Jordan understood the idea. An unfortunate person was filled with negative energy, and it was building up. She knew where it was, and just had to wait for it to erupt. Then she had to fight whatever it turned into, and finally drain it away from the person. Anty had told her everything.
She’d done that, saw the giant go away, saw the man in terror.
So why is there a guy running at her with a sword? Did she do it wrong?
Of the four heroes, Armiger is certain that only he and A10 noticed anything wrong. She thanks to her powers, he thanks to the connection to the world around him provided by Excalibur. And before Peri has a chance to fly away again, he resolves to act.
He doesn’t really have a plan here, other than “provoke Peri into revealing whatever’s going on”. What he’s got is training, confidence in his instinct, and a heavy-ass sword. They better be enough.
Unlocking full combat complement. Switching to automatic defensive mode.
Jordan can feel Anty taking control of her super-princess form. It’s like when Mom is holding onto her, a stronger set of limbs that guide hers into the proper motions, like when baking or learning to punch. “Don’t hurt him!” is all she can mentally say, before the sword comes.
She watches Peri manifest a starblade, sees it block the hooded knight’s charge, feels the impact. Anty lowers her center of gravity via crouching, and she feels surges of power anchoring her in place besides. She’d probably have taken a tumble if that hadn’t happened. That would have been bad!
Harry isn’t sure what to make of this. A10 clearly is itching to get into the fight, but is also looking at him. For what, permission? No - for direction. So is TK, for that matter.
Alright then. “Take care of civilians,” Harry orders. “Get that construction worker outta there. Evacuate everyone else.”
Harry starts moving as well. Something’s nagging at him.
Armiger remembers the battle against the tech thieves. He’s ready when Peri splits into multiple illusions - he just manifests more and smaller swords, and throws them at every illusion. Meanwhile the world is shouting at him about an attack from behind.
Before the starblade strikes, Armiger teleports to one of the swords he tossed a moment ago. He sees Peri making the downswing, watches her hit nothing but empty air, crouches, and launches himself back into the melee.
“Why don’t we just fly away again?” asks Jordan.
Anty doesn’t immediately respond. Jordan sorta gets the feeling like Anty is talking to someone else, someone who isn’t her.
This enemy may be a lasting danger to you. He should be disposed of.
“I don’t wanna dispose of anyone,” protests Jordan. “I wanna help people.”
He will interfere with your further ability to help people.
She isn’t the one fighting, so she can take time to look at other things. But her head keeps whipping around so it’s hard to concentrate. She does get glimpses and flashes, though. People are scared. There’s superheroes helping them out, making them not be scared.
It’s the same superheroes that came with this one.
One of them is Harry Gale. Friend of Concord. Friend of her brother Adam.
Harry is friends with the guy attacking her.
Something’s not right.
Something’s not right, Harry tells himself. At this point, rescuing and reassuring civilians is like a muscle memory, something he can just do. It frees him up to think.
The team has assumed that Peri is trying to engineer a successful superhero debut, and has been finding minions and other villains to shill for her in the process. That she’s trying to sell a good impression to the people of Halcyon City.
But if so, she’s doing a terrible job of it. She flew away before any cops or media could show up to give her a spotlight about the tech thieves. She’s not on ASIST or social media - Harry checked. If she was expecting his group to spread the good word, she didn’t say anything about it.
Just who is trying to sell what to whom?
So far so good, Armiger thinks. But he realizes that he may have screwed up in a big way.
Peri did respond. But she’s fighting defensively. She’s not running away, but she’s not escalating either, like he sort of thought she might. She’s doing what an actual hero might do, in a similar situation. And there’s a lot of people watching him fight a person who just rescued a civilian from Goldblumhood. Someone’s gonna have to explain this to the Mayor, who is standing right there, Jesus.
The absolute worst part? Skinner is going to chew him out no matter how this fight ends. That means he needs to win this thing, at minimum.
It’s time to get real clever with swords.
He lets himself be feinted, lets himself lose his main sword for a moment as Peri executes a pretty stellar disarming move. He falls on his back. Peri looms over him.
