2.1. Scenes 6-8

Scene 6 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Early Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

 

“Alright, gather round!” Canaveral called, gesturing for everyone to circle up. Today was the annual paintball game – the New Champions vs the Journeymen. It was the most heroes I had ever seen in one place – all but two of the professional heroes in New Venice were present. Zookeeper was on patrol, as there had to be at least one person on patrol at all times – although for today, the console was being covered by a regular MLED agent, rather than a hero on standby – and Referee was out of town again. Apparently, Canaveral had sources – one source in particular, I was guessing – that told him this weekend would be a good time for almost every hero to be busy.

We circled together, and Canaveral smiled at us. “Most of you know how this works,” he began, “but we’ve changed the rules a little since last year, and Newton has never taken part in our little tradition. So here’s the short version.

“A lot of MLED teams hold some sort of tournament as a teambuilding exercise. Back in Vegas it was gambling – we liked to lean into the stereotypes – but here it’s paintball! Well, sort of.

“We’ve added a new element this year,” he explained. “Instead of just trying to defeat the other team with paint, there’s an alternative win condition – you can also steal their flag. The Champions will have a white flag with a black MLED logo on it, the Journeymen get a black flag with a white logo. Get your hands on the opposing team’s flag and escape any pursuit, and you win regardless of how many players are left on either team. If one of your enemies can recover your flag before you get to safety, however, the game continues. If everyone on a team gets knocked out, that team also loses. Clear?”

We all nodded, and he continued. “Now, because I like these tournaments to serve as training as well as fun, it’s not just paintball, it’s paintblade. We’ve had foam bats made and soaked with paint, to roughly simulate the capabilities of your powers.” He broke away from the huddle to take one long bat and a shorter, dagger-sized bat, both stained a deep red, from a nearby table that was full of colorful weaponry. “Very roughly,” he admitted. “You can use your powers, but nothing that could endanger anyone – that’s what the paint is for.”

“Do we get to pick our weapons?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, they’re assigned to you based on your powers. The bats are particularly powerful abilities, which can take out myself, Vulcan, or Sequoia with enough hits, or others with just one. The daggers are abilities of more average strength, which can take out non combatants with enough hits, or the three of us with lots of hits.” He held up a hand to forestall complaints. “Vulcan, Sequoia and I are all either physically tough or capable of negating damage, so it takes more to take us out.”

“I was actually going to ask how it’s judged if someone is out or not.”

“We get a few agents to watch and keep score for us,” he told me. “They judge when someone is out and will be judging if someone has escaped pursuit with the flag. The should be on the loadspeakers already – say hello, guys!”

“Hello!” A cheerful, high-pitched voice. “I’m Sam!”

“Hey there. Delilah here.” A more measured alto.

“‘sup.” A deep, rumbling voice. “John.”

“They’ll make a localized announcement whenever someone gets knocked out,” Canaveral explained. “If you’re close enough that you would have seen the battle, you’ll know who was disqualified and by who. If you’re too far away, though… well, I’ll pass out the bats in a moment, but first let me go over the other stuff you’re getting.”

He clipped his bats to his belt, then took two boxes from the table and handed one to Loki. “These are the earpieces that we use in the field. Each box has five. Register your name with it when you put it in, then speaking the name of a teammate will let you speak to them, or say ‘broadcast’ to speak to everyone on your team. Whoever is designated team leader can listen in to everything, if they choose to. Use them to keep your team updated on your status. Any questions about them?” We all shook our heads. “Right.”

Canaveral began passing out the bats. Anima took a large paintbrush bat in light red and a sponge, which confused me for a moment until I remembered that she could both heal and animate powerful golems to fight for her, as well as drain people of energy with a mere touch. Starling was given a pair of shorter bats in dark green, seeming resigned at the reminder of his lower power. Vulcan received two massive bats in dark blue.

“Color-coded, so it’s easy to tell who did what,” Loki explained to me as Canaveral reached the Journeymen’s side of the circle.

I, like Starling, got a pair of dagger-sized bats – mine were light blue. Journey, in bright yellow. Hypnos stared dejectedly at his single paint dagger in gray. Sequoia tried to comfort him, but the two large bats he had been given in light green weren’t helping. Finally, Loki received a single dagger in black, and…

“You get an actual paintball gun?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I’m the only one here who has ranged attacks that don’t involve flinging things,” he pointed out.

