“It’s time you should go to bed, Shaun.”
Shaun turned his head from the television, looking at his mum. Anne was standing in the doorway, still wearing the tabard she wore when she was looking after his grandmother. Shaun had been watching movies since he sat down this morning, only taking breaks to walk Button. The dog herself had retired to bed long before, a few hours ago when Shaun had temporarily changed to music channels to flick through. It passed an hour or two of time. Shaun had intended to do nothing this day, and he certainly managed to keep that mental promise to himself.
He looked to the television again and pressed the button to bring up information on the show he was watching. The credits for Antman were beginning to roll up the screen, showing the time to be 11:23pm. Shaun turned back to Anne and shrugged slightly, bringing one of his legs up and tucking his foot beneath the other leg’s knee.
“I was gonna stay up tonight. That okay?”
Anne frowned at Shaun, a facial expression he’d picked up from her over time from questions like these. “You didn’t get any sleep last night.”
“I know. I’ll be fine.”
“You’re going to end up hurting yourself.”
Shaun raised an eyebrow. “Kinda doubt that.”
Anne gave up on her current train of thought and tilted her head, folding her arms. Her tone sounded defeated. “If there’s one person in God’s green earth that can hurt you, it’ll be yourself.”
“I guess I’m my own worst enemy.” Shaun cracked a smile.
“You’re a bloody cheeky sod, that’s what! Alright, fine. Just don’t make too noise. Craig has work in the morning.”
“I’ll keep the noise down. Thanks, mum.”
“If it were him, he’d tell you no.”
“That’s why I asked you.” Shaun said in admittance.
Anne walked over and gave Shaun a kiss on the forehead, and he made a demonstration of wiping it off with a bit of a groan. “Night, love.”
Anne retreated away with a weary sigh, taking flight up the stairs.
Shaun changed the channel again, and began to flick up to see what other films were on to pass the time. After flicking through a few channels, He settled on watching Kingsmen: The Secret Service, and shuffled back on the couch to get comfortable.
Once the film had ran through and those credits were rolling, Shaun eventually removed himself from the sofa. He stood and stretched upwards, then shook each leg out to the side. He glanced at his phone, having a quick look at the time. It read 01:34am, and the battery was approaching its final lifelines. He took a small stroll to the opposite end of the room, by a small table near a power socket where a spare phone charger was left. He plugged it into his phone and left it on the table, then did another small stretch with his arms outwards.
“I should practice. I actually kinda feel like I want to.” He whispered to himself. “Giles did have a point. I need to make up for lost time.”
With this in mind, Shaun put on some trainers and walked to the kitchen, swiping the keys off the side near the back door to let himself out. He stood and took a look outside as the night air lapped against his face, brushing through the trees and plants with gentle rustles of movement. The light on the back of his house flickered on, illuminating the area and the sandstone tiles he took a step onto. The grass beyond that reached out a good twenty to thirty feet in length, until it reached a wooden fence that separated it from the gardens of houses around it. An old garden shed lingered in the far right corner, from where Shaun was standing. The windows showed signs of mould and cobwebs, and the bark was beginning to peel away.
Shaun stepped onto the edge of the grass and looked around. He observed the space he had to work with, then reached up to scratch at his chin. The small amount of facial hair he had made the noise sound much more coarse than on bare skin.
“Hm. Can’t exactly try running here.”
He looked upwards, then stepped onto the grass. He turned to the left, then to the right. Eventually, he turned to his house, and sized it up slowly. An idea sprung to mind, as he spied the edge of the guttering around the roof.
“Could practice my jumping. What about… the house? Can I?”
Shaun stopped to think about it.
“Well, yeah. I should be able to.”
Shaun stood back on the harder sandstone floor for better support, and kept his eyes on the upper reaches of the roof. He pointed up, still talking to himself.
“I just… jump. That’s all I need to do. Let’s try a smaller jump first.”
He rolled his shoulders, and stretched out his legs again to make sure everything was working properly. He started with a smaller vertical jump, bouncing on the spot at a regular height. He landed, and the next jump he performed had him reaching twice as high as before. He landed with his knees bent, staying crouched for a second before standing up. He mused, considering the difference in force needed to push him into the air, and looked at the house to estimate the distance.
