"Good evening, viewers. After today's oil spill, wildlife and marine life are being threatened, as is the beach weekend you had planned. The high temperatures this weekend would have been perfect for beach-goers, but if you're in the Maxville area, it's probably best to stay home instead," Brian Anderson said with a broad smile.
Layla knew that she was ranting, but she couldn't help herself. "It's the third oil spill this year, Will! It's only February! Don't you think we should do something to help? We're active supers now, we can do something," she added emphatically. Stopping her pacing, Layla looked over to Will who had an unfortunately familiar expression on his face, his eyes glazed and distant. "Will? Will, you're not even listening to me, are you?" Layla asked, sighing heavily.
"Huh? I... I'm listening," Will said quickly, seeing the annoyed expression on Layla's face and guessing that he'd tuned out again.
He couldn't help it if he sometimes drifted off while she was talking; Layla had a way of using words he didn't understand or she talked about something repeatedly, even if it had already been solved by other people. Sure, citizens took longer to fix things, but if supers did everything for them, the citizens would feel useless.
Layla sighed and didn't bother continuing with her rant.
"Good afternoon, viewers. Despite protests all over the world, the Logging Company have restarted their logging in the Amazon forest. There has been no response from any government officials about this, despite several politicians stating their 'green' policies when running for their positions," Brian Anderson added sternly.
"Ah, good, you're here," Josie said to Layla with a smile, turning off the TV. "Would you mind helping Steve hang the banner? He's been wrestling with it for the last ten minutes, and I'd prefer it was hung up before Will came home. There isn't much point to a 'congratulations on your first year anniversary as an active super' party without a 'congratulations' banner," she said, shaking her head as she heard Steve let out another curse at the banner.
"Not a problem, Mrs. Stronghold," Layla said, heading to the dining room where Steve was struggling with a long and twisted banner. "Good afternoon, Mr. Stronghold. Can I help?" she asked politely.
Layla bit back her comments about the shiny plastic banner that was obviously non-recyclable and probably only going to be used once. She didn't even want to look at the helium-filled balloons or the metallic streamers.
"Just hold onto that side while I try to unwind this, would you?" Steve said, nodding to the curled and twisted banner.
Layla nodded and grabbed the other end, waiting patiently as Steve twisted and untwisted the banner. "Did you hear about the logging in the Amazonian forest, Mr. Stronghold?" Layla asked, hoping for some sort of conversation while she stood there not really doing much.
"Hmm? No, I didn't," Steve said absent-mindedly, his eyes narrowing at the still-twisted banner.
Realising that Mr. Stronghold was too distracted to listen to her properly, Layla sighed and decided to ask Mrs. Stronghold later. She might have an opinion about the most recent oil spill or the logging and deforestation in the Amazon. Mrs. Stronghold might even be able to help her convince Will to do something about these things.
"I think I'm twisting it the wrong way. I'll get Josie, just a second," he said, setting his end of the banner down and leaving to find his wife.
Layla twisted the banner several times until it was straight again. Coercing a dead plant back to life in the corner of the room, Layla used it to hold the banner up high against the architraves. "Thank you," she said to the plant, the leaves bright and shiny in response.
"I don't see how a banner is defeating you, Steve. What on earth are you talking about? It's already up," Josie said, indicating to the banner that Layla's plant was holding up.
"Oh, of course. Uh, thank you for your help, dear," Steve called as Josie headed back to the kitchen to finish icing Will's cake.
Layla waited a moment, only to realise that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Stronghold were going to thank her. It's all right, she told herself firmly. She didn't need thanks for doing a simple task.
Will arrived just as Josie finished icing his cake, and he looked around the dining room with a broad smile, seeing the balloons, streamers, and banner. "This looks great, guys!" Will said, smiling.
"Thanks. I did the banner myself," Steve said proudly.
"Nice work, Dad," Will said.
Layla looked between them and the plant that was still obviously holding the banner up and hoped that no one would notice when the plant drooped a little.
Over dinner, there was a lull in the anecdotes and reminiscing of villains defeated and battles won, and Layla finally asked Mrs. Stronghold about what she thought of the most recent oil spill and deforestation in the Amazon.
"Oh. Uh, the logging is sad, of course. But it creates jobs for people, doesn't it? Besides, there are a lot of trees in the Amazon, they're not cutting all of them down," Josie said.
"Aren't the citizens working on cleaning the oil spill?" Steve asked before Layla could respond, frowning as he looked between Josie, Layla, and Will.
"Well, yes, they are. But if this had happened to people, it would have been stopped after the first time. It's not given enough consideration. This is the third time in two months. I think it needs super input for something to happen, don't you think so, Will?" Layla asked, nudging him.
Will blinked, tuning back into the conversation only to realise that everyone was looking at him expectantly, even his father. "Uh, no. I don't think so," Will said, hoping it was the right answer.
"Well, there you go, Layla. If Will doesn't think it does, then the citizens will be fine without our help. They need to be occupied by something to feel useful, after all," Josie said with a bright smile.
"What about a super team? We could get so much more done if we worked together with others, not just as Hero and Hero Support," Layla said, not for the first time.
Steve frowned. "But then we wouldn't be the Stronghold Three."
Josie sighed. "It's just not a feasible idea, Layla. There's so much politics between Heroes that it's unlikely for them to work together for a day, let alone long-term."
