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War and Peace In Mind, Chapter 24: Graduation Gift
Sky High
Drama/Sci-Fi

Graduation Gift

 

“Why is he waiting?” Will asked.

Principal Powers was actually in the Stronghold’s Secret Sanctum, having been invited there by the Commander and Jetstream to give us our latest information on the Weaponsmaster, not a day after graduation. For some reason he hadn’t left his home to travel to the academy graduation ceremony yet, and she wanted to let us know why.

“Apparently the graduation is being delayed. The classes were suspended sometime early last fall for a ‘field trip,’ which put everyone somewhat behind in their studies. So in order to make sure everyone completes their courses, graduation is being delayed two weeks,” Powers said with a rather odd expression on her face, something between triumph and pain.

“The assassination attempts,” I said succinctly. She nodded.

“Which puts you all in the clear until late June, at least. If you were going to take any vacations, I’d suggest you do it now rather than later. I hate to think you’d have to interrupt your summer vacation to go up against her students, but we can’t afford to be anything less than prepared. She might still keep delaying in an attempt to have us forget her academy exists, but she doesn’t know we’re watching one of her conspirators. We’ll have plenty of notice when they’re finally ready,” she said.

“That’s a relief,” Layla said, gaining a little of her cheer back.

“Yeah, I actually… had a vacation planned for right now too,” I said, and everyone turned to stare at me. “My grandfather is having me come over to his estates in Europe as a graduation gift.”

“Hey, why didn’t you say anything before?” Will demanded, looking a little hurt. I just glared at him, but he didn’t look like he was backing down.

“Because you’d’ve tried to talk me out of it,” I told him. He opened his mouth once, and then shut it again. “Besides, I should go and meet the rest of them at least once.”

“Well, just because you’re going overseas doesn’t mean you’re getting out of your responsibilities. Here,” Powers said, dropped something in my hand. A red cellphone. “Don’t forget, you’re on call now.”


“Warren, pack the tux,” Mom said from the doorway. I turned back to look at her, pained. I had finally finished throwing the rest of my clothes in the suitcase and didn’t want to have to cram even more stuff in there.

“Seriously. They dress for dinner,” she elaborated. I groaned a little at that.

“With all the silverware and courses and crap?” I asked. She nodded and I sighed and went to get my dad’s old suit.

“I made Tobias promise to keep his opinions to himself. He’s very used to being the king of his castle, but I pointed out that if he tried to make you conform to a dress code or something you’d probably just make him look bad by disobeying,” she added, and I smiled a bit. Mom knew me very well indeed.

“Thanks,” I told her.

“And you’re taking a Bureau jet,” she added. I looked at her with surprise.

“I thought that was just for official business,” I said. I knew Mom took them all the time when she went over to Europe for her work, but a vacation could hardly qualify.

“One, Tobias pulled some strings. Two, what do you think would be easier for you? Sitting in a tiny seat next to a screaming child for eight hours with lines of pure oxygen running above your head? Or two hours in a large comfortable seat with plenty of space and a quiet environment?” she asked. I actually shuddered when she described the first one. I’d never flown before, and being in a small space for eight hours would probably send me into a screaming claustrophobic fit that would end in fiery destruction for all.

“Uh… yeah,” I said slowly.

“Baron only flew twice when I was with him. The first time was on a commercial airliner on his way out here to attend Sky High. He told me he nearly torched the plane. When we moved to Europe, he insisted on a Bureau jet or nothing,” she said simply. I didn’t have an answer for that, so I simply finished zipping up the suitcase. Mom came into the room and handed me my passport.

“I had that done yesterday. The Bureau can move very fast when it wants to,” she said, and then pulled me in for a hug. “I’m so proud of you Warren.”

I hugged her fiercely back and gave her quick kiss.

“Thanks Mom.”


The plane ride over was just as easy as Mom had made it sound, and I decided I could get used to traveling like a superhero. Having seen in a few films of how small a normal plane was, I was very much relieved at being able to use the Bureau jet. The luxury felt kind of undeserved, but since the alternative was so much worse, I just kept my thoughts to myself. At least I didn’t have to go through most of the security that normal citizens did, for which I was grateful. I could just imagine how answering their questions would have gone.