“I guess…” I had been a little worried by how little firepower – paintpower? – our side of the game had in comparison to the New Champions, but seeing that Loki had what was probably the best weapon in the game, I felt better.

 

Scene 7 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

With the weapons passed out, we grabbed our respective flags – each hung on a large pole, currently being carried by Sequoia – and an earpiece each, then split off to head to opposite ends of the elaborate arena. It looked a great deal like a few blocks of the city, although bare and undecorated – as we walked, Simone told me that it could be reconfigured into a ton of different layouts. We would get ten minutes to plan and to find a place for our flag before the game started.

“Anyone object to me taking charge?” Loki asked when we reached our starting point. “No? Good.” He held out the box that had contained earpieces. “First off, put these back, they’re a trap as usual.”

“How so?” I asked. Everyone else seemed to know what he meant, though, so I pulled mine out of my ear and returned it.

“Starling is a tech hero,” Hypnos explained. “He hacks the system every year so they can listen in on us.”

“In the past, we’ve had three options. I can manually operate a magical comm system, which that takes up so much of my attention that I can’t do much leading – we can forget the comms entirely and operate without coordination, which never goes well – or we can use them, and accept that we’ll be listened to when we do.”

“We won last year with them listening in,” Simone said. “But… the year before, my first year, we lost with you coordinating instead of leading, Loki. Why go back to a losing strategy? I assume that’s what you’re doing.”

“Because last year’s strategy isn’t going to work again,” Loki explained. “We had Referee with us then, and no one else had realized quite how much of an equalizer she is. And Vulcan was on our side too, and…” he sighed. “Blue Phoenix as well. This year, however, we’re on our own, and we have a distinct lack of firepower.”

“How so?” I asked. “We’re losing out on bats, yes, but you’ve got the best weapon out there.”

He shook his head. “In theory, sure. In practice? Lasers are a lot easier to aim than guns, and shockwaves I can flat out control even as I aim them. I’ve never been good with guns – it’s not going to be helpful at anything but close range.”

“So what’s the strategy, then?” Hypnos asked. “We’re losing on power, after all.”

“We do have four advantages,” Loki reassured us. “Number one is that we’ve got Newton with us now. That means that even without Referee, we outnumber them five to four.

“Number two is that the flag system benefits us, not them. We have Journey,” he said, gesturing to the buff woman, who flexed. “Who can instantly take any of us to the flag if it needs to be defended – even Sequoia.

“Number three is… Sequoia, bring that flag down here for me.”

The currently-wooden man tilted the flagpole so Loki could reach the flag. He pulled it off and handed it to Journey, then produced an illusion of the flag and hung that on the pole instead.

“Number three,” he said with a smirk, “is that we can obscure our flag much better than they can. In fact…” He created five more illusions of the flag and handed one to each of us – the actual flag, he tapped and turned invisible. “This way, they’ll have no idea where the flag is. Journey, I’ll have you hide the real one somewhere after the game starts.”

“This seems like cheating,” Sequoia observed.

“Nothing in the rules against it!” Loki said cheerfully. “If Canaveral didn’t want me exploiting the rules, he shouldn’t have added them.

“Then… why did Canaveral add in a flag at all?” I asked. “Seems like it really tilts the odds in our favor.”

He shook his head. “I’m sure he has a plan to protect it. Keeping it on his person, for example – getting it away from him, or from Vulcan for that matter, wouldn’t be easy. But we have a much better chance of being able to steal a flag than taking out four of the New Champions – honestly, I think we’d be lucky to take out half of them.”

“Can we go back to the earpieces thing?” Hypnos asked. “Are we going without coordination, or we going with you as our tactical lead?”

Loki grinned. “Neither!” he said. “I’ve been working on this spell for two and a half years, and it’s advantage number four…” He brought his hands together and they blurred as he began making complicated signs. His brow furrowed in concentration – this was by far the longest illusion I’d seen him create. About half a minute later, he had produced a faintly pulsing orb of green light. He then somehow divided it into five and handed us each one of the orbs, each about the size of a grape. It felt very odd to be holding something with no physical presence – there was only a faint vibration for physical feedback.

