Interview with the Shield
by Nathan Gibbard


Jacob paced the hotel room in silence, three hours of walking back and forth along a single path was having visible effects on the maroon carpet. He stopped in an indentation in the rug and starred out the window, sighing as his eyes caught sight of the buildings that surrounded the hotel and the open sky beyond. He would have loved to fly in that sky, regardless of the overcast clouds hanging lowly in the air. The air would have undoubtedly been chill, but that wouldn't have stopped him from unfolding his great, white wings and climbing effortlessly above the tension of the ground. With all that had been happening to him recently, he still sought solace up where the birds roamed. Up there, his troubled mind was at peace.

Unfortunately, here in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, the laws regarding metahuman activities were a little more stringent. Any unauthorized flights by metahumans or mechanical constructs within the city limits of Ottawa or its suburbs was considered a felony, and was harshly punished under law. Jacob didn't fault the law; it made sense. In fact, most countries had similar provisions regarding their capital's air space. While it certainly wouldn't prevent a determined person from flying over the capital, it did simplify things to consider all such incursions as hostile.

Jacob sighed again and turned, resuming his pacing. His eyes darted up and over to one of the walls of his self-imposed cell, hearing something beyond the range of other humans. He shook his head and continued stripping away a layer of carpet. It was only a vacuum cleaner being turned on. His eyes, however, darted anxiously towards the two walls on either side of him, eyeing them as a lion might eye the bars that separated it from a tiger. There was a reason why he stayed in the hotel room instead of going elsewhere. His muscles continued to tense and coil, poised to strike out at a moment, as Jacob found himself continually trying to relax them.

It wasn't working. He could feel the knots in his shoulders and around his neck tighten. He stopped and rubbed at them, hoping for some relief. Then, once again he began pacing back and forth along the carpet.

Jacob's eyes continued flicking right and left, careful not to allow any portion of himself to touch the walls. This wasn't an easy task considering his wingspan, but five hours of pacing had helped him build a ritual. He stopped and stared at the bed he had slept in the last night, the memory of what he had heard (or had he seen it?) slithering back into his mind.

He had woken up and stretched as usual, his wings spreading wide. As his wings brushed up against the wall that separated him from the next room, a flood of images had washed over him. They were images, words, feelings; it had been happening to him since New Orleans, yet he still couldn't really describe the experience. As his wings had touched the wall, his mind had been flung open to what was going on in the other room. Feelings, emotions of lust and passion washed over him as he struggled to gasp in a breath. Next he was assaulted with unwanted fragments of the actions next door -- flashes of images, ragged breathing, muscles tensing. Jacob had shut his eyes but the images still came. Amid all of this, subtler yet still powerful words and thoughts sprang into his mind: adultery, guilt, fear, wanton desire. Images, connected to words, suddenly flashed into being and disappeared only to be reborn moments later. Children laughing, an unhappy wife, a heart grown cold, children playing on a swing their laughter echoing, the picture shattering. Sadness, suffering, struggle, a husband with darkness surrounding him, no, something eating her husband, pain, hospital, children never to be born, escape.

Jacob had felt the monster within him flaring upwards towards the surface, struggling to take hold of their shared body. It was all Jacob could do just to hold the angry angel in check, to stop him from ripping down the wall between himself and the couple in the room next door. Eventually the couple had left, images of an office and a plane spilling out of their heads. Jacob had struggled to regain control, to put up walls between the waves of voices and himself. He had learned to block out some of the mental clutter that assaulted him on a daily basis, but powerful emotions still tended to break down his rickety walls leaving him vulnerable. But after those intense images he had found it nearly impossible to seal the breach to his mind as hundreds of disparate voices from the street and within the hotel continued their assault.

Delroy had found Jacob crouched on the floor, his hands struggling to physically block out the background murmuring of a small, busy city. Jacob knew why Delroy was here; at Jacob's behest, Delroy was attempting to arrange a meeting between Jacob and members of the Canadian Shield. With everything that had happened in New Orleans, Jacob was specially situated to inform the Canadian Shield of what the Royal Elite might be up to. Delroy and he had hoped his own semi-fame would help secure a face-to-face meeting.

After assuring that Jacob was alright, Delroy had left for the Department of National Defense to hopefully arrange an appointment. Shortly thereafter, Jacob had started his pacing. It was to a pacing and anxious image of an angel that Delroy returned five hours later. As Delroy entered the room, he could see the lines of tension within Jacob's frame, as struggling against a flight or fight instinct. Delroy noticed the weariness in Jacob's eyes, behind the fire that seemed always burn in them.

