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The following is the 29th edition of Patreon Snippets. Each month, every Patreon supporter who donates at least ten dollars per month receives at least five hundred words they can eventually toward any subject they would like to see written about (within reason), join their idea to others to make it longer, or hold it for future installments. Thanks go to them, as well as to all supporters, and to all readers.
What do some of the other Star-Touched in the city think of Avant-Guard?
“Okay, yes, you can call it a wild conspiracy theory if you want, that’s fair.” The person speaking was a thin black man who stood almost six feet, four inches tall. To most of the outside world, he was known as Skin-Head, a member of the state-level Spartans team of Star-Touched. Though at the moment he wasn’t wearing his costume, so he looked like any other black man enjoying a cup of coffee while sitting on a bench in the middle of the park early in the morning. Right now, he was simply Michael Edwards, an incredibly bland name for a man who preferred not to stand out in any way when he wasn’t actively in costume, even if his height made that difficult.
Nor did his companion, a blonde woman in her mid-twenties with pale skin and a rather athletic build, immediately give away her own identity as Versed. As a civilian, she was simply Aubree Dayson. Though she might have worn ordinary, unassuming clothing like him, their similarities didn’t extend as far as drink choices. She chose tea rather than coffee, sipping from the cup while watching a couple joggers go past in the distance. “Call it a wild conspiracy?” the woman echoed while shaking her head. “You mean the part where you think Paintball and his new group might be up to something nefarious? Why on Earth would anyone call that a wild conspiracy?”
“Okay,” the man immediately pointed out, “I’m not saying they’re bad. Hell, they could be, it’s possible, but that’s not what I’m saying. All I mean is that they keep ending up being in the right place at the exact right time, so maybe they know something they’re not sharing, or they have an information source they’re keeping secret. Maybe they have contacts in the gangs who are helping them out. Like this whole thing at the courthouse. What were the odds that they would just happen to go in right then for interviews and still be there when this whole thing went down? You know, the ‘whole thing’ that happened to involve the very same people they helped fight at the park in the first place just a couple days earlier.” He grimaced, taking another gulp of his coffee. “Come on, you have to admit, it’s a little hard to see that and believe that it’s a complete coincidence. Especially–”
“Especially given we know Paintball works with people like Pack when it’s convenient,” Aubree finished for him. “Yeah, I know, I get that. So you’re saying you think they might have friends in other gangs, like the one that literally just moved to town, and that these friends completely gave away their entire scheme to Avant-Guard?”
Michael shook his head. “Maybe not with those guys, the ones who just got here, but they’re not the only ones who’re part of this new gang, remember? Devil’s Due, Janus, and Juice all took some of their own men with them when they left the Easy Eights. Maybe Paintball or one of his buddies had a friend in that group.”
Aubree was quiet for a moment before responding. “And you think if they do have someone in one of those gangs who was feeding them information about that attack, they might’ve chosen to go there and be in the right place at the right time so they could get the glory rather than share that info with the rest of us.”
Michael held up both hands. “Not saying that it’s definite. But if they did, It’d be pretty screwed up, wouldn’t it?”
Heaving a long sigh, the woman nodded. “If it was true, it’d be really fucked up, yes. But it’s not. Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence. And just because they have contacts with one or two other gangs doesn’t mean they have any with those guys. That’s a bit of a reach, man. Especially when you think about what any of those Fells would do to anyone who was helping out Paintball. I mean seriously, you saw how much all those guys hate him. And considering what happened over the last couple days, the newcomers are probably just as pissed at Avant-Guard as the old ones. And I don’t think Paintball’s the type of person to allow a little kid like Lightning Bug end up in danger or let all those guards die just for glory.” She grimaced somewhat to herself. “Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. And the simplest answer to this situation is that they just happened to be there. It was a coincidence.”
As she was saying that, a frisbee came flying in to land nearby. Seeing a couple girls come after it, Aubrey bent down to pick up the frisbee, holding it for a moment to allow her power to give her a decent level of skill with the thing. Then she sent it flying back that way, waving as one of them caught it. Which was enough for one of them to call out that she should join them since she seemed pretty good, and her boyfriend was welcome to come too.
“See that?” Aubrey pointed out in a quiet voice as she turned to face the man himself. “You’re not my boyfriend, but they made assumptions because we happen to be sitting together. If you don’t know the whole story about a situation, you can make some big mistakes if you assume things. Especially if you assume the worst.”
Michael chuckled softly despite himself, pushing off the bench. “Yeah, sure, I get it. It’s not like I think we should go out and arrest them or anything. It just might be worth keeping our eyes open and paying a bit more attention to what they’re doing, just in case.”
The two of them stopped talking about that for a bit, while going over to introduce themselves to the frisbee players. Though Michael introduced himself as Carl, while Aubree was Lena. And they did nothing to correct the assumption that they were romantically involved. Quite the opposite, really, given they referred to one another as their fiance, and had the rings to back that up. Which was all nonsense, given the two would never actually be together that way. Michael/Skin-Head played for the wrong team, and Aubree/Versed wasn’t even involved in the sport, having realized she was asexual and aromantic around the same time that she’d Touched.
