“Hey guys, guess what?” Kay Graycloud was one of those people one saw at every convention where cosplay was an element: clearly she had an interest in costuming, but missed a crucial point where cosplay traditionally involves dressing up as a character from other media.
As such, she was a vampiress.
Maybe she could argue that the corset, long flowing skirt, platinum hair, and red contacts might make her look a little bit like one of the background characters from Night Flight Bite, but really it was half an excuse to don a corset and pale make-up.
She ran up to the group, palmtop in hand with of all things a clown in tow. “There’s supposed to be some big celebrity here—oh wait it’s just Alloy. I was hoping for Adi Abhed or maybe Sharon Nguyen.”
“Hardy-har-har.” Warrick rolled his eyes. “Keep talking and I won’t invite you to be in a guest with me on the Sanctum Comics panel tomorrow.”
This made Kay pull up short. “Wait. What? You’ve been here for like less than an hour and you’ve got a panel all of a sudden? I’ve been putting it out on all my social media that I’m here and I still had to pay fifteen dollars for a hot dog!”
Warrick beamed with pride. “Remember last year when I saved Sterling Jackson and Lauren Clay-Moore?”
He paused for effect, but JC’s excitement got he better of him. “They’re here promoting Prelates of Mayfield being re-branded to Heroes of May field, heard he was here and boom, all the Descendants have an invite to come discuss the comic with them and the fans at their panel!”
Meghan jumped in too, brandishing a cloth shopping bag courtesy a game company called AwesomestSwag. “And we got signed physical copies of Heroes of Mayfield!”
The clown that had arrived with Kay perked up. “Sterling Jackson? He’s writing the Cupcakes the Clown shorts for Sanctum Animated this fall. I-I’d sure like to meet him…”
“Eh, Cupcakes was way cooler in the miniseries where he became Klown Kar, demon clown of hellish justice,” Cyn said shaking her head. “You know, until the last couple of issues when the whole thing turned out to be a plot by Hitler to take over Hell. But I guess that wouldn’t be your kinda thing huh, Roommate?”
The clown, really Kay’s roommate at music school Jessica Kowalski, looked down, mildly embarrassed. Luckily for her, Warrick came to her defense.
“There was… nothing good about that series,” said Warrick with a disapproving expression. “Just like pretty much everything Martin Baker touches. Guardian of Angels was good though.”
The clown nodded timidly. “I bought the hardbound collection by mistake.”
“You poor soul,” With a pronounced Italian accent, a man in a brown-and white body suit designed to look like it was made of cobwebs, a web-like half-cape, and a cowl with a pair of huge, tinted lenses said, strolling into the conversation. He offered the clown a thumbs-up. “Awesome Pre-Revision Cupcakes costume, by the way.”
“T-thank you.” The clown demurred at the complement. “Nice Arachneon costume?” She made it sound like a question.
“Nothing of it. And yeah, Martin’s normally a screw-up, but have you heard he just bought by yours truly in Adventure Squadron? The book’s pretty good too. I think having grandkids mellowed the guy out. Of course it is super weird hearing actual superheroes talking about fictional ones.”
Warrick chuckled. “If it wasn’t for the fictional heroes, I wouldn’t be the real one I am today. Of course The Whitecoat was my biggest influence, but I came up reading about Steel Fist and Mr. Unbreakable, Azure Scarab, and yeah, totally Arachneon. Always good to meet another fan.” He offered his hand. “Warrick Kaine, the Alloy.”
The man-spider shook the offered hand. “Patrick Park, Arachneon.” Patrick Park was the in-universe name for the hero Arachneon.
“Not up for giving a real name?” asked Meghan.
“I only get to be my childhood hero once a year. Gotta milk it for all its worth.”
Cyn smirked. “Ya know, I can’t argue. I sometimes go around a whole day looking like someone else. You seem cool, Spider-Guy.”
JC nodded. “Wanna hang out? We’re just checking out the con on the first day; no planned events except for Cyn’s voice-acting thing and we’re all going to play in a Combat: the Resurrection demo at six.”
“I’ve got a thing at two, but I can’t think of anything more awesome than hanging out with some real heroes. Mind if I live blog a little?”
Tink looked around at all the cameras—both obviously pointed at them and discreet. “Go ahead; literally everyone else is.”
“She’s right you know,” Kay chipped in, taking a quick picture of the group.