Are you carrying any weapons on board?”

I’m a human flame-thrower, does that count?”

Yeah, that wouldn’t have gone over so well.

They say the first view of the ocean is supposed to be dramatic or something, but I suppose after flying over it for a couple of hours it loses its mystique. Well, that’s a lot of water. Yup, definitely a lot of water. Maybe if I had been in a boat or something it might have been more interesting, but right now all it was was an unvarying landscape below me. But when we made our approach over the continent as darkness fell, then it got more interesting. The lights of dozens of citizens flashed below the jet, looking like a faint dusting of glittering ice against the dark ground.

The plane slowed as we reached Berlin; the Battle estate was just outside it, and it apparently had its own airstrip. I supposed that must have been useful when they needed to get somewhere fast; not everyone had a Jetstream around to transport them. The lights from the city faded behind us as we made our final approach, and within a few more minutes we had touched down. I grabbed my bag and took a last deep breath as the stairs were put down, and finally walked out of the plane.

Tobias was waiting just outside in the hangar, a limousine and driver standing by discretely. He smiled rather broadly at me, though I kept my own expression neutral. My coming here hadn’t been for some big family reunion. It had been partially out of curiosity, and partially for reasons I didn’t fully understand myself. But it wasn’t to make nice with Tobias.

“Warren, how very nice to see you again,” he said, extending a hand. Ignoring it would have been petty and rude, though I was tempted anyway. I clasped his hand briefly, resisting his efforts to pull me in for a hug or something. He was stronger than he looked, but I was stronger than him. Tobias only raised an eyebrow and then waved me to the car.

“How was the flight?”

“Fine,” I said shortly, settling myself in the cavernous vehicle. The driver turned the car around and headed out of the hangar, starting down the long road to the front gate.

“I understand it was your first time flying.”

“It was fine,” I repeated, a little sharply.

“I see,” he said calmly and lapsed into silence as we wound down the tree-shrouded lane. As we reached the front gate, flanked by two huge, dramatic torches on top, I saw the massive stone archway was inscribed in what I thought was Latin. I had no idea what it said, but I caught myself staring at it anyway as the driver punched in the code to open the gate.

“It’s the family motto. It translates into ‘Alone we burn wood, together we melt steel,’” Tobias said quietly as we drove through.

“Family loyalty?” I asked him.

“For the most part, yes, that’s what it means,” he said with a sigh.

“I hope you don’t have high expectations,” I told him, and he turned to look at me sharply. “For this week,” I clarified. Tobias nodded stiffly, and then changed the subject.

“We’ll be having dinner in two hours. I’ll have Chester show you to your room and give you time to get settled in. Oh, and it looks like young Thomas is going to be pyrokinetic. He’s already definitely indestructible, but he hasn’t powered up fully yet. I don’t know when that will happen, but I thought you’d like to know.”

I nodded idly at resumed looking out the window. It took me several minutes to understand what I was seeing, and when I did I sat bolt upright.

“This place is huge,” I said, trying to take in the size of the building at the end of the lane by the lights alone. It looked bigger than the school, bigger than the museum in downtown Maxville. It looked just like some kind of medieval castle, minus the electric lights, complete with portcullis and drawbridge.

“We all live here, all my children, and all of theirs as well,” he said simply.

“Why?”

“Why not? We all work in the same business, we certainly have the room, and none of us have much in the way of a secret identity to protect. Publicly the Battle family is a bunch of philanthropists, and we stay out of the public eye. Otherwise we simply work on being the best heroes we can be.”

I clenched my jaw at those words, echoes of my own thoughts, just out of reflex.

“The estate has been in our family for nearly ten generations. It would be a pity to let it molder while everyone went off to find their own little homes and apartments all over the known world. Besides, it would be a rather difficult task to gather everyone up for a job if we were scattered. Not to mention this estate is equipped to handle those with emerging powers,” Tobias went on blithely.

