Heavy is the Head: Comrades

    It was daunting being in a room alone with Titan.  Did he know what I had been doing before this?

    Still, I was used to saving face.  “Are you here to kill me?”

    Titan raised an eyebrow, “Why would I do that?  If I wanted you to die, I would have just let Psycho kill you.  Who do you think sent Playlist to go pick you up?”

    He had a point.  “If you sent him, you must know what I was doing.”

    Titan nodded, “I’m aware of your dealing with Suppression.”

    “So I’ll just ask again, you aren’t planning to kill me?”

    “Why would I kill one of my own?” he asked with genuine confusion.  “Have you ever heard of me killing another Adapted.”  Titan paused, biting his lip with agitation, “With one exception,” he added.  “And that was an act of self-preservation. But my incident with Manta aside, when do I ever attack Adapted?”

    “You don’t.  However-“

    “Beleth, let me be clear,” he interrupted.  “You are alive because I want you alive. I know of your dealing with Xandal, and I understand why you took the offer, or at least attempted to.  You will not be following through on his directions though.”

    I frowned, “Do you know why he wanted to employ me?  Do you know what’s fucking happening, Titan?”

    “More than you know.”

    Galling barely described this man and his dismissive nature.  “You sure about that? Last I heard you’ve been running around melting places down and fighting the government.  You’ve had time to look up in the sky and see?”

    “This coming from the guy tethered to the ground?”

    “The Trillodan,” I spat, “Did you know they are hanging around, investigating Tso’got?  I don’t care how powerful you are, do you think you can measure up to Protocol 37? Do you really think we would stand a chance against them if they decide to annihilate us?  You think Suppression is deranged to want those crazy fuckers go away? What is it you think you’re going to do, fight them?”

    “And who else is going to do it?”

    I paused a moment.  “What?”

    “Who else is going to fight the Trillodan?” he asked again, very matter of fact.  “I don’t see anyone volunteering.”

    I drew back, “Are-are you being serious right now or have you just completely lost your fucking mind?”

    The Projector-Conjurer shrugged, “Who knows?  Is any Adapted really all there in the first place?”

    He made a strangely valid point.  “Titan, this isn’t a fight you could hope to win.  They are the fucking Trillodan.”

    “Yes, I know, they are scary enough to make even the great Beleth turn traitor,” he said with a condescending smile.  “I’m well aware of how damnably terrifying they are, Beleth, believe me. But, have you ever stopped to consider the math behind us?”

    I frowned, “The math?”

    “The math that would have to correspond to our actions.  Consider what you do, how much rock and ground you casually shift around you like it is putty.  Have you thought about the force required to move tonnes of concrete and stone?”

    “No,” I confessed.  

    “People have shot rockets into the ground and done less damage than you can do with a single thought.  You leveled a building to prove a point when you claimed control of Ciel,” he pointed out with a dramatic wave.  “Have you ever taken a thought about how preposterous our gifts are?”

    I remained quiet, nodding thoughtfully.  

    “There has never been anyone like us,” Titan said, sobering up, “Be it because some strange cosmic fluke or biological mutation, nothing like us has ever been seen in the cosmos.  We’re significant enough to attract the Trillodan, that should tell you something.”

    “So you think that because we’re such a weird anomaly, we’re able to fight a race that has spent centuries killing planets and advanced civilizations?” I countered, pointing out the grandiose nature of his sentiment.  

    “No one like the Trillodan has ever existed, and no one like us have ever existed,” he replied.  “If we are eligible to actually stand up to them, who will be?”

    “Maybe someone who can actually go to war with those monsters?”

    Titan frowned, “And will the Trillodan ever allow a species to catch up with them in terms of technology?”

    I had no response to that one; their known pattern was to appear and eradicate anyone who was developing technology that would allow for advanced travel and warping capabilities.  Humanity had been on the cusp of faster than light travel, and then it was torn away from us. Tso’got lacked the infrastructure Earth had and much of the tools required to make such precise machinery simply didn’t exist now.  

    “And you believe Adaptations are nature’s answer to the cosmic tyrants?” I finally said.  “Do you honestly believe that?”

    He shrugged, “I don’t know.  But, I do know that no one like us has ever existed in recorded history.  We are unique, and we are extremely powerful. I think we would be doing the universe a disservice to not use our gifts to the fullest.”

