Chapter One: Fire and Ice
Norman Clark lived in an age of wonders.
It was true. The world and the generation in which Norman lived were filled with amazing people and wonderful things, but were, regrettably, tempered by horrible events and circumstances. Norman knew that such contrast was a natural part of life, but he still could not escape the thought. Glancing out through the window of his office and down to the street below, he half expected to see a mugger or a bank robber running through the streets of the crime-infested city he called home. He would barely have been surprised if one of the city's several costumed crimefighters, even one with superhuman abilities, were to fly past his window in chase of the fleeing criminal. In fact, considering the sometimes unbelievable nature of the environment in which he lived, a small part of Norman may have even expected to see a chorus of angels coming down from Heaven to announce the end of the world. However, none of these things was happening at the moment, at least not that could be seen in front of Norman's window. For the time being, the streets were uncharacteristically, peacefully, empty.
"It's not so bad to have a moment of peace and quiet every now and then," Norman mumbled to himself halfheartedly.
There was a knock on the door of Norman's office. Norman moved away from the window and stood behind his desk. "Come in," he said.
The door opened, and in walked a man who Norman had never seen before. The man had a thin build, neatly trimmed hair, an expensive-looking black suit with a dark blue tie, a gray briefcase, and a smile that looked like it was trying too hard to be friendly. He was easily younger than Norman by a decade or two. If Norman had been the type to care overly much about personal appearance, then it might have bothered him that the visitor looked much younger, sharper, and more attractive than the image that Norman carried with his own plain white dress shirt, mostly gray hair, glasses, and fifty years of age. These details, however, were far from Norman's main concerns.
"Mr. Waid, I presume," Norman greeted, remembering the name of the man with whom his secretary had scheduled this appointment. "Come in."
The other man stepped into the office and stretched out his arm toward Norman. "Yes, Alex Waid. Thank you for seeing me, Reverend Clark."
"Please, 'Mr. Clark' or 'Norman' will be just fine," Norman answered, shaking Waid's hand. "Have a seat, Mr. Waid."
Waid sat down in a chair across from Norman's desk, and Norman sat down in his own chair. "Thank you, Mr. Clark," Waid replied. He glanced around the room for a few seconds, taking in his surroundings. Bookshelves full of theological commentaries lined the walls of the modestly sized room, as did framed pictures and photographs. Some were of beautiful landscapes or nature scenes, and a few were of a woman whom Waid assumed was Norman's wife. On top of Norman's desk rested a computer, a Bible, and a few neat stacks of paper. The floors were covered in gray carpet. "This is a nice office you've got here."
"Well, it's nothing too fancy, but it serves my purposes," Norman answered.
Waid stopped looking around and turned to face Norman. "I'm glad you've agreed to see me today, Mr. Clark. I think that you and I may be able to help each other out a great deal."
In reality, Norman was skeptical that he and Waid would be helping each other out at all, or that the other man's visit would prove to be an occasion for gladness. He kept these doubts to himself, though, and tried to approach the subject and the meeting with a relatively open mind. "What did you have in mind, Mr. Waid?"
"Well, Mr. Clark, as I'm sure you know, we live in a bold and modern age. The world around us is changing rapidly every day."
"Yes, I've realized that," Norman interjected quietly, partly to the other man and partly to himself.
Waid continued, obviously reciting a well-prepared speech. "With that change, we have new horizons to explore and to expand upon. New opportunities that life gives us so that we can learn more about the world and how to better our fellow man. And that is exactly what Brobego Industries is striving to do in this ever-changing day and age."
Norman's brow furrowed. "Go on."
"Well, if you've lived in this city for any amount of time—and I'm sure you have, being the pastor of a successful church like this one—I'm sure you're familiar with the advances that Brobego Industries has made for the Wentcham area."
"Yes, I am."
"We'd like to continue being able to make such advances," Waid said. "Not only advances in technology and industry, but in bettering the city and the people's lives. And so we're looking for places throughout the city to expand, to build new facilities and research labs so that we can continue to do the work we do."
Of course they were trying to expand. Everything in the city was trying to expand these days; that was what happened in a city. Norman had seen it coming. "I see," said Norman. "And so let me guess: this church is in the way of your company's expansion space?"
