“Capricorn, Antares, Tress, Cryptid, and Lookout,” Lord of Loss made the introductions. “This is Nursery, Marquis, Spruce, and Carnassial.”
“Or Carn,” the guy with the toothy bandanna said. “Not Carnie.”
“Ah, name pronunciations,” Marquis said. “I admire those that can reinvent themselves.”
He met my eyes again. Capricorn, too, gave me a glance.
What was I supposed to say or do? Was it better to walk away? Could I afford that weakness?
I hated doubting myself. I hated when the questions and anxiety seeped in. What was supposed to be me moving away from being the overconfident, violent heroine and toward something more measured was twisted by the doubts. It took the same dynamic and same decisions but made them into a loss of confidence and strength, in favor of self-compromise and hesitation.
“Is there a bit of history or something here?” Carn asked.
My head turned, eyes widening. How was I supposed to answer that? How did I frame in one answer something I couldn’t frame in hours of wrestling with my interpretation of things, alone?
“A minor conflict of interest,” Lord of Loss said, “It’s handled.”
The ‘handled’ thing was a point I tripped on.
He wasn’t talking about Marquis and I. The focus was on Capricorn and the three men who had walked away.
“You invited me into your inner circle,” Carn said. “I get that, I’m glad . I think we’ve rewarded your trust with good work.”
“You have,” Lord of Loss said.
“Is there a past history between you and this group? How does that impact the Ferrymen?”
“The only immediate conflict of interest with this team is to do with the community center attack that Nursery and I participated in. Antares. She and I both feel this isn’t a problem. We can do business.”
I was very aware of the way Marquis was watching me. He’d seen how I’d reacted when I thought our relationship had come up. Damn it.
Capricorn spoke up, “There isn’t any connection between me and Lord of Loss, aside from us knowing some of the same people.”
“Our community of powers is a small world,” Nursery said. “Incestuous.”
“I feel the need to speak up,” Marquis said.
No. You asshole.
“Another conflict of interest. I don’t think it should change anything, but I also have something of a connection to Antares.”
“What kind?” Nursery asked.
“A family connection,” Marquis said.
My mouth opened, but the words took a second longer. Lord of Loss took the opportunity to talk over my nonexistent words, “I didn’t know that.”
I used the words I hadn’t been able to find, trying to stay measured when I felt anything but. “I wouldn’t say family. We’re related, and even that is a forced use of the term.”
“Panacea is my daughter. She is also your sister. The distinction between relations and family is one of weight. Good or bad, she has an important place in our hearts.”
“Shit,” I heard Capricorn, barely audible.
“She’s my adopted sister,” I said. I was one hundred percent aware of how petty it seemed to seize on ‘adopted’, and how I was doing the exact same thing that had left me utterly enraged in the past when others had done it. “I’m not focusing on the adoption because she wasn’t family. I’m trying to make it clear that you and I aren’t that connected. There’s an additional half-step of separation.”
“We’re connected through shared association with one meaningful person. I don’t want to mislead my colleagues.”
I grit my teeth for a second. More and more, it felt like I was having to measure out or calculate my words. It was the handling of something volatile in the same way the building of a sensitive bomb might be. One mistake, and things would get messy.
Careful, avoid the disaster, keep it simple with your eye on the objective. “No disrespect intended, Marquis, but you weren’t in our lives when she-”
Don’t fuck it up now, Victoria, I thought, as emotions got in the way of words. Don’t show weakness, don’t snap.
“-and I grew up together. I haven’t been a part of her life since you entered the picture. You and I aren’t connected in any… what did you say? Impactful way?”
“Important,” Marquis said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“I’ll concede the point.”
“Thank you,” I said. I was proud, but not of winning the argument, because it was a petty argument in a way. I was proud of getting through it. It was the kind of pride I couldn’t really explain to anyone, even Sveta.
Maybe Dr. Darnall.
Marquis turned to Lord of Loss. “Her family was the group that put me in the Birdcage for thirteen years, four months. No hard feelings- that was the risk I took. They took it on themselves to raise my daughter, part of that being my suggestion. I do have hard feelings, it’s to do with how they raised her. She wasn’t happy.”
Pride was gone. Heavy feelings seeped in and swelled inside me.
“No,” I said. I wanted this conversation to be done with. “She wasn’t.”
