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Callie flopped down on the bunk, something between a groan and a growl scraping through her teeth. A few seconds passed as she took in the empty space of the barracks room – utilitarian, walls bare except for a desk pushed into the corner and a few photos attached to the wall above it with half-peeling tape, presumably of the families of the soldiers who were once stationed here.

Before they were swamped by a tsunami and then the remainder shot or captured in the confusion, of course.

She remembered a man on the deck, twitching, seawater dribbling from his mouth.

Bile rose in Callie’s throat; she forced her mind away. She’d never been terribly good at meditation – keeping her thoughts clear always felt far near-impossible in comparison to just focusing them on something else. Unfortunately, the place they turned to was little better.

In reserve. God damn it!

Callie hadn’t strictly been absent for the duration of the battle at the Jinghong Dam but, in truth, she might as well have been – kept on one of the rearward boats, hidden, as a last card in TFO’s deck to turn the tide or, more likely, hunt down enemy VIPs as they tried to flee the scene… They hadn’t counted on their opponents having teleportation of their own; Huo Ren and his cohort had already vanished by the time that she was let loose and while evacing PoWs was unequivocally good and helpful…

Myron and his ‘emotional distress’ talk, it has to be… I performed well the previous mission – there was nothing else to recommend against me. Ignoring my getting portal-trapped, her thoughts very helpfully concede – but I didn’t tell anyone about that, they would have had no way of knowing, surely, maybe barring Qingshe she was there would she have seen OH GOD NO –

She forced that train of thought from her mind, too. Took a breath. Okay, so maybe things are affecting you. That’s fine. That’s normal for a soldier, let alone one who just discovered that her father… She winced at the cascade of thoughts that resulted. So that you’ve got to deal with… One thing at once. You wanted to be sure of who he was – now you are. Are you going to confront Mum about it? She pursed her lips. Shook her head. It’d just worry her even more than she is already. I work this out on my own…

So. Do I want to go after him?

What she’d told Myron had been truth, after a fashion. Intellectually, she saw no need. It didn’t affect her that she happened to share DNA with someone possibly not dead on the other side of the globe; if he happened to cross onto her side of the globe, she’d want to know about him but there was still no need to know him.


She hated it. The way that the Hammer lieutenant had talked spoke of knowledge of her capabilities; the way he instantly leapt on weakness in her use of them demonstrated it, beyond any kind of doubt she might have had. I’m trying to avoid notoriety… And now, quite possibly, there’s an indefinite number of people out there who know more or less what I can do and exactly how to counter it. Callie felt a shiver run up her spine, feeling exposed for the first time in years. And I can’t do anything about it. I have a job to do here. I…

She let out the breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. Right. Job. Do what I came here to do.

Callie sat up on the bunk, swinging her legs up and out to let them hang over the side. She felt for the thread in her mind. She tugged.

And then it tugged back. Callie stiffened, fists clenching, as she felt it slithering through her head. ‘Spindle’, as they were codenamed, could not take away memories – the CIA would hardly cripple their own operatives so – but they did access them, and accessing memories always leaves them altered. Callie ground her teeth. Even for one who could be as focused as she, she still didn’t notice anything changing… The absence unnerved her more than any perception of it ever might.

Time passed. Just how much was difficult to ascertain, in the quiet of that room, cast in the artificial white of the strip lights on the ceiling above.

Then: The model student as ever, aren’t you?

Callie relaxed her fists as the sensation ceased. Clenched them again. Relaxed. “Glad you think so,” she murmured, bitterness in her voice, eyes boring into the wall. Did you know? About Kenrick?

A few moments passed, no doubt as some file was searched or clearance was checked. Suspicions, nothing more. By the time they became firm, you were already deployed and distracting you would be counterproductive. If we knew there were likely to be Hammer-affiliated antiquarians in theatre, you’d have been first to know.

Callie nodded, gaze still on the wall. A satisfying enough answer… Assuming that they were telling her the truth.

Because lying risks your operational performance and we can’t have that. Hey, listen, she felt resonating in her mind even as panic flashed across it, don’t worry. You’re not going to defect because you had one intrusive thought. Believe me, I know what a would-be double agent’s thoughts feel like and yours aren’t those.

Callie forced herself to calm. You didn’t know they were here. That’s worrying.

You’re right. From what you saw, they had a good number of their elites on that ship, so it’s possible they’re minimally integrated into the actual command structure, but even then – you shouldn’t have been the first to know about them. I’ll pass it up the chain.

You think the higher-ups will send more operatives to the theatre?

As a telepath, ‘Spindle’ normally kept their thoughts disciplined; as a CIA telepath, it was compulsory. Thus Callie’s surprise when she practically felt them grimace on the other end. Guessing that’s a ‘No’, then.

How closely have you been following domestic politics, Augur?

Callie blinks. Trying to avoid it. Why?

Well, midterm polling’s been good for the President.

Oh, God.

Mmm. The Director’s trying to hold out but it looks like we’ll be facing down another ‘American Finance Initiative’ soon – maybe even worse. You’re staying where you are, don’t worry about that, but don’t expect backup any time soon.

Right. Right. Callie nodded – finally, a firm answer to comprehend, internalise and integrate! Directives?

Watch Myron. He –

Oh – yeah, so what was that all about? Why wasn’t the information on my mum falsified – I made it very clear that she needed to be kept out of all this!

Because there wasn’t enough time to audit the full capability of the Philippine army’s Antiquarian recruitment before you were inserted. It was –

Like hell! They needed anyone they could get – if you didn’t remember, Myron himself is a former terrorist!