Through the tension that crackled around Jacob, Delroy casually remarked, "You didn't order room service did you? Room service prices are astronomical and more often than not the food's horrible. And we certainly wouldn't want anything that would set you on edge."

Delroy noted with a glance that Jacob seemed to relax a bit, his breathing returning to a more mellow tone. Delroy moved to the washroom for a glass of water. He sipped at a glass and returned to the main room where Jacob was sitting on his bed, his wings stretched over himself like a shield. Delroy stared at the young man, his face was stern as his thoughts lingered over the change that had slowly been taking place with Jacob. The sternness vanished to be replaced by a knowing smirk moments before Jacob turned to him.

"So how'd it go?" Jacob asked in a daze of mental pain.

Delroy moved to the window and looked out it, feeling the recently made indentations in the carpet. "Pretty much as we hoped. You have an appointment at the DND with members of the Canadian Shield. It's scheduled for 10 a.m."

Jacob resisted the urge to ask if Nereid would be there. Why was he concerned whether she would be there or not? "You're not going?"

"Well," Delroy said with a smile, turning to face Jacob, "I'm not the Defender of New Orleans, the Scourge of the Undead, Vampire-bane. No, you want to talk to them, they want to talk to you; I'd just be a wall ornament. Besides, I have a business to run and few things I need to check up on in this part of the world. Think you can manage on your own?"

Jacob grunted his approval. Delroy continued to talk about what to expect and where exactly to go tomorrow. Jacob could feel some of his strength returning. In the flow of simple dialogue he could feel himself able to resurrect some of the loose walls that had been knocked down. With a part of his mind involved in the give an take of conversation, he found himself slowly drawing away from the myriad voices to concentrate on only one. He felt the roar of voices fade into a single buzz; he had learned to live with the buzz. Jacob sighed, at least that battle was over with for the moment. A fragment of a thought pulsed in his mind and was gone; odd, but I don't remember getting any images from Delroy.

There was a pause before Delroy suddenly asked, "Do you want to get out of Ottawa for awhile?"

Jacob's face showed his confusion. Delroy continued, "I need to go to Montreal concerning some business dealings. The business stuff doesn't concern you but, I was thinking once out of Ottawa. . ." He left the idea hanging, prompting Jacob to pick it up.

Flight. His soul's home. "Sure. When do we leave?"

******

As Jacob had quickly found out after he had been transformed, it took a good deal of leveraging and squeezing - not to mention a fair bit of time -- simply to wedge his seven-foot-two frame and large wings into any kind of car. Still, the promise of a few hours of flying kept him going. After awkwardly jamming himself into the car, he forced a semblance of a seat belt over his body and waited for Delroy.

"We all tucked in," Delroy quipped as he started the ignition, seemingly oblivious to the snarls coming from his backseat. As he made his way into the flow of traffic he continued. "I'll drop you off near a small truck stop a little ways outside the city limits if that's alright. Given the time it takes to drive to Montreal and back, and considering the meeting, I can meet you back at the truck stop at seven."

Jacob glanced at his watch, it was about three o'clock. "That sounds great," he responded. Despite the discomfort of the car, Jacob couldn't help but smile at the incongruitious figure he undoubtedly cut. A huge, winged, glowing humaniod, looking like an angel except for the black, digital watch he wore, the black pants, and a strange, green shirt with buttons and zippers in odd places in order to account for his wings, not to mention the undoubtedly inelegant pose which he was forced to adopt in the car. While he truly appreciated the efforts of some in Louisiana to provide him with special clothes, he was quite aware they were hardly the pinnacle of fashion.

About an hour later Delroy pulled his car into a gas station and restaurant. After helping to extricate Jacob from the car, Delroy reminded Jacob of a few landmarks that indicated he was getting close to Ottawa. With a knowing smile, Delroy simply nodded to Jacob and returned to the car. As he drove away, he could see Jacob streaking upwards and frolicking with the clouds. Jacob's form continued to get smaller in the rearview mirror, until he disappeared altogether.

As Delroy continued to drive, he became dimly aware of two shadowy figures forming in the back seat. Delroy's own appearance began to shimmer. "I'd been wondering when it was you'd be seeing me," he said simply, his eyes flicking to the mirror.

"Do you think it wise? Leaving him there like that?" one of the shadow's whispered, undulating within its darkness.

