My name is Robyn Joan Clarke. My father is Doctor Isaac Clarke, and my mother is Janet Gertrude. I never understood why she kept her maiden name, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I had an older brother, David, but he died a while back.
I sat on top of a skyscraper, not far from the entrance to the sewer the Paladins had dived into. I had a good angle from here, and could see everything clearly with my binoculars. But at forty floors up, no one would notice me unless they were looking very hard.
It had been over four hours, and I was starting to get worried. Cell service was virtually impossible to get in the sewers; you’d need to be right next to an opening to the surface to get any reception. For all I knew, they could all be dead by now. But Derek and Akane were experienced dungeon-delvers, and Laura had a keen sense of direction. They should all be fine.
I’ll admit I was a bit worried about Adam and Ling, though for different reasons. Adam could handle himself in a fight; disturbingly well, in fact. But if they ran into a singer, it was all over for him.
Ling, on the other hand, was not a fighter. Oh, she did well enough against the screamers, but they were so stupid they hardly counted. The kind of monsters you ran into in sewers would take more than a few improvised soccer tricks to kill.
My headset chirped with the real MC’s voice. “Robyn? You there?”
I tapped the device to activate it. “Yes, what is it?”
“Long story. Short version: Lizzy came out of the sewers two miles northwest. Find her, follow her, don’t let her see you.”
The eye screen on my headset lit up with a map and a destination marker, indeed a little over two miles away from my current position. I guess the lair was just a lot further underground than they thought.
I frowned though, disturbed at the unspoken implications of MC’s statement. If I wasn’t supposed to be seen by Lizzy, that almost certainly meant she was a sleeper, and anything she heard or saw would be reported back to the Composer.
That was by far the worst case scenario. I wasn’t the greatest of friends with her, but I still didn’t want to see her brainwashed and forced to spy on the people she cared about.
I shook me head to clear it. That was something to worry about later. Every minute I delayed, the girl got farther away. The sun was already beginning to sink towards the horizon; once night fell, I’d have a hard time finding her.
“Robyn Joan Clarke,” a voice called from behind me.
Surprised, I turned to see…Obould, the orc Power, standing next to the stairwell. Huh. That was strange; he normally preferred to stay home in his lab. He looked serious, more so than I had ever seen him.
“Honored Devil,” I said smoothly, while racking my brain for a way out of this situation without revealing too much. “Wonderful to see you again. Ah…what are you doing up here?”
He met my gaze evenly. “Don’t follow her, Honored Paladin.”
I cocked my head in what I’m sure looked like a genuine gesture of confusion. “Follow who?”
“Elizabeth Greene. She is the Composer.” He frowned. “Or…she is possessed by the Composer. I’m not clear on that.”
This time I didn’t have to fake being skeptical. “Lizzy? The Composer? Where’d you get that idea?”
“I began suspecting a few weeks ago, when Adam failed to get her blood sample,” he admitted. “That’s when I realized she is significantly more careful about her words around Laura—almost as if she knew about her ability.” He shrugged. “And it was confirmed when I overheard the other Paladins telling MC.”
I blinked. “You overheard them? How?”
He grinned, baring his fangs. “I hacked the network.”
“YOU WHAT?” MC shrieked in my ear. I had to rip the headpiece off to avoid being deafened, but she managed to switch it to speaker mode remotely. “When the hell did that happen?”
“Well,” Obould mused. “Most of it was Garona, with some help from Veronica and me. It was a group effort, really.”
“HOW DID YOU HACK MY NETWORK?”
Even though he was wearing daygoggles, I could tell the orc was rolling his eyes. “Calm down. Garona snuck into the Cathedral. With a hardline, she was able to upload a hack we wrote, and suborn one of your spy programs.”
The ‘sarian hacker cursed under her breath. “Which one? LS0099827? I’ll bet it was her, she’s been glitching on me for months…”
Obould cleaned his tooth with his tongue, thinking. “It was…I’m not sure. Little Sister…17? No, it ended in a nine. Anyway, it was five years ago, right when you were starting up. It’s been there for a long time.”