"Yeah, and besides, what can they do that I can't do already?" Will added.
Layla clenched her jaw and over Josie's shoulder, she noticed the large monstrosities that the plant had become, thorns piercing several holes in the banner. Forcing herself to breathe and calm down, Layla smiled briefly. "I might head home, it's getting late."
"Oh, you're not staying over?" Steve asked, looking between Will and Layla with a confused frown and missing his wife's motions to shut up.
"Layla and I broke up three months ago, Dad," Will said, rolling his eyes. "Bye, Layla."
She forced herself to smile again and nodded. "Good night," she said, then left to walk home.
Some days, Layla hated being Will's sidekick. Unfortunately, those days were becoming more frequent the less he listened to her. She hardly even cared that they'd broken up, but Will just never listened, and one of these days she would...
Well, she didn't know what she would do, but Layla certainly didn't think it would be heroic.
"Good morning, viewers. For those just tuning in, a new villain has arrived at the construction site for Maxville's newest skyscraper and is issuing a challenge to Airborne," Brian Anderson said, turning his attention to the screen beside him.
"My name is Trance and I challenge Airborne to come fight me! By the end of this day, we will see if he can win against the likes of me and my henchmen. And henchwomen, thank you, Illusion," the villain added at a prompt from the woman by her side. "I'll be waiting, Airborne, as will my hostages!" she called, throwing an arm up into the air to indicate to the hundreds of people she'd entranced, all of whom were now standing on the open floors of the unfinished skyscraper.
The villain smiled at the sound of people's terrified screams in the audience.
"They are under my thrall and they will jump if anyone other than Airborne comes for me," Trance added. "Even if he does come, if Airborne doesn't defeat me, the citizens will all jump at midday."
Will was already zipping his suit on when the call came from his red phone. "I know, the new skyscraper in town. I'll save them, Mr. Mayor," he promised.
Layla hurried to the Stronghold house. Despite the short distance between their houses, Will had sometimes forgotten to pick her up, and there was no way she was letting him leave to fight Trance alone. Will would need her help to save the citizens, at the very least. Layla opened the front door just as Will went to open it on the other side, already dressed as Airborne.
"Good, you're here, Blossom. Are you ready?" Will asked, his voice commanding as it always was when he suited up to be Airborne.
Layla nodded and stepped inside to unzip her jacket and shuck off her pants to reveal her outfit. Red, white, and blue, to match Airborne's outfit, of course.
"Great, let's go. I'll fight Trance and you can save the citizens," Will said, picking her up and flying them towards the city without waiting for her answer.
"This just in, viewers: Airborne has arrived at the skyscraper's construction site in response to Trance's challenge. Will he defeat the villain? Will the citizens be saved? Even if Trance is defeated, will the citizens still jump?" Brian Anderson asked.
"Trance! Airborne's arrived to defeat you!" Airborne called loudly as they approached the building.
The only answer was the wind whipping through the construction paper and plastic on the skyscraper's scaffolding.
"I don't like this, Airborne. It feels like a trap," Blossom whispered as they approached the entrance without Trance, Illusion, or a henchman or henchwoman in sight.
"Then Trance had better be ready for me," Airborne said heroically. "Go upstairs and save the citizens. I'll find you when I've defeated Trance."
Again, he flew down the corridor without waiting for a response. Considering Airborne's announcement had already been heard, Blossom took the elevator upstairs - again, not guarded - and tried not to think about the trap they were blindly walking (or flying) into.
Twenty minutes later, Blossom had been herded back downstairs by Trance's henchmen and henchwomen without saving a single citizen. They knew she was coming thanks to cameras they'd put on every floor. Even without them, there were thirty henchmen or henchwomen on each floor, and even her vines weren't strong enough to hold up against all of them. Besides, the citizens were still standing calmly on the edge of each floor and without Trance being defeated, they could jump at a moment's notice. She couldn't risk the citizens lives until she knew that Airborne had won. Blossom refused to think about what would happen to her or the citizens if he lost.
Finally escaping the latest batch of henchmen and henchwomen, Blossom continued down through the dimly lit building. She glanced around the next corner, her eyes widening when she saw Trance standing there. Blossom quickly stepped back, her heart racing, but Trance had already seen her.
"Step forward, my dear. Quietly now, that's it, good. Now, while your Hero's fighting my decoy, let's get you ready for the grand finale, shall we?" Trance asked, her voice wrapping around her and pulling her forward step by step.
Blossom couldn't struggle, couldn't think of anything beyond her voice, doing exactly what Trance said, and she followed the villain down to the building's basement calmly, just as calm as the citizens who were standing at the edge of their deaths.
"Our cameraman and reporter at the scene have approached as close to the skyscraper as they dare, viewers. We're still unsure as to what is happening inside the building. Is Airborne winning? We can only hope and pray that Trance will be defeated before midday," Brian Anderson said, a view of the skyscraper entrance showing beside him.
"You'll never win, Trance! I will defeat you!" Airborne yelled.
A loud whistle sounded, distracting Trance long enough for Airborne to land a punch and knock the villain out. Standing triumphantly over Trance's unconscious body, Airborne looked at the time. It was almost eleven o'clock. He had less than an hour to defeat Trance's henchmen and henchwomen, and save the citizens.
A low laugh filled the basement, reverberating and sending a chill up Airborne's spine. He turned to the source, only to see a wall disintegrating as the illusion disappeared to reveal a large vat of toxic waste with a curtain hanging above it.
