Moon Girl 2: Bell Toll Free Preview
Came the call for a twitchy red head in the waiting room of Iwon city prison.
Shakily, Dreda took a breath and rose from her seat after pulling her twiddling thumbs apart. Striding past a few others waiting for their call, she pushed her way through a single blue door on the other side of the room.
The room she entered had a wall splitting it exactly in half, the separator itself made of halves. The top half glass, the second half wooden desks with partitions on each side. At each desk was a cold, hard, steel stool. All the ones on Dreda’s side were taken except one.
She took that seat, then with a glance to the brunette on the other side of the glass she picked up the phone wired to the wall.
“Hey,” She said awkwardly.
“Hi,” The brunette answered,
“So,” Dreda gave a small smile, “Fortunna Nagel?”
And now Fortunna Nagel. Leader of The Weapons of the Round Table that threw the city into chaos only a few weeks ago.
How did they turn the city upside down? They powered up an illusionist and put the entire city to sleep. It didn’t sound like something that was particularly deadly but the death toll was insane. Too many kids fell off climbing frames and broke their necks. Too many cars crashed. Too many patients in the hospital went unattended.
Too many died.
And those responsible got away. Escaped and faded away, lost until they made their next move.
The city streets were lined with flowers now, but the city was starting to recover.
Dreda, Tim and Leo had recovered nicely from nearly having a warehouse dropped on them and were back in the field. Tim sadly didn’t escape permanent damage. When he and Dreda tried to wake other heroes from this cursed sleep to help them, Pandora had woken from a nightmare. Sadly, with her Trick her scream was so loud it took out Tim's hearing completely and in order to get it back, he had to risk infection by putting in hearing aids before his ears had healed. They did get infected and, though Tim could now hear it wasn’t very well. He had to wear the hearing aids most of the time now. Luckily, his mask hid them as Frigid Hack so the public hadn't noticed and Tim had been reluctant to accept them. He took them off at every opportunity.
During this, the only one they managed to capture was Fortunna. Leader of The Weapons and Product One. The only survivor from series one of the mass murdering, Project TRICKSTER. Someone who meant a lot to Dreda, someone who had been through hell longer than she had.
After everything happened, Dreda kept thinking about Fortunna. Tim's father was a villain who he had gone to visit countless times so even if she was a hero there was no reason she shouldn't visit her. But the anxiety was hard to beat. What if she didn’t want to see her because she got her arrested? What if she was mad because she stopped her plan? What if she just didn’t care about her anymore?
It was, in the end, stupid anxiety. During their fight, the two had come to an understanding but sometimes Dreda's mind liked to work against her.
A few times she tried to go, telling herself it would be fine. She'd had her keys, gotten to the door, but given into the anxiety at the last minute and stayed home. She was only here now because she made the mistake of mentioning wanting to go to Tim.
The moment she did he saw straight through her and drove her here himself. As nervous as she was, as much as she tried to talk him out of it, she was glad for the push.
She was surprised to find that Excalibur had given her name as Fortunna Nagel. She’d never heard her use that name but after a search on the name it came up. A missing person’s report from the year 2000.
“I’m surprised you remembered your name after everything that happened,” Dreda admitted since most didn’t, including her.
“I was determined not to forget. I would repeat it to myself often during our time in hell. You can call me Fort for short if you want. Fortunna is a bit long.” Fort told her with a small smile.
Dreda nodded, a treasure like a name was precious to The Products, she wasn’t surprised she protected it to the point she never told anyone. She smiled to herself a little, knowing somewhere One was more than happy to call herself Fort. A tough, impenetrable, protective barrier.
“And what do I call you here? You don’t want to be called Four and I’m sure you don’t want me saying your other name in here.” Fort asked her, tilting her head.
“Dreda,” Dreda answered, “Dreda Toth.”
Tim had advised her to go ahead and use her real name here. Excalibur was basically family to her and it kept the prison as far away from her hero persona as she wanted to keep her real life.
“Suits you.” Fort nodded in approval, “Why’d you come here, Dreda?” She asked using her name for the fun of it.
