“Come on, Rain. Up and at em,” Gilpatrick called from my doorway.
I opened up my eyes and was immediately met with a face full of light shining in from the hallway. I let out a groan and rolled over to face away from the door.
“Ugh. I’ve changed my mind. Middle school is a waste of time, I’m staying home. I don’t care what the PRT says. I'm a grown-ass man, I don’t have to put up with this.”
I heard footsteps hit the wood floor behind me. With one quick movement Gilpatrick grabbed the corner of my comforter and pulled it off my bed.
“Cold,” I said.
“If you’re going to pull the grown man card then man up, Rain. School’s not that bad, you even get to skip out early because you’re a Ward.” Gilpatrick paused to sip his mug of coffee. “Back in my day we had to sit through the full eight hours at school, none of this half day nonsense.”
I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and sat myself up. I half-heartedly glared at Gilpatrick.
“This is bullshit, would you want to go through school a second time? Because I doubt it.”
“Well, unfortunately what we want is not the establishment's concern. You need to show up or the Youth Guard will be jumping down our throats right out the gate, so you're going to go. If it’s that big of a problem you should have thought about that before you decided to join the Wards. You agreed you would only skip when something important had to happen so don’t try to back out on that. Start getting ready and I’ll finish cooking up breakfast.” Gilpatrick didn’t stick around to argue with me so I settled for grumbling my discontent as I shuffled to the bathroom.
Once I had finished brushing my teeth and tidying my hair I went back into my room and started rifling through my closet, trying to decide what to wear for my school debut.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
I settled on a white t-shirt and a pair of dark jeans. Then threw a blue flannel on top and buttoned it up to about halfway before grabbing my new green jacket to finish the look. I stepped back into the bathroom and checked myself over in the mirror. I hadn’t committed any of the fashion ‘sins’ Chastity had drilled into my head so I must have looked alright. With that satisfied I headed downstairs.
As I made my way into the kitchen the first thing I noticed was the familiar smell of biscuits and gravy, an old favorite that had been hard to justify making on Gimel with supplies so low and meat so costly. It had been ages since that wonderful scent had graced my nose. I was so caught up in reminiscing it took me a while to notice there was music playing.
I had mentioned my lack of familiarity with most music and Gilpatrick had taken that as an excuse to play album after album for me to ‘refine my taste’. I recognized the singer’s voice from the car ride yesterday as he sang over a jaunty piano.
“More Jim?” I asked as I reached into the cabinet for a glass.
“Of course. Croce is a classic. He was, er, is rather, my father’s favorite singer.” Gilpatrick cringed at his slip up. His parents had passed during the first winter on Gimel and he was still adjusting to having them back.
“I spent my whole childhood listening to his music, so I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for his work. Do you want to listen to something else?” Gilpatrick asked.
“No, I like it. Some of his songs remind me of the sort of things Allie used to sing when she would play in her room,” I said.
Gilpatrick extended a plate loaded up with the good stuff and I took it eagerly as I sat down at the table and began tucking it away with gusto. I made it through about half the plate without saying a word before Gilpatrick saw fit to disrupt my heartfelt reunion.
“So, I take it you like the food?”
That snapped back my attention. I started to answer before I realized my mouth was full and settled for an enthusiastic nod.
“Good,” Gilpatrick said, holding back a chuckle at the look on my face. “I’ve got to head into the HQ to sort out the last of our paperwork. Try to not be miserable at school and don’t do anything I wouldn’t approve of. I’ll see you around noon.”
“Alright, see ya then,” I said before I dove back into breakfast.
Aside from the meal being really good, I did have to hurry if I didn’t want to miss the bus. I finished my food as quickly as I could before clearing my plate and making my way down into the basement. The room had come together quite nicely and was starting to feel like a suitable replacement for the old HQ, the only thing missing was my team.
Don’t think like that, they wanted out of the game so respect that. Even if you get them back, don't force this craziness on them.
My corkboard was already getting filled with ideas from a brief planning session I’d had yesterday once I’d finished working on my identity pitch—index cards, red string, and the occasional picture webbed out across about a third of the board covering all the intel I had on the Undersiders and their associates.
