“You know, I always thought it was freaky how you could just pretend to be someone else at a moment’s notice,” Warren spoke through his armor, as we were making our way down into the Undercity. He’d been forced to hunch over and contort his armor in order to get it into the former shop, and now he was bent over, using the large wheels on its ankles and a set of smaller wheels that folded out of its elbows (with its arms bent until they were forming a V) to roll down the tunnel. “But that was just wrong. Has he always been like that?”
I nodded. We could afford to talk, as my father had gone off through the wall to scout the Undercity, connect to Wyrm, do whatever to locate the Ascendant’s base of operations (or at least his current location). So I felt safe in talking openly – though I was keeping my monkey skin up in its entirety, walking on my knuckles to match Warren, trusting my superior senses to alert me to any trouble. “Always, since mother died. I once saw him go through twenty-seven personalities in a little over an hour, while we were going from shop to shop to strike up conversations.”
“God,” he just said, emphatically. There wasn’t really much else to say. After a minute or so of silence, he spoke up again. “Where are we going, anyway?”
“We’re pretty close to the lair of a guy I met recently. His name’s Malphas, in case that means anything to you,” I replied.
“Malphas… yeah, I’ve heard some of him. Some kind of charity cape. Takes care of the homeless. Or at least some of them,” he said. “He got some fame for taking down the local Alpha chapter.” The armor’s head swerved around to look at me. “You know the guy? Is he really a preteen? Rumors say so.”
It took me a moment to reply, since I was digesting that tidbit of information – the Alphas were a big gang, and the Chicago chapter had been their original one. Taking them down was… more than just merely impressive (I’d had my fair bit of trouble with them, back in the day). “I’m not sure whether he’s a preteen – I thought he might already be into his voice change, but I might’ve been wrong due to his armor – but he’s most certainly very young. No more than fourteen, I’d say, less is likely.”
“And why’re we going to meet him?”
“Because he’s powerful, and he has a stake in this – two of his tenants are very probable targets of the Ascendant’s people. And besides, his tenements are at a pretty good spot to work from, once the Rhino gets back with some information.”
“Alright. Oh, before I forget it, take one of these,” he said, a hatch on the side of his armor opening. Curious, I reached in and pulled out an earpiece with a flat penny-shaped disc sticking to it out.. “So we’ll be able to talk,” he explained. “There’s a throat microphone attached to it.”
I nodded, pulling the throatpiece off the earpiece, and put them where they belonged, doing a quick check as well.
We went on in silence, for a while. The Undercity had only become more labyrinthine since back in my youth, and even the two of us together had to take care not to get lost.
I wasn’t sure what Warren was thinking about, but I myself was mostly busy placating the monkey. It was seriously pissed, and I could feel the telltale pressure behind my eyes that I usually felt when it was trying to take over. Calling my father in, not fighting him, not charging in to kill the Ascendant and everyone even remotely cooperating with him. Not punishing Volca and Lag for their transgressions had pissed it off, not punishing Sara, not…
Well, the monkey always had its reasons to be angry, no matter what I did or didn’t do. I’d just have to pacify it once I got my hands on the Ascendant… neither it nor I would have any objections to what I was going to do to him, nor would anyone else I suspected…
The ringing sound of my cellphone made me jump, and I pawed for it in surprise. Not used to having a cellphone, I didn’t get it, as it was beneath my monkey skin. I had to stop, reach through it and carefully pull the phone out with my real hand, the monkey’s flesh and fur vanishing like a dream.
I checked the caller ID (I could still remember a time before there was such a thing as caller IDs), but it was an unknown number – no surprise there, I only had Warren and Elouise in my contact list.
“Hello?” I asked. Not the smoothest opening, line, but I was in a hurry.
“Hello,” said a young female voice back, and it took me a moment to place it – Camille. “It’s me, Camille. Hennessy is with me, too.”
Oh. Of course, I thought, chiding myself for the momentary surprise I felt at being called by her. Of course someone other than Hennessy would have to call me for her. “Hello, Camille. Hello, Hennessy.” I assumed she was listening in. “What can I do for you two?” I noticed Warren’s suit’s head swerving around to look at me.