    “And you believe that is a suicide mission?”

    “Beleth, your most trusted people, are they Zari?”

    I raised an eyebrow, “No.”

    “Are they humans?”

    “Yes.”

    “Wrong,” he said.  “They are Adapted.”

    My lip curled in a sneer, “You’re saying we aren’t human?  Last I checked, we all bleed red.”

        “But can all humans move the ground like you do?  Do other humans have a small reactor built into them like I do?  Can they split like Hive? Face it, Beleth, we aren’t normal in the slightest.”  He paused, collecting himself, “We all come together, unwittingly. Even before most Adapt, they connect with people who themselves are bound to Adapt later.”

    “You expect me to refer to myself as an alien?”

    Titan frowned, “No, not…exactly.  We’re human in a sense, but we’re also different.  We’re a tiny percentage of the population and we don’t mesh with the rest of our species.  All of us find ourselves subject to overwhelming adversity and instead draw upon the strength of others like us.  Do you honestly think there isn’t something more than just chance driving this?”

        “Talk of community coming from the nomadic bastard,” I harped, “That’s rich.”

        “Nomadic?  No, no,” he said with a laugh, “I wasn’t just wandering aimlessly.  I was recruiting.”

        My eyes widened, “You were recruiting for this silly crusade of yours?  Do the people you recruited know what they are getting into?  Or have I been blessed to be the first person who gets to learn about your zealotry?”

        His gaze narrowed, “You say it like I’m making a cult.”

        “Am I wrong?”

        “Being determined and with a cause in mind doesn’t make me a cult leader.”

        “Having to justify why you aren’t a cult leader only makes you sound more like a fanatic, you do realize this, don’t you?”  I stopped for a moment and widened my eyes, “You saved me so you could recruit me, and everyone else in Surface Dwellers, didn’t you?”

        Titan nodded slowly.  

        “You expect us to go along with your insanity?”

        “You’d really not care for the alternative,” he said quietly, “And neither would I.”

        “You’d strong arm me?” I demanded, enraged.

        “No,” he replied calmly, “But I would undo my interference.  Do you really want me to hand you back over to Psycho?”

        I felt myself pale, “No.”

    He paused a moment, “Who is he anyways?”

    “He was a low level gangster several years ago in the Stel cluster, along with a guy named Landslide. Originally, Psycho went by Empath and had the power to manipulate emotions of those around him; he had a surprisingly strong hold on people with mental illness, it made him invaluable in manipulating other Adapted since most of us have a screw loose.”

    “But?”

    “Snatchers caught wind of us and nabbed him along with two others. I,” I paused, ashamed, “I hid, afraid.”

    Titan didn’t say anything for a moment as I pulled myself together.

    “Titan, have you ever seen the inside of an Asylum?”

    He nodded. “I burned one down a year ago. Melted it down into a heap of smoldering metal. I am aware of what they do in there.”

    “If the Trillodan are after us, if they really are curious about what we do, they are gonna do worse stuff to figure out what makes us tick.” I looked back up and peered into his red irises, “Do you want to risk giving people over to those monsters? Empath was a good guy, and he broke; look at him now!”

    “Calm down,” he said softly.

    “How the fuck am I supposed to be calm, Titan? You’re blackmailing me into fighting them!”

    “Life for a life,” he replied tersely. “I saved you, now you owe me, or is the king suddenly no longer being good on his debts?”

    I wasn’t sure how to reply.

    “Beleth, the Trillodan were always going to get involved at some point. We are far too great a novelty to ignore; even if you do as Suppression wants of you, it won’t change the past or what they already know. They aren’t stupid, they’ll know we are hiding. All they do then is smoke us out.”

    It made sense, but it was still a bitter pill to swallow.  “So you want to fight them, how do you plan to do that? No one even knows where their home world is.  If you kill a scouting party and some observers, how long until a fleet comes and torches the atmosphere?”

    A little grin crept across Titan’s mouth, “For now, I can’t tell you.  If you were captured by the Trillodan, you’d blab and I can’t have that happening.”

    “Compartmentalizing, I respect that.  However, not a good way to assure people you aren’t mad.”  

    He sighed, “Perhaps I can convince you of my sanity.  You know of Clairvoyant?”

    I raised an eyebrow, “The chick who sees fragments of possible futures?”

