Blades & Barriers: Chapter 32

                Barrier was surprised how quickly the DVA agents managed to get every defeated criminal secured and transported out of the wharf. Clearly, it was an art that the Department of Variant Humans had honed and refined to near-perfect precision, and that effort showed in their efficiency. Within fifteen minutes of the fight ending everyone who wasn’t wearing a mask had been slapped into some manner of restraint device, with the more dangerous ones being teleported out while the lower-risk threats were piled into vans.

                Stranger than the reaction speed, however, was the overall demeanor of everyone present. Barrier’s whole body was tingling with adrenaline, yet most everyone else seemed stoic, even a little bored at times, by the prospect of taking down an entire gang of Supers. He marveled at that as he watched the criminals being loaded and processed, taking note of the way Bloodfyre relayed who had and hadn’t surrendered to a DVA agent who scribbled the notes onto a clipboard.

                “They’re getting a lot of these.”

                The voice didn’t make him jump, he was too well-trained for that, but Barrier did glance over his shoulder to find Charon standing there. She gleamed in the early afternoon sunlight, shining bright for all to see. He wasn’t even sure he’d seen her costume outside the armor; it was definitely her favorite look, and for good reason. Just like Unseelie had commanded him to keep a shield up at all times, she was almost certainly under similar orders.

                “A lot of what?” Barrier asked. He still watched the proceedings carefully, but his curiosity was too strong to ignore Charon entirely. Plus, they were teammates, so there was no good reason to give her the cold shoulder.

                “A lot of gangs.” Charon stepped closer, coming right to Barrier’s side. “You were wondering why everyone seems so chill about a big gang fight breaking out in public like this, right?”

                Barrier nodded. “How’d you know?”

                “Because it’s the obvious question to ask, and you’ve never struck me as stupid,” Charon replied. “I wondered the same thing when I first started, so I talked to Unseelie about it. Turns out there’s a power vacuum in Port Valins these days. There were a few big bosses centralizing everything under their control, but an organized effort of the DVA, FBI, and local Heroes managed to get enough evidence to put them away. So now every upstart and Super with half a scrap of ambition is marshalling their forces to try and take the vacant territory.”

                That did explain a lot. Barrier had seen that the people they’d fought had some power, but few of them used any sort of teamwork or coordination. It had been a brawl, a mad scramble, the sort of fight one expected from strangers hurled together, not people who were used to working alongside one another. “How often do these things happen?”

                Charon shrugged, her armor rattling lightly as she did. “That we catch? I think one every two weeks was the last average Bayou had. But this is a big city, with tons of empty marshes and land outside the urban areas. They’ve found evidence of bloody fights that happened far enough away that nobody noticed. If there isn’t anyone to call the cops, then the cops can’t call the Heroes, and so on.”

                “I’m surprised I haven’t heard about this on the news.” Barrier had been reading a lot about Port Valins before heading over, and nothing like what she was describing had popped up. He’d have damn sure remembered something like that.

                “You’ve probably seen the fights get reported, but most of them are quick blurbs because they play out like this one. Crooks start some dumb shit, Heroes shut it down immediately. Not much out of the ordinary there, it’s only when you’ve got your boots on the ground and take into account the fights we don’t see that the pattern becomes obvious.” Charon stretched out her armored hand, and a circle of golden metal appeared in it. “There’s a void in this city, and right now it’s a tug-of-war. Criminals trying to fill it, Heroes and cops trying to keep it empty.”

                “If all the fights go like this, then it seems like we’re doing well.” Barrier paused, looking at the large metal ring she was holding out. “But these aren’t the real threat, are they? We have to worry about the ones smart enough to actually make plans and work in the shadows, the idiots fighting in the streets are just something to clean up.”

                “See, what did I say? Not stupid at all.” She opened her hand and the metal ring dissolved into a brief, unexpectedly lovely, glow of light.

                Barrier glanced over to watch the advanced mind being helped into one of the vans. True to his word, the man in the green coat wasn’t resisting, not that he could have managed much of a fight with the finger-sized holes in his ankles. It would have taken incredible mental fortitude to fight through that pain, and the addition of the bulky collar the DVA had slapped on him was probably some sort of deterrent as well. Boss. The bald guy had called him Boss, but really he was just someone with a little power, a lot of ambition, and enough charisma to pull together other like-minded Supers. That made for a dangerous combination, sure, however it was the sort of danger that was obvious, like a truck speeding down a road toward you. Barrier had been through more than enough fights to know that it was the threats that took you by surprise that were often the most dangerous.

                “Do we have any sort of information on the people making moves covertly?” Barrier asked.

                “Here and there. Bayou has been cultivating contacts with some of the weaker elements of the criminal community. People, mostly humans, who don’t want to be caught up in the fights of beings stronger than them. From what he says, it’s been slow-going, but hey, maybe they’ll have pick up a few juicy tidbits while doing the United Avalon prep work and come back with good news tonight.”

                In all the commotion and chaos of the fight, Barrier had nearly forgotten that Bayou and Gunk weren’t with them. Well, Unseelie had said upfront that she wasn’t going to pull them off their assignment unless it was necessary, and that fight had been well-handled from start to finish. “Poor Gunk, he’s going to be sad he missed all the action.”

                Charon’s armored head turned more directly toward Barrier, and he realized she was staring at him from under it. “You didn’t have any friends in the Subtlety discipline, did you?”

                “Not especially,” Barrier admitted. “Why?”

                “It’s okay,” Charon said. “I didn’t either. But after talking with Bayou these past few weeks, I’ve learned one thing for sure: Subtlety Heroes very rarely have boring tasks. I imagine Gunk is having quite the first day on the job.”