Marlin McDougal, known to the public as Athrwys, parahuman head of the British organization the King's Men, was watching the seven o'clock news, frowning.
"... precogs worldwide. According to one recent report, even Scion momentarily paused, before seeming to frown, visibly shaking his head, and move on to stop a tornado in Malaysia. It is as of yet unknown who or what cape or human has caused the effect..."
His second-in-command, Lord Walston, came into the lounge with a grim look on his face.
"Any news?" asked Athrwys.
Lord Walston shook his head. "In terms of actual 'news' news, Good Feeling has officially redacted a fair number of positive long-term predictions. Delphi is still unconscious downstairs, Weatherman doesn't look like he'll be ready for action for another few hours, and a seemingly random desk clerk fainted at the same time. People are investigating his past as we speak. No coherent predictions have been made since point zero, and I'm sure you've guessed we don't know who or what did it. But that's not what I needed to tell you."
Athrwys suddenly wished Good Feeling was here.
"Our 'benefactors' have sent us another letter," stated Lord Walston. "That makes seven." He presented Athrwys with a plain-looking envelope, with the letter addressed to 'The Leader of the King's Men,' only distinguished by a stylized 'C' on the front.
Athrwys gestured the letter away. "I've got to keep my eyes on the screen. Read it aloud."
Lord Walston sighed quietly and flipped open the envelope. Sliding out the paper, he unfolded the note held within.
Lord Walston read to himself silently. Athrwys turned to look at him. "Are you quite finished?"
His subordinate met his eyes. "Does the name 'Ruby Runcorn' mean anything to you?"
Marlin frowned. The name tickled at a memory, but it wasn't anything he could-
-sharing drinks at a bar, right before they all unmasked for the first time after putting Wraith behind bars. Walston at his side, the gorgeous Gargoyle across, and The Living Mural by her side. They were all laughing.
"Like Humpty Dumpty! Lord Walston's horses and Athrwys's King's Men, putting Britain back together again!" giggled Gargoyle.
"I can't believe you're actually serious about that name," chuckled The Living Mural.
"Yes, well," smiled Athrwys. "If that gets the name in the hearts and minds of the people of our fair nation, then it's bloody well worked, hasn't it?"
Athrwys paused, looked around the booth, and put up a shimmering red cubic barrier. "Nobody outside should be able to see or hear us now," he stated.
The Living Mural had frowned. "Athrwys, what's this about?"
"Don't-" he started. Then he pulled a hidden latch on his helmet. "We've worked together for years now. It feels wrong to still be using codenames."
Athrwys tugged off his helmet, revealing a smallish face and fair, close-cropped brown hair. "My name is Marlin McDougal, and I would like to formally invite The Living Mural and Gargoyle to join Lord Walston and me in becoming founding members of the King's Men."
The two capes across from him shared a meaningful glance. Gargoyle nodded almost imperceptibly to her partner. The Living Mural pulled off his iconic paint palette mask, revealing a man with rosy cheeks and a bushy moustache. "My name is Charlie Runcorn," he began.
Across from him, Gargoyle pulled off her domino mask. "My name is Ellie Runcorn," she said. "And we've been married for the past six years."
"This probably isn't the best time to mention that we were planning to retire for the sake of our daughter, Ruby, was it?"-
"Actually, it does. Why?" asked Athrwys.
Lord Walston turned the note around.
Go to St. Mungo's Hospital and retrieve Ruby Runcorn, a recently triggered parahuman.
She will join the junior King's Men team at all costs but one: Her schooling must continue where she is enrolled currently.
"Fifty-nine, Marlin?" Lord Walston's voice boomed across the small break room. "You never told me it was this bad!"
"I never needed to," he whispered.
"You-!" Lord Walston visibly restrained himself. "Just- tell me about the girl."
"I don't think I ever met her in person. But her parents were Gargoyle and The Living Mural."
Lord Walston frowned. "You were closer to the Runcorns than I ever was. What exactly happened to Ruby after The Graveyard?"
