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Espadas School of Self-Defense and Swordsmanship!

December 16, 9:07 PM

 

"Alright, we're locked up," Erik Espadas confirmed as he rounded the gap in the wall between the dojo's entryway and the training space. With the blinds drawn over the big front windows and a few more sophisticated measures in place the small group gathered were ready for their planned after-hours class.

 

Unlike usual the mats were littered with piled weights, cardboard boxes and anything else that had been handy and looked like it might make for an inconvenient obstacle. "Remember, we're working on mobility tonight," he reminded the deceptively lanky man and the woman with short black hair in front of him, folding his bare arms across his plain white workout shirt. They could have easily been a pair of the college students who frequented his intermediary self-defence classes. "That means something a little different for you two than the rest of us so I figured it was past time you compared notes." The fencer let a lopsided grin split his businesslike demeanour as he stepped back toward far corner where Talya and Steve were watching. "That said, loser has to mop the footprints off my ceiling."

 

In the apartments up above Ellie Espadas held her breath as she tip-toed out of the nursery, hoping against hope that her newest niece and nephew would stay asleep at least long enough to get back to the kitchen. Either one of them crying inevitably woke the other and even with three pairs of hands helping she wasn't sure how their parents were coping. Making it down the hallway and all the way to the kitchen table the med student silently raised a pair of crossed fingers as she sat down between Min and Mara. "And I thought pulling a double at Trinity took it out of you," she drawled just barely louder than a whisper. "Please tell me there's coffee or tea or something."

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"Speak for yourself, my love," came Talya's laconic response from where she was putting away the last of the exercise mats. Although she was still wearing the yoga top and pants she'd worn for the last official classes of the day, her posture had changed subtly to something more akin to the way she moved in uniform. "I'm perfectly capable of managing just fine on the ceiling even if I'm not striding across it in defiance of gravity."

 

Her tone was light, teasing really and as she dropped down easily onto the stack of practice mats, she began to braid her blonde hair back with quick fingers as her attention turned towards the pair. She cocked her head at Steve, "Friendly wagers?"

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There was a barely perceptible pause before Steve rumbled "Mmm. Christopher has the experience in combat. I will wager on his behalf." 

 

The words were cordial enough, but tinged with the faint aura of distraction that meant Harrier's mind had been elsewhere - in other times, and other places. 

 

They were here - they were here and they were hostile. 

 

What could be done? If the doors could be closed, they would have been, on worlds more powerful than this. The fact that one shared Min's powers was no particular surprise. All of those he saw here on Earth-Prime had their entropic duplicates - and of course his own talents could be easily matched by the armies of Nihilor. 

 

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"Coffee," Mara quietly confirmed from her perch on a chair, holding out a still-hot mug she'd had the foresight to prepare for her paramour. Even with money Mara had never really gone in for true decadence, but she was ever a creature of comforts and her minimum standards for coffee were exacting enough that she could prepare it herself from spatially-stored supplies if necessary. It certainly smelled strong enough: rich and flavorful, but leaving the distinct impression that sleep wouldn't be an option for a while after drinking.

 

"Definite advantages to being unlikely to bear own babies," she noted, reaching out to squeeze Ellie's free hand. "Very cute, biological imperative, but feel like we'd get more sleep just stealing them from other dimensions when they're already old enough to talk. Much easier."

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Chris was barefoot, wearing a loose green t-shirt, and a pair of black knee-length shorts. He'd been warming up, juggling a pair of escrima sticks one-handed, occasionally lifting his foot to catch one and bounce it back up into his hand. He snatched one out of the air with his other hand, briefly pointing it at Steve before returning it to the circle. "See, Steve gets me. He knows I know the way of the warrior.

 

He caught the sticks and returned them to the rack he'd got them, albeit in a very different slot from where he'd pulled them. "Don't worry, Buffy. I'll go easy on you." Chris lightly sprang up and stuck his hands to the ceiling, doing a couple of makeshift pull-ups. "I mean, it's only fair, I do it for Fearless Leader."

