Atlantis Unleashed: Masks No More

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Atlantis Unleashed: Masks No More

Post by cobalt-blue » Thu Feb 24, 2011 7:03 am


A few weeks ago, I sort of took stock in where the Atlantis Unleashed Universe stood, and realized that most of the major heroes had either lost or given up their secret identities, if they ever had one in the first place. The Atlanta Knights lost theirs over time because the new administration declassified their identities after the Dragon War. The Greenboughs never really had one and neither did the Wrought. The Lords of Atlantis can't govern a nation with one, and neither Corey nor D'an'a could maintain one.

Hence, the name of this is a new series in the line of the now completed Behind the Mask series sort of plays on that theme. It picks up about six months after that one ended with the huge battle in Atlanta. Whereas BtM was told in third person, this story will be told by the characters themselves, in their own "voices" so to speak.

Scene 1
Wolf Creek Academy Walker County, Alabama
Trey Greenbough aka RUNECLAW

I thought Emory and I were going to be able to settle down and have some "us time" after that mess in Atlanta. The nocturnal elements of the city were in the good hands of Merrick Bishop. But no, that wasn't to be. The fact that a vampire killed JD's heir set off a mess that has kept him and me busy ever since. It seemed every werewolf with a set of danglies between his legs thought it would be a good idea to take a pound of flesh and a pint of blood out of the vampires in retaliation, no matter how many times JD told them to knock it off. He and I have spent the last several months busting heads and settling disputes.

Emory on the other hand was staying busy dealing with her duties as the Sovereign Mage. With the demise of the Directive, the mage gift was coming back and not everybody was nice or even competent with it. At one point she had to put down a whole pack of demons accidentally summoned by a very bad witch in Atlanta- and when I say bad witch, I don't mean she was evil, she was just bad at being a witch. She was incompetent.

For the last six months, we have been lucky to spend a week total time together. Most of our communications have been through emails, text messages, and notes left on the fridge. It just seemed whenever one of us would get some time at home, the other was off on some kind of mission. When I was gone the school was being run by Wanda. And that was a completely different Gordian Knot.

She wouldn't come out and say it, but it was pretty damn clear she blamed both me and JD, for JJ's death. And to be honest, I can't say I blame her. If I hadn't let JD talk me into letting JJ handle the situation, then the boy and his whole pack would still be alive. And no, I wouldn't have burnt down Atlanta to get to Todeshaus- probably. She was burying herself in her work to find some way of coping. I don't think she'd come to accept yet that JJ wasn't going to come walking through the patio doors at home joking with Wade and Lorne.

Hunter, JD's youngest was stepping up to try and fill JJ's shoes in the pack as a whole, and that was creating more problems. Hunter had always been the scholar of the family, more interested in studying the origins of lycanthropy than playing pack politics. His approach now seemed to be to deal with it out of irritation. Where JJ would talk out a conflict in the pack between parties, Hunter's approach was a rolled up newspaper upside the head to both of them and tell them to grow up and stop acting like pups. Oddly enough it was nearly as effective as JJ. But for the most part, he was far more interested in studying than fighting. He fought more out of annoyance than to keep the pack in line.

That of course had led to the current situation I was dealing with. Hunter was still just a sophomore at the school and sometimes issues arose for him to deal with at highly inappropriate times- like calculus class. As the Headmaster, I got to deal with discipline issues. Right now, Hunter and four other werewolves plus Lee Plainwalker were in my office after a brawl in the hall.

One was Jason Burton, a lanky brown haired boy with a strong jaw, and a bad case of acne. Jason of course was our newest werewolf. He hadn't grown up in the packs, and had only been a werewolf for about a year. His father evidently had an affair with a normal, and never thought to inform the woman that he was a werewolf. Since he'd been killed during JD's rise to power after the Vampire Wars of the Southeast nobody knew about the kid until he started growing fur and a tail last year.

The other three were Chris Thomas, Jack Grant and Mark McGillicutty. Chris was a short muscular senior furball player with black hair and brown eyes. His aquiline nose and tan skin tones spoke of more than just a little Cherokee in his bloodline. Jack Grant was actually one of the less likely pack members to end up in a fight. He was an easy going kind of guy who tended to let insults roll of his back. He was a tall, thin sophomore with a shock of sandy blond hair who was usually more interested in basketball than pack politics. Mark McGillicutty on the other hand was a flaming redheaded freshman with hazel eyes and freckles all over his face, arms and neck. Lee of course was a fourth grader with blond hair and blue eyes. How a nine year old kid got mixed up in a pack fight, I don't know, but I intended to find out. I looked at the kid standing there with the teenagers and shook my head. "How did you get mixed up in this, Lee?" I asked.

He looked up at me, and hiked his thumb toward Jason Burton and said, "This numbnuts called Wade a bad name."

"Numbnuts?" I asked. "You want to find a better word?"

He blushed and said, "Okay, idiot."

"Not much better, but at least it's a word you know the meaning to," I told him. "But that doesn't answer my question. How did you get involved?" I asked.

"I punched him in the nu... uh groin," he said making me wonder if he DID know the meaning of the word.

"You're a fourth grader, Lee. You shouldn't be picking fights with juniors," I told him. "What bad word did he call Wade?"

Lee looked me in the eye, and I could see the anger still reflected in his own as they shifted to golden. He set his jaw and said, "He called him a faggot. I don't like that word. I told him to take it back and he kicked me, trying to send me away. So I hit him."

I started to understand. Lee's uncles- his guardians- were a same-sex couple- a very prominent and famous same-sex couple. He wouldn't take kindly to that kind of word being used. The fact that Wade and JJ were a couple too, didn't help the situation. They'd gone into Atlanta to stop Todeshaus after he'd attacked Lee. They'd died trying to protect the kid. "How did you hit him?" I asked.

"With my fist," he said sheepishly.

"How was your fist?" I pressed.

"It was metal," he told me indicating that he'd shifted into his metallic cat form.

"I thought so," I replied.

Looking up to Jason I asked, "Why were speaking ill of the dead?"

"We were talking about how Hunter wasn't handling things as well as JJ," Jason said. "The little freak here decided to stick his whiskers into pack business."

"That doesn't answer my question, Jason," I told him. "Why were speaking ill of Wade?"

"What does it matter, Mr. G? He wasn't part of the pack. He was just hanger on, a crippled one at that."

I could see Lee ball up his little fists. He started to say something, but I held up a finger and wagged it, no. Turning back I said, "It matters because Wade was part of a pack and died fighting alongside his pack." I looked him dead in the eye and asked, "What have you accomplished? He put his life on the line to defend Lee. Of course the boy is going to be upset if you start bad-mouthing him, and kicking at him was just plain stupid." I looked at Lee and said, "Your punching him was smart either, Lee. I'm very disappointed in you. Report to Mr. Rattamaer for extra lessons this afternoon."

"Yes sir," the boy said obviously upset as he looked down.

"Now you head back to class," I told him.

"Yes sir," he repeated and left the office.

Looking at the other five I asked, "And how did this become a brawl in the hall?"

"When we heard Lee scream at Jason, Chris and I looked out the window of Mr. McKeever's class. Lee had racked Jason up good. He was puking in the hall, and his eyes were crossed from the pain," Jack Grant told me. Mark was shifting and about to attack him so we jumped in. Actually to be honest, we were far more worried about Mark and Jason than we were Lee."

"Hey!" Jason protested.

"It's true sir," Chris said. "Most people don't realize it, but Lee's claws are like sharp little knives and they hurt like he..., like the dickens. I think it's because they're metal. I'm sure Jason and Mark would have eventually healed, but you don't mess with an angry cat." I understood where Chris was coming from. He'd been a freshman during Leif Hunter's senior year.

"He's just a kid," Jason protested.

"Yeah, and you kicked him," Chris said.

"He asked for it!" Jason protested.

I looked at Hunter and asked, "And how did you get involved?"

The young man shrugged and said, "I saw Mr. Mac head out the door to try and break it up so I figured I'd better help. I waded in and started busting heads." Clear simple and no nonsense. Like I said, his approach to pack politics is to take a rolled up newspaper to the bunch.

"Well, all five of you will spend this Saturday helping Mr. Harris repair the walls and floor you damaged. Understood?" That was the real problem with the brawl in the hall: too much property damage to a brand new cinder block wall.

"Yes sir," four of them said in unison.

"I'm not coming to school Saturday!" Jason complained.

Hunter spun on him, his eyes flashing yellow. I could feel him unleash the true-breed wolf inside him. "Yes you are. You'll come and you'll help and you won't give anybody an lip about it. We're here because you seem to be too stupid to learn what it really means to be part of the pack and you're not going to bail because you're precious little ego gets bruised. You show up on time Saturday and ready to work, or I'll have every wolf in this school roll you. You understand?"

I watched Jason suddenly swallow hard. Hunter had just given him an up close and personal reminder of the sheer power a true-breed can exuded when they choose too. It was the kind of aura that sent normals and baselines screaming with the heebeejeebies trying to rationalize away what they'd just seen and felt. It was the raw power and force of a predator that was going to eat them and there was nothing they could do about it. He simply nodded.

"Say it," Hunter said lowly.

"I understand," Jason murmured.

"What do you understand?" Hunter demanded.

"I'll be here to work on Saturday," Jason replied the fear evident in his voice.

As quickly as he turned it on, he turned it off. Looking back over at me, he smiled and said, "I'm genuinely sorry about all the fuss, Commander Greenbough. We'll all be here and make sure it doesn't happen again."

"Thanks Hunter," I told him. "Now, with the exception of Hunter and Chris you're dismissed back to class."

The five boys all looked at each other and then three of them slunk out of my office with their proverbial tails between their legs. When I was sure the door was closed and they were out of earshot, I asked Chris, "I thought you were supposed to be keeping Jason out of trouble and helping him adapt to life in the pack."

The dark haired boy looked down at his shoes and said, "I'm trying sir. He just doesn't listen. Every time I try to explain the rules to him, he gets all defensive. All he can see is that he's strong like a wolf, not that he has to be responsible too. I thought that if he got cuffed around by someone else he might learn that he wasn't as strong as he thought. He'd been running off at the mouth about Wade and JJ for a while now. I didn't think that it would be Lee who'd finally take him down a peg."

I nodded. At least Chris was trying to deal with the issue. I wasn't going to fault him on his strategy. Hell, Mom and Dad had used the same kind of thing on me a couple of times when I was growing up. "At least I understand what happened a little better now boys. The problem is you've got to get him to understand that there are people out there who can and will kick his butt if he steps out of line."

"We understand," Hunter said.

I smiled and replied, "Good. Now get out of my office before this paperwork buds again and buries the whole school."

The boys smiled and left the room.

Scene 2:
Carlton, Florida
George Carstairs

The last six months have not been quite in the Carstairs home to say the least. First there was that mess with Corey and the Navy. He'd saved fifteen hundred sailors lives, D'an'a had been shot in the chest, and some jerkwad in the media had wanted to prosecute Corey for murder because of what he'd said to Mariner just before he fed him to his own sharks.

I understood what the boy was trying to do before he ever explained it to me. He was trying to put the assassin off his guard, trying to act tough and in control. He'd been shaking in his skin with fear, but he wasn't about to show it. Granted Mariner wasn't the first time Corey had taken a sentient life, and that is hard enough for a thirteen year old, and if the situation with UN flares up again, it may not be last. No thirteen year old should have to face that kind of situation, but Corey was holding up to it pretty well.

Luckily the US Navy came to Corey's defense. They pointed out that this was a maritime matter, that Corey was dealing with a terrorist, and that his actions had saved over a thousand American lives and billions of dollars in equipment. That pretty much shut up most of the press- except that Eurotrash bitch on one of the big networks, but nobody watched her anyway.

Corey of course had lost his spot on that talent show, but Captain Carter came to his rescue and pointed out that he'd lost it because of helping save American sailors. After enough outraged phone calls came in, he got to make a special performance that wasn't part of the competition and blew the audience away. Leighanne was now negotiating with one of the major record labels out of Nashville.

But not everything worked out in the end. The boy Corey had been seeing about four months ago had decided things were moving too fast. I can't say I blame him. Corey, like most teenage boys tended to wear his heart on his sleeve. They both were at that age where emotions were fast, powerful and deep. I'd have to say that Stefan was showing a great deal more maturity than Corey was. Still it hurt Corey when they broke up. He disappeared into his room with his keyboard for almost a month. Nobody can sulk like Corey.

But like I said, at that age, emotions are fast and powerful. Bonnie and Chris managed to drag him out to some kind of school activity- I think it was the 4H Chicken-Q and there he met another boy. This one's name is Logan Johnson and I've got a bad feeling about it. Don't get me wrong, the boy is nice enough and he and Corey get along rather well. But still something deep down in my gut tells me that this is going to come to a bad end. For one thing, he's not out to his parent's or more accurately to his mom. Corey said that Dad wasn't in the picture.

Secondly, he seems to be totally opposite to Corey's usual taste in boys. He's rail thin, with shock of sandy blond hair that looks like it needs a good trim and very blue eyes. He and Corey seem to genuinely like each other though and they at least share the same taste in music. But something makes me worry about the boy. Not that he's bad, or evil or anything. It just seems like such a mismatch. Leighanne thinks that maybe I'm worried about the fact that the boy is, to borrow an old saying, from the wrong side of the tracks.

Of course in other areas, things are going well, if still stressful. I can't believe I took this long to mention our new baby, Diana. She is just starting to turn over now and has everyone in the house wrapped around her finger- especially Corey and Chris. It doesn't matter what time of night she starts to cry, usually one of the boys beat either Leighanne or me to the nursery. They don't even complain about diaper duty- too much.

I suspect that maybe she inherited her mother's telepathic gifts, but I don't have any proof. She definitely seems to know how to let us know when she needs something, even if it's just holding. But to be honest, she's not a very demanding baby. My biggest concern is that she's going to grow up spoiled rotten.

Even D'an'a seems to be enchanted by her. The young avada will sit and simply hold Diana and coo along with her. She says she's practicing for when her own baby brother and sister get here in a few months, but I think there's some kind of rapport between the two of them. Both Jord'n and Miranda are very pregnant and are due to deliver sometime around April so I suspect that D'an'a will be returning home soon. The birth of a sibling is very important in Shan culture, and she's almost as excited about it as her parents. She's even asked Corey to come visit, saying that since he also carries K'horal's genes, that he needs to be there too.

