Citizens Imperative 1: Heart of Stone

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liarliar
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Citizens Imperative 1: Heart of Stone

[Inspired by Letters Page #146, I wanted to see a little more of Hammer and Anvil during their Citizens Imperative era! I also wanted to think about how the writers might have ended it, when it became clear the big event they’d been planning wasn’t going to happen...but I’m getting ahead of myself!]

It was a tiny, middle-of-nowhere town so small that it barely had a single shop, which was right next to the gas station, which was right next to the bar-slash-motel. On most maps, it would barely even have merited a dot, never mind a name.

The two men currently walking down its dusty main road were a study in contrasts. The first one, who people called Citizen Anvil, had dark hair and a thick, dark beard that clouded around his face, and his eyes were shadowed under heavy, thoughtful brows. His clothes were dark, simple, and sensible. The other, who was known as Citizen Hammer, wore flashier, more colourful clothing, was entirely bald, and barely had any beard whatsoever, but where his companion's expression was closed and unreadable, his was wide, bright, and displayed his every emotion even before he spoke it - which he did as soon as possible, at an almost constant flow, an incessant chatter which currently was focused on his disgust at being in such a miserable, isolated, and above all boring place.

"Absolutely the worst kind of place in the world full of the worst, most boring kind of people you could imagine. Anvil, why would you bring us here, when you could go somewhere better, like: anywhere else? Just, anywhere else in the world!"

Citizen Anvil said nothing.

"You know if I'd wanted to be surrounded by boring idiots I'd move to Megalopolis or something. I didn't join Dawn to be bored, I joined her to get the chance to burn things, you hear me Lucas? Do you? We've been here five minutes and I'm already bored out of my mind, and I am absolutely going to burn stuff. That barn over there looks nice and flammable. Probably go up really nicely. Whoosh."

Citizen Anvil said nothing.

"Ugggggh. Why do people even live somewhere like this? Nothing here but barns and fields and corn and pig farmers."

"Goat."

"Goat farmers, whatever. Listen the point is, I hate this place and I hate this mission and I want to go back home."

His compatriot said nothing, but made a disapproving face, and Citizen Hammer rolled his eyes. "Yeah, okay, I'm not going to go and tell Dawn I didn't want to do what she told us to. Let's just get it done, okay?"

Lucas nodded, and jerked his head at the bar. Hayden huffed out a breath, and led the way.

Inside was quiet - hardly a surprise, this early in the afternoon. There were a couple of other people eating lunch at a table in the corner, and as the two Citizens entered, a middle-aged bartender looked up from a newspaper that lay open on the bar. Hammer enjoyed the look in his eyes as he sized them up - two men, both carrying more than the average amount of muscle, and with the confident walk of people who could go wherever they liked. The bartender came to his conclusions, and gave them a thin smile.

"Gents. What can I do for you?"

"Two beers, and two rooms for the night."

"Beers I can do for you, rooms you'll have to head over to the main desk." His hands worked quicker than his mouth, and the beers were poured and in front of them almost before he'd finished speaking. Once Hammer had paid, he seemed to relax a tiny amount, and drawled a question to satisfy his curiosity. "What brings a pair like y'all out to a little town like ours, then? I can tell y'all ain't locals, and I can't imagine you're here for the scenery."

"You're right, we're not. Really we're just passing through on our way southeast, but we thought we'd stop here for at least long enough to grab a beer."

"Well, I'm not likely to complain about that." He stuck out a hand to shake, and Hammer took it reluctantly, though trying not to show his disdain too much. "Name's Jesse."

"I'm Turk," said Citizen Hammer, "and the quiet one is Lucas."

"Good to meet you boys." He released Turk's hand at last, and favoured them both with a smile. "I'm glad you decided to stop in here, it's always nice to see a new face. I should warn you, though, if you don't know where you're headed exactly, it might be best if you stop here for the night. Can get awful dangerous out there for just a couple of men travelling by themselves."

Citizen Hammer gave a cocky grin. "I think we can handle any danger."

"Suit yourselves, I'm sure." Jesse shrugged, then glanced over their shoulder, and nodded to someone there. "Sorry gents, if you'll just excuse me for a minute or two. Gotta see to my other patrons, you understand." And he bustled away.