"And what do you mean by that?" Delroy asked, an eyebrow raising.

The shadow continued to shift. "Only that in his current state, he is unpredictable and lacking in control." A faint feminine note could be heard in the voice of the shadow.

"They're all unpredictable; such is the nature of mortality, such is the nature of free will," the other shadow spat, a distinctive male huskiness issuing forth within his speech.

"He'll be alright," Delroy replied. "Nothing can touch him up there. As it should be of course." As Delroy spoke, the image he carried continued to shimmer, seeming smaller somehow. "Now then, what's the real reason you're here, not that I don't already know."

"We're a--" the female shadow began before being cut off.

"You!" the male voice clarified.

Somehow the shadow shot a withering look at the other shadow before continuing, "There is some concern over Jacob, an uncertainty as to what is going on with him. He appears... troubled."

"He is troubled. That's why he appears that way," Delroy said impassively.

"Yes, but that is why we sought you out," the female voice countered, a note of irritation creeping in. "If he destroys himself before the game, then what is accomplished?"

"He will not destroy himself," Delroy replied. "That is not the way it was meant to be, nor is it the way it will be."

"Some of us aren't all that concerned." It was the male shadow's turn. "Let him destroy himself for all we care, what does it matter. And if he remains in an agitated state, or even if he starts acting out through his better nature, we have no problem with that. It would merely serve to prove our point."

"It will have proven nothing," Delroy retorted angrily. "You say you don't care, but you do. You want this as much, if not more than her. You and your's have a point to make, as does she. But for you it is more important; don't play me for a fool, you don't have the mind for it, and I don't have the time. We know who created the game and it's rules. You know who you are and what your role in this game is, and so in a way, you know what is wanted. If you can pull this off, what else can yours do?"

"I merely seek to return him to what he was, to the purpose he was created. I am on God's side," the male shadow responded indignantly. "It is she that seeks to upset the balance."

"He is mortal, he has a choice. I merely wish to enforce his freedom to choose," the female shadow replied.

"And you, have you ever thought about the consequences of what you're trying to do? Freedom to choose!" Delroy snorted, directing his words to the female shadow. "And what are his choices? More importantly, what do they mean? If he chooses one way, you lose, if he chooses a different way, another host of questions is suddenly raised. Is God's creating act perfect, then why the need to change and test it? And what does it mean for an immortal to change his ways? We know what it used to mean. Is that what you want for Jacob? To be one of the Fallen?"

The shadows were silent. The darkness that covered them appearing to intensify. Finally, the male spoke. "And what about you, our divine helper, what's your role in all this?"

Delroy smiled, watching the road ahead. "I'm merely a traveler. Now was there anything else?"

"If it is as you say, neither of us is served by him destroying himself, then what are you doing to help him? He still needs to learn who he is before the game can begin in earnest," the female said.

"His memories came sooner and faster than was thought. Something is happening to him. A catalyst is speeding up the whole process," Delroy replied.

"What kind of catalyst?" the male asked. "We already know what he can do? Was it that vampire?"

"He is mortal, and therefore as you noted, is unpredictable in certain ways. As for the vampire," Delroy shook his head, "she might have stirred things up, but no, she wasn't the catalyst. Something special and unique is happening to Jacob; it is part of the cause, and possibly the key to the cure."

"So what are you going to do?" It was the female voice.

"The only way to the beginning is through the prologue. Certain things need to be accelerated in order to catapult Jacob into a fitting beginning. The straightest course is through the darkness. That is where Jacob will fly," Delroy replied.

"And what of Jacob?" the female shadow asked with an edge of concern.

"He will be ready for the game," Delroy merely replied. "Now leave me and ask me no more questions until the time has changed."

Silently, all but unnoticed, the shadows winked out of the mortal plane. Delroy was left alone in the car. Darkness was coming for Jacob. Delroy sincerely hoped the angel was strong enough to see it through to the end.

******

Jacob stared up at the building in front of him housing the Department of National Defence. He tried to glance at himself in a nearby window, adjusting his borrowed tie for the upteenth time. He took off his hat and brushed back his hair, wanting to make a good impression on his first official meeting with a team that represented the pride, strength and determination of the Canadian people. That, and for some reason he didn't fully understand, he wanted to look good in case he happened to meet Nereid. While Jacob knew he was scheduled to meet with Sylph, Catamount and Blaze, the possibility of seeing Nereid filled him with a strange, nervous anticipation. Checking himself once again in the glass, and testing the mental wall he had tried to erect for this meeting, he sighed and walked into the building.

