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Caishen wasn’t kidding about those meetings, or how boring they were. Once our whole team was brought together, we ended up getting debriefed by her, as well as their entire security leadership, several high-ranking police officers, my father (as Silversmith of course), and more. They all had a bunch of questions for us, often ones we had already answered. We told them everything we could about what had happened, why we made the choices we did, and even how we had ended up bringing weapons into the courthouse. I made it clear that we had only brought the guns through once the fighting started. I left it fairly vague when it came to exactly how that worked, simply saying that we had a way to transfer equipment from one place to another. They accepted that well enough, probably because we had proven to be so useful. But still, there were a lot of questions.
In between all those, I managed to get some answers of my own. They had not managed to arrest Banneret, even though we’d left her perfectly trussed up for them. All they had found in that room was a puddle of goo where Wren’s prototype had been. I wasn’t exactly surprised by that news, but nor did I believe she escaped on her own. Given the situation, and the fact that the Ministry was clearly a big part of this, I had a very strong suspicion that she had help from the first responders when it came to getting out of there.
Nor had Fogwalker been caught. Though in his case, the TONI had escaped the building before the authorities breached. He left in the middle of the fight against Paige and the other three, apparently deciding discretion was the better part of valor once it became clear that Poise and Style were still quite dangerous even within his darkness. I still had no idea whether people thought the two of them were simply incredibly well-trained people with technology help, or some sort of Touched in their own right. Something told me I should take a look at the SPHERE forum and see what everyone was saying. But that could come later.
So basically, despite everything we’d done, all the important people, the Fell-Touched, had managed to escape. I felt a little let down by that, not helped by the fact that they had managed to take some of the equipment from that vault after all. Telling myself that they would’ve gotten away with a hell of a lot more helped a little bit, but not that much. It seemed like we should have been able to do more. Or maybe I just felt guilty about the fact that my family had clearly helped put this whole thing together. Which was unhelped by the presence of my father as he went through all those questions with us.
One thing we managed to do was free Trevithick from all this questioning. Or rather, Caishen did. She sent the girl off with her own daughter so she could meet Lightning Bugs’ not-so-little friends, who had apparently been locked up in one of the other rooms when the invasion happened. So at least Wren didn’t have to sit in that stuffy Ten Towers room going through more than an hour of questioning. I almost envied her for that.
We also managed to establish that San Francisco and his parents had been found safe. They were locked up in the basement of their home, having been threatened, but not severely injured. I felt a wave of relief wash over me at that. Sure, San could be a little exhausting with his constant thoughts of romance and who belonged with who and all that, but he was still my friend. I didn’t want to think about anything happening to his family.
None of us outright asked if they had seen Pack, Broadway, and those others they had been with in the courthouse. Maybe we should have, considering they were bad guys who had clearly broken into that place for possibly nefarious things. But I still felt like we owed the girl for all her help, and given we didn’t know why they were there or who she had been working with… yeah. There was a fair chance they were just there to steal some stuff and blame it on the Trendscendants. I was going to have to talk to her and see what I could find out, and hopefully not come to regret not telling the authorities.
Finally, they were done with us. We met up with Wren again, as she finished saying goodbye to her new friend and promised to visit later. Lightning Bug seemed excited by that possibility, as did all of her assorted partners. I had a feeling we would be coming back here for a field trip soon enough.
But, that, like so many things, would come later. For the moment, the seven of us made our way out of the building through one of the back doors, escorted by Skip since her sister was still busy dealing with all of that. She thanked us again, and then held out a card. “For your services.”
Blinking, I leaned closer to stare at the thing. It was one of those prepaid debit cards. “Uh, that’s really not–”
Sierra’s hand snapped out to take it before I could finish that sentence. “Thanks so much. We appreciate the recognition and wouldn’t want to be rude by refusing.” She said that with a glance toward me.
Skip, for her part, simply gave a short nod. If she had any thoughts or reactions to that exchange, it didn’t show. Not that that meant anything, of course. Instead of commenting, she simply replied, “I’m glad you were in a position to lend aid. I hope to return the favor some time.”
Before I could point out that she’d already been plenty of help in the past, especially when it came to getting me out of that situation with the Scions, the girl was gone. She vanished, clearly teleporting back into the building to help her sister.
Which left us standing in an alley on the far southern side of the Ten Towers Plaza. It felt weird, like we should have been doing something else, or like there should have been more to that whole debriefing. After everything that had happened, we’d talked to the authorities for just over an hour, and now we were done. We were just… standing out here in the shadows between a couple buildings. It was sort of surreal, I supposed. It just felt like there should be more to all that, something bigger for us to do than simply walk out and be on our own again.
Shaking off that feeling, I turned to the others. “Okay, well, I don’t know about you guys, but I am starving. How about we go back to the shop and order something to eat?”