    Titan rolled his eyes, “You’re grossly simplifying her gift.”

    “Yes,” I interjected, “I know of her.”

    “She works for me now.”  

    I massaged my temple as I tried to work out what he’d want with her.  “Did you recruit her as an early warning system of some kind?”

    “For someone who isn’t a Cognate, you’re quick on the uptake.”

    “I ran one of the larger criminal empires on the planet.  You can’t do that if you’re an idiot,” I countered.

    “Fair point.  But you’re only half right.  I brought her on early as both a means of early warning should a threat be coming, and as a means of probing possible outcomes.”

    “I’m not sure I understand.”

    The Projector-Conjurer smiled, “Do you know of someone called Command?”

    I shook my head.

    “Command is a Projector-Cognate who directly influences thought patterns and has an innate understanding into how Adaptations work.  When he exerts himself over regular people, his control is still there, but when he interacts with Adapted-“

    “He knows how to tinker with their gift,” I concluded.

    “Exactly.  He and Clairvoyant have been working in tandem since he can essentially use his gift to hypnotize her; it allows her to utilize her power more frequently.  On her own, she only gets visions while she dreams.  Before we had him helping, she nearly OD’d on sedatives in an attempt to be more useful.”

    “I’m not sure how this deals with checking probabilities of things.”

    “Instead of only getting a few small glimpses every night, we could have her seeing fragments for hours and days at a time, painting a fairly accurate picture of possible futures and giving us some idea for what to expect.  Based on how often she saw something, we could determine what was much more likely to happen. If something was only seen once or twice, low probability.  Seen over and over again, almost inevitable.”

    “Makes sense.”

    “Do you want to know the only constant across hundreds and hundreds of visions?”

    I nodded, now genuinely curious.

    “The Trillodan.  They WILL come to obtain our gifts for themselves.  Regardless of my influence or yours, they are going to make their presence known and collect what they don’t understand.  It was the only thing that remained constant in her visions, Beleth. No matter what we do, they are going to come for us.”

    I’d gotten very capable of detecting lies as I dealt with scoundrels on a regular basis.  It was unsettling to me that he was being completely honest. “When?”

    “Soon,” he replied.  “It depends on what happens, but likely within the next month or two.”

    “Protocol 37?”

    “No,” he said with a shake of his head, “That was only seen in one vision from hundreds, so almost an impossibility.  Our best guess is that they are going to send some kind of advance guard to collect us for study.”

    “So, a high tech version of the Snatchers.”

    “Yep.”

    I picked myself up off the edge of the bed and dragged myself to a chair to be seated across the table.  My leg still ached and I couldn’t imagine how discolored it was under the bandage Organelle had put on me.  “Going forward, what happens?”

    “Clairvoyant gives us fragments, partials for the future.  We don’t know exactly what prompts the Trillodan to touch down or anything like that.”

    “I mean more what do you want from me.  Until the world decides to stop spinning, I have an empire to run.”   

    Titan frowned, “You still plan to operate Surface Dwellers even with all this information?  You think your syndicate is going to survive once the Trillodan get involved with Tso’got?”   

    “Listen, Titan,” I muttered, “What would you have me do?  Sit around here and pretend everything is going to be okay?  If all you do is plan for theoreticals, the present goes by the wayside. For all we fucking know, the Zari COULD go full sycophant. So, forgive me but I’m not going to just going to abandon everything I’ve built because something COULD happen.”

    “I-“

    “You believe in the autonomy of Adapted, yeah?  Are you really going to go against your creed and hold me here?”

    Titan scowled, “Don’t push me, Beleth.”

    “It’s an honest question.  What would you have me do? If I depart from my normal routine, that’s going to be more suspicious than me continuing to be a gangster.”

    For once in the conversation, I’d stumped the man.  “Fine. But, Beleth,” he said sternly, “When I call for you, you will answer.  Is that understood?”

    I glared back at him, “You may be the oldest Adapted, but that doesn’t make me a kid.  Don’t talk down to me like that.”

    He nodded, “Fair enough.  But I’m not kidding. Beleth, when the time comes, I do expect you to answer.”

    “A life for a life,” I repeated as I got up and grabbed my shirt at the foot of the bed.  “I’ll talk to my people, but if they don’t opt to come with, I’m not making them. You didn’t save them, you saved me.  As far as I’m concerned they don’t owe you shit.”

