By the light of the setting sun, Spidernose reassured Honeypaw, and tried to instruct her on how to fight. It was basic stuff, rudimentary. It was also great advice, and Moosepaw admired the ease with which Spidernose spelled out basic combat to the new apprentice. The comfort each of the clanmates offered each other warmed Moosepaw more than the modest body heat they shared. It was still hard for the young tom to completely relax, but he gave it his best shot. A small deep purr rumbled through his chest, barely audible in the gentle light.
In the distance Moosepaw heard a small amount of commotion, as footsteps padded towards the warrior's den. His body tensed despite his relaxed position, but he calmed down when he heard Sunfur's voice. Spidernose spoke with Sunfur, and Moosepaw carefully tookin the conversation. As she left the warriors den, his eyes moved to Honeypaw. She seemed unsure of their position, which was not surprising. She spoke up suddenly, expressing her doubts.
"Although it feels wrong, we should be patient. None of our clanmates will be quiet if commotion erupts, and we have to trust their judgement and fighting prowess." Moosepaw said resolutely. Despite the confidence and matter-of-factness in his voice, he shifted into a position he would be more prepared to rise from, muscles tensing and untensing under his fur. "We don't just follow our superior's orders because we of the warrior code, nor because we think we know best. in this case, we follow Spidernose's orders because we trust our clan. We understand what the potential threat is, and we understand our clanmate's capabilities. I don't think a couple of mangy rogues could take down all our clanmates without a sound. Doesn't that sound a bit ridiculous?"
The soft light painted the clearing in long shadows, with the reflection of cat eyes the brightest thing he could see. In a hushed voice, Moosepaw heard Spidernose reassure Honeypaw, though that also seemed to fade into the background. The tom watched the newly arrived Maplestream interact with Stonefall, trying to read the body language of the pair. Spidernose’s reassurance about their safety seemed well meaning but empty. Moosepaw wondered why he felt that way, considering his own emotions. Was it meant more for Honeypaw than him? Spidernose was genuinely trying to help Honeypaw feel more safe. That wasn’t the only reason, though he didn’t know the she-cat well enough to ascertain much more than that.
Moosepaw looked at the warrior and watched her flick her tail to beckon him closer. She spoke about being brave and sensible, and he caught on. Had I been thinking of leaving the den and investigating the rogues myself? It's hard to say, but I am tense. Moosepaw let out a sigh to relax himself, and moved closer so that Honeypaw was between him and Spidernose."We'll be fine. We're more than strong enough to handle a couple of scrawny rogues." Moosepaw attempted, but he realized he didn’t actually believe it. It would be much easier once Fernstar, and Blackpelt returned. The bulky tom settled down, tucking his paws beneath himself, and attempted to groom his ever overfluffed chest fur into some semblance of order.
The bulky apprentice glanced back at Honeypaw as she was slowly woke up. Through the narrow opening of the warriors den entrance, Moosepaw could hear Spidernose approach. She spoke reassuringly to the two of them, sounding calm and collected. He was always impressed by how well warriors handled unique situations, and their ability to improvise. Moosepaw learned quickly during his apprenticeship that they weren’t perfect, but he still had a massive amount of respect for them. Honeypaw moved closer to Spidernose, probably for warmth. The bulky tom could see Maplestream rushing into the camp, and found that interesting. The new apprentice asked what was happening and Moosepaw decided she deserved to know. Without thinking, he spoke up.
"There seems to be outsiders in the camp. Rogues, of some sort." Moosepaw’s voice was a bit strained He glanced at Spidernose with an inquisitive look. "That's all I could gather. Was there more?" Moosepaw felt like something was off about this. It might be paranoia, it might be rational, but it felt unrealistic to devise which of the two it actually was.
