November 18, 2006
The counter staff of the Covington Hotel greeted Miss Carfax with professional smiles and studied niceties. The sylph-like debutante’s bills were being paid for by no less than three discreetly anonymous benefactors, and the staff knew that clients like this were best handled with kid gloves. Miss Carfax smiled back winningly and took her shopping bags up to her suite. As Miss Carfax took the box with the Delacroix label from one of the bags, a voice from the side asked dryly. “So, whose credit card were you wearing out today, Alex?”
‘Miss Carfax’ turned to see Sandra Darden, a.k.a. ‘Lady Darke’ sitting in one of her ‘gentleman callers’ favorite armchairs, tactfully placed where no one could see who was sitting in it from the doorway. “Oh, hey, Sandra! Oh, as I recall it, it was Judge Whitcroft’s.”
“Whitcroft? You’re keeping a State Supreme Court Judge on a string?” Sandra asked with a smirk.
“And why not?” Alex ‘Vamp’ O’Brien asked matter-of-factly. “His money spends as easily as anyone else’s. And it can’t exactly hurt, if I ever get busted, now will it?”
“No,” Sandra sighed. Then she smiled wickedly, “Though, even if the worst happens, the fuss that will get kicked up when the news of exactly what the Judge has been keeping as a mistress gets out, will be absolutely delicious!”
“Which aspect are you talking about? The mutant aspect, the hermaphrodite aspect, the supervillain aspect, or the minor aspect?”
“Actually, I was thinking of the murderer aspect,” Sandra drawled.
Alex glared at ‘Lady Darke’. “I’m not a murderer. You pulled that off, to get me under your thumb.”
“Actually, it was Nightgaunt,” Sandra replied equitably. “I just put the frame around your neck. And that was on direct orders from His Unholiness.”
“Well, thank you so very much,” Alex said pettishly.
“And speaking of Graveyard Breath and direct orders, let’s go. He’s expecting us at the Batcave.”
“Oh? We’re finally going to break the Arch-Fiend out of durance vile?”
“Sorry, Kiddo, need to know information and all that crap.”
Vamp let out an exasperated grunt. “Okay! Fine! BE that way! At least tell me how to dress, so I don’t pick the wrong outfit and give Count Dorkula an excuse to knock me around again.”
“What are the options?” Sandra asked, glad to have as neutral a topic as fashion- even supervillain fashion- to discuss.
“Okay! Obviously, the sleek red off-the shoulder number is out of the question-” Vamp pulled out that outfit by way of demonstration, “- not only have they seen me in it, but I got my butt whupped in it. BAD associations. SO! Do I go for-” She pulled out a black strapless bodysuit with a cobwebby cape, “-Goth Ethereal-?” A black halter top/miniskirt combo with a short red ‘batwing’ capelet, thigh-high boots and opera gloves, “-Retro-Funky>” A black leather catsuit that laced up the sides of the legs and arms with a narrow red corset was next, “-or S/M Kinky?”
“GAWD!” Sandra exclaimed, “I HATE you! You’re what? Fifteen? You’ve got the figure of a freaking FIREPOLE! HOW do you manage to pull off those outfits? How can someone who was a Junior High boy a year ago, come off so fucking Hawt?”
“I can sum it up for you in three words,” Vamp said smugly. “At. Ti. Tood.”
Lady Darke let out an exasperated grunt of her own. "Go for the Retro-Funky outfit. C’mon, get dressed, you know how Darrow loves to be kept waiting.”
‘Miss Carfax’ pulled off her chestnut brown wig, revealing the long fine white hair underneath, and cleansed her face of the light foundation that covered her pale albino complexion. She carefully removed the gray contacts, showing off a pair of red- not ‘pink’, but ruby red- eyes. She put on some purple and red eye shadow deliberately chosen to match the color of bruises, and dabbed her thin lips with a dramatic shade of dark red lipstick. When Vamp was dressed, she covered up her dramatic new look with sunglasses and a thick overcoat, and she and Lady Darke left ‘Abby Carfax’s’ suite via the ‘discreet entrance’.
The Covington Hotel had been housing attractive and complaisant young women whose bills were paid by affluent older gentlemen since the 1880s. One of the amenities that they provided was a ‘discreet entrance’ that was very pointedly NOT watched, which had a state of the art security lock, the key of which was entrusted to the gentlemen who paid the bills. No one had seen Lady Darke enter, and no one saw her leave with Vamp.
Vamp got into Sandra’s car and grumped, “I still say that you can do better than this econo-box. I mean, what’s the point of being a sexy supervillainess, if you gotta shlump around in a POS like this?”
“Vamp, seductive adventuresses only drive sexy cars like Ferraris and Porches in the movies. In real life, it’s a lot safer to drive something nice and inconspicuous.”
“Which is why a Ferrari would be perfect!” Vamp shot back, “Everyone knows that only pretentious dorks like computer geeks and accountants drive Ferraris, so no one would suspect anything!”
Vamp and Lady Darke debated the issue until Sandra used her telepathic ‘blinding’ technique to keep her passenger from knowing where they were. “Oh Gee…” Vamp said dryly, “I can just feel the love…”
“Bosses’ orders. He doesn’t trust you yet.”
“Gee, what was your first clue? The way that his hand seems to be magnetically drawn to the back of my head, or that stake that he keeps playing with?”
When Vamp’s sight returned, they were in a parking garage, and Lady Darke was using a magnetic card to get past a security door. Inside the security door, they both went through the thumbprint, punch-code and voice recognition stages to enter the Necromancer’s latest lair.
As they entered, Nightgaunt was just coming out of the lair’s firing range. “Hey, Nighty-Knight!” Vamp called pleasantly, “How’s it shooting?” Getting no reaction, Vamp couldn’t even tell if Nightgaunt had heard her. The featureless blank helmet that he wore wasn’t just creepy in ways that more expressive masks only wished they were, it left others totally clueless as to Nightgaunt’s state of mind. It occurred to Vamp that she’d never seen Nightgaunt’s face, and she’d only heard him speak once or twice. She’d never be able to pick him out of a lineup.
Nightgaunt ignored her, heading into the gymnasium. As he went in, Lycanthros was coming out, reeking of sweat from his exertions. “Whew!” Vamp gasped, waving a hand in front of her face, “Yo! Dude! Let me clue you in to science’s latest breakthrough- the shower!”
Lycanthros bared his teeth in a not-smile, his one good eye burning red to match the large red stone set into the eye patch over the other eye. “What’s the matter, Little Red Riding Hood?” the hairy near-Neanderthal growled, “Can’t take the smell of a real MAN?”
“And what does a real man have to do with YOU, Alpo-breath?”
Lady Darke shoved Vamp off in the direction they’d been heading before the two could get any nastier. “I swear, I can’t take you two anywhere!”
Sandra and Alex walked through the abbreviated lair’s corridor to the Situation Room. Charles Darrow, a.k.a. ‘The Necromancer’ was going over an illuminated map of Boston with four men. One of the men was a massive mountain of a man with a square face and a general bullish air about him. The smallest of the men had a weasly cast to his face and the sort of eyes that take in everything as if weighing it to figure out if it was threat or prey. The third looked like a stock goon. But for all their predatory mien, it was the fourth man who was the most menacing of the lot. He was athletic, with a beard and a shaven head, and he had the sense of hard discipline that most people associate with career soldiers. And yet, under that, there was a sense of dangerous power about him, kept in check by that hard discipline.
Vamp sauntered over to one of the Security Panels and lounged against it. The Necromancer broke off his discussion with the two men and snarled, “Vamp! What are you doing in here?”
Alex weighed the advantages of maintaining her ‘brat’ rep by dissing the Necromancer against the risks that Darrow wouldn’t embarrass himself by whaling on her in front of company. The odds came down heavily on the side that Darrow would rip into her even more brutally than usual because the strangers were there. “I’m here for the mission briefing. That’s why you called me here, isn’t it, Boss?”
“This briefing is classified,” Darrow rasped through his skull mask. “You’ll do as your told, WHEN you’re told! Get out of here, before I lose all patience with you!”
“Fine, fine,” Vamp sighed as she sashayed out of the room. “On the off chance that anyone needs me, I’ll be in the Lounge.” The men were busy watching her backside leave, so no one noticed the wireless link stub patched into the Security Panel.
Alone in the lounge, Vamp fired up the Playstation3 and started playing a game, except she wasn’t really playing a game. Some time ago, she’d managed to swap the wireless game controller that came with the Playstation for one that she’d kludged a text pager into. As she seemed to be playing Final Fantasy XIII, she was really sending a text message to the wireless link stub back in the Situation Room. The stub exploited the one thing that Darrow’s security sweep system wouldn’t detect- namely the security system itself. And how had she figured out how to do this? Simple- she was sure she was the only one of the Children of the Night that had actually read the security system’s manual.
Still, she kept her message short and sweet- the Children of the Night were gearing up for something, and they had friends along. Once she’d composed her message and sent it, and she was certain that it had gone out undetected, she shut off the pager, and actually concentrated on playing the game. You never knew when Nightgaunt might come ghosting through a shadow unannounced.
November 19, 7: 25 AM
Miss Grimes looked peevishly at her wristwatch.
“What are we waiting for?” Ayla Goodkind asked. “The van is already here, let’s get ON with it already!”
“There are some girls from Whitman coming,” Grimes explained with strained patience. “They have business in Boston as well, and there’s no need for the van to go out twice.” Miss Grimes was an instructor in one of the more advanced courses in the Mystic Arts program. And, unlike several of the other instructors, she actually LOOKED like a teacher in witchcraft. She was tall, dark, elegantly slender, and quite attractive- if you were into Morticia Addams or the Groovie Ghoulies. Her large eerie heavily lidded gray eyes were set into a pale narrow angular face with a long sharp nose. Her lips were thin, but her mouth was wide, mobile and expressive. Toni figured that she must be the pinup girl for the Goth clique.
“Excuse me, Miss Grimes?” Nikki asked as politely as she could. “Why aren’t Bunny and Rip coming with us? I mean, they were with us the whole time.”
Miss Grimes’ mobile expressive mouth knotted into a moue of impatience. “Well, the District Attorney has decided that Miss Cormack and Miss Obregon won’t be necessary as they never left the van, and so they can’t contribute anything of significance. Also, unlike the rest of you, they managed to avoid being photographed, so there’s no reason for them to risk further exposure.”
“Okay, I can see that,” Tennyo allowed, “but what about Sara? I mean, she was in the thick of it!”
A look of distaste crossed Miss Grimes’ face. “Miss Wilson, do think about that for a moment. I’m sure that the attorney for the Defense would love it if the Prosecution called to the stand someone who is not only a minor, a mutant, and half-DEMON, but the object of worship for a rather notorious CULT. No, I gather that Ms. Collier will discreetly avoid the topic of Miss Waite altogether.”
The door to the lobby of Shuster Hall opened and a tall dark-haired girl in a long coat with an overstuffed backpack came bustling out. “Oh, I’m so sorry we’re late, Miss Grimes,” she blithered. “But some of us were way too late getting ready!”
A shorter, bespectacled, but still dark-haired girl came through the door behind her. “Oh, ‘some of us’? Well *I* wasn’t the one who kept going back because she kept thinking of ‘one more thing’!”
Behind the girl with glasses came two figures so bundled up in parkas and mufflers, as to be unrecognizable. “Oh, give it a rest, Bekky,” one of the Eskimo-like figures said.
Toni recognized the voice. “Sakti? Is that you?”
‘Silver’ peered out from the depths of her parka. “Chaka? What are you doing here?”
“Us? Oh, we’re going to Boston.”
“What? After what happened last time?”
“Precisely because of that. We gotta make depositions and give testimony in court.”
Silver sighed, “I envy you.”
“You envy us?” Toni asked, genuinely puzzled, “Why? All it is, is paperwork and sitting around in Court, sitting around while lawyers pile up billable hours!”
Silver let out a martyred sigh. “It still would beat what awaits me in Boston. Hours arguing with the tax man.”
Toni winced. “Owch, the IRS caught up with you?”
“Worse, the Indian version of the IRS. It seems that word that my ‘maiden silver’ is more than mundane silver has reached certain ears, and officials in New Delhi are trying to discover precisely how deeply they can burrow into my wallet. When they realized that I was creating materials that are conservatively worth about 30 million American dollars a year, they brought out the heavy mining equipment.”
“And them?” Toni indicated the girl with the backpack, who was talking to Miss Grimes, the bespectacled girl who was looking at Team Kimba with barely concealed interest, and the last girl who was so wrapped up in a parka as to be unrecognizable.
Sakti sighed, “As the School gets 7% of what I get for my moonsilver, I am suddenly a valuable asset. I was rather hoping that my days as a valuable asset were over. So, Miss Hartford doesn’t want me going off to Boston unguarded.” Sakti leaned in and whispered, “They’re trying to make out like they’re not a security detail, that they’re just a bunch of girls from the cottage who want an excuse to skip class and go to Boston.” She made a quiet disgusted noise. “I barely even know these girls!”
The bespectacled girl bustled up. “So, this is the famous Team Kimba!”
Nikki looked at Jade. “Are we famous?”
“From the noises I’ve been hearing, I thought ‘notorious’ was more on the money,” Jade replied.
“Nah, too big,” Tennyo disagreed. “More like, ‘talked about a lot behind our backs’.”
“Unless you count Peeper and Greasy, who talk about us behind our backs when they’re right in front of us,” Nikki pointed out. “But then, they’re exceptions to so many rules.”
“Hi there!” the new girl said briskly. “The handle’s Foxfire. You’re Chaka, right? Babs has nothing but good to say about you.”
“Babs?” Toni tripped over the apparent non-sequitor. “Oh, Compiler! That Babs?”
“Yeppers! By the way, how are you recovering from that beating that Little Bee gave you?”
Toni winced. “Physically, I’m all right. But I’m getting ‘O.J. got off’ vibes from people right and left.”
“Not to worry!” Foxfire breezed, “I mean, you got jumped by a runaway power frame, how can anyone sane hold that against you?”
“The key word there being ‘sane’, as in ‘reasonable’,” Chaka pointed out. “The problem is that reasonable people think before they do things. Unreasonable people just DO things, ‘cause it’s the first thing that pops into their pointy little heads.”
Almost as if on cue, the girl who was all swaddled up in her parka stalked over. She was wearing a flat featureless full mask that hid all of her face, except for three slots for the eyes and mouth. “What are they doing here?” she all but snarled.
“Oh, be quiet, Pucelle,” Silver grunted. “They have business with the Massachusetts courts in Boston.”
“Besides, it’s not like they’re sending anyone with GSD on this,” Foxfire pointed out.
“Oh, of course not!” the girl’s eyes glared at Nikki through the slots in the mask. “We can’t go offending the delicate sensibilities of the pretty little princess, now can we?”
Nikki started to respond, but Foxfire deftly stepped in. “So, Fey, I understand that you got a special mystic arts instructor, some Brit named Sir Wallace Westmoreland?”
“No, just Wallace Westmont,” Nikki corrected her.
“Did he get knighted, or is he just a baronet? And how’d you rate your own tutor so soon?”
“Nothing but the best for the little princess,” Pucelle sniped.
“Excuse me?” Foxfire cut her off, “Are you in the Mystic Arts program? Is this any of your business?” Pucelle retreated, her scowl apparent even through her mask.
“Jeez, rude much?” Ayla snarked.
“Hey, if you want, I can call her back,” Foxfire retorted. “But I can almost guarantee that you’ll be looking for a 2x4 by the time we get to the train depot. So, how DID you get this Westmont guy as a special tutor?”
Nikki blushed. “I’m afraid that my father pulled a few strings and arranged that. I’m afraid that he’s not adapting to my new condition as well as he likes to make out he is. But Sir Wallace-”
Foxfire silently shushed her as Miss Grimes walked up. “Finally, all set! Well, girls- Mr. Declan, into the van!”
Team Kimba and the Whitman girls piled into the van. Foxfire made a production of waiting, and a small nearly black fox came scampering up through the snow, to jump up into her arms. “Hey, Boots! So, find anything interesting?” The foxling gave a dismissive sniff, as if to indicate that if she’d just allowed her a few more minutes, she would have brought in a mastodon.
Nikki’s eyebrows shot up. “Is that your familiar?”
“Yeppers!” Foxfire held up the not-quite cub. “This is Slyboots. Ready to go traveling, Boots?” Boots gave another sniff, and dissolved into a gray mist, which wafted into the large soft carryall that Foxfire had slung over one shoulder.
“Excuse me? Can we get going?” Miss Grimes called from the front seat.
Foxfire, Nikki and Toni climbed into the rear seat. Slyboots stuck her head out of her ally’s tote and graciously allowed Nikki to scratch her between the ears. Foxfire herself leaned over. “A, ah, word in a pointed ear. Watch out. Word in the MA program has it that a certain long nose,” Foxfire cast a meaningful glance at Miss Grimes in the front seat, “is none-too-slightly out of joint about them bringing in a special tutor for you from outside the school. It seems that Grimsy had her pointed hat set on tutoring you herself. You know any reason why she’d be so het up to be Blaise to your Merlin?”
“Just another example of the blatant preference that this school gives to those who embody an arbitrary and pointless physical ideal of-” Pucelle stopped as Foxfire held a cupped hand in front of her and a bar of pale blue fire formed in the cup of her hand. It solidified into a crude 2x4 board, with which Foxfire tapped Pucelle none-too-gently on the forehead.
“Believe me, this is the only way to get her to shut up, once she gets wound up,” Foxfire said dryly. Slyboots rose up partially out of Foxfire’s tote and stuck a pink tongue out at Pucelle. <nyeh!> Pucelle bridled and started to say something, but the 2x4 grew into a gnarled club with a long spike driven through the end, ala’ ‘Li’l Abner’.
As Pucelle turned back around and sulked, Foxfire waved the club back into non-existence. Toni asked, “What kind of name is ‘Pucelle’?”
“She has a Joan of Arc fixation,” Foxfire explained with a jerk of the thumb at the hooded back of Pucelle’s head. “Joan of Arc never called herself that- she only referred to herself as ‘Jehenne la Pucelle’- or ‘the Maiden Joan’. Hence the code-name, which I kinda doubt does a lot for her social life.”
Pucelle started to turn to retort, until Foxfire whipped that club back out of nothing.
At the Dunwich depot, Slyboots flowed out of Foxfire’s tote and allowed Jade to show proper adoration by petting her. “Oh, she is simply adorable!” Jade gushed, and Boots silent agreed with her. “I know that witches and sorcerers are supposed to have familiars and stuff, but howcum?”
“Do you want to field this, Miss Grimes?”
“I have been explaining these basics for years, Miss Corbin,” Grimes responded with a chilly smile. “Let’s see how you handle it.”
