Chapter 1: Bearer of the Eternal Soul
Nicholas Goodwin, after many hours of dreamless and restless sleep, finally dreamt, his mind tranversing into the awe-inspiring and terrifying land of dreams and nightmares. He was lost in a vast cosmos, floating in a grand cosmic void, the size of which he could never know, though he felt like he did. There was no air, yet he breathed; this place was alien, yet he felt at peace with everything, one with everything.
"Where am I?" he asked out loud, his voice never truly escaping his mouth.
Space twisted and turned, stars converged and coalesced, and galaxies merged, all of them coming together to form something grandiose, something truly magnificent. Out of this cosmic unity, a beautiful jewel made from the husks of space and the corpses of sacrificed galaxies and stars. It shined with a brilliance no quasar, star, or supernova could dare to match.
Nicholas felt drawn to it, to this majestic jewel that floated there, tempting him to take it as his prize. He willed his body closer, some force washing over him that compelled him to go even closer, to dare to touch the crystal.
"The crystal....it's calling out to me..." he said weakly, his breath robbed of him as he gazed at the crystal's majesty.
Seconds stretched to eons as his body seemed to both get closer and the gem farther away as each fleeting moment of time passed. When finally near his prize, he pulled it close to his heart, and the jewel melded with him. They were finally one, a divine prophecy now fulfilled.
Nicholas awoke, his heart beating rapidly in its chest, the organ begging for escape. He looked around his room, scanning the shadows of his room, using what little half-light that filtered through the shades covering his windows. He turned to the alarm clock on his desk and checked the time.
"4:50? Better get dressed or Mom will try and fuss at me for not waking up at five 'o clock sharp even though it's a Saturday." he mumbled under his breath.
He felt envigorated, the opposite of his usual after-sleep grogginess, for some reason. Whatever it was, he thanked who or whatever was responsible, especially since he was going to need it today. Today was Saturday and his six month anniversary with his boyfriend Jason. Nicholas has the whole day planned: they would go out to the park for a nice little picnic, sight-see around the city, and then he'd give Jason what he had been saving up forever to get, a signed basketball from Jason's favorite player, Kevin Durant. It had taken Nicholas an eternity to find one on Ebay, but when he did, he saved up all of his allowance and the money from his landscaping odd-jobs to pay for it
Nicholas looked at himself in the mirror, a final check to make sure he looked at least half-decent. He had neatly combed dirty blonde hair --he had a mild case of OCD and one of the ways it manifested was how his hair looked-- and gorgeous green eyes --a recessive trait that skipped one generation in his father's and mother's side of the family. He was wearing a black sweater vest with a white collar shirt underneath, the sleeves rolled up, and gray kahkis. He wanted to look just perfect for Jason on this day; nay, he had to look perfect today.
Once his anxiety over his own appearance was satisfied and he was done brushing his teeth and the other essentials of his morning, he rushed down stairs to find his mom in the kitchen, breakfast already on the table. She greeted him with a warming smile and said, "And here I was 'bout ready to storm your room and yell at you to get up, sleepy head."
She noticed his mode of dress and said, "What's the occasion?"
Nicholas sat down at the table and started scarfing down his eggs and bacon. He looked up from his plate, smiled at his mother, and said, "Six month anniversary with Jason is today. We're going to have a picnic in the park and everything. I told you and you helped me prepare the picnic and everything, remember?"
"Oh yeah, I remember now. Well, finish your breakfast and and let me get dressed and then we can go, alright?" his mother replied, putting down the spatula and turning off the stove. She made her way over to Nicholas and kissed him on the forehead and hugged him.
Nicholas sat on a park bench, waiting for Jason to arrive and watching people pass by while he did, his picnic basket next to him. The air was crisp and cool, blowing gently through the park. The sun was partially hidden behind a string of clouds, the temperature of the day just perfect because of it. While looking around, he noticed everything was clearer, more sharp. He noticed that light and shadows were more distinct, the chirpings of birds usually drowned out were now audible, and scents he involuntarily ignored were now brought to the forefront. He chaulked it up to being in a good mood and continued waiting for Jason.
After 15 more minutes of waiting, Jason finally appeared. He had dark brown hair and blue eyes. He was wearing a gray jacket with a blue tee and blue jeans. He was over two inches taller than Nicholas and more muscular too, though Jason was in pretty good shape too --Jason was just more naturally muscular than Nicholas.
