Gregaro was the first one to leave the locker room. As the act of removing his trench coat to put a uniform on would cause his powers to activate and coat the numerous half-naked boys in frost, he elected to decline the offer to borrow a standard school uniform and instead left to await his countrymen in the Wreck Room. “Faith and begora,” Sergio heard one of the Europeans moan. By his accent and red hair, he took the boy for an Irishman. “Why does this school think that everything can be settled by having us fight each other?”
Though it was meant as a rhetorical question, one of his classmates had no qualms with answering him: “Because the faculty won’t be happy until we’re as emotionally scarred as they are,” the diminutive boy intoned as he tugged on his gloves. When he was done he looked at his classmates and then looked to the Americans. Thus far, the two groups had been content to pretend the other did not exist. It was as if this contest Mister Noble had dreamed up had compelled them all to see each other as opponents rather than brothers-in-arms.
As if he sought to change it, the Lilliputian boy strode over to Lloyd and thrust his arm forward. “Hi,” he said with a friendly smile. “I’m Buddy Kiriakis. I go by Eiron.”
Lloyd eyed him strangely. “Is midget tossing part of this exercise?” the Nephilim asked. Eiron slowly lowered his hand when he realized American was going to take it. “I mean, I could throw him pretty hard…”
“Back off,” one of the Europeans said. The dark-headed boy was stocky but wore some muscle under his uniform. His accent marked him as a member of one of the Eastern Bloc but Sergio could not place which one. “He was just trying to be nice.”
Lloyd frowned and nodded. “You’re right, man. I’m sorry. That was really rude.” He turned back towards Eiron and slapped his hands on his knees. Bending slightly, as if to meet him eye-to-eye, he asked in the most condescending voice he could manage, “Do you need help finding your mommy?”
The stocky boy started to move and Eiron grabbed his wrist. “I appreciate it, Vlad,” he said, “but I can handle this.” The Grecian narrowed his eyes at Lloyd. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“I meant your codename.”
Sergio looked to his companions and saw many of them wearing surprised expressions. None of them had codenames; he wondered if any of them had even begun to consider codenames…
Lloyd, apparently, had: “Maalik,” he said without hesitation, “as in the angel who guards hellfire. In Islam, Maalik’s all business. He’s intimidating and abandons sinners to suffer in the deepest pits of hell.” It was an exposition delivered with the utmost seriousness and with the Nephilim’s arms folded over his chest. Standing over the minute Grecian, Maalik would have made for an imposing figure had he not ruined his menacing monologue by flexing and kissing his bicep.
Eiron nodded solemnly and committed the codename to memory. “You’re on my list,” he said before turning on his heel and moving to leave.
“Is it a real short list?” Maalik asked.
Suddenly, the stocky boy who had stood up for Eiron was encased in an odd, translucent, ruby red shell. “You wanna go!?!” Vlad looked up to see John Titus rising up from the bench, half-dressed and commanding an orb of water to revolve over his upturned palm. “You wanna get to Lloyd,” he said, “you have to get through me!”
Sergio wanted to sigh: at this rate, the fight would begin before they even made it into the Wreck Room. Something strange happened though: he watched as Vlad powered down and turned his back on the pair. “Acesta nu este meritat, Vladi…” he muttered.
Suddenly, Sergio was able to see words appear under the boy: “It’s not worth it, Vladi…” the subtitles said.
“Both of you need to back off!” Carl snapped suddenly. It was one of the first things he had said since they had left New York. “In case you two forget, we’re their guests here and we’re not exactly being that gracious! How’s about you both apologize, huh?”
“Dude,” John grumbled, “you don’t get to fuggin’ tell me what to do.”
“Yeah!” Maalik enthusiastically declared. “You’re not Pandora!”
John slapped his palm into his forehead.
“No, I’m not Pandora,” Carl said. “I’m also not going to let you both continue to make even bigger asses out of us with your behavior either.” Carl turned to the nearest European—a tall, lithe-looking boy with shoulder-length blonde hair. “I’m sorry about how some of my classmates might present themselves. I assure you, they don’t speak for all of us.” Offering out his hand, Carl smiled. “My name’s Carl Hamilton.” It struck him then that he needed a codename; he hastily added, “Solar Flare.”
“Fiore Caspian,” the effeminate, attractive boy said, shaking the offered appendage. “Fiore.”
Solar Flare raised an eyebrow. “Your… codename is your… first name?”
Fiore nodded. “My name is Italian for ‘flower’. My father named me for the power he must have suspected I would inherit.”
“So, he has flower power?” John asked. Maalik started to chortle. Fiore ignored them.
“It is nice to meet you, Carl. I take it you are the prefect for your year?”
Solar Flare looked at him oddly. “Prefect? What’s that?”
“It’s a glorified hall monitor,” the boy with the tattooed arms said. Smiling to show he was kidding, he rose up from tying his boots and offered a hand to Solar Flare in greeting. “Jack Rexroth,” he said, “Greystone.”
