When Miss Militia had gotten Armsmaster's alert, she'd expected something big to be going down. The Protectorate leader was nothing if not confident in his abilities, something he'd earned through blood sweat and experience, so if things had escalated to the point that even he was calling for help, then it had to be major.
Yet, she had to admit that she certainly hadn't expected this.
"So how long are we going to be waiting for your director to get here?" Kiran asked from across the table.
"Ah, well, we can't all be Noctis cases, Kiran," Miss Militia gave the woman and her team a carefully practiced smile to hide her nerves.
"Annette, please," the woman pressed, her exasperated green eyes showing that she'd done this song and dance many times before.
"Or," the large blue-haired man in thick plates of ornate green and gold armor said as he leaned over the table with a smirk, "you could call her Lady Hebert."
"Oh, christ, Hector, no." Annette groaned, hanging her head in her hands at her comrade's teasing comment.
"Hey," Hector grinned as he spread his arms with a playful shrug, "I'm just trying to keep things official, because that's what you wanted, right?"
"You know," the man with almost alarmingly red hair sitting beside Hector chimed in, "he's technically got a point."
"It wouldn't do for a lady of your standing to go unrecognized." A purple haired woman in a regal, if oddly alluring set of black and purple armor. By itself, elegant enough, but the golden highlights, fur trimmed coat, and onyx crown all helped sell the image of this supposed "Queen of Nohr", even she looked far more like a villain to Miss Militia's eye.
The woman continued with a mischievous glint in her eye and a smile on her lips,"Why, people might start to think you're part of the rabble."
"Camilia…" Annette whined.
"I think we're getting away from the point," commented another woman with seafoam green hair and an oddly flat expression. Of all the attendants, she seemed the most odd given her ornate white and gold robes that carried a distinctly saintly air. Fitting for the head of a foreign church.
"Thank you, Byleth," Annette nodded gratefully and flashing the others a mild glare. "Now, as Miss Militia was saying?"
Miss Militia repressed a sigh.
"The Director will be here as quickly as possible." She said.
"Will there be any diplomatic envoys?" a different blue-haired man asked, this one wearing a crown and a set of finely cut clothes fit for royalty, though oddly asymmetrical and focused on the left shoulder. .
Miss Militia eyed the man who'd said it carefully, then shot a questioning glance towards Annette.
The robed woman just shrugged and said, "Chrom's got a fair question."
Well, this was awkward.
"Ah...well...you see…" Miss Militia began a lot of trepidation.
"-They don't believe us yet," the sixth member of Annette's team cut her off in a bland voice. The white-haired girl looked like she belonged more with the wards than at a conference table involving the likes of Kings, Queens, and more. Yet Annette seemed to rely on her and the girl seemed well behaved, so Miss Militia trusted there was a reason for her presence. "They think we're just another one of those 'cape groups' you talked about, and they're going to keep trying to put us in that box until they can't simply categorize us as something familiar."
Miss Militia wanted to bristle at the accusation, but mostly she felt resigned and disappointed by the fact she was right.
"Hah!" Hector belted out a laugh, "They're sticking their head in the sand!"
"It's not overly surprising," Byleth countered, "they don't have any context for this, why should they take us at our word?"
"That's an almost depressingly good point, dear," Camila sighed.
"Maybe, but it's not like we don't have proof." Eliwood countered, "It wouldn't take too much effort for the Order to open a gateway and give them a tour."
"Perhaps we could organize it with some sort of festival across the realms?" Chrom suggested, "Or, a few of them at least."
"There's the spring festival." Annette points out, "that should be starting up soon. It would be a fantastic time to show off the bounty of the Order of Heroes."
"My oh my, do you perhaps mean..." Camila leaned forward, eyeing the room with a half-lidded gaze and a sultry tone. "The Bunny Festival?"
Veronica looked off thoughtfully at the words, while Chrom outright grimaced and buried his head in his hands.
"I take it back, we can wait."
Annette chuckled, "No, no, that's a good idea."
As the conversation spun further and further off-topic, Miss Militia couldn't help but feel vastly out of her depth. Was she supposed to stop them? There wasn't really anything to talk about until the Director got here, but she would probably expect her to get at least some actionable intelligence from the other capes.