Past failures flashed into Athrwys's mind-
-escaping, the Faerie Queen was escaping, after seven casualties, the combined efforts of the fifty King's Men associates called here weren't enough, she'd already broken through the first barrier, she was flying, flying out over the graveyard, and Athrwys was too slow, too stupid, to put something stronger, more esoteric up-
-of the Runcorns' doomed last stand-
-she had already become her impervious stone form, rooted to the ground, her husband turning into grey paint to share the effects of her power, when Glaistig Uaine flew right past them, only the tip of her pinky toe touching the monstrous statue, but that was enough, enough to lock them there, frozen forever as a cenotaph to themselves-
-of funerals of friends-
-the thirteen who had died had public funerals, but their civilian identities each had their own smaller ones, the Runcorns, of course, together, but their little girl was absent, the pastor who had answered the door said she couldn't take knowing that the heroes had failed her parents and wanted to never contact anyone in the caped community again, and Marlin had felt like he truly had failed-
-but surprisingly little about the girl herself. He couldn't remember ever having spoken to her.
"I think she became a Nun or something," Athrwys said. He looked around the break room, then stood up. "No point in putting it off. Let's go to Saint Mungo's."
A moment's pause, then- "Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I've never actually heard of a Saint Mungo's. How do I get there?"
Lord Walston took another look at the envelope. "Ah. Instructions are written on the inside. Do you want me to accompany you to..." He ripped the front half of the envelope off so the handwriting inside was visible to Athrwys. "Purge and Dowse, Ltd?"
"I've got a bad feeling about this place," said Athrwys, sitting on one of Lord Walston's ghostly horses. The pair of them stared at the abandoned department store Cauldron had ordered them to enter. It was reportedly undergoing renovation, but it didn't look like construction had been active for some time. The only sign that this was the location they were supposed to be at was a faded sign on the facade of the building, 'Purge and Dows.' The 'e' had long since faded.
"As do I," said Lord Walston. "It could be a parahuman effect."
"It could be," Athrwys frowned. "No point debating it unless you have a way to avoid this impending sense of dread horror I'm feeling."
Lord Walston sighed atop his shimmering mare. "I wish Good Feeling was here."
"We can't always get what we want, Walston."
The two of them trotted towards the front door and dismounted. Athrwys set up a weaker, more mobile barrier to protect from physical attacks, and the ghostly horses dissipated, leaving the men alone.
They peered through the window of the locked front door, but only saw what they had seen from the window - an abandoned department store. Cauldron had never failed them in instruction before, however, so Athrwys swapped out mobile protection for a privacy barrier, rendering him and Walston invisible to all but capes with the strongest senses. The pair did not have to wait long under the barrier before a short woman in long, flowing robes and a pointed hat came close to the building.
Lord Walston leaned over. "Have you ever seen her before?"
They watched her take meaningful strides towards a mannequin in a display window. "Wotcher, I'm here to see Parzefall Hunte," she said. Athrwys and Lord Walston shared a meaningful glance.
However, to the shock of both invisible onlookers, the mannequin nodded to the robed woman and beckoned her forward. She stepped through the glass, disappearing completely.
Once the privacy barrier disappeared, the two walked towards the mannequin the woman had spoken to.
"Wotcher," started Athrwys, "we're here to see Ruby Runcorn."
The mannequin tilted its head quizzaciously, and Athrwys suddenly felt very conscious of the fact that he was wearing a shiny golden knight's costume. Finally, the figure gave a reluctant nod and beckoned the two of them forward.
As he stepped through, Athrwys felt a sudden dizziness as the surroundings melted away, only to be boggled by what he saw. The pair had certainly arrived in a waiting room for a hospital, that much was evident from the rows of people in various states of distress, but it seemed to be for those suffering from some of the more... exotic effects of parahuman power. Some of the robed men and women seemed to suffer from horrible disfigurements, rivalling what Athrwys had seen in some of the more disturbing monster capes. A few more normal looking individuals were reading magazines with fake labels like Quidditch Quarterly. Green-robed men and women with clipboards walked up and down the waiting area, asking questions of the patients. One approached the pair. Athrwys noted the emblem of a bone crossed with what looked like either a stick or a magic wand.
