A/N – See my first comment after this chapter for information about voting for Peyton’s Touched name.
Well, this was just great. Absolutely perfect, really. I’d set out to find a way to gently tell Peyton that she shouldn’t be too involved in my situation (or at least figure out how to keep her out of the worst of it), and now look at what was going on. Because of course things couldn’t just be simple for once. That would be too easy. Naturally, Deicide had to call in her favor right then.
I tried to tell Cavalcade that the other girl wasn’t involved in this. But she insisted that both of us come with her. Apparently the fact that Peyton had been seen helping me last night, combined with the girl being here right now, convinced her that we were just what the news said. Partners, sidekicks, whatever. Either way, she said Deicide wanted me ‘and my new friend.’ Though she did pause a bit and note that Peyton looked different than she had yesterday. But the marbles were right, and she thoughtfully murmured something about shapeshifting materials. Yeah, she wasn’t an idiot. The guys last night would’ve reported about a girl with marbles that could transform into things (like the huge battering ram that hit Juice before turning into boxing gloves that hurled him off into the sky), and there had been video of it. Peyton wearing different armor right now wasn’t going to fool Cavalcade into thinking she was someone else.
I considered several options, but the truth was that I really did owe Deicide. She’d helped save Blackjack’s daughter, and she could’ve held out for a lot more than a favor. Plus, I was kind of afraid that pissing her off might just give Janus and Juice the excuse they needed to really come after me (or even Peyton if they saw her) with the full force of their whole gang. And that was something I really didn’t want to deal with. I kind of had enough problems as it was.
So, with a quiet murmur to the other girl that it would all be okay, I gestured to the SUV. “Guess we’re all going for a little ride then, huh? Do we need to worry about grabbing dinner on the way? Please tell me we won’t need sleeping bags. I do not do well at slumber parties.”
Cavalcade chuckled lightly under her breath. “This shouldn’t be a long trip. But, tell you what, if you’re still hungry when it’s done, I’ll grab you both whatever you want to eat on our way back. Think of it as my way of saying sorry for interrupting whatever you had going on here.” Belatedly, she added in my direction, “And you should tell your friend over there that she can stop shaking. It’s all fine. We’re–okay, we’re not friends here. But I’m not taking you to see Juice or Janus. That ain’t the type of thing I’m into. They can do their own dirty work. Besides, Deicide already told them to back off. Which is another reason you might want to keep her happy.”
Reaching out, I took Peyton’s hand and leaned in close to whisper once more, “It’s okay. Trust me, nothing bad is gonna happen. Better if we just go along with this for now, I promise.”
She, in turn, gave me a brief, clearly appraising look before nodding. Her hand rose, and the four remaining marbles flew down, disappearing into a hole that had appeared in the arm of her purple and silver armor.
The two of us started to the vehicle while the other girl murmured under her breath, “Do you want to tell me why you owe the leader of the Easy Eights a favor? Cuz, last time I checked, they’re the bad guys. Actually, they’re the bad guys who tried to kill both of us yesterday.”
“It’s like she said,” I replied quietly, “this isn’t about Juice or Janus. Deicide’s their boss. She outranks them. More to the point, she scares them. And yeah, I owe her a favor. She… uhh…” Climbing in the back of the vehicle as my words trailed off, I reached out to help Peyton up while really hoping I wasn’t making a mistake by going along with this. Once we were in, I gave her a quick version of what had happened, basically telling the girl that in order to save Blackjack’s innocent daughter, we had needed to get all her medicine vials. I told her that Deicide had one of them and had promised to hand it over in exchange for a favor from both the La Casa leader himself and me.
For a few seconds after I finished telling her that, Peyton just stared at me. She seemed to start to say something once or twice, only to trail off. In the end, the only thing she could manage to say was a slightly weak, “You’re a really busy person, you know that?”
The words made Cavalcade, who had started the SUV and begun pulling out of the lot by then, chuckle. “She’s got you there, Paintball. You are not exactly one to coast along.” With that, she turned a bit to look over her shoulder at us. “And speaking of ‘she’, what do I call you, girl? Cuz I don’t think something like ‘Paintball’s Sidekick’ is gonna cut it for very long.”
“Um.” Now Peyton managed to look a bit embarrassed despite only her nose and eyes being visible. “Yeah, I thought about that all day. You know, trying to figure out a name that fit me. It’s really hard!” After that outburst, she coughed and slumped a bit in the seat. “Um, I kinda threw out a bunch of ideas for being too dumb or derivative or whatever. Like, I thought about Armsmaster, but that just sounds weird. Plus I’m not a master of anything. I’m like… Armsamateur and that’s silly. And Blacksmith is too close to Silversmith, so it sounds like I’m trying to play off his name, which is just… ehhh. Not really what I’m going for.”
Boy oh boy did I not want her to do anything that attracted my father’s attention, like having a name that was similar to his. Keeping my voice flat, I agreed, “Yeah, let’s make it your name.”
“Then I started thinking about other words,” the girl went on. “I thought of like… I keep making armor and weapons, so a knight sort of deal. Something like an assistant sort of knight in training. Like uhh, squire or a page.”