All of which was to say, they didn’t have any interest in each other that way. But the two frisbee playing girls, and the rest of their group, didn’t know that. They simply made assumptions that the two Star-Touched were more than willing to take advantage of. Neither Aubree nor Michael felt the slightest twinge about lying to these people, considering the whole frisbee group belonged to one of the currently loyal Easy Eight factions. None were important to the gang in any way beyond being what amounted to quite low-level thugs, but one of them was the sibling, cousin, or friend of Pivotal, and that guy had some pretty… well, pivotal information about the disappearance of the son of a friend of Aubree’s. As far as the authorities were concerned, the son had run away on his own, but her friend didn’t believe that, so Aubree didn’t either. She was convinced Pivotal knew something about it, but couldn’t get official resources to go after him. Not on this, anyway. Michael had agreed to help her with this undercover bit, especially if it gave them the opportunity to potentially grab an important Fell-Touched right out from under Deicide while she was still reeling from losing three others to betrayal. And, of course, because he wanted to help his friend and teammate.
In any case, their attempts to infiltrate that area of the gang so they could find out what really happened to Aubree’s friend’s son weren’t going to pay off immediately. This was simply their first contact, and as far as that went, the meeting had gone pretty well. They played some frisbee in the park and talked a bit, giving just enough information about their fake lives to make the two of them seem like potentially decent recruits. The next part would come soon enough. As important as the whole situation was, if they pushed too hard too quickly, they wouldn’t get anything at all. So, they had to play it at least somewhat cool. Deicide had to be hungry for new recruits, but coming on too strong or seeming too good to be true was bound to get the wrong sort of attention. They just wanted to look like a couple of potentially good nobodies to help fill out the gang’s diminished ranks.
Following that little ‘incidental’ meeting (Aubree had watched the group play frisbee in that area twice before and the disc had ended up near that bench at some point both times), the two of them took a ride in Michael’s car, watching to see if they were tailed. Neither expected to be at this early stage, but you never knew for sure. Not where these gangs were concerned.
Only once they were as certain as they could be that no one was following them did Aubree shift the conversation back to what they had been talking about before. “Okay, so let’s go through what we know about Avant-Guard. Starting with the guy in charge. He put them together.”
“Paintball showed up first, that’s for sure,” Michael agreed. “And I think it’s safe to say he was by himself for the first bit, through most of that whole search for Blackjack’s missing vials. Didn’t have anyone else in the field with him, anyway. And going by the reports the Minority filed when he showed up to save that guy who was kidnapped by Janus, he wasn’t interested in working with anyone else or joining up officially.”
“If I recall correctly,” Aubree noted, “they said he seemed nice enough, but standoffish. A couple said he might’ve been nervous about something. But that could’ve just been because he was new. Though even that’s a bit iffy.”
Michael shook his head, scoffing while pulling the car to a stop at the red light. “Don’t tell me you put any stock in that ‘he’s a Touched from out of the city who came here and that’s how he learned so quickly’ nonsense. The kid’s just good at what he does. Or lucky. Both, probably.”
“I think both is a safe assumption given everything we’ve seen,” Aubree agreed, leaning back in the seat to watch the pedestrians passing by. “I’m just saying, even if he’s not another Touched in disguise or whatever, maybe he’s had some training we don’t know about. He is pretty good when it comes to getting around with that paint. Unless he’s one of those Touched with the something extra up here.” She gestured toward her head. “You know, like that whole thing with your skin just automatically hardening exactly as much as you need to deal with any impact if you know it’s coming. Even if you don’t consciously know how hard the impact is gonna be. Or That-A-Way knowing which direction she’s moving.”
“You think Paintball has some sort of extra super-training power?” Michael paused, considering that while accelerating away from the stoplight. “Gotta be honest, I’m gonna stick with the kid just being good and lucky. I think he got thrown into the deep end with all this stuff and he’s been doing the best he can to keep his head above water. He’s learning by doing.”
“Oh, pull into the drive-thru here,” Aubree insisted, pointing toward a donut bakery. “These guys have the best Boston Cream you’ll ever have in your life.”
“Given we’re not in Boston, I doubt that,” Michael retorted. “But I might be willing to give them ‘best in Detroit’ as second prize. Maybe best in Michigan.”
“Boston snob,” Aubree shot back, smirking a little bit before adding, “Okay, so going with the theory that he’s just good and lucky, do you think Paintball is totally a good guy on the up and up? He does seem pretty willing to work with some villains now and then. And he’s pretty chummy with Pack from what we’ve seen.”