Waid forced a chuckle. "Well, I wouldn't put it quite like that, Reverend Clark. But you see, you do have quite a sizable building in a very central and convenient part of the city. Such a location would be a great asset to our company. Now, I've spoken with my employer about the matter of expansion, and he's willing to offer you—the church, that is—a generous sum of money."
"Sorry, but I'm not interested," said Norman.
Waid wouldn't be dissuaded that easily. "Now, before you make any rash decisions, please wait until you hear the figure and all the details of the proposed arrangement. My employer is prepared to offer you five million dollars in exchange for this property. That would be plenty of money with which to buy another building elsewhere in the area, and even some leftover for you to expand from there into new programs or ministries or—well, whatever it is you would want to do at a church like yours. I'm sure you realize that it's quite a large sum."
"I do realize that," Norman said. "But still, I'm not interested. The church does not seek large sums of money, nor are we in great financial need at this time."
"Are you sure?" Waid asked. "I'm sure you all could do a lot of good with that much money."
Norman began to say something, but paused to think. Mr. Waid did have a point, of course. It had been easy for Norman to recite the old line that the church did not seek money, and it certainly sounded nice and altruistic to say so. However, it was also true that the church needed money to continue operating as they did, and that five million dollars would provide many new opportunities for them. Even he could not completely disregard the offer so quickly without thinking about it. "Well, I suppose we could..."
"Of course you could. I'm sure you could reach a lot of people."
"I...I think..." Norman hesitated.
"Would you like some time to think it over, Reverend Clark?"
Norman shook his head. "No. I'm sorry, but no. The church is not for sale, Mr. Waid. I'm afraid I'll have to decline your offer."
Waid sounded like he was getting slightly more frustrated, but tried not to show it. "Mr. Clark, please understand our position here. Your church is in a very central area of the city, and, as I explained earlier, the world is changing rapidly—"
"Yes, I do understand that, Mr. Waid," Norman interrupted. "And I believe that..." He paused, searching for how to put his thoughts into words. "I believe that in the midst of the world moving forward and changing so drastically, the church needs to be right on the front lines." He looked at Waid as he spoke and chose his words carefully. "People need a place where they can go and find solace from the stresses and dangers that life brings. They need to be close to a group of people who will accept them and protect them, who will show them love instead of hate. I think that's a big reason why so many people have been drawn to this church. Not only is it in a central location, as you've pointed out, but it fulfills—or we strive to fulfill, at least—a central need in people's lives. The need for peace and love. I'm not sure we would be quite as effective or helpful to the community if we were in a different location."
Waid was silent for a moment or two as he took in the other man's speech. "Very well, Reverend Clark," he said politely. "I understand your concerns." He pulled out a business card and set it down on the desk in front of Norman. "But please contact me or my employer if you should have second thoughts on the matter."
"Of course," said Norman. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Waid. I'm sorry I couldn't be of more service to you."
"And thank you for your time, Reverend. Have a nice day."
"You do the same, Mr. Waid. God bless you."
Waid stood up, shook Norman's hand again, and walked out the door of the First Church of Wentcham.
Robbie Maguire did not think that the street looked particularly dirty. Of course, it did not look particularly clean either. It looked about as clean or dirty as it usually did. If it had been up to him, he wouldn't have thought that this stretch of the street really required sweeping, at least not at the moment. He would have been content to move on to another part, or to just forget the matter entirely and go home and relax after a hard day's work.
However, such things were not up to Robbie. They were up to his supervisor and to the public works department of the bustling urban city of Wentcham, where Robbie held residence and was employed as a street sweeper. Some days he tolerated the job and other days he hated it. After having worked for almost eight hours straight that day, he was exhausted, sweaty, and undecided about which of the two categories this particular day fit into. As he placed the business end of his broom back down on the ground and swept it across the pavement, he tried, with limited success, to feel optimistic and grateful about his situation. He reflected that, considering his not-quite-spotless history in the city of Wentcham, he was lucky to be out on the streets and to have a steady job at all. Robbie knew that this was true, but at the moment, it did not help him to feel much better or more enthusiastic about the fact that he was spending a significant portion of his time these days doing something as monotonous as sweeping the streets.
I guess this is what I get for everything I've done, he thought to himself. No use complaining about it. Just gotta keep at it.
Thankfully, his other job was considerably more exciting than this one.
