3.1. Scenes 5-7

Scene 5 – June 16th
Interior Mansion, Evening
Dominic Könberg

 

“I can’t believe it’s been six months,” Vivian murmured as she joined me on the couch, curling her legs underneath her and leaning against my side.

“Since…?” I asked, putting an arm around my twin’s shoulders as we waited for the rest of the family to arrive.

“Since we attacked the MLED Compound,” she said. “It feels like we’ve been doing basically nothing since then.”

“Haven’t you and Morgan been searching through the infodumps you got away with?” I pointed out. “That’s not nothing.”

Viv shrugged. “I mean, yeah, but it didn’t really feel like much. We’ve learned a lot about what the Ambrosia Company has been doing and even have an idea of how to stop them, yeah, but… I mean, that deadline is coming up soon. If we don’t do something about it, then Holly…”

“She put together a plan in time,” I said confidently. “I trust that it will work.”

“I trust mother too,” she agreed. “But it’s still a pretty fucked up situation, you know? Having to be supervillains to protect our father and our family, trying to take down an evil corporation-”

“That’s redundant,” our younger brother Percy noted as he entered the room and sat in an armchair near the couch.

“Yes, but still. We’re hoping to take down a corporation to protect not just dad, now, but also our childhood friend, who’s one of the superheroes that will try to stop us!”

“Yeah, well…” I sighed. “We tried to get in contact with her and warn her, but she’s completely incommunicado. Even her parents can’t get to her.” The Kovals had been brought into the plan last month, after Morgan had discovered that the Ambrosia Company was considering targeting their daughter in order to get at the Kovals and force them to break down the wards they had placed to protect dad from the company’s notice. “We don’t exactly have many other options.”

Viv started to respond, but was distracted by mom entering. “Hey mom,” she said, shifting a little against me to sit up straighter. “How… how’s dad?”

Mom sighed heavily and leaned against the wall. “I put him to bed and he’s asleep, but…” She closed her eyes and swallowed with some difficulty. “It’s hard.”

“We know, mom,” I said quietly, “but you do a great job.”

“Thank you, Dom. It’s just… he’s gotten so much worse in the last few months. Sometimes he doesn’t even recognize me…”

Percy stood and went to her, hugging her close, and she clung to him almost desperately.

As she did, Morgan, our other mother, entered. Her eyes widened as she saw her partner’s state, and she raised an eyebrow and me and Viv. Viv mouthed an explanation, and Morgan nodded.

She gently took mom from Percy’s arms and turned her so that she could hold the taller woman herself, pressing a gentle, loving kiss to mom’s cheek as she did so.

“Thank you, Morgan,” mom whispered after a few moments

“Any time, Jenny.”

They released each other after, and Morgan tapped the side of the TV, turning it on and beginning to magically project her thoughts into it. She turned to face the rest of us, then paused. “Where’s Tristan?”

“Finishing his nightly call with the girlfriend,” Percy said. “He’ll be here soon.”

“Still the same girl he went to the beach with?” mom asked.

“Still Molly, yes.”

Mom managed a small smile. “I’m proud of him. She sounds like a lovely girl. Maybe we could have her over for dinner, soon?” she asked Morgan.

The other woman shook her head, the snow-white hair that I and Viv had inherited falling in her face as she did so until she tucked it back behind her ears. “It’s still not safe, dear, you know that.”

“I just…” mom sighed. “I just want this to be over. It’s been so long since we had anything like a normal life.”

“Dad’s a retired supervillain, one of our moms is the greatest mage in the world maybe after Arthur Peregrine himself, and we live in a mansion that no one can notice without being told about,” Viv said dryly. “When did we ever have a normal life?”

“Touche.”

Tristan, our youngest brother, stepped into the room, slipping his phone into his pocket as he did. “Sorry I’m late,” he said apologetically.

“No you’re not,” Viv denied. “You would much rather still be on the phone with your girlfriend.”

“Okay, I’m not sorry, but I’m here, at least.”

“Settle down,” mom ordered. “Morgan needs to brief us.”

 

Scene 6 – June 16th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
Dominic Könberg

 

Morgan sighed heavily, shaking her head a little. “I want to apologize ahead of time for this, because the plan is… loose, at best. There just wasn’t enough time to put together something as firm as I would have liked, but… well, with Holly in danger if we don’t resurface by the end of the month…”

“I babysat for that girl,” mom said quietly. “It’s been far too long since I’ve seen her, but… we can’t let her be in danger when we can do something about it.”

“Exactly.”

“So what’s the plan?” Percy asked.

“In short, we give Ambrosia something bigger than us to worry about,” Morgan said. “The information you stole from the MLED served as a starting point for my scrying, and with Viv helping me put the pieces together, I’ve managed to compile a list of almost 2500 heroes and villains across the country who purchased their powers from the company.”

I whistled softly. “That’s what, around a percent of all heroes and villains in America?” 15% of the populace had superpowers of some sort, but only a fraction of a percent had both the power and desire to put them to violent use.

“A hair over two percent, actually,” she corrected. “It’s better than expected in some ways – I feared that they would have a hold over far more of the country’s heroes. But in other ways, it’s worse. Their heroes tend to be in high positions, well-trusted and influential. We know that Canaveral is an agent of theirs here in New Venice, of course, and Starling was as well before he was transferred, but they were also behind names like Widowmark and even Nanoblade – not to mention Legion.”

Tristan shuddered. “I’ve heard about her,” he whispered. “She sounds scary as hell.”

“She’s their most reliable and prolific agent, for obvious reasons,” Morgan said, and I nodded. Along with powerful, unbounded shapeshifting and the ability to absorb organic matter to empower herself, Legion could also duplicate herself as much as she pleased, thus the name. “But they have many others. Despite the small size of the company’s core membership, their tendrils seem to be everywhere. Including,” she gritted her teeth, “the presidential cabinet.”

“Wait,” Viv interrupted, “are you saying that-”

“Yes,” our mother confirmed. “Susan Thornhill, the Secretary of Metahuman Affairs, the woman in charge of the DMO as a whole, not just the MLED, is a member of the Ambrosia Company.”

“I suspected, with the bill she’s been pushing for,” Viv commented, glancing at me – she had been complaining about it earlier today – “but I hoped it wasn’t actually true. And she’s not just any member though, is she?”

Morgan nodded miserably. “No, she isn’t. She’s nothing less than the CEO herself.”

“…can we prove it?” Percy asked after a moment. “That’s a massive conflict of interest.”

“Yeah, if she’s selling superpowers and pushing for the explicit legalization of doing so, that seems like a pretty clear case for corruption,” I agreed.

“And no wonder, I always said the corruption in the MLED went straight to the top.”

“I… yeah, actually, I guess you were right all along,” Viv admitted, and Percy grinned triumphantly.

“We don’t have clear-cut proof,” Morgan said apologetically, “as half of it relies on scrying that’s not considered legally reliable. But, well, politics is all about optics. Even without certain proof, it can still hurt her reputation and force her to focus on the politics for a while.”

“So we leak it to the media, then?” mom asked, but Morgan shook her head.

“That alone wouldn’t be enough. Any reputable source would take too long to verify it, and even if it was released immediately it doesn’t cost Thornhill much to send a single Legion to track down Holly in secret.”

“Unless her intention to do so is part of the leak,” Viv suggested. “She would avoid that, because it would give legitimacy to other parts of it if it laid out a plan for Holly – well, Loki, since we don’t want to reveal secret identities if we don’t have to – to be kidnapped, and then it happened. She could use another agent, but it would still look suspicious”

Morgan bit her lip thoughtfully. “…yes, that might help. I’ll amend the release to include that plan of hers. Good idea, Vivian.”

“Thanks.”

“You said that leaking it to the media wouldn’t be enough alone,” I observed. “What else?”

“It needs to be a huge political scandal, one that will consume all or most of the company’s resources to deal with,” she explained. “Something that will draw the eyes of the entire country.”

“Thornhill writing a law to enrich herself won’t do that?” Tristan asked.

“That’s just garden-variety political corruption, if that’s all it is,” Viv said dismissively. “What about the kidnappings?”

“Kidnappings?” I blinked in surprise. “Plural?”

“Many of the workers at Ambrosia – all three of the top minds, and a number of the lesser scientists working under them – were kidnapped and forced to work for the company under various threats,” my sister explained. “There was nothing making that explicitly clear, but mother and I are pretty sure of it anyway.”

“The kidnappings will be in the release along with their other crimes, but no,” Morgan said. “Nor will them selling to villains along with heroes be enough. The assassination of various heroes and reporters who discovered this would help, but… well, again, that just puts whoever we sent it to in danger.”

“So send it to multiple news agencies,” Percy said.

“Legion could hit all of them simultaneously,” Viv pointed out, and again, they have other agents as well.”

“I think what Morgan is getting at is that we need to find a way to make sure it gets released immediately,” I observed. “And I think we all know what that means.”

“Put it out as a manifesto when we make another appearance as supervillains,” Viv said, sounding rather annoyed at the prospect. “Our appearance resets the clock for Holly, and would guarantee that it gets released a lot faster. Do something big to attract attention, then publicly lay the blame for it at the feet of Susan Thornhill and the Ambrosia Company…”

“Exactly,” Morgan agreed.

“How are we going to pull off something that big?” Tristan asked.

“That’s the easy part, isn’t it?” Viv said with a smirk that didn’t reach her eyes. “After last time, we have Excalibur. If it was strong enough to make the Magnificent Maxwell a threat to the city and nearly ruin Anima’s career, it’s strong enough get one of us on national news.”

“Viv is right, as usual,” Morgan agreed. “Although I’m not sure I would call it ‘easy’. I may have designed an enchantment to use it relatively safely, but, well. The keyword there is ‘relatively’. The longer you hold it, the more it will affect you.”

“Then we’ll have to hope that we won’t have to use it for long,” mom said. “Which of us is to carry it?”

“Well, the obvious choice is Dom,” Viv said, and Morgan nodded again.

“That was my thought as well. The terrakinesis that Arthur’s cape grants you is the showiest power that any of you receive from your father’s armor,” she explained to Tristan, who still seemed a little confused.

“Why not you?” my youngest brother asked, tilted his head curiously.

“If I were to appear as a villain, Arthur Peregrine himself would be certain to stand against me – and even with Excalibur in hand, I’m sure sure that I could hold him off. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s not unbeatable, and he has far more skill and practice in battle magic than me.”

“What will Dom do with it, though?” Percy asked, glancing at me. “And when?”

“This weekend, most of the New Champions will be out of town at an event,” Morgan told us. “The only one remaining will be Holly herself, watching over the city as Loki, as well as lead the Journeymen if they’re needed. I enlisted the Kovals to help, and we’ve arranged for invitations – or what will appear to be invitations – to be sent to many of the other villains in town as well.”

“Getting everyone possible out of the city,” Viv said approvingly.

“Precisely. And then…” Morgan turned to me. “I was thinking a wall.”

 

Scene 7 – June 16th
Interior Mansion, Late Evening
Dominic Könberg

 

We all bickered for a while, arguing over details of the plan and various contingencies, before we were all finally satisfied – or equally dissatisfied, at least. We were all unhappy with various aspects of it – Percy wanted to go farther with the manifesto, throw in accusations that even Morgan and Viv weren’t sure of rather than just the ones they were certain were true. Tristan wanted to do the opposite, worrying that the MLED as a whole might collapse if we went too far. Momo, of course, was concerned about us all being safe, and Morgan was trying to make the outcome as certain as she could. I, meanwhile, was worried about whether or not I would be able to handle Excalibur for as long as I might need to.

Viv, oddly enough, hadn’t said much, only putting forth a few comments, and more serious ones than usual. I knew my twin better than to think that was normal – normally she had opinions on everything, with half of her contributions being insightful and brilliant and the other have being jokes and hilarious asides to me. Today, however…

As everyone began to leave, heading for their various rooms – mom and Morgan walking off together for dad’s – I caught my sister before she left, keeping her pressed against my side until everyone else had gone.

She raised an eyebrow when I did, but didn’t object, instead just yawning a little and waiting patiently. After even Percy had ambled his way to bed and we had privacy, she asked, “What is it, bro?”

“That’s what I was going to ask you,” I countered. “Last time we were planning this supervillain thing, you were a lot more cheerful. You were joking, having fun. This time…”

“Last time was before I found out that my childhood best friend was fighting for the other side,” she snapped. “Last time, I didn’t think anyone would actually be in danger. Last time…” Viv trailed off and sighed, letting her head fall into her hand, her snow-white hair falling to hide her face. “Last time,” she finished, “I didn’t really understand the consequences.”

I furrowed my brow, confused. “What do you mean?”

“We were using the Magnificent Maxwell – a man who has never caused serious injury to anyone – as a distraction. We ourselves did nothing worse than minor concussions that Anima could heal – that she did heal, the minute that she got hold of Excalibur. And even when she had the sword, the danger wasn’t what she would do it it, but what would happen if Ambrosia took it from her. It never really felt like anyone was in danger,” she explained. “But this time… this time, if we don’t get it right, Holly might… might…”

She swallowed. “I know it’s been a very long time since we’ve seen her. I know that she’s probably forgotten all about us, that she would probably hate us for what we’re doing if she knew. But… I couldn’t stand for her to be hurt, you know?”

“Yeah,” I said, hugging her tightly. “I know.”

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3.1. Scenes 1-4

Scene 1 – June 14th
Exterior City, Early Evening
Quinn Kaufman

 

The teenager was obviously terrified as the mugger held a gun to her face, practically trembling as he spoke. “Give me your fucking wallet, bitch,” the mugger snarled, his voice low and harsh, only audible thanks to the enhanced senses my expanded presence gave me. “And don’t make no sudden movements, ‘cause my finger’s feeling real fucking itchy right now.”

I stepped off the rooftop with a gentle push, slowing my fall into the alleyway with a simple application of telekinetic pressure. I landed soundlessly, my knees flexing ever so gently, then went to work.

With my presence extended and focused on the mugger and his gun, it was the work of only a moment to switch the safety on. Then, satisfied that there was no chance of anyone taking a bullet to the head, I telekinetically broke the man’s trigger finger.

