Act 1: Chapter 7, Part 8

Posted on February 11, 2018

In Which Evan Answers the Question

Evan. Tuesday. Moon's Watch.

Evan looked away, said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t get your dumb ass dead,” Chris said, his tone sort of amused and sort of cross. “And you would have if Ryan hadn’t realized what you were up to, and if Angie hadn’t dealt with that spirit, and if I had moved any slower. You were really fortunate tonight, other than in encountering that Beast in the first place.”

“Fortune’s looking out for me I guess,” Evan said, dully.

“I’d fucking say so,” Chris said, the crossness winning out. Evan glanced at Chris to find him frowning back. Evan wasn’t sure he’d seen Chris truly frown up to this point. Chris continued, “So what the fuck, Evan? What were you doing? Do you have a death wish or what? Were you actually out hunting? Did you just want to wander around at night? It seems like you should have been pretty happy today, if you were just making up with Megan, not so upset you—”

Evan said, “My older sister was a Light Bearer.” Chris’s mouth closed hard enough Evan heard the snap of his teeth. For a long moment there was silence but the sounds of the night. Strangely, in the distance, Evan heard someone whistling. That didn’t seem like a safe thing to be doing at night.

“She was five years older than me,” Evan continued, staring off into the darkness, slowly piecing together the sentences in his brain so that he could say them out loud, the whistling a distraction,  a familiar refrain repeating in the distance, something Evan couldn’t put his finger on while speaking. “She was the first Light Bearer, at least that we know about, from either my mother’s or my father’s lines.”

“It didn’t go well, I take it,” Chris said, his voice gentle. Evan was listening to the whistling. It was the guitar line from “Locked in a Trunk in the Luggage Compartment.”

“She waited for well over an extra year,” Evan said. “But there was… pressure, I suppose. Social pressure at school. And, I guess, unintentional, unconscious pressure at home. My parents were always telling her to just focus on her training, she didn’t have to hunt at all before she was Full Age, but…”

Evan shook his head. He continued, halting and starting, his cadence off, knowing it was off, but not knowing how to make it not off. “I don’t know if you can relate, but for some families, there’s never quite enough money to pay for everything that needs paying for. Father was a militia lieutenant at the time. Mom’s a Cleaner, and definitely not the HTR1 team kind. They tried not to talk about it around us too much, but Virginia was smart. She understood how welcome bounties would be, even if she was spending it entirely on herself; that was money my parents wouldn’t have to spend on her.

“And that’s how it went for the first year,” Evan continued, his voice quiet, dull. It seemed distant, like it was someone else talking. He hadn’t talked about this with anyone for a long time, not since they’d stopped making him go to counseling. “The bounties were very welcome. They paid for her training, for better gear, for her going-out money. She bought clothes and treats for me and Cali, she—”

“Cali?” Chris asked, his tone soft and even.

“My younger sister, California,” Evan answered. “She’s in eighth year. Fortune turned against Virginia a couple months after she turned seventeen.” He fell silent, and for a long bit there was only the sounds of the trolley around them. Chris made some sort of sub-vocalisation, like he was preparing to speak, and Evan said, “The nearest watch-members arrived in time to drive off the Beast and recover part of her body. She got the opportunity to signal an emergency, I guess. We don’t really know what happened, beyond that. Just that she lost the fight. At least the top half of her casket got to be open at her wake. At least there was a casket.” He fell silent again.

Evan thought, assembled the next part. He’d closed his eyes at some point.

“I’m very sorry to hear that,” Chris said, his voice quiet, subdued even, compared to his usual timbre. “But—”

“The December before last there was a dungeon breach within the walls,” Evan said. “It was actually Solstice Eve.” Evan caught Chris murmur, “Oh shit,” under his breath as Evan said the second sentence. Evan paused, looked at Chris, said, “Pardon?”

Chris shook his head. Evan didn’t know what that meant. “I mean,” Chris said, with more uncertainty than Evan would’ve imagined him capable based on his prior behavior. “You were born December nineteenth, right?”

“Sure was,” Evan said, his voice barely there. He paused again, just a moment this time, reaching for words. “My father was promoted to Captain on his birthday, the September before. The Breach wasn’t really that far away, north and west of here, across the lake. The entire Militia mobilized, Light Bearers from across the city, everything that was fit for a Dungeon. This one was a nightmare, mature, full of well fed Beasts. Nobody has any idea how it wasn’t detected ages ago, even now.”

“They never do, with these,” Chris said. “I remember this one. It was the only one that year, and it was a bad one.”

“Please let me finish,” Evan said, a little spark of irritation piercing through the fog of exhaustion. “My father led a squad. It was an honor; they were on the Vanguard.2 During the withdrawal, after the seals had been inserted but before they were activated, a Monstrosity-Class Lurker popped out just before the Vanguard entered a narrow stairway up; they had just covered the last of the C&C3 Battalions’ withdrawal back to the surface. Thing was so good at lurking that a multitude of Light Bearers had missed it on the way down.

