previous one, only it lasted way shorter and dropped dead after about two seconds.
    Oh yeah, he found it.

    With the newfound information, Bucky kicked into overdrive, forming a lengthy blade on his augmented arm. His movements were mostly a few steps forward while rotating constantly, shooting the insects in the back row while slashing the ones that were close range. The body count ramped up quickly when prioritizing their weak spot, but even then they just kept coming.

    Looking over to the… rock person, Bucky saw a huge horde surrounding him, swaying his arms all over but his fist would hit an insect it would just get right back up. Selecting the targeting system, Bucky raised his left arm, several crosshairs appearing where his iris would focus on the insects, as well specifically setting it so it doesn't target the orange rock fellow. Not a second later, three individual Vibranium blades in the shape of a V flew from the surface of his arm, rapidly rotating around Ben as the insects fell one by one, a single survivor fighting to get back up.

    "Prioritize a few inches left from their upper right arm, that's their weakness." Bucky informed Ben, placing a bullet at the crawling insect at the spot in question before moving on.

    Looking down at the carcass, Ben noted the exact area where the bullet pierced its skin. Hearing another one flying down from the side, he aimed his fist for the supposed weakness. Upon landing the punch, several bones from within the insect, managing to land on its feet while shaking like crazy, dropped dead not a second later.

    "Heh, easier than smacking them over the head."

    Even though I had to prioritize eliminating the interdimensional insects, I couldn't ignore the sights along the way. The Baxter Building lived up to its reputation, which was a given. The portal was opened on the last floor, so the four floors below it were completely infested.

    "If we don't stop all of them soon, they'll get to the other residents of the building." Sue proclaimed as her force field crushed several insects.

    "Mr. Collins will definitely kick us out this time if he finds out." Johnny uttered grimly at the thought, almost getting hit in the face by one of the creature's appendages.

    "You won't have to worry about that," I said reassuringly, shooting multiple targets with Chi Bullets from the tip of my index finger. With the small moment of peace, the twins looked at me with a confused expression. "I reinforced the floors you own with a spell so the bugs don't break out by any chance. They can't get out by any means."

    "Wait! A spell!?" Johnny's head snapped away from his targets. "You're a wizard!?"

    "Focus Johnny!" Sue yelled at her younger brother, annoyed by how easily he can lose focus.

    "Geez, sorry… just making conversation." Johnny uttered somewhat bitterly, scorching the remains of a still alive insect crawling on the floor.

    "There are in almost every room, we should slip up to cover more ground!" Sue advised, with Johnny and I simply nodded as we went off in different directions.

    Since they "somewhat" trusted me, I opted to go with a simpler method of cleaning house. Channeling my Chi, I constructed a second set of arms that formed from both my infraspinatus respectively. I could place them on any part but from the back is most beneficial in case a "sneak" attack happens. Besides, I like them more in this position. My newly set slammed their fists, red spell rings forming on each one respectively.

    Taking out my Sol Blades, I crossed them to form an X, giving birth to the all familiar yellow blades. When ready, I dashed forward at immense speed, aiming for the larger group. They seemed to spot me approaching them, each snarling as the insects flew in my direction. I jumped when I got close, rapidly spinning so the blade sliced off dozens of body parts, a good portion biting the dust. I created a Chi Step beneath me, propelling in a different direction to slash away more insects. I maneuvered my body to rotate around when I would reach the wall, doing the same tactic again and again.

    The speed difference only increased with each Step I made, blitzing all over the large area with body parts and light-green blood splattered everywhere. My armor was more than capable of protecting me, but the spell rings added an extra layer of defense while finishing off the ones behind me. Some insects with only the upper half of the bodies moved around, another slash needed to do the trick.

    Hearing the Human Torch scream at the top of his lungs, I dashed through the hallway with great speed, turning a corner to the open dining room. I saw countless of them swarming the blond, coming from all sides with his flames becoming barely visible. Creating a fairly large yellow sphere around him and the insects, I yelled. "Go as hot as you can! The sphere won't break!"

    Seeing as the message got through, Johnny did as he was instructed, the sphere now resembling a miniature sun. After the light died down, all that could be seen was the Human Torch as his flames died down, my spell wearing off as well.

    "Oh… my… god…. I owe you big time," Johnny uttered with a scared expression as he landed. "I thought they were gonna eat me alive."

    "Don't mention it," I reassured him, giving him a hand to stand up. "But we still have more lurking around, we better not waste any time."

    I dashed off to search the other rooms, with Johnny following right behind me. There were a considerably less amount than a few minutes ago, and since the door of the lab is closed off, we must be closing in on the remaining few. When we reached the opposite end of the building, we found Sue holding off a swarm of them, somewhat struggling to keep them at bay.

    When she was in our sights, Johnny and I helped her by taking out the outer layer of insects, allowing her to dissolve her force field than making numerous spheres that crushed the rest around her.

    "Okay, that has to be the last of them, right?" Johnny asked irritatedly.

    Before either of us could give a reply, a smaller insect burst through from one of the doors down the hall. It didn't get the chance to move very far as a spell ring sliced off its head, another carcass added to the scoreboard.

    "Now it is." I said simply, not picking up any more on my sensors so it means we were in the clear.

    "Finally," Sue groaned while stretching her arms. "Hope Reed was able to close off that portal, I don't want to see those insects ever aga-"

    "No!" Johnny yelled at the top of his lungs, slightly pushing Sue as he ran down the hall at inhuman speed, stopping when he reached the room in question. About a dozen different emotions went through his mind as his legs started to shake slightly, falling to his knees in defeat with his jaw hanging.

    Approaching his kneeled form, I took a peek inside, taking in the view of the "used to be" room the blond lived in. It was… unrecognizable at this point, all of his possessions torn to shreds with a framed NFL poster being the only thing that was left untouched, until it fell moments later with the glass breaking.
    Soft whimpers could be heard as Johnny could do nothing more but look at his destroyed room. While the scene could be considered remorseful, Sue couldn't help but release a faint laugh that she tried to tone down.

    I, on the other hand, had absolutely no control of the sentence I was about to say as it came out purely on instinct rather than anything else. "That's rough, buddy."

    As if that was the final nail in the coffin, Johnny was sent off the edge, making sounds akin to a dying animal that quickly switched tones with each passing second.

