CW: Blood, Death, War
Synopsis: In a world of heroes and villains, the Hound Who Ate the Moon continues to terrorise the people and their way of living. Hope, a young hero, is tasked with assembling a team to take down the Hound and his organisation. But maybe the Hound was there all along, fighting alongside him...
Word Count: 10943
Date Written: August 2021
“If you don’t tell me the information, lady, I’m afraid I’m going to have to shoot you dead.”
“Then you’ll have to pull the trigger, son. Because I’m not saying anything.”
“Then say goodbye.”
He raised the pistol, pointing it at the old woman kneeling on the floor. Papers and books were spilled all over the bamboo mat, and a small sliver of moonlight shone through the curtains. He put his finger on the trigger, trying to keep his hand steady.
“Though, son, why are you crying? I thought I was the one who was supposed to be doing so.”
“Huh?” He touched a finger to his face, and realized that it was wet.
“It’s okay to cry.” The old woman’s voice was soft. “I just thought that bad people didn’t cry.”
A shot rang out in the dead of the night. As he left the house, one of his comrades clapped him on the shoulder.
“Good job, Lang. We’ll get you up there yet.”
But still, he felt sick to his stomach.
He was called Hope, because that was what he was to the people.
Hope, defender of good, bringer of justice. At least that was what he was in his own mind.
“It has been two hundred and eighteen days since the appearance of the Hound, one of the most dangerous villains we have encountered to date. His ability threatens mass destruction and harm, and all those with abilities should be on the lookout for - ”
Hope shut the newscast off. The Hound Who Ate the Moon. That was why they called him so. Because on the first day that he had made himself known, a large chunk of the moon had disappeared.
“Any luck, Tae?” he asked the black-haired boy who had just entered the room, carrying a stack of documents.
“We’ve got some leads. Turns out he’s with a group called the Hares. You’ve heard of them?”
“Hares…called so because they’re underground and quick to run?” Hope rubbed his fingers over the material on the arm of the couch. Soft and quick to change colors, from light to dark and back again.
“Exactly. One of the more notorious villain groups out there…but they’ve started to become active again, ever since…the Hound ate the moon.”
“Good work, Tae.” Hope stood, stretching. “I guess we should head down to headquarters and make a team, eh? Shouldn’t be too hard to find the Hares.”
“They’ve got several ‘burrows’ scattered around, so it will take a bit of time and team effort to do it.”
“No time like the present. Let’s go.”
They found most of their usual team. Kei, a guide; Wind, a conjurer; Ren, a weapons expert. Along with Tae, who was a sharpshooter, and Hope, who made a good leader, they formed an excellent team that had battled through all sorts of villains and storms.
“HQ wants to assign three more to us,” Tae reported not long after they had sent in their team request. “They don’t think five is enough.”
“Well, who are they sending?”
“Some novices who need training, I suppose. We have Yu, who’s a hacker and has some sort of electric manipulation over power systems, and then there’s Ness; I think she works well as a tank, and Lang, who has the power of restoration.”
“Restoration, eh?” Hope grinned. “Will come in handy when facing the Hound.”
“Sure will. Shall we agree?”
Hope nodded. “Yeah, let’s take them all. I can make a good team with this.”
However, the first meeting they had, Hope began to have some doubts, as he sat at the end of the table, a smile plastered on his face that was starting to hurt. Ness and Ren had already sparked some bad blood between them, and were arguing about something or the other that he hadn’t quite caught.
“All right, all right, girls, let’s settle down,” Hope said before they could tear each others’ throats out. “We’re going to be spending quite a bit of time together, and I don’t want that to be a miserable experience.”
Both of them shot him glares before sitting. Hope tried to keep his smile. This was going to be much more difficult than he imagined.
“Shall we start?” Tae asked.
“Of course.” Hope stood. “I assume you all know who I am by now. I’m Hope, and I’m going to be your leader this mission to take down the Hound. In order for this mission to be a true success we’re going to have to know each of our strengths and weaknesses and how best to use our abilities with each other. We’re going to be spending a little time training, and then we’ll set off. How does that sound?”
When no one responded, Wind looked around and said, “Look, guys, I’ve worked with Hope and Tae before, and I can tell you, as long as you follow what they tell you to do, you’re going to be just fine. He’s probably the best leader HQ has these days, especially for his age, okay? So show a little respect.”
