Comatose

What Happened in Edmonton

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"We had a brief altercation with these individuals here," the tall, bearded man said with a shrug. He seemed sarcastic, but that might've just been the way he spoke. "They had been giving us a bit of trouble, as you can see from the bullet scars on my van, so it was about time to end the fiasco. I’d prefer if you also left us alone, you and whatever army you’ve brought along.”

Army?! He couldn't possibly mean Ironwood...right?

"And if we've intruded on your territory at all," the man continued. "Don't worry, we'll just be going now."

Hmph. As if. Though...he does seem far too at ease for a man who just took down several government officers. Calamity, this is annoying!

Phytomagnet smiled. "I'm sorry to say, but I really must ask you to stay a bit. It's quite rare that eight uniformed, motorcycle-riding blokes just up and shoot a van with no provocation. Especially blokes wearing what appears to be government-issue uniforms." Phyto shifted his arms a bit wider on his shield, outwardly relaxing. "That does seem strange, doesn't it?"

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The green-haired Epic smiled. Sparks. “I’m sorry to say, but I really must ask you to stay a bit. It’s quite rare that eight uniformed, motorcycle-riding blokes just up and shoot a van, with no provocation. Especially blokes wearing what appears to be government-issue uniforms.” Liam stared at him. “That does seem strange, doesn’t it?”

So, he obviously knows about the research facility, Liam thought. How many people did we just get mad? From the look on the Epic’s face when Liam had mentioned “army,” he has some sort of backup waiting. Now, this could get very messy very quickly, if the Epic was somehow in collaboration with the government. Perhaps they’ve placed a bounty on his head. That would be just great.

The Epic still hadn’t made any outright accusations yet, which interested Liam. If he knows the truth, but doesn’t want to admit it, then what kind of game is—

He’s stalling. Sparks, and with the kid Epic in the van, Liam silently cursed. I need to get out of here before he wakes up, and if this Calamity-blasted Epic won’t let us leave, then so help me.

“It is strange, now that you mention it,” Liam said, letting no notion of his inner anxieties show. “From my perception, this area seems to be under the protection of the local government. And, as any government does, there are laws on speeding. I’m not from around town and I haven’t followed the speed limit in nearly ten years, so the change was quite startling to me. The local police tried to chase me down and give me a ticket.”

This was the most ridiculous story that Liam had ever told.

“From instincts honed from living out in the Canadian wilds, I don’t react well to being ganged up by a group of motorcyclists. So, I floored the pedal harder. After a few warnings, the police pulled out their guns and began firing on me! I understand that in this dangerous world, the police force needs to be prepared for any kind of disturbance, but I was not prepared for that. I began to swerve, and I went over the side of the road, right here as you can see. There would not have been any bloodshed if another Epic hadn’t appeared and made short work of the officers.”

If this Epic was sympathetic in any way, and had no knowledge of the research facility incident, (not to mention slightly dumb) he might believe it. Liam doubted that this Epic was any of those.

Edited by Hemalurgic Headshot
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Oh, okay, Kokichi thought to themself as they watched the conversation between the two adults take place. Apparently there wasn't going to be a fight after all. Dangit. They wanted to try setting something on fire. They pulled their hands out of their pockets. A nonexistent wind ruffled through their hair as they leaned down and picked up their surprisingly spotless hoodie, which they knotted around their waist. 

"From my perception, this area seems to be under the protection of the local government," Liam was saying. He sounded like he was about to launch into a completely false story. If he was trying to sell it by himself, he'd end up showing a contradictory flashback. So it fell to Kokichi to step back next to him to provide evidence for the tale.

"And, as any government does, there are laws on speeding. I’m not from around town and I haven’t followed the speed limit in nearly ten years, so the change was quite startling to me. The local police tried to chase me down and give me a ticket.” They focused on remembering the truth that'd never happened. Perhaps they were beginning to rub off on Liam, as the story relied on Kokichi's favorite tactic: Refuge in audacity. 

The world began to take shape, overlaying right now with a lie so bald faced and bold it'd make Flat Earthers blush. 

“From instincts honed from living out in the Canadian wilds, I don’t react well to being ganged up by a group of motorcyclists." That much was true, for Kokichi at the very least. The best lies were the ones built on a core of truth, then twisted to the point where nobody would ever be able to recognize the origin of the knot. 

"So, I floored the pedal harder. After a few warnings, the police pulled out their guns and began firing on me! I understand that in this dangerous world, the police force needs to be prepared for any kind of disturbance, but I was not prepared for that. I began to swerve, and I went over the side of the road, right here as you can see. There would not have been any bloodshed if another Epic hadn’t appeared and made short work of the officers.”

Kokichi pulled themself back up onto the roof of the van, placing their arms behind their head as they leaned over the edge. Their olive green camouflage crop top exposed their pierced bellybutton. The light shone on them with the radiant glow of honesty. They might not get a fight, but they would get something almost as fun, if not more. Shenaniganery. 

"And that's exactly what happened," Kokichi said. 

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The man paused for a moment. "It is strange, now that you mention it. From my perception, this area seems to be under the protection of the local government. And, as any government does, there are laws on speeding."

Phytomagnet's eyes refocused behind the man as he caught a glimpse of movement, only to realize that it was just the kid--Epic? Kid? Colorblind brat?--just the kid walking back over.

"I’m not from around town and I haven’t followed the speed limit in nearly ten years, so the change was quite startling to me. The local police tried to chase me down and give me a ticket.”

That seems...off, somehow.