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Walking to the center of the makeshift arena, Buffy shot an annoyed look at Steve. "I heard that, you know. Could have a little more faith in me." I mean, he's almost certainly right, but that's not the point. She had also chosen to go barefoot, wearing black workout pants and a navy blue tank top. "I beat Wildcard once, you know. Kinda-sorta."

 

Bouncing on the balls of her feet, she cracked her neck from side to side in readiness. "But keeping talking, tough guy. We'll see if you've got the stuff to back it up. I don't think geckos are exactly famous for being dangerous."

 

Hesitating, she glanced off to the side at Erik. "So is there a bell, or do we just start hitting each other?"

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"Steve has faith in very little," Talya said as she pulled herself to sit on the freshly stacked mats, crossing her legs under herself nimbly. She propped her chin on one hand, "He doesn't gamble, really, which is what makes him a stellar tactician and a terrible thief."

 

Her teeth flashed in an even, white smile, "I'll wager on you, Buffy, but I am very attached to my material goods. Consider it additional incentive, if you will." It may also have increased the odds that if Talya got bored enough, she might just start taking pot shots at Chris. She did at least answer the question though, "Generally one starts these things with a flag or something waved... Oh, didn't you bring a flag?" Her eyebrows arched in mock surprise at Erik, "Thank goodness you wore a white shirt. Just wave that then."

 

Talya; so very helpful.

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Erik cleared his throat theatrically while giving Talya a sideways glance. "And distract Goggles with the pecs no amount of training can ever give him? That'd be unsporting." Turning back to the sparring partners he clarified, "We're not focusing on stopping power tonight so let's start with some tag; a solid tap is a point, we'll say a fall ends the match, makes sense? We can work up from there depending on how you're feeling." There was a beat before he expectantly added, "So go!"

 

While Chris and Buffy sprang into movement Erik spared a moment to look over to Steve. "Seem a little distracted, big guy. You thinking what I think you're thinking?"

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Min was upstairs with Ellie and Mara and she found herself chuckling a little at the blond inventors comments.  Sounds of mirth from the dryad had become particularly rare since Terrance and Emily were born.  That wasn't the fault of the children, and it was they (as well as Erik, Talya and the other two kids) that often brought that brief smile to her face.

 

No, what made her more dour than usual was the knowledge that one of her sisters was still alive.  Still alive and different enough that the Gorgon no longer acknowledged her as one of their own.  She had shared a few concerns in confidence with Erik and Talya but even then she was vague on the details.

 

"Perhaps," Min opined from the side, "But half of the joy is in the making."

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The moment Erik said "go," Buffy was moving, shooting straight up into the air in an impossible leap. Inverting herself in midair, she hit the ceiling in a crouch and stayed there as her personal field of gravity reversed itself and the world suddenly flipped upside-down. "First tap?" she said, throwing herself forward at Chris before he could react. "How hard of a tap are we talking here?"

 

Her hand flickered out with inhuman speed and she hit Chris in the center of the chest with her open palm, far more gently than she could have. "First blood - Buffy." Dancing backwards on the balls of her feet, she settled into a boxer's pose, with her fists up in front of her face. "Bring it on, Slim."

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Chris fell backwards, landing lightly on his feet as he recoiled from Buffy's tap. "Please, I'm just going easy on the new kid. Plus I was doing my reps, working on my abs." He tapped his stomach with his knuckles, before bolting quickly forwards, one foot hitting the wall at an angle as he ran up it in a crescent, swinging his fist.

 

As it swung wide of Buffy as she moved, he quickly leapt off the wall and rolled across the floor, coming to his feet in an easy stance, swaying gently from one side to the other. "See. Going easy on you," he said petulantly. "Letting you have a head start."

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Talya's blink was slow and innocent as Erik turned his attention in her general direction, the quirk of her lips the only real give away. "All fights are unsporting. That's why they're fights," she suggested in return but really, that was by and large Talya's personal strategy in general. She left Erik to prod Steve, keeping an ear on their conversation as she turned her attention to the match. 

