Paranoid 12-V

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A Crusade Against Stupid.

It had taken less than five seconds. Stump had barely time to react, and he briefly flexed the branches that had until a second ago contained Metalface. “What… the f***… just happened?!” He spun on me. “What just happened?!” The flailing of his branches barely seemed to be under his control: they were leaving thin gashes in the concrete where they hit, and a few were getting dangerously close to me.

I took a step back, cautiously raising my hands. “T-this wasn’t me, Stump. Surely that’s obvious.”

“Well, I’m at a bit of a loss for who else it could be!”

Despite myself, I found I was getting a little pissed. “Oh, so I suddenly have shadow-teleportation now? Which is totally in-line with the rest of my powers, and I kept completely hidden up until now, just to disappear some criminals after we beat them up?! Yeah, that makes sense!”

“Aaaghh! You al-” he stilled, cutting himself off. There was an audible deep breath, and then the branches sagged and began retracting. They twisted and writhed, pulling back in, until it was the eight-foot tall human figure standing there instead. Apart from the lack of genitalia and the blank mask of a face, it was remarkably accurate: it didn’t look like a man made it of wood so much as a person with incredibly realistic body paint. A very tall, very muscular, person.

One word out of you and I will not be able to be held responsible for my actions. One. Word.

Wisely, my inner voice decided to stay silent.

Stump sighed, resting his head on one hand. “Look, I’m sorry. I was still worked up from the fight. But you obviously know something about this that I don’t, and you need to tell me, right now.”

I pursed my lips. “Fine,” I said at last, “apology accepted. And I can do better than tell you. I can show you.” I pulled out my phone and loaded up the video I’d taken. “Here.” He came to stand behind my shoulder, peering down at the phone, and I tried to ignore how close he was standing.

The video started a few seconds after the man had appeared, and took another second to stabilize. As soon as it did, Stump leaned down further, and I had to move out of the way. “I know that man,” he said slowly. “I don’t know from where, but I’ve definitely seen him before.” I glanced over at him, but he seemed too engrossed in the video to notice. Could the man have been working for the Tower? Were they… playing both sides of this conflict? And if so, did Stump know about it, or was he just as clueless as me?

I’d filmed up to the point that Stump had come barreling in, including the man’s disappearance. When it ended, he stared at the blank screen for a moment. “He knew I was coming,” he said. “Did you know I was coming?”

“Not until just before you showed up.”

“But he knew a full ten seconds before…” A thought seemed to hit him. “If he was gone, how did he know when to pull them out? That must not have been shadow teleportation: it had to have been a shifter power. He was there the whole time!”

“Or,” I suggested, “he could’ve bugged the room. Or just teleported to just outside. Don’t go jumping to hasty conclusions, or you’ll give my high school science teacher a heart attack.” Not likely: Mr. Blakely was in his twenties and-
He snorted. “Not likely.” Wait, what? “But fine, you have a point.” He leant back, and I let out the breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. “So this… White Tie, he’s behind the Dresden Three- no, I guess it's Four now?”


“What we call those guys.  But he talked like he was representing a larger organization. And what was the datapad he was talking about?”

I shrugged. “Do you think I know any more about this than you do? Can you at least remember where you’d seen him before?”

“I think it might have been at some sort of administrative meeting, maybe?”

“So he works for the Tower, then?” My tone was accusatory, and he actually took a half-step back.

“I don’t… think so, no. I’m having trouble remembering: I think I was asleep for most of it.”


“I’m made of wood and have no face. You try and tell if I’m paying attention.”

“I dunno, I feel like body language would…” I shook my head. “Bleh. Getting off topic. So.” I spun around to inspect the room. Crates were strewn everywhere, there were scars and gashes in the concrete, as well as the eroded effect where Metalface's beam had hit, and there was actually a little dent where I think the blurry woman had hit the ground. “What happens now?”

“Well, first of all, I’m going to have to report that I managed to lose those four, which'll be fun. But, it should soften that blow if I can show them that video.” He held out a hand. “Gimme.”

I clenched my hand around it. “Umm, no. Definitely not. This is… you know, my phone. I’m not just going to give it to you. It’s got all my phone stuff on it.”

“And you brought it along with you out in costume?”

“Look,” I said irritably, “if I was good at thinking things through, I wouldn’t be here. Sorry, but this stays with me.”

“You know I could just take it, right?” His hand began unravelling slightly.

Instinctively, I ghosted. “Try it. I dare you.”

We stared each other down. Then he relaxed, his hand returning to its normal state. He didn’t have any way of telling, though, so I stayed intangible. Better safe than sorry.

“Fine. But my bosses really need to see that video. It’s important. So… could you maybe come and show it to them?”

I scoffed. “And have Fog try to freeze me to death again? I don’t think so.”

“I can get her to back off,” he assured. “Please just consider it. This is really important.”

My knee-jerk, gut reaction was to say no, and just poof right out of there. But I had to stop, and think it through. Going with my gut hadn’t exactly proven to be a sound idea these last few days. And this whole situation did seem like it really was a big deal. Me helping could be the difference that got the… Dresden Four arrested before they hurt anyone else. Besides, it’s not like I was really going to be there. If something went wrong, I could just poof out.

“Alright,” I decided, “I'll come. Take me to your leaders.”

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