Masks 31.3 - The Sword in the Scone [Cutscene]

The hour is late. The sign at Has Beans clearly says CLOSED, but there are lights on inside. Agent 1337, peering through the window, can see a woman behind the bar. She spots the visitor, waves, and moves to the front door to unlock it.

“You’re expected. Come on in.”

The agent nods appreciatively, and trundles up the stairs behind the counter as directed. From the back, a shout belts up the stairs: “PA! YER GUEST IS 'ERE.”

The man at the top of the stairs is named Lucius, according to 37’s mission brief. One name, just Lucius, like Beyonce. Okay then. Lucius leads the way into a tiny one-room apartment and invites his guest in with a gesture. He uses a cane, but 37 is convinced he doesn’t need it. He’s got tremendous muscle definition, even under the heavy sweater, and he walks like a soldier. Those AEGIS body-language courses are really coming in handy.

The two take a seat. The girl from downstairs brings up two cups and saucers - hot coffee, cream and sugar - and closes the door behind her. The cups aren’t your typical narrow-ass diner mugs, a prison cell for bitter black brew, but the big ceramic cups, wide rather than tall, so your first couple sips of these fancy Italian-American drinks aren’t just a mouthful of foam. 37 just prefers to drown the whole thing in French vanilla, then shotgun it and let thermodynamics work its magic in the mouth.

“You’re here late, young one,” Lucius says, by way of greeting.

“Us young ones need our sleep. How are you holding up?” 37 feels pretty patronized, but isn’t quite ready to say “old one” back to this guy.

“I am very well, thank you for asking.” The man sets aside his glasses, starts with the ritual coffee preparation. “Your superiors who arranged this meeting must think this matter urgent. How may I be of assistance?”

“Your name came up, I mean, don’t take this the wrong way, sir…” 37 is honestly a little uncertain about this conversation. I do computers, information systems, info-tech. I don’t do this mumbo-jumbo. “I’m supposed to ask you for a primer on time travel. Or prophecy, they said. They said you’d understand.”

Lucius nods. “I won’t ask why you wish to know. Did they tell you about myself, or my organization?”

37 shrugs helplessly. “You live above a coffee shop. In this town, I mean, that could be anything. Hit me.”

The older man nods. “I represent a group collectively called the Grail Knights, though we have gone by other names. We wield an old power, which we understand and experience as fragments of Excalibur - the true sword. We are charged with upholding a very particular balance. You could call us knights of justice, but that is an incomplete definition.”

The agent is honestly a little adrift. A polite nod, a sarcastic comeback to put an end to this obvious bullshit, or wary silence? A polite nod it is.

“When I say Excalibur, you naturally think of Camelot. That is also part of our story. But which Camelot? Humanity has told itself stories about a happy couple in an idyllic kingdom, torn apart by betrayal, ever since Adam and Eve. Or we could be referring to the presidency of John F. Kennedy, himself a fan of the Camelot musical. Or Gondar, capital of Ethiopia since 1636, complete with castles, sometimes called the ‘Camelot of Africa’ and home to the royal family and its storied history. In truth, it means all of these things. Allow me to show you, by analogy.”

Lucius pulls a toothpick off of his coffee saucer, then places it delicately on the surface of the coffee itself. There’s a brief ripple, and the man waits for it to stabilize.

“Allow yourself to imagine time, the progression of past and future, as an ant, crossing this toothpick, from here to here.” His finger stabs down, indicating each end of the toothpick in turn. “You see yourself walking a linear path. At some points in your life, you’re over here, and then later over there. But you can’t turn around, not without help.”

Next, the old man produces a sugar cube. “The objective of our hypothetical ant. In our analogy, an event of great significance, a mythical goal, a grand dream. Camelot.” He drops it into the coffee. The ripples spread outward, causing the toothpick to bobble wildly. “Now. Where, in time, did you experience the actual reality of the sugar?”

37 stares. “So….” No other words come. I don’t get it. Just shut up and hope he explains this clearly, instead of more of this Zen master nonsense. Wait - no. The ripples capture the eye. “All of them. I get it. You’re saying that there’s things that are… Uh, that are, hm, parallel to time. Outside of time. Right?”

