Scene 7 – December 20th
Interior Ambrosia Compound, Early Afternoon
“Hey, boss?” I said, knocking on the door to Thornhill’s office. “You got a moment?” With some people – with Dr. Hartland, or Penny – I might not have bothered to wait for a response before opening the door. For others – Laura, rest her soul, or many of the lesser-ranking members of the Ambrosia Company – I wouldn’t even have knocked. With Susan Thornhill, however… with her, it was best to wait.
Thornhill’s office was relatively plain, as far as the office of a CEO went, and I had seen my fair share. She believed in minimalism, and so apart from her desk and a single work of art – a simplified depiction of the myth of Prometheus stealing fire – the office was bare.
It was a real pain, because it meant that there was nowhere for me to sit.
“What is it, Middleman?” Thornhill asked, glancing up at me from a thick sheaf of paperwork. She seemed, I observed, to be experimenting with a new eye color today – bright gold – but was otherwise in her normal appearance. It wasn’t unusual to see her do this, admittedly – ever since Hartland had managed to create a treatment which could replicate Penny’s shapeshifting abilities, at least at a low level, Thornhill had been moving more and more towards an idealized version of her real appearance. Although literal gold was a bit of a step away from her natural hazel.
“You remember a few months back, when one of our clients – a Maxwell Copperfield – got a purchasing agent captured?” I asked.
She closed the folder and tilted her head slightly, thinking. “Yes, I think I remember. What was it that we sold him again?”
“I passed on some magical textbooks to him back when he was just a stage magician. Or copies of them, rather. They weren’t all that helpful, but…” I shrugged. “So little is, when it comes to learning magic.” You really needed either personal tutelage – and one teacher to many students, as college magical studies courses ended up being, usually didn’t cut it – or serious dedication to personal experimentation if you wanted to get good at magic.
“I recall the situation. Why bring it up now?” she questioned.
“Well, I added something to the mission of the Legion who was sent to New Venice a while back,” I explained. “Copperfield had been planning a heist of another magical text – an instructional book written by Merlin – and I demanded that he lend it to me. As recompense for interfering with our agent, supposedly.”
Thornhill smirked slightly – she wasn’t one for actually seeking vengeance, too pragmatic to do anything that didn’t benefit her materially, but she wasn’t above finding it amusing. “And that worked?”
“Yes – possibly only because it was Legion threatening him, but he did agree to make a copy of the book and pass it on to us, after he had stolen it.”
“I assume he has now done so?”
I scratched the back of my head. “Well… he made the attempt, at least. Things kind of got out of hand, apparently. The report just came in from our sources in New Venice’s DMO.” I tapped her folder and whispered a few words, swapping its contents with those of the report in my own office.
“I’m going to need that back.”
“Just read.” I leaned against the wall and waited while Thornhill skimmed through the report, a slow smile spreading across her face as she did. “Yeah, I thought you’d like this,” I said when she finished.
“I do – at least, in theory. It’s been years since we had eyes on the Mountain King’s armor, and we certainly didn’t have any agents who might have been able to take it from him at the time. But with the armor in other hands – weaker hands – it becomes a real possibility, particularly now that we have Legion.”
“Not to mention Excalibur,” I added. “The things we could do with a power-magnifier of that scale…”
“We’ll have to pass it around and see whether it’s more helpful in your hands or Hartland’s,” she mused.
“I bet I could use it to crack some of the more esoteric spells I’ve been working on…” I wheedled.
“We’ll pass it around,” Thornhill said firmly. “If it will produce more profit with you, it will be yours. If it’s more profitable with Hartland, it will be his.”
I sighed. “Yes, boss.”
“Good. Go speak to the Legions and have them send an iteration to New Venice to keep an ear to the ground for this ‘Round Table’. Once they pop up again, we’ll take their artifacts.” I nodded and turned to go, but was halted by another word from the CEO. “Wait.”
“What it is, boss?”
“Who’s this?” She tapped the face of one of the heroes noted as being involved with the incident.
I squinted, mentally turning the image in my head. “…Newton? They’re a new member of New Venice’s junior hero team. Joined a month or two ago.”
“Doesn’t that costume look familiar?”
“It… could be one of the psychic augmenters that Laura invented,” I admitted. “But that can’t be right – we haven’t sold any of the actual suits since she died.”
“I don’t believe we’ve sold anything to this person. So where did their suit come from?”
I picked up the file and peered at them. “Hm…” I murmured a switching spell again, fetching a file on Newton specifically, so I could get a better look. “I’m not too familiar with Laura’s tech, obviously – not my department – but this doesn’t look like a recent model. Aren’t we on the PA9 or PA10?”
“We need to double check the storage units that we keep the oldest models in, then,” Thornhill said, clearly making plans. “I doubt anyone was able to steal from us, but just in case… and we’ll need to reach out to those who did purchase an actual PA suit and see if any of theirs were stolen.”
“Or if any of them were able to replicate their suits,” I pointed out. “If so, maybe hire them? Hartland hasn’t been able to continue work on them, as he?”
“No, he hasn’t – that’s why we’re not offering the suits themselves anymore.” She frowned. “Wait… Kaufman had been working on the suits before we hired her.”
‘Hired’ was one way of saying ‘kidnapped’, I supposed – Ambrosia’s standard method, in fact. “I think so, yes.”
“Perhaps it really is one of the oldest models, from before then. Do we have Newton’s name?”
“Their registration with the DMO says… Quinn Kaufman. Laura’s child?”