Moosepaw stirred, not quite awake and not quite asleep, his mind traversing the threshold between dream and reality. Slivers of strange scents and sights seamlessly stitched together with even stranger dreams. Tense words across the camp at an uneven volume finally cut through the larger cat’s daze, caused him to slowly raise his head. Honeypaw was tucked in the corner where Duskwing had been when Moosepaw had fallen asleep—In the warrior’s den? The soon-to-be-warrior’s memories returned as he rose to his paws. Moosepaw had briefly been woken up and moved to the warrior’s den at the apprentice's suggestion. At first he tried to be quiet and not wake up Honeypaw, but he soon changed his mind. Part of him wanted to let the new apprentice sleep through the night, after all she was exhausted from her vigil, but Moosepaw was hearing strange voices he didn’t recognize.
The bulky tom walked over to the sleeping she-cat with all the grace he could muster and slowly prodded her awake. ”My turn to wake you up, Honeypaw. We have a situation it seems, so try your best to follow my lead." With that Moosepaw slowly approached the exit of the warriors den and peaked out into the well lit clearing. Moonlight easily passed through what passed for a canopy, leafless as it was. Moosepaw could see clearly across the still snow covered clearing, and he carefully examined the entrance to the nursery and the apprentice den. No cat moved around the outside of either, and so he slowly peeked out further until he could see the strangers he had heard before.
Age: 10 moons Gender: Tom Rank: Apprentice Personality: Moosepaw is an easily excitable cat that often has trouble thinking through his actions. The bulky cat holds the clan and The Warrior Code in high esteem, and has done so since his kithood. He is casual and friendly with most clanmates, though he has stayed particularly (at times too) formal with his mentor Duskwing. Description: Moosepaw is big. He a fluffy cat, with thick yet soft fur, and his fur is long enough that it is often too much for him to keep consistently well groomed. But the apprentice is more than just fluffy: underneath the fur is a well built, strong cat. Though not especially agile, he often makes up for it with physical strength and stamina. The bulky cat also has two different colored eyes, one green and one brown. Backstory: Moosepaw was born a kittypet, and an only kit at that. He had a strange kithood, growing up alone with his mother for the first three moons of his life. When the Twolegs who cared for him and his mother stopped filling their foodbowls, his mother decided that they were better off hunting for themselves. The lazy mice around the barn were easy prey, so Moosepaw's mother assumed they could travel off of the Twoleg's territory for a couple moons and hunt on the way. Moosepaw's mother was wrong. She was a bad hunter, who had never learned proper techniques while lazing about in a barn full of fat mice she hardly ate. The journey was a hard two moons, mostly subsisting off awful smelling and tasting carrion. Near the end of the journey, unknowingly on the edge of WillowClan territory, Moosepaw and his mother came across a badger. Moosepaw and his mother (mostly his mother) fought desperately against the creature, but it was hopeless from the start. Moosepaw fled after sustaining a heavy injury to his right flank, but Moosepaw's mother was too injured to even flee. Mate: None Kits: None
With slow steps, Matthew circled his desk. He raised the thermos to his lips and drank heartily. The desk was black, with a mellow yellowish-brown top. Rectangular, it had a lamp in one corner, with a picture frame directly in front of it. It was a picture of a younger Matthew with his arm around what looked like his sister. Their similarities far outnumbered their differences; both had blue eyes, both had dark brown hair. However Matthew's hair was a fair bit shorter than his sister's, and his sister was significantly more feminine in general. She was wearing a white dress, and was smiling (almost grinning) at the camera. Matthew was wearing jeans and an untucked burgundy dress shirt. He had a cool smile, his eyes squinted from the sun on his face.
The other picture frame on the desk was Matthew shaking hands with director Tagg. Matthew had one of his hand on the man's back and both of them were smiling diplomatically. They looked like good friends in the professional sense. The rest of the desk was largely free of clutter, with two manilla folders in a plastic stand and a laptop directly in front of the chair marring its otherwise empty surface. There was also a phone on the left side of the desk, the crowded office kind with a ton of meaningless buttons on one side of the keypad. On the right side of the room was a small personal printer on top of a filing cabinet. The rest of the room was relatively empty, with another singular chair on the opposite side of the desk.