    “One last thing,” he said as I grabbed the door handle, “Shockwave is here.”

    I turned, my eyes wide, “What?”

    “Don’t pick a fight,” he insisted as he got up and stepped forward, “Not here.  You cause trouble in my house, I’m going to see you as a threat.”

    I paled a little at the intensity in his red eyes; as much as I prided myself on being cool and level headed, this man was a monster if necessary.  Even the veiled threat was enough to trigger alarm bells in my head. “No trouble here,” I promised. “Besides, I’ve missed the guy. I’m sure we’ll get a chance to fight off campus.”

    Titan rolled his eyes, the moment passing, “See Organelle again before you leave.  Have her make a tincture for you.”

    I nodded and stepped out into the hallways, limping along.  

    There were plenty of the older generation from Earth who missed how things used to be, and some of those people could offer trade secrets to the industrial tycoons who really ran everything.  What did homesick people do with tons of money? They made their own nostalgia mansions. It was a two story monstrosity broken into four corners that housed two bedroom each. In the middle was common areas like a kitchen, a den, or a dining room.  

    And everywhere you looked, the resident Adapted were milling about.  

    Some were still in costume, like Clemency.  Still donning his blue cape and cobalt colored helmet, he and I regarded each other cautiously as I approached.  

    “I see Titan talked to you too,” I said with a nod.  

    “He is…compelling,” my former rival replied.  “You look worse for wear.”

    “Rogue Sentries with a dash of Lunatics,” I replied.  “I underestimated one and paid for it dearly.”

    Playlist walked beside us with someone who wasn’t bothering hiding their identity.  In a loose shirt and shorts, I couldn’t tell whether the person was male or female…

    “Interface,” Clemency supplied, “One of the other operatives that Titan left in Ciel.  Does a lot of work with Playlist and generally does a fantastic job with disruption.”

    “So…”

    “Oh, no idea,” Clemency said with a chuckle.  “If you ask, Interface doesn’t give you a straight answer either.  A few other people have started betting on it.”

    I rolled my eyes, “Fuck me people here are childish.  I heard Curtis was around.”

    “Curtis?”

    “Sorry, Shockwave.  Where is he?”

    Through the slit for his eyes, I saw Clemency narrow his gaze, “Why do you need to know?”

    “I want to get a cigarette, and I know that fucker smokes more than anyone else alive.  Titan already threatened me and told me to mind my manners. Besides, look at me,” I said, pulling up my shirt to reveal the layers of bandage, “Do I look like I’m in fighting shape?”  

    “Check the back patio.  He likes hanging around outside.”  

    “Thanks.”  

    It was strange talking to Clemency like that.  The last time we’d run into each other, he’d given me second degree burns and I’d broken his foot.  But now, no animosity, just a healthy dose of caution around one another.

    Was Titan’s influence that potent?  

    “Hey, Beleth,” a voice called out.  I turned to see someone with hand wraps like a boxer and a gel suit of body armor.  “We heard you were brought in. Who did this?”

    It took me a second, but I finally recognized him.  Ragdoll. Leader of the Correctors.  While I found their group markedly juvenile, Surface Dwellers had run into him once and they’d actually managed to tangle with Pyre and Goliath.  

    “Does it matter?”

    He picked up his hands defensively, “Sorry, but Armorsmith is tight with Dragoon.  We were curious if it was Sentries or not.”

    I shook my head; Titan’s haven for Adapted felt like school all over again.  “Yes, it was them. Eldritch steered me into Parasite and he beat the fuck out of me.  Happy?”

    He grinned, “I’d be lying if I said seeing you a little messed up didn’t make me happy.”

    “Oh, because I broke Mr. Magnificent’s legs when you idiots made a pit stop on my turf?”

    Ragdoll sneered, “Exactly that.”  He stepped closer to me to whisper, “Honestly, I’d love to swing and see if I could remove your head from your shoulders.”

    I grinned, “And I’m sure Titan would turn you into a puddle before you could bail.  You can hate me all you want, Ragdoll, but I’ve never been safer than right now.”

    A voice cut over us, “Ragdoll, come on.  That’s enough of that. Beleth’s here just like the rest of us.  Don’t do anything stupid.”