“But,” Marquis said. “She sang your praises, Antares, as much as she was able to speak of any of it. She loved you and she felt loved.”
“I don’t… disagree,” I said, my voice tight, “But is this relevant?”
“It’s relevant,” Marquis said it with an assured confidence. “You were or are her family and that mattered. I feel I owe you a debt, especially considering the nightmarish way things ended.”
It was a gut punch to hear that. There was no armor or means of really defending against it. I couldn’t come up with words, and as I stood there, taking that in, I thought I might fly away.
Sveta touched my arm, and I hesitated in flying. Through that moment of hesitation, the flying became harder to do because I couldn’t explain why I was leaving now, instead of a moment ago.
The team was hearing this.
I stayed put, brought my arm up to the arm in the sling to a position where I was effectively folding my arms, and nodded.
“I mention this,” Marquis said, and he was facing Lord of Loss as he said it, “Because I am biased. I might not have a vote or anything resembling one in this arrangement of convenience we have, but I would consider it a favor if we could extend every courtesy to Antares and her team.”
“Your soft favors are more effective than the hard promises and oaths, Marquis,” Lord of Loss said.
“I have no idea what you mean,” Marquis said. “I always keep my promises and oaths.”
“It’s when there are unclear words and rules that are open to interpretation that you’re most comfortable and most dangerous,” Lord of Loss said. “We don’t know Breakthrough or what they want. You want to ask for this kind of favor now?”
Marquis offered a half-smile, the point of mustache at one corner of his mouth rising. “Yes.”
“Annoyingly open ended,” Lord of Loss said. “Fine. Talk to me, Breakthrough.”
Capricorn glanced at me, then asked, “How well do you know the people in your territory?”
“It depends on who and where,” Lord of Loss said.
“Is every cape or criminal here working for you?” Tristan asked.
“No,” Lord of Loss said. “Why?”
“We heard you controlled Earth N. It’s common knowledge.”
“I do control it. We have three medium-sized towns and several small areas we’re occupying. I know the people there. These satellite areas are focused on a combination of farming, fishing, foraging, and lumber, with strictly temporary accommodation. When the seasons are inappropriate for the work being done, or the resource industries falter because there are greener pastures elsewhere, we rent out the cabins.”
“To capes and criminals?” Capricorn asked.
“It would be a very brave and adventurous person who used the money they could spend on an apartment in Norwalk or Fairfield to rent a small cabin here instead. We’re a whole other world away, and the retreats put the people staying there a good distance from conveniences and necessities.”
“People come here to hide,” Capricorn said. “You facilitate that.”
“Some people want their privacy. In the late fall, winter, and early spring, these cabins serve no purpose and offer little connection to society. We tapped a market that wanted that isolation.”
“Stuff like tinkers building things?” Lookout asked.
“Perhaps. Are you here about errant tinkers?” Lord of Loss asked.
“We’re here because people may be using Earth N as a staging ground for their activities,” Capricorn said.
“That would be the nature of the arrangement,” Lord of Loss said. “We keep an eye out for anything that would bring too much trouble down on Earth N. We intervene in cases of serious weapons, intent to do harm to members of Earth N, kidnap victims being taken to one of the retreats for holding.”
“What about intent to do harm to anyone outside of Earth N?” I asked. “Would you catch that?”
“We have powers available to us that could see that kind of intent, if in the right time and place.”
“What about other times and places?” Capricorn asked. “How much of an eye are you keeping on them?”
“Very little,” Lord of Loss said. “I’m going to be honest, as part of Marquis’ open-ended request. We have other things we do. The retreats? They aren’t valuable, it’s not worth excessive time, it’s not worth excessive manpower, and being too careful would ruin the point of those retreats.”
“The fact that a hero team is knocking on our door and asking about things suggests it might be important,” Marquis said.
He looked so much like her. The eyes, the hair, the mouth. The shoulders.
“True,” Lord of Loss admitted. He seated his large armored form on the ground, one hand behind him to prop himself up. “It’s not an everyday thing.”
Sveta, Capricorn, Lookout and I exchanged looks. Cryptid was being very still and tense, his clothes occasionally moving a fraction when the wind blew strong.
I thought of the sports team. Was the woman’s inability to work because she was busy or was it something else? “These retreats, they have internet? Is there cell service?”
