Scene 30 – December 19th
Interior “Higgins Museum”, Continuous
“Children!” Anima said cheerfully as she spotted us. “You’re finally here – once I’ve dealt with those villains outside, you’ll be safe! Forever!”
Loki grit his teeth and said nothing, so I decided to reply, hoping to stall her while we sized up the area. “Who do you mean, the Round Table? They’re not so bad, really. We’re thinking of setting up a weekly poker night with them.”
The massive room we had entered, sitting atop the golems immense shoulders, reminded me somewhat of a theater – we had stepped out from a wide entranceway under a broad stairwell, which slopped upward behind us into a second, higher level, which was blocked off by thick bars which felt to my presence like marble, somehow spun and woven into a spiderweb of bars. Behind the bars was what Hypnos had described as being like a playpen – a sand-covered floor beneath scattered chairs and tables and miniature castles. Canaveral, Zookeeper, the Magnificent Maxwell, and two security guards were contained within the playpen, in varying levels of passed out – Max seemed to be peacefully dozing on a bed of sand, while Canaveral and Zookeeper were sitting near him and struggling to stay away – they were propped up on each other’s shoulders, and I suspected that Anima was draining energy from them. The only reason their eyes were still open was likely the strengthening effects of Referee’s aura.
On the lower level, the one we entered into, sat a large but plain chair. Not quite a throne, but more than a simple seat. And in that chair… was Anima.
She didn’t look all that different, at first glance. She wore the formfitting, kevlar-lined coat that was part of her cold-weather costume, her hair was as red as ever, and her face was – or had been when we entered – split into her usual warm, motherly smile. But the aura that burned around her was stronger than I had ever seen it, and cast a frighteningly stark white light across the room.
Excalibur, a long rapier with a golden hilt, rested loosely, almost casually, in her hand.
The heroine’s smile twisted into a stern frown at my joke. “You shouldn’t spend time with villains,” she scolded me. “They can’t be trusted. You can only trust family.”
Loki shivered at that, and almost seemed to shrink. I still wasn’t sure what issue Anima was raising, but I decided that he didn’t need to to trigger himself. I stepped in front of him and used my presence to pull him backwards a little, trying to to it subtly so as not to draw Anima’s attention his way.
“What about Max?” I asked, gesturing to the playpen. “I notice he’s up in there along with Canaveral and Zookeeper – a villain alongside your family.”
“Max isn’t a villain,” Anima corrected me. “He’s just lost his way a little. His intentions are good, just like Essa’s.”
“Hertz, to you. She’ll be coming in soon too…” the heroine sighed. “Once her wife tires, at any rate.” The slight aura that lined every inch of the floor bulged in between us, rising into the shapes of a multitude of generic golems surrounding two more personalized ones – one that resembled a short, curvy woman sitting in a chair and watching as the other, a tall, slim woman, shattered the generic ones at high speed. “La Borda cannot last forever… I assume.” She was trying to outlast La Borda? That didn’t sound like a smart bet.
Loki swallowed, took a deep breath, and stepped forward. “Anima” he said, his voice steady despite how nervous I knew he was.
“Loki:” I whispered, trusting to the magic earpieces he had created to keep my words private, “you don’t have to do this. I can handle it, you can-”
“Anima,” he said again, flashing a grateful expression to me under his illusion, where she couldn’t see, but still continuing, “you know that Essa wouldn’t want that. You know that Canaveral, and Zookeeper, and Max don’t want this. You know that we don’t want it. Please – don’t do this. There’s still time to stop. Please, put down the sword.”
Anima tilted her head to the side, seeming to consider it, then shook her head, her grip on Excalibur tightening. “No, Loki, this is the only way to keep you safe – the only way to keep everybody safe. No one has been hurt in the entire city since I took up this sword, and even now I’m healing those who were already injured – how could I give up this responsibility?”
“You’re hurting me!” Loki snapped, moving his real body away from his illusory form and creeping forward. “How can you not see what you’re doing to me? This is so stifling, so-”
He was cut off by Anima blurring into motion, leaving a trail of blazing white power behind her as she rushed forward and grasped Loki’s shoulder- his real shoulder, not that of his illusion. Before I could react, her aura flared and Loki collapsed into near-unconsciousness.
“Of course I see you hurting,” Anima said softly, smiling paternalistically down at her. “That’s why I have to do this – so I can protect you from the harsh world.” With that same, all-too-caring look on her face, she turned towards me and Referee. “And you too – my newest child and my favorite daughter. Will you object as well?”
I swallowed my fear, and readied myself. “I do. You can’t make choices for people, Anima, even if you were really our parent. And while I respect you greatly, you’re not my mother.”
She flew towards me, and I pushed…
Scene 31 – December 19th
Interior “Higgins Museum”, Continuous
I pushed myself into the air while pulling Anima’s head and pushing her legs, causing her to topple and overbalance. I reached the high ceiling and pushed again, dodging the hands that began to grow from the surface to grab me.
Meanwhile, Anima somehow completed a full front flip and landed on her feet again. Before she could move properly, however, I pulled, bringing her off the ground to prevent her from getting any leverage and coming at her feet first.
She grabbed a hold of my leg and flared her aura, trying to drain me like she had Loki. The only result, however, was the belt of the PA4 letting out a long, pained-sounding beep, and the bright blue of its eyes, buckles, and the palms of the gloves and flats of the boots faded out.
I lashed out with my mind, grabbing a hold of the air just in front of Anima’s face and instantly generating a bright burst of light, causing her to flinch back and release me. Another push and we landed a good 20 feet away from each other.