As I was settling into my office, my private phone rang. Leaning back in my desk, I answered it saying, "This is George."

"Mr. Carstairs," and unfamiliar voice began. "I am Emerald Pruitt at Syntech Industries. I was wondering if you would be interested in construction job with us. Commander K'horal of the Shan said that you had the kind of expertise we are looking for."

Now that was a surprise. Although Carstairs Construction is far from small time, we're still not among the big boys, so when a major player like Syntech calls, it gets my attention. These are the people who produce some most durable high-tech metals in the world. "Ms. Pruitt, what can Carstairs Construction do for you?"

"We have a construction project that requires expertise in multiple atmospheric pressures and in a difficult working environment. I was told that you were very experienced in this kind of work. We are also looking for a company that can be discrete."

"We've done quite a bit of that kind of construction for Illia," I told her.

"Wonderful. I was wondering if we could set up a meeting about this?" she asked.

"Sure," was my reply. We got down to the business of setting up the meeting in Birmingham on Wednesday. This could turn into a very lucrative project for Carstairs Construction. I just didn't know how lucrative at the time.

Scene 3:
Department of Nocturnal Affairs Division Office Atlanta, Georgia
Wynn Greenbough aka MOONCLAW

This meeting was a while in coming. I was originally supposed to be heading up the Department of Nocturnal Affairs field office in New York. But someone put my name in for Deputy Director for Georgia. It was an appointment that required a Senate Confirmation so I spent three days being grilled by people who'd never been in the real world and had no idea what life outside of their little bubble was like. Most importantly, they had no idea what life in the nocturnal world was like.

To my great surprise, I was actually confirmed with a wide margin, even though my brother was on the President's short list of people he'd most like to have drawn and quartered. Oddly enough I think it was that connection to Trey that pushed the confirmation over the line. Most people recognized the name Greenbough as being honorable- even the bad guys. There was some grumbling over my answer to the question of to whom I consider my allegiances belonging: First to Freyja, then to the Constitution, and finally to the people. The first answer annoyed the Religious Right, the second answer annoyed the Far Left, but everyone understood the last one.

That of course set off firestorm on its own- after my confirmation. Some so-called journalist for a fish wrapper locally known as the Constipation started digging and did a hit piece on me. He got about half the facts wrong and the ones he did get right, he got out of context. According to him, I'm a very close relation to the Emperor of Atlantis and I am doing his bidding. The reality is that Adam Stryker is my second cousin- his mom is my grandmother's sister. I changed his diapers once or twice when he was little, and we reconnected a bit at his mom's funeral.

So instead of moving to New York, I moved back into my house in Atlanta. That house was a promise made to me by 'Hilde that she made sure was kept. What I had built in the alternate reality was carried over to this one- most of it at least. Trey still owned the homestead and Wildcat Mountain in Walker County. I just owned most of everything surrounding it. I had done quite well for myself.

But Atlanta was trouble and everyone knew it. That's why they wanted a magecat in the job. The fallout from Todeshaus' attack on the city had left a lot of people worrying. The sale of UV grow lights went through the roof as the fact that vampires and such really existed was driven home to the American public. The geas cast by the Council of Whispers was already weak in the US, this event pretty much shattered it. There were all kinds of legal questions working their way through the courts.

The fact that Todeshaus used the local gang population for his army didn't help. That threatened to set off a race war. Most of those who were turned were black or Hispanic, so when Quantum lit up the sky with his UV projection, they were the majority of the dead- or more accurately ashed. The few who did survive were mostly the underage victims of Todeshaus himself and they weren't always black as he tended to choose affluent white girls to drain and molest. I understand it was some kind of fetish of his.

Chancellor Merrick Bishop is walking as fine a political line as I am. My main concern has less to do with those who died, after all they were in the middle of a wilding riot that stretched from North Gwinnette, all the way to midtown. Thousands of people were killed and billions of dollars worth of property was damaged or destroyed. His issue was what to do with half a dozen underage vampires. Sending them back to live with their families was almost completely out of the question. They needed guidance, they needed someone to teach them control and how to follow the rules.

That was where Doctor Leger in New Orleans came in handy. He made some phone calls and all the girls found a new home in a little suburb north of Miami, with a very special guardian. In someways it was the perfect fit. Four ghosts and six vampires sharing a house in Florida. Sounds like the making of a good television series.

But Merrick was also trying to bring some order to the chaos of what was left of the nocturnal community here in Atlanta. Vlad in Miami had only grudgingly conceded that the city was in good hands. He wasn't about to demand of a dragon an oath of fealty. But there were some difficulties and that was what we were here to discuss.

It was the kind of meeting that should be taking place in every major city around the country, but for some reason wasn't. There were five of us sitting in my office on the corner of Peachtree Street and Alabama Avenue. Merrick of course was tall and distinguished looking with black hair and blue eyes. He was a well-built man who appeared to be in his mid forties and reminded me a great deal of James Bond for some reason. Next to him was his wife, Nicole who had the same black hair and blue eyes, but was very much on the smaller side. I'd long ago, learned that size was not an indication of power when it came to women. Next to her was Kymbrall FeyStone, their nephew. He of course was only about fifteen with longish blond hair and golden eyes. The freckles that he'd sported during the Dragon War looked like they were beginning to fade. Finally, there was Doctor Plainwalker aka Moonwind from the Atlanta Knights. He looked to be in his mid thirties and was smaller than even Nicole with longish blond hair and blue eyes.

"Exactly what do you want to discuss, Director Greenbough?" Merrick asked me.

I smiled at him. We'd already danced around the preliminaries and were starting to get down to brass tacks on the issues. "As you know, my job is to facilitate the interaction of the nocturnal community and the federal government. To do that, I need to know how things are going in the community, what issues need to be dealt with and try to keep open warfare out of the streets."

"Good luck with that," Nicole said with a smile.

"That's my point, Mrs. Bishop. I need to know what's going on," I told her returning the smile.

"Consolidation for the most part," Merrick said. "Todeshaus may have actually done the city a favor in the long run. He decimated the local gang population. It's been fairly easy for me to make sure that they don't come back into power."

"How are you doing that?" I asked warily.

"I have several packs of werewolves and other shifters who are offering their help," he said. "Todeshaus ran just about all the respectable and not-so-respectable nocturnals out of the city. He was basically killing anybody that wasn't his. That left a considerable power vacuum as well. The werewolves are offering their aid in return for a larger share of influence in Atlanta's nocturnal community."

"Is it wise to show that kind of favoritism?" Doctor Plainwalker asked.

"Yes, and no," Merrick said. "These are older werewolves that came to help fight Todeshaus. They've earned their status and rank . They're not the young pups with more balls than brains."

"What about the vampires?" I asked. "There've been some reports of the werewolves attacking vampires returning to their homes. There was some kind of major dust up over at the zoo, but I can't get too many details."

"Ah, that would be young Mr. Milne," Mrs. Bishop said. "He is actually a harmless vampire unless provoked or attacked. He handed the werewolves their collective asses and now they know to leave him alone. From what I understand, he'd lived in the city for over a hundred years and no other vampire knew he was here, including the old Chancellor, and the hierarchy before them. He doesn't feed off of humans and he's rather happy to keep the Grant Park Zoo funded so he can live quietly with his Bengals."

"Some people say he's only a kid," I told her of the rumors I'd heard.

"He was about eight or nine when he was turned. Think of him as Christopher Robin from Winnie the Pooh," she said. "Only with the ability to defend himself rather well."

"What about the other attacks?" I asked.

"Several of those were less than desirable vampires to have in the city, and others were unfortunate misunderstandings. Those few that have contacted me have had the situation cleared up," Merrick said.

"You are aware of the new laws that Congress passed during the last session aren't you?" I asked.

"You mean the ones requiring nocturnals to register?" Kymbrall queried.

"Yeah, the ones that have already been challenged in court," I told him with a smile.

"What of them?" Merrick asked. "Until a judge removes the injunction against their application, then we aren't going to worry about them." He looked over at Plainwalker and said, "And they are so broad that they would require about twenty-five percent of transhumans to register as well, yourself included Doctor."

Plainwalker nodded, his face clearly showing his disdain for those laws. "I'm aware of that. What is the most odious about them is the requirement to register weakness with them. If the law is upheld, I'm considering registering a severe allergy to chocolate."

"I didn't know you are allergic to chocolate," I said.

"I'm not," he replied. "But the idea of people throwing chocolate at me, sounds good."

"You must get very specific with your allergy, Doctor Plainwalker," Nicole said with a grin. "You are allergic to Dove Chocolate, or Godiva. After all, you only want them throwing the good stuff."

"I'll keep that in mind, Mrs. Bishop," the small man said with a smile.

"I'll personally will register my weakness as champagne, roses, and good chocolate," she joked. "Maybe diamonds and expensive fur coats."

"That leaves me with a question, Mr. Greenbough," Kymbrall asked.

"Go ahead, Kym," I said.

"If the government is attempting to turn on us again, why did you agree to go to work for them?"

I smiled at him and said, "As a magecat my job is to keep the nocturnal community, or just about any other threat from enslaving mankind. Access to government resources helps me do that. And I made it very clear at my confirmation that my first loyalty lies with My Lady, my second to the Constitution, and my third to the people. Nowhere did I say it lay with the administration or the government."

Kym nodded and smiled, my answer seemed to please him. For some reason, that pleased me.

Scene 4:
Atlanta Knights Headquarters Atlanta, Georgia
Jett Storm aka Quantum[/b]
"Are you sure about this Jett?" Evan asked me as we were sitting in the main offices of the Headquarters in Midtown signing our new contracts. "I mean six months ago you were hell bent on quitting the team and going back to school."

I nodded to him and said, "Yeah. I'm sure. Mom and I had a long talk about it. Delsin won't be given any access to the company and she will continue to run it."

"Even with the baby?" Evan asked.

"Yeah, even with the baby. She doesn't understand why I distrust Delsin, but she recognizes that it is my prerogative. Besides, she wants to keep busy with it. She says that retirement would be boring."

"I don't understand why you distrust him either," he said.

I shook my head. It was a fair question, one that I had tried answer for myself since I met the man. For some reason, I got the feeling he was snickering up his sleeve at me about something and that irritated the hell out of me. "Let's just say it's a gut feeling, and leave it at that. He sets off all my warning signals for some reason."

"Okay, so you don't like your new step dad. What I want to make sure of is that you are serious about staying with the team. I'd like to know that we're doing this together," Evan told me. "I don't want anymore heart jolting surprises like the one you gave me in Miami." He had a point. I had out of the blue and unilaterally announced that I was going to quit the team and go back to college to take over the company. In the past we'd always said that we would make these kinds of decisions together. I'd hurt him that day.

The sad part about it was that it would be months before I realized how deeply I had hurt him. In a small way, I guess it was for the good, but it still bothered me to know that I'd wounded him that deeply. Over the last several months, he'd quietly opened a new bank account, and was now putting away or investing large chunks of his paycheck. I think it was his way of telling me that he wasn't going to be caught off guard again. Being a member of the Atlanta Knights was important to Evan, and he wasn't going to lose it if he didn't have to, even if it meant we wouldn't be a couple.

Believe you me, I took notice. Yeah, I need to take over my father's company, but it doesn't have to be now, and it doesn't mean I have to to go to Miami to do it. We'd decided- together- to stay here in Atlanta, stay members of the team and go back to school. I of course could pay my own way with no problem. Evan however, in a streak of independence was taking the company up on its offer to pay for our continuing education. He was making it clear that he could make it without me if he had to. He was showing a lot more independence these days.

With all of this running in the back of my mind, I signed our new one year contract with Murphy's Law and handed him the pen to sign his. "Murphy's Law is where we need to be right now."

"I'm glad you agree," he told me. "Until Homeguard starts graduating new students, Atlanta needs us. If you hadn't been here when Todeshaus attacked, the casualty rate would have been much higher."

I just smiled at him and considered replying with a simply "I know". That's what Commander Greenbough would have done. But as I get older, the more I realize that I'm not Trey Greenbough. I owe a great deal of my experience, knowledge, and skill as a transhuman to him. He will always be a friend and a mentor, but at the same time, I have to be who I am, and I know he would understand that. Instead I simply said, "We all pitched in on that fight, Evan."

"Yeah, but you lighting up Midtown made the difference," he said.

I smiled at him and asked in mock anger, "You accusing me of being a flamer?"

He grinned back getting the joke and said, "Nah. You're more of a twink."

"Boys...," Ms. Murphy warned. "We're glad both of you are continuing on as employees of the M-7 Corporation, and Atlanta is lucky to have both of you. Between the Atlanta Knights and Dragonphyre, I'd say the city is in good hands."

Scene 5

The Las Vegas Coast
"That Strange Kid Corbin" Grimwauld aka Mage Light

Sister Slice and I had faced off before, and she'd lost. Somehow I didn't think the same trick would work again. First off, although Las Vegas was now on the coast, we weren't close enough for me use the bay the same way I did in Bodego Bay. Secondly, this time we were the ones who were outnumbered. It was just me and Aerin against what was left of The Blasters: Hardcase, Sister Slice, and Firefury. Da Man and Stretch were in lock up and it looked like Stretch may be facing a firing squad. When the police got to digging, they found out that he was AWOL from the Marine Corps was wanted for beating his sergeant to death.

Kevin and Murphy were off the coast of Africa rescuing an oil tanker from Somali Pirates. Def'n and Lorna were in Australia as part of an international effort to alleviate the suffering from the floods there. We thought it best not to send Aerin because they would have to work with some of the UNIPACT teams. The fact that as a teenager, she'd been kidnapped and taken to Riyadh meant that she had a pretty low opinion of anybody who would work for the UN in general and UNIPACT specifically. I think the best term I'd ever heard her use for them was "bottom sucking pond scum". Lastly, Leif was off at some meeting with the other magecats.

