Read an Excerpt
James tiredly slid his legs off the bed and looked around in disgust. His room was a mess. Half-finished glasses and plates covered his desk and dresser, while clothes were cattered in a tangled layer across the carpet. Crumpled and ripped photographs had been haphazardly thrown on top of the clothing, along with their now-empty frames. Only the walls had escaped the chaos, and they were almost entirely taken up by posters of his favorite League members. Thunderbolt had his arms crossed on the far wall by the closet, looking down on the room in disapproval.
James wasn’t usually so messy; he’d accumulated all this in the last thirty-two hours. He’d spent thirty-one-and-a-half of those in his bedroom.
After digging around for some passably clean clothes, James shuffled into the bathroom. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he frowned. He focused on his nose in particular, which was small, a bit pointy, and covered with faint freckles. Growing up, his pet name from his mother had been “my little weasel.” He’d never found it quite as endearing as she had.
James walked into the kitchen and found his two younger sisters sitting at the table. They both looked up, wearing the same patronizing smile.
“Still moping about Sara?” Ally asked.
“It’s only been two days,” James said defensively.
He went to get himself a piece of plain bread. It was the only thing he’d been able to keep down.
Jen snickered. “Kids these days.”
“I know you like to forget,” James said, taking a bite, “but I am your older brother. Older.”
Jen put down her spoon. “Did you know this?” she asked Ally, sounding shocked.
“Of course,” Ally said. “Look how mature he is.”
James rubbed his forehead in exasperation. He wasn’t getting a lot of sympathy from his family, and he somehow doubted it would be any better at school today.
“Are you hassling your brother?” their mother asked as she hurried into the kitchen. “Give him a break, please.
Jen, put the news on. I just heard something on the radio.”
She glanced at James. “You’re going to want to hear this.”
Jen got up and turned the TV to the news station. Thunderbolt stood behind a raised podium, looking somewhat old and tired as camera flashes lit up the stage. There were bags under his dark-rimmed eyes. James frowned, his ownproblems forgotten for a moment. Thunderbolt hadn’t held a formal news conference in over two years.
Thunderbolt leaned forward as someone asked a question. “As I said, the exact details are still unknown. All we can confirm is that Nighthawk is missing and has been for about a week now. We wanted to be absolutely sure before we released this information to the public.”
James hurried over to the TV. If a League member is missing, he thought, that can only mean one thing.
“At this time, we suspect that the Villains may be involved,” Thunderbolt said gravely, confirming James’s guess. This piece of information elicited a new rush of
questions, and Thunderbolt held up his hands. “There’s no need to panic. The League, combined with local and federal authorities, has been put on alert.” He looked out
into the cameras. “As before, we want to stress that the public is not a direct target of these individuals. All of the casualties in the past, including the tragic Night of Ashes,
were unfortunate results of attacks on League members. But this time, the League is ready, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that there are no more civilian
There was another flurry of questions, but Thunderbolt just shook his head. “No,” he said quietly. “I have no idea why they’ve returned now.”
The screen suddenly went black.
“Hey,” James protested. “I wanted to see . . .”
“You’re going to be late for school,” his mother said, putting the remote back on the table. “I’m sure you’ll hearmore about it there. And just to be on the safe side, I want
you all inside well before dark tonight.”
“Maybe we should stay home from school, you know, just to be safe,” Jen suggested.
Their mother glared at her, and the three of them quickly went upstairs.
Messing a little gel into his chestnut hair, James grabbed his backpack and headed out into the cool September morning. He could worry about Nighthawk’s disappearance
later: there was a more pressing concern on his mind. He had made a fateful decision last night, and it was time to follow through.
James walked through the front doors of Cambilsford High, and the whispers started immediately. The story had already spread.
He narrowed his eyes and started down the hallway. Everyone watched carefully as he passed, and the whispers grew louder behind him, intermingled with muted laughs.
He felt his skin prickling.
He glanced to the right and saw his friend, Dennis, abandoning his still-open locker and hurrying toward him.
James didn’t slow down. He had to stay focused.
“Did you hear the news?” Dennis asked excitedly, almost jogging to keep up.
“Yeah,” James said.
Dennis grinned. “We guessed it, remember? When we saw that footage of the Flame returning to League headquarters alone? We knew that Nighthawk had been with
him! Can you slow down?”
“No,” James replied firmly.
“I bet the war’s starting up again,” Dennis said, grabbing his arm. “The League is going into panic mode, you can tell. Will you stop so we can talk about this?”
“I don’t have time right now. I have to go.”
Dennis scowled and pulled him to a stop. “You don’t have time for a missing League member? Is this about Sara? You have to get over it! So she cheated on you. And
okay, it was with your former best friend. But it happens. She got hotter, and now she thinks she has to date a football player . . .”