“What are these?” Journey asked, curiously.

“These are magical earpieces,” Loki told us all proudly. “They’re probably the single most complicated spell construct I’ve ever created – not visually, they’re invisible once applied…” He demonstrated by pressing the orb he still held to his jawline just below the ear, and it sank into his skin. “…but in terms of behavior.”

“How do they work?” I asked.

“Exactly like the standard technological ones, down to the speaking codes. ‘Broadcast’ at the start of a sentence sends your next words to everyone, or the name of a person – speaking of that, ‘Designate Self: Loki’ is how you set your name for the network – sends to that person. I finished that about six months ago, so I also had time to add a few extras features before I used them for the first time in this game – along with broadcasting to everyone or directly to one person, you can create smaller groups to communicate with, they’ll blur out your speech to anyone without one while you’re broadcasting… I even added a speaker function!” He pressed two fingers to his jawline below the ear and spoke. “It controls your volume according to the position of your pinky finger. Point it down and you’ll be quieter, point it up and you’ll get louder.” He waggled his pinky as he spoke to demonstrate.

“Loki, that’s very cool,” Journey said, applying her magical earpiece, “but we have a limited time here. What’s the gameplan? Designate Self: Journey,” she added.

“Journey, you’ll be transport,” Loki began. “Don’t worry about fighting, just stick with me except when I tell you to take someone somewhere. Hypnos, come here a sec.” Loki tapped Hypnos – who was still the only member of the Journeymen not to share his identity with me – and the young man faded from view, except for the still pulsing green light in his hand. A moment later it moved up to were his head must have been, and it too vanished. “I want to have you be our stealth. Get to the flag if you can, and slip away with it.”

“I can fight,” he promised. “I’ve been working on my martial skills a lot since last year, and there’s the new trick you helped me with…”

“I know you can, Hypnos,” Loki promised, “but I want to keep that as a last resort, just in case. Your stealth skills are great too, remember?

“Now then, Sequoia, Newton,” he said to me and the redheaded dryad, “you two are floating hunters. We’ll need to distract them from Hypnos, so Journey will be ferrying you around, dropping you into and pulling you out of battles at my direction. Take them out if you think you can, but the goal is to keep them occupied more than to actually beat them. Don’t take risks when you can keep drawing out the battle instead. Got it?”

“Got it,” I said, hesitantly. “I wish I had had time to train before this, though…”

“You’ll do fine,” Loki said, putting a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Just focus on the task in front of you.”

“What will you be doing?” I asked him.

“Me? I’m on overwatch. My powers will give me a picture of everything that’s going on, and I’ll direct you guys. Are we ready?”

 

Scene 8 – November 6th
Exterior Training Grounds, Simultaneous
Abraham Armstrong

 

“Alright everyone,” I said as we arrived at our starting area. “Not a ton has changed for us since last year – our capabilities are the same – but we now have an objective to protect. I want you, Vulcan, to be protecting our flag, and you, Starling, to seek theirs.”

“What about us?” Anima asked.

“You’re hunting, as usual,” I told her. She wasn’t often thought of as a combat type, her healing skills by far the most prominent to the public, but Anima was one of the best combatants on the team. Not only did she had the most experience out of any of us, her magical power was far more versatile than most thought. People saw her healing, or creating golems, and thought that that left her weak personally – but in fact, she could burn her store of lifeforce to temporarily enhance her physical capabilities to an incredible degree. “I’ll be floating around to try and keep an eye on everything, and assist as needed.

“Ben,” I asked, turning to Starling, who had started tapping away on his tech staff the moment we arrived, “how are you doing on the usual hack?”

“I should be in,” he said with a frown, “but none of their earpieces have been activated yet.”

“Hmm.” If they weren’t using the earpieces, that left them with only two options – either Holly was going to use her power over sound to keep the other Journeymen connected, or they were going without coordination at all. Which seemed incredibly unlikely, to me. The only way that could possibly go well was if they all stayed close together, perhaps playing a defensive game to try and knock a couple of us out when we went for the flag. But that seemed more likely to go badly – if we in turn joined forces against them, they would lose – particularly without an equalizer like Referee available to them.

“Holly is going to be coordinating them with her power,” I said aloud. “Miriam, you’re her magical tutor – how’s her multitasking? Could she be directing them as well as providing a comm network?”