I probably knew more than anyone who wasn’t actually a part of the gang itself, but there were still some things that eluded me. The most frustrating for me among them was Cassie’s whereabouts—I was fairly sure she lived somewhere around the city—but I had no leads. It was selfish, but I was holding out hope I might be able to bring at least one of my friends back without traumatizing them, and she was the prime candidate.
I walked over to the bar that I’d been using for a desk and grabbed the folder with my designs in it. I’d be headed straight to the Protectorate HQ after school so I‘d have to bring them with me. After a quick check to ensure that I had everything I left the house and headed to my bus stop.
Fucking school. Such bullshit. I should have been a homeless vigilante. At least I wouldn’t be stuck in middle school.
Franklin Pierce Junior High School—a bit of a shithole. I’d rate it maybe two out of five. Not the worst school I’d ever seen, but that was more thanks to the Fallen’s low low standards than the school’s quality. The building was rough in a way that I didn’t think government owned buildings could even be pre-Gold Morning: lots of chipped tiles, damaged furniture, and small graffiti tags all over the place—overall the school looked like it had a severe aversion to maintenance. There were other small tells that the place was probably underfunded. The lockers were the old-school one tall door kind and the classrooms all still used chalkboards when even I knew those were getting phased out.
My first two classes—math and history respectively—went by without much fanfare. I had to go through the whole new student routine, but I had changed schools enough times growing up that it wasn’t unfamiliar to me. I spent most of the time keeping to myself, only answering when spoken to. Nothing against all the kids, but I wasn’t about to try and find friends there. My quota for friends in their early teens had been met quite thoroughly by Kenzie, Aiden, and the younger Heartbroken, and I had no desire to expand that list.
However, that changed rather quickly during roll call in English class: there was a name that stuck out to me.
“Aisha?” the teacher called.
Holy shit. Please be who I think it is.
I scanned across the classroom until I found her. Appearance-wise she definitely fit the bill. High cheekbones, dark eyes, and a purple highlight in her hair. There was no doubt about it, I was looking at Imp writ small.
On some level I wasn’t very surprised to run into her, We were around the same age and there were only so many schools in the city; there was no reason I wouldn’t be classmates with one of the people I knew. It still felt weird seeing someone other than me rewound back to childhood. It was different with Gilpatrick; five years meant far less to my impression of him compared to people my own age. Aisha was so much smaller than she should have been.
Ignoring the disconnect I was feeling, this could be important. No matter what, I now knew where a member of the Undersiders was and that was a lead I didn’t have before. Unfortunately it wasn’t something I could capitalize on yet. It would be a bad idea to try and bring her back now—aside from the passing out I had no idea if there were limits or complications to the power I wasn’t privy to.
The possibility that I misunderstood how it worked was the main reason finding Tattletale was so important. If I tried to bring someone back and wound up maiming them instead I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself. The only situation I’d risk it with was if Tattletale refused to tell me anything, and even that was only because I figured that if she wasn’t talking it meant I wasn’t likely to cut her in half when I tried—Tattletale had enough survival instincts to not play that sort of game… At least I hoped that was the case.
The watch token had reappeared with the others before I woke up on saturday morning—about a week after I brought Gilpatrick back—and it had continued to appear each night after that. I was feeling confident it would be sticking around until I used it again so there was no need to rush into it.
The bell rang, and I realized I’d spent all of english trying to figure out how I should try to approach her. Luckily, Aisha was in my Science class afterwards so I still had a shot. I was realizing that my social circle had mostly been formed by being stuck around the other Fallen kids growing up, or from people I had met through cape stuff, starting with the group therapy. Everyone after that had been through missions with the team. This led me to the unfortunate realization that I’d pretty much never made small talk that was relatable to non-capes. It was usually about the tinkering the Wardens let me get up to while I was on parole, and occasionally my job looting ruined buildings—nothing that would work for me here. My hobbies outside of all that consisted of being bad at cooking and trying to catch up with pop culture, since the cult I’d been raised in wasn’t big on cinema. It wasn’t until the end of class that I had decided on my angle of attack.
Well, Chastity never said Imp liked cooking, so movies it is I guess.
On the way out of class I stopped at her desk and asked her a question.
“Hey, do you know which way I need to go to find the cafeteria?”
Aisha let out a quiet sigh before turning to answer me.
“Alright, New Kid, follow me. I’m headed there anyways.”
