First time reading? Start at the beginning here.
Dazed, Dave tried to figure out which way was up. After a moment, he realized he was lying on his back, and after another moment, he remembered how he’d gotten there. He was wet, and the feeling of damp hair and water on his face made him want to vomit up breakfast. He swallowed, his breaths shallow, and shifted under the rubble. He wasn’t buried too deep. He could see sunlight above him, and the weight on his chest didn’t feel heavy.
Then he heard the screaming.
The crowd must have been screaming all along, but he only now noticed it. The sound spurred him to action. He pushed away the pieces of metal covering him and sat up. He was inside the float, the fake buildings having collapsed in on themselves. He scrambled to climb out and see what was going on. When he reached the top, it was to find a very different street from the one he’d left.
The crowd that had been squished together like sardines on the sidewalk had broken apart. They were fleeing frantically, ducking into stores or dashing down side streets. A few prone bodies lay amid the discarded bags and litter, people who hadn’t moved fast enough and must have gotten trampled. A person having a panic attacked crouched next to a lamppost, and a small child who’d gotten separated from his parents cried loudly. And there were a few people—there were always a few people—who stayed recklessly behind to watch the supervillain in the wetsuit standing in the middle of the street.
Tidal Wave. He ended any doubts Dave had harbored about whether he’d really heard The Fox Woman’s voice before with Blueblood and Val. Tidal Wave worked for her, but what could she possibly hope to gain by sending him to attack a parade? Police officers approached him, shouting with their guns raised. Dave rushed down from the float to support them.
Tidal Wave flicked his hand, and the water pooling on the street rose up and struck. The force knocked the police back half a dozen yards, and their cries went silent after they hit the pavement. Dave turned cold. He could take a hit like that, but none of them had super-strength. That kind of impact would break spines and crack skulls.
Dave jumped off the float, and Tidal Wave turned to face him.
“For a second there, I thought you weren’t getting back up,” Tidal Wave called with a cocky smile. His black hair had a purposefully messy look, and the edges of his tattoos peaked out from under his wetsuit’s collar.
Dave snapped the lightning rod off the lowest fake skyscraper on the float behind him. He aimed at Tidal Wave and flung it like a spear.
The moment the lightning rod left his hands, Dave sprinted at Tidal Wave as fast as he could. He had to get in close to bring the supervillain down. Tidal Wave raised his hands, and a stream of dirty water shot up from the ground and blasted the spear aside—as expected. Dave just had to make it a few more yards before….
Tidal Wave reached towards the fire hydrants still spewing water into the air. The geysers angled unnaturally and shot at Dave. He threw out his hands and ducked his head as the water crashed into him. The force knocked him back several steps, but he steadied himself. He lowered his center of gravity and dug his feet into the concrete as water continued to gush at him.
Then, slowly, he took a step forward.
He couldn’t see, and he couldn’t hear anything other than the water roaring past his ears. He ducked his head further, leading with his shoulder. He took another step, and another, and it became easier as he gained momentum. The water pushed against him with tremendous force, but he pushed back and powered through it.
Until water forced its way up his nose. All of a sudden, he was back in that dirty room, Giordano and Werecat holding his head under. He faltered, and the water knocked him off his feet. He twisted, hitting the ground on his side and rolling as the water kept pounding him.
He could feel Werecat’s claws digging into scalp, taste the dirty water that had gotten into his mouth. His chest constricted, and his lungs burned. He had to fight, to escape. His stomach heaved, but he kept his mouth closed, knowing he would drown if he opened it. Drowning. He was drowning. They were holding him under too long. They had to let him up. He needed to breathe.
The memory faded, and Dave’s senses gradually returned to the here and now. He wasn’t drowning. He was breathing—gasping and wheezing, really, but at least he had access to air. Tidal Wave’s onslaught had stopped. Dave lay on his side in about half an inch of lukewarm water. He could feel it pooling around the side of his face and soaking into his clothes, and it smelled like oil and dirt.
“Don’t chicken out now,” Tidal Wave said.
Dave was about to say he wasn’t chickening out—he was doing much of anything except lying there. But then he realized Tidal Wave wasn’t talking to him. He was talking to a man holding a big black camera with a news station logo on its side who was backing quickly away.
“I don’t bite.” Tidal Wave winked. “And this’ll bring you the best ratings in television history. ‘The death of White Knight.’ Talk about a headline.”
Tidal Wave strode confidently towards Dave, who tried to push himself up, but his arms had turned to gelatin. His instincts urged him to back away from the approaching threat, but he stayed still. Closer was better. Tidal Wave’s powers worked at long range, but Dave’s didn’t. So why would Tidal Wave approach him? Did he want to pose for the camera? That was risky. Dave could fake being too weak to move and take him off guard. It would be a good plan, except Dave really was too weak to move.