Illusion, Trance's sidekick, smirked at Airborne's stunned expression. "Behind door number one!" she called, the curtain fading away to reveal Blossom sitting on a chair chained above the vat.
As he watched, the chain clinked over to the next link, lowering the chair and Blossom towards the toxic waste. "Blossom!" Airborne called out, stepping forward to save Layla.
"Will you forfeit a hundred citizens to save one sidekick, Airborne?" Trance asked, her voice melodic.
Airborne stopped, his eyes widening when he saw Trance step out from behind the vat of toxic waste. He looked over his shoulder to see the villain he'd defeated still lying unconscious on the floor. Looking back to Trance, Airborne's jaw set and he held up his gloved fists. "I'll defeat you as many times as I need to, Trance."
Trance laughed. "You're welcome to try, Airborne. But which one is the real me?" she asked.
Before Airborne's eyes, another nine Trance villains appeared. They all rushed him at once, Airborne fighting against the ten villains desperately.
Three villains were knocked out, two villains were thrown across the room, another one was kicked with a sickening crunch of ribs and bones. Airborne didn't hold back against any the villains, fighting for his life, for the citizens' lives.
As he threw another villain, Airborne and Trance both heard the terrified scream of Trance's sidekick as she was knocked into the vat of toxic waste, her fingers clutching the rim. Trance's eyes widened at the sight and she hurried over to her. Airborne knew in an instant that that Trance was the real one, and he threw off the last two villains.
"Climb out, 'Lu. Come on, Illusion. Listen to my voice, come to me. Climb out of the vat. You'll be fine. It's as easy as climbing stairs. Good, good. Come on, almost there," Trance said, her voice alluring her sidekick and Illusion's terrified screams cut off as she pulled herself up and over the rim of the vat.
Airborne flew at the villain, pulling Trance back and knocking her out just as Illusion dropped down to the floor, unharmed and alive. She cried out on seeing Trance's unconscious state and Airborne flew back as a large black hole appeared under his feet. Illusion darted forward over the hole harmlessly, taking Trance in her arms and both of them seemingly disappearing.
Outside, the town clock chimed loudly - quarter to twelve - and Airborne's eyes widened as he realised he only had fifteen minutes to save five floors of citizens and defeat Trance's henchmen and henchwomen. He looked to Blossom, who was starting to cry out now that Trance's hold on her had slipped. "I'll be back, okay? I'll be right back."
"Wait, turn off the machine first!" Blossom called.
No, in her terror and desperation, she had reverted to Layla, simply dressed in Blossom's outfit. And thanks to a power-repressing cuff holding her to the chair, she was even less than that, she was powerless.
As per usual, Airborne didn't listen to her as a sidekick, friend, or former girlfriend. Instead, he flew up and out of the basement to save the citizens.
"Will! Please, come back! Come back!" Layla screamed as she lowered another chain-link down towards the toxic waste.
Looking up to the chain, Layla saw that there were another fifteen links. They machine lowered her at one link a minute, so she had fifteen minutes left to live. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to breathe to remain calm, to wait for her Hero to return.
Finding out the hard way that the fumes from the toxic waste made her dizzy and nauseous, Layla instead changed to shallow breaths. Five churns and clinks from the chain later, Layla lost her resolve and started screaming for help again.
"We're hearing screams from inside the skyscraper, but we're unsure where they're coming from or who's making them," the reporter said, frowning at the camera. Their frown disappeared as they heard a whoosh of air and looked up. "Airborne is alive! He's going to save the citizens!"
Brian Anderson's expression turned to one of pure relief. "What a relief, viewers. Surely everyone will be saved now."
No one was coming to save her. The realisation made Layla's stomach churn, though she had a hysterical thought that it could be a result of the fumes from the toxic waste bubbling below her.
Airborne fought the first floor of henchmen and henchwomen. One henchwoman could transform her limbs into various tools, and he flew around a chainsaw, the saw getting stuck in one of the pillars. She was unconscious a second later, and the rest of the henchmen and henchwomen were far easier to deal with.
No one apart from Will knew she was down here.
Airborne saw that firefighters had arrived on the scene, setting up as many trampolines as they could and hoping that would be enough. Airborne wondered if Trance being knocked unconscious was enough to stop the citizens from jumping.
She was going to die.
Airborne fought through another level of villains. Seeing that he was saving the citizens and Trance was nowhere in sight, other supers arrived to help. Airborne was soon joined by a whole team of Heroes, his parents included. Airborne grinned, knowing that the henchmen and henchwomen didn't stand a chance.
No, Airborne would save her. He wouldn't leave her to die.
Airborne was practically left with nothing to do with the arrival of the other supers. They were all defeating the henchmen and henchwomen, throwing them against pillars and into the scaffolding. The citizens had finally come back to themselves after being held under Trance's thrall for so long, and they were now screaming in fear. Airborne felt a niggling feeling in the back of his mind about forgetting something. He dismissed it and called out to the citizens instead.
What if one of Trance's henchmen or henchwomen had hurt him?
Airborne guided the citizens away from the edge of the scaffolding and floors, their eyes wide with fear and awe. He flew ahead to make sure the way was clear and no unconscious henchmen or henchwomen had regained consciousness.