Michael pulled into line behind another car, drumming his fingers along the steering wheel thoughtfully. “There’s different sorts of bad guys. From everything I’ve seen, Paintball knows what side he’s on when it really comes down to it. Sure, he works with Pack, but considering they were trying to save her boss’s kid, can we really blame him for that? It’s not even like the kid’s just excusing all low-level crime, because he’s helped stop random muggings, thefts, vandalism, all sorts of minor shit out there.”
“That’s kind of my point,” Aubree replied easily. “If he’s stopping those crimes but working with Pack, doesn’t that mean he’s picking and choosing which bad guys to go after?”
Michael snorted at that. “As if we don’t pick and choose to focus on the real threats, and even give ‘useful bad guys’ a pass now and then. I don’t know how you can–” He stopped then, squinting sidelong at her. “You’re playing devil’s advocate, aren’t you?”
She grinned in return. “Just seeing where you’re sitting. But anyway, enough about him. He’s a good kid, maybe makes some mistakes, but gets lucky. What about the rest of that group?”
“Well the only one we know for sure goes into the field and has powers is the marble girl,” Michael replied, before falling silent as they pulled up to the intercom to place their order. Only once they had pulled away from it and he could roll up his window again did the man continue that thought. “Alloy–which to tell you the truth, makes me think Silversmith might have something to do with her. You think he’s got any kids he might be giving some field time away from dear old dad’s reputation?”
Aubrey considered that for a few seconds while they picked up their donuts from the window and began to drive away. It wasn’t until she’d chewed and swallowed the first delicious bite that she finally spoke again. “Considering everything we’ve heard about him, and seen for ourselves, if any Star-Touched in the city was going to have a secret kid he sent out in the field and pretended not to know, it’s probably him. I mean, it would explain their powers being relatively similar, right? Sometimes kids inherit powers that are mutations from the parents instead of Touching for themselves. If her version of his power just happened to manifest like that–or if she’s pretending it did…”
“You mean if the whole marble thing is made up to throw people off?” Michael reached out to take one of the donuts from the box for himself, chewing thoughtfully for the next few seconds. “I suppose it’s possible she could just create stuff out of nothing like he does, or maybe she’s more limited in the amount she can use, and uses the marbles to avoid comparisons with her dad. If he is her dad. Or uncle, he could be her uncle. And it would explain some of their resources and training, if Silversmith’s secretly helping out even just a little bit. Hell, it seems like Paintball didn’t start getting all this extra help until Alloy showed up anyway, and then suddenly he’s got a whole team with him? You know, I think we might be onto something.”
“Right?” Aubrey gave a quick nod. “Like, we know Paintball had some sort of Techy working with him before. It’s that little girl with the wings who showed up at that one zombie fight. She had to be the one who made that automated suit they stuffed whatshisface into so he’d lead them to those vials. But now she’s got all those suits and special guns and stuff to outfit the whole team with? Four new people, all with their own equipment. The resources for that sort of start-up has to come from somewhere. Silversmith would have the sort of contacts it takes for that.”
“That’s a fair point,” Michael agreed. “And from what I’ve heard from others on the Conservators, he hasn’t really been pushing very hard to try to recruit any of them. That would fit with her being his kid that he’s trying to let have some experience of her own without being connected to him. Or maybe she insisted.” Tapping the steering wheel thoughtfully again, he added, “If that’s true, do you think he had this in mind from the beginning? I mean, as soon as Paintball started showing up. He might have been waiting to have someone his daughter could work with before letting her go out in the field.
Aubrey considered while eating another doughnut. In the end, she nodded. “You know, I think that sounds right. He probably waited until that–what was her name–Trevor something? The tech chick. He waited until she and Paintball were established so he could see how good they’d be at partnering with his kid and then offered support.”
“Trevithick,” Michael informed her. “The guy who invented the steam train or whatever. So what about the other four? Do you think they’re just Alloy’s friends he’s been helping train and outfit or something?”
Aubrey offered a shrug. “I mean, that would make sense too, wouldn’t it? It fits with the timing and all. Especially if he offered resources to Trevithick, and people for her to outfit and test her inventions with. I don’t think– hang on.” She frowned, looking out of the passenger window at a few men who seemed to be forcing a woman and her daughter into an alley nearby. “Looks like trouble.”
Michael nodded in agreement while pulling the car to a stop along the curb. The touch of a button on his side made both of their seats drop back to put the pair into a lying-down position as the automated system in the heavily-modified vehicle quickly dressed the pair in their costumes within a few seconds. Michael’s was easy enough. Most of his skin was exposed, leaving the man wearing simple, baggy black shorts and tennis shoes, along with a metal band around his face which covered the area from his mouth up to his eyes and had a pair of black lenses.
Aubrey, meanwhile, wore skin-tight dark green pants and a black long-sleeved shirt, along with black gloves and boots, and a green bandana mask over the top half of her face. Her eyes were also covered by a pair of dark goggles. Her appearance, specifically the way she tended to play it up and flirt with people, was another layer of protection. Her civilian self had less than zero interest in such things, so she was less likely to be identified.