Foxfire took a deep breath and began. “Well, there isn’t really ONE big reason, but a lot of good reasons. First, your familiar isn’t just a pet; she’s your ally. She’s the best friend that I’ve ever had, and that I’m ever likely TO have. She listens to me, and tells me when my head is up my- er- when I’m playing silly head games with myself. She can see invisible beings and forces, even when I’m not looking for them, so she watches my back. And heterodyning your magical power with an ally never hurts. And Boots gets… Hey, what DO you get out of it, Boots?” Boots answered by sprawling on her back to allow her tummy to get rubbed. “Oh. Right. That.”
Jade rubbed the little fox’s tummy and asked, “Are you gonna get a familiar, Nikki?”
Nikki shrugged. “I don’t really know. I haven’t really thought about it a lot. When the right familiar shows up, I suppose.”
“But she’s so Kyyeewwte!” Boots agreed with her wholeheartedly, and indicated with a shiv paw for Jade to continue the tummy rub.
As Jade fussed over the spoiled little fox, Sakti asked Toni, “Aren’t you taking a big risk by testifying against that Arch-Fiend fellow? Not so much from him, but from the Media? They’d love to get close-up pictures of the girls who took him down. Especially Fey.”
“Not really,” Toni said in a way that suggested that there was more going on than she was letting on. “You see, it’s what the Cops call a ‘Banner Hearing’. Like in Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk’s alter ego? Y’see, one of the big problems with guys who change shape like the Arch-Fiend does, is that the DA’s gotta prove that the guy in the handcuffs really IS the guy in all the photographs. Otherwise, he can say, ‘What? I’m just wimpy little Bruce Banner! I can’t throw tanks around! The Hulk did all of that! And he’s huge and green!’ So, they got these preliminary hearings to prove: A- whether or not the guy in the dock can shapeshift. B- whether or not the guy in the dock shapeshifts into something that resembles whatever it was that did the crime. And C- whether or not the guy in the dock has powers like the suspect. In other words, whether it’s worth the time and money to go any further. The big problem here is that this Bunsen guy has been playing it cagey. He hasn’t shifted once since he got busted, probably because he knows that his cell is being taped.”
“But, as I understand it, Tennyo caught him in the wreckage of that building, wearing only his pants.”
“Hey, his lawyer claims that he was in that building when Billie and the Arch-Fiend brought it down. I dunno what he was supposed to be doing, but they can’t prove that he wasn’t there. All security records for that day were destroyed in the collapse.”
“But the pants? He can’t say that he was in that building in only his pants.”
“He says that his clothes were destroyed in the rubble. I dunno how his pants managed to stay intact when his jacket and shirt- not to mention his socks and SHOES- were either destroyed or knocked off, but that's his story, and he’s sticking to it.”
“You seem to know a lot about this,” Foxfire said.
“I’m writing a paper on it for my Intro Criminology class.”
A while later, as the Grand Miskatonic Shuttle pulled up, Miss Grimes produced two animal carrying cases. “Miss Corbin?” As Foxfire got in some last-minute petting of her own familiar, Miss Grimes reached into her own commodious purse and pulled out a less than thrilled glossy black cat who scowled at her. “Don’t give me that sour look, Merlin” Grimes said primly. “We’ve been through this a thousand times. I’ll miss you as much as you’ll miss me, and I’ll come for you as soon as I can.” She gave the broody cat a kiss on the head, and made to store him in the carrier.
“_MERLIN_?” Ayla said, slightly aghast.
Miss Grimes and Merlin glared at Ayla with matching eerie gray eyes in one of those spooky mistress-and-pet moments. “I look like this, I teach magic, and I have a black cat for a familiar. There are times, Miss Goodkind, when you either laugh with the joke, or set yourself up to be laughed at.”
After Miss Grimes and Foxfire put their familiars in the carriers, the older Whitman girl, Jetstream by handle, stopped Pucelle. “Okay, enough is enough. Take off the mask.” Pucelle started to whine, but Jetstream just said, “No more weirdness! We aren’t supposed to draw attention to ourselves, and that stupid mask isn’t helping things!”
Pucelle looked at Miss Grimes, who merely arched an imperious eyebrow. Grumbling, Pucelle reached up and took the mask from her face. Team Kimba was slightly taken aback when the mask came down, revealing a lovely girl with classically nordic features that weren’t improved by her scowl of dissatisfaction. “What are YOU looking at?” she snapped.
“Damn good question,” Tennyo muttered under her breath.
The Whitman girls took another passenger car from Team Kimba. Pucelle grumbled about it for a bit, but Jetstream pointed out that it was safer if the two potential target groups sat apart from each other, and it wasn’t like there were first and second-class cars on the Grand Mistakonic shuttle.
Toni watched the Whitman girls go through the connecting passage between cars, and then an expression of enlightenment came over her features.
“What’s that?” Hank asked as Toni settled in.
“That smug ‘I got a secret’ look on your face.”
“Oh, ah, I just made Puccy Galore back there.” Toni said with a satisfied grin.
“Made her? You mean you know what’s got her panties in a knot?”
“Yup. The mask threw me at first, but once I saw the look on her face, I managed to peg her.”
“So?” Nikki snapped, “Don’t keep it to yourself! What’s her damage?”
“Well, basically, she’s a version of those really annoying White Liberals who go out of their way to show off how ‘enlightened’ they are, and how much they are on the Blacks’ side.”
“Oh,” Hank said, apparently getting Toni’s point, “You mean those left-wing nitwits who are always yapping about how much they care about this oppressed group or that?”
“Limousine Liberals,” Ayla said with a disgusted mutter.
“What’s that got to do with all the ‘pampered princess’ crap that she was giving me?” Nikki snapped.
“Well, y’see the whole ‘Black Brutha’s Best Bud’ bit isn’t really about politics or social issues,” Toni explained. “It’s really about Liberal Guilt. Y’see, these yo-yos are still pretty damned racist under it all, but they won’t really do anything to upset the balance of power between the races, and they can’t stand the thought that THEY look like bigots, so, they make this big noise about how ‘enlightened’ they are, and make these big productions of ‘standing up for the poor oppressed colored people’ so they won’t feel guilty about the fact that their families own slums or whatever. Actually treating Blacks, or Hispanics, or whoever’s pushing their guilt button at the moment, like human beings isn’t big enough, isn’t dramatic enough for them. They gotta SHOW the entire WORLD how unprejudiced they are!”
“What… does that… have to do… with ANYTHING going on here?” Nikki asked plaintively.
“Simple. Pucelle’s like that, only she feels guilty about GSD mutants. Same Bee-Ess, different subject.”
“You mean she feels guilty about the fact that she’s good-looking?”
“Hey, people can get hung up about damn near anything.”
“So, she’s busting my chops with that ‘princess’ stuff…”
“Because you’re one of the best looking girls in the school, and everyone makes a big deal about how gorgeous you are,” Toni finished. “I kinda suspect that she’s a little jealous of you, on top of everything else.”
“I’ll bet that she’s real popular with Thuban and the Factor Three crowd,” Ayla grumped.
“Nope,” Jade said with the calm assurance of an expert.
“Why not?” Chou asked, “Aside from the fact that you two are dating?”
“Why? Because if Toni-sempai is right, that Pucelle bozo is all about pity. She pities the GSD kids. And most of the F3 kids, Thuban especially, would hate being pitied, even more than being feared or hated. What they really want is a little respect, a sense of their own due, not some privileged bitch patting them on the head and telling them that they’re freaks, but it’s all right, she loves them anyway.”
“Score one for the short stack!” Toni cracked.
Tennyo shuddered. “I wouldn’t want to be that headcase’s roommate.”
“Are you quite through dissecting the personality of someone you barely know?” Miss Grimes asked dryly.
“Yep!” Toni said chipperly, “NOW, we start dissecting what that Foxfire nutjob was all about!”
November 19, 10:45 AM
“Pardon, but why are my students giving their statements in the SWAT ready room, instead of in the District Attorney’s office?” Miss Grimes asked ADA Pamela Collier.
The Assistant DA barely looked up from her dossier. “This is SOP for witnesses in Supervillain cases. The idea is that supervillains will be less likely to attack a witness giving a deposition, if said witness is in a reinforced bunker while giving it. Supervillains don’t often directly attack the DA’s office, but it HAS happened. And my boss really hates energy blasts before lunch.”
When the Whateley kids finished making their statements, Ms. Collier addressed them as a group. “Very well, you won’t have to sit through most of the proceedings. You’ll be called one at a time to give your testimony. Now, this is very important- you will be going up in front of Judge Winchester. Winchester does NOT like freaks. And don’t give me that look! This is important! We are accusing a flabby, nebbishy looking little non-entity like Wilbur Bunsen of being a super-freak like the Arch-Fiend. We need credibility here! Bunsen has been playing it very cagey. Or, at least whiny. So, that means that we have to be very convincing. Unfortunately, the only person here who actually SAW the Arch-Fiend change into Bunsen,” she glared at Tennyo, “is YOU.”
Billie scrunched up defensively. “What am I supposed to do? Wear a wig and contact lenses or something?”
“No, Bunsen’s attorney would just play on that. What I need you to do is this. Stick to three basic points: That *ahem!* ‘Tennyo’ was there, that she faced the Arch-Fiend, and that she saw the Arch-Fiend change into Wilbur Bunsen. Get that and ONLY that across! ‘Chaka’, you will go first. You will establish that ‘Tennyo’ was there when the Arch-Fiend first ripped open the roof of the SWAT van, and that she and Lancer exited the van to pursue the Arch-Fiend. ‘Lancer’, you were in a position to confirm that you saw ‘Tennyo’ battling with the Arch-Fiend.”
“Didn’t they take pictures of Billie fighting him?”
“Yes, but that will be corroborating evidence. You see, you can’t cross-examine a photograph. An eyewitness is always preferred over a photograph. Then, when we have established all that, you will take the stand, Tennyo. Now, all three of you- the defense attorney will do everything that he can to drag you off the point. He will bring up that school of yours, the fact that you’re mutants, the fight with the bank robbers, the fight with the Children of the Night, whatever he can think of to play the ‘freak card’. He wants to portray you all as a bunch of wild, out-of-control mutant freaks who are trying to shove the blame for their rampage off on his client.”
She paused, as if to suggest that she envied him that ploy. “Whenever he pulls any of this, I will object that it’s irrelevant or immaterial. All that you have to do is wait for the judge to decide. Fortunately, while Winchester doesn’t like freaks, he’s also a stickler for procedure. Especially in preliminary hearings like this. So, he won’t let the defense go very far afield.”
Collier put down the dossier that she was perusing, and glared at Team Kimba en masse. “Now, this is absolutely vital! This is BOSTON, not New York! We have a very low tolerance for super-powered weirdness! Especially in our courts! That means- NO TRICKS! No magic, no telepathy, sonic tricks, no NOTHING! Even if Bunsen turns into the Arch-Fiend right in the middle of the courtroom and starts ripping up the place, it won’t mean a thing if the defense claims that one of you did something to him. And YES, they have ways of detecting that, and you WILL get caught if you try anything!”
“Excuse me?” Chou raised her hand.
“Yes?” Collier responded dryly.
“Are you expecting the Children of the Night to attack?”
“Then why are they here?” Chou pointed at the three superheroes standing at ease by the wall. They recognized Skyhawk in his royal blue outfit with the ‘wing’ cape and hood. The other two were an athletic young woman in a blue-and-white bodysuit with padded forearm guards and boots, and a speed-trimmed helmet with goggles. The third one was entirely encased in a power frame with black ceramet armor plates and gold trim. “Are they testifying as well?”
“Oh God, no. Like I said, Judge Winchester hates freaks, and he includes guys in high-tech jammies along with mutants.”
“We’re here in case the Necromancer does try to attack,” Skyhawk said. “Of course, he might use this as a distraction for something else. He has a habit of creating big noisy distractions for his real moves-”
“Like that bank robbery,” Hank said.
“Precisely,” Skyhawk said with a nod. “The problem is, we have to assume that he’s carefully weighing Bunsen’s value to him against whatever it is that he’ll be going for.”
“Assuming that he’s still in Boston,” Captain Tilly said.
“Oh, the Necromancer’s still in Boston,” Collier said. “And we have information that he’s going to try to pull something today. No details, just that he’s getting ready to try something, and he’s hired new help.”
“Does that mean that he might just let this Bunsen guy go down?” Tennyo asked.
“Not a chance,” Ayla snarked. “He’s your classic bullying micro-manager. If his underlings got the idea that they can get out from under his thumb by going to jail, he’d be losing enforcers right and left. But if he breaks them out, he sends two messages- one, that he can protect his own, and two, that you can’t get away from him, even in jail.”
“Nice call, kid,” Collier said. “But my reading is that Darrow will try to use the system on this one. Their boy, Metzlinger, is pulling out all the stops to spring Bunsen.”
“Is there any chance that Bunsen might actually walk?” Jade asked.
Collier gave a cold smile. “Not to worry. I got it covered, Win, Lose or Draw.”
“Okay, now that we’ve covered the paperwork, what say we get our signals straight for a change?” Captain Tilly said. “First, we at SWAT are duty-bound to respond to any calls. It’s our job. You long-john jockeys can go after whatever looks suspicious, but will you at least give us here at SWAT a head’s up somehow if you really run into anything? And as for you kids- well, I got my kiester chewed off for endanger’n minors on that last rumble, so I can’t suggest that you put yerselfs at risk again. BUT, just in case anythin’ should go down around here while we was out…” He pulled out a folder, and tacked a picture of a pale, white-haired girl with a smirk on her face. “The Children of the Night. Been around for a few years, every one of ‘em has at least one murder warrant out for ‘em. This is Vamp, the rookie of the bunch. She busted outta the Boston lockup about a year an’ a half ago. She bopped around town jumpin’ pimps an’ pushers an’ like that for a while, and then she killed some Beacon Hill nob name’a Phelps Carruthers. Dunno why. Ennyway, then she hooked up with the Nite-Kids. She’s a drainer, she can suck the strength right outta yer body. She’s pretty damn strong and quick, all on ‘er own. She can also create a cloud of darkness around herself. She don’t seem to be part’clarly slowed down by it herself.”
“She can also create a sense of sexual arousal,” Chou said. “Very distracting.”
“Tell me about it,” Skyhawk muttered.
“Aaahhh… Yeah.” Tilly dismissed that touchy subject. “Ennyway, she’s small fry, not much more’n a kid with a gimmick. Of the lot of ‘em, she’s the most likely to roll over on the others. Dunno how much she knows, but there you are.”
He tacked a mug shot of an attractive woman in maybe her late twenties or early thirties with strong regular features, and the sullen scowl of someone being booked. “Next on the hit parade, we got Sandra K. Darden, a.k.a. ‘Lady Darke’. Apparently, she’s a graduate from that school a’ yours.” Tilly gave the assembled students a sour look.
“Hey, some of us make the wrong choice,” the woman in the blue-and-white speedsuit said, “and some of us make the right choice.” She finished with a challenging grin.
“Ah, right.” Tilly harrumphed. “Ennyway, she’s what’s called a ‘Package Deal Psychic’?” He looked up for clarification.
“It means that she has a single mutant trait,” Miss Grimes explained, “which can, in turn, produce either a telepathic, a clairvoyant or a psychokinetic effect.”
“Yeah, I ran into her the last time,” Lancer said. “She did things with darkness, and she did something to my mind, too, that made me not able to see or hear anything.”
“Normally, psychokinesis is invisible,” Miss Grimes responded, “but sometimes the psychokinesis affects light in ways that create colored affects. Miss Darden’s apparently blocks all visible light bands. The ‘mental darkness’ sounds like a very elementary psionic intrusion that blocks the brain’s processing of incoming sensory data.”
“Whatever,” Tilly said flatly. “Like the rest of ‘em, she’s got a First Degree Murder warrant out for ‘er, but it’s one of those ‘repercussions of a felony’ raps, so there’s a chance of her rollin’ over too. Try t’ take her alive if y’can.”
“Take her alive if you can’?” The man in the power armor said, “So you’re saying that the Mayor has already okayed the use of Lethal Force?”
“No, Dynaman,” Tilly seemed to regard the man with the high-tech gear slightly more highly than the paranormals in the room. “It means that all’a these freakos are to be regarded as Armed and Dangerous at all times, and that you all, and all my men, are expected to treat them as such.”
“And speakin’ of Armed and Dangerous.” He pinned up a large picture of a ghoulish looking black figure with a helmet that was featureless except for two devilish looking horns, a Batman-style cape and some obvious body armor. “Nightgaunt. Real name unknown. There was another guy who called himself Nightgaunt, and used the same outfit, but he was on the side a’ the angels. We think that this ratsass killed ‘im and took ‘is outfit and gimmick. We didn’t get along that well with the REAL Nightgaunt, but he was one’a the Good Guys.
We’re looking at this bastard like he was a cop-killer. Somehow, he can travel from one shadow to another, instant-like. Almost invisible in darkness. Very sneaky, very hard to pin down. Other’n that, not much in the way of weird powers. Wears body armor, and carries a pretty nasty arsenal of weapons.”
“And he’s a stone-cold killer,” Lancer said, remembering the way that Nightgaunt had put the barrel of a gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger without hesitation. That move had backfired- literally- but it said a lot about the man who pulled the trigger.
“Amen to that, brother,” Dynaman said with authority. “He’s a cheap shot artist. Pop out of shadow, do something nasty, and pop right back into shadow before you can react, and then he’s setting up another back stab. His only weakness that I’ve been able to figure, is that he seems to require a shadow to dive into.”
“Can he use his own shadow?” Miss Grimes asked.
Even through the all-concealing power armor, you could see Dynaman startle slightly. “I… dunno…”
“Interesting…” Grimes mused. “What about that darkness that you said this ‘Vamp’ creates? Can he use those?”
The startle became obvious embarrassment on Dynaman’s part. “I dunno. I was always kinda too busy trying to nail the creep to take notice."
“Other’n that one shadow gimmick,” Tilly covered for the veteran superhero, “Nitey-boy here doesn’t appear to have much in the way of super powers. Still pretty deadly, but I’d say that if you can get him in a good grapple, that might be it for him.”
He pinned up two pictures, one of a rather Neanderthal like man, the other of a wolf-faced humanoid. “Next on our countdown is ‘Lycanthros’, real name: unknown. Now, you might not guess it to look at ‘im, but he’s NOT a choirboy! Yeah, real shocker, hunh? Obviously, he’s some kind’a werewolf, and he’s got seventeen differ’nt 1st Degree Murder wants out for ‘im. If you seen any old Lon Chaney Jr. movies, then you pretty much know what he’s about. There’s a shoot-to-kill order out on ‘im. Bringin’ him in would be nice and all kinds’a brownie pernts, but if he’s dead when you bring ‘im in, nobody’s gonna raise a ruckus.”
he pinned two more large glossy photos to the board. One was of an armored figure with a heavy ‘Death’s Head’ motif, swathed in robes of purple and black. The other was a portrait of a glowering elderly balding Caucasian man with a ledge-like brow over cavernous eyes, a beak of a nose and a tight, thin-lipped mouth. “And savin’ the best- or whatever- for last, Dr. Charles Darrow, known an’ feared far an’ wide as the Necromancer. B’lieved to have op’rated under at least five differ’nt names from 1935 to the present. He’s wanted for Mass Murder, Kidnappin’, Child Molestin’, Treason, Espionage fer the Nazis, abettin’ Terrorism, Arson, Mass Destruction a’ Private an’ Public Property, Mass Reckless Endangerment, more differ’nt kinds of fraud than I really wanna think about, and a whole raft of other stuff that would get him locked away ferever if we ever actually managed to get him in a cell.