Lucius beams. “Yes. That is exactly right. Now, at this moment --” His finger indicates the earlier part of the toothpick “-- the event hasn’t happened yet, if you consider our ripples closest to the toothpick to be when the thing happens. It’s still to come. But the reality of it is irrepressible. It bursts through the ordinary, the everyday, and makes itself seen to the wise. The skill to recognize and interpret these signs is what we call prophecy. And at the other side of the event, on the far side of the toothpick, the event’s manifestation is that of myth or legend, story and fable.”

This is all strangely cogent. This automatically puts Agent 1337 on edge.

Lucius goes on. “Some events have such power that they can shift the toothpick. Alter its course. In our analogy, change time itself. Rewrite the past, present, or future. Ultimately, the larger cosmic universe is balanced, orderly, harmonious. But on the toothpick…” He laughs, roughly. “Well, that can be a bumpy ride, especially when you’re close to the action on events of significance. And staying close is the Grail Knights’ business.”

37 actually feels smart again, the way a bright student might. This might all be crap, but at least it’s interesting-sounding crap. I can actually ask questions. “Okay. So what’s time travel?”

“Time travel is moving to an earlier point on the toothpick. You can’t walk backwards, but you can dive into the coffee and swim for it. Doing so makes its own tiny ripples, of course, and may disrupt your plans. You’ve got to climb your way back on as well, which might prove difficult. Mystics from olden times found another option. Another toothpick, one oriented in a different direction. Another realm, or dimension, if you will. Fairy rings in England. Science could create such a thing, perhaps. Einstein’s relativity has twisted or bent space. Find a toothpick parallel to yours, cross onto it, then cross again when you’ve reached your destination.”

Agent 1337 has learned a lot from Ted Waters. The old guy’s clearly ready to be consigned to a museum, but as a mentor, he’s actually not bad. I sometimes wonder… Was it a mistake to have the same guy helping Link, and having me spy on Link? Aren’t they worried I’m going to be emotionally compromised?

Oh fuck. I’m seriously considering questions like this. That’s why they make me do this. They’re turning me into a god damn Fed!

One thing Ted Waters taught was to simplify. Cut through the nonsense to get to the heart of the matter. During interviews, debriefs, whatever-they’re-called-these-days, like that done to Alycia Chin, the interviewer is expected to ask a lot of questions, wear down the subject, repeat to expose lies. None of that is meant to get information, only to batter down the resistance to the only two questions that ever matter to the Fed: “are we safe?” and “are you gonna play ball?”. Lucius is playing ball just fine. That leaves the only other question.

“How do we protect ourselves against time travel?” the agent asks.

“The objective of the ant is to stay on the toothpick. Anything else is chaos.” Lucius gestures up the length of the toothpick. “You have an asymmetric warfare situation. There are two sides in your conflict, of unequal position, but perhaps equivalent potentialities. You see, if your enemy is in the future, they have a record of everything you’re known to have done. A group like AEGIS, capable of keeping secrets and leaking lies, can control what is perceived. And while a time traveler can strike from surprise, at any time, you have days or months or years to prepare for your own attack.”

From out of nowhere, the man has produced a heavy sword. 1337’s eyes bug out. Where the fuck did that come from? “To defend yourself against time travel, make a prophecy about what is to come. Use discernment to understand it. And be ready, at every moment. We Grail Knights are that readiness. We are the echo of the King in the mountain. And our weapons are the echo of Excalibur. Ripples across time, made manifest in knight after knight… Time is ultimately on your side. Preparation is your strength. Sometimes, doing nothing at the moment is best. May I offer an illustration?”

