The year was 2105. Acid rain had scoured the earth, eradicating a quarter of the global population.
As humanity clawed its way back from the brink of annihilation, something extraordinary happened. Sixty percent of the remaining populace began to manifest superhuman abilities, ranging from the manipulation of the elements to shape-shifting, from invulnerability to acid generation.
Thus, the world entered an epoch that would be known as the Era of the Supernatural.
However, the upheaval of this new age was not without its challenges. The rapid emergence of superhuman abilities shattered societal norms and laws, plunging the world into chaos.
Governments that were once pillars of stability and peace vanished, leaving newly empowered individuals to their own devices. In this lawless vacuum, metahumans exploited their newfound abilities, each pursuing their own unchecked agendas.
Weeks passed with no government intervention, and society spiraled further into disarray. Finally, a group of metahumans -- unwilling to stand by as the world crumbled -- banded together.
They formed an organization known as the Hero's League, recruiting other like-minded metahumans dedicated to combating crime, restoring justice, and paving the path to a stable world. They were the self-anointed guardians of society.
Their rise marked the reemergence of the missing governments. Together, the Hero's League and these governing bodies began to restore order. Yet, even as normalcy returned, it was clear that the world had crossed a threshold into a new era, where dreams of superhuman abilities had become a reality.
Fast forward to the year 2205, in the heart of Dale City. Deep into the night, a silvery crescent moon clawed at the indigo sky, its glow outshone by the city's luminous sprawl.
Within a suburban home, a teenage boy, clad in black and white striped pajamas, stood frowning deeply before a table laden with tools and equipment.
Raphael, as he was known, was a picture of concentration as he donned safety glasses and thick black gloves. An equally perplexed blue owl named Gus hopped around the table, pausing periodically to receive explanations from Raphael.
Amid the assortment of tools on the table -- a dremel, a chipping hammer, a flat-head screwdriver, a power drill -- there was one object that held their undivided attention: a legendary ice gun.
This was no ordinary firearm. It expelled a blueish flame capable of freezing anything it touched to absolute zero. A client had tasked Raphael with rectifying the gun's main weakness: its limited charging capacity.
For three days, Raphael had toiled over the gun, disassembling it countless times to access the energy meter. Yet, despite his best efforts and numerous modifications, the gun's capacity remained stubbornly low.
With only a day left and the money he'd invested in the project dwindling, Raphael was running out of options. He couldn't afford failure.
"Hold up!" Raphael's eyes narrowed in sudden inspiration, an eyebrow arching as he turned to Gus. "I'd say there's a twenty-five percent chance this could work."
Even as he spoke, his hands were already reaching for the screwdriver, his mind set on once again disassembling the ice gun.
In the world of fieldwork, certainty was a luxury. Twenty-five percent was a gamble, but Raphael's declaration suggested an uncommon confidence.
The ice gun had been taken apart and reassembled so many times that its blueprints might as well have been tattooed on Raphael's palms. Within minutes, its components were splayed across the table like a mechanical autopsy.
Raphael exhaled a deep, steadying breath. He eased off his black gloves, revealing hands roughened by countless hours of tinkering.
He reached for the energy chip, his fingers curling around it. "Here goes nothing," he murmured, feeling the weight of the tiny device in his grip.
Raphael had spent three grueling days trying every trick in his arsenal to enhance the ice gun's capacity, to no avail. He'd modified the energy meter, tampered with the energy chip, yet it had been futile.
This was his last shot. If he failed now, he wouldn't just be broke—he'd have to start from scratch and build a new energy chip.
His fingers tightened on the chip as he summoned his powers. The energy chip trembled violently, threatening to slip from his grasp like a livewire. Sometimes, to build something better, one must first tear down the old. It was a brutal philosophy, but it was the one guiding Raphael now.
He would drain the chip completely, reducing it to an empty shell, then restore it to a new level of power.
"Raphael!" His mother's voice pierced his concentration. "It's past midnight. Please tell me you're not working on another of your inventions."
