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So Cruel and Beautiful (IC, open)

Avenger Assembled

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Fall 2021 

The Espadas School of Self Defence and Swordsmanship!


Things were changing in the Espadas household this year between Min's twins, Raina's recent 21st birthday, and now the arrival of the two timelost teens from Burma. Owain and Neko had, in their first weekend, been consciously perfect guests - both ready to volunteer for any task around the house that was asked of them, neither of them in much mood to get into detail about their lives before they came here. (Neko had her own obstacles there, for that matter.) When they returned, they had a little more to say; or at least Owain did. 


"And so between the two of us, James, and Simon, it seems fele of the class is from some age other than this one!" He was gesturing with his knife as he spoke, thrusting vigorously and speaking loudly. "Who knew this would be the year of people wrested from another age to come to this one? Withal, to answer your question, sir, it goes well. Haven't seen any carrying any particularly fine weapons, but when I do, I'll see what fires their heart." 


For her part, Neko simply nodded, catching the buckwheat soba noodles around her chopsticks and popping them in her mouth. These were a fair approximation of the food she'd eaten back home, but not quite the same. Her ears and tail were seemingly out of view at the table, though the hair on her head was still a mixed patch of white and brown and was obviously cat hair rather than human. It was nearing the end of dinner; it was almost time for the younger children to head for bed. "It is okay," she agreed after Owain was finished speaking. "My roommate is very nice." 




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Noise from the other room announced the arrival of one more member of the household, one Neko and Gawain had not encountered before. Raina, whose relationship to the rest of the Espadas clan was somewhat obscure, had been off on a weekend trip during their previous visit. Tonight, judging by the snug black bodysuit she was wearing, she'd probably been out doing some sort of hero work. Judging by the way the bodysuit was almost gray with pebbly dust, it hadn't necessarily gone well. The small monkey on her shoulder was similarly dusty, and did not look pleased about it. 


"Hey, I'm home!" Raina called, completely unnecessarily. "Talya, I'm not doing any more jobs for your weird old person friends. They're all the worst." She thought about sitting down and grabbing something to eat, then noticed the state of her hands and the rest of her. "Right. Gonna go shower before I get mummy powder or whatever this sh- junk is all over dinner. Hey kiddos," she added, grinning at the children. "You gonna save me some dessert?" The two new faces at the table caught her attention. "Oh hey, Josie and Prince Caspian, I forgot you guys were coming." She took a quick whiff of the air. These two were supposedly both magical, but she didn't know exactly what type. The guy was musty, old books and candle wax. Probably something to do with coming from the fictional past? The girl... Raina sneezed. Great. 



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Neko twitched her nose and cocked her head at Raina, trying to figure out who 'Josie' was, at least once she'd figured out who she was talking to. It's probably some sort of stupid American nickname, she opined. By way of response, she let herself be seen for the first time during the meal. First her ears seemed to rise up over her head, curling like paper as they unfolded like a cat's ears, then her tail seemed to wriggle up from behind her, white and brown to match the color of her hair. She understood the idea that some humans were sickened by cat hair but what was she supposed to do? She washed herself once every day; usually more. 


"Greetings, fair one," said Owain, giving Raina a wary look for a moment. "You must be - I say, is your familiar an ape!?" he asked suddenly, practically bolting upright in his chair where he'd been half-slouching. He looked at the dirty beast and suddenly began making a sound that very much resembled the squeaking of a bird, but to Merlin's ears sounded very much like the normal vocalizations of a capuchin monkey. 


Hello! I am honored to meet you! There is plenty of food here if you desire it! 

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"Guess the mummy problem is all wrapped up then," the patriarch of the household observed lightly from behind a large mug of coffee, the expression he gave Raina one of sublime innocence. Erik Espadas had spent the better part of the afternoon in the kitchen as evidenced by the variety of splotches across his off-white henley, the sleeves rolled up to just below the elbows and showing the strong hands and faint crisscrossed scars that their teenaged guests both recognized as the mark of a swordsman. "Welcome home, let me know when you want something to eat." Somehow he'd settled on a towering sandwich of loose ends and scraps for himself but he felt pretty good at approximating something Neko and Owain would find familiar with ingredients available in the West End.