“Thanks. I’m Rain by the way.”
I offered my hand for a handshake before almost immediately lowering it when I realized that might seem weird. Aisha had the good grace to not give me any shit over it and instead just introduced herself as we walked out of the classroom.
“Aisha. So ‘Rain’, huh? What's the deal with that? Are your parents hippies or some shit?”
I started to laugh but choked and had a brief coughing fit. The image of my parents being peace loving van dwellers was the last thing I would have imagined.
“Ah, no. That’s about as far as you could get from them actually,” I said.
“Weather fanatics then?” Aisha teased.
I weighed my options and decided I would tell her the truth; it could help me keep her interest. If I could manage to befriend her I would have a solid connection to the Undersiders, no time travel necessary. Besides, we were kinda friends before—if you could call our interactions friendly. She had mostly spent time poking fun at me, like when she started to call herself my future mother-in-law to embarrass me in front of Chastity. Mostly harmless stuff, and it had always seemed good natured.
“Rain o’ Fire.”
“Bless you,” Aisha snarked.
“It’s my full name,” I explained. “My parents were—I guess you could call them religious, but that kinda undersells it. They named me after the literal wrath of God.”
Aisha started laughing until she noticed I wasn’t joining her. She raised her eyebrows at me, her eyes slightly widened with surprise.
“You’re fucking with me right?”
“Nope, it’s as real as it gets. Genesis 19:24, they made sure I had it memorized.”
“Damn, sorry I asked about it,” Aisha said.
“It’s fine, it's not a secret or anything. I’ve been asked so many times that I’ve just about run out of fucks to give. Besides you don’t seem the type to make a huge thing of it.”
That was a lie of course. I knew she loved giving people shit, but sometimes expectations could nudge behavior. I had extended an olive branch from a vulnerable position and I had a feeling she wouldn’t punch down. Trying to manipulate her made me feel shitty though. I had been doing stuff like that a little too often lately and it was starting to weigh on me. I could try and blame it on the overall situation or experiences with my emotion power giving me a better understanding of how people tick, but the buck stopped with me and I wanted to be better than that. For now though, my need to make connections was beating out my conscience, so I would have to live with it for a while longer.
“Yeah, of course,” she said.
Aisha led us down a set of stairs and I could hear the dull roar of the cafeteria through the next set of doors. If I wanted to keep talking to her I’d have to take the initiative.
“Would it be cool if I sat with you? I haven't really talked with anyone else and sitting alone sucks.”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Thanks,” I said. There was no need to fake the relief in my voice.
I smiled at her before I set about finding the lunch line. Once I emerged with my food I looked around for Aisha’s table until I spotted her towards the back of the cafeteria. I took a deep breath before heading over.
Okay, Rain. You got a foot in the door, it’s showtime. Now keep it light. Talk about movies or some shit, don’t scare her off.
The rest of lunch went alright. I met Aisha’s school friends—a pack of troublemakers and class clowns—and I hadn’t been thrown out or done anything weird so I figured I didn’t fuck up too badly. I even got a few movie recommendations worth checking out. Aisha and I exchanged phone numbers by the end of it so things had gone better than expected.
Once the bell rang I had to find the car that would take me to Protectorate HQ. I was pretty lost until a voice rang out over the school’s tinny intercom.
“Rain Frazier to the front office.”
My driver must have taken the initiative to find me. Now that I knew where to go I made my way over. I arrived at the office and found a woman dressed in what I was starting to imagine was the PRT’s dress code when they weren’t expecting combat—Slacks, a button up blouse, and a windbreaker. This time the PRT affiliation wasn’t hidden though, the acronym was written across her back in bold print for all to see.
“Sorry I’m late, I still haven’t figured out the layout here so I wasn’t sure where I’d find you. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting long.”
“Just be sure to not make a habit of it. No need to mess with such a good opportunity. These internships are rare and I’m sure there’s a dozen other kids who would be interested in taking your spot from under you,” she responded brusquely.
“I’ll be sure to be on time going forward ma’am,” I acknowledged.
She led me out of the building to a nondescript sedan. It took around 15 minutes to get from the school to the bridge that led across the bay to the Protectorate HQ. I took in the sight as we drove towards it.