The group struck out toward the webcomic hall, but Jessica hung back a little, which didn’t go unnoticed by Meghan. The orc fell into step with the nervous clown, giving her a gentle look. “You okay?”
“I feel like that’s not true. Come on, I’m a pretty good listener even if we haven’t really hung out.” With that thought, she smiled and added, “Meghan Blackwell, by the way.”
“Jessica Kowalski. A-and it’s nothing important. Just… I hadn’t really thought about it until just not. They’re all superheroes. Actual, real-life superheroes.” She sighed softly. “I’m… not.”
Meghan laughed. “Neither am I. Neither are a lot of their other friends and families. Not saying I wasn’t intimidated when I saw the whole thing online the other day, but then I realized: they’re still just people. Same people I’ve always known. Just it turns out that every time they went missing without a text, they were doing something amazing.”
“Yeah… amazing.” Jessica replied, sounding unsure.
“You’ll feel better about this whole thing once you see them geeking out meeting nerd celebrities.”
After two hours of both signing and getting autographs as well as posing for pictures, collecting con swag, and attending panels on small press works, the group found themselves a few blocks down from the hotel at a place called Friend or Pho for lunch.
‘Arachneon’ had stuck with them, folding easily into the group as they bonded over geek culture, especially the Sanctum Comics line. He also spent time asking Meghan questions about the orcing community as well as proving quite knowledgeable about cosplay in general.
That wasn’t to say there weren’t a few arguments…
“So here’s a thing,” JC was saying as he flicked around on his palmtop, waiting for the others to finish eating. “Rumor mill’s saying they’re casting Nate Castleton for the live-action Cowboy King movie.”
“I was already checked out the second they said ‘live action’,” said Meghan. “It’s like videogame movies: they keep making them and they never make ’em well.”
“Same,” agreed Warrick. “Plus Nate Castleton? I never really thought of Wesley Wesson as a prettyboy like that. It’d be like casting Silvio Bartolini as Grimm Jaw. They’re going to need to spend so much money or tech to ugly him up, it’d be a waste.”
Aracheneon shrugged. “You really think Wes is ugly? Uglier than Bardlet or Kate?”
“I don’t think anyone on that show is anything to write home about,” Warrick replied between bites of beef from his pho.
“I-it’s the animation style,” Jessica put in shyly. “Anzai Ezakiya’s character models are very artistic and people tend to be r-really divided on it.”
“Super ugly,” JC put in. “Really, if the action wasn’t beyond awesome, I wouldn’t have kept watching past episode one.”
Arachneon nodded. He had the bottom half of his mask pulled up so he could eat. “Better pretty than how he looks animated. Besides; Wes is a cool, charming kind of guy. Castleton plays that part really well—you’ve got to agree to that.”
Warrick indicated his skepticism by see-sawing his hand back and forth. “Eh, he’d good. Never said he wasn’t. But Meghan’s right: I can’t remember a live-action version of an anime made by the big studios that didn’t suck on toast.”
“Only takes one,” Aracheneon pointed out. “People said there’d never be a good board game movie too, but then—BAM–Chutes and Ladders becomes an Easter classic.”
“I’ll probably still wait for the reviews instead of going opening night,” said JC.
Kay shrugged. “Eh. I don’t care much for Westerns anyway, but Castleton is yummy and I will watch just for him. Get Silvio Bartolini in there as that other guy from the show and I’ll by out a whole row of tickets.” Meghan, Tink, and Cyn nodded emphatically.
Timidly, Jessica raised a hand. “Um… what’s Cowboy King?”
“It’s an anime about two con artist cowboys and a bounty hunter fighting an evil land baron and his army of zombies and demons. It’s pretty good—the action’s great.” She glanced to the others. “Any news on who’s playing Kate?”
Jessica sighed. “There aren’t many popular shows that aren’t super-violent, are there?”
“Not that’s we’re into,” JC snorted. “Well except Love Proxy.”
“Season 2 of Genesis Alchemist jut came out too,” Tink Added.
“Also Ultra Space Pirates Plus S. There’s some fights, but it’s mostly sci-fi heists,” added Arachneon.
That started a conversation over classic shows and movies they all loved and whether or not they counted as ‘violent’. Which got them back around the Chutes and Ladders including how it broke and held Easter weekend box office records for for almost a decade.