Hector let out a bellowing roar of laughter, slapping his armored knee with a resounding clang while Chrom looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Miss Militia sighed and shook her head. She wasn't even sure if calling them capes was accurate. If the report Armsmaster had given her was anything to go by, they were clearly displayed parahuman abilities. Yet they didn't even pay lip service to the conventional ideas of cape culture. While they did wear colorful outfits that could be called costumes, they were all clearly either armored or ceremonial in purpose, often both. They didn't hide their faces, create iconic names for themselves, and they'd outright killed Lung without a second thought.
It was unusual, something that lent credence to their claims of being from another world. As did their anachronistic clothes, weapons, and reactions to technology.
It worried Miss Militia, not because the Order of Heroes seemed particularly aggressive or villainous, but because it was strange. It was atypical. They didn't act like capes, heroic or otherwise, and in a powder keg like Brockton Bay, that could be very dangerous.
"Well…" Eliwood crossed his arms and looked off in thought, "it's either this or the bridle festival."
"Or the summer~" Camila trilled.
Hector's face suddenly went cold. "Absolutely not."
"Oh come now, Lord Hector," Camila grinned, "You can't deny Lilina looked-"
She was cut off when the door to the conference room opened and Armsmaster walked through.
"The Director has arrived," He announced, "she is currently gathering the rest of her staff, and will be here shortly."
"Splendid," Annette smiled, "any diplomats? Envoys?"
Armsmaster paused, "...no."
She rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh.
"It's not like we're in a rush." Chrom pointed out.
"I would prefer to get back to finding my family sooner, rather than later." Annette pointed out in an icy tone that made Miss Militia distinctly uncomfortable about what was likely going to be happening next.
Chrom nodded to acknowledge her point "fair enough. But, keep in mind that you were the one who said that the faster we get done passing the judgement of the proper authorities, the fast we can have everything going on track."
"Yeah yeah yeah." Annette said.
"I think we can all agree that the less we waste time with pointless talk and posturing, the better." Hector grumbled.
A round of nods across the table at that.
Fortunately for all involved, they didn't have to wait long. A few minutes later, and Director Piggot, along with the few aides and staff members that could be rounded up at this early hour, arrived and made their place at the large conference table that dominated the room.
"Well then," Director Piggot began after she'd settled herself in at the head of the table. "I've been briefed on the basics, but let's see if I have this right."
She pulled out a piece of paper from the stack of files they'd brought and pointedly looked it over.
"According to Armsmaster, you claim to be Annette Hebert, a dead woman." the Director began in a cold, unamused, voice that brokered no nonsense and set the tone for the rest of the discussion. "And that upon arriving in this city, one of the first things you did was murder another man through the clear use of parahuman abilities, before claiming to be here on a 'diplomatic mission'."
She looked up from the paper and shot Annette an expectant look. "Do I have the facts right?"
Annette merely responded with a flat, unimpressed, expression. "Really? That's the angle you're going with?"
"I don't see much of an angle here, 'Kiran'," Piggot retorted with clear disdain in her voice, "I see a group of capes waltzing into my city like they own the place, lighting a fuze that will lead to one of the bloodiest gang wars this city has ever seen, and then acting like high and mighty diplomats when it suits them."
Annette spread her hands, "We came here, in the first place, in the interests of diplomacy. On our way to finding the proper authorities to get in contact with, we encountered a large flaming dragon, and well known murderous gang boss, attempting to flambe a young girl." She shrugged, almost casually, "What happened next was unfortunate, but not altogether unsurprising. The brute of a man was as obstinate as he was monstrous, through and through."
"Murder is still murder."
"I wasn't aware that self defense has become illegal in the states, my apologies."
"You can certainly defend yourself if need be, but that's a far cry from killing a man."
"I think you underestimate the determination of an angry dragon."
"A dragon well known for his durability and regeneration. You would have had to go well out of your way to actually kill him. Certainly not something that would have happened on accident."
"You'd be surprised, actually," Annette had the audacity to shrug and give a tiny little smile, "-how easy it can be to reduce a man pile of ashes when you stop playing around."
"And the fact you had to go so far doesn't incriminate you?"
"Well, as we've agreed, Lung is quite durable and very determined. He wanted us dead, and not much other than putting him down for good would have stopped him."
"You could have run." Piggot pointed out.
"And lead him on a chase that would have left half the city in flaming ruins? Are you sure you've got your head on straight?"
Miss Militia, and most everyone else at the table, was dumbstruck watching the two women engage in the verbal sparring match. They lobbed volley after volley of verbal assault at one another. Accusation, deflection, correction, and even veiled, and not so veiled, insults were thrown across the table and answered shot for shot, with neither giving ground.