    Should I tell him I can fix it right now, or wait a little?

    "That ended… surprisingly well."

    Reed uttered apologetically as he looked around his work station that was filled with body parts, organs, and insect blood.

    "I think your definition of "surprisingly well" has a different meaning compared to us, Stretch." Ben commented as he cleaned off the liquid from his body.

    "At least you still have all your stuff in one piece." Johnny huffed, making Reed cringe once more.
    After we cleared the four floors below, Reed and Peter managed to cut the cord of the portal not long after, with Bucky and Ben finishing off the remaining ones in the lab. I followed the twins back to where it all began, still yet to ask for my name or anything, most probably to check if their teammates were that was their main priority. After recuperating, each took their respective jabs at Reed for his "miss-calculation" while I checked up on Peter and Bucky.

    When the blame game was over, Reed approached us with a face of gratitude. "Thank you, from me and my team's behalf, you saved us a lot of trouble. But who are you people, how did you know what we were doing?"

    "I didn't, I just noticed an abundance of Interdimensional Energy happening a few blocks away from us," I said in a comedic yet serious tone, taking off my mask to properly introduce myself. "Ethan Chester, a pleasure meeting you in person, Mr. Richards. I have to ask, is this… a regular occurrence around here? An invasion from another dimension involving insect-like aliens, sounds like a terrible way to spend an afternoon."

    Reed scratched the bag of his head sheepishly. "For the most part… no, it isn't like that."

    "Sure," Ben rolled his eyes. "It's only a couple of dozen other ways we risk our lives on an almost daily basis, so it's a regular Friday for us. The bug thing is new."

    Susan groaned as she spun around. "I know I should be thankful nobody got hurt, but cleaning this mess will be a nightmare."

    "Since we're here, might as well help out." I chimed in, a few hand gestures making my fingers glow before my spell went off.

    What once was a mess with green blood, limbs and broken objects, slowly started to rewind. Aside from everything insect-related, which was incinerated to leave no trace, the environment started to revert to how it was just a few minutes before the portal opened. With that part excluded from the cleaning process. The Fantastic Four, with the exception of Ben, ducked as object after object flew around them until everything came to a screeching halt. The heroes looked in wonder as the lab that was in ruins moments ago, was fully repaired in less than a few seconds.

    "There, that should do it." I said leisurely while dusting off my hands.

    Reed was the first to speak up, albeit with some slight confusion. "I… wh-… how did you do that?"

    "Just like you and your team, we have a bag of tricks of our own, Doctor Richards." I replied with a grin. "I took the liberty of not just cleaning up your lab but all the floors under the ownership of the Baxter Foundation. No need to thank me."

    Before anyone could reply, Johnny beat them to it. "Wait… all floors?!"

    The blonde then dashed towards the door, with a single worry on his mind.

    "Anyway…" Reed said trailing off. "I don't know how you did that, but you have my gratitude."

    As I was about to respond, someone beat me to it.

    "[Excuse me, Doctor Richards,]" A smooth robotic voice called out, to which I assumed it was their A.I. "[Director Fury is on the line, I assume it's because of the influx of energy from the experiment you conducted. Several lower rank S.H.I.E.L.D operatives tried contacting us, but I sent them to voice-mail since you were rather…occupied at the time. I would advise answering to not cause any further suspicion.]"

    Oh, Fury, of course he would do that.

    "Now that I think about it, there is something you could do for us," I stopped Reed before he could get to his computer. "Keep our services to yourselves, and I'll make sure that New York almost being invaded by insects is kept on the down-low. I'm not in the mood to deal with Fury and his crap."

    "You know him?" Reed said, a hint of surprise in his voice.

    "Not directly, never met the guy and don't plan meeting him for a while, but I know he's a pain in the ass, if you catch my drift."

    Understanding what I implied, Reed nodded as he went to his workstation, picking up a small earpiece as he told the A.I. to connect him through.

    Sue alongside Ben approached us. "Since you know us, I'd like to properly meet you all without the masks."
    Giving them both the okay, they removed their masks. It was the Fantastic Four after all, and I'd like to work with them in the future. After a few quick exchange of names, Ben walked towards Bucky.

    "Thanks for the tip back there, already have enough bug goo in my ears as it." Ben extended his hand to Bucky, to which he accepted.

    "Don't mention it, I know you would have done the same." Bucky replied in a similar tone.

    "Now that we're all acquainted, since you saved us from a whole lot of cleaning and money for repairs, the least we can offer is lunch, no?" Sue offered politely.

    "Oh, I could go for some lunch." Peter perked up cheerfully.

    "Sure, why not," I agreed with the notion.

    "As long as it isn't chicken, I'm fine with it." Ben commented with a huff.

    "Okay, that's taken care of, they won't bother us with the new security system I installed last week," Reed was about to continue until his eyes landed on Peter. "Wait... a High-School freshman helped me close a portal to the Negative Zone?"

    "Junior, actually." Peter corrected him, much to Reed's bewilderment.

    Before Reed could ask further questions, Johnny came in running, seemingly with equal energy when he left. "It's actually there! Exactly how I left it!" Johnny said with a wide smile before it quickly changed into a frown. "Wait… you could've done this earlier and you didn't say anything?!"

    "You were having a moment," I expressed sheepishly. "If I did it right then and there, I was positive you would literally explode if you witnessed that right after seeing it in ruins."

    Johnny wanted to protest, a mix of smiling and angered expressions. "Dude, I love you, but seriously, not cool…"

    "So wait…" Johnny interrupted the discussion, shaking his head in disbelief. "You were in World War 2 with Captain America!? Dude, please tell me you have something that belonged to him, it would go wild on eBay!"

    "Can it, Flame Breath!" Ben nudged the blond beside him, almost knocking him out of his chair, much to his annoyance.

    After the near-Insect Invasion, the Fantastic Four insisted that we stay for lunch, a small token of appreciation for our help. Reed was able to hold off Fury from snooping around the building, stating it was a slight "error" in the experiment that was quickly resolved. Since I prevented the energy readings as soon as they appeared, it can be seen as nothing more than fluke. I learned that the F4 didn't like Fury very much either, but I low-key made subtle contingencies just in case. To some of their questions, I answered but vaguely, as I still thought keeping some secrets were necessary.