“Most likely an early model, in that case,” Thornhill murmured, considering. “Dealing with Newton will be a low priority, but I think it still needs to be on the list. I want to keep that technology under our control, and the possibility of Newton noticing the similarities between their suit and that of Starling, or any of the others who posses PAs – or between their powers and those who used a PA to get them – is a worrying one.”
“Ambrosia isn’t exactly a secret though, is it?”
“Not precisely, but we’re still flying under the radar. Until I can get the legislation to explicitly legalize selling powers approved – I do need that back, by the way -”
“Yes, yes.” I reversed the switches I had performed, restoring the paperwork to where it had once been.
“- the company needs to remain relatively secret. Having someone who could potentially discover us from the outside, without being able to offer them anything to keep them quiet…”
“We could always kill them,” I suggested.
“Starling and Canaveral are based in that city,” I said. “With Newton on the same team, any suspicions would probably be raised to one of them – and then they could shut down Newton’s ideas.”
“Hmm.” After a bit of thought, Thornhill decided, “We’ll leave their suit as a target of opportunity. It being stolen might draw their attention to it even further, if they haven’t already noticed the similarities. For now, we’ll leave them be – but if the Legion we’re sending now has a good opportunity to take them out and steal the suit, she should do it.”
“Seems unlikely, but I’ll let her know.”
Scene 8 – March 27th
Interior Ambrosia Compound, Evening
“Hey, boss?” I said, knocking on the door to Thornhill’s office.
“Enter.” I opened it and stepped inside, tossing the folder that I had brought with me – for once – onto her desk. “What’s this?” she asked, closing the one she had already been working on.
“Penny’s report from the three months that an instance of her spent in New Venice,” I informed the CEO.
“Ah yes. Looking for the Round Table and their artifacts,” Thornhill said. She opened the folder and began paging through. “The full three months… no sign of them then, I assume?”
“None,” I confirmed – the third-generation clone of Legion who had been left in the city had been collected and terminated after spending the entire time undercover. If she had found them, she would have returned, but… “It seems they’ve gone to ground.”
“I wonder if we have any way of drawing them out?” Thornhill absently mused.
“I doubt it,” I complained. “Legion’s best guess – and Hartland agrees – is that the Round Table was the wife and children of the Mountain King, having inherited his armor. Which, presumably, means that the man himself is dead – not that knowing his connection to them would have been helpful anyway, since we had no idea where he was anyway.”
“Odd that they’re in his old home city, if they’re trying to hide.”
“They could easily have left. And again, no one knows where he disappeared to after he presumably retired -”
“To raise his chilren, I suppose,” she guessed.
“Probably – so however they’re hiding, it’s pretty effective.”
Thornhill tapped her fingers against the desk rhythmically as she thought. “Some form of magic, I would presume. To hide so effectively not just from us but from the heroes as well – Canaveral is quite an accomplished tracker – they would need to have powerful wards against detection.”
“Most likely a set of wards on their home, wherever that is,” I said. “That’s heavy-duty stuff though – would the Mountain King have been able to do it? I was pretty young when he was doing his thing.” Not to mention that I was a West Coast boy – the man’s stomping grounds in New Venice were all the way on the other side of the country from my hometown of San Francisco.
“Not himself, perhaps – he was a mage of only moderate talent, and that was thanks only to the intelligence-boosting effects of his helmet,” she told me. “But he had a close association with the Maestri, who would certainly have been able to do such a thing. Perhaps when they retired – they all did so at approximately the same time – the Maestri set up wards for the Mountain King as well as for themselves.”
“The Maestri… they were masters of manipulation magic, right?” I asked. “Illusions, mind control, that sort of thing.”
“Exactly. If we put pressure on them, perhaps we can reveal the location of the Mountain King’s family.”
“That still requires us to find them,” I pointed out. “Which seems… basically impossible. They doubtless have the same protective wards on themselves, on top of their own abilities, and we’ve already failed to beat those wards with the Round Table.”
“Ah, but I already know where the Maestri are,” Thornhill said with a smirk. “Or how to find them, at least.”
She flipped through the Legion’s report and stopped on her observations of one of the local heroes – Loki. “The Maestri used a ritual to scour their identities – which the MLED once knew – from all archives, and even managed to wipe the minds of most who ever learned it. But Dr. Hart’s memory treatment kept it safe and sound for me. Maestro and Maestra are also known as Jacob and Delilah Koval – and their child, Holly Koval, is a member of New Venice’s junior hero team.” She gave a self-satisfied smile.
I nodded in understanding. “Get a hold of Loki, and use him to crack his parents…”
“And from there, the Mountain King’s family.”
“It won’t be easy,” I noted. “The MLED is quite protective of its heroes, even with you at the head of the DMO.”
“No, it won’t, which is why I’m going to label that as a last resort,” Thornhill decided. “First, we’ll continue to wait – the Round Table can’t remain underground forever. Sooner or later, they’ll emerge – if it’s later, then perhaps Loki will be a viable target, but if it’s sooner, then we have no need to kick that particular hornet’s nest.” She paused, then added, “Three months more, I think. If there is still no sign of the Round Table at the end of June, then we’ll send a Legion or three after Loki.”
I nodded, privately feeling relieved. I wasn’t unaware that my morals had been compromised to a degree by my time at Ambrosia – I was too invested in it now, had done too much and gained too much from the company. Still, I didn’t want to kidnap anyone, as had once been done to me, Laura, and Hartland – even if neither he nor I wanted to leave any longer. “Yes, boss.”
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