“It is a great view at night, isn’t it?” said the man as he stepped out onto the catwalk. Erik didn’t bother acknowledging the other man’s presence. He’d come up to the top catwalk of the Temerity Pylon to get away from everyone, and Erik was annoyed that his solitude was broken. The man put his hands on the railing and looked down at Lower City. From twelve hundred meters up, the neighborhoods of the lower level of Avalon City looked almost peaceful. Both men knew the reality of Lower City.
“Your father wants to see you,” Colonel Michael Hastings said. Hastings, better known to the masses as Post Primam, was the senior officer of First Battalion of Whiteguard – the psychics and sorcerers that guarded the Emperor. As the Post Primam, Hastings was expected to be the finest example of the beyond-natural humans in the service of the Emperor. The Avalonian version of Captain America.
Erik knew Hastings better when the two were roommates at the Preternatural Academy. Erik, Samantha, and Hastings had been better known as the Terrible Trio that had terrorized the faculty with various pranks and jokes. Sam had even dated Hastings briefly after graduation. Erik and Hastings kept in touch over the years, but that had changed in the last year and a half. Erik had been avoiding his old friend since nearly getting Hastings killed during the ending of the Commandante Affair. Many of Hastings’s friends were killed when Erik unwittingly sent them into an ambush. Much to Erik’s relief, he didn’t sense any resentment or hatred coming from his old friend.
“My father’s dead, Michael,” Erik answered, flatly. He could feel Hastings’s frustration. Well, that was his own damn fault. Hasting knew Erik’s feelings on that subject.
“Your step-father then,” Hasting said, “Erik, quit being an ass. Do you think I would have been sent to find you if this was just a routine errand?” Erik stepped back from the rail and looked at Hastings. Erik probed harder with his empathic senses. There was an undercurrent of fear and worry running through him.
“What’s going on?” Erik asked.
“Not here,” Hastings answered, lowering his voice. “Your step-father’s office.” Erik looked out at Lower City. He could go down to the street and take the next lift up to the Upper City, but that would take at least a half-hour. Erik grinned maliciously at Hastings.
“What is going through that head of yours?” Hastings asked as soon as he saw the smile. He knew Erik far too well.
“Practiced your flying recently?” Erik asked, and Hastings blanched. In terms of raw power, Hastings’ telekinesis easily eclipsed Erik. That being said, Hastings never learned the fine control that Erik had with his telekinesis – and flying was all about control. Erik pushed off of the catwalk and felt the welcoming familiar sensation of falling. Telekinetic flying required creating “columns” of telekinetic force to push and pull against much heavier objects, such as buildings, pylons, and the ground. Most telekinetics strong enough to lift more than their own body weight were taught the basics of flight at the Academy. Of those, only about half ever became proficient. It just required too much concentration. Then, there were those like Erik who excelled at it. Erik luxuriated in the sensations as he soared out beyond the walls of Avalon City and up to Upper City. His powers were too weak on Earth to really fly. He missed it more than he realized.
In less than fifteen minutes, Erik landed gracefully in front of his stepfather’s mansion. Like all of the buildings in Upper City, the mansion looked more like a small fortress. Reinforced arms reached out from the gray stone building to four sentry buildings. From the air, it had a passing resemblance to a Maltese Cross. All of the Upper City buildings had the same drab severity on their exteriors due to the occasional windstorms that tore through the streets when the invisible wind shields periodically turned off. Like so much of Avalon City, no one knew why the shields went down, but when they did, the winds were strong enough to knock a lorry off the side of Upper City. The aristocracy and those wealthy enough to afford homes in Upper City had learned long ago to reserve their opulence behind the stout walls of their homes.
“You’re a jackass, Jaegar,” Hastings said as dropped to the cobblestones with a meaty thud. Erik wordlessly shrugged his shoulders. “Well, let’s not keep them waiting. They’re waiting for us in your stepfather’s office.”
“They’re?” Erik asked as they walked through the visitors gate. Erik had been expecting a servant to be waiting for them. Instead, one of his stepfather’s armsmen was waiting at parade rest. The soldier/bodyguard motioned for Erik and Hastings to follow him. His stepfather kept his office in the main house, just inside from the visitors gate. It was efficient and pragmatic, unlike many others of the aristocracy who made a person tramp all over the house just so the visitor would see all the expensive knick-knacks in the house.
Stephan Luugard, Duke of Amwell, High Counselor of the House of Lords, and Mayor of Avalon City sat behind his antique oak desk. He was a tall, thin man in his early fifties dressed in a conservative suit of navy blue. Erik’s mother must have picked out the green silk tie that set off the suit. Luugard’s dark eyes narrowed as Erik walked into the room. Absently, he began to stroke his thick gray-streaked beard with a long fingered hand. Erik could feel annoyance, loathing, and – relief? – coursing behind his stepfather’s impassive facade. In the time Erik had known his stepfather, the man had never once felt relief at seeing Erik.
As surprising as his stepfather’s emotional mix was, Erik’s eyes were drawn to the small, bookish man sitting in front of Luugard’s desk and sipping on a glass of amber. Thinning black hair and an off-the-rack gray suit made the man look like a mid-level manager or a slightly senior bureaucrat. The man’s perpetual bored look enhanced the image. Erik knew better. Vincent Paul was the head of the Grayguard’s Office of Special Investigations. In the ten years Erik had worked for him in Blackguard, Paul had been known as the Saint.
“Stephan, what’s going on?” Erik asked his stepfather.
“Much to my own annoyance, I’m just playing host for Mr. Paul,” Luugard answered. Erik turned to his former employer.
“What do you want Saint?” Erik asked. “What could be so important and secret that you had to appropriate the mayor’s personal office?” The Saint flicked his hazel eyes up at Erik. The Saint was one of the few people whose emotions Erik couldn’t feel. The small man was also a past master at controlling his body language.
“I don’t need anything from you,” the Saint answered cryptically. “Princess Corrine, on the other hand, is in desperate need of your services.”
“What happened to Corry?” Erik asked before he could stop himself. He felt Luugard’s flash of anger at the familiar name, but Erik didn’t give a damn. Erik had been part of a small coterie of children that had been allowed to play with the emperor’s son and daughter. Corry had been, if not his best friend, then a very close one.
“She was shot down doing a reconnaissance flight above Battle Island,” the Saint answered. “From our best reports, she’s been captured by the Dark Towers.”
“There’s more,” Erik said. Getting Corry out of the Dark Towers’ prisoner camps on Battle Island would be a job for the Imperial Guard, but from the intense frustration emanating from Hastings, they hadn’t been given the mission. Erik doubted they wanted him to go rescue Corry because of his prior relationship with the princess or his experience on Battle Island.
“We have reason to believe that she was shot down by someone working for one of the other aristocrats,” the Saint said. It could never be easy.