“Some say he’s some kind’a magician. Some say he’s just some weirdo kind’a mad scientist usin’ magic as a cover. Some say that he’s actin’ as some sort’a advance agent for a hostile extraterrestrial power. Been known t’use both robots tricked out t’look like skeletons and real zombies.” Tilly paused and contemplated the two photographs for a moment. “This one is the Big Cheese, boys an’ girls. Our intelligence tells us that Darrow’s got it set up so that his entire operation is all about HIM. He goes, the rest just falls apart. He controls the money, the contacts, the properties, the whole schmeer. If he gets away, then he’ll just keep coming back with as many new hires as he’ll need to get the job done. But if we bag HIM, the rest of ‘em will just go their own ways. Darrow’s the only thing really keepin’ ‘em t’gether. That’s the best we can do; it would help if we had a better idea’a what was keepin’ skull-face in the Boston area.”
“You mean, you’re not sure precisely what he’s up to?” Grimes asked.
“No,” Ms. Collier answered, “and that is very troubling. On the museum raid that you children interrupted, according to the Museum security people, he first sent in a stealth team to steal an item from the Celtic Artifacts exhibit, which was called ‘Nimyoo’s Key’. Now, here’s the interesting thing- he sent in a stealth team, but after they delivered that key to him, then he sent in the rest of his goons to loot the place.”
Almost as one, Miss Grimes and Nikki asked, “Did you say, ‘Nimue’s Key’?”
“Aahhh… I think so,” Collier admitted. “Does that mean anything to you?”
Grimes and Nikki share a significant look, as though silently discussing something. “Nimue is probably better known to you as the Arthurian figure, ‘the Lady of the Lake’.” Grimes explained. “While Arthurian lore is a hopeless mishmash of Pre-Christian and Conversion Celtic and Germanic lore, with hefty helpings of propaganda and pure fiction thrown in, there are several figures and themes that hold true. One of the key figures to the whole Arthur cycle is the Lady of the Lake, who is a keeper of incredible power: she is means by which Merlin gains access to Excalibur for Arthur. She is the means by which Morgana le Fay places Merlin into a deep sleep. And she is one of the three queens who takes Arthur to Avalon. This begs the potent question: this key- is it the key OF Nimue, or the key TO Nimue? Is it her tool, or the means by which she can be controlled?”
From the look on Ms. Collier’s face, the African-American lawyer wasn’t particularly interested in the intricacies of Pre-Christian European theology. “Yeah. Whatever. The point here, is that the Necromancer seems to have set up shop in the Greater Boston area. He’s pulling something off, and that Key thing was only a part of it. And I really doubt that we’d like finding out what it is the hard way. So, we need to get Darrow behind bars, and his underlings in a position where they’re more afraid of US than they are of HIM.”
“Tough sell,” Alya muttered. “You’re sort of obligated to be sane, and he’s not.”
Collier gave Ayla a dirty look.
Captain Tilly took control again. “The Necromancer likes diversions; big, nasty, dangerous diversions that you can’t afford to ignore, ‘cause they’re real. Those bozos with the fancy frost-gun were small p’taters compared to some of the stuff that he’s pulled to cover his tracks.”
“Okay, that explains why SWAT was so quick to call for Superheroic assistance last time,” Toni conceded. “But howcum you were so slow to show, Birdguy?”
Skyhawk gave a nervous twitch. “I had an inside source that the Children of the Night were going to move that day. My source was on the money.”
“And his source says that the Nite-kids have sum’thin’ cookin’ on the stove right now, and they got extra cooks in the kitchen,” Tilly said.
“What I want to know,” Collier said with a chilly air, “is who this source of yours IS, and why he won’t come from out of the cold.”
“Ms. Collier, no one crosses the Necromancer lightly. My source wants Darrow on ice beforehand AND assurances of leniency due to coercion.”
Collier muttered something about crooks being crooks, Halloween costumes or not.
November 19, 11: 25 AM
In court, Collier called Toni to the stand first, having her called by her code name. Chaka testified that the rest of Team Kimba had been with her when the Arch-Fiend attacked the SWAT van, and that Lancer and Tennyo had flown out to deal with him. This laid the foundation for Lancer’s testimony that he had seen Tennyo mixing it up with the Arch-Fiend, and that they’d been going at it when the building collapsed. That in turn laid the foundation for Tennyo testifying that she had beaten the Arch-Fiend and seen him change into the Defendant, Wilbur Bunsen.
Mr. Metzlinger, Bunsen’s lawyer, hammered away at Chaka, Lancer and then Tennyo in turn. He ridiculed their use of code names, tried to drag the school into the matter, and generally did everything that he could muddy the waters. And he did an excellent job of it. While he couldn’t get Billie to lose her temper, he did effectively discredit her testimony about seeing the Arch-Fiend change into Wilbur Bunsen. And, as Billie was the only one who actually HAD seen Bunsen change, it was her word against the word of a man who had spent over a month in jail without resorting to changing into a form that could have broken out of that jail.
When Court recessed for lunch, Toni muttered, “I’m never gonna watch Perry Mason again.”
When court was called back into session, Judge Winchester announced that while Tennyo’s testimony was compelling, her refusal to give her true name damaged her credibility. And there wasn't enough proof supporting the claim that a single accusation by non-credible witness was sufficient to establish that the Defendant, Wilbur Bunsen, was indeed the individual known as the ‘Arch-Fiend’.
Bunsen almost glowed with smugness as his lawyer stood to petition for Bunsen’s release. Collier objected. “Your honor, while the Commonwealth of Massachusetts hasn’t proven that the Defendant is the individual charged, there IS the fact that Mr. Bunsen is in flagrant violation of his parole in New York State. And even if leaving New York State wasn’t sufficient grounds for revoking Mister Bunsen’s parole, there’s the fact that he hasn’t checked in with his parole officer for three years. The New York Parole Board revoked Mr. Bunsen’s parole two and a half years ago, and he is wanted in New York for several felonies. Your honor, I move that Mr. Bunsen’s extradition be expedited, and he be transported to New York immediately for incarceration there.”
Metzlinger stood and argued that even if Mr. Bunsen was extradited to New York, that there was no reason for him to continuing wearing the heavy and cumbersome ‘choke collar’ that he’d been wearing for a month. The ‘choke collar’ was a nasty bit of business that jail guards had come up with to control guys who grew and got stronger. Usually, one of the things that got larger quickly when someone grew was the neck. The ‘choke collar’ was designed to drape over the shoulders so that it didn’t interfere with the person wearing it as long as they stayed the same size. But if the neck expanded, the shape of the collar forced the neck to move so that two bulges on other side would pinch the carotid artery and the jugular vein, rendering the prisoner unconscious. Civil Rights activists hated it, calling it brutal and inhumane, but jail guards argued that it only worked if the prisoner was actively trying to escape. Judge Winchester ruled that since the Commonwealth hadn’t proven that Mr. Bunsen was the Arch-Fiend, that the presumption of innocence demanded that the choke collar be removed.
As they filed out of the courtroom, Chaka snarked, “Well, that was a day that would have been better spent in English class!”
Ms. Collier gave Metzlinger, who was hurriedly calling someone on his cell phone, a knowing look and smiled cruelly. “Not necessarily. Miss Grimes, do you think that your students might benefit from seeing a little more of the Justice System in action?”
Grimes picked up on Collier’s cue. “Well, as long as we’re here…”
November 19, 1: 20 PM
Sakti grumped as she stomped out of the elevator onto the eleventh floor, “I do not BELIEVE this man! First he drags me down here, then he has me wait for hours, then he tells me to take a long lunch break, and NOW he says that we have to be in his office NOW, or he’ll penalize me!”
“What can I say?” Jetstream, Sakti’s Junior-year chaperone said, “All the world over, tax men like to have the upper hand.” While the Republic of India does a lot of business in the Greater Boston area, it only maintains four Consulates, in New York City, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco. Jetstream was actually rather grateful for this, as a consulate would have had a security scanner at the door, which would have been embarrassing. The Indian Legation in Boston was actually only a law firm that had a history of doing business with India, and kept offices for a few Indian officials.
Foxfire and Pucelle followed Sakti and Jetstream into the law firm’s offices, where the receptionist told them that Mr. Ambekhar would be with them in a few minutes. Sakti let out a low growl.
November 19, 1: 25 PM
Chief Tilly looked at the Whateley students as they filed into the Prison Transport loading dock. “Plan B?” he asked Collier.
“Plan B. And hoping that we don’t need Plan C.”
“We have a Plan C?”
“Yes. Unfortunately, it involves a lot of people getting hurt.”
Metzlinger was with Bunsen as the jailhouse guards brought him to the loading dock. “WHAT is THAT?” Metzlinger snarled as he pointed an indignant finger at the transport van in the dock.
Most prison transports are either simple vans or busses that have been modestly reinforced, some with special ‘Protective custody’ cells. This van, however, looked more like an armored personnel carrier or an armored car. It was much taller than an average van by almost two feet. It had sixteen oversized puncture-resistant tires on eight wheels, four on each side, with armored hubcaps. The only windows were for the drivers, and the entire van was covered with thick angled armored plating. The door at the back looked like it belonged on a small vault.
“THAT,” Chief Tilly said with some pride, “is the ‘Iron Coffin’. Or, to be precise, the New York State Metahuman Prisoner Transport Vehicle. They’ve transported Gog AND Magog t’gether in that thing. That thing’s rated to contain a pris’ner with a Threat Ratin’ of SEVEN. Once they’re locked in there, they ain’t goin’ nowhere ‘till they get to Ryker’s Island.”
“Why are you singling my client out this way?” Metzlinger demanded. “We’ve proven that he’s not this ‘Arch-Fiend’! So why is he being subjected to such special attention?”
“Special?” Tilly responded equitably. “What special? The Iron Coffin’s NY Department a’ Corrections property. They sent it up here for the Arch- I mean, Mr. Bunsen, t’ answer for wants an’ warrants down in the Big Apple. It’s gotta go back to En-Why-Cee, and it’s just as cheap to send it back with a few pris’ners as it is empty. And, thanks to yer diligent efforts Couns’ler, Massachusetts has no further interest in Mr. Bunsen; so why keep him here, eatin’ on the Commonwealth’s tab, when we could send him down to Noo Yawk, where they axshully WANT him? And as for ‘singling out’?” Jail guards brought out three very large, very nasty looking prisoners, any one of whom looked both strong enough and vicious enough to rip poor flabby Wilbur Bunsen to shreds. “These bad boys gotta go down t’ New York too. Normally, the ol’ Iron Coffin only transports one or two at a time, but there’s more’n room for all four of ‘em.”
November 19, 1: 25 PM
The receptionist chipperly showed Sakti, Foxfire, Jetstream and Pucelle into the office. Mr. Ambekhar, the legation head introduced Mr. Mhalgiri, the tax official, and invited Sakti and Jetstream to sit down.
As she settled in, Sakti said, “I still don’t understand why the financial representative from Whateley isn’t here.”
“Oh, he is,” Ambekhar said, something happening to his voice, “and his continued wellbeing is a matter of your cooperation.” Suddenly, thick straps whipped out of the well-stuffed chairs snaring both Silver and Jetstream hand and foot to the chairs. ‘Mr. Mhalgiri’ darted forward, grabbing Foxfire, pulling her in front of him and putting a large-caliber gun to her temple. The figures of ‘Mr. Ambekhar’ and ‘Mr. Mhalgiri’ faded, revealing the darking forms of the Necromancer and Nightgaunt. “Resist, and he’ll blow her brains all over you!” the Necromancer barked at Pucelle, the only girl left free.
Pucelle paused, not sure what to do
‘Oh Shit’, Vamp thought to herself from outside the office, ‘Bonehead might actually pull this one off!’ That was not the plan at all. Lacking anything better to think of, she launched a paperclip at the back of Nightgaunt’s helmet with a rubber band. Nightgaunt was so tense and focused that he reacted enough to give Foxfire her opening. Slyboots scrambled up out of her mistress’ tote and blocked Nightgaunt’s vision. Nightgaunt reactively fired his gun. Foxfire reacted by erupting in a sheath of pale blue fire, and sending a bolt of fire across the desk at the Necromancer.
The Necromancer ignored Foxfire’s attack and stood menacingly. Pucelle reacted by shooting forward and ripping apart the chair that Jet-stream was trapped in with a single wrench. Jetstream, who had been struggling with the bonds, let out an eager “HAH!” and quick-drew a pair of blaster pistols. All in one spasm of action, Nightgaunt lunged for Foxfire, Foxfire dropped to the floor, the Necromancer fired a blast of necrotic energy at Foxfire, Jetstream fired both blasters at the Necromancer, and Pucelle threw one of the halves of the chair-trap at Nightgaunt. Silver, for her part, just sat there and let out a mild oath in Bengali.
The chair and the death-bolt hit Nightgaunt at the same time, knocking him through the plate-glass window. Foxfire hit the floor and tried to get an idea as to what the lay of the land was. The Necromancer who had been caught flat-footed by the ray-blasts, took them both square in the chest without any of his usual protections, and was knocked through the wall into the next office.
‘Well, that turned out nicely,’ Vamp thought to herself. ‘Still, Bonehead will skin me alive if I don’t make a token effort to the cause. Just give them a minute…’
Then Foxfire spotted Vamp at the door. “Charlie has backup! Get us OUT of here, Jet!” She sent a sheet of witchfire to block the door.
Jetstream ceased pelting the hole in the wall with rapid-fire blasts, and shucked off her long coat revealing her gear-rack. She touched a button, and a pair of wings unfolded, swinging out into a flying rig. With her off hand, she blasted the chair, which Silver had already managed to get halfway out of. “I can only carry two! Foxfire, can you fly?”
“Don’t bother!” Pucelle shouted, assuming a ‘heroic martyr’ pose, “I’ll hold him back, no matter WHAT the cost!”
Vamp figured that Jetpack Girl would have a much easier time getting away with Bluefire Girl than the mouthy brick. Besides, she’d really rather grapple with a brick than an energy-slinger. Well, it was time to look good for the Boss-man, and maybe give these gits the incentive to get their asses in gear before Darrow got his act together. She jumped through the wall of fire and threw herself at the bundled up one.
The armored man known as ‘the Anti-Paladin’ glowered at his three companions in the van, who were playing an idiotic wi-fi game on their cell phones in the middle of a mission. Both Lady Darke and Lycanthros had set off their diversions, and the Necromancer had signaled that the main mission was underway. And those three were playing a fucking video game. Admittedly, Darrow had hired them only to act as backup in case one of the local superheroes showed up in one of those strokes of incredible luck that superheroes seem to have. But still, is a little professional decorum so much to ask?
Then an alarm sounded. Checking the panel, the Anti-Paladin determined that Darrow had hit his ‘Immediate Problem’ button. The Anti-Paladin popped his head up out of the roof hatch to catch a dark figure falling from the floor where the Indian legation was. Then the dark figure’s cape snapped open, and it angled over to a convenient shadow, where it disappeared. A moment later, three girls appeared at the jagged opening in the window-glass of the building. One of them jumped out with a loud whoop. As she executed a wide arcing loop to return for the other two, the Anti-Paladin gestured, and a high powered sniper rifle, complete with targeting sights, appeared in a cocoon of flame.
The Anti-paladin examined the flight pack on the girl’s back through the sighting telescope as she took the two other girls by the hand and airlifted them. He tracked her, got a sense of her airspeed and general trajectory, and let off a single round that destroyed one of the rocket engines without actually hurting the girl. He didn’t know whether Darrow would want her for something or not. And if not, well, he could always kill her later. “Go get them!” he snapped.
Matterhorn and Jabberwock set their game aside without a pause and jumped out of the van. Ironhawk smoothly began getting into his combat rig. Finally, they were acting like professionals.
Jetstream felt something hit her back, and her right lifting engine went off line. As she and the others began a spinning descent, Jetstream screamed, ”SHIT! SILVER! HIT MY BELT BUCKLE!”
“SOS Beacon! We need help!”
“You couldn’t have done that before?” Foxfire snapped.
As he cleared his head, the Necromancer let out a reflexive telepathic call for his subordinates. *Lycanthros! Lady Darke! Arch-Fiend! TO ME!* By the time that he climbed through the hole in the wall, the Blaster-Girl was lifting out his target and the girl who had spewed magic fire at him through a hole in the windows. He let out a withering bolt of necrotic force, but his aim was rushed and he barely missed them as lit out the window.
Vamp was vigorously grappling with the sole remaining girl, in whom Darrow had absolutely NO interest. Darrow rushed to the window and was aiming at the fleeing figures when the crack of a firearm rang out. The flying girl’s jetpack jolted and then started to spin into a just-barely controlled descent. Darrow followed the sound of the shot to a van, where his hireling, the Anti-Paladin, was lowering a sniper rifle. The side door to the van opened, and he could see Matterhorn and Jabberwock exit the van and race to where the girls would land. Ironhawk was getting out of the van and enabling his flying rig with military precision. It was good to see that there were still some professionals left.
Darrow turned just in time to see Nightgaunt return through a shadow in the office. Nightgaunt came up on Vamp’s opponent’s blindside, bringing out a billy club as he came. The Necromancer stopped him. “No. Let Vamp finish this.”
As she wrestled with the Pillsbury Doughgirl, Vamp kept draining the girl. And draining. And draining. ‘Jeez Louise, how much juice does this bimbo HAVE?’ Vamp wondered to herself. Then, with an intense dread, she felt it start again. She was drinking in too much energy. This was why she’d gone after the brick, instead of the bluefire girl: when she drank in too much energy, it was like getting drunk. The more she drank, the more she wanted, and she started feeling her self-control slip. She tried to will herself to stop, but she couldn’t. And that was the last that she remembered before the Hunger took her over completely.
At the Courthouse, Wilbur Bunsen was pleading with his lawyer Metzlinger, who was yapping into a cell phone, but not really doing that much else as the jail guards dragged Bunsen into the ‘Iron Coffin’. Then he stiffened, and the jail guards got him into the van without much more trouble.
