2 Origin Story, Part 2

Now that he was here, Sam couldn’t help but reminisce on the last time he’d been in a situation like this.

It was more than six months ago when he had been commissioned to serve as a healer for a hastily assembled team of heroes who’d been tasked with clearing an extermination zone that had popped up in lower Manhattan only hours before.

During that incident, Sam had failed in his duty not because he wasn’t willing, but because things had gotten so chaotic he’d use too much of his own life-force healing wounds that were too big for his power alone to handle. It was a failure that not only put his own life at risk but caused the deaths of people who were under his care.

Yes, Sam had powers. He was gifted. It’s what normal people called individuals who were blessed by the gods with extraordinary gifts, the kind mere mortals could only dream about. Still, even those with powers had a hierarchy, and in this day and age of constant calamities, everything was about power levels. Sam was a zeta, the lowest tier among the six known power levels. That meant his ability wasn’t particularly strong despite how useful it might seem.

“I can do this…” he whispered. “I can do this…”

Sam placed his hands over the deep cut above Thunder’s bushy eyebrows. Then he called forth his own life force, what little of it he could coax into his fingers, and activated his power.

“Healing Hand,” he commanded.

It never failed to give Sam goosebumps, seeing the sight of a nasty wound slowly stitch itself together as if by magic, and what was once a deep cut was now nothing more than pink scar tissue.

“I think I… I got it,” Sam wheezed.

He leaned back while black spots appeared over his vision as what little amount of life force he’d given away to heal that cut was already threatening to make him lose consciousness.

Sam wondered just how much more of his life he’d need to give away to heal the gaping hole in Thunder’s stomach. No, he knew deep down that even if he gave up his life it wouldn’t be enough to heal an injury that was most likely fatal.

“Godsdammit, I couldn’t do it,” he grimaced.

A pale hand latched onto his sun-kissed forearm, forcing Sam’s gaze toward Thunder’s face.

Her eyes were less glassy now, and despite the sounds of battle raging ahead of them, her gaze was focused only on Sam.

“You’re a healer…” she said in a voice that was much stronger than before. “You’re a hero too?”

Sam pulled her hand gently away from his arm so he could rip a piece of his shirt off. He was planning to use it as a temporary bandage over her stomach.

“Ex-hero,” Sam shrugged.

“Ex-hero?” The awe in Thunder’s face morphed into one of confusion. “But… no one quits. It’s why we call it the duty that—”

“—cannot be forsworn,” Sam finished for her. “I know, I know. I read all the pamphlets too…”

He placed the makeshift bandage over the wound and pressed down on it to staunch her bleeding even though he knew it wouldn’t help much.

“I wasn’t very good at it,” he admitted. “I was a terrible support hero…”

The bandage in his hands was quickly becoming soaked with her blood.

“But you’re here… now… saving me,” Thunder said in an almost challenging tone.

“Don’t get your hopes up…” Sam thought he could see her insides peeking out of the hole in her stomach. “I’m not powerful enough to heal this… I’m just a zeta…”

Sam heard the explosion before he felt the heat graze the skin of his face.

However, instead of running away — which is what his brain was screaming for him to do — he found himself using his own body to cover Thunder’s wound from the shock wave that raced toward them.

In his mind, a thought ran through Sam's brain that he couldn't help but voice out. “I ran away… so why am I trying so hard to be a hero now?”

Seconds ticked by while a great gust of heated air passed over Sam’s back. But it went as quickly as it came.

“We’re okay,” Sam whispered to Thunder after the shockwave passed them by. “We’re okay…”

He was acutely aware of Thunder’s chest heaving up and down underneath him.

“Get off me,” she complained.

“S-sorry…” he said.

Sam rose just high enough so that their noses were almost touching. This close, he could see that despite the caked blood clinging to her hair and cheeks, Thunder was breathtaking to look at.

This epiphany of his was interrupted by the sound of something smashing onto the asphalt to their immediate right, forcing Sam’s gaze to turn that way.

He didn’t recognize the symbol on the hero’s chest armor, but he felt sorry for him as the man was missing his head.

“Styx…” Sam breathed. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the bloody stump that was half of the man’s neck. “May Charon guide you swiftly to Elysium, brother…”

“Hey, healer, get a grip... ugh...” Pain streaked across Thunder’s face. “Can you please… finish healing me… before you give in to panic?”

Her voice was very steady for someone who had a hole in her stomach, although Sam noticed her wince after every breath she took. It was her eyes that really got to him though. They shone with such hopeful brilliance that Sam was suddenly scared of letting her down.

Yeah, that was the effect a top-class hero had on people — making them think like they could go beyond their limits.

Sam placed his palms over her stomach. Then he urged all the life force he could muster into his hands. But even after making his fingers feel like they were burning from the inside, he still couldn’t close her wound.

Sweat dripped down his face. He could feel a massive headache take hold of him.

“I-I’m sorry… I’m not powerful enough,” he admitted.

The memory of his past failure flitted across the surface of his mind, making Sam regret his decision to play hero once again. Then he felt a hard slap on his face, causing him to blink to alertness.

“Don’t say you’re sorry,” Thunder snapped.