Murphy’s head bobbed up and down rapidly. “Hell yeah,” she agreed, “I could eat a whole cow. Preferably cooked, but at this point, I’m not really that picky, to be honest.”
“We should use this thing,” Sierra put in, holding up the card she had accepted from Skip. “I think Ten Towers owes us a meal, assuming they put enough on it to cover that. We should probably check.”
So I did, by calling the number on the back and putting the code into the automated system. And boy did they ever put plenty for more than one meal, to say the least. The card was loaded with ten thousand dollars. So apparently the Towers people were more than a little grateful for what we had done. When I told the others, I thought a few of them were going to faint.
“What the hell are we supposed to do with all that?” Peyton demanded.
“We’ll put most of it into the shop,” I announced. “Wren deserves to buy some good stuff, and it’ll help all of us in the future, especially since we wouldn’t have gotten this far without that little drone of hers.” As I said that, my hand reached out to ruffle the top of her head, while she ducked away with a noise of embarrassment. Then I focused on Murphy, Roald, and Peyton. “But we also wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without you guys. So I think it’s fair if you all get a bonus too. Let me get some cash to match what’s on here and I’ll make sure you each get like, what, a thousand dollars to do whatever you want with? That sound fair?”
Once again, I thought the three of them were going to pass out. They seemed a bit overwhelmed, but they had definitely earned the cash. And probably a hell of a lot more than that. With that in mind, I led the way out of the alley and to the van Fred had just pulled up in. None of us had enough energy to take the long way back to the shop, so we’d simply told the man where to meet us ahead of time. As he opened the doors, we all piled in and practically fell over in the back. Except for Paige and Sierra, who seemed fine. They both went in the front with Fred, talking to him about everything that happened while the rest of us lay in the back and tried to relax through the drive.
Soon enough, we were at the shop and I had to put the call in for food delivery. We were going to have Chinese. A lot of Chinese. But I didn’t use the card for it, despite Sierra’s suggestion. I was pretty sure the money on it wasn’t a trap, and yet it still felt dangerous to use it and have food delivered right to the store. Instead, I used my own money. Later, I’d use the card to withdraw cash somewhere far away from this place and hand it out to everyone. That was just safer than giving anyone connected to this card a direct link to Wren’s shop.
And, of course, I made sure there wasn’t a tracking bug on the card itself. At least, as sure as I could be with Wren’s help. Was I being overly-paranoid when it came to Ten Towers? Maybe, but better safe than sorry. Because if it went wrong, we’d be very sorry.
Either way, when we did get our food delivered, it was a veritable feast, one I could enjoy even more considering I was able to take the helmet and mask off in front of these guys and eat normally. We laid the whole thing out on one of the long tables in Wren’s lab upstairs and really went to town on it. Even Fred seemed famished, probably because he had spent the past couple hours freaking out here at the store, waiting to hear what happened. We basically put away enough to satisfy a small army.
And we didn’t only eat. We also talked a fair bit. Once we’d put away just enough food that it didn’t feel like our stomachs were about to devour us from the inside. We talked about everything that had happened back there. Sure, we had just gone through an hour of meetings about the whole situation, but this was different. We were recounting everything to each other, laughing, teasing, praising, exaggerating, just… having a good time. We had all happened to be in the right place at the right time to help out, and even if the bad guys still got away with some of what they had been after, it would’ve been worse if we weren’t there. I was able to put aside my own feeling of guilt enough to accept that, especially when it came to making sure the others knew how awesome they were. I didn’t want them to feel like they hadn’t done enough the way a small part of me still did. And no, telling myself that if they had done enough then I clearly had as well didn’t entirely help. Feelings were weird and stupid like that.
Fred wanted to hear about everything too, obviously. He sat there, listening in with often worried fascination as we went through the whole thing for him. Staring at me by the end, he demanded, “How do you keep running into all that danger? You went to a courthouse, a courthouse, and managed to interrupt something like that. Before that, you were at a silly skating exhibition, and we all know what happened there.”
Flushing a little visibly, I offered a helpless shrug. “Trust me, if I knew, I’d plan for it a bit better. And I definitely wouldn’t have brought Wren along.”
“I helped!” the girl in question insisted.
“You did,” I agreed. “Believe me, we would’ve been completely screwed without your drone. We all know that. But still, I just–” Hesitating, I finally shook my head. “Like I said, I’d plan for things better if I knew how they kept happening. but seriously, I’m glad you were all there.” Biting my lip, I looked down at my mostly finished plate, thinking for a moment before closing up again. “You’re my friends. I’d be lost without you. Not just today, but with all of it, all of this.” My eyes even found their way to Paige, the girl I had such a complicated history with. “I’m glad you’re here.”
