Arc 1: Entrance

Interlude 1

Director Sage, this is the Control Centre. We have a request from Agent Visionary to speak to you. Has this been authorised?”

I look down at the speaker on my desk and push the button to speak.

“It has been authorised.”

Okay, Director. I’ll patch you through now.”

It was unusual. Despite the specific order to allow them to connect me to Visionary, they still had to ask. It doesn’t hurt to double check, I assume.

For the time being, I try not to allow my senses to be overwhelmed. I remove the blindfold from my eyes and blink, and look at the world around me. I see the present, earthly and solid, surrounding me. I feel the wood of my desk against my fingertips, the warmth of the air on my skin. I feel attuned, anchored for the time being.

I still feel it around me, clinging and chewing at my thoughts. It’s horribly pervasive.

Director Sage, this is Agent Visionary. Can you read me?”

“I can.” Her voice is refreshing. Of all my agents, I know she remains the most composed, even in times of stress. “Tell me what you’ve found.”

I ask her out of curiosity, and allow my senses to be dulled slightly. It’s not so much as a sight, though. To explain it like that would be squandering the experience. I always explain it like I have an extra set of eyes in the back of my head, and I can see through them. To others, they simply have no reference of understanding. When I say I see these things, I only say it because otherwise, explaining is tiring and time consuming.

And I’ve foreseen it as a better way to just reference it as a sight.

I don’t need her to explain. I already know. She’s in Aven Court and she has met Shaun Larson. We’ve known about Shaun for a very long time. All Farborn are registered onto a database. A Farborn such as Shaun requires extensive monitoring, for very obvious reasons. Were he to fall in with the wrong crowd, were his parents raised in squander, so many factors that are a necessity in sculpting a life to adjust a human being.

It’s a wonder we all function as a race, if you were to see it as I do.

I was aware these paths would converge to this point long before the presence of the Eldritch was brought to the NFU. Gentle nudges, like steering a car to keep it in the lane. Making certain that the edges don’t fray and unforeseen effects.

We’ve encountered a young man, about 18 to 20 years old. I have legitimate reason to believe he is Farborn.”

“You know this for a fact.” I let something in. It slips in between flickers of attention. I see what caused such a realisation. She’s too far away for a perfect glimpse.

I see violence and destruction. I grow slightly concerned.

I remember seeing this particular chain of events. Not the worst, not the best. I shall have to sculpt more accurately in future.

Yes. He managed to kick a Girallon-class Eldritch through a lamp post. The lamp post snapped in half, then he jumped from a first floor window to the pavement.”

I slip my blindfold down over my eyes. I keep my eyes closed because what I see blends in with my actions in the present. I have to focus. When I see around me, I see the actions specifically around me, and finding individual strands so far away from me is taxing.

I see it all around me; individual actions that cause such massive changes. The irrational, the unlikely, the improbable, the impossible. I prune them, shift through the chaff. I study the aftermath, the cause itself. I see it; the Eldritch smashed through the wall, and I see Shaun himself, ejecting it through the gaping wound where his house was.

I move forward through these and foresee the different effects that may follow from Shaun’s actions. I see the time where Visionary attacks Shaun over a perceived sleight. I see the time where they attempt to restrain Shaun’s father, and are met with Shaun venting his fury onto them. I see Jason’s head removed in a single blow. Anger, violence, blood.

The strongest of these I see is a minor verbal dispute. Alex calms Shaun down, and they speak on level terms. I see flickering wisps of time fluttering around them; Shaun reacts this way because Alex doesn’t treat him any different for his abilities. I see these weaving backwards down time, through all the prior events leading to such a single moment of relief.

Upon doing which, he then stomped it so hard his foot physically went through it, and managed to cracked the pavement beneath it.”

I stay focused and discard them. It’s so easy to get distracted. Each action has an impossibly large number of actions that fracture from it, and looking at it from the other perspective sends my senses through years of causes. It overwhelms me at times, just how many minute and individual changes contribute to everything. From breathing a second out of time, to the slightest decibel of how loud your voice is.

I’m distracted even now.

I wait until she’s finished and put her on mute. Just for a small while, whilst I organise what I’m experiencing.

These come to me so quickly. I have viewed years in minutes, and it still doesn’t phase me. After all these years, it is a magnificent transition, a beauty in itself. And I always marvel at it, every single time.

I start again, and refocus on the events. I see that the least violent of options have come to pass. It’s a great relief. He shows an impressive talent to calm himself. He speaks with Alex and they discuss his powers. Along these strands, I see Shaun’s father again. Angry, clearly.

Visionary has been waiting for me. I unmute the comm. I don’t want her to think I’m ignoring her.

“Are you in Aven’s Close?” It doesn’t take any special senses to assume that such a pause makes it seem like I’m using my powers.

She pauses. I smile.

Yes. Did you see that?”

I quickly peer into probable events. Things yet to happen, things that can be altered and changed. I glance through threads, counting them along my way. I seek to know, and visualise the path where Shaun is on our side. I do this as I reply to her. I see the necessity of less savoury tactics to guarantee his complicity. I see echoes of what may happen afterwards, trim down these events and answers. I look at the single strand left at what must be done. I see along the way what I must say, what words to craft at this point in time.

Even then, there’s no certainty. A single action can come along and throw these cause and effects into discourse.

“We are aware of him. Visionary, this Farborn is of importance to us. Bring him back to NFU headquarters. Use whatever means at your disposal to achieve this. Lie if necessary. Urgent priority.”

She waits again. I see it before me; it solidifies. I briefly glimpse her reaction, and mouth it in time with her words.

Affirmative.”

A brief mote emerges. Visionary paused, because she is uncertain on how to progress. The web becomes clearer now, yet branches form from this point. Other points where she can follow down. I see only one thing in common, regardless of what she offers him; Shaun must be the one to suggest it. I move these out of the way and apply them to the other visions, and see it all aligns, and all is correct.

It fills me with the greatest relief imaginable. And I don’t mean that lightly.

“He will follow if he believes it’s his own idea.”

Willco. Thank you, Sage. Agent Visionary, out.”

I turn the comms off. There are a few disastrous results in the future should I offer her even a goodbye. It’s easier to trim these down by merely avoiding the circumstances to begin with.

I glance again into the cause and see the offshoots. Whatever happens is entirely out of my hands. It’s a weird sense of powerlessness but it’s understandable where it comes from. Most of them end up with Shaun in my office. So many different ways it can happen; anger, threats. I even see my death in a very few, extremely obscure lines. They are like the weakest root of a tree, easy to wither away, yet as there is a distinct, even infinitesimally small chance of it happening, I will always see them.

I’ve seen my death many times over the years. Many more times than I care to recall.

I pull the blindfold off and look again at my surroundings. Using my sight wards off a lot of what I’ve seen. As I’ve mentioned previously, it anchors me to the reality around me instead of the hypothetical actions and reactions, the delves into the past and the dredges of where events have come from. It gives me something concrete to focus on.

To say it’s entirely ignored is a lie. It just helps me to keep my focus, and filters out a lot of noise.

I pull out a laptop and turn the power on. Even now, I see minor refractions, skirting the edges. Utterly trivial changes, like the direction of where my finger is as I push this button, what changes in the seconds it takes for me to open up and send an email.

I begin to tap my foot. The sound sends these distractions skittering away.

I send an email to the Head Director of the NFU. Head Director Messenger, as he’s called. It wasn’t my idea to give every Fargraced in the organisation a name, though it does have interesting results down the line. I tell him that Shaun has been found by our agents, as predicted, and that there is a high probability of him meeting with me. I ask if this is permitted to do so.

Whilst I can have events fall into such ways with careful guidance that this is guaranteed to happen, asking is polite. Not everyone has my awareness. I see many more times where he agrees, rather than disagrees. They overwhelm such a refusal from him.

I receive a reply within the minute. He agrees, and congratulates me. We have a good relationship. He appreciates what I’ve done and all I’ve sacrificed. He’s still wary of me. I know how to earn his trust entirely. I saw it, a single strong thread down the line, where everything is starting to converge together.

I muse on the Head Director’s name. Messenger is fitting for what he does.

If Shaun does join the NFU, what would his name be?

I open up an online dictionary and begin to look through names related to his powers. Tank. Force. Unstoppable. Unmovable. I close my eyes and strum down the threads, seeing which if any of the dozens that I eventually pick out, would he like the most.

There is not a single one he likes.

When I see a definite answer such as this, it begets a curiosity in me. I feel the events filter through, and glance down the lines of the past. It seems Shaun is not fond of superheroes.

I’ll adjust a few plans accordingly.

It’ll be nice to finally meet him, face to face. I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure above all things, but with somebody in my presence, I can scan them far more intimately than from miles away.

And I have foreseen it to happen.

Director, Visionary and Shaun have arrived.”

“Very well.”

I really do like my receptionist. Victoria, Torie as she prefers, hasn’t had much of a noteworthy life. You can’t expect everyone to have great achievements and for all intents and purposes, she’s an average person who is above average at her job. It does help that I can see the skeins that led her to this moment, all the decisions and choices and results of her labour. Extremely useful as far as figuring out who is trustworthy based on their past. It takes some judgement of character, and a little peer into the effects of what they do in the future, to truly figure out if they can be trusted.

I’m not omniscient, by all means. Some guess work is required, but not enough to pose any risks.

The door begins to open, and I sit with myself ready. The door itself is a wonder. Artifex designed it himself, after a little coercion and reminding him of our contract with him. It could withstand attacks from a Girallon-Class or even a Hecatonchire-Class Eldritch and survive in-tact. It has also been designed to resist all but the most proficient of individuals to gain entry. It’s mechanically activated by certain individuals with biometrical access. The walls are similarly reinforced, with the added benefit of being sound proof, as to not distract me more than needed.

For all intents and purposes, I sit in a bank vault.

I took my blindfold off a few minutes ago to adjust my senses. There’s still the trickle of visions, and I tap my foot lightly to remain here and now, though even then I can feel myself aligning several seconds before events that are starting to exist. I can see them entering the room after the doors ponderously open. I see them enter the room and sit down, and also I see backwards from that point. I can sense it as an effect, and can trace it back to the cause. The further we move from the point of origin, the more I perceive. Each action has several hundred reasons that merge together into one point, one second of time, and each of these a hundred more beyond. It is perhaps a blessing of my abilities to manage this many different things at once without my brain overloading and burning out.

Shaun doesn’t trust me because Visionary doesn’t know my name. He’s a fairly perceptive young man.

I made sure there was a pair of chairs specifically suited for them today. Comfortable and relaxing to sit in, without being too comfortable to forget that this is a meeting. Shaun walks first; his curiosity gives him resolve, he wishes to see what I want from him. He is suspicious of me, and I can find that perfectly reasonable. Visionary follows with him as well. Where he is more bold, less restrained by the organisation and seeing me as his superior, she is respectful of the hierarchy and mindful that I may have further plans for him and herself.

He studies me, sees my clothes, scans them for faults with scrutiny. I can perceive that he knows I’m called Sage for a reason. Truthfully, the attire is a little bit extravagant but it sets the right impression. It makes people have an air of doubt around me. The image is important. It conveys knowledge, wisdom, gives off an air of uncertainty and mysticism. From everything I’ve seen, it largely remains true.

I couldn’t help but to smile. He’s a refreshing change from the suits and ties and corporate faces of the NFU.

“You came. I’m glad.”

Shaun physically seats himself now and the image I saw of them in the future skitters out of my faculties. I have to raise my hand and motion for Visionary to do so as well, and she complies in a professional manner.

“When they said Sage, they weren’t kidding.”

Shaun speaks with a slightly dry tone, hints of sarcasm. His image of himself is quite incredible. There has been no physical challenge for him, so he has had no worries of his own abilities. Something crawls into view; a perilous situation, where others are frozen by fear. Shaun stands ready, to act where others wouldn’t. Even against odds that appear unbeatable. There is triumph awaiting him.

I think it was his attitude and the vision of what may be that made me smile a little more. I look to Visionary to avoid staring at him for too long. One of the downsides of what my perceptions are is that I sometimes stare ahead blankly, as my senses are drawn elsewhere.

“It’s important to look the part.” I tell them quite openly. Shaun and I share some eye contact, and he notices that they’re green. He likes them. I’m drawn back to his victory waiting for him now. The amalgamation of actions is becoming more concrete and solid, and I see flickers of colour. Burning whites, greens, flashing sirens of blue and red.

“Did you wear these clothes before or after they called you Sage?”

An inquisitive nature, just like I’ve seen in hindsight. With no restrains and no fear of physically being hurt, Shaun can ask the probing questions that others don’t, out of fear of what it may do for them socially. I don’t even need to concentrate on my powers as they coalesce into important points waiting for us all. Strands raise to the future again. Amidst the struggle that others face, Shaun tries to speak and settle the conflict diplomatically.

I laugh. I try to make it sound genuine but I know a lot of people may find it aloof. “I like your sense of humour.”

The room goes quiet for a little while. I let my guard down, and slowly the effects of this meeting come into view. I see what I have to do to ensure these actions fall into place, and every detail of which flood into my mind. I trace up and down like a musician strums a harp. Much like a harp, each time the string is plucked, it sends shimmers and waves. Everything is so interlocking and even the smallest action can cause a proverbial hurricane across the world.

I shimmer through, going backwards one last time, and dredge from the point I saw to where we are now, and I see that Visionary is watching Shaun, to study how he reacts to myself. It appears that I lost my senses for the moment. But I see what occurs, that I’ve been staring through Shaun whilst smiling at him. It’s a very honest, disarming comment to follow. Time catches up with me and I realise what point we’re at when he speaks, and drags me to the present.

“Sooooooo. Did I actually need to be here for anything? Like, did you want me for anything important or to like, have two older women stare at me creepily for half a minute?”

I laugh again. Visionary doesn’t know how to respond. She’s worried and afraid. Would such a comment react badly upon herself, that she couldn’t keep her guest under some sort of control? Perhaps a realisation that it’s true, or that neither of them are aware of what I am. Even her, for all she does to keep an air of secrecy over the true nature of her ability, feels underwhelmed by what I may potentially be witnessing. Something she deeply respects about me. Respects and fears.

“Very funny. Sorry, I’m sorry, Shaun. I have a lot to keep track of.”

I look at Visionary after dropping such a comment. Shaun doesn’t look at her, but she notices what I’ve said and freezes in place. I’ll be honest, sometimes I just do it so see her react to it. As long as what I say doesn’t have a negative effect on our further relations. Gladly, I do a quick check over the surface, and all seems well. There is a strong bond of trust still present.

“Thank you, Visionary. Shaun.”

Nodding, I put my hands down onto the table. The feel of wood livens my dulled sense of touch, covered up by visions of before and after.

“Visionary, if you would wait a moment. Shaun, if you would step outside until Visionary is done speaking with me? I will have to say goodbye for the moment.”

I nod to Shaun. I nod a lot. It’s a habit. I briefly see a flicker of who else will be with him, and remind myself to mention him. The link between now and the effect of this strengthens slightly.

“Disrespect not meant. Yuhong will give you a full tour of the building afterwards. Tether is in today. You are acquainted.”

He’s slightly concerned about the silence. Not much was said and he rightfully suspects that something is going on that he isn’t aware of. It’s a reminder of perspective. He gets up slowly and shows Visionary and myself that though he isn’t aware of precisely what’s occurring, he’s aware that it is. He doesn’t wish to be taken for a fool, and wants us to know he still remains cautious about the NFU.

“…okay then. I’m not even going to try to understand what this was about. If one of you could tell me sometime what just happened. Yeah.”

I watch him as he leaves and walks away. One day, I will tell him. I’ll bide my time. Whilst he leaves, I check something quickly as I watch him intently. One other use of my abilities is hypothetical situations. I can study a desired outcome in my mind and discover the steps that could be taken to achieve such a result. The information is fractured and splinters from that point. It takes concentration to see the extreme circumstances and remove them out of the equation, looking for the most likely of probabilities. Even then, every time I ask, there are some eventualities that can come to be, no matter how far away they are.

In this case, I’ve long studied Shaun and his powers. I’ve been designing contingencies in mind, in such the case that Shaun either goes rogue or turns against the NFU, and pitted our best agents in our mind to deal with him. Whilst such an event is extremely unlikely, it’s a constant worry in my mind. It’s much easier to scan these ‘what if’ scenarios with the person present, and see which answers provide fruit and which ones are dead ends.

All that I question are dead ends.

Not a single contingency that I would have had in place would be sufficient to even cause a stalemate. I’m deeply concerned by this, but I don’t show it to Visionary. I told her that this was the nature of the visit, and it appears she hasn’t informed Shaun of it, like I asked her to.

The only contingency that still remains uncertain, with no answer of whether it’d succeed or not, is the Null contingency. That she makes such things totally void from my powers is a source of frustration when it comes to making contingencies.

Visionary finally speaks, and I’m drawn back to my office. “What did you see?”

“A great many of things. Many useless contingencies we have in place.”

I see uncertainty in her face.

“Useless?” She leans forward in her chair. Curiosity, worry, scepticism. “Why would they be useless?”

I can’t be entirely honest with her. Not entirely. If I told her that we had little in place to handle Shaun in such a dire set of circumstance, other than a total gamble, it would cause us to stray down an entirely different path. One which I cannot allow or afford to happen. I phrase my words carefully.

“The majority would not work. Many are simply not needed. The further away we are from now, the more convoluted it becomes. They are entwined, tangled. They tug at each other, snag at the seams.”

That’s not entirely true. It is true in the way I described but not to the scenarios I sensed panning out for myself only. These ends weren’t tangled, they were cut away. The question that I posed had no possible answer. The situation of Grandmaster beating or stalemating Shaun in a fight, for instance. Nothing. The answer didn’t exist, because such an answer couldn’t possibly exist. There are rarely such certainties. To see one, humbles me.

“I see.” She doesn’t. She isn’t sure where to go from this point. It’s clear to me, she desires to know what Shaun would require to join the NFU. That is the cause of her next question. “And what will he need for now?”

I was already aware of what was required but I quickly took a gander to confirm. There have been snags, abrupt changes in how events proceed. I need to be diligent and take nothing for granted. As foreseen before, the answer is simple. Even common sense would point it out to you, but Visionary is allowing me to confirm her own thoughts.

“The path can be started easily. Offer him again.”

“You’re certain?”

“Certain. He is a normal, teenage boy. Security is all he wants.”

She nods and bows her head. Culturally polite way of saying goodbye. She means to leave. I wouldn’t stop her but the formality of being the director means she’ll leave once given the order to. “I would like to request to leave, and begin the tour.”

I nod, smile and wave my hand to give the correct impression. I do enjoy her company; she’s a very business minded lady and has the conviction to do what is needed. There is a truth behind her desire to aid the NFU. Even though she’s aware that she can’t lie to me, in such terms, she’s never tried to. I have a respect for her for that.

“Dismissed. It’s been nice meeting you again, Visionary. We should do this again.”

I chuckle a little to myself as she leaves. It’s like an inside joke to myself. She wasn’t aware that I knew we’d meet again soon and what steps would be taken to get to it. I see anger, concern and worry in the future for her. Righteousness boils her blood, and even her demeanour is cast aside for the moment to make sense of what I allowed to happen.

It isn’t my brightest moment. It had to be done.

I take out my laptop from my desk and lay it on my desk, and strum my fingertips on my desk as it exits from sleep mode. I note the strange curiosity that after speaking with Visionary, I’m yet again sending out another email to the Head Director. I already know the answer but he has yet to give it.

I send him a quick email. I inform him that Shaun has agreed to a proposal in the future from Visionary that he wants to go on a shift. I check quickly and probe down the lines for when he’ll attend, and it becomes clear that it’ll be tomorrow. I note it down for him as precisely as possible.

Messenger has always trusted my judgement and if I tell him with certainty that something will transpire, he shows no doubt in me at all and allows it to go ahead. I’ve managed to scan for why this is, and all that I can see is a pure, unfettered trust in me.

He’s an excellent judge of character and he knows I have every desire to aid the NFU.

I tell him that I’ll require a special authorisation and that whilst it’s in my power to allow, I wanted him to know prior to it happening. Visionary’s team will be the only team to answer that call. They need to be able to handle a major incident. I cast my senses to that pivotal moment and see with Shaun’s assistance, they can overcome what befalls them. No casualties, no injuries, and further events set in motion.

I send it, worded as concisely as possible.

Head Director Messenger normally trusts me without doubt, without question. I know that today, that will change for once.

He responds back within the minute.

Director Sage.

I require you to confirm that if such events take place, I have guaranteed safety of my operatives.

Kind regards.

I wait. I’ve previously sensed how it plays out but I won’t let it be taken for granted. I briefly check once again, and see nothing has changed. I write back to him after a delay, to give him the impression that I’ve taken more time to investigate than I actually had done.

Head Director Messenger.

I can confirm that none of our agents shall be injured or hurt due to my actions and that it is for the greater benefit of the NFU.

Many thanks.

I send it to him. He sends me a reply. He’s always a prompt individual.

Director Sage.

You have my authorisation. I have trusted and always will trust that you have the best intentions in mind.

Don’t let the NFU down.

Kind regards.

I smile again, satisfied. I open up the control program for the Control Centre that all Directors have access to. Though I don’t know the precise controls required, my abilities allow me to see what’s required of me to do what I wish to do. I edit the settings that have already been put in place, and alter the requirements for Visionary’s Team. I set them from regular incidents to major incidents, save, and close everything down.

I briefly extend my reach from the present and see if everything that is needed, is in place. I find safety in knowing that I’ve done all I need to do and everything is in order. I press the button on my intercom to speak to my receptionist.

“Victoria, would you bring me a cup of tea, please?”

Of course, Director. Right away.”

She normally makes it just a little bit too sweet for my tastes. Today won’t be an exception either.

“Thank you for the tea.” I smile to Victoria as she brings me another mug full of tea, putting it down on my desk. If there’s one downside to my powers, it’s knowing how things taste before I get to try them. The satisfaction of a fresh hot cup of tea is a little dulled.

Such is life.

“You’re welcome, Director. How long are you planning on staying? It’s already past midnight”

I see a drip fading into my periphery. Visionary will be here in 2 minutes after her shift. She sends the young men to play pool and bond together, and alleviate the guilt on Tether’s mind. The girl will be fine though but he doesn’t need to know that just now. Guilt is an important part of any process. Because he feels guilt, he’s aware that hurting people and violence is bad. At the end of the day, that’s a very right thing to feel. Negative emotions have to be experienced as much as positive ones.

I look up at her from my mug and smile a little wider. “Thirty minutes. I’m expecting Visionary to arrive within the next two minutes. When she does, just allow her to come inside. Authorisation isn’t necessary.”

“Oh… yes, of course, Director.” She has a lot of confusion in her voice, and she seems to accept it. She’s gotten used to it by now. She bows her head politely, and I wave to her as she walks away to go back to her desk. She’s checking Facebook on her phone though. The downside of being in my position is that I require her at all times if I’m ever in my office for security reasons, and for the obvious reason of letting people inside. Offering her double overtime for a few hours was enough incentive. And because she’s so helpful, I don’t mind her checking Facebook and turning a blind eye.

I take the mug and hold it in my hands. The warmth is comforting, and I take a small sip. It’s still very refreshing. Still a little bit too sweet. I’ll miss that part.

And so, I wait.

The doors wind open, and Visionary comes inside. I can see something strong in her eyes, even from over here. A determination, both in her stare and how quick she walks over. Her hair is slightly messy and she hasn’t gotten any of the dust out of it right now, but she stops at my desk. I raise my head and smile to her. She’ll speak first and secretly I’m not looking forward to this.

“Director, permission to speak informally and speak my mind.”

I nod once, softly. The doors behind us close and grind, cogs and machinery clicking and locking into place.

“Go on.”

Fire crackles in her voice. “Sage, I mean no disrespect by any of this, and I wish this to be totally off the record. But, you know I wanted it to be just between us. You let me in, knowing I would come to talk to you, and what I wanted to talk to you about. So, I’m safe to assume that you knew exactly what was going to happen today, before any of us were even aware of what was going on.”

I keep smiling, softly. I just allow her to speak. Saying anything wouldn’t be wise.

“With all that said, what were you thinking?!” She says, slamming her hands down. I blink, it’s as much as I can flinch, and I see her eyes drawn to me to see my reaction. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. We were the ones fighting tooth and nail in a situation out of our control. And I don’t care if you knew Shaun could handle it, and if this was premeditated, and it fits some sort of scheme you’ve been helping to unfold. Don’t you ever, ever, put me in a position where I have to have two untrained, sceptical young men in a life or death situation.”