Seeing that chainsaw-hand was awake and trying to leave, Airborne flew forward with his fist pulled back. Chainsaw-hand ducked and tried to get away again. Airborne flew at her legs, grabbing her and slamming the henchwoman against another pillar, the scaffolding shaking with the impact. She went limp in his grasp and Airborne dropped her dead weight to the floor.
The citizens called out behind him - something about structural integrity, more words he didn't understand - as the scaffolding started to come apart and fall off the building beside them. Flying out of the building, Airborne finally started to realise that it was coming apart. The scaffolding had kept the building standing, and now without it, the building was starting to collapse.
Maybe her death wouldn't be painful?
The building started to shake, loud crashes sounding as the scaffolding outside began to tear apart and fall to the ground, and Layla started screaming for help again. By the time a hole was created in the ceiling above her with a cloud of smoke and flames, Layla's voice was raw and hoarse. At this point, Trance herself could save her and Layla would be nothing but grateful.
"Geez, hippie. You really took those Damsel in Distress lessons seriously, didn't you?" Warren asked, dropping into the basement in his firefighter's outfit.
"Help," she croaked, another wave of nausea attacking her.
The toxic waste started to eat away at the chair legs and Layla lifted her feet as high as she possibly could. The fumes were so toxic that her outfit was starting to peel in places and her eyes were watering. If her throat hadn't been raw from screaming, it would be now. Layla clamped her mouth shut, trying not to breathe in any more of the fumes.
There went any hope for a painless death.
"Holy shit," Warren cursed, realising that the machine was still going and Layla was actually being lowered into the vat of toxic waste.
His body lit up in a burst of flames, and Warren threw several fireballs at the machine, both he and Layla sighing in relief when the chain finally stopped moving. Warren started cursing again as he climbed up the vat's ladder to drag Layla's chair away to safety. The fumes made his eyes water behind his helmet and he wondered how she was still conscious.
Warren burnt the chain off and carried Layla, chair and all, down to the ground. He spent the next minute carefully burning the cuff off her wrist, trying to be as gentle as possible. He recognised the power-repressing cuff from visiting his father in Maxville's Super Penitentiary, which explained why Layla hadn't been able to get out of her situation on her own.
Seeing that Layla had fainted - whether through fear, nausea, or something else, he didn't know - Warren felt anger course through him at the way she'd been left to die. The toxic waste had eaten away at his firefighter's outfit as well, so he burnt it down to his clothes underneath, shaking off the flames before gently picking Layla up and leaving with her in his arms.
Outside, the city hall clock chimed midday. As if on cue, the building collapsed inwards, smoke and dust rising as the bricks and steel beams were destroyed.
Layla felt dizzy on waking up, even though she was lying down, and promptly rolled over to throw up. A bucket was beside the bed, thankfully, and she managed to get most of the puke in the bucket, wincing at the toxic-green colour.
"You inhaled a shitton of toxic fumes, hippie. The Mad Professor gave me something to make you throw it all up," Warren said from the doorway, returning with a cool cloth. "You're looking a little more coherent, at least."
Layla groaned and curled up in the foetal position, her body shivering and her head pounding. Warren crossed to the bed, placing the cloth on her forehead gently, his fingers warm against her feverish skin.
"What... what happened? Did the citizens survive?" Layla asked, unsure if she really wanted to know the answer.
"Yeah. Trance and her sidekick disappeared after Will knocked Trance out, and the citizens were saved by Airborne and co."
"Co?" Layla echoed, frowning.
"Yeah, a whole bunch of supers turned up at the scene to help. I think Airborne, Jetstream and the Commander are in talks to create a super-team or something."
"You... you were there," Layla said, trying to convey her meaning without talking; her throat was killing her.
"Yeah, but I was there as a firefighter, not a super. Besides, I've had more important things to worry about than their little team," he said pointedly. "That might be the last of it," Warren said, wincing when he picked up the bucket.
"Sorry," Layla croaked.
"Nothing to be sorry for. Now shut up and go to sleep, hippie. You need to heal and recover," Warren added, adjusting the blanket over her shoulders.
"Okay," she murmured, not fighting the urge to sleep anymore.
Layla was asleep a second later and didn't hear Warren's response.
Layla woke up what could have been hours or days later. It was night outside and she saw a soft warm light glowing under the gap in the door. Shivering, Layla realised that she was naked and covered only in a blanket. Remembering the toxic waste destroying her outfit, Layla couldn't bring herself to care or even mourn the loss of the uncomfortable spandex outfit.
Wrapping the blanket around her body, she cinched it together with a vine grown from the wooden coffee table. Figuring she was decent enough, Layla left the room and headed towards the warm light. A fireplace was going in the lounge room, the warmth drawing her in before she even realised that Warren was sitting in his large armchair, reading a book.
"Hippie, you're okay," he said, his relief evident to Layla even without her seeing his expression.
"Thanks to you," she admitted softly, her throat still aching.
"Well, I wasn't going to leave you there to die," Warren said with a shrug, as uncomfortable with compliments or gratitude as ever.
"Will did," Layla said after a long moment of silence.
"What?" Warren leaned forward, frowning. "Hippie, what happened down there?"
She shook her head, silently asking him not to ask, and returned her attention to the warm fireplace. The fire flared up and Layla looked over to see Warren fuming.
"He left you there to die. He could have turned off the machine, couldn't he?" Warren guessed.
