Soft twilight surrounded them. Crickets were just warming up for the evening concert from the planter boxes stationed at sedate intervals along the walkway.
"What did you think of the movie?" he asked her. A glance at her long legs was enough to make Ghost grateful for the weather; hot enough for shorts, cool enough not to break a sweat. They'd hit a late afternoon showing and were out in time for dinner.
"Superhero takes on evil, world shattering monster? What's not to like?" she teased.
"Okay, but there were romantic parts too."
One perfectly shaped eyebrow rose. "So, because I'm a girl, there needs to be romance in a movie for me to like it?"
Foot-traffic was light, and Ghost was glad they'd chosen a weeknight for their date, and that their parents had agreed so long as they didn't stay out past ten. "Well, I figured it couldn't hurt," he said, and enjoyed her laughter. "Plus, it was a female superhero. I thought you'd like that."
She rolled her eyes. "Well, you weren't wrong there either. What are we going to do next?"
A boy walked up the nearly empty sidewalk toward them, head down, hood up. Under the deep shadow of the hood there was something strange about the boy's face.
As they passed each other, the guy leaned into Candace, bumping her arm with his. "Watch it," he grumbled.
"You watch it," Candace said. Ghost moved to her other side, placing himself between the stranger and Candace as a muttered comment dirtied the air between them.
Ghost stiffened. "What did you say?"
"Ghost, don't," Candace said, and tightened her grip on his hand.
The other boy spun on his heel, throwing back his hood. His face was covered with a twisted mask, revealing only the wicked glow of his eyes. "I said, you shouldn't contaminate yourself hanging out with trash."
"This ain't Halloween," Ghost said. Candace flushed dull red and let go of Ghost's hand as he stepped toward the boy. "You gonna want to take off that mask, and apologize to this lady," he said, clenching his fists.
"I don't even know you," Candace said. "What are you calling me names for?"
The boy came to a stop in front of the fountain. "She ain't like us," he said. “You got no business with her.”
"You don't know her, and she don't want to know you," Ghost said. "Apologize."
"I don't apologize to animals," he said. The boy stood an inch or two shy of Ghost's own six foot eight inches. His hair was wet, camouflaging its color, and slicked close to his skull.
Ghost saw the edges of the mask along the boy's hairline. But it wasn't like any mask he'd ever seen before. Colorless, but constantly changing, the surface swirling and twisting like eddies in a swift stream. There was something familiar about the way the guy moved, but the kid didn't give him time to think it through.
Ghost brought his arm up to block his opponent's first punch and returned the attack, his fist connecting solidly.
The boy staggered back, blood-red swirling out from the center of the mask. Catching himself, he charged in, fists flying. Ghost tensed, and felt the familiar cushion of air surround his body. The boy's next blow slammed into the air wall shielding Ghost's jaw, and slid off. Ghost felt a slight pressure, but the air absorbed the boy's power and shunted it aside. He shot another punch toward Ghost's mid-section, and it slid off just like the first.
The kid's eyes widened, tracking his own fist as it slid sideways, then switched to Ghost's fist as it hurtled toward his face. He ducked and spun, allowing Ghost's blow to pass over his head. Stepping back, he straightened and lifted his hands, palms up.
Determined to put his enemy on the ground, Ghost advanced. The guy threw a shadow punch and a fist of water shot toward Ghost. Shocked, Ghost adjusted his airshield with a flick of his fingers and the hydraulic attack slid off, slamming into a stone planter. Dirt and plants exploded outward and the few bystanders scattered with cries of alarm.
Another water-fist careened toward Ghost, skimming within millimeters of his jaw before veering off, snapping a small tree in half. Somewhere in the back of Ghost's mind the realization broke cold and startling. He's a hybrid, a water talent.
One step, two, Ghost moved in on his attacker, and then froze. All the water his assailant had already used, muddied now from the destruction of the planters, streamed over the walkway, back into the fountain's basin. Merging into a wall of water, it surged up, edges sharp as ice, angling to a point that glistened with angry intent.
"How long can you hold your breath?" the enemy asked. The water spear thrust down, not at Ghost, but at Candace, standing a few feet away.
"No!" Ghost yelled. He threw himself over her, bearing her to the ground while constructing an air bubble around them. The water crashed over them, sealing off the air supply. If it lasted longer than a few minutes, there wouldn't be enough oxygen to breathe and maintain the shield at the same time.
Water pummeled the air bubble, thundering into its surface, prying at the edges. Candace looked into his eyes, hers pleading, his furious. Pulling his feet under him, he stood, thrusting the shield up, pushing the water back, hauling more air into his grasp from the water curtain's ragged edge.
The water monster jerked and pried at the shelter, but Ghost smoothed the surface, gave it nothing to hang on to. He flattened the bubble and then curved it into a scoop, catching and redirecting the liquid. Narrowing the cup and lowering the bottom edge, he used the thrust of the oncoming water to double it back on itself, returning it to the fountain at twice its original force.
He could see his enemy standing in front of the fountain, laughing. The boy held his palms together in a mockery of prayer and the water split, passing harmlessly around him, and flowing back into the attack in an endless circuit between Ghost and the fountain.
"Now I know you, Bernard Thompson," the boy said.
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