Vaughn never got hit by the lightning.
When the strikes stopped, he stood there unharmed, smiling nervously, glass shards and glass craters surrounding him.
“He’s cheating! You can’t do that.” The King of Storms shouted at Lee.
“He’s controlling weather.” Lee said. “Get on with it or yield.”
Without a face to look at, I found the King of Storms’ reaction hard to read — well, up until the point where he raised his arms and screamed a word. Then hail started falling, not all of it heading for Vaughn.
Jaclyn knocked one out of the air. A couple pieces hit my helmet while I heard Haley say, “Ow!”
Then the hail stopped — well, it stopped hitting us. It still thumped against an invisible barrier above us, while simultaneously splashing into Lake Michigan and smacking into the beach.
The short man in the blue robes said, “I could have done that.”
I glanced over at him, realizing for the first time that he wasn’t a man. He had to be ten or twelve year old, red-haired kid. What was up with that? Had Hogwarts let out early for the summer?
“Feel free,” Daniel muttered, but I had a hard time hearing him over the roaring wind.
I looked in the direction of the noise.
Vaughn had apparently decided to protect himself by creating a funnel cloud. It started between him and the King of Storms, but rose high enough to block the hail, scattering it in all directions, including back at the King of Storms.
It didn’t seem as large as a full blown tornado. We weren’t being pulled into it, but I could feel the wind and see the sand swirl.
The King of Storms replied by shouting a few more words and raising up a second funnel cloud, this one larger than Vaughn’s. I could feel the pull.
“This is to unconsciousness?” Jaclyn asked. “How are you supposed to knock out anything with that?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up unconscious by the time you were whirling around in there.” I said.
“If you got hit on the head with a chunk of rock, sure, but not because it pulled you in.”
The twin funnel clouds whirled around each other, gouging paths in the sand.
A metal sign near them rattled, then broke apart and disappeared into the whirling mass. It was one of the signs that you could find all over the edges of the beach. It had said, “Private Beach. No Trespassing. Violators Can Be Prosecuted. Thank You, Grand Lake Beach Association.”
Meanwhile, the golf ball sized hail continued to fall, pounding the beach around us and the cottages behind us. I heard windows shatter.
Daniel said, “I can keep this up for a while, but not forever. Think that they could finish soon or at least stop the hail?”
Cassie began to say something, but a blinding flash of lightning along with the accompanying thunder cut her off.
Vaughn had aimed a lightning bolt through the tornadoes toward King of Storms, but somehow it hadn’t hit him. A silvery metal mesh had appeared in the sand in front of him.
“Hey,” Jaclyn said. “That’s nothing but cheating. That’s not weather control at all.”
“Well,” the kid wizard next to us said, “your guy cheated.”
“He can’t cheat,” Cassie said. “Weather control is all Storm King can do!”
“Right,” I said. “I’m guessing Storm King ionized the air around him, making it more conductive than he was. That’s just how you control lightning.”
“Exactly,” Jaclyn said. “I’m ending this now.”
She ran out from under Daniel’s shield, ignoring the hail, and passing around the tornadoes before I realized she’d gone. Only a trail of kicked up sand marked her passage.
The struggle happened too quickly for me to see the details. When it ended, Jaclyn held the King of Storms’ cloak in one hand and a short haired boy wearing a Pittsburgh Riverhounds t-shirt in the other. He had to be at least a foot shorter.
The moment the cloak came off him, the King of Storms’ tornado fell apart, the hail stopped, and the clouds began to disperse. The silvery mesh dissolved.
Jaclyn pulled the boy to her, jumped, and landed in front of us.
She let the boy drop to the sand.
“Do you see how completely pointless this was?” She waved her hand toward the beach with its glass shards and craters, and then the cottages. The roof above the nearest cottage’s porch had fallen in during the fight.
I’d missed that somehow.
“I didn’t want a duel. That was you guys.”
“Oh come on. You came here to tell him to change his name. If he didn’t, what were you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do know. There wasn’t anything to do, but fight him.”
The kid brushed sand off his blue jeans and his shirt. “Well, they told me that was how you handled it, and they were right. I looked it up. Supers do that all the time. Can I have my cloak back?”
Jaclyn looked down at him. “Sometimes supers are dumb as rocks. And no, you can’t.”
As they talked, Vaughn’s tornado wound down to nothing and he flew over, carried by the wind. “Geez, I didn’t know he was that young.”
“I’m not a little kid.” He eyed the cloak in Jaclyn’s hand and then looked over to his friend.
The kid in the blue robe began to mumble something.
“Hey,” Lee said, “Fight’s over. Believe me, if anybody starts using magic, I’ll know.”
The kid looked at him for a moment, and his face went white. He stepped back and began to raise his hands.
“Look, I’m not doing anything, but what did I just say?” Lee held out his hands. “I’m not even holding a weapon. See?
“So anyway, the way I look at it, the King of Storms just lost because he violated the conditions of the duel. Storm King keeps on calling himself Storm King and you two guys run along home and stay out of your parents’ hair.”
“But it’s not settled,” the kid who had been King of Storms said. “If he’s Red Lightning come back, just like that guy’s the Rocket, he could go evil and they’d think it was me or something. Look at him.”
Checking out Vaughn’s costume for a second, I did have to admit that it did look like it had taken a step into the villains’ end of the pool — all black with straps with unknown purposes hanging in odd places. An abstract representation of a storm cloud covered the upper half of his chest. Except for the logo, it made me think of Marilyn Manson. Of course, Vaughn’s costume didn’t leave his butt cheeks exposed.
“I can’t believe this shit,” Vaughn said. “Look, I can’t deny that I inherited his powers, but I’m not him. I didn’t even get to know him. He died more than twenty years before I was born. So look, why don’t you wait till I actually go crazy before beating on me? It could be that I won’t, and everything I do will make you look good.”
“But you could,” the kid said. “The rest of them told me.”
“Everyone could,” Vaughn said. “You could too. And those voices in the cloak? How do you know they’re all trustworthy anyway?”
“Well, I –”
“You don’t,” Vaughn said. “You took a chance with them. Give me the same chance.”
* * *
They left not long after that. We scattered, leaving just before the fire department arrived. Someone had called them during the battle. I could imagine that it would have been terrifying for a normal person to be sitting in their cottage, enjoying a spring day when suddenly all hell broke loose on the beach. Who wouldn’t call 911?
Reporters tried the League’s phone number, but none of us took the calls. Everyone had gone home. Haley had to work. Daniel went to synagogue with his family. I don’t know what everyone else did.
I spent most of the night working on new utility belts for the League. I had some ideas I wanted to try out.
At points though, I did think about what had happened. Vaughn really had done a lot better than I would have expected. I wouldn’t have expected him to do as much research as he apparently had done on the King of Storms, for example, and his speech near the end had made things better, not worse.
Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it had, just a little.
That was okay. After the last couple weeks, I’d take a good surprise. It made for a nice change of pace.