Matthew sat down behind the desk, leaning forward to open the bottom drawer and set the thermos in the small gap between various papers. He pressed a button on the phone and waited a half second before speaking. "Ready." He said to Sandra before leaning back and closing his eyes. He took a deep breath, before opening his eyes and adopting a neutral expression. His mind felt sorted, everything ready to start a meeting with a stranger.
Penelope had been awake for four hours. The first hour had been spent getting ready, and much to her chagrin digging the immaculately tailored suit she kept for more public appearances from her closet, and going about her morning routine in much the same fashion that she normally did. Today was a bigger day than usual, but the same sense of calm would carry her through her morning with ease. If she began to feel uneasy--she didn't--she would always have the option of simply... letting someone else take on the burden, a little, for the greater good. Perhaps Kelly, if he were around.
Her firm--or, perhaps more accurately, Penelope--had been contacted by a woman named Sandra, representing the Final Guard. The call had been a bit of a surprise to Penelope, who had initially taken it as a sign of ill-omen given her surreptitiously hidden secret of being a parahuman, but the conversation had proceeded in an unexpectedly mundane fashion and the inkling of that fear had vanished as quickly as it had appeared. It appeared that she'd gained some renown within the local community of lawyers as an individual of "distinguished ethics and consummate professionalism", which meant that they wanted somebody beyond reproach. The conversation had proceeded well--Sandra asking if she was free for an interview and Penelope confirming, with a light smattering of small talk to lubricate the conversation. Now, that day was here, and Penelope was ready to determine whether or not this institution would be worthy of her service.
She had taken the liberty of having Kelly prepare a number of dossiers recording some of her more high profile cases, and she'd gathered a couple of the notarized amendments she'd helped make to various tax laws during her stay in the Silver City. She figured that they likely would not end up being necessary, but preparedness (or at the very least the illusion thereof) was 90% of succeeding at an interview in her experience. She gathered up her belongings, texted Kelly asking him to bring the prepared documents, and set off at 10:15 to arrive at 10:45.
Arriving half an hour early was expected. It was commonplace to simply knock half an hour or even an hour off of the time that somebody wanted you to arrive and be there fully prepared by then--though Penelope preferred not to treat with clients who expected it, finding them as a general rule to be arrogant and obnoxious, she abided by those rules regardless in the interest of presentability. She met a woman at a modest desk, the very picture of a secretary--Sandra, if she had to guess--and introduced herself. She was of course correct, and the pair engaged in some friendly chatter before the interview was due. Sandra offered to make a hot drink, and Penelope accepted--Earl Grey tea, no sugar, a slice of lemon--and sat down with it as she waited for Matthew to call her in.
Soon enough the time came, and Penelope walked into the office as her name was called. She strode confidently, meeting Matthew with a firm handshake and a warm smile, before waiting for him to offer her a seat.
The door opened and Matthew's eyes met Penelope's. He matched her smile, and stood from his chair to shake her hand. Internally he noted how firmly she gripped his hand, how sweaty her palm was, tiny pieces of a puzzle. He wouldn't even be a quarter of the way through any given puzzle before the end of the interview. He didn't need every detail though, he needed to know what picture the puzzle represented. Were they going to crack after catching the first private investigator, the second time they were followed home? He had to know better than anyone who the people who worked for him actually were.
It was strange, after three interviews, to look upon a completely genuine person. Either completely genuine or as good an actor as himself. He didn't ignore the idea that she could be better as he pulled his hand away and gestured with it at her chair. "Please, sit." He said, tone barely tinged with exasperation. Trying to hint that he didn't like.having to give permission for things that made others seem menial. "Ms. Diamantis. Or Penelope?
"Depending on how long this meeting goes, I might have Sandra bring lunch. Have you eaten yet?" He asked, eyes resting on hers steadily. It would've been a bit comical to have an eyebrow raised, so he expressed his curiosity by barely tilting his head. He had tried to convey in the sentence a genuine curiosity. Everything was a test though regardless of how he asked his questions.