She brings her hands up. My smile’s gone from my face, and I watch her closely.

“Because I know, they would have been safe, because seeing your authorisation to put them in a major incident made me consider the possibility that you knew, that we’d be safe at the end of it, but we don’t have your certainty or your powers. This is not how I want the NFU to be. I don’t want this moment to be the thing that I remember the NFU for. And I certainly don’t want to be the one to tell them why you thought it was acceptable to put them in that situation.”

I’m still quiet. She catches her breath for a second, and looks at me with her eyes narrowing.

“You haven’t said anything, and you know why.”

Now is the time I need to speak. I hold the mug of tea with my fingertips meanwhile.

“If I said anything before now, you’d be much angrier.”

“This is a lesson you needed to teach them, or something like another… pawn to be moved across the board.”

She chose her words carefully, especially the reference to chess.

“The truth?”

I see her eyes open a little more. Normally I don’t allow her to be privy to such things. This is off the records though.

“The truth is, yes. It was a lesson. It was a situation that you had no control over, with unexpected circumstances. I needed to show all three of you, that you can’t ever be in control. Things won’t be easy, and you have to change to meet circumstances. That’s a very important lesson. Shaun learned that it’s acceptable to hurt somebody if it means they don’t hurt somebody else. Alex learned the grim truth of somebody being hurt by him, on purpose. And even you, learned that sometimes it’s okay to speak against those in authority when you believe what they’ve done is wrong. Something you’ve never done before.”

She stands there, not so much realising what I’m saying but accepting how everything fits.

“The other truth is more plain and obvious. You were the only team able to take that call. You, out of all the teams, even Grandmaster’s team, were the only ones who would have entered that situation and done that well. With minimal loss or injury or death, to yourselves or anybody else. It happened because you were the best team, the only available team there. It just so happens, that it also taught you something as well.”

I let go of my mug of tea and spread my arms a little to the sides.

“A very useful coincidence, but a coincidence all the same.”

“There aren’t any coincidences with you, though.”

Her words have some bite to them and she’s right, in a way. I can’t disagree with her.

“Knowing the script doesn’t make a play less of a work of art. Seeing it performed twice doesn’t ruin the first time. It’s just a different appreciation.”

She stares at me. I see her lips frown beneath her mask.

“You of all people should know that. When Aberrant swung his swords at you and you used your powers to see it, did you dodge them any less quicker because you knew it wouldn’t hit you?”

“That’s not the same.” She says. I briefly let some insight flicker into my perceptions. She disagrees because she wants me to explain why I allowed this to happen. I’ll indulge her with my justification.

“No, perhaps not. I knew what would happen if I told you the outcome or even hinted that I was aware of what may come to be. A measure of safety in yourself and Shaun and Tether, and events happening very differently. Dominoes falling down that need to stay up. Future events, which are more pivotal than you realise, that need to be. Even this event. I don’t want you to be mad with me, Visionary. I understand why you are, and I believe you’re right to be.”

She seems surprised by this. Her surprise comes from me admitting that she’s right instead of denying it. Such surprise stems from the past, where she never heard anybody who she considered an authority figure to admit their mistakes, and…

I got myself distracted. The conversation pauses awkwardly for a second. I carry on.

“I knew you’d come in here and be rightfully angry. I’m aware of how everything has, and will, happen in this room. I didn’t want it to pass but for me, it was an inevitable moment that I can’t avoid. There will be many others that you’ll never know about as well, and be glad that you don’t have to know.”

I can see the relief in her, so I decide to wrap up the conversation quickly. She herself wants to leave too, concerned for Shaun and Tether.

“You have my word that if such a situation occurs again, I’ll consult you first on the matter. It was wrong for me to keep you in the dark, even if I tell you it’s justified, and for that, I’m sorry, Yuhong.”

Surprise, shock. I used her first name. It feels personal to her this way. I really do hate to use people’s own personalities against them but in this case, it’s another necessity. I’m aware of her desire to appeal to her authority figures. She has a suspicion that I may know, waiting in her future, but can never confirm it. She never does forget it though.

She smiles under her mask and that makes me smile.

“I understand, Director.”

“I appreciate that you do.”

“I’ll have to go and make sure my team is well.”

“Visionary, as a word of advise. I’d like to suggest that the paperwork required for today’s incident be moved to a week’s time. Don’t burden Shaun or Tether, or yourself, with it. Just make sure they go home. They’ve had enough for today.”

Visionary bows her head. “Thank you, Director. See you tomorrow.”

“Wednesday. I have tomorrow off.”

“Of course.” She leaves, and I briefly delve backwards. I see the anger and righteousness in her as she entered and contrast it with the satisfied, calmer Visionary that’s now leaving my room, with the door sealing behind her.

I reach for my tea again and take a longer sip. The conversation was just long enough that my tea cooled for exactly the right amount of time. It’s the perfect warmth, and I give the brew no mercy as I drink it down quickly. I get out of my chair, adjusting my robes with one hand and press the door release on my desk, and walk out of the room.

Victoria notices me as I come out, and I put the mug on her glass desk with a clink.

“Thank you for staying behind, Victoria. I’ll make sure you get paid for tonight. I appreciate what you do for me.”

She smiles back at the compliment and discretely puts her phone into the handbag underneath her desk, assuming I hadn’t seen or known about it. She gets up and follows me as we both get into the elevator, and she presses the button for us to go to the ground floor.

Part of me is happy. The meeting with Visionary signifies the end of something and the beginnings of many more. I let my senses be swarmed for the moment, and Victoria abides my silence next to her comfortably. The path has become stronger, even now. Lies and Triumph. Slaughter and deception. The justified, the vengeful, the destitute and the one with the strength to hold it all together. I see annihilation, the fallen and the risen.

And the tragedy, is that this is the only path of causality that will save us all.

Ground floor.”

Victoria steps out first. I follow after her, and here is where we part ways. She turns to me and smiles, and waves.

“Goodbye, see you on wednesday, Director.”

“Goodbye, Tori. Have a good evening.”

I turn and walk down the corridor, to get to my car. The driver is waiting for me, and has been doing so for the last 17 minutes.

It’s been a funny sort of day today.

Entrance: 1-8

Plucking a piece of debris from his shoulder, Jolly flicks it across the room with nonchalant ease. He is by far one of the calmer people in the room; his presence has petrified everyone but Shaun, who looked more on guard than any notion of fear. Jolly himself took a single step forward, pointing loosely in Flare, Candour and Visionary’s direction. They all tensed up slightly at the sudden attention.

“You two, stay put. If he talks-” He inclines his head to Triclops, who picks up on the movement and tightens her grip, aiming for Candour. “-put a bolt through his throat.” Candour looked at Jolly, and the situation made him break from any hold that terror had over him, into a sly smirk of sorts. The giant and the talker were the two points of interest in the room; the stare they gave each other contested for power.

“I’m not a big talker. It wastes time.” He took another thunderous step forward. The entire room trembled slightly. “No business of the NFU. These three have been in my turf too many times. Too many warnings.” He sweeps his hand across the room. Shaun watched him intently, studying him. “They come with us. I set an example of them.”

Alpha was in the other room. She saw everything and whispered for her animals to stay put, and they complicity abided her commands. None of them went more forward than she was. She glanced to Flare and watched her for a moment. She wasn’t good at reading people, not in the slightest, but even she saw Flare like a coiled spring. Fearful, yet almost waiting for something.

She took the blinds and began to lower them slightly. Slowly, not wanting to bring attention to herself. Triclops was facing away from her, and so was Aberrant. They were far too focused on Flare.

Aberrant rolled his shoulders, and shot Triclops a glare. Jolly looked slightly to the right, to the door that was open.

“I know you’re there, Alpha.” His deep voice carried through the room. “Squeaks wants revenge. When you set a pack of rats on him. I was going to throw you against the floor. But I’ll take you back, and throw you to him.”

Shaun was the first person other than Jolly to speak, and his voice wasn’t as deep or full of bass as Jolly. He instantly drew everyone’s attention, as well as Triclops’ middle eye staring at him.

“You’re Jolly?”

Jolly looked down to Shaun, turning himself to face him. “I am.”

“Heard about you. You’re a big guy.” He said, as an off-hand remark. He displayed no aggression, no passiveness. A worried look shot over Aberrant’s face. Jolly was more curious than anything. “Did you call yourself Jolly?”

“No.” Was all he replied. There was a pause that passed, a single beat.

“Huh. Didn’t think you did.” Shaun raised his eyebrows slightly.

“Distracting me?” Jolly said. It was hard to tell if there was inquisition in his voice or if he was calling him out.

“No, not really. This is an NFU building, and Flare and the other two are coming with us.”

Visionary kept her tazer firmly on Candour’s throat. Neither of them moved, though Visionary’s eyes were working overtime, flickering like strobe lights from one point to another. She saw Flare and Candour share a glance. Flare wagged her eyebrows twice, subtle that nobody but the most perceptive people would have noticed.

“Boy. I wasn’t negotiating.” Jolly corrected Shaun, a growl in the pit of his throat.

“Neither was I.”

The focus shifted from Candour entirely and went to Shaun. Tether was pacing very slowly at the back of the room. He held a monitor in his hand, and faintly let a click ring through the rear of the scene. He had managed almost all but one of them, and had mostly gone unnoticed. Alpha was the only one in a position to keep his eye on him, and she was too busy watching Jolly and Shaun stare each other down.

“I will be taking them with me.” Jolly reiterated. “I will go through anybody if needed.” There was a weird pause as Jolly looked down at Shaun. “Bravery, stupidity, insanity.” He pauses again, then answers with confidence.

“Bravery.”

Flare cut through the tension with a single, disarming question.

“’Ey, Jolly. Can I just say somethin’?”

Jolly turned his head to her and glared. He didn’t respond immediately, though he sounded fairly reasonable when he said “You can. He can’t. Then this is over.” He didn’t even acknowledge Shaun when saying that.

Triclops piped in with her opinion. “I dunnae think she’s got nothin’ to add, Jolly. Let’s just grab her an’ go.”

“Nobody asked yer, fuck off.” Flare barked back abruptly.

“You can fuck off, yer’ dumb scouse bitch.”

This just provoked Flare, who went on a small tirade and verbally lashed out. “Yer’ fuckin’ what? I’ll fuckin’ stab you, yer’ three eyed sweaty’ cow-”

Enough.”

Jolly’s voice was like thunder. Quick, savage, the deafening peel of his shout caused utter silence to follow. Triclops just stood, stunned.

“Say what you have to say.”

Flare nodded, then made a show out of snorting, drawing something through her nose. It was an obnoxious noise, and she made a poignant display of showing off the fact that she was hocking up a large loogie. Jolly remain unamused and simply stared at her. He was patient, and knew this demonstration would cost her.

She tilted her head back, and swirled it a little in her mouth, before spitting it as far as she could in Jolly’s direction. Everyone watched it trail through the air; horror, amusement, disgust. Mixed reactions.

Everyone reacted the same when Flare’s eyes widened and she turned the improvised missile into a flying, consumingly bright ball of light. She didn’t need to raise her hands to use her powers. She just needed something everything was watching, and she made it so bright that the entire room was illuminated with burning light.

Everyone gripped their face. Candor kept his eyes closed but even then, it was hard not to be overwhelmed, and Alpha had hidden in the other room with her animals to avoid the brunt of it. Triclops suffered the worse, grabbing her face and screaming as much as her lungs could pump out. Even Jolly staggered, holding his face with his cumbersome hand.

“You’re going to let me go now and drop your tazer.” Candour spoke. Visionary, who was still reeling from the makeshift flash bang. She grunted, trying to restrain herself from acting but his words wormed their way quickly into her and she let go of the tazer, and Candour as well. He slipped away from her and grabbed Flare to let her know he was free.

“Fuckin’ get outta here, you’s lot!”

Shaun was the least effected. After the initial light had gone, he opened his eyes and took stock of the situation. Flare and Candour were already absconding; Alpha was rushing out with a large amount of animals in tow, with those not quick enough to escape had crawled onto her, with the rest scampering around her. Shaun could hear her say “Moving, moving, moving!” along the way. He took a step to go and follow them, but the sight of Tether and Visionary still blinded made him stop and turn to Jolly.

Flare’s aim was good. She got Jolly right in the shoulder with that spit.

“Visionary, Tether, you alright?”

Visionary nodded. “I’m good.” Tether groaned slightly. “Just… a sec.”

Everyone but Triclops roughly emerged at the same time, and began to see a bit clearer from the temporary bout of blindness. Jolly looked around for Flare, and found her absent. Aberrant looked around the room for the same, but turned his attention to Triclops. She was still in total agony, screaming like a knife was plunged into her stomach. Tether stopped buckling over and stood up. Visionary was up on her feet, and quickly took out the pair of bar maces hanging on her hip, and took a step forward.

Jolly went to go forward. There were no words, only action. A man of little expression, the anger on his face was noticeable, and he was eager to vent his fury.

He would have caught up with them, if it wasn’t for Shaun’s outstretched arm blocking his way.

It was a sight to behold. Shaun held fast, and Jolly slammed straight into his arm under the assumption he would move. He didn’t even budge, not even flinch, and Jolly ground to a halt as his upper body juddered forward, bending over from Shaun.

Everyone who was up just stared, wide eyed.

Jolly growled deeply, and for the first time tonight his voice sounded unrestrained. He wasn’t surprised that he was stopped. Either too pissed off, or already aware of the situation.

“Boy, move.

Jolly may have been huge, a towering mass of green muscle but he was no slower because of it. He swung his right arm over to the left, and didn’t hesitate to sweep it straight towards Shaun’s face in a clenched backhand.

Shaun moved his head to the right, not for avoiding the blow but to make some room, drew up his left arm and shoved it right in the path of Jolly’s hand. The impact sounded like a grenade going off, an explosive impact clapping. Shaun held Jolly’s hand right where it was and gripped around it. Jolly pushed at him, muscles visibly straining to try and get him to move, or see if he even could, and Shaun held.

Everyone else held too.

“Visionary.” Shaun said, tilting his head slightly. Jolly grunted slightly, as they were locked in place. Neither was going to give up at the moment. “Collateral, how much is okay?”

Visionary looked like she gasped for breath, coming to her senses. “Minimise it.”

“Alright.”

Jolly almost looked like a ragdoll for a second. Shaun took the hand he grabbed and flung it upwards, as if Jolly had put no strength into it whatsoever. He was thrown off balance for the seconds, arms raised. He only managed to take a single step backwards before Shaun moved towards him. He raised his foot up in the air, leaning into Jolly, and shoved it hard into him.

Off balance and with nothing to hold onto, Shaun’s kick struck Jolly straight above the groin, and the force cracked through the air. Jolly was sent backwards, swept clean off his feet. He didn’t stop when he hit the wall, and he didn’t stop when he went through it either. He travelled a few seconds more before they heard a cacophonous crash further inside the building.

Shaun looked behind him. He expected them to be surprised, but he didn’t let them be distracted for long.

“I’ve got the big guy.”

Aberrant seemed to have figured out who to aim for, and rushed over to Visionary. He still had his blades drawn; the upper hands had swords, the lower had their blades. He swung at her several times with both hands, acting independently of each other’s momentum. She batted away the first blow coming to her, then avoided the other two by stepping away. He advanced and continued to move in, each swing followed by a series of testing prods and jabs. Visionary was able to parry or avoid them all. All whilst the daggers in his lower arms stayed up, guarding his body from any counter-attack.

It seemed for the time being, he was attacking with short sweeps that allowed him to keep on the offensive. Visionary focused on evasion for the time being.

Tether watched for a moment. He had hesitated slightly. He scanned and observed the room. Shaun was near the hole Jolly was punted through. Triclops was still reeling, clutching her face. Visionary needed help. He ran closer to the middle of the room, positioning himself between where the monitors were and where their skirmish was happening, and raised his hand up.

Visionary seemed to notice, even whilst her eyes were locked onto Aberrant. The next swing had her slink to the side, out of the way. Tether made a click, and gripped tightly. One of the far monitors came flying to his hand, which he ducked out of the way of. It flung past his head, careening over to Aberrant.

Unfortunately, his aim was a little off, and Aberrant managed to duck to avoid any potential impact. It still only got him at the side. Tether stepped to the side a little and repeated again. Aberrant managed another pair of swings before he had to make an effort to avoid this one colliding with him, and he jerked out of the way.

With an opening ready, Visionary struck at his upper right hand with a precise blow, smashing into his knuckles and causing the sword to fling away. She aimed to do the same again but he was too quick to fall for it again and their steel clashed together. Her mace skid up the surface of his blade, and he tried to get her in the stomach with his daggers. Her stomach arched back, and he stepped back as well to get some space from her.

“Huh. That’s a big TV.”

Shaun made the comment just prior to a large, flat screen television smashing straight into him from the other room. Jolly had managed to throw it so that the screen itself was covering Shaun’s view, his arm raised as a reaction. It was lodged firmly over it, and Shaun barely heard Jolly’s stampede rushing to him, with his foot raised to mimic what had just happened to him before.

“Shaun, brace!”

Visionary called out to him, and Shaun took her word for it. He held firmly in place, as Jolly’s foot slammed straight into his arm. Whilst Shaun wasn’t going to move, the floor wasn’t nearly as durable. His feet sunk slightly from the sheer force of the blow, though he himself endured it well.

Jolly’s head moved slightly as Tether flung another monitor, striking him square in the face. It flew off him and smashed into the floor behind him. It seemed to do little, other than distract him for a moment.

That moment was all Shaun needed. He grabbed the monitor, pushing forward with his shielding arm. Jolly pulled his foot back, wary to not being shoved off guard again. Shaun peeled the remains of the destroyed screen from his right arm, and holding it in his left arm he reeled it back and slammed it into Jolly’s side. Jolly raised his arm and absorbed the blow, though he staggered slightly. The sound was more impressive, as bits of plastic and electronics exploded from the point of impact.

Triclops had come to her senses finally. She heard the carnage in the room, and split her vision three ways to see what was going on. Quick to act, she rose to a kneeling position and brought up her crossbow, aiming quickly towards Visionary. Tether had his hand up and tried to send one of the last remaining monitors to her but she’d fired too quickly.

With Visionary’s back turned, it was assumed she’d be easy prey. From the moment the crossbow was aimed and the trigger pulled, she began to evade it. It barely managed to get her side, and pierced through the window with a strong punch to it.

Triclops was surprised, and barely dodged the monitor flying towards her. She ducked underneath it and lay to the floor, and fumbled with her crossbow. She stood up and began to pull the string back, hurrying to try to fit a bolt onto it and fire again. Tether was onto her, and with his meteor hammer still at hand, he swung the ball around for a moment and threw it just above Triclops. She had ducked below the blow, a moment to make her reload slower.

His hand lowered and a click brought the ball straight back to him. It went through her crossbow and hand to do so, smashing it out of her grip and causing her to recoil in pain. She gripped her hand, and it was hard to tell if there was the sound of bones breaking amongst the sound of destroyed wood, metal and plastic. Tether let the ball drop to his feet before it reached his hand, and drew the rope back up.

There was no respite for Visionary. She was still mostly on the defensive, though Aberrant had yet to manoeuvre her or trap her and bite her with his blades. He grew frustrated more than anything, pulling back for a moment. His blades were drawn closer to himself, and they paused. He was prompting her to engage, and waited like a snake ready to strike.

Of all people, Shaun was more relaxed. Jolly and himself exchanged blows; each would have crippled a lesser man, yet here they were. Shaun threw a punch, Jolly blocked it and threw his own. It was unusual that whilst everyone was quiet, Shaun was still talking, quite relaxed.

“Jolly, let’s just stop. This is pointless. We can just walk at this point.”

“Big words, for a small man.” Jolly opened his palm, and went to grab at Shaun’s face. Shaun grabbed the fingers as they came in, one on each hand, and threw the hand to the side to force another opening. Jolly’s hand flung below, and Shaun reared back to kick him back again.

“Small words, for a big man-”

Jolly was no fool, and as Shaun’s foot came in, Jolly caught it with a deafening clap that struck around his ankle. He had braced himself and Shaun still managed to vent some of that power into him; where Jolly was off balance before and flew past, when he braced, he budged just an inch.

Jolly grinned. He had his hands on Shaun’s foot, and seized the moment.

With one hand, Jolly kept his grip on Shaun’s foot and swung him to the side, slamming him hard enough to shatter the desks and computers that were in his way, sending their remains across the room. He took some of the wall with him, and Jolly’s round swing went behind him and up. He brought him down into the floor, and slammed him down hard with an overhead throw.

The room shuddered. Even the windows jittered slightly, as Shaun was punched through the floor and left a small crater in his wake.

Shaun wasn’t down though, and he grabbed the floor around him. In a bold move, he used his grip on the floor to thrust himself forward. He slid out of his hole, straight between Jolly’s legs. He still held his leg, so Jolly’s arm was joining him between his legs. Shaun had the momentum and followed Jolly’s legs, which flung him from being on his back, ‘backflipping’ from his back onto one leg.

He swept his foot out and Jolly lost his grip, caught vulnerable again with his hand between his legs. Before he could pull it back, Shaun latched onto it with a tight grip and held it in place. He threw it upwards whilst still holding onto it, and Jolly flipped over onto his back, spun over and landed on the floor. Ass over kettle.

Shaun didn’t stop, and kept lifting afterwards. Jolly swept up in the air in a broad crescent and for a second, he was floating. In the next second, Shaun brought him down just as hard as he had been before.

Jolly made the bigger hole out of the two.

Tether began to spin the ball around, and stood in an open stance. Triclops was watching him, cradling. He didn’t look like a predator circling his prey; he just had to act. He threw the ball again, holding onto the other end with his free arm, and Triclops went wide eyed and rolled towards him with her hand still cradled to her chest to avoid it.

“Shit!” She shouted out. Just as the roll ended and she went to get on her feet. Tether clicked again. The metal ball came flying back to him, and had to go through her. She turned around just in time for it to strike her in the side, knocking the wind straight out of her, hard enough that she couldn’t even scream in pain. This time, he definitely heard something break, as the ball came back and rolled to his feet. Triclops was out of the fight, as she clutched her side with her free hand. Tether watched her for a second. Her face was contorted in pain, she was wheezing and coughing for breath and curled into a foetal position, tears streamed down her face.

He resisted the sickening feeling in his stomach, and looked to see who needed more help.

Visionary provoked Aberrant several times, swinging at him, only for him to deflect her attacks and try to watch for an opening. She was too quick, and continued to circle around him whilst avoiding any backlash. He showed obvious frustration at not landing a single blow on her, and gave in and started to hack and cut at her. The knife on his hand which didn’t have a sword was held back, just in case.

Tether saw an opportunity, and went with it. Swinging the ball again, he flung it with less force than before, just so it went to the side of Aberrant. He knew he’d dodge it quite easily, as it wasn’t going anywhere near him. Visionary kept him distracted, even going so far as to lower one weapon, as a sign of mockery that she didn’t need it, topped off with a smile. Tether ran to the other end of the room and clicked, calling the ball back from the floor. Visionary hopped over it as it came past her, though Aberrant hadn’t noticed the rope was coming for his legs, and didn’t manage to avoid being tripped up.

Just as he hit the floor, Visionary swiped her tazer from the floor and shoved it onto his back, and shocked him for a few seconds. He convulsed and squealed as the purple electricity coursed over the point of contact, and she let him go once she was certain he was going to stay down, unconscious.

That left Shaun and Jolly. Jolly rose to his feet again, none worse for wear, though he seemed just a little bit more sluggish than before. Shaun kept up a defensive pose, as he briefly glanced around. A thought went through Jolly’s head, as he turned away from Shaun and the perpetual stalemate, aiming to charge into his other team mates.

Horror struck Shaun’s face, and he acted before he thought about it, and grabbed Jolly’s long coat just before it got out of his reach. Shaun didn’t restrain himself this time, and Jolly stumbled backwards as Shaun heaved him back with titanic force.

“Shaun, get him out of here!”

Visionary called out, and Shaun complied. Jolly braced, knowing what was coming but Shaun punched faster than he could react, and his smaller size meant he could weave and duck straight in. He threw a single right hook upwards into Jolly’s side. The giant braced with all his strength and even then, Shaun’s punch hit with enough force to lift him off his feet, a sledgehammer of a hit even to a man as tough as Jolly. Pain flushed through his face and he gasped for breath, as his muscles rippled from the blow.

“No more games, Jolly.”

