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Save the Girlfriend, Save the World (IC)

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Claremont Academy

May 14, 2011

6:00 AM

The sun peeked over the horizon, washing Freedom City in shades of red and gold. The brown stone of the Claremont Academy's outer wall looked almost gilded in the early morning light, but the buildings and grounds beyond were shadowed. Not long after an alarm clock in the room shared by sophomores Brian Harris and Morgan Crowe went off, just as it had been programmed to. Brain, used to his friend and roomie's work-out schedule, was able to sleep through the noise, but Morgan jumped to his feet and stumbled down to the bathroom. A quick shower woke him up, but when he stared into the mirror he noticed that it wasn't his face staring back. It was still a man, one who shared Morgan's dark hair and stark features. This man grew his hair long, though, and had a cruel smile on his face. One that the young hero knew well.

"Good morning, Crow," Brannagh said, bowing his head mockingly. "Did you sleep well?"

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Morgan looked at the figure in the mirror, then blinked. He opened the mirror cabinet, rummaged around for a marker, then closed it again. Branagh was still there. Cac.

"Well, that just killed my appetite for breakfast. Nobody should have to see that face in the mornings."

Crow shrugged and idly twirled the marker around his fingers, leaning back on the wall.

"Okay, you got ten seconds to spill why you're ruining my morning before I slap a rune on that mirror and drag you out by the ear. Talk fast."

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Brannagh's smiled grew wider, and after a moment he stepped back from the mirror, allowing Morgan a look at the room beyond him. It certainly wasn't the Claremont bathroom; it was much larger for one, done in what looked like marble and... Ice? If it was ice, it was fashioned like jewels, deep blue shapes planted here and there to break up the monotony of so much white stone. The far end contained a stepped dias, with a human-sized but absurdly tall throne on the top. What drew the teen hero's eye, though, was the only other figure in the room, a short woman with long white hair and ruby-red eyes. It was, without a doubt, his girlfriend Victoria Knight.

She stood there in middle of the floor, eyes half-closed and arms at her side, staring at nothing, swaying slightly. She was, Morgan was happy to see, at least wearing her 'crime-fighting' outfit. Brannagh fairly danced up to her and snapped his fingers in front of her face; no reaction at all. He laughed then, loud and long as he strolled back to fill up the mirror. "You know what this is about. You stole from my Lady, and now she's taken something back. Tit for tat, Crow. I just wanted to make sure you knew."

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If the clock alarm didn't wake up Brian, the sound of shattering glass sure as heck did. Crow came storming out of the washroom, his left hand cut and bleeding from one knuckle, with nine different shades of 'angry' splashed across his features. He yanked the duffel bag out from under his bed and unzipped it, pulling the different pieces of Crow's costume out in a hurry.

"When I get my hands on that snide, self-important, cruel, jumped-up excuse for an Autumn Child, I'll...I'll..."

A flurry of English and Gaelic erupted from the teen, describing several rather rude and anatomically impossible things he intended to do to Branagh once he got Victoria back.

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Brian groaned and rolled over in bed, staring blearily at his roomie as Morgan pulled the different pieces of his outfit together. The teen yawned and sat up, stumbling out of bed and grabbing the other hero's arm. "Morgan, where the hell are you going this early? It's, like, two in the morning, man!" Brian rubbed at his eyes and took his first clear look at his friend. "Wow, wait. Morgan, you're bleeding! What's going on?"

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Morgan just threw the hoodie with the crow in flight emblem over his head, then yanked the gloves with steel plates over the knuckles onto his hands. Boots, laced. Bandanna, tied. Coat, on.

"Punched the mirror. And it's 5:30, man, you gotta start waking up earlier."

Hood, up. Fully dressed, Crow hopped to his feet and started checking the plates on his gloves.

"Gah. Remember when I told you about that jerk Branagh who showed up a few weeks back? Tried to haul away these two fae who wanted freedom in...well, Freedom, and I stopped him cold? Well, he's back. And he took Vicky. Said it was bloody quid pro quo."

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Brian slapped his face lightly, trying to get some blood flowing to his brain. "Okay. Okay. So, fairies? Like, Tinkerbell and whatever? They kidnapped Vic because you helped a couple other fairies that didn't want to be fairies anymore. Right. Sure. Why not?" Brian stepped away from his friend and shimmied out of his flannel pajama bottoms, moving to his own wardrobe and grabbing a pair of jeans and socks. He pulled the pants on, then the socks, then sat on the bed and started to lace up his sneakers. "So, what's the plan? How are we getting Vic back?"