Translator was a terrorist who was a known quantity to them. You weren’t. All it would have taken was an E- or D-rank diviner looking over your file and you could have lost your cover and any influence you might have had. This was the safest option. A pause. Your mother is safe, Augur. We have security protocols in place for her, just as we have them for the family of all our operatives.

Right. Right. I’m sorry. Callie sighed. Directives?

‘Spindel’’s thoughts were calm as ever. Monitor Translator. His influence is unclear – ensure that it is kept in check. Monitor Jester. Determine whether he is just a figurehead. If he isn’t, determine whether he can be trusted; if he can, we will authorise you to make contact. And monitor Cassandra. She’s too powerful an antiquarian and her loyalties too obscure to ignore her – just, given your memories, avoid any entanglements that could be turned to her –

“Yes!” Callie yelped, then jumped at the sudden sound of her own voice as it echoed in the room. Placing a hand on her forehead for calm, she performed a quick scan – the room was still empty. Yes. Understood. Thank you – directives received. Over and out.

Over and out, Augur.

Callie felt the subtle aperture in her mind close. She let her limbs go slack; her palms, barely supporting her weight, sunk into the mattress below.

Right. Well. Least now I know exactly what I’m meant to be doing.

She drummed her fingers. Then sat up.

Well, no rest for the righteous. We were meant to be relaxing, weren’t we? Hmm. Need to make myself visible.

Let’s see if anyone on this island can lend me a surfboard.
Flashback - Collab between @Letter Bee and @Nimbus

BRP Ramon Alcaraz - 10/11/2022, 20:20 UTC+8

Noel, Nico, and Indra were back on the ship, and so was Myron. The ASEAN Flotilla had taken a beating from the PLA Navy’s battle groups, but the diversion had worked and the supply ships were getting through to Mischief Reef. Now, they could all return to Lingayen for their next deployment… Once Myron had dealt with some unfinished business.

He had left Kaitlyn, Iker, Qingshe and that newcomer Rocha in the ships; they could meet later. Right now, he had a good deed to do, one more action to make up for a childhood and adolescence lost in atrocities.

Gritting his teeth, Myron glanced down the corridor behind him. Callie hadn’t been terribly subtle in shadowing him. He gestured for her to follow him to one of the side rooms of the ship.

He had already guessed what she had seen, what Sohrab had told her about. But as he walked towards the side room, the young man knew that he wanted to come clean, and so was prepared to do so if she asked for it.

And so the Intelligence Officer opened the door, went inside, and faced Callie, saying, “What do you want to know?”

“That easy to read, huh?” The smile on Caroline Lidmann’s face was anything but kind. The whites of her teeth and eyes caught the dregs of the light, the rest of her silhouette blending into the darkness as she passed through the doorway. Her tone of voice was little better, full of frost and steel that stood guard over her intent. “Maybe I should ask you. What do you think I’d want to know, Myron?” she asked, her echoing words punctuated by the clang of the door falling shut.

The light flickered on automatically to reveal her, leant against the wall, arms crossed.

“Yes,” Myron responded with steel of his own. “People in emotional distress are that, as I’ve known through long experience. So, Sohrab told you about your father; that confirmed my own suspicions.”

He frowned and said, “Noble Arms are not genetic, but they come from personality and that vaguely-defined thing called personal growth. And your Noble Arm’s resemblance to the one held by Public Enemy #1 in the War against the Hammer has been noted, although again, Sohrab confirmed it.”

Following up with a sigh, he continued, “And of course, you look like him in a way that is almost uncanny…”

Callie’s gaze tightened. “You don’t need to bother with the whys and wherefores, Myron. And maybe don’t tell a girl she’s in ‘emotional distress’, hmm? Not very polite.” A tiny adjustment of her arms, perhaps just enough to serve as a reminder of what they could be holding were her mood to fall further.

Myron nodded. “I’m sorry for that remark, then. So, where should we start?”

“From the beginning, maybe.” Callie shifted in her position against the wall. “You’re the one with the intel on this man. Brief me.

The response was a nod, then a sigh, as Myron said, “Kendrick is the leader - or one of the leaders - of the Hammer of Masters, a notorious Arms Master Supremacist organization that hijacked the War on Terror by destroying several jihadist groups in Syria and taking all they had, before overrunning most of Syria, Iraq, and parts of Lebanon and Western Iran. He then proclaimed himself the ‘Malik’ - one of the Arabic words for King - of the ‘State of Masters’, and it took several years of fighting to bring him down. Even then, we could not have succeeded if he had not been so hated by the locals for being a foreigner and, well, irreligious, although his subordinates, particularly Anui-El, worshipped him.”

He paused and continued, “He had a wife, once. Or was it a lover? It was back in England, where he was born. Records were hazy, but he had connections to a group that claimed to be for ‘Equality’ between Arms Masters and non-Arms Masters but wound up being a front for the Hammer of Masters’ predecessors. Your mother - Mary, right? - was a part of that group, a Non-Arms Master member.”

Myron closed his mouth, then opened it again, perhaps noting the way that Callie’s expression shifted for the tiniest of moments to terror, then returned not to frost but to ice. He continued, nonetheless: “The Disablers sent a sizable number of volunteers to the Middle East, and I was one of them. I was sixteen, I think, and I spent the next few years cooperating with everyone from deranged jihadists to arms smugglers and drug cartels to hurt Arms Masters as much as I can, through poison, explosives, sniper rifles, and eventually, targeting their families. I wish the fact I was a kid myself was an excuse - but it isn’t.