Director Piggot was unsurprising to Miss Militia, she'd seen the woman face down even the most irate cape with little more than a scowl and a body full of contempt. Annette Hebert, however, seemed to take it all with a casual stride that spoke of a storied experience dealing with stubborn and powerful people.
Finally, after far too long in Miss Militia's opinion, Lord Hector loudly cleared his throat.
"Yes, yes, point taken" she grumbled. Looking up she met Director Piggot's gaze, "I think we've beaten around the bush long enough. It's clear enough that at this rate, we could be at this all day."
The Director didn't look pleased by Miss Hebert's words, but neither did she look especially displeased. "And?"
"And I think we should move this conversation along to something actually productive, unless you're actually going to try to have us arrested."
"I'm considering it."
"Really?" Annette raised a skeptical, and more than a little amused, brow.
"Your actions just lit a powder keg under this city, and when the gang war starts I'll have to deal with the fallout while you no doubt prance away under your 'diplomatic protections'."
Annette scoffed, "please, I've no doubt this city has been waiting for a gang war for years. It's always been a cesspool of chaos and misery. It was all going to blow sooner or later, don't pretend like it's all my fault."
"So you claim no responsibility?"
"Oh, I don't deny I probably triggered it with Lung's death, but let's be honest, the fuse was lit a long time ago." Annette shrugged, "besides, I'm more than willing to help out with your problem. After all, it's my city too."
"Oh?" Director Piggot prodded, actually seeming interested, but also looking skeptical.
"Of course." Annette smiled, "There's what, a couple dozen capes in the city? A few hundred gang members?"
She turned to face her own little council of lords, royals, and even a religious leader. "Thoughts everyone?"
"A few hundred men isn't much, we could easily match it by pooling together knights from the various signatory kingdoms of the Order of Heroes." Exalt Chrom answered.
"Healers and mages would likely be the most appreciated, if I understand your world well enough." Queen Camila chimed in. "While your arms are far more advanced than any of ours, magic is something you lack, correct?"
"The Church of Seiros could most certainly provide its priests and apothecarys to aid those involved in the conflict," Archbishop Byleth said.
"Perhaps, but you shouldn't discount the impact that a large group of well trained men-at-arms can have in keeping the peace. They might not be able to throw fireballs, but they could certainly help maintain law and order." Lord Eliwood argued.
"And I'd like to see the gun that could punch through the sturdiest plate of our knights!" Lord Hector bellowed, rapping a fist against his armored breastplate wiht a loud, boisterous, clang.
"That's actually not a bad point," Annette admitted, "the metallurgy and armor forging processes of many of your lands far exceeds what my world was capable of, and I've certainly seen Hector laugh off blows that would easily cleave a car in half. It probably wouldn't stop high explosives or anti-armor weapons, but I think if we've gotten to that point we have bigger problems."
Before the conversation could get too far off track, the Director raised her voice and cut them off.
"Are you suggesting that you occupy the city with a foriegn army to pacify the gang war?" Director Piggot questioned.
"Oho, so you actually believe me?" Annette smirked.
"Whether you can remains to be seen," Piggot deflected without missing a beat, "but the fact that you're even suggesting it…"
"Having a foreign army occupy the city under the claim of providing law and order would have terrible optics, no matter how you'd spin it." one of the Director's staff, the head of local PR, commented. "Even if we allowed it, it would make the PRT seem weak and ineffectual, like we can't protect the city on our own."
"Well...can you?" Annette said, floating the accusation across the table with all the casual air of a housecat dropping a dead rat in the middle of the room.
Director Piggot scowled, but remained silent.
"I mean…" Annette continued, "if you can protect the city and all its citizens just fine without us, then what do you have to fear from some uppity gangs having a little scuffle in the city?"
"A bloodbath, you mean." the Director growled.
"Well, not if your oh-so powerful PRT has anything to say about it, right?"
"We have limited resources, there's only so much we can do to stem the tide-"
"So then, you do need our help, right?"
Miss Militia was honestly afraid for the Director's health, given the unhealthy pallor her skin was taking.
"The PRT cannot afford to be shown up by an upstart organization."
"So...what you're really saying is that your reputation is more important than the lives of the people under your protection?" Annette inquired, "Is it because when it comes down to it that's all you have? Or is it because, at the end of the day, all you really want to do is consolidate power, and you don't really care who gets crushed to do it?"