The situation wasn't looking good. It was early on a Monday morning when Vegas was quiet. It had rained last night and the streets were still wet. There was a huge fiery hole in the side of the MGM Grand Hotel and Hardcase was laying down a suppression volley of micro missiles against the private security team that was shooting at her. She had a huge metal case in her left hand with the hotel's logo on it. Next door, Studio 54 was on fire and Firefury was taking potshots at anyone coming out of the emergency doors. Across the street, Sister Slice was streaking out of Gallagher's Steak House, her twin knives bloody. I some how got the feeling it wasn't from a rare steak.

Aerin as Coldfire was floating above the street that was quickly becoming empty. The villains were panicking the civilians making them choose between the danger of the gunfire coming from the casino, or the fire at the club or the danger of being fried by Firefury or blown up by one of Hardcase's missiles. Me, I was standing in the middle of the street trying to decide whether to take on Sister Slice again, or do something about Firefury and Hardcase. It was time to act.

I reached for my book and thumbed to a quick page I had marked, found the spell and gathered my will. I looked up in time so see that Sister Slice had spotted me and was changing her direction to bear down on me. She liked to play with blades, I had several hundred for her to play with.

I released my will and pointed to the space between us. A field of whirling blades of pure force appeared in mid-air between us blocking most of the street. Passing through that, even at Mach one was going to be painful. I watched as she saw them take form and then cut to the side to make an almost ninety degree turn down Tropicana..

When I looked back toward the mess in the street, I saw Coldfire's forcefield take a direct hit from a volley of Hardcase's missiles. There was no challenge, evidently she just saw Coldfire and fired. It's good to know where you stand with some people.

As Sister Slice made her way around the block, I quickly flipped to another marked page. It was a simple spell. The book listed it as second or third level depending on the caster's class. I pointed to Firefury and said a single word, "Hold."

Her face went slack and she stopped flying and began to slowly sink toward the middle of the street. That would hold her for a few moments at least, depending on how strong her will was. The brief smile that was tugging at the corner of my lips turned down when I saw Sister Slice racing towards me from the side. I knew I couldn't move the blade barrier, so I did the next best thing.

Blink. I moved myself to the other side as she passed through the spot where I'd been a second ago. I could see the pressure wave in front of her as she toyed with the sound barrier. Some contingency spells were just too damn useful.

Suddenly out of nowhere I heard a steady thump of air like the beating of wings; accompanying it was the the jingle of coins. I looked up to where it was coming from and saw a coppery winged form in a green body suit begin to descend. At first I thought it was Razorwing, but as I got a closer look I could see where the facial structure was wrong for him, and from what I know of Evan McAllister, he wouldn't be caught dead in that shade of green. The body and the wings were made of a dark coppery metal, unlike Razorwing's which were more gold.

He swooped past me at an oblique angle to Sister Slice and suddenly a spike of metal grew between his hands. Twisting in mid air, he hurled it toward the scarlet clad criminal. The spear went low and it looked like he'd over-compensated for her speed. But then her legs hit it and in a jumble of limbs she went plowing into the pavement. I heard an audible crack as she broke something.

"Slice!" Hardcase yelled through her speakers. Suddenly she turned from where she was closing with Coldfire and fired a volley of missiles toward the winged guy. He jinked hard to the side but the missiles had locked on. He began to climb into the air his wings sounding like a pocket full of coins, but the missiles were too fast. Quickly I flipped to the most famous of all spells, and released my will. I watched a tiny pea-like ember shot from my finger and streak out toward the missiles. The winged dude was still outside the blast radius of the spell, but I wasn't sure about that of the missiles. The ember flew into the middle of them and with a low "whumpf!" it detonated into a ball of fire.

The effect was spectacular. The intense heat ignited the missile's fuel supply and there was a second explosion that echoed off the walls of both MGM Grand and the New York, New York. I saw the force of the blast push their target higher into air. I hoped he'd be all right as I turned my attention back to the rest of the fight.

Coldfire took advantage of Hardcase's distraction. With a single gesture, the white fire surrounding Aerin's body flared bright and then Hardcase was batted from the sky by an invisible hand. She plowed face first into the concrete below, hitting just a few feet away from the front entry of the MGM Grand. What few people were left out in the open scattered, some hiding behind cars, the corners of buildings and lying flat in the occassional ditch. I didn't have to be a telepath to know that they were afraid. Running however wasn't always an option. Sister Slice had a reputation of chasing runners down and killing them.

Suddenly the stench of rotten eggs filled the air. It reminded me of Leif after a night of Tex-Mex chili with extra beans only far worse- horrible! I looked around to see a cloud of red and black smoke appearing near Firefury. Stepping from it was a male figure with red skin and dressed in a silver and red armless bodysuit. His legs were completely exposed below the thighs, and his head was shaved clean.

Above him, I heard another voice as it rang through the morning air; clear and commanding. "Five targets on scene. Two members of Murphy's Law, code named Mage Light and Coldfire. Intel suggests they claim to be the children of some pagan goddesses. Three operatives of the terrorist group known as the Blasters code named Firefury, Hardcase, and Sister Slice. All three wanted on a long list of charges. Spike has neutralized Sister Slice. Firefury appears to be under some kind of compulsion and Hardcase is stunned." I looked up to see yet another winged figure, this one with white feathers and dressed in a red top and dark bottoms. He had a big-ass sword strapped to his back as he beat his wings to hover over the battlefield. I briefly wondered about all the winged transhumans popping up lately.

"Coldfire! New targets! Intentions unknown!" I radioed to Aerin through our M7-issue throat mic as more of the newcomers made their presence known.

"Unless they attack first or endanger civilians or property, don't engage until we get more information," she replied. I knew that meant mind scans. Aerin was a telepath, nowhere near as powerful as Avalon or Caster, or even Depth Charge, but she was no slouch- and she'd been trained by Avalon so raw skill counted for a lot.

Coldfire dropped from the sky next to me and said, "Hardcase is stunned. You got anything to contain her?"

"Depends who you want to bring in the most, her or Firefury," I told her looking over to where Sister Slice was rolling on the ground trying to force the compound fracture in her shin back into her leg. "I don't think Sister Slice is going anywhere soon."

She nodded and said, "Hardcase is the primary target. We take her out, and her organization may collapse."

I nodded pulling a small glass gem from my pouch. "This may take a few seconds."

"Understood," she said grinning back to me. "Will it in anyway violate her civil rights?"

"It's a simple binding spell. She'll be preserved and time won't seem to pass for her," I replied. I set the conditions for her release to be the breaking of the gem, that way the police can let her out when they're ready without me being there. They really appreciate little touches like that. I keeps them in control of the situation.

I began to chant softly as Coldfire went to talk to the guy with the sword. I only vaguely heard the conversation as I walked toward Hardcase. I didn't want to get too close, as she could be faking it.

Suddenly something huge slammed into my side, knocking me to the ground. I felt my ribs break under the force. "No magic!" This huge black woman wearing a green and black bodysuit shouted as she drew back her fist to hit me again. "It's the devil's work!" I rolled to the side as the fist came down and shattered the asphalt where my head was a second ago. The woman was trying to kill me!

Feeling like someone had just driven a spike through my side, I struggled to my feet and looked down to see what spell my book was at. It wasn't my first choice but it was what I had handy. As the woman turned to charge me again, I made sure that nobody else would be caught in the cone of effect. With a quick gesture that made my ribs burn like fire, and threatened to send me into a coughing fit, I released my will. She was suddenly hit by a blast of energy that sucked all the heat out of whatever was inside it. In less than a second ice crystals had formed on her eyebrows, her skin turned white and cracked, and the tip of her nose turned white. She stopped dead in her tracks, and then fell over, a frozen statue of ice.

"Golgotha!" The guy with sword screamed, drew it from between his wings and dove toward me.

My ribs still burning, I hit him with more of the same. The effects were less than spectacular. As we say in gaming circles, I guess he made his saving throw for half damage- or maybe as a winged flyer he's less susceptible to cold. Anyway, he kept coming at me despite the ice on his wings and his face covered in frost.

As he swooped down toward me, swinging that blade faster than I expected, I was barely able to twist out of the way to keep it from taking my head off. I felt the edge bite the air near my neck and then the pain in my ribs hit me again. I felt a sharp stab in my side. At first I thought he'd managed to catch me with a backwards thrust. As I hit my knees coughing up blood, I realized that I'd punctured a lung with a broken rib.

The world around me turned hazy and gray as sparkles swam before my eyes. I fumbled through my book saying a brief prayer to my mother. I knew my own divine healing factor would eventually take care of the damage, if I didn't pass out from the pain first and they managed to kill me while I was unconscious.

My fingers feeling numb from the pain shooting down my arm, I struggled to get to the right page. I was having trouble focusing my eyes on the page, and found the papers smeared and sticky. Some dry part of my mind noted that it was my own blood. As I began the spell, I felt the ground suddenly shake around me, and something roared into the morning air. A rush of wind hit me from the side nearly knocking me over as I noted something huge and white slamming into the ground nearby.

Finally gathering my will through the gray haze, I released the spell. I felt the energy first flow out of that spark in my soul that powered my spells and then into my body. I think I grunted once as my body pulled the ribs back into place and sealed up the wound in my lung. I felt the tissue repair itself, and the bone mended itself into place. I would still hurt, probably for a few days, but most of the damage had been healed.

Stumbling to my feet, I looked around. Coldfire had grown to her mother's stature of five stories and the newcomers were making a hasty retreat, the woman who'd attacked me being carried under the arms by the two guys with wings. I looked up as Aerin smiled down at me. "You okay?" she asked, her voice booming off the nearby buildings.

I nodded and said, "I am now. She caught me by surprised, broke some ribs."

"We'll have Lifeforce look you over when they get back," she told me and I could feel the underlying order that would brook no argument in her tone.

Looking around I asked, "Where's Hardcase and Firefury?"

We both began searching the area, but could find no sign of either them or the metal case of money they'd stolen. Only Sister Slice remained as she tried to crawl away with a broken leg. "They got away," Aerin said shrinking down. It was either let them go or let those dweeks kill you."

"Dweeks?" I asked.

"Dweebs crossed with geeks," she said looking over at Sister Slice. With a wave of her hand, she telekinetically picked up the villain and brought her toward us. "At least we got this one."

Posts: 1965
Joined: Mon May 18, 2009 6:56 am
Location: Russell, KY

Re: Atlantis Unleashed: Masks No More

Post by cobalt-blue » Thu Aug 02, 2012 12:05 pm


Scene 6 Director Wynn Greenbough aka Moonclaw, Atlanta Georgia

I caught myself wondering exactly how I ended up with this onerous task of dealing with three US Senators, two of which, according to my brother, would just as soon take knives to each other and not without good reason. Senator Murphy is a local Senator, and lives over in Loganville just outside of the city. He is also the father of one of my brother's best friends, Gates Murphy of Murphy's Law. He is a tall man who is in surprisingly good shape for someone in their seventies.

Senator Edmund Cranston on the other hand was a short balding man with tiny gray eyes and somewhat heavy set. He was a Senator from California, and was a first class slime ball. I say that not because he wants to have all the transhumans in the US turned over to the UN, but because I know he impregnated a fourteen year old girl when he was in his thirties. This of course isn't exactly common knowledge, and only a few people know it. Mainly because that fourteen year old girl was the aforementioned Gates' Murphy.

Lastly of course is the great Lion of the Left, Senator Theodore Kelledy. Kelledy is the man who along with the current Secretary of State and former First Lady who actually led the political charge against transhumans during the Transhuman War. He is also the architect of the modern education movement that teaches hatred of all things American, and all things transhuman in our schools, and is trying to shut down the various transhuman academies across the country.

I of course have to meet with them to discuss the vampiric riots that nearly destroyed Atlanta six months ago, but this was more like a witch hunt- literally than a status meeting. Kelledy and Cranston were looking for a way to blame all of the nocturnal community- which I'll be the first to admit that it was nocturnals who caused the problems- for the rioting of a few. Ironically enough, it was part of Kelledy's and Cranston's favorite victim groups that got themselves turned and caused the riots.

“Exactly what are you doing to bring the monster or monsters responsible for this mess to justice?” Cranston asked me from across the small table of my office where we were all seated having coffee.

“What Senator Cranston means,” Senator Kelledy said carefully, “is that we're concerned about the safety and well being of the minority population in the city. We've heard reports of werewolves attacking the locals.”

I frowned. I knew where he was digging, but he didn't understand the situation. “First off, the monster as you called him, and I think that's about a good a term as any for his deeds, has paid for his crimes through the final death. He picked the wrong children to attack and one of them was a bit more than he could handle. As for the situation in Chamblee, I am aware of it. The local Chancellor is refusing to allow gangs to bring drugs and prostitution back into the city. The werewolves were reminding certain illegal gangs that they aren't welcome in the city.”

“That is the job of law enforcement, not some shadow government working behind the scenes,” Cranston protested.

“Perhaps so,” I told the man. “But whereas a drug cartel may intimidate or even pay off a police officer, it's a bit less effective against four hundred pounds of snarling anthropomorphic lupine. It's even less effective against a pack.”

“Still, we worry about the civil rights of undocumented workers in the area,” Senator Kelledy said.

“And I'm worried about the safety and lives of the citizens being shot up in a drug war. I'll take the werewolves over your drug cartels any day,” I told him.

“That's hardly diplomatic, Mr. Greenbough. You were hired to keep any more incidences like the one that happened this Spring from reoccurring,” Cranston said.

“And that's what I'm doing Senator. If you don't like the way I'm doing it, you can ask Director Kirk to remove me from office. I'll keep busting heads in the nocturnal community, I just won't be doing it for you.”

“There's no need for that,” Murphy interjected. “Being as there has been no more rioting, I'd have to say you're doing a bang up job of it. I'm far less concerned about the rights of illegal invaders in our country than I am in the safety of the citizens in MY district.” It was a subtle reminder to both the Senator from Massachusetts and the Senator from California that he was far more invested in my success than they were.

Switching tactics Senator Kelledy asked, “What have you heard from the nocturnal community about the President's offer to recognize their identities throughout history in return for registration?”

I raised an eyebrow and asked, “Most of them see it as a hollow offer. If we're forced to register, then the government would have no recourse but to recognize our identities and our holdings throughout history. It's a non-starter.”

“Don't you think that the government has the right to know what kinds of beings with terrible powers inhabit its border?” Senator Cranston asked.