I rode in silence the rest of the way, listening vaguely to the history of the Battle estate, more lost in my own thoughts than anything. Why the hell did I agree to come? I asked myself again.

Staring at the estate, brooding in the darkness, the reasons started to become clear to me. Yes, part of it was simply curiosity; wanting to meet the relatives I'd never known. Part of it was because I'd never really traveled before. Tobias' request was also a factor. He had been trying to manipulate me, to a greater or lesser extent, from the day we'd met, but his intentions weren't completely selfish. And a very large part of it, I now realized, was because I had to see where my father had grown up. Was there something here that had made him what he was? I needed to know what had happened here. But I damn sure wasn't going to tell Tobias about my intentions.

The driver pulled up at the massive front doors, and had our doors open and my suitcase out of the trunk and on his shoulders before I could even protest. It felt like walking into some kind of haunted castle as we ascended the staircase, and the doors swung open before anyone could even touch them. Then I spied Tobias putting something back in his pocket and realized it must be a remote for the doors, probably part of the security system. I smirked a little, but tried to hide it. One mystery revealed. Tobias was trying almost too hard to impress me.

A short man in a butler’s uniform nearly pounced on Tobias the moment he entered the door, rapidly firing off a series of questions or something in German, while I could only listen in bewilderment. After a few moments Tobias waved the man to silence and then turned to me in exasperation.

“I have to deal with a small crisis here, Warren. James, just leave the bag here and go finish your duties. Chester should be here any moment to help you to your rooms Warren, just wait until he gets here,” Tobias said quickly, and then briskly walked off with the shorter guy. James, the driver, set my suitcase down quickly, gave me a bow, and then walked back down the stairs.

I was too busy taking in the scenery to ask any further questions, or to even formulate a coherent thought. Walking into this place was like walking into some kind of movie set. There might have been electric bulbs in the chandeliers, but other than that there was no way to tell that this was not a medieval castle. Polished, carved wood was everywhere, stone carvings, elaborate tapestries, and elegant furniture…

It was such a big contrast to what I had grown up with, and it still easily outshone where I lived now. It occurred to me that my dad must have never, ever in his life lacked for anything he wanted... I must have looked like some kind of rubbernecking tourist as I gaped at the entry hall. I was so engrossed that I nearly missed the arrival of a middle-aged man in yet another butler’s uniform, his pale blonde hair a sharp contrast to the dark wood and stone around him.

“Master Peace? I’m Chester, Master Tobias assigned me to you for the duration of your stay,” he said politely. Master Peace? Argh, that’s even worse than my real name! I thought, irritation interrupting my thoughts. It wasn’t this guy’s fault, but… seriously.

“Umm… thanks. You can call me Warren,” I offered, and went to pick up my suitcase. Chester forestalled me.

“That’s my job, Master Warren,” he said, and smoothly shouldered it. “If you would please follow me?” I sighed and complied.

I could have grabbed my own stuff. I could have been a lot ruder to Chester to get him to leave me alone. But judging from the size of this place, if I didn't want to get lost and starve to death, I had better can my attitude for a short while and try to stay calm. I could either work myself into a frenzy of resentment, or suck it up and realize that the Battle family was so different from me they were almost a different species. The attitude I had affected in high school would not work here, something that was being driven home to me with every step. I followed Chester up the stairs, past paintings and pictures of people whom I presumed were my ancestors, and huge battle scenes of people with fire-wreathed hands fighting back dragons and demons. I found myself wondering how much of that was artistic license and how much might have been from real life.

Finally Chester stopped at the end of the hall and opened a door into a room, waving me in with a bow. The place was as medieval as the rest of the house, decorated in red and gold, a massive carved wooden bed dominating the room, and a huge fireplace with a fire crackling merrily away on one wall.

“Here you are Master Warren,” he said, coming in after me. Before I could even stop him, he had opened my suitcase and was starting to put my clothes away in the wardrobe and bureau.

“Look, you don’t have to do that…” I said, stepping forward fast. I really didn't like people handling my stuff. He waved me off in a no-nonsense manner that reminded me of Principle Powers at her most imposing.

