Scene 13 – June 19th
Interior Mansion, Late Afternoon
We began to assemble in the entrance hall of the manor, each clad in our respective armors. Leather undersuits, varying levels of plate armor above it, and, of course, we each bore a piece of our father’s own armor, granting us one of the abilities he had once used as the Mountain King.
While we hadn’t gone out together as the Round Table in six months, we had continued practicing in the privacy of the manor’s grounds, safely hidden behind the Kovals’ wards, and so it felt almost mundane to throw dad’s cloak on over my full plate, a rich purple color bleeding into the naturally dull gray fabric as it attuned itself to its wearer’s soul. Awareness of all the earthen materials around me flooded into my mind as it did, and I sighed in pleased relief at the familiar feeling as the ability to command the earth settled into my soul once more.
“God, get a room,” Viv teased, approaching with dad’s helmet under one arm. She had spent only the bare minimum of time with her own piece of dad’s armor – since Morgan had learned from Arthur Peregrine that the intelligence-boosting power of the helm had accelerated the onset of his dementia, we were all a little wary of the thing. Still, she would wear it from the moment before we left until the moment we got under the wards again.
I raised an eyebrow at her – she wouldn’t be able to see it under my considerably less-magical helmet, but my twin knew me well enough to read my expressions even without being able to see my face. “Don’t get on my case, Viv,” I said mildly, “having super-sense feels nice, and you know that as well as I do.”
“Yeah, but I don’t moan when they come online like a virgin with her first-”
“Hey guys!” Tristan said brightly from behind her.
“Fuck, Tristan!” Viv yelped, jumping aside and almost dropping her helm. “Where the hell did you come from?”
“I just got here.”
I glanced behind him at the empty hallway. “You’re getting better at not leaving a trail behind,” I noticed, remembering the long trails of green mist he had left anytime he used his greaves’ granted superspeed the last time we had went out.
“Yeah, turns out if I extend the speed to the mist it vanishes almost instantly. I think that’s how dad did it back in the day, but, uh…” Tristan trailed off into silence.
“…he didn’t remember, did he,” Viv said quietly.
“…yeah. I asked him a while back and he had no idea. When I figured it out, he just shrugged and said that it sounded familiar, but he didn’t seem sure.”
I hugged him as best as I could. It’s not easy to give a good hug when both of the people involved are wearing plate armor, but I tried, and Tristan hugged me back almost desperately.
“It’s gonna be okay,” I promised him. “It’ll all be over soon, and then dad will be safe. Once we don’t need to worry about the Ambrosia Company hunting him down or stealing his armor, then-”
“Then he’ll still have late-stage dementia,” Viv pointed out sourly. “Mother hasn’t been able to do anything. Devon-” her voice didn’t even catch of the name of dad’s doctor, the crush she had once had on them long since forgotten in the face of dad’s worsening prognosis, “couldn’t help either, not even with spells directly from Peregrine.”
“Peregrine himself couldn’t help,” Tristan said under his breath.
“He visited around Christmastime,” my little brother explained. “I don’t know why exactly he came, but I know he spoke with mom – Morgan, not Jenny – and met Dad, too. I figured that mom had finally called in a favor from him, but… well, Dad didn’t exactly get better after than, now did he?”
“…no,” I admitted.
“I want to protect dad as much as the rest of us,” Viv promised. “But… don’t tell our moms this, okay?” I nodded, and so did Tristan. “Lately I’ve been wondering if it’s worth it. We can’t leave Holly in danger,” she clarified, “but everything else… I mean, dad barely even recognizes us anymore. He can’t eat properly. He…” My sister sighed. “I just don’t know how much of him is left. Do you ever wonder if the dad of five years ago would want this?”
“He wouldn’t,” I said, “he would have wanted us to stay out of the whole super-everything. But we have to.”
“I’m not sure that-”
She fell silent as Percy entered, adjusting one of his gauntlets. “Hey Viv, can you give me a hand with this?” he asked, waving it at her. “One of the hinges in the little finger is stuck.”
