PARKED JUST OUTSIDE OF the back alley, were two squad cars adorned with the Marlia Patrol Force (MPF) logo. Four young officers arrived on the scene. Six members of the notorious Empyrean Monarch Nation street gang had been apprehended and were currently being questioned by two officers while another remained in the driver seat of one of the squad cars. Meanwhile, their sergeant, Valeria Shepherd, a woman in her late twenties with light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail was in the middle of inspecting a damaged SUV.
“Hmm.” She felt around the ridges and dent marks on the vehicle. Someone was thrown into it, she thought. It couldn't have been the old guy...despite his large size, he'd have died from the impact. Unless…
The sergeant put a hand to her chin. Something about this seemed all too familiar. “Oh, gods, this had better not be who I think it is…” she grumbled to herself.
Valeria pulled out her manatite-powered smartphone and took a few photos of the damage before walking over to where The Monarchs were being questioned.
“I swear, that man over there is our friend!” The red half-oni vowed vehemently.
“Mmm-hmm.” A male officer with black hair responded while jotting down the Monarchs' information.
“It's true!” The male feline beastkin confirmed. “A witch girl hit him with an aging spell!”
“Uh-huh...and is that 'Collin' with two 'l's?” the officer asked the beastkin, not paying attention to what was being said.
“Y-Yeah…” Collin nodded, heaving a sigh.
“Listen, officer, we understand that takin’ down our information is also a part of your job.” The leader of this set, a short human male with a large pompadour and black sunglasses, expressed his concerns. “But ain't the whole point of questionin’ suppose to be....y'know...askin’ us questions about the incident?”
“Yep, yep…” the officer continued, “And is it 'Zilla', with a 'z’, or 'Xilla' with an 'x', Mr. Turbulence?"
The gang leader sighed, deciding that getting through to him was a lost cause. “With an 'x', officer.”
The officer shifted his gaze from his notepad to Craig, the young man with mint-green hair, who was favoring his burned hand.
“Young man, I'm going to have to ask you to keep your hands where I can see 'em,” he commanded, “At your sides just as I demonstrated.”
“I can't, officer,” Craig whimpered, “It hurts too much…”
The officer looked at him, puzzled. “What hurts?”
“My hand!” The lad snapped, annoyance clear in his voice.
“How'd you hurt your hand?”
“A girl shocked me!”
“The girl we just told you about five minutes ago!!” Craig had lost his patience with the officer’s aloofness and blew his top. “Seriously, did every single thing just fly straight over your head?! If you patrol officers are truly this lackadaisical, it’s a wonder how we found a way back into the city…”
“Ay, Craig, that’s enough!” scolded Xilla. “I understand your frustration, but this guy is the law, you can’t just—”
“Ah, screw ‘im. He’s just some overeager rookie who’s too big for his britches is all! I bet he’s never even seen actual combat!”
“Look who’s talkin’,” the half-oni said, rolling his eyes. “Know when to shut up sometimes.”
“‘Too big for my britches’, eh?” The officer, being trained for situations like these, did what he thought would be the best course of action in dealing with an unruly teenager…
He reached for his taser.
“Young man, you're starting to get aggressive,” he warned, “I'm going to have to ask you to calm yourself otherwise I'll be forced to take action.”
Before the altercation could escalate, a younger female officer with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair nudged him.
“Urgh! What the hell was that, for?!”
“Officer Collins…” The young officer chastised him, shaking her head. “...please refrain from using excessive force to quell the suspects.” She glanced over to the mouthy lad and tsked. “He’s only a kid. Sure, he talks too much, but were you really about to tase him? Because he hurt your feelings? As my senior officer, you should set a much better example than this.”
The male officer gritted his teeth. “Why, you…”
“H-hey, our names are kinda similar,” Collin said with a weak smile. “Collin, Collins. Heh, we're kinda like Collin-bros.”
The officer looked at him as if he’d just stepped in cockatrice dung.
“Don't you EVER compare us again you gangster scum!" Officer Collins seethed. He stepped over to the beastkin and poked his finger into his face. “You do that again, you and I are going to have a problem. Do you want that, spotty?”
“Yee-ow! N-No, officer…” Collin rubbed his cheek. “And they’re rosettes, not spots…”
“Oof…” The Monarch leader wore a sour expression.
“You can just feel the hate,” the half-oni remarked.
Officer Collins then turned to glare at his junior officer.
“And you don't get to tell me what to do, Officer Lane.”
“But I get to.” Valeria finally cut in after watching the situation unfold. She shot her junior a disapproving look. “Knock it off, Asher.”
“Y-Yes, Sgt. Shepherd…” Officer Collins gave his superior a nod, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. He rubbed to back of his head with his free hand. “Won’t happen, again.”
“Now back to you guys…" The sergeant turned her attention back to the gangsters. “You claim that your so-called friend was hit with an aging spell. From a witch girl?”
“Y-Yes, ma’am!” Collin answered.
“Can you give a description?”
“Well, she was a teenager, a Requiem student, and her hair was like a brownish-silver or maybe ‘ashen’ is a better word,” Xilla informed. “And, I wanna say her eyes were also brown…Mmm… Nah, they were brighter than that… Ah, that’s it! They were hazel!”
“Looked like a real goody-goody despite having that witch hat,” the half-oni commented.