    After closing the portal, Peter and Reed bonded almost instantly. The rest of us let them be, seeing as they would speak so fast they would finish each other's sentences, while also talking "business" while they ate. Bucky and Ben seemed to be getting along, with Johnny chiming in every now and then. They were debating who had the higher kill count, but also commending each other on their fighting styles.

    Being seated right to Sue, I had someone to pass the time with.

    "Genetic research, huh?" I said with interest while rubbing my chin.

    Sue stiffed an awkward laugh. "Yeah, a bit boring, I know."

    "No, no," I waved my hand quickly. "I didn't mean it like that. I actually find it to be rather interesting. I only know some basics of it to be honest, but I'd like to learn more about it in the future. I'm planning on doing some research on it since I have an interest in medicine, so I wouldn't mind getting some insight from an expert."

    "Medicine, huh," Sue hummed while taking a sip of her drink. "Not to sound rude, but with magic, isn't that supposed to be rather simple?"

    I laughed softly at her blunt observation. "While true, it's a bit more complicated than that. You see, I can't just open shop with literal "magic healing" on the brand, I'd imagine it would be a PR nightmare. Besides that, it is possible to apply what I learned to actual medicine, with a few of my own tweaks to not cause any suspicion.

    "I see," Sue rubbed her chin. "So in theory, any injury or disease can be cured, while also being considered "regular" medicine?"

    "That's the gist of it," I replied leisurely. "I haven't outlined all the details just yet, but it's a passion project I'd like to see become a reality at one point in the future. It would set a new standard for modern medicine, as well as erase all health-care problems humanity faced up until now."

    "Just whatever you do, make sure you patent it, and I mean everything," Sue put extra emphasis at the end of her sentence. "I couldn't tell you how many issues we faced early on because of that. If you don't make sure the paperwork is in order, then the leaches start showing up with all sorts of "legal issues" and that's not including if someone tries stealing your ideas."

    "Oh, trust me, I won't allow that to happen."

    The two of us went back and forth on the subject, while also jumping to various topics as more time passed. It was a pleasure talking with Sue, since out of the four members, I'd say was the most level-headed and talented person among them. I hope in the future I can approach her with several work ideas I had in mind, ones that would definitely fit her skillset.

    After a while, Reed stood up and motioned Peter to follow him.

    "What are you two up to?" Sue asked with a raised eyebrow, already knowing the answer.
    "A-Actually, there's something in the lab I want to show Peter. I promise I won't be too long." Reed stated awkwardly.

    Peter gave me a quick look, practically asking if he can go, to which I simply nodded. Might as well let the geniuses have at it, doubt there's anything wrong with allowing Peter to look into Reed's work. If anything, it might be a bonus for us.

    "Hey, I wanted to ask you about an idea." Johnny cut in while Sue was talking. The next several minutes were spent with the blonde spitting out random and somewhat "interesting" ideas to create until Sue finally had enough.

    "You know, it wouldn't kill you to use your talents for something worthwhile, or to make an actual difference in the world." Sue exclaimed with a bored expression.

    "Look, I'm not saying using it for medicine is a bad thing, however, maybe making a state-of-the-art supercar that's virtually indestructible, I'd definitely invest in something like that." Johnny said optimistically.
    Sue released an exhausted sigh, pinching her nose. "Honestly, Johnny, are you ever going to grow up?"

    "Actually, that doesn't sound like a bad idea." I uttered in an amused tone, acting like I was thinking it over.
    Johnny's face lit up with hope and excitement, while Sue looked at me with the most "are you serious" face I've ever seen, causing me to chuckle at their reactions.

    "Hey, who said I can't do both?" I asked genuinely. "But let's go one at a time. Now, back to what we were discussing-"

    Meeting the Fantastic Four was a rather fun experience if you ignore the almost interdimensional invasion that would happen if we haven't intervened.

    The only one I was concerned about was Mr. Fantastic himself. Unlike the rest of the team, I couldn't get a proper idea of how this Reed ticks, which troubles me quite a bit. I don't even want to think what kind of version this will be, because this can either be "decent" or very problematic, with neither option being an ideal one.

    On our end, Peter had to excuse himself for a few days, spending a majority of last month with us he couldn't devote that much time to spend with Aunt May. Since he had an easier time with his patrols, I assured him to take an extra break, only going out during the nights.

    I was sitting cross-legged at my chair in front of the massive screen, having numerous tabs open to multitask on. Bucky was a few rows beside me, on his own computer where he focused on the Hydra dilemma and tried digging anything up that involved "suspicious" activity. All in all, it was a peaceful day inside the base.
    Hearing a low beeping sound, I looked to the source, being the monitor that displayed the entire map of the US, a red ripple above St. George, Utah. It seemed to be a private residence in the outskirts of town.
    Fully focusing on the ping, I switched to the tab that allowed me to access any security camera in the area, as well if any radio frequencies, only to get nothing. Static feeds area in question, with the only frequency being numerous Police reports but they had no idea what was going on.

    Letting out a low whistle, Helix flew from his resting place to swiftly land on my forearm, head tilted with curiosity.

    "Mind goin' over there and take a look-see?" I asked my small, black-feathered friend as his head snapped towards the screen, then to the 3-D zoomed-in version I made to show him first hand. Giving me a cheerful chirp as a reply, Helix was good to go. Opening a bird-sized portal, he was off.

    Leaning back, all I could do for now is wait.

    "Something wrong?" Bucky asked, leaning onto the edge of the table.

    "Have a strong feeling about it," I replied back, my eyes firmly set on the location where the notification popped up. "I just hope it isn't anything too troublesome."

    "If these guys can easily hack into these systems and leave no trail, we have a serious issue on our hands." I thought, only able to theorize for the time being. "My only question is what were they after?"

    Digging through the files of profiles/information within St. George, I looked up the resident who lived in the residence that was trashed. The house was bought a few months ago, by the name of James Arthur Madrox, or as I knew him, Multiple Man. Aside from basic information, it didn't state he was mutant, so whoever showed up knew beforehand.

    I also found out that most of the town experienced power outages or had various equipment acting haywire, the same time when the house was raided. Seeing as I couldn't get more from the computer, I waited until Helix returned.

