The Hill was what the Americans called their parliament building. It was all stone and endless hallways with no windows. It was boorish. Julian knew it was not ‘parliament’ but he stood with his hands clasped behind his back looking distastefully at a statue of one of the founding fathers. He was parliament and found the American system of government to be barbaric. The fact that he had to be in Washington DC at all disgusted him.
“You look like you’ve swallowed a sour orange.”
Julian smirked, turning to face Gloria Marcus. The woman was half his size with twice his power level, despite being fully human. Julian was not, nor was the other man chosen to represent the PeaceKeepers. The three together – Gloria, Julian, and Christian Lyle – had founded the now-global team of Evolved and were now desperately trying to defend it. The incident in Chicago left a bad taste in the mouths of all Americans with chaos exploding in all directions. All of the Strongholds were shut down, many teams disbanded and high-ranking members demoted to mere Agents of the A.E.C. If the trial did not go well, the fear was that other nations would follow suit and begin shutting down their Strongholds. The only one Julian had no concern over whatsoever was the UK. They loved their Evolved like they loved their tea and biscuits.
“I’d rather not be here,” Julian admitted to the aging woman that stood before him. They might have had a future once, if she’d not been so adamant about staying in the States. Such a wretched place. No ley lines, no groves – Julian honestly did not understand how Christian stood living in such a vile place. The time in Chicago nearly drove him mad. Gloria, however, merely smiled.
“Well, I appreciate your sacrifice for the greater good,” she teased. Christian joined them, a man who appeared in his early forties. Julian knew better. Their secrets were laid bare for each other many years ago. It always upset Julian how slowly the man aged. He was twice Julian’s actual age and looked half of what Julian did. It simple was not fair.
“Christian,” Julian sniffed. The other man smiled, his eyes squinting behind black-rimmed glasses.
“Good to see you again, Karma,” the man replied, using Julian’s given name. In the mortal world, it was the name of his Evolved alter-ego. In reality, Karma was his true identity, his true form. Explaining that outside of Britain never worked, however, so smirked when his true name was used. “We’re almost ready to begin.”
“Oberron be blessed,” Julian sighed. “I don’t want to miss tea again…”
“You have to pinch it the other way… no – have you never played Cats Craddle?”
Geoffrey Gao snorted, watching Lady Saraya Nigel and Agent James Kendall play a children’s game while they waited outside of Capitol Hill. The trials regarding the PeaceKeepers’ fate in the states began today, something no one was looking forward to. Geoff let his second in command take over as a representative with Agent Osprey seeing as how the man had a great deal more seniority within the PeaceKeepers than Geoffrey did. He was not a leader, Christian always said, so maintained a stand-by role instead, much like Karma did with Zephyr.
I played!” the young UK team-lead argued. “When I was five. Why do you play so often?”
“I have a niece and an annoying need to do something with my hands or I get twitchy,” James countered. “You’re all tangled.”
“Is that why you still smoke, Agent Kendall,” the woman threw back. James made a face at her. He was a good fit as her second in command.
Geoff smiled. A lot was riding on the trials. It made him nervous, made his skin prickle. He frowned. It was not normal nerves that prickled his skin. Auspex was his alter ego, his Evolved ability banking off of clairvoyance. Something was wrong.
“Aus?” Zephyr said – no one actually referred to her by her given name. “What is it?”
The question was answered with a resonating explosion that threw all three PeaceKeeper members to the ground and set car alarms blaring for miles. The entirety of the capitol building was just blown apart, creating a rain of dust and debris that settled all over the Evolved heroes.
Auspex heard Zephyr scream as another blast tore the earth apart not five feet from where they lay. His ears sang a high-pitched song and his chest constricted painfully from inhaling marble dust and dirt. People around them screamed, many protesters and supporters surrounding the capitol that day all scattering in a panic. Auspex had to focus, had to find the source of the danger. It did not take long, his instincts zeroing in on a woman in a hoodie that had been part of the protest crowd. She grinned at him, her eyes all black and hands out as she ‘directed’ the explosions.