She met my gaze for a moment, a series of complicated emotions seeming to pass over her face. Then she gave a short nod. “Glad to hear it,” the girl announced. “And I hope you still feel that way tomorrow, because I’m gonna need a pretty big distraction while we wait for Irelyn’s plane to land. So all of you better be ready for some pretty intense training.
“Don’t think what happened today is gonna make me take it easy on you.”
School the next day was… well, interesting. San had come despite his family saying he could stay home, and had a lot to say to everyone when it came to his house being invaded by the Trendscendants. He, like a lot of people, had started calling them Trendies, probably because the name itself was already ridiculous and calling them that helped make what his family had gone through not quite so terrifying. I could tell it really affected him, even though he did his best to play it off as no big deal.
I also took the time to tell Amber everything that happened from our point of view, just as I had Izzy the night before. She’d heard a lot of it third-hand, and had some stuff to say about being on the outside waiting to go in, but her group really hadn’t seen much action. Pretty much the only bad guys they managed to find once they breached the building were already dealt with by our group, so her whole thing had been a lot of waiting around followed by walking through a building to find unconscious or tied-up people.
She was definitely interested when I told her about Pack and Broadway being in that place, though Amber didn’t have any better answers than I did about whether not telling the authorities was a mistake. If anything, she seemed even more uncertain about all that than I was.
Even through all that, the other girl had seemed distracted. I asked her what was up and she just said there were some personal things she was dealing with. But it didn’t seem bad. To tell the truth, she was kind of giddy and silly. Part of me was confused about that until I saw her with Dani later that day. They were in the middle of an intense conversation at the back of the library, their fingers interlaced as they sat together on one of the couches.
Oh, so that was what was going on. Well, good for her, though I wasn’t sure how that whole thing with Pack was going to go now that she was involved with Dani. Either way, it wasn’t any of my business. That was all up to her.
Finally, school was over, so I took an Uber close to the shop before walking the rest of the way. It was about three when I got there, and according to the news, the plane carrying Trivial and Flea (and the ‘anonymous woman they had gone to save’) would be landing around six pm. We couldn’t actually be at the airport, of course. It was a private field north of the city, and that whole place was completely locked down. They were allowing certain reporters in to broadcast the arrival, but that was it. There was no way we could get near it. So Paige was just going to meet her sister back at the Banners’ house, which only served to remind me that we still had no idea where they were. Granted, them being on Breakwater too wasn’t completely out of the question, but something told me they weren’t.
Paige wasn’t kidding about that training thing, either. Throughout the entire time we were waiting for the news to announce the plane’s arrival, she put us through our paces. First in the virtual reality system, but also over an hour of real-world exercise. She and Sierra were both pretty intense through that whole thing.
Finally, Fred called out for us to come watch the television. So we gathered in front of it, all of us sweating and panting aside from, of course, the two biolems. That didn’t stop the broad smile that came as I saw the footage of the plane landing and taxiing to a stop. A minute later, the hatch opened, and the stairs were wheeled up to it, allowing three figures to emerge. Two were immediately recognizable as Trivial and Flea, while the other was a woman wearing a heavy coat and ski mask to protect her identity. Part of me wondered whether they had Irelyn dressed up as Flea or the anonymous woman at this point. Probably the former, in case anyone wanted to see her powers or compared old footage to this in order to figure out if they were faking her return.
Whatever the answer, she was there. Dozens of reporters were shouting questions from the tarmac while the three descended the steps and waved to show that they were okay.
Smiling broadly at the sight, I patted Paige on the back. “I guess you’ll be heading back to the house to meet her, huh?”
“I uhh… I want you to be there too,” she informed me, seeming a bit awkward. “I mean, as yourself, not Paintball. I thought…” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I thought maybe we could pretend we’ve gotten over our issues or something. You know, so Sierra can be around the house too sometimes while Irelyn’s there.”
“Oh.” I blinked once. “I mean, yeah, sure. We wouldn’t be pretending, but I guess we would be pretending that it just happened or how it–never mind, that’s all complicated. Sure, yeah, if you really want me to be there when she gets home… I mean… yeah.” I was making it even more awkward. “I’ll come with you.”
“Great.” She offered me a brief smile before blushing as she looked away with a cough. “We should uhh, get dinner set up. I’m pretty sure Irelyn will be hungry whenever they finally get done with her.”
“Great,” Peyton teased. “After all that training, you get to have Paige make you a meal at her nice cushy house, and what do the rest of us get?”
“Oh, I’m staying here,” Sierra informed her. “Can’t have Irelyn see me looking like this, after all. Worse, I’ve still got plenty of energy and nothing to do with it. So what do you all get?”
Peyton, Murphy, Roald, Wren, and Fred all chorused the answer together with varying degrees of cheerfulness and/or exhaustion.