“Look, we, ah…” she began, but stopped. She seemed uncomfortable. “We were talking, and… Tamara kind of… spilled the beans. On what she asked you to do.”
Ah. “I see.” Don’t confirm or deny. She might be fishing for information. And that though, right there, showed how paranoid I got when my father was around. “You want to talk about that?” If they want to get at him personally, they’ll be mighty disappointed, I thought quietly to myself. There was no chance in heaven or hell that I’d let Hennessy anywhere near the guy, ever again.
“Yes, we… we talked it over, Hennessy and me,” she said carefully. Something wasn’t right. She didn’t sound angry at all, nor eager. “And we want you to stop.”
I did stop, standing still. What? “You don’t want me to go after him anymore?” No way, dear. He’s going down, today.
“No no, not that,” she replied, now more agitated. Once again, I noticed that her voice really was extraordinarily pleasant to listen to. “He’s a criminal, and a monster, and he has to be stopped.”
“I don’t see the problem then. I most certainly am going to stop him. Hard.”
“I said he has to be stopped. I never said he has to die,” she countered, and her voice became harder. “I… we want you to bring him in. Alive. So he can stand trial.”
“He deserves to die, Camille. For what he did to you, to Hennessy, to everyone he’s harmed,” I replied. “It is only just that he suffer for his sins.” As we all do.
“There’s a difference between justice and vengeance. Please, do it for us. We don’t… we don’t want anyone to die on our account,” she said, voice faltering towards the end. “And if you hurt or kill him now, you’d be doing it for us. For Hennessy. She doesn’t need that on her conscience.”
She was making it very hard for me to object. “Does Hennessy agree with that?” I really, really wanted a reason to object.
“She didn’t, but… we talked, and she’s agreed with me. The Ascendant has to be punished, but he has to be punished right, or we won’t be better than him. We don’t ask you to risk your life just to bring him in alive – but if it’s possible, and not suicidal, then please, don’t kill him. Bring him in to face justice.”
I can see what father meant. I resumed my walk, taking a deep breath with the first step. “Alright.”
“Alright? Just like that?” she asked, surprised.
“Yes, just like that,” I said, a smile tugging at my lips. “What did you expect, that I declare my hatred is too great to be contained?”
“Kinda? I mean, with your dad’s rep…” She was back to sounding insecure. Careful. “I mean, there was this whole thing with him going after people who… who hurt his family.”
She’s afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’d misjudged this girl a great deal. “I am not my father,” I said lightly. “And besides, that wasn’t him, actually. He just took the blame to protect the actual culprit.”
“Oh. That’s… unexpected,” she replied. There was a pause, as if she was quietly talking – or perhaps communicating in another way – to someone. “Who did kill that mob?”
“I did,” I said, pushing down the sudden surge of rage from the monkey. “They killed my mother. I was there. I manifested and killed them back. Father came in too late to do anything other than whisk me away and destroy the evidence.”
“Oh,” she said, quietly. “I… uh…”
Great conversation killer, Aap. “That’s in the past now,” I said. “Look, I have to hang up – but I hear you. Both of you. I’ll do my best to bring him in alive and able to stand trial.”
“Alright. Thank you, uh… I don’t actually know how I should call you. Aaron Goldschmidt, I guess?”
I chuckled. “No, my parents never married. My birth name is Aaron Alexandrou. I guess I’ll go back to using it.” Mother would have liked that.
“I see. Well, thank you, Aaron. And… be safe, I guess.”
“You’re very welcome, both of you. I’ll see you soon.” She hung up, and Warren and I continued our way to the tenements.
The tenements were under attack.
We’d heard the noise of battle long before we actually reached the old sewage plant, and we’d both hauled ass (Warren’s armor was fast, and it actually cornered better than I did at top speed), but by the time we got there, the fight was already well under way.
Civilians ran by us, forcing us to dodge (I ran along the wall on all fours, while Warren drove along the wall, one set of wheels on the floor and one on the wall), giving more than a few people one hell of a scare they really didn’t need. Even Warren actually looked pretty fearsome in that armor.
