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Praetorian

The Hollowed & Hallowed Crusade

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Van's index runs through the holodisplay, causing the article to rapidly scroll. The actual content is irrelevant, there is nothing that the Daily Weekly could report on that he cared about it. Any information they might have, he already had and in greater detail. Anything that they had that he doesn't, well that was purely baseless speculation. No, what he is interested in are the pictures. "To think, Last Chance of all places." The Peacekeeper murmurs to himself, while glancing through the stills. "Do you think it's because they assumed that Last Chance would be poorly defended? An easy first target?" There is no response, which surprises him. Clearly his crack team are too busy with running the office to humor his inane questions.  "Stoooooooop ignoring me... please?" 

Van, we're busy right now. Unless it is official business, stop bugging us. You're the one who wanted to go on holiday in Last Chance of all places. So go enjoy your vacation.

"I'm not on vacation, I'm working, this is official business. Mostly." He pauses, picks up a mug and sips from it, before finally shrugging. "You know what, you're right. Byyyyyyyyyyyyye." The mentally audible static of the coms link vanishes as the connection breaks. For the moment, he's alone with his thoughts.

Leaning back into the wrought iron chair, coffee in hand, Van looks off into the early morning sky. The people of Last Chance, the more honest people, are just starting to venture from their homes to conduct business, while the nightly scum scurry away hide. Well, that probably isn't a fair assessment. There are probably equal numbers of scumbags present during the day and night, some just happened to be nocturnal. Finishing the last sip of coffee, and setting the mug on the table, Van returns to the display. A swiping motion discards the DW article, and a jab opens a text box.

Good Morning Michael, it's Van. I'm in Last Chance today, visiting mostly. I heard about the beach battle you took part in. I was wondering if you had some time to discuss it in person. I'm thinking a very loud very public statement needs to be made. The brash are getting brasher, and criminals shouldn't be so bold. If you're interested, meet me at Delrona's Cafe on 6th and Main. @amenities

With the message sent, Van closes out the display, causing a grid of lights to flicker from existence. "I wonder if I should have mentioned that I'm me Van and not some other Van...." The idea hadn't occurred to him before because by all accounts, in Hell's Gate anyway, he is a minor celebrity. But here, in Last Chance.... well, he's a no one. "Kinda nice not being recognized."

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The lone hero walks the horizon, following the line where sunlight doesn’t reach anymore round and round and round. He tries to do right by those who came before him; and others will after him, so he tries his best to do what’s right. For a time, he feels he is the greatest light in a long dark span. In a while, he wonders if he is alone.

Michael, you have an incoming message.

And then, after a battle or two with the night, the hero discovers he is not alone. His stretch of horizon is just one, and along others tread other great heroes. So it is that, with two great heroes, the horizon’s bright ends can be met and doubled down on.

Solid rays of red light emitted from the flat facet of a small crystal orbiting Michael Commager’s head into his temple. An ultraviolet projection of the message, as well as all known information about any “Van”s in the Terrenus military index, glossed underneath Michael’s right cornea in a clear light overlay as he walked down a Last Chance street. A haphazard scourge whose imbalance practically had them tripping on their own swords had just departed the Last Chance harbors weeks ago with a swatch of civilian vessels under heavy fire from Terrenus submarines; and now the harbors and prison of Last Chance, which had been hit most heavily in the attack, were well on their way to full repair from the fated day it fought off the Legion of Doom with Michael at its helm. As he read the message, the Major walked along an open air market near the docks. Seawater and fish riding on the cold wind filled his nostrils. It was the type of day that was a little cold nearer the water, but further away from shore the sun bore down just so that a walk felt comfortably brisk.

“Thanks Tori,” he said, eliciting a humanesque chirp from the battle AI as it settled beneath his right earlobe like an earring. Using miniscule pupillary gestures and mental cues, Michael entered a response to Van into Tori’s comms interface.

Van? Like THE Van?? I’ll be right there.

Michael’s excitement was palpable even on their text channel. They were chatting on a military channel, and luckily for Van Michael was privy to the fellow Peacekeeper as an exemplary predecessor of his duties. In one instant Michael went from “I know it’s not my job but let me help you with this dock’s infrastructure” to “Sorry, maybe ask the contractor,” and absconded from the rebuilding scene along Last Chance’s coast. Now was his chance to meet with a colleague whom, regardless their post and current location, held a little bit of celebrity in Mike’s mind.

After another cup of coffee— if drank at a marginally slower pace— Van would see Michael coming. Whether he knew what Mike looked like or not, Commager hoped they would recognize each other. In the same way two officers can identify each other by posture and typical gestures, Michael did indeed become aware of Van as they drew closer. The absent, but sharp look in Van’s eyes as he periodically addressed a personal HUD was all-too-familiar to Michael, even without the cute little top-secret ID picture buzzing in the corner of his field of vision.

“Hey! Good morning sir, it’s Mike!” Mike said, resisting the urge to divulge titles or execute his crispest military salute, and instead extending a hand to shake. One could never be sure just who was watching, especially in volatile places and times like these. Michael carried in the slack of his shoulders an ease that suggested he was not worried about threats, but in his mind a readiness that betrayed the suggestion.

Michael ordered himself a coffee and smoothed the ruffles of his button-down regalia, breathing in the warmer sunshine away from the docks. Here, instead of salty fish, Mike smelled pastries and warm cocoa beans. It was the smell of a fresh day; as fresh as the possibilities when two heroes aligned.

“I’m sure I needn’t ask what brings you here, but to what do I specifically owe the pleasure?”