Robbie heard police sirens, interrupting his reflections and his sweeping. He looked up from the ground at the busy streets that separated the skyscrapers and saw two police cars trailing an armored truck which was speeding down the road. He assumed that the truck contained stolen goods and was being driven by criminals, which was unfortunately not a very uncommon occurrence in the city of Wentcham. Maybe the truck had even been hijacked by people with the intention of stealing its contents. Whatever the reason, it was obvious that the police considered the truck to be worthy of chasing, and that was a good enough reason for Robbie.
Part of him wanted to ignore the problem and do nothing. The police are already on it, he tried to tell himself. This is their job. You've been working all day at your job, and you could use a break. It'll be fine. These were the thoughts that ran through Robbie's head. However, as much as his mind protested, he knew he couldn't accept it. He couldn't just stand by and do nothing knowing that a crime was in progress. His conscience wouldn't allow it. Robbie knew that he had to act.
So he did.
Robbie quickly forgot about sweeping the street and darted toward an alley between two nearby buildings. Thankfully, nobody else was in it at the time. Working the streets for so long had caused him to learn the layout of the city quite thoroughly, so he had known exactly where the alley was and that it should be a safe spot. He went far enough down into the alley so that the street was no longer visible. Gathering his strength and still holding the broom in his hands, he bent his knees slightly, then jumped about ten feet into the air, where he grabbed onto the fire escape on the side of the building and propelled himself even further up. After continuing this process for no more than a minute, Robbie was on the roof of the building, where most passersby on the street below wouldn't notice him or what he was about to do.
Robbie set the broom on the flat surface of the roof, trusting that it would be safe for a few minutes. Being careful to stay away from the edges of the roof where he would be more visible, he began to remove his street sweeper uniform. First he took off the drab gray hat, revealing his close-cropped dark hair, and dropped it next to the broom. Next, the matching and equally unattractive gray jacket and slacks that he had been wearing over his other clothes—a bright blue bodysuit that accented his better-than-average muscles and covered everything but his head, hands, and feet. He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a black face mask and matching gloves, and put them on as well. In the span of just a few minutes, Robbie had been transformed.
He ran to the edge of the roof and looked down on the streets below. The roof gave Robbie a better vantage point over the city, and so he let his eyes follow the street as far as they could in the direction that the armored truck and police cars had gone. They were moving away quickly, but were not completely out of his sight yet. He knew he could still catch up with them. Wasting no time, he jumped from the roof onto the next building—a distance of probably fifteen or twenty feet—and then proceeded to the next one in the same fashion. By using his enhanced speed and strength to jump from roof to roof, Robbie soon found himself catching up with the vehicles of interest, albeit still several yards above them on top of the building. The armored truck passed by on the street below him. Robbie gathered his strength and propelled himself once more off the roof.
He came down hard on the roof of the armored truck, causing the truck to swerve out of control. The driver of the truck instinctively slammed on the brakes and the truck careened into an adjacent lane, where an oncoming car barely avoided a collision by swerving out of the way in time. The police cars both screeched to a halt behind the truck, as did all the other cars behind them, realizing that there was an incident up ahead and that traffic wasn't going to be moving forward again anytime soon.
In the midst of all the chaos, Robbie had kept his footing on the top of the truck. He ignored the honks and screeches of the cars around him and jumped down from the truck's roof onto the ground. Glancing in through the window, he noticed that there were two men inside, a driver and a passenger, both wearing black and looking guilty. He also caught a glimpse of several stacks of money in the back of the truck.
Robbie yanked on the handle of the driver's side door, breaking the lock and causing the door to fly open. He was met with an unpleasant surprise: the driver of the truck was pointing a gun at him. Apparently the poor thug did not know when he was beaten.
"Stay out of this, hero," the angry man grumbled at Robbie. "This is none of your business. Walk away."
"Look," Robbie answered the man. "Even if I do walk away right now, it's too late. The police are already here, and you're not getting away. And besides..." Robbie reached out with his enhanced reflexes, grabbed the barrel of the gun, and pulled it out of the man's hand before he could react. "I'm making it my business." He crushed the barrel between two fingers. "Now, please come with me." He reached into the truck, grabbed the driver by the arm, and began to pull him out.
