Villainous, p.12

Villainous, page 12



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  Maybe Simon was right. Maybe this wasn’t his fight.

  “Yeah, you get it now,” said Simon, reading his face correctly. “Not to be harsh, but you don’t belong here, Daniel.”

  Simon turned and began making his way up to the front to get a better look. Before he disappeared into the crowd completely, he turned back to Daniel and said, “You know, I always hated the name Supers. You tell Eric that.”

  As Daniel watched Simon go, he saw that the Nobles had finally arrived. He climbed onto the hood of a busted-up Model T—no doubt a beautiful car at one time—and watched as the crowd parted for the academy’s self-proclaimed royalty. There was that kid Mutt leading the way on all fours, sniffing the ground as he went. Next came Skye, and the one called Hunter. Finally, in walked Drake.

  Daniel looked over to where his friends were waiting. Eric, Mollie, Michael, Bud, and even Rohan. Rohan didn’t want Eric to do this, and he certainly wasn’t any kind of fighter, but he wouldn’t abandon his friends either. A splinter of guilt pricked at Daniel for being this far away, far from the action, but something about this felt wrong. It had been something in Simon’s attitude, in the faces of the kids watching—they were eager to see the fight. The Supers had stood up to bullies before, but this wasn’t about that. When Eric defended Bud in the lunchroom, that may have been the right thing to do. But no one was in any immediate danger now. Eric wasn’t defending anyone anymore. This was about pride, about turf.

  And this was how they would handle it—by slugging it out in a junkyard? Had Daniel gone through everything—the Shroud, the Shades, losing his grandmother, and very nearly dying himself—to create a world in which might made right? Survival of the fittest? If the Supers went ahead with this fight they would be reinforcing Drake’s twisted view of the world—that the rules didn’t apply to you if you were strong enough to break them.

  If the Supers fought now, they would lose either way.

  His friends needed to walk away. Daniel came down off the car hood and began pushing his way toward the front, shoving kids twice his size out of his path in his desperation to reach Eric before the first punch was thrown. All he had to do was put himself between the Supers and the Nobles. His friends wouldn’t risk hurting Daniel, and that would give him time to talk sense into everyone.

  He’d been so focused on making it to his friends that he hadn’t seen the thick-knuckled hand reaching for him until it was too late. It wrapped around the back of his neck like a steel clamp and hauled Daniel off his feet.

  Clay! He’d forgotten all about Clay. Bud had said that Clay was still too afraid of Eric to face him, but of course he’d want to see the fight for himself. This was his junkyard after all.

  “Not so fast, New Kid,” said Clay, pulling Daniel close enough that he could whisper into his ear. “I hope you’re not planning to break up the party.”

  Daniel tried to call out to his friends, but Clay wrapped his other hand over his mouth.

  “Why don’t you shut up for once?” Clay whispered, as he dragged Daniel back away from the crowd, away from his friends.

  A pair of academy boys nearby had noticed what was going on, and looked ready to say something when Clay gave them a hard look. “You two ladies have a problem?” he asked.

  The boys went as white as sheets and turned quickly away, pretending not to notice.

  “Don’t get too comfortable,” laughed Clay into Daniel’s ear. “This’ll be over before you know it. Your friends don’t have any idea what they’re up against!”

  Daniel struggled to free himself from the bully’s grip, but it was pointless. He might as well be trying to wriggle free from a steel vise.

  Clay dragged him back onto the hood of the Model T and turned him around. All he could do now was watch as a hush fell over the crowd. Eric and Drake walked toward each other until they were standing face to face. Each was flanked by his friends—Supers on one side, Nobles on the other. The air smelled of Bud stink, and Skye looked like she might be sick again. That was something at least.

  “Well?” said Drake, loud enough that everyone could hear. “Are we going to have a staring contest, or are you going to do something?”

  “I won’t throw the first punch,” said Eric. A tiny spark of hope kindled in Daniel’s chest. It wasn’t too late. Walk away, Eric, Daniel thought. Be the bigger man and just walk away. Show them all it’s possible.

  “How thoughtful of you,” said Drake. Then he looked over Eric’s shoulder at Mollie. “Hey, I remember you. You know I let you off easy last time, babe. You owe me one.”