Hope gave him a smile. “Thanks, Wind. I know some of you are new, and maybe you aren’t all suited to work with me, but that’s okay. Once you’re no longer a novice, you’ll be assigned to better jobs. Now, enough sitting around. I want to see your gifts.”
The gifted were those who were blessed with some sort of ability. Gifts deteriorated as their holders grew older, so HQ primarily consisted of young people working for them. Better to take advantage of them early on, they said. And so it was.
They headed down to the gym in HQ, used primarily for training, with its space and props. Yu, Ness, and Lang looked slightly uncomfortable in the large area, probably because they had only trained in the novice rooms beforehand, and not in front of established members. Tae had already gone to set up the targets, while Wind and Ren went to go find weapons. Kei sat down on the bleachers, a grin on his face, as if ready for a show.
“Why don’t you guys start by telling me about your powers?” Hope asked.
“Shouldn’t you already know what they are?” Ness asked.
“I want to hear them from you.”
“I’d rather show you.”
“Show me, then.” Hope stood back. “Go ahead. I’m going to ask each of you to demonstrate your powers.”
Ness stretched, cracking her joints. “All right, but don’t get too close.” She tied up her light hair with a headband and took a stance like a runner.
Tae had set up a barrier of large blocks at the other end of the gym, and when he gave Ness a thumbs up, she took off. Right as she hit the blocks, she set them flying in all directions, electricity and smoke crackling in the air. Some of them had fallen apart.
Tae jotted something down. “You create force fields to push things away?”
“They can also be used to protect,” Ness replied, wiping her forehead. “Basically if I jump in a fight and activate them, no one will be able to touch me.”
“Must take up a lot of energy though, right?” Hope asked, handing her a towel. “Since it’s electricity-based.”
She scowled slightly, taking the towel. “Yeah. I guess.”
“All right. I’ll keep that in mind. Who wants to go next? Yu, what about you?”
“Erm…” Yu was quite thin, his black hair almost falling over his glasses. “Is there a computer somewhere around here?”
“I’m sure you do great on a computer. I’m more interested in seeing the other side of your ability, however.”
Often times, abilities were double-sided. Tae was a sharpshooter because he had excellent aim and eyesight. But at the same time, it could also serve to track people, as well as other similar things. With Ness, she could probably cause a power surge, if need be, or electrocute those around her.
Yu took off his glasses and wiped them on his shirt, then put them back on. “Um…” The lights in the gym flickered and went out. After a while of awkward silence only penetrated by the bouncing of a ball on the floor, he said, “That - that’s it…”
“Could definitely come in handy.” Hope gave a grin, then remembered that no one could see anything. “Can you turn them on again?”
“Sorry…” The lights flickered back on. Yu looked like he wanted to hide beneath the bleachers.
“Hope, you keep telling us to use our powers, but what about you? What’s your ability?”
“Oh, you’ll get to see mine eventually. We shouldn’t waste time on it right now, though. Lang, what about you? Can you show me what you can do?”
“Hope, stop letting the newbies have all the fun. Give us a chance too!” Kei stood, and began walking down the bleachers. His light brown hair was all mussed up from his hand.
“Fine then. Kei, show us what you can do.”
Kei grinned. “Lang, tell me, is there anything that you want to eat right now?”
“I’m - I’m not too hungry - ”
“Oh, come on, surely you want to eat something. HQ always has a plethora of snacks hidden around, but with the hallways, it’s near impossible to find. So tell me, what do you want? I heard your stomach grumble earlier.”
Lang’s left ear turned red. “Chocolate…chip cookies.”
“And you shall have your chocolate chip cookies! Come!” Kei snapped his fingers, and his eyes were lit up by something only he could see. “This way!”
Hope laughed a little, and followed, and Ness and Yu did as well. Tae, Wind, and Ren were used to this, so they stayed behind in the gym, stretching, or shooting hoops.
Sure enough, after winding through the mass of hallways that HQ possessed, they arrived at a fresh plate of chocolate chip cookies. “Why do they even have these here?” Ness asked, taking one.
“It’s like finding items in a maze, I guess,” Hope replied, handing Lang one. Lang took it and chewed it silently, as if spacing out.
“You sure you didn’t follow your nose?” Yu asked.
“Oh, no. No, no, no, certainly not. I can find more than just food, y’know. People, places… I just need to know what they look like.”