FUCK! he swore, stumbling backwards toward me and doubling over his gun hand – and, unfortunately, putting his body between me and the gun, which meant that I couldn’t just pull the gun from his hand as I had intended to do with his grip loosened by the break. Well, no plan survives contact with the enemy – not even one as pitiful as this.

“You know that there are other swear words, right?” I cheerfully asked him, using more telekinesis to spin him around so that he was facing me. “You criminal types should really be more creative, otherwise it’s gonna get boring. I mean, I’ve only been one of the New Champions for two weeks and already it feels routine, and it’s unimaginative punks like you who make it that way.”

“You piece of shit, I’ll fucking kill you!” the mugger threatened, shifting the gun to his other hand with another yelp before raising it at me and pulling the trigger. Nothing happened, and he blinked in stunned shock.

“See, I could have guess you’d say that,” I lamented. “Honestly, it’s always the same. ‘I’ll kill you, Newton!’ or ‘you’ll pay for this, Newton!’ Why is it never ‘how are you doing, Newton?’” I shook my head sadly, and tore the gun from his hands with my mind. “And going from assault to attempted murder, too. Ah well, at least you established intent, which should make things easier on the jury.”

He tried to take a swing at me, but with a broken finger to distract him, it didn’t take someone with my skill as a fighter to parry the blow and counter with a palm strike to the head, dazing him for a few seconds. I used that opportunity to drag his arms together and zip-tie his thumbs together. “I’m gonna stop you here and put you under arrest, sound good?”

I read the mugger his rights, then left him sitting on the curb nearby while I checked on the victim, who had sat herself and hadn’t stopped trembling. “You alright there, miss?” I asked her. “He didn’t manage to actually do anything before I dropped in, did her?”

She shook her head. “No, he just… just pulled me into the alley and started… you showed up before he could do anything. Thank you, Mr. Newton.”

“Not a mister,” I automatically reminded her with a pang or irritation that I tried to hide – honestly, I had made it clear that I was nonbinary in my first ever interview, people had no excuse to get it wrong. “You’re still shivering, though. You sure you’re doing alright?”

“Sorry… it’s just, I was so scared,” she whispered.

I slipped off the plaid shirt I wore over my supersuit and crouched to drape it over the poor woman’s shoulders. “Yeah, this kind of thing can be pretty scary, even when you don’t get hurt physically. Meeting with a therapist might help, if you’re still feeling shaken in a day or three. The breast pocket of this,” I tapped the shirt I had given her, “has the cards of some good ones.”

“I… I’ll look into it. Thank you, Newton.”

“Just doing my job,” I told her as I rose, then turned away to keep an eye on the mugger himself. Well, a physical eye – my presence was omnidirectional, so I hadn’t lost sight of him while I was checking on the victim. Still, it was good to point my face at him so he wouldn’t forget and try something stupid.

“Console,” I said quietly, “how long until the police come to pick this guy up and take her statement?”

“Should be around 90 seconds,” Vulcan, tonight’s designated hero-on-standby, said, his deep voice rumbling as it came through my earpiece.

I nodded, and leaned against the wall to wait.

 

Scene 2 – June 14th
Interior MLED Compound, Evening
Quinn Kaufman

 

“Hey there, kid,” my mentor greeted me as I reentered the compound. “How’d it go?”

“No trouble, boss,” I told him. “Didn’t see a soul in the Crows territory, broke up an argument in the Buff Boys’ area – not connected to the gang itself as far as I could tell – then stopped a mugging on the way back in.”

“And used up your flannel again, I see,” he observed.

I rolled my eyes, letting my head roll with them since my mask covered my face. “That’s what it’s for, Canaveral.”

“How many times have I asked you to call me Navi, Quinn?”

“Your actual name will have to do, Abe,” I said.

“Not when I’m in costume,” he protested.

“Then put on your mask.”

He pulled the cowl of his costume over his head, covering the upper half of his face but leaving his mouth and jawline exposed. Something about appearing more personable if you could see his face, as he had once explained to me. Personally, I thought he had wanted to leave some skin exposed so that no one would ever forget that he was black, the way people so often forgot that I was nonbinary. “Happy now, kid?”

I patted him on the shoulder as I removed my own mask, along with the hairnet that kept my hair – long enough to fall in loose waves to my shoulders, these days – under control while I wore it. “Couldn’t be better, bossman.”

“Now, I know that’s not true.”

I raised a brow. “What do you mean?”

“You’re always happier around Holly,” he teased. “You prefer her to me, don’t you? The man who taught you everything you know?”

“Teach me everything you know, and maybe I’ll reconsider,” I joked. “Until then, I’m gonna stick with my best friend.”

“Oh, like she’s just a friend to you,” he laughed.

“Look, we agreed not to talk about that until we were in a better place…” I paused. “Which… I think we might actually be, now. I clapped him on the shoulder again, a grin spreading across my face. “I think it finally time to talk about it. Thanks, boss!”

 

Scene 3 – June 14th
Interior MLED Compound, Evening
Quinn Kaufman

 

I checked the common room that lay between the New Champions’ wing of the floor and the Journeymen’s half first – since Holly had only turned 21 the previous month, it was where we usually hung out together, since we were each stuck in different halves of the age-segregated floor. I didn’t see her, but I did see most of the Journeymen – Nic, Jack, and Simone.

“Hey guys,” I said, leaning over the back of the couch that Jack and Nic were sitting on and playing a game on the large TV.

“Hey Quinn,” Jack said, pausing the game and turning to face me better. “How was patrol?”

“Uneventful. Looking forward to retiring?” I asked Nic.

The teen nodded. “Oh yeah. It’s not that being a hero isn’t important, but…”

“I know, it’s not what you want to do. And now that you have a handle on your powers, no reason to stay.”

“Well, maybe one reason,” he said, his eyes flicking to Jack’s.

“Aw, babe,” Jack said, grinning, then leaned in to kiss his boyfriend.

“Get a room, you two,” Simone said, walking over from the kitchenette with a bowl of ice cream. “What brings you here, Quinn?”

“Looking for Holly, have you seen her?”

She shook her head as she took a seat and picked up a controller herself. “Not tonight. Have you tried her room?”

“That’s where I was heading next,” I said, and pushed off the couch to stand up straight again. “You three having a game night? Why wasn’t I invited?”

“Just the Journeymen, sorry,” she smirked.

“Then where’s Molly?”

“Out with the boyfriend,” Jack told me.

“I said he was welcome to come as well,” Simone said, “but apparently they had reservations to something.”

“Ah. Well, I’ll leave you to it, then,” I said as I began to leave for the dorms. “Enjoy!”

 

Scene 4 – June 14th
Interior MLED Compound, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

“Hey Holly, you in there?” I asked, knocking on her door.

“Yeah, come on in!”

I swung the door open, and was struck, as always, by my best friend’s beauty. Curly brown hair which she had recently cut into a short undercut, chocolate-colored eyes, freckles pasted across her cheekbones, and a single dimple that was revealed as she smiled at me from the chair in front of her desk.

“Hey there, stranger,” she said, her voice warm as her eyes met mine. “What brings you ‘round these parts?”

“Well, little missy,” I responded, mimicking the ye-olde-west accent she had put on and pretending to hook my thumbs into a gun belt, “I was doing some reckoning, and I reckon you and I are due for a talk.”

Holly giggled at my impromptu cowboy impression, then raised an eyebrow. “A talk? What about?” she asked, dropping the accent.

I used my presence to pull her spare chair out from behind the desk and unfold it so that I could sit backwards on it, stacking my arms on its back and resting my chin on them. “You remember a few months ago, when we said that we both wanted something more than just friendship, but we weren’t ready for it yet?”

She nodded. “I remember. Between your dad dying and my parents being…” She paused for a moment, thinking of how to sum up how they have behaved on the night she had effectively disowned them. “…my parents, we decided we should wait until we were both in a better place.”

“Yeah. Well… no pressure, but…” I gave her a soft, hopeful smile. “I’m in a better place now.”

Holly’s eyes sparkled as she leaned forward, pressing her forehead to mine. “That’s good to hear. You’re sure?”

“Yes,” I promised, my eyes flicking down briefly to her lips, “I’m sure.”

A wide smile spread across her face. “Me too,” she whispered.

My grin widened. “I’m glad to hear it. So are we…”

“I think we should go on a date, soon,” she suggested, “before we say anything about what we are or aren’t. Just to make sure it goes as well as we hope it will.”

“That sounds wonderful,” I said, reaching up to cup her face. “May I…”

“Not before the first date,” she scolded me in a teasing tone, “you scoundrel.”

“On the cheek?”

“I suppose that’s acceptable.

I pressed a soft kiss to her cheek, just barely missing her lips. Before I could pull back, she turned her head to kiss me on my own cheek, and as we separated I could still feel a pleasant warmth where her lips had touched my skin, and my own seemed to tingle.

We grinned at each other, our foreheads still pressed together, and found that our hands had caught each other without our notice.

“That first date had better come soon,” Holly mused, “or I might not be able to wait for it to kiss you properly.”

“Soon,” I agreed. “This weekend?”

“No, there’s that gala, remember?”

“Oh god, don’t remind me,” I groaned. “You’re lucky you don’t have to go.”

“Staying behind to babysit the Journeymen while the rest of the Champions are out of town sounds more fun to you?”

I pulled a face. “Ugh, no way. You can keep your leader-y duties, thank you very much.”

Holly laughed. “I will, thank you very much! It’ll have to be the week after, then.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I promised.

Intermission | Act 1 | Next Chapter

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3. Act 1: Mighty to Defy

What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?
-William Ralph Emerson, 1847

Scenes 1-4, Scenes 5-7

Scenes 8-9, Scenes 10-12, Scenes 13-15, Scenes 16-17

Scenes 18-20, Scenes 21-23

Intermission (Scenes 1-4)

Dramatis Personae

Principal Characters

Quinn Kaufman, the young superhero Newton, who has telekinetic and extrasensory abilities. (they/them)
Holly Koval, the young superhero Loki and Quinn’s best friend, who creates illusions. (she/her and he/him)
Dominic Könberg, the supervillain Sir Amethyst, who commands all the elements of the earth. (he/him)

A Congress of Heroes

Abraham Armstrong, the superhero Canaveral and leader of the New Champions, who commands kinetic energy. (he/him)
Adam Abelard, the superhero Vulcan, who transforms into metal to create both ice and fire. (he/him)
Emilia Alvarez, the superheroine Zookeeper, who transforms into animals. (she/her)
Jack Forester, the young superhero Sequoia, who transforms into wood. (he/him)
Miriam Wright, the superheroine Anima, who commands the zoetic energy of life. (she/her)
Molly Madigan, the young superheroine Referee, who imposes fairness in an aura around her. (she/her)
Niccolo Mellas, the young superhero Hypnos and Jack’s boyfriend, who can project his senses at a distance. (he/him)
Simone Destrey, the young superheroine Journey, who teleports. (she/her) 

An Assembly of Villains

Albert Ford, the supervillain Ridealong, who can communicate with and access the senses of a designated target. (he/him)
Alessandra DeVitto, the supervillainess Hertz, who controls vibrations. (she/her)
Jennifer Könberg, the supervillainess Dame Adamant, who is invulnerable to harm. (she/her)
Maria DeVitto, the supervillainess La Borda and Alessandra’s wife, who can control spacetime. (she/her)
Morgan Könberg, one of Jennifer’s parters and an accomplished artificer. (she/her)
Nicholas Dreyfus, the supervillain Motael and a technological genius. (he/him)
Robin Goldberg, the supervillain(ess) Rube, who instinctively alters probability in their favor in an aura. (any pronouns)
Saige Sanders, the supervillainess Brewer, who can designate a single object to psychically observe and control. (she/her)
Percival Könberg, the supervillain Sir Ardent and Dominic’s younger brother, who has super strength. (he/him)
Sara Dreyfus, the supervillainess Overshadow and Nicholas’s daughter, who has power over shadows. (she/her)
Tristan Könberg, the supervillain Sir Alacrity and Arthur’s youngest son, who has super speed. (he/him)
Vivian Könberg, the supervillainess Dame Acumen and Arthur’s only daughter, who magically manipulates objects. (she/her)

Intermission | Book 3 | Next Chapter

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Arc 3: That Bright Crown

What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly…
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

     -William Ralph Emerson, 1847

Act 1: Mighty to Defy

Scenes 1-4, Scenes 5-7
Scenes 8-9, Scenes 10-12, Scenes 13-15, Scenes 16-17
Scenes 18-20, Scenes 21-23
Intermission (Scenes 1-4)

Act 2: Sinking Sand

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4,
Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12
Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15
Intermission

Act 3: Glory to Decay

Chapter 1, Chapter 2
Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6
Chapter 7, Chapter 8
Intermission

Intermission | Act 1 | Next Chapter

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2.3. Intermission (Scenes 1-5)

Scene 1 – December 25th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Morning
Miriam Wright

 

“Merry Christmas,” Luke said as he entered the conference room, sliding his briefcase onto the table, sounding uncharacteristically tired.

“Happy Hanukkah,” I countered, even though it had been over for a week – my teasing response earned a small smile, but only a brief one. “…are you feeling alright, Luke?” I asked.

He sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and rubbing his temples. “I should be asking you that question. You’re the one who got mind controlled.”

“I’m fine,” I assured him. “It was rough at the time and for a few days afterward, yes, but… Peregrine healed me, and I’m feeling just fine now. Well,” I corrected myself, “a little anxious about the future, but I think that’s normal.”

Luke nodded, then straightened up. “Yes, I suppose it is.”

“What’s on your mind?”

He gave me a look. “Your case, obviously. It’s been the only thing anyone in the PR department has had time for since it happened. You haven’t made things easy for us, you know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault.” He drummed his fingers on the table and frowned, irritated. “The public is fickle, and I knew that going into this career. I just wish…” He sighed again.

“So what’s the verdict? Have I been fired?” I asked.

Luke shook his head. “No, Shepard was able to protect you from that, at least, and Canaveral’s testimony helped as well. Between the two of them speaking for you and your years of service making you a New Venetian institution, you can remain on the payroll – assuming you want to.”

“Of course I want to,” I said immediately.

He grimaced briefly. “Wait until you hear about the conditions Shepard had to agree to first,” he warned me. “Number one is that you’ll be benched indefinitely.”