“Eventually, the Malikate’s borders shrank to a city on the Syrian-Iraqi border, and I, on my eighteenth birthday, was ordered to infiltrate it as part of the final siege. I was captured and Kendrick, after showing disinterest in my fate, gave me to Anui-El for… I don’t want to talk about it.”

He looked at her and continued on, “Sorhab, Kendrick’s second in command, risked his life and threw away his position in order to save me. He broke into the dungeon and smuggled me out, and when I asked him why he threw away everything, he said, ‘Because I saw you, and you were beautiful’.”

Myron chuckled, and spoke, “Imagine that. I realized shortly afterward, when he left me, that the Hammer and the Disablers were mirror images of each other, fueled by hate. And I wanted no part of that anymore. That was when I grew as a person and grew my Noble Arm.”

He looked at her, then continued, “Anui-El, now dead, sought an heir for the Malik. There are other rumors that the Malik is still alive. If that’s the case… I’m done not trusting people; I’m done not trusting you. Besides, you’d prefer Qingshe over a deadbeat parent who abandoned you at a young age, right?”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Callie said, light laughter under her breath. Her prior mood, seemingly, was dispelled. “That’s good to know.” She leant back just a touch against the wall, arms unfurling to fall behind her back. “How’d you hear that name? ‘Mary’, I mean.”

Myron answered, “You have a dossier; I have security clearance to see the more benign parts, including your mother’s name. After that came several web searches. Either way, though, it’s not like my past is clean so why should I judge you for your own, which you can’t even control?”

Then he mused, “So, what do you plan to do with what you know now? I request that you spare Sohrab, but ‘The Malik’ and everyone else are free for you to deal with…”

Callie hummed, a quiet, warbling thing. “I don’t see how much it changes. I’m not in this for vengeance on a man I’ve never met, I’m in it because the cause here is worth fighting for. If him and his allies are fighting against that cause, then we’re fighting them. No need to complicate it beyond that… If you ever have anything on him or his subordinates, abilities, weaknesses, personal quirks that can be taken advantage of, let me know.” She flashed a smile. “Like to think I’m a pretty good student.”

Myron smiled back. “I think you are. So, it seems we both have things to do now?” he asked, not so subtly signalling an end to the meeting.

“Sure,” Callie answered, voice already a little faint as she reached the door, opened it, then half-stepped through. “Good talk.”

And in a moment, with brass flashing into her hand and space appearing where it hadn’t been previously, she was gone.

“Copy! Either confirm exfil from bridge or send rough location if you need something drastic!”

“Roger that. We're still at the bridge; so exfil should go on as normal.”

“Yessir – evac commencing! Hold defensive positions!” Callie answered, rapidly switching channels even as she consulted her mental map of the AO and began summoning another portal. “Snake, command is pulling us out. Hold for evac.”

Seconds later, she had taken a vantage point that let her see both the Stalwart and the corvette. Charter pushed her vision out again, back towards that window. Yeah, that’s them… She brought her eye back to the ship’s window; simultaneously looked beyond that to the Supply; and focused. This would take time, non-ideal considering her allies’ position; reducing the size of the aperture would keep that to as much of a minimum as she could. She grimaced, switched radio channels back. “Portal opening in a half-minute, on my mark! Going to be a tight fit, so mind yourselves!”

For just a moment, even as she brought her will to bear, her gaze wavered from her spyglass. From here she could see over a dozen Chinese ships, and she considered taking that drastic option – indeed, going even further than she had considered. She pictured it for a moment: forming a long, bladelike portal of negligible width, cleaving the corvette apart down the middle – and then the same to the next, and the next, until the entire flotilla was split in twain. Mei’s ship would be forced to descend to rescue the sailors. It would buy the Stalwart and Supply time.

It would also be profoundly satisfying and reassuring. The control…

She shook it off. Portal-cutting so many ships to pieces could weaken the pro-military factions in the Chinese government, create a vacuum that those who argued that only Arms Masters could fight this war might step into. She’d been specifically briefed on this point. They’re already incorporating convicted criminals into their forces… If they start getting any more desperate with their choice of allies, the region could destabilise even faster than it already is.

Callie set her jaw. She had a job to do.

“Mark! Confirm when you’re all across!”

The energy drain wasn’t insignificant – a bridge of such length would always tax her – but Charter nevertheless obeyed her command. Suddenly, she noticed the wind rushing past her again, upward… Callie glanced down towards the onrushing waves. Gritted her teeth.

When the affirmation came, she closed the portal quickly. There was, after all, still one person to bring back, and for that she would still need energy. A last switch of the radio channel; a last redirection of her momentum upwards. “Hold the door, Snake; with you in about the same time.” She half-smiled, the weariness starting to seep from her bones. “Just please don’t rearrange the functions of the various parts of my face on the way, m’kay?”

Okay, analyse that later with everything else. Sweep for now. Intuition of her own position and velocity told her where she would need to place her end of her final portal; as part of her mind began that process to finally reconsolidate Task Force Obsidian, she surveyed the battlefield.

Nothing she saw was entirely unexpected. Ships burned where the decoy column had drawn the attention of the PLA’s initial response, though their intervention had made the fighting far less one-sided than it might have been. To the West, the other major task force was reconsolidating; in the South, the supply ships were clear of enemy interference, and – it appeared – home free. The sense of triumph was palpable as her vision traced back to Mei’s ship.