With the benefit of a few helpful directions, and a few security checks, Jacob made his way into what appeared to be a reception room near the centre of the first floor. Jacob didn't bother to pay the room much heed as a casual glance indicated that there was nothing particular about this room. There were chairs along two walls, a table held a few neatly stacked magazines, a receptionist worked behind some glass, and several unidentifiable prints hung on the walls.

Checking the time again, Jacob removed his hat and moved towards the receptionist getting her attention. "Ah, hello -- I have an appointment with Canadian Shield? This is the right place right?"

The receptionist glanced up at Jacob, seemingly completely unphased by his height and strange appearance. "Yes it is, and your name is?"

"Jacob, I'm a little early," he replied, strangely wandering how many times a variation on this same scene had played out in reception rooms everywhere.

"Thank you, Jacob," the woman said, making a note on a book in front of her. "Have a seat please, somebody should be with you shortly."

Jacob took a seat awkwardly in one of the chairs, noting that even here they didn't make seats that were universally comfortable. Perhaps that was the point. Reception rooms the world over were probably purposely made slightly uncomfortable so that nobody would want to stay in them too long. As Jacob waited he looked around the room, noticing the subtle placement of cameras and other security features. The area where the receptionist worked was completely sealed off, the window being the only way in from the room where he sat. There were two doors, one of them wooden, which he had already passed through, the other being a sturdy metallic structure on the opposite side of the room. He couldn't help but wonder if the sprinkler system in the ceiling was hooked up only to water.

As time continued to march on Jacob found himself occupied with pulling small threads from his jacket. Finally, a small, familiar figure came through the metal doors, her translucent wings fluttering. As she caught sight of Jacob, she flashed him a broad, friendly smile.

"Hello. Jacob, right?" she said, moving closer and taking Jacob's offered hand. "Don't I know you from somewhere?"

"Yeaahhh, we met last fall near Churchill, Manitoba," Jacob replied, looking down at the sprite-like creature in front of him.

Sylph studied him for a moment, "Hmm. You looked taller then, not quite as hunch-backed."

Suddenly remembering his jacket, Jacob took it off allowing his wings to slightly unfurl. "Is that better?"

"Oh yeah -- the tall, lighthousey guy." Sylph exclaimed as if a memory had suddenly made its presence known in her mind. "Glad to see you're still with the good guys. You're with the good guys, right?"

"Ah, I think so," Jacob responded, a little confused by the bluntness of the question.

"Good!" Sylph said oblivious to the tone in Jacob's voice. Turning she moved to the door and swiped a card through a security device. The door opened and she moved inside, beckoning Jacob to follow. "We should go now."

"So what have you been doing? Been any place fun?" Sylph asked as Jacob moved in behind her, following her through the labyrinthine corridors. "We haven't been allowed to go anywhere, at least not very far. Some kind of big danger thing has Cavalier all worried. I think he mentioned something about Ireland. He's over there now with Blackade, actually. Well, not Ireland, but someplace over there. He's taller than you, I think -- Blockade I mean. I'm not sure though. So, you've been anywhere fun?" Sylph rambled chipperly.

"No," Jacob replied. Trying to do the mental gymnastics necessary to keep up with Sylph's thoughts. He didn't do very well. A thought flashed in his mind and he found himself asking the question he'd been wanting to since he'd seen Sylph. "So, um, where's Nereid? How's she doing?"

"Back at the base, doing fine," Sylph said simply. Sylph and Jacob continued to make there way deeper into the bowels of the building, passing numerous security features. Finally they arrived outside of a large oak door, a strange contrast to the amount of steel and metal Jacob had seen so far. Sylph stopped too, punching out a code into a machine beside the door.

The machine blinked its acceptance and the door swung open to reveal something of a conference room beyond. Inside, across a large wooden table sat two men. One man was athletic-looking and handsome, wearing a nice business suit and a cheap smile; the other was dishevelled, with a stocky physique, and his eyes bore into Jacob. Jacob knew both these men instantly, as both were part of a national icon.

Sylph flittered into the room on her glossy wings, waving to the two men. "Hey Catty. Hi Blaze. Look who I brought. This is Jacob."

