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Playing With Toys (IC)


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September 18th, 2011

Sunday, 4:56 PM

Millennium Mall, Freedom City

Millennium Mall was a huge place. Brian Harris had been wandering around it for a good twenty minutes and hadn't seen the same store twice. There were lots of other shoppers out and about, some singly and some in groups. He saw lots of family groups, usually one parent or the other riding herd on a passel of kids. He swerved in his path to avoid one tow-headed tot who was bawling that his mother wouldn't buy him some plastic Army men, loose shirt-tail swinging; he swerved the other way to avoid a group of teenagers hanging out around a free-standing stall and trying on sunglasses. It wasn't just the red-on-black eyes that was causing him to keep away from everyone. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts just now.

It was just a week after Gwen had left for Sanctuary, but he found his thoughts turning more and more to her than the looming threat of the Gorgon. Which was ridiculous on the surface, she was probably a lot safer than he was, but he kept going over the mundane disasters that could befall her, out in an untamed wilderness: allergies and disease, broken bones, attacks by wild animals. Brian didn't even know if someone would tell him if something did happen to her. Not that there was any reason to, of course. He wasn't part of her family, they weren't even -- officially -- a couple. Regardless, he couldn't stop himself from thinking about her.

Brian wasn't one to simply sit and stew, though. He had decided to buy Gwen a present for when she returned. He wanted to get her something special and memorable. He didn't trust himself to picking something good enough, though, and so he had asked Etain Maher to help him. As he passed by a fountain he paused to check his watch. She should be arriving any time now, in fact.

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"You look like you are expecting to be in a fight."

There was Etain, looking over his shoulder at the watch. Normally that wouldn't be the case with her height but it helped greatly that she was standing on the edge of the fountian. She was in a white long sleeve blouse with a pair of dark brown leather gloves and a red shawl with a long skirt with a rose pattern on it. The roses were repeated with a pair of decorative clips that held her hair in a dark knot on the side of her head with curls spilling out. The entire effect was something a bit too formal looking for a simple mall visit but Etain wore the look with the same casualness as any other complex outfit she was usually seen in.

Jumping down from the fountain with a click of the heels of her boots she folded her hands as she looked at him,

"You should try not to make yourself look so nervous, it makes people think you are up to something and the anxioty of current events cannot benefit from people becoming untrusting of us even when we are out like this."

Even with that being said, she herself wasn't smiling her normal smile, though her face was decidably neutral the absent of her grin gave a noticable bleakness to her pretty face.

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Brian Harris started and spun, his loose green tee-shirt flaring with the sudden motion. Apparently he was jumpier than he seemed; the young hero was a breath away from summoning his energies when he recognized his teammate and classmate. He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down, the unseen energies dissipating into the world. "Right. Okay. Sorry to call you up all sudden-like, but I don't know anyone else who could help. I want to get a present for Gwen," he explained, moving off into the mall, automatically checking his strides so he didn't outpace the smaller woman. "Something special, something to show I missed her while she was gone. You know what I mean?" The young man wrung his hands and kept throwing almost-panicked glances at Etain. It was odd to see someone who usually approached combat with an easy joie de vivre get so nervous about purchasing a gift.

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"You see the thing that I am talking about. You are anxious and you begin to flare and that is no good."

She shook a finger at him,

"Now stop moving like there is someone around looking to hurt you, I already moved about the area and there is none. There is also no one from school either. You need to calm yourself, the fact that you are taking the time to worry over something so little is proof enough that you have enough thinking on this to not do anything very terrible. Now tell me, what is a thing you think Gwen would appreciate?"

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Brian clenched his teeth over Etain's comment that it was 'nothing to worry about,.' It seemed like everything hinged on this, that the fate of the world hung on what kind of a present he bought his not-girlfriend. Instead he faced resolutely forward, steering their path towards a strip of jewelry stores. "I don't know what she thinks her best feature is," Brian admitted, "but for what it's worth I really like her hair. Maybe some clips or hair decs, something like that?"

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Etain put a hand on her face before smiling,

"Yes, that seems like something that would suit her, however, that is not the place we should be going."

She pulled his arm away from the jewellery stores to some clothing boutiques,

"The specialty stores for these things have quality and variety but the cost is a bit much. Clothing stores have a good variety based on the store's style and more importantly have a much more modest cost since the accessories are not the focus of the stores brand. Really hair clips are a nice item but usually not something so nice as to spend more then twenty dollars on a pairing. Now then, you have some hints to Gwen's style, what do you think would look nice with the clothing you have seen her in?"

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Brian felt a little safer as Etain steered him away from the high-end jewelry stores. It wasn't that he wasn't willing to spend that kind of money, it was simply that he wasn't sure if he had that kind of money. Her question forced him to think for a bit before he answered. "Usually, I think she wears outdoorsy clothes. Long pants, long shirts, and the like. I don't think I've ever seen her in a dress," he added. "She usually lets her hair go unbound, though, so she must be pretty proud of it. Right?" Female psychology was something Brian had no expertise in, and if Etain had some insight into how Gwen might think he wasn't going to turn it down.