Shaun didn’t stop with one hit, and saw he had an opening to his midsection. Shaun threw an uppercut with his left and slammed Jolly upwards off his feet even higher. When Jolly landed, he staggered forward and dropped to a knee, clutching his stomach and gasping for breath. He groaned, confidence flushed from his voice. Now, his voice trembled with weakness.

Shaun stepped forward much calmer and leaned over, putting his hand on Jolly’s chest. With his palm flat to his chest, he made sure Jolly could hear him before he spoke.

“Time to go home, Jolly.”

Then, Shaun shoved him.

He had to step into Jolly to do so, and shoved until his arm was outstretched. He aimed up so Jolly wouldn’t just slide on the floor, and the previous blows waned in comparison to the strength he used just then. Jolly shot out of the building, straight from where he was standing, through the window with an applause of shattered glass, and slammed into the ground outside like a meteor. He landed just near the office he’d previously destroyed, and that walkway wasn’t short in the slightest.

Jolly barely moved. He gurgled for breath and groaned, but he was out of the fight for now.

Visionary turned to look outside and put her maces away. A calm descended on the room now. Tether was wrapping up his meteor hammer and walked over to Aberrant, nudging him with a shoe.

“I thought we were done. Just, fucked. Totally.”

Visionary turned back and looked at Tether. He looked expectantly back at her, though she thought against scolding him at the last second.

“Unexpected fight, we lost our objective, but we came out with no casualties or wounded on our side.” She assessed the damage. “We call an ambulance and we leave. We’re done here.”

“Done?” Shaun spoke. There wasn’t a single scratch or bruise on him, and he walked over with as much vigour as he had when he walked inside. “We should cuff these guys and put them away. Get them in the Unit.”

She turned from the window and shook her head. “No, Shaun. We get them medical attention, and then we leave the building. The fight is over.”

“They’re criminals.” Shaun opened his arms. “They broke the law. They’re gang members. They need to be put away. We have their leader out there.”

“We can’t restrain him. Shaun, listen to me.” She put a hand on his shoulder, and his frown faded from his face. “In an ideal world, yes. But there’s a lot of reasons against it. If Jolly was in the Unit, his gang would come straight for us to get to him. By any means, they would try to get him back. That’d be a lot of dead people on both sides. Trust me on that one.”

Shaun looked on in disbelief.

“He’s injured. He’ll have his pride wounded. It’ll be wounded more if he was thrown away. Plus, look at them.”

Shaun did. He hadn’t really paid much attention to them but both were on the floor. Aberrant was out cold, Triclops wasn’t moving much either.

“He has a possible broken or fractured hand. Triclops definitely does, as well as potentially broken ribs. Maybe even some damage to her spine.”

Tether looked on in horror at the body on the floor. She coughed. It was dirty and strained.

“Visionary, I’m-”

“No.” She stopped him. “Don’t. Stay focused. Call an ambulance, then we leave. They won’t be going far. I’ll find the security guard and bring him with us. He’ll need to make a statement. Call 999, then call the Control Centre and report back on what happened.”

Shakily, he nodded and complied, and took out a phone and dialled 999.

Shaun took a nearby chair and sat down on it. He yanked his hood back now and brushed a hand through his hair, taking a deep sigh. It didn’t settle well with him, how the end unfolded, though he knew better than to disobey an order from Visionary at the moment.

She’d gone downstairs to fetch the security guard, who had told her that some of the other guards who normally patrol were missing. She had a quick search for the other security personnel on site, along with the help of Patrick on the cameras. They were locked in a cleaning cupboard on the other side of the building. Nobody is quite sure how they got in there, other than ‘the tall, thin man telling them they really wanted to stay inside this cupboard’.

They were quickly told to leave the site and go home, on official orders. Nobody questioned why, after the security guards came outside and surveyed the damage.

The ambulances eventually came. Shaun, Tether and Visionary had already left the scene at this point. They found that Flare’s car was totally wrecked, and they’d managed to take Jolly’s pick-up instead and hijacked it. They were told to bring two ambulances, with one wide vehicle, though when they arrived on the scene, the paramedics commented on the scene.

“There’s only two casualties here.” One commented. “They reported three.”

Jolly’s crater was empty by the time they approached. Where he had gone, nobody was around to see. The security guard went in the car with the NFU, being brought in for questioning. The journey was quiet for the most part from everyone but Patrick, who had a great curiosity about actually meeting real life NFU agents in person.

Shaun at least found him a bit endearing, if not a little annoying. He also suggested not to take any selfies. Not only because they weren’t professional, but because he just didn’t like them.

Patrick was a little sad about that.

When they got back, Visionary took the man to a waiting lounge. Shaun and Tether waited in a private room to avoid being questioned on what had happened. Visionary left and told them that they wouldn’t be doing any further work that night, and they didn’t have to worry about writing the reports out for this until tomorrow at least.

Tether- Alex, took off his uniform, and changed his clothes. Shaun only needed to take off his jacket and the neck warmer that covered his face. The rest were just his normal clothes. Alex wasn’t in the mood for talking much about it, and Shaun could see he was down. Shaun told Alex that he should probably air it, just a little bit, as he always found it helps.

A game of pool was also offered, and Alex accepted. Shaun asked him to set up and took the first shot. Alex seemed much better at aiming his shots than Shaun, as he potted in a rather long shot that took a bounce off the cushion to achieve.

“Do your powers help you with angles?” He’d ask, leaning on his pool cue.

“Nah. I just play a lot.” He said.

“Ah.”

“I guess though, like. If you think about it, I have to think a lot about angles when I’m using my powers.”

“Makes sense.”

Shaun took his shot. It was relatively easy but he couldn’t follow through to another pot after it went in the hole. Alex noticed he wasn’t setting up his shots.

“So you really beat up Jolly. That’s cool, man.”

“Is it?” Shaun said, watching the pool table intently.

“I thought we were fucked.” Alex commented, practising how much force was going into the shot. “Really fucked. He’s nine feet tall, like the Hulk, yeah? You just threw him around. He didn’t have a chance, did he?”

Shaun glanced awkwardly to the side.

“Like, it’s not me to say this or accuse you of anything but why didn’t you just, like. Put him out of the fight from the first hit?”

Shaun looked to the other side. “I didn’t know how tough he was. I didn’t want to hit him hard enough and knock his head off.”

Alex took the shot. The crack of the pool balls hitting each other split the silence nicely, giving the illusion of a calm atmosphere.

“You held back?”

“I have to.” Shaun said, watching him knock a yellow ball into the pocket. Alex waited and judged his next move. “Imagine if I just threw a punch and put a hole through him. I know it’s hard to believe, but, that’s not good. It’s not cool.”

Alex took the shot, and potted another one in.

“Man, you’re good at this.”

“Heh. Uni room had a pool table in it.” He judged where to go next. “You haven’t played much pool, either.” He stated.

“Nah. I need to work on my aim.” Shaun said, stepping forward and getting a closer look. Out of the original 16 balls, there was 6 red, 5 yellow, the white and black left. “You’re in the lead.”

“Today was just… I know sometimes I’m gonna have to hit people, and I’m going to hurt them, but it just feels kinda bad. I just used my powers for pranks before. Like, bags of open flour into people’s chest, water balloons, harmless stuff. Watching that girl I hit, it made me feel… horrible.”

“I know, man. I know. But she fired a crossbow at Vision- Yuhong. It still feels really shitty to say this but, y’know. If we hadn’t… Like, when Jolly went for you guys. Christ, I was shitting myself. I was fighting him because I was the only one who could take him. I didn’t want to think about what he’d do if he grabbed either of you, I thought he’d play nice, just fight me for a bit, work out his stress.” Alex stopped playing for the moment and listened. “So I knew then, I had to punch and thrown him about a bit, I knew how hard he could take it, and I decided it was enough and put him down.”

Alex nodded, slowly.

“Feeling bad is good, because we kinda still give a shit, about the people we’re against. We don’t see them as villains, we see them as people we don’t want to hurt, and in any other situation we wouldn’t. It’s why I was trying to talk to him. It’s also why I don’t like capes. Vorpal, Sovereign, those sorts of guys. To those guys, it’s a bit of fun, a game. Cat and mouse with some bad guy. They don’t give a shit if they wreck a few buildings, destroy a few people’s home. Y’know?”

Alex nodded again. He decided to take the shot.

“Thanks, man. Kinda makes me feel better. You’re like, the strongest and toughest guy I’ve seen and you’re telling me this stuff. Heart-warming stuff.”

“Ah, shut up.” Shaun said, grinning. He pointed his cue to Alex. “Take the shot.”

He did, and Shaun wasn’t even surprised that he managed to get the shot in.

“D’ya get into many fights? Growing up and stuff.” Alex asked.”

“Nah. Not really. Well.” Shaun said. “Yeah, and no. I got into them. Some dickheads think they’re tough, they wanna fight with the guy who can’t be hurt and can put them through walls. Like, one time, me and my mates had gone out on a night out. Underaged, don’t tell anybody that.” Alex complied and nodded. “My mates were hammered, totally wankered.”

“I didn’t know you could.” Alex observed the battlefield of pool balls. He was methodical, patient.

“I can’t. They can though. I mean, alcohol’s a poison, technically, isn’t it? I can’t be affected, at all.” He shrugs. “I just drink what’s delicious.”

“I hear that.”

“These guys, probably like twenty years old or so come over. They start taking the piss. ‘Oi, it’s that farborn little cunt, isn’t it? Little hard man, thinks he’s fuckin’ tough’. That sort of macho crap. My mates are scared but I just don’t care. I tell them to fuck off. So they start trying to push me. I don’t let them, and they just bounce off me. All they’re doing is shouting louder, trying to gang around me. We’re next to the road, it’s a bit busy and all, and they know I don’t wanna hit them. They say, they’ll get me put in the Unit if I touch them.”

“What did you do?” Alex had found his mark, and leaned down to get the power in his hit just right.

“I grab him by the shirt, and fling him to the side. He rolls over about… four times. His mates back off, and I run over and grab him by the shirt, and push him to the wall. Pin him by one hand. He’s kicking and shouting and hitting me but it doesn’t even bother me.” He said. “I don’t like it, but sometimes, people need to just back off. I tell him, ‘Listen to me, you think the Unit’s gonna be able to hold me?’ And I saw his face. He was terrified, scared. Deer in the headlights. ‘You think anybody can stop me finding you and ripping your fucking head off? Don’t ever come to me again like this, don’t come to my mates like this, and don’t pick a fight you know you can’t win. You hear me?!’”

Alex nodded, stunned. “Woah.”

“Yeah. He and his mates ran away after I let him go and told him to go away. I wasn’t going to do anything to him, christ no. But, it taught me a few things. Word spread fast, and everyone knew quickly. People had heard about it and didn’t want to try anything else, and that intimidating people is the easiest way to stop people. I don’t want to fight people, but telling them I will, gets people off my case.”

“Do you think you could take Sovereign in a fight?”

“Shut up, man.” He said, smiling a little. “I don’t think about stuff like that.”

“Well, yeah, but can you take him in a fight?”

Shaun laughed a little. “I’m not answering these questions. It’s like Superman vs Goku.”

Alex nodded. “…Superman.”

“No, mate. Have you even seen Goku?” Shaun wagged his cue threateningly at Alex.

“I see you two are more relaxed.”

Yuhong walked in, and she had stripped herself of her uniform and was in more casual, fashionable clothes; a white blouse that buttoned half the way down, with a black ink scape of a cherry blossom tree on the right side, as well as jeans and some boots.

“We needed to air a bit, and talk.” Shaun said, holding his cue to his side now.

“Good. First, I wanted to congratulate both of you for today. We consider this a successful major incident.”

“Sending three people to hospital is a success?” Shaun asked, bluntly.

Relative success. We went into a situation expecting the Ten Granders, we found Jolly and the Manc Freakshow and came out without any casualties or injuries. For your first major incident and first fight? Somebody was going to get hurt. Nobody was killed.”

Shaun looked away. “Yeah. I guess, worse things could happen. But I don’t like it. I still feel bad about what happened.” Tether nods, to agree. “We should have taken Jolly. He’s dangerous.”

“He is, but it’s a complicated situation. Shaun, there are drug lords and major criminals out there, which could be captured and imprisoned. The reason we don’t is because mostly, taking them alive will cost a lot of people their lives. There’ll be a lot of angry gang members, and we’ll need to control the aftermath. Unless it’s done as safely as possible with minimal risks, the costs are too great.”

He watches her, nodding slowly.

“The other reason is, we know Jolly. He’s got his ways to make money. They’re not the people you can easily control in said aftermath. And with Jolly gone, his territory will be weakened. Other gangs will try to take over it. More fighting, from people you don’t want to fight. Farborn and Fartouched with grudges against society. And then, who steps into the power vacuum that Jolly just leaves if he’s imprisoned?”

Shaun was watching, he seemed to be fairly interested.

“Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.”

“So, what? It’s about keeping everything in order, maintain that status quo?

“Yes.” Yuhong said, almost as bluntly as Shaun before. “Exactly that. Everyone likes the playing field level. If you tip it a little, other people try to tip it back. They’ll push harder than you. To save reputation, to get revenge.”

Yuhong could see that Shaun was accepting it. He didn’t seem to want to respond, so she changed the tone.

“Shaun, I’d like to thank you personally. Without you there, it would have been a very different incident. As we arranged, you came for one shift, that’s your one shift done. You’re free to go but if you’re interested, please just call me again.”

Shaun nodded, and looked at the pool table for second. He turned back to Yuhong.

“Can I tell anybody about what happened today? My parents?”

“You’re not supposed to, for confidentiality reasons. But, between you and me, be vague and mention no names or places. Transport will be here for both of you in 10 minutes.”

Alex turned, and took the shot quickly. It was the first time he’d missed a shot. Shaun raised his eyebrow, and quickly seized the next turn.

Shaun got back home fairly late. He was going to sneak in as quiet as he could manage but didn’t expect the door to be unlocked, with his dad still waiting for him as he came inside. Craig was watching some football on TV and turned it off as he came inside. The strangest thing about it all was that he got a hug from his dad as soon as he was within range. Shaun hesitated, then hugged his dad back.

Then, Craig asked what happened.

Shaun told him. No names spoken, no places mentioned. He didn’t embellish any details but he gave the facts quite clearly. He also told his dad that he definitely had hurt somebody. His dad, whilst understanding, didn’t seem pleased at all.

“…and then I came in.”

Craig sighed in relief. “I don’t have to worry about you getting hurt, lad. Aye, you’re not trouble. I’m worried about something else. You told me you were fighting?”

“Yeah. I didn’t like it. I didn’t have a choice. I had to fight or other people got hurt.”

“’least it’s for a good reason. Shaun, I want to tell you some things. I want you to listen, and let me finish.”

Craig sat down on the sofa and with a delayed nod, Shaun did as well.

“We raised you up as best as we could. You’re old enough now to make your own choices. Daft ones sometimes, but we can’t stop you. Fighting though, if you’re gonna do this, fighting’s different.”

“Okay. I can handle myself though.” Shaun said. His tone was light, it wasn’t an interruption. Just a comment.

“It’s not that.” He said. “Fighting’s… Put it this way. You don’t wanna hurt people. You might have hurt somebody tonight, but you didn’t do it to go and just hurt them. You didn’t wanna kill them.”

“No, no no.” Shaun raised his hands. “Definitely not.”

“Aye. But it’s like a… threshold. Once you know how to hurt people and do it more than a few times, you step over a line. And everyone else is like this. Once you find out it’s okay to do it, you accept it, and move on. And you find it easier to do it in future. It can happen with anybody, not just you. The thing is, Shaun, nobody else can do what you do. That’s why I’m-”

Shaun cut in. “You’re worried I might find it too easy to hurt people, mentally”

“I know you can control yourself physically. I just don’t want you to go around bloody hurting people without knowing it. Or knowing what you’re doing, that’s even worse.”

“I can see where you’re coming from. That’s why I scare people, dad. I’m just a normal kid.”

Craig nodded. He seemed satisfied, though he took in a breath and carried on.

“The second thing.”

“Yeah?” Shaun leaned forward a little.

“The NFU, you’ve met ’em before.”

Shaun went quiet.

“Quite a few times, when you were a young’un. All Farborn are registered when they’re born, yer’ know that bit. We took you for yer jabs and injections. Bloody fools couldn’t pierce your skin with their needle. The NFU caught wind of it, and we had to have words ’bout you. They told us, you’re a unique case. Even the really tough ones, really strong powers, weren’t totally unhurtable. And they were worried. Worried you might turn out bad.”

“Dad. I don’t like where this is heading.” Shaun said. He looked more concerned than angry.

“No, nothin’ like that. They knew we were a good family, but… we had to come to an agreement. We promised the NFU, we’d raise you as right as we could. And they promised, if we did, they’d make sure any of the little things went away.”

Shaun frowned a little.

“Things you don’t notice. We found the right school for you, where there wasn’t much bullying, a good school, and we got in. Even with it being the hardest to get into in the area. We moved once, you don’t remember but we did, and they only asked for half a deposit. We lost three boxes worth of stuff, and the next morning we found ’em on our doorstep. Not even that, everything was factory new.”

“Could just be a coincidence.”

“Tha’s what we thought. I never went a day without a job. I never told you but I got laid off from work once. Company went into administration. I got a letter the next day. The mechanic firm that I’m working for to this day, told me I was hired. Didn’t need to apply. I got the job, no question. Always got my holidays booked, no problem, even if it was at the busiest point of the year. They just said yes.”

“That’s a little bit strange.”

“Your grandma, needed that hip replacement after her first fall. Front of the queue. Didn’t need to pay. Taken to the best hospital in the country. When she got dementia, y’know how there was no new care homes in the area? New houses were being made, specifically so the elderly and vulnerable had safe accomodation. We were sent a letter of recommendation. An’ we dunnae pay any fees for her being there. It’s all funded.”

Shaun looked at his father with concern.

“I asked the NFU about it. They didn’t wanna comment on it. All they told me was that ‘no family should have to wait for their loved ones to be taken care of’. When she moved in, your mum said she doesn’t trust some carers to look after her. They gave her a job.”

“So you’re telling me, you think the NFU has been making our lives comfortable, to make sure I grew up… right?”

“Yeah.” Is all Craig could say. “We’ve lost friends over it. Nobody has such a lucky life, Shaun. Not without somebody pullin’ strings. The NFU are holding a lotta those strings.”

“I’m not saying I don’t believe you. I’m just saying, it’s… far fetched.

“Aye, it is. But think ’bout it for a second. If you knew a bad childhood could turn a good kid with all your power, into a bad kid with all that power. How many strings would you pull? How many would anybody else pull?”

It was a slightly overwhelming thought. Shaun leaned back and contemplated it.

“Ask ’em. Next time you go, ask ’em. They say ‘to protect against those of the Farside who would do the county harm‘. Even you.”

Shaun sighed deeply. “Christ, dad. Way to lay it on me hard.”

“You needed to know. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but with all that happened… If I told you sooner, you might have said no, and we might not be getting anything fixed.”

Shaun nodded. “Yeah. Well, thanks for telling me. I’ll have words with them about it.”

“Are you gonna go again to them?” Craig asked him, deeply concerned.

“I might.” He replied. “Maybe. I can help people, and I want to know for sure.”

“Aye, alright. You’re 18, you’re old enough.”

Craig stood up, and patted Shaun on the shoulder. “Better get some sleep, lad. You’ve got school, we’ve got a hotel to stay in.”

Shaun smiled, and stood up. “It’s been a weird three days, hasn’t it?”

“It bloody well has. Hope it goes back to a bit of bloody peace and quiet.”

Craig went to go upstairs, ascending up the staircase.

“Turn the light off and lock up when you’re ready.”

Shaun nodded, and Craig went upstairs out of view for a second. He poked his head back down the stairs and called back.

“-and yer’ better not have ruined that bloody jacket of mine.”

“You noticed.” He said, surprised and amused.

“I bloody well did.”

“Can I keep it?”

Craig thought about it for a moment, and a smile wrinkled his cheeks.

“I reckon you can, Shaun. Reckon you can.”

Entrance: 1-7

The warehouse had seen better days. It once was the beacon of the glory days of the industrial revolution, a cotton mill in a discrete corner of the Greater Manchester area. The outer walls, once a lustrous red, have fallen to decay. All that remains are shattered windows and moss tinted glass, and vines creeping up the deprecating walls. Hazy lights flickered from within behind the wooden boards used to patch up each and every hole, every broken window and piece of damage the warehouse has sustained. A subtle flash of amber inside the building, and if one got close enough, some sort of life still bloomed inside of those walls. A hum of electricity and power, the feint shuffle of footsteps, the idle buzz of chatter and low music hanging in ambience near the doors and windows. Peering inside would show nothing as far as the eyes could see, vision obscured by wood panels and plastered graffiti.

Illuminated by the moonlight, a figure rose from behind a small hill and walked past a small oak that had claimed the peak, feet crunching the autumn leaves below. She gazed out to the decrepit building, each one of her three eyes blinked at a different pace. All three were equally huge, jet black and bulbous, filling out her eye sockets whilst the one on her forehead shifted from side to side. She tugged down her hood and studied the area for a moment and retrieved a flip phone from her pocket.

It rang three times before being picked up. The voice on the other end of the line was deep, a Yorkshire accent.

Yeah?”

“I’m back.” Her voice contrasted, echoes of Ireland on her tongue, soft and expressive. “Knockin’ on in a minute. Would ya let me in?”

Have I got a choice?” He replied sarcastically.

“Ya better let me in, ya daft prick.”

Hah. See you in one.”

He hung up before she could respond.

She trudged her way down to the side of the building. Where the front had a large, metal gate that had been recently been constructed in a makeshift fashion, the side door was originally the worker’s back door. It was old, and barely standing. She feared it would tip over off the hinges by knocking twice, and stood back.

The door slit opened, and light shone over her pale, freckled face. The eyes that stared back looked all but normal, except for a glistening black oil around the edges where tears would normally well up.

Whoever it was grunted, then slammed the slit close. It took another minute to unlock and unbolt, release the door from the over paranoid security put into place, before she was let inside.

The sudden shift in light caused her to wince awkwardly and she shut her eyes, covering them with an arm as the man stood aside and let her in.

She pulled the hood back from her head now and let her ginger hair cascade downwards, sweeping it casually so it all rested on the right side of her head. The other side was shaved beneath the hair that was previously covering it, and she eventually opened her eyes and adjusted to the changes.

“Feckin’ cold out there tonight.” She said, as the doorman was busy putting all the chains back to lock the door tight. “Let me tell ya.”

“You got any good news, Triclops?”

She grunted at the name. “Depends what ya think good news is.” She began to unzip her grey hoodie, revealing a plain black shirt underneath. She began to walk away, stopped as the doorman finished bolting up and leaned on the door.

“Not gonna stay and take off the rest?” The smirk on his face was large, and she took a look over him. Navy blue tracksuit from head to toe and black leather gloves on his hand, white trainers on his feet. He was bald, with a few wrinkles to show on his eyes, and a tinge of black on his skin, as if ink had dried there.

“Ya wish you were that feckin’ lucky, ya pervy bollix.”

He raised his hands up, eyebrows raised, mocking a coy tone.

“Woah, hey, somebody’s got sand in her-”

He stopped, mostly because she’d drawn out a crossbow that was holstered on her hip. The limbs snapped up with a noise that sliced his sentence before he could begin, and the string made a noise like a whipcrack. She was soon to follow, raising her voice audibly.

“If yer feckin’ think about finishin’ that sentence, yer’ll have ta go to Jolly with a bolt up yer’ feckin’ japs eye, ye disgustin’ piece of shite.” She was in no mood for jokes from him today, and aimed unerringly towards his crotch.

For emphasis, she turned on a laser sight. It landed straight in the middle, slightly to the left.

“Okay, okay!” His words came out like a flurry, as his arms raised up and he backed away from the door, to the wall to the side. The red dot traced his exact movement, and he could see the middle eye was on him whilst the others kept their aim. “Lesson learned, I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

She kept the aim for a second, then lowered the crossbow down. She spoke whilst she turned the pointer off, folding back the limbs casually. “That’s better. No wonder he calls yer Ooze, yer slimy cunt. If I hear yer’ being disrespectul ta me or anybody else like that, if I hear one more thing.”

As if his lesson wasn’t learned, he lowered his arms down and muttered out “…or see something like that.”

She stopped as she put her crossbow up to her hip and stared at him. A second later, she burst out laughing.