“Uh, sure.” The sword still has the agent’s attention, but Lucius doesn’t feel like an immediate threat. I mean, he’s dangerous, but not a danger to me…

“Some time past, the Menagerie sent two of its members to me.” 37 somehow feels like Lucius knows that this is relevant, but doesn’t press. The man continues. “They asked me for help with a certain matter, and about a certain party who was remanded to your custody. Ghostheart, yes? Now, the matter they brought to my attention could have been taken up by my organization. It is in, as they say, our wheelhouse. I chose not to. As a result, one of their members, Ghost Girl, was compelled to take matters into her own hands. As a result, she has shown significant growth, a very promising maturation toward her own potential for power. When she truly needs my assistance, she will return, and I will help her at that time. Until then, I must be patient.”

The sword disappears as suddenly as it appeared. “And so must you.”

Agent 1337 looks down at the remaining coffee cup, the one without a toothpick, shrugs, and streams it all in a single heroic swallow. “Listen, uh, Mr. Lucius, you’ve been helpful. My bosses probably won’t think so, but I’ll take that up with uh, the appropriate parties. And this is good coffee too, thanks. So, yeah, thanks for your time.”

“It was my pleasure.” Lucius rises to provide an escort out of the building.

Behind 37, the lights on the ground floor flicker out. The upstairs stays lit for awhile. Looks like I gave them something to think about too. Good.

It’s only afterward that 37 stops and thinks. If he didn’t know what I was there for, and thus couldn’t prepare for that interview, why did he have that toothpick?

This piece is intended to present a possible idiom for understanding for time travel, one that will keep both me and our science-driven hero Leo from catching fire when Doyce inevitably drops comic-book time travel tropes on us.

This is the first of three pieces, this one being about Lucius. Jaycee and Armiger are up next.

Further reading:

author: Bill G.

[Marvelous. Maybe just as well Jason has retired and got rid of those notes about time travel which, of course, are still rattling around in his head.] [Or maybe not.]

author: *** Dave H.

This is a solid idiom. I am on board.

author: Doyce T.

Jaycee locks the cafe door. Upstairs, the light is still on.

She walks to the foot of the stairs. “Pa! Did you take yer pills?”

“Yes I did.”

He doesn’t sound grumpy. He didn’t take them.

“Show me,” she says, in that no-nonsense tone, and double-times it upstairs.

When she arrives, Lucius is looking curiously at his one-week plastic pill container. Today’s chamber is still full. “The coffee got cold, so I couldn’t take them,” he says, in that childlike tone that old people use to make excuses.

Always something, innit. “Fine, I’ll get you another cup,” Jaycee promises with a smile.

Outside, there’s a clatter. Jaycee is merely surprised, but Lucius is startled, and has a sword out in the blink of an eye. Not Big X, but the slim epee-like blade he keeps concealed in his cane.

“It’s nothing, Pa, just a raccoon getting in the trash. Ferry will handle 'im.”

They wait, she smiling, him wary. Finally there’s the shrill shriek of a cat, unleashing holy hell on something outside, and the noisy bang-banging of metal on metal as something makes a break from the trash cans.

“See? Feral’s a good cat.” She kisses her father on the forehead. “I’ll get you some coffee, and then you can take your pills.”

Downstairs, Jaycee puts on her apron and starts brewing. The process is familiar, letting her concentrate on more interesting things. That young visitor - what was going on there? Jaycee thinks she heard “AEGIS”, and definitely overheard some of dad’s weird theories about cosmology. Maybe one of the city’s teen supers, or someone associated with them?

The phone buzzes, but it’s not a call or a text. Skype. _Ma. Oh, right, the time zone.
Jaycee thumbs the answer button, then sets the phone down on the counter, face up. The cold cup of coffee needs to get poured out, and the cup washed. Lord knows nobody else around here is going to do it. “Hi, Ma!” she says.

“Good morning!” The phrase is in Amharic. Jaycee answers in English. “Good morning, Ma.”

“I can’t see you, daughter.”

“I needed my hands, sorry,” Jaycee explains. Soap plus brush equals clean coffee cup, and she towels it off quickly. “Sorry, Ma, just a second.”

“Is that your mother?” comes Lucius’ voice from upstairs.