    I trained him a bit to utilize other spells to investigate and get all variables from the crime scene. The house, while trashed and filed with police, only had slash marks on some walls and on the ground. In terms of evidence, the place was spotless, by no normal means were they able to gather anything.
    Luckily, I have other means.

    While he was still there, I told Helix to get a hold of anything the mutant touched, used or ate that had some of his DNA. Since the window was open, with the trashcan right next to it, Helix swooped in to snag an old chicken leg, the police not batting an eye when it happened. Due to my enhanced smell, I shivered at the foul odor while putting on some gloves. Taking a small chunk of it, I proceeded to do an almost identical spell Dr. Strange used to locate Odin in Ragnarok. Stretching the meat like rubber, the familiar gold sizzling sparks appeared as I mixed it around, its final form resembling three rings all connecting.

    I didn't plan on teleporting right in wherever that might be, I need to scout the place out beforehand. The location appeared in the Codex, then going over to the computer to see the coordinates. It was somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains, without any device able for me to access.

    To not get on their radar, I was a few thousand miles away before even doing anything, while not even being physically there, casting a spell that would scan the underground until I told it to stop. The thing about magic, it all depends on the amount of energy you use, which means it can either be plain as day or undetectable if it goes slow. My gut was telling me to not take any chances, as mutant hunters are dangerous, so being careful was necessary.

    When it got to the mountain in question, I realized who I was dealing with.

    "The U-Men." I thought bitterly when I saw them.

    When the area of it materialized, the dark-blue armored suits were more than enough for me. Out of all the groups I could've come across, these were the worst kind. Instead of dealing with humanity, they primarily seek out mutants to experiment while taking their X-Gene, implanting the samples into themselves to gather more power. To become physically superior over humanity by essentially becoming mutants, by any means. Even though they aren't a threat to humanity right now, they definitely will be in the future if not dealt with. I knew there were numerous mutants inside, I wasn't sure how many but I'll know soon enough.

    It wasn't easy, but I managed to find out their base, or one of them at least, a "rough" layout of the inside. I spent the next few hours doing extensive research for the people responsible, not wasting a single second, recalling as much knowledge I knew about them to be sure. I had to take extra precautions to not sound any alarms, strictly using my own skillset so be elusive. By a sheer of good luck, I wasn't noticed but wasn't able to get a full idea how their base looked like. The risk of getting spotted was too much, so I played it safe to be sure.

    I was at a crossroads, this was high exposure if we made a slip up, but on the contrary, for a mutant, this was a fate worse than death. Being poached and picked apart by supremacists, especially by the likes of the U-Men.
    However, if I properly set up a strategy that fully takes advantage of our capabilities, we'll be in and out before reinforcements arrive. Of course, I'll foil any safety measures they have when we come marching in.
    Narrowing my eyes, I eyed the location while leaning back in my chair. "I'm coming for you assholes."

    "Gentlemen, a moment, if you don't mind," I spoke up with a serious tone, catching both Peter and Bucky's attention. "We have a situation that requires our immediate attention."

    The two shared a glance before turning back to me, strengthening themselves in their seats with their focus set on hearing what I had to say.

    "If you recall, I gave you both a file centered on mutants. I trust you've looked over it?"

    "Yeah, I have," Bucky confirmed. "There was quite a lot to go over, but I understand the gist of it."

    "Same here, but what does that have to do with anything?" Peter asked questionably.

    "For this, everything," I turned to the widescreen, typing away until the file I recently made containing the U-Men and all the information I had on them. I dug through my mind to collect whatever info I could remember that might be useful.

    Bucky and Peter took a minute to go over the file's contents before I spoke up. "Let me introduce you to the U-Men, a transhumanist group and major Anti-Human bigots," numerous photos of the soldiers in action."Their profession, capturing and experimenting on Mutants. While observing the soldiers, I noticed each had different powers, meaning their X-Gene manifested. Although, with the ties and technology they have, it's very possible they acquire the X-Gene from the mutants they captured."

    "Experimenting on them..." Bucky grimaced, but wanted to know more. "Do they have any connections? Resource supplies?"

    "That's still a bit in the dark, to be honest," I admitted. "I'd wager they have enough to be on their own, as for past ties I'd like to get my answers from them personally."

    Peter, who was unusually silent, spoke up while leaning onto the table. "How many people have they captured?"

    "Can't tell yet, they have multiple bases so it's difficult to say," I answered. "Right now, we should focus on the one we know of. I managed to get a layout of it, albeit I was extra careful to not set off any alarms. If they have the slightest idea that someone is lurking around, I would assume they jump to kill if it's disrupting their goal."

    "What's the plan?" Bucky asked.

    "Rescue mission," I replied while zooming in on the schematics of the base. "Our priority is getting the Mutants to safety, as well as taking out a small portion of their numbers. Our armor is superior to theirs and I already came up with a few countermeasures to deal with them. We'll teleport in the room where they're keeping the Mutants so we won't have to worry about them. I'll use my spells to disrupt their sensors and such. Peter, I want you to find the main computer and see if you can access their files, it's vital we get more info on these guys if there are more of them. Bucky and I will cover you, as once we go in we're gonna get swarmed."

    I went into more detail on the individuals with the powers I identified. I didn't forget the possibility that they kept some powers hidden since multiple X-Genes in one host is highly plausible. In raw strength, we can outmatch them, actually I think Bucky can do that on his own. We memorized the base's layout, then began suiting up. Too much time was already wasted and every minute that passes could mean a mutant is experimented on or possibly even dies.

    Once we were ready, we met up around the table of the library, quickly going over our plan one more time.

    "Alright people, look sharp." I called out to the two, receiving a nod from each of them.

    I inhaled, then exhaled, taking a moment before we jumped in. When the portal was made, we were greeted to a dimly lit room, spotting several of the U-Men who were still in gear, standing in front numerous mutants chained to the wall with metallic collars around their necks. Bucky was the first to charge in, the first soldier that turned around received a fist to the head, the mask shattering from the blow. As the first one fell, all the others turned to face us.

    One of the soldier's arms went wide, giving birth to wild red fire, I saw the move coming from a mile away, restricting the flames from growing. Flicking my wrists, I made two layers of Chi to cover his arms, crushing his arms not a second later. Spidey jumped forward, kicking the same person in the chin, leaving a good dent in it. To finish off the last two, Bucky fired an optic beam the closest one while I summoned metallic hands from the wall to the other one, then Bucky flew over to finish him off.