The base was striking. Since it had been built on a platform the only way for them to expand was to build up, and they had certainly embraced that—the whole base looked like they had cut a block out of downtown and thrown it into the bay, covered it in as many supports as was possible, then slapped a forcefield on top of everything to make sure no one mistook it for somewhere vulnerable. It was as impressive as it looked; excessive for a team of fewer than ten people.
My escort offered me a mask that would have covered the top half of my face.
“Is there anyone not affiliated with the PRT here?” I asked.
“Shouldn’t be,” she said.
“Then I’m all set,” I said. I’d never maintained a secret identity before and I didn’t have anything to protect so it seemed a little silly to start now.
We exited the car and made our way inside the main building. My escort guided me through the compound towards the conference room I was meant to meet the Image department at.
It was almost funny how attached I was to still being Precipice. When I had chosen the name it hadn’t been one I was very pleased with, only the best among bad options. At some point those feelings changed; I wasn’t sure if I could put a finger on exactly when it had shifted. It was probably around when I had met the Heartbroken kids and Aiden—him especially. There was something about how they would talk to me that helped me feel like Precipice was more than just a codename. When they said it, it had sounded like the name of a hero.
I wasn’t about to give that up, so I had to show up with an ironclad concept that the Image department wouldn’t be able to refuse. Luckily I had an upper hand in in this fight—my costume’s design. I’d had a hard time getting the costume right when I started out, and after all of the changes I made the only things that stayed consistent were the hood and mask, and even that had seen a significant redesign.
I could still remember when I had thought I’d found a decent theme with a circuit board look and Ashley dashed my notions with a single word. I hadn’t even known its meaning at the time, but her dismissive tone said it all. Later that evening I was left sputtering over the dictionary as I realized that when she called my designs ‘puerile’ she had meant my ideas were childish. She had offered to help after she had said it, and Vic helped out too after trying to lessen the blow, but Ashley’s comment had cut far deeper than I think she’d meant for it to.
From then on I cared far more about making sure my costume was the best it could be. I took in every criticism and kept reworking it until no one I shared my design with was able to find fault in it. By the time I had finished, it was something I could wear with the confidence that I actually looked like the hero I was trying to be. When it came right down to it, the costume had become important to me. I’d faced the Titanomachy in it, I’d beat Mama Mathers and Valefor in it, I had cut the Simurgh in half in it—nobody was going to take it from me.
So why the fuck am I so nervous?
I took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the conference room. Gilpatrick and a man with blond slicked-back hair were huddled over a laptop. I could hear another voice coming from the laptop itself imperiously shooting something down.
“So, do you tailor things to custom specifications?”
“No, though I’d note that's not what we had in mind with the name,” Gilpatrick answered.
It was subtle, but he sounded slightly annoyed. He was doing a good job holding it back, I was only able to tell due to familiarity rather than any obvious behaviors.
“Your costume design begs to differ with its suit motif—no. Minute-man only sounds like he shrinks until you put him in a tricorn hat.” The laptop continued to tear his proposal apart. “I understand that the power is more abstract, but that's no excuse for laziness in the designs—I expect better work from you, Malcolm. I’m vetoing Bespoke.”
I reached the table and pulled out a rolling chair, and gave a wave to Gilpatrick as I sat down. He nodded at me in return with a pained smile on his face. The blond man—who I assumed was named Malcolm—noticed my arrival.
“Sir, the other cape is here. Should I call you back when we have both designs?” He sounded hopeful but that didn’t last long.
“No, I don’t think so. This name is a bit of a hard nut to crack and I want to see if you can make this work. Besides the other is a Ward isn’t he?” Malcolm nodded. “Then I may as well stay and make sure this goes right, I haven’t forgotten your department's incident back in ‘09. We can’t have another Clockblocker on our hands.”
I decided that was as good a cue as I could ask for. I needed to cut in now before this got away from me.
“I wouldn’t worry about me too much. It’s already sorted—the only thing left to do is get me to the tailors.”
Gilpatrick wheeled his chair away from the table and grinned at me.
“Don’t be shy. We have the head of Image on the horn, come introduce yourself,” Gilpatrick said, sounding only a little smug on my behalf.
