As the two groups talked and the tension led to friendly chatter which led to old war stories and even some laughter I drifted into my own thoughts. I thought of how I met each one of them in my early days of adventuring. How each of them saved me several times and how I'd done the same for them. Some would feel hurt even angry at the Altairs move on me, but strangely I understood. These were good people; all of them. Being a masked hero takes a toll on ones psyche. Paranoia runs rampant especially when talks of Praetorians start. The conversations continued even after Troll and Grace both decided it best to retire and calm themselves. I remained quiet and to myself; I noticed that Solar was standing alone as well. I went over to reassure that everything was fine but she was somewhere else, in her mind, she looked up and smiled and kissed my cheek. But she was distracted, even muttering under her breath about something. This was a conversation to be handled another time. She is a very powerful witch; gifted beyond measure in her control of fire and kinetic energy. She very well may be one of the most powerful heroes I've known, but there has always been something unsteady about her . It's nothing that is readily apparent on the surface (she is pleasant and sweet with a sharp mind) but if you watch her long enough you start to see slight ticks in her body or whispering things to herself. She sometimes will not speak for hours to anyone then manically ramble on about vast conspiracies.. OCD, bipolar, schizophrenia: I just don't know, but something is there and I worry for her especially now.
Per my request, Festus took Frank home after dropping Smitty and me off at Pemiscott Hall. I needed some time alone with my foster father.
“You really should think of moving back in now. It is after all yours.” he smiled trying to deflect all the drama of the past few hours. He went to the bar and poured himself a glass of Scotch. He looked at me and I nodded and he poured me a glass as well. “Funny, your dad and I used to have a few drinks and talk about life out on that very porch.”
I smiled “Well then lets do that.” It was a put-on smile of course. I was confused and exhausted. I grabbed his elbow as we opened the French doors to the back patio and had a seat.
“Frank seems to be a good man, Mandy. Do you see a future for you two?”
I thought for a second, “Sure, yeah, I think so.” I took a long sip from the glass and almost vomited. (My god, how did they drink this stuff?) Smiity began laughing as he saw me gag on the very expensive yet very nasty liquor.
“Not to your tastes? Heh, you'll get used to it. Usually by the second glass.” he paused looking at the boats on the water of Founder's Falls.
“Your dad wasn't much of a drinker either...... You are so much like both of them. You know?”
I nodded, fighting the tears as they came to the surface. “What's happening? My world is coming unraveled. My friends, Smitty, my own friends think I'm a monster.”
“They do not Mandy, you're just tired. Finish your drink and have Festus draw you a bath and make your bed for you.”
“I can do that myself.”
“You do pay him for those things you know.”
“I pay him, yes, but not to make baths and beds. I hate that and you know it.”
“Yes. Yes I do. And that is all your mother.” he looked at me with pride and love. My mother was a fiercely indepenent spirit completely absent were the pretensions of being a wealthy woman. My father was an academic, but also a good son, and knew how to navigate the world of the affluent quite well, but deep down he related to my mothers separation from it.
I took another long drink and paused, “Well it's definitely not my grandmother.”
We both laughed at my attempt at breaking the tension. Exhaustion and stressed made it the funniest joke in the world and we sat for what seemed minutes laughing at my Nonna's expense. Then there was an awkward pause.
“Smitty I want you to ask me the questions.”
Without hesitation he looked at me, “That isn't necessary, Amanda, I know its you. You know that.”
“I know, but I want to know you know.”
“Just ask the questions, please, for me.”
He looked down uneasy. We had planned this since the day I decided to become a hero. A code, some questions in case there was ever a question about my identity. We'd worked out a complex system of questions and answers that changed depending on time, date and year. Praetorians were the boogie men to the masked hero. Someone that could ruin a reputation and cost lives. They were a menace to us, brought on by the portals. Portals my father helped build.
“Question number one: What is the number directly after 1638?”
“That is the wrong question.”
“Correct. Question number two: What is the thing you want most in the world?”
“Ok. Third question: What is the most beautiful thing in the world?”
“The purple and orange glow of Founder's Falls at sunset.”
We both smiled and took a long drink together and sat silently for the next thirty minutes.
“Doctor would you like me to take you home now?” Festus said after making my bed like I'd insisted he didn't.
“Please, Festus, thank you.”he reached into his pocket as he stood and handed me a CD-Rom. “Frozen Passion gave me this to give to you. It's the evidence from this so called informant. She said you may want to look it over.”
“Do you want to stay and look at it too?”
“No, just fill me in later.” he said as he kissed the top of my head.
I sat for a few minutes as they took off in the town car and enjoyed what was now my third Scotch. (They were getting better) I grabbed the disk and my empty glass and headed to the study to see what this “informant had on me”.
On the disk was a single folder labeled Mental Maden Mental Maden2 evidence. In the folder was a series of numerically ordered files. The early files were scans of newspaper articles and video files of TV news casts telling the history of the Praetorian threat. Nothing new but a nice compilation. Next was a .pdf transcript of the CHII hearing about me. I did notice some clever editing of the content removing any positive things said about me. Still nothing too compelling in the argument so far: circumstantial....silly. Next were copies of my medical records and details of the changes in my brain and tumor. Including the radiographs. Then came a series of digital photos that made my heart sink. File #105 Me shaking hands with the Arachnos liaison. Then a picture of me with Mr. Wolfe captioned (with known spy and criminal). I quickly went through the series of photos realizing that this did in fact look horrible. There was an article on a break in at the Longbow base and the kidnapping of Dr. dier Schepper. The next photo while out of chronological sequence sealed my fate a picture of me walking out of the secret lab from the day I first met the doctor. It was titled (Seen leaving the doctors lab few days prior to kidnapping). Circumstantial but damning. I ejected the CD-ROM and placed it back in its case when I noticed a note written on the back of the cover.
Someone in your circle is NOT who they say they are.
Here are some files that I'm sure will cause you concern.
It has come to my attention that this person is in fact a Praetorian spy sent to infiltrate your organization to head a full on invasion of our wonderful city.
Please look over this evidence with diligence and do what you feel prudent.
You may call me,
What the hell.