chapter Five:
To all the onlookers frozen in place like so many deer in so many headlights, this seemed like total insanity

“Well you found me,” boomed Magnificent Man, his arms outstretched. “And who are you?”

The man roared with frustration.

“You don’t even remember me?!”

“Should I?” Magnificent asked. Jim was standing at his side now and answered the question.

“His name is Benjamín Méndez,” whispered The Detective. “He auditioned for us. Was deemed... unstable.”

Stanis stepped forward then, his suit coat discarded. He looked strong with his jacket off, stronger than Leonard would’ve assumed; muscled arms and chest defined beneath a thin baby-blue dress shirt. He held an empty champagne bottle in his fist.

“This is a private engagement, friend,” spat Stanis derisively, pointing the champagne bottle at Benjamín. “You’re upsetting my guests.”

“I wasn’t talking to you!” screamed Benjamín and he hurled the hatchet at Stanis’ head.

The weapon cut through the air with startling speed, but Magnificent was faster. He spun and caught the hatchet just before it could split his host’s skull. The crowd gasped as time seemed to freeze. Magnificent looked to The Detective.

“What’s his ability?”

“Physical osmosis.”

“Come again?”

Surprisingly, it was Stanis that answered. “The ability to absorb the elemental makeup of any non-organic matter the subject’s skin comes in contact with.”

“Copy that.”

And Mag set his sites on Benjamín, taking a few powerful strides towards the intruder. Benjamín looked afraid for a moment, despite the metal adrenaline coursing through his veins, and for a moment Mag thought that perhaps this dog’s bark was worse than his bite. But then Magnificent saw Mayor Morning to Benjamín’s right. He looked poised to leap, to try and tackle the man, take him by surprise. And Magnificent realized in a heartbeat what would happen if he did.

“Rutger, don’t!” he shouted, but it was too late.

The Mayor grabbed Benjamín by the forearm, planted his feet in hopes to whirl him to the floor. But almost immediately something shifted in Benjamín’s eyes, as a power unlike any other began to pour through him. Rutger’s eyes went wide as well, wide with confusion and fear, and he tried to release his grip. But it was no use. Benjamín reached around with his free arm and grabbed a hold of Rutger, making sure he couldn’t run. He then turned to face Magnificent Man, picking Rutger up off the ground and putting the Mayor between himself and the advancing superhero. Mag pulled up quick.

Benjamín began to grow, he body surging with energy. He grew eight, nine feet tall; his head nearly touched the ceiling. His muscles swelled with power and his skin grew hard, changing into a burnished grey-black material, like hardened lava or onyx stone.

To all the onlookers frozen in place like so many deer in so many headlights, this seemed like total insanity. And it was insane, Benjamín’s powers. And the Mayor’s secret ones. Hell, superpowers in general were nuts, Leonard realized with an odd flash of clarity. After all, Rutger’s skin had the ability to turn into rock. And that rock, whatever element it was exactly, was now being absorbed by Benjamín Méndez. If that's not a crazy set of circumstances, Leonard didn't know what was.

Magnificent, his mind whirling with what to do next, watched the Mayor go limp in Benjamín’s grasp.

As the black-rocked giant tossed Rutger to the side like a discarded napkin, and the Mayor hit the floor with a sickening thud, the tension in the room final broke like a wave and all sense of order capsized.

Magnificent snapped into action, commanding The Detective to round up the guests and get them out the back door of the room.

“I’m on it!” Jim called, taking Anna Maria by the hand as they began to usher the crowd.

“We’re with the Dic!” shouted Renegade, and he and Alexa rushed in to help get the civilians out as well. The rest of the team came to Magnificent’s side, where Stanis Bigg was still standing.

“Well,” said Windrush through a crooked smile, “it seems a bit early in the narrative for our first pivotal test as a team. Who wrote this shit?” He looked to Mag and bounced his eyebrows up and down.

“Shall we dance?”

And with that the teenager jumped into the fray, the rest of his teammates on his heels.

Windrush floated past Benjamín’s first haymaker, but caught the second swing—a back hand—right in the ribcage. As light as he was, the force of the blow flung him shattering straight through a window.

“Windrush!” Cloptic called out and ran to the window to assist his friend. Magnificent and the rest refocused on Benjamín.

They fought hard, dipping around most of Benjamín’s arrant, wild movements. He was like a caged animal, no idea what he was doing in general, much less in a fight. So The Valor Society landed many blows, but they just didn’t seem to do anything.

At one point Lady Love managed to land a devastating kick to the side of the rock monster’s melon and he stumbled to one knee. But all that seemed to do was enrage him more; he flung out a fist that caught Bulletproof right in the jaw, sending the big man sailing into a line of banquet tables, silver serving platters and glassware flying. Mag pulled the team away from the flailing fighter so they could regroup.

From his place near the serving line wreckage, though, Bulletproof had an idea. He whistled loudly, catching Mag’s eye, and held up a large, glass serving tray, undamaged by the collision. Mag’s eyes lit up with the same idea.

“You’ll have to be quick,” shouted Bulletproof.

“When am I not?” Mag said with a smile.

Bulletproof grinned back, and with a grunt hurled the glassware at Benjamín Méndez. It whipped through the air like a frisbee and, just as Bulletproof had hoped, Benjamín instinctively caught it. Surprisingly agile fingers caused the glass not to break, but on contact the material began to do its work.

Benjamín’s skin began to shift again as the new matter coursed through him. He was losing his rock skin and replacing it, unwittingly, with glass. He was shrinking as well. Magnificent took his shot.

In a flash, he took off like a missile and collided full-force into Benjamín, shattering him into pieces.

The shards of glass that had once been Benjamín Méndez skittered and skipped to the carpet, lifeless and still. Magnificent stood slowly, his skin covered in tiny cuts, his face and fists bloodied and raw. A stillness settled on the room.

All the guests had been evacuated successfully, and the only people that remained in the room were Magnificent, Bulletproof, and Lady Love. Coptic was near the window, helping Windrush climb back inside after his ejection.

“I floated three blocks away, dude,” laughed Windrush as Cloptic helped to brush glass-dust off his shoulders. “Guess I’ll need to work on that.” He looked around. “Where’s the big guy?”

“Everywhere,” remarked Stanis as he gestured to the broken glass littered about the room. Windrush’s eyes just went wide.

"Damn."

As Magnificent rushed to Mayor Morning’s prone body, Lady Love smacked Bulletproof on the chest with the back of her hand.

“Nice plan, big guy,” she said and she headed across the way to help Mag with the Mayor. Bulletproof grinned.

“Indeed it was,” said Stanis, extending a hand. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of a formal introduction. Stanis Bigg.”

Bulletproof shook the man’s hand.

“Van—“ he started, but cleared his throat and tried again. “Bulletproof, sir. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Stanis said. “That was some damn quick thinking, Bulletproof.”

“I'm just glad I could help.”

“Me, too.”

Then Stanis also went to tend to the Mayor. Vance could hear sirens wailing in the distance, the police on their way. He looked around the room, disheveled and deserted when just moments before it had been filled with guests. He sighed and shook his head.

Their first fight as The Valor Society. He and Mag working together again, just like old times. Sure, it was messy, and chaotic, and a fellow super-powered man lay in pieces around his feet. But somehow it all felt… meant to be. A promise kept to protect and serve.

Vance closed his eyes and said a silent prayer for Benjamín Méndez and for the craziness of the situation, for the Pandora’s Box the Valor Society perhaps had already opened. And he prayed for Mabel and the kids back at home. He knew in that instant that the world they’d grow up—their Rapid City—was about to change forever.