Jacob moved inside and watched as the door seem to close on its own. Turning he moved to the table and was greeted by a guttural grunt from Catamount and sly smirk from Blaze. At the sight of Blaze, the self-professed manifestation of Wrath and the ancient deity Ba'al, Jacob could feel the being within him clawing its way to the surface. He felt his eyes bulging at the internal struggle between the angel and himself.

Blaze spoke, "Seems a little far from home to find a cherub."

Jacob almost felt the air rush past as his consciousness was slammed into the back of his mind. It was his mouth, but it was the angel's words and sound. "Wherever thy kind is found is home to my sword. Before my holy task is done I shall rip out thine black heart and--" The angel stopped as Jacob struggled back to the surface.

"Yes?" Blaze drawled, leaning forward in his chair. "You see, that's the reason why the big G's getting obsolete; he can't get his people to update their language."

Sylph's own eyes had widened. "Hey, ya did that voice thing again. You did it before up north, right? It's way weird. Cool, but freaky cool."

Catamount switched his icy gaze between Jacob and Blaze. "Yeah. Wow. You two finished now? I'd like to get down to business."

"Yes, sorry," Jacob squeaked out, feeling the perspiration breaking out on his chest. Catamount motioned to a chair, which Jacob took, focusing his attention on the rough looking man in front of him and away from Blaze.

Wasting no time, Catamount crossed his arms in front of himself and said, "So you wanted this meeting, go ahead."

Jacob took in a deep breath, forcing his thoughts away from what was becoming a more and more frequent occurrence. "Yes, I did. I assume the Protectorate told you that there were some problems in New Orleans recently."

Catamount raised an eyebrow. The thought of vampires sparked memories of his recent mission in Philadelphia. Secretly, he and Cavalier went down to the States to help Omega, Knock-out and the notorious Professor Wight track down their fellow countryman, Permafrost. The manhunt turned out to be a wild goose chase, one seemingly orchestrated by a supernatural duo named Hack and Orchid. Catamount pictured the pair in his mind, remembered how the ogreish Hack was a juggernaut of massacre, recalling the pale, Gothic Orchid preying upon his very lifeforce.

The scruffy Canadian was not known for backing down in a fight, but the thought of Hack and Orchid brought a chill to his spine. If the vampires in New Orleans were anything like these two, he couldn't start to imagine how one could tangle with a horde of supernatural horrors.

"Yeah, the Protectorate said there was something nasty going on down there," Catamount finally said impassively.

"Like vampires right, wasn't that it?" Sylph piped in, jutting out her upper jaw in a bad vampire impression. A stern look from Catamount returned Sylph's face to normal, but her smiled seemed permanently etched on her face.

Catamount's attention returned to Jacob. "They told us things were clean down there..."

"It is, now," Jacob quickly added, aware of the hint of suspicion in Catamount's voice. "Well, as clean as any place else."

"What?" Blaze interjected. "You're saying you can't completely clean up things down here? That despite your best efforts things stay a little dirty?"

Jacob felt the whiplash as his mind was once again forced into the background. Somewhere he gritted his teeth, struggling with all his strength just to keep himself from jumping across the table at the hellfire wielder and international superhero. "Not as unclean as though as thou art!"

"In case you hadn't noticed I'm on this side of the table, part of Canadian Shield, national icon." Blaze's eyes seemed to dance with flame though his voice held no threat.

"My nostrils doth partake of thine perditious odor most foul. Thou art unable to hide it behind the illusion of mortal service," the angel spat, as Jacob winced at how stupid all sounded.

"So what, you were down there picking daisies for the vampires?" Blaze retorted sharply. "From what I heard, you certainly weren't. I heard you racked up a pretty good kill total."

Jacob felt himself slipping and struggled to hold on. He certainly didn't need to get into a fight with a member of Canadian Shield, but it almost seemed as if Blaze was trying to egg the angel part of him on. "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. I am but a mere instrument in His plan."

"Shit, is that what you tell yourself -- whichever one of you does the killing that is," Blaze added, indicating for the first time he might be aware of the split in Jacob. "Hell, I'm on your side. Somebody's gotta watch out for the people. After all, they're the ones that determine which side we're really on."

"God hath--" the angel began to bellow.

"God's got nothing to do with it," Blaze snapped. "You make your choices same as I. Tell me, when was the last time God told you what his will was -- was it down in New Orleans? At least I'm more honest and say I kick ass for the applause and gratitude of the people; a little hellfire now and then helps burn away the trash."