“Now that’s better! Hah. Dinnae take yer’ for that much of a dry shite.”

Ooze laughed awkwardly, still defensive, still not fully lowering his arms. “Heh. Yeah.”

The entrance was a small stone corridor. A small set of stairs took you onto the main part of the ground floor, where most of the cars were parked inside. A door down the far of the corridor looked huge, even from a distance away. She started to make her way over when a head popped out from the stairway above.

“Hey, hey. Triclops. Did you get it for me?”

His voice was high pitched with a creaking tone to it, and his mouth moved unnaturally; a large set of incisors jutted down over his bottom lip at rest, whilst the rest of his sharp teeth interlocked around them.

“Aye, Squeaks. That I did.” From her hoodie pocket, she took out a lump bag the size of her hand and chucked it towards him. He was already standing in the archway a few steps down, his lithe body mostly covered in a baggy coat and jeans. Once it got close, his hand shot out like a whip and snatched it from the air like a blur, and he pried open the bag to pluck out something from inside. In his taloned grip, he held a cashew nut, and put it into his mouth with a satisfied hum.

“Mm, that’s the good shit right there.” A rat-like tail wafted behind him, coiling in the air, almost as long as he was tall. He scritched at his neckbeard with the tip. “Thanks. Keep the change.”

“Yer welcome.” She was already walking to the door, ascending up the stairs that curved around and out of sight.

Squeaks turned to Ooze, coiling his tail around the bag and holding it in the air. He trundled over, extending out a thin, gnarled hand.

“Pay up.”

Ooze rolled his eyes and sunk his hand into his trackie bottoms, digging out a small roll of cash. After plucking a ten pound note from it, he crumpled it up and shoved it into Squeaks’ hand.

“Here.”

Unfazed, he snatched it away with whip-like reflexes and began to pull it back into shape.

“Sore-ass loser.” Squeaks had no moustache to speak of, instead whiskers jutted from his top lip, which he had a habit of twitching to express any dissatisfaction.

“Yup.” Ooze said, leaning back on the door with his arms folded. “Poker on tonight?”

“Yup.” The bag was brought back down. He shook the back to Ooze, who shook his head and gloved hand at the same time. Squeaks shrugged, as if to tell him to suit himself, and took the bag to hand to shovel more nuts into his mouth.

“I’ll get it back then, yeah? Your poker face is awful.”

“Hey, that reminds me.” Squeaks took the bag back in his tail. “You can still go fuck yourself. It was only a few grand.”

Ooze just laughed deeply. “You’re almost a sore of a loser as me.”

The stone stairs clattered every time Triclops ascended them, one by one. The staircase was built to circle the outside of the building, before elevators had been made, and would go around the perimeter to a disclosed room at the top. They had sufficient girth for three people, side by side, to walk up comfortably, with the height for them to be carrying a person on their shoulders each. At the end of the corridor was a large, recently replaced door; sturdy metal, something you’d see in a blast shelter. She knocked on the door several times, and heard a voice from inside. A moment later, the door mechanism unlocked, and she walked inside without a change of pace.

Inside was very different; much dimmer than outside, with a few small lamps. The room was ornate, heavily decorated. The room smelled of cigars and tobacco, and along the walls of the room were safes and wall mounted lock boxes. Several tables held a number of computers, knives, stolen guns and other goods, as well as a few bags of white, unlabeled powder making a small mountain on one desk. As Triclops walked inside, she caught the unmistakable scent of weed in the air, and a constant clacking of several keyboards became the background noise.

At the far end, a man was working, surrounded by 4 computer monitors. He was working on two keyboards as well; his arms split at the elbows into 4 forearms, four hands. One pair for each screen, thin and lacking in muscle. He was stumpy and physically mutated; his head , shoulders and neck had the outline that he constantly had a hood on, but it was flesh and bone that sloped upwards. His shadow from the neck up would make somebody believe he was a Sontaran more than a human.. He seemingly had no difficulty turning his head rapidly, though his movements were hampered slightly. His legs swung underneath, thick and stumpy, though he would easily stand as tall as somebody else.

At the far end of the room was a darkened figure, sitting on a well reinforced throne. Hand carved, made of polished and stained oak, resilient enough to hold the gargantuan figure sitting on it. He was watching a TV that was hung from the ceiling, obscured from Triclops’ view. As she approached, his features became clearer. She could see the green colour of his skin, the mossy, vegetation-like hair on his head, the custom black leather trench coat on his body made to fit his size, and the white shirt and black camo leggings he wore regularly.

When she approached, she could hear the sound of cheers and commentating, looking behind herself when she got close enough. The round had ended for this particular boxing match. Jolly inclined his head in her direction and he spoke; deep, gravelly, commanding.

“You’re back.”

“Aye.” She said, bowing her head respectfully. “Sorry it took so long, Jolly.”

Jolly nodded, and leaned forward. “Did you find anything?”

“Aye.” She repeated, and leaned on her hip slightly. “A bitta news. Bitta good, bitta bad.”

“Bad news?” He leaned forward. Triclops’ shoulders sunk with an invisible weight on them, shaking her head.

“Nothin’ that bad, Jolly.”

He grunted and leaned back. “Good news first, then.”

“From the word around the city centre, it seems people are using our dealers instead of Narco’s. He dunnae seem to have a strong grip up north.”

Jolly nodded in satisfaction and rubbed his chin. “No reason to be bold. We need to stay under his radar. He doesn’t handle competition well. Let him think it’s just street dealers.” Jolly turned to the figure typing rapidly. “Get more stock ready.” He nodded, and picked up one of the several flip phones on his desk and began rapidly texting.

Jolly turned his attention again to Triclops. “Bad news.”

“Aye, bad news. Informants have realiable info. They say Flare’s on the move.”

Jolly stared her down. “I don’t give a shit about Flare.”

“Normally yer’ don’t.” She raised her hand, pointing to the air. “Reliable intel is tellin’ us she’s headin’ fer’ the NFU buildin’ outside’a Stenton. Tonight. Dunnae know why she’s gonna go there though.”

“Aberrant. Confirm it.”

Aberrant’s voice was surprisingly emotive. He turned his body slightly in his chair and nodded to the best of his ability. “I was texting spies in the area as you spoke, boss. I just got a text.” He raises and shakes a Nokia 3310 in the air. “Flare is on her way.”

Jolly rubbed his chin again in thought, then brought his hand gently down onto the arm of his throne. He strummed large, thick fingers against the wood. Each collision sounded like a knock on a wooden door. Triclops began to worry a little, and with her urge to fidget she started to shift her footing back and forth.

She cleared her throat, holding her fist to her mouth to do so. “What do yer’ want to do next-”

“I’m thinking.” Jolly said, interrupting her bluntly. It made her withdraw and shrink in an instant.

He waited a few more seconds.

“We’ll sort this problem.” Jolly began to rise from his chair, and his stature became painfully obvious compared to Triclops. Jolly towered at nine feet tall, and was equally as wide. He was built full of muscle, powerful enough to stand at his full height, and stand up at all without any discomfort. Triclops took a single step back, painfully aware of their difference in height. “Personally.”

“Personally? Jolly, yer’ needn’t do that. I can go and tell Squeaks to take her out.” She said. She almost sounded like she was reasoning with him.

“No. That bitch has been in my territory for too long.” Jolly cracked his knuckles, each pop sounding like a bone being dislocated. “This needs a show of force.”

“J-jolly, killin’ her wunna do you no good. She’s too small time fer’ that.” All three eyes were wide and open, flickering from side to side.

“No. Put her in hospital. Set an example.” Jolly pointed to Triclops. Each step he took towards the door sounded like a person thrown against a wall. “You. You’re accompanying me. Aberrant. You too.”

Aberrant stopped, froze, then put the phones down onto the desk properly. He locked the computer, then grabbed a radio on the desk. “Somebody to come and watch the office, now.” He put it down and picked up a set of sheathed blades from the side of the computer; two long, two short. Swords and knives, which he began to strap around his waist. Jolly was a slow walker, but each step he took was large enough to cover a lot of ground. Triclops darted out of his way, as he kept walking, she feared she may have been trampled. Aberrant held out a remote and pressed a button, aiming it for the door. It began to whirr and click, as the inner mechanisms ground and eventually popped the door open.

Before Jolly could reach, a figure darted inside through the clearing. Squeaks’ burst of speed had him covering the distance before Jolly had taken a pair of steps, already at Aberrant. He smiled, awkwardly, and handed him the remote. “You know the rules.”

“Yeah. No problem. I’ll try not to stab anybody if they come in. Hey, make sure you shoot the fat bitch in the gut for me.” Squeaks says, as he waves goodbye to Triclops. She was following loosely behind Jolly, and she turned around to scowl at him.

“Dunna be talkin about anyone like that, yer’ rat face maggot.”

“Hey, you’d be pissed if she sent a swarm of rats to bite you in the dick. Hey, are you making any stops on the way-”

“No.” Jolly said, before he ducked slightly underneath the door, and began to make a descent downwards.

Squeak’s ears drooped slightly. “Aw. Come back in one piece, guys.”

Aberrant shut the door behind them, and Squeaks sealed it tight with the press of a button. He flicked the remote in the air, and his tail snapped up and coiled around it as it fell. He ran over to Jolly’s throne and made his way over to it, sprawling over it. The channel was quickly changed over from boxing to Futurama, and he got comfortable.

He dug into his pocket, and fished out a smart phone. He quickly scrolled through a few settings. “Wonder if they’ve got wifi in here.”

“Take these.”

Visionary practically threw a pair of belts to Tether and Shaun. The former had more grace to catch it before it hit his chest, and Tether was equipping his. Shaun meanwhile, was more curiously studying the contents. On top of the unusual handcuffs he found, he found a tazer and an extendible baton. Similar in style to what a police officer may carry, though with much more emphasis on conflict. Of all of these things, Shaun just threw the belt onto a nearby bench and shoved the handcuffs into his pocket.

Visionary went to correct him, and he just raised his eyebrow. Upon realisation that he didn’t need them, she just nodded. Tether was taking some other equipment; a spare baton, and an unusual length of rope with weights on the ends

“Right. We don’t have time. I’m going to establish some rules, then explain what we’re likely to face.”

The men nodded, taken by the serious tone she took. Visionary was possessed of a fierce drive, as she guided them down a corridor not normally taken. It lead to a smaller car park at the side of the building. She was power walking and didn’t seem to mind nor care if they lagged behind. It was the silent assumption they’d keep pace.

“A major incident is not like a patrol. We’re going to face dangerous Farborn or Fartouched. These people will not be concerned if you’re injured, and they’ll even go for blood, or try to kill you. Depends on motives. As an NFU officer, you’re allowed to defend yourself. If put in a situation where lethal force has to be administered, without any alternative resolution to the situation and if all other options are exhausted, you are to take it.” She glanced behind them. Tether reacted more than Shaun; a slight fear struck his face. Shaun was devoid of such an emotion. “You aren’t, under any circumstances, to force that situation. But we’re not the police. And they’re not just criminals. They’re powerful people. We’re expected and enforced to resolve the situation with as little confrontation as possible. If that fails, incapacitate. Should that fail, terminate.”

Shaun glanced to Tether. He nodded back with a little hesitation. Shaun glanced at his belt for a second.

“What’s that?”

“Oh, this?” Tether patted the rope on his side. “I needed a new weapon. I think it goes well with my powers.”

“Huh. How’d you find that?”

“Googled for ‘rope weapon’.” Tether didn’t sound ashamed of that.

“Let’s hope it works.” Shaun said, approvingly.

They had made their way finally to a set of double doors, and Visionary swung the doors open and carried on her relentless pace. They made they way to a black BMW; she had the keys in hand already, and opened the doors remotely. It went without saying that she was driving. Shaun and Tether jogged over and scrambled into the back. They almost didn’t even get chance to buckle up; she was wheel spinning before she punched away, to the several security checks blocking her way.

These machines had an input device, and she shoved the card into the slot and held three buttons in. Which three, the men in the back seat couldn’t make out. It did speed up the process considerably, as every gate and barrier either pulled up or shifted out of the way at a speed that the machines were unaccustomed to. Visionary had her foot down, and shot out of the building and began to make her way to the crime scene.

They barely grazed the kirb as they flew past. Tether looked stunned. “Woah, that was close.”

“I knew I wasn’t going to hit it.” Visionary responded with. It was impressive to see her at work; every corner she went past was perfectly aligned, though she did skid slightly, and kept centre of the road better than some drivers who would need to be doing 20 miles an hour to get that proficient. She had ample time to inform them.

“I’m the leader of this squad. I expect you to follow orders without question. That goes for you especially, Shaun.” He perked up. “As you’ve had no formal training, I’m relying on your sheer power to swing this fight in our favour.”

The car went over some road kill, as they were starting to go down country roads. Visionary was well past the speed limit, yet still managed to show down precisely when needed. Corners, dips, other vehicles that she overtook without mercy.

“No collateral damage. The incident may change, in which case, use your judgement and common sense. Shaun, I’m not certain what you’re capable of, but leave what you can standing.”

“Got it.” He nodded confidentally.

“This is the Ten Granders. Flare, Candour, Alpha. Each one we suspect to be Farborn.”

“Ten Granders?” Shaun said, almost derisively. “That’s their gang name?”

“Biggest single heist they did got each of them about ten grand. It’s like, a badge of honour.” Tether interjected. Shaun just shrugged in response.

“Maybe they can pay for a decent gang name.”

“Shaun, less underestimating.”

He went to speak, opened his mouth, and thought against it. He just nodded with a grunt.

“Flare. Early twenties, female. Ability to make objects generate light. Like with all powers such as these, using it on people is extremely taxing. Very difficult to catch or fight. Prefers to blind and disarm. Notoriously difficult to capture because of this.”

Tether joined in. “We tried using visors to block out the light, but she just made the glass light up instead. Her light also produces heat. You pull a gun on her, she blinds you with the gun and makes it so hot it begins to melt and you drop it.”

“That sounds like a really big pain in the ass.”

“Yeah.”

“Candour.” Visionary carried on. “Twenty two years old, born in Manchester. Ability to alter your perception with lies so you believe them. Also extremely difficult to catch because of it. If he can talk, he can cause a lot of problems.”

On cue, Tether carried on. “It has to be a lie though. No uncertainties, no half truths. If he wanted you to turn around, he can’t tell you to turn around but he can say ‘You were going to turn away from me just now’ and you’d feel compulsion to do it. He’s pulled off enough jobs by saying people know him and making up some bullshit.”

“You know a lot about these villa-criminals.” He corrected himself.

“Part of the training is knowing the types of Farborn in the area, their strengths and weaknesses. We don’t like to fight blind.”

“I can get behind that.” Shaun said, with a nod.

“Alpha. Early twenties. She can instantly assume herself as the alpha for any animal or pack of animals. She also has a secondary ability to verbally issue commands to animals and they can follow her orders, and also understand her ‘pack’ to a degree.”

“Now that’s something.” Shaun said, legitimate surprise on his voice.

“She’s not controlling their minds though. Orders have to be verbal, and animals are just that. Animals can and do challenge for leadership regularly.”

Tether nods. “Yeah. We also know she loves animals. She hates to make them fight. If she was with a better crowd, she’d probably be the best vet in the world. Can’t control Eldritch, though.”

“Sounds like we’d get along if I didn’t have to deal with her.”

“It’s important to tell you this, as well as where we’re going. We believe it’s relevant.”

Visionary began to slow down. Shaun sat up, after slumping a little in his seat. In the distance, a large building came into view, obscured by the navy twilight clinging to the horizon. Much like the HQ, this was a very rectangular building with lots of large, tinted windows covering the front view. “What is this place?”

“This is the NFU Testing Facility. It’s the testing facility for Eldritch, and animals.”

Shaun’s voice rose almost immediately. “Animals? You guys test on animals?” The seatbelt strained against him leaning forward.

“Not like that, no. These are Fartouched animals.” She said, as Shaun paused. “We don’t test on the animals so much. We test things that react to the Fargraced on them. Nothing to hurt them or kill them. Those handcuffs in your pocket, they suppress some abilities, active ones. This facility helped us to see if they were working properly.”

With his outburst sated, he slowly sank back into his chair. “Okay, yeah. Nice spin on it. Still don’t trust it. Plus, we’ve got a bigger concern.”

“Alpha.” Tether piped in.

“Alpha will be able to be the leader of all the animals in the facility. Motives, I’m uncertain. My first guess was that Alpha was trying to free them. Animals Rights, sort of a protest. It doesn’t fit her profile. She has no authority in the Ten Granders. Still, a possibility. More likely, this is Flare’s idea.”

“Why doesn’t… Candour?” He looked to Tether. He nodded. “Why doesn’t he call the shots?”

“We don’t know. He possibly does. From our profiles, he gets bored easily. Even with lying. It’s possible that he just finds this fun and joins her. Tag along for the ride, so to speak.”

Shaun waited a second, then sighed with a slight shake of his head.

“These guys sound like fruitloops.”

“Fruitloops with powers. Better than Jolly’s gang.”

“Jolly?” Shaun asked.

He didn’t get the answer immediately. They pulled over to the side of the road, and Visionary turned the lights off. They pulled up behind a silver Volkswagen Golf. Visionary left the car first, and Shaun and Tether got the hint to get out. Once they were outside, Shaun pulled up his hood and his neck warmer so only the slit of his eyes and the bridge of his nose were visible. Tether was meanwhile tethering objects in preparation. One of the spherical weights on each end of the rope to each hand.

“Leader of the Manc Freakshow. Biggest Fargraced gang in Manchester. I’ve heard this is part of his turf.”

“That’s unconfirmed.” Visionary said. She raised her hand and beckoned them to follow with a double wave of two fingers, and drew out a pair of bar maces. They approached down the gravel drive, to the small building that the security would grant entry and exit to.

“I’m the only one who doesn’t think having a name like that’s a bit shit, am I?”

“It’s pretty cool, man.”

Shaun rolled his eyes.

They approached the booth, Visionary in the lead. The security noticed them as they approached, holstering their weapons. She took out her badge, and Tether did the same. Shaun fumbled for his. The trio flashed open their NFU badges, and the security guard put on a pair of glasses to take a look. He was old, a little overweight and balding. His shirt was awkwardly tucked around his belly into his trousers, a buckle too tight.

“Lemme take a look. Oh, NFU agents?” Surprised, he stood upright and at attention.

“Agent Visionary. This is Agent Tether, and… Agent Shaun.”

Shaun looked at him, and nodded in greeting.

Visionary responded before anybody else could. “New recruit. No name yet.”

“Ah.” The guard replied with. “What can I do for you?”

“Officer Mann, we have reason to believe you allowed access to three individuals on this sight. Is that correct?” Her voice restrained any hints of interrogation.

“Just call me Patrick.” He said, smiling. “Yes, I let them in, come to think of it. I… don’t remember why. He just said he needed full access of the building. So I let him in.”

“Those three were dangerous criminals. It’s not your fault. One of them has Farborn powers over lies, and used it to gain entry to the facility.”

Patrick grew flustered and deeply shamed. “O-oh. I didn’t know, Agent. I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault. Do you know where they are now?”

“Why yes, I was just keeping an eye on them.” He pointed a thick finger to the security camera screen. “They’ve been looking through rooms. They’re going to the… part where they keep all the animals. Next to the big office.”

Visionary took something out of her belt and unfolded it; it was a spare comm, and she tapped it to the one in her head. She pushed it through the gap in the window, and the guard fumbled to put it on.

“I’m going to need you to be in radio contact with me. Tell me if anything changes out here and keep me updated on these three in the building. Don’t raise any alarms or alert them to our presence. We’re going to engage them.”

The guard looked full of pride for a moment and grinned, then nodded several times. He even saluted formally. “Y-yes, Agent, of course!”

Visionary cracked a smile, the first one of the night so far. “We’ll need total security passes.” She held out her hand. He realised this with an “O-oh, yes” and dug a spare three out of a box he had lying near the computer monitor, and shoved it into her hand. She handed one out to each of them, and Shaun put his in his pocket. Tether put his with his badge, on his belt.

She ducked underneath the barrier and swiftly headed down the tarmac path to the front entrance. Tether followed her, rousing himself to a brisk pace. Shaun walked forward, looked to the Guard, and just gave him a nod.

“…keep up the good work.”

He caught up to the others quickly. Patrick sat down on his chair and studied the computer monitor diligently. For him, his vigilance would aid the NFU, and he felt a sliver of pride in himself that overcomes the shame of his mistake.

“You’re a right fuckin’ beaut, aren’t you, Davian? Ya useless wankey fuck.”

Flare’s scouse accent was strong and piercing; high pitched full of bile and high notes.

“If yer’d have asked that fat wap at the front gate to tell us where to go, we wouldn’t have ran ’round this shithole for half an hour.”

Davian- Candour, just laughed. He seemed deeply amused when she started to bark at him like this.

“The fuck you laughin’ at? Posh manc twat.”

They swung open the door to an office; large, spacious. The middle of the room was bare, whilst there was two sides full of desks and monitors and various papers, organised and left over the desks. Flare’s clothes, a white plain t-shirt and white jeans. Even her shoes were white, as she flicked them up and about. The building was bare, except for her clothes. She was illuminated in a soft, white light that gave them enough sight to see where they were going. She raised her hand, and a door at the far side of the room began to glow in the same manner. It lead to a small corridor; on the other end was another building, though they could see inside the metal grates of cages, and picked up on the feint sound of animals rustling inside.

“Boss.”

A third had joined them now; whilst Flare wore bright clothes and Candour wore a black great coat, grey shirt and skinny jeans and brown vintage shoes, she wore a Bring me the Horizon band shirt, black. Her jeans, black with some holes in them. Even her shoes were black. The only colour she had on her was her red hair, recently dyed and regularly changing in colour, and several bracelets around her hands and some colourful rings.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry!” She said, whilst catching her breath. She stook out in other ways too; Flare had an average physique. Candour was startlingly thin and tall. Flare was on the chubby side, and a little out of shape.

“’bout time, Sarah We found ’em”

Delight struck her face and she smiled broadly, finding a second wind and making her way over to the door. Flare took point, Candour shoved his hands in his pockets.

“Almost easy.” Candour spoke. Flare had opened the door, and turned off the light on it to illuminate the door just on the opposite side of the corridor. She stepped back and let Alpha go in.

“Get ’em out, kidda.”

Alpha made her way inside and swung the door open. The room was large, spacious and held animal cages of various sizes. Each one had an animal inside of it; there was no set pattern for how many of one species was here but they were all grouped together. Once she entered, she clapped both her hands.

“Everyone up, rise and shine.”

On command, the animals rose from their sleep and a cacophony of barks, meows and other pleased noises filled the room, as they all drew themselves to their cages to get closer to Alpha. She went around to each one and fiddled with a panel on the side of the wall; each cage had a purple gem on the top of it and were linked, with wires looping around the front of each of the cages. Once she’d turned off whatever was on, the gems began to lose some light and the ambient noise in the room began to sink. She began to fiddle with the mechanisms; they were easy enough. She began with the smallest first, as a colony of rats clambered out of their cages and crawled up onto her shoulders.

“I hope he’s paying better this time. These jobs pay us fuck all lately.”

“He’d better fuckin’ do, or else I’m gonna-”

Flare didn’t get to finish her sentence. They were too busy rushing to the window to find the source of a large, sudden noise. It sounded like a great impact, followed by crumpled steel and plastic. Even from here, they managed to hear it without falt.

“…the fuck was that?”

Candour put a hand on his brow to stare out of the window and get a better picture.

“That… was our car. Shit.”

“Don’t be blaggin’ me head, Davien.”

“I’m not. Somebody just threw the car through the front gate.”

Candour felt something on his neck. Cold, metal fangs prodding into the side, and a hand grabbed his shoulder quickly. He thrust his arms up in the air immediately, and Flare backed away from the sudden physical confrontation.

“If you speak, I taze you. Nobody make any sudden moves.”

Visionary held the tazer to his throat, calmly and firmly. Candour kept his hands to the sky, though he had a very amused smirk on his face.

Flare of course, jumped back and observed the situation. Whilst distracted, they didn’t hear Visionary sneaking up on them. Shaun and Tether walked into the room to the centre in the open space. Shaun was getting his handcuffs out to hand. Tether glanced to the open doors, taking the rope from his side and pulling along the length.

“She’s in there, freeing the animals.” He called out. He walked over to the far side of the room and stood by the door, swinging one end of his improvised meteor hammer. “Alpha. Stop releasing those animals and come out. Leave them inside.”