“From instincts honed from living out in the Canadian wilds, I don’t react well to being ganged up by a group of motorcyclists. So, I floored the pedal harder. After a few warnings, the police pulled out their guns and began firing on me!"

But why didn't he just pull over...

"I understand that in this dangerous world, the police force needs to be prepared for any kind of disturbance, but I was not prepared for that. I began to swerve, and I went over the side of the road, right here as you can see. There would not have been any bloodshed if another Epic hadn’t appeared and made short work of the officers.”

Phytomagnet felt like he had just been handed a 3D jigsaw puzzle, complete but for the linchpin piece that held it up. But where's the piece... "And that's exactly what happened," the kid added, seeming to...glow?

"Fine," he heard himself say. "Doesn't seem like they'll be a problem anymore." Right...? That seems right... "Bye." He turned, still slightly dazed, heading back towards Ironwood. Behind him, Phyto could hear the sounds of the damaged van pulling away.

*beep* *beep* *beep*

Shaking his head, Phytomagnet pulled out his mobile and hit the accept button. Instantly, Epoch's voice came through his earpiece. "Listen, Phyto, I finally got more info on that situation I sent you to cover. Turns out, they broke into a heavily guarded research station and made off with proprietary technology. The Premier let it slip that the tech was epic-derived." It was as if a cloud had lifted from his brain. "Lock them down, whoever they are." Epoch's voice was calm as he hung up, clearly trusting Phyto to handle the situation.

Phyto blinked. And blinked again. Then he spun around, tearing after the van. He yanked Ironwood and his trees towards him. "One of you shoot the wheels off of that sparking car!"

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As the van pulled away, Liam shook his head. That will go down as one of the most unbelievable experiences of his life, definitely. Fooling an Epic? Lying to his face? It doesn’t compare to anything he had experienced in any of his years as an Agent. He grinned. Next step: refuge and recovery.

He glanced to the back, where Kokichi was yet again lounging on the sofa, having procured yet another bag of sweets. The other Epic was laying on the plastic sheet, the blood pool slowly filling up. There hadn’t been time to properly bandage the wound before the green Epic had shown up. He was still clearly unconscious and breathing slowly. Having an Epic like this in his van was crazy. Any moment, he could wake up and kill them both, just like he had the motorcyclists.

The van approached the vacant interchange. On the other side was an industrial complex, apparently for processing oil. However, as Liam could see from the trailing smoke and blasted tankers, there had been an accident recently. Somewhere among those stacked containers and industrial wreckage, the van could hide.

BANG BANG

Liam glanced at the rearview mirror. The distant Epic had a cluster of bulky men around him, who were opening fire on the van. Liam smiled to himself. He was right about the army. In response, he reached over and pressed the eye icon on the dash to activate the Parallax cloak. To the Epic and his cronies, the van was now somewhere else. Liam didn’t know or care where exactly it seemed to be. He just floored the accelerator.

Soon the red bullet-scarred van was among the smoldering husks of the oil vats. Ahead, a single singed smokestack rose, surrounded by its refinery complex. Liam thought it would be a good hiding place for the van, distanced enough from Sherwood Park that hopefully, the Albertan Government wouldn’t come knocking. The road diverged to the main entrance, a remotely activated chain-link gate. It had been knocked open by some previous visitor, and Liam drove the van through without problem. Ahead was the tangled mass of pipes and tanks that was the refinery, topped by the smokestack. It appeared to be abandoned, probably when Epic activity made working with a volatile liquid dangerous. Liam maneuvered the van under a bridge of pipes and into the heart of the refinery. With care, he pulled it up close to one of the tankers and parked it.

Liam stepped out and inspected the van. It was quite beat up in some places, with rows of bullet marks marring the paint job. Liam usually kept some cans of spray paint to patch up here and there on the go. He’d have to dig them out sometime. However, he had more important tasks to do.

Pulling the side door open, Liam looked down at the young Epic lying on the floor. The blood was starting to spill off the sheet and onto the floor, prompting Liam to frantically grab a pair of latex gloves, which he put on, and attempt to push the puddle of blood away. Sparks, he needed a mop.

With the blood temporarily taken care of, Liam pulled out a box of surgical equipment. Most of it was only for extracting blood samples, but there was a roll of bandages, a scalpel, and an assortment of narcotics and painkillers. Liam started by examining the Epic’s leg. It seemed like all the bullets had ripped right through the leg, which made his job easier. He didn’t have a good way of cleaning the wound beyond wiping the blood off the leg. He began to bandage it carefully, wrapping the strip around and around the wound. Soon, the wound was bandaged.

Liam looked at the Epic resting in a pool of his own blood. He looked so peaceful, quite a difference from the raging being before. Liam didn’t want to kill him, though it’d be safer to. Sparks, why was he so soft? Hawk wouldn’t even have bandaged the leg! Pushing these thoughts aside, Liam quickly took a blood sample and stuck it in a cooler in the back. Then he dumped the bloody plastic sheet on the ground, tossed the sheet in a corner, carried the still unconscious Epic a few hundred feet before setting him down, then drove the van to another part of the refinery.

Once the van was tucked away into another hiding space, Liam looked back at Kokichi, who had continued to eat candy while they watched the whole operation happening at their feet. “Sorry about that, if you’re not one for blood,” he apologized.

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Finley raised an eyebrow as Cloak agreed to come quietly. That's not supposed to happen. As any self-respecting villainous ruler should know, if anybody interesting ever agrees to "come quietly" then they planned itobviously. Maybe this entire arrest would be more trouble then it was worth. He considered having her extradited to another faction. Perhaps the Belt. At worst, such action would mean the loss of a potential asset, and losing some face.