"Welcome to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Wotcher has noted that this is your first time here, so my service is offered to you as a Welcomewizard and escort."
Athrwys was about to turn him down, but took another look at the horribly confusing room, with moving portraits, robed people shouting and making the oddest sounds, and finally decided to just nod and smile.
"We're here to see Ruby Runcorn," said Lord Walston.
"Ah, yes. She should be in..." He tapped on a scroll held in his hands with a long stick, before frowning. "The special ward. Oh dear, that very rarely happens, I do hope she's alright."
Athrwys felt completely out of his depth.
"I hope so too," he finally responded.
The 'Welcomewizard' led him and Lord Walston down a corridor, before turning right, right, and right again, and finally ending with a right turn. They arrived in a room with just three beds, and three or four robed individuals, circling the only occupied bed. The man who looked like a stereotypical white-bearded wizard was arguing with a woman wearing emerald-green robes. Athrwys set up a small sound-enhancing barrier near one of his ears to eavesdrop before they noticed him.
"... can't just leave in the middle of the Sorting Ceremony, Albus! It has never happened before in the history of Hogwarts!"
"This is bigger than Hogwarts, Minerva!" shouted the bearded man. "We can no longer simply Obliviate the poor witch or wizard who catches a glimpse of one, the girl is no longer human! She is the first magic-compatible member of an entirely new species of sentient beings, has revealed her existence to the entire student body of Hogwarts, and our top priority is to not, in any way, shape, or form, to mess up..."
He turned around as if just noticing Lord Walston and Athrwys standing in the doorway behind him. "First contact," he finished. "My apologies. How do you do, my name is Albus Percival Brian Wulfric Dumbledore, and although I am known by many names and titles, the one that is most pertinent is Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
"Athrwys, leader of the King's Men," responded Athrwys.
"Lord Walston," said Lord Walston. "And..." He looked around, but the cheery Welcomewizard had disappeared.
"What do you think you're doing here?" demanded the emerald-robed woman, apparently Minerva.
Athrwys and Lord Walston shared a glance before Athrwys stepped forward. "As the leader of the King's Men, I find it to often be my duty to meet with recently-triggered parahumans and provide them direction, support, and if at all possible, a place on the King's Men. The Runcorns were personal friends of mine. I would very much like to invite Ruby to the King's Men headquarters if at the very least to remove her from the environment she triggered in."
Minerva looked confused. "Trigger?"
"The worst day of your life," said Lord Walston. "Dr Manton's still researching it, but every potential parahuman hits their lowest possible low, and is pushed to something akin to fight-or-flight, but more extreme. People who survive the experience gain parahuman powers."
"Worst day..." muttered Dumbledore. "Fits with what I've seen in the others, but I can't see exactly how being assigned a House would constitute something of that magnitude. It's an open secret the Hat lets you choose. Unless..." He shook his head. "We'd be grateful if you took her to your medical centre. I'm certain they're more qualified to handle this situation than we are."
"Of course," said Athrwys.
"Please do try to return her to Hogwarts." Dumbledore flicked his wrist into his robe and pulled out a surprisingly normal-looking business card. "The location is written here. Simply looking at it should supercede the powers of the Unplottability Charm."
"Right," said Athrwys, pocketing the card.
"I must return to my students. Minerva, hold onto my arm." She did, and the two disappeared in a sudden burst of flames.
After blinking at the small scorch marks on the floor where the two used to be, the pair looked to the unconscious girl on the bed.
"We should have asked what her powers were," muttered Lord Walston.
"I can't believe I forgot to ask," agreed Athrwys. He stepped over to one side of the bed. "Are you going to carry her or should I?"