Raphael's heart jolted. He could picture her seeing the light under his door, her brow furrowing in disapproval. But he was on the brink of something crucial. He couldn't afford to let go of the chip now, nor could he let his mother catch him in the act.
She had a strict rule—no tinkering after 10 pm, for the sake of their shared peace and quiet. Breaking it meant a week of confiscated tools and stifled creativity.
A surge of panic swept over him as he heard her footsteps approaching. His mind raced, but then he felt it—a shift in the chip. Relief broke across his face in a triumphant grin. "Finally!" he whispered, just as the door swung open.
Raphael's room was a study in halves. One side, his sanctuary of sleep and solitude, where a bed, bookshelves, and wardrobe stood in calm order. The other, a shrine to invention, littered with machines, gadgets, and tools of creation.
His mother's gaze landed on the latter, her eyes widening in surprise at the sight of the empty workspace.
Her gaze then drifted to the other side of the room, where Raphael lay on his bed, feigning sleep under the duvet. Even Gus, perched nearby, seemed to have surrendered to slumber.
A soft smile touched her lips. "He must have forgotten to turn off the light," she murmured.
Raphael was cocooned in the comforts of his bed, seemingly lost in the world of dreams. Gus also appeared to be asleep, its eyes closed and perched silently.
Yvonne tiptoed towards the bed, her gaze filled with a mother's love. "Thank God, the nightmares are over," she murmured, her voice barely above a whisper. "You can finally rest." She leaned over, placing a gentle kiss on Raphael's forehead before quietly leaving the room.
Once the door clicked shut, Raphael's eyes snapped open, a smile playing on his lips. His world was his mother, his father a mere phantom of a memory who had abandoned them soon after his birth. He had no desire to know the man.
Next to his bed, a desk bore a reading lamp. He flicked it on, pulling out a drawer to retrieve a book. Reclining against his pillows, he lost himself in its pages as time slipped away.
Dawn broke, the sun's fiery red orb piercing the white cloud cover in a spectacle of beauty. The first light of day bathed his room, prompting Raphael to rise from his bed. He replaced the book in the drawer, stretched, and approached his window.
The cool morning air rushed in as he pushed the window open, eliciting a contented sigh. He had successfully drained and recharged an energy chip last night, his experimental connection to the mega battery in his room had significantly boosted its capacity.
"Raphael, hope you're ready. Breakfast is almost done," Yvonne's voice floated up to him. "Don't be late for the Hero Academy entrance exam. Your uncle may be a teacher there, but I don't want you depending on him."
His face twisted into a grimace at the mention of his uncle. "Mom, I really don't see the point of going to this academy," Raphael retorted.
An eerie silence followed his declaration. After a full minute, the door of his room creaked open. "What did you say?" Yvonne's voice was edged with disbelief.
Gazing at his mother's furrowed brow, Raphael sighed deeply. "I don't want to go to the Hero Academy. Or any academy," he said, his voice firm.
Yvonne stepped closer, her gaze piercing. "Look into my eyes and say that again," she commanded, her tone icy.
Raphael struggled to maintain eye contact. His mother's pallor, her thinning hair, and the frailty in her body were painful reminders of her ill-health. She had been seriously injured during childbirth, and despite doctors' advice to terminate the pregnancy, she had chosen to bring him into the world.
His mother's sister had cruelly revealed this truth one day, and since then, he had carried the guilt of his mother's suffering. Yet, she had never blamed him, showering him with unconditional love.
"I'll... I'll go get ready," he finally muttered, his voice barely audible. Yvonne gave a small nod, her face softening as she left the room.
Once alone, Raphael clenched his fist in frustration. "What are you smiling at?" he snapped, glaring at Gus who seemed to be smirking from his perch. The owl merely stared back in response, its expression unchanging.
But Raphael who had been with this owl since he was three years old knew that the owl was mocking him.
He might be able to win any argument against his mother, but once she stared at him that way, his loss was inevitable.