“He,” Anima said sternly. “Loki’s in costume, that means it’s ‘he.’”

I blinked, then swore. I had known that kid for years, and still I fucked up on occasion. “Right, he. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize to me, I’m not the one you misgendered.”

I sighed. “Point is, could he be doing that and still be an effective leader? He couldn’t, the year before last.”

She thought about it. “Not very well,” she said after a moment. “Keeping control of a system with five moving parts is complicated, and he’s mentioned to me before that connecting people like that really complex – at least as much as my golems, and even I struggle with controlling five at once. I think… I think he could keep them all connected,” she decided, “but nothing more. No leading, no other personally-guided illusions while he did that – only static ones.”

“Good news for us, then,” I said with a nod, “because without Holly as a leader, they don’t have any good tacticians – he’s by far their best.”

“You don’t see this going well for them, then?” Vulcan asked. “The Journeyman did win last year, you know.”

I waved a hand dismissively. “Not only did they have you on their side last year, but they also had Referee and Blue Phoenix. Their combat strength has gone down massively since then, and ours has gone up since you replaced the Warden. They can’t turtle up and fight us like that again.”

“If you say so,” he said, dubiously.

“It’ll be fine,” I promised. “And just to make sure… ice over that flag, will you?”

He raised an eyebrow. “That seems like cheating,” he pointed out, but he did reach up to snag the flag and began sucking the heat from it, ice quickly forming over the cloth and extending down the flagpole.

“Nothing in the rules against it!” I said cheerfully, as Vulcan continued to layer thick ice over the flag.

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5 thoughts on “2.1. Scenes 6-8”

  1. Fun fact: it was around this point in the writing process that the total length of Paternum started to balloon.

    See, originally I was planning for the second book to be shorter than the first – where the first book is 35 chapters, the second would have been only 19, although they’d have been a little longer than book one’s chapters. There was only supposed to be one chapter covering what ended up taking the first two, one chapter for the paintball game, and then another two chapters – but the first chapter ended up being split into two, and the paintball game ended up being split into four – yeah, the action that starts next week will be somewhat prolonged in comparison to book one’s action scenes. Seeing that book two’s Act 1 was just as long as the first book’s Act 1, I looked at my outline and found that it was too condensed, went through it, and ended up splitting chapters until my planned chapter length ended up being just the same as for book 1, 35 chapters. I then went through the remainder of the books and did some replanning which resulted in all of them having about the same length.

    Paternum‘s total length across all five books was originally supposed to be 162 chapters (35 in books 1, 3, and 5, and 19 in books 2 and 4 – the longer books being split into three acts of 8, 16, and 8 chapters plus 3 intermissions, and the shorter books being split into three acts of 4, 8, and 4 chapters plus 3 Intermissions), and would have been an estimated 400k words long all together. If you include the exclusive arcs that you get by buying the books, the total chapter length would have been 187, and an estimated 450k words. With an expanded book 2 and 4, the estimated length for the entire series is now 175 chapters, 440k words – 200 chapters and 500k words along with the exclusive arcs.

    While this replanning process was a little disheartening because of the projected length it added, I’m much happier with my plot outline now, and I think it’ll be a stronger story for it. Plus, planning for every other book to be half the length was pretty silly in retrospect.

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  2. I haven’t posted before, but I love your story so far!

    Any chance you’ll explain your reasoning behind the plans they laid out? Tactics, especially in superhero worlds, is one of my favorite things to think about and I’d love to know why they planned the way they did. Also, why didn’t they plan this weeks ahead of time?

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    1. Thank you! I’m glad you’re enjoying it. And sure!

      Basically, this is a slightly different matchup than they’ve done in previous years – as mentioned, the flag is a new addition, which Canaveral (who, as team leader, planned the event) added to make it a little more even. Like Loki said, a combat match is heavily tilted in favor of the New Champions. Canaveral came up with the flag as a non-combat win condition for the Journeymen, because he wanted it to be fair. That does mean that he’s been able to plan when Loki wasn’t, but he tried not to – part of the game (which is a training exercise as much as a team-building one) is not knowing exactly what you’re getting into.

