“No, I’m not kidding.” Tara spoke with a tense jaw.
“You can’t trust him, Tara.” Jain continued. He was leaning against the opposite wall, arms folded too.
“You don’t know him.” Tara’s eyes narrowed.
“Neither do you.”
“I knew him way before I knew you. I’ve known him since I was eighteen.”
“Yeah? You got married to me, and apparently you don’t know me at all.”
Sayia wanted to face-palm. He’d walked into a marital.
“This is totally different.” Tara looked like she was having to really control herself. Sayia could feel the static in the air, crackling from her skin.
“You’re right. This is way worse.” Jain took a breath and then carried on before she could cut in “The guy killed people. And what about that lawyer? Last I heard, he's still in a padded room and a straightjacket. All he did was piss him off!”
“That wasn’t him! You know that wasn’t him.” Tara’s jaw tensed.
“And you think ten years in a glass ball has made him more sane? You think ten years watching the Circle of Thorns do the same thing to other people has made him less like Pyrerain?”
“Fuck you!” She pushed herself to her feet, ready to go at him. Sayia winced. He could’ve sworn he’d got an electric shock when she moved. That was enough.
“Whoa whoa!” Sayia stepped into view.
“Don’t you get involved.” Tara’s anger turned on Sayia, pointing a finger right at his face.
He held his hands up, conscious of the tiny crackles of lightning lingering around the fingernail jammed in his direction. “Don’t dismiss Jain just because you’re mad.”
“Oh. So you’re on his side now?!” She looked mortally wounded.
Sayia hated that expression. He always felt it prang right in his guts and wanted to face-palm again. He could never seem to say the right thing when she got mad. “Jain has a point on this one, T.” He had to stick with what he really thought. This wasn’t just another argument.
“Sorry. I forget how you’re like… best friends?” she sat back down, folding her arms so tightly it looked like it hurt.
“Tara, you’re being unreasonable.” Jain kept his eyes on her.
“No!” She sat bolt upright. The TV screens all blurred simultaneously. “You’re not willing to listen because you think you know better. If you just shut up for one second and listened to what I had to say for once…” She stopped talking as Sayia held one palm up.
“Ok. Ok.” Sayia sighed and looked to Jain “Just…” he sighed again “Just hear her out.”
Tara almost looked smug as Jain rolled his eyes and relented “Go ahead…”
She took a moment to revel in a petty victory. In that same moment, the air became more comfortable; like the fresh feeling right after a storm passes. “We have got to use every resource we have, right?”
“Right.” Sayia nodded. Jain’s expression, however, read more as a “whatever”.
“You want to turn the War Walls back on.” Tara was looking at Jain and suddenly Sayia started to too. Jain met Sayia’s concerned look and nodded. Tara didn’t wait to continue “If you want to turn them on, you’re gonna need to get inside Terra Volta. Terra-fucking-Volta. Currently the number one most protected site in Paragon City. And I wonder why…”
Sayia knew she had a point there. There was no plausible explanation for Terra Volta to be as guarded and patrolled as it currently was unless something was going on there.
“They know that if we get in there, we’ll get an advantage and we can turn them back on.” Tara seemed to be calming.
“Which is exactly what I’m going to do.” Jain folded his arms again.
“You can’t just waltz in there alone.” her eyes stayed on Jain, while Sayia’s darted between them.
“Yes, I can.”
“Will you stop being a jerk for just one second?!” Tara sounded exasperated. Sayia winced again as the TV nearest to him buzzed static. “If you go in there all by yourself, you’ll get yourself killed and then they’ll know exactly what we’re trying to do. You’ll make it twice as hard for anyone else to do it!”
“Well, I’m not taking him.” Jain growled.
“Why the hell not?!”
“Because he’s…” he never got to finish.
“You don’t want to take him because he’s my ex!” Tara raged.
Jain became just as incensed “I’m not taking him because he’s a goddamn liability!”
“You don’t know that!” Tara got back on her feet.
“Yes. I do!”
“You need backup!”
“Not that kind of backup!”
Sayia stepped right between them, one hand on each of their chests. “Quit it! Both of you!” He was getting a headache. “Tara. I know what you’re getting at, but Jain has a point too.”
“Thank you!” Jain tossed one hand in the air as he backed off; thankful for someone finally stating the obvious.
“So you’re both willing to take on the Evisceration, no questions asked, but Kai Rayne is one step too far?” Tara almost laughed. She stepped back and then actually did to laugh, shaking her head as a realisation came over her “That’s right. I forgot. It’s ok to have your psycho ex here, but anyone else's…”
Sayia felt the sting of the comment flung at him, but he had to take control. He took a long breath “Let’s just all… calm down here…” He stepped away and walked to the wall of aging televisions, one of which showed Jemima heading their way. He watched her for a moment; his psycho ex, and then looked back to Tara and Jain “Look, ordinarily, I’d say no villains, under any circumstances… but…” he sighed “if we need to get into Terra Volta, Tara is totally right. No one can go in there alone.”