“Most of the Light Bearers and heavier weaponry with the Vanguard were now serving as rearguard for withdrawal, and the Lurker had actively engaged, cutting them off from the stairway back to the surface, and several soldiers were about to die. The only Light Bearer there was Kudret Bakili, Lauren’s uncle. He’s semi-retired, in his fifties, but still one of the most capable Light Bearers in the city. He moved to engage the Beast.”

Evan paused to swallow. He didn’t talk this much typically, and he was drugged up. His throat was dry. “But not before Father. He’d been right there when it first struck, and had been knocked to the ground, according to Kudret and the others there. He got up, and rather than just trying to shoot it, which might not have bothered it enough to keep it from finish the soldiers it was about to kill, he went at it with his officer’s sword.”

Chris nodded. An officer’s sword was silvered. It would burn and enrage a Beast similarly to a Bearer’s flame. “He died a hero,” he said, his voice deep with respect.

Evan nodded back. “He was the thing’s only kill, and it didn’t get to eat him. He got his chance at Sanctuary.” He paused, closed his eyes again.

Several silent seconds passed. Chris said, “I maybe understand your earlier disdain for Fortune.”

“Do you,” Evan said, still managing little more than a monotone. “My father wasn’t the only casualty of course. There were hundreds among the Militia, and hundreds more civilians. But close as it was, it was far enough northwest that not many Beasts made it to this area. There were a few casualties from among the local family’s Militia aged children—a number of deaths and injuries among the careerists stationed in this precinct, sure, but not the local’s kids, and overall, Bellevue was one of the lightest hit area of the city, as far as pure numbers of casualties among residents. Certainly the lightest hit district this near the breach.

“But Bellevue made up for it with how loud they got about the ones they had. They always do. There was plenty of grieving going around.” Evan paused for a long moment. “If I’m not being clear, this is one of the wealthiest areas of the city. There are three other Light Bearers currently in our high school besides you.” Evan caught a weird expression on Chris’s face as he said that, but it passed so fast he didn’t bother to let it derail his train of thought. “And another in Asphodel’s seventh grade right now, and I think I heard there’s one in ninth at Arcadia.”

Evan returned to the subject at hand. “Plenty of people needed consoling that winter,” he said. “We—Cali and I—didn’t need any more of that. We’d had our fill with Virginia. And I, at least, had been exiled from the, the, um…” He struggled for a moment, then said, “You know, the school’s whole social scene. Angie and Ryan and I were persona non grata to anyone who wanted Lauren to like them, so the last thing I needed was fake bullshit condolences from people who either disliked me or didn’t know me well enough to care, especially the people who had friends they did care about who had lost people, too. It would have felt empty. Pitying.

“So we asked the people who would have to inform the school to, just, not. To leave his name off the list of casualties related to students. It worked, somehow. No one ever really has talked about it, at least in my presence, until Lauren mentioned it this morning before school. I think there must be other kids of career militiaists… militia careerists… you know what I mean—who know, but no one’s talked to me about it, for which I’m grateful. Am I making any sense?”

“You’re opening up to me maybe more than you want to,” Chris said, “I’m wondering if your knock on the dome isn’t affecting your judgement, but I’m following you.”

“You’re the one who wanted to know,” Evan said, that spark of irritation again. Less so, though, barely piercing the fog at all. “I’m mostly telling you that bit to make it clear I don’t want this brought up around other people. Not, um, us. Whatever we are.”

“Sure. What do you think, we need a party name?” Chris asked, his tone light.

“We’re done with that, then?” Evan asked, surprising himself with the slight edge of bitterness in his voice. “I’ve answered your damn question?”

“I think I see where you’re coming from,” Chris said, soft and a little sad. “I can read between the lines. I still think your judgement is flawed, and that you were fortunate tonight. But you’ve been touched by the Conflict more than most. I get it.”

“Fortune owed me, I guess,” Evan said, focusing on the bitterness. Though even as he focused on it, it ebbed, died away like the irritation before it, but this time it seemed to take a little of the fog away with it. He felt a little more himself again, now that he wasn’t monologuing about his past. “And yeah,” Evan said. “I do think we need a name for our party, if you’re still serious about making one with us after all this.”

“You’re the one who’s expressed doubts,” Chris said with a shrug, his tone cheerful. “Fortune’s pretty clearly brought us together, for better or for worse. I think that’s something. I know I don’t know you guys that well yet, but nothing any of you have done has made me have second thoughts.” The trolley’s bell peeled as the trolley slid to a stop. “Here we are.”

