Saint Petersburg, Father Lenin’s Right Boxing Club
A man stood alone in a restroom, bent over the basin and splashing water in his face. He was dressed in a thick, ankle-length coat that looked like mining equipment, except it was (or rather, had been) scarlet red, though now it was brown-and-black with a few slivers of red in between, as well as a lot of cuts and burns that had been apparently repaired by an amateur. On his back was a faded golden sickle-and-hammer emblem, with the damage to the coat focusing there. The coat was further complimented by a rig to which he’d strapped two sturdy shovels crossing behind his back, several smaller hand shovels as well as another collapsible shovel strapped horizontally to the back of his waist. Next to him on the basin stood a miner’s helmet, only of far greater but similarly worn quality, with an oversized lamp on top that suggested that it was more than just a light source. Two thick, heavy gloves that would reach up to his elbows lay on top of it.
The man raised his head and looked at the mirror. He was not a handsome man, his face being a little too broad and a little too flat to be handsome, not to mention rugged and covered in scars – not excessively so, but he did look like a longtime brawler. He had muddy green eyes, dark brown-black, short-cut hair that showed quite a bit of grey and a lot of wrinkles around his eyes and mouth speaking of a man with an easy laugh. All in all, he looked like either a very old-looking thirty-year-old or a very young-looking fifty-year-old.
He was looking at a picture that had been tucked into the frame of the mirror. It showed a young woman, a girl really, in a skintight, arm- and legless red bodysuit with a sickle-and-hammer emblem in bright gold on her chest. Her golden hair was tied back in a practical, but for her very fitting ponytail and she wore a waist-length red cape, as well as knee-high yellow boots and elbow-length gloves of the same colour. She was grinning widely, along with the young boy wearing the oversized miner’s hat and holding an old shovel in his hands – he looked to be no more than twelve, and looked markedly similar to the old man looking at the picture. Only younger. And much happier.
“Well,” he said, not taking his eyes off the girl in the picture. “This is where we are now, Ludmilla. Who would have guessed?” He splashed another handful of water in his face, rubbing it with strong, calloused hands. He kept his eyes on the picture and tried to ignore the specter of the boy behind him, looking at him… judging him. He wasn’t really there, of course, just a figment of his imagination. But the point stood, nonetheless. He was watching him, asking. Always asking.
What are you doing with your life?
“I’ll show him, Ludmilla. I’ll show you, too. And all of them, too. No more wasting my life.” He was speaking in a way that suggested he’d said this over and over.
The door to the restroom opened, and a woman came in, bending over to fit through the frame. She was tall, almost two and a half meters and built like someone who worked hard every day. She wore her dirty blonde hair in a buzz cut, had brown eyes, a hooked nose and a nasty scar that ran down from her left eye, splitting her lips and going to her chin. Unlike the man in front of the mirror, she wore a bright green-and-brown costume. A dark brown shirt, a dark green pair of trousers and a green vest. Her legs were bare from the knee down, as were her arms from the elbow down.
“Hello Sil’Nyy. This is a men’s restroom, you know?”
“Kopatel, the others are waiting,” she said in her surprisingly feminine voice, ignoring his quip. It didn’t really fit her appearance. “Are you ready?”
He nodded and straightened up. Taking the photograph off the mirror, he put it into the inner breastpocket of his coat, right above his heart. Then he put on his gloves and his hat. “Let’s get going.”
* * *
He stepped out into the training arena of the box club. There were about fifty other people there, some in bright and garish costumes, some in more mundane ones like his own and some… well, some didn’t bother to wear anything. Most of those were too inhuman for clothes to be necessary or even practical, except for a single woman who was standing stark naked and alone, taking up an entire fifth of the space just by virtue of no one wanting to stand anywhere near her. Her pure white hair was tied in a french braid that was at least four meters long, revealing her pointy ears, her eyes and lips were scarlet red and her skin made fresh snow look grey. No one was even looking at her.
No one wanted to risk the ire of the Devil’s Bride. Or even just her attention.
Kopatel threw her an annoyed glance, and she just smirked.
Taking the steps up to the sole remaining fight ring, he turned in a circle, looking at the gathered people. Fifty-two men and women, spread out all around the ring, roughly split up into five groups that represented about an equal amount of power. The Foremen, the Overlords, the Winter Soldiers, the Frozen Family and the Devil’s Bride.
“Brothers. Sisters,” he said, looking around, catching their attention.
“Just a few months ago, the Blazing Calamity attacked Moscow,” he said, speaking loudly enough to make sure he was understood even by the people without enhanced hearing in the room. “Some of our best died there,” he said, ignoring the stab in the heart the memories caused. A lot of the people around looked as sad as he felt. “And some of our worst, too.”
