Scene 34 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Early Evening
I sighed heavily, leaning my forehead against the door of the briefing room for a moment. It had been a long day, but the crisis was over and the end was in sight. All I had to get through were these debriefs, then I could hand things over to Henry.
Of course, there would no doubt be more to do the next day, and I couldn’t help smiling at the thought. I might complain, but I didn’t know what I would do with myself if I wasn’t busy.
I straightened up, opened the door, and entered. “Good evening, Mr. Koval,” I said, sitting across from Loki.
“Good -” the young man yawned. “Sorry, director. Good evening.”
“Still feeling drained?” I asked, and he nodded. “Well, this shouldn’t take all that long.”
“I know, just… not usually this tired.”
“We’ll be brief, I promise. So.” I opened my laptop, tabbing over to the the word processor I favored so I could take notes. “What was the first sign you had of something happening, today?”
“It was maybe 11:30. I was having coffee with Quinn and Simone, in celebration of us all having finished our college finals. We had left the coffee shop and gone to April Park to have a snowball fight, when our pagers went off, to call all available heroes back to the compound.”
“Why did you make the decision to return?”
“We… weren’t going to, at first,” Loki admitted. “Simone’s girlfriend – ex-girlfriend, I guess – cheated on her and dumped her before exams started, so she was stressed out and feeling pretty down, and Quinn and I were trying to cheer her up. I assumed that Canaveral would be back at the Compound quickly, and Anima probably would be too, not to mention that Zookeeper was on console and should be able to handle it. But…”
“But we noticed Anima, Canaveral, and Zookeeper flying away from the Compound on the roc that Starling built for Anima,” he said. “Simone insisted that we head back, even going in against four unknown metahumans.”
“Four?” I asked. I tabbed over to my notes on the event – there had been five recorded members of the so-called ‘Round Table.’ The prevailing theory was that they had someone stolen or inherited whatever had granted the Mountain King his vast powers – the armor seemed to be the most likely theory, as each of them had produced obviously-magical mist from a different piece, while the Mountain King had produced it from his entire set – had fallen into their hands.
Loki nodded. “That’s what the pager said.”
“Simone teleported us back to the console room, where we met Sequoia and Hypnos,” he said. “I sent Quinn and Simone to get changed and got a briefing on the situation from Hypnos. I then received a text message from Molly saying that her flight had been moved up, she had just landed, and was I or Simone available to pick her up, so I sent Journey to get her.”
“This was the point at which…” I sighed. “Journey teleported through security at the airport without being cleared, resulting in a complaint from the airport board.”
“Is that why it took her so long to get back?”
“It was,” I confirmed. “Please keep in mind that Journey is impulsive and forgetful. Next time you send her into a secure location, make sure she goes through security. It’s faster than being detained even briefly, and results in fewer complaints from other authorities.”
Loki shook his head. “I’ll have to talk with her about that. I love her like a sister, but she’s got to keep that stuff in mind.”
“I’ve already scheduled her to speak to Deputy Director Blackmire about it tomorrow evening,” I said, pleased that he wanted to take the responsibility himself. “But regardless. What happened next?”
“I planned to divide and conquer,” he said. “Since the villains seemed to be new, I was confident that we could handle them, and it worked – at first.”
“But then the fifth member of their crew showed up.” Loki clenched his fist and, I imagined, was probably gritting his teeth behind his mask. “Dame Acumen.”
“So how many of them were there?” I asked, casting my eyes up to his previous statement of four metahumans.
“She… was able to see through my constructs, somehow,” Loki said, almost sounding as though it was painful to admit, “and was… incredibly annoying. She was focused on me, or seemed to be, and…” He sighed. “And without me coordinating and watching, they somehow put together a plan that turned the tables.”
“We may need to put together some training exercises without you leading the Journeymen,” I mused, making a note of it, “if you being distracted for a few moments left them falling apart so badly.”
“They weren’t falling apart, exactly, but… yeah, it was heading in that direction,” he admitted. “Fortunately, Journey and Referee got back just in time. I had them bounce around and we started winning again. That’s when it happened.”
“Anima’s aura covered the city.”
“Yes. It was… scary,” he confessed. “Especially when she manifested a golem and started talking about… locking us up, basically, to ‘keep us safe.’” The young man shivered. “Kind of… hit close to home, I guess.”
I tilted my head. “How so?”
“Haven’t you read about it in the transcripts of my sessions with Dr. Wagner?”
“Those sessions are entirely confidential,” I reminded him. “There are no transcripts of them, and I don’t look at his notes. Unless you share, or he has reason to believe you’re an imminent danger to yourself or others, I have no idea what you discuss with Dr. Wagner – only whether or not you schedule sessions, and attend them after you do. Do you have reason to think he’s been sharing your information without your consent?”
He paused for a moment, thinking, before sighing. “No, I guess not,” Loki said. “Just… well, just another facet of the same issue, I guess. I’ll make sure to talk with him about it.”
“Do I need to mention my issue?”