The last suggestion almost made me audibly choke before I caught myself. I had to take a second to make sure my voice wouldn’t be strained before managing, “I think we can do better than page.”
“Yeah.” Slumping with a groan, Peyton lamented, “Like I said, it’s hard. Hey, Lady Kidnapper, you’ve been doing this for a long time, do you have any suggestions?”
“First off, I’m not kidnapping you,” Cavalcade retorted. “You’re just going to have a conversation that your friend there agreed to have. You’ll be fine. Trust me, we’ve been through this before. And this time I’m not even making the kid hire me to get you out of there. And I could’ve, you know. But I’m already being paid enough to bring you here.”
While Peyton gave me a quick, confused look at that little tidbit, I waved her off while trying not to squirm too uncomfortably. “Never mind that. What about a name like uhh… Artisan?”
“Nah, that just makes me sound like a sandwich,” she objected. “See? Told you it’s hard.”
Cavalcade spoke up then, having thought for the past few seconds. “From what I heard, it sounds like you make those little marble things into whatever you want, like your armor and weapons. You make things, so what about something like Artificer? Or Alloy, for the way you mix them together. Or just Marble. I mean, that’s what they look like.”
Thinking back to the names I had thought through before settling on Paintball, I put in, “There’s Chrome or Chromatic too. Or Facade, cuz you’re making sort of…artificial armor and stuff? Or… wait a second.” Taking one of my phones out, I typed on it briefly. “Hang on, where… okay so turns out no one knows where marbles were first invented. But they were first mass produced by someone named Sam Dyke–I suggest staying away from that name, in Akron, Ohio. Maybe Akron? One sec, let me make sure that’s not a bad word. Uhhh, right, apparently it comes from an old Greek word for a summit or a high point.”
“Akron? You think I should name myself after the city in Ohio?” After saying that, Peyton breathed out. “Yeah, maybe. Everything sounds weird right now.”
Between the three of us, we went back and forth a bunch. Other options we came up with included Smelt, which Peyton mostly nixed based on the jokes people would play with that involving smelled, Chromatic Knight or Chroknight, Galatea for the mythological story about the statue that came to life, Mercurial, Shine, twisting Marble to Marbull, Marbelous, or Marball, Stoneshape, Iris, Palette, Color Wheel, Hexaknight, Orbits, Metallia, the Colored Cavalier, Hexalidin, or even Armory for the fact that she could make so many weapons and such out of her marbles.
“Or,” the girl finally suggested, “I could go with something closer to like… your thing. You know, something like Pinball. Or Gumball. Those both look sorta like these marble things and they fit the Paintball theme.”
“I have a theme now?” I managed, flushing a bit behind the mask. The two of us kind of shrugged at each other, both clearly trying to find the right thing to say.
“Well, you’ll have to set aside some more time to think about it later,” Cavalcade informed us. “Cuz we’re here.” She had pulled the SUV into an old rundown motel, bypassing the front office before pulling backwards into a spot just in front of the room at the furthest end of the building. “For now I suggest you just answer to ‘hey you.’ Head inside. I’ll wait here for you to come out, then take you wherever you wanna go. You know, after we grab food. And hey, good luck.”
Squinting at the woman while opening the door, I muttered, “You get a kick out of saying stuff to make people nervous, don’t you, Miss Oh You’ll Be Fine It’s Just A Conversation?”
She made an obvious snorting sound at that, waving me off. “You will be fine and it is just a conversation. But hey, I’ve gotta get my fun somewhere, don’t I? Now go on, get in there. I’d like to get this over with at some point so I can get on with my life. I don’t exactly get paid by the hour here.”
There were a few things I wanted to say to that, but I stopped myself. Actually, it was weird how well I got along with the Sell-Touched woman, given basically every time I saw her, she was escorting me to a conversation I didn’t want to have. Huh, that was kind of a thing by now, wasn’t it? It was a little weird how many times it had happened already.
Before going into the motel room, I stopped and put a hand against Peyton’s arm. “Listen, you don’t have to get more involved in this. No matter what she says, you don’t owe her a favor. I do. So don’t worry about it, okay? Whatever she wants to happen, if it’s something I can do without… you know, compromising myself, then I’ll pay her back. You don’t need to do anything.” Pausing briefly, I added in an even quieter voice, “And once we’re out of this, if you want to take off and never talk to me again, I’ll understand. Trust me, I more than get it.”
Peyton, however, shook her head. “I may not know much about what’s going on, but it sounds like you did the right thing. I mean, it’s not that kid’s fault her dad is a villain. Besides, there’s a lot worse villains than him out there.” Then she shrugged. “Plus, if helping with whatever she wants done makes her keep that big electric asshole off me, then it’s kind of a win-win.”
Much as I hated to say it, she had a point. The Easy Eights were kept together despite lots of bad blood between them, and their individual lieutenants, out of the sheer power of Deicide and the threat of what she would do if she was annoyed at them. If she told them to stay away from us, or at least not to take it too far, they would follow the instructions. Basically, I was pretty sure they were more afraid of their boss than they were pissed at Peyton and me. So far, at least.