I tore off the mask of my suit and pointed at the heroine. “You better not have damaged this thing,” I told her, “the warranty is way out of date.”
“Better your suit be damaged than you be hurt,” Anima said with that same, sickly-sweet smile as golems began to rise around me.
I began bouncing off of them in the style that Canaveral had taught me – pushing off each golem to overbalance them, allowing the backlash of pushing my presence to move me in midair rather than actually damage me, and slamming them into each other when I could. The goal was to break the golems – while they were made of solid stone and could take a lot more force than any living person, I could put out a lot more force than usual too, right now. Even the PA4 being broken – something I would have to freak out about later – didn’t seem to have slowed me, and it was only a minute or so later than Anima paused the horde.
Of course, she only paused her attack to rush at me herself, once again with her aura flared high. This time, however, she came at me rapier first.
I was surprised, but not enough that I couldn’t dodge her – this time I went low instead of high, rolling onto my back and pulling and pushing in just the right way to send Anima over my head.
She landed easily enough, and I asked, “What was that about not wanting to hurt me, Anima? That blade looks pretty sharp to me.”
Her eyes were hard and uncompromising even as her voice was sweet when she answered, “I can always heal you later.”
“Okay, enough,” said Referee, stepping in between us.
Scene 32 – December 19th
Interior “Higgins Museum”, Continuous
“Ah, Molly,” Anima said, quite casually. “Are you going to see reason? You know I only want what’s best for you, dear.”
“I know,” Referee quietly answered.
“Good. Then…” the heroine pointed Excalibur up at the playpen. “Go to your room. You’ll be safe there.”
“No, I… I can’t.”
Referee reached up and removed her domino mask, revealing blue eyes reddened by held back tears. “Anima… Miriam. Please. You know this is wrong. We have to be able to make choices for ourselves. You know this.” She sounded like she was about to cry – I hadn’t realized it was hitting the young girl so hard, had been too focused on Loki to notice. “Please.”
Anima seemed to be hesitating. “I… Molly, I’ve gone too far. I can’t stop now.”
“You can still stop,” Molly insisted. “Loki was right about that, there’s always time to stop. It’s never too late to start being better, you told me that, remember?”
“I… I do, but…”
“Please, Miriam,” the young heroine begged. “Just put down the sword.”
“Will you do it for me, mom? Please?”
The heroine took a deep breath. “Yes, I’ll set it down,” she swore, staring at the blade in her hand. “But first, there’s something I need to set right.”
It was eerily silent as Anima focused and began to change the Higgins Museum back into its original state. The floor moved under us like a snake, marble bars melting back into the walls, sand refusing into limestone tiles.
Within a minute, it was done, and we stood in the familiar lobby of the Higgins Museum.
Anima sighed. “There. Now…” She still hadn’t taken her eyes off of Excalibur. “Now…”
“Yes. Right.” She released the sword.
Anima instantly swayed, presumably feeling the loss of power, but remained upright even as her aura winked out – Molly and I sagged in much the same way, the sudden loss of Excalibur’s power – or the reflection of it that Molly’s aura of fairness had provided – almost dropping us unconscious.
“Right, we need to keep anyone from touching that thing,” I said, pointing at the blade. “Referee, will you – here, take this.” I stripped off my plaid shirt and passed it to her. “Wrap this around the blade and hold it like that. Don’t touch the hilt, I don’t want to take any chances.”
I pulled my discarded mask back to my hand as I walked over to where Loki lay on the ground, and crouched next to him. I could feel him breathing through my presence, but I still laid a hand on his shoulder as gently as I could. “How are you doing?”
The only answer that came was a remarkably cute snore, and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. “Yeah, you’ll be fine. Just…” I yawned. “…drained. Same as the rest of us. Hey, Anima,” I asked as I carefully lifted the dozing illusionist in a bridal carry, “how much juice do you have left?”
“A surprising amount, actually,” she said, sounding more awake than I felt, but confused and uncertain. “I suppose the sword was fueling me right up until the end…”
I nodded towards where Canaveral and Zookeeper had also succumbed to slumber, faint snores coming from where they lay in a pile on Max. “Think you could have some golems carry these lazy asses out of here? Or give them a magical espresso shot, maybe?”
Scene 33 – December 19th
Exterior Higgins Museum, Continuous
As it turned out, she could – Anima tapped each of the sleepers, as well as me and Referee, and pumped zoetic energy into us. When she was done, we were all drained, but on our feet and walking – although still leaning on each other for support. Canaveral, Zookeeper, and Max were moving in a group, arms around each others’ shoulders, while Loki and I paired up – so did Referee and Anima, as well as the two security guards.
As we exited the museum, we met Journey, Hypnos, and Sequoia – all just as tired as us – as well as the Round Table. A group of policemen were there as well, although they seemed wary of the Round Table and were hanging back.
“Everything clear?” Sir Amethyst asked, sounding genuinely concerned at seeing everyone so drained. He and the other knights seemed less affected, for some reason.
“Yeah, about as good as could be hoped,” Canaveral tiredly answered. “Who are you guys? New heroes?”
Amethyst brought a hand up to the back of his helm as though to scratch his head. “Well…”
“Sorry about this,” Sir Alacrity said, and then everything happened at once.
Acumen spoke a word, and Referee dropped Excalibur with a startled yelp, her hands twitching as though electrically shocked. There was a great plume of green smoke, and Alacrity – and the sword – vanished. Amethyst stomped a foot, and the concrete rose around us, trapping each of the Journeymen, the New Champions, and the Magnificent Maxwell into a tiny, personal cell.
By the time we had been broken out by Sequoia, Canaveral, and Anima, the Round Table was long gone.
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