Chapter Zero

Chapter Zero: Guardian

 

It was always easy to see the stars at night in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was one of the things that attracted people to the city the most. The warm weather was perfect for people who hated the cold, but weren’t quite ready to move on to blazing levels of heat. The city was the perfect size; not being too large that it made you feel insignificant in it, yet not feeling so small that you couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into someone. There was plenty to do and see, if you knew where to look. It was a near perfect city, even factoring in the giant bird soaring through the sky; clutching a young man in its claws.

           

“Let me go!” The young man bellowed, wildly swinging his arms. The young, dark skinned boy had known exactly what this creature was, considering he had more than a few run-ins with the deity. “Thunderbird! Drop me!” He continued to bellow; his short length dreads flowing in the wind as they ascended higher and higher.

 

“Hania Hawke, stop moving. Now.” Thunderbird spoke in a surprisingly calm voice, even though the young teen had begun punching the massive leg that Thunderbird had been carrying him in. It wasn’t like it hurt or anything though, it just served to annoy the majestic creature. Thunderbird looked very similar to an overgrown eagle, except being completely brown, yet it had this sort of…regal appearance that set it apart from other creatures. Perhaps it could have something to do with its golden eyes that were focused straight ahead on its destination.

 

Hania’s brown eyes widened as he finally was able to see where he was being taken to; a large hole in the sky that he was positive wasn’t there at first. The two flew through the hole, and came out the other side to see an entire new world. Tall buildings lined the ground below Hania and Thunderbird, with designs reminiscent of cultures once passed. Aztec structures taller than they ever had been during their prime sat directly next to a cluster of Japanese shrines to make for the most confusing layout of a city ever. What was most bizarre about this place however, was the bright, shining blue sun that sat in the sky. “Where are we…?” Hania asked in a state of pure wonder. The air felt heavy to him; as though he were painfully aware of each breath that he took. He felt dizzy and even slightly nauseous. It felt as though he were going through several G’s of gravity and he was terribly underprepared to do so. Yet Thunderbird seemed perfectly fine soaring through the sky, as if it were no more trivial than taking a stroll. “Stupid deity..” Hania couldn’t help but think.

 

“We are in the realm of Gods. The fact that you haven’t passed out yet is a feat within itself. You should be proud. I know I am.” Thunderbird spoke to Hania as though he were meticulously picking his words. His speech was slow and deliberate, likely attributed to the fact that he walked on eggshells with Hania. Deity or not, Hania was always ready to dish out a verbal lashing.

 

“Keep your pride to yourself; I don’t want it.” Hania retorted, rolling his eyes so hard that he could probably see his own brain matter.  The rest of the flight was filled with an awkward silence; Thunderbird flying forward while stealing glances at Hania every so often, and Hania making sure to put his full concentration on the environment around him.  Every time he looked at the bright blue sun, he felt an intense wave of vertigo overcome him.

 

“Don’t fret, we’re almost there.” Thunderbird motioned ahead to a large, spiraled tower. Although it was the tallest building he had seen thus far, it seemed relatively plain. It’s gray brick design seemed rather dull compared to the rest of the world. Yet it seemed…fierce and intimidating; an ever present storm cloud floating over top, with bolts of lightning striking down in every which direction. It screamed power; something that attracted Hania.

 

The two landed beside the front door of the large tower; narrowly avoiding a bolt of lightning as they entered. They walked through a dimly lit hallway, with Hania struggling to follow his guide. It was dimly lit and smelled of stormwater, with the occasional lightning strike illuminating the hallway fully. They were approaching a metal door that opened on it’s own as soon as Thunderbird approached it. Hania breathed a sigh of relief when it did so, considering the door had to weigh at least a ton. The room they entered was covered with stark white tiles; the type of white that it seemed every famous person’s teeth were. It was actually a little eerie to Hania. To his left was a large pool filled with some type of golden liquid, which Hania wasn’t quite sure what it was. It seemed fairly deep though, and considering Hania was unable to swim, he decided to stay away from it all together. Hania cleared his throat and it echoed in the near empty room. Whatever this room was, Hania was not a fan. “This room needs a window or something.” Hania spoke softly to try and avoid the echo. He failed.