“Which, of course, means ‘for as long as Chief Director Redding says so.’”

“Which means ‘forever’, unless Secretary Thornhill decides to overrule him,” he sourly agreed. “No patrols, not even going out as backup, and no PR appearances on talk shows and the like. Strictly console work and healing. Supposedly it’ll only last until your PR issues clear up, but…”

“…but Redding is a petty tyrant who still resents me for not moving to DC and joining his department,” I finished.

“Exactly.”

“What are the other conditions?”

“Number two is that you submit to monthly psych evaluations,” Luke answered. “Because apparently Peregrine’s word isn’t enough for Redding. It was magic and you’re cleared, that should be good enough.”

“Well… Max seems to have lasting issues as a result of the magic,” I pointed out, feeling a pang of sadness at the reminder of what had happened to the younger man. “So it’s not entirely unreasonable.”

“The Magnificent Maxwell’s pre-existing psychological issues were exacerbated,” he countered, “and it’s likely in part because he refused treatment from Peregrine. You, on the other hand, have always been perfectly stable. There’s no reason to worry about your mental health now that you have the clear from both Peregrine and Wagner.”

“I can’t really blame Redding for being mad, petty tyrant or no,” I admitted. “I basically took over an entire city with that sword, and made it look easy. That’s the kind of thing that makes PR pretty difficult.”

“Worrying about PR is my job, not yours and definitely not Redding’s,” Luke snapped. “What he should be doing is letting me handle this, not tying your hands and mine! If he gave me free rein, you’d be on the Ryder Report first show of the New Year, a few more appearances throughout the month, and everything would be back to normal by February – instead, you’re bound to stay out of the public eye and not allowed to comment on anything, which gives off the impression that the MLED no longer trusts you! And if we don’t trust you, the public never will!”

“Maybe they shouldn’t,” I quietly said.

“Don’t talk like that,” he scolded me.

I sighed, and crossed my arms on the table, leaning forward to rest my chin on them. “It sounds like I’m basically being turned into a healing consultant and nothing else.”

“…yeah, basically,” Luke  confirmed. “You’ll still have the title, still be on the rolls of the New Champions, but there are some other restrictions as well, that… well, that’s the long and short of it, yes. I’m sorry, Miriam.”

“It’s okay,” I promised him. “I think it might be for the best.”

Scene 2 – January 15th
Interior Hospital, Early Evening
Miriam Wright

“Thank you for being here, Anima,” Doctor Yaffe said, shaking my hand. “I know you’re a busy woman.”

“It’s no trouble,” I lied – I had had to pass on going to the High Stakes Bar with my friends to be here tonight. But it was important work that I was glad to be able to do.

“Even if it’s no trouble, I know you’re usually on patrol and doing emergency response,” he said, beginning to lead me through the halls of New Vegas General Hospital. “I’m sure that all the patients here will appreciate your help tonight.”

“I’m probably going to be doing circuits of the hospitals a lot more often from now on, so the novelty might wear off before long,” I joked.

“Oh? Why is that?”

“I’ve been pulled from patrols,” I said, trying not to sound sour about it.

“Oh, because of the…”

“Yes. Instead I’ll be making rounds in hospitals, for as long as you’ll have me.” It was a loophole that Luke had found – the man was an angel, honestly. I had been spinning my heels until he got them set up.

Yaffe sighed. “Well… I’m sorry you’ve been benched,” he said, sounding genuinely sympathetic. “But hey, at least you’ll be able to heal some of the more difficult cases – I’ve heard your healing is a lot better than the spells our magical specialists learn.”

I waggled a hand. “Sort of? It’s a different style entirely, so it has different strengths. The standard spells that Peregrine invented are designed to be easily adaptable to anyone’s casting style, which is great for getting lots of people who can do magical healing. The problem is that in making them so easy to learn-”

“Relatively easy,” Yaffe corrected. “I’ve never been able to get any magic to work at all, myself.”

“-relatively easy, sure. But doing so makes them less effective than more individual spells.”

“That’s interesting – I never really thought about that.”

“The other big difference,” I continued, “is that standard magical healing uses the energy of the patient. Again, it lets one magical healer work on more patients than if they fueled it with their own energy, but it also slows down the healing, since sick and injured people don’t have a ton of energy to spare. My magic, on the other hand, actually results in the patient gaining energy.”

“So will there be a limit on how many patients you can help?” he asked.

“Unfortunately, yes,” I agreed. I had topped off my reservoir before coming here – and I tried not to think about what I had done to do so – but while I could hold a lot of energy, it wasn’t infinite. “I should be able to heal at least 15 patients tonight, plus or minus a handful depending on how much they need.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?”

“Not unless you want to donate your own energy,” I joked. Yaffe tilted his head, clearly thinking about it, and I hastily added, “There’s no need. It’ll probably take me the full four hours of my visit to heal those 15 anyway.”

“Still… I wonder…” He hummed thoughtfully. “Your style healing gives energy to the patient, the standard style takes it. Perhaps if you worked beside one of our healers, you could mix the techniques? Use your energy to fuel our healing? Something along the lines of healing half of a patient’s ills, and then our healer uses the donated energy to do the rest – or whatever the optimal ratio turns out to be.”

I bit my lip thoughtfully. “That… could work. I don’t think tonight is the time to test it, though.”

“Our healers are all busy right now anyway,” he admitted. “But maybe next time.”

“Yes.”

“Anyway…” Doctor Yaffe stopped outside a door. “Here’s your first patient for tonight. Drew Palmer, he has severe arthritis in his hands and wrists.”

I nodded. “Thank you for guiding me, Doctor Yaffe.”

“Please, just call me Mark.”

Scene 3 – January 15th
Interior Hospital, Continuous
Miriam Wright

“Mr. Palmer, good evening,” I said to the man – a middle-aged man with gray hair and a scowl on his face.

“What do you want?” he demanded.

“My name is Anima, Mr. Palmer. I’m a licensed healer, and I’m here to help your arthritis,” I told him.

He glared. “…well?”

“I can’t heal you without permission,” I said as I approached. “May I?”

“Yes, yes, get on with it, girl.”

I hid my annoyance as he thrust his hands at me, right into my face. I took them in my own and pulled them away a little before I started.

A slow breath out as a trickle of life exited me and entered Drew, and I was able to see the patterns of life that made up his body. The pulsing core of his heart, the strong beams that were his bones, the intricate patterns of nerves and blood vessels… it was, as always, beautiful, even if its holder was unpleasant. He would be in a better mood once I fixed his arthritis, I was sure.

And… yes, there was the problem. The joints in his fingers and wrists were swollen, his life bent out of shape. I coaxed them into their proper shape, then fed a stronger stream of life into him, using it as fuel to heal his actual body.

A few minutes later, I was done. “How does that feel, Mr. Palmer?” I asked him.

Drew pulled his hands out of mine and flexed them experimentally. “Hm. Acceptable.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Just acceptable?” I was certain I had done a good job…

“Take it or leave it, girl,” he snapped. “Now get out of my room.”

I bit back my first response. “Of course, Mr. Palmer.”

Scene 4 – January 15th
Interior Hospital, Evening
Miriam Wright

“…and then he said ‘take it or leave it’!” I complained into the phone. “Can you believe that?”

“What an ass!” Essa agreed. “A man like that doesn’t deserve healing.”

I sighed. “It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to be healed, it’s just… I don’t know…”

“You were expecting some gratitude?”

I nodded, then said, “I suppose so, yes. The thanks isn’t why I’m here, I’m here to still be able to help contribute to people’s lives, to heal, but… but it would be nice to feel appreciated.”

“You deserve appreciation,” Essa said soothingly, “and you haven’t gotten much lately – the public is fickle.”

“Yes…”

“You should come work for me! I’d appreciate you.”

I laughed. “Good joke. I know you would, Essa, but I’m not going to become a supervillain.”

“You don’t have to be a villain,” she wheedled. “I can just keep you on retainer as a healer for the Crows…”

“Thank you, but no. I’m happy where I am, even with assholes like that guy.”

“Ah well. I suppose I can keep focusing on my current target, then.”

“Who would that be?” I asked.

“Well, you’ve heard the rumors that the Buff Boys have a new meta, right?”

I bit my lip, thinking. “Abe has had a hunch for a while, but I didn’t really believe it myself.”

“Abe is right – they’ve got someone with powers that help them do precise chemistry,” Essa informed me. “It’s how the quality of their brawn has gone up so much. I don’t know the full details yet, but I want this new meta for myself.”

“So you can undercut their prices with a superior product, or to get a probably-young meta out of a probably-bad situation?”

“The first, obviously.”

I chuckled. “Never change, Essa.”

She giggled. “I promise. But honestly, Miri… you deserve better than how that guy treated you. Have the other patients been that bad as well?”

“No, no,” I said, shaking my head. “Most of them have been perfectly pleasant. I suppose it’s just… he was the first person I was healing in one of these tours, you know? He… stuck with me, I guess.”

“Firsts do stick with you, it’s true. But so do lasts, right?” Essa pointed out. “Focus on whoever your last patient of the night is.”

“I’m heading into their room right after this call.”

“And I’m sure that they’ll be lovely, especially in comparison to him.”

“Thanks for letting me vent to you, Essa. I just… that man had my blood boiling.

“Anytime, Miri,” she promised.

“I’ll…” I sighed. “I was about to say that I’ll see you soon, but I’m probably not going to be able to make the usual meetups for a while.”

“It’s not like I was able to make tonight’s either – it’s crazy how much paperwork is involved in running a gang. And I have to leave town for a month or three soon for some corporate junk…”

“Maybe you should retire?” I suggested.

Essa giggled. “Now who’s joking? Paperwork or not, this is still by far the most entertaining thing I could be doing with my life.”

“I really do have to go, though.”

“Of course. Go save the world, Miri.”

“Bye.”

I closed the phone and slid it back into the inside pocket of my jacket, then nodded to Mark where was leaning against the wall, scanning through something on a tablet. “Ready.”

Scene 5 – January 15th
Interior Hospital, Continuous
Miriam Wright

He glanced up, then turned the tablet off and led me down the hallway. “The last patient is a Marissa Jackson. Paraplegic after a car accident, and it’s a bad injury – if she’s not helped soon, her legs will begin to necrotize and amputation will be necessary. Even if you can’t heal her spine entirely, preventing tissue death would be a great help.”

“I should be able to,” I assured him. “It’s just a matter of-” I paused as I saw her, and realized that she was young. She couldn’t be more than six…

“I really hope you can,” Mark said quietly. “The rest of us are at a loss. Mr. Jackson, Mr. Jackson,” he said at a more normal volume, and the two young men next to the sleeping girl – one sitting, one standing, both utterly focused on her a moment ago – looked up at us. One of them was tall, thin, and pale – the other was built more heavily, with darker skin and one arm in a cast. “Anima here is a licensed healer, she’s offered to try and help your daughter. Anima,” he said to me, “this is Paul and Malcolm Jackson.”

“Can you really help her?” Malcolm asked.

I nodded. “I believe I can, Mr. Jackson. I’ve healed worse injuries.” Not often, but I had been a hero for close to two decades. Things happened. “If you’ll give me permission?”

Paul nodded. “Please… help Mars. She…” He looked close to tears. “…she was always such an active girl. I don’t know how we would bee able to tell her that she couldn’t… that…” He began to sob gently, and his husband enfolded him in his arms.

I turned away from them, giving them privacy, and instead reached out to take one of the sleeping girl’s hands, sending a trickle of life into her.

Immediately, I could see the results of the car crash. Setting aside the medically-induced coma that she was in the late stages of, she still had a sprained arm, currently placed in a cast, a minor concussion, and… the spine.

It was entirely broken, all nerves severed and all blood vessels ruptured. The bones were intact – whatever had cut her spine had hit at the worst possible place, slicing right between two vertebrae to cut the spinal column itself. It was hard to look at, even in the beauty of life – especially since, as a result, her legs and pelvis were already fading, not receiving the life-giving oxygen that was sent by her heart. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been given the apparent location.

I started to fix the problem – as I said, I had healed worse – but immediately ran into an issue. Her body was rejecting my attempts to magically heal it, resisting my reweaving of its pattern. I frowned a little and tried again, to greater result.

“Dr. Yaffe,” I said, keeping my voice low, “what’s on the girl’s chart? Why have the hospital’s doctors been having trouble?” I had a suspicion, but I didn’t want to say it without confirmation.

“A broken arm, a severe concussion, and the spinal injury,” he told me. “The magical healers tried to help her, but her body resisted the magic somehow. We’ve been keeping her in a medically-induced coma until we can help her.”

I nodded. “I thought so,” I said, then looked at Marissa’s parents. “Misters Jackson, has your daughter always been a metahuman?”

Malcolm blinked. “I… say again?”

“How long has she had metahuman powers?”

“I… wasn’t aware she had any,” Paul said, exchanging a quick glance with his husband. “Are you sure?”

I nodded. “As sure as I can be. She’s resisting magical healing, and her chart says that she should have a broken arm – right now, however, it’s just sprained. She’s also not as deeply unconscious as she should be given that she ought to be in a coma.”

“Does… that mean you can’t help her? If she’s resisting magic…”

“It means that she’s in the process of helping herself,” I told them. “Along with the magic resistance, it seems that she has regenerative abilities – slow ones, but she’s definitely healing on her own.” I experimentally dumped a large quantity of lifeforce into her body, not trying to shape it but simply giving her more energy, and… yes, just as I thought, I could actually watch it happening now as, with more energy, her healing sped up. “It looks like she’s absorbing the magical energy, and using that energy to fuel her regeneration. Not as fast as it the healers were able to help her directly, but it’s definitely working, and she’ll be able to do it herself, especially as she grows and builds up her energy reserves.”

“Will she be all right?” Malcolm asked.

“Yes, she’ll be just fine,” I promised them. “Based on her current rate of healing…” I took another quick look. “Her spine is already fixed enough that she’s no longer in danger of losing her legs entirely. I would estimate that she’ll regain consciousness in about an hour – without a concussion or an injured arm – will regain feeling in her legs by morning, and will be walking by the afternoon. Just make sure that a healer checks on her energy levels every few hours,” I said to Mark, “and that she’s getting plenty of fluids-”

I was interrupted by Paul and Malcolm both enfolding me in a hug. “Thank you,” Paul breathed.