Turk and Lucas sat there drinking for about half a minute, in complete silence, before Turk's patience ran out. "Listen, any time you want to tell me what the hell we're doing in this middle-of-nowhere town drinking in a crappy bar, you be sure and tell me right away, alright?"

"Finding someone."

"Yeah, okay, I got that much. I kinda thought that since we were on a mission, and we're here, then we're here on the mission. I figured all of that out. I was sort of hoping for a bit more detail about what and or whowe're supposed to be looking for in this stupid backwater."

Lucas grunted, and might have said something, if not for the interruption of two women coming in through the door, already in the midst of loud conversation. "So where did he see it?"

"Up in the hills. You know where the caves start? Not too far away from there, just a little closer to town, he said. He reckons the monster's probably hiding out in one of the caves. That way it can sneak around and hunt, and then go back to its creepy monster lair." The other woman giggled, nerves giving it a shrill edge.

"Ladies!" Jesse's strong, strident voice cut across the bar, making the women fall silent. "We've got a couple of guests in here today. You don't want to go scaring them off with your stories, do you?"

The women glanced over at them, and the chattier one in front grinned at them.

"No, certainly wouldn't want to risk that, not with a handsome pair like these. No wonder you're feeling so protective. Hello boys, how's it going?"

Lucas shrugged, and Turk realised that, as always, he was going to have to do all the talking. "Not bad, I guess. And you?"

"All the better for meeting the two of you. This here's Alice, and I'm Delilah. You know, like in the bible."

"Good to meet you. And what was that I heard you both chatting about?"

"Oh, are you sure you want to know?" Alice rolled her eyes at her friend's theatricality, and Turk suppressed a snigger.

"I think I can handle whatever you're going to tell me."

"Alright, if you think you're tough enough." She pulled up the bar stool next to Turk, and Alice took the next one along. "So here's the story: our little town is home...to a monster." She paused dramatically. "This is the part where you scoff and tell me I'm making it up."

Turk shrugged. "I've heard crazier things and seen them turn out to be true."

"Well, in this case you should definitely tell her she's making it up," Alice chimed in, and Delilah giggled.

"Don't be such a jerk, Alice! Okay, so listen. For about the last couple of years, this place has been haunted. People keep seeing this monster that wanders through town at night. Most people stay out of its way, but we know it's big, and it likes the taste of meat."

"And how do you know all that?"

Alice chimed in: "It's supposed to leave huge footprints, and steal livestock. Goats, pigs, whatever."

"Sounds pretty scary," he said, deadpan.

"I haven't even gotten to the worst part yet." Delilah shot her friend a 'shut up and let me drive' look, and took back control. "See, like I said, most people stay out of its way and don't get too close. But we know not everyone's been fast enough, or smart enough, because sometimes...people disappear."

Alice scoffed.

"What!? They do!"

"They don't, nobody disappears."

"What about Mary Wyatt?"

"She just ran off to California with her girlfriend, everyone knows that."

"Tom Stevens, then."

"He was a drunk, him disappearing was not that big a shock."

"Okay whatever, but you can't say anything about Peter Stein."

Alice frowned, but didn't have a ready comeback for that one, and Delilah turned back to Turk with a satisfied smile. "So you boys had better watch out. If you're not careful out there, you might...disappear."

Her smile was so broad, and the last comment had so much flourish, Turk almost expected her to bow with that last line. "We'll have to look out, then." He stood, cracked his neck, and looked to Lucas. "Is it time, yet?"

Lucas threw back the last of his beer, nodded, and stood.

"Alright, girls, nice to meet you both, but we're headed out."

"Hope we haven't scared you off," said Delilah with a grin. "We'll probably be back here tonight. We might see you then?"

"Yeah, maybe," said Turk, not really meaning it. He walked out, barely even waiting for Lucas.

 

The hills above the town were heavily wooded, mostly trackless, and uneven, and although Hammer had been unhappy and uncomfortable in the bar, this was almost as bad, and so once again he was venting every frustration he could think of.

"I don't know why you didn't try and find exactly where this 'monster' is supposed to be lurking. Are we seriously supposed to just wander around, looking for whatever cave might be hiding it? We're running out of daylight."