Now it was Jacob's turn to claw his way up to the surface. Though the angel still spoke, he could begin to feel his body sway beneath him. "Vengeance is the Lord's. You are not the Lord's, are not in his service. Every act of violence which you partake of shall be reckoned with on the day of judgement."

"What about you? Are you an angel down here, a breath away from hell? Where's the line between us? Is there one?" Blaze said, softer than before.

There was silence in the room as Jacob struggled back into control of his body. He shook his head slightly, was any of them aware of what was going on inside him? He doubted it. Somewhere else there was an odd twinge of regret. These people were part of Canadian Shield, part of the mythology of his country, but they seemed remarkably like regular human beings.

"You two done flirting now?" Catamount finally asked.

"I think we're done," Blaze smirked.

Jacob breathed heavily, adding in almost a whisper, "I'm guessing you voted for the Canadian Alliance." Catamount's and Blaze turned there eyes towards Jacob as Sylph couldn't help but giggle. Catamount raised an eyebrow as Blaze's smirk turned into a smile, as if signaling a temporary truce. Jacob shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry."

"We done?" Catamount asked again before continuing. "Good. I got a question: what the bloody hell's wrong with your voice?"

"In truth, I don't really know," Jacob said, regaining his composure. Looking across at Catamount he couldn't help but think he might understand having another force surging within oneself, always trying to rip its way out. Still, Jacob couldn't bring himself to tell them exactly what was going on inside of himself. He continued, "I am sorry for the disruptions though, would you like me to continue?"

Catamount's eyes caught and held Jacob's. "You lived through New Orleans, and from what we've heard, did a pretty good job. Guess we can live with the voice thing for the moment."

"Seems only fair seeing how we live with you being feral and all," Blaze offered to Catamount.

Jacob suppressed a smile as Catamount growled a warning at Blaze. "So should I continue?" Jacob asked.

Catamount turned his attention back to Jacob. "Don't need to, actually the Protectorate told us all about what happened in Orleans. They did say you had a couple face-to-faces with Vamp though."

Jacob felt his voice catch in his throat, he hoped none of them could read his mind. He didn't know how well they would take some of the things that had passed between himself and Vamp. "Yes, she didn't say much, but..."

"I didn't bring it up for nothing," Catamount grunted. "What she say?"

Jacob sifted through the events, finding the events the probably most wanted to hear about and that he was willing to tell. "She said a few times that New Orleans was to be the beachhead for a larger invasion of North America. She hinted that the Royal Elite were behind it all and that they planned to usher in a new age of evolution. They had somehow managed to seemlessly cut off communications with New Orleans, that seemed to have been the first step."

"Same as Ireland," Blaze said to Catamount, receiving an affirmative grunt in return.

Jacob watched the two for a moment, both Catamount and Blaze seem lost within shared, private thoughts. "Pardon?"

Catamount turned to Jacob with a hint of the speed and quickness he was capable of. "They did the same thing is Ireland. Didn't know a damn thing was going on till they had almost the entire country." Appearing to rouse himself, he growled and continued, "We don't have time for this dancing; we know what you did in New Orleans so we know you can handle yourself in a scrap. We're getting together a bunch of tights to free Ireland and was hoping you'd be one of them. From the report's we've got it ain't pretty over there, but I'm guessing you got a taste of that in Orleans."

"You want me to help?" Jacob replied, momentarily stunned that the Canadian Shield was asking for his help.

It was Sylph who suddenly jumped in, her voice holding an edge of excitement in it. "Please say yes. The Canadian Shield could always use an extra flier."

"Well?" Catamount added.

Jacob sighed, knowing the reality of the situation. They had asked him if he would be willing to help stop the Royal Elite's plan. The truth was, if they hadn't asked, he would have had to ask them if he could help. There was nothing else to be done that wouldn't have sacrificed his compassion and humanity, something which he was willing to do. The appearance was that this was a free choice, but given who and what he was, Jacob knew it really wasn't. "I'll help in every way I can. If it's anything like New Orleans, and I'm guessing it's worse, I can't do anything less."

"Good choice," Blaze whispered in reply.

Catamount nodded, "We won't be leaving for a few days yet. You'll be able to train with us so we'll be able to work better together. Sylph can get you started." With that Catamount got to his feet and offered Jacob his hand, which Jacob took. The handshake seemed to hold more than a simple goodbye, as if a promise had just been sealed.

Sylph flittered over to Jacob, obviously excited. "We can most definitely use the extra man-power. And with everybody that's going to be there -- I hope Autocrat's got his bags packed!"
 

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