And just like that, the pair weren’t Michael and Aubree anymore. Not for this. Now they were Skin-Head and Versed. With a quick nod to one another, they popped their doors open and stepped out, starting to move toward the alley the other group had forced the woman and her child into. Within a few steps, Skin-Head raised his arm, extending the skin from it into a long tentacle shape all the way to the roof of the nearby building. It wrapped around an air conditioning unit up there, before pulling the man up that way.
Versed, meanwhile, unsnapped the sleek, futuristic-looking pistol from one of her legs, flipping the weapon over in the air smoothly before catching it. Her powers allowed her to understand how to use any object she touched, with the level of skill she had depending on how long she held the item, up to the level of a complete master. She could only retain mastery-level skill of up to five objects at a time, and guns were one of those five. That skill applied to anything that could be considered a gun, from the smallest pistol to enormous rifles and everything in between. And it applied to Touched-Tech versions of guns, including this one. It had a multitude of settings, from a concussive beam, to a heat ray, to a disorienting wide-spread blast, and many others. Considering all the various settings it had and the way each type of attack it produced changed its effective range, the way that attack behaved, and so forth, it would have been difficult for most people to use the pistol effectively. But Versed’s power-provided mastery of the weapon meant she always knew exactly which buttons to use to get the effect she wanted. As it did for literally any other gun she ever picked up, no matter how obtuse its designer made the use of it. Which included unlocking any special security measures they had included within it.
At that particular moment, she pressed a quick selection of the small buttons along one side of the gun, waiting until it gave an answering thrum of acknowledgment in her hand. Then the woman stepped around the corner, raising the weapon while clearly calling out, “This is the Spartans, everyone freeze!”
They didn’t, of course. The men whirled around and raised their own guns. But she had been ready for that. A simple pull of the trigger sent a red blast all the way down through the alley. It was wide enough to fill the entire space, and the moment it struck any object matching the physical description of a gun, knife, or other similar weapons that had been programmed into the thing, that item was instantly heated up to a painful degree, forcing the men to yelp and drop their weapons.
Disarmed as they were, they turned to flee down the alley, shoving the woman and her daughter aside. But they ended up running right into Skin-Head, who dropped down in front of them. One, clearly without even paying attention to who the person blocking their way was, threw a wild punch. He then proceeded to yelp in pain, stumbling a bit as he clutched his hand while the black man stood utterly unaffected. Well, not utterly. He did smile faintly. “Hey there,” the man greeted them.
“It’s about to be a very bad day for you.”
Soon enough, the situation was handled and the men were being taken away. Back in Michael’s car, the pair took a moment to collect themselves. Aubree glanced toward her teammate with a small smirk. “Well, that was fun. What were we talking about? Oh right, the other four members of Avant-Guard. Those first two, Calvin and Hobbes, they’re clearly not as well-trained as the other two, right?”
“Right,” Michael agreed. “I’m betting those two are Alloy’s friends, and the other two are people Silversmith brought in to protect them. They haven’t shown any powers, anyway. Maybe those other two, what was it, Poise and Style? Maybe they’re trainees from one of those rapid-response candidate programs. They pull from some of those private schools.”
Aubree considered that. “I guess that would make sense. Smith would have access to those records. Maybe he recruited a couple to come over and help out his kid. They start training pretty early, so it’d explain why they seem so young. Maybe we should check the records and see if anyone who matches those descriptions quit or has been preoccupied recently?”
With a slow nod, Michael began to pull the car away from the curb. “Maybe we should. Just to make sure Smith isn’t using resources he shouldn’t be.” As he spoke, the man used his left hand to type on the phone hidden from Aubree by his body. He sent a simple message.
Minister Gold – confirmed she doesn’t know the identities of anyone on AG. Planted theory about P&S being from training program. She’ll check into without leading back to Ministry. Will keep informed if she finds anything useful.
A look at the political side of what happened with Breakwater
Sitting in her office in the Russell Building (so-named for Senator Richard B. Russell, who had served for thirty-nine years from 1932 to 1971) in the Capitol complex, Senator Dana Lowery held a cell phone to her ear and snapped, “I don’t care how evasive they’re being. Find out the truth, no matter how many arms you have to twist. Remind those people of just how quickly their whole system will fall apart if the US pulls our support. If we’re not in, plenty of others will pull out too. And yes, that is absolutely on the table at this point.”
As she was speaking, the woman glanced toward her own reflection in the nearby window. She was young for a senator, a mere forty-one years of age. And thanks to a rigorous exercise and diet regimen, she appeared to be several years younger than that. Her hair was blonde and short, while she had skin that was darkened through a mixture of outdoor activities and artificial tanning. She looked damn good, if she did say so herself. Even if there were dark circles under her eyes right now. It was to be expected, considering everything that was happening. She had been on the phone with various people for several hours by this point. Between that and all the calls her assistants had been placing and taking, she was almost surprised they hadn’t burned out the cell tower already.