"Let go of me!" the man shouted, struggling fruitlessly against Robbie's strength. "I've got rights!"
Robbie ignored the man's protests and grabbed him out of the truck, dragging the other man's legs on the street. He handed the man to the police officers, who had gotten out of their cars and were watching the scene from a few feet away, waiting readily to do their jobs. "Here you go, officers," Robbie said, keeping a firm grip on the criminal's arm until the police could take hold of him. "I believe you'll find the stolen money in the back of the truck."
"What do you think you're doing?" one of the two officers, a tall man with graying hair, asked Robbie.
"Uh, what do you mean?" asked Robbie. "I was just stopping the truck and catching the criminal for you!"
"Is that what you call endangering lives and damaging property?" asked the officer, stepping forward to where Robbie was holding the criminal. He took the criminal from Robbie's grip and handcuffed him, then led him away without waiting for an answer from Robbie, and began to read the criminal his rights.
The other officer, a young man in his mid-thirties, looked up at the masked crimefighter. "Thanks for the help, Miracle," he said, using the public alias by which Robbie was known throughout the city. "Don't mind my partner there. He's not too keen on the whole idea of vigilantes."
Robbie shrugged, trying to appear unfazed. "No big deal."
The younger officer spoke again. "Though do you mind making a little bit less of a dramatic entrance next time? The truck's almost sure to be damaged from you jumping on it, and people could've gotten hurt."
"Uh, sure," Robbie said, caught slightly off-guard by the comment. "I'll be more careful next time."
The officer continued. "I mean, we're glad for your help in catching these guys—"
The other officer glared at him sharply. The younger officer amended his statement. "Well, I mean, some of us, including myself, really appreciate the work that you superhero types do to help us out around here. Crime rates are so high that we can sure use the extra manpower. It's just that we don't want anymore problems to be created in the process."
"Right," said Robbie, beginning to regret his choice of method in this particular instance. "I understand. Officer." He made sure to add the man's formal title out of respect. "Now, let's just get this other guy taken care of." He walked back to the truck and reached for the passenger door, only to realize that it was already open and that the criminal who had occupied the passenger seat was no longer in the truck. "Crap!" Robbie exclaimed.
"What's wrong?" the younger officer asked.
"He's gone!" Robbie answered.
"Yeah. He was here just a minute ago. He must've slipped away while we were talking over there." He motioned slightly to where the police cars were parked.
The older officer chimed in. "Maybe you should've let us do our jobs and take care of the criminals ourselves, instead of dragging one of them away while the other one got to escape."
The younger officer ignored him. "He can't have gotten far," he said to Robbie. "Did you get a good look at him?"
"No," Robbie admitted. He had only caught a glimpse of the accomplice when he had been dealing with the driver and seen inside the rest of the truck. He looked around desperately. There were people everywhere, both in cars in the obstructed traffic and just standing in the street or on the nearby sidewalks, watching the scene. Wentcham was a big city, and the streets were always crowded with people, but a larger crowd than usual had gathered to witness the excitement of the events that had just transpired, and to catch a glimpse of one of the city's resident superheroes. The escaped criminal probably hadn't gotten very far in distance, but he could have easily blended in with the crowd by now or gone into one of the nearby stores or buildings to lie low until the coast was clear. With so many people standing nearby and without really knowing what the criminal looked like, finding him now would be next to impossible.
"He could be anywhere," Robbie said quietly, with defeat and dejection in his tone.
"Hey, don't worry about it, Miracle," said the younger officer. "You got the driver and recovered the goods—not a bad deal in my book. Knowing this city, chances are he'll commit another crime in the next few weeks or months and we'll get him then. Guys like them don't really change, you know?"
Robbie didn't respond at first. He slowly turned away from the officer and from the stopped truck. His face hung toward the ground and he remained silent for a few moments.
The officer seemed perplexed. He glanced over at the superhero quizzically. "Miracle? Hey, you feeling okay?"
Robbie turned back around toward the officer, but still didn't look him in the eyes. "Yeah...yeah, I'm fine. It's just...I let him get away."
"Hey, like I said, it could be worse," said the officer. "Don't worry about it. I mean, I know you've got all these superpowers and everything, but even you can't be perfect, right?"
"Yeah...right," Robbie said quietly, sounding quite a bit less confident than he had a few moments ago while bringing the robber to justice. "Well, make sure you take care of the one we did catch. I gotta go."