The sun was indeed heading for the horizon with a worrying haste, and there hadn't been any sign of anything monstrous lurking in the forest. For all Delilah's talk, it was starting to look as though this particular urban legend would turn out to be nothing more than a story.

Then suddenly, Citizen Hammer stopped in his tracks, as Anvil's arm shot out and blocked his path.

"What? What is it?"

He pointed, and Hammer looked down at what he was indicating - a patch of broken branches, and a couple of footprints that cut deep into the dirt. They looked enormous, about half again the size of Hammer's bootprints, and were a strange, hard-edged shape. Somehow, it still looked as though it had toes, meaning that whatever they were seeing wasn't just enormous shoes, but a truly colossal set of inhuman feet.

"Well, alright then."

The footprints and broken branches stopped after a short distance, but by that point their direction seemed clear, so Hammer and Anvil pushed their way together through the undergrowth, past the tight net of trees and bushes, uphill to the higher, colder parts of the mountain.

After a few more minutes, the trees got less dense, the ground became a lot rockier, and through the clearing they spotted a few caves pockmarking the mountainside. There was one that was much closer and much more directly in their path than the others. The two Citizens shared a quick glance, and Anvil nodded. Hammer grinned back at him, and flexed his fingers for a moment, letting a little fire loose to play around his hands. It felt warm, almost ticklish, and powerful. It felt like stretching his arms after being kept in a tiny cell. It felt good.

They walked more carefully now, more purposefully, as they closed in on the cave. The falling sun was casting long shadows around the rocky landscape, and made the cave mouth look mysterious, dangerous. As they approached, the light from Hammer's hands made the shadows flicker and fade, though it wasn't enough to banish them entirely.

It didn't take long to cross the open area and reach the cave mouth. It was irregular, wide at the bottom and narrowing to just a crack near the top, and the cave inside seemed winding and uneven. Not a place anyone would live if they had much of a choice. Hammer cocked an eyebrow at Anvil, but his companion just nodded again, apparently certain this was the place.

Hammer stepped inside, and his voice echoed deep into the cave. "Hey, whoever's in there. Come out, show us your face. Come on, don't be shy."

For a few seconds there was no response - just the faint echoes of Hammer's own voice. Then a grumbling groan, in a voice that sounded like the cave itself was speaking to them: "Leave me alone."

"Hey buddy, just come out. Come on, it's been a long enough walk, don't make us come and look for you in there. That'd just be way too irritating."

The next grumble sounded angrier, a wordless warning that did nothing to remove Hammer's cocky grin. "Oh, very intimidating. I'm all scared now, look at me, I'm shaking. Seriously, stop messing around and show yourself."

The next rumble almost sounded like the cave was collapsing, and the impression was strengthened when a heap of rocks came rolling their way. Then the rocks kept moving, and the Citizens realised what they were seeing. A footstep ground heavily into the floor, and then another, as the massive stony creature lumbered towards them, with balled fists the size of Hammer's head, and absolute rage in its eyes.

 