“Thank you,” Malcolm agreed.

I hugged them back, but said, “I didn’t do much, Misters Jackson, it’s all your daughter’s own ability-”

“You’ve given us hope again,” Malcolm told me. “That’s worth something.”

“Thank you,” Paul said again.

I smiled as they released me. It was nice to be appreciated. I wasn’t sure I deserved it, but… it certainly made up for Drew Palmer.

Previous Chapter | Book 3 | Next Chapter

The second book of Paternum, The Unforgiving Minute, will be available for purchase as an ebook or paperback on September 30th. Links to purchase from Amazon, or for a discount directly from me, can be found here. By purchasing the book, you’ll not only support me and allow yourself to read offline, you’ll also be able to read the exclusive arc In Letters Bold.

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2.3. Scenes 25-27

Scene 25 – May 30th
Interior High Stakes Bar, Early Evening
Quinn Kaufman

 

“Oh good,” Holly said with a lopsided smile as we entered. “It’s the same bar you took me to for my birthday! I really liked the drinks you recommended.”

I nodded, trying not to stare too hard – I found her smile captivating, but I shouldn’t stare. We had talked about this and we still weren’t ready to begin a relationship. Soon, though, I promised myself. Soon. “It’s Abe’s favorite,” I said. “I don’t know if he ever goes anywhere else.”

“There are reasons I don’t go other places,” Abe said, winking at the bartender as we walked to the usual table. “This is one of the only places in the city that we can hang out with Essa and Maria safely.”

“And the beer being good doesn’t hurt,” Emilia noted, wrapping her arm around her boyfriends’ waist.

“It sure doesn’t,” Abe agreed as we walked to the usual table.

“Wait, what do you mean that it’s the only place you can hang with them safely?” Holly asked.

“Wait. Essa… I’ve heard that name before,” I said, my brow furrowing.

“We wanted to introduce you to them back in January,” Emilia said to me, “but they couldn’t make it, and then they had a thing that took them out of the city for a few months. This was the first outing since they got back, so it seemed like a good time – and since Holly is 21 now as well…” she shrugged. “That’s probably where you heard us mention her.”

“No, that’s not it,” Holly dismissed. “Because I’ve heard it too. Essa…” Her eyes widened after a moment. “Essa is Hertz. Miriam mentioned her during the Excalibur incident!”

“Fuck,” I swore. “I had completely forgotten about that… and that must make Maria La Borda!

Abe raised an eyebrow. “Smart kids, aren’t you? Yes, that’s who we’re introducing you to, but keep it down, okay? This bar is a neutral zone for heroes and villain, but civilians come here too, sometimes.”

“Why the hell are you introducing us to supervillains?” I gaped.

“It’s a long story,” Emilia said, “but the short version of it is that they’re old friends of Miriam’s, from before any of the three got powers. Nowadays, we have… a working relationship isn’t quite the right word…”

“An agreement, let’s just say,” Abe interjected. “Part of it on our end is that we don’t go after them in their civilian lives, even though we know their identities. Part of it on theirs is the same. And they’ve never broken that agreement, so I think it’s safe for you to meet them, although I’m not going to force you to if you don’t want to.”

“It’s a working relationship that makes things safer for all of us,” Emilia summed up. “On top of them actually being quite nice people who’ve been good friends to us since we met them.”

Abe glanced at his phone. “They’re supposed to get here in a few minutes, but I can ask them not to come if you don’t want to meet them.”

I glanced at Holly. “What do you think?”

She hummed thoughtfully, furrowing her brow. “I think… I’d be okay with meeting them and getting to know them, but… I don’t think I’m okay with giving them my identity.”

“You can always put your illusion on again,” Abe offered, but she shook her head.

“No, I’m done with that. I have to be.”

I wondered if discarding her illusory form was one of the things that she spoke with Dr. Wagner about, but I supposed it wasn’t my business. Instead, I suggested, “What about that statuette thing that Molly’s boyfriend brought to the beach trip?”

“What about it?”

“That was some kind of mind magic that kept anyone from paying attention to us, right? Could you do that so they won’t be able to notice our identities?” Her face went pale, and although I had no idea why, I backpedaled. “Or you could just give us illusory masks, that would work too.”

She swallowed, then shook her head. “No, no, I… I think that that’s actually the best option. I got a pretty good look at that thing, and I think I can replicate it. Just give me a few minutes.”

“I’ll ask them to wait outside until I give them the okay.” Abe said, tapping on his phone and presumably texting the supervillains.

Holly closed her eyes and steepled her fingers. She took a deep breath, then began slowly and carefully moving her fingers against, around, and through each other.

I pulled my awareness away from the sight – feeling her fingers move like that with my presence was always a little painful, and this seemed like an extended spell – as we waited for a minute, ordering drinks while she cast, then two. Then a spike of pain suddenly lanced its way through my mind.

“Shit,” Holly swore.

“Fucking hell,” Abe groaned, lifting his beer and pressing it against his forehead. I copied him, the chill causing the pain to fade a little. “You can just make masks, it’s okay.”

“No no, I’ve got this, I promise. It wont hurt.” Holly said firmly, and the pounding in my head faded into nothing. “One more try.”

I made small talk with Emilia about my thesis – finally finished a few weeks ago, just in time for graduation – while Holly attempted the spell again. One minute, two, three, five…

Finally, Holly raised her hands, her fingers laced through each other in an intricate pattern, and turned to face me. She held her hands between us, and whispered, “Let our faces be forgotten.”

Nothing seemed to change, and I opened my mouth to ask if it worked, but before I could, Abe said, “Fuck that’s weird.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “What’s weird?”

“I can’t make out your faces. Or… I can make them out, but I can’t remember them. My brain isn’t holding onto them for more than a moment,” he said, sounding impressed.

“It can’t remember what your voices sound like either,” Emilia commented.

Holly grinned, a light sheen of sweat covering her face. “That’s exactly what should have happened! I’m glad it worked.”

“You’re incredible, Holly,” I breathed, barely able to hold myself back from kissing her, and she blushed heavily.

“I’ll let them know that they can come in,” Abe said, slipping his phone out again, and from there it only took a minute or two for them to arrive.

 

Scene 26 – May 30th
Interior High Stakes Bar, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

Hertz turned out to be an petite, curvaceous woman with a spiky black pixie cut, wearing a dark-colored skirt and a sunflower-pattern blouse. La Borda, standing just behind her, was taller and thinner, her equally-dark hair rolling down to her shoulders in waves. She wore a full suit, but also bore what must have been the jacket to Hertz’s outfit folded over one arm. She also looked at least ten years younger than her wife, oddly.

“Alessandra DeVitto,” Hertz introduced herself, offering a hand to me with a pleasant smile. “But please, call me Essa! Everyone else does.”

“Nice to meet you, Essa,” I said, shaking her hand.

“The tall drink of water next to me is my wife, Maria,” she said as La Borda shook Holly’s hand. “I understand you two just graduated?”

“Uh, yes,” I said as they pulled up a pair of chairs to sit at the end of the table – Maria slid a chair beneath Essa as she sat without either saying a word, in what looked like a very practiced motion. “Is that DeVitto like the DeVitto gallery?”

Essa clapped her hands together under her chin, clearly pleased, as Maria left. “Yes! I funded the place – I’m glad you know it! I’m quite a fan of the arts, you know, although I’m not really talented myself. Are you an artist?”

I scratched the back of my head, a little uncomfortable. She certainly seemed nice… “I, uh… I try? I haven’t really had the time,” or the mental energy, “to do much for a while now, but I’m hoping that I’ll have more time now that I’ve graduated. I won’t be juggling school and work anymore.”

“Yes, I quite understand. What about you?” She asked Holly.

“I’m an artist, yes.”

“Wonderful! I wonder if I saw your work at the event this winter?” she mused. She probably had – Holly had submitted a piece to the MLED’s winter art show, although I hadn’t.[1]

“Maybe.”

“I, uh… I’m a little unfamiliar with the etiquette here,” I said. “I’ve never met a supervillain out of costume before.”

Essa shrugged. “There’s not really a specific etiquette. I’m not the most formal person out there – our clothes aside – and the Mountain King’s rules are more about how to treat civilians than other metas.” Maria returned with two glasses of beer, handing one to her wife, and she took a sip. “If you have any questions, feel free to ask, but this is mostly just… we’re friends of Miriam, and I like to think that we’re friends of Abe and Emilia as well. This is just our mutual friends introducing us to each other,  yes?”

“…I suppose so.”

“I have a question,” Holly said.

“Ask away!”

“Why are you okay with us knowing your identities?”

Essa raised an eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“…because we’re on opposite sides?”

“Are we?” She took another sip of beer. “The fact is, what you as heroes want is not an end to crime – at least not for its own sake. What you want is for as few people to be hurt as possible, right?”

“…that’s not entirely wrong,” Holly allowed.

“Maria and I don’t go out and hurt people senselessly,” Essa explained. “We even do our best not to harm people accidentally. And we impose those rules on those who follow us as well. Oh, sure,” she said, waving a hand dismissively, “there are occasional skirmishes with the Buff Boys, but they cause much more damage than we do. And occasionally there are… irate customers, let’s say… who need to be discouraged, but you would do the same thing if you saw a woman being menaced, sex worker or not, yes?”

“…yes,” I admitted.

“So, we both do the same thing,” she chirped happily. “We maintain peace over what we can, and prevent people from being hurt! The only difference is that you’re backed by the government, and I make much more money.”

“See, it sounds like you’re saying that you fund pimps and run protection rackets,” I said, sipping my beer.

“Don’t forget the gambling dens,” she reminded me. “But we don’t fund pimps – that’s not as safe for the workers. We maintain brothels, it’s a lot more secure and easier to make sure everyone involved is safe – both physically and sexually.”

“And you just out and say it, huh.”

“I’m not ashamed of it – I’ve made things better for sex workers in this city.” Her eyes danced wickedly as she offered, “I can give you a coupon if you want to see for yourself.”

I nearly choked on my beer as Holly cut in. “No, thank you,” she said with a glare, and Essa laughed. “But I don’t think that answered my question.”

“Oh yes, why am I okay with you knowing my identity.” Essa took a long draft of her beer, finishing it, then turned to Maria. “Would you mind getting me a second glass, dear?”

“Of course,” Maria murmured, taking it as she rose. She leaned over for a moment and kissed her wife on the top of her head, and Essa hummed happily.

“It’s a mutually assured destruction thing, basically,” the supervillain told us. “I find that having a good working relationship with superheroes is much easier when I can destroy you if necessary thanks to knowing your secret identity. And heroes find that possibility much more palatable when they know mine, and can tell themselves that they could do the same.”

“…just tell ourselves that, huh?” I observed. “You don’t think we actually could?”

She shrugged. “More that I don’t think you would. I’m a much better option as a crime lord than anyone else short of the Mountain King, else I would have been toppled years ago. Combine that with your heroic obsession with doing the right thing, and I find it hard to believe that you would use my identity against me.”

“…she’s got us pegged, Loki,” I observed.

“Essentially,” Essa continued, “I’m quite all right with you knowing who I am. It’s not as though I don’t know who you are.”

I blinked.

“What,” Holly said flatly.

“The MLED isn’t as leak-free as it likes to pretend,” she said as Maria returned with another glass for her. “That said, Quinn, Holly, would you terribly mind if we set business talk aside and pretended to be civilians for a little bit? I have a new friend I’m trying to poach from her current employer, and unlike Maria, she’s not aware of your identities – she thinks I’m just introducing her to some of my friends.”

I swallowed my anger and, as usual, looked to my best friend for guidance. She bit her lip, thinking, but after a moment she said, “Fine. Remember us.”

“Thank you.” Essa blinked in surprise. “Hm. I thought you were blonde.”

“No,” Holly coldly said.

“Well, in any case. Abe, Emilia, you’re alright with it, yes?”

“Any friend of yours is a friend of ours,” Emilia assured Emma, emerging from the quiet conversation she and Abe had been having while we spoke with Essa.

“Then Maria, dear, would you mind fetching her?”

 

Scene 27 – May 30th
Interior High Stakes Bar, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

Maria returned a few moments later with a slight young woman, maybe a year or three older than me, who wore mostly pink – hair dyed in a pink undercut, pink dress, pink heels, pink fishnets. Even the cocktail she was holding was pink.

“Saige! So glad you could make it,” Essa said to her, just as cheerful as she had been all night. “Sorry about the slight delay, just a few private things I had to sort out with Quinn and Holly here. Everything’s fine now, don’t worry.”

“Glad to hear it,” Saige said. “Uh, is there a seat for me?”

“You can take mine,” Essa offered as Maria sat, rising, then plopped herself in her wife’s lap instead of in her own chair. Maria wrapped one arm around Essa’s waist to secure her as the smaller woman pressed a kiss to her cheek.

“Thanks.” Saige said as she sat in the newly-vacated seat. “I hope the argument wasn’t about me, I don’t want to cause any trouble between friends.”

“Not at all!” Essa assured her. “It wasn’t even an argument, really.”

Saige seemed unsure, but nodded. “So, uh, I’m Saige Sanders. I know Essa and Maria, obviously, but who are the rest of you?”

“Abe.”

“Emilia Alvarez.”

“Holly.”

“Quinn Kaufman, nice to meet you.”

“A pleasure,” Saige said. “What were you guys talking about before the, uh, not-argument?”

“Well, Quinn and Holly here recently graduated from college,” Abe said, nodding towards us. “What were your degrees again?”

“Biology, concentrating in metahuman biology,” I said. “With a minor in art.”

“Dual major in magical studies and art.

“Nice, fellow artists!” Saige said, raising a hand – I obliged her with a high-five. “I doubled in art and chemistry myself. Congrats on graduating!” She took a sip of her drink. “I hope you didn’t end up with as much debt as me.”

I shook my head. “My dad worked for NVU, so I got free tuition.”

“Nice.”

“I waited to disown my parents until after my last semester was paid for,” Holly said with a faint smile. I was glad to see that she was using it as fodder for jokes – it bode well for how she was feeling about the whole thing.

“Very nice,” Saige chuckled. “That’s the way to do it, for sure. I just went to a college I couldn’t afford and went into debt for my entire life.”