“The government isn't interested in knowing how many illegal aliens are in its borders, Senator. Why should it care how many vampires and werewolves are here? I'm afraid you're going to have to come up with something far more interesting than rubber coated chains to entice the nocturnal community to come out and be registered,” I said.

“That's hardly fair, Mr. Greenbough,” Senator Kelledy protested.

“It's accurate,” I told him. “We've existed long before this government came into being, and we'll be here after it has gone. My mother alone has seen every administration that has ruled this continent since Leif Erikson left. We tend to see the long picture, Senator. When people started talking about this back before the Dragon War, about a third of the vampires began the process necessary to change identities.”

Senator Kelledy grinned at me and asked, “You mean like that Kevin Murphy kid out in California?”

I gave him a hard look and let the tiger in my soul surface just a bit, “No. Kevin Murphy is not a nocturnal. He is however under the protection of the Wrought. Molest him at your own peril, Senator.”

“Are you threatening a US Senator?” Kelledy asked.

I shook my head and said, “No sir. I'm giving you some very good advice. There are people who are beyond your ability to touch. If you bother them, then you will be dealt with with accordingly. Kevin Murphy's protectors are likely to take extreme action to protect him.”

“And why is that?” Senator Cranston asked.

“Because they have invested a huge amount of resources into his well-being- especially the Wrought. Those four are literally the children of Gods. They don't see things the same way you and I do,” I told him. “Life Force alone is likely to manipulate your body in such a way that it'll take decades for you to die a slow and excruciating death. And she will make it look perfectly normal. They are very protective of their young friend.”

“Be that as it may,” Senator Murphy said, “We're interested in what kind of progress you're making with the nocturnals of this city.”

I smiled at him and said, “The local Chancellor and I have been in contact and have reached an understanding. He will prevent any more incidences like the riots in Atlanta, and I'll keep the federal government informed about problems that may be building.”

“And are there problems?” Senator Kelledy asked.

With a nod, I said, “They're always problems building, Senator. Right now, the main problem is a dumb law that is being pushed in congress to register not only the nocturnals, but it's so broad it'll affect even some transhumans.”

“Why is it you people don't want to register? What have you got to hide, Mr. Greenbough?” Senator Kelledy asked.

I smirked, “What are you talking about Senator? Every member of my family is registered. My dad was working with the Department of Nocturnal Affairs under General Presley back in the fifties and sixties. I believe that was about the same time they were fishing one of your aids out a lake in Massachusetts. My brother has served in the US Navy, in the DNA, and as a member of Shadow Force. My sister-in-law is an agent of both the DNA, and Ministry 13 in Britain as well as a member of Shadow Force. I've worked with the DNA since the Battle of Wolf Creek. We're not,.. I'm..., not the one with anything to hide.”

I knew my words had hit him hard. I could see his face turn bright red and he sputtered, “That's not what I mean..., How dare you?...”

I laughed and said, “I'm an honest man Senator. I speak my mind. Don't impugn my honor with blood on your hands.”

“I think that's probably enough, Assistant Director Greenbough,” Senator Murphy intervened again. “So you are saying that there are problems building?”

I shrugged and said, “There's a power vacuum in the city right now. The new chancellor is filling it slowly with people he trusts. That means that there are going to have to be some heads knocked together, both physically, and metaphorically. But I don't think the city is in any real danger. I think things are already settling down.”

“That's good to hear, Director Greenbough,” Senator Cranston said with an enigmatic smile. For some reason his assurances had me worried.

Scene 7 Merrick Bishop Atlanta, Georgia

I'd had these offices refurbished into something a bit more comfortable. According to my contacts in the nocturnal community, Chancellors usually operate their cities very much like the court of a baron or a count of old. Personally, I'd much rather operate like it like a business but for the moment, I got the feeling I was going to have to bow to custom for a while longer- but I was still going to do it my way. Some people had to be drug kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

So, I basically had a large room set aside with a conference table and several chairs. There was sort of a petitioner's gallery at the back of the room with more not-quite-as-comfortable chairs in rows. Currently I had most of my advisers sitting at the table with me and we were discussing the problems we were facing with all the vampires being blamed for what Todeshaus did. There were still a lot of hard feelings and some of the werewolves weren't making it any easier with their persecution of any vampire they came across. Add into it the recent problems with a certain Mexican gang trying to move back into the city and things were actually rather tense.

It was in the middle of yet another justification for an attack on a vampire's bolt hole by a rogue pack of werewolves that the door to the conference room blew open with a bang and with the accompanying winds, in strode a little blond boy of about ten or eleven. He was dressed in jeans, a blue polo shirt, and high top tennis shoes and was wearing a leather backpack. He was dragging a struggling form twice his size in each hand and he did not look happy. In a clear voice that I knew would never change and an upper class English accent the boy said, “I was under the impression that neither I nor the zoo were going to be disturbed by this unpleasantness, Chancellor Merrick.”

At my side, Doctor Tiffani Sherman, physician, and the leader of the local mages leaned in and said, “Christopher Milne, the keeper of the zoo.”

Understanding with whom I was dealing, I raised an eyebrow and said, “I gave instructions that you and yours were to be left alone, Master Milne.”

“Evidently, your instructions were not properly delivered,” he said slinging the two forms forward in front of him. For the first time I could see what had become of the the bodies. They were of obvious Latin descent with black hair and dark eyes. Their flesh was a rich brown and it had on it the sheen of sweat. Their mouths were gone, in their place was a blank sheet of flesh. Their arms and legs were fused together at their sides, like a pair of great earthworms. Milne's victims could wriggle and moan grotesquely upon the floor, but could not in any other way act. “These two along with some of their companions thought they would invade my home, and drive me from it.”

“Companions?” Sherman asked. “Where are they?”

The kid smiled and said, “I fed them to my tigers.”

I raised an eyebrow at the casualness of the reply. “Exactly who are these men?” I asked.

Milne looked down in disgust and said, “Werejaguars.” His voice dripped in contempt, and I got the feeling that not a little of it was racial. From what I'd been able to ascertain about this vampire was that he'd been born in the height of Victorian era and there were certain prejudices that he'd yet to shake.

“That's a rather effective way of dealing with shifters,” I said.

Milne smiled and said, “It's and effective way of dealing with almost anybody. It's something an old friend from Eastern Europe taught me.”

I stood and walked around the table to the two struggling worm-like creatures. Raising an eyebrow I said, “It's a little difficult for me to get answers from them with their mouths as they are.”

Milne nodded, bent and touched each man none-to-gently. I watched as the flesh over their mouths split into a wide gash and returned to the general shape of a bloody toothless mouth.

“What were you doing at the zoo?” I asked.

They looked up at me in terrified eyes and said, “No hable Ingles.”

I shook my head and refrained from a comment about trying to take over an area where one does not speak the language. I asked again, this time in Spanish, “What were you doing at the zoo?”

“None of your business, Anglo!” the larger one said.

I raised an eyebrow and told him, “I was born a Roman fool. Now answer the question.”

“We were only going to the zoo! We have as much right to visit as anybody else!” he said.

“In the middle of the night?” I asked. “The zoo closes at five. What were you doing there?”

“We don't have to answer to you!” the smaller man said.

I turned to Milne and asked, “Where did you find them?”

“They were coming out of the Veterinarian’s office,” he said. He tossed down the backpack. “They had this.”

I reached down and picked it up. There were several vials in it. I handed it over to Sherman who went through it. Raising an eyebrow, the woman said, “These are some pretty heavy duty sedatives. Some of them would literally knock out a rhino.”

Rolling my eyes, I said, “Drugs. Why does that not surprise me?” Walking back around to my side of the table, I said, “I thought I warned everyone what would happen if I caught any nocturnal in the city dealing in illegal drugs. I'm afraid I'm going to have make an object lesson of you two.”

“You cannot kill us,” the smaller man said. “Will will heal. We are the Jaguarundi!”

“You are mortal and are made of the base elements of the Earth,” I said releasing my own mien so they could feel the full force of my will- so they could feel the dragon facing them. “I am dragon black and master of all the elements and void. You will not regenerate.” I directed my will toward the the speaker's companion. Suddenly he exploded into a shower of shadows as he was reduced to his component elements. “However, I need to send a message to your masters back in Mexico. Tell them that this city is mine. Stay out of it, or become one with the Earth that spawned you.”

Turning to Milne I asked, “Can you leave him thus?”

The boy smiled and nodded. “Of course.”

Turning back to Sherman I said, “Would you arrange for this piece of filth to find its way to its own people so he can deliver my message?”

In awe, and not a small amount of fear in her mind, the small woman gestured toward two of the larger werewolves in the room to bring him along behind her. One of the werewolves looked to his pack leader who looked to me. I nodded. He nodded, and the two werewolves drug the worm-like man from the room. Nocturnal politics could be prickly at times.

Sitting back down at the table I asked, “Does anyone else have any questions about the no drug policy for nocturnals? I will not let this city become another Chicago cess-pool.” Seeing that I'd made my point I turned to Milne and asked, “Does that satisfy you that I mean business.”

The boy smiled and nodded. Then to my surprise he bowed at the waist and said, “It does sir. It does.” Standing back up, he turned on his heel and skipped from the room.

I could feel everyone in the chambers sigh in relief. Milne scared a lot of nocturnals. He was a wild card that had managed to remain hidden from the rest of the community for almost a hundred years, living quietly beneath their radar. How he survived the wave of phyre I sent across the city six months ago is a question nobody dared ask him. He made people very nervous.

Scene 8 Lorna Grimwauld aka Life Force Las Vegas, NV

I gently ran my hands over Corbin's bare torso, feeling for the damage done to him by that woman on the video. His own healing factor along with the spell he cast had done a good job of healing it, but I still felt better checking it out myself. He was going to be sore for a few days, but it was nothing that was going to seriously affect him. I just wish we'd been there for the fight.

D'fen and I had only gotten back from dealing with the mess in Australia a couple of hours ago, and that was because it was either leave or turn Sentinel and his team into birds to feed to Leif's cats. Actually, it was starting to look like that the clone they'd made of Shift was totally nutters. Evidently the UN's brain-taping wasn't nearly as effective as the Shan.

Leif still wasn't back from that meeting of the other magecats. I really sort of wondered what was going on there. The idea of all nine magecats meeting somewhere to discuss their Lady's mission was intriguing to say the least. D'fen was in his own quarters, probably contacting the Shan home computer to find out what some of the things UNIPACT Prime called him meant.

I knew there was something going on with Murphy and Doctor's Stevens and Adams. The government had gone out of its way to cause problems for the two scientists in an attempt to get back at Murphy for what happened at Mount Charleston, even going so far as to suggest that the men had had a sexual relationship with Kymbrall FeyStone. That was going entirely too far, and I got the feeling that when the various victims of this particular piece of government interference were finished, there would be some bureaucratic careers in ruin.

Corbin, Aerin, and I were in our quarters, and I'll admit to more than just a little arousal in my examination. However, just as I was about to suggest something, the intercom rang. Reaching over to the table, I hit the control and said, “Corbin, Aerin, and Lorna.”

“You guys need to come down to the main conference room. There's been some media contact from those assholes Corbin and Aerin fought earlier today.”

“On our way,” Corbin said buttoning his shirt.

Five minutes later the three of us plus Defender were settling into our seats in the conference room. I could see the wet sheen on D'fen's hair where his quarters were flooded. “What do we know about the attackers?” he was asking.

Cassidy, Murphy's personal assistant smiled and said, “A lot more than we did earlier. They're actually a competitor corporation.”

“What?” Murphy asked. “I'm not the only one doing this anymore?”

Cassidy smiled and shook her head, her short bobbed blonde hair twisting with her face. She hit the control on the screen and it flared to life. I watched as a picture of the four attackers standing in front of a large screen with the words “The Called: God's Law” behind them came on up. The anchor's voice was saying, “This afternoon the four transhumans that first interfered with and then attacked Murphy's Law as they attempted to stop Hardcase and three of her Blaster allies from robbing the MGM Grand Hotel made an official statement to the press.”

The scene switched to a short woman with her hair in a bun and wearing a smart business suit stepped in front of the image and began, “Today we are announcing that Las Vegas no longer has to turn to sexual deviants and servants of defeated pagan gods for transhuman protection. The team known as “The Called” is made up entirely of Christian heroes who will stand between humanity and those that would destroy and pervert our Christian Nation. Today there are four heroes to whom families can point to without reservation as being positive influences.”

“Does Leif know that they've perverted his Lady's Commission?” Corbin asked.

“Shhh...,” Aerin said the white fire beginning to dance in her eyes.

The woman on the screen continued, “... the leader of the team is Golgotha, a powerhouse who can go toe to toe with an armored car, and dedicated to seeing the influence of dark forces expunged from our society.” An image of the large middle-aged black woman standing with her feet apart and her hands on her hips. She had an almost motherly aura to her. She was wearing a green and black costume and behind her a white cross was shining in the sky.

“Next is the team's warrior spirit. A man known for his power of flight, and unwavering dedication to spreading the good news of our Savior: Evangel.” The scene switched to the guy with white wings and a sword strapped between them on his back. He was wearing a scarlet tunic over black leggings. “Those that would fight for the forces of darkness beware his ever-sharp blade.”

“Accompanying him as part of his team's aerial forces is the golden skinned hero, Spike.” The image switched to a guy with metallic coppery gold skin and wings. He was wearing a green bodysuit. I can see where in the heat of battle, someone might mistake him for Razorwing, but like Corbin said. Razorwing wouldn't be caught dead in that shade of green.

“Last but not least is the team's transport specialist and ranged firepower: Brimstone.” The image switched to another male, this one with maroon skin and bald. He was wearing a silver bodysuit with fuchsia trim and fire was dancing around his body. “Remember folks, these heroes are here to protect you, not push deviant and alternative lifestyles to your children.”

The scene cut back to the anchor who said, “The Called refused to take any questions and when asked if the team had recovered from the fight with Murphy's Law, all they would say was...,”

The scene switched back to the woman in the business suit as she said, “The Called were not there to fight Murphy's Law. They were there to bring in Hardcase and the remaining members of the Blasters. The fact that one of Ms. Murphy's employees was about to use magic against Hardcase, imperiling not only his soul, but Hardcase's as well cannot be stressed enough. Even the villains we fight must be afforded their rights to be free of the evil taint of magic.” She then turned and left the room without acknowledging any more questions.