“Hmm…” Valeria cupped her chin. That…sounds a lot like Chiaki. But she’s a good girl. She’s respectful and always follows the rules. Surely she wouldn’t go as far as vigilantism…unless…
“Can you explain the man's injuries?” Officer Lane motioned over to the large wrinkled man who they found laying flat on his stomach when they’d arrived.
Xilla shuddered. “There was this… this girl…” He shook his head as if the memory of this encounter had a real effect on him. “Sh-She had super-strength…and she just…picked ‘im up and tossed him outta the alley and into that SUV…”
Valeria’s eyes widened.
“Damn, was she from Gläcia or something?” Officer Collins chuckled.
“Wow, ethnic profiling. You've sure come a long way, Officer Collins,” Officer Lane deadpanned. The squad had grown well accustomed to her snarky remarks. Oftentimes, it’d earned her the ire of many superiors in the past. Valeria made a mental note to check her on that, later.
Officer Collins narrowed his eyes in confusion. “What? How’s that profiling? If I recall, Gläcians are normally born with super-strength, aren’t they?”
“Only about ten percent of the general population are born with it,” Officer Lane corrected. “Although, superhuman strength is an even rarer case for humans over here…I mean unless you’re related to House Payne.”
“Why do you know so much about Gläcia?” Officer Collins questioned in a suspicious tone.
Officer Lane glared. “And why are you questioning me like it's weird to study other countries?”
“Pssh, I’m not doing that!”
“Gods… Enough, the pair of you!” Valeria had grown sick and tired of her juniors’ incessant bickering. There were times when she didn't even feel like a patrol sergeant but more like a babysitter watching over a couple of bratty children.
“To answer your question, no,” Xilla continued, “the super-strong girl was quite small. I'm guessin’ somewhere around four feet tall.”
“She also had rosy cheeks and pink hair tied into a long braid,” Collin added.
“Yeah, she looked like one of those collectible dolls that nerds are into these days,” the half-oni contributed. “Ehh, what were they called?”
“Junko Pops,” Xilla reminded.
“There we go!” The half-oni exulted, snapping his fingers.
Officer Collins then looked over to the automaton. “Hey, I don't have your information,” he pointed out, “Where'd you come from?”
"I have been here the e...e-e-e-e-e-e-e…"
Valeria rubbed her temples as the next person instantly came to mind.
That’s definitely Hotaru…
“Okay, so there were two girls from Requiem and the blue-haired girl you mentioned earlier. That makes three.” Officer Lane scribbled the descriptions in her notepad. “Was there anyone else?”
And where there’s Hotaru and Chiaki…
“A tall boy with dark skin and cornrows,” Xilla described, “He could control gravity.”
“His Pappy’s our founder and leader,” the half-oni mentioned.
“...e-e-entire time.” The automaton finished.
Officer Collins raised an eyebrow and turned to the other gangsters. “Um, is he okay?”
Collin spoke up. “Oh, don’t mind Phil. His voicebox is broken.” He shrugged. “He was like this when we found him. You’ll get used to it after a while.”
…Will can’t be too far off. Valeria exhaled. There was no longer any doubt. A memory from seven years ago suddenly resurfaced in her mind’s eye.
“Cousin Valeria! Cousin Valeria!”
Valeria had just finished a day’s worth of training when her eight-year-old baby cousin returned home from school. The boy came bounding towards her and ran into her arms. She smiled and hugged him tightly.
“Ah, welcome home, sweet John. How was your first day?”
“It was amazing!” He looked up at her and beamed. “I’ve gotten to meet a lot of new people! Ms. Chiaki was there, as well! Apparently, she is on a two-month excursion. She also introduced me to her friends!”
John, like his older brother before him, had spent the majority of his childhood in Wilmington upon Bight. Valeria and her older brother Dafydd had been tasked by their uncle, Lord Hendrix with training his two sons before enrolling them in public primary schools. Until this point, John hadn’t interacted with children his own age outside of high society.
“Is that so?”
“Yes! One friend was a boy named William and he’s a gyromancer! A gyromancer, cousin! Can you believe it?”
“No. That is incredibly rare!”
“But that isn't all! I think I’ve finally found my first rival! Ms. Chiaki’s other friend, a short girl named Ms. Hotaru, has super strength and she can break a stack of cinderblocks in one chop!”
When the more reserved Paulo first arrived at Hullington Primary, he had a much more difficult time fitting in with the common children, but Valeria was pleased to see that John's outgoing personality was working well for him in a new environment.
“Ms. Hotaru wants to get stronger so she can protect the ones she loves.”
“And you want to do the same, don’t you? That’s why she’s now your rival?”
“Mm! With a drive like hers, I just know she’ll get stronger! I have to do my best, too, otherwise, she’ll leave me in the dust!”
At such a young age, the boy was so much like his uncle, her father, that Valeria couldn’t help but chuckle. It appeared as though the desire to reach new heights would continue to live on through him.
“I see. This girl certainly left an impression on you.”
“Yes! And one day, once I am finally strong enough, I shall ask for her hand in marriage!!”
That last part caught Valeria completely off-guard. “...Wait, what?”
Valeria smiled fondly at the memory. Even, now, the boy was still striving to be his best. Both to protect those he held dear and to earn the respect of the girl he fancied.
Oh, the things people do for love…
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