Still, he rationalized. Measures could be taken, and he still wanted to make sense of what was in play at the border. And when it came down to it, perhaps throwing Cloak out just didn't feel right. He decided not to stop his enforcers, as they made their way back with the prisoner.

The decision made, he moved on to the next order of business, dialing up Phytomagnet.

"Listen, Phyto, I finally got more info on that situation I sent you to cover. Turns out, they broke into a heavily guarded research station and made off with proprietary technology. The Premier let it slip that the tech was epic-derived... Lock them down, whoever they are."

That these fugitives were near ERA territory was, more or less, incidental. What he was really interested in was the possibility of epic technology. Such devices were rare, useful, and valuable, and the Alberta government couldn't easily take issue if their stolen technology happened to get "confiscated" from "intruders" under ERA jurisdiction. He trusted that Phytomagnet and Ironwood could handle it...

.  .  .

The no-longer-cloaked stranger had just been moved into a holding cell, located in a former police station now used by ERA enforcement. The room had a small table laden with refreshments and a mobile situated in the center, but was otherwise quite clearly a cell. This was, as best as he could tell, the simplest all-around method of mitigating the dangers posed by an unknown power set. Epoch called the mobile on the table.

"Hello. First of all, what do you go by?"

Quietus.jpg

She came closer. Quietus gave his best cheshire cat grin.

"The ordinaries? I always figured they only existed for comparison's sake."

In truth, they had been idiots. Quietus would give them each some choice new motivational bruises, by the end of the day. He wouldn't break them too badly though, as long as people who weren't on his side remained readily available.

"So, what are you 'just passing through' for, chérie? Selling girl scout cookies? Delivering a dramatic ultimatum? Looking to join our gloriously democratic people's republic of tyranny? Or maybe just grandiosely hovering above everything to impress people?"

He eyed her critically for a moment.

"I am, by the way, duly impressed with the flying-brick act. But just to be clear, you're not really my type. Not to put too fine a point on it, but while you've obviously got the stereotypical superhuman powers, you're rather lacking when it comes to the stereotypical superhuman cleavage," Quietus explained frankly.

When the response was not immediate, he looked down at his mobile and feigned a deep interest, temporarily activating his powers to mute her response in case it was superhumanly loud or violent.

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I can't believe they just walked away...

Ironwood reached up to trigger the mic on his headset. "Boss--" his hand flew back as his body was yanked forward, along with all of his trees.

As Ironwood sailed just above the ground, he could see the van driving away, with Phytomagnet sprinting after it. So why did he let them go in the first place? 

The group landed just behind Phytomagnet, stumbling for a moment before continuing to run after the van. "One of you shoot the wheels off of that sparking car!" he roared.

On command, two of the trees knelt, with the others clearing a firing line. *BANG* *BANG* the shots called out, pinging off of the van, just above the tires. "Don't let them get..." Phyto trailed off, stopping in stunned silence as the car shifted, moving every time his eyes found it. In seconds it was gone.

"What happened, Boss?" Ironwood asked after a moment of hesitation.

"You saw the kid?" *Nod* "He's an epic of some sort. Clouded my head while they spun some ridiculous story about a speeding ticket."

"...oh. Sooooo...what next?"

Phytomagnet grimaced. "I report back to Epoch, let him know they escaped and that we're sending a few trees to scout around. Most of us are heading back."

"You think we can still find them, even after that whatever-it-was?" Ironwood asked, surprised.

"You've got trackers, right? There's a chance the van left tire marks. Give it maybe an hour or two then call it off."

"Yessir." He turned, relaying the commands. "Nico, Kacey, you two scan the area, see if you can trace that van. The rest of us are heading back. Squad four, spread out abreast and watch for anything, keep it to a walk and keep line of sight. There might've been more involved. Squad five, form up and jog back to barracks. The time barrier will let you rest enough to be ready to fill in and start rotating scouts by the time I'm back." His troops nodded along a sharp chorus of yessirs.

Meanwhile...

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With a mental groan, Phyto picked up his mobile and dialed Epoch, who picked up after the third ring.

"Yes, Phytomagnet?"

"So, uh. Those criminals you had me after..." Best to get out quickly. "One of them was an epic, some kind of mentalist power. They've escaped. I sent a few trackers after them, but I doubt they'll find anything."

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The Epic was almost completely gone when he realized something was up. Kokichi sighed and prepared for combat as the van was shot at, yet again, but Liam did something to get them away. They weren’t quite sure what it was but whatever it was, it worked.

Once he found a good hiding place, he moved to inspect the Epic, taking care with the blood. Kokichi had probably been squeamish at one point, but that point was a long time ago. 

“I’m going to change into something else,” they said, ignoring he fact they didn’t actually have anything else to wear. Liam didn’t acknowledge their words, but they weren’t really telling him. They were telling themself. 

They finished zipping up a yellow hoodie, over a white and black shirt, along with putting on a pair of gold tinted sunglasses. Their hair was and had been a lovely shade of violet with literally gold hair clips. They kept their crocs the same, though. 

This probably didn’t count as a disguise. Whatever. 

They finished at the same time Liam did.

“Sorry about that, if you’re not one for blood.” 

“Not a prob, though I’m wondering what’s his deal is and what your deal with him is.” 

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Rolling her eyes at the last comment, Impact watched the Epics mannerisms carefully. There would be some sign, some tell of his intentions. Crass male Epics were not a new experience for her, though she was glad that the most irritating she'd met had been destroyed along with the rest of Oregon.