“It’s out more often than not. It’s easier to travel into the Norfair span and use facilities there than it is to rely on what the cabins offer. The service is up for one or two hours a day, and it’s restricted at those times.”
“It was better, but that was before,” Nursery said. “The attacks have been knocking out services. The city has had outages.”
“Amen,” Lookout said.
“You said attacks?” I asked. “These aren’t accidents or poorly laid groundwork breaking down?”
Sveta added, “Some people were suggesting the outages were malicious, but the people in charge have been quiet. If there are any arrests, they aren’t telling anyone about them.”
“It’s very malicious,” Nursery said. “Enemies of Gimel know they can’t pick a fight. Our population is small, but the number of capes scares them off. They know where Gimel is vulnerable.”
I had some idea, too. I’d thought about how much damage the outages, communication loss and disruption of both work and supply had done, especially with the timing.
The colder months were coming. We were already in a bad spot, but if infrastructure was stressed or disabled… the costs and loss of labor would have an immense impact.
“This is the war. We’re being attacked,” I said.
“Undermined,” Nursery said.
They were going after the weak points, hitting them again and again, so the cracks would fan out. Something would give.
“Can you give us the details on these attacks so we can confirm that ourselves?” Capricorn asked. “There might be a lead we can chase.”
“Possibly, but not now,” Nursery said. “I have to talk to people before I share our sources, and some don’t like your team very much. It may take convincing.”
Nursery had been tied into Prancer’s group by some fashion. There would be some upset people.
“Are these the same people we’re after?” Sveta asked me. “It’s similar M.O.s. They’re hurting us by attacking the city.”
“Maybe,” I said. “If so, they have an uncanny ability to hide their activities and hit the city where it hurts.”
“These people,” Lord of Loss said. “Am I right in guessing you’re after the culprits of the portal attacks?”
Damn it. It wasn’t a hard conclusion to draw, but it put us in an awkward spot.
“Yes,” Capricorn said. “Yeah, you’re right.”
I really hoped Lord of Loss and his trusted people weren’t on the enemy’s side, or we’d tipped them off, and they were now covering every base.
Capricorn nodded. “We have reasons to believe you weren’t directly involved. One of those reasons is that we have pictures with their faces.”
“You’ll recognize one,” I said.
He held out his hand in Lookout’s direction. She gave him a phone, the screen glowing.
Capricorn found what he was looking for. “These are the ones we have so far.”
The others approached Marquis, who took the phone and held it in a position where most of the others could see it. I hung back a bit.
It was unnerving. I didn’t trust myself like this.
“That looks like Kingdom Come,” Nursery observed. “That’s the one I’m meant to recognize?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That was my thought. You’ve worked with him. Can you point us in his general direction?”
“No. He didn’t share much. Not location, not what he’s doing now that the community center is done. I saw him four times at one place where villains meet, and he turned down five jobs in that span of time. He’s picky about picking jobs that don’t weigh on his sense of morality.”
One thing that I’d picked up from familial osmosis was that routines were a trap. If Kingdom Come spent long periods of time in a place like a drinking establishment, and if he always attended the same church on set dates, then that was something we could use to track him down.
Knowing his routine was a win. I wished we had more.
“You have no idea where he lived?” I asked.
“No. I had the impression it was outside of Gimel, but not Earth N. He attended church daily.”
“He wasn’t Fallen?” Capricorn asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. He didn’t give me that impression. No tattoos, no drugs, no vulgarity. His faith seemed genuine, and I’ve known a lot of faithful over the years. I think I could tell if he was Fallen.”
If it was only that easy, I thought. Some broadcast what they were, but others, like Scapegoat? It was a surprise.
That made me think.
“Do you think,” I said, “That he could sympathize with the Fallen? Not being a member, but helping and communicating with them?”
“He likes leading people to good things or the right path. He could have done that with the Fallen, thinking they needed saving and shepherding.”
“And he would then work with them, share information?”
“I don’t know,” Nursery said. “He was decent.”
“Aside from taking over crowds and attacking community centers,” I said.
“He did it because he thought it was just and right.”
“And because of the money,” Lord of Loss said. “He asked for pay in New Dollars, if that helps.”
“Anything else?” Capricorn asked. “Any information about him could help us.”