“Well, chemistry’s got to have some high-paying jobs, right?” I said encouragingly.

She sighed. “Not as many as you might think. I suppose my current gig is pretty good, but you would not believe how high my debts have gotten.” She sipped her cocktail again, then shook her head. “But hey, let’s get off the topic of my dumbass life choices, huh? How ‘bout them Champions?”

Abe chuckled, and I couldn’t help but join him – After all, more than half of the New Champions were sitting right at the table with her.

“What about them?” Essa asked. “They haven’t done much recently, have they?” she added with a teasing wink at Abe.

Saige shrugged. “I guess not super recently, but, uh, there was that big thing a few months back, right? With those weird knight guys who invaded the MLED Compound?”

“The Round Table,” I said.

“Yeah, them.”

“But that was ages ago,” Abe pointed out. “It’s been nearly five months since they were seen.”

“But they can’t remain underground forever, can they?” I pointed out. “Villains do villainy. It’s a thing.” I tried not to stare at Essa or Maria as I spoke.

Saige snorted, then covered her mouth shyly. “Okay, yes,” she said, “villains do villainy, but, like, not all villains do it openly, right? Some villains are just, like, facilitators. They sell shit to other villains, or work for other villains. Maybe that’s what they’re doing.”

“Then why attack personally?” Holly asked.

“Maybe they were trying to steal something,” she suggested. “Or lots of somethings – whatever they could get. It could take months and months for them to sell it off, depending on how much they stole.”

“…that’s a thought,” Abe said pensively. “Something to look into, at least. Maybe if Essa can’t poach you, we’ll have to.”

“What do you mean?”

“I work for the MLED,” he said. “In, uh, the analyst division.”

Saige eyed him. “Just an analyst? You’re ripped as hell, dude.”

“He’s taken,” Emilia said, pressing a kiss to Abe’s cheek. “And we’re not open to anyone else right now, sorry.”

“Just an observation, relax. I’m only into girls anyway.”

“If they’re selling to other villains, I don’t know if there’s anything the Champions could do about that,” Holly began.

“Unless any of those villains decided to offer information to the MLED.”

“Oh, like that’s ever gonna happen.”

“I bet it happens sometimes,” I said, remembering that the tip-off about the drug deal that I had helped Abe stopped the night we met had come from the Magnificent Maxwell. “Maybe not often, but sometimes.”

“It does,” Abe agreed.

“Point is, the Champions probably shouldn’t be obsessing over them,” Holly said. “They should look to the future, and just try to be ready for whatever happens.”

Saige shrugged. “It was just a thought, anyway. It could be something completely different.”

“My personal theory,” Essa mused, absently swirling the remainder of her beer, “is that they’re planning some kind of big event as a follow up. Rumors say that they wound up with some kind of large power source, which they’ll use to fuel their next plan.”

“…is that what rumors say?” Abe asked, eying her.

She shrugged. “Just rumors,” she confirmed, and he nodded.

“Whatever,” I said, wanting to get off the topic – if we stayed on it too long, I was certain that I would give something away. “They ought to focus on the future.”

“You should do that too, you know,” Emilia said to us. “I know college is great, but it’s also over now – don’t get too wrapped up in it, you know? Remember your friends, but also move on with your life. Focus on what you have now, and what you’re working towards.”

“That…” My eyes fell on Holly. “…sounds like pretty good advice, honestly.” Focus on what we have and what we’re working towards, without getting wrapped up in the past? I thought I might be able to handle that.

Holly met my eyes, smiling. “Yeah, I think it is.”

Abe raised his glass. “To the future!” he declared.

“To the future,” we echoed, clinking our glasses against his.

Previous Chapter | Intermission

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2.3. Scenes 22-24

Scene 22 – May 23rd
Interior Conference Room, Afternoon
Quinn Kaufman

“Good afternoon!” Lucas Apollon bellowed as he entered the conference room, Director Shepard following behind, carrying her usual laptop.

“Afternoon,” I greeted him with a smile. “Director.””

“Kaufman,” she said with a nod as she sat and opened the laptop. I detected a note of well-hidden warmth, I thought – I had increasingly realized over the last six months that the director cared for us more than she allowed herself to show, trying to maintain a professional demeanor. But the way that she was always steadfast in the defense of all of us heroes, never hesitating to help us when we needed it – even if we thought we didn’t – showed the truth.

“So, almost done, huh?” Apollon asked me, opening his briefcase and withdrawing a set of files. “Were these six months a drag, or did they fly by?”

“A bit of both, to be honest,” I said. “There were a few days that seemed to last for weeks – the whole Excalibur incident and everything wrapped up in it, for example – and months that passed like moments.”

“That’s the way this business is, sometimes,” he agreed. “I hope you enjoyed it, though?”

“For the most part. I don’t intend to quit, if that’s what you mean,” I said.

Apollon sighed dramatically in relief. “Thank goodness. With Starling trasnferred out, the PR issues we’re still having with Anima, and Hypnos planning to quit at the end of the summer, I admit to being a little worried that New Venice would hit a new record for numbers of heroes lost in a single year.”

I blinked in surprise. “Nic’s quitting?”

“After a few months of PR prepping the public for it so he doesn’t face a backlash, yes,” the consultant told me. “He joined to get a handle on his powers, and now that he’s got a good hold on them…” he shrugged.

“I guess that makes sense,” I admitted after a moment’s thought. It was surprising, but I knew that hero work wasn’t what Nic actually wanted to do, and he had been making great strides with his powers since mastering combat precognition. “But yeah, I don’t intend to quit any time soon.”

“Good. That said, we do have some things to discuss in terms of you graduating from the Journeymen,” Apollon said. “Graduation is the best time to change your image, whether that be your name, your costume, or your heroic persona. You remember how those work, right?”

“Sure. Inspiring, Approachable, Practical, or Academic. And then you’re either a Leader, a Support, a Tank, or a Striker. …er, not a Striker,” I corrected myself, “a Swing.”

“Right. So, let’s go through that in reverse order, shall we?” he proposed, and I shrugged indifferently. “We’ve currently got you pegged as an Approachable-leaning-Academic Swing, and you’ve been doing very well with that,” he praised. “I hope we can leave you as is, there?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I don’t think I want to change that.”

“Right. Next, costume. You’ve been using those pride flag-patterned plaid shirts as accessories, yes?”

“Yeah, which… I think I want to change a little bit, actually,” I confessed. “There was a little bit of confusion a few months ago where someone assumed I was bi based on my plaid. I think I should maybe restrict myself to just the flags that I actually identify with – the nonbinary flag, trans flag, and…” I paused. “Hm, there’s not really a flag for the generic queer label, is there?”

“Not that I’m aware of.” Apollon hummed thoughtfully. “Online feedback shows that most people assumed you were wearing the various colors in support, as intended, but I can see why you would want to avoid the confusion. I think we can restrict your plaids to the nonbinary colors and trans colors, sure.”

I bit my lip thoughtfully. “I mean, bisexual does describe me pretty well, it’s just…” I sighed.

“The label doesn’t feel quite right?”

“Yeah, exactly. I do like the bi flag, it’s just not for me.”

“It goes well with your costume, too,” he mused. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I just feel a little bad that I can’t be representation for the bisexual community.”

“You’re not required to serve as representation,” Shepard absently commented. “There’s absolutely no reason for you to feel guilty. It’s not as though we don’t have several openly bisexual heroes in New Venice already.”

“I get that, it’s just…” I sighed. “Just me feeling like I should be doing more than I am, I guess. Dr. Wagner keeps telling me I need to keep an eye out for that.”

“Let’s move on to your name, then,” Apollon offered. “I think that might be better than continuing to focus on this and stressing you out unnecessarily.”

“Thanks.”

“Have you given any more thought to something other than Newton?”

“Nope!” I said cheerfully, popping the end of the word.

He sighed. “Mx. Kaufman…”

“Newton has been working fine, hasn’t it?”

“It has, I just think that something else might suit you better.”

“Have you come up with anything new since last time?” I challenged, and he didn’t respond. “I didn’t think so.”

“Fine, fine,” he said, backing down. “No changes, then. Same name, we’ll be slightly more restrictive with your plaid shirts, and your role will remain the same as well.” He checked off a few notes on my file, then sat back. “The last thing is where you’ll be going after you graduate.”

“…can I stay here?” I requested, desperately hoping. “Please?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Give me a reason.”

“Well… it’s a role thing, right? You want at least person filling each of the 8 archetypes,” I remembered. “Plus an extra swing, just in case. And with Starling gone, there’s only one swing on the New Champions, Zookeeper. I would be taking that second swing role.” And with him gone, there would be no Academic heroes at all, but Holly would be taking his place. I didn’t want to leave her.

He nodded. “True, we do need another swing. Don’t worry, Mx. Kaufman, there was never any plan to shift you to another city – we would have had this meeting a month ago if that was the idea.” He smirked. “I just wanted to know if you could guess why you were staying.”

I let out a relieved breath. “Thank god.”

Scene 23 – May 30th
Interior MLED Compound, Morning
Holly Koval

I shifted a little to bump my shoulder into Quinn’s where we sat, waiting for Canaveral and Shepard to start the ceremony. “You doing okay, Quinn?”

They sighed and slumped a little, letting their head rest on my shoulder. “I should be, but I’m nervous for some reason. I know that this is a private ceremony, it’s just going to be the Journeymen, the Champions, and the director, and I know them all – there’s nothing to be worried about. It’s just… well, it’s just the same stupid anxiety that cropped up when we graduated from college last week.”

“You’re afraid that you’ll do something wrong,” I summed up, “even thought you know what to do and it’s very simple.”

They nodded against my arm. “Yeah, basically. Dumb, right?”

I rested my arm across their shoulders and let my hand rest on their head, gently playing with their hair to try and soothe them. “It’s not dumb – you can’t control how your anxiety makes you feel just how you react. If that’s how you feel, then I’m glad you told me,” I said, and they let out a happy hum. “Will your anxiety let you trust me to know what to do, if not yourself?”

“Yeah, of course,” they said immediately. “I trust you completely, Holly.”

I smiled, and turned to press a gentle kiss into their hair. “Then just follow my lead, and everything will be fine.” They twisted their head to meet my eyes, a smile spreading across their face, and I couldn’t prevent my eyes from flicking down to their lips, which practically called out for me to kiss them. I could prevent them from seeing the blush that spread across my cheeks at that thought, thankfully, and I did.

“Ready, kids?” Canaveral called from the podium he had set up.

“Hold on!” Quinn said, pulling their costumes mask over their head as they stood. I, on the other hand, just snapped my fingers, causing the mask of Loki’s costume to appear over my lower face as I rose. “Ready!”

Scene 24 – May 30th
Interior MLED Compound, Early Afternoon
Holly Koval

“Smile for the camera!” Canaveral said, turning a little so that the picture Zookeeper was about to take of the three of us, Quinn and I holding homemade ‘diplomas’ would catch us better.

“My mask covers my mouth,” I pointed out.

“Smile with your eyes, then.”

“My mask covers my eyes, too,” Quinn said, and we all chuckled.

2.3.24 Graduation

“Perfect!” Zookeeper said, lowering the phone and tapping at it for a moment. “Do you three want to double-check my wording before I post it?”

Canaveral took the phone from her and held it so we could all see the picture, which had indeed come out rather nicely – she had a talent for capturing just the right moment. “‘Congratulations to the newest members of the at New Venice New Champions Official, at Lieless Loki and at Newton’s Third, on their graduation from the at MLED official’s local training program’,” he read. “‘At New Venice Journeymen Official no longer, they stand beside us as masters! Hashtag I’m so proud, hashtag they’ve grown so much, hashtag and I know they’ll do great, hashtag official heroes, hashtag MLED heroic agents, hashtag hero graduations’.” Quinn laughed. “What? Is something wrong with the post?”

“No, the post is fine,” they assured him as they pulled their mask off again. “But ‘at New Venice New Champions’? ‘Hashtag I’m so proud’?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“For one thing, you don’t usually pronounce the tags and hashtags aloud,” I said.

“For another, you pronounced them wrong,” Newton joked, meeting my eyes with laughter dancing in their own.

“How the hell are they supposed to be pronounced, then?” he asked, bemused.

I felt a smile tugging at my lips, and took the phone from his hand. “Here, let me.” I cleared my throat and read aloud, “‘Congratulations to the newest members of the @nvNewChampionsOfficial, @LielessLoki and @NewtonsThird, on their graduation from the @MLEDofficial’s local training program. @nvJourneymenOfficial no longer, they stand beside us as masters! #I’mSoProudOfThem #they’veGrownSoMuch #andIKnowThey’llDoGreat #officialheroes #MLEDheroicAgents #heroGraduations.”

Canaveral gaped at me as Quinn and Zookeeper laughed, joined by Simone and the other Journeymen where they sat in the makeshift audience. “How…” he whispered, sounding horrified. “…how did you make those noises with your mouth?” I just laughed.

“It’s easy!” Newton assured him. They caught my eye again, and I gave them a subtle nod, ready as they spoke. “You just have to #talkLikeThis.”

He did a passable thousand-yard-stare. “Hashtag what the fuck.”

“No, like #whatTheFuck.”

Everyone laughed again, and I took charge as they settled down. I had been planning this for a while. “Can I make an announcement real quick?”

“Are you announcing a coup of the Champions?” Canaveral asked. “If so, I’ll have to ask you to sit on that for a bit.”

I chuckled. “No, not that. I just don’t really want to explain this more than once.”

“Go ahead, Loki,” Zookeeper told me.

“Most of the New Champions know this already, I think,” I began, “because all of you except Vulcan have been around since before I started wearing it full time. But, um…” I swallowed. This was harder than I thought.

Quinn walked next to me and took my hand, squeezing it gently. They didn’t say anything, but just that simple gesture was enough to remind me of their support.

“You all know I don’t actually look like Loki,” I said, switching from the costume illusion to the blonde form that I had worn as a civilian for four years now. “But I don’t actually look like this either – it’s just as artificial as Loki is. I designed it to split myself further from Loki. But…” as I trailed off, Quinn squeezed my hand again, and I rallied. “I’ve decided that that’s probably not healthy. I’m not going to do it anymore.”