“Hmpf,” Captain Tilly said grudgingly. “I’d’a thot fer shure that he’d’a dropped the act by now.” He spared Tennyo a sharp look. “Are you absolute sure that you saw that guy change into the Arch-Fiend?”
Before Billie could reply, there was a sound of shrill screaming from inside the van, and the van started rocking violently. SWAT guards rushed to the back door of the van, but they were knocked aside when the orange-clad body of one of the prisoners was thrown through the door with cannon-like force. There were more terrified screams, and one of the jail guards was forced through the door by an arm wrapped around his throat, using his entire body as a living shield for the rest of the barely-human entity that was trying to get out.
“SHOWTIME!” Tilly barked. As a body, Team Kimba scurried back- not to avoid the fight, but rather to avoid the loading dock’s security cameras. When they were out of sight of the cameras, each of them held a small backpack in front of them. Nikki held up a scrap of paper and recited an enchantment. All of Team Kimba was obscured by an intense white light, and when the light faded, instead of six girls and a boy in school uniforms, there were seven figures in white outfits with colored trim and identifying symbols: red/ tree, saffron/ Tao symbol, dark blue/ knight-piece, light blue/ wings, dark orange/ cat’s head, black/ gradated capitol ‘P’. Well, except for the little one, which was in different shades of pink, with a ‘G’ inside a gear. The outfits were vaguely reminiscent of the outfits worn by the ‘Mortal Kombat’ characters ‘Skorpion’ and ‘Sub-Zero’. They were essentially ninja outfits with padded ‘vests’, shin and forearm guards, utility belts, and protective visors.
The figures in blue trim lifted off the ground. The figures in saffron and orange trim respectively produced a Chinese sword and a length of chain, and advanced carefully. The figure with gray trim sank through the concrete dock. The figure with red trim stayed back and began tracing lines of silvery fire in the air. The figure in pink stood still, but there was a twisting in the air, and another figure in a tattered black cloak with an eerie white face that belonged in a Japanese ghost story appeared.
Captain Tilly pulled out a bullhorn, and snarled through it, “Okay, Bunsen, you’re rumbled! You’re surrounded! We kicked your ass last time, when you had yer buddies backin’ you up! Now, it’s just YOU. Put DOWN the guard, and shrink back down t’ reg’lar size, an’ put on the collar, or I tell these kids to kick yer ass from here t’ Noo Yark!”
The Arch-Fiend hesitated, his eyes darting every which way, and saw that no matter what he did, he’d face someone. Despite his massive size, he cringed behind the guard that he was using for a shield- no, he was gathering his breath! He let out a deep gusting breath of thick, noxious bituminous smoke that assaulted their eyes and noses as well as obscured their vision. Nikki was on her knees, trying to keep from retching from the awful stench. She finally managed to keep her lunch down enough to summon up a wind that dispelled the vile mist.
“Where is he?” Tennyo asked, as she waved her sword at the last of the vapors.
Hank went high. “There he is!” He pointed to the northeast, “Heading out like his tail was on fire!”
“Okay, Team Kimba, Let’s roar!” Toni yelled, “Let’s nail that bunny!”
“Don’t bag ‘im right away,” Captain Tilly. “We took the pr’caution of taggin’ the boy while he was playin’ possum. He’s got a tracker device in his scrubs. Now ask yerselfs, kids- where is good ol’ Wilber mostly likely headed?”
“Right. You follow him, but let ‘im get to Darrow before you jump him. And don’t try to take Darrow down yerselves. Just keep him an’ his road-comp’ny Addams Fam’ly in one place while SWAT and the real superheroes take ‘em down.”
“*ahem!* ‘Real superheroes’?” Chaka said with a sharp tone to her voice.
“Hold on!” Grimes said, looking at her cell phone. “Jetstream just sent out a SOS!”
“ ‘Jetstream’?” Tilly asked bewildered.
“Which way is it?” Jade asked. Grimes checked the GPS on her phone and pointed in the general direction of northeast.
“Sorry Chief, but if Archie isn’t headed that way to give Darrow some backup, then a higher priority just dropped in our laps,” Chaka said. “Give the Supers the tracking frequency, in case there’s more than one show going down. We gotta go! Saddle up, people!”
Tennyo dropped down to pick up Bladedancer, Lancer gave a lift to Phase, Shroud took Chaka, and Fey flew on a lifting wind. ‘Generator’ sprouted a pair of pink butterfly wings from her ‘flight pack’ and lifted off in a sprinkle of fairy dust. As Team Kimba flew off to save Silver and the others, Tilly turned to Miss Grimes. “Butterfly wings?”
“Don’t ask me, I barely know those girls.”
Silver grabbed Foxfire and dropped from Jetstream’s grasp as the devisor-girl spiraled down towards the ground. Silver extended her legs and lowered them both to the ground. Foxfire goggled as an absolutely huge man in shades of blue, gray and white came thumping towards them, and an eerily distorted man who looked like he’d escaped from a Heironymous Bosch canvas followed. “Where the fuck did THEY come from?”
“Far more to the point,” Silver said grimly as she formed blades around her hands, “Where do they want their bodies sent?”
Foxfire whipped her hands forward, and a high wall of raging pale blue fire erupted between the girls and the two bizarre attackers. Jetstream bounced back from a less than graceful landing, shed her backpack and overcoat, and whipped out a pair of retro-tech looking blasters. She gave a glad “HAH!” at the prospect of a good fight, and stared blasting at the giant.
“Where’s Pucelle?” Sakti asked as she braced for the onslaught.
“Still back at the Legate,” Jetstream said as she unlimbered a large launcher tube.
“Why did you even bring that?” Foxfire asked.
“Hey, can you ask for a better illustration of ‘better to not need it and have it, than to need it and not have it?” Jetstream laughed. “Hey, Sakti, don’t worry about Pucelle- she can take care of herself!”
Pucelle was thrashing about helplessly in Vamp’s grip as the pale girl drained the very last of her energy with a rictus of manic glee on her face. Vamp giggled insanely as she dropped Pucelle and turned to Nightgaunt and the Necromancer. The Necromancer pointed to the broken window and shouted, “The Silver Girl!”
Vamp cackled and leapt through the window into the street, gliding on the wind in the general direction of the fight. “Can we trust her, in that state of mind?” Nightgaunt asked.
“That state of mind is the only condition that I trust Vamp in,” Darrow responded. “The Hunger drives her now. THAT, I trust. Go, make sure of our prize.” Nightgaunt nodded, and walked through a shadow. The Necromancer walked to the very edge. He’d watch from a distance, and insert himself only when necessary, if necessary.
Matterhorn was trying to batter down Foxfire’s wall of magical fire, even as Jabberwock was intercepting and deflecting the shots that Jetstream was lobbing at them. Then there was a screaming sound above, and Ironhawk dropped a concussion grenade on Jetstream. The grenade was muffled by her personal force field, but it still threw Foxfire for a loop. Her wall of fire dropped, and Silver was suddenly going hand to hand with Jabberwock and Matterhorn.
Jetstream grinned savagely up at Ironhawk as he banked for a turn into another pass. “Oh, so THAT’S the way you wanna play it, hah?” She struggled with her backpack and started cobbling things together with uncanny speed. “ ‘Oh, Jetstream, you’re so paranoid!’” she sneered in a mocking voice, “ ‘There’s no reason for you to bring along a flying rig, let alone a Dogfight Rig!’” She shouldered the rig and sent a blast at Ironhawk, who wasn’t quite ready to drop his next charge on them. She forced him to evade, which required that he pass and try again. Then Jetstream turned her MP3 player to the theme music from ‘Top Gun’, thumbed her own rig’s ignition, and lifted off with an exulting, “Yeeee-HAW!”
Matterhorn tried to pick up Silver time and again, but only got cuts on his hand for his delicacy. Jabberwock had his hands around Foxfire’s throat, but she erupted in a ‘Human Torch’ blaze of her trademark pale blue fire. As Jabberwock jumped back, the flame resolved into terrifying vision of a warrior angel in fantastic plate armor that displayed a set of curves that Foxfire couldn’t honestly lay claim to, with a shield bearing the sigil of the Seraphim and a longsword that blazed with divine fire.
Ironhawk sensed that the gadget-girl was coming up his tail, and tried to pull an Immelmann turn, but got zapped by her blasters for his efforts. Then an insane giggling came down the street, with an equally insanely grinning pale girl in black clubwear hot on its heels. She jumped past Matterhorn and Silver and tackled the warrior angel, knocking her head over heels. From there, the scene quickly devolved into the fog of war.
Matterhorn got a grip on Silver, but lost it when Ironhawk blundered into him at 300 mph. * The Anti-Paladin tried to get a bead on the jetpack girl, but that idiot Ironhawk wouldn’t get the girl to follow him in a trajectory that the Anti-Paladin could track. Didn’t that fool know what Fire Overwatch was FOR? * Jabberwock tried to slash at the angel, but Matterhorn dropped the silver-girl on top of him. * Foxfire kept slashing at the vampire-girl with her sword, but for some reason she seemed to LIKE it! * Feeling something under her, Silver reflexively twisted around and got whoever it was in a nutcracker grip. Upon reflection, she was very relieved that she hadn’t attacked Foxfire by mistake. * Jetstream rose up and came back down again, forcing Ironhawk to break off his pursuit. She clipped him on the way down, which knocked three grenades off the carrying rack. The grenades dropped near the melee, which only made the scuffle even that much more confusing. *
The Anti-Paladin bit off a curse as Ironhawk confused things even MORE. He made a mental note to never work with Ironhawk again. Power Armor jockeys were a dime a dozen, and there was no reason to put up with incompetents. He gave up on trying to hit the jetpack girl. If he did it right, he could render her inconsequential up there, and handle things on the ground. Hefting his sniper rifle to a carry position, the Anti-Paladin exited the van, and moved to a position where he could get a better shot into the melee. He braced and set the rifle, and waited for a clear shot. Even with a sniper round, he wasn’t that worried about killing the real target of the exercise; a round might only stun her long enough for Matterhorn to get things in hand. Unfortunately, Jabberwock was grappling with her, and he didn’t want to shoot the Jabberwock, who was actually acting like a pro.
However, the ‘angel’ was another matter. She was grappling with Vamp, and the Anti-Paladin didn’t think that the Necromancer would mind if he put a hole in her. Besides, the way that Vamp was frothing at the mouth, he might have to put a bullet in her anyway. So, he started to pick a single-shot kill on the ‘angels’ head. Take her out, and the ground troops could focus on the silver girl.
But before he could take the shot, Anti-Paladin heard a whining noise behind him. His shot was ruined when something hit him from behind with the force of a speeding car. As he reeled from the impact, a trim, athletic woman in a blue-and-white bodysuit with padded forearm guards and boots, and a speed-trimmed helmet with goggles skidded to a stop, and then came back at him. This time, she took the rifle from his hands and let it keep traveling as she came to a stop a good fifty yards behind him. He finally had a chance to recognize her. Speed Queen, one of the local white hats. She’d been one of the ‘heroes’ that Darrow had briefed them on. Top recorded speed: 230 MPH for about two minutes. Cruising speed: 90 mph. Able to go from a dead stop to 60 MPH in ten seconds flat, but had problems with inertia. Had been taped going through a brick wall without too much trouble. Theorized that her rather clunky looking boots either protected her feet from the thousands of impacts per second of her running, or in some other way assisted in her movement. The key to dealing with super-speedsters, especially ones with inertia issues, is not try to cope with where they are, but rather to control the lines of transit that they must use.
Moving so that he was situated properly, he held up his right hand and called forth a shotgun. Glowering at Speed Queen, who was waiting for him to aim before moving, the Anti-Paladin suddenly turned and aimed the shotgun at the angel-girl and Vamp. Gauging her speed by her sound, the Anti-Paladin didn’t fire, but sidestepped, called forth a large hoplite shield, and bashed her with it as she passed where he had been, knocking her into Vamp and the angel-girl. He looked up at Ironhawk and the jetgirl mixing it up in the air. He pondered briefly about retrieving his sniper rifle, and dismissed the thought. He dismissed his shotgun and called forth a broadsword. He headed into the melee before Speed Queen could disentangle herself from Vamp. Jabberwock was much better able to handle speedsters, so he’d free the Wock from his chore of pinning the silver girl down for Matterhorn. And the Fog of War lowered again.
* “Hey! Cut it out! I’m here to SAVE you!” * Foxfire dropped the seeming Warrior-Angel, and switched over to the ‘multiple images’ ploy.
When Silver felt an arm wrap around her throat, she extruded blades from her spine, but they only rasped against hardened metal plate.
Jabberwock pulled himself together after the Anti-Paladin shoved him aside. Then he saw Speed Queen zip away from Vamp’s draining embrace, and understood. * Vamp laughed as Speed Queen ran away. She was having the time of her life! Drink, drink, drink! There’s nothing in the world like the taste of someone’s life force going down!
The albino was too busy howling like a hyena, so Foxfire took advantage of the opening and sent a sheet of foxfire at the giant’s foot. Matterhorn was gearing up for another grab at the silver girl, when his right foot felt like it was on fire. He looked down, and, God Damn! His foot WAS on fire! The fact that his boot was armored and fireproofed didn’t really register as his hind brain took over, and he put everything he had into stomping out the pale blue fire that was chewing up his foot.
Silver grappled whoever was trying to choke her, pulled him over her and threw him into the giant’s other foot as he danced around trying to put out a fire that wouldn’t extinguish. *
“NO ONE MOVE!” boomed an artificially amplified voice. The force of the command made everyone stop and look. The Necromancer stood a few yards away, holding Pucelle by her neck like a rag doll. “If anyone moves, does anything, I’ll twist her neck off like a chicken!” He clamped his right hand atop her head as though to begin twisting.
Speed Queen, Silver and Foxfire all froze in their tracks, more out of need to figure out what to do, than real compliance. It didn’t matter, because the second that they froze, Nightgaunt leapt out of a shadow and struck the back of Foxfire’s head with a nightclub. He escaped through another shadow before Foxfire even had a chance to fall to the ground. Speed Queen and Silver were jolted out of their standstill, but the Necromancer shook Pucelle at them to keep them from doing anything. “Over there,” the Necromancer told Speed Queen, “with them.”
Speed Queen very pointedly walked, not ran, over to where Silver and Foxfire were standing. Matterhorn and the Anti-Paladin stepped away from them, and the Necromancer threw Pucelle bodily at Speed Queen and Silver’s feet.
Jabberwock was grappling with Vamp, who was all too eager to keep fighting. “Fine! And what about HER?”
Wordlessly, the Necromancer pointed at them and a whitish spray erupted from his gauntlet. A reek of garlic filled the air and Vamp started sneezing furiously. After a bit, she slumped in Jabberwock’s grip and moaned, “Ooohhh… my achin’ head…”
As this was going on, Foxfire struggled to her hands and knees, shaking the concussion out of her head. When she saw Pucelle there, she reflexively wrapped a protective wall of foxfire around them all. “Thank you, my dear,” the Necromancer said snidely. “That makes this so much easier.” From out of nowhere, he pulled a staff made like an overlong spinal column complete with back ribs, capped by a bear skull with rubies in the eyes. As the rubies glowed, he sketched runes of shadow in midair, which danced in the air for a moment before flying over to the wall of foxfire. They set themselves in the pale blue flame and created a filigree barrier that completely caged the four women.
“Aw, crud,” Foxfire said in a flat voice.
Once the barrier was complete, the Necromancer set about adjusting the pattern. “Excuse me,” the Anti-Paladin said, “but can you take care of that later? We’re out in the middle of the street here!”
“Patience,” the Necromancer rasped. “Patience is one of the few virtues that I still possess.” The filigree went black and grew iron thorns that pointed both within and without the cage. He formed a circular hole in the barrier and then started on another.
The Anti-Paladin looked up at Ironhawk’s dogfight with the jet-girl. The damn fool wasn’t getting anywhere with it. So much for his reputation as a hotshot jet jock. “Enough of that idiocy,” he snarled. He dismissed his broadsword, and a shoulder-mounted 4-shot rocket launcher appeared in a burst of hellfire. “I’ll just have to take the chance that it’ll hit Ironhawk,” he said as he set the spotter on the girl. “It’s not like he didn’t know that the job was dangerous when he took it.”
Just as the Anti-Paladin was getting a targeting lock on the jet-girl, she was tackled in midair by a red-and-orange figure. Jetstream gave out a surprised scream and went tumbling to the ground. She had just enough presence of mind to crank her personal force field up to the very max just before she hit the asphalt. Even so, she hit the pavement hard and immediately went still. The Arch-Fiend struggled to his feet and gave an awkward bow. “You called, Master?”
The Necromancer looked up confused from the second hole that he was forming in the cage. “Arch-Fiend? Bunsen, what the Hell are you doing here?”
A look of abject confusion crossed the Arch-Fiend’s diabolically handsome features. “But… you called me. You called all of us. So I came immediately.”
“Did I?” Darrow paused. “Oh, yes, I did.” Darrow’s skull mask couldn’t conceal his confusion. “You didn’t change where anyone could see you, did you?”
“I had to!” Wilbur cried. “They were just about to load me onto a transport down to New York! There are people in New York who’ve seen me change!”
“They were about to load you?” The Necromancer snarled, all uncertainty gone. “FOOL!”
“But… you called…” Wilbur whined as he cringed.
The Anti-Paladin whipped his rocket launcher up to his shoulder, scanned for a second and let a round fly. The rocket was intercepted in mid-flight by a blast of energy. The eye was immediately drawn back along the trajectory of the blast to a group of five white and one black figure flying figures, approaching.
Oh yes, and a figure in pink, with butterfly wings fluttering along behind, leaving a trail of pixie dust.
As the Anti-Paladin readied his next round, the black figure dropped the white-and-dark orange figure that it was carrying. Even before she hit the ground, Chaka pulled an odd-looking arrangement of bars and cables from its sheath and gave the main cord a pull. The pull of the drawstring caused the configuration to unfold, telescope and click into place as a powerful compound bow. As she hit the sidewalk, Chaka let fly with three telescoping arrows that flew unerringly to the three primed missiles in their slots in the Anti-Paladin’s rocket launcher. The rectangular launcher was designed to focus the power of an accidental blast forward and back, but even so the force of the exploding launcher would have killed a lesser man than the Anti-Paladin.
As the Anti-Paladin reeled, Darrow railed, “GET THEM, YOU FOOLS!” He added as a softer remark, “Try and earn your pay this time!”
Matterhorn grew to his full size and charged at Team Kimba, with Jabberwock, and Ironhawk backing him up. Darrow gave the Arch-Fiend a glower, and Bunsen launched himself at his pursuers.
Tennyo let Bladedancer drop and hung there in the air as Matterhorn came roaring at her. “Oh, puh-leeze…” Tennyo sneered, as she let go with a blast at Matterhorn. Her smirk melted as her plasma blast ricocheted off of the giant’s chest into an office building, creating a hole you could drive a car through just before his sedan-sized fist plowed right into her. He also intercepted Lancer in mid-flight, sending the boy sprawling into Fey.