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"Outdoorsy, huh, flowers then? Those would look nice yes?"

Etain led Brian forward into a store which was undoubtably pink. The walls themselves were colored pink and where they met the ceiling had a mirror tilted down throughout the store. It had all sorts of fuzzy accessories, hats, gloves stockings, but it most importantly had a wall devoted entirely to hair accessories. They were hung on paper hooks like all the other ones and came in different styles from metal decoration to cloth ones. Etain started to thumb through some of the more flowery designs as she left him to look through the wall.

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Brian was a little nervous about walking through a store so dedicated to... pink. It wasn't a place where he felt comfortable, but if it meant finding a nice gift for Gwen he'd endure it. As Etain took one wall, he examined another. There were dozens, maybe a hundred different designs of hair clips, most following a theme; eyes or butterflies or popular stars. He stopped before one line designed to look like flowers. He took a few down from the wall and walked over to where his classmate was still browsing and held them out for inspection. "What do you think of these," he asked. "They look like flowers and, well, Gwen is the one who put that greenhouse together."

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Etain turned around and looked at the clips and smiled,

"Very pretty yes, I like the blue ones myself. I think they would look good against her hair. Let me take a look,"

She pulled a replica pair off the wall,

"They are twelve dollars a pair, do you think one will be enough, or would you like to get more then one perhaps? I think they have a sale today, two for twenty dollars then if we are done here we can probably get one of the decorative bags and some paper to put it in. I think they have those at the front of the store."

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"I think I'll get the set," Brian said, taking the hair clips back. "I'll just get a regular bag. I can pick up a nice box and wrap it up myself, before Gwen gets back." He paid for the jewelery and the pair of students walked back into the mall. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. So now he had the present, all he had to worry about... was whether or not she'd like it. Oh well, that was weeks in the future. He turned to the girl by his side and offered his hand. "Thanks for the help, Etain. Listen, do you want to grab something from the food court? I mean, we're supposed to be on a team together and we've never really talked outside of school."

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"We have never really talked inside of the school as well. If I recall, we only share a single class and are seated at opposite ends of the room."

Walking besides him she gave him a smile,

"But it is no matter, we are here now, yes. So let us eat and talk. There is a place that serves good chicken in the food court so we can start there."

She took the lead again as she did so not really stopping until she got to the Oriental Express and got herself an order of sweet and sour chicken. Before long they were seated and she was eating with the little plastic utensils provided,

"So, what is it you would like to talk about then?"

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Brian ordered a noddle dish with some kind of creamy sauce. There were little cubes of pink that were apparently supposed to be ham, but after finding one nearly-impervious to his plastic knife, he started picking them out and setting them aside. "I don't know," he admitted. "Pretty much all I do know if that you like old clothes and have some pretty impressive illusion powers." He gulped down a few noodles and added, "It's not psychic, right? But it still needs something to have a mind to work on it?"

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She took a bit of chicken and wiped her mouth with a no longer gloved hand,

"Very astute of you. Yes, I cannot fool the perceptions of things that are unable to perceive. You are also right about the second part as well, I am not what one would call a psychic."

Picking up the bottled water she took a sip,

"In fact, I am part of a classification even more varied. My illusions are part of a very specific type of magic. I take it you are not unfamiliar with the concept because of the time you spend with Morgan yes."

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Brian coughed out a laugh and sipped at his drink. "Yeah, Morgan does a lot of magic. But his stuff isn't exactly what you'd call subtle. His is kind of like a claymore; your stuff is almost like a blanket or... or something else subtle." The teen waved his hand in the air aimlessly, abandoning any attempt at a metaphor. "In any case, you seem to really have a handle on it. I mean, you don't really seem to work at controlling it like some of the other students at Claremont." Unspoken was the question of just why she was at Claremont if not to learn to control her powers.

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"You are correct again, I have complete control over my powers and have had them as such since my arrival. In fact, you have yet to see the full extent of them. Let me show you."

She held up her wrists and with a little bit of effort showed two cuffs of energy incircling each one,

"This is a binding spell instituted by the school, in short my powers have been limited since my arrival at Claremont and will probably stay as such as long as I will be attending."

She didn't frown, or even think any less of them for being cautious. Having full access to her powers might be a nice thought, but it really wasn't nessicary for the time being especially since there was rarely an occasion they'd be useful anyway.

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Brian's eyes went wide at Etain's apparent 'bindings.' He grabbed her arms and brought them back down to the table, glancing around. Headmaster Summers usually didn't thank students for flaunting their powers in public. "Well, that's something different," he said. "Is there a story there you want to tell? I mean," he added hurriedly, "I'd heard you had family in town, but you obviously don't live with them so..."