It's not going to kill me to let him do this, I told myself firmly, keeping my temper in check. If Will had been in this situation, he would have been gracious. Layla or Ethan would have insisted on helping. Zack and Magenta would have considered it their just due, and probably asked him to bring them a pizza while he was at it. I had more important things to get worked up over than what this butler considered just doing his job.

“It’s my job, Master Warren,” he repeated, in an echo of my thoughts, and kept going with a brisk efficiency that made my head spin. In less than a minute he had everything in its place, though he kept out my suit. “I’ll just go get this steamed and pressed before dinner.”

With that he swept out again, and I sat back in a chair, feeling very much like I had just been run over by a truck. Who’s running this house, them or Tobias? If my dad had grown up being waited on hand and foot like this, I could suddenly see why he'd gotten some of those ideas into his head.

I shook my head and pulled out my computer, gingerly looking behind the desk and gratefully finding a socket. I plugged in the adapter and sent off a quick e-mail to let Mom know I was ok, taking a small amount of comfort in something as normal as a computer in the midst of all this ancient finery and uncomfortable realizations. I heard a faint throat-clearing behind me, and I whirled, dreading the ultra-efficient Chester had returned. I was surprised instead to find a little boy of about eight standing in my doorway.

“Are you my Uncle Warren?” he asked very politely. I blinked twice at that before my brain finally caught on.

“You’re Thomas,” I said, and he nodded. Well, very technically I wasn’t an uncle, but the weird permutations of relations I had suddenly been burdened with didn’t bear thinking about too closely. If he wanted to call me “uncle,” fine with me. I certainly wasn’t going to quibble about it.

“Hi,” he said simply, and began to rock back and forth on his feet, his hands clasped behind him. He didn't take a single step into the room, which was kind of unusual. Ethan and Magenta's younger cousins had zero respect for personal space when they wanted something. Then again, the Battle family seemed a lot stricter...

“You can come in,” I told him, realizing he was waiting for permission, and he suddenly scampered into the room as if released from a tether. He didn’t really look that much like me. He was several shades lighter in both skin and hair, and a lot scrawnier than I had ever been at that age. I didn’t see any of the telltale red streaks in his short brown hair though, and idly wondered how they had figured out he was indestructible already.

“You’re going to teach me?” he asked, bouncing again on his feet.

“I guess, I mean, when you power up,” I said with a shrug. Thomas was looking at my long hair, leather jacket, and tattooed wrists with fascination, and I was hard-pressed not to chuckle. The kid looked like he had just gotten home from a private school, with the neatly pressed slacks and button-down shirt. I got the impression that jeans and t-shirts didn’t make much of an appearance in the Battle house.

“Can you teach me to do it your way?” he asked quickly.

“Like what way?” I inquired.

“Like what you did with the guinea pig girl,” he explained, and I had a sinking sensation in my stomach. Why the hell did Tobias let this kid see the tape from last Homecoming? That's pretty damn brutal for adults, let alone kids! Not to mention the fact that as far as anyone knew, I was unique in the power department. Why get Thomas' hopes up that he could suddenly develop my powers?

“I don’t know. I don’t think I can,” I told him. “I can only do that because of who my mom is.” I hated to burst the kid’s bubble, but better now than have him actually attempt it on someone someday.

“Uncle Baron’s wife. We’re not supposed to talk about him or her, Great-Grandfather says,” Thomas said, and then clapped his hands over his mouth. Yeah, I don’t imagine my parents are exactly light dinnertime conversation…

“It’s ok, don’t worry about it,” I told him. I was getting the impression that Tobias ruled with an iron fist in this house, which pretty much jived with what my mom had told me. Thomas relaxed a half-fraction at my easy answer, and then began to pelt me with questions about when I had first powered up. The kid seemed absolutely determined to figure out a way to trigger his powers as soon as possible, but the last thing he needed was to power up the way I had the first time. Maybe the Battle family’s normal pyrokinesis wasn’t as linked to emotions as mine was, but there was still no need for Thomas to try to power up in anger.