After another minute or so on this particular call, Dana disconnected and tossed the phone onto the desk before leaning back to stretch her arms over her head with a long sigh. Of course this was the job she had dreamed of for so long, since she had been a small child. But some days she wondered if it would have been easier to just write a few books or something. Much less stressful anyway.
A knock came at her door then, before one of her assistants, a young but very enthusiastic girl named Cheryl, poked her head in. “Hey boss, Carl just called from upstairs. He says Deckert and Larson are onboard. But we still don’t have the numbers to make a serious push at withdrawing from the agreement with Breakwater. Even with two Stars and a civilian trapped over there, the optics for completely pulling out of that and having to deal with our own top threats are too bad.”
Rising from her desk, Dana shook her head. “That’s okay, we don’t really want to withdraw anyway. Sure, they lied to us and we absolutely need to slap their hands for that. But dropping out entirely? No one’s going to back that. Not when doing so would mean offering their own state up as a place to house these people. We just need enough voices to make those Breakwater assholes think it’s a real possibility, especially if they keep jerking us around like this. They need to think we won’t be the first ones to blink in this little game of chicken.” As she spoke, the woman grabbed her light blue jacket from the nearby hook. “Come on, we’ve got to pay a visit to Adkins.”
Cheryl made a face. “Speaking of assholes, he’s one of the biggest. And he smells like it too.”
Dana chuckled. “You’re not wrong, but let’s keep that inside this office. Ken Adkins may be a piece of shit, but he’s got power and he knows how to use it. I’d hate to lose my best aide because she gave that man reason to start complaining.”
Blushing under the compliment, Cheryl accompanied her boss out of the office, past the dozen other assistants who were busy working the phones, and out into the main hall. From there,they made their way down the hall to what looked like an elevator from the outside. Not so long ago, those doors really would have led to an elevator, and the two of them would have needed to take that down to the miniature ‘subway’ line that connected the Russell building to the actual Capitol. The train itself had actually been known as a ‘people mover,’ which was only a couple of cars long, and wasn’t enclosed. The whole thing looked more like a ride at a carnival or something, but it worked well enough to ferry members of Congress to various buildings. Or it had worked well enough, until the building was upgraded several years earlier.
Technically, the upgrade could have been done years before that even, but various complications and complaints had kept the new system from being implemented while people who didn’t trust Touched, or new technology, or who simply preferred things stayed the same, gradually lost power. But now, when Dana reached out to touch her thumb against the print reader, it didn’t immediately open into an elevator. Instead, part of the metal door slid aside to reveal a touchscreen with a menu on it, which included a list of all the possible places her clearance level allowed her to go. Ignoring her own apartments both here in DC and back home, as well as several close colleagues’ offices, her emergency bunker, and a few other locations throughout Capitol Hill and beyond, the woman instead touched the option for a spot on the second floor of the nearby Capitol that was nearest her actual destination. Immediately, the doors slid open, revealing the hallway they were aiming for. With a small smile of satisfaction at the convenience the new system allowed, Dana stepped through with her assistant. The doors closed behind them, waiting for the next person to need direct transport anywhere they were permitted to go. It really was so much better and more convenient than riding a tiny train.
It only took Dana a second to notice the person she had come up here looking for. As expected, the silver-haired man with wire-rimmed glasses and a slightly overweight figure was speaking with a reporter and cameraman in the hallway. Because why wouldn’t he be? Even from here, she could hear his firm declaration about how they were going to absolutely rescue the missing heroes and civilian from that terrible prison island, and that heads would roll for keeping this secret from the American people, and blah blah blah.
Taking a breath, she squeezed Cheryl’s shoulder to signal for her to stay back, then stepped up that way to put herself directly beside the camera-loving man. Her voice was the perfect mix of cheerful and somber, showing enthusiasm and optimism, but also carefully reserved outrage. “Senator Pichole is absolutely correct, and I am so glad that he and the rest of my colleagues across the aisle can work together with us on this issue. What matters now isn’t our petty politics, but bringing Flea, Trivial, and that poor woman they went to rescue home where they belong.”
There was a brief exchange with the reporter, who jumped on the opportunity to interview her as well, before both senators excused themselves and walked toward Pichole’s office. On the way, once they were far enough from the media people, Dana crooked a finger for Cheryl to join them while speaking up. “Shall I take it that this means you’re going to stop pussyfooting around and sign on to our measures?”
Herbert Pichole chuckled. “Your measures that technically do nothing of import, you mean? You may get the votes you need, if I sign on, to take it out of committee. But there is absolutely no way in hell you’ll get sixty votes in the full chamber. You won’t even get a majority. Name a single state whose people are going to willingly say, ‘sure, go ahead and bring all those murderous piece of shit super villains here to our state. We’d love for our tax money to go toward containing and feeding them.’”