Miss Militia winced. That was one of the more prominent criticisms of the PRT and Protectorate as a whole, and one of the few that stuck, mostly because it was so hard to disprove. In Brockton Bay, with it's rampant gang problem, it was especially hard to disprove. Dangers like the Slaughterhouse Nine and Nilbog certainly didn't help their image.
That there was a measure of truth to it made it all the worse.
"I don't like what you're insinuating." the Director said through grit teeth.
"And I'm sure the citizens of Brockton Bay don't like having their lives ruined by ruthless gangs and an impotent government."
Miss Militia worried that if Kiran kept this up, Director Piggot was going to grind her teeth down to the gums.
"You're treading on dangerous ground."
"Been there, done that." Annette replied flippantly. Her company of capes seemed more amused and exasperated than anything else, if Hector's snort and Eliwood's sigh were anything to go by.
"Kiran…" Eliwood sighed.
"Oh come now, let her have her fun." Camila smirked.
"I think she's getting off track with her 'fun'." Veronica argued.
"COUGH COUGH pointless talk and posturing COUGH COUGH" Hector commented with all the subtlety of a raging bull.
Annette huffed, but relented. "Fine, fine."
Turning back to the Director, she said, "Let's shelve that argument and move on. As much as I'd like to talk in circles about this all day, we both have better things to do."
Straightening herself in her chair, Annette Hebert drew several large stacks of paper from...somewhere, and placed them on the table.
"I am here to attempt to facilitate trade relations between the various signatories and allies of the Order of Heroes, as well as to extend a formal invitation to the United States to at least enter into an official agreement with the Order, if not to actually join as a full member."
She snapped her fingers, and suddenly a similar stack of papers appeared in front of Miss Militia, as well as everyone else on her side of the table. They came almost without warning or trail, only a whisper quiet sound of wings signalled their arrival.
Miss Militia jerked at their sudden presence, before carefully looking the papers over. They were bound in a leather jacket with a large, formal, and somewhat nordic looking golden runic seal on the cover. Opening it up, she saw that it was filled with a lot of legalese and very flowery language, but a table of contents listed such things as "Contracting Heroes", "Hero Exchange Programs", "Available Resources", and "Magical Instruction".
"What is this?" the Director finally said after leafing through the contents briefly.
"A general introduction to what we at the Order are offering." Annette explained. "Again, trade is the biggest thing we're asking for, but as the name suggests, the Order of Heroes was initially formed as a company of Heroes. The gathering of nations came later."
"And what, exactly, could you offer us?" Piggot questioned with an imperiously arched brow, "Assuming, of course, that I believe any of this."
"Oh, this is all quite easily proven," Annette said, waving off the concern like it was nothing. "Opening the gateways between realms is what the Order of Heroes was founded on. It wouldn't take anything at all for us to provide a tour of the Order and its member nations."
"In fact," she gestured towards Miss Militia, who felt uncomfortable about being put on the spot for something as dangerous as politics, and said, "as I'm sure Miss Militia can attest, we were discussing that very thing before you arrived."
"That doesn't tell me what's on the table." The Director pointed out.
"Well, a number of things, I can't pretend to know the depths and complexities of the current state of the American market," Annette began with a twist of a hand, "however the largest things on the table are relatively simple to sort out.
"The Order of Heroes is prepared to offer a mix of manpower, training, refined goods, and, of course, magic."
"There's that word again. 'Magic'." The Director scoffed, "You expect me to take you seriously when you're giving me fairy tales?"
Miss Militia couldn't really blame her. The capes that Hebert had gathered around her looked like they'd been pulled straight out of a fantasy novel. Bandying around words like "magic" certainly wouldn't help in taking them seriously. As much as they might style themselves around using it, Miss Militia figured there had to be some kind of rational explanation behind it. Perhaps a form of Tinkertech, or a widespread trump power like Othala.
Annette, for her part, sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose like she'd been expecting this headache. Queen Camilia looked amused and laid a commiserating hand on her leader's shoulder.
"There there, dear. Now you get to experience what we had to go through with you." Camila said. Annette just grunted in response.
"Ser Armsmaster," Veronica spoke up. "Did you not personally observe the effects of our magic yourself?"
Armsamster frowned at the assertion, countering by saying, "I observed several unknown parahuman effects, which appeared to include the use of light to heal an injured combatant, through the use of a staff. The mechanism, be it Tinkertech, Parahuman ability, or something else at work, has yet to be determined."
"It's not magic, Armsmaster." Piggot growled decisively.
