"Knights & Pawns"

The City of Underwood

12-year-old Andy Morgan was running down the street late at night. He was dressed in green and white pajamas, with shaggy dishwater blonde hair. He kept looking back to make sure he they weren't following. His bare feet avoided the puddles from the recent rain storm, afraid of what could happen to him if he touched the water. After what had just happened not even an hour ago, he now feared for his life.

It was then that he heard them coming for him. He could hear the screeching sound of the monsters sent to bring him back. He kept running, not sure of how much longer he could keep going. As Andy ran, several shadowy creatures were flowing like water across the ground not even a block behind him...

On top of a building, two teenagers were keeping watch over the city. A boy wearing a blue tank top, blue jean shorts, and high tops, with a green backwards ball cap over his shaggy blonde hair, looked down at the street.

"This is boring," Ace said as he looked around, sighing. "Nothing's going to happen."

Another boy with shaggy brown hair, dressed in a red sweatshirt, blue jeans, and brown boots looked over at him.

"That's what you said before the eight foot killer robot decided to hit that science lab last month," Jesse replied.

"We kicked his butt easily," Ace told him, shaking his head. "There's just nothing challenging about what we do anymore."

"Ace, I'm sorry about your brother," Jesse told him. "I know ever since-"

"Could we just drop this?" Ace asked as he looked down below. "My brother's gone and I'll never see him again."

It was then that Jesse spotted Andy, then saw the dark, shadowy creatures behind him.

"You said something about being bored?" Jesse asked as he jumped over the edge of the building. Only he didn't fall. He floated in midair in front of Ace. "Let's go save the day."

Andy ran into the alley, which was a dead-end. He looked up at the metal fence that would have been easy to climb had he not been barefoot and without gloves. He saw the Shadow Demons headed toward him and backed up against the fence. He closed his eyes, trying to prepare himself for whatever they were going to do.

As they were about to attack, two of the shadow demons were suddenly frozen over in a thick block of ice as Ace landed in the alley.

"What are these things?" Ace asked as he saw the creatures.

"They're ugly, that's what they are," Jesse replied as a fireball formed in his hand. He shot it forward, turning the demons to ash. The rest of the demons fell to the ground, and slithered away like shadows into the darkness, screeching as they went.

"You alright, kid?" Ace asked as Andy passed out. "Well, that was rude."

"We'd better get him back to the Mall of Justice," Jesse said as he picked the boy up. "Why did we choose that name again?"

"Because I won the deciding game of Monopoly," Ace replied as they walked out of the alley. "And as the king of Park Avenue, I thought it was a cooler name than Victoria's choice of 'The House of Style'."

"Dude, stop calling yourself the king of Park Avenue," Jesse told him. "It's been two years and it's still not funny."

Someone was watching the scene in the alley unfold.

"I don't like this. I don't like this at all..."

Hours later, Andy opened his eyes and saw he was surrounded by walls of packaged toys. He sat up and realized he was on a bed toward the front of a small toy store. He was in a clean pair of green pajamas, and found a pair of slippers by the bed. He put them on as he stepped outside of the store and realized he was in a mall. There was a video store, a book store, a pizza shop, a video arcade, and several other stores. He looked around and saw an orange blur zip by.

"Heyguyshe'sawake!"

Andy stepped back as he saw a teenage girl with black hair, dressed in a stylish black mini-skirt and top with black heeled boots. She was accompanied by a girl with long brown hair, dressed down in a pink t-shirt, blue jeans, and brown boots.

"Hmmm, the pajamas are definitely a fashion no-no," The girl in black said as she looked at the boy. "But I think it's workable."

"I think he's cute," The girl in pink replied as she looked at the boy. "What's your name?"

Andy looked around nervously as a boy wearing a blue tank top, blue jean shorts, and high tops, with a backwards ball cap over his blonde hair, approached.

"Give the kid some room," Ace told them as he walked up to Andy. "He's had a rough night."

"Rough night?" Another boy in a tight orange tank top, black shorts, and orange high tops said. He had shaggy light brown hair. "You want to talk rough? I've run all over town and I can't find those strawberry flavored twinkies I like."