The beginning of the interview, Penelope thought, had started well--until she focused her power more keenly upon Matthew. There was something that did not feel right about him, compared to everyone else. It was almost as if her awareness of his emotions was dampened somehow, and her initial reaction to this was to wonder if something was actively wrong with her power--but she shifted her focus to Sandra and the usual intensity with which she felt things returned to her as normal. It would appear, then, that Matthew was the anomalous one--her eyes glinted slightly, the paradigm observable within them shifting towards one of understanding.
Penelope, of course, was also testing Matthew. She did not mete out her services to those that she believed unworthy of her, and though she did not know it Matthew’s assessment of her being truly genuine was largely correct. She did genuinely do what she did for the express purpose of helping others in a tangible way, and though there were layers of obfuscation surrounding her secrets just as there were with Matthew they were more about protecting herself than a desire to hide the truth. It was natural in an interview that both participants were simultaneously covertly and overtly testing one another--there simply happened to be higher stakes here than perhaps either of them had encountered before in such a mundane setting.
She responded immediately to Matthew’s offer of a seat, and she felt that weak tinge of discomfort even more weakly than he did--whatever caused it, she sat immediately.
“Penelope is fine, thank you. I presume you would offer me the same courtesy, Mr. Fielding?” she responded, altering her tone and cadence to match his. As he sat, she mirrored his body language--the first step to showing that you were comfortable with someone--and placed the documents she was carrying in her left hand on the table.
“As for lunch, I’d be delighted to eat with you and Sandra as soon as we’ve concluded our business--but I must ask, would you mind if my personal assistant joined us? I’ve asked him to bring some documents over for your perusal and the least I can do is treat him to lunch.” Penelope responded, her voice filled with a musical timbre. There was something melodic about the way she spoke, an underlying rhythm that built up in power and authority--it was undeniably the lilt of one possessed of unwavering conviction and purpose, of that regal authority previously reserved only for the monarchs of old. One as analytical as Matthew would pick up on it immediately. The more she spoke, the easier it was to understand that Penelope was an uncommonly driven woman--idealistic to almost a fault, tempered just barely by experience and expectation alike.
As Penelope spoke, Matthew got a better idea of why he had immediately considered her genuine. The last three interviews, the lawyers had been archetypes. They wanted to present an image and were just experienced enough to present that image without fault. Penelope was trying to present an image as well, but that aesthetic wasn't perfection. It was a much more reasonable image, someone talented, someone who worked hard, someone who cared, not flawless though. The last archetypes he'd encountered had been the most annoying, the alpha. The meeting had ended in Matthew's mind at minute two. Penelope was a nice contrast so far.
Her cadence was strange though, and she answered his question based on subtext not as asked. The most interesting part was that she knew what mirroring was, it actually surprised him. Most people could hear about it, and think wowee that's interesting, but almost no one actually implemented that knowledge. It was an even further removed group who would mirror in a job interview. If he moved wrong now, she would know he noticed her mirroring him. So he relaxed his body a bit, still sitting up straight, but seeming more at ease.
"Of course, Matthew is fine. I don't mind your assistant eating with us at all, Sandra can buzz him in when he arrives." His tone was pleasant, conversational. He didn't reach for the phone immediately, instead seeming to consider something momentarily. "What's your assistant's name?" He turned his body, hand hovering over the phone in preparation for contacting Sandra.
The most difficult trick to understand and implement in an interview was, perhaps ironically, the practice of using interview tricks. When both participants understood the subtext present and read between the lines, it became less about the content of the interview and more about responding to micro-responses. Much of the talk in any given interview was the same, by volume--a list of assets one could bring to the team, a statement of what hiring you over your competitors could bring to the business, and in Penelope's profession a dog whistle or two that put out there the kind of lawyer that you were. If she had to guess, the minutiae of the questions asked and answered in all of Matthew's other interviews were or would be somewhere around 90% the same. The 10% that separated these instances was what set one above the rest, and the greatest contributing factor of that 10% was the game of back-and-forth that they were playing now.