Taking another step back, he aimed for the roof and shunted himself up in the air. Shaun launched himself up and towards the roof but only got so far as a foot below the guttering. He hung in the air for a second, letting his foot push into the wall and staying still, before gravity claimed him again. Pushing himself away made sure he curved away from the wall, and he landed onto the paving with a dull thud.
He was staggered, but his balance was okay. He looked at the ground; to his luck, the ground didn’t seem cracked in the slightest, undamaged by his landing. With a sigh of relief, he set his sights up again, and now had a good idea how much force he needed to apply.
With this in mind, he bent his knees, and jumped over the roof of his house.
It wasn’t a feeling he could have described before. An unusual mix of freedom in those seconds he was in the air, and a total lack of control as he felt himself being pulled by the trajectory he made. He arced over the house and landed at the front, slamming into the concrete a few feet away from the family car. He didn’t hold his balance well, so he force himself to tumble forward on the ground. After his roll, he got himself to his feet and tugged on his shirt, letting a few small stones cascade from his shoulders, and some dirt to clog the air around him.
He would have turned around sooner, but his gaze was locked on the torn remains of a stump where the lamp post used to stand near his house. Once he registered what he was seeing, he turned around and stared at the house, face full of surprise and mild wonder.
A smile grew on his face, and he eyed up the house again. With less time to work himself up, he sprung himself over the house once more, travelling back the way he came in a single leap. The second landing had a little more grace to it, but he landed onto the grass part of the garden and left two large footprints embedded into the soil.
He yanked his feet out of the ground, almost losing his shoes in the process, and walked onto the sandstone. Shaun was kicking the ground beneath him to dislodge any soil on his trainers, and winced as he saw the holes in the ground.
He thought about what he was doing for a second, then turned back to the house.
“It’s not gonna be easy to jump over here, and jumping over to come through the front door is kinda awkward.”
Shaun looked down at his shoes. Even in this light, he could see the dark tinge of dirt still coating them.
“Should be fine for now. I did something new, anyway.”
Shaun laughed under his breath. He made his way to the door and went inside, and made sure the door was locked. He made sure everything was turned off, his shoes were taken off downstairs and his phone off the table off the table, before he finally decided to give in and get himself some sleep. The last light to go was his bedroom light, and with that gone, the Lawson household went still once more.
As normal, Shaun’s mother had already gone to work by the time Shaun was up. During these dark winter mornings, the sun wouldn’t be in the sky until Shaun was at work and beginning to settle. His morning shower felt just as refreshing as the one he took yesterday, though he had much less time to indulge himself and enjoy it. He even had enough time to warm up some Pop-Tarts in the toaster and make a brew before sitting down, and having a quick check of what’s on T.V.
Shaun sat down, slipping the remaining half of a frosted strawberry pastry between his teeth. One hand held his mug of tea, the other the remote. He changed it from the movie channel he was just on prior to last night to the morning news, and put the remote on the arm of the couch.
Shaun took a bite out of his Pop-Tart and hummed to himself as he munched it down, speaking after swallowing.
“When did I start watching the news so much?”
Shaun stared at his tea for a second.
“When did I start talking to myself so much?”
With a shrug, he crammed more pastry into his mouth, and watched the news. Broadcasting on BBC1 was a gentleman in a suit, with neatly parted black hair and a London accent. He was in the main room, sitting at a desk by himself.”
“The APBIF, the American Paranormal Bureau for the Investigation of the Farside, are continuing to engage in an investigation into the nature of disappearing Eldritch from all over the south of the United States of America. Nobody is quite sure why they’re vanishing all of a sudden or what the cause is, but it’s enough that people are beginning to notice the absence. There isn’t a state of emergency at the present time, and the Bureau has yet to issue a statement regarding their findings or their position on the matter.”
“From what we can gather, spots where many Eldritch are held, such as the New York Eldritch Zoo remain unaffected. No Eldritch have gone missing yet, but some of the larger ranches in Texas have been cleared out, with not even the smaller Eldritch spared. Who or what is taking them is currently a mystery, but what we do know is that it’s only affecting the southern states. No animals or people have been reported missing en masse. There is however, nothing concrete just yet.”
“This has been Scott Young, reporting on foreign affairs-”
After consuming his remaining Pop-Tart and drinking his tea, Shaun turned off the television. His curiosity had been piqued for the moment but he felt the pull of interest beginning to wane.
His phone began to vibrate, and he tugged it out of his pocket to check. He’d received a text, from Visionary.