A boy with brown, pudding bowl cut hair walked up to them, dressed in a purple and white shirt, blue jeans, and black shoes. "I see the kid's awake. Anyone interrogate him yet?"

"Can we play good cop, bad cop?" Ace asked as everyone started talking at once. "Haven't done that in a while."

Andy started breathing heavily as everyone started talking loudly. He had no idea who these people were, or what he was doing here. He started crying as he leaned back against the wall, and slid toward the floor.

"HEY!" A voice shouted as everyone turned their attention toward the corridor, where Jesse was floating. He flew toward them and landed in front of Andy and leaned down to look at him. "Let's keep focused on the kid, and why he was in that alley. You want to tell us why those... things were after you?"

Andy just looked at the group as the tears fell down his face. He was visibly shaking as the boy in red put his hand on Andy's shoulder. "He's upset. I think we should tell him who we are."

The boy stood up and looked at Andy. "My name's Jesse. And these are my friends. We're the Guardians. We're kind of like superheroes. Only without the costumes."

"Tights make me look fat," The girl in black said.

The boy in purple stepped forward. "I'm Sam."

The girl in black looked at him. "Victoria."

The girl in pink spoke up. "Carol."

The boy in orange looked over. "Walker."

The boy in blue added. "Ace."

"We rescued you from those creatures," Jesse said. "But the question is, why were they after you?"

"I'm Andy," The boy replied as he looked at them. "And those things were after me because... I'm a freak."

Jesse stood up and made a fireball in the palm of his hand. "Then you're in the right place."

Ace held out his hand, which glew with a blue energy, forming ice crystals; Carol created sparks of light in her hands; Walker zipped from where he was standing to in front of Andy in the blink of an eye; Victoria picked up a bench in the corridor easily with one hand.

"I- I just build stuff," Sam shyly said.

Andy's eyes widened as he got up and started running down the corridor, scared of what he just saw.

"Aw, I was going to make him an ice squirrel," Ace said in a disappointed tone.

"We'd better find him," Jesse said as he looked at the group. "Before he finds something he's not supposed to."

Elsewhere in the city

"The boy escaped, father," A man in a dark purple and black robe said as he kneeled down in a darkened room, with a single light shining down on another man in a similar robe, his face hidden, only his piercing yellow eyes visible.

"I haven't spent all of this time and effort to have my plans foiled by a child," Dark Heart said. "The day when our plans will come to fruition is at hand. Soon everything and everyone will be in place, but that boy can ruin everything... The Guardians have found him."

The other man's eyes widened. "If he tells them what he knows-"

"He won't," Dark Heart replied. "As long as you get him before he can tell them anything. The Guardians will play their part in my plan, I just don't want it to be this soon. I'll arrange for them to come out into the open, and once we have them, we can get the child. Do not fail me, Kartheiser."

"Yes, father," The man replied as he stood up. "I promise you, I'll bring Andy back."

"See that you do," Dark Heart told him. "You really don't want to disappoint me."

Meanwhile, at the Mall of Justice

Andy was running as fast as he could, trying to get away from what he just saw. He looked around for an exit, but the mall so had so many turns that he couldn't find any exits. He heard someone coming, and ran into the video arcade as Ace and Walker rushed by.

Andy backed up and wound up almost falling onto the ski-ball game. Ace and Walker came back by and saw him.

"Kid, we're not the bad guys," Ace told him as Andy pulled the ski-balls out of the hole and started tossing them. Walker easily ducked them, but Ace was beaned in the head.

"You alright?" Walker asked, amazed that Ace could take a wooden ball to the head.

"Good thing he hit the hard end," Ace said as he rubbed his forehead.

"Leave me alone!" Andy shouted, almost crying. "I'm not like you!"

"Kid, calm down," Jesse said as he flew in. "We're here to help you."

Andy climbed up onto the game, and wrapped his arms around his knees as he rocked back and forth. "I'm not like you..."

Victoria, Carol, and Sam arrived just as an alarm went off.

"Now what?" Jesse asked the wall mounted t.v.s turned on, and a man in a suit appeared.

"Hello, Guardians," The Mayor said as he looked at Andy. "I see you have a new member."

"He's actually just part of another case we're working on," Jesse told him. "What can we do for you tonight?"