She felt his surprise, but discerning a target was much more difficult than usual. Her body language would not show it thanks to both a conscious manipulation of herself to maintain her mirrored state and the fact that her power's sense was more abstract in nature than something that could actually cause a tic, but she was most certainly thrown slightly off within the confines of her mind. The weakness of the emotions that she could detect within him made it much harder to pinpoint what a target, if any, those emotions had--and that took away some of her analytical power. Fortunately, her extensive experience compensated for that loss--but it took her a moment to readjust. Thankfully, that moment was spent discussing the banalities that were required of two individuals potentially about to sign a contract to work with one another before the work could begin in earnest.
"Kelly. He should be arriving in anywhere between ten and fifteen minutes, traffic permitting." Penelope replied, the words themselves succinct almost to the point of being curt but the cadence she was speaking at softening them considerably.
Penelope had to fight off the urge to simply engage in idle conversation, and the effort required would be plain to Matthew. She was clearly happy to do so, but like all lawyers and like all interviewees the idea of professionalism had to come above personal desire. Adherence to convention was not something Penelope particularly liked (and it was plainly clear in her choice of fashion, her makeup, her attitude), but above that she was no stranger to necessity--and it was necessary in the present moment.
Matthew nodded, clicking the button and waited a moment. "Penelope's assistant Kelly will be arriving soon. Make sure security doesn't give him too much trouble." Sandra responded in the affirmative as Matthew released the button. His eyes returned to Penelope, and he picked up on the restlessness. Again, not perfection. He shifted his body back to facing her, and spoke.
"I'll be honest, I've been on your side of the table much more than this side. I'm very new to leading an organization." Matthew was being empathetic, his smile leaning towards sheepish. What he said was actually true, and it helped to prolong the "pre-interview" chatter. It was obvious to everyone the interview had actually started around an hour ago. "That also means that I understand if you have to take your time with my first question. What was your biggest failure as a lawyer so far, and what did you learn from it?"
Penelope did not require the use of her power to understand on a visceral level what was expected from her from the question asked of her. It was a question that always had to be on one’s mind when beginning an interview, as navigating the quagmire of potentially incorrect answers was treacherous with foresight and downright fatal without it. She took a moment to clasp her hands together, her fingers interlocking, and take in a deep breath. She placed her hands flat on the table, straightened out her posture, and exhaled deeply.
“I’m sure that every lawyer has the same story about their first time in court--” Penelope began, letting out a short chuckle as she recalled a memory, “--where our arrogance gets tempered by experience and we learn a valuable lesson. I failed a woman called Sarah Ashmore by thinking that an earnest appeal in the name of the spirit of the law was as useful in court as thorough knowledge of the letter of the law. I’d prefer to not go into too much detail, but I learned the lesson that eagerness and desire to do good are in no way substitutes for practice, humility, and sincerity. Discipline is what makes a good lawyer, not a good heart, and though I think we should strive for both only the former can create a foundation for a successful career.”
She took a second as if mulling over the words she’d just spoken before leaning back into the chair and giving Matthew a half-smile, waiting for his response.
The question was a hardball, probably saying more about Matthew for having asked it than a poor answer would. As Penelope finished speaking, she seemed to mull over her words. Matthew did the same, visualizing the kind of person that would make that mistake. In an abstract way, it fit at least, something that could’ve happened to a younger Penelope. It spoke of self growth, and becoming a more mature person while tempering goodwill. To Matthew it implied, the smallest bit, that if you couldn’t create the change you wanted with honest effort, you could create it with subtle bureaucracy. It wasn’t what she was actually saying, but that was the idea Matthew had. It was an idea that he himself believed in, though he would never publicly admit it.
”An important lesson, to be sure.” Matthew responded, trying to sound noncommittal. There was a feeling that Penelope held a similar belief to him, but he was unsure if that was a good thing. If they had different goals and were always covertly working towards said goals, they might get in each other's way. Momentarily, Matthew glanced at the picture on his desk, at his sister. Madison. That was who Penelope reminded him of right now. A very scary thought then. ”How did you respond when you heard about Article 114 passing?”
Penelope had, in her years, become adept at reading the emotional waves people made. Even for someone whose responses were as strangely muted as Matthew’s, fear was instantly and viscerally recognisable--and however slight, it was a piece of information that she’d be a fool to ignore. She made a mental note, and nodded at his noncommittal response.