Straight onto the deck, where a corpse in a black longcoat was laid out, saltwater trickling from its mouth.

It twitched.

Caroline paled, the rosiness of her cheeks from the wind’s passage banished in an instant, overwhelming revulsion sweeping through her.

And, in that moment, her velocity just levelling out as the portal opened, she dropped gently onto the deck of the Stalwart.

She looked across towards Qingshe, forcing a grin through… Everything else. “Let’s… Let’s get going, huh?”

AGH, God that stung! And, okay, what am I meant to do when an assailant I don’t know has me basically trapped falling to my –

Clearly knows something about Charter’s powers –

‘father’. ‘father’. ‘father’ ‘father’ ‘father’ ‘father’ ‘father’ –

Get. A. GRIP.

The air rushing past her had slowed. Stopped. Was beginning to reverse. That put her on a timer – in somewhere around a minute or two she’d be a smear of blood and flesh being rapidly dispersed by the waves.

Unless she acted. Needs her allies absent. If I heard that voice right… “Fine, I’ll take your message,” Callie near-growled, “so get that blade away so I can take it. And do it fast, ‘less you want that one suspecting you.”

There was a slight ‘woosh’ as the sword was taken away, and the portal was closed; Sohrab had done what the daughter of his ‘Malik’ had said. A cascade of relief crashed through her, both of the trickling stamina ceasing to flow from her but, far, far more than that, of the reassertion of control over her own being. Without ears on her, Callie gasped at the feeling of it, taking a moment to just pant for breath.

Gathered herself.

Grit her teeth.

Opened up a channel back to Noel and Iker. “Back in action, command. Antiquarian wants to defect, for a sum in the billions. At least seems pliable; recommending capture if possible. Warning that she’s canny in her antique’s use, if not her negotiation. Cannot easily engage second antiquarian; requesting antique mental control to stand ready, if we have anyone. Can transport on command.” Intangibility denies most of my capabilities, maybe Qingshe’s too – need to plan in case no-one’s available. She focused on that thought, burning it into her memory, to… Report later.

A part of her mind followed through; the other part remained on the present. Rapidly, Callie demanifested Charter, slung her broken rifle over her shoulder, remanifested it, then tucked in her arms and legs, diving, diving – and up again, through another portal. That would keep her airborne for the next little while.

And she would use that while. She brought her sight back to the ship – to the man flying the bird of semi-solid darkness, still yelling at those aboard. ‘Anui-El’. Has clout, so removing him from their command structure would be effective; his Arm provides them mobility we ought to deny; and there’s no need to compromise in striking him.

Callie took a breath. Confusion and fear. Let’s sow some more of it.

Her focus divided again. Part of it remained on the man; she turned off her night vision, seeing him only by the light of Mei’s ship. Longcoat to anchor to; still yelling – good. Arm summons at least one shadow bird; possibility of countering if they can transmit themselves through small gaps and are strong enough to remain in one place against immense pressure and have limited intangibility. Part of her felt the tiniest bit of something approaching glee. Seems minimal.

The other part of her looked behind him. Gazed upon the ocean. Sought to break past the black surface, to understand that the black-blue that she saw was a function of the absorption of most other light – which meant that the blue light remained. That, of that little blue that the evening twilight allowed, some of it penetrated dozens of metres deep into the ocean before returning to the surface, to soar across the sky to, without her night vision on, eventually reach her eye.

That she could – against all her instincts – see it!

Thus, in a moment in which Anui-El was bellowing at his allies, he found himself suddenly unable to close his mouth. For that lowest point that Callie could see beneath the waves was suddenly joined by a small portal to the space within.

All of the saltwater on the other side, just as suddenly, had somewhere new to go.

And from both sides of that portal a veritable geyser burst forth.

Death was at least quick, though cruel and unusual, for Anui-El, Priest of Birds; not even supernatural toughness can stand the quick shock of ultra-cold water filling up one’s lungs. The rest of the ‘Foreign Volunteers Division’ visibly quailed, all except Mei and Sohrab, the former of whom just closed her lips and gestured for her Ship to keep sailing/flying towards the Diversion Fleet. For now, it seemed as though they were going to keep attacking, although if Mei’s offer was accepted, that might change.

Half a dozen elements of Callie’s mind reacted at once.

Most immediate was the self-castigation – that she had been careless, that she should have made her portal above Mei and the deck, out of reach of a close combatant.

Then came the aghast anger at the fact that the sword had, seemingly effortlessly, sliced through the barrel of her rifle – and the twinge of worry as she immediately identified the impossibly sharp weapon as a Noble Arm.

Another thought noted that she would soon crest in her altitude and, logically, begin falling immediately afterwards – and that having her primary means of mitigating falling temporarily disrupted was a significant problem.

Yet another considered the man’s… Remark. That one spiralled and spiralled through her head, warping everything it touched.

Was that why Mum – the ‘Malik’ – Myron has to know – I must not – ‘similar’, how does –

All surged up in Callie’s mind - but then another overpowered every one of them, containing them and bringing her to focused fury.

Stop this. Get him away!

A flurry of thought and motion. Callie dismissed Charter; her portal did not vanish; she winced as her body took the strain of the manifestation directly. That confirmed that it was an Arm. Just as importantly, it left a gap in her portal perfectly sized for her to raise her pistol sidearm and –

“His Noble Arm is a sword whose power is to render himself invisible and intangible –”

The sword vanished. The portal remained open.