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There are a few universal truths about Peacekeepers, at least in Van’s experience. They almost exclusively work alone, as in rarely with one another. They usually prefer to do things themselves, even when they have the authority to command vast armies, and in most instances, they have more people supporting them than the average person knows. It’s probably the last two truths that create the first. It is a rare occasion indeed that would warrant that many resources being leveraged against a single target.

It is for these reasons, that most Peacekeepers have never met face to face. Or, if they have, it is almost always in passing or at special events. Such an instance had taken place many years ago between Michael and Van, although one was not a PK at the time. And although years have passed, people have aged, and faces have weathered, Van still recognizes him. Of course, it’s not at all for the reason listed. The photographers at the Daily Week had captured numerous photos of Michael from the beach skirmish, which Van had recently looked at.

As Michael extends his hand, Van rises from the chair and extends his own to meet it. His grip isn’t crushing, by any stretch of the imagination, but is firm and well-practiced. “Good Morning, Mike, Van is fine.” It took ages to get his coworkers to stop calling him Sir or Mr. Edmund. It was an unnecessary ceremony that inhibited communication. Things were easier, more fluid, when he was seen and treated as a normal person, rather than some special authority figure.

“Thank you for meeting me on such short notice. Hopefully I didn’t steal you away from anything too important.” His hand retracts from the shake and he drops back into his chair while motioning for Michael to join him. “Things are a mess. Terrenus is a mess. And there are a lot of people taking advantage of it.” He pauses to consider his left statement and then the next. “Maybe it isn’t abnormal, maybe the attacks aren’t anymore frequent or anymore bold than they have been in the past. I can’t really say.”

There is another pause, long enough for Michael to make his own assessment. “But, I think that with everything else going on something needs to be done. We can’t fix the worlds problems all at once. But we can certainly send a message.” Messages are important, they’re sent daily. A Peacekeeper hanging around to help rebuild isn’t necessary or even meaningful, but it sends a powerful message. “We spend a lot of time waiting around for bad things to happen, then we respond and discourage. What if we, you and I, stop waiting? What if we went out and proactively strike down these agents of anarchy and purge them from the world?”

“Keep in mind that I plan on doing this either way, because taking the fight to them limits civilian casualties.” Affording Michael the time to think it over, to really consider what is being put on the table, Van picks up his mug and sips on it.

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When two people have developed respective pedigree of honor and fortitude, there lies between them a beautiful path walked by frank respects and dark honesties. Michael was a fireball in the days of old; had been an brutal upstart in the early dog days, in the past earning him the sharp reproval of his peers and superiors. Reading the reports and seeing him now though, Van would indeed recognize Michael as a flame tempered into a holy burn by years dealing his own, greatest form of justice at the hands of Gaia. He remembered Van from that day, too, a flashing by face among many he thought he had earned the reproval of.

But now they sat across from one another, everything in the years between now and then laid bare on the table; accepted and under the bridge with a series of “hello”s. Michael drummed his middle and index fingers against the rim of his steaming cup, looking down the gentle slope into the sea. He had sat at a 90-degree angle to Van just so that he could enjoy this view while they talked— undoubtedly of larger things.

And now, with Van’s words, he consciously restrained himself from erupting into a fury that consumed him with the bright and holy zeal of his younger youth. Michael trained the excitement back into his stomach, but Van would see it in the moment between their voices, blazing shamelessly in Commager’s eyes. Let’s do this.

“You’re right,” he said after mulling the words around not to sound too excited. Michael had a fiery reputation as purported by others and media for jumping to the fight, but sitting across from Van the tempered flame bore a brilliant hue.

Michael laid his hands in the air, palms up, on either side of him and looked around.

“Where do we begin?” It was not a question derived from a lack of choices, but the opposite.

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When it comes to bringing order to chaos, Van adheres to a very simple philosophy; it doesn’t matter where you start, just start. When there are a dozen opportunities, most people freeze and are unable to make a decision. Van found the best option, especially with limited information, is to arbitrarily pick an opportunity to punch in the face, before moving on to the next.

Admittedly, just storming into an enemy stronghold throwing punches probably wouldn’t get them very far. However, the actual stronghold they stormed is largely irrelevant. It’s with this knowledge in mind that Van surrenders a shrug as an answer to Michael’s question. “No clue. If I had a concrete plan, I would have just sent it to you with some coordinates.”

As Van spoke, a request for an encrypted connection is sent to Michael's HUD. With that connection comes a wealth of data, some supplied from a Vampyre who’s cousin had been abducted and smuggled into Terrenus. Another file correlates a magical energy signature with a plague and links it back to Ursa Madeum, this one with signatures from private contractors, as well as the government.  There are of course numerous other files, reflecting the vast amount of criminal activity prevalent in the world.

“Did you know that Last Chance has a child abduction problem?” There is a file on that as well. The thought leaks through the connection. “The problem, originally was that a bunch of dead kids were being found. They all died from exposure to various poisons and toxins. Most of them were orphans or homeless runaways” He twists in his chair, turning from Michael to look out into the city. “Some of the children stolen from orphanages haven’t shown back up. Could be correlated, but may not be.”

Admittedly, one of the nice things about being reactive is that it means catching the criminals red handed. A proactive approach means a little ground work is needed to get a conviction in court. Unfortunately, most of the data isn't strong enough to warrant a conviction, but that is easily resolved with a little interrogation.

“There is also the issue of Patia, a long-standing thorn in our side.” Van glances at Michael, his brows furrowed with disdain. “Of course, there is an entire population being held hostage there. So, that might require a lot of preplanning. I’m not opposed to that mind you. But I think we need something immediate and decisive. Thoughts?”

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