“Should we take some back for the others?” Lang asked quietly.
“Nah, if the others wanted any, they’d have come with us. Let’s go back.”
They followed Kei back to the gym. Wind yawned, sitting on the ground, cross-legged. “If you really wanted cookies, I could have just given you some. You didn’t have to walk all that way, did you?” His long silver-green hair was draped around his shoulders. “How about something healthy? Like an apple?” On cue, a bright red apple popped into his hand.
“If you’re hungry, you can have it,” Tae muttered.
“Suit yourself.” Wind bit into the apple. “Let’s finish this up, okay? Stop wasting time on frivolous things.”
“Yeah, we haven’t even gotten to the fun part yet,” Ren said, cleaning a very sharp blade.
Hope clapped his hands together. “Right. Lang, are you ready to show us now?”
“Sure.” Lang looked around. “Any of you have a vase or something breakable?”
“There’s a really ugly vase just down the hall,” Kei said. “I’ve wanted to smash it every time I walk past. Want me to get it?”
A faint smile appeared on Lang’s face. “If you will. And you can break it, too.”
“Awesome!” Kei ran out, then ran back in, clutching a large vase that was, indeed, very ugly. He smashed it with relish upon the gymnasium’s floor, the pieces scattering everywhere.
Lang bent down, moistening his lips, picking up a shard of ceramic, examining it underneath the harsh lights. Hope watched him, his every movement, the way he turned the edge of the shard along his finger, his dark eyes drinking it all in…
The pieces began to move across the floor, forming themselves into the vase again. The movements were all very smooth and very deliberate. It was like watching a puzzle being put together.
“That’s beautiful,” Hope breathed.
“No, it’s still an ugly vase,” Kei said. “But that was pretty cool, man. With you, we could definitely take down the Hound.”
Lang’s ears reddened once more, both of them. “Thanks,” he said, standing.
“Well, that’s enough ability use for now. Let’s get to physical training,” Hope said, cracking his knuckles. “Hope you guys like working out!”
That night Hope returned to his dorm, exhausted. Tae, too, was sweating.
“So what do you think?” Hope asked, turning on a desk lamp.
“I think it went well.” Tae grabbed a clean set of clothes. “I’ll wash up first?”
“Yeah, yeah…” Hope collapsed in an armchair, staring at the ceiling. Out of the new guys Ness had the most physical prowess, of course, followed by Lang and Yu. In fact, Ness might even be up to Wind and Kei’s level. Lang could maybe match with Ren. Not bad, not bad at all. A couple more weeks, and they could probably head into combat.
Hope stared at his fingers, the light from the lamp shining on them. He hadn’t used his powers at all today…
From the window he could still see the chipped moon, hanging in the sky. That amount of mass destruction… Could they really face the Hound?
If they relied on Lang to fix things as the Hound destroyed them… Was Lang’s ability enough to fix something big, like the moon?
Tae came out from the shower, drying his hair with a towel. “We need to do something about Ren and Ness.”
“Do you know what they were fighting about?”
“Not sure. Anyways, shower’s free for you.”
“Thanks, Tae.” He would have to keep a closer eye on Lang in the coming days and weeks.
“C’mon, guys, keep it up! I know you’ve all run before!”
Hope’s voice resounded through the gymnasium. He didn’t even need the megaphone that Tae had brought him.
Lang was already starting to feel winded. Back when he was in school, they had made him run laps, too, but it had been a long while. He could hear Yu dying behind him. Ness was still going strong, though, Kei right behind her.
“How come you guys don’t have to do laps?” Ness called, as they passed Hope and Tae again.
“Because they’re special,” Wind replied dryly, pulling a water bottle out of thin air and taking a long sip.
“Because we already ran this morning,” Hope said. “But if you really want, we’ll join in. Right, Tae?”
Tae rolled his eyes, but he still followed him to the back of the group.
Lang tried to keep in the middle, not falling behind or going too fast. He didn’t want to get too close to Hope, because he felt like if he did, his cover would be blown. Because even though Hope was always there smiling, taking care of everybody, he felt like there was something in Hope’s eyes that could see through lies and deception.
“Hey, watch it,” Ren said as Lang stepped on the back of her sneaker.
“Sorry…” What was he being paranoid about? They had checked Hope’s profile before sending him here; his ability had nothi