Of course, he’s only hard of hearing when I need him to do something, Jaycee thinks wryly. “Yes it is, Pa! Just a second, I’ll be up!” She scoops up the phone with warm, newly dry fingers. “Ma, call me back, we’ll get on the PC upstairs.”

“Just a moment,” her mother cautions, her voice now low and level. “Is he doing alright?”

Jaycee lowers her own voice to match, just in case. “He had a visitor tonight. Grail business. He held it together pretty well. Sounded like he started to wander off a bit near the end. But… yeah.”

The woman on the screen nods. “Your auntie will be there in April. She’ll take care of everything. How’s your Amharic? She’s going to switch back and forth quite a bit. Better brush up. Anyway, I talked to the doctor about this issue. Your father might need a new prescription. Can you take him in, until she gets there?”

“Ma, it’s not just that.” Somehow this turned into a confessional, and Jaycee just lets it slip out. “All he does is hang with his cronies at the coffee shop, an’ all they do is fill his head with nonsense. Chemtrails? NASA is projecting a holographic moon into the sky? And they’re telling him that Big Pharma is trying to poison him, and he needs to buy some herbal nonsense they know about, so he stops taking his pills, and I have to make him do it…”

“It’s okay, sweetie, auntie will take care of that too. Thank you for looking after him.” The woman on screen pauses, uncertain of how much to say. “Your father - and I - have seen much in our lives that is unconventional. At his age, and in his condition, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the merely improbable from the patently untrue. A certain amount of acceptance of claims is required to do his duty. This is the price he is paying for it.”

Silence looms in the air.

“Anyway! I’ll call back in a moment. Love you, sweetie.” Thank god. That was getting awkward.

The transfer from small to large screen is effected, and father and daughter see the image of an older woman, the bright sun and Danakil Desert behind her. “So good to see you both,” the woman enthuses. “You both look well. Sweetie, are you taking care of your father for me?”

Jaycee smiles. “Pa’s doing well.”

“Hello, Ife,” Lucius says. “I’m doing quite well, thanks to both of the beautiful women in my life.”

Ife rolls her eyes at the compliment, but it’s clear she’s touched. “Better make that three. Halima will be there pretty soon, Lucius.”

Lucius pales. “She… She is. Oh yes, we talked about that.” Good. He knows she’s going to keep him on a very short leash. I hope he cleans up his act before then.

The rest of the conversation is merely an exchange of pleasantries and status updates. Ife’s dig in the desert is going well. Archaeology is a slow business - she’ll be there for weeks. Then it’s off to a series of speaking engagements. Then home for some well-earned holiday time.

Finally, though, the talk comes around to a topic that makes Jaycee both happy and angry.

“And how is that young man of yours, sweetie?” Ife asks.

“I don’t have a young man, Ma. If you mean Bill Eddison, he’s Pa’s pupil.” Jaycee sighs.

“I thought he was seeing you?”

That’s it. “God. Ma, he asked me out twice. For coffee. I work in a coffee shop! And he was so graceless about it. No charm, didn’t dress up for it, just popped round after sword practice, all sweaty, like a lost puppy that wanted to adopt me. I’ll date who I like.” If they’d just ask me proper.

None of this seems to have registered with Ife, whose serene smile sails through Jaycee’s stormy waters undisturbed. “Whoever that might be, they’ll be very fortunate, sweetie. Now, may I ask for a few minutes alone with your father?”

Jaycee nods, exchanges goodbyes, and heads back downstairs to the silent and dark cafe. Your mother. Your aunt. Your father. I seem to be the person in charge of everyone in my family. If they’re going to lay the responsibility on me, at least give me a raise.

She hears Lucius come down the stairs after a few minutes. He looks happy, and it seems like he’s ready to give her the Ife Talk.

Back when I was in the SAS… “Yep, it was back when I was in the SAS.”

They dispatched me to rescue the royal family… “I was given a top secret mission, to go rescue key members of the royal family. They were a figurehead by then, of course…”

An evil gathered, on the Mountain of Princes. “An evil force, on the Mountain of Princes, was endangering the country. Britain had a rocky relationship with the country, even before the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement of World War II. But we took warnings of this threat seriously.”