Layla should have known he'd work it out; he was always smarter than most people gave him credit for. She nodded, then looked away, unsure how to feel about the anger burning in his eyes.
Warren stood up, muttering under his breath. He went to the kitchen to get a glass of water and heat up a bowl of soup for Layla to eat. She ate and drank gratefully, her weariness and exhaustion making it difficult to lift the spoon after a while. Setting the bowl and glass aside, Layla sat quietly and watched the flames.
Warren woke Layla when he realised she'd dozed off, and she went back to her room, returning the vine to the coffee table before crawling under the blanket to go to sleep.
Layla woke up in the early hours of the morning, screaming from a nightmare.
Will hadn't come back for her. Will hadn't saved her. Will had left to die all alone.
Warren knocked on the door to check on her. Layla said something as fake as it was reassuring, then returned to sleep and wishing she could have a dreamless sleep.
After being woken up by another of Layla's nightmares, Warren left early to get a bag of clothes from Layla's apartment so she wouldn't have to walk around in a blanket all day. She smiled at his red cheeks when he added he couldn't find her underwear.
"It's hard to find something I don't own," Layla replied, returning to her room to get changed.
She could feel Warren's gaze on her back, hot and intense.
"How do you not own underwear?" Warren asked incredulously when she'd returned, dressed in a shirt and jeans.
Layla shrugged. "It never seemed necessary. I have regular periods, so it's easier to create something natural for a few days a month."
Warren shook his head. "All right. Just don't use nettle leaves or something, okay?"
Layla laughed. "Oh god, no. I'm menstruating, not an idiot."
"Can you imagine the Mad Professor's face if you turned up with a nettle rash?" Warren asked, grinning.
Layla shook her head, covering her face with her hands. "I'm assuming he's already seen me naked if you took me to him?"
"He was very professional," Warren assured her. "I had to burn your outfit off; the fumes made it stick to your skin in places," he added, glancing to her arms to ensure she was really all right.
"And how professional were you?" Layla asked teasingly.
Warren's cheeks burned red again and he coughed. "I didn't want to take you to Maxville Hospital. You said you were still paying off the last bill from four months ago, right? The Mad Professor works in trade, so you'll probably have to help grow his veggie garden or something."
"Thank you, I appreciate it," she said genuinely. Layla rose on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Thanks for saving me, Warren."
"Anytime, hippie," he replied.
She smiled and grabbed a book from his shelf, moving to sit on the lounge to read. Warren seemed grateful for the reprieve and picked up his book from his coffee table to read as well.
It took Layla another two days before she could bring herself to ask Warren what Airborne - Will - had said about her. He obviously knew that she'd still been in the building when it had collapsed, but she had no idea if he knew she was even alive.
Warren refused to answer, shaking his head. "It's better that you see for yourself, hippie. I might be interpreting it the wrong way," he said with a shrug.
Layla's eyes had narrowed at that; she'd proof-read his interpretation of War and Peace for his senior English for Heroes essay, and she knew that Warren didn't interpret anything the wrong way.
A week after almost dying, Layla felt that she was emotionally and mentally ready to watch the news programs that Warren had recorded.
The news cameras focused on the building as it shook, the scaffolding creaking and swaying dangerously before falling down with loud clangs, and plumes of smoke and dust. Screams from the gathered citizens echoed as they realised that the building was collapsing with the other supers and citizens still inside.
There was another cloud of smoke as Airborne broke out of the rubble, holding a large section of wood above the citizens' heads to protect them from the rubble and steel beams that had fallen. They were dusty, but they were alive. Most of Trance's henchmen and henchwomen weren't as lucky, and some of the other supers had been killed by falling debris as well, but the citizens had survived.
The reporters ran over to Airborne as soon as they were free from danger, paramedics, police, and firefighters guiding the citizens away to be treated.
"Airborne, Airborne! Where's your sidekick?" one of the reporters called out.
The camera focused on Airborne's face as he paled, his eyes widening. He turned around to the collapsed building, his jaw dropping as that niggling feeling finally made sense. His parents had landed safely a small distance away, Jetstream hurrying to clean the rubble and dust off of the Commander's suit before the cameras focused on them. Airborne turned back to the cameras, still pale and obviously in shock. It took him half a minute to respond, colour returning to his cheeks suddenly. "Trance killed Blossom before I could save her."
"What?!" Layla snapped, rage consuming her.
"That was a new lounge," Warren said with a sigh.
Layla frowned, looking down, her rage fading to surprise. Her body had sprouted with angry thorns, tearing Warren's couch to pieces in an instant. "I... I didn't know I could do that."
"Well, now that you know, could you not do it on my furniture again?" Warren muttered.
Layla tried to coerce the thorns to disappear again, even though she was still fuming at Will's lie.
Warren snorted when she was unsuccessful in getting the thorns to disappear, obviously still too emotional to have control. "Come on, I've got a punching bag you can demolish. Don't worry, I buy them in bulk," he added, standing and leading Layla out to his garage where several punching bags were set up.
The first two were broken and pouring dust in three seconds, vines working out of Layla's skin to strangle the third punching bag in the next second.
"Fucking hell, hippie. Remind me not to piss you off," Warren said, blinking at the destroyed bags.
Layla grinned over at him. "Don't piss me off."
Warren just laughed and moved into the garage to replace the broken bags.
