Of Thorns and Lightning

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School Ties

“I guess we’ll just have to see what happens when they go out on their first mission together.”

♦️

A few weeks had passed since the initiation ceremony and the group was settling into their new roles and life had seemed to calm down. But not for William, he spent most of his days following the celebration in his office on the highest floor of their compound. He was piecing together intel he had received with some strange happenings in Queens; Meaghan, Peter and Maize’s hometown. It was something big and unnatural. William didn’t know what they would be facing or when, until the day came.

William rushed out of his office and tried to keep his composure, trying to hide the look of concern on his face or the sweat on his brow as he passed through the hallways in order to try and find Dike. When he did, he spotted him heading onto the elevator and William slipped between the crack of the doors to catch Dike before he continued about on his day. All he needed were a few seconds to deliver the message, and he succeeded.

“William, what’s going on?” Dike asked, growing in his concern especially after getting a look at William. He had bags under his eyes, and he was on edge, that much was obvious.

“Listen, I won’t keep you long, but I’ve got some important news for you. Something is brewing out there and it’s the perfect mission for three of these guys here. I’m thinking Meaghan, Maize and Peter. It pertains to their past and I know they’re already close in their friendship and they know how to work together, so I want to send them off on this mission. It seems easy enough for them to handle, but I need to know if you’ve introduced her to her suit yet. I want her to get some training time with it.”

“William, what’s brewing? You’re being vague and a little scary.”

“You know how kids are always complaining about their teachers, saying that they’re monsters?”

“No, when I was a kid we didn’t dare disrespect-”

“Sorry, I forgot you’re all about justice and respect, Dike. But this case, one of their former teachers actually is a monster, and if we don’t intervene then something big is going to happen.”

“Interesting. And you’re sure those three can handle it by themselves? They’ve never been on a mission before.”

“Sure. I’ve seen them work together and they’ve been trained by the best. We’ll be there for backup. The suit?”

“I was going to get to that a little further down the line, but I can do that now so she’s ready.”

“Good. Keep me posted.” William spoke before the elevator began to rise once more. Dike stepped off the elevator and made his way towards Meaghan’s room.

“Oh, look what the cat brought in.” Meaghan smiled as Dike knocked on her door, though she was a little annoyed he was late. Dike was never late.

“Yeah, sorry about that. William caught me in the elevator and wanted to talk.” He explained as he stepped inside her room.

“I forgive you. Well, now that you’re here, why don’t you come lay down?” She suggested. Dike knew that she wanted him to lay next to her, so he did.

“Hey Dike?” Meaghan asked, her curiosity running wild.

“Yes, Meaghan?” He answered.

“What were you and William talking about before? You seemed flustered.”

Dike took a deep breath.

“Something’s in the works right now. Once you’re all rested up, I’ve got one more surprise for you. I hope you like it.”

“Absolutely. Yeah, I was wondering if you had something up your sleeve. It’s rare that I catch you hanging out with me purely because you want to.” Meaghan smiled, taking a long glance at Dike. “You should do it more often.”

Dike and Meaghan then went together to the Vault in the sub-basement of the compound. Dike was left alone with his thoughts and he discovered that he was terribly nervous about letting Meaghan go off into battle. He knew that’s what she was there for and he had no doubts of her capabilities, but once Meaghan was in, she was in. He didn’t want Meaghan to be rushed into her duties too soon, because the job takes a toll on everyone. He just wanted to keep her safe for as long as he could. But, this was Meaghan’s destiny after all.

Meaghan wore a lavender V-neck shirt, a cream-colored halter bralette, light wash jeans and white Converse sneakers, ready for whatever Dike was going to throw at her.

They took the elevator down to the Vault, and it was becoming clearer to Meaghan what she was about to encounter. She remembered another door to presumably another room when they were standing with the shield for the first time a little while ago, and that’s where they were headed. Dike stopped at that door and turned to face Meaghan, who was sick with anticipation.

“William mentioned to me as I was on my way to you that there was a mission in the works that would be perfect for you, Maize and Peter that he wants to send you out on. So, I can’t just have you out there in street clothes and the shield! I wanted to wait a little longer, but with this coming up I think it’s time I introduce you to your uniform.” He spoke with a little smile, seeing as that Meaghan was eager. He opened the next door and they walked in the negative pressure room where Meaghan’s suit was held up on a mannequin inside a clear plastic cylinder. Dike had to swipe his ID card, scan his fingerprint and punch in a code in order for the door to open and the suit to be fully revealed to Meaghan.