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Gear on and out the door; Crow was hustling down the hallway as soon as Glowstar finished tying up his sneakers.

"We get backup and kick down their ivory tower, that's how!"

Crow's first thought was to hat up and go it alone, like the heroes of myth and legend; like his dad used to back in the day. Sieging the villain's fortress, solo against a whole army. That was the stuff legends were made out of. Unfortunately, that thought got quashed under common sense and what little experience he'd managed to get thus far from his dad, and his new teachers. The teen stopped at the end of the hallway, and rapped on John Smith's door.

Come on, don't be out on a morning run...

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The act of knocking actually cracked open the door a bit, and it easily swung open with just a bit more force applied. John was on the floor, dressed in his usual workout clothes in the middle of stretches.

John looked upward at the door, a momentary expression of confusion playing across his features. Nobody usually was up this early besides Mr. Morgan and himself, but as seeing it was the man in question the perplexed look disappeared. "Good Morning, Mister Morgan. Did you want to..." the sentence died on his lips as he stared at his friend fully clothed in his 'Crow' regalia. That was odd yes, but what concerned him the most was the smell of blood and the small streak of it on the door. Plus, Morgan's posture was completely at odds with his friends usual relaxed slouch. He kipped up from the floor, and looked his friend straight in the eyes.

"What has happened?" was the simple and direct question.

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Morgan liked John. He wasn't quite sure why; the other teen wasn't really that sociable, and he had the oddest habits. But he did have his moments, and he was definitley a person Morgan respected. And one thing Crow was sure about John Smith, alias Myrmidon. He was definitley a guy you wanted to have covering your back.

"Vicky's been kidnapped. Faeries I ticked off a few weeks ago, that Branagh guy and his bidse Lady. Brian and I are hatting up to get her back, you in?"

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"I see."

Those two simple words held many meanings. It was the inflection in which they were delivered that gave them gravity. Somebody had taken his friend Miss Victoria, to hurt his other friend. That was unacceptable. It was a subtle change, but Morgan could easily pick up on it. John Smith was gone now, only Myrmidon remained and Myrmidon said nothing as he slid on his combat uniform.

With a final tug, the body armor fitted into place, and Myrmidon looked towards Crow, his eyes cold and dead.

"Lead the way."

Myrmidon was going to war.

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John's suddenly cold demeanor made Brain take a step back. He glanced between Crow, with blood on his hands, and Myrmidon, who was suddenly as harsh and focused as a laser. It was a rather odd contrast to how they usually acted, and more than anything else it woke the young hero up, like a splash of water in the face. He started bouncing from foot to foot, taking up a pseudo-boxing stance. "Right. Charge in, kick ass, save the girl, and look good doing it. Just like every other day." He jabbed at the air a few times, then froze. "Uh. One question. Where'd they take Vicky?"

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The trio abruptly appeared in a small room. It was tastefully decorated, a few chairs and paintings on the walls; the same look a hotel lounge would have. The innocuous appearance belied it's true use, a powerful teleportation gate formed by the mighty abilities of some of Freedom's most puissant artificers of magic. Crow was not one of them. But at least he knew how to work the damn thing.

Speaking of Crow, he moved swiftly and pulled the door open, indicating the others should follow him. "Spirits of the house, I bring temporary guests! Please don't hang them upside-down over the pool! Welcome to Parkhurst, guys."

And then he was off and down the hall, at a brisk walk.

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Brian blinked and stepped to the side, leaning against the wall until the spinning stopped. He still wasn't used to teleporters, but at least this had happened before breakfast so there wasn't anything to bring up, just the taste of bile in the back of his throat. Once things stabilized he hurried after his friend. "Cool digs. Got some place to stay after graduation, I see. I figured we'd share some place in Riverside or Parkside or somewhere, but this is cool, too." He paused to let Crow respond, but only angry silence rolled forth and he hurried to fill the silence. "So, when you say Avalon, I'm guessing you don't mean that club over on the Waterfront? Do you, uh, have a way to actually get there?"

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Crow's tone was clipped as they turned a corner, skipping the usual levity he had when heroics were in the offing.

"Avalon as in where the Fair Folk hole up. And no, I don't. But we will."