“If the question you are asking is how I responded, then the answer is simple: I didn’t.” Penelope began, gesturing out with her open palms as she said that she didn’t.
“Professionally it has not made one whit of difference to my life--I still take the same clients I always did, cape or no, and until I was approached by Sandra that held true. Of course, given that I’m here, it has now become a potential factor in my professional life and my response is plainly clear.” She replied, making sure first to respond to what he had asked and not what he had implied--both as a nod towards her answer to his prior question, and to gauge his emotional response when she did not reply to his implied meaning immediately.
“Personally, I am not of the opinion that we should tar every cape with the same apocalyptic brush. It would be objectively unwise to discount their tremendous potential for destruction, and conversely irresponsible of us to ignore the good that they could do--they are, for lack of a more anthropomorphised term, tools to be used. They are not inherently good or evil, what matters is only how they choose to allow themselves to be put to use, be it by their hand or by the hand of an entity such as the Final Guard. Of course, my personal opinion has… negligible bearing on my capacity to perform my work, so professionally the question might be considered somewhat moot--but we are only human, and there is more to us than just the services we might provide.”
Penelope’s response was carefully measured and articulated. She emphasised first and foremost the idea of her professionalism, but the tone of her voice was bordering on sympathetic--something Matthew would no doubt understand. It was fairly plain from the research Matthew had surely done that Penelope fancied herself something of a champion of the broken and downtrodden. Capes were just another avenue for that desire to do good--at least, on paper. Whether or not what he got from her answer corroborated that idea was up to him.
The initial response brought a smile to Matthew's face, as if conceding the point that the question as phrased was a bit silly.. His emotions didn't reflect that expression, seeming neutral even for him. When she continued, the smile remained throughout, displaying that he was happy with the response, almost relieved. As she started talking about tarring and feathering capes, his smile faded a bit but he still nodded. Internally he wondered "Could I use the same reasoning that I used when talking to 4Sight to bring her onboard?" The next thought was him realizing that he was already wanting her on his team. He liked how empathetic Penelope was, she seemed like she would be an amazing asset to the agency. As she finished speaking, he let the sentence hang, appearing lost in thought.
"When I was eleven or twelve, a dear friend of mine triggered. I've seen some of the cases you've worked on, so you know what it means when I say he was a power-granting Trump. It seemed cool at the time, a friend of mine was going to become a superhero, help save the world, et cetera. At the time I thought that the powers had changed him. He became harder to relate to, never wanted to hang out, too cool for me. A year later I moved schools, and I never saw him in person again."
Matthew seemed bothered by telling this story. After a slight pause, he shifted in his seat uncomfortably, leaning back and placing his hands on the arms of the chair, looking up at the ceiling, lost in thought.
"I was in my fifth year with the PRT when I was granted access to classified files. Not the really big stuff, just the small things they wanted to hide from the public. It took more than day to find his file, his real name wasn't on record. He didn't end up as a hero, much the opposite. Thirteen years of small offenses, and then he got his first strike. One of his minions killed a cop, and they weren't treating him like a small time threat after that. Thousands of dollars went into finding him, even WatchDog-Oh you might not know about them. Large thinker group working under protectorate, didn't actually last that long, shut down in 2011. Anyways, they found his hideout and raided it. If they had made it a bit sooner, he would've been convicted in a criminal trial, gotten twenty or so years in a prison. His body wasn't even cold when they arrived, killed by someone he had given powers to."
Grief was genuinely felt by Matthew as he finished his story, seeming saddened for having told it. His body language said that he wanted to keep talking, but he spent some time composing himself beforehand. A breath, and he continued talking.
"The file didn't contain his name, but for all of the PRT to see was his trigger event. Something he wouldn't tell me, they found out by talking to his father, and a local hero. He was at a Seven-Eleven with his mom, apparently getting a slushie after a dentist visit. Some sketchy people came in, and before the two of them could leave, started holding up the place. They wanted his mom's purse, and tried to take it from her, but she resisted. A well known hero came into the store, and tried to de-escalate the situation, but he only made it worse. His mother was shot, and the hero was injured. Police started to arrive, and they all became hostages. When the robber announced he would start executing hostages, my friend triggered. His mother died later that day, and he never told me any of this.