 

“Hm. I’ve never considered that.” Thunderbird seemed to genuinely consider it. Hania had stopped paying attention though, and instead shifted his gaze to the large, vibrant red door that stood before them. Hania absolutely hated the color red.

 

“While you’re at it, repaint this door.” Hania scoffed.

 

“I’m rather fond of the color red.” Thunderbird added. It was a little bizarre to watch his beak move as though it were a human mouth.

 

“I know. That’s why I hate it.” Hania cut his eyes and pushed open the door; albeit with some trouble. It wasn’t quite as solid as the other door looked, but it definitely wasn’t any ordinary door.

The room he entered was rather dark, besides for a large hole in the ceiling that allowed cerulean rays of light to beam down in the center of the room. Everytime the thirteen year old Hania looked at this light, he felt a little more woozy. He wondered why, but mostly grew irritated at his inability to look at the light. He saw it as a challenge, and he hated to lose.

 

“Hania.” The voice was deep and powerful; making Hania jump a bit. The voice came from above him; belonging to a man sitting atop a stormcloud. Hania finally took the time to examine his surroundings a little more carefully. Several stormclouds floated above him, all of which were occupied by some strange figure. He assumed that they all were deities, like Thunderbird. He couldn’t be sure though,considering Thunderbird was the only deity he had ever met, much to Hania’s disgust.Of course a Native American God was the only one who bothered to reveal themselves to him. Probably because he was half Native American and they didn’t want to cross streams or something.

 

“How do you know my name?” Hania questioned, squinting to see who the person talking was. He was answered with a bolt of lightning crashing down in front of him, shooting off arcs of electricity every which way. To Hania, it felt more so warm than actually causing him harm; with a slight tingly sensation traveling down his bones.

 

“I know everything there is to know about you, boy.” The lightning slowly changed shape to become an actual, fairly pale man. He stood over Hania with relative easy,  appearing to be about eight feet tall. He wore a simple toga that left most of the left side of his torso exposed, and his veins were prominent throughout his muscular physique. The man had a long beard that was as white as freshly fallen snow, with long hair that reached his shoulders in a matching color. One look and the word power came to mind; so much so that Hania tried to avoid the gaze of his electric blue eyes. Somehow, Hania knew who this was. He was looking into the face of Zeus, one of the most famous deities.

 

“I know about you too, Santa Claus.” Hania retorted in his usual snarky self. He wasn’t about to be intimidated by anyone, even a deity. “Is that a tiara?” Hania added, pointing to a small golden crown that appeared to be tattooed onto the center of the lightning god’s forehead. It was a joke that Hania would instantly regret, as bolts of lightning began wildly flowing from the deity’s body. Unconsciously, Hania took a step back. That single step, was a sign of weakness in both Hania’s own eyes and Zeus’.

 

“Are you finished yet?” Zeus was completely serious. He had no concept of humor; the complete opposite of Hania. He clearly was proud however, that the mortal before him had feared him. Hania automatically decided he hated him.

 

“Alright Zeus, since you want to keep things super serious, mind telling me why I’m here?” Hania figured now wasn’t the time for games. Besides, he genuinely didn’t know why he was here and to say he wanted an answer would be a bit of an understatement. His eyes looked around at the figures above him; all of which their names flew into his head just the same as Zeus’. All the deities above him were ones that were known to control lightning; the muscular, dirty blond standing off to the side was the deity that Hania recognized as Thor. He smiled at Hania while making a rather obscene gesture at Zeus from behind his back. Thor just became Hania’s new favorite god. Plus it put him at ease to know that Zeus wasn’t omnipotent, just a pompous ass.  