– BANG! Callie near-growled, reholstering her pistol. Thank God he can’t – oh, God, could he force it open further? Increasingly desperate, she wracked her brain for paths out of her situation – throwing away the rifle would only put the portal out of reach and drain her; trying to interfere with the space around the portal might result in the severance of one of her limbs; calling for help might…

Might work.

It cut at her being.

“He can be kept out with Noble Arms –”

Now you say!

Callie resummoned Charter to her hand, flicked the telescope out like a nightstick to maximise her reach, stretched out the remains of her rifle to reorient the portal for the best angle to strike – then slammed her Arm down where the flat of the blade had been. If her portal was held open by a sword, let the sword become a lever and the portal a fulcrum; with them both (and hitting hard and enough times), she hoped to wrench the weapon from her assailant’s hand.

“Once we've all organized, send us to the nearest PLA Corvette!”

“Yessir!” Now to figure out when that’ll be while falling many metres per second through the air! Callie thought, falling many metres per second through the air. She tore Charter away from the flying ship and her gaze with it, abandoning the last portal (two circles, one for the muzzle of her rifle, one for Charter, connected by a minutely thin length along the barrel) of the half-dozen she’d made to pick off as many targets as she could from a hundred kilometres away. Instead, she refocused her Arm towards the ship directly below, speaking all the while into her radio: “Antique is diving Snapper – repeat, diving Snapper!” Why would – doesn’t matter – can’t let it.

She hoped that the muffler on her radio was doing its job and that they could hear her down below, not just a torrent of rushing wind. For now, she took note of Qingshe’s requests (Okay, give me a second!) while she scanned the deck below. The flashes of heat at the stern she recognised as Nil’s staves, the air rippling with heat from their passing as they soared towards one of the nearer PLA craft in the group; the construct standing above her, echoing her shots, she recalled from a visual sweep across the battlefield at Lingayen. As for the others… Now she saw them – Noel, Nico and Indra gathering on the deck.

Then she redirected her vision across the water, to the nearest ship.

No. Bad.

“Negative on near corvette, sir – thing’s going down in flames!” Callie scanned the waters again (constantly adjusting as they rushed up towards her). Not Nil’s target – other craft in the group moving to cut them off – need dealing with – doable. “Diverting conveyance against multiple threats approaching Milkfish vanguard!”

Now – don’t push your luck, a voice in the back of head sounded. Setting her jaw, Callie brought her arms and legs together and fell into a dive, accelerating, accelerating, accelerating… Intuition built on practice told her the right moment to form first one portal, the vertigo of gravity suddenly inverting familiar and thrilling, then another to send her back up to the height of her original vantage point, flanking the lead ship of the attack group. Now another, connecting her own position to a point angled as far back as possible relative to its side bridge window, so she could use Charter to peer in...

“Looks like just officers – unarmed. Possibility of antiques but no confirmation.” She turned off night vision, then grimaced – even at this angle, interposed bodies and the reflectivity of the screens made it hard to tell their contents. “Got a wheel – could crash it into the others. Unsure on weapons control. Maybe point defence? Likely most is deeper inside.”

She breathed. Cut off the portal. Looked again through the same window from so far up above, vision projected through Charter. Closer, closer… Gotcha. Eyes on a lower corner of the back wall, where few if any would be looking. It was enough.

“Prepare to engage!”

Zooming out – holding that now tiny sliver in view – recalling their position on the Ramon’s deck – adjusting for the geometry of her fall – both locations now visible…

Energy harnessed.

One. Two. Three.

Callie felt the familiar wave of tiredness. She swivelled Charter to the Ramon’s deck, saw the last foot of one of her allies stepping through. A brief flash of light shone through the portal before she let it close.

Alright, night vision and heat vision on, let’s see what’s happ- CHRISSAKES, GIVE A GIRL WARNING!

The sloop’s deck was ablaze, her eyes struggling to adjust even after turning off the vision enhancement. The crew had remained below deck, leaving…

Huh. She wasn’t a decoy. Already wounded – good sign, with Myron’s intel. Well, if you’re going to dress for a costume party rather than the battlefield…

Callie fiddled with the settings on her radio, reaching Qingshe. “Targeting the antiquarian – get ready to catch!” If that shadow of yours is half as versatile as I’ve been told… A new portal a few metres behind Mei, positionally anchored to her undershirt, stretched once more between Arm and muzzle. Callie checked the shot through the flickers of fire – not that there would be too much need, given her effective lock on the target.

Then, deciding to make sure of overwhelming the foe’s natural resilience and whatever enhancement she may have been provided rather than risking overcautious burst fire, Callie laid her finger on the trigger of her rifle and squeezed, confident that by the time she released it the enemy Arms Master would no longer be standing – and lacking a deck to stand on.

@Letter Bee@Lewascan2@Sniblet@Creative Chaos

Three kilometres above the combat zone, Private Caroline Lidmann lay crouched in the corner of a metal box. Strictly, the box was part of the Ramon Alcaraz below; a portal, pressed up against the angled surface of the inner side of the point of the prow, effectively transported the surface as high up as she wanted. She’d got herself there by agility, safely and rapidly conveying herself with an initial portal across the deck of the Alcaraz and then swinging through this one, using the portal’s edge and the virtual edge of the prow through the portal to lever herself up. The result? On the reverse side, only the dark and empty skies as seen from aboard the ship; on the obverse, a crow’s nest from which to scan the battlefield, one from which Callie could see nearly to two hundred kilometres away if she projected her night vision goggle-enhanced sight past any interfering cloud with Charter.

