A squirrelly little vanguard stepped up to the podium and cleared her throat, as if to draw the attention of the already silent room.
She tapped the microphone. "Hello? Is this on?"
It wasn't, but the room was small enough that it was clearly unnecessary.
Oh no. A familiar dread gripped Lexy's heart. This was going to be //awfully// boring.
"Yes? Okay." She cleared her throat, again, and glanced down at a handful of notecards. "I am Kleph, the director of city security. I've asked you all here today because you are our most powerful civilian magic users. Dewclaw stands in crisis, and we desperately need your help."
Lexy raised her hand.
"Hey, uh, maybe this is a stupid question, but doesn't the city have anyone employed to handle crises? Like the vanguard, but... more? Like... like a [[super vanguard]]."A handful of the chairs had people in them. In the very back corner was a [[cat in an impressive hat]]. Across the aisle was a fidgeting [[figure->chipmunk]] in a top hat. And of course, in the seat next to Lexy's, [[Isaac]] bore a starry conical hat with a large star at the peak and a matching cloak.
Hmm. What was it with the hats?
"...all doomed. Can we count on you?" Kleph leaned over the podium and challenged the audience with a passionate, fiery gaze.
Oops. Lexy nudged Isaac with her elbow and whispered as quietly as she could manage. "I spaced out for a sec. What's the emergency?"
Kleph glared at her.
"Hey, I've got a question!" The cat in the back corner waved her arm frantically in the air. "How much does this gig pay?"
"//Pay?// This is for the good of the city!" Kleph glanced down at her notecards and rifled through them for a moment. "Also, there's no room in the budget for paying [[vigilantes]]."The gray cat had no flower, and her witch's hat was ridiculous — almost a parody of [[Isaac]]'s, which was a parody in itself — but she seemed otherwise unremarkable.
She was yawning. Frequently. Frequently enough that it //had// to be deliberate.
Something about her made Lexy nonspecifically wary. Had she seen this cat somewhere before? It wouldn't be the first time she'd met someone and then completely forgotten about them.
Lexy yawned. Ah, dangit.Lexy couldn't quite place the species. He was vaguely fox-like, but with a much rounder snout and fairly small ears. A hybrid, perhaps? The prominent stripes running back across his eyes hinted at some Aurorian ancestry.
He was wearing a very fancy black jacket, white gloves, and a black top hat. A little overdressed, Lexy thought. But then, she was only wearing her satchel, so everyone was overdressed.Isaac sat patiently, hands folded in $isaac_their lap, intently watching Kleph as she went on and on, even nodding now and then. Lexy was amazed.Lexy scratched her head. "Wait, how are we vigilantes if the city's asking us to do it? And what are you asking us to do again?"
Kleph studied Lexy, then a notecard, then Lexy again. "Excuse me, but who //are// you? I don't recall inviting you."
Lexy motioned towards Isaac. "I came with $isaac_them."
"Guests are not—"
Inspiration struck. "I'm $isaac_their familiar."
Kleph glanced at Isaac. "Is this true?"
Isaac pondered for a moment. "It's a slight stretch grammatically, but I would say this fox is familiar to me, yes."
"Hey!" piped up the cat in the back. "Can we get back to the money?"
Kleph looked ready to [[cry]]."I'll do it! For Dewclaw!" cried the one in the top hat, who was now standing on his chair. His fist was raised high above his head, clutching a black rod with white ends that Lexy didn't recognize.
He spun and pointed at Isaac with his free hand. "And with this victory, our most ancient of fueds will also come to an end, with I, Blane, on top at last!" He flicked the rod dramatically towards his feet. A thick cloud of white smoke billowed from underneath him, obscuring him for just a moment; there was a sharp crack, and he was gone.
A similar cloud appeared and disappated just as quickly at the back of the room, leaving the strange mage behind. He opened the door and ran through it.
Lexy watched him go, bewildered. "Who the hell was that?"
"I have no idea," said Isaac.
"Should we... help him?"
"I'm sure he has it under control. He seemed very confident."
Kleph slammed her fistful of notecards onto the podium. "Another success for democracy. Meeting adjourned! All of you please [[leave]]. Please."Lexy, Isaac, and the cat walked down a hallway together.
The cat eyed them curiously. "So! Who are you two, anyway?"
"I am Isaac, the greatest wizard on Owel." Isaac's tone suggested this were a plain statement of fact.
"I'm Lexy." Somehow, that sounded a little flat. "I'm a fox." Yes, much better.
"Alice." She leered at Isaac. "Greatest on Owel, eh? Willing to put your money where your mouth is?"
"You //sure//? You're gonna make a boast like that and not even //try// to back it up?"
The trio emerged onto [[Blue Square]].
(set: $isaac_they to (either: "she", "he"))
(if: $isaac_they is "she")[(set: $isaac_them to "her", $isaac_their to "her", $isaac_theirs to "hers")]
(if: $isaac_they is "he")[(set: $isaac_them to "him", $isaac_their to "his", $isaac_theirs to "his")]
In the lush forest surrounding [[Dewclaw]] lay a small, tidy clearing. The grass was neatly trimmed, and a charming stone path led across a narrow brook to the door of a little red house.
[[Lop]] completely missed this path, opting instead to traipse through the grass, splash across the water, shake himself off (to the chagrin of his passenger), and finally gallop up to the house.
Lexy slid off his back and confronted the door. She twisted the doorknob and shoved the door open.
Behind it was a little room, about the size of the little house. It was furnished and cozy, but unoccupied.