It was a gesture the other boys from the Viennese school repeated. Soon, Martin Curie—codenamed Fluxx, Otso Karell—codenamed Ursa, Randy O’Shae—codenamed Gae’Bolg and Jason Lamperouge—codenamed Prodigy had introduced themselves. Only the Irishman’s introduction evoked another round of mockery from the sophomore boys: the instant Randy told them all his codename, Maalik blurted out, “Gay Bulge? Did he just say his codename was Gay Bulge?” Watching Randy turn red was all the encouragement Otso needed to show them why he was codenamed Ursa: the Finnish youth transformed into a bear and snarled menacingly at the pair.
While the sophomore boys’ hearts raced, Solar Flare went on to introduce the rest of his teammates, allowing each to offer up a freshly decided-upon codename: John became Torrent, Lucas became Chill, Solon became the Theurgist and then started into a tirade about how he was considering changing it to something else that Gage mercifully interrupted by announcing his codename as Coulomb.
In the end, that left only Gregaro, the girls and Sergio. With all eyes on him, Sergio looked down at his right arm and considered what he had seen engraved in the inside of it.
“Sentry,” he finally said.
“My codename is Sentry.”
“Well,” Fiore said, looking over his team and their guests, “is everybody ready to get this over with?”
Maalik flexed. “That eager to get your ass kicked, huh?”
“Don’t be so cocky,” Eiron warned as the boys left the locker room together. “While you were off learning about the War of 1812, we were busy taking down a group of terrorists bent on world domination. You’re welcome, by the way.”
“They went down to the Inch-High Private Eye, Flower Power, Gay Bulge and the pissed-off Care Bare?” Torrent shrugged. “What, were they armed with rubber band guns?”
“They were armed with our powers,” Greystone said, deadpan. “We had to take down our parents.”
“Well, technically,” Prodigy said, “my mom wasn’t really involved but Laputa was really being led by-”
“Wait, wait, wait…” Maalik said. “Back up: who’s a whore now?”
In the Wreck Room, the boys found the six other New Vindicators waiting for them. Though Gregaro, Razi and one of the European girls each stood off by themselves, respectively, Pandora was talking animatedly with the girl holding Vlad’s hand.
Sentry waited for Fiore to offer introductions but he appeared spellbound by Pandora’s very presence. The short, pudgy girl seemed to have enchanted the lithe Italian boy and only when Eiron nudged him did he snap back to reality. “This is, uh, Ellen Woolf,” Fiore said, introducing her to their guests, “codenamed Maze. Her boyfriend you met: Vladislav Radikovich, codenamed Candyman.”
Torrent and Maalik started to snigger but stopped when Pandora flashed them a warning look. “And over there,” Fiore said, “is Anne Newton. She goes by Mezzanine.” He turned to Pandora and grinned broadly. “And what, pray tell, is your name?”
“Pandora Filash,” the purple-haired girl said. “I don’t really have a codename though. None of us do.”
It was Eiron’s turn to guffaw.
“The hell we don’t!” Maalik boasted. “I’m Maalik and John’s Torrent. Carl’s Sunspot-”
“Solar Flare,” the senior corrected
“Max is Chill and Solon’s The Urgeist.” He looked at Coulomb sideways. “I totally blanked on yours though, broseph. Sorry.”
“It’s ‘Coulomb’,” the blind boy said.
“Yeah, bro, I have no idea what that means.”
“It’s how electrical charge is measured in the International System of Units.”
Maalik flashed a half-smile that Coulomb was unable to see as an apology. “Maybe you should call yourself something non-nerds would know. You shoot lightning, so… maybe something like Volt or Current?”
“Current’s taken,” Ursa muttered.
“He wishes,” Candyman said, smirking deviously at his Finnish friend.
“Phaeton.” All eyes were on Pandora then. “I’ll be Phaeton. If I remember right, Phaeton was a sun goddess or something in Greek mythology, right?”
“Phaeton was the son of Helios and a nymph,” Razi said, deadpan.
Maalik started to chortle. “She’s naming herself after the son of a sun god? No wonder Jude had to lie about gettin’ some action!”
Fiore stammered to the pudgy girl’s defense. “No, it—it’s Greek! It means ‘shinning’!” He smiled and blushed as he looked to Phaeton. “I think it’s a very pretty name,” he said.
Razi rolled her eyes. “Well, if we’re all picking out codenames, I suppose you can call me ‘Kudzu’.”
“That just leaves Gregaro,” Torrent said, looking to the time-lost boy.
“I’m the Cold Detective, okay?” he said agitatedly. “Can we get on with this then?”
“If everyone is ready to begin?” Mister Bradley’s voice cut across the loudspeakers in the room. Suddenly two rings of light appeared at opposite sides of the arena. “If each team will head for one of the starting areas, we’ll get this underway.”
The Americans headed to one end of the Wreck Room and their hosts headed for the opposite side. Once they were in position, a holographic environment appeared around them and a buzzer sounded.
Sentry watched as his classmates were overcome by their zeal and hurried off to face the students of the New Vindicators Academy of Europe on the field of battle…
To Be Continued... wrote:Maalik and Torrent learn a valuable lesson about making fun of people's codenames...