But while most of them meant at least part of what they said, a significant number also used it as a way to gauge other Epics, or hide their true intentions behind a facade.

Too early to tell, not enough information.

Speaking up again, Impact adopted a cocky smile of her own.

"Yes, I've always lamented how depressingly stereotypical my abilities are. Why you know I think there's another Epic with the same exact powerset." She raised the pitch of her voice slightly, adopting a too-sweet tone. "Flight and impenetrable skin as you've already seen."

Impact looked down and pushed the concrete under her foot, forming a crack in the pavement which quickly became a small crater.

"Superhuman strength."

Holding her arms to either side she began pushing on the air itself, creating a strong gust that tussled her hair and clothes.

"Power over the winds."

She raised her right hand before her face, regarding it carefully for a second before lowering it back down.

"And a few others, but a girl must have her secrets."

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“Not a prob, though I’m wondering what his deal is and what your deal with him is,” Kokichi replied. Liam leaned back in the seat and looked out at the industrial skyline.

“I’ve never seen him before in my life. Seen plenty of Epic’s like him, though. Consumed by their rage. I don’t know why he didn’t target us, only the officers… maybe he has a bad history with the government. It doesn’t matter to me very much.” Liam paused. Kokichi was obviously referring to why he bothered to clean the Epic up instead of just ditching him. Could he lie? Knowing Kokichi, they’d probably see right through it. The real question is how Kokichi will react.

“I have my own reasons for cleaning him up, but you have nothing to worry about,” Liam said. If he couldn’t lie, then he would just avoid the question.

In the center of the dash was a screen that Liam had installed with the Circle’s funds. He tapped it, and a rendered map of Edmonton appeared. Liam entered the van’s approximate coordinates, and a blinking dot appeared on the map, a bit to the east of the city.

“This is Edmonton, or Olympia Polaris, as I’ve heard it called these days,” Liam told Kokichi. He pointed to the dot on the map. “This dot is where we are. Now, I’m here to shut down a black market operation somewhere around Edmonton. I’m not sure where it is, and I know that it moves around, but either way I’m going to find it and destroy it.” He looked at Kokichi. “I’m assuming you’re cool with this, right?”

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The thing about working for Epoch was, you started to appreciate the value of time. The epic started showcasing her abilities, and Quietus looked up from his mobile, turning off his power in time to catch the second half of her explanation. He noticed that she made no attempt to account for the way her voice carried.

"...and a few others, but a girl must have her secrets."

"Too late," he announced. "I'm on to all of your secrets, now. You're packing laser vision behind those wide eyes, aren't you??"

He had crossed an epic with actual laser vision before, in fact. The thing about laser vision was, it didn't work so good without eyes.

"Don't worry though, I'm just a common speedster," Quietus confided with a wink. "Simple, but lots of fun applications..."

"So, once more, what sends your merry show traveling into Edmonton?"

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     Jacklyn was roughly escorted to a small cell.  Then she looked around, surprised. The cell was nicer than a lot of places she’d lived in the past.  It was sparsely decorated, of course, but there were refreshments laid out on a white tablecloth, a padded chair, and a lamp for illumination with an exquisitely decorated lampshade.  A voice crackled from beside her, and she jumped. “Hello. First of all, what do you go by?”

     “Um, if you mean my name it’s Jacklyn and I am really sorry for breaking into- well I guess it’s more like through but you know what I mean- through the checkpoint I just was freaked out by a weird red lady and I panicked and ran and read the brochure and then I got lost and I’m just rambling now so please don’t kill me?” she ventured.  She had been thinking about what to say but it had come out completely wrong. She anxiously awaited the Epic she assumed to be Epoch’s answer.

Edited by The Young Pyromancer
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Impact blinked in confusion for a moment.

Laser vision? What on earth is he talking about?

Nevertheless she played along, giving a coy smile.

"Most people guess something to do with steel but I'll keep the answer to myself."

The other Epic in the distance seemed well and truly subdued at this point. Another pretender, barely worth the powers that Calamity had bestowed on them. At least this speedster could avoid something like that with all likelihood.

"As for why I'm here, my previous residence was unfortunately obliterated. I'm sure you've heard about what happened in Oregon. So I thought I'd investigate the local real estate."

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“I’ve never seen him before in my life. Seen plenty of Epic’s like him, though. Consumed by their rage. I don’t know why he didn’t target us, only the officers… maybe he has a bad history with the government. It doesn’t matter to me very much." Liam took a moment, probably to collect his thoughts. "I have my own reasons for cleaning him up, but you have nothing to worry about." 

He wasn't telling them everything, but Kokichi didn't really mind. If the reason was dangerous, then it'd explain itself eventually. Liam pulled up some sorta map. 

“This is Edmonton, or Olympia Polaris, as I’ve heard it called these days. This dot is where we are. Now, I’m here to shut down a black market operation somewhere around Edmonton. I’m not sure where it is, and I know that it moves around, but either way I’m going to find it and destroy it. I’m assuming you’re cool with this, right?”

"As cool as something really cold." As cool as ice? A popsicle? They racked their mind for a proper metaphor but came up blank. They gave a shrug. "Yeah, I'm cool. And I'm up for doing this." 

Badumph. Finger guns. Star by their eyes. The whole shebang. 

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Riley opened his eyes and saw the sky. Lazy clouds with wispy edges against a blue backdrop of unfathomable depth. His hand rubbed the ground.

Concrete. Concrete?