 

“You’ve been selected to become the new guardian of lightning. You should feel honored to have this privilege. “ Zeus didn’t exactly give off a very welcoming look; he looked at Hania as though he were no more than a spec of dirt. Maybe that’s how he viewed mortals in general.

 

“Did I enter a sweepstakes or something? Or is this more like a timeshare?” Hania’s response earned a snicker from Thor in the background. Why couldn’t every deity be more like him? Zeus responded with another display over his control of lightning, having it bounce around him. “C’mon Zeus, you and I both know that lightning won’t hurt me.” The thirteen year old mused, pointing out the previous attempt. Crack! A bolt of lightning found it’s way down to hit Hania, causing him to reel back in pain.

 

“You weren’t hurt last time because I made it so. Don’t get full of yourself. To me, you are no more significant than a grain of sand.” Zeus barely moved a muscle when he sent down that bolt of lightning. Hania however, had been hurled over trying to compose himself. Hania was gifted; blessed with the power to control lightning. He had never known what it felt like to truly be struck by lightning. He wasn’t used to his entire body burning, or the numbness that set in afterwards. His insides felt like they were on fire, his bones were still shuddering from the blow, and his pride had been shattered into pieces. Hania’s eyes gazed up at the rest of the deities floating above them. Thunderbird looked like he wanted to strike Zeus for the attack, while Thor looked impressed. Not with Zeus, but rather his gaze was directed towards Hania.

 

You’re less fragile than I expected. Glorious! Let’s ride into battle together!” Thor’s look practically spelled it out for him. Hania’s eyes met another deity whom had been sitting atop a cloud on Thor’s left. His skin was an annoyingly vibrant shade of red, while multiple golden jewels adorned his body. Immediately, Hania understood that this was Indra without having to fully know who he was. Such was the power of the gods, Hania figured. He looked rather indifferent to the entire thing. No, he looked bored in all actuality.

 

“Can we be serious now?” Zeus mused. He took slight pleasure in Hania’s pain; something he took no care to hide.

 

“Seriously serious. Dare I say, deadly serious.” Hania quipped back. His body may have been in agonizing pain, but his mouth wasn’t. “What exactly does a guardian of lightning do?”

 

“Guardians. There are multiple guardians, each designated to a different grouping of lords.” Thunderbird chimed in from atop his cloudy perch.

 

“Lords? You mean gods right?” Hania looked on puzzled.

 

“All lords are gods, but not all gods are lords. The specifically powerful ones whom are in control of the human world are referred to as lords.” Thor blurted out. He seemed to be yelling, although it wasn’t easy to see if this was on purpose or not.

 

“Seems snooty.” Hania shrugged his shoulders.

 

“Very much so.” Thor chuckled, pointing at Zeus while his back was turned. Zeus cleared his throat; signalling for everyone to be quiet.

 

“A guardian is picked to represent the lords back on earth. We cannot freely roam about on earth without tearing it apart, and so we nominate a…lesser being, usually a human, to do so for us. They fight on our behalf, as well as disposing the monsters that escape down to earth that we cannot be bothered with.” Zeus’ explained in a rather blunt, cold fashion.

 

“I think I’ll decline. My ancestors would be mighty upset if I willingly became a slave.” Hania always had a hard time hiding his irritation, but with Zeus it overflowed. The way Zeus spat out the word “human” lingered in Hania’s ears. It lingered on his lips, like the stench of alcohol after a night of drinking. It reminded him of the thousands of other occasions he had been referred to with a racial slur. No wonder why bigotry existed in the world; the gods themselves invented it. “Pick someone else.” Hania added.

 

“Do you think we actually picked you for this? To me, you are no more significant than a blade of grass.” Zeus began to say something else, but Thor interjected.