I squeezed my eyes tightly shut as I psyched myself up, then let the illusory form drop. I let them see the real me, or what passed for it – the stupid chubby cheeks that I had hated for years, the uneven freckles and splotchy skin, the boring brown hair that I could never get to do what I wanted it to. Features that I had hated for most of my life and striven to forget about, but was now determined to accept as part of who I was.

“I’m proud of you, Holly,” came Zookeeper’s voice. “I think this was the right choice.”

“Yeah, mazel tov, kid,” Abe agreed. “I’m proud too.”

“As am I.”

“Go Holly!”

“You look great, Holly!”

“Hell yeah!”

I felt my eyes watering, and I didn’t fight the happy tears that began to fall. But for the first time in years, I allowed them to be seen.

Previous Chapter | Next Chapter

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2.3. Scenes 18-21

Scene 18 – May 29th
Interior MLED Compound, Evening
Quinn Kaufman

 

“Ready to go, guys?” Anima asked over our earpieces as we changed into our costumes.

“Almost.” I pulled the mask of the PA4 over my head and tapped the button at its belt, bringing it to life and causing it to shrink into a perfect fit. “Ready.”

“What have we got tonight, Anima?” Canaveral asked, slipping on his gloves and flexing his fingers.

“Anything you see on patrol, of course,” she told us. “Nothing in particular for you to check out, though. Just be careful – tonight’s route takes you through both Buff Boy and Crows territory.”

“Which means any of their metas could appear. Newton, who would you be running from?” he asked me.

“Rube or la Borda,” I promptly answered, then added, “but really, Canaveral, it’s my last patrol as one of the Journeymen – I’m a full Champion tomorrow. Can’t I at least assist?”

“I would advise anyone to run from Rube,” he said, shaking his head. “The guy’s dangerous as hell, and ambient probability manipulation as his power means that the fewer variables, the better. As for la Borda…” He gave me a look. “Do you think you could actually do anything against her?”

“…could you?”

“…touché, kid.” I smirked under my mask as he continued, “But the point is, no taking any chances.”

“What’s life without taking a few chances?” I asked rhetorically.

He sighed. “You don’t know what’s good for you, Quinn.”

Anima laughed, the earpiece crackling slightly as she did so. “Oh, the irony…” she chuckled.

“Hm?”

“Nothing. Zookeeper and Journey will be back in a moment.”

As she said that, space twisted nearby us, reforming to reveal the returning heroes holding hands as Journey teleported. She released the older woman’s hand as she spoke, apparently finishing a sentence she had been in the middle of. “-I’m just saying, if he’s putting in the effort, then why not?”

“Trying to change is good, but it doesn’t mean much until we see lasting improvement,” Zookeeper told her, then glanced at us and smiled. “Hey Quinn, hi honey.”

Abe stepped forward and gave her a brief kiss. “No trouble, dear?”

“Just a purse-snatcher in April Park. Nothing Simone and I couldn’t handle.”

“Disgusting,” I joked to Simone as she pulled off the mask of her costume and began extracting her hair from the cap she used to compress it until it fit in the costume.

“I know, right?” she agreed. “It’s like watching your aunt and uncle flirt.”

“I was gonna go with your mom and dad.” I tilted my head to the side thoughtfully. “Does that make us cousins?”

“I could see that,” she mused. “Except that Holly is sort of like my older sister, which means that you two would be incestuous.” I opened my mouth, but she cut me off, adding, “I know you two keep saying that you’re not dating, but you can’t pretend you don’t want to!”

I sighed. “Okay, yes, Holly and I like each other, and we’ve talked about getting together once we’re feeling more stable. But you know that both she and I have been through a lot in the last couple months. It hasn’t been the right time yet.”

Simone grinned. “I want to be the maid of honor!”

“That’s getting kind of ahead of things, don’t you think?”

“Hey, no more time to gossip,” Canaveral interrupted. “Come on, Newton, we gotta go.”

“Right. Later, Simone.”

“Later,” she said with a wave.

 

Scene 19 – May 29th
Exterior City, Late Evening
Quinn Kaufman

 

We chatted as we went through the city, light banter and jokes that help keep our minds active as we leapt from rooftop to rooftop, passing through the Crows’ territory without incident. That wasn’t surprising, really – Hertz’s gang was mostly invested in sex work and gambling, nonviolent crimes that heroes typically didn’t involve ourselves in.

The Buff Boys, in contrast, sold drugs – they were best known for providing power-granting drugs like brawn, but they also peddled opiates, cocaine, meth, and anything else that could get you high – operated protection rackets, performed blackmail, and were generally scumbags. Not only that, they were expanding – or trying to, at least.

So as we began to reach the edge of the Crows territory that bordered the Buff Boys, our conversation faded. This was the most likely area to encounter a serious incident and, sure enough, my sense of presence picked up on scuffling a block or two off our patrol route.

“Hey boss, I’m picking up something from over there,” I said to Canaveral as we landed on a roof overlooking Kohei Street. “I can’t tell exactly what, from this distance, but I think it’s fighting.”

He nodded. “We’ll check it out. Anima, what’s the ETA for the police?”

“Three minutes, in this area. You want me to call them?”

“Put them on notice, but don’t call yet,” he decided. “It might be nothing, after all. Go ahead and call them in if we get into a fight, though.”

“Got it.”

We began moving, and it took less than a minute for us to reach the rooftops overlooking the fight. Two Buff Boys, steam rising from golden skin, as well as three members of the Crows – identifiable by the suit jackets they wore –  were standing in a ring around another member of each gang, jeering and hooting at the pair who were actually fighting. Some sort of cross-gang fight club, maybe?

“Surprisingly civilized, delegating just one fighter from each gang,” I noted. “The Buff Boys are usually a bit more barbaric in their beatings.”

“Fits for the Crows, though.”

“Clever Crows will constrain a campaign, but brutish Buff Boys belie the benefits of such brawling bargains.”

“How do you do that?” Canaveral wondered.

“Do what?” I asked innocently.

He shook his head. “Let’s see what they do when I drop in. I’ll try and diffuse the situation without fighting – you stay up here and be ready to back me up.”

“Got it.”

He flipped over the edge of the building, landing easily on the ground beside the gangsters, and casually hooked his hands in his belt. “Evening, gents. Having a nice night?”

“Canaveral, thank god you’re here!” One of the Crows immediately cried. “These thugs came out of nowhere and attacked my friend!” The other three nodded in agreement, theatrically patting the one who had been fighting on the shoulder.

I sighed into my earpiece. “Sure, that sounds likely.”

“It’s a matter of plausible deniability,” Anima noted. “Do we believe them? No. But it lets the Crows maintain a reputation as respectable members of society rather than gangsters.”

“Does it work?”

“Everyone knows they’re a gang, but they’re seen as the civilized option, so… sort of?”

Canaveral tilted his head to the side, eying the Buff Boys. “Interesting story. What’s your take?”

“Get the fucker!” one of the Buff Boys shouted, and the Crows scattered.

Anima tsked. “They always do this,” she complained. “I wish they’d do something new. Oh well… the regulars will be there in two minutes.”

I nodded. “Might as well lend a hand before they get here,” I said, and flipped off the edge.

 

Scene 20 – May 29th
Exterior City, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

 

I pulled and pushed off the environment to land myself on one of the Buff Boys who was coming at Canaveral from behind, my body weight – probably half that of the thug, but still twenty pounds of mostly-muscle more than I had once weighed – knocking him off balance, particularly when I immediately launched off the thug, pulling at his legs as I did so to both arrest my momentum and knock him entirely off his feet. Number 1 down, at least for the moment.

“You guys should be proud!” I cheerfully told them as I touched down. “This is my last patrol as a Journeyman – you get to be part of history!”

“Fuck off!”

“Wow. Very articulate,” I commented sarcastically.

“Hey, be fair,” Canaveral told me as he wrapped the chain he used to fight with around another gangster, using it to pull her off balance – I pulled on the ground and pushed a building behind me to root myself while giving an additional push to her lower legs, helping send her down. Number 2 off her feet. “It’s pretty good for a third grade education.”

“I went to Juilliard, you ass,” growled Number 3. He stomped heavily on the ground, the force of his brawn-boosted muscles cracking the pavement, and reached down to lift a slab of asphalt.

“And look what your theater degree has gotten you!” I said, launching myself at him. He raised the slab as a shield, and I landed on it, keeping a gentle pull so that I wouldn’t fall off. In the moment that he couldn’t see me, I exerted the force of my presence to launch a smaller slab right into his groin. “A part-time job as a punching bag and, I’m guessing, enough debt to drive you to become a gangster!”

“They pay well,” he groaned, clearly in pain but boosted enough that it didn’t stop him. Behind me, I felt Number 1 begin to rise, and I pushed against him – with my own body rooted to the asphalt slab held by 3, 1 was sent skidding away from Canaveral, giving him the few seconds he needed to finish cuffing Number 2. “It’s not my fault the economy is in shambles!”

“That’s fair,” I admitted, and reached out to pull at the building behind 3, exerting enough force to cause the man – between me and the building – to stumble backwards, hoping to trap him between the asphalt and the building. “But come on, dude, can’t you get a job at a coffee shop or something?

“Oh, like I’ve never heard that before.” He flexed his fingers, crushing the asphalt slab, and went for my skull. I managed to parry and twist away from one hand, but his other massive palm fell on my head, and he began to squeeze.

Fuck that hurt, but the PA4 was armored enough that it wasn’t debilitating. Instead, I reached up and found a pressure point on his wrist, squeezing it until his fingers involuntarily loosened – pushing at them as they did got my hand out of his grip.

The man suddenly jerked backwards as something small and fast-moving collided with his forehead. “What’s wrong, Newton?” Canaveral asked, stepping up beside me and hefting another ball-bearing. “You’re not having trouble with this guy, are you? I mean, really, him?

“Be nice,” I scolded. “He went to Juilliard!”

“What’s he doing in a gang, then?”

“The economy is in shambles.”

Canaveral nodded. “That’s fair.”

The thug rolled his eyes, rubbing at his forehead. “Wow, glad you fuckers approve of my life choices.”

“Didn’t say we approve, just that we understood.”

“Anyway, your buddies are tied up already,” Canaveral said, jerking a thumb at the other two Buff Boys. “Wanna join them before the cops get here, or would you rather get punched in the face a few times?”

Number 3 sighed. “Just cuff me,” he said, putting his hands out. “I’m not dumb enough to try to fight both of you at once.”

“Of course not,” Canaveral agreed. “After all…”

“You did go to Juilliard,” we chorused, and the thug sighed.

 

Scene 21 – May 29th
Exterior City, Night
Quinn Kaufman

 

“So,” Canaveral said as we approached the compound again on the last leg of our patrol. “How are you feeling?”

I rolled my aching shoulders, glad for the brief pause. Best shape of my life or not, four hours of parkour was still quite a workout. “Tired and sore. Looking forward to taking a hot shower and falling into bed once we get back.”

“No, I mean about being a hero,” he clarified. “It’s been almost seven months, now – you ticked over your six month period weeks ago, all you’re waiting for is the monthly graduation ceremony tomorrow.” He paused. “About being a hero and, I guess, your life in general.”

I sighed. “I don’t know, dude. It’s been a long day.”

“No need to answer now,” he told me. “Just… think about where you’re at, you know? I remember you were having a lot of trouble deciding whether or not to join up, and… I just don’t want you to regret it, I guess.”

“I don’t regret it,” I promised him. “Honestly, having a little extra structure to my life – and less free time – has been a blessing. If I don’t have time to think, I don’t have time to get anxious or depressed, you know? And government-provided therapy has been nice to have.”

“I don’t know, but sure.”

“Besides, I don’t know that I’d have become such good friends with Holly if I hadn’t joined,” I said. “For that alone, becoming a hero has been one of the best choices I’ve ever made.”

Canaveral paused. “How’s she doing, by the way? With her parents?”

“She’s managing pretty well,” I told him. “I don’t remember much of the night that she confronted them, but she was pretty torn up when we got back. After a night of rest, though… well, she’s had a bad night or three where we ended up cuddling in the common room so that she could sleep, but for the most part she’s doing well.”

He sighed. “I just wish I had known earlier.”

“I know what you mean.”

“In retrospect, there are things that should have clued me in, but… well, she would always just say not to worry about her,” he mused. “And I trusted her, so I didn’t. But it turns out that I should have worried.”

“You can’t help someone who isn’t ready to be helped,” I said firmly. “I think Holly was just ignoring it up until recently, when the whole Excalibur incident stepped on her mental health, and she realized that she was old enough to actually do something about it. Before that, she wouldn’t have accepted any help. Hell, she barely took mine.

He nodded, but still seemed pensive. “That’s true… unless someone is willing to make a change, you can’t do much for them.”

I tilted my head. “You’re not thinking about Holly any more, are you?”

“…no,” he admitted. “I’m thinking about Max.”

“…it’s been a few months since he went into the asylum, hasn’t it?” I asked. “How is he?”

“He’s… improving, apparently, but it’s slow. The damn thing really did a number on him, and he wouldn’t let Peregrine help…”

I put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Hey, he’s improving, right? Even if it’s slow, progress is progress.”

He nodded. “That’s true. I’m just worried about him.”

“Well, you’re a worrier,” I pointed out. “You try to be all happy-go-lucky, but we all know how much you care about and worry for us.”

“We?”

“The Journeymen. Which… I guess won’t be a we for much longer, huh?”

“Just twelve hours or so,” he agreed.

“…it’s another big change,” I said, looking off into the distance. “I’ve had a couple of those recently. Developing superpowers, my dad dying, becoming a superhero… hell, I graduated from college last week. Thanks for coming to graduation, by the way. I appreciate you being there, even if Miriam was too busy with her healing work.”

“Of course.”

“This will be another change,” I acknowledged. “But… I think it’s one I’m ready for, for once.”

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2.3. Scenes 14-17

Scene 14 – March 27th
Interior Mansion, Evening
Dominic Könberg

“Uno!” Viv said smugly, setting down a red seven.

“Damn it! We can’t let her win!” Tristan declared. Then he sighed. “And yet…” he began drawing cards from the deck, his hand expanding until he found a red three to set down.