"Wha— wait a minute." She closed the door and stepped back to look it over. A sign on the front said "CLOSED FOR THE WEEKEND".
It was Thursday.
Lexy huffed and fished her keyring from her satchel. She shoved a speckled blue key into the doorknob, twisted it the other way, and shoved the door [[open]] again.Lexy stormed into the room beyond, which was closer to the size of an auditorium. Lop followed along behind her, after some wiggling to fit his hips through the modest doorframe.
"Hm?" The newt poked $isaac_their head out from behind a dozen or so colorful floating spheres that were lazily orbiting each other.
"You said we'd have lunch today!"
Isaac nodded slowly, as if agreeing with a compelling argument $isaac_they'd just heard for the first time. "So I did. What time is it?"
Lexy winced. The question was like nails on a chalkboard. "It's 1:17."
"A thousand pardons, fox. I've been quite busy."
"With what? This? What even is this?" Lexy circled around the [[display]]."Oh, no. I just find that soothing to watch. I've been investigating how long a meter can be, before it's no longer a meter."
Lexy glanced down at the table Isaac had been working on. Aside from a few meter sticks, it was covered in a thick layer of sheets of paper, which in turn were covered in scribbly notes and diagrams.
"That sounds... not like a good reason to miss lunch. Hey!" She shoved a pile of notes aside and snatched a star-shaped device from the table. "Is your compact //off//? Is this why you never answer when I dial you?"
Isaac tapped $isaac_their chin. "I didn't want to be disturbed."
Lexy thumbed at the glass. "Did you know you have over five hundred unread voicemails? Going back three years?"
"I did not. I presume none were that important, if no one ever dialed back."
"The mayor dialed you fifteen times in a single day and repeatedly used the phrase 'imminent destruction'. Here's one from last year, asking you to help prevent the [[end of all life]] on Owel."Isaac waved a dismissive hand. "And yet, all life has not ended, so my assistance was clearly not critical."
"Uh huh." Lexy continued flipping through the unreceived messages. "Here's one from— oh, wait, that's tomorrow. I probably shouldn't read that yet. Ah! Someone from City Hall dialed you this morning. There's some sort of emergency, and they want you to come to a meeting at 1:30."
"I am //quite// busy." Isaac hesitated, reconsidered. "I am a researcher, not a mercenary. There are far more appropriate people to call on."
"It would be polite to show up //once//. And City Hall is right next to the [[Point]], so we could get lunch."
Isaac looked down at $isaac_their work. "Since I've already been distracted, I suppose there's no harm in hearing them out this one time."
"That's the spirit! Come on, let's go. I'll give you a ride." Lexy turned to head back towards the front door.
Isaac adjusted $isaac_their cloak as $isaac_they followed along. "Fox."
"Would //you// respond if the city asked for your assistance?"
Lexy considered this. "Maybe. If it was [[interesting]]."It was a beautiful sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky.
Arguably, the vast frothing mass of buzzing insects overhead could be considered a cloud, but only in a metaphorical sense. The arcs of lightning crackling inside it (and occasionally branching down to touch the tips of nearby buildings) were certainly very cloud-like, granted, but they did not make the cloud itself any more literal.
Lexy squinted at the swarm. "Where the fuck did that come from?"
"Oh, this must be what that director was talking about," Isaac said. "A sudden influx of [[phase gnats]]. She really made it sound much worse than it is."
"Should the two of you... do something?"
Alice rolled her eyes. "For free? Fat chance. Anyway, that other guy's on top of it, right?"
A pink light in the shape of a bird shot up from somewhere nearby and collided with the cloud, where it dissipated uselessly into sparkles.
"Yeah, see, that's probably him. S'fine." Alice produced a full-sized broom from her cloak and swung a leg over it. "Catch you later." The broom lifted gently off the ground, and she cruised away over the rooftops, nimbly dodging a couple minor lightning strikes. Soon she was just another [[speck against the blue sky]].Kleph scoffed, glanced around nervously, and flipped ahead a few notecards. "Ah... yes, well, of course we do, but you're not authorized to know about them, so, I mean, no, we don't," she explained. "But also," she added hastily, "sometimes there's a problem beyond even their abilities. Or, sometimes, they all go on vacation together, and no one realizes until after they're gone. Sometimes. By which I mean, never, because, we don't have them, they don't work for us, and also aren't real."
"I see. Thanks."
"If there are no further questions?" Kleph glanced around while unarranging her notecards.
"Good. Great. As I was saying, we are in crisis, and so we have called upon you, our best and brightest."
Lexy turned to take inventory of the room. It was, for the most part, [[populated]] by cheap metal folding chairs.Phase gnats were very tiny insects that were completely harmless on their own. A small swarm of them could emit an electric field that interfered with nearby electronics.
A large swarm... well, Lexy had never even heard of such a thing, but it didn't look like something you wanted to have happen.Dewclaw was a sprawling city near the coast, though much of it felt more like an overgrown town. It was very pretty, and on a good day, very exciting. Lexy liked living here.Lop was Lexy's fluffy and affectionate cagroodle. The two of them had been together since Lexy was a kit.Blue Point was a large ring with a wide assortment of shops and whatnot around its outside, and a sprawling park on the inside. It was a little bit touristy, but it had some very good — and cheap! — restaurants if you knew where to look.
The surrounding neighborhood was also collectively referred to as Blue Point.Lexy watched her go, then turned to Isaac. "So. Lunch?"
"Yes, let's. Do you know anywhere with good insulation?"
"As a matter of fact..."