Armiger grins. “EXCALIBUR!”
The sword isn’t a sword. But it looks like a sword. It’s infinitely heavy to anyone not worthy to lift it. And it can be smaller than what it normally is. It can be larger too.
The flat side of a 35-foot-long barong falls from the sky, straight down onto where Peri is standing.
She’s not under the blade when Armiger pulls it away. Harry hopes that means she got out okay, because he doesn’t really want to see someone squashed like a bug. But more because he’s still not sure what Peri’s deal is.
TK’s already questioned the construction worker who Jeffed out, and relayed what he could find to Harry. Now the Mayor is approaching. Harry has way more questions than answers.
“Mercury! Glad to see you, and your associates. Can you, ah, share with us just what happened?”
Harry sees reporters on their way, mics out. Whatever he says now is going to be the official story. He wonders how his parents would handle this, realizes that they must have had their first time doing so, just like he is now.
Growing up sucks.
“Well, we got here in time to see the individual with a sword siphoning energy away from the rescued civilian. We’ve encountered her once before. She named herself Peri. While it’s clear she has powers, we’re unclear on her motives or mission, and we’re uh,…”
He knows he’s committing himself and the team, but what else is there to do?
“… going to track her down to learn more.”
A question comes from the press gaggle. “Is Peri a hero or villain?”
Harry puts on his best, bravest smile. “Peri is an unknown, but she seems to be trying to help. I think we can help her learn more how to do that, but we need to get in touch with her.”
Another question comes from the press. “Why did your teammate attack her then?”
Damn it, Armiger. Harry has to think extraordinarily fast. “It was clear that the negative energy she absorbed from the Jeff Goldblum construct was affecting her, so Armiger moved to hold her attention while it could dissipate.”
He hates it, hates that he lied, hates not knowing, hates knowing Armiger might not even know, hates that keeping everyone here from panicking requires him to have answers he doesn’t have. Hates the “fake it 'til you make it” advice that others in the HHL gave him, hates that this was the first place his mind went under pressure.
The Mayor is an old hand at this sort of thing. Harry catches the man looking sympathetically at him. Does he understand what it’s like? Maybe he does, because he calls the press’s attention to himself. “We’ll be releasing official details once the dedication ceremony has been rescheduled, and I ask that you all be in contact with my office for that date. Until then, please direct all questions about this ‘Peri’ person to Ms. Pringles Constantine, our superhero-law enforcement liaison within my office. Pringles will be coordinating with Mercury and his team in their investigation. Thank you.”
Everyone here looks relieved, at last, and Harry knows it’s what he said that helped achieve that. Truth and lies, fighting and peacemaking, doing the right thing or compromising yourself to achieve a goal. There’s a balance to everything.
Jordan finds herself in an inky-black space. Everything feels like it’s shifting. Then she pops out in her bedroom again.
“What happened?” Jordan demands.
I complied with your wish not to dispose of the enemy, reports Anty.
We enacted a tactical retreat in the face of overwhelming force.
“Well…” Jordan doesn’t like this at all. She knows the feeling of when she’s blamed for something going wrong, and knows what it’s like when a judgy adult looks at you but doesn’t say what they’re feeling. She gets that feeling now.
“Okay. So… this ‘full combat complement’… What does that mean?”
Your power can be channeled in numerous ways. Some of these have been found to be advantageous in combat. Their uses have been codified into a series of procedures.
“Like when I yell, ‘Starblade Power’, a thing happens, like on the shows?” Jordan asks excitedly. She knows all about special attacks.
That phrase is not an activation code for any of your abilities.
“Well it should be.”
Noted. I shall--
“Anty, I don’t want you disposin’ of people, ever. Not at all. 'Specially ones that are friends with my brother.”
The alternative is to compromise your mission.
No. There’s gotta be a way to balance this.
Jordan does her best to calm down. She takes a breath, lets it out. “Anty, show me the full combat complement. We’re gonna make a list of what we can use next time. Okay?”
There’s that feeling again, of Anty talking for a few seconds, to somebody that’s not her.
Acknowledged. First, weapons...