This is from the prelude of Volume One, Shadow Play. Enjoy!
Paul tried to sleep on the way home. He really did. But every time he nodded off, he was forced back to wakefulness by a vision of Hoijin’s face, lit by the burning village behind them, melting away. Black eyes glittered above an evil smile as the villain raised his handgun and Paul drove his knife into the man’s chest.
It played over and over in his mind. Over and over and….
It wasn’t over. Going home on forced leave would only provide a temporary respite, if that. The man (could they even be called men?) who had taken Hoijin’s place… there were tens of thousands like him, all over the world; each with different powers, all with the same burning hatred and raging insanity.
And they’ll tear the world apart, piece by piece, while we fight our stupid brushfire wars, expending all our energy to prop up dictators we like and destroy the ones we don’t.
The world had gone mad, and there was nothing he could do about it.
The plane touched down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Paul disembarked. He hadn’t expected his family to be there, but when he turned his phone on, he didn’t even have a message from them. Bewildered, he tried their home phone only to be bounced back to voicemail.
The Army had thoughtfully reserved him a car at the nearest rental agency, so he took it and started driving south. His hometown of Greenwood was only about twenty minutes away, but he hadn’t driven fifteen when he was halted by a roadblock. A lone police officer stepped out of his car as Paul slid to a stop in front of the barricades. He rolled down his window.
“Officer, what’s going on?”
“Greenwood and the surrounding area is off limits,” the officer said.
“That’s my hometown,” Paul said, sudden fear clenching at his gut. He fished out his ID. “I’m with the Rangers. Why is the town closed off?”
“Supervillain incident. The National Guard is currently cleaning up.”
“Then it can’t hurt anything to let me through.”
The officer hesitated, then stepped aside and opened the barricade.
As Paul drew closer to his town, he expected to see the marks of devastation. What he saw instead was dust– a uniform, grey dust that coated the ground and whirled in eddies along the road. The buildings were still standing for the most part, as were the trees, though they looked considerably older than when he’d left. There was no sign of the National Guard working to ‘clean up.’
He stopped the car just outside his house, what was left of it. The framework and metal elements were still intact, but the stuccoed walls had holes and enormous cracks. The door creaked as he pushed it open and stepped in to a world of dust.
Almost everything in the house was gone. The furnishings, the keepsakes, the drapery, the clothes… the people.
“All that’s left of ’em. You’re breathin’ it in! So’m I. Funny, never thought of that….”
Paul whirled to see a vaguely humanoid form leaning against the doorjamb, clad in raggedy pants and a tanktop, its green skin glistening faintly with the suggestion of scales. Without thinking, he drew his handgun and aimed.
“Whoa now, sonny. Don’t go blowin’ my head off. I’m just the errand boy. Just a henchman.”
“A henchman.” Paul snorted and thumbed back the hammer of his gun. “So less wits or lesser powers should make me feel hesitant about killing you?”
“Naw, but I’m not the one you really wanna kill. I’m just workin’ for him. He says…” The henchman’s mouth moved silently for a moment. “…Thassright. He says he’s Mastermind. The Mastermind. The only one worth worryin’ about. And if you want to know why he leveled your hometown and killed your family, you should come find him. Come find him where he hides.” The henchman rubbed his lips. “Uhm… yep, that’s about it.” And he grinned. “But in case you want to know, they really put on a good show. While they were dyin’? The screams…. oh the screams. They were delicio–”
A single gunshot echoed through the desolate town.