“Just…” Dreda wasn’t sure, “Just wanted to see you, I guess.”
Fort smiled warmly, “We missed you too.”
Dreda smiled back, glad to hear it. They may have been on separate sides when it came to their last confrontation but they still had a strong bond. Even if their history was complicated, they were family. Fort was the Selena to Dreda's Pandora.
And like long lost family, they didn’t really know anything about each other now and sat in an awkward silence trying to think about what to talk about.
“Have the others done anything since you put me in here?” Fort managed to find something, even if it wasn't exactly a conversation topic.
Dreda titled her head, “No, Why? Did you have anything planned?”
“No, I’m just a bit worried about them, that’s all,” Fort answered leaning back in her chair.
“Why? Three will keep things-” She stopped when Fort gave her a look, a look of utter disbelief, “What?”
“Three couldn’t lead the blind!” Fort snapped, “As soon as someone says no, he'd say okay. The guy can't stand up to protest he's a push over. You know who’s really going to be in change with me gone.”
Dreda’s body stiffened and her blood ran cold. She hadn't thought about it when she took Fort in. She thought she'd just slow The Weapons down by taking away their leader but in retrospect, landing Fort in prison may be have been a mistake.
“Exactly,” Fort crossed her arms in a stern fashion, the look on Dreda’s face giving her all the reply she needed, “You know Two won’t be as restrained as I am with his methods. I don’t want to know what he's coming up with as we speak.”
“No,” Dreda took a calming breath and hardened herself.
Looking up to Fort with fire in her sea-blue eyes she declared, “I'll stop him. Me and the other heroes will stop him if he makes a move. We can look into him, though, just to make sure we are ready. What does he go by now?”
One took a few moments and stared at the girl on the other side of the glass. Once upon a time, this girl hid behind her when Two entered the room. Once upon a time, this girl would start crying when she knew she had to spend a day with him. The eyes that looked back at her now could have been a different person. They were hardened sapphires now, compared to the shattered glass of years ago.
She could see her resolve, her determination and though there was still some fear at the topic of their conversation she had confidence that Dreda could face Two and stop him from his chaotic stupidity. Fort smiled a proud smile. But,
“What’s in it for me?” She asked.
“What?” Dreda was taken aback.
“One of the ways you could stop him is by getting me out of here. I can keep him in line. It’s a guaranteed way to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.” She pointed it out.
“I'd like to let you handle him but I can’t. The only way I can say he won’t cause trouble is for you to help me stop him.” Dreda spoke trying to push her finality, not letting the older woman move her an inch on this.
“Worth a shot." She sighed, "Michael Duff.”
“Thanks, Fort.” Dreda nodded her gratitude.
They were awkward for a while, again, as neither knew what to say. They stared around. Fort resorted to asking about the weather.
But soon, with a complaint about the food in prison, they managed to get a conversation going about the wonderful food discoveries they made outside of The Project. Apparently, Six had gotten himself a little cookie addiction.
"And Three likes to go to this Spanish tapas place with his girlfriend."
"Whoa, wait. What?!" Dreda stopped her,
"It's like this type of dining they have where they have little bits of lots of stuff," Fort explained completely missing what Dreda was shocked out.
"No, I know...well, I didn't know that, but a girlfriend?" Dreda spluttered.
"Ooh," Fort nodded realising what she meant then frowned a bit, "We are allowed to have lives now you know, even if we do class as villains."
"I know I just..."
Dreda tried to process it. She was still panicked at the idea of her potential romance and was glad Tim seemed too embarrassed to ever bring up the whole sleeping beauty scenario again. But then Three wasn’t her and he was always the most laid back. She sighed.
"What's her name?" She accepted it.
"Don't know." Fort shrugged, "He's smartly keeping her as far away from us as possible. All I know is it's female."
Dreda nodded still curious, but seeing it was a dead end.
"What about you?" Dreda asked slowly and curiously.
"Me?" Again, Fort took a moment to realised what she meant and sat back with a bit of shock at the question when she realised, "Oh, no, no. Hell, No. What about you and Frigid Hack?" She quickly deflected the question.
