Blades & Barriers: Chapter 22

                Angela loved being on the Wayward Wraiths. She respected Unseelie, genuinely liked the other Heroes, and believed in the methods they employed for team dynamics and strategy. There was only one real complaint she had, and it wasn’t even with the team itself, it was with DVA regulations. Interns, being considered still “in-training” as Heroes, weren’t allowed to work without their mentor either directly overseeing them or coordinating their activities. The rule did make sense, she could imagine more than a few overly confident gung-ho candidates bolting off into danger during their first year in the field. All the same, she still disliked it, because it meant that on days like this one she was stuck on the bench.

                The upside was that the rest of the gym, outside the combat cells, was wide open for her to use. Sometimes it was nice to squeeze in a workout day here and there, however two in a row felt excessive. Training had been well and good when she was young, or in the HCP, but now that she’d tasted real Hero work training seemed a poor substitution. None of that changed the fact that Brett and Justin needed to go through proper assessments, which was why she hadn’t voiced any complaints when Unseelie had given her the rundown for the day that morning. It was the smart call, and Angela understood that. She was just annoyed by it.

                Reaching over, Angela turned up the treadmill’s incline by a few more degrees. During the longer days in the field she’d felt weariness in her legs more than anywhere else, so that’s the set of muscles she was spending the most energy strengthening for now. After the cardio there would be more target practice and dexterity exercises. Plus, if the timetables worked out and she was lucky, some evening sparring with Unseelie. Now there was a Hero who could fight. Angela would have plunked down every dime she had, pitiful an amount as that actually was, to watch Unseelie take on Professor Cole, the Weapons specialist at Lander who’d once gone by the name Seamstress. Given that Unseelie was in her prime she would probably emerge victorious, but it would still be a hell of a battle all the same.

                Part of Angela had been tempted to sit in and watch Brett and Justin go through their assessments, until she’d heard they were getting tested by Panic as well. Her relationship with Brett was already strained due to their fight at Intramurals; he didn’t need her with a ringside seat to the pants-shitting show. Having voluntarily been through that herself, both her armor and the giant dome she put around herself failing to stop Panic’s ability, Angela knew all too well what it felt like. Having teachers in the room would be bad enough; if someone he thought of as a rival was present too it could make things truly awkward, and that would be bad for teamwork. And anything bad for teamwork was bad for their safety.

                It was strange, being on this side of the equation. Growing up as the granddaughter of the first Hero, Captain Starlight, Angela had been immersed in the world of capes and battle from the moment she drew her first breath. By the time she hit her teens, she’d already lost count of the number of Hero funerals she’d been too. After a certain amount, the exact number failed to matter, really. Too much. Too many. That was what they’d lost. She didn’t want to be one of them, not for as long as she could possibly help it. So every time her grandfather took she and her younger brother, Shane, out for training, Angela absorbed every word and lesson. When he demanded three hours of work, she put in five. When she was told to analyze a hypothetical power and think of four ways to beat it, she wrung her mind to come up with eight. When she was told to try, she fought to win. Because even if no one had said it out loud, Angela had seen too much not to internalize a hard truth of the Hero world: strength was the one thing that would keep her alive to see the next day. Hers, and her team’s.

                That had been a big factor in why she was so gung-ho to join the Wayward Wraiths. In terms of both combat skill and battle efficiency, they were incredible. Not as flashy as some of the teams with heavy hitters or showy abilities, it was hard to match the spectacle that Elemental Fury put on when Gale hit a whole block with buffeting winds, but they worked smart and precise. That was far more important to Angela than prestige, although she didn’t hate the fact that they had a solid reputation nationally and a lot of respect in Port Valins. All in all, it was a good fit for her, and she’d been excited to meet Justin since she first heard about his arrival.

                Brett had been a surprise, though. A surprise… and a complication. His power was strong, she’d seen that firsthand, and he took the job seriously. He was a little anxious, but that was to be expected of someone who was still shaking off their first serious loss, especially with the prospect of real field work looming over him. She’d much rather someone with a case of nerves than a dumbass too foolhardy to know they should be scared. No, Brett as a Super was fine. The issue was with their history.

                If only that damn match hadn’t come with so much pressure and expectation built in. Had it been just another pair of students from different schools squaring off, they could have shaken hands and walked away without issue. Even if it were still the final bout, things wouldn’t have been so bad. But no, they’d both walked in undefeated among their peers, and she’d been the one to hang on to that title. Having to work alongside the person who’d ruined his perfect record and shaken his confidence only a handful of weeks after it had happened was going to be tough for him. Angela had tried to play the role of the wise and affable fellow intern to put him at ease, but she wasn’t sure that was really working. And she needed to find a way to dispel the tension between them.

                It didn’t matter if Brett liked her on a personal level, or if he hated her with a passion that would outlast the sun. What did matter was that he trusted her in the field. Angela and Unseelie were of a like mind in that regard. Being raised around Heroes, she’d listened to their tales, the ones meant for children and the ones she’d snuck around to overhear, and she understood in a way few her age did, or even could, how much the team would be relying on one another when shit hit the fan. If there was too much space between them, if he hesitated in the wrong moment, it could be a mistake whose toll was paid in blood.

                The treadmill was squeaking, so Angela slowed the pace down and lowered the incline. It was about time to switch up training. As for Brett, she still hadn’t quite figured out the right way to handle him. For the time being, she’d stick with her current approach and see if she could make headway. The real test would be once they were out there together in costume, doing the real Hero work. That was when she’d see just how much of an issue their history was going to be, and hopefully find a path to get through it.

                Thankfully, she wouldn’t have to wait for long. Once the assessments were done, they’d probably be out in the field by the next day. They couldn’t afford to spend too much time away. Port Valins was a rough city, and it needed its Heroes.

                So she would be there, golden and gleaming and prepared to do whatever was necessary to see the job handled and her team kept safe. Even if it meant washing more crimson stains from her costume.