I ignored him. The last thing I needed was for the man to connect the Rocket with one of the kids who’d trashed his pictures at the club a month ago.
Out of the corner of my helmet’s view, the photographer tensed as Rod jumped over the wall in troll form, carrying Samita in one hand and drooling from his mouth. The ground shook as he landed.
Tara, who’d landed just behind Rod, didn’t fall, but she did have to take a few extra steps where she might normally have taken one.
The photographer along with the rest of the crowd took several steps backward. A few people cursed. Others made wordless noises.
I couldn’t blame them. I’d gotten used to Rod’s other form over the week, but between his sheer size, smell, and sharp teeth, he wasn’t something that should be dropped on unsuspecting people.
The finish line wasn’t far after that, and we arrived together—which was good because we were supposed to be working as a team.
People clapped and shouted as we crossed the finish line. A few shouted my name—well, “The Rocket’s” along with questions. I didn’t walk over to the side of the path to talk with them.
Whoever had planned for this event (probably Earthmover) had gone to much more work than I would have expected. Stone bleachers jutted out of the hill to my right, and more lay between the two hills ahead of us, surrounding an open area that had to be the area where we’d fight.
I noted with approval that it hadn’t been covered with stone as well. Even in the Rocket suit, I’d rather be punched into dirt than rock.
Our arena wasn’t completely dirt and grass, however. Flat rectangles of stone stuck out of the ground, clustering around opposite ends of the space, but appearing randomly throughout the fighting area.
Obviously Lee intended something more interesting than simple combat. That was good. Our chances improved with more complicated situations.
At the front of the arena, the bleachers turned into a multi-story building. If I had to guess, that’s where I’d expect to find the VIP’s. As it turned out, I didn’t have to guess. It was extremely obvious once I looked harder. With the Rocket suit’s enhanced vision, I zoomed in on the stands to find members of the military sitting near men and women in suits.
I didn’t know enough about military uniforms to be sure, but I suspected that all the services were represented.
Isaac Lim, and a number of our teachers mingled with the military and politicians. Some of the capes weren’t talking to anybody though. They were surveying the crowd, and all the students walking out of the obstacle course.
Along with them were at least two dozen people in powered armor, some of it all black with the letters “FBI” in white, and others marked with the symbols of the Army, Air Force and Marines’ powered armor specialists.
I noted that all of them descended from the same basic design Grandpa left with the army after World War 2. One of these days I’d have to get a closer look.
As the group of us walked toward the empty bleachers obviously reserved for students, Lee waved me over.
After crossing the sparse grass and dirt of the arena, I stopped where Lee stood—in front of the VIP bleachers. Lee wore combat fatigues and the identity of Gunther, the League’s ally, as he usually did at Stapledon.
“Thought I’d pass this on,” Lee said. “Senator Mitchell Abrams is up there.” He pointed his thumb toward the top of the stands.
“That guy? Why?” Previous to True Humanity nearly destroying St. Louis, Senator Abrams had once called them patriots. After St. Louis, people called for him to resign, but he’d managed to avoid it.
Lee grinned. “Because of you. Your therapist called a lot of people before Agent Lim activated protocols for handling mind control.”
Amy’s voice, a little deeper after her Bloodmaiden transformation, came from behind me. “Was she mind controlled?”
Lee shook his head, “Gunther’s” blond hair glinting the sunlight. “FBI analysts pegged it as fairy influence, but not direct control.”
I looked up at the stands, trying to find the senator in the crowd. “But why’s he here then?”
Lee smirked. “The senator isn’t known for letting reality stop him from making a point. And that reminds me of my point. If you have any attacks that the senator’s bodyguards might find frightening, try not to aim them in the direction of the stands, or things might get complicated.”
Before I could reply, he waved me toward the students’ section. “Don’t worry about it. Everything will be fine. No one but Abrams has a problem with you.”
“Okay,” I said, and fell into step with Amy as we walked away. “Aren’t they worried about being influenced?”
Amy shook her helmet, throwing dark red reflections across the ground. “This place is heavily warded. I was going to tell you, but he beat me to it.”
I looked around. All of this place from the hills to the rock to the grass was warded? That was a surprise.
I hoped there wouldn’t be any more.