The thing faded into the storm and disappeared. Between the darkness and the possibility that its body might have been nothing more than falling rain, I didn’t know whether it had teleported away or simply ceased to be.
Either way, the rain changed from a downpour to nothing in the space of ten seconds.
As the rain ended, the clouds thinned, letting the sun illuminate the puddles in the road and the mud across the street in the parking lot.
“Wow,” I said.
“Yeah,” Vaughn said. “That’s not exactly how I’d put it. He’s probably going to cream me.”
“Seriously?” I asked. “Then why’d you agree to meet him?”
“He might not want to fight me, and, honestly, I don’t like bullies. It’s just a stupid name, but, it’s my name.”
“Is it worth a fight?”
“I don’t know,” Vaughn said, “but I hope so.”
The doors to the school opened and the people we’d seen in the hall started walking out.
“We’d probably better take this to the car,” I said.
Vaughn glanced back. “Yeah.”
Ahead of us, Cassie turned around. “Are you coming or not?”
We followed her, dodging the mud puddles in the parking lot.
When we did pull out in the car, splashing mud as high as the windows and almost getting stuck once, we didn’t actually talk all that much about it.
Cassie dropped me off first, stopping in front of my parents’ house.
“Here?” She asked. “Or did you want me to drop you off at HQ?”
“Here works. I just thought of something though. Vaughn, you’ll have to skip practice with Lee to meet with that guy.”
“I can miss a week,” Vaughn said.
“You’re not going alone,” Cassie said.
“No,” I said. “You’re not.”
* * *
When I called Lee to let him know, Lee said, “Looks like class’ll be at 4:00, wherever the hell Vaughn is on the beach.”
So that’s how Jaclyn, Haley, Daniel, Cassie, Vaughn, Lee and I all ended up on the beach near where Grand Lake met Lake Michigan. I don’t remember who suggested it, but the reasoning was that no tourists visited Grand Lake in March.
Not that anyone would recognize us, we were all in costume anyway. Well, except for Lee, but who knew what the average passerby saw when they looked at him?
The piles of ice and snow at the water’s edge had melted a week ago. Nothing remained of them, leaving only sand and water.
I hoped the sand wouldn’t get into the suit. It couldn’t be good for any of its mechanisms.
As we walked further, I resigned myself to blowing the sand out after we got back.
“I hope this doesn’t last long,” Daniel muttered to me.
“Yeah? I’m surprised you came at all.”
“All of you guys were. It seemed important enough to cut track for. Besides, I can’t avoid Lee forever. I’ve got to figure out how to handle myself when he’s nearby.”
“Is it bad?”
He looked at me. “It’s like standing in the middle of an orchestra where everybody’s out of tune.”
“That could be worse.”
“And every so often one of the musicians decides to take a whack at me with his instrument.”
“Seriously?” Haley asked.
Daniel nodded. “Very seriously. How did Grandpa manage to work with him for the entire war?”
Just ahead of us, walking next to Jaclyn, Cassie and Vaughn, Lee turned and said, “He blocked it out after a while. The longer he stayed around me, the easier it got.”
“I’m not sure it would be worth it.”
“It was for him,” Lee said. “Trust me on this.” Then he grinned at Daniel, and I got the impression of something really, really big.
Haley glanced at Lee and asked me, “Did you just feel a chill?”
We walked past the largest of the dunes, the one just past the lighthouse and the entrance to the actual Grand Lake that gave the city its name. All the boardwalks were empty. The cottages looked abandoned, but I knew they’d be full come summer.
Three dunes down, we stopped. The nearest cottage stood at the top of the dune and a long wooden staircase. Trees and stalks of dune grass stood around it, some forty feet above us.
It took only seconds before we heard wind blowing across the beach, kicking up sand. I heard rather than felt it hit my armor.
Cassie spat. “It got into my mouth.”
A dark cloud gathered above us, tendrils moving, roiling and expanding like clouds do in one of those fast motion weather videos. In moments, the beach stood in shadow.
I missed the moment when the King of Storms appeared, but suddenly he floated in the sky, slowly descending.
He landed on the beach in front of us, a cloaked, hooded figure. I couldn’t see a face in the darkness under his hood, only lightning and rain.
He stood at least as tall as Daniel. Daniel’s a little over six feet.
At least I assumed it was a he. Between the cloak and the utter lack of a face, I couldn’t know it. I couldn’t necessarily be sure it was human.
“I am the King of Storms. It is good to meet in person. Perhaps we can discuss this matter and come to an agreement. Please introduce your friends.”
“You bet,” Vaughn said, and started going through all the names, stopping when he came to Jaclyn. “Hey, what should I call you? You’ve been procrastinating on a codename forever.”
“Call me Accelerando. I’m not sure I like it, but it’s better than nothing.”
“It’s kind of cool,” Vaughn said.
“It’s a musical term,” Jaclyn said. “I can’t say I wasted nine years of piano lessons now.”
Vaughn also stopped dead when he got to Lee. “And this is… Geez. What should I call you here?”
Lee chuckled. “You don’t need to introduce me. They know a few of my names already.”
The King of Storms stepped back and pointed his hood toward Lee. I’d call it staring except without eyes, it was hard to say. Whatever the case, it was as if he hadn’t even noticed Lee was there until Vaughn pointed him out.
Half a dozen lightning strikes flashed within the cowl. I could hear them crackle.