Umbra 4.3

“I told you, I don’t remember anything. I went to bed one night and woke up there.”

“There was an evacuation in your residence hall the night you disappeared,” I interjected. “Do you remember that?”

“No.” Wren shook his head.

“Do you recall anything about your captors?” asked Dr. Mind.

“There was… a woman. Another prisoner.”

“Charity,” mused Dr. Mind, and motioned for him to continue.

“She was passed out for most of the time, but when she woke up she started, uh, freaking out, punching the door and stuff.”

“Hm.” Dr. Mind sounded thoughtful.

“So she was dosed with Denudine too?” I asked. Wren looked up sharply at the mention of Denudine.

“Yeah, I guess. Oh, and they were definitely Blackwell. I saw the tags. And I heard someone say something about… collateral? But there’s no context. No context…” Wren sighed frustratedly. “Can I go?” He asked, sounding very tired. I felt a pang of sympathy.

Dr. Mind put down his clipboard and said, “I’m afraid we’re going to have to keep you here, for your protection, until we figure out what Blackwell wanted from you.” Seeing Wren’s pained expression, Dr. Mind reassured him, “We have guest rooms you’ll be staying in. We’re not about to put you in another cell after what you’ve just been through.”

“But I still can’t leave?” said Wren with narrowed eyes.

Dr. Mind paused. “That’s right,” he said regretfully. “I’m sorry, but it’s standard procedure.”

“I understand.” It didn’t sound like he did, but he wouldn’t protest.

We stood and exited the room. I stopped to speak with Savage, who was waiting behind the two-way mirror. Dr. Mind escorted Wren up to the guest rooms.

“Why weren’t you in there too?” I asked Savage, curious.

“They don’t let me conduct in non-criminal questionings anymore,” he said. “I get impatient.” He said the last word mockingly.

“So it sounds like they used the evacuation as cover,” I said to Savage. “Dosed him with Denudine so he couldn’t be tracked and carried him out.”

“Or,” began Savage, “he pulled the fire alarm, masked his own scent, and left with a member of Blackwell, voluntarily, so he could fight Charity with them. They may just want us to trust him- they’ve tricked us like this before.”

“I’m not so sure that’s what this is,” I said. Wren was so oblivious sometimes- he lacked all the instincts necessary to be a criminal.

“Then what does Blackwell want with him?” Savage asked hypothetically. “They look just like the rest of us most of the time. A villain’s identity is their most dangerous weapon, metaphorically speaking. You ought to know that.”

“I do,” I said, frowning. “But he doesn’t seem the type at all.”

“They rarely do,” said Savage with bitterness in his voice.

“Savage, could you track down the person who was with Castor?” came Jamisson’s voice from the intercom, startling me. I hadn’t actually seen him in a while, and he was starting to seem like an omnipresent specter, speaking out of the walls invisibly and seeing all within the building.

“Yes. Easily,” said Savage, almost insulted.

“Find him then. We find whoever took Castor, we find where they’re keeping Charity. We find Charity, we find out what she knows about Virtue. Shadow, Guardian Angel has reported a potential situation at Collswell University. head back there and see what he wants.”

“Got it,” I said and, giving Savage a casual salute as a farewell, turned to be on my way. We would have to resolve this later.

I made my way out of the building through the group of police officers doing paperwork on a clump of folding tables in the lobby. Most of them had moved to an unused library building which had been gutted by a fire and refurbished, but never put back into use. By the time it was restored, the Loyal Memorial Library had been finished and the surviving books already moved over. A few officers lingered, though, not wanting to disrupt their paperwork by moving it all again.

On my way back to campus, I recieved a text from Sean on my civilian phone. I ducked into one of Collswell’s many small, isolated alleys that were so useful and read the message.

“Yo will, get over here stat,” it said

I took a moment to clear the darkness off of my clothes, watching it drift off with the breeze and fade away into the air.

I arrived at our dorm room to find the door hanging open. I hurried into the room and saw Sean throwing clothes back into his dresser. It looked like a hurricane had torn through our room, clothes and belongings strewn across the floor. Someone was in a hurry.

“Sean, I got your text. What happened?” I asked, worry slipping into my voice.

“Someone,” he said with mock-cheerfulness, “broke into our room while we were out.”

“What?” I exclaimed. “Did you talk to campus police yet?”

“Yeah, they showed up a little while ago, then just kinda left. Said they’re focusing on the search.”

“Not much longer,” I said, distracted by the mess that was my belongings as I entered the room. My laptop had been opened, but was still present. Why? “We just found him.”

Sean stopped and turned to me.

“Where?” he asked. “When?”

“Uh, Just now, I think.” I stalled by searching through my desk as I scrambled for an alibi, belatedly remembering that he didn’t know I was Shadow. “I saw him getting escorted by some cops on my way here from Ramen Shaman,” I bluffed. “Was anything stolen?” I asked, shifting the topic back to the state of our room. Letting lies snowball is never a good idea.

“Not that I’ve found, but you might want to check your stuff.”