Switching back to the anchor again, the man was said, “There you have it folks. Now we will go to our fair and balanced All American Discussion Group.” Cassidy flipped the power on the monitor and the screen went blank.

“Are they for real?” I asked.

“Real enough to nearly kill Corbin. Golgatha was not pulling her punches on him. It was clear that she saw him as big a threat as Hardcase,” Aerin said. There was an anger still smoldering deep in her eyes. “We had Hardcase, Sister Slice, and Fire Fury down for the count and then that bitch with a big ass and a bigger attitude turned on us. Evangel was trying to take Mage Light's head off. That jackass Spike hit me three times with those metal spikes he generates. Only Brimstone didn't seem to lose sight of his mission parameters. He was closing with Sister Slice when I put my foot down.” She shook her head in disgust.

“Be that as it may,” D'fen said. “Are we likely to come into conflict with them again?”

Murphy shrugged and said, “I don't know. She said that they were here to protect Las Vegas. I don't know if they have a contract with the local city government or even the County or State. I do know that the DA was pissed as hell when he called me earlier. He didn't know anything about them and wanted my input on how to deal with them.”

“And how should we deal with them?” I asked.

“From this point forward, you're to treat them as potential threats. The next time they come after you with that kind of force, do what you must to keep yourselves and civilians safe. The fact that Firefury and Hardcase escaped hasn't been lost on the locals,” Murphy told us.

“Understood,” D'fen said casually. When someone that innocent, that powerful agrees that easily, it makes me worry.

Scene 9 Nichole Bishop Atlanta, Georgia

Kym's high school counselor was a middle-aged Hispanic woman with dark eyes and what looked like a perpetual frown on her face. She was dressed in a short skirt, and a white blouse that was cut a bit too tight. Her hair was an ebony mass of curls styled to cascade down her back and framing a face that looked like nobody had ever told her that less was more when it came to make-up.

“Thanks for coming in, Mrs. Bishop,” she said to me as she gestured toward a comfortable wing back chair.

“What can I do for you Ms. Rubino?” I asked as I settled into my chair. “Is Kym in any kind of trouble?” I couldn't imagine him not telling us that there was trouble at school. But then again, Kym had barely been communicating since he came back from Las Vegas.

The woman frowned and leaned back in her chair, steepled her fingers and said, “Not really. But we are worried about him.”

I raised an eyebrow and asked, “About what?”

“He seems withdrawn. His teachers can't complain about his performance in the classroom- at least on paper- but they say getting him to talk is like pulling teeth,” she said.

“Kym has always been a quiet boy,” I said carefully.

“I've spoken with his teachers and Coach Pratchett. They all say the same thing. He does his work, he doesn't cause trouble, but at the same time he doesn't interact with the other students. He eats by himself at lunch, although he's not hostile, he scares the other students,” she told me.

“How are Kym's grades?” I asked neutrally.

Ms. Rubino frowned again, and I wondered if she knew how to smile. “He is maintaining a four point oh average so far. There are no complaints what-so-ever in that department. We're mainly concerned about his socialization.” I could tell there was an unspoken “and” there. “He just refuses to let anybody get close.”

I nodded and said, “Kym lost his parents to a home invasion a little more than a year ago. He was the one who discovered their bodies. Kym will socialize when he's ready. He's just now starting to actually grieve for them.”

Rubino nodded and I could see in her eyes where she was gathering up her courage to breach a subject. Finally she asked, “Mrs. Bishop, have you considered having your nephew tested for the transhuman gene?”

I smiled and said, “Ms. Rubino, I can guarantee you that Kym is not a transhuman.”

“The only reason I bring up the subject is because of his eyes. I've never seen anyone with golden eyes before,” she said.

“It's a genetic anomaly occurring in our family,” I said.

“You don't have them,” she countered.

“No, but his father did,” I told her. “It runs in the male side of the family.” Very carefully, I asked, “Is there another reason you might suggest having him tested again?”

“Well, you are the administrator at a transhuman school. I thought that he might be better served by your own school,” she said.

I leaned back and asked, “You have a kid who has a four point oh, who gives you no discipline problems, and you are suggesting that you he be sent to a private academy, what's up Ms. Rubino?”

“We're just worried that he doesn't fit in to our school here. We're have a very diverse and socially conscious student body, and Kym doesn't seem to appreciate it.”

I smiled and asked, “In what way?”

“Like I said, he hasn't made any friends, and I mean that literally. Nobody talks to him, nor does he talk to anybody else. His whole approach to school is that it's something to be endured. Oddly enough though, he also refuses to do less than his absolute best at anything. When he does compete, he is down right vicious. The words cooperation and shared goals are not in his vocabulary.”

I raised both eyebrows at that. I knew that Kym knew what cooperation meant. Cooperation was the difference between life and death for dragonborn- especially for Thorns; and as Merrick had once said, Kym is a Thorn from the tips of his hair to his toes. There was something else at play here.

“Please explain,” I asked “Although I don't doubt that Kym is competitive, I can't imagine him not being cooperative.”

“According to his teachers, he doesn't care how the other students see him, or how his efforts may affect others, he's interested in only scoring the highest possible score for himself,” she said.

“Is he cheating?” I asked knowing good and well that he would never do that.

She shook her head and said, “No, but he is blowing the curve for some of his classes.”

I raised an eyebrow and asked, “And you're worried about this why?”

“Because it's effecting his socialization. He needs to learn to get along and cooperate with his classmates. Surely since you're husband is the nocturnal chancellor, you understand the need for cooperation.”

“How did you know about that?” I asked carefully letting my mind slip into hers.

“One of our teachers here has a sister that is a nocturnal. He brought it to my attention,” she said.

Peering into her mind, I finally understood what this was about. They were afraid that Kym was a nocturnal too, and that he was going to “turn” a student and they were going to be held liable. “I see,” I said. “And this teacher is revealing information that should be kept private why?”

“We at the school have a right to know the legal status of everyone in our school,” she countered.

“Except for their immigration status,” I said snarkily. “Perhaps it's best if you ask this teacher in to discuss his and your concerns.”

“I don't think that will be necessary, Mrs. Bishop,” she said. “We don't want to make this a personal vendetta.”

I locked eyes with her and said, “Very well. If you won't deal with it as part of the school, my husband will be dealing with it as part of nocturnal community.” I stood and picked up my purse. “I suggest you arrange for a long term sub for your Mr. Alvarez. He's going to be leaving the city.”

“How do you know who it is?” she demanded. Then as my words sank in, she asked, “Is that some kind of threat, Mrs. Bishop?”

I smiled and said, “I have my ways, Ms. Rubino. And no it's not a threat. It's a simple statement of the fact. Mr. Alvarez is striking at my husband through his nephew. My husband and Kymbrall are not the closest of friends, but they do respect each other and they do protect one another. I'm starting to understand how certain people operate. Now it's time that those people understand what it means to meddle in the affairs of dragons Good day, Ms. Rubino. I trust I won't need to see you again unless it involves helping my nephew pick out a college.” I turned on my heel and left worrying that Kymbrall was once again going to be forced to pay the price for other people's prejudices.

Scene 10: Wildcat Mountain, Walker County Alabama Emory Greenbough aka Avalon The Sovereign Mage

The woman who stood before me was as short as even I am, barely clearing five feet. She had long angular vulpine features and tall pointed ears. Her skin was pale and her hair was opalescent white, like my own. She had a timeless beauty about her that reminded me of my own mother, which I guess was appropriate since she said she is my mother's aunt.

“We were wondering when you were going to visit your family in Avalon. You did after all call yourself that,” Great Aunt Maerwynn said.

“I was unaware that the there was an invitation,” I told her as we stood in the kitchen of mine and Trey's home. “And I know how the fey feel about their privacy.”

“You are family,” she began.

“None have ever claimed me,” I countered.

“There was a misunderstanding between your father's brother and your mother's grandfather,” she said. I began to understand. Misunderstanding meant that both disapproved of my parent's marriage. Uncle Evan had never treated me with anything but love and respect, but I knew that he and Father had disagreed about Father and Mother's marriage. Evidently it was carried on both sides. I know my mother's father was alfar, but her mother was fey making me one quarter fey, one quarter alfar, and half human. It was the only reason I could use fey magic without being burned by cold-iron.

“I see,” I said gesturing toward a chair at the table and then began to prepare tea for the two of us. I may be part fey, but I keep a heathen home and that meant hospitality to visitors. “Still, it was never made known to me that there was an opportunity to know my fey family beyond my mother teaching me the tongue.”

Maerwynn smiled and took the seat. I could tell she was definitely uncomfortable about something. “To be honest, we were unaware of your existence until recently.”

I raised an eyebrow and asked, “Unaware?”

She nodded and said, “Yes. After your parents died, none of your mother's family were ever informed of her death. Something may have been done with her spirit had your uncle not interfered. As it is, all that she was is now lost to us buried in that accursed churchyard.”

“What does where she was buried have to do with not knowing that I was born?”

“We may have been able to approach her, bring her back over had she been given back to the elements where she belongs. However the fact that she's buried on hallowed ground sealed her spirit to the land until it finally dissipated,” Maerwynn said sadly.

I hadn't considered the idea that my mother being buried on hallowed ground would have any effect on her in the afterlife. I thought that she would simply be in Hel's halls awaiting to be reborn into our family line or serving in Frey's hall- He after all as I am personally aware jealously guards His own. I suspect that the reason I felt that way was the result of my closer contact with the fey's alfar cousins than anything else. Shaking my head I asked, “Is there anything that can be done now?”

Maerwynn frowned and shook her own head saying, “No. Far too much time has passed. What she was has passed to the god of the blood metal.”

I turned and placed the tea on the table and took my own seat. I looked deeply into my cup and asked, “When?”

“When what?” Maerwynn asked.

“When should Trey and I plan for a visit? He has certain duties to which he must see, and as the Sovereign Mage, so do I,” I explained.

“Well,” Maerwynn began somewhat subdued, “perhaps it would be best if your first visit was alone.”

I raised an eyebrow. Perhaps it was my aforementioned connection to the alfar that made me react, after all when we marry into a family, we're considered part of it. “Ah, very well.” I said nothing else.

“Don't get us wrong, Emory. We have no quarrel with your husband. We just want to get to know you first,” Maerwynn said.

I nodded and said, “I will consider it. But as I said, my schedule is very busy at the moment. The shattering of the Council of Whispers' gaes has left the country reeling. You have no idea how this has affected the country. I suspect that I will be very busy for a while.”

Maerwynn seemed to get the hint. She sighed and said, “No offense was meant, Emory. It's just that your husband has no fey blood.” She paused a moment and then added, “And there are other considerations.”

I raised and eyebrow and asked, “What considerations?”

“You've become somewhat well known among both the mortals and those on the other side of the veil. That has also attracted the attention of the Unseelie Courts. Queen Medb has taken an interest in the collapsing of the gaes, especially here in the New World. She's also taken an interest in the return of the Sovereign Mage- mainly because of your actions to assume that role.”

“The redcaps?” I asked.

Maerwynn nodded, “She does not like the fact that you called on your fey blood to convince them to stay their hand.”

“What would she have had me do, let them destroy Chicago?” I asked, and then realized what the answer would be, “Of course she would.”

“Exactly,” Maerwynn said. “Oberon would like to have you tied to the Seelie Court.”

I shook my head, “No. I can't do that. I must remain neutral in my dealings with magic. If Oberon is right then I will support him. If he's wrong I won't.”

Maerwynn nodded and sipped her tea. For long seconds she considered my words and then said, “The invitation is still open daughter of my niece. Come and visit when you will.” She set down her cup and stood. “And bring your husband. I think I would like to meet a man that can stand by your side and keep his own.” She began to fade and said, “Until then, farewell.”

She disappeared from my kitchen, but I got the feeling that things were not going to be quiet one the Greenbough farm. I also didn't realize just how important her warning would be.

Scene 11: A cabin in the woods in the Smokey Mountains; Commander Robin “Trey” Greenbough III USN Ret. aka Runeclaw

“You have to believe we are magic
Nothin' can stand in our way
You have to believe we are magic
Don't let your aim ever stray
And if all your hopes survive
Your destiny will arrive ”

“You know, Bro. Sometimes your taste in music sucks,” Wynn said from the door to the office of the cabin Emory and I own in Tennessee.

“I was raised in a different time, and a different place than you were, Wynn,” I told him coming out of the large overstuffed chair in my office at the cabin and pulling him into a huge bear hug.

“Tell me about it,” he said as he returned the hug. Then pulling away he looked me up and down. “Looking good, Bro.” He reached up and tugged at the red locks at my shoulder. “Glad to see you letting your hair grow. You don't look like a thrall anymore.” It was an old joke between us. We both had to cut our hair much shorter than tradition called for- me because of being the navy, and him because he was stuck in the late twenties to the late seventies in an alternate reality.

I pulled back and offered him a drink from the bar at the bookshelves as I gestured toward a chair. He nodded and I poured us both a scotch. “With everything going on with the school, with Junior's pack getting killed, I've sort of been nostalgic for the old days when life seemed simpler.” Turning and handing him his drink I added, “Walker County wasn't a bad place to grow up. It definitely left its mark on me.” I smiled and added, “Not all of us had the advantages of growing up around all those pliable Swedish boys and girls.”

“Not all of us started our career out deflowering the preacher's daughter either,” he chided me back.

“I didn't deflower her. Bobby Ingles did that- at least I assume it was Bobby Ingles, I'm just the one who got caught.” I grinned, sipped my drink and enjoyed the liquid fire as it slid down my throat before I continued, “Besides, you know our definition of virgin is different from most people's.”

He laughed and leaned back in his chair. “You know all things considered, it's a wonder we aren't more alike.”

“Nature has a lot of depth but when nurture comes off the bench she can be powerful influence. We may share an identical genetic structure, but our lives have been completely different. On paper you're almost twenty years younger than me, but your time in that runner universe gives you more years on me.”

“And I didn't have a Night of Howls,” he said.

“Bro, I wouldn't wish the Night of Howls on anybody. Everybody always remembers the deeds done, but not the lives lost. The Night of Howls cost me part of my soul.” There weren't many people I could discuss Night of Howls with: JD and Bart because they were there- for part of it; Emory because she helped keep me sane afterward; and my brother.