As Tennyo pried herself out of the hole in the building that Matterhorn’s punch had created with her body, she snarled, “Buddy, when I get through with you, yer gonna wish that you’d stuck to selling string beans and peas!” She launched herself at Matterhorn and let fly with one of her most devastating blasts, one that would have slagged the laser range that had given her so much trouble. Again, it just bounced off his chest, and reduced three high price tag cars to molten slag. Matterhorn swatted Billie down to the street and literally stomped on her until she was embedded in the asphalt.
As Matterhorn raised his foot for another crushing stomp, Lancer disentangled himself (however reluctantly) from Fey and charged at a spot just above the huge man’s center of gravity, knocking the giant off balance. Fey stood, reached into her utility belt, producing a small manikin carved of white poplar and a red ribbon with characters embroidered on it in silver thread. “NECROMANCER!” She shouted in her best orating tone, “Charles Upton Darrow! By your name, and the names of your father, Edwin Acton Darrow, and your mother, Aseneth Ward Darrow, I bind you! By the unclean blood that stains Innsmouth, I bind you!” She wrapped the ribbon around the wooden doll. “As Fenrir was bound, so are you bound! N’stharasai aes wadaran stheno! By the Authority of the Court of the West, I charge you, liar, break-oath and traitor! Mordok yaasa tyamatak!” As Fey chanted and wrapped the ribbon around the doll, character in silver fire appeared around the man in sinister dark armor.
Darrow turned from his work and began gesturing as well. “So many personal details, Forgotten Princess! You’ve been gossiping with my treacherous niece, I see. I wager she even dipped that dainty ribbon in her own foul blood, didn’t she? Well, _I_ came prepared as well!”
As if on cue, Nightgaunt leapt from a shadow and clipped Nikki alongside the head with a truncheon. Nikki’s hood was well armored and padded against such eventualities, but even with that, Nikki was all too aware that Nightgaunt’s truncheon was made of Cold Iron. Nightgaunt brought the iron bar across Nikki’s ribs, causing her to drop the doll and ribbon, further causing the restraining glyphs to begin to wander. Nightgaunt was about to try to batter through Fey’s protective headgear and crush her brains, when an arrow flew out of nowhere and hit him precisely in the space between the joints of his shoulder and biceps armor. He immediately jumped back into a shadow, as a few more arrows passed through the place where he would have been.
Chaka cursed under her breath as Nightgaunt passed from her reckoning. She knew that with Tennyo down, her ‘fire overwatch’ was probably doing more to help the situation than anything else that she could have done, but every bone in her body wanted to be in the middle of the action, mixing it up. Tennyo was mixing it up with the bizarroid stretchy-guy and having a much harder time of it than she should have. Hank had the giant down, and was trying to keep him down, but he had his hands full. There was a white-and-black blur with tinges of red, and suddenly Hank had his hands full of girl.
“Well, hel-LO there!” Vamp purred. “Aren’t YOU just the cutest bundle of yes in the neighborhood?” Lancer grabbed her by the wrists, but Vamp just smirked some more and pulled free of his grasp. “Boy… I’ll bet that you’re all… hot… and *excited* from all this fighting, aren’t you?” She traced a finger along the line of his jaw, and then paused. “Hanh?” she blurted, “Why can’t I touch you?”
Hank, who had been slipping a little, jolted out of the hormone-driven trance, snapped out of it. “Vamp, is it? There’s something that I thought that I’d never have to say again.”
“I’m not that kind of girl.” With that, he backhanded her off of Matterhorn’s back. Then he felt something touch the back of his head. Turning around, Hank found himself looking down the barrel of a .45 automatic- again. Trusting that Nightgaunt didn’t recognize him, Hank said. “Well, I guess that you’re just going to have to pull the trigger.” Instead, Nightgaunt sank down into Hank’s shadow. As his gaze followed Nightgaunt down, Hank suddenly realized that the .45 had only been a distraction- the faceless fink had somehow stuck a US Navy General Issue Demolitions pack to his chest! Just as his hands were on the plastique, it went off.
Actually, while it did both knock him unconscious and blast him off of Matterhorn’s back, it did Matterhorn more damage than it did Hank. However, it also inspired him to a near-berserk rage. He reared up with a mindless roar and started swatting at everything in white. Of course, he wasn’t looking where he was stepping, and stepped on both Jabberwock and Tennyo.
Matterhorn’s rampage was a severe distraction to the two mage’s combat, so by unspoken agreement, they lifted off the ground. Thorny tendrils of darkness gusted forth from the bear-skull’s fanged maw as the ruby eyes glittered evilly. Fey conjured up a pair of golden wings which first acted as a shield on which the tendrils shattered and then scattered the tendrils like so much filthy smog. Then Nikki called up a shining sword carved from a single diamond, clipped it to the wings and sent them at the Necromancer. The necromancer pointed his staff at the approaching missile. The bear-skull grew huge and devoured it, the n returned to normal size, and spat something down the street. The gob of darkness hit the asphalt and thirteen long black iron chains erupted up from the street and wrapped themselves around the Faerie Queen who screamed at the touch of more cold iron. As Nikki writhed, a slight figure in white and saffron darted out as if from nowhere, severed all thirteen chains at their root with a single stroke, and was gone again.
As iron chains vanished like so much smoke, Fey was visibly pissed, even through her mask. “Mageling, for that, you’ll wish that your mother had given you to whate’er nameless abomination that she’d promised you to!” she snarled in the voice of the Daughter of the Burning Oak. She sketched an enneagram in the air, and a flock of 121 glowing fisher-hawks streamed forward to do battle.
“Oh, Please!” Darrow countered, “If I’d laid down and died every time that some self-appointed godling lay a malediction on my head, there wouldn’t be enough room in all the Hells for all of me!” He swept the fisher-hawks’ path with the bear-skull staff, which gobbled them all up. “Keep them coming, Pretender Princess! I know you now, and I’ve taken measures beyond mere cold iron! Behold the Scepter of Erlik! Erlik, the First Great Sinner! Erlik, who killed the First Queen of the West and ate her heart raw!” The Necromancer pointed the scepter at Fey, and a dark whirlwind emerged from the skull’s mouth and roared at her.
Nikki dismissed the wind with a negligent twiddle of her fingers. “Peasant, your ‘History’ is myth, your logic specious, and your arts second-rate. I DO hope that you got a receipt from whatever fraud sold you that piece of trash.” She gestured again, the Twelve Emerald Blades of Aesreth Kosvain launched themselves at the Necromancer, and the battle was joined in earnest.
Ironhawk hovered over the scene of the battle with a definite sense that he was badly overmatched. That was NOT good. A mercenary is only as good as his reputation, and so far in this fight, his rep was taking even more of a beating that he was. He’d been outgunned by a freaking girl, that freak Arch-Fiend’d had to save his butt, and now he was pretty much irrelevant. His common sense told him to light out, but running away after all that would be the final coffin in his professional coffin. The only way to redeem his rep and do something to convince the Necromancer that he’d earned his pay was to pull something from out of left field to win the day. He just had to find that ONE thing that would tip the scales…
There! The Arch-Fiend was mixing it up with the spooky chick in black and the little poof in pink. The spook was grappling with him, while ‘pinky’ was flying around taking shots at him with some sort of wrist blaster. Strange, the Arch-Fiend was ripping into the spook something fierce, but his claws weren’t really doing anything to her. Better and better. He could save the day, and show up the freak who’d shown him up, at the same time!
Ironhawk charged down at Pinky and tackled her in mid-air. He powered her down to street level, and turned on his PA system. “STAND DOWN!” he thundered. If the hostage ploy had worked for Darrow, it would work for him. He got her in a half nelson, pulled his utility knife and set it point first, just at her solar plexus. “IF YOU DON’T STAND DOWN, I’LL GUT HER LIKE A FISH!”
To his amazement, just as everyone was absorbing the facts of his tactic, ‘Pinky’ wrestled herself out of his grasp and forced herself onto his knife. He dropped her as she screamed and took the knife with her. He tried to catch her, but for some reason, his power armor wasn’t working.
Jann looked around ‘her’ new cybernetic body with some confusion at first. ‘Oh!’ she thought to herself, ‘So, THAT’S how this thing works!’
Suddenly, Ironhawk felt his flying rig kick on and lift off, even though he hadn’t done anything with the internal controls. He tried to take back control of his suit, but nothing that he did seemed to work.
‘Oh, this is so kewl!’ Jann exulted as she jetted along, taking a screaming Ironhawk along for the ride. ‘Let’s see what sort of trouble I can get into!’ Being new at it, she chose the biggest and most obvious target, charging into the side of Matterhorn’s head at top speed.
Back on the ground, the Anti-Paladin figured that the best way to deal with an enemy who was down, was to keep them down permanently. He called up a large caliber revolver and advanced on the small pink figure who was trying to pull the knife from her midsection. Let’s see if he couldn’t pick up the ball that Ironhawk had fumbled. A quick shot to the back of the head should do it. But as he was bringing the pistol down, he heard a roar off to his side, and turned just in time to see a white-with-blue-streaks tornado with a wide median band come spinning at him. He brought up his hoplite shield just in time to deflect its first impact. His shield held, but there was a buzz saw ripping sound, and much of the side of the shield went flying. As the tornado came for a second pass, the Anti-Paladin summoned up his broadsword again, wreathed it in hellfire and cocked it to strike.
But even as the white tornado tore at his shield, another white streak, this one with a sort of saffron tinge, passed just on the fringe of his sight. *shing!* As the Anti-Paladin swung the sword, impossibly his blade had been sheered off three inches from the guard. Enraged, the Anti-Paladin let the white tornado destroy his shield as he dropped his useless sword, and got the tornado in a crushing bear grip. The tornado jerked to a halt, resolving into a slender teenage boy in a slightly ragged white ‘ninja’ outfit. Hank glowered at the Anti-Paladin and snarked, “Hey, I already told yer pasty-faced girlfriend, I AIN’T that kinda girl!”
Hank twisted to return the Anti-Paladin’s grip. They struggled for a moment, and then an arrow flew into the gap of the Anti-Paladin’s helmet, delivering a powerful piezoelectric shock. The Anti-Paladin flinched enough for Lancer to begin bashing him mercilessly in the face with the striking plane of his own brow.
Vamp watched the battle from the safety of the cover provided by one of the parked cars. So far, it was coming along rather nicely. The hired hands were getting their professional asses kicked, the Necromancer had both hands full, and Nightgaunt had taken damage for the first time that she knew of. Still, she’d have to make at least one more appearance, or Darrow would accuse her of slacking off. And she’d make a big splashy play … later.
As Jann brought Ironhawk’s armor around for a third crash against Matterhorn’s north face, Phase managed to pound Jabberwock hard enough to give her room to lend Tennyo a hand. She pried Billie out of the hole in the ground into which she’d been mashed. “Ooohhh…” Billie groaned, “MAN, I am getting hammered today! Why can’t I hit this asshole?”
“What? You were asleep in Powers Theory?” Ayla asked. “Big Boy here is obviously a warper. Plasma may be able to burn anything, but it does squadoo against wrinkles in the fabric of space!”
“How do you know this?”
“You told me. That’s how you hold onto those plasma balls and form those energy swords of yours, remember?”
“Oh. Right.” Billie shook her head. “Okay, then how do I hurt this asshole?”
“Well, from the way that he and his buddy have been mauling you, I’d say that warper plus warper equals minus protection.”
“HIT him. Like, with your fist?” Then a thought hit Ayla. Warper… Powers Lab… Dr. Yablonski’s suggestion… Even through her ‘ninja’ mask, you could see Ayla smile. “Ooohhh… Yeeaaahhh… Y’think that maybe I can get some Powers Theory Lab credit for this?”
Since Jann/Ironhawk had gotten tired of ‘kamikaze’-ing into his head and gone looking for new sport, Matterhorn was free, and still pissed. He’d spotted them and was headed their way, with serious hurt written all over what you could see of his face. Jabberwock was moving to head them off, in case they tried to run away from his partner. Not wanting a second go-round with the man-mountain, Tennyo launched herself at Jabberwock, and they were soon embroiled in a classic- if graceless- catfight. Matterhorn brought a sledgehammer fist down on Phase. Ayla tensely timed it as best she could, and sent the energy that she used to ‘phase’ her body or other objects into the displacement field around Matterhorn, synchronizing with it.
A few words of explanation may be necessary here. Giants often cause a lot of fuss and argument in the High School science community, as they appear to violate several laws of physics. Such as the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy, which asks where all that mass came from. Or the Law of Proportion, which states that all if a man grew from Six Feet tall to Forty Feet tall, his weight wouldn’t increase by a factor of Six, it would increase by a factor of six cubed. And ALL of that mass would rest on his feet and lower legs, which would buckle under the weight. Or the Square-Cube Law, which states that while his mass would increase by a factor of six cubed, his surface area would only increase by a factor of thirty-six, which would mean that his body heat would increase far beyond what his skin would be able to dissipate. In other words, he’d cook inside his own skin.
And yet, for all that, there are giants, they are very strong, and only a few of them breathe fire. Mutants who grow or shrink to huge or miniscule scale at will are a subset of the trait called ‘warpers’. Warpers bend- or warp, if you must- the fabric of time and space. Shrinkers displace the majority of their mass into another dimension while leaving a token amount within the four dimensions that we know. Giants, on the other hand, ‘expand’ their presence in the fabric of time and space to become larger. This displacement field is what we see, and it’s what actually moves things when a giant lifts something. It also dissipates much of incoming damage, so giants are, indeed, very tough opponents. And, not only don’t they broil from their own body heat, since their actual mass hasn’t increased, merely the surface area, they tend to be rather cold, since that heat is dissipated over an area that is (growth factor- squared) larger. Indeed, one of the reasons that Matterhorn got his nom de guerre was that he routinely developed icy deposits on his body as he fought.
The short form? Ayla caught Matterhorn’s incoming fist, took control of his displacement field, and stopped it dead. Slightly surprised, she hefted the fist, and lifted him entirely. It was like moving a really big balloon around! She swung him around, and got an idea of how it was done. He struggled as she slammed him into the street, shattering the blacktop. She lifted him again, and reversed the throw.
From where Chaka was, providing fire overwatch with her bow, it looked for all the world like one of those old Tom & Jerry cartoons, the ones where the mouse grabs Tom by a finger and ‘judo throws’ the cat back and forth, clobbering the hell out of him.
Back on the ground, Ayla came up with a few new wrinkles of her own. She used Matterhorn like a bat to swat the Arch-Fiend out of the air. Now having a better idea of her range and so forth, she went after bigger game.
The Necromancer was in the middle of constructing a Tartarean Tangle of Torment to send at his foe-woman, when his sense of personal danger warned him, and he looked up just in time to see a huge black leather-clad ass come at him at high speeds.
As the Necromancer was slammed back into a billboard, Nikki decided that it was time to get down to real business. She’d still have to keep Darrow busy, so someone else would have to free Silver and the others. She reached into her utility belt and took out the deliverance talisman that she’d prepared. She wrapped the talisman in a smaller set of the golden wings that she’d used against the Necromancer and sent it to Toni. [Chaka! I’ll keep Darrow off your back, you get Silver and the others out of that thing! Use this!]
Chaka grabbed the winged ‘key’ and gave her best bud a chipper thumbs-up before heading down to the street.
“Hey! Lancer!” Hank broke off from his tussle with the Anti-Paladin and saw what was coming, just in time to duck out of the way. The Anti-Paladin wasn’t as quick or as lucky. Matterhorn’s body mashed him into the sidewalk.
The Arch-Field was angry, frustrated and confused. He was mauling this stupid white girl all to hell, but he wasn’t getting any BLOOD! All he was getting some stupid chalk on his claws! And that stupid pink girl was harassing the hell out of him with her stupid wrist blaster thing. WHY DID HE KEEP RUNNING INTO STUPID WOMEN WHO WOULDN’T JUST UP AND DIE LIKE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO?
Suddenly, Bunsen heard the Necromancer’s voice in his head. *Arch-Fiend! Stop piddling around and do something important! They’re trying to free the hostages! Stop the girl in white!*
Bunsen wasn’t really in a position to point out that almost all of their enemies were wearing white, and it would be very helpful to specify precisely which ‘girl in white’ his master was referring to. Still, it would be the girl in white that was going for the impromptu cage on the street. Bunsen disentangled himself from the girl in black and swooped away in the general direction of the cage.
Toni landed near the cage and tried to figure it out. The cage appeared to be made of pale blue fire, reinforced by really nasty jagged looking black metal bands of some sort. “Hey!” she called to the prisoners inside. “Any idea of how this thing works?”
“Well,” Silver said, “the Necromancer was working on that hole right there.” She pointed at a pancake-sized hole in the ‘filigree’. “I think that he was trying to create a door that he could take me out through, while leaving them in here.”
Chaka held up the ‘key’. “So, any idea of how to use this thing?”
Silver looked at Foxfire and Speed Queen. The superheroine shrugged. Foxfire said, “Well, I think that I might be able to figure it out…”
“Hold it.” Chaka hit her communications link. “Ah, Fey? You sort forgot to include the instructions manual with this key.”
[What are you talking about? It should be obvious!]
“Well, it isn’t!”
[What? Were you sleeping class?]
“Hello? They didn’t cover this in Intro to Mystic Concepts! I’m not the one taking special tutoring!”
[Chaka, I sort of have my hands full, keeping Mr. Evil Incarnate off balance! Figure it out!]
Chaka gave an aggravated snarl, and looked at Foxfire. “So, you had an idea?”
“Well… it’s a magic cage, that’s a magic key… there’s gotta be a lock somewhere on this thing… Well, I’m in the Mystic Arts program, why don’t you give me that key thing, and I’ll see what I can figure out?” Foxfire finished with a ‘what do you want?’ shrug.
Chaka tried to pass the key through the hole, but the blue fire wouldn’t let it past. “What IS this stuff?”
Foxfire gave a weak grin and held up her hands. “It seemed like a good idea at the time…”
Chaka chewed on it for a second, then her gaze flickered over to Silver. She pulled her left gauntlet off and removed her moonsilver bracelet. “Well, here goes nothing…” She carefully inserted the circlet flat into the azure flames. The fire went around the bracelet, forming a bypass of sorts in the energy. Then, the bracelet suddenly increased in diameter, filling the larger hole in the black fretwork. “Woof! I didn’t know that it could do that!”
“Neither did I…” Silver murmured.
Carefully holding the bracelet in place with her right hand, Chaka started to pass the key through the hole.