He sat up with a jolt and looked around. Surrounding him were towering metal tanks connected to a jungle of pipes and beams. Metal catwalks jutted out from the industrial labyrinth. The pipes extended down to his right and down to his left. He glanced over his shoulder. More steel spaghetti. There was no grass. No trees. He looked up above the tops of the pipes and saw the towering smokestack. His heart leapt into his throat.

He was in the refinery.

Panic started to creep in. He was outside of Sherwood Park. It was everything that he’d dreamed of and feared of. He also had no idea where he was. Hesitantly, he rose to his feet, then stumbled, pain flaring up through his leg.

His bandaged leg.

Riley stared at his wrapped leg in wonder. Who had bandaged his leg? The last thing he remembered was blood pouring out of the bullet holes in his calf, before the pain and the wooziness became too much and his vision faded to black. He shifted weight to it and hissed in pain. The leg was still too tender to walk on.

Scanning the area again, he spotted a broom in a corner. It was bleached in the sun, and rather worse for the wear, but still Riley hobbled over to it. Heating his hand, he burned the bristles off, then fit the broad end under his arm. Now he had an improvised crutch.

With crutch in armpit, he ventured forth. He had no idea where to go from the refinery, or where in the refinery he was, but he was going somewhere.

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Taya sat in one of the chairs, and waited patiently for Premier Notley to come. She was fairly sure the Premier would want to speak, but she hoped they weren't preparing to arrest her before having that conversation. She half expected to get arrested, but it would go better if she didn't.

Taya drifted off while she was waiting, completely exhausted. Thoughts from the last 24 hours flooded her mind.

.  .  .

"There are two powers we use to conceal South Common. The sight should be fairly self-explanatory; it's how Typhon can always single out epics trying to enter it's territory. There's a little more to it than that, but it's not important. The one you need to figure out is the illusions."

Curator held up her hand, conjuring up a featureless yellow ball in it.

"For obvious reasons, simpler things are easier to craft, so this is a good place to start. It's a little bit like painting, I guess. You need to picture exactly what your doing in your head, and then build it up brush stroke by brush stroke, on top of something else."

Taya held up her hand, willing and hoping for a yellow ball to appear as well. She entertained the idea of succeeding on her first attempt, but realistically she suspected it wouldn't be that easy, if Curator felt the need to teach her about it.

"It's kind of hard to explain, like flexing a muscle you never had before. Your brain'll get used to it though, over time. Just work at it."

.  .  .

"You... Agree?" Taya gave Curator a slightly incredulous look.

"I do. I think you should go through with it. You don't have any serious experience using illusions, and you aren't the most qualified by a significant margin... But we also don't have the people to spare, and more to the point, your survival will depend on the success of this job, whether or not you are the one doing it.

That's actually why I'm here, to explain things. The idea is pretty simple. The group that just surfaced, called Circle of the Shield, has something to do with epic technologies. If you do this right, you get a chance to find a cure, and we get to learn what their agenda is.

We can give you a pic of one of their badges, and we can stick their car with a radio illusion to mess up communications and stop whoever they work for from outing you. That's about it. You don't need to keep them fooled for very long, just enough to find out those two things."

.  .  .

Taya blinked, bleary-eyed. The assistant was addressing her.

"Sorry, what?"

"The Premier has been informed."

"Oh, great. Thanks."

Epoch.jpg

Finley continued listening as he read a message from Quietus. It was a brief message, requesting a barrier. He glanced at the checkpoint, and noted Quietus speaking calmly to the flying epic, who had just landed.

Quietus was fairly easy to control, once you understood the things he wanted. The only caveat was, once you sent him out to do something, you couldn't really change your mind. Knowing Quietus, negotiations were probably completely out of the question by now, even though the epic had been willing to talk. Finley sighed, and absentmindedly started placing slow zones to seal the path further into ERA territory, and then in the space over their heads. Slow zones took much longer to build up than fast zones, though they developed at the same rate from the perspective of anybody inside of one. A quirk of his power. All the while, he continued listening to the cloaked epic.

"Um, if you mean my name it’s Jacklyn and I am really sorry for breaking into- well I guess it’s more like through but you know what I mean- through the checkpoint I just was freaked out by a weird red lady and I panicked and ran and read the brochure and then I got lost and I’m just rambling now so please don’t kill me?"

Finley frowned. That wasn't the response he expected.

She sounded genuinely spooked. Either she was really good at this, or she was telling the truth. He couldn't say which with any level of confidence. Still, her story about the red epic at least gave him something to fact-check, later.

"Hello, Jacklyn. My name is Epoch. You may have heard of me," he explained.

"I would like to avoid killing you if that is reasonably possible," he continued evenly. A little bit of fear was good, but too much and people would just tell you what they thought you wanted to hear. He didn't want her terrified of him, if in fact that terror was genuine.

"Are you comfortable for the time being? I have some questions. For one, what kind of power set do you have?"

A loaded question was often a great way to test a hypothesis.

Quietus.jpg

"Oregon. Yes, such a shame," Quietus answered with a false smile. And she didn't even help destroy the place? Boooooring.

"As for real estate... This is some really excellent real estate. I definitely recommend staying here for a while. We actually make these neat little brochures about it, have you seen one yet? Mostly propaganda of coarse, but there's also a really good summary of the different territories."

Quietus began fishing in his bag. Five.

"Yeah, I think Epoch would probably be happy to recruit you into a good position here," he explained truthfully. Four.

"You should try to talk to him, sometime." Three.

"He's the one in charge of this area." Two.

