Vaughn and I stood in the parking lot of the Grand Lake Martial Arts Academy, taking in some of the first decent weather of the year.
We’d had heavy snow during the last two weeks of February, but the first week of March had seen the (re)melting of all the snow and temperatures in the fifties. This wasn’t especially warm, but after three months of near zero, it felt like a heat wave.
Combined with the ever increasing daylight hours, it made standing out amid the mud, dirt and cars while waiting for everyone else seem like a good idea.
“So get this,” Vaughn said, “I got an email from someone called ‘King of Storms’ a couple days ago. It said that my codename ‘Storm King’ was too similar to his and that I should change it because he had ‘the prior claim’. You ever heard of this guy?”
“Maybe. Is this the guy in Pittsburgh?”
Vaughn shrugged. “Like I should know, it was an email.”
“Are you going to change it?”
“No. What’s he going to do about it? Come up here and kick my ass?”
“Actually, if he’s the guy I’m thinking of,” I began.
The door opened behind us. Haley came out, followed by Cassie, Jaclyn, Marcus, Travis and surprisingly, Lee.
Lee had his keys out and a duffel bag full of gear.
“Don’t you usually teach after this?” I asked him as he walked past me toward his car, a red Dodge Viper.
“I do. Still am, but I’m heading to Ann Arbor tonight.”
“Your sister. Rachel’s there, not here.”
“I didn’t know she was taking lessons from you.”
“She wasn’t, but she always had the option. Last month she used it.”
He walked over to the car and opened the door.
“Later,” he said. His car spat gravel across the parking lot.
* * *
League HQ wasn’t exactly a romantic setting. Between the forty year old, olive green carpet, the dust, the concrete walls and the steel-reinforced doors, it felt simultaneously out-of-date, abandoned and more like a bunker than a castle.
At the same time, hanging out at my parents’ house wouldn’t have been private, and my grandfather’s old house (which I’d inherited) felt too empty. We could have gone to Haley’s house, but that wouldn’t have been private either.
We’d grabbed a couple chairs in front of the command console and swiveled the chairs to face each other, trying to figure out a way to sit near to each other that wasn’t awkward.
HQ needed a couch.
We ended up sitting with our legs touching and sometimes holding hands.
“What was Vaughn saying about someone wanting him to change his name?”
“From just before you walked outside?”
Between a best friend who was a telepath and a girlfriend with inhumanly sharp senses, I’d long ago given up on personal privacy.
She smiled in a way that made me think that she, unlike Daniel, might be a little embarrassed to have overheard.
“Well,” I said, “That’s pretty much all. We didn’t get to say much more than that. There’s a guy in Pittsburgh codenamed King of Storms who wants Vaughn to choose a different name.”
“I don’t think so, but maybe he should. I didn’t get to say anything to him about it, but if he’s talking about the same guy I think he is, the guy’s some kind of wizard who specializes in weather magic. I really don’t know much more about him though.”
“A wizard? For real?”
“Says the girl who can throw cars,” I said.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible. I just can’t believe anyone like that would worry about Vaughn.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s really insecure… or no, wait, maybe he’s just using it as an excuse to pick a fight. It’s not like anyone can’t guess who Vaughn’s grandfather was.”
She withdrew her hand, moving it as she talked.
“You think he wants to hunt Vaughn down?”
“I don’t know. It’s just the only thing I can think of.”
She frowned. “Sometimes I think that we’ll never be anything more than our grandparents to people.”
I couldn’t think of a reply.
We sat in silence for a little while. Then Haley said, “What’s that blinking light?”
A blue light blinked slowly on and off in the lower right corner of the monitors at the command center table and on the big wall screen.
“I don’t know. It’s never gone off before.”
I swung my chair around and clicked on the spot with the mouse.
The blue spot resolved into the words, “Emergency Call: Local Police. Answer? Yes/No.”
I clicked on “Yes.”
A Grand Lake police force badge appeared on the screen. Static came over the speakers as a woman’s voice said, “Lieutenant Van Kley, I’ve got the Heroes League.”
A voice in the background said, “What about Mindstryke or the Rhino?”
“They’re not picking up.”
“Give me the phone.”
A clunking noise came from the speakers as the phone transferred hands.
“Heroes League, this is Lieutenant Van Kley. We’ve got a hostage situation. Do you have anyone available?”
“Sure,” I said.
“I’ve still got advanced algebra homework,” Haley whispered.
“I can help,” I said.
“I don’t need help. I need to be home by nine so I have time to finish it.”
I talked into the microphone next to the monitor. “How late would we end up staying up?”
“I don’t know. This is a hostage situation. It depends on when the hostages are freed.”
“I thought you had SWAT teams for stuff like that.” I said.
“We had a SWAT team until about ten minutes ago. So, are any of you available?”
“Me. I’m the Rocket.”
“I’m coming. I’m Night Cat,” Haley said.