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The monster took another step, and another, and Hammer raised a hand. "Easy, big guy. We're not here to fight you-"
"GET OUT." The thing strode towards them, shockingly fast on its enormous, thick legs. It lunged forwards with one fist, and Hammer dived aside. Fire burst easily from his hand, flooding over the creature - and doing almost nothing, the flames washing past and leaving the monster just as angry and just as resolute as they did so.
"I SAID GET OUT! GET! OUT!"
The fist came down, smashing stone into gravel as Hammer desperately scuttled back out of its way. Another was raised, started to descend, and met resistance as a pale, glowing wing intercepted it. The monster turned his glare on Citizen Anvil, who just held up both hands and said "Listen. Please."
For a moment it seemed like the thing would keep attacking, and Hammer rolled to his feet, new flame already growing in both hands. But then the thing took a deep breath, looked from one of them to the other and back, and said: "Fine. Listen to what?"
When it wasn't shouting, its voice sounded only deep and resonant - practically human, if a little rougher than most. Citizen Hammer stepped forwards, let go of his flame, and grinned widely. "We want you to come with us."
Its glare flashed once again. "Why."
"Well I mean let's be honest here, you're not exactly a beloved member of the community here, are you? If you go down to the bar - not that you'd get in, I guess, but you know, if you did - you'd hear the stuff they're saying about you. Blaming you for all sorts of thefts, people disappearing, it's a mess. So hey. Cut your losses, come with us. We'll take you somewhere much better."
"You don't know what you're talking about." The thing was sneering, which looked a lot more intimidating on that large stony face than it did on most people. "Sorry, gents, I'm not convinced. Now get out of here, understand?"
"Well, if I don't know what I'm talking about," said Hammer, ignoring instructions as he usually did when they came from someone other than Dawn herself, "then why not tell me? What's a fellow like you doing hanging around a backwater like this?"
"This place, this backwater, this nothing little town is my home."
The two Citizens shared a glance, and as always, it fell to Hammer to put a voice to the obvious. "You don't really look like most of the other people round here, you know."
Red eyes glowed out from the stony creature's face. "Oh really, Sherlock? Is that so? Look, I didn't always look like this. Once upon a time, a couple of years ago now, I was just an ordinary farmer called Peter Stein. I was married, had a pretty nice life I guess. But I liked to go caving sometimes. Nothing crazy, I didn't have special gear or whatever, it was basically just a bit of hiking. But then one day I went deeper than I did usually, and I found a weird little...glowing pool of something. I thought it was just a pool of water, but then when I touched it, I started to change into," he gestured at himself "this. This thing."
"That's a touching story, Pete. Look, everyone we know has a story for how they changed, how they got their powers. If you come with us-"
"I'm not coming with you!" Stony voice echoed off stone walls. "This is where I'm from, this is where my people are. I wouldn't trade that for anything, okay? I'm not leaving, and I think I've made it clear that you can't make me."
"Your people? What people?" Hammer laughed. "What, do they come visiting? Do they leave you little care packages outside your cave door? Because from what I'm seeing, it looks like your people don't want you around. You're their monster, not their friend. You want to stay and enjoy that? Fine. Have fun. Come on, Anvil, let's leave this guy to his misery."
Hammer turned and stalked away, and after giving Mr. Stein a long, thoughtful look, Anvil followed.
 
The walk to town was long and slow, on foot, and the terrain was difficult, with rises and falls, trees, and boulders. Fortunately, all of that bothered Peter a lot less than it used to. The branches battered against his chest, and he barely even noticed them. Sharp stones broke under the weight of his feet. Even the distance didn't tire him much, and he made it down to the edge of town just as night was starting to fall.
He wasn't totally sure that he knew what he was doing, or why. It was just that little man, the one with the burning hands. It was the things he'd said in his nasty little voice. You're their monster, not their friend. That was just stupid, ignorant, wrong. He wasn't really a monster, even despite the way his body had been warped. He was still the same person he'd been before. He just needed to see someone from his life, someone who would remind him of the person he used to be.
The Stein family home wasn't a big place. It hadn't needed to be, not yet. He and Liza had talked about kids in an abstract way, but it had never gone any further than that, and now he guessed it probably never would. So the house was just a little one like a lot of others in the area - decently far from the neighbours, and with a pretty substantial plot of land out the back where their animals could graze. Not a bad place to have your life, if he said it himself. A couple could be pretty happy here, that was for sure.
And they had been happy. 
He was staring at the house, lost in thought, and when he realised that, he shook himself. He had to focus. Had to remember why he'd come here.
He crept closer and tried to get a view in through the kitchen window, figuring that Liza might be in the middle of dinner. But he couldn't see if she was there, and there wasn't enough light. He went closer, closer, telling himself he just needed to get a look at her. That was all, just a look.
There was the sound of a door opening, and a gasp.
He swung around like he'd been shot, to see the back door open - and there she was, his Liza, staring him right in the face. She looked frightened, horrified. He felt like his heart was pounding - was that possible? Did he even still have a heart? He raised a hand, placating, and Liza flinched away.
"Don't come any closer! I'm warning you, my - my husband will be home any second!"
"Liza?"
She backed away again, nearly fell. "What? How do you know my name?"
"Liza, it's me." He cleared his throat, a grumbling little sound. "It's Pete."
The colour went out of her face, drained completely. She almost looked like she'd faint, but her hand grabbed the wall and propped her up. "No. No you're not."
"I am. Liza, I promise, it's me. I've come home."
"No, you're not him. You're not my husband." She took another backwards step, and he stepped forwards again to keep close, a completely instinctive move that seemed to drive her panic even higher. 
"Darling, just let me-"
"You're not Pete. You're just the thing that killed him." Her hand came up, and he hadn't noticed it digging in the side-table, but he noticed it now as it raised holding a gun. He tried to dodge out of the way, but he was slow now, so slow, and he watched the gun come around and fire - once, and again, flashing and flashing until every chamber was empty, and each muzzle flash stung his chest or his shoulders or his face. One of his hands clapped to his chest, still half-expecting to find lethal amounts of blood pouring out. But there was nothing - it didn't seem to have even left a mark. Liza was still staring at him, horror and terror making her shake in place.
In shock, in fear, and in pain, Peter turned and ran.
 