It was strange, but I found myself leaning back more and more on what my father had told me the one time I had seen him. His powers were so much more deliberate than mine, and a lot more easily controllable, from what he had told me. Thomas was listening so very carefully to everything I told him, with such a very fierce expression of concentration on his face, that we both jumped in surprise when someone else cleared his throat at the doorway.

Chester was back, holding my suit in one hand and giving us both a very long-suffering look.

“Young Master Thomas, your mother is looking for you. It’s nearly time to dress for dinner, scoot!” he said briskly, and Thomas bounded out the door with a wave. Chester stalked over to me with the suit, and I started to get apprehensive.

“Here you are Master Warren. Will you need assistance dressing?” he asked with an oddly superior sniff.

“Uh…” I stalled, having no idea what to say to that. Why would anyone, who wasn't able, not be able to dress themselves?

“Then if not, I shall be waiting outside to guide you to the dining room,” he said simply, and vanished.

This isn’t going to go well at all… I felt like I had just been dropped in the middle of some kind of fairy tale or secret society, where everyone knew the rules but me. I shrugged off my jacket and finally got myself into the suit. I hadn’t worn the thing since Homecoming two years ago, and I was guessing part of Chester’s superior attitude had been because the belt I was using was the same metal-studded black leather one I used for my jeans. That probably Wasn’t Done here, but I seriously did not care at this point. I had enough on my mind already.

I stepped outside a few minutes later, and Chester gave me a once over and uttered another long-suffering sigh.

“Hey, what the-. Hey!” I said, as he leaned in and proceeded to straighten out my tie and jacket to his satisfaction. I jumped back out of his range, a fast-repressed flash of heat warming the air around me. The reflexes that Coach Boomer had pounded into me did not account for other people trying to fix my clothes; I had nearly floored Chester automatically.

“What the hell was that?” I demanded. Didn't this guy work with superheroes every day? Were they actually used to someone treating them like a stupid five-year-old that couldn't dress themselves yet?

“Just making sure the young master is presentable at dinner,” he said calmly. “Are you in need of a hair tie?”

“I… am not,” I said after a second. I’ve died and gone to hell… I thought faintly. And it doesn’t have my dad, just this crazy butler! Chester simply gave another sigh, shrugged, and turned smartly on his heel.

“If you will follow me then, Master Warren,” he said, and marched off through the corridors. I thought about locking myself in the room for the rest of the week, but that probably wouldn’t work. I had come here for a reason, and despite the fact that it wasn't looking to be easy, a hero couldn't just hide if things got tough. Nevertheless, I followed several steps behind, because I was afraid if I got too close Chester was going to pounce on me with a hair tie or something.

The more I saw of the building, the more impressed, and intimidated, I became. It was like a museum, each inch of it filled with something beautiful, historical, and probably fragile. I shied away from touching anything, even the tapestry-covered walls, as Chester finally led me downstairs to the massive dining room. My attitude was taking a beating, being crushed down by the sheer size and scope of everything around me. It was all making me feel small, and I was starting to hate that feeling immensely.

Apparently everyone else was already here, and I swallowed as I was finally seated at the massive table. Luckily the place wasn’t decorated, as I had thought it would be, with game trophy heads or something else equally disturbing. Instead more large tapestries lined the walls, their subjects apparently being various Battle ancestors accepting accolades from monarchs. There was a fireplace in one wall large enough to serve as a small apartment, and massive candelabras set all on the long table lit the place with a warm glow.

Tobias stood up briefly as I entered and nodded in my direction. All along one side were all the men, and the women were on the other side. I recognized all of my powered relatives, but I honestly didn’t know their non-powered spouses. Oddly enough, other than Baron and Tobias (who had married a cryokinetic named Elizabeth, or Arctica when she had been active), none of the other Battles had married someone with superpowers.