Lord of Loss shook his head. “I’ll pass on anything I think of. I can find you online?”
“I’m easy to find,” Capricorn said. “Email or phone.”
Lord of Loss nodded. He reached down for the phone that Marquis held, and then gestured with a finger as long as my forearm, the digit wrapped in the same bands of metal as the rest of him.
“I can’t help but notice the lack of costumes on these images,” Carn said. “These are civilian identities.”
“Composites,” Lookout said. “Three dimensional models pulled from other places. They’re best-guesses.”
I was so glad she didn’t elaborate. I glanced at Cryptid, and saw his hand move slightly. It was as if he’d read my mind; he was ready to shut Lookout up if need be.
“These images are all we have. These guys will strike again,” Capricorn said. “We need to stop that from happening. Some bending of the rules against people willing to act on this major a scale makes sense.”
“The civilian identities matter. You can’t go after people in their civilian guises,” Carn said.
“No matter what they’ve done?” Capricorn asked. “That’s dangerous and ridiculous. They tore holes in reality. A lot of people died.”
“Find another way if you want my help,” Carn said. “Sorry, Lord of Loss, Marquis, I can’t support this.”
“Step away, then,” Lord of Loss said. “Stay in sight. No phone calls.”
“I’ve lost your trust so easily?” Carn asked.
“My trust isn’t the question,” Lord of Loss said. “Theirs is. I trust you enough, but I can’t have their mistrust for you or yours for them disturb business.”
Carn hesitated. Narrowed eyes swept over all of us. He walked off a distance, to one of the large rocks in a front lawn that served as a roost. He sat on it, not facing us.
“I know this woman with the glasses and black hair,” Lord of Loss said. “She was popular with several of the people who had cabins in the same area. Usually they kept to themselves and wanted their isolation, but she ran poker games twice a week and most attended.”
“That’s a potential list of people who could have ties to her and the greater operation,” I said.
“One that exists entirely in my head. I won’t give you that list. I’ll call and inquire myself,” Lord of Loss said.
“That would help,” Capricorn said.
It helped, but it left me less sure of Lord of Loss and of this stage in things.
“The investigation hasn’t moved forward, has it?” Marquis asked.
“We made some significant progress sharing information just now,” Capricorn said.
“I didn’t mean here. I meant media, government, and courts,” Marquis said. “Any progress? Answers from those in power?”
I shook my head. “No news. They aren’t naming culprits, which is weird. People need that closure.”
“Pay attention to that,” Marquis said.
He said that, and I felt a chill as the sound of his voice echoed with memory.
On the battlefield after Gold Morning. Amy. My traitorous, mutilated heart had soared on recognizing her.
She’d veered between cultivated confidence and being distraught. I hadn’t recognized any of the faces she’d shown me. I didn’t recognize the voices.
Here, I could match Amy’s voice from back then. I recognized the cadence, and the confidence.
She’d picked it up from being around Marquis.
I’d claimed there was no real connection and now it was harder to defend that claim. It was a stupid, mindless link between past and present, and I still felt chilled.
I couldn’t even remember what he’d said just now, or the conversation before it.
I was saved from embarrassing myself only by Lord of Loss stating, “That one arrived last night and hasn’t left today. They’ve been here for a little while.”
He was indicating the phone with the pictures, which Marquis was holding up for him to look down on.
Capricorn took a step forward. “Which? May I approach?”
He got a wave of the hand, giving the permission, and approached, finding a position to see between Marquis and Lord of Loss. For our benefit, he said, “The woman with black hair. She was a leader for this particular cell.”
“She rented one of the retreats,” Lord of Loss said. “We take note when capes and people with money enter or leave the station. She was one.”
“That would be my focus,” Spruce said. “If you have questions, I can answer them.”
“You set up and manage the security cameras?” Lookout asked.
“Among other things.”
“I see. Hmm, um,” Lookout said. “It’s good you’re trying. I’ve got your footage, and my computers back home are looking it over. It looks like she left yesterday at the usual time, but her bag looks bigger. She might have packed up.”
“She might not have packed up everything,” Sveta said.
I imagined my imminent move to Ashley’s apartment. “Yeah. It’s hard to get everything. The other possibility is that she’s up to something.”
“More use of Earth N as a staging ground,” Capricorn said.