I paused for a moment, realizing the possible consequences of what someone might have found, then rushed to search through my dresser. As I threw my clothes back into it, I relaxed slightly. After I’d found Sean out, I’d relocated my gear to a stash just off campus, so it didn’t look like whoever it was would have found anything incriminating. Who would have done this? Someone who suspects something about me or Sean. Could be anyone in the Hero Program. Not just anyone, someone with a beef with me or Sean…

“That son of a bitch,” I muttered.

“Huh?” Sean looked up from his phone. He was sitting on his bed, typing out a message.

“Liam,” I explained. “I’d almost forgotten about him.”

“Oh yeah,” said Sean sourly. “The invisible guy.”

I almost laughed out loud from his reaction. Sean probably had run into him in the Hero Program. If he was as abrasive and arrogant as he was normally, he would not be making many friends.

“So how are we going to deal with this?” I asked after I flopped onto my bed. My stomach rumbled uncomfortably, and I regretted that I hadn’t actually had lunch. I wish I’d actually been at Ramen Shaman, I thought.

“We could take it to Campus Police,” Sean said, looking back to his phone. “I told Kevin and Sasha that they found Wren, by the way.”

“Cool,” I said. “Campus police…” I considered it briefly. “If he gets kicked out of the hero program because of us, I doubt he’d go peacefully,” I realized. Sean leaned back against the wall mutely.

It seemed like Liam definitely suspected something about both of us. He probably would make the connection between Sean and Guardian Angel if he hadn’t already, and given my powers and my name, connecting me to Shadow wasn’t too large a logical leap. If he was expelled from the hero program, he would be guaranteed to get recruited by one of the city’s gangs, Blackwell, probably, or potentially the CCS, weakened as they were by Scrapyard’s arrest. If he took what he knew to Blackwell or the CCS… I didn’t particularly want to think about that. Blackwell sometimes respected the dual identity, or at least Myriad did -she considered people in and out of costume to actually be different people- but they weren’t all quite so… moral. Or so unhinged.

“Hey, you guys in there?” A knock at the door shook us out of our thoughts.

“Hey Kevin. Come on in,” Sean said, standing up. I sat up as Kevin entered. He looked pale and drawn-out, like he hadn’t slept in days, which was probably true.

“You said you saw Wren?” he asked me immediately.

“Yeah, on my way back here from Ramen Shaman,” I explained, sticking with my earlier explanation. I hadn’t expected to have to make it a long-term explanation. “I was going past the Wardens’ building and I saw him getting escorted in by Savage and Shadow. I guess they tracked Wren down.”

“Oh thank god,” he said, after a strange hesitation, and let out a breath that it looked like he’d been holding for days. He sat down on the floor and laughed, relieved.

I felt a patch of air in the hall abruptly vanish, and a moment later Sasha pushed open the door with a cursory knock.

“You found Wren?” She asked after a moment.

“Yeah, I-” I started to explain again, when our phones went off at once. My phone vibrated silently against my leg for a moment before I checked it.

*Txt msg from: CAMPUS ALERTS,* displayed the screen. I opened the message. *Missing student Wren Castor has been found, and is currently being retained for questioning,* It said. The others checked their phones as well

“Retained for questioning?” Kevin asked, evidently reading the same message. “What the hell does that mean?”

“At a guess, they want to know where he was, or why he was missing, or something,” Sean explained.

“Huh,” said Kevin, unsatisfied. He looked over at me and asked, “how is Ramen Shaman anyway? I’ve heard that place is good.”

I couldn’t shake a feeling that his question was less casual than he made it sound. Why is he asking this and not about Wren? “I dunno, I’ve never been much of a fan of ramen,” I confessed, truthfully. “I usually go for the gyoza.”

He continued to stare curiously at me for a moment, then shrugged and said, “I’ll have to check it out sometime.”

“Hey, have either of you seen Liam around?” Sean asked.

“No, why?” replied Kevin.

“I’ve been actively avoiding him,” said Sasha.

“Wasn’t he your boyfriend?” Kevin asked her.

“Him?” she snorted derisively. “God no. If he’s telling people that, it’s just him being his usual douche self. We went to the same high school, so he was the only one I knew here. That’s the only reason we hung out at all.”

“That makes a lot more sense,” I said.

“Why did you ask, anyway?”

“I think he tried to rob our room,” I explained.

“We don’t know if it was him for sure, but it seems like something he’d do,” Sean elaborated.

“It does,” Sasha verified. “Especially after that time you heard him behind you. He’s probably convinced you’ve got superpowers now.”

I grinned. “I wish,” I lied easily. “Or actually not- it makes him seem even sillier.”

“Doesn’t take much doing,” she commented.

“Wren told you about that?”

“Yeah.” She went quiet.

“I wonder if they’d let us see him,” Kevin said quietly after a pause.

“Why not?” Sean said. “No harm in asking them. You said they were at the Wardens’ building, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “You know where that is?” I asked, knowing full well that he did.

“I do. My uncle showed me around once.” Christ, he thinks his cape ident will get him in there as a civilian, I thought doubtfully.