“I think we can get her still,” I said, playing a blue three. “I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have any blue cards, so if we can just stick with blue…”

“Blue…” dad muttered, paging through his cards – he had been hit with a stack of draw cards earlier in the game and hadn’t gotten through them yet. “How about this?” He played a blue draw two.

“And another,” Percy grinned, adding one of his own.

“Perfect!” mom said, playing a third draw two. “Deal with that, honey!”

Viv grumbled as she drew from the deck. “Humph. So close…” She tossed one of her newly drawn cards, a red ten, onto the pile. “Betrayed by my own brother,” she complained.

“It’s about to happen again, too,” Tristan added, playing a blue ten, and she glared at him. The little twerp just stuck his tongue out at her, and she returned the gesture.

“Blue, blue, blue…” I murmured, glaring at my pair of green cards. “Now I’m having trouble.” I draw a card from the deck, saw that it was blue, and played it without really paying attention to what it was.

“Well you deserve to,” Viv sniped playfully. “I would have won and freed us from the hell of playing Uno if you hadn’t said blue!”

“If we’re in hell, at least we’re in hell together,” Tristan observed.

“I wouldn’t want to be in hell with anyone other than my family, certainly,” mom agreed.

I would rather not be in hell,” Percy remarked.

“Too bad,” I teased. “You’re stuck here with us.”

Viv glanced at dad. “…dad, you okay?” she asked, and I realized that he hadn’t played yet, just staring at his cards in confusion.

“…have we played this before, Morgan?” he asked. “I don’t remember the rules…”

My heart sank as I realized what was happening. Viv, meanwhile, softly said, “Yes, Arthur, it’s called Uno. Right now there’s a blue five at the top of the deck, so you need to play a card that’s blue or a card that’s a five.”

“Right…” he began looking through his cards as mom put a gentle hand on his shoulder, and absently leaned his head to rest it on her hand. “Like this one?” he had found a blue reverse card.

“Yes, like that one,” mom confirmed.

He played it. “Thanks, Morgan. Must have had a late night, I guess,” he said with a roguish grin, waggling his eyebrows.

“…of course, Arthur,” Viv said quietly.

It was hard on her, I knew, when dad mistook her for her mother. He rarely made such mistakes with the rest of us – although he had once thought I was Morgan’s brother and chased me out of the house – probably because the rest of us were boys, but with her… if Morgan wasn’t around when he had a moment and Viv was, it was almost guaranteed. She went along with it, as Devon had recommended, but I knew that it bothered her.

“Your play, I think?” dad said to Percy, sitting next to him.

“No, you played a reverse card,” he gruffly explained. “The order is reversed, so it’s Dom’s turn again.”

“Ah, that makes sense.”

“And that means I’m back to hoping for blue,” I sighed, beginning to draw from the deck. “I realize I brought this on myself, but still…” After a few draws I found a wildcard, and played it. “Green.”

Tristan immediately played a three. “Uno!” he said cheerfully, although I could tell his cheer was a mask to cover his discomfort with dad having had a moment.

Viv glanced at Tristan appraisingly. “Hm… what do we think, gang? Does he have any other greens?”

“…why?” I warily asked.

“Well, I could change the color, or I could not.”

“I don’t think so,” mom said, narrowing her eyes at my youngest brother. “Honey, what do you think?”

“Hm… go for it, dear,” dad said to Viv. “You know best, I’m sure.”

“Got any greens, oh dear brother?” my sister asked, playing another reverse. Tristan’s turn again, and if he had any greens…

“Sure do!” he grinned, playing a green nine. “I win!”

“Good job, kiddo!” dad said, offering a high five. Tristan gave it to him, then lurched into his lap to hug him. “Oh! Careful there, Tristan, your old man’s kind of fragile!”

“Nonsense, dear,” mom denied, smiling at the sight and doing nothing to help him escape from my younger brother. “You’re as-” She was interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Who could that be?” dad wondered.

“It’ll be Devon,” mom told him, beginning to rise. “They called earlier about coming to check on you, tonight, remember?”

“Oh yes.”

“I’ll let them in, mom,” I said, hopping to my feet before she could finish standing. “I’m about done for tonight anyway.”

“I’ll come with you,” Viv eagerly added, and I rolled my eyes – her crush was so obvious – but didn’t protest.

“Thanks, honey.”

Scene 15 – March 27th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
Dominic Könberg

“I’m gonna do it tonight, Dom,” my sister said to me as we walked to the front hall. “I’m going to ask them out.”

“Are you sure, Viv?” I asked. I had never gotten the vibe that Devon liked her the way she liked them, and I wanted to avoid her being heartbroken when they said no. Plus, Devon was 30-something, and my sister was only 21 – I didn’t want to kick their ass if they said yes. “They’ve probably had a long day at work, this might not be the best time…”

“I’m sure,” she said firmly, and from her tone I knew that I would never be able to dissuade her. “I fought Loki a few months ago, I think I can ask out the person I like.”

I put a hand on her shoulder, and although internally I sighed, out loud I just said, “Then do it. They’d be a fool to turn you down.”

A moment later, we reached the hall, and I swung the door open, revealing the petite, curvaceous doctor. “Evening,” they said with a tired smile, folding up the umbrella that they were sheltering under as they stepped inside. “How’s Arthur holding up?”

“He mistook me for mother, and forgot the rules to Uno,” Viv frowned, “but he got back on track pretty quickly. Pretty average, really.”

Devon nodded. “I know it’s hard, but you’ve all been doing an incredible job caring for him,” they promised us.

“What brings you here, doc?” I asked as we began to walk back to the game room.

“Well… you know that I was trying to put together a spell to help your father, based on research that Arthur Peregrine had forwarded me, right?” they said, and I nodded – they had been working on it since the end of October.

“Did you finish it?” Viv asked excitedly.

“Well… no,” they admitted. “But! Peregrine contacted me again and gave me a mystic diagram for a version of the spell a few months ago. It’s kind of ridiculously complicated, but I’ve been practicing, and I’m confident that even if it doesn’t work, I at least won’t make things worse.”

“That’s wonderful news!” I said with as we reentered the game room.

Scene 16 – March 27th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
Dominic Könberg

“What’s wonderful news?” mom asked.

“I have a new spell to try that might help,” Devon told her. “If I perform it right, it should disentangle the magical residue left behind by the artifacts and let me get at the Alzheimer’s directly with the usual spells for it. And if I do it wrong, it won’t make anything worse.”

“That is good news,” dad agreed. “I’m willing to try it.”

They dug in the shoulder-bag that they were wearing for a moment before producing a set of paperwork contained in a plastic sleeve. “I’ll need you to sign these, and then I can get started.

“Of course.”

“Were you going to bed?” Percy asked me as Devon began to prepare for the spell, drawing complicated glowing sigils into the air around dad, using a large ruler, a protractor, and a plum line to get them in exact positions even as he watched with interest.

“Yeah, but this is more interesting.” I didn’t have much hope of it actually working, if I was being honest – nothing else had, and Devon didn’t seem too confident either.

“You should get mom,” Tristan suggested, and I raised an eyebrow at him.

“Mom’s here already.”

“Other mom.”

“Mother would want to know about new magic being performed in the house,” Viv agreed.

I sighed. “I’ll get her.”

Scene 17 – March 27th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
Dominic Könberg

 

It was probably around the time to pull Morgan out of her wing anyway, I reflected as I walked. She had been in there for close to a month now – while her initial experiments with Excalibur hadn’t kept her from the rest of the family, because she had failed too often to get really excited about it, she had recently figured out a method to use it relatively safely, and hadn’t emerged since, spending a great deal of time scrying in order to fill out the information we had stolen from the MLED servers.

“Morgan!” I called when I reached the entrance to her wing, knocking. “Devon is here with a new spell to try on dad!”

She didn’t respond, and I frowned. Normally Morgan could be reached from anywhere in the house – she had monitoring spells set to alert her if anyone was calling for her. Even if those had been taken down for some reason, her wing of the mansion was small enough that she should have heard me in person. “…Morgan?”

Nothing, and I was starting to get worried now. I opened the door and entered, and saw that most of the lights were off – not unusual, she preferred to have as few distractions as possible when she was working complex magic – and a faint glow was coming from under one of the doors. “…mom?” I whispered.

Still nothing. I tentatively approached the door and opened it, to see…

Morgan, her eyes wide, sightless, and watering slightly. She held an ornate dagger that could only be Excalibur in one hand, a bright tracery of glowing sigils in the shape of a gauntlet wrapping around her arm up to the shoulder. Her other hand was clenching repeatedly at her leg, nearly drawing blood. Sitting on a table in front of her was a mirror, its surface filled with colorless light and smoking rising from where it touched the wooden frame.

I swallowed. Morgan was scrying, which explained what she hadn’t heard me – her senses were entirely absent. But… she had never looked quite like this while scrying before. It looked like she was crying. What on earth was she seeing?

I couldn’t let her put herself through this and, thankfully, I knew how to stop it. If she was using Excalibur, then she was scrying through wards that she wouldn’t be able to see through on her own, and taking it from her should result in her being cut off.

I glanced around, looking for something to protect myself from the damn thing, and found nothing, so instead I just pulled off the flannel shirt I was wearing. I wrapped it around my hand before taking Excalibur by its blade and pulling it from Morgan’s white-knuckled grip, thankful that my football coach was so insistent on grip training. I dropped the dagger on the table, then draped the shirt over the mirror for good measure.

Morgan came back to herself slowly, blinking a few times as her senses returned to her, and she began crying in earnest as she saw me. She lunged for me, and I hugged her as she began sobbing desperately.

“What is it?” I asked, my mind racing as I thought of all the horrible scenarios she could have seen. “What did you see?”

“…three months,” she whispered.

“What?”

“We only have three months before they go after her, Morgan said, horrified. “Just to get to us.

“Go after who?” I asked. “Morgan, what-”

She pulled back, sniffing, and murmured something that made a tissue fly to her hand so she could wipe her face. I waited while she cleaned up, and finally explained, “I was scrying on the Ambrosia Company. They… they can’t find us through the Kovals’ wards, but… their daughter isn’t under those wards.”

“The Kovals’ daughter,” I said, frowning as I tried to remember. Viv and I had used to play with her, when we were kids, but I didn’t think I had seen her in ten years. “…Holly? Was that her name?”

Morgan nodded. “Yes. And they know exactly where to find her.” She took a breath. “Apparently, Holly Koval is Loki,” she told me. “And if we don’t show up in the next three months, Ambrosia will go after her.”

I swallowed, flashing back to the artistic girl I remembered playing with and connecting her to the young hero who had nearly stymied us at the MLED Compound. “Threaten her to make the Kovals take down our wards…”

“Exactly. And then they’ll take Arthur’s armor, and Excalibur, and… and then it’s all over.”

“…three months, you said?”

“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Whatever our next move is, we only have three months to make it.”

“Well then,” I decided, “we’d better start planning.”

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2.3. Scenes 12-13

Scene 12 – March 26th
Interior Mansion, Continuous
Quinn Kaufman

“So, Quinn,” Jacob asked as we sat down around the table – him and Holly’s mom next to each other, me and Holly across from them. “How did you and Holly meet?”

“We work at the same part-time job,” she said.

“Although,” I added, “we nearly met two years ago. We shared an art history course at UNV, as it turns out. A small overlap in our education.”

“Ah, you attend UNV? What for?” he pressed.

“I’m a biology major, with a concentration in metahuman biology. The plan was to become a doctor and specialized in treating metahumans.”

“Was,” he noted. “Did something happen?”

“Well… plans change. Some personal stuff… I’d rather not talk about it,” I demurred.

He hummed. “I see. Are you sure that you can’t explain further?”

I hesitated. “I’d really rather not…”

“Explain,” he said again, his voice almost musical, and I nodded agreeably.

“Sure. My father died a few months ago, and I promised him that I would become a superhero. I won’t have time to both work as a hero and go to med school, so I had to cut one.”

“Hmm. Reasonable, I suppose.”

Holly narrowed her eyes. “Father, you can’t do that!”

“Do what, honey?” her mother said calmly.

Holly froze, then shrank back a little. “Nothing, mother.”

Jacob shrugged. “I won’t do it if they answer our questions. Does that sound fair to you, beloved?”

“Perfectly fair, dear.”

“Right.”

He smiled at me. “Well, I think it’s quite good of you to have wanted to become a doctor, even if other matters have prevented you.”

“Thanks. I’d still rather like to, to be honest,” I confessed, scrunching up my face to get rid of a momentary feeling of discontinuity “but plans change, like I said. And thanks for not making me explain.”

He waved a hang magnanimously, even as Holly frowned. “Of course, of course. So, you met at work! How nice.”

“It may have been some time since I worked,” Delilah commented, speaking for the first time since we sat, “but I seem to recall that in my day, it was considered a bad idea to date your coworkers.”

“Ah, they’re young,” Jacob said, dismissing this objection. “Besides, we met on the job as well.”

“That’s different. We worked in the same field, but we weren’t coworkers when we met.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, beloved,” he assured her. “Didn’t you see them out on the patio? Quite adorable, don’t you agree?”

“Ah yes, the patio,” she said. “Holly, you know full well you’re not allowed to use magic in the house.”

“We weren’t in the house,” Holly said defensively. “We were on the patio.

“We also don’t like you trying to hide things from us. You’re not allowed to create privacy screens like you did there, not against us.”

“Now hold on, everyone deserves privacy,” I protested, but was ignored.

“What’s the point in banning them?” Holly demanded. “It’s not like they work against you two, apparently.”

“We taught you everything you know, of course they don’t work against us,” Delilah said, still calm. “And because we taught you, we get to decide how you use our skills.

“They’re not your skills, they’re hers! I snapped.

“Be silent,” Jacob murmured. “This doesn’t concern you.” I obeyed, sitting back in my seat.

“This is exactly what I hate about you two,” Holly hissed. “You treat me like I’m a thing, like I’m something that you own. I’m a grown woman! I have the right to make my own decisions!”

“Like this….” Delilah wrinkled her nose at me. “…person?”

“Yes! If I love Quinn, that’s my choice, and what you think doesn’t enter into it! But no, you just have to meet them and see if you approve of them dating your daughter, because it’s your feelings that matter most!”

