Scene 26 – December 19th
Exterior City, Afternoon
Loki narrowed his eyes at my sister. “What are you doing here,” he said, his voice flat and angry.
“Don’t worry,” Viv said cheerfully. “We’re here to help.”
“Yes, really!” she assured him. “We see this too,” she gestured at the aura that still covered the city, “and we also think it should stop.”
“And why is that?” Loki asked. “As far as I can tell it’s been nothing but a benefit to you – you escaped in the confusion-” His voice wavered uncertainly for a moment, probably because using the stealth cloak meant that he couldn’t actually remember how we had escaped. “-how could we trust that you won’t stab us in the back?”
“We don’t need to stab anyone in the back,” Viv assured him. “If we were going to stab you, we’d do it in the front.”
“Unlike you,” I heard Percy mutter.
“I’m sorry, what was that?” Newton asked, stepping forward to stand beside the illusionist. “We’re heroes, we’re not going to stab anyone.”
Percy scoffed. “Oh, very likely-”
“Sir Ardent,” I said in a calm but warning tone, and he fell silent.
“Thank you, Sir Amethyst,” Viv said to me, then turned back to the Journeymen. “I apologize for Sir Ardent here. While we certainly have our issues with the system you’ve all entered into, the rest of us are willing to set them aside for the moment. And he’ll follow our lead – won’t you, Ardent?”
He crossed his arms and looked away. “…yeah.”
“That would be lovely, if I thought I could trust you as far as Sequoia could throw you,” Loki said. “But I see no reason to. We’d be much better off without having to worry about betrayal.”
“As I said, we’re not the type,” Viv repeated. “But even if you don’t trust my word, trust my rationality. This situation? Completely unworkable for us. Far too many eyes – both the ones Anima keeps creating in search of you all, and the ones from elsewhere that will surely be very interested in the artifact allowing Anima, and Maxwell before her, to pose such a threat. We don’t want that attention on this city, and we certainly don’t want an artifact like that floating around – even if we do have to work with fake heroes like Newton to accomplish it.”
“Hey!” Newton protested. “Just because I’m new-”
“Actually, Dame Acumen,” I put in, “I’m not sure Newton is what we thought they were.”
She glanced back over her shoulder at me. “What else would they be?”
“…I don’t know, but they fought Legion – or said they did, at least.”
Viv turned back to Newton. “Did you?”
“Yes! Canaveral made me run for my own safety, but I tried to fight her!”
“…interesting,” she said. “You’re telling the truth.”
“Why would I lie about this?” They threw up their hands in apparent confusion. “Seriously, where did you get whatever idea you have about me?”
“That’s confidential,” mom said, shutting the conversation down. “Regardless of your connection or lack thereof, the issue right now is Anima having that artifact, right? Can we help you?”
Loki narrowed his eyes, thinking. “…fine,” he said after a moment. “But no arguing amongst each other, alright?”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Viv promised.
Scene 27 – December 19th
Exterior City, Continuous
“So what’s your plan?” I asked. “We didn’t hear anything until Acumen brought us into whatever stealth effect you’re using.” The enhanced senses and magical abilities Viv’s helmet granted her had let her spot the Journeymen despite whatever Loki had done to protect them, and even let her see and hear through it – the rest of us, however, had been out of luck.
“Anima is in the Higgins Museum, which she’s turned into a golem,” Loki said, “and appears to be keeping Canaveral, Zookeeper, and the Magnificent Maxwell captive. Max appears to be out of commission-”
“I’m guessing that losing Excalibur knocked him out,” Newton interjected.
“-which, as Newton said, suggests that simply taking the sword from Anima is likely to do the trick. Unfortunately Journey can’t simply grab it and teleport it out of Anima’s hand, so we’ll have to actually disarm her.”
“That won’t be easy, given how strong she can get,” Sequoia commented. “And the sword seems to be giving her an endless font of zoetic energy to fuel herself with, so we can’t wait her out.”