  “Growl,” said Mutt, prowling behind Drake like an animal on the hunt.

  “Surprised your Mutt can still walk,” said Mollie.

  Now a real growl, low and guttural, rumbled out of Mutt’s throat.

  “Easy, boy,” said Drake, shaking his head. “Not until I give the word.”

  Daniel couldn’t believe it but the boy didn’t look the least bit nervous. He might as well have been waiting in the lunch line for the special of the day for all he seemed to care.

  “All right, then,” said Drake. “Word.”

  Mutt leapt, and just as last time, Mollie moved out of the way so fast that she actually became a blur. But Mutt had learned his lesson and he wasn’t leaping for Mollie. This time, he was going for Eric.

  Surprised, Eric threw up his hands to protect himself as the feral boy tried to tackle him. Of course, tackling Eric was like tackling a brick wall. Eric looked more annoyed than anything else as Mutt clambered over him, but then Mutt reached with his fingers outstretched and clawed at Eric’s face. From their last encounter Daniel knew that those fingers ended in sharp claw-like nails, but even so, Daniel had to wonder what kind of claws could possibly hurt Eric, who was nearly invincible to physical attack.

  Indeed, Mutt scraped and gouged at Eric’s face but left not even a scratch. Eric was swatting at Mutt like he would a buzzing mosquito, but the nimble boy managed to avoid his blows.

  And through it all, Daniel saw what Eric did not. Mutt hadn’t hurt Eric, but he hadn’t meant to. He was only distracting him while the real fight happened around them.

  Michael had taken to the air, but so had Skye. On her TV show, Skye used her telekinesis powers only to move around small stuff, but she’d apparently been practicing because she lifted herself off the ground to meet Michael eye to eye. And a junkyard, it turned out, was the worst place to fight someone with her kind of power—everything in the vicinity was a potential weapon. With a thought, Skye threw a storm of junk at Michael. Old toasters shot past him with the speed of cannonballs. Rusted hubcaps flew through the air like spinning saw blades. It was all Michael could do to dodge the onslaught of airborne junk. A less talented flier wouldn’t have been able to.

  Seeing Michael in trouble, Mollie joined the fight and, in a flash of speed, hit Skye with a series of super-fast punches. The TV star let out a yelp as she grabbed at her now-bleeding nose and retreated. Mollie was just getting ready to pursue when a stream of fire cut between her and Skye. Using his flame breath to fill the air above with fire and smoke, Drake managed to drive Mollie and Michael to the ground, where they landed coughing and frantically trying to put out the tiny flames that had caught on their clothes.

  Bud had disappeared behind a cloud of impenetrable stink as his instinct for self-preservation kicked in, and it was obvious that he would be as useless to the Supers as he had been to Clay. And it all happened in the few seconds it took Eric to free himself from Mutt’s clutches. When the feral boy finally leapt away, Eric stumbled. Eric was left dizzied by the boy’s frantic clawing.

  So dizzied that he didn’t see Hunter appear beside him. The newcomer reached out a hand and grabbed Eric by the shoulder. Just as Eric was getting ready to shake him off, the two of them vanished. There was no flash of light or noise of any kind. It was simply that one second they were there and the next they were gone.

  Mollie patted out the last of her fires just in time to see Eric
and Hunter vanish, but not in time to see the old garden hose sneaking up on her like a snake in the grass. With a mind of its own, it whipped itself around her, wrapping her up tightly and tying her to the fender of a broken-down pickup truck. Michael tried to pull the hose off her, but found himself pinned under a stack of tires that had ambushed him. Skye reappeared with a triumphant grin, despite her still-bleeding nose.

  When Drake’s smoke cleared, the fight was over. Hunter reappeared just feet from where he’d grabbed hold of Eric, but Eric was nowhere to be seen.

  Rohan was the last man standing. Calmly, he wiped the soot off his glasses with his shirt. It wasn’t bravado, Daniel knew. Rohan had to be scared, facing these Nobles who’d so quickly beaten his friends. But no matter how worried he might be, Rohan wouldn’t show it. He’d been bullied enough over the years to know that the bullies enjoyed it more when you acted afraid. He could deny them that at least.