So, after exchanging brief looks, the two of us moved to the motel room door and I opened it before stepping in first. Whatever happened next, I wanted to put myself in front of the other girl.
On the other side was an ordinary, incredibly dinky motel room. There was just a single bed, a long, low cabinet with a television bolted to it, an open closet with a couple metal hangers, and a bathroom. Oh, and a microwave next to the television. Finally, beside a small wooden table next to the bed, Deicide herself stood. She looked as imposing as ever, a tall, clearly feminine-armored figure made of bits of paper and pages torn from novels. A dozen more books hovered around her, half-open. When we came in, she looked our way before the open books began to randomly flip through pages. Words on the pages glowed before being spoken aloud in a booming female voice that came from the books themselves. “Paintball, and your new friend, welcome. Thank you for coming on such short notice.” The sentences were put together from words in different books, but there was no real pause between them. She had fine enough control over her power to speak in full, complete sentences simply by making the books around her flip to the right page and read out a word or two before the next one took over.
It was impressive, yeah. But why did she do that? Was it just to show off and be impressive? Why didn’t the woman herself ever actually speak? Was there a reason for that? As someone who had to hide and disguise my own voice, maybe I was just projecting onto her. And yet, something was niggling at my brain. It felt like there was something there.
Still, I pushed the thought back and offered the woman a shrug. “Oh, you know, it’s not like we had anything better to do.” Belatedly, I added, “Now, yesterday, we had some stuff to deal with. You know, like your people terrorizing a bunch of innocent civilians and trying to burn down their shops, destroy their livelihood, and use them as hostages. Just a few little things like that.”
I wasn’t sure if the way Deicide spoke through the books allowed for intonations subtle enough to portray things like guilt or regret. But if she was capable of that, it didn’t show up here as she simply replied, “The Easy Eights are at best a loose alliance of forces. I hold them together at the top, but if I squeeze too hard, it will fall apart. And then Cuélebre and his gang will run over our fractured groups, gaining themselves even more power than they already have. Juice has been informed that he is not to direct his efforts to come after either of you until such time as I rescind such an order. That said, should you put yourselves in his direct path again, he will react accordingly. He will not expend effort to hunt you down, but nor will he avoid you should you be in his way or interfere again. What the three of you get up to in the middle of a battlefield is up to you. That is the most I can offer right now. And its continuance hinges on you fulfilling your side of our bargain.”
“Right, that whole favor thing.” Grimacing, I let out a breath and glanced to see how Peyton was doing. She was silent, just staring at the Fell-Touched in front of us, so I turned back to Deicide and asked, “What exactly is it you need me to do? Don’t forget, I already said I wouldn’t do anything that would hurt people. Or lead to people being hurt.”
The paper-armored woman gave a very slight nod. “Of course, that was our agreement. As promised, the thing I wish for you to do does not entail harming or leading to anyone’s harm. Well, perhaps your own should you fail, but that is the sort of risk one takes. In fact, I dare say this is something that would greatly help this city and all the innocent civilians you care about so much, should you pull it off.”
Okay, now I was curious. Which was clearly the intention, but still. Manipulation or not, it worked. Folding my arms, I slowly asked, “Help the city, huh? So, what exactly do you want?”
The answer came immediately. “I think you would both agree that the Scions of Typhon are a much greater threat to the safety of this city than anyone in my organization, yes?”
“Wha–are you fucking crazy?” That was Peyton. “We’re not going after the Scions! I don’t care how much he owes you.” She gestured to me. “That’s suicide and you know it. You can’t call in a favor to ask someone to go after those fucking psychopaths. Go jump off a fucking bridge!” With her outburst, the gold, white, bronze, and black marbles flew into view. The first two transformed into a pair of kite shields and hovered protectively in front of us while the remaining two combined to form a massive sword that was almost too large for the room.
“Stop,” I quickly put in, putting a hand on her arm. “I don’t think that’s what she’s asking. At least, I hope she’s not dumb enough to think that would fly.”
Sure enough, Deicide (who hadn’t moved or shown any reaction to the transforming marbles) raised one hand with her palm out. “Easy. No, of course not. I happen to have some experience with assigning the right resources to the right problems. And while you may have had some luck in the past, you are not the right resource to point at the Scions. No, this isn’t about sending you after them. But I do want them to be taken off the board, just as I’m sure you do. That’s where this favor comes in. There is a witness, someone who experienced Pencil early on in his career. I believe she may know something important about how his power works, a way to exploit or stop it.”
“If there’s some special witness, why hasn’t she helped the cops or Stars?” I put in.
“She has been in hiding for quite awhile, out of fear of what that… man will do to her if given another chance,” came the answer. “But we’ve finally narrowed down her location enough that it should be possible to find her. I want to bring her in to answer questions, but I do not wish to traumatize the girl even more. Hence, sending you. That is my request for this favor. Find and speak with this survivor, ask what she knows about Pencil. She’s more likely to speak to a Star-Touched, particularly one like you.”
“One like–never mind.” Shaking that off, I asked, “So who is this mythical early survivor of Pencil who could maybe help take him down?”
“Her name,” Deicide informed us, “is Amanda Sanvers.”