Dreda's cheeks flared as she struggled on the rebound.
"What do you mean? There's n-" her mind went back to the kiss, "Damn it, why did you have to ask?"
Fort looked at her shocked.
"Wait, so there actually is something between you two?"
Dreda was too flustered to hear the hint of annoyance in Fort's voice.
"No. No." Dreda stated, calming herself down, "...Or at least...not yet." She muttered on the end.
Fort gave a loud sigh, slumping forwards onto her arms.
"What?" Dreda frowned even though she knew what she was about to say.
"I don’t like him." She stated.
"Somehow, I thought you wouldn't." Dreda smiled at the irony.
She had always noticed. Fort didn’t like people like her. Not as in other fire Tricksters, obviously, but as in her personality. Cold, smart, proud.
She didn’t have to speak to people to tell. Fort just met people like her and suddenly she didn’t like them.
"I don't think you should either." She stated and Dreda just nodded knowing it was best not to fight Fort's protective instincts.
Not long after the unexpected girl talk Dreda was called out, her time up. Fort was taken back to her cell. She felt sorrow weigh down her chest when she watched the woman being taken away but there wasn’t anything she could do. She had to stay here, at least until Dreda maybe managed to talk her out of being a villain.
Dreda left the prison, picking up her keys at the front desk since they apparently classed as too sharp to take in and headed outside. She emerged from the prison that on the inside always seemed perpetually grey, squinting as the sun attacked her eyes.
She couldn’t tell if it always seemed dark in the prison because of the lighting or the prisoners feeling of being trapped affecting the atmosphere. Probably the lighting and she had far too much time to think as she waited for her call.
In the car park, Dreda made her way to a familiar small blue car. When she opened the door to the passenger seat, the driver, Tim, peeled his eyes away from his phone and took a good look at her. He didn’t talk for a few moments, watching her face carefully. He was relieved to see there were no signs of any dark feelings after her chat with Fort.
In fact, he was happy to see a small smile.
"How'd it go?" He asked as she took her seat.
"Good," Dreda answered with a smile as she clicked on her seat belt, "I'm kind of sad to leave her here, though."
"Gotta serve your time." Tim shrugged, remembering the feeling himself when he had to leave his father here the first few times.
At this point, he was used to it. Whenever he left his father in prison now he just hoped he'd set a new record for days in before breaking out.
The prison really needed to up its security against Tricksters…
"Yeah, she did bring it on herself." She nodded but frowned when she remembered something she needed to bring up, "But she made a good point actually. I'll need you to look up what you can on a guy. If that's okay?"
He raised an eyebrow curiously, "Why?"
"One, sorry, Fort-"
"Her name is Fortunna but she prefers Fort." Dreda quickly explained and with Tim's nod she carried on her request, "Fort pointed out with her gone Two is gonna be in charge of The Weapons, which is very bad. I managed to get the name Two is going by from Fort. Hopefully, you should be able to look him up with it and see what he's doing, if anything."
"Try to stop him before he does anything." Tim nodded, "Looks like I've got my work cut out for me."
"Sorry," Dreda apologised as Tim put on his seat belt and turned on the engine,
"It's fine. It's kinda fun having a reason to hack other than boredom." He reassured her.
She shook her head. Tim had been hacking a lot lately and mainly because of her. He'd been looking into her parents and the charity Project TRICKSTER had been funded by. Dreda was shocked when Tim told her The Project had been funded by a charity. When he explained that it would make the government look good to be giving money to this so called 'charity', it made sense but that didn’t stop her feeling ill to think she was tortured under donation.
She shook her head of it. She had to worry about stopping what might happen and what might be happening rather than sitting in the darkness of what had already passed.
"So, what's his name?" Tim asked as they pulled out the parking space.
"Michael Duff," Dreda answered.
"I'll look at it after our meeting." Tim nodded.
The meeting. Dreda took a calming breath at the mention. The meeting had been called by Clair. She had wanted to call the meeting as soon as Dreda agreed to help them stop The Project but they had decided it was best to wait. Give them some time to recover. Give Tim some time to dig up some information.