It was an unnecessary dig, but one I could sympathize with. In exchange for a small profit, the warlord of Earth N had given some horrendous people even more horrendous elbow room to do their work.
I frowned. “Lord of Loss, do you have any idea what her powers are?”
“Powers? No. We paid attention to her because she had money.”
“She might have a minor mutation,” Sveta said. “She always wears sunglasses. It’s a good clue someone has powers, if they’re covering something up.”
“It also applies to the power-affected,” Marquis said.
Was that a dig? I had no idea, and I hated that I was even asking myself, instead of ignoring it. Fuck me.
“The problem is, whoever or whatever she is, powers we don’t know are dangerous,” Sveta said. “We risk tipping them off. There’s a chance she could come back.”
“If we ignore it, she might find out we visited through rumors,” Capricorn said. “That could be enough for her to run for it. I say we go now. It gives us a chance to be on her heels.”
“I agree with Capricorn. But only if Lord of Loss is willing to let us step in,” I said.
“Good answer,” Lord of Loss said. His tone had changed slightly. More serious.
“It impacts your business, having us there and poking around” I said. “I understand that, but they attacked all of us, when they did what they did.”
“Back at the community center. When the gun went off and Miss Fume Hood was shot, I struck a deal with you,” Lord of Loss said.
“We let each other go, so I could help her,” I said. “You asked me to tell people you weren’t responsible.”
“Our goal was to capture, hold, and release. Killing wasn’t the intent. You held up your end of the deal, you made that clear.”
“I tried my best. I didn’t have as much clout as I would have liked, being the person who was hiding her powers. I told my boss it was important, and he handled it.”
“It was enough,” he said. “Thank you. And in thanks, continuing this trend of cooperation, in exchange for information and images you’ve shared, and because of Marquis’ goodwill, you can investigate. I have trucks.”
It didn’t take long for us to get moving, after Lookout picked up her stuff. Lord of Loss had cars and trucks. Capricorn ended up in the driver’s seat again. Marquis had Spruce as a chauffeur. Lord of Loss changed into a flier.
I thought about flying myself, but I defaulted once again to sticking with the group.
I took a seat in the back. The truck had a trailer attached at the back, and Cryptid seated himself in it. The little window at the rear of the truck was left open, so Cryptid’s head wasn’t that far from us.
The first minute or so of driving was painful. The silence dragged.
I didn’t know what to say.
No, maybe I did.
“Marquis gives me the impression he’s the real person in charge, here,” I said. “With Lord of Loss as the decoy king.”
“I kind of got that vibe too,” Sveta said.
“Aw, I keep missing stuff,” Lookout said.
Capricorn was silent, but he was more focused on driving.
“It’s little things you learn to watch out for,” Sveta said. “This is more of a feeling thing than it is logic. We don’t have any evidence.”
“Ah huh,” Lookout said.
Sveta was sitting in the front seat. She turned her head around one-hundred and eighty degrees, tilting her body to one side so she could look past the headrest. I gave her my most convincing smile.
Her arm released, forearm and hand dropping between the two front seats. Tendrils bent, and her hand moved up to the seat beside me, reaching for my hand.
I took it and gave it a bit of a waggle.
Twenty minutes of driving through nowhere, with only a bit of flattened grass where cars had passed over. Cryptid reverted back to being Chris, relying on his cloaking and the fact we were facing forward and he was behind us to maintain his modesty. Were the roads busier or if Marquis was driving behind us, it might have been more awkward.
“If you don’t want to do the thing tonight because you’re tired or upset or something, it’s okay,” Lookout said. “It’s not that important.”
I didn’t want to. I was exhausted.
“I’ll come,” I said. “Unless something happens in the next hour. It’s important.”
Marquis’ car slowed down. We came to a stop on a hill with the cars leaning at almost a forty-five degree angle. It felt like they would roll down the hill with one good push.
Not that I was thinking of petty, stupid violence as a way of releasing pent-up stress.
Marquis. He stepped out of his car, Spruce at the other side. Marquis was disheveled in a way that looked very calculated, and it was made all the more pointed by Spruce’s neatness.
The hill had woods on the other side, and the woods served as a barrier to give us a view of the cabin, while not letting anyone in the cabin get a view of us.