The people running away… I recognised the smells and voices of a few of Malphas’ tenants, and I assumed that the others – mostly really young and really old people, with more children than I was comfortable seeing in such a situation (that is, there were children) – were also from the tenements. No one seemed to be hurt, though, at least not beyond a few cuts and bruises here and there.
We didn’t even slow down for them, rounding a corner that led, through a broken wall, into the old sewage plant, and right into a piece of expressionist artwork.
The tenements had been smashed, the whole structure distorted as if a giant fist had slammed into it from one side. Tendrils of steel extended out of it, some having sprouted blades, but they were inert now.
A figure shrouded in an aura of blue light was flying around, casually dodging orbs of blazing heat. I could hear him laugh from all the way across the plant.
“Blauschwinge!” I said, for Warren’s benefit. “He’s one of the Ascendants people.”
“So, that’s his name,” Warren said calmly. “Fucker nearly punched a hole into my niece.” I heard gears shift, his armor’s stance lowering, somehow becoming more… threatening. “He’s mine.”
I had a wildly inappropriate thought along the lines of Wow, Warren’s grown some balls, before I nodded. “I’ll take out any support he has, and run interference when necessary.” The monkey howled within me, ready for battle, but I didn’t let it out. Yet. Soon.
Warren took off in his armor, wheels screaming on the concrete that the plant was based on, and I leapt into a mass of pipes, out of sight, overtaking him. I needed to get a lay of the land, find out who was there and what to do. I hoped Malphas wasn’t dead, at least, but I had to be ready for anything.
I was also keenly aware of the fact that I had no idea what Blauschwinge was actually capable of, short of some manner of ranged attack that took down both Volca and Lag in one go (the fact that he’d apparently circumvented Lag’s power was… worrisome to say the least).
The terrain, at least, favoured me. Pipes and other equipment were still around, where it hadn’t all been scavenged, and even where the metal was gone (no doubt harvested by Malphas for his tenements), there was still plenty of cover left over in the form of holes in the ground and slabs of shattered concrete that were rising from the ground.
I snuck towards Blauschwinge’s general position, though ‘snuck’ might’ve been the wrong word there – I was moving faster than most cars, just really, really carefully, and I got close enough to get a detailed look in less than a minute.
Bri- Volca was on the ground, firing blasts of super-heated air at Blauschwinge, who was dodging them rather easily – whenever he didn’t just remain in place, letting the blast splash harmlessly against him. All the while, he was laughing, sometimes shouting something in German – unfortunately, my German wasn’t good enough to understand what exactly he was saying, especially since he had a pretty weird accent, but I was pretty sure he was throwing some manner of insults at the young woman fighting him. She, in turn, was screaming incoherently with every blast.
Something’s off, I thought as I watched him. Most of Volca’s blasts were completely ineffectual, actually shrinking until they were barely visible before they touched the man, barely ruffling his long, curly blonde hair. But some weren’t diminished much, or at all, and he dodged them instead. Curious.
I couldn’t make out Malphas, Lag or any other combatants – had this guy really come here on his own? Either he was an idiot, insane or just that powerful.
Hope for the first, prepare for the second, be ready to run from the third.
First, however, I had to find Malphas. If nothing else, I wanted to make sure that he was still alive. I’d have to trust in Volca and Warren while I did that.
Sneaking around the fight – if you could even call it that, with Blauschwinge not bothering to actually attack Volca – I contacted Warren. <Cartastrophy, be careful. This guy has a weird defensive power. It seems to only work occasionally, though I can’t pick out the pattern yet. He’s fast, though, and I know that he has a powerful ranged attack.>
<Don’t worry, fucker won’t know what hit him!> came the excited reply.
Oh well. Let’s hope he’ll distract him long enough for me to find Malphas. Then I can help. I just hoped he wouldn’t get himself killed… or that the monkey wouldn’t snap before I got into the fight and go on a killing spree.
And then there was the Ascendant himself, and whatever he could bring to bear apart from Blauschwinge. And whatever scheme my father may or may not have got going. And…
Feels just like the good old days, really.