Scene 10 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
“Short version?” I said to Anima, “our ex-boyfriend is being possessed by a magic sword that’s making him think he should be a king, and is giving him enough power to let him pull it off.”
She nodded. “Sounds about right. It’s been what, six months since anything big went down? We’re due for something of the sort. Odd that it’s Max, though – he’s always stuck to small scale stuff, until now.”
“He tries to keep his threat level low,” I explained, “to avoid a level of response that he couldn’t escape from. Looks like the sword has made him forget that – Director Shepard called me on my way back to let me know that he had been ungraded to a mid-level threat.” That meant that a hero shouldn’t go in against him without backup unless absolutely necessary, as it had been with Legion last month. I was just glad that he hadn’t been put all the way at high – that would call in heroes from out-of-town who were considered best able to deal with the situation, if they were available in time. But out-of-towners were unlikely to try and talk Max down, as I hoped Emilia and I could do. “With the sword affecting him, though…”
“I hope he’s alright, then,” Anima said. “He’s… well, maybe a little less with Max, to be honest, but you know I think of all of you like my kids. I don’t want anything to happen to him.”
“You really are everyone’s mom, aren’t you?” I asked, trying to summon up a teasing tone despite my worry.
She shrugged. “I’ve accepted it, at this point.”
“I called Vulcan and Starling too,” my girlfriend said to Anima, “but they turned the overtime down. It’s just us until their shift starts tonight.”
“How urgent is the situation?” Anima asked. “Can we afford to wait that long?”
“He hasn’t made any violent moves yet,” I said, “but the optics of letting the castle he’s turned the Higgins Museum into stand for even a whole day would be a nightmare. We have to move soon.”
“Are we calling in the Journeymen, too?”
I shook my head. “No way. Like I said, he’s at mid-level now, not low – and his power is probably boosted enough that he could get a high threat level if he’s fighting seriously, not that it wasn’t close to that already. I’m not bringing any of the kids into that.”
“It’s just Max,” Nic said over the intercom. “Grab Holly – I think they were hanging out with Simone and Quinn today, so they ought to be able to get here quick – and you can shut him down easy. He needs to see to use his powers, right?”
“No, he doesn’t,” I corrected him. “It makes it easier, and he can only teleport where he can see, but he can use his powers in general just by knowing something is there. I wouldn’t really be against Holly coming, to be honest, but I’m not risking Quinn getting involved.”
“Then tell them ‘no’.”
I laughed. “Last time I told them no, they stumbled onto the villain on the way home. I’m just not going to tell them – that should keep them out of trouble.”
“Quinn does tend to get into trouble,” Emilia admitted. “Remember how they just happened to be passing by the bar that Essa and Maria were celebrating their anniversary at? Thank god we were all there too, or Maria would have gone full Borda on the unknown superhero passing by – you know how touchy she is about Essa’s safety.”
“Yeah, that could have been bad,” Anima agreed.
“Point is that we’re not taking any of the Journeymen. Nic,” I said in the vague direction of the room’s microphone, “I’d be shocked if other villains in the city had no reaction to this. Keep us updated.”
“As for us,” I said to Emilia and Anima, “let’s get moving.”
Emilia shifted into a raven and perched on my shoulder – her costume wasn’t practical for winter temperatures, especially since it was snowing lightly, but she had a wide variety of forms that could handle the cold better – a raven was one of the those winter forms that could also speak. She rubbed her beak against my cheek and let out a happy croak, and I rubbed the back of her head.
Anima and I, on the other hand, had to settle for the cold-weather versions of our costumes. Hers replaced the cropped blue jacket she usual wore with a full coat with her heart emblem emblazoned on the labels – mine, on the other hand, was woven of a heavier fabric as well as replacing the long flowing cape I usually wore with a heavy wool cloak in the same brilliant red shade.
After zipping up her coat, she had selected one of the premade golems that Starling had built for her and animated it, white lightning crackling across its hulking form so that it could carry us. While Anima was capable of creating golems from any material and shaping it into any form she wanted, they were limited by the strength of the material – not to mention that it took more out of her to animate heavier objects. Starling regularly built her new golems for her to take into battle which were crafted of exotic materials, stronger, tougher, and lighter than the concrete, asphalt, or wood she normally worked with if she had to create a new golem in the city.
The one she had chosen was a great bird – a roc, I think Starling had called it, although I wasn’t nearly as knowledgeable about mythology as he was. It was large enough to carry two people on its back at once – plus a raven tagging along for the ride – with only a 25-foot wingspan. That made it perfect for travel in the city.
I clambered into the golem’s saddle right behind Anima, and the roc lurched through the staging area’s open window. It flapped its wings once, twice, and we were off.
Scene 11 – December 19th
Exterior City, Continuous
“Abe…” Emilia croaked from my shoulder.