He tilted his head slightly to one side as the petite teenager let her illusory magic fall away. His own extra senses worked a bit differently from those of the witch, synaesthesia surrounding Neko with a low melodic hum the colour of a sunbeam reflected off of fresh snow. There was a faint shift from orange to red behind his eyes that made him think of stretching fingers wide as her ears unfurled; he'd tried to make it clear that she was free to appear however she wished while she stayed with them but he wasn't sure how well he'd gotten it across with the language barrier.


Owain's magic tasted like the idea of clashing steel, the sound of metal against metal on his tongue without the reverberation of impact. There was another note that rose to the fore when the boisterous boy began chittering to Merlin, something of fur and feather. He had a sudden thought and gave the monkey a lopsided grin. "Oh, Boots, you gotta tell the kid your name. He's gonna love this."

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"Doctor Hemmingway is only in his late forties, my darling, don't let the white hair and absent minded professor routine color your perceptions. He's much closer to Erik's age than mine, truth be told. I did know his grandfather, though. Delightful man; tried to give the Dangers a run for their money in the crazed explorer route. Alas, not as lucky as that lot at the whole 'danger' portion of that particular career path," Talya's refined accent floated out airily from the deeper confines of the apartment before the woman, herself appeared. In contrast with Erik, she was dressed to the nines from the golden hair styled to fall 'just so' over one eye down to the impossible shine of her black stiletto peep toe shoes. Those heels really ought to have made much more sound on the tile floors - and would have, if Talya had been making an entrance rather than simply moving through her home. She was clearly in working clothes - although not her superhero costume - but she wore her signature black with only the red of her lipstick and the soles of her shoes for contrast; this time in pencil skirt and expertly fitted jacket. 


Still, the smile on her lips was all Talya, warm and not nearly so sharp edged as it was when she had slipped fully into her working persona. She ghosted past Raina, managing to somehow brush a hand over her in fond greeting without taking on any of the dust, somehow - a trick that she'd not yet passed down to Raina. "Thank you for helping out the good doctor, even if it was not the most pleasant of duties. I'll make it up to you," Talya promised before she made her way over to the youngest Espadas, leaning over to clean off Emily's face with a napkin before nudging aside the not-quite-hidden vegetables. "Going to have to be better at hiding those, little love, if you want to get out of eating them."


Not the lesson most parents would teach but Talya had never been most people. She offered the two newest foundlings a small smile and the smallest of encouraging nods towards Neko as she revealed her additional parts before turning towards Erik as she reached up to put in first one earring and then the other. Studs, not hoops, which meant that whatever had Talya dressing up ran the risk of turning violent. "Everyone's finished their homework, but Mia has a bit of reading to do before bed if you could remind her."

Edited by alderwitch
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Merlin gave Owain a quizzical look and then glanced at Raina, who shrugged. "Hello," Merlin chirped back, sounding tentative. "Nice to meet you. I'm going to eat when we aren't covered in ancient corpse dirt."  He gave himself a disgusted all-over shake, which just put more dust onto Raina. 


Erik's punning earned him a single death glare from Raina before she turned her attention elsewhere. "Your friends are all crazy old people at heart," she maintained stubbornly as Talya walked by. "It's like a state of mind. But if you owe me," she added, brightening, "can I borrow the green Louboutins on Saturday night? I've got a date." 


A shower was definitely in order, but she made do for the moment with a couple of baby wipes from one of the omnipresent tubs. Wiping her hands, she touched one finger to her own throat, then spoke to Neko in flawless Japanese. "That's a good trick, are the ears the illusion or does the illusion cover them?" 

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"My lady Talya! You come in on cat's feet," Owain elbowed Neko, who stuck out her tongue at him in a way that strongly resembled a little sister and elder brother, then turned back to Merlin. You should save some, said he, his delight clear on his ruddy face as he hooted and hissed, it makes a potent - well what am I doing telling a familiar about spell components? He laughed and went on, I do not know what you eat but yon icechest is full of delights! You will live thrivingly. Nodding in satisfaction, he explained to the others, "I am so pleased to have met a live ape! Logres has many fantastic beasts but apes but dwell 'neath the Pillars of Hercules. Today grows ever better!" 