“But…” Jain went to protest, but then someone caught his eye. He had no idea how long the raven haired man in the jeans and grey t shirt had been standing there. No doubt long enough to be insulted by pretty much everything Jain had said. He cursed silently in his head, even more so when he saw Tara’s eyes catch sight of the man too. She looked guilty. Guilty that Kai had heard the things Jain had said as if she’d said them herself. Jain closed his eyes and wished he hadn’t spoken at all.
“I get it.” Kai addressed them all from the doorway. “I wouldn’t trust me. No way would I trust me. I’m the walking shell of a summoned demon. I'm Pyrerain. I had a permanent “lethal-force-allowed” rule against me, even before martial law.” He stepped inside, taking a moment before speaking again. “I know I’m more of a villain than any kind of Hero and I always will be. I shouldn't be trusted. I don't know if Pyrerain's really gone, or if he's still in here somewhere” Kai touched his chest lightly.
“Kai…” Tara tried to stop him.
Kai shook his head as he looked to her. “It’s ok. Look… last thing I knew I was walking home from the Paragon Times. Then I got ten years in a glass ball.” his eyes moved to Jain as he quoted him. Jain felt the look burn into him even with his eyes closed “I got to see everything I... he did. Like an out of body experience or something. His actions; my eyes” It looked as if he really didn’t want to be talking about it. It definitely looked like Tara didn’t want him to talk about it, as if she’d witnessed what it had done to him before. “First thing I did when I woke up outside of it, was to tell T to put me straight back in. I don’t deserve a second chance.”
“Kai…” Tara tried again, but was met with him shaking his head once more.
“I don’t. My body is still Pyrerain. Somehow. He’s just not in control right now. but this is a second chance, whether I like it or not. I’m not trained to fight, but I know I can. I know what Pyrerain’s... my body can do. I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but if you need to get into Terra Volta, I know I can help you get there.”
Jain had to admit it; he was starting to buy into the idea now it was coming out of someone else’s mouth too, even if it was the man himself. He opened his eyes and looked at Tara. She was staring at Kai as if she’d never believed in anything more in her entire life. That hurt. He was jealous, he knew it; jealous that it has been a long time since she had looked at him that way. Tara’s gaze glanced to Jain, a small smile spread across his lips, totally out of control and catching him as off guard as it caught her. He looked away. He looked to Kai “Ok.” Jain left a pause and then carried on as if that had been his intention all along “but if you screw his up, I’m putting you back in that ball myself.”
Kai nodded “You’ve got it.” He held a hand out to Jain.
Jain tried not to hate him. He was nice. The kind of nice he knew Tara liked. He could see why she had been with him. Jain shook his hand. He tried not to make it cold and slightly too assertive.
“Thank you.” Kai looked at him as if he genuinely appreciated the gesture, even if there was an air of hollowness to it.
“For what?” Jain spoke quietly, feeling the tension coming from both Tara and Sayia as they looked on.
“For looking after her.” Tara’s eyes dropped as Kai spoke and soon after, Sayia squeezed her shoulder gently.
“…no problem” Jain swallowed, his heart sinking. He hadn’t done a lot of looking after her in the last year and he realised that despite everything, Tara hadn’t told Kai what Jain done to her. She hadn’t turned to him as a shoulder to cry on. She’d just carried the pain of him walking out on her. Jain shook hands with Kai for a little too long, the grip warming and gaining an honesty to it before Sayia broke the silence.
“Ok. Let’s sit down and talk this through.” Sayia pulled out a chair and settled down on it.
“Am I late?” Jemima’s purring voice joined them from behind Kai. He stepped aside to allow her in.
“Not at all.” Sayia gestured for her to sit as Kai and Jain joined him and Tara at the table. He tried to ignore the icy chill of Tara’s stare at Jemima and the equally dark gaze she was receiving back.
“Well… White7, the Outlaw Stars, the Evisceration and Pyrerain sitting at the same table” Jemima smiled as she took her place “It’s like the start of a joke.”
“…you’ve got that right…” Tara sighed. She was tired of this meeting already.
“So.” Jemima looked between the awkward four she’d joined, surrounded by the ancient TVs. “Why am I being made to sit in here? This place feels like Videodrome.”
Sayia moved his eyes to Jemima and then to the rest of them “It’s happening today.” He watched as their expressions all sank, all but Tara’s. After all, she already knew. “So from right now, we’re quitting the bickering.” He pointedly looked between Tara and Jain, then to Jemima “we’re quitting playing games. As of right now we are all here to do the same thing.” He gave them enough time to nod in agreement before continuing, “We don’t have much time, so this is about defence. First thing’s first, I agree with Jain, and that is we have to get the War Walls back up. We may not be able to stop the Rikti coming through, but we’ve got to try and stop as many of them getting to the city as we can. Jain, take Kai with you.” he took the decision out of their hands “Get into Terra Volta and see what you can do.”