"Automaton has been spotted downtown," The Mayor told them. "He's been spotted near the new nuclear power plant."

"Must be trying to recharge his batteries," Sam realized. "We're on it."

The monitors turned off as Jesse turned toward his team. "Let's go kick his robotic butt. Ace, I want you stay here with Andy and keep an eye on him."

"Are you really going to trust Ace with that kind of responsibility?" Sam whispered.

"It's either that or turn him loose in a place capable of blowing up the entire city," Jesse whispered back.

The five teens rushed out as Ace just stood there and looked over at Andy. Ace had no idea what to do, he'd never babysat a day in his life.

"Want to see me make an ice squirrel?"

At the nuclear power plant, a large, eight foot robot with a bald human head attached under a glass dome had broken through the wall of the newly constructed power plant. He was looking for the reactor when a fireball shot past him.

"Looking for a late night snack?" Jesse asked as the five teens arrived, ready to fight.

"Looks like he's got a new body," Carol said as she illuminated the room so they could see. "I guess since we broke the last one he got an upgrade."

"So, does this one have a offswitch?" Walker asked as he shot toward Automaton, who caught Walker with his claw and lifted him into the air. Walker's legs kicked around as Automaton's claw held him around the waist as he struggled.

"You may be physically faster, but mentally I'm faster than all of you," Automaton said as the claw shot out, pinning Walker against the wall. "I calculated that you would arrive about now."

"Calculate this!" Victoria said as she tossed a piece of the downed wall at the robot, who flew backward, but caught himself before he could fall.

"You Guardians have been a virus in my system for far too long," Automaton said as a hole opened in the palm of his left hand, firing a net at the teens, trapping Sam and Carol as Jesse and Victoria jumped out of the way. Jesse rolled, but Victoria refused, simply just jumping and trying not to land on the dirty ground.

"You are so getting my cleaning bill," Victoria said angrily.

Jesse took to the air and created a fire-ball in his hand, and tossed it toward Automaton to try to distract him. Meanwhile, Walker was struggling to get out of the claw as Victoria went to help him.

"Don't worry, I'll have you out of here in no time," Victoria said as he pulled on the claw.

"Could it be a bit faster than that?" Walker asked.

Automaton saw Victoria and fired a blast of purple ooze at her, pinning her to the wall as well, right next to Walker.

"Ew, this stuff is going to ruin my outfit," Victoria said as she struggled.

"I have come prepared for all of you," Automaton said as his other arm fired foam at Jesse, who tried to avoid it, but was soon hit and fell to the ground, where Automaton fired a net to pin him to the ground as well. "I have more than enough power in my system, I don't need anything from this place. You twirps fell into our trap."

"OUR trap?" Jesse asked.

Seconds later, a dozen shadowy creatures began to rise from the ground.

"What are those things?" Walker asked.

"I don't know, but I think we're all in very deep trouble," Victoria said as the creatures wandered closer.

The Mall of Justice

Andy and Ace were walking down the corridor, eating hot dogs and drinking soda.

"Yeah, the Mayor takes real good of us," Ace told the boy. "He set us up in this headquarters and takes care of all of our expenses. He even helps keep our parents off our backs. You know, the whole hero thing's not exactly something our parents want us to do."

"How did you guys get your powers?" Andy asked as he looked up at Ace. "And why you do call yourselves the Guardians?"

"No one knows where our powers come from," Ace told him. "They just... appeared one day. All of us got our powers at different times. We're not the only ones with powers, we're just the only ones who are willing to use them for good. Some people decided to use their powers to commit crimes. Some people decide to ignore them. We had a game of Battleship to decide the name. Walker won. I wanted to call us the Avenging Justice League, but Jesse said we wouldn't have been able to use it anyway."

"How many of... you are there?" Andy asked.

"No one knows," Ace replied as they walked along. "To date there's only a handful of us, but we're sure there's more. The funny part is, everyone who has powers... they were born in this city. Andy, why were you- Andy?"

The boy was gone, having wandered down another corridor to use the bathroom. When he stepped out, he saw a large bolted door with several locks and security devices. There was a small slit on the door to open and look through. Andy cautiously approached, wondering what was inside. He put his hand to the slit to slide it open when a hand grabbed his.