“Backlash!” Auspex called, directing Agent Kendall’s attention to the woman. Fire burned everywhere, hydrants shooting water up into the air and the earth churned as if stepped on by a giant. It was the fire that Backlash went to, absorbing it into his hand and then redirecting it at the woman in the hoodie. She was not expecting such a bold attack, screaming when her clothing caught fire and dropping to the ground. Only then did Backlash redirect the water to her, literally sitting on the woman and slapping her with a large, flat patch that robbed her of her ability to use her power.
“Julian!” Zephyr cried again, running towards the destroyed capitol building. Auspex debated, running to Agent Kendall instead.
“Go!” he said, directing Backlash towards where Zephyr went. “I got this one.”
No one spoke, heads bowed and tears falling to rain-soaked ground. The weather turned just before the funeral services began, clouds parting to reveal bright sunshine. James stood beside Z, Eric opposite him to make a sandwich of support as the set Julian Nigel into the earth. Gloria Marcus remained comatose in DC but the rest of the PeaceKeepers gathered to mourn the loss of one of their founding members. Not that his death mattered. It was the nail in the proverbial coffin for the PeaceKeepers. The US PeaceKeepers were completely disbanded and Evolution outlawed. How do you outlaw something entirely out of your control?? It made no sense and had the A.E.C. scrambling like chickens with their heads cut off. Camps were being made for Evolved – prisons to keep them contained; heroes included. It was ridiculous.
One by one, the mourning heroes left until only Eric, Zephyr, and James remained.
“Think he’ll come back?” James asked after too much silence. He knew what Julian was. It was a rather interesting surprise and, yet, made more sense than anything else. Zephyr was the same, both fey-born and both, theoretically, immortal. Karma – like Zephyr – was the fey, their human alter-egos serving as some sort of strange vessel for the fey to exist in the mortal plane. Zephyr, James learned, was the daughter of Oberron and Karma her uncle because, why not? Nothing else made sense in the world, why not add faeries to it too? Now it seemed like the only thing James could hold on to. In theory, Karma could return; in theory.
“I hope so,” Zephyr said softly, voice choking up as she spoke. “I don’t know how I’ll do this without him…”
Eric hugged her as they stood there, her rock. James looked at the other man and sighed.
The man that stared back at Owen Grace from the mirror was someone he did not really recognize. Eyes were hollow, face gaunt with a growth of stubble covering sallow skin. His whole body jerked when someone pounded on the door, demanding he get out. He sighed, splashing water on his face before stumbling back out into the pub. People looked and whispered, tossed dirty glances in his direction. What did they know?
He pulled the last of his money out of a worn leather wallet and threw it on the bar before stumbling out into the slick, wet street. He could still smell the rain on the air; the storm was not over. How ironic.
He coughed, a hacking, throaty sound that echoed into the late night air and down the narrow alleys. The sound of his own echo caught his attention, making him twitch. Hands went into pockets and shoulders hunched, his steps quickening just a touch. The dark bothered him. Something in the alley to his left caught Owen’s attention, making his steps speed up. He didn’t want to see the shadows in the dark, the terrors that haunted him in his sleep.
He winced, turning down a street with lights and raucous noise. Pub after pub lined the cobbled street. He ran into the first pub he saw, nearly tripping over the sawdust on the floor in his haste. People laughed, the bartender rolled his eyes.
“Whiskey,” Owen said knowing full well he had no way to pay for the drinks he ordered. Unfortunately, so did the bartender.
“Gonna pay the tab this time, Owen?”
“Just pour the damned drink, Norm,” Owen growled. He knew Norman; he knew all the pub workers. They were the reason his marriage dissolved, his bank accounts dried up, his business collapsed.
“Go home, Owen,” Norman answered instead. “I’ll hail a cab.”
“Forget it,” Owen snarled, stumbling back out into the misty night. The lights outside flickered, briefly dimming then growing brighter before popping one by one as he passed them. He flinched at each one, shrinking further in on himself until nearly falling into a pile of garbage.
“Go away!” he hollered though he knew, logically, there was no one there. It did not stop the alluring whisper from tickling the back of his neck, the shivers from racing up his spine. He swore there were sparkles on the air and a haunting wind that had nothing to do with the weather or his state of inebriation. “Please go away…”
Oh, darling Owen, I’ll be with you for a long time to come…