Down one side of the table were my father’s brothers, arranged in descending order of age. I had forced myself to memorize them, studying them as hard as I had the supervillains I would eventually face; Reginald, who went by Fire King, Andrew, who was Fire Prince, David, who was the Burning Duke, Christopher, who was Fire Lord, and Anthony, who was Fire Knight. My two aunts were on the other side of the table, Bernadette, who was Ice Queen, and Lauren, who went by Tesla, and was the only electrokinetic in the family. Two cryokinetic cousins rounded out the powered part of the family, Ivana and Emily, who were Ice Princess and the Freezing Duchess respectively. Collectively the pyrokinetics were known as the Fire Court and the cryokinetics as Winter Court. If there had been more than one electrokinetic, they would have been called Storm Court, but that hadn't happened in generations.

All of them smiled at me and raised their glasses in some kind of salute. I just managed to nod back before more servants, though thankfully not Chester, swarmed out with the first course. I looked down at my place setting and nearly choked, because there was enough silverware there to use for a twelve-person dinner party. I thought I remembered vaguely from books and movies that I was supposed to start from the outside and work my way in, but as the food kept coming out, I noticed I was always using the wrong damned fork.

I decided immediately I would sneak in a pair of chopsticks tomorrow. The food was actually pretty good, and I would rather be able to eat it instead of trying to fish through a mountain of silverware to find what I was supposed to be using. I finally gave up entirely halfway through the meal and just kept stubbornly using the same fork for everything.

Half the conversation at the table was in German, and I wasn’t sure if that was because they were trying to ignore me, or if they had just forgotten that I wasn’t fluent in that language. It turned out to be the latter as Anthony turned to me and asked me something in German and I stared back at him with complete non-comprehension.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Warren,” he apologized immediately. “I forgot. You just look so much like Baron.”

Silence descended at the head of the table, but Anthony was ignoring it. I repressed a smirk as I realized not everyone in this family jumped when Tobias said so. I ignored the comment about my father entirely. I did look a lot like him. Hell, I could see echoes of him in the face of every man at the table.

“I was asking how you were liking the house,” he went on. I shrugged.

“Impressive,” I said sincerely. “Museum-like.” Overly large and soul-crushing too, I added mentally. I had decided I could probably stand to keep my tongue in neutral as much as possible while I was here. Never had I been farther out of my comfort zone, and I didn't want them to know hard this was for me. Perversely, I didn't want them to try to cater to me at all; I wanted to see the real Battle family as much as possible.

“It is that, isn’t it? You see, Father? I told you,” Anthony said with a very visible smirk, and there was some faint chuckling from further up the table.

“I’ll take your redecorating designs under advisement,” Tobias said very dryly, and conversation began again around him.

Do you speak any other languages?” Anthony asked, ignoring what was going on at the head of the table for the time being.

“Mandarin. I worked in a Chinese restaurant for five years,” I told him, explaining before he could ask the inevitable question. He looked at me oddly. I bet he’s never had to work a day of menial labor in his life, I thought, catching his look of confusion. Everything about this estate and everyone in it just screamed to me of a level of luxury and privilege that I had never known, and it made me feel very alien. If Tobias had wanted me to begin feeling some kind of connection to this place, he had a lot to learn about me.

Oddly enough, once Anthony got over his initial confusion, he wasn’t averse to asking me questions, or answering them himself. The rest of my relatives also started venturing questions as well, mostly asking about Sky High, and carefully keeping the subject off of anything to do with my parents. They were actually fairly polite and interested, and all seemed impressed when I described what Sky High had been doing to teach the kids in the past year and a half.

I found out that even though my uncles and aunts were pushing anywhere from sixty to fifty, all of them were still very active superheroes, and spent quite a long time in training. As a consequence, they actually wanted to use some of stuff that Sky High had in order to make their own training better. I found myself thinking what Boomer would make of nine high-powered, somewhat arrogant superheroes invading his Gauntlet. I thought the resulting fireworks would have been highly entertaining.

Somewhere near the end of the night Reginald even asked me about my superhero name, and nodded sagely when I told him.

“I was going to say that you were free to use your father’s old name if you wanted to, but I must say Phoenix suits you far better than Red Knight,” he said.

“If someone wants to use that name later, more power to them, but I really just want to make my own path,” I told him honestly, and he gave a half-bow in my direction.