“You got it.” Jain nodded. He was sick of fighting.
“Ok. What else?” Sayia looked between them all.
“You’ll need a distraction from White7.” Jemima smiled, especially when Sayia raised an eyebrow. “You know, keep them busy elsewhere, or at least make it so there’s less attention on Terra Volta.”
“What do you have in mind…?” Sayia asked cautiously, knowing exactly what she had in mind.
“A little chaos on the streets.” Jemima answered simply, shrugging as if the suggestion was innocent enough.
“How much chaos is a little?” Tara sounded even more suspicious than she looked.
“Well, I was thinking we could go out and kill a few cops, blow up a couple of coffee shops, that kind of thing.” Jemima was met with a stunned silence. She couldn’t hold her laughter back. “I’m kidding. Wow… you people have no sense of humour…”
“No violence, Jemima.” Sayia spoke low and slow, pausing between each word.
“Seriously, I was kidding. I know you won’t let me out to play if you know I’m going to misbehave…”
“Jemima…” Sayia narrowed his eyes.
“Fine.” She sighed “No dead cops. I’ll be nice. I'll even leave the coffee shops alone. We all will…”
“Not too nice.” Jain piped in, to everyone’s surprise.
“Not too nice?” Tara’s eyes widened as she looked towards Jain.
“If we’re getting on board with the whole using villains thing, we should do it properly.” Jain looked between them as they started to listen “White7 are trying to maintain that they’re in control. If we can show that they’re not, that’s going to be a distraction and a blow to Ria too…” He said Ria’s name with enough disdain to make them all uncomfortable.
“I agree.” It was easy to tell everyone in the room was shocked Tara would agree so quickly. She looked between them, “No really, I do. If we set the Evisceration loose somewhere in Paragon, all eyes will go there. They don’t know we’re… whatever screwed up kind of allies we are. As far as they know, it’s a group of rogue supervillains taking advantage of a city, on the worse day possible for them to do so.”
“Then there’s no other reason for me to hang around this little Heroes’ club.” Jemima got to her feet, smiling.
“Wait.” Sayia looked up at her “If the Rikti come through…”
“…when.” Tara corrected him.
“…when the Rikti come through." Sayia nodded. "We’re going to need you.”
“I know.” Jemima smiled and simply walked out of the room. Sayia sighed and rubbed one temple as it throbbed.
“It’ll be ok.” Tara tried to sound reassuring.
“…I don’t want to be the one setting them on Paragon City…” Sayia leaned back in his chair, rubbing the bridge of his nose between his eyes. The headache was getting worse.
“Say I did it.” Kai spoke for the first time since the conversation started and all eyes turned to him “You’ve got the perfect scapegoat sitting right here. As far as Paragon City knows, I’m Pyrerain right? Last time I checked I wasn’t exactly popular.”
“He’s right.” Jain agreed “I’m not one to throw anyone in the firing line, but at the end of the day we can’t have the Outlaw Stars known for using villains against anyone, even if there’s a good reason for it.”
Sayia looked reluctant, but couldn’t disagree, not matter how much Tara's expression was telling him to. “Ok… what else?” Tara looked disappointed in him for agreeing so easily. That meant, deep down, she agreed too, she just didn't want to admit it.
“We’ve got to figure out what to do about the Rikti. We can get the War Walls back up, but anything that comes through has to be dealt with and we sure as hell can’t trust the Vanguard with this one.” Tara looked between them, pushing bright white hair back from her eyes.
“Fire teams.” Jain chipped in “There’s enough of us to lead one each.”
“You’re going to be in Terra Volta.” Tara disagreed.
“Yeah I am, but once the walls are up, they take twenty four hours to power down again. Even if someone flicks the off switch, we’ve got time for me to come back and help.”
“Ok.” Sayia cut in, before it turned into yet another disagreement. “Fire teams. Playing to our strengths. Kai, there are plenty of villains down here that aren’t affiliated with the Evisceration. Round them up, get them on side and get them clearing. Any Rikti foot soldiers, drones, small attack ships. They’re yours.”
Kai nodded. “You got it.”
“Jain, find the tanks and the defenders. Get the strongest ones to lead and get them to evacuate as many citizens as possible. As we come out of here, get them down. We’ve got to minimise the collateral damage.” Jain didn’t look happy about it, but he agreed nonetheless. “Tara, you’re on the offensive. The blasters, the controllers, the scrappers, anyone with the potential to cause damage. Siphon a couple of defenders from Jain’s team for support too. There’ll be heavy firepower coming our way and it needs to be dealt with, fast.”
“What about you?” Tara raised an eyebrow, looking to Sayia. Sayia took a deep, considered breath. “I’ve got an idea, but I'll need time. Time we don't have. So no matter what happens, I need you to keep them away from Peregrine Island. There's no other way.”
Continued in Chapter 4 here.