Without another word, Robbie darted off at speeds slightly above those of normal human capacity, out of the officer's line of vision and far away from the scene of the crime.
"Ugh, this drink is too warm," said the girl on whose shoulders Drake's left arm was resting. "Drake, could you cool it down a little bit?"
"Sure thing, baby," Drake answered her. "Pass it over here."
The girl, a somewhat scantily clad brunette, reached over, past the girl on whose shoulders Drake's right arm was resting—a blond whose attire was only slightly more modest than her own—and placed her glass of beer in Drake's right hand. Drake took the glass and voluntarily emitted a wave of cold from his fingers, lowering the temperature of the liquid in the glass.
"Careful, Drake," said the blond. "You sent some chills up my spine."
"Well, maybe I like sending chills up your spine," Drake retorted as he reached over and handed the beer back to the brunette.
The blond girl giggled.
The brunette took a sip of her beer. "What about me, Drake?" she asked. "Would you send any chills up my spine?"
Drake looked at her and grinned. "Sure," he said. "I'd send chills up any part of you you wanted me to."
"Sounds like fun," said the girl, taking another sip of beer. "Can we try it sometime?"
"We could," said Drake. "But how about a little heat instead?" Using his left hand, which was resting on the brunette's shoulder, Drake gathered his energy and sent out a burst of heat directly onto her skin. "How's that?"
"It feels nice," she said. "These powers of yours are so...well, hot." She laughed at her own joke.
"Not as hot as you look in that outfit," Drake shot back at her.
Not wanting to be ignored, the blond leaned a little closer to Drake and placed her hand gently on his chest. "Drake, I'm thirsty too," she said. "Do you think you could get me another drink? Pretty please?"
"No problem," Drake replied. "Come to think of it, I could use another drink myself. How about another round on me?"
"Sounds good," said the brunette, who still had plenty of beer left in the glass she was holding.
"I'll be right back," said Drake as he stood up. "Try not to miss me too much while I'm gone."
"We'll try," said the blond. "But don't take too long, or we might get lonely." She giggled again.
"Well, we can't have that now," said Drake. "Don't worry, I won't take long."
He began to walk across the barroom floor, away from the girls and toward the bar itself. Drake couldn't help but smile to himself. When he had first gotten his powers, it had been a confusing and traumatic time, and he hadn't been sure of how best to use them. However, that had been a few years earlier. Things had changed a lot since then, and he couldn't imagine a better or more satisfying use for his powers than what he was doing now. After all, the girls loved them and clung on to him like crazy—at least, this was true of the ones who were too dumb or too drunk to judge him by his powers and not by anything deeper. But he didn't mind. He usually didn't complain too much as long as the girls were desirable enough and not terribly strong-willed or independent. He had come to the bar earlier in the evening in search of a good time, and he had found it in the form of the brunette and the blond whose names he couldn't recall at the moment, but might the next day when he sobered up a bit. He would probably even be able to convince one or both of them to spend the night at his apartment.
Drake got to the bar and immediately dropped all thoughts of the two girls who he had been holding so tightly just moments ago. The reason for his sudden distraction was the bartender, who was a woman every bit as attractive, if not more so, than the blond and the brunette, albeit in a different sort of way. The woman's jet-black hair flowed down to her shoulders, and her matching tanktop exposed her midriff. She looked several years older than Drake, who was twenty-two, but her attractive facial features and extremely fit figure were just as compelling as a younger woman might have been to Drake. She wasn't smiling, and her face held a stern expression that was quite unusual among the giggly, pleasure-loving sorts to whom Drake was accustomed. The bar's employees must have changed shifts earlier in the evening, because Drake was pretty sure he hadn't seen her a few hours ago when he had ordered his first round. Drake was intrigued at first sight, and he had never been one to pass up a beautiful woman.
"Well, hello there, good-looking," he addressed her, trying to channel as much flirtatiousness as possible into his comment.
The bartender still did not smile. In fact, she barely looked up at Drake to respond to him. "What'll it be?"
"Give me another round of shots," he said.
"Coming right up." The bartender went to the back wall behind the counter and began mixing the drinks. Drake stood in front of the counter and watched the movements of the woman's body intently as she walked around the work area mixing the drinks. After a few minutes, she came back up to the counter and placed three tall glasses of beer in front of Drake.