"Good evening, viewers. It seems that there has been yet another oil spill off the coast. This is the fourth time this year. As there have still been no repercussions from the previous three spills, it's unlikely that there will be any consequences this time either," Brian Anderson said with a frown. Then he smiled brightly. "If you're interested in helping, please come to Maxville Bay this weekend to provide support and clean up this spill."
Layla turned the TV off and paced back and forth, ranting to Warren and unaware of the fact that her body was covered in thorns.
Warren watched Layla, waiting until she stopped to take a breath to answer. "Then why don't you do something about it, hippie?"
Layla stopped both pacing and ranting, looking to him in surprise. "What?"
"Do something about it. This isn't the first oil spill, so they're obviously not going to learn or do anything about it themselves if the citizens are the only ones dealing with it, are they?" Warren pointed out.
"You... you've been listening?" Layla asked, blinking.
Warren frowned. "Of course I have. Oh, let me guess: Will didn't listen to you?" he asked, rolling his eyes.
Layla shrugged, hoping her cheeks weren't red. "Not really. It wasn't important to him," she said, wincing.
Warren rolled his eyes. "Three things, hippie: one, he's an idiot for not thinking this is important; two, he's an even bigger idiot for not listening to you; and three, I'm not Will."
Layla bit back her automatic defence of Will because, yes, he was an idiot. "I know you're not, Warren. I'm not used to being listened to by anyone when I rant. I actually scared off a Greenpeace guy once. He pretends he can't see me when I walk past."
Warren could believe that without a doubt. But he also couldn't believe how anyone couldn't be utterly entranced by Layla's passion in what she was talking about. She lit up from inside (maybe that was a result of the thorns under her skin, he wasn't sure), her eyes were bright, and her soul just shined. If the rest of the world couldn't see that, then they were all idiots as far as he was concerned.
Layla seemed to falter at the idea of actually, really doing something. "What... I don't know what I can do. I'm not a water-super," she said.
"The ocean's full of plants, isn't it?" Warren asked, smirking when her eyes widened and Layla smiled brightly at him, her soul shining through.
"Good evening, viewers. The call to help clean the most recent oil spill has had a surprisingly large turnout from citizens and supers alike this morning. Airborne's newly created Team Stronghold are nowhere to be seen, but other supers are here and determined to help. I can see Waterman in the distance," Brian Anderson said with a smile. "With me are two supers. Uh, who are you, again?" he asked, holding his microphone out to the two men.
"I'm Molten and this is Blaze."
"We just wanted to help out. It's what Blossom would've wanted," Blaze added.
"Oh, was Blossom your girlfriend?" Brian Anderson asked.
Molten frowned. "No, she was Airborne's sidekick. Killed by Trance," he prompted.
"Ah, of course. It was so long ago."
"It's been two weeks," Blaze replied, rolling his eyes.
Brian Anderson coughed. "Oh, of course. Uh, it's time for a commercial break."
"It's not being recorded live; this is for tonight's news. You're just going to edit this out, aren't you?" Molten asked, sounding amused.
"I, uh, have other supers to interview. Tempest, what brings you here?" Brian Anderson called out, hoping that the other super would talk to him.
Tempest rolled her eyes at him and continued past with a bucket. "Try Gemstone, Anderson."
Looking around for Gemstone and not seeing her, Brian Anderson decided he could interview some citizens instead. Maybe ask for their opinion on what had happened, what it was like working so closely with supers, that sort of thing. It would pass the time while he waited to talk to the other supers on the beach.
"Good morning, Miss, what's your name?" Brian Anderson asked a woman, smiling at her and holding his microphone out.
"Poison," she replied sweetly, smiling.
"I beg your pardon?" Brian Anderson asked, his smile fading as her clothes were replaced with a tight green outfit.
The ocean behind her began to tremble, waves increasing in size, and if the water had been clear, they would have seen things moving. As it was, Brian Anderson was sure he could see something glowing in the water. He was running away before the cameraman even realised, stumbling and following after him a second later.
"Should I be upset he didn't try to interview me?" Warren asked, smirking at her.
"Of course not, Fire. We'll get on the news anyway," Poison replied, pressing a kiss to his mouth.
On the beach, more citizens realised what was happening and they were running and screaming as well. On higher land, the cameraman had started recording again now that he was on dry land, focusing on the glowing plants that could be seen through the murky water.
Craig rolled his eyes at Layla and Warren. "Can we finish this? I'm missing Game of Thrones."
"It's a rerun, Cee, and you own all of the DVDs," Layla said as she and Warren pulled away.
"Not the point, Poise," he replied.
"The booms are coming in and the skimmers are still getting as much oil as possible, but there's still more oil out there," Adam said from where he was sitting on his deck chair.
"We'll get it," Warren promised, squeezing Layla's hand.
She smiled and nodded, knowing he would keep his promise.
"Good evening, viewers. Today, it wasn't only a result of unexpected heavy rainfall that stopped logging in the Amazonian forest. It seems that the Logging Company's logging equipment has vanished into thin air as well. All that was found at the logging site were several bolts, a length of chain, and a note stating Chaos."
"After yet another oil spill, Chaos have claimed responsibility for the destruction of the BP headquarters. Team Stronghold have yet to respond to this claim, but we are waiting with bated breath. Airborne and his new sidekick, Shifter, have been seen around Maxville, but have not responded to questions about these villains' blatant destruction of property.