Shaun took point and looked around the room.

“You three are coming with us. Shaun, handcuffs.”

Shaun took a step forward, taking his out of his coat pocket. Everybody was still, tense, except himself. Flare was scowling hard at Visisonary, who kept her eyes pinned to her. They shifted and flickered about, twitching from side to side.

“A-agent, are you there?!”

Visionary’s eyes stopped. “…Officer Mann?” She called back.

“Agent, there’s… Oh, oh god. He just threw the car through the f-front. I a-almost didn’t duck, and-”

“Officer, speak clearly. What is it?” Visionary’s voice grew concerned.

Flare turned to her. Even she grew pale at this moment, as she stared to the door that everyone had come in through.

“Jolly. Fuckin’ Jolly’s ‘ere.” Her voice trembled.

Everyone but Visionary’s eyes were drawn to the door, where a large, dark figure blocked the view. A second later, the ducking figure reared back and slammed his shoulder into the doorframe, and sent the wall shattering away as he walked inside. Now standing at his full height, Jolly dusted off his long coat from the recent debris he’d collected. Behind him, Triclops came out with her crossbow aimed high, straight for Candour. Aberrant quickly flicked out a sword and dagger on his left, and right side, and twirled them in his lithe fingers, standing by Jolly’s side.

Jolly smirked, which looked uncharacteristic on his face, looking down at everyone assembled.

“Party’s over.”

Entrance: 1-6

Monday morning had come and gone. Shaun found himself at odds with Josh; they no longer shared the same time table and Shaun was needed in school later on a monday. This made things a little awkward between the two. Shaun almost found himself walking to Josh’s house to meet up and walk to school, though halfway through the little detour he normally took to Josh’s house, he realised it was quicker to go the other way. He turned on his heel, and jogged a bit ahead to make up for lost time. He could at least indulge in listening to music on the way to school, buds in his ears until he reached the school grounds. Music was paused, earbuds swiped and put into his hoodie pocket and he ventured to the start of a new year at school.

Sixth form was a big step up, not only in terms of feeling like he was growing up but also the status and respect it gave. The Year Sevens, the first year in the English secondary school for high school and aged around 11 or 12, would greatly fear them as lords and whimsical tyrants, whilst Year Twelves and Thirteens, who were reaching the end of secondary school, saw them as less powerful. In the grand heirarchy of education, sixth form were still the kings amongst paupers, with the added benefit that they no longer had to wear uniform whilst at school. Sixth Form was one way to go afterwards, College was the other.

Shaun’s media teacher was a Mr. Kai Murray. He was in his class, listening to him tell him about the basic structure of the class, the lessons and coursework to be expected. Meanwhile, Shaun’s bag on his table hid his phone from sight, and he’d barely paid any attention to the other students just yet. His focus was on texting. First, he checked the message he received.

were u been man

Shaun frowned slightly, flicking his glance up to the classroom for a second. He saw everyone was more interested than he was.

oh right well just some stuff last nite, did i miss owt?

“-your yearly project doesn’t have to be anything specific. It has to be about media though, and what effect it has on us, and the subject matter-”

The response back was so quick, it appeared premeditated.

nah lol wanted 2 meet but did sum fifa instead

Shaun tapped out a quick reply.

okay yeh sure will let you know about tomorrow got stuff tonite

The response back was equally as quick.

safe m8

With those social obligations sorted and the friendship patched up, Shaun discretely sunk his phone into his pocket, and began to pay attention to the classroom.

“-ultimately it’s an individual project. So no, Garth. There’s no group works.”

There was a slight tone of elation about the news that group work wasn’t present.

“Conferring and sharing ideas is fine though. We cannae stop that.”

Shaun had a quick look at his new teacher as he slid his bag underneath his table. He was in his early thirties. Mr Murray was scottish through and through, with a thick accent that was almost as thick as the 5 o’clock shadow on his face. Shaun noticed there was more women in the class than men; whether Mr Murray was the cause of this, he suspected it may have influenced the decision.

“So what we’re gonna do for the first period, is decide what you want to do. There’s a sheet on your desk with a few broad topics.” Shaun picked it up and gave it a glance; one thing stuck out to him, and his eyes lingered near the middle of the page for a second. “As long as it fits, knock yourself out.” He smiled; it was warm, a bit trusting. “Come back at the end of the hour, have a think, talk amongst yourself. You dunnae have to stay in here. I feel it can inhibit the creativity needed.”

This perked a few heads. Such freedom was a clarion call, and nobody had elected to stay inside given the choice. After wrapping up, Shaun decided to take a quick nip to the canteen, whilst taking out his phone and glancing at the screen.

He remembered the conversation he had with Yuhong that night.

“One shift and that’s it.”

“I’ve glad you’ve had a change of heart.”

“I’ve been raised to give people a chance. No exceptions here.”

“That’s great. You have class to attend, that I’m sure. Are there any days off you’d like?”

Shaun paused. “I was thinking, tomorrow. Tomorrow night.”

“Tomorrow night?” Yuhong questioned. “Are you sure?”

Shaun cleared his throat a little. “Yeah. Tomorrow night.”

“It’s a little soon. We would have preferred more time to prepare.”

“That’s not my problem.” Shaun became rather blunt for that comment, and threw it out nonchalantly. It did make Yuhong pause.

“We’ll… make arrangements.”

“Hey, Yuhong.”

“Yes, Shaun?”

“How many other people, Farborn or NFU recruits, get to pick and choose like this?”

She paused again. “None. As I said before, you’re an individual case. Because of that, we have instructions to accommodate you.”

“That’s way too much power for one man.”

“I’m glad you think so.” Shaun couldn’t tell but he was certain there was a bit of relief in her voice. “This would be Alex’s first shift as well. We like to do both night and day shifts for our recruits.”

“Oh? Well, that’s good. Yeah.” Shaun said, surprised. “So what will we be doing?”

“In this case, we’ll be the on-call team. It’s ideal for new recruits. Other teams, higher priority, will be dispatched to incident. We are there in case everyone else is busy. The on-call team, in such cases where the primary teams are occupied, are sent out. Because of Alex and myself and our range of powers, we will be dealt low priority, low danger missions.”

“The NFU doesn’t like throwing in the newbies into the deep end.”

“No, we try not to. Extreme circumstances excluded.”

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Helmuth von Moltke?” A hint of interest and even pride shon in her voice.

“Is that who said that? I picked it up in a, uh, video game.”

“Oh. Still. It’s very true.” She said. “Hopefully, it will be a quiet night and we get to observe. Perhaps we’ll get a chance to investigate something. It’s surprisingly common that we deal with people who become Fartouched, for instance.”

“I don’t envy those people.”

“Nobody does.” Yuhong sounded a little solemn. “I didn’t.”

Shaun paused for a good few seconds. He thought to ask but relentled, and disregarded the idea.

“When does it start?”

“We’ll have a car pick you up at 6pm. And thank you once again, Shaun.”

“Okay. Alright then.”

When he snapped back to reality, he’d found that he had wandered into the library, and was staring at the Fantasy section on the wall. To the left of it, he saw the shelf containing works on the Farside. With curiousness about him, he approached, dragging his finger along the spines of the book and making a strumming sound and stopped at what he thought was a random book. He plucked it off the shelf, tilting it down and yanking it out easily, and glanced at the spine and the cover.

Eldritch: The study of creatures from beyond & Official Classifications (Illustrated version).

Shaun slid it back in, and reached to the other side. Tapping the top of each book, he counted down to 5. It was the same number fro, one end to the previous book he plucked out, and mirrored his prior actions. This tome seemed a little thicker, with an illustration on the front. It depicted a man, clad in stylish metal platemail fighting off a demonic creature. The knight held up a shield to fend off an onslaught from the demon, which was flying in the air aloft wide, bat-like wings, wreathes of energy engulfing its hand raised to the sky, ready to unleash it upon its foe. In the knight’s other hand, he held a decorative longsword, held back and ready to counterattack.

Superheroes of the 21st century. Depicted: Solomon and Vorpal, 2013.

His inquisitive nature lingered, he flicked open the page and glanced at the opening paragraph.

Superheroes of the 21st century.

Biographies of the Fargraced:

Farborn and Fartouched who rose to greatness.

By Samara Hawkins

Introduction

The Farside is everywhere. In modern day life, the Farside is an every aspect of our lives and culture. You see Eldritch sightings on social media, from those attacking a city to the harmless ones you’ll find in your local park on your morning jog. It’s no surprise that the Fargraced of the world also play an important role. Almost like they’re taken straight from comic books, these gifted individuals help our day to day lives. They fight crime, stop rampaging Eldritch, battle with the villains of the new age who may be gifted themselves.

In this book, you’ll find pictures of these self styled superheroes and their greatest achievements, as well as the notorious villains that they will encounter-

Shaun had stopped reading at this point and closed up the book, sliding it back onto the shelf in a fit of boredum. He glanced at his phone again and began to dig his earbuds out of his pocket, though something made him stop. He looked at his phone again, lost in thought for moments, before reaching back out and taking the book back into his hand. He thoughtfully stared at the cover for a moment, as something struck him. He glanced at his hoodie and tugged on the fabric; it was a Cornflower Blue, a little pale, made of marl fabric. Once more, he checked his phone, actually looking at the time.

“…about 40 minutes.”

He mumbled to himself, then put in his earbuds, played some music, and dedicated some effort into going back to his house.

When he arrived, he unlocked the door and arrived to find Button already scrambling over, climbing up him to get at his face. A bit of laughter, patting and giving her a fuss and a play, before telling her to wait in the kitchen for him before he climbed up his stairs. The dog obeyed, much as it wanted its ears scratched more, and lay back in its basket whilst chewing on a large, fake bone.

Shaun skipped his room and went to his parents room. Talking to himself was a new thing, though it seemed to help guide him.

“We’re packing up tonight, going to the hotel tomorrow, he should still have it… Wardrobe.”

He hopped over and pulled open a door, swinging it open. Inside were a line of shirts, jeans, trousers and jackets all lined up, with a mirror on the inside of the door. Shaun went straight for the jackets, flicking through them.

“No, no, no. Ew. No. Denim jacket? Dad, seriously. No. Ah!”

The jacket he pulled out looked hardly worn. It was tan in colour and the lining was a bright wool or fleece, Shaun couldn’t identify. It had a pair of pockets that fastened on the breast, and two open ones by the hip, with two on the insides. He looked over it, nodding and impressed, before beginning to try it on.

Normally, it would have been a bit big and baggy but when he was wearing his hoodie, it fit quite snugly over the top. He tested the freedom of movement by stretching out, swinging his arms around; just baggy enough to allow good movement. As a test, he also pulled his hood up, and looked down at his jeans and sketchers. As an added benefit, the extra layers of leather and wool did add an illusion of Shaun looking bulkier. Not that it was needed, though he did seem to admire his new aesthetic.

With all this settled, he whips off the coat and tucks it underneath his bed covers to hide it.

“It’s not like he’s ever used it. He won’t notice.”

Satisfied, Shaun went back down, made sure Button had a treat and an extra bit of a fuss, before locking up and heading back to school.

The day was ponderously slow. Shaun continued to keep checking the clock on the wall in class, as well as glancing at his phone, assuming he wasn’t being seen as he did so. Everyone was currently discussing what they had thought was a good idea for their project. One of the women in the class, a mousy girl called Alice with box frame classes, commented that an hour wasn’t a lot of time to decide what to do for the year. Mr Murray reminded her that they could really change at any time if they wanted to but if they wanted to change half a year through the course, they had 6 months of work to make up for.

She had personally decided on a progressive idea; the effect of oversaturation of advertising in modern life. A few other students had picked something more niche or broad; cinematography in film and television and the effects it has, the nature of stereotypes and the need of minority role models, and how media affects and makes political campaigns. Shaun had decided already picked his, and opted to show the effects of the Farside in modern life, and just how deeply it affected everyone. Mr Murray was satisfied, and they spent the next hour discussing what sorts of themes they could involve and what inspiration they could take. Each student had their turn of spotlight, whilst they opened ideas, everyone was encouraged to help and make their own suggestions. It took time to get through everyone, though it was a fairly relaxed environment. The entire day was planning; from what had previously happened, translating it into a project, presentations they’d do through the year, generally laying out what was to come for the next year or so.

With the day eventually over, Shaun made his way back home.

Tea was tense, to say the least. Shaun and his dad barely spoke through the evening. They’d said hi when Craig came back home and that was the length of their discussion in its entirety. Shaun had thought of speaking about it but knowing it would just exacerbate the situation. Shaun inherited a stubbornness from his father’s side of the family, one that became obvious in times like these. Anne just elected to stay out of it, like usual. Many times she’d been the mediator in the past and it suited her poorly, not making the situation worse but never getting anybody to come to a standstill.

The car arrived at 6pm on the nose. Shaun said goodbye to his mum and gave her a kiss and a hug. He ruffled Button’s head and gave her another fuss. He did have the dignity to say goodbye to his dad, and told him that he was sorry but he was going to do this, as he’d always been told to give people a chance. His dad said he’ll talk to him about it when he got back, in a rather ominous tone.

A moderately dull car journey was made entertaining with the latest Rudimental album on Shaun’s phone. The driver was as usual untalkative at best, and Shaun could deal with a bit of silence from other people for a change. He arrived and found Yuhong waiting for him at the front entrance, after he went through several security checks. The smile on her face beamed as she saw him enter the building, and he greeted her with a court nod.

“I’m glad you came, Shaun.” She wore the same work outfit as before, though her blouse was a plain white today.

“We’ll see how glad I am at the end of it.” Shaun rolls his shoulder slightly, trying to get used to the jacket.

“Are you cold today?” She asks, whilst turning and beckoning him to follow. He walked beside her as they went through more security checks. Today, Shaun wasn’t given a guest pass; he was given a card that was much the same as Alex, as well as a small leather wallet. Inside was a badge, a silver symbol of the NFU and a slot for his card to go in.

“Huh? Oh, no. Just thought it’d be like, well. You guys have costumes and I don’t need armour and the NFU is probably big on keeping identities secret.”

“It’s not like you need body armour. We’ll get you a mask.” Yuhong pointed to his card. “You have the same access as any of our agents on probation. If you want to go inside somewhere, put the card in, gem up and to the left.”

Shaun nodded. “Got it. Just make sure the mask isn’t like…” Shaun paused, thinking. Yuhong waited for him to expand, as they walked down the corridor to the equipment room.

“Like what?”

“…I don’t want a mask. Nothing like Doctor Doom or a wrestler. Maybe a bandana, or a mask like yours.”

Yuhong thought for a second, and sounded cheerful when she responded. “I think we have something like that.”

They had approached the changing rooms, and Shaun waited outside whilst Yuhong got changed inside. A few people walked past, and nodded to him and said his name to greet him on their travels, which piqued his curiosity. He put his card into his new badge, noting that the gem did make it somewhat awkward to fit it neatly inside. He stashed it inside his jacket pocket, making sure it wouldn’t fall out with a small dose of rigorous activity.

Yuhong came out, fully armoured up as Visionary, holding something in her hand. She showed it out, and Shaun took it from her hand. It was a black neck warmer, something what a motorcyclist would wear, easily covering his mouth and nose. With eyebrows raised, he nodded gently.

“Yeah, this is what I want. Will they mind me borrowing it?”

“It’s yours.” Is all she said. He shrugged, accepting this and starting to slide it over his head. It fit well, and he tested it by pulling it up past his nose. Visionary had already started to walk away, and Shaun followed. He tugged up his hood, and cleared his throat to catch her attention.

“What do you think?” He said, stretching his arms out.

“You look like you might mug somebody.” She said, without turning her head in his direction. “But I can’t see who you are. It works, for now. We can discuss a proper uniform later.”

“This is good.” He said, looking around the corridor. “I look cool. I don’t look like a superhero. No cape or anything like that.”

“Generally speaking, the NFU doesn’t allow capes as part of your uniform. Capes can catch, snag and be used against you. The only people who wear them are people who don’t get into physical combat, or are strong or quick enough.” She turns to him. “In my opinion, it’s not an easy look to pull off either.”

Shaun glanced above, and saw them walk past a sign pointing them to the training room.

“That’s pretty sensible.”

“We prefer body armour that protects you. Tether for instance, his armour has better protection against knives, blades, batons. Weaponry you use up close. His powers mean he needs to be close. It does offer ballistic protection though. My armour, is to protect against bullets.”

“I don’t know what your power is, come to think of it.” He’d say, stepping forward a bit so he’s in her line of sight.

“It’s hard to explain.” She’d say, glancing towards him. “But I will say, I don’t need protection that close. I don’t get hit.”

“Isn’t that a better reason to have that sort of armour?” Shaun made a hand gesture of him stabbing something. “I’m not saying you’re not as good as dodging blows as you say you are, I haven’t seen you in action yet, but just in case you’re unlucky, or you can’t dodge, isn’t it better to have it like, as a precaution?”

“That’s right, good thinking. It’s not like paper to a knife. It’s advanced, Artifex grade armour. I can dodge a punch very well. Bullets are more difficult.” She turns fully to Shaun. “It allows me to be dexterous and dodge well. It maximises my strengths, minimises my weakness. I am, sadly, weak to bullets.”

Shaun snorts, and giggles. “Can’t say I know what that weakness feels like.”

“We have design discussions, with fashion designers and famous bloggers, about costume design. We had a bit of trouble thinking of something for you.”

“Me? Why?” They turned a corner. A man in armour, much like Jason, walked past them and nodded to them. “Agent Visionary. Shaun.” They both nodded back.

“We’d need something that can survive as well as you do.” She said, bluntly. “That’s going to be impossible. So, we decided that we can focus just on aesthetics.”

“Coat, hoodie, biker mask. Done.” He said, dismissing the thought with a hand wave. “I’ve saved you thousands of pounds already.”

“Have you thought of a name?”

“Shaun. Shaun is a good name.”

They had finally breached the doors of the training room. This time, it was occupied quite heavily. A lot of people were using the gym equipment in the far corner. A pair of individuals were training in the ring; an older man and Alex, who were currently sparring. A few people were sitting down and watching them. Shaun was lead over to them; Alex was in full gear, and the other man was showing him some defensive techniques.

Tether had his arms up, fists loosely open. When the man came with a right hook, a somewhat slow attack, Tether clenched his fist and made that quintessential click, drawing a shield that lay on the floor beside his feet, to the back of his hand. It was a sudden movement, and he thrust it up to block the blow. Another blow was thrown his way, a lower punch aimed for the stomach. To Visionary’s surprise, with another click the shield shot from one hand to the other, and he intervened the blow with it. The instructor nodded, and stepped back.

His voice instantly sounded familiar to Shaun. It was the NFU agent he met previously. Jason looked totally different than he imagined; he had a chiselled jawline, short brown hair, with cuts and scars over his face. Notably, his nose looked like it’d been healed from being broken. He wore a white tank top and jogging bottoms, tattoos of dragons and Japanese artwork up his right arm. He was built; exercised regularly, went to the gym, and his poise showed a certainty in his actions.

“Takes time to make it an instinct but keep practising. Practice is the best thing you can do.” Jason spied Visionary and nodded, clapping loudly. “That’s all for today. Go back to your circuits and cardio.”

By this time, Tether had started to come over to Shaun and Yuhong, and he formally greeted the latter. Shaun held his hand up and he slapped it, locking thumbs. “Hey, Shaun. I didn’t think you’d come.”

“I didn’t either.” Their hands broke contact, and he looked around again. “Giving it a chance, y’know?”

Tether nodded. “Yeah, glad to have you, man. What are you doing today?”

“I’m on shift with you.”

“You’re on shift?” He smiled slightly. “Took me six months of probation. I made it, by the way.”

“Hey, grats.”

“After the Eldritch thing, Visionary put in a good word for me, she said I showed ‘excellent combat aptitude’.” He made sure to do air quotes.

“I didn’t know you could like, Tether something twice. Like with that shield.”

Tether blinked, then looked at the shield. “Oh, yeah! Found that out the other night. I never really tried it that way before.”

“It’s a cool trick. Wonder what else you can do.” Shaun nodded.

Yuhong approached Jason, and they shook hands briefly. “Agent Visionary, pleasure.”

“Likewise, Commander.” She smiled broadly beneath her mask.

“You got the boy on board.” He said, looking to Shaun for a second. He shared the glance briefly. “You’ve got a hell of a way with words.”

“I’m better with numbers.”

“Ah.” Jason said, realising. “Whatever works. Not my department. Are you on tonight?”

“Yes. Shaun’s been given clearance to attend a mission with us.”

Jason looked over him again. Him and Alex were in the middle of discussing something they couldn’t quite hear.

“Special treatment isn’t normally your thing, Agent.”

“I can make exceptions.” She smiles again. “He’s a unique case.”

“His outfit is… interesting.” Jason said.

“It’s something.”

“What do you think?” Shaun said, with his arms open wide.

“It’s alright. You look like you might mug somebody though.” Alex said, with one eyebrow raised.

“You too?” Shaun slumped a little in defeat. “She said that as well. C’mon, it’s all I could put together.”

“Hey, it’s fine. I’m sure nobody will know it’s you. Just, don’t go down any dark alleys.”

“What about you?” Shaun pointed to Tether’s uniform. “You look like Batman’s latest sidekick.”

You look like somebody that would ask for change on the streets.”

“Yeah, well you look like…” He studied his outfit for a second. “…nope, nothing’s coming. Batman’s latest sidekick is the best I’ve got.”

“Hah.” Tether said, folding his arms. A smug smirk crept on his face.

“But you’ll always be the sidekick. You’ll never be Batman.”

“Oh, that’s low.” Alex said with a bit of a chuckle.

Jason and Yuhong walked over now. Jason patted Tether on the shoulder. “Keep it up. We’ll practice tomorrow. Good luck on your first night shift.”

Tether nodded and beamed a smile. “Thanks, sir. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“You do that, agent. Shaun, good luck tonight.”

“Thanks.”

Jason walked away, and swiftly left the training hall. Shaun and Tether looked to Visionary, who let her gaze linger on Jason a little as he walked away. She addressed the boys. “Our shift starts at 8. We can get half an hour’s worth of training done.”

Shaun raised both his arms up. “Do I… need training? Honestly?” His question seemed genuine.

“There is always room to improve. Even with you. Have you had any practice, any martial arts training?”

Shaun shook his head. “My mum and dad sort of told me not to. It’s not like I needed any help defending myself.”

“You could learn some basic techniques.”

“If you say so.”

They spent the next half an hour going over some of the absolute basics; It seems for all that Shaun had, he never really needed to work on his technique, and barely threw a punch. Visionary showed him the basic forms required, making sure to correct it precisely along the way, and also to aim through them rather than at them. Shaun commented that aiming ‘through somebody’ for him could leave them with a hole in their chest. Visionary needed to think on that. Meanwhile, Tether was practising his powers. One thing he’d picked up on was that he could link an object and send it flying to whatever he linked it to, but cancel the tether mid-flight. The object simply flew through the air to the last point that was tethered, and he aimed a few projectiles with it meanwhile.

With the time spent well, their first shift finally came.

It predictably became as dull as Shaun had expected. For all the time and preparation and basic protocol Visionary went over, the majority of their shift was just waiting. Other teams were being deployed on various missions and objectives; they were sent to high priority incidents, whilst Visionary’s team was a small team designated to non-lethal encounters. Because of this, there was little in the way of doing missions for them. The shifts lasted 6 hours each before they were swapped with the next on-call team. Tether was busy watching some skating videos on his phone. Shaun was busy playing games on his, and Visionary was watching the news. Nobody else was here, as everyone had been deployed to the far other ends of Manchester. With the reach of this NFU office hitting all of the extended Greater Manchester area, it was no surprise that some teams were left to their own devices.

…as once again, Anthony Barnes, leader of the Union of Britain party, has brought up the subject of Fartouched registration. In his speech today, he claims that ‘only having Farborn children registered doesn’t do justice to the fact that many Fartouched walk around with the general public unaware of who they are or what they can do. The United States of America has already made it mandatory. It is the biggest concern to the safety of the general public.’ His radical and, somewhat passionate stance on the debate, has left the Union party open to heavy criticism from other parties-”

On-Call Team, this is the Control Centre.” The noise came from the speakers in the top of the room. Small, discrete devices that seemed to give extremely clear sound that bounced through the room. “You’re being dispatched.”

Visionary rose from her chair and put her finger to the comm in her ear. “Control Centre, this is Agent Visionary. What are the details of the dispatch?”