“I’m worried about Max,” she told me. “If Excalibur is affecting his mind… what will happen if we take it away? Might it have some kind of addictive affect?”
“That would make sense, I suppose,” I said. “If you’re already going to affect a victim’s mind, making it addictive prevents them from even wanting to break it. But from what Peregrine said, the parts of it that affect the mind weren’t intentional – they’re a side effect of its enhancement.”
“Well, I’m also thinking about those narcissistic tendencies Arthur mentioned,” she admitted. “I didn’t notice anything at the time, but in retrospect… Max always had a way of making everything not his fault, didn’t he?”
I nodded. “He did, yeah. I didn’t notice any major red flags either, but Peregrine probably isn’t wrong that he has tendencies.”
“And I’m afraid… well, if he’s teetering on the edge of narcissism at the best of times, this might tip him the wrong way. The power boost…” She let out a concerned-sounding croak and buried her beak into the crook of my neck.
I gently stroked her feathers. “I see the worry. I hope we can talk him down, but… in the end, I think he’s probably going to need some therapy.”
“I don’t know whether to hope his trial has him declared non compos mentis or not,” she admitted. “I don’t want Max to go to jail.”
“I know. I still care for him too.”
Emilia strove to add a touch of amusement to her voice despite the limitations of a raven’s voice as she said, “just ‘care for’, huh?”
“Okay, okay, I still love him a little. Can you blame me?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I still love him a little too. He was a good boyfriend, when he was actually paying attention.”
“When he was paying attention,” I agreed, a little sourly. Max’s tendency to get so wrapped up in magical research had been the single biggest reason we had broken up with him, much more so than the relatively-harmless crimes he committed. Had committed, until now. “He’s great at everything, when he’s paying attention.”
Emilia rubbed her beak on my cheek in a little bird kiss, and said, “You’re pretty great too, Abe.”
I couldn’t help but smile at that, and turned my head to press a kiss of my own to her head. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Done being sappy?” Anima teased from her seat ahead of us. “We should talk about our approach to Max, you know.”
“Right, sorry.” I straightened up, Emilia shifting her grip on my shoulder slightly as I did. “I want to try talking him down first. If we can just get him to give up the sword, I’m certain that he’ll stop on his own.”
“A pretty big if,” Anima noted.
“It is,” I admitted, “but Emilia and I know him pretty well. I think there’s a chance.”
“And if not? What can we expect from him, combat-wise?”
I rubbed my chin thoughtfully. “Hard to say. Last I heard, he had picked up a kind of line-of-sight teleportation, but otherwise was still just bringing things in and out of pocket dimensions at a limited range. I know he was trying to figure out kinetic manipulation, at least enough to launch stuff as he released it, but I don’t think he had figured it out yet.
“On the other hand… his abilities will have been boosted by Excalibur, and it’s not clear exactly what form that will take. It might just let him use the abilities he already has at a higher level – pocket more mass and from a longer ranger – or it might leapfrog him to a higher understanding of magic and give him access to new abilities that he’s been working on.”
“It let him reshape the musuem,” Emilia pointed out. “How do we think he’s doing that?”
“Could be a power of Excalibur itself,” I suggested. “After all, as Peregrine described it, it makes the holder into a king, according to its own requirements. A castle could easily be one of those – maybe it reshapes the world around you into one, and just used the museum as material?”
“Or it could be an expanded magic thing,” she said. “If he can pocket parts of objects now, and his storage is large enough, he could just pocket the building piece by piece and put it together differently. That’s what it looked like on the news broadcast I saw, anyway.”
“So, worst-case scenario,” Anima began, “he’ll have all his usual powers, at a higher level than usual, and has kinetic manipulation enough to launch objects, and is working with objects much larger than ever before.”
“Best to assume that,” I said grimly. “The sword is going to be trouble, I can just tell.”
“I wish Referee was back,” Emilia said wistfully. “She’d completely cancel its effects out. Would get us boosted to match, at the very least.”
“Yeah, well… her flight doesn’t land until this afternoon, and we can’t wait that long,” I said. “If we have to, we can retreat and come back later with her.”
“If he lets us,” Anima said darkly.
“He’s never killed before – he’s always avoided even seriously injuring people,” I protested.
“That’s not what I meant. He can pocket living beings, right?”
“Sure, he’s done it to doves before,” Emilia confirmed. “Apparently time doesn’t pass in his pocket dimension, so it doesn’t even feel like anything.”
“So he could just drop us into his dimension, then,” said Anima, “and there’s not really anything we could do about it.”
I considered this. “That… is possible. Again, it’s something he’s never done before – he always tries to keep his threat level low, like I said before, and that would certainly raise it. But…”
“…but he doesn’t seem to care about that anymore,” Emilia finished.
“…we should have waited for Referee and Vulcan,” Anima said.
We fell silent for the next few minutes, until the roc approached the great marble castle that had once been the Higgins Museum.
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