"Don't even think about it," Ace told him as he pulled Andy away from the door.

"What's in there?" Andy asked as he looked up at Ace.

"Open the door and I guarantee you won't live long enough to find out," Ace replied coldly. "Let's just leave it at that. Now come on, the others should be back soon."

The two walked away as Andy looked back at the door as the sound of someone humming was heard from behind the door.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, the Guardians were restrained with energy bands, attached to the wall at the power plant as the creatures floated around.

"Those are the things that me and Ace were fighting when we rescued Andy," Jesse said as he looked at Sam.

"They're obviously monsters of some sort," Sam replied. "But it's not like we haven't had experience in dealing with those."

"Yeah, well, these things seem different," Jesse told him. "They're stronger than what we're used to. It's like they were feeding off our energy."

"They were," A voice said as a portal opened. The man in the black and purple robe came through. He lowered his hood, revealing a man with a sinister black goatee, holding a long staff with a red ruby on the end of it. "My shadow demons are designed to drain the energy of their victims, weakening them. On normal humans they'd be too weak to fight back, but you... you're special."

Jesse struggled with his restraints. "Who are you?"

"Oh, how rude of me," The man said. "My name is Kartheiser. Prince of the Dark Dimension. A place you'll get to know quite well when you're exiled there."

"The Dark Dimension?" Walker asked. "I don't like the sound of that. I don't think that's a place I want to visit."

"You won't have to," Kartheiser said as he held his staff to Walker's throat. "That is, unless you decline the offer I'm going to give you. You and friends are going to be given the opportunity of a will be honor guards to the future ruler of this world."

"And who would that be?" Jesse asked.

"Me," Dark Heart said as he appeared in a cloud of purple smoke, his cloak still hiding his face. His voice was dark and echoing. "Greetings. I am Dark Heart. And I created all of you for the very purpose of serving me."

The Mall of Justice

"They should have been back by now," Ace said as he paced around. "If they'd have taken me along, we'd be back by now. But then I wouldn't be here for me to come back to, so maybe it's good they didn't take me."

Andy had gotten dressed in a black and green polo shirt, black shorts, and green sneakers from one of the stores. He watched Ace pace around as he played a gameboy. Ace hadn't noticed that there were no batteries in the game.

"Why don't we go find them?" Andy asked as he looked up from the game.

"Because I was told to watch you," Ace replied. "Of course, I could take you with me, but you don't have any powers."

Andy remained silent as Ace thought about it. "But then again, the others might be in trouble... but then again, we might get into trouble, too. But then again..."

Andy sighed as he stood up. "Let's just go help them before it's too late."

"What do you mean, you created us?" Jesse asked, sounding confused. "You didn't create us, we were born."

Darkheart laughed at the boy. "Where do you think you got your powers? Where do you think everyone like you in this town got their powers?"

Darkheart held up his hand and waved it, creating a portal into the past.

"It was 17 years ago, the beginning of my deeply laid plans for this world. I wanted to create a master race of superbeings. Beings that would serve me when the time came.

Humans, being the lowest, unpurest form of life in all the known dimensions, were the perfect test subjects. So I chose the town of Underwood as my breeding ground, and went about creating my perfect species. All it took was the tainting of the town's water supply with a special pollutant.

A pollutant that would supercharge the eggs of the expectant mothers, giving their children abilities far beyond those of any mere mortal. Everyone who was born in the year 1990 and after whose mothers drank from the town's water would carry superhuman abilities, whether those powers were ever tapped or not.

Now, you, your team of do gooders, and every other child in this town harbors the ability to be a part of my superarmy, which I will use to take over this world!"

"Yeah, just one problem," Jesse told him. "We're not joining up with you. You underestimate human's ability to do good with these powers. We choose to use our powers for good, and you can't take that away from us."

"Soon, that choice won't matter," Dark Heart said to the boy. "I will have every super powered being in this town under my control. As this city's greatest heroes, I offer you the choice of serving me as my honor guards. With the seven of you at my side, I will be invincible. If not, I'll simply banish you and force you to watch me take over your world."

"Seven?" Walker asked as he counted. "There's only six of us."

"I think he means-" Carol started to say as Jesse cut her off.