Nicholas got up and hugged Jason, who retuned it and gave Nicholas a kiss on the lips. "Happy six months aniversary, baby." Jason said in his usual deep-voiced, cheery tone.
"Come on, I have a whole picnic here, Jason." Nicholas said, picking up the picnic basket and motioning for Jason to pick a spot with him.
Something struck Nicholas hard and fast and darkness enveloped his vision as unconsciousness set in.
"Whe-Where...am..I? Why does everything hurt....." he mumbled weakly to himself as he slowly regained consciousness. His entire body ached and groaned, as even the very act of breathing incurred sharp pains in his chest. Blood soaked his hair and dripped down the side of his head. His arm was limp and numb. If he wasn't so badly injured, he would have quipped that his entire body felt like a large bruise, but he had bigger issues. Where was Jason? What had happened to him?
As soon these thoughts crossed his mind, he flew into a panic. He franticly searched the wreckage and debris that was used to be the park and his and Jason's picnic spot, the sounds of mad laughter not too far off. His vision was blurry, still recovering from the effects of the impact, but he still managed to find Jason. He was lying on the ground, bruised, bloody, and unconscious; Nicholas hobbled and dragged his body as quickly as he could, but his efforts were in vain. Jason's body began floating in the air, under the telekinetic power of the person responsible for Jason's current unconscious state and Nicholas' injuries: Dr. Equinox.
Dr. Equinox was a moral anomaly, obsessed as he was with balance, order, and chaos, and an Altered, a human who had acquired special powers through varied means, with an arsenal of powers. He wore a black and white suit of armor, one of each color on opposite sides, and a mask that showed the colors of yin and yang orbiting and being drawn inwards to a center point of white nothingness. His modus operandi was hard to pin down, as incomprehensible as his moral standing within the hero and villain community.
Seeing him lift Jason's unconscious body into the air filled Nicholas with a certain dread and rage. "Wh-What is...he doing? What is he....going to do to Jason?" he wondered mentally, poisoned thoughts leaking out and filling him with anxiety and fear, fear for Jason's life.
"The scales are unbalanced. The living outweigh the dead in this incident. This one must die so that balance can be preserved." Dr. Equinox dictated, his voice booming and authoritative.
"No, no, no, no! I want Jason to be okay! I want Jason to be away from that maniac! I want him to be okay! He needs to be okay!" Nicholas chanted over and over, almost religiously. Nicholas' entire body, especially his eyes, glowed with a neon blue energy, exuding cosmic power. Jason was soon surrounded by the same energy as Nicholas and away from Dr. Equinox, all of his injuries healed, though he was still unconscious.
"Another variable has entered. The balance is in disarray. Bearer of the Soul of the Universe, you must both be eliminated to restore balance between chaos and order. I assure you, this is nothing personal." Dr. Equinox addressed Nicholas in a tone of detachment and dull surprise, setting his gaze upon Nicholas, who now floated slightly above the ground where he once stood and was now glowing even brighter with power.
"Wha- How did I do that?.....I'll worry about it later. I have to try and hold this guy off before the real superheroes show up and can deal with him. Then I'll take Jason to the hospital. But first, I need to heal myself." Nicholas thought to himself, his will being carried out by his power. Reality bent to his desire: the blood dripping from his forehead slowed to a trickle and then reversed and the cut closed, the bruises and scrapes were no longer there, his arm had feeling once more, and his entire body felt fantastic.
"I don't have any idea about this Soul of the Universe crap you're talking about, but I do know one thing: I'm going to kick your sorry ass for what you did to me and Jason, creep, so get ready." Nicholas growled at Dr. Equinox, who had his arms crossed and looked down on Nicholas.
Dr. Equinox simply outstretched his arm, a black bolt of darkness and twilight leaping outward from it, heading straight for Nicholas. "Energy shield, energy shield, I want a damned energy shield now!" Nicholas repeated over and over again in his mind, having little time to react to the attack. A dome of golden energy surrounded Nicholas and Jason. The blast dispersed over the surface of the barrier, dissipating harmlessly against it.
"Formidable defense, little warper. But how long can you maintain it, I wonder?" Dr. Equinox asked inquisitively.
Dr. Equinox unleashed an onslaught of darkness and light blasts of energy against Nicholas, blast after blast contesting his golden energy shield and dissipating, but the shield was failing. Cracks were becoming more and more visible in the barrier. "I have to do something quick or he'll break through and fry the both of us. I wonder if I could..."
