The morning came.
Maven fully expected that the shadow man would find him sometime at night, stretching out of the walls to grab hold of him. He was mildly surprised to wake to another grey and cold morning. Of course, he would have known if someone had broken into his apartment, shadow or not.
Still, he wondered if the shadow man would come for him as Tara had said he might. It still wouldn’t bring them any closer to finding the children who had been taken, but maybe he could use the light that he carried in his cup and his staff so that the shadow man would be blinded by the light. It was a nice thought, but Maven didn’t think it would be that easy. There was still the problem of Cracklepuss, who normally loved being front and centre. Maven wondered why he was hiding in the shadows of the shadow man?
Shaking his head, Maven got out of bed and looked out at the city around him. It had snowed again overnight, and it was still pristine, no one had walked upon it. Snow was still falling lazily through the sky. He could almost pretend that the world wasn’t going to shit and that he had no idea what to do. People thought that being a superhero was all battles with bad guys, posing for pictures, and interviews with reporters, but it was so much more mundane than that most of the time. They still had to find the criminals and they were more like private eyes than anything else. Sure, they had powers, but the powers didn’t do any good unless you could find the fuckers first.
He showered and dressed just as the sun was beginning to show itself along the horizon. Maven loved this time of day, before the rest of the world woke, and he could pretend that he was looking down at his own private kingdom. Then the thoughts of Gregory slipped into his head. He let out a sigh. So much for that then. Maven poured himself a coffee and turned to look at his cup of power on the mantle. He had to break himself of the habit. He couldn’t keep checking on Gregory, it wasn’t fair to him, and it wasn’t fair to himself. Maven knew that he couldn’t keep torturing himself this way. They were done for good now. He had to let Gregory go and make room for new beginnings.
He let out an even deeper sigh and went looking for a shot of booze that he could put in his coffee, but his phone rang before he could find his bottle of rum. Wondering who could be calling at this hour, he picked it up and saw Gregory’s number on the call display.
Maven dropped the phone back on the table as if it had burned him.
Why the fuck was Gregory calling him? He had yelled at Maven and said that he never wanted to see him again; Gregory was always one for melodrama, but still. Maven had been trying to get used to the idea of never seeing Gregory again and now Gregory was calling him? What the actual fuck? Despite his wish to talk to Gregory, Maven ignored the phone and let the call go to voicemail. Breathing a sigh of relief, Maven resumed his search for the rum when the phone rang again. Looking at the call display, Maven saw that it was Gregory again. Feeling a sense of unease that he could not explain, he answered the phone.
“Hello?” He almost whispered this, afraid that Gregory would realize he’d misdialed and hang up.
“Hello Arnold,” Gregory always did refuse to call him Maven. He disliked the way superheroes had made-up names, and didn’t buy it when Maven told him that the name of a superhero was everything. It added to their mystique. Gregory sounded pissed.
The sound of Gregory’s voice still sent shivers down his spine, though maybe it had a lot to do with the way he said his name, as if it was taking all his strength to even say it. “Hi Gregory, how are you?” He tried to keep his voice light, not too hopeful, but just enough.
“Well, I’m not doing so well. You see, there is a man here named Max Shadow and he wants to talk to you.”
“I don’t know anyone named Max Shadow.” Maven said.
“Well, he certainly knows who you are. Get your ass over here. Now.” He hung up the phone.
Maven tried to tell himself that Gregory hadn’t asked him over to reconcile, he had told Maven to come over because of someone else who was there, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. Then something clicked. Max Shadow! Could this be the elusive shadow man that had drawn his finger across his neck? Could it be the same shadow man that had almost materialized out of his cup of power?
He pulled his cup off the mantle and looked within it. He didn’t have to force his mind to think of anything to get the cup to work, because Gregory was always on his mind these days. The cup’s portal took him to Gregory’s apartment, and he could see Gregory sitting with the shadow man that he had seen the other night through the cup. Gregory sat with his legs and arms tied to a chair, but he was still giving Maven the finger. Gregory knew that Maven would use the cup. Maven supposed he deserved that, but still. The shadow man, this Max Shadow, let out a short laugh. Then the scene was filled with blackness shot through with white spider-like threads that began to fill the dark. They looked like cracks formed along black ice, and as he watched, those cracks became larger and larger until the whole of what he could see was a mass of white spiderweb lines. When those lines broke apart there was an audible crack, and the shadows slowly disappeared until he was left looking at the bottom of his cup. Gregory, he thought. “I have to get to Gregory.”
The first thing he did however, was to go and find Tara and Carley. They were in the boardroom. He knew they would be there. They always rose earlier than the boys and began planning what they would need to do for the day.