"Here you go," she said.
"Thanks," Drake said. He quickly looked around the barroom and noticed that several of the tables were empty. "Hey, you know, it doesn't look like you all are too busy tonight," he said to the bartender. "Why don't you come over and join me and my friends for a few drinks on me?"
"No, thanks," said the bartender, turning around and going toward the back wall again, where she began to wash an empty glass at the sink.
Drake stood there for a moment, surprised. He wasn't used to that. Still, it was kind of fun when the girls played hard to get. He decided to try again.
"Hey, come on," he said. "You look like you could use a little break, and—hello? Are you even listening to me?" He had looked up in mid-sentence to notice that the woman's back was still turned to him and that, from all outward appearances, she had not been listening to him at all. He felt his left side start to heat up a little bit, but ignored it for the time being.
The woman turned around quickly and looked Drake straight in the eyes. "No," she said. "I'm not listening to you. I've already told you that I don't want a drink. Go take the ones I gave you and bother those other girls you were with."
Drake scowled. The woman was serious. He was not used to this at all. He leaned over on the counter so that he was right across from the woman and returned her unyielding gaze.
"Look, lady," he said, struggling to maintain his composure and dignity. "No need to be rude about it. Just come have one quick drink with us. With me. It'll be fine." When the bartender had not responded after a few moments, Drake reached across with his right hand and put a moderately firm grip on the woman's left arm, which resulted in Drake getting a prompt and forceful slap in the face from the woman's right arm. The audible crack of the gesture resonated throughout the barroom.
"All right, that's it!" Drake yelled, not caring who else in the bar might hear him. He had instinctively taken a step back from the counter at the shock of getting slapped. His left side felt like it was about to burn up, but not just because it hurt—also because he was starting to get angry. He continued to yell at the woman. "Nobody treats me like that, understand? Nobody—that includes you!"
"Is there a problem here, Mary?"
The voice was a new one in the exchange. Drake looked up to see a tall, muscular man—presumably the bar's bouncer—scowling down at him from above.
"This guy won't take 'no' for an answer," said the bartender as she indicated Drake to the bouncer.
"Sir, I'm gonna have to ask you to take your drinks and go sit back down, or else leave," the bouncer said to Drake.
Drake did not take his drinks and sit back down, nor did he leave. Instead he stood up straight and looked the bouncer in the eye. "I don't think you realize who you're dealing with, sir," he said, purposely adding contempt to the formal address that the bouncer had used on him. "Do you have any idea who I am?"
"You're a cocky little punk who doesn't know what's good for him," the bouncer answered. "Now don't make me tell you twice."
"Wrong answer," Drake said, smiling. He stretched out his left hand in the general direction of both the bouncer and the bartender and effortlessly generated a fist-sized ball of flame, which he held steady in his hand. "My name is Drake, but you might know me better as Frostburn. Maybe you've heard of me."
Suddenly, the bouncer lost the look of confidence he had had a moment ago and replaced it with a look of fear. He took a couple of steps back from Drake and the fireball he was maintaining.
"Yeah, that's right," Drake said to the bouncer. "Back away. I could burn this whole place to the ground with a couple flicks of my wrist, so I would suggest you don't mess with me anymore, unless you've got a death wish or something."
The bouncer remained silent and took another step backward.
Drake raised his voice and continued his taunts, making sure that they would be impossible to ignore for either the bouncer, the bartender, or any other customers in the immediate vicinity. "Now, all I want is a couple of drinks with the lady here, and maybe an apology from you, big guy. After all, you said some very hurtful things to me just a minute ago." Drake feigned an insulted look.
"I'm sorry," said the bouncer, not wanting to risk making Drake any angrier. "Just don't hurt anyone, okay?"
"I'm afraid I didn't hear you," Drake lied. "What was that you said? A little bit louder, please?"
"I said I'm sorry—"
Drake felt a surprising splash on his left arm. He looked down and saw that his ball of flame had been replaced with a rising column of steam. He looked a little further and saw the bartender, Mary, holding an empty pitcher which she had gotten from behind the counter. Before Drake could react, she returned to the sink, where water was steadily pouring out from the faucet, and began filling up her pitcher again.