 

She tsked at Chris, "I know you can lie better than that. Just admit it, parenthood has dulled your edge. Its alright. It happens to most of us."

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Steve considered his options carefully before raising his hands to his mouth and shouting "TRIUMPH OVER YOUR ADVERSARY!" in Chris's general direction, his voice a surprisingly loud roar given how rarely he raised it. He wasn't sure how to respond to Erik's question, of all things remembering a children's cartoon about two mutated laboratory animals engaged in world conquest that he'd watched with Gina. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, giving a slightly embarrassed look to Talya and Erik. "Yes." He watched the fight with his gaze unblinking, his dark eyes narrowed as he stared directly at the two combatants. "What material goods did we wager?" he asked Talya.

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Ellie accepted the mug with a little sound of gratitude from the back of her throat that turned into a snort in Min's direction. "Look at Mrs. Winter Grump with the lewd jokes," she drawled over the lip of her coffee, hiding a little smile. It was good to see her sister-in-law in noticeably better spirits, even if she put down most of the recent grimness to the season and the lack of sleep that presumably came with having four young children about. "Tell you what, we'll keep diligently trying and let you know how that goes. I for one am willing to put in as much practice as necessary."

 

Downstairs Erik conceded Talya's point about unsporting fights with a thoughtful grunt, unknowingly mimicking his sister in the other room. Cupping a hand to his mouth he called to the sparring partners, "You can banter when you're winning, Kenzie. And I'm pretty sure you're the same age? Escher, you got a birthday coming up? That sounds right. Also: duck!"

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"A good quest," Mara somberly agreed, nodding to herself. She wrapped her hands around her coffee mug, trying to drain the heat out of it in the hopes of - sometime soon - drinking it without burning her mouth. "A noble quest. We will give it everything we have. Maybe we're just doing it wrong?"

 

She looked up thoughtfully, dark blue eyes meeting Ellie's with all the deadpan seriousness she could muster. "Maybe they're all doing it wrong," she suggested, pausing long enough to take a sip of wakefulness from her cup. "We'll have to experiment, with lots of ways, to find the right one. For science, and humanity. Solemn duty."

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Min allowed herself a faint smile at the banter but it didn't last long.

 

Folding her arms across her chest she leaned against the kitchen counter, her amber eyes focused off in the distance as if lost in thought.  She stood utterly still for several moments, even forgetting to pretend to breath.  "Mara," she said, her head swiveling to look at the blond inventor.  "I need you to place more of your surveillance devices around the school.  Focus on the living area, especially the children's rooms."

 

She turned to look off in the distance again.  "Assume my own defenses are compromised."

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Ellie exchanged a significant look with Mara before edging her chair a little closer toward Min. "Hey, hermana, this is more than a 'winter thing', yeah?" It could be tempting to attribute the dryad's moods to the changing seasons but the dourness that had been hanging over her head had been difficult to miss. While there were a number of unusually experienced people among their circle all of them combined couldn't add up to Willow's life experience and consequently there seemed to be very few things which could significantly impact her composure. Trying to imagine what one of those things might be was not at all comforting. "What exactly happened when the twins were born? The House of Swords wouldn't have you worried like this."

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Mara caught the look and raised an eyebrow, but was happy to leave the gentle diplomacy to her better half - Ellie had a bedside manner Mara could never, ever hope to replicate.

 

Instead she held out a hand, collar shimmering as she pulled a drone out of thin air to project a small three-dimensional work space - a work space quickly populated with surveillance designs she apparently already had on hand. "Really good security requires coordination," she noted, half thinking aloud and half filling the space between Ellie's question and Willow's answer. "Detecting is the easy part. Understanding's hard, even with things like drone AI. Could build a pretty good filter library and feed information Vince's way, though. Wouldn't have to watch it at all unless he got a primary alert....mmh. Someone mentioned a magic detection thing recently, will track that paper down. Something about magic-sensitive crystals and laser refraction."