Viv spoke a word of power, one of those magic phrases that utterly failed to register in my brain as anything other than a sound, and the gauntlet repaired itself.
“Thanks. Still waiting on moms?”
“No need to wait, we’re here,” Jenny said, entering just ahead of Morgan.
Scene 14 – June 19th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
“Alright everyone,” Morgan said sternly as she walked to the front of the room, “remember: you’re just getting attention so that the manifesto I’ll send out is taken seriously. Once the heroes show up, Dom, you put up the wall, and then you come home.”
I raised a hand. “So, uh… we’re sure that I can actually put up a wall like that?”
“Arthur put up similar walls before he retired, although never on such a large scale,” Jenny told me. “He might have been able to, but he never tried it.”
“It’s something the armor can already do, on a very large scale,” Morgan agreed. “That falls in line with what Excalibur let Anima do – the same thing, but more so.”
I nodded, still a little uncertain, but willing to go with it. “Okay. I’m just worried because I haven’t used Exalibur before.”
“I’m sorry you haven’t had a chance to practice, but I don’t want anyone the be exposed to it more than necessary,” Morgan explained. “The enchantment I created insulates the wielder from its mental effects, but there’s still some leakage.”
“I understand. Speaking of that enchantment…? I know you were just maintaining it yourself when you use the thing, but I can’t exactly do that.” Morgan was a ridiculously good enchanter, and could maintain enchantments without actually anchoring them if she wanted to. I, on the other hand, couldn’t cast the simplest spell in the world no matter how hard I tried – Viv was the only one of us kids to have any talent for magic.
Morgan tossed me a pair of thin gloves that would come up to my elbows. “Wear those under your gauntlets,” she ordered, “and hold Excalibur in both hands when you use it, it should help spread the load between the two gloves.”
A wave of violet mist spread from my cape, and the steel gauntlets I was wearing peeled themselves away from my hands at my mental command. I slipped the gloves on, taking a moment to admire the craftsmanship – although they looked gray at first glance, at closer inspection they were actually white, but with an intricate pattern of interlocking runes in black – before rebuilding the gauntlets over them.
“As for the rest of you,” my mother continued, passing me the gold-hilted dagger that was the magical blade’s current form. I took it by the blade, not wanting to draw it until I had to. “If Dom loses Excalibur, remember not to touch it by the handle. Only lift it by the blade, and put something between it and your hand if you can.”
“What if one of the heroes gets a hold of it before we can retreat?” Percy asked. “Should we fight to get it back?”
Morgan hesitated before answering. “We can’t let the Ambrosia Company get Excalibur, but… but your safety is more important,” she finally said. “If one of the heroes gets it, particularly Newton or Canaveral, you retreat.”
“Again, I don’t think Newton is one of their agents,” I said.
“They weren’t on the list of buyers we compiled,” Viv agreed.
My mother shrugged. “It wasn’t an exclusive list. And they clearly have some connection, based on their supersuit being of the type that Ambrosia sells. I don’t want any of you to risk it, understood?”
“Good.” Morgan glanced at each of us. “Any questions?”
I glanced at Viv, who opened her mouth, then hesitated. After a moment, she said, “are you sure this is the only way, mother?”
She sighed. “Sure? No, I’m nowhere near sure. I’m not even sure it’s the best way. But all the other ideas we’ve had are worse.”
“I just… I hope…” Viv stopped. “Never mind.”
I hope it’s worth it, I silently finished for her.
Scene 15 – June 19th
Interior MLED Compound, Evening
“Fuck!” I swore. “You traitor!”
“You turned on me first,” Simone teased. “You know you deserve this.”
“Yeah, you kind of do,” Molly Madigan lazily agreed from where she lay. “You brought this on yourself, Holly.”
I sighed in defeat. “Fine, fine. I accept my villainy and the consequences thereof. Do what you will.” Simone tapped a button on her controller, confirming that she wanted to steal a star from me, and I crossed my arms in annoyance as my character on screen made a sad pose. “I hate this game. It destroys friendships.”
“I’m still your friend,” Jack Forester said.