He simply nodded and looked around. “Nice place you have here. Has Emory seen it?”

I grinned and said, “Yeah, she decorated it. We bought for our fifth wedding anniversary.”

“So what's this all about?” he asked.

I shrugged and said, “I don't know. Leif says that Freyja has some information for us, and that it's for Hers' ears only.”

“So why all the way up here? I don't think there's ever been a meeting of all Hers in the history of the magecats. Why not Alfheim, Folksvang, or even the Temple at Uppsala in Sweden?” he asked.

“Because those places would attract attention- especially Uppsala. I don't know if you realize it or not, but there's been quite a resurgence of the old faith. Most of them are just sensitive enough to sense something amiss around there and come looking.” With a grin I added, “Besides, here we are far enough back in the woods that nobody is going to miss a few deer that might go missing.”

“Deer are out of season, Bro,” he said with a smile.

“Deer are never out of season for claw and fang,” I told him.

Before he could reply there was the smell of ozone and magic all around us. Outside thunder rolled in a clear blue sky. I looked at him and said, “They're here.”

Heading out into the front room, I grabbed the horn and poured some mead into it. “They're quieter than you are with that spell.”

I shoved the horn into his hand said, “Just for that, you get to act as froua, baby brother.”

“Hey!” he protested, but I opened the door greet the others.

Entering first was Dane Northman, the eldest among us. He has been around for over a thousand years. He knew our mother when she was a girl, and she says that he single-handedly defeated a pack of werewolves that attacked Queen Sigrid's court. He was tall, broad, and blond. He appeared to be only in his late twenties or early thirties, but his eyes were much older. He was a were-liger, a cross between a tiger and a lion; huge and powerful. He was also probably the finest mage I've ever met.

Next was Sasha Danelton, nearly as old as Dane. He was also the rarest breed of shifter in the world. Not only was he a mage cat, he was a snow leopard. He was short with tawny blond hair, and gray eyes. He too appeared to be in his late twenties but where Dane a massive man, Sasha was thin and wiry with quick eyes and a quicker wit. According to magecat lore, Dane bought Sasha in a slave market in England sometime during the Dark Ages.

After Sasha was Roanna Svennsdottir, a tall red head from Ireland with a temper to match her hair. She'd been active across Eastern Europe for the past hundred years or so. She appeared slightly older than Dane and Sasha, but was still a very fit woman. He pale skin seemed to glow like ivory in the evening light. Supposedly she had seen to the fall of several Soviet generals who met their ends in “hunting accidents”. Like Wynn and I, she was a weretiger.

After her was the much shorter Eliza Mittlittle. She was an Englishwoman of some renown in the last century with a singular beauty and long raven hair- an oddity among us magecats. She was a bit of an eccentric and had become involved in an altercation with a damned vampire and a huntress in England in the 1890s that resulted in a particular novel being written. She operated mainly in Western Europe, India and South Africa. Some of us believed that like my wife, she had a bit of the fey blood in her. Her cat form was actually that of a leopard size housecat.

After her was our Dad. He was looking fit for a man in his eighties. Looking at him, you'd swear that he was no older than forty or so. He'd fought in World War II, and Korea. He had been with General Presley when the Department of Nocturnal Affairs had been formed and had worked for the government up until Wynn was born. To be honest, I was surprised that he was here as our Lady had given him leave to retire with Mom to Alfheim.

Finally, was Leif Hunter, our Lady's son. He was tall, broad, and had white blond hair, and body that put Chris Evans to shame. Actually we all did, he just wore it better than the rest of us. I think it is because of his divine heritage. There is something about Leif's eyes that few people can hold his gaze. He was also a former student of mine, and had been with me when Kymbrall FeyStone killed Totenhaus.

Wynn gave each of them a sip from the horn as they entered and welcomed them. I know, I know, it's not fair to make him the froua, it's technically my job, but there IS a bit of sibling rivalry between us.

We spent the next few minutes taking coats, showing our guests the cabin- actually it was more of a mountain retreat than a real cabin- and getting them settled into their rooms. I had reason to suspect that this was going to be an interesting few days. Boy was I ever right.

Posts: 1965
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Location: Russell, KY

Re: Atlantis Unleashed: Masks No More

Post by cobalt-blue » Mon Mar 11, 2013 6:35 am

I am sorry about the delay in posting. As some of you may know, I'm recovering from some very serious health issues. I appreciate all of your patience. The Nocturnal Community is still dealing with the fallout from Todeshaus' attack on Atlanta, and several tragedies are building. Here is the next issue of Masks No More. I hope you enjoy.
Walker County, Alabama Wanda Williams

When I get mad, I clean. Right now I was running the vacuum through the living room carpet. It had been a hell of a six months. There is no pain the world like losing a child. It is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. No mother should have to bury their first born, yet I did. Yes, I blamed my husband and to a lesser extent Trey Greenbough for J.J.'s death. If J.D. hadn't talked Trey out of going to deal with that vampire, then J.J. and his friends would still be alive. Hell, there wasn't enough of poor Lorne to bury. Wade's lightning stroke had reduced him to ashes. That damnable vampire killed my boy, and it was because J.D. made some kind of deal with Vlad in Miami to let J.D. handle it.

No. To be fair, J.D. had already talked Trey out of going to Atlanta before we went to Miami to talk to Vlad. He was afraid of what Trey would do to the city. Damn it! It was Trey's job! Why send a boy to do a man's job? None of J.D.'s friends were old enough to be in that kind of fight! They should be writing home now about how college was going and driving us crazy with how much smarter than us they think they are, not buried in pieces!

And I was letting J.D. know about it too. He let this Werewolf King thing go to his head. The Pack of the Blood Moon had gotten too big. J.D. lost track of the important stuff when got involved with the greater nocturnal world. We were simple folk and had no business trying to push our will onto the world. Even now, JD was in Detroit dealing with a some kind of mess up there. We have no business telling werewolves in Detroit how to handle their own lives. He wanted me to go, but I wasn't having any of it. He wanted to be the Werewolf King then he could deal with the crap.

As I shut down the power to the cleaner, I heard the doorbell ring. Setting the machine to the side, I went and answered it. Of course I already knew who was there. Elaine Drummond's scent was already evident. I opened it and smiled at the large bowl of pudding in her hand. Raising an eye, I asked, “You think we got troubles?” It was an old joke. In the south when your neighbor had troubles you dropped over with a bowl of banana pudding. If was serious trouble you included fried chicken.

Elaine smiled and nodded at me. We'd been close since the boys got back from Alfheim and the Night of the Howls- another time Trey Greenbough drug the pack into business that was none of our concern. “After a fashion,” she said. “This is pack business.”

“Define pack,” I countered nervously.

“Right now it's Pack of the Blood Moon business. But it's likely to engulf everybody under J.D.,” she said.

I frowned and gestured for her to come in. Closing the door behind her I said, “Let's go into the kitchen and I'll fix us some coffee to go with the pudding.” I knew better than to ignore Elaine when she came with something like that.

After starting the pot, I turned to where she was already getting down a couple of bowls and a forks for us. “I really don't want to be the one bringing this kind of news to you, Wanda. Really it should be Tammy's job, but since she's in El Paso right now it sort of falls to me.”

“Tammy has no business in El Paso. That's Salazar's pack and he should take care of his own business.”

She raised an eyebrow and asked, “Should Trey and Emory have taken care of their own business when the UN sent Dr. Ahmed here to capture us and turn us into UN Wolftroopers? Should Trey have minded his own business when J.D. faced off with Wilson when Kendall was going to turn J.D.'s mother and the rest of us females over to Wilson's troops to be passed around? You're not being very fair here, Wanda.”

I put my cup down and said, “I don't want to be fair! My son is dead. That's no fair either!”

She shook her head and said, “No. It's not fair. But nobody could have guessed that Todeshaus had turned ten thousand gang bangers into vampires. And it's also not fair what you're doing to poor J.D.” She set her own cup down shook her head. “You're playing a dangerous game, Wanda. It's one thing to be angry with your husband and Trey behind closed doors. But like it or not, you're married to the Werewolf King, and by bringing your fight with him out into the public you're undermining his credibility.”

“How?” I demanded.

“Why is J.D. in Detroit?” she asked.

“He had to take out that pack of rabid female werewolves that was raping and castrating males they bred with.”

“Why didn't you go?” she asked.

“It's not my place,” I countered.

“Yes it is. As J. D.'s wife you are not only alpha female of the Pack of the Blood Moon but of the whole North American pack- for now.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“If you'd backed up your husband. If you'd gone to Detroit instead of him, you could have taken out the alpha, and brought the She-Wolves back in line, led them down here, and integrated them into the pack as a whole. By not going, you signed the death warrant for the whole pack. J.D. couldn't just deal with the alpha female, he was forced to kill every adult female in the pack. That hasn't escaped the attention of quite a few up and coming females. There's talk about challenging you for alpha female position.”

“They can have it,” I told her.

“Think about what you just said, Wanda. This is not going to be a challenge where you can step down. They're out to replace you- that means killing you and taking your place in J.D.'s bed.”

That hit me like a ton of bricks. “How dare you!?” I demanded standing. I could feel the wolf in me come to the surface.

“Wanda, you know I wouldn't bring this up if I didn't care about you. They're people out there who think you're hurting J.D. with all of this. Not just as a man, but as a leader. You're putting yourself in danger, you're putting your husband in danger, and you're putting your remaining son in danger,” she said. “It's better for me or Tammy or Kelli to come to you than have someone start a challenge at the next gathering.”

“I can handle myself,” I countered angrily.

“You don't get it do you? They'll go through all of us to get to you. They'll wear you down with challenge after challenge until somebody takes you out. You've got to get a grip on yourself, Wanda. Yes, J.J.'s dead. Nobody is saying don't mourn him. But you have to move on, for the sake of the son you have left if no other reason.”

“Hunter can take care of himself,” I told her. Although I doubted he'd ever fill his father's shoes the way J.J. would have. But I'd never tell him that.

She shook her head, “Are you blind woman? Don't you know our own lore?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Uh uh,” she said shaking her head. This one is something you have to figure out for yourself. Take a close look at Hunter, look at his hair, what's happening to it. Go talk to Emory- or if you're mad at her too, go to Miami and talk to the Twins. J.J. may have eventually taken J.D.'s place as Werewolf King, but only as a place holder for his brother.” She got up. “Listen to what I'm trying to tell you, Wanda. You're about to get yourself, the other females, and maybe your husband and son killed. I expect better out of a female alpha than that.”

Walker County, Alabama James Daniel Williams “Werewolf King of North America”

I don't like to have to bust people's heads, but sometimes it comes with the job. Trey and I had been working our tails off, literally, trying to get the various packs back under control after the that mess in Atlanta. The worst part about it, is that I agree with Wanda. If I hadn't talked Trey out of handling that situation, if I hadn't agreed with Vlad to let J.J. and his friends deal with Todeshaus, then my son and his friends would be alive today. Of course that might have made me look weak in the eyes of these same bunch of alphas anyway, but Jimmy would still be with us. I let myself get caught up in Nocturnal politics and my son paid the price with his life.

Now I was dealing with the fallout of that. In the past three weeks I'd been to El Paso, Texas, North Eastern Kentucky, and Detroit, Michigan dealing with three packs that were starting to act up. In Texas. the pack alpha down there had been making noises about throwing off the Compact we'd hammered out after the Vampire Wars in the early eighties (See file: Cattin' Around: The Vampire Wars of the Southeast) that eventually led to the unification of all the packs of North America.

Antonio Salazar had his hands full trying to deal with an unholy alliance of werejaguars and some kind of strange breed of vampire coming out of Central and South America. He needed help dealing with them so I had to go down and “loan” him Bart, and Tammy to help him deal with them. It was a tricky thing for a werewolf to ask assistance from another pack. I had to make it look like he was doing me a favor by taking them off my hands for a while.

The next mission was even harder to deal with. A strange pack like none I'd encountered before had pretty much turned a large section of Appalachia into a no-man's land for anyone who wasn't either part of their pack or a baseline. That included transhumans, nocturnals, and just about anything else. They were out of the same kindred where Aerin Snowsdottir had grown up. I'll admit that I traded heavily on my connections to Trey to get them to listen. To be honest, they scared the bejeebers out of me. I finally got them to agree to let anyone pass through their territory except for a breed of thropus I'd never heard of: The managarm. I asked Trey about them and he said that there was no way to get them to agree to allow what he called Agraboda's kin to pass. They were somehow connected to the Fenris wolf, and they were adamant about it. According to Trey though, it probably wouldn't be a problem. They would only allow a nocturnal or a transhuman to settle there if they were already from the area or had approached the city elders about it. It was a start.

The last mission I found myself in Detroit. That was a dirty business. I don't like to have to kill other werewolves- and especially not women. But a pack calling themselves the She-Wolves had managed to irritate just about every other pack from Ann Arbor to Cleveland. They'd taken to capturing male thropus to use for breeding purposes, and when they were finished, castrating their victims with silver. Male cubs were dumped with the nearest pack with which they were fighting. It was either I deal with them or several other pack alphas were going to take measures into their own paws. That I couldn't allow.

It had turned into a long a brutal fight lasting the whole week, and it' not something I'm proud of. They were already attaching another title to my name: Pack Killer. Not something I'm happy about, but it had to be done. The fallout from letting the others deal with it would have shown too much weakness on my part. As it is, I'm having to bring over thirty kids back to Alabama for placement in my own and other packs.

Okay, I was tired by the time I'd gotten home. I'd arranged for Elaine Drummond, and Emory Northmore to take over getting the kids settled at the school. Trey was not going to thank me for that, I'm sure. I was irritable from the travel and I wanted my life back to normal. Coming in the house I knew things weren't right. No sooner than I had sat down on the sofa to try and decompress than Wanda half threw a paper on the coffee table in front of me. I raised an eyebrow and looked at her asking, “What's this?”

“Hunter had work duty at school this past Saturday for fighting in the hall,” she said coldly.

“What was it about?” I asked.

“Does it matter? He broke the rules,” she snapped back at me.

“Yeah it matters,” I told her. “And you know why it matters. What's it about?”

“Read the slip,” she said turning her back to me and walking toward the bedroom.