I slid my chair into Gilpatrick’s old spot and subsequently the camera's view. On the screen there was a pudgy guy with his hair gelled up into some kind of mohawk. He was wearing a shirt so gaudy it could have given my turtle shirt a run for its money in the awfulness department.
“Call me Precipice,” I said with as much bravado as I could muster.
“No. But you can call me Glenn.”
“Cold,” I noted for the second time that day. “But lucky for me, Glenn, I’m not asking”—I held up my folder—“I’m dictating.”
And with that I burned the last of my prepared lines for the meeting.
“Ooh, I suppose you have my attention. Malcolm, go over the other designs for a moment. I’ve reviewed the names and you already had one that’s perfect in there, so sort it out yourself and remind me why I hired you. I’ll see what’s got the boy so confident.”
Malcolm nodded and began clearing papers away from a section of the table with a camera situated a couple feet above its surface. Once it was clear I moved over to it, opened my folder and pulled out the designs for my costume and laid them across the table. One was a more artistic design showcasing how I planned for it to look overall, the others was more akin to blueprints and were spread across multiple pages. Glenn looked them over for a moment.
“No hood,” was the first of Glenn’s objections.
“Why not? Look at the blueprints, there’s a wire frame on the inside to keep it from obstructing my view and ensure it sits right. It won’t look stupid or anything.”
“They give the impression the hero wearing it is hiding something. Hoods say ‘back alley deal’ more than they say hero and it’s bad enough Shadow Stalker still has one.”
“If hoods are good enough for Eidolon I think they’re good enough for me. Besides, it keeps water away from my electronics if there’s a storm and it hides the mask’s release latch on my helmet. It’s not only an aesthetic decision, there's functions attached. It’s not like it’s a liability in a fight.”
“There is more to a costume than what works in a fight, it's also a key part of your presentation to the public. I like the thought you’ve put into it, so the hood can stay, but you’ve got to get rid of the crack designs. They imply that you’re breakable, and that isn’t something you want to put out there in this line of work. I can already see the headlines about us putting fragile youths into harm's way. And if villains subconsciously decide you are the softest target because of them things could get messy,” Glenn said.
That point had some merit to it—if you believed I was a cape with no experience—but considering I had seen more combat than could be expected of any Ward I wasn’t too concerned with the idea that it might paint a target on me. I actually would feel better about it; by gunning for me the villains wouldn’t be aiming for the others. Unfortunately I doubted that was the kind of answer that would encourage them to let me do what I wanted so I opted for the more technical route.
“The detailing is two fold. It’s designed to serve as a kind of symbol for me—things I hit with my blades look similar to that and it could be useful for unifying branding and merchandise—and it also lures strikes to those areas.” I wasn’t about to let this guy take my motif from me because he thinks I’m weak, so it was time to bullshit. “The cracks are in the designs my power gives me, they might not be able to be removed so I was trying to get something out of them. The mask and arms are designed so that they can be booby trapped. I just need to know what sort of things I can put in there since I’m pretty sure you won’t let me fill them with knives.”
Glenn nodded his head and then he spoke.
“Knives are problematic. I’ll leave the kind of traps you can use to Armsmaster’s discretion, he should know the appropriate levels of force and be able to help you figure out how to implement them. Don’t get too attached to the idea—if you get injured the Youth Guard may make us change it.”
“That’s fair enough,” I said.
“While on the topic of injury I would be remiss if I didn’t fix this. You need more armor. Covering your kidneys and shoulders is all well and good, but most of your important organs live in your chest which you have decided not to shield. You need something to protect your center of mass. It could be a breastplate or something you wear underneath if you want it to be subtle, but protecting your core is non negotiable. The other Wards have similar protection and you aren’t skipping it. I refuse to let some punk with a handgun have the ability to end your career.”
The way Glenn said it was condescending but I couldn’t disagree with his assessment. The absence of armor was a holdover from my old lack of resources and I hadn’t thought to change it. I had one concern, but I was sure something could be figured out.
“How light can I make the armor?” I asked. “My power is limited by how fast I can get myself moving so I can’t be too weighed down. No point in armoring up if all it does is get me hit more.”
“It would only be a few extra pounds, nothing that would affect you in a meaningful way. Even Vista wears more armor than you have in your design so I’m sure you’ll manage,” Glenn told me.
I waited for Glenn to have another issue, but instead he surprised me.