Agent Visionary, Control Centre here. Trespass and possible theft.” Visionary glanced to the television, and muted it with a remote. “Location is… the NFU Testing Facility, between Sale and Stretford.”

Yuhong stared at the wall for a second, then frowned in confusion. She was lost in thought for a moment.

Tether interrupted the silence. “That’s Jolly’s turf.”

“Control Centre, can you be specific as to the nature of the dispatch?” Visionary asked.

Agent Visionary, silent alarm was signalled. Cameras picked up three figures, one male, two females, approaching the facility. The male spoke to the security guard on-site, and the guard seems to have given the total clearance of the facility.”

“Control Centre, repeat. Total clearance?”

Affirmative. Security gave them total clearance of the facility after the male spoke to him.”

Visionary paused again. “Do you have visuals on the trespassers?”

Affirmative. We’ve got identification. Visuals and profiles point to the ‘Ten Granders’.”

Visionary looked up to the speaker, eyebrows raised. Tether spoke before she did. “Flare’s gang.”

“Who?” Shaun said, looking between the two with a stark confusion.

“Control Centre.” Visionary raised her voice. “This is a major incident dispatch, not an incident dispatch. Why has it been assigned to my team?”

Agent Visionary. Your team has been flagged for major incidents. You have been given authority to arm.”

Visionary, stunned by being told this, raised her voice past her professional demeanour. “What?Dispatch, my team is not ready for major incidents.”

Flagged by… Director Sage.” He paused. “Reason for flagging… Presence of Shaun increases danger threshold to major incidents.”

Shaun felt all eyes on the room drawn to him. He looked between Visionary and Tether, quickly deducing that they weren’t accusatory stares. They looked worried.

“Control Centre, allocate another team to the incident. My team isn’t experienced enough.”

Agent Visionary, all other teams are currently dispatched are an hour to an hour and a half away after their incident has been resolved. You are the only team available and you’re within 10 minutes. Incident was logged 1 minute ago.”

“So they’re still there.” Shaun said, looking to the side.

Visionary let out a sigh of frustration and rubbed her forehead. She began to turn to the side, looking between Shaun and Alex. There was a mixture of feelings on her face that she had trouble hiding. Concern was the greatest and easiest to spot. Shaun stood up from his chair now and walked over, patting her on the shoulder.

“Visionary. We’ll have to deal with it. We’ve got this.” Shaun nodded. “We’re the only team able to take the call. Me and Tether might not be experienced but we aren’t going to be dead weight. We don’t have a choice and we don’t have time to argue about it.”

Tether nodded in agreement. “We might be able to bring them in. How cool would that be?”

Visionary looked between them and nodded. She took a single deep breath and raised her shoulders slightly, regaining some composure, and spoke in a professional tone once more.

“Control Centre, we’re on the way.”

Entrance: 1-5

“The car’s here, Shaun. Don’t be late. I’ll see you when… you’re back, I guess!”

Shaun’s mother was a stark contrast to him and his father; where Craig was stocky and Shaun less so, she lacked any of the muscle in their frames. She still carried a bit of weight on her, and her curly brown hair was thick and recently trimmed, tamed and brought up to her cheeks in length. She had a warm smile, which right now seemed to make Shaun at ease. He popped in some gum into his mouth, gave his mum a farewell hug and a kiss on the shoulder, and closed the door behind him when he had left.

The car stuck out like a sore thumb. Jet black, a 3-Series BMW that he approached. His hand was in his pocket, rooting for something. He opened the side door, and saw that he had company, obscured by the dark tinted glass. He elected to keep his ear buds in his pocket for the journey, sitting himself on the leather interior next to Visionary.

“Hi. Visionary. You look different. Without the armour and face mask, I mean.” Shaun pulls the door to, and the car slips into gear and begins to pull away from the house. Yuhong wore much more formal attire; reminiscent of a board meeting, a grey suit and pencil skirt, and a blood orange blouse to tie it all in.

“Hi, Shaun. Nice to meet you again. Please, call me Yuhong.”

“Yuhong?” He extended his hand, and Yuhong politely shook it whilst lacking any firmness. “Nice name. You don’t mind me asking, is that Chinese, Japanese?”

“Chinese.” She kept her hands on her lap. “I’ve lived in England all my life. My parents moved from China to England.”

“Oh.” He sounded a little interested. “You’re Fartouched, aren’t you? I didn’t get to see you in action. Alex told me.”

“Fartouched, yes.” Her sights turned to the window. Her eyes flickered from left to right, though Shaun couldn’t see her errant gazes. “Now is not the place for me to tell you. Another time, Shaun.”

“Yeah, okay. I know some people had really bad experiences. I thought I’d ask. It’s polite, ain’t it?”

Turning back, Yuhong smiled to Shaun.

“Yes. Manners make a man, after all.”

“Well, Yuhong. Let me just be honest with you for a second. First. Kinda sorry about shouting yesterday. Understandably pissed off.” He looks to the driving seat for a second. His profanity didn’t register to the driver; she was eerily silent, professional and focused.

“That’s okay. We are the ones who are really sorry.” Shaun narrowed his eyes briefly.

“Yeah, I’m sure. Secondly, I don’t trust you. I don’t trust her-” He points to the driver. “-because she’s way too quiet. Who’s ever that quiet? And I don’t trust the NFU. Okay? No funny business.”

Yuhong kept her composure, and nodded after a second. “You don’t trust us? May I ask, why not?”

Shaun leans back slightly, and makes a dismissive hand gesture. “Would you trust the NFU after what happened yesterday? If it was your house?”

She tilts her head slightly. There was a disconcerting air about her; she never really stopped looking at Shaun for the whole conversation. “I wouldn’t, no.”

“Yeah, that isn’t helping either.” Her eyebrows raised for a second; a crack in her mask. “Being all cryptic, who even does that? I want to trust you guys but I’m in a BMW driving to fuck knows where, being offered money. Like, hush money.”

“Hush money? This isn’t hush money. There’s nothing stopping you from talking about it. Post about what happened on social media if you wish.”

They locked eyes for a second, and Yuhong studied him deeply for that brief second. Shaun could see her eyes, still on his, minute flickers from where they were drawing over his face, far faster than he was used to seeing somebodies eyes move. His own almost couldn’t keep up with them.

Eventually, Shaun backed down and glanced to the side, away from her for a second. Her smile crept a little bit over her face meanwhile.

“I don’t think people need to hear about what I did back then. Let’s just leave it at that.”

She nodded courtly.

“I still want the money though.”

She nodded again.

“I wouldn’t expect you not to, nor would the NFU refuse to pay you for any reason. I’d like to propose an idea, Shaun.” Her hands crossed over themselves, Shaun resisted rolling his eyes, just about.

“Wow, that wasn’t even a huge surprise. Yeah, okay, tell me your idea.”

“We’d like to give you a tour of the NFU headquarters. You get to meet our agents, see what we do everyday. There are a few members of our team who want to meet you.”

“Wait, you told them about yesterday?”

“Yes, Shaun. We had to write reports about it. There was a lot of collateral, and a lot of paperwork about it.”

“You’re not going to make me write any paperwork, are you?”

Yuhong smiled. “No, Shaun. We won’t bore you with that.”

“Thank god for that.”

The journey soon became less tense as Shaun lightened up and began to talk to Yuhong about other small things. He was curious about the NFU even if he tired to hide it, though he carefully skirted around the conversation of how much everything would cost. Shaun did prod her for more information about yesterday, in which she told him as much as she knew that wasn’t classified. In return, she asked him about himself, and described a rather plain and boring life, lacking in the use of his abilities for the majority of his life so far. She showed some interest in him, but withdrew when she asked too many questions in too quick of a succession.

Through Manchester they went and eventually pulled up into the car park of a large building. It was a huge building with a curved front and large panes of glass from top to bottom. There was a sign that clearly showed “NFU Headquarters” written, kept alight at all times. It was an incredibly secure complex, with several security checks to go through before they could even park their car, and an ID and biometric check once they stepped foot into the site. Shaun was given a visitor’s guest lanyard, which had a small purple gem embedded into the card. The security at the front, who Shaun noticed was fully armed with the same style of weaponry that the NFU agents had yesterday, had to look for said card for at least a minute before giving it over to him. He blew the dust off it with a curious glance and thought nothing else of it.

Visionary was greeted warmly and Shaun caught a few glances, and heard a few ‘who was that?’ when they walked down the corridors. They entered an elevator, where Visionary stuck her card in a slot by the numbers that take you to each floors. A voice rang through the lift as the doors sealed shut.

Agent Visionary, taking you to the command floor.”

Shaun paused, then looked around. The back of the elevator had a full body mirror, and the carpet was a lush shade of scarlet. He tapped the panelled wood, and it rang out to be true judging by the sound it made.

“Command floor?” He asked inquisitively.

“Before we can begin, there’s somebody specifically who wants to meet you. She’s the director of the NFU. When she received our report about what happened, she said that she’d like to meet you.”

Visionary caught the wary glance he gave her. “That’s entirely normal, ain’t it? First day here, straight to the woman in charge.”

“She’s not in charge. I’m afraid the Chief Director is occupied. He’s a very busy man.”

Shaun mocked offence. “Oh, so I’m not good enough, huh.”

Visionary smiled. “You’ll meet him eventually.”

“What’s the director’s name?”

“She goes by Sage.”

Shaun gave her a wary glance. “I mean, an actual name.”

Visionary stops smiling, a moment of distraction flashes over her face.

“You just need to call her Director Sage.”

“So I’m meeting the nameless director of the NFU who calls herself Sage. Yeah. Great start so far.” His sarcasm was dry, not overblown, it rolled off the tongue from his normal way of speaking.

“There is a lot you don’t know just yet, Shaun.” She looks at him, and speaks more seriously than usual. It was enough to catch Shaun’s attention. “And a lot you’re going to know, and a lot of classified information you may never know. But for now, Director Sage is just interested in meeting you. Wouldn’t you be? If you heard somebody managed to kill a dangerous eldritch in two hits.”

Shaun considers, glancing to the side. “For me, that’s normal.” He brushed some hair to the side of his face. “Maybe. If somebody else was like that, yeah, I guess I would be. I’m not really interesting, like. I’m kinda normal. The only exciting bit is, well, being Farborn.”

“Do you use your powers much, Shaun?” Visionary looked at him. Before he could answer, the door opened. Visionary walked out, and Shaun took a second before he left as well. The outside corridor lead to a large double door, dark polished wood and a silver handle. There was even a carpet over the marble tiled floor, which Shaun walked with one foot on the tiles, the other on the carpet.

“Not really. Well, yeah. Like, if I really need to. Moving stuff around the house. Sometimes, Eldritch get in the way. Stops a fight before it starts. I’ve never had to throw a punch. People where I live know that they can’t really fight me, so I don’t need to.”

They approached a door, and a receptionist spoke over the intercom. “Director, Visionary and Shaun have arrived.” She pressed a button on her desk, and the doors clicked a few times before they slowly started to open. Despite their antiqued appearance, they seemed to be quite heavily fortified, with machinery woven inside and keeping the interior rather safe.

“Not really.” That was all Shaun responded, and he was the first to walk inside.

Visionary perked a brow. “Why is that?”

Shaun gave a glance over his shoulder, walking inside. The office itself was lush and replaced the tiled floors with pure scarlet carpet. Inside, there was a lady sat by a desk of mahogany. In front of her were two armchairs, comfortable and slightly extravagant. Shaun paused as he saw her; she wore a hooded brown cloak that draped over her shoulders, with the hood up and covering her forehead. Her robes underneath were elegant, well crafted, blending in pale greens and creams, though her arms were bare underneath the cloak. Strangely of all, she wore a blindfold that rested on her forehead; much in the same manner as the clothes she wore, and her blonde hair cascaded down beneath the gaps in her hood.

She smiled; Shaun could see the age on her. She wasn’t much older than his mother.

“You came.” Her voice rang with experience, and deep confidence. Shaun apprehensively took a seat. Yuhong waited, until Sage raised her hand and waved it downwards. She took a seat momentarily afterwards. “I’m glad.”

“When they said Sage, they weren’t kidding.”

She smiled wider. Shaun glanced to Yuhong, who was patiently keeping quiet for now.

“It’s important to look the part.” She locked eyes with Shaun; hers were a deep, piercing green.

“Did you wear these clothes before or after they called you Sage?”

She laughed for all of two seconds. “I like your sense of humour.”

Shaun nodded, and there was an uneasy tension in the room. It grew stronger as he looked to Yuhong and Sage, who both were taking this opportunity to scan Shaun, gauge his every subconscious reaction and conscious communication. It made him shift in his chair slightly, as Sage began to stare less at him and more through him.

“Sooooooo.” He said, sitting upright. He put his hands together and began pushing his thumbs together. “Did I actually need to be here for anything? Like, did you want me for anything important or to like, have two older women stare at me creepily for half a minute?”

Yuhong said nothing. If Shaun was looking at her carefully, if at all, he’d notice her frozen to her seat. Sage just laughed again. At least it was an honest laugh.

“Very funny. Sorry, I’m sorry, Shaun. I have a lot to keep track of.” She looked to Yuhong, who unfroze for a second just to freeze again. “Thank you, Visionary. Shaun.” She nodded again, and brought her hands on the table. “Visionary, if you would wait a moment. Shaun, if you would step outside until Visionary is done speaking with me? I will have to say goodbye for the moment.” Sage nodded to him. “Disrespect not meant. Yuhong will give you a full tour of the building afterwards. Tether is in today. You are acquainted.”

Shaun didn’t speak immediately. He rose slowly from his chair, nodded slower, and spoke slower still. “…okay then. I’m not even going to try to understand what this was about. If one of you could tell me sometime what just happened. Yeah.”

Sage watched Shaun as he left the room, the door pushed behind him so it was only slightly ajar.

Visionary turned to Sage. “What did you see?”

“A great many of things. Many useless contingencies we have in place.”

“Useless?” Visionary leaned forward in her seat. “Why would they be useless?”

“The majority would not work. Many are simply not needed. The further away we are from now, the more convoluted it becomes. They are entwined, tangled. They tug at each other, snag at the seams.”

“I see.” Visionary said this, with a good amount of uncertainty. “And what will he need for now?”

“The path can be started easily. Offer him again.”

“You’re certain?”

“Certain. He is a normal, teenage boy. Security is all he wants.”

Visionary nodded, turning it into a polite bow of the head. “I would like to request to leave, and begin the tour.”

Sage nodded and smiled, and wafted her hand to dismiss Visionary. “Dismissed. It’s been nice meeting you again, Visionary. We should do this again.”

Yuhong got up slowly and held her hands over her lap, and bowed formally, before walking away. Sage laughed a little to herself, Yuhong unwilling to turn around and question the chuckle she heard before the doors closed shut behind her.

She was greeted to Shaun talking with the secretary, and neither of them seemed to want to part from their current conversation. The tour had officially begun.

She showed him many rooms, some more impressive than others. The training rooms where they sparred and practiced fighting and defence techniques, and the changing rooms they naturally come with. She showed him some of the more bizarre rooms, such as firing ranged for firearms of the mundane and exotic kind, a room where NFU teams were being trained with the latest Farside empowered technology and even a large laboratory where they were practising relatively humane experiments on docile, captured Eldritch.

“Yeah. Looks really nice as far as a tour goes.” Shaun commented, looking through the door window. “It doesn’t really give me a feel for how things actually work.”

With this in mind, Yuhong took Shaun to somewhere where more of the ground level stuff was being operated. As they went to the control room, Tether had managed to catch up with them and Shaun asked Yuhong if he could come with them. She hesitated but complied, and Shaun at least had somebody to indulge some small talk along the way.

They visited a control room and greeted the staff there, and also watched them as they handled operations. They had large screens pertaining to the operation they were on; Shaun saw an Eldritch capture mission, a particular docile beast as large as he had previously fought. It showed feeds from several of the cameras on the Containment Team’s helmets as well as tracking their vitals. This one was far more accommodating to them than the Girallon-Class that leading it into the van without resistance. It was a long, gangly creature with elongated limbs that had 4 joints each, eyes from head to hind legs that all blinked independently, weeping with a necrotic green fluid from its joints.

“That was way easier than I thought.” Shaun said, leaning into the monitor.

“Yeah.” Alex replied, swigging on a can of Monster. “Some of them aren’t difficult. We just got unlucky.”

“Tell me about it.”

Yuhong eventually finished the tour, after walking past a few ‘High security level personnel only’ doors that Shaun had asked about going inside. Yuhong refused, and Alex just told Shaun that there’s more doors you can’t go in, than you can. They eventually made their way to a canteen where breakfast was being served. Shaun was pleased by a free lunch, Alex was surprised by this.

Shaun munched on a sandwich, whilst Alex took the opportunity to pile a plate full of hot, freshly cooked food that had just been plated up. Yuhong ate conservatively, though she and Shaun both shared a liking for bottled water. Alex found his can of free Monster under attack from Yuhong, who berated him on the health issues they may cause.

“They’re not really good for you.” Shaun swallowed a mouthful of three cheese sandwich before speaking, then pointing at the can with what was left in his hand. “At least get Relentless.”

“Relentless kinda goes right through me.” Alex said, swigging again.

“Way too much info, man.” Shaun said, with a smile creeping on his face. “So, Yuhong.”

She looked up at him, eyebrows raised. “Hm?”

“Nice place you’ve got here.” He said; the sandwich was now being used to gesture to all the space around him, before he took another quick bite. “Bit boring. Kinda what I expected. All the secret stuff is kept off limits. It adds to the mystery.”

“I’m glad you liked it. Or at least, not disliking it.” She had put down the sandwich she had for the duration of when she spoke. “Would you like to come back sometime?”

Shaun stropped waving his sandwich about, and put it down on a plate in front of him. He grabbed his bottle of water, cold to the touch, and cracked open the lid with an effortless flick of the wrist.

“What are you getting at, then?” Shaun took a quick swig.

“I have a proposition.”

Shaun put the cap on his drink, then pointed it to Yuhong. “Yeah? Another proposition. Okay. You know what?” Shaun puts the bottle on the table, then leans back on the chair. There was a slight ire in his voice. “You take me here, give me some big tour, try to get me to like this place and when you think I’m starting to trust you guys, you try and slip something on me.”

Everyone was quiet but Shaun, who had begun to speak with enough volume to draw the attention of nearby tables.

“So all along, really, you were just waiting to ask me this. Right?”

Shaun looked to Yuhong, who had elected to stay quiet, then to Alex.

“Alex, did you know about any of this?”

Alex glanced at his fork after impaling a sausage on it, then to Shaun. “Not a sausage, mate.”

Shaun stopped. He stared, for what felt like an eternity, then glanced at the fork. He pointed at Alex, restraining himself totally.

“…okay, that was a good one.”

Alex grinned like an idiot. He looked to Yuhong, who seemed more startled more than anything.

“Look. Let’s be honest here. I can’t trust you. My dad’s right, and you know he’s right. I mean, c’mon. Everytime I so much as look at you funny, you look like something just crawled up you.”

Yuhong widened her eyes, and Alex stifled a snort.

“But you know what, fine.” Shaun’s voice was no longer raised, and he slumped his shoulders a little. “You can’t trust me either. Nobody trusts anybody. So, let’s just cut to it then. Are you gonna be totally honest with me.”

Yuhong nodded, lightening up enough to smile. “Of course, Shaun-”

“No, I mean, totally honest. Honest enough to tell me the dirty truth that you wouldn’t tell me in case I’d leave.” He’d started to use the water bottle to point again, mostly at Yuhong. “Because I’m probably going to leave if you don’t tell me. Nothing to lose. So just tell me, what the hell do you want from me?”

The pause hung in the air, making the air grow thick and uneasy. Alex remained quiet, and watched between Yuhong and Shaun, who were locking eyes for the moment. Of all things, Yuhong looked a little calculating, whilst Shaun had defiance in his eyes. Eventually, she broke out a sigh, and nodded slightly.

“Okay, Shaun. We wanted to bring you here to see if you’d be interested in joining the NFU.” Yuhong began to explain. “Because you have an amazing gift and it would greatly benefit us, and we believe we can help you to use it to do good things. Make the world better.”

Shaun retorted. “Being able to hit things hard, won’t make the world a better place.”

“Sometimes, it does.” She says, bluntly. “And taking a hit for somebody else who can’t take a hit, is a good thing.”

“I’m not a meat shield.” Shaun says, frowning. “I’m not the NFU’s meat shield either.”

“You wouldn’t be a meat shield. You would be a protector, a defender. You can stand up when others can’t stand for themselves.” Yuhong speaks with integrity in her voice. “Isn’t that noble, Shaun?”

Something resonated in him, as he lowered his water for a second. He opened it again and took a long, healthy drink before sealing it back up.

“All we want from you, is just one patrol with the NFU. You would join us for one shift, where you’d be on-call in case any Farside related emergencies come up. Once it’s done, you are free to leave and never return, or continue communications.”

She stared long at Shaun, who still had yet to say anything. She broke the silence.

“We’re willing to pay you to go on one shift with us.”

The reactions varied. Alex looked surprised and even a little amused. Shaun looked incredulous, and managed to find a response this time.

Pay me? Jesus.” He leaned back slightly on his chair. “Pay me. You want to pay me. Wow.”

Yuhong looked around the room for a second, then took out her phone. “Let me show you.” She had loaded something up, and slid it over the table to Shaun. He took the phone and glanced at the figure, then raised an eyebrow.

“These are the repair costs of the house.”

“And the compensation you’ll be receiving. Including a hotel stay whilst you wait for your house to be rebuilt.” Shaun glanced up from the phone. “We’re willing to give you that much, again. On top of the compensation, tax free.”

Shaun looked shocked. He showed the phone to Alex, who quickly mimicked his expression, down to how wide his mouth was open.

“Seriously? Tell me you’re not just joking with me.”

“No. We’re serious.” Shaun could see a conviction in her eyes.

“Why the hell would you pay me this much, for one shift working with you?” He slid the phone over to Yuhong, who took it carefully. “That’s insane. Actually fucking insane.”

“You wanted me to be honest, Shaun. It’s not insane when you think about it. There’s no amount of money in the world to have you on our team, even for just one day. Because, you can’t put a price on what you can do. And the dirty truth you wanted, the cost to make sure you’re not against us has no figure either. This is the single most cost effective method we can offer. This isn’t factoring in the sheer collateral damage you can cause if you felt like it.” She didn’t blink for a minute. “That’s the honest truth you wanted.”

All he could do was stop, and take her words on board. He just stared, for what felt like a minute, before eventually, slowly opening his water, and taking a sip. All aggression he may have had before, had withered to dust from Yuhong giving him clarity into the situation. And deep down, there was some look of realisation, or acceptance, washing over him. Clear enough for Alex to pick up on it.

“…when you put it like that. Like, Yeah. It makes a lot more sense when you put it like that.”

Yuhong holds her hands up. “Just the truth. You could ask us to double that number and we still would say yes.” She admitted openly.

Shaun’s breaths were slow, contemplative. He finished his water and left the bottle on his tray, and also grabbed his sandwich and crammed it down without saying another word. Alex slowly bit into his sausage as well, whilst Yuhong still retained an air of seriousness about her. Eventually, they all finished and Shaun stood up first, keeping his eyes down low for the time being.

“Thank you for the tour. I’ll think about your offer. I think, I’m ready to head off now.”

Yuhong nodded, and opened her phone and made a quick call. She’d arranged for Shaun’s ride home, and offered him a business card. He put it in his wallet and nodded. Alex bid Shaun farewell, and Shaun offered him his hand and he slapped into it whilst shaking his hand. Yuhong wished him well, and offered to shake his hand one last time. Shaun simply took it, shook once with a weaker grip, and nodded before he left for the day.

The journey home was quiet and tense, reflective for Shaun. The driver barely spoke, so he dug into his pockets and slipped his ear buds in, letting the music help him sift through his thoughts and bring a bit of peace to the questions floating around in his head. The driver certainly didn’t seem to object, or speak, or react. The only thing she said was to alert Shaun that they were home, and even when he thanked her, she just nodded her head.

It was just another thing that he had to accept.

When he got home, he met with his dad and gave his mum a hug when he got inside. He’d apparently not missed his tea just yet and it was being set up. They could tell something was up, though they didn’t mention it much. Not until after food was eaten, when Shaun sat and watched T.V downstairs and Craig sat next to him to talk.

“You’re quiet, Shaun.” He’d say, starting the conversation.

“I’ve just been thinking.” Shaun’s eyes didn’t peel from the television.