Growling, I picked up the note and read it. It didn't make a lot of sense, which probably meant that it had something to do with who could piss higher up on the tree. “Hunter!” I called up the stairs.

“Yes sir,” he called back. He always was one of the most easy going kids I've ever met. I know I gave my own dad fits at his age, but Hunter seemed to keep his calm under the worst of circumstances.

“Come down here, Son,” I told him.

A few moments later he was standing in front of me, his eyes glancing down at the note. I asked, “Want to tell me what this is about?”

He shrugged and said, “I broke up a fight in the hall. There was damage to the wall and Mr. G. made us come in on Saturday to fix the wall.”

“What was the fight about?” I asked.

He sighed and asked, “Do you want to know what it's really about or what Mr. G. says it's about or what Mom says it's about?”

“How about all three?” I said sighing.

“Mr. G. says it's about my learning how to handle pack politics. Jason Burton was out of line. I tried to let him learn a lesson by getting rolled by someone else for running his mouth. I just didn't expect it to be fourth grader who'd punch him in the balls for bad-mouthing Wade.”

“I see,” I said leaning back. “So he said something that pissed off Lee Plainwalker.”

My son looked down at me with surprise in his big brown eyes. “How'd you know it was Lee?”

“Because he's about the only fourth grader I know who'd have the guts to punch a born-werewolf- especially over Wade.” I told him.

Hunter grinned slightly and nodded. “Yeah it was Lee. When we got into the office, Mr. G. made us all come in and fix the wall that got busted. Jason didn't want to, so I sort of wolf-rolled him.”

I raised an eyebrow and asked, “Sort of?”

He shrugged and said, “I didn't let it all out. Just enough to make sure he understood that what he did was wrong, and that he was going to take the punishment Mr. G. was dishing out, or he'd deal with me.”

I nodded and tried not to let my surprise show. A true-breed like myself, like J.J. and Hunter can unleash an aura in our beast to cow others. It's highly effective against humans, and even other wolves. But it was a hard to master skill, and very hard to control it to the point Hunter was suggesting. I smiled and asked, “What does your mom think it's about?”

“She thinks it's Mr. G. sticking his whiskers into pack politics,” he said carefully. He quickly added, “I don't think she's right.”

“And what is it really about?” I asked.

“I don't think Jason is yet comfortable in his own pelt. He's new to being a werewolf, and I think there's a combination of being impressed with what he is, and being just a little afraid of it. That's why he tends to pick fights with people he thinks he can beat,” Hunter told me. His insight into the other boy was actually a lot deeper than I expected it. I wouldn't doubt if he was a hundred percent correct. A lot shifters who suddenly find the pack thrust onto them hide their insecurities behind bluster. Hell, you don't have to be a shifter, you just have to be human to react out of anger.

I nodded and asked, “Did everybody show up?”

He said, “Oh yeah. It wasn't that hard to fix. I bet Mrs. G. could have fixed it with a wave of her hand, but I think Mr. G. was trying to teach us a lesson.”

“And what's that?” I asked.

“Be careful and don't break things you can't fix,” he said.

I smiled and said, “I think you're right. And knowing how to lay block is a skill that you may find useful some day.” I looked down at the paper, “As far as I'm concerned, this is dealt with. You can go on now.”

He nodded and said, “Yes sir.” But he didn't move. Finally, he asked, “Dad?”

“Yeah?” I asked.

He swallowed hard, and I could see the tears standing in his eyes, “Would you tell Mom, that if I could, I'd trade places with J.J. in a heartbeat. That I'd rather it be me than him that got killed.”

I didn't know what to think! Who in the hell was putting those kinds ideas into his head. “Do you think that's what me or your mom wishes?”

He shook his head and said, “I don't know. Mom is so angry all the time now. Half the time when she looks at me, I get the feeling that she wishes it was me. And you're gone so much that sometimes I think maybe it's to avoid me.”

I shook my head, stood and pulled my only living son into my arms. “No, Son. I don't wish it was you that was dead. I wish your brother hadn't died, but I realize that it was mine and Trey's mistake that cost your brother his life, not you. You don't have to take this on. The guilt isn't yours.”

I could feel him nod into my chest. “Everybody says that J.J. handled the packs better than I do.”

“Everybody?” I asked.

“Well, all the other kids,” he said.

I shook my head and said, “Each person has their own leadership style. Your grandfather, rest his soul, tended to lead by suggestion. My style is a bit more hands on and busting heads. The same for your brother. But from what you told me about how you handled Jason, it sounds like it was effective. It was different than what I would have done, but it wasn't wrong.”

“Okay,” he said quietly and disengaged himself from me. “I've got homework for Mr. Mac I need to finish.”

I nodded and watched him head upstairs. I couldn't help but notice the strands of gray at his temples and the front of his hair line. All the stress was turning him prematurely gray- like that singer from Jasper. “Go on up. When I get some rest I think you and I need to do some fishing.”

“Yes, sir.” he said heading upstairs.

I waited until I heard his door close and then headed to the back of the house where Wanda and I had our bedroom- mainly because we'd had the walls and ceilings lined with cork insulation and other sound baffling. When I opened the door, I found Wanda sitting on the bed, the house phone in her hand staring at it. She looked up and said, “I need to go to Miami.”

“Why?” I asked carefully.

“Elaine stopped by today. She said I needed to talk to either Emory or the Twins.”

“Emory is one of your closest friends,” I countered. “Why not go to her?”

“This is pack business, no this is family business, mainly it's werewolf business. I'd rather get my information from the Twins.”

“If they're' there, and if they'll see you. You know they travel a lot,” I said. “Wanda, tell me what this is all about.”

“It's about you being this Werewolf King and not being my mate- not like we used to be.”

“I can't change what's happened, Wanda. You know I would if I could. But what is, is what is. It's the reality we have to deal with.” I smiled at her and said, “Go talk to Emory. She's your friend.”

“It would be better to keep this in the pack,” she countered.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“It's about Hunter.”

“Does it have something do with the fact that he thinks you and I would rather it have been him that died than J.J.?” I asked.

That seemed to have gotten her attention. “What? Where in the hell did he get an idea like that?” she asked.

“Probably from the fact that you seem to have nothing but criticism for him. Did you ask him about what happened at school?”

She sighed and said, “He got into a fight because he let things get out of hand instead of asserting himself.”

“Did you ask him why, he hadn't asserted himself, or did you just assume that he was too weak?”

“I never said he was too weak!” she protested. “He just doesn't come across as the alpha he's going to have to be now.”

“Now what?” I asked.

“Now that J.J. is gone!” she growled at me, her ears getting a bit longer, and her eyes began to shift.

I sighed ignoring the anger building in her. Sitting down on the bed, I said softly, “Hunter is not J.J., and it's wrong to try to make him into J.J.. He has his own style. I asked him why he let things get out of hand. He didn't. He was attempting to teach Burton a lesson. He was letting the pack do what it's supposed to do. Just nobody expected the person who came to Wade's defense would be Lee Plainwalker.”

She sighed and could see her begin to shift back to normal. “Why are we allying the pack with all these non-wolf shifters, these transhumans?” she asked.

“Because we have a couple of good friends that are non-wolf shifters and transhuman,” I told her. “Because my great, great grandfather forged an agreement with Trey's great grandfather about the use of the land around here. Because they have stood with us when we needed them, and we've had their backs for the same amount of time. It's what friends do. It's what family does.”

“The Greenboughs are not family!” she countered.

I shook my head and said, “And neither was Wade and Lorne, but I don't mourn them any less. They died standing with our son. J.J. died in battle against a far superior foe, defending his own friends. All this moping around, all these accusations are not honoring any of their memories.” Quietly I added, “We're werewolves, damn it. That means that we are probably all going to meet a grisly end. It's the nature of what we are. But J.J., Wade, Lorne, Mike, and Anna died protecting their friend. They died in a fight against a massively over matching foe. I can't think of any higher praise to say about our kind.”

“Now you sound like Trey,” she nearly spat out out.

“And that's a bad thing?” I asked. “The man has been my best friend since we were old enough to choose sides between Alabama and Auburn.”

“You're letting his beliefs rub off on you,” she countered.

I shrugged and said, “Maybe. But I have to say this much. Trey has never let me down. He's stood by me, the pack, and even you from the beginning. Everybody knows it too. You're not winning any converts in the pack acting like this Wanda. It's time to stop. It's tearing us all apart, and it's threatening to drive our only remaining son away. He's got a bad case of survivor's guilt- I guess we all three do- but you're reinforcing it for him.” I stood and did something I thought I would never do. I released the true-breed inside my own soul on my own wife and told her, “Stop it. You're hurting the pack,and you're hurting Hunter. You have a beef with me, that's fine, we'll fight all you want. But it stays in this room from now on. Do you understand?” I watched the shock in her eyes as she visibly shrunk back. If she'd been in wolf form, she'd have rolled right there. I didn't want to do that. But it had to stop. It was tearing apart the pack and was making life dangerous for me, for her, and for our son. She nodded. “Say it.”

“I understand,” she said softly.

“Good.” I turned to walk out of the room.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“To find out how successful Elaine and Emory have been in finding places to foster the 34 cubs I had to bring back.” I didn't wait for a reply.

Scene 14
Christopher Carstairs

Dad had to go out of town on business mid week. Mom was handling the everyday operations of the business, so that left, Corey, D'an'a, and me to look after Diana while mom was out. D'an'a was currently at the Embassy visiting her folks, and Corey was taking his new boyfriend, Logan home. Well they'd been seeing each other for about four months so I can't say he was all that new. They'd spent most of the afternood out in the garage picking at their guitars. Okay, Logan's not bad. He's never had any formal training, but then neither has Corey. But their taste in music was so damn awful. Come on guys, it's the twenty-first century. Honky-tonk hasn't been popular for forty years.

Diana was taking a nap and I was trying to work my way through the manual on hyperbaric welding. I already had my dive card, and could dry weld, but if I could get my underwater welding qualifications then I could come out of high school making good money. Plus, it would give me some clout with the guys working for Dad. I was eventually going to take over the company, and it was best if I could do whatever I was asking the employees to do.

As I was studying the chart on depth versus pressure, I heard the door open and Corey came in humming a little ditty he and Logan had been playing earlier. I looked up with a smile and teased him, “I can't believe you've actually found someone else who is as big a fan of bad country music as you are.”

He grinned back at me without saying a word as he headed toward the kitchen. I knew what that meant: he and Logan had crossed some kind of relationship threshold. Of course I had no idea- and really wasn't sure I wanted to know- how far their relationship had advanced. I just knew it was a bit of the kind of things best friends and brothers shared. It was time to tease fishboy!

“Come on, Fishboy, spill it.” I said followed him into the kitchen.

“I don't know what you're talking about, Chris,” Corey said in that tone that told me he knew exactly what I was asking.

“Exactly what did you and Logan do that has you looking like the cat that ate the canary?” I said.

Corey smirked at me and asked, “I thought Dad told us that a gentleman doesn't kiss and tell?”

“So you guys did do something!” I said triumphantly.

“I didn't say that,” he told me.

“Then what's up?” I asked.

He pulled a jug of orange juice out of the fridge and chugged it, then wiping his mouth on the back of his hand he said, “Logan agreed to go to the Spring formal with me.”

I gave him an incredulous look, “Is that all?”

“It's enough,” Corey said going through the cabinets looking for something to snack on.

“Mom left some sausage and homemade biscuits in the microwave,” I told him.

He grinned, opened the door to the microwave and said, “Thanks.” Putting together a couple of sausage biscuits, he wrapped them in a paper towel and popped them back in the device and started heating them as he poured himself a tall glass of iced tea. Finally he turned and said, “Logan and I've taking it kind of slow. Mainly because he's not out to his mom. This sort of means he's going to tell her about us- about him.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Do you think that's a good idea?”

“Why wouldn't it be?” he asked.

Before I could answer we heard Diana crying. I grinned at him and said, “Your turn at diaper duty.”

He smiled and headed toward the back of the house where the nursery was. We didn't get to finish the conversation as Mom came home not long afterward, and then Dad came in from Birmingham with great news. He'd gotten a contract from Syntech to build something for them- something that was going to require some difficult welding environments.

We tried to get him to talk about the project but he was pretty tight-lipped. He did take the whole family to Area 31 for dinner to celebrate, and I won't turn down a meal there ever. Of course if you ask mom, Corey and I wouldn't turn down a meal anywhere. It was the pleasant calm before the proverbial storm, and if I'd known how fast and and how hard things were going to go bad, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed my meal nearly enough. You never know when the day before really is the day before.

Scene 15
Atlanta, Georgia Evan McAllister aka Razorwing

Okay, I was hip deep in my first semester at Georgia Tech, and yes, I took up the M-7 Corporation on its tuition reimbursement program. I was not going to get caught off guard again. I was not going to be anybody's accessory or hanger-on- no matter how good I looked on their arm. Part of my genetics may have been taken from a Merrian pleasure replicant, but not all of them. There was enough human and transhuman- and yes, I knew whose- mixed in there to give me some will of my own, and I was going to put it to use.

Jett of course was taking his courses at the Emory School of Business. But since I wanted to go into engineering, I was at Tech. That meant outside of our duties as part of the Atlanta Knights, and weekends, we got little time together. It was part of the price I guess we were paying when we stopped being heroes for the fun of it and became professionals. Things would eventually get better, but four years was a long way off.

We were having a rare lunch together in at Park 75 not far from Tech's campus. It was high-end and I got the feeling that he was trying to make up for scaring me. It was a nice touch but not really necessary. As we waited on the waiter to make it over to our table for our food order, he sighed and asked, “What does your schedule look like this weekend?”

I shrugged and said, “Nothing really planned. I've got some reading I've got to do for my “Transhuman Experience in Modern America” class, but it's nothing I can't knock out in a couple of hours. As long as Doctor FitzGerald doesn't assign any lab time this weekend for physics, I should have it clear. Why?”

He shook his head and asked, “Why are you taking that course anyway? It's not like you don't know what our experience is.”

I grinned and said, “I thought it was going to be an easy A. Turns out it's more of an attempt to justify a Soviet style take over of transhuman resources for a more equitable distribution. It's the same thing that jackass in Washington has been braying about for the last five years.”

“You should have known that we wouldn't get a fair shake on a college campus,” he said.