Clair had also called the meeting after telling them she had help in her investigations so far. It seemed their little anti-Project TRICKSTER team had a fourth member they didn’t even know about and knowing that made Dreda nervous. Clair had assured her it wasn’t another hero which was good, it meant she didn’t have to face anymore awkwardness at work but it was still unnerving to think more knew.
Of course, more knew. There were other scientists, other Tricksters, police who dealt with it.
She glanced to Tim who had quickly gotten them into the city centre and was finding a parking space.
He was a bit of a safety blanket to her at the moment. Meeting this new person will be fine, she'd be fine. As long as he stayed by her side.
Words she would never say out loud because she had to quickly get the red off her cheeks for having thought it in the first place. He pretended not to notice as he stopped the car.
"You okay?" He thought he'd make sure before they got on the way.
They were early anyway and the peaceful secluded feeling in the car made it easier to have these kinds of conversations.
"Nervous." She admitted as she took off her seat belt, "But okay. If Clair trusts this person it should be okay."
Tim nodded and Dreda found him unusually quiet. She watched him take his seat belt off and slump back in the car seat.
"I'm a bit nervous too if I'm honest." He admitted, struggling a bit.
Dreda had gotten used to admitting her emotions to a point. She'd made Tim and Clair worry too many times when she tried to hide it so she did her best, to be honest with them. Well, as honest as you could be to someone you couldn’t tell your real name.
Tim on the other hand. He wasn't good at talking about his feelings at all. He did his best to keep his icy exterior on at all times which made it easier to keep up his hero persona since it was the same but hard to deal with things like this.
Dreda was honoured he made the effort to open up to her. She expected it was because of when he first found out about her past. When she blew up at him because he didn’t understand. After all that, they both put in a lot of effort to try understand each other.
"You're nervous?" Dreda questioned, surprised.
"You're right. If Clair trusts them that should be enough but I can’t help but be a bit cautious at the idea of anyone knowing about Project TRICKSTER and anyone knowing we are looking into it." He explained.
She nodded, "But Clair trusts them." She repeated, "We should at least meet them."
"Yeah." Tim agreed, attempting to put away his paranoia as they exited the car.
The group met in a popular chain café, plenty of people, plenty of chatty buzz and a nice lonely table in the corner, at the back so, no one was close enough to hear anything clearly.
Apparently, Clair had met her contact here regularly. It was their little secret meeting place. Tim and Dreda walked in and both just frowned. They both had similar tastes in café's and this was not it. The overlapping conversations were an uncomfortable background noise and just to make it even less relaxing the coffee machine every so often blasted over the sound of the crowd with its odd screechy sounds.
"I'll grab drinks if you want?" Tim offered and Dreda nodded, making her order with him for a cup of tea then moving to find said lonely table at the back of the café.
It was a dark little booth made with comfortable room for four. Worn, red leather cushioned seats and a varnished wooden table stained with overuse. Dreda might not have even spotted the table if she hadn't seen the familiar brunette wave her over. Cautiously, she approached, expecting someone to come into view as she got a closer but it seemed, at the moment, Clair was on her own.
Clair gave Dreda a smile and a warm look from her hazel eyes as she gestured for her to take a seat. Dreda heard a click as the woman shifted the position of her grey heels that complimented the business suit and smart appearance the woman maintained.
It was always a sharp contrast to the casual plain or sometimes striped t-shirts Dreda wore.
"Thanks for coming. My extra is getting our drinks if you’re wondering." Clair welcomed, answering the question written all over Dreda's face.
"Right." She answered looking around.
It was a good spot but it was strange. What they were going to talk about just felt a bit wrong to bring up in such a public place.
"Are you okay?" Clair asked, looking concerned.
"Yeah," Dreda shook her head and looked at Clair, finally pulling her mind from the new surroundings, and, now she was focused on Clair, she noticed, "Are you?"
The woman...didn't look quite as fresh as she usually would. Though her makeup was masterful she looked tired, she couldn't see the dark circles but Dreda got the idea they were there.
"Is it showing?" Clair said with a lopsided frown.