“Honey, what you don’t realize is that we know better than you,” Jacob said soothingly, holding his hands open-palmed towards his daughter. “We have much more life experience than you. We know the world better. We know people better. If this Quinn person has ulterior motives, well…” He shrugged. “We’re in a much better place to see that than you are, particularly given our magical specialties.”

“I hate you,” Holly growled at her father.

“If it makes you feel any better,” he told her, “I see no reason to disapprove of them, at least not yet. Admittedly, I’m not done yet either.”

“It doesn’t change the fact that you’re still putting them through this interrogation! Holly snapped.

“While they are admittedly a superhero,” Delilah said, absently drumming her fingers against the table and staring at me, “you are as well. A decision I still don’t understand…”

“The only one you ever let me make,” Holly muttered, crossing her arms.

“And if they were planning to become a doctor, they must be intelligent enough – oh, dear, ask them about their grades.”

“Of course, beloved.” He snapped his fingers.

I blinked in surprise, feeling a slight disconnect. “I’m sorry, what was that?”

“I was asking about your time at UNV,” Jacob reminded me, and I nodded, his prompting helping me to remember. “Medical school is very difficult to get into – were you at all worried about your grades?”

“It’s tough, sure, but I’ve always been good at school. Valedictorian back in high school, 4.0 all through college, the works. I even managed to keep up my grades last semester after starting work. It’s not easy,” I noted, “but I can do it.”

“4.0 average, really?” he said approvingly, flashing his wife a quick smile. “That’s quite impressive.”

“Well, biology isn’t exactly easy, but it’s nothing compared to Holly,” I said, glancing over at her, and Jacob’s grin grew. “She might be the smartest person I’ve ever met.”

Holly was a little flushed and couldn’t meet my eyes. “Quinn…”

“What? It’s true. You should have seen her teaching me about magic.” I turned back to her parents. “It takes months and months for people to find a casting style that works for them in college, and she got me there in minutes.”

“It was your idea,” she protested, trying to deflect my praise.

“But you were the one who helped me get it working.”

“So you’re a mage yourself, then?” Jacob cut in. “My wife and I are as well, I hope Holly’s mentioned.”

“I’m not much of a mage – I really only know one spell,” I admitted. “And yeah, she told me – it came up when she taught me how to cast.”

“Honey, you shouldn’t be-”

“I know, mother,” Holly complained, interrupted her mother. “You don’t want me teaching people magic.”

“It’s not safe to learn magic unsupervised,” Delilah continued. “Quinn, you’re going to have to show us this magic of yours. Just to make sure that our teachings have been passed on properly.”

“Sure,” I agreed. I focused my presence for a moment on my wineglass. Almost instantly, the interior of the glass filled with light, a thick, almost-liquid white glow. “There you go.”

“Interesting method of casting,” she said, tilting her head to the side. “It almost resembles how Arthur does it.”

“Surely not, beloved. Arthur always used gestures.”

“Not Könberg, dear. Peregrine.”

I leaned forward curiously. “You know Arthur Peregrine?”

Jacob sighed. “Observant kid, aren’t you? Forget that,” he ordered, and I did. “How long did it take you to get that spell down?”

“The first time, or in general?”

“Both.”

“It took what, fifteen minutes to cast, the first time?” I asked Holly, and she nodded confirmation. “Then a month or so of regular practice before I could do it fast enough for it to be useful. Around three before I got it as instantly as that.”

“Quite impressive, don’t you think, beloved?” he asked his wife.

“I suppose,” she admitted, sounding reluctant to give me any credit. “Let’s try a test.”

“Mother, don’t-”

“Be silent, honey,” she ordered. I frowned, hating how Holly’s parents were treating her – I had known that they would be like this, but knowing and seeing were too very different things. But I let her take the lead – when she spoke up, I would back her, and until then… “Quinn,” Delilah began, flicking a finger and erasing my light spell, “focus on the wineglass again, but this time on the glass, not the air inside it.”

“I’m not sure that-” I tried to protest.

“Do as she says.”

I focused, letting everything in the world fade away except the glass.

   “Sound, as I hope you know, is nothing more than a pattern of vibrations.”

Delilah’s voice continued, instructing me as I meditated on the wineglass, arraying myself in the perfect focus that Holly had instructed me to use.

   “Whether it be a violin, a barking dog, a crackling fire, or your own voice, that pattern is all there is.”

The glass vibrated gently with her every word, a pattern that was becoming more and more clear.

   “And that pattern can be changed, altered, reworked, at the will of the magician.”

It was a pattern that made no sense to my conscious mind, but I could still understand it, could connect it to my sense of hearing and interpret it easily.

   “But sound is a complex thing indeed. Even a simple ‘hello’ has layers and complexities that the conscious mind cannot possibly design itself.”

Even the subtleties of the wineglass’s vibration that corresponded to the sounds of people breathing, and a faint, otherwise imperceptible hum coming from Jacob, were written clearly in its pattern.

   “But your unconscious mind can understand them – and more than that, can create them. To generate an auditory construct, here is what you must do…”

Delilah’s instructions sank into my mind like pebbles into a lake, sending out ripples that faded and shifted and forever changed the lake in a way. I learned…

   “…so connect your unconscious mind to your imagination to your conscious mind, and speak – not with your voice, but with the glass.”

“Like this?” I asked, imposing a pattern of my own speaking voice on the wineglass.

“Yes, precisely.” Delilah turned to Jacob. “Impressive,” she admitted.

He nodded. “They seem to be quite a quick learner. If that unfortunate tendency to stand up for themself and Holly can be corrected, they might make a very agreeable addition to the family.”

“If,” his wife pointed out. “They’re a bit old for the methods we used on her.”

“What methods-” I started, but was interrupted.

“Forget.”

 

I blinked, experiencing another momentary disconnect, and instinctively reached for Holly’s hand – she squeeze it tightly, as though afraid I would drift away. “I’m really terribly sorry,” I said apologetically. “I feel like I’ve been drifting in and out all night, and it seems terribly rude. You’re both lovely people, and you don’t deserve for me to be like this.”

“No need for an apology, young-” Jacob began.

“You’re drifting in and out because father is mind controlling you,” Holly hissed at me, glaring at her parents.

I blinked in surprise. “He’s what? I demanded, my eyes narrowing.

“Forget that. Young lady,” Jacob growled at Holly, “what do you think you’re doing?”

Something was slipping from my mind, but I fought to hold it – Holly had said something, had said… “I’m not just going to forget that you’re mind controlling me!” I snapped, rising and pulling Holly to her feet. “I think we should go, Hol-”

“I said forget it,” he snapped, half-standing out of his chair. “In fact, if you’re going to take this kind of attitude, you can forget this entire night, and that you ever met my daughter!

“Remember,” Holly said sharply, clenching her fist, and a spike of pain lanced through my mind. “And father, I hope you realize, when you’re dying alone and haven’t seen or heard from me in years, that this was the moment that any hope of an eventual reconciliation was lost forever.” I staggered as she spoke, and she wrapped an arm around my waist, slinging one of mine over her shoulders to support me.

“Honey, what are you-”

“You know damn well what I’m saying,” she interrupted. “I was already planning on leaving and never speaking to you again, but maybe, if you hadn’t been manipulating the person I love, breaking their mind for your sick curiosity, I might have eventually reconsidered! But no, you just had to play your fucking game!”

“Holly,” Delilah said flatly, standing. “Why on earth would you be leaving?”

“You’re smart, figure it out,” Holly growled. “Maybe it has something to do with how you vanished for months on end and left me to fend for myself, over and over and over again? Or how you come back from those blessed periods of respite to take control of my life and countermand everything I do? How you’ve tried to pull me from the MLED five times and counting, and yet something which seems so fucking important to you is forgotten the moment a new magical puzzle comes along?” She laughed bitterly. “Fucking hell, you didn’t even notice that I’ve been moving all my stuff out.”

Delilah tilted her head to the side, her fingers twisting briefly and tiny sparks of light playing on her eyes for an instant, then she narrowed her eyes. “Holly, listen to me. You will-“

“You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore, mother,” Holly mocked. “Don’t you get it? I’m leaving. You have no power over me anymore. None. I’m not even going to think about you from the moment I walk out that door, never again, you hear me?”

“I just want to understand why-”

“If you don’t understand why now,” Holly said, “you never well. Good-bye forever, mother.She turned and began walking, and I followed as best as I could.

“Holly.”

She stopped and looking over her shoulder at her father. “Oh? And what do you have to say for yourself?

“I…” he narrowed his eyes. “I’m not going to stop you, honey. But you know what you must remain silent about.

“Or what?”

Jacob blinked. “What?”

“Maybe I can’t block your fucking mind-magic completely in the moment,” Holly snapped, “but I can damn sure break it down at my leisure. What, exactly, are you going to do if I snap that thought-binding spell and tell the MLED all about who you used to be? Are you going to come out of retirement? Leave your cozy little hideaway? Stop doing your goddamn magical experiments and maybe, I don’t know, act like parents for once in your lives?” Her parents exchanged a glance, but said nothing. “Yeah,” Holly said, turning away again. “I didn’t think so.”

Scene 13 – March 26th
Interior MLED Compound, Late Evening
Holly Koval

Quinn seemed to have been hit pretty hard by my father’s enchantment magic and my hasty countercharm, and I honestly had no idea how much, if anything, they’d remember – mind magic was a delicate thing, and I had poked at Tristan’s perception filter at the beach for more reason than the dubious-at-best legality of it. If they had forgotten me… I didn’t know what I’d do.

I couldn’t share my parents’ identities and didn’t think I could break that spell, despite what I had told my father – that order had been layered onto my mind since I was a little girl – but I wouldn’t have to say exactly which supervillains they were to tell Armstrong that Quinn had been mindwiped by my parents. And… and that was the least I would do, I swore to myself, if Quinn’s mind had been permanently damaged. If they had hurt them…

I fretted worriedly, glad that the compound was empty for once as I laid them down on the common room’s couch. If their mind didn’t wake up from its current state soon…

I could feel the blankness of their mind if I extended my senses towards them, and I hated the feeling. It was worse than the grayness that pervaded their thoughts whenever they got caught up in memories of their father – there were still thoughts beneath that, even if they were wrapped in grief, but now…

Just a few moments before I was about to psychically prod them, Quinn stirred. “Oh god,” they moaned. “Did anyone get the number of the bus that hit me?”

“Quinn,” I worriedly said, reaching for their hand. “Do you…” I swallowed. “What do you remember?”

They blinked a few times, eyes unfocused, before they met my gaze and smiled. “Holly! I remember…” Quinn frowned, their brow furrowing. “We sat down to eat… your dad was asking me about… why I wasn’t planning on being a doctor. And then… everything else is a blur. What happened?”

The relief I felt was indescribable – they had forgotten everything from the first time my father had used his mental magic on them, but nothing else. They hadn’t forgotten why we were there, they hadn’t forgotten the entire night, they hadn’t forgotten me. “It… don’t worry about it, Quinn,” I said, blinking a few tears away.

“But-”

“Don’t-” I started to say, lacing my voice with psychic undertones, then cut myself off before I could finish the suggestion. Quinn was already lucky to have survived with their mind intact – I shouldn’t upset that balance with more mind magic, no matter how much it would simplify things.

Especially because… hadn’t I just been yelling at my father for this exact thing? Mind control was his first resort whenever anything didn’t go his way, and here I was, about to forcibly prevent my best friend from thinking about what had happened tonight. I couldn’t do that to them. I shouldn’t do that to them. That was…

I was a piece of shit for even considering it.

I sighed. “It’s all over now,” I said to Quinn, refusing to let those harmonics enter my voice. “There’s nothing to worry about anymore.”

They hesitated. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure. Don’t-” I bit my lip. How many times had I spoken those words, cast that spell? Was it really that instinctive, to prevent people from worrying about me? “Don’t worry about it.”

“…okay. If you say so,” Quinn said, lifting themself up into a crosslegged posture. “Hey, come here.” I leaned into them, and they pulled me into a comforting hug. “You’re shivering. This whole thing with your parents really has you freaked out, huh?”

I was shivering? I hadn’t even noticed. “Yeah,” I confessed. “It… they I knew what I must remain silent about. “-they’re pretty shitty people,” I managed. “But I’m done with them now. I never have to see them again.”

“And here you are, worrying about me when I probably just had too much to drink,” Quinn murmured. “I’m sorry. I was there to support you, and what did I do? I can’t even remember…”

“No, you were very helpful,” I promised them. “If you weren’t there…. like I said, I end up folding when I face them alone, and if you hadn’t been there…” If the person I loved hadn’t been there under threat, clear and imminent reason for me to marshal my courage… “I’m sure I would have folded again,” I finished.

Quinn nodded, their breath tickling the crook of my neck, and I shivered – noticing it this time, perhaps because it was a pleasant shiver rather than an unconscious, fearful one. Then they released me, but only enough to gently spin me around.

“Quinn, what are you – ooh,” I moaned as they began kneading my shoulders and the base of my neck, my eyes closing instinctively.

“You’re incredibly tense,” they said. “You need to relax a little, Holly.”

“I just… god, harder… it’s a combination of fear and relief and… and…”

“I know. It’s a lot,” they said sympathetically as I practically melted.

“…you’re really good at this,” I whispered.

“Thanks.”

“God… of all the fake partners I could have had tonight,” I couldn’t prevent myself from saying a few minutes later, “I’m glad it was you that my parents decided to fixate on.” Quinn laughed, and I continued, “you really would be a wonderful partner.”

Their hands paused for a moment, and they hesitantly said, “Holly, I… I was happy to step in and help tonight, and I’m glad that I can help relieve your stress, but…” I heard them swallow nervously. “…you do know we’re not actually dating, right?”

“Yes, Quinn, I know,” I responded, trying not to sound sad about it. However much I might like to…

“I think…” They swallowed again. “I think we’re on the same page about wanting to, unless I’ve misread things massively, but… I’m not ready yet. And… I don’t think you are either, right now.”

“…yeah,” I eventually admitted. “Yeah, I think you’re right.” They slowly began to massage my shoulders again, and I struggled to hold back another moan of pleasure. “…but don’t think I didn’t catch the ‘yet’ in there.”

I could hear the smile in their voice as they said, “Oh, I wanted you to.”

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