While saying that, the man opened the door into his outer office area. Like Dana’s, there were a dozen or more people busy working the phones and computers to manage all the calls coming in. But this one was much grander and larger than hers. A product of his longer time serving in Congress. But not for long. She had her eyes on an office even grander than this one. Someday, this place would seem quaint.
Dana ignored that thought however, and walked with the man past all his own people to his own private office. Like the outer one, it was twice the size of hers. Motioning for Cheryl to wait out there, she stepped into that inner sanctum, and allowed the door to close behind her. Only then did she speak up. “Sure, you’re absolutely right. No senator is going to want to be the one who says ‘let’s put those people in our state.’ The fallout would be positively nuclear. But you know as well as I do that it won’t actually come to that. We just need to show a united front. United enough that Breakwater considers it a possibility. Maybe not that we’ll bring our criminals back here, but that we might go looking for other solutions. Solutions that don’t involve them.”
The man’s smile was unconvincing. However good, he might’ve been at convincing his voters that he was sincere, he either couldn’t convey that feeling to her, or he didn’t care enough to try. Either way, he simply replied, “And yet, it is your territory that would suffer the most embarrassment if this measure was to fall through, isn’t it? After all, you are serving the great state of Michigan, where the poor victims of this whole unfortunate situation are from. So it’s you who needs this more than me.”
Dana sighed and made an acquiescing motion with one hand. “Just get to the point. What do you want?”
So, he informed her. His support of the bill that would begin to strip support for Breakwater, which would fail or be withdrawn anyway as soon as the prison produced those three missing women, in exchange for pushing several companies to build their new Touched tech facilities in his own home state. Being the senator from Michigan, which had become the center of so much of that work over the past couple decades, Dana had a great deal of say over that sort of thing. As did her senior senator. But she suspected he already had that blowhard’s backing.
Either way, she agreed, and he promised to signal support at their next committee meeting that afternoon. Once it was done, Dana left with Cheryl, and as they were walking down the hall, she asked the girl, “Have they called yet?”
Cheryl nodded, holding up her phone. Dana took it and held the phone to her ear. “Yes, Minister White, we’re at the next step. Of course, ma’am. That’s what matters.
“After all, we’re all on the same side.”
Cassiel (Cassidy in Heretical Edge) continuing from previous noncanon. Seriously, if you haven’t read that non-canon and have at least a fair idea about Heretical Edge, you will probably be completely lost.
The air of the village was filled with smoke and flame, along with the sounds of people shouting, metal weapons clanging together, the thwocking of arrows striking wood and clanging off of shields, as well as the occasional high-pitched whine of a laser flying back and forth. Through the smoke-filled street of the medieval village, a small handful of weary soldiers, dressed in the armor of Camelot, retreated with an assortment of civilians. They were protecting the escape of the innocent villagers as best as they could in the face of an overwhelming force of attackers.
There were three soldiers, two armed with swords while the third held a laser rifle that had clearly seen better days and barely functioned. Pursuing them and their charges was a small army’s-worth of assailants of all shapes and sizes. There were a dozen humans or humanoids, just as many reptilian figures, a massive troll, and more. They were all better armed than the beleaguered trio of troops they were assaulting.
Retreating down the street, one soldier shouted for them to hold the line just a little bit longer and that reinforcements would be there soon. He sounded optimistic, yet even that was straining under the stress of what was happening. The man with the faulty laser rifle grimaced and wiped soot from his face before taking aim at the enormous troll’s eye. He triggered a blast that only made the thing recoil a bit with an angry bellow.
Unfortunately, a scream of despair went up from the group the trio of soldiers were escorting, as an equally large group of enemies came around the corner of the building in the distance down the street, cutting off their escape. The group was surrounded, and it didn’t look as though help would be arriving in time to spare them from a truly grisly fate.
Exchanging looks, the three soldiers ordered the civilians to gather in a circle and then they surrounded them as best as they could. If they were going to go down right here, it would be while they were fighting. There would be no surrender. The warlord who had assaulted this village with his army would never allow them to survive in the end anyway. Though he also wouldn’t make their ends quick. If captured, they would all wish for death long before it came. They braced themselves, even the civilians picking up what meager defenses they could between a few shovels, pitchforks, and even a club or two. They knew it was about to be all over, and braced themselves for a last stand, short as it would undoubtedly be.
Their attackers had all stopped as well, surrounding the paltry handful of troops. King Arthur’s own army was on the way, these three having been sent forward as scouts. But the king hadn’t expected such a large force to already be assaulting the village. Something had gone wrong, the warlord’s troops had moved far more quickly than they should have been able to. And they were better-armed than had been reported. They had an outside force assisting them, that much was clear.
Stretching itself up to its full height of twelve feet, the troll (itself no doubt strong and terrible enough to annihilate everyone present all on its lonesome) opened its mouth to laugh. Except what filled the air, echoing through the street around them in that moment was not the horrific, guttural chuckle of a massive beast, but the gleeful laughter of a young girl who happened to be in the middle of a truly exciting, death-defying stunt.