“So long as you do that the costume is fine,” he said.
I felt a moment of relief, but Glenn wasn’t done quite yet.
“Well, your designs are more sensible than I would have expected from someone your age, I’m impressed. So I’ll let you explain your case, why ‘Precipice’? I have your file open and I don’t see the connection to your powers.”
I couldn’t very well tell him it was sentimental so I figured I’d share my original reasons. They were lackluster, but at least I could actually explain them.
“The main reason isn’t really power related, it’s more personal. If you have my file I assume you’ve seen my background and what I’ve already told PRT staff. I chose Precipice because when I triggered it felt like every single thing I had ever done wrong was a step I took leading myself closer to a ledge and one more step would take me past the point of no return. I chose the name to remind myself how precarious my situation is—a constant reminder to be better.
“If you want to be surface level, my emotion power creates a similar feeling in other people. And with my mover power I am actually really suited to fighting in areas with ledges and large falls since I could just use the energy to shoot right back up, and I’m not likely to get hurt since I can stop all of my movement. But that isn’t really an important factor for the name.”
Glenn was quiet for a moment as he took that in. I started rifling through my folder for the merch designs I had made just so I had something to do with my hands. Finally Glenn broke his silence.
“Could you tell that to the public? Would you be willing to put something that personal out there?”
That gave me some pause, but I wanted this so I knew the answer I had to give.
“Yeah, I guess I could. I’d need to be asked about it directly, but I wouldn’t be unwilling to share that.”
Besides, they may wind up not asking any questions. Names can take on their own meaning if you let them.
“Then I will permit it,” he told me.
“It’s better than half the names in your department anyways,” he added under his breath. “Speaking of—Malcolm, which name was it?”
The man started when his name was called, but quickly reigned in his surprise before answering.
“It’s Evince isn’t it?” Malcolm questioned back.
Glenn clapped his hands together as he spoke.
“There you are. It’s a perfect fit to the power, and it doesn't have any nonsense that you have to incorporate. None of this tacked on theming you were messing around with earlier.” Glenn returned his attention to me. “ Precipice here is just about sorted so I will be able to help you wrap up the costume situation for Evince.”
“One thing before you move on,” I said. “For merch and stuff like that, can I sell designs for you guys to use? I could use the money and I’ve kinda got a lot of stuff ready for it.”
“Leave the designs with Malcolm. I'll have him send me some copies. He will get back to you if we want to use any of them. Ward designed merchandise typically goes over well with the public. If that’s all I will set you loose and have Armsmaster come get you so he can explain the Protectorate’s rules about tinkering to you,” Glenn said as I heard him typing over the video call.
“Holy sh-” I stopped myself when I saw the change in Glenn’s expression. “Isn’t that kinda overkill?”
“You’re a Ward under his command, so no. The whole point of the Wards is to be mentored by more experienced heroes, and since Armsmaster is one of them it is explicitly his job to help you. Don’t be afraid to go to him for help or advice when necessary, especially since he is the only tinker on the ENE team. He is there to be a resource for your growth, so you would be wise to make use of that.”
A sound played over the laptop's speaker and I could see Glenn’s eyes move as he read a message.
“He is on his way up and will be here in a minute. He asked for you to meet him at the elevator,” Glenn told me. I knew a dismissal when I heard one, so I nodded and put my designs back into the folder before handing them off to Malcolm.
“Thank you for your time,” I said awkwardly. “And I guess I’ll catch up with you later, Evince.”
Gilpatrick hesitated a moment before he connected the dots with his new name and answered me.
“I’ll come find you as soon as I’m all set here.”
I threw him a thumbs up and headed into the hallway. I made it to the elevator doors just before they opened, and I got my first look at Armsmaster. I‘d never met him— Uncle Matt had said he was one of the people who died to Leviathan and the government was covering it up. A little bit out there, but I’d never heard of him after that so maybe he’d been right about that. Still, there was something familiar about him I couldn’t quite place. Maybe it was the armor?
“Armsmaster, sir, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
I extended my hand which he accepted with a single firm shake.
“Image told me you’re going by Precipice, good to meet you too. Now come on, let’s get down to the lab, I’m sure you have questions and I have a few of my own,” he said.
His voice is familiar too. Have I met this guy?