“I’m marching toward my own impending death,” James said quietly, continuing down the hallway. “It’s slightly more important.”
“I hope you don’t mean what I think you mean!” Dennis called after him.
James spotted Mark at the far end of the hallway, standing with a group of his football teammates.
All right James, he told himself. Time to face your destiny.
He walked up to Mark, grabbed his arm, and spun him around. James’s right hand tightened into a fist, and with a sudden, unexpected movement, he launched a surprise
attack at Mark’s chin.
I’m doing it! James thought excitedly. I’m beating up Mark! Then his knuckles made contact. The punch slid awkwardly off of Mark’s broad chin, and pain flared in James’s wrist and forearm. To make matters worse, Mark didn’t seem the least bit affected. He just smiled calmly, and James knew he was dead.
Mark drew back his fist, and James watched in resigned defeat as it sailed toward his left eye. He felt the punch and the floor seemingly at the same time, and everything
slipped into darkness.
Principal Gorm paced back and forth behind his desk, his round cheeks flushing pink with agitation. “This is the third time you’ve been beaten up this month, James,” he
said, wagging a pudgy finger.
“I’m not sure I’d consider them all as being ‘beaten up’ per se,” James muttered. He was perched uncomfortably on a stiff metal chair, where he’d been escorted soon after his bleary awakening on the hallway floor.
“Were you not in my office last week holding an ice pack to your eye?”
James shifted his current ice pack. “Well, that time, sure. But the time before that, I just had a split lip.”
The principal shook his head. “You need to stop picking fights, James.”
“He started it!” James protested.
“I talked to Mark already,” Principal Gorm said. “He says you walked up to him and punched him, spraining your wrist in the process. And then he punched you, and you collapsed like a sack of potatoes.” He winced a little. “Those were his words.”
“You should be a counselor, Mr. Gorm. You’re really boosting my spirits. And my wrist is fine. So he’s a liar.”
Principal Gorm sighed. “You can go home for the day and rest up,” he said. “Keep the ice on. Tomorrow you have detention.”
“For getting beaten up?” James asked, outraged. “I’m going to have to sit in the same room as Mark!”
The principal hesitated. “Well, no, actually. Mark has a game tomorrow. He won’t be able to serve detention.”
James glared at him. “Maybe I’m busy too.”
“You don’t play any sports.”
“I almost made the badminton team.”
“I’ll see you at three.”
James opened his mouth to retort but instead turned and stormed out of the office. He threw open the front doors with his left hand, since he was fairly sure his right one was sprained, and started down the steps. Thankfully, the bell had rung about twenty minutes earlier, and the parking lot was empty.
James hurried down the street. He was so upset that he didn’t notice the gray van pulling out to follow him.
Fifteen minutes later, James crept into the house, slipped off his shoes, and tiptoed up the stairs.
“Is that you, James?” his mother called from the kitchen.
“Your principal called me about the fight. Are you hurt?”
“That’s good. Well, go lie down. We’ll have a family discussion later.”
“Can’t wait!” James shouted, and slammed the door.
He stepped over the piles of clothing and collapsed face first on his bed. He spent the rest of the day in that position, getting up only to use the bathroom and nibble on
the bread from the turkey sandwich his mom left by the door. The only positive was that he convinced his parents to postpone the “family discussion” until the next morning,
claiming dizziness. Finally, after everyone else had gone to bed, he got up and went to brush his teeth.
When he finished, James shuffled back to his bedroom but stopped at the door, feeling a breeze.
That’s odd, he thought. I could have sworn the window was closed.
He stepped into the room and flicked on the light.
There, standing right in the middle of his bedroom, was the biggest man James had ever seen. He had to be almost seven feet tall and at least four hundred pounds. Enormous arms protruded from his forest-green T-shirt, like two tree trunks.
“Hello, James,” he said. Then something hard smacked James on the back of his head.
“Ow!” he cried, clutching the spot. A bump was already forming underneath his hair. James spun around to see a handsome young man in dress pants and a button-down shirt. He was holding a strip of hard leather and looking somewhat embarrassed.
“What did you do that for?” James asked sharply.
“I thought that worked?” the younger man said to the giant, ignoring James. “I told you I should have just done it my usual way.”
The large man folded his arms. “I don’t want you screwing with his mind. You just didn’t do it right.”
“Well, it’s not the same if I just hit him again.”
“I agree,” James cut in. He knew he should probably be afraid, but he was already feeling a little woozy from the bump on his head. “How about no hitting?”
“Fine, I’ll do it,” the giant said.
James turned just in time to see a massive fist heading straight for his already-swollen eye.
This really isn’t my day, James thought, and once again, there was blackness.