    On the edge of my peripheral vision, I could see Soliloquy predominately out of costume with the exception of the mask that covered everything above his mouth.  “Maybe you should listen to him, huh?” I suggested.

    I wasn’t sure if Soliloquy was using his power to soothe Ragdoll, but the Enhancer stepped away and scoffed.  

    I debated rolling my eyes to antagonize, but I was the new guy in and didn’t dare cause any more trouble.  The last thing I needed to do was piss off Titan given the thin ice I was already on from meeting with Xandal.  

    I finally found a backdoor and stepped out onto a large patio with various pieces of furniture strewn about.  A couple I didn’t recognize were keeping to themselves in a corner, and one familiar form was seated at a metal table with an ashtray in front of him and a lit cigarette in between his fingers.  There was a little pause as he saw me, clearly conflicted about what response he should pick.

    But, Curtis calmed down and waved me over politely.  As I sat down, he slid a half empty pack of cigarettes across the table with a lighter.  

    “Look what the fucking cat dragged in,” he said with a wry laugh.  “What the fuck happened to you?”

    “I’m surprised it isn’t the fucking talk of the town,” I replied as I lit a cigarette and took a puff, coughing a few times.  “Those fucking kids made my life complicated.”

    “Sentries?”

    “The same.”  

    The former head of enforcement for Imperium nodded and took another long drag, “They’re a resilient bunch, gotta give ‘em that.”  

    “Definitely,” I agreed.  “Bit like how you lot used to be.”

    He smiled sorrowfully, “Yeah, a bit.”

    “Sorry about Ironclad,” I said, “He was a decent guy.”

    Curtis frowned, “You fucking hated him and you know it.”

    I shrugged, “True, but he didn’t deserve to get his fucking head torn off by Rat.  No one should go out because of Vermin.”

    “We can agree on that one.”  He took another puff of his cigarette and then stamped it out, beckoning for me to pass back the pack.  “So, how has running the city been? I heard you flattened the old Imperium spot.”

    “For a while, pretty tame.  Two months unopposed, and then in a week I find myself here.  Fucking kids.”

    “Two months uncontested,” Curtis laughed, “God, you must have bored out of your mind!”  

    “Are you kidding, I was finally getting some money made!”  He and I stared at each other for a second before breaking up into raucous laughter.  It was short lived for me since my ribs were still incredibly tender. “It was awful man.  No posturing for anyone, no real challengers, nothing. Weeks of inactivity and everything going as it should.  Like two people fought me and got buried in a second. Nothing like what we used to do.”

    “I thought it was weird that Clemency didn’t come down to see you, but then I spotted him here,” Curtis said with a smile, “God, you have no idea how much I wanted to put on the costume and make a grand entrance to fuck with you.”

    “I almost wish you had.”

    He let out a groan, “It would have brought back too many Imperium people and Titan was pretty adamant about leaving them dead.”

    I cocked my head to the side, “Why is that?”

    “One of Clair’s visions,” he replied.  “Something Imperium did caused a whole hell of a mess.”

    “How do you feel about all of that shit,” I asked after I killed the cigarette and beckoned for the pack.  “The whole Trillodan, end of the world, apocalyptic visions shit.”

    He shook his head, “Come on, Bel, you know I’m not an intellectual like you.  I’m a gunman. I kill people. But people like you, like Titan, you think around corners.  And Titan has half a dozen Cognates feeding him information so he makes the best choices possible.”

    “You think he has the whole picture?”

    “If he doesn’t, no one does.”  

    My old nemesis had a point.  “You think we stand a chance?”

    “No idea!  That’s half the fun, isn’t it?  The unknown. That risk of losing and knowing it’s gonna be a hectic fight.”

    I couldn’t help but smile, “You’ve got me there.”  

    “Plus, something I have been thinking about-“

    “You just said you aren’t an intellectual,” I interrupted.

    “Shut up.  Think about how many people Titan has here, willing to do crazy shit for him.  Everyone is willing to fight. How weird is that? Most of us have been in life or death situations and aren’t any more broken than when we first Adapted.  It’s like we were custom made for violence.”

    I raised an eyebrow, “For someone who claims to not be an intellectual, you’re a surprisingly philosophical motherfucker.”  

    “I’ve had a lot of time to sit on my hands and do fuck all.”