    I took out a single Silver Snitch, reprogrammed it to do a different purpose, memory whipping. Quickly going about the room, it did its job in less than ten seconds while Peter went to help the victims. Looking at all the mutants present, I noted some were in better shape than others. My mask put up all their profiles, but one stuck out to me.

    Alexander Summers.

    It seemed that he was fighting to stay conscious. While we removed their restraints, I used a quick healing spell, just enough to help them out. "We will be with you shortly, we have to make sure nobody else is trapped here."

    Before moving the newly created portal to send them back to our base, Alex spoke up. "T-There are t-two others, they took them n-not too long ago."

    "Do you know where it is, by any chance?"

    "N-Not sure," Alex responded weakly. "They d-dragged me pretty far, I'd a-assume it's in the middle o-or at least other side of t-the facility."

    I nodded. "Thank you, we'll return once we get them safely out."

    Before any of them could protest, the portal swopped down from above, transporting them all out. Making wide squares to view the hallway through the wall, we were clear for the time being, speaking up before we broke the door down.

    "Spider, you know what to do,' I reminded him in a serious tone. "It's imperative we get some information on these guys, whatever you can if possible. If you are in any trouble, Nomad and I will be there within a moment's notice."

    "Roger that." Peter acknowledged his mission.

    "You ready?" I asked as turned to Bucky.

    "As ever." Bucky simply responded.

    "Then let's move." I said commandingly as I blew the door down.

    Bucky and I went left while Peter went in the opposite direction.

    "Duck, dodge, jump... jump again and strike!"

    Peter repeatedly thought the same actions but in different order, his right foot smashing through the protective glass of the helmet of the armored soldiers. On his way to the main computer, Peter didn't encounter that many of them, but they sure weren't easy to fully take out. His web combinations managed to restrain some of them while his Spider-Bots did the rest.

    Even though they were the enemy, Peter couldn't ignore how durable their gear was. Along with the X-Genes, they were deadly as they were unpredictable.

    Aiming for the remaining U-Man that blocked him from his destination, dodging the array of bullets thanks to his Spider Senses, he webbed his weapon beyond usage, swooping in for the finishing blow. Instead of his fist breaking the protective glass, it passed through his head that completely dissolved into a gooey brown substance.

    "Ahhh!" Peter mentally screamed. "I didn't mean to hit him that hard!"

    Before another thought could cross his mind, the U-Man backtracked to the wall, his backside morphing into the brown-colored substance as he sunk into it, pulling in Peter as well. A chunk of the wall turned into what resembled mud, his body now fully infused with it. Unable to break free, Peter was warned what was about to happen but couldn't properly react, his body was slammed into the wall, the substance slowly sucking him in.

    Thrashing around, Peter had a difficult time escaping his hold, the substance blocking his field of view. "Think, think. His whole body turns into a mud-like substance, meaning I can't get a proper hit in. I'll have to use a web-combo for this one."

    From his U.I., Peter hastily listed through the web-combinations until he found it, the Explosive Web. The more is used, the bigger the explosion, as well as letting out an electric discharge for the added bonus. Since the web formulas were made with Ethan's help, it's made so it won't cause him damage when they leave his web-shooters if by chance Peter was in close range, but also allows him to use it with no repercussions, so he started spamming it.

    Just as his vision was completely blocked, Peter's body was propelled forward, sticking to the opposite wall with mud all over. As for the U-Man, the mud moved to where his body started morphing back into normal, Peter jumped forward to kick him in the helmet, breaking the protective glass with blood spilling out as he flopped down.

    "That's the last of em'." Peter thought out loud, seeing his work across the hallway.

    Searching his seemingly bottomless storage pockets, Peter took out a familiar silver snitch, only with a different function unlike the one he first laid his eyes on. Allowing it to fly away, it dashed to every fallen U-Men soldier, releasing a thin red beam before letting out a thicker green version.

    Due to having a mix of mystical and technological prowess, Ethan made sure that both he and Bucky were equipped with various items that would help them out of many scenarios. This snitch would erase the memories of the victim from the last hour, or if they had anything remotely that could lead back to the team. In order for it to work, the person it's used on has to either be unconscious or unmoving for several seconds.

    Was it unethical? Kind of. Did it ensure his and the team's safety? Most definitely.

    Going inside and hacking the door so it won't open, Peter approached the computer, taking out a specific USB drive to help him access it. Once it was in, the screen flickered before some files were being deleted automaticallyly.

    "Ughh… this isn't good." Peter uttered as numerous tabs popped up only to disappear, furiously typing away at the keyboard.

    It was difficult, but with the help of his USB drive, it managed to slow down the process while Peter tried getting as much information as he could. While doing his work, Peter heard banging on the door, only getting louder and more ferocious with each hit, indicating his time was running out.

    "Come on... Parker Luck don't screw me now...!" Peter muttered while solely focusing on the computer.

    "You take the robot, I'll take the other guy."

    "Doesn't seem fair, but alright." Bucky replied while we went for our respective targets.

    A tall robot dashed towards Bucky, three long blades extending from each arm while shooting red beams from its eye. Using his new upgrades, Bucky formed a lengthy shield from his arm, the beams bouncing off in the opposite direction, damaging the eye as a result.

    When it came close, Bucky jumped to his left to dodge its assault, the shield quickly morphing into a blade of his own, slicing off its right arm and leg. When he was on his feet, he shot out the metal wire that pierced its other leg, pulling it back and plunging his blade into the robot's core, slicing it in half for safe measure.

    Meanwhile, I raised my purple chains around the abomination, parts of its skin burning the longer in its hold. Flexing its muscles, and growing slightly in size, it was able to break free, its abnormally large hands stretching out towards me. Swiping with both my hands, I sent out several blue slashes to cut its arms off, releasing even more acid from the open wounds but they quickly regenerated. When they were about to squash me, I sent a thought to activate my defense, four Chi constructed rib cages formed around my body, accompanied by a golden aura. The acid simply flowed down on the outer layer of the aura, his strength unable to even crack the ribcage.

    Heh, these constructs were well worth it. Good luck breaking through this.

    From inside, I used the chance to immobilize his arms by sticking the bottom of it to the floor, then dropping down to a portal I created. When I was out the other end, an upwards angle behind his back, a Rasengan of a different variety was forming along with a Chi Step on the ready.