"Papillion has claimed differing opinions are stalling any further investigation into the group called Chaos. Team Stronghold has barely begun, but this could be the end for them already."
"The Flint River has been drained and all pipelines leading to Flint have been destroyed. Chaos are taking credit for this destruction, as well as the destruction of several homes of people who created the crisis in the first place. According to the local firefighters, as there was no safe water to use to put out the fires, the homes and several people trapped inside have perished.
"Flint's new Mayor has declared a state of emergency, stating that the pipelines will be fixed in accordance with health regulations, and has asked weather supers to refill the Flint River with clean water. Even as the Mayor gave their speech, we received reports that several contractors had already begun work on the pipes leading to Flint."
"While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have finished work on the Dakota Access Pipeline, there have been reports of the workers seeing ghosts, others feeling as though they were drowning even though they were awake and nowhere near any water, while some have been admitted to hospital with pepper spray burns, while others have literally been found and apparently torn apart by dogs. According to various White House employees, even the President has been having nightmares of choking to death on oil. We can only hope it's a premonition.
"After Chaos' bank heists last week, this morning found thousands of protestors receiving compensation for damages as a result of the Dakota Access Pipeline being installed. Others have been promised safety and protection from Chaos themselves.
"Despite Airborne's assurance that both Illusion and Trance perished in the collapse of the skyscraper two months ago, these illusions and nightmares appear to be the work of Illusion herself. Chaos' group are expanding with every week that passes, and still, there has been no decisive action from Team Stronghold."
"An oil spill in Yellowstone River has resulted in the contamination of municipal water in Glendive. In turn, this has made cancer-causing benzene increase to go far above normal levels. Any citizens in or around Glendive have been advised to use and drink bottled water until the presence of benzene decreases to a safe level once more.
"The oil company responsibly, True Companies, had their headquarters destroyed early yesterday morning. Chaos have taken responsibility for this and today, True Companies' employees have been quitting in droves, fearing for their lives. As of yet, there has been no response from Team Stronghold."
"The Weather and Environmental Trends website has reportedly been hacked, with reports showing that warning of Hurricane Maria was provided five days before it hit Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria was a Category 5 hurricane and the greatest natural disaster the U.S. island had seen in modern times. The previous Category 5 hurricane hit Puerto Rico in 1928.
"Viewers may remember when the President visited the island a full two weeks after the hurricane hit. He threw paper towels into the crowd, told Puerto Ricans that their need for aid has thrown the budget out of whack, and that they should be proud about the low loss of sixteen people. He then went on to praise the great job being done on the island.
"Six months on, Puerto Rico is going through regular blackouts, and some of the island are still without power. Latest counts of the death toll may be higher than one-thousand people, and this doesn't include the high suicide rate that is currently occurring, with the suicide rate tripling since November.
"Chaos have pledged to restore electricity to the rest of the island by the rest of the week, are personally helping with cleaning and repairing damaged buildings, and are helping Puerto Ricans recover by providing jobs, clean water, fresh food, and therapy."
"Sudan, the last male white rhino in Kenya has died this week, meaning that the white rhinoceros has now changed from 'near threatened' to 'facing extinction'. The remaining two white rhinos are in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. They are being protected not only by armed guards, but by three super-guards instated by Chaos themselves. We hope that Najin and Fatu will remain safe and protected while researchers look into artificial insemination for one or both of the female rhinos.
"The International Union for Conservation has updated their Red List of Threatened Species after Sudan's death. Some of the lesser-known animals facing extinction include the Amur leopard, Bornean orangutan, Ili pika, the giant otter, black-footed ferret, pangolin, saola, and Darwin's fox. Supers both within Chaos and outside of their group are hoping to raise awareness and stop poachers from killing these animals.
"We're receiving reports and videos of poachers being dumped outside of jails in various countries, including right here in America. They have been chained or cuffed where appropriate, with the list of animals they've killed as well as evidence such as ivory or powdered rhino horn attached by a chain around their necks."
"Chaos have created a business with franchises in every country. Their business will be for research and development of non-toxic materials, ranging from plastics and concrete to renewable and alternative fuels such as hydrogen and solar.
"Medical researchers, pharmaceutical and health care workers are also needed, as are nurses and doctors, for both general and specialist fields. Other jobs include biotechnology and other information and communications technology fields; environmental protection; agriculture, food and water security; animal protection, husbandry, and conservation; skilled labourers and tradespeople; information and knowledge management.
"Even if you do not have experience in your field of expertise, Chaos are requesting for people to apply who have a range of skills from cooking, marketing, arts, retail and customer service, hospitality, engineering, teaching, and all other areas.
"Chaos are equal-opportunity employers, super-friendly, and will employ ex-convicts, people with disabilities, and minorities. Please view Chaos' website for more information about these jobs and other opportunities. For those without Internet access, please press zero on your closest phone, mobile or otherwise."
"Australia has revealed that a highly toxic silver mining site may leak into the Murray-Darling Basin. With only forty millimetres of rain required for the site to leak into both the basin and Dumaresq River, this could result in the contamination of several local waterways. It will affect crop irrigation in many areas, not just within the area of the mining site"
"Chaos have sent their local representatives in Australia to help safely destroy the toxins within the silver mine, and reduce the number of blackouts in various states in the country."