“That’s right, you’re related to Paragon, aren’t you?” said Kevin, standing up. “I saw his speech to congress the other day.” Speech? I guess I missed that.

“Yah,” Sean said, mildly irritated. “He should have been back a long time ago.”

We left as a group, after I made sure to lock up our room. It had cooled off since the previous week, and it showed in the attire of the people in the streets. Some of the more cold-intolerant people were already donning coats and hats. I’m going to have to start being careful.

“Hey, you hear that Dream of Tomorrow attacked Zurich?” said Sasha once we were off-campus.

“Really?” I asked. “No, I hadn’t. I haven’t had much time to follow the news lately.”

“Oh yeah, he killed maybe a hundredth of the population,” she elaborated. “Five times as many injured.”

“Christ,” Kevin commented. “That many?”

“I was going to say ‘that few,'” Sean interjected. “How’d they keep it that low? Zurich’s pretty large.”

“They have a cape who can force people to calm down, apparently. Teleported him in as soon as Monitor saw DoT coming. There was still several billion dollars of damage.”

“Wasn’t he in Germany?” I asked. “DoT, I mean.” His last attack had been a small German city whose name escaped me.

“Switzerland is right next to Germany,” Sasha said drily.

“I thought it was up in the…” I gestured helplessly, pantomiming the shape of “that dangly bit near England.”

“No, I think that’s Norway,” said Kevin.

“And Sweden. Seriously, how do you not know that?” Sasha said.

“Never learned it,” I said, exasperated. “Did you have a class on European geography?”

“It was part of freshman world history, for me,” said Kevin.

“Huh.”

We arrived at the Wardens’ building in good time, and made our way to the reception desk in the lobby. The tourist visits had fallen off after a bit after a spike when the Wardens of Justice broke up, so there weren’t many people waiting for the tour.

“Hey, we heard Wren Castor’s being held here for questioning,” Sean said to the woman at the desk. She eyed us suspiciously. “We’re friends of his from college. There any way we could see him?” She stared at us for another moment, then spoke into her desk.

“Director,” she said.

“Yes?” came Jamisson’s voice.

“These boys want to see Mr. Castor.”

Movement in the corner if my eye caught my attention and I spotted one if the cameras rotating our direction behind its protective dome. I wasn’t sure if Jamisson would recognize me, or Sean, for that matter, but after a moment, he spoke again.

“Let them up.”

She gestured behind her at the elevator for us to enter. The elevator door dinged open with no prompting and we filed in. At the top, Dr. Mind was waiting for us.

“This way, please,” he said, and we followed him through the halls towards the guest room Wren was in, footsteps echoing in the empty hall. A few weeks ago, this place was busy at all times. Now, there was barely anyone here. Dr. Mind palmed the handprint scanner beside the door, and the door opened with a click. Wren looked up from where he lay on the couch, holding a tablet he used to pause what he was watching on the television opposite the couch.

“Oh hey,” said Wren, putting the tablet down on the coffee table in front of him and sitting up. “Brought my meds?” He looked at Kevin.

“No, sorry,” said Kevin sheepishly. “I forgot. I’ll stop by later.”

“No prob. Hey Sasha, Sean, Will. Thanks for coming.”

“Honestly, I’m surprised they let us,” I commented.

“Yeah, protective custody’s a bitch, am I right?” Wren quipped, eliciting a laugh from all of us.

“So it’s protective custody now?” inquired Kevin as he took a seat on the couch next to Wren. “What from?”

“Blackwell, apparently. I guess they’re a local gang.”

I explained, “Yeah, they’re big. You see their tag- it’s circle of black stones- sprayed all over the place in some parts of the city.”

Kevin looked at me oddly again. “Like Herald Square?”

“Not so obviously, but I guess you might see one or two around there.” I’d seen one recently. “There’s one in the alley by the bagel store, I think. I meant places more like the Drummers or the Steppes where there’s more overt gang activity.”

“I read about that,” Sasha butted in. “I read up on the city when I applied. They’ll build actual wells in the streets sometimes to stop traffic when they’re making a move.”

“Among other things.”

“Hey, could we… talk about something else?” Wren said.

“Hey, why didn’t Josh come?” Kevin asked, deftly changing the subject.

“Said he was busy,” Sean said. “He-“

Sean cut off abruptly as Savage burst into the room, hackles raised.

“You!” he roared, clawed hand pointing at Kevin.

 

 

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5 Responses to Umbra 4.3

  1. taulsn says:

    The poisonous friend interesting.

  2. Okay, sorry about the delay on this. I’m glad to see this chapter went up- I had to schedule the post instead of posting it manually because I was gone, and I’ve had problems with that before. I’m back now though.

  3. mbwakalione says:

    Arrrgh so many hints and i got none of them, raman thingy and the grafity dohicky. Why u fail me brain? Next chapter better not be a flash back or a interlude.

    • Don’t worry. I couldn’t condone leaving this one hanging more than a week.

      I’m having a lot of fun watching this unfold and seeing what hints you all catch- I’ve been plotting out this arc for some time.

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