      Now, Canaveral’s plan is pretty simple. Normally he would have the whole team out hunting, but they have a flag to guard this time – Vulcan is the least mobile team member as well as the strongest combatant, so he’s on guard duty for more reasons than just being able to freeze over the flag. Starling is to focus on flag hunting because he has enhanced senses. That leaves him to be flexible, since he’s the fastest on their side and the most able to provide reinforcements when needed, and Anima to focus on the combat victory.
      It’s worth noting that he’s not thinking all that hard about it yet, because he’s assuming Loki will be magically connecting the Journeymen instead of acting as their tactician. It’s a reasonable assumption, without knowing about the magical earpieces, but it means he hasn’t considered things like the flag being hidden, yet. That’s something he should have thought of, really – he should know that an established spell like invisibility is easy to maintain even while manually controlling sound – but despite using a magical power, Canaveral isn’t actually all that familiar with magic. And why should he be? It’s not a natural talent for him, after all.

      Now, on Loki’s end, he’s been planning some parts of this for a while. As he says, Starling hacking the earpieces is almost tradition, so using a magical version for security has been planned for a while. Similarly, he already knows that his combat effectiveness is limited – melee combat isn’t his specialty, and he’s no good with guns. Everything else, however, is on the fly. He really is quite good at tactics, and was even before he started working with Canaveral and taking leadership courses – he therefore comes in aware that the Journeymen are at a disadvantage in combat. Knowing that, he’s looking for any advantage he can in the rules, and immediately spots that the flag rule favors them. They don’t really have to worry about their flag thanks to the layers of deception he can throw out, and can go for the Champions instead of trying to fruitlessly engage in combat.
      Knowing that he himself is going to he useless in a fight here, Loki plans to focus himself entirely on guiding the battle. Hypnos similarly has limited use in combat – he’s better than you might expect, especially with the new trick he mentions them having worked on, but he just doesn’t have the speed to pose a threat to Anima or Starling, the strength to threaten Vulcan, and would need both to hit Canaveral. With that in mind, Loki puts him on stealth instead – something which is a relative strength of his. Loki doesn’t know for sure how the flag will be guarded yet, but if they can steal it, that’s an easy win, so it would be foolish not to at least set up for an attempt.
      Placing most of his eggs with Hypnos, Loki is left with Journey, Newton, and Sequoia. He keeps Journey as transport, obviously, because it’s a powerful option and one of their advantages. Newton’s strengths aren’t clear to him yet – remember, this is the first exercise he’s taking part in – so he’s giving them redundancy beside Sequoia. Sequoia himself, meanwhile, is the strongest combatant on the Journeymen’s side both in offense and defense. Loki tells the two of them to focus on drawing out battles instead of ending them because he knows that ending battles can be risky, and he wants to preserve his pieces if possible – he’d prefer to play it safe and not take out any players than to trade one for one.

      Of course, as soon as the game actually starts, many of these assumptions will be updated, and so will their tactics. For example, Loki will quickly spot how well-guarded the Champions’ flag is, and Canaveral will quickly realize how well-disguised the Journeymen’s is.

      TL;DR They both know that the Champions can win in combat OR by capturing the flag, but the Journeymen can only win by capturing the flag. Canaveral is trying to take his flag out of play with a powerful guard, while Loki is trying to place his own flag out of play through deception, and hoping that a stealthy approach will keep taking the Champions’ flag as a viable option.

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  3. Thanks! That was more detailed than I hoped :D. I’m really looking forward to see how it plays out. To be honest, I thought the Journeymen had a pretty good chance of winning it. The New Champions team seems to be mainly people who can hit hard. So they’d be able to take out the Journeymen in direct combat more easily but the Journeymen are so much more versatile and most of them have options to simply avoid combat, more battlefield control options, more ranged options, etc. Starling with his ESP would be my only concern for his (probable) ability to ignore illusions.

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    1. They have a decent chance, yeah – the battlefield control they have with Loki and the better transportation they have with Journey are major advantages. But I wouldn’t want you to think that the New Champions are only fighters – remember, Anima is also a healer and Starling is a tech wizard, for example. Hell, Zookeeper’s shapeshifting is great for stealth or scouting, and Canaveral’s excellent people skills shouldn’t be overlooked either. Vulcan is really the only one with a pure combat focus.

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