"He couldn't-," Jesse interrupted. "How would he know about-?"

Ace and Andy arrived at the power plant, and peeked through the wall, seeing their friends trapped, with Darkheart and Kartheiser standing with their backs to the two.

"Alright, this is bad," Ace said as he looked at Andy. "Maybe you should stay back. I'll go in and-"

"Get captured?" Andy asked. "You're going to need help."

They didn't realize the shadow demons were sneaking up on them from behind.

Ace sighed. "Fine. You distract them, and I'll-"

A screeching was heard as the two boys turned and saw the shadow demons behind them. The creatures flew forward as Ace created an ice wall, which the creatures rammed right into.

Dark Heart turned his attention toward them. "It looks like the next two have arrived. Capture them!"

The shadow demons burst through the ice wall as Ace held out his hands to try to hold them off. He looked down at Andy.

"Looks like this is it, kid," Ace said as he prepared to fight.

Andy curled his fist into a ball as he stepped in front of Ace. "No, it's not."

Andy shoved Ace back as the shadow demons grabbed him, but the boy let loose with a huge surge of electricity, causing the shadow demons to screech in pain before vaporizing into ash. Andy fell to his knees, then onto his side as Ace ran up to him.

"Wow, the kid's got powers," Ace said as Dark Heart and Kartheiser prepared to attack. He put up another ice wall to hold them back as he rushed toward Victoria, and put his hands on her restraints to freeze them over and shatter them. "Let's get the others free."

Victoria broke free and pulled Jesse out of his restraints as Ace helped Carol. By the time the ice wall exploded, the six Guardians stood side by side, ready to fight. Andy opened his eyes and sat up, right in the middle of the two groups. He looked over at Dark Heart, then up at Kartheiser.

"Dad?" Andy asked as the Guardian's jaws dropped.

Eight Hours Ago

Andy was asleep in his bed in his home when he heard a noise downstairs. His dad was home finally, after taking a long business trip. Andy rushed downstairs and found his father talking on the phone.

"No, the boy's upstairs asleep," Kartheiser said. "There's no need to perform the enchantment on him, he'll willingly serve us, father, I'll make sure of it. Our plans are going perfectly, soon we'll have this entire city enslaved, and with all ot it's superpowered beings under our control, we'll-"

He noticed Andy sitting on the stairs, his eyes widened in panic.

"I'll call you back," Kartheiser said. "Now, Andy, that phone call was just..."

"You're going to make me a slave?" Andy asked. "I thought you loved me."

"I do," Kartheiser said as he came closer to Andy, who backed up against the wall. "But you know your grandfather. Well, actually, you don't know the *real* him-"

"Stay back," Andy said.

Kartheiser reached his hands out as Andy's power suddenly erupted, sending electricity rushing through his father's body, sending him flying back, crashing against the wall. Andy ran out of the house in a panic, crying as he went, thinking his father hadn't survived the shock.

Now

"It's me, son," Kartheiser said as he looked at Andy. "And you're in very big trouble for hurting me."

"Hold the phone," Ace said as he looked at Andy. "The alien overlord who wants us to take the over world is your father?"

"Andy is my personal experiment," Kartheiser said as he looked at the boy. "He's not biologically my son, but he is heir to the empire. His real parents were... taken out of the equation when Andy was born. I needed an heir to succeed me someday, and I chose him."

Walker grabbed Andy and took him back to their side. "Andy, what do you want to do?"

"He- he took me away from my real parents," Andy said with tears in his eyes. "He's lied to me this entire time," Andy wiped the tears away and got a stern look on his face. "Let's take him out."

Walker set the boy down as the seven kids took a battle stance.

"This is pathetic," Dark Heart said as Kartheiser, Automaton, and the shadow demons gathered close. "Forget banishment, DESTROY THEM!"

Automaton charged forward, as Victoria caught his robotic hands, as the two struggled together, while Sam pulled out a calculator and a small handheld chalkboard, calculating numbers and figures.

Dark Heart fired his staff at Jesse and Carol, who jumped out of the way. Carol tossed a light blast, temporarily blinding Dark Heart as Jesse rushed forward and grabbed the staff as the two struggled.