“What did they tell you?” He’d ask. Shaun noticed that odd tinge of forceful curiosity in his voice. It made him frown slightly.

“Well, dad. If you want me to be totally honest with you, because everyone’s being totally honest with me today. They want me to do a shift with them.”

“And you said no, aye?”

Shaun didn’t answer.

“Shaun.”

“Dad, alright, I know, you don’t trust them, and I really don’t either. But.”

“But, what?” His dad looked over Shaun, then stood up. Shaun turned to watch him fully now, ignoring whatever was on. There was a pause, and Craig seemed to realise something. “…how much did they offer you?”

“…dad, how do you even-” Shaun stopped. He looked at Craig, and similarly stood up as well. Realisation swept his face as well. “-nobody can just guess that. What aren’t you telling me?”

“I told you not to bloody trust them. You’d better have said no.”

“I didn’t say anything. I told them I’d think about it.”

“Shaun-”

“No, dad.” He cut him off abruptly. “That’s what I said, so sod off, okay? Yeah, they offered me money, but it’s a lot of money, and nothing bad can happen to me.”

“It ain’t that what I’m worried about, Shaun!”

“Yeah?” He said, narrowing his eyes a little. “Then what is it that you’re worried about?”

Craig stood silent for a second. The part of him that wanted to keep things quiet had a firm hold over him. It just brought frustration to Shaun.

“Okay, fine. Now my dad’s not telling me something. Y’know, I’m 19. You could maybe treat me like it for a change.”

“You’re a 19 year old that could flip a bloody tank, Shaun. How do you want me to treat you?”

They stared for a second. Shaun furrowed his brow at that comment, and they stood off against each other. Eventually, Shaun relented, and walked around his father and decided to leave the situation. He walked through the corridor, where his mum raised a hand as he walked past.

“Shaun.” She said, with concern in her voice.

He replied, though it was calm. The type of calm that comes after an argument, as if he had just let go of whatever bothered him. “I’m just going to stay in my room tonight. Thanks for tea.” With a kiss on her cheek, he ascended the stairs. He didn’t even pay any attention to the bathroom on his way back, or if he did, he didn’t give it any visual clues as to whether or not he cared at this point in time.

Shaun stared at his ceiling for the longest of times. With music being pumped into his ears, he didn’t exactly mind the blank span of white stretched above him and all it had to offer to stimulate his senses, though it did little else for him otherwise. He didn’t move much either, no bob of the head or a tap of the foot in the air, just a solemn state of staring above, and listening around him. Something seemed to irk him, as he grunted before yanking out the headphones and pausing the music on his phone. He thumbed through the cards in his wallet, discarding the taxi cards he’d collected and found the card that Yuhong gave to him before. He flicked the corner with his thumbs and turned it over in his hands several times. The lure of it grew too strong, and he sat on the edge of his bed. Phone in hand, up to his ear. He waited, letting it ring four times before he heard somebody pick up.

“Hi, Yuhong. This is Shaun. I’d like to say yes to your offer.”

Entrance: 1-4

“Shit. Shit. Fucking hell.”

Shaun stared at the gaping wound in his house in disbelief, studying the wreckage that had been caused by the Eldritch excavating his front wall with its body. He wasn’t in a state of panic; he seemed more vocally concerned that his dad wasn’t going to be happy. He turned around and barely registered Tether, nor Visionary, and looked at the creature, to vent his rant in its direction.

“Come on. Seriously? This fucking thing? I left you alone in that building, and you’re here now and-”

At this point, he turned towards the pair of costumed Fargraced, frowning heavily at them. They noticeably flinched when his ire was guided to them though he wasn’t slightly consumed by his rage. By his tone, greatly annoyed more than murderous fury.

“Are you two NFU? What are you… did you do this?”

Visionary raised her hands. Tether looked to her, having never seen her show even a sliver of fear before. “We can explain-”

“I don’t need you to explain!” He barked back. Her mouth was slightly agape, frozen in place. Not even her eyes flickered away from him. “I need my wall fixed! My dad’s only gone out to get a paper and he’s going to come back to this. Jesus.”

Tether finally broke his silence. “Look, I’m sorry, it just-”

“Sorry?” Shaun took a step forward. Visionary almost launched to her feet, arm on Tether’s shoulder and hoisted him to his feet. Shaun relented and studied them for a moment, and realised how defensive they were about him. With a sigh, he lowered his arms. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just… I’m a little pissed, okay? I mean, wouldn’t you be if a hole was blown through your house?”

When he turned to take a look at the lamp post, they both unclenched their body. Relief washed over them like a cleansing wave.

By now, the van had finally arrived, and after slamming the brakes, men and women began to pour out of the back. Seven agents carrying weapons; though they carried some vague similarities to guns such as a nozzle and a trigger, these were far more advanced in design, and were linked via tubed to a small pack on their back. On their hips were some sort of fancy tazer rod and they were clad in raiment suited for combat; their armour was much more fortified with NFU logos on their front and they wore sleek full helmets with blue tinted visors.

They had approached the scene and entered the area with discipline. When one of the men at the front had noticed the scene, he raised his hand and the men and women under his command ceased, and stood to monitor the scene carefully. Shaun had meanwhile picked up the lamp post that was torn in half from the Eldritch’s impact, hoisting it off the ground so effortlessly it was nearly weightless in his grasp.

“Goddamnit.” He dropped it to the floor; it crunched to the pavement, the glass in the lamp itself that hadn’t been previously shattered cracked and splintered. Several of the armed NFU officers raised up their weapons, fingers not going into the trigger just yet. They had prepared their aim to Shaun. He turned around, and merely frowned and opened his arms.

“Really? Really? What are those gonna do to me?” There was an awkward, palpable pause in the air. “Put those things down.”

Visionary had finally snapped from the stupor that took her and raised her hand, finally attempting to regain control. “Stand down. Civilian is not hostile. Situation has been contained.”

Shaun rubbed his face, and sat down on a chunk of his wall that was big enough for him to settle on it for the time being. The commander stepped forward to Visionary and Tether, and bowed his head briefly. “Roger. Did the civilian do this?”

Tether intervened. “Not really. Like, I, uh, sort of put it through his… window. Sir.”

The commander addressed Tether, turning briefly to him. “You put it through the window?”

“Agent Tether was pinned beneath the Eldritch. He used his powers to take it off him, but used too much force. It impacted with the civilian’s wall and tore it down.”

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Tether broke down, dejected, slumping shoulders, bowing his head. “I didn’t, I just sort of-”

“Tether, it’s fine. You were pinned and only did what you thought was appropriate in the moment.”

The commander nodded. “I didn’t know you had in you, Tether. Trust me. You act when you’re pushed that far.”

“I hope you guys are having fun over there-” Shaun said, still barking with a grievance to share. “-talking about whatever. Not like you’ve lost your bathroom wall or anything.”

Visionary just paused, then turned to the commander. “Commence clean-up. What’s left of it, anyway.”

Shaun stood up, and swatted the air in the Eldritch’s direction. “Yeah, get this thing away from me.” He turned to walk, and looked down to an awkward squelching; up to his knee on one of his legs was caked in alien offal and ichor, and this caused him to bicker more. “I just had these washed.” With that, he shook his head and made his way back inside his house, stepping over some drywall that was littered near the car.

“Tether.” Visionary said, whilst having her back to him to address the commander. “You’re around about his age. Try to see if you can talk to him. I need to have a private word.”

Tether nodded, and lowered his protective hood. He tried to adjust his hair, previously enclosed, and only made it messier. He approached the front door and went to knock, but saw it was already open. He pushed it ajar, and popped his head in the gap.

“Hey, uh. Can I come in for a second?”

“…what?” Shaun replied. “Just a sec.” Tether looked down, and noticed the trail of footprints of foul liquid printed into the carpet, where Shaun had discarded his shoes, socks and jeans he’d just worn. They were totally caked and it even began to coagulate over them, if it even was doing that at all. He came back down a second later, freshly changed and without anything on his feet, sidestepping over them.

They finally saw eye to eye, with Shaun looking up to the tinted goggles. Tether raised them to his forehead, and glanced inside for a second.

“Can I come in for a second?”

Shaun studied him for a second, a decision being made in his mind.

“…yeah, alright.” From the tone in his voice, and the lack of reluctance to open the door and make way for him, it seems he had calmed down quickly. “Come on in.”

He lead him to the living room, which had thankfully been untouched in the onslaught. Shaun opened the blinds and let some light inside, though the site of outside just made him shake his head. Alex went to take off his shoes and didn’t realise he was in boots for a second. They took time to put on or take off, and it would have been an awkward scene. He elected to keep them on and went inside.

“Sit down.” It wasn’t a command and it wasn’t taken as one. Tether nodded, thanked Shaun and took a seat on the leather three piece. Shaun sat on a two piece sofa just across from it, with his back to the window.

“They told me to come inside and talk to you. I don’t know what to talk about though.” Alex admitted, as he finally took his goggles off and rested them on the arm of the sofa.

Shaun looked to the side for a second. “There’s not much to say. Well. You can tell me what the hell just happened. Up to the bit where that thing went through my wall.”

Alex told him, in as much detail as he could remember. He told Shaun he was a recently trained NFU agent and he was just coming off his probation. This was meant to be just a small scout to find the Eldritch, then tell the containment team where it was and they’d capture it. It had gone near his house, and he had to distract it before it may have attacked somebody.

“So I took that pole. Oh, yeah, I grabbed a pole from the building site, and I threw it straight at it, and I brought it back to my hand.”

“Brought it back to your hand?”

“Yeah, let me show you.”

Visionary waited until Tether had gone out of hearing range, and watched as Shaun openly invited him in without even a fuss. To be certain, she waited until the door was closed before she turned to the commander. Several of the men under his control had begun to assemble around the Elrdritch. They begin to weave straps around its body, which had begun to lose some coherence of form. Its tentacles begun to droop, no longer held up in place. They were trying to keep it together as much as possible, and continued to bind it up tightly.

“Commander, patch me through to the control room. I need to report something to head office.”

He nodded, and touched where his ear would be inside the helmet. “Control Room, this is Containment Squad Leader Jason Cohen, force number 223. Agent Visionary has requested to speak with you on an urgent matter.”

There was a second of pause before they got a response. Jason had dug out a hand held device from his pocket in anticipation.

Squad Leader Cohen, this is Control Room. You’re free to patch us through.”

The voice was male, a young age. He pushed a pair of buttons, and pointed it towards Visionary. Her comm came into life, and she began to speak directly to the control room, whilst Jason stashed the device away.

“This is Agent Visionary. Control Room, do you read me?”

Loud and clear, Agent Visionary. How can we help you today?”

“I have an urgent matter that required reporting. I need you to patch me through to Director Sage. This is an urgent priority.”

To Director Sage?” There was disbelief in his voice. “Just… bare with me a moment, agent.”

The line went quiet for half a minute. Visionary watched as the men had finally wound the beast up in leather straps, holding it tight enough to hold its form in place. The six remaining men and women took out some steel from the back of the van, and laid them in a cross hatch around the beast so they overlapped. Jason watched as well, and took out the device from before. One man called over with a “Ready.” before he had input a code and pointed it like a remote to the beams. They became ‘active’ and began a low hum, before they started to levitate off the floor by unknown, airless means. It was raised to waist height, and the men and women began to get ready to use them to hoist the beast inside the van. Curiously, the poles seemed to be locked in place against each other.

Agent Visionary, apologies for the delay. We do have special instruction to patch you through. Connecting you now.” He responded, apologetically.

“It’s fine. Thank you for checking, and thank you again.”

There was a pause where the comms died. When the pause ended, Visionary spoke.

“Director Sage, this is Agent Visionary. Can you read me?”

I can.” Sage spoke much less formally. Her voice exuded an experience, which paired well with the maturity in her voice. “Tell me what you’ve found.”

Alex held up his goggles and a glove he’d taken off his hand, and held them in the air. Shaun watched with an amused curiosity, and seemed to show more when he heard a click ring in the air.

“When I do this, the two objects are linked together. All I have to is will it together, and-”

He let go of his glove, and it flung straight from one hand to the goggles in the other. Even when he tilted it upside down, they were still holding together like a pair of magnets. He caught the gloves from underneath, and waved them about like he was explaining a magic trick.

“That’s kind of cool.” Shaun said. Alex nodded.

“It’s so cool, man.”

“So you’re… Farborn then, or Fartouched?” Shaun asked quite openly.

“Farborn. Visionary outside is Fartouched.” Alex replied.

“Ah.” He said, glancing behind himself for a second. “Can’t imagine it was pleasant for her.”

“I don’t know what it was like for her. I mean, I was born this way, right? She’s actually gone through the Farside. I’ve heard it really messes with you.”

Shaun nods. He didn’t have much to add to that.

“Are you Farborn too?”

Shaun laughs under a breath. “Yeah. Thought it might be obvious at this point.”

“Hey, you never know. I didn’t know if you were Farborn or Fartouched.” Alex explains himself, leaning back onto the sofa. “There’s a difference.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Shaun seemed to realise something. “So, anyway. You brought the pole straight back to your hand.”

“Yeah!”

Alex carried on. He told him that it got the beast’s attention and it unleashed a horrible howl, something that chilled him straight to the core. He even asked how Shaun hadn’t heard that yet, and Shaun commented that he was probably still in the shower at this point, or at least leaving it. It was an acceptable excuse. He described it as screaming so weirdly, like it made him want to throw up, like something grabbed a part of him that he didn’t even know existed. And then it jumped on him and pinned him to the floor. In his desperation, he took that pole from earlier and ‘tethered’ it to a stone he found on the ground, then let the pole sink into the Eldritch’s body. When he threw the stone, he channelled as much as he could and the Eldritch launched from him.

“…and into my wall.”

“Yeah. Again, really sorry about that.”

“Look, it’s fine. It’s fine. It’s… well, it’s not fine, but I can see what happened. It wasn’t deliberate.”

Alex hung his head slightly. “It’s my first patrol as well.”

“That sucks.” Shaun states. “Sorry to hear it, dude.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to.. Hey, uh, what was your name?”

“Shaun.”

“Shaun, I’m Alex. Or Tether. Uh, I think something’s going on outside.”

Shaun looked surprised and turned around, leaning on the back of his sofa. He was friendly just then but now, he sounded like he expected whatever was happening outside.

“That something, is my dad.”

“We’ve encountered a young man, about 18 to 20 years old. I have legitimate reason to believe he is Farborn.”

You know this for a fact.” Sage responded.

“Yes. He managed to kick a Girallon-class Eldritch through a lamp post. The lamp post snapped in half, then he jumped from a first floor window to the pavement. Upon doing which, he then stomped it so hard his foot physically went through it, and managed to cracked the pavement beneath it.”

Sage paused. What Visionary had said made her mute the microphone. The ten seconds of silence felt like it lasted far longer than it should have. Visionary looked to the Eldritch, which was now stored inside the van. Jason waited for them to secure it inside.

Are you in Aven’s Close?”

Visionary paused. “Yes. Did you see that?”

We are aware of him. Visionary, this Farborn is of importance to us. Bring him back to NFU headquarters. Use whatever means at your disposal to achieve this. Lie if necessary. Urgent priority.”

Visionary spoke up after contemplating. “Affirmative.”

He will follow if he believes it’s his own idea.”

She waited again, though she nodded to herself. “Willco. Thank you, Sage. Agent Visionary, out.”

The comm merely died afterwards, without so much as a goodbye from Sage.

One of the men who had helped secure the Eldritch had emerged from the van, the door opening to the side made it obvious of his approach. “The Eldritch is secure and ready for transport, sir.”

Jason gave him a nod, and turned to Visionary. “We’ll head back and bring this one in for-”

“Sir, it appears a civilian is entering the area.”

A figure emerged from behind the van, and quickly approached over with a shambled hurry. He was heavy set, a man approaching his fourties with the receding hairline, beer belly and wrinkled forehead to match. His eyebrows were thick, furrowed and almost scowling, and his finger was raised and pointed accusingly towards Jason. There was something definitely aggressive about him, as Visionary and Jason turned to him and stood their ground.

“I thought I made it clear to the NFU to leave my family alone-”

Before anything else, he’d noticed the devastation behind him, and though Visionary attempted to speak to him to try and resolve it diplomatically, he barrelled forward with his arms wide and desperation in his voice.

“What in the name of god has happened here?!” He turned around, torn between shock and anger. “My house! You NFU bastards, what did you do to my house? Where’s Shaun?!”

“Sir, if you’d just calm down-”

“I will NOT calm down, there’s a bloody big hole in my house, you daft bint!”

“I am not a bint and I’d appreciate if you didn’t call me-”

“How about you be quiet! I’ve told the NFU more than enough times. We had an agreement.”

“Sir.” Jason attempted to restore order. “The situation is contained for now. If you would listen, we can-”

“You call this contained?!” He said, motioning to the debris on his driveway and the empty space where a wall used to be. “You can’t even contain the central heating in this house anymore!”

Shaun had become wise to his father’s return and got up from the sofa. “I knew he’d be pissed. C’mon.” He made his way out and Alex put his goggles back on, moving quickly behind Shaun as he left the house. He saw it all, right from when Jason tried to speak to his dad. He walked over to the situation, being calm amidst his father’s accusations. Shaun put his hand on his dad’s shoulder and he turned around. Shaun saw the anger fade away, as surprise took over.

“Dad, dad!”

“Shaun, what the hell is going on?” Shaun’s dad turned from Visionary and Jason, who decided to let them speak for a moment.

“Things happened. Look, dad, I need to explain what’s going on, okay? You’re out here, yelling at Visionary and… whoever this guy is.”

“I’ve just gone to get the paper and there’s a sodding hole in my house, Shaun!”

“Yeah, I know dad, and you’ve got every right to be a bit pis-ticked off but standing out here shouting at them’s not gonna help. Plus, I think the dog’s gonna eat my jeans, they’ve got Eldritch… gunk all over them.”

“Eldritch?! There’s been an Eldritch-”

Shaun frowned again. It was increasingly common for him to do so today, so he raised his voice just enough.

Craig!

Craig did stop, and stared at Shaun. It looked like the shock of not calling him dad instilled the seriousness of the situation, and he took a second. He looked between him and the hole, then turned to Visionary and Jason, then back to Shaun. Perhaps frustration overtook him or Shaun had made him relent, but he nodded slowly.

“…alright, Shaun.”

“Go inside. I’ll talk to them and get this sorted, and I’ll tell you everything afterwards, okay?”

He nodded again, and let out a deep breath. It was more than relief; it almost sounded like part of him wanted to give up, or was going to. He made his way back to the house, and stopped himself from becoming angry again as he saw pieces of his old window littering the ground. Craig was sure to step over each piece of debris and made his way inside, and the door closed to the sound of him moaning about the stains in the carpet.

Shaun meanwhile, turned his attentions to Tether, Visionary and Jason. Nobody was quite sure what to make of what happened, so Shaun broke the ice and directed his attention to Visionary.

“You’re… Visionary, right?”

Visionary nodded. “Yes. Before you say anything, Shaun.” He stopped, and nodded, in some way permitting her an interruption. “On behalf of the NFU I’d like to deeply apologise for the inconvenience we’ve caused to you and your family. We’d like to set things right. We know you and your family don’t trust the NFU.”

Shaun turns and looks over his shoulder. He said quite dryly. “Can you blame them?” Though when he turned, he was smiling a little. “Heh.” Tether at least got the humour.

“Right. You guys, you need to sort this out. And not just fix it either. You need to fix it all, all the repairs done with no charge to us.”

Visionary paused for a second, and nodded affirmatively. “I don’t see a problem with that.”

Shaun waited, and let a beat pass. “…and compensation.”

Jason and Tether shared a glance “We can negotiate something with our legal team. In fact-” An idea seems to have struck her. “-we could get somebody out Monday if we sort everything out tomorrow. If you’re not doing anything, why don’t we have somebody pick you up tomorrow, and you can come to our headquarters, and we can resolve this issue quickly?”

Shaun picked up on a smile beneath Visionary’s mask and thought about it for a moment. The look of genuine contemplation on his face made her smile just a bit wider.

“Okay, yeah.” Shaun nodded. “And… I’ll need a shower when I get there.”

They arranged a time, and Shaun shook their hands individually. Tether had no issue with this, though Visionary had hesitation to take his hand. Jason’s grip was firm, though he found Shaun’s firmer still. Shaun went to his house to console his dad, who had watched the entire thing through the front window of the living room, whilst Tether and Visionary followed Jason into the vehicle.

“Visionary.” Tether spoke up, once they were about to climb into the van. As the door slid open, the smell of the dead Eldritch hit them, and both the Fargraced baulked from its lingering stench. “Am I going to still be on probation after this?”

She got in first, and there was just enough room for them to squeeze aboard next to the Containment Squad, who had already begun to discuss what they were going to do after work today. “No. In fact, you performed excellently today. We got more than what we came for. It far outweighs the costs.”

Tether seemed surprise, and pulled his hood down once he took a seat. “You… mean Shaun, don’t you?”

She glanced to him for a second, and didn’t move her head to do so. “In a way.” She spoke no more of it on the journey back, and Tether found her silence on the subject disconcerting to say the least.

Shaun returned to the house. Opening the door revealed the pile of clothes and his shoes had been removed from their spot, and there was an attempt at cleaning before they’d given up trying to shift the substance. It still stunk through the front end of the house. Shaun made his way to the living room, where his dad had made them both a mug of tea and left it on the dining room table. Craig made his way over and sat down. Taking the hint, Shaun joined him afterwards.

They both took a sip, and exhaled out of relief with a sigh. Shaun looked to his dad; he wasn’t eager for the answers to follow. Shaun saw something else; fear, maybe doubt.

He explained it all. From Saturday when him and Josh spied the Eldritch where it lay in the building site, to when Visionary and Tether had found the beast entering the Close on a regular patrol, and Tether accidentally flinging it through their window after it pinned him down, right when Shaun was cleaning his teeth. He also didn’t mask what happened next; punching the creature so hard it tore through the door frame to the bathroom, and when he kicked it out and ripped the lamp post in half. He even went into detail about jumping after it, and putting it down in one single stomp, and then how he went inside to change, and spoke with Alex afterwards.

At this point, Craig was already there, and he went no further into it.

His father was relieved, though there was still something uneasy in him. The entire store had given Shaun enough time to drink his tea, whilst Shaun still had half a mug to go.

“And that’s it.” He put the mug on the table and watched his dad’s reaction. He put his mug down as well, much more gentle.

“It makes a lot more sense now. Might have lost my rag with them.”

“No kidding, dad.” Shaun said, with a bit more of a smile on his face now. “You probably would have told the Eldritch to bugger off, if it was still alive.”

“I bloody well would have as well. Bloody Eldritch, in our bloody neighbourhood.”

Shaun did laugh. It broke away from the seriousness, and made them both forget, only for a few seconds.

“Leave the Eldritch to me, dad.”

“So what did you say to them, out there? You shook their hand. Don’t be making deals with them, Shaun.”

“I didn’t make a deal with them, dad. I just told them they’d have to repair this, and it wouldn’t cost us anything.”

“Aye, they’d better do. They’d better bloody do, Shaun.” He brought his mug to his mouth, taking a swig.

“And compensation. I told them they need to give us that as well.”

“That’s a first.” Craig seemed surprise. “Normally they tell you where to shove it.”

“They’re going to pick me up tomorrow morning, and they said we’ll get it sorted.”

Craig’s attitude changed, and he put the mug back on the table. “Shaun.”

“Dad, it’s fine. I’ll be fine.”

“It’s not you I’m worried about. I know you’ll be fine.” Shaun began to look a little more concerned now. “I know they might seem like they’re trying to fix things. And I dunna doubt they won’t fix the mess they’ve made here. And I dunna think they’ve even got anything that can leave a scratch on you. But Shaun, you can’t trust them. Don’t trust the NFU, not even for a second.”

Shaun took the seriousness of his dad’s tone and leaned forward a little.

“Is there something about the NFU I need to know, dad?”

“There’s a lot you need to know but I can’t tell you yet. I can’t stop you, Shaun. Hell, I learned that when you were five and you got your football stuck underneath the car, and you lifted the bloody thing up like it were nothin’.” Craig laughed, reminiscing. “When you see a five year old pick up a Ford Mondeo, you know you can’t hold them back. Just promise me, if you go there tomorrow, you’ll keep your wits about you, and you don’t trust them? Not a single one, Shaun. The NFU have a lot of things to hide.”

Shaun paused. He had to take it all in for the moment. “…okay, dad. I promise.”