There was a long, long pause, and I could easily imagine MC taking deep breaths and counting to ten. “Okay, I need to know exactly what this hack does.”
The orc shrugged. “Garona will have to tell you. I didn’t contribute much.”
“You can do all this later,” I pointed out. “Right now, I have to go find Lizzy.” Despite what Obould had said, I was still skeptical about her status. Lizzy, the Composer? It just seemed too silly. Besides, it’s not like I was going to walk up to her and ask.
“No, Robyn, you can’t,” the warlord insisted, stepping forward and grabbing my arm. “She’s extremely dangerous, and we know too little about her powers.”
I shrugged him off. “This isn’t my first rodeo, Knight Obould.” I didn’t like how familiar he was getting. Really, we only knew each other peripherally. “I’ve been scouting for MC since this whole thing started.” I snorted as the pieces fell into place. “Of course, you already know that.”
He shrugged a little helplessly. “Well…yes. Although I don’t quite understand why you never told the others.”
I just glared at him. “Didn’t see the need.”
He rubbed his horns and sighed. “Look…I realize I can’t actually physically stop you. But you’d have enough trouble finding her during the day. By the time you get over there, it will be dark, and she’ll be in a perfect position to ambush you.”
“I can take care of myself. Even at night.”
“Really?” he cocked his head. “I thought those red eyes were just cosmos.”
He was right, of course. My eyes—and my hair, for that matter—were colored red, but were not improved in any way. I was as nightblind as any other baseline.
But I had gone to far to back down now. And besides, we really did need intel on Lizzy or the Composer or whoever.
Obould could clearly see the determination in my eyes, so he just shook his head. “I give up. MC, help me out here?”
“One sec,” she muttered in an annoyed tone. “I’m yelling at your sister-in-law.”
I tossed the orc the headset, and he caught it in reflex.
“Don’t follow me, Honored Devil,” I advised, as I stepped backwards off the roof of the building. “I’m a little better at this than you.”
I only fell a few feet before I activated my power, reversing gravity for me and me alone. Suddenly I wasn’t falling down anymore, but rather up, head angled towards Lizzy’s last known location. As I rose, I slipped on the gas mask she had bought me recently. It was designed for…well, gas, but it worked pretty well for high-altitudes as well.
Once I was above the clouds and comfortably away from prying eyes, I changed my angle to be almost completely horizontal. I also increased my speed, simply by stacking a few more gravities on me, making me ‘fall’ faster in the direction I desired. My reservoir depleted very slowly; I had enough for a little over an hour at this speed.
I knew most of the others had wondered why they had gotten their particular powers. Not Derek, of course—it was perfectly obvious why he got the power to protect people. But the others were more confused. What did Laura have to do with lies, or Akane with superspeed, or Ling with controlling earth and stone? You could see reasons for them if you squinted, but still, it was odd.
Me, I was confused as to why everyone didn’t get flight.
Flying is the most exhilarating experience in the world. I’ve known that ever since I was a kid, when I snuck onto one of the airplane sims at the aerospace museum. It was primitive and clunky, but I went there every single day, at least until it burned down in a gang war.
But flying without a plane…with nothing between you and the air, seeing the clouds unfold beneath you like a white ocean…well. I could understand why the aves were going to such great lengths to get wings.
Obould had asked me why I hadn’t told the others I was like them. I had lied. I had a reason; a very simple, very selfish one.
I wanted to keep flying for as long as I could. I wanted to feel empty air around me, taste the wind through my hair. I knew that when they eventually found out, I wouldn’t be MC’s mysteriously competent scout anymore. I would be a Paladin, with all the duties and responsibilities that implied.
Is it any wonder I chose flying over that?
Behind the Scenes (scene 109)
And now we finally meet the fifth intended Paladin.