“Not if you don’t want to,” I promised. Policy would have me push, but I considered my heroes’ mental health to be as important as their physical. Just like I wouldn’t force someone with a broken leg to stand during a debrief, I wasn’t going to force Loki to talk about his issues when he wasn’t ready to.
“Okay. Okay.” The young man took a deep breath before continuing, “Journey evacuated us from the Compound, and I set up a stealth bubble so Anima wouldn’t spot us. Hypnos told us that the thing which had called the Champions away was that the Magnificent Maxwell had somehow gotten hold of Excalibur, which apparently magnifies people’s powers, and might mess with their heads as well. We figured that Anima had probably taken it from him, and that’s why she was… acting strange.”
“This is when you called me,” I noted.
“Yeah. You know how that went, of course.”
“Since Omnipresence and Aegis were both busy with… was it really a parallel dimension invading?”
I switched tabs to the latest report on that situation. “The invaders certainly claim to be. As with the supposed incursion in California two months ago, however, it’s unclear if it’s true or not. The situation is still unclear.”
Loki tilted his head, sounded quite interested as he asked, “Are the two incursions linked?”
“Again, unclear. The invaders don’t seem to be from the same parallel, if in fact they really are from alternate dimensions. One could be real and the other fake, or both real, or both fake – which is what I personally think. But that’s beside the point,” I said. “Continue from the phone call.”
“Since we had Referee with us, we were the best option to get the sword away from Anima,” he said. “We had just gotten some preliminary intel from Hypnos when the Round Table showed up again.”
“How did they see through your shield bubble?” I asked.
“The same way Acumen saw through my previous spells, I assume.”
“And how did they get out of the Compound?”
Loki opened his mouth, then frowned. “I’m… not sure, actually.”
I nodded. “We think Dame Acumen has some sort of stealth capabilities, tentatively ranked Area Buff 2 since she was able to share it with the rest of the Table. That’s why the initial report said four, even though there were five of them, and why you all forgot they were there when they escaped.”
“That… how did I miss that? I was there, I saw her, and I knew there were only four reported…”
“It seems to have less effect second-hand.” I gestured to dismiss that. “But keep going. The Round Table reappeared?”
“Yes. They offered to help us get to Anima and keep golems from flanking us while we confronted her.” He sighed. “And… they did a decent job, I suppose. They helped get Referee in range of her, which massively boosted the range of her aura to include all of us.”
“And then you went in?”
“Yes. I…” he took a deep breath, fortifying himself, and I made a mental note to check that he attended an appointment with Wagner to talk about whatever issue this had jostled. “I tried to convince her to give Excalibur up peacefully, but she just drained me unconscious. I didn’t wake up until it was all over – I don’t know that I was properly awake even when the Round Table stole the thing.”
“Alright then. That’s the events… do you have any observations about how the sword affected Anima’s mental state?”
He hesitated. “Can I beg off this question?”
“Mental health?” I asked, raised an eyebrow.
I nodded, and saved my notes. “Alright. That’s all I need from you, then. Go get some sleep, Loki.”
He yawned again before standing. “Yeah… I’m looking forward to that.”
Scene 35 – December 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Evening
“…we tried to make an escape once, tried to get the sword away from her, but she just drained our energy,” Abe said, sounding every bit as tired as Loki did. “After that it was all we could do to stay awake, even when Molly’s aura hit us. I saw the kids come – Loki got drained, Quinn managed to hold her off, then Molly managed to convince her to back down.”
I nodded. “Last question. How would you say the blade affected Maxwell and Anima’s mental states? Were there similarities?”
“Shouldn’t that be a question for Anima?”
“I already debriefed her,” I told him. “She doesn’t remember her time holding the sword very clearly. All she could say was that holding it felt good in a way which, no longer under its effects, was ‘creepy’ and ‘too easy’.”
“Alright. Well…” The hero took a deep breath. “It was definitely affecting them – I could see that Max’s emotions were all over the place, and Anima seemed about the same. They were… off-kilter, I guess. But, if I’m being honest… I don’t think it introduced any new thoughts.”
“What do you mean?”
“Arthur Peregrine said that it was a power-enhancing artifact, right?” He said. “It affects the mind in the same way it affects your power, it enhances you to the point that it considers you worthy of ‘kingship’. That doesn’t mean giving you new ideas, forcing you to want something you’ve never considered – but it might mean magnifying thoughts you would never have actually acted on into overriding impulses.” Canaveral sighed. “Max wanted to prove his worth to Peregrine, as though he had failed somehow by not getting that apprenticeship. That’s just the kind of thing you tell yourself when you fail like that, ‘if I could just show him how good I am now, he’d change his mind,’ even though you know that’s not how it works. And Anima… I’m sure every parent has had the thought that if they could just wrap their children in cotton and keep them from the world, they would be safe. And while she may not literally be a mother to any of the Journeymen, she certainly views the Journeymen as her kids – Molly especially.”
