We’re two weeks away from Almost Invincible‘s September 30th release date, so to celebrate, here’s an exclusive sneak peak at the first chapter. Check it out and let me know what you think!
Seven years ago…
My skull hit the pavement with a meaty crack, and my vision went blurry. As lightning pain shot through my head, it was all I could do to lie there wincing for several seconds. Eventually, I blinked and tried to refocus, my brain feeling like raw egg sloshing around inside my skull. But White Knight, said a voice in my head that sounded like a particularly annoying reporter who’d once interviewed me. You have super-strength. Surely, it couldn’t hurt that much. Yeah, I had super-strength, but that didn’t stop my nerve endings from sending pain signals to my brain, and right now, they were firing at a 110 percent.
I pushed myself up dizzily and found the pavement smashed into pieces where I’d fallen. Okay, maybe it was a good thing I had superpowers. Otherwise, my head would have burst like a piñata on impact. Noise assaulted my ears: shrieking police sirens and the steady whump-whump-whump of helicopters overhead. I hoped they belonged to the government and not a news channel recording this horror show. Union Square came into focus as my vision cleared, eerily deserted for mid afternoon except for the corpses of those who hadn’t escaped in time. They were scattered across the grass and walkways, blood pooling on the plaza. The closest to me was a leg. It had belonged to a woman wearing sandals and was ripped off from the knee down, toenails painted light pink and fair skin splattered with more blood. The coppery stench saturated the muggy summer air.
The Capitol Building stood proudly in the distance to my right, the turbid waters of the Capitol Reflecting Pool to my left, and twenty feet in front of me loomed the monster that had done this. Ten feet tall and composed of pale light that formed the shape of a man, he was difficult to see in the bright sunshine. That was problem number one. Problem number two was that nothing we’d done seemed to hurt him. Whatever he was, he’d shown up out of nowhere and hadn’t even made the traditional supervillain speech before destroying everything in his path. He moved fast for something so big, and he was currently advancing on a slender figure in a bright orange and blue uniform.
I charged forward, running as fast as my legs would carry me. Julio had his hands extended, and the grass underneath the glowing figure’s feet caught fire as Julio—codename Freezefire—used his powers to superheat him. It didn’t slow the guy down. Could solid light or whatever he was made of even burn? Julio was trying his darnedest to make it happen, his face scrunched up in concentration behind his mask. The kid shouldn’t even be here. I’d barely been his mentor for a month, not enough time for the college-age recruit to feel comfortable enough to talk to me without stuttering, much less fight by my side against something like this.
The figure—I mentally dubbed him “Glowing Man”—was almost within grabbing distance of him. I put on a burst of speed, and Julio’s eyes locked on to me from the other side of the translucent man. Julio dove aside just as I tackled Glowing Man from behind, aiming for the backs of his knees and hoping joints were still a weak point in towering men composed of uncanny light. The man looked as substantial as a ghost, but he was solid enough to knock down. He hit the ground hard, but before I could follow up with another strike, a huge glowing foot kicked me square in the stomach and knocked me back.
“Dave!” Julio shouted, and I mentally scolded him for using my real name instead of White Knight while I was in uniform. That was about all I could do, since I slammed into the stone pedestal of a statue, smashing through it before I fell to the pavement again. The kick had knocked the wind clean out of me, and no matter how hard I inhaled, I couldn’t seem to draw breath. I couldn’t shout a warning when Glowing Man stood and backhanded Julio.
Julio’s limp body hit the grass, rolled, and went still. The pain in my chest was no longer from lack of breath. I could shrug off a hit like that, but Julio’s powers didn’t involve any enhanced strength. He was as vulnerable as any civilian—as the people who lay dead and dying all over the square. Was he…?
“Freezefire is down,” I said in shock. Then louder, “Freezefire is down! I need medics. Do you copy?”
“Copy that,” said Moreen’s voice in my earpiece. It made me feel better, but only slightly. What if it was already too late?
Glowing Man was positively luminous as he continued toward the Capitol Building with long strides. Rage gave me the power to push myself to my feet despite the pain. Loud pops echoed across the square as the DC police, who’d barricaded the plaza, opened fire on the figure. The bullets punched through Glowing Man’s shining form like needles through fabric, making him stumble, but light filled in the bullet holes in a matter of seconds. Guns couldn’t stop him, but I could knock him down if I hit him hard enough.
I needed to hit him harder.
I glanced at the statue I’d smashed into. Resting on the broken stone pedestal was a metal sculpture of charging cavalry. Apologizing to the American history I was desecrating, I grabbed the first charging horseman and tore him and his steed from the rest of the statue. Hefting the heavy sculpture over my head, I turned back just in time to witness Glowing Man grab a police officer in his massive hands and rip him in half with a burst of blood. I aimed and hurled the statue with all my strength.