Shaun, change of plans today. Handover w/Spectre in morning, then big meeting with The Designer after. Very important, Directors will be present. No patrols today. – V
“Huh.” Shaun had a tone of curiosity. He slid his phone back into his pocket, then took a stand “Great, I bet my costume’s gonna look terrible, and my name’ll be even worse.”
He went to the kitchen and ran his mug under some water to give it a rinse, and put it on the side to drain away. On days like these when nobody was going to be in the house for most of the day, their elderly neighbours, the Colemans, would make sure she was looked after. As Shaun’s grandmother required more care over time, they found they were in need of their services more often, steadily growing until they were sure Button recognised it as a second home. Both retired, Marc and Cath enjoyed the extra company, and the walk helped them to keep active and fit. It worked for everyone involved, even if Craig and Anne felt it was a burden for them.
When Shaun looked down and saw Button was sleeping, he assumed that she would have to go next door when Craig got ready for work, and didn’t worry more about it from that point onwards.
Shaun wandered to the living room and took a peek out of the front window. The sun had started to climb the sky, and he saw the headlights of a black car waiting outside, parked up and ready. He grabbed his hoodie and jacket and donned them, making sure the hoodie was zipped, and tapped the front pockets. From the feel of things, his earbuds were still there, and with all criteria satisfied he dredged his key from his wallet and took it to the front door.
Unlock, step outside, lock up. Shaun put his key away, and quickly shuffled over to the car. He took one last look at home before he opened the door and slid inside, and buckled up for the journey.
“They just slip through, just like that?”
Katrina walked side by side, looking at Visionary. Both were wearing their respective suits of armour, though Katrina held her helmet underneath her arm as they walked down the corridor. Visionary’s face was covered with her mask, and she turned her head as she spoke to maintain eye contact.
“As far as we know. Eldritch just appear. All evidence points that they come from the Farside and emerge into our world, or universe, or whatever the distinction might be. Nobody has known an Eldritch to return back, but with what’s happening in America, it might even be the case.”
“Scary thought.” Katrina replied. “Less work for us to do. I’m not complaining if it lets us focus on the real scumbags.”
“It’s something to take note of. Until we hear news from overseas, we’ll have to remain focused on the Eldritch we have here. We’ve got initial reports that a large, docile Eldritch has been seen on the border of Cheshire, Bayard or Hecatonchire-class. We’re organising an effort to contain it and bring it in safely in the coming week. If it’s docile, I’ve asked that my team be the Recon Squad in lead of the operation.”
“I’m all over trial by fire. Throw me into the deep end, see how well I swim.”
“Try to walk before you run, we have ample time to train you. We’ll also need to go over the proper radio terminology for you.”
They approached the door for the small room where they had morning handover, and Visionary pushed the door open. Already present, Shaun sat there with steepled fingers, watching them as they arrived.
“Visionary, Spectre. Glad you could make it. I bet you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you here today for this meeting.”
They were both surprised, and Katrina smirked at Shaun’s attempt to sound authoritative. He took the half full bottle of water that was next to him and screwed off the lid, taking a swig.
“You’re in early, Shaun.”
“You made it sound like it was a big day today. I thought I’d get in early and be ready.”
Visionary nodded and moved into the room, unblocking the doorway for Katrina to come in as well. They both took a seat, and Katrina rested her elbow on the back of her chair, bringing her foot underneath the opposite thigh.
“Very well. I’ll get started with the handover then.”
“No laptop today?” Shaun asked, glancing over Visionary’s personal effects effects. She lifted up a folded piece of paper she withdrew from her belt and began to unfold it.
“As much as they encourage us to make a paperless office, one sheet isn’t going to cause any harm.” She said with a smile. “As per standard handover, we’ll go over any events of importance. Katrina, Shaun and I will be attending a meeting today with The Designer. It was due to be on Monday but she had an apparent ‘breakthrough’ and urgently called it in, so we acquiesced, and the Directors agreed to it. We’re not sure how long it’ll take, so I’ve asked Grandmaster to give you some basic training on radio signals and code words, as well as basic comms operations. If that’s not any trouble for you.”
She shrugged in response. “Sure.”