In the middle of it, a small group of teens just a few years younger than the group, entered and tentatively approached. Their leader was tall and thin with blonde hair falling down around his ears and a soul patch under his lower lip. He was the one to actually speak as they arrived at the table.
“Um… excuse me. Alloy?”
Warrick, who had removed his helmet to eat, caused it to reform over his face. “Yeah. Hi there guys. What can I do for you?”
“Autographs, pics, crushing soda cans into whimsical shapes. Our man does it all!” Cyn said with a smirk.
The apparent leader of the group rubbed the back of his head nervously. “Actually… we need your help. We heard you were at the convention, then people were posting your were here and… yeah. Help.”
“Help with… what exactly?” asked Tink.
One of the other teens, a dusky-skinned girl with dark brown hair, stepped forward. “Have you heard of Project Sanctuary?”
“The thing that renovates abandoned factories and stuff into apartments for the homeless? My mom mentioned donating to them more than a couple times.”
“We’re volunteers there,” the young woman said. “And over the past couple of days, people have been disappearing.”
Cyn gestured with her chopsticks. “Not that we’d pass the buck on this—beating down some kidnappers would be fun—but isn’t this something you should go to the cops about?”
Another of the teens, a young man with pale skin and brown hair, shook his head, stepping forward. “Don’t you think we’ve tried? They just assumed the same thing everyone else does: that they were just transients that left.”
The girl who spoke before nodded gravely and added, “Except that’s not true. These people have been with the project for years. They all had… have jobs, they’re trying to get back on their feet. No way they’d just up and leave.”
“Besides,” continued the leader of the little group, “We’re pretty sure whatever’s taking them isn’t something the police can handle. They were taken from locked apartments with no signs of struggle and weird metal powder everywhere.”
From his jeans pocket, he produced a small baggie with a pile of glittery shavings in it.
Warrick frowned. “Silver. Incredibly pure too.” He looked to Kay. “Magic?”
“Maybe, but not a lot of mages can run around burning silver for rituals. Even we don’t do it and we’re brought to you by Brant Industries.”
“The rich preying on the poor. Wouldn’t exactly be a unexpected plot twist. I thought I’d learn different being my mom’s daughter, but she thinks the same thing about most of the people she has to deal with,: said Cyn. “Some pampered asshole doing wizard experiments on homeless people? I think it’s time to beat some shame into ’em.”
Nodding, Warrick rose from his seat. “We don’t know who it is yet. But you guys are right: this looks like a job for The Descendants.”
Arachneon jumped to his feet, brandishing his palmtop. “Alright. Live stream of a superhero smackdown!”
“Whoa there, hombre.” JC stood up beside him and clapped and hand on his shoulder. “”This right here is what we in the ‘easily killable normal folk’ business call ‘something best viewed via the feeds from the costume cams.”
The cosplay hero did a double take. “Wait. There’s costume cams? How is this not the biggest online series ever?”
“I know, right? But apparently there’s privacy concerns that even blurring people’s faces won’t cure,” Cyn grimaced. “Though I hear Lily’s been talking to some TV execs for a reality show of some sort.”
“Which one of you is Lily?”
Cyn shrugged. “A jerk from high school.”
“Our publicist,” Tink added. “And kind of a jerk from high school. Who is getting better, I might add.”
“Haven’t seen you trying to mend bridges,” Cyn muttered.
“Hey!” Meghan jumped in before an argument could start. “How about me and JC and Jessica keep you company while the others go help these guys, Archneon? I’m sure JC’s got the password to the costume cam server and we can watch while we get back to the con.”
Pulling his mask back down with one hand, Arachneon gave a thumbs up. “Sounds like a plan.”
“Ready to head out?” Warrick asked his fellow superheroes and sidekick.
“Just give me a second,” said Tink, taking out her D-icon. In a flash of light, her space girl costume was replaced with the garb of Renaissance.
A loud gasp overtook the reactions of everyone else in the restaurant. Archneon was pointing at her, visibly shaking with a mix of awe and glee. “That. Was. So. Cool. The only way it’d be more rad would be if you span around in a blast of glitter hearts like a magical girl!”
“You know, I never have seen what this looks like from the outside,” Tink realized. “Oh god, please say there’s no part of the switch where we’re naked.”
“Okay, that would have made it cooler.”
Warrick managed to convey a glare with his visor down. “Hey. Watch it.”
Chuckling, Warrick nodded and turned toward the teens from Project Sanctuary. “Alright then: lead on.”