"You just look tired, is all," Dreda frowned, worried,
It was an odd feeling, her worrying about Clair when it is normally the other way around. Sometimes you start thinking someone is so strong they would never have something bother them, they'd never be shaken by anything and honestly, Dreda had started to think that way of Clair. Clair has been her rock and it was never nice to see cracks in your rock.
"I am," She sighed, "I'm-"
She stopped and Dreda looked round seeing a man make a beeline to their table with drinks.
"We can talk about it later." Clair shrugged off her problems and painted back her smile as the man came closer.
Dreda was still worried but understood Clair probably didn’t want to talk about them in front of this guy and honestly was honoured that she wanted to discuss them with her. She was happy she could get the chance to pay Clair back for being there for her but right now she had to push those thoughts aside. She needed to focus on what they were about to talk about and meeting the new person.
Smart trousers a white shirt and a tie all under a very worn and scruffy brown leather jacket. The middle-aged man had short, wood coloured hair and a bit of prickly stubble. Dreda wanted to relax as his mossy green eyes were kind but he looked too familiar. She was tilting her head trying to place him.
"Roza, this is Detective Matis Lawson. Matis, this is Roza Hale." Clair introduced.
Dreda could place the name. He was the detective she spoke to about the jewellery theft when she stopped Cut Caster. Her first Villain take down as a hero. But she never saw him during that time so she couldn’t understand why he looked familiar.
"We have met." He said, answering the question in her eyes as he sat next to Clair pushing a medium Americano in front of her to get a 'thank you', "Three years ago, I helped process you through the system after Paragon brought you in."
When he said that it clicked,
"I picked your name." He gave that last bit of info but Dreda had already remembered.
He had tried to get Dreda to choose one herself but at the time she didn’t understand. She didn’t understand why Four wasn’t a name. She didn’t understand why in the world she needed two names. That part of her life was generally a bit of a blur because she didn’t understand anything that was going on around her at the time. She didn’t understand what she had been saved from. She didn’t understand what everyone meant when they said it was all okay now.
All she remembered was vertigo, and to deal with that at the time she had just shut off. It was easier than trying to understand. Easier than having to try process the overload culture change, the strange alien world she had been brought into.
It took her a long time to call that world home.
And an even longer time to appreciate Matis for sitting by her and picking out a name for a girl who had none.
"Thanks for that. It's a good name." She told him.
He beamed, "Glad you like it. I was worried when you...got better," He said awkwardly not sure how to say it, "You'd decide you didn't like it."
Dreda shook her head, "It's served me well."
She saw Clair wave at something and looked over to see Tim approach with two steaming mugs.
Tim recognised Matis right away but, since he had only met him as Frigid Hack he had to pretend he didn’t know the guy.
"Tim, this is detective Matis Lawson. Matis, this is Tim Drake." Clair introduced them.
"The nosy hacker." Matis put his hand out and Tim would have shaken it if it wasn’t for that comment.
"Yeah." He said plainly glaring at him before sitting down next to Dreda putting her tea in front of her.
"Thanks." She said putting her hands around the warm mug.
"No problem," He replied watching Matis' hand fall back to his lap and wondering something, "How'd you get in on this?"
He felt he had a right to know as he seemed to know how Tim had.
"I helped process Roza here through the system after Mist saved her." He told him and Tim nodded glancing to Dreda, glad he now had an explanation on why she seemed so calm despite how nervous she had been a while ago.
"Now we are all acquainted. I believe we all have some information to share." Clair put her cup down after taking a gulp of steaming hot black coffee.
Not all of them. Admittedly, Clair didn’t have much to contribute and a good part of the conversation was catching Matis up with what had happened. That The Weapons of the Round Table were The Products from The Project and that The Project was funded by a charity.
"That I knew. It's how I found out the head scientists names." Matis told them.
Tim and Clair missed out the part that they were Dreda's actual parents and Dreda didn’t mention it either. As far as she was concerned it didn’t matter. She'd stop them either way.
"They are still registered as directors of the charity," Tim confirmed, "I doubt the address and information on there is correct, though. I rang the office number but couldn’t for the life of me get past the sectary"
"Tough one, isn't he?" Clair nodded having tried the same herself after Matis found the number for her.