"I will - clean," Neko was starting to offer Talya, "when it is- She blinked when Raina spoke to her in Japanese, her ears swiveling in the girl's direction and yellow eyes focusing on her. "You speak Japanese? Or, no, that's the spell." Neko's own accent was - rustic to Raina's magically enhanced ears, there was no other word for it, as if she'd been talking to somebody from Riley's Florida swamp. "Just as these are my ears," she added firmly, and sure enough there didn't seem to be anything tucked away beneath the soft white hair on her head. She hesitated, bit her lip, and went on, "Does that spell work on other people, or just you?" 

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"If they'd just let her read what she wanted to..." Erik started with the resigned huff of a parent who tried but did not always succeed in presenting a united front with his children's teachers. Mia was a voracious reader when left to her own devices but stubbornly took any excuse to procrastinate or 'forget' about the 'age appropriate' books she was given at school. Stories about cute magical animals probably would have been an easy sell for most seven year olds but admittedly Mia's day-to-day had set a high bar for wonderment.


As Owain conversed with a somewhat hesitant Merlin and the girls began speaking in what he assumed was Japanese he scratched idly at the trim dusty brown beard he'd been experimenting with. "Right, okay. Good? I assume this is fine." Turning to Emily he pulled an exaggerated face. "C'mon, you don't want to eat your tiny trees? You gotta show them who's boss, like Mama does!"

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Talya chuckled softly at Raina’s response, “Oh, very well. Truly, I should just let you keep those. Green has never been my color.” Her blue eyes twinkled, as if there was a joke there, although it softened in commiseration. “Do I get to ask any questions about the date? Or will I be woefully ‘uncool’ if I ask?”


It was light and certainly easy to ignore in favor of conversing with Neko; Talya was very careful to keep her parental efforts lighthanded with Raina.


Emily meanwhile had turned the full force of her adorable little pout on her father, fingers tangling in her corkscrew curls as she dredged up the most sorrowful look she could muster.


”Daddy… plants are friends, not food,” Emily informed her father. An excellent gambit although quickly marred by a snicker from her twin brother. 

“We watched Finding Nemo again. -ow! Emmy kicked me!”


”Snitches get stitches!” Emily intoned, clearly parroting something she’d heard from one of the more rambunctious dojo classes.

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"Big ears, little ears, whatever works for you," Raina offered to Neko with a shrug, then reconsidered. "Erik's told you what kind of conventions to stay away from, right? Or at least given you a can of mace or something? Cause there are some people who might like that whole deal way too much. You want to make sure you can lay them out if you need to." She considered the question about the spell for a moment. "The version I've always used is just for me. I could maybe rig something up in a pinch that would work on several people but it's a spell that works on your brain and that gets weird in groups." 


"If you're offering me shoes, I'm not going to say no," she told Talya, switching seamlessly back to English. "And there's not really much to report. I met this guy in my Western Political Theory, hot as hell, and he doesn't act like a complete douchenozzle so he's head and shoulders above most guys in that class. I did a scrying bowl that says he's probably not evil, so we're gonna hit some clubs and see how it goes. You need some help tonight?" she asked, switching topics suddenly. "If you give me fifteen I could be in something less incriminating." 


Merlin, apparently having had enough of language exchange time, informed Owain in his usual manner that he was not an ape, that apes lacked tails and possessed appendixes, both of which were traits he was pleased not to share. He went on to offer that his name was Merlin and that the dust he and Raina were covered with contained too much plaster to probably work for a spell. 

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"Oh," said Owain thoughtfully, "after the bard! There w-are actually several enchanters in Arthur's court," he went on, stumbling just a little but continuing with a manful smile, "but Merlin was the one who was also a bard! So naturally, when tales are told of the enchanters in the service of King Arthur, they are primarily tales of Merlin." Considering a moment, he said, "If I gave offense with my words, I beg your pardon, good fellow. The language I speak is from some centuries in the past and I must admit I know little of the sciences of this day. Thank you for your time, bardic monkey." 