That’s when I got Excalibur. “The sword appeared to me then, in our darkest hour. Several of my mates had fallen. I was low on ammo. It was a godsend, literally.”

I escorted the princess down the hill to the camp. “She was the last surviving heir, you know. There was an archaeological dig at the base of the hill, and we arranged an evacuation from that point…”

Early versions of this story had been very romantic to Jaycee. A lady and her knight, braving dangers, facing some sort of shadowy demonic force (which Lucius, for all his raconteur urges, has still never elaborated upon). Hearing it a dozen times or more has worn down the appeal. But it still pleases him to recite it, and she humors him out of love.

“The archaeological team had just the thing. Their leader, she produced a series of tablets they’d dug up, that contained the incantation…”

Jaycee nods along. It’s like familiar music, you can just put on your headphones and get through your business with it playing in the background.

And that’s how I met your mother. “… and that’s how I met your mother. And ever since then, she’s been digging up relics in the desert, exploring the history there, and I’ve supported her. She’s doing fine, fine work.”

Jaycee smiles. This is traditionally the end of the story. The talk of William Eddison apparently has Lucius thinking past it, however.

“I think your mother imagines that someday, young Eddison will be the one to come rescue you, and escort you to safety.”

Jaycee shrugs. “And then he’ll marry a pretty archaeologist, and my love life will belong to me again?”

Lucius looks surprised. “What? Oh, no no no. I’m sorry. I thought I’d explained. Your mother was the princess. She only became an archaeologist later, after seeing the importance of it first-hand.”

_What? _

The second of three pieces, about a girl whose extraordinary family still has very ordinary needs, and how she meets them. We also learn a little more about Lucius’ origin.

author: Bill G.

Doyce T. said:

This is a solid idiom. I am on board.

Lucius’ suggestion here is that there are self-consistent (from some perspective) rules for time travel, but he doesn’t elaborate on what those rules are. He might in fact not know. I the player have thought about self-consistent time travel rules quite a bit, and can share with anyone who’s curious, as usual.

If Vector vanishes Back To The Future or Looper style from an interview room (because somebody went back in time and killed him while young or whatever he’s worried about), Leo’s gonna get very shouty: “if his employer murdered him as a child to punish him for failure, he wouldn’t grow up and become this guy, and they wouldn’t hire him to be a thief because he’s not around, so he would never have gone back in time to steal the thing, and if he didn’t go back to steal it, he can’t have failed to do it, and hence there’s no reason to punish him, this is bullshit…”

Leo’s next move, if it became necessary to learn those rules, might actually be to try and interview Dr. Infinity, through Ghost Girl and then the Magus. What’s he offering in trade for that kind of help? “If you don’t help me, I’ll devote the power of my mind, and my future resources, to understanding this science. Ask any of my friends whether I can be that kind of stubborn asshole about problems that threaten my family. Right now, neither of us want any more time travel. So help me out, before I do it myself and get on your bad side.”

author: Bill G.

Bill G. said:

If Vector vanishes Back To The Future or Looper style from an interview room (because somebody went back in time and killed him while young or whatever he’s worried about), Leo’s gonna get very shouty: “if his employer murdered him as a child to punish him for failure, he wouldn’t grow up and become this guy, and they wouldn’t hire him to be a thief because he’s not around, so he would never have gone back in time to steal the thing, and if he didn’t go back to steal it, he can’t have failed to do it, and hence there’s no reason to punish him, this is bullshit…”

That’s not actually what he’s worried about, so that should be a relief.

I think I’m down to play on Monday, so we can move the needle on a lot of AEGIS-pointed stuff like this.

author: Doyce T.

I just finished writing this 150% mystic version of time travel, and I’m having fun at Leo’s expense, so that’s why I picked that particular scenario. :slight_smile: The Dr. Infinity thing is definitely on the table if he gets fed up enough, though, and I also like the brazen effrontery of “help me or I’ll be the biggest pain in your neck of all time, and I mean those words”. Seems like a very Bull move to make.