No guarantee it was empty.
“Lookout, can you give us a scan?” Capricorn asked.
“Not really a scan. I can do a camera shot aimed at some special kinds of interpretation.”
“That works. Whatever you got.”
She rummaged for a bit. She had her bag at her back, cloaked, and she had stuff in her belt, with all its little pouches. She found what she was looking for, aimed it, and took some pictures, adjusting various dials.
Her phone had the images. Capricorn looked at them first, Sveta looking over his shoulder. Then he showed Chris and I, starting with the better pictures. Dark, with blurs where the grass caught the light, a vaguely human-shaped blur within the building. Low to the ground, as if the person was sleeping on the floor.
Another shot, with more darkness, the grass wasn’t even visible, with only some faint striations running through it. The power line that ran along the forest floor and up to the cabins glowed, and the electronics within. There was a computer on the desk. There was more on the wall and a great deal hooked up to the door.
Several came out all white.
“What are these?” Sveta asked.
“Tests. Ignore them. It’s the kind of thing I’m trying to figure out for secret project six-dash-nine, for our teammates.”
“Heat and electric resolutions are good,” I said, looking at the last few images. One looked hyper-detailed, many more were fuzzy. Another had fog rolling through it, that didn’t exist in reality.
“Can we get another heat pic, Lookout?” Capricorn asked.
“One second. Lots of dials to adjust.”
I was very conscious of Marquis’ presence nearby. It was as bad as seeing Presley on the train had been. Someone reminiscent of Amy lurking in the corner of my vision.
He’d been fair, he’d been fine. He’d explained my background without asking, but he’d also offered a favor. Did I trust him? No.
Did that list of pluses and minuses account for a net negative, to warrant how much I hated him? Could I explain why I hated him?
He was, in a way, reminiscent of everything that had gone wrong with Amy. Duplicity, villainy, the fact he breached my boundaries simply by being here when I didn’t want him to be, and that he’d stayed despite the conflict of interest, when the Ferrymen had left.
The others had some sense of what had happened now. I’d shared hints, but I hadn’t spelled it out.
I would have to explain the Wretch.
Maybe if I went to Dr. Darnall.
“Victoria,” Capricorn called out. There was a note of urgency. “Sveta!”
“Go! He’s dying!”
“Door’s electrified!” Lookout shouted.
I flew. Sveta was right behind me, struggling for a lack of good things to grab beyond the field of green.
I offered her my hand.
Just the force of her pulling made my sling wound hurt. I could have asked Marquis for help, and yet there was no way I would.
I broke through the electrified door. Sveta was right behind me, launching through the gap between myself and the top of the door.
A man, bloody, bearded, with a mullet and glasses. He had a tattoo on his arm and I couldn’t see it because he was bleeding so much.
There were liters of blood on the ground and he didn’t have many to spare. His head moved as I flew over to him, and his eyes were unfocused.
“My name is Kingdom Come,” he said. “Help this man and help me.”
“What’s going on?” Sveta asked.
“He’s controlled,” I said. “We’re going to help you, okay, Kingdom. Stop struggling, you’re making it worse.”
“Can’t hear you,” he said. “Can’t really see. If I’d known you were coming, I wouldn’t have done this.”
“Help,” I said. “Towels, by the bed.”
There were towels in the corner of the cabin. Sveta grabbed them and I began using them to staunch the bleeding. It wasn’t enough.
“They left the body like this, punishing me because I wasn’t being fast enough. I couldn’t bear to sit here and feel a body starve to death, can’t disconnect my power from victims like this. They won’t let me. I pulled until the wires did enough damage. If I’d just waited twenty minutes…”
“Stay strong,” I said. “Stick this out.”
“Can’t hear you,” he said, sounding far away. “I feel like I lose a little piece of me every time one of these bodies gets discarded.”
The wires were in the way. I reached out, activating my forcefield for just a moment, so I could wrench them, tearing them from where they’d been lashed. A floorboard broke to my right.
It was easier when the wires were removed, but there were some that were acting as tourniquets. It was hard to know which was which, so I focused on the ones that were scraping bone.
The others arrived. Marquis, Cryptid in camouflaged human form, Lookout and Capricorn. No Lord of Loss- he was too big for the room.