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"You seem overly worried. I am good with illusions, do you think I cannot choose who sees what?"

She let the question hang in the air as she slipped her hands out from his grip,

"Also you have heard incorrectly, they are not my relatives they are my guardians. I have no family in the city."

At least none she knew of, maybe she had some distant relatives somewhere in the world but meeting them seemed pointless at this time,

"I have not heard anything about your family, I know about Morgan's heritage, and a little about Victoria's but not yours."

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"Ah. Well." Brian squirmed uncomfortably in the hard plastic seat. "My parents are kind of supervillain. Well, they were supervillains. Then they kind of retired, but one night AEGIS busted in and arrested them. Or tried to, anyway: I kind of helped my mom to escape. Not that I meant to -- well, yeah, I meant to, but I didn't know she was a supervillain back then! Or an ex-supervillain or something." He sighed and started winding a particularly long noodle around his fork. "Anyway. Summers took a big risk on letting me into Claremont, let alone paying my way, and I do not intend to let him down."

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Etain let out a laugh, a long one before, she was still laughing as she started to speak,

"I am sorry about your parents, but it is funny that you think that you are a risk, or maybe I should say the only one."

She let the laughter die down in her throat before she continued,

"Power is a risk and those who possess no matter what their background will be a risk. Is that not the point of Claremont, to lessen the risk."

She smiled and picked up her glass taking a steady drink before speaking,

"I guess the most amusing part is that you think that you might think that who your parents are may in some small way if any effect how I think of you or how anybody else should. You are a good person Brian and I am sure you will eventually be a great one as well."

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Brian's mouth twitched into a smile as he chewed on the noodles. Swallowing, he shook his head. "I know," he said. "And I don't think the Freedom League or any other big team like the Interceptors are going to overlook something like that. But thanks for the vote of confidence." He speared another noodle and raised it halfway to his lips before a scream cut through the air. In an instant he was on his feet, moving to the edge of the food court area and glancing around. There was a definite surging of the crowd from further down the mall, but he couldn't see anything. Taking a risk, he jumped as high as he could, using his powers to levitate himself in the air for a moment. Maybe it was the sudden red glow or just the face that he was a taller target, but something burst in the air in front of him, like a firework.

He fell to his ass, blinking rapidly to get rid of the flash-blindness. "Uh, Etain? We've, uh, got a situation here!"

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Etain didn't appear, in fact she disappeared completely, no one really noticed. Instead Changeling full costume walked forward to the crowd they didn't react to her at all, because they couldn't see her even though Brian could.. She glanced at Brian and cast concealment in a way that no one even bothered noticing him with the words,

"Our words and images are concealed now. You want to keep your face secret, yes, the people cannot see you but the cameras can, go to where they cannot and change."

Took nothing to maintain it but she scanned to find the source of the commotion.

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Brian glanced up at the security cameras. "Right," he muttered and suddenly disappeared inside a ruby-red force bubble. A moment later he reappeared, clad in his metallic-silver jumpsuit. "Drop the cloak," he said to Changeling. "I need to draw these things' fire, before they take their frustration out on the civilians." Matching word to deed, he flew out above the crowd (that was close to stampeding) and spread his arms wide; in a moment a barrier of the same red energy appeared between them and the advancing... Toy soldiers?

Glowstar squinted at them and that is certainly what they appeared to be. Green plastic army men, about thirty or so, rushed down the tiled mall floor, covering each other in classic infantry tactics that the Irregular recognized from what Myrmidon had tried to drill into his head. Down the middle of the hallway a pair of green plastic tanks advanced, turrets traversing much more smoothly than mass-produced plastic should've been able to.

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Changeling took a different approach. In her long dress she moved past the crowd and looked down at the army men for a few seconds. She then kneeled down but still towered over them and said,

"Little green men, what are you doing moving through the mall?"

Her voice was truly inquisitive because she was honestly curious. She wasn't sure why they were moving at all, so a direct question seemed like a good approach.

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The soldiers drew up short at the heroes' approach; the infantry scattered to defensive positions and the tanks aligned themselves to catch the area in a cross-fire, but surprisingly none of them opened fire. One solider stepped forward and nodded at the towering Changeling and floating Glowstar. "Ma'am. Sir. We're going to have to ask you to open your, uh, force field. We've objectives to secure past this point."

Glowstar exchanged a look with Changeling before replying. "I'd love to help, soldier," he said, "but we can't let you roam all over the mall. Maybe if you told us your objectives..."

"No can do, son." The plastic soldier shouldered his weapon and took a few steps back, subtly moving out of the firing lane. "Our orders are classified. Top secret, from the very top. That sort of thing. Now, I'm afraid if you don't step aside I'm afraid that me and my men are going to have to take... steps."

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