And he meant it. Gloves were off this time, they took his girlfriend, and he was getting her back. Stage one, reconaissance. The trio entered a room with a small basin in the centre, surrounded by a magic circle and covered in runes.

"Glow, you remember that troll you tussled with a while ago?"

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Glowstar stumbled to a halt as they entered a room with what looked like a stone pool, if you happened to miss the weird shapes cut into the stone all around it. He was wary around magic stuff and wasn't inclined to get any closer to such a thing than necessary, but he was concerned about his friend. He'd never seen Crow his dark and focused before, and if was frankly scary. If he could keep Crow talking, maybe the old Morgan would surface. "Yeah, I remember that guy. Big and ugly, wanted to push my teeth in for showing his girl a good time." He paused, blinking rapidly. "Wait, that guy's from Avalon? Uh, are there a lot like him?"

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Crow shot him a glance as he stepped onto the stone platform beside the pool, beginning to stir it with one hand.

"Lots? Dude, those guys are plain footsoldiers where we're headed. They're big, dumb (for the most part, there are exceptions), strong, and they make great brute squads. You took that one down fast, and ten to one he told his friends. So we've got a psychological edge, and you can probably moke a whole crowd of them if you go full bore."

Glow's talking did seem to be calming Crow down; the grim fury that had brought them here was being slowly replaced by a colder, more methodical way of thinking. Red Hand's Rule Number One, enter into battle with joy, not anger. Focus, make a plan, and sucker punch the enemy when they aren't looking. He stirred the basin almost absently, and said the next sentence very quietly.

"That, and I trust you guys at my back."

Then, he abruptly bent over the basin, and stared intently at the surface of the water. Show me Victoria Knight. Show me my heart. Show me her captors. Show me where to go.

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The waters swirled, swiftly obscuring the bottom of the pool. They slowed and rushed at odd intervals, showing the young runemaster glimpses of something, but not very much; lots of square or rectangular buildings apparently made of white marble or some other stone, roofs held up with fluted columns, roofed in red tiles. A few views from very high up showed that the buildings were laid out on a regular pattern, all of them nearly identical in composition.

The pool suddenly exploded in Crow's face, water leaping up to splash the ceiling. When the pool settled again, the runes around the edge were smoking and the pool was clear.

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The scrying took longer than he thought, and he had to bring the odd book over during it to check locations. A Roman-esque town. Odd. Then the pool exploded, much to his chagrin. Crow untied his bandanna, squeezing the water out before retying it, and gave a stony look to the basin.

"Go ahead and laugh, bidse. When we're done with you, there won't be enough of you to make a puddle."

The teen hopped down from the platform, motioning for the others to follow him. "There's a laboratory a few corridors down, I think I can work something up that can make us shift dimensions to Avalon, but I'll need help. Glow, head to the library and get me everything you can find on Avalon and traveling to it. Ask the ghosts for help. Myrmidon, use..."

He passed a somewhat crude drawing of the town that he'd managed to make, a forum here, bathhouses here, what looked like a citadel here...

"Use this and the books, see if you can come up with a plan of attack. You're a better tactician and planner than I am. Ghosts won't bother you, they already know who you are anyway."

"Alright, let's move!"

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Glowstar jumped when the pool exploded, and jumped again when Crow starting ordering folks around with a peremptory tone. This definitely wasn't the Crow he was used to. He followed his friend to the library, staying close at Crow's heels. It wasn't just that he didn't know his way around Parkhurst; all this talk of ghosts was, frankly, weirding him out. This day was swiftly turning into the worst Scooby-Doo knock-off ever.

The library was pretty much what he'd expected, a big room filled with piled and piles of books. Glowstar left Crow to prowl the lower levels while he rose among the stacks. A few books, on the large side and with cracked bindings, struck him as having potential, so he pulled them off the shelf and floated over to a big, long table in the middle of the library. He thumped the books down carelessly, raising a cloud of dust, as he watched his friend hunt through the collected volumes. "Hey, Crow," he called out, almost on impulse. "You sure you know what you're doing, man?"

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Another pile of books landed beside Glow's, and Crow leaned on the table. His eyes were closed, and his expression (what was visible) was definitely mixed; chagrin, fury, worry, frustration, each had a brief spot on his face.

"Truth be told, no. I'm making most of it up as we go along. But we gotta get her back, man. Branagh's stone-cold. Cruel. He taunts and humiliates his enemies before finishing them off; he's faster and a heckuva lot better trained than I am, and I got the crap kicked out of me when I went up against him last time. I'm not leaving her in his or his Lady's hands. No way."