“Great.” Visionary nodded. “We’ll be going as soon as handover is complete. I had other plans for us today for some initial preparation but we’ll have to postpone them for later. Other points of note, we’ve heard over social media this morning that there’s a large Eldritch on the border of Cheshire and Greater Manchester. We’ve had no reports that it’s hostile and size reports are inaccurate at best without pictures. We believe it to be docile, so Bayard-Class to Hecatonchire-Class in size. Oncw we’ve gathered some more information, we’ll fill you in.”
Both Shaun and Katrina nodded in unison.
“Today’s planner will be as follows. After handover, Shaun and myself will meet with The Designer and the Directors to discuss his identity and aesthetic as an agent of the NFU. Katrina will learn about comms with Grandmaster meanwhile. We’ll see how long this meeting takes and break afterwards, then do some physical training up until eleven. An hour’s lunch, then we’ll go over previous reports and recordings of Eldritch containments from twelve until one, as well as learn the basics of Eldritch protocol for another hour, until two.”
“As we’ve had to be taken off patrol for various reasons, we’ll consider it an early finish today.”
“Sound.” Katrina contributed.
“That concludes the handover. Katrina, if you’d go up to Grandmaster’s office, Shaun and myself will attend this meeting now.”
Katrina pushed her chair back and stood up.
“Ta-ra a bit.”
She grabbed her helmet and gave Visionary and Shaun a mock salute, before turning on her heels and escorting herself out.
Visionary nodded, then folded up the paper and put it back from whence it came. Shaun stood as well and stretched his arms out a little, whilst Visionary took point and they back to walk out of the room.
Shaun had a vague sense of direction, of where they were heading to. They went down corridors, passing people with generic and brief greetings, nodding heads and smiling several times along the way. As they entered the lift, Visionary pushed the button for the topmost floor, and after the doors closed they began ascended up the building.
Shaun had seen the top floor of the NFU headquarters only a few times, and today they weren’t going to the same room he knew from before. They took a right before they got there though, and they walked into a much larger conference room.
Instantly, Shaun recognised The Designer, who was standing next to two large easels. Each one of them had a sheet of paper, A2 in size. She wore a grey sweater and a long black skirt down to her knees, and over that she wore an oversized pearl necklace. Her hands were behind her front, and a grin was on her face.
Shaun recognised the two others, but the one he hadn’t seen before caught his attention. He looked in his early fourties. His hair was trim, neat, waxed and parted to one side, and he looked freshly shaved despite showing the signs of stubble already. The suit he wore looked expensive, and he had noticeably high cheek bones and a stern gaze. Beside him was Sage, who turned her head and smiled at their entry. She wore the same robes as usual, the same kind smile.
Opposite them sat Artifex. He wore a suit as well, with the jacket on the back of his chair and his sleeves rolled up just before his elbows. He looked at Shaun and Visionary for a second, and seemed to not really care either way before turning to The Designer again.
“Shaun, this is Head Director Messenger.” Visionary said, making room. Messenger stood up, and Shaun took a step forward and bowed his head. They both extended hands and shook them, and Messenger had quite a firm grip and shook twice, nodding his head as well.
“Shaun, a pleasure to finally meet you.” His accent was hard to pin down, though he was well spoken and articulate. He broke his hand away and resumed seating. Besides Sage and Artifex were a spare chair each, and Visionary was the first to sit next to Sage. Shaun took his seat next to Artifex, and The Designer brought her hands together to clap them together once everyone was present.
“Fantastic! Everyone’s here, we can begin. Thank you all for joining me today. Now I know what you’re thinking.” She folds her arms. ‘The Designer, you said you’d be ready on Monday!’ The truth is, you can’t predict things like this. Inspiration just hits you out of the blue, and suddenly everything’s already laid out in front of you. I was as surprised as any of you were. Needless to say, I fast tracked the process to get it all done. The sooner everyone sees what I’ve created, the sooner we can get Shaun’s new identity out in the open.”
“It was a tough process. I had to take everything that Shaun gave as feedback, as well as keeping my own signature flare and the ever-growing aesthetic of the National Farside Unit’s agents. Firstly, I’d like to personally thank Artifex, for lending his resources and helping to make the body armour that your agents wear. With my designs, of course.”
“Yes yes, of course. Let’s get to the point where you reveal it. I’ve been sitting here for half an hour already.” Artifex rubbed his upper lip. “I’m only here for a single announcement and because I was asked to come.”