"Hey!" Drake shouted at her, losing his patience. "Do you realize what I could do to you right now? What do you think you're doing?"
Mary turned around and splashed another pitcher's worth of cold water onto Drake's left side before answering. "I'm putting you out," she said. "Flames around alcoholic beverages make for a very dangerous combination. You could get us all killed, including yourself."
Drake glared at her, but he was at a loss for words. He was not used to encountering this much opposition from people, especially not when he threatened to use his powers.
"Besides," said the bartender. "You offered me a few drinks on you. I was just taking you up on that." Even while making the bitingly sarcastic remark, she did not show a hint of a smile or laugh.
Drake began to speak. "You little—"
She cut him off. "Now, if that's not enough for you, I've also got a fire extinguisher in the back. You're free to leave whenever you decide that you've taken enough humiliation for one night."
Drake let out a sigh and looked around the barroom. All of the other customers were staring at him, including the two girls he had been holding earlier, who both looked away very obviously when they saw that Drake was looking at them. The bouncer's eyes were still on the scene, and his expression was difficult to read, as if he were trying with limited success to maintain his composure. The bartender was staring directly at him, still scowling, still unafraid and unrelenting. Drake was taken aback by it all.
"Whatever," he said. "This place sucks anyway. You all suck." Drake swept his arm across the counter where the three glasses of beer were still resting, purposely knocking them onto the floor. The glasses shattered and the liquid began to spread across the floor. Without looking back, Drake turned around and walked out of the bar into the cool night air, where he began the walk home to his apartment a few blocks away.
In a huge urban city like Wentcham, traffic was perpetually horrible, so many citizens, including Drake, found walking or using public transportation easier and more convenient than having a car of their own. Also, considering the fact that Drake didn't have a real job and thus no steady source of income, opting not to buy a car was definitely the easier option. Of course Drake had a sufficient amount of money, whether it was left over from what his parents had given him for school a while back, or earned from the odd jobs he did from time to time. He had found that having superpowers was a good way to make an easy buck in a pinch, whether it be street performing (because who wouldn't want to watch a guy shoot fire out of his hands?) or giving lovers of winter weather the opportunity to ice-skate year-round. As far as Drake was concerned, this was the life—no job and few external responsibilities, but power and money enough to get by and be able to do what he wanted when he wanted.
Of course, no lifestyle was completely free of frustrations, a fact of which Drake had been made well aware tonight. As he walked home, he tried his best not to let his frustration and anger get to him. His left side still felt like it was burning as he walked away from the bar, but he gradually felt the coolness overtake him as he went on, both from the temperature outside and from the calming of his emotional state. Drake ran a hand through his thick, blond hair and decided that he was too important to care about the people at the bar who had slighted him—the bartender and the bouncer and even the two girls.
What do they matter to you? he asked himself. You're Frostburn, master of fire and ice—the coolest and hottest guy around. You don't let anyone give you crap. You can do what you want.
He was only about a block away from the bar when he suddenly felt a gun barrel pressing against the back of his black leather jacket.
"Don't move," said the holder of the gun. "Don't scream or make any noise. Just hand over your wallet nice and quiet."
Drake's heart began beating faster and his body began to heat up again, but not out of fear. In fact, he couldn't help but smile. Now he had a legitimate focus on which to take out his anger and frustration. This mugger had picked the wrong night to mug.
Drake knew that he might get shot if he turned around to aim at the mugger, and his powers couldn't help him if that happened. So he didn't turn around; he could make this work just as easily from right where he was standing. He felt the spot on his back where the gun was being pointed and tried to channel all his focus, all the energy he frequently used to unleash his powers, into the skin on the left side of his back. Suddenly, that skin burst into flame, right in the would-be-mugger's face. Drake heard a scream and felt the gun move away from his skin, then heard it as it clattered to the ground.
He turned around to look with pleasure at the scene he had just caused. The mugger's arm was on fire from where he had been holding the gun up to Drake. He was rolling on the ground frantically, trying to put it out. Soon the flames were extinguished, and the mugger scrambled to his feet. He took one shocked, wide-eyed, open-mouthed look at Drake, as if to satisfy his curiosity about just who or what had caused the sudden fire, and then began to run away.