I nodded. “That seems like a reasonable explanation of their behaviors. Do you think their exposure will have any lasting effects?”
“No clue,” he said with a shrug. “I’m no mage and certainly no psychiatrist. Ask Arthur Peregrine.”
“Oh, I will.” I saved the file. “Do you think we need to put Anima on temporary leave?”
“Probably for the best. Get her a clean bill of mental health from Peregrine – Wagner, too – before she goes back on duty.”
“Agreed.” I let out a heavy sigh. “Today was a real mess, Canaveral. Have you see what the media is saying about Anima?”
He shook his head. “I haven’t had the time to check yet, but I can only imagine it’s bad.”
“Whatever you’re imagining, it’s worse. There’s a strong possibility that she’ll have to retire because of this.”
“That… would be bad,” Canaveral said. “She’s one of the best healers the MLED has.”
“I know. I’m going to be fighting for her, but…” I growled. “I already have an angry message from Chief Director Redding. We might be lucky if we can keep her as an on-staff healer.”
Canaveral struggled the hold back a yawn as he asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Argue in her favor when Internal Affairs comes to interview you about the incident,” I said. “Other than that… Just go get some sleep.”
Scene 36 – December 19th
Interior Mansion, Late Evening
When we had gotten home, taking shelter under the Kovals’ wards on the family mansion, Morgan had immediately whisked the sword – Excalibur, the Journeymen had said it was called – away from Tristan, and vanished into her wing. Mom, meanwhile, had swept off to check on dad, and make sure that he had gotten to bed alright on his own.
The rest of us, meanwhile had essentially collapsed in a puddle. After we stripped off our armor, left in the padded underclothing that had come with the stuff, I and my siblings were simply dozing, waiting for our mothers to shoo us to bed or to talk about the events of the day.
When Morgan reappeared, Viv was curled up against my side, Percy was lying with his head in her lap, and Tristan was sound asleep across Percy and my legs. I myself had folded up dad’s cape – which had changed color from deep purple to a metallic gray when I doffed it, as always – and was using it as a pillow between my head and the wall.
Morgan smiled a little at the sight, and I tried not to stir too much so as to avoid waking Tristan. Viv yawned and rubbed at her eyes, and Percy propped himself up on an elbow. “Hey Morgan,” I whispered.
“Hey kids,” she quietly responded, crouching. “First of all, I want to tell you how proud I am of all of you.” A sleepy smile spread across my face involuntarily, and Viv blushed a little. Percy just nodded, but I could tell how pleased he was to get such praise as well. “You successfully recovered the data we were hoping to get, you went toe-to-toe with the Journeymen and very nearly won, and you managed to adapt when plans had to change, and keep Excalibur out of the MLED’s hands – which means out of Ambrosia’s hands.”
“What did you do with it, by the way?” Viv asked. “It didn’t seem like something to be careless with.”
“I have it locked under a number of protective enchantments at the moment,” Morgan said. “In a few days I’ll begin investigating it for possible use – see if my specialty in artifice and enchantment can let me avoid the mental effects of it, or if they might be worth it for a few moments at a time. For now, however, we’ll just keep it locked up.”
“Probably for the best,” Percy murmured. “The idea of it being misused again…”
“A scary thought,” I agreed.
“Right. But that’s the first thing – you all did well.” Then Morgan sighed. “The second thing, unfortunately, is that even though you did well, today was a bit of a fiasco. The MLED will be on the lookout for any groups matching our description, has definitely connected your powers to Arthur’s, and Arthur Peregrine himself will doubtless be in the city by the end of the week. The Ambrosia Company will almost certainly have active agents here soon, both for Arthur’s armor and for the sword, if they can get their hands on it. Not to mention that Anima, one of the few heroes in this city that’s definitely not connected with Ambrosia – and a long-standing pillar of the entire East Coast for almost 20 years – might be forced into retirement as the result of this.” She shook her head sadly. “I wish it hadn’t turned out this way.”
“What’s our next move?” Viv asked.
“Nothing – yet. You and I will need to look through the data you recovered from the MLED’s servers, and from there, most likely a lot of scrying to check on hunches and inferences. What we’ll be doing next depends greatly on what we find. The deeper Ambrosia’s hooks go into the MLED, the more drastic the actions we’ll have to take in order to keep Arthur safe from them.” She leaned over Tristan’s snoozing form to press a kiss to my, Viv, and Percy’s foreheads. “For the moment, you should all get some rest. Maybe check in on your father, if Jenny hasn’t coaxed him to bed yet – it’s been a good day for him mentally, but that just means that he was worried about you all.”
“We will,” I promised, Viv and Percy echoing me a moment after.
Morgan whispered a few words, and Tristan rose into the air, still sleeping peacefully. “I’ll put Tristan in his room. Good night, kids.”
“Good night, Morgan.”
“Night,” Percy said, grunting as he stood.
“G’night mom.” Viv yawned, and cuddled back into my side. I decided not to disturb her, and instead just closed my eyes and did my best to follow my sister to sleep.
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