Doors 14-VI

There Is No Such Thing As Winning Or Losing.

I'd been expecting it, and it still came as a shock. Apparently, half of the Guardians were as surprised as I was. Stump and Instance had apparently been expecting it; the latter just smiled slightly, while the former… slumped slightly. Huh. Thrust and Chain, who I was getting the impression didn't involve themselves in most discussions, just seemed slightly nonplussed. The biggest reaction was, of course, Fog. The temperature in the room instantly dropped by a few degrees as ice armor snapped into being around her limbs, and the table shook as she slammed her hands down on it.

“Absolutely fucking not!” she snarled. The temperature spiked even lower, and roiling, sickly vapor began spilling out of her hands and the gaps in her armor, as well as from underneath her dress. I faded out, which turned out to be a good idea when tendrils began wrapping around me and pooling at my feet. “You do not just get to fuckin’ waltz in here-”

The temperature drop suddenly halted as the lighting in the room changed. Ghostly flames, looking more like slaves of ethereal paint than real fire, spun in the air around Comet, quickly gathering in intensity. Even from the opposite end of the table, I could feel the heat, counteracting the cold Fog was generating, and burning away the moisture. Stump, sitting next to her, leant away uncomfortably, but Instance, on the other side, seemed unperturbed.

The leader of the Guardians said nothing, but the intensity of the stare she directed at her teammate was nearly burning as the flames. Fog met it initially, her burning rage against Comet's icy stare. Honestly, it felt like they should have had each other's powers, based on their personalities. It was a silly thought, of course; personalities and powers didn't correlate.

Quickly, it became apparent it was a losing battle for Fog. Her bluster quickly ran thin under the other woman’s steady iciness, and the heat had burned away her fog, melting the icy armor and drenching her dress. With a disdainful snort, she broke eye contact, dismissing the last few strands of her power.

Comet nodded, once, and the aura around her disappeared, returning the room to its previous temperature. “We will discuss this,” she snapped curtly, “later. If this was not important, I would send you away and be done with it.” Fog folded her arms and stared at the wall, pointedly avoiding looking at either of us. “Again, Wisp, I apologize.”

“'s okay,” I replied after a moment. “No harm done.” The power dynamics here were… confusing. Comet seemed to command quite a bit of respect, or authority. It was enough that Fog listened to her and backed down, but it didn't stop her from 'acting out’ in the first place. “I sort of understand where she's coming from, though.”

Comet nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps I should clarify, then. I am not offering you a place on this team. It is not even strictly within my power to do so.”

I'm not going to lie, my heart sank a little. I didn't even really want to join the Guardians… I think. My feelings on the matter were kind of confused and conflicting. But being told that you were wanted, important, and then having it taken away, still created a bit of emotional whiplash. “Oh,” I said as neutrally as I could.

“However,” she continued, “your status as an unregistered, while illegal, can prove useful in certain circumstances. And the Tower has, on previous occasions, established… working relationships with such figures.”

“Ah.” I tried to drag the syllable out as far as I could. “So you want to take advantage of me.” It came out sharper than I'd intended, but after a second's consideration, that might not have been a bad thing.

She shrugged one shoulder. “Essentially, yes.” Huh. I...hadn't expected her to just admit it. “But you would also be taking advantage of us. That is how most working relationships go. Stump has told me you are already pursuing the Dresden Four with a vengeance. All I would ask is that you also investigate this agent of the DoM while you do so.”

“I'm not exactly much of an investigator.”

She waved a hand. “Not the best choice of words. Perhaps pursue, then. And in return, we can provide you with surreptitious aid while we do the same from our side.”

“And what would that consist of?”

“Information. Perhaps physical aid if the situation calls for it. More minds to work an issue.”

“Hmm.” I considered it. “This doesn't seem very fair from your side. Which I'm guessing means there's probably something I'm not seeing.”

“I can see why you might think that,” she acknowledged. “However, from our side, it is simply a question of resources. Between this, the Outliers, and… other issues, we are stretched thin.” I didn't miss the significant pause there. “Having an independent agent, one perhaps not as restricted as ourselves, frees up our own ability to act. It also reduces the suspicion we may come under from the DoM.”

“I'm the scapegoat,” I said flatly.

Another shrug. “If you followed your current path, you would have ended up under their scrutiny anyway. Now you're aware of it, and have a safety net of sorts.”

“That… hmm. Fair.” I returned to solidity and leant one hand on the table, thinking. If there was a catch in this, I wasn't seeing it. I got everything I wanted, and some besides. And that made me suspicious. “I'll… think about it,” I said eventually. “No guarantees, but I'll think about it.” A thought occurred, and I snapped my fingers, the sound muffled by my gloves. “Oh, and don't do that 'you take the deal or we throw you in a cell' thing, please. It wouldn't work, and it'd be rude.” It sort of just slipped out without any conscious thought on my part, and I immediately blanched. “Uh- I mean, not that- ah-”

Stump sighed, resting his head in one hand, but Instance and Thrust both laughed, and I thought I could see a smile through the mostly opaque lense of Comet's helmet. “I assure you that we will not do that ‘thing’. Out of curiosity, though, why do you believe it wouldn't have worked?”

I tapped my foot, considering it. What had I told the Outliers again? Well, not 'told’ so much as 'let them extrapolate’. “I can teleport, sort of. It's not really controlled, though, and I have to sort of…” I grasped around for a plausible half-truth, “...set it up, first.”

“Density manipulation and limited teleportation?” she mused. “That is an unusual set of powers.”

I shrugged awkwardly. “It's not like I chose them.”

Stump snorted dryly. Oh right, I'd said that before. Whoopsies.

“Still,” Comet said, “I think if you mull over the details, you'll find that it is a good-”

A high-pitched buzzing, layered six times over, sounded out, cutting her off. A red light flashed at all of their wrists, except for Stump. Comet pulled back her sleeve to reveal a small, slick watch producing the light and the noise.

“What's happening?” I asked, alarmed.

“Someone,” she answered grimly, “is doing something very stupid.”

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