    As the ball spun, the temperature of it and the area around it decreased drastically, and tiny shards of ice formed in the center that leaked out from the sphere, now having a light blue and white color scheme. As if his body was made of rubber, portions of his body and arms going to its back to make countless thin arms that rapidly grew in length.

    While the speed was impressive, I could spot openings all around, forming more Chi Steps to make sharp turns in rapid succession. He couldn't even make additional arms nor any kind of defense before my Ice Release - Rasengan collided with his flesh. As if kicking a ball, his abnormally large body flew to the corner of the room, the moment he hit the wall, ice started spreading from the wound, quickly entrapping the monster into a giant rock of ice. The only thing that could be clearly seen is his face, rage evident but could do nothing, only move his eyes slightly.

    With how powerful I made it, it will leave lasting damage and for someone like him, it won't be fixed that easily. Creating the sphere to search his mind, I was irritated to find he was empty. Another one that's empty as a shell, interesting yet infuriating.

    These guys don't take any chances.

    "So this is what they do, trading in their humanity to become... this," Bucky uttered in disgust while looking at the frozen frame of the U-Men soldier. "Not to mention the people they hurt to get these forms. It's sickening."

    "That's what lusting for power will get you," I commented with a similar tone. "Hope the payoff is worth it."

    Hearing my communicator start beeping, I pressed the side of the helmet with two fingers. "What is it, Spider?"

    "[I got to the main computer, but once it turned on the files started deleting themselves. It's like it had a safety protocol in place if it noticed the slightest change of behavior within the base. I was able to get some documents of the ones they captured but everything else is gone it seems, I'll try to dig out whatever I can,"] Spider-Man explained over the speaker, inhaling before starting again. "[However, I have access to all the cameras around the base, and there are like a dozen death bots heading your way from the right. There is also a lab in the North wing section of the base, with two mutants on the operating tables.]"

    Thanking him for the heads up, I looked towards Bucky who also got the message, starting to move in the direction Peter warned us about. Coming into view of a lengthy hallway, we saw the squadron of robots Peter warned us about vast approaching.

    Closing my fists, I channeled my Chi and sent two streams of it into the walls of the hallway, covering them with a thin layer of gold energy. Slamming my fists together, the walls, including the floor and the ceiling to close in, crushing all of the robots instantly, leaving only squares of squashed machinery.

    Snickering, Bucky leisurely walked forwards, placing a hand to his ear to contact Peter. He managed to locate two other mutants on the other side of the base, said to be moments away from being torn open. This base seemed to have more robots than actual people that was evident. We mowed through all the droids that came our way without any trouble, the other soldiers having powers that were only effective against certain mutants, making them irrelevant.

    Going deeper into this hell hole, I kept having an irritating feeling that we were minutes away from a disaster. After a short while, a bead started nothing me with high intensity.

    "Take cover!"

    Before I hit the deck, I formed a resilient barrier that spread across the wall to my left that suddenly exploded into pieces. Through the smoke, we saw the newly revealed and spacious room, most likely used for storage but was pretty empty all things considered. In the center, a figure whose armor was familiar to the previous soldiers but was entirely black, thin yellow lines across each limb to the center of the chest plate. In the back, more robots could be seen gearing up.

    In the upper left side of my U.I., I got the profile of said individual. Michael Landon, former Navy Seal and his mission record, with it coming to an abrupt end a little less than a year ago.

    "You two shitheads think you can just waltz right in here and take out my men?!" The leader roared with anger, his arms radiating a faint blue glow. "I'll keep you alive long enough until I make you beg for death!"
    With a side-ways glance, I spoke to Bucky in a tired tone. "You hear one threat, you hear them all."

    "At least this one will attempt at delivering it." Bucky responded, getting into a defensive stance.
    On his signal, each soldier alongside him fired various projectiles, ranging from guns to energy blasts. My shield came to life quickly that kept us hidden, withstanding the various kinds of projectiles they dished out.

    "A little outnumbered, so let's make things a little more fair." I said excitedly, a wide grin forming beneath my mask.

    Flipping through the Codex, I landed on the "creation" page, selecting several creatures to create. With an abundance of energy to fuel my spells, I could freely use these old tricks. Tapping the icons with animals on them, several of them materialized around us, all sharing the same cobalt blue color. I formed a bull, gorilla, lion, several hawks, a bear and an oversized scorpion.

    Actually, all of them were bigger, not just the scorpion.

    Once they go out, I have an illusion planned to duplicate them all, making it a guessing game which one is real. Making a hand gesture, two cards shot out of my sleeve into my hands, a brown/green and a regular brown respectively.

    Time for the show.

    Snapping my fingers, my creatures went on the offensive, while I created a small opening to send my cards out. Countless thick trees spurred from the ground, preventing the soldiers from properly aiming whilst targeting them to lower the numbers. The other card made it so the metallic ground, while same in appearance, turned into stone, resulting in walls and hands popping up, while also making them sink down if they tried walking up.

    Powers or not, most of the U-Men couldn't overpower the energy beasts, especially since they couldn't tell which were the real ones. Having more leeway, Bucky and I used the advantage to shoot from afar, our projectiles hitting them like targets at a shooting range.

    Out of all our enemies, I noted that only one was a potential problem. The former Navy Seal/commander would shoot away the animals with a plasma blast, whilst absorbing them when they would come into range.

    Our projectiles in general wouldn't do anything. Flying towards the remaining animals, the absorption went a lot faster than before, sending out two large plasma waves in our direction. Since he absorbed my energy in multiples, the shield around was shattered, forcing us back until I set up new ones. Out of curiosity, I tried shooting numerous quick sneak beams to aim for his sides, most simply stopping as they were absorbed, a blue sphere forming around him while doing so.

    "Energy absorption, most probably from Havok judging how his projectiles look," I theorized while commanding the trees to give us more cover. "Add an ex-Navy Seal into the mix, then you have a deadly enemy on your hands. A majority of my attacks are energy-based, and I've yet to properly implement countermeasures for that scenario. Just dandy…"

    Mental note, look into energy poisoning or layers that prevents energy from being absorbed.

