Nothing happened. Anthony sighed, and remembered that his parents still hadn't gotten around to hooking up the basement lights to the home system. And of course, whoever built the house had put the physical switch on the opposite side of the room. Fortunately, his dad was a stickler for keeping the floor down here clean, and Anthony liked the "challenge" of crossing the pitch black room by memory.
He still went slowly, just in case something had somehow fallen, but the room was the same as ever. His footsteps had the usual odd muted echo on the concrete as he made his way to the opposite side. The switch was in the same place, but as Anthony reached for it, he felt a static shock building in his fingertips. Before he could pull his hand away, it was covered in a strange reddish-black glow, that seemed to come as much from within his arm as from the switch.
It didn't hurt the way a static shock should, and actually felt… almost good. But before Anthony could wonder about that, there was a rumble. As the switch clicked on, the basement light came on… and part of the back wall slid to the side, revealing a dark hallway.
Anthony's eyes were wide as his heart and mind raced. There was only one thing this could mean: his parents were superheroes! Exalted! This explained so many of the things Anthony had wondered about, the minor coincidences that were just minor enough to be explained away by "work" or "social visits," but that had worked their way into his mind. He wondered who they could be: [name and name]? [Two others]? It didn't really matter; what mattered was that he knew, and couldn't wait to talk to them about it.
As Anthony entered the hallway, pale red globes of floating light lit up, revealing that it wasn't so much a hallway as a short junction made by shelves that lined the walls of a large circular room. The red light barely lit the sides of the room, and Anthony could make out various unknown items, undoubtedly the gadgets his parents used in the crime-fighting heroics. It looked like three other doorways opened from the room, and there was a circular set of stone stairs in the middle. As he walked closer to the raised dais at the center of the room, his arm crossed over an invisible field. Instinctively, Anthony called upon it to raise.
A circular column came out of the floor as Anthony's body glowed with a red light that echoed the globes of the room, and he felt his body echoing the power of the invisible forces pulling the shelf up. Anthony suddenly felt a deeper understanding of the nature of the world… magic! Somehow, he had inherited magic powers. He immediately tried to fly, but disappointingly, nothing happened. We'll work on that, he thought.
The column was actually a shelf of some sort, and floating above it, held by red mystical energy, was a staff. Anthony couldn't immediately think of any Exalted who used a staff, but then again, the vast amount of items in here meant that his parents had a huge variety of tools to choose from. As he walked closer to the center, he passed his arms over more invisible shelves, commanding them to rise. Some held items the same way the staff had been held, just floating in energy; others contained more protective stone that Anthony was able to slide away, revealing the items floating within. Amulets, trinkets, other miscellaneous magical and mundane artefacts, and even what looked like a ray gun were held above the columns, floating in the red energy.
Finally, only a dozen feet from the edge of the center steps, an object caught Anthony's eye. It was a small replica of a golden shield, something that could surely only be used by a hero. Even though he had only been able to command the shelves, he tried pulling the shield towards him. A thin line of red and black energy went out from his hand, touching the shield, and pulled it towards him. As he grasped it, he immediately felt an aura of protection surround him. Something tugged at his mind, and he commanded the shield to grow.
It did so, becoming a full four-foot tall gleaming piece of golden metal, a full-sized shield. Anthony nodded in approval, and buckled it on. He ignored the final shelves, finally ready to see what was on the central dais. The stone steps looked ancient, carved with runes that Anthony thought he should be able to understand. Faded brown paint lined the runes, and something touched the back of Anthony's mind. He assumed that he'd understand what it all meant when he became more powerful, and couldn't wait for his parents to mentor him in his newfound magic powers.
Finally, at the center, Anthony paused. The shelf would come from above, this time, and Anthony could somehow sense that it was one of the most important and powerful artefacts in the room. Should he really call it down? What if there was a reason his parents hid this from him?