She scanned across that distance with practised efficiency. The soft, cold, familiar pull on her stamina and the resonances from feet scrambling across the deck only emphasised that her time up here was limited. Already, she knew the situation directly below her was dire; every second gained her more information but took lives in trade. Callie grimaced, pushing down the guilt and the bile – the Supply and the Stalwart were the priorities.

What she saw was… Odd. She leant into her radio, sending her intel down to the others. “Got a scattering of a half-dozen small craft, spread in a rough line from hostile base to a couple hundred clicks northeast,” she intoned, careful not to give away her own position in case there was someone else listening in who’d broken their encryption. The ‘hostile base’ was Mischief Reef, itself a couple of hundred kilometres to the southwest from her – Callie had barely made out its shadow at the edge of her vision, even with Charter’s aid. She frowned, looking at the boats, seeing the shapes of people moving aboard but… “Crewed, but look dead – no wake. Two more groups of heavier vessels, too – fifty clicks east southeast of base and a hundred clicks north-northeast of base. Northeast group heading southeast; other isn’t moving.”

Now for the more pressing matter; she zoomed away, to the ominous shape looming above the ocean. “Also, hundred clicks northeast of base and couple up – hovering antique craft.” ‘Antique’ – either the product of a Noble Arm or one itself. “Headed southeast, fifty clicks ahead of northeast group, closing with Snapper.” The codename for the Stalwart and Supply’s group. Callie pressed her lips together, turning on her goggles’ thermal imaging, scanning the deck. “Got dozens aboard – possible AMs. Looking –”

She winced as her image suddenly shone bright, rapidly bringing her hand up to switch the thermal imaging back off again. “Antique just opened up.” And God, it’s got range for something that old-looking – must be 30, 40 miles off… “Requesting conveyance orders and permission to target VIPs on antique. Recommend engaging as ordered.” Can’t throw ourselves in close to that flying ship – don’t know what it or anyone aboard can do yet, she thought, even as another part of her mind cursed the fact that she was forced to use this imprecise half-jargon lest her military ‘inexperience’ be revealed as the mirage it was. Better to hijack the corvettes and turn their firepower on their allies. Pre-emptively, she affixed Charter to her rifle. I, on the other hand, can test it.

Many Arms Masters wouldn’t die from a bullet to the head, projected across one hundred kilometres of space – but it would still probably hurt like hell.

@Letter Bee @QJT @Sniblet @Gerlando @Creative Chaos
“Well, I suppose confidence is an attractive trait... just as long as you know where your limits lay. As long as you avoid overreaching your expectations, I shall gladly look forward to seeing you live up to that advertisement of yours~.” The words echoed in Callie’s mind even as Qingshe continued to speak.

Callie knew a lot about Lei Qingshe intellectually, of course – she’d been briefed on her fairly extensively. Her defection and presence in the theatre wasn’t a secret to those who knew how to look. She held in her head what information had been made public about her past, her powers and her modus operandi and what little could be dredged up by US intelligence from that which hadn’t. She knew, rationally – and had seen firsthand – that this was a canny Arms Master who, like most AMs on their level, had enough power behind her to wipe out everyone in this room with a thought.

Rationally. Now, for the first time in the meeting, a part of her came to the fore to viscerally identify that the woman before her was intelligent, wilful, terrifyingly strong and, yes, extremely beautiful. Unnervingly so, in fact.

She half-remembered a story told by one of the AMCs – an upper-class boy who’d been obsessed with Greek mythology. It was about a master sculptor who’d carved a statue of a woman so flawless that he’d fallen in love with it, and so prayed to the goddess of love to make it come to life. She’d laughed at the time. Now, though, her sight drawn to that hair of immaculate jade and those cold, fire opal eyes…

Oh, God, I was flirting with her before, wasn’t I? Barely even realised it – and now she’s… Nope. Bad! Bad Callie! She blinked again, firmly, to tear her gaze away, hoping beyond hope that she was imagining the warmth in her cheeks as she gave a nod to the two Arms Masters he had mentioned. “We’ll be up to the task, I’m sure, Lieutenant.” Forcing herself to retain her newfound focus, she inclined an eye back towards Qingshe. “We should talk afterwards, in any case.” No, NO, that’s not what I meant to – ! “The three of us with you – important to familiarise ourselves with what information you have, as well as each of us with the others’ capabilities.”

Saved it.

Yep. Definitely.

She shook her head, the tiniest of motions, desperately searching for something productive to do to realign her thoughts… She scanned the upper windows again. Still nothing. Then her potential teammates… Nico was familiar to her, of course; she still didn’t entirely know what to do about Turing but he certainly seemed to have made his mind up on the subject. She could respect that decisiveness, as well as the clarity and focus she’d observed out of the corner of her eye in the past few days. Perhaps this mission would allow her to familiarise herself a little better.

As for one Sergeant Dorn… God, she’s a tall one now that I look at her, isn’t she? And with the build to match… Quickly pushing back down the part of her she was deliberately distracting herself from, the one wanting to appreciate those aspects, she instead turned to the part that had filed her under ‘powerhouse close combatant’. Hope she’s got some sort of area control to augment it. If she has – between that and Nico’s capabilities… She took a moment to re-evaluate her view of Noel. Sure, the poor boy was obviously out of his depth but he possibly did have some budding skill for the tactical side of command, if only it could be nurtured.

Though I question his judgement in bringing on… Huh.