I’m doing some careful thinking about Armiger’s part of this story, so that might appear tonight or Saturday. Stay tuned. As usual, if anyone thinks an element of any of these doesn’t work, contradicts important canon, or could be improved, speak up and I’ll take it into account.

author: Bill G.

Bill, I love all of this. Makes me regret not taking Doyce up on making Lucius a mentor figure for Concord back at the very start of the game.

Doyce T. said:

I think I’m down to play on Monday, so we can move the needle on a lot of AEGIS-pointed stuff like this.

Yes. A chance for Link and Concord to play Good Cop/Also Good Cop.

author: Mike

author: Bill G.

Doyce T. said:

I think I’m down to play on Monday, so we can move the needle on a lot of AEGIS-pointed stuff like this.

It sounded like family stuff might be hectic, but if you are feeling up to it, I’m looking forward to it. You running this game has been very good for my mental health and happiness, so I’m grateful for that. :slight_smile:

author: Bill G.

I didn’t include my reading list, that’s an omission. For Jaycee, here’s a few interesting articles.

There’s also a ton of general real-world and mythological coolness going on, like this dude:

Rather than try to build an in-game myth that incorporates this, I’m happy to just point people at stuff like this and let them read it directly, it’s quite good already. I feel comfortable enough appropriating Camelot, of course.

author: Bill G.

Jaycee is groggy. What time is it? 5:30. Oh god, he’s on the way.

She’s out of bed in a flash, and down the hall to the bathroom. Clothes? A mess. Eyes? She’s a raccoon. One great thing about faux locs, at least I needn’t waste a ton of time on my hair.

She trots down the steps, tracing her path in the dark with both hands, and starts for the cafe kitchen. She spares a glance at the front door, out of habit. Shit! He’s already here!

William Eddison, better known as the hero Armiger, is standing outside and peering in. He sees her and waves with a big grin. Of course he’s wearing that goofy gray knight hoodie. Jaycee rolls her eyes. He’ll wear that bloody thing anywhere.

Her hands were already full of ingredients. She sets them down, jogs to the door, and turns the bolt. You have a key, you asshole. You’re just too polite to use it. William steps inside, and Jaycee returns to the kitchen without looking at him. Raccoon eyes, don’t look, ugh, ugh, ugh.

Breakfast is solid protein. An almond-themed shake with protein powder and a banana blended in, plus peanut butter. Dessert is granola sprinkled over yogurt.

“Good morning, Jay–” William starts to speak, but he’s cut off by a tactically timed blender. Her parents’ pestering about him is still with Jaycee, and she feels establishing a little distance will do her dignity a world of good. Only when the blend is smooth does she shut it off and reply. “Good morning, Mr. Eddison.”

The young man is nonplussed. “What happened to William?”

She wheels, and forcefully presents the shake and peanut butter. “Hurry up. I’m hungry too.”

While William drinks his shake and spoon-feeds himself peanut butter, Jaycee pours herself a bowl of cereal into an oversized coffee mug, drenches it in milk, and aggressively attacks it. She spares a few glances at the comically delicate way the young sword-fighter spoons yogurt out of the cup, but not for long enough where he’ll notice.

The two head out into the early morning of Halcyon City, she on her bike, him jogging. Every so often she glances down at the stopwatch hanging from a neck cord, and barks out instructions to speed up or change course. He never, ever gets to slow down.

The two arrive back, and Jaycee searches the fridge for bottled water. William gulps it greedily down, his lungs and stomach competing for the use of his mouth. He slumps down into a cafe chair with a grin, and pats the seat beside him. “Take a break too, coach.”

The bike ride was just enough workout that Jaycee thinks she can get away with being sweaty and unkempt. After waiting just long enough to satisfy her pride, she takes a seat as requested.

William wipes his brow with the water bottle, trading sweat for cooling. “Things have been pretty crazy lately. Vyortovia. Training with the Menagerie. How’ve you been?”

Jaycee isn’t sure how much she wants to say, after her display earlier. I was a right shrew. I’m sorry, it’s not your fault, it’s my parents. “Oh, you know. Ma’s in Africa, digging in the sand. Pa’s being Pa. I’ve got to feed Feral soon. Things are pretty normal.”