The metal horseman went soaring, sculpted sword raised in a signal of attack, and crashed into Glowing Man’s back. I sprinted forward as the figure collapsed, and before he could get back up, I jumped on him and started punching. I had no strategy, no master plan. I pounded my fists against the strange, smooth surface of his body. Part of me warned that I was letting my emotions get the best of me, that I wasn’t fighting smart and was setting a bad example for Julio. Then I remembered the thump as Julio’s body had hit the grass, and I punched Glowing Man even harder. I didn’t care about fighting smart. Whatever this guy was, I wanted him to hurt.
I hit him over and over, a primal scream tearing from my throat, and cracks of brighter light formed throughout the figure’s torso. I was damaging him. Good. The success spurred me to punch harder until my knuckles ached and my arms burned. Glowing Man twisted suddenly, jerking me off balance, and before I could react, he rolled and knocked me off. I jumped up—right as a gigantic hand grabbed my ankle and pulled my feet out from under me.
After that, I was screwed. Using my ankle as a handle, he treated me like a vandalizer treats a baseball bat. He smashed me into trees, the ground, and probably some other things, but after the first few blows, I couldn’t keep track. I was moving too fast to see. The world was a rollercoaster of pain, and the only thing worse than the vertigo was the impact. Something cracked, and I hoped it was a tree trunk and not my bones. I tried to reach Glowing Man’s arm, but g-force and disorientation stopped me. After a few more collisions, I stopped trying. I couldn’t move anymore. I could barely think.
Dazed, I felt as if I was floating away. I thought I was dying until I hit the ground and realized Glowing Man had thrown me. By the time it occurred to me to get up, my nemesis had reached me again. His fists rained down like falling bombs, and I was utterly decimated. The force of the blows made me jerk and bend, and I didn’t realize my eyes had been closed until pain snapped them open. He now loomed over me. His fist smashed into my face, and my eyes closed again as my body sagged.
Another punch never came, and I vaguely realized that Glowing Man must have walked off. He thought I was finished. He was probably right. Everything was dark, silent, and painful, and I couldn’t manage anything harder than breathing. Even that hurt. My ribs felt like they were cracked—and I hoped they were only cracked and not completely broken. Cracked ribs would heal on their own, but my muscles and bones were too dense for surgeons to go in and fix anything that had broken in two.
I lay there, drifting, my thoughts of sleep and hospital beds. Gradually, my hearing returned, and screams and sirens pierced the haze around my brain. My hands twitched. The urgency of the fight came rushing back, and I remembered the innocent people around the square. Julio was down. I was the only superhero close enough to do something. People were depending on me.
I forced my eyes open, squinting through the bright light. Slowly, cautiously, I sat up and sucked in a hurt breath through my nose. The smoldering pain in my ribs flared to a forest fire. They were definitely cracked, at least, but there was nothing I could do about it now. Wincing, I looked around the square. Glowing Man continued his march on the Capitol Building, upturned police cars in his wake. I tried to stand, and the sudden pain made me vomit all over the dirt.
Squeezing shut my eyes, I gave myself a few seconds to have a pity party before wiping my mouth and staggering to my feet. The glowing figure’s back was to me, so he didn’t notice. He probably wouldn’t have done anything if he had seen me, since I looked about as threatening as a bunny rabbit. My breaths came in wheezes as I limped forward, clutching my ribs. The faux-armor of my uniform was ripped and smeared with dirt, and my mask had fallen off at some point. I tried to hobble faster, since Glowing Man was getting away. I wasn’t sure what I’d do when I caught up, but those cracks were still visible in his torso, bright light spilling out of the fractures. I’d hurt him before. That had to count for something.
The gap between Glowing Man and me kept increasing, so as I crossed the road, I tore the bumper from one of the wrecked police cars and hurled it at his head. It hit home with an almost comical clang, and he turned, his gleaming eyes homing in on me.
“That’s right,” I huffed. “You haven’t gotten through me yet.”
Glowing Man stalked toward me, and I lowered myself into a fighting stance. I couldn’t attack him in an all-out charge like I had last time. My injuries meant I had to conserve every movement. Strategy and technique were my best allies now—and honestly, they should have been from the beginning.
Glowing Man threw a punch at my head, and I sidestepped, avoiding his massive fist by barely an inch. As he stumbled past me, I aimed a precision strike at his ribs. At the impact of my knuckles, more cracks formed along his side, and the fractures that were already there widened. Now we’re talking, I thought. Glowing Man spun and swung an arm to backhand me, but I moved my aching body out of the way just in time. I struck him twice in rapid-fire, first hitting a pressure point in his inner thigh and then his stomach. That dropped him to one knee, and I bashed him in the jaw.
He hit the ground, fissures spreading across his head and body. I swore his glow had faded, and the temptation to jump on him and start punching wildly was even harder to resist than before. But I was panting, my muscles feeling like limp dough. I had to fight smarter. In a controlled drop to the ground, I used my own momentum to power a downward elbow strike to his face.
