Scene 8 – June 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Afternoon
“Alright,” I said, observing my troops as they arrayed themselves before me – scattered across the New Champions’ common room in various states of preparation. “Everyone ready? Because it looks like I’m the only one.”
Holly, the only one not in fancy-dress costume, rolled her eyes. “Come on, boss, it’s just a party – no one’s going to be fighting villains tonight. Or for the rest of the convention. Why are you being so strict?”
“I only wish I was fighting villains tonight,” Quinn joked from where they lay with their head in her lap. They were wearing their dress costume – which was just their normal costume with a formal jacket instead of a plaid shirt – but had their mask off so that she could play with their hair. “It would be better than,” they shuddered, “meeting people.”
“It’s not that bad, Quinn,” Emilia told them, looking resplendent in a black and green dress styled after her usual trenchcoat. “You know you’re good with people.”
“That’s what you think, but I’m on the inside and I know that I’m a mess.”
“You don’t have to meet many people anyway,” I assured the kid, leaning over the back of the couch. “It’s a party which will include almost every hero on the east coast. That’s close to 1500 people -”
“That doesn’t help,” Quinn commented dryly. “I’m good in small groups, not massive parties.”
“- which means that no one is going to be paying attention to you personally. All you have to do is be nice to the people seated at your table each night, and otherwise you can enjoy the wonders of a convention catering to superheroes.”
“Do I really have to be there all three nights?” they asked. “Aren’t Vulcan and Zookeeper going back after the first day?”
“Yes, but you have never been before,” I said. “You’re not getting out of this, kid. You’re going to go to a giant super-powered party and you’re going to like it.”
“What about Holly?” they asked. “This is her first summer as a New Champion too.”
“Yes, but I’ve been to the convention before,” she pointed out. “I got to go last year as part of being on the leadership track in the Journeymen.”
“Which this year means that you get to stay behind babysitting the Journeymen,” Quinn noted.
“Well, the city can’t go entirely without heroes, even for a night. Anything could happen.”
“I wish anything would happen,” Quinn complained morosely. “Then we could rush back home and deal with it.”
“Don’t jinx us, Quinn,” Vulcan said, trying to adjust his collar and failing. Not having a specific costume, he didn’t have a specific dress uniform either – instead, he was just wearing a suit, and would be transforming into his metallic form as well. Unfortunately, it looked like the suit was the same one he had worn last year, and he had added enough muscle that it was a little tight.
“Seriously,” I agreed. “I’ve got a bad enough feeling about this convention without you tempting fate.”
Emilia glanced at me. “You think something’s going to happen?”
I shrugged. “Just a feeling, really. We can talk about it on the way.”
“I’ll make sure to call you if something does come up,” Holly promise. “You’ve all got your pagers, and if nothing else, I think Journey has enough distance to make it to Washington – although probably not back.”
“That girl really eats through her distance,” Anima said, shaking her head. Her outfit wasn’t too far from her normal costume – dress shoes instead of high boots and a finer fabric, but not very different. “She ought to conserve it better.”
“The point is,” I said, “that even though it’s just a gala and convention, I do want to make sure that everyone’s prepared. There are some things we should all know, about the major people attending and about the heroes we’ll be sharing tables with. So, pop quiz time!”
“I thought we left these behind when we graduated,” I heard Quinn whisper, and Holly giggled.
“Quinn!” I said, smirking at them, “Both of Maryland’s senators are attending for at least one day of the convention. Since that’s where we live, I certainly hope you can name at least one of them?”
“Sure,” they said, “Rekha Solanki. Liberal Party, known for her proposal to abolish the death penalty across the country and her work to reform prisons in general. Has a minor shape-shifting power that lets her stretch her limbs a dozen feet or so.”
I nodded. “Right. Holly, you know the other guy?”
“Senator Daly – Malcolm Daly, I think,” she answered. “Conservative Party, expert in metahuman law. Speculated to be planning a presidential campaign for the next election. And…” she frowned. “I think he has a power as well, but I can’t remember what it is.”
“He can control his voice,” Anima said. “Pitch, volume, timbre, etc.”
“Must be a great public speaker,” Quinn commented.
“He is. I may not agree with his policies, but the man knows his job.”
“Good,” I said. “You’ll probably get to meet them both at some point – Senator Daly likes meeting new heroes, and Solanki likes competing with Daly.” They pulled a face. “It won’t take long, I promise.”
“If it does, you owe me ice cream.”
“Fair enough. Other than that, we’ll be sharing space with the Philadelphia team. Vulcan,” I said, turning to the bigger man, “what can you tell me about them?”
He blinked in surprise. “Uh…”
I raised my brows. “Come on, I’m waiting.”
Scene 9 – June 19th
Interior Highway, Late Afternoon
We piled into one of the mini-busses that the MLED used for troop transport, giving cheerful nods to the agent assigned to drive us and spreading out among its seats and benches. I made a beeline for bench in the far back and sat with a heavy sigh, Emilia sitting next to me and leaning against me. I wrapped an arm around my girlfriend and pressed a kiss into the top of her head as she did so.
“An hour to Washington,” she murmured as Deputy Director Blackmire’s wheelchair was loaded into the bus and locked in place. “That’s not enough for a nap, is it?”
“Maybe a short one?”
“Nah… I’ll just suffer.” She glanced up at me, her lips twisted in a wicked smile. “It’s a shame – you know I like napping with you. And ‘napping’.”
“There are four other people in this car, dear,” I reminded her.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t tease you.”
I chuckled. “You tease me enough already.”
“Fair enough.” She sat up. “You said we’d talk about your ‘bad feeling’ later?”
“Yeah, this is probably the best time,” I agreed, letting her shift so that she was no longer leaning against me. “It really isn’t anything specific, just… well. You know how things go. The big stuff usually happens every six months or so.”