“Chaka! Behind you!” Toni looked behind her just in time to see the Arch-Fiend struggle out of Shroud and Jade’s attempts to hold him, and come barreling at her. Even as she was reacting, the Arch-Fiend slammed her into the cage and then pulled her away, almost yanking her arm off in the process. Silver grabbed Chaka’s left hand, but Chaka literally slipped through her fingers, leaving a thick coating of moonsilver on Toni’s hand, and the key in Sakti’s hand.
Toni went flying and landed in a roll that reflexively brought her back to her feet. There was a burning sensation that she was sure meant that the Arch-Fiend had dislocated her right shoulder. She was sure that she could still fight with it, but there was no way that she could put any real power into it. Then the Arch-Fiend leapt at her, wings spread, talons out, fangs bared, ready to rip her apart.
“WELL?” Sakti said, glaring at Foxfire as the other girl studied the key.
“Interesting…” Foxfire murmured. “A very subtle enchantment… I wonder how a Freshman ever came up with anything like this…” Foxfire had many admirable qualities, but as her circle of friends would gladly confirm, she had a sad tendency to get distracted and hare off on tangents.
“HELLO?” Sakti snapped, eager to get into the fight. “We’re in a CAGE? This is mortal combat, not Chant Lab!”
“Oh!” Foxfire snapped out of her musings. “Right. Well, basically, this is a generalized containment-breaching mechanism talisman.”
“So? Open the stupid cage!”
“Problem! It’s a generalized containment-breaching talisman! If it were a specified containment-breaching talisman, geared specifically to this containment matrix, I could just touch it to the cage to open it. But it’s not- there’s no way that she could have known what sort of Matrix this yo-yo would use, so it’s generalized. In order to disintegrate the containment matrix, I’ll have to identify the pivotal energy interstice and use this to neutralize it.”
“That’s a cage, this is a key- I need to find the freaking LOCK. Gimme a second while I examine the containment. This could take a while." Then Foxfire blinked. “Mortal Combat? Gee, it looks more like Street Fighter™ or Tekken™, t’me. Street Fighter vs. NES™, maybe, but Mortal Kombat™?”
As Sakti growled her frustration, Speed Queen lounged against the side of the containment, wondering if she’d been half this bad, back when she was at Whateley.
The Anti-Paladin blocked and deflected the boy’s charging punch even as he struggled up from the crater that he’d formed in the asphalt. Normally, he didn’t care for flashy, high-tech gizmos. He preferred less exotic, but deadlier and more reliable MilSpec ordinance that had been tested and proven under combat conditions. Still, every so often, you just needed a plasma blaster to get the job done, so he did stock his teleportation remote arming/disarming rig with a few pieces of exotic weaponry. They’d trashed his TOW missile launcher, and this wasn’t a LAWS situation, so he called up his Gizmatic™ 20K Megawatt Electricity Projector. He nailed the boy square in the chest as the kid circled for a second pass. He was hurting, but it was time to start returning the hurting.
While Toni was ambidextrous, she’d grown up right-handed, and she tended to favor her right hand out of sheer habit. That, and she knew that right-handers are at a disadvantage against a southpaw, and that disadvantage is even greater when the paw comes out of the south completely by surprise. Her right shoulder hurt like the blazes, but she knew that it would regenerate in a day or two, and so she could still fight with it. She parried the Arch-Fiend’s very fast, but otherwise pretty shabby, blows until he was open and off-balance on her left, and then let him have it with her most powerful punch to the eye. It was a beautiful punch, landing squarely in the eye socket. But even so, she hadn’t expected her fist to sink into his face like it was soft wax. As the Arch-Fiend staggered, Toni looked at her left hand. It was dipped in liquid silver, and for some reason, the silver was harder than steel and as flexible as a latex glove at the same time.
And apparently, Archie didn’t like it at ALL. Not as badly as Wolf-guy had last time, but he was definitely hurting.
Chaka wondered if there was a way to invest in Mithril futures.
Chaka brought a Mithril-sheathed blade-hand down on one of the Arch-Fiend’s wings, and was rewarded with a very satisfying squelching sound.
Beating his other wing furiously, Wilbur backed away in a panic from Chaka, winding up with his back against the ‘cage’ that was holding Speed Queen, Foxfire, Pucelle- and Silver. Finally seeing a chance to do something in this fight (please remember that Silver had every intention of rejoining the Golden Lions in India, and was rather miffed that the Cape Squad hadn’t asked her to join), Silver formed a long sharp blade that jutted from her right hand and jabbed it through the hole in the ‘cage’, right into the Arch-Fiend’s back. The blade went in deep and just nicked his left kidney.
Wilbur let out a scream like a scalded cat and pulled himself away from the cage. But that didn’t pull the burning blade from his side. Rather, the knife stayed buried in his flesh, and the remaining moonsilver pulled away from Sakti’s hand, drawing together and bending slightly with his movement. Wilbur danced around, clawing at his side, but he couldn’t reach the newly formed ‘handle’ of the knife. “Pullitout, pullitout, PULLITOUT!” he screamed, not caring who did it.
“Sit STILL, willya!” Chaka clouted him upside the head with her non-metal-clad hand. “I can’t get it out, if you’re dancing around like you were on hot coals!”
The Arch-Fiend clenched his teeth and forced himself to stand still, mentally reverting to a five-year-old boy with a sliver. Chaka grasped the stem of metal, which actually formed a very nice handle, and pulled. It wouldn’t give. Something was keeping it in the Arch-Fiend’s flesh. She gave it another pull, and he started to whine. Chaka then focused her Ki through the blade, forcing it to separate from the attraction between the magics of the metal and his infernally charged blood. The blade came out in her hand. Chaka paused to examine it. The blade had formed into a razor-sharp knife, about ten inches long, with a rounded cutting edge and angle in the blade. Indeed, it looked like a perfect example of the Kukri, the blade made famous by the Gurkhas. “Whoa…” Chaka cooed, “Keeewwlll…”
Wilbur breathed easy and relaxed for a moment. Then he remembered where he was, and that this bitch wasn’t going to give him a lollypop for being so brave. He snarled and made to pounce, and then he saw that not only was she ready for him, but she had the devil-blade poised and ready in her right hand, and that damned devil-metal covering her left fist. Shit! Why did things like this always happen to HIM? His only resort was the baleful breath ploy. He took a deep breath and filled it with the demon-fire within him. As he crested with the intake, he felt something, and looked down. Impossibly, jutting a good inch from his chest was the tip of a sword. Then the tip withdrew. Wilbur let out a brimstone-laden breath and collapsed.
As Chou sped away, Chaka yelled after her, “Hey, I had it COVERED!”
“Hey! Tennyo!” Billie broke off the remarkably frustrating fight. Her sword just kept slipping off the weasel! But Jabberwock was a lot harder to hit than the Anti-Paladin had been, and it took Phase four tries before she nailed him with Matterhorn. And then she hit him two more times, just to be sure.
While he figured that the little bint swinging Matterhorn around was a greater overall threat, she was moving the big lummox around so much that he couldn’t get a clear shot at her. On the other hand, whatever had gone wrong with Ironhawk was severely crimping Darrow’s style in his fight with the other mage, and Ironhawk was in clear unobstructed view. He tracked Ironhawk- who wasn’t using evasive maneuvers at all, strangely- and let off a blast that caught him square in the chest. Even from the ground, the Anti-Paladin could see several safety measures in Ironhawk’s armor kick in, indicating that he’d probably knocked out several key systems with the blast. As Ironhawk drifted to the ground inside a large inflated ball, the Anti-Paladin started to pick his next target.
There, the one with the glowing sword- she was watching the one swinging Matterhorn as she mashed Jabberwock, probably wanting to get in a few licks of her own. But she wasn’t watching her back- bad mistake, kid. And quite likely, your last. Figuring that any armor that she might be wearing would have to be segmented at the joints, and if she had a non-globular force field up, that it would deform and be weakened at the bend, he targeted the shoulder of the arm holding the sword. At worst, he’d probably get her to drop the sword- at best, he’d blow the entire arm off, and she’d die of shock.
He carefully squeezed off the shot, and cleanly severed the arm from her shoulder. The girl gave out a sharp cry of pain, and the sword disappeared, but she didn’t drop. Rather, she spun around, and even through the mask and visor, the Anti-Paladin could see that she was pissed. “HEY!” she yelled in a female drill instructor voice, “THAT HURT!”
As she trudged over towards him, he could literally see the arm re-grow itself, right before his eyes. He hurriedly targeted his Electricity Projector right in the middle of her visor, but he had to wait for the stupid discharge capacitor to recharge to shot capacity. When she was only a foot away, the charge indicator inset in his targeting window went green, he started to squeeze the trigger and- *shing!*
-there was a flash from out of left field, and his Energy Projector fell into two discrete pieces, sliced neatly in half. Billie yelled after Chou, “HEY! He was MINE!”
Seeing the Anti-Paladin tussling with the glowing-sword girl, Vamp decided that this fight was pretty much decided. All that she had to do was make a big, splashy, but futile play to placate Darrow and she could go home and take a nice hot bath. The chick swinging Matterhorn around like a baseball bat was the obvious choice. She pretty much WAS the center of battle right at the moment, and while she must be one helluva brick to be to be hefting the big guy around like that, Vamp had never had that much trouble handling bricks. Vamp’s real forte was the mind, which was where bricks were usually the weakest.
When the opportunity presented itself, Vamp dashed up under Matterhorn, came at the gray-girl up on her blind side, and wrapped herself around her. “Hey, Cutie!” she purred. She reached and groped Ayla’s still developing tit. “I know games that are lots more fun than playing ‘whack-a-mole’…” Ayla froze. Being a teenager is hard on the libido, what with hormones running amok. Being a teenager having to cope with both male and female hormones running amok at the same time. Sensing an impending victory, Vamp ran a tongue down the side of Ayla’s mask, and ran her hands over Ayla’s body, until she brushed Ayla’s groin. “What…?”
Which was, of course, the absolute worst possible thing to say. Insulted, embarrassed and offended on multiple levels, Phase shed Vamp with a shrug that lifted Matterhorn for a second and then caught him again.
“Now, now, don’t BE like that sweetie!” Vamp crooned. “You just caught me by surprise there! If anything, this just means that there are just so many NEW games that we can play!”
Ayla snarled silently, adjusted her hold on Matterhorn and gave him a big shove upwards.
“Oh, you wanna wrassle then?” Vamp asked with a wanton grin.
Phase just pointed up, and phased through the asphalt. Puzzled, Vamp looked up, and had a ‘Wyle E. Coyote’ moment as she saw Matterhorn’s immense backside coming down right on top of her and she realized that there was no way to get out from under it.
Two figures watched Matterhorn come crashing down onto the street below, breaking asphalt and concrete, and making cars jump. When something weighs well over three tons, even a drop of ten feet can be catastrophic. “Well,” sighed the dark figure, “there’s nothing for it. If we don’t get in there, they’ll be smeared even before the other local superheroes get here.”
“Agreed,” growled the armored figure. “I’ll take out the mage, you keep the others busy. If we take her out while Darrow’s still viable, the balance of power turns in our favor. Still, we’d best get it over quickly, before the Lamplighter shows up.”
Nikki was putting the last touches on the Resplendent Golden Rose of a Thousand Burning Petals when a figure came bounding over the roofs and tackled her in mid-air. He grappled with her and hit her on the temple with a blackjack that she could tell was loaded with yet more cold iron.
Lycanthros was taking no chances this time. He was wearing his trademark ratty coat of wolves’ skins, but under it, he was wearing a state of the art set of ceramet plate and high-strength alloy chain mail armor. Besides his cold iron sap, he also had a knife of cold iron, an amulet against Fey’s magics, and another amulet that would have protected him from the effects of the Kellith (if she’d been there). As tempting as it was for him to just tear the girl’s throat out right then and there, he knew that Darrow had plans for her, and Lycanthros would never dare cross Darrow. They understood and respected each other. Darrow was the closest thing to a friend that Lycanthros had. And while his plans for her as regarded this operation were rather sketchy, well, better to handle it now than later. Lycanthros pulled Fey to her feet, got her into a Full Nelson, and lifted her up off the ground, as if offering her up to the Necromancer.
Which, of course- he was.
“Excellent, Lycanthros!” the Necromancer exulted. “Nice to see that someone’s on the ball,” Darrow muttered far more softly. The Resplendent Golden Rose of a Thousand Burning Petals floated down to just in front of Nikki, waiting for those last few touches to realize its full devastating potential.
“A rose? For ME? How KIND!” Darrow jeered. He gestured the Scepter of Erlik, banishing the Verminous Swarm of Catabolignes that he’d been calling. Now he murmured to himself, calling forth something even fouler.
The rest of Team Kimba each reacted in their own way. Lancer and Tennyo lifted off, Shroud and Jade headed to help their friend, and Phase and Chaka started running in her direction. All in all, it looked like Lycanthros was going to get bulldozed. Before the beleaguered Anti-Paladin could react, the entire scene went dark. Totally, absolutely dark, not only without light, but also without heat, or sound or smell or even the sense of touch. A complete, all-encompassing darkness that devoured all sense and left the mind lost.
Most of Team Kimba was fumbling around, except for Shroud and Chaka, and Chaka appeared to be feeling her away around her.
Lady Darke lifted down to the street on a disk of darkness and touched the Anti-Paladin, exempting him from the influence of her sensory block. She was about to touch Jabberwock, when the ghastly wraith-girl came flapping up to her and started grappling with her. “What? Lady Darke snapped, “How can you SEE?”
“Dead eyes see all…” Shroud droned in an eerie voice.
“Oh, PLEASE!” Lady Darke snarled, “Do you honestly think that you can creep ME out?”
“No,” Shroud said with a chilling gust of super-chilled mist. “But I can distract you.” One skeletal finger pointed down towards a small pink disk with- of all things- a ‘Hello Kitty’ logo on it, that was hovering right about the place where Lady Darke’s costume wasn’t covering her well-rounded derriere.
“What the hell is- OW!” There was a sharp pinprick and pain shot through Lady Darke’s backside. “What did you DO?”
Shroud ignored her and turned to face the Anti-Paladin. Contrary to TV and movies, injected drugs, even very quick-acting ones, don’t immediately render people unconscious. They do take a while. But, even before unconsciousness sets in, the first things to be affected are the higher functions, such as calculation, creativity- and psychic powers. As the pain began to fade, so did Lady Darke’s ability to impose her darkness on a large area.
Sensing a shift in the tide, the Necromancer hurried his conjuration, and a long column of intertwining tendrils emerged from the scepter’s mouth, lashed out, pierced the Resplendent Golden Rose, and wrapped around Nikki. The Parasitic Roots of P’kanopt dug into Nikki’s soul, but the Necromancer had been rushed. They couldn’t drain her Quintessence, her renewing reservoir of magical energy in their incomplete form. They needed something more …
Darrow flourished the Scepter of Erlik again, the bear skull opened wide, and a long midnight-black scythe blade emerged from the mouth. He raised his bony staff as if to strike, and the Saturnian Scythe of Seiktha loomed into existence over them, huge and menacing. “Don’t worry, little faerie princess… this will only hurt- FOREVER!”
Chaka was one of the first to regain her senses. She’d been trying to use her Ki to sense anyone sneaking up on her. When her sight came back, she immediately checked on her bud, just in time to see the disgusting tentacle-thingies wrap around Nikki. She just barely managed to keep herself from throwing her knife at either the tentacle or the asshole holding Nikki. She knew, she just knew that the asshole was that bastard Lycanthros. He was playing it safe this time, probably because Silver was here- Hell, Silver was probably what the Necromancer was after from the get-go!- so he was wearing some pretty sophisticated looking armor, including a wolf-shaped helmet covering his head, except for that large red gem …
The gem! It was the weak spot! It probably covered the eye that she’d ruptured the last time that they’d butted heads. She couldn’t trust even her skill to throw an unfamiliar knife to hit a target that small at that distance, and she’d dropper her bow, so …
In one sweeping move, Chaka set her new knife in her teeth, grabbed the mithril bracelet from the hole in the cage (which shrank down to normal size as she did it), and threw it with her usual uncanny accuracy at the large red jewel in Lycanthros’ eye. The bracelet hit the gemstone and shattered it. Lycanthros howled in pain and reflexively dropped Nikki to clutch his face. Nikki caught the mithril circlet, held it with both hands, and a small ball of silver fire formed in the center.
Seeing what the Faerie sorceress was up to, Necromancer was preparing his counterstrike, when suddenly a small furry bundle of mist leapt up into his mask confusing his senses and making him lose track of his spell. Pulling Slyboots from his mask, Darrowthrew the foxling familiar away from him, then re-gathered his concentration on the Scepter of Erlik and-
-*shing!* - a streak of white passed, and the bear skull toppled from the top of the staff. “What?” Darrow looked at the bubbling torrent of darkness that was suddenly uncapped, “Nooo …!” The Stygian forces bubbled and eddied into a darkling whirlwind coming from the extended spine in his hand. Tearing his eyes from the horrific sight, he looked at the other end of the Roots of P’kanopt, where, unrestrained by the cold iron or talismans that Lycanthros was wearing, the Eldritch Royal was gathering power with cold fury.
“Warlock? You wanted POWER?” Nikki sent cords of raw, pulsing Empyrean power down through the darkling vines, which set them afire as it traveled. The Empyrean might struck Darrow while he was still struggling to master the vortex of Chthonic energies before it destroyed him, and the two forces mixed uncontrollably and exploded.
As the explosion threw the Necromancer back and opened up a rift in the very fabric of reality, Nikki bit off a curse and went to seal the rift before things got any worse.
Chou paused and felt the Tao bleed. She was framing how to ask Destiny’s Wave whether to leave sealing the breach to Nikki, when she sensed something trying to come up from behind her. Chou whirled about, striking with Destiny’s Wave as she spun and- *shing!*- she sliced an iron bar in half, even as Nightgaunt was swinging it at the back of her head. Nightgaunt started for a second and then blended back into shadow. Knowing a clear- if not immediately present- danger when she saw it, Chou passed through the ways that Destiny’s Wave had shown her, in hot pursuit.
Vamp had managed to turn around on her back, so that her capelet would protect her. A little. Wriggling out from under the unconscious Matterhorn was still scraping the hell out of her. As she inched her way out from under the stunned giant, her greatest problem was breathing.
Nightgaunt came out of shadow, and the uncanny sense of personal danger that had allowed him to kill the original Nightgaunt was the only thing that allowed him to draw his .45 as he whirled about. - *shing!*- Before he could fire, the barrel of his gun fell neatly off. He didn’t even feel any strike on the gun; it just fell apart.
Chaka spotted Lycanthros coiling to spring at Nikki’s unprotected back. Pulling her knife from her teeth, she ran to Hank, yelling, “Lancer! Fastball!” Lancer picked her up, she tensed her body, and he hefted her at Lycanthros like a spear. She spun in midair, and landed with a terrific kick on his chest. The big werewolf was knocked back a bit, but was immediately back on his mark.