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If Buffy was paying attention to the conversation happening in the wings, she didn't show it. "Yeah, you keep telling yourself that," she said to Chris, stepping back out of the way of his blow. "Maybe it'll make you feel better when you lose."

 

Darting in once more, she feinted with a jab at his shoulder, then switched halfway through the motion and turned it into a spinning kick instead. The blow found its mark as her foot glanced off the side of his hip, Buffy once again being careful not to accidentally shatter his leg. "Two-nothing. Better step it up."

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"The shirt off of Erik's back?" Talya teased archly, half to see what the stoic straight man of the Interceptors would reply with and half to banter with a heavily distracted Erik. "Heavens knows I don't have pockets in these clothes."

 

Like a lack of pockets had ever been a problem for the thief. Chances were good she had all sorts of things hidden about her person. "Though I'm willing to wager other things. I have ever so many trinkets here and there."

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The more Harrier thought about it, the more concerned he was. Mastermind as an enemy was dire enough (something with which he'd spent much time in consultation with Miss Americana, given that her resources let her grapple with the might of the immortal's empire) but what did it mean, what did it really mean to have an Annihilist as the enemy of the Interceptors? There was none of the subversion he'd have come to expect from those he'd known - nor the sinister scheming he knew lay in store from those whose influence he'd touched in the years since his liberation. He had no doubt that he sat in the company of some of the mightiest warriors and finest leaders on this planet but he knew from dread experience that this was inadequate before the forces of the Terminus. 

 

"Food." He said out loud. "We will wager food - and a cooked meal." 

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"Not in front of the kids," Erik protested half-heartedly, most of his attention on the sparring. He glanced over long enough to catch Steve doing the thing where his eyes seemed to focus on some distant point with the sense that air raid sirens and industrial metal percussion should be playing in the background but decided not to ask. He never really liked the answers. "You sure you want to double down on this, big guy? Escher's fighting like she's got something to prove."

 

That was probably at least a little bit true but he also hadn't chosen martial-arts tag for this exercise at random. Chris was quicker than most and his regeneration was enough to work past most glancing blows. That margin for error meant he could outlast most opponents. That strategy used the word 'most' a lot more than Erik liked. There were threats gathering against his family of which they were only starting to make out the outlines, threats that might not need more than a glancing blow. The Interceptors were going to be ready for anything that came knocking.

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"And Chris, I don't think, has his head in the game," Talya agreed with Erik's assessment, her tone shifting out of its teasing banter as she took in the brief scrap between the youngest members of the Interceptors. Swinging her legs to slip off of the mat and land lightly next to Erik, she reached out to tap his shoulder lightly in mute suggestion; wordlessly offering to sub in to the match for Chris while he took a breather. Stretching her arms high above her head, Talya limbered up while she waited for a response. 

 

"Food and a cooked meal - could certainly do that." She agreed with a sidelong smile for Steve that made it clear she'd been teasing earlier. 

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As Talya and Buffy squared off to what seemed a likely conclusion, Steve rose to his feet and politely excused himself, heading backwards and out to the kitchen. He entered the room, his footfalls heavy as he walked around the table to the microwave. He said little as the others spoke save to return their greetings with a grunt, putting popcorn in the machine, silent as the pops grew slowly, then faster, a calvacade of tiny explosions. He filled a bowl, drizzled it with the particularly fiery red sauce that had been one of his few additions to the Interceptors' larder, and then took a seat at the table. Popping a few of the ruptured kernels into his mouth, he watched the conversation play out around him. He had a few things to say - but it wasn't his place to speak.

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Chris bounded backward across the room, moving as if he hadn't just been kicked, a big smile on his face. He spread his arms wide and beckoned with a 'come get me' gesture. He bounced lightly on his heels and took a couple of air jabs. "C'mon, two hits? That's an easy lead. Letting you think it was a hard fight."

 

He turned away, his attention completely off Buffy as he turned to the onlookers. "And can you make your gambling less brazen? I feel like a racehorse. At this rate, if some horrible miracle causes me to lose, I feel like you'll take me out back, shoot me, and use me for glue.

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