Finishing up with Epoch took a couple of minutes. Trying to convince them not to call the Society took a couple more.
In the end, it didn't matter. One way or another, Paladin was calling.
"You don't need to work with them, but they need to know. Scourge is a serious threat," Paladin said. "We have a responsibility to let the Society know he's back, and that he's after you."
Couldn't argue with that.
I went through the car, tore out anything that looked important, then grabbed a bag out of the trunk and stuffed it all in. When I was climbing my way out, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"I know you're hiding something," he said.
"And I don't care, whatever it is," he said. "But just remember. You can't take Scourge on alone."
I turned to them--Epoch. They were watching me closely, each with a different expression--each reflecting concern.
But this wasn't their fight. And I sure as hell didn't want to get anyone killed.
"Thanks," I said. "I'll be fine."
"The Society'll investigate this," Paladin said. "Just stay low for a couple of days. I'm sure they'll rescue your handler in two shakes. And then--"
"Right." I turned and left.
I got three steps before I heard Paladin clearing his throat.
"You, uh, need a ride home?" Paladin asked.
Took about thirty minutes; Paladin picked me up with those giant glowing hands and walked through the city with those stilts of his. It felt weird, being carried by someone else--I thought it would be awkward and creepy--but Paladin had a lot of experience with this, apparently. He left the others to head home while he walked.
"How old are you?" he asked a moment after we were out of earshot.
"What's it matter?" I said.
"I dunno. Are you around our age?"
"Why? Are you trying to hit on me?" I narrowed my eyes.
His response was to laugh. "No," he said. "Trust me, you aren't my type. Besides, I'm already spoken for."
I wasn't his type? Didn't even know what that meant. Did he even know what my type was?
Either way, knowing that he wasn't trying to make a move made me feel a little comfortable about the whole 'being carried home' thing. The energy he held me with--it was smooth, solid, and warm. Like being held up by heated glass.
"Yeah," I told him. "I"m a teenager."
"I figured. You kinda remind me of Mulligan."
"The jerk with the baseball bat?"
"He's not all that bad," Paladin said, before he quickly added: "None of them are. You ever think about getting registered?"
"Maybe," I said. "After all this. I don't know. I don't... I don't feel like there's many people I can trust right now."
"You can trust us," he told me, and there was a certain force--a sincerity--to his voice. "One way or another, we're the good guys."
I believed him. But I also thought he was a little naive.
It was surreal, watching the city below us. Those stilts of his carefully picked their way across building after building, retracting and extending with every step. He'd obviously practiced this quite some time, and was able to make quite a lot of time with it--it only took a few minutes before we were within the vicinity of my neighborhood.
It occurred to me that by telling him to stop, I was giving him an idea of where I lived. I didn't like that, but I didn't see what choice I had.
"Here's good," I told him, and he slowly retracted his stilts until we were on the ground. As I dropped my feet to the ground, he held something out to me. A small business card.
It had 'EPOCH' written on it, along with a number and email address.
"Anything," he said. "Absolutely anything. Contact us. We're here to help, ma'am."
"Skull's fine," I said, but he was already up in the air, walking away on those energy stilts of his.
I flicked the card into the bag. Under the silence of night, I made my way back home.