"I thought his power changed him, but the loss of his mother and the rest of his trigger event had a much larger impact. After that, I gained a lot of sympathy for capes. I think this city will turn on them if we don't do good here."
Finished, Matthew sat up a bit. Now he was going to closely watch Penelope's reaction, hoping that she would give something away. If she wasn't who he thought she was, then the interview was going to end very soon. If she was, he would continue, and probably hire her.
Penelope listened to Matthew intently. From the get-go it was plain that what he was about to say was impactful, from the change in his tone to the difference in his body language and from the overall trend of the conversation--and though she didn’t think she was capable of directly feeling someone’s pain after so many years of the level of insight she’d gained into people with her power, the phantom of it loomed around her almost palpably. If she were to reach out just a little she might be able to convince herself that those almost-sensations fluttering in her breast were real, and that the pain was her own… but it wasn’t. Not really.
She waited patiently for him to finish, hanging on his every word, before he seemed to taper out and resume his ordinary position. She gave it a moment of thought, and was immediately struck by a pang of guilt--her gut reaction had not been sympathy, but something along the lines of doubt. He was not telling her the whole story--there was a distinct feeling of… detachment, almost, deeply nestled away within the grief and the pain. If it was a charade, it would convince almost anyone--of that she was certain--and she desperately wanted to believe that it wasn’t. That kind of heartache and regret was not something that she wanted to believe a person in Matthew’s position could fake and spin into a story for his advantage, but she did believe it. She genuinely, for a moment, considered the possibility that it was a story spun to manipulate her. More than that she believed, for just an instant, that Matthew was the kind of person who could do that. She was conflicted for that brief flash of emotion, but realised that those were just the traits of someone who had a goal and was committed to its conclusion by any means necessary--a drive that she herself was intimately familiar with.
“I’ve heard similar tales.” Penelope started, taking a second to catch her breath and compose herself. She didn’t look like she was on the verge of crying, per se, but she felt the same kind of pain she knew he was feeling keenly if she ever delved too deeply into her own memories.
“You’ve read my case notes--the ones that are publically available, at least--” and she gave him a glimpse that suggested it would not surprise her if he’d read files that weren’t publically available, “and you know that it’s a story like some of the others that I’ve heard. I truly wish that there had been another way for him, that there had been systems in place to help him and regulate him and to make him feel like he at least belonged somewhere… but that’s rarely something that happens with capes, isn’t it? They all lose family in some way or another, be it through the events that cause them to trigger or through the hardships and ostracisation that they incur because they are capes. I… there was enough of that suffering on Bet. Even before Gold Morning, it… it was bad. Now that we’re here, in Serstol… we owe it to ourselves to make it better. For those we have lost. For those we may yet save.” She nodded, getting lost just a little in thought as she did so. It felt good to bare the truth, in one form or another, and she let out a little exhalation and took a second to compose herself. She had let the passion take over, just a little, but she was glad to talk about how she felt and the good that she wanted to accomplish--to make a big change even if in a personally insignificant way.
For just a moment Penelope seemed caught off balance, but that moment quickly passed. Matthew recalled her mirroring not too long ago, and now he was even more sure of what he'd seen. Not doubting him, not quite, but something close. "I agree." He said as she finished, a little too quickly. "I think we should call ahead for that lunch. I know a wonderful Indian place nearby. Reservations for four, of course." She was still reminding him of his sister, but it was the good times. The moments when they'd been working together. The Dance, a perfect gestalt. That's what he could make this organization. With Penelope's help, of course.
Autumn fingered the trigger as she drew closer to the shade, but it evaporated into the fog. Nothing and no one. A shuddering breath escaped her lips, but the sound of someone quickly crossing the battlefield drew her aim. The sound paused, a shadow came into sight as a flame suddenly bloomed off to her right, while the shadow continued moving away and to the left of her. The fire would outline her against the fog clearly visible from where he would arrive. Hell she might already by visible. Autumn took her opportunity and fired once, trying to predict his movement so as to catch him with the slug in mid air.