No, it was too late now. Besides, he had to know which superheroes his parents were, or even if it was both of them. As Anthony had used his powers walking through the room, he had begun to realize that the entire place was imbued with mystical power, but it was only one type of power. It was possible that they both took on whatever heroic identity Anthony had discovered, but he strongly suspected that it was only one of them. Something else to ask about, when he revealed his powers to them.
Well, here we go. Anthony called the shelf down from the ceiling, a thick rock column that descended to easy grabbing distance. The item within was guarded by stone, and once again Anthony commanded it to be pushed aside. He could feel the stone's confusion, almost as if it recognized him, but felt that something was wrong; he assumed that whatever protective wards were around this shelf or in the room, they were keyed to his parent's specific type of magic… the type that he had inherited. However it worked, it recognized him as the owner of the object inside.
NO. Oh no. No no nononono. It couldn't be! Anthony's giddy anticipation turned to horror as the object was revealed and he sprinted back the way he had come, the red glow and powerful items rushing by. Breathing hard, he leaned against the basement wall. But it was all real: the golden shield on his arm, the hidden doorway he had discovered, the red lights and magic shelves, and at the center of the room, as he peered around the doorway… the Black Mask.
Not just any black mask. THE Black Mask. The symbol of terror that one of the most powerful villains wore while he terrorized the world, bent on campaigns of horror and conquest. There was no way his father was a… supervillain. Or was he? Anthony tried to recall what he knew of The Black Mask: an evil sorcerer who used red-and-black magic (check), had loads of artefacts (check), and… apparently became a beloved attorney working for free for poor people? How could that be a check?
There was no way that it could be true. But what if it was? Or what if… what if his father was possessed by the Mask? But then why would he ever put it on? And if he really was The Black Mask, why would he pretend to be a lawyer? Does mom know?
Anthony's thoughts were interrupted by the distant chime of the home system. He instinctively tried to grab his phone from his pocket to see what time it was, but only succeeded in bashing his leg with the golden shield. But he didn't need to see the time to know that his father was coming home.
Shrink! Anthony jammed the now-miniature shield into his pocket, and raced back to the center of the secret room. Rise! The hated visage of one of the world's greatest villains disappeared into its protective shelf and returned to the ceiling. Anthony ran back to the basement, commanding the rest of the shelves to return to their hidden spots. Finally, he got back to the basement, and put his hand back to the light switch. Once again, a reddish-black glow surrounded his arm, and the hidden door slid shut.
And just in time, as his dad was walking to the top of the steps. "Whatcha doin' down there, kiddo?"
What had he been looking for in the first place? He could barely remember… Oh right, tape!
"Tape!" Anthony willed his voice to a calmer level. "Uh, tape. Just… getting some tape. For… a school project. The thing upstairs is out. Out of tape. Dispenser! The dispenser is out of tape." This is a disaster. "You know, you really need to get this light on the home system, it's a pain in the ass to get to the switch down here!"
"Hey, language," his dad chuckled. "It's just one of those things. I'm sure I'll get around to it someday. Just keep reminding me. And put tape on the list." Anthony Miller Sr. peered down the stairs. "You okay, kiddo? You sound a little… off."
"Oh, yeah, no, I'm fine, just… thought I saw something on the stairs before I turned the light on. Freaked me out a little. Everything's fine!"
There was a pause. Even if his dad was a supervillain, he wouldn't kill his own son, right? "Okay, well come on up and once I'm done getting out of this suit we can talk about your day." His dad left the top of the stairs.
Anthony breathed out what he thought must be the biggest sigh of relief of his life. He didn't fully understand what was going on, but he knew that he had to get to the bottom of it. Whether his dad was or wasn't The Black Mask didn't matter; he would be his own superhero, and make sure his dad stopped being possessed, or turned him back to the good person Anthony had known his whole life. But what if his dad really was The Black Mask? Anthony shook his head. He'd deal with that if it happened. In the meantime, he had some powers to learn how to use…