“Good thing Referee is here, then,” Viv said, nodding to the teenager – who, I noticed, Tristan seemed to be staring at. I nudged him, and he looked away immediately, his body language seeming a little embarrassed.
“My thoughts exactly,” Loki agreed. “Referee’s aura should spread the empowering effects of Excalibur, and then our numbers will carry the day.”
“What if the mind-affecting part of it spreads too?” Newton asked, a distinct note of worry in their voice.
Referee shook her head. “It shouldn’t,” she quietly volunteered. “If anything, the aura will be more likely to make her more rational… I think.” She shrunk away as we all looked at her.
“It is her,” I heard Tristan whisper, and I shushed him. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but it wasn’t the time.
“Good to know,” Viv said, thoughtfully. “How are we getting there? Is this bubble mobile?”
Loki shook his head. “No, it’s not. My plan was for Journey to teleport us again – not right into the museum-golem itself, since she can’t take more than one or two people a trip and it’s moving anyway, but to a little outside it. Do you have enough distance for all of us?” He said to the teleporter.
“I should, yes. But…” She pointed to me. “You, Purple!”
“How much do you weigh in that armor?”
I raised an eyebrow, although I knew she wouldn’t be able to see it under my helmet. “Around two-sixty-five, I think? Two-seventy-five at most.”
“Oh, I thought armor was heavier than that.”
“Common misconception. I mean, yes, it’s almost forty pounds, but I’m wearing pretty heavy-duty stuff. Everyone else’s is lighter.”
“Well yeah, they’re not built like a brick shit house like you.” I shrugged. “Point is,” Journey continued, “I can teleport with you guys. My weight limit is up to 350 pounds or so these days, so it shouldn’t be a problem. I won’t have any distance left over after so many trips, though.
“Don’t give details of your powers away,” Loki scolded.
“Uh… we already knew that. Journey brags about how much weight she’s up to every time she does an interview,” Viv pointed out.
“It’s the principle of the thing.”
“The point is, we can get there easily enough,” Newton cut in. “No arguing, right?”
“Newton is right,” I agreed. “We have a rough plan – we’ll just have to try not to get in each other’s way.”
“What I’m concerned about,” Viv said, “is the possibility that we’ll be flanked by golems while trying to deal with Anima. I think that we – the Round Table, that is – should stay back to guard your rear while the Journeymen go in to deal with Anima.”
“That’s… reasonable,” Loki admitted, although it sounded like it pained him to agree with my sister. “Are we ready, then?”
Loki extended his arm to Journey. “Alright. Me first, so I can set up another stealth bubble for the rest of you to land in.” A moment later, they vanished.
Scene 28 – December 19th
Exterior “Higgins Museum”, Afternoon
Reality warped and reformed around Journey, arriving with the last member of the expanded group – Referee. She slipped out of the bridal carry Journey had carried her in and blanched a little, looking up at the massive golem that Anima had turned the museum into as it gently swayed in the wind.
“Referee,” Loki said. “Can your aura reach up to the head?”
She frowned. “I… don’t think so. I’m sorry. I can only do about 50 feet at the most.”
“I bet if you could get inside that range for a moment, your maximum range would expand,” I pointed out.
“None of us can fly her up there, though,” Loki noted. “Unless one of you has powers we don’t know about,” he said to the knights – the Round Table, Acumen had called them.
Acumen waggled her hand. “Sort of. I do object manipulation – I can transmute or telekinetically control one object at a time, anything I can see. But only one, and I can’t do it to living beings, so unless she wants to get hoisted by her underwear…”
Sir Amethyst tilted his head. “I might able to help with my terrakinesis. But that’s a lot way up, too far for the telekinetic aspects of the power, and while I could build up a column underneath her, I’m not sure it would be stable at that height.”
I sighed. “Break off a platform for Referee to stand on, then have Acumen float it,” I told them.