He fell quiet and looked straight at what little was left of his comrads, the Foremen. Apart from the Winter Soldiers, they were the only ‘heroes’ present. For a given value of hero. All of them, as was he, had been elite members of the Red Council’s metahuman peacekeepers, until the Calamity had destroyed their masters.
Not just killed. Destroyed. Along with their leader and shining star, Red Star.
The Winter Soldiers, or at least some of their members – those he thought trustworthy – had been a division of hunter-killers, meant to track down and eliminate priority targets both during and out of wartime. They all wore the same uniform, pure white fullbody suits, environmentally sealed and with various gadgets attached to further enhance their fighting power regardless of powerset. The suits were so bulky they even made it impossible to tell men and women apart. It was impossible to tell what they thought of this, except that they were clearly uncomfortable so close to the Devil’s Bride – a long-time target of theirs that had so far defeated all attempts to kill her. Ironically, they were probably the second-most feared and reviled people in the room, after their archenemy.
The Overlords, a crime cartel that was the equivalent of the Syndicate across the wall, controlled by the ellusive Black Council. They’d sent the fewest people, only six, but each of them was an A-Class combat monster, really. He was sure he could convince them to join the cause.
Next, nine of the sixteen members of the Frozen Family where present, most of them monstrous in some way, with only a single blue snowflake as a symbol, painted or tattooed on their bodies or costumes, if they used any. They were the ones most likely to join him – their goals coincided. He just had to convince them that his plan was the best one.
Finally, the Devil’s Bride. The Sovjet Union’s great shame, their very own S+ threat, kept secret from the outside world to avoid showing weakness when they had already lost face for boasting that they’d be able to take down the Blazing Calamity in the year after her manifestation (and the following spectacular failure that eradicated the entire Tunguska region and spawned this new monster).
“Our country is standing at the edge – and edge between unity and division, progress and regress, past and future!” He had to stoke their spirits. Get them emotional. These people were too entrenched, too stuck in their ways.
Funnily enough, the greatest monster among them was the one most likely to support his effort.
“The Red Council is gone! Moscow is gone. The Seven Archworkers are gone!” he continued. “But the Caller of the Dead lives! He revived a baby just three days ago!”
Now he had their attention. The incident was well-known in all of the union, but it was still something that demanded attention. “Our brothers and sisters, and what remains of our former masters, have declared war on the PATO, because they refuse to allow even the attempt to revive the Red Council!” he shouted into the room. “Another world war is coming, even though the Blazing Calamity is still haunting the world! There are more metahumans, and more metahumans of greatest power out there than ever!”
He looked straight at the Devil’s Bride. “This room alone probably contains as much, if not more metahuman potential for destruction than the entire union did during the war against the White Tyrant! Perhaps more than all of Eurasia did! Without even counting in the Devil’s Bride! She alone more than doubles that!”
He looked at her, then at the others here. They knew how much power was here. Not all of them understood what it meant.
“And now, thousands and thousands of our kind are going to go to war on both sides, and the world will burn. All so we can reach the Protectorate and revive the Council!”
He stopped again and waited, letting that sink in.
And the next part was going to be even heavier. He looked across the room – one wall had been a massive mirror, and there were still shards left. One of them showed him his own form on the ring, looking terribly normal among all the others in this room. And he also saw the little boy with the blazing eyes, standing behind him.
What are you doing with your life?
He closed his eyes, imagining standing in front of him again, looking him in the face. Not wasting it anymore.
“I say, enough!” he screamed, opening his eyes wide. His hand went to his favourite shovel on his back, drawing it and pointing at the people in front of him. “Enough lives have been destroyed by the Council!” He turned in a slow circle, pointing with his shovel at them. “They have enslaved us, and the people of our lands for too long! This. Is. Our. Chance!”
He opened his arms wide, as if he wanted to hug everyone in the room. “Our deluded brothers and sisters are focusing on the imminent attack on the British Mainland! Our armies are arrayed along our Western borders, the inland is defenceless!”
“I say, let us take this chance! Let us reach for freedom, and true peace, not the wicked cold war that has kept a death grip on us!” Spittle was flying from his mouth now, his face flushed. “We can strike at the remains of the council, and cut off what little remains of the head of enslavement and oppression! We can wage a war for true freedom, for true equality!”
This was what he had been yearning for for decades, without even knowing it. It had only taken the death of everyone he cared about and the words of a small boy with blazing black eyes to make him aware.
“The era of the Red Council is over! Brothers, sisters, here I stand and say – THE REVOLUTION. HAS. BEGUN! ARE YOU WITH ME!?”
He stood there, looking at them. The room was deathly still.
Then, a clap. And another.
Everyone turned to look at the Devil’s Bride, who was clapping her hands with a smile on her face.
Soon, the others fell in. The clapping was joined by shouting. The shouting by screaming.
He raised his shovel into the air.
Watch. Watch and be awed, Macian. I will not waste this life you saved.
“Let us go, and fight! For Freedom!!!”