“An admirable goal,” he said simply, looking sideways at Tobias, who stared at me as if I'd just grown a second head.

Figure that out Grandpappy, I thought with a hastily repressed smirk. Tobias was starting to understand exactly whom he'd just invited into his house.


Despite the time zone difference, I slept pretty well that night, though I was up very early in the morning. Chester had told me to ring a bell next to the bed when I wanted him in the morning, but I was going to do that somewhere between never and eternity. I snuck around my room to get dressed, and quietly slipped out the door, sneaking down the hall to the kitchen. Or at least that was the plan, right up until I got lost. I think I passed the same gallery three times, and I know I passed the same lion tapestry five times, because I started keeping count. I was nearly at the point of starting to make scorch marks on the walls just to keep myself from walking in circles when Bernadette found me.

“Lost?” she asked simply.

“Is there a trick to it?” I asked desperately, embarrassingly glad to see another human face. “I was just trying to find something to eat.”

“Other than memorizing which tapestries are at what corridor junctions, no,” she said, and beckoned for me to follow her. I did, only because hunger was taking precedence over my pride at that point. “Watch, from the lion tapestry you take the second left past the unicorn tapestry, go down the stairs, take a right at the five dancing ladies, and that’s not to be confused with the five dancing nymphs, go past the leaping dragon, and here you are in the kitchen.”

I blinked at her, as she had been walking so fast I nearly lost her once.

“That wasn’t very enlightening,” I told her with a bit of resentment, and she actually laughed, more at herself than at my confusion.

“I know, I’m sorry, I’m just so used to this… Whenever we hire new servants I think we lose two or three to starvation because they’re lost wondering in the halls. Just ask who’s ever assigned to you to show you the way,” she said.

“That guy… weirds me out,” I told her.

“Chester, right? Don’t worry; he’s always like that. He knows high society backwards and forwards, he just doesn’t have a lot of patience for those who aren’t born into it,” she said.

Huh, like Mr. Medulla. If you knew Mad Science, he could be your best friend. If you didn’t, you were pond scum. Same thing, just different subject matter. Well, I knew how to deal with that at least. Let them have their way until you could prove you knew what you were talking about. Trying to pretend to have expertise that they could call you on was the quickest way to becoming an unfortunate demonstration.

Bernadette turned to go, and I made a quick decision. I had my own little mission to fulfill while I was here, to find out more about my dad, and considering what I knew of Tobias, I’d have much better luck asking one of Baron Battle’s siblings rather than his father.

“Hey, could I ask you something else?” I said. Bernadette looked back over her shoulder, and got an understanding look on her face.

“About Baron?” she asked. At the look of surprise on my face, she expanded, “I knew you’d ask eventually.”

“And?”

“What do you want to know?”

“Everything,” I said, letting out a huge breath. I hadn’t quite expected it to be that easy, at least in my head. “I mean, I know almost nothing about him and why he-.”

“You’re not the only one who’s wondered and worried about that. I remember Reggie asking aloud one time, just after they incarcerated our brother, if there was something in the blood, something wrong with us,” she said, looking off into the distance.

I got a faint chill of doom down my back when she said that. “Is there something wrong?”

“I certainly hope not! I just wanted to explain that we’ve all been thinking about him and what might have been going on in his head. It’s just difficult for us to talk about it openly; we’re just not used to it.” Bernadette tapped her pursed lips with her finger, considering. “Anthony was the closest to Baron. I’ll try to find some time to get you two alone. Not when Father is around though. He only talks about Baron when it suits him. Until then, how about I give you a quick tour of the estate? This place is nearly impossible.”

“Yeah… Thanks,” I added.

“It’s no problem. It’s far less than what we should have done years ago. I hope you can forgive us Warren,” she said, suddenly very serious and anxious.

It hadn’t occurred to me that my dad’s brothers and sisters might have felt guilty about abandoning me too. Hell, to stop being a self-centered bastard for a second, how had the felt about their brother betraying their family and everything they stood for. How would I have felt if Will Stronghold had suddenly turned psycho?