I nodded and replied, “As long as I pass the class I don't really care if I get an A or a C in the class. It's fun to argue with the professor though. Especially since I've lived the experience and she hasn't, and the whole class knows it.”

He grinned and lifted his drink and smiled, “That is one drawback of being former members of Paraforce 1. Our identities got made a matter of public record. I just feel for poor Lionel and Tabitha. They've got two kids to raise with everyone in their neighborhood knowing who they are.”

“I think they can handle it. First off the Isle of Santa Barbara isn't exactly a hot spot of transhuman bad guy activity.”

“And secondly?” he asked.

“Would you want to piss of Tabitha when it came to her kids? I'd rather tangle with Murphy than Morn,” I told him. “Now why did you ask me about the weekend?”

He smiled and said, “I was thinking about a little cabin to rent up on Apple Mountain. Just you, me, the hot tub,and clear Spring skies.”

As the waiter arrived, I smiled and said, “You interest me strangely. Go on.”

Before he could reply, both our phones rang. Looking down at the number I shook my head and tossed the napkin in my hand on the table. Taking out my wallet, I tossed a twenty on the table for the waiter's trouble, looked over at him and said, “Sorry, but gotta go. An emergency over at the Tech campus.” Looking at Jett I said, “We'll talk about the other later. Sounds good.” I quickly followed him out of the building stuffing my jacket into the back of his sports car. I didn't have time to change into my “working clothes”. I simply summoned my wings and took to the air.

I could feel them absorbing the heat of the warm sun, which was a good thing because it had been unseasonably cold in Atlanta so far this Spring. The higher I climbed the cooler it got. Looking down, I saw where Jett took the time to lock up his car before taking off. Of course he was in his costume. For him it was easy, all he had to do was rearrange the molecules in his clothing and he was ready for action.

As we crossed where 85/75 bisected the city, I could see smoke rising from the NROTC building on campus. Now who in the hell was raising a ruckus over there. From the devastation of the building it looked like there'd been some kind of heavy weapons accident. Half a wall was gone, and there were cadets scrambling everywhere.

Suddenly there was an outward explosion from the building and something came rocketing toward me. I jinked to the side and realized that it was a large guy, and when I say large, I mean he was at least seven feet tall and probably that wide across. He was built like that big green guy in the comics who nobody likes when he's angry. He wasn't green but instead had Asian features that looked out of place on that huge frame. He was also wearing a bright pink shirt.

I looked back toward the hole in the wall and could see the armored form of Dragonphyre looking out toward where he'd evidently just slugged this guy. Damn that kid gets around. I grinned down at him and yelled, “Shouldn't you be in school?”

He just shrugged and yelled back, “Teacher's workday! Besides who's going to help you stop these morons?”

“Who are they?” Quantum asked from above me.

“According to your boss' database they call themselves the Peacemakers. They're the militant arm of that Cypher Pink antiwar group. They've been attacking and killing US service men and women across the country in the name of stopping the war in Afghanistan.” Then looking back over his shoulder, he said, “Uh oh. Time to stop dawdling and get back to to work.” He nodded to where the big guy had just passed through the southern goal posts of the Grant Field stadium and bounced once into the end zone and asked, “Do you mind making sure Pax doesn't hurt anybody else?” Then he disappeared deeper into the building.

“And the extra point is good,” Quantum said under his breath with a smile. Sometimes his sense of humor was more than just a little weird, but I love him anyway.

Suddenly a beam a darkness struck out toward where Jett was heading over to the field. “Quantum! Look out! I screamed and dove to shove him aside.

My right leg suddenly went numb with cold as the beam clipped it. Looking back in the direction from which it came I saw a half dressed woman wearing a black costume that was accented more by what wasn't there than what was. She had vaguely European features and bright pink hair. Her hands were glowing with some kind of black energy as she was shifting her aim.

A couple of quick down strokes with my own metallic wings and I was in a thermal coming off the pavement and gaining altitude as her second beam passed underneath me to strike the side of Daniel Laboratory Building. It splashed harmlessly off the red brick. I guess she could only affect living things with it. I twisted in mid-air and hit her with a bolt of high gravity and watched as she suddenly stumbled under the effects of doubling her mass.

Wham! Something slammed into my side and I felt it bite deep into my body. In horror I realized that another winged form had caught me by surprise and managed to bury a foot wide broad ax in my side. Blood began to run down my new jeans and the shirt I'd just picked up at the Gap was totally ruined. I clamped down with my elbow and looked into the eyes of madness. The woman with the ax looked Phillipino, and she was growling at me in Tagalog, “You want to play hero, we can make sure you get to die like one American!”

I noticed she was wearing some kind of orange painted metallic armor with a set of matching mechanical looking wings on her back. I shook my head and fought the pain rushing through my body as she tried to dislodge the ax in my side, as we both hovered there, our wings barely missing each other as we fought to maintain altitude. As the world around me started to close in, I reached across the handle of the ax and aimed my wrist at the small opening in the junction where the hip of her armor joined the upper thigh. It was a small opening just a couple of inches wide that wrapped all the way around her leg, but short of hitting her in the face with what I had planned, it was the only way I could make sure I penetrated.

Shinkt! Three feet of Merrian organic serrated steel blade shot from the back of my wrist and into the opening. I felt it penetrate clear through her body and lodge into the inside of the back of her armor. She screamed once and let go of the ax. I kicked off from her and drew the blade back into my wrist and she screamed again holding her lower abdomen as I began to fall toward the oak lined lane below. The last thing I remembered was wondering if M-7 would cover the damage to the trees as I tore through them to slam into the sidewalk.

Scene 16
Atlantean Embassy New York, New York Winter Atlyn

I watched as the young man looked around the embassy nervously. He was lithe and well built with a head full of Auburn hair and large red wings on his back. Currently he was dressed in a red tank top and a pair of jeans, but he looked uncomfortable in them. I didn't need my telepathy to know that he was missing the familiar safety of an Imperial Marine Uniform. He was the first survivor of the Riyadh Breeding Program to be rescued. He was the first to come out of the medically induced coma, the first to be cleared by the mind-healers and the first to earn his citizenship. Peregrine Hawke was a young man that I had followed very carefully.

“Relax, Peregrine,” I told him while smiling to make him feel more comfortable. You are not on duty. As a matter of the fact, your duties here at the embassy are going to be pretty light. You will act as extra security for the Emperor, myself, and my brother when we visit the city. You will also advise the ambassador when appropriate. Other than that, you will have most of your time free to study. I understand you've been accepted into Columbia's International Diplomacy program. Your work here should dove-tail into that major rather nicely.”

“Yes, Princess,” he said quietly his hazel eyes not quite meeting mine.

“Have you found a place to stay?” she asked.

He nodded and said, “I've found a condo on Riverside about half way between here and the University. It's on the top floor,” he said.

“A bit on the pricey side,” but I'd say your finances can more than handle it,” I told him. His part of the settlement with the Saudi Government had been considerable, considering just how much he'd been violated by their procedures. Poor Peregrine probably had more children than any man on Earth, and he didn't have the memories of them being created. The Muslim masters of the breeding program WANTED their wives that looked like angels.

He simply nodded and said, “I know, your Highness. But it also offers me a certain level of privacy. I have no illusions about how most New Yorkers are going to feel about a transhuman in the city. The mayor considers us weapons of mass destruction.”

“The Mayor Bloomberg is a busybody fool, who should be taken out and publicly horsewhipped,” I told him.

“Should I take that as a command, Highness?” he asked with gleam in his eye that suggested that he knew it was jest, but that he'd have no problem carrying out such a command. “The only reason I didn't have to register my enhancements was because of the diplomatic immunity my job here at the Embassy grants me.”

I gave him a closer look. Briefly I considered simply reading his mind to get the answer to my next question, but Peregrine had already been violated far too much, and I did not want to damage the trust I'd begun to build with him and the rest of the refugees that had recently begun to refer to themselves as: The Ravaged. Finally, I asked aloud, “Why did you choose to come to New York, Peregrine? You'd have had the same opportunities in Atlanta, and nowhere the same hassle. A good argument can be made that Emory is a far superior school to Columbia.”

“Because this is where the UN is, Princess. This is where they are going to have look up to see me,” he said. I knew I should have never suggested that series to him. “Every day I intend to circle United Nations Plaza to remind that nest of vipers that a Hawke is watching them.”

I shook my head and said, “Just don't cause an international incident,” I told him knowing exactly how he felt. I had as little love for the UN as he did. But I am an Imperial Princess so my activities are much more restricted than his.

“I won't Highness,” he said with a sigh.

“I know you won't,” I reassured him. “Now you are dismissed. I think I have no plans to leave the Embassy today, so I won't be requiring your services.”

He nodded and bowed slightly as he left the room. “As you command, My Princess.” That last comment worried me slightly. Many of the Ravaged had begun to call me, “My Princess,” not “Princess” or “Highness”. It suggested a level of loyalty that many monarchs may not appreciate. It was something about which I needed to discuss with Mother.

I sat down at the desk and began to go over the paperwork the Imperial Senate had sent me. They refused to let me join the Areonavy until Colin was of age. They said they were afraid that I would put on spandex and follow in the footsteps of my fathers and my mothers. They said they wanted to keep me as far away from the UN as possible, but they sent me here to oversee the opening of this Embassy.

It was perhaps an hour later that the chime on my desk rang. Hitting the control, the surface dissolved into a video screen. Maxyum, my secretary smiled back at me, the soft light of the office giving his normally golden complexion an almost bronze cast. “Your Highness, the American Ambassador to the UN is here to see you.”

“Does she have an appointment?” I asked.

“No Highness,” Maxyum replied. “However, she has indicated that she wishes to discuss a matter of national interest to both the United States and the Empire.”

I nodded and leaned back. “Give me two minutes and send her in,” I told Maxyum.

I took the time to clear my desk of anything confidential or classified as the office fabricators prepared a service of tea. It was an Erian blend that was imported from the agro-facilities at Tien Kier at the South Pole. The irony of the situation was that the blend originated in what is the deltas of Mobile and Mississippi Rivers over three thousand centuries ago. I moved from behind the desk to the large chair next to the window. There was a low table and several comfortable chairs around it there where I set the tea service,. It was a layout that I'd watched my father, William use to his advantage many times.

When the woman entered, I stood and offered my hand, knowing that the gesture was likely to catch her off guard. I had no illusions as to her personal opinion of myself and my family. I was not disappointed. She looked a the hand as if it would bite her before finally taking it. I had heard much speculation about any of Kiera Atlan's gifts I might possess. This was a woman who had no business in the diplomatic corps and was only in her position because of her connections to the current administration. “Ambassador Rice, what can the Empire do to help you?”

“Thank you for seeing Ms. Atlyn,” she said.

I raised an eyebrow at her slip of the tongue. I don't insist on being called Princess by my friends, or most of my staff. However, this slip of the tongue again spoke volumes of the woman's professionalism. I smiled and gestured toward one of the chairs at the table. “I was about to have cup of Erian tea. Would you like to join me?”

“Thank you,” the woman said. “Erian? I am unfamiliar with the term.”

I smiled and said, “At the height of the Empire, this continent was populated with one of the most peaceful and advanced civilizations the planet has ever seen. Crystalline cities rose from the Southern Coasts and a thriving starport sat in the middle of what is now Texas. The Erians were great allies of the Empire, exporting much technology, and their teas were exquisite.”

“You mean the Native Americans?” she asked.

I shook my head and said, “No. The Erians were a people that were much like what was recently portrayed as elves in the Lord of the Rings. I sometimes wonder just how much Tolkien really picked my brain when we would sit for long hours discussing comparative anthropology as part of the Inklings.” His descriptions of the elves in his work was very similar to Erians- except of course his elves never went to the stars.”

She shook her head somewhat surprised by my comment. “Surely, you aren't old enough to have known Tolkien.”

I smiled and said, “Madame Ambassador, I am far older than I appear. To be fair there are only three beings on this planet that are older than I, and two of them are not exactly alive anymore. The third of course is Commander K'horal of the Shan Confederation.”

I quickly poured the tea for each of us and asked, “Now what can this embassy do for the American Ambassador to the United Nations?”

She sipped her tea and did not quite lean back in her own chair. Nodding at the taste, she said, “It's sort of like Earl Grey.”

“I've heard the comparison made before. There's a bit more of a lona fruit aftertaste to it than Earl Grey. It's been my favorite since I was a little girl.”

“The President has asked that I approach your government about joining the United Nations,” she said. “I realize that the Empire has some reticence about that.”

I nodded and said, “My fathers and my mother have both spoken very clearly on this issue, as have the Atlantean people. We want no part of that particular organization until it undergoes certain changes in policy.”

“Such changes would be?” she asked.

“Repealing of the so-called Declaration of Human Rights of 2008 which make it illegal to criticize Islam. The admission of Israel as full voting member, and a complete investigation of UN forces involvement in certain incidences of trafficking in the child sex trade. All of those would just be the beginning. The Empire has no desire to be a member of an organization that sought enslave those with Kiera Atlan's gift, or the creation of Atlantean Gifted individuals for the purpose of breeding bed partners.”

The woman sat back and said, “Each country must be allowed to pursue peace in its own manner.”

“Of course. But don't try to convince me or my government that they are our intellectual, or moral equals. My government is very adamant about this position. We will not join the United Nations, or any other organization that seeks to destroy the individual in favor of some kind of group rights. Our Fundamental Statement of the Rights and Responsibilities are very clear on this issue.”

“I see,” Ambassador Rice said carefully. “Would you be willing to receive the President to discuss the issue further?”

I put my own cup down and said, “I can pass the inquiry on to the Emperor. It will be their decision. I cannot make such an agreement.”

“I was speaking of you in your role as Ambassador Plenipotentiary of the Atlantean Empire as appointed by the Imperial Senate.”

“We can discuss the issue until we're both blue in the face, Ambassador, but the final call is going to be the Emperor. And to be completely candid, they are not impressed with your President's recent handling of the events of the Dragon War. Perhaps the next administration.”

I watched the woman's eyes grow large as saucers. Her thoughts nearly knocked me down. //If the President has his way, there will not be a next administration.//

I simply smiled and saw the woman to the door. Mother had warned me that there were going to be days like this.