"Aha! Found it. Have a look. Also I don't recommend flying anywhere on this map." On--

Quietus hurled the flashbang from the bag moments before it detonated, taking care to land it in front of her feet to avoid whatever effect crushed the knife. In the same motion, he activated his powers and averted his eyes. His powers let Quietus do interesting things with flashbangs.

From the way she interacted, he was almost positive she wasn't a high epic, but like with Quietus himself, conventional attacks seemed to fall short. This way, he could test both light and sound in one go. As a bonus, if she wasn't immune, he was pretty sure a flashbang going off that close to her would really hurt. At the fringe of his range, his power wouldn't do much at all to mitigate that.

Edited by Drake Marshall
nothing to see here
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Jacklyn thought quickly.  She couldn’t really deny him, she couldn’t lie in an obvious way, and she certainly couldn’t tell him the truth, so she had to take a gamble.  Quickly, she recalled what the pamphlet said about Epoch.  She could point out that his name sounded a lot like Epic, but that was liable to get her killed.  “Why do you assume I have powers?”

Edited by The Young Pyromancer
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Liam activated the com from the dash and waited as the signal transferred. Margaret had wired all of the Circle’s coms to work on a specific frequency that made it very difficult to intercept and allowed for long-distance communication in the absence of repeaters. After a moment, Bear picked up.

“Hey Moose.”

“Hey Bear,” Liam replied. “Checking in from Edmonton. Safe and sound.”

“Good to know you got out of that scrape easily. How did you manage that?” Liam hesitated and glanced back at Kokichi. Before he could say anything, there was a shuffling noise from the com, and Bear’s voice chimed in, “Hold on, Moose, Aunt M wants a word with you.” There was a bit more shuffling and a matronly voice came through the com, stern and sophisticated.

“Agent Moose,” Margaret said.

“Dr. Wilkins,” Liam replied.

“I received a message Premier Notley concerning a sequence of events at one of her research facilities. A robbery, if I recall correctly. Now, I find the description of the vehicle very interesting—I’ll quote it for you, ‘a red Volkswagen van, with some sort of Epic-derived cloaking system.’”

“Margaret, I can explain—”

“No need. I’m not upset. In fact, I think it’s a good reminder for Anne that I’m still around. She offered to collaborate on a mission as well, which I’m considering, but I’m sure that she’d find a way to twist it to her favor.”

“May I ask how you know Notley?”

“Anne and I have some history together,” Margaret said. Her tone discouraged pressing the topic further. “How is your current objective coming?”

“It’s been a slow start,” Liam admitted. He pictured Margaret’s displeased face, staring at him all the way from Headquarters. “Information on Karabiner’s whereabouts is vague at best.”

“I expected. It seems that Bear didn’t debrief you with all of the intel we had on the subject.” A distant “Sorry!” was heard. Margaret continued. “Half of the reason that you are in Edmonton is to establish intel on the city. The Circle used to have an informant in the area until a few years ago, when he suddenly ceased communications. During his service to us, he went be the codename “Hermes.” His associates referred to him as “Wallflower,” but his real name is John Delough. The nature of his disappearance is unknown, though it’s entirely possible he was found by Doubletake’s minions or died in an incident. There is a possibility that Delough is alive, and if anything, mentioning his name might gain you favor among those close to him. He alternated from a location on Jasper and 107 Street and a place near 93 and 104.

“If he is alive, or someone who is willing to work with you is, they might be your best bet on pinpointing the location of Karabiner. Tread carefully when navigating through the city center, and I authorize you to distribute your allocated funds to accomplish your means.”

Liam nodded. “Okay. However, there is something that you might want to be aware of…”

There was a pause on the other side. “What might that be, Moose?” Margaret asked. Liam glanced back at Kokichi again.

“I picked up an… assistant. Don’t worry, they’re on board and have already helped the mission in a crucial way. Agent—”

“Awesomesauce!” Kokichi interjected from the back.

“You can’t be Agent Awesomesauce!” Liam called back.

“You what?” Margaret burst in, just short of shouting. “And ‘they?’ How many people have you let in on this?”

“They’re nonbinary,” Liam replied.

“Ah. I respect that. This individual has been listening in on our conversation?” Margaret asked, slightly more subdued.

“Fine. I’ll be Agent Honeybadger, cuz we’ve got the animal thing going on,” Kokichi decided.

Margaret took that as an answer. “Well, Agent Honeybadger, I welcome you as an unofficial member of the Circle of the Shield for the time being. Moose, do not acquire any more sidekicks without my permission.”

“Yes ma’am,” Liam replied, and Margaret terminated the connection.

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“I am not your sidekick! I am your friend!” Kokichi exclaimed, exaggeratedly grabbing at their chest where an arrow stuck out. A tear rolled down their face, which they wiped away with their other hand. “Your friend’s major league rude.” 

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Impact watched dubiously as the Epic began searching through a bag, allegedly looking for a pamphlet of some kind. It seemed that this Epic thought she was as gullible as her sister. She waited as he continued searching, keeping a constant stream of power flowing out of her to deflect whatever idiotic weapon he wanted to try next.

He turned mid-sentence hurling a small object in her direction, she had a brief moment to watch it tumble to her feet and recognized the shape. She'd seen many in the Dalles though not many there had been stupid enough to try to use one on her.

Her ability activated faster than her body, pulling her back and upwards from the grenade, but before she could attempt to shield her face a tremendous light burst out of the grenade. The light burned into her eyes, she attempted to shut them against the light but even then she could still see nothing but pure white. She started blinking, moving her eyes around to try to make out some shapes in the light.