Thunder grabbed the back of his head and then pulled him down toward her. He didn’t understand why she’d done that, not until he felt the blast of cold air pass over him.

A second or two later, and Sam looked up.

There it was, not fifteen yards away from where they were lying on the street, a monster nearly a dozen feet tall that was so freakish in appearance one could only describe it as a genuine horror.

It was a grotesque thing with a tall, thin frame and four spindly limbs that ended in sharp-nailed hands and feet. It had a bald head with knife-like ears and a deathly pale face that sported three pairs of eyes which were all staring in Sam’s direction.

“Holy Zeus,” Sam breathed.

“The lord of the skies can’t help you,” Thunder said. “Not when you’ve caught the attention of an alpha-level horror…”

Cold mist wafted out of the horror’s round mouth which was filled to bursting with sharp needle-like teeth.

“That face… it’s a Terror…” Sam said, naming the specific type of horror in front of him. “But I didn’t know Terrors could rise to alpha-level…”

Although even as he asked this, Sam could sense the powerful wave of energy coming off the Terror. And at this distance, there was enough energy leaking out of it to make Sam shudder.

“Of course, it’s possible… As long as the emotions that give birth to it are strong enough… any horror can reach alpha-level,” Thunder explained.

Then Sam noticed something that made his throat go dry.

“No one’s fighting it… all the other heroes are down,” he reported.

This was a pity as the Terror looked like it was already greatly wounded, its body covered in wounds from broken blades and arrows still embedded on its graying flesh. The left arm was missing its hand too. Dark ichor poured from its stump.

Sam felt Thunder’s hand grasp tightly onto his arm.

“All except for… you,” she said.

“Me,” Sam repeated. Then he frowned. “Okay… we’re dead…”

The Terror was moving toward them with slow, unhurried steps that were accompanied by freaky twitching motion of its arms and legs.

“Not necessarily,” Thunder replied.

Sam glanced down at her.

She was obviously still in pain, but it was amazing how she was trying not to let the pain take control.

“What do you mean?” he asked in confusion.

“You’re a… zeta-level, yes?” Thunder asked.

“Ye-yeah,” Sam answered.

“If you became stronger… right now… then you could heal me,” Thunder explained as if that was actually an option.

Sam frowned. “Um, is the pain so bad it broke your brain?”

He had asked this question because everyone knew power levels were set the moment one was blessed. There was no way to level up, not unless the gods themselves intervened.

“I’m as sane… as I can be given… the circumstances,” she gasped.

Thunder shoved Sam off her. Then, to Sam’s surprise, she pressed fingers to the air between them like she was tapping on an invisible screen.

“Activate… Argonaut,” Thunder commanded.

The ground beneath them rumbled, forcing Sam to face forward yet again.

“I-It’s coming…” Sam reported.

“Yes, yes… I know this wasn’t the plan… I still want to start the transfer,” Thunder said hurriedly.

“Wait…” Sam glanced back down at her. “Who are you talking to?”

Instead of responding to his question, Thunder opted to grab Sam’s left hand with her right hand. Their fingers intertwined.

“Tell me… your name,” she urged.

The intensity in her gaze caught him off-guard, causing him to blurt out his name. “Sam, Samuel Shepard.”

“Heed well… my words, Samuel Shepard,” she said between ragged breaths. “These words… that have been said… since the first…”

Sam’s eyes flitted back and forth between Thunder’s solemn expression and the horror that was close enough now to cause the surrounding air to drop in temperature.

“I don’t want to interrupt but—”

Thunder tightened her grip on Sam’s hand. “In life, seek adventure… never tarry on the shore… and let it pass you by...”

Sam’s complaint was suddenly lost in his throat. Despite the horror looming nearby, he found that he couldn’t interrupt her.

“In battle, fight with honor… and be fearless in… the face of adversity,” Thunder continued.

Sam could hear the Terror shuffling ever closer, and it was very hard not to turn his gaze away from Thunder and look up at the horror stalking toward them.

“In dreams, chase glory… for the gods hold… no love for the mundane,” she added.

Thunder took a breath as her pallor worsened.

“Are you—”

“In death, embrace your fate…” She dabbed the fingers of her other hand on the wound in her gut, and then raised bloody fingers up to within inches of Sam’s face. “For your sacrifice… shall save many.”

Sam would later claim that it was a knee-jerk reaction to locking eyes with her. Yes, top-class heroes really had a strange effect on people. Just staring into their big, hopeful eyes was enough to make someone think they could do just about anything.

As she pressed her fingers briefly to his lips, Sam tasted something metallic on his tongue — blood — her blood. Then, after what was too brief a moment, Thunder pushed him off her.

“From this day forward… your fate is intertwined… with those who came before you…” Thunder said, her dazzling blue eyes fixed on Sam's teal-colored irises. “Rise, a hero of the age… Rise, Argonaut, rise...”

A half-transparent blue notification window appeared between them.

[Welcome, Samuel Shepard, the one-hundredth-and-eighth successor to the secret hero training program, the Argonaut Ability Advancement System...]

Two smaller notifications appeared in front of this first one.

[Shall we play a game?]


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