Glowing Man twitched and flickered—then disintegrated.
I bent over as I caught my breath. Had I killed him? The thought didn’t turn my stomach like it usually would. A flash of light caught my eye, and I spotted something like a plume of glowing mist dart away across the plaza. Something had survived. I tried to dash after it, but the jarring pain in my ribs meant I barely managed a jog. I detoured along the walkway as the mist shot over the Reflecting Pool, its glimmer mirrored in the water below. Breathing heavily, I struggled to catch up as the mist descended on one of the bodies on the pavement.
I watched it plunge into the body, and the corpse—a man with a buzz cut and a black hoodie—sat up with a gasp. I stumbled to a halt. I’d run across possession as a superpower before (Mr. Lucifer being a prime example), but it was limited to living people. I’d never seen anything animate a corpse before.
The man scrambled to his feet, and something struck me as wrong. The other bodies in the plaza were obviously dead. They had broken bones, torn limbs, and blood everywhere. This man didn’t have a drop of blood on him, and the square shape of his face looked a lot like Glowing Man’s.
It wasn’t a corpse. That must be the glowing figure’s original body. He met my stare with a snarl, erasing any doubts I had that he was the bad guy. He was too far away to punch, so I grabbed a nearby trashcan and flung it at him. It hit him in the stomach, knocking him over the edge of the Reflecting Pool and sending him tumbling into the water. I raced to the pool’s edge as he got to his feet, the water only coming up to his knees. Drenched, he took off at a run, sending water splashing. I was about to jump down and follow when the water turned to ice.
The man screamed, his legs frozen in ice below the knees. A section of the Reflecting Pool the size of a basketball court was now frozen solid, the effect spreading farther out as I watched. Smiling, I turned to find Julio behind me. He was hunched over, his right arm extended toward the pool, his left hanging limply at his side in a way that told me it was broken. Sweat dripped down his face, and his mouth twisted in pain.
“Nice one,” I said.
He gave a weak smile in return.
The man’s scream turned to an angry roar. “Superheroes!” he spat. “If you were really heroes, you’d be helping me!”
A familiar light started to pour from his body, and I raised my fists. He was about to conjure that glowing giant again, and we’d be right back where we started. Except now, I knew he was vulnerable.
“Moreen,” I said into my earpiece, “Our suspect’s in the Reflecting Pool. Do the snipers have a clear shot?”
“I recommend they take it.”
Three seconds later, a crack rang out across the plaza. The glow vanished as the man in the hoodie fell backward onto the ice. The frozen surface glittered in the sunlight around the gruesome scene, smooth and pristine except for where the man was stuck. I exhaled slowly, listening to the distant helicopters and police sirens as a pool of crimson blood spread out from beneath the man’s body. When ten seconds had passed with no movement, I spoke into my earpiece. “All clear.” Then I turned to the dangerously swaying Julio and said, “Let’s get you to that bench over there.”
I helped him stagger to a park bench and sank down next to him to examine his arm—which was the only reason we’d sat here. I certainly wasn’t using it as an excuse to rest because I was about to collapse. What would give you that idea?
“Hopefully, it’s a clean break. That shouldn’t take you out of commission for more than a few months.”
Julio grimaced in response.
“Hey,” I said. “It’s not too late to change your major to art history or something.”
Julio jerked up—and winced in pain at the sudden movement. “I’m not— I didn’t screw up that bad, did I? I know I should’ve dodged faster, but—”
“Whoa.” I held up my hands in a stopping gesture. “Relax. You did just fine. But I feel obligated to at least try to persuade you to pick a career with less risk of getting torn apart by disembodied light monsters.”
Julio’s shoulders sagged, and then he gave me a crooked smile. “Nah, I’m good.”
I would have given the kid a friendly pat on the back if it wouldn’t have jostled his broken bones. Police officers in full SWAT gear spread across the plaza, and some of the helicopters above descended closer to the scene now that the danger had passed. I looked around the square, my gaze lingering on the bodies of those who’d been murdered before Julio and I had been called in. The smell of blood seemed less oppressive now, but that was probably because my nose was blocking out the scent rather than it having faded.
“Who do you think he was?” Julio looked at the body stuck in the ice.
“No idea,” I said, “And I don’t really care. If I had my way, the news cycle would be dedicated to the victims, not their killer.”
But that wasn’t the way things worked. The media dubbed the man “Bloodbath,” due to the bloody carnage he’d left behind, and spent the next few weeks speculating about his motivations, troubled childhood, and powers. Julio and I got medals and suffered through TV and newspaper interviews, and everything gradually went back to normal, or as normal as things ever got in this crazy world.
It wasn’t until later that I learned Bloodbath had survived the gunshot.