    The commander obliterated more and more trees, flying all over the place while sending out countless plasma blasts. Bucky and I separated, taking out more of them in the meantime, I didn't focus on the commander since he would easily absorb whatever I threw at him, only for it to be shot right back in the form of plasma. Bucky used his mobility to jump around the tree-infested field, using his hooks to maneuver around them, but he wasn't able to get close to the commander as he would fly back while sending out plasma blasts that vaporized the area in a cone.

    "How do we deal with this guy?!" Bucky asked loudly through the voice channel.

    "From what I could tell, he has the ability to absorb any form of energy and dish it out as his own, which basically means my stronger spells are useless," I began explaining, thinking of all the possible solutions. "His armor seems to be infused with energy as well, making it fairly durable. Projectiles are out of the question, but he's not invincible. Physical attacks should do the trick if we coordinate our attacks. I'll create openings while you go in for the blow."

    Nodding, Bucky agreed to the plan. Channeling my Chi for my second set of arms, I went to do my part. Water came flooding in when a portal above him opened, serving as an inconvenience to him until many tentacles formed at a second's notice. I prioritized his legs to immobilize him, firmly keeping him in place as several tentacles swooped in for a series of quick jabs from every direction. Plasma blasts weren't of any use, my two sets of arms doubling my already inhuman speed. As the former Navy Seal focused on free himself, Bucky charged in.

    In the corner of his eye, the U-Men commander aimed with his right arm at the approaching intruder, a water fist smacked it away, the plasma blast shooting off to the side. He tried using his powers to fly away, but the water-binding only allowed him barely a meter off the ground, giving some openings to shoot numerous plasma shots.

    While in motion, Bucky would side-step as rock shields rose from the ground, mitigating any destruction since each shield would bend in the direction of the blast. Jumping into the air, his blade came to life, the tip piercing his armor on his abdomen. Before he could respond with a wave of plasma, Bucky was gone via portal, reappearing in at different angle a second later. With portals opening then closing, Bucky dashed around him while dishing out repeated a mix of slashes and punches at the commander.

    Enraged, not to mention injured, the remaining U-Man frantically moving in every direction in the hopes of landing a single hit. After receiving more wounds, the last straw was when Bucky sliced off his hand, letting out a war cry with plasma shockwaves shooting out from all around his body, to which I teleported Bucky next to me to prevent any injuries.

    I asked him if he built up enough Kinetic Energy in his arm, receiving a nod in confirmation.

    With our combined efforts, we went for the finishing blow.

    Faint steam started to form around Bucky's arm as he ran, forming a Chi Step in his path to propel him to a greater speed. The moment the commander let out a powerful blast towards Bucky, he was already in front of him via portal, striking him in the center of his chest. A massive cone of wind exploded from behind him, his body flying backwards and breaking through a wall like it was made of building blocks, only a cloud of smoke left in his wake.

    Inspecting our work, the helmet split in two, revealing a shocked expression that was lifeless, the gaping hole in his chest a clear indication of that.

    Reaching into my bag, I took out four Silver Snitches, letting them fly about to do their purpose, while moving to the remaining mutants.

    On our way there, Peter, alongside with my spell, pinpointed all the remaining U-Men that were in the base, nullifying them with ease. They were weaker compared to the other soldiers, the robots not posing much of an issue as they were cut down without hesitation.

    When we got the room in question, we kicked the steel door down, two U-Men soldiers protecting a set of scientists wearing similar gear. One had weaponized attachments around its arms, firing red beams at us with no pause in-between. Sadly, none of them could land a hit on us. Bucky jumped over the soldier, forming his blade to slice off an arm at the perfect angle. Upon landing, Bucky spun around to slice off his right ankle, making him fall to the ground with how heavy the armor was.

    Approaching from the side, Bucky stabbed his other arm for safe measure, a kick to the front of the helmet to take him out. The other soldier didn't have time to take his shot as I created two yellow-energy snakes and sent them flying towards him, quickly digging two holes respectively to enter the suit from the arms. The body started shaking rapidly before stopping, slowly falling backwards and landing with a thud.

    Turning toward the two scared scientists, I simply flicked my fingers, sending two bolts of Chi towards them, knocking them out instantly.

    On the operating table, my U.I. scanned their faces, Multiple-Man on one table, with the other one holding down a girl with long green hair, with the name Lorna Dane, aka Polaris, popping in the corner of my eye.

    "Take it easy, we're here to help," I reassured the two mutants calmly, seemingly won over their trust with our little display. "Are there any more captured aside from that one room?"

    "N-No," The black-haired man said. "They kept us all in one big room. They didn't keep anyone separated. I think."

    Just as I took out my Sol Blade with the crimson flame to cut the binds, the girl on the other table spoke up. "I overheard them saying it was too dangerous for us to be kept separate, that it's easier to contain us. These collars negate our powers so we can't fight back, then pick two at a time for them to experiment on."

    "I see. Well, rest assured, you won't have to worry about them anymore." I said reassuringly while helping the male stand up, Bucky releasing the girl from her binds in the meantime. Getting a signal from Peter, my hand went to my mask. "Tell me something good, Spider."

    Before anything was said, a grunt with a loud crash could be heard from the other end. "[Y-Yeah, just give me a moment,]" a second of silence passed followed by metal breaking then a loud thud. "[A-Anyway, I was able to get some research on how they do their experiments but not much else. About eighty-percent of it was deleted, but I think what I have on here might be useful.]

    "Good work, Spider-Man. How's your end looking? Need any assistance over there?"

    "[Nah, I'm good, a few armored baddies already tried obliterating me but they were too slow. Give me twenty more seconds to see if I can get anything else from this thing.]" Spider-Man informed, nodding in confirmation.

    Having some research data will be useful. It might be a bore to figure out, but with Sue's help, unlocking X-Gene splicing will come around hopefully sooner than expected. In my downtime, I kneeled down to place my hand onto the floor, going for one last scan of the whole place to make sure no other mutant was in this hell hole.

    When I was positive there wasn't anyone else, I created several energy beasts to incinerate any DNA samples, supplies, resources, anything they might have used or plan on salvaging. Once done, the two of us helped the limping Polaris and Multiple-Man through a newly made portal, dropping them off with the others.