"I want to summon a guardian of stone and wood. Give me a guardian of stone and wood!" Nicholas yelled, commanding reality to heed his demands.
The ground shook and trembled, reality heeding Nicholas' demands. Stone and concrete gathered and coalesced, wood ripped itself off of trees and merged with the stone, all of it molding itself according to Nicholas' desire. What was once part of the park was now a giant, towering defender of concrete and stone, animated and powered by Nicholas' sheer power and will alone. Its body was composed of twisted, mangled wood and bark, protected an outer shell of concrete and stone. "Pulverize him. Crush him. Do whatever you can to distract him." Nicholas ordered the golem.
"Immpressive, little warp- Unngh!" Dr. Equinox cried out, smashed into the ground by the powerful, gargantuan fist of Nicholas' golem. The ground shook and the sound of its fist crashing against the earth reverberated throughout the entire city.
"This would be so cool if I there wasn't a chance I might die. Focus, focus. Golem, provide me cover."
Dr. Equinox staggered to get up, standing in the gigantic crated formed from the fist of Nicholas' golem crashing down upon him without warning. The fist had done some damage, as well as furiously angered Dr. Equinox. "You petulant warper! I will dance in the ashes of your immolated corpse!" He shouted at Nicholas, his rage boiling over.
The golemn's fist crashed down upon him once more, but this time he was ready. As the fist closed in on him, he fired a concetrated blast of dark energy, destroying the creature's fist and staggering it backward. Using that timeframe to his advantage, Dr. Equinox rushed into the air once more and began renewing his onslaught, this time against the golem. The golem retaliated by trying to swat him out of the sky, but to no avail, as Dr. Equinox was far too fast and nimble in the air for the slow, bulky golem.
A blast of yellowish-orange energy blasted Dr. Equinox, sending him flying into the ground at breakneck speeds. Nicholas knew exactly who that was from, Energex of the Sentinels, one of the greatest superhero teams on Earth had finally came. Nicholas clutched Jason's body before dropping the energy shield and taking to the air, albeit a bit wobbly. Energex, wearing his signature lightning bolt black and yellow costume, approached Nicholas.
"I'm guessing that monstrosity is your work, kid?" Energex asked, pointing to the golem Nicholas had made that had begun to reform itself using the surrounding area as material and ready to fight against Dr. Equinox. "And you know you're floating and glowing, right?"
"Yes and yes. It's a long story that I don't even know all the details to." Nicholas replied.
"Alright, got a name, kid? Like, a codename or whatever? Or are you just a newbie?"
Nicholas hadn't really thought about a hero name or secret identity, given that he was just attacked by Dr. Equinox. He shook his head no.
"Well, whatever it is, you've got some balls, kid. But leave this to me and them," Energex said, pointing to the group of costumed heroes right behind them both.
There were four of them and Nicholas knew all of their names --he was kind of a big fan of the Sentinels. Their leader was named Aphex, a super-strong and super-durable Altered with the power of flight. The second-in-command was Galatea, an Altered who had the ability to control her own sub-atomic structure at will. Next up were Professor Eternity, an Altered with magical abilities, and Paragon, a super-genius who invented a poweful exoskeleton. Lastly was Energex himself, an Altered with the ability to control and generate energy.
"Energex is right, for once." Galatea said, coming closer to Nicholas. "You should leave Dr. Equinox to us. Handle protecting yourself and your friend over there."
"Professor Eternity, cover this entire park in an magical barrier to prevent Dr. Equinox from escaping." Aphex said.
"As you command, Aphex." Professor Eternity was gone in an instant, a teleportation spell no doubt.
"Paragon, search, rescue, and evacuate. We have to keep casualties to a minimum." Aphex ordered.
"On it, Chief." Paragon said, activating his hand and foot rockets and dashing through the sky and into the ruins of the park.
"Galatea and Energex, you're with me. We're taking down Dr. Equinox." Aphex commanded.
"Yes, sir." They both said in unison. Galatea and Energex flew off, ready to confront Dr. Equinox and put a stop to his destruction.
Aphex turned and put his hands on Nicholas' shoulders. Nicholas looked up at him. "You did a very brave thing today, son. I'd be honored to have you as a teammate someday. If you ever have questions with your powers, contact our secretary and we'll help you right away. We know how scary it can be to get powers out of nowhere." Aphex said, his tone compassionate and understanding.
