Maven had never been so happy to see Tianado.
They had followed Carley and taken the elevator down to the kitchen area. “What time did he show up?” Maven had asked.
“Like, ten minutes ago. I wanted to give you both time to finish up your conversation, so you’re welcome.”
“Thank you,” Maven and Gregory said in unison.
She gave them both a wide grin. “My pleasure. This guy already looks a lot happier,” she said, pointing a finger at Maven. “Hopefully he’ll be easier to be around.”
“Don’t I know it. He’s not too much fun when he’s all mopey, is he?” Gregory said.
“Hey,” Maven said. “I resent that remark.”
Gregory gave him another quick kiss as the elevator doors opened. Tara was there waiting for them. “Gregory, thank goodness. I heard that you were back.” A shadow passed over her eyes for a moment. “Please tell me that you’re back.”
Laughing, Gregory said “I guess so. Has he been that bad?”
“The worst,” Tara said. “It was really bad this time.”
“Well, I think it’s safe to say that it was the last time.” Gregory said, looking at Maven.
“Gods, I hope so.” Tara said. “Come on, all of you. Tianado was just about to tell us what he was up to while he was gone. I wanted everyone here before he told us.”
“I’ll just wait in the loft then,” Gregory said, attempting to slip back into the elevator.
“I said I wanted everyone there.” Tara said. “That includes you, Gregory.”
“But I’m not a super.”
“No, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have other qualities.” She winked at him.
Maven looked at her in confusion. “What was that about?”
“Now’s not the time to find out, honey. Let’s go.” Carley said.
They walked down the hallway to the tech room and when they entered, they saw that the computer had already been fired up. Tianado was sitting at the console, and he was making a digital layout of a building rotate in the air.
“Nice of you to finally get here,” he said, giving them a wide grin.
“You should talk,” Maven said. “What the hell happened? What was your idea?”
“Well, do you all see this?” He motioned up at the layout of a building.
“Looks like a warehouse,” Sandoz said. He motioned at the wide open floorspaces and the storage doors. “Like someplace you would store something.”
Tianado tapped a finger on his nose. “Right in one.” He pulled the camera angle back so that everyone could see the outside of the warehouse. “This is a place out in an industrial area on Queenview Drive and the warehouse is owned by a corporation, CPMX Industries. Three guesses who owns it and your first two guesses don’t count.”
“Yeah, but Gregory found out about the warehouse when he was being kept hostage by Max Shadow,” Maven said.
“Yes, but did Gregory save the children?” He asked. “I mean no disrespect, Gregory. I’m so thankful you’re back.”
“I’m thankful to be back,” Gregory said. “I need to go away and come back more often if everyone is so happy to see me again.”
“Dear gods, please don’t,” Finley said. “We love you Maven, but we couldn’t take much more this time.”
“Yes, thank you Gregory,” Maven said, desperate to change the topic of conversation. “What did you mean about the children, Tianado?”
“Well, do you see any kids there?”
They all looked at the layout of the warehouse again. Maven didn’t know what he was supposed to be seeing. All he could see was Cracklepuss. That sick fucker was sitting in what looked like an office that he had converted into an apartment. They could see a bedroll and sleeping bag, a hot plate and a pile of clothes. He was yelling at someone and stomped to the door, opened it and yelled something else out into the hallway. He slammed the door again and sat back down in front of his computer. Maven didn’t want to know what Cracklepuss was looking at, but Carley had told them already that Cracklepuss liked looking at some weird shit. Thankfully, they didn’t have to see it.
“There’s only Cracklepuss there, Tianado.” Finley said.
“Yes…and no.” Tianado said. “Here, take a listen.” He flicked a switch and sound blossomed to life in the room around them. It sounded like they were right in the warehouse with Cracklepuss.
When Maven closed his eyes, he could hear hundreds of children all playing loudly in the warehouse. They were screaming and yelling as children do. When he opened his eyes, he only saw Cracklepuss, alone in his office, however he could still hear the children screaming and playing. Maven looked at Tianado. “What did you do?”
“Well, your so-called shadow man isn’t the only one who plays with the shadows, is he? They’re my bread and butter and I’ve been working them for longer than he has. I’ve seen and done shit that would make his head turn.”
“But what did you do with the kids?” Sandoz asked. “You didn’t make them invisible, did you? That would be kind of cool.”
“Not really, but kind of. You see, I made them all into shadows of themselves. That way we can keep them safe.”
“You’ve lost me,” Maven said. “I think you missed a step. I don’t think the parents would be happy to get shadows back instead of their kids.”