 

“Do not fret, young warrior! You are a blade of grass in a sea of dead flowers!” Thor always seemed to yell whenever he talked. “You were chosen by our oracle!” Thor talked as if Hania should know what that was. He didn’t even seemed phased by his troubled look.

 

“The who?” Hania tilted his head. “You know what, it doesn’t matter. I really don’t want to be involved with this.”

 

“But you already are involved in our matters! You killed a chimera!” Thor pointed out. It was true; last year a chimera attacked Hania’s middle school and he took it down. Not that it was even remotely an easy feat of course. But no one had told him to do it; he did it to protect the people around him.

 

“Not the same thing, and we both know it. I don’t want to be a guardian and taking orders from any gods or lords or whoever y’all decide to call yourselves. I want to be a hero. Heroes go where they’re needed, not where they’re sent.” Hania explained. A few murmurs were exchanged between the lords above him; Zeus looking particularly annoyed and Thunderbird looking particularly pleased with Hania’s response.

 

“So what’s stopping you?” Thunderbird interjected; silencing the murmurs. “Be our guardian, but be the world’s hero. These matters that we send you on aren’t for our personal gain. We cannot freely fret around your world, using our might to vanquish foes. But we cannot let the world suffer from our creatures, our mistakes, and our creations. Does this sound more your speed now?” Thunderbird seemed to genuinely care about the human world, which was a refreshing change of pace. But Hania couldn’t help but focus on how the bird-like deity closed his eyes whenever he spoke. It seemed like every one of these gods had some type of habit that came out whenever they spoke. Zeus always let lightning bounce around him as if it were a show of might, and Thor did the equivalent of talking in all caps.

 

“Fine, as long as I don’t have to deal with prophecies or something.” Hania said, after a few moments had passed.

 

“Why would we deal with prophecies? We aren’t creative enough to think of a prophecy every time we want you to do something.” Zeus said, with a straight face.

 

“It would be pretty cool though.” Thor added. Before Zeus raised his hand to silence him.

 

“Are you ready to start this process?” Zeus moved so that he was behind Hania, faster than his eyes could track. And Hania had some pretty good eyes. He nodded his head in response. Zeus led him over to the area where the azure light had been hitting the center of the room. Hania hated that he had to avert his eyes to avoid passing out, where as everyone else in the room could look at the light so casually. Without looking directly at it though, Hania could tell that the light had grown brighter. No, brighter wasn’t the right word to describe this. The light had grown aggressive; he felt it seeking out substance like a starving plant seeking sunlight. Little tendrils of light plucked at the hairs on his skin as he grew closer. His body screamed run away, his heart raced, and his bones began to chill. Luckily for Hania, he wouldn’t have a chance to actually run away, since Zeus spartan kicked him directly into the center of light.

 

The noise Hania made could hardly be considered human. It was the personification of pain; a blood freezing cry that would have you think every single organ was shutting down in his body. Every cell in his body felt as though it were on fire; each individual molecule roaring out to stop. His blood felt like they were replaced with daggers; cutting him on the inside. Hania felt like throwing up, but nothing would come out but his own, pitiful voice. He was sure that this was what it felt like to die. No, this had to be worse than dying. For the second time in his young life, Hania had truly wished to die. His name might have meant spirit warrior, but he felt more like a cowering infant longing for his mother to kiss his boo-boos better. Just when Hania couldn’t take it anymore; when he had nearly made the decision to beg for someone to kill him, the pain stopped. The pain was replaced by a surge of power; a strength so large that it coursed through his veins. His body felt lighter, faster, more durable than before. Lightning danced wildly around him; omitting from his body in a brilliant display. As though he were being branded; he felt a searing sensation on his right shoulder. Hania could feel a small thunderbolt shaped symbol being engraved onto his right shoulder; causing more irritation than actual pain.

 

“It is complete.” Zeus nonchalantly stated, before returning to his perch upon the clouds.