"China's environmental health crises continue, with air pollution, water, soil, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, and mega projects being the main six problem categories. China is, of course, known not only for the number of natural disasters, but also the frequency, extent, and damage caused by these disasters. A recent study showed that one-third of deaths in China and India are caused by air pollution alone."
"Chaos and their group are working with WET on reducing the amount of air pollution without killing the citizens of China and India with pure oxygen. It has already been reduced by ten percent, and people are sending videos of glimpses of blue skies. Other Chaos-representatives are working on reducing the impact of China's other projects and problematic areas."
"The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations have released the Global Report of Food Crises. Many countries are experiencing famine due to conflict between citizens, natural disasters, climate change, and the inflation of the economy.
"The drought is currently affecting several countries in Africa. The Somalian drought has caused one-hundred-and-ten deaths in two days. More than six million people are facing food shortages and water has become undrinkable due to the possibility of infection. Somalia has declared national disaster over this drought."
"Poison has personally started to grow various crops in several countries in Africa, using large electronic greenhouses to ensure the weather will not affect the crops. Electro has ensured that no one will be able to access the greenhouses besides Chaos themselves, and there's even a video of Carbon Copy attempting the feat in both Poison and Fire's forms. He is currently recovering in Chaos' personal hospital.
"Tempest is working with local Chaos groups across African countries to determine the safest water routes to avoid destroying villages and towns. Three monsoons have been forecast by WET later in the week to improve the water table and start some rivers in rural areas. Any weather-supers are encouraged to contact Tempest on the below email address to provide their own support. They will, of course, be paid for the support."
"Another earthquake in New Zealand has resulted in more than one-hundred-and-eighty deaths, with thousands more injured. The tsunami that followed after the 6.3 magnitude quake prompted a tsunami warning, though more were still killed as a result."
"Chaos-employed seismologists, engineers, construction workers, and architects from Japan, Nepal, India, Ecuador, Phillipines, Pakistan, El Salvador, Mexico, Turkey, and Indonesia will be travelling to New Zealand tomorrow. They will work with New Zealand architects and construction workers to discuss and use the New Zealand-developed base isolators to protect buildings in these highly earthquake-prone areas."
"Good evening, viewers. After the President's Twitter rant regarding Korea and nuclear war this morning, the White House has been declared as unsafe. No one is sure what has happened, only that Chaos are apparently responsible."
"This just in, viewers: the President is dead. It seems that his final act was to declare that all gun owners will now require shooting licenses, and anyone applying for a gun will require both police background and medical checks.
"Which is kind of pointless because as of this instant, Chaos have stated that guns will no longer work. Yes, they do mean on a global scale. Once the late President's final act has been enforced, Chaos might consider doing something about the guns."
"Due to the loss of the President, both parties, ninety-eight percent of politicians, and several Secret Service staff who didn't have the sense to leave the White House when warned, elections for local, state, and Presidential candidates will be held in a week's time.
"Voting is compulsory, voting booths will be open from 7am to 9pm, postal votes will be sent to those unable to attend, and votes will be counted as one vote per citizen. If you are unable to vote for any other reason, please contact Chaos on the below phone number.
"Acidic would also like to point out that if you abuse this service, you won't live to regret it."
"Good morning and welcome to this emergency broadcast, viewers. We have received confirmation that Team Stronghold have unsuccessfully attacked Chaos. Chaos themselves have released the videos of the fight between their group and Team Stronghold.
"Team Stronghold tried to attack Chaos with a cowardly ambush in the middle of the night, only to be attacked by the forest outside of Chaos' home, losing Waterman and Freeze Girl in the process.
"A currently-unidentified object took out Earthstone in a loud and resounding explosion. Marksman stepped aside, taking Fou à Six Membres and Trois Yeux with him; Shifter and Papillion both shifted to avoid being injured; while Airborne, the Commander, and Jetstream used their capes to protect themselves from the resulting blast.
"Team Stronghold met Acidic and Electro inside, who seemed very annoyed about being interrupted during their movie night - Black Panther, for those interested. As a result, Team Stronghold lost Papillion with Acidic's well-aimed acidic spit, and Electro squished Fou with an electronic device.
"The rest of Team Stronghold managed to escape down into a trap door, only to be met with Carbon Copy, Bolt, and Gemstone in the middle of a manicure. Trois Yeux was electrocuted by Bolt, while Gemstone turned Marksman to stone. Carbon Copy, it seemed, held their nail polish while they defeated the two Heroes.
"Airborne, the Commander, Jetstream, and Shifter continued through the tunnel to find Chaos while the others in their team were dying. They soon found Chaos themselves, but the fight that ensued was very short. Airborne was killed by Poison's poisonous vines in a matter of seconds. Shifter tried to free him, but accidentally ingested the poison, and was soon dead as well.
"In the next five minutes, it could be said that both Jetstream and the Commander fought valiantly, heroically. However, they were unable to escape Poison's vines. Jetstream was burnt to death by Fire while Poison killed the Commander by crushing his brain with a vine fed through his ears. They both died screaming and begging the whole time.
"A minute later, Merge and Tempest left their room and Trance and Illusion left another room, only for the four villains to berate Chaos for disturbing their slumbers."
Brian Anderson looked to the camera, reading the teleprompter that Acidic currently controlled. "The Heroes are no more, viewers. As of today, Chaos reigns."
Thanks for reading!