Thankfully her abilities deflected any other damage from the blast, but she felt an intense pulsing begin behind her eyes, a new migraine coming on from the sudden burst of light.

She held herself still, keeping her place in the air and directed her line of sight to where she'd last seen the grenade.

"Well that was pointless." She said.

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Greetings to Karabiner,
      I hope this message finds you well. A great deal has changed recently, but ultimately, I do not believe we have a conflict in interests.
      In any case, I understand that time is a precious resource to some (I have even heard people say that time is money), so I will get to the point. I would like to open negotiations to make a purchase. I am specifically looking for a directed energy weapon that fulfills certain requirements, requirements that I suspect nobody in Edmonton could meet as well as you could. I would, however, be willing to consider any other acquisitions you wish to offer.
      I wait upon your response.
            Best regards,
                  Epoch

Karabiner read the words with a slight grin. He knew he was the best, of course, and had no doubt at all that he could meet these specifications, but reading it in Epoch’s own words was always nice. He hated to think that someone intelligent might believe some Epic scientist could offer more value; their devices were made of death and pain, wrenched from the bodies of the highest order of humans to ever roam the earth, superior, even, to Aryan Maples. Epics were the closest thing humanity had to true supermen; indeed, Steelheart had actually become one. It was Karabiner’s most fervent hope that he, too, could become a superman, or Übermensch, as they were called in the motherland.
That didn’t stop him from selling or even developing such technologies, but he only did so if he deemed the source Epic wholly unworthy of their godhood. Those who wouldn’t kill their inferiors, even if given a reason; those who did things to please the Maples; those who served anything but their own higher good.
“Charles?” He called.
“Yes?” A computerized voice replied with a British accent. Karabiner disliked that characteristic, but it would have taken years to create one with a German accent. The stuffy British voice belonged to a very efficient assistant, though.
“Give me an inventory rundown,” he said, holding the letter so that no text was covered by his hand from any angle.
“I’ve identified twenty-six weapons matching that criteria, thirty-seven that could work by a more liberal definition, and eight matching weapons that also possess other peculiar properties which Epoch might take interest in.”
“Excellent. Did I ever tell you you’re the best?”
“You programmed me to be, sir.”
“Yes. That I did,” Karabiner chuckled.
“Would you like the rundown, or have you changed your focus?” Asked Virtual Assistant Charles. He tended to have a longer attention span than his maker, which could be immensely helpful.
“Ah, yes Charles.”
“I’ll start with the more expendable ones, if you’ve no objection?”
“I have none.”
After a long list of lightning throwers, supersonic blasters, plasma guns, lasers, and more energy-blades than one might immediately expect, Karabiner was feeling fairly confident that her have just what Epoch needed. He stopped Charles periodically, asking him to re-classify one “Explodopoint,” requesting that a few of the weapons he knew to be older be brought to him for Link Reaffirmation, and once to summon a lemon-lime soda; he had always preferred this brand, as it was more carbonated and had a stronger lime flavor than others.
“… and then there’s the Haywire.”
Karabiner swallowed his sip of pop. “And why, exactly, is that one catalogued with the rest of my inventory?”
“Admittedly, sir, it isn’t. Did you specify a source file?”
Now Karabiner was angry. “Yes, you stupid program! I said ‘give me an inventory rundown! How did you miss ‘ inventory’ and still read the letter?!”
“My apologies, sir. It seems my microphones are not functioning as well as my Omniscience Link.”
Karabiner cooled his anger, sipping his pop from a tall glass. “Time for some Tinkering, than.”
“Send my response to Epoch: I am likewise unaware of any conflicts, and consider our past business more than enough trust to open negotiations. I require only a few concessions in regards to meeting, as you might remember or expect. I cannot, with the current instability and subsequent power craze, bring the Picket itself, though you or a minion could, perhaps, come to it. If you find that particular option agreeable, I would prefer to use the Scottie to sending my location over any network or system that I cannot ensure is secure, due to the aforementioned situation. As always, however, ‘beggars’ cannot be choosers, so I am perfectly willing to accommodate if none of these will serve.”
Karabiner cringed somewhat at the necessity of such formal cordiality, but continued.
“Best regards, sign, and send, Charles.”
“Would you like a Forgery of your hand, sir?” Asked Charles.
“Oh. Of course, good catch.”
“Message Forged, and Boomerang sent with it, sir.”
She is the best for the job, I guess, and she'll probably be back.
“Would you like to set a trap for Epoch, sir?”
Karabiner brushed it if almost immediately. Almost. He did have a few things that could probably contain the temporal Epic, but he didn’t need that kind of influence yet. I will not take over until I have mastered myself, established a true morality, he reminded himself.
 


Edited by Ookla the Palindrome
Removed insensitive imagery and italicized a sentence.
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“Why do you assume I have powers?”

Sparks, this one was sharp. After the drama of the last hour, and then being confronted with a question by her captor, most wouldn't have the presence of the mind, let alone the nerve, to call him on that. Respectable, but it also made it harder to get any answers.

Should he just try to move on, and ask her about the other epics? That was the more pressing issue, at the moment, and he could circle back on this later.

No. If he couldn't at least resolve whether or not she had powers, it would set a bad precedent for future lines of questioning. Another angle? Maybe...

"Are you familiar with the device known as a dowser?"

Quietus.jpg

Five.

The epic flinched, but Quietus was already in motion, mounting a second attack before waiting to see if the first had succeeded. Only the extremely powerful or extremely weak ever held themselves back. He let two more pins drop to the ground, the last two he kept on hand on a regular basis. Any more would take up too much space. Four.