Hearing the commotion, Autumn didn't hop down from the tree immediately as planned, though she still went through the process of loading the shotgun slugs. She couldn't tell exactly what he had done to the earlier tree, but she somehow doubted it had fallen. Not enough noise. Reaching inward to her aura and her semblance, she activated the second image she had placed. Autumn fell slightly, having to catch herself with one hand as her other arm went out with Twice Shy to steady herself. It made a bit of noise, but Autumn had already planned on making more.
Hopping down from the tree, the sound of leaves crunching followed her landing, followed by a small scraping noise as she stood up. Autumn leveled the shotgun in front of her, twisting it slightly to make the reflex sight run parallel with her line of sight. She advanced slowly forward, happy to be in an area she was used to traversing. Her teenage years spent in forests meant she barely had to glance at the ground to avoid making noise.
The fog was playing tricks on her, dark shapes drawing her eye only for it to be a particularly dense area of water vapor. Finally something came into view and only clarified as she got closer.
A small shattering sound happened behind Autumn, followed swiftly by the crack of a gun. The sounds urged Autumn to run a bit faster as she glanced over her shoulder. Noir wasn't visible on either side of the tree, so he was making some other sort of play. Three steps later another sound was made, crumbling and shattering of. . . One of the pillars maybe? It sounded higher up then the first sound. He had made a plan it seemed. The roar of flames behind Autumn caught her attention, immediately worrying that her cover was going to be torched, but what drew her eyes instead was the icy storm above her.
A blast of heat radiated through it, and the air readily carried mist onto the battlefield. A favorable wind carried the mist further in front of Autumn, and it helped clarify Noir's intentions with this play. Noir wanted Autumn to have a hard time attacking from the ranges she preferred. It was a small blow to his own capabilities at range in exchange for a large blow to her capabilities.
Autumn could use her semblance to scout, drawing near him before blinking back to an image and shooting at an approximation of where he was, but that trick would only work once or twice. It cost her more in aura to attempt the trick then it would cost him to block two shots and figure it out.
There was another option though, she could-
Autumn leveled her gun on the tree, center mass, and fired. The gunshot was followed by the crackling of ice this time, and groans of protesting wood. Large shards of ice stuck out of the wood, taller than Autumn was, but decently fragile. Autumn quickly jumped up onto a relatively level shard, her foot slipping slightly before she caught herself and pushed off again. The shard detached with the second impact. Landing on a branch she couldn't reach before, Autumn made quick work of climbing up to the highest point of the tree that still gave her a good view of the ground. A golden aura radiated off her skin as she put an image in this vantage point.
Then Autumn simply hopped down, landing with a roll as she clicked Once Bitten over to its Twice shy form. Quickly she slid two shotgun slugs into the dual barrels, before paying close attention to what was happening around her.
The gunshot had shaken Autumn amply, making it hard to think for a split second after. Noir had blocked the bullet with his gun, and looked like he was thinking about how to approach the situation. He decided to try to close the distance to the first image, accelerating much faster than Autumn could.
Autumn quickly stuck her middle and pointer fingers into the side of her left hip dust pouch, feeling around for a quarter-second before pulling out a cool blue ball of gunpowder. She did something similar with her pinky and ring finger to grab a bullet from the pouch nearer the middle before dropping both into the gun's muzzle; the former then the latter
Before Autumn could exactly realize what Noir was doing, he jumped into the air, weapon primed.
That looks dangerous She thought, considering the best approach momentarily.
Autumn hopped down from the tree at an angle, putting the large tree's trunk between the two of them, as she tried to create more distance. She hadn't put the gun onto her back, but instead pressed it against her chest, creating an uncomfortable landing. On touchdown, she reminded herself that she couldn't get too far from her first image, but since Noir didn't know that he would have to remain wary of that image.
Maybe it was just Autumn's imagination, but she thought she heard booing from the crowd.