"Well, I hope you're willing to admit this was a complete waste of our time," said Turk over the neck of his beer, and drank half of it down in a single slug. Lucas just grunted.
"No, really. We came here, found the guy, and he wants to stick around and eat stolen goats forever. Wow, what an exciting person, I'm sure glad we took the time to meet him. This was definitely an important mission that nobody else in the world could have handled." He thumped his head back against the back of their booth, and groaned. "I have never been this bored in my entire life, ever."
The evening crowd in the bar was certainly a little larger than the mid-afternoon crowd - there might even have been as many as thirty people in here now. As people bustled around for their drinks, a couple of them noticed the two men, waved, and started to wander over. Turk smiled at them as they walked. "Oh you'll like this, Lucas, here come our friends from earlier."
Delilah and Alice made it to the table, and Delilah grinned at them. "Mind if we join you?" He did, but he wasn't going to say so just now. He just gestured at the free seats, and the ladies took them casually. "Good to see you made it back. How did your thing go? You sort of disappeared on us there."
"Yeah. Well, it didn't really work out, to be honest."
"That's a shame. What were you doing, if you don't mind a lady prying?"
"Just meeting someone. But it turns out he didn't really want to be met, isn't that right Lucas?" Lucas gave him a look, and grumbled under his breath.
"Is that right? Well, no accounting for taste. I'm sure if you boys came looking for me, I'd want to give you all the time you needed. In fact I guarantee I would." She fluttered her eyelashes artlessly, and Hammer couldn't help grinning. Whatever his other frustrations, it was always nice to be fawned over.
Suddenly the door of the bar thumped open, and there was a shrieking voice coming through the noise and musing - not enough to be understandable, but enough that they could hear the panic that drenched it. Alice responded first, and Delilah was a fraction of a second behind, as they both got up from the table and hurried over towards the noise. The men followed with interest, to see what was causing this chaos, and as they got closer, words became understandable.
The woman making all the noise was only just inside the door, and Jesse the bartender was doing his best to calm her down.
"Now Eliza, really, what's got you in such a mess?"
"It was the monster!" Lucas and Turk shared a glance, subtly. "The monster was at my house!"
"Are you sure that's what you saw?" Jesse didn't sound remotely convinced, and might have said so if Delilah hadn't interrupted him.
"Come on, Jesse, let her talk for once. What happened, Liza?"
"It came to my house, it talked to me! It tried to tell me it was Pete, but it was this huge, ugly, rocky thing with these horrible, glowing eyes! I warned it off, and tried to shoot it, but the bullets just bounced off the thing! I swear, it's true!"
There had been a murmur all through her speech, and now it swelled into a full-on commotion, with people bickering on every side, asking their friends whether it could be true, contradicting each other, and fighting about what it meant if the monster really was immune to bullets.
Then one voice cut through the din, silencing it in just a couple of words: "People! Please!" Jesse stood there in the middle of the crowd, looking frustrated and serious. "Okay, Eliza. You're really sure what you saw?"
"It was real as you are."
"Alright. Well then, let's take care of this once and for all. Did you see which way it went?" She looked a tiny bit uncertain, but still nodded. "Okay, then you'll lead us. Everyone, grab your guns, grab a torch, get everything you need - we'll meet back here in ten, and then? We go hunting. If there's a monster plaguing our town, then we ought to get out there and deal with it ourselves!"
The crowd rumbled agreement, and headed for the door.
Turk looked back at Lucas again, and muttered: "Okay, so this trip might not be totally pointless after all. Grab your things."
 
