As the town car pulled up to the rectory apartments of the St. Hoston Cathedral, Silver Staff couldn't help but smile and give a silent thanks to the Lord. Silver Staff was on cloud nine as the town car parked at the curb. After years of training and fighting injustice, he had finally become a state-sponsored hero and had been tasked with protecting the city of Port Honorius. He'd recently married the love of his life, Charlotte, and he was excited to start their lives together. The Church had given them an entire suite in the rectory to call their own. Silver Staff had spent so long training under an established hero and then fighting alongside others. Now was his chance to come into his own and make a name for himself as a defender of the Church's laws.
Port Honorius was a small city that had never had its own hero. Despite its size, the city had a very high crime rate thanks to several rival gangs that had carved territories for themselves throughout the various neighborhoods. The city's harbor had become a hub for smugglers who fed weapons and drugs to the gangs. To Silver Staff, Port Honorius was a place where he could truly make a difference. He was proud that he'd be able to call the city home.
To Charlotte, Port Honorius was a place where she was already wondering if she could truly be happy. She was not looking forward to calling the city home. Port Honorius’ high crime rate was made up almost exclusively of violent crimes. The city also had a high poverty rate, which was one of the main factors that led to the establishment of the gangs. Affiliation with a gang offered protection and benefits not available to most of the city's population. Sure, the Church did its best, but Charlotte wondered if there wasn't more that could be done. Was assigning a single hero, one without superpowers no less, really the best way to clean up the city?
Charlotte had known Silver Staff for years. Right before their relationship had gotten serious, Silver Staff had confessed that he was a hero. Charlotte respected his honesty and admired his openness. Theses were just a few of the many good qualities that had made her fall in love with him. Although she was used to calling him Tony, his secret identity, she had quickly adjusted to calling him by his hero name codename. This was the custom for heroes in the United Catholicity of America. They were baptized into the Church under their hero codename and then only used their original name as a cover when necessary.
When he’d first confessed that he was a hero, Charlotte accepted Silver Staff as he was, even if that meant he would go out every night and risk his life in the name of the Church. At first the love she felt for him had been enough to stem any concerns she had about his safety. Unfortunately, she feared things would be different for him in Port Honorius. Before, he'd always had other heroes to back him up and fight alongside him. Here, he would be on his own. She wanted to support him, but the thought of living in Port Honorius was a hindrance to any positivity she might have felt.
The city was crowded and dirty. Even here in front of the Cathedral, trash lined the gutters. Glancing across the street she noticed that the sidewalk on the other side was cracked, and the buildings were run down. On the way to the Cathedral she'd noticed many businesses that were closed, with their windows boarded up. Charlotte knew Silver Staff had a long battle ahead of him if he was going to help reform the city and she knew that finding happiness here might prove to be an even longer battle for her.
Several days later they were all moved in and almost completely unpacked. Silver Staff loved their new apartment. They were on the top floor of the building and had a great view of the Cathedral. He loved waking up in the morning and admiring the Cathedral's architecture. It made him feel closer to the Lord. The apartment had a secret elevator that traveled to the basement, where Silver Staff would set up his headquarters. The basement opened out to a series of access tunnels through which he could venture into the city without giving away his location or Charlotte's identity. The last thing he wanted to do was put her at risk. Plus, he'd always wanted his own headquarters.
Silver Staff was a second-generation hero who had trained under Guy of Gizbourne. In those days Silver Staff had gone by the codename Kid Quarterstaff. He was one of several youths Guy of Gizbourne had taken under his wing and trained to be heroes. Together they formed the crime fighting group, the Merry Crusaders. Out of all his former teammates, Silver Staff was the youngest. Miller's Son and Will Stoutly had already gone on to become state-sponsored heroes and been assigned their own cities by the Church. Alain-a-Gale had become a member of the Vindices Catholicus of the United Americas, the highest ranking and most formidable of the Church's heroes.
When he started out as a junior hero, Silver Staff and the Merry Crusaders had operated out of Guy of Gizbourne's secret headquarters. Then the Merry Crusaders all lived in a large mobile response unit as they traveled throughout the midwestern United Catholicity of America, using intel fed to them by Guy of Gizbourne to solve cases and shut down crime rings. Now, Silver Staff finally had a headquarters of his own. More than that however, he also had a place where he and Charlotte could start a family. He dreamed of the day where he could train his children to be heroes and they could carry on his legacy as a hero.