"That has yet to be determined, Director." Armsmaster pointed out. "We have yet to begin even a preliminary investigation into what happened, including how Lung was killed. Until such time we have more answer, we cannot truly-"
"Yes, yes, yes," Piggot waved him off irritably, "Assumptions are dangerous."
"Look," Annette said, "I don't care what you call it, magic, tinkertech, paracausal abilities, it doesn't change what it can do. Magic is effectively very much like a set controllable, reliable, and stable powers that can be taught and learned by anyone with the right aptitude."
"Learned?" Piggot frowned, "How do you mean? Is it a trump effect like Teacher's?"
"No," Annette shook her head, "It's just as I said, anyone with the right instruction and the right talent can learn how to perform various magics. There's certain equipment and tools that can be used to focus, enhance, and facilitate magic, but at the basic levels all are extremely common. In some cases, practically mass produced."
Piggot opened her mouth to respond, but Armsmaster cut her off with a surprising eagerness. "You have mass produced tinkertech?"
"It's not tinkertech as you would understand it," Annette countered. "The largest barrier to mass producing these magic items is usually just societal, at least for the basics. The economy and infrastructure of many of the signatory nations in the Order simply isn't organized for factory scale mass production."
"At the grand Lady Kiran's suggestion," Chrom said, "Many of our kingdoms have been taking steps to advance towards those goals."
"Many organizations have been enacting reforms influenced by Kiran's words and stories of her home." Byleth explained, "Her council has become invaluable as of late, and has already had a noticeable effect on the standard of living for many."
"Not to mention with all the trade deals and economic pacts, all our coffers are feeling mighty full," Camilia added, "And with all that money to spend and an infrastructure in need of advancements…"
"We're a large open market more than happy to spend coin to trade with you." Eliwood finished, "Now, we might not have the same kind of paper credits that Kiran has explained you use, but from our understanding you still place at least some value on gold, correct?"
"And if that fails," Annette explained, "which I doubt, but if it does, then there are the other goods and services that various kingdoms can provide that I'm sure the US can find some use for."
Miss Militia glanced back to see the Director wearing an oddly pinched expression. She looked like she hated nearly everything about this conversation, but also hated how much she couldn't ignore it or really weigh in on it.
"I…" She eventually said with all the enthusiasm of someone digging their own grave, "...don't have the authority to discuss...any of these things."
"And that's why we wanted diplomats and envoys." Annette smiled thinly.
"We still haven't verified that there's any merit to your assertions." Piggot pointed out, no doubt quick to jump on any scraps of power she still had over the woman.
"Well we're happy to prove our claims whenever you're ready, just say the word." Was the flippant response.
"It isn't that simple." Piggot argued.
"It is, you're just making this difficult because you don't like being thrown into unknown situations where you don't hold all the cards."
"I'm not going to sit here and be talked down to by a violent thug with-"
Director Piggot was cut off mid-rant when the door to the conference room suddenly opened. It was so unexpected that Miss Militia jerked slightly, her power shifting into a sawed off shotgun beneath the table. The Director growled, swivelling in her chair to face the entrance, a scowl on her face and a scathing insult on her lips.
"I thought I ordered no interupt-..."
Director Piggot's words died in her lips as she beheld who, exactly, had arrived. Though she was not alone. Miss Militia's hand went slack, her power reformatting into a simple combat knife in her boot. Armsmaster's jaw slackened ever so slightly in surprise. Even Kiran, supposedly the dead Annette Hebert, who'd gone through the entire conference with a confidence and ease Miss Militia had rarely seen in someone hauled before the Director, raised her brows at the unexpected turn of events.
"Actually…" the newcomer smiled in the way that had made him the poster child of the Protectorate. "It just might have gotten a whole lot simpler."
Legend, leader of the Protectorate, member of the Triumvirate, and easily one of the most powerful parahumans in North America, if not the world, turned to fully regard Annette with a grin. "The Chief Director sends her regards, Kiran. As does the President."
"You've gotten our full attention."
A/n: Alright, chapter 5 out.
And so begins the more diplomatic and political aspect of the fic. Transdimensional fantasy politics ho!
Also, there's Piggot. I tried to strike a decent balance with her to make her kind of a stubborn asshole, but not to an unreasonable extent. Piggot always struck as the kind of person very much likely to dig their heels in and make the other person move, especially when something dangerous and strange appears.
I didn't, however, want to portray her as some kind of raving lunatic just itching for a chance to show how much she hates the world and is terrible at her job.
So let me know what you thought of that.
The next chapter will probably be out next week unless something changes.
Bye for now.