Myron hadn’t been of significant interest to her up to now – reformed AM terrorists weren’t so uncommon these days and the stereotype he’d seemingly built his personality around didn’t exactly make him any more endearing. She’d dismissed him as one to watch carefully, for obvious reasons, and interact with as little as possible otherwise.

If the horror that had appeared on his face for a split second as she’d begun to turn towards him was any indication, he felt much the same way.

Callie’s mind went into overdrive. He knows me or something about me – not necessarily – possibly associated with the mission – can’t take the risk. Don’t have time to deal with it today. Keep him quiet until I can confront him. Use his fear – make him think I know more than I do. Can tease out what it is after.

And so, with another check to make sure that nobody was paying particular attention to her, she looked away again, pretending to be looking at nothing. She summoned Charter, rolling it in her fingers to feign idleness. In her peripheral vision, she watched as Myron hesitated, then let his gaze creep back towards her.

Whereupon she immediately swivelled her eyes to fix him with a stare and a cold smile. She formed a tiny portal inside her mouth and inside his ear. “Shhh…”

(As she dismissed it, she ignored the impulse that it would have been kinder just to ask.)
Well, if you’ve finished trying to push every single one of my buttons… Callie grit her teeth, keeping her expression schooled in the manner of a soldier – not so hard with what military discipline she actually had had drilled into her. Certainly, the rational part of her mind said that the Chinese Arms Master had at least a part of a point – her own capabilities were hardly a plan unto themselves – but the implication behind it was hardly flattering. God. Why the hell would she want to undermine me like that? For a moment, panic at the worst case scenario filled a different corner – that she’d been compromised, exposed, she’d failed somehow without realising it – before she blinked and, in that moment of cool, encompassing darkness, pushed it away.

In any case, there was an easy way to demonstrate her utility, as she needed to if she was to retain influence here. Maybe some are asleep at home but others are certainly awake… Callie checked through one of the small upper windows (the ones that she had scanned a few times now – still no undesired eyes on the meeting), thankful that the weather had held off today and that the sky was relatively clear. She let out a breath, and a little frustration with it, then called her spyglass to her hand. Her other, she raised.

“Private Caroline Lidmann. If I may?” Allowing herself to indulge in a slight flourishing spin of her Arm to soothe herself as she stood, she brought one end up to her eye even as she formed a tiny portal over the other, connecting it to a vantage point several kilometres away through the window, high into the atmosphere.

Her grip, well-practised, adjusted the magnification to plunge her vision into the treeline below.

“About twenty klicks south, there’s a mongoose in a tree branch eight feet off the ground,” Callie announced. “It appears to be munching on an egg.” And power to you, little guy. Poor bird, though. “If I needed to, I could transfer myself or any of us to where I’m looking from, then down to the ground in thirteen seconds or so.” She dismissed the spyglass, folding her arms. “As for intelligence, I can’t say I’m an expert –” she had to fight the part of her mind laughing uproariously at that one – “but I’m capable enough to know how to spot marksmen and other threats when I’m in the field. Wouldn’t be any good at acquiring them myself if I wasn’t.”

With her point made, Callie frowned, the tactical considerations coming back to the fore. “As for planning, I’m told that the best way to beat an enemy’s to make them your friend. The second best is to turn their friends into enemies.”

“I can transport a number of us to seize the bridge of one of their major ships from our own fleet while outside their range. That should allow us to cripple their local command structure, hijack their weapon systems, sow chaos and move on to another ship where we do the same again – give them no time to react or form a coherent defence. This will open a window for the rest of us, and the assault as a whole, to act decisively, though not incautiously.” Callie raised an eyebrow at Qingshe. “No need to put all our faith in a single strike, like you say.”

She looked about her, then turned to Noel. “With your permission, First Lieutenant, and forgive me for not knowing all of our capabilities yet, I’d look to bring with me people who, in sum, can overwhelm a group of mundanes and possibly low-power NAs rapidly, quietly and without collateral damage, have an escape option in case I am compromised somehow and can interface with Chinese naval technology by NA or by mundane means if we have the intelligence to do so. Ideally the team would be small, so filling multiple roles at once would be best.” She placed a hand on her hip, looking to Qingshe once more. “If you ever got to study those systems on a naval exercise or something, now would be the time to say. Or if that green-black manifestation of yours can take control of the weapons directly – run it through the pipework or the like and we may not even have to show our hand.” Despite herself, Callie smirked a touch. “Would hardly mind having you along.”

Callie / Henri / Nil / Nemo

@Nimbus / @Chiro / @Gerlando / @The World


Most of Callie’s portals were small but with significant impacts. Each was positioned efficiently, as compact as it could be and as simply shaped as possible to minimise energy expenditure and thought. It had a task and it fulfilled it well.

This time, Callie reached for something different, gathering power and focus that she had only sought a very few times even in training. Her efforts now would be complete, overwhelming and devastating. Her opponent demanded it.

“Weapons ready; target soon exposed!” She broadcast her message to as many as could hear it - meaningful enough to provoke alertness but not enough to alert anyone listening in to her plan. A small part of her mind prayed it would be enough. Now - other two. “Nil, strike the north face.” That would be enough of a distraction for the target and aid the general aim of releasing pressure from the volcano (no matter her companion’s state of mind, as another part of her worried after, screaming at her to help, to care; there was a greater priority now). “Sergeant, ready. In case what she was about to do needed to be shut off rapidly, for her own safety.

”Roger that,” Henri confirmed. He kept a close eye on the happenings around him. Leonidas was kept under wraps for now. It needed all the energy Henri could muster.