A few weeks passed and Charlotte reached a decision. She hated living in Port Honorius. She was from a small suburb of the city of SaLou, and couldn't get used to life in the big city. Port Honorius was smaller than SaLou, but it had a denser population. Charlotte had spent quite a bit of time in SaLou, attending college and working there, but every night she'd return to her quiet suburb. She couldn't get used to the constant noise and activity of Port Honorius. The Cathedral was located on a quaint street, but the neighborhood bordered two major roads and was near a highway. The sounds of traffic and people shouting nearby entered Silver Staff and Charlotte's apartment at all hours of the day and night. Since moving to Port Honorius, Charlotte had been having trouble sleeping.
The noise wasn't the only reason for her insomnia. She was constantly worried over Silver Staff's safety. Before they'd moved to Port Honorius, Silver Staff would stay home a few nights a week. When he'd return from longer missions with the Merry Crusaders, Silver Staff always made sure to spend an extended period of time off-duty afterward. One thing that made their relationship so strong was that Silver Staff prioritized setting time aside to be with Charlotte. Together they found a balance between their relationship and Silver Staff's hero activities. The details of his life as a hero were something they shared nightly, the same way she talked about her own job. When they were together, they always did their best to put the focus on their relationship. When Silver Staff was home, he and Charlotte just enjoyed being together.
Since moving to Port Honorius, that had all changed. Silver Staff went out on patrol six nights a week and he and Charlotte went to a private evening mass on Sundays. During the day, he mostly slept and nursed any minor wounds he'd received during his patrols. Charlotte tried to fall asleep with him, wanting desperately to be comforted by his presence, but between the noise from the city and her negative feelings, she often just lay next to him wide awake. When she did sleep, it was fitful, and her dreams were dark and troubled.
Charlotte had also asked Silver Staff to stop sharing details of his patrols with her after only a couple of weeks. Hearing about what he faced every night added to her anxiety in a way it hadn't before. It was a reminder of all the negative feelings she'd developed since they moved to Port Honorius. In an effort to alleviate Charlotte's anxieties, Silver Staff had completely separated their relationship from his hero activities.
This separation of his identities had helped Charlotte for a while, but now it had become another stressor. It seemed to Charlotte that Silver Staff no longer knew how to act around her and the distance grew between them as a result. Silver Staff went out on longer patrols and even slept in his basement headquarters some days, not even bothering to come upstairs. Before moving to Port Honorius, they’d talked about starting a family. Now, the idea of raising children in the city was repugnant to Charlotte and Silver Staff was too focused on his mission to think much about leaving behind a legacy. Charlotte did her best to cope, but their strained relationship and her anxieties over living in Port Honorius were driving her deeper into depression.
Six months after moving to Port Honorius, Silver Staff was obsessively focused on his fight against crime and corruption. He hardly saw Charlotte anymore, and did his best to avoid their apartment. Even when they were together, Charlotte said very little to him. As a result, Silver Staff had thrown himself into protecting the city, and it had paid off. He'd put a dent in the operations of three of the five major gangs in Port Honorius and seized over a dozen shipments of illegal firearms and drugs before they'd been unloaded from the harbor.
Silver Staff had even apprehended Captain Conrad, one of the most wanted criminals in all of the United Catholicity of America. Captain Conrad, an expert marksman and experienced smuggler, had been hired by the Port Honorius branch of the Crime Disciples gang, to protect their shipments. Silver Staff managed to surprise Captain Conrad by dropping down on him from above.
The Church had given Silver Staff a vehicle known as a terrafoil. The lightweight motorcycle was equipped with turbines that generated an air current strong enough to lift the vehicle into the air. Then, by extending glider wings and adjusting the angle of the turbines, Silver Staff was able to pilot the vehicle through the air. The terrafoil made it possible for Silver Staff to travel across the entire city in a matter of minutes.
On the night he'd apprehended Captain Conrad, Silver Staff had been scanning the port through high-powered binoculars. After spotting Captain Conrad on an incoming ship, Silver Staff had piloted the terrafoil far out over the bay and then turned around and pursued Captain Conrad's ship. Silver Staff then leapt off the terrafoil in mid-air and parachuted onto Captain Conrad's ship. Not expecting an attack from the air, Captain Conrad had been caught off guard and Silver Staff had easily defeated him and captured his crew.