"Alright, I will. Thanks." Nicholas said, his voice laden with gratitude and respect.
Aphex flew away at impossible speeds, leaving Nicholas in the air alone with a lot to think about. "I want the golem to disappear and Jason to be in my arms." And as he willed it, the golem crumbled, its purpose now gone, and withered into gravel and splinters of wood. Jason was teleported into Nicholas' arms. "I want both of us to be at my house."
Space bent and twisted, overlapping the two locations and teleporting Nicholas and Jason back to his house. Nicholas laid Jason's unconscious body on the couch, in full view of his mother, who had seen him teleport in. Nicholas' mother screamed in shock at the state in which her son was in. She ran over and hugged him, on the verge of crying. "Are you alright, son?! What happened?! They said something on the news about Dr. Equinox attacking the park and then I worried..." she cried out, her motherly nature getting the best of her.
"I'm alright, mom, I promise. You might see what happened on the news so I'll tell you anways: I'm an Altered now."
She sat down in an armchair and stared her son in the eye. She was shaking, and understandably so. Being an Altered was a big deal, a huge change that could make or break families, bolster or destroy relationships, and change the life of the Altered and those around them forever.
"I always knew there was something special about you, Nic, from the moment you were born. Before your father died, he always ranted and raved about how you were born on a perfect alignment in the heavens or something. He would swear to God he saw the stars shine brighter and the universe smile when you were born. I always thought it was nonsense, but now....I'm inclined to believe him. So what are you going to do now?" She said, her voice shaky and weak.
"Get a grip on my powers and try to do some good in the world. And I know just the people to help me with that...." Nicholas said, his voice trailing off.
Chapter 2: Project ASTRAL and Agent Nemesis
Joseph Hunter stood atop a building rooftop, doing one of the few things in his life that made sense anymore: fighting crime and beating up criminals. His life was thrown into disarray after a transdimensional science experiment gone wrong granted him the power to call forth anti-energy from an exotic dimension and control it, as well as altered his physical makeup, making him super-strong and durable. He tried to do the logical thing and learn how to control his powers before doing anything with them --he had some help from the Project ASTRAL scientists, of which his father was a member of, involved in the incident.
He had taken to calling himself Agent Nemesis and fighting crime whenever he could, wherever he could. He was wearing his Agent Nemesis costume: it was primarly red and black, with yellow lines that ran across his arms and met in the center of his chest and his back. The top and lower halfs were a dark shade of red, while the torso was black, save for the yellow lines. The suit was designed by his father and was composed of experimental nanomaterials that would help him contain his power and monitor his energy output better. Built into it was a comms system that would allow two-way conversation between him and Project ASTRAL scientists, a biometrics indentification system that would administer a shock to anyone who tried to wear the suit and didn't match his biometrics, and an internal cooling system, since using his powers tended to generate excess heat.
The alarm of jewlery store rung out and the burglars, armed and dangerous, ran out soon afterword. "Textbook robbery, how typical. Better stop these guys now." Joseph heard sirens in the distance, getting louder as they got closer and closer to the jewlery store. Covering himself in anti-energy and manipulating it, he jumped off the building and landed in front of the burglars, floating slightly above their getaway car with his arms crossed. He was bathed in anti-energy, a orangeish-crimson glow emanating from his body. The burglars shaked in fear, their mouths agape and persperation on their brow.
"If you want to walk away with all of your teeth intact, you'll do yourselves a favor and put those jewels back." Joseph growled at the robbers, hoping they'd have enough brains to realize they didn't stand a chance.
His hopes were crushed when they started firing upon him while screaming, "Shoot him, shoot him!" and "I'm not goin' back to jail because of some punk-kid Altered that likes playing dress-up." The bullets bounced harmlessly off of Joseph's skin, annoying him more than anything. "Allow me to rephrase that." --Joseph punched the nearest of the three burglars, sending him flying into a brick wall-- "Put your weapons down now, surrender, and I might let you walk, not limp, away from this. The operative word being 'might'." Joseph ordered.
This provoked something within the other two, and they soon found themselves charging at Joseph, fists clenched and guns ready to deliver a beating. The first foolish one managed to land a punch on Joseph, hitting him straight in the gut. The robber screamed out in pain and cried out, "I-I think my hand is broken! What the hell are you?!" while he clutched his shattered hand.