He snarled and went for Chaka. He actually managed to get in a few claws, as she hacked at him in a flurry of knife-strokes. She was a blur of silvery streaks covering almost every inch of his form with strikes.
Lycanthros pulled back, sneered and snarled. “You didn’t even nick me, bitch.”
Then his armor started falling off of him.
Chaka had sliced through the kevlar straps of the armor, even though most of them were safely hidden under the hard plates. The ceramet plates and alloy chain mail panels fell from him. Chaka pulled her lower-face mask down and grinned. “Remember me, Bitch?”
Lycanthros snarled savagely with recognition. Chaka grinned even wider and brought up first her mithril covered left hand, and then her new mithril knife. Lycanthros wilted. Wasn’t that stuff supposed to be RARE?
*shing!*- Nightgaunt barely managed to pull his head back in time to avoid having his head lopped off. Even then, a slice of his faceplate came cleanly off, and he had the distinct impression that the bitch was counting coup on him. This was NOT what he was used to. He was only so good in a stand-up fight, and he was smart enough to know when he was out-classed. He headed back into shadow, and set course for the furthest patch of darkness that he could get reach.
Chou sensed the man move through shadow. She could follow him, but she couldn’t risk the chance that this was only a diversion, to draw her away from the greater battle. She decided to let him go, and Destiny’s Wave radiated ‘applause’ at her sound tactical decision.
“HAH! I KNEW that I could find the lock!” Foxfire exulted as she touched the ‘key’ to the cage, and the black ‘filigree’ disappeared. Foxfire lowered the blue energy barrier, and Speed Queen charged out. She zoomed at the Anti-Paladin, who used his battered hoplite shield to knock her into the girl with the shredded sleeve. The Anti-Paladin used this reprieve to call up a mace that a lesser man would use as a maul, and clouted Tennyo on the crest of the head.
Tennyo went down, but a crushing blow that would have killed a normal person merely sent her to her knees. Then he heard a telltale mechanical whine in the distance. “Dam-NATION! Jabberwock! We have more incoming! This operation is blown! Execute Tactic ‘E’!”
Vamp had just managed to get her head out from under Matterhorn’s bulk and was gasping for breath, when he started to revive and shrink. “Oh, NOW, he comes to!” she snarled.
Jabberwock pulled Matterhorn to his unsteady feet as the Anti-Paladin produced a gas grenade, which quickly filled the area with multi-colored vapor. As Lancer and Speed Queen choked on the acrid fumes and Tennyo tried to figure out how to disperse the smoke, Skyhawk and Dynaman (the latter being source of the whine that had set the Anti-Paladin off) swooped in. Skyhawk spread his wing like cape and begin spinning, and Dynaman extended his major rotor cowls and set the verniers for a wide spread effect. Their combined efforts cleared away the smoke just as the door on the van closed. As the heroes approached, the van rocked, smoke billowed out, and the entire rear section of the van shot into the air.
“No WAY!” Tennyo grated and she shot into the air after it, Lancer close behind.
Nikki ran to where her anger at the Necromancer had caused a horrific tear in the very fabric of reality. As if she didn’t get enough of those at school! As she ran, she muttered a charm over Toni’s mithril bracelet, and it grew to the size of a hula-hoop. She draped the hoop around the very center of the disruption, limiting the havoc to a very small area.
A pair of white hands came up through the blacktop and Phase lifted herself onto the street about ten feet away from Chaka. She made herself dense and maneuvered to block Lycanthros’ exit. Lycanthros remembered that the one with the gray trim was the one that had been chucking Matterhorn around like an inflated toy. His gaze flickered from the girl who must be more mind-stunningly powerful than he could imagine, to the girl who had the devil-metal covering one fist, and a blade of the same hell-stuff in the other. He did the one thing that they’d never think of.
He turned tail and ran with all the speed that his lycanthropic power could lend him.
Chaka was still boy enough that, having a new toy, she just had to try it. Giving Lycanthros a few feet to let him get his stride, she threw the razor-sharp kukri-like blade and hamstrung him with a single toss. But she still felt some sort connection to the blade. On a hunch, she pulled on the ‘leash’, and the knife flew back to her hand. “KEWL!”
Lycanthros screamed, stumbled, and struggled to his feet. Silver came charging up, blades of mithril forming on both hands, and eagerness to get into the battle glowing on her face. Faced with even MORE of the awful stuff, Lycanthros hid his mortal terror as best he could. “So, bitch, you think that I’m beat, eh?” he snarled at Chaka. He took in a huge breath, and let out a cyclonic blast of wind, which caught Phase while she was lightened to catch up, and blew her back.
Chaka dug in and managed to keep from being blown away, though everyone else in the area had a hard time of it. “OH, YOU GOTTA BE KIDDIN’ ME!” Chaka yelled, “What are we, the three little pigs? What’s next? You gonna crawl into my gramma’s bed?”
Lycanthros stuck a finger in the ruined bloody mess of his eye. “You’re right. No more little nursery tale games.” He used the blood from his own eye to scrawl a mark on his furry chest as he intoned, “Отец Уолф, ребенок зимы, убийца богов, кровью моей крови, дает ему энергию разрушить моих врагов!” His entire body glowed with a bloody red power, and from the wreckage of his eye, a baleful glowing red eye emerged and cast its repellent gaze upon the entire scene. Phase reached up from under the street and grabbed Lycanthros by the ankles, but only singed her hands for her efforts.
Cacklinginsanely, Lycanthroschanted, “Глаз Дьявола, распространение ваше увядание смотрит на все не достойное, и стирает те, кто приносит мне боль от мира!” As nauseating as the Eye had been before, it was worse as it began to open its True Eye.
Then a bright white light emerged from the sky and wrapped the awful orb in a sphere of pure light. “Cease and desist!” shouted a reedy voice coming from a blinding light above. The light dimmed slightly, and a figure of a man in colonial era clothing, complete with a tricorn hat and redingote cloak, holding a supernally bright lantern could just be made out. Even without being able to see him directly, the heroes knew that he was wearing a featureless white full-face mask.
The Lamplighter, arguably the most powerful- if far from the most popular- of the Boston area superheroes, had made the scene.
The Eye fought its containment, but the Lamplighter concentrated on keeping it caged. Nikki had been trying to split her concentration between containing the breach and resisting the power of the Eye. Now, the lantern that the Lamplighter was holding fascinated her. When she’d read about the Lamplighter, she’d merely dismissed him as a rather eccentric ‘Green Lantern’ rip-off. But the power, the strange, possibly unique power contained within the antique lantern was far beyond what she’d expected. It was an item of remarkable power, and it was clearly less than 300 years old. Within her, Aunghadhail struggled with a memory that was less than a memory.
Lycanthros howled bitter rage at the Lamplighter. “NO! No, you can NOT withstand the power of the Eye of the Devil! I won’t LET you!” The red glow around him grew brighter and more powerful, and he grew himself, physically becoming twice as large, and still he grew.
He was a good twenty feet tall, when the ‘Iron Coffin’ came barreling down the street and plowed into the middle of his back, sending him sprawling. Chaka caught him in mid-flight with her mithril coated fist.
Seated in the driver’s compartment of the ‘Iron Coffin’, Miss Grimes gasped, “You HIT that man!”
“Yeah,” Chief Tilly agreed. “Good drivin’, Jablonski.”
With Dynaman and Lancer holding the escape pod, Tennyo first disabled the pod’s ascension thrusters, and then sliced open the hatch. “Okay in there! We’re a hundred feet up, so don’t give me any crap! You- hey! Where’s the guy in the red armor?”
“We’ll deal with him later,” Dynaman said, “First, call down and get some reinforced restraints for these bad boys. And Guys? You put on the cuffs when we damn well TELL you to, or we drop this little tin can of yours!”
Seeing Lycanthros go down, and with the Lamplighter on the scene, the Necromancer changed his tactics. He used the makeshift Spear of Darkness that he’d contrived from what was left of the Scepter of Erlik, and used it to batter the Fey Mage aside from the rift. He threw the bear-skull into the enlarged ring, and the skull grew to enormous size. The skull opened its jaws wide, and the Necromancer leapt into the cavernous maw, leaving his minions to tend for themselves. Chou leapt forward to stop him with Destiny’s Wave, but for once, she was just far enough off the mark, and just too late to stop him. Destiny’s Wave clove through the skull just as it closed, splitting it in two, but not stopping the Necromancer’s flight.
“EVERYONE STOP!” the Lamplighter announced, sounding more like a Middle School Principal trying to stop a food fight than a superhero. Even so, the palpable power that radiated from the man was enough to stop almost everyone.
Vamp took advantage of the distraction to sucker punch Speed Queen, and dart off down the nearest alleyway. “I’ll go get her!” Skyhawk called, and sped off in pursuit.
“I SAID, ‘Everyone Stop!” the Lamplighter shrilled.
“Hey! L.L. Beans-for brains!” Speed Queen sniped, “In case you haven’t noticed, things are under control!”
“What?” You call THIS ‘under control’?” the Lamplighter waved a hand around the street, indicating the shattered blacktop and sidewalks, the wrecked cars, and the several places where buildings had been torn open. “And who are these… miscreants?” He indicated Team Kimba.
“What they ARE,” Captain Tilly roared in his best Irish manner as he climbed out of the ‘Iron Coffin’, “are properly deputized special police auxiliaries, all proper and by the book! Which, may I add, is a lot more than can be said about YOU!” He glared up at the Lamplighter. “That is, unless you’d like t’ go downtown and clear up a small matter of about a hunnert aggravated assault and unnecessary force charges that are still pendin’ against ya?”
Even through his full-face mask, you could see the sour expression on the Lamplighter’s face. The blinding light went up again, and moved on at high speeds.
“Jerk,” Tilly said, none-too-under his breath. “Give a guy a gimmick, an’ he thinks he’s a law unto hisself.”
“WHAT?” Silver bleated, “That’s IT?”
“Yeah, kid,” Dynaman said. “What, this isn’t enough breakage for you?”
“Not to worry, dear,” Miss Grimes said chipperly as she climbed down from the NYPD prisoner transport van. “There’s still the most fascinating and challenging part of this work still left to do!” Her voice dropped and went flat. “The Paperwork.”
“EXCUSE ME?” Fey said in a strained-yet-not-quite-panicked voice, “Horrible and possibly catastrophic deci-dimensional inversive convulsion in progress here! A little HELP would be vastly appreciated!” Foxfire was peering over her shoulder, as if watching a medical procedure that she found interesting, but knew better than to interfere with.
“Oh, of course, Fey. If you absolutely need the assistance,” Miss Grimes said calmly. Then Chou pulled another of her ‘stepping out of nowhere’ moves and sliced through the inter-dimensional Gordian Knot with a single stroke of Destiny’s Wave.
“Is that your solution to everything?” Fey asked with asperity.
“Don’t fuss, dear,” Grimes said as she and Foxfire joined Fey in a triangle around the mithril ring. “It did simplify things vastly.”
As her adrenaline rush faded, Chaka felt all the aches and pain descend on her en masse. She limped over to Sakti, reversed the kukri in her hand and handed it to Sakti. “Here. I think that this belongs to you.”
Silver was feeling the first pangs of the aftermath as well. She shook her head. “No, you earned it. Keep it.”
“Can I have that in writing?”
As the three mages sealed the breach in the fabric of time and space, Chief Tilly strolled over to where Wilbur Bunsen was painfully pulling himself to his feet. Changing from the Arch-Fiend to his pudgy human form seemed to have sealed the wound from Destiny’s Wave, but Wilbur was obviously in no small physical distress. “So, Wilbur…” Tilly said with a snide grin. “You was sayin’ something?”
Bunsen gave Tilly a sick look. Tilly held up the choke collar that Wilbur had worn for several weeks. “Here. Put this on. Yer gonna wanna look yer best, when you show up in Judge Winchester’s court fer yer next hearin’.”
November 19, 4: 10 PM
‘Miss Carfax’ came out of her bathroom at the Covington wrapped in a terrycloth robe that was only a few shades whiter than her skin. She was toweling off her hair and humming to herself when a gauntlet fist came seemingly out of nowhere, grabbed her by the throat and lifted her off the ground.
“SO, Vamp! You thought that you could get away from me!” the Necromancer snarled, as Nightgaunt stood at his back.
“Hey!” Vamp rasped, as she wriggled in Darrow’s choking grasp. “What’s up, Boss?”
“What’s UP?” Darrow all but screamed, “You have the audacity to try to escape me, and you ask ‘what’s up’?”
“What are you talking about?” Vamp gasped as she fought to breathe. “I know better than to try to run away from you!”
“Then WHY didn’t you follow Standard Operating Procedure for dispersal and regroup after a setback?”
“Then WHY didn’t you come to the Lair?”
“Because I DON’T KNOW WHERE THE LAIR IS!” Vamp snarled, “You never let me know where it WAS, remember? If I was gonna run away, why would I be hanging around here? If I were gonna try to get away from you, I’d already be in Quebec, trying to get a connection to Bangkok!”
“True.” Darrow let Vamp drop. As she gasped for breath, he rasped. “WHY didn’t you try to run?”
Vamp scowled up at him as she rubbed her neck. “Because I know better. No matter where I go, I know that eventually you’ll find me. And when you do, if I’m really lucky, all you’ll do is kill me. And I can’t go to the Cops, ever. They still think that I killed Phelps Carruthers.” Vamp gave him another look. “You didn’t have to kill him.”
“Carruthers?” Darrow asked in a dismissive tone. “You know better than that, Vamp. It was necessary, to place you where you are now. And remember this- if you ever DO try to escape me, the first thing that I'll do is kill ALL of your ‘gentlemen callers’ and pin their gruesome deaths on YOU, just as I did Mr. Phelps Carruthers. No one will protect you, on either side of the Law.”
“Yeah!” Vamp snapped, “I KNOW that! That’s why I’m still here, and not in Aruba!”
“See?” Darrow muttered aside to Nightgaunt, “Swat them hard enough, often enough, and any mutt can learn to heel. Still,” he returned his wrath to Vamp, “that doesn’t mitigate your wretched performance today!”
“WHAT? Are you kidding?” Vamp yelped, “I kicked ASS today! I did everything that could be expected of me and MORE! Hell, I did better than those oh-so-badass mercs you hired, AND I did it without being briefed on the target or any of the backup plans! Maybe if I’d been told what was going ON, we’d have your Silver-girl here under lock and key, and Sandra and Alpo-boy would still be with us! Your so-called ‘professionals’ were the first ones to light out! And I saw your little ‘exit stage right’ scene. I dunno about Nitey-knight over there, but I think that I may just have been the last one to leave! Hey, if you wanna blame this cluster-fuck on someone, blame the Arch-Fiend! We were doing fine, until ol' Wilbur showed up all, ‘oh, here I am, master, let me kiss your toes’! Those assholes in white showed up following HIM, and that’s where it all nose-dived!” Vamp paused. “Hey, come to think of it- how did he even know where we WERE?”
The Necromancer paused and glossed that point over. “That is not the issue, Vamp. The issue is, that not only have we failed in gaining both the primary target of the mithril-producing girl and the secondary target of the Fey’s Quintessence, but we have LOST the Arch-Fiend, Lady Darke and Lycanthros as well! And this debacle will only drive up the costs of any mercenaries that I might hire from this point on. My operations in this area are being severely strained. I need an edge…”
“Would getting Sandra and the others out of stir help?” Vamp offered.
“Of course it would!” Darrow paused and asked suspiciously, “And why would YOU care whether my plans work or not?”
“Because I’m not suicidal, that’s why! I know that staying out of that ‘Ark of Souls’ thing of yours depends entirely on proving that I’m more useful to you alive than dead!”
“How nice that you’ve finally picked up on that, Vamp,” Darrow said dryly.
“AND, there’s the fact that Sandra’s my FRIEND- not that you really care- and, let’s face it, you’re cranky at the best of times. Having your best bud, Lycanthros in the stir would only make your mood even worse. Oh yes, and there’s a little something in it for ME, too!” Vamp smiled evilly.
“Oh?” Darrow said coldly. “And that would BE?”
“PAYBACK.” Vamp’s grin showed her fangs, and her red eyes glittered under her white bangs. “By a stroke of luck, the very guy who can get you inside the Pit [the Federal Paranormal Detention Facility for the Greater Boston Area in Roxbury] just happens to be someone that I’ve been itching to get back at for over a year!”
“Explain,” the Necromancer droned.
“Boss, have you ever wondered what I was up to, back when you set me up?”
“You were shaking down pimps and pushers, as I recall. Oh, and running this ‘kept woman’ scam of yours. Ah, and you’d broken out of jail, for some reason, and the Police wanted you very badly. I remember, as it struck me odd that you would risk yourself to shake down street punks for money while the Police were hot on your heels.”
“Yeah, I was shaking down the street meat. But I was also pumping them for information.”
“Information? As regards?”
“The reason that I was in jail in the first place, was Bullethead, the Vice-Principal of my Junior High. He comes from one of those old-fashioned Shanty Irish Cop families that have been in the Boston PD since Lincoln was president. Y’see, he’s like, maybe one of three or four guys in his entire extended family that ain’t a Cop or a fireman. And one of those three or four is a Priest. But Pee-Dee Blue ain’t the only thing that runs in his family. The Grip also runs in the family.”
“The Grip! Y’know, graft? Corruption? Payoffs? It seems that one of his cousins who works in the Evidence Locker was passing along seized drugs that were supposed to be destroyed, and he was selling the drugs at my school through a few pet pushers in the student body.”
“Really? How interesting,” Darrow said in a bored voice. “What’s your point?”
“My POINT, is that he was getting some heat for it, and he set ME up to take the blame for it! He planted some drugs in my locker, and had his cousins bust me for it. Then they tell me to roll over and take the blame, or else. I say ‘Screw You’, and they take me downtown, and throw me into General Population, without booking me, letting me have my phone call, or any of the usual paperwork. My guess is that they were gonna fish what was left of me out of the tank in the morning and let me sign my life away, or get thrown back in the tank. But, just as the bad boys were getting down to taking my cherry, my mutation kicked in, and well… you’ve seen me when the Hunger takes over…”
“And that’s when you broke out of jail?”
“Exactimundo. SO, everything that’s gone wrong with my life- the way my mutation kicked in, breaking out of jail, Phelps Carruther’s death, you delightful people, all of it- it’s all HIS FAULT. And I want him to bleed for it!”
“Fascinating,” the Necromancer said in the same bored voice. “And how does this gripping drama serve ME?”
Vamp gave a feral grin. “While I was shaking down the street elite for information on him and his family, I found out something; It seems that he has not one, not two, not even three, but FIVE relatives- a brother, two cousins, and two In-Laws- who all work in The Pit. It seems that they have a nice little sideline smuggling this an’ that into the Pit for the prisoners. For the, ah, right price of course.”