The Designer frowns, and holds her hands together. “Oh, Artifex. Can’t you just turn the grumpiness down for two minutes?”
“We could be done in two minutes, just show the suit already.”
The Designer shoots Artifex a death glare, before she clears her throat and turns sideways. She touches her finger to the pad of paper in the middle, and colour begins to seep into the image. At first, they begin to form into the shape of the NFU logo, with shadows and shading to give off the illusion that it was floating off the page. The logo then began to move and shrink, moving away into the upper left corner.
The Designer smiles and speaks. “The National Farside Unit is an organisation founded on integrity and a simple mission, to protect the common person from any threat of the Farside that would endanger them. To this end, the agents of the NFU have to look the part. They not only have to look strong and tough enough to take on whatever the Farside can throw at us, but also to protect them. Most importantly, they need to look trustworthy. The normal man needs to look upon the agents of the NFU and say ‘Wow, this person has my back. With Shaun, we’re going to make sure that’s more clear now than ever.”
The scene on the paper changes. The area begins to darken, but a figure begins to glow out of the pitch black depths starting to permeate the page. Features become clearer, a monochrome figure that begins to seep with skin tones, a hairstyle matching Shaun’s own. Midnight blue clothes begin to form over him, starting with a defined set of boots that cut off just before the knee, and bracers that travelled halfway up his forearm. These bracers split into three segments each, and then began to form downwards like triangles, with the lowest one forming the tip near shaun’s wrist, and the topmost one became a scale on the outside of the arm that pointed in the opposite direction. These arm-guards and boots started to change colours, growing lighter until they reaches a Glaucous blue.
The figure’s upper half soon became wreathed in a jacket, with the fastenings on the right side, much the same design as Tether’s own. The fastenings on the side slid up and to the left, just at the sternum level, where they formed into prominent lapels that curved around the neck into a collar. From the top of the shoulders, down to the point where the ribs and the stomach met, formed a triangular shape of raised fabric. Forming over that tip in the centre of his chest, a three pronged shield formed over it that matched the same colour as the arm-guards and the boots. The way the upper layer formed gave off the illusion that it formed into a cape, though nothing of the sort existed on this design.
Two stripes formed down the side, separating where abdominals would be from the rest of the torso. That section remained the same, but around on the lower level became embossed with a brick-like pattern. The armour underneath the jacket started to travel upwards from behind the head, until it formed a hood. Likewise, along the front it travelled up until it covered the lower part of the face. All that was visible were eyebrows and eyes.
The image became a little clearer, until it almost looked as if it was pulled from life itself.
“Artifex and I have had to go through a very different process with this suit. Artifex, now’s the time you’ve been waiting impatiently for.”
Artifex dismissed the comment and spoke as he intended to. “Yes, you see. With most people, you think about things like… what sort of things they’re weak against. We made Tether’s armour to resist punches, kicks, knives, that sort of stuff. He has to get close, so we make him good at being close. This one, the boy’s armour, is different. We don’t have to worry about that. I made a suit of armour that could withstand him.”
Artifex points to Shaun, who looks surprised at suddenly being called out.
The Designer took over. “We made the armour much heavier, and just as flexible, so it’s a lot more durable. Shaun doesn’t care about weight, so it works in our favour. And now, for the important part! The name.”
The design shrunk again, and moved lower down. Five blocks appeared in white, slowly starting to form into the shapes of letters, and rapidly sped up until they formed a glowing, single word.
The silence deafened the room.
“Verus. Latin for truth, what is right and just. Verus was also a gladiator, but we’re looking at the more literal version of the word than the person behind it. It’s not too formal, not too casual. It’s easy to say, and it stands out. It’s not flamboyant and it’s not a word that people will instantly know. It even rolls of the tongue, and sounds gentle enough to people. It fits all the criteria I was given. The design of the armour is everything you wanted. No capes, a jacket, and something that says you’re strong, you’re tough, but you’re here to protect the common person. This is the image the NFU wants, a young man with the public in mind, who’ll stand up to any challenge and who’ll never back down.”
The Designer took her hand off the paper, and the images became still. All people of the room began to nod amongst themselves. Almost all at once, their heads turned to Shaun, who found it dawning on him that they were suddenly waiting for an answer. He sat a little more upright in his chair, and studied the designs for a second.
The Designer smiled widely, and waited in awkward silence. “Well Shaun, what do you think?”