“Baron owes you more than you owe me,” I said, starting to feel ashamed.

“Thank you Warren,” Bernadette smiled sadly. “But a father still owes quite a lot to his wife and son. And he wouldn’t give anything to you, or her, or us. No answers, no explanations, nothing. Maybe between us we can figure something out.”

“I-. Thanks,” I said simply. Bernadette looked at me thoughtfully.

“I know we only met yesterday Warren, but I think you’re far better than Baron ever was. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say to that, but Bernadette didn’t seem to expect me to, and left me to my own devices for a while.

After I finally got myself some food, Bernadette gave me the promised tour of the house so I wouldn’t keep being so confused all the time. I was memorizing everything I could with the same single-minded concentration I would have used to study a supervillain's lair. I revised my opinion of the house a few times as we took the tour. You could have held six high school reunions simultaneously in the grand ballroom, and the library… well the Maxville public library was smaller by a large margin, and it wasn’t exactly an undersized facility.

In addition to a full cellar and underground crypt (which I took Bernadette’s word for, not particularly wanting to go down there), there were outbuildings for both a training gym and a large garage for all the vehicles. The gym was easily as nice as anything at Sky High, and even had a large amount of the technology like Boomer used in the Gauntlet.

The tour lasted easily until lunch, which I was relived to discover was a much less formal affair than dinner. When Bernadette mentioned to her brothers the reason she had been giving me a tour, I got a lot of commiseration, much to my astonishment. Despite the interest they had shown in me last night, I hadn't been expecting a whole lot of sympathy from them.

“I used to get lost all the time,” Reginald was saying. “We all did. We used to blindfold each other when we were little and take whoever we had to some random part of the estate and make them find their way back to their room.”

“Bah, what are you talking about? You got lost last week coming up from the basement!” Tobias quipped to his eldest, to roars of laughter from everyone else.

“Phone, Father,” Reginald said, as the laughter died down. Smiles vanished around the table as Reginald pulled out a red emergency phone; nearly identical to one I had received from Principal Powers. His face became set in a hard expression as he listened.

“Yes, yes of course. We’ll be there in ten minutes,” he said after a moment, and clicked the phone shut. “Cold Cobalt and the Brotherhood of Frost seized the bank, chased out everyone, and are trying to break into the vault.”

Well, Reginald had actually said the name of the bank, but to me it sounded like a sneeze. I’d have to ask for the translation sometime later. Bernadette said something in German I guessed wasn’t a compliment by the way Tobias glared at her, and the rest of my uncles shoved away from the table.

“They’ll need all of us, and Lauren, you too,” Reginald said quickly, and looked sympathetically at his sister. Bernadette looked a little sullen, but nodded.

“Cryos versus cryos doesn’t work,” I muttered under my breath, quoting from class. Even if the sounds of the names weren’t a dead getaway, I knew about the Brotherhood of Frost. I wasn’t the walking encyclopedia of superhero knowledge that Ethan was, but I had memorized those villains I would most likely be requested to face. The cold-themed Brotherhood of Frost had been some of them, and Cold Cobalt I remembered from searching through her records a few months ago. Bernadette, overhearing me, nodded shortly in agreement.

“We tried that twice, it was disaster both times. So I’m barred from going after them, along with Emily and Ivana. They’re going to need the rest of the men though, and Lauren. Cobalt and the Brotherhood might be a bit cowardly, but they hate us with an unholy passion,” she said shortly. Emily was her daughter, and Ivana’s was Reginald’s, both cryokinetics, I remembered. The other two Battle cousins didn’t even have powers.

I was torn for a second, not sure if I should say anything. There were five active pyrokinetic superheroes that would be going, as well as an electrokinetic. Would they need my help? Would they want my help? This technically wasn’t my call, but it wasn’t like I was supposed to need a call to help people. And if I was going to go out on my first real mission, I could do worse than to go out with other experienced heroes. Especially these heroes; I felt I had to see how they worked together...

“Can I help?” I asked quickly to Reginald.


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Timothy
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