Neko hesitated another moment, shooting a yellow-eyed glance at the adults, and said in a frustrated tone, "People told me not to use the 'Internet' on computers, but I don't even know how to use a typewriter, so I don't understand what that means." She bit her lip and added, "If someone out there has the power to hurt me, I have the power to hurt them. I know men can be pigs."  She stood up, gathering up the dishes from her mostly-eaten meal, and carried them to the sink, her tail twitching behind her where it poked out from her kimono. 

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"I've got some real bad news about those chicken nuggets you like so much, Emmy-bear," Erik told his daughter dryly with a pointed gesture toward the partially concealed vegetables. "Don't kick your brother outside of training. Terry, you gotta remember to stay out of kicking range when you razz your sister, little man." They probably weren't the qualifiers most parents would have given but he wasn't really much more traditional in his lessons than Talya when it got down to it.


"Bardic monkey, huh? That sounds fancy. We should get you a lute," he remarked as Merlin and Owain's conversation returned to English - or whatever Merlin did to make his meaning clear. He straightened with downplayed concern at Neko's glance and irritated tone as she walked off. "Whoop, are we good? Neko, really, you don't need to worry about the dishes, kid. You two have enough on your plate, pun intended!"

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Talya nodded with approval over Raina’s research. Background checking a date was entirely appropriate, especially in their line of work. “By all means, borrow the shoes. You’ve more than earned them.” Talya agreed, pulling the chair back to help Terry down from his booster. Separating the twins when they got rambunctious was never a bad idea. Emily tended to hit first but her brother was the one who held a grudge. 

Her gaze followed Neko with some concern before she exchanged glances with Erik in a clear ‘you got that’ question, before her gaze strayed back to Raina. “You know I love your company but it isn’t the sort of job that you want your persona to be associated with,” Talya offered candidly. “Very much on the darker end of grey- but if I want to stay the Interceptors black sheep, there’s always a price to pay. You’re not missing much. Boring lift really and likely to be a little messy. Unfortunately it’s been much more work than pleasure on the cape and cowl side of things lately.”


Her lips curved in a smile that was only slightly melancholy and her hand came down on Terry’s golden head. “Go on and see if Mama is ready for you with the bath, hmm?”


Terry huffed a sigh before thumping into Erik’s leg for a hug and one more one-eyed glare at his sister. Emily stuck her tongue out in response but they’d likely be thick as thieves again by bed time. 

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"Well that sounds terrible," Raina decided, incinerating the used wipes with a brief puff of smokeless flame. "But call if you need a distraction or something." Turning her attention back to the new boarder, she cocked her head thoughtfully for a moment before choosing her tack. "Not hurt you, not most of them anyway," she explained, "just think of you as something to want instead of as a person, and behave like assholes because of it. There's a whole sex-fetish thing with catgirls that you're going to have to deal with if you go around without the illusions. Knowing how to tell a guy that-" Raina paused, visibly remembering the age and experience of the person she was talking to, and rethought her sentence before going on. "-that you wouldn't date him if he were the last guy on earth is useful, especially if you can follow it up with a kick to the balls if he won't take a hint." She shrugged. "And if you really want to learn the internet, Merlin will teach you." 

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A lot was going on at once. For his part, Owain took this opportunity to gather up his own dishes and comment, "Nay, honored host, 'tis no burden, but our duty as your guests!" At least among the local household, anyway. In his opinion the school could use a few more servants about, but given the need to keep the strange family at its core a secret from its enemies, he could understand why they chose to maintain a minimal household. "Such a fine family!" he offered to Erik and Talya as he reached the sink. "You are blessed to have so many strong children." 


For her part, Neko was doing her best to sort between multiple conversations at once, several of them not in her own language. She clutched the plates she was holding, wondering if Erik thought she was going to do them wrong. What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to do then? she thought before saying, with great hesitant care, "I will...help Owain, okay?" By the time Raina was explaining to her the way things worked these days, she had rolled up the poofy sleeves on her kimono and tied them up with a cord from within. "They would not be the first," she told Raina, her tail twitching. "They cannot be the worst."  She hesitated, bit her lip, and illusion bloomed over her face as she expressionlessly went to work over the dishes. "I would like to know computers," she said to Merlin in an oddly calm voice. "I know a robot at the school. Her name is Magenta." 