Evan blinked, realized that they were in a trolley, at the stop down the street from the Grove. He hadn’t even registered getting in the trolley in the first place. Not just that, but they’d needed a transfer between the Link and this one, so he got on a trolley, gotten off, and then gotten on another all without noticing. “So we are!” He wondered whether he might be even more out of it than he realized. Which stood to reason, he guessed.

They stepped off, and Chris said, “So what is the deal with our birthdays?”

Evan shrugged as they set off down the street. “Your guess is as good as mine. It’s never been, like, magic. Shivers? I dunno. It’s just been a funny coincidence that the girls decided meant we had to be friends.” He paused, considering. “Though we’re not exactly ordinary, I guess. Angie is a witch or a sorcerer, or both—talks to spirits and animals, and has a knack for enchantment that runs in her family. I—”

“Wait, what?” Chris said. He’d literally just done a double-take as Evan had been speaking, so Evan wasn’t super surprised when he was cut off. “She summons spirits and also talks to animals and she also enchants?! Why is this is the first time I’m hearing about all this!?”

“Interrobang,” Evan said, and laughed and laughed. Chris blinked at him for a moment, and then started chuckling as well, which made Evan laugh more, until he couldn’t even keep upright. Their progress home was delayed as it was a while until he got control of himself. He found himself sort of hanging onto a lamppost once he calmed down. “I can’t believe we’re saying that again,” he said, shaking his head and wiping his eyes. “Fuck that’s great!”

“I agree,” Chris said, smiling with all apparent sincerity. “I think it’s charming.”

“It’s not, it’s a ridiculous thing for a bunch of adults to say, but I’m glad you… don’t think it’s goofy, I guess,” Evan said, still shaking his head. “If you were sour on it, I suspect your chances with Megan would be slimmer.”

“You think I have chances?!” Chris said, whipping his head toward Evan and grabbing his upper arm with one hand like it was a reflex. His unfair eyes were wide and fixed on Evan with intense excitement.

Evan stared back at him for a long silent moment, his fogged up brain utterly perplexed. “Yyyes?” he replied, with a slow nod of his head, a hint of incredulousness at the question in his tone. “You probably have a chance or two.”

Chris gave this little arm pump that set Evan off laughing again, delaying them further.

After he collected himself and they returned to movement, Chris, Chris, sounding somewhat bemused, prompted Evan, “And the rest of you?”

Evan thought for a moment. “Well, I mean, Megan’s Megan. I guess we’ve established her extraordinariness. I guess I’m pretty good at slinging guns. I've heard people say.” He kept his face serious, but he couldn’t keep a little pride from creeping into his voice. “And Ryan…”

“And, Ryan?” Chris said after several moments of silence.

Evan looked at Chris and grinned. “Ryan is just crazy short!”

Evan started laughing again, and Chris guffawed, too, the sound echoing down the street, barely muffled by the light breeze and the sighing of the leaves, the crackling gas lamps. Evan didn’t completely lose himself again, but it took an effort, which he made because he was waiting for what came next.

Movement drew their attention to their right, toward the porch, as they reached the Grove; Ryan stepped out from behind the shadow of a tree that partially obscured the porch and said, “I heard that,” he said evenly. Chris made a noise somewhat like snirck.

“I know. You got crazy good ears, or you bug our phones,” Evan said, and then he lost it, almost falling into the front asparagus garden as he laughed and laughed.

“Hack,” Ryan said, the world’s largest eyeroll contained entirely in his voice. “I hack your phones, why do I have to keep telling you guys!? Interrobang?!”

Chris made a noise somewhat like snorck. Evan staggered up the stairs like a drunk, unable to still his exhausted laughter.

  • 1. High Threat Response. “The Cleaners” refers to two distinct but related professions, both employed by the city-state’s Bounty Authority. Cleaner is the name for that profession which gather  up the remains of slain Beasts. A blend of alchemist and coroner, cleaners take care of initial harvesting of any organs which need to be removed and preserved prior to transport of the Beast’s body. They then take the body back to dismantling labs at the local BA complex, doing some dismantling ahead of time if necessary due to size. “The Cleaners” is also the colloquial term for HTR teams, which are teams of experienced combatants, typically led by a Light Bearer. The Cleaners are on call at night to respond to any Beast that has managed to kill a Light Bearer--as this typically results in the Beast advancing in threat category in a short time frame--or to rescue Light Bearers in danger of being killed, or in general to respond to any rampaging Beast that regular militia response is unable to quell before their arrival.
  • 2. The Vanguard are the first into the Dungeon. They are responsible for mapping, Peril detection, and the initial clearing of Beasts and other hostiles.
  • 3. Capture and Control, or Clear & Control, or Clear & Capture, depending on your city-state’s preferred vernacular. The bulk of a Dungeon invasion force. They clear out any remaining Beasts in areas mapped by the Vanguard, keep the Vanguard from being flanked or cut off, keep supply lines open, and cover the retrieval of any captured treasure.