  “All right,” said Rohan. “You’ve won. Now let them go.”

  Mutt stalked closer to him, a wide grin exposing his sharp yellow teeth. He actually drooled.

  “Of course we won!” said Drake. “We’re Nobles.”

  He turned to the crowd of academy kids. “We’re the future! Not those peasants down there in town, or the teachers telling us how to behave—no one can make us do anything we don’t want to do, and soon enough, we’ll be in charge.” He gestured to Mollie and Michael. “And this is what happens to anyone who gets in our way!”

  “Fine, whatever,” said Rohan. “Just let my friends go. And bring Eric back.”

  “Eric?” said Drake. “Hey, Hunter. You know where Eric is?”

  Hunter laughed. “Oh, he’s taking in the scenery.”

  A few of the other academy kids laughed too, although it was plain they didn’t get the joke any more than Rohan did. But they were scared, and they wanted to make sure that the Nobles knew whose side they were on.

  Clay tightened his grip on Daniel’s neck, and pain rose up behind his eyes.

  “See that?” Clay said. “The Supers are done. Finished.”

  “Those people down there,” Drake was saying. “Doesn’t matter what laws they make, what schools they try to make us go to. Doesn’t matter if they live or die, because we are better than them! And the sooner you all accept that, the happier you’ll be. You are better than they are.… And we are better than you!”

  Then he walked over to Rohan and grabbed him by his tie. “You first,” he said. “Bow to us. Bow to the Nobles and I won’t set Mutt here loose on you and your friends.”

  Then he yanked Rohan’s tie and forced the small boy down onto his knees, knocking his glasses off in the process. Mollie let out a shout of anger, but shout was all she could do. She was tied up tight.

  All Daniel could do was watch and try to ignore Clay’s nasty laughter.

  “So,” said Drake. “What do you say, kid?”

  Still on his knees, Rohan picked up his glasses and put them back on. One side was bent higher than the other, but he didn’t bother fixing them.

  “What do I say?” said Rohan, blinking at Drake. “I say that if you could hear what I hear, you wouldn’t be smiling.”

  “Aw, he’s bluffing,” shouted Mutt. “Lemme at them!”

  But Drake narrowed his eyes and looked around. “What?” he asked. “What do you hear?”

  Rohan shrugged. A gesture Daniel knew well.

  “My best guess is … detentions. Lots and lots of detentions.” And then he covered his ears with his hands.

  “What are you—” But Drake didn’t finish, because what happened next was impossible not to hear. A sound like thunder, like an explosion that burst eardrums. What little junkyard glass hadn’t already been shattered did so now as Mount Noble was rocked by a sonic boom.

  At first, Daniel thought it was Eric returned from wherever it was that the Hunter kid had teleported him to. A figure came down from the sky and landed in the middle of the yard like a rocket, sending dirt and garbage flying everywhere. But when Daniel’s ears stopped ringing and the dust had cleared, he saw that he was very mistaken. It wasn’t Eric at all.

  The principal of the Noble Academy for the Gifted straightened his tie and gazed out across the crowd of awestruck students. Although he appeared outwardly calm, his eyes flashed with anger—there was a green glow in the deep recesses of those ancient eyes. Eyes that ultimately came to rest on Drake.

  “Would someone care to explain to me,” said Johnny, “why you all aren’t back at school studying?”

  Chapter Fifteen

  An Unexpected Hand

  “C’mon, New Kid. We’re getting out of here.”

  Daniel was being dragged through the junkyard clearing, hauled to someplace far away from the scene of the fight and from his friends. It had been easy enough for Clay to grab Daniel and run—all eyes were on Johnny at the time. The principal’s sudden, and dramatic, appearance had been a shock to everyone.

  It made sense that a small-time criminal like Clay could tell when there was about to be trouble with the law. He knew how to read the signs, and he knew when to make a run for it.

  Unfortunately, he was taking Daniel with him. Daniel didn’t know where, but it couldn’t be anyplace good. He’d have asked, but Clay kept one hand firmly planted over Daniel’s mouth to prevent him from calling out for help. Still, Daniel didn’t go willingly. He fought and he tried to wriggle out of Clay’s grip, even as the super-strong kid very nearly squeezed the breath out of him. Beyond fearing for his own safety, Daniel wanted to know what was happening to his friends.