“Oh? You seem a little aggravated this morning.”

Damn him for not missing a trick. “Pa had a late visitor. Grail business.” Jaycee shrugs. “I was kept up late, that’s all.”

“What Grail business?”

Damn! Of course he’d ask, this is his business too. “I don’t know, honestly. I think Pa just gave the usual Camelot speech. Er, um, I think there was some business about prophecy in there.” Jaycee is interrupted by a knocking at the cafe door.

Two people are outside: a white man, with a military crop cut, and a Chinese woman, long black hair drawn into a ponytail. Both are dressed in black, not quite in tactical gear, but in what Jaycee definitely recognizes as “Grail Knight formal”. She glances at William, and he nods approval - they’re legit.

The woman goes upstairs with only a perfunctory nod, while the man stays behind. He smiles at Jaycee, but most of his attention is focused on her guest. His voice is a rough gravel, a good match to the careworn face. “Ten Stone Eddison. Well well. You’re up early.”

William looks visibly uncomfortable at the name. “Good morning, Mr. Skinner.”

Skinner’s eyes cut to Jaycee, the empty glass with a few drops of protein shake, reading the situation in seconds, then back. “Keep up the exercise. We won’t keep Lucius too busy, I promise. You two can get back to sword practice. I want you to get as much of that as you need. Your ascension duel is next week.”

“Yes, sir, thank you sir.” William doesn’t sound the least bit appreciative.

The woman, coming halfway back down the stairs, coughs and beckons. Skinner gives a mocking military-style salute and follows. The two knights ascend, and Jaycee can hear faint voices above. More Grail business. Must be connected to whatever went on last night.

“Why did that man call you Ten Stone?” Jaycee blurts it out, before realizing that he probably doesn’t want to answer. This is not the first time another Grail Knight has been rude to him. In fact, other than Lucius, they’ve all been pricks to him, but this insult is new.

Speaking the words make her do the math in her head. Stone is a measure of weight. “You’re nowhere near 60 kg.” This doesn’t help either, of course.

“It’s a reference to the sword.” William settles back against the couch, finds himself too restless to really do so, rises, and starts pacing. “You know that a worthy wielder can lighten his sword. Well, mine is heavy as anything. Those smug bastards assume I’m unworthy, because of course that’s the only reason, right? But I don’t fight like they do. That’s why this will be my fourth ascension duel. That’s unheard of for an aspirant. I should be squire by now. And I’m making Lucius look bad at the same time.”

This update makes Jaycee feel personally involved. As his trainer, her pride is on the line here too. “William Eddison, I’ve seen you in mock fights with Pa. You can really fight! And you were out there against the Vyortovians, right? I only saw glimpses of that battle, from KAPE drone footage, but it looked like a right mad house! If you’re not worthy of that blade, then I’m the Queen of Sheba!”

All the lessons her mother taught her, and that nonsense her father said about “your mother was the princess”, makes Jaycee suddenly realize what she said, big time. The Solomonic dynasty of the royal family claims descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Shit. I sure hope that was a joke.

She stammers, and William stops pacing to face her. “Jaycee, honestly, your encouragement is what keeps me going, more than anything else. But your training program is tops too. I couldn’t stay in shape if you weren’t so on top of everything.” She hears his voice, hears that the stress from earlier is fading. “The Irregulators need me, and it’s only because of you and your Pa that I can uphold that duty.”

Jaycee feels a little overwhelmed. “Well, let’s show that Skinner guy too, then. Stuff his tradition!”

William smiles a little sadly. “Thing is, I like the tradition. I just disagree with 'em on what it all means.”

The girl tries to puzzle this out. They’re so cruel to you, William. They don’t appreciate you. And I mean, to be fair, you don’t really go out of your way to be impressive, or dress well, or present yourself with any kind of appearance of nobility. “You mean you uphold all that dusty old Camelot business after all? You think that’s better than how things are today?”