Loki narrowed his eyes – I suspected he was uncertain about trusting the baby of our team to supervillains. Underneath the illusion, he turned his head towards me, and I felt his shoulders relax – trusting that I could catch her if she fell, I assumed. “As Newton says,” he confirmed.
As the two of them got to work, violet mist swirling around Amethyst’s feet and Dame Acumen quietly chanting to make the platform slowly rise, Referee carefully perched atop it, I leaned in to Loki. “Why didn’t you just have me lift her?” I whispered. “Referee is well within my weight limit with the suit on, and my presence can reach that far, no trouble.”
“I’d rather have them distracted than one of us,” he murmured in response. “You’ll catch her if she falls, right?”
“I’m offended you even had to ask.”
Loki nodded, then whispered, “Newton, I… I don’t know if I can do this.”
“What – take down Anima? You’re doing great.”
“Just…” He sighed, and tilted his head until it rested against my temple. “This is kind of bumping into some of my personal issues. The overprotectiveness, the way she’s practically laying claim to us, as though we’re things for her to play with…” My friend shook his head. “This isn’t the time to get into it, I know. Just… I might be a little fragile, when it’s all over.”
I had to take a moment to let that sink in before I responded, “Of course, Loki. Like I’ve said, I’ll be there to support you if you need me. Anything you need.”
Only a moment later, I felt a tingle run down my spine and involuntarily straightened up. Every sense I had sharpened and expanded over the full range of my presence, and that range itself had grown. My ability to handle the input grew too – the faint headache from overstimulation that I had learned to live with every time I went outside was gone, even as I realized that my presence was reaching around corners and through walls.
It was incredible. It was dizzying. It was indescribable.
All around me, everyone was having a similar awakening. Loki’s eyes widened, Sequoia grew two inches taller, Hypnos seemed fully awake for the first time. Journey shifted in place and I thought for a moment that the world around her was bending and twisting to follow – even the Round Table seemed affected, the faint colored mists that poured from their armor seeming thicker and more substantial.
“This feels…” Sequoia said, sounding awed.
“I know,” Hypnos responded, looking around like he had never truly seen until now.
High above us, I felt Referee backflip off the edge of the platform that Acumen had levitated. “No!” I shouted, reaching for her with my mind, but the force of my presence skidded off of her as though I was trying to grasp greased ice, and she continued to plummet.
She twisted in midair as she fell, and landed in a picture-perfect three-point pose, then glanced up at the rest of us with a grin, completely unharmed. “No need to worry,” she promised. “We’ve got this.”
Scene 29 – December 19th
Exterior “Higgins Museum”, Continuous
With our powers vastly increased by Referee’s aura, reaching the top of the golem was simple – Sequoia had simply stretched roots into the ground and began growing an immense tree beneath us. We left the confines of the stealth bubble that Loki had created before long, golems beginning to emerge to climb the side of the tree or bursting forth as birds from the museum to come towards us, but the Round Table defended us.
Between Acumen melting the golems with phrases of power, Amethyst using his earthbending to shatter them and direct the pieces at others, and Alacrity dashing around to break them almost before they could form, Dame Adamant and Sir Ardent had seemed unnecessary at first. But they proved their worth when the crackling aura crawled up the tree as Sequoia grew it, and more golems began to emerge right around us. The two knights seemed to be masters of close combat, Adamant striking with a long-handled warhammer while Ardent didn’t even bother with a weapon, simply crushing golems with his fists and boots.
When we reached the golem’s mouth, they had continued to fight off the golems – even the giant bird that I had seen bringing the Champions to the museum, what felt like hours ago – as Sequoia stepped forward and, with a mighty heave, forced it open, his muscles trembling as he held his position. Hypnos had cast a suspicious glance over his shoulder at the knights, then declared that he would stay back to watch his boyfriend’s back – Journey stayed back too, begging off for lack of built-up distance that would help her in combat. Loki nodded, and he, Referee, and I all entered.
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