 

“That’s it? No explosion of power? I expected my hair to turn gold or something. It’s a little underwhelming.” Hania was bluffing, of course. He felt like he could take on the entire room of deities and survive for at least thirty seconds; about twenty-nine seconds worth of added confidence in his own abilities.

 

“That’s it?! You haven’t tested your might yet! All of your abilities have been amplified and imbued with magic properties! Better strength and speed, more lightning and more healing! You haven’t even donned your battle garb!” Thor nearly fell off his cloud in his own excitement. Hania could tell by that crazed look in his eyes that Thor wanted to fight Hania. But the way Hania’s life was set up, he enjoyed living it, and decided to decline if he was challenged.

 

“Battle garb? Are we talking suit of armor or spandex and underwear on the outside?” Hania questioned. Thunderbird looked at him and Hania instantly became annoyed. He knew that Thunderbird was about to open his beak to spout a few words.

 

“It’s whatever you may desire. The symbol on your back is the source of the magic flowing within you. It will create your new clothing based on whatever image you shape in your mind, and it will serve as minor protection against attacks. You simply have to will it into existence and it will appear at any time.”

 

Hania thought about this for a few moments. He had thought about designing a costume for at least a year now, while he sat in his room toying with the idea of being an actual superhero or not. To be honest, he still wasn’t completely sure if he wanted to be a superhero or not. Just in case though, he had to think carefully. He needed something that would make it harder to identify his face, but something practical as well. Superheroes were still a rather new thing in the world; currently there were only two confirmed superheroes, and maybe a dozen or so unconfirmed reports of others. He didn’t exactly have a lot of options to model his look after.

 

“Could you hurry?” Zeus rolled his eyes as he watched Hania deep in thought.

 

“Shut up, gramps! I think I’ve got it…” Hania furrowed his brow and began to envision the costume he had picked out. The magic that Thor mentioned he was now embedded with reacted to his thoughts, and the small lightning bolt tattoo that was on his shoulder began to shine bright. His clothes were gone; replaced with a cape-length, gray cloak that ended at the back of his knees, completely with golden lightning bolts engraved along the trim. His cloak was complete with a hood that draped over his head in such a way that it formed a near beak down to his nose. His eyes peered out through the shadows that were created by his magical outfit. Beneath his sleeveless cloak, he now had on a rather snug, blue shirt and matching pants; both trimmed with the same lightning bolts that adorned his cloak. A golden belt was around his waist, with the buckle forming a lightning bolt.

“The bottom half of your face, and your hands are completely exposed, as well as the front of your neck. Horrible design choice. You know you don’t get a second chance at this, correct?” Zeus pointed out, in typical hypocritical fashion considering half of Zeus’ body was out.

 

“Pot calling the kettle black, much? I’m well aware about that fact, but well…it’s important to me…to a lot of people, that some of my features are shown. That the world knows that I’m black. Well, half black at least. That I’m a minority; yeah that sounds better. Anyway, there aren’t too many people for minorities to be able to see themselves in, to aspire to be. So I want to add to that very tiny list. I don’t know why I’m explaining this to you lot, I guess it’s something that’s lost on gods, right?” Hania had a slight smile as he spoke.

 

“Don’t understand that at all.” Seemingly every deity in the room proclaimed in unison, like the the start of the world’s most mythical christmas carol. Hania had figured that his explanation was going to be lost among deities with hardly any concept of race in general. Still, saying it out loud felt good.

 

“So, here stands Hania the hero…” Thunderbird began, before he noticed Hania shake his head.

“No, not anymore. Don’t call me Hania when I’m wearing this.” Hania had thought long and hard about this. Not only was Hania such a rare name that he was certain people would put two and two together, but this was a chance for Hania to make a new name for himself. To be something more than Hania, the boy with abandonment issues. To be more than Hania, the boy who got kicked out of his first two elementary schools. This was a chance to be someone who actually meant something.

 

“Very well. What shall you be known as?” Thunderbird questioned.

 

“Call me…”