        “Fair enough.” I took another rip and bit my lip, “So, you fought with Sentries for a while.”

    He nodded, “Where you going with this?”

    “What do you think of the big tentacled fucker?”

    Curtis nodded and ran a hand through his short hair, “Dude is a proper monster. He was taking hits from me like they were going out of style, and he didn’t have Rat’s cheats neither. Why?”

    I put out my second cigarette and slowly pushed myself away from the table, movement reminding me how much pain I was in. “Well, until fucking Titan decides to call in his favor, I have a cartel to run, and those kids are causing a hell of a problem for me.”

    He nodded, “I get it, honestly. And if you are really determined, I suggest you make a stop by to an old friend of yours.”

    I stopped before turning to go back inside.

    “Big Picture. He’s here.”

    That would certainly explain why the hell I wasn’t able to find him the last few days. “Hey, Shockwave,” I called over my shoulder.

    “Yeah?”

    “Take care of yourself.”

    He let out a soft chuckle, “Same to you, asshole.”

    I couldn’t help but smile as I crept back inside. Feeling out with my seismic sense, I detected a solitary wheelchair.

    It was an arduous process to limp across the mansion and past a half dozen Adapted still putzing around despite it being incredibly late. Then again, Reckoner or Scoundrel alike, we all tended to work on a more nocturnal sleep schedule.

    Before I could make it back to Big Picture, I hand caught my shoulder.

    Organelle in all her blonde glory stepped beside me. “Titan said I needed to give you another dose.”

    “I wouldn’t object to one now and one for the road.”

    She rolled her eyes and pulled a vial of yellow serum from a pocket.  “Drink, it’ll help the damage to your internal organs.” Before I could reply, Organelle put her hand to my chest and stared intently as energy flowed into my torso.  It felt like someone had injected fire into my body as I could feel cellular processes speed up.

    The more unsettling part was feeling and hearing some things crack back into place.  

    She finally pulled her hand away and relaxed.  “There. Ribs should be good enough since you refuse to stay put and do the smart thing.”

    “You’d fault someone for wanting to go home?” I pried.  

    “You were just beaten half to death, and there is literally no safer spot on Tso’got than this mansion.  You’re voluntarily leaving protective custody while there is a deluded psychopath on the hunt for you, provided Playlist is to be believed.”

    “He isn’t wrong,” I admitted.  

    She shook her head, “Beleth, just stay.  Your people will last a night alone. They aren’t fucking children.”

    I sighed, “Organelle, thanks for the fix.”  

    There was clearly more on her mind, but she kept quiet.  “I’ll let Titan know you plan to leave tonight.”

    “Thanks.”  I wasn’t sure if I was actually happy about her talking to him, but I’d live.  Around the corner and in one of the back rooms, I found my old informant pouring over a tablet.  He looked up, surprised to see me.

    “Beleth!”

    “Relax,” I said with a wave, “I’m not here to fight.  Besides, Titan would have my head since you’re officially under his protection.”  I sat down opposite him, wishing with every step that Organelle had given some extra juice to my leg.  “Psycho came after you, didn’t he? That’s how he knew where I’d be tonight.”

    Big Picture nodded.  “He did. And…he was going to kill me if I didn’t give up what he wanted.”

    “I know, I get it,” I replied honestly.  “He’s a twisted guy now, and it was reasonable to be scared shitless of him.”  

    “He made me give up information about the Rogue Sentries too.”

    “I’m pretty sure Psycho is blackmailing them to make them all zealous in their pursuit of me.  Them failing means he probably kills someone close to them. His insurance they work for him without complaint.”  I took another look at him; he seemed pretty well kept for someone who had been wildly displaced, but there was some fatigue showing.  Bags under his eyes, his posture not as correct as it typically was, those sorts of things. “Did Titan strongarm you into joining him?”

    “No,” Picture replied.  “He gave me an opportunity to join him and I opted to take it.”

    I scoffed, “Did he tell you what he plans to do?”

    “He said enough,” the informant replied.  

    “And?”

    “For once, I don’t know.  I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous about his ideas but he’s getting plenty of power behind him.”  Big Picture frowned, “He isn’t what you came to talk to me about though. Why are you really here, Beleth?”

    I smirked, “You probably already know.”

    “Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have to ask.”

    “Rogue Sentries, they’re dangerous.”