"Hi. The name's Agent Nemesis. Have a pleasant sleep." Joseph said, firing a blast of crimson-orange energy out of his hand, the burglar's face now firmly planted in the broken front window of their car and his entire body limp.
The last one remaining stopped dead in his tracks and stood there, clutching the bag of stolen diamond rings and necklaces. He was positively quacking, his eyes looked wild, and he was sweating profusely. He reminding Joseph of a wounded and scared animal, and Joseph knew how people reacted when the prospect of pain was presented: they'd either stop what they were doing or try to inflict pain on others.
"I give up, man! Just don't hurt me, please!" The robber shouted, raising his hands in the air and dropping both the bag of stolen jewelery and his gun at the same time. At that moment, the police finally arrived and surrounded them both, their guns aimed at the burglar, who was still quivering with fear and was on his knees with his hands still in the air. Some police officers got out of their cruisers and cuffed the guy, while what looked like their superior officer started making their way their way towards Joseph.
"I don't care what the newspapers say about you Altereds, you're alright with me. The name's Issac Jefferson and it's an honor to meet you, Agent Nemesis. That's your name, right?" The superior officer said, his hand outstretched, waiting to be shaken.
Joseph shook his hand and said, "Likewise, Officer Jefferson. And yes, I call myself Agent Nemesis."
"I don't care what you call yourself, so long as you keep helpin' the boys in blue out." Officer Jefferson quipped, a perfect smile flashing over his face.
"Joseph, come in." a voice beckoned over his comms systems.
"Sorry Officer, but I have to take this- Agent Nemesis here. What is it Dr. Hunter?" Joseph said, answering his father.
"Hurry up and come back to the lab. We'd like to analyze the data your suit gathered."
"I'll be there as soon as possible, Dr. Hunter- Sorry, but I have to leave you, Officer Jefferson. Some other time, perhaps." Joseph said almost apologetically.
He took the skies and began making his way to ASTRAL Laboratories so that the Exotic Dimensions and Particles Department could analyze him and his suit. Great, I have to deal wth being poked and prodded by dad's coworker's again. Maybe there won't be any tests again....Especially the Transdimensional Particle Detection test. That one really hurts.
"First some kid with the power to reshape reality goes against Dr. Equinox in Paradisna Park and beats his monochrome ass and now I've met Agent Nemesis. Is this city some sort of beacon for teenage Altereds?" Officer Issac asked rhetorically, lighting up a cigarette.
"Uhm, that wouldn't be that far off to assume, sir-" His subordinate chimed in.
"It'd do you some good to learn what a rhetorical question is. Come on, let's take these scum down to the precinct."
Galatea and Energex watched as Joseph flew away to ASTRAL Laboratories, mixed expressions crossing over their faces. A light wind was blowing, Galatea's pink hair flowing in the wind.
"So that's the kid?" Galatea asked, cutting through the awkward silence that had settled.
"Yes, Galatea, that's him. He was caught in a transdimensional reactor explosion, altering his physical makeup. He is now super-durable and strong and able to control exotic anti-energy from another dimension." Energex responded.
".....Wow. If you talked like that more often, I'd actually like you more." Galatea quipped.
"Ha, ha, ha, I was a particle physcist before being a superhero, remember? So Aphex wants this kid to be part of the project like the others?" Energex asked, pacing around the rooftop of the building.
"Yeah, the boy that fought Dr. Equniox in Paradisna Park yesterday, too. Jade and Psyren have already agreed to our offer. We just have the boy who got his powers from a cosmic stone and Cypher left." Galatea replied simply.
"To be honest, that kid, the reality warper, sorta scares me." Energex replied, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Come on, he's just a teenager, Roger."
"A teenager who can warp reality. He did it like it was second nature too, like breathing or eating. It was terrifying." Energex said, a hint of defensiveness leaking into his voice.
"Then it'll do us some good to have him on our side. Whatever the case, he's already contacted us and Professor Eternity has scheduled a meeting with him. He says there's something special with that boy and he wants to look more into it." Galatea replied.
"So I guess we're done here?"
"No, we actually have to talk to Agent Nemesis. Try to see if he wants to join the new team we're trying to form."
"You are such a drag. Can't we just email him or something?"
"Shut up and start flying."