There was a flash of light, and Citizen Anvil and Citizen Hammer appeared from nowhere, armed and armoured and ready for a fight. The rocky terrain was sharp and intimidating, and only the light from Hammer's flames fought against the enveloping darkness.
Their sudden appearance came as a complete shock to the stone man, who stumbled back into his cave, recovered, and growled at the intruders. "Yeah? What do you want?"
"Hey Pete, how are you doing? You feeling good?"
Recognition flashed through glowering red eyes, and his expression darkened. "You again. Get lost, I told you already I'm not interested."
"Yeah, you did, and we heard you. We just figured you might have changed your mind a little, given the situation."
"What?" Lights of distant torches came flickering through the trees, and there was the distant sound of angry voices being raised in hate and fear. "What did you do?"
Hammer smiled and shrugged loosely. "Oh, we didn't do a single thing. This is all you, buddy Pete. You went down there again, you scared somebody, and now she's rounded up her friends and she's coming to get you."
Peter shook his head in stunned disbelief. "No. No, you're lying. Maybe she was a little startled, but my Liza would never do something like that to me. You have to be lying."
"Hey, you don't have to take my word for it. You can stick around here and find out. I'm sure they won't do anything too nasty to you, right? People around here are always nice to monsters."
There was a look of what might have been fear as Pete's gaze flicked back and forth between the Citizens and the growing lights in the trees. Then that look suddenly went away, and in its place was resolution.
"I will. You're trying to scare me, trying to manipulate me into coming with you and joining your little whatever, your little cult. Well it won't work. These are good people, solid country people. I'm gonna talk with them, and they're gonna listen to me like they never would with you outsiders. Now get out of here before I make you get."
At that, Anvil hefted his shield, but Hammer shook his head just a tiny bit, and laughed. "Alright, buddy, good luck with that. Hope it doesn't all go wrong for you!" He reached out a hand for his friend, and together, the two Citizens vanished.
Peter blinked slowly, the teleportation almost as shocking the second time as it had been the first. Then he rubbed a hand over his brow and turned towards the approaching lights.
It wasn't long before those lights broke through the treeline, resolving into the beams of about a dozen electric torches. They flicked widely over the landscape, some picking out various caves in the area, and the murmurs from the crowd bearing them got less and less certain as they came closer. He thought about trying to vanish into the cave, and perhaps they wouldn't find him, but he shook his head and dismissed the idea. Better to have the confrontation and be done with it. Hopefully he could talk them all down.
A beam of light played across him, passed - and then flicked back. There was a shout, a noise of recognition and fear. "There it is! Over there!"
The other beams came together and focused on him, and more screams echoed over the mountain. "Oh my god, it's horrible!" "Get it, kill it!" "Kill the monster!"
He opened his mouth to try and defend himself, but suddenly there were a couple of men in front of him - farmhands, not people he really knew well - and they had sledgehammers in their hands. One of the men swung right at his chest, and he caught it and wrenched the thing right out of his hands, threw it aside. "Stop! Listen to me!"
The other sledge hid him in the shoulder, and it sent pain shooting through him. He staggered back, and a raucous cheer went up from the crowd. He found himself trying to dodge back out of the way of the attacks, but they were too fast or he was too clumsy, and each one hurt more than the last. The second man had regained his hammer, and joined in the attack again. Peter fell to a knee, and raised a hand, before a sledgehammer blow smacked it aside and let the other cannon straight into his head.
Light flashed behind his eyes, and he found his head was lying back against the rock wall. He tried to move again, but that only meant yet another hammer blow came down and smashed him back onto the stone. He opened his mouth again, and what came out sounded feeble, whimpering compared to the strength he'd had before. "Please...please, listen..."
Another hammer smash.
"Please, stop..."
Another.
"I...I just..."
Another.
He could barely even stay conscious now, and he knew, better than he'd ever known anything in his life, that if he lost consciousness, he'd never regain it. They'd smash him apart, and go home to congratulate themselves on beating the terrible monster.