Needless to say, the troll was confused, stopping short with his mouth open like that even as everyone present on both sides of the conflict stared at him. Briefly, the thought that the girlish laughter could possibly be coming from such an enormous creature filled the heads of everyone there.
At least, it did until the true source of the sound became apparent. Behind the troll and that part of the army came a tiny figure, riding what looked like a silver board that floated several feet off the ground. She appeared human, and a small one at that, standing only five feet in height without the height of the flying board counted. Her clothes were decidedly odd to most present, consisting of a simple skin-tight red bodysuit of sorts with gold trim. In one hand, she held a small cylinder-shaped device that looked sort of like a sword hilt with no blade, while the other hand clutched three small metal balls. The board seemed to fly under her mental direction, swerving around an overturned vegetable cart on her way straight to the now-gawking assortment of troops and civilians.
“Yo dudes!” the girl called out, voice ringing clearly through the sudden silence. “Why don’t you take a little break, you deserve it!” With that, the hand holding those three small metal balls snapped out, sending the orbs flying past the warlord’s troops before spreading out to land around the circle of terrified civilians and the three Camelot soldiers. Instantly, the balls opened up, working together to project a powerful forcefield around the group so they couldn’t be assaulted.
Of course, those now within the shield had their own terrified assumptions of why the newcomer had surrounded them in the impenetrable shield, believing that she was working with the warlord and had now trapped them. But those assumptions faltered under what came next.
“Well hey there!” the girl called out cheerfully while flipping off the board to land smoothly right in front of the group that included the troll, “You big strong creeps really wanna pick on somebody smaller than you?” She grinned, extending her hands to either side. As she did so, the suit she was wearing turned white before a series of elaborate drawings in various colors appeared all over it. They looked like what people in the future would call comic strips, a series of sketches depicting every member of the warlord’s army being beaten and killed in comedic ways that made them seem utterly incompetent. Her entire suit, front and back and from her neck to her toes was filled with the artwork. In that single instant, literal hours worth of comic strips covered every square inch of available space.
As they took all that in, she continued to smile broadly at them. “They don’t come much smaller than me. So go ahead and see what you can do.” Her smile darkened just a little bit as she stared at them through briefly serious eyes. “For real though, show me what you can do.”
There was a brief pause before a series of furious howls and screams filled the air. The troll was the first to move, stampeding forward to lash out with a kick of his massive foot that it would have sent the girl flying, her broken body left to slam into a wall some distance away. Would have, had it not been for the fact that the girl moved. Even as that huge and nasty foot was swinging through the air, she leapt, a blue spot appearing on the ground under her feet as she sprang good fifteen feet into the air. Her hand extended, before a spray of yellow liquid flew out to completely cover the troll. Suddenly, he found himself moving incredibly slowly, as though he was deep underwater. In that same moment, the girl threw the cylinder she’d been holding in her other hand. Halfway to its target, the cylinder suddenly hummed to life, a long laser blade extending from it to cut straight through the troll’s throat and out the other side, like a spear lancing through a sheet of paper.
A series of crossbow bolts went flying at the girl from the dozen or so troops who were quick enough to fire, but her board had flown up into the air right after her, and positioned itself to one side, allowing her to plant one foot and rebound off it. The bolts were left to fly harmlessly through the space where she had just been. As she flipped sideways, the girl held her hand out, a red circle appearing on her palm to match the red she left on the hilt of the laser sword. Suddenly, its flight forward halted, and it came spinning back the way it had come, moving sideways so that the blade cut cleanly through the troll’s already wounded throat. With a gurgling cry that was abruptly silenced, the head was completely severed, leaving the body to crash lifelessly to the ground while the girl caught the incoming sword with her extended hand.
The assembled troops were astonished, and suddenly much less confident than they had been only a moment earlier. Still, they descended upon the girl. Yet they stood no chance. As an orc-like figure, who stood almost half as tall as the troll had been, brought his wicked-looking hammer slamming down toward her, the girl’s torso and arms were suddenly bright purple mixed with green. She caught the descending hammer, ripping it from the creature’s grasp before he could recover from his surprise. A quick toss sent the weapon safely to one side just as the green-purple coloring vanished. In the next second, the energy blade from that laser sword cut the orc’s body in half, even as the girl smoothly ducked under the wild sword swing from another figure who had come up behind her. She flipped over backwards, her foot kicking her new attacker in the face. But the part of her foot that made contact had been painted blue and green, and that single touch from it sent the assailant flying right into her waiting silver board, which had righted itself in the air and turned to face them. Worse for the orc, the board had produced a series of spikes, forcing the flailing figure to impale himself on them.