    “They’re dangerous to your organization,” Big Picture corrected.  

    I glared at him, “They used your real identity to go after you, Aaron.  Perhaps you shouldn’t be so hasty to defend them.”

    “Beleth,” he asked softly, “What are you going to do if you go after them?  You must know that Titan isn’t blowing smoke, things with the Trillodan will happen.  Is now the time to be picking more fights?”

    Earlier I had wanted to believe that he had concocted some sort of lie about them, but hearing it from Big Picture added authenticity.  

    “Until shit starts to go haywire,” I growled, “I am going to be the fucking king of Ciel and run the Surface Dwellers.  Rogue Sentries have one massive lynchpin I want to remove from the equation.”

    “Eldritch,” he supplied.  “You want to know where to find him.”

    “You’re damn right I do.”

    He shook his head, “Beleth, this is a bad idea.”   

    “Pic,” I warned, “Don’t test me on this.”

    “It’s against the rules.”

    “I don’t give a damn about that anymore!” I snapped.  “They broke the rules when they came for you, and then Psycho broke the rules when he threatened an informant.  Fuck the rules!”

    Bic Picture recoiled a little, surprised by my outburst.  “What are you going to do with the information when I give it to you?”

    “I don’t think you need your gift of intuition to figure this one out.”  

    “I shouldn’t give you the information, Beleth.  I shouldn’t do this, and you know that you shouldn’t do this.  Titan is going to see it like you’re taking Xandal up on his offer.”   

    “Fuck Titan and fuck Xandal too!” I barked.  “Tell me what I want to know!”

    This was my city, my fucking kingdom, my dominion.  I was not about to let some kids oust me like this. Not a chance.  

    “Three-one-six 45th St.” he finally said, displeased with himself.  “One question for you,” he called as I moved for the door, “Are you sure this is what you want to do?  You have no idea of what the consequences might be.”

    I rolled my neck, “Pic, the kids nearly killed me twice, especially that monster.  They attacked my organization twice and are still standing; it’s a slippery slope if I just let this go.”  

    Whether his power informed him that I wouldn’t change my mind or whether he could figure it out on his own, he let the topic die.  

    Limping back outside, I borrowed a phone from Interface and called Kandar; once armed with an address, he told me he’d be there in twenty minutes to take me home.  As I waited out in the brisk evening, a second form walked up beside me.

    “Don’t you have someone else to go preach to?” I demanded as Titan looked up into the mostly blank sky.  “You said no fighting in your house, and I’m not going to.”

    “Big Picture told me what you’re doing,” he said, undaunted by my agitation.  “I have a request for you.”

    “If you tell me not to do it, I’m going to ignore you.  I don’t care how powerful you are.”

    “No, not that,” he replied.  “You were right about what you said earlier; I’m not gonna stop you from picking a fight with them.  My request, don’t kill him.”

    “Huh?”

    “Eldritch.  Don’t kill him.  I want him alive.”

    I sneered, “If I preserve him, that settles my debt with you.”

    Titan pondered it for a moment, “Sure.  And you leave the rest of his team alone.  We’ll call that even between you and Organelle.”

    “Are you planning to recruit all of them to your fucking cause?”

    “I plan to recruit everyone, even the Lunatics.”  

    My anger abated and was replaced with shock.  “A-are you serious? Did you see what those freaks were capable of?  Did you see how unhinged they were? You want to bring a ticking time bomb into your circle?”

    He turned to me, his face shrouded in the darkness, “All Adapted are family to me, Beleth, even you.”

    “So you’re what, the Adapted deity?”

    He actually laughed, catching me off guard.  “Oh, no. Definitely not. More like a big brother.”  

    “If Psycho comes after me again, I’m going to kill him,” I replied, “Even if you see him like your little brother.”

    “I understand.”

    As my car pulled up, Titan turned around, “Beleth, take care.  I’m still going to extend that invitation to you.”

    “And if I decline?  I’m not obligated to do it if I leave his head on, right?”

    “This is true.  But,” he smirked, “I think you’ll end up taking it in the long run.”  He turned and waved to me, “Have a good night, Beleth, it was a pleasure to meet you.”  

 I watched him walk back to his mansion and felt a strange sense of dread.  What was he so sure of that I was so completely oblivious to?

I’d deal with his cryptic parting later; right now, I had a message to send.  

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