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"Strong because they eat their vegetables," Erik agreed with a pointed look at Emily, hugging Terry back before the boy scampered off. In the silent exchange with Talya he was forced to admit that while addressing the palpable distress Neko was trying to hide behind stoicism was daunting it was probably better he saw to that rather than trying to ask about Raina's date.


Sliding out his chair, he followed a few steps behind the pair of time displaced teenagers toward the sink, careful to give them enough space so that he didn't seem like he was hovering. He'd been trying to give both of them enough space to acclimate at their own rate but maybe he'd left things a little too unsaid. "Okay, I'm going to dial back-- hm. I'm going to try to speak more plainly and joke less for a minute. You two can let me know if something I say doesn't make sense, yeah?" His usual patter and debatably witty humour wasn't serving him well for once. "We absolutely appreciate you helping out around the place. Seriously, you're both sort of weirdly enthusiastic chore machines. I mean, you're very good at cleaning and... helping. I said that already." He cradled his coffee cup and grimaced a bit at his own awkward phrasing. "My point is that your 'duty' right now is just going to school and letting us know what you need to, y'know, adjust. You don't need to earn your keep." He hesitated before adding with an earnest expression, "You don't have to be soldiers, yeah? Just children."

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"I think the vegetables get a pass tonight, though." Talya murmured, gently cleaning Emily off and sending her scampering after her brother as she decided 'open talk about the war' did not need any little ears floating around. She was silent as Erik talked, collecting the children's plates and bringing them over to the sink in a neat pile, once she'd rousted all the younger children from the room. Thoughtful and pensive as her mind turned back to those early post war years and the aftermath. 


"Not that you'll be the same, or the children that you were," Talya offered finally, picking up in the pregnant pause after Erik's speech. "You can't go backwards and no one expects you to try. You have all these skills, and memories, and experiences. But we want you to have the time and space to deal with those. If you feel like chores would help, then we can come up with a few chores to make part of your responsibilities. What's expected of teenagers these days is rather different than what either of you are used to. That lack of structure might be hurting rather than helping you find a place to fit in here. We'd like you to feel more at home than guests." 

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  • 2 weeks later...

"I know it's hard to believe right now, but these folks are about the nicest people you'll find anywhere," Raina added to Neko, leaning against the wall in a way that was sure to leave a Raina-shaped print of dust behind. They joke and tease, but they want you both to feel safe here. It's okay if you don't, but just let them know what feels bad so they can back off or change stuff or leave you alone or whatever. Or if you just want to wash dishes because you really like it." 


She shrugged, leaving a smear on the wall, and switched back to English. "Anyway, Merlin and I are hitting the shower and the sink, but let him know when you want a lesson. Don't put the food away, okay?" she asked Erik and Talya. "I'm starving." 

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Things were all right for the rest of that weekend, with no more serious emotional eruptions from either of the two visiting teens. They both did seem determined to work around the dojo to earn their keep, which come to think of it had been something Raina had been doing when she was their age. Luckily there was plenty to do these days, especially since Min's pregnancy meant she wasn't on her feet quite as much as her usual. Neko primarily gravitated towards the kitchen and the laundry, both of which she was as impressed by as anything else she had seen of the future. "I used to, um, put in big bucket, you know? And run it through -" She mimed the operation of what turned out to be a mangler. 

Owain turned out to have a very solid grounding in the proper care and keeping of a good blade, though this too had advanced some since the 1940s - not to mention the late 500s. His own personal weapon was something Erik recognized as a "Carolingian sword", an ancestor of a medieval greatsword but with only a limited guard for the hands. "Well I was always taught that the trick was to avoid having the other fellow cutting at your hands in the first place, but these new blades are quite fine." Of the katanas in the collection at the dojo, he said very little at all. 


The next weekend was a cold, dreary one, with a fog that rolled in off the bay enough that even broom-flying was a challenge. Patrolling wasn't much fun, but at least few criminals were going to be out on days like this. Owain talked volubly of cold wet nights in Logres like this, telling detailed stories of the lands around his family's estates and what it was like to go out in them when the rain and fog could make you think there was nothing in the world but you. Neko as usual was more quiet, but seemed to have struck up a real friendship with Merlin, who had taken her under his wing when it came to technology. 

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