The victory came at the cost of his terrafoil, which had crashed into the bay, but the Church had gladly purchased him a new one. Between the high-profile arrest of Captain Conrad and the noticeable drop in crime rates, the Church praised the improvements Silver Staff was making throughout the city. The Church had even thrown a banquet in his honor. Silver Staff had tried to convince Charlotte to put on a Halo, an electronic device that projected a hologram to mask the wearer's identity, and accompany him to the banquet, but she refused. So, he went alone, determined to celebrate his success. Even though it hurt him to know Charlotte was struggling, Silver Staff had never been happier in his life. He looked forward to a long and fulfilling career as the protector of Port Honorius.
Unfortunately for Silver Staff, the attention he was getting for his heroic efforts wasn't all positive. The major gangs of Port Honorius weren't pleased that he was impeding their operations. Profits were down, supply lines disrupted, and key members incarcerated. Four of the city's major gangs were gearing up for war, offering a large reward to whomever from their organization took out Silver Staff. The fifth gang, the High Street Lowlifes, had a different plan. They had hired an outside contractor from the Astral Assassins to punish Silver Staff.
The Astral Assassins mercenary team was made up of five members, each possessing their own unique superpower. Their leader was Astral Fox. He had offered to bring in the other members of his team at first, but upon hearing what the High Street Lowlifes desired, he decided to do the job himself. Instead of targeting Silver Staff, the Lowlifes wanted Astral Fox to locate the hero's family. Once he found whomever Silver Staff cared about, Astral Fox was to kill them and make it look like the hit had been carried out by the Crime Disciples, the most powerful gang in Port Honorius.
The High Street Lowlifes had been the second most powerful gang in the city for many years. They hoped to shift Silver Staff's focus to the Crime Disciples, pitting the hero against their chief rival. Then the Lowlifes could expand their territory while their adversaries warred against one another. Although his services came at a high price, Astral Fox was the perfect candidate to perform the hit. His superpower allowed him to project his consciousness outside of his body. This psychic projection was intangible and could travel great distances from Astral Fox's body, as long it returned before his body died of thirst or starved.
For two weeks Astral Fox used his ability to follow Silver Staff as he moved about the city fighting crime. Soon Astral Fox knew Silver Staff's routines, where the hero lived, and that his only family in the city was Charlotte. Having done his research and selected his target, all Astral Fox had to do was lie in wait near the rectory apartment until Silver Staff went out on his next patrol.
It had been almost seven months since they'd moved to Port Honorius and Charlotte, more miserable than ever, was trying to mentally prepare herself for another lonely night alone in the apartment. She had taken to keeping the blinds and curtains drawn over the windows so she wouldn't have to see the city she had come to despise. When she was alone in the apartment, she kept the television on and played the radio at a high volume just to block out the noise from outside.
For months Charlotte had tried her best to become comfortable with living in the city. She'd prayed to the Lord for peace, spoken to the Cathedral's chief priest, vented to her mother, gone to Church sponsored activities, and even volunteered to do charity work alongside the nuns. Unfortunately, nothing worked. Charlotte just could not force herself to love Port Honorius or be happy living here. She still loved Silver Staff but missed how their relationship used to be. She didn't believe in divorce, and even if she did, the Church would not allow it. Unable to truly make the best of the situation, she had resigned herself trying to live with it, with the hope that Silver Staff might one day be reassigned to somewhere she'd like better. More and more often Charlotte found herself dreaming of a way out.
Astral Fox snuck into the rectory building and made his way up to Silver Staff and Charlotte's apartment. As he approached the door to their apartment, he could hear the television and radio blaring. He smiled to himself, as the competing noise from the electronics would make his job that much easier. He quietly picked the lock, drew his gun, and slipped inside.
Astral Fox pointed the gun at Charlotte and was surprised to see how calm she was. It was as if she was resigned to her fate. A slight smile curled her lips as Astral Fox pulled the trigger and shot Charlotte in the chest three times. Once she was dead, he carved a C with a cross beneath it, the symbol used by the Crime Disciples, into the flesh of her forehead. Then he removed a can of spray paint from his belt and tagged the walls of the apartment with the same symbol. Finally, he snapped pictures of the scene and Charlotte's body for the High Street Lowlifes, to prove he’d completed the job, before exiting the apartment and disappearing into the night.
As the Sun rose, Silver Staff made his way home. He felt great after another successful patrol. That night he'd stopped an assault and two muggings. Then he'd shut down a drug lab, arresting almost two dozen criminals in total. Tired but elated he drove his terrafoil through the access tunnels beneath the city and parked it in his headquarters. As he took the elevator up to his apartment all he could think about was how much he loved living in Port Honorius. That feeling would depart forever a few minutes later when he discovered the scene that awaited him in his apartment.