“I’ll let you two get acquainted,” He spoke, standing on the far wall close to the door, letting Meaghan discover the suit for herself. Meaghan almost didn’t want to touch it out of fear that she would somehow tarnish its newness or functionality.

“I worked with William to incorporate some new tech. Since you and I only have the shield and that makes our legs most vulnerable, we added some plating there for extra support. It’s nearly indestructible. Those will stop attacks and bullets before you even know they’re happening. Its custom fitted, so it should be just about perfect, why don’t you go try it on?” Dike explained the suit and suggested. Meaghan couldn’t wait until she had the suit on for the first time.

Dike turned around so he was facing the wall while Meaghan got into the suit, and it was easier than she thought it would be. She pulled on the top and the pants which fit her like a glove, and the leg guards and the metal hands locked into place without her even doing anything. Meaghan felt just as invincible as her suit was, and Dike turned around. He was in amazement; he was once again reminded of how well Meaghan fit the role. He was feeling like a proud soccer mom, but she also couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

“It’s missing something, though.” He spoke, stepping into the other room and grabbing Betty off the wall and bringing it over to her. She got it situated and Dike helped her, and then both were satisfied. It had all come together just in time for the ground to rumble below them and the ceiling shake above them. Their time for admiration was cut short, Meaghan alarmed.

“What’s going on?!”

“If I’m not mistaken, Thor and Maize have returned.” Dike answered, knowing from past experience that Thor’s return to Midgard always felt like an earthquake. Dike and Meaghan ran towards the elevator and took it up to the main floors, asking Jason on their way where the two were. At the same time Meaghan and Dike were in the Vault, William and Peter were making some final tweaks on Peter’s Arachne suit. The two of them raced up to meet Maize and Thor, arriving at the same time as Meaghan and Dike. All three of the kids were suited up and it was adorable.

“Honey, I’m home!” Thor boomed deeply with a smile.

Thor stuck the landing and looked like a superhero, but the same couldn’t be said for Maize. She lost her balance and toppled over, ending up dizzy on the floor. She turned over onto her hands and knees before slowly standing up, grabbing the wall pillar for support. She had bumped into a glass side table and made the potted plant shake, Maize reaching out to steady it. Everyone in the room was looking at her, wondering what the hell was actually going on in front of them, but Maize was oblivious to the people and their stares.

“Whoa, I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to that,” Maize spoke, looking and sounding disoriented from the interplanetary lightyear express. Meaghan was the first to approach her and open her mouth.

“Maize, you look so different! Amazing, might I add!” Meaghan complimented, seeing her best friend drop from the sky with Thor into the living room. Maize’s textured blonde hair was cropped a few inches to her collarbone and her face looked incredibly mature. She was more muscular and had obviously been through a lot during her trip abroad to Asgard. She was fully embodying Thor in all aspects, including a glittery, iridescent cape to boot.

“Oh, my God, Meaghan, I can say the same for you! Look at you, you’ve got the shield and EVERYTHING!” Maize squealed, excited to see her best friend for the first time in about a month all suited up as Dike.

As Maize looked around the rest of the room, she realized that no one had tried to verbally attack her, and she wasn’t getting any sort of notion that something bad was going to happen. In fact, everyone seemed like they were getting along great.

“Whoa, what the hell happened around here?! Everyone actually seems to be getting along and trying to function like a team! What did I miss? Was my absence so greatly appreciated by all that you became normal?”

“William made us do some group therapy.” Meaghan explained simply.

“Ah. That would do the trick.”

Then her eyes met Peter’s.

Maize walked over to Peter with a soft smile, her arms outstretched. It had been too long since they hugged each other, and Peter was a gracious recipient of her embrace. Their bodies molded together, and it always made Maize laugh that they fit together so well when they hugged. Maize was just an inch shorter than him, but it seemed to make all the difference in the world.

It took Maize a few more moments of affection for her to chuckle at Peter’s suit.

“What? What is it?” Peter asked.

“I don’t know, it’s just that you and William have been working on this suit for who knows how long, and you both decided that the best thing to do was to make you wear tights?” Maize laughed.

“So, you’re telling me we have armor, she has a hammer, and you have... spandex?!” Meaghan laughed hysterically, chiming in on Peter’s roasting.

“Hey! Don’t even talk to me about the functionality of your suit. You have a crop top!!” He defended.

“Yeah, but I have armor.”

“You have a point, but I have a supercomputer in here that I’ve named Linda.”