They were the brains behind the group, really. He may be Captain Maven, but he knew that the group of them worked together as a team. It was the way it had always been. Maven knew that there were several times when he would have died if it hadn’t been for one member of his team. They didn’t do anything without telling the others. Well, all except Tianado. He just did what he wanted to do, but it was to the betterment of the team. Maven knew that the man was able to use the darkness to his advantage, but he wished that Tianado would tell the others what he was up to; he still hadn’t returned. It didn’t matter now, only Gregory mattered.
He rushed to grab his cup off the mantle, put it in his belt pouch, and ran to the elevator. It was waiting for him, and he took it down to the kitchen. He knew that Carley and Tara would be there. He tapped his foot until the doors opened, and his thoughts of Gregory propelled him forwards. Bursting into the kitchen, he saw that Tara and Carley were sharing a morning cup of coffee, the sun beginning to stream through the windows. He would have normally spent a moment to compliment them both, saying that they looked lovely in sunlight, but Maven didn’t have the words. All he could say was “Gregory!” and held up his cup as if it were a symbol of salvation.
Tara looked at Maven and smiled kindly. “It’s okay Maven, did you have a dream again?”
“Honey, I could have spent the night if you wanted me to,” Carley said. “I know how you have nightmares. I could have taken them away.”
“No, Gregory! He’s in trouble!”
“Honey, you only think he’s in trouble without you,” Carley said.
“No!” He held his cup out to them, trying to make them understand. “The shadow man has Gregory. He’s with him right now. Gregory called me and he’s in trouble,” Maven tried to ignore the sweet feeling he felt, knowing that Gregory had reached out to him. The fact that the shadow man was holding him hostage because of him did nothing to lessen the sweetness of the feeling.
He could feel Carley looking inside of his head and Maven saw her eyes widen. “Oh my god!” She said, “The shadow man has Gregory! He’s serious!”
“What can we do?” Tara asked. “We won’t be able to get there quickly enough. We have to find a way to trap the shadow man.”
“His name is Max Shadow, and my primary concern is making sure that Gregory is safe.” Maven told them.
“Yes, all well and good honey, but we know that the shadow man has been helping Cracklepuss. This is our chance to find out what he’s been up to.” Carley said. “We can’t pass it up.”
“Is still alive, and he will be until we get there. The shadow man is using him as bait, you know this Maven.” Tara said. “Don’t let your heart get in the way of your common sense.”
The harshness in her words gave Maven the focus he needed. “Right. You’re both right. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome honey. Now how are we going to get there?” Carley asked.
Maven held up his cup. “With this.”
“Honey, there’s no way. Your cup shows you things, it doesn’t take you there.”
He had been thinking about it. It made sense. He remembered what had happened when he had first seen the shadow man, the form that had started to rise out the depths of the cup and it had made the lights flicker as if they were in the middle of a storm. Ever since that had happened, he’d wondered if he’d been ignorant of what his cup could really do. It was his cup after all. He decided how he used it. Gods, I hope this works, Maven thought.
Looking into his cup of power and thinking of Gregory, Maven tried to recall the feeling of Gregory’s hair running through his fingers, or the taste of Gregory’s lips against his. He could hear the timbre of Gregory’s voice when he laughed, feel the brush of his skin as Gregory ran his hands along the knuckles of Maven’s hands.
He watched Gregory come to life at the bottom of his cup of power, but the more he thought of Gregory, the wider the portal he was looking through grew. Even though he was holding the cup, the circle of the cups opening began to expand, as if someone was pulling it wider. Maven knew that he was doing this, that somehow he was managing to bend and shape time and space. He has never done this before, but it felt so natural to him when he was thinking of Gregory. He had been part of Maven’s world for so long that Maven was pretty sure Gregory had all of Maven’s heart. The wider the portal grew, the more he could see into Gregory’s apartment. Tara let out a gasp as the hole became big enough for all three of them to step through. Sitting so close that Maven could reach out and touch him, Gregory turned his arm. Even though it was tied to a chair, he still gave Maven the finger.
“I see his feelings still haven’t changed,” Carley said.
“What do we do now, Maven?” Tara asked as the air around them began to crackle and snap with electricity. There was no urgency to her voice, she was just as awestruck as he was.
“Hold on to me,” he said. Maven didn’t know if they would be able to enter the portal if they were not holding on to him, but he didn’t want to chance it. They each took one of his wrists and they stepped through the portal, the air around them crackling even more.
Maven could feel the electricity run along his skin, the thinness of the veil separating where they were and where they wanted to go. There was a loud snap as they finally came through and then the cup was left spinning in Maven’s grasp, the portal closing behind them. Maven didn’t know how for long he could have kept the portal open, but he didn’t want to chance keeping it open for longer than he needed to on his first try. He put the cup in the pouch on his belt. There was another loud snap as the portal closed and they were there, in Gregory’s apartment. Maven was marvelling that he had actually done it when Gregory spoke.
“Well, took you long enough,” he said.