It was Marquis who rushed to the dying man’s side. I felt an anxious stab in my chest as I saw the angle of his head, the way he tied his hair back and secured it with a loop of bone. His expression, which looked entirely as serious as the situation warranted, yet seemed lacking in something- in light.
I saw her in it.
His tools were cruder, but they were tools. He helped Sveta cut the wires, and then began to work on the open wounds, sealing them in complex bone encasements.
“They’re using me,” the bleeding man said. “They got me. I’m a way of passing messages between dimensions, and a tool, a weapon.”
Marquis redoubled his efforts.
I looked away, acutely uncomfortable, then stood, because looking away wasn’t enough.
I’d done what I could, and my presence by the man only made it harder to give care. I kept an eye out for where I could jump in, grabbed one or two things to hand them over- like the scissors on the desk.
The man went on, and I tried to focus on the words. “The war is a distraction. It pulls us away from the city and away from things that matter. They’re after all the groupings of capes. The big teams, the places capes rally. They want Goddess, and they’re going to go after her when they’re strong enough.”
“Who are they?” I asked. “Is it the same people who attacked the portal? Earth Cheit?”
“Cheit!” I raised my voice.
“Not Cheit. That’s- distraction. Ah.”
There was a pause so long I thought the man had died and Kingdom Come had gone.
Cryptid was now giving his assistance on the medical front. He seemed to know more than I do when it came to that.
I glanced at the desk. Everything was missing, shredded.
I opened drawers, found nothing.
When we left with our victim, I doubted I’d get to come back and investigate. Not tomorrow. Stuff would change. Lord of Loss or Marquis would do their own investigation, or use someone like Spruce.
Between the cabin wall and the board at the far right of the desk, was a shitton of dust, with some discarded tissues and food particles.
I used the wretch and shoved the desk away from the wall by a foot. Nothing hidden in the debris. I moved the desk back.
“Let me know if you need help,” I said.
“No need. He might just live,” Marquis said. “We’ll need to get him to a hospital soon.”
“Do you need me to fly him?” I asked.
“Better to have him in a truck with me and one of our doctors beside him,” Marquis said. “If he springs a leak mid-flight, he’ll be gone.”
It was hard to focus on him. I was glad he was helping and I dreaded that he was here. He was one step removed from her, and my head wasn’t in a rational place.
Books. My bookshelf had been my refuge, and this place had some of its own.
Most of the books had been damaged or abused by the the transition from Bet to Gimel to N, presumably. They showed age in the same way a heavy smoker might be forty but look sixty.
There were empty shelves on the far left bookshelf, but no dust on the shelf. I checked, and I found something similar to what I’d seen by the desk at the back. Dust, garbage… and papers. I seized papers.
Some financial things. Some medical.
And one that the woman probably would have wanted to bring with her. I read the banner at the top of the paper. I was discreet in folding it and pocketing it without Marquis noticing, before continuing my search.
“We’re here with the truck!” a man shouted from outside.
I offered my one-handed assistance in helping Marquis, Spruce, Cryptid and Capricorn get the man outside without jostling him too much. We got him into the back of the truck, and Marquis’ people piled in.
The chaos of the moment meant chaos in the moments that followed. Lord of Loss was sterner than he had been, ordering his own people inside. It was blood shed on his territory, and the man that had been captured, controlled as a Kingdom Come proxy and left to die had apparently been a citizen.
For our efforts to save him, we got a thank you and an implied suggestion that we make our way back to the station.
Sveta was using a small brush to get blood out of the joints of her costume. Lookout was with Capricorn and Cryptid.
She hadn’t been inside the cabin, but she must have been at an angle to see what was going on. A lot of blood and a lot of open wounds and ugliness. Even with the Fallen camp, we’d kept her clear of a lot of it.
I put my hand on her shoulder. She looked up at me, solemn.
She smiled and nodded.
“Found this,” I said. I showed her the paper I’d saved.
She processed it, then realized its meaning. I saw her eyes widen.
I handed it to the others in turn.
It was my only prize, really. The other things had been receipts, that I’d left for the others to find.
The name on the banner along the top of the page was the same name as the remote prison for capes that they’d sent Ashley and Rain to. On the sheet itself, it had been patient numbers, a few months out of date. Some had been highlighted.
The prison was an area of focus for this clandestine group, and we had people already there.