“Oh, so we won’t put your suit through the wash and the dryer, then, especially because it’ll shrink to the size of a doll!” The girls laughed. William was trying to hide his amusement and did so by breaking up the banter.

“Alright, alright, alright. That’s enough, we’ve got bigger things to worry about, here. You three, let’s go, we’ve got a lot to discuss.” William spoke, leading them all into the conference room.

“What’s this all about, William?” Maize asked.

“You’re not going to like this, Maize. It’s your old English teacher, Mr. Sledge, and he’s kind of turned into a giant sledgehammer-wielding, Thor-hating monster. Have fun.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“I wish I was. We’re sending you out tomorrow morning, just like you were going to school again! Same time, same place.” William spoke, then instructing the three to get a lot of rest. They were going to need it.

The next morning, the three of them weren’t sent to the school on a fancy Gods jet or helicopter. That was reserved for Thor, William and Dike to ride on to observe the kids from a distance.

They were told to take the subway.

Dressed in their battle armor, the three of them stood huddled together on the packed morning train, gathering the attention of nobody but one elderly woman.

“Are you lovely kids going to a convention? What do they call it these days? Cosplay?” She asked. The three of them looked at each other in a silent panic, but Maize was quick with her response.

“Oh, were actually heading to school! It’s senior dress up day and we’re going as the Gods! They do so much good and are such great role models that us proper, studious kids just had to honor them at our school today.”

“Isn’t that swell. Wonderful, kids. Keep up the good work!”

The subway came to a halt at the station near their school, but they still had to walk down the street a few blocks to get to their school. Neither of them knew exactly what to expect when they walked inside the school. Maize and Meaghan would be seeing the friends they abruptly left behind for the first time, and they were completely different people. Their friends might not even want to be friends anymore or just use them for attention, and that was a hard pill for Maize to swallow. Especially when they walked up the steps and through the front doors of the school. The hallways were still familiarly fresh in her mind, she and Meaghan had spent the past four years there. It was hard for her to forget.

Everything seemed normal except for the fact that everything was in chaos.

A different kind of chaos than usual. No one seemed to be around, all the doors were open, glass was shattered, and papers were strewn all across the floor. They weren’t sure if anyone besides The Sledgehammer was still in the building, dead or alive. When they saw the glowing red light at the end of the English hallway, they knew they were about to find out.

“Alright guys, are you ready for whatever’s behind that door?” Peter asked shakily.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Meaghan answered. Maize was silent.

When they entered, there was a Menoetius-sized version of their former English teacher in the room, the source of the red light. His eyes glowed with what seemed like the fires of hell and he was wielding a sledgehammer. William was absolutely right, he was a Thor hater. Probably because he taught Maize, and Maize was the worst student he could possibly have ever had- in his world. She fought back against his bullshitting tendencies and pathological lying. The Sledgehammer was asserting his vengeance upon Maize.

“So, we meet again, huh?” Maize taunted, ready for anything. That just made him angrier.

“Bad vibes, ambulance drives, bitch!” She exclaimed, using one of his own teachings upon him, and the battle officially started.

Meaghan’s shield deflected a lot of the attacks from his sledgehammer and the red light, which they learned the hard way burned. As Meaghan deflected, Maize used the power of the hammer to do some damage and weaken him, and Peter swung in and wrapped his webbing around the hammer, yanking it right out of his hands. He still had the mysterious red weapon on his side and Maize didn’t know how to fight that with a hammer. She worked with Peter to weaken him from above as they swung from the rafters and through the open window from the side of the building. Meaghan had used Betty not just as a shield but as a frisbee with a razor-sharp edge that came right back to her, critically injuring the Sledgehammer.

Suddenly, Maize lost control of the hammer and was quickly plummeting down through the floor, into the earth. The hammer was leading the way and dragging her down with incredible speed, but Peter was there to help. He found the right angle and shot down a web that coated the entire bottom of the hole she was falling down, acting like a trampoline and catching her from falling any further. She regained her composure and nodded up at Peter as a quick thanks before rejoining the battle. William was having a hard time sitting and watching this happen, because if he was there the battle would already have been over. He didn’t want his Probe Gods messing up or getting hurt, but they were doing fine, and he knew that they had to go out on their own like baby birds flying out of the nest for the first time. It still had a deep physical effect on him.

“Oh, my god. My whole left arm is numb, is that bad?!” William asked the other Gods as well at Jason, stressed from letting the three newbies go out on their own for the first time. Jason responded inside his suit.