Hearing she had been called Nil raised her head from her hands, there was something to shoot at, some north face of, what exactly? As Nil wondered what the target was she looked outside to see the massive volcano covering the whole view, yeah that.

Preparing her NA she hoped not to see that chaos again, hoping the earth would not move, but it was fine, even if it did there was no need to look close enough to notice, it was a big target, no need to focus.

And then the first shot was fired, then another in the same spot, and they kept going until lava was pouring out, then she moved to open another hole and another again, soon the volcano side would be riddled with holes like a colander.

All the rest of Callie’s focus narrowed in on her target. She saw her there, an arrogance in her stance, laughter issuing forth. She knew the type, had seen it in a few of the other AMCs - ones who believed that their gifts made them invincible and deserved them power above common humanity. Now, seeing that attitude writ large and exaggerated, bringing about so much death that she failed to stop...

Conscious thought, intuition and emotion married, something darker than mere anger propelling calculation and flow. Just under four seconds to release. Her intent was simple and brutal: a single, ovoid-shaped portal surrounding Tian Fei, encompassing her and placing her hundreds of metres above Lingayen, away from her substance of power and entirely exposed. Such a conjuration would drain her in moments - working in three dimensions always demanded more area, and thus more stamina than untrained people and those with minds unlike hers would expect. If it worked, however, moments would be all she needed; Tian Fei would fall into the sky and the portal could close. Watch the staff - needs to be upright to fit when -


A child, her mind supplied - a boy, projected towards her target.

Nemo felt a twinge of despair when he realised that he had been thrown so hard that he lost his grip on Noel’s wrist. But then he remembered his order to “do not despair” and the reality of the situation hit him. He had been launched at the enemy. Still though, his Vitae wouldn’t be useful for killing them like he was ordered to. Reverse wasn’t very effective at cutting things. All of this flashed through his mind as he travelled mid-air towards Tian Fei. Ultimately, he didn’t know what to do; he was being useless again. Two seconds had passed. He was stuck on a collision course and had no real recourse to stop it.

No. No! Callie’s willpower redoubled, any lapse of focus vanishing. No more harm - mine to prevent it!

Her forehead beaded with sweat, watching the boy as he flew at Tian Fei, blade in hand - black hair, sharp nose, a dozen emotions written on his face and shining from his golden eyes… It was easiest for her when bridging space to determine an intent, let the power build, slightly correct for any minor change and then release it - it allowed her to consider other things simultaneously. Now, though, there was someone vulnerable at risk - the situation was volatile, and she would not hurt because of it. Even as the moments passed, time like treacle from the vantage of her thought, Callie fought the impulse to codify the power she reached for, instead forcing it to remain undefined, malleable. Nothing was spared in the effort, drawing both from that deep burning darkness and the bright, flaring desire to protect, to help. Her victory would be total and it would be right.

Nemo couldn’t help but feel a little scared, if he were honest with himself. Though this mostly manifested subconsciously, as he put Vitae in front of him as if to block an attack and closed his eyes. The seconds seemed to slow as adrenaline kicked in, but they passed regardless.

A little longer - focus on Charter, read motion, ready to shape power - where is he - closing, closing - she does no further, not to him, not to anyone! Her lips parted, drawing breath to call to any who might answer…

The boy felt his arms shake as his sword slammed into the target he had been thrown at, still sideways in his hands, possibly breaking Tian Fei’s nose. It was unfortunate for his commander that he weren’t holding it forward, he’d realise in retrospect, but for now he was too focused on maintaining his… he supposed it would be called “balance,” despite being mid-air.

Several things, at this point, were true. Firstly: where before the gap between her target and the boy was narrowing, the impact had imparted momentum to the former while the latter steadied himself, and thus it was now growing again. Secondly: the boy had issued her a sharp strike to the head, potentially concussing, likely disorienting and certainly distracting her. Thirdly: as the human body is wont to do on impact, her target had slightly curled in on herself, reducing the area her portal needed to cover. Finally: her Charter’s might was gathered.

Callie took this all in in a moment, and knew the opportunity.


Space realigned and snapped into position; she demanded it so. Tian Fei vanished from Nemo’s sight; now about her was now open sky, her position tilted halfway between sideways and down to disorient her further. Momentum carried her past the encompassing portal’s bounds, loosing her in the air above Lingayen’s coastal shallows - far from aid and far from her element.

Callie’s vision swam, even as she closed the portal - the drain not so much as expected, and later she would recognise this as that strange boy’s intervention pushing Tian Fei far more quickly than gravity ever would have, but still taking its toll after so many other demands on her had worn her down. Job to do… Don’t ask others… What would not do yourself…

Blearily, she grasped at her rifle, slotted in Charter as a scope and tried to gather power to manifest a tiny portal to fire through…

And, instead, exhausted, slumped on the helicopter wall.

Next to her Nil had finished with her previous task, the volcano now being riddled with holes. No, Nil was looking for the target Callie had called a few seconds ago. The ex-Buddhist now falling through the sky, there was no doubt, must be her. Nil launched staffs at the small aerial target, if nothing else just to get a taste of vengeance.

Her aim wasn’t the greatest - maybe it was the helicopter moving, maybe it was her still dizzy head, or maybe that she didn’t try to look too closely at the target, so Nil threw many more projectiles at her target, enough to also hide Tian Fei from her sight, deliberately choosing not to look too much at her. Even if she would not hit the Buddhist, surely there were others aiming at her, but getting back at the geomancer did feel good. Forty-four. She was definitely counting this one.
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