William shakes his head. “It’s not that, Jaycee. I just see those traditions differently. For example, it’s obvious to think Camelot’s an old castle somewhere in England, that that’s the real deal, that all we’re doing is playing at knighthood because a bunch of Anglo-Saxons did it first. Your Pa talks about prophecy and echoes of destiny and all that. Things being reflections of other things. I believe him.”

He kneels down to face her more closely, and Jaycee feels her heart pounding. “See, I think that old castle in England, and all those fellows at their Round Table, their ideas of justice, mercy, chivalry, fair play, you know, the grand galas and competitions between champions, the scheming, the loves, the betrayals, the battles? I don’t think that was the reality. I see that reality all around me, here, every day, with the Irregulators. I think the Grail Knights are right to idolize all those beautiful ideals, they’re just looking in the wrong place. I think Camelot was really an echo of Halcyon City. And this is where I’ll be a knight, and where I’ll win love and honor on the battlefield.”

Bill Eddison. That’s maybe the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.

He grins. “Right. Time to go to school. See ya!”

Jaycee is in shock. Wait. Wait a minute! Get back here and talk more like that! But he’s out the door, and on the way, leaving her alone with a torrent of emotions.

So that’s what Armiger would be like if he was a PC - basically a contender with a knightly motif, at the intersection of “grand tradition” and “everyday life”. I dig “Halcyon is the real Camelot” as the through-line for any Armiger-centric plot. The same way Leo drags his mecha-anime genre behind him, Armiger should bring along a courtly-love/chivalric type of feeling (with some updates, of course - nobody thinks twice about lady knights from China).

Jaycee doesn’t have any superpowers, but I wanted it clear that she’s really what keeps these two men able to function, and her strength is just as vital to their operation as theirs. Hopefully that came through.

What do you think, sirs?

Reading list:

author: Bill G.

I love it. Just great, great stuff.

author: Doyce T.

For anyone that made it through all these, thanks! You can all help with a bit of feedback, if you have time to think about it. Was this depiction what you expected of the characters, or different? What would you change (not “what was bad”, though that is part of it)? And what would you want more or less of for future such stories?

author: Bill G.

I really liked it. Going to admit I didn’t think Armiger had much depth before (well, proved me wrong), so I didn’t have a lot of preconceptions with him. I like that there was a follow up to the “my sword is really heavy” bit from the training with Uncle Chase scenes (at the time, I sort of just tilted my head and said “okay, that’s weird and overly heavy” and didn’t give it much more thought) and getting to see that in a different context–a negative one from the POV of the other Grail Knights–really helped make that more of a hint of further depths. The whole point behind the Grail Knights is just intriguing as hell, so now I’m wanting more (stories, game based on them, anything really).

It might just be that Jaycee was the focal-point character, but I like her more than Armiger (though he’s still very likeable). And I like Lucius just a bit more than her, but that just might be my preferences in character archetypes showing through.

author: Mike

The 30-second comic book pitch for the Grail Knights is “the Green Lantern corps, except instead of magic wishing rings, they all get their own Mjolnir, only it’s a sword, and instead of outer space or Asgard, it’s Camelot”. If the guy who has all that still came in slightly second to the barista, I feel I did my job well, because I wanted her to be an interesting character and that tells me I succeeded. :slight_smile:

The Knights can be an element in any story with mystic dangers (like Pandemonium), and with Sol gone, if Concord is looking for someone to mentor him that understands virtues like courage and truth, Lucius (or another Knight) can still become an element.

author: Bill G.

Agreed. That’s two of the three tie-ins that occurred to me.

author: Doyce T.

I’m also a fan of the aesthetic that mentorship would likely lead to.

author: Mike

Excalibur as written is more like a mythic truth of reality than a physical sword here, so it seems very appropriate for Concord to either tap into that specifically, or learn to do something equivalent.

author: Bill G.

Bill G. said:

Excalibur as written is more like a mythic truth of reality than a physical sword here, so it seems very appropriate for Concord to either tap into that specifically, or learn to do something equivalent.

author: Mike