“According to your vital signs, you seem to be having a moderate heart attack, sir.” Jason reported.

“Well, isn’t that just fucking great!” He yelled, watching as the Sledgehammer regained his weapon and began knocking down the walls, causing irreversible structural damage to the school. He was most concerned that the building would collapse on his trainees, his kids. But they were better than that; in record time they defeated the Sledgehammer and he vaporized into nothing and suddenly everything was quiet again. The student body eventually started seeping out from hiding to see that they were saved, but it wasn’t a joyful reaction.

Maize and Meaghan were face to face with their old friends, who had felt utterly betrayed. The girls disappeared one day and lost all contact with them, their friends thinking that they just got up and left and forgot all about them. No one believed the rumors that they were taken to William Townsend and were training to be Gods; no, that felt like a kick in the teeth, like it was some sick joke, and no one was laughing.

Even when they saw it was true, they knew that they had lost Meaghan and Maize forever, and no physical wound hurt more than that.

The Gods that had been watching from a distance began doing damage control, herding out all the students and faculty from the school and aiding. Meaghan and Peter got swept up in the news and the media, but Maize stayed inside. Even when she was a hero, she was still invisible in her school. No one paid her any attention as they filed out of the classrooms, and no one wondered where she was after it all was said and done.

But she needed closure.

Maize knew how she could get it, and she wasn’t going to deny herself what had been denied to her before. She took a right down the hallway and she slowly made her way in the darkness to her locker and stood in front of it, meditating. It wasn’t long before she reached out and twisted the lock to the code, and she pushed up on the lever to open the door. The metal hit the locker next to hers with a clang, and she was face to face with who she used to be. Down the hall, she heard voices that she immediately recognized predominantly as William’s.

Kicking through the rubble, William vocalized his thoughts but none of the Gods knew if he was angry, sarcastic or proud. They figured it was a little bit of everything, after all the man just had a heart attack.

“Well isn’t this a wonderful mess! I mean, I’m impressed, these kids are great but has anyone else never been more afraid of three minors?” He asked, getting a different response out of Thor.

“I’m just afraid for you, you should be in an ambulance right now.”

“Nah, Jason is taking care of me until we get back-” William stopped mid-sentence as they looked down the hall Maize was in. William was confused.

“Maize! What are you doing back here! We’ve got shit to do!”

That made Maize upset.

“Yeah, well I’ve got shit to do, too, Townsend!” She yelled.

“And what’s that?” He responded.

“I’m cleaning out my locker!” She yelled though her voice quivered, angry at him, hot tears streaming down her face. After a deep breath, she calmly added

“I never got to clean out my locker.”

William didn’t say anything else. Maize took down all the pictures of her and her friends at football games and other school activities, all her magnets, decorations, funny notes and textbooks. She threw away an armful of loose papers from last semester she would never need again, and last but not least, her favorite lunchbox. She carried her belongings in her arms, Mjolnir hanging from her wrist, swinging as she walked. She closed her locker and pushed it until she heard it shut completely, and she began walking towards Thor and William.

William changed his approach, knowing she was upset. She tried to avoid them and walk past them, but William stopped her.

“Come on! William, move!” She requested, frustrated and sad.

“No. Hey, hey, look at me.” He spoke compassionately, her eyes reluctantly meeting his.

“Hey, you did great, ok? We’re really proud of you. I’m sorry I yelled at you, I didn’t get it.” He apologized and Maize nodded in understanding, biting her bottom lip.

“Come here,” William said, bringing her close. He knew that she had an armful of things she couldn’t drop to reach around and hug him back and the cold metal of his suit probably wasn’t comfortable, but it was the sentiment. He kissed the top of her head.

“Let’s get out of here, Leto.” He spoke after he broke the hug, keeping his hand on her shoulder as they walked out. They met up with Peter and Meaghan, Peter speaking first.

“You’re not going to make us ride the subway home, do you?” Peter asked. William chuckled.

“No, you three are coming with us, and we’re getting away from here as soon as possible.”

They all loaded onto the Jet, headed straight for home, even though Maize was conflicted once again on what exactly ‘home’ was. It wasn’t long before the jet took off the ground and all the people and things below them began to become small.

Maize only prayed that she would never have to see that place or any of the people in it again. One heartbreak and disappointment was more than enough for her.

As they left, the school began to quickly fade into a distant memory for everyone, but Maize knew it wasn’t over. She had other monsters to face when she got home.

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