“It hasn’t been that long though, has it?” Emilia asked. “We had Overshadow and Underlight trying to break Max out of the asylum back in April. Did anyone ever figure out why, by the way?”
“No clue,” I said, shaking my head. “I asked Max myself, and it wasn’t something that he had set up. But that’s small potatoes, really.”
She rubbed her chin. “…Voltage had that skirmish with the Crows?”
“Come on, Emilia,” I rolled my eyes. “Like anything involving Voltage counts as big.”
“Fair point,” she admitted. “I guess the last really big event was…” She trailed off. “…huh.”
“December,” I finished, “when the Round Table hit the Compound on the same day Max stole Excalibur.”
“Not to mention how it affected Anima’s mind when she disarmed him,” Emilia added. “Yeah, that… that was pretty big.”
“And it happened six months ago today. I know it’s not much of a reason to be on edge, but…”
She took my hand and squeezed it gently. “You’ve been heroing for what, seven years now?”
“Closer to eight.”
“Eight years. I think your instincts are pretty good by now. I trust you when you say you think something might happen.”
“Thanks, dear. It’s not just that, though.”
“The convention is well-known enough that attacking while most of the heroes are out of town might be tempting,” Emilia guessed.
“Exactly. The Round Table hit the Compound while we were out dealing with Max, it would seem to be their style.”
“Nothing usually happens during these conventions, though,” she noted. “At least, nothing’s happened since I joined.”
“Yes, well…” I sighed. “In New Venice, at least, and most of the state as well, it goes back to the Mountain King.”
“As with most of our city’s oddities.”
“It does seem that way sometimes, doesn’t it?” I agreed. “One of his rules was mutual respect. Don’t hit your enemy while they’re down, let them take their vacations, send gifts to their weddings…”
“A real gentleman.”
“Yeah. And, like a lot of his rules, most people in this area still follow that.”
She tilted her head to the side. “So if we announced our engagement, you think we’d get gifts from the villains?” she joked. “Villains other than Essa and Maria that is – they had better give us presents regardless of what the Mountain King said.”
I laughed. “You say it like it’s a joke, but yes, that’s exactly the kind of thing I mean. Maybe not from the Buff Boys, but I suspect Motael would send us something. Voltage too, although it probably wouldn’t be much. Overshadow and Underlight as well.”
Emilia chuckled. “I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense, it just seems strange. I mean, we’re not friends with any of them outside of Essa and Maria.”
“Well, I’m not actually from New Venice, so I might be misunderstanding it,” I prefaced, “but I think the Mountain King thought of it as us all being in the same business. Co-workers, in a sense. Heroes, villains… just because you fight while you’re working doesn’t mean you have nothing in common.”
“I still think it’s weird as hell!” Quinn called from farther down the van, where they were sitting with a large sketchpad on their knees, drawing something I couldn’t quite make out. “Villains are villains!”
“Oh, come now,” Emilia protested. “Didn’t Max save your life on your first night out in costume? And Essa and Maria were perfectly nice when you met them!”
They lowered their sketchpad and eyed us. “Max saved my life, yes,” the younger hero agreed, “and I can’t really say anything of Maria, because I didn’t exchange two words with her. But Max didn’t do anything for my sake, he was just helping out a friendly ex-”
“Hey,” I protested weakly.
“-and as for Essa?” they continued without stopping. “The woman threatened to use my secret identity to destroy me, and made that threat with a smile on her face. She’s not wrong that the Crows are a better option than the Buff Boys, but that doesn’t mean I like her. Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” I said quietly. “You’re just being honest.”
Quinn sighed. “I don’t mean to speak ill of your friends,” they said, glancing from me and Emilia to Anima, who was even closer to Essa in particular, having known the villain since college, well before either’s powers had manifested. “I understand that there are degrees of villainy – sometimes you have to work with the lesser evil against the greater. I get being respectful, too – everyone deserves a certain level of dignity and respect, regardless of who they are. But sending wedding gifts? Pretending to be friends, just because you’re ‘in the same business’?” they quoted. “That goes a step too far, in my view. Even the lesser evil is still evil. A villain is still a villain. There’s a difference between them and us, we chose different paths.”
The bus was silent for a few moments.
“I’m sorry,” Quinn said again. “I was kind of blunt, there, and it was uncalled for. I’m just… still not happy about having to go to this convention thing.” They lifted their sketchpad again and returned to whatever art piece they were making.
“What I was saying, I think,” I quietly said, deciding to simply return to my conversation and give Quinn some time to cool off, rather than start an actual argument, “is that the Mountain King’s rules mean that villains in New Venice don’t really take advantage of this kind of thing. But… well, the Round Table are new. I don’t have a handle on how they’ll act, yet.”
“Didn’t we agree that they were probably the Mountain King’s family, making use of his armor?” Emilia pointed out. “Wouldn’t they follow his rules as well?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. But there are still a lot of questions about them. Like… why are they using his armor? Why isn’t the Mountain King taking action himself?”
“…you have a hunch, don’t you.”
“I don’t have any evidence for this, you understand,” I began, and she nodded. “Even less than the general bad feeling I have about tonight. But… well, if the Mountain King is dead, that could explain how the Round Table has his armor, rather than him acting himself. But… the Mountain King would only be in his late 50s, at this point. That’s pretty young for a natural death, especially for someone as rich as he must have ended up.”
“…you’re suggesting that the Round Table found him and killed him…” Emilia realized.
“In which case, we couldn’t expect them to follow his rules,” I finished. “And given their perfect timing six months ago…”
“…Holly knows what to expect, right?”
I nodded. “She doesn’t agree with my worries, but I warned her all the same.”
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