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Duende As Usual

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Late on Saturday night, as the city is in its revels, the sign goes up and the sirens wail out. Where Are The Three? they seem to call. Save Us From This Calamity. The Monochrome Martinet is immediately alert. He steps to the balcony and appraises the situation. The screens will tell the details, but he feels there is no real subsitute for the first impressions on the wind, for the raw feel of the city's trauma. The glow of a fire reflects from skyscrapers in the east, and he hears sirens. He nods to himself, confirming his suspicions. Their direction is clear, at least.

He turns, whisking his jingling cloak after him, and scrutinises the screens, taking in overview and detail. Neon pinks and yellows reflect from his mirrored sleeves and pasty face, The lights pulse out the beats in a march of suffering and death. He takes in all the facts and then summarises the crisis smartly, barking concise and clear instructions to the team. They watch him intently, trusting but with the tiniest thread of suspicion winding through their loyalty. Martinet has never been inner circle, and the implicit trust between The Three never quite fully extends to him. His role is confined to mentor, organiser, and dispatcher. Someone needs to co-ordinate. He is content with that, for the most part. The cost of anything greater would be too much. He monitors and does not move toward the danger.

In some ways, this is a crisis, but in others they have all the time in the world. Haste in planning always backfires, and besides, between them they have enough of a handle on the passage of time to make space for a comprehensive briefing.

Their instructions clear, The Three depart the balcony in their own particular ways. Necropolis Blownapart opens his spectacular glowing wings and first drops, then soars up again, creating his own thermals. Apocryphal Espadrille falls and persuades passing pedestrians to catch him. Later they won't quite remember what happened, or will dismiss it as a dream. Then he is off, running swiftly through the streets. Dystopio Smashedtobits is there one moment and then is just... not. No-one has ever quite fathomed how he does it.

Despite Dystopio's mysterious speed, Necropolis Blownapart is first on the scene. This is deliberate; The Three have tried it different ways round in the past, but the show never really starts until he gets there. He pauses to strike a pose, resplendent in flame and transparency. Necropolis is the flash and the distraction while the other two work. He flies above and directs the show, issues ultimatums and accepts surrenders. Always, always in impeccable rhyming couplets. His is the face of the team, on the front page of the newspaper, burnt into the dreams of miscreants.

Apocryphal Espadrille slides silently round the corner, unnoticed and unremarked. If you saw him you would not see him, not really. His face is not his own, it is a projection of your hopes, or fears, as best befits the situation. He can make you follow him, his whims, his ghost to the end of the world, all the while believing you meant to go there. His role is persuader and cover-up, ghost-writer of The Three's preferred story.

Dystopio Smashedtobits is not here, yet.

The antagonist of this disaster is an old enemy, a bringer of chaos and strife, disaster attending its wake. The Three know its name and yet will not speak it, even in the heat of battle, for fear of drawing its attention. It strikes with acid and precision but it will never land a blow, for Martinet and Espadrille anticipate its every move. Necropolis feints and ducks and play-acts for the cameras, of course, but he will never be scathed. Despite many altercations, this particular enemy has not yet worked out that Necropolis is not the real danger. Martinet believes it never will, and so, for all the flashy moves and the spectacle, this particular fight will never be anything but business as usual.

While Necropolis provides a luminescent distraction, Espadrille is at work. He moves between minds, anticipating plans and predicting moves, communicating insights to Necropolis and Dystopio. This particular encounter is not much of a challenge to him, and so he also flits between the minds of observers, persuading them to step miraculously out of the way of falling debris, and softening experiences that might otherwise transform into traumas. In many ways he is the most human of The Three, though he also lives the furthest from an ordinary human existence. His powers do not "switch off" the way the others' do, and so he is always manipulating, always interfering. He cannot help it, and this is his way of making amends.

Finally Dystopio Smashedtobits appears - as always, at the last and perfect moment. The others never doubt his arrival. He might as well be a fact of nature; he is as predictable as a pendulum, as steadfast as a mountain. Years of trust connect The Three and direct their actions. Time is Dystopio's canvas and his paint; a touch of his finger and a building falls to rust, a human falls to dust. Necropolis may take the glory but the final, decisive blow is always Dystopio's. (He is also humble, which is fortunate, for if he were not then he would be insufferable, and The Three would have gone their separate ways many years ago.)

The battle could now end quickly, but to maintain the pretense that it's largely Necropolis' doing, The Three dance through a careful choreography. Their powers camouflaged by Necropolis' fireworks, Epadrille and Dystopio synchronise to gracefully swing the conflict towards its inevitable ending. Meanwhile Necropolis goes through the motions of a hard-won finale, fictional but narratively satisfying.

And then it is over, and two of The Three sneak away back to the fourth, leaving the third to answer the adoring questions of the press. Tomorrow they will be Front-page news, again, and the world will turn on as usual.