None of the other troops fared any better. The girl moved through them as smoothly and efficiently as a talented farmer threshing wheat. Various colors appeared as necessary over her body and on the people she was fighting. Her laser sword thrummed through the air, severing arms, legs, and throats at will. The troops were slowed by yellow, sped when they didn’t wish to be by green, blinded by white flashes, left with their assaults accomplishing nothing under a suddenly orange-or-pink-painted target, or even with their damage being reflected back onto themselves with a mixture of orange and blue. They couldn’t lay a finger on the girl as she systematically took them apart and killed every last one of them. Throughout the fight, if it could be considered such, the girl laughed and mocked them, making it perfectly clear how much contempt she held for the troops who had been about to slaughter those innocent villagers and the handful of troops who had been desperately protecting them.
In the end, they all fell under her light blade, with some assistance from her board, which seemed to sprout blades and move under her entirely silent and unseen commands. Finally, none were left standing. Every last member of the army that had been sent to burn this village to the ground and kill everyone within it had instead been killed by this single girl. They had been meant to send a message to the people of this land, about the warlord’s insistence upon obedience to his rule. Instead, they themselves had become the message. One that would become increasingly clear as King Arthur’s people and allies gradually consolidated their control over the territory.
Once it was over, the girl paused to survey the area, making certain everything was clear. Then she turned to the people behind the forcefield barrier and whistled while hooking the hilt of the now-disabled laser sword onto her hip. As she did so, the shield finished and the orbs returned to her hand. She juggled them briefly before setting the orbs atop her waiting board, where they soon sank and vanished out of sight as though it was made of water. Then the girl held up both hands. “Hey you guys! Uh, I know this whole thing might be freaking you out a bit, but it’s okay.” She gestured to the fallen bodies that filled the street around them. “I promise, I’m here to help!”
“Who…” One of the troops, the one who had been armed with the nearly-dead laser rifle, took a hesitant step that way. “Who are you? You aren’t one of the king’s knights. Who sent you?” He was clearly grateful for her aid, yet wary of just how much power she had displayed. If she worked for one of the warlord’s rivals, they were hardly out of danger. “Where have you come from?”
“Oh boy, is that ever a long story we don’t have time for.” Snorting at her own response, the girl took a breath. “Look, the short version is, I’m Cassiel. And I’ve come to help escort you back to Arthur.” Even as those words left her mouth, she suddenly gave a loud laugh, an ecstatic grin crossing her face. “Arthur! As in King Arthur! How fucking cool is that? The actual King Arthur, magic sword and everything! I didn’t even know he was real. I didn’t–err…” Realizing what she was doing and who she was talking to, Cassiel abruptly flushed visibly. “Err, sorry. Trust me, if you had any idea where I came from, you’d totally understand.”
Visibly sobering as much as she could, the girl continued. “Anyway, yeah, King Arthur. Let’s just say my friends and I made a deal with him. They’re helping out in a few other places to get other villages evacuated and bring those people back to safety. Right now, we need to get moving ourselves, because there’s a bigger army coming this way. We need to get you back to where you’ll be safe, with the king. I mean, don’t get me wrong, all this was super-fun and all.” She gestured at the bodies around. “But I’m not completely certain I can protect you from the size of the real army that’s coming this way. So gather everything you need and let’s get going.” After a brief pause, she snapped her fingers. “Oh right, Arthur said I should tell you all the owl has left the aspen. Some sort of code phrase?”
Those words were finally enough to make the troops relax. Arthur would only have given that code to someone he trusted greatly. Between that and the display the girl had put on as she killed all the troops who had been about to slaughter them, they felt confident enough in believing she was there to help. So, they quickly began to follow her advice, running into the surrounding homes and buildings to collect everything they had left behind in their desperate and previously doomed attempt to escape.
While they were putting their provisions together as quickly as possible, one of the soldiers came closer. “You said your name is Cassiel,” he started carefully. “That sounds strangely like the sort of names of the enemies our king has spoken of. And your weapon–the magic you displayed…”
There was a brief pause before the girl gave him a small smile. “Don’t worry, we’re on the same side. It’s too complicated to get into right now, but my friends and I really did come to help your king.” She blushed a little bit, her demeanor totally at odds with the cool confidence she had displayed through the fight. “I mean come on, he’s King Arthur. No way I could ever be against him. He’s sort of a huge legend where I’m from.”
The guard smiled a bit in confusion. “I feel as though you have come from very far away, and yet our king has only begun to put his territory together. How could his legend have spread so quickly?”
“Like I said, it’s a long story,” Cassiel replied before reaching out to the hand on his arm. “Maybe I’ll be able to tell you about it someday, or at least part of it. But for the moment, let’s just focus on getting these people to safety. They’ve been through plenty as it is, and I really don’t think they want to be anywhere around here when the main part of that army shows up.” As the man started to turn to do that, she added, “Hey, what’s your name anyway?”
“Me?” The soldier glanced that way. “Oh, I’m nobody important, Lady Cassiel.
“They call me Bedivere.”
(This storyline continues in another separate noncanon found right here)
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