  “Stop squirming,” said Clay. “ ’Cause you and me, we’re going to have a talk.”

  They didn’t stop until they reached a lonely corner of the junkyard Daniel had never seen before. Once, back in Philadelphia, Daniel’s father had taken him to a cemetery to visit the grave of his grandfather on his father’s side. As they walked past the grave markers looking for Daniel’s grandfather, they wandered into an old section of the cemetery where soldiers were buried. Several graves there dated back to before the Civil War, and those gravestones weren’t like the rest. Some were imposing crypts that looked more like stone houses than graves, while others were so small they looked like little more than flat stones in the grass. But what had struck Daniel the most was the age of the place, the sense of time that hung over everything like a cloud. Those graves belonged to another era, the whole place felt old, and Daniel couldn’t help but think he was trespassing in someone else’s world, the modern boy stumbling over history.

  This lonely section of the junkyard was like that cemetery. The rusted-out cars here weren’t shaped like modern cars—the corners were too rounded and they possessed none of the sleek curves of today’s automobiles. Daniel spotted cast-iron stoves built for burning wood, and there was even what looked like the metal skeleton of a horse-drawn wagon. And like the old section of the cemetery, there was a feeling that Daniel didn’t belong. The shadows were too dark, and everything was too old to be welcoming.

  Clay carelessly tossed Daniel to the ground, and then started pacing back and forth beneath the stacks of antique junk.

  “You know, the first time we met, I treated you fair,” said Clay. “Since you weren’t from around here, I thought you might be all right. Thought we might even be friends.”

  Daniel remembered. He also remembered that Clay’s way of making friends was to threaten and laugh at them. Daniel had watched the way Clay treated Mollie and Rohan, so of course Daniel had sided with them. Now, however, was probably not the time to correct Clay’s memory.

  Luckily, Clay didn’t seem interested in whether Daniel agreed or not. He just kept on talking.

  “From that day on, you caused me nothing but trouble. Things were simple in this town until you came along.”

  Again, Clay’s version of events was skewed in the extreme. The Supers of Noble’s Green had been preyed upon by the Shroud until Daniel came along. Clay had even joined them, fighting alongsi
de them the first time they battled the villain. But conveniently Clay skipped that part.

  “You got everyone so confused that they didn’t know which way was up! All of a sudden there’s shadow monsters everywhere, and the next morning—boom!—everyone and his aunt Petunia has powers.”

  Then Clay stopped pacing. He turned slowly and pointed a long, calloused finger at Daniel’s face. “You even got Bud so mixed up that he’s wishing he didn’t have powers anymore. We were a team, him and me, and you went and ruined that too!”

  So that’s what this was really about— Clay blamed Daniel for losing his best friend.

  “If you care about your friend so much, you really have a weird way of showing it,” said Daniel. “I heard about what you did to him in the lunchroom today, Clay.”

  It probably wasn’t wise to antagonize Clay like this, but if Daniel was going to get beaten up, he’d at least like to get beaten up for something he really did, and the truth was he had nothing to do with the break in Clay and Bud’s friendship—that was solely Clay’s doing.

  “Bud used to be able to take a joke! It’s not my fault he got his panties all twisted and stank up the place.”

  Clay might have claimed that his “joke” was no big deal, but Daniel could see in his eyes that not even he believed his own lie. Clay knew what he’d done. He’d watched as a cafeteria full of students laughed at his only friend because of something he’d done just to impress a bunch of kids who thought they were better than him. Better than everyone.

  “Now this stupid school,” Clay spat, tearing his tie off and throwing it to the ground. “Drake and his stuck-up friends! And that principal. Ain’t that a kick in the pants! Man, I know strength when I see it, and that old dude is strong.”

  Clay took a step toward Daniel. “And here you are, mixed up in it all just like always.”

  “Clay,” Daniel said, scrambling to his feet. Maybe he could get through to him. He was obviously upset about Bud, even if he didn’t want to admit it. If Clay actually felt guilty about what he’d done, that might give Daniel an opening. “I don’t know what you’re thinking of doing, but let’s talk about it, okay? You said you wanted to talk.”

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