“You know,” Tidal Wave said, “I really thought you’d put up more of a—”
Blinding lights went off around Tidal Wave’s head, like a rave dialed up to eleven. He swore and tried to bat the lights away. When that didn’t work, the water on the street began to bubble and shake. All at once, it surged into the air in an enormous splash. The lights vanished, and Tidal Wave rubbed his eyes.
“Illusionist,” he spat.
“Hey, asshole.” She was standing about a dozen yards behind him, arms crossed.
Tidal Wave turned. “And goodbye.” He waved a hand, and water rose up in a wave and crashed into her.
But Yuna didn’t fall. The wave went right through her, leaving her completely untouched.
“Hiding from me?” Tidal Wave asked in a tone that would have been causal if not for the growl at the end.
The illusion grinned cheekily.
His back to Dave, Tidal Wave looked slowly across the street, searching for a sign of her. Dave took the chance to move his arms experimentally. They felt stronger and less wobbly now. He measured the distance between himself and Tidal Wave and wondered if could jump the man before he realized Dave was back on his feet. Still light-headed, Dave decided to wait. Now that he was recovering his strength, it was the perfect time to fake weakness.
Tidal Wave raised his hands into the air, and the water followed. When it had first come pouring out of the fire hydrants, it had been clean and clear, but now it had been put in contact with the city street too many times. Smelly, brown-tinged water floated into the air, and when Tidal Wave let his hands drop, it fell like rain.
Tidal Wave saw it at the same time Dave did: a distortion in the air where the falling rain vanished from view. Yuna.
The raindrops stopped mid-fall and shot at her. When they hit, the illusion of her vanished, and the real Yuna popped back into view—just in time for Dave to watch her get knocked onto the asphalt. He leapt up—too fast. Dizziness overtook him, costing him precious seconds. Tidal Waved noticed him, and the water that had hit Yuna whipped back around and struck him. He went sailing back again and hit the ground hard.
Tidal Wave laughed. “This is ridiculous. The Illusionist is just a sidekick, but you, White Knight, you’re supposed to be the best. And I’m taking on both of you without breaking a sweat. Am I really that good, or are both of you just that bad?”
A dome of complete blackness appeared around him, blocking him from view. It looked like Yuna wasn’t down for the count just yet.
“Illusionist!” he shouted from within it. “Is this the best you can do? You can’t touch me!”
He would only have to take half a dozen steps forward to emerge from the dome, but from the inside, the pitch darkness probably looked endless. Yuna got to her feet unsteadily, clutching her right arm as her face twisted in pain. Dave tried to follow her example and stand, too. He was halfway up when a dark shadow passed over him.
He looked up to see the belly of the Crimson Phoenix balloon. Its handlers must have abandoned it to run, and it drifted now, hundreds of thin ropes trailing listlessly from underneath it.
The water on the street blasted up and outward from the dome. It hit Dave and Yuna—not hard, but enough to break Yuna’s concentration. The dome flickered and vanished, and Tidal Wave was ready. All the water on the street rose up and hit Yuna. It knocked her to her knees but didn’t stop there. The water remained, hovering around her like a fish tank without walls. She tried to stand but couldn’t under the pressure. She was trapped. Trapped and drowning.
Dave had to get to her. The second he started running, Tidal Wave would knock him back, but he had to do something. He should target Tidal Wave. If he could break his concentration, Yuna would be free. But could Dave get close enough to do that? He was about to charge when something brushed the back of his head. It was one of the ropes from the Crimson Phoenix balloon.
Dave grabbed it and pulled with all his might.
The Crimson Phoenix dove. One arm extended, hand clenched into a fist, his jaw set in determination and fiery cape flaring out behind him, the massive balloon pitched forward. Tidal Wave had just enough time to look up in confusion as the shadow overtook him, and the country’s very first superhero crashed down on him.
Dave let go of the rope and ran forward as the balloon bounced and started slowly floating back up again. Tidal Wave lay spread eagle on the street at the point of impact, and beyond him, Yuna was on her hands and knees coughing, the water puddled around her. Dave sprinted to Tidal Wave, who was dazed but conscious.
Dave grabbed his collar, heaved him to his feet, and punched him—lightly—in the face.
Tidal Wave went down, and he wouldn’t be getting back up for a long while.
Bit of a longer update today. Hope you guys enjoy, since I definitely enjoyed writing it. White Knight hitting Tidal Wave with a parade balloon on national TV is certainly going to be an infamous event in the story’s world. 😉
Almost Invincible has returned from my editor, and expect it to be up for pre-order on Amazon by the end of the week. (Tidal Wave makes a reappearance, though there are sadly no parade balloons involved.) I’ve been tweeting lines and snippets from the book, so give my Twitter account a look if you haven’t already.
In real life news, power has finally been restored to my apartment after Hurricane Irma, so I can stop crashing with my relatives and go home. Yay! My thoughts are with everyone still being affected.
Until next week!