"Oh, no you don't," Drake said under his breath before the criminal could get very far. After all, Drake still wanted an outlet for his anger, someone over whom he could exert power, and this unfortunate criminal had unwittingly volunteered himself. Drake reached out with his right hand, gathered his energy again, and unleashed a strong wave of cold in the general direction of the mugger. Soon a layer of ice had built up around the man's feet, stopping him dead in his tracks. The man's top half toppled over from all his momentum, but he didn't fall to the ground because he was still trapped by the ice almost up to his knees. He turned around to look at Drake, shaking from both coldness and fear.
"Please don't hurt me," the man begged, his voice shaking. He began rambling in hopes of convincing Drake to be merciful on him."I—I didn't know you were one of them. Honest. I was just trying to make a few bucks. We all need a few bucks, right? But if I had known you were one of the supers, I swear I wouldn't have done it. Please..."
Drake cut him off. He began to walk in circles around the trapped man, purposely making him even more nervous. "Don't worry," Drake said. "I'm not going to hurt you—much—as long as you cooperate with me."
"Sure, I'll do anyth—"
Drake was not finished. "And I definitely could hurt you if I wanted to. Make no mistake of that." He created a fireball with his left hand, which had dried up somewhat since being doused by the bartender, and brought it close to the man's face—not close enough to do any serious harm, but close enough so that the man could feel the heat emanating from the fire and had to squint from the brightness of the flame. Close enough to intimidate the man and to prove that Drake was in control. He kept the flame there for a few seconds, then extinguished it and brought his hand away. "But like I said, I don't think you and I will have any problems as long as you agree to cooperate."
"What do you want from me?" the frightened man asked.
"Well, you were about to take my wallet," Drake reminded the man. "So how about you give me your wallet instead?"
The man's brow furrowed at Drake. "You serious?"
"Yeah," said Drake. "I figure I'm not the only guy you've tried to take advantage of today. You've got to have at least some cash on you, right? Let's see it."
"I thought you hero types weren't in it for the money," he said.
"I'm not a hero," Drake answered candidly. "Now are you gonna give me that wallet, or would you like to find out what it feels like to be a third-degree burn victim?"
"Okay, okay, no need to get upset." The man reached down into his pocket, pulled out a black leather wallet, and handed it to Drake, who took it from him eagerly.
Drake opened the wallet and looked inside. There was a handful of ten and twenty dollar bills—he didn't bother to count them all at the moment—and even one fifty mixed in with the stack. "Not bad, not bad," Drake commented to himself as he stuffed the wallet into the pocket of his jacket. He looked at the trapped mugger and narrowed his eyes in contempt. "I appreciate your generous donation."
"I gave you what you wanted," the mugger pointed out. "Are you gonna let me go now?"
"'Fraid not," said Drake.
The man began to panic. "But—you said—what else do you want from me?"
"You got anything else valuable on you right now?"
"Nothing at all. I swear that was it."
"I believe you," said Drake. "But, truth be told, I think it's kinda funny seeing you trapped there like that. It's not every day a mugger gets mugged, you know what I mean? The poetic justice is beautiful, really. I figure I'll just let you stand there and think about what you've done until you start to thaw out."
"Don't worry," said Drake. "It's not quite winter yet. All that ice shouldn't take too long to melt. In fact, I can even help speed up the process for you."
"What do you mean?"
Drake didn't speak, but generated a flame with his left hand once again. He brought his hand to the ground a few feet in front of the block of ice and let the flames transfer from his hand to the pavement.
The mugger grew even more frantic. "Hey! Hey, what are you doing?"
Drake continued the process as he walked a full circle around the man, stopping once he connected with the flame he had first started. He had created a ring of fire around the man whose feet were frozen solid. The flames weren't very high yet, but they would probably grow taller before dying out completely. As far as Drake was concerned, the mugger wouldn't be walking away from there anytime soon.
"There," said Drake. "The ice will melt a lot faster now, and you'll be free to walk away as soon as it does. If you don't mind walking through a little bit of fire, that is."
"Come on, man!" the mugger shouted at Drake. "I gave you what you wanted! I didn't do you no harm! Lemme outta here! You can't just leave me here!"
"Actually," said Drake. "I can. You have a nice night now." He turned away from the mugger and continued on his way home, smiling to himself and ignoring the man's desperate cries for help.