Blades & Barriers: Chapter 46

                Angela kept things brief. Given the situation, that was the only real option she had in the first place. As concisely as possible, she summarized how it had felt when Iliana tapped into her abilities earlier, emphasizing that while she was sure Iliana was holding more energy than she was letting on, Angela didn’t actually know how that energy could be wielded. For all they knew, Iliana could just light up a whole city with her power and cause no ill-effects. She didn’t really believe that was all the diplomat was capable of, nor did Unseelie and Panic from the looks on their faces, but it seemed important to establish. This was a delicate situation, and there was no room for misunderstandings.

                “So she might be hiding a different aspect of her power, or she might just naturally take in more light than she lets out, leading to an energy surplus,” Unseelie said. It was her first remark since Angela started, as her attention had been primarily focused on the press conference. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened so far, Iliana and Steven were going through the history of their nation and the humanitarian need for their trip, however as their bodyguard Unseelie was keeping an eye out for even the slightest unexpected development. “It’s not exactly a lie. If a strongman tells you they have super-strength, but they don’t tell you their max-bench, that’s still them telling you the truth.”

                “Although if they were considered among the strongest of their kind, that might be the sort of detail we’d expect included. There’s a level of power where leaving it out is tantamount to deceit.” Panic’s attention was a bit more split than Unseelie’s, as she was also sweeping the area as a whole occasionally, scanning to see if anyone unauthorized was trying to slip in.

                “There’s a big difference between super-strength and making things glow,” Unseelie countered. “Yes, Iliana might have more martial aspects to her abilities than we expected, though even that is unconfirmed. Regardless, Charon’s report doesn’t immediately paint Iliana as a deceiver. It does, however, give us cause to be more cautious about how much of their story we take at face value. Between that and their strange specifications for the press conference, I think we can assume there’s more going on here than we’re aware of. But even that doesn’t mean the DVA isn’t fully briefed; it wouldn’t be the first time they kept Heroes in the dark. For now, our best bet is to do our jobs, keep our wits about us, and talk this over with the others tonight. We agreed to do a job, and so far nothing has convinced me that it’s a job not worth doing. Either of you feel differently?”

                Panic and Charon both shook their heads. Were things off about the diplomats? Obviously. Was there the potential of danger? Sure, but that was part of what they’d agreed to in the first place. Ultimately, most of this was speculative, while the fact that the diplomats could be targeted had been proven over and over. They needed protection, as did the citizens around them, and it was up to the Heroes to provide that. Unseelie had said it herself: keeping people safe was what they did.

                “Good. Then let’s not talk about this again until we’re off-shift, not unless something serious comes up.” Unseelie looked back out to the press conference, just in time to catch the reporters laughing at a joke Iliana had told.

                She had a masterful command of the room, that was apparent at a glance, and even the quieter Steven was holding his own by giving short, yet thoughtful, answers when pressed. Most of the questions they’d heard so far were the sort of standard fair one expected for a humanitarian mission, just with more media coverage. Basics about what they hoped to accomplish, how this would impact the city as a whole, and how long they planned to be there. Softballs, probably ones that had been lined up and agreed upon ahead of time. Iliana was the one choosing who got to ask, after all, and she didn’t seem the type to leave anything to chance.

                “Miss Caras!” A reporter was waving her hand in the air, a disheveled woman whose frizzy hair was already askew thanks in no small part to the city’s natural humidity. “Miss Caras, Eleanor Dudley, from the Port Valins Enterprise.”

                “Ah yes, Miss Dudley. Your work precedes you. I caught your article on the sewage treatment plants skirting EPA guidelines when I was reading up on this lovely city. By all means, please ask if you have a question.” Iliana was positively beaming, even as a few snickers could be heard around the room.

                Eleanor seemed to go red around the ears for a moment, though it didn’t take long before she recovered herself. “Miss Caras, my paper wants to know if you have any sort of special message you’d like to put out into the community as a whole, something you’re hoping will eventually make its way to the former Republic of Krezic citizens who happen to miss this broadcast.” There was tension in Eleanor, the kind that radiated off like heat from a stove. Charon could practically feel it even standing off-stage. Instinctually, her body readied itself. Nerves often came before action, and if such was the case then Charon had to be ready.

                Iliana, on the other hand, was unbothered by Eleanor’s body language. “That is a wonderful question, and I’m so glad you took the time to ask it. Yes, we do indeed have a message for all of our former countrymen. Firstly, that they are no longer citizens of the Republic of Krezic, because such a nation no longer exists. They are all, each and every one of them, part of United Avalon. And our nation is weakened with so many of its parts missing. The second thing we want them to know is that we will find them, no matter how hard the task may be or how much searching is required. It is the very least they deserve, to be seen and talked with personally, and that is what we aim to deliver. The final part is that we want everyone to know that we are here to make an offer, not a demand. Those who have found happiness here, built new lives for themselves, are welcome to stay if they would like. Steven and I have come to spread the truth for those who do not yet know or believe it. Whether they leave this nation or not is entirely up to each person to decide.”

                The press clapped softly, although Angela noticed that Eleanor wasn’t among those putting their hands together. She didn’t blame the reporter, either. Iliana’s tone had been light, and the bit at the end was gentle, but Angela could have sworn there was a threat buried in the middle of the speech. There was no spot she could handily point to or word she could use as proof, it was something hidden beneath the surface of the words. She looked to Unseelie and Panic, wondering if they’d noticed it too, or she was just letting her imagination run away with her.

                “I guess that settles that,” Panic sighed. “They’re definitely here to make trouble.”

                “Looks that way,” Unseelie agreed. “Old grudges, maybe?”

                “Or perhaps there’s more keeping some of their former citizens here than just lack of awareness about the regime change.” Panic glanced down at her phone, scrolling through the contacts. “Could be the Republic of Krezic sent some people out of the country when things started looking grim. I know a few people I can reach out too, but we’ll have to pass the bulk of this onto Bayou and Gunk.”

                Angela spoke up, even as she continued watching the press conference. “Glad as I am to know I wasn’t imagining things there, aren’t we taking a lot from a few lines that might have been poorly worded?”

                “Not at all. This whole thing is a production, you’ve figured that out by now, and Iliana has picked every question and word carefully. Nothing she’s said has been accidental, especially that last part.” Unseelie turned briefly away from the conference to meet Angela’s eyes. “Good rule of thumb: when someone talks about hunting people down, that’s almost never coupled with gentle intentions.”