Craig’s shoulders rose; a weight had been lifted from them.

“Did I seriously pick up the car when I was five.”

“You bloody did, aye. Dropped it as well. Buggered the suspension.”

Shaun laughed, deeply, even as he spoke. “I’m sorry, dad. I don’t even remember. Honestly.”

They shared some laughs, and Shaun pressed his dad for more questions about what he did when he was younger. He got nothing from him as Shaun’s mum had come home from work early, looking after Shaun’s grandmother, and begun shouting and screaming and asked if Shaun had sneezed and blown a hole in the house again. Shaun and Craig had quite a lot of explaining to do, and it made Craig look tame in comparison when he had arrived on the scene before. It took several cups of tea and Shaun explaining what had happened, and what was going to happen twice before she stopped being hysterical and listened to reason.

It had been quite a busy day, all things considered.

It felt odd for Shaun, at night. As he would normally brush his teeth before going to sleep, he stared at the gaping abyss where his bathroom was, and shook his head with a deep sigh. He stepped in, feeling the night breeze against his bare feet and hands and face, and knelt down for a moment and plucked something from the rubble with his finger and thumb. He held it up as best as he could see; an electronic toothbrush, snapped in two, with toothpaste and dust coating the head, crusty and dry. The other half was somewhere in the wreckage, possibly beneath plaster or a pile of wood and rubble.

He looked at it in his hand for a moment, then let it slide out and clatter to the floor muttering to himself.

“Gonna need a new toothbrush as well.”

He didn’t bother looking for the other half. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t worth finding.

Entrance 1-3

“How much sleep did you get last night?”

The question pierced Alex, who had gained a modicum of focus in that moment to answer.

“Uh. I went to sleep at like, 1. I woke up at… half five.” His eyes weren’t fully open just yet, and resting his chin on his hand didn’t add to an illusion of being fully awake. He looked expectantly at the next comment, already aware of what was going to play out. The thought showed on his face, clear as day.

“So four and a half hours.” Yuhong restrained herself, almost going to roll her eyes but thinking against it. “This will be your first patrol with me, and you think you can do it on four hours of sleep? I’m not just going on at you, I know. I can tell by the way you’re looking at me.”

“I’m not looking at…” He paused, a moment to reflect on the situation; he was looking at her. “…you. I mean, in that way. Not looking at you as a general sort of… thing.”

She sighed. “I know. This is just what the mentor process is like. We’ve got you in a gym routine, we’re training regularly. I hold up everyone who works with me to a high standard, because I know you can meet it. But-” She smiled, sincerely. “-not on four and a half hours of sleep. It’s not healthy. Neither are all the energy drinks you have. And you wouldn’t need all of them if you actually got to sleep properly!” Her advice, whilst truthful and sound, didn’t have as much of an effect as desired.

“I know, yeah. But the Battlefront Beta came out and I wanted to check it out.”

Sympathy drained from her face. “…make sure you’re up earlier tomorrow. Okay, that wraps it up. Handover, over. We’re going to suit up and do some training, then we can discuss our objective.”

Alex nodded, and took another look over her. She stood first, and lead the way in front of him.

“Did you get your hair cut?” He’d say. When standing, he had at least half a foot of height over his mentor, and wasn’t much wider than her regardless. They contrasted each other, from his baggy jeans and hoodie to her more fashionable purple dotted dress and jeans. She did smile back to him, looking his way as they moved through offices towards a corridor; one sign pointed to ‘equipment’, the other ‘toilets’.

“Yes, I did. Thank you.”

“Welcome. Just thought I’d say I like, notice things like that. Hair cuts. Pixie style, it suits you.”

At least it amused her for a moment.

Through the hallway, they approached the equipment room and split off to go to male and female changing rooms. Alex looked over his new suit with a bit of wonder, and laughed to himself. “This is mine? That’s so awesome.” He’d say to himself, whilst he started to kit up. His suit was modern, body armour covering him from head to toe, though most of it was sleek and form fitting. He had some muscle to fill it out, though it seemed to be designed with this in mind. Underneath the armour pads where normal spandex would be, was a chain mail-type suit that looked more like the scales of an ancient beast. He tested the gloves, admiring how well they fit, before slipping on the jacket. It was hooded, and zipped up on the left side and was snug and not bulky, unlike his regular hoodies. All that was left was to put on a pair of goggles; tinted, obscuring most of the top half of his face. With the hood up, it would be hard to recognise him at all, though it was easy to see he was still human underneath it. It even hid that mop of thick brown hair. Better than the beanie he wore over it, in any case.

He had to wait for Visionary though, and was testing how well he could move in his jacket. It seems from his small bout of stretching that he had great movement in this armour, and even checked to see how durable it was. It survived all his tests to tug and poke at it.

When Yuhong came out, her outfit fit over her like she wore a second skin, as if she’d never truly removed it. It was sleek and form fitting, with jet black body armour spread more over vital areas, and slightly thicker where it had such plates, though it seemed to allow much more movement. She kept her hair and eyes bare for the world; the only obfuscation would be a mouth mask that neatly covered where it needed to, cut under her eye line with a straight line. On her hip was a bar mace, an elegantly blunt weapon made from four flat bars of steel and a leather grip.

She bowed her head formally. All he had to do was take one look at her weapon before he started to ask “Is this training going to be, uh, painful?”

Under her mask, he could tell she was smiling. “It shouldn’t be. Let’s go to the training area.”

Down corridors and up lifts they went, nodding to people along the way. They saw other people, in more formal office attire walking past, who took no stock of their more outlandish, battle-ready outfits. They weren’t addressed by their names when they were geared up; they called her Visionary, and him Tether. He had to beam with a bit of pride, chest slightly puffed out whenever he heard somebody refer to him as such.

When they were about to enter, Alex raised another question.

“Do I get to have a weapon?”

She turned to him, and asked him something. Whilst what she said could sound patronising, she always had an honest tone, inquisitive and always waited for an answer to follow.

“Do you need one?”

He was disarmed for a moment, and she picked up on it almost instantly. “Maybe? Like, I don’t know.”

“Do you want one because it looks cool, or because you think you’ll be using it?”

“…both?”

“You’re being trained on the non-lethal team. There might be situations where you need to defend yourself but that’s why we’re training you and why we’ve taken our time to make sure you’re ready. Your powers will be where you make that difference.”

He nodded. He showed some understanding.

“What weapon would you have? Think about it carefully. It should compliment your powers.”

They walked inside as he mused on it. The room was spacious, filled with lots of training paraphernalia; navy blue training mats were spread out, with an area where the wooden flooring was blank. Several dummies of several sized and even shapes, some more bestial than others, were in one corner. Weights and other equipments were scattered around, though the room was incredibly spacious despite having the contents of a Dojo, a gym’s free weights section and a makeshift boxing ring all in one room. It was empty this early in the morning, eerily quiet.

“Maybe something like your namesake. Like a rope?” She lead him to the blank area, teasing him along the way. “The Farborn hero, Tether, with his Lasso of Justice.”

“The term is Lasso of Truth, thanks.” He’d rattle off. They stepped into the area, and she stood several feet away and faced him. He stopped in his tracks. “I’d need a tiara as well.”

“We’ll see about getting you one.” Visionary laughed under her breath.

He looked around for a moment. “So, what today?”

Visionary spread her arms. “We’ve done a lot of practical, a lot of training and a lot of thinking on how to use your powers. Let’s try something a little out of your comfort zone.” She lowered her arms, tilting her head slightly to the side. “I want you to try and hit me.”

“Hit you?” Tether looked shocked. “I can’t hit you!” He let a beat pass. “You’ll pull off some ninja sh-stuff on me. There’s no way I’m going to connect a hit on you.”

There was that smile again, skulking just underneath her mask. “You’re going to try.”

Tether sighed, nodded, resigned himself, and raised up into a ready stance with both arms raised. She did the same to mirror him, arms raised no higher than her sternum, and waited for him to make a move.

When he stepped closer, she didn’t retreat or dodge back, not yet. He launched himself in a surprise feint, throwing out a testing right jab towards her face. His fist came no further than a few inches from her face and only elicited a blink in response as he pulled back his hand. He looked at her eyes, flickering about left and right, as if studying and analysing him.

“See? You knew. You didn’t even try.” The gap hadn’t closed, not yet.

“Neither did you.” She responded. Her own hand darted out, trying to bring the back of it into his cheek. Though he went to weave out of the blow, her hand followed his movements down, even as he pulled back; she still connected him with a light tap to the cheek. “We’re going on patrol today for the first time. Put in effort here, and I know I won’t need to babysit you-”

That left jab came out of nowhere, physically trying to cut off her sentence. There was nothing pulled back, though Visionary watched the blow side past her cheek and withdraw back, having dodged through the blow with a minimal amount of effort. Again, she smiled. “Better.”

He had time to recover, though he didn’t move back. “I knew you’d dodge it.” His voice was filled, half determination, half defeat.

“You trusted that I’d dodge it. If I didn’t, what then? If you throw a punch, you intend to hurt somebody. That’s why you’re not throwing a good punch.”

“Well, yeah.” He admitted. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Then don’t.” She said, and resumed her stance again.

He took then hint, and stepped forward. When he did, she mimicked him and stood back. Again he relented, and she copied him until he had lunged for her. An open swings with a wide berth, brought back in quickly to defend himself, and she let it swing around her movement to evade the attack. Her eyes darted over him, never content in one place, scanning his arm each time his fist entered her personal space. He followed up with a small onslaught, combining them into a series of attacks and jabs, to no avail.

He had resolve, and blitzed her again. This effort was to try and grab her, and she’d ducked just a moment before he thought it would connect. Whilst he staggered forward, she moved in and lightly tapped his forehead with a pair of fingers. It annoyed him, just a little.

“Close. Practice has paid off. Your form is good.”

“Yours is better. Lots better.”

“I’m much more experienced. Try again.”

He stood for a second, and looked over her again. This time there was more scrutiny, more thought into what he was doing. He held back a realisation, and lunged in again. He threw attacks, each one was disciplined from what he had been taught, and watched as she danced around him. His body yearned, expecting the swings to hit, craving and losing hope when they didn’t. He waited, and aimed to grapple her again. Once more she ducked, just as she had done before, and knowing she’d do so, he threw up his knee. It still wasn’t enough, eyes still racing and flickering, she had ducked to the floor to the side to avoid it, stopping her fall with a hand before pushing back.

Tether held his arms up to his face, and saw that she came for him again. With fists clenched, she still weaved through his open hands, her right hand homing to him with unerring accuracy. He had learned from before, and went to swipe at her right hand with his own. Even then, she pulled away from it to the side, as if repelled by his presence, or anticipated so accurately. Her other hand came over when he was more off-guard, knowing he couldn’t raise his left hand to intercept so easily with his arm in the way, and managed to tap his forehead.

Click.

The noise was sharp. Her eyes ran in circles far faster than they normally could, tracing from his forehead to his hand, with only his middle finger touching his glove. She pulled back, though he reacted just as quick, and made that click ring in the air again.

She pulled back. Her hand pulled straight to his, aiming for the spot where her fingers touched his forehead and the middle of his glove. They aligned, and she barrelled straight to him.

They met again, and he’d managed to get her finger in a hold, though not without her almost managing to squirm out of it.

He didn’t expect her to jab him in the stomach straight afterwards, and reeled backwards. His grip on her faded, and she’d started to pull back as he lowered his hand to the floor.

He made it click again with his palm near the floor, and she felt herself tugged by unseen force, her hand to his, and staggered forward. Even when he went to trip her as she did this, she almost leaped over it.

Almost.

She stumbled on the floor, and he let the connection fade from those two points. He spared no time and grabbed the back of her suit, and clicked his hand to her back. She was nimble still, and had begun to roll away. He stood up tall and raised his hand, and clicked again.

Pulled off the floor, flung several feet into the air from where she lay before, hoisted by the sharp pull of invisible force. He severed it before they met, and she started to fall.

Visionary managed to land on her feet with relative ease and before he could press the advantage, she was on her feet and standing opposed to him, with arms raised.

He let out a ragged breath, and she lowered her stance. She brought her hands together, and clapped a few times for him.

Tether was relieved and sunk his shoulders, sighing outwards. His heart still pounded in his chest, and she was smiling again. A sight he was happy to see as well, as he’d got a grin from what he’d achieved.

“Excellent! I thought you’d notice it. It’s taken people more than 3 tries before. You’re one of the quickest.”

“Thanks.” Alex inhaled. “Yeah, I hoped that would work.”

“Tethering those points together is what I meant before, about using your powers.” She nodded, with a tilt of her head to follow. “I was under the impression you couldn’t tether a person to another, not easily.”

“I didn’t.” He responded, to her surprise. “I tethered my glove to yours. And then your outfit to my glove.”

Visionary raised her eyebrows. “I hadn’t even thought of that yet. That, is clever.”

He picked up on how impressed she was, and cradled his stomach with a hand. “Can we do some training where you don’t sucker punch me?”

Yuhong laughed. “Yes, of course. I wanted to see if you were willing to actually try, first. Let’s try going over what we might face today.”

Alex took in a deep breath and nodded. He felt more ready than ever, and could feel a second wind giving him the energy he needed to carry on.

They had trained, recuperated, discussed, even had time to have a break, and eventually went over the basics of the patrol. They had begun to climb into their transport; a silver BMW 3-Series with all the windows tinted fully.

“This is going to be something easy for your first patrol” Visionary told him, as they were now sitting in the vehicle, buckling up. “We’re going to be dropped off near a location where there’s been an Eldritch sighting. We’re going to scout the area, assess the situation and find it, and report back. There’ll be a team nearby on stand-by who will come in and handle the situation. It’s uncertain if it’s a Girallon-class or Bayard-class but it’s definitely in that size category. Hopefully we won’t test how hostile it is to say if it’s one or the other.”

Alex couldn’t hide the lack of how unreassuringly that sounded. The car took off from outside the facility, paired and in their costumes to their patrol location. Behind them followed a large van, white, with NFU logos painted along the sides where the doors were.

“We go in, we scout, we come out and report back. No complications, no collateral.”

Alex rolled the earpiece he had in his hands, with a single piece of wire that would curl around his chin. The part where he spoke into was no bigger than his little finger nail. “Is this designed by Artifex?”

She nodded, and Alex grew instantly more curious and tested it out. He slipped it into his ear with a new measure of pride and tested it with a few breaths.

“This is Tether, Testing. One, two, three. Over.”

“It only works if you say their name. It’s C-Team, then one. They’re programmed by the name of your team and the number you’re designated. We’re R-Squad One today.” Visionary responded. “And if you want to test, you say ‘radio check’ after saying your name, and before ‘over’.”

He nodded slowly. “C-Team One, this is R-Team One, Agent Tether here. Radio Check, over.”

R-Squad One, this is C-Team One, I read you five by five, Agent Tether. Over.”

The sound was so clear, Tether had to look to his side to make sure nobody had appeared next to him to say that.

“C-Team One, Uh, Roger Wilco. Over.”

R-Squad One, just to inform you, Wilco means ‘will comply’. Roger Out is fine, Roger Wilco is redundant, just say one or the other. Over means ‘over to you’ for a reply, Out means you won’t reply. Over.”

“…Uh. Yeah. C-Team, thank you. Out.”

He heard a bit of a chuckle on the other end. “R-Team, you’re welcome, out.”

He nodded, and a grin crept over his face. “That was so cool.”

“It’s not always cool. But sometimes, it is.” Visionary was looking out of the window. Alex could see her eyes again, flickering and darting, back and forth between outside and glancing at him. He grew a little disconcerted if he stared too long, and eventually she looked back inside. “We’ll be at the drop off point at roughly 10am. A little sooner if the traffic is good.”

They were a few minutes early, if anything. They arrived on site, a few minutes from a dirt path that lead down towards a construction site. Visionary explained further. “We show the people that the NFUis good at containing Eldritch, and people’s trust in us grows. We need that trust. Afterwards, we can do some normal patrols along the streets, even see what people really think of us. Feedback is good for us and the NFU.”

They approached a gated area, where a fence was in their way. Tether took the gate up with some effort, and managed to shove it to the side after a small strain. Visionary walked inside, hand on her bar mace, flickering her vision around.

“Stay on guard.”

With a nod, Tether replied, though in a more hushed tone. “What does the NFU do with the captured Eldritch?”

Visionary turned her head briefly to him. She spoke differently; jerked, awkwardly spaced pauses between words, sometimes not even having a space between them at all, eyes shifting in their sockets. “Study. Mostly. There’s a. Lot todowith them. Youwill know. After. Probation.”

She walked ahead, and approached a wall. She hid behind it for a second, paused, then stood up. Without even entering, she turned to Tether. “It washere. Come and. Look.”

Tether walked over and carefully approached the situation. There had been something here, though whatever it was had seemingly left, leaving a large imprint of mud where it must have previously lain.

“That’s… big.” He’d pointed to the ‘footprints’, odd splotches where something had been in mud and made contact, though they followed no pattern that a normal creature followed, nor no normal footprint either. They all headed in one line, further down the footpath, leading into a small area of forest after leaving the building site. “Are these fresh?”

Visionary had started to look at Tether with more focus now, giving a nod. “We hope. Let’s keep moving. Report findings back.”

“Oh!” He tapped his headset. “Yeah. Uh. C-Team One, this is R-Squad One, come in, over.”

The headset responded again, as clear as a voice beside him.

R-Squad One, this is C-Team One, reading you loud and clear. Go ahead, Over.”

Visionary started to follow the footprints. The mud was still soft as she walked over it, and Tether followed. He spied a metal rod on the floor and swiped it along the way, flipping it into his hand to test the weight, catching up quickly to Visionary.

“C-Team One, uh, target is not in the building site. We are following its tracks. Over.”

R-Team One, affirmative. Verify location of Eldritch, do not engage unless hostile or civilians at risk. Out.”

“C-Team One, willco. Out.”

“You’re getting the hang of it. We’ll have to go over procedure words sometime but you’re beginning to sound good over the radio.”

Tether nodded. “Okay, that’s good.”

“Are you nervous?” She asked him, turning to him for a moment. She hadn’t slowed to speak.

“A little. Yeah, I’m nervous. Adrenaline’s one hell of a drug.”

“You’d better hold onto that pipe then. Keep it close.”

They approached a small clearing in the forest. Before they got any further, Visionary stopped and put her hand against Tether’s chest, sealing them in place for a moment. She gestured ahead down the pathway, beyond where the trees obscured the view into a small cull-de-sac ahead, and what was standing with its back turned to them. They saw something shuffle, the hind legs of an alien beast as it stood still, taking stock of the area. The tracks had lead them to it, mud over its hind appendages as proof of the deed.

He went to raise his hand, as if pointing towards his headset. Without turning to him, Visionary shook her head slowly, taking a moment to study what was going on.

The beast had started to hobble into the streets, picking up speed.

Visionary released him and took command of the situation, with Tether in tow. She reached for her bar mace whilst she spoke, quickly issuing her orders.

“C-Team, this is R-Squad. Target has been sighted, entering civilian area. R-Squad is going to engage, repeat. R-Squad is going to engage-”

They streaked around the corner. Tether gripped the pole in his hand tightly, the sound of him using his powers between glove and metal went unheard in the blitz. They saw the creature in all its glory, heading down the street with tentacle-formed limbs not so much running as grabbing the floor and hurling it forward into motion.”

-Requesting immediate assistance, out.”

Tether reacted first, and flung his pipe straight at the beast with a throw that left him standing still for a moment on the pavement. With an almighty crack, it struck the beast straight in the hind legs and rebounded off it, causing it to flinch for a moment from the impact. He raised his hand and mid-air, the pole launched back towards him, slow enough to catch without risking his hand being torn off.

Visionary stood in the middle of the road as the beast turned to them, finally gaining their attention. The ropes of flesh that formed around where its head to be, the orb that gave it a crude facsimile of a skull, reared open and split apart from the knot that held it. The noise it released was utterly alien, hostile to the senses like the noise of anathema, crawling deep into your core. It vomited it forth with enough strength to cause nearby windows to tremble, and for both of our heroes to reach for their ears in intense discomfort and baulk.

It charged towards Tether, throwing itself with its full weight in his direction. Visionary had still got her senses and managed to intercept its berserk charge, and slammed her bar mace deftly in the shoulder. The impact would have cracked bone, would it have any, so all that was achieved was to slow the beast’s momentum down. It barely registered it as a wound, as tendrils pulsed around the impact zone.

It stopped and turned towards her. Pre-emptively, she had shuffled back to avoid its ire, though it widened its tentacles again and regurgitated another horrific scream straight towards her. At point blank, it caused both her and Tether to grab their ears as well as their stomachs, as nausea crippled them for a scant second. Enough time for the beast to leap forward, slamming a raised arm into Tether’s chest. Tentacles oozed over his body, pouring down over him and pinning him to the floor.

“Tether!” The Eldritch reared its open maw, and Tether gazed deep, and felt a primordial fear deep within. His only response was to lash out, striking into the beast’s shoulder twice and swiping into the side of its ‘head’ once. The beast snarled deep inside, and when he struck it a second time, the tentacles snapped around and wrapped it to itself. His last measure of defence was being pulled from his hands, though he refused to let go. His eyes wandered, just for a second, and spied something within his other arm’s reach.

Visionary slammed her mace into the other shoulder, and up swung into the creature’s neck afterwards. It turned towards her and swung its free arm out, aiming to swipe at her, though her reflexes were too honed and she evaded it with ease. It swiped again to keep her at bay. Enough time for Tether, who had found a large stone beside him, raised it up so it was close to the bar, and the click they made was drowned out by the violent struggle. As he released the bar, the beast’s body drew it within itself, sinking it deep inside that protean mass of flesh, never to be seen again.

It turned back towards him. With all the strength his left arm could muster, he pelted the stone as far away from him as possible. It lurched up ready for a moment, and with the remaining strength he funnelled it into his power, and let another click rip through the air, strong enough that nobody could deny it went unheard.

The lead pipe was lodged deep inside the beast, and though it had pinned him to the floor, it hadn’t gripped him in the slightest. Drawn to the stone he had just pelted away, the beast was pitched from his body like a catapult had send it careening with immense speed and force. Visionary watched, as the stone flew through the air and made a loud thud as it collided with a window. Bouncing upwards, the beast followed, and had been thrown with enough force to go completely through the window, and the wall surrounding it. The sound was dull, painful, and the aftermath of rubble and broken glass scattering in the air, sunk deep into the pit of Tether’s stomach.

Visionary came over to him and helped him from lying onto his back, hoisting him up. “Tether, are you alright?!” She exclaimed, following it up with a much calmer call. “C-Team, this is R-Team. Mayday, mayday, mayday. Eldritch has breached civilian property. Large collateral damage. Immediate response and containment required, Aven’s Street-”

Before either could speak further, they heard a noise. A crack like thunder, or a sledgehammer hitting a wall, rang through the courtyard. They both drew their eyes to where the beast had been in fear of what would approach out. They saw it stagger back into the hole amongst the rubble and carnage that had been caused, though it was slumped down. Tentacles from its face had been torn off from an impact, and it oozed a foul ichor as it mimicked a noise loudly whining, pitifully crying for help.

It had no reprieve. Something else struck it, obscured from view. It struck with such tremendous force that the beast was forcefully shunted from the building, the awful sound of flesh being pulverised shattered the winds like thunder. The beast flew outwards, before slamming straight into a lamp post. The post itself, torn clean in half, with no hopes of surviving such a blow, the beast hurling to the ground, stopping with a slump. Some life still ran through the tentacles, but it was fading quickly.

As they both looked up to the hole, they saw a figure. A young man emerged, hands holding the rubble of the hole, toothpaste still fresh around his mouth. With a tremendous leap, he hurled himself out of the window, far greater than any human could ever muster the strength, and landed with a great impact onto the pavement next to the beast. He took one step to where the beast was and raised his foot high, and brought it down. The impact sent tremors through the ground, as nothing was left between his foot and the cracked pavement beneath. What had been there was the Eldritch, though what remained was utterly crushed beneath his foot.

Shaun sighed deeply, out of sheer frustration, before turning to Tether and Visionary, who were both utterly stunned, still trying to register what just happened.

“Why the fuck did an Eldritch just fly through my window, huh?!” He raised his foot now, caked in whatever substance ran through the beast. It had long stopped moving at this point.

R-Squad, willco. Converging on Aven’s Street, out.”

Shaun turned to his house, and grabbed the sides of his head.

“Aw, shit. My dad’s gonna fucking kill me. Christ.”