    Before the portal closed off, I touched the ground on the other side, a Rune symbol appearing on it. Because I was a douchebag, I made it so it would send a similar energy stream that would attract S.H.I.E.L.D. to cause some ruckus. If by some chance Hydra is connected with the U-Men, it's better to throw them off my trail, not like I already made contingencies to prevent that.

    Getting another call from Spidey saying his job was done, I opened a portal for him so all of us were back at our base, our mission now coming to a close.

    "Well done, guys," I patted Peter and Bucky on the back as I congratulated them. "Clean, fast and effective. Just how I love it."

    "Glad to hear it, M.M.!" Spidey replied with a thumbs up, while Bucky just nodded solemnly.

    Turning around, I was greeted with curious and scared glances from the mutants we saved. Removing my mask, I approached them slowly with a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, I mean you no harm."

    I motioned to Bucky and Peter to help them remove their collars, to which they complied.

    "Who are you people?" Warren asked.

    "What is this place?" Clarice followed up.

    "How in the hell did you kick those guys' ass so easily?" James joined in, duplicates forming from the original as the collar was taken off, with each asking their own question.

    "One at a time, please," I waved with my hands to calm them down. "I'm Ethan Chester, and this is my home."

    I went over the many questions they asked, some more vocal than others. After that was over, I offered to heal them of their injuries to which they accepted, choosing to trust me as I just saved their lives. Some were a little hesitant, but came around after some time passed.

    All of them had bruises and various cuts, even some burnt flesh and broken bones. Going one by one, I used a variety of spells to patch them up and some Chi Healing on top so there's no downtime to fully healing.
    During this process, I was gifted with a golden opportunity, one I couldn't easily ignore. While I didn't recognize most of the mutants, there were some powerful and notable ones present. Them being Multiple-Man, Sunspot, Blink, Archangel and Havok. Because there were many injuries to go over, and since the spells distracted the ones watching, I made it so the blood that "disappeared" was actually transferred to a storage capsule. The nifty trick of transporting liquid coming in just at the right time.

    Since nobody noticed what my side intentions were, I acquired the blood samples of Multiple-Man, Polaris, Havok and Sunspot. I had some plans in the making about the X-Gene, and by using blood samples I could convert them to suit me. These powers in particular were ideal for many reasons, so keeping them stored until they can be studied then taken to the final stage of X-Gene splicing.

    Like I said, it was too good to pass up. If anything, this is my reward for having to deal with anti-mutant bigots.

    "There, that should do it," I said reassuringly while standing up to stretch, taking a bit longer to fully heal Warren's broken wings. "You all are as good as new."

    Warren stood up eagerly, flexing his wing muscles to see for himself, a massive smile following soon after. "It's really fixed! Thank you so much! I thought I lost them forever."

    "No thanks are necessary," I playfully waved off. "I'm just glad I could be of help. If it's not a problem for you all, I'd like to ask a few questions about the people who held you captive. Just whatever you seen or heard is enough, after that, we can proceed to dinner."

    "I don't anything, nor do I wanna talk about those psychos." Lorna scoffed as leaned back, resting her hands on the back of her head.

    Alex rose up from his chair, walking up to me with a serious expression. "I think I may have something, just not sure if it will be of any use."
    "That's okay, anything helps. Did you come across them on your own or did they find you?" I asked the blonde.

    "Came out of nowhere one day, trashed my place and hunted me down for the next two weeks or so. First time I thought I escaped, but I didn't risk heading back, but turns out they were just toying with me," Alex motioned to his healed injuries. "They put me through some weird experiments, I was semi-conscious when it happened, but I overheard them mention "other facilities", but they left the room before I could learn anything else."

    "I see, so my theory about multiple bases is confirmed," I rubbed my chin while thinking. "Even before we teleported in, I knew it couldn't be the only one judging by its layout."

    "Who were those guys, anyway?" Alex asked. "I've met some nasty people in my life, but these guys take the cake."

    "They're called the U-Men, or how liked to be known, the "superior" race. Essentially, they believe they deserve to rule all life by becoming mutants by stealing their DNA and modifying it so they could use their powers. I'm not completely sure how large their operation is, however, they definitely aren't pushovers."
    "I heard about weird anti-mutant groups but never to this extent. Nevertheless, I'm just glad we manage to survive that," The blonde extended his free hand with a smile. "I'm Alex, by the way. Again, thanks for the help.

    "Don't mention it," I returned the gesture. "But I should be thanking you for the info, it's not much but I at least know to be extra prepared when I encounter them the next time.

    "So what now?" Lorna asked lazily. "Doubt we'll be staying wherever this place is."

    "Well, while I did eliminate any chance of them tracking us or realizing who we were, the rest of them will figure soon enough something went down. Wherever you all lived before, I doubt it will be safe when and if they start looking for you."

    "What happens to us now?" Warren asked in defeat. "Where are we gonna go?"

    I wasn't a fan of this option, for multiple reasons. Not only do I not trust this person, but in the bigger picture, the place itself is not the ideal place for their kind. However my hands were tied, I couldn't just hoard them in, and sending them back out will only get them hunted or someone like Magneto on their tail. Actually, it would strengthen my relationship with the X-Men, something I wouldn't mind, to be honest. All in all, it's the best possible solution.

    "Actually, I happen to know the exact place that will make you feel right at home."
    Welp, the Fantastic Four make their debut in this Chapter. I was thinking of including Doom, but it's a bit soon and wanted to save him for later. Plus, I seen plenty of times where the MC meets up with the F4 while fighting Doom, wanted a different approach. Also, I totally see Reed doing something like. Hope I nailed their personalities, and expect them to show up in the future.

    As for the other group introduced, I apologize if they seem "weak" in here, the rest will DEFFINETLY be more of a challenge. I didn't want to use the full powerhouse, plus with the spells Ethan used to cover themselves when breaking in should be more than effective.

    The next Chap will be a team up the X-Men once again, but this time with higher stakes. I plan on touching multiple plot points with them and how their future relationship unfold. I didn't fully showcase what Ethan, Bucky and Peter are capable after the short time skip that will be displayed in the next one

    If there are any spelling/grammar mistakes or unfinished sentences, I apologize. It's late and I read it just in case, but I still think some errors slipped thru. Constructive criticism is appreciated, and I hope you enjoyed it.

    The link for Discord is " www - discord gg - bTyYgzEm7r" (Removes the - for the internet links),
    Until next time, cya.