“And you’re also not playing.”
“Hey guys, we have an alert,” said Nic Mellas’s voice, echoing through the speaker system from the console he was manning. “The Round Table just showed up in April Park and called out the Journeymen specifically. Dame Acumen said, and I quote, ‘I’m itching for a rematch with Loki’.”
I growled. “Oh, I’ve been looking forward to this. That bitch is going down.”
“We’re taking them on?” Forester asked, raising an eyebrow and transforming into his tree-like form – wood grain spreading across his flesh and his naturally red hair becoming a leafy green as he became Sequoia.
“We sure are.” I brushed my fingers against each other, a construct of light and sound forming around my body as I put the appearance of Loki as easily as breathing. “Volunteers only, of course.”
“Come on,” Simone said eagerly, “like any of us would turn down a rematch with those asses.”
“Actually, Simone, I-” The teleporter vanished in the middle of my sentence, and I frowned. “Damn it, I thought she was getting better about that.”
“You want me to come too?” Mellas asked.
“Yeah, grab an agent to put on console and mask up,” I told him, finding my pager and sending an alert to Canaveral and the other Champions. “Your combat precognition is still the best option against their speedster.”
“Got it. Gimme a sec.”
“What’s the game plan going to be?” Sequoia asked. “We won’t have Quinn along this time, we’ll be outnumbered even if you fight.”
Which I hadn’t, last time – I had acted as overwatch, which had worked fine until Acumen began interfering. This time around, though, I knew she was coming, and wouldn’t be distracted – I had no intention of getting anywhere near her.
“I’ll explain once Nic and Simone are changed,” I answered. “No need to go over it more than once.” In the meantime, I began casting a set of magical earpieces – I had gotten the casting time for the spell down to only ten seconds, so it didn’t take long. I tossed one of the glowing green orbs to Forest and another to Madigan, then paused. “…Molly, you seem quiet – more than usual, I mean. Is something wrong?”
“Ah… no, nothing’s wrong,” the redhead claimed, but I was pretty sure she was lying. “I’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure? You don’t have to come if you don’t want to,” I reminded her. “Perks of being a Journeymen instead of a Champion, you can turn down your assignments.”
“No, I’ll come. I remember last time, the Round Table are no joke.”
“They certainly aren’t,” I agreed, remembering Armstrong’s fears – that the Round Table had killed the Mountain King and stolen his armor, that they were willing to be far more lethal than most villains in New Venice. I had disagreed, but I also hadn’t expected them to show up again, and he had been right about that… “but we’d manage.”
“I know, but… I should be there,” she said. The youngest member of the Journeymen dug in her bag for a moment before producing the black and white shirt that, when pulled over the armored bodysuit she was already wearing, was her costume. She donned it, before saying, “I just don’t want to…” She trailed off.
“…to what, Molly?” Sequoia asked her.
Referee bit her lip as she put on a domino mask. “…I can’t say.”
“You know you can tell us anything,” I encouraged.
“No, I really can’t say. It’s not my secret to tell.”
“…secret identity stuff?” I guessed, and she nodded. Did she know something about the Round Table? Not the time to interrogate her. “Alright, keep it quiet then, just don’t let it get in the way.”
Journey reappeared a moment later in full costume, Hypnos stepping in a moment later. “Ready, boss!” the muscular girl said cheerfully, and Hypnos echoed her less enthusiastically.
“Journey, do you have enough distance to get to the gala?” I asked her.
“Yeah, but not back. But won’t I be ferrying Molly around?”
I shook my head. “No, I need you to go and make sure that the Champions got the alert. None of them have acknowledged their pagers yet,” or at least, the console hadn’t received the acknowledgment – I had an image of it playing in the corner of my vision so I could monitor it myself, as I usually did when I was in the compound, “so they might not know.”
“Aw… fine, I’ll go,” Simone agreed, and reality shattered around her as she teleported again.
“As for the rest of us,” I said to the remaining members of the Journeymen, “let’s go get a jeep and an agent to drive it. We’ve got some villains to fight.”
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