He searched inside himself, gathered his last, pitiful reserves of strength - and shouted as loud as he could. "Help me! Please, help!"
There was a sudden flash, and for a moment he thought they'd hit his head again, but then the sounds of screaming reached his ears, and he realised it wasn't just him who was seeing it. The smell was the next thing he noticed, a sulfur-and-charcoal mix that wafted past as light flickered around, picking out the terrified faces of the townspeople. The men standing over him were looking around in terror, forgetting him for the moment, and so he tried to push himself upright. The first attempt failed, and he slumped back. Once again he pushed against the ground, and this time he got one foot under him, then the other. He'd never felt so heavy in his life, but finally he was up again, mobile. The men hadn't noticed him, too distracted by their fear and the flames that were suddenly swelling around their crowd. He focused, reached out, and grabbed the hammers from both of them. They were barely attentive enough to resist, and even as dazed as he was, he found he was much too strong for them. Too strong by far. He gripped a hammer in each massive hand, and as they backed away, he squeezed, harder and harder until the shafts splintered in his grip.
The two men turned and fled, dashing through a gap in the enveloping flames. He gave a satisfied little smile at their backs. They wanted a monster? Fine, he'd show them he was too much of a monster for them to handle.
Another burst of flame created a wall through the mob, cutting them off from each other, and through the gap, he saw her. Liza. His wife.
He strode towards her, and she tried to back away, but the wall of flame was too hot to approach, so instead she shrank down and tried to make herself as small and unthreatening as she could. Like a mouse in front of a snake. For whatever reason, seeing her like that, so timid and fearful after she'd caused all of this chaos, it just made him incredibly sad. Sad for her, sad for himself.
"Hello, Liza."
"Get away from me!" She was looking around in panic, but there was no way to escape except through him.
"Why did you bring all these people here? What were you trying to do?"
"You came to my house, I thought you were going to kill me!"
"I'd never hurt you." His chest was hurting, and not just from the beating he'd taken. "Liza, please. Look at me. You know me."
She looked up into his eyes, and her own were wide, reflecting the flames that blazed around them. "I...no, I..."
"Look deeper. It's me, Peter. Your husband."
She stared at him for a few seconds, each of which felt like an eternity. He thought he saw something change there...then her eyes suddenly hardened.
"No. No, my husband was a perfect, gorgeous man. You're just a monster."
"Liza, you know me! I know I look different now, but that doesn't change who I am!"
She was getting stronger, pulling herself straighter. "Even if you were him, once, that doesn't change what you are. You're a monster. I could never love something like you."
The hard edge of her words made him flinch away, and as the flame burst started to die away, she turned and ran. He didn't even have the strength to go after her.
All around were screams, fading into the night, and the light from the torches was diffuse, chaotic and disorganised in retreat. The ground crunched with two sets of footsteps, and Peter turned, to see Citizen Hammer and Citizen Anvil approaching him. Hammer had an enormous grin, while Anvil just looked as serious as he always seemed to.
"So, how did it go?"
"Shut up. I'm not in the mood for any more of your bullshit banter."
"Whatever." Hammer just shrugged. "So, you decided you needed our help. Does that mean you want to come with us and join the Citizens of the Sun? Because I warn you, if you stay here, we won't be around to help you out the next time this happens."
Pete glowered, but what else could he say? "Yeah, alright. I'll come with you. I'll join."
Moments later there was another flash, and the mountainside was empty once more.
 
The throne room was simple, almost austere - carved from the bare stone of the mountain, with large windows open onto the wild of the island. Three figures walked towards the throne - two in uniform, leading a third who wore nothing but a stony skin.
The first two reached the base of the throne's dais, and knelt. "My liege. We present the latest supplicant who wishes to join the Citizens of the Sun. He is an outcast, thrown out from human society because of his powers. He would be a perfect addition to our cause."
The figure on the throne looked down at her new subject, and gave a smile that didn't reach her glowing eyes.
"Welcome, Citizen."