One of the two was a second flashbang, which he dropped without a sound in the space he had just been standing in, before circling around his prey a quarter turn. Three.

The other was a smoke grenade, which he dropped directly in front of himself, in between the two of them. Two.

She was attempting to make a witty comment, but the words never quite reached Quietus through his power. He hoped she was still looking towards the flashbang. Sensory overload was painful, but sensory damage was much more satisfying. It would save him some of the trouble of crippling her later, once she was subdued. One.

Both grenades detonated.

Quietus allowed the smoke to roll over him, shifting his vision to spot the telltale glow of heat from her body, shining through the expanding curtain of smoke. It would be interesting, to see if her air manipulation could push away the smoke without also pushing away the air and suffocating her. And if not, then it would become yet another way to make flyer incapable of seeing him.

The spread of smoke appeared to stop as if hitting invisible barriers behind him and above him, revealing to Quietus where the new slow zones were forming. Epoch had gotten his message, then. He would be disappointed if the flyer zoomed blindly into one of them. It would take hours to get her out, and by then Epoch would probably take a firmer hand in all this, and might not let Quietus have her.

Edited by Drake Marshall
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The outlines of objects had just begun to be visible again when a secondary flash was set off, this one thankfully not in her direct line of sight but her vision went white again. Her headache now coming on in earnest, a consistent crushing pressure on one side.

She didn't move from her position, continuing to stare at the same spot on the ground, adopting a slightly bored expression. There was something to be said for learning from past injuries, and unfortunately she'd had her fair share of that back in Oregon.

For a brief moment, Impact wished that she had Megan at hand, if the two had been together they could have crushed the Epic into the ground the moment they'd seen him. But she didn't need Megan's abilities to get out of this. Though no down her sister would be following after her if word of this got out.

A faint whiff of smoke hit her nostrils a second before the plumes began obstructing the air in earnest. She forced the air around her out more powerfully, dispersing the smoke among the rest of the air, it might have still hampered her vision if she'd actually been able to see but at least this would be breathable in a moment.

As she stared into the white void before her eyes, she quickly ran through options.
Even if she had her vision, trying to surprise a speed Epic was never a good idea so simply fleeing was out even if she was willing to accept the social consequences and until she could see again trying to engage directly was a bad idea so moving to attack was also out. What did that leave?

It seemed that this speed Epic was at least smart enough not to try shooting her, but they seemed intent on blinding tactics for the moment, so if she just stayed still then there was little danger. Add a little of the arrogance that came standard to any Epic who was convinced of their own invulnerability and Impact waited, maintaining her passive stance and tried to look as unfazed as possible by this assault.

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Quietus wasn't sure, but it looked like the smoke was actively being repelled away from his prey. Since she wasn't surrounded by it, a push of the wind could drive the smoke back, preventing it from getting too close to her. But it didn't look like she could actually single out the smoke with her power, so maybe a gas would work against her. Something to remember, if she escaped this time.

She was just standing there. Quietus could see the glow of her body heat. It hadn't noticably increased, implying that she was not yet afraid. Quietus smiled. The best ways to have power over people all grew from cultivating the right sorts of fear. But a complete lack of fear had it's uses, as well. It would make the next part easier.

She was at the edge of his range, not yet feeling the effects of his power. He silently approached her through the smoke cloud, still maintaining some distance for the moment. He had to be patient, and allow his powers to set in while she calmly waited for something to happen. Calamity's gift let him destroy movement, and that meant all movement. He wasn't sure which symptom she would notice first. For most, it was the difficulty breathing. Others cited the dizziness, difficulty moving, or the drop in heart rate. Regardless, the glow of her body heat would slowly begin to lose intensity, as her body entered a downwards spiral in a failed attempt to conserve oxygen.

Once she noticed, the hunt would begin in earnest. In the meantime, he fired off a burst from his gun in her general direction, and began to circle further around his quarry.

Edited by Drake Marshall
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After the call ended, Kokichi cried out, “I am not your sidekick! I am your friend!” Liam turned around in his seat to see a comically exaggerated arrow protruding from their heart and a fat tear roll down their face. “Your friend’s major league rude.”

Liam ran his hand through his hair. “Calm down! She didn’t know anything about you other than what I told her. She made an assumption, albeit an incorrect one. You are my friend.” He sorted through the information Margaret had just given him. John Delough. Wallflower. Hermes. Another mystery man he had to find. “Now we have another job to do, great,” he muttered. Since Delough had disappeared a few years ago, it was no wonder why the Circle’s intel on Edmonton was mostly outdated. Why hadn’t they invested more resources in the city?

Distracted by his thoughts, Liam rapped his fingers on the steering wheel. There were a few ways they could go about finding Karabiner, the end goal. One, find Delough. Easier said than done. Hopefully, he is still alive and willing to work with them. Two, go straight to Karabiner himself. Liam had an inkling of how to do that, and it involved a few business transactions. Margaret had said that he was authorized to use Circle funds.

“Either way, the first thing to do is to start driving around,” Liam said, breaking the silence. He fiddled with the audio for a moment and the familiar Elvis came through the speakers.

We’re caught in a trap

I can’t walk out

I can’t because I love you too much, baby

As the guitar played, Liam put the van into drive and maneuvered out to the main refinery road.

Why can’t you see

What you’re doing to me

When you don’t believe a word I say?

 

We can’t go on together

With suspicious minds    (with suspicious minds)

And we can’t build our dreams

On suspicious minds

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