Walker started fighting off the shadow demons, using his superspeed to zip around them, collecting them in a whirlwind, sending the creatures flying.

Kartheiser came closer to Ace, who had his hands up, ready to fight. He swung at Kartheiser as his hands glew with a blue icy energy as the sorcerer blocked the blows with his staff. He swung and hit Ace in the arm with the staff, then swung again and knocked the boy to the ground.

"Nobody takes my son from me," Kartheiser told him.

"I'm not your son!" Andy shouted as he punched Kartheiser in the stomach, using his energy to blast the villain back. "You took my parents away from me!"

"Your parents didn't understand," Kartheiser said as he stood up. "They would have been afraid if they knew what you were. They would have left you, anyway."

"You're wrong!" Andy shouted with tears running down his face. "My parents loved me!"

"I'll gladly send you to join them, if that's what you want," Kartheiser said as he prepared to fire. "I want you to rule this world at my side. Three generations of evil, banded together."

"I'm not evil," Andy said as he charged up his hands. "I'm not like you."

"One day, you will be," Kartheiser replied as he fired his staff at the boy, but Ace pushed him out of the way, taking the blast. Ace screamed in pain as he hit the ground.

"You think you can defeat the ultimate evil?" Darkheart asked as he struggled with Jesse. "I won't be done in by a child!"

"I know I can beat you," Jesse said as he heated the staff in Dark Heart's hands. "Not because of what you did to me and my friends, but-" Jesse knocked Dark Heart across the room with his own staff. "Because I believe in good triumphing over evil."

Jesse broke the staff over his knee, then screamed in pain because it hurt. "OW! I immediately regret that decision!"

Victoria and Automaton were evenly matched struggling against each other, before Victoria swung the robot over her shoulder, sending it crashing to the ground behind her.

"Today, brain boy!" Victoria shouted as Sam continued to make his calculations.

"Let's see... carry the seven, divide it by the positronic composition... Got it!" Sam said as he bent over, picked up a tiny pebble, and tossed it at Automaton, hitting a small spot of the robot, causing it to fall over to the ground. "Found the weak spot."

"That was anti-climactic," Victoria said as she looked at Sam.

"What do you want? I'm a thinker, not a fighter," Sam replied.

Darkheart stood up as Walker rushed by with the trail of shadow demons behind him, sending them crashing into the villain, causing them all to hit the wall. Kartheiser joined his father and saw the Guardians closing in as the villains stood up.

"This might be a good time to retreat, father," Kartheiser said as a portal opened.

"Our next meeting won't go so well for you," Dark Heart promised as they entered. "This isn't over, not by a long shot!"

The two villains rushed through the portal, closing before the Guardians could get to them.

"Ace!" Andy said as he sat over Ace's body, as the others gathered around. "Is he-?"

"He's alive," Jesse said as he felt Ace's pulse. "Let's get him home."

The Dark Dimension

"We may have failed in our first attempt to bring the Guardians over to our side, but we still have plenty of time," Dark Heart said, lowering his hood. "The enchantment can only be performed in the right place at the right time. It's imperative we get Andy back before that."

"Yes, father," Kartheiser told him.

"Summon my other assistants," Dark Heart instructed. "We won't waste time on our next strike. We'll send everything we have against the Guardians. They'll be run ragged fighting our allies, then we will destroy them."

Later, at the Mall of Justice

"He's got nowhere else to go," Jesse said as he looked at Carol, Victoria, Sam, and Walker. "And he needs someone to help him learn to control his powers."

"And he's taken a liking to Ace," Carol added as she looked into Ace's room, a sporting goods store. Ace was laying in a bed in a large camping tent, where Andy was sitting by Ace's bedside with his ball cap in his hands. "I say we let him stay."

The others agreed as they looked into the tent. Ace slowly opened his eyes, seeing Andy sitting next to him.

"I- I was keeping your hat warm," Andy said as he looked at the older boy.

"Thanks," Ace replied in a weak voice, still out of it. "You know, you kind of remind me of my little brother. He's... not here anymore. Position's open if you want it. Great benefits and two weeks paid vacation."

Andy smiled as he looked over at the others.

"Welcome to the team," Jesse told him.

Down the empty corridor elsewhere in the mall, a low laughter came from behind the locked door.