"I can confirm that the address is fake too," Matis chimed in, "I staked out the place a few times but not seen anyone go in or out."
"Even if it is fake that doesn't mean they never used it." Dreda thought out loud, "Did you ever go in?" She asked.
"That’s called breaking and entering, dear. My job says I can't but I can't say the thought hadn't crossed my mind." He told her.
"You think they might have left something?" Tim asked and Dreda shrugged
"It would be interesting to look." Clair nodded,
"Officially, I'll say you can't because it's breaking the law," Matis said then with a smirk continued with, "Unofficially, make sure you do it after midnight, early morning time so you don’t get caught. As far as I could tell no one seemed to have CCTV in the area but I'd keep your faces covered just in case."
Clair laughed, "Unofficially, will you be coming?"
The question was an agreement to have a look at the potential lead.
"I can't. I kinda like my job. Help me with that and don’t plan the break-in with me around. The less I have to lie about it the better." He shook his head.
With that, they dropped the subject and moved on. Tim had also found some buildings owned by the charity that could have housed an operation like Project TRICKSTER. Some, that weren't too far from Iwon city. Unfortunately, Clair had already checked them out and found nothing. There were more, but they were talking hours of diving and some even in other countries.
"Hopefully we can find something in our completely lawful break in that will help narrow it down. There's no point in us going so far for some of these when there's maybe a two-percent chance of us actually finding anything." Tim said looking at Matis who looked away pretending not to hear.
He smirked at that, couldn’t help but like a guy who was willing to bend the rules a bit but would stick to his guns in the end.
"What about the other Products?" Clair asked cautiously, "Until recently I thought we would have to save them but now-"
"Now they have their own lives. They don’t need saving." Dreda told them, thinking about Three and his girlfriend.
"Well, Two does." Tim added, then realised what he said, "Well, stopping not saving."
"What do you mean?" Clair asked.
"Now that Excalibur is in prison the one who will be calling the shots will be Two, Carnwennan." Dreda explained them trying to stick to names that everyone on the table was familiar with, "I hoped Three would take the lead but Excalibur pointed it out to me that he is a complete push over and not leader material."
"And by the look on both your faces, that’s pretty bad," Matis looked between Dreda and Tim
"I'm right in saying the guys a psychopath?" Tim looked at Dreda, still not really over the fact the guy would have slit his throat in his sleep just to mess with Dreda.
"A lot more than the rest of us," She nodded, the others not sure whether she meant to call herself a psychopath with that statement or not "He will cause trouble and I doubt any plan he comes up with will be as nice as what One would. He's going by Michael Duff if you want to keep an eye out for him."
Matis nodded, "I'll do that."
That brought their meeting to a close, no one having anything else to add and a potential for another lead discussed. Matis left early to 'get back to work' so while they finished their drinks, Dreda, Tim and Clair discussed break in plans.
Clair's Trick was made for times like this and she wanted to do it alone until Tim pointed out it was better to have more pairs of eyes and someone to act as lookout. They agreed to make a move in two days then got up and left the café.
Dreda left quite cheery. She was happy she got to see Matis again after all this time. Thank him for what he did for her, having the patience to sit by her while she went through processing at the police station.
It couldn't have been easy for him. She imagined trying to talk to her at that time was like trying to talk to a brick wall.
And then even before that, she had a good chat with Fort today. She was happy that despite what happened, the woman still cared for her.
It gave her hope that maybe she could save her. Truly save her and help her start a normal life.
Maybe even a heroic life.
The three of them were heading back to Tim's car, ready to go back to HQ but they didn’t get very far. Sirens blasted into the air and blue lights rushed past them.
The three of them followed it with their eyes as they watched it round a corner where people were starting to run out, in a screaming panic.
"Duty calls," Clair announced and without another word the three ran into an alley to find somewhere to hide their stuff and get changed.
I hope you enjoyed the preview of Moon Girl 2: Bell Toll. You can get your hands on the full book on Amazon and other online retailers: