Blades & Barriers: Chapter 38

                In the weeks since he’d started work in Port Valins, Brett had gotten to see many parts of the city. Aside from the business districts where he and Bloodfyre first patrolled, there were downtown hubs full of shopping and restaurants, art districts with street performers and local exhibits, waterfront areas for commercial and recreational services, and a dozen more other places he’d merely gotten glimpses of. Thanks to all that touring, he was familiar with the area where the hotel they arrived at was located. It was an uptown district, one with lots of quaint shops meant to draw in tourists and entice them into spending more than was truly prudent. Brett had not, however, been inside this particular building during his patrols.

The splendor of the lobby alone had nearly caused him to break rank with the others, staring wide-eyed at the crystal chandeliers and ornate touches that screamed opulence at every turn. When they reached the elevators, he expected things to become somewhat mundane, yet more well-cared for perfection was waiting for him. Whoever owned this hotel, the Marque de Conrad, had both a curious taste in names and a passion for excellence. As they made their way into the suite where the diplomats would meet them, Brett wondered just how much it must cost to rent out a space like this. Was the government footing the bill, or did United Avalon’s diplomats have unexpectedly deep pockets? It was an interesting thought, but not one he had much chance to ponder. Once they arrived, things started happening quickly.

Unseelie and Danny talked with a couple of waiting DVA agents while the rest of the team made themselves comfortable on the variety of couches and chairs provided. The DVA was handling building security and sweeping the block constantly in case Humanity First tried another bombing attempt. From what Brett could glean during snippets of eavesdropping, the DVA was tasked with watching over the diplomats’ lodging and other logistics while the Heroes were expected to guard their bodies. That was why there would always be at least two Heroes at one given time, one to shadow each of the diplomats.

The chat went on for a while, occasionally dipping into tones lower than Brett could make out, before the other DVA agents finally left the suite. While Brett kept an eye on the door, waiting for the agents to return or the diplomats to show up, he turned to Justin to make small talk.

                “Any guesses on what we’re in for?”

                Justin was watching the door as well, though his eyes occasionally wandered off to scan the rest of the room and windows as well. “From what I’ve been able to read, people report that interacting with Supers from United Avalon, at least the ones they choose as diplomats, is generally a nice experience. They’re very polite and rarely quick to anger, although that’s probably more out of necessity than some inherent disposition. They’re in a tenuous situation, and they know it, so they’re doing their best to stay on other nations’ good sides.”

                That was a bit of an understatement as far as Brett could see. The rest of breakfast had been spent getting briefed on the general global position of United Avalon, and it was an unstable one at best. While they did have a high number of Supers and leading-edge research, they were still just one country with a limited population. Between the revolution and being ruled by Supers, they’d painted a huge target on themselves that a lot of human leaders were ready to take aim at. No one knew for sure whether the fledgling nation had enough power to make up for their smaller numbers in a war, and United Avalon hadn’t been making any aggressive moves to try and find out. They were playing nice with the biggest countries, forging alliances wherever possible, and that had kept the smaller threats at bay so far. Whether it would actually last was anyone’s guess.

                “So your professional estimation for how the international diplomats will be is that they’ll act polite? Wow, you Subtlety guys really live up to the reputation.” Angela had wandered over, scooping up a soda from the table laden down with various refreshments. She winked at Justin, letting him know her jab was meant in fun, then took a seat on the arm-rest of the couch he and Brett were sitting on. “My money says they’re strong. Real damn strong. Not sure if you noticed this tidbit in the briefings, but in none of the attacks on a UA representative has a person from United Avalon actually been killed. They get a few injuries here and there at the most. The only people who’ve died have been bystanders or security, which means these diplomats must be able to hold their own.”

                “That wasn’t in Unseelie’s briefing, but it was in one of the congressional reports filed after the last bombing. And to date, there have only been three injuries on a UA representative, the worst of which required six stitches before a healer could arrive.” Judging by Justin’s grin, he wasn’t bothered in the slightest by her challenge. “Are you trying to show me up?”

                “Just curious how on the ball you were,” Angela replied. “I’ve fought Barrier, so I know his strengths. I’m still figuring out everything you bring to the table.”

                “If you ever want to see for yourself, I wouldn’t mind a practice match in the-”

                A burst of red light flooded the room, momentarily blinding them all and cutting off Justin before he could finish. When it cleared, they could see three new figures standing in the center of the suite. The first was the easiest to identify: a DVA agent with her hair pulled into a ponytail so tight it had to be giving her a headache. The other two weren’t quite so easily placed, however.

                If Brett had seen them on the street, he’d have never imagined them to be a country’s representatives. For one thing, they were barely older than him, maybe in their mid-to-late twenties at the oldest. They were also dressed far more simply than he’d expected, the woman wearing a white dress that ran nearly to the floor while the man wore a white button-down shirt and gray slacks. As Brett blinked away the last of the crimson light burst, he saw there was a matching gray jacket draped over the man’s arm, so apparently he at least had the option of looking more formal.

                “Good morning.” The woman stepped forward, her eyes sweeping the room as she took in all of its occupants. When she moved, Brett realized there was a slight, yet unmistakable, glow coming from her skin, one he’d thought was an after-effect of the teleportation light moments earlier. No chance of pretending she was human with a trait like that, not unless they bundled her from head to toe. “My name is Iliana Caras and the gentleman with me is Steven Petinos, but I would love it if you would please call us just Iliana and Steven. I find I have enough formality in my life without adding it between those that I hope will be friends.”

                Unseelie stepped forward, shaking Iliana’s hand then Steven’s. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both. My name is Unseelie, and this is my team. We’re honored to be chosen as your guards, and I promise we’re going to all we can to keep you safe during your visit.”

                “Thank you so kindly for the sentiment, though I dearly hope it won’t be necessary.” Iliana paused for a moment, letting out a delicate sigh. “However, given our previous experiences on these sorts of outings I fear it very well might be. I’m sorry for the disruption this must be causing to your city, Unseelie, and I will thank you for guarding us by handling this as expediently as possible.”

                “Don’t worry about us, it’s our job to keep people safe,” Unseelie assured her. “Now if the rest of my team would get over here, we can start doing some proper introductions.” She turned and stared at the rest of the Heroes, who quickly took the cue and headed over.

                Unseelie was not the sort of person one tended to keep waiting.