“AH,” Darrow said with deep satisfaction. “Your tale finally interests me, Vamp. This corrupt schoolmaster and his equally venal clan can be used to free Lycanthros and the others?”
“That’s the idea,” Vamp said with a smug smile. “Of course, it will take the proper blend of this-” she rubbed her fingers together in the gesture for ‘money’, “-blackmail, which I can provide, to keep them from going to the Authorities, this-”, she smacked her fight fist into her left palm, “-and a hefty dose of good old fashioned TERROR,” her smug smile went acid, “which I think that you should be more than capable of handling, to get them in the right head-space. Still, if the three of us can’t get a testosterone-addled bully like ol’ Bullethead to shit cinderblocks on cue, then we’d really better start looking into another line of work!”
“Yes… and you will help on this, Vamp?”
“Hey, I want Sandra back as much as you want Fuzz-face back. As long as I get to watch you put the screws to Bullethead,” she clenched her hand, pantomiming crushing a man’s balls, “I’ll be more than happy to set everything up.”
“Vamp, if you manage to pull this off, you will finally be a true Child of the Night.”
“Cool! But, hey, listen up! After this afternoon, Boston’s gonna be super-hot for us. ‘Abby Carfax’ is gonna have to make out like absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened for about a week or so. And, ah, that means keeping my ‘sugar daddies’ happy, and one of ‘em should be showing up soon. So, go back to the Lair- or wherever you guys hang when you’re not being terrifying- and chill for a while. I’ll call Sandra’s cell phone when it’s cool enough to get to work.”
The Necromancer turned. “Very good, Vamp. It’s good that you’ve finally gotten with the program.” His voice suddenly turned harsh again. “But know this, Vamp- if this doesn’t go off exactly- and I do mean EXACTLY as planned!- you’ll wish that I only ripped your soul from your washed out little body and packed it into my Ark of Souls! This is your chance, Vamp! Make the most of it!”
The Necromancer waved his fingers as he exited the door, and took on the seeming of a prosperous elderly man. Nightgaunt merely passed through another shadow. Vamp watched Darrow walk down the hall, and waited until she heard the ‘special’ door to the outside open and then shut. “Oh, don’t worry,” she murmured, “I’ll make the most of it, all right!”
She shut the door and looked at a small handheld device. When she was sure that both of the blips were headed away from her, she walked back into her bedroom and looked up. “You can come down now.”
Skyhawk came floating down from his position flat against the ceiling. “You’re sure they’re gone?”
“Well, if I know Darrow, he’s set Nightgaunt to watch the place for a while, just in case I’m playing it foxy.” She gave Nighthawk a questioning glance. “So, you got it?”
Skyhawk pulled a digital recorder, set the playback a few minutes, and played the part where the Necromancer admitted to having Phelps Carruthers killed to coerce Vamp into the Children of the Night. “I think that even Ms. Collier will admit that this puts a severe crimp in her murder case against you, Alex.”
“Well! I should hope SO!” Vamp said pettishly. “I mean, I’ve been sticking my neck out a MILE here! First, I save your life, when killing you would boost my stock a mile. Then I set Darrow up TWICE for you guys! It wasn’t MY fault that he kept slipping through your fingers. So, you’d damn well be sure that you bag him this time! What do I have to do? Drive the stake through his heart for you?”
Skyhawk laid a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Alex. Just get Darrow in the right place at the right time, and we’ll take care of the rest of it. Without Lady Darke there to possibly blow your cover, I can warn Speed Queen, Dynaman and Captain Tilly about you. You’ll be covered.”
“Hey, superheroes are nice, but I want The Magus! Not the Lamplighter, but The Magus! She’s the only person that I’ve heard of, who the Necromancer’s really all that worried about. Though, now that I think about it, if you can get that creepy dark-haired girl that mixed it up with him that time at the Museum, or her redheaded girlfriend, that would be aces! They scared the besnoogers out of him! Hey, it’s not like this is gonna go down in MY house!”
“Alex, don’t worry! We’re going to get the murderous bastard!”
“That’s what you said last time. And the time before that.” Vamp grimaced. “So, I’ll be playing this one as close to my chest as I can. I’ll let you know when and where just before I let Darrow know. Still…” Vamp’s trademark smirk returned, and she leaned in, tracing a pattern on Skyhawk’s manly chest, “that’s for later. Now, I sort of fibbed to Darrow about having a ‘gentleman caller’ coming. And Nightgaunt will be watching that ‘special door’ for hours,” she lied. “So, how will we ever pass the time away?”
November 19, 6: 25 PM
The first time that Team Kimba had ridden back to Whateley from Boston, they’d been bouncing around celebrating their victory. This time, even with all their preparations, thing had been a lot rougher. Pucelle and Jetstream would still at Boston General for few days. Chaka’s right arm would be in traction for a couple of days. Hank was battered and bruised. Foxfire and Silver were limping from being dropped. Nikki had a goose egg on the back of her head that was throbbing, and she also had several bruises that would take days to heal. Even though she’d healed the damage from the knife, Jade was experiencing gastric distress. Even the theoretically indestructible Tennyo was groaning from the bruises that Jabberwock and Matterhorn had inflicted on her. Only Chou and Ayla had emerged from the battle unscathed, and they had to be told that if they didn’t tone down their smug gloating, they wouldn’t emerge from the train car that way.
“I still say that that thing is properly Whateley Academy property,” Grimes said as she witnessed the document where Sakti confirmed that she was exempting the mithril knife from her normal arrangement with Whateley and giving it to Chaka of her own volition.
“Really, Miss Grimes, it’s too late!” Sakti insisted. “I already gave my word to Chaka. Besides, I think that it’s taken a liking to Chaka.”
“And can you blame it?” Chaka said as she twirled the blade through the fingers of her left hand like a baton. “Hey, Sakti, I didn’t know that you studied knife-making!”
“That’s because I haven’t.”
“Hanh?” Yer kiddin’! I thought that you learned how to make knives in metal-working class, as a pre-req for your advanced techy classes.”
“Oh, I took metal-working, but we didn’t make knives! Think about it- would you teach American high school kids to make knives?”
A look of befuddlement spread over Chaka’s face. “What? But how did you make this knife then? I mean, LOOK at it! It’s perfect! Look at that edge!” Toni struggled with a piece of paper, her restrained arm hampering her a bit, but when she dropped it onto the knife’s edge, it cut right through it. “Look at this balance! Put a proper handle on it, and Gurkhas would kill their own brothers to own this!”
Grimes took the knife from Chaka’s hand and examined it. “She’s right. The edge, the balance, the proportions of the striking face, the bend of the blade- they’re all perfect. How DID you get this knife so right, Miss Chandrasekhar?”
“I didn’t!” Sakti insisted. “I just… rammed one of my blade-hands into the demon’s side, and the metal pulled right off my hand, and it set that way!”
“Too many ands,” Miss Grimes said reflexively. “Odd patina this has…” she mused.
“Maybe the fact that she rammed it through my foxfire when she stabbed him has something to do with it.” Foxfire offered from her seat.
“She did?” Grimes asked, settling her eerie pale gray eyes on Sakti. “Exactly what _happened_ when you created this blade, Miss Chandrasekhar?”
Sakti ran through the sequence. “So, it was heated by foxfire while it was still liquid on your hand, and then quenched in the blood of what is for all practical purposes a demon, and then pulled from his flesh by a liberal application of Ki. Yes, that may have given this blade some special properties… I’ll have to run it past Mr. Al-Fayez when we get back. However, Miss Chandler, I’m going to have to confiscate this for examination.”
“Confiscate?” Toni said lightly, “I don’t think so.” The knife flew out of Miss Grimes’ hand to Chaka’s.”
“You’ll get it back-”
“-At the end of the year,” Toni finished for her. “Yeah, right, now tell me the one about the mule and forty acres! I’m still waiting to get back the comic books that got ‘confiscated’ in Third Grade!”
“That blade is moonsilver, which was exposed to multiple unnatural phenomena, and has formed into an inexplicable form … though the theory of Platonic Ideal forms … is the ideal knife a _kukri_?” Grimes paused in consideration.
Toni pushed the legal tablet at her. “Tell you what- I’ll let you putter around with it for a month or so, but I want a receipt! And a written statement that I’ll get it back!” Toni looked over at Nikki. “And speaking of getting things back …” She snapped her fingers at Nikki.
Nikki looked back with big sorrowful violet eyes. “But it feels so good! And I feel so rotten! I took such a beating from all that iron! And it made such a wonderful lens for my magic! Couldn’t I? ...”
Toni just snapped her fingers again. “If I let you hold onto it, I’d have to pry it out of your fingers later with a cold iron crowbar!” With the air of a mother being forced to hand over her child, Nikki took the band of metal from her wrist and handed it over. Even then, it took Toni three tugs to pull it free of Nikki’s grasp.
“HEY! What did you do to it?”
“What do you mean?”
“These squiggly little lines that were left over from when Sara chowed down on it and Sakti fixed it are different.”
“Really?” Grimes reached her hand forward, but Toni pulled the bracelet back.
“Nah-AH! You got the knife, isn’t that enough? What are you going to do next, go through my pockets?” Toni very carefully didn’t think about the golf ball sized lump of mithril that she had in her purse. She had plans for that.
“So, Fey, how DID you get that bracelet to grow like that?” Foxfire asked from where she was. “I mean, it grew when Chaka used it to get your key to us, but how did you get it to grow that big?”
Nikki pursed her lips. “I… I’m not really sure… It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
“So … do you get those kinds of hunches all the time?” Foxfire pried.
“No, not all the time …” Nikki turned to Grimes. “Miss Grimes? What do you know about this ‘Lamplighter’ character? I mean, why wasn’t he at the pre-hearing briefing?”
“Why are you interested in him, dear?” Grimes leaned back and unconsciously fiddled with the back of the mithril kukri.
“That lantern of his … It’s very powerful.”
“Yeah,” Ayla cut in, “it’s probably the reason why he got that idiot monicker of his.”
“What do you mean?”
“The ‘Lamplighter’ is a particularly lame supervillain who went up against Green Lantern once back in the 1960’s. The character had the bright light, the stupid colonial costume and the lantern bit, and there was probably a comic book fan among the reporters when this guy showed up.” Ayla held up her hands. “Can YOU think of another reason why they’d give him that stupid handle?”
Grimes gave Ayla a martyred wince. “At any rate, Nikki dear, as I recall, the Lamplighter has been an established superhero in the Boston area for at least 15 years or so. He’s generally accepted to be the most powerful superhero in the region, and there’s a good bit of debate as to whether that lantern of his is the basis of his power, or independent of him, something that he channels his power through to make it stronger, just a prop that he uses to confuse the issue of his own personal power, or some sort of psychological crutch of his.”
“You haven’t gotten a good look at it, then?”
Grimes shook her head. “I’d just gotten there, remember?”
Nikki let out a deep breath. “Well, from what I managed to see, I’m reasonably sure that his power lies almost entirely in that lantern. He may have something special about himself that allows him to USE the lantern, but the real power is in the object, not the man.”
“Well, it’s a remarkably versatile power then,” Grimes commented. “He’s been described as doing all sorts of things. Every time that someone seems to have gotten him into a corner, he pulls a new trick out of that lantern of his.”
“I’ve never really seen anything like that before,” Nikki said tensely. “It was this kaleidoscope of things all whirling about the central focus of that, not quite a spirit, not quite a conjuration, not quite a spell… but having aspects of all of those… But then, I’ve never seen one of those ‘Forces’, such as Champion or the Magus are supposed to have… and yet … it reminds me of something … but I can’t remember what!”
“You, ah, remember something about the Lamplighter’s lantern?” Foxfire asked, hanging on every word.
“Not the lantern itself,” Nikki insisted, “but there was something about it, like… I’d seen something like it, not the principle, but the style…”
“Are we talking something of the Fey maybe?” Foxfire prodded.
“Yes, No … Maybe …” Nikki fussed, totally frustrated. Then her large violet eyes snapped open wide. “The Key of Nimue… the Necromancer still has it!”
“You think that this ‘Key of Nimue’ is connected to the Lamplighter? Is that what you recognized?” Bekky kept at her.
“No … but it might be … the Key might be … Miss Grimes … Remember, we were saying that we don’t know WHY the Necromancer is still hanging around New England? I mean, as hot as he is right now … and the Lamplighter after him, and with Whateley so close … wouldn’t he have picked up and relocated by now? But what if he’s after the Lamplighter’s lantern? What if the Key of Nimue is connected to the lantern somehow?”
“Unlikely, Dear,” Grimes said with a pained expression. “The Key of Nimue is well over a thousand years- if not thousands of years- old. The Lamplighter’s lantern is a wonderful example of colonial craftsmanship, with a very strange magical addition. I fail to see where any connection might lay. I agree, the Key of Nimue probably does have some great magical connections, and that lantern is a tempting prize, but I don’t see where the Necromancer is particularly interested in acquiring it. Not that he’d kick it aside if he found it laying in the street. But I think that his ambitions lie elsewhere. The fact that there are two artifacts of presumed power in a region doesn’t necessitate a connection.”
“And WHY would it be so important that you remember these things?” Foxfire prodded. “I mean, you’re, what? Sixteen? You’ve only come into your power recently. … As powerful as you are, why would you remember something like THAT?”
Fey spared the odd girl a long look. Why was she so curious? It struck her as a good time to change the subject. “So … Jade! Jade, exactly how did you manage to hijack that power armor guy’s rig? I would have thought that something like that would be too complex for you to control, especially the flight pack.”
“Oh, it was!” Jade bounced on her seat, warming up to what looked like a new passion. “But he had this really cool single control thing in his helmet that ran everything! Jann didn’t have to possess the entire armor, just the control unit! Arms, legs, flying rig, weapons pods, that one little thing ran the whole suit! I ... uh, she ... told me that she couldn’t see what his pop-up sensors were showing, but so what? And it was really elegant, the control unit that is, really simple, I figure that if she can describe it to Bunny, then maybe Bunny will be able to-”
“Why would you describe this control thing to Bugs?” Billie asked, already dreading the answer.
“Because, in order to keep up with you, sempai, I’m gonna have to be able to get around a lot faster than I can with Jann dragging me around, and I’ll have to be able to take lots of damage. Let’s face it, sempai, when we- I mean, Team Kimba- cut loose, things get busted up but good, and I can only heal so much! So, there’s only one solution- POWER ARMOR!”
“Jade, honey,” Ayla offered gently, “You DO know that a suit of combat-grade power armor like that Ironhawk yutz had, can cost as much as a main battle tank or a jet fighter, don’t you?”
“Not a problem, Ayla,” Jade glowed with confidence. “I have the perfect solution!”
“Which is?” was the general question.
“Jade Sinclair, Power Armor Test Pilot!”
As Team Kimba settled into an animated discussion of Jade’s latest scheme, Foxfire settled back. She’d overplayed her hand. But she had time. There was something about Nikki Reilly, something beyond the Sidhe beauty and magic. Things happened around her. Shadowdancer, her roommate, thought that Reilly was worth going to great lengths to keep safe. And Foxfire wouldn’t rest until she understood what it was all about. She’d have to learn patience and a lighter touch, but she would unravel the riddle that was Nikki Reilly.
November 19, 11: 55 PM
Charles Upton Darrow, more widely known and feared as The Necromancer, gazed into the largest single facet of a single rock crystal that would have been a major attraction at any museum of natural history. The visage that glared back at him was not human. “Your concern is touching,” Darrow grated, “but unnecessary. The game proceeds as planned. The Silver Maiden will have to be taken at a later date, but that was merely one gambit in a larger strategy.”
“You lie …” the bestial visage snarled back. “You are a toothless old tiger, and the peasants are beating the bushes for you. Your grand ploy went sour on you, and almost all of your underlings are prisoner.”
“Of course you think that,” Darrow said too calmly. “And that’s what the Boston Police think, and the FBI, and every Law Enforcement agency and Superhero group in the world. Which places me in the most comfortable of situations- underestimated. They expect me to either be hiding in the sewers, or to have fled the region entirely. Which means that I can operate freely, as they’ll be looking for me in all the wrong places. My pawns are all in the right place.”
“Your pawns are in Jail!” the visage mocked him.
“They are in the Federal Paranormal Detention Facility for the Greater Boston Area in Roxbury,” Darrow purred, “exactly where I wanted them. The activities of my simpleminded colleagues of the Grand Hall in New York a few days ago, stirred up the authorities so much that I decided that another layer of security was needed. As the old ‘hiding in the grave’ ploy wouldn’t fool a girl detective these days, I decided that appearing to have the expendable members of my organization incarcerated would suffice. I have methods of removing my agents from The Pit without a trace at any time. Indeed, I’ve been thinking about maneuvering a few potential recruits into the Pit, as to place them in a ‘Join or Rot’ position. Pray tell, is there anyone in Federal Custody who you’d like me to bring out with the rest of my crew when the time is right?”
“So you say,” the visage growled. “Still, when face to face with the Daughter of the Burning Oak, you RAN from the Alfar bitch!”
“There’s something different about her, this time.” The Necromancer insisted. “When I faced her as the Black Magus, she had more discipline, but less power. She has shown an exponential increase in both her power and her inner tuition. She is more now, more than the entire Mystic Six put together.”
“YOU LIE!” the visage roared with inexplicable rage. “I SUNDERED her! Her and her eight bitch sisters and their king as well! She can never be what she was.”
“I think I hear the sound of wishful thinking,” Darrow, amusement in his voice.
“Will you cower in your sewers then,” the visage mocked, “and wait for the horrible Faerie Queen to become bored and move on?”
“NO.” Darrow said firmly. “I am still very much in the game. AND, I still have the Key of Nimue, so proceeding without me would be futile.”
“Very well,” the visage jeered, “shall I kill the oh-so-terrifying Queen of the West, so that we can get on with the game?”
“IF you can,” Darrow said with calm control. “And remember, killing her is not enough. If killing her were enough, her brains would be all over Boston’s streets. We must take her power from her first, before sending her back into the darkness. Fortunately, *I* have more foresight than that, and my while operation today failed in its secondary objective, I succeeded in my primary objective.”
“So you say,” the visage murmured. “Still, I will continue my campaign against the Eastern Tribes. I will seek out the Daughter of the Burning Oak. It has been too long since I savored the taste of Eldritch Royal blood.”
“In all truth, I wish you good hunting.” With that, Darrow cut the connection, and covered the crystal with a large black velvet drape. “You’ll need it, fool.” While Darrow had exaggerated, and the Silver Maiden had in truth been his primary goal, he had indeed succeeded in a tertiary goal. He held up the silver reliquary where he had three strands of fiery red hair and a scrap of cloth soaked with elven blood. While the others had blundered, Nightgaunt had filled his brief completely. He didn’t hold the full blossom of the Faerie Queen’s power- yet.
But if he’d learned anything in his long life, it was that from such small seeds, great victories grew.