He pushed himself off the desk, looking at Glowstar with eyes a lot more worried than cold, and then started rifling through the books.

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Glowstar felt his heart lurch at the expression on Crow's face, even as it reassured him. He reached out and grabbed his friend by the shoulder, hauling him around until they were face to face. "Dude. We are gonna get there. And we are gonna save her, just like we do all the time. And damn it all if I'm not going to find a white horse for you to ride in on while we do it." He cracked a smile and stepped back, chucking Crow on the arm. "Don't be so grim, man. Vicky isn't a shrinking violet, you know. Heck, we may get there just in time to save the bad guys from her!"

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When they walked back on Myrmidon he had all of his duplicates out. Each of them was flipping through a book, looking at the crude map, or scribbling a note down and passing it to the others. All in all, if you could put a overall mood on the room it was grim.

One of the Myrs' looked up when Crow and Glowstar returned and stood up from pouring over an old book. 'Ah. you're back. I have a few questions for you.' The other Myrs' continued their tasks in the background.

"To begin, Do you have way of determining the nature and purpose of any of these buildings." he said gesturing to the map. Another Myr looked over at him this one holding a tome entitled 'Neverland Wildlife Guide'. "Secondly, can you give a rough estimate on enemy forces and strength? A third Myr asked form a chair. "What about these fae. What do they look like?" A pair of them followed that up with ,"About this Lady, does she have any sort of surveillance there?" which was delivered perfectly in sync with one another. Other one was heard to grumble "I'm a soldier not a bloody mageling." while looking at some notes that were clearly not written in english.

Finally, the one looking at the map looked up to him, hands grasping the sides of the table. "My concern is that this Lady or Brannagh might try and follow us back and take control of Parkhurst, as a foothold over here. Give me a rough outline of them, if you can." The Myrs all looked at Morgan, blinking in sync.

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Crow dropped the books he'd been reading through onto a corner table, having made some progress at figuring out at least a portion of the ritual he'd need to put together to send the trio to Avalon. At another time, he probably would have been weirded out by Myrmidon's dupes, but there was too much to do and too little time to have a freak-out right now.

"My bet is it's a Roman-esque town; fae don't like to break past their comfort zones, so we're probably looking at a bathhouse, forum, market, that kind of thing. Except a fortress where the town shrine or temple'd normally be."

He flipped open one book, scrawling down his own notes and sketching out a rough circle surrounded by runes.

"Not a clue about forces or strength, we're probably going in blind. Still, she's a Lady, so expect lots of trolls, goblins, pretty much anything ugly, brutish, and thug-worthy. And Branagh; he's an Autumn Child, kidnapped by fae at a young age and trained to be an exceptional warrior, proficient in multiple different styles of fighting and weaponry. As for surveillance, it's her realm we'll be walking in to. Ten to one she can tell everything that's going on in it, and she'll probably be expecting us. Good news is, if we move fast we can hit her before she can react. I hope."

Crow lifted up the paper he was writing on, then tilted his head to the side. Then turned the paper upside-down and wrote down something else.

"And trust me, she'd think twice about trying to get into Parkhurst. Place is a fortress, and if she gets past the defenses she'd have Nick Cimitere and Rene de Saens to deal with."

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The Myr closest to the map started writing notes on the map, naming structures with a sharpie as Crow pointed them out. The Myrmidon closest to Glowstar spoke. "That means archaic weaponry such as swords, bows, and things of that nature. Brannagh and the Lady perhaps would not be aware of modern weaponry?" At this Myr walked around the table as the duplicates one by one disappeared around him, the one writing on the map only fading after it was finished with its task. "Regardless, we do not have enough intel to make any sort of effective strategy for freeing Miss Victoria. I would also hazard that since this attack was aimed at you, Mr. Morgan that they expect an impulsive attack. Maybe we can cause them to show their play a little."

He returned a book to where he had found it, turning back towards the pair. "If we could possibly disguise ourselves as fey and enter a common point, I doubt they would expect that over a flashy entrance. Furthermore, we can also use this to gain reliable information and potentially see what we are up against. If that fails we still have boots on ground. The disguises might get us closer to the citadel than a head-on assault."

He rolled up the map. "So Mr. Morgan, do you have a way to disguise us via magical or mundane means?"

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