“The kids have already been returned home. I just borrowed a bit of their shadows, you see?” Tianado said.
“Nope.” Everyone shook their heads. Tianado was often like this, leaving out important bits they needed to know when he spoke. He just got so excited that his mind jumped ahead and they had to back him up and ask him to explain everything properly.
“Well, it’s simple really. Cracklepuss had to believe the kids were still there. He and Max aren’t too smart, see? I took a bit of each child’s soul to make doppelgangers of each of them. I couldn’t just take them home. I had to make sure that the evil fuckers believed that they still had possession of the children. They plan to take their light and that’s where the shadow man comes in. He’s supposed to take it from them.”
“You can’t take light from a shadow.” Maven said.
“Well, you can take a bit because shadows are made from light. But shadows don’t have the amount of light that they’ll be wanting and expecting.”
“What do they want with so much light?” Tara asked.
“They want to burn the city down. I heard Cracklepuss talking with the shadow fucker. Max Shadow can take all the light from the kids and Cracklepuss has built some kind of fucking ray gun. They want to force Ottawa pay them millions, or else the city goes up in flames.”
“Except now that won’t happen,” Carley said with a wide smile.
Tianado tapped his nose again. “Yup. They can’t get much light from the shadows, and they don’t know it yet. We should get our asses over there and kick their asses.”
They watched the screen as a shadow appeared. It seeped into the main doorway of the warehouse. Maven knew immediately that it was Max Shadow, before it began to form itself into the shape of a man, but there was something off about him. Tianado zoomed in and they all watched him stagger and shift, man and shadow. It was hard to know where he began and where the shadows ended. The thing that drew Maven’s gaze though was the fact that there were holes in the shadows; there were holes in him.
“It looks like moths ate away at him,” Dez said. “Man, that looks painful. I mean, look at him.”
The shadow man was staggering and the shadows, far from being the rolling and majestic ones that Maven had seen before, looked haggard. He tried to think of what the holes reminded him of but couldn’t place it. It was Gregory who spoke up. “Those aren’t moth holes. Those are burn holes,”
“Really?” Maven said.
“Yeah, look at them. There are a lot of them. Remember when you used to try burning stuff with a magnifying glass when you were a kid? It looks like that, don’t you think?”
Maven moved closer to the screen and looked at the holes carefully. Gregory was right. He had burned a lot of things as a kid until his mentor had made him the staff of light. Until then, the light came out of him, and it had no focus. He burned things without even trying. It was pretty horrible. He couldn’t read a book without setting it on fire and it made getting dressed difficult. He’d had to wear fire retardant fabric for a while, and clothing made from that type of fabric was certainly not fashionable. His mentor had made him the first staff of light. There had been many variations and improvements since then, but before the staff there were a lot of fires.
He remembered the holes in his clothes and furniture had looked like the holes that now punctured the shadow man. Max Shadow looked terrible. That brought him a small moment of joy. “I did this,” he said.
“Well, he is repelled by light,” Tara said.
“It’s more than being repelled,” Carley said. “You fucking savaged him.”
“How is that possible?” Finley said. “Light and shadow can exist together normally. Why did Maven’s light burn right through him?”
“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Carley asked. Everyone remained silent while they looked at her. She gave them all a wide grin. “It’s because of love!”
Dez let out a groan. “Oh please, don’t give me that peace and love bullshit,” he said. “Love couldn’t do that to another person, and we’ve watched Maven use his light tons of times.”
“But he’s not a person,” Carley said. “And power is different when love becomes involved. Look at you when you were with Finley.” The room went quiet for a moment and a pained look flickered across both Finley and Dez’s faces before Carley continued. “Love changes our powers. It’s always been this way. Love just strengthens everything. It was the fact that Maven was protecting Gregory that made his light so strong.”
“Whatever it was, we’ll have to get over there fast,” Maven said. “Finley, do we still have those high-powered search lights from when we were trying to rescue those kids from that boat on the Ottawa River last year?”
“Yes, we do.”
“And Sandoz, do we still have all those flashlights from when we helped the police look for that missing girl guide troupe in the Pinhey forest?”
“Yep, I keep them with all the emergency supplies.” He said.
“Good, we’re going to need all of them. And one more thing.” Maven turned to look at Gregory. “I need you-”
“Well, I know I need you too